Fantasy Football Start or Sit: Week 14

Todd Gurley has struggled, but has he been bad enough for you to sit him on your fantasy team?

I was born and raised in a Pittsburgh suburb, graduated from the high school that resided in said suburb, and then I went on to the University of Pittsburgh, where I spent four years. I know what snow and snowstorms are all about.

After graduation, I moved to Cincinnati with my now wife. Cincy, like Pittsburgh, brought cold winters and snow -- maybe not as much snow, and certainly not the same type of snow, but there was snow. And a decent amount of it.

About a year and a half ago, we moved to Charlotte, North Carolina. If you didn't know, getting an inch of snow in Charlotte is like getting over a foot in the north -- everything shuts down, people panic, and families buy lots of bread and water at grocery stores.

Being the northerner that I am, I was hesitant about how I'd react to a mostly snowless winter. Who doesn't like some white powder on the ground around Christmas time? 

Apparently I don't.

Moving to Charlotte has been awesome for a lot of reasons, and it's allowed me to realize some things about myself. One of those things being that I actually don't like snow. I don't miss snow. I don't wish we had snow.

This is just a small example of how trying new things can really make you realize you may have been doing it wrong all along. No, I don't regret living in Pittsburgh -- it's the GOAT city, and you better not try to argue with me about that take. But had I always stayed there, I would've never realized that I don't really get along with snow.

That's no different in fantasy football. Oftentimes, we blindly plug and play guys in our lineup, thinking they're good weekly plays. But, when we see what happens to our lineups after benching our thought-to-be-stud players, our opinions change.

Keep that in mind as you enter the fantasy playoffs.

Quarterbacks to Sit

Derek Carr (at Denver): It's a weekly thing to do: bench quarterbacks against the Broncos. This move is pretty tough when you're talking about elite fantasy options, but Carr hasn't really been that of late, ranking as the 25th- and 20th-best passer during two of his last three games. Denver's surrendered just two top-15 quarterback performances this season, and they have the best pass defense in the league, per our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric. I'd stay away from Carr in the fantasy playoffs.

Matt Ryan (at Carolina): In a plus matchup against the Buccaneers last week, Ryan gave fantasy owners just 13.16 fantasy points. He's now finished ranked 20th or worse in weekly quarterback scoring five different times this season, when that happened just once in 2014. 

Not only has he been playing poorly, but he gets a date with the second-best secondary in football. And he's away from home. With Julio Jones likely blanketed by stud corner, Josh Norman, Ryan shouldn't be trusted this week.

Other quarterbacks to sit: Matthew Stafford (at St. Louis), Philip Rivers (at Kansas City)

Start These Quarterbacks Instead

Jameis Winston (vs. New Orleans): You'll notice a common theme in this week's column: all of the Buccaneers.

The Saints have been historically bad on defense this season, and this is especially true of the secondary. They've surrendered seven top-five weekly quarterback performances in 12 games played, which is baffling, while every quarterback has reached 13.8 fantasy points scored. Winston has a nice floor, never falling below 12 points this year, but he showed a couple of weeks ago against Philly that he's got a worthy ceiling, too. Vegas loves this game, giving it a 50.5-point over/under, which makes Winston even more enticing.

Tyrod Taylor (at Philadelphia): The Eagles have been horrendous against the pass over the last three weeks, surrendering 5, 5 and 3 touchdown passes to the aforementioned Winston, Matthew Stafford and Tom Brady. A huge knock on TyGod is that he doesn't have the volume to be a consistent fantasy option, but the Eagles' defense has seen the third most passes against this season, behind only Carolina and Oakland. Taylor's been the fifth- and seventh-best passer in fake football over the last two weeks, and we should expect more of the same this week.

