Fantasy Playoffs Best/Worst Matchups Week 14 2017

By Evan Tarracciano
Evan Tarracciano With Week 13 officially in the books, the vast majority of Fantasy Football leagues have begun the next chapter in their quest to crown a champion – the playoffs. There is a fine line between every-week starters and streaming options with upside, and a significant factor in determining which category your players fall under is the opponents they face.

This season has seen the “every-week starters” pool of players shrink significantly, largely due to injuries suffered by elite level talent, coupled with general inconsistency at several positions, namely quarterback and tight end. Taking into account the most common format across the industry (a 10 or 12 team, PPR), the following players should be started in every roster, regardless of the matchups that they face:


Tom Brady
Carson Wentz
Russell Wilson

Running Backs:

Le’Veon Bell
Todd Gurley
Leonard Fournette
Kareem Hunt
LeSean McCoy
Mark Ingram
Carlos Hyde
Melvin Gordon
Ezekiel Elliott (Week 16 and 17)

Wide Receivers:

Antonio Brown
A.J. Green
DeAndre Hopkins
Keenan Allen
Larry Fitzgerald
Julio Jones
Adam Thielen
Michael Thomas
Doug Baldwin

Tight Ends:

Rob Gronkowski (Week 14 or later)
Travis Kelce
Zach Ertz
Jimmy Graham
Delanie Walker
Pretty short list, eh?

Putting aside that grouping of players is the easy part, and the first step of ensuring victory. Now comes the next step – schedule analysis. Especially when it comes to opposing defenses, owners actually want to develop a sense of recency bias, rather than focusing on the season at a whole. Case in point? The New Orleans Saints! Without a doubt one of the biggest surprises at DST in 2017, the Saints were considered an opponent that owners would actively look to START players against for the first few weeks of the year, before they began to show signs of significant improvement in Week 7. Given how much the team has improved, they actually fall inside the top 12 in most statistical categories (especially in their pass defense, which has allowed 185 yards or less five of the past seven weeks).

With that in mind, which defenses should owners look to avoid or exploit, and which players stand to suffer or benefit in the process?

Best DSTs vs. RBs:

1. Minnesota – The Vikings have one of the best defensive lines in all of football, and has held opponents to less than 100 rushing yards in nine of the first 13 weeks of the season. The team also boasts a stout secondary, which has resulted in most games following their desired script of victory – clock management and defense. Over the past four weeks they have allowed the fewest points on average to running backs. This week the Vikings face the Carolina Panthers, who rank as the fifth most productive backfield per game in the NFL, averaging 122 yards on the ground. Jonathan Stewart is the back who will feel the biggest impact here, as Christian McCaffery averages 6-7 rushing attempts per game and is mainly used as a receiver. Expecting a touchdown on the ground might be overly optimistic.

2. Philadelphia – It isn’t very surprising that the Eagles rank close to the top of this list, given their 10-2 record this year. Though teams have found slightly more success running the ball lately (in the last three games they have allowed more than 100 rushing yards twice), they have been able to consistently limit teams, and have held the opposition to a paltry 3.4 yards per carry the last four weeks. Their speed on all fronts makes it very difficult to find open holes, or allow dump-offs to running backs. The Eagles travel to face the Los Angeles Rams in what many are predicting to be the game of the week. Todd Gurley owners are still going to start him with confidence, but this will likely be a game where his output is bolstered by his receptions, rather than what he accrues on the ground.

3. Seattle – With or without the heralded “Legion of Boom”, this team makes it very difficult for running backs to succeed. The team hasn’t allowed a back to go over the century mark since Week 8, and has only surrendered two touchdowns to running backs over the past four weeks total. Additionally, teams facing the Seahawks will need to be patient to find any sort of opportunity – they only allow 3.1 yards per carry the past month. This is another scenario where a top rushing defense faces an elite back, in this case Jacksonville’s Leonard Fournette. Since suffering his ankle injury earlier in the year, he hasn’t been nearly as productive – Fournette has averaged less than 3 yards per carry in three of the past four weeks. He remains a volume-based back, and is in for a monumental challenge here.

