It's crunch time. If your fantasy season were an NFL game, Week 11 would not quite be the two-minute drill. Let's call it six minutes left in the fourth quarter. At this point, you want to be in the best possible position to go for it all at the end of the game.
But as any Chargers fan knows all too well, there are many ways to indisputably, irrevocably screw up this late-game situation. Don't be a Philip Rivers. No league wants that guy who starts Alex Smith as a fantasy QB this week.
That's why I'm here to help. Our projections beat the projections given in your fantasy league's lineup page 93 percent of the time, all through the help of a little math. This week, we have some players that others might not be keying on that can help you out right away. Want to find out who they are? Read on, my friend.
Quarterback to Know
Carson Palmer - Oakland Raiders
Projected Stats: 288.55 pass yards, 2.15 pass TDs, 0.80 INTs
Standard League Fantasy Points: 18.18 FP
numberFire Rank: No. 7 QB (No. 8 Overall)
Week 11 Opponent: vs. New Orleans Saints
Better than Andrew Luck. Better than Matthew Stafford. Better than Matt Ryan. Yeah, we're a little excited about Carson Palmer this week against the Saints. But it's for a good reason, two actually: The Raiders' tendency for throwing the ball and the Saints' poor defensive effort.
This game has the potential to be a shootout anyway, but this season, every single Raiders game has been a pass-filled affair. Oakland has thrown the ball on 65.6 percent of their offensive plays, one of the highest proportions in the league. And recently with McFadden and Goodson sidelined, that number has shot up even higher. The Raiders threw on 65.7 percent of their offensive plays last week and 84.9 percent of their offensive plays in Week 9 against Tampa Bay.
For their part, the Saints should come marching in... and promptly lay down like their secondary has done all season. They have not given up less than 275 yards passing since Week 3 against Kansas City, and three of their past four (and four of their past six) opposing quarterbacks have thrown for at least three touchdowns.
Expecting one of the pu pu platter of Nick Foles, Byron Leftwich, Colin Kaepernick or Jason Campbell to come in and save your fantasy season in case of injury? Don't hold your breath.
Foles enters a Philadelphia offense that has been incredibly inefficient so far this season —the Eagles have scored 27.83 less points than what the average NFL team would be expected to score given the same situations. The issues here seem to be systemic rather than just Vick's failings; LeSean McCoy also seems to be having an off year.
Leftwich might not have played as badly as you thought on Monday night, as our analytics say that he actually gained the Steelers 2.56 Net Expected Points (NEP) over what the average NFL team could have expected given the same situation. But that doesn't make him a good play. In 2009 with Tampa Bay, his last season with at least 100 pass attempts, Leftwich's -5.85 NEP was less effective than the excellent quarterbacking of Chris Redman (14.74 NEP), Bruce Gradkowski (3.86 NEP) and Seneca Wallace (-3.78 NEP).
Colin Kaepernick has not proven himself as a starting NFL QB, and lack of past numbers to go by does not a smart fantasy play make. And that's without mentioning the Bears' No. 1 opponent-adjusted defense he's facing; even a healthy Alex Smith would be our No. 22 QB this week.
And Campbell's not much better. He finished his Oakland career with only five multi-touchdown games in 18 starts and only topped 250 passing yards four times. Not even Brandon Marshall can change that track record.
Running Back to Know
C.J. Spiller - Buffalo Bills
Projected Stats: 59.77 rush yards, 0.62 rush TDs, 25.49 receiving yards, 0.27 receiving TDs
Standard League Fantasy Points: 13.51 FP
numberFire Rank: No. 5 RB (No. 26 Overall)
Week 11 Opponent: vs. Miami Dolphins
Every week, we do a weekly MVP recap and break down the best players at each skill position using the NEP number I explained on the last slide. And while the leaders at QB, WR and TE have changed from week-to-week, there's been one constant on our charts. C.J. Spiller is the most efficient running back in the NFL, and he has been this entire season.
Our stats say that he has averaged 0.20 NEP per rush so far this season, meaning that every time he gets a carry, he earns the Bills .20 expected points over the average NFL play. When you take into consideration that passing has a higher expected output from running, that's an absolutely incredible figure.
And with Fred Jackson out for this week's game against the Dolphins, Spiller should have a chance to show off with extended carries. Yes, the Dolphins have a solid run defense. But with the way Spiller's been running this season, it shouldn't matter.
Running Back Surprise
Donald Brown - Indianapolis Colts
Projected Stats: 46.73 rush yards, 0.26 rush TDs, 13.67 receiving yards, 0.05 receiving TDs
Standard League Fantasy Points: 7.38 FP
numberFire Rank: No. 24 RB (No. 94 Overall)
Week 11 Opponent: at New England Patriots
There are questions all over the running back waiver-wire. Will Marcel Reece continue to receive carries even if Mike Goodson is cleared to return? What do you make of Chris Ivory with Mark Ingram continuing to receive carries? Will Danny Woodhead ever be consistent? How do you pronounce Joique Bell's name?
