By Matt Citak
After months of sweating it out each and every Sunday, we have finally come to the most stressful part of the fantasy season. If you are reading this article, then that means you made your fantasy football playoffs. Given how unpredictable this season has been, making the playoffs was no easy feat. But now that you’re here, let’s try to get you past the first round and into the semifinals.
We wish everyone luck as the playoff season begins!
With that in mind, here are CBS Local Sports’ Week 14 Fantasy Starts and Sits.
QB: Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
The matchup looks tough on paper, as the Ravens enter Week 14 allowing just 199 passing yards per game, which ranks third in the NFL. However you must keep in mind that Baltimore just lost their top corner, Jimmy Smith, to a torn Achilles. Smith was Pro Football Focus’ No. 13-graded cornerback, and without him their secondary takes a huge hit. It’s also important to remember that this week’s clash between the two AFC North rivals takes place in Pittsburgh, where Roethlisberger has been absolutely dominating. Since 2014, when facing the Ravens, Roethlisberger has averaged 11.5 fantasy points per game in Baltimore, but 29.4 fantasy points per game at home. The 35-year-old veteran has 10 touchdowns over his last three games, and is now tied for fifth in passing touchdowns on the season (22). Look for Ben to keep the good times rolling on Sunday Night Football.
QB: Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs are in a downward spiral, having lost six of their last seven games and their lead in the AFC West. Kansas City is coming off a tough 31-38 loss to the New York Jets, but Smith did everything in his power to get the Chiefs the win. The veteran quarterback threw for 366 yards, four touchdowns, and zero interceptions, while adding a nice 70-yard run to his final stats. Smith is in line for yet another strong performance this week, as the Chiefs welcome the Raiders to Kansas City. The 33-year-old has finished with at least 20 fantasy points in three of his last five meetings with Oakland, including over 25 fantasy points in Week 7. The Raiders are giving up over 20 fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks this season, which makes Smith a solid play in the first week of the fantasy playoffs.
QB: Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco 49ers
After years of poor quarterback play, the 49ers finally got a flash of hope last week when Garoppolo made his first start with San Francisco. The 26-year-old didn’t put up the biggest fantasy day, but still completed 70.3 percent of his passes for 293 yards, showing poise in the pocket against a surprisingly solid Bears defense. Garoppolo has a much better matchup this week as the 49ers take on the Texans in Week 14. Houston enters the matchup ranked 22nd in passing yards allowed per game (236) and tied for 27th in passing touchdowns allowed per game (23), and they are allowing the most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks this year. If you’re looking to stream a quarterback this week, you could do a lot worse than Garoppolo.
RB: Rex Burkhead, New England Patriots
It took more than half the season, but Burkhead has finally emerged from New England’s crowded backfield as the team’s primary red zone weapon. The fifth-year back has collected five touchdowns over his last four games, and is accounting for almost 40 percent of New England’s red zone touchdowns over the last month. Rob Gronkowski was suspended for Week 14, and the last time he sat out, James White saw nine targets in the passing game. Over the last few weeks, Burkhead has taken over White’s role in the offense while also receiving almost all of the carries from within the 10-yard line (top-five in opportunities inside the 5- and 10-yard lines over the last month). The veteran has received double digit carries in three of the last four games, and seems to have solidified his role in the Patriots offense. Burkhead could be in for a monster game in Week 14.
RB: Giovani Bernard, Cincinnati Bengals
Let me preface this by saying Bernard is a must-start IF Joe Mixon is unable to suit up, and considering the rookie just suffered a concussion on Monday Night Football, chances are Bernard will get the start. After Mixon went down in the second quarter of Cincinnati’s Week 13 game, Bernard came in and saw 100 percent of the team’s running back touches, taking 13 carries for 77 yards (5.9 yards per carry). The 26-year-old back has received just 47 carries this season, but is leading the team with a yards per carry average of 4.2. With Jeremy Hill already on IR, if Mixon is unable to make it back onto the field in time, Bernard will likely receive a massive workload. This makes the veteran a great play this week, even in a mediocre matchup against the Bears and their No. 15-ranked run defense.
