Playoffs! We are talking about the playoffs!!! It is time to take the first step on the road to your Fantasy Football championship, so without further ado, here are five guys to roll with and five to avoid if you can help it in Week 14.
Get 'em active ...
Josh Freeman, QB, Buccaneers (vs. PHI)
Current own/start %: 96/35
I'd start him over: Matt Ryan (at CAR), Colin Kaepernick (vs. MIA), Matt Schaub (vs. NE)
Josh Freeman had a tough matchup with the Broncos in Week 13 and it got the best of him, but he still managed to put together a game with 242 yards passing and two touchdowns with only one interception. That marked the seventh time in the last eight games that Freeman has thrown for two or more touchdowns and it will be eight out of nine following a massive performance in Week 14. Freeman gets to take on a Philadelphia pass defense that has surrendered multiple quarterback touchdowns in seven straight games and nine of the last 10. Over the last three weeks, there has been no secondary as generous as that of the Eagles, who have given up 31 or more Fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks in all three of those games, including 40 or more points to both Cam Newton and Robert Griffin III. In fact, over the last three weeks, the opposing quarterback has ranked first, first and third in total Fantasy points scored against Philly. In those three games, the Eagles have given up a grand total of 809 yards and nine touchdowns passing along with 150 yards and two touchdowns rushing to opposing quarterbacks. With Dallas Clark emerging and his excellent wide receiver duo of Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams, look for Freeman to have his best game in weeks. I believe he is a Top 5 Fantasy option in Week 14.
Andrew Luck, QB, Colts (vs. TEN)
Current own/start %: 99/53
I'd start him over: Eli Manning (vs. NO), Russell Wilson (vs. ARI), Tony Romo (at CIN)
Andrew Luck is coming off of a career-defining performance that saw him beat the Lions with a touchdown pass as time expired in Week 13. In that game, Luck threw for 391 yards and four touchdowns (with three interceptions) and ran for 33 yards en route to a 36-point Fantasy day. Luck enters Week 14 with the following averages in dome games: 307 yards passing, 1.9 passing touchdowns, 23.6 rushing yards and 0.43 rushing touchdowns per game. Those are very impressive totals that add up to a tremendous 25.6 points per game, so for Luck, there is no place like dome. This week he gets to face a Tennessee pass defense that has allowed nine out of 12 quarterbacks to top 20 points against it this season. For the year, the Titans have surrendered 24 passing scores -- second most in the NFL -- and are allowing 21.17 points per game, which is the sixth most. In their first meeting, Luck scored 17 Fantasy points against the Titans on the road, so if you add up his dome bonus of six points, he will have a good 23-point day. Don't forget that last week was the first week in months that Luck has had Reggie Wayne, Donnie Avery, the budding star T.Y. Hilton and both tight ends Coby Fleener (who caught a touchdown against Detroit) and Dwayne Allen all healthy at the same time. Look for Luck to turn in a solid Top 12 performance at quarterback when you need it the most in critical Week 14.
Mikel Leshoure, RB, Lions (at GB)
Current own/start %: 99/68
I'd start him over: Ryan Mathews (at PIT), Steven Jackson (at BUF), Fred Jackson (vs. STL)
No running back in the NFL has a better goal line scoring rate with at least four carries than Mikel Leshoure, who has punched in all four of his attempts from inside the five yard line. As a result, Leshoure has scored in three straight games and should make it four in a row against a generous Packers rush defense. After all, Leshoure ran 19 times for 84 yards and a touchdown against this very Green Bay defense back in Week 11 and the Packers have given up a running back rushing score in four straight games and six of the last seven, allowing eight running back rushing scores total during that span. Leshoure has six touchdowns in his last five games and I love the fact that he has 20 or more total touches in two of his last three games. When you consider that Green Bay's injury-riddled defense has surrendered more than 200 total yards and 30 points to running backs in the last two weeks, Leshoure looks like an ideal No. 2 running back who is peaking at just the right time for your Fantasy teams.
