How many Patriots are too many this week?
MATCHUPS TO EXPLOIT
Buccaneers (vs. Lions)
Peyton Barber or Doug Martin could be good plays, and don’t discount it being Barber, as even a healthy Martin hasn’t had a day like the sophomore Auburn product’s Week 13 in more than two years. Detroit’s sagging ‘D’ could be hard-pressed to make a soft landing after getting blown out in Baltimore. The Lions have surrendered multiple rushing touchdowns in six of the past seven games and have gone more than 10 quarters without a turnover. Jameis Winston couldn’t avoid one costly fumble in his return to the lineup, but this is an ideal spot against a Lions club suddenly hemorraghing points on defense (30.5 ppg allowed the past month) and lacking the pass-rush potential Green Bay showed last week (seven sacks).
Must start: Mike Evans, Peyton Barber*
Solid play: Jameis Winston, DeSean Jackson, Cameron Brate
Raiders (at Chiefs)
The Chiefs gave up a season-high 38 points to Josh McCown’s juggernaut Jets on Sunday. The only team to pour more sugar, err yards, on Kansas City was Oakland in Week 7, when Derek Carr eclipsed 400 through the air (418) for only the second time in his career and Amari Cooper set career-highs in targets (19), yards (210) and touchdowns (two). Only McCown, Carr and Deshaun Watson have crested the 30-fantasy point barrier vs. the Chiefs, whose defensive woes weren’t exactly solved by the acquisition of Darrelle Revis and a sock-less Marcus Peters melting down. Cousin Marshawn Lynch was the one melting in the first meeting but he’s heated up in a different way since with four touchdowns in four games, including his first 100-yard Raiders outing Sunday.
Must start: Derek Carr, Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree, Marshawn Lynch
Patriots (at Dolphins)
In Rob Gronkowski’s absence following a much-deserved one-game suspension (assuming it's upheld), don’t bother with backup Dwayne Allen, who posted a goose egg the only other time his All-Pro teammate was missing. Instead, lean on all three backs — yes, James White is on the radar again after leading the backfield in Week 13 snaps — in the week’s biggest mismatch (Patriots -11). After all, it was just two weeks ago that Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead both finished in the top-15 scorers vs. Miami. The other great play is New England’s ‘D,’ fantasy’s second-leading stop-unit in Week 12 vs. Matt Moore. Cutler hasn’t fared much better with four touchdowns and six giveaways in three career meetings — all losses — vs. Belichick’s Pats.
Must start: Tom Brady, Brandin Cooks, Dion Lewis, Rex Burkhead, Patriots D/ST
Solid play: Danny Amendola
Worth a look: James White
Packers (at Browns)
Alvin Kamara is running away with Offensive Rookie of the Year honors but fellow mid-rounder Jamaal Williams has opened eyes with his own breakthrough over the past month. Only Kamara, Saints teammate Mark Ingram and Le’Veon Bell have more fantasy points over that span than Williams, who’s running with the kind of bad intentions that compelled Mike McCarthy to keep him in a feature role despite Aaron Jones’ Week 13 return. Plus, the carrot being dangled in front of Williams, Davante Adams and Co. to produce in Cleveland is actually Aaron Rodgers, potentially set to return in Week 15 with the postseason still within reach.
Must start: Jamaal Williams, Davante Adams, Packers D/ST
Worth a look: Aaron Jones
MATCHUPS TO AVOID
Panthers (vs. Vikings)
After keeping Matt Ryan out of the end zone for the first time in 2017 and holding Julio Jones to a season-low 2-24-0 receiving, Xavier Rhodes’ Vikings visit a Panthers offense coming off its own dud and lacking the diversity of Atlanta’s. Christian McCaffrey faces a tough Pac-12 reunion in former UCLA ‘backers Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks, who’ve helped limit opposing backs to a league low four total touchdowns. Devin Funchess grabbed his career-best sixth touchdown last week but now gets the wrath of Rhodes. Greg Olsen, deactivated Sunday just one week after returning from I.R., is a total wild card. We realize McCaffrey, Funchess and Cam Newton almost assuredly still will be in lineups this week, but their ceilings are cause for concern.
Must start: Cam Newton
Solid play: Devin Funchess, Christian McCaffrey
Last resort: Greg Olsen*, Panthers D/ST
Giants (vs. Cowboys)
Big Blue managed a season-low three points vs. the Cowboys in Week 1. To put it nicely, the Giants’ season hasn’t exactly improved since then. Perhaps Steve Spagnuolo, in his interim head-coaching audition, and Eli Manning, who returns to the starting lineup, create a spark. However, Sean Lee’s return from a three-game layoff undoubtedly will lift a Cowboys ‘D,’ fresh following one of its better showings on Thanksgiving. NFL sack leader DeMarcus Lawrence is again heating up and figures to rudely welcome back Manning, who obviously lacks reliable alternatives to Evan Engram.
Must start: Evan Engram
Solid play: Sterling Shepard, Orleans Darkwa
Jaguars (vs. Seahawks)
Like Monday night’s vicious AFC North slugfest, the first meeting in the hole between Leonard Fournette and Bobby Wagner won’t be for the faint of heart. And consider us impressed by the surprisingly strong performance of Seattle’s recalibrated secondary vs. Philly, which no one will mistake for Blake Bortles and Jacksonville’s passing attack. Dede Westbrook has been more consistent than Marqise Lee, but in a game with the week’s second-lowest point total, neither are likely to help Blake Bortles build on his first multi-passing TD performance since Week 3.
Must start: Leonard Fournette, Jaguars D/ST
Worth a look: Marqise Lee, Dede Westbrook
Washington (at Chargers)
The Bolts’ run ‘D’ has been reenergized, having surrendered only 21 combined fantasy points to Browns and Cowboys backs over its past two games. They run behind two of the NFL’s higher-priced offensive lines, whereas Washington’s front wall — and offense overall — would rank high on the NFL’s list of most depleted. Kirk Cousins, a gamer no doubt, has absorbed 10 sacks and tallied four giveaways alongside four touchdowns as his surroundings have crumbled the past two games, and he could face the Joey Bosa-Melvin Ingram tandem without Trent Williams and Morgan Moses hobbled or out altogether. Jamison Crowder has been terrific of late but he and Josh Doctson draw formidable challenges in Casey Hayward and Trevor Williams.
Solid play: Kirk Cousins, Samaje Perine
Worth a look: Jamison Crowder, Josh Doctson, Vernon Davis