JOHNNIE WALKER BLUE LABEL (TOP SHELF PLAYS)
Aaron Rodgers ($9,400) - You can’t go wrong in cash games with Peyton Manning at Oakland, but Rodgers is the safest bet on the board at QB this week. When Green Bay and Chicago met back in Week 4, Rodgers went off for 302 yards and four TDs - and that was on the road, where he’s averaged about five less fantasy PPG this season. The last time we saw the Bears, Tom Brady tuned them up for 354 yards and 5 TDs. Vegas has Green Bay projected for over 30 points, and Rogers has accounted for over 76% of their total offensive TDs this season. Three TDs from Rodgers is a near lock, and four is a strong possibility.
Ben Roethlisberger ($7,500) - While it would be silly to expect Roethlisberger to continue his string of six TD games, it would be equally silly to fade him at this price, in a matchup against the Jets rotten secondary. New York has allowed multiple passing TDs to every QB they’ve faced this season, making it fair to wonder just how much regression we can expect from Big Ben this week. Even if you’re worried about the Steelers’ tendency to play down to the level of their competition, or what’s sure to be a high ownership percentage, it would be negligent not to have at least one Steelers stack in your portfolio this week.
Matt Forte ($10,000) - Fitting Forte into your lineups with a five figure salary may prove difficult this week, but I’d give him the best odds of any RB to hit 30 fantasy points this week. Green Bay-Chicago is this week’s highest over/under (53), and Forte is the engine that makes the Chicago offense go. He’s handled 48.7% of Chicago’s total offensive touches, and perhaps more importantly on DraftKings (full PPR scoring), his 23.41% target share makes him the only RB that is his team's most heavily targeted receiver. Green Bay hasn’t had an answer for Forte recently - in his last three games against the Packers, he’s averaged 29.57 PPR fantasy points per game.
Marshawn Lynch ($6,700) - Lynch got back on track in a plum matchup with the Raiders last week, and I expect him to keep it rolling at home against the Giants. Home cooking has agreed with Lynch this season - he’s averaging 5.75 more carries, 25.75 more rushing yards, 1.25 more rushing TDs, and 9.46 more fantasy PPG at home than on the road. With the line opening at Seattle -8.5, the game script favors a heavy dose of Lynch, and the Giants don’t represent much of a challenge (7th most fantasy PPG allowed to opposing RBs).
Jordy Nelson ($7,600) - Jordy scored 35.8 fantasy points on DraftKings in his Week 4 matchup with the Bears. The stars are aligned for a huge Aaron Rodgers game, and that means his most heavily targeted receiver (30.59% target share) gets to come along for the ride. Another 30 point performance for Jordy should surprise no one.
Calvin Johnson ($7,100) - Calvin is back to almost 100% and feeling “very motivated” to have a huge second half, which is reason enough to fire him up at what’s sure to be his lowest price all season. By no means is Miami a great matchup for Megatron (they rank top-five at limiting opposing WR fantasy scoring) but when he’s healthy, Johnson is the most bankable WR commodity in the game. No circumstance should exist that makes him the seventh highest priced receiver.
Martellus Bennett ($5,600) - Jim Harbaugh’s 49ers defenses have held Jimmy Graham in check in their regular season meetings. In fact, San Francisco has been a tough spot in general for tight ends this season, which leaves the Black Unicorn as this week’s Blue Label play. Bennett’s best fantasy performance of the season (25.4 points) came during the Week 4 meeting between Chicago and Green Bay, and he figures to receive enough volume in a high scoring game to return value in the rematch. Somewhat surprisingly, Bennett has only seen once less target than Brandon Marshall this season, and four more than Alshon Jeffery. If Bennett is unable to play due to the rib injury he suffered during practice this week, Julius Thomas ($4,900) is a good value in a matchup with the Raiders.
Arizona Cardinals Defense ($3,400) - Austin Davis has been sacked 3.28 times per start and doesn’t take care of the ball very well (7 INTs in 7 starts this season). Arizona’s opportunistic defense is tied for second in the NFL with 12 INTs. The Cardinals are favored by a touchdown, very tough to beat at home, and nearly impossible to run the ball on. I don’t envision them having much trouble forcing Davis to pass for most of this game, which should result in multiple turnovers.
JACK DANIELS (MODERATELY PRICED PLAYS)
Russell Wilson ($7,000) - Last week’s 10 point stink bomb at home vs. the Raiders will be enough to keep the crowd off Wilson this week. With a potentially low ownership percentage, and great matchup against the Giants banged up secondary (Prince Amukamara is done for the season and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is dealing with back and hamstring injuries), Wilson is the type of high variance play that can help win you a tournament. The Giants go into CenturyLink field allowing averages of 293.6 passing yards and 3 TDs over their previous three games.
