The Eagles may be on a bye this week, but there are no weeks off during the fantasy football season. And that rings true especially now that the playoffs are approaching quickly ...
Who are some big-name players at each position who aren’t necessarily no-brainer starters at this point of the season?
QB: Andrew Luck, Colts – Luck’s actually been a really strong fantasy option of late, despite the Colts’ offense totally lacking weapons or creativity. That’s because they’ve had to try to crawl back from some deficits, as they haven’t put a full game together since beating the Broncos a few weeks back. With matchups against the Cardinals, Titans, Bengals and Texans looming, Luck doesn’t have the easiest schedule in the world going forward.
RB: Chris Johnson, Titans – I’ve discussed Johnson numerous times in this column, but I just wanted to reiterate for the playoff stretch that if you don’t trust him, don’t play him. He’s had two monster games in his last three, but they were his only two big rushing performances of the season. He also laid an egg in a favorable matchup against the Jaguars. Johnson is the type of player who can have a great week if he gets off to a good start, and a terrible week if he doesn’t. Typically, he’s been on the negative end of that equation this year.
WR: Marques Colston, Saints – Colston’s random disappearing acts followed by big games, and vice versa, are really starting to grate on me. It’s just a nature of the Saints offense. They have so many effective weapons and so many unique packages that no player can consistently put up big numbers every week (including Jimmy Graham, who has been injured). If you’ve been a savvy owner with Colston, you’ve likely already been considering him benchable if you have an interesting depth option on your bench.
TE: Jordan Cameron, Browns – While he’s likely doing enough that he’s still part of your lineup every week, take notice to his numbers with Jason Campbell at QB, which are significantly worse than those with Brian Hoyer and even Brandon Weeden. In Campbell’s three starts, Cameron is No. 21 among tight ends in a PPR with 7.5 fantasy points per game. Campbell doesn’t make quick enough decisions to take full advantage of Cameron’s skill set.
Whose big Week 11 performances should I buy and sell?
Cam Newton, Panthers – Cam’s had his inconsistencies this year, but the guy just posted his signature win against Tom Brady and the Patriots. With the Panthers proving that their defense is legit, it’s time to focus on what Cam is rather than what he isn’t. At his best, he’s a player with incredible arm strength and athletic ability, and the frame to handle more of a beating than most mobile quarterbacks in the NFL. He also has started to accept that he doesn’t need to make a big play every time he makes the snap. When Cam takes what the defense gives him most of the time, we can ignore the occasional misfire due to shoddy mechanics. And even then, his elite arm strength can help him make up for mechanical errors.
Michael Floyd, Cardinals – The Eagles will have a date with Arizona next week, and it might be the underrated Floyd who could be the bigger concern than Larry Fitzgerald, believe it or not. Floyd has posted double-digit PPR stat lines in five of his last six games. The only time he didn’t was against the Texans in Week 10, when he left early with a shoulder injury. Playing through that shoulder injury in Week 11, Floyd had the best game of his career, with six catches for 193 yards, including a 91-yard touchdown. Floyd is one of my favorite keeper prospects at the receiver position, and someone who has consistently posted start-worthy numbers this season.
Ray Rice, Ravens – Rice had his first 100-yard rushing game of the season in Week 11. Unfortunately, it came against a Bears defense that might well be the worst in football at stopping the run. To me, Rice didn’t seem to have the same explosiveness in his game that we’ve seen in years past, and I wonder if his early-season hip injury is still affecting him. If you can capitalize on Rice’s huge game by moving him, note that the run game matchups get much tougher down the stretch (Jets, Steelers, Vikings, Lions, Patriots).
Bobby Rainey, Buccaneers – Rainey had an absolutely monster game in Week 11, becoming the second unknown Bucs running back to leap onto the fantasy scene, with 167 yards and 3 TDs and a whopping 32 offensive touches in a blowout of the Falcons. With a lead, Rainey, a downhill chugger who provides much more upside to the Bucs as a runner, played 66 percent of the Bucs’ offensive snaps to Brian Leonard’s 29 percent. But we must also note that Leonard remained the primary passing down back for Tampa, hauling in four catches for 21 yards of his own. But here’s the question you have to ask yourself: will the Bucs be in a position to blow out opponents the rest of the year? If not, will Leonard see the field more if the Bucs aren’t in run-first mode? Or did Rainey do enough in this game that he should hold the majority of touches, regardless of how the Bucs feel about Leonard as a “passing-down guy?” If you picked up Rainey, or if you desperately need him because you’ve been ravaged by injuries in your fantasy backfield, hold onto him and see if you can ride the train. But if you added him merely as a depth option and have the luxury of moving him, it’s completely fair to think he won’t approach these kinds of numbers in the near future.
It’s getting close to fantasy playoff time. I have players at the same position that I tend to think are pretty equal in value. How do I decide between the two?
Really, I don’t think handling tough lineup decisions in the fantasy playoffs is any different than during the regular season. Essentially, if you’re playing fantasy football, you’re playing a guessing game. The best thing you can do to swing a guessing game in your favor is to use clues to make an educated, logical guess.
It’s kind of like peeling a fruit to get to the juicy parts. On the surface, the first thing we look at with players is recent production. Did Zac Stacy outscore Rashad Jennings last time out? How about the last couple weeks? Has he been a consistent performer (like Stacy) or a boom-or-bust guy (like Chris Johnson)?
Next, we have to look at the player’s matchup. Is someone going up against the Bears’ awful run defense? What about a team that has to try to run on the Chiefs? Take a look at the recent production the opposition has given up against the position you’re debating, and what players they gave up that production to. If, say, the Chargers gave up 150 receiving yards to a scrub you never heard of, you might want to take that into account if you’re debating a wide receiver against San Diego.
