So now, regardless of how many teams are in your league, we should all be in the playoffs. As for my final tally, I made the playoffs in five of my six leagues, and the sixth league, I just missed out on the playoffs. I’ve already been eliminated, but four leagues are still in play (two for cash!). My final two leagues were “win and in, lose and out,” so they were essentially playoff games, and thanks to Matt Forte and Josh McCown, I snuck in at the very last minute, so I might be a Bears fan the rest of the year! I can’t complain with how this season has gone, and I hope that if you read this column and took my advice, you’re sitting where I’m at. We’re all one win away from the championship game (except for you freaks who play in Week 17…who does that?), so let’s go find out who to start and who to sit on our way to championship glory. Let’s get after it!
Note: “Comfortables” can be started in all leagues. “Cautions” may be started in 12-team leagues and should definitely be started in 14-team leagues, but might be bench considerations for 10-team leagues or lower. “Casualties” shouldn’t be started in any leagues.
San Diego Chargers vs. Denver Broncos
Comfortables: Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning, Ryan Mathews, Danny Woodhead, Knowshon Moreno, Keenan Allen, Demariyus Thomas, Eric Decker, Antonio Gates, Julius Thomas
Cautions: Montee Ball, Ladarius Green, Jacob Tamme
Casualties: Ronnie Brown, Ronnie Hillman, Vincent Brown, Eddie Royal, Andre Caldwell, Joel Dreessen, San Diego Defense, Denver Defense
This is one of the most exciting Thursday Night matchups of the year, one in which I expect a lot of offense to be scored. Gronkowski owners looking for a quick fill-in should check out Jacob Tamme. He filled in the slot role for Wes Welker last week after Welker got concussed, and with Welker ruled out for this game, Tamme’s sitting on waiver wires, and you definitely want to get yourself a piece of this platinum offense. I was seriously hurt by Ladarius Green’s goose-egg last week, but I think he’ll bounce back, just not enough to get him to a comfortable start. Other than those notes, it’s all systems go for the starters.
Prediction: Peyton out-guns Rivers for another Broncos win.
Philadelphia Eagles vs. Minnesota Vikings
Comfortables: Nick Foles, LeSean McCoy, Adrian Peterson (if active), Toby Gerhart (if active and Peterson is inactive), DeSean Jackson, Cordarrelle Patterson, Philadelphia Defense
Cautions: Riley Cooper, Greg Jennings, Zach Ertz, John Carlson
Casualties: All Vikings Except Peterson/Gerhart, Patterson, Jennings and Carlson; Bryce Brown; Jason Avant; Brent Celek
Adrian Peterson is unlikely to play, but his backup, Toby Gerhart, is also nursing a pulled hamstring, and is no sure thing for the game either. I would recommend grabbing Gerhart, as it’s a rare opportunity to pull in a back that could get a full workload this late in the season, but Toby’s own injury is concerning. If they’re both out, I wouldn’t go for any of the third-string options, not with a playoff match on the line. Riley Cooper’s lack of use over the past few weeks is concerning, but I’d throw everything from last week’s snow game out (including McCoy’s huge day) given the elements. They’re in a dome this week.
Prediction: With something to play for, the Iggles beat up the hobbled Vikings.
New England Patriots vs. Miami Dolphins
Comfortables: Tom Brady, Shane Vereen, Daniel Thomas (if Lamar Miller is inactive), Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline, Charles Clay, New England Defense
Cautions: Ryan Tannehill, Lamar Miller (if active), Aaron Dobson (if active), Kenbrell Thompkins (if active)
Casualties: Stevan Ridley, LeGarrette Blount, Brandon Bolden, Mike Gillislee, Rishard Matthews, New England Starting TE, Miami Defense
I’m sure I wasn’t the only one shocked by Daniel Thomas’s active designation last week. Dude’s like herpes, you can’t get rid of him. Yet with Lamar Miller concussed, you may WANT the fantasy herpes this week! I’ve stashed Thomas but won’t play him unless Miller’s ruled out. There’s no tight end replacement on the Patriots that will make up for Gronk’s production, but you can uptick Vereen, Amendola and Edelman. I don’t know if Dobson and Thompkins will be ruled active for this game, but either is worth a roll of the dice. If presented the option of either, and they’re both active, I’d be willing to go with Dobson. Brian Hartline has made it to the comfortable section for the first time this year. He’s earned it, especially in PPR formats.
