“This is it, don’t get scared now.”
The immortal words of Macaulay Culkin’s character Kevin McCallister as he defends his family’s house from the Wet Bandits in the holiday classic Home Alone certainly ring true this fantasy playoff season. Don’t freak out when setting your playoff lineup. Ride the players that got you here, play the matchups and do your diligence on those fringe players that might just win (or lose) you a championship like the ones below. So break out the tarantula, ice down the steps and heat up the doorknobs. We’ve got work to do, you filthy animals!
Josh Gordon, Cleveland Browns vs. Green Bay Packers
Flash Gordon is still good at the football, huh? So you stashed Gordon knowing you were a lock for the playoffs, kept him on your bench for Week 13 and watched as he hauled in four catches for 85 yards on 11 targets while working against top-notch Chargers CB Casey Hayward. To quote the eloquent Kirk Cousins, “YOU LIKE THAT!?” Yes, yes you do. We all do (looking at you Hue Jackson!). Now, Gordon gets to face the Packers’ porous secondary, which allows the fourth-most points in the league to WRs. There is some concern with his efficiency considering he has to catch passes from DeShone Kizer, but the volume and Gordon’s talent level more than make up for that. Hooray for Gordon in overcoming his personal demons and getting back on the field. Hooray for you if you were savvy enough to pick him up. Now get him into your lineup and don’t look back.
Marquise Goodwin, San Francisco 49ers at Houston Texans
It’s good to win, isn’t it San Francisco (see what I did there)? The suddenly-not-tanking 49ers looked almost like an NFL team actually trying to beat its opponent in Week 13, and thankfully for them that opponent was the “we are who we thought they were” Chicago Bears. It’s amazing what a competent quarterback can do for a team, and Jimmy Garoppolo proved as much by throwing for nearly 300 yards in winning his 49ers’ debut. Goodwin was the biggest beneficiary of the change at signal-caller, hauling in all eight of his targets for 99 yards. It was the fourth time in as many games that he’s had at least 68 yards, and the eight targets were his second most of the season. He is the team’s clear No. 1 option, having been targeted 70 times this season for 35 receptions, 677 yards and a touchdown. Yes, Goodwin’s only taken it to the house once but with Garoppolo under center I think that changes starting against the Texans. Roll Goodwin out confidently this week.
Sterling Shepard, NY Giants vs. Dallas Cowboys
What was shaping up to be a highly productive week for Shephard now looks like a bust as it appears he will not play in Week 14 due to a hamstring injury. This is a bit out of left field as Shepard was able to practice Thursday and Friday, albeit in a limited capacity. If Shepard can’t go it will be a big blow for fantasy owners. Eli Manning pepppered Shepard with targets in his last two games before migraines sidelined him and Manning will be playing with a Big Apple-sized chip on his shoulder in a division rivalry game with the Cowboys, who give up an average of almost 25 fantasy points to opposing WRs. If Shepard plays I’d still start him in a plus matchup, but temper expectations.
Stefon Diggs, Minnesota Vikings at Carolina Panthers
It’s 2017 Week 14 and everyone is gushing over the Vikings high-powered offense, led by stalwarts Case Keenum, Adam Thielen and Latavius Murray. Just like we drew it up, right? Of course not, but that’s the beauty of the NFL and fantasy football. Diggs, unfortunately for his owners, has taken a backseat to this season’s breakout stud receiver, Thielen. Worse yet, he’s trending down at the worst possible time. Diggs has not seen more than seven targets in a game since he laid waste to the Bucs in Week 3 to the tune of 8-173-2, and has registered five games under single digits this season in fantasy points (including two of his last four). He’s becoming more and more TD-dependent by the week. However, Thielen has 16 red zone looks to Diggs’ eight on the season. And let’s not forget, ‘tis the season for Kyle Rudolph the Red Zone Reindeer! The dude is a beast in the red zone, having caught 12 of 13 targets for five TDs this season. So Diggs is fighting for his red zone targets. It’s likely that you don’t have a better option at this point, but I would temper expectations and not trust Diggs as more than a boom-bust flex with your season on the line.