Cam Newton ($6,600) - Newton makes for a nice matchup play in Philadelphia, against an Eagles team that’s let up the second most fantasy PPG to opposing QBs. Eagles-Panthers has this week’s fourth highest point total (48), and with Carolina boasting the lowest scoring fantasy backfield in the NFL, it will fall on Cam to put TDs on the board. This could be a game where Newton gets it going on the ground - Colin Kaepernick and Ryan Fitzpatrick both eclipsed 49 rushing yards vs. Philadelphia this year.
Julio Jones ($6,600) - Look for Julio to end his three game sub-70 receiving yard streak against the Bucs. You’ll recall Tampa Bay is the most generous fantasy defense to opposing wide receivers, and Jones torched them for 40 fantasy points back in Week 3. He even did stuff like this. Similar to Calvin Johnson, this is the cheapest you’re likely to find Julio all season. Everyone else will be on him too, but fade at your own risk.
Dez Bryant ($6,400) - Bryant’s price dropped $1,800 after last week’s Brandon Weeden induced two catch disaster. I have to figure Dez’s Week 10 cap number was created under the assumption Weeden would see a second straight start, but mercifully Tony Romo made the trip to London, and appears set to return. Jacksonville ranks 27th at defending opposing WR1s per Football Outsiders, and there’s few wide receivers who can match Bryant’s weekly multi-TD upside, regardless of matchup. In a week where he’s likely to be lightly owned, Bryant makes for a great differentiator in tournament lineups.
Brandon Marshall ($5,600) - Marshall is the cheapest of the stud WRs available at a discount this week. You want as much exposure to Packers-Bears (and those 53 total points) as you can get, so this is a terrific price to pay for Chicago’s most heavily targeted wideout. Marshall was extremely banged up the last time these two teams played, but still managed to find the end zone (2-19-1). With a bye week to rest his nagging injuries, and a winnable matchup, Marshall is a good bet for one of his trademark 20+ point PPR lines.
Ronnie Hillman ($6,100) - Since taking over for Montee Ball four games ago, Hillman ranks as the PPR RB4. Given the matchup against Oakland, who ranks behind only Atlanta in fantasy PPG allowed to RBs, Hillman has a realistic shot to finish as the position’s top producer this week. Vegas has the Broncos as 11.5 point favorites on the road, which points to a heavy late-game workload for Hillman as the Broncos salt away an easy win. Even if Montee Ball returns this week, it’s doubtful he sees more than the 5.75 carries Juwan Thompson has averaged over the last month.
LeSean McCoy ($5,600) - Not surprisingly, McCoy is rounding into shape at the same time as his offensive line. Since RT Lane Johnson returned in Week 5, only DeMarco Murray and Arian Foster have more rushing yards than McCoy’s 430 (and that’s with the Eagles on bye in Week 7). Last week, starting center Jason Kelce returned, and McCoy responded with a season high 5.1 YPA. This week, he gets an even bigger boost with the return of G Evan Mathis, who Pro Football Focus ranked as the league’s best run blocking guard by a mile in 2013. Opposing RBs have obliterated the Panthers this season (third most fantasy PPG allowed). McCoy could very well return six times his modest salary in fantasy points.
Heath Miller ($4,500) - This is your weekly reminder that the Jets cannot cover the tight end. Gang Green has now allowed a league high 11 TDs to tight ends in nine games this season, including four in the last two weeks to four separate tight ends. If you told me you were plugging in Matt Spaeth this week, I’m not sure I’d try to talk you out of it.
Larry Donnell ($4,400) - While we’re on the topic of moderately priced tight ends with great matchups, Donnell takes on Seattle this week. The Seahawks are right behind the Jets with 10 TDs allowed to tight ends this season. As I mentioned earlier, the Giants head to Seattle as 8.5 point dogs. If the game goes according to script, Eli will be chucking it for most of the second half, which should give Donnell (fourth most targeted TE in the red zone) ample opportunity to cross the stripe in a plus matchup.
Green Bay Packers Defense ($3,000) - The Packers D has only reached double digit fantasy points twice this season, so the floor is low here. However, Jay Cutler has a habit of stinking it up against the Packers, and the New England and Miami defenses both had big games against the Bears recently. Defensive TDs are impossible to predict, but if Green Bay forces Cutler into catchup mode (they’re 7.5 point favorites), it’s not tough to envision a careless Cutler pick-six (or two) late in the game.
