In looking ahead to the next three weeks, fantasy owners need to make the best decisions possible when it comes to setting up their lineup. It's always hard because nothing is a sure thing when it comes to fantasy football. However, in looking at history so far this season, we can attempt to predict the outcomes of the games in Weeks 14-16.
In order to be sure your fantasy team can win three more games, here is some analysis of the upcoming schedules for the wide receiver, tight end and defense/special teams (DST) positions.
Good: Washington, Los Angeles, Atlanta, San Diego
No team has a "best" schedule, but four teams have pretty good ones, meaning they have at least two matchups with teams in the top 10 in terms of most fantasy points allowed to opposing wide receivers. The Rams get Seattle in Week 15, but that game is bookended by matchups with Atlanta and San Francisco, both among the top five most generous teams for opposing wide receivers. It's hard to trust any Los Angeles offensive player (including Todd Gurley), but Tavon Austin may have some value in the playoffs, provided he’s healthy.
It's no secret fantasy owners are starting Julio Jones, but any other Falcons WR is too hard to trust. For the Redskins, DeSean Jackson and Jamison Crowder face Carolina and Chicago in Weeks 15 and 16, both of which are good matchups. Both are still available in at least 15 percent of leagues, so if they are available in yours, pick them up.
For the Chargers, Travis Benjamin is available in more than 40 percent of fantasy leagues and Tyrell Williams is available in more than 20 percent. They face Carolina and Oakland in the first two weeks of the fantasy playoffs. Williams has been the top receiver while Benjamin was out with a knee injury, but the former is dealing with a shoulder injury of his own. Both may have WR2 value throughout the fantasy playoffs.
Bad: Baltimore, Houston, Indianapolis, Jacksonville
The good news for the Colts and Jaguars is that even though they have two tough matchups in the first two weeks of the playoffs, the outlook is more appealing in Week 16. However, T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief and Allen Robinson owners do have to get through those two tough weeks first. Both teams play Houston and Minnesota in the first two weeks, a pair of defenses that have made life very difficult on opposing wide receivers.
DeAndre Hopkins and the Texans face Jacksonville and then Cincinnati in Weeks 15 and 16. Hopkins has struggled all year, and at this point, if fantasy owners got to the playoffs in spite of him, they have a tough road ahead. He has still put up points against tough defenses and is understandably tough to bench, but in non-PPR leagues he has been a disappointment.
Baltimore faces New England and Pittsburgh in Weeks 14 and 16. Fantasy owners may choose to employ Steve Smith Sr. or Mike Wallace as WR3 or flex options, and they should be ok in those games. The Ravens have struggled offensively all year (save for Week 13), but those two matchups aren't terrible. When Wallace last played Pittsburgh in Week 9, he had four receptions for 124 yards and a touchdown. The matchups aren't great, but Smith and Wallace should at least be serviceable.
This may comfort those A.J. Green owners who lost their WR1 to injury, as he’s not expected back for the fantasy playoffs. It’s also bad news of any owners who have or recently added Brandon LaFell or Tyler Boyd to their teams. These two have the worst playoff schedule for wide receivers. They face Pittsburgh and Houston in Weeks 15 and 16, both of which are in the top five in terms of fewest fantasy points allowed to the position. Fantasy owners likely didn't count on either of them to get to the playoffs, and it may be best to simply drop them and add someone with more upside.
Best: Chicago, San Diego
Unfortunately for fantasy owners, Chicago doesn't exactly have a tight end to use with Zach Miller (broken foot) done for the season. However, Antonio Gates – and even Hunter Henry owners – should be happy because the Chargers have games against Carolina, Oakland and Cleveland on tap for Weeks 14-16. These teams are among the top 10 in terms of most fantasy points allowed to opposing tight ends. However, neither tight end took advantage of another similar appealing matchup (at Atlanta in Week 7), so that’s something to keep in mind.
