Isaiah Crowell has been nothing short of bad for most of the last two months. His poor performance is partly his own fault and partly due to the ineptitude around him in Cleveland. No matter what, though, he has not been much of a contributor for his fantasy owners after a strong four-week stretch to start the season. Indeed, he has shown up in the sit section of this column on more than a few occasions, and it has been the right call every time. It would seem he’s one of the last players fantasy owners would want to trust in the playoffs.
But as we’ve seen so many times before, the NFL is a volatile league, with performance swinging wildly for many players from week to week. There are a handful of truly elite players in the league who are going to deliver far more often than not. There are a handful of players who are simply not good enough to be anywhere near fantasy radars. The vast majority of players fall somewhere in the middle, with opportunity, game script, matchup and the bounces of the ball factoring heavily into their bottom line. The vagaries of the game are set to favor a guy who has been persona non grata for the better part of two months.
So, Crowell owners, get ready to have him back in your life in a big way this week. We pore over numbers in the fantasy world, but there are some elements that come down to feel. The primary reason why I want to play Crowell this week is that I believe the Browns, while clearly a bad team, are far too talented to go 0–16. In reality, this is a 3-13 team that has had almost every bounce go against it this season. That’s going to even out at some point, and what better time than a home game against an average-at-best Cincinnati team that is without its best player, A.J. Green?
Every team across all levels of football ends up running the ball more in wins than in losses. If I’m right about the Browns winning on Sunday, we can bet on Crowell getting 20 or so touches in a game where his team likely puts at least two or three touchdowns on the board. That’s a nice environment for any back.
Consider other contextual factors, as well. Crowell hasn’t been performing, but he has been getting volume on the ground and through the air. He has double-digit carries in all but one game that the Browns managed to keep within two scores this season. He also has 32 receptions, and has at least three catches in five of his last six games. Robert Griffin’s likely return should open up some holes, given that he’s a run threat for which the Bengals will have to account. Finally, Crowell ran for 63 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries and caught three passes for 16 yards the first time these teams met this season, finishing that week as the No. 17 running back.
The fantasy playoffs are no time for complacency. You can’t simply rely on what got you here to carry you through the next three weeks. Crowell has been a non-factor for two months now, but he’s in line for a top-20 game this weekend. Make sure he is in your lineup.
Tyrod Taylor (vs. Pittsburgh)
Here’s Taylor’s fantasy rushing production by game this season: 1.1 points, 2.5, 13.6, 2.8, 2.8, 6.8, 9.5, 10.8, 10.3, 3.9, 9.8, 9.0. When you can bet on your quarterback likely giving you six or more points with his legs, you’re going to want to find a way to get him in your lineup. Taylor has both Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods healthy and, as I pointed out in my surprise playoff heroes column earlier this week, he’s a different quarterback when both of them are on the field. The over/under in this game is 47, and the Steelers are favored by two points, giving the Bills an implied team total of 22.5 points. I’ll be shocked if Taylor isn’t a top-12 quarterback this week.
Philip Rivers (at Carolina)
Maybe the Panthers would like Josh Norman back? They’ve allowed 7.71 yards per attempt and 22 passing touchdowns this season after surrendering 6.2 YPA and 21 passing scores a year ago. This is another game with a high over/under at 49.5, exactly the sort of context in which Rivers typically thrives. With Tyrell Williams a week healthier and Dontrelle Inman emerging as a legitimate weapon, Rivers should take advantage of what is now a substandard defense.
Kirk Cousins (at Philadelphia)
Cousins earned the spotlight of this column last week, where I urged starting him despite a tough matchup and the absence of Jordan Reed. He came through with 271 yards, one passing touchdown and one rushing touchdown, finishing with 19.84 points in standard-scoring leagues. It wasn’t his prettiest game of the year, which only goes to show how his ability and the Washington scheme make him a bankable fantasy quarterback nearly every week. Get him in there with confidence against the Eagles on Sunday.
Trevor Siemian (at Tennessee)
Siemian is expected to return for the Broncos after a one-week absence because of a foot injury. Matchup is something we can give a little more weight when we’re this far down the quarterback rankings, and the Titans have really struggled against the pass over the last two months. They’ve given up at least 18.7 standard-league points to the last seven quarterbacks they’ve faced, a group that includes Cody Kessler, Blake Bortles and Matt Barkley, and are now fifth in points allowed to quarterbacks this season. That’s enough to trust Siemian as a QB2 this week.
Dak Prescott (at New York Giants)
As we all know, Prescott has been hyper-efficient this season, and that always gives him a chance regardless of the opponent. Still, it’s hard to believe there’s much ceiling for him going up against the Giants defense in New York, especially when you consider the expected game flow. Prescott could very well play another great game, executing the Cowboys’ offense to perfection while still throwing for fewer than 200 yards. This game has Ezekiel Elliott written all over it. Prescott is a mid-tier QB2 this week, not a true QB1.
