We have finally reached Week 14, which for most leagues means the beginning of the fantasy playoffs. It’s time to play to win this week and also try to set your team up for the next two weeks where possible. Take weather into account, grab your handcuffs if you haven’t already and be on the lookout for any breakout talents that can step in and help your fantasy team achieve the ultimate goal. There are a ton of new big names on the wire this week, outside of a cocky quarterback from Texas, as many of the best options were guys we mentioned in previous weeks.
Johnny Manziel, CLE - I will admit that I didn’t think we would have to wait until Week 13 to see Manziel in his first significant action of the season. The Browns were winning with local bou Brian Hoyer which kept the former Heisman trophy winner plastered to the bench. After Hoyer threw his sixth interception in three weeks and continued to fail to get the Browns into the endzone, coach Mike Pettine finally made the switch to Manziel. At this point, the starter for this week hasn’t been named (and won’t be until Wednesday), but I just don’t see how the Browns can go back to Hoyer at this point. Manziel immediately flashed more playmaking ability in his first drive than Hoyer has all year, and capped off a nifty 80-yard drive with a 10-yard rushing touchdown. His passes had more zip on them and his ability to extend plays with his legs will be necessary with the Browns offensive line woes. Manziel has plenty of upside due to his running ability, so pick him up if you need a quarterback or want to keep him off your competitors' teams.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, HOU - Fitzpatrick made his first start since getting benched for Ryan Mallett a memorable one, tossing six touchdowns against the Titans. If you scooped him up and plugged him into your lineup in a two-quarterback league, you are surely smiling today. You also will be hard pressed to take him out with the Jaguars on tap this week.
Colt McCoy, WAS - McCoy’s final statline looked better than he did in the 49-27 loss to the Colts, but with 392 yards and three touchdowns on the day, he definitely did enough to hang onto the starting job heading into this week’s game against St. Louis. The Rams can make life miserable for opposing quarterbacks, and McCoy had ball control issues last week, but he could be the best option available in really deep leagues for streaming purposes this week.
Shaun Hill has a nice connection going with Stedman Bailey and a decent matchup against the Redskins this week. Teddy Bridgewater gets the Jets at home which gives him some appeal in dual-QB formats. Blake Bortles finally got a signature win, leading the Jaguars to the big comeback over the Giants. He has a decent fantasy playoff schedule with home games against the Texans this week and Titans in Week 16. Drew Stanton didn’t do much against the Falcons, so his owners shouldn’t feel very secure with the Chiefs defense coming to town.
Dan Herron, IND - With no new running backs breaking through last week, Herron gets a bump up the list this week as a potential flex-starter for the fantasy playoffs. He is the only Colts back you want to own and has stepped right into the Ahmad Bradshaw role in the offense. The next step for him is to steal even more work from the ineffective Trent Richardson. There is upside for the guy they call “Boom” in this explosive offense starting this week against a Browns team that has had trouble stopping the run all year long.
LeGarrette Blount, NE - Blount seemed to further take command of the “power-back” role in the Patriots offense, rushing for 58 yards on ten carries. The other running back carries broke down as follows: Shane Vereen (3), Brandon Bolden (3) and Jonas Gray (1). Bolden vultured the lone touchdown run on the day, but I expect Blount to be the best bet to score this week. Jonas Gray is likely worth dropping if you need the roster spot, but it is never easy to predict what Bill Belichick will do with his running backs any given week. With some tough run defenses ahead for the fantasy playoffs, it will be hard to trust Blount or any Patriots running back in the fantasy playoffs.
Doug Martin, TB - Martin is back as the Bucs lead rusher, and he found the endzone last week for only the second time all year. He is worth grabbing for depth heading into the playoffs, but you will not want to force him into the lineup this week against the stout Detroit Lions rush defense. Week 15 against the Panthers offers a better chance to throw him in your lineup again. PPR-owners will want to look elsewhere, since he is basically invisible in the passing game with the emergence of Charles Sims as the pass-catching back.
Jonathan Stewart, CAR - Stewart was the lone bright spot for the Panthers last week, rushing for a season-high 85 yards on 12 carries. DeAngelo Williams also apparently suffered a broken finger, which could keep him out of action this week against the Saints. It boosts Stewart's value and at least makes him worth adding to your fantasy bench heading into the playoffs.
Matt Asiata, MIN - If Jerick McKinnon can’t go this week, that will leave Asiata as the lead back. Asiata isn’t that talented, but he has a nose for the endzone and will get all of the goal line work, even once McKinnon makes it back. It gives him some value as an emergency play for RB-needy teams entering the fantasy playoffs.
Marion Grice could get the start for Arizona if Andre Ellington can’t go due to the hip pointer suffered last week. He is a middling talent and won’t get the goal line carries, but he is as close as you might get to a plug-n-play option in deep leagues this week. Andre Williams could get a bump in value this week if Rashad Jennings' ankle injury sidelines him. He hasn’t performed that well this season, but neither has the Titans defense. We listed a bunch of the top handcuffs in last week’s column. Rather than list them again, we’ll just repeat the mantra that if you are in the playoffs, handcuff your stud running back appropriately.
Kenny Stills, NO - Don’t look now, but Stills may be emerging as the Saints top WR, just in time for the fantasy playoffs. He has been our top add for the last two weeks, ever since Brandin Cooks went down with an injury. After hauling in five of Drew Brees’ passes for 162 yards and a long touchdown, he should be picked up everywhere and anywhere he is still available thanks to a playoff schedule that will continue to provide him with opportunities to make plays. It doesn’t hurt when the other team floods extra attention towards Jimmy Graham, daring Brees to beat them with someone else. At this point, that guy looks like Stills. Stills could be a player that puts your team over the top in the fantasy playoffs, so hopefully you grabbed him two weeks ago when we first advised you to.
Davante Adams, GB - Adams finally had a breakout game, catching six balls for 121 yards. He benefitted from the excellent play of the Patriots cornerbacks on Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson, so you shouldn’t expect a repeat this week against the Falcons secondary. That said, Aaron Rodgers does trust him enough to throw him the ball when he needs to, and that has value. He is worth a roster spot as depth, and even as a potential hedge against an injury to either Cobb or Nelson down the stretch.
