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Fantasy Playbook: How to Navigate the Injuries Upending the Fantasy Football Playoffs

Week 14 saw a number of high-profile offensive playmakers—including Mike Evans, DeVante Parker, and Mark Andrews—head to the sideline. With championships on the line, here’s how to make the most of the injury crisis.

AP Images/Ringer illustration

The Week 14 Sunday slate was headlined by the fun-as-hell Saints-49ers barnburner, but in the fantasy world, the week was defined by a rash of untimely injuries to big-impact players. Whether it was Mike Evans, Derrius Guice, Mark Andrews, or DeVante Parker, every time I looked up, another fantasy-relevant player seemed to be headed to the sideline.

Injuries swung more than a few fantasy matchups this week, and could have major implications for the rest of the fantasy postseason. Here’s the most crucial injuries to monitor—and how they could shake up the fantasy playoffs.

QB Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs: Mahomes injured his throwing hand when he landed on it awkwardly early in the team’s 23-16 win over the Patriots. The reigning MVP managed to power through the injury, finishing the game 26-of-40 for 283 yards with one touchdown and one pick―but he was in obvious pain throughout and said after the game that his hand “doesn’t feel great.” The team will run X-rays on the injury to determine the full extent of the damage, but as of now it doesn’t seem likely that he’ll miss next week’s matchup against the suddenly hot Broncos, saying that “it’s something that you play with.”

Assuming Mahomes is able to play through the pain next week, fantasy managers should still temper expectations for the overall ceiling of the Chiefs passing game. Battling through various injuries for most of the past two months, Mahomes has now posted one or fewer touchdown passes in six of his past eight games―and difficulty gripping the football isn’t likely to help matters. Tight end Travis Kelce and receiver Tyreek Hill still bring strong fantasy floors and should continue to be started in all formats, but Mahomes’s injury turns flex options like Sammy Watkins, Mecole Hardman, and Demarcus Robinson into dart-throw, touchdown-or-bust plays, at best.

QB Jameis Winston, Buccaneers: We got the ultimate Winston experience on Sunday in the team’s 38-35 win over the Colts: The fifth-year pro alternated between brilliant and terrible, passing for 456 yards while accounting for five touchdowns (four through the air and one on a sneak) and tossing three picks to push his league-leading total on the season to 23. But while Winston remains a mostly-bad quarterback who’s also a valuable fantasy asset, his status for next week is a question mark because of an injury to his throwing hand.

As head coach Bruce Arians told the media after the game, Winston has a “slight crack” in his right thumb, which made it difficult for the quarterback to grip the ball. We can still probably assume Winston will suit up for Tampa Bay’s matchup against the Lions next week―he did finish the game on Sunday after missing a few plays early in the third quarter―but the injury should make the already-roller-coaster-like quarterback that much more unpredictable and erratic going forward. We’ll have to wait for more details on the injury as the week goes on, but starting any quarterback with a broken hand with the fantasy season on the line is, well, a gamble; doing it with Winston, in particular, is a risk. As for Winston’s pass catchers, well …

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images

WR Mike Evans, Buccaneers: Winston’s injury is sure to impact his top receivers, and in normal situations, I’d downgrade Chris Godwin slightly going into Week 15. That’s not the case here, though, as Godwin’s in line for an uptick in targets with Evans set to miss next week with a hamstring injury. Evans suffered the injury on a long touchdown catch in the first quarter, grabbing the back of his leg as he limped into the end zone before being quickly ruled out. Per Arians, the prognosis for Evans is not good, with the Bucs head coach going so far to say that he’d be “shocked if Mike is back before the last week.”

Evans’s injury could provide a volume boost for Godwin and should open up opportunities for the team’s new de-facto no. 2 wideout, Breshad Perriman. The former first-round bust (who’s owned in zero percent of Yahoo leagues) has come on strong of late, posting eight catches for 157 yards and a score in his past two games. He’ll likely assume Evans’s role as the primary outside deep threat. The Buccaneers could look to lean a bit harder on their run game against the wafer-thin Lions run defense, too, providing a boost for both Ronald Jones (11 carries, 36 yards) and Peyton Barber (11 carries, 34 yards). And don’t look now, but tight end O.J. Howard has started to gain some momentum going into the end of the year, with back-to-back double-digit PPR performances. His target share could get a boost next week.