Good: Greg Olsen, Carolina; C.J. Fiedorowicz, Houston
In Week 13, Fiedorowicz led the Texans in targets. Although it was Ryan Griffin that caught the touchdown, Fiedorowicz has had at least four receptions in each of the last three games. In the fantasy playoffs, he faces Indianapolis in Week 14 and Cincinnati in Week 16, both of which are in the top 10 for fantasy points allowed to opposing tight ends. The last time Fiedorowicz faced Indianapolis (Week 6) he posted six receptions for 85 yards and a touchdown. He's available in 60 percent of leagues and should be picked up for owners that need a fill-in tight end.
Olsen owners should be happy to see that he faces Washington and Atlanta. The last time he faced Atlanta (Week 4), he had six receptions for 76 yards and a touchdown. When he faces Atlanta again in Week 16, fantasy owners can hope for a similar stat line to lead them to a championship.
Bad: Jimmy Graham, Seattle; Jared Cook, Green Bay
Cook had one good game, and that's been it. He has a bad playoff schedule, and that should be enough for fantasy owners to either drop him for a better option or leave him on the waiver wire. Graham owners, however, should be a little nervous. The Seahawks face the Packers, Rams and Cardinals in the playoffs. The matchup in Green Bay is a good one, but the Rams are in the bottom 10 teams for fantasy points allowed to opposing tight ends, while the Cardinals have given up the fewest to the position. Graham had five receptions for 53 yards against Arizona in Week 7. That is the best game a tight end has had against the Cardinals, as they have yet to surrender a touchdown to a TE this season.
Ugly: Delanie Walker, Tennessee; Martellus Bennett, New England
The Titans face Denver in Week 14 followed by Kansas City. Both of these defenses are among the league’s best overall and have limited the damage done by opposing tight ends. Walker has struggled in tough matchups for his position this year (just two catches for 34 yards against Houston, for example). While this isn't a reason to bench Walker, it may be enough to consider picking up the aforementioned C.J. Fiedorowicz, who has a great playoff schedule (or Vance McDonald for Week 15 vs. Atlanta).
Bennett owners have been disappointed by his performance recently, as Rob Gronkowski is no longer a factor when it comes to targets. The Patriots face Baltimore and Denver in the first two weeks of the playoffs, and this should be enough reason to bench Bennett and find a better option. He's been dealing with an ankle injury, and obviously it is limiting him on the field.
Defense/Special Teams (DSTs)
Best: Atlanta, Seattle
For fantasy owners looking to grab a DST to stick with through the fantasy playoffs, Atlanta is the way to go. Seattle is already widely owned, but faces teams in Weeks 15 and 16 (Los Angeles and Arizona) who are in the top five in terms of fantasy points allowed to opposing DSTs. The Falcons have three such matchups – Rams, 49ers and Panthers. Atlanta hasn’t been an amazing or all that productive DST this season, but that could change during the fantasy playoffs.
For fantasy owners that have been sticking with a solid DST but are looking at bad matchups (Kansas City, Week 14 vs. Oakland for example), some options include Miami for Weeks 14 and 15, Cincinnati for Week 14, Buffalo for Week 15, and New England for Week 16.
Worst: New York Giants, Baltimore
Most fantasy owners likely aren't using the Giants DST, but if they are, the schedule is not fantasy-friendly. The G-Men face Dallas, Detroit and Philadelphia in the fantasy playoffs, all three of which are in the top ten for fewest fantasy points allowed to DSTs. Some fantasy owners may own the Ravens, however. They face the Patriots, Eagles and Steelers in Weeks 14-16. Like Philadelphia, New England and Pittsburgh have not been cooperative to allowing DSTs to rack up the fantasy points. Those who have relied on Baltimore to get them to the playoffs may want to look for another option.
— Written by Sarah Lewis, who is part of the Athlon Contributor network and lives, eats, and breathes fantasy football. She also writes for SoCalledFantasyExperts.com among other sites. Have a fantasy football question? Send it to her on Twitter @Sarah_Lewis32.