4. Pittsburgh – The loss of Ryan Shazier for any length of time would certainly hurt this spot in the rankings, but the remaining unit that the Steelers have in place has been stout against opposing backs. Outside of a small stretch between Weeks 3-5, Pittsburgh has been perhaps the best team in football against the run, period. They have held the opposition to just 2.7 yards per carry the last four weeks, and have allowed just two rushing touchdowns TOTAL since Week 5! The team faces the Baltimore Ravens tandem of Alex Collins and Danny Woodhead, unique backs in their own right. Collins has averaged nearly 5 yards per carry this year since inheriting the starter role, and has seen double-digit carries in each week dating back to October 8th. Additionally, he has scored four rushing touchdowns in the past three weeks, and is a major reason for the team’s resurgence. Woodhead hasn’t been involved nearly as much as owners assumed, so this could be a game where he is heavily utilized as a check-down option.

Worst DSTs vs. RBs:

1. Buffalo – The Bills have been decimated by running backs since Week 9 against the New York Jets, and are finding it nearly impossible to hold anyone under 100 rushing yards (Kansas City is the lone team they found success against, and that was more on Andy Reid’s reluctance to give Kareem Hunt the ball). In addition to giving up yards on the ground, the team is also swiss cheese near the goal line, allowing an astounding 13 rushing TDs the last five weeks. The Bills square off against the Indianapolis Colts and their 24th ranked rushing offense in Week 14, so this is a case of “something’s gotta give”. Frank Gore has only scored one rushing touchdown since Week 3, and hasn’t had more than 62 yards on the ground since Week 8. Expect him to buck that trend this week, with Marlon Mack being used as a change-of-pace option.

2. San Francisco – The team has been stuck in a “rebuilding” stage on both sides of the ball for the past half-decade, and their defense continues to be in shambles. Though it has performed better as a unit lately, there have been several contests against teams with weak backfields that they have allowed more than 100 rushing yards against, including the Seattle Seahawks, Arizona Cardinals, New York Giants and Indianapolis Colts. If those teams can find success against the 49ers, surely the next four teams will as well. Lamar Miller is sure to have a better outing against the 49ers, than his relatively quiet performance against the Tennessee Titans last week. With D’Onta Foreman on the IR, Miller’s workload has increased dramatically, and he should break the 20-touch mark in this one. Either on the ground or through the air, he’s a near-lock to score a touchdown.

3. Detroit – The Lions have been gashed by their opponents on the ground of late, resulting in the team allowing more than 24 points in each of the past four contests. Over the last four weeks the team has allowed 4.5 yards per carry, and has failed to stop Isaiah Crowell, Jordan Howard, Latavius Murray and Alex Collins. But wait, it somehow gets even worse. The Lions have allowed opposing running backs to score a touchdown each matchup dating all the way back to Week 5. Additionally, they have allowed two touchdowns on the ground in each of the past five games. Ouch. Doug Martin’s return after clearing the league’s concussion protocol puts a damper on the breakout that Peyton Barber was experiencing, and the backfield is expected to be a muddled mess moving forward. Barber is the more bruising option of the two and a superior short-yardage runner, and the Buccaneers would be best served using him at the goal line. He won’t get the total touches that he enjoyed in Martin’s absence, but still has a good chance at a score.

4. Los Angeles Rams – Though the team ranks within the top 10 in passing yards allowed per contest, the Rams front is better known for rushing the quarterback than stopping the run. They have allowed more than 100 rushing yards in five of the past seven games, including allowing over five yards per carry in the last three. This is likely due to opposing offenses being comfortable methodically moving up and down the field, rather than trying to force the issue in the passing game. Each of the running backs in the Philadelphia Eagles backfield should see an uptick in their projections, including LeGarrette Blount, Jay Ajayi and Corey Clement. Ajayi has been mainly used to spell Blount every few drives with Clement being utilized as the pass-catching back, but all are viable as FLEX options at a minimum.

