Some weeks, you get a Carolina/Philadelphia game that means very little for fantasy purposes (yeah, I'm still angry at you Week 12). But other times, you get a fantasy week where the second-highest QB producer in standard point leagues faces off against the second-highest RB producer, the 10th-highest WR producer, and the fourth-highest healthy TE producer. Oh yeah, some fantasy playoff matchups are going to be decided tonight.
But you don't have to wait until the actual game is played to know whether you're going to feel good at the end of the night or simply need another drink. Here's the players you might have starting tonight and how good you should feel about them.
Tom Brady - New England Patriots
Projected Standard League Fantasy Points: 20.19 FP
Projected Stats: 309.07 passing yards, 2.09 passing TDs, 1.03 INTs, 9.63 rushing yards, 0.24 rushing TDs
numberFire Rank: No. 3 Ranked QB (No. 3 Overall)
Percent of Leagues Started (ESPN): 90.6%
Matt Schaub - Houston Texans
Projected Standard League Fantasy Points: 16.35 FP
Projected Stats: 242.76 passing yards, 1.98 passing TDs, 0.60 INTs, 1.62 rushing yards, 0.04 rushing TDs
numberFire Rank: No. 16 Ranked QB (No. 17 Overall)
Percent of Leagues Started (ESPN): 25.3%
Of course Tom Brady is a must-start every single week, but sometimes, his owners may get nervous going against a strong defense. But they shouldn't. As I noted earlier today in my MNF Betting preview, Brady's been so efficient so far this season that he should be able to put up stats against any defense. He's almost impervious to the matchup. That's why he's one of only two QBs (Brees being the other) who entered Week 14 in our top 14 QB projections despite playing a top ten defense. Roethlisberger, Rivers, and Wilson were all on the outside looking in because of the opponent.
But in speaking of outside-looking-in, that's exactly where Schaub should have been left this week. But there's not much you can do about that now, so you're left not hoping for too much in tonight's game. Despite holding the reputation as an open wound, the Patriots have only been moderately inefficient against the pass so far this season. Their 82.75 points over expected value given up against the pass this season ranks 21st among all NFL teams. Not great, but not a 2011-esque "My eyes are bleeding from watching this defense" either. And Schaub hasn't produced enough recently to be expected to take advantage.
Arian Foster - Houston Texans
Projected Standard League Fantasy Points: 14.71 FP
Projected Stats: 21.68 rushing attempts, 85.30 rushing yards, 0.58 rushing TDs, 25.55 receiving yards, 0.11 receiving TDs
numberFire Rank: No. 3 Ranked RB (No. 27 Overall)
Percent of Leagues Started (ESPN): 99.9%
Stevan Ridley - New England Patriots
Projected Standard League Fantasy Points: 14.71 FP
Projected Stats: 11.16 rushing attempts, 49.90 rushing yards, 0.48 rushing TDs, 13.61 receiving yards, 0.02 receiving TDs
numberFire Rank: No. 22 Ranked RB (No. 74 Overall)
Percent of Leagues Started (ESPN): 81.7%
Arian Foster is the ultimate case of quantity over quality. He has more rushing attempts and more chances for touchdowns than any other player in the league. So what if he's actually running slightly inefficiently at -0.06 NEP per rush, or that his 3.9 yards per carry is the lowest of any player in the top 12 of rushing yardage? As long as he continues to get his carries - and his 21.68 projected carries was the highest of any single player entering Week 14 - he'll continue to contribute.
The same cannot necessarily be said, however, for Ridley. We had him as a flex-type play entering Week 14, possibly as an RB2, and the strong play of other potential options Montell Owens, Vick Ballard, Knowshon Moreno, and Bilal Powell has not helped his cause as a potential solid start. Our main concern for Ridley is the opposite problem of Foster: he's productive, but will he get the looks? We don't believe so; his 11.16 projected attempts is the second-lowest of any back in our top 29 RBs this week. The Patriots have run the ball on a somewhat surprising 46.4% of their plays this season, but Brandon Bolden, Shane Vereen, and Danny Woodhead have all been vultures with at least 40 carries a piece this year.
Andre Johnson - Houston Texans
Projected Standard League Fantasy Points: 12.67 FP
Projected Stats: 5.89 receptions, 87.69 receiving yards, 0.66 receiving TDs
numberFire Rank: No. 5 Ranked WR (No. 39 Overall)
Percent of Leagues Started (ESPN): 95.8%
Wes Welker - New England Patriots
Projected Standard League Fantasy Points: 12.00 FP
Projected Stats: 6.33 receptions, 89.83 receiving yards, 0.52 receiving TDs
numberFire Rank: No. 11 Ranked WR (No. 47 Overall)
Percent of Leagues Started (ESPN): 90.8%
Brandon Lloyd - New England Patriots
Projected Standard League Fantasy Points: 5.11 FP
Projected Stats: 3.11 receptions, 37.14 receiving yards, 0.26 receiving TDs
numberFire Rank: No. 63 Ranked WR (No. 151 Overall)
Percent of Leagues Started (ESPN): 43.4%
Johnson and Welker are both clear plays, and tonight, you shouldn't go wrong with either one. Both are clearly the top options in their respective offenses; Welker has gotten 28.7% of all Patriots throws his way while Johnson has gotten a similar 27.2% of all Texans looks. Both players similarly have a catch rate above the league-average 60%, with Welker's catch rate an astonishing 69.2%. There's a reason we think both players will have around six receptions and 90 yards tonight. Johnson just has a slight edge because the Patriots have a few more TD targets other than Welker.
The interesting case for me, though, is the fall of Brandon Lloyd's importance within the Patriots offense. Even with Julian Edelman out, Lloyd is still not expected to take a major role. A repeat tonight would simply mirror what we've seen in recent weeks from Lloyd; he had one target in Week 13 and hasn't seen more than seven looks since Week 7. He's a low-upside play this week, and if Kevin Walter is available on your waiver wire, you may even want to switch the two players (we have Walter as our No. 52 WR this week with a higher upside).
Owen Daniels - Houston Texans
Projected Standard League Fantasy Points: 8.18 FP
Projected Stats: 3.87 receptions, 52.83 receiving yards, 0.49 receiving TDs
numberFire Rank: No. 3 Ranked TE (No. 89 Overall)
Percent of Leagues Started (ESPN): 63.6%
Aaron Hernandez - New England Patriots
Projected Standard League Fantasy Points: 8.00 FP
Projected Stats: 5.69 receptions, 61.96 receiving yards, 0.31 receiving TDs
numberFire Rank: No. 4 Ranked TE (No. 92 Overall)
Percent of Leagues Started (ESPN): 67.7%
As I seemingly mention every week, including in this week's Sunday Start/Sit, Owen Daniels gets his targets. A lot of them. Although Andre Johnson may be the leading target-grabber in Houston, Daniels' 82 looks ranks second on the team by 27 targets over third place Kevin Walter. That's also an average of nearly seven targets per game, which considering his 60% catch rate, averages out for about four receptions per game. We see him doing the same here, with a high touchdown probability of 0.49 TDs.
But if lots of targets is your game, then Aaron Hernandez can be your man as well. His 13 targets in Week 13 finished second among all tight ends, and his supposedly weak three targets in Week 12 still tied him for third on the team. Although he has not had a double-digit fantasy game since Week 1, injuries have been the main culprit. Now that he's back and finally healthy - and that the Patriots don't have many other options - we expect him to explode. His 5.69 projected receptions was the second-highest total among all tight ends entering Week 14.