Fantasy Football Week 14: Top Plays at Every Position
The fantasy postseason is here, and Thursday night's opener between the Texans and the Jaguars proved just how difficult the results can be to predict. Just a couple of weeks ago, the same two teams played to a 13-6 battle of offensive and fantasy futility.
Naturally, Thursday night was almost the exact opposite: a 27-20 battle of defensive futility. It made for some solid performances, like those of Maurice Jones-Drew and fringe tight end Garrett Graham.
Instead of looking back on opportunities missed if you sat those guys, look ahead to what is to come. That is what we do every Friday of the season with Bleacher Report's Top Plays in a six-part, position-by-position slideshow.
Quarterbacks: 49ers-Seahawks Matchup Doesn't Figure to Be Very Fantasy-Friendly
- Andy Dalton
- Carson Palmer
- Eli Manning
- Matt Flynn
- Chad Henne (already played Thursday night)
- Kellen Clemens
Some teams' quarterback decisions will be made this week, including the Cleveland Browns and Minnesota Vikings starters who are dealing with concussion symptoms, but one decision that won't have to wait to be made will be to sit Aaron Rodgers (shoulder) in fantasy.
NFL insider Ian Rapoport tweeted on Thursday afternoon that Rodgers needs a doctor to clear him after a scan before he can play, but no more scans are scheduled this week. Rodgers might not be ruled out for the season for fantasy owners, but they have to hope their season extends beyond this week without him available right now.
Bear Down with McCown
The announcement that Jay Cutler (ankle) will not play on Monday night, as the Chicago Tribune's Rich Campbell tweeted, at least gives fantasy owners a legit starting option in Josh McCown. He has an embarrassment of riches in Marc Trestman's pass-friendly offense with the emergence of Alshon Jeffery—not to mention the Dallas Cowboys have been the worst team in football against fantasy quarterbacks. Dallas is also the second-worst team against the pass. McCown looks like a start in all 12-team leagues this week.
Gold Rush in San Francisco
The Seattle Seahawks have been the second-best team in fantasy against quarterbacks and are No. 1 against the pass. These facts make 2013 disappointment Colin Kaepernick a fairly easy sit in standard leagues. His receiving corps has gotten the injection of Michael Crabtree (Achilles) and Mario Manningham (knee) after a slow start, but the Seahawks just shut down Drew Brees and Co. a week ago.
Like Him More
The Cincinnati Bengals' Andy Dalton might never become an elite fantasy quarterback, but he has been an underrated option as a steady starter this season. He has four games with three touchdown passes or more in the past seven. Although he hasn't thrown for 300 yards since his four-game stretch between Weeks 6 and 9, he has enough targets to be considered a starter in all leagues in crunch time.
Dalton is among the quarterbacks whom we like three spots more than the consensus this week:
Like Him Less
Unlike Kaepernick, Russell Wilson hasn't been disappointing for fantasy owners this season. Even if he faces a tough matchup on the road at San Francisco, he warrants being kept active in standard fantasy leagues. We rank him just outside of the top 12, though, because there are fringe quarterbacks with better matchups.
Wilson is among the quarterbacks whom we like less than the masses below:
Running Backs: A Healthy Running Back Is a Good Thing This Time of Year
- Ray Rice
- C.J. Spiller
- Frank Gore
- Chris Ivory
- Rashard Mendenhall
- Ben Tate (already played Thursday night)
- Andre Brown
- Maurice Jones-Drew (whoops! Already played Thursday night)
- Bobby Rainey
- Fred Jackson
- Pierre Thomas
- Bilal Powell
Fantasy owners have one less variable to worry about with three premium backs this week. Le'Veon Bell (concussion), Knowshon Moreno (ankle) and Zac Stacy (concussion) have all practiced in full, according to the official NFL Injury Report. They are ready to go for Sunday, and all three are reliable starters in all leagues this week.
Cowboys' Murray Has Arrived
Thanksgiving Day gave a good glimpse of what DeMarco Murray is capable of, as he finished with three touchdowns and 63 yards rushing (second in standard scoring among all running backs in Week 13). Now, we place him at the top of the heap this week, as he faces a Bears defense that has been dead last against the run and second to last in fantasy against running backs. Start Murray above all this week, especially if he is a value in weekly salary-cap formats.
Jennings' Status Not as Clear
Despite the fact that Darren McFadden (ankle) did not practice on Thursday, fantasy owners cannot feel great about Rashad Jennings (concussion) this week, either. Jennings was limited in practice on Thursday, but he figures to start and get a heavy workload against the New York Jets. The problem with using him in fantasy is the Jets do one thing well still: Stop the run. They are No. 1 against the run and No. 2 against fantasy running backs.
