Welcome to Pro Football Weekly's Fantasy Buzz, where we'll hit on the most pressing topic for every team, every week to try and help you make the most informed daily and weekly roster decisions.
As a general rule of thumb each week, we'll get you the Thursday Night Football goods, an extra serving beyond what we have for the weekend's slate, and Sunday noon games in time for your Thursday afternoon commute. We'll then circle back in this same space and round out the weekly action by Friday afternoon. Voila.
If you see a position ranking in parentheses, that's where I have a player slotted for the week. Just don't let that preclude you from checking out our top 100 regardless of position here.
Let's get to it.
PITTSBURGH @ BUFFALO
Ladarius Green (TE6), our No. 1 waiver add of the week, is fresh off his first 100-yard game and end-zone trip as a Steeler. Moreover, he out-targeted Antonio Brown, who leads the NFL in looks from 2014-16. Think the Steelers are committed to riding their big offseason investment for their playoff push? Similarly, Le'Veon Bell (RB2) has averaged 28.8 touches per game since the bye. After all Bell's missed time with injuries and suspensions, the Steelers wisely are bent on giving him all the work he can handle before he hits free agency — a consideration for outside suitors but cause for celebration for owners of fantasy's No. 5 scorer since Week 10.
Sammy Watkins' 2015 fantasy postseason stat line: 15-276-3 with a Darrelle Revis shaming in Week 17 for good measure. A sea's worth of salt: Watkins (WR18) has had more foot surgeries (1) than 100-yard games since. But Rex Ryan said he emerged from his second game off IR — with his snap count essentially doubling —feeling better than his first. The reminder of his 2015 flourish was provided because his upside is still worth gambling on in a WR2/WR3 slot.
SAN DIEGO @ CAROLINA
Since Week Six, when he sported a 12:3 touchdown-to-interception ratio, Philip Rivers (QB11) has nearly as many picks (11) as scores (13)— ironically as the Bolts have gone 3-3 following a 2-4 start. Fortunately for the Chargers (and Rivers owners), Carolina is fantasy's 25th-ranked 'D' vs. QBs and WRs, boding well for Tyrell Williams (WR9) and Dontrelle Inman (WR30), even with Luke Kuechly perhaps returning.
Is Cam Newton (QB10) ready to tie a knot on your club or your opponent's this week? In a disappointing season, it's too often been the former, but this smells like a redemption game for Newton after his embarrassing Seattle one-play benching. The reigning MVP has been a stud one week, dud the next, and if that pattern holds true to form, a big game is coming.
CINCINNATI @ CLEVELAND
Who said Andy Dalton (QB13) can't win in the playoffs? After taking advantage of a Philly team that quit a week ago, he gets one that quit before the season started just as your postseason begins. Leave it to the Browns to help Jeremy Hill, a back who's averaged 1.6 yards per carry over the past two weeks and has crested 4.0 once in the past nine — guess who he did it against — to elevate him to RB19.
Robert Griffin III is back. I once deemed him a fantasy sleeper for 2016. Please don't hold it against me, and please don't play any Browns this week in the frigid and snowy conditions if you can avoid it.
CHICAGO @ DETROIT
Jordan Howard's pursuit of Matt Forte's franchise rookie rushing record of 1,238 yards equates to the fifth-round hammer needing to average 89 over his final four games. Howard (RB10) is coming off a 32-tote, three-TD effort — Forte never eclipsed 27 carries as a Bear — and recorded his first 100-yard game, in his first-ever start, vs. Detroit in Week Four. The Lions 'D' is vastly improved, but Howard will get his.
Matthew Stafford (QB5) and Golden Tate (WR23) were awful at rainy Soldier Field on Oct. 2, when Stafford tossed two picks and no touchdowns, Tate was benched and Jim Caldwell appeared to be in trouble at 1-3. Stafford has an 14:1 TD-to-INT ratio and 6-1 record since that point, with Tate securing 90 yards or a touchdown four times and Caldwell now getting Coach of the Year consideration. Two lessons: The NFL is weird and Chicago seems unlikely to tame these Lions again.