Derek Carr (at Kansas City)
I’ve stumped for Carr as a starter pretty much every week, but that’s not going to be the case in Week 14. It’s not that the Chiefs are an impossible draw. They’ve actually allowed the sixth-most points to quarterbacks this season. Carr, however, had one of his worst games of the year against them in Week 6, throwing for 225 yards, 6.62 YPA, one touchdown and one interception. That, of course, was at home. Now he has to go into Arrowhead on a short week in a game that could determine the outcome of the AFC West. I believe Carr will play well enough from a real-life standpoint, but I don’t see how it translates to a meaningful fantasy performance.
Marcus Mariota (vs. Denver)
Here’s another player I love who I just can’t recommend as a fantasy starter in good conscience this week. Mariota has been excellent this year and, no disrespect to Colts and Texans fans, I hope he can help get the Titans into the playoffs because I want to see him in the second season. Still, it’s impossible to ignore what the Broncos have done to quarterbacks this year. Two have managed to score more than 16 standard-league points against them: Cam Newton and Drew Brees. There’s no reason to add a degree of difficulty to your first-round playoff matchup.
Jonathan Stewart (vs. San Diego)
It surprises me to see Stewart with a consensus ranking of RB22 on FantasyPros this week. Sure, he gave his fantasy owners 5.3 points last week, but that was against the Seahawks in a game that got out of hand by the end of the first half. He’s in much different circumstances this week, with the Panthers hosting the Chargers. They’ve allowed the eighth-most points to running backs on the year, and the Panthers are small favorites in a game with a total of 48 points. You can pencil Stewart in for easy top-20 production at the position this week.
Robert Kelley (at Philadelphia)
Kelley got the coach’s seal of approval earlier this week, with Jay Gruden saying he wants more of his rookie running back in the offense. Whether or not that’s just coachspeak remains to be seen, but fantasy owners should trust Kelley on Sunday. He has been mostly good since taking over as the starter in Washington, running for 421 yards and four touchdowns in five games. Much of that damage came in one game, but he has run for 4.4 yards per carry or better in three outings. The volume is going to be there for him, and that’s going to make it hard for him to fall short of RB2 numbers.
Theo Riddick (vs. Chicago)
Riddick disappointed last week in what looked like a great spot against the Saints, totaling just 17 yards from scrimmage. He did find the end zone, but his owners certainly expected more than 7.7 standard-league points. He can make up for that against the Bears this week, with the Lions featuring an implied team total of 25.5 points. Riddick has just 17 carries over his last three games, which limits his ceiling, but he’s likely no worse than a flex play, even for his owners who are sitting pretty in Week 14.
Terrance West (at New England)
West just won’t go away. He ran for 50 yards, caught three passes for 18 yards, and scored two touchdowns last week. Kenneth Dixon looked just as good in limited duty, but it was West who led the Ravens in snaps, touches and, of course, the ever-valuable touchdowns. Still, this week’s matchup just does not shape up like one that will produce the sort of script that leads to a heavy workload for West. The Patriots are favored by a touchdown, and the 45.5 over/under is about average for a game this season.
Kenneth Dixon (at New England)
And yet, you can’t trust Dixon, either. After out-snapping West two weeks ago, he watched the starter play 13 more snaps than him last week. Dixon ran for six more yards on four fewer carries and caught four passes for 21 yards, but he’s impossible to trust if 10 touches is his ceiling. Unless you are John Harbaugh or Marty Mornhinweg, you can’t assume that the ceiling is any higher for him this week.
Darren Sproles (vs. Washington)
There might not be a player on which the fantasy community vacillates more than Sproles. After consecutive double-digit carry games a month ago, many believed he was an RB2. Then he put up three straight duds in which he totaled seven carries, and everyone was off him last week. Now, seemingly because he scored a touchdown in Week 13, he’s the No. 32 back on FantasyPros. I’m here to stop the yo-yo. Sproles’s production is so spotty and his usage so unpredictable that he cannot be trusted unless you are absolutely desperate. It’s as simple as that.
Malcolm Mitchell (vs. Baltimore)
The best case for Mitchell being a WR3 for the rest of the season is the way the Patriots deployed him last week. After serving largely as a deep threat with Rob Gronkowski healthy, Mitchell worked in the short and intermediate part of the field in the team’s first game without its star tight end. That’s a sign of the team scheming Mitchell the ball, which is as clear an indication as any that they want to feature him in Gronkowski’s absence. Get him active this week.
Jamison Crowder (at Philadelphia)
Crowder has a touchdown or at least 80 yards in nine of 12 games this season. In three games without Jordan Reed on the field, he has 13 catches for 202 yards and two touchdowns. One of those came against the Eagles, and he pulled down three balls for 52 yards and a score in that game. Crowder is as non-controversial a starter as they come, and yet, he still pops up in a lot of start/sit questions. At this point, he should have your absolute trust and should be in your lineup, unless you are incredibly deep at wide receiver.