Prediction: Pats continue the hot streak.
Chicago Bears vs. Cleveland Browns
Comfortables: Josh McCown or Jay Cutler, Matt Forte, Chris Ogbannaya (if McGahee is inactive), Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Josh Gordon, Jordan Cameron, Chicago Defense
Cautions: Jason Campbell, Willis McGahee (if active), Martellus Bennett
Casualties: Michael Bush, Fozzy Whitaker (if McGahee is active), Earl Bennett, Greg Little, Davone Bess, Cleveland Defense
The Bears are committed to Jay Cutler if he’s cleared to play, but as someone who’s going to start either Cutler or McCown, I’m PRAYING that Cutler doesn’t play. Nevermind the fact that McCown’s been more successful in Marc Trestman’s system. The last time Cutler came back from injury this year, he aggravated it and ended up checking out early. That’s a real concern that could be repeated. So I’ve got the rosary beads hoping that it’s McCown, but you start whoever is starting. The Bears offense is just too good. The Bears defense, however, is another story. It seems that you or I could run for 100 yards against them. So that makes the Browns backs, especially Ogbannaya if Willis McGahee isn’t cleared of his concussion, interesting options. Josh Gordon is unstoppable, and Jordan Cameron has come back strong, so both are good options in your semifinals.
Prediction: Forte, Marshall and Jeffery are too much for Haden and company to contain.
Buffalo Bills vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
Comfortables: CJ Spiller, Fred Jackson, Maurice Jones-Drew (if active), Jordan Todman (if MJD is inactive), Cecil Shorts, Buffalo Defense
Cautions: Stevie Johnson, Scott Chandler, Jacksonville Defense
Casualties: EJ Manuel, Chad Henne, Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin, TJ Graham, Ace Sanders, Mike Brown
This game looks like it should be the Thursday Night matchup, not Broncos/Chargers. You can’t in good conscience start either QB. Neither has the weapons to make a fantasy impact, so don’t get cute. I like the running game. Anybody who has MJD (yours truly included) needs to hook up Jordan Todman as a handcuff. Todman did excellent in relief last week, and the Bills got gashed last week by a backup in Bobby Rainey who got cut by the Cleveland Browns, which is all you need to know about Buffalo’s run D. Jacksonville’s run D is secretly good, and most recently they held Ben Tate in check last week, but CJ Spiller’s come on as of late, and Fred Jackson’s always a good bet to get those goal line TDs, so I feel comfortable starting both, although I’d go with Jackson if I was presented with the choice.
Prediction: Jags continue to stay hot and win their second straight at home after a year of losing.
Washington Redskins vs. Atlanta Falcons
Comfortables: Matt Ryan, Steven Jackson, Harry Douglas, Roddy White, Jordan Reed (if active), Tony Gonzalez, Atlanta Defense
Cautions: Alfred Morris, Jacquizz Rodgers, Pierre Garcon
Casualties: All Redskins Except Reed Morris, and Garcon; Jason Snelling
Again, don’t get cute. You’re not starting Kirk Cousins. The whole Redskins team is a mess, and I wouldn’t even start Alfred Morris if I could help it. The only Redskin I’d even consider starting right now is Jordan Reed, and it’s not even clear if he’ll play or not. This is the week of the Falcons. Go nuts with every starter and enjoy it, because it’s probably not going to happen again.
Prediction: Atlanta kicks Washington while they’re down.
San Francisco 49ers vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Comfortables: Frank Gore, Anquan Boldin, Vincent Jackson, Vernon Davis, San Francisco Defense
Cautions: Colin Kaepernick, Mike Glennon, Bobby Rainey, Michael Crabtree, Taiquan Underwood, Tim Wright, Tampa Bay Defense
Casualties: All 49ers Backup Running Backs, Mario Manningham, Vance McDonald
I actually think this’ll be defensive minded. I don’t know if you can trust Kaepernick to provide you with QB1 numbers. I also don’t think Michael Crabtree will provide any more than WR3 numbers, especially if Darelle Revis is following him. I really like Anquan Boldin, especially in PPR. Kaep will look at Boldin to move the chains. The 49er pass D is intimidating, but I trust in the talent of V-Jax to pull in a TD and get more than 60 yards. Sorry if I’m not a believer in Bobby Rainey…he can take advantage of good matchups, but this isn’t one of them.
