Heading into Week 14 here, it’s the start of the playoffs for most of you while others in more shallow leagues might have another week to go in the regular season. Either way, it’s a big week and you’re going to need every edge you can get to come away with a victory. Of course, if it is your playoffs and you are fortunate enough to have a bye in the first round, you can breathe a little easier, but should still pay attention to the match-ups and the latest news. After all, just because your players aren’t starting for you right now, doesn’t mean they’re taking the week off in the real world. You have to stay on top of it all just in case you need to make a move. So let’s have a look see at what’s in store for us this week…
Denver Broncos at Oakland Raiders
I suppose if there was ever time where Knowshon Moreno was a must-start, it would have to be here as the Raiders soft and squishy run defense is coughing up an average of 130.4 yards per game and have allowed 16 rushing touchdowns this year, second most in the league. From there, obviously, things will open up for Peyton Manning who should have no problem finding Demaryius Thomas open downfield. We just might even have a reason to start Eric Decker this week.
For Oakland, the big story is the possible/probable return of Darren McFadden. Personally, I don’t know what everyone is getting so worked up about. Yes, Marcel Reece has a hamstring issue, but it’s not like McFadden was running like some beast even before the injury. Couple his inadequacies with Denver’s powerful run defense which allows only 96.4 yards per game and you’ve got a recipe for Carson Palmer throwing the ball 50 times in a game of catch-up. Unfortunately for the Raiders, the only one who looks like he could have a decent day is Brandon Myers.
St. Louis Rams at Buffalo Bills
With the wind expected to be a factor in the passing game again, look for the Bills to utilize the same game plan as they did last week against Jacksonville. That means it should be Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller getting the bulk of the work while Ryan Fitzpatrick does some light passing for the day. The Rams do a pretty good job against opposing tight ends and number one receivers, so this might be a week for Donald Jones to shine.
For the Rams, you can expect a heavy dose of Steven Jackson against a run defense that allows almost 140 yards per game and a league-worst 17 rushing touchdowns this season. If the wind stays down, the running game should open it up for Sam Bradford, although it will have to be to Chris Givens as Danny Amendola is still very questionable, Brandon Gibson is the forgotten man, and don’t count on Lance Kendricks as the Bills rank second in the league in defending the tight end.
Baltimore Ravens at Washington Redskins
Slashing through the Redskins pass defense has been a common thing all year, so why not continue to exploit it here for your fantasy playoffs? While Ray Rice should still have a solid day, particularly in the pass-catching department, this looks like a day for Joe Flacco to shine. He’ll have no problem getting the ball to Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin, but just like we saw last week with the Skins, the tight end is the one to watch. Look for a nice day out of Denning Pitta.
But the Redskins offense is pretty damn solid as well and the Ravens defense just isn’t what it used to be. Alfred Morris should be used effectively against a defense that gives up 125.8 rushing yards per game and 11 touchdowns on the ground while Robert Griffin III tallies some solid yardage himself. Of course, the Ravens’ pass D is no great shakes either, so look for Pierre Garcon to have another big week.
Philadelphia Eagles at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The big question on everyone’s mind is how much, if at all, LeSean McCoy will play this week. He is apparently in stage three of the NFL’s five-stage concussion recovery policy and still listed as questionable. Bryce Brown has been a beast in his absence but now faces a tough Tampa run defense, so it could be a little tricky here. My guess is McCoy will continue to sit out. The game here is won or lost on Nick Foles. Against a terrible pass defense that allows an average of 309 passing yards per game and a total of 221 passing touchdowns this season, Foles will need to prove that he is an NFL-caliber QB and should focus on finding Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper this week. None, however, are worth starting this week unless you clearly have no other options.
For the Bucs, we should see a balanced attack with Doug Martin pounding on the ground against a defense that allows almost 118 rushing yards per game this season throughout the first half which should allow things to open up for Josh Freeman to find Vincent Jackson, Mike Williams and Dallas Clark downfield for most of the day. All three are solid starts this week.
San Diego Chargers at Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers defense is pretty banged up with Lamar Woodley questionable and Ike Taylor out. That should make things a bit easier for Ryan Mathews, although the Chargers will still likely focus on the passing attack. Danario Alexander has been a huge boost to the offense and is seeing most of the targets nowadays with Malcom Floyd taking a back seat. Pittsburgh’s biggest defensive lapse starts with the tight ends, so look for Antonio Gates to maybe have a surprisingly strong day.
Can the Steelers offense build off of last week’s overtime win over the Ravens? With Ben Roetlisberger at the helm, they just might. Big Ben practiced in full on Wednesday which bodes well for his team this week. The Chargers give up roughly 241 passing yards per game with 21 passing touchdowns against them so expect Mike Wallace, Heath Miller and possibly even Antonio Brown to see some extra targets this week. The ground game, led by Jonathan Dwyer, could find things slow-going as San Diego allows an average of just 94.5 yards per game on the ground and has given up just five rushing touchdowns all year.
Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings
Matt Forte’s ankle doesn’t seem to be much of an issue lately as he posted strong numbers last week and faces a fairly mediocre run D in the Vikings. Look for him to shoulder the load again with Michael Bush popping in every now and again. Meanwhile it will be the same ol’ same with Jay Cutler throwing it to Brandon Marshall as often as he can. I mean, I know they have other wideouts on their roster, but do any of them really matter? Don’t be fooled by Earl Bennett’s fluke TD catch last week. Doubtful we see that again.
Save for Adrian Peterson’s still miraculous season, the Vikings are finding it tough to muster up much offense these days. Christian Ponder has rediscovered Kyle Rudolph but the Bears play the tight end better than anybody else in the league. And without Percy Harvin, it’s tough to see much happening with the receivers either. Jarius Wright had potential, but he was a bust last week, and does Jerome Simpson even play anymore?
Atlanta Falcons at Carolina Panthers
Technically, the Falcons haven’t quite wrapped up that number one seed yet, so they need to still come out with guns blazing here. When these teams first met in Week 4, Matt Ryan threw for 369 yards and three TDs with just one pick, so look for him to try and duplicate those totals. And I don’t know about you, but it feels like a Julio Jones type of day too, so look for him to come up big this weekend. The Panthers also give up 128.8 rushing yards per game and have allowed 10 rushing touchdowns this season, so perhaps Michael Turner steps out here.
Atlanta is still struggling with the run this season, allowing 121.3 yards per game with 13 touchdowns on the ground this season, so look for DeAngelo Williams to get the rock a little more often this week. Cam Newton, of course, will poach a number of carries and if he can lead Carolina inside the 15, then he’ll make a mad dash for the endzone himself. The Falcons do a good job containing receivers, so look for Newton to find Greg Olsen whenever he can.
Dallas Cowboys at Cincinnati Bengals
Tony Romo has been on quite a tear recently, passing for 1,587 yards (317.4 ypg) with 10 touchdowns and only two interceptions over his last five games. But the Bengals D is tough , giving up just 221 passing yards per game this season with just 13 passing touchdowns allowed, so it’s really going to come down to how well Romo avoids the pass rush. If he’s successful, then look for Dez Bryant and Jason Witten to have big days. Of course, they’ll need DeMarco Murray to establish the ground game first so look for him to load up early in the game.
The Bengals ground game has been the biggest surprise lately as BenJarvis Green-Ellis has three straight 100-yard games with two touchdowns, and did you see what Bryce Brown did to the Dallas defense last week. Make sure you’ve got The Firm active this week. With Mohamed Sanu hitting the IR this week and Andrew Hawkins still struggling, expect A.J. Green and Jermaine Gresham to see a boatload of targets this week.
Kansas City Chiefs at Cleveland Browns
No disrespect intended, but the rally cry of “Win one for the Belcher,” proved positive for the Chiefs as they rechanneled that emotion and grabbed a well-deserved win last week. Jamaal Charles should duplicate his success against a Browns run D that allows an average of 115.6 yards per game with nine rushing touchdowns this season. He’ll need to as Brady Quinn will be under center again. But the Browns are susceptible to the pass, so if Quinn and Dwayne Bowe get on the same page, they could have some fun this week.
On the offensive front for the Browns, it will be all about Trent Richardson as the Chiefs give up almost 130 yards per game this year. That should open things up for Brandon Weeden, but outside of Josh Gordon, the Browns aren’t exactly stocked with reliable receivers, are they? Maybe a sleeper TD for Ben Watson, but that’s about it.
Tennessee Titans at Indianapolis Colts
The Colts are still flying high after that comeback win against the Lions this week and now get to face one of the weaker defenses in the NFL. The Titans give up almost 130 yards per game on the ground, so Donald Brown and Vick Ballard should get their usual splits this week with Ballard having a slight edge. But this is all about Andrew Luck this year and he’s been a dominant passing machine this year. The Titans pass defense is particularly awful against opposing number ones and number threes amongst the wideouts so say hello to Reggie Wayne and my little friend (go ahead, say it again with a Scarface accent. You know you want to) T.Y. Hilton.
For the Titans, they’re going to have to hope that Chris Johnson can wake up this week and expose a vulnerable Colts run defense that allows almost 123 yards per game with 12 rushing touchdowns this year. If they can establish the run, then Jake Locker can start tossing the rock around like he just don’t care. Nate Washington and Kenny Britt could post strong games, but it’s Jared Cook who is sitting on my sleeper list for the week.
New York Jets at Jacksonville Jaguars
As silly as it may be, the Jets are sticking with Mark Sanchez under center this week. Not that they had much choice as their other two options are appropriately nicknamed Yuck and Suck. But Sanchez catches a bit of a break here as the Jags defense against both the pass and the run is atrocious. Look for Shonn Greene and Bilal Powell to pound it up the middle every chance they get which should hopefully open it up for play-action where Sanchez can find Jeremy Kerley and possibly even Chaz Schilens downfield. Surprisingly the Jags rank seventh against the tight end, so Dustin Keller could/should be held in check.
