Some fantasy leagues opened their fantasy playoffs schedules last week, but the vast majority of them kick off in Week 14. We’re all entering the heat of battle and looking for any edge possible. You guys and gals have been reading along here with me for over three months now and know the drill with sleepers. It’s playoff time, so I’m not going to bore you with a lengthy introduction. Lineups need to be set. I understand that. Let’s get to it.
Ravens QB Joe Flacco vs. Vikings: Flacco has been a man of few touchdown passes – he hasn’t thrown more than two in a game this season and has tossed one or zero in 7-of-12 starts. The reigning Super Bowl MVP has also been picked off a career-worst 15 times already. Some of that’s on him, but some of it has to do with a lack of quality receiving options. Flacco has Torrey Smith and a host of cast-offs and mere complimentary players. He could be getting Dennis Pitta (hip, short-term I.R.) back this week. Couple that with Flacco getting to face a Minnesota defense that has allowed the most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks three quarters of the way through the season, and it’s a dream matchup. Flacco has favorable matchups for the entire fantasy playoff schedule; he gets the Lions in Week 15 and the Patriots in Week 16. Fire Flacco up as a high-end QB2.
Titans QB Ryan Fitzpatrick vs. Broncos: Fitzpatrick completely face-planted last week against the Colts after he strung together a few solid efforts. I don’t necessarily like him to have a great afternoon against the Broncos, but I do expect there to be plenty of opportunities for Fitzpatrick to pass the ball. I know the Titans have one of the better pass defenses in the league, but my money is on Peyton Manning dicing them up at home this week. The Titans are going to play from behind, and Fitzpatrick will have to throw the ball. Denver has surrendered the fourth-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks in 2013, but quarterbacks have attempted 493 passes against the Broncos – second-most in the league. Fitzpatrick can either look like the worst quarterback in the league, or he can pull some Fitz Magic out of his hat and be worthy of QB2 status. I’ll go with the latter this week.
Giants QB Eli Manning vs. Chargers: Yet another very favorable matchup on paper for Eli. He hasn’t done a whole lot with those this season. Manning gets to travel to San Diego and face the team that originally drafted him. The Chargers trot out an awful pass defense weekly. Pro Football Focus grades the Bolts out as the single worst pass defense in the league, while they’ve given up the eighth-most fantasy points to quarterbacks. Shareece Wright has been an oft-burned corner on one side, while Derek Cox has been the same way and has been benched multiple times on the opposite side. Richard Marshall got the start last week, but he’s been one of the worst reserve corners all year. Everything points to Manning being able to pass the ball with ease. Treat him as a QB2.
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Broncos RB Montee Ball vs. Titans: Prior to last week’s game against the Chiefs, the Broncos said they planned to “spell” Knowshon Moreno more with Ball. That’s exactly what happened. Moreno racked up 100 yards and a score on 19 touches. That came after 27- and 37-carry weeks. Look for Denver to give Ball even more reps to try and keep Moreno fresh. Ball went off for 117 yards on 13 carries in Week 13. He showed tremendous vision and balance in the win. Now, Ball gets to face a Titans defense that is giving up the fifth-most fantasy points to opposing running backs and has allowed the second-most rushing touchdowns (14). Ball is a solid flex option for Week 14.
Cardinals RB Rashard Mendenhall vs. Rams: Mendenhall is playing his best football of the season at the moment. He piled up 78 totals yards and one touchdown against the Colts in Week 12 before following that up with 76 yards on the ground against the Eagles last week. Mendenhall now gets a Rams defense that is surrendering the third-most fantasy points to opposing running backs, and he gets them at home. There’s a better than decent chance the Cardinals blow the Rams out. Andre Ellington’s (knee) status is also up in the air. Even if he plays, look for the Cardinals to pick and choose where they play the rookie. Mendenhall has legit RB2 upside this week.
