Preps Talk

Start 'emSit 'em: Week 14

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Start 'emSit 'em: Week 14

After 13 weeks, Mark still remains our leader. We think he may be cheating so we're going to hire a private investigator take a look into that. With that being said, fantasy football playoffs are upon us. With the injury bug affecting players around the league, now is the perfect time to raid your league's waiver wire. There very well may be a hidden gem that could lead you to a fantasy football championship in your league.

Just a reminder for those keeping score at home (though we'll do it for you), for players who each analyst starts, these are the points they will receive:

Start 'em:

5 points if a player scores 25 points
4: 20-24
3: 15-19
2: 10-14
1: 5-9
0: negative-4

Sit 'em:

5 points if a player scores negative points to 5 points
4: 5-9
3: 10-14
2: 15-19
1: 20-24
0: 25

Without further adieu, here are our picks for Week 14. Good luck!

Mark Strotman (Week 13: 14 points; Season total: 164 points)

Do I get a bye for standing atop the rankings to start the playoff schedule? All kidding aside, this week's starts and sits are crucial as teams enter win-or-go-home matchups. But you've got to take chances (and subsequently get lucky) to win most playoff matchups, especially in the first round where teams are more or less even in quality. I've got high-reward plays this week in my starts, while my sits don't have much upside but are solid low-end plays. If you tail me and I'm right, congratulations on moving to the second round. If I fail, I pray you don't know where I live.

Start 'em:

Steven Jackson, RB -- STL (@ BUF)

Kudos to Jeff Fisher to finally using his star running back like he should. After seven of eight single-digit performances to begin the season (and trade block rumors), Jackson has turned it on as of late. Averaging 12.3 points over his last four, the Rams are going to run early and often against a weak Bills' rush defense. Jackson is an easy RB2 play, with RB1 upside. It's great to see a workhorse like him carry you into the playoffs.

James Jones, WR -- GB (vs. DET)

Remember him? The guy who went for two touchdowns in three straight games in the middle of the season, but has since caught four balls in the last three games? He'll be back as a prime target for Aaron Rodgers as Jordy Nelson likely sits with a hamstring injury. It's a risky play, but you could do a whole lot worse in the flex than Jones against a Lions' secondary prone to big plays.

Joe Flacco, QB -- BAL (@WAS)

Of all the fantasy headaches suffered annually, the play of Joe Flacco may top the charts in 2012. He has gone for 18 or more points five different times, including a 29-point effort in Week 10, but also had seven or fewer points four different times. I've got faith in him against a Washington defense on a short week that allowed Tony Romo to gunsling all over the field on Monday. Bet on Flacco to be a QB1 as he and the Ravens rebound from a bad home loss to Pittsburgh last week.

Sit 'em:

Ryan Mathews, RB -- SD (@ PIT)

If you haven't already cut Mathews out of your regular starting lineup, allow me to do it for you. He hasn't reached double-digit points since Week 5 against the lowly Saints' defense, and while he's getting carries he isn't doing anything with them. The Steelers aren't what they once were against the run, but Mathews doesn't have a high enough upside anymore (that would have sounded crazy in September) to warrant starting him in the playoffs.

Chris Givens, WR -- STL (@ BUF)

Danny Amendola may return in Week 14 and, as I said above, I see the Rams trying to win this one on the ground. GIvens has been a boom-or-bust play most of the year (think Denarius Moore) and while he's coming off an 11-catch performance against the 49ers, that game was at home and in a dome, where the weather will be as close to opposite in Buffalo. Find another flex as a safer play.

Ben Roethlisberger, QB -- PIT (vs. SD)

It'll be a triumphant return for Big Ben after Charlie Batch led the Steelers to a win in Baltimore, but I'm thinking the rust is going to be pretty thick. Mike Wallace will be itching to get back on the field with Roethlisberger at the helm, but Pittsburgh is likely to play it safe in this one. Roethlisberger looks like a low-end QB1 play, but you can probably do better.

