By Matt Lutovsky
Weather and injuries were the story in Week 14, even though the weather wasn't actually that bad anywhere other than Philadelphia. But that was enough to dash the hopes of some fantasy owners. Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson were both expected to have big weeks in a premium matchup, but they were stifled by the heavy snow. Reggie Bush was sidelined even before the game began after slipping during warmups and aggravating his hamstring injury.
It didn't get that bad in Philadelphia until right before kickoff, so fantasy owners trying to weigh the predicted bad weather there, in Cincinnati, New York, Washington, Baltimore, Green Bay, Denver and Chicago probably left in their Eagles and Lions. It wasn't a bad move, as most weather concerns are overrated. After all, Nick Foles, DeSean Jackson and Riley Cooper all had decent games. In fact, there was a record 90 touchdowns scored across the league on Sunday. But the heavy snow clearly affected the Lions (and Eagles in the first half), and the kickers only attempted one extra point between the two teams.
Undoubtedly, some fantasy owners of Stafford and Johnson have vowed never to start any players who have weather concerns, especially if they involve snow. That's obviously an overreaction. Again, there were supposed to be “ice pellets” in Cincinnati, and clearly things weren't close to that bad since Andrew Luck and Andy Dalton combined for seven TDs. Likewise, there was snow and cold in both Green Bay and Pittsburgh, but all four teams in those games still functioned just fine.
Fantasy is always about taking chances, and bad weather is just like an injury -- pops up at the worst time (just ask Adrian Peterson and Rob Gronkowski owners), but you can't be too worried about it as long as your players are taking the field.
Let's look at some risers and fallers at each offensive position after Week 14.
QB slumps were snapped across the league, with the aforementioned big performances from Luck (40.24) and Dalton (36.1), as well as a solid showing from Philip Rivers (25.96). Even Joe Flacco (26) had a good game thanks to a big fourth quarter. What does this mean? Not much.
As we've stated before, now more than ever you want to stick with your studs and hot hands. Obviously, in the case of Stafford, it didn't pay off. But owners were who worried about Ben Roethlisberger, who had been one of the hottest QBs in the league, were rewarded (29.66), and anyone who stuck with Foles (21.46) or “braved it” with Tom Brady (26.82) did just fine, too. Perhaps if Luck, Dalton and Rivers do it again next week – and have a good matchup in Week 16 -- then you can think about using them, but don't get too excited yet.
Notable Riser: Still worried about Peyton Manning in the cold? Don't be. It was in the teens for Denver's game against Tennessee (who entered with the No. 7 pass defense), but Manning had little problem racking up big fantasy points again (39.78). We'll admit we even had some doubts about Manning after his first lackluster performance in cold weather this year, but he's clearly fine and remains the ultimate “must-start” in the fantasy playoffs.
Notable Faller: Another week, another set of bad performances from Colin Kaepernick (14.1 fantasy points) and Robert Griffin III (13.46). Both of these players have big-time upside, but the risk is much higher than the reward right now, especially with Griffin III, who might get benched for the rest of the year. By now, fantasy owners should know not to start these guys.
Adrian Peterson's foot sprain was the biggest fantasy subplot of Week 14. The likely top-overall pick in most leagues left in the first half of Minnesota's game in Baltimore, paving the way for another late-season Toby Gerhart surge. It's unclear how serious Peterson's injury is (though it sounds like he'll be out this week), but with Vikings clearly only playing for pride at this point, they have no reason to rush him back.
Gerhart seems to do well when given extended playing time, and he could have big value down the stretch if his tweaked hamstring isn't too serious. Likewise, Marcel Reece always seems to step up when given the opportunity for Oakland. With both Darren McFadden (ankle) and Rashad Jennings (concussion) out, he did major damage against the Jets, who entered Sunday's game as the league's top run defense. Joique Bell also did well in relief of Reggie Bush (hamstring). Gerhart's, Reece's and Bell's performances should remind you to handcuff your top backs if feasible.
Notable Riser: Shane Vereen isn't just for PPR leaguers. Sure, he caught 12 of 17 targets for 153 receiving yards and only ran for nine yards on Sunday, but yards are yards, regardless of how a running back gets them (he also scored). With Rob Gronkowski (knee) out for the year, Vereen will continue to be an integral part of New England's offense. And with Stevan Ridley (8-35) doing little in his return to the lineup, Vereen could even get more carries.
