Happy Week 14, everyone. We’re gearing up for the fantasy playoffs. Start ‘Em or Sit ‘Em is aimed toward season-long leagues but can also be used for daily fantasy purposes, as these are players I’ll likely have some exposure to over the weekend.
Start of the Week: Alex Smith vs. Raiders: After averaging just 223.5 yards passing with a combined 4:4 TD:INT mark in four games Weeks 8-12, Smith rebounded in a big way on the road against the Jets last Sunday. He threw for 366 yards, averaged a season-high 11.1 YPA, and tossed four touchdowns with no picks while adding a 70-yard run. Smith finished as the overall QB1 in Week 13. There had previously been thunderous chatter of the Chiefs needing to bench Smith for rookie Patrick Mahomes, but Smith clearly wasn’t the problem in last week’s loss. He now gets to come home and face a Raiders defense that ranks dead last in total defense DVOA, dead last in pass-defense DVOA, dead last in opponent passer rating, 25th in sacks, 23rd in pass yards allowed, and tied for 21st in touchdowns surrendered through the air. Oakland also has a league-low one interception that came on a lucky tipped ball in the end zone via Paxton Lynch two weeks ago. First-round CB Gareon Conley (shin) is on injured reserve, and starting LCB David Amerson (foot) hasn’t played since Week 7. When these two teams met on Thursday night in Week 7, Smith was 25-of-36 for 342 yards (9.5 YPA) and three touchdowns, finishing as the QB5 that week. The Kansas City offense has sputtered for the most part since then, but Smith is a locked-in top-10 play this week. The 47-point total for Raiders-Chiefs is the second-highest of Sunday’s games.
Jimmy Garoppolo at Texans: Making his first start for his new team, Garoppolo looked great in a tough environment in Chicago, completing 26-of-37 passes for 293 yards and an interception in the 15-14 win. The numbers don’t pop off the page, but Garoppolo got the ball out extremely quick with a fast release and made a number of difficult throws. He was doing it with guys like Louis Murphy and Trent Taylor as secondary options to default No. 1 wideout Marquise Goodwin. The next step for the Niners in the offseason will be to find Garoppolo a legit alpha dog top receiver. But Garoppolo will play out the string of the 2017 season and gets a tasty road date with the Texans on Sunday. Houston is 31st in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks, tied for 31st in touchdown passes surrendered, and 22nd in total pass defense. The Texans have had it a bit easy in recent weeks with matchups against Blaine Gabbert, Joe Flacco, and Marcus Mariota in back-to-back-to-back games, but Gabbert and Mariota did manage a pair of top-nine fantasy performances. Garoppolo has the arm talent and much more aggressive play-caller on his side than Mariota, while this game will be played under Houston’s retractable roof without weather concerns. Garoppolo is squarely on the streaming radar in a game that has a decent chance to hit the over on its current 43-point total.
Philip Rivers vs. Redskins: Rivers has enjoyed a fine three-game stretch that has coincided with Keenan Allen’s breakout. Over the last three weeks, Rivers has completed 72.2% of his passes for 1,029 yards and a 7:0 TD:INT mark. The Bolts are surging in the AFC West, going 6-2 over their last eight after opening the year 0-4. They’ll play their third home game in the last four Sunday against a middle-of-the-pack Redskins defense that is 19th in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks and 13th in total pass defense. Washington allowed two passing touchdowns to Dak Prescott in Week 13, got torched late by Drew Brees in Week 11, and allowed the QB5 performance to Case Keenum in Week 10. The Chargers are healthy and playing their best ball, so there’s no reason to hop off Rivers as we enter the fantasy playoffs. He gets plus spots against the Chiefs and Jets in Weeks 15 and 16. There’s a good chance Rivers will be the quarterback on many fantasy champions.