Then, look at opportunity. How often is a player on the field? You might see that Rueben Randle made a big touchdown catch a week or so ago, but he was only on the field for a third of the Giants’ offensive snaps (you can find snap counts in the game books on NFL.com). Is another player you’re debating seeing the field more and getting more consistent looks in the passing game, even if he hasn’t scored in a few weeks?
Finally, look at versatility. In most cases, it’s always more important to value a running back who gets both rushes and receptions, or a receiver who is more than simply a deep threat. The more areas a player can contribute, the more chances he has to make plays.
RB Bobby Rainey, Buccaneers – I’ve already mentioned him in this column, but I hope you took my advice last week and picked him up. If for some reason he’s still out there and you need running back help, go get him now.
RB Donald Brown, Colts – We’ve been waiting for some signs of life from this running game. Trent Richardson sure as hell wasn’t giving them, but aside from some flashes here or there it’s not like Brown was dominating, either. Well, until last week. Heading into Week 11’s game with the Titans, Brown had totaled 22/86 rushing in his previous four games combined. Of course, he went off against Tennessee, with 14/80/2 rushing, looking decisive and explosive, and he has earned himself a greater role moving forward.
WR Jerricho Cotchery, Steelers – I’ve been hesitant to give Cotchery significant fantasy love because we’ve seen how these role players can burn you, and the book is kind of already written on him. But I can’t deny that he’s rolling with significant red zone juice, and he now has the third-most receiving yards in the NFL out of the slot, behind Wes Welker and Victor Cruz. He had three receptions for 48 yards and a touchdown on five targets in Week 11, and Cotchery now ranks a ridiculous 20th among WRs with 14.9 FPG over the last five weeks. Of course, that includes 3 TDs in Week 9, but he’s now scored in three straight games. With their offensive line woes, the Steelers have been a pass-first team the last few weeks.
TE Delanie Walker, Titans – Walker caught all 10 of his targets in Week 11 for 91 yards and a touchdown, clicking with Titans’ backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. With Fitzpatrick looking to check down and fit the ball into tighter windows, the Titans have been employing a quicker-twitch passing game. That has benefited Walker.
INJURIES TO WATCH
RB Adrian Peterson, Vikings – Peterson (groin) didn’t practice on Wednesday or Thursday and was listed on Friday as questionable. The Vikings still feel he’ll play this week, but he was clearly limited by the injury last week. Toby Gerhart would be a solid flex play if Peterson can’t go on Sunday.
WR Wes Welker, Broncos – Welker (concussion) returned to practice Thursday and was listed as probable.
TE Jordan Reed, Redskins – Reed (concussion) has not yet practiced this week and it could be a struggle for him to play on Monday night. You must have a backup option ready if you can’t afford to wait until Monday.
RB Trent Richardson, Colts – Richardson (calf) was limited on Thursday and Friday in practice, as if we need any more reasons to shy away from him. He’s questionable for Sunday.
RB Darren McFadden, Raiders – Don’t expect McFadden (hamstring) to play this week, so keep rolling with Rashad Jennings if you’ve been using him.
WR Miles Austin, Cowboys – Austin (hamstring) rested up over the bye and should be ready to go this week.
WR Greg Jennings, Vikings – Jennings (Achilles) was a surprise inactive last week and is questionable for this week.
WR Nate Burleson, Lions – Burleson (forearm) could return this week if he gets medical clearance.
WR Santonio Holmes, Jets – Holmes is still dealing with foot and hamstring issues and is playing at less than 100 percent.
WR Denarius Moore, Raiders – Moore (shoulder) didn’t practice on Wednesday or Thursday and is questionable to go.
QB Aaron Rodgers, Packers – Rodgers (collarbone) is out this week against the Vikings, but check his status for Week 13 on Thanksgiving against the Lions. The Packers have lost three straight without him and they need him.
QB: Mike Glennon, Buccaneers – If you need a streaming quarterback this week, consider Glennon. He’s played exceptionally well for a rookie, and people aren’t discussing it, perhaps because the Bucs stink or people just don’t recognize what he’s doing. Either way, he didn’t throw an incompletion after the first quarter last week, and he has a very favorable matchup with Detroit this week.
RB: Shane Vereen, Patriots – If you didn’t start him last week, you should feel fine about getting him into your lineup this week against the Broncos. With 8 catches for 65 yards last week, Vereen should remain a huge part of what the Patriots do going forward, especially against Denver’s potent offense.
WR: Kendall Wright, Titans – Wright has only one touchdown on the year, but he’s been a target hound for much of the season, with 46 over his last five games. Over the last two weeks, he has 16 catches on 21 targets, and now he goes up against a very vulnerable Oakland secondary.
TE: Rob Housler, Cardinals – Housler now has a total of 22/226/1 over his last five games, which makes him a key part of this steadily improving pass offense. And he’s going up against a Colts defense that has had its struggles with the tight end this year.
QB: Case Keenum, Texans – The matchup with the Jags is beautiful, but there are stream-worthy quarterbacks this week who didn’t get benched last week. Keenum’s risky because I have no idea what Gary Kubiak might be thinking at any given time.
RB: Dolphis Running Backs – Knowing what the Dolphins do with the backfield – and by that I mean I have no frigging clue what they do – it’s really hard to play either Lamar Miller or Daniel Thomas with confidence against Carolina.
WR: Steve Smith, Panthers – Smith has struggled all year in matchups with tough corners, and he gets another one this week in familiar foe Brent Grimes. The last four games Smith has faced Grimes, he’s caught a total of four passes for 30 yards on him.
TE: Heath Miller, Steelers – I need to see more of Miller to really trust him, even after his eight-catch game last week. The Browns have been solid against tight ends lately.