Fantasy Football Start or Sit: Week 12
Your fantasy football team has suddenly become what we've seen in Buffalo over the last 48 hours: snowed in.
Most trade deadlines have passed, which means this is it. What you see - what you have - is what you're going to have to mostly deal with from here on out. This is your team. You can't escape it.
The waiver wire is still a nice outlet, but converting bench depth into starters, or selling low on a player with an unfavorable upcoming schedule, is no longer an option. As a result, our lineup decisions become even tougher.
As always, the hope is that this column can help you optimize those choices each week.
Let's get at it.
Start Josh McCown - McCown has scored over 40 standard fantasy points over his last two games (and finished as a top-five quarterback in both contests), and has averaged 18 points scored in his four completed games this year. He's returning to Chicago this week for a revenge game (this doesn't mean anything), and will face a Bears defense that's been bad at stopping the pass, especially of late.
Though they were fine against Teddy Bridgewater last week, during their three games prior, Chicago allowed quarterbacks to rank first (Aaron Rodgers), second (Tom Brady) and fourth (Ryan Tannehill) at the position. According to Net Expected Points (NEP), Chicago has the 27th-best secondary in the league, making them a favorable matchup for quarterbacks. McCown should be strong again this week.
Sit Alex Smith - Our projections do like Smith this week, and it makes sense considering the Raiders are a middle-of-the-road team against the pass in terms of fantasy points against, and come in at 24th in our schedule-adjusted rankings.
My hesitation with Smith, however, is his ceiling. He's hit the 20-point mark just once this year, and has failed to score more than 16 fantasy points over his last 6 games. If you need a floor, by all means start Smith. But it does seem like that floor is the same as his potential.
Start Zach Mettenberger - Mettenberger could be considered Smith's opposite this week, as there's plenty of potential for him to score a lot of fantasy points, but to also do absolutely nothing.
For owners who are desperate for a cheap, low-owned quarterback option, let's only look at the optimistic side of this equation. Mettenberger faces an Eagles defense that ranks well in terms of NEP because they've been opportunistic, creating a lot of turnovers. However, they haven't been phenomenal - at all, really - from a fantasy points against standpoint.
In 10 games this season, 8 quarterbacks have finished as weekly QB1s (top-12 quarterbacks) against Philadelphia. Cam Newton wasn't one of them, but he finished as the 14th-best quarterback option against Philly a couple of weeks ago. The only passer who did nothing against the Eagles this year in fantasy has been Eli Manning.
And it's not as though the Eagles are only playing against top-notch guys. Chad Henne, Austin Davis, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Kirk Cousins all posted usable, top-12 numbers against Philadelphia this year. None of those quarterbacks are even starting for their teams anymore.
Though it will feel unbelievably uncomfortable, Mettenberger has sneaky upside this week.
Sit Robert Griffin III - RGIII had the best matchup imaginable last week, at home against the league's worst secondary. Entering the week, seven quarterbacks had posted at least 15.5 fantasy points against the Bucs. Exiting, that number remained the same.
And it's because Robert Griffin III isn't very good. He ended the day with just 12 fantasy points, and now has a -0.16 Passing NEP per drop back average - that's the worst in the league among passers with 100 or more attempts.
Against San Francisco, an above average defense, on the road? No thanks.
Start Isaiah Crowell - Ben Tate is now a Viking (never thought I'd type that phrase this season), which opens the door for a timeshare between Crowell and fellow rookie back Terrance West. While both should get double-digit carries against one of the worst rush defenses in the league this weekend, I like Crowell a little more because he's had 12 and 14 carries over his last two games versus West's 26 and 5. Crowell's also been a little more effective in the passing game, which gives him PPR upside.
Sit Jonas Gray - It may sound idiotic to bench a player who's coming off the best fantasy running back performance of the 2014 season, but there's a method to my madness. As I wrote a little over a month ago, the Patriots generally use their pass-catching back, Shane Vereen, more against teams with better rush defenses - there's a strong connection between his snap count being high and the rush defense the team is facing being very good.