Kenny Britt (vs. Atlanta)
I detailed the near-miracle that is Britt’s 2016 season in my surprise playoff heroes column. The fact that he’s on pace for 74 catches and 1,140 yards in the league’s worst offense should earn him, if not an award, plenty of recognition from the fantasy community. That recognition should make him a starter for most of his owners with a date against the Falcons on Sunday. As well as he has played, the limitations of the Rams’ offense are always a drawback, but he still slots as a top-30 receiver for Week 14.
Related: SI's NFL Playoff Selection Committee
Allen Robinson (vs. Minnesota)
Who would’ve thought that anyone would rather trust Malcolm Mitchell, Jamison Crowder or Kenny Britt than Robinson in the fantasy playoffs, let alone all three? Robinson and Blake Bortles reportedly met with interim offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett earlier this week so the three could get on the same page. Allow me to give you a quick reminder, not that you need it, that it is Week 14, not June 14. The Vikings have shut down passing games all season long. They’ll do the same in Jacksonville on Sunday.
Jarvis Landry (vs. Arizona)
Landry’s game last week was a great example of why he’s so hard to trust in standard formats. He got 14 targets and caught 11 of them, basically a best-case scenario for any receiver, and all he had to show for it was 87 yards. Landry can pile up catches given his skill set and role, and while those catches might be huge for the Dolphins in real life, they don’t translate to the fantasy game in nearly as meaningful a way. Even if Tyrann Mathieu is out another week because of a shoulder injury, the Cardinals present Landry with quite the challenge.
Mike Wallace (at New England)
As you can likely tell by now, I’m not a huge fan of the Ravens in New England this weekend. Their offense has been limited all year, and, as great as their defense is, I think it will struggle to slow down the Patriots on their home turf. This is a game I’m betting gets away from Baltimore early, and I do not want to have any investment in it.
Ladarius Green (at Buffalo)
Good news, everyone. We were right about Green. We just had to wait until December for it to come to fruition. Green was seemingly the one player everyone agreed on this summer, until injuries landed him on the PUP list. Now that he’s healthy and leading the way for the Steelers at tight end, nothing will keep him from being a top-five player at the position for the rest of the season. If you were lucky enough to secure his services, get him in your lineup this week.
Vernon Davis (at Philadelphia)
If Jordan Reed is out for another week because of his shoulder injury, Davis will once again be a fantasy-relevant tight end. We can give him a pass for struggling against the Cardinals, who have surrendered the fewest points to tight ends this season by a wide margin. The Eagles have actually been the next best against the position, but Davis burned them for 50 yards and a touchdown back in Week 6. Davis is a low-end TE1 for Week 14.
Eric Ebron (vs. Chicago)
That Ebron has just one touchdown this year is a bit of a concern, but with Marvin Jones regressing in a serious way, he’s likely no worse than the third option in the Detroit passing game, behind Golden Tate and possibly Theo Riddick. That’s great news in a matchup with the Bears where the Lions have an implied team total of 25.5 points. He doesn’t have nearly the ceiling to push into the top five, but unless you own someone like Jimmy Graham or Travis Kelce in addition to Ebron, you’re going to be happy trusting him on Sunday.
C.J. Fiedorowicz (at Indianapolis)
It’s hard to list Fiedorowicz as a sit because he’s going to get plenty of targets and, when you reach the low-end of the TE1 class, that’s well more than half the battle. Still, it must be said that Houston’s offense has a very low ceiling, and Fiedorwicz has more than 50 yards in just three games this season. He’s mostly a touchdown-or-bust player, and that’s a hard guy to trust when he’s tied to an offense that ranks 28th in points scored this season.
Dennis Pitta (at New England)
Do not fall for Pitta’s big game last week. It was the second time all season he had double-digit fantasy points in standard leagues, and the third time he topped 50 yards. Sometimes a big game is the start of a trend. More often than not with player of Pitta’s ilk, it’s simply a one-off performance. He’s a losing bet against the Patriots on Monday night.
Detroit Lions (vs. Chicago)
Matt Barkley on the road with Josh Bellamy and Cameron Meredith as his top two receivers? Yes, please. The Lions aren’t a great defense, from either a real-life or fantasy perspective, but they should be able to tee off on the Bears on Sunday.
Jacksonville Jaguars (vs. Minnesota)
This might seem like an odd choice, but stick with me here. The Jaguars have had a decent enough pass rush this season, registering 26 sacks in 12 games. The Vikings’ offensive line is terrible, exposing Sam Bradford far too often. The over/under on this game is 39.5 points, so the Jaguars could play their way to a solid fantasy defensive performance, even if they lose the game. They’re admittedly an imperfect option, but we have to deal with those on the stream every now and again. They’re worth your consideration if you can’t get the Lions.