Before we dive in, I thought I would give you a quick partial peek at my top 10 QB rankings for the week.
What do you think? Is it a good list? Do you like my rankings? A little surprising, right? Bortles at three? Flacco at seven? McCown over Wilson? No Tom Brady, no Carson Wentz and no Philip Rivers, who has been red-hot and gets Cleveland at home this week?
What's that you say? Rivers played Cleveland last week? That's correct. He did. You caught me. Those aren't my QB rankings for this week. Instead they are the actual QB scoring results from last week in ESPN standard leagues.
Alex Smith was the best QB in fantasy last week, and it wasn't close. Bortles was a better play than Wilson. Flacco was better than Roethlisberger. Further down the list, you'd have been better off playing Tom Savage over either Derek Carr or Jared Goff. Jay Cutler was a better play than Kirk Cousins or Matthew Stafford in Week 13.
And all of them were better than Brady, whose 8.3 points had him finishing Week 13 as QB 28, behind Jacoby Brissett, Blaine Gabbert, Mitchell Trubisky and ... wait for it ... Geno Smith, who had 9.8 points for a QB27 finish.
Had I submitted these exact, clearly plausible ranks last week, you'd have said I was crazy. Wait, you'd say ... you have Jay Cutler -- against Denver -- ahead of Kirk Cousins, facing a Cowboys defense that seems to have given up? Where's Brady? At QB28? Behind Geno Smith? Are you out of your flippin' mind? Except, you wouldn't have said flippin'.
And by the way, you would have been correct with that response, even though those rankings would have proved to be 100 percent correct. Because even though it turned out exactly like that, the odds of that happening were extremely low. That would have been results over process, and over the course of a season, that approach would have hurt much more often than helped.
At the start of every season, I write a big column called The Draft Day Manifesto. And every year, I write the same thing: At a fundamental level, fantasy football is all about minimizing risk and giving yourself the best odds to win on a weekly basis. That's it. That simple. You can't predict the future. I definitely can't predict the future. No one can predict the future. So all you can do is minimize risk and give yourself the best odds to succeed. ...
I bring all this up because it's an important reminder, especially this week, when our decision-making is more crucial than ever as we enter the fantasy playoffs. The important part of research and data (mine or anyone else's) is to understand how to use it. This column is fairly simple. Will these players play above or below general expectations. That's it. It's more matchup-based than anything else, and the "love" and hate" refer to their expectation for the given week in fantasy football, not the particular person.
What is most likely to happen? Minimize your risk. Give yourself the best odds to win and hope for the best.
Trust the process.
This is win-or-go-home territory. And if I lost last week because I started Tom Brady over Blake Bortles and cost myself 16.8 points, I'll live with that, because more often than not that decision is going to work out for me. Trust the process. This week and the rest of the playoffs more than ever. Because I really want you to win. Truly. Desperately.
But not nearly as bad as you do. So make the decisions that you can live with. And with that in mind, let's get you a win this week. Here are the players I believe are likely (but NOT guaranteed!) to either exceed or fall short of their general expectations this week.
As a basic reminder, I try to not to put obvious, Antonio Brown-like no-brainers in here and because it is the fantasy playoffs, I have been saying for a long time "don't get cute" and "always start your stars." So, there are fewer names in here, as your playoff team should have fewer decisions to make than in a normal, regular-season week.
Quarterbacks I love in Week 14
Philip Rivers, Chargers: I'm back on Rivers this week, as he has had back-to-back games with at least 340 passing yards and a 70 percent completion rate. Rivers has at least 15.3 points in every game since his Week 9 bye, including against two top-five defenses, so he's peaking at the right time. Now he's facing a beat-up Washington team that has allowed multiple touchdown passes in four of its past five games (the Thanksgiving game where the Giants were traveling on a short week being the only exception). And prior to facing a struggling (and injured in game) Dak Prescott and Eli Manning, the Skins had given up 295-plus passing yards AND multiple passing scores in three straight. He's a top-10 play for me.
Matthew Stafford, Lions: He is banged up, so watch the reports about his hand. And he is traditionally not great on the road and outdoors. But I'm in on him this week as a top-10 play as, since Week 6, he is averaging a NFL-high 312.3 passing yards per game. The Buccaneers have really struggled in pass defense, ranking 30th the past four weeks and allowing a league-high 4.1 deep completions per game this season (most by a defense since the 2013 Cowboys).
