Week 14 marks the start of the fantasy playoffs for most leagues, so your start/sit decisions now are more important than ever. There are no more dart throws allowed; you can play only the people you are confident in. And the waiver wire is likely a barren wasteland of forgotten and unwanted toys, so make sure you know the term "caveat emptor" as you browse through the players.
Rob Gronkowski and JuJu Smith-Shuster were both suspended this week by the league for illegal hits in Week 13. Gronk is a huge loss to any fantasy team he is on, while Smith-Shuster is a WR3 that had a great 3-game run in Weeks 7-10 (Week 9 bye), but is TD-dependent. If you need a TE replacement, consider Jack Doyle, Hunter Henry, or Ricky Seals-Jones, while those in need of a WR3 should consider Marqise Lee or Marquise Goodwin.
Derek Carr – Raiders: Carr and the Raiders go on the road to take on their division rivals, the Kansas City Chiefs. While the Chiefs started the season as hot as any team in the NFL, they hit a brick wall and have now lost four straight games.
The Raiders, on the other hand, are 3-2 in their last 5 games, and have won two in a row now. Michael Crabtree is back from his one-game suspension, but Amari Cooper still remained in the concussion protocol on Wednesday. He is hoping to get cleared in time for this game, but that remains to be determined.
Even if Cooper is out, the Chiefs will be without Marcus Peters this week after he was suspended by the team. Add that loss to a defense that is already giving up the 5th-most fantasy points to QBs this season (21.9 PPG), and you have a QB worth starting that nobody is talking about. Carr isn't going to be available on the waiver wire in active leagues, but those in DFS leagues can still pick him up fairly cheap.
Philip Rivers – Chargers: Rivers is clinging to QB1 value this season, holding as fantasy football's #11-ranked QB heading into Week 14. What makes Rivers so convincing as a QB1 play for Week 14 is the fact that he is in on a two-game tear, racking up 778 yards and 4 touchdowns while throwing no interceptions.
The Chargers are at home this week against a Redskins defense that is middle-of-the-road when it comes to fantasy QBs, giving up 20.1 PPG to them, 15th-most in the NFL. Even though they are 15th in PPG allowed to QBs, they given up the 10th-most passing touchdowns (20) this season. Their 12 INTs is where they make up the fantasy points.
As long as Rivers can keep the ball out of the Redskins' hands on defense, he looks like a sneaky QB1 play for the first week of the fantasy playoffs.
Melvin Gordon – Chargers: Even though Melvin Gordon is fantasy football's #4-ranked RB this season, fantasy owners still seem to be looking for reasons to sit him as we head into the postseason. The problem is Gordon has run for 100-plus yards only twice this season, and his total yards per game this season is averaging 89.9.
The Redskins are far worse against the run than they are against the pass, allowing the 7th-most fantasy points to RBs this season at 19.7 PPG. Their 9 rushing touchdowns allowed is also the 7th-most in the NFL, but their 4 receiving touchdowns by RBs this season ties them for the 3rd-most. From where I sit, the only thing that could hurt Gordon's value this week is if the Chargers get out in front, and use Austin Ekeler more than they normally would.
Jamaal Williams – Packers: Over the past 4 games it has been all Jamaal Williams as the only viable and healthy RB on the roster. In that time he has averaged 20 touches per game, amassing 303 rushing yards, 11 receptions, 124 receiving yards, and 3 touchdowns. Last week alone he finished with 113 rushing yards on 21 carries, and scored one of those touchdowns.
Williams gets the Browns this week, and their defense gives up the 15th-most fantasy points to RBs this season at 17.1 PPG. Brett Hundley seems to be target-locked onto Davante Adams, and nobody else. That leaves Williams, and possibly Aaron Jones, to move the chains. My money is on Williams after a big Week 13 performance. Consider Williams a solid RB2, with legitimate upside into the low-end RB1 rankings.
Davante Adams – Packers: Speaking of the Packers – Hundley, and Adams! Last week Hundley managed to throw for just 84 yards, despite completing 13 of 22 passes. Of those yards and completions, Adams accounted for 4 catches and 42 yards. Jordy Nelson was the most thrown-to on the Packers (8 targets), but Nelson is averaging just 25.5 YPG receiving since Week 5.
Adams seems to be the first, second, and third option for Hundley when he drops back to pass. If Hundley was playing Madden on the Xbox One, Adams would be the X, triangle, and square options! Even though Hundley won't light up the box score with his stats, Adams is the only guy he is looking at when throwing the ball. That alone makes him worth playing as a WR2.
Sterling Shepard – Giants: In Weeks 9 and 10, Shepard totaled 16 catches for 212 yards, then dropped back down to 3 catches and 56 yards under Geno Smith in Week 13. That one game from Smith was all the Giants ownership needed to see, and they quickly fired their head coach and general manager, and Eli Manning was put back in as the Giants starting QB.
Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo will take over as the interim coach, and that is good news for a guy like Shepard. Why? Because interim coaches always want to make it to the interview table when the owners are looking for head coaches. I am looking for the Giants to push the ball over these final few games on offense, and Shepard is the leading man on the outside to do it. I would consider him a solid low-end WR2 with upside this week.
Evan Engram – Giants: Speaking of the Giants, Engram is another guy you can fire right back up on your fantasy team. With Manning back under center, Engram becomes a top-5 fantasy TE once again.
The only thing that could affect his value is if the Giants decide to see what they have in 3rd-round rookie Davis Webb. If/when they do that, Engram could either lose value, maintain his current value, or gain value, depending on what Webb is able to do in the NFL. Time will tell.
