Ranking the Week 14 defensive matchups
When it comes to assessing defenses during the Fantasy playoffs, I like to look at teams that may have given up on the season. Teams that have no chance to make the NFL playoffs sometimes pack it in early. These defensive players may make “business decisions” when it comes to making a hard hit, especially if they are set to become a free agent. How will the Packers’ defense react now that their season is over and the head coach has been fired? Will the Jets’ players give up on Todd Bowles seeing as though he is a lame duck head coach? These are just some of the questions I ask when looking at defenses to go against or defenses to avoid.
As always, the top of this list are teams to make sure you start players against, while the bottom are defenses you want to start.
- Oakland Raiders (against Pittsburgh): James Conner is out this week and possibly several more due to a high ankle sprain. No one feels sorry for his owners, though, as they likely have gotten this far due to Le’Veon Bell not signing his franchise tag. It’s somewhat poetic justice that Conner may not be able to play in the Fantasy playoffs. Jaylen Samuels will be claimed by everyone in FAAB this week. Sure, head coach Mike Tomlin stated that they will use a running back by committee approach with Stevan Ridley (he could be a claim as well), but Samuels is your first choice.
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (against New Orleans): I almost feel sorry for the Bucs here. Drew Brees will make this secondary pay for what happened last week in Dallas. As always with the Saints, it comes down to, “are you starting anyone other than Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara, Mark Ingram and Brees?” The answer is probably no, although Ben Watson will have to be looked at since TE has been decimated by injuries all season long.
- Green Bay Packers (Atlanta Falcons): Matt Ryan and the Falcons laid an egg last week, but you’re still going back to them here. The Packers are a mess right now. Tevin Coleman has been such a disappointment this season. It’s not that anyone was truly expecting him to be just as good as Devonta Freeman, but Coleman has been a complete bust. You can’t trust him in your Fantasy playoffs so if you’re starting him, it’s at your own risk.
- Cleveland Browns (against Carolina): Something is wrong with Cam Newton’s throwing arm. Cam was removed from the last play of the game Sunday (a Hail Mary) because the team didn’t think he could reach the end zone from the 50-yard line. Cam will still start this game, and you’re likely still starting him on your Fantasy team, but there is reason to worry here. When Greg Olsen last missed time, it was Devin Funchess who picked up the slack, perhaps he will again, but it’s D.J. Moore that is now the number one target for Cam.
- Washington (against Giants): This ranking comes down to how bad Washington is on offense right now more than their defense. The Giants should have the ball all game with plenty of chances to make plays. That being said, I’m still only starting the obvious players in Saquon Barkley and Odell Beckham.
- Baltimore Ravens (against Kansas City): The Ravens will present a stiff test for the Chiefs’ offense, but really, is anyone not thinking about starting Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce? Maybe you have some doubts about Spencer Ware, and that’s fair as he disappointed last week, but remember, that game plan was already set by the time the Kareem Hunt situation came to light. This week’s game plan will be more in tune with what Ware can do.
- Atlanta Falcons (against Green Bay): How will Aaron Rodgers respond to the firing of Mike McCarthy and the belief that his relationship with him was a big reason why the firing happened? Will interim HC Joe Philbin use Aaron Jones as his featured back? No one truly knows here, and Rodgers may not have been a lock Fantasy QB1 if not for this matchup. I’m not going any further than Rodgers, Jones and Davante Adams. Randall Cobb would only go for me in a deep league along with any other Packer WR.
- Miami Dolphins (against New England): Am I worried about the return of Rex Burkhead and what that will mean towards the Patriots run game? Of course. I’m still starting Sony Michel and James White, though. I’m starting Rob Gronkowski and Josh Gordon also, although neither is at the top of my list as this passing offense is just not what it once was.
- San Francisco 49ers (against Denver): Phillip Lindsay may have just passed James Conner for Fantasy MVP. Following Emmanuel Sanders’ season-ending injury, Lindsay is my only must-start here for the Broncos.
- Cincinnati Bengals (against Chargers): You’re still starting Austin Ekeler this week as Melvin Gordon is highly unlikely to play, but Justin Jackson may be the preferred RB here. He’s a start as well. As for Gordon, even if the Chargers believe he could play Sunday, why would they risk playing him in a game they can surely win without him when they are playing the Chiefs the week after? If they were to beat the Chiefs, they could conceivably win the AFC West.
- Indianapolis Colts (against Houston): When it comes to the Texans, the only real question is will you start Demaryius Thomas and/or Keke Coutee? Thomas has done very little outside of the two TD game against the Titans. He’s just not a major part of the offense yet and I don’t see that changing here. Thomas is a flex play at best and Coutee can stay on your bench.
- New Orleans Saints (against Tampa Bay): This should be a high scoring affair. Jameis Winston is a Top 10 Fantasy QB this week once again. I’m starting Chris Godwin and Adam Humphries. Cameron Brate is easily a Top 10 TE as well and likely will be for the ROS. Peyton Barber will need a TD to save his Fantasy day, but he’s a flex play as well.
- Houston Texans (against Indianapolis): This is a must-win game for the Colts if they want to make the NFL playoffs. I’m not high on Marlon Mack this week; he is a borderline RB2/flex play against a strong Texans’ run defense. All of your other normal Colts’ starters go here.