Best DSTs vs. WRs/QBs:

1. Jacksonville – No surprise here. The Jaguars are the top ranked DST in the NFL in most formats, due to their ability to continually generate pressure on the quarterback, and force interceptions into defensive touchdowns. They have limited their opponents to 10 or less points scored in half of their games this year, which is absurd. On average the team allows a paltry 167 passing yards per game, nearly 30 less than the second place Pittsburgh Steelers. They are also tied with the Buffalo Bills for the fewest passing touchdowns allowed this year, with 10. This week the Jaguars square off against the Seattle Seahawks, who currently rank 8th in passing yards per game. The team’s ability to continually pressure Russell Wilson will result in plenty of scrambling drills where he looks for Jimmy Graham and Doug Baldwin downfield. All other options in the passing attack (Paul Richardson, Tyler Lockett) are very risky plays this week.

2. Cincinnati Bengals – The Bengals defense has largely flown under the radar this year, in the wake of their offense struggling. That said, further research has revealed some truly impressive numbers by their unit. Cincinnati has allowed the third lowest completion percentage in the league (58.5), barely allows over 200 passing yards per game (210), and is allowing just 6.5 yards per attempt, tied for third best. Though they might not have the same accolades as other teams on this list, don’t let them fool you – this is a unit to be reckoned with. Owners were very unlikely to be starting anyone on the Chicago Bears other than Jordan Howard, but it is safe to write off Dontrelle Inman as a FLEX option this week.

3. Pittsburgh – Yes, the Steelers are not only a top five option against the run, but the pass as well. The team ranks second in the league in passing yards allowed per game (195), sacks generated (40) and total passing yards allowed (2,350). While the team is able to generate turnovers, their failure to turn them into touchdowns has resulted in a lack of attention from a Fantasy standpoint. The Steelers finish with a very juicy end to their season, taking on three of the worst offenses in the league. The Baltimore Ravens were only averaging 173 passing yards each week (second worst in the league), and taking on the Iron Curtain 2.0 isn’t going to help matters much. In their earlier matchup this season Joe Flacco threw for 235 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. Flacco, along with Mike Wallace, Jeremy Maclin and Benjamin Watson should be benched this week.

4. Baltimore – Much to no surprise, three of the four teams in the “Black and Blue” AFC North make the list amongst top defensive units in the league. The team has been superb since Week 7, but faces a difficult matchup in Week 14 against the Pittsburgh Steelers (they allowed 26 points to them in Week 4, one of their worst showings of the year). The Steelers will be without JuJu Smith-Schuster due to a suspension for his hit on Vontaze Burfict last week, which makes Martavis Bryant the de-facto third option in the passing game behind Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell. Bryant can be safely avoided this week, as he has been unable to get on the same page as Big Ben all year. Brown and Bell owners were starting them regardless, but those who have Roethlisberger on their team may want to reconsider using him if they have other options.

Worst DSTs vs. TEs:

1. New York Giants – The Giants aren’t just bad against covering tight ends, they are comically inept. The team allowed a touchdown to opposing players in each of the first NINE weeks of the season, before Travis Kelce “only” caught eight receptions for 109 yards against them in Week 11 to “break the streak”. Yikes. This has been a season to forget for Big Blue on multiple fronts, from injuries, coaching and front office personnel changes, to the defense playing lackadaisical. Three of the last four games the Giants have are against divisional opponents, all of which are very familiar with how to exploit the major weaknesses in the secondary. Jason Witten historically torches New York every time that he plays them, including his seven reception, 59 yard and a touchdown performance in Week 1. He is easily a TE1 this week, despite being very quiet in the second half of the season.

2. Cleveland – As bad as the Giants have been this season against tight ends, the Browns aren’t far behind. The team is tied for the second-most TDs allowed at the position (8) and has allowed an average of 17 points per game to TEs!! Owners should overthink this one, and would be well-advised to start any tight ends against the Browns for the remainder of the year. Luckily for the Browns, they face the Green Bay Packers this week, who hardly ever throw to the position. Lance Kendricks and Richard Rodgers have a COMBINED 19 receptions this season. Rodgers is the better receiving option of the two, but both are dart throws at best.