Cincinnati Bengals defense: The Bengals come into this game banged up with Nick Vigil (ankle) now on injured reserve, Dre Kirkpatrick highly questionable with a concussion, Adam Jones questionable with a groin injury, and Vontaze Burfict likely out after being carted off the field thanks to Smith-Shuster's dirty and illegal hit. So why play the Bengals defense, you ask?
Well, the Bengals are at home against a Bears offense that generously gives up the 6th-most fantasy points to defenses this season. The Bengals secondary may be banged up, but can you name a WR on the Bears besides Dontrelle Inman? Besides that, the Bengals defensive line is healthy, and they still have Carl Lawson waiting to break out at LB.
I would consider the Bengals a top 3-5 defensive play this week in almost all formats. Even without Kirkpatrick, Jones, and Burfict, I think the Bears offense is the best defensive weapon the Bengals have!
Matthew Stafford – Lions: Stafford and the Lions have a great matchup this week against a Buccaneers defense giving up 267.3 YPG passing this season, 2nd-most in the NFL behind the Colts (271.6). However, Stafford suffered a fairly severe bruise on his throwing hand in Week 13, narrowly escaping a break that would have ended his season.
While I do think he will play given the Lions' 6-6 record, and the fact that he hasn't missed a game since 2010, I am not going to expect much out of him in this one. His owners should seek other options, perhaps taking a shot with Jimmy Garoppolo against the Texans.
Marcus Mariota – Titans: Mariota and the Titans offense has been nothing short of a major disappointment this season, with the 3rd year QB averaging just 220.3 YPG passing, 19.4 YPG rushing, and he has thrown 12 INTs to 10 TDs.
Getting Rishard Matthews back this week would be a boost to his outlook, but not enough to make him a viable option as anything more than a QB2 against a Cardinals defense that hasn't given up more than 238 yards passing in their last 4 games. The Cardinals don't give up many passing yards, but they have given up 2 passing TDs in 3 of their last 4 games.
Mariota has thrown 1 TD in each of his past 4 games, meanwhile he has racked up an unimpressive 7 INTs over that span. I've lost faith in Mariota this season, and wouldn't even make a case for keeping him if you still own him.
Jay Ajayi – Eagles: Conventional wisdom suggested that once Ajayi was traded from the sputtering Dolphins to the league-leading Eagles, his value would increase. However, Ajayi has been nothing short of a bust in his 4 games as an Eagle, averaging just 57.3 yards from his 7.3 carries.
Despite trading for Ajayi, the Eagles are still giving LeGarrette Blount 11.3 carries per game since his arrival. As long as Blount is the go-to RB in the backfield, and Corey Clement is handling passing-down duties, Ajayi is little more than a true boom-or-bust RB play. The problem is, how much boom can you really hope to get from a RB who hasn't logged double-digit carries with his new team?
Christian McCaffrey – Panthers: Christian McCaffrey is the only reliable fantasy RB in the Panthers backfield, with Jonathan Stewart averaging just 44.3 YPG rushing while scoring just 3 touchdowns this year. McCaffrey, however, is much more of a PPR guy than a standard scoring guy, racking up 64 catches for 501 yards and 4 receiving touchdowns, while managing just 284 yards on 82 carries (3.5 YPC) and 2 touchdowns.
This week the Panthers are at home against the Vikings. Minnesota doesn't have a 10-2 record by accident, as testament to their defense allowing just 77.7 YPG rushing this season. Building on that, the Vikings are giving up just 17.3 PPG to fantasy RBs this season in PPR formats. Those fantasy points come from both rushing and receiving, meaning McCaffrey would split those fantasy points with Stewart. Be aware, and beware.
Doug Baldwin – Seahawks: Doug Baldwin is one of the more underrated fantasy WRs in the NFL, finishing ranked #9 for fantasy WRs in both 2015 and 2016. However, the Seahawks offensive line and RB problems have become more than Baldwin's fantasy value can bear. Baldwin was able to haul in 5 passes for 84 yards last week against the Eagles, but this week he takes on a Jaguars defense that is equally as elite in the secondary as they are on the defensive line.
With the Jaguars pressuring Wilson up front all game, it is going to be tough for him to find the time to get the ball to Baldwin down the field. And when he does, he will still have Jalen Ramsey, A.J. Bouye, Tashaun Gipson, and Barry Church. Again… be aware, and beware.
David Njoku – Browns: It's likely not going to come as much of a surprise to see a Cleveland Brown on the sit 'em list, given the fact that they haven't had a winning record since 2007, and haven't won a game yet this season!
However, over the past 4 weeks, Njoku has managed to put up a 10/137/1 line. For a TE that is good enough for a #11 ranking in PPR formats. Despite outplaying guys like Jason Witten, Austin Hooper, and Vernon Davis, Njoku isn't someone I can trust with the Packers giving up the fewest fantasy points to TEs this season at 5.6 PPG. Josh Gordon helps take the focus off him in the passing game, but I'd sit him this week if at all possible.
Houston Texans defense: With the Texans still being owned in nearly 60 percent of fantasy leagues out there, it is a shame I have to tell you to sit them despite being the 17th-best fantasy defense this season.
If the 49ers didn't have Jimmy Garoppolo at QB, the Texans would actually be an elite fantasy defense this week. But since Garoppolo was able to rack up 293 passing yards against a Bears defense that gives up the 9th-fewest fantasy points to QBs this season, I am not going to bet against him until we see a bad game from him.
I'm not ready to anoint Garoppolo the next Tom Brady, but he is enough of an improvement over C.J. Beathard and Brian Hoyer for 49ers fans to be excited about the future. With the Texans already giving up 275 yards and 3 touchdowns to Blaine Gabbert in Week 11, and 308 yards and 2 touchdowns to Jacoby Brissett in Week 9, there is no reason to think they can stop a guy who has studied under Brady for three years.