It's been a quick season hasn't it? And yet, here we are, Week 14, where many leagues will play the first round of playoff games. And if your league hasn't started the playoffs yet, this is likely a make-or-break week for you to get in.
Many people will be agonizing over decisions today, so hopefully this column makes it a little easier for you.
My opinion is not to get cute unless you are an underdog and need a boost. That's when it's OK to slot in a boom or bust guy in the flex or your third WR spot. Skip to the "Take a flier" section of the column for a couple of recommendations on those kind of guys.
Otherwise, as the old saying goes, "dance with who brung ya." Now isn't the time to look for a shiny new toy if your guys have been playing well all season and you're a top seed.
Start 'em if you got 'em
QB Tony Romo. Remember when Romo was scoring 20-plus fantasy points a week? Ah, the good old days. Here's the thing - Romo hasn't been bad, he's actually been quite good in helping the Cowboys win, but his fantasy numbers aren't where his owners (like me) want them to be. I think the Monday Night Football game against the Bears could see video-game like offense, meaning Romo will have to put the ball up a lot to keep up (although DeMarco Murray should run wild too against the Bears terrible run defense).
QB Nick Foles. You have to like Foles this week against a Detroit team that is giving up a ton of yards though the air. And Foles doesn't turn the ball over. In fact, with two more TDs before his first INT, he'll break a record Manning set earlier this year.
RB Eddie Lacy. Just in case you're a little gun-shy with Lacy after his dismal performance on Thanksgiving, the Lions (his opponent last week) and the Falcons (his opponent this week) are on completely opposite ends of the run defense spectrum. Remember, Atlanta made Bobby Rainey look like an All Pro a few weeks back. Give Lacy the rock, because the Packers most definitely will as they try to stay in the playoff hunt until Aaron Rodgers gets back.
RB Steven Jackson. Staying the same game, it's likely going to be cold and snowy in Green Bay today, and Jackson is the perfect weapon for a game like that - especially for a team used to playing in a dome. S-Jax has been looking like the player the Falcons and fantasy owners thought he would be before his injury while the Packers defense has been easy pickings for opposing running backs lately.
WR Josh Gordon. Can you believe that despite missing two games due to suspension, the only WR with more fantasy points than Gordon in both standard and PPR leagues is Calvin Johnson? That's crazy, especially considering the Browns' revolving door at quarterback and horrid running game. Don't let the Patriots' Aqib Talib scare you off. Gordon is match-up proof at this point.
WR Mike Wallace. Will he want to prove something against his former team? Probably. He's also finally developing some chemistry with Ryan Tannehill and the Steelers secondary has been getting torched by No. 1 wide receivers as of late, especially those with the ability to get deep.
WR Riley Cooper. He has cooled off considerably the past two weeks, but he's still getting lots of targets from Nick Foles. He's drawn PI penalties, which don't help fantasy owners, and set-up the team inside the five a few times with his catches. The Lions are wretched at defending team's No. 2 WR, so while they put all their attention on DeSean Jackson, expect Cooper to bust out of his slump in another high-scoring affair Sunday.
TE Julius Thomas. Owners might be tentative after he sat out the past two weeks with an ankle injury, but Orange Julius returns just in time against the Tennesee Titans to help the Broncos exploit their weaknesses in the middle of the field. The Titans corners will try to clamp down on Demaryius Thomas and Eric "four touchdowns in one game" Decker, leaving the middle of the field open for Julius and Wes Welker.
Scale 'em back
QB Eli Manning. In theory, the younger Manning has a terrific match-up this week against the San Diego Chargers. But he's had a lot good match-ups lately and hasn't produced the way you would hope. Are you going to trust him in the fantasy playoffs? I don't think so.
