Congratulations to those of you who are about to kick off your fantasy football playoffs! Here’s hoping you don’t play into Week 17. And don’t worry, the rest of you who are still in the regular season, fighting in the consolation bracket and looking to avoid sacko punishments are welcome, as always. I love all of you readers, win or lose…but let’s win, shall we?
Catering to all formats is impossible, but I’ll do my best to provide context as I go. The ECR given is for standard leagues since that’s what we are scored on. Please note that I’m using Tuesday night’s ECR and updates will surely roll in from Wednesday morning on, as well as injury news. I’ll use players that I’m higher or lower on against the consensus within a start/sit range from 10- to 14-teamers, or so. Let’s dive in.
Tom Brady (at MIA): Mariano Rank: 11, ECR: 13
The Patriots opened as 10-point favorites against Miami on the road, but the line has already come down to 7.5. While much gets (rightfully) made about stud DB Xavien Howard’s 2018 campaign, Miami’s pass defense is still ranked 24th per FootballOutsiders’ Defense-adjusted Value Over Average metric. We didn’t see Rob Gronkowski make any noise in Week 13, but Brady’s weapons are as healthy as ever heading into Week 14. I doubt James Develin scoops another two TDs for himself again and Vegas has the Patriots’ implied total sitting around 28, leaving Brady wide open for a solid 2-3 TD showing.
Lamar Jackson (at KC): MR: 12, ECR: 14
Despite missing a chunk of the second half due to a concussion check, Jackson was still the No. 12 QB in Week 13 thanks in large part to 75 rushing yards and a touchdown on the ground. While I dislike counting on anyone to waltz into Arrowhead Stadium and put up points, as a rookie no less, Jackson’s mobility is an incredible asset.
Even though he’s routinely missing throws and probably angering his wideouts as he averages just 13 completions and 150 passing yards per start, the fantasy production is there — as are the wins. He’s gone 3-0 as a starter and the Chiefs defense just let Derek Carr and the Raiders put up 33 points, so there’s potential here.
Matt Ryan (at GB): MR: 16, ECR: 11
Ryan was held in check by Baltimore’s defense at home, passing for just 131 yards and a touchdown. He and the Falcons will hope to rebound in Green Bay against a Packers defense that just let the Cardinals win in Lambeau, so I understand the optimism. That said, Vegas still has the Falcons as six-point underdogs traveling far from their warm dome to the almost-winter wonderland of Green Bay.
This is more about liking other signal-callers such as Mitch Trubisky and Dak Prescott more rather than hating Ryan, but I don’t think you need to tangle with cold/road Ryan. His completion rate drops roughly 7.5 percentage points and his yards per pass attempt falls nearly two yards away from home.
Russell Wilson (vs. MIN): MR: 14, ECR: 12
Wilson took his TD efficiency to new heights in Week 13, tossing four touchdowns on just 11 completions (out of 17 attempts) against a hapless 49ers defense. Week 14’s date with the Vikings should offer stiffer competition and relying on the big play so much makes for an unstable range of outcomes. Seattle remains the only team in the NFL that runs more often than it throws (51-49) and the game’s Vegas total has already slipped from 45.5 to 45. While I enjoy their willingness to air it out in high-leverage spots, I can’t put him inside my top-12.
LeSean McCoy (vs. NYJ): MR: 15, ECR: 28
McCoy’s taken a backseat to quarterback Josh Allen’s ground game, but he still got 19 touches in Week 13’s loss to Miami and is just two games removed from scorching the Jets for 113 rushing yards and two touchdowns. And who does he face this week? The Jets!
Okay, the analysis isn’t that simple, but the Jets have been beaten up by opposing RBs all season long and McCoy’s volume has a good chance at panning out here. I’d feel even better here if his center, Russell Bodine, wasn’t just lost for the season to a broken fibula, but as long as Jamal Adams isn’t playing on the line then I don’t fear this Jets front.
Jaylen Samuels (at OAK): MR: 20, ECR: 26
If you’ve got it, flaunt it. Those who had Samuels stashed or scooped him on the waiver wire should feel confident about plugging him in against the Raiders. He caught all three of his targets for 20 yards and a touchdown (as well as rushing for five yards on two totes) in relief of the injured James Conner on Sunday night, which shows his versatility.
It also illustrates his being less of a traditional RB (Stevan Ridley will help form a committee, but is uninspiring as all get-out). Those in Yahoo leagues can also deploy him as a tight end, which is a great plus and also a hilarious sticking point for people to huff about on Twitter.
Justin Jackson (vs. CIN): MR: 23, ECR: 28
Jackson turned nine touches into 82 yards and a touchdown in Week 13, which is golden compared to Austin Ekeler’s 18 touches for just 43 yards. Couple that with a statement from Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn about how Ekeler is “wearing down a little bit” and that we “might see Jackson play a little bit more” (per Dave Richard) and I like Jackson as a plug-in RB2 against a lost Bengals defense that has yielded the most fantasy points to RBs in 2018.