Tony Andracki (Week 13: 9 points; Season total: 147 points)

Well, that's about right. Seemingly every week, one of the guys I pick as a "sit" wind up having their best game of the season. So, I'm sure it'll happen again this week. So instead of guys I think you should put on your bench, I'm picking guys you should lower your expectations on.

It's playoff time, and every move you make counts, every injury is magnified. There is no tomorrow if you lose. Alright, enough of the superlatives. Don't overthink things. Go with your gut. Go with the guys that helped get you here. Go with the hot hand. Trust yourself and your judgement. Even if you backed your way into the playoffs, you still got there somehow, so rely on those instincts.

Start 'em:
Greg Jennings, WR -- GB (vs. DET)

If you still have Jennings on your roster and you draftedhim, there's a good chance you're not in the playoffs. Jennings has been anon-factor this season, but most of that was due to injury. If you do happen tobe playing this week, start Jennings. He returned to the field last week andimmediately demanded a team-high 8 targets. Couple that with the fact thisPackers-Lions game should be a shootout and Jennings could be a big factor inyour opening round matchup.

Tony Romo, QB -- DAL (@ CIN)

So much for Romo struggling in December, huh? Hisfantastically hot streak continued Sunday night with a second straight game ofat least 300 yards and 3 TDs, though this time, he didn't throw a pick. Ridethe hot hand again this week.

Chris Johnson, RB -- TEN (@ IND)

Indy boasts one of the worst run defense in the NFL, as evenShonn Greene and the Jets tore these guys up. The Colts have allowed 12 rushingTDs this season and if the Titans want to stay in this game, they'll need aheavy dose of Johnson. CJ is the bellcow in Tennessee and he will be a factorthis week. Plus, there's always the chance he busts a long run.

Sit 'em:

Matt Ryan, QB -- ATL (@ CAR)

Ryan has been one of the most pleasant surprises this season and was actually fantasy's top quarterback through the first couple weeks. But he's slowed down some since then, and has not scored more than 15 points in four of his last five games. In that span, he has just 5 TDs and 7 INTs despite four games of 300 yards. The Panthers are actually one of the best teams in the league at limiting opposing QBs, allowing multiple TDs in just three games this season. Ryan will probably be OK, but don't expect a monster game.

Bryce Brown, RB -- PHI (@ TB)

Brown's two-game stretch has been absolutely ridiculous. If you somehow started him each of the past two weeks, you probably won your matchup, especially in PPR leagues. But this won't last forever. He will come back to Earth. Maybe not this week, but the Bucs definitely provide a tough opponent. Tampa Bay has allowed just two 100 yard rushers, and only one since Week 4 (which was Adrian Peterson). If you start Brown this week, do so with caution.

Hakeem Nicks, WR -- NYG (vs NO)

Nicks finally looked to be in the clear and re-established as a fantasy stud after three solid games. But then his knee flared up and he missed Thursday's practice and is now questionable for the game. The Giants play in the second block of games Sunday, so there will be very few options left to replace Nicks if he doesn't suit up. Even if he does play, the Saints actually provide a very tough matchup. New Orleans started out awful defensively, but they've been great against the pass lately, allowing just 12 fantasy points to opposing WRs the past two weeks, including a matchup against Roddy White and Julio Jones last week. There's just too much risk to safely start Nicks.

Scott Krinch (Week 13: 15 points; Season total: 158 points)

Well just like that I'm right back in the hunt and only trail Mark by six points. I needed a huge week and "What can Brown do for you" provided that for me. My sit of Colin Kaepernick paid huge dividends, but I'm still upset about starting Eric Decker after he did nada against the Buccaneers. For this week I'm going to take a few chances, but try to play it safe with some of my sits. I need to catch Mark in any possible way. With that said, give my picks a gander and find your hidden gem that will lead you to a playoff victory.