LIMOUSINE LIQUOR (DIRT CHEAP PLAYS)
Mark Sanchez ($5,400) - Sanchez looked more than capable standing in for Nick Foles last week (202-2-2 in three quarters). Foles hadn’t been playing all that great this season, but he currently ranks as the QB6, due primarily to volume. The Eagles offense runs 72.4 plays per game, second only to the Colts. As a result, Foles averaged 42.7 pass attempts per game (in the games he finished), which trailed only Andrew Luck. Once Foles went down, the Eagles game plan didn’t change, so it’s safe to assume Sanchez will inherit the role that made Foles a top-seven QB option on DraftKings four times this season. Sanchez couldn’t ask for a much softer opponent than Carolina in his first start. The Panthers have gotten creamed by Joe Flacco (327-3-0), Jay Cutler (289-2-2), Andy Dalton (323-2-2), Aaron Rodgers (255-3), and Drew Brees (297-2-1) in recent weeks.
Justin Forsett ($5,000) - I can’t imagine too many scenarios in which Forsett fails to put up 15 fantasy points against the Titans. He’s hit at least 13.5 points on DraftKings in five out of his last six games, and Tennessee has let up 40% more fantasy PPG to RBs than the league average over the last three weeks. Forsett is the PPR RB8 on the season, but is priced as the RB14 this week, despite the plus matchup. With Baltimore favored by 10 at home, he’s a good bet to get back to 20 total touches.
Bobby Rainey ($4,400) - Rainey ran well in a start against Cleveland last week, piling up 121 yards on 20 touches. He also managed 15.5 fantasy points in a Week 3 start against the Falcons, despite turning the ball over twice and dealing with the worst game script any RB has seen this season (Atlanta won that game 56-14). Only DeMarco Murray, Mark Ingram, and Knile Davis have broken a 15+ yard run on a higher percentage of their carries than Rainey’s 7.41% (minimum 80 carries). It appears Rainey will once again be given a starter’s workload this week, which means he has the potential to return 5x his salary against the worst rush defense in the NFL.
Kelvin Benjamin ($4,200) - Benjamin’s 25.16% target share borders on elite. He’s finished as a top 12 PPR WR the same number of times this season (3) as Jordy Nelson, Dez Bryant, and Julio Jones. His 10 red zone targets lead the Panthers. Philadelphia is routinely abused by opposing WRs - they’ve allowed six different wideouts to eclipse 100 yards and a TD against them this season. Eagles CB Cary Williams (103.3 QBR against) has been one of my favorite punching bags this year, and Kelvin figures to line up on his side of the field more often than not. All things considered, Benjamin’s price is absurdly low. He’s in play for both cash games and tournaments.
Justin Hunter ($4,000) - The arrow is pointing up for Hunter with big armed QB Zach Mettenberger behind center for Tennessee. Hunter saw a season high 10 targets in Mettenberger’s season debut, including four of 20 yards or more. None of those deep passes connected in Week 8, but that could easily change this week against Baltimore’s depleted secondary. With Jimmy Smith lost for the season, the Ravens are left with Ladarius Webb (the seventh worst cover corner in the league according to PFF) and Danny Gorrer (who signed with the team on Tuesday) to throw at Hunter. Even if this game is as one sided as Vegas is predicting, Hunter has garbage time all-star potential.
James Jones ($3,800)/Andre Holmes ($4,400) - Speaking of garbage time, Oakland-Denver will have plenty of it. When Denver’s defense takes their foot off the gas, one of the Raiders’ receivers is likely to capitalize. In cash games, the play is Jones whose 5 receptions per game offer the higher floor, but the upside play is clearly Holmes, who has gained 39.5% of his total receiving yards on receptions of 20+ yards.
Torrey Smith ($3,500) - If you plan on paying up for guys like Rodgers, Forte, or DeMarco Murray ($8,600), you’re going to need some inexpensive roster filler. Smith has been more useful than not lately, catching a total of four TDs in his last four games, and gets one of the best one-on-one WR-CB matchups of the week with Tennessee’s Blidi Wreh-Wilson. Wilson has let up 187 YAC and four TDs to opposing WRs this season. Smith has a 35+ yard TD catch in two out of his last three games, and I like his chances to make three out of four.
RUBBING ALCOHOL (MINIMUM PLAYS)
Jared Cook ($3,000) - Cook has seen his targets dwindle to just 3.6 per game in his last three outings, compared to 8.4 per game in his first five. However, even in the last three games, his 11 combined targets are only one behind Kenny Britt’s 12 for the team lead, so it’s not as though Cook is no longer involved in the game plan. He should be able to get back on track against the Cardinals, who have allowed big games to Antonio Gates (6-81), Larry Donnell (7-81), Julius Thomas (6-66-2), and Jordan Reed (8-92) this season. Cook’s ceiling is reasonably high in this matchup, and his floor should be in the same neighborhood as Zach Ertz’s 5-48 Week 8 performance against Arizona.