It’s been a weird year for fantasy football owners, starting with the plethora of backup quarterbacks behind center and winding all the way through to kickers who can’t kick anymore.
Indianapolis gave us two of this week’s four 100-yard rushers, and neither one of them was a top-ten fantasy football running back.
It’s not unusual for the top fantasy passer and wide receiver to come from the same team, but to come from Buffalo?
Finally, the ghost of Chris Herndon, also known as Ryan Griffin, was our TE-1.
Like every fantasy football season, we’ve had weeks where points piled up across the league and others when points were at a premium. New names filter the leaderboards each week.
It is impossible to be an expert when the variables vary so widely, and surprises still rule the day.
But we keep trying. This weekend, I spent some time thinking about waiver targets who might help me during the fantasy football playoff weeks.
Plan ahead with an eye on the present
Believe it or not, we are three or four weeks from fantasy playoff football. That seems like a long time, and as we discussed, a lot can change.
But looking ahead can save you from the heartache of facing bad matchups or watching great matchups wallow on non-playoff rosters when you need them the most.
We don’t really know if Mitch Trubisky will catch fire or if Aaron Rodgers’ arm will fall off, but we make assumptions and best guesses based on the trends we see.
One readily available statistic is the points-against-defenses. Sites like Pro Football Reference rank how defenses stack up against each position.
Early on, these ranks can sway widely on one good or bad game. But by Week 11, they paint a good picture of who is letting who score at will and who keeps slamming doors shut.
We can use the points-against statistics in tandem with player and team tendencies to predict what will happen in Weeks 15 and 16.
In this article, I’ll include Week 14 for those of you with extended playoff formats or whose playoff life will come down to the final regular week.
Nothing in this article overrides rule number one of fantasy football: Play your studs. We won’t discuss the schedules of Pat Mahomes (which is actually the worst of all 32 quarterbacks) or Christian McCaffrey. This is for streamers and fill-ins.
Let’s start with the quarterbacks
The quarterback should be the easiest position to roster. The passer does not generally worry about sharing the load with a teammate. Unless you have Julius Edelman, you probably don’t have to worry about someone vulturing a touchdown pass.
But even here, there are variables at play. Looking at the matchups for Weeks 14-16, there are clear answers about who has the easiest road.
Ryan Fitzpatrick faces the Jets, Giants, and Bengals during the fantasy football playoff season. Those teams are ranked 22, 24, and 30 in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks.
We have all seen Fitzpatrick turn into Fitz-magic enough to believe he could lead us to fantasy football glory. But can we really trust the Dolphins?
All three of Miami’s opponents are likely to be vying for a top draft choice. Are we sure Dolphins’ management won’t try to sabotage our fantasy playoff game? What if Kevin Ballage rushes 40 times for 40 yards and leaves Fitzpatrick facing 3rd-and 8 all day?
There are three more quarterbacks with what I described as a positive matchup (>16 points/week allowed) in all three weeks. Philip Rivers is borderline at best with the 16th ranked Jaguars, 17th-ranked Vikings, and 25th ranked Oakland on his slate.
Daniel Jones lines up against the Eagles (14), Dolphins (28), and Redskins (18). Two of those games are divisional foes and Jones’ propensity for turnovers makes him a slight risk.
That leaves us with Ryan Tannehill. Tannehill is the QB-7 over the past four weeks and will roll into Week 14 against Oakland (25), Houston (27) and New Orleans (20).
Sometimes, two is better than one
If you want to maximize your matchups in other positions by sticking with one quarterback, Tannehill might be your best bet.
On the other hand, two quarterbacks might give you the best outcome. My recommended tandem is Baker Mayfield and either Rivers or Jameis Winston.
Mayfield hits Week 14 riding a string of weak opponents and probably a lot of Mayfield swagger. He faces off against the Bengals and 32nd-ranked Arizona in Weeks 14-15. Then he hits the wall in Baltimore, which would be a good week to start Winston against Houston.
Sam Darnold might get some teams into the playoffs with a favorable second-half schedule, ending with Week 14’s bout against Miami. Winston (#29 Det, Hou) or possibly Nick Foles (Oak, Atl) could cover the last two weeks.
Jacoby Brissett has good matchups in Weeks 14 (#31-Tampa Bay) and 15 (#20 New Orleans) and takes on the current #12 Carolina in Championship Week. Carolina could be out of the running by then, so you might trust Brissett all the way through or flip in Winston, Rivers, or Foles.
Which leads to reason… wide receivers
You would think the wide receivers of the top passers are obvious choices for your playoff roster. But that is not always true.
For instance, Lamar Jackson could well be the top-rated quarterback heading into Week 14. But is there a single Ravens receiver you would bet your playoff life on to score 12 points?