Stedman Bailey, STL - We were wrong to completely ignore Bailey last week and admit that we thought his Week 12 performance was a one week mirage. But after he torched the Raiders for 100 yards on five catches, all before halftime, we have to at least acknowledge that he looks like an asset for fantasy owners for the next few weeks. Due to his lack of size (5’10", 193), he is never going to be a big red zone target, but the Rams are getting creative with him, and getting the ball into his hands in space where he can do some damage. It is kind of the role that Tavon Austin was supposed to fill when the team drafted him. PPR owners could do worse than to take a chance on Bailey against the Washington secondary this week.
Donte Moncrief, IND - It took three weeks since his last big game, but Moncrief finally put the last nails into Hakeem Nicks’ role as the number three WR in the Colts offense. It shouldn’t have taken this long, but his big 132-yard, two touchdown day shows the upside for a player with Moncrief’s skills in this offense. He is a boom-or-bust player as long as he isn’t seeing starter’s snaps, but if Reggie Wayne or T.Y. Hilton were to get hurt, then Moncrief could be fantasy gold for the team that has him on their roster.
Robert Woods had another solid outing, and Kyle Orton seems to like throwing the ball to him, especially on third down. With a fantasy schedule that includes games against Denver, Green Bay and finally Oakland, there will be plenty of opportunities for Woods to help fantasy teams over the next three weeks. Harry Douglas showed us last year that he can be productive when forced into a starting role, which he will fill as long as Roddy White is sidelined. Marqise Lee is the last of the rookie class of wideouts waiting to make a big impact this season. He finally perked up fantasy owners' interest with his 75-yard, one-touchdown performance last week.
Jordan Reed, WAS - Reed has had a frustrating season as one of many top TE’s to spend more time on the trainer’s table than on the field. He made it back on the field last week and showed what he can do when his legs are healthy. He also now has a quarterback in Colt McCoy who is looking to get the ball in his hands. If he can stay on the field, he has a trio of nice matchups through the fantasy playoffs and can easily continue to put up TE1 numbers the rest of the way.
Kyle Rudolph, MIN - Rudolph hasn’t come back that strongly from injury, but he did finally find the endzone last week. This week, he gets a Jets defense that gives up a ton of points to opposing tight ends, so if you have been waiting for the chance to use him, this might be as good as it gets for the Vikings red zone threat.
Minnesota Vikings - The Vikings get the Jets at home this week, which should mean a low scoring affair and some turnovers if the Jets decide to actually try and throw the ball.
Green Bay Packers - Once upon a time, you would never have thought to target the Falcons offense, especially in a fantasy playoff week. But the Falcons offense slows down outside of the dome, and this is a Packers defense that can take advantage of the Falcons crumbling offensive line in the icy cold of Lambeau.
Connor Barth, DEN - Barth came off the scrap heap to go 5-for-5 in his first game as a Bronco. Playing in this offense always gives the kicker a nice solid floor to stand on, with obvious upside anytime Peyton Manning struggles a bit as he did last week. The Bills defense can stall some drives, so Barth could be in for another busy week.
We have made it to Week 13, which for most of you means the final week of the fantasy season and hopefully the beginning of a long and fruitful playoff run for your various teams. This week brings a host of games on Thanksgiving, so plan accordingly. It also is the time of the season when you want to gear your roster with an eye to the playoffs. That means making room for neccessary handcuffs and perhaps even grabbing an extra defense if you want to play matchups in the playoffs.
Kyle Orton, BUF - Orton predictably bounced back against the Jets last week, and he should be able to keep the momentum going this week against a Browns defense that tends to play better at home than on the road. The running game is still stalling a bit, which puts the ball firmly in the veteran’s hands. He has been doing a great job of avoiding turnovers and has a pretty decent schedule during the fantasy playoffs, which makes him a nice QB2 target for leagues that start two quarterbacks.
Brian Hoyer, CLE - Hoyer had possibly his worst game of the season last week against the Falcons, and needed an electric final game-winning drive to perhaps save his job for another week. The Cleveland native made a host of bad throws on Sunday, leading to three interceptions, including one on first-and-goal on the six-yard line that should have cost the Browns the ballgame. But Hoyer survived to start another week and will have a full week of practice to get on the same page with Josh Gordon and hopefully get TE Jordan Cameron back as well. The Browns running game is rolling, which should open up the the rest of the field and give Hoyer a good chance to put up solid numbers this week.
Colt McCoy, WAS - The word is that the Redskins will announce today that McCoy will get the start this week with Robert Griffin III headed to the bench. It is a stunning turn of events and kind of sad to see Griffin look as lost as he has on the field lately. He obviously needs a change of scenery and he very well could have played his last game in a Washington uniform. McCoy looked very good in his one start, a thrilling victory against the Cowboys, and he can’t play any worse than Griffin has of late. He won’t be a season-saver in redraft leagues, but those in two quarterback leagues can plug him in with a reasonable expectation of some solid production.
Zach Mettenberger has two touchdown passes in three of his last four starts and has some soft matchups through the fantasy playoffs. Ryan Mallett’s season-ending injury likely puts Ryan Fitzpatrick back under center this week. Teddy Bridgewater looked better last week and has a chance to make some noise against the Jets. Drew Stanton struggled against the Seahawks but should have an easier time of it against the Falcons this week.
Isaiah Crowell, CLE - If you have been reading this column all year, you know that I have been clamoring for the Browns to put the ball in Crowell’s hands for weeks now. It finally occurred last week, and the undrafted rookie turned in a nifty performance, capped off by an electric 26-yard touchdown where he broke multiple tackles on his way to the score. He is easily more explosive than Terrance West and has the edge when it comes to scoring touchdowns, which gives him much more upside. He could have had three or more touchdowns last week if Kyle Shanahan had just called his number on first down near the goal-line last week instead of calling a pass play that almost cost them the game. He’s an ideal flex play the rest of the way, if you have the luxury of using him there, since he is still going to share carries with West.
