If you're reading this because you won last week and are moving onto the second week of the fantasy playoffs, congratulations. If you're reading this for pure masochistic reasons after falling in heartbreaking fashion, do yourself a favor and hit the close button; your click will still count.
Fantasy sports, much in the same way the real-life version does, tend to drive folks nuts. Every win—especially at this point in the season—is enough to put you in such a good mood that you don't even care about the 12 damn inches of snow you have to shovel. Get around a fantasy owner who just lost in his playoffs, and I wouldn't want to be within a 500-foot shovel radius.
But draft night sure is fun, isn't it?
As we head into Week 15 of the NFL season, the remaining fantasy football owners are dwindling exponentially while the stakes rise at the same rate. Most leagues use Week 16 as their championship, and some less standard formats use both Week 16 and Week 17 for a two-week finale. Either way, if you're setting a lineup this week for any reason other than cruel self-punishment, getting huge outings from your studs will be imperative.
Here is a look at the skill-position players projected to have the highest-scoring weeks in Week 14.
QB: Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos (vs. San Diego Chargers)
Manning is the No. 1 fantasy quarterback until his "noodle arm" falls off. At age 37, Manning is on a collision course for his finest NFL season—one that will almost certainly shatter the NFL record book. He's currently on pace to finish with 5,566 yards and 55 touchdowns, numbers that would make Drew Brees' passing yards record and Tom Brady's touchdown mark seem cute by comparison.
All of that insane production has, of course, been passed on to fantasy owners. It's usually advisable to pass on drafting a quarterback early; people like me tell you that all the time. There's just so much value, right?
Well, Manning's outlier season has made us all look kind of foolish in that regard as well. Using standard scoring, Manning has scored 47 more fantasy points than the second-place quarterback (Drew Brees). Using my highfalutin learnin' skills my third-grade teacher taught me, Manning has been worth about 3.6 extra fantasy points per week. Manning has 110 more points than the 10th-ranked fantasy quarterback this year—about 8.5 extra every Sunday.
As many of you all know, that seemingly small weekly figure is enough to be the difference between playoff glory and going through fantasy withdrawal.
With a matchup against the Chargers coming up on Thursday, Manning should give his owners a nice cushion going into the weekend. San Diego became the latest team to take advantage of Peyton's little brother Eli last week, picking him off twice in a 37-14 win, but the Chargers have been a dreadful defense all season long.
Pro Football Focus' defensive metrics grade them out as a bottom-barrel unit, and only the Redskins and Jets have more holes in their secondaries. I don't typically enjoy playing guys on Thursdays, but the combination of Manning and this matchup is just too good to pass up.
RB: LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles (@ Minnesota Vikings)
No. 1 lesson from Sunday: Snow football is awesome. No. 2 lesson: Not even a blizzard can slow down the brilliant LeSean McCoy.
Despite four or five inches of snow laying on Lincoln Financial Field the entire game, McCoy set a franchise record with 217 rushing yards and scored two touchdowns for the second time in three weeks. As the Lions were slipping and sliding (and fumbling) around the field like they were on skates—perhaps they would have gotten better traction on skates—McCoy looked almost entirely unaffected by the conditions.
While the ascent of Nick Foles has gotten the lion's share of the attention this year, it's actually McCoy who has been the engine making the Eagles go. He's four yards away from setting a career-high rushing total with three weeks to go. It's unlikely that he'll surpass his 2011 touchdown total (17), but McCoy has spent 2013 steadily reminding folks why he got some No. 1 overall pick buzz before his disappointing 2012 season.
McCoy won't have inclement conditions playing in his favor this week, but he should be good for a solid encore next week in Minnesota. The Vikings allow an average of 20 fantasy points per game to opposing fantasy backs, ranking right near the worst in the league. They've struggled in particular at containing pass-catching backs, with only the Dallas Cowboys and Carolina Panthers giving up more receptions.
With Adrian Peterson's status still up in the air, McCoy might be the best running back in the league for the rest of the season. And while guys like Eddie Lacy have juicy matchups as well, McCoy's consistency gets him the nod here.
WR: Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions (vs. Baltimore Ravens)
There are two and only two possible answers here: Megatron and Josh Gordon. Having Gordon and a bunch of replacement-level players alone has been enough to win these past few weeks. His 774 receiving yards the past four weeks set an NFL record, he's the only player in league history with back-to-back 200-yard receiving games, and the dude might just be Usain Bolt in shoulder pads—I'm not sure.
If you want to rank Gordon No. 1, I have no argument against it. You do you, other rankers.
I'm going with Megatron for the most unscientific reason possible: Calvin Johnson isn't going to be stopped two weeks in a row. After being targeted at least 10 times in each of the past six weeks, Matthew Stafford only threw Johnson's way five times in the Lions' loss to the Eagles. Seeing as Stafford often stares down Johnson so hard you'd think he has laser vision, I'm pretty sure we can attribute that to the 400 pounds of snow on the ground.
Johnson and Gordon essentially have equivalent matchups this week. Pro Football Focus grades Baltimore better than it does Chicago in terms of team-wide pass coverage. However, Football Outsiders' DVOA metric has the Bears as the eighth-best team against opposing WR1s, while the Ravens are 15th in the same category. There's only the slightest separation between the two teams in terms of allowing points to fantasy receivers.
This is pretty much a matter of preference. Gordon is bound to not have 150 yards and a touchdown one of these weeks, and I'd much rather bet my farm on Matthew Stafford than Jason Campbell. But if you happen to have both of these guys on your team, congrats on the championship.
TE: Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints (@ St. Louis Rams)
This might be the biggest "no duh" in all of sports. Jimmy Graham is the top tight end in fantasy football, and it's not even remotely close. We all should be well aware by now that Graham isn't even really a tight end; he's a wide receiver who spends most of his game split out or in the slot. The only reason Graham is still listed at tight end is financial. The Saints will have to pay him less if they offer him a "tight end" extension—and because, well, he's always been listed that way.
Rob Gronkowski's season-ending injury makes this even less of a question. Graham, barring some miracle or a breakout game from Vernon Davis, will top the tight end scoring on a weekly basis and should certainly be ranked that way.
One could cite the Rams' stellar numbers against opposing tight ends this season, but, again, Jimmy Graham is not a tight end. He is a wide receiver who happens to line up in a three-point stance every once in a while. So do yourself a favor: Keep Graham at the top of your list, and pat yourself on the back for having the smarts to draft him.
Lord knows I didn't.
All fantasy-related stats are courtesy of ESPN
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