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Week 14 NFL Recap: Injuries, Breakout Performers & Game by Game Analysis


Coming out of Week 14 of the NFL season the unfortunate headlines center around poorly timed injuries. Players that could have and should have been dependable in the fantasy playoffs went down with what are essentially season ending ailments. While there were a whole host of names that were dinged up, the two most heartbreaking injuries were to that of Andy Dalton and Thomas Rawls.

Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton injured the thumb on his right throwing hand early in the team’s loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The injury has essentially ruled him out for the remained of the NFL season with the hope that he’s able to return for a Bengals playoff run. That leaves the door open for Alabama standout A.J. McCarron to lead the charge the rest of the way, something that should be a bit of a hindrance on the Cincinnati offense. I’m not concerned about A.J. Green enough to consider benching him but his value takes a dip. As far as a fantasy replacement for Dalton is concerned, look to your waiver wire to see if guys like Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jameis Winston, and Tyrod Taylor are still floating around as those are the three fill in quarterbacks I’d feel most confident about using during the playoffs.

In the case of Thomas Rawls, the Seahawks just cut DuJuan Harris, leaving Bryce Brown as the only running back to handle early down touches. The team has already stated Fred Jackson will remain in the third-down role, making Brown a borderline RB1 versus a soft Browns run D.

As always, the rest of the minor injuries will be sprinkled in during the individual game recaps. You know the drill by now; don’t overthink it in the fantasy playoffs and start your studs.

 

Minnesota Vikings @ Arizona Cardinals

Thursday night’s contest turned out to be an entertaining game that saw the Cardinals come out on top late in the fourth quarter. Arizona’s victory came via big games from running back David Johnson and wide receivers Michael Floyd and John Brown. Johnson is showing that he’s a legitimate RB1 for the fantasy playoffs as evidenced by his 19 carries for 92 yards. It seems like every Arizona running back not named Andre Ellington is fantasy relevant this year. Floyd and Brown had a touchdown apiece while Larry Fitzgerald only ended up with 41 yards. Considering how talented all three of these receivers are it shouldn’t come as a surprise that one guy is the odd man out every now and then. That being said, Fitzgerald’s recent touchdown drought is a cause for concern yet not enough to consider benching him in the playoffs.

There really wasn’t all that much to be seen on the Minnesota side of the ball in terms of fantasy. Adrian Peterson had a stellar touchdown run early in the first quarter but only ended up with 69 yards. He’s been the most consistent of the highly drafted running backs so I’m sure you’re still satisfied with this performance. Other than that, the Vikings aren’t providing us with any sort of consistency through the air to warrant starting anyone else.

Pittsburgh Steelers @ Cincinnati Bengals

Even with backup quarterback AJ McCarron throwing to him, Bengals receiver A.J. Green managed to reel in a long touchdown in a losing effort. Like I said earlier, I’m not overly concerned about Green’s fantasy outlook overall but it is a bit worrisome that McCarron threw two bad interceptions. Throw in a now banged up Tyler Eifert and this offense might be falling apart at the worst possible time. Having said that, both Green and Efiert are far too talented not to use in the fantasy playoffs so you have to keep trotting them out there and hope for the best. I will say that my love for Jeremy Hill might finally become beneficial given the recent blows to the passing attack. You’d have to assume that the Bengals would like to rely on their ground game a bit more with a backup quarterback under center.

Is there a hotter offense in the NFL than the Pittsburgh Steelers right now? Courtesy of ESPN.com’s power rankings, the Steelers have now put up 30+ points in their last five games and are averaging 494 yards on offense over that span, 383 of which are coming through the air. We're at the point now where you have to lock any and every fantasy relevant Steeler into your lineup. The only borderline player is Markus Wheaton given his previous inconsistencies. Starting Wheaton should come down to who else you have and the depth of your league but other than that, everyone from Ben Roethlisberger to Heath Miller is worth leaning on in the playoffs.

Buffalo Bills @ Philadelphia Eagles

So LeSean McCoy didn’t exactly run for the 100,000 yards many expected him to in his return to Philadelphia but he did have a respectable outing nonetheless. McCoy finished with 74 yards rushing with four receptions for 35 yards via the pass to boot. In looking back at the top 10 fantasy running backs drafted in 2015, there only ended up being three that were worth their investment. Adrian Peterson, LeSean McCoy and Matt Forte; that’s it, that’s the list. In fact, McCoy and Forte would be having even better seasons if not for some earlier injuries. Sammy Watkins had himself another productive fantasy outing as well with 81 yards and a score here. I’m still not confident in using him every week. He’s always been an inconsistent fantasy commodity but it’s hard to argue with his recent success. This is another case of a player who depends on your other options.

