It's the first week of the fantasy playoffs for most Yahoo! leagues, which means that things have gotten as serious as a heart attack for those owners that have survived into the postseason. Each week from here on out, it's do-or-die. Many of you won't bother checking next week's Skinny because your season will be dashed on the shores of Week 14. It reminds of a quote from one of the teachers in "Dazed and Confused":
"It's like our sergeant told us before one trip into the jungle: 'Men, 50 of you are leavin' on a mission … 25 of ya ain't comin' back!'"
Here's hoping you make it back for Week 15. Of course, it all starts with proper preparation for the week at hand. Let's get down to some Week 14 business, Skinny-style:
Total Week 14 green-light plays by position: 8 QB; 14 RB; 21 WR; 11 TE; 9 DST
Note: Numbers in parentheses next to a player's name indicate where he ranks at his position in per game fantasy scoring
Least FPPG allowed (QB): PIT; SF; CHI; ARI; SEA
• Matthew Stafford averages about 60 fewer passing yards on the road this season than at home, and when he faced the Packers a few weeks ago (at home), he completed fewer than half his passes and finished with his worst QB Rating of the season. He's got Calvin Johnson, and he throws more than any other QB, so it's tough to downgrade him too far. But Stafford owners should carry at least a little concern with them into Sunday.
• The average score of non-Thanksgiving Thursday night games this season is 26-12. Obviously, these short weeks are taking a toll on the offense the most, and there have been very few standout efforts among those QBs that have played on Thursday night this season. I love Peyton Manning's matchup this week, and I'd probably have him No.1 at QB if he were playing on a normal amount of rest. Carson Palmer also gets downgraded (much more so), for the short week, and for facing a daunting opponent.
• The past two weeks, Russell Wilson has proven he can be effective on the road. But there's no question he can get it done at home, where he owns a 122 QB Rating and an 11:0 TD-to-INT ratio in five games. With the read option adding a major run threat to his game, Wilson is a borderline QB1 hosting Arizona on Sunday.
• Andy Dalton has thrown for 230 yards or less in four straight games, but it hasn't rocked his fantasy value much because he's thrown a healthy amount of TDs and has ran for 3 TDs. But Dallas has allowed more than 1 TD pass in just four of its 12 games, and only once has a QB thrown for more than 2 TDs. And the Cowboys also haven't allowed a rush TD to a QB, despite facing Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III and Michael Vick. Needless to say, I'm feeling a bit shaky about Dalton this week.
• Despite the likelihood that he'll be significantly less than 100 percent healthy in Week 14, expect Ben Roethlisberger to play against San Diego. That said, Big Ben owners shouldn't feel the need to follow Pittsburgh's lead. With sapped arm strength and range of motion because of injuries (shoulder/ribs), you can't expect Roethlisberger to throw it more than 30 times, or so. And the typically potent deep connection to Mike Wallace is unlikely to bear fruit given the situation. It won't surprise me if Big Ben guts out a top 12 fantasy finish this week, but I would bet on something that falls well short of that.
• Quick hitters: • Nick Foles, Joe Flacco and Eli Manning face the only three teams that allow more than 300 passing yards per game to the QB position (Tampa Bay; Washington; New Orleans). … The two teams that have allowed the most fantasy PPG to the QB position over the past five weeks (Philly and Tampa Bay) face each other this week. It'd be tough to place your playoff hopes in the hands of Nick Foles, but Josh Freeman would certainly be justifiable. … Jake Locker has thrown 40-plus times in each of his past two games, and he's rushed for at least 35 yards in three of the past four games (excluding his very early injury exit in Week 4). Against an Indy defense that has allowed 3.5 TD passes per every INT (the worst ratio in the league), Locker has easy top 15 upside.
Least FPPG allowed (RB): HOU; SF; CHI; NYG; MIA
• Tampa Bay has been solid against RBs this season, allowing the 6th-fewest yards from scrimmage to the position. But there's something to be said for teams opting to pick on the Bucs via the pass, which is by far their biggest weakness. Tampa Bay has had the 4th-most pass attempts against it compared to the 5th-fewest RB rush attempts against. Generally, when an RB has hit the 15-20 touch threshold against Tampa Bay this season, they've done alright. Two-week rookie wonder Bryce Brown should easily hit that touch range with rookie Nick Foles sticking at QB. I would expect another 100-plus yards from scrimmage and a TD from Brown.
• The light bulb has finally come on for KC head coach Romeo Crennel. Over the past month, Jamaal Charles is second in carries (90) behind Arian Foster (91). Charles only has 1 TD in the past four games, but he's averaged 116 YFS. Charles just needs volume, and he's finally getting it. You can't even think about benching him this week against a Browns defense that has allowed the 7th-most YFS to opposing RBs.
