FanDuel lineup advice: The best plays of Week 14
No matter what price range you're considering for your FanDuel lineup this week, Pat Thorman has suggestions.
FanDuel lineup advice: The best plays of Week 14
Welcome to Week 14 and the tightest salary crunch of the season. Between efficient pricing, an almost complete lack of value plays, rough matchups for many studs, and a slate of game totals that can generously be described as anemic, we’re looking under couch cushions to make lineup ends meet.
There is a single game with a 50-point projected total. Seven teams are projected to score fewer than three touchdowns. Only six are projected to score more than 25 points. No team has an implied total of 27 points or higher for the first time since Week 1 of 2013 (h/t to TJ Hernandez for that nugget). It is safe to assume winning tournament scores will be muted despite bye weeks already having ended.
Instead of trying to shoot bulls-eyes across a seemingly barren Week 14 landscape, focusing in on a handful of games—even if they don’t feature the highest Vegas projections of the week—is one route we have open to us. While many folks are piling into the Saints-Buccaneers game, going heavy on Steelers-Bills or Seahawks-Packers may wind up being the sharper move.
Of course, we still want the highest-ceiling plays, and preferably at low ownership. Yet, this week’s unique set-up also prompts us to project “next-most-likely” outcomes, as we dig for the value plays that glue lineups together. Kirk Cousins-to-DeSean Jackson stacks make obvious sense, but if the game shoots out, having Rob Kelley in the same lineup could win a GPP—despite Kelley’s stone hands.
Good luck in Week 14, everyone, and don’t be afraid to stray from the beaten path.
Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts, $8,200
Of course we start off with a chalky quarterback after that intro. Still priced too low thanks to playing on Monday night, Luck could easily finish as the top-scoring passer in Week 14. He did it last week, and we’re not hopping off the train until it derails or gets too expensive to ride. Luck stepped out of the concussion protocol and onto the Jets’ throats, tossing four touchdowns and completing 81.5-percent of his 27 attempts. His price tag will attract healthy ownership for a quarterback—which is typically more spread out than other positions, and not prohibitive.
Pro Football Focus’ second-highest-graded passer, Luck takes on a Texans’ defense allowing the 10th-most fantasy points per game to quarterbacks during the last month. Since Week 10, they allowed three touchdown passes to both Philip Rivers and Derek Carr, as well as a pair each to Aaron Rodgers in the snow and the immortal Blake Bortles. Houston’s run defense has solidified after a slow start, surrendering 3.3 yards per carry and no touchdowns to halfbacks over the last five weeks. Frank Gore will find the sledding tough on the ground, and Luck will find matchup edges in the passing game—especially with T.Y. Hilton against Johnathan Joseph’s slot replacement, Kareem Jackson. His coverage grade ranks 88th among cornerbacks, and he’s allowed 34 catches for 349 yards and three touchdowns on 45 targets over his last six games.
Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks, $7,900
The Packers have been excellent at limiting opponents’ snaps, allowing the second-fewest (59.8 per game) and operating at a bottom-10 pace on a seconds-per-snap basis. Against the Seahawks’ second-highest-graded defense, they likely won’t be able to execute that plan. Plus, they can forget handing off very often against a run defense grading second-best and allowing 3.6 yards per carry (fourth-fewest). If the pace is elevated, it means more attempts for Russell Wilson against Green Bay’s fourth-worst-graded pass coverage. The Packers are allowing the fourth-most points per game to fantasy quarterbacks over the last month and have surrendered the fourth-most passing touchdowns on the season.
Despite coming off of a pair of quiet statistical weeks, Wilson is fantasy’s sixth-highest-scoring quarterback since Week 9. He graded above-average last week, even if his stats were muted by Seattle scoring three rushing touchdowns. Wilson also continued to show improved mobility, and now has 109 yards on the ground over the last two weeks. Traditionally a defense quarterbacks can run on, but not often tested this year (2.7 attempts against per game; 10th-fewest), the Packers allowed 33 yards and a touchdown on four Carson Wentz rushes two weeks ago. As the most expensive passer in range of popular salary-savers Andy Dalton and Kirk Cousins, Wilson should have light ownership.
