And we've made it to the end. The end of the fantasy regular season, that is. For more than two months, you've scoured stats, combed the waiver wire and agonized over every lineup decision. All to come down to one game. Maybe you've got a win-and-in scenario. Maybe you need a win and some help. Either way, winning is a must for most of us this week.
The bad news is that there are still two teams on a bye. The slightly better news is that those teams don't have a slew of fantasy-relevant players. The slightly worse news is that we've seen more injuries to big-time fantasy contributors. In a week where winning is of the utmost importance, it's equally important to take some big swings and make some tough decisions. The sleepers column returns to help you do just that. But enough of the antici … pation. Let's get to some names.
I had DangeRuss in this space last week, thinking he was ready to take off. Even though he hadn’t posted huge numbers the prior few weeks, Wilson was playing good football. More importantly, he wasn’t turning the ball over. Then came Week 13. Russ threw three interceptions and failed to reach 18 fantasy points for the third straight week. Alas, we persist.
We persist because the Chargers defense hasn’t been great against (non-New-England) quarterbacks. On six occasions this year, the Bolts have been touched up for at least 270 passing yards. Opposing quarterbacks have tossed multiple touchdown scores on five occasions. Denver’s offense operates at a slower pace, which automatically caps Wilson’s ceiling, but a lackluster Chargers pass defense should raise his weekly floor a bit. With so many quarterbacks injured, Wilson is a low-end QB1 this week.
Ridder hasn’t been great this year. But there have been a couple of weeks where he was pretty good. At a point in the season where so many quarterbacks have gone down and fantasy managers are likely in need of streaming options, “pretty good” might be good enough.
Another good enough: the matchup. When the Falcons and Bucs played back in Week 7, Ridder had one of his better passing games. Had he not lost three fumbles, he would have posted nearly 20 fantasy points. I’m willing to believe the fumbles were an anomaly (he’s only lost one since then). If he can duplicate -- or improve upon -- that passing performance against an underwhelming pass defense, he can be a high-end QB2 this week.
What kind of a fantasy football world are we currently occupying? The kind where a 38-year-old veteran quarterback can come out of retirement, throw for 254 yards with two touchdowns and nearly end up as a top 12 signal-caller for the week. Such is life. And it’s in this world that we must make tough decisions.
First of all, shoutout to Adam Rank, who touted Flacco on last week’s edition of the Hype Train. I admit that I was skeptical -- though I did think it meant good things for the Browns receivers. This week, I’m fully on board. The Browns host a Jaguars defense that just gave up 354 passing yards to Jake Browning. Yeah, this remains a good situation for Cleveland’s pass-catchers but it’s a good situation for Flacco, too. Think of him as a high-end QB2.
The Texans backfield is a bit of a moving target. We started the year thinking Pierce would dominate the opportunities. But he faltered with his chances before an injury opened the door for Devin Singletary. After a string of solid performances, we thought Singletary would be the back to lean on, only to have Pierce post his best game in weeks. For now, it looks like we're back where we began, with Pierce atop Houston's RB pecking order.
Meanwhile knee-jerk reaction is to avoid anything involving the Jets defense. Especially with an offense as pass-heavy as Houston's has been. But if there's a weakness in New York's D, it's been against running backs. Gang Green has allowed the seventh-most fantasy points per game to the position. They've been equally pliant on the ground and through the air versus RBs. The game script should remain neutral or positive, putting the Texans in position to run the ball. Pierce's ceiling remains fairly low, but this gives him a chance get closer to it. He's a high-end RB3 in Week 14.
Green Bay’s recent addition of Kenyan Drake speaks volumes. It primarily suggests that we might not see Aaron Jones for at least another week. Maybe longer. It also suggests that the Packers are looking for someone who can catch the ball out of the backfield. It’s not something they’ve trusted Dillon with this year.
However, they have been willing to trust Dillon with a decent-sized rushing workload. He’s taken 64 percent of the rushing volume since Week 11. That should be enough to carve out a solid run performance against the Giants. New York’s last few attempts to stop its rushing adversaries have not gone well. In four of the Giants' last five games, a running back has had a top-seven weekly finish. If Dillon can maintain his recent trend of improved rushing efficiency, he could have a weekly RB1 finish of his own in Week 14.
Hubbard is another sterling example of the twists and turns a fantasy season can take. Over the summer, fantasy enthusiasts weren't thinking at all about Hubbard. Miles Sanders was Carolina's lead back. While our expectations for Sanders were low, he at least was going to get the touches. Hubbard was not.
Fast forward to December. Frank Reich has been fired and it looks like Hubbard is the new running back of record in Charlotte. Last week, he had a season high in snaps and carries and was the first Panthers running back to run for 100 yards in a game this season. This week, he gets a Saints defense that gave up 116 yards to the duo of David Montgomery and Jahmyr Gibbs. Hubbard is likely to win more with volume than efficiency. But he’s likely to see that volume in an offense that now looks intent on protecting rookie quarterback Bryce Young as much as possible. Think of Hubbard as an RB3 candidate.