Blaine Gabbert vs. Titans: Gabbert is a legitimate streamer for fantasy playoff teams the next three weeks. He gets the Titans at home on Sunday, followed by a road date with Washington and another home game against the Giants. Gabbert predictably struggled against the Rams last week, tossing a pair of picks, including a pick-six, while throwing for just 221 yards. Turnovers are just part of the deal with Gabbert; they’re going to happen. But he has enough of an arm and playmaking ability with his legs to make noise in fantasy. In three starts, Gabbert has two top-14 finishes, including a QB8 day against the Texans in Week 11. The Titans are 25th in pass-defense DVOA, 25th in pass yards allowed, 22nd in fantasy points given up to quarterbacks, and tied for 26th in touchdown passes surrendered. Default No. 1 CB Logan Ryan also suffered a concussion Week 13. Ryan likely would have been stuck on Larry Fitzgerald if healthy. With Fitzgerald and Ricky Seals-Jones winning in the middle of the field, Gabbert has found success throwing on the inside while picking and choosing his deep shots. No. 3 overall in run defense, the Titans are a prime pass-funnel defense. This one has a 44-point total and will be played in weather-friendly Arizona under the retractable roof. I’d trust Gabbert more than his counterpart in this one, Marcus Mariota.
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Kirk Cousins at Chargers: As the overall QB6, Cousins is very likely the signal caller on a number of fantasy playoff teams. He’s thrown multiple touchdowns in three-straight games but has failed to top 251 yards in three of his last five. Cousins has been as solid and reliable as they come and now gets arguably his toughest matchup to date this season. The Chargers are No. 7 in pass-defense DVOA, No. 7 in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks, fifth in pass yards given up, fifth in pass touchdowns, and No. 4 in sacks. The Bolts have one of the best pass-rush tandems in Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram to go with a cornerback trio of Casey Hayward, Trevor Williams, and Desmond King. All three of Hayward, Williams, and King are top-nine cover corners at Pro Football Focus out of 116 qualifiers, and Hayward in No. 1 overall. Los Angeles has held the last seven quarterbacks it's faced to 0-1 touchdown passes. Cousins is one of the best passers in the game right now in one of the friendliest offenses, but he’s hard to trust in the must-win nature of the fantasy playoffs. In Cousins’ favor is the Redskins being six-point dogs, which could lead to plenty of accumulation of passing stats in the second half. He’ll have to get there on pure volume.
Cam Newton vs. Vikings: As up and down as they come, Newton is the overall QB5 through 13 weeks, but it’s been a treacherous ride for his owners. Newton has made things happen with monster rushing weeks. He’s been held to under 200 passing yards in four of the last five and has zero or one passing touchdowns in five of the past seven outings. In those last seven games, however, Newton has averaged 60.7 rushing yards with three scores. This date with coach Mike Zimmer’s Vikings defense looks like one of Cam’s toughest on the 2017 schedule. Minnesota is ninth in pass-defense DVOA, 10th in total pass yards given up, and No. 3 in fantasy points surrendered to quarterbacks. On top of that, the Vikings have yielded the fewest rushing yards to quarterbacks. Back in Week 3 against the Vikings last year, Newton threw for 262 yards and three interceptions with no touchdowns. He was also sacked eight times that day. Newton’s season appeared to turn for the worse that Sunday. Newton has massive upside, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable with him here.
Derek Carr at Chiefs: Carr had easily his best game of the season back in Week 7 against the Chiefs, throwing for 417 yards and three touchdowns, finishing as the QB2. But that one was at home, and Carr has laid numerous eggs in prime spots this year to the point he’s real difficult to get behind as a fantasy starter in one of the more important weeks of the year. Carr has just two multi-touchdown games over his last nine and has just three 300-yard games on the season. The Chiefs have been getting bludgeoned to death defensively for the past couple months, allowing Josh McCown’s QB2 game last Sunday, and the fifth-most fantasy points to quarterbacks on the year. They’re 24th in pass-defense DVOA and 28th in total pass yards allowed. Kansas City also suspended top CB Marcus Peters for Sunday’s game against Oakland for conduct detrimental to the team. On paper, this looks like a spot Carr can exploit, but he’s never played well at Arrowhead. He’s had three previous games in Kansas City. As a 2014 rookie, Carr was 27-of-56 (48.2%) for 222 yards and one touchdown. In 2015, Carr was 21-of-33 (63.6%) for 194 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. Last year, Carr’s best season to date, he was 17-of-41 (41.5%) for 117 yards and no scores. Already failing in plum spots in 2017, I’m not taking the bait on Carr for Week 14. Kansas City has allowed point totals of 20, 20, 19, 19, and 16 in its five home games this season.
