Here we are. The final quarter of the NFL season is upon us and you know what that means: the fantasy football playoffs (along with the actual playoffs) are just a few weeks away. If you've been paying attention all season, I've done a review for each NFL team in the form of one important fantasy question after each quarter of the season has come to a close. Now we're in Week 13 and the final quarter of the season is starting, so let's take a look at the most important questions for each NFL team from a fantasy perspective. In this case, most of the observations and questions will be geared towards the fantasy playoffs. The AFC has started off first on the other two occasions, so I figured I'd start with the NFC teams here. Look for the AFC version to be posted shortly after.
Chicago Bears: Can you use a Bears' running back going forward?
When RB Matt Forte was out for a few weeks with a MCL injury, rookie backup Jeremy Langford was very effective and made as a nice fill-in for Forte on fantasy rosters. Now that Forte has returned, the backfield situation is a little more muddled. In the one game he's played in since being back, Forte got 16 touches, while Langford received 13. Langford managed to score a rushing TD and Forte didn't, but that can't always be counted upon. So what should we do? Well, if the touches remain how they were in the Green Bay game, then I believe both guys can be useful fantasy assets as low-end RB2s or flexes, but that's not an ideal situation. I don't see Forte taking back all the touches and being the workhorse anymore, as you can't put what Langford did while Forte was out back in the bottle. Like I said, not ideal, but both guys could be useful.
Detroit Lions: Can Matthew Stafford be trusted as a starting QB option for the fantasy playoffs?
Stafford has not been what you'd call reliable as a fantasy QB this season, but he's had a couple of big games and has been at least decent in each of the past three games, scoring at least 20 fantasy points in each of them. He has amazing match-ups in both of the final two weeks of the fantasy season with games against New Orleans and San Francisco in Weeks 15 and 16, respectively. Sure, it's risky, but I think Stafford could be the starter for a team for basically the duration of the fantasy playoffs.
Green Bay Packers: Who can you trust now in this offense?
Aaron Rodgers and the Packers' offense has been less than stellar recently and it now seems evident that they miss Jordy Nelson even more than any of us expected. Without Nelson to open up the offense, nobody is scared of Rodgers going deep down the field and defenses are able to play everybody closer to the line of scrimmage and anticipate the short routes Randall Cobb, Davante Adams and Co. are running. Eddie Lacy has come alive in the running game in the last two weeks and it looks like he's at least back to his old self. It's Aaron Rodgers, so you're going to feel dirty if you even think about benching him. Besides him, I think you can now trust in Lacy has a low-end RB1 and other than that I'd be hesitant to call any of the receivers anything more than a WR2. Even Cobb is a risky proposition nowadays. With three quarters of a season behind us, we should stop expecting everything to get back to normal with the Packers' offense.
Minnesota Vikings: Who can you use in this offense besides Adrian Peterson?
Nobody. I don't think I need to explain this one. Teddy Bridgewater is a game manager. Stefon Diggs has fallen off the map as the Vikings have relied more on Peterson and the other receivers -- Mike Wallace and Charles Johnson -- have been been disappointments all season long. TE Kyle Rudolph has probably been the most fantasy relevant guy recently and there's no way I'm trusting him in my lineups. But let's talk a little about Peterson for a second. Devonta Freeman is still slightly ahead of Peterson (by 2 points) for the #1 RB spot in standard fantasy leagues, but Peterson has been amazingly consistent this season, scoring at least 10 fantasy points in all but two games this season. He's the leading rusher in the league and still looks as strong as ever at age 30. He's the focal point of this offense and is the only guy you can trust in your lineups for Minnesota.
Dallas Cowboys: With Tony Romo now out for the rest of the season, how much can you rely on Dez Bryant?
Romo's return from injury was short lived, as he re-injured the same clavicle that caused him to go onto short-term IR in Week 3. With him now out for the rest of the season, what can we expect from star WR Dez Bryant? Bryant too missed several weeks due to injury (his was a foot injury) and has played in five games since returning, putting up two decent performances (16 and 10 fantasy points) and three bad ones (1, 4 and 2 fantasy points). He's one of the most talented WRs in the league, but even he can't put up great numbers without at least a decent QB to get him the ball. And it doesn't help that his last three match-ups of the fantasy season don't look great, as he faces the Packers, Jets and Bills in Weeks 13-16. He's probably still a WR2, but I wouldn't expect anywhere near his normal production.