But the best name out of nowhere this week might be one that's already languishing on your bench: Donald Brown.
Indianapolis' feature back hasn't been the most consistent this season (he's only had two double-digit fantasy days in six appearances), but the Colts gave him a majority of the carries last week even without being fully healthy. With starting running backs at a premium, take a chance on Brown if he's around. With New England and Buffalo sitting as the next two games on the Colts' schedule, he'll get his opportunities.
Wide Receiver to Know
Torrey Smith - Baltimore Ravens
Projected Stats: 3.92 receptions, 57.74 receiving yards, 0.62 receiving TDs
Standard League Fantasy Points: 9.47 FP
numberFire Rank: No. 17 WR (No. 60 Overall)
Week 11 Opponent: at Pittsburgh Steelers
Maybe the two catches on six targets last week are a bit worrisome. And I don't expect Smith to go off for two touchdowns every single week. But wouldn't you know it, Baltimore's passing game actually resembles something legitimate for the first time since the reign of King Dilfer and his victorious Battle of Super Bowl XXXV.
The Ravens have passed the ball with a higher frequency than past seasons, chucking it up on 58.5 percent of their offensive plays so far this year. And Smith has been the primary beneficiary; he's tied with Anquan Boldin with a team-leading 64 targets.
But it's the big-play ability that sets Smith apart. His 0.62 projected receiving TDs ties Eric Decker for the ninth most of any receiver playing this weekend. With a team-leading seven TDs (the Ravens only have 13 as a team on the season), at least one score is not too far-fetched, either.
Wide Receiver Surprise
Danario Alexander - San Diego Chargers
Projected Stats: 4.17 receptions, 59.83 receiving yards, 0.28 receiving TDs
Standard League Fantasy Points: 7.56 FP
numberFire Rank: No. 37 WR (No. 89 Overall)
Week 11 Opponent: at Denver Broncos
It's safe to say the Robert Meachem experiment has turned out about as well as the Norv Turner experiment in Powder Blue Land. But luckily for the Chargers, his replacement has exceeded expectations. And it's Christmas morning, fantasy fans: he's currently owned in 0.1 percent of ESPN leagues.
Danario Alexander has quickly developed into one of Philip Rivers' favorite targets, getting 15.8 percent of Rivers' throws his way in Week 9 and a team-leading 18.9 percent of targets in Week 10. With Malcom Floyd not being trusted with a full load (he hasn't had more than seven targets in a game since Week 5), could Alexander become the No. 1 guy?
His yards per catch average from the past two weeks sure indicates that he could. Even when you take away the 80-yard TD (and why would you ever take out an 80-yard TD?), the resulting 13.5 ypc from last week's game isn't too shabby. Even against a tough Broncos' defense, he's worth the flier.
Tight End to Know
Owen Daniels - Houston Texans
Projected Stats: 3.53 receptions, 50.93 receiving yards, 0.45 receiving TDs
Standard League Fantasy Points: 7.78 FP
numberFire Rank: No. 4 TE (No. 82 Overall)
Week 11 Opponent: vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
Want to know why the Texans' offense just couldn't get going against the Bears? Yes, the Bears' D and the rain played significant factors. But this Texans teams is simply a different offense with Daniels on the field.
Daniels has gotten opportunities galore in Houston so far this season; his 56 targets are second on the Texans by a wide margin (third-place Kevin Walter has 36 looks). Although he hasn't converted them exceptionally well—his 66.1 percent catch rate is middling among tight ends—those large amount of looks will keep him as a solid fantasy play any week. Coming back from a game-time-decision sit-down on Sunday night, Daniels looks to be fully ready against a Jacksonville squad that has given up 24 points in six straight games, all losses.
If you're one of the fantasy owners with Daniels on the bench (and currently, he's being started in less ESPN fantasy leagues than Jermaine Gresham, Brandon Pettigrew or Jermichael Finley), rectify that problem immediately.
Tight End Surprise
Brandon Myers - Oakland Raiders
Projected Stats: 3.77 receptions, 47.20 receiving yards, 0.41 receiving TDs
Standard League Fantasy Points: 7.18 FP
numberFire Rank: No. 7 TE (No. 95 Overall)
Week 11 Opponent: vs. New Orleans Saints
Discouraged by last week's game? What, the one where Brandon Myers caught all five of the balls thrown his way before being knocked out of the game with a concussion? I think he's not the only one who's a bit confused right now.
It should be obvious by now, but Carson Palmer likes his tight end. A lot. Myers currently leads all Raiders players with 44 receptions and places second on the team (behind Darrius Heyward-Bey) with 57 targets. His 77 percent catch rate also ranks second among all tight ends with a significant number of receptions, behind only Tony Gonzalez.
Against the New Orleans secondary, Palmer should look for Myers early and often. But that word is in italics for a reason: make sure Myers is cleared by the Concussion Powers That Be before not only putting him on your roster, but in the starting lineup this week.