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by John Hansen, Publisher

Published, 12/3/13

 
With trade deadlines either here or already passes for most, we’re going to change this weekly column up a little and focus on schedule, since the matchups are paramount this time of the year, and most trade talk is heavily related to the schedule.
 
I’ve taken a very detailed look at the schedule for Weeks Fourteen through Sixteen and have offered up a look at the players and teams who are looking good schedule-wise.
 
Basically, this should be all you need to know about the fantasy playoffs in terms of the big picture and the schedule.
 
Passing Game Notes
 
Bear QBs (Chi) – Jay Cutler and Josh McCown are averaging about 19.5 fantasy points per game. That’s a solid number, but it’s skewed by time missing during their games. McCown, for example, has been worth 25 points on average in 3 of his last 4 games, with one poor game lowering his average to 22, which is still pretty darn good. They’re up against Dal, at Cle, and at Phi their next three games. That’s a solid enough to schedule to feel good about them. The starting Bear QB is easily a top-10 guy right now for the rest of the season.
 
  • Also benefiting: Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett
Phillip Rivers (SD) – He has some issues, but things haven’t spiraled downward considerably, so you have to think there’s a solid chance that he can kick things up a notch the next three weeks against NYG this week at home, then at Den, and home vs. Oak. That’s a pretty good schedule, and at least TE Ladarius Green is stepping up and helping out.
 
  • Also benefiting: Keenan Allen, Ladarius Green (Gates is hurting a bit)
Alex Smith (KC) – We haven’t given him the respect that he’s deserved based on his production, but in our defense, we have to watch him play. But he’s playing pretty darn well now, and the ball came out with some pop against Denver. The receiving corps is a rag-tag group, but they have a chance to keep the production coming at Was, at Oak, and vs. Ind, which is a nice schedule.
 
  • Also benefiting: Dwayne Bowe, Dexter McCluster,
Joe Flacco (Bal) – As I’ve covered in the WW report, Flacco has solid weapons right now, and his guy Dennis Pitta could return by this week (Week Fourteen). Flacco also has a nice schedule the next three weeks against Min at Det, and NE. He could do surprisingly well really the next month, and he played well in Week Thirteen, with 251/1 and some nice deep balls. The arrow is pointing up for Flacco, who’ll have to gun-sling his way into the playoffs if they’re going to get there.
 
  • Also benefiting: Torrey Smith, Dennis Pitta (if he plays, of course), Jacoby Jones
Nick Foles (Phi) – Obviously, Chip Kelly is currently ahead of NFL defenses, and Foles has been a more than capable triggerman. And the production should continue the next three weeks vs. Det, at Min, and vs. Chi. That schedule is about as good a schedule as one can hope for.
 
  • Also benefiting: DeSean Jackson, Riley Cooper, Zach Ertz
Tony Romo (Dal) – The passing game has been somewhat lethargic here, but it’s still probably something that can be revived quickly with some good matchups, and that’s exactly what they get as they battle for the NFC East title. They’re at Chi, vs. GB, and at Was, which is an excellent schedule. The Cowboys have balance on offense now, and Romo has plenty of weapons and good matchups – so it only makes sense to get behind this passing game.
 
  • Also benefiting: Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, Miles Austin, Terrance Williams
Matt Flynn/Aaron Rodgers (GB) – I know Flynn was miserable in Week Thirteen, and it was a pathetic showing. But let’s also give credit to the Lion defense, one that played its best game and wreaked a lot more havoc on the QB than they’ve usually done this year. So if it’s going to have to be Flynn for the Packers, it would help if he was home and had some good matchups. And that basically describes his next three games at home against Atl, at Dal, and vs. Pit. And obviously, Rodgers is looking good if he’s playing these games. Rodgers at least shot down today (12/3) the notion that he’ll be shut down if they are out of the playoff race.
 
  • Also benefiting: Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Jarrett Boykin
Two-Game Guys
 
These players mostly have a tough matchup thrown into this three-game stretch from Weeks Fourteen through Sixteen, but it’s worth noting their two solid matchups the next three weeks.
 