Wide receiver stats give us a lot to wonder about. Not only might we get ideas on who to acquire, but who to bench.
Tom Brady is notorious for undermining playoff weeks recently. New England plays the fifth-stingiest defense versus wide receivers (Kansas City), followed by Cincinnati(13) and Buffalo (8). That might not make you sit Julian Edelman, but Mohamed Sanu or Philip Dorsett warrant further consideration.
The Rams draw Seattle (17) and hit the final weeks against #3 Dallas and #6 San Francisco. If you are hoping Allen Robinson will win you a playoff game despite Mitch Trubisky, Chicago faces Dallas, #11 Green Bay, and Kansas City.
On the other hand, no one will sit Tyreek Hill despite drawing the most difficult slate of matchups; New England, 4th-ranked Denver, and 2nd-ranked Chicago.
For good news, look to the Titans and Colts. Indianapolis will go against the Buccaneers (32), Saints (21), and Panthers (20). Things could be even easier for Tennessee with the Raiders (25), Texans (27), and Saints on their slate.
Of course, you’d start TY Hilton regardless of matchup, but you might also consider the Colts’ Zack Pascal along with Corey Davis and AJ Brown from Tennessee.
The New York Giants face Philadelphia (28), Miami (22), and Washington (18). Golden Tate and Darius Slayton offer upside.
Of course, tandems work well at wide receiver. Detroit’s Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay face the bottom-two wide receiver defenses (Minnesota and Tampa Bay) in Weeks 14 and 15 before heading to Denver.
Devante Parker gets the next worst pair in the Jets and Giants. Jacksonville’s receiving troupe goes against #24 Oakland and #25 Atlanta over the final two weeks, while Tampa Bay faces #23 Detroit and #26 Houston over the same span.
Running backs to think about
Only one team faces defenses ranked 20th or lower over Weeks 14-16. That is the Minnesota Vikings. Dalvin Cook is a no-brainer, and Alexander Mattison is undoubtedly tucked away on a roster. But a sneaky handcuff stash might be Ameer Abdullah. He could have a role if either of the others gets hurt in some cold-weather games.
New England faces the 31st-ranked Chiefs and 29th-ranked Bengals before facing off against Buffalo in Week 16. I already reminded you of how Brady fades in the playoff season.
Conversely, the running game usually cranks up. If you’re stuck, anyone from the New England committee (Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead, James White, or even Brandon Bolden) is worth having available.
Denver announced Phillip Lindsay will see more touches in the coming weeks, but with playoff-week games against the Texans (16), Chiefs (31) and Lions (32), starting Royce Freeman is still not a bad plan B.
Tarik Cohen might not need as many touches as David Montgomery to be worth starting, especially with Dallas (18), Green Bay (28), and Kansas City (31) coming up.
Teams struggling to run all season don’t usually catch fire during the fantasy football playoffs, especially in bad matchups. Buffalo (Ravens, Steelers, Patriots) and Detroit (Vikings, Buccaneers, and Broncos) have particularly difficult draws.
Alvin Kamara is a must-start but put aside any thoughts of Latavius Murray having a day against the fourth-ranked Niners, the 5th-ranked Colts and Titans.
Tight ends and D/STs
Tight end is such an untrustworthy position that I didn’t spend much time with it. All but six teams give up between 5 and 9 points per week. The six outliers include San Francisco (3.3) and Buffalo (3.6) on the strong side. Studs only against those opponents.
On the weak side, Arizona (14.2) and Tampa Bay (11.6) make tight ends look pretty good. You can play any catching tight end against them. You might consider the same strategy for Green Bay (9.1) or the Rams (9.9).
There is no team facing more than one of the positive teams across the three weeks.
There are 7 teams giving up more than 10 points per game to D/STs. There are 7 others giving up less than 5 points.
Only one team faces a prime D/ST matchup all three weeks. But that team is Miami, which also ranks dead last in fantasy points scored by their defense. It could be three ugly games, but there could be more punts than turnovers and sacks.
Baltimore is the top defense to own for the playoff weeks. They face the Jets and Cleveland the final two weeks, and in Week 14, they take on Buffalo, which isn’t too far off the 10-points per game window.
Two defenses to be wary of are the Bears and Titans, currently ranked as the 8th and 9th top D/STs. Chicago faces three teams giving up less than 5 points per game this season, while Tennessee faces two of those teams, plus the next-best Houston Texans.
Handcuffs and backup plans
Teams with stud performers should try to grab handcuffs if there is one. Don’t assume the backup is a handcuff. Would your stud be replaced by one guy? Or would a committee combine to split the load?
If you’re not sure, back him up with a high-upside option from another team, based on the discussion we just had.