Others receiving votes: Case Keenum has scored at least 16.9 points in five straight games. If you've been riding him to get here, I have no issue firing him up once again, as very quietly Carolina is 27th against the pass the past four weeks. ... Dak Prescott started to look like "old" Dak Prescott last week, and he's had 10 days to prepare for a Giants team that has allowed the fourth-most QB points and, since Week 4, is allowing a league-high 286.6 passing yards per game. ... If you are in a deep league and super desperate, I will say that the addition of Josh Gordon, the fact that he is averaging more than seven points a game with just his legs the past five games, and a matchup with Green Bay's 28th-ranked pass defense the past four weeks puts DeShone Kizer just inside of my top 20 and makes him an interesting, cheap DFS play.
Quarterbacks I hate in Week 14
Cam Newton, Panthers: This is mostly matchup driven, as the Vikings' defense is all sorts of terrific. They have allowed just three touchdown passes in their past five games, have given up the sixth-fewest points to opposing quarterbacks, and Cam's passing has been inconsistent. He has failed to throw multiple touchdown passes in five of his past seven games, so you're really counting on Cam's rushing. That's always possible, but it's worth noting Minnesota has allowed just 56 yards rushing to opposing QBs this entire season, fewest in the league. In 10 of the 12 games the Vikings have played this season, they have kept the opposing QB to less than 16 points. Cam is outside my top 10 this week.
Marcus Mariota, Titans: Mariota has driven me nuts all year long and even after a good game last week (fantasy-wise, at least), I can't trust him in a playoff week. After returning to action in Week 6, he has been QB23 on a points-per-game basis and that includes games against Cleveland, Houston and two against the Colts. He wasn't 100 percent healthy during some of that stretch, but just from the eye test, he looks bad. Inaccurate throws, looking scared in the pocket, unable (or unwilling) to challenge down the field, and the Titans are a very conservative offense, with 53 rushing attempts (and just 48 passing attempts) in their past two games. More than 31 percent of Mariota's fantasy points come from his legs, so I guess it depends on if you think he runs one in this week. Quietly, Arizona is fifth best against the pass the past four weeks and Mariota is too risky for me to consider in a standard league. On the road against Arizona, he is merely a low-end QB2 for me.
Running backs I love in Week 14
Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead, Patriots: On the road and with no Rob Gronkowski, expect New England to lean on its run game even more against a Miami team that, since Week 5, is allowing the second-most RB yards per carry (4.77). The Patriots are running the ball at the eighth-highest rate when in the red zone, while the Dolphins are the NFL's least efficient red zone defense (allowing a TD on 70.6 percent of red zone drives; league average is 53.5 percent). Specifically, Lewis has 40 carries for a league-high 264 rushing yards (6.6 yards per carry) the past three weeks, including a 15-carry, 112-yard rushing game against these same Dolphins. Burkhead, meanwhile, is the fourth-best running back in fantasy the past two weeks (156 total yards, four scores) and that also includes the game against Miami. Both are easy top-20 RBs this week.
Marshawn Lynch, Raiders: Beast Mode is averaging 4.3 yards per carry with four rushing touchdowns in his past four games, and only Le'Veon Bell has more touches in the past two weeks. I expect that volume to continue on the road in Arrowhead (ding!) against a Chiefs team that has been run on more (34 attempts per game) than any team in the NFL since Week 6. The Chiefs have coughed up a RB rushing TD in six of their past seven games and are 24th against the run the past four weeks, all of which should mean another productive game for Lynch. He's a strong top-20 play for me this week.
Carlos Hyde, 49ers: With Jimmy Garoppolo under center, the offense is certainly more efficient and productive, so there should be more scoring opportunities against a Houston team that is bottom-10 in scoring defense the past four weeks. The volume is certainly there, as Hyde has the fifth-most touches per game over the past five weeks (20.8), and he catches a Texans team that is reeling against the run. They've allowed 272 rushing yards and three rushing TDs to opposing runners in just the past two weeks alone.
Others receiving votes: In just the past four weeks, the Buffalo Bills have allowed nine rushing TDs to RBs and six different backs have gotten double-digit fantasy points against them in that span. Since Week 8, Frank Gore has gotten better than 68 percent of the Colts' RB carries. He is just inside my top 20. ... I believe Aaron Jones remains a change-of-pace back and the majority of work for Green Bay this week goes to Jamaal Williams, who, off an impressive game last week, gets a Browns team that has given up 4.27 yards per carry and two rushing touchdowns to opposing RBs the past four weeks. ... In their past five games, the Giants have allowed six different RBs to rack up at least 10.7 points. Gimme some Alfred Morris this week as a top-20 play, coming off an impressive performance and in a game I expect the Cowboys to win.