The Jags will try their luck with Montell Owens this week as Rashad Jennings is concussed (read: a total bust) and Maurice Jones-Drew is still not ready to play. He could be a decent flex play as the Jets give up almost 138 rushing yards per game with 13 rushing touchdowns allowed this season. However, if they fail to produce on the ground, they’ll be forced to contend with the number four pass defense in the game, a defense that gives up less than 200 yards per game through the air. Cecil Shorts will draw the most attention in coverage, so look for Justin Blackmon to maybe step it up a little.
Miami Dolphins at San Francisco 49ers
The Niners are still reeling from their overtime loss last week and they’re going to try and take it out on the Fins this week. Colin Kaepernick gets the nod again and he’ll be looking to expose a struggling pass defense that allows an average of 258 passing yards per game with 15 passing touchdowns allowed. Michael Crabtree will see a tremendous amount fo work, but with Mario Manningham banged up and questionable, the Niners are looking for someone to step up. Vernon Davis has been a bust, Delaine Walker doesn’t have strong enough skills and Randy Moss is always limited in the number of snaps he takes. This could be the week you see A.J. Jenkins unleashed. We could also see another rookie as Frank Gore needs a better back-up than Brandon Jacobs, so look for the team to possibly give LeMichael James his first look of the year.
For the Fins, it could be slow-going on offense as the Niners defense is a force. Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas will have trouble finding running lanes while the coverage on Brian Hartline and Davone Bess will be tight. The tight end? Anthony Fasano? Not this week.
New Orleans Saints at New York Giants
This one has all the makings of a good, old fashioned shootout. The Saints pass defense is a wreck and Eli Manning is rediscovering his early-season aerial success. If you have Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks or Martellus Bennett, they should be starting. The ground attack of Ahmad Bradshaw and David Wilson should also be in full force, so don’t count them out at all.
For the Saints, it’s all about Drew Brees finding some retribution for his five-interception suck-fest last week. Fortunately for him, the Giants give up an average of 245 passing yards per game with 19 passing TDs allowed this year. Marques Colston and Lance Moore should do some damage and look for Devery Henderson as a potential sleeper this week. You can’t not start Jimmy Graham, but hedge your bets as the Giants rank third in containing the tight end.
Arizona Cardinals at Seattle Seahawks
I don’t care who is suspended from the Seahawks defense, this one is going to be a cakewalk for them. You’ve got a banged up Beanie Wells with a struggling LaRod Stephens-Howling and a mediocre William Powell trying to establish the run against a team that allows only 110 yards per game and then a tomato can like Ryan Lindley trying to play NFL quarterback and misfiring to Larry Fitzgerald and company. Personally, I wouldn’t trust any of them.
For the Seahawks, it should be a nice day for Marshawn Lynch against a defense that allows 128.6 rushing yards per game. He’ll dominate with carries and once that is established early, then Russell Wilson will be able to go to work with Sidney Rice and Golden Tate against a defense that might look good on paper, but is made of paper as well.
Detroit Lions at Green Bay Packers
While the Lions are all set to build a rushing attack with Mikel Leshoure and Joique Bell, they are still a pass-first team. That means Matthew Stafford will look for Calvin Johnson, who saw 20 targets last week, all day long and probably hit him more than 75-percent off the time. But what lingers for the Lions is the need for a secondary receiver. Tight end Brandon Pettigrew is a decent option and they’re lining up Tony Scheffler in the slot, but Mike Thomas needs to step it up if they’re going to party with the big boys at Lambeau.
As for the big boys, I thought Aaron Rodgers would welcome back Greg Jennings with a little more enthusiasm, especially with Jordy Nelson going down early, but I guess that will just have to wait until this week. James Jones and Randall Cobb will see some serious work as well what with the ground game limited to Alex Green. The Packers did sign Ryan Grant again, but that’s not likely to come to fruition much this year.
Houston Texans at New England Patriots
Now this is shaping up to be quite the Monday night battle, eh? The Texans and Pats have each locked up a playoff spot, but the number one seed and home field through the playoffs is very much in play. I expect Arian Foster to be used in his normal capacity, but the Texans will need to expose the Pats’ shaky pass defense with Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels this week. Secretly, Foster owners should be hoping for a Texans loss here as that could potentially keep him active through the rest of the regular season.
For the Patriots it’s going to be all in Tom Brady’s hands as the Texans still hold opponents to a measly 87.6 rushing yards per game and have allowed only two rushing touchdowns all year. It’ll be a tough one for Stevan Ridley this week. Wes Welker should get plenty of attention, as should Aaron Hernandez, but the sleeper here is Brandon Lloyd. With Julian Edelman out and the Texans struggling against opposing number two receivers, Lloyd could finally have the breakout game everyone was expecting all year long.
Howard Bender has been covering fantasy sports for over a decade on a variety of web sites. For questions, thoughts or comments you can find him on Twitter at @rotobuzzguy or you can email him at email@example.com.