Like Him More
Fantasy owners can worry all they want about Ray Rice's terrible return on first-round investment, but they should keep him active against the Vikings this week. Minnesota is the third-worst team against fantasy running backs and in the bottom 10 against the run.
Rice is among the backs whom we like more than the consensus below:
Like Him Less
Lamar Miller (pectoral) held up against the Jets' No. 1-ranked run defense with 72 yards on 22 carries, which was his first full-time workload with Daniel Thomas (ankle) out. He now faces a Pittsburgh defense that was abused by running backs in the early part of the season but has been better of late. Also, the Steelers have allowed only two 100-yard rushers all year.
We expect Miller to be kept under 100 yards and out of the end zone, which is why he is among the backs whom we like less than the masses this week:
Wide Receivers: Seahawks Matchup Leaves 49ers Targets Sleepless in San Francisco
- Pierre Garcon
- Keenan Allen
- Harry Douglas
- Riley Cooper
- Cecil Shorts (already played Thursday night)
- Nate Burleson
Colin Kaepernick has Michael Crabree (Achilles) back, with Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis healthy, but the toughest secondary in football is coming to San Francisco this week. That makes it difficult to trust Boldin and Crabtree.
Seattle is No. 1 against the pass and No. 3 in fantasy against wide receivers, and it just got done shutting down an all-timer in Drew Brees a week ago. If you thought Kaepernick's targets have been frustrating this season, wait until Sunday's result comes in. Avoid starting Boldin and Crabtree.
Buc Doesn't Stop Here
Vincent Jackson (hamstring) has been limited in practice, but he is expected to play on Sunday. Consider him a solid start, despite the injury, against the Buffalo Bills, who have been the second-worst team in fantasy against wide receivers. The matchup and Jackson's lack of practice reps might be sneaky reasons to consider Tiquan Underwood as a flex option in deeper leagues as well.
Bucking Broncos Against Titans?
Here is where you can throw the fantasy-against data out the window. The Tennessee Titans have a solid secondary—No. 7 against the pass and No. 1 against fantasy wideouts—but you cannot sit any of your Broncos receivers in fantasy crunch time, especially at home. Sure, one of Demaryius Thomas (shoulder), Wes Welker or Eric Decker might prove to be disappointing, but you cannot sit these guys against anyone. Decker proved that at Kansas City a week ago.
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Speaking of fantasy must-start receivers in bad matchups, Antonio Brown is facing the Miami Dolphins, who have been No. 9 against the pass and No. 2 in fantasy against wideouts. He has been a steady force all season as Ben Roethlisberger's go-to receiver, especially at home. Brown's three best weeks this season have come in Pittsburgh.
Brown is among the receivers whom we like more than the masses below:
Like Him Less
We don't quite understand the continued love for Riley Cooper right now. He has been subpar for the past two weeks, posting three catches for 37 yards and three catches for 48 yards. Sure, the Lions matchup is favorable—they are the third-worst team in fantasy against wide receivers—but the recent production hurts his case to start this week.
Cooper is among the wide receivers whom we like less than the consensus here:
Tight Ends: Julius Thomas Returns to Practice, Fantasy Lineups in Week 14
- Jared Cook
- Rob Housler
- Brandon Myers
- Zach Ertz
- Brent Celek
- Garrett Graham (whoops! Already played Thursday night)
- Jordan Reed
- Marcedes Lewis (whoops! Already played Thursday night)
- Scott Chandler
- Dennis Pitta (hip)
Fantasy owners figure to finally get one of their key cogs back in lineups this week with the news that "Orange Julius" has been allowed to finally practice in full, according to The Denver Post's Mike Klis. Julius Thomas has missed back-to-back games, but if he's active for the Broncos as expected, he is a third choice behind Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham at the position.
Heck, if not for the Broncos having three elite fantasy wideouts, Thomas might be above Graham and Gronk going forward.
He Went to Jared
Were you left wondering how you missed out on Zach Ertz and Brent Celek's combined three touchdowns a week ago? Well, the Arizona Cardinals have been woeful against tight ends this season, allowing a league-high 73 receptions, 939 yards and 13 touchdowns to the position. That sets the St. Louis Rams' Jared Cook up as a must-start option in all leagues this week.
Getting a Good Reed Versus the Chiefs?
Early-season surprise tight end Jordan Reed (concussion) is a much more difficult play. He has missed back-to-back games as well. He returned to practice but merely on a limited basis, according to the official NFL Injury Report. What's worse, even if he were healthy, he would be facing a Kansas City Chiefs team that is No. 1 in fantasy against tight ends. You need another option.
Like Him More
Speaking of those aforementioned Philadelphia Eagles tight ends, they have moved up the fantasy food chain with those Week 13 performances. While they are facing the fourth-best team in fantasy against tight ends in Detroit, the Lions are still in the bottom 10 against the pass.
