Questions? You got ‘em. Answers? I might have them, or at least I’ll pretend.
Ye ol’ tweetbag returns for another week. When we ripped open Santa’s sack of fantasy goodies on the day that Week 15 (semi-final week for most of you) begins, we found battle royales between Pierre Garcon and Eric Decker, and another one between Heath Miller and Martellus Bennett. All limbs remained in their proper positions, and no football players were injured during the making of this post.
The problem with time travel is that it hasn’t been invented yet, which complicates this question a bit. Although the extremely small sample size we’ve seen from Kirk Cousins has been encouraging, clearly Garcon’s production is tied to Robert Griffin III’s health to some degree. Griffin practiced on a limited basis today as he continues a quick recovery from his grade 1 LCL sprain, and the comments and observations coming out of Washington seem cautiously optimistic, with strong hints that he’ll be ready to play. As expected, reporters still noticed him favoring the injury, although head coach Mike Shanahan said he’s improved since yesterday. However, Shanny also added that he has to “have a good feeling that [Griffin] can play at full strength.”
Dizzy yet? Find a focal point on the floor, and count to 10.
If we continue to get good news Re: Griffin, then I’d favor Garcon. He’s been targeted frequently in his few healthy games this year, with 20 targets over Washington’s last three games. And during those healthy games — of which there have basically been four (weeks 1, 12, 13, and 14) — he’s averaging 96 yards per game, a boom that’s included two catches for over 50 yards. He’s also scored four times despite only seven game appearances.
Decker, meanwhile, has fallen further behind Demaryius Thomas in the Broncos’ receiving hierarchy. Yes, he’s always been behind Thomas, but he hasn’t had double-digit fantasy points in a game since Week 9, a five-game stretch in which he’s scored only 24 points in total.
Assuming Griffin is healthy and ready, go with Garcon.
Both have matchups that are only sort of OK against the Falcons and Cowboys respectively, which sucks. But if there’s an advantage to be found here, it’s with Bennett.
He’ll oppose Atlanta, a defense that’s allowing marginally more production per game to the tight end position, giving up an average of 57 yards weekly, according to Football Outsiders. Dallas, Miller’s opponent, is 11 yards better at 46.0, a significant difference over 13 games. Earlier this year Dallas held Tony Gonzalez — the second best scorer in fantasy football among tight ends (129 points) — to only 36 receiving yards, and more recently Jermaine Gresham was held to a moderate 43 yards on four catches last week.
The fantasy points surrendered by the Falcons to TEs also favors Bennett, as over their last three games they’ve given up 24 points to the position, including 11 to Greg Olsen last week. Prior to that Olsen had registered double-digit points only three times this year.
We’ve already discussed Decker, but I included our friend Mark’s query because I have a Ryan Mathews itch that needs to be scratch. Seriously, it’s a real problem.
If you’re down on Mathews, that only proves that you’re sane. He’s been horrid, scoring only once, while averaging 62.5 rushing yards per game. Perhaps the adjective chosen in the preceding sentence was a little strong, but I think we can all agree that at best Mathews has been only a touch above replacement level for much of the season. That’s pretty maddening for a running back who was an early-round pick.
Toss in the PPR element, and this is an easy decision then, right? No, no it’s not.
Mathews draws the Panthers this week. Let’s look past Carolina’s stuffing of the Falcons on the ground in Week 14, because Michael Turner is still inexplicably receiving the bulk of the carries in that backfield, and he’s only slightly faster than a pug who just ate an entire jar of peanut butter. When we do that, we see that over their preceding three games against Jamaal Charles, Bryce Brown, and Doug Martin the Panthers gave up a combined 443 rushing yards to those three.
Mathews isn’t Martin, and he definitely isn’t Charles, and he isn’t even Brown. But he still has great flex potential against a vulnerable run defense following that recent crumble over a sizable chunk of the fantasy season. And if you’re concerned about reception points, please note that prior to his eight catches last week, Decker had only 10 catches over four games, and overall he’s averaging 4.9 on the season. Mathews is predictably behind him, but not significantly, as he’s catching 2.7 passes per game out of the backfield.