New England faces Detroit this week, a team that ranks first against the run. In turn, I expect Vereen to be the guy who sees work (he only played 20 snaps last week versus Gray's 57, per FantasyData.com), while the Patriots deploy more of a pass-happy approach. Gray's value this week will come on the goal line, but Detroit has allowed just two total running back rushing touchdowns since Week 2, making that a tough thing to bank on.
Start Denard Robinson - Denard Robinson is still out there in some ESPN.com leagues, and even if they're dead ones, he's still only being started in roughly 40% of them. For real.
Robinson has seen significant work in four straight games. In those games, he's averaged over 17 PPR fantasy points per contest, never dipping below the 12.8 points he scored against Miami a few weeks back.
While his opponents haven't been stellar (none rank higher than 15th against the run according to our metrics), Robinson won't be facing any studly defensive front this weekend against Indianapolis. You know, the same team that just watched the aforementioned Jonas Gray run all over them in Week 11. The Colts rank 31st against the run, and Shoelace should be able to do some serious work against them this weekend.
Sit Ryan Mathews - I wrote up Mathews in this week's 15 Transactions article, noting that the Chargers' offense has been pretty awful over their last couple of games. A lot of that has to do with a rush offense that now ranks last in the league in Adjusted Rushing NEP.
Mathews will see the most touches in the backfield, but the team faces an underrated Rams' front that ranks 10th against the run, per our metrics. I'm simply not confident in the Chargers' offense right now.
Start Joique Bell - Bell hasn't had much of a ceiling this year, ranking in the weekly running back top 10 just once. But he's also been a relatively safe option despite an inefficient -0.08 Rushing NEP per rush on the season - he's hit the double-digit PPR mark in six of his nine games this year.
Bell has a nice matchup against New England this week, a team that's given up the ninth-most points to running backs this year, and one that also ranks ninth from the bottom in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP. I'd feel good about him in what could be a relatively high-scoring game.
Boldin now has six targets in every game this season, catching five passes in all but one. His three touchdown receptions makes for a fairly low total, but in PPR leagues, Boldin's hit 10-plus fantasy points in each of his last seven games.
He'll take on a Washington secondary that ranks 30th against the pass according to our metrics, and one that he torched last season for 5 catches, 94 yards and 2 touchdowns. Even if he doesn't score this week, he'll continue to be a safe option, especially in PPR formats.
Sit Andre Johnson - It may not be easy for you to bench a guy like Andre Johnson given the options to replace him, but there's reason to believe he could struggle against Cincinnati this week.
The Bengals secondary has been good this year, currently coming in eighth in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP. This has translated into wide receivers not scoring a whole lot of fantasy points against them - the Bengals have allowed just 6 wide receiver touchdowns in 10 games this year.
The Texans are the run-heaviest team in the NFL, and will take advantage of a Cincinnati rush defense that's had trouble stopping ground attacks all season (30th against the run, per our metrics). I expect a healthy dose of Arian Foster and Alfred Blue, while the Texans limit Ryan Mallett's potential to make mistakes. As a result, Johnson's numbers could suffer.
Start Kenny Stills - Brandin Cooks is out for the year, which could open up some opportunities for Saints' wideout Kenny Stills. He'll face a Ravens secondary that's a little depleted with stud corner Jimmy Smith sidelined, but regardless of matchup, Stills has been decent in fantasy since New Orleans' Week 6 bye.
Many are afraid to use a Saints receiver due to inconsistent volume, but the big-play Stills is averaging 5.4 targets per game over his last five, which is significant enough considering his ability to go vertical. Meanwhile, the Ravens have faced the eighth-most passing plays in the NFL this year, meaning volume may not be a problem for the Saints aerial attack this weekend.
Stills isn't a plug-and-play option, but a nice bye week filler with obvious upside.
Sit Brandon LaFell - While a player like Anquan Boldin is brilliant in fantasy for his consistency, LaFell is anything but due to his up-and-down production. A snapshot of LaFell's fantasy season shows a wide receiver who ranks 26th in PPR scoring, and that's without catching a single pass during Weeks 1 and 2. But when you dig into how he's scored his fantasy points, you start to see how untrustworthy he is.
Since Week 3, LaFell has ranked 61st, 8th, 88th, 5th, 42nd, 4th, 17th and 45th at