Latavius Murray, OAK - We were somewhat tepid in our praise of Murray last week, mainly because we didn’t have faith that the Raiders would do the right thing and give the younger Murray a legitimate shot over the tired veterans on the team. They proved me wrong, although a lot of it had to do with the fact that Murray ran over people on his way to 112 yards and two touchdowns. We were correct to mention last week that he was a cheap option with plenty of upside, and now, barring any late injuries, he could be the last big running back to emerge before the fantasy playoffs start. There are some red flags for Murray, the first being that he suffered a concussion last week. The second is that the Raiders still stink and the schedule includes some very tough matchups for the young running back. Still, he has to be owned, and is worth a significant bid, even if it means just keeping him off your opponents' rosters.
Daniel Herron, IND - We should have known that Trent Richardson wouldn’t be able to take advantage of Ahmad Bradshaw’s injury to take hold of feature back duties for the rest of the season. We figured Herron would get his share of work last week, but he drew the start and it looks like he will have a chance make this an even split in the Colts backfield. That is enough for him to be the weekly flex start that Bradshaw was for most of the season.
LeGarrette Blount, NE - You gotta love the genius, who broke the hearts of Jonas Gray owners last week by benching the waiver wire darling for missing a team meeting. It opened the door for the just signed Blount to take over as the power back en route to two touchdowns and at least a piece of the running back pie going forward. As I said last week, it is a fool’s errand to try and predict what Belichick will do with his running backs in any given week, but the Packers can be run on, so whoever gets the early down work could be in for a nice day. He is worth rostering just in case Belichick decides he needs to make the rookie suffer for at least another week.
Pierre Thomas, NO - Thomas made it back on the field last week and immediately reclaimed his role as the primary pass-catching back in the Saints offense. He can once again be trusted as a solid source of points for PPR owners. The Saints have a very pass-freindly schedule down the stretch, so Thomas has a nice floor going forward.
Andre Williams was still involved last week with Rashad Jennings back. He should hang onto enough carries and goal-line work to be a solid flex-play. Doug Martin made it back onto the field and out-touched Charles Sims last week. Brandon Oliver got a little work after Ryan Mathews' injury, meaning don’t go dropping him just yet since Mathews is always an injury waiting to happen. Carlos Hyde, Knile Davis, Joseph Randle, James Starks, KaDeem Carey and Juwan Thompson are all handcuffs behind workhorse backs that should be owned as we enter the fantasy playoffs.
Kenny Stills, NO - Stills retains the top slot for another week after a predictable bump in usage last week in the wake of Brandin Cooks' injury. The Saints schedule the rest of the way sets up Stills for success in the fantasy playoffs and the bump in usage makes him a much less risky start than he was with Cooks in the lineup. He has a solid floor now with big upside if he and Drew Brees start connecting on some long balls.
Jarvis Landry, MIA - Landry has been a mainstay of this column lately and just keeps on producing for Ryan Tannehill. He scored another two touchdowns last week and has gotten more targets (32) than any Dolphins wideout over the last four weeks. He would be my top choice this week for PPR owners and is a solid WR3 in all leagues this week against the lowly Jets.
John Brown, ARZ - Brown was the best player on the field for the Cards last week against the Seahawks, and he flashed some of his playmaking ability filling in for the injured Larry Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald is still hurting and the Falcons have one of the worst secondaries in the league this year. Drew Stanton keeps his ceiling low, but Brown is a worthy plug-in for Fitzgerald owners and anyone looking for a boost at the WR3 spot.
Andrew Hawkins, CLE - Josh Gordon’s return didn’t hurt Hawkins' numbers last week, as the speedy receiver gained 90 yards for the third time this year. Gordon allowed him to work in single coverage over the middle and he gained much of his yardage after the catch. Brian Hoyer trusts him and he will continue to be a key part of Kyle Shanahan’s offense, especially when they choose to go up-tempo. His lack of scoring keeps him mainly a PPR asset.
Charles Johnson, MIN - Johnson is getting starter's snaps and targets and looks like the Vikings wide receiver to own right now. Any Vikings wide receiver is kind of a desperation play with Teddy Bridgewater under center, but this week’s tilt at home against the Panthers gives him another chance to build on his mini-breakout.
Donte Moncrief is working his way up the pecking order for the Colts. He is better than Hakeem Nicks and gaining on Reggie Wayne. He is worth finding a spot on your roster in deep leagues, just in case he “Lucks” into a starting role during the fantasy playoffs. Kenny Britt’s day would have been better were it not for a penalty that canceled out a touchdown grab. Andre Holmes could be re-emerging in time for the fantasy playoffs. He showed what he can do if he gets the targets. Robert Woods had a big game last week and could benefit from Joe Haden blanketing Sammy Watkins all day. Justin Hunter scored on a fluky deflected pass, so don’t go forcing him into your lineup this week.
Jordan Cameron, CLE - He is likely stashed away in most deeper leagues, but he is widely available in shallower formats after missing the last four weeks due to a concussion. He will return to the field this week, giving the Browns their full compliment of weapons on offense for the first time all season. I am not sure I would trust him this week against the Bills, but Gordon’s presence opens up everything for the other playmakers in this offense and that includes Cameron.
Kyle Rudolph, MIN - Rudolph finally made an impact last week, catching three passes for 50 yards. He should benefit from the matchup at home against the Panthers and is as good a bet as any Viking receiver to find the end zone this week. With the way the tight end position has played out this year, Rudolph is a borderline TE1 the rest of the way, with upside if Bridgewater finally gains some confidence down the stretch.
Tim Wright, NE - Wright was featured last week more than he has been in weeks, as the Patriots employed the two-TE offense against the Lions stout run defense. It resulted in five catches and two touchdowns. I doubt he gets used that much against the Packers this week, but he is still a great hedge against a Rob Gronkowski injury and a sneaky play any time the Patriots face a team that can stop the run.
Brent Celek could see an increase in work this week if Zach Ertz is limited in any way. Vernon Davis may be getting healthier in time for the fantasy playoffs. He has been one of many frustrating players at the position this season, but perhaps last week is a sign that he has at least one big game in him down the line. Dion Sims filled in for the injured Charles Clay and could have some streaming value if Clay can’t make it back for Monday Night.