Other quarterbacks to start: Ryan Fitzpatrick (vs. Tennessee), Brock Osweiler (deeper play, vs. Oakland)

Running Backs to Sit

Todd Gurley (vs. Detroit): The Lions have allowed the 12th most points to running backs in standard scoring leagues this season, so it may look odd seeing Gurley's name on the sit list. But, if you're a Gurley owner, you know half the story -- the dude just hasn't produced. With the worst passing offense (by far) in the NFL according to our numbers, and a mess on the offensive line, Gurley has had arguably the least amount of help of any running back in football this year.

Then you combine that with the fact that the Lions' points against is deceiving, and you have yourself a pretty scary situation. Over the last three weeks, no running back has rushed for more than 30 yards against Detroit, and that's against Oakland, Philly and Green Bay. 

It's understandable if you can't bench Gurley at this point in the year -- especially with the running back wasteland in fantasy -- but know that you're walking into a frightening situation.

Danny Woodhead (at Kansas City): The Chargers are out of the hunt, and it seems like they've given up on using Woodhead in their offense. Sort of. He's still playing a similar number of snaps that he has all year, but he's not being utilized as much, perhaps because the Chargers haven't sustained as efficient of an offense without their top wide receivers. 

But the facts are facts: Woodhead, who was a PPR machine earlier in the year, has scored 2.6, 10.7 and 6.4 full PPR points over the last three weeks. That's resulted in RB56, RB26 and RB41 performances. Against a Chiefs defense that's playing just as well as any unit and ranks fifth according to our numbers? I'd try to find another option.

Other running backs to sit: Alfred Blue (vs. New England), Jeremy Hill (vs. Pittsburgh)

Start These Running Backs Instead

Giovani Bernard (vs. Pittsburgh): Bernard has just four performances this season with fewer than 10 fantasy points scored. Two of those games came against Cleveland, one against St. Louis, and the other against Pittsburgh. In those games, Cincinnati allowed 10, 7, 3, and 10 points. 

To put this another way, Bernard generally hasn't been used -- or at least hasn't produced -- as much in lower-scoring games versus higher-scoring ones. With a 49-point over/under this week against the hottest offense in football, and one that can stop the run better than any other squad according to our numbers, expect Bernard to come out with a nice game.

Shaun Draughn (at Cleveland): No team ranks worse against the run than Cleveland. That's completely translated to fantasy, too -- nine running backs have finished as top-15 weekly options against the Browns in PPR leagues this season, which is unfathomable considering we've only seen the Browns play 12 games.

Draughn has been inefficient according to NEP, but volume has made up for it, as he's been on the field for roughly 90% of his team's snaps over the last two weeks and has ranked as the 16th, 15th, 15th and 10th best running back in PPR leagues over his last four games. The floor is certainly there given the volume, and the ceiling should be, too, given the matchup.

Other running backs to start:  Javorius Allen (vs. Seattle), Charcandrick West (vs. San Diego)

Wide Receivers to Sit

Golden Tate (at St. Louis): Though the Rams are being looked at as a flaming pile of poop, they still rank fourth against the pass according to our metrics, and they've been pretty sweet against opposing wide receivers. Part of this is because of talent at cornerback, but it's also because of volume -- the offense is so bad, keeping games lower scoring and forcing the fifth lowest pass-to-run ratio against in the NFL.

Tate has been much better of late, seeing 11, 8 and 10 targets over his last three games -- those are top-half target values for him on the year. But in a game where volume may not be there, it makes sense to leave him on your bench.

Amari Cooper (at Denver): My hot take for the column this week is that Amari Cooper, despite having an incredibly bright future in the league, seems to be a little overrated in fantasy football. Of course, you have to "rate" someone for them to be overrated, but it seems as though the consensus is that Cooper is a locked-in starter, or fringe WR1-type of wideout. 

That's just not true. 

He does rank 17th in PPR scoring this season, but that's also due to being healthy and not missing a game this year. He's actually ranked higher than 21st in weekly wide receiver scoring just 5 times in 12 games, which is nothing to write home about. 

This isn't to say he's not a fine option -- he is -- but against Denver, I'd be nervous trotting him out. The Broncos, as mentioned earlier with Carr, have the best pass defense in football and have allowed just two top-20 wideout performances this year. Mike Wallace is also the only wide receiver to score a touchdown on them. It adds up to Cooper being a sit, as long as you have a reliable replacement.