Chris Carson (vs. MIN): MR: 27, ECR: 21
Carson tallied 108 yards on 13 carries and three catches in Week 13, but Rashaad Penny put up a sparkling 7-65-1 line when Carson left the game with a dislocated finger. The Seahawks have said they want to involve Penny more and we simply don’t know what that’ll look like. Plus, Minnesota’s front hasn’t let a running back top 83 rushing yards this season and just held Sony Michel to 17-63-0 in Week 13. The Vikes have been more vulnerable to pass-catching RBs (James White’s 7-92 receiving line was fun), but Carson’s work there isn’t enough to elevate him for me.
Marlon Mack (at HOU): MR: 27, ECR: 23
Mack and the Colts were a huge letdown in Week 13 as they got shutout in Jacksonville. Heading into Houston isn’t much easier, as the Texans have held RBs to the ninth-fewest fantasy points in 2018 with the second-ranked rush DVOA. The only RB to tally more than 100 total yards against them was Saquon Barkley back in Week 3. I like Mack, but he’s not Barkley. Also, the Colts sit as 4.5-point underdogs and are more likely to press Houston’s secondary than their D-line.
Taylor Gabriel (vs. LAR): MR: 36, ECR: 43
Gabriel burned fantasy owners in Week 13 with a lousy 17 yards on three catches and a fumble lost. The good news is that he’s seen at least seven targets in three straight games and should get Mitch Trubisky back for a high-scoring game against the Rams. With Allen Robinson likely to face the most of Aqib Talib, Gabriel gets several shots at the burnable Marcus Peters. This game currently has the third-highest Vegas total of the week at 52.5 with the Rams favored by three, which makes for perfect air-it-out conditions.
Dante Pettis (vs. DEN): MR: 46, ECR: 58
Pettis made the most of his time without Pierre Garcon or Marquise Goodwin in the lineup with 206 yards and three touchdowns over his last two games. He showed off the jets by breaking away during his 75-yard TD in Week 13 and his Week 14 matchup is softened with Denver’s loss of slot DB Chris Harris Jr. (broken fibula).
Even with Garcon and Goodwin back, Pettis should have the slot gig locked down in a game where backup RB Jeff Wilson will be hard-pressed to generate offense on the ground against Denver’s strong front seven. Look for Kyle Shanahan and the Niners to attack through the air against the Broncos’ newest vulnerable spot.
Alshon Jeffery (at DAL): MR: 28, ECR: 23
Jeffery has topped five targets just once in Philadelphia’s last five games after averaging 10 in his first four games back from the early shoulder injury. That’s extremely not good. It appears Philly is making Golden Tate a thing over Jeffery while Josh Adams revitalizes the run game and Zach Ertz soaks up targets. Plus, Dallas’ big-bodied perimeter DBs in Byron Jones kept Jeffery in check with a 4-48-0 line in Week 10. He should be needed in Week 15 against the Rams, but this is another bad spot for Alshon.
Sterling Shepard (at WAS): MR: 51, ECR: 41
Shepard continues to surpass the 80% snap count barrier each week but has averaged under five targets a game since Big Blue’s Week 9 bye after averaging eight in their first eight contests. Facing Chicago in Week 13 was never going to be pretty, but the prior three games were against San Francisco, Tampa Bay, and a broken Philly secondary. Simply put, this offense goes through Saquon Barkley and Odell Beckham Jr. and everyone else can’t be trusted. Not to mention the buzz about Kyle Lauletta getting snaps down the stretch could affect the quality of the few targets at any time.
Dan Arnold (at TB): MR: 14, ECR: 35
Those of you who can’t just plug in Jaylen Samuels at TE are likely more desperate than ever. The mid-tier circle of trust has been nearly decimated by injuries, so here we are. Benjamin Watson is nowhere to be seen so say it with me: “Hey Arnold!” He caught both targets for 20 yards in Week 13 and put up a 4-45-1 line in Week 12 before facing this porous Tampa Bay defense that yielded a 5-46-0 line to Ian Thomas after Olsen went down. A tight end has topped 44 yards in each game against them, so I’ll absolutely lock in Arnold here.
Jimmy Graham (vs. ATL): MR: 15, ECR: 22
Graham’s 11 targets in Week 13 harkened back to his pre-bye usage when he was averaging around nine looks per game from Aaron Rodgers. Those high-quality targets led to eight catches for 50 yards, which is awesome after combining for a 9-137-1 line over his previous five contests and suffering a broken thumb. I’m not here to tout new head coach Joe Philbin as a huge step up over Mike McCarthy, but TE is a wasteland and a big target such as Graham seeing 11 targets can’t be left that far down in the rankings.
Chris Herndon (at BUF): MR: 18, ECR: 14
The Jets are 3.5-point underdogs in a game with a lowly Vegas total of 38.5, giving them an implied total of roughly 17. The Bills are currently anchored by a stellar defense that has only given up more than 10 fantasy points to a tight end once in 2018 (Kyle Rudolph in Week 3) and held Herndon to a 3-34-0 line in Week 10. With Sam Darnold likely returning with some rust to such an uninviting welcoming party, I’ll be avoiding Herndon where I can.
Nick Vannett (vs. MIN): MR: 30, ECR: 19
Much like Benjamin Watson was written off last week for his dwindling snap count, Vannett hasn’t broken the 50% snap mark in either of Seattle’s last two games. He played just 40% of the time in Week 12 while Ed Dickson was in for 71% and Dickson outsnapped him 28-to-25 in Week 13. I promise I think Seattle’s going to win, I’m just lower on most of their players fantasy-wise.