Fantasy Football Start or Sit: Week 14
The anxiety is real this week.
I've seen more exclamation points in start-sit questions this week than I have all season long.
"HELP!!!!!!!!! Big week!!!!!! Who should I start?????"
It's a one-and-done scenario for your fantasy football squad but, realistically, this week is no different than any other you've played. It's important to trust the process that got you here -- don't make suboptimal lineup decisions just because it's the fantasy football playoffs. Because that's how you actually will lose.
Start Blaine Gabbert (deeper play, vs. Tennessee): Starting Blaine Gabbert in the fantasy football playoffs? Is this real life? Well, kind of. Maybe you won't feel comfortable doing it, but the matchup is certainly there this week for quarterback-needy teams. Tennessee, Gabbert's opponent, ranks as just an average team against opposing quarterbacks when looking strictly at fantasy points against. But the Titans also have played some really bad quarterbacks. When you adjust for strength of opponent, our Net Expected Points metric tells us that Tennessee actually has the third-worst secondary in football. Gabbert's given us 17-plus fantasy points in two of his three starts this year, and it wouldn't be shocking at all to see another strong one from him in this plus matchup.
Sit Russell Wilson (at Jacksonville): Since I know the Russell Wilson questions are coming this week, I figured I'd get some thoughts out here to help you make the best choice you can.
In general, I'd categorize him more as a sit than a start, only because I'd be willing to bench him for typical low-end QB1s or high-end QB2s this week. No, I wouldn't play someone like Blaine Gabbert over him, but Drew Brees? Philip Rivers? Derek Carr? I'd go with them over Wilson.
And the reason is pretty obvious: he's facing the Jaguars. Jacksonville has the best secondary in football according to our schedule-adjusted metrics, and they've allowed an average of just 8.5 fantasy points per game to opposing passers. They haven't faced a quarterback quite like Russell Wilson, but they've also only given up 15 or more fantasy points to a quarterback in two games this year.
What's got me nervous about Wilson, too, is how Vegas is viewing this game. The contest has a sub-40 point over/under, and the Seahawks are 2.5-point underdogs, giving them an implied team total of just 18.50. To be fair, Wilson has been a part of all but one offensive touchdown for Seattle this year, so that total will include a lot of him. That's a big reason he's still in the low-end QB1, high-end QB2 talk this week. But if you have the option to play a lower-end starter in a great matchup as opposed to Wilson this week, that seems like the right call.
Start DeShone Kizer (deeper play, vs. Green Bay): Like Gabbert, Kizer's more a deeper play for teams in need of waiver wire quarterback help. It's tough not to like what's working for him this week, though. The Packers have the seventh-worst adjusted net yards per attempt allowed this year, they've surrendered the seventh-most yards in the league, and our numbers peg them as the seventh-worst secondary when fixed for strength of opponent.
Meanwhile, Kizer's got Josh Gordon back, the Browns are at home, and Green Bay's only a three-point favorite, allowing for a friendlier game script for Kizer. And it's not as though Kizer's incapable of performing in fantasy football. Yes, he's got the worst adjusted net yards per attempt rate in the NFL this year. Yes, he's probably been the worst passer in the league this year. But he's also been a top-12, QB1 in three of his last five starts thanks to his rushing ability. That combined with more upside through the air because of Gordon and the opponent make him super intriguing in Week 14.
Sit Cam Newton (vs. Minnesota): Newton has posted some huge games throughout 2017, but he's also disappeared in plenty, too. He has six top-eight performances this season, but he also has ranked outside the top-20 in weekly scoring on three different occasions. You get a lot of variance with Newton, which isn't a shock considering he gets the majority of his points through his legs, not his arm.
That's certainly an issue when it comes to his weekly floor -- he's averaging fewer than 180 passing yards over his last five games -- but on top of that, he'll get a Minnesota defense this week that's allowed the fewest rushing yards to quarterbacks this season. They've given up only 56 rushing yards, while Newton had 51 last week alone. The Vikings also have a top-10 secondary that's allowed the sixth-fewest fantasy points per game to the quarterback position. Oh, and cornerback Xavier Rhodes will be shadowing Carolina's only actual non-running back receiving threat, Devin Funchess. Since Kelvin Benjamin left Carolina, Funchess has seen over 28% of the Panthers' targets. Those targets won't be high percentage ones this week. This all puts Newton in a really bad spot.