LeSean McCoy, Buffalo Bills, $8,300
LeSean McCoy has come through the last two weeks with 22.6 and 28.4 FanDuel points, and last week’s total could have been larger if he hadn’t been vultured at the goal line twice. If concern over Mike Gillislee stealing more scores keeps McCoy’s ownership down, it’s an exploitable opportunity. McCoy’s rushing grade ranks fourth-highest, despite his having fewer carries than the backs ahead of him. He also grades ninth-best at his position in the passing game and has hauled in 36 of his 39 targets – seven of which came last week. He ranks sixth in elusive rating and leads all running backs in breakaway percentage. McCoy is tied with Ezekiel Elliott for runs of at least 15 yards (17), but has 90 fewer carries.
Elliott is priced at $200 more than McCoy, and both should have palatable ownership as a result. The Bills are short home underdogs (two points) against a Steelers’ run defense that grades 20th-best. They allow the eighth-most points to fantasy running backs, including the second-most receptions. Pittsburgh has been shredded by the better running backs they’ve faced lately, including Elliott, LeGarrette Blount, and Jay Ajayi. The Bills and their 48-percent run rate (second-highest) will keep feeding the game-script-agnostic McCoy. The Steelers run at only the 10th-highest rate, despite trailing on the fourth-lowest percentage of snaps, and their road no-huddle rate is 26-percent—putting the Bills up in pace for this matchup.
Lamar Miller, Houston Texans, $7,200
Miller should have light ownership, as he’s priced $300 above the sure-to-be-popular Jeremy Hill. While Hill has an excellent matchup against a Browns team allowing the third-most points to fantasy running backs, the Colts’ may be even less equipped to stop a running game. Of course, along with the more talented player and an arguably worse opponent, Miller investors get a sizable dose of risk. He is dealing with various ailments, has played less than 50 percent of snaps in four of his last six games, and has had fewer touches than the previous week in two straight games. Still, there’s a lot to like here for GPPs.
Prior to Sunday, when he was in and out of the game, Miller had four touchdowns in six games since Week 6, after not scoring during the first five weeks. He was the 11th-highest-scoring fantasy running back during that seven-week stretch and averaged 20.5 touches per game. The Texans have the eighth-highest run rate and know their best chance of beating the (6.5-point) favored Colts is to control the clock and hide Brock Osweiler. Indianapolis has the league’s worst-graded run defense, allows the sixth-most yards per carry, and will be without leading tackler D’Qwell Jackson due to suspension. Miller isn’t a 100-percent exposure tournament option—and is nowhere near a cash play—but he’s worth a look.
Jeremy Hill, Cincinnati Bengals, $6,900
Jeremy Hill will undoubtedly be chalky. He is priced affordably and has a standout matchup. Perhaps Thomas Rawls ($6,500) will shave some ownership away, as it’s doubtful many folks will pay down this far for both running backs—even though it would create a unique lineup. One way to differentiate a Hill lineup is to pair him with a Bengals pass-catcher and/or Andy Dalton. Other than Mike Nugent kicks—which are always an adventure—rostering Dalton, Hill, and Eifert gives us a decent shot of capturing all of Cincinnati’s points against the Browns. If Cleveland can do just a little scoring, we’ll be in business.
The Browns allow the third-most points to fantasy running backs, including the second-most rushing yards. They have the 27th-graded run defense , and the Bengals have the eighth-highest-graded run-blocking unit. Cincinnati is a five-point favorite and should remain in a Hill-friendly script throughout. While he has caught all 10 of his targets since Giovani Bernard went down in Week 11, and he has averaged more pass routes (14.3) than before (10.3), any production we get through the air is gravy. Hill’s seven rushing touchdowns are tied for the eighth-most, and six of the seven backs in front of him have more carries. He is a strong bet to add at least one to that total on Sunday.
Rob Kelley, Washington Redskins, $5,900
Rob Kelley’s price is an oasis in the salary desert that is Week 14, but he profiles more as a GPP play than a cash games staple. He exploded onto the fantasy radar in Week 6 against the same Eagles defense he faces on Sunday, with 59 yards on only five carries. In his five most recent games – the only contests he played more than 40-percent of snaps – Kelley is averaging 4.4 yards per carry on 95 handoffs. During those weeks, he is fourth at his position in rushing attempts (19 per game) and tied for 42nd in targets (1.4 per game). He also ranks seventh in fantasy scoring and is tied for fifth in rushing touchdowns, with four.
