The midway point of the NFL season has come and gone, which means fantasy football players are knocking on the door to the playoffs. Time flies when you’re having fun (unless you’re sitting at 2-8 and preparing for your 2015 draft). But for those of you jockeying for playoff position, the time to start thinking about your playoff roster is now. Looking ahead to the match-ups in weeks 14, 15 and 16 can go a long way in helping you make your personnel decisions. It’s never too late for a savvy pickup or a timely trade before your deadline so here are 15 players you should target in order to put your team a cut above the rest and get the boost your roster needs to win it all.
Not included in this list are the obvious choices like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, DeMarco Murray, Antonio Brown, Jimmy Graham, etc... This list is geared towards players under the radar that you may not have previously considered for your team to support your superstars and round out your roster. If you happen to own one or more of these players already, then sit back and relax as this could be the year your team makes a championship run. Because timing is everything in fantasy football, acquiring one or more of these players before everyone else is what championship owners will look back on as a key to their success.
15 Zach Ertz TE, Philadelphia Eagles
Zach Ertz (owned in 58% of ESPN leagues) has not had the breakout season most people expected of him. He does have a new quarterback now and typically when a new quarterback takes over a team, the TE becomes a nice safety valve. Just look at his teammate Brent Celek in Week 10. Going into the fantasy playoff weeks 14, 15, and 16, Ertz is looking at the best fantasy schedule for a tight end and we believe he will overtake Celek as the primary TE catching passes. You could do worse than this athletic tight end on the high scoring Eagles offense.
14 Cecil Shorts WR, Jacksonville Jaguars
Allen Robinson is done for the year with a stress fracture in his foot. Of course this means Allen Hurns and Marquise Lee will have more playing time, but it also means that Cecil Shorts will be the unquestioned number one target for Blake Bortles. Coming off his best game of the season in Week 10, Shorts is only owned in 28% of ESPN leagues. The Jags will be down in probably every remaining game they play so the junk time scoring opportunities will be aplenty. With the third-best schedule for wide receivers in weeks 14-16, this Jacksonville receiver is the epitome of an under-the-radar pickup for the playoffs.
13 Terrance West RB, Cleveland Browns
Mr. West has had an interesting season. He became the starter when Ben Tate was injured in the preseason. He then lost the majority of his workload to Isaiah Crowell and was left for dead by fantasy owners, especially when Ben Tate came back as the starting RB. But as we know in the NFL, and especially in fantasy football, things can change quickly. Terrance West had the majority of the carries the past couple of weeks and seems to have emerged as the back you want to own. With the third best schedule in the fantasy playoffs and currently available in almost 33% of ESPN leagues, it would be savvy to pick him up or acquire him in a trade before Week 14.
12 Washington D/ST
The Washington defense and special teams are currently ranked towards the bottom so you’re probably wondering why they’re on this list. Three words for you: Rams, Giants, Eagles- the Redskins opponents for weeks 14-16. Maybe it’s only two words since you probably don’t want to role into your championship game with the Skins against the Eagles offense (or do you? Mark Sanchez is all I’m going to say…) The Rams and Giants present two fantasy friendly match-ups for the first two rounds of the playoffs, with the Rams being second only to the Jags in points allowed to fantasy defenses. That’s reason enough to add the Skins down the stretch and crush your first round opponent.
11 Delanie Walker TE, Tennessee Titans
Zach Mettenberger has the keys to the car now and it doesn’t seem like the Titans are going back to Charlie Whitehurst or Jake Locker any time soon. Like Zach Ertz, Walker presents himself as a nice safety valve to a rookie quarterback with only two starts under his belt. Also making Walker a nice TE play for the fantasy playoffs are his match-ups against the Giants (5th worst against tight ends), the Jets (2nd worst), and the Jaguars (13th worst). He'll be a nice addition once he recovers from a concussion suffered in Week 10. Pick him up now if you’re in one of the 33% of leagues he’s still available in. If he is owned and you have, say, Greg Olsen (the worst schedule for a TE in the playoffs), I’d look to make a 2-for-1 deal now as you could probably get a complimentary player thrown in as well.
10 Doug Baldwin WR, Seattle Seahawks
Seattle’s de facto no.1 is Doug Baldwin since Percy Harvin was shipped out. He’s currently owned in 62% of ESPN leagues and when his impatient owner drops him in yours, scoop him up immediately. Seattle is looking at the fourth best schedule for wide receivers during weeks 14-16. The Seahawks clash with Philly in Week 14 will almost certainly be a shootout. At home to the Niners in Week 15 will be a grudge match. Finally in Week 16, they're at Arizona, one of the league’s worst defenses against the pass. He’s not a no.1 fantasy wide receiver by any means, but plug him in as your WR3 and count on WR2 production.
9 Cam Newton QB, Carolina Panthers
This may be a surprise to some since Cam is having the worst statistical year of his career. It will also be a surprise to your opponents when he wins your semi-final playoff matchup throwing against a Buccaneers team that can’t stop the pass. The Bucs have allowed the third most passing touchdowns so far this season. Newton’s playoff schedule is the seventh best among QB’s, while his wide receivers have the best fantasy playoff schedule. Check your waiver wire now, as he could very well be a free agent.
