<
>

Love, hate and early 2015 rankings

This is it.

No, this time I really mean it. I know, you've heard it before, but this time I'm not lying to you. No fingers crossed, no wavering, this is the last "Love/Hate" of the 2014 NFL season.

Now, don't get all weepy (or jump for joy) just yet, as I will be doing a lot more offseason podcasts this year as we look at coaching changes and free agency, answer keeper questions and, of course, get into plenty of unrelated nonsense. But this is the last Love/Hate until the 2015 preseason edition in early August.

But as we close the book on 2014, we must also look toward 2015, because we are an obsessive bunch. It's never too early to think about 2015. Hell, people who drafted Adrian Peterson started doing it in Week 5.

Anyway, Nate Ravitz and I did our big 2014 season recap podcast extravaganza the other day, and on it we unveiled our initial Top 10 for 2015. So I thought I would go one better.

Here are my top 10 rankings at the four major positions next year, along with my initial overall top 10 for 2015. I'm ranking this as teams sit today, but obviously, as head coaching and coordinator jobs become more clear, as free agency sorts itself out and so on, these ranks will change -- in some cases, drastically so.

But as of now, I am assuming DeMarco Murray is in Dallas, Peyton Manning is coming back and will have both Thomases on the receiving end of his throws, that Peterson is playing for Minnesota and is eligible for all 16 games and so on. As always, this is based on ESPN standard 10-team league scoring and settings.

These will all change, possibly as soon as I hand in this column, but it's always fun to think ahead.

Let's shift gears now, with a mini Love/Hate for conference championship weekend. With only two games and four teams left, there's not a lot there, but here are a handful of plays that I like or am not crazy about for this weekend in daily game formats or in something like Playoff Gridiron Challenge.

Every site's scoring, lineup and total salary cap is different, so obviously, make sure you check all those things. A player who might be a good play on one site isn't as strong on another because it's not just about points scored, but what it cost to acquire those points relative to other players and how else you can construct your roster. Because there are so few games, I'm not going to break it up by position this week, either.


Championship round players I love

Andrew Luck, Indianapolis: I'll be honest. I don't feel super great about any of the QBs this week. I could easily see Luck getting crushed like he did at Dallas in Week 16, or at least struggle at New England. He wouldn't be the first big-name QB to do so. I could also see Tom Brady and Russell Wilson have depressed numbers due to their teams going run-heavy; Aaron Rodgers -- on the road at Seattle on just one leg -- could easily struggle and no one would be shocked.

So I'm not crazy about any QB, but I'm going with Luck here. Seen him cheaper than Tom Brady on some sites (on one particular site, all the QBs are basically the same price) and to me, he's the guy who should throw the most and have the most success doing it. Per Pro Football Focus, Indy has called pass 66 percent of the time this season, which is a lot. He had more than 300 yards and two scores when they played in Week 11 (in Indy, but still) and New England gave up four scores to Joe Flacco last week. New England is just 14th against the pass the past six weeks (playoffs and regular season), so I'm feeling that the volume here makes him a solid play.

Marshawn Lynch, Seattle: If you played him last week (raises hand), you're probably gun-shy, but I'm going back for more. Prior to the poor game against Carolina, Lynch had four scores in his previous three games, and it's one of those situations where, as you look around at the other running back choices this week, Lynch has the highest ceiling. In other words, if you tell me one running back this weekend is getting 120 yards and two scores, Lynch has the best shot at that. He had a huge game against Green Bay in Week 1, and while the Packers' run defense has improved since then, you still figure Lynch should get his as Seattle tries to keep Rodgers off the field. Worth the money.

LeGarrette Blount, New England: It's always risky starting a Patriots runner, of course. ALWAYS. But I'm taking the bait. The price is right -- he's the cheapest of all the starting running backs -- and just like New England did in Week 11 (and in last year's playoff game), I expect a heavy run game from the Pats. If Lynch is most likely to blow up, Blount is actually the second most likely. Blount had four scores against the Colts in the playoffs last year, Jonas Gray had four in Week 11 against them, and during the past six weeks, the Colts are 22nd against the run and first against the pass.

I hear what you are saying, because I know you are the type who talks to articles. Sure, they are going to run, but with whom? Well, I'm picking Blount because, frankly, the Pats have. Since he rejoined New England on Nov. 23, he has 64 offensive touches. The next-highest running back is Shane Vereen, with 43. Gray has 21. He also has three scores (two came in that first game, but still). Only Rob Gronkowski has more on the team in that time frame. He's had double-digit touches in every game this year except last week, and I expect them to get back to running the ball on Sunday. Heck, in a game last week in which Manning couldn't get anything consistent going in the passing game and the Broncos often were in third-and-longs, C.J. Anderson still eclipsed 100 total yards. You can run on Indy, and that's just what the Pats will do.

Randall Cobb, Green Bay: The Packers are gonna have to throw to someone. Now, just like in Week 1, I expect them to move both Jordy Nelson and Cobb around, so Nelson shouldn't be covered by Richard Sherman all the time (he almost always plays just one side) and certainly, Nelson is a threat to score anytime he has the ball. But I prefer Cobb here. Both are priced about the same, but Seattle has struggled a little against slot guys (not very much, just more than they do against guys on the outside) and Cobb has been on fire. He's had at least 90 yards or two touchdowns in the past four games, he got 11 targets last week and grabbed six catches for 58 yards and a touchdown in Week 1 against Seattle. I don't feel like taking a spin on the Seattle WR roulette wheel; I'm not crazy about T.Y. Hilton or Brandon LaFell (as you'll see), so it might be tough salary-wise, but I'm gonna see if I can fit Cobb in there.

