2014 Fantasy Football Playoff Push And Championship Run Targets
Most leagues start playoffs around Week 13 so that means that there’s only five games left in some owner’s seasons. That’s right, just FIVE games to make your season or break it. Before the season, I wrote about players who might not be drafted for you to target during the season and help you navigate through bye weeks. Of course, with the ever changing landscape of the NFL, that list needed to be updated. Below I’ve made an updated list to include “playoff pushers” and “championship runners”. With 16 teams to have their byes over the next three weeks, you may have to make some moves ahead of time depending on how your team has fared so far. Many players you see here may also show up in my weekly waiver wire article, so make sure to check there for more information on them. There will always be new names to learn.
Specified after each team is their rank against the named players position with 1st being the best and 32nd being the worst. All rankings use ESPN standard scoring. Owned percentages are for ESPN and Yahoo leagues respectively.
Carson Palmer, Cardinals (13.4%/50%): He doesn’t get to be in a category because this is more of a public service announcement. He was injured for a few weeks and many feared he may not return or play up to a high level. Newsflash! He’s returned and has stayed red hot. He has thrown multiple touchdowns in each game he’s played in (something only Peyton Manning can also say) and he hasn’t thrown for less than 250 yards in a game either. He must be owned and in my opinion is a QB1 the rest of the way.
Alex Smith, Chiefs (19.7%/42%): Smith is at the helm of the least prolific passing attack this season but that doesn’t mean he banished to the waiver wire for the whole year. He’s had good games fantasy-wise this season against the Patriots, Dolphins and Chargers. His legs have helped him make up some fantasy ground as well. His schedule over the next five weeks sees the Jets (31st), Bills (13th), Seahawks (23rd), Raiders (19th), and Broncos (24th). The easy passing schedule combined with Smith’s running ability could be just what your team needs to get into the playoffs.
Mike Glennon, Buccaneers (0.4%/7%): In the next five weeks, Glennon sees green lights in almost every matchup. He has a slightly tougher matchup against the Browns (13th) but after that he gets smooth sailing from the Falcons (18th), Redskins (31st), Bears (21st) and Bengals (25th). He still has monster receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans as well as tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Things change if Vincent Jackson ends up getting traded but even so, Evans and Seferian-Jenkins as well as dark-horse Louis Murphy should keep this passing attack afloat.
Austin Davis, Rams (4.9%/13%): Starting in Week 13 Davis plays the Raiders (19th), Redskins (31st), Cardinals (19th), and Giants (15th). If your championship is Week 16, when Davis plays the Giants, hopefully you have a better option than him to get you through that big game. Other than that matchup, he sees generally favorable matchups throughout the fantasy playoffs. He did just lose Brian Quick, so we will have to see how he adjusts moving forward before making a concrete decision but you can pencil him in for now if you’d like.
Brian Hoyer, Browns (10.3%/10%): I know what you’re thinking - a Browns QB leading me to a championship? Wasn’t Brian Hoyer just about benched against the Jags? Yes but there is a missing part to the equation that won’t be active until Week 12. The Browns not-so-secret weapon and playmaking monster Josh Gordon will be returning to the field. Hoyer has been efficient this year except for his one dud against Jacksonville. If he clicks again with Gordon, Hoyer could be a sneaky stud. Their schedule isn’t very friendly but as we saw last year - with Josh Gordon catching balls, it doesn’t matter.
James Starks, Packers (48.5%/14%): This one really pains me as a Lacy owner (a keeper too!). What most haven’t noticed, or haven’t wanted to come to terms with yet, is that Lacy and Starks are a committee. Before Sunday night, Starks had carried the ball 27 times to Lacy’s 39 carries over the previous three weeks. That comes to about a 60/40 split in favor of Lacy. Sunday was a different story against the Saints as Lacy had a monster night. After they go on bye this week, the Packers schedule brings the Bears (12th), Eagles (17th), Vikings (27th), and the Patriots (25th) for Week 13. And if you’re lucky enough to make the playoffs, he has a great matchup against the Falcons (32nd) in Week 14 and the Buccaneers (29th) in Week 16. It will really depend on how much Lacy can get done before ineffectiveness or the score dictates otherwise.
