Antonio Brown proved once again why he’s the best receiver in the NFL in Week 13. He gutted out a toe injury and posted an overall WR5 performance in Pittsburgh’s come-from-behind victory on Monday night against the Cincinnati Bengals. Brown will likely finish the year as the overall WR1 for the third time in four years, and finish as a top-4 receiver for the fifth consecutive campaign. The first of those years was 2013, when a 22-year-old phenom by the name of Josh Gordon captured the overall WR1 spot. That year, Gordon became the only wide receiver to average at least 16 fantasy points per game since Randy Moss in 2007. Gordon returned to NFL action for the first time in nearly three years in Week 13, and he did not disappoint. Gordon finished the week as a WR2 despite catching only four passes and not scoring a touchdown. Gordon may single-handedly change the landscape of the fantasy playoffs in countless leagues where he may have been plucked off waiver wires as recently as a few weeks ago.
As we enter Week 14 of the NFL season, it’s officially fantasy playoff time in the majority of leagues. Win or go home. Fantasy owners cannot afford to have their players disappear on them when it matters the most. Let’s look at some of the Week 14 wide receiver matchups to determine which players have favorable draws and which do not as we approach the first week of the fantasy playoffs.
JOSH GORDON, CLEVELAND BROWNS VS GREEN BAY PACKERS
Considering his extended time away from the game and his difficult Week 13 matchup with the Los Angeles Chargers and cornerback Casey Heyward, Gordon’s overall WR24 performance was better than most expected. Gordon caught four passes for 85 yards and was targeted a team-high 11 times. He showed flashes (see what I did there?) of the player who dominated in 2013 and should be able to build on that down the stretch for a Cleveland Browns team that is still seeking its first victory of 2017. Gordon gets a much easier matchup this week as Cleveland faces the Green Bay Packers. Despite holding Mike Evans in check last week, Green Bay has still allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to opposing wide receivers. Cornerbacks Josh Hawkins and Davon House will not be able to contain Gordon in this matchup. Cleveland’s seemingly perpetual negative game script only enhances Gordon’s outlook. I believe that Josh Gordon will be a WR1 in Week 14. I also believe it won’t be his only WR1 weekly finish in 2017. After Green Bay, Gordon will face a Baltimore Ravens squad that just lost shutdown cornerback Jimmy Smith to a torn Achilles, a Chicago Bears defense that just surrendered two 90-yard efforts to San Francisco 49ers’ wide receivers, and a Pittsburgh Steelers team that may have nothing to play for in Week 17. Start Josh Gordon in Week 14 and beyond.
STERLING SHEPARD, NEW YORK GIANTS VS. DALLAS COWBOYS
After missing two games in October due to an ankle injury, Sterling Shepard returned in Week 9 as the New York Giants’ go-to receiver. He responded with 16 receptions and 212 yards over his next two games. However, he was forced to miss New York’s last two contests because of migraines. He returned to the lineup last week but managed just three catches for 56 yards. His lackluster Week 13 performance may be attributed to New York’s decision to start Geno Smith over Eli Manning. Manning will start for the Giants once again this week. Manning will likely look to air it out in Week 14 in front of an adoring crowd. Shepard’s matchup also plays favorably into his prospects. Shepard faces a Dallas Cowboys’ defense which has surrendered the most receiving touchdowns (17) in the entire NFL. They were abused by fellow slot receiver Keenan Allen on Thanksgiving Day. Shepard may not quite have Allen’s level of success, but he should be able to find plenty of openings in this matchup. Shepard has a very safe floor and a high ceiling in this matchup, particularly in PPR leagues. Don’t be surprised if Sterling Shepard posts his third WR1 weekly finish in Week 14.
MARQUISE GOODWIN, SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS AT HOUSTON TEXANS
Marquise Goodwin has been considered little more than a low-volume, big-play threat throughout his NFL career. His world-class speed is evident in the open field, but he hasn’t proven to be a very polished or efficient receiver to this point. However, he has been given more opportunities to develop this season, particularly following Pierre Garcon’s season-ending neck injury. Goodwin has topped 60 yards receiving seven times this season, including four straight games since Garcon went down. Goodwin showed great chemistry with new 49ers’ quarterback Jimmy Garropolo in San Francisco’s Week 13 win in Chicago. Goodwin caught all eight of his targets for 99 yards. The eight receptions were a career high. Goodwin and Garropolo have a prime opportunity to build on last week’s performance when they host the struggling Houston Texans’ defense. Houston has given up the seventh-most fantasy points to opposing wideouts on the year. Goodwin will likely match up against Texans’ cornerback Kevin Johnson, which bodes well for Goodwin. Johnson has graded out as one of the worst cornerbacks in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus. His 4.52 speed is also no match for Goodwin’s 4.27. Marquise Goodwin should post a top-20 finish in Week 14.