St. Louis Rams - The Rams defense has been racking up sacks lately and playing very well against highly productive offenses. This week, they get the Raiders at home which makes them a streamer's delight.
New York Giants - The Giants get to play Jacksonville this week, which has been the streamer’s team to pick on all year. If you have been going to this well repeatedly, I see no reason to stop now.
KICKERBlair Walsh, MIN - Walsh has a big leg that can deliver from 50 yards and a matchup against the Panthers that could lead to multiple attempts from distance.
It's not a really big week on the wire, but there are still some players to take a chance on. The bye weeks are coming to a close, so it's time to start thinking about geting your squad ready for the playoffs. That means handcuffing your key back and getting backups to play the matchups in the playoffs if needed. Trade deadlines are also hitting soon in many leagues, so take a look around and see if there are any deals to be made in your league with the also-rans or those desperate for a win this week.
Bye Weeks: Baltimore Ravens, Dallas Cowboys, Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Jets
Mark Sanchez, PHI - We led off with Sanchez last week, and he responded well in his first start as an Eagle, throwing for 332 yards and two touchdowns in a blowout of the Panthers. He connected with rookie Jordan Mathews on both of his touchdown throws and brought Brent Celek back to life (much to the chagrin of Zach Ertz owners). Other than a Week 14 tilt against the Seahawks, the schedule sets up pretty well for the former Jet the rest of the way, so he should be picked up by any owner who has doubts about their starter heading into the stretch drive. He should be able to keep producing in Chip Kelly’s offense, so don’t let past transgressions keep you from pulling the trigger.
Kyle Orton, BUF - Orton returns again this week, but his inclusion is more with an eye down the road than it is for this week’s matchup against the Dolphins. He obviously missed Sammy Watkins last week against the Chiefs and a short week means his best weapon will again be at less than full speed. But once this hurdle is cleared, the fantasy prospects look much brighter, starting with the Jets in Week 12. He’s going to be a solid streaming option and an asset down the stretch in two-QB leagues.
Josh McCown, TB - Before the season began, McCown was one of the more popular sleeper candidates. Instead, he fizzled to start the year, before an injury opened the door for Mike Glennon to grab the job for the last six weeks. McCown finally got a second chance last week and performed well against the Falcons. He has back-to-back road games against the Redskins and Bears, which means he should continue to put up respectable numbers the next two weeks.
Teddy Bridgewater, MIN - Bridgewater is sitting on plenty of waiver wires this week, and he gets to face the Bears coming off his bye. The Bears have been getting roasted the past few weeks, which gives the rookie plenty of appeal if you need to navigate your bye this week. Kyle Rudolph should return soon, which will provide more help in the red zone.
Drew Stanton takes over for Carson Palmer in Arizona and has some upside thanks to Bruce Arians' offense and a nice set of weapons, but he’s more of an emergency/bench type that you don’t really want to rely upon except in leagues where you have to start two quarterbacks. Zach Mettenberger should bounce back against the Steelers this week, giving him some upside as a desperation play. Ryan Mallett draws the start this week for the Texans against an improving Browns secondary that just gave Andy Dalton fits.
C.J. Anderson, DEN - A combination of injuries and ineffectiveness by Ronnie Hillman finally got Anderson a shot in the Broncos backfield and he looked great. We have talked about him earlier in the year, back when Hillman first got his shot, and always believed he was the back to watch in Denver. He has the best combination of talents for this offense and should get a chance to state his case while Hillman is sidelined. Montee Ball is slated to return, which could throw a monkey wrench into things, as will Hillman’s eventual return. Obviously, whoever emerges as the lead back in this offense is someone you want to have on your team for the fantasy playoffs, so Anderson should be a priority this week.
Charles Sims, TB - Sims didn’t set the world on fire in his first action of the year, but this is still a backfield in flux, and Sims should continue to improve and could take control by the time the fantasy playoffs arrive. If you like to add depth for a playoff run, Sims still has that upside intact, but even I have to say I am less excited than I was a couple weeks ago. Still, I might wait a week, unless I could swap him for Anderson. If you are looking for more immediate returns, then you may want to look elsewhere this week.
Isaiah Crowell, CLE - I know, I keep throwing Crowell’s name into this column week after week. I can’t help myself. He is the most talented back the Browns have on the roster and if they continue to make a run for the playoffs, I still think he is going to be a big part of it. He’s still third in the pecking order behind Terrance West and Ben Tate, but I am stashing him in leagues where I can.
Carlos Hyde, SF - Hyde is going to continue to get more work as the season moves on, both to keep Frank Gore healthy and because he has looked great when they have put the ball in his hands. He’s only one injury away from being a workhorse back.
Theo Riddick could get back on the field if Reggie Bush’s ankle sidelines him again. He didn’t do much in relief last week, but he can provide some PPR value if he gets the touches. Roy Helu also could provide some PPR value this week against Tampa Bay. Damien Williams should lead any RBBC in Miami if Lamar Miller is sidelined. Matt Asiata will hang onto his role as the goal-line back for now, and he scored three times his last game. Joseph Randle had a big touchdown run last week and would take over as the primary runner if DeMarco Murray were to get injured.
Jordan Matthews, PHI - We had high hopes that Matthews would finally emerge with the move to Mark Sanchez at quarterback and things went just as planned, at least for the first week. Sanchez looked to the rookie early and often and found him for two touchdown passes last week. Sanchez likes to throw the short and intermediate passes that are Matthews’ bread-and-butter, and they showed the chemistry that they have built during the off-season. The Eagles offense has a lot of moving parts, but you have to like it when a quarterback has something going with a particular receiver. Matthews' stock is on the rise and he now looks like a solid WR3 with upside.
Greg Jennings, MIN - Jennings qualifies this week as a solid bye-week replacement thanks to the matchup with the Bears. He is getting targets every week, so at the very least he has a decent floor to stand on, with a great chance of finding the end zone this week against a reeling Bears defense.
Jarvis Landry, MIA - Landry has settled into his role in this offense and makes for a decent bye-week replacement for PPR owners. He saw ten targets last week and has supplanted Brian Hartline as the No. 2 option behind Mike Wallace.
