For most of us, the fantasy playoffs are here and we are now in the one-and-done part of the football season. Win and you move on; lose, and you drop into the consolation bracket and get to fight for the toilet bowl title. Now, more than ever, it is important that you make smart start/sit decisions with minimal risk involved.
The waiver wire is pretty much useless at this point, unless you are streaming defenses, kickers, or QBs. Charles Sims and Shane Vereen are due back this week, so make sure they are owned in your league. Adrian Peterson has already said he will not return this season if the Vikings are eliminated from the playoffs. Read between the lines and you get that he pretty much isn't coming back this season. Justin Forsett was claimed off waivers by the Broncos, but he's already been waived by the Lions and Ravens this year, two teams in need of RB help still. If they didn't want him, why should you? And finally, for those in 2-QB leagues, word is the Browns plan to start Robert Griffin III at QB this week. If you are playing for draft pick position next year in a keeper league, and want to get a better pick, grab Griffin and start him!
Andy Dalton – Bengals: The Bengals have a prime matchup this weekend against the Browns, and their former OC, and now Browns HC, Hue Jackson. The Browns are the worst team in the NFL, which is amazing considering some of what is going on in the NFL this year.
If you just mirrored whichever fantasy players face the Browns this year, you'd be right a whole lot more than you'd be wrong, and this week is no exception. Dalton, Jeremy Hill, and Tyler Eifert are all worthy of starts; Brandon LaFell is worth playing in standard formats, while Tyler Boyd is worth playing in PPR formats.
Kirk Cousins – Redskins: This has been a magical year for Cousins and his owners, with the Redskins QB piling up 3,811 passing yards, 23 touchdowns (21 passing, 2 rushing), and throwing just 8 interceptions so far this season. He is giving top-5 QB value despite being taken in the 12th round on average.
Cousins was fairly average last week against a tough Cardinals defense, posting a 271/1/1 line. This week he takes on an Eagles defense that has given up 30-plus fantasy points to QBs in 3 straight games. With all the talk about DeSean Jackson possibly returning to the Eagles next season, I could see him having his third 100-yard game of the year this week. I'm projecting Cousins to be a top 5-7 QB for this week.
Jeremy Hill – Bengals: As with Dalton, Hill gets a juicy matchup against the 2nd-worst defense at shutting down fantasy RBs. Hill's only 100-yard game of the season came against the Browns in Week 7, when he racked up 168 rushing yards and a TD. With Giovani Bernard out for the year, Hill has little competition for snaps when a running play is called.
The Browns were 0-7 when these two teams last played, and now they are 0-12 and looking to lock down the No. 1 overall pick in next year's draft. Their defense is terrible, their offense may be guided by Robert Griffin this week (until he gets hurt or is benched), and you have to believe that their team morale is bouncing off of zero right now. Hill is a top-10 RB play this week.
Matt Forte – Jets: Forte is not the same RB he once was with the Bears, where he was a weekly top-5 fantasy RB. The Jets are a mess on both sides of the ball, and now they are turning to Bryce Petty to see if they can improve their draft position by losing games, I am guessing. That puts the offense on the shoulders of Forte, both on the ground and in the air via check-downs.
The 49ers are an even bigger mess, giving up the most fantasy points to RBs this season. Both of these teams have their eyes on next season, making this a running game to see who can do the least damage and not accidently win a game.
Michael Crabtree – Raiders: I never thought I would say this, but the Raiders are 10-2 and tied with the Patriots for the best record in the NFL. While they have some playmakers on the defensive side of the ball, their offense has been a major driving force in their impressive record. Derek Carr, Latavius Murray, Amari Cooper, and Michael Crabtree have all been fantasy studs in the process.
While I like them all this week, it is Crabtree that I am giving the nod to here because Cooper often overshadows him in fantasy circles. Crabtree has managed to draw 112 targets this season (12th-most, and 8 more than Cooper), turning those looks into 67 receptions, 785 yards, and 7 TDs. The reason owners are nervous about playing him is because he's scored just 1 touchdown in his last 5 games.
