Fantasy Football Week 14: Confident Calls on Toughest Lineup Decisions
Matchups tend to get a lot tighter once the fantasy playoffs roll around. You're going up against the best teams in your league and no longer feasting on that friend starting six players from his favorite team or the co-worker who hasn't set a lineup since Week 6.
This means star players alone aren't going to be enough to ensure victory. Todd Gurley or Michael Thomas may have gotten you here—and you certainly aren't going to sit him—but you're going to have to back your guys up with a complete roster.
With this in mind, we're going to look past the must-starts and examine some fringe starters with tough matchups. We'll determine who to start and who to sit according to factors such as opponent, performance to date and player health. Our choices are based on point-per-reception (PPR) scoring formats.
QB Kirk Cousins at Seattle Seahawks
Playing the Seahawks in Seattle used to be a fantasy death sentence for quarterbacks. While the Seahawks are again looking like a playoff-worthy football team, they aren't the defense-oriented club of a few years ago. They certainly haven't been a fantasy wasteland for opposing quarterbacks.
Last week, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Nick Mullens racked up 414 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.
This is why we're inclined to stick by Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins, even after a bad game against the New England Patriots.
Unless Cousins implodes or head coach Mike Zimmer decides to again make his offense one-dimensional—as he did against New England—Cousins should be an above-average play at worst. He's only tossed nine interceptions on the year and is averaging roughly 290 yards and two touchdowns per game.
Projection: 310 yards passing, 3 TD, 1 INT
Start Over: Mitchell Trubisky, Ryan Tannehill
QB Carson Wentz at Dallas Cowboys
While Kirk Cousins has been relatively steady this season, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz has taken some time to round into form. He finally began looking like the Wentz of last season Monday night against the Washington Redskins, flashing his mobility, buying time in the pocket and passing for 306 yards and two touchdowns.
Don't be shocked if Wentz takes a step back in Week 14. He'll be facing a Dallas Cowboys defense that just made future Hall of Famer Drew Brees a fantasy failure.
"They're going to have to match our intensity," Cowboys defensive end Demarcus Lawrence told reporters before facing the New Orleans Saints.
The Saints couldn't match the intensity of Dallas' defense, and Brees finished with just 127 yards passing, one touchdown and one interception. Wentz should fare a bit better against the familiar foe but not significantly so.
Projection: 210 yards passing, 1 TD, 1 INT
Sit For: Dak Prescott, Josh Allen
RB Mark Ingram at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Saints running back Mark Ingram had nearly as disappointing a game as Drew Brees against the Cowboys. He caught two passes for one yard and rushed for just another 27 more. He wasn't much better the week before against the Atlanta Falcons (66 total yards, two receptions).
Like Brees, we expect Ingram to bounce back this week against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
There are a couple of reasons for this, one of which is the revenge factor. Tampa handed New Orleans its first loss of the season all the way back in Week 1. The Saints are going to be up for this game in a way they weren't against Dallas. Expect them to build an early lead and ride the running game late to grind out a victory.
The other reason is the Buccaneers defense, which has allowed the fifth-most fantasy points to opposing running backs this season. Ingram should get plenty of opportunities in this game, and he'll make the most of them.
Projection: 110 yards rushing, 1 reception, 10 yards receiving, 1 TD
Start Over: Lamar Miller, Gus Edwards
RB Peyton Barber vs. New Orleans Saints
Buccaneers running back Peyton Barber has rushed for at least 45 yards and scored a touchdown in each of his last three games. However, he hasn't regularly been a factor in the passing game—he has just 13 receptions on the season—and that's why we're recommending sitting him.
While the Saints didn't play well against Dallas as a team, the run defense did. Ezekiel Elliot had fantasy success because he caught six passes for 60 yards and a touchdown last week. He only ran for 76 yards and 3.3 yards per carry.
New Orleans still allows an NFL-low 75.3 yards rushing per game.
"One of our main goals is we have to be great against the run," Saints linebacker Demario Davis said earlier this season, via the team's official website.
Expect the Saints to be great against the run in Tampa, and expect Barber to have a less-than-desirable day.
Projection: 55 yards rushing, 1 reception, 5 yards receiving
Sit For: Spencer Ware, Chris Carson
RB LeSean McCoy vs. New York Jets
It's been hard to trust Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy this season for a couple of reasons. For one, he hasn't played up to the same high level he has in years past. Secondly, he hasn't gotten as many rushing opportunities when rookie quarterback Josh Allen has been leading the rushing attack.
Last week against the Miami Dolphins, McCoy carried just 15 times for 52 yards, while Allen had nine quarterback keepers for 135 yards.
The last time the Buffalo Bills faced the New York Jets, though, McCoy carried 26 times for 113 yards and two touchdowns. Matt Barkley was under center for that game, and Allen will cut into McCoy's carries, but the rematch with New York should provide plenty of opportunities.