Other RBs with favorable matchups: Ahmad Bradshaw (vs. NO), Alfred Morris (vs. BAL), DeMarco Murray (at CIN), BenJarvus Green-Ellis (vs. DAL), Steven Jackson (at BUF), Knowshon Moreno (at OAK), Michael Turner (at CAR), Fred Jackson/C.J. Spiller (vs. STL), Darren Sproles (at NYG), Bryce Brown (at TB), Jonathan Dwyer (vs. SD), Shonn Greene (at JAC), Vick Ballard (vs. TEN); Shane Vereen (at HOU), Michael Bush (at MIN), Jacquizz Rodgers (at CAR), DeAngelo Williams (vs. ATL if Jonathan Stewart is still out), Alex Green (vs. DET)
Torrey Smith, WR, Ravens (at WAS)
Current own/start %: 100/72
I'd start him over: Dwayne Bowe (at CLE), Larry Fitzgerald (at SEA), Danario Alexander (at PIT)
Torrey Smith is one of the most talented receivers in the NFL, but he has to deal with inconsistent Joe Flacco at quarterback. Still, Smith is averaging a very healthy 1.33 Fantasy points per target this year and has actually been very consistent of late. In his last five games, Smith has produced 10 or more points three times, with the lone exceptions being the two games against the top ranked pass defense of the Steelers. Other than that, he has been the only receiver to reach 10 points against Joe Haden in over a month, he caught seven passes for 144 yards against the Chargers and had 67 yards and two scores against the Raiders. The Redskins are up next for the Ravens and with the close proximity to Baltimore, I am going to call this a borderline home game for Flacco, which as you know is good news for Smith. The 'Skins just allowed two New York pass catchers to produce 10 or more points in Week 13 and two weeks ago, Dez Bryant torched them for 145 yards and two scores. Smith is a big, physical receiver who can get down the field a La Dez and should have a big game here in Week 14. Smith just needs the targets and he will get the job done, as evidenced by the fact that he has produced double-digit points in four of his five games with nine or more targets this year. It also wouldn't hurt to give him some love in the red zone, where he has scored on four of his five targets. Washington is allowing 207 yards and 26.5 Fantasy points per game to wide receivers (both second most in the NFL), so I am expecting a touchdown and double-digit points from Torrey this week against a banged up secondary.
Other WRs with favorable matchups: Eric Decker (at OAK), Josh Gordon (vs. KC), Hakeem Nicks/Victor Cruz (vs. NO), Lance Moore (at NYG), Randall Cobb/James Jones/Greg Jennings (vs. DET), Chris Givens (at BUF), Pierre Garcon (vs. BAL), Antonio Brown (vs. SD), T.Y. Hilton (vs. TEN), Kenny Britt (at IND), Mike Williams (vs. PHI), Steve Smith (vs. ATL), Anquan Boldin (at WAS), Danario Alexander (at PIT; no Ike Taylor); Jeremy Maclin/Riley Cooper (at TB)
Brandon Myers, TE, Raiders (at DEN)
Current own/start %: 87/61
I'd start him over: Vernon Davis (vs. MIA), Antonio Gates (at PIT), Brandon Pettigrew (at GB)
Many of you may be into the Fantasy playoffs thanks to Brandon Myers, who caught 14 of his 15 targets for a career-high 130 yards and a touchdown in Week 13 against the Browns. What you may not know is that Myers had a garbage time drive for the ages as he literally had a game's worth of production in three minutes and 20 seconds. On the final drive for the Raiders, Myers caught all six of his targets for 73 yards and the touchdown. He accounted for 73 of the Raiders' 84 yards on the drive and produced 13 standard and 19 PPR Fantasy points in just another remarkable twist to an amazing season for the Oakland tight end. He may be in line for an encore performance on Thursday night against the Broncos, who will annihilate the Raiders, making Myers a must start for your teams. The Broncos are surrendering a league-high 10.5 points per game to opposing tight ends (10-plus points in five of the last seven games) and they have given up nine tight end touchdowns, also the most in the NFL. Myers was knocked out of the team's first meeting with a concussion and should be in line for a massive game the second time around. Myers has five or more catches in five straight games and during that five-game run he has scored in three games, accounting for four total scores. He has found the end zone in three straight home games and should stay hot against the league's worst defense at stopping tight ends, so get Myers in your lineups as a rare Thursday night delight.