Saints RB Darren Sproles vs. Panthers: Sproles is in a major slump. He’s totaled more than 43 yards in game just once since the Week 7 bye. It’s not a great matchup against a stout Panthers defense this week. One thing we can hang our hat on is that the Carolina defense has allowed running backs to catch 82 passes out of the backfield this season, second-most in the league. That’s Sproles’ bread and butter, though he has been losing some snaps to Pierre Thomas. Still, Sproles gets the ball when he’s in the game. He racked up ten touches on 19 snaps last week, and I’d expect him to play more in this one. The Saints get the Panthers at home on the turf. Sproles is a worthy flex play.
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Giants WR Hakeem Nicks vs. Chargers: Nicks moves around some, but he runs most of his routes from the left side. That’s the side Chargers burn victim Shareece Wright covers. Wright has been Pro Football Focus’ single worst corner in terms of pass coverage, and that’s out of 112 qualifiers. I know Nicks has yet to find the end zone this season and is averaging a paltry four catches for 59.5 yards per week, but this is the game I see him visiting pay dirt. Fantasy owners are going to want to play their Giants receivers this week. The Bolts are giving up the second-most fantasy points to wideouts. Nicks is on the WR3 map.
Chiefs WR Dexter McCluster vs. Redskins: Redskins slot corner Josh Wilson is getting absolutely killed this season. Per Pro Football Focus, he’s allowed 36 catches for 397 yards and three touchdowns on 48 targets in the slot. That’s “good” for a 119.9 opposing passer rating. McCluster is the Chiefs’ slot receiver. This isn’t rocket science. McCluster has one of his most favorable matchups of the season this week. Look for him to draw Alex Smith’s eyes on a number of throws. Treat McCluster as a WR4 with upside in PPR.
Lions WR Nate Burleson vs. Eagles: Burleson is coming off a zero-catch Week 13 against the Packers where he saw no targets in the passing game. It’s not like he wasn’t playing. Burleson was in on 60-of-83 offensive snaps, so we’re going to chalk this up as a fluke. Burleson is the clear No. 2 receiver in Detroit and gets to go up against a Philadelphia pass defense that has given up the most fantasy points to opposing wide receivers in 2013. Don’t let Burleson’s Week 13 scare you. Treat him as a locked-in WR3.
Rams TE Jared Cook vs. Cardinals: Mr. Cook makes the sleeper list once again. He’s a frequent visitor. If there was any week to play Cook confidently, this is the one. The Cardinals are getting torched by tight ends. They know it, and other teams know it. Arizona has given up 14 touchdown passes to tight ends, while no other team has allowed more than nine. Cook had easily his best game of the year against this defense in Week 1, going off for a 7-141-2 receiving line. He should have had a third score. There isn’t a better streaming option at tight end than Cook this week. He has definite TE1 appeal.
Bears TE Martellus Bennett vs. Cowboys: There’s no doubt Bennett wants to come out and have a good game this week against the team that originally drafted him. He’s no higher than the fourth option in the Chicago passing attack, but the matchup favors him. The Cowboys have allowed the seventh-most fantasy points to opposing tight ends, and they can’t seem to cover the middle of the field. Josh McCown is getting another start for the Bears at quarterback. Even though he’s been hitting Alshon Jeffery deep on the outside recently, McCown still does his best work in the short-to-intermediate passing game. That’s where Bennett will be active. Treat the Black Unicorn as a high-end TE2.
Chiefs TE Sean McGrath vs. Redskins: McGrath hasn’t done much of anything since the beginning of the season. But Anthony Fasano is dealing with a concussion and knee injury and has yet to practice this week. McGrath is going to be the guy at tight end for the Chiefs. He’s displayed reliable hands in limited opportunities. Plus, he has an epic beard. McGrath gets to go up against Washington’s pitiful defense that has allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to tight ends. Both McGrath and Dexter McCluster should see a handful of targets each. There are worse plug-and-play options at tight end than McGrath.