WR DeVante Parker, Dolphins: Parker suffered a concussion in the second quarter of the team’s loss to the Jets on Sunday and did not return to the game. The red-hot pass catcher will head into the concussion protocol this week, and, if he’s ruled out for the team’s juicy Week 15 matchup against the Giants, it will leave quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick throwing to a skeleton crew. With Albert Wilson also leaving Sunday’s game with a concussion and Preston Williams on injured reserve, the Dolphins are left relying on the likes of Allen Hurns, Isaiah Ford, and the recently acquired Mack Hollins to fill the void. It’s worth monitoring the statuses of both Parker and Wilson this week, but Hurns (who caught five passes for 68 yards) could be thrust into a de facto no. 1 role for Miami against New York this week, making him a worth a waiver-wire add. The injuries to both Parker and Wilson could also provide a boost to tight end Mike Gesicki. The athletic second-year pro caught only one pass for 6 yards on Sunday, but did see five targets―and has been trending up over the past few weeks.

WR DJ Chark, Jaguars: Chark exited in the fourth quarter of the Jaguars’ blowout loss to the Chargers on Sunday with an ankle injury and was seen leaving the locker room in a protective boot and using a scooter. We’ll have to wait for an official prognosis for Chark’s availability for the team’s Week 15 tilt against the Raiders, but those early signs certainly aren’t positive. Chark’s enjoyed a breakout campaign for Jacksonville in his second season, catching nine passes for 75 yards on Sunday to push his season-long totals to 67 catches for 956 yards and eight touchdowns—but it seems like the Jags may be looking for someone else to step up next week. Dede Westbrook (six catches for 25 yards on Sunday) is first in line to get a boost if Chark can’t go, and no. 3 receiver Chris Conley may see his targets take a jump, too: The fifth-year pro has quietly averaged 6.6 targets a game over his past seven outings, and should assume a bigger role if Chark misses time.

Both Westbrook and Conley should be treated as flex options with relatively low fantasy ceilings, though, at least until the slumping Jacksonville offense wakes up. Gardner Minshew II, who replaced Nick Foles as starter this week, failed to fix the team’s offensive woes, completing 24 of 37 passes for just 162 yards and one touchdown in the 45-10 loss. Jacksonville does have a favorable matchup next week against Oakland, but it has now lost four straight blowouts and averaged just 13.5 points per game in that stretch. Adjust your expectations accordingly.

Washington Redskins v Carolina Panthers Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

RB Derrius Guice, Redskins: Guice left the first half of Washington’s loss to the Packers and is believed to have suffered an MCL sprain, per NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero. Further testing will determine how much time the first-year back will miss, but with multiple serious knee injuries dating back to college, it seems unlikely the bruising back will be ready to go next week when the Redskins take on the Eagles. That’s a fantasy boon for veteran Adrian Peterson, who should be due for a full workload after sharing duties in a near 50-50 split with Guice over the past few weeks. Peterson, who’s rostered in 39 percent of Yahoo leagues, has been running well of late, tallying 175 yards and two touchdowns on 33 totes over the past two weeks. He’ll face a tough Philly run defense next week but gets a porous Giants squad in the fantasy championships of Week 16. He’s worth an add as a solid, high-volume flex option in Guice’s stead.

