Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Yes, the playoffs are here! Week 14 of the NFL regular season is the first round of the fantasy playoffs for a majority of the leagues. And it doesn't matter whether you are the No.1 seed with a bye or the No.6 seed who barely squeaked in...you're here and you have as good a chance to win the trophy as anyone else if you do your homework.
Week 14 begins with a tough divisional battle between the Cleveland Browns and the Pittsburgh Steelers. On paper, this appears to be a mismatch with the Steelers installed as a two-touchdown favorite, but with old divisional foes it rarely is.
Lets preview the matchup to see if we might find some fantasy playoff "gold."
Cleveland at Pittsburgh
Start - none
It's difficult to recommend starting any Browns player against the No.1 overall defense (273.8 ypg), including the No.2 pass defense and the No.7 run defense. Still, there are a few guys who warrant at least a cursory look.
Colt McCoy, even when healthy has not produced fantasy-worthy statistics this season. He's thrown for more than 250 yards in a game just once and multiple touchdowns on four occasions. He suffered a knee injury in the last game, but finished and is expected to play on Thursday night.
The best chance for quality numbers usually comes from running back Peyton Hillis who is often involved in both the running and passing games. But Hillis just returned to the field last week after dealing with a hamstring injury and added a left hip strain to his medical list of woes. He doesn't have much of a history against the Steelers but the two games he's played say "don't start me" (total of 106 combined yards from scrimmage, no touchdowns).
Greg Little is the best of the Browns receiving corps and consistently gets the most targets each week (93 to date). But he also struggles with drops and can't be counted on to give you double-digit points.
Start - Rashard Mendenhall, Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown, Shaun Suisham, Steelers defense
Since breaking the thumb on his throwing hand, Ben Roethlisberger hasn't thrown for 200 yards in a game. Yes, you have to love "Big Ben's" toughness, but you can't ignore the fact that he's averaging 27 passing attempts for just 184.5 ypg through the air. Compare that number to his first 10-game average of 35.4 passing attempts and 287.7 ypg. Add in the Brown's No.1-ranked pass defense and you have all the ingredients for a bad Thursday night performance.
When you are only completing 18 passes-a-game for less than 190 yards, it limits the value of all the Steelers receivers. Mike Wallace (11) Antonio Brown (10) and Hines Ward (10) are all seeing about five targets per game since the injury. For Wallace and Brown that is a severe reduction from previous games which limits their upside.
You would think that the lack of passing attempts would be a boon to Mendenhall's rushing totals but that hasn't been the case. His rushing attempts are only slightly up from 16.0 attempts to 16.5 since Roethlisberger's injury. Yes, he scored twice last week, but he still managed just 60 yards rushing and wasn't involved in the passing game. The problem is that Isaac Redman is seeing five touches per game and Mewelde Moore three.
The game features the No.1 defense of the Pittsburgh Steelers and the No.9 defense of the Cleveland Browns, meaning yards and points will be hard to come by. Avoid this game with most of your borderline fantasy players and lower your expectations for the guys you must start.