8 Tennessee D/ST
Popular fantasy defenses Cincinnati, San Diego, and San Francisco have the three worst playoff match-ups in weeks 14-16. On the other end of the spectrum sits the Titans staring down the Giants in Week 14, the Jets in Week 15, and the Jaguars in Week 16. Chances are, none of these teams will be playing for the postseason and the Jets and Jags will be fighting it out for the no.1 pick next year. This makes the Titans a fantastic, under the radar, must own defense come playoff time. Currently owned by less than 5% of ESPN players, the time to pick them up would be week 12 when they play the Eagles and nobody will be rostering them.
7 Eli Manning QB, NY Giants
“Awe Shucks” is one of the most aggravating players to own, however this year he is quietly putting up a top-15 fantasy season by a QB and is still available in a little over 50% of ESPN leagues. For the playoffs, Eli is looking at the fifth best schedule for a quarterback. Remember when Carson Palmer struggled mightily with the Cardinals new offense in 2013? He turned it around after Week 8 when things started to click and ended up throwing for almost 300 yards a game and 14 touchdowns over the final eight games. Eli can very well do the same this season and finish strong.
6 DeAndre Hopkins WR, Houston Texans
It’s beginning to seem like a trend for the Texans to replace their starting quarterback mid-season. This year, Ryan Fitzpatrick gives way to Ryan Mallet. The unproven Mallet takes over a solid offense that has long been only a capable quarterback away from contending for a title. Remember too, Mallet played with coach O’Brien in New England and has been in his system for five years, and the consensus is that he should be as good as Fitzpatrick, if not better. This means good things for DeAndre Hopkins, the emerging wide-out that has already taken Andre Johnson’s place as the team’s go-to guy. Hopkins is still available in over 10% of ESPN leagues so check your free agent pool. A nervous owner may be wiling to unload Hopkins at this point due to the instability at quarterback, so make them an offer as Hopkins has the fifth best schedule for a wide receiver in the fantasy playoffs.
5 Eddie Lacy RB, Green Bay Packers
Perhaps the biggest disappointment of all players drafted in first rounds this season, Eddie Lacy has been outscored by the likes of Mark Ingram, Matt Asiata, Chris Ivory, Justin Forsett, and Ahmad Bradshaw through Week 9. The arrow is trending up though, as he’s scored double digit fantasy points in five of his last six games. For the PPR players out there, take note that Big Ed had eight receptions for 123 yards in Week 8 and a three for 68 in Week 10! Looking forward to weeks 14-16, the Packers have the fifth most fantasy friendly schedule for the playoffs. You’ll want Lacy in your lineup for Week 14’s matchup against the Falcons, currently giving up the most fantasy points to opposing running backs.
4 Kelvin Benjamin WR, Carolina Panthers
As of Week 9, Randall Cobb had 40 receptions, 578 yards, and nine TD’s on 54 targets. Compare those numbers to Kelvin Benjamin’s 40 receptions, 589 yards, and five scores on 78 targets. Notice anything? Cobb’s touchdown advantage and scoring rate is highly unsustainable going forward. Add to that to the fact that Benjamin is a buy low candidate. The no.1 fantasy friendly schedule for wide receivers belongs to the Panthers. He’s already the number one wide receiver on his team and the more he and Newton play together, the better their chemistry will become. The time to acquire him is now, and if you don’t, chances are he’ll be beating you in the playoffs instead of helping you.
3 Tony Romo QB, Dallas Cowboys
Remember when all we talked about were his vacations? Now Jerry Jones is kicking his wife out of first class and crying “that’s my quarterback!” With the best fantasy schedule for a quarterback in the playoffs, Tony Romo is a must own. Currently the 11th best standard scoring fantasy QB, poor Tony never gets the credit he deserves. If you are rolling with Jay Cutler (30th worst schedule), Colin Kaepernick (26th worst), or Big Ben (28th worst) as your gunslinger, you should think about dealing them for Romo ASAP. Fantasy owners will be wary of Romo’s history in December, as well as his back issues, so the opportunity to acquire him in a trade has never been better. Currently owned in 75% of ESPN leagues, there is a chance he’s already a free agent, so check your waiver wire.
2 Mark Ingram RB, New Orleans Saints
Not sure if you’ve noticed, but the Saints have themselves a Heisman Trophy winning RB this season. Only DeMarco Murray, Arian Foster, Marshawn Lynch, and Matt Forte are averaging more points per game played than Mark Ingram. In games when Ingram rushes for over 80 yards, the Saints are 3-1 (that’s 75% of their wins). It is a recipe for success Sean Payton and the Saints cannot ignore and with Khiry Robinson and Pierre Thomas struggling with injuries for the third straight week, the backfield by committee is becoming the backfield committed to Ingream. Oh, and the Saints happen to have the no.1 fantasy playoff schedule for running backs. He may no longer be on your waiver wire after his last few games, but you should happily give up higher scoring runnings backs Andre Ellington (31st worst playoff schedule) and Gio Bernard (25th worst) for him straight up.
1 Matthew Stafford QB, Detroit Lions
Currently below two other QB’s on this list (Romo and Manning) for points scored this season, but owned in almost every league is Mr. Stafford. Other quarterbacks with more points than him include Ryan Tannehill, Jay Cutler, and Philip Rivers, all of whom have horrible fantasy playoff schedules. Like Romo, if you own one of those QB’s, you should be offering them in a trade for Stafford right away. Along with the ninth best playoff schedule for a QB, the Lions have the eighth best schedule for RB’s, seventh for WR’s, and fifth for TE’s. One could argue that as a team, the Lions have the most fantasy friendly schedule for weeks 14-16. And it never hurts to be throwing to Calvin Johnson either.