Let me just preface this by saying that I’m a lifelong Chicago Bears fan, but WELCOME BACK AARON RODGERS! Fantasy football has missed you. And you know who else missed you? Your BFF and the happiest dude in the NFL this week: Jordy Nelson. Rodgers announced via social media Tuesday night that he has been medically cleared to play, and he looks on track to start Sunday. Backup QB Brett Hundley unfriended Nelson after Rodgers broke his collarbone against Minnesota in Week 6, and Nelson proceeded to disappear from the Pack’s pass attack.
Since Rodgers’ departure, Nelson has not scored double digits in standard fantasy points, hasn’t scored a touchdown and hasn’t seen more than eight targets in a game. That all changes this week as Green Bay managed to do just enough to stay alive in the wild-card race until Rodgers’ inevitable return. Flash back to the first five games of the season with Rodgers, a span in which Nelson had 28 targets for 18 receptions, 230 receiving yards and six touchdowns. He was WR5 during that stretch, and when you consider Nelson exited early with an injury and didn’t register a catch in Week 2 those numbers are eye-popping.
Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers at Carolina Panthers
Please see above.
Dede Westbrook, Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Houston Texans
With Sacksonville rolling toward the playoffs and Blake Bortles playing much better down the stretch, Westbrook has finally taken flight in his rookie campaign in the nick of time to help you win a fantasy title. His breakout culminated with Sunday’s performance as Westbrook found the end zone for his first career NFL touchdown to go along with 81 yards receiving. Even better for Westbrook’s stock, he led the team in targets (eight) for the second time in three weeks. I like Bortles this week (more on that later) so that means I like Westbrook, especially against a Houston pass defense which gives up the ninth-most fantasy points to opposing receivers.
Demaryius Thomas, Denver Broncos at Indianapolis Colts
Thomas has been the Broncos most productive and consistent offensive weapon during a rollercoaster season that has seen just about as many quarterback changes as one team can handle. Despite catching passes from some combination of Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch and Brock Osweiler, Thomas still has 771 receiving yards and four TDs. He had a couple of duds in Weeks 12 (Oakland) and 13 (Miami) but bounced back in a big way against the Jets by putting up a 8-93-1 line. It’s a quick turnaround as the Broncos face the Colts on TNF, but I like Thomas against the Colts.
Robby Anderson, N.Y. Jets at New Orleans Saints
One of this season’s waiver wire darlings, Anderson has become the focal point of the Jets’ passing attack with ageless wonder Josh McCown under center. A consistent deep threat with a knack for finding paydirt, Anderson was locked into our lineups for the playoffs. And then McCown broke his non-throwing hand, Bryce Petty took over and Anderson’s stock plummeted. The Jets announced Monday that McCown is out for the season and now they’re forced to play Petty. I’m not trusting Anderson against the Saints.
Cooper Kupp, Los Angeles Rams at Seattle Seahawks
This is more of a fade for standard leagues, as Kupp’s volume is going to take a hit with the imminent return of Robert Woods, the Ram’s top receiver. In games Woods has played this season, Kupp has only crossed the 10-point threshold three times in standard leagues. Temper your expectations and don’t count on Kupp putting up numbers like he has the past three weeks.
Jarvis Landry, Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills
Facing a Bills’ pass defense that ranks fifth-best against receivers from a fantasy perspective raises a red flag for Landry this week. Buffalo is only giving up an average of 28 fantasy points per game to opposing wide receivers and has allowed the fewest passing TDs in the league this season. Landry may dink and dunk his way to an OK PPR line, but there are better options, especially in standard leagues.
Kenyan Drake, Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills
It’s been a voluminous two weeks for Drake, who has seen a combined 48 rush attempts and 11 targets in that span and turned those touches into 334 scrimmage yards and a TD. That’s RB1 production straight from the waiver wire. Drake will make it happen again this week as the Dolphins travel to the frigid wasteland of Buffalo, where LeSean McCoy glides through the snow as if on skis and the Bills’ defense gives up the most fantasy points and touchdowns to opposing running backs. That’s right folks, the Bills have allowed a league-worst 15 rushing TDs this season.
Mike Davis, Seattle Seahawks vs. Los Angeles Rams
If he’s healthy, this is the Davis breakout week. It’s been building the past two weeks since he returned from injury as he has dominated backfield snaps and carries. He’s had at least 15 carries in those two games and is also averaging around four yards per attempt, respectable given the struggles of Seattle’s offensive line. Another reason I like Davis is simple: his arrow is trending up and he hasn’t found the end zone yet. I think Davis makes that happen against the Rams, who give up the second-most fantasy points per game to opposing RBs.