For what it’s worth, I have virtually no studs on the roster of my biggest-money team. In fact, only Derrick Henry has performed at star-level. I worked the waiver wire to death this season as names like Beckham, Adams, Mayfield, and more failed me.
With a little luck, I can squeeze into the playoffs from my current fifth-place position. If I do, this would be my fantasy scrub team- assuming Henry retires before Week 14:
QB: Ryan Tannehill, Jameis Winston
RB: James White, Royce Freeman (Derrius Guice, Tarik Cohen)
WR: Corey Davis, Zach Pascal (Darius Slay, Davante Parker)
TE: Jacob Hollister (Ryan Griffin)
Flex: Kareem Hunt, Rex Burkhead, James Washington, Terry McLaurin
D/ST: Browns (Giants)
Kicker: who cares?
In fact, I think I’ll track this team to see how many points they score in the playoff weeks. My actual team is a little safer than this, but not a real lot.
The point is it’s possible to win with players no one else saw coming. In Week 11, Jeff Driskel, Tony Pollard, Jonathan Williams, Deebo Samuel, Jakeem Grant, Pharaoh Cooper, Ross Dwelley, Younghoe Koo, and the Atlanta Falcons defense combined for 169 points.
That lineup would have won a lot of games.
Speaking of which… Week 11
Week 11 was full of surprises, both good and bad. Thursday night’s outrageous ending obscured the news that Baker Mayfield might be firmly back in the streaming pool.
Mayfield accounted for all three touchdowns and more importantly, enjoyed his third straight game without a turnover. With an easy schedule ahead, Mayfield could be worth a roster spot.
Nick Foles came back for Jacksonville. His performance wasn’t stellar, but a pair of touchdown passes and almost 300 yards left him in the QB-12 slot heading into Monday.
Dede Westbrook fans looking forward to the Foles-Westbrook reunion were disappointed. DJ Chark remains the go-to guy, catching both touchdowns in second-best wide receiver performance. Westbrook wound up with 6.6 PPR points.
Arizona emphatically answered the David Johnson question. Johnson got on the field a few times but wound up with no touches and zero fantasy points.
Coach Kliff Kingsbury said he wanted to see Kenyan Drake repeat the success he had against the 49ers in his debut. Don’t believe it. When Chase Edmonds returns from injury, it would not be surprising to see Johnson inactive.
Remember those waiver guys?
Brian Hill was the most-added player on waivers last week in anticipation of a workhorse role for Atlanta. While he technically got the bulk of the touches, his 2 yards-per-carry effort gave him 4.8 points.
That was third-best on his own team, and just a shade ahead of another popular waiver addition, Raheem Mostert (4.7). Mostert had the fourth-highest fantasy score among San Francisco rushers despite expectations he would carry the load of Matt Breida.
It looked like Miles Sanders season when Darren Sproles landed on injured reserve and Jordan Howard was ruled out. Unfortunately, the Eagles faced the stingy Patriots defense. Sanders finished with just 6.6 PPR points.
Folks who were unsure if Kalen Ballage would be benched for Patrick Laird or not got a top 24 running back if they played either one, but man… was it ugly?
Ballage had the ugliest 12.7 fantasy points in history with 5 catches for 8 yards and 9 carries for 9 more yards. But, one of them was a touchdown. Laird (11.7) ran once for 7 yards and tacked on 6 catches to finish as the RB-24.
There were good performances, too!
John Brown (34.7) and his quarterback, Josh Allen (33.84), led the Bills offensive attack and earned the top two fantasy football points total.
Lamar Jackson was still the talk of the day as he took it to the Houston defense in the air and on the ground. Jackson’s 4 passing touchdowns left him just short of the top score with 33.48 points.
Dak Prescott (31.56) was the QB-3 with a big day against Detroit. Jimmy Garoppolo (29.66) was the fourth quarterback with over 400 yards, taking the overall seventh position.
DJ Chark has caught 100-percent of Nick Foles’ touchdown passes this season, including two on Sunday that lifted him to the overall fifth-highest score and made Chark the WR-2 with 30.40 points.
Christian McCaffrey and the Panthers were held without a touchdown Sunday by a resurgent Falcons’ defense. McCaffrey was “held” to 30.10 fantasy points on a combined 191 yards, giving him the RB-1 title.
Ryan Griffin went over 100 yards with a touchdown and was the TE-1 as Chris Herndon went on IR. Atlanta’s defense ran away with the DST-1 spot, finishing with the 11th-best overall point total of 26.00.
Marlon Mack went over 100 yards and scored a touchdown before breaking his hand and leaving the game during the third quarter. He had surgery Monday and will miss a couple of weeks.