RB: Mike Davis, Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks have been looking for an answer at the running back position ever since rookie Chris Carson fractured his ankle in Week 4. In Week 13, it looked as if Seattle might have found the solution to their problem. Mike Davis, active for just the second time all season, was the lead back for the Seahawks, carrying the ball 16 times for 64 yards (4.0 yards per carry) and adding four receptions for 37 yards. Seattle has a tough matchup this week, battling the Jacksonville Jaguars and their elite defense. While the Jaguars defense has been playing well all season, it thrives against the pass but actually struggles against the run. Jacksonville is giving up 4.56 yards per carry, and if Seattle wants to come out of Week 14 with a win, it will have to find a way to establish the run game. Davis could put up sneaky RB2 production in this matchup.
WR: Josh Gordon, Cleveland Browns
One of the biggest storylines of Week 13 was the long-awaited return of wide receiver Josh Gordon, who appeared in his first NFL game since December 21, 2014. Gordon had a tough matchup in his return, having to face Casey Hayward and the Los Angeles Chargers. Well the shadow coverage from one of the league’s top corners did not faze Gordon, as he caught four passes for 85 yards. That performance may not sound that great on paper, but it made Gordon only the second wide receiver to have 85 yards or more against Hayward all season (Odell Beckham Jr. is the other). The Browns’ Week 14 matchup is much easier, as they welcome the Packers to Cleveland. Green Bay is allowing the second-most fantasy points per game to outside receivers, and just lost corner Kevin King for the rest of the season. Look for Gordon to feast on the Packers’ depleted secondary.
WR: Michael Crabtree, Oakland Raiders
Crabtree is back after missing last week due to his one-game suspension for fighting with Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib, and I don’t think his matchup could get any better. Oakland has a huge divisional game against Kansas City this week, but Chiefs head coach Andy Reid suspended cornerback Marcus Peters for this game because of his meltdown against the Jets last week. Peters is Kansas City’s top corner and best player in the secondary, and the defense will certainly struggle without him. Add in the fact that Amari Cooper looks to be on his way to missing a second straight game, and Crabtree is in great position to receive double digit targets. Crabtree has found his way into the end zone in three of his last five contests against Kansas City, and with the playoff implications surrounding this game, look for the veteran receiver to have one of his strongest games of the season.
WR: Marquise Goodwin, San Francisco 49ers
Garoppolo wasn’t the only 49er to play well during the QB’s SF debut last week. Goodwin, who entered Week 13 with a season-high of five receptions, caught all eight passes thrown in his direction, totaling 99 yards in what was his best overall performance of the 2017 season. The Texans are allowing the ninth-most fantasy points per game to outside wide receivers, which is where Goodwin runs most of his routes. In addition, Houston is allowing the fourth-most fantasy points per game to wide receivers on deep passes, something that should benefit Goodwin greatly. The fifth-year receiver ran a 40-yard dash in just 4.27 seconds at his combine, and leads San Francisco in deep targets. As long as Garoppolo doesn’t put up a dud of a performance, Goodwin should have himself a very nice day on Sunday.
TE: Cameron Brate, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Brate was able to snap his six-game scoreless streak by catching two touchdown passes, one for 28 yards and the other for nine, against the Packers last week. The overtime loss in Green Bay was also Jameis Winston’s first game back after missing several games due to a shoulder injury, and the young quarterback did not seem to show any rust. Winston has relied on his tight ends all season, and picked up right where he left off in Week 13. This week the Buccaneers take on a Lions defense giving up the eight-most fantasy points per game to opposing tight ends. Detroit has allowed four touchdowns to tight ends in the last three games. Brate is a great replacement for any fantasy owners scrambling with Gronk and possibly Zach Ertz out this week.
TE: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, New York Jets
There is no denying the fact that Seferian-Jenkins has been pretty awful over the last month and a half. After catching a touchdown pass in three consecutive games from Weeks 5-7, ASJ has not been able to find the end zone since, while topping 30 yards just once over his last five games. That is hardly the type of production you want to see out of a tight end as we enter the fantasy playoffs. But Week 14 might serve as the turning point for the veteran tight end’s season, as a matchup with the Broncos could help break any tight end’s cold streak. Only the Giants and Browns are allowing more fantasy points per game to the tight end this position than the Broncos, who have allowed an opposing tight end to score in six of the last eight games. Starting ASJ comes with a risk, but with this matchup, this is the week to roll the dice on him.
