By Nick Shook
Beacon Journal copy editor
Read full column on Ohio.com
As Marty Schottenheimer once said to his Browns during the 1986 AFC Championship Game, “There’s a gleam, men.”
And there is a gleam for you, too. It’s just your chosen hardware for champions, not the Lombardi Trophy.
Those of you not fortunate enough to make your league’s playoffs are left with a chance to win the consolation ladder, which isn’t much better than getting a sportsmanship trophy at the end of a losing season. I’m not a proponent of those trophies, but sometimes you just need to find a silver lining.
Title up for grabs or not, here are your best choices for Week 14. Don’t forget to pass along your questions/concerns/mid-life crises to me on Twitter at @TheNickShook.
Doug Baldwin, wide receiver, Seattle Seahawks
Baldwin has been on a tear in the last two weeks, scoring 53 points combined. If that wasn’t enough reason to start him, take a look at his matchup this week.
The Ravens have been ravaged by injuries at almost every position except kicker. It shows in their defensive ranking against the pass: They are 28th against receivers in fantasy. They showed improvement against Miami last week (12 points surrendered), but the combination of Baldwin against this unit is too much to overlook.
Thomas Rawls might diminish this start a bit, though Baltimore is much better against opposing running backs. Baldwin is a good start, and better suited for your second wide receiver slot, or the flex position.
Tyrod Taylor, quarterback, Buffalo Bills
This one is a little tougher for me. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — with great pride, I carry the title of conductor of the Tyrod Train. It’s been chugging right along when he’s healthy (the Bills are 6-2 with Taylor under center), but if you saw last week’s Eagles/Patriots game, you’d be at least a bit wary of the Eagles defense, which has embodied Jekyll and Hyde more than any unit in the league.
After giving up 45 points each to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Detroit Lions in consecutive weeks, the Eagles largely contained Tom Brady and the Patriots after a fast start on New England’s part. A few questionable decisions by Brady (forcing a pass to Danny Amendola, blanketed by double-coverage at the goal line; heaving a pass 39 yards toward Brandon LaFell but directly into the hands of Byron Maxwell) definitely aided the Eagles in their 35-28 win, but it’s still up to the defenders to make those plays. It was a complete 180 from the previous two weeks and, honestly, I’m not sure which unit shows up against the Bills on Sunday.
Here’s some welcome encouragement: In case you haven’t paid attention to the headlines this week, LeSean McCoy has it out for coach Chip Kelly and the Eagles. No one likes stoking a controversy until it turns into an inferno quite like Bills coach Rex Ryan. I’d expect around 25-30 carries for McCoy — diminishing Taylor’s value — but also for Eagles defenders to key on their former teammate all afternoon. This sets up nicely for the Bills to need Taylor to be the difference in this game.
It’s a boom-or-bust game, for sure. But the conductor always goes down with the train, or something like that.
Jameis Winston, quarterback, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Remember that game we played earlier in the year, the “start this running back because he’s playing the Browns” game? That now applies to quarterbacks facing the New Orleans Saints.
The Saints are dead last against opposing quarterbacks. They are giving up an average of 24.2 points per game to signal-callers who aren’t wearing their colors. And Winston continues to get better with each week. That should be enough to convince you.
Amari Cooper, wide receiver, Oakland Raiders
I’m done telling you to push your chips in on or fold on Derek Carr. I tell you one thing when it looks ripe for that result, and he does the opposite. Carr will be a solid quarterback in the future, but he’s not appearing in this column again this season.
Cooper, however, will be matched up with Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib, who is effective at both poking opponents in the eye and playing his position within the rules of the game. Cooper will have to deal with the latter much more often, limiting his ability to help Carr, who will face a harassing rush for much of the afternoon.
This is a fun game, though, for those who enjoy seeing the future of the league face off. Carr, firmly entrenched as the Raiders’ quarterback for at least the next few seasons, will have to match wits with Brock Osweiler, who, like Winston, is improving with each week. Who needs Peyton Manning anyway, right?
That last part was a joke. But what isn’t funny is you placing Cooper in your WR1 slot and watching Talib shut him down.
Jeremy Hill, running back, Cincinnati Bengals
Much like Carr, every time I list Hill here, he ends up scoring between 10-15 points. But unlike Carr, I am not deterred from going out on a limb again, and the reason is simple.
The Steelers defense is second in fantasy against opposing running backs. It’s given up the most points against backs who are dual-threats, and Hill is definitely not that.
The Bengals are much, much more likely to score through the air this week on a Steelers defense that struggles against the pass. But when it comes to the run, it’s stingy. Hill might score on a goal-line carry, and I’m ready to accept the criticism for it. But I’m leaving him on my bench this week.