Jonathan Williams gained one yard all season before taking off for 116 more, including a 48-yard scamper. Keeping Brian Hill in mind, Frank Reich officially says rushing duties will be split Thursday night between Williams, Jordan Wilkins, and Nyheim Hines.
Tight end Josh Hill, receiver Philip Dorsett, and Auden Tate are all in the concussion protocol after Sunday. Tate was carted off the field with an apparent neck injury but was cleared of any serious concerns.
Jameis Winston injured an ankle, but both Winston and coach Bruce Arians said it is not anything that concerns them.
Matthew Stafford is still listed as week-to-week with a back injury but speculation is he will miss six weeks. He is not practicing so far in Detroit.
Dan Quinn says Austin Hooper and Devonta Freeman might return to practice Thursday. They are officially questionable for Week 12.
James Connor’s shoulder injury “isn’t any worse” according to the team. However, it was already bad enough for him to leave Thursday’s game, so be ready with an alternative.
JuJu Smith Schuster injured a knee on the same play he suffered a concussion Thursday. He is questionable for Week 12, too.
In case anyone was thinking of starting Mitchell Trubisky this week, the official word is he has a hip pointer and is questionable for Sunday.
Frank Reich was optimistic about the progress of TY Hilton, but not enough to change his questionable injury status.
Tight end David Njoku is eligible to come off injured reserve but was not activated as anticipate Monday. Coach Freddie Kitchens has not ruled out his return late this week.
Evan Engram was not at practice Monday and is at risk of missing another week. Engram says he feels he is ahead of the 2-4-week recovery schedule, but the team is not saying anything.
Will Fuller (hamstring) will be a game-time decision Thursday night for the Texans.
Week 12 waiver thoughts
With the Chiefs, Cardinals, Vikings, and Chargers all on bye, there could be some serious waiver action. Keeping in mind the results of Week 11, here are our thoughts.
Nick Foles didn’t light up the scoreboard, but he wasn’t bad. He also faced a top-10 D/ST against passers. This week, he gets the #18 Titans and is worth another start.
Sam Darnold’s streak of weak opponents continues with Oakland, followed by Cincinnati and Miami. If he is still out there, grab him.
Jeff Driskel represented himself well enough against Dallas and now gets to play Washington. Driskel has good receivers, plus he can run, making him a viable streamer.
Darius Slayton of the Giants remains available in too many leagues. He is a home run threat every time he touches the ball. Sterling Shepard might return this week, but Slayton remains a deep threat outside. Giants are scoring points. Use their players.
Tim Patrick is 6’4 and has speed. He filled in well for Denver last season and stepped right into the mix Sunday in his 2019 debut. He showed no ill effects of his broken hand. He will benefit from Courtland Sutton’s presence and wins most one-on-one battles.
Jacksonville threw the ball 45 times Sunday. This is no longer a run-first offense and there are enough targets for Chris Conley to start in fantasy. He got 8 on Sunday.
Johnathan Williams’ status is dependent on Jordan Wilkins. Wilkins was sidelined by an ankle injury Sunday. When Mack was questionable earlier in the season, Frank Reich said Wilkins was the rushing back, not Williams. It might be a share now, but if Wilkins is back, there is a higher risk of a committee.
I am picking up Wilkins ahead of Williams, based on nothing but a hunch. I would pick both of them ahead of Jay Ajayi, who is destined to be a minute part of the latest Eagles committee (Ajayi, Sanders, Scott, and a player to be named.)
Trey Edmunds is a valuable handcuff if James Connor sits out. If Connor is simply “no worse” than Thursday, expect him to be inactive. Edmunds will get enough work in that situation to start.
I’d give Brian Hill another shot if I was desperate Sunday. But Quadrel Ollison is the apparent goal-line back in Atlanta if I was even more desperate.
Bo Scarbrough has no role in the pass-catching game of Detroit. If you think he can run enough to be more than a touchdown-dependent muddler, he is available in 100 percent of leagues.
Ryan Griffin is the Jets tight end who will lead your team to some wins. Noah Fant picked up his game this week, too. If Jacob Hollister is available, your league is not paying attention. Pick him up.
Atlanta’s D/ST is reborn since their bye week with a new play-caller and less predictable blitzing scheme. They face the turnover machine known as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday. Stream them.
Detroit (vs Washington) and Cleveland (vs Miami) are good options, too.
So… that’s that. Next week, I’ll take a stab at who might just be this year’s savior. That is, who will step up and lead a team through the playoff weeks with top performances, even though he is not on the radar now.
Playoff scenarios are looking clearer but remember- it ain’t over until a fat lady sings. My advice is to avoid hanging around fat ladies as long as you can and pay attention to injury updates and the waiver wire.
Until next week…