WEEK 14 PREPARATION
9 SLIGHTLY DEBATABLE THOUGHTS WORTH THINKING
Some people may disagree with these thoughts and that's fine. I like to follow stats, trends and matchups. These thoughts are based on those observations.
9. Fade Marcus Mariota - Marcus Mariota has been a productive surprise fantasy quarterback this year and he's probably a big reason why you have a playoff berth. However, he doesn't have a good matchup this week vs. Denver. Unless you don't have a better option, consider benching him. Denver is a much better team (especially their defense) at home, but the road version of Denver's defense is still darn impressive. Denver has allowed a total of 10 touchdown passes this year and have had five games where they didn't allow any touchdown passes. Mariota could save face with a strong rushing performance but the odds are against him to produce at the level you need to advance in the playoffs.
8. Take a peek at Brandon LaFell this week - The Bengals may try to run all over the Browns, but they also will have passing opportunities and LaFell looks to be Andy Dalton's top target with A.J. Green still nursing a mid-grade hamstring injury. LaFell has 25 targets in the last three games but only 12 receptions to show for it. The matchup against Cleveland could improve matters and make him someone to consider as a flex option this week. Cleveland has allowed at least one touchdown to a wide receiver in 9 of their 12 games this year. The odds favor LaFell here.
7. Be wary of the Lions passing game this week - Last week Golden Tate had a big game with 8 receptions for 145 yards and a touchdown. Tate rose to the occasion with Marvin Jones (thigh) inactive. The matchup on paper this week against 3-9 Chicago sure looks appetizing, however taking a closer look, Chicago has played well on defense lately, particularly their pass defense. Last week the 49ers could not muster any passing yards (33 total) and were sacked 6 times. Granted this was a snow-covered field, but still impressive. No wide receiver has caught more than 5 passes against Chicago since Week 8 and the most yards for a wide receiver against Chicago since Week 7 is 76 yards. The Bears are quietly 7th in overall defense (yards allowed) and 6th in passing defense. Detroit is playing good ball, (especially at home) and are a force to be reckoned with. Matthew Stafford and the Lions offense may come out strong and have relatively little trouble with Chicago, however the stats, especially recently, tell otherwise. Be wary.
6. Saints passing offense vs Bucs looked great for Week 14 earlier in the year, but now, not so fast - Since Week 11, the Buccaneers have averaged the lowest yards per game allowed to opposing wide receivers (only 96 yards per game and 9 receptions). No one wide receiver has topped 53 yards receiving against Tampa Bay since Week 9 which includes games against SD, SEA, KC and CHI. They have allowed only two wide receivers to reach 100 yards this season (Julio Jones and Amari Cooper). Drew Brees is coming off a low game where he had zero passing touchdowns against Detroit - the first time in 60 games at the Superdome where he failed to have at least one passing touchdown. Not only are the Saints running into a buzz saw against Tampa Bay, but they are struggling to perform well on offense. Brees is the #2 fantasy quarterback this year, but this week's matchup isn't a given. Tampa Bay is showing some teeth on defense and their home crowd will be jacked. Be wary.
5. Is the Atlanta passing game in trouble at Los Angeles? Julio Jones has a case of turf toe but he's expected to play through it. How effective will he be is the big question. And who will fill the void if he's not 100%? Jones has disappeared in the past when not 100%, which is why I'm a bit wary on his chances of a big game this week. Plus, the Rams at home have been strong on defense allowing only 14 points to Miami, 13 to Carolina and 17 to the NY Giants. They also allowed only 3 points to Seattle in Week 2. Atlanta is no passing slouch, but without Julio Jones, they have Taylor Gabriel and Mohamed Sanu to pick up the slack. A tough pass rush will mean shorter passes (at least that's the counter move). I expect we'll see an uptick in receptions for Taylor Gabriel, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, but the other possibility is a lot of three-n-outs for the juggernaut Falcons offense. It sounds unthinkable, but without a healthy Julio Jones and against a Rams defense that has thwarted other teams in the past, it may not be the best game for Matt Ryan and company.
4. Is Andrew Luck rising at the right time? After enduring a concussion and missing Week 12, Andrew Luck rebounded with a four-touchdown game against the Just End The Season, NY Jets in Week 13. Luck and the Colts return home to face the Texans, who have struggled against quarterbacks latetly. Houston allowed six passing touchdowns in the first eight games, but have given up 10 in the last four games. The AFC South has a three-way tie for first place where IND, HOU and TEN are 6-6 entering Week 14. I expect Luck and the Colts will be up for this game and the way Houston has been playing lately, this game favors the Colts.
3. Ladarius Green looks like he has arrived just in time for the playoffs - If last week is any indication of how the Steelers plan to use Ladarius Green going forward, then we could be in for a surge at the tight end position. Green was targeted a team-high 11 times last week vs. the Giants. He finished with 6 catches for 110 yards and a touchdown. The Steelers play at Buffalo this week where the Bills have allowed a touchdown to only two tight ends this year, Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham. In other words, if you're not an elite tight end, you aren't scoring. This isn't the best matchup for Green, but if you're in dire need of a tight end, Green has the potential to give us decent volume.
2. Jeremy Hill owners - this is what you have been waiting for - If you own Jeremy Hill, you have to be excited about his opportunity this week. The Bengals play at Cleveland who have given up the 4th most fantasy points to running backs this year. Hill is productive when he can get into a rhythm and reach up to 17, 20, 25 carries in a game. The last nine lead running backs against Cleveland have all had 15 carries or more (15, 28, 21, 18, 25, 17, 21, 18, 22 carries). Look for Cincinnati to lean heavily on Hill in this game, especially with the lack of A.J. Green on offense. Last week Hill struggled, but the team still gave him 23 carries. If he's successful, he should easily reach the 20 carry mark. The Browns have allowed a back to reach 20+ carries in a game six times this year. Five of those six times resulted in at least one rushing touchdown by that back. Hill also has 28 touchdowns in 44 career games. He scores 63% of the time and he has a favorable matchup to boot. Jeremy Hill could single-handedly advance you into Week 15.
1. Malcolm Mitchell could be a league winner - Rob Gronkowski (back surgery) is out of the picture and Martellus Bennett is struggling to overcome a high ankle sprain that has plagued him for several weeks. Danny Amendola (high ankle sprain) is also out, which opens the door for someone else to thrive. Julian Edelman can't do it all, nor is he the best down field option. Malcolm Mitchell has entered into the conversation playing a role that several others have failed at - a non-slot wide receiver in New England's offense, or I should say Tom Brady's offense, that gives 100% effort and thrives as a result. Brady will let you know in a not-so-nice manner if you ran a curl at 10 yards instead of 11. He runs a tight ship and not many wide receivers can survive his lofty expectations. If you're not a disciplined route runner, Brady will look in another direction, pure and simple. Mitchell has proven his worth with 17 receptions for 222 yards and 3 touchdowns in the last three games and has become a big fantasy target as a result. Mitchell belongs in your lineup from here on out. Start him and reap the benefits.
If you're playing this week it means you have a team good enough to advance. Play your studs and look for favorable matchups. Good luck in your quest for a Championship. Next week we examine the players to get you to the trophy game.
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