Arizona Cardinals vs. Minnesota Vikings (Thursday, 8:30 p.m.)
Vegas O/U: 46 pts, Cardinals Total: 27 pts, Vikings Total: 19 pts
Carson Palmer yawned his way to another cash game-worthy performance in Week 13, slicing and dicing the St. Louis secondary to the tune of 25.2 fantasy points. Against a Minnesota coverage unit that has given up multiple touchdown tosses in four of their past five games – thanks to a series of big plays via the air – Palmer is his usual safe cash game self with somewhat limited upside.
Larry Fitzgerald has at least eight receptions in six of his past seven. He's become a slot receiver PPR machine with Palmer at the controls. The nuclear performances for Fitzgerald are going to be few and far between, but with Arizona intent on exploiting mismatches with Fitzgerald out of the slot, the old guy is a rock solid play on Thursday night. We just saw Doug Baldwin – who runs 84 percent of his routes out of the slot – post an eye popping line against these Vikings. Fitz, as per usual, is cash game material.
David Johnson paid off in Week 13 for those who trusted that the impressive rookie would put up a nice line with massive opportunity. There's no reason to think Johnson can't do the same in Week 14 with his role in the Cards' passing attack. Running backs have managed 676 total yards against the Vikings over the past five games (135.2 per game). Johnson's floor is still not priced into his tag on DraftKings. Deploy him without hesitation on Thursday.
Narrative Street alert: Adrian Peterson is a squeaky wheel this week, griping about only getting eight carries against the Seahawks in Week 13 and charging that his coaches were outdone by Seattle's coaches. I suppose that means that Minnesota will force feed their only offensive weapon more than usual against Arizona.
The Cardinals allow the 10th fewest schedule adjusted fantasy points to opposing runners, and that has a lot to do with the Cards' offense inflicting terrible game script on opponents, essentially stripping them of their ground attack. That makes me bearish on Peterson against the Cardinals, even after a small price drop on FanDuel and DraftKings.
Carolina Panthers vs. Atlanta Falcons (Sunday, 1:00 p.m.)
Vegas O/U: 46 pts, Panthers Total: 27 pts, Falcons Total: 19 pts
Atlanta gives up the fifth most adjusted fantasy points to opposing defenses, so with Carolina playing a home game against a warmed over Falcons offense, I like the Panthers as one of the week's safer defensive options, however pricy.
The running back rampage against the Falcons' squishy front seven continued in Week 13, as Doug Martin and Charles Sims combined for 151 rushing yards and a score. Runners produce on the ground and through the air against the Falcons, who give up an almost laughable 7.6 running back catches per game. It all spells good things for Jonathan Stewart, fantasy's No. 7 running back through 13 weeks. Stewart has been brutally inefficient at times in 2015, but he's seen the most carries of anyone not named Adrian Peterson. He has a very comfortable floor here.
You'll have to once against pay a steep price for Cam Newton's DFS services in Week 14. It should be worth it though, if recent quarterback production against Atlanta and Newton's consistently high-floor stat lines have shown. He's eclipsed 20 fantasy points in five of his past six. Atlanta has faced some of the league's worst quarterbacks in 2015, leaving us with some serious questions about how tough they are against the position. Carolina's implied Vegas total leaves me bullish on Newton hitting his floor and potentially exploring that ceiling we saw last week against New Orleans.
Julio Jones hasn't scored a touchdown since Week 8. He appears to be a decoy of sorts for Atlanta when the team breaches the red zone. It's nightmarish for those who know how dominant Jones can be in close quarters. With Josh Norman expected to cover Jones this week and the Falcons' implied total so terribly low, I can't help but fade Julio in cash formats. He will certainly have low ownership and despite the bad matchup, has some sort of ceiling, making him a sensible against-the-grain GPP option. It's just a lot to pay for a guy with floor that has proven frightening.
You can't play Matt Ryan here, not even in GPPs. Just stop yourself.
Devonta Freeman showed once against last week that he could be stopped on the ground and still put up top-end numbers. He caught 10 passes against the Bucs last week. Freeman is now the most targeted runner in football. Carolina has absolutely shut down opposing runners of late. They're 12th best against the position when adjusted for strength of schedule. I still see Freeman as an eminently safe play who could easily see another 8-10 targets in this matchup, with Atlanta playing from behind.
Cincinnati Bengals vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (Sunday, 1:00 p.m.)
Vegas O/U: 49.5 pts, Bengals Total: 26.25 pts, Steelers Total: 23.25 pts
While this wasn't the high-scoring back-and-forth affair we expected (or wanted) when these teams met in November, I don't think we should hesitate to stack players and throw in some correlation combos with Vegas expecting so many points to be scored.
