What a time to be alive as the fantasy football playoffs start for most leagues. Everybody knows what’s at stake, so let’s get down to it. Week 14 provides great under the radar starts and alleged no-brainer choices to steer clear of. As Olmec said in the 1990s Nickelodeon game show Legends of the Hidden Temple, “The choices are yours and yours alone. Good luck.”
Matthew Stafford, QB, Detroit (at Tampa Bay)
Stafford and Detroit’s pass-first offense facing the league’s second-worst passing defense is almost a perfect scenario. Tampa Bay’s secondary gives up 267.3 yards, 7.9 yards a reception, 1.6 touchdowns and 96.1 passer rating per game, including 43 completions of 20-plus yards. Stafford has thrown for 3,302 yards, 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions this season. He left Sunday’s game with a right hand injury, so his status is unknown as of this writing. Lions coach Jim Caldwell told reporters his hand was bruised and X-rays were negative, per multiple reports. Stafford is tough. I think he plays this weekend. The worst passing defense he played was in Week 2 at the New York Giants, currently ranked 30th at 260.2 yards per game. Stafford completed just 15-of-21 passes that day for 122 yards and two touchdowns, but his numbers were still good enough to start. The Lions have the 30th-ranked rushing offense at 3.4 yards per carry and 78.2 yards per game. In order to score points all the pressure is on Stafford’s right arm, which averaged 35.9 pass attempts per game before the injury. He has a 103.2 passer rating or higher in six games. In part because the Lions are fighting for an NFC playoff spot and the Buccaneers are 4-8, start the gun-slinger with confidence. Based on other passing defense rankings this week, Stafford has a better matchup than Drew Brees (at Atlanta), Matt Ryan (vs. New Orleans), Russell Wilson (at Jacksonville), Cam Newton (vs. Minnesota), Jared Goff (vs. Philadelphia) and Ben Roethlisberger (vs. Baltimore).
Lamar Miller, RB, Houston (vs. San Francisco)
Despite a dislike for Miller all season long versus the 49ers is too good to pass up. San Francisco’s defense allows the fifth-most rushing yards per game (123.9) and 10 touchdowns is tied for 24th. Miller is averaging 3.7 yards per carry, including 3.4 yards or less five times. He averages 16.2 attempts for the season, so Houston isn’t shy about giving him RB1-type touches. The Texans also give Miller carries in the red zone, as he scored a rushing touchdown against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 12. The 49ers allow 3.8 yards per carry, tied for eighth, which is troublesome for Miller. That same defense also gets scored on often at 24.8 points per game, tied for 24th. The Texans defense allows almost the same amount of points; thus, this somewhat meaningless game could be high scoring. Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins should play a big role in providing Houston scoring opportunities. If that’s the case, Miller will be in line for goal-line touches.
Frank Gore, RB, Indianapolis (at Buffalo)
Perhaps alluding to retirement for Gore, 34, several weeks ago was premature. Even though he’s averaging 3.6 yards per carry the 13-year pro is a flex option at Buffalo. The Bills allow 120.4 rushing yards (4.3 average) per game and a league-worst 18 touchdowns. Kind of like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, the Colts have given Gore 17 carries (three times) and 16 carries (once) in the past five games, which includes his third rushing touchdown of the season in Week 12 at the Tennessee Titans. Gore is like a horror movie villain that won’t die because somehow, he’s still occasionally fantasy relevant.
Jermaine Kearse, WR, New York Jets (at Denver)
Although Robby Anderson is quarterback Josh McCown’s top target and Denver allows the fourth-fewest passing yards (203.6) per game, Kearse, the Jets’ No. 2 option, has a good chance to score a touchdown coming off a season-high nine receptions for 157 yards Sunday versus the Kansas City Chiefs. Twenty-six passing touchdowns scored on the Broncos is the most in the league. Kearse also caught seven receptions for 105 yards and a touchdown against the Carolina Panthers’ sixth-ranked passing defense in Week 12. The Panthers entered Week 14 with 17 passing touchdowns against, meaning they are similar to Denver in allowing few yards but are susceptible in the red zone. Before the Carolina game, Kearse’s previous touchdown occurred in Week 10 against the Miami Dolphins. Kearse is not a shoo-in for double-digit points considering he averaged just 29.0 receiving yards and 2.25 receptions the previous four weeks before Carolina. Denver also has the best rushing defense at 3.2 yards per carry, so expect McCown, who threw for three touchdowns against Carolina, to have 30-plus passing attempts again. The Broncos’ defense may seem lofty, but Kearse is about as good as anyone to take a flyer on as a flex.
Marvin Jones, WR, Detroit (at Tampa Bay)
Antonio Brown, DeAndre Hopkins and Julio Jones are names you’d expect to see atop the wide receiver scoring leaderboard (non-PPR) through 12 weeks. Marvin Jones, ranked fourth, was ahead of guys like Brandin Cooks, Keenan Allen, Adam Thielen and A.J. Green. Jones was 10th in PPR but his production is more about yardage and big plays than accumulating receptions. Jones caught four receptions for 90 yards Sunday against Baltimore. If Stafford plays at Tampa Bay, Jones should have a heyday against a dreadful passing defense. The Buccaneers also have to cover Golden Tate, which provides Jones more room to find soft spots in the defense. Jones has eight reception touchdowns on the season. It will be a letdown if he doesn’t have at least nine TDs when the game ends.
Other Players to Like
Alex Smith, QB, Kansas City (vs. Oakland)
Derek Carr, QB, Oakland (at Kansas City)
Orleans Darkwa, RB, New York Giants (vs. Dallas)
Alfred Morris, RB, Dallas (at New York Giants)
Stefon Diggs, WR, Minnesota (at Carolina)
Dez Bryant, WR, Dallas (at New York Giants)
Eric Ebron, TE, Detroit (at Tampa Bay)
Hunter Henry, TE, Los Angeles Chargers (vs. Washington)