Devante Parker, Miami Dolphins vs. New England Patriots
It’s déjà vu all over again with Parker, who did this to us last season. He flashed his “faster Alshon” talent to start 2017, flourishing with Smokin’ Jay Cutty under center, only to crush our hopes and dreams on his way to fantasy irrelevance. It didn’t help that when Cutler missed time backup Matt Moore locked on to Kenny Stills, who has now passed Parker in the pecking order and is a legit deep threat. Even with Cutler back, Stills continues to see a high volume and has put up some nice games for fantasy owners of late (he’s the WR6 in PPR over the past three weeks). Parker would probably like to forget his past three games on the count of his 4-26-0, 1-5-0 and 1-5-0 lines. He has 16 targets in that span. Stills has 27. Ouch. You’re starting Stills against the Pats. Just not Parker.
Josh Doctson, Washington Redskins at Los Angeles Chargers
All the makings of a Doctson breakout seemed to be materializing this season. After the Redskins lost Chris Thompson to injury in Week 11 – at which point Terrelle Pryor was already dust in the wind – it seemed like prime Doctson time. Jameson Crowder had been struggling with injuries and inefficiency and Washington didn’t have many options to turn to. Doctson, the 2016 first-rounder, seemed guaranteed at least an expanded role. Jay Gruden even conceded as much. And while his target share has crept up (16 looks over his last three games), it’s his knack for finding the end zone that has kept Doctson fantasy relevant. Yet despite scoring four TDs after the team’s Week 5 bye, Doctson has not topped 10 points in a standard league and is not seeing the type of volume needed to stay fantasy relevant; especially in the playoffs. You know there is TD regression coming. Crowder will continue to see the higher volume (25 targets over his last three games) and Ryan Grant has found his way onto Kirk Cousins’ radar too. Don’t chase points with Doctson, keep him on your bench in Week 14.
Alex Collins, Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers
Collins is seeing crazy volume lately and capitalizing on his opportunities. He’s the Ravens’ clear early down back, gets the goal line carries – he’s scored a rushing TD in three straight games – and is seeing an increased number of targets as well. All of that translates into just over 54 PPR points over his last three games, an average of 15.5 FPPG, making him the RB4 during that span behind only Alvin Kamara, Le’Veon Bell and Jamaal Williams. Collins has had at least 15 carries and two targets in each of his past three games and is averaging 4.9 yards per carry. Danny Woodhead has been eating into Collins’ workload a little in the passing game, but he’s not stealing carries. Buck Allen might vulture a few TDs but don’t worry, Collins is the man in the Ravens backfield and this is a team that likes to run the football. In case you forgot, Joe Flacco is their quarterback. The only thing that can slow Collins down now are the migraines he’s been dealing with. Keep a close eye on his status but if he plays against the Steelers – who just gave up 96 total yards to Giovanni Bernard – he should be in your lineup, locked and loaded as an RB2.
Jay Ajayi, Philadelphia Eagles at Los Angeles Rams
Since joining the Eagles, Ajayi has been more reliant on big plays and not volume to get the job done. It’s worked well so far from a fantasy perspective as he is a big play waiting to happen on a team with one of the better offensive lines in the league. But the opportunity share that made fantasy owners drool when Ajayi was traded to one of the NFL’s most powerful offenses started to materialize in Week 13, when Ajayi led the Eagles running backs with 31 snaps ahead of Corey Clement (28) and LeGarrette Blount (14). I expect that trend to continue going forward and the bottom line is that Ajayi could be a league winner down the stretch. While Blount is the hammer and will continue to see volume, he’s not targeted in the passing game like Clement and lacks the explosiveness of Ajayi, who is by far the team’s most versatile back. Anticipating another competitive matchup this week against the Rams, I expect Ajayi’s volume to increase again in Week 14 and beyond. It’s time to ride the Jay-Train. Oh and did I mention that the Rams give up the most points to running backs in the NFL? After that the Eagles face the Giants and Raiders! Boom.
Marshawn Lynch, Oakland Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs
Beast Mode has been a little tame this season, but Lynch reminded us just what he’s capable of by rushing for 101 yards and a TD on 17 carries in Week 13’s win against the Giants, even adding two catches on three targets. It marks the second straight game Lynch has produced over 100 yards from scrimmage. Then there is the unique “revenge” narrative this week against KC. Flash back to Week 7, when Lynch was ejected for pushing a ref in the ensuing melee following a questionable hit on QB Derek Carr by, who else, Lynch’s friend and Oakland native Marcus Peters. In typical Beast Mode fashion, Lynch watched the rest of the game from the stands in street clothes. I’m sure Peters has given Lynch a good-natured ribbing about the ejection, and I think Lynch uses that as motivation this week to stick it to the Chiefs even with Peters suspended by the team.