HOUSTON @ INDIANAPOLIS
If you overcame drafting DeAndre Hopkins (WR26) in Round One to make the playoffs, take a bow. If you're preparing to play 'Nuk' in the playoffs, maybe take a Xanax (kidding) but also slight solace in knowing it's the Colts, against whom Hopkins posted one of his two 71-plus-yard games (yipee?). Hopkins has been productive in three straight against Indy, though he's yet to score on Vontae Davis.
Monday night, Dwayne Allen secured three TDs — the same number he had in the previous 22 games combined, and matching the trio Houston has yielded to tight ends this season. Don't chase Allen's one-week breakout, but also don't be afraid of playing Donte Moncrief against that stout Houston unit. Moncrief has touchdowns in five consecutive games, making him the first to pull that trick since Reggie Wayne, plus he scored last season when the Texans visited Indy.
MINNESOTA @ JACKSONVILLE
The Vikings' 'D' seems bulletproof this week. If there's another play in this matchup — Stefon Diggs (WR21), Allen Robinson (WR27), Jaguars 'D' — you can talk yourself into, well, you're more convincing than most.
ARIZONA @ MIAMI
Bruce Arians is taking his make-believe role as purveyor of fantasy football goodness a little too far. Arians is one of my favorite guys in the business, but his Cardinals, with a still-stout 'D' but led by a toast Carson Palmer in 11-of-12 games, lead the NFL in passing attempts, which is unforgivable. Fantasy God David Johnson (RB1) has 64 catches to lead all running backs — I get it — but an average of just 19 carries per game. Arizona will miss the playoffs largely because something is amiss with Arians this year.
Balky back and all, DeVante Parker found pay dirt a week ago to spare the 'Phins getting shut out in Baltimore. He's again on track to play but gets another brutal matchup in Patrick Peterson. Jarvis Landry finally had a day for PPR owners, but Jay Ajayi (RB15) is the only play I'd feel good about from Miami. No, he can't run for 200 yards every week, but Ajayi is still packing a powerful 5.2-yard clip, plus Arizona has permitted 11 of its 14 rushing touchdowns away from Glendale.
WASHINGTON @ PHILADELPHIA
Doug Pederson conceded some of his players phoned it in a week ago (uh oh), and even when Jim Schwartz's unit is trying, it's given up as many explosive passing plays as any. Enter Kirk Cousins (of course he likes that), QB14 this week and No. 3 in the NFL in passing yards. I didn't rank Jordan Reed this week because he's dealing with the separated shoulder, but after being inactive Sunday for just the second time, he says he's "optimistic" about returning. When Reed has sat, Jamison Crowder (WR20) has scored or reached 100 yards. When Reed plays, Crowder has still reached one of those marks in five of nine games. I guess what I'm saying is Crowder is pretty darn consistent, as his 767 yards and seven TDs pace Washington.
Ryan Mathews is back, so the Eagles have that much going for them, which is nice. Seriously, though, Mathews quietly has a career-high eight total TDs and a chance to play in at least 14 games for just the third time in his career. What he doesn't have is a clear path to a heavy workload with Darren Sproles and Wendell Smallwood in his way, and too many players from the other team in the way of Carson Wentz's passes lately. Playing Mathews is perilous, but he's the best option if you're determined to start an Eagles back. A healthy Jordan Matthews (WR19) remains the safest bet from a lackluster Eagles fantasy nest.