• Shonn Greene hasn't scored since Week 7, but he's posted a combined 175 rushing yards on 38 carries in his past two games, against two above-average run defenses (New England and Arizona). And backup RB Bilal Powell has handled at least 11 carries in three straight games, helping him (along with 3 TDs) to a top 15 placement among fantasy RBs for the past three weeks. Against a Jacksonville defense that has allowed more fantasy PPG to the RB position than every team save New Orleans, Greene is a rock solid RB2 and Powell has definite Flex appeal.
• In what shouldn't come as a big surprise, Donald Brown is dealing with a health problem (ankle) yet again. That should be welcome news for Vick Ballard owners this week, as Indy faces a Tennessee defense that has allowed the 3rd-most YFS to opposing RBs. On 13 touches against the Titans in Week 8, Ballard posted 71 YFS and a TD. He should be at least equal to the task this time around, especially in the likely event that Brown is out.
• It's hard to know what to do with the Oakland backfield this week. It sounds like Darren McFadden will be back from his ankle injury, as reports are circulating that has some juice back in his step at practice. Marcel Reece is dealing with a hamstring/groin injury, so he is looking questionable. I have Run-DMC ranked as the likely lead back for the Raiders on Thursday, but he's going to be rusty, the Broncos have allowed 35 percent fewer fantasy PPG to RBs than the league average over the past 5 weeks and, frankly, McFadden, who managed just 42 yards on 14 touches against Denver in Week 4, wasn't doing all that well before he hurt his ankle — if there's a No. 1 reason Dennis Allen should be fired, it's because he changed to a zone blocking scheme despite the fact that the straight-forward power blocking schemes of the previous regime produced fantastic results for Run-DMC. As it stands, you probably can't think of McFadden as much more than a Flex/RB3 option this week.
• Michael Turner has been hard to predict this season, laying an egg in some fantastic matchups (Kansas City in Week 1; Oakland in Week 6; New Orleans in Week 10), but delivering better than expected against much stiffer competition (Denver in Week 2; Washington in Week 5; Arizona in Week 11). Touchdowns saved his bacon in those last three matchups I just mentioned, and he's 7th among RBs in total TDs (7). He also produced, far and away, his best fantasy line of the season the last time he faced Carolina (171 YFS, TD in Week 4). The Panthers have allowed the 2nd-most YFS to RBs this season, which means you should have no qualms about rolling with Turner this week.
• I need Matt Forte in one league where Week 14 marks the final week of the regular season. It's pretty much a win-and-in (playoffs) situation. I'm a bit worried about Forte, though. Minnesota has held Maurice Jones-Drew, Chris Johnson, Frank Gore and Mikel Leshoure under 10 fantasy points in home contests this season, and RBs are averaging just 3.5 YPC against the Vikings this season. A couple weeks ago, Forte managed just 46 YFS, and no TD, when Minnesota visited Chicago. And for his career, he's scored just 2 TDs in eight meetings with the Purple People Eaters. Don't overrate Forte's 96 YFS and a TD last week against Seattle. The Seahawks have allowed the 2nd-most fantasy PPG to RBs over the past five weeks. I'm not sure I'll be able to keep the faith of Forte as an RB2 all the way until Sunday's opening kickoffs.
• BenJarvus Green-Ellis' hot streak started right after I, essentially, called him a piece of garbage in this forum. I'm not sure he used my Week 11 Skinny as bulletin board material (or toilet paper), but he's turned things around in dramatic fashion, regardless. The Law Firm has three consecutive 100-yard rushing performances, and Dallas has allowed 100-plus YFS to a RB in each of the past five weeks. BJGE is every bit an RB2 this week.
Least FPPG allowed (WR): PIT; SF; SEA; NYJ; CIN
• I'm looking for a bounce-back performance from Roddy White after his colossal 1/20/0 letdown against New Orleans on Thursday night in Week 13. Last time White faced Carolina (Week 4), he turned 12 targets into 8 catches for 169 yards and 2 TDs, his best fantasy line this season. And the last time he traveled to Carolina (Week 14 of last season), he went 7/84/1. Play the history card here. You can't keep a good man down for long.
• Consider T.Y. Hilton the Colts' No. 3 WR in title only. Thanks to a pass-heavy offense, Hilton is getting more looks than many teams' high profile No. 1 or No. 2 receivers (more targets than Marques Colston or Victor Cruz over the past 5 games, for example). In Week 13, Hilton's 12 targets produced 6 catches and his 4th 100-yard game of the season (3rd in the past 5 weeks). Against a Tennessee defense that has allowed 24 percent more fantasy PPG to WRs than the league average over the past 5 weeks, Hilton, Donnie Avery and Reggie Wayne are all looking even better than usual.
