If you are an Incentives Member on RotoGrinders, you are surely familiar with my NFL Edge, which is released each Wednesday afternoon. In that article, I break down every game for that weekend’s slate from top to bottom, with a specific focus on Daily Fantasy Sports, and on which players are likeliest to have the most value that weekend based on game flow, usage, expected ownership, and expected success. Researching and writing this article is the most important and valuable thing I do each week in my own preparation, and this of course translates to make the article itself extremely valuable for readers.
While it’s great to have that NFL Edge on Wednesday, however, it’s sometimes even better to have an early jump on the week with a miniature version of the Edge. And so, for the second time this season, I present: The Mini NFL Edge.
Below, you will find a few early-week thoughts on each game that will be played in Week 14. Use this information to help you get started on your research, and to help you see some of the spots where you can take advantage of great fantasy plays while others are missing out.
Vikings at Cardinals
The Vikings are an excellent defense. We know this. What we also need to realize is that Anthony Barr is one of the best linebackers in the NFL, and Harrison Smith might be the best safety in the NFL. They’re both expected to miss this week after leaving the Vikings game in Week 13 and having only a few days to get better, and while the Cardinals’ offense has consistently underperformed in seemingly great spots while playing tremendously well in tough spots, this is a great spot. The entire offense is in play in this one. The only real concern is the possibility of the Cardinals getting up by so much that they take the air out of the ball. But, of course, this would lead to them keeping it on the ground - and there’s this really good rookie named David Johnson (heard of him?) who is going to handle the work on the ground.
The Vikings are going to have a much tougher time. We have seen Adrian Peterson act like a petulant child in regards to his workload in the past and go on to have a big game (with a huge workload) the next week. We have also seen him shred some really tough run defenses. But even with him complaining about his workload after Sunday’s destruction at the hands of the Seahawks, I’m not expecting him to have much success this week, even if they bump up his workload. The Cardinals can shut down this poor excuse for a passing game without dedicating extra attention to it, which means they can focus all their efforts on stopping Peterson while forcing Bridgewater to beat them. Good luck with that, Vikings.
Bills at Eagles
The Bills are another defense decimated by injury. With Kyle Williams out in the middle, the Bills’ run defense has become a shell of its former self, and with Stephon Gilmore looking at what is likely an extended absence in the secondary, they will also have a much harder time stopping the pass. The bigger issue is figuring out whom to target on the Eagles’ offense. I have a hard time rostering any pass game components on the Eagles, as their targets are so spotty (as is the effectiveness of these targets), and while I really do think DeMarco Murray’s light workload was based on game script, I’d have a hard time rostering any Eagles running back.
The Bills’ plan is a lot easier to decipher: they want to run. LeSean McCoy should get 20+ carries once again, along with some targets in the pass game, and since Rex Ryan is his coach, we also know Shady will get a few looks near the goal line in this “revenge game.” The Bills want to win, sure - but their second priority will be making sure Shady gets to smash his old team in the mouth. Tyrod Taylor and Sammy Watkins should also be in line for solid games, though volume is always a concern. The Eagles could force the Bills to throw more than they usually like to throw…but this would require the Eagles’ offense getting on track as well.
Seahawks at Ravens
The Ravens have Matt Schaub, Buck Allen, and Kamar Aiken as their primary offensive components. Volume is on their side, but that’s about it. Especially with the latter two seeing their prices begin to rise, it is highly unlikely that going here against the Seahawks will be profitable.
If we expect the Ravens to have a hard time scoring points, we need to also factor in the way this affects the Seahawks. Sure, Russell Wilson had a big game on low volume in a blowout win last week, but it’s still hard to rely on such high efficiency. That’s one way of looking at things. The other way of looking at things is that the Ravens are better against the run than they are against the pass, so the Seahawks should continue to take to the air a fair amount. I will not make any definitive proclamations here this early in the week; I’ll be digging into the Seahawks a lot this week to see if I can figure out where their fantasy goodness is likeliest to come from, as they should see plenty of fantasy goodness.