RB Rashaad Penny, Seahawks: Penny injured his knee after a big screen-pass gain in the Seahawks’ 28-12 loss to the Rams on Sunday, and reports after the game said it’s a “significant” ACL sprain, with players “under the assumption that Penny’s season is over.” That’s obviously a tough break for the second-year pro, who’d just started to hit his stride in the Seattle offense, but could represent a fantasy boon for starter Chris Carson, who stands to regain his stranglehold on the team’s run game. Carson has struggled with fumbles this season, which led to Penny’s increased usage as of late, but the Seahawks are likely to go back to feeding Carson the lion’s share of the team’s carries down the stretch. After notching 15 carries for 76 yards in a losing effort on Sunday, Carson has tallied 1,057 yards and five touchdowns on the year. He draws a porous Panthers run defense next week.

TE Mark Andrews, Ravens: Andrews left in the first half of the Ravens’ win over the Bills on Sunday and didn’t return, with ESPN’s Adam Schefter reporting afterward that the playmaking tight end suffered a “contusion between his knee and thigh.” The indication is that the injury is “nothing major,” per Schefter, and head coach John Harbaugh said after the game that the big playmaking tight end believes he can play in Week 15. That’s great news for both the Ravens and for Andrews’ fantasy squads―but the short turnaround for the team’s matchup with the Jets on Thursday Night Football could make it tougher for Andrews to get back on to the field. If the team plays it safe and holds its top pass-catching tight end out on Thursday, though, Hayden Hurst could make for a fill-in option for desperate fantasy teams.

Hurst caught three passes for 73 yards and a touchdown in the win over Buffalo, including a 61-yard score early in the second half. The second-year pro (and former first-rounder) is a low-floor boom-or-bust option, but more than any other team in the league, the Ravens run their passing game through the tight end position. He’d likely inherit a chunk of Andrews’s passing-game action.

TE Jared Cook, Saints: Cook took a big hit to the head catching his second touchdown late in the first quarter of the Saints’ loss to the 49ers on Sunday and did not return to the game. The veteran tight end was replaced by Josh Hill―who caught a touchdown of his own in the second quarter―and the 29-year-old no. 2 tight end becomes the next man up for the Saints. With Cook going into the concussion protocol this week, the Saints would likely look to Hill and do-it-all utilityman Taysom Hill to fill in for Cook if he can’t play next week against the Colts.

TE Noah Fant, Broncos: Fant left in the fourth quarter of the Broncos’ 38-24 win over the Texans with a foot injury. He was initially listed as questionable to return but didn’t return to the game, finishing with four catches for 113 yards and a touchdown. Fant’s X-rays came back negative but his status for next week’s tilt against the Chiefs remains in question. If the dynamic rookie tight end can’t play, it could provide a boost to receivers Courtland Sutton and Tim Patrick. Tight end Jeff Heuerman, who caught an 8-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter, could be a desperation streamer at a decimated tight end spot next week.

TE Ryan Griffin, Jets: Griffin suffered an ankle injury in the first half and didn’t return. The veteran tight end, who’s posted a couple of big games this year in the up-and-down Jets offense, is likely to be replaced by backup Daniel Brown and rookie Trevon Wesco. Neither are on the fantasy radar in the Jets’ matchup with the Ravens’ next week.

Risers and Sliders

Riser: QB Drew Lock, Broncos

The Broncos just might’ve found themselves a franchise quarterback. Lock lit up the Texans in his second start as a pro, completing 22 of 27 passes for 309 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception in the 38-24 win. The rookie tallied 23.9 points in the shockingly efficient performance, spreading the ball around to Noah Fant (four catches, 113 yards, one touchdown), Courtland Sutton (five catches, 34 yards), and Tim Patrick (two catches, 50 yards) while finding tight end Jeff Heuerman for an 8-yard touchdown pass and running back Royce Freeman for a 3-yard touchdown pass. After the game, Von Miller called Lock “a fucking rock star,” and the rookie’s dynamic arm gives Denver pass catchers a chance to make some fantasy noise over the next few weeks.

Slider: WR Odell Beckham Jr., Browns

Beckham’s disappointing fantasy season continued on Sunday, with the frustrated playmaker posting another 5.9 PPR-point dud in the Browns’ 27-19 win over the lowly Bengals. Beckham is reportedly playing through a core muscle injury, but after coming into the week as the overall WR25 in PPR, he should drop further down the ranks after grabbing just two passes for 39 yards in what should’ve been a juicy “get right” game for Cleveland’s offense. Quarterback Baker Mayfield didn’t do Beckham any favors in this one, completing just 11 of 24 passes for 192 yards, zero touchdowns, and a pair of picks.