With that said, I think he could possibly add multiple TDs to his total this week as the Chiefs give up the most fantasy points to WRs this season at 27.6 PPG. With their attention on Cooper and Murray, look for Crabtree to come through in Week 14.
Doug Baldwin – Seahawks: Baldwin is another WR with a great matchup against a Packers secondary that is giving up 26.4 PPG, the 3rd-most in the NFL this year. Last week it was the Tyler Lockett show, but he is a WR that is more smoke and mirrors than consistent production. Baldwin, however, is averaging 7.1 targets per game this season, and turning those targets into 5.7 receptions and 69.3 yards on average.
As it is with most WRs, scoring has been the main issue holding Baldwin back. But the Packers have given up 18 receiving TDs this season, which is tied for the 2nd-most in the NFL. As long as Jimmy Graham doesn't hog all the touchdown looks this week, Baldwin should be able to finish with WR1/2 numbers.
Ladarius Green – Steelers: Green had a monster game off the fantasy waiver wire last week, reeling in 6 of 11 targets for 110 yards and a touchdown against the Giants. He's easily passed Jesse James as the Steelers' starting TE, and given the Steelers' need to win every game, he's locked into a TE1 fantasy role to finish out the season.
The Bills have been efficient at limiting TE production, ranking 7th with 6.9 PPG allowed this season. Even with that being the case, the Bills defense will have its hands full with Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown, leaving Green as someone that could excel in the redzone.
If Green is on your waiver wire, and you own a fringe TE, go grab him right now.
Cincinnati Bengals defense: There have been rumors that the Browns will start RGIII this week at QB, begging the question, what are they doing? Griffin is clearly not the answer at QB for them, he can't stay on the field long enough to finish the national anthem, and Josh McCown is coming off a 322-yard performance against the Giants.
If Griffin draws the start, this could be #1 overall fantasy defense-type of numbers for the Bengals. If McCown draws the start, I see top 5-7 numbers if the Browns don't score those dreaded garbage-time touchdowns we all hate in fantasy football.
I'd fire up the Bengals as a Def1 this week, and consider Carlos Dunlap an elite play in IDP leagues.
Joe Flacco – Ravens: Flacco had an amazing game last week, posting a ridiculous 381/4/1 line against the Dolphins. That is the best game you will ever get out of Flacco, and people picking him up this week are chasing stats.
The Patriots have limited opposing QBs to 19.3 PPG this season, the 11th-best mark in the NFL. Factor in that Flacco has scored less than what the Patriots are allowing in 7 of his 12 games this season, and you can see where he is ripe for a disappointment. Be aware, and beware.
Dak Prescott – Cowboys: I will give credit where credit is due, and what Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliot have done as rookies is impressive, to say the least. I think their success has MUCH more to do with that offensive line in front of them, than their talent at this stage of their career. Nevertheless, a win is a win, and they have been winning.
With that said, Prescott hasn't been a fantasy QB you can brag about over the past few games. In Week 12 against the Redskins he managed just 195 passing yards and 1 touchdown, but saved his day by running for 39 yards and another touchdown. He followed up that game with 139 passing yards, 37 rushing yards, and 1 TD against the Vikings in Week 13. Granted, the Vikings are the 2nd-best defense at shutting down QBs (16.6 PPG allowed), but the Redskins are a middle-of-the-road team giving up 21.3 PPG, 17th-most in the NFL.
This week Prescott takes on a Giants secondary giving up the 3rd-fewest fantasy points to QBs this season at 17.2 PPG. Prescott is more of a game manager than the gunslinger Tony Romo is, so the Giants aren't likely to cash in on many mistakes. But because of his style, Prescott isn't going to push the ball downfield for many chunk yardage gains, either. Prescott is a QB2, and a mid-range one at that.