Running backs I hate in Week 14
DeMarco Murray, Titans: The last time a running back ran for 75 or more yards against the Cardinals was Todd Gurley in Week 7. In the six weeks since, they are giving up just 3.35 yards per carry (including facing the likes of Gurley, Lamar Miller, Hyde and Leonard Fournette). In just one of the five games since their bye have the Cards allowed a running back to score on the ground, and you can't count on volume here. Derrick Henry has frankly looked like the better running back, and just once in the team's past five games has Murray received more than 15 touches. I know, he was very good last week, but he'll be facing an underrated Arizona run defense on the road, he's averaging just 3.7 yards per carry this season and ranks 40th of 43 qualified RBs in yards per carry AFTER first contact this season. Since I also think Marcus Mariota will have trouble moving the ball, Murray is merely a touchdown-dependent flex play for me.
C.J. Anderson, Broncos: Another guy who was good last week and whom I am not buying. I have no confidence the Broncos can move the ball effectively and get a lot of scoring opportunities, and ... well, this isn't as good a matchup as you'd think. Since Week 7, the Jets have allowed 3.24 yards per carry, just one rushing touchdown to opposing running backs and the fewest fantasy points per game to opposing RBs. With Devontae Booker and Jamaal Charles in the mix to (probably?) steal touches as well, this is too risky for my blood.
Adrian Peterson (or Kerwynn Williams), Cardinals: Whoever suits up at starting running back this week for Arizona won't be suiting up for me. The Titans haven't allowed more than 77 rushing yards to a running back this entire season. Jay Ajayi had 77 rushing yards against them in Week 5 ... and it took him 25 carries to get there. Peterson is averaging just 2.44 yards per carry in his past three games, and if he plays, he'll be coming off injury, so maybe his workload will be limited some. That used to be the one thing you could hang your hat on with Peterson: volume. But both he and Williams are banged up, so it's hard to see either getting a huge workload of touches here. Whoever starts would be outside my top 20.
Wide receivers I love in Week 14
Michael Crabtree, Raiders: A reeling Chiefs defense -- bottom six in the NFL in terms of most receptions, most receiving yards and most receiving touchdowns allowed to wide receivers -- certainly won't be improved by the absence of Marcus Peters, who was suspended by the team for Sunday's game. Peters has struggled recently, but still, this is not a good sign for K.C. It is, however, a good sign for Crabtree, who comes off his suspension having been targeted on 24 percent of his routes, the 12th-highest rate in the league. In addition, Amari Cooper may miss this game, or not be 100 percent. Either way, Crabtree is a strong, top-15 play for me this week.
Marvin Jones Jr. and Golden Tate, Lions: So, Marvin Jones deep, right? He's tied for the sixth-most receptions and tied for the second-most touchdowns on passes at least 15 yards downfield. That's important because the Buccaneers have allowed the most receptions and the most receiving scores to WRs on passes thrown 15-plus yards downfield. Meanwhile, Golden Tate has the second-most slot receptions and second-most slot targets in the NFL this season. Wouldn't you know it, but Tampa Bay struggles there as well, allowing the third-most slot yards, the highest completion percentage to the slot and the second-most slot touchdowns. All of it contributes to the Bucs giving up the most fantasy points to opposing WRs this season, so both Jones and Tate are inside my top 20 this week.
Josh Gordon, Browns: Hue Jackson said he would get the ball to Gordon and the coach was a man of his word. Last week, Gordon was targeted on 34.4 percent of DeShone Kizer's passes, he had the second-most receiving yards of any wideout against the Chargers this season and, frankly, could have had a much bigger day if Kizer had a been a little more accurate. Gordon easily passed the eye test, looking like the superstar receiver we all remember, and his second matchup is much easier than his first. The Packers are among the top 10 most generous teams in the NFL in completion percentage allowed on deep passes and deep touchdowns, including a league-high five deep touchdowns during the past four weeks. They give up 27 points a game on the road this season, and this game is in Cleveland. I have Gordon as a top-20 play this week.
