There's a time and place to start planning for the Fantasy postseason (Weeks 14 through 16). If you're sitting on seven or more wins and feeling good about your chances of making it deep in the tournament, then the time is now.
You're going to start your studs regardless of the matchup -- that's just the way it goes with no-brainers. And you're going to sit any players you have doubts about in difficult matchups. But it's the players you're not so sure about who will give you the most headaches come December. That's where looking ahead now can really help you out.
Analyzing defenses isn't as simple as looking at the Fantasy points allowed data and jumping to conclusions just from their ranking. Some defenses played horribly at first and then improved. Others have played well and have begun to hit a rough patch.
Here I've highlighted the matchups that should be favorable based on position and recognized the matchups that could favor non-obvious players come Weeks 14 through 16.
The favorable matchups ...
Vikings: Seven quarterbacks have two-plus touchdowns and 23 or more Fantasy points in nine games. Also, of the Vikings' eight interceptions, only one has been by a cornerback.
Packers: Allowed quarterbacks to 20 or more Fantasy points in five games and have given up two or more scores to them in six games. The Packers have three interceptions on the year.
Buccaneers: Quarterbacks have tallied 25 or more Fantasy points in four of their last five games and 19-plus Fantasy points/two-plus touchdowns in five straight.
Chargers: Take away a three-game hot streak against the Colts, Jaguars and Redskins and quarterbacks have had 20 or more Fantasy points in every game (six of nine overall). The Bolts have picked off four passes through nine games.
Falcons: The birds have been burned for two or more touchdowns by every quarterback they've faced, with six of the nine passers gaining at least 20 Fantasy points.
Colts: Suddenly Indianapolis' pass defense has wilted. They've allowed two or more passing touchdowns in four of their last five with 19 or more Fantasy points in those four. Teams are especially beginning to throw deep on them with great success.
Jaguars: The Jags have allowed two or more touchdowns to seven of nine signal callers, six of whom have exceeded the 20-point threshold. Odd quirk: Only one passer has topped 300 yards against them but four have come within 15 yards. Jacksonville has four interceptions on the season.
Cowboys: Six of 10 quarterbacks have hit 20 points against them, seven have had two or more scores and 19 or more Fantasy points.
Redskins: Three straight quarterbacks have posted 19 Fantasy points or better; a three-week spell against the Raiders, Cowboys and Bears make Washington's pass defense numbers look better than they actually are.
Close but not quite bad enough: Raiders, Eagles
The matchups favor ...
Tony Romo: If there was ever a time to trade for Romo, now is it. He's been under 20 Fantasy points in three of his last five and is about to hit the bye. The Cowboys' schedule in Weeks 14 through 16: at Chicago, vs. Green Bay and at Washington. They even host the Eagles in Week 17 for good measure.
Colin Kaepernick: Another quarterback with low value right now, 'Kap and the Niners play at Tampa Bay in Week 15 and vs. the Falcons in Week 16. By then Michael Crabtree should be back and the offense could be running on all cylinders.
Robert Griffin III: Good luck getting him in a trade but acquiring him should pay off when he plays at Atlanta in Week 15 and vs. Dallas in Week 16.
Andy Dalton: We could see another red-hot streak from the Red Rifle before the year ends, particularly in Weeks 13 through 16 when he takes on the Chargers, Colts and Vikings with a game at Pittsburgh wedged in Week 15.
Matt Ryan: The Packers and Redskins oppose him in Weeks 14 and 15 -- if his receivers are healthy and working at a high level he could be useful those weeks.
Case Keenum: The Texans play road games at Jacksonville and Indianapolis in Weeks 14 and 15, matchups that should especially favor the pass attack. Then they host Denver in Week 16, which isn't so terrible.
E.J. Manuel: No one will have the guts to trust him unless he really starts to make strides over his next few games. A three-game stretch against the Falcons, Buccaneers and Jaguars in Weeks 13 through 15 looks really nice.
Alex Smith: The Chiefs' late-season slate features games at Washington, at Oakland and vs. the Colts. Great matchups for one of the least trustworthy starters in Fantasy.
Scott Tolzien/Aaron Rodgers: The Packers host the Falcons in Week 14 and are at Dallas in Week 15 before hosting the Steelers in Week 16. If Tolzien continues to look capable or if Rodgers is back, this will work out magnificently.
The favorable matchups ...
Vikings: Eleven or more Fantasy points have been scored by running backs in seven of nine games. Who didn't do it? The Browns, just days after trading away Trent Richardson and the Cowboys when they gave just four carries to DeMarco Murray.
Dolphins: Have allowed a running back to get at least 11 Fantasy points in eight straight! Backs have had 13 or more Fantasy points in seven of their last eight.
Redskins: Allowed a running back to land 11 or more Fantasy points in eight of nine games -- the only one that didn't was Danny Woodhead, who had a touchdown reversed by replay in Week 9. He still had nine Fantasy points.
Bears: The run defense is in bad shape and it shows, as running backs have had 10 or more Fantasy points in seven of their last eight (the Steelers couldn't accomplish the feat pre-Le'Veon Bell). Worse yet, the Bears have allowed 620 total yards and seven rush touchdowns to running backs in their last four games.