Start 'em:

Jay Cutler, QB -- CHI (@ MIN)

Quietly Jay Cutler has had two solid games in a row with three touchdowns and zero interceptions. The Bears' ground attack seems to be non-existent and the Vikings are stout against the run in their dome. Getting a big target in Alshon Jeffery back and Brandon Marshall being beastly week in and week out bodes well for Cutler's fantasy value.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB -- CIN (vs. DAL)

The "Law Firm" has been on an absolute tear the past three games, rushing for over 100 yards in each contest and totaling two touchdowns. Insert a Cowboys defense, who has given up 325 yards on 56 carries the last two games. I think the matchup favors Green-Ellis after seeing those numbers. I may be buying into the hype a little too much right now, but I can't justify sitting him.

Pierre Garcon, WR -- WAS (vs. BAL)

After an injury-riddled season, Garcon is finally starting to show fantasy owners why they were so high on him going into the season. RGIII has targeted the former Colt 17 times the last two games and Garcon 12 catches for 192 yards and two scores. I don't see any reason why that doesn't continue. The Ravens defense has been iffy against the pass and Garcon will take advantage of their secondary in Week 14. Get him in your lineup...immediately.

Sit 'em:

Cam Newton, QB -- CAR (vs. ATL)

Is their a hotter quarterback in the league right now than Cam Newton. It'd be hard pressed to find one. This week I think he falls back to earth or just has an average game. After seeing what the Falcons did to Drew Brees in a dome, I'm starting to buy into Atlanta's defense. I see it being a low scoring contest, with a late field possibly winning it.

Alfred Morris, RB -- WAS (vs. BAL)

If it wasn't for RGIII in Washington, the "A-Train" would be getting a lot more publicity. Two straight 100 yards for Morris, but I believe that will come to an end against the Ravens. Baltimore's rushing' defense is allowing 91.5 yards per game, not great, but not awful. Morris may rack up the yards, but when were talking about fantasy playoffs you need a touchdown. I don't see that happening this week. Keep the train in the station for this week.

Julio Jones, WR -- ATL (@ CAR)

Jones has been one of the ultimate boom or bust fantasy players this season. He's still dealing with an ankle injury and his numbers have been off three out of the last four games. I have a bad feeling about him this week and if you want an Atlanta Falcon receiver in your lineup in Week 14, go with Roddy "Rowdy" White.

Previewing and predicting the IHSA State Football Championship games

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USA TODAY

Previewing and predicting the IHSA State Football Championship games

NBC Sports Chicago will have complete recaps and highlights from this weekend's IHSA State Football Championship games on High School Lites, Saturday at 11 p.m. Can anyone score when Lincoln-Way East takes on Loyola in Class 8A?  So who you got between Batavia and Lake Zurich? Can Nazareth Academy stun the defending Class 6A state champs in Prairie Ridge? Can Phillips bring home another state title trophy and beat Dunlap in 5A? Can Morris derail 4A state power Rochester? Can IC make the Cinderella story come to an end for 16 seeded Pleasant Plains in 3A? Who comes away with a win on Friday between Maroa-Forsyth and GCMS? Will it be the ground and pound Le-Win in 1A or are you more of a balanced offense fan of Tuscola?

Class 8A

Lincoln-Way East (13-0) vs. Loyola Academy (12-1) at DeKalb (Huskie Stadium) Sat., Nov. 25, 7:00 pm

EDGY's Take: Both Lincoln-Way East and Loyola feature two of the state's top defenses along with strong quarterback play. QB Brendan Morrissey (2,458 yards of total offense with 29 combined TD's) leads a balanced offensive attack that also features senior RB Ryan Scianna (696 yards rushing) plus big-play ability from sophomore WR AJ Henning. Loyola has gotten a huge senior year from QB Quinn Boyle (2,695 yards of total offense 27 combined TD's) along with a committee of running backs plus senior WR James Joyce (50 catches for 621 yards 4TD's) and senior WR Rory Boos (37 catches 743 yards 10 TD's). So whose defense rises to the occasion? How healthy is East QB Brendan Morrissey? How healthy is Loyola overall? I fully expect a very tight and one turnover or big play could be a difference maker.