DENVER @ TITANS
Could Justin Forsett be this year's Tim Hightower? Probably not, simply because Trevor Siemian's Broncos aren't exactly Drew Brees' Saints, yet Forsett (RB33) has a chance to author a second feel-good chapter to his circuitous and late-blooming career. Gary Kubiak, whose system Forsett flourished in for the first time in 2012 and again in his breakout 2014 campaign in Baltimore, says Forsett will split time with Devontae Booker (RB20) after signing this week. Forsett, 31, has gone downhill since '14 and couldn't stick with two of the worst rushing teams in football — Detroit and Baltimore — this year. Nonetheless, he doesn't have a ton of tread on the tires, and Booker, in addition to struggling in a lead role, lacks Forsett's big-game experience.
Similarly to Derek Carr on Thursday night, Marcus Mariota (QB12), after carrying plenty of teams to the postseason, gets a brutal test to begin the playoffs. He's well rested and playing at home, but Denver cedes a league-low 11.7 fantasy points per game to QBs, having permitted one or fewer passing touchdowns in 10 of 12 games. Similarly tough sledding for Delanie Walker (TE5), as only Arizona has allowed fewer touchdown tight ends than the Broncos. Indeed, Tennessee's game plan Sunday will be an extra dose of exotic smash mouth behind DeMarco Murray (RB3).
JETS @ 49ERS
If a driving wet snowstorm compelled Dowell Loggains to give Jordan Howard a career-high 32 carries vs. these Niners, the convergence of Bryce Petty making his first-ever road start against the NFL's worst run 'D' should be the impetus for Chan Gailey ensuring Howard's predecessor, Matt Forte (RB8), also goes over 30.
Colin Kaepernick gets his job back, but do you have the stomach to put him back in your lineup in an elimination game? Colleague John Sahly provides the voice of reason on our new podcast in saying Kap owners must move on — assuming he didn't prevent their teams from doing so — and look at the facts: the Jets have quit and the 22:6 touchdown-to-interception ratio they've yielded screams bounce-back. I say there are no less than 16-18 QBs I'd go down with this week before Kap.
SEAHAWKS @ PACKERS
I'm not a doctor, but it seems Clay Matthews will need two working shoulders — read: one more than he's had in the past two games — to help slow Thomas Rawls (RB18) and Russell Wilson (QB7) this week. With snow again in the forecast, Rawls, coming off a 15-106-2 domination of Carolina that reminded of his rookie form, should see more work vs. a 'D' likely to again have a limited Matthews and unlikely to have top edge-setter Nick Perry.
I so want Christine Michael to unload on his former team, and it could happen, as he led the Packers backfield in carries a week ago while looking like its best pure runner. Sadly, the Packers backfield is too volatile to trust and fullback Aaron Ripkowski keeps ripping off touchdowns from Michael and Ty Montgomery. Expect Aaron Rodgers (QB6) to test Earl Thomas replacement Steven Terrell in the middle of the field with Jared Cook and over the top with Jordy Nelson (WR10).
FALCONS @ RAMS
Julio Jones (WR6) leads the NFL in receiving yards and reasons his owners won't sleep well the next two nights. Jones is dealing with turf toe, making him a game-time decision and officially listed as questionable, which is more than we say for Stan Kroenke's decision to extend Jeff Fisher. It's worth noting Jones, one of the NFL's true tough guys, has fought through a list of ailments without missing a game this season. Regardless of his status — and if he plays we think you have to play him — Taylor Gabriel should slide into the No. 2 role in Mohamed Sanu's, garnering him FLEX worthiness. Also, don't be afraid to stream the Atlanta 'D,' a potential two-week add with San Francisco visiting the Falcons in Week 15.
Kenny Britt (WR37) update: he's within 145 yards of his first 1,000-yard campaign, and 278 yards shy of exceeding Tavon Austin's receiving yardage in 2013-15 combined. Britt collected his second meaningless (for the Rams) touchdown in as many weeks, increasing his season mark to 5 — the most since his penultimate season with the Titans. The more we talk about Britt, who gets a bottom-10 Falcons' 'D' yielding 23.1 points to receivers, the less we have to discuss Todd Gurley (RB21).