Prediction: The Niners stay hot and stomp out the Bucs.
Houston Texans vs. Indianapolis Colts
Comfortables: Andrew Luck, Ben Tate, Andre Johnson, Garrett Graham (if Daniels is inactive), Indianapolis Defense
Cautions: Donald Brown, DeAndre Hopkins, TY Hilton, Da’Rick Rogers, Coby Fleener, Owen Daniels (if active)
Casualties: Case Keenum, Dennis Johnson, Trent Richardson, LaVon Brazill, Darius Heyward-Bey, Houston Defense
This is the first game for the Texans after Gary Kubiak was fired. Mini stroke or no, that’s what you get for threatening to start Matt Schaub for the rest of the season. Still though, you can’t trust Case Keenum unless you’re Andre Johnson or one of Andre’s owners. Owen Daniels is making rumblings of coming back, which definitely threatens Garrett Graham’s fantasy prospects, but he’ll be good to go if Daniels can’t make it. I like Andrew Luck, but I don’t know who will catch the majority of his passes. Hilton’s been a disappointment, and Da’Rick Rogers came out of nowhere, but are you really going to trust your team’s future based off one big game? We made that mistake with Marvin Jones and Eddie Royal already.
Prediction: Colts win and lock up the AFC South.
Seattle Seahawks vs. New York Giants
Comfortables: Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch, Andre Brown, Golden Tate, Seattle Defense
Cautions: Percy Harvin (if active), Doug Baldwin, Victor Cruz, Zach Miller
Casualties: Eli Manning, Robert Turbin, Christine Michael, Peyton Hillis, Jermaine Kearse, Reuben Randle, Hakeem Nicks, Brandon Myers, New York Giants Defense
Even though the Seahawks are a different team on the road compared to home, I still feel confident in all the Seahawk starters (except Percy Harvin…too risky to bank on him if he plays). Now that the Giants have nothing to play for, I can’t trust anybody except Andre Brown. That’s right…I’m benching Victor Cruz this week for Anquan Boldin. I’d rather have the possession receiver with something to play for and a better QB throwing to him.
Prediction: Seahawks steamroll the Giants.
Green Bay Packers vs. Dallas Cowboys
Comfortables: Tony Romo, Eddie Lacy (if active), James Starks (if Lacy is inactive), DeMarco Murray, Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Dez Bryant, Jason Witten
Cautions: Matt Flynn, Jarrett Boykin, Miles Austin, Dallas Defense
Casualties: Joseph Randle, Lance Dunbar, Terrence Williams, Cole Beasley, Andrew Quarless, Brandon Bostick, Green Bay Defense
Eddie Lacy might not make it to this game, so make sure to pick up James Starks, similar to the MJD/Jordan Todman situation (unfortunately in one of my big playoff matches I have both Lacy and MJD as my running backs). I like both of them here. Neither Jorday Nelson nor James Jones have scored since Aaron Rodgers got hurt, but they still pick up yardage and are good to start, but are more WR3 than anything else. For the Cowboys, nothing out of the ordinary here.
Prediction: Cowboys right the ship and get a big home win to keep up pace with the Eagles.
Kansas City Chiefs vs. Oakland Raiders
Comfortables: Alex Smith, Jamaal Charles, Rashad Jennings (if active), Marcel Reece (if Jennings is inactive), Dwayne Bowe, Rod Streater, Kansas City Defense
Cautions: Matt McGloin, Donnie Avery, Andre Holmes
Casualties: Knile Davis, Dexter McCluster, Darren McFadden (if active), Shaun McGrath, Anthony Fasano, Mychal Rivera, Oakland Defense
Marcel Reece did beastly things when handed a full workload last week, so continue to monitor Rashad Jennings, but it looks like Jennings will play, rendering Reece expendable for fantasy purposes. But Reece is worth holding onto if Jennings experiences any side effects during warmups like Jordan Reed did. Matt McGloin likes Rod Streater, and so do I! For the Chiefs, it’s business as usual. Alex Smith has sneakily put up big fantasy numbers over the past couple of weeks, so feel comfortable putting your playoff chances in his hands. If Geno Smith can light up the Raiders D, I’d love to see what a competent QB can do.
Prediction: Chiefs win big on the road.