QB: Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins
Cousins has been great this season, throwing for 3,289 yards, 21 touchdowns, and eight interceptions through Washington’s first 12 games of the year. But the good fortune is unlikely to carry to Week 14, as Cousins has one of his toughest matchups of 2017 with the Redskins heading out west to Los Angeles to take on the Chargers. Los Angeles ranks third-best in opposing passer rating, fifth-best in passing yards allowed per game, and fifth-best in total passing touchdowns allowed this season. The Chargers’ secondary is fantastic, but the pass rush, led by Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, is also superb. Starting offensive linemen Trent Williams and Morgan Moses did not practice on Wednesday, meaning there is a good chance the Redskins will be without at least one of these two starters come Sunday. That is awful news for Cousins, who could be spending a good portion of this game running for his life.
QB: Jared Goff, Los Angeles Rams
There is no player that has benefited more from the arrival of Sean McVay in Los Angeles than Jared Goff. The second-year quarterback is enjoying a stellar sophomore campaign. With 75 percent of the season behind us, Goff has thrown for 3,184 yards, 20 touchdowns and six interceptions. But the young quarterback could be in for a tough day this Sunday as the Rams battle the Eagles in matchup between two of the NFC’s biggest powerhouses. Philadelphia’s pass defense got a huge boost from the return of Ronald Darby in Week 11, and after a letdown performance against Seattle last week, they will be looking for a bounce back performance. If Robert Woods is able to return, I like Goff’s chances of succeeding this week a lot more. If he is unable to go, I’d be very hesitant to start Goff.
QB: Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans
Mariota was able to reach 20 fantasy points last week for just the second time this season, but it was due in large part to his rushing statistics. The young QB picked up 23 yards and a touchdown on the ground, helping to boost his otherwise awful fantasy day. Mariota has now gone two consecutive games with less than 185 passing yards, and has thrown for multiple touchdowns in only two contests this year. The Titans go up against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 14, and Arizona has held three of the last five quarterbacks they have faced to 18 fantasy points or less. His abilities as a runner always elevates his fantasy floor, but this matchup could easily end up getting real ugly for the third-year quarterback.
RB: Latavius Murray, Minnesota Vikings
Murray has performed a lot better than people thought he would after taking over for rookie Dalvin Cook following the rookie’s torn ACL. The veteran back ranks sixth in carries per game since Week 7, and has done well with those carries over the last month. Murray has picked up four touchdowns in his last four games, while recording between 15-20 carries in each contest during that stretch. But for any fantasy owners relying on Murray, his Week 14 matchup could not be much worse. The Panthers have one of the best front-sevens in the NFL, and are allowing a mere 88.6 rushing yards per game. Carolina has held opposing running backs to the sixth-fewest rushing fantasy points per game, and while Murray does sometimes receive a reception or two, Jerick McKinnon is clearly the team’s pass-catching back. I’m staying away from Murray in this tough matchup.
RB: Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers
Murray is not the only running back that could struggle in the Vikings-Panthers showdown. McCaffrey is enjoying a solid rookie campaign. While he has only carried the ball 82 times for 284 yards (3.5 yards per carry) and three touchdowns, McCaffrey has played a significant role in Carolina’s passing game, picking up 64 receptions for 501 yards and four receiving touchdowns. However I’d be worried starting the rookie against the Vikings. Minnesota has given up just four touchdowns to running backs all season, and only four backs have reached double digit fantasy points against them. The Vikings also do a good job of limiting pass-catching running backs, and have had success against the likes of Chris Thompson, Todd Gurley, Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman. With McCaffrey registering 11 touches or less in three straight games, his fantasy production will rely on him scoring a touchdown, which is far from a guarantee against the Vikings.
RB: C.J. Anderson, Denver Broncos
Anderson had his best game in almost three months last week, totaling 67 yards on the ground and an additional 43 yards through the air. It was the first time the veteran topped 100 yards from scrimmage since Week 4, and it was also his highest snap share since Denver’s fourth game. Despite their 5-7 record, the Jets have played really well against running backs all season. New York is in the top-10 for fewest fantasy points allowed to opposing running backs on the season, and have not allowed a back to reach double digit fantasy points against them in standard leagues in four games. The Jets have actually held every running back they have faced to 12.0 fantasy points or less since Week 4. While it seems as if Anderson was successful in fighting off Devontae Booker for Denver’s starting running back role, I’m planting the veteran firmly on my bench this week.