49ers at Browns
I love rostering players in a game that pits a pair of “seemingly mediocre offenses” against a pair of bad defenses. In Week 6, we captured tons of fantasy goodness from the Bears-Lions game in this way; in Week 13, we had the Titans and the Jaguars. The question here, however, is whether the 49ers and Browns are “seemingly mediocre offenses,” or are instead truly mediocre…
The 49ers have been dominated on the ground lately, and they have continued to struggle to play solid defense on the road. The Browns are expected to start Johnny Manziel this week, which would seemingly make him - and his improving play - an intriguing daily fantasy play. The question, however, is just how many people will be thinking along these same lines. Manziel is a risky play, and if lots of people jump on board the Manziel train, thereby bumping up his ownership, the smarter move may be fading him. After all, the Browns are likely to limit his volume while forcing him to stay in the pocket.
I expect the Browns to run a bafflingly vanilla offensive attack - pounding the ball with ineffective running backs and refusing to unleash Manziel’s playmaking ability. This would leave this game as more of an ugly slugfest than a back-and-forth, high-scoring affair. If my prediction is accurate and the Browns execute a safe, non-aggressive game plan, the 49ers will follow suit, as they only want to put the game on Blaine Gabbert’s shoulders if forced to do so. This will lead to very little fantasy goodness from the 49ers, though it will keep Shaun Draughn heavily involved in what could be labeled a “revenge game”…though Draughn has (literally) played for 25% of the teams in the NFL, so I’m not sure how much bitterness he could really harbor toward the Browns for not keeping him around. The high volume he should receive against a subpar run D is a better reason to roster Draughn than the “revenge game” angle.
Falcons at Panthers
The Panthers, optimally, prefer to execute a “defense and run game first” approach on offense. Because Cam Newton’s DFS price has risen in recent weeks due to some games in which the Panthers were forced to open things up and get a bit more aggressive, he is going to be overpriced for this matchup in which the Panthers should be able to stick to their optimal plan. In a “raw points” sense, I expect a solid game from Cam, but I’d have a tough time justifying him in a point-per-dollar sense. Cam, Jonathan Stewart, and Greg Olsen should be the focal points of this offense in a game in which the Panthers should have a fairly easy time moving the ball and putting up points.
The Falcons are likely to have a miserable time moving the ball through the air, as they are always far more effective when they can force the ball to Julio Jones, and Julio will be shadowed by Josh Norman. People do tend to underestimate Julio’s skill as a true technician of the craft, and if anyone can pop off for a solid game against Norman, it’s Julio. I also expect the Falcons to get creative in scheming Julio away from Norman. This makes him a slightly intriguing tournament play at what is sure to be low ownership, but outside of that, it’s tough to see a defense for rostering Julio. The Falcons are instead likely to have to mostly turn to Devonta Freeman and Jacob Tamme. While I never like paying up for a running back if I can help it, Devonta should be heavily involved this week and probably has the best matchup of anyone on the Falcons’ offense.
Redskins at Bears
Jay Cutler and Alshon Jeffery have the ability to torch this defense…but they also had the ability to torch the 49ers. While Alshon should still be a lock for ten or more targets (he has seen at least 11 targets in every healthy game this year), Cutler will be held back in this great matchup by what has become a run-first offense. I am not convinced Matt Forte’s floor for usage is as high as most will assume after last week, but he does have a solid matchup here. It is an interesting spot in that the pass game and run game each have a great matchup, but will be limited by the slow pace and likely “safe, non-aggressive” nature of this game.
If you are looking for predictable fantasy goodness, look away from the Redskins. The best way to attack the Bears is on the ground, where the Redskins have an unpredictable backfield committee. When the Redskins do take to the air, the targets will be spread amongst Pierre Garcon, Jamison Crowder, DeSean Jackson, and Jordan Reed, but Garcon and Crowder have low ceilings, Reed has the toughest matchup of the bunch, and DeSean is a boom-or-bust play. Neither team is likely to get particularly aggressive, which would lead to this game being a lot like the 49ers-Bears game this last weekend.