Philadelphia Eagles: Is there anyone you actually want to start in this offense?
It's shocking that it has come to this. Chip Kelly was supposed to be the ultimate offensive guru who could replace any player with just a guy and get production out of them. Unfortunately for him, it turns out that talent and fit are actually important when trying to construct a roster. Both the Sam Bradford and DeMarco Murray acquisitions have to be considered disasters at this point, as both look out of place in this offense. Bradford hasn't shown anything special when he's played and while it's obvious that Murray has the drive to be a great player, running out of the shotgun is not what he's good at. He's at least given fantasy owners something from pure volume on most occasions, but it's clear that Ryan Mathews has out-produced him and likely would have been a better fit overall. Throw that in with the major disappointments of Jordan Matthews, Nelson Agholor and Zach Ertz (again) and you have quite the meltdown. Nothing has gotten better with Mark Sanchez in at QB and at this point, I can't trust any of these options. You can play Murray as a RB2 and hope for some TDs, but that's about it.
New York Giants: Other than Odell Beckham Jr., is there a Giants' player you're starting?
Definitely not. The running game is a RBBC mess. The other receiving options consist of guys like Rueben Randle, Dwayne Harris and the newly signed Hakeem Nicks. You never know what to expect with Eli Manning and he has some terrible match-ups in the final two weeks of the fantasy season, going up against Carolina and Minnesota in Weeks 15 and 16. Beckham is a superstar and will never be benched as long as he's healthy, but I'd stay far away from the rest of this offense.
Washington Redskins: Could Kirk Cousins be a viable starter in the fantasy playoffs?
Possibly. Cousins has played pretty well in obviously favorable match-ups, putting up 36 fantasy points against the Saints in Week 10 and 24 last week against the Giants. The Redskins have games against Dallas, Chicago, Buffalo and Philadelphia left, which isn't a super tough slate at this point, especially the Eagles. Add in the facts that Jordan Reed is healthy (for now) and DeSean Jackson appears to be back up to full speed and I think Cousins could be a sneaky play for any team that's been streaming QBs all season and is going into the playoffs. Keep your eye on him for Week 16 especially.
Atlanta Falcons: Is there any reason to believe in Matt Ryan as a QB1?
It seems like most fantasy players have a long history of believing in Matt Ryan as an every week QB1 starter and it always seems like he's taken higher than he should be every year in fantasy drafts. Ryan is the #16 QB in standard leagues this season and hasn't had more than 26 fantasy points in a game all season long. He's also had five games of under 20 fantasy points. Sure, he's got Julio Jones, but the other weapons are less than average. Roddy White is done, Justin Hardy is a rookie and Leonard Hankerson and Jacob Tamme are just guys. Ryan has been a disappointment to many who believed he would have a breakout season in the past several years and I just don't see any reason as to why that might change. Couple all of that with the fact that the Falcons play the Panthers twice in the final three weeks of the fantasy season and you have a compelling reason to keep Ryan far away from your fantasy lineups.
Carolina Panthers: Will Cam Newton continue to thrive with a dearth of weapons and finish the season strong?
Newton has been sensational this season, coming in as the #3 QB in standard leagues, despite the lack of premier talent around him at the offensive skill positions. TE Greg Olsen has really been his only consistent option in the passing game and Cam has been making due with other guys like Ted Ginn and Corey "Philly" Brown. Rookie Devin Funchess has come on somewhat in the past few games and it looks like his role should continue to expand if he can continue to progress. Newton has tallied 27 total touchdowns this season (20 passing, 7 rushing) and his style of play tends to allow him to score fantasy points no matter who the opponent is. The Panthers finish up the fantasy season with games against the Saints, Giants and Falcons (twice), as well as Tampa Bay in Week 17, possibly setting Cam up for a very strong finish.