• Chris Givens tied for 3rd among WRs in Week 13 with 14 targets. He caught 11 of them for 92 yards against a 49ers defense that has allowed the 2nd-fewest fantasy PPG to WRs. This was preceded by a 6/115/1 effort in Week 12 against another above average pass defense (Arizona). Givens was a big-play novelty earlier in the season — five straight games with a catch of 50-plus yards — but he's turned into Sam Bradford's go-to guy with Danny Amendola sidelined. Against a Buffalo defense that has allowed a WR to score 10-plus fantasy points in every game save one (against New England, go figure), Givens has WR2 upside.
• The numbers line up extremely well for Giants WRs this week. That New Orleans' secondary is a sieve is well known. But taking it further, the Saints have allowed the opposition a league-high 4.5 trips into the red zone per game. The Giants offense is 2nd in the league with 4.1 red zone trips per game. And the Giants lead the league in pass attempts from inside the 10-yard line. Expect to see Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks often on the Red Zone Channel this Sunday.
• I've been a member of the Cecil Shorts fan club for several weeks, but I'm taking a vacation from the Shorts bandwagon this week. There's a chance he may not play against the Jets because of a concussion suffered in Week 13. But, even if he does, he's a terrible bet against Antonio Cromartie and a Jets defense that has allowed the 2nd-fewest yards per game to WRs. In fact, no WR has produced more than 87 yards in a game against the Jets.
• Similar to Shorts, Danario Alexander is another breakout star that could see his run of good fortune come to a screeching halt in Week 14. Alexander travels to Pittsburgh to face the Steelers' top-ranked fantasy pass defense. Sure, the loss of CB Ike Taylor hurts the Steelers secondary, but an increased amount of snaps for Troy Polamalu certainly will help offset the Taylor loss. I think the biggest issue for Alexander will be Philip Rivers having to deal with mayhem around the line scrimmage in what will be a very hostile environment. Alexander may win plenty of matchups that go unnoticed because of the interference Rivers is dealing with.
• Chicago will be without two significant contributors to its pass defense this week. Brian Urlacher (hamstring) is the top-rated ILB in pass coverage, according to ProFootballFocus.com. And Tim Jennings (shoulder) sits at No. 8 in that department among corners. All of this is to say that Percy Harvin, who sounds like he'll try to return from an ankle injury this week, could be in line for a big day, assuming he can go at something in the vicinity of full speed (75-80 percent?). Harvin has averaged 89 YFS and has 4 TDs in his six career meetings with the Bears.
Least FPPG allowed (TE): PIT; SF; ARI; CLE; SD
• I'm doubling-down on Martellus Bennett this week. I said he had a really good chance of breaking his scoreless streak last week, and he did just that against Washington, also adding 5 catches for 82 yards to his fantasy line. This week, he faces a New Orleans defense that, as I detailed above, pretty much allows its opponent to live in the red zone. It also allows the 7th-most fantasy PPG to TEs. Bennett has a great opportunity for another top 10 finish at the position.
• Certainly late-season apathy from owners no longer in contention for the playoffs has something do with it, but it still doesn't entirely explain why Brandon Myers was only started in a third of Yahoo! leagues last week. Maybe you didn't see the 14/130/1 outburst coming, but he entered the week as a top 10 TE in terms of fantasy PPG.. On Thursday, Myers faces a Denver defense that has allowed the 3rd-most fantasy PPG to the position.
• Owen Daniels has been targeted at least 8 times in each of his past five games. I'm expecting that kind of attention to pay handsomely in what should be a shootout in New England on Monday night — the early line has an over/under of 51.5 points for this game, tied with the Sunday night matchup (Detroit at Green Bay) for the 2nd-highest O/U of the week — New Orleans at the NY Giants (53) is tops.
• Greg Olsen has the history card on his side this week. He went for 6/89/1 against Atlanta in their Week 4 showdown. and Olsen also had 53 yards and a TD against the Falcons in the final meeting of '11 (Week 14). Olsen only had one catch in Week 13, but he made it count (47-yard TD). Olsen is the No. 4 TE in fantasy over the past 5 weeks.
• While I don't care for the Jags' WR options this week, I do think Marcedes Lewis is a viable option. Lewis has at least 40 receiving yards in four of his past five games, and the Jets have allowed the 9th-most fantasy PPG to the position.
Least FPPG allowed (DST): NE; HOU; TB; NYG; DEN
WEEK 14 GAME PREDICTIONS
Denver 29, Oakland 17