There's nothing wrong with conventional wisdom. But being predictable is usually a pretty good way to get beat. Sometimes it's best to zig when people zag. Yin when people yang. Be unpredictable like an M. Night Shyamalan film (one of the good ones). That's where this column comes in. The tips below aren't for everyone and not all of them may be appropriate for your draft. But keep these handy when you want to throw your league-mates a curveball each week.
You survived the first week of the fantasy playoffs. Congratulations. But your work is not yet done. Although there are fewer teams now standing between you and a championship, your job actually gets tougher. The difficulty level got ratcheted way up if your team fell victim to one of the myriad injuries that hit star players in Week 14. This is where your thinking might need to get really twisted. Good thing for you that I'm on the case. Let's go.
Bank on the Bucs
Tired -- The Bucs are bad. Really, dude? The Bucs? The Tampa Bay Buccaneers? This is the same defense that we've been targeting all season long in order to live our best fantasy lives. OK, maybe they've been good against the run, but this unit has been abysmal against the pass. I don't know if you've heard, but the NFL is a passing league now. Why on earth would you consider rolling with a secondary that has had all the stopping power of a bowl of pudding? Save yourself the heartache and just find another defense.
Wired -- Tempt fate with Tampa. Yes, the Buccaneers passing defense has been bad. But you might be surprised to know that Tampa's DST is ranked 13th and has just two fewer points than the Vikings while outscoring the Bears and Broncos. They've done it by picking on some less than stellar quarterbacks, holding their own against an early season Jimmy Garoppolo, beating up on Jared Goff and sending both Matt Ryan and Nick Foles to the bench -- one permanently. This week, they set their sights on David Blough, who started well against the Bears on Thanksgiving. Since then, well ... he's looked kind of how you'd expect a third-string quarterback to look. After a poor showing against Indy in Week 14, this could be a bounce back week for the Bucs.
Rolling with Ryan
Tired -- Matty's season is iced. Last week was the first time we'd heard from Matt Ryan in weeks. His 21-point game against a woebegone Panthers defense marked the first time he'd sniffed the 20-point plateau in about two months. He's been the victim of rage drops all across the fantasy landscape for weeks now. Now he's facing the 49ers. Sure, the Niners gave up a dome's load worth of points to Drew Brees last week but that feels like an anomaly. This defense has been lights out against quarterbacks all season long and it seems unlikely that a quarterback who has defined inconsistency this season is somehow going to crack the code -- especially when that quarterback just lost one of his best receivers (Calvin Ridley) for the rest of the season.
Wired -- Niners defense is tarnished. Count me among the fantasy managers who have been frustrated by Ryan's up and down play this season. But I'm keeping an open mind about this week. Mostly because this game could resemble some of Atlanta's early season games where they fell behind big and had to go into catch-up mode. Then there's the matter of the Niners defense being at less than full strength. Both Richard Sherman and Dee Ford are out with hamstring injuries, taking a bite out of the team's coverage and pass rush. Ryan's points might come in garbage time, but there's definitely a path to Matty Ice putting up a decent number.
Tired -- Time to buy into Raheem Mostert. Once is a fluke. Twice is a coincidence. Now we're hoping for a trend. It's pretty certain that few people have taken advantage of Mostert's back-to-back big weeks since neither matchup was all that appealing on paper. This week, however, the fantasy community has risen as one to endorse Mostert against the Atlanta Falcons. He's led the Niners backfield in snaps each of the past two weeks and rendered Tevin Coleman irrelevant. He'll also get a chance to run against an average (at best) run defense in a game that could feature a positive game script. Sounds pretty good.
Wired -- Bringing back Breida. Call it Shanahanigans. Call it frustrating. Call it whatever you want, but this has the makings of a Matt Breida week. For as good as Mostert was the past couple of weeks, Breida was the No. 2 back behind Coleman and moved up to the top slot when Coleman got injured. Lest we forget, Mostert was healthy and active during those early weeks. Last week, Breida took a backseat to Mostert but some of that could be chalked up to the former having missed the past three games with an ankle injury. With a week of work under his belt, would it be surprising if Breida got a bigger workload in Week 15? If you know anything about Shanahanigans, it would not.
Cool it on Kyler
Tired -- There's a track meet coming in the desert. The Cardinals defense is bad and gives up a lot of points. That is not an untrue statement. The Redbirds have allowed the most total yards and the third-most points this season. That means pretty much every game turns into a back and forth affair. Not great for the nerves of the desert denizens who cheer for the Cards. But a hell of a lot of fun for fantasy folk. A big positive from such an arrangement is that it's allowed Kyler Murray and his cadre of Cardinal compadres to rack up plenty of fantasy points in the second halves of games. With a pair of former Oklahoma teammates and Heisman Trophy winners set to face off, this has the makings of a sneaky fantasy bonanza.
Wired -- What can the Browns do to you? Fun fact: the Cleveland Browns have allowed only one 300-yard passer this season. That was Russell Wilson way back in Week 6. Meanwhile only Lamar Jackson and Marcus Mariota (huh?!) have notched more than two touchdown passes in a game against Cleveland this year. But what about Kyler's rushing ability? Well, that might not be of much use since the Browns have given up just 255 rushing yards to quarterbacks this year -- and more than a quarter of them came from Jackson in one game. The only other signal-caller to run for more than 40 yards against this defense was ... Ryan Fitzpatrick. Upon further review, the deck might be stacked against the Redbird rookie on this one.