We have finally reached Week 14 of the NFL season. Most leagues begin their playoffs this week, though some are in the final week of their regular season. No matter your situation, splashy waiver-wire additions are in the rear-view mirror. At this point of the season, the wire is about insuring your most important investments with handcuffs, or finding spot starters with great matchups. You shouldn’t be afraid about using a spot starter at this stage, even at the all-important quarterback position. In fact, two signal callers I will almost certainly be labeling QB1s are available in at least 60% of leagues heading into Week 14. They’re both more than capable of carrying you into your league’s semifinals.
Alex Smith, QB, Chiefs
Winners of six straight, Smith and the Chiefs continue surging toward a playoff berth. Smith is quietly putting together one of the best seasons of his career, throwing for 2,843 yards, 7.56 YPA and 14 touchdowns, while running for 326 yards and two touchdowns on the season. You know he’s going to give you production with his legs, and not hurt you by committing turnovers. If Smith can throw for just, say, 175 yards and a touchdown, he provides fantasy owners with a solid day. That shouldn’t be a problem when the Chargers visit Kansas City in Week 14. Just three weeks ago, Smith threw for 253 yards and a 10.12 YPA, and added 33 yards on the ground in a 33-3 win over the Chargers. Game flow kept him from throwing for a touchdown, but that was an anomaly. He is, at worst, a high-end QB2 this week.
Jameis Winston, QB, Buccaneers
This recommendation basically writes itself. The Saints surrendered 331 yards, 8.07 yards per attempt and five touchdowns to Cam Newton in Week 13, making the fifth time in the last six games a quarterback scored at least 30 fantasy points against them in standard-scoring leagues. You don’t have to be Newton to exploit this defense. The Saints have allowed 3,617 yards, 8.69 YPA and 35 touchdowns this season. Winston scored 22.7 points against them the first time these teams met, and that was the second game of the rookie’s career. He has made huge strides since as he stakes his claim for the Offensive Rookie of the Year award, and he may come close to clinching it against the Saints on Sunday. Winston is a worthwhile start in all fantasy formats for Week 14.
James White, RB, Patriots
The Patriots may have lost to the Eagles last week, but White put together a performance that undoubtedly made Dion Lewis proud. The Wisconsin product caught 10 of his 13 targets for 115 yards and a touchdown in the loss, seemingly vaulting in front of Brandon Bolden in the process. White has no more than three carries in a game this season, but does look like a legitimate receiving threat out of the New England backfield. The Patriots’ next three games are against the Texans, Titans and Jets, however, which isn’t exactly the easiest remaining slate in the league, especially from a fantasy perspective. White will, at the least, be part of the RB3 and flex discussions going forward. He can be an asset for playoff-bound owners, but he’s not even close to being a locked-in starter by any means.
Bilal Powell, RB, Jets
This one is for Chris Ivory owners more than anyone. Remember what we said back in the intro to this column—you need to handcuff your stars at this time of the season. Ivory had 69 yards from scrimmage on 15 touches in the win over the Giants, and seemed to land in the doghouse after losing a fumble. Powell, meanwhile, racked up 14 touches, 108 total yards and a touchdown. Ivory is still the man in the backfield, but Powell could eat into his touches a bit more over the remainder of the season. Powell is clearly the handcuff for the Jets, making him the necessary insurance policy for any Ivory owner. Hopefully you won’t have to start him at any point during the playoffs, but you need to be ready for every potential outcome.
DeVante Parker, WR, Dolphins
Parker followed up last week’s mini-breakout performance with a three-catch, 63-yard, one-touchdown game against the Ravens. Parker showed why the Dolphins were willing to grab him with the 14th overall pick in the draft even though foot surgery loomed in the summer. If you haven’t yet seen it, do yourself a favor and click this link. Parker has the size, speed and ball skills to be a true No. 1 in the league. Now he’s finally getting the chance to prove his worth. Parker should start for the Dolphins the rest of the season with an eye on being the 1a to Jarvis Landry’s No. 1 in 2016. What’s more, given that Landry is so good out of the slot, this could be a confounding duo for opposing defenses. The Dolphins need to get Parker as many reps as possible this season to have him ready for next season. That should play right into the hands of his owners the next three weeks.
Will Tye, TE, Giants
When you’re making your claims this week, Seferian-Jenkins should have the highest priority among tight ends. If there’s a chance you’ll miss out on him, though, back up that claim with one for Tye. The rookie out of Stony Brook has played well with the opportunity granted him by Larry Donnell’s injury. Over the last four weeks, he has averaged 6.25 targets per game, and has at least 70 yards in each of his last two contests. He doesn’t have near the floor or ceiling of Seferian-Jenkins, but if you’re potentially looking at another week without Gronkowski or Eifert, and you missed out on Scott Chandler last week, Tye is a decent fallback option. The Giants get the Dolphins in Week 14, a team that is 28th in overall defensive DVOA and 27th against the pass.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Buccaneers
The longest shoulder rehab in NFL history has finally come to an end. When Seferian-Jenkins first suffered the injury back in Week 2, the Buccaneers placed a 4-6 week timetable on his recovery. It ultimately took 11 weeks for him to get back on the field, but Jameis Winston wasn’t shy about getting him involved immediately. The second-year man out of Washington played fewer than 30% of the team’s snaps in the win over Atlanta, but he got six targets. That was one more than Vincent Jackson and one fewer than Mike Evans. Winston basically zeroes in on those three players and no one else, so you can safely bet on Seferian-Jenkins getting a minimum of six targets per game the rest of the way, and it’s more likely that he’s in the 8-to-9 touch-per-game neighborhood. The Buccaneers have an excellent matchup with the Saints on Sunday, so at the very least, Seferian-Jenkins will be well worth starting in the first round of the playoffs. That alone makes him worth an add, especially if you’re typically rolling with Rob Gronkowski or Tyler Eifert at tight end.
Photos: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images (Smith), Maddie Meyer/Getty Images (White), Al Bello/Getty Images (Tye)