- Philadelphia Eagles (against Dallas): Will the Cowboys go away from their game plan and attack the Eagles’ weakness, their secondary? If they do, can Dak Prescott take advantage of it? My guesses are “no” and “sort of.” Dallas will take their shots in this game, but they will follow what has been their recipe for success and try to win this game with Ezekiel Elliott and defense.
- Chicago Bears (against Rams): The Bears will present a tough challenge defensively for the Rams, but the Bears also let up 30 points to the Giants last week. Maybe Chicago was looking ahead, but I’m not afraid to start any of my normal Rams outside of Josh Reynolds.
- Dallas Cowboys (against Philadelphia): This is pretty much a playoff game for the Eagles. A loss here will likely have them playing out the string without any meaningful games. If the Cowboys play defense in this game like they did against the Saints, then it may not matter what the Eagles do offensively. Carson Wentz is a borderline QB1 here. Josh Adams no better than a flex play, as he still seems to have to share the load with Corey Clement and now Darren Sproles. As for the receivers, well, it’s hard to trust any of them. Zach Ertz is the only sure thing among Eagles’ pass catchers.
- Seattle Seahawks (against Minnesota): Seattle has been better against the pass than the run this season. You’re starting Dalvin Cook with confidence here, and you’re always starting Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs when healthy. As for Kyle Rudolph, yeah, he has been awful for most of the season but there’s one little statistical anomaly: over the past two games, he has been targeted 10 times and has 10 receptions. This doesn’t mean anything, I just found it interesting.
- Detroit Lions (against Arizona): David Johnson is my only definite start here. Christian Kirk is out for the season and the defense will focus all of their attention of Larry Fitzgerald.
- Minnesota Vikings (against Seattle): It’s not a great matchup, but you’re starting Chris Carson. The Hawks have been a heavy run team this season, but I wonder if they will be forced to put the ball in the air more often than they would like here. You’re starting Russell Wilson, but it’s hard to trust any of the receivers. If I had to choose, Doug Baldwin would be my start.
- Carolina Panthers (against Cleveland): Can you start Baker Mayfield this week? I’d pass, as the yardage is there but not the TDs. I am starting Jarvis Landry, Nick Chubb and David Njoku however. Antonio Callaway is a big play waiting to happen, but the consistency just isn’t there yet.
- Arizona Cardinals (against Detroit): Kerryon Johnson is questionable at best to play Sunday and if he were to miss the game, LeGarrette Blount would once again be a Flex play. Outside of Blount, you can always start Kenny Golladay, but he will see a whole bunch of Patrick Peterson in this contest.
- Los Angeles Rams (against Chicago): As of this writing, it is still unknown if Mitchell Trubisky will play this week, though his progress sounds promising. But, it may not matter. The Bears don’t have the offense to keep up with the Rams, and the defense showed some flaws in their loss to the Giants last week. I’m starting Tarik Cohen in PPR leagues as there should be plenty of passes to him in the flat, but he’s my only must-start. Allen Robinson is in the mix also, but probably only if Trubisky starts.
- Kansas City Chiefs (against Baltimore): Once again, as of this writing we are unsure who will start at QB for the Ravens. It may not matter, though, as neither one will be a QB1 this week. Lamar Jackson will be forced to throw more in this game as the Ravens should be trailing, and that’s not something he looks ready to do yet. As for Flacco, he’ll put up better passing numbers, but not enough to make a difference in Fantasy. Gus Edwards is my only start here.
- New England Patriots (against Miami): The Patriots defense isn’t what it once was, but there still isn’t anyone worth starting here and that includes Kenyan Drake, who was in a no contact jersey Wednesday during practice.
- New York Giants (against Washington): Washington doesn’t have an OL and are now down to their third-string QB. In a STD 14-team league I have to start Adrian Peterson, but here’s to hoping you don’t.
- New York Jets (against Buffalo): You have to love how well and how fast Josh Allen ran last week. You’re still not starting him, however. It’s still just LeSean McCoy or bust.
- Tennessee Titans (against Jacksonville): Leonard Fournette will return from suspension this week and is a must-start in your lineup, but that’s it.
- Pittsburgh Steelers (against Oakland): We’re down to Doug Martin and Jalen Richard; they are the only two players I consider starting here. There is little to no upside here so keep your expectations in check should you decide to start one of this duo.
- Buffalo Bills (against Jets): Sam Darnold should return to the starting QB role this week, but outside of Isaiah Crowell, that won’t make any Jets offensive player Fantasy viable.
- Los Angeles Chargers (against Cincinnati): A rookie QB is starting and A.J. Green is gone for the season. You’re still starting Joe Mixon and Tyler Boyd, but those who want to start John Ross should remember those TDs he was catching were with Andy Dalton at QB, not Jeff Driskell.
- Denver Broncos (against San Francisco): Jeff Wilson is another top pickup this week as he will be starting for the injured Matt Breida. He’s a solid RB2. As for the passing game, Dante Pettis could be a nice sleeper here if Marquise Goodwin and/or Pierre Garcon can’t suit up Sunday.
- Jacksonville Jaguars (against Tennessee): The real Jags defense showed up last week, or at least what we expected the Jags’ defense to be. Jalen Ramsey may shut down Corey Davis and the Titans’ run game has been non-existent over the past couple of weeks. Throw in that Marcus Mariota is once again dealing with a throwing hand injury and things could get ugly Thursday.
As always feel free to follow me on Twitter and ask any questions, @georgekurtz.