SAINTS @ BUCCANEERS
A Twitter follower asked me this week if it's time to worry about Drew Brees, you know, because his NFL record streak of 60 home games with a touchdown was just stopped by Detroit. This is the highest point total of the week, and before they held Russell Wilson and Jay Cutler without touchdowns in their most recent home games, the Bucs permitted a combined 12 to Matt Ryan, Derek Carr, Paxton Lynch and Case Keenum at the pirate ship. Perhaps I'm not giving the increasingly opportunistic Bucs 'D,' which faces Brees twice in the fantasy postseason as it tries to complete its reality playoff push, enough credit. But I'm guessing Brees spoils the Bucs' campaign, not yours.
I wrote in this week's '9 route' about Charles Sims potentially helping in fantasy championship week, but it may be too soon to turn to him Sunday, his first game off I.R. Rather, Sunday could mark the last chance for Doug Martin (RB12) to try and flourish in a feature role. It's something he's yet to do over the past month, and Sunday Jacquizz Rodgers, not Martin, put the game away for the Bucs in San Diego. But the Saints' improved 'D' has still ceded more touchdowns (13) to backs than all but five other teams. Again, points won't be at a premium in this one and Martin has partially salvaged a rough month with touchdowns in the two worst outings.
COWBOYS @ GIANTS
Dallas' fantastic freshmen, Dak Prescott and Zeke Elliott (RB5), were held to a season-low 69.4 passer rating and 51 rushing yards, respectively, in the Cowboys' lone loss, 20-19 to the Giants way back in Week One. Jason Witten (TE9), however, grabbed a season-high nine catches on 14 targets — and the Giants' issues covering tight ends have remained, with their 834 yards permitted to the position third-worst in the NFL. Prescott and Zeke, well, they haven't had many issues, period, since Week One, and especially in prime time, where Dallas has grown even more run-centric with Prescott (5.7 attempts per game) and Elliott (24.0 apg) are up nearly three carries over their noon usage. A small sample size, to be sure, but it seems likely to hold true in cold East Rutherford.
In a much bigger sample size, — 24 career games vs. the rival Cowboys — Eli Manning (QB16) has his best passer rating (91.1), TD-to-INT ratio (47:24) and average pass attempt (7.5) against any division foe. Manning was deadly efficient in the first meeting with three touchdowns (and a pick) on just 28 pass attempts in his best game of the season not against Cleveland. Manning is 4-3 in his career vs. Rod Marinelli-led defenses with an 11:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. After toasting Dallas for 14-180-4 in his first two meetings — both losses — Odell Beckham Jr. (WR3) has been held kept below 74 yards and out of the end zone in three straight.
RAVENS @ PATRIOTS
Mike Wallace, whom the Patriots expressed interest in signing this offseason before he landed in Baltimore, is having his best season since his second-to-last with the Steelers. Yet Wallace hasn't eclipsed 62 rushing yards or scored a touchdown in more than a month and likely sees stud corner Malcolm Butler on Monday night. That could make this more of a Steve Smith (WR35) night. Smith, a known big-game player and also once pursued by Bill Belichick, is a slightly better play than Wallace, but even with Baltimore coming off its best offensive output of the season, we prefer the Baltimore backs — Kenneth Dixon (RB28) and Terrance West (RB29) to the pass-catchers against a tough Pats secondary.
Baltimore's 'D' is impressive, but it can be taken by opposing wideouts, who have scored 18 combined times on the Ravens. After Julian Edelman (WR14), Malcolm Mitchell (WR38) has been the favorite target for Tom Brady (QB3) over the past three weeks with 17-222-3. That's modest WR1 production, which probably isn't sustainable, but with Danny Amendola joining Rob Gronkowski on the sideline, Mitchell's role won't diminish. We'd expect Mitchell is more likely to stay hot than Martellus Bennett heating up against Eric Weddle and Co., who just haven't allowed TEs, save for Tyler Eifert, to do any business for a while now.