McCoy may not have quite as good a game as he did the last time he faced New York, but he's still a safe fantasy start in Week 14.
Projection: 85 yards rushing, 2 receptions, 18 yards receiving, 1 TD
Start Over: Marlon Mack, Adrian Peterson
RB Isaiah Crowell at Buffalo Bills
We like LeSean McCoy against the Jets. We don't like New York running back Isaiah Crowell on the other side of the matchup.
Crowell has been an up-and-down fantasy option as it is this season. He's had a game with over 200 yards rushing, and he's also had five games with 30 yards rushing or fewer. One of them came the last time the Bills and Jets faced off.
In addition, Crowell is dealing with a toe injury. According to Eric Allen of the team's official website, coach Todd Bowles believes he'll be a game-time decision.
This isn't an ideal matchup for Crowell anyway, and it's looking like he'll be less than 100 percent—assuming he even starts. There's no reason to wait for the final injury report. Start looking for other options now.
Projection: 38 yards rushing
Sit For: Duke Johnson, Justin Jackson
WR Jarvis Landry vs. Carolina Panthers
Jarvis Landry has been a bit of a disappointment as a No. 1 receiver for the Cleveland Browns. He's also been a disappointment for fantasy owners. He does have 66 receptions and 733 yards receiving, but he's also had five games with fewer than 40 yards and has only scored twice.
Landry returned to being a fantasy standout last week against the Houston Texans, catching six passes for 103 yards. We think he'll have a second consecutive good game this week against the Carolina Panthers.
Carolina has been on the decline in recent weeks, losing four in a row and giving up an average of 31.5 points per game during that span. The Panthers have also given up the 10th-most fantasy points to opposing wide receivers this season.
Projection: 5 receptions, 85 yards receiving, 1 TD
Start Over: Adam Humphries, Kenny Golladay
WR Devin Funchess at Cleveland Browns
We like Jarvis Landry against the Panthers, but we don't like Carolina receiver Devin Funchess on the other side of the matchup. He hasn't reached the 50-yard mark since Week 7—he did miss Week 12 with a back injury—and has only found the end zone four times.
While the Browns may be without starting cornerback Denzel Ward (concussion), they could also have starter Terrance Mitchell back from a broken wrist.
The Panthers have their own injuries to manage, as quarterback Cam Newton has been dealing with lingering shoulder issues and tight end Greg Olsen is on injured reserve.
When Olsen went down last week, the Panthers frequently turned to tight end Ian Thomas (five catches, 46 yards) instead of Funchess (one catch, 10 yards). It appears likely Newton will play against Cleveland, though Panthers coach Ron Rivera has been noncommittal.
"We'll see," Rivera said Wednesday, per AP sportswriter Steve Reed. "We're not even to Friday."
We expect Newton to go, but we don't expect him to be at 100 percent. This further hurts Funchess' value.
Projection: 4 receptions, 46 yards receiving
Sit For: Kenny Stills, Antonio Callaway
TE Vance McDonald at Oakland Raiders
Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Vance McDonald has been a viable fantasy option at different points in the season, but he hasn't been especially consistent. He's largely been touchdown-dependent and has fewer than 30 yards in each of the last three games.
McDonald and the Steelers are also traveling cross-country to take on the Oakland Raiders this week, and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger tends to struggle more on the road, which has traditionally been a problem. Since 2003, Pittsburgh is just 2-8 on the West Coast.
Still, we like sticking with McDonald this week against a Raiders defense that has allowed the most fantasy points to opposing tight ends. With James Conner out for at least this week, Pittsburgh should rely a bit more on the passing game. McDonald will benefit.
Projection: 5 receptions, 55 yards receiving, 1 TD
Start Over: Cameron Brate, Trey Burton
Baltimore Ravens D/ST at Kansas City Chiefs
The Baltimore Ravens defense has been good in recent weeks, even in less-than-ideal matchups. On the road against a potent Atlanta Falcons offense last week, it allowed just 16 points while logging a trio of sacks and one turnover.
For the season, the Ravens are allowing an NFL-low 17.8 points per game.
We're not too fond of starting Baltimore on the road against the Kansas City Chiefs, however. Kansas City is averaging an NFL-high 37.0 points per game, and it's scored fewer than 27 points only once this season.
If this game were at M&T Bank Stadium, where crowd noise may affect Patrick Mahomes and Co., we may consider riding with Baltimore. It's at Arrowhead, though, and everything from the crowd to league rules favors Kansas City's offense.
Projection: 30 points allowed, 3 sacks, 1 FF
Sit For: Detroit Lions, New York Giants
*Fantasy stats and rankings via FantasyPros.