Start of the Week: Alfred Morris at Giants: Morris is coming off his best game of the past couple years after rushing for 127 yards and one touchdown on 27 carries in a #RevengeGame against the Redskins last Thursday night. He handled 27 of the 37 running back carries for Dallas and played a season-high 55.2% of the offensive snaps. Plenty of it had to do with the Redskins turning the ball over four times and staking the Cowboys to a big lead, but it’s pretty evident Dallas wants to remain a run-centric offense even with Ezekiel Elliott out another couple weeks. Dak Prescott hasn’t been getting it done as a passer with his receivers creating zero separation. The path to success for the Cowboys is running the ball with Morris. And the matchup is prime for another solid day. The Giants are 24th in run-defense DVOA, dead last in rushing yards allowed, and 24th in fantasy points given up to running backs. Over the last five weeks, the G-Men are hemorrhaging 4.54 YPC on the ground, and Marshawn Lynch just shredded them for a 17-101-1 rushing line last Sunday. It was Lynch’s first 100-yard day of the season. The previous week, Samaje Perine totaled 130 yards on 27 touches against the Giants. Carlos Hyde managed 104 yards two games prior. The Dallas offensive line is back healthy after a 10-day layoff. Morris is firmly in the high-end RB2 picture.
Peyton Barber vs. Lions: Doug Martin remained in the concussion protocol as of Wednesday but was practicing in full, suggesting he’s on track to return this week. In Martin’s absence last week against the Packers, Barber played nearly 70% of the snaps and handled 23 of the 30 running back carries for Tampa Bay, totaling 143 yards on 27 touches. The only thing missing was a touchdown. Martin coming back is going to pose a bit of a problem it appears. But after Barber’s performance last week, I really don’t see how coach Dirk Koetter goes back to Martin as the full-time back. Martin is a washed-up 29-year-old (next month) averaging a pitiful 3.2 YPC with no touchdowns since Week 6 and zero 100-yard games. Barber showed he can both run the ball with power and catch it. The Bucs would be crazy to go away from him when they know Martin isn’t part of the long-term plans. Barber at least has a possible future as a 23-year-old. And the matchup with the Lions lip-licking. Detroit is 25th in run-defense DVOA, 19th in rushing yards allowed, and 30th in fantasy points given up to running backs. Only the Bills have surrendered more rushing scores to the position. Over their last five games, the Lions have allowed seven rushing touchdowns and 154.6 total yards to running backs. Barber needs to be added in all formats and he’s worth firing up as a FLEX play in the event Martin plays. If Martin sits, which would be nice, Barber will be a borderline RB1/2.
Frank Gore at Bills: Gore ran the ball really well last week against the Jaguars, piling up 61 yards on 13 carries, but he was again held out of the end zone for the ninth time in 12 games. His 4.7 YPC against a strong run defense was Gore’s third-highest clip of the season. He’s seen at least 12 carries in 10-of-12 games this year and now gets one of his best individual matchups of 2017. The Bills have been getting run over in run defense, checking in at 29th in run-defense DVOA, 25th in rush yards allowed, and dead last in touchdowns given up on the ground. Buffalo has hemorrhaged 18 rushing touchdowns on the year, and 11 of them have come in the last five weeks. In that five-game span, the Bills have allowed per-game rushing lines of 30.6-161.8-2.2 at a yards-per-carry clip of 5.29 YPC. It’s hard to be that bad against the run and allow that many touchdowns in such a short span. Gore’s been consistently average all year long and should be able to find some holes Sunday. The ageless wonder could threat a top 12 or 15 week if he’s able to find the end zone.