Ride the pine ...Russell Wilson, QB, Seahawks (vs. ARI)
Current own/start %: 58/13
I'd rather start: Josh Freeman (vs. PHI), Andy Dalton (vs. DAL), Cam Newton (vs. ATL)
Russell Wilson may be the hottest quarterback in the NFL with multiple passing touchdowns in five straight games and six of the last seven. He just lit up the Bears on the road for 30 Fantasy points and two scores and it seems as though he can do no wrong. He is even better at home, where he will take on the Cardinals in Week 14, where he is undefeated and has thrown for 11 touchdowns in five games. So why in the world am I saying to sit Russell this week? Wilson is not a big yardage producer, which puts a ton of pressure on those touchdowns. It is also why Wilson has produced more than 20 Fantasy points in only two of his five home games. In fact, at home, Wilson has thrown for more than 200 yards in just one game (mainly because the 'Hawks play great defense and usually have the lead). In fact, Wilson has only thrown more than 25 passes in one game at home all year and that led to his best Fantasy day in Seattle with 28 points against the Patriots. With the Cardinals' completely inept offense coming to town, I do not at all envision a situation where Wilson will have to throw the ball a lot. That means that even with two touchdown passes he could end up with around 175 yards and 19 Fantasy points, which will not be Top 12 this week. If he does not hit multiple passing scores it could be even worse, a realistic possibility against the excellent pass defense of the Cardinals. The Cards enter Week 14 allowing just 12.67 points per game to opposing quarterbacks, third fewest in the NFL. Only two quarterbacks all year have produced 20 Fantasy points against the Cardinals and that is due in large part to the fact that they only allow 212 yards passing per game, fourth fewest in the league. Since the team's Week 10 bye, Arizona has allowed just three passing scores in three games while picking off nine passes. In fact, they held Matt Ryan to just two points back in Week 11, when he threw for 301 yards but did not throw a touchdown and tossed five picks. Wilson was held to just 10 points in the first meeting with Arizona, but that was back in Week 1. He will be better this time around, but I think he has limited upside and significant downside should the team do its scoring on the ground, which is why I would not take a chance on Wilson in Week 14 unless I was in a two-quarterback league.
Ryan Mathews, RB, Chargers (at PIT)
Current own/start %: 99/55
I'd rather start: Anyone in the entire world including Shonn Greene (at JAC), Jonathan Dwyer (vs. SD), Knowshon Moreno (at OAK)
I have had it with Norv Turner, the pathetic Chargers offense, Philip Rivers, the pathetic Chargers offensive line and yes it is true, I am done with Ryan Mathews. Whether his poor play is due to a lack of chances, constant substitutions that rob him of a chance to get into a groove, a struggling and injured offensive line or his own lack of vision to hit the proper holes and make big plays, the fact of the matter is that Mathews is not producing. Mathews has but one touchdown this year and it came back in Week 5 against the Saints. Since then, Mathews has not produced 10 Fantasy points in any game and has been held to seven or fewer Fantasy points in five of his last six games. He has just one game of 100 total yards since Week 5 and lost a fumble in that game to knock his point total down. He is not in the Top 30 in terms of red zone chances this year and has but one goal line carry all season, so I doubt he is going to get the chance to score. With Ronnie Brown stealing just about all of the passing work, it robs Mathews of the chance to pick up garbage time points when the Chargers fall behind late in games, which is a common occurrence. The Chargers could be without three starting offensive linemen and Mathews has to face the Steelers, who have allowed only three running back groups to run for 100 yards all year. In other words, it looks like another brutal week for Mathews. He has hardly any upside because he does not score and I just don't see any reason to stick with him in an unfavorable matchup unless you are completely out of options.
