As some fantasy football players already learned Thursday night, the guys who led them to the playoffs don't always contribute to a championship.
A premier draft bargain, Derek Carr directed many owners to the fantasy postseason, only to deliver his worst game of the year (17-of-41, 117 yards, no touchdowns) in Week 14's 21-13 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. Amari Cooper started the fantasy playoffs with 29 yards, and Spencer Ware squandered a golden matchup by producing 63 yards on 21 touches.
Those weekly fixtures didn't do their fantasy investors any favors. Everyone else watching the carnage should take note and carefully study their Week 14 matchups. Nobody should entertain thoughts of benching Aaron Rodgers or Ezekiel Elliott against difficult opponents, but other big-name players need to take seats to ensure advancement.
Entering a crucial weekend where many fantasy leagues begin their playoffs, let's take a look at some worrisome lineup dilemmas.
|Week 14 Start or Sit Decisions|
|Pos||Player A||Player B||Verdict|
|QB||Philip Rivers, SD (at CAR)||Dak Prescott, DAL (at NYG)||Rivers|
|QB||Marcus Mariota, TEN (vs. DEN)||Andy Dalton, CIN (at CLE)||Dalton|
|RB||Jonathan Stewart, CAR (vs. SD)||Rashad Jennings, NYG (vs. DAL)||Stewart|
|RB||Darren Sproles, PHI (vs. WAS)||Bilal Powell, NYJ (at SF)||Powell|
|WR||DeAndre Hopkins, HOU (at IND)||Allen Robinson, JAC (vs. MIN)||Hopkins|
|WR||Malcolm Mitchell, NE (vs. BAL)||Randall Cobb, GB (vs. SEA)||Mitchell|
|TE||Kyle Rudolph, MIN (at JAC)||Ladarius Green, PIT (at BUF)||Green|
|D/ST||Arizona Cardinals (at MIA)||Miami Dolphins (vs. ARI)||Cardinals|
|K||Caleb Sturgis, PHI (vs. WAS)||Wil Lutz, NO (at TB)||Lutz|
Start: Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers
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It'd be great if Philip Rivers would stop throwing the ball to the other team.
The San Diego Chargers quarterback has thrown 10 of his season's 14 interceptions over the last six games, lowlighted by a four-pick fourth quarter in the Chargers' Week 10 loss to the Miami Dolphins. Because of those turnovers, he has dipped to No. 14 in ESPN.com fantasy scoring among quarterbacks behind Andy Dalton and Blake Bortles.
He has also, however, accounted for multiple touchdowns in each of San Diego's last five contests and has averaged 7.89 yards per pass attempt. This weekend, he'll get a Carolina Panthers defense that has relinquished the seventh-most ESPN.com fantasy points to quarterbacks.
San Diego is 2-4 on the road, which has prompted Rivers to fire 37 passes per game. After throwing just 26 times last Sunday, he should get more reps in a high-scoring showdown to help those who weren't eliminated because of his recent recklessness.
Just be prepared to lose a few points because of another pick or two.
Sit: Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans
Marcus Mariota has morphed into a fantasy phenom, accounting for 23 touchdowns over the Tennessee Titans' last eight games. He enters Week 14 with the fifth-most fantasy points behind Rodgers, Drew Brees, David Johnson and Matt Ryan.
Before Tennessee's late Week 13 bye, the second-year pro received November's AFC Player of the Month honors. The team's Twitter page broke down his remarkable four games:
He has earned the trust of his shrewd fantasy investors. Except when facing the Denver Broncos.
Denver leads the NFL with 192.7 passing yards allowed per game on 5.8 yards per attempt. The unit has tallied more interceptions (12) than touchdowns allowed (10), so anyone starting Mariota would count on him supplementing his aerial numbers with a busy rushing day.
Expect the Titans to protect their young franchise cornerstone by leaning heavily on DeMarco Murray. Hot streak aside, the 23-year-old should still take a seat in the toughest matchup possible to start the fantasy playoffs.