One truism of fantasy football this season has been to start your running backs against Las Vegas. The Raiders have allowed the sixth-most fantasy points per game to the position. They’ve also surrendered a top-12 back four times since Week 7. That includes D’Onta Foreman and Jahmyr Gibbs in consecutive weeks.
The Vikings aren’t as run-heavy as the Bears. Nor do they have the backfield talent of the Lions. But they have shown an ability to succeed on the ground in the right matchups. Last we saw Mattison, he was having one of his most efficient rushing games of the year. Even with Ty Chandler lurking, Mattison has maintained the lead role in the backfield. Justin Jefferson’s return means the Vikings could skew more pass-heavy, but it should also open things up for Mattison to run through an already soft Raiders run defense. He has low-end RB2 vibes this week.
While Courtland Sutton has turned into a nice piece for fantasy managers, we’re still waiting for a performance of substance for Jerry Jeudy. He has just one touchdown this season and zero games with more than seven targets. Some of the faults lie with an offense that doesn’t offer much volume in the passing game. Others lie with a player who doesn’t consistently win downfield.
That could change this week against the Chargers. Los Angeles held up well in Week 12 against the Ravens. But don’t let last week’s shutdown of the Patriots obscure the fact that this secondary has been torched all season. They’ve allowed the second-most passing yards in the league. They’ve also yielded the third-most explosive pass plays (plays of 16-plus yards, according to Next Gen Stats). Sutton should get plenty of work, but Jeudy has one of his best opportunities of the season. He’s a flex play in deeper leagues.
Deep sleeper ...
It only took 14 weeks, a third-string quarterback and the Giants falling completely out of the playoff picture … but Hyatt finally looks relevant to fantasy managers. The speedy rookie had the best game of his young career in Week 12 with five catches for 109 yards. It felt like a culmination of The Process working its magic. Hyatt has seen fluctuating route participation and inconsistent target share. But against the Patriots, he made good on the promise of being a field-stretcher. His 24.4 average depth of target is tops among wideouts with at least 100 routes run.
This week’s game against Green Bay is another chance to unleash Hyatt. The Packers' numbers against fantasy receivers look good -- they’ve allowed the ninth-fewest points per game to the position. Yet a deeper inspection shows that they’ve taken advantage of poor offenses while still giving up some big games. Admittedly, the Giants offense doesn’t scare anyone. But with Tommy DeVito throwing the ball with reckless abandon, it’s not unfathomable that Hyatt could see more than a few downfield opportunities. He’s a deep-league flex play this week.
I just can’t quit Gerald Everett. He hasn’t had any big spike weeks, but he’s also just relevant enough that I continue to believe one is coming. Maybe it’s because he’s second on the team in targets in the games he’s played. Not all that surprising since the Chargers still haven’t found a consistent secondary pass-catching option after Keenan Allen. Either way, I continue to hold out hope that Everett becomes the sleeper tight end fantasy managers deserve.
This week’s game against the Broncos offers another dose of copium. Despite Denver’s noted improvement on defense, Vance Joseph's group still has been quite forgiving to fantasy tight ends. Over the past four weeks, the Broncos have allowed the second-most catches, third-most yards and most receiving touchdowns to the position. Everett has maintained a steady, if unspectacular, target share. If he can add a receiving score to the mix, he has the potential to be a mid-range TE1 this week.
Otton probably appears in this space once a month. He profiles as the quintessential sleeper/streaming tight end. A decent pass-catching option in an offense with decent pass volume and just enough scoring to give him a fighting chance of finding the end zone. He’s almost always involved in route-running, is third on the team in targets and is also third in end zone looks.
Enter the Atlanta Falcons. The Dirty Birds have been a welcome opponent for tight ends. Atlanta has served up the fourth-most catches and the third-most yards to the position on the year. Otton had a nine-point day when the teams met in Week 7. Similar usage with the possibility of a touchdown means he has a low-end TE1 ceiling.
Houston hired DeMeco Ryans as its head coach with the belief that he would fix the team's broken defense. As with nearly every aspect of the blossoming young franchise, that fix might be happening sooner than expected. The Texans are middle-of-the-pack defensively but appear to be improving every week. They’ve have also done some of their best work versus some of the NFL’s weakest offenses.
That should be enough to convince you to start them this week against the Jets. In nearly every major offensive category, Gang Green ranks near the bottom of the league. They also enter Week 14 in one of the strangest and least inspiring QB situations we’ve seen -- returning to Zach Wilson after benching him for the now released Tim Boyle. Regardless, the Jets have way more issues than just under center. We’ve targeted them with streaming defenses for weeks. Why stop now?
Marcas Grant is a fantasy analyst for NFL.com and a man who has started thinking of spring planting season. Send him your gardening tips or fantasy football questions on Twitter @MarcasG or TikTok at marcasgrant.