EDGY's Pick: Lincoln-Way East 17 Loyola 10

Class 7A

Batavia (12-1) vs. Lake Zurich (13-0) at DeKalb (Huskie Stadium)  Sat., Nov. 25, 4:00 pm

EDGY's Take: Batavia and head coach Dennis Piron are in search of the Bulldogs' second state football title on Saturday. The Bulldogs will look toward a balanced offensive attack led by senior QB Riley Cooper (2,001 yards passing 27 touchdowns) along with a steady group of running backs along with a good sized offensive line including senior OT Nolan Eike (Central Michigan). The Batavia defense is also a big reason why they are in DeKalb on Saturday. Keep an eye on senior SS Michael Niemiec (120 tackles) along with junior ILB Luke Weerts plus junior OLB Michael Jansey. Lake Zurich and first year head coach Luke Mertens have been able to steer this football program past last year's hazing scandal and into the state title game led by a revamped offense and the always strong Bears defense. The Bears offense has opened up the passing game behind senior QB Evan Lewandowski (2,572 yards passing 26 TD's) plus a steady dose of the running game led by senior RB/LB Joey Stutzman (1,094 yards rushing 15 TD's) while the Lake Zurich defense has speed. Keep an eye on senior LB Jack Sanborn (Wisconsin commit). Can the Batavia defense lock down the Lake Zurich multi-threat offense? Can the Lake Zurich defense contain Batavia's QB Riley Cooper? 

EDGY's Pick: Lake Zurich 21 Batavia 13

Class 6A

Prairie Ridge (13-0) vs. Nazareth Academy (12-1) at DeKalb (Huskie Stadium) Sat., Nov. 25, 1:00 pm

EDGY's Take: Prairie Ridge is looking to capture its second straight Class 6A state title and the school's third overall football championship on Saturday. The Wolves will put their fate in the hands of Iowa commit senior QB Samson Evans (1,957 yards rushing 36 TD's) along with a ground hugging power option attack. The Prairie Ridge defense has experience and also plenty of speed, and keep an eye on senior OL/DL Jeff Jenkins (Iowa commit) along with senior ILB Jacob Ommen and senior OLB Joe Perhats. Nazareth Academy and head coach Tim Racki has one of Chicagoland's youngest and most talented teams in 2017. The Road Runners will look for senior QB Bobby Grimes to get the ball into the hands of several playmakers including junior RB/DB Devin Blakely plus junior WR/DB Michael Love along with junior WR/S Diamond Evans. Nazareth Academy will also look towards its defense led by senior DT Isaiah Lee (Iowa State) and a unit that has both size and speed. Can the Road Runners defense contain Superman, aka Samson Evans? Can the Prairie Ridge defense match up and defend the multiple weapons from Nazareth on Saturday?

EDGY's Pick: Nazareth Academy 35 Prairie Ridge 34

Class 5A

Chicago (Phillips) (13-0) vs. Dunlap (13-0) at DeKalb (Huskie Stadium) Sat., Nov. 25, 10:00 am

EDGY's Take: Phillips is looking to capture the school's second state football title on Saturday morning. The Wildcats will rely on their running game anchored by senior RB/LB Craig Elmore (1,814 yards rushing 22 TD's)  while the passing game is also a strength, led by QB J'Bore Gibbs (South Dakota State commit) along with a strong group of receivers including senior WR/S Fabian McCray plus junior TE Jahleel Billingsley and junior WR/DB Joseph Thompson. The Phillips defense has a great mix of size upfront, led by senior DT Queneil Morrisson (NIU commit) plus speed on the edges with senior DE Terrance Taylor (Toledo commit) and an athletic group of defensive backs. Dunlap has rolled this season behind a mix of senior RB/DB Luke Bennyhoff (2,092 yards rushing 32 TD's) along with a big play play-action passing game led by QB Myles Burks (1,526 yards passing 17 TD's) plus senior TE/LB Nick Mangieri (Northwestern commit). The Eagles defense has also been a huge key this season and the defensive line is a strength. Keep an eye on junior Josiah Miamen. Can Dunlap keep the Phillips defense off balanced? Can Phillips establish its running game on Saturday against a strong Dunlap defense? 