Isaiah Crowell (31.1%/30%)/Terrance West, Browns (59.3%/23%): Even behind Ben Tate, Crowell has produced good games as well as some duds. Terrance West has had some good fantasy games as well. The schedule brings an easy road to the fantasy playoffs though and that’s what owners should want to hear. Starting in Week 9, the Browns play the Buccaneers (29th), Bengals (20th), Texans (21st), Falcons (32nd) and the Bills (2nd) in Week 13. If Tate gets hurt again or if one of these players supplants the other for RB2 duties, that player would be a good bet in most of their matchups heading into the playoffs.
Jonathan Stewart, Panthers (24.2%/36%): This is going to be hard to peg who will be starting each week because of injury history but the Panthers have the most favorable schedule from Week 13 beyond by far. And Stewart looked pretty good Sunday against the Seahawks, earning a season-high 19 total touches. They play the Vikings (27th), Saints (23rd), Buccaneers (29th), Browns (28th) and if your league includes Week 17, the Falcons (32nd). There simply is no more of a green lit schedule than that. Unfortunately it is tied to one of the most muddled and oft-injured backfields in the game but as we get closer, it will hopefully be easier to see who will be in charge here.
Roy Helu Jr, Redskins (33.6%/13%): He will really only be used as a starter for you in PPR leagues, but he’s good to own in case of injury as well. The Redskins face a favorable few teams starting in Week 13 with the Colts (19th), Rams (5th), Giants (26th), Eagles (17th) and the Cowboys (7th) in Week 17 if your league goes that far. He’s on pace for 46 receptions and 875 total yards. That’s not too shabby for a backup. If the Redskins fall more and more out of contention, Helu could be relied upon more to make sure that at least Alfred Morris is healthy for next year. They need a solid running game behind the uncertainty of quarterback.
Bobby Rainey (9.2%/24%)/Charles Sims, Buccaneers (0.2%/6%): This backfield may take a few weeks to figure itself out but whoever the Bucs decide to ride has some advantageous matchups for owners to exploit. The Bucs see a couple easy run defenses before the fantasy playoffs start and a few during the playoffs. Their remaining schedule includes the Browns (28th), Falcons (32nd), Redskins (4th), Bears (12th), Bengals (20th), Lions (10th), Panthers (31st), Packers (18th) and the Saints (23rd) in the final week of the season. Depending on if the Bucs turn to backup Bobby Rainey or see what they have in Charles Sims, whoever it is could provide you with a great flex play or RB2 in certain weeks until we know more.
Mohamed Sanu, Bengals (63.1%/79%): First things first, Sanu needs to be owned in all leagues ASAP. Sanu’s value will be held tightly to A.J. Green but not as tightly as some may think. Actually, he may do even better if A.J. Green could return so Sanu could draw the second cornerback of the opposing team. He’s played up and down as the No. 1 in the Bengals attack but they have a pretty nice schedule coming up to fantasy playoff time. Starting in Week 9, he will see the Jaguars (21st), Browns (17th), Saints (31st), Texans (27th) and the Buccaneers (32nd) in Week 13. Sanu will probably still be up and down as a No. 1, but should have better consistency if A.J. Green can draw the opposing team’s top corner. Otherwise, when he is No. 1, he has a high ceiling each week.
Louis Murphy, Buccaneers (0.3%/3%): Murphy may be third on the depth chart but he’s making his opportunities count. He had back to back touchdowns in weeks five and six leading into the Bucs bye. The upcoming Bucs schedule has matchups with the Browns (17th), Falcons (19th), Redskins (22nd), Bears (16th), and Bengals (6th) for Week 13. He saw 27 targets in three games before the bye before only ending with two Sunday. With growing speculation that Vincent Jackson could be traded before the deadline tomorrow, the opportunity is there if you need him.
Jerricho Cotchery, Panthers (1.6%/5%): He’s been unpredictable, I’ll grant that, and he’s not a consistent starter but the Panthers schedule is undeniably juicy. He’s third on the team in targets and they have been increasing as the season goes on. He hasn’t scored yet but has been targeted 18 times in the last two weeks so the opportunity is there as a safety valve for Cam Newton. His schedule starting in Week 9 includes the Saints (31st), Eagles (25th), Falcons (19th) before going on bye Week 12. Cotchery is a high risk/high reward desperation play. If you own Calvin Johnson or AJ Green, you might just be that desperate and you can’t find more favorable matchups.
Allen Robinson, Jaguars (3.8%/23%): So far in Blake Bortles tenure, Robinson leads the Jaguars in targets with an average of nine per game and is not seeing less than seven in any given game. He should continue to be a high volume target as Bortles settles the rest of the year. His schedule starting in Week 13 includes meetings with the Giants (10th), Texans (27th), Ravens (26th), Titans (18th), and the Texans again in Week 17. The playoffs are all green lights for Robinson and he has now scored in back-to-back weeks.
