It's week 15, and if you're in the playoffs, you're likely facing some tough decisions about whom to start this week. A rash of injuries befell some of the league's top players last week, and their ability to help your team going forward is in serious doubt. Even if you were not among the less fortunate and managed to escape last week uninjured, you can't relax. You need to cock block your opponents and make sure they don't steal a win from the free agent market.
The biggest question out there right now revolves around the status of Adrian Peterson, who was knocked out of that wild game against the Ravens last week with a foot injury. It seemed all but certain that he would be out for Week 15, but we are talking about the man who returned from shattered knee in record time and then proceeded to lead the league in rushing. Now, there is talk that he may return this week. This sort of limbo with Peterson's status is the worst possible news for fantasy owners. Toby Gerhart looked good in relief, scoring a 41-yard TD and would be a credible flex play if he was guaranteed to get all the carries. Now we don't know who to start.
It's the same situation in Oakland. Marcel Reece busted out for 123 yards rushing against a very good Jets defense last week. This week, Reshard Jennings may be back from injury and who knows how the coach will decide how to split their playing time. There's even been talk of rotating Tyrell Pryor in as a special package quarterback. He could kill both running backs' value.
Not that Maurice Jones-Drew's leading anyone to fantasy championships, anymore, but his status for this week is in doubt after he pulled a hamstring last week. Backup running back Justin Forsett was placed on injured reserve this week, so if Jones-Drew can't go, the starter will be Jordan Todman. The Jags play the Bills on Sunday, who are vulnerable to say the least. Jones-Drew is claiming he'll play, but how effective he'll be is another story entirely.
There is no doubt about Rob Gronkowski. If you were counting on him to help you win a championship, you'll need to look elsewhere as he's blown out his knee and is done for the year. Hopefully, you already have a quality backup tight end, but in case you dropped him, there are quality options available.
Wes Welker has been ruled out for the Thursday night game against San Diego. He suffered his second concussion in a month last week. The Broncos may use more two tight end sets in Welker's absence, so Jacob Tamme may have value. Also, Dennis Pitta is back from a hip injury for the Ravens. Joe Flacco loves his big tight end, and he scored a TD in his first game back against the Vikings last week.
Did you see what the Bears did to the Cowboys defense on Monday night? It was hoped that Aaron Rodgers would be back from his collar bone injury in time to take advantage of this great matchup in Jerry World this weekend; however, it appears likely that he won't be able to go. This is bad news for Jordy Nelson and James Jones owners who now have to decide whether Matt Flynn can do what Josh McCown did. I think the Packers will beat the Cowboys, but I would look elsewhere for fantasy points.
This is a week that you can't afford to put a goose egg on the board because you rolled with an injured player in your lineup. You have to maximize your output. When in doubt, choose the player who is sure to see the field.
Four games in Week 14 should offer a bounty of points for fantasy teams still trying to make the playoffs. Detroit at Philadelphia, Atlanta at Green Bay, Tennessee at Denver, and Dallas at Chicago are all good bets to light up the scoreboard like the Christmas tree you'll probably get stuck decorating instead of watching the games on Sunday. Each game offers either a defense among the worst in the league or else Peyton Manning at quarterback.
Detroit allows an average of 86.6 yards per game to the opposing team's No. 1 wide receiver and 61.4 yard per game to the No. 2 receiver which should mean Philadelphia wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Riley Cooper are good plays this week. On the other hand, Detroit's rush defense is just dirty. Expect them to shoot down LeSean McCoy.
Philadelphia's pass defense is just as bad as Detroit's, but their rushing defense is worse. They allow 83, 57, and 85 yards per game to the opponent's first, second, and third wide receivers respectively. Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush should find plenty of room to operate.
The status of Aaron Rodgers for Sunday's game against Atlanta is still up in the air, but you'll want to start Jordy Nelson, anyway. Even Matt Flynn should be able to put up decent stats against the league's second worst defense over the past few weeks. The Falcons gave up 163 yards to CJ Spiller last week, so put Eddie Lacy in your lineup, as well. On the other side of the ball, Roddy White may finally be healthy. Last week, he posted 143 yards on 10 catches against the Bills. Remember that Green Bay allowed Colin Kaepernick to scorch them for 412 yards. It's the only regular season game with more than 300 yards passing of his career. You may want to put Matt Ryan in your lineup too.
It's negative 7 degrees in Denver as I type this. The Titans are praying that the cold will linger because the weather is the only thing that will stop Peyton Manning. After two sub-par games, including less than 200 yards passing at New England, the temperatures across the country rose and so did Peyton's stats. He destroyed the Chiefs defense last week with 400 yards and 5 touchdowns. If it warms up again before Sunday, the only question with Denver is deciding which wide receiver he'll favor. Tennessee allows more passing yardage to tight ends and running backs than to receivers, therefore I expect Julius Thomas and Knowshon Moreno to get a good deal of the work even though both are dealing with injuries.