Riser: WR A.J. Brown, Titans

Brown posted a career-high 153 yards and two touchdowns on five catches in the Titans’ blowout win over the Raiders, netting a career-best 33.6 PPR points on the day. The rookie receiver did his best Beast Mode impression in the game, regularly running through arm tackles or shrugging off opponents en route to a 30.6-yard per-catch average. Brown’s a weekly boom-or-bust fantasy option in a low-volume Tennessee passing game, but he’s emerged as the team’s no. 1 receiver and a favorite target of quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

Slider: RB Alvin Kamara, Saints

Kamara was quiet for the second week in a row, notching just 6.3 PPR points and inexplicably failing to benefit from the Saints’ 46-point explosion against the 49ers. The typically elusive back looked a bit sluggish, carrying the ball 13 times for just 25 yards while adding four catches for 18 yards. The 43 total scrimmage yards represented a season low for Kamara, whose touchdown drought extends back to Week 3. Kamara is still clearly valuable going forward in PPR formats thanks to his receiving chops, but he needs to break out of his touchdown slump next week against the Colts to give his standard-league squads a fantasy postseason boost.

Riser: WR Emmanuel Sanders, 49ers

The 32-year-old Sanders has been quiet over the past month, with just 10 catches for 113 yards in his previous four games, but he exploded back onto the fantasy scene for San Francisco in the team’s 48-46 win over the Saints on Sunday, reeling in seven catches for 157 yards and a touchdown while adding a 35-yard passing score. Sanders, who’s seemingly past the rib injury he’s been dealing with over the past few weeks, notched a season-high 34.1 PPR points in the win—but he may be tough to trust next week against the Falcons in what’s typically been a low-volume San Francisco passing game.

Slider: WR Marvin Jones, Lions

Jones came up short in the Lions’ 20-7 loss to the Vikings, notching just three catches for 38 scoreless yards on seven targets to finish with 6.8 fantasy points. That marks the second straight game that Jones has finished with just three catches, and he’ll remain a boom-or-bust fantasy option as long as backup quarterback David Blough starts under center for Detroit. Blough finished just 24-of-40 for 205 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions in the one-sided loss.

Miami Dolphins v New York Jets Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Riser: WR Robby Anderson, Jets

Anderson extended his recent hot streak in the Jets’ 22-21 win over the Dolphins, netting seven catches for 116 yards and a score on 11 targets to finish with 25.0 PPR points. It was Anderson’s second straight week with double-digit targets (he caught seven of 10 targets for 101 yards last Sunday) and his third straight week with at least 17.1 PPR points. The soon-to-be free-agent receiver is making his case as a dangerous deep threat and has rewarded fantasy managers who’ve rolled the dice with him over the past few weeks. Anderson’s rise, though, has come at the expense of teammate Jamison Crowder: Crowder finished with three catches for 30 yards, his third straight single-digit PPR finish in as many weeks. Anderson has established himself as the guy to start in that pass-catching corps.

Slider: RB Jamaal Williams, Packers

The Packers’ backfield rotation threw fantasy managers for a loop on Sunday, with Aaron Jones dominating touches en route to a massive game. Jones bounced back after a couple of down weeks to post 31.2 PPR points, rushing for 134 yards and a touchdown while adding six catches for 58 yards. Meanwhile Williams―who’d been used with Jones in a near 50-50 split over the past month and had posted double-digit PPR points in six out of his seven games―was almost a nonfactor, rushing just seven times for 24 yards in the Packers’ blowout win.