Steelers at Bengals
Division games are always a bit more difficult to predict, as the two teams know each other so well. With that said, we should be able to expect the Bengals to eventually skew pass-heavy in this one, as they’ll have a hard time pounding the ball with Jeremy Hill against this stout Steelers run defense. This will lead to potential fantasy goodness for Andy Dalton, A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert (if healthy), Giovani Bernard, and even Marvin Jones. Jones makes for a particularly interesting option, as the Steelers could focus on taking Green out of the game after he torched them on 17 targets in their last meeting. This could leave Jones facing weaker coverage. Ultimately, the unpredictable usage across the Bengals’ offense takes almost all these guys off the table in cash games, while making all of them intriguing tournament options.
The Steelers struggled against the Bengals in their last meeting, but this could lower ownership on these guys just enough to make them extremely intriguing plays. Ben Roethlisberger touched up the Bengals for 667 yards and a 5-1 TD/INT ratio in a pair of matchups last year, and he and all of his primary weapons (DeAngelo Williams, Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, and - if Heath Miller misses again - even Markus Wheaton) are worth considering here. If you play Steelers, consider playing guys on the Bengals as well to capture all the goodness that will result if this game turns into a shootout.
Lions at Rams
The Lions have been playing strong pass defense lately, and the Rams will be starting Case Keenum. Case closed. And while Todd Gurely is, theoretically, in play, the Lions have also been playing better run defense, and they are sure to focus all their efforts on stopping Gurley. With Gurley’s price still somewhat high from his early-season heroics, I would have a very hard time rostering him this week.
Janoris Jenkins was diagnosed with a concussion, and should he miss this week’s game, that will weaken the Rams’ secondary. With that said, they still have Trumaine Johnson playing at a high level on the other side, and they have Rodney McLeod playing excellent at safety. Although Carson Palmer had his way with the Rams, Matthew Stafford is not Carson Palmer, and this offense is not the Cardinals’ offense. What’s more, the Rams have played much better at home. I like both defenses in this game, which leaves me not particularly keen on the prospects of either offense in what could be the lowest-scoring game of the week.
Colts at Jaguars
With Jerrell Freeman likely to miss another week for the Colts, their run defense is likely to struggle even more than they had been struggling already. Why talk about the Jags’ run game before even talking about Blake Bortles and Allen Robinson? Because the Colts may be starting Charlie Whitehurst this week. Let’s jump to the Colts for a moment, then we’ll revisit the home team.
If the Colts start Matt Hasselbeck, they should be able to put up some points against this weak Jaguars secondary. Also, T.Y. Hilton will once again be in play in tournaments, as he can turn these short, “noodle-arm” passes into explosive gains. If the Colts are forced to start Whitehurst, they’ll likely try to lean run-heavy to protect their QB. One problem, though: the Jags have one of the best run defenses in the NFL. This will likely lead to several stalled drives, a quick lead for the Jaguars, and a game that favors the run for Jacksonville.
If Hasselbeck starts, expect another solid game from Bortles in a game that should be competitive. If Allen Hurns is out, expect most of Bortles’ targets to go toward Robinson (recognize also, however - if Hurns plays - that he saw 15 targets the last time these teams met, with Vontae Davis shadowing Robinson). These guys are in play even if Whitehurst starts, and T.J. Yeldon is in play even if Hasselbeck starts, as he finally started seeing goal line work last week and has been running really well lately. But especially if Whitehurst starts, this game will favor Yeldon, as the Jags should grab a lead, and Yeldon would then see plenty of second-half work against a decimated run defense as the Jags look to ice things away.
Chargers at Chiefs
The Chargers are probably the worst team in the NFL right now, and the Chiefs have been playing like one of the best teams. While it will be tempting to roster Jeremy Maclin in this one (and he may very well have yet another solid game), realize that the Chiefs prefer to play things very safe - with a “ground and pound, with short passes” approach. The only way the Chiefs are likely to really open things up is if the Chargers get out to a lead…which seems unlikely. Instead, I expect most of the offensive work to flow through Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware. Although these two pretty much split touches last week, Charcandrick saw far more of the snaps. There is a chance Ware will continue to see goal line work, but I’m not entirely convinced West is a poor play. I could see 15 to 18 touches for him against the worst run defense in the NFL, making him an interesting tourney play, where his ownership will be very low.