Jay Ajayi, Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants
I’m all in on Ajayi, a ticking time bomb waiting to deliver a fantasy explosion. My gut says this is the week he does it and it’s now or never. Ajayi, listed as a start here last week, didn’t quite deliver an elite performance but also didn’t tank your squad as he scored eight points in a standard league. Week 14’s big takeaway: Ajayi eclipsed his previous high for touches since joining the Eagles with 16. He dominated carries with 15 to LeGarrette Blount’s seven and Corey Clement’s six. With Carson Wentz out for the season, I expect the Eagles to lean more on the run and Ajayi is the back who can keep the chains moving. Blount and Clement aren’t going anywhere but Ajayi should dominate touches and he gets the demoralized Giants deteriorating run defense this week.
Giovani Bernard, Cincinnati Bengals at Minnesota Vikings
With Joe Mixon (concussion) out for the second straight week Bernard will be a popular play, but I wouldn’t count on a big day from him. Bernard filled in admirably in the workhorse role the past two weeks with 226 total yards from scrimmage but now has to face Minnesota’s stout run defense, which gives up an NFL-best average of only 17.3 fantasy points per game to opposing RBs – that Jonathan Stewart scored the only three rushing TDs of the season against them in Week 14 is a complete anomaly. Bernard isn’t built to handle a three-down back’s load and that will become clear against the Vikes. He should remain firmly planted on your bench.
Samaje Perine, Washington Redskins vs. Arizona Cardinals
Perine seems to be sputtering a bit in the workhorse role for the Redskins. Since his two highest-scoring fantasy games of the season in Weeks 11 and 12, Perine has only managed 121 yards from scrimmage the past two weeks and has not found the end zone. He has also looked extremely pedestrian in doing so. Arizona has also shored up its run defense as of late, so it looks to be tough sledding for Perine.
Peyton Barber, Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Atlanta Falcons
Barber has earned the feature role in the Bucs backfield, but that doesn’t mean Tampa Bay is going to feed him this week. I fully expect the Bucs to mix in Doug Martin despite all his struggles, but that’s not the biggest concern for Barber. The Bucs can’t score points in the first half: they’re averaging eight first-half points per game this season. Atlanta will likely take the early lead and the floundering Bucs will be forced to play catch-up and abandon the run.
Blake Bortles, Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Houston Texans
Don’t look now but Bortles has pieced together a pretty darn decent second half of the season, having scored at least 16 fantasy points in each six of his last seven starts. During that stretch he has eclipsed 20 fantasy points twice, has thrown eight TDs to three interceptions and now gets to face a Texans’ defense that is a shell of it’s old, dominant self. The Texans give up the second most points to opposing QBs, an average of 19.3 points per game. Bortles is shockingly owned in just 34% of Yahoo! leagues so if you just lost Carson Wentz, your season, much like that of the Eagles, is not over quite yet.
Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans
Mariota 3.0 is certainly not the version fantasy owners were hoping for, yours truly included. A player which many pegged for a breakout season after he threw for 3,426 yards and 26 TDs to nine interceptions in 2016, Mariota has regressed woefully. Most notably, his decline in the TD department (10 through Week 14) and uptick in interceptions (14) is glaring. But he’s playing the Colts! Look, I get it. The Colts secondary is bad. But he had his shot at the them in Week 12 and couldn’t even top 10 fantasy points. Mariota also just threw two picks against a forgiving Arizona secondary and managed a mere 3.16 points. That’s disgusting and not the type of championship-caliber talent you need in your lineup this week.
Jack Doyle, Indianapolis Colts
Doyle found the end zone in Week 14’s snow bowl at Buffalo, his third TD of the season, and has 16 targets over the past three weeks. Enter Indianapolis’ week 15 opponent the Broncos, who give up the fifth-most fantasy points (14.9) to opposing tight ends. It’s a welcome matchup for Doyle, so roll him out with confidence.
Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers vs. Green Bay Packers
Olsen, listed as a sit last week, scored exactly as many fantasy points as you and I. He saw one target. One. Now he gets to face the Packers, who give up the second-fewest fantasy points in the league to opposing tight ends. No thank you.
Follow Matt on Twitter @stevens_mms