Darren McFadden, RB, Raiders (vs. DEN)
Current own/start %: 99/22
I'd rather start: Fred Jackson (vs. STL), Michael Turner (at CAR), Steven Jackson (at BUF)
We saw DeMarco Murray return to action with great success on Sunday Night and I know many are hoping for the same kind of return for Darren McFadden this Thursday against the Broncos. McFadden has not played in weeks and the short turnaround will not have a big impact on him, but I think he struggles in his first game back. McFadden frankly was not all that good when he was healthy this year and he was held below 55 yards rushing in five of his eight games. He produced 10 or more points in four games but when he had tougher matchups, McFadden was held to three or fewer points on three occasions, including his first matchup with this Denver defense. Back in Week 4, McFadden accounted for just 38 total yards in an Oakland loss and while I think he will do better this time around, it may not be by much. Denver is allowing the sixth fewest points per game to running backs at 13.6 and is surrendering the third lowest yards per carry average at 3.6. They have been even better of late, holding Doug Martin to just 56 yards rushing on 18 carries last week. In fact, no running back has produced more than 10 points or scored against the Broncos in four straight games. They have allowed just one rushing touchdown in the last seven games and during that span only Kansas City averaged more than 3.5 yards per carry and only Jamaal Charles ran for 75 or more yards. Over the course of the entire season only Arian Foster and Stevan Ridley have produced more than 11 Fantasy points against this very stingy defense and I don't see McFadden becoming the third in a Thursday night game that has the chance to become a one-sided affair in a hurry. Hopefully you have a bye and can sit McFadden this week and then use him for his great matchups against the Chiefs in Week 15 and the Panthers in Week 16, because this is not the week to play him.
Dwayne Bowe, WR, Chiefs (vs. CLE)
Current own/start %: 95/23
I'd rather start: Josh Gordon (vs. KC), Chris Givens (at BUF), T.Y Hilton (vs. TEN)
Dwayne Bowe has not scored in eight straight games for the Chiefs and has not produced even eight Fantasy points in any of those games. He has just one game with seven Fantasy points and is averaging just four catches for 48 yards per game during that span. That even includes games with the generous pass defenses of Tampa Bay, Oakland, and San Diego, so this is not even a matchup-based slump. Now Bowe has to contend with the excellent pass defense of the Browns and Joe Haden. No opposing No. 1 receiver has produced more than 10 points against Haden during the last five games and they are averaging just 39 yards receiving and five Fantasy points per game. Bowe is in a slump and I don't think a road trip to Cleveland will help him break out of it, so keep him reserved this week.
Antonio Gates, TE, Chargers (at PIT)
Current own/start %: 100/60
I'd rather start: Brandon Pettigrew (at GB), Jermichael Finley (vs. DET), Jacob Tamme (at OAK)
Let's be honest, if his name was not Antonio Gates we would not even consider starting him at this point. However, many of us carry only one tight end and we have kept Gates on the squad and therefore in our lineups. This is not the week to stick with the weak Gates, who has produced six or more Fantasy points in just three games all year. In fact, Gates has a grand total of six Fantasy points in his last three games combined! Gates has one game with more than 60 yards receiving all season, down from seven in 2011 when he played in only 12 games. His ineptitude matches up pretty well with the Steelers dominance against tight ends. The Steelers have allowed a tight end to score in just one of the last eight games and have given up more than 60 yards receiving to a tight end in only one game all year! Since Week 1 against this Pittsburgh defense, only one tight end has produced even seven Fantasy points and they have allowed just 11 in the last three weeks combined. Pretend Gates was named Benchme Rightnow and keep him reserved in the first week of the playoffs.