Congratulations! If you’re reading this then (in most leagues) you’re in the fantasy playoffs! Now let’s begin that Super Bowl run. There’s a common saying “may the best team win”. I couldn’t disagree more with this saying! “May MY team win”, or for you readers, "may YOUR team win” is more like it……unless you’re one of my league competitors. And if I or you happen to be the best team, then this still qualifies. But, in the playoffs the standings are irrelevant, and regular season accomplishments do not matter. It’s three weeks of win or go home, and whether you're a top seed or lower seeded playoff team, be confident. Those teams who are stacked really do have a chance to go home early. It’s a small sample size, but in my 12 team league, the best team, the team who led the league in points during the regular season, has only gone on to win the Super Bowl twice out of 10 years. So if you don’t think you’re the best, then maybe that’s a good thing!
Beating the best is the key to winning it all, and it is going to take some chutzpah. If you’re going up against a team who is truly elite and is projected to beat you by 30+ points, it’s going to be tough but it's not over by a longshot. If you know you’ll be up against a big score, then I suggest trying to hit a home run with a high upside start even if the player has a low floor. If you’re in this position, now is not the time to stick with your boring, low upside players (i.e. Reggie Wayne, Owen Daniels, Frank Gore) just because you’ve been starting them all year. It all comes down another saying, one I do like a lot, “no guts, no glory”. I’ve witnessed teams starting players like Billy Volek (former Titans QB), Ryan Moats (former Eagles RB), or Tim Tebow make deep playoff runs, demolishing teams who are better on paper. Hey, just look at what Ryan Fitzpatrick of all people was able to do last week. At this time of the year, anything goes.
If you’re in the playoffs then most of your lineup should be set with the exception of maybe a flex spot and the always matchup dependent TE spot. However, there are players at every position that I believe can be the first step towards your 2014 Super Bowl ring. The below sleepers and busts will be a good source for week 14’s home run hitters and those players to avoid in round 1 of the playoffs.
Without further ado, your week 14 Sleepers and Busts:
DISCLAIMER: A sleeper is not a must start and a bust is not a must bench, they are merely indications that a player will have a better or worse game this week than they normally do. It all really depends on your alternatives. I will give an example of a few players for whom I personally would start the sleeper over or bench the bust for. These players are simply there as an indication of how good or bad I think the sleepers/busts will perform so you have a comparison in mind when applying it to your actual lineup. For example if I am comparing a QB to a stud like Andrew Luck, I am not necessarily saying you need to start him over Luck (even if I would) but it will imply that I feel really good about him.
· Teddy Bridgewater vs. New York Jets. If you’re playing matchups at QB the best thing you can do this week is embrace your Teddy bear and hope for the best…your Teddy bear of course being Teddy Bridgewater. Bridgewater is getting more and more comfortable every week in Norv Turner’s offense and Turner has finally decided (fortunately for Bridgewater and the Vikings offense as a whole) that Cordarelle Patterson should not be on the field. Explosive WR, Charles Johnson’s emergence and Kyle Rudolph’s return to the lineup have allowed Turner to run the offense he envisioned when he joined the staff and it’s led to Bridgewater acquiring value as a matchup play. He has back to back 2 TD weeks and only 2 INTs in the last 5 weeks. The Jets are as good of a matchup play as you can get. Ranking 30th against the pass and having only picked off three passes this season, the Jets are a dream playoff matchup. They're going through the motions to finish the season and Rex Ryan knows he’s not coming back. There is no motivation on the part of Gang Green to pull off a surprising performance on the road. Expect Bridgewater to continue to mature, and if the game stays close and Teddy gets to throw for four quarters, we could be looking at a career day and Bridgewater’s first 3 TD game.