Notable Faller: Platoon situations once again caused problems for fantasy owners. Miami's Daniel Thomas returned and had 10 more carries, 85 more yards and one more TD than Lamar Miller; C.J. Spiller had six more carries than Fred Jackson, but neither managed more than 48 total yards; and Danny Woodhead (11 touches compared to 32 for Ryan Mathews) is still shrinking in San Diego's offense. Chris Ivory did get eight more carries than Bilal Powell, but three of those came in run-out-the-clock mode, so the split wasn't really as wide as it looked. Best advice: avoid these situations if possible. If you have to trust any of these players, Ivory and Spiller have the most upside in a given week, but none of these guys are more than matchup-plays.
Both Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola scored last week despite neither receiving double-digit targets, but with Gronkowski out, their roles should increase even more.
A trio of rookies, coincidentally all of whom played at the University of Tennessee, could start seeing more targets down the stretch. The increased role of Minnesota's Cordarelle Patterson (5-141, TD, 5 targets) has been bubbling for awhile, but Tennessee's Justin Hunter (3-108, TD, 6 targets) and Indianapolis' Da'Rick Rogers (6-107, 2 TDs, 9 targets) also had breakout games. It was Rogers' first real playing time this year, but Hunter has had at least five targets in four-straight games, so he's very much on the radar. Don't be afraid to add these guys for depth.
Notable Riser: All three of Denver's starting wide receivers (plus returning TE Julius Thomas) got in the end zone last week, with Eric Decker leading the way in both targets (12) and yards (117). Wes Welker (10 targets) left the game because of a concussion, otherwise he was on pace to at least get the most looks, if not yards. The lesson? Always start your Broncos' wide receivers. Decker, Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas should all gain even more value if Welker misses time, but there's no obvious replacement to step up in his place. Either TE Jacob Tamme or WR Andre Caldwell would get more targets, but it's unlikely either would be fantasy relevant.
Dwayne Bowe (69 yards, TD), Jordy Nelson (4-85, four targets) and Roddy White (8-74, 10 targets) also reminded owners that they're not worthless and can still do damage in the right matchups.
Notable Faller: Just because Rogers is a guy to watch in Indianapolis – along with LaVon Brazill, who had two touchdowns -- doesn't mean you should write off T.Y. Hilton. Hilton had one of his worst games of the year, catching just two of five targets for seven yards. But he was still involved, though minimally, and perhaps just as important for him was Andrew Luck breaking his slump. Hilton will put up big numbers again soon.
Plenty of “sleeper” TEs scored in Week 14, but a bunch of proven studs who owners were worried about – Jordan Cameron, Vernon Davis, Jason Witten and Tony Gonzalez – also scored. Meanwhile, “super-sleeper” Ladarius Green was shut out. With guys at certain positions, you just have to play it safe. This doesn't mean Green is worthless, as he could easily have value in two weeks, but there's no way to you can trust him next week unless Antonio Gates is out.
Notable Riser: Dennis Pitta made a triumphant return from his hip injury, catching six of 11 targets for 48 yards and a TD. It's tough to know how to assess the final couple minutes of the Vikings-Ravens game since it was so crazy – and that's when Pitta caught his touchdown – but he clearly has no restrictions, so fantasy owners should pick him up and consider him a legit option over the next two weeks.
Notable Faller: Jordan Reed missed his third-straight game because of a concussion, and it seems clear that he's suffering more effects than “normal” concussion symptoms. Even if he plays next week, he could be limited, and with Washington having nothing to play for, fantasy owners shouldn't be counting on him. If you need roster space, don't be afraid to drop him.
Chargers at Broncos
Stat to know: Josh McCown should keep rolling if he gets another start. The Chargers allow 284 passing yards per game and a total of 21.6 fantasy points per game to quarterbacks (11th most). If Jay Cutler is back, he immediately becomes a decent sleeper.
Sleeper: RB Ryan Mathews (Bears allow fourth-most fantasy points per game to RBs.)