Cowboys: Dallas has seen a massive breakdown in its last three games -- six touchdowns and six running backs with 11-plus Fantasy points. Losing linebacker Sean Lee could mean more of the same after the bye.
Titans: Running backs have scored two touchdowns in each of the Titans' last four. Tennessee has allowed 10 or more Fantasy points to a running back in six straight.
Jaguars: Last week was the first time in four games they didn't allow a running back to get 17-plus Fantasy points. Backs have had 12-plus Fantasy points in six of nine games.
Broncos: They have allowed a touchdown to a running back every single week (including fullback Stanley Havili catching one in Week 7). Nine rushers have hit 10-plus Fantasy points against them.
Saints: The weakness is in stopping the run game as they've allowed a rush score to a back in each of their last four games and six of their last seven. A running back has posted 10 or more Fantasy points in six straight.
Raiders: Have allowed a back to get 10-plus Fantasy points in seven straight games. The Raiders have given up eight total touchdowns to running backs in those last seven.
Rams: Have given up 10 or more Fantasy points to at least one running back in six of 10 games (eight total).
49ers: Surprise! The Niners actually are struggling against the run this season. Eight of nine backs have had 10 or more Fantasy points against them.
Close but not quite bad enough: Steelers, Packers
The matchups favor ...
Ben Tate: The Texans have it good down the stretch with run-deficient teams like the Patriots, Jaguars and Broncos on the slate. A game at Indianapolis in Week 15 doesn't exactly hurt the cause. It should pay off to buy low on Tate in a trade.
Fred Jackson, C.J. Spiller: Look for a strong finish for the Buffalo duo as they finish the year with games at Jacksonville in Week 15 and against the Dolphins in Week 16 before a finale at New England in Week 17 just for good measure.
Bobby Rainey, Brian Leonard: Confidence may or may not be high in going with either guy but that's how we feel now -- maybe by Week 15 vs. the Niners we'll feel differently about one of them. Week 16 at the Rams (Leonard's former team) is another good matchup.
Ray Rice and/or Bernard Pierce: The Ravens' run game is in neutral but if they can get going before the end of the year then games against the Vikings in Week 14 and the Patriots in Week 16 could be helpful.
Panthers running backs: If you want to stash a Panther on your bench for games against the Saints in Weeks 14 (on the road) and 16 (at home) it's not ill-advised. An injury to one of the backs could clear up a lot, though a game against the Jets in Week 15 will be rough no matter who plays.
The favorable matchups ...
Bills: Have allowed a score to a wide receiver in nine of 10 games (Kansas City couldn't find the end zone). An interesting point: Of the 16 touchdowns allowed to receivers, 12 have gone to non-No. 1 options. No. 1 receivers have had 10 or more Fantasy points five times while non-No. 1 receivers have had 10-plus Fantasy points 10 times.
Lions: Eleven touchdowns have been scored by receivers this year. Of the 11, eight have come in their last four and five in their last two! Seven receivers have posted 10 or more Fantasy points in their last four games. This defense is starting to sag.
Falcons: Allowed two touchdowns to wideouts in three of their last four -- six total in that span. A dozen receivers have had 10 or more Fantasy points against the Falcons, including at least one in eight of nine games.
Redskins: A wide receiver has scored in seven of nine games against Washington. Eleven wideouts have had 10-plus Fantasy points on the year.
Chargers: Allowed 12-plus Fantasy points to a wide receiver in eight of nine games, 209.8 yards per game to receivers -- second-most in NFL.
Raiders: They're starting to struggle, giving up six touchdowns to receivers over their last three thanks in part to Nick Foles' big game. They have allowed 11 or more Fantasy points to a wide receiver in seven of nine games.
Colts: The Colts are starting to get gashed with eight touchdowns to receivers over their last three games, including five for 30-plus yards! They've also allowed a wide receiver to get at least 100 yards in each of their last four.
Vikings: After containing Calvin Johnson in Week 1 the Vikings have allowed 10 touchdowns to wideouts in the eight games following including at least one score in each.
Buccaneers: The defense has allowed 11 touchdowns to wideouts in its last seven games with eight receivers posting 10-plus Fantasy points in that span (six of seven games).
Close but not quite bad enough: Eagles, Jets
The matchups favor ...
Torrey Smith: Games against the Vikings and Lions in Weeks 14 and 15 are preludes for a big test against the Patriots in Week 16. The game against the Pats could hinge on how effective Aqib Talib is playing, but leading up to it should mean good things for Smith.
Marvin Jones: I wouldn't quite give up on Mr. Jones as he and the Bengals play the Chargers, Colts and Vikings between Weeks 13 and 16. Playing at Pittsburgh in Week 15 will be a tough one but if he regains his form with Dalton, he should have a chance against lesser coverage than what A.J. Green typically gets.
Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks, Rueben Randle: The Giants have matchups at Washington, at San Diego and at Detroit between Weeks 13 and 16 with a home game against the Seahawks in Week 15 mixed in. All three receivers have been plagued by drops, uneven quarterback play and pass interference by opponents to keep their numbers low. If that were all to change for the better, they'd all be potential Fantasy heroes down the stretch.
Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin: The Niners have games at Tampa Bay and home to the Falcons in Weeks 15 and 16, gorgeous matchups for a team looking to get its passing game into full gear before the playoffs. I just might wait on both guys instead of let them sit on waivers.
Anyone who can step up for the Chiefs: It's a who's-who of crummy defenses versus receivers as the Chiefs play at Washington, at Oakland and vs. Indianapolis in Weeks 14 through 16. I'll keep an eye on who looks good in Kansas City, specifically in the two games against the Broncos before the late-season festivities begin.
The favorable matchups ...
Cardinals: Have allowed multiple touchdowns to tight ends in the same game four times this season! Overall, the Cards have given up nine touchdowns to tight ends on the year including five in their last four.
Vikings: The Vikes have seen tight ends score nine times on them this year, including one in each of their last two games. But they've also allowed 60-plus yards to a tight end in five games, a rare feat considering how only a handful of tight ends actually pick up chunks of yardage. Surprising fact: The Vikings have been this bad vs. tight ends without playing Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski or Julius Thomas.
Jets: Here's a shocker from Rex Ryan's crew: The Jets have allowed a score and/or 80-plus yards to a tight end in each of their last seven.
Jaguars: Jacksonville has allowed eight touchdowns to the position over its last seven games, including three in its last two.
Redskins: Washington has allowed a touchdown to a tight end in seven of nine games.
Panthers: Carolina has allowed four touchdowns to tight ends in their last six and 10-plus Fantasy points to the position in three of their last five. They play Rob Gronkowski this week, Tony Gonzalez in Week 17 and have two dates with Jimmy Graham before the end of the year.
Close but not quite bad enough: Cowboys, Bears, Broncos, Packers
The matchups favor ...
Delanie Walker: Sadly, this is the only tight end who will play two of these defenses within Weeks 14 and 16. He gets the Cardinals and Jaguars in 15 and 16. Believe it or not, he is on the cusp of being a Top 12 tight end -- the schedule could get him over the hump. He has 12 catches for 134 yards and a touchdown over essentially three games with Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Fantasy & Reality
Quick observations about the misconceptions (Fantasy) and truths (Reality) from around the league.
Fantasy: Tom Brady will struggle against the Panthers. Carolina's defense showed itself to be strong last week against the Niners but did it really prove anything? Once Vernon Davis exited with a concussion, the unit pummeled the run and left a weapon-less quarterback without any answers. Not only does Brady have a number of receiving threats to challenge the secondary, but he also has a beastly tight end of his own in Rob Gronkowski. You read what the Panthers have done against weakish tight ends so far this season, right? It makes me believe Gronk will roll and thus so will Brady, who has emerged from the bye with 19-plus Fantasy points in each of his last two seasons.
Reality: Bernard Pierce is a running back worth stashing. Ravens coach John Harbaugh said he'll lean on the hot hand at tailback. To me, that's an admission that Rice is struggling so badly that he's going to find an excuse to pull him by going with the more effective back. Even though Pierce is averaging 2.8 yards per carry this year, it's still better than Rice.
Fantasy: Golden Tate's value will dry up with Percy Harvin coming back. Don't buy for a second that Tate will become invisible just because Harvin is on the field. Harvin will get a lot of targets, maybe as many as eight a game. That's how many Doug Baldwin had last week -- he had 10 the week before. If there's a guy in the Seahawks offense likely to get targets taken away it's him, particularly since his playing time could dry up a little with Harvin out there. Wilson doesn't pass a ton to begin with but he should be much more efficient throwing to Tate knowing defenses must account for Harvin on every play.
Reality: I'm fine with Josh McCown as a stop-gap quarterback. Every time we've seen McCown play he's been very good. Through parts of two games and the start at Green Bay he has completed 60 pct. of his passes at 7.7 yards per attempt, four touchdowns, 53 rush yards and no turnovers. Brandon Marshall is playing so well and Alshon Jeffery is matching him with big performances. Throw in Matt Forte zipping out of the backfield and Martellus Bennett doing whatever it is he does and the Bears' receiving corps is actually dandy.
Fantasy: It's the year of the tight end. The average Fantasy point total for Top 12 tight ends in standard leagues currently stands at 7.8 points per game. Only five tight ends have matched or exceeded that amount on a per-game average this season. So basically, if you can land seven points or more from the tight end spot you should be in good shape. It's a drastic turnaround from, say, Week 1, when Julius Thomas broke out, Jared Cook had a monster game (it's given him enough numbers to keep him in the Top 12 -- barely) and guys like Martellus Bennett, Jermichael Finley and Owen Daniels were impressing.
Reality: Don't put much stock in Doug Martin's 2013 when considering him in 2014. The Bucs coaching staff and offensive scheme figures to be brand spankin' new next season. Depending on the playcaller and the offensive line, I might expect Martin to have a sensational third year. It stinks he never really got going this season, but with only 139 touches in 2013 he should be fresh as can be for next year.