The Philadelphia Eagles continue to be a fantasy headache when it comes to figuring out who is going to carry the offense. This week was a combination of Darren Sproles and Zach Ertz while DeMarco Murray and Jordan Matthews were pretty much useless. Off the field drama aside, this seems like somewhat of a lost year for Murray so there’s just no way you can rely on him with your season on the line. In fact, it’s being reported that he’s essentially been demoted to third string behind Sproles and Ryan Mathews. As for Zach Ertz, this shouldn’t be anything more than a one-off performance for him. The Eagles are just far to unreliable to count on this late in the year.

San Francisco 49ers @ Cleveland Browns

From a fantasy perspective this game is really only about two players in San Francisco running back Shaun Draughn and Cleveland tight end Gary Barnidge. Draughn finished the day with just 11 carries for 43 yards, a disappointing outing given how bad the Browns are at defending the run. Still, with how many touches Draughn has gotten over the last few weeks, he could easily be a usable fantasy asset for owners who find themselves in a bit of a pinch at the running back position.

As for Gary Barnidge, his recent contract extension was repaid with an 84-yard, one touchdown performance. He’s clearly the most dependable player on the Browns in regard to fantasy even with Isaiah Crowell running all over the 49er defense. Crowell had 145 yards and two touchdowns, something that isn’t going to repeat itself anytime soon. It’s Draughn for the Niners, Barnidge for the Browns, and a bunch of irrelevant players on both teams.

Detroit Lions @ St. Louis Rams

Speaking of irrelevance, the Detroit Lions turned borderline starter Golden Tate in a touchdown machine on Sunday with Matthew Stafford tossing two scores in his direction against the Rams. The biggest takeaway from that performance isn’t the fact that it happened but more so what DIDN’T happen in the process. Calvin Johnson had just one catch for 16 yards, something that should never occur for as long as he’s healthy. I’d have to imagine this was due to game flow or defense scheming; otherwise Tate doesn’t have that kind of day at the expense of Megatron. You’re not using Tate unless you absolutely have to while Calvin is still a solid WR2.

Todd Gurley had himself a much needed bounce back performance here with 140 yards and two touchdowns. I had said before that I wasn’t benching Gurley unless I had two or three supreme options at the position so hopefully you didn’t make too much of a panic move. He’s still locked in as a RB1. Everyone else on the Rams can be ignored.

New Orleans Saints @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Rather than harp on how the Saints always spread the ball around, I’m going to choose to focus solely on the team’s running game. Tim Hightower filled in nicely for the injured Mark Ingram, running for 85 yards and a score against Tampa Bay. Hightower has the look of a player who can easily sway the championship rounds in the fantasy playoffs so he should be this week’s top waiver wire add if he isn’t already owned in your league. I would imagine that most team’s still playing fantasy already have dependable starters by now so it’s difficult to imagine a scenario where Hightower would be an automatic start barring injury. That being said, he’s also not a guy you want to face either so it’d be wise to scoop him up as a form of defense as well.

The Buccaneers got another productive outing out of running back Doug Martin as he ran for 81 yards and a touchdown. With Martin’s free agency looming, it’ll be interesting to see if the team brings him back or if they want to see what more they can get out of Charles Sims. Sims has been a decent PPR back all season and he continued that streak with six catches for 64 yards on Sunday. Other than that, no other Buccaneer player had a great day. Vincent Jackson was banged up in this game and it’s looking like he might miss some more time. That should be good news for anyone who owns Mike Evans, especially if you’re looking for him to redeem himself after a disappointing 39-yard game.

Tennessee Titans @ New York Jets

The Tennessee Titans are dangerously close to becoming a one-man show in regards to fantasy. I’m referring to tight end Delanie Walker of course. Sure, Marcus Mariota has been a decent QB fill in but he’s not nearly as dependable as his tight end counterpart. Even with that in mind, I think wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham should be owned in all leagues for the home stretch. Similar to Tim Hightower, Green-Beckham isn’t a guy you’ll want to have to play against even if he wouldn’t come close to starting for your own team.

The Jets offense is about as straight forward as it gets in the NFL. You’re starting Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker, and Chris Ivory every single week regardless of matchup and Ryan Fitzpatrick is a legit high-end QB2. As mentioned previously, he’s the top quarterback I would aim for if I were looking for an Andy Dalton replacement. For a team that’s struggled immensely on offense over the last few years, it’s nice to see the Jets finally put together some consistency across the board.