Marqise Lee, JCK - The season-ending injury to Allen Robinson gives Lee the opportunity to set in and finally make some noise next week coming out of the Jaguars' bye. He has plenty of talent, so deep leaguers might want to take a shot on him this week while the price is right and hope that he rewards them in his first start of the year.
We still think it’s time for the Broncos to see what Cody Latimer can bring to the field. He’s a speculative buy in deep leagues. Jermaine Kearse finally connected on a deep throw from Russell Wilson and just missed another that would have been a touchdown. He’s a boom-or-bust option. Justin Hunter has really struggled of late as the lackluster quarterback play has hurt his development. Still, he has some upside in a matchup against the Steelers.
Mychal Rivera, OAK - Rivera gets a bump up the list this week coming off another solid outing that saw him find the end zone again. He is seeing plenty of action and Derek Carr keeps looking his way as a safety net. He’s a solid streamer against the Chargers this week.
Kyle Rudolph, MIN - We have been banging the drum on Rudolph for weeks as he neared his return to action, which could come as early as this week. The Vikings might not fully use him until Week 12, but once he is back up to speed, he should once again become a key red zone target. Norv Turner loves throwing to his TE’s and will not hesitate to get Rudolph involved.
Coby Fleener, IND - Fleener is coming off his best game of the season prior to the team’s bye and has a long history with Andrew Luck from their days at Stanford. The game against the Patriots figures to be a high-scoring affair, meaning there should be enough balls flying around to give Fleener a start if you are thin at TE this week.
Brent Celek, PHI - We mentioned in the Sanchez blurb how he got Celek involved in the offense last week. He looked great and could get more work as a result. He shouldn’t be seen as a safe option with Zach Ertz still around, but at least he has some desperation appeal again.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins bounced back last week, finding the end zone with Josh McCown at the helm. It at least has the arrow pointing in the right direction again. Jace Amaro is on bye this week but he caught a touchdown last week and seemed to have some chemistry with Michael Vick. Jared Cook finally broke free for a big TD. Don’t buy into it too much, but he does have some bye-week appeal.
Cleveland Browns - The Browns defense always plays better at home and returns there after a rousing performance against the Bengals last week. The team finds themselves in first place and will welcome rookie Ryan Mallett to the Dawg Pound.
New Orleans Saints - The Saints will host Andy Dalton coming off a horrible performance against the Browns last week. They also have a very tantalizing playoff schedule, something for teams headed there to think about.
KICKERMatt Bryant, ATL - This week’s kicker dart lands on Matt Bryant, in a matchup against a Panthers team that just got humiliated by the Eagles.
We have finally made it to the last of the bye weeks and playoff pictures should be coming into focus. This week also could be the time the trade deadline is slated to arrive. If you are still fighting for a playoff spot, you have some options to turn to thanks to a spate of injuries to key performers. If you have locked up a playoff spot, now is the time to get your house in order and perhaps play some defense on the waiver wire, keeping hot pickups off your competitor's rosters. Good luck this week and keep churning toward the finish line!
Bye Weeks: Carolina Panthers, Pittsburgh Steelers
Josh McCown, TB - We had McCown on the list last week and he delivered his second consecutive solid performance, with 288 yards, two touchdowns and no turnovers. He is thriving throwing the ball to Mike Evans and gets to face the Bears in his return to Chicago, where he earned his big free agent contract last year. The numbers he is putting up look better than he has played, truth be told, but the play of Evans will continue to allow him to put up points, especially in favorable matchups like this week.
Kyle Orton, BUF - It’s the time of year where we will have a lot of repeat customers on the report, since we mainly cover those players widely available in most leagues. Orton definitely qualifies, especially coming off last week’s down performance against the Dolphins. It came on a short week, with Sammy Watkins still at less than 100 percent, and we warned last week that you would want to look to this week’s matchup against the Jets at home to stream in the Bills quarterback.
Brian Hoyer, CLE - Hoyer and the Browns get Josh Gordon back this week, which can only help the offensive gameplan. While the rest of the Browns receivers have done an admirable job filling in, there simply isn’t anyone else on the roster that can bring the skill set that Gordon does to the field. We haven’t seen Hoyer work in Kyle Shanahan’s offense with a viable deep threat this year. It at least has the arrow pointing up with a defense that can’t stop the run and a schedule that isn’t exactly a murderer’s row of defenses on tap.
Drew Stanton looked pretty good last week but still has things to work on to reach his full potential in this offense. The Cards are on the road against the Seahawks, which could mean a step back for Stanton this week. Ryan Mallett was very efficient against the Browns and wasn’t forced to do too much heavy lifting with the running game humming. He has a big arm and solid receivers to work with, so there is some upside as a QB2 here. Shaun Hill did enough last week to hang onto the starting job for the time being. He has value in deeper leagues where any QB starting has value.
Tre Mason, STL - Mason has kind of plodded along through a tough string of games before finally topping 100 yards for the first time all year against the Broncos last week. He has clearly established himself as the lead dog for the Rams, and as last week demonstrates, will be most effective when the Rams defense can dominate and allow the team to play with a lead. The schedule is easing up at the right time for Mason to make some noise down the stretch, especially against the Giants in Week 16. If he isn’t available on your waiver wire, he makes a nice trade candidate.
Isaiah Crowell, CLE - We have been saying since the beginning of the season that Crowell was the most talented back on Mike Pettine’s roster. I think the coaches are finally coming around to the same decision as Crowell got the bulk of the carries last week, even after he fumbled early in the game. The Browns also released free agent Ben Tate, which leaves Crowell and Terrance West to handle the backfield duties going forward. West will have his moments, and the Browns will play the hot hand at times, but Crowell is the more complete back, and he will get the bulk of the goal-line work. If you have been patiently hanging onto him, you can finally run him out there as a flex with some confidence. Josh Gordon’s return should help the running game as opposing safeties can’t crowd the box against the Brownies anymore.