No one can stop the Steelers' offense when it's clicking. Pittsburgh made minced meat out of Seattle in Seattle a couple weeks ago and ravaged the poor Colts in Week 13. Cincy's defense is good – allowing the third fewest adjusted points to quarterbacks and the seventh fewest to wideouts – but I think the Steelers are borderline immune to matchups right now.
Martavis Bryant has caught six touchdowns in seven games this season. The speedy receiver is a force in the red zone and the Steelers know it. Antonio Brown, seeing so many more targets than Bryant, will always have the more reliable ceiling of these two, but Bryant's upside is tantalizing. That's especially true on DraftKings, where his price tag remains fairly low for a consistent producer. I see Bryant as a great correlation stack alongside a quarterback or receiver from the opposing side because when the Steelers decide it's time to put their foot on the petal, Bryant thrives.
Brown and Bryant are the two most efficient receivers in the NFL on a per pass route basis. I'm fine with inserting either guy into your cash lineups this week, though I would definitely avoid both in the same lineup. Bryant draws the easier of the two cornerback matchups with Dre Kirkpatrick guarding the Steelers No. 2 pass catcher.
Ben Roethlisberger has notched 25, 31, 27 and 36 fantasy points since the Bengals shut him down in Week 8. I'm not a big fan of throwing him into cash lineups with slightly cheaper options staring down tasty matchups though. I just don't think Cincinnati's domination of Roethlisberger was a fluke. Only Carson Palmer has scored more than 12 fantasy points against the Bengals since midseason.
Andy Dalton's stock gets a big boost here if Tyler Eifert is able to return from injury and suit up against Pittsburgh. Eifert's presence opens up the Cincy offense and provides Dalton with a monstrous red zone target, which has been a big factor in Dalton's 2015 stat lines. Dalton, like Roethlisberger, had a disastrous fantasy game against the Steelers in Week 8. He managed 11 points.
The up-and-down Pittsburgh secondary has proven so unpredictable that I hedge to deploy Dalton in cash games. I guess the Bengals' implied total should give us some reason to think Dalton can post a nice floor here. I'm dubious.
I once again like DeAngelo Williams for cash game purposes here. He has played more than 90 percent of Pittsburgh's offensive snaps since Le'Veon Bell went down to injury, meaning, in short, he's absorbing almost every bit of running back production that can come out of this elite offense. Williams, who scored 15 PPR points the last time these teams met in limited action, should be just fine if he sees his usual 20 touches. Lock him up in cash.
A.J. Green, who scorched the Steelers for 11 catches and 118 yards in their Week 8 matchup, makes for the most logical correlation stack with a Steelers' receiver, if you think this game will meet or exceed its Vegas expectations. Only the Eagles and Giants allow more adjusted fantasy production to enemy receivers than the Steelers.
Houston Texans vs. New England Patriots (Sunday, 1:00 p.m.)
Vegas O/U: 45 pts, Patriots Total: 24.5 pts, Texans Total: 20.5 pts
Tom Brady's split with and without Rob Gronkowski were discussed in this space last week, as they showed that Brady is barely usable in fantasy without Gronk in the lineup. That didn't exactly bear out against the Eagles last week, as Brady went off for 37 fantasy points. Houston is the ninth best team against quarterbacks this season, but it seems Brady can manage for now.
I would hesitate to deploy him in cash contests for fear that he won't have the sort of crazy game script he did against Philly. That had everything to do with Brady's big stat line.
The theory that Scott Chandler would absorb passing game action by default proved prescient for those who threw the Patriots tight end into their Week 13 cash lineups. Chandler caught four of seven targets, including a touchdown. He will remain the team's only legit red zone option with Gronk on the shelf. I think he's worth consideration for that reason alone. The Texans have limited tight end production all year, but the Eagles represented a horrible matchup for Chandler too. His price is still laughably low on DraftKings.
Whacked out game script played a big part in James White's breakout Week 13 performance, in which he saw 10 targets from Brady. I don't think we can bank on that opportunity if New England has positive or neutral script against Houston (I think that's likely). Hence, White won't be anywhere near my cash lineups, though he may find his way into GPP lineups since his role can be enormously productive if things break just right. We saw that time and again with Shane Vereen in this offense.
Danny Amendola continues to be something of a cash game cheat code. Amendola, who dropped what could have been a lengthy touchdown against Philadelphia, nabbed seven of 12 targets for 67 yards and a score. He'll continue to see 10-15 targets with Julian Edelman out. Toss him into cash games and forget about it.
I think there's a chance that this could be one of the week's highest scoring affairs, so stacking Brady with DeAndre Hopkins could pay major dividends. I can't imagine a scenario in which Brady puts up big numbers and Hopkins doesn't. Hopkins averages 12.3 targets, 97.8 yards and 0.7 touchdowns when Brian Hoyer is under center for Houston. I'll have exposure to Hopkins in both cash and GPP formats. I think he's a candidate for 15 targets in this matchup.