I will say, though: this may not be the week to bench him. I realize fantasy analysts have been saying this for weeks (yours truly included), but let's try to look at this without any emotion. The Chiefs are at home, they're 4-point favorites, and this contest has a pretty decent 47.5-point over/under. The Raiders, their opponent, also have a below-average rush defense. And as much as you want to trash Andy Reid for his running back's usage, Hunt still has over 66% of Kansas City's carries over the last five weeks, which is the fourth-highest rushing attempt share of all running backs in the league during this timeframe.
Hunt hasn't been very strong in fantasy since Week 7. Over his last five games -- again, five games where he's still seen nice market share numbers -- he's ranked no higher than RB25 in weekly PPR scoring. Not great. But Kansas City's run the fifth-fewest red zone plays and the fewest plays within their opponent's 10-yard line during this span. In other words, the only way Hunt would really see consistent high-end production is if he broke big runs for scores. Those haven't been there, which is why his fantasy numbers have dwindled.
The hope with this week's matchup is that the Chiefs can methodically move the ball up and down the field. They did that with splash plays last week against numberFire's ninth-worst defense (the Jets), and this matchup is one against the second-worst defensive unit in the league.
If you focus strictly at the things you look for in a fantasy matchup, Hunt has it this week. He's seeing volume. He's facing a bad defense. He's at home. His team is a favorite. There's a chance he finally puts together a usable performance in this one.
Sit Jerick McKinnon (at Carolina): The Panthers have a top-10 rush defense according to our numbers, and they're allowing the fifth-fewest fantasy points per game to running backs this year. That ranking could easily be even better, too. On average, teams are giving up a running back touchdown for every 159.64 running back rushing yards this season. Carolina's allowed a touchdown on every 130.14 running back rushing yards, meaning they're giving up too many touchdowns versus the amount of yards surrendered. So if running backs against Carolina are rather touchdown-dependent, then that doesn't help McKinnon's cause -- since Dalvin Cook's season-ending injury, Latavius Murray has seen more goal-line work than McKinnon has, and that's especially true of late.
Start Alfred Morris (at New York): Morris has been strong filling in for Ezekiel Elliott, even if his fantasy performances haven't exactly been there. According Matt Harmon of NFL.com, through his use of Next Gen Stats, it's very clear the issues with the Cowboys aren't running back-related. And we saw that in Week 13, as Morris ran the ball 27 times for 127 yards and a score against his former team. It was the first time the Cowboys had a true positive game script since Elliott's suspension (and the first time the offensive line was healthy), and that could be the case again this week versus the Giants. The game's being played in New York, but Dallas is a four-point favorite. And New York presents a really interesting matchup -- they've given up a top-10 running back performance in three of their last four games.
Sit DeMarco Murray (at Arizona): As I mentioned in last week's column, Murray's essentially become a touchdown-dependent asset in the Titans offense and fantasy football. He finished as RB31 last week in PPR leagues despite being in a neutral to positive script, and he's averaging just 37 rushing yards per game over his last nine.
This week's matchup -- though Tennessee's a favorite -- is tougher on paper than what they saw last week. Arizona's allowed the seventh-fewest points to opposing backs, and they rank as a top-10 unit against the run, per our numbers. Murray's seen his snap share and overall rushing attempt share dip a tad over his last few games in favor of Derrick Henry, who's got a Success Rate -- or the percentage of positive expected point runs made by a back -- that's far superior to Murray's (roughly 14 percentage points higher). It all adds up to Murray being a very mediocre play.
Start Josh Gordon (vs. Green Bay): After not playing football for three years, Gordon returned to the field and posted 85 receiving yards against one of the best secondaries in football. He ended up with 11 of a possible 32 targets in the Browns' offense while seeing a ridiculous 210 air yards, per AirYards.com. Now, this week, he's facing the league's seventh-worst secondary (per our numbers) when he takes on the Packers. Green Bay has allowed eight or more targets -- a number that Gordon should easily hit given last week's usage -- to a wide receiver 11 times this year. The average PPR output among those wideouts was 19.61. Remove the three Bears wide receivers from this sample, and the average jumps to almost 23 points. Josh Gordon could go nuts, y'all.