Kenny Stills (3.8%/12%)/Brandin Cooks, Saints (48.4%/84%): If I had to choose one of these guys I would probably choose Cooks given his targets but it seems Stills is still in the picture. Either way, if you really need receiver depth for your championship run, one of these Saints is a good bet. Their schedule starting Week 13 has them playing the Steelers (7th), Panthers (30th), Bears (16th), Falcons (19th) and Buccaneers (32nd) in Week 17. Both are big play, boom or bust type players but Cooks gets the edge in consistency with the amount of targets he sees.
Jerricho Cotchery, Panthers (1.6%/5%): Did you believe me that the Panthers schedule the whole rest of the way was easy? Coming out of the Week 12 bye, the Panthers have matchups with the Vikings (15th), the Saints (31st), Buccaneers (32nd), Browns (17th), and the Falcons (19th) in Week 17 for those with playoffs that go to the end. See? Feel free to grab him at any point you need him, the matchup will most likely be a green light.
Clay Harbor, Jaguars (0.3%/7%): Harbor will only be useful for a few more weeks until Marcedes Lewis returns from injury. When Lewis returns, Harbor should return to the bench. The Jaguars have a favorable schedule going into Week 12 when Lewis should return. They see the two worst tight end defending teams in the Bengals (32nd) and the Cowboys (31st) before heading out on their bye in Week 11. Week 12, the Jaguars will matchup with the Colts (22nd), so if Lewis isn’t a full go yet, Harbor could still have another week of relevance.
Jace Amaro, Jets (2.4%/5%): Over the past three weeks, he has been targeted 22 times and even through the turmoil at quarterback, he seems to have carved out a role in the offense. This is good for fantasy owners facing a tight end group that looks the same past the first few studs. Amaro should still command targets and with plenty of opportunity, he should produce. The Jets upcoming schedule has them facing the Chiefs (22nd) and Steelers (24th) before taking a week off. Once rested they come back to matchups with the Bills (13th) and Dolphins (18th).
Marcedes Lewis, Jaguars (0.2%/1%): Marcedes Lewis was felled by a high ankle sprain in Week 2 that will hold him out until Week 12. From ownership numbers, he seems like all but forgotten. Through the first two games of 2014, he caught 8-of-12 for 106 yards and a touchdown. Fantasy owners need to be reminded of his stretch last year when he reeled in 16 balls for 242 yards and scored in all but one game from Week 13 until the end of the year. He can do it again with the schedule the Jaguars have after his Week 12 return. They face the Colts (23rd), Giants (21st), Texans (7th), Ravens (3rd), Titans (27th), and Texans again in Week 17. There are some speed bumps but you might not be able to find a better option for your championship run than a fresh Marcedes Lewis.
Jared Cook, Rams (14.2%/32%): Leading Rams receiver Brian Quick dislocated his shoulder Sunday and is likely out for the rest of the year with a torn rotator cuff. The Rams will need another pass catcher to step up and fill the void. Jared Cook actually leads all Rams in targets with 48 and receptions with 27. He should get more targets with Quick now out. The Rams schedule starting in Week 13 has them against the Raiders (15th), Redskins (17th), Cardinals (26th), Giants (21st), and in Week 17, the Seahawks (30th). There are some great matchups here that Cook can exploit.
Coby Fleener, Colts (13.6%/31%): Despite splitting duties with Dwayne Allen, Fleener has still seen a decent amount of targets. He’s seen 34 to Allen’s 35 but hasn’t scored nearly as much. The Colts have a rather soft schedule for tight ends entering the fantasy playoffs and certain games during the playoffs. Starting in Week 12, they will play the Jaguars (27th), Redskins (17th), Browns (12th), Texans (7th), Cowboys (31st) and the Titans (27th) in Week 17. There are good and bad matchups for him but if you’re streaming at tight end, Fleener isn’t a terrible option.
Colts D/ST (16.2%/64%): Yes, they were trounced Sunday by Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers but that won’t happen every week. This unit had a rough start to the season but had since played at a high level. They have a very inviting schedule to finish the season that makes this defense a must own. They play the Giants (20th) before their bye week and return to face the Patriots (12th), Jaguars (32nd), and Redskins (26th) in Week 13. Other than a resurging Tom Brady, this defense has a high chance of success leading you to the playoffs.