Dion Lewis vs. Dolphins: Lewis and Rex Burkhead have taken over this backfield the past month-plus, and both are equally start-able in fantasy leagues as RB2 plays with upside. Lewis has received double-digit carries in seven consecutive games, averaging 13.3 in that span, to go along with eight total catches. Lewis has averaged at least 4.7 YPC in five of those seven games and has forced 37 missed tackles on the year. He is second to only rookie phenom Alvin Kamara among all running backs in Pro Football Focus’ elusive rating. When the Dolphins and Patriots met in Week 12, Lewis had his lone 100-yard game of the season, taking the rock 15 times for 112 yards looking like a man on a mission as he finished runs with power. Burkhead vultured Lewis at the goal line early on in that one, keeping him from an elite fantasy day. The Dolphins have been getting killed by running backs the last five weeks. They’re 29th in fantasy points allowed to the position in that span, yielding 4.8 YPC. New England is heavy 11-point favorites and sports the highest implied team total of the week at 29 points. We’ll likely again see a lot of Lewis and Burkhead in the second half.
Latavius Murray at Panthers: From Weeks 10-12, Murray scored four touchdowns and averaged 82.3 rushing yards per game. He’s clearly taken hold of early-down duties in Minnesota, but it was easy to know regression would be coming for him. I talked about Murray on the Rotoworld Football podcast last week who I was leery of for Week 13 at Atlanta. Murray then went out and rushed 16 times for 76 scoreless yards, ceding red-zone receiving scores to Jerick McKinnon and Kyle Rudolph in the win. Murray again gets a real tough road matchup with an NFC South opponent. Carolina is fifth in run-defense DVOA, fourth in rushing yards allowed, sixth in rushing touchdowns, and fifth in fantasy points given up to running backs. Volume is keeping Murray afloat as an RB2 and will likely do the same this week, but expectations need to be tempered again. This game has a very low 41-point total and figures to be dominated by both defenses.
Theo Riddick at Bucs: Ameer Abdullah (neck) missed last week’s game against the Ravens. Riddick ended up getting the start and played a season-high 63.5% of the snaps. He was one of the more popular DFS plays of the week on DraftKings and paid off with 62 total yards and a touchdown on 10 touches. Owners were lucky to get the goal-line four-yard score from him because the touch total was a bit underwhelming, as UDFA rookie Tion Green handled 11 carries and turned them into 51 yards and a touchdown in his first career game. Abdullah returned to a limited practice Wednesday and should be okay for Week 14. That’ll knock Riddick back down to roughly a 40% of the snaps player, and the individual matchup isn’t even all that appetizing. While the Bucs have been bad overall defensively, they actually handle running backs well in the pass game. Tampa Bay has allowed the 10th-fewest catches for the 11th-fewest yards to the position. Riddick will be an extremely low floor FLEX option in PPR formats and isn’t someone to target in standard leagues.
Duke Johnson vs. Packers: Johnson played his normal 54% of the snaps last week against the Chargers, but with Corey Coleman now healthy, Josh Gordon back from suspension, and David Njoku taking on an increased role in recent weeks, Johnson touched the ball just nine times and his four targets were his second-fewest of the season. Gordon saw a team-high 11 targets, and the Browns want to push the ball downfield with big athletes Gordon, Coleman, and Njoku. After being the focal point of the offense most of the year, Johnson is fighting for a secondary role. Cleveland already doesn’t put up many points, so this offense really can’t support more than one or two players. The matchup isn’t all that bad for Johnson, with the Packers allowing the eighth-most catches and ninth-most receiving yards to running backs. Bucs RB Peyton Barber led Tampa Bay with a 4-41 receiving line against Green Bay last week. But Barber played nearly 70% of the downs. After being a strong RB2 play in PPR formats much of 2017, Johnson is now more a low-floor FLEX play. The 40.5-point total in Packers-Browns is the third-lowest of Week 14.