Sit Devin Funchess (vs. Minnesota): As I mentioned earlier, Funchess is going to see shadow coverage from cornerback Xavier Rhodes, forcing a pretty tough matchup. We've seen Antonio Brown finish as WR33 against Minnesota this year, Mike Evans was WR35, Michael Thomas WR42, Julio Jones WR70 -- the list goes on and on. Even though Funchess has seen a huge volume uptick since Kelvin Benjamin left town, this isn't the spot you want to play him. Just wait for his juicy matchups in Weeks 15 and 16.
Start Marquise Goodwin (at Houston): Goodwin saw more than 21% of Jimmy Garoppolo's targets last week, and the speedy wideout now gets to take on a beatable Houston Texans secondary in Week 14. The Texans have been strong against wideouts over their last two games, but it's important to put context around that: they faced the Ravens and Titans, two teams who've struggled at scoring points at wide receiver this year. A big reason I'm into this matchup is because the Texans have allowed the ninth-most air yards and the fourth-highest average depth of target this season according to AirYards.com, which should greatly benefit Goodwin, who has the fifth-highest average depth of target among wideouts with 50 or more targets this season.
Sit Josh Doctson (at Los Angeles): I've got nothing against Doctson as a raw talent -- he's got a lot of potential in the league moving forward. I just don't think the way some folks view him in fantasy right now is matching his production whatsoever.
He ended up finding the end zone again this past week, giving him three tuddies over his last five games. Those touchdowns have been everything for him, though. He's still yet to rank higher than 29th in weekly PPR scoring at wide receiver this year, and he's hit the 60-yard mark just once. This week, he'll face the Chargers and Casey Hayward, who've allowed one wide receiver touchdown since Week 6.
Start Austin Seferian-Jenkins (at Denver): ASJ hasn't done a whole lot since Week 6, finishing higher than 14th in weekly tight end scoring (PPR) just once over this time. Oddly enough, during this span, he's run the ninth-most routes at the tight end position (per Pro Football Focus), and that time period includes the Jets' bye week. Over the last two weeks -- two games where he's scored a combined 7.4 PPR points -- he's faced two top-seven defenses at stopping the tight end position fantasy points allowed-wise. This week, things could be different, as he'll go up against a Denver Broncos defense that's surrendered the second-most fantasy points to the position this year. Given his usage isn't super out of whack, he should be fine.
Sit Kyle Rudolph (at Carolina): Rudolph's in a tough spot this week going to Carolina, as the Panthers have been one of the stingiest defenses against tight ends this year. They've given up five tight end touchdowns, and that's really the only reason they don't rank higher than fifth-best in fantasy points against -- they've actually allowed the fewest receptions and receiving yards to the position all season long. I'd expect the Vikings to utilize their wideouts heavily in this one, not Rudolph.
Start Stephen Anderson (vs. San Francisco): Anderson had his first big performance of the year in Week 13, hauling in 5 catches on 12 targets for 79 yards and a score. He ended up playing 84% of the Texans' snaps, which was a season high. A huge reason for this was because C.J. Fiedorowicz and Braxton Miller both exited Week 13's contest with concussions, and Bruce Ellington left the game with a hamstring injury. And that's on top of Will Fuller already being out. All of those Texans could miss Week 14, which would leave Anderson as one of the only reliable pass-catchers in the offense this week.
Start the Cincinnati Bengals (vs. Chicago): The Bengals are facing the Bears in Cincinnati as six-point favorites this week, giving them one of the best matchups on the entire slate. Since Mitchell Trubisky took over the starting gig in Chicago, only two of eight defenses have ranked outside the top-12 (a usable defense in a 12-team league) against Chicago, and defenses versus Trubisky this year are averaging 2.63 sacks, 5.13 quarterback hits, and half of a turnover per game. All the while, Chicago's averaging just 16.25 points per game since the switch was made. That gives the Bengals both a high floor and ceiling this week.
Sit the Carolina Panthers (vs. Minnesota): Our metrics peg Carolina as the fifth-best defense in the league when adjusted for strength of opponent, and plenty of fantasy owners will more than likely view them as a plug-and-play defense. I can understand why: they're good. However, Minnesota's offense has been great at limiting turnovers, and since Week 5, they're only taking 0.74 sacks per game. No defense has ranked higher than 19th in weekly defensive scoring against the Vikings over this span.