NY Giants @ San Diego
The Bengals successfully attacked San Diego's soft defense with a 38:23 run-to-pass ratio in Week 13, and it's fair to anticipate Giants OC Kevin Gilbride copying the approach. New York's passing offense has been borderline dysfunctional all year, but the run game has been efficient, sustaining, and consistent since Andre Brown's return four weeks ago. Strictly in points per game, Brown is the No. 7 fantasy back on the season, behind only elite RB1s Jamaal Charles, Adrian Peterson, Knowshon Moreno, Matt Forte, LeSean McCoy, and Marshawn Lynch. He's outscoring Reggie Bush, Eddie Lacy, and Frank Gore. With Brandon Jacobs (knee) likely shelved for this week, Brown is a locked-in RB1 against a Bolts defense that ranks 22nd versus the run and coughs up the second highest yards-per-carry clip (4.86) in the league. ... Eli Manning's target distribution since Brown returned from short-term I.R.: Victor Cruz 32; Brown and Rueben Randle 17; Brandon Myers 14; Hakeem Nicks 11; Jerrel Jernigan 9; Bear Pascoe 6; Peyton Hillis 3. ... Cruz's scoring drought has dropped his value from early-season WR1 to lower-end WR2, but a blowup game could be on the horizon against San Diego's 28th-ranked pass defense. Enemy No. 1 wide receiver stats versus the Chargers since their Week 8 bye: Pierre Garcon 7-172; Demaryius Thomas 7-108-3; Mike Wallace 4-39; Dwayne Bowe 5-51-1; A.J. Green 5-83-1. I like Cruz as a high-ceiling Week 14 play, and am starting him on FanDuel.
Although it shouldn't shock anyone if Nicks has a good Week 14 game considering his pathetic opponent, the contract-year wideout has played himself out of WR3 discussion in the fantasy playoffs by laying egg after egg in the finest of matchups. His two-catch, 34-yard Week 13 game in D.C. sealed the deal. Nicks still hasn't scored a touchdown this season and is officially a WR4. ... Randle also has a great matchup but has been a boom-or-bust WR3 all season while lacking any semblance of statistical predictability. If you're looking to start him, you're on your own. ... The Chargers are 24th in receptions allowed to tight ends and 26th in yards. Myers' box scores have picked up in recent weeks, but he isn't suddenly a dynamic player and still hasn't seen more than six targets in any game since Week 2. And his matchup isn't great on paper. ... I'd probably rank Manning as a top-12 fantasy quarterback this week just based on matchup alone, but wouldn't feel especially good about it. The reason Eli's outlook is elevated has nothing to do with his own play and everything to do with the defense he's facing. The Chargers are allowing a league-high 67.5 completion rate to enemy signal callers and the highest quarterback rating (101.6) in the AFC. They can't rush the passer or cover. Manning has upside as a closed-eyes QB1 streamer.
Chargers coach Mike McCoy's offensive wizardry has flown under the radar this season due to San Diego's sieve-like defense and 5-7 record. McCoy changed his offense on the fly in Week 13, switching from an 11 personnel team to 12 personnel with two tight ends as every-down players. NFL defensive coordinators swear two-tight end offense is tougher to defend than three wides, so it wouldn't be the least bit surprising if McCoy stuck with this style of play the rest of the way. The biggest loser is Eddie Royal, who is injured anyway. The beneficiary is mismatch-creating freak Ladarius Green, who more than doubled his previous season high for snaps against Cincinnati, playing 61-of-67 downs (91.0%). Third in fantasy tight end scoring the past three weeks -- behind only Rob Gronkowski and Vernon Davis -- Green has earned legit TE1 billing with talent and now production to capitalize on the major playing-time spike. In Week 14, Green will take on a Giants defense that struggles in linebacker coverage and allows the eighth most fantasy points to tight ends. ... Gates played 62-of-67 snaps against the Bengals and going forward will be the poor man's Gronk to Green's Hernandez. Green has more upside than Gates, but the veteran remains in low-end TE1 territory. Gates is still fantasy football's No. 8 overall tight end on the season.
The Giants rank a respectable 13th versus the pass, but are third to last in sacks and will again be minus top defender Jason Pierre-Paul (shoulder). Scuffling Robert Griffin III touched up the JPP-less G-Men for 24-of-32 passing (75%) and 295 total yards in Week 13. This isn't an imposing matchup for low-end QB1 Rivers. ... Rivers' target distribution since San Diego's Week 8 bye: Keenan Allen 44; Gates 41; Danny Woodhead 26; Vincent Brown 19; Green 18; Royal 17; Ryan Mathews 12. ... Despite Green's emergence, Allen is Rivers' go-to pass option. He's averaging 92 yards over his last eight games and is a high-end WR2 in this plus-weather matchup. ... Woodhead can be downgraded to shaky flex option until his playing time and workloads pick back up. Woodhead is playing less because Mathews has been so effective. Down to 29 snaps and nine touches per game over the last month, Woodhead is too unreliable for fantasy playoffs confidence. He averaged 37 snaps and over 14 touches in his previous seven games. ... Mathews has a fairly forbidding matchup with New York's top-nine run defense, but Mathews' increasing passing-game and all-around role makes him a superior Week 14 flex play to Woodhead. Mathews has 548 yards and three TDs on his last 111 carries (4.94 YPC). He's played 99 snaps to Woodhead's 85 the past three weeks.