I’d Start Teddy Bridgewater over: Colin Kaepernick, Andy Dalton, Matt Ryan, Cam Newton, Mark Sanchez
· Andy Dalton v. Pittsburgh. I totally understand that Pittsburgh is a great matchup and that their CBs are burnable. However, I don’t trust that Andy Dalton and his 13/13 TD/INT ratio are capable of taking advantage. His pro-bowl LT, Andre Smith, is out for the season and Dalton is fresh off a 176 yard 1 TD/3 INT dud against an awful Tampa Bay secondary. Dalton is as inconsistent as they come and he’s thrown 0 TDs in 4 games this season while also throwing 1 TD in another 4 games. So 66.667% of the time he's thrown at most 1 passing TD. He's not exactly trending upward either with 2 TD/4INT in the last two weeks. The Andy Dalton name has some recognition and can make you feel warm and fuzzy when looking at the matchup, but you can easily do better than him as a fantasy starter.
I’d Start the following players over Andy Dalton: Ryan Tannehill, Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Teddy Bridgewater
· Trent Richardson at Cleveland. To be clear I like Boom Herron this week but I like Richardson slightly more. Richardson gets to go back to the city where all the running in place started, Cleveland. Seriously, it’s a revenge game for Trent and if he’ll ever put it into that next gear (first gear?), it will be this week. He’s gone on the record saying he’ll jump into the dog pound after he scores, and the Colts if they can take an early lead will do what they can to get Richardson in the endzone. Colts head coach, Chuck Pagano remains adamant Richardson is the starter on this team and will continue to receive touches. Herron’s explosiveness (and Richardson’s lack thereof) keeps him in the rotation but he’s had fumbling issues that keep Trent out there getting half the touches. Besides this being a revenge game, Cleveland sports a soft front 4, and while the defense focuses on containing Andrew Luck, they can be had in the running game. I don’t see this as a high ceiling start but I can see this as a flex play with about 70 total yards and at least one TD.
I’d start Trent Richardson over: Jonathan Stewart, Frank Gore, Latavius Murray, Bishop Sankey
· Frank Gore at Oakland. Frank Gore is coming to the end of a fine career and could very well find himself in Canton one day. However, this season may be the beginning of the end. Gore has had 50 yards or fewer rushing in 5 out of the last 7 games and only 1 rushing TD in the last 10 games. He only has 9 catches on the season so he’s no longer a factor in the receiving game. The matchup against Oakland is ideal, but Gore having a big game would mean that San Francisco would have to be able to move the ball on offense. The offensive line is vastly under-performing both in the pass game and run game. Nothing the 49ers have done the past three weeks has shown that they have the ability to move the ball. Last week was pathetic, but I’ll give them a pass against Seattle. But scoring only 16 points and 17 points against two of the worst defenses in the league (NY Giants, Washington), is inexcusable. Oakland presents another supposed plus matchup, so Gore is ranked as a high RB2, but he’s clearly past his prime, and I’m starting to believe that the 49ers do not have a solution to the mess they’re experiencing on offense.
I’d start the following players over Frank Gore: Tre Mason, Ryan Mathews, Lamar Miller, Gio Bernard, Trent Richardson
· Nate Washington v. New York Giants. This is for you guys in deep 3/4 WR leagues, and you’ll thank me later. Nate Washington is about to have a BIG week and a BIG fantasy playoffs so grab him. Prior to this year Washington was a viable WR3 in all leagues. He was 2013s #35 WR in .5 PPR leagues having put up over 900 yards receiving. He has a 1000 yard season to his name and has 8 career 100 yard games including 3 just last season. This season Justin Hunter, a promising WR with freakish speed and size, was supposed to be the next big thing, so the Titans, a team that is not really in win now mode, gave Hunter all the reps, snaps, and looks he can handle. Hunter suffered a lacerated spleen in Week 13 after getting hit by a freight train named Daniel Manning. Hunter stayed in the game briefly but was ineffective. After the injury, Nate Washington started getting peppered with targets, racking up 9 in total along with 5 receptions, 61 yards, and a score. This was Washington’s 2nd TD in the past 3 weeks, a stretch where he’s had over 200 yards receiving. The Titans top WR threat, Kendall Wright, suffered a cracked bone in his wrist this week and could miss week 14, leading to even more targets for the savvy veteran. The Giants come to Tennessee, still brutal and banged up at every position on defense. Nate Washington will be able to outsmart the Giants porous defense and will have many targets, many catches, and at least one of his patented big plays. I recommend him as a #3 WR, the same place he ranked last year when he played a full complement of snaps. His week 14-16 schedule is NYG, NYJ, @Jax. GET HIM NOW.