New Orleans Saints: Can you trust Drew Brees as your starting QB?
Brees has definitely not been the same explosive, consistent fantasy QB we love and remember. I mean, the old Drew Brees never would have put up only 8 fantasy points (and led his team to no TDs) in a game as he did last week against Houston. He had a great two week stretch in Weeks 8 and 9, but has been under 20 fantasy points in 6 of the other 8 games he has played. The offense just isn't what is used to be and it feels like that the Drew Brees-Sean Payton run is coming to an end in New Orleans. At this point, you shouldn't trust Brees as your surefire starter at QB and should go into each week with a second option if he's on your team.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Which guys can you trust as starters for the Bucs?
QB Jameis Winston has shown that he has the ability to play at the NFL level on multiple occasions in his rookie season, but he doesn't play to that level all the time yet. You can't go into each week believing Winston can be a starter for your teams, but he does have the ability to get the ball to his weapons. WR Mike Evans has tremendous ability and has had some huge games this season, but he could have been much better. He's had a ridiculous amount of drops and they've come in big moments for the Bucs. Vincent Jackson had been out with an injury until recently, but obviously still has ability. The other guy you'd consider here is RB Doug Martin, who I think is the easiest option to trust. Martin continues to get his touches each and every week and has averaged 5.1 ypc on the season. I believe you can roll both Jackson and Evans out as WR2s in the final quarter of the season and Martin could be as high as a low-end RB1, as the Bucs finish out the season with a few decent match-ups, including New Orleans and Chicago.
Arizona Cardinals: How good could David Johnson be if given the full load as starter going forward?
We've all seen Johnson's ability to take it to the house when he gets his hands on the ball -- whether on special teams, as a receiver or a runner - and we might actually see him get a chance to carry the load for a while. Starter Chris Johnson is out with a fractured tibia and Andre Ellington is suffering from turf toe, making way for David Johnson to get a lot of touches. If Ellington is also out for an extended amount of time, I think Johnson could be as high as a RB1 to finish out the season in this Cardinals' high powered offense. He definitely should have been the #1 priority in waiver claims this week and hopefully you landed him on your team going into the playoffs, especially if you were a Chris Johnson owner.
San Francisco 49ers: Is Anquan Boldin back as a fantasy starter...again?
Replace Colin Kaepernick with Blaine Gabbert and apparently Anquan Boldin will get you 9 points every week. Who knew? Boldin missed Gabbert's first start in Week 9 due to injury, but has racked up 93 yards receiving in each of the past two games and tallied at least 7 targets in each outing. The 49ers don't have a daunting schedule to finish out the season and Boldin could be useful as at least a WR3 or flex play going forward. I know he's 35 years old and it's Blaine-freaking-Gabbert, but it looks like Gabbert can just get him the ball more consistently. Again, I haven't gone crazy and said he's a WR2 or anything, just that he could be useful if you're in a pinch.
Seattle Seahawks: Can you trust Doug Baldwin in your starting lineups?
Don't trust it! I've never been among those to put faith in any of the Seattle receiving options and I'm not going to start now. Baldwin has had a couple huge games recently -- games of 19 and 32 fantasy points in the past three weeks -- and I'm sure that's fresh in most fantasy players' minds. I'm also sure that the injury to Jimmy Graham will cause some to believe Baldwin will get more targets now. But remember that Baldwin has only one other game with double digit fantasy points this season when he scored 15 in Week 2. Could he be a useful WR3 or flex? Sure. But like Boldin, I'm not putting him in the WR2 range.
St. Louis Rams: Are there any relevant fantasy players other than Todd Gurley in St. Louis?
Whether it's Case Keenum (bad) or Nick Foles (worse) at QB for the Rams, the answer to this question is no. Even Gurley has proven to be human in this terrible offense over the past several weeks, so why should we count on guys like Tavon Austin and Kenny Britt to produce fantasy points when the guys throwing them the ball can't even get it there. I doubt you were in a position where you had to play these guys anyway, but I had to find something to talk about in St. Louis!