This was a very difficult Week 14 for fantasy players, to say the least. It was probably the first week of the playoffs, so you were stressed to begin with, but add to that the various injuries and games played in the snow and I'm sure you were bouncing off the walls by the first kickoff. If you are fortunate enough to be playing another week, my congratulations to you. Now is the time when the waiver-wire dries up, but the good news is that clarity is coming for some players who you may be hesitant to start. To T-N-T we go.
At long last we have a clearer sense of the Patriots' backfield. Shane Vereen and his 17 targets is the guy to start, bar none. New England trusts him the most of any of their stable of ball-carriers. He's been pretty consistent with15 to 20 touches every week, but his biggest asset is that he picks up chunks of yardage every time he gets it. Stevan Ridley will try to work his way out of the doghouse with a small handful of touches and LeGarrette Blount will always be good for 10 or so carries and 40 rushing yards. You can't start either of them -- nor the inactive Brandon Bolden -- as you continue your quest for a championship. With Rob Gronkowski's injury the Patriots will rely on Vereen even more in the passing game. Vereen is a high-end No. 2 fantasy running back the rest of the way.
So, it took 13 weeks, but Roddy White (just off the list with 10 targets) is finally starting to resemble the No. 1 fantasy wideout he's been for much of his career. This makes 18 targets the past two games, as White appears to be over the injuries that nagged him all season. He has a terrific matchup at home against Washington -- who look like they've quit on the season -- this week so get him in your lineup as a flex.
Rod Streater's last month has been terrific (10 targets on Sunday). He's averaging 91 yards per game, with 31 targets in that span. He's by far the Raiders No. 1 wide receiver, and at this point in the season I have more confidence playing him than I do Pierre Garcon, Danny Amendola, T.Y. Hilton or Jordy Nelson. He doesn't have the greatest matchup this week against Kansas City, and the Raiders offense isn't always reliable. So how do I categorize him? Look at it this way: I'm not doing jumping jacks over having him in my flex, but at the very least I'm doing a deep knee-bend. He's a serviceable flex, but there's no way I'll have him ranked any higher. The ceiling for him should be somewhere around 12 fantasy points.
Da'Rick Rogers (10 targets) may be starting to fill the void left by the injured Reggie Wayne. Indianapolis' offense has been stuck in mud the last few weeks, but a bright spot emerged Sunday as he was the most targeted Colts pass-catcher. He's absolutely worth picking up this week, as he has the chance to be the top wide receiver in Indianapolis as T.Y. Hilton works on his disappearing act. Hilton hasn't had more than five fantasy points in a game in over a month. Andrew Luck threw for 326 yards and four touchdown passes yesterday, and Hilton's haul was only two catches for seven yards. You can't start Hilton at all. It's a risk to insert Rogers into your lineup this week as you'll be chasing fantasy points, but if he has a second big week in a row against Houston? You may have a big decision to make the week after if you're still playing meaningful fantasy football.
It seems like every week we drop one tight end from the 'must-start' list, yet one emerges as a potential replacement. This is called Zero Sum Fantasy Economics. This week's candidate in the replacement category is Dennis Pitta. He wasn't expected to have a big dent in the box score, but with 11 targets (tied with Marlon Brown for the team-high against Minnesota), he's thrust himself into a plug-and-play situation. He had the seventh-most fantasy points among tight ends a year ago, so he has the pedigree. Can you trust him in the playoffs? He's a low-end fantasy starter this week at Detroit. And by low-end I mean I will probably have him rated no worse than ninth in my weekly rankings that come out later this week.
Steve Johnson and Jimmy Graham also had 11 targets each. Graham is Graham, but Johnson can't be trusted at all. Another quick takeaway -- Marlon Brown's big day was a product of facing the Vikings worst-ranked pass defense in the league in the snow. He has a great matchup this week against Detroit but it's too hard for me to grab him off the waiver wire and plug him into my lineup during the playoffs.
Jason Smith writes fantasy and other pith for nfl.com. You can see him as the host of NFL Fantasy Live that airs Sunday through Friday on NFL Network at 5pmET/2pmPT and also at 1amET/10pmPT. Listen to him on the NFL Fantasy Live podcast available at nfl.com and on itunes. Reach out to him on Google plus or Twitter @howaboutafresca, and listen to his Fantasy Podcast with Michael Fabiano and Elliot Harrison every week on nfl.com. He only asks you never bring up when the Jets play poorly.