Exploiting the Match-ups: Week 14
By Luke Hoover
Playoff time. Finally. After 13 long weeks of injuries, inconsistencies and surprises, if you’ve gotten this far the best advice I have for you is “don’t screw it up.”
Scratch that. That’s terrible advice. The best advice I can really offer you is “enjoy it.” It’s hard enough to make the fantasy playoffs and takes many weeks of difficult decisions, and of course plenty of luck, to get the chance at a title run. Soak it in and don’t sweat it. Play the guys that got you here but don’t be afraid to trust your gut and gamble with an especially promising matchup. That’s how titles are usually won. Obviously, benching a consistent stud is tough but the extreme defenses are pretty much defined by now — we know Seattle allows little to wide receivers; we know Tennessee and Oakland can’t remotely slow down running backs; we know Chicago is bleeding yards and points to everyone. The right flex guys facing the right defenses can warrant benching one of the weekly starters that brought you to this point. My rule of thumb is simple: don’t bench more than one usual must-start per playoff week.
One final tidbit I’ll throw out there: plan ahead. If there’s someone on your bench you are certain you won’t be playing the rest of the year and there’s an upside guy with a great matchup in any remaining week, stash him. This includes any great D/ST matchups.
As always, this is not intended as a traditional start/sit column. Upgrades are players you wouldn’t consistently start (or who have consistently underachieved), while those downgraded generally are lineup mainstays. The designations are simply a guide to make those close calls easier.
Matt Ryan, ATL at GB
With consecutive multi-score games for the first time since Weeks 3 and 4 — and versus strong secondaries at that — Ryan is inching his way back to must-start status. Julio Jones appears back to normal as well, and one thing that is for damn sure, Ryan will have to throw it a ton in Green Bay.
Russell Wilson, SEA at PHI
Wilson has been getting it done with his legs for months now (65.8 rushing yards per game over the last nine), but he’s been particularly sharp with his arm the last three weeks. He’s completed 68.4 percent of his passes for 8.7 yards per attempt and four touchdowns against three of the stingiest overall defenses. Now he gets to face a Philly unit that has given up the fourth-most fantasy points to opposing QB.
Ryan Tannehill, MIA vs. BAL
In its last four games, Baltimore has allowed 1,227 yards and 13 touchdowns through the air. Tannehill has completed more than 70.0 percent of his throws in five consecutive games, and that connection with his receivers will translate to yards and points versus a defense that is doing nothing to slow the pass.
Andy Dalton, CIN
The Steelers secondary is getting torched these days. It has allowed a TD pass of at least 67 yards in three straight games and nine scores through the air in that span, including two each to Michael Vick and Zach Mettenberger. And neither throws to A.J. Green.
Shaun Hill, STL at WAS
Hill has produced a touchdown in each of his three full games, with five total in those contests. This week he’ll have the pleasure of exploiting a Redskins defense that’s allowed a ridiculous seven passing touchdowns of 30 or more yards in that same timeframe.
Rashad Jennings OR Andre Williams, NYG at TEN
A running back must be started versus the Tennessee Titans. That has become fantasy gospel over the last five weeks, a stretch in which opposing No. 1 tailbacks have amassed 742 total yards and eight touchdowns while rushing for 6.0 YPC against Tennessee. If Jennings’ ankle injury is not serious enough to sideline him, he’s a fantasy starter. If it is, Williams gets to blast the Titans’ last-place run defense.
Dan Herron, IND at CLE
In two games without Ahmad Bradshaw (leg), the man they call “Boom” has totaled exactly 96 yards in each, scored once and averaged an eye-popping 7.7 YPC. Now Herron gets the 29th-ranked Cleveland run D to gash.
Latavius Murray, OAK vs. SF
Murray has been cleared of concussion symptoms and should take the reins of a disastrous Oakland backfield against a Niners defense that’s allowed three 100-yard rushers in its last four contests. With 155 yards and two touchdowns on his last eight carries (19.4 YPC), there feels like just a teensy bit of upside here for Murray.
Jonathan Stewart, CAR at NO
The Saints have allowed the last three backs they’ve faced to pile up a ridiculous 609 total yards and three touchdowns while averaging 6.1 YPC. Stewart averaged 5.8 YPC versus New Orleans in their first meeting and has quietly had at least 94 total yards or a touchdown in three of the last five games.
Chris Johnson, NYJ at MIN
The Vikings have given up 635 total yards and four touchdowns to tailbacks in their last four games. Johnson is still splitting carries with Chris Ivory, but the previously lopsided workload has become even, with Johnson outperforming his bruising teammate the last four weeks — 303 total yards, 5.6 YPC.
James White, NE at SD
Just kidding!!! But it would stand to reason after a different Patriots running back has scored in four straight games. Oh that tricky Bill Belichick!
Kenny Stills, NO vs. CAR
The clear big-play threat in Drew Brees‘ arsenal, Stills will get to exploit a Panthers defense whose 16 TD allowed to wideouts is behind only Houston and Philadelphia. Don’t you dare count the 260 yards Stills has racked up the last two weeks as a fluke.
Mike Wallace/Jarvis Landry, MIA vs. BAL
No defense in football has allowed more yards or fantasy points to opposing wide receivers than Baltimore’s. Neither Wallace nor Landry has posted a 100-yard game this season, but with each averaging at least eight targets per over the last five, chances are that changes.
