Joe Dolan is the managing editor of FantasyGuru.com and a host for SiriusXM Radio. A former writer for PhiladelphiaEagles.com, Joe still contributes to the site with on-camera segments and written columns. He can be heard hosting "SiriusXM Fantasy Football Gameday" every NFL Sunday from 1-7 PM on Sirius 210, XM 87.
This could be a high-scoring affair. Which quarterback is better positioned for a huge fantasy day?
Based on the volume of his game and his history, we have Matthew Stafford ranked two spots higher than Nick Foles this week at FantasyGuru.com, but both players are in our top five. Stafford will throw his picks, with eight of them over his last four games, but he also is a high-volume, high-upside passer who is tied with Peyton Manning for No. 1 among quarterbacks over that span with 27.0 fantasy points per game. He has averaged 302 yards and 2.8 touchdowns per game over that span, as well.
While no team has any single corner who can effectively shut down Calvin Johnson, the Eagles can force Stafford into those turnovers by winning the battle up front. That, too, will be difficult. The Lions' offensive line has been one of the most improved in football (especially left guard Dion Sims and stud rookie right guard Larry Warford), going up against the Eagles' much-improved defensive line. The Eagles must force Stafford into precarious scenarios without constantly bringing the house, or they'll get burnt. Fortunately, Trent Cole has been absolutely spectacular lately and will help that out.
As for Foles, he has had a couple of games where he didn't need to be the driving force behind an Eagle win, but I'd be shocked if Philly wins this one if Foles doesn't play well. The Lions have an excellent run defense, but are certainly exploitable on the back end. The Lions' best corner, Chris Houston, is banged up, but he's also exploitable on big plays if he does go. And rookie corner Darius Slay is dealing with a knee injury. Neither Rashean Mathis nor whomever else the Lions throw out there should be much of a challenge for DeSean Jackson and Riley Cooper in single coverage. It'll also be interesting to see if the Eagles use more "12" personnel in this game, given the success Zach Ertz and Brent Celek had last week against the Cards.
In a potential shootout, I'll take either guy as my fantasy QB this week and be happy about it.
Calvin Johnson: How good is he?
He is really, really good. Many weeks, he's our top non-quarterback in PPR scoring on our website, and this week is no exception. I totally respect the job that Bill Davis and the Eagles defense have done this year, but matching up with Calvin will be intensely difficult this week because he can just do things that no corners in football can do. Combined with Matthew Stafford, who can throw a football the way nobody else in the NFL can, it makes a really difficult time for opposing defenses.
Check out some of these numbers on Calvin. Only the ridiculous run Josh Gordon is on has knocked Calvin to the No. 2 WR spot over the last month, with an average of 25.7 FPG over his last four games. Calvin has at least 100 yards receiving in three straight games, has five touchdowns over his last four and has produced at least 22 FP in a PPR in five of his last six games. He's an absolute monster who can play inside or outside and is impossible to match up with one-on-one.
Can LeSean McCoy get going against the NFL's third-best run defense?
In a way, yes, he can. Shady's performance hasn't exactly been prolific of late on the ground, having only rushed for 100 yards in one of his last six games. But what makes him so dynamic for fantasy is his production as a receiver, which is now at 14/151/1 over his last five games, and because of it he's No. 1 among fantasy RBs over that span with 20.7 FPG. The Lions' excellent defensive tackles and speed at linebacker are concerns, because they have the ability to take away both the Eagles' zone plays and McCoy's occasional wheel route, but the magic with Shady is he's found a way to produce this year, regardless – he has double-digit fantasy points in a PPR in every game this year, the only running back in the NFL who has managed to do so. Good matchup or bad matchup, he's a no-brainer start.
What's the deal with Zach Ertz? Can he be trusted as a fantasy start?
I'm not totally sold that Ertz is ready to fly in fantasy lineups, although he was seriously impressive last week. He won against the Cards with good routes and his frame, which is exactly what you want to see from a young tight end. But I'm still not sure the dominance of Ertz and Brent Celek was anything more than a gameplan element against the Cardinals, who have struggled with tight ends all year. What I'm certainly looking to see this week is if Ertz steals a few more snaps, essentially, as the #3 wide receiver. He could be an extra wrinkle on several of the Eagles' package plays, and he's a tough matchup for slot corners given his size and athletic ability combo. If that happens, then Ertz could be a big upside play for the fantasy playoffs. And his dynasty value is absolutely soaring right now.
AROUND THE LEAGUE
How should I treat the injured star players I'm currently hanging onto?
Percy Harvin, Seahawks – Harvin suffered a setback on his hip injury last week and it seems highly unlikely that he's going to return this week, if at all during the regular season. With the Seahawks capable of clinching the NFC's No. 1 seed as soon as next week (more on that in next week's column, for sure), I wouldn't anticipate coach Pete Carroll jeopardizing the health of a potential difference-maker by putting him in meaningless regular-season games, at least in a full-time role. It seems as if dropping Harvin is more than defensible at this point.
Aaron Rodgers, Packers – Rodgers (collarbone) has returned to practice on a limited basis this week, perhaps preparing to play soon. The issue with Rodgers isn't throwing the ball, as the injury was to his non-throwing shoulder. Rather, collarbones pose a high risk of re-injury if they aren't fully healed, and the Packers don't want to jeopardize the future of their franchise for an outside shot at the playoffs. But if Green Bay is able to beat Atlanta this week with Matt Flynn, and if the Eagles can topple the first-place Lions as well, expect coach Mike McCarthy to do everything in his power to get Rodgers back on the field. If you're holding on to him, he's still worth it.