WR: Davante Adams, Green Bay Packers
The Packers offense has not looked good since Aaron Rodgers went down with a broken collarbone. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, as taking an MVP candidate out of the offense would affect any team. But even with the team’s offensive struggles, Adams has been able to continue to produce good fantasy numbers. The young receiver has recorded either seven receptions, 80 yards or a touchdown in four of the six games started by backup QB Brett Hundley. And while the matchup against the winless Browns sounds great on paper, the Cleveland defense has actually been quite stingy against opposing wide receivers. Cleveland is allowing the ninth-fewest PPR fantasy points to opposing WRs on the season, and held Marvin Jones Jr. (3.2 points), Marqise Lee (9.5 points), and A.J. Green (11.6 points) in-check from Weeks 10-12. Cornerbacks Jason McCourty and Briean Boddy-Calhoun are playing great football, and will likely limit Adams and the Packers offense this week.
WR: Devin Funchess, Carolina Panthers
Funchess has done a fantastic job serving as the Panthers’ No. 1 wide receiver since Kelvin Benjamin was traded to the Bills. In his last four games, the young receiver has caught 21-of-33 targets for 346 yards and three touchdowns, clearly serving as Cam Newton’s favorite target in the passing game. But it is difficult to imagine Funchess putting up a big game against the Vikings defense this week. Only five wide receivers have reached double digits in fantasy points in standard leagues against Minnesota this season. The biggest reason for that is the presence of elite, shutdown cornerback Xavier Rhodes, who will likely be lined up across from Funchess for most of Sunday’s game. Greg Olsen is also expected to return this week, which will cut into Funchess’ targets. Start Funchess if you must, but you should lower your expectations by a significant margin in this daunting matchup.
WR: Josh Doctson, Washington Redskins
Doctson has been playing some of the best football of his short, NFL career over the last few weeks, catching either a touchdown or over 80 receiving yards in each of his last three games. But as mentioned with Cousins, the Redskins take on the Chargers’ elite pass defense this week, and Doctson is the most likely candidate to see shadow coverage from Pro Football Focus’ No. 1 ranked cornerback, Casey Hayward. Hayward has played on 92 percent of Los Angeles’ snaps since Week 6, and has surrendered only 3.8 fantasy points per game into his coverage over that stretch of games. If that weren’t impressive enough, the wide receivers he faced during that span include Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree, Demaryius Thomas, and Dez Bryant. I’m avoiding Doctson at all costs this week.
TE: Vernon Davis, Washington Redskins
Davis joins teammates Cousins and Doctson on the “Sit” list. If you haven’t noticed by know, I am not high on the Redskins this week. Davis has done an admirable job filling in for the injured Jordan Reed this season, collecting 542 receiving yards despite having two games where he wasn’t targeted even once. But the veteran tight end has seemingly fallen off of Cousins’ radar, as he has only been targeted three times over the last two games. Meanwhile Niles Paul, Washington’s No. 3 tight end heading into the season, has been targeted eight times over the last two weeks. Davis is way too hard to trust right now, and with it being the fantasy playoffs, he is too big of a risk. The Chargers are also giving up the seventh-fewest fantasy points per game to opposing tight ends, further adding to Davis’ gloomy outlook this week.
TE: Jared Cook, Oakland Raiders
Cook has been decent this season, with 43 receptions for 546 yards and a touchdown in 12 games. But his production over the last two weeks is very worrisome. Cook has caught just one-of-five targets in each of Oakland’s last two games, combining for 11 total yards over that span. What makes matters worse is that those two matchups were against the Giants and Broncos, two of the NFL’s worst defenses against opposing tight ends. If he couldn’t produce against two of the worst defenses against his position, why would he do well against the best defense versus opposing tight ends? Kansas City limited Rob Gronkowski, Hunter Henry, Jason Witten, Evan Engram, and Austin Seferian-Jenkins to under 6.0 PPR fantasy points each this season. And while Cook’s best outing of the season came against the Chiefs in Week 7, I do not expect a repeat performance this time around. If Cook is your starting tight end, I would be looking on the waiver wire for a replacement for Week 14.
Matt Citak is a producer for CBS Local Sports and a proud Vanderbilt alum. Follow him on Twitter or send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.