That is the reason why we still rank Ertz and Celek higher than the masses this week:
Like Him Less
The Ravens are still hopeful Dennis Pitta (hip) can return this week to face the Vikings. Minnesota is the sixth-worst team in fantasy against tight ends, but Percy Harvin's hip woes are an example in fantasy of preaching caution, at least initially.
Pick up Pitta as a stretch-run flier, but he is among the tight ends whom we like less than the consensus below:
Defense/Special Teams: Jets Are Bad but Not Bad Enough to Start Oakland's D/ST
- Baltimore Ravens
- Carolina Panthers
- Cincinnati Bengals
- San Francisco 49ers
- San Diego Chargers
- New England Patriots
- Arizona Cardinals
- Miami Dolphins
- New Orleans Saints
- Buffalo Bills
We have said all season you have to match up your defense against the shaky quarterbacks. With the Browns and Vikings having cloudy quarterback situations, it makes the Patriots and Ravens defenses great streaming plays in fantasy leagues this week.
Sure, you might consider taking a shot in the dark on the Oakland Raiders because they are facing the Jets and error-prone quarterback Geno Smith, but we wouldn't trust a subpar defensive unit on the road in crunch time, no matter how juicy the matchup.
Re-Charging Their Playoff Hopes
The San Diego Chargers are on the outside looking in with regard to the final wild-card spot in the AFC, but a home matchup against the disappointing New York Giants might be just what they need right now. The Giants have been the worst team in fantasy against defense/special teams, so if you're digging deep for a unit this week, consider the Chargers, particularly at home.
Saint No Way
It is going to be tough to trust the Saints defense in any fantasy league after that performance in Seattle on Monday night. They do return home, but the matchup is still bad. The Panthers have been the second-best team in fantasy against defense/special teams. There is no way you can start the Saints in standard leagues this week.
Like Them More
The Panthers, meanwhile, are heading to one of the toughest places to play in football. Seattle and Kansas City are difficult in terms of noise, but there is nothing like the Superdome in a big game. It can get rocking. The Panthers might not look like a great play in those conditions, but defense wins big games.
We still rank the Panthers as a starting unit in all leagues and one of those we like more than the consensus below:
Like Them Less
You might think the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are a favorable matchup for an opposing defense, but that just has not been the case this season. Despite starting a rookie quarterback and losing their starting running back to injury for the season, the Bucs have been in the top eight against fantasy defense/special teams.
It makes the Bills defense a bad play on the road and one of the units that we like less than the masses this week:
Kickers: Strong Running Games Can Make It a Kicker's Duel in San Francisco
- Mason Crosby
- Phil Dawson
- Mike Nugent
- Ryan Succop
- Nick Novak
- Garrett Hartley
- Matt Bryant
- Robbie Gould
- Alex Henery
- Blair Walsh
This week's example of why you probably shouldn't pay attention to the minutia at your kicker position in crunch time: the Seahawks at the 49ers. The two best teams in fantasy against kickers are facing each other, but it shouldn't be enough for you to sit the likes of Steven Hauschka or Phil Dawson.
Sure, there are ample alternatives to be had off waivers, but both teams' running games are strong enough to make this a battle of field goals. You shouldn't worry about having Hauschka or Dawson active in any fantasy league.
Green (Bay) with Envy
Mason Crosby has struggled as the Packers offense has without Aaron Rodgers (shoulder), but the running game should be there this week against the Falcons. Also, Atlanta has been the worst team in fantasy against kickers this season. You should feel confident in keeping Crosby active.
Bengals a Bad Matchup for Vinatieri
Cincy has one of the bigger home-field advantages this season. The Bengals haven't lost at home, with all four of their losses coming on the road. They also are in the top 10 of fantasy against kickers. The Colts' Adam Vinatieri is a tougher play outdoors. We rank him out of the top 20 this week.
Like Him More
Mike Nugent isn't at the top of many fantasy owners' priority lists, but we figure December, a home game and the Colts matchup will be kind to him this week. We expect a three-plus-field-goal performance, and Nugent is among the kickers whom we like better than the consensus:
Like Him Less
The Saints' Garrett Hartley gets to kick in the dome this week, but the Panthers figure to limit the Saints better than almost any team in football can. We still rank Hartley among the starting fantasy options, but he is among the kickers whom we like less than the masses this week:
Eric Mack, one of the giants among fantasy writers, is the Fantasy Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report this season. Follow him on Twitter, where you can ask him endless questions about your team, rip him for his content and even challenge him to a head-to-head fantasy game. You can also listen to him on his podcast that he deprecatingly dubbed the Fantasy FatCast.
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