ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- It’s Week 14 in the NFL, which means you’re either done with fantasy for the season or getting ready for the playoffs. With that in mind, here’s some advice on how to handle Detroit Lions players this week against Tampa Bay.
And it is a tricky week.
QB Matthew Stafford: Under normal circumstances, Stafford would be a must-start this week. The Buccaneers have allowed the second-most passing yards in the league. Opposing quarterbacks complete 67 percent of passes against them. And Tampa Bay has allowed 55.1 percent of passes traveling 15 yards or more in the air to be completed -- only intercepting 4 of 89 attempts. This sounds amazing for Stafford, right? Well … there’s one problem. That’s Stafford’s right hand, stepped on last week by Terrell Suggs. Stafford threw the ball Thursday and looked OK, but it was a limited viewing session for the media. He has two fingers taped and has feeling back in the hand, but how much he’s able to grip and how much it hurts him is an unknown. It’s still not a lock he plays, either. There’s also this -- Stafford, who has started 108 straight regular-season games, has played in pain before. It has not always gone well. Since 2011, in games where he’s been listed on the injury report during the week, he’s thrown 21 touchdowns -- and 21 interceptions. He’s played brilliantly in some games, like a five-touchdown performance against Carolina in 2011. But there’s also been some duds, including a three-game stretch with a right middle finger injury last season where he threw two touchdowns and three interceptions. So it’s buyer beware this week in a potential playoff situation.
QB Jake Rudock: If Stafford doesn’t end up playing, Rudock would get the start. He’s a complete unknown in a regular-season game. If Stafford is your only starting option, handcuff him with Rudock on your bench this week just in case. But starting Rudock would be very, very risky.
RB Ameer Abdullah: He’s practiced all week and that’s a good sign. Considering Stafford’s injury, he might get a heavy workload, too. That’s the good news. The bad news is Detroit’s offensive line is beat up (and that’s not good for Stafford, either). Tampa Bay is allowing 4.3 yards per rush and has allowed 12 rushing touchdowns, again good signs. But it’s difficult to trust any Lions rusher at this point. That said, it might be worth rolling with a chance on Abdullah as a flex option if you’re in a bind because the carries should be there as long as he plays (he missed last week's game with a neck injury).
RB Theo Riddick: He could be a big beneficiary this week. If the Lions can’t go too deep downfield because of Stafford’s hand, Riddick could see a lot of work as a dump-down back. He’ll likely get some carries, too, and could be a flex option.
RB Tion Green: He might be active. He might not. He had a nice start to his career against Baltimore with 51 yards rushing and a touchdown when Abdullah was inactive. But the Lions have given no indication about how much Green will be involved this week, so you can’t trust it in a playoff scenario.
RB Zach Zenner: He’s not fantasy relevant at this time and may not be active, depending on Green.
RB Dwayne Washington: See Zenner.
WR Marvin Jones: A healthy Stafford would make Jones a must-play this week. Even with Stafford ailing, he is still worth getting in your lineup in medium-to-deep leagues. He has 85 or more receiving yards in six of the past seven games and at least four receptions in six of seven games. He also hasn't gone back-to-back games without scoring a touchdown since October -- and he didn’t score last week. He’s a solid WR2 this week.
WR Golden Tate: If you’re worried about Stafford’s hand, Tate is a smart play because the Lions might try to scheme to get him open in space and take advantage of his yards after catch skills. He has only scored one touchdown over the past six games, which is a concern, but he’ll get a lot of looks so he’s still a big value play in PPR leagues. If I had to pick one between Jones and Tate, I’d go Jones. But not by much.
WR Kenny Golladay: It’s the same story every week for Golladay, a few targets, two catches and no touchdowns. That’s what he’s done in the past five games he’s played in. He’s leading all receivers in yards per reception (21.53) but he’s touchdown boom-or-bust when you’re looking at the playoffs.
WR TJ Jones: He’s not getting the snaps or targets to be fantasy relevant at this point, although coaches continue to mention him as an option.
TE Eric Ebron: He gets criticized a bunch and he’s not scoring a lot, but he’s been more consistent with four receptions in each of the past three games. The Bucs, though, have been stingy against tight ends, allowing just 43 receptions, 471 receiving yards and three touchdowns. All of those numbers are top 10, defensively, in the league. So Ebron is likely a low-end TE2 this week if playable at all.
Lions' defense: The Buccaneers have options all over the field and have underwhelmed this season. Their strength -- passing the ball -- matches with the Lions’ strength, pass defense. So it could be a chance for a turnover or two for Detroit. To win with a banged-up quarterback and offensive line, the Lions are likely going to need a couple. Consider going with Detroit this week, especially since Tampa has scored more than 21 points just once in the past six games.