Finally, the Monday Night game features Dallas at Chicago. Both teams have skilled offense players and poor defenses. Dallas is the worst team in the league against No. 2 wide receivers, so Alshon Jeffery is a solid play once again this week. Josh McCown is proven that he's a quality backup in this league, and he should take advantage of the Dallas defense. Dallas' rushing defense is also very poor so the only thing that might keep Matt Forte from a big week is if Chicago falls behind and is forced to abandon the running game. That's a strong possibility considering Chicago's rush defense, so start DeMarco Murray this week. Their passing defense is a bit better but they still allow nearly 8 receptions and 80 yards per game to opponent's tight ends. Jason Witten might be up for a big game, too.
At this point in the year, many leagues have trade deadlines. This is to prevent the teams with no shot at making the playoffs from trading their best players to those teams which are still in contention and thus altering the competitive balance of the season. In redraft leagues this policy makes sense. What do the bad teams have to gain? But in keeper and dynasty leagues you may still have the opportunity to improve your team through a trade no matter which side of the playoff divide you may be on.
If it looks likely that you'll make the playoffs, it's time to dump the dead weight. Any players that stand little chance of making your starting lineup over the next few weeks need to go. Perhaps you're still holding that handcuff running back or the wide receiver who is about to "break out." Get rid of them. If they haven't broken out yet, you'll never trust them in the playoffs. Your job right now is to maximize the potential output of your team over the next four weeks. In order to do that, you need to forget about tomorrow and play for today. Plan to win now. Your never know when your star tight end will get indicted for murder over the summer.
The classic method of winning a trade is to offer multiple mediocre players for a single stud. The reason this method never works for the team getting a package of players has to do with replacement costs and roster limitations. First of all, it's not a 2-for-1 trade. The team receiving the two players must drop someone in addition to replacing the player they traded. Secondly, you cannot replace the points scored by Calvin Johnson by starting two WR in his place. So, don't fall for this trick. Demand more than bulk.
The way to trade fairly at this juncture of the season is to swap youth for experience. Potential has value in keeper and dynasty leagues. Teams in contention should try to acquire someone like Wes Welker. Welker is getting older and has a history of concussions, but he's a pass catching machine and he's in a potent offense. He can definitely improve your starting roster over the remainder of the season. Don't be afraid to trade Nuk Hopkins or Giovanni Bernard if they are not part of your winning strategy this year. Too often we fall in love with our prospects and fail to account for the risk they represent. As the saying goes, potential gets coaches fired.
On the flip side, missing out on the playoffs also gets coaches fired. If you missed the playoffs, shop your older experienced players like Antonio Gates and Frank Gore. You may be able to start a bidding war between the contenders that produces a player that will help you down the road. Remember, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things.
Thankfully, it's the final week of dealing with teams on a bye. Philly, Cincinnati, Buffalo, and Seattle all have the week off before the Thanksgiving holiday. While you won't have the Eagles passing defense to beat up on, you can still exploit the equally terrible passing defenses of the Vikings, Lions, and Cowboys. Start wide receivers and quarterbacks on the Packers, Buccaneers, and Giants. Likewise, the terrible rushing defense of the Bills is not playing so look to start Zac Stacy against the Bears, Ben Tate against the Jaguars, and Frank Gore against the Redskins.
These last few games of the fantasy regular season are the most frustrating for owners trying to make the playoffs. Coaches' decisions are crucial to your team's success. The assumption we make when we set our lineups each week, is that coaches will make rational decisions about whom to put on the field and about what plays give them the best chance to score points. When these assumptions are violated, it can wreak havoc on your fantasy day. We all understand that situations arise which require teams to adjust their game strategy, but nothing is more frustrating than a coach who makes seemingly whimsical decisions that negatively impact your players.
Fantasy owners may want to beware of Texans head coach Gary Kubiak. This week, Kubiak benched starting quarterback Case Keenum with the Texans losing to the Raiders 28-17 and replaced him with former starter Matt Schaub for no apparent reason whatsoever. Keenum was 13 of 24 for 170 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT when he was benched in the third quarter. Schaub came in and finished 12 of 25 for 155 yards with 0 TD and 0 INTs and failed to lead Houston to victory despite being in the red zone three times. Kubiak explained the decision was about not putting a young quarterback in a bad situation and then growled that he didn't have time to explain what he meant. This situation just means headaches for fantasy owners going forward. Despite the 10-game losing streak, the Texans have offensive playmakers you'll want to start, but they will be difficult to trust in your lineup with Kubiak coaching.