Jonas Gray, NE - The hulking Patriots back had a monster day against the Colts, rumbling for 200 yards and four touchdowns last week. It was the biggest day of any running back all year, and won anyone sage enough to have started him their week. He obviously is about to get picked up in all leagues this week, and justifiably, but as anyone who has ever lived and died with the Patriots running game knows, predicting what Bill Belichick will do in a given week is a fool’s errand. There will be weeks when the Pats want to pound the ball on the ground to slow a high octane offense down. That could mean some more good weeks ahead for Gray, such as Week 13 against Green Bay. This week against the Lions doesn’t look quite as good and the Pats face two solid run defenses (MIA, NYJ) in the fantasy playoffs. He should be owned, he can be started, but be sure to evaluate the matchups going forward.
Charles Sims, TB - Sims finally emerged as the Bucs top runner last week, earning more touches than Bobby Rainey, who started. The team will continue to want to get Sims work so they can evaluate him with an eye to next year. He should continue to lead the team in touches going forward, which could at least make him a viable flex candidate. He has more value in PPR leagues, since he can catch passes out of the backfield. The biggest problem for Sims’ outlook is that his team is pretty bad, falls behind early and abandons the running game. You still want to add a guy like Sims since he could really emerge over the next few weeks, and potentially pop off a big game during the fantasy playoffs.
Latavius Murray, OAK - Murray finally got some work last week and showed some flashes in limited action. The Raiders season is in the toilet, and they should give the younger players on the roster a chance to perform. Darren McFadden looks just about finished, but we have no guarantees that Murray will get more work than the veteran, even with the season in the toilet. There is some upside here, since Murray is a big back who can do damage in the open field. He’ll come cheaper than the others on this list and could continue to emerge down the stretch for the worst team in the league.
Dan Herron will take over as the new number two back in Indianapolis with Ahmad Bradshaw landing on I.R. yesterday. He is not a special talent, but neither is Trent Richardson. Herron figures to get 8-10 touches a week, which makes him a depth selection. Juwan Thompson is now the number two back in Denver with Ronnie Hillman and Montee Ball sidelined again. It at the very least makes him a viable lottery ticket in all formats. Joseph Randle, Knile Davis, James Starks and Alfred Blue are just a few of the better handcuffs who should be locked up by teams owning their lead backs heading into the playoffs.
Kenny Stills, NO - Brandin Cooks’ injury opens the door for Stills to finally make a biger impact in the Saints passing game as the season comes to a close. He will still be a boom or bust player, but at least he will see an uptick in targets as well as the types of routes the team lets him run. It doesn’t hurt that the schedule is pretty favorable for the Saints the rest of the way.
John Brown, ARI - Brown has had an impressive season as the No. 3 wideout for the Cardinals. Now Larry Fitzgerald has a sprained knee, which will give Brown more opportunities to bust a big play, and he has shown some nice chemistry with Drew Stanton under center. If you were relying on Fitzgerald, Brown should be at the top of your wish list.
Malcom Floyd, SD - The veteran isn’t exciting, but he has been very consistent this year and has been Philip Rivers' most reliable target for weeks. If you like to play it safe with your WR3 or flex starter, then Floyd is worth a look this week against the Rams.
Cody Latimer, DEN - I have been saying the Broncos should start giving Latimer a look as the team gears up for the playoffs and now the concussion suffered by Emmanuel Sanders may finally make it necessary. He has more talent and upside than either Wes Welker or Andre Caldwell at this point, so hopefully last week’s defeat will convince John Fox to bring his best players to the field this week. I like Latimer as a stash in deep leagues, since Julius Thomas and Sanders are both banged up. It could lead to the talented rookie getting some work in the fantasy playoffs for an elite passing offense.
Jarvis Landry, MIA - Landry has really settled into his role in the Miami offense and as a mainstay of the waiver wire report. He doesn’t run many deep routes, so he is best utilized in PPR leagues. He is seeing plenty of targets and has Ryan Tannehill’s eye in the red zone of late.
Allen Hurns will take over as the starter opposite Cecil Shorts in the wake of Allen Robinson’s injury. He has had some big weeks and will be getting regular snaps, so he is worth adding for depth most places. Charles Johnson should finally draw a start this week for the Vikings and will look to use his size to make some plays for Teddy Bridgewater. Taylor Gabriel has been a really nice story for the Browns and has made some big plays for the team of late. His future is cloudy with Josh Gordon set to return. Chris Hogan has taken advantage of Sammy Watkins' injury to carve out a role in the offense. The Bills are throwing the ball a lot, so Hogan has some PPR appeal going forward.
Coby Fleener, IND - Fleener took advantage of the ankle injury to Dwayne Allen to the tune of seven catches for 144 yards. Allen is day-to-day but could sit out a tasty matchup against the Jaguars this week. With Ahmad Bradshaw also out of action, it sets up Fleener for another busy day catching passes from his old Stanford buddy Andrew Luck. Fleener is not a great player, but Luck is. Things are breaking nicely for Fleener to be a difference maker for at least the next two weeks and perhaps longer if Allen’s injury is worse than reported.
Niles Paul, WAS - Jordan Reed came out of last week’s game with another hamstring injury, which is worrisome considering his last one cost him four games earlier this season. Paul would be the next man up for both the team and Reed’s fantasy owners.
Jacob Tamme, DEN - Julius Thomas suffered a sprained ankle last week but appears to have avoided the high-ankle variety. He is currently listed as day-to-day, but his owners might want to err on the side of caution and grab Tamme as some injury insurance.
Mychal Rivera had a down week after scoring in two straight games but has been one of the lone bright spots for the Raiders this season. Tim Wright scored last week and could really make a lot of noise if Rob Gronkowski were to get hurt again. Jace Amaro made some noise prior to the bye and will look to build on his connection with Michael Vick this week.
Green Bay Packers - The Packers come off a dominating effort against the Eagles and now go to Minnesota to face the struggling Vikings offense and rookie Teddy Bridgewater. An encore could be in the works this week.
Indianapolis Colts - The Colts draw the Jaguars this week, which puts them on the streaming radar. The Colts will be highly motivated after the big loss to the Patriots last week.
KICKERMatt Bryant, ATL - Bryant has nailed four field goals in both of his last two games. The Browns come to town this week in a contest that could feature plenty of opportunites for the Falcons placekicker to keep it rolling.