Others receiving votes: The Cowboys have allowed a touchdown to a WR in six straight games, including multiple TDs to WRs in each of their past three. They also have allowed the third-most receptions and fifth-most receiving yards to opposing WRs lined up in the slot. Sterling Shepard has run 83 percent of his routes from the slot this season. ... In that same game, it has been an up-and-down year for Dez Bryant, but I expect Week 14 to be an up week against a Giants team that is without Janoris Jenkins and has given up a league-high 39.8 WR PPG since Week 6. ... Chris Hogan returned to practice Wednesday, and it's easy to forget that Hogan and Rob Gronkowski have combined for 55.6 percent of New England's end zone targets this season. With Gronk suspended, if Hogan is active, I'm firing him up. ... Whether you're in a deeper league or just need a cheap DFS play, I kind of like Mike Wallace against his former team. He had six catches for 55 yards and a score against them in Week 4 and has four straight games with at least five catches or a score.
Wide receivers I hate in Week 14
Devin Funchess, Panthers: Despite what Marvin Jones did to him on Thanksgiving, Xavier Rhodes proved his shutdown ability last week on Julio Jones. Now he gets Funchess, who, with all due respect, is not as good as Julio Jones. The Vikings are just so money in the red zone defensively, allowing the lowest red zone completion percentage and the fourth-fewest red zone completions. Funchess has been terrific all year long, but facing Rhodes and with the expected return of Greg Olsen to steal some looks, especially in the red zone, you have to lower expectations here. Funchess is outside my top 20 this week.
Cooper Kupp, Rams: Five straight games without a touchdown and it's likely to be six after Sunday. The Eagles allow the third-fewest receptions and the third-fewest receiving yards and just two scores to opposing slot wide receivers this season, including none since Week 5. In fact, in their past four games, the Eagles have allowed just 10 total receptions to slot WRs. I love my little Cooper Kupp, but in fantasy you probably should look elsewhere this week.
Rishard Matthews, Titans: Coming off an injury, we aren't sure if he's 100 percent. He may not be shadowed by Patrick Peterson, but he'll see enough of him to limit his productivity, which has been up and down this season. In six of 10 games this season, he has failed to score even 11 points in PPR and you know Arizona will bring pressure (the Cards create pressure at the fifth-highest rate). Why does this matter? Matthews has just three -- count 'em, three -- receptions when Marcus Mariota has been under pressure this season.
Tight ends I love in Week 14
Cameron Brate, Buccaneers: All he needs is Winston. With Jameis back under center, Brate rose from the fantasy dead to score two times against a defense that had allowed one touchdown to a TE all season entering the game. This week he gets a Lions defense that has allowed four scores to tight ends in just the past three weeks, allowing double-digit fantasy points to a TE in all three games. A top-five tight end on a PPG basis with Winston as his QB this season, Brate is an easy top-10 play.
Hunter Henry, Chargers: Off the big game against Cleveland (when he had nine targets), Henry should keep the good times rolling against a Skins team that has allowed a touchdown to a tight end in four of the past five games, and overall has allowed the sixth-most receptions and fifth-most fantasy points to opposing TEs this season. And my favorite stat? There have been eight players with at least 89 receiving yards against the Redskins this season ... and five have been tight ends.
Others receiving votes: Jason Witten always seems to kill the Giants (most recently he went 7-for-59 with a score against them in Week 1), and this year, every tight end kills the G-Men. They give up more than 17 PPG to opposing tight ends. I like Witten's chance at a top-12 day in this one as well. ... Denver has allowed a receiving touchdown to a tight end in five of its past six games. Overall, the Broncos are tied for the seventh-most catches, second-most receiving yards and tied for the third-most receiving TDs allowed to tight ends this season. There's a good chance Austin Seferian-Jenkins will catch one and it'll be overturned, but he is back on the streaming radar.
Tight ends I hate in Week 14
Greg Olsen, Panthers: The Vikings have not allowed a tight end TD in seven straight games. During that stretch, they are allowing 8.0 PPG to tight ends (second lowest) and have allowed a TE to total more than 5.1 points just three times. We have yet to see Olsen healthy, and there's always a chance he reinjures himself. He is a risky play in the first week of the fantasy playoffs.
Vernon Davis, Redskins: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice ... yeah. He's got just two catches on four targets for 15 yards in the past two games, and now he faces a Chargers defense that has held opposing TEs to 7.5 or fewer points six times this season (tied for the second-most such games this season). Davis is a touchdown-dependent TE2.
Matthew Berry, The Talented Mr. Roto, trusts the process. He is the creator of RotoPass.com, the founder of the Fantasy Life app and a paid spokesperson for DRAFT.