I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this at all lately, but it’s fantasy playoff time. The first casualty this week then was productivity, with all work matters completely disregarded. This raises the stakes further, because you may soon be unemployed, meaning next week’s groceries could ride on the results of the coming weeks.
We aim to provide a public service that may also help to feed you, so as a complement to Oliver Macklem’s sit ‘em/start’em post earlier this week in which he wrote that Russell Wilson could be just the best, throughout the playoffs every Friday we’ll recommend a few value plays.
You’re thinking “what the hell is a value play?”, and even if you’re not thinking that, I’ll explain it anyway. For our purposes here, a value play is a player who’s either sparsely owned, or stashed on benches and sparsely started. The aim is two-fold: to explore some appealing sleeper plays and matchups that may be overlooked, and to make bold predictions while giving you a neighborhood blogger man to publicly rip for ruining your fantasy season. You’re welcome.
We’ll ponder a quarterback, wide receiver, running back, and a tight end every week. Annnd go.
Quarterback: Colin Kaepernick vs. MIA
Let’s try this mind reading thing again. Now you’re wondering how Kaepernick — the most debated quarterback not named Tebow — could possibly be considered a value play, or a questionable play of any kind. That’s when I’ll ask you how Kaep is still unowned in half or nearly half of ESPN and Yahoo leagues (53 percent available in ESPN leagues, and 48 in Yahoo). If you’re the conservative type and you’re rolling with what brought you to the dance in the playoffs, well, fair enough. But it’s still baffling that Kaepernick’s ownership isn’t up to at least 70 percent universally.
That shows some lingering apprehension too after last week when some rookie mistakes were made, and Kaepernick looked average at best for most of the game during a loss to the Rams, even though we forget that an average or crappy Kaepernick still posted 14 fantasy points. But what will primarily make Kaepernick a persistent weekly fantasy question mark is his status as a late-season waiver wire pickup. Most managers had long been set at the position before Kaepernick emerged just three short weeks ago, and now his owners are forced to make a weekly decision between the Niners starter who’s still essentially a rookie and, say, Matthew Stafford, Eli Manning, or Matt Schaub, or insert any QB not named Rodgers or Brees or Griffin here.
And I get it, that’s hard. But as we head into the weekend, there are only seven QBs that I would start over Kaepernick if he was on my roster: Manning, Rodgers, Brees, Griffin, Schaub, Stafford and Cam Newton. Even Stafford and Schaub are very debatable, as the Lions QB will face a Packers’ pass rush that brought him down five times earlier this year even without Clay Matthews, and Schaub opposes a Patriots secondary that’s improved since the addition of Aqib Talib.
Kaepernick, meanwhile, faces a powder puff Dolphins secondary that’s allowing 257.7 passing yards per game (24th), and while Cameron Wake is a scary dude, so was Julius Peppers a few weeks back, and that mattered little. The similarly mobile Russell Wilson had 19 fantasy points against the Dolphins two weeks ago with 224 passing yards on 8.3 yards per attempt and two touchdowns, along with 38 rushing yards.
Running Back: DeAngelo Williams vs. Atlanta
Ahhh, now the true flex and low tier decisions begin. You hate Williams, and so do I. Also, Williams thinks you suck at fantasy football.
But although Williams very much deserves your hate due to his inability to consistently warrant meaningful carries in the Panthers’ offense and his resulting brutal 29.9 rushing yards per game, he has an opportunity this week to provide fine flex value. Jonathan Stewart still hasn’t practiced, and he’s been listed as doubtful. That will hand Williams the lead role again a week after he received 12 carries to Mike Tolbert’s two during a loss to the Chiefs.
He turned those carries into 67 yards, which is a very efficient 5.6 yards per carry, and it was only three yards short of seven fantasy points. That kind of production ranks somewhere above not too shabby in your flex spot, and now Williams opposes a Falcons run defense that gave up two touchdowns to Doug Martin in Week 12, and allowed LaRod Stephens-Howling to run for 127 yards — including a 52-yard run — in Week 11. Overall the Falcons have a below average defensive unit against the run, giving up 121.3 rushing yards per game (19th).
If you’re wavering with a flex decision, feel safe with Williams. I can die now, because I never thought that statement would come from my mouth, mind, or fingers.
Wide Receiver: Chris Givens @ Buffalo
Few things in this life hinge on Danny Amendola’s heel. In fact, I can only name one, and it’s Givens’ status as a possible low-end WR3 this week. And when a receiver’s ability to produce is riding on Amendola, you’re in good hands. Amendola is both tremendously talented and tremendously brittle, and he’s been limited in practice all week after missing Week 13, and then prior to that he played only sparingly, as he was on the field for just seven snaps during the Rams’ win over Arizona.
Why does this matter so much? Welp, Givens — who’s the ideal Jordy Nelson emergency replacement — can produce with or without Amendola. We’re talking about a really fast Josh Gordon type who had a catch of 50 yards or more in five straight games earlier this year, and during that stretch he averaged 29.5 yards per catch. So yeah, boom.
But Givens’ appeal gets much better with Amendola out. With the Rams’ top wideout essentially sidelined for two weeks, Givens’ yardage has increased significantly. He had 92 yards on 11 catches last week, and a season high 115 yards in Week 12, which was the eighth highest total among all wide receivers that week.
Amendola will be a true game-time decision Sunday, but even if he plays we’ll likely see the Amendola who was a shell of himself two weeks ago, and not the true Amendola. Either way, flex Givens with great confidence.
Tight End: Dennis Pitta @ Washington
There was a time earlier this year when Pitta epitomized value at the tight end position after a hot start (143 receiving yards over the first three weeks with two touchdowns), and that made him a popular waiver wire add. And then the spiral commenced, as Pitta has logged only 28.2 yards per game since. Ughs all around.
But although his inconsistency has remained, there are signs recently of a turnaround. He was targeted nine times (his second highest single-game total of the season) two weeks ago during a win over San Diego, and that led to 42 yards and a touchdown after his injury-shortened Week 11 game. After he slid to just 19 yards on a single reception last week, we could easily see Pitta’s peak to counter that valley.
His opponent — the Redskins — has a defense that’s currently giving up 71.1 receiving yards per game to tight ends, according to Football Outsiders, which means Washington has the league’s worst defense against TEs. Over the last three weeks Martellus Bennett, Jason Witten, and Brent Celek have combined for 198 yards against the Redskins. That adds up to a solid 66 yards per game.
In a year when formerly elite tight ends like Vernon Davis, Antonio Gates, and Jermichael Finley are struggling mightily and Rob Gronkowski is still out, that’s left only Witten, Tony Gonzalez, Jimmy Graham, and to a lesser extent Owen Daniels as the only tight ends you can trust with any certainty during the playoffs. If you don’t own any of those names, be brave, close your eyes, play the favorable matchup, and trot out Pitta.