Start of the Week: Marquise Goodwin at Texans: Goodwin saw a team-high eight targets and 21.6% of the market share in Jimmy Garoppolo’s first start with the Niners last week in Chicago. Goodwin caught all eight balls that came his direction for 99 yards and had a more diverse route tree after primarily operating as a go-route-running deep threat in Buffalo early in his career and parts of this season. Goodwin has seen at least six targets in three of the past four games and scored an 83-yard touchdown in the one game he didn’t reach the six-target bar. Even at 5’9/179, Goodwin is second on the 49ers with 10 red-zone targets. He now gets a tasty date with a Texans defense that has surrendered the eighth-most fantasy points to receivers, eighth-most yards to the position, and fifth-most touchdowns. Houston has played better in pass defense in recent weeks, but the schedule has been soft with Blaine Gabbert, Joe Flacco, and Marcus Mariota the past three weeks. The 49ers bring their fastest-paced offense to town and throw the ball at the highest clip in the league. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the 43-point total for 49ers-Texans to rise as we head into the weekend. This game will be played in friendly confines under the retractable roof in Houston with no weather issues.
Marvin Jones at Bucs: Jones legitimately has one of the best matchups on the board this week, though a lot of it hinges on Matthew Stafford being able to play through an injury to his throwing hand. If Stafford is able to play after getting it stepped on last week in Baltimore, I also like him as a QB1 play in this delectable road matchup with one of the league’s worst pass defenses. Jones exploded on Thanksgiving two weeks ago, taking shutdown CB Xavier Rhodes’ lunch money to the tune of a 6-109-2 line against the Vikings. Rhodes was in coverage for both scores. Jones then answered back with a 4-90 line against the Ravens’ elite pass defense last week. Outside of an outlier Week 10 when Jones saw just two targets against the Browns, he’s averaged 9.7 targets from Week 5 forward. Unlike last year, Jones is getting better as the year goes on. He now gets a Bucs defense that is 31st in pass-defense DVOA. Tampa Bay is 32nd in catches allowed, 32nd in yards given up, 29th in touchdowns, and dead last at 32nd in fantasy points allowed to receivers. 2016 first-round CB Vernon Hargreaves has been a second-year disappointment, and 34-year-old Brent Grimes is showing signs of slippage. Jones has topped 85 yards in six of his last seven games and should be able to do it again while providing huge-play ability. He’s a fringe WR1 play.
Josh Gordon vs. Packers: Gordon played his first regular-season game since December of 2014 last week against the Chargers and looked like he hadn’t missed a beat. Gordon was targeted a team-high 11 times, turning them into four grabs for 85 yards. DeShone Kizer was trying to get the ball to Gordon, but accuracy issues were killing the connections, and Chargers top CB Casey Hayward was making things more difficult with his lockdown coverage. There were opportunities for big plays that were missed, however. Now that Gordon has knocked the rust off, he gets to come back to Cleveland against a Green Bay pass defense that just lost second-round CB Kevin King (shoulder) to injured reserve while fellow CB Davon House is also batting a shoulder issue of his own. The Packers have a pass-funnel defense that is 21st in pass-defense DVOA and No. 9 against the run. Green Bay has allowed the fourth-most catches for the fifth-most yards, sixth-most touchdowns, and fourth-most fantasy points to the receiver position. Gordon is one of the closest things we have to Randy Moss right now and is a threat for overall WR1 status anytime he takes the field. Kizer is even in play as an ultra-cheap DFS streamer. The Browns could win this one outright.
Marqise Lee vs. Seahawks: Lee has found his way in this column, I believe, four weeks straight. He whiffed against the Browns in Week 11, predictably struggled Week 12 against Patrick Peterson, and then popped back up for a big game last Sunday against the Colts. I like Lee to keep things going against Seattle with the Jaguars as three-point home favorites. (Never would have imagined typing that at the beginning of the season.) Since the Week 8 bye, Lee has averaged 10.5 targets per game excluding his two-target Week 12 against Peterson and the Cardinals. With Allen Hurns (ankle) still not practicing, Lee again should dominate looks from Blake Bortles, while Dede Westbrook plays the big-play threat role as the No. 2 option. Seattle’s pass defense has taken a lot of hits lately, losing CB Richard Sherman to a torn Achilles’, SS Kam Chancellor to a season-ending neck injury, and top pass rusher Cliff Avril to neck surgery. Rookie Shaq Griffin is the de facto No. 1 corner, and original Legion of Boom member and Eagles and Dolphins castoff Byron Maxwell is starting opposite him. It’s a winnable matchup for Lee. Over the last three weeks, the Seahawks have allowed the sixth-most catches, sixth-most yards, and eighth-most fantasy points to receivers. Lee remains a firm WR2 who gets love in the red zone.
