I sense a disturbance in the fantasy force this week. You’re worried about injuries (yes, Bryce Brown will start), and you have quarterback quandaries involving quarterbacks who are nearly identical in production and value.
So you had lots of questions, which led to some interesting explorations of scenarios and issues, and I may have even supplied a few answers. You can be the judge of that. But read on, and we can be enlightened, confused, and afraid together.
Right off the top we’re reminded that hard decisions are still hard. We’re also reminded why going forward we all need to remember that with passing being a really popular thing to do now, think either twice or eight times before you draft a quarterback in the early rounds next August. The quarterback quandary faced here by our friend (we’re friends now, right?) Matt is one that’s likely pretty common. Stafford was widely a second-round pick, while Luck came off the board in the 10th round and beyond. Now despite that vast difference in their average draft positions, Stafford has 213 fantasy points, and Luck has 212. Also, we can’t even really lean on a recent hot steak here to find separation, because over their past four games Luck has 72 fantasy points, while Stafford has 76. Yep.
So let’s see how the pros match up against the cons in their ancient, never ending battle.
Luck is at home with the Titans visiting, and home has been an exceedingly cozy place for him. That’s often true for rookie quarterbacks, but Luck is establishing a new precedent for road weariness, as he’s thrown 13 of his 16 interceptions away from Lucas Oil Field. Score one in his favor then, along with the fact that in Week 8 against these same Titans, Luck was good yet still something below great, passing for 297 yards with a touchdown and an interception, while rushing for 28 yards. That all adds up to 15 fantasy points, which again is solid but far from spectacular production. There’s a good chance that his performance this week could lean much more towards the spectacular against a secondary that’s a week removed from allowing Chad Henne to complete 65.4 percent of his passes on 10 yards per attempt. The scare factor against the Titans’ secondary is low, as is also the case with their 23rd-ranked pass rush.
That’s a lot in Luck’s favor, and here’s something that’s not at all in Stafford’s favor. Even with Clay Matthews out and expected to miss his fifth straight game this week, the Packers have maintained a strong pass rush, and much stronger than the one Luck will face. They’ve fallen only slightly in Matthews’ absence, with the likes of Jerel Worthy still providing pressure off the edge. That could be painful for Stafford, because while playing behind a leaky offensive line he was sacked a season high five times when these two teams last met in Week 11, a game when Matthews was watching from the sideline. That game also marked a season low in passer rating for Stafford, as he finished at 54.0, a steep departure from his overall rating this year of 83.1.
The improved health of the Packers’ secondary also isn’t in Stafford’s favor, with Sam Shields likely returning this week, and there’s a chance — albeit a slim one — that Charles Woodson could return too.
I’ll think of you all weekend as you rock back and forth in the fetal position while hiding in a dark space trying to make this call. That happens when you’re considering sitting a quarterback who required such a significant draft-day investment, and doing it during the fantasy playoffs. But starting Luck over Stafford is the right call with his far more favorable matchup.
You’ll only start Cutler if you really hate yourself. He’s descended to the point that he’s only startable in two-QB leagues, simply because any starting quarterback is startable in two-QB leagues. He draws the Vikings this week, a middle tier secondary that’s held opposing quarterbacks to one passing touchdown or fewer in seven games this year. That sounds sort of meh, until you combine it with the fact that Cutler has had a multi-touchdown game only five times. For some perspective to show how far Cutler is from the league’s efficient aerial scorers, Drew Brees (who currently leads the league in passing touchdowns with 31) has had 10 multi-TD games.
Flacco has been inconsistent (why just look at his last four weeks: 29 points against Oakland, six against Pittsburgh, 18 against San Diego, and seven against Pittsburgh again), but you should get his glorious peak this week instead of his dark, murky valley. He gets a matchup against the Redskins, a team that still employs DeAngelo hall, and they’re still highly vulnerable to the pass, ranking 31st while giving up 299 yards per game. The real money may lie in Washington’s passing touchdowns allowed (24, so nearly two per game). That should kickstart Flacco, who’s thrown only two passing TDs over his last three games.