3. Denver – Wait a minute, isn’t Denver supposed to be one of the best DSTs in the NFL? To a degree, yes. Against WRs. The Broncos have allowed 63 receptions, 821 yards and eight touchdowns to tight ends in 2017, a clear-cut third worst in the NFL. For those hoping that the team would address that major hole late in the season, things haven’t improved much of late either – they have allowed a touchdown at the position in five of the last six games. Austin Seferian-Jenkins and the red-hot New York Jets offense (I can’t believe that I just typed that) roll into Denver this week. Though he has just four receptions the past two weeks, “ASJ” should get back on track and see more targets, with Denver’s secondary clamping down on Robby Anderson and Jermaine Kearse. Fingers crossed the officials won’t find a way to overrule yet another touchdown.

Best DSTs vs. TEs:

1. Pittsburgh – Have you started to figure out that the Steelers defense is pretty good yet? Unlike walking piles Swiss Cheese mentioned above, this defense has clamped down against tight ends – HARD. The Steelers have allowed just two touchdowns to tight ends all season, and none since Week 7. There aren’t very many DSTs that allow single-digit points on average against the position, but Pittsburgh tops the list. Pittsburgh faces Baltimore’s Benjamin Watson, who is coming off of a very strong performance against the Detroit Lions. Watson was entering the game as a Hail Mary option at best, and this won’t help matters.

2. Tampa Bay – Thanks in part to some unfortunate weather circumstances, the Buccaneers have played 12 games straight which would significantly tax most units and cause fatigue. Despite getting an unlucky draw due to the hurricane, the Bucs have allowed single-digit points to tight ends in seven games, including five of the past six contests. In fact, on average they have allowed less points per matchup than even the Steelers (9.0 vs. 9.4). There is a chance that the Detroit Lions could be without Matthew Stafford this week, which would make matters even more difficult. Eric Ebron has been steady, if not uninspiring, this year, and has caught four receptions for around forty yards in each of the past three weeks. Similar output can be expected, which also places him off the radar.

3. Carolina – Truth be told, any of these three defenses could easily be ranked first, as all have statistical data backing up why they are the cream of the crop. The Panthers resume includes the fewest targets (62), receptions (38) and yards allowed (407) by tight ends this season. One would have to assume that they have faced pretty easy competition so far then, right? Nope. Those statistics include matchups against Rob Gronkowski and Zach Ertz. Bottom line? Don’t think that a seam route is going to save you against these guys. Appropriately downgrade Minnesota’s Kyle Rudolph, who has thrived since Case Keenum has been at the helm.

Phew. Lot of data to sift through there. All of that aside, there are several players who don’t fall under the “every-week starters” list above that stand to either benefit or suffer based upon matchups this week. Here are a few notables.

RBs with an easy Week 14 schedule

Dion Lewis/Rex Burkhead (@MIA)
Kenyan Drake (NE)
Alfred Morris (@NYG)

RBs with a tough Week 14 schedule

Alex Collins/Danny Woodhead (@PIT)
Isaiah Crowell/Duke Johnson (GB)
Derrick Henry/DeMarco Murray (@ARI)

WRs with an easy Week 14 schedule

Tyreek Hill (OAK)
Alshon Jeffery/Nelson Agholor (@LAR)
Dez Bryant (@NYG)
Michael Crabtree/Amari Cooper (@KC)

WRs with a tough upcoming schedule

Robby Anderson/Jermaine Kearse (@DEN)
Devin Funchess (MIN)
Jamison Crowder (@LAC)
Marqise Lee/DeDe Westbrook (SEA)

TEs with an easy Week 14 schedule

Jason Witten (@NYG)
Cameron Brate/O.J. Howard (DET)
Austin Seferian-Jenkins (@DEN)
Jack Doyle (@BUF)

TEs with a tough Week 14 schedule

Greg Olsen (MIN)
Vernon Davis (@LAC)
Julius Thomas (NE)
Tyler Kroft (CHI)