Rob Gronkowski, New England: Including this past week, Gronkowski has played 16 games this season. He has 13 touchdowns. Dude. I might read "A Gronking to Remember." Indy's corners, especially Vontae Davis, have played very well this year, so when the heavy run does set up play-action, I expect the ball to find its way to Gronk. He had four catches for 71 yards and a score in Week 11 against Indy, and the Colts gave up the third-most fantasy points to opposing tight ends during the regular season. He'll be very expensive, but I feel he's worth it. He's probably a guy with whom I start my lineup, and then build around.

So, you're saying there's a chance ... or, as it's otherwise known: Hey, I can't afford all those guys! I do think Russell Wilson -- the cheapest QB on one site and second-cheapest on another -- can have a nice game here. A lot comes down to his legs, of course, but Tony Romo had two scores against Green Bay and was about a foot and one slightly looser rule interpretation from having three. Wilson had 191 yards, two touchdowns, 29 yards rushing and no picks in Week 1 vs. the Packers. ... I do not think Daniel Herron has a monster game here, but he's a big part of the pass game (18 receptions the past two weeks), and I can see Luck having to check down a lot in this game; remember, the Pats did give up a receiving score to Justin Forsett last week. Herron is a decent play in full PPR scoring. ... He can catch, he can throw, but the only thing Julian Edelman can't do, apparently, is shave. I don't expect a crazy play like that again, but I also don't expect Danny Amendola to get in twice again, either. I like the running backs and Gronk the most here, but if picking a Pats WR, I choose Edelman over LaFell. ... If you don't want to pony up for Gronk at tight end, may I suggest Dwayne Allen? The Patriots were in the top 12 in most fantasy points allowed to opposing tight ends during the regular season; Owen Daniels scored once last week and almost had a second. That's an area where I feel the Colts can attack New England, and in the 12 games this year in which Allen has caught a pass, he has a touchdown in nine of them.


Championship round players I hate

Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay: This comes with a huge caveat: I only hate him on specific sites. On one site, I saw that Rodgers was just $100 less than the highest-priced guy, Luck. On another site, he was the cheapest guy available at QB. So, I hate him if he's only slightly less than the elite options, but if he's cheap in whatever game you play, he should be fine and make an interesting contrarian play for tournaments. Of course, he's banged up and it's no secret that Rodgers has struggled on the road this year, being much more effective at Lambeau Field. I could also see a heavy run game here for the Pack. Vegas has the over/under of this game much lower than the Colts/Patriots game, so in cases of two seemingly even-matched options, go with the game that is expected to be higher-scoring.

Eddie Lacy, Green Bay: I swear, I'm actually rooting for Green Bay. And I actually think Lacy has a solid game here. So why is he on the hate list if I think he has a good game? It's because of the asterisks, and frankly, his price. On one site, I saw Lacy as only $100 less than Lynch (the highest-priced option) and at that price, I'm not enamored (and he's just 0.1 less than Lynch on Gridiron Challenge). On another site, I saw Lacy at $1,300 cheaper than Lynch, and he becomes a lot more interesting when that's the case. Expected volume makes him interesting, but I'm not expecting a huge game from him. The Seahawks are the fifth-best rushing defense during the past six weeks, and they've given up just one rushing touchdown in their past seven. Lacy is playing much better now than he did at the start of the year, but it's worth noting he had only 45 total yards against Seattle in Week 1.

T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis: With just three catches for 24 yards in the previous meeting with New England, Hilton figures to be on Revis Island for this one. He's always a threat to have a big play, and yeah, Steve Smith Sr. scored last week, but Luck completed receptions to eight different players last week, and considering he's just $600 less than Cobb on one site (and $700 more than Edelman on the same site) he probably won't be in a lot of my lineups. Worth noting that I have seen him cheaper elsewhere, including $200 cheaper than Edelman on a different site. As always, pricing and scoring are crucial to making these calls.

Brandon LaFell, New England: You already know why. I'm expecting a heavy run game and lots of Gronk, with some Edelman and others mixed in. Edelman is who I am starting if I'm rolling with a Pats wideout. Just four targets for LaFell in Week 11. He'll move around, of course, but he'll see more Vontae Davis than most. Feel he's a low percentage play.

Do you really need me to hate on a tight end or tell you Andrew Quarless is a low-percentage play? Didn't think so.


So that's a wrap on Love/Hate for the 2014 season. Like I said, be sure to check out the podcasts. I'll have a bigger 2015 rankings article at some point after the Super Bowl, and of course, you can always hit me up on Twitter or Facebook.

It was a weird year -- especially given the off-field stuff -- but it was also a great year. The emergence of Odell Beckham Jr, the dominance of LeVeon Bell and Murray, the blossoming of Luck, the health of Gronk. Great year. Thanks for being a part of it. What say we do it all again next year?

Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- is going to struggle for the next six months with where to rank Odell Beckham Jr. He is the creator of RotoPass.com, a website that combines a bunch of well-known fantasy sites, including ESPN Insider, for one low price. You also may have heard: He has written a book.