RB Rashad Jennings. As former wrestling announcer Gorilla Monsoon liked to say, Jennings versus the Jets defense is like "the irresistible force meeting the immovable object." In the five games since he became the Raiders starter, Jennings has scored double-digit fantasy points in all of them. Meanwhile, only three teamshave rushed for more than 65 yards against the Jets defense all season. Jennings has also been limited, coming off a concussion. The only good news for Jennings is Darren McFadden is still out, so you don't have to worry about him poaching touches.RB Zac Stacy. Since becoming the Rams starter, Stacy has surprised with productive days against staunch rushing defenses, so it wouldn't surprise me if he finished with close to 100 total yards against the Cardinals. I think he'll have a tough time finding the endzone in Arizona, however, as the Cards have allowed just 3 rushing TDs all year. The Rams may also be without two starting offensive linemen. All of that is a recipe for Stacy performing below expectatons.
WR Jarrett Boykin. I don't really like any Green Bay wide receivers this week, with Matt Flynn throwing the ball in cold, snowy weather and the Pack likely able to lean on the running game for this one. It's a favorable match-up, so it's tough to bench established receivers like Jordy Nelson or James Jones, but between his goose-egg last week and all the other factors, I absolutely cannot trust Boykin in the playoffs.
WR Marques Colston. He's been up and down all year, he'll be on the road - possibly in the elements - against a very good Carolina defense. Nope.WR T.Y. Hilton. He's been incredibly quiet for about a month, as the Colts have struggled offensively since the loss of Reggie Wayne. Hilton has also been pretty awful in outdoor games, so even as a boom-or-bust type player in your flex or WR3 spot, I can't endorse HIlton against Cincinatti.
TE Vernon Davis. Match-ups like this are the reason I changed this category to "scale 'em back" from "take a seat." You would be a fool to bench Davis. He's far too talented and is having too good of a season to do that. But, he never seems to have great games against the Seahawks.
Taking a flier
QB Josh McCown. Remember those fireworks I mentioned when writing about Romo? McCown is the other side to that. With Jay Cutler ruled out another week, McCown will get to air it out a lot to arguably the best tandem of wide receivers in the game today, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. The Cowboys have done a nice job of forcing turnovers this year, so a few picks could end up in his statline to go along with some gaudy positive numbers.
RB Ray Rice. I can't recommend starting him as anything more than a low-end RB2 with upside, but the Minnesota run defense is just terrible and you know the Ravens will force-feed Rice the ball. If you've hung onto Rice this long, hopefully you got the big game out of him in Chicago a few weeks back and can use him as a nice upside flex this week.
RB CJ Spiller. Another guy drafted in the first round who, if you held onto and played last week, you got a nice game out of. But can he keep it going? The Bucs haven't been nearly as scary against the run as of late, and Spiller notoriously plays better down the stretch. He's a complete boom-or-bust player who, if you're an underdog in the playoffs this week, is worth using to attempt to upset your higher-seeded opponent.
RB Montee Ball. He continues to get lots of touches and the Titans run defense hasn't been the greatest. The Broncos aren't afraid to run the ball, especially if the weather turns bad. Knowshon Moreno is a no-brainer start, but Ball should get a solid workload as well and perhaps some goalline touches.
WR Tavon Austin. Much like Spiller, he's a wild card boom-or-bust type player that could propel you into the next round of the playoffs. For example, if you're considering starting the steady Anquan Boldin as your WR3, but have the explosive Austin on your bench and are either looking for one more win to get you into the playoff or to pull off a major upset in the first round, you start Austin and hope for the best. At the very least, the Rams seem committed to getting the ball in his hands more often.
WR Jacoby Jones. On Thanksgiving, I said you probably shouldn't be starting Jones. But the Ravens have been using him more and more as their No. 2 WR opposite Torrey Smith (who should be a must-start nearly every week) and Joe Flacco is targeting him downfield. Realistically, you are counting on Jones for one big play that nets you 10-plus fantasy points. But he has that ability and with a plus match-up vs. the Vikings, he should get the opportunity.
TE Jared Cook. This is a total match-up play and I still don't trust Cook, but I absolutely cannot deny how horrible the Arizona Cardinals are at defending tight ends. If Cook is available in your league and you aren't starting an obvious stud tight ends pick him up and plug him in this weekend.