It almost seems like there is a rule that demands the fantasy playoffs must be filled with crazy and unlikely performances. This year’s Week 14 proved to be no exception, with two running backs that aren’t technically starters occupying the top two spots on the leaderboard. Jonathan Stewart led the way with 28 points on his first career three-touchdown day, an effort that absolutely dwarfed starter Christian McCaffrey’s woeful four-point day. Rod Smith rewarded patient fantasy owners with two long fourth quarter touchdowns, giving him 27 fantasy points to starter Alfred Morris’s eight.
There were still some reliable players that came through in the clutch though. Carson Wentz and Dak Prescott tied for the lead among quarterbacks with 26, though the former suffered a scary injury that will end his season. Jordan Howard has been a little inconsistent this season, but he showed why he was a consensus first-rounder by putting up 26 as well. Post-hype sleepers DeAndre Hopkins and Todd Gurley both claimed 24 points, as both are returning first round value despite having been drafted as second-rounders (or potentially third-rounders in shallower leagues).
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Regardless of how it happens, all that matters in the fantasy playoffs is winning and going on to play another week. Even if your team is losing or winning today, there could still be a chance of craziness changing your matchup’s outcome during the Miami Dolphins-New England Patriots Monday Night Football clash tonight. You just never know this time of year and that’s part of what makes fantasy so fun (well, at least when you’re on the winning end). Here’s a look at some of the more notable performances from Week 14’s Sunday slate.
Surprise of the Week: Rod Smith, DAL RB.
Just one week ago, fantasy experts were out there touting Morris as the surefire Cowboys RB to own for the remainder of Ezekiel Elliott’s six-game suspension. Yours truly was among those firmly in the Morris camp. And yet, things changed so completely just 10 days after the Cowboys’ Thursday Night Football win from Week 13.
For much of this week’s game against the New York Giants, the Cowboys looked to be in serious danger of being upset. Halfway through the fourth quarter, they led 17-10 in a game that was every bit as close as that score suggests. Then Smith broke the game open with an 81-yard touchdown catch with 4:08 remaining. Less than two minutes later, he put the game completely on ice with a 15-yard run with 2:57 remaining.
Smith’s 27 fantasy points were primarily earned via the air. He caught five catches on five targets for 113 yards and a touchdown. Via the ground, he gained 47 yards and a touchdown on six attempts. Morris was actually the better runner with 62 yards on 19 attempts.
As anyone who saw the whole game will tell you, Smith’s stats were saved by the late touchdowns. He would have finished with six or seven points without them, just enough to count for moderately successful flex numbers. Morris is still clearly their preferred runner, but Smith’s five targets put him in a three-way tie for second in Cowboys’ pass targets this week. Now, this comes a week after Smith had zero receiving targets, but it will be interesting to see if he can develop into a reliable pass catching RB, something that neither Elliott or Morris do particularly well.
For both Morris and Smith, Week 15 will provide them one final showcase opportunity for the season before Elliott returns. As to which Cowboys RB to start before then, it’s anyone’s guess. If you have either Morris or Smith, you’re almost certainly going to have to start that player next week. But it’s a difficult situation to read and given Smith’s lack of usage in the running game, it’s hard to see him delivering an encore performance next week.
Demaryius Thomas, DEN WR.
The 4:05 game between the Denver Broncos and the New York Jets didn’t get a lot of attention, with both teams looking like they are well on their way to clinching losing seasons. For those few who did get to watch it, the game wasn’t all that interesting with the Broncos dominating 23-0. Not at all the type of game you’d expect from a Broncos team that had lost eight in a row and looked fully committed to getting the highest possible first round draft pick.
Demaryius Thomas has quietly remained one of the Broncos’ best players during this trying time and he was a large reason for their win yesterday. He scored 15 fantasy points with eight receptions on 12 targets for 93 yards and one touchdown. The Broncos totaled 200 receiving yards, meaning that Thomas was very close to earning 50% of the team’s output through the air. He thoroughly dominated the targets too, with no other Bronco getting more than four targets.
Trevor Siemian’s return as the Broncos QB has proven to be very good for Thomas, who has clearly outperformed fellow starting WR Emmanuel Sanders since the switch. Granted, the Broncos are still a terrible team and their quarterback woes continue to badly hurt their offense. Thomas remains fairly consistent though with four double-digit performances in his last six games. He is no longer a top five WR like he was in 2012 and 2013, but Thomas is dominating Denver’s passing targets and showing that he’s still got the power needed to capitalize on favorable matchups.