New York Jets vs. Carolina Panthers
Comfortables: Cam Newton, Greg Olsen, Carolina Defense
Cautions: Chris Ivory, Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell, Ted Ginn, New York Jets Defense
Casualties: All Jets Offensive Players Not Named Ivory, DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, Mike Tolbert
Some people think that this is a trap game for the Panthers; that they’re looking forward to next week’s showdown with the Saints and are overlooking the Jets. That may be plausible, but it won’t translate well to fantasy for Gang Green. I’d only go Ivory or the Jets D for starts if desperate, and nobody else. I can’t trust any Panther offensive weapons besides Newton and Olsen, because the backs are going to get shut down by the Jets, and good luck picking who out of Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell, or Ted Ginn will score. Panthers D is a must start every week, but this week it’s juicy.
Prediction: Geno turns it over once too many and the Panthers win.
Arizona Cardinals vs. Tennessee Titans
Comfortables: Carson Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald, Delaine Walker, Arizona Defense
Cautions: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Andre Ellington (if active), Rashard Mendenhall, Chris Johnson, Michael Floyd (if active), Justin Hunter, Kendall Wright (if he practices this week), Rob Housler, Tennessee Defense
Casualties: Stephan Taylor, Shonn Greene, Nate Washington, Kenny Britt, Andre Roberts
Here’s a battle of two underrated defenses. It’ll be interesting to see how Honey Badger’s season-ending injury affects the Cardinal D. I’m not trusting either Kendall Wright or Michael Floyd after their injury-ravaged performances the previous week. I barely survived my two fantasy matchups putting them in the lineups. They’re hurt, and as of this writing they’re not practicing, so look elsewhere. Fitzgerald is a must-start, and make sure to start your TE against the Cardinal D, so that’s Delaine Walker.
Prediction: Palmer-to-Fitzgerald means Cardinals win.
New Orleans Saints vs. St. Louis Rams
Comfortables: Drew Brees, Zac Stacy, Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Defense
Cautions: Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas, Marques Colston, Tavon Austin
Casualties: All Rams Except Stacy and Austin, Mark Ingram, Khiry Robinson, Kenny Stills, Lance Moore, Robert Meachem
Same problem every week for the Saints. They’re going to score, but who’s gonna get it? Other than Jimmy Graham, it’s a crapshoot. Zac Stacy’s as good as it gets for consistency, and if you want to swing for the fences, go with Tavon, but otherwise, stay away from the Rams as usual.
Prediction: It’s indoors, so the Saints will win.
Cincinnati Bengals vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Comfortables: Andy Dalton, Ben Roetlisberger, Giovani Bernard, Le’Veon Bell, AJ Green, Antonio Brown, Cincinnati Defense
Cautions: BenJarvis Green-Ellis, Emmanuel Sanders, Jerricho Cotchery, Heath Miller, Pittsburgh Defense
Casualties: Jonathan Dwyer, Felix Jones, Marvin Jones, Andrew Hawkins, Mohammad Sanu, Marcus Wheaton, Tyler Eifert, Jermaine Gresham
Bengals are coming along, so be sure to start Dalton while he’s hot. Not sure who besides AJ Green will be catching TDs though. BenJarvis keeps stealing 1-yard touchdowns, but I think Gio is “due” for a big one. The last time he was in the national spotlight, he put on a show. As for the Steelers, it’s been frustrating for Le’Veon Bell owners but he’s also been consistently putting up yards. You can try for upside with Sanders and Cotchery, but obviously Brown is the strong play here.
Prediction: Cincy wins a defensive struggle.
Baltimore Ravens vs. Detroit Lions
Comfortables: Matthew Stafford, Reggie Bush (if active), Joique Bell (if Bush is inactive), Torrey Smith, Calvin Johnson, Dennis Pitta
Cautions: Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, Jacoby Jones, Nate Burleson, Brandon Pettigrew, Detroit Defense
Casualties: Bernard Pierce, Marlon Brown, Tandon Doss, Kris Durham, Dallas Clark, Joseph Fauria, Baltimore Defense
Matthew Stafford torpedoed my fantasy team last week and knocked me out of the playoffs, but he should bounce back (albeit too late for me) at home. If you have Reggie Bush, make sure you also have Joique Bell (which should have been your strategy all year) because he’s not a lock to play, even though he thinks he can go. I think Dennis Pitta is a great fill-in option for Gronk owners.
Prediction: With no snow to deal with, the Lions outgun the Ravens.
Good luck in Week 15! Get to the championships!