Week 10 brings another week with six teams on bye, with Andrew Luck and Tom Brady being the biggest names sitting. Luckily, there are options at the position this week that can get you through the bye without having to make a trade, so my advice is to take that route first if you can. If your team is riding high and headed for the playoffs, continue to try and plan ahead as much as you can, grabbing upside plays and injury stashes and locking up key handcuffs to your stud running backs where you can.
Bye Weeks: Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Minnesota Vikings, New England Patriots, San Diego Chargers, Washington Redskins
Mark Sanchez, PHI - We have had plenty of breakout running backs and have had a few waiver wire wide receivers who also are on the verge of being difference makers, but this season hasn’t really brought us a quarterback on the wire that has had the look of a viable QB1 until this week. Nick Foles suffered a broken collarbone, which thrusts the former Jet into the starting job on one of the league's more explosive offenses, likely for the rest of the fantasy season. There is more talent around him than he ever had in New York and Chip Kelly’s scheme is truly a plug-and-play system that will allow Sanchez to exorcise many of the demons from his time under Rex Ryan. Sanchez has the immediate ability to at least match the production that Foles was giving us this year, which makes him a low-end QB1 immediately. His appearance this week comes at a nice time, since we have a bunch of top QB’s on bye this week.
Robert Griffin III, WAS - Despite Colt McCoy leading the team to two straight wins, Washington inserted RGIII into the lineup last week, and lost a tough game to the Vikings in the process. I personally would have made him wait until after the bye, since McCoy clearly was getting the job done, but I’m not the coach. Griffin looked good enough that it is clearly time to scoop him back up in any leagues he is available in for the stretch drive which will start after the team’s bye this week. I wouldn’t want to have to rely on him as my number one, but I wouldn’t mind having him on my bench heading into the playoffs if I was relying on a lesser QB1, so I could play the matchups the rest of the way.
Ryan Tannehill, MIA - Tannehill had his best game of the year last week, and heads into the second half on an upswing. This week isn’t the best time to deploy him, since the Lions are tough at home. But the Dolphins QB should be owned as a quality backup with some tantalizing matchups still to come on the schedule.
Michael Vick, NYJ - I had Vick here last week as a guy to look at to navigate the bye-heavy weeks. Last week’s tilt against the Chiefs on the road was a tough one, and the stats showed it. However, Vick was pretty solid throwing the ball and still showed that he can tuck it and make positive plays with his legs. He also showed that he is still vulnerable to injury, as he got knocked out of the game temporarily with a head injury. If you are in a jam this week, then Vick is worth a look in a home game against the Steelers, who are still most vulnerable to attack through the air.
Kyle Orton, BUF - Orton was playing very well heading into his bye last week and comes into a stretch of games that should provide him with every opportunity to keep putting up solid numbers. The defense is solid enough to provide some short fields to work with and the injuries at running back have firmly put the ball in Orton’s and Sammy Watkins’ hands the rest of the way.
Blake Bortles catches a Dallas team that is stymied on offense without Tony Romo and hurting on defense due to a slew of injuries. He is a reasonable boom-or-bust option this week if you are desperate. Brian Hoyer is not going to win many weeks for you, and he isn’t that fun to watch play since he misses so many passes. But, with the running game stalled, he is throwing the ball downfield and will soon get his top two targets back in the fold. He could make some noise down the stretch once Josh Gordon gets back. The clock is starting to tick on Ryan Fitzpatrick in Houston, who could give way to Ryan Mallett coming out of the bye.
Adrian Peterson, MIN - The embattled Vikings running back reached a plea deal for the charges he faced in Texas and did not admit to child abuse. So now that the case has been settled, it will be up to the league to decide if the “suspension” the team levied will be deemed stiff enough punishment. There is no telling just yet how the NFL will proceed, but it does look like he will be cleared to play at some point this year after all. That means he needs to be picked back up in any league where he was dropped just in case he is activated in time for the fantasy playoffs.
Jeremy Hill, CIN - Hill is not available in any leagues that I play in, but he is potentially out there in short bench leagues. He should be owned everywhere after his breakout game last week and can finally be deployed by his patient owners, as he will have a bigger role in this offense even after Giovanni Bernard comes back and can dominate in any weeks that he has the touches all to himself. Bernard still isn’t practicing, so Hill could be in for another heavy workload this Thursday against a Browns defense that can’t stop the run.
Terrance West, CLE - West seems like the back to own in Cleveland right now, especially in light of the recent ineffectiveness of Ben Tate. I still am a bigger fan of Isaiah Crowell’s talent, but West has the faith of the coaching staff right now and Crowell has been relegated to the bench. Sometimes there are things going on behind the scenes we just aren’t privy to. I thought the Browns might just be showcasing West to try and trade him, but there he was last week playing the role of number one back. In a short week, he is the Browns back to tap if you need help, although a matchup with the Bengals doesn’t bode well for big numbers.
Tre Mason, STL - Mason seems to have taken control of the committee for the Rams, getting the bulk of the work in a big win against the Niners. The matchups are tough the next two weeks (Ari, Den), but things soften up a bit after that. All that is really missing from Mason’s game right now are the touchdowns, but they could start to come just in time for the fantasy playoffs. He’s a gamble that could pay off and a guy you might want to try and add while his stock is still depressed. Zac Stacy owners may finally just have to cut the cord and move on.
Alfred Blue, HOU - Arian Foster pulled his groin late last week and gets a bye to try and get ready for Week 11. At this point, we don’t know how bad the injury is, but Foster has battled these types of injuries the past few years. Blue showed himself a viable replacement the last time Foster missed time.
Charles Sims, TB - I profiled Sims last week, since he had finally reached the point of the season where he could be activated from the I.R. for duty. The team elected not to activate him last week but has already hinted that the rookie will likely make his NFL debut against the Falcons this week. Tampa Bay is a lousy team going nowhere this season. Lovie Smith drafted Sims and will want to see what he has in his rookie as the year draws to a close. Sims can catch passes out of the backfield, giving him more upside in PPR leagues, and should emerge as the lead back by the time the fantasy playoffs arrive. He is a guy you want to add in case he hits when the games count the most.