Other wide receivers to sit: Davante Adams (vs. Dallas), Markus Wheaton (at Cincinnati)

Start These Wide Receivers Instead

Sammy Watkins (vs. Philadelphia): Watkins has ranked as the 6th- and 13th-best wideout in PPR leagues over the last two weeks, respectively, despite seeing an average of seven targets over these games. The biggest knock on Watkins, like his quarterback above, is that he doesn't see consistent volume. This is true, but against Philly -- again, this is the same logic as what was given with Tyrod Taylor -- things should be different. Add in the fact that he'll see Byron Maxwell coverage, a corner who's been torched by talented wideouts this season, and you've got the perfect playoff wideout.

DeVante Parker (vs. New York): Parker has now played 81.9% and 89.6% of the Dolphins' snaps over the last two weeks with Rishard Matthews sidelined. In turn, he's caught 7 of 15 targets for 143 yards and a pair of scores. Not too shabby for a the rook.

The Dolphins will face the Giants on Monday night, a team that's allowed eight WR1 (top-12) performances on the year. Ranking 25th against the pass according to our numbers, they present a plus matchup for Parker, as long as he's for sure starting once again.

Other wide receivers to start: Marvin Jones (vs. Pittsburgh), Nate Washington (deeper play, vs. New England)

Tight Ends to Sit

Kyle Rudolph (at Arizona): The Vikings' offense has produced eight passing touchdowns this season, which is reason enough to not play anyone in their passing attack. That obviously includes Rudolph, who gets an Arizona defense that's generally defended the tight end position well this season -- only three tight ends have caught five or more passes against the Cardinals this year. No matter the volume, it's tough to roll him out given the offense he's in and the matchup that's upcoming.

Other tight ends to sit: Zach Ertz (vs. Buffalo)

Start These Tight Ends Instead

Austin Seferian-Jenkins (vs. New Orleans): While plenty of folks will understandably look to Tampa Bay wide receivers this week in season-long and daily fantasy, it's really the tight end position that's eaten the Saints alive this season. They rank worst against the position in fantasy points against, as 10 different tight ends have posted top-10 weeks against them in PPR leagues. Whew.

ASJ returned from injury last week and played just 29.6% of Tampa Bay's snaps, but he was targeted six times for a pretty crazy usage rate. If we assume -- which we should -- that he didn't play more snaps because the Bucs were easing him back from his injury, then we should reasonably expect that he puts up strong numbers in a beautiful matchup this week.

Julius Thomas (vs. Indianapolis): Allen Hurns' return doesn't help Thomas, nor does the fact that the Colts could be without Matt Hasselbeck, which could force a lower-scoring game. But Indianapolis has been very average at stopping tight ends this year, and the Jaguars love to throw the ball in the red zone. Thomas has 8, 10 and 5 targets over his last three games, and with that volume, he should be able to produce top-10 tight end numbers this week.

Other tight ends to start: Owen Daniels (deeper play, vs. Oakland), Benjamin Watson (at Tampa Bay)

Defenses to Sit

Minnesota Vikings (at Arizona): The Vikings are decimated with injuries, are 8.5-point underdogs, and are facing a team that's allowed opposing defenses to rank higher than 20th just four times this year. Don't do it.

Other defenses to sit: Cincinnati Bengals (vs. Pittsburgh), Miami Dolphins (vs. New York Giants)

Start These Defenses Instead

Green Bay Packers (vs. Dallas): With Matt Cassel under center, fantasy defenses have ranked 3rd, 17th, 3rd, 7th and 12th in weekly scoring against the Cowboys. Green Bay's defense ranks a below average 20th according to our metrics, but when you factor in Cassel under center and that the Packers are seven-point favorites, they make for a great play.

Other defenses to start: Detroit Lions (at St. Louis), Jacksonville Jaguars (vs. Indianapolis)