Chiefs D/ST (81.5%/59%): The Chiefs are probably owned in your league as their owned in over 80% of ESPN leagues but only 59% of Yahoo leagues. Still, they must be listed here because of their soft schedule over the next few weeks. Starting in Week 9, they play the Jets (27th), Bills (28th), Seahawks (10th) and Raiders (25th) before a Week 13 with Peyton Manning. By that point, you should either be in the playoffs or out of it. If you’re still in contention, I would advise picking another defense as the Chiefs see four top-10 offenses in the fantasy playoffs.
Chargers D/ST (58.1%/28%): They are okay to pick up after most people dropped them in a matchup with Peyton Manning. They do have a bye Week 10 but if you can roster two defenses for a week or are streaming defenses, this unit is very appealing. The upcoming schedule for the Chargers is the Dolphins (24th) before their bye, followed by the Raiders (25th), and the Rams (30th) in Week 12. If you can grab them, this should be a solid group to bring you to the playoffs due to their soft schedule.
Vikings D/ST (9.3%/18%): Here’s a fun fact for you: The Vikings defense has yet to score negative points in standard ESPN scoring leagues. That is something only eight defenses can boast this year. The other teams yet to put up negative points in standard scoring leagues are the Ravens, Cowboys, Broncos, Lions, Chiefs, Jets, and Steelers. The Vikings are also tied for second in the NFL in sacks this season. For a group that hasn’t been talked about much, if at all, they have a great schedule during the fantasy playoffs. Starting in Week 13, they play the Panthers (14th), Jets (27th), Lions (19th), Dolphins (24th), and Bears (20th). If Calvin Johnson is playing, the Lions pose the toughest matchup unless your playoffs stretch to a Week 17 matchup against Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Matt Forte.
Giants D/ST (3.5%/6%): The Giants are another unit that is not owned in many leagues but have been playing well. The front seven of the Giants has always been their strength, but this year the success of the unit comes from their pass defense. Currently, they are second in the league with 11 picks and tied for first in passes deflected with 52. Their schedule starting in Week 13 is the Jaguars (32nd), Titans (23rd), Redskins (26th), and Rams (30th) in Week 16. They will be playing against mostly inexperienced quarterbacks and that means more good things for their secondary.
Titans D/ST (8.9%/10%): This group is pretty erratic but they have been able to get a turnover in every game they’ve played except for one. The schedule they have over the next few weeks will be very tough so I would stay away from this group until the time is right. If they stay healthy and nothing catastrophic happens, they should be in fine shape to carry you through your playoffs. Starting in Week 13, they face the Texans (18th), Giants (20th), Jets (27th), and Jaguars (32nd) in Week 16. Hopefully your playoffs end there because they play the Colts (2nd) in Week 17 and that won’t be an easy matchup.
Kickers are still a shot (or kick?) in the dark. Even as late as this week, only a few have separated themselves from the group. It’s much harder to put kickers into categories based on schedule because a kicker doesn’t really play against a specific position like the everyone else in this article. Instead, I will highlight kickers that I believe are under-owned and that you will be thankful you had at the end of the season.
Shaun Suisham, Steelers (25.1%/45%): The Steelers can seriously move the ball. They have the weapons and rarely don’t push into field goal range. Suisham should enjoy plenty of opportunity in the second half of the season.
Chandler Catanzaro, Cardinals (19.4%/42%): The rookie kicker hasn’t missed yet and with Carson Palmer back at the helm of the Cardinals offense, Catanzaro should have more opportunities to keep kicking. He was the sixth best kicker in standard scoring leagues leading into this past weekend.
Cody Parkey, Eagles (33.8%/50%): He is another rookie and is kicking for a high powered offense. In standard leagues, he’s only finished with less than 10 points only once this season. He’s hit two from beyond 50 so far showing he has the leg to keep it going.
Dan Carpenter, Bills (12.8%/58%): The Bills have struggled to put the ball in the endzone sometimes this year and that has led to Carpenter kicking the second most field goes from within 40 yards in the league. As Kyle Orton isn’t exactly the best quarterback, look for the offense to keep getting almost there and keeping Carpenter in the conversation to score points.
This information will undoubtedly change and I will do my best to keep you up to date for who to snag off the waiver wire as the playoffs get closer. Make sure to check the weekly waiver wire targets to get the most up to date information. Good luck pursuing the playoffs!