Stedman Bailey, STL at WAS
Bailey has established himself as Shaun Hill‘s favorite target the last two weeks. He’s snatched 12 balls for 189 yards and a touchdown in those games and now faces a Redskins defense that has allowed more than 130 yards to a receiver in three straight, with those wideouts combining for 480 yards and five touchdowns.
Kelvin Benjamin, CAR at NO
Since holding Benjamin to just 18 yards in their first meeting (his worst day as a pro), New Orleans has allowed opposing No. 1 receivers to hit at least 95 yards in four straight games, with those fellas totaling four touchdowns. Expect a revenge performance for the rook.
Coby Fleener, IND at CLE
Fleener’s 17.0 yards per catch is not only tops among tight ends, but it’s also seventh overall in the league. He’s blown up box scores lately with 376 yards and three TD in four games, and with Dwayne Allen (ankle) hurt he’s a must-start regardless of matchup.
Martellus Bennett, CHI vs. DAL
Dallas has allowed the most receptions to tight ends in the league. Bennett has quietly grabbed 65 balls so far, tied for most among tight ends with Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham. Until his 109-yard outburst last week he’d been struggling recently, but Bennett remains a must-start.
Antonio Gates, SD vs. NE
Only the Packers have allowed more receiving yards to tight ends than New England. With Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner locking down Keenan Allen and Malcom Floyd respectively, expect Gates — coming off his best yardage output since Week 2 — to remain heavily involved.
Jason Witten, DAL at CHI
Witten is turning in one of the quietest seasons of his decorated career, but he’s peaked lately with three of his four touchdown catches coming in the last five games. Now he faces a Bears defense that’s given up the second most fantasy points in the league to tight ends.
Philip Rivers, SD vs. NE
Rivers has relied a lot on Keenan Allen the last couple weeks (225 yards and three touchdowns). With Allen likely locked down by Darrelle Revis, all bets are off on how much Rivers can produce with his other weapons. He managed well for 10 games with a mediocre Allen, but the Pats have already held Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck relatively in check. Just saying.
Ben Roethlisberger, PIT at CIN
The Bengals have averaged less than one passing touchdown allowed per game this year – best in the league. That’s a scary proposition for most quarterbacks, in particular for one who’s been as inconsistent at finding the end zone as any in the league. Despite 26 scores this year, half of Roethlisberger’s games have produced just five of those.
Colin Kaepernick, SF at OAK
The Raiders limited Russell Wilson and Philip Rivers to a combined 372 passing yards and one touchdown in competitive contests with Seattle and San Diego, respectively. Kaepernick cannot hold a candle to those two this season. He’s gone six weeks without a multi-touchdown performance and has a single 300-yard game all year.
Mark Sanchez, PHI vs. SEA
Sad Nick Foles or Kaepernick owners may have turned to the man occasionally referred to as “Sanchise” in recent weeks. And that’s resulted in 300 yards or multiple touchdowns in four straight games. The “Legion of Boom” will put a stop to that in its pursuit of the playoffs.
LeSean McCoy, PHI vs. SEA
Having ripped off at least 130 yards and a score at over 6.0 YPC in each of the last two weeks, the “real” McCoy is back. And just as quickly as that the real “Shady” will sit back down. Seattle is giving up only 3.5 YPC and 86.3 rushing yards per game, both fourth in the league.
Lamar Miller, MIA vs. BAL
Miller has managed to average a combined 5.0 YPC versus top run defenses like the Bills, Broncos and Jets in Miami’s last three games, but the Ravens have consistently been the stingiest defense to opposing fantasy backs. Considering they’re also the most generous to wide receivers, don’t expect enough workload from Miller to be fantasy worthy.
Steven Jackson, ATL at GB
Jackson has tallied double digits in fantasy points (standard scoring) in four of five contests, including his first 100-yard rushing effort as a Falcon. The way Green Bay has jumped all over teams at home though, Jackson may not see the workload to continue his hot streak.
Jeremy Maclin, PHI vs. SEA
Only Emmanuel Sanders, DeSean Jackson and Odell Beckham have produced 100-yard games versus the “Legion of Boom” this year. In four full games with Sanchez under center, Maclin has only one 100-yard effort.
Keenan Allen, SD vs. NE
The Allen of last year’s huge rookie campaign is back, and with a vengeance. He’s making plays after the catch and racking up the yards — 225 and three touchdowns the last two games. Unfortunately, for at least this week some guy named Revis will be putting a stop to the sudden explosion.
Mike Evans, TB at DET
For the second week in a row Evans’ huge upside looks much smaller than his 6-foot-5 frame. The Bengals have held opposing wide receivers to the second-fewest fantasy points this year and limited Evans to 49 yards. The Lions are third in that category with only eight scores allowed on the year to wideouts.
Torrey Smith, BAL at MIA
Smith has been on a torrid touchdown stretch with seven in seven games, but a leg injury forced him out of last week’s loss and now he faces a Miami defense that’s allowed just two touchdowns and one 100-yard game to opposing wideouts on their home turf this year — and those were to Green Bay’s dynamic duo.
Jordan Reed, WAS vs. STL
Coming back from injury last week, Reed was tremendous with nine grabs for 123 yards. He’s now racked up 16 catches in Colt McCoy’s two starts. He’s definitely a bright spot in the Redskins offense, but outside of PPR formats this is likely the week to sit Reed. St. Louis has allowed just two touchdowns all year to tight ends.