Slot in Mathews. If he’s going to blow up even once, it’ll be this week.
I’ll refer you to the above Bennett rant, and also note that Antonio Gates is the worst. This isn’t 2009 anymore, and a once mighty talent is now on his way to being irrelevant, and he’s definitely not start-able in the fantasy playoffs. Danario Alexander is drawing all the targets from Philip Rivers in the San Diego passing game, and Gates has had less than 25 receiving yards in a game five times this year, two of which have come over the last four weeks. Start Bennett, and it’s not close.
But the Wilson vs. Murray decision is intriguing. Murray has scored in two straight games since he returned from an ankle injury, and although he’s plodded heavily at times (three yards per carry), he’s showcased his trademark physicality, and ability to move a pile. That’s why he’s tempting, but then there’s the small matter of the Steelers defense, and their tendency to crush people. Troy Polamalu is back now to come into the box and help out against the run, making the league’s fifth-ranked rush defense even stronger. Pittsburgh has allowed only eight rushing touchdowns while giving up 93.2 yards per game.
So if we assume that Ahmad Bradshaw won’t be healthy (and as of this writing, it’s not looking good), David Wilson is a far better start against the Falcons, a run defense that’s ranked much lower (23rd) while giving up the second most yards per carry (4.9). Even if Bradshaw is active he’ll surely still be limited, likely giving Wilson somewhere in the neighborhood of 12 carries.
Unfortunately I think you’re right, as painful as it will be to watch one of your starting running backs repeatedly get cranked by the 49ers during semi-final week. Ridley has scored in six straight games though, which is fun.
Leshoure was in a straight split with Joique Bell, the latter or whom had previously been a “closer” for the Lions, meaning the back who was summoned late in games to keep the clock moving by pounding away and eating up chunk yardage. But against the Packers this past Sunday night there was no closing required, as the Lions were down by a touchdown in the fourth quarter, and their comeback ultimately fell short (they lost 27-20). Yet still Bell received much of the workload, as he finished with 14 carriers and 17 touches overall, while Leshoure had 14 touches.
What’s especially troubling for Leshoure is that Bell also started to receive red-zone touches, and being effective around the goal-line is the only way Leshoure was staying relevant to both you, and the Lions. He’s a running back who needs to score to have any value during a given week, even as a flex play. He’s done plenty of that, with six touchdowns over his last six games. But as Rotoworld noted, against the Packers Leshoure failed to convert a third and one from the Green Bay six-yard line, and he didn’t get the ball in the red zone again all game.
Ridley might get stuffed, but at least you can be confident that he’ll receive most of the backfield touches for New England. We can’t say the same for Leshoure anymore.
The behavior of folks in ESPN leagues is still baffling to me. Can someone please explain to me how Alexander — a receiver who has 83 fantasy points over just six healthy games while averaging nearly 80 receiving yards per week (79.3) — is unowned in over half of leagues on that fine, supposedly respected fantasy platform?
Yes, Alexander should be played confidently again, as although defending the pass is one of the few things the Panthers don’t colossally screw up all the time every time (their secondary is ranked a middle of the pack-ish 12th), they were susceptible to really fast guys who are paid to be, well, fast last week. Both Julio Jones and Roddy White scored, and White finished with 117 receiving yards.
But more importantly, the sheer volume of targets Alexander is receiving makes it difficult to not produce. Over the Chargers’ last four games he’s been targeted 40 times, a fixation by Rivers that repeatedly leads to chunk yardage, as Alexander has a +30 yard catch in three of his six games.
The oft-cited Andrew Luck road factor comes into play here with his Colts traveling to Houston. In short, that means this: 13 of Luck’s 18 interceptions have come on the road. Rookies are expected to enjoy the comforts of home, but that split is quite exaggerated.
Then there’s also the weakness of the Colts’ offensive line that’s appealing as they try to contain J.J. Watt. With 32 overall, they’re allowing an average of 2.5 sacks per game. That could be quite delicious for Watt, and combine the sacks with the possible pick(s), and you’re looking at a pretty productive day.
It’s tempting to be invested in another Bills debacle in a foreign country, but roll with the Texans.