EDGY's Pick: Phillips 22 Dunlap 17

Class 4A

Morris (11-2) vs. Rochester (13-0) at DeKalb (Huskie Stadium), Fri., Nov. 24, 7:00 pm

EDGY's Take: Morris and head coach Alan Thorson have a strong running game featuring senior RB/LB Kam Dransfeldt (1,679 yards rushing 20 TD's) and is led by a very large offensive line anchored by senior OL Nolan Feeney and senior OT Nathan Korte. The Redskins defense also has good size and speed upfront and will look towards senior team leading  tackler LB Kaden Laurie (118 tackles) plus senior DE/TE Tyler Spiezo. Rochester and head coach Derek Leonard is attempting to win the school's six state football title in seven years on Friday evening. Rochester senior QB Nic Baker (3,678 yards passing 52 TD's) leads a fast-paced Rockets shotgun spread offense that can beat opposing defense with both the run and the pass. The Rockets defense has also been very solid all season so keep an eye on senior LB Stephan McCree (63 solo tackles) plus senior LB/RB Nick Capriotti. Can Morris take the air out of the football, control time of possession and limit the Rochester offense's touches? Can the Morris defense contain the Rochester offense for four quarters?

EDGY's Pick: Rochester 37 Morris 21

Class 3A

 Elmhurst (IC Catholic) (12-1) vs. Pleasant Plains (10-3) at DeKalb (Huskie Stadium), Fri., Nov. 24, 4:00 pm

EDGY's Take: Immaculate Conception and head coach Bill Krefft is looking for a repeat win on Friday for the 3A state title, but the path to DeKalb has been anything but easy. The Knights needed to replace standout QB Luke Ricobene after suffering a season ending injury early in the year. However the Knights reloaded quickly. Keep an eye on senior QB CJ West (1,831 yards passing 24 TD's) along with junior WR/DB Khalil Saunders and with his twin brother WR/LB Khali Saunders plus a strong running attack led by senior RB/DB Lazerick Eatman (1, 277 yards 19 TD's). Pleasant Plains had made IHSA football playoff history already as the first ever No. 16 seed in the current 1 through 16 seeded bracket to make it to the state final game. The Cardinals offense under head coach Bobby Walworth has been as balanced as they come with a strong running game featuring senior RB/LB Nik Samson (1,470 yards rushing  19 TD's) plus senior QB Ben Reinert (2,114 yards passing 25 TD's) has been extremely impressive all season. The Pleasant Plains defense is led by do it all senior LB/TE/P Tristen Tewes (129 tackles) and junior LB Jake Hermes. Can the IC defense contain the Pleasant Plains multiple weapons on offense? Can Pleasant Plains match the overall physicality from the Knights?

EDGY's Pick: Immaculate Conception 35 Pleasant Plains 21

Class 2A

Gibson City (G.C.-Melvin-Sibley) (13-0) vs. Maroa (M.-Forsyth) (12-1) at DeKalb (Huskie Stadium) , Fri., Nov. 24, 1:00 pm