Jimmy Garoppolo, SF QB.
It looks like the San Francisco 49ers may have found their franchise QB. And if you’re a desperate fantasy owner looking for a QB, Garoppolo may be the guy you’re looking for. On a week where surprising quarterbacks like Mitch Trubisky and Brett Hundley put up huge numbers, Garoppolo’s second start of the season may have gotten a little less attention.
Yet Garoppolo had solid stats for the second week in a row. He finished with 15 fantasy points, going 20-of-33 for 334 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Those clearly aren’t world-beating numbers, but they are improvements upon his nine points in the ugly win over the Chicago Bears last week. And like last week, Garoppolo did enough to get the 49ers a win as they took down the Houston Texans 26-16. It’s clear that Garoppolo’s presence has injected some life into an offense that has struggled mightily for much of 2017.
Garoppolo will be tested some in the next two weeks with the Tennessee Titans on deck in Week 15 and the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 16. Still, if you’re looking for a streaming QB, you can’t afford to be picky. Garoppolo is likely only going to improve as he gets more reps under center and thanks to his connection with players like WR Marquise Goodwin, there’s reason to believe that he’ll finish out the season strong.
LeSean McCoy, BUF RB
It was surreal seeing game day highlights from the Buffalo Bills-Indianapolis Colts game. Nearly every season there is at least one game where NFL teams have to deal with major snowfall. This game, though, had to be one of the worst in recent memory and with neither the Colts or Bills able to top 100 passing yards, the game was ultimately decided by who ran the ball better.
That answer was easily the Bills, thanks to a stupendous effort by LeSean McCoy. McCoy had 21 fantasy points with 32 carries for 156 yards and one touchdown. That touchdown came late in overtime and was significant in that it prevented this hideous blizzard-bowl from ending as a horrid 7-7 tie.
McCoy’s performance was arguably the only good thing Bills fans could be proud of this game. Fantasy owners too can feel very happy with his performance. When you can’t see at all every time you drop back to pass, it forces you to rely on a featured back and even at this later stage in his career, McCoy can still be that back.
As a consensus first rounder this year, McCoy should be due for more big performances in the fantasy playoffs. He’s got the Dolphins and the Patriots, respectively, over the next two weeks. Both defenses represent good matchups for running backs and it also helps that the Bills likely won’t pass too much in the likely case that Nathan Peterman remains their starter at quarterback. McCoy is a surefire RB1, but don’t expect 30+ carries in a game again this season.
Kirk Cousins, WAS QB.
Having a QB deliver a dud performance in the fantasy playoffs can be one of the singlehandedly most frustrating things to deal with in the game. This is especially frustrating given that the NFL is a QB-driven league and often that position will give you your highest scorer of the week.
Kirk Cousins was arguably the most disappointing QB of the week. He went 15-of-27 for 151 yards, a touchdown and an interception. It was a really ugly game for basically every Washington Redskin as the team was shredded 30-13 by the Los Angeles Chargers in a game that the former team was never really in.
The loss was likely enough to end realistic playoff hopes for the Redskins. It also comes at an awful time for Cousins, who is hoping to raise his free agency stock with a huge last month of the season. If you drafted Cousins, you were likely of the belief that he could be one of those top QB’s that could lead your team to victory in the fantasy playoffs. Instead, he delivered a bad performance and now looks to be a QB to avoid with upcoming games against the Arizona Cardinals and the Broncos.
Cincinnati Bengals D/ST
I have not mentioned defenses for this column yet, however I feel as though I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention the stink bomb delivered by the Cincinnati Bengals yesterday. When you start a defense for fantasy, you’re looking at matchups and hoping that you’ll find a solid defensive unit going against a struggling offense. The Bengals absolutely checked that mark for their game against the Chicago Bears and yet, they were blown out 33-7. At home to a team that is 4-9 and has looked like the worst team in the NFL the past two weeks.
The Bengals totaled -4 fantasy points in standard leagues, though I get that many leagues vary in how defenses are scored. The point is that by delivering a negative showing, the Bengals offered the ultimate slap in the face to any fantasy owner who started them. You would have been better off not starting any defenses and just taking the zero.
This is an absolutely damning loss for the Bengals and for Marvin Lewis. It strongly indicates a team that has quit on him. To allow 33 points to a team with a struggling offense run by a rookie QB and to respond with just seven of your own is downright pathetic. The Bengals get the Minnesota Vikings and the Detroit Lions the next two weeks, but they can’t inspire any confidence whatsoever and should be avoided at all costs by fantasy owners.