Due to negative game script and Kelley’s lack of passing game involvement, his recent performance has been muted. He scored 6.3 and 5.2 FanDuel points in a pair of 14-carry games, after averaging 18.8 points and 22.3 handoffs over his previous three contests. Washington’s game in Philadelphia is a pick-em, and as long as it stays close, Kelley’s workload remains viable. He will not be under-owned due to price, but his quiet last two weeks should keep it palatable. The Redskins’ sixth-highest-graded run-blocking unit gets back from suspension Trent Williams, our top-graded run-blocking tackle, to take on the 18th-ranked run defense of the Eagles.
Doug Baldwin, Seattle Seahawks, $7,000
Doug Baldwin’s salary and recent lukewarm production may be enough to scare the crowd away from his excellent matchup. If he had been priced $100 cheaper, his cost would look more appealing, but $7,000 doesn’t seem as far away from the big-name players who are priced above him as it would be at $6,900. Either way, Baldwin has caught 18 of the last 20 targets for 203 yards since his three-touchdown game in Week 10. Our third-highest-graded wideout ranks second in catch rate (86.1-percent) and seventh in forced missed tackles (11), and is in a prime spot to jump back on the fantasy radar against the Packers.
Green Bay allows the eighth-most points per game to fantasy wideouts (32.0), and on the fewest targets (18.4). Only the 49ers have allowed more touchdowns to receivers. The Packers’ pass coverage grades out at 29th, and they’ll be without their best pass-rushing linebacker in Nick Perry. Baldwin runs 75-percent of routes from the slot, and since Week 10, the Packers have allowed 23 catches for 343 yards and four touchdowns on 30 slot targets. Micah Hyde has been abysmal in the slot, and is our 111th-graded coverage cornerback. Green Bay has used Quinten Rollins there recently, and over the last month, he’s allowed 11 catches, 138 yards, and four touchdowns (141.1 passer rating against).
Emmanuel Sanders, Denver Broncos, $5,900
Emmanuel Sanders is coming off of a quiet week against the Jaguars’ underrated defense and, despite his attractive price tag, should be palatably owned. He will likely have the services of quarterback Trevor Siemian, who was last seen completing seven of 10 targets to Sanders for 162 yards and a score in Week 12. Sanders hasn’t seen fewer than eight looks since Week 6, and is our 10th-highest-graded wideout. His hefty workload isn’t going anywhere, since other than Demaryius Thomas, no Bronco has more than 30 targets. This week, the matchup in Tennessee dictates that Denver’s receiver pair will be heavily relied upon.
The Broncos’ 26th-graded rushing attack is a mess, with veteran vagabond Justin Forsett expected to step right in and get touches less than a week after signing. They will run up against the 14th-graded Titans’ run defense—hopefully at more than their 3.6-yards-per-carry seasonal average. The going will be much easier against Tennessee’s second-worst-graded pass coverage, and Sanders’ matchup is especially juicy. He will see newly-elevated starter Antwon Blake, who in his most recent extended playing time allowed 1,074 yards, eight touchdowns, and graded 117th of 118 cornerbacks last season.
Jordan Matthews, Philadelphia Eagles, $5,900
The second of three salary-saving wideouts, Matthews is practicing fully after missing Week 13 with an ankle injury. He left the Eagles’ Week 12 game after only 24 snaps, but had averaged 10.5 targets in his previous four games. Philadelphia’s sometimes-maddening slot receiver graded well over his last four contests, ranking 21st of 106 wideouts in the passing game, registering the 13th-most targets, and scoring twice. He figures to be busy on Sunday, as Carson Wentz leads the NFL by a good margin in dropbacks (289) and pass attempts (267) since Week 8.
Matthews will be facing a Redskins defense grading 17th in both pass coverage and pass rush. They defend the perimeter well—most notably with Josh Norman—and are soft covering between the numbers. Their safeties, Duke Ihenacho and Donte Whitner, and slot cornerback Kendall Fuller, are coverage liabilities. Third-round rookie Fuller grades 99th in coverage among cornerbacks and hasn’t allowed worse than a 104.2 quarterback rating against him in seven of his last eight games. The game has back-and-forth potential—or at least a strong chance the Eagles are throwing to hang with Washington—and Matthews makes a nice add-on to a Redskins-heavy lineup.