The situation in the Arizona backfield has been baffling. While Andre Ellington had only 3 yards rushing on 8 carries on Sunday against the Jaguars, he's averaged 6.3 yards per carry on the season. Still, Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians stubbornly insists on giving the ball to Rashard Mendenhall despite his 2.9 yards per carry average. Ellington is averaging only about 7 carries per game while Mendenhall averages over 13. In the one game Mendenhall sat out with an injury, Ellington ran for 154 yards and a TD on 15 carries. Mendenhall has failed to run for more than 66 yards in any game this season. It seems clear to everyone except Bruce Arians that Ellington should be the starter in Arizona.
Carolina head coach Ron Rivera is one of the most conservative coaches in the NFL. He could be relied upon to always kick the field goal on fourth down no matter what the circumstance. As a result, he was 2-14 in one score games over the first 34 games of his coaching career. Then, in week 3 against the Giants, Rivera accidentally went for it on fourth and one when he thought the Panthers had made a first down on the two yard line. The bowling ball Mike Tolbert rolled into the endzone and "Riverboat" Ron the gambler was born. Since then, the Panthers have converted 4 of 5 fourth downs. The problem with trusting Riverboat Ron is his crowded backfield. Carolina recently got Jonathon Stewart back from injury, and they now have 3 running options again. The RBBC has long been the bane of fantasy existence. You never know which back will get the "hot hand" and the majority of carries. On Monday night, Cam Newton led the team in rushing yards and rushing attempts. Carolina is another team who can't be trusted down the stretch.
The assumption of rational coaching is an important factor to consider when setting your lineup in these crucial late season and playoff games. You can't afford to hope that a player will get opportunities to put up points. Shanahanigans is a bad word for a reason.
Now, hear me out before you call me crazy, but I think it's time to trade Peyton Manning. I know, Manning is a lock for the MVP at this point in the season. He has 3,249 yards passing and 33 touchdowns with only 6 interceptions this year, and if he continues at this pace, he'll finish the year with over 5,700 yards and 58 touchdowns. Both numbers would obliterate the NFL single-season records. But Manning has never thrown for more than 5,000 yards in his career, and there are reasons to believe he won't be able to keep up his current pace.
First of all, Peyton Manning is 37 years old. On Monday, he had another MRI on the ankle that he sprained over a month ago. The nagging injuries are not healing as quickly as they used to, and this is the time of the season when they seem to accumulate. In addition to the high-ankle sprain, there is speculation that he's dealing with an injured shoulder and perhaps an injured knee, as well. The League has figured out one of the only ways to slow him down is to rough him up like the Colts, Jags, and Chargers have recently done.
It's not likely that the remaining teams on the Broncos schedule will take it easy on Peyton. This week, the Broncos host the No. 1 overall defense of the division rival and undefeated Kansas City Chiefs. Then they get the Patriots, the Chiefs again, and the Titans, all of whom are among the league's top 10 defenses. The Broncos end the season against the Chargers, Texans, and Raiders. Only the Texans are not in the top 20 defenses. So far this season, Denver has played one of the easiest schedules in the entire league. Going forward, they play one of the toughest.
Another problem that Manning may have is the weather. Peyton has a reputation of under-performing in cold weather games, and the statistics seem to back up that theory. He is 0-4 in playoff games when the temperature is below 40 degrees. When the Broncos lost to the Ravens in the playoffs last year, it was 13 degrees at kickoff. In the double overtime game, Manning finished with 290 yards, 3 TDs, and 2 INTs. The Colts, who know Manning better than anyone, opened their dome this year when Manning came to town. When winter comes to Denver, Manning will start to look mortal.
Despite his health, schedule, and history in cold weather, it's probable that Manning will set career marks for passing and touchdowns this season. In order to reach 5,000 passing yards and 50 touchdowns, he needs to put up 250 yards and 2.5 touchdowns per game the rest of the way. While these are decent fantasy numbers, they are nowhere near the 361 yards and over 3.5 touchdowns he's averaged so far. They are also numbers you can get from lesser fantasy QBs. Ben Roethlisberger, brother Eli, and Joe Flacco all average more than 250 yards per game, and they may still be available on your waiver wire.
If you were to put Manning on the market, you could fill a lot of holes in your lineup. It wouldn't be unreasonable to ask for Nick Foles and Calvin Johnson. Or Marshawn Lynch and Alshon Jeffery. Or Gronk and Philip Rivers. If you've got the guts to let Manning go, you could assemble the parts to do something Manning has trouble doing every year. You could make a run in the playoffs.