Robert Griffin III (Was) – It’s still pretty ugly, and I feel like I’m watching my son play Pop Warner football when I watch Griffin III play because he’s getting hammered every week and the hits look horrendous. The passing game is still a complete mess, with no real production other than screen passes and deep shots. But schedule-wise, things do look very good, so maybe he can scratch and claw for a productive playoff run. They’re against KC, which by the numbers is a good matchup now, yet skewed by two matchups against the Broncos. But the game is home and then he’s at Atl and home vs. Dal, which are two very good matchups.
 
  • Also benefiting: Pierre Garcon, Jordan Reed (if healthy)
Ben Roethlisberger (Pit) – He’s been coming on well, and his matchups really don’t look that scary, especially vs. Mia this week and at GB in Week Sixteen. In between, Cin at home isn’t ultra-scary by any stretch.
 
  • Also benefiting: Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, Jerricho Cotchery
EJ Manuel (Buf) – It would be nice if he could play a little better because he looks so good on paper, but at least he did come through in Week Thirteen. He’s got a tough matchup this week at Tampa, but then he’s at Jac and home vs. Mia. The Jags are respectable and the Dolphins aren’t terrible, either, but they’re solid matchups.
 
  • Also benefiting: Stevie Johnson, Marquise Goodwin, Robert Woods
Matt Ryan (Atl) – He’s clinging to some hope for the rest of the season with Roddy White showing some signs of life and with Stevan Jackson offering up some stability and production in the ground game. He’s at SF Week Sixteen, which is a tough one. But he’s at GB and vs. Was the next two weeks, which is a pair of excellent matchups.
 
  • Also benefiting: Roddy White, Harry Douglas
Tough Breaks
 
Drew Brees (NO) – At least he’s Drew Brees, but Car, at Stl, at Car is pretty darn tough, although he could still kill the Rams in Week Fifteen.
 
Carson Palmer (Ari) – It was a tougher go in Week Thirteen, but overall I really like what I’ve seen from the Cardinals the last month or so, as his WRs are winning their matchups, and he’s been throwing from a cleaner pocket. But matchups against Stl, at Ten, and at Sea look tough. At least the game against the Rams is at home, but at Ten can be tough and Sea is obviously pretty brutal.
 
Running Game Notes
 
Alfred Morris (Was) – It’s a tough go for Morris, who’s run well all year, but he hasn’t received much help from the passing game. At this point he needs help, and he gets helps with a schedule that includes matchups against two of the worst run defenses in the league Weeks Fifteen and Sixteen at Atl, and vs. Dal. He’s got KC at home this week, which isn’t a great matchup overall, but it’s looking better these days.
 
  • Also (possibly) benefiting: Roy Helu
Eddie Lacy (GB) – He’s another guy who needs help – and gets a lot of it from the schedule. Lacy should put up 200+ yards and 2 TDs at least the next two weeks vs. Atl and at Dal. His matchup vs. Pit in Week Sixteen isn’t that bad, either (although it won’t be easy if it’s Matt Flynn starting).
 
DeMarco Murray (Dal) – The Cowboys have balanced out their offense lately with a greater commitment to Murray, or should I say an actual commitment to Murray. It certainly makes sense, since they win when they give him the ball, plain and simple. And he’s looking pretty damn good at Chi, vs. GB, and at Was. That is a really nice three-game run.
 
Jamaal Charles (KC) – He’s held up wonderfully, despite a massive workload, and there is really no drop-off in his game. There might be a playing time concern by Week Sixteen, since the Chiefs could lock up their seeding by the time they play that week, so you might want to get backup Knile Davis(who had an incredible kick return for a TD in Week Thirteen in which he showcased impressive long speed), as the Chiefs are looking solid at Was, at Oak, and vs. Ind in that Week Sixteen games.
 
  • Also (possibly) benefiting: Knile Davis
Knowshon Moreno (Den) – He’s still the guy, but I do fully expect Montee Ball to have an expansive role the final four games of the season. Things are looking pretty darn good schedule-wise with matchup vs. Ten, SD, and at Hou. The Broncos should be playing to win to at least (and likely through Week) Sixteen, but if not, that is very good news for Ball.
 
