Four Week 16 Storylines: Rodgers Ruled Out

Matt Flynn will get the start against the Steelers on Sunday.

It was November 6th, about a month and a half ago. The initial timetable for Aaron Rodgers’ return after breaking his collarbone was set at 4-6 weeks, giving fantasy football owners hope that he’d at least come back for a potential fake football playoff matchup.

That was over 45 days ago.

Rodgers’ owners and Green Bay Packer fans are used to this by now. Fantasy footballers hit the wire, playing an available quarterback with the best matchup. The Packers are unable to just “hit the wire” for a guy like Andy Dalton, but they’ll, once again, look for Matt Flynn to lead the way in this important Week 16 weekend.

Let’s start there.

Can Matt Flynn beat the Steelers?

Last week’s Green Bay game was magical, coming back from a 23-point halftime deficit to beat the depressing Cowboys. Matt Flynn, in that game alone, rose his Passing Net Expected Points total by over 11 points, a level that near Pro Bowl quarterbacks play at. (For the record, his Passing NEP still sits at -14.65 on the season, far below expectation.)

But, as you know, the Cowboys’ secondary is nothing special, trending downwards despite playing a tough quarterback schedule this year. This week could be different.

It’s not because the Steelers defense is phenomenal at stopping the pass. In fact, you could make a good argument that their run stopping has been better of late than their pass defense has. But the unit, as a whole, is playing much better than that one in Dallas.

Over the last four weeks, the Steelers Adjusted Defensive Passing Net Expected Points rank has jumped three spots, as they’ve played at about expectation against the pass during that time. The run defense has increased their rank by four spots, going from the 26th-best unit at stopping the run to the 22nd one. When both aspects are playing better, that forms a much more cohesive defensive unit.

Flynn’s capable of taking advantage of Pittsburgh’s cornerbacks, but, like any non-Rodgers Packers team, get ready for a heavy dose of Eddie Lacy in what Vegas thinks will be a close game.

Will New England bounce back?

The Patriots lost a nail-biter to the Dolphins last week, in a game that probably meant more to Miami than it did New England. That’s only due to hindsight, as Pittsburgh was able to beat Cincinnati on Sunday night, helping the Pats maintain their two-seed lead.

It’s a huge game this week in Baltimore, and one that has a lot of control over the AFC playoff picture. If Baltimore wins, they’ll have a chance to win the AFC North with another victory in Week 17 against Cincinnati. And get this: If Miami ends up winning out as well – playing two winnable games against the Bills and the Jets – Cincinnati could be on the outside looking in, losing that second wild-card spot to the Dolphins.

And they’ll – they Bengals – lose it because of that ridiculous Thursday Night game on Halloween night.

The current playoff odds, based on our algorithms, for these three teams (and the Chargers, who need a bit of help) are below:

TeamOdds to Make Playoffs
Cincinnati Bengals88.70%
Miami Dolphins65.70%
Baltimore Ravens44.70%
San Diego Chargers1.40%

A lot is riding on this game. Let’s hope for another instant classic.

Can Brees step it up on the road?

After a big Saints win in "The Big Easy" two weeks ago, Carolina and New Orleans will go at it again this weekend. But this time, the game will be played in Charlotte.

People have been talking all week about how the Saints have played much better at home than on the road this year. And, more specifically, they’ve mentioned that Drew Brees – who’s scored about 11 standard fantasy points less on the road than at home on average this year – is more of a Superdome guy. So I decided to look into it from an advanced metrics front, showing how Brees has played on the road versus in NOLA.

LocationCumulative Passing NEPPass NEP Change

The chart above shows Drew Brees’ game by game Passing NEP output, showing whether the game was played at home or on the road. You may not be able to tell at a glance, but Brees’ numbers are, indeed, much worse away from the Superdome than they are inside of it.

At home this season, Brees is averaging 18.24 Passing Net Expected Points per game, which is above Peyton Manning levels. But in the seven away games the Saints have played this year, Brees’ average drops to 3.91 per game. If he were to play at his away game production levels for a 16-game season, Brees would rank as about the 11th- or 12-best passer in the league in terms of Passing NEP.

The difference is substantial, and it’s forcing fantasy owners to think twice about using him in their championship matchup. If you’re struggling, use our Who Do I Start? tool to help you out.

Will Marc Trestman rest his starters?

So here’s the deal. If the Lions lose to the Giants while the Packers beat the Steelers on Sunday, a Bears win on Sunday night really won’t do or mean much. Instead, the big game would come down to a Week 17 showdown between Chicago and Green Bay.

A win for Chicago would certainly help seeding, but Marc Trestman, in interviews this week, hasn’t completely turned down the potential of resting some of his starters.

(Fantasy owners panic.)

Really, my biggest concern in this situation would be running back Matt Forte. Because of the nature of the running back position, rest matters even more for a volume guy like Forte. So, because it’s championship week and your bench doesn’t really matter, I’d go ahead and drop someone you’re not using (and someone your opponent won’t want to use) for Michael Bush. If the scenario above happens (let’s be honest, the Giants beating the Lions is anything but a certainty), Bush could see touches in the “seeding” game for Chicago.