Anthony Dixon will likely draw another start this week as Fred Jackson doesn’t look quite ready to play. He’s a serviceable option in a bye-heavy week. Jonas Gray should have benefitted from a blowout win against the Broncos, but it didn’t really happen, partly thanks to a Denver defense that stymied the Patriots run game throughout. There will be better weeks ahead after the bye week to deploy him as the Pats “big back”. Matt Asiata created waves and headaches for fantasy owners with his three-touchdown day on Sunday. He is the goal-line back now, which hurts McKinnon’s value. He’s a tough guy to start, because if he doesn’t score, you won’t get much else in return. Daniel Thomas could end up getting the start if Lamar Miller’s injury is worse than feared. The Lions are a tough team to run on, so he’s not someone to use unless you are desperate. Isaiah Crowell is still my favorite Browns running back and I hope the coaching staff is just trying to toughen him up with the tough love lately. He is currently buried on the depth chart but not dead. Still, I can’t blame those in shallower leagues looking elsewhere for immediate help if they decide to drop him.
Martavis Bryant, PIT - Honestly, I should have had Bryant even higher on the list than I did last week. Three NFL games, five touchdowns later and a player who has arrived as the potential key to the entire Pittsburgh passing game. Bryant brings the element of size and speed that has been missing and Big Ben has been exploiting it since he arrived on the scene. His presence has actually even helped the stock of Markus Wheaton, who is once again a viable pickup in his own right, having scored two touchdowns himself the last two weeks. The addition of Bryant to the corps has allowed the two speedsters to take advantage of the single coverage that Antonio Brown provides someone else on the field. Neither of these guys will pop as much in PPR leagues, but in touchdown-heavy formats, especially those that reward long TD’s, both should be rostered the rest of the way. Bryant has more upside due to his size in the red zone.
Kenny Britt, STL - I was kind of lukewarm on Britt last week, leaving him for the digging deep section until I saw how he performed in his first game as the Rams new No. 1 WR. He was solid, scoring a touchdown and just missing a second. He will be somewhat of a touchdown dependant start, since the Rams offense is hard to trust, but he will continue to get targets and at the very least should be on someone's bench as a flex/depth option.
Jordan Matthews, PHI - Matthews' role in the offense has been increasing of late, and the Eagles have signaled that they aren’t entirely pleased with the play of Riley Cooper. Add the fact that Mark Sanchez is now the Eagles' quarterback, and we have some new reasons to get a bit more excited for some continued improvement from the Eagles' exciting rookie. Sanchez and Matthews spent a lot of time on the second unit in preseason, and that connection proved fruitful as Sanchez hit Matthews for his first touchdown since Week 3. I’m hoping that Sanchez’s arrival helps finally push Matthews up a notch in the pecking order, making him easier to trust as a weekly starter.
Kenny Stills, NO - Stills is a hard guy to trust, but in a bye-heavy week, you may have no choice but to go with a boom-or-bust option somewhere in the lineup. He has been producing of late and is always a better start at home in the dome, where his speed can produce that one long bomb that can make fantasy owners smile. With a bunch of home games dotting the remaining schedule, he’s not a bad guy to have in reserve, just in case he and Brees get into some kind of groove.
Jarvis Landry found the endzone again last week and is getting enough work to be in the weekly flex conversation, just maybe not this week against the Lions. Donte Moncrief took a backseat to Hakeem Nicks, possibly since it was a return to New York for the former Giant. Nicks was predictably bad and hopefully Moncrief will get more play going forward. Taylor Gabriel will benefit from a banged up Andrew Hawkins as well as a dearth of playmakers at receiver for the Browns right now. He has shown the ability to make big plays and Kyle Shanahan will dial his number a couple of times this week against the Bengals. Corey Washington should start to get more looks thanks to the struggles of Rueben Randle and Preston Parker. Wes Welker got banged up and Andre Caldwell was ineffective. Cody Latimer’s time could be arriving soon, so it might be time to speculate again in deep leagues.
Charles Clay, MIA - Clay is finally healthy again and followed up a dud against the Jaguars with a solid effort versus the Chargers last week. His stock is directly tied to the improvement of Tannehill and as such he is back to being worth a roster spot, especially for those with injury-prone starters as their main guys.
Kyle Rudolph, MIN - We are a week closer to Rudolph's return, which should come in Week 11 after this week’s bye. The Vikings are desperate for help inside the red zone and this is an area that Rudolph has already shown he can deliver. This is likely the last week to get him at a reasonable discount.
Owen Daniels, BAL - Gotta give the veteran credit for only missing one week with his latest injury. He’s a boring player, but effective for PPR owners in Gary Kubiak’s offense. In a bye-heavy week, you could do worse than the solid floor that Daniels will surely provide.
Mychal Rivera, OAK - Rivera gets a bump up the list this week after scoring two touchdowns last week, building on a busy week just prior. He’s coming on as a reliable safety net for Derek Carr, who will continue to look to his new favorite target as long as he keeps making plays.
Tyler Eifert may not be quite ready to play this week, but like Rudolph, he is close to returning to the field. If you want to try and bolster your bench, you could grab him ahead of the curve this week. Eric Ebron should be back in action this week, but the Dolphins aren’t a team you want to use a rookie coming off an injury against really. Jared Cook will continue to get targets, but there just isn’t much upside to get excited about here. Jim Dray has shown good hands and grit subbing for the injured Jordan Cameron and should get another start this week.
Baltimore Ravens - The Ravens might seem like an odd choice coming off a game where they were just lit up by the Steelers. But they put plenty of pressure on Big Ben last week and get to face the Titans and their new rookie QB this week and will be looking to take their anger out on somebody.
New Orleans Saints - The Saints were a preseason sleeper and they seem to be warming up finally. They play better at home historically and catch a San Francisco team that just surrended eight sacks to the Rams last week.
KICKERPatrick Murray, TB - The Atlanta defense is bad enough to provide extra opportunities for the Bucs placekicker this week. As decent a streaming option as he is, he has the added benefit of making your opponent wonder just what you are up to anyway starting fringe Bucs against him.