Score Prediction: Chargers 24, Giants 20
Sunday Night Football
Carolina @ New Orleans
Both Sunday night competitors deserve credit for major 2013 defensive improvement, but it's hard to overlook their historical head-to-head results when attempting to prognosticate this game. Cam Newton has faced the Saints four times in his career. The scores have been 44-38, 35-27, 45-17, and 30-27. During Carolina's eight-game win streak, Cam is 153-of-239 (64.0%) for 1,731 yards (7.24 YPA) and a 13:6 TD-to-INT ratio with five additional rushing touchdowns. Only Peyton Manning, Matthew Stafford, and Drew Brees have more fantasy points among quarterbacks this season. I wouldn't pick the Panthers to win this game, but I would bet the over on the 46-point over-under. And I'd start Cam Newton. ... Newton's target distribution during the eight-win streak: Steve Smith 59; Brandon LaFell 50; Greg Olsen 44; Ted Ginn 35; DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert 19; Jonathan Stewart 6. ... Although New Orleans' defense has been generally stingy in tight end coverage, it coughed up six catches, 88 yards, and a TD to Seattle's tight ends last Monday. In this potential shootout, Olsen should be treated as a rock-solid TE1. Olsen has at least 85 yards and/or a touchdown in five of his last six games. Among tight ends, only Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham have scored more fantasy points than Olsen the past five weeks.
Smith has a tougher Week 14 matchup. Here are the stat lines of the last 11 "No. 1 receivers" to face New Orleans and emerging shutdown corner Keenan Lewis: Brandon Marshall 4-30-1; Mike Wallace 3-24; Larry Fitzgerald 5-64; Vincent Jackson 5-77; Aaron Dobson 6-63; Stevie Johnson 7-72-1; Dez Bryant 1-44; David Nelson 1-19; Anquan Boldin 6-56-1, Roddy White 2-24; Golden Tate 4-45. Smith is a dicey WR3. ... LaFell scored a wide-open 16-yard touchdown on a blown coverage in last week's win over Tampa Bay, but has hit the 60-yard mark in 2-of-12 games this season. He isn't worth rostering during the fantasy playoffs beyond 16-team leagues. And neither is Ginn. ... New Orleans' defense is serving up 4.62 yards per carry, the fifth highest average in the league. Panthers running backs have a chance at combined rushing success in Week 14, but Carolina's lack of voluminous workloads and goal-line vulturing by Tolbert and Cam deprive their tailbacks of any semblance of reliable start-ability. When all three Carolina runners have been healthy and active this season, here are the snap counts of each backfield contributor: Tolbert 154; Williams 103; Stewart 75. Their touch totals: Williams 44; Stewart 37; Tolbert 24. With Williams back from his quad injury this week, Carolina's backfield is a fantasy situation to avoid.
Drew Brees typically turns in one or two true clunker games per season. Brees' 2013 hiccup happened in Week 13 at Seattle. Over the past three years, these are Brees' combined stats in games following ones where he threw one touchdown pass or fewer: 214-of-313 (68.4%) for 2,463 yards (7.87 YPA), and a 22:6 TD-to-INT ratio. Carolina's defense is a different animal, of course, but this game is back in the Superdome, and Brees has never been prone to sustained stretches of unproductive performance. It's more likely than not Brees bounces back in a big way versus the Panthers. Start him with confidence before a mouth-watering Week 15 matchup in St. Louis’ dome. ... Brees' target distribution since Marques Colston returned from a knee injury four games ago: Jimmy Graham 32; Colston 29; Pierre Thomas 22; Darren Sproles 19; Kenny Stills 11; Lance Moore 10; Robert Meachem 9; Ben Watson and Josh Hill 6; Mark Ingram 5. ... The Panthers' biggest defensive vulnerability has been in tight end coverage, the position to which they allow the 12th most receptions in the league. This is a quality matchup for every-week difference maker Graham. ... With six games over 60 yards this season but the other five at 40 yards or fewer, Colston has been a boom-or-bust WR3. Treat him accordingly against the Panthers' No. 6 pass defense, which has allowed the fewest passing TDs (9) in the NFC.
Stills, Moore, and Meachem essentially form a No. 2 receiver-by-committee situation, with none of the above separating himself. Moore and Meachem are waiver-wire fodder in the fantasy playoffs, while Stills is just barely worth rostering in 14-team settings. ... Sproles' eight targets against the Seahawks were promising, but his snap rate (31%) wasn't. He'll be a weak flex option versus the Panthers' athletic linebacker corps. ... Lead back Thomas does battle Sunday with Carolina's No. 2 run defense, a unit giving up the fewest rushing touchdowns (3) in the NFC. Thomas would be a better flex gamble than Sproles, but not by much. The Panthers stuff the run and have enough sideline-to-sideline speed at the second level to snuff out the screen game, where Thomas is at his best. ... Since his faux-breakout performance in Week 10 against Dallas, Ingram has carried a combined 23 times for 79 scoreless yards (3.43 YPC). He has no re-draft fantasy league value.