The Chargers may be down to just two wide receivers…one of whom has a torn labrum. They don’t have an offensive line, they can’t run the ball, and Antonio Gates is still not 100%. The Chiefs have been playing solid defense, and Arrowhead is one of the toughest stadiums on visitors. This could get ugly.
Saints at Buccaneers
Thought Number One says the Bucs are going to throw all over the Saints’ awful secondary with their great weapons - especially if Delvin Breaux misses this game with his hamstring injury (which seems likely). Thought Number Two says the Bucs prefer to avoid putting the game on Jameis Winston’s shoulders, as he has a whopping six games with fewer than 30 pass attempts and has not topped 300 yards all season, which would then mean we could expect the Bucs to attack the Saints’ equally poor run defense. Thought Number Three says where we should look for fantasy goodness (and there will be fantasy goodness in this game) depends on what we think the Saints will do.
If this game were being played in New Orleans, this would be pretty easy. Drew Brees is the anti-Jameis, in that he has been under 38 pass attempts just once. The Bucs have now moved into first in the NFL in yards per carry allowed and have been playing truly dominant run defense. The Saints can be expected to throw at least 40 times…but the effectiveness of these throws can be questioned, as Brees does struggle quite frequently away from home - including in seemingly great matchups.
I am expecting Brees to play above expectations in this one (with the Brees to Brandin Cooks connection being particularly effective, especially if Willie Snead misses again), which will force the Bucs to let Jameis throw a good 35 times. Doug Martin should still get his 20 touches, making him a solid play; Charles Sims should get at least ten touches, making him a really interesting target at minuscule ownership in tournaments. And Mike Evans should see eight to ten targets with Vincent Jackson soaking up five to seven of his own. Don’t forget about Austin Seferian-Jenkins, either, who has a great matchup against this Saints Defense that cannot cover tight ends and saw six targets on only 21 snaps last week in his first game back.
We spent a lot of time on this game for a reason: it is likely to be the highest-scoring game of the weekend, and it should be full of fantasy goodness.
Titans at Jets
To put it kindly: this game is going to be a little bit uglier than the Saints-Bucs game. In theory, the Jets prefer to play a run-first offense, and since Darrelle Revis should be back this week (and since the Titans will probably have a tough time really tearing it up against the Jets even if Revis misses), that would leave us saying, “The Jets should have a lead, and should look to ground and pound.” But honestly, with Ryan Fitzpatrick playing well and with Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall absolutely dominating, this is a solid week in which to expect a solid floor from Fitzpatrick with a very high ceiling from Decker and Marshall. Remember that the Titans are a former employer of Fitzpatrick’s, and he torched them for six touchdowns last year. I like Chris Ivory as well in a game the Jets should be controlling by the fourth quarter, but we should see enough Fitzpatrick, Decker, and Marshall throughout the other three quarters for all three guys to matter.
Helping the game flow here is the fact that (much like last week against the Jaguars) the Titans will be pretty much incapable of running effectively against the Jets. This will force them to turn to the air, and while I don’t like Mariota nearly as much as I did last week (when I talked him up in my mid-week article on RotoGrinders, and again on GrindersLive on Friday, and yet again on Twitter on Saturday), I do think he can keep this game close enough - especially if Revis misses. If Revis does play, he may shadow Dorial Green-Beckham, and with the Jets playing solid pass defense against tight ends, this could funnel targets toward Kendall Wright, making him a sneaky option in tournaments as well.
Raiders at Broncos
In case you haven’t spotted the pattern, I have been looking at the home team first in each writeup so far. But this is yet another one in which “what the Broncos do” will depend on what the Raiders do. So let’s look at the Raiders.
I have all the respect in the world for Derek Carr, and I think he’ll be an exciting player for a long time to come. But in Denver, against this defense, I do not think he’ll find enough success to warrant fantasy consideration. The same goes for the rest of his offense, as these guys are priced based on the success they have had in the past, and they are unlikely to reach that type of success this week.