  • Also benefiting: Montee Ball
Maurice Jones-Drew (Jac) – Things are going well right now for Jones-Drew, who by the way beat me in fantasy this week by 2 points, so he won and earned a trip to the playoffs literally because he threw a TD pass in the game in Week Thirteen. But he’s also getting a lot of volume now, and he’s been on a roll. That roll has a good chance to continue with three straight home games against Hou, Buf, and Ten. That’s not a beautiful schedule, but it’s pretty darn good.
 
Giovani Bernard (Cin) – His schedule the next three weeks doesn’t look fantastic, but it’s pretty good, and it’s definitely not bad. Bernard hasn’t been going off lately, but he looks awesome in Week Thirteen, and he has a real chance to come through in crunch time against Ind, at Pit, and vs. Min. Clearly, Andy Dalton is struggling right now, so the Bengals should be inclined to run the ball a lot, as they did against the Chargers this past weekend.
 
  • Also benefiting: BenJarvus Green-Ellis
Two-Game Guys
 
LeSean McCoy (Phi) – He has a brutal matchup this week against Detroit, but he should be able to pick up the slack in the passing game (but there could be a lot of slack that needs to be picked up). But then it should be smooth sailing at Min and vs. Chi. McCoy owners have been blessed with an incredible matchup for the fantasy title game in Week Sixteen against the Bears. So get ready to be happy if you make it that far.
 
C.J. Spiller (Buf) – He’s got a tough one this week at Tampa, so he can be sat this week if you have another appealing option with a better matchup. But Spiller is looking good Weeks Fifteen and Sixteen at Jac and home against Mia. The Jags have improved against the run, but they don’t have much speed at LB – thanks mainly to Paul Pozlusnzy – so Spiller could do very well. The matchup against Miami also looks good, so Spiller has a good chance to come through for those whose seasons he didn’t already destroy. 
 
  • Also benefiting: Fred Jackson
Rashard Mendenhall (Ari) – Andre Ellington’s status is uncertain for Week Fourteen, which means that for now Mendenhall’s value is on the rise. The Cards absolutely need to run the ball to stay ahead of the downs and to help Carson Palmer throw the ball from a cleaner pocket – and Mendenhall has looked pretty darn good. His matchup Week Sixteen at Sea is brutal, and Mendenhall owners should not plan on starting him that week. But he definitely has a chance to get you there with matchups at home vs. Stl and at Ten the next two weeks.
 
  • Also (possible) benefiting: Andre Ellington
Steven Jackson (Atl) – All of a sudden, Jackson is back. He should certainly be fresh and well-rested from all his time off. The Falcons desperately need to run the ball to take pressure off Matt Ryan, who is getting sacked a ton (6 times in Week Thirteen). Jackson is at SF in Week Sixteen, which is a tough matchup but not one that is truly scary, at least. The real appeal stems from his next two matchups at GB and vs. Was. That’s a nice 2-game run there, so he should be impactful.
 
Le’Veon Bell (Pit) – We’ll have to see where he is in his return from a concussion, but if there’s a legit concern here that he might miss time, I would have to guess that Jonathan Dwyer will be the main replacement, and Dwyer has looked very good when he’s run the ball this year. The Steeler running game gets a good matchup this week vs. Mia and also at GB in Week Sixteen. In between, they’re vs. Cin, which isn’t a brutal matchup at least. Things are looking pretty good for the Steeler running game the next three weeks, so hope Bell can recover and/or get Dwyer. The good news is, as of Tuesday, things were looking positive for Bell. But I did get confirmation Tuesday from Ed Boucette, the long-time Steeler beat writer, that Dwyer would be the guy if Bell is out with Felix Jones worked in.
 
  • Also (possible) benefiting: Jonathan Dwyer (if Bell misses time)
Bobby Rainey (TB) – This may be a bit of a stretch, but it’s worth pointing out that no one is surprised Rainey has been contained the last two weeks because he’s had two bad matchups against Det and Car. But things do get better, at least for Week Fourteen (vs. Buf) and Week Sixteen (at Stl). In between, he’s vs. SF in Tampa, which isn’t a good matchup but it’s not a brutal one. The matchups aren’t that great for the passing game, so their already-heavy commitment to the running game should increase these next few weeks, which is worth pointing out. They would love to give Rainey 20+ carries the rest of the season, which is very clear.
 