I’d Start Nate Washington over: Roddy White, Reggie Wayne, Keenan Allen, Marques Colston, Julian Edelman, Reuben Randle
· Keenan Allen at New England. Next stop Revis Island. The Chargers have so many other weapons with Gates, Floyd, Royal, and then Mathews in the running game, so there is no way Mike McCoy's gameplan will be to overload Keenan Allen with targets. Revis has left his Tampa Bay days behind him and returned to his lockdown form in 2014. Stud WRs Jordy Nelson, Calvin Johnson and TY Hilton have combined for 9 catches for 125 yards and 1 TD the last 3 weeks against Revis! When ONE of those guys has a game like that nobody blinks an eye, but to lock down all three like that is something that cannot be ignored. Keenan Allen isn't even close to the player those guys are, so I’d expect him to do less than the 3 catch, 40 yard average that they were held to in the previous three weeks. Allen has been hot but he simply cannot be started this week in any/all formats.
I’d start the following players over Keenan Allen: Nate Washington, Charles Johnson, Stedman Bailey, Greg Jennings
· Travis Kelce at Arizona. One team’s strength against another team’s weakness. Arizona has elite CB talent but cannot seem to stop TEs ranking 27th on the season against the position. Kansas City is still waiting to throw its first TD to a WR while their TE combination of Travis Kelce and Anthony Fasano have combined for a whopping eight TDs. I like this matchup a lot for Kelce. The Chiefs will do their best to run the ball with Jamaal Charles, but could very well struggle against the league’s 6th ranked team in rushing yards against. They’ll have to go to the air and it only makes sense that they use their TEs to do so. Not convinced? Take a look at this motley crew who has hit paydirt against the Cardinals: Jared Cook, Cooper Helfet, Daniel Fells, Levine Toilolo, and Julius Thomas. Outside of the elite TEs and Delanie Walker, I like Kelce the most this week at this position.
I’d start Travis Kelce over: Dwayne Allen, Coby Fleener, Greg Olsen, Jordan Reed
· Dwayne Allen at Cleveland. Dwayne Allen is set to make his return to the lineup after missing the past two games with a sprained ankle. Prior to his departure he was squarely in the mid TE 1 conversation. However, I’d expect some rust in his first game back. In addition, Coby Fleener has been fantasy’s #1 TE over the last three weeks. Fleener had a very ugly drop on a sure thing long TD last week but has otherwise been picking up large chunks of yardage through the air and getting into the endzone. Allen will clearly cut into Fleener’s looks but I don’t see the Colts forgetting about what Fleener has done the last few weeks. Furthermore, the Browns are on tap, a team who allowed a huge game to Jimmy Graham in week 2 but has since not allowed any TE to score more than 11.8 fantasy points in .5 PPR leagues. They’ve completely shut down many of the TE they’ve faced during this stretch and in 6 games have limited TEs to less than 6.4 points. Allen is a risky play returning from injury and perhaps sharing with Fleener and the matchup at Cleveland lacks the upside needed for a fantasy playoff start.
I’d Start the Following Players over Dwayne Allen: Travis Kelce, Jordan Reed, Kyle Rudolph, Larry Donnell
That’ll do it for week 14. Do not leave any bullets in that holster. There's no reason to play it safe now. Go big or go home. May your run to the Super Bowl begin this Sunday. Good Luck!