EDGY's Take: GCMS and head coach Mike Allen have relied this season on a strong running game along with a speedy and athletic squad on both sides of the football. The Falcons will hand the football off to either RB Mitch McNutt (1,550 yards rushing 29 TD's) or FB Jared Trantina (828 yards rushing 15 TD's)  while QB Nathan Garard might not throw it a ton, but when he does it's usually for a big gain. The Falcons defense has been outstanding all season long having allowed just 81 points over 13 games. Keep an eye on senior LB Luke Freehill (113 tackles) plus junior DL/LB Josh Bieich for the GCMS defense. Maroa Forsyth and veteran head coach Josh Jobst are back in the state title game for the second straight season and are making their 7th appearance over the past 12 years. The Trojans possess a high octane offense led by sophomore QB Ian Brenner (2,082 yards passing 23 TD's) along with RB Deondre Gregory (1,630 yards rushing 29 TD's) plus with several speedy and sure handed receivers. The Trojans defense is anchored by senior LB Tanner Falk plus  LB Aaron Inda. Can GCMS defense continue to lock down all comers including the Maroa powerful offense on Friday? Can the Maroa defense find an answer for the GCMS one-two punch of McNutt and Trantina?

EDGY's Pick: Maroa Forsyth 27 GCMS 21

Class 1A

 Lena (L.-Winslow) (13-0) vs. Tuscola (13-0) at DeKalb (Huskie Stadium) (map), Fri., Nov. 24, 10:00 am

EDGY's Take: Lena-Winslow and head coach Ric Arand are all about ground and pound on offense while the Panthers defense has been a strength all season long led by an impressive defensive line and back seven. Look for the Panthers to get senior FB/DB Rahveon Valentine (2,025 yards rushing 25 TD's)  involved early and often while sophomore RB/OLB Sean Ormiston and senior RB/LB Gabe Schwartz are also threats running the football. Senior QB Ty Christman (25 of 36 passes for 620 yards and 12 TD's) won't throw it a ton but is more than capable of keeping opposing defenses honest with play action passes. Tuscola is yet another familiar name in the IHSA state playoff field and the Warriors are a much more balanced offensive attack. Junior QB Luke Sluder (2,991 yards of total offense 38 TD's)  is a big time threat with the run and the pass while WR Dalton Hoel (45 catches for 1010 yards and 17 TD's) is Sluder's main target in the passing game. Tuscola also has good size upfront on both sides of the football and is anchored by senior OL/DL Hunter Woodard (6-foot-5, 285 pounds), who is verbally committed to Oklahoma State. Can Le-Win continue to run the football at will? Can the Tuscola defense keep the Le-Win offense on the sidelines and allow it's offense multiple touches?

EDGY's Pick: Lena-Winslow 35 Tuscola 24

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit first-place Lightning

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Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit first-place Lightning

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.

There hasn't been a more dynamic duo in the NHL so far this season than Kucherov and Stamkos, who have combined for 68 points (27 goals, 41 assists) through 20 games, and sit first and second in the scoring race.

They've each recorded a point in every game except three — which coincidentally have been the same games — and they've lost all three of those contests. Kucherov has also scored a goal in 15 of 20 games this season. That's absurd when you consider he's scoring on a consistent basis; it's not like they're coming in spurts.

To put all that into perspective, he reached the 17-goal mark in his 36th game last year and still finished second in the league with 40 goals. He hit the 17-goal mark in 16 fewer games this season. How many can he realistically finish with? 60?

2. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

Tampa Bay knows how dangerous Chicago's dynamic duo can be as well, as evidenced in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final. The Blackhawks' superstars know how to get up for a big game.

In 13 career regular-season games against the Lightning, Kane has 18 points (six goals, 12 assists). Toews has 14 points (eight goals, six assists) in 14 games.

They're both producing at or above a point-per-game pace, and they're going to need more of that against this powerhouse Lightning team.

3. Something's gotta give.

Tampa Bay's offensive prowess is off the charts up and down the lineup. It has four lines that can come at you at waves, and a strong, active blue line led by potential Norris Trophy finalist Viktor Hedman and Calder Trophy candidate Mikhail Sergachev.

Although Chicago allows the fourth-most shots per game (34.0), it actually hasn't been bad at preventing goals — a large reason for that is Corey Crawford. 

The Lightning rank first in goals per game (3.95) and first in power play percentage (28.0) while the Blackhawks rank sixth in goals against per game (2.65) and four in penalty kill percentage (84.9).

Who's going to crack first?