Devin Funchess vs. Vikings: Since the Kelvin Benjamin trade, Funchess’ role has remain virtually unchanged. He’s drawn an average of eight targets in that four-game span. In the seven games with Benjamin on the team from Weeks 2-8, Funchess was averaging 8.1 targets per week. Funchess was a non-factor for most of the first three quarters last week against the Saints, but he turned it on late to come through with a 4-60-1 line on seven targets. Funchess now gets a tough matchup with Vikings top CB Xavier Rhodes, who helped shut down Julio Jones (2-24-0) last week. Rhodes showed cracks in the armor on Thanksgiving against the Lions, allowing a huge day and pair of touchdowns to Marvin Jones, but overall Rhodes has been one of the best corners in the sport. The two Marvin Jones touchdowns are the only ones Rhodes has given up in 2017. As a team, Minnesota ranks ninth in pass-defense DVOA and 10th in pass yards allowed. Vikings-Panthers has a minuscule 41-point total in what figures to be a defensive slugfest between two of the NFC’s better teams. Funchess needs to be downgraded to WR3 status with bust potential.
Josh Doctson at Chargers: Doctson has seen at least five targets in four of the Redskins’ last five games and five of the past seven. He’s played at least 80% of the snaps in all seven of those games and 100% of the downs in each of the past two. Doctson has scored in back-to-back games and had an 81-yard game three weeks ago, but it’s easy to tell he’s still looking for some semblance of consistency. He’s topped 30 yards just twice in the past six games and now gets to face the league’s best pass defense. Shutdown CB Casey Hayward, who is Pro Football Focus’ No. 1 overall cover corner out of 116 qualifiers, will likely trail Doctson on the outside all afternoon. It’s as tough an assignment as one could ask for, putting the up-and-down Doctson in the boom-bust WR4 range.
DeVante Parker vs. Patriots: Parker has been a total no-show the past three weeks with receiving lines of 4-26, 1-5, and 1-5. The first 1-5 came against these same Patriots in Week 12, and Parker hasn’t scored a touchdown since the Dolphins’ second game of the season. In the first meeting with the Patriots, CB Stephon Gilmore appeared to shadow Parker most of the day, while Malcolm Butler worked on Kenny Stills, and Jarvis Landry ran most of his routes against slot CB Jonathan Jones. Landry had by far the best statistical day with Matt Moore under center that afternoon. Jay Cutler is back starting for Miami, and Parker is one of his favorite targets, but the problem is Cutler just is not good. Gilmore is also playing his best ball as a Patriot right now. Coming off three-straight bad games and not scoring touchdowns, Parker isn’t usable in Week 14.
Start of the Week: Jack Doyle at Bills: Doyle’s five targets last week against the Jaguars tied his lowest total of the season, and his 16 yards were his second-fewest of 2017. Chalk it up to a bad matchup against an elite pass defense. Doyle should rebound in a big way against Buffalo. We already know he’s on the field a ton — 94% of the snaps this year — and Doyle is seventh among tight ends in targets. The Bills have allowed the fourth-most catches for the fourth-most yards against tight ends. The only thing keeping them out of the basement against the position is Buffalo has surrendered just two touchdowns to tight ends. Doyle has seen at least seven targets in seven of the Colts’ last 10 games he’s appeared in after missing one with a concussion. He is the means of moving the chains for Jacoby Brissett, while T.Y. Hilton is the big-play threat on the outside. Confident go back to Doyle as a locked-in fantasy starter for the first week of the playoffs.