Jay Cutler, Bears – Cutler (ankle) has already been ruled out for the Bears' Week 14 game on Monday night with the Cowboys, meaning he will avoid having to turn around on a short week to play the Browns in Week 15. There are some who believe Josh McCown should remain the Bears' starter given how well he's played this year, but Bears coach Marc Trestman has shown no indication that he's even considering that. Cutler expects to play in Week 15, and is a viable fantasy start given the weapons he has at his arsenal.
Darren McFadden, Raiders – McFadden (hamstring) had only five touches on Thanksgiving Day, and this week we learned he has a new ankle injury that's expected to keep him out in Week 14. With Rashad Jennings on track to be cleared from his concussion, McFadden is a fantasy zero and can be dropped.
What are some fantasy playoff schedules I should take into consideration?
Chargers Passing Game – Philip Rivers, Keenan Allen and company have a juicy three games coming up against the Giants, Broncos, and Raiders. Keep an eye on Ladarius Green, the Chargers' young tight end and heir apparent to Antonio Gates, who actually has had better fantasy numbers than Gates over the last three weeks. I wouldn't be shocked if the Chargers use more "12" personnel down the stretch because Green is such a matchup nightmare.
Ravens Passing Game – Joe Flacco isn't exactly a fantasy stud, but he's someone to consider picking up if you've been rolling with Andrew Luck or someone who's on a significant dry spell. With matchups against the Vikings, Lions and Patriots the next three weeks, expect Flacco to be throwing the ball down the field to Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones (viable if you need a reach at wide receiver). Also, keep an eye on tight end Dennis Pitta, who could return this week against Minnesota.
Packers Running Game – Aaron Rodgers or no Aaron Rodgers, Eddie Lacy shouldn't face much resistance with the Falcons, Cowboys and Steelers the next three weeks.
Bengals Running Game – I've talked down BenJarvus Green-Ellis all year, but this is a time to use him if you need a flex play, because Andy Dalton is struggling and the schedule looks good with the Colts, Steelers and Vikings looming. This, obviously, is also good news for Giovani Bernard, who is a higher-upside play than BenJarvus.
Cardinals Offense – The matchups aren't terrible against the Rams and Titans the next two weeks, but keep in mind that the Cards face off against Seattle in Week 16, provided Seattle actually has something to play for that week.
INJURIES TO WATCH
Reggie Bush, Lions – Bush (calf) looks like he could be a game-time decision against the Eagles on Sunday, after not practicing on Wednesday or Thursday. His absence would be huge for the Eagles, but also for the potential fantasy value of Joique Bell.
Julius Thomas, Broncos – After missing two games with a knee injury, Thomas is expected to play this week.
Jordan Reed, Redskins – Reed (concussion) is back to working in practice this week, but remember he was expected to play last week before some late headaches ruled him out. He'll be a game-time decision, yet again. Fortunately, he plays at 1 p.m. this Sunday.
Christian Ponder, Vikings – Ponder (concussion) won't start this week. Matt Cassel will.
Jason Campbell and Brandon Weeden, Browns – Jason Campbell will start at quarterback.
Le'Veon Bell, Steelers – Bell (concussion) took one of the nastiest hits I've ever seen on Thanksgiving, but he's been a full participant in practice by now.
Andre Ellington, Cardinals – Ellington (knee) has been limited in practice this week and could be a game-time decision.
DeAngelo Williams, Panthers – Williams (quad) didn't play last week and is questionable this week. His fantasy value is just about shot at this point.
Rashad Jennings and Darren McFadden, Raiders – Jennings (concussion) looks like he'll be able to go, but McFadden (ankle) seems doubtful. Jennings has been more productive, anyway.
Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins, Patriots – Dobson (foot) is looking more to the doubtful side, while Thompkins (hip) has a shot to go this weekend.
Denarius Moore, Raiders – Moore (shoulder) has missed practice this week yet again, opening the door for breakout Thanksgiving star Andre Holmes to start yet again. Get Holmes on your dynasty radar now.
Anthony Fasano, Chiefs – Fasano (knee, concussion) is questionable to go this week.
Delanie Walker, Titans – It doesn't look good for Walker (concussion) this week.
QB: Josh McCown, Bears – Keep rolling with the hot hand. Jay Cutler is out again, and there is nothing scary about the matchup with Dallas.
RB: Bobby Rainey, Buccaneers – I called Rainey's cold spell in this column a few weeks ago, but I'm going to predict he sees a ton of volume and produces this week against the Bills.
WR: Torrey Smith, Ravens – Baltimore's deep game has been brutal this year, but against the Vikings is a great matchup in which to resurrect it.
TE: Jared Cook, Rams – If there is ever a week to gamble on Cook's natural talent, this is it. You saw first-hand how terribly the Cardinals struggle against opposing tight ends last week.
QB: Andrew Luck, Colts – I have no idea how the Colts won last week. Luck was under siege the entire game. Facing an onslaught from the Bengals, there are plenty of streaming quarterback types who would be safer plays than Luck this week.
RB: Pierre Thomas, Saints – He's been a great flex option all year, but he was slowed down last week against Seattle and faces another tough defense against Carolina this week.
WR: Hakeem Nicks, Giants – I'm sick of it. It seems that the matchup doesn't matter. Even in a good one against the Chargers, avoiding Nicks, who hasn't scored a TD all year, will certainly be good for your blood pressure.
TE: Jordan Reed, Redskins – Even if Reed goes, it may be a good idea to wait and see how well he plays given his time off and the fact that RGIII has been really struggling.