Indianapolis Colts @ Baltimore Ravens

Matt Hasselbeck left this game with a shoulder injury, allowing for Charlie Whitehurst to come in and abruptly go 2-for-8 with an interception. That’s bad news for anyone who owns T.Y. Hilton or Donte Moncrief, especially coming off of Hilton’s big 132-yard day. I can’t imagine benching Hilton even if Whitehurst is under center unless you have some serious depth at wide receiver. It’s also looking like there’s a possibility Andrew Luck might not come back at all this year so this is shaping up to be a lost season for the Indianapolis Colts. I suppose Frank Gore is a decent enough RB2 although he’s highly game flow dependent.

Another player to exit this game with injury was  T.J. Yeldon. I would have included him in the intro section if there were more clarity on the nature of his injury but as of writing there really isn’t a timetable for him just yet. Nevertheless, Denard Robinson filled in for him nicely, finishing up with 75 yards and a touchdown of his own. If it’s revealed that Yeldon is going to miss an extended amount of time, he’d be the number two pickup behind Tim Hightower this week. Other than that, you know who you’re starting in Jacksonville in Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns, and Julius Thomas. And by the way, 51 points? By the Jaguars? What the what?

San Diego Chargers @ Kansas City Chiefs

We’re at the point where it’s extremely difficult to justify starting any San Diego Charger not named Antonio Gates. Pretty much every other player on the roster has fallen off the cliff, so much so that I’d like to wash my hands clean of using them. Gates had six receptions for 76 yards but even that seems fluky to me given how bad Philip Rivers has been lately. Rivers was also evaluated for an injury here but did manage to finish the game. Gates is obviously too good to put on your bench but other than that, good luck relying on any other Charger.

The team with the deepest group of running backs in the league, the Kansas City Chiefs, lost another one due to injury in this game with Spencer Ware suffering a rib injury. It’s unclear if Ware is going to miss any time with this ailment but even if he suits up on Sunday against the Ravens, Charcandrick West is still the back you’ll want to start. Both Ware and West have shown flashes of brilliance when given the starting role so all West needs is a slight uptick in carries to warrant starting, even in the fantasy playoffs.

Washington Redskins @ Chicago Bears

Jordan Reed is having himself a stellar year. Reed had a whopping nine receptions for 120 touchdowns and a score in Sunday’s win against the Chicago Bears, showing that he’s capable of superstardom whenever healthy. Very rarely would I advocate owning two tight ends when you already have one who’s a legit starter but in this case it’s a necessity. Given Reed’s injury history, you don’t want to find yourself in a bind during the fantasy championship so now would be the time to scoop someone up just in case. A guy like Heath Miller would be the perfect insurance policy to have in this particular situation. DeSean Jackson was banged up in this game but we’ll have to wait and see on the severity of his injury.

Much like the New York Jets, the Chicago Bears have turned into one of the easier teams to analyze in regard to fantasy. They’ve had their fair share of injuries this year but now that the team is fully healthy, you can safely rely on both Matt Forte and Alshon Jeffery. Throw in situational starters like Jeremy Langofrd, Zach Miller, and Jay Cutler and you have yourself a surprisingly fantasy friendly offense that could have easily turned into a dumpster fire earlier in the year.

Atlanta Falcons @ Carolina Panthers

If you were to look up the word “rout” in the dictionary you’d find a picture of Cam Newton dancing in the endzone. The Panthers won this game 38-0 thanks to Cam’s three passing touchdowns with a pair of scores from their running backs Jonathan Stewart and Fozzy Whitaker to boot. Cam Newton is looking like the league’s MVP and could very well end up as the number one QB in fantasy by year’s end. All that being said, it isn’t all good news for the Panthers here as Jonathan Stewart suffered a foot injury during the blowout victory. Leaving him on the sidelines was a precautionary move but one that bears monitoring ahead of Sunday’s contest against the New York Giants. Stewart owners should look to scoop up either Whitaker or Cameron Artis-Payne just in case he were to miss any time.

There really isn’t much of anything to report on the Atlanta side of the ball other than you have to keep trotting out Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman regardless of their recent struggles. I will say though that Matt Ryan is basically droppable and looking ahead to 2016, I can’t even imagine him being drafted as a top-10 fantasy quarterback. His ceiling has always been capped at around QB7 anyway and with so many other young passers like Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, and Tyrod Taylor showing QB1 potential, wouldn’t you rather take a chance on someone with considerably more upside? I know I would.