The Broncos, with Brock Osweiler under quarterback, prefer to be a “defense and run game” offense. This means Osweiler will really only be forced to open things up if his team falls behind. That is unlikely to happen this week, which means the run game is really where the Broncos will be focused. I do think the Broncos will have an easier time through the air than on the ground in this one, so I don’t hate Demaryius Thomas or Emmanuel Sanders as tournament options who have the talent to go off even without huge volume (Demaryius in particular), but the Broncos will surely focus on the ground. Ronnie Hillman has not been playing well enough for me to want to use him even if C.J. Anderson misses time with his ankle injury (and anyway, I think the Broncos would then involve Juwan Thompson plenty, making Hillman and what some will talk about as a “monstrous workload” a bit of a trap), but I do think the run game effectively takes the Broncos’ pass game out of cash game consideration.
Cowboys at Packers
Yet again, we need to look at the visiting team first. Why? Because: Matt Cassel.
The Cowboys will try to control this game on the ground with Darren McFadden and their strong O-line, but the Packers have a strong enough secondary that they can slow down Dez Bryant - with Matt Cassel throwing to him - without dedicating extra attention to the secondary. This will mean the Packers should sell out to stop the run, and this will mean the Cowboys will have a difficult time getting a whole lot going.
If this is the case, the Packers’ offense becomes less appealing. With Morris Claiborne healthy again for the Cowboys, Byron Jones should kick back inside, which makes things a bit tougher on both Randall Cobb and Richard Rodgers (though Rodgers should still be a solid point-per-dollar play), and James Jones and Davante Adams have been playing too poorly to deserve strong consideration on the outside. The Packers should have a solid but unspectacular game through the air, and there should be a decently high volume of run game work for this offense, though it’s anyone’s guess as to where this work will come from.
Patriots at Texans
What we really need to look at here is, “What is Bill Belichick going to do?” The answer: take away DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins should still have a solid game, but expect Belichick and Matt Patricia to focus all their defensive attention on slowing down DeAndre - and usually, when these two guys focus all their attention on slowing down one particular player, they are successful. This will leave the Texans throwing to Cecil Shorts and Nate Washington (and, I guess, at this point we have to also say Ryan Griffin) more than they would necessarily like. Considering the Patriots truly have one of the top defenses in the NFL, and these guys are all below-average talents, I don’t expect the Texans to score a lot of points.
With Rob Gronkowski likely to miss another week, expect another game in which the Pats try to balance the run with the pass, then eventually give up on the run, and throw the ball a bunch. This is a solid spot for Danny Amendola, who should again see double-digit targets, and while it is a very tough matchup for Scott Chandler, the Eagles were a tough matchup as well. He’ll get six or more targets and is certainly in play, though this game should (again) be a bit uglier than what we were seeing from the Patriots before they lost Dion Lewis, Julian Edelman, and Rob Gronkowski.
Giants at Dolphins
Lamar Miller had 20 carries last week. This did not happen a single time last year, nor had it happened this year. This occurred against the Ravens, who are much better against the run than they are against the pass. Because Miller is still priced like a guy with inconsistent usage - and because the change in offensive coordinator duties is going to lead to more predictable volume for Miller - this is a great week to play him in a solid matchup. The Dolphins will probably not be forced open things up a ton with the pass, which means I will be perfectly fine avoiding their pass game components.
The Giants have finally realized that Odell Beckham is their only real means of scoring points. All last year and this year, Beckham has been a scarier fantasy play for me than for most, as his target volume was consistently far lower than the other top receivers, and his fantasy goodness (as well as his escalating price) was propped up by seemingly unsustainable touchdown production. But Beckham has now seen 11, 18, 12, and 17 targets in his last four games. This is the guy the Giants will look to in order to move the ball, and if the Dolphins try to shadow him with Brent Grimes, he’ll have an absolute field day. Beckham will probably be the highest-owned player on the weekend, as he is the only high-priced offensive weapon in a really great matchup…but much like Antonio Brown last weekend, the highest-owned guy usually has that distinction for a reason.
This may be the most valuable early-week article I have ever written. Hopefully you can use it as the foundation for your research - and hopefully you’ll be right there with me next Monday night at the top of the leaderboards.