With the fantasy football playoffs beginning, it’s always an interesting exercise to examine playoff rosters and see how they got there. When doing so, you frequently see the same faces. Guys like Jamaal Charles, Calvin Johnson, Knowshon Moreno and Jimmy Graham are always appearing this year, along with many other repeating skill-position players.
But at football’s most important position, quarterback, there is almost as much variance on playoff teams as kickers. Aside from the top-four options, guessing the quarterback of a playoff team is a total crapshoot.
This just shows the importance of quarterback streaming throughout the year and into the playoffs. Since there are so many good options both at the end of the draft and on the waiver wire throughout the season, playoff teams are being led by dozens of different quarterbacks from Philip Rivers to Nick Foles.
If you are one of many who nickel-and-dimed their way into the big-dance, then you still have quite a bit of streaming to do. Luckily there are plenty of excellent waiver wire quarterback options to help you compete with and beat those Peyton Manning owners.
Stream of the Week
Ryan Fitzpatrick (Owned in 3.9% of ESPN.com Leagues)
Hopefully you snagged Fitzy back after Week 10 when I suggested him here, as he has been one of the better streaming options in fantasy since taking over as the Titans starting quarterback. In four weeks as the starter, Fitzpatrick has averaged 19.55 fantasy points per game, just a little less than fantasy’s number four quarterback, Cam Newton, is averaging on the year.
Not only is the Harvard grad leading fantasy teams in the playoffs, but he’s balling out in real life too. His Passing Net Expected Points (PNEP) per Pass of .12 ranks 11th in the NFL, and is higher than those of Tom Brady and Colin Kaepernick among others. We always like our fantasy footballers to be great on the field as well, and Fitzmagic fits the bill.
But wait! There’s more! The Titans will travel to Denver to take on their 20th-ranked passing defense, a game in which Fitzpatrick will surly set a season high in attempts. Plug him in as your waiver wire quarterback, and send me a picture of your championship trophy.
Safe With Upside
Alex Smith (Owned in 67.9% of ESPN.com Leagues)
The NFL’s best game manager has done much more than simply “manage” some fantasy teams, as he's now fantasy’s ninth-highest scoring quarterback. But if Smith is still floating around on your wire, run, don’t walk, to get him.
Thanks to a slew of soft pass defenses, Smith has passed for at least 230 yards and thrown for at least two touchdowns in three straight weeks, averaging over 22 fantasy points per game during that span. Even though Smith still ranks outside the top-20 quarterbacks in PNEP per Pass at .03, the fantasy success should continue.
Starting with the Redskins this week, every one of the Chiefs four remaining games are against bottom-12 pass defenses according to our metrics. Meaning Smith should continue to post mid-to-low QB1 numbers the rest of the way, with one of the higher floors among quarterbacks thanks to his rushing ability.
Carson Palmer (Owned in 12.5% of ESPN.com Leagues)
It’s no secret that Palmer is a sub-par NFL quarterback, sitting 30th in PNEP, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be a savior for fantasy teams. Palmer has been on fire lately, with 300-plus yards in three straight outings, and at least two touchdowns in six straight. The 33 year old is finally cutting down on the interceptions (only three in the past four games), and that is a big reason he has been putting up QB1 numbers over the past month.
Look for the success to continue for Palmer this week against a Rams defense that ranks 22nd against the pass.
Are you Feeling Lucky?
Joe Flacco (Owned in 52.6% of ESPN.com Leagues)
Are you “Wacko for Flacco”? If you’ve watched any Ravens games this year, you’re probably not. But in what seems to be the theme this week, being bad in real life football doesn’t always equate to fantasy. Flacco has improved as the season has progressed, even posting a “meh” 13.8 fantasy points per game over his last two contests against decent pass defenses.
The alone doesn’t make Flacco an intriguing stream option, but his matchup against Minnesota might just do the trick. When adjusting for schedule, the Vikings have one of the worst pass defenses in football according to our NEP numbers. All the Vikes injuries in the secondary have snowballed and accumulated in them allowing 21.2 fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks, the worst mark in the league.
Flacco is this week’s riskiest option, but could pay off major dividends if he connects on a couple deep balls to Torrey Smith and his receiver corps.
EJ Manuel (Owned in 11.6% of ESPN.com Leagues)
Manuel is an interesting waiver wire quarterback candidate this week, as his consecutive weeks with 18.7 fantasy points can be interpreted many different ways. One could look and see that both of these games came against below-average pass defense in the Falcons and Jets - someone may look at the fact that Manuel has a PNEP per Pass of -.08 and just say that he is a bad quarterback beating up on weak secondaries.
Or, you can look at how Manuel has only four interceptions on 249 attempts and consistent points from rushing stats, coming to the conclusion that he is a safe option in a quarterback-friendly system.
Personally, I’m going to go the optimistic route and suggest Manuel as a relativity safe streaming option this week. The Bills offense is finally healthy and running smoothly, and a matchup against Tampa Bay should help Manuel’s cause. The Bucs rank 29th in fantasy points allowed to opposing quarterbacks, and have allowed at least two touchdowns through the air for eight straight weeks. I’d be surprised if E.J. disappoints this week.