Seattle Seahawks @ Baltimore Ravens

Speaking of routs, the Seahawks trounced the Ravens 35-6 in a game that saw Russell Wilson throw for yet another five touchdown passes. Even more shocking than that, three of those passes went to Doug Baldwin. I have no idea how this Doug Baldwin emergence came to be but it’s somewhat infuriating to analyze from a fantasy perspective. Given the nature of tthe raditionally ground-based Seattle offense, it wouldn’t shock me one bit if Doug Baldwin doesn’t catch another touchdown pass the rest of the year. With Wilson slinging the ball over the place and Baldwin being the recipient of most of those passes, you basically have to ride the hot hand approach here. Baldwin is still just a high-end WR3 even with this newfound upside in touchdown potential. You know how every fantasy league has that one owner who doesn’t really know what they’re doing but talks way too much trash and manages to win anyway? I would bet you anything that a majority of those owners lucked into Doug Baldwin for the playoff stretch.

The Baltimore Ravens continue to be an offensive mess with no one outside of Kamar Aiken even sniffing fantasy relevance in this game. I know Aiken has had a few productive outings but I’m not convinced he’ll be a legit fantasy asset down the stretch, especially with Jimmy Clausen throwing him the football. I suppose you have to keep starting Buck Allen if you’re in need of a running back but when Terrance West is out there stealing carries you can't be feeling good moving forward.

Oakland Raiders @ Denver Broncos

Well how about that, the Oakland Raiders managed to pull off the biggest upset of the week by knocking off the Denver Broncos. Amazingly, the Raiders won this game without having big games from any of their usual playmakers. Amari Cooper didn’t catch a single pass, Michael Crabtree had just 19 receiving yards and Latavius Murray was held to 27 yards on the ground. Instead, it was tight end Mychal Rivera and wide receiver Seth Roberts who helped lead the Raiders to victory. Neither of those performances are ones you can expect to repeat so look for Cooper, Crabtree, and Murray to bounce back in short order over the next two weeks.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens with the Denver offense now that Brock Osweiller has shown some vulnerability under center. Outside of Demaryius Thomas, the Broncos offense struggled as a whole here, leaving the door open for a potential Peyton Manning return. Even if Manning were to come back to try and give it one more shot, I don’t see this affecting the offense in any significant way in terms of fantasy. Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders have had a roller coaster season while the backfield has struggled to maintain consistent production all year. It shouldn’t make any difference one way or the other who’s throwing passes. Aside from Thomas, each of the players on this team are touchdown-dependent for fantasy usage.

Dallas Cowboys @ Green Bay Packers

This game started out somewhat close before the Green Bay Packers blew it open in the second half. Both Eddie Lacy and James Starks had productive outings on the ground with each player rushing for a touchdown. It was Lacy, however, who had more carries and more yards over the course of the game. Lacy is looking like he’s rounding back into form although I expect both backs to be prevalent going forward. I think that hurts both players as Lacy remains an RB2 while Starks is a boom-or-bust flex play.

We’re at the point now where it’s easy to justify benching Dez Bryant. Matt Cassel simply can’t be trusted to get the ball to him or even run the passing offense with any form of productivity. Jason Witten led the team in receptions and yards in a 5-for-40 outing but other than that there was little to be had in the Dallas passing attack. Running back Darren McFadden had the most fantasy relevant day with 111 yards on the ground on just nine carries. As I’m sure you can surmise, a huge chunk of that production came on just one long 50-yard run. As long as he's healthy he's a must-start in all formats.

New England Patriots @ Houston Texans

In another game that started out close but ended up being heavily one sided, the New England Patriots were treated with the return of tight end Rob Gronkowski and crushed the Texans. Gronk had four receptions for 87 yards and a touchdown, showing that he’s the most dominant position player in the league even when coming off of an injury. Danny Amendola continued to be a PPR play with six receptions for 46 yards. With Edelman reportedly practicing, we’ll have to wait and see just how long Amendola will be a usable WR2. If the Patriots are smart they'll rest Edelman for the playoff run. Then again, I’m not Bill Belichick. The Patriots also lost LeGarrette Blount for the season with a hip injury which opens the door for Brandon Bolden and James White. Bolden is my No. 3 waiver wire pickup this week.

DeAndre Hopkins had a down game by his standards here with just three receptions for 52 yards. Hopkins will have an opportunity for a huge bounce back game when the Texans take on a leaky Indianapolis defense in Week 15. As for the ground game, Alfred Blue didn’t see a single carry. It’s unclear if this was related to his recent back injury or if this was a part of the game plan but either way you can safely drop Blue in all formats. Lastly, I wouldn’t read too much into Jonathan Grimes or Chris Polk seeing a heavier workload. This is an offense that is left to essentially live and die on the arm of backup quarterback T.J. Yates getting the ball to DeAndre Hopkins.

 

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