Hunter Henry vs. Redskins: Henry played at least 70% of the offensive snaps for the second straight week last Sunday against the Browns. He drew a career-high nine targets and turned them into seven grabs for 81 yards against one of the league’s worst defenses against tight ends. Henry is reportedly nursing some sort of knee ailment, but he was mistakenly initially labeled as limited in Wednesday’s practice before it was revealed he wasn’t actually on the injury report. The Redskins have been abused by tight ends this season, surrendering the sixth-most catches, third-most yards, sixth-most touchdowns, and fourth-most fantasy points to the position. The Chargers are in another great spot at “home” as six-point favorites with an implied team total of 26 points. That’s the highest implied team total among Sunday’s games with only the Patriots (29) and Saints (27) higher. Henry was an early-season disappointment but has a chance to redeem himself in the playoffs.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins at Broncos: Over the Jets’ last four games, Seferian-Jenkins has drawn target totals of 2 > 9 > 7 > 3, and in those games his snap percentages have been 65.7 > 84.1 > 84.3 > 63.7, so we need him to be on the field in order to see volume. The other issue is when he does see volume, ASJ still hasn’t been tallying many yards, as he’s been held under 30 yards in five of the past six games. He’s been one of the players hurt most by bad luck, getting at least three touchdowns taken off the board, with the NFL admitting after the fact that two of them should have counted in hindsight. ASJ hasn’t scored a touchdown that has counted since Week 7. But he should play plenty on Sunday against the Broncos. Denver has allowed the seventh-most catches, second-most yards, third-most touchdowns, and third-most fantasy points to tight ends. The thought is the Jets will keep ASJ on the field to exploit the middle of the field and help chip block against Von Miller and Shane Ray off the edge. Josh McCown remains firmly on the QB1 map.
Jason Witten at Giants: Playing tight ends against the Giants has been the name of the game at the tight end spot this season. New York has surrendered the third-most catches, most yards, most touchdowns, and most fantasy points to the position. Jared Cook naturally flopped in the prime spot last week, but his backup, Clive Walford, who had three catches all season, caught four balls for 57 yards. Witten has seen his numbers decline in recent weeks with Dak Prescott struggling to accumulate yards through the air, but Witten did shred these Giants for a 7-59-1 line back in the season opener and did score on his lone catch last week against the Redskins. He remains a focal point of the offense in the red zone, and the Cowboys should be able to move the ball against the Janoris Jenkins-less (ankle, I.R.) Giants. Witten will likely be a TD-or-bust proposition.
Kyle Rudolph at Panthers: Rudolph has scored three touchdowns over the past two games and four scores over the past five. Ever since Dalvin Cook went down with an ACL tear in September and Stefon Diggs followed it up the next week by getting hurt, Rudolph has essentially been the No. 2 option in the pass game behind Adam Thielen. Case Keenum loves his big tight end in the red zone. But this matchup does not look good for Rudolph. Carolina has allowed the fewest catches, fewest yards, and fourth-fewest fantasy points to tight ends. MLB Luke Kuechly is one of the best cover linebackers in the league. Rudolph’s targets have also been a bit down in recent weeks, seeing nine total the past two weeks after seeing at least seven in six straight games. Rudolph is still on the back end of the TE1 mix due to his prominent role, but this game has a 41-point total while also presenting a real tough individual matchup for the tight end.
Greg Olsen vs. Vikings: Like Kyle Rudolph above, his counterpart Olsen gets a brutal on-paper individual matchup. Olsen returned from his broken foot in Week 12 only to aggravate it late in the game and then was forced to miss Week 13 against the Saints. Olsen is practicing in full now and won’t be on a “pitch count” Sunday, per coach Ron Rivers. That’s great news, but Minnesota has stamped out tight ends this season. The Vikings have allowed the fifth-fewest fantasy points to the position. Also, with Olsen comes the chance of another aggravation. Injuries are completely unpredictable. But owners in the fantasy playoffs can’t afford one.
Jared Cook at Chiefs: Cook gets a great matchup against a dreadful pass defense that has allowed the 10th-most yards to tight ends, but he’s now flopped in desirable spots in back-to-back weeks against the Broncos and Giants. Cook can no longer be trusted as a plug-and-play TE1 at the critical time of the fantasy season. While the Chiefs have allowed a lot of yards to tight ends, they’ve allowed just one to score against them and are surrendering the seventh-fewest fantasy points to the position. Cook had a 100-yard game against Kansas City in Week 7, but the Kansas City defense has played much better at home this year. They haven’t allowed more than 20 points in any of the five games at Arrowhead. Cook’s basement-low floor is one to avoid if possible.