Your wide receiver problem is one that I suspect many are facing, and for me there’s an easy answer: Jennings, and it’s not close. Jordy Nelson has missed two straight practices, so it’s highly unlikely that he plays this week, and after receiving a light workload in Week 13 Jennings’ conditioning should now be back to full strength, and he’ll be set to receive a sizable uptick in targets. That increase will be enough to make him a WR2, whereas the continued emergence of Demaryius Thomas has made Decker an afterthought. Decker has always been behind Thomas among the Broncos’ receiving options, but he still gave you value as a red-zone target. However, between weeks four and nine he scored seven times, and in the four games since he’s scored only once while averaging just 29.8 receiving yards per game.
Chris Johnson scares me a lot right now. As the linemen in front of him continue to collapse (four of the Titans’ five O-line starters in Week 1 have now been lost for the season), I fear we could gradually see Johnson return to being the Johnson we saw early in the year when he was consistently hit in the backfield. You know that Johnson as the jerk who had less than 30 rushing yards over four of his first five games.
But even with the increasing lack of confidence in CJ, I can’t recommend sitting him against the Colts this week and their run defense that gave up a 67-yard run to Joique Bell (Joique Bell!) this past Sunday, and a unit that’s given up 261 rushing yards to running backs over the past two weeks overall.
So there’s one, and of the other three I still don’t trust The Law Firm despite his recent resurgence, as he’s had three straight 100-yard games, but prior to that over nine games he averaged just 59.6 yards. Our process of elimination then leaves Murray and Forte, and I dare you to sit Murray after what we saw Sunday night. Forte has plodded heavily over his last four games, averaging only 2.9 yards per carry.
Roll with Murray and Johnson.
You guys are just throwing out all of the intrigue this week. It seems your fantasy matchups may have some sort of importance, and you may stand to benefit from some monetary gain.
I drink Josh Gordon Kool-Aid while wearing Josh Gordon pajamas and waving Josh Gordon pom poms. As a waiver wire pickup earlier this year (and hell, he’s still widely available, and owned in only 32 percent of ESPN leagues) he’s a great flex or low end WR3 play due to his sheer speed. We saw that last week when he had 116 yards at a pace of 18.3 per catch, an we especially saw it earlier this season during a three-game stretch between weeks 5 and 7 when he scored four times, and needed only seven catches to record 240 yards (yep, 34 yards per catch).
The problem, though, is while that long-bombism is great for those in standard leagues who are deploying Gordon as a flex play (*points at self*), it lowers his point-per-reception league value. Or in this case, half a point still hurts. However, there’s very little difference between Gordon and Britt in terms of their receptions, so favor Gordon’s far greater upside. Overall Gordon is actually slightly ahead of Britt in receptions (34 to 32), and his catches have increased since the Browns’ Week 10 bye. He’s had 15 grabs during that stretch while receiving seven targets in each game, while Britt has seven grabs over his last three games.
This is always a tough late-season scenario. Your opponent is ready to gut you with one of the league’s premier quarterbacks, but you own two of his targets. Since more points are given to receiving yards versus passing yards in most leagues, one remedy is to favor those targets over other possible starters at wide receiver.
While the logic there is sound, I’d caution against going too far in this instance, and other similar ones. Brees still has a vast arsenal of targets, a list that most notably also includes Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles, and he frequently spreads the ball around. Last Thursday 11 Saints caught a pass, meaning nine of them weren’t named Moore or Colston. You could look at that game and favor this Brees battling strategy, as Moore and Colston led the Saints while combining for 194 receiving yards and therefore 19 points, while Brees’ other 147 yards were good for only five points. But then you’ll remember that last week is a historically bad example, as Brees threw a career high five interceptions, and Moore’s 123 receiving yards presents an outlier, and a significant increase over his season per game average of 74.7 yards.
You still have to start your best players at every position. That includes Colston, but while Moore is a fine flex option, there’s no way he can be benched in favor of Jackson or Jones in one of your three primary WR slots.