Tough Breaks
 
Zac Stacy (Stl) – He’s a volume back who will get the ball, and he’s been terrific this year, but even if he’s totally recovered from his head injury (and it’s nearly impossible to know if he’s 100% over it), his schedule looks quite prohibitive. He’s at Ari, vs. NO, and vs. TB. Those last two matchups aren’t brutal, but Stacy owners should brace themselves for underwhelming production over the course of the next three weeks. 
 
Andre Brown (NYG) – The only thing the Giants are doing well offensively are running the ball and blocking for the run and Brown’s numbers speak for themselves. He’s looked good, and he’s been able to handle a lot of work in the running and passing game, so he’s hard to sit. But there is major concern about his Week Fifteen and Sixteen matchups vs. Sea and at Det. He’s at SD this week, at least, so he should be fine there, and for the other two, he can at least do a lot of positive things in the passing game.
 
Marshawn Lynch (Sea) – He’s coming off an underwhelming game against the Saints, but of greater concern is his schedule the next three weeks. It’s not completely nasty, and he’s run very well on the 49ers the last two years, but a three-game run at SF, at NYG, and vs. Ari is a concern. It’s especially disconcerting because the Seahawks could lock up the #1 seed by Week Fifteen or at the latest by Week Sixteen, so Lynch owners should have Robert Turbin standing by. If Seattle wins their next two, they will have nothing to play for Week Sixteen.
 
Reggie Bush (Det) – The Lions have been running the ball a little better lately, and they do have more of a commitment to it, which is good. Bush remains a “start” for the fantasy playoffs, of course, but the schedule doesn’t exactly do him any favors with matchups at Phi, vs. Bal, and vs. NYG. Luckily, he and Joique Bell can do work in the passing game.  
 
  • Also affectedJoique Bell
Donald Brown (Ind) – He doesn’t have a huge margin for error, so it’s a tad disconcerting that he’s got three challenging matchups in a row at Cin, vs. Hou, and at KC. He’s more of a use-him-if-you-need-him guy than an option you’re proactive about using.
 
  • Also affectedTrent Richardson
Pierre Thomas (NO) – With Mark Ingram still in the mix, and Darren Sproles is back and also in play, Thomas is back now to being what he’s always been: a really nice flex starter. He’s been great all year, and he’s versatile, so bad matchups might not kill him. But one did in Week Thirteen, and he’s got Car twice in the next three games, which is cause for concern. He could, at least, do well Week Fifteen at Stl.
 
  • Also affectedDarren Sproles
TE Notes
 
It’s easy to see from the QB overviews above which WRs are looking good or not based on the schedule, and if they’re not listed that means the schedule is, overall, negligible. But since TE is a bit of a different animal and can be more matchup-intensive, here’s a quick look at some interesting options who are looking better than usual based on schedule.
 
Jason Witten (Dal) – He’s been quiet, but he could explode the next three weeks at Chi, vs. GB, and at Was.
 
Delanie Walker (Ten) – If he’s healthy enough to play, he’s got great upside at Den, vs. Ari, and at Jac. Those last two matchups are basically the best two in the league for a TE. Unfortunately, the team signed veteran Visanthe Shiancoe, which is not a good sign for Walker (concussion). Maybe he can return in Week 15, though, and he’d be staring at those great matchups.
 
Jordan Cameron (Cle) – If I owned Cameron, there’s a good chance that I’d just suck it up and start him every week because the playoffs are about impact players, and we know he’s capable of being a major impact player. The QB situation is scary, especially with Caleb Hanie signed this week, but the matchups do help. Cameron owners should be hoping that Jason Campbell and/or Brandon Weeden can play these two three weeks because the matchups are good: at NE, vs. Chi, and at NYJ. Like this week, we all know the Pats will look to take Josh Gordon out, so if Campbell can play you know Cameron will do well. It’s about a lock.
 
Dennis Pitta (Ba) – It’s not a lock, but it sure seems like Pitta is on track to make his 2013 debut in Week Fourteen, and we’ve seen these guys come back from long layoffs this year and produce right away. Pitta could be the next one to do so if he returns because he’s vs. Min, at Det, and vs. NE, which is a solid schedule.
 
