Once upon a time (read: last year), this would be the week we were starting the fantasy playoffs. But I don't know if you've heard … this is THE BIGGEST SEASON EVER (by one week). That means that you have one last chance to earn your spot in the fantasy postseason. That's the good news.
The bad news is that you still must navigate four teams being on a bye. That includes some notable fantasy stars. Hi, Jonathan Taylor and Jalen Hurts. That's suboptimal if you're on the playoff bubble. It means that all your lineup decisions must be carefully considered and expertly executed if you are going to get that all important win.
Let's not mess around. Here are some sleepers.
The last time we saw Cam Newton, things weren't going well. The Panthers were getting drilled by the Dolphins and Newton was benched in favor of P.J. Walker. But it's a new week. Carolina is coming off a bye and the team has a new offensive coordinator in Jeff Nixon. It's unknown if Nixon will call plays, but the offense is likely to operate closer to head coach Matt Rhule's wish to lean on the run more. That's good news for a quarterback who has made his bones in the NFL (and fantasy football) with his ability as a runner. It also helps that the Panthers come off the bye facing the Falcons. Atlanta has allowed the second-most points per game to quarterbacks and the fourth-most rushing yards to the position. This is a tailor-made situation for Newton.
Trevor Lawrence hasn't had the type of rookie season many envisioned. The blame for that situation can be spread around -- including some for the player himself. This week, the Jags take their show to the Music City against the Titans. When the teams met back in Week 5, Lawrence had one of his best games of the season. It was also the only time Lawrence topped 20 fantasy points in a game. Tennessee has struggled against quarterbacks all season, giving up the third-most fantasy points per game to the position.
In past seasons, we've had a couple of weeks of #RexInTheFlex. But that was when Rex Burkhead was part of a functional offense. Now he's in Houston and has been sharing the backfield with multiple running backs. The release of Phillip Lindsay eased some of the confusion in the Texans running back room. It (sorta) helped last week that David Johnson (thigh) was unavailable. The week-to-week effectiveness of the Houston offense seems like a truly unknowable thing, but a continued lack of Johnson should mean a continued reliance on Burkhead. That, combined with a matchup against a Seahawks defense that has been chewed up by running backs, gives Burkhead deep sleeper potential.
Last season, we expected too much from Clyde Edwards-Helaire and we were disappointed. This year, we lowered our expectations and, well … we're still disappointed. Even when CEH has been healthy, he hasn't offered consistent production and is looking over his shoulder at Darrel Williams. Edwards-Helaire won't erase all the frustration in one game. However, a matchup with the Raiders could move him closer to our good graces. Las Vegas has consistently been one of the most generous defenses against running backs this year. If you need any added motivation, CEH's only career game with multiple rushing scores came last year against the Raiders in Week 11.
If Newton can see a potential bump in Matt Rhule's new run-heavy offensive fever dream, so can Chuba Hubbard. The rookie had a couple of nice games in the middle of the season while replacing Christian McCaffrey. With CMC done for the year, Hubbard returns to the lead role in Carolina's backfield. His next task is to take on a Falcons defense ranked 20th against the run and giving up the fifth-most fantasy points per game to running backs. It's also the same defense Hubbard hit for 82 rushing yards and a score in Week 8.
A couple of weeks ago, we were surprised to see Dontrell Hilliard getting a lot of work after we had pivoted to D'Onta Foreman. Now that the Titans are past their bye, Hilliard could get another shot as Tennessee's back of choice. The matchup is right. Jacksonville's defense hasn't been a total pushover this season, but over the last month it has been the NFL's eighth-worst unit against running backs. One thing to keep in mind – Jeremy McNichols could be back soon from the concussion protocol. That could throw a wrench into any Hilliard plans and is worth monitoring as the week progresses.
If you want more proof of how weird this season has been, I'm writing about Laquon Treadwell. The former first-round pick is on his third team in three years. He didn't see the field much early in the season, but over the past two weeks he's been the Jaguars most targeted receiver. Let's keep riding that wave this week against the Titans. Thirteen wideouts have gone for 80 or more yards against Tennessee's secondary. That defense has also given up 16 touchdown receptions to the position -- second-most in the league. Treadwell won't have much value in seasonal leagues, but could be a sneaky DFS play.
When it comes to tight ends this week, we don't have the Eagles to pick on. Our next best option is the Ravens defense. That turns the spotlight onto Austin Hooper. So far this season, Hooper's best outing was a 12.5-point performance against the Patriots in Week 10. He could top that this week against Baltimore. That defense has allowed six top-12 tight end finishes this season -- including Hooper's teammate David Njoku in Week 12. Njoku was placed on Cleveland's reserve/COVID-19 list this week, opening an opportunity for Hooper. With a couple of top tight ends on bye this week, this could be a streaming chance.
Noah Fant's season has been a moving target. Though the same can be said of most of the Broncos' pass catchers this season. Nonetheless, Fant leads the team in receptions and is second in targets, making him one of Denver's more consistent options. That should come into play this week against Detroit. The Lions are coming off their first win in a calendar year, but still have defensive issues. Tyler Conklin was a quality streaming option last week and Fant fits the same mold in Week 14.
When it comes to sleeper defenses, we've been picking on the Jets most of the year. Why stop now? That brings the Saints DST to the forefront. New Orleans has been a decent fantasy defense in 2021, but is still available in more than 35% of NFL.com leagues. If the Saints are out there, go get 'em. If you've already got 'em, make sure they're in your lineup.