Jonathan Stewart and Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers vs. Minnesota Vikings
Stewart has started to look like a competent back again recently, having recorded his first two double digit fantasy performances since Week 1 in the past four weeks and also compiling his highest rushing total of the season with 110 yards against Miami in Week 10. While he’s trending in the right direction, it’s the matchup that should have owners worried as the Panthers face one of the league’s best rush defenses in Minnesota. The Vikings give up an average of 77 rushing yards per game and have only allowed six rushing TDs on the season. They just held the dynamic duo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman to 130 total combined yards and no touchdowns. Since he’s not much of a pass-catcher, you’re basically counting on J-Stew finding the end zone in this one, and I for one am not comfortable with those odds. Fantasy owners should also consider benching McCaffrey, especially in standard formats. The CMC TD Factory has not been getting as many carries with Stewart’s recent success, coming back to Earth after Week 9’s 66 yards and a TD on 16 carries. He has totals of six, seven and five carries over the past three games and not much yardage to go with them. But his role in the passing game gives him a safer floor in PPR, where you can feel a little better about starting him.
Latavius Murray, Minnesota Vikings at Carolina Panthers
On the other side of the ball in this game the Panthers run defense is nothing to scoff at either, giving up an average of only 88 rushing yards per game. I don’t see the Vikings pulling away in this one and they could potentially be playing catchup on the road, a game script that doesn’t favor Murray. In other words, this feels more like a Jerrick McKinnon game.
Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs
There are many reasons to like Carr this week against the Chiefs, not the least of which is the return of one of his top wide receivers in Michael Crabtree. After serving his suspension for fighting with chain-snatcher Aqib Talib, Crabtree returns to a favorable matchup against the suspect Chiefs defense, which was just torched by the Jets’ Josh McCown, Robby Anderson and Jermaine Kearse. This is a unit giving up the second most fantasy points in the league to wide receivers. Speaking of torched, remember Week 7? That would be the week Carr threw for 417 yards and three TDs as the Raiders edged the Chiefs 31-30. That game also saw a version of Amari Cooper that was sent from the future to destroy opposing defenses. Coop caught 11 of 19 targets for 210 yards and two TDs in that one, but may not play this week as he is still in the concussion protocol and also nursing an ankle injury. Another factor working in Carr’s favor will be the absence of cornerback Peters, who was benched by the Chiefs for throwing a penalty flag into the stands during the loss to the Jets. Let Carr drive your team to a win.
Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Detroit Lions
There is nothing left for the Bucs to play for. No narrative that could possibly motivate Winston to find that inner strength to will his team to win. He’s a middle-of-the-road QB stuck on a terrible team, and quite frankly he’s had trouble getting the ball to his top two receivers, Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson, this season. All three could be considered fantasy busts (Evans has been OK, but his production doesn’t reflect his ADP and he hasn’t scored in double digits in standard leagues since Week 7). Winston has scored single digit fantasy points more times (three) than he has scored over 20 points (two). As evidenced last week against Green Bay in a game he fumbled twice, Winston is also a butter fingers. He’s fumbled 10 times this season. Smart fantasy owners will not put their season in Winston’s hands.
David Njoku, Cleveland Browns vs. Green Bay Packers
In Week 12 Njoku was on the field for a season-high 61 percent of the snaps. He also hauled in four receptions, which were also a season high, for 47 yards. Nothing earth-shattering, but his arrow continued to trend upward in Week 13 when he set a season high in receiving yards with 74 and also found the end zone on a 28-yard pass from DeShone Kizer. He also added another 30-plus yard reception. Consider it a mini breakout at a position that desperately needs more fantasy relevant players. Chances are good that if you don’t have a stud tight end you’ve been eyeing Njoku on the waiver wire. Go get him and plug him in for Week 14 against the Packers, in a game I think he scores another TD.
Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers vs. Minnesota Vikings
There are just too many red flags with Olsen to trust him with your season on the line. Attempting to come back from an eight-game layoff due to a broken foot, Olsen was quickly removed from Week 12’s game against the Jets after catching one pass for 10 yards on four targets. Olsen blamed it on the artificial turf at MetLife Stadium, and then the team held him out of Week 13’s game against the Saints. If all that isn’t worrisome enough now Olsen gets to face the vaunted Minnesota pass defense, which is allowing opposing tight ends to score an average of less than six fantasy points and has only given up three TDs to the position this season. Call me crazy, but I’ll pass on Olsen this week.