Score Prediction: Saints 27, Panthers 23
Monday Night Football
Dallas @ Chicago
DeMarco Murray has a fantasy playoffs schedule that positions him to put owners on his back. After visiting Chicago's last-ranked run defense Monday night, Murray will take on Green Bay's No. 26 group, and close out fantasy season against the No. 14 Redskins in Week 16. Since Week 6, Alfred Morris/Roy Helu, Brandon Jacobs, Eddie Lacy/James Starks, Reggie Bush, Ray Rice, Zac Stacy/Benny Cunningham/Tavon Austin, and Adrian Peterson/Cordarrelle Patterson have combined to paste the Bears for 1,167 yards and 12 TDs on 182 runs (6.41 YPC). Coming off a long week to rest his legs and without Lance Dunbar (PCL surgery) around to steal any carries, Murray is a top-five RB1. ... Ninth in fantasy quarterback scoring on the season, Tony Romo is more of a low-end QB1 at Chicago, whose defensive strength is versus the pass. The Bears get torched by the run, but rank a respectable 14th in pass defense and are tied for sixth in the league in interceptions (15). The front four is finally getting healthy with Jay Ratliff installed at three-technique tackle and RE Julius Peppers having racked up 5.5 sacks over his last five games. It's entirely possible OC Bill Callahan and coach Jason Garrett build their Week 14 game plan around featuring the run. Romo is still a quality fantasy start, but with potentially limited upside.
Romo's target distribution in Miles Austin's five starts this year: Dez Bryant 52; Jason Witten 33; Austin 29; Murray 27; Terrance Williams 15; Cole Beasley 8; James Hanna and Dwayne Harris 5; Dunbar 4. ... The Bears allow the third most receptions and yards to tight ends, setting up Witten for a high-volume Monday nighter. Witten is a mid-range TE1. ... Since returning from his latest hamstring injury two games ago, Austin has pathetically secured 2-of-8 targets for 35 scoreless yards. Austin's biggest impact right now is blocking Williams and Beasley, who were much more effective in his absence. If Dallas has serious designs on making the NFL playoffs, Callahan and Garrett ought to strongly consider demoting Austin into a fourth receiver role. He's got no juice. ... Bryant has 25 targets in two games since the Cowboys' bye week, with a blowup on the horizon. In Dez's last meeting with the Bears -- October of 2012 -- he shredded Chicago for eight catches and 105 yards. Only Calvin Johnson is a superior Week 14 fantasy play at wide receiver.
Jay Cutler (ankle) has resumed practicing with an eye toward Week 15, but Josh McCown will get the nod once more Monday night versus Dallas. Through six relief appearances, McCown is 120-of-184 passing (65.2%) for 1,461 yards (7.94 YPA) and a 9:1 TD-to-INT ratio. Facing Dallas' No. 31 pass defense, McCown is pushing for mid-range QB1 value in Quarterback Whisperer Marc Trestman's offense, which emphasizes high-percentage throws with timing and rhythm in order to mitigate opposing pass rush. It's certainly working, as the Bears rank No. 6 in the NFL in passing offense and field two top-five overall fantasy receivers in Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. ... McCown's target distribution on the season: Marshall 53; Jeffery 51; Matt Forte 28; Martellus Bennett 23; Earl Bennett 14; Michael Bush 3; Marquess Wilson 2. ... Jeffery has graduated to every-week WR1 status. He's eighth in the league in receptions (70), fourth in receiving yards (1,109), and ninth in 20-plus-yard catches (15). Jeffery should be locked into fantasy lineups without any hesitation against the Cowboys' leaky secondary. ... Marshall is coming off of a slower Week 13 box score than his bookend, but nothing has changed with regard to his fantasy outlook. With at least 75 yards and/or a touchdown in 9-of-12 games this season, Marshall is the No. 4 wideout scorer on the year, behind only Calvin Johnson, Josh Gordon, and Demaryius Thomas.
Martellus has been fairly far down the passing-game pecking order with McCown under center -- relative to Marshall and Jeffery, at least -- but has an attractive Monday night matchup versus a Cowboys defense allowing the seventh most fantasy points to tight ends. Bennett is the No. 10 overall fantasy tight end on the year, and a fine low-end TE1 start. ... Although the return of ILB Sean Lee (hamstring) will help, it's impossible to overlook Dallas' run-defense woes the past three weeks. DC Monte Kiffin's unit has hemorrhaged 494 yards and six TDs on 88 carries (5.61 YPC) to the Saints, Giants, and Raiders' tailback tandems. As many of the league's top running backs face daunting Week 14 matchups, Forte is a top-three RB1 against the Cowboys. Forte is fifth in the NFL in rushing yards, tied for sixth in rushing TDs, and third among tailbacks in receptions.
Score Prediction: Bears 27, Cowboys 24