Start: Jonathan Stewart, Carolina Panthers
Jonathan Stewart's fantasy worth has relied too much on touchdowns for most owners' comfort this season. Yet he's tough to sit as long as the Panthers keep feeding him goal-line looks.
He has registered an underwhelming 554 yards this season, adding just five receptions while not once running for 100 yards or more in a single game. That's also a misleading manipulation of his numbers, as he recorded 96 yards on the ground against the Raiders two weeks ago.
Despite his limited effectiveness, Stewart has scored seven touchdowns and received double-digit carries in all but one of his nine games played. Everyone can safely anticipate another 15 touches against the Chargers, who have already yielded 16 rushing touchdowns this season.
Although not an exciting option, Stewart remains a rock-solid flex play or low-end No. 2 back in standard-scoring leagues.
Sit: Darren Sproles and Ryan Mathews, Philadelphia Eagles
If only fantasy players could trust the Philadelphia Eagles. One running back may be in store for a splashy Sunday against Washington, but uncertainty will compel a risk-adverse strategist to avoid the volatile situation altogether.
Washington has surrendered 4.7 yards per rush and 17 rushing touchdowns, tied with the San Francisco 49ers for an NFL high. The 49ers, Cleveland Browns and Atlanta Falcons are the only three teams who have coughed up more fantasy points per game to the position.
Who, if anyone, will benefit from the enticing matchup? Nobody outside of the Eagles' team facility knows.
Since receiving 28 combined handoffs in consecutive road matchups against the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants, Darren Sproles has amassed 54 rushing yards on 14 carries through four contests. He remains a solid option in point-per-reception formats, but everyone else must be wary of Ryan Mathews' potential return.
After missing the last two games with a knee injury, the team's top rusher is officially listed as questionable, per the team's Twitter account:
Even when healthy, Mathews has carried the ball nine times or fewer in six games. Combining his varied workload with injury concerns, his basement-level floor should scare non-desperate owners away.
Start: DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans
DeAndre Hopkins has fallen short of lofty expectations. So many fantasy players who drafted him in the first round are out of playoff contention. Those who survived his shortcomings, however, could receive a better-late-than-never consolation prize from the Houston Texans wide receiver.
Despite receiving a healthy 112 targets this season, the struggling star has corralled just 58 of those Brock Osweiler passes for 668 yards. He finally rediscovered the end zone last Sunday at a snowy Lambeau Field, where he scored his first touchdown since Week 5.
Hopkins factored heavily into Week 6's overtime win over the Indianapolis Colts, snagging a season-high nine catches. Including last year's matchups, he has kept busy against his AFC South foe:
|DeAndre Hopkins vs. Colts|
According to Football Outsiders, the Colts have allowed 88.2 receiving yards per game to No. 1 wideouts. Don't be fooled by them silencing Brandon Marshall last Monday. Ryan Fitzpatrick and Bryce Petty deserve most of the credit.
There's no denying that Osweiler has stifled Hopkins' fantasy value, but an anticipated high target share maintains his status as a fantasy postseason starter.
Sit: Allen Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars
After teasing a resurgence from his slow start, Allen Robinson has found a way to sink even deeper. He re-emerged as a difference-maker from Weeks 8-10, only to vanish during the Jacksonville Jaguars' latest three losses.
|Allen Robinson: Weeks 8-10 vs. Weeks 11-13|
|Stat||Weeks 8-10||Weeks 11-13|
Following 2015's 1,400-yard, 14-touchdown breakout campaign, he has mustered a mediocre 622 yards and six touchdowns over a dozen games. In an interview with The Undefeated's Lois Nam and Jill Hudson, he addressed the contempt directed his way among fantasy players.
"I've been one of the most hated people in the fantasy football world," Robinson said. "That's been kind of fun to look at on Twitter."
He should steer clear of social media after Sunday's game versus the Minnesota Vikings, who have allowed the second-fewest fantasy points to wideouts after the Broncos. Anyone who dared to start him against Denver watched him compile three catches for 31 yards, so don't gamble on him overcoming another elite defense.
All fantasy scoring data obtained from ESPN.com