Jay Ajayi – Dolphins: Ajayi has been one of the more impressive RBs in fantasy football when you consider that he was taken at the tail-end of the 11th round, yet is the #10 RB in PPR formats right now. You know it's going to be a great year when you get a RB1 at the back end of the 11th round!
The problem with Ajayi is if you take out his Week 6, 7, and 9 games (bye in Week 8), he is averaging just 31.6 YPG on the ground. His numbers are deceiving because 529 of his 908 rushing yards came in 3 games. Take those games out, and you have a RB3/4 that is TD-dependent.
The Dolphins take on the Cardinals, and their No. 2-ranked run defense this week. Ajayi owners should have other guys they can use in his place considering where they likely drafted him. Don't get catfished this week, like we did last week with Colin Kaepernick. You've been warned!
Rashad Jennings – Giants: Speaking of elite run defenses, Jennings faces one this week as he takes on the Cowboys and their 3rd-ranked run defense. To make matters worse for him, Shane Vereen could possibly be active this week, cutting Jennings' value in half without the targets out of the backfield.
Jennings hasn't run for more than 87 yards in a game this year, and has scored just 3 TDs total. With Vereen back, and Jennings not scoring, his value is plummeting into the RB2/3 range. And that is without considering the Cowboys' tough run defense this week. Factor that in, and you have a guy that should be DEEP on your bench for Week 14.
Brandon Marshall – Jets: You know when the Jets announced Bryce Petty would start the final 4 games of this season, Brandon Marshall was Googling to see exactly when the NFL trade deadline was! Petty is a strong-armed, weak accuracy QB who has looked like a career clipboard holder in his 3 games of action this year.
You could put Randy Moss out wide in New York, and it won't make much of an impact when you have a QB like Petty throwing him the ball. Marshall's value just took a major dive, and sits somewhere in the WR3/flex range for projections.
Rishard Matthews – Titans: Matthews has been a nice addition to fantasy rosters off the waiver wire, averaging 8.8 targets, 5.3 receptions, 78.0 yards, and 1.0 touchdown per game over the last 4 games. Considering that the Titans are a running team behind DeMarco Murray, those are impressive numbers.
But this week the Titans draw the Broncos and their elite secondary. The Broncos are a defense of contrasts, whereby they give up just 14.2 PPG to WRs (#1), but give up the 10th-most fantasy points to RBs at 19.5 PPG this season. Considering the Titans are a running team, and the Broncos are weak against the run, we can deduce what the gameplan will be on Sunday… right? Stay away from Matthews this week.
Martellus Bennett – Patriots: When Rob Gronkowski went down with yet another season-ending injury, I ran to the waiver wire and grabbed Bennett as quickly as I possibly could. But as with Kaepernick, I was catfished!
Despite racking up 2 100-yard games in the first 4 weeks of the season, and hauling in 3 TDs in Brady's first game back in Week 5, Bennett has drawn just 9 targets, 6 receptions, 40 receiving yards, and no touchdowns over the past 3 games. It's time we faced the facts; Bennett is the boomiest (I don't care if that's not a word, it's what Bennett is) and bustiest TE out there!
If you like to roll the dice and don't mind crapping out more often than not, then Bennett is your man. If you want to play it a little safer in the fantasy playoffs, consider someone like Ladarius Green, Cameron Brate, or even Eric Ebron.
Buffalo Bills defense: The Bills are a great defense to own in fantasy football, but not for their matchup this week. No, this week they take on the Steelers, a team fighting tooth-and-nail to catch up to the Ravens so they can win the AFC North Division.
In 5 of their last 6 games the Bills have scored 8-plus fantasy points just once. Failing to reach 8 points for a defense means they likely weren't in the top 12 for that given week. And with them taking on a potent offense like the Steelers this week, my guess is they won't reach it yet again.
So why are they worth owning, you ask? Because next week they play the Browns! Hold them, but don't play them this week.