Riser: RB Joe Mixon, Bengals

Mixon posted career-high 186 scrimmage yards and a season-best 27.6 PPR points in the Bengals’ loss to the Browns on Sunday, netting 146 yards and a score on the ground while adding three catches for 40 yards through the air. The third-year back has broken out of his early-season rushing touchdown slump over the past month, finding pay dirt with his legs in three of his past four games.

Cutting Up the Pie

LeSean McCoy Leads Chiefs Committee

The Chiefs used a committee approach at the running back spot this week, leaning on a rotation of LeSean McCoy, rookie Darwin Thompson, and recently re-signed veteran Spencer Ware to fill in for injured backs Damien Williams (ribs) and Darrel Williams (on the injured reserve with a hamstring injury). McCoy led the way with 11 carries for 39 yards, followed by Ware’s five carries for 11 yards and Thompson’s four totes for 7 yards. Perhaps surprisingly, it was Ware who led the team in snaps in the 23-16 win over the Patriots, with the new addition tallying 28 snaps to McCoy’s 22 and Thompson’s 18. Thompson and Ware are both likely to get bumped down the pecking order if Williams can return to action next week.

Raheem Mostert Again Leads 49ers Backfield

Mostert was the lead back for the 49ers for the second straight week, turning 10 carries into 69 yards and a touchdown while adding a pair of catches for 40 yards and a score through the air. Matt Breida returned from a three-game absence to clock in for six carries and 54 yards while Tevin Coleman played a distant third-back role, notching three totes for 6 yards. Mostert and Breida have both displayed the type of explosiveness and juice that’s been missing from Coleman’s game of late, and are likely to remain the team’s one-two punch in the backfield going forward.

Smash the Add Button

Here’s a few must-add players to target on this week’s waiver wire.

TE Ian Thomas, Panthers (rostered in 1 percent of Yahoo leagues): With so many tight ends going down with injuries on Sunday, Thomas is one of the top waiver-wire adds going into Week 15. Thomas would lose much of his fantasy value if Greg Olsen can come back from a concussion suffered in Week 13, but the veteran’s status remains up in the air. Thomas racked up 10 targets in relief of Olsen this week, catching five passes for 57 yards and a touchdown in the team’s 40-20 loss to the Falcons. The second-year pro is a top-tier athlete and seems to have a strong rapport with quarterback Kyle Allen.

TE Tyler Higbee, Rams (20 percent): Higbee posted his second straight 100-plus-yard game on Sunday, notching seven catches for 116 yards in the team’s 28-12 win over Seattle. The fourth-year pro has been a massive part of the L.A. passing game with Gerald Everett out with a knee injury. Higbee’s role will take a hit if Everett can come back next week, but Everett missed every practice this week and his timeline for a return is still up in the air.

TE O.J. Howard, Buccaneers (32 percent): Howard has finally started to emerge for the Buccaneers, posting nine catches for 134 yards in the past two games. The überathletic tight end has been in Bruce Arians’s doghouse for most of the season but has played with more consistency of late—and could find himself with a bigger role with Evans likely missing time.

WR Breshad Perriman, Buccaneers (zero percent): Perriman’s notched double-digit PPR points in two straight games thanks to an eight-catch, 157-yard, one-touchdown line in that stretch. With Evans unlikely to play next week, Perriman could see his target share go up—though his value would take a hit if Jameis Winston’s hand injury keeps him out in Week 15. Justin Watson, who caught five of eight targets for 59 yards and a score after Evans went out, is another potential waiver-wire addition.

RB DeAndre Washington, Raiders (5 percent): Starter Josh Jacobs has reportedly been playing through a fractured shoulder blade over the past five weeks, and that injury was finally enough to keep him out on Sunday against the Titans. If Jacobs can’t go next week, Washington should retain the lead-back role for the slumping Raiders. The fourth-year pro carried the ball 14 times for 53 yards and a score while adding six catches for 43 yards in the blowout loss, netting 21.6 PPR points.

RB Adrian Peterson, Redskins (39 percent): With Guice likely to miss next week’s matchup with the Giants, Peterson’s in line for a full workload. The 34-year-old back has scored touchdowns in back-to-back games.