ROBBY ANDERSON, NEW YORK JETS VS. DENVER BRONCOS
Robby Anderson has been a revelation for the New York Jets this season. Despite being undrafted out of college and drafted as nothing more than a late-round flier in fantasy drafts, Anderson has been one of the most productive wide receivers this season. He ranks 11th in the NFL in receiving yards and eighth among wideouts in fantasy points. He has been a WR2 or better in six consecutive games. That streak will be put to the test on Sunday against the Denver Broncos. Anderson should see plenty of Broncos’ cornerback Bradley Roby in this game. Roby is one of the most underrated and well-rounded cornerbacks in the game. He will give Anderson all that he can handle. It’s also likely that New York tries to attack Denver via the run in this game, as Denver has shown considerable leaks in their run defense as the season has progressed. Robby Anderson can still be played as a WR3 or Flex option, but don’t count on the WR1 production that he has been providing this season.
DOUG BALDWIN, SEATTLE SEAHAWKS AT JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS
Doug Baldwin was a top-10 fantasy wide receiver in both 2015 and 2016. His production has fallen off slightly, but he still ranks as the overall WR18 this season. Baldwin and the rest of the Seattle passing attack will face their stiffest 2017 test when they travel to Jacksonville to take on the Jaguars. Jacksonville has been a nightmare matchup for virtually all opposing quarterbacks and wide receivers this season. Jacksonville’s outstanding secondary is led by cornerbacks Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye. Though Baldwin primarily mans the slot, Jacksonville may employ a strategy like the one they used two weeks ago against Arizona Cardinals’ wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. Ramsey shadowed Fitzgerald for part of the time, helping hold the future Hall-of-Famer to just 12 yards on eight targets. If Baldwin commands the same kind of respect Fitzgerald did, his floor would be extremely low in this matchup. Doug Baldwin should be considered an extremely volatile WR3 in Week 14.
DEVIN FUNCHESS, CAROLINA PANTHERS VS. MINNESOTA VIKINGS
Devin Funchess has finally had the breakout season many have expected since he came into the league in 2015. He is currently the overall WR16 on the season, and he has been even better following Kelvin Benjamin’s trade to Buffalo. Funchess is ninth among all wide receivers in fantasy points per game since Week 9. He has already set career-highs with 54 receptions, 703 yards and six touchdowns in 2017. Funchess and the Carolina Panthers will face a tall task when they face the Minnesota Vikings and cornerback Xavier Rhodes. After being beaten soundly in his Thanksgiving matchup with Marvin Jones, Rhodes bounced back by holding Atlanta Falcons’ star Julio Jones to just two catches for 24 yards. This should be a low-scoring, hard-fought affair, and both points and big plays will be at a premium. It will be tough to trust Devin Funchess as much more than a WR3/Flex play in this important NFC battle.
SLEEPER OF THE WEEK:
DANNY AMENDOLA, NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS AT MIAMI DOLPHINS
Danny Amendola has eclipsed the 40-yard plateau once since Week 5. Amendola finished with eight catches for 77 yards in that game en route to a WR28 weekly finish. That Week 5 game is important for one reason: Rob Gronkowski did not play in that game. That is noteworthy because Gronkowski has been suspended for New England’s Monday night matchup against the Miami Dolphins. Some of Amendola’s best fantasy performances as a Patriot have come in games in which Gronkowski did not play. That includes an overall WR10 performance in Week 2 of last season against Miami. A repeat is unlikely, of course. But Amendola does have upside in this matchup against a Miami defense ranked 31st in pass defense according to Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric. Most teams in the fantasy playoffs are likely to have better options for their WR2 and WR3 spots. However, Danny Amendola could prove to be a very useful Flex play in Week 14, particularly in PPR leagues.