DeSean Jackson, Washington Redskins, $5,800
Since returning from a shoulder injury in Week 11, Jackson has been his usual hit-or-miss self. He played at least 71-percent of snaps in all three games, and appears fully healthy—no small item for Jackson. He caught four balls for 51 yards and a touchdown in his first game back, and four more for 118 yards and another score on Thanksgiving. Last week, he got the Patrick Peterson treatment, and Jackson saw his second-fewest targets of the season (four) while catching a 59-yard pass. Tied for the 44th-most-expensive receiver of the week, Jackson provides salary relief and upside, along with his trademark volatility.
Jackson runs the majority of his routes from the right side, where he’ll tangle with Leodis McKelvin. The flammable Eagle has given up plays of 44, 46, 50, 53, and 76 yards, while tying for a cornerback-high six touchdowns. Jackson will see plenty of Philadelphia’s other cornerbacks, not one of which grades above average McKelvin, and all of whom have contributed to the Eagles allowing the NFL’s most passing plays of 20-plus yards (47). Despite missing all or parts of games due to injury, Jackson ranks 11th in deep targets (20) and fourth in deep-target catch rate (45-percent). The Eagles defend tight ends well, forcing Kirk Cousins to look elsewhere—and more DFS investors will opt for the buzzier Jamison Crowder.
Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati Bengals, $6,700
While Eifert will not go overlooked, his hefty price tag should mute ownership in a week where salary space is at a premium. He is the second-highest-scoring fantasy tight end during the last five weeks he’s played. Since A.J. Green tore his hamstring in Week 11, Eifert has caught 10 of his 14 targets, for 130 yards and two touchdowns. His PFF passing game grade—a cumulative measure—ranks 10th, despite Eifert having played fewer snaps than everyone head of him. It is second only to Rob Gronkowski on a per-target basis.
Eifert saw only two looks last week (two catches, 25 yards, one touchdown) against an Eagles team allowing a league-low 3.0 TE receptions per game. It came on the heels of five-catch, 68-yard, one-touchdown day against the Ravens, who allow the fourth-fewest fantasy points to his position. Now he faces the Browns, who give up the fifth-most fantasy points to tight ends, including the third-most touchdowns. Even if Eifert is subjected to a low-volume workload due to the Bengals’ projected positive game script, the red-zone monster has proven he can still pay off. If Eifert sees a full complement of targets, his ceiling is considerable.
Ladarius Green, Pittsburgh Steelers, $5,800
Now is no time to hop off the Ladarius Green train, especially since it finally left the station after years of anticipation. He no longer costs the minimum, but $5,800 is more than fair for any tight end who sees 11 targets. The fact he is essentially a wide receiver hybrid, in both athleticism and usage, makes it a bargain. Only three players, regardless of position, saw more targets last week. Green has run more routes (26) than Antonio Gates, who is priced similarly and has an attractive matchup, in both of the veteran’s games since the Chargers’ bye (22 and 24).
Green’s snaps, routes, and targets all more than doubled his prior 2016 highs. The 11 targets were four more than his career-high and it was the first time he broke 100 receiving yards (110). He will be more popular now that the breakout occurred, but his ownership may be held down by facing a Bills team allowing just the 21st-most points to fantasy tight ends. Buffalo has faced only 5.7 targets per game to tight ends (third-lowest). They have given up big games to the better tight ends they’ve faced, including 103 yards and two touchdowns on eight catches to Jimmy Graham and 109 yards and a score on five catches to Rob Gronkowski. While he isn’t in Graham or Gronkowski’s class, they aren’t in his price range.
Cameron Brate, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, $5,600
In case we are squeamish about Green’s ownership rate climbing too high for tournaments, Cameron Brate should be more lightly owned. He has collected 17-plus FanDuel points in two of his last four games, as his importance to the Buccaneers’ offense grows. In his first six games, Brate averaged five targets, 3.3 catches, 37.7 yards, and 0.3 touchdowns. In next six, those marks rose to 5.5 targets, 4.5 catches, 50.3 yards, and 0.67 touchdowns.
Brate can be rostered alone or as a lineup-differentiating add-on to Jameis Winston and Mike Evans in their chalk-covered matchup with the Saints. New Orleans leads the league in blitz rate (41.4-percent of dropbacks) and the Saints have increased how often they bring extra rushers in each game since Week 8. Winston has completed 13 of 16 blitzed targets to Brate, for 120 yards and three touchdowns.
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