Martellus Bennett (Chi) – Bennett is a little hit-or-miss because the wideouts are so productive and seriously command the ball, but he’s always in the mix in the red zone, and he’s always a threat to pop off a big play. His schedule helps, as he’s vs. Dal, at Cle, and vs. Phi.
 
Zach Miller (Sea) – He did produce in Week Thirteen and late in the season in 2012, so he’s got a chance with a good schedule at SF, at NYG, and most important, vs. Ari in Week Sixteen.
 
Owen Daniels (Hou) – It doesn’t seem like he’s poised to return in Week Fourteen, but we’ll see what the week has in store for him. If he’s on the field, he would have a chance at Jac, at Ind, and vs. Den.
 
DT Notes
 
The defenses have been really tough this year, but here’s a week-by-week look at some good options based on matchup and the current production and potential for some defenses that could/should be available. You should also look at our SOS tool for more on what the numbers say.
 
Week Fourteen:
 
  1. New England (vs. Cle) – They’re home for this matchup, and have a chance to make some plays against a Brown offense that might be forced to start Caleb Hanie, signed off the street today, if Jason Campbell can’t go.
  2. Baltimore (vs. Min) – They haven’t been that great for fantasy, but they have many solid players and a pass rush, and who knows who the Vikings will be starting at QB. Either way (it won’t be Josh Freeman) the matchup is good, and the Ravens are always better at home.  
  3. Buffalo (at TB) – The Bills did get 6 sacks last week and 2 fumble recoveries, but they did give up a lot of points. That won’t be an issue this week, most likely, as Mike Glennon finally looked like a rookie. The Bucs will go conservative in this one, but the Bills still have a chance to come through.
  4. Green Bay (vs. Atl) – The Falcons have major protection issues, so while it would be nice to see Aaron Rodgers here to light up the scoreboard so GB can tee off against a Falcon team rendered one-dimensional, the matchup is still good for sacks and possibly INTs.
  5. Oakland (at NYJ) – They have a solid 32 sacks, and they’re a top-12 defense on the strength of 4 TDs, and now they face off against the human turnover machine known as Geno Smith (and possibly 1-2 other backups like Dave Garrard).
Week Fifteen:
 
  1. Buffalo (at Jac) – The Jags are hanging in there lately, but it’s still Chad Henne against a good pass rush and an improved secondary (or at least a healthier one).
  2. New England (at Mia) – Ryan Tannehill has played well, but he still has protection issues and could be forced to throw the ball on almost every down in the 4th quarter, which is a recipe for success for the Patriots, given the Dolphins’ protection and OL issues.
  3. New Orleans (at Stl) – It would be great if this game were in New Orleans, but while Kellen Clemens hasn’t been brutal, he hasn’t been very good, and this is a good matchup against a QB who can easily get overwhelmed.
  4. Philadelphia (at Min) – The Eagle defense is very respectable, and while we know the Vikings will hand the ball off to Adrian Peterson a lot, this is still a beatable matchup against a bad QB (whomever he is that week).
  5. Dallas (vs. GB) – The one thing Monte Kiffin’s scheme has brought to the table this year is turnovers and big plays, as Dallas is tied for second in the league with 5 TDs. If we’re looking at Matt Flynn or Scott Tolzien for the Packers, this week, which seems fairly likely, that would be nice spot for this defense, at home.
Week Sixteen:
 
  1. Detroit (vs. NYG) – The Lions haven’t had a great pass rush all year, but they really dialed it up in Week Thirteen, and if they continue, they can wreak some serious havoc, since they already stuff the run incredibly well. The Giants may not be able to run the ball this week, and that’s why things could get ugly for Big Blue.
  2. Buffalo (at Mia) – I still like their pass rush against this OL, and an offense that has been too reliant on the pass this year.
  3. Tampa Bay (at Stl) – This is a good defense with some nice individual players, and they do have 17 INTs along with 4 TDs/Safeties. Against the very shaky Kellen Clemens, they have potential, especially if they shut down Zac Stacy, which is possible.
  4. Pittsburgh (at GB) – Again, this is only if Rodgers is out.
  5. Dallas (at Was) – Obviously, the Redskins could have a lot of success running the ball here, but Robert Griffin III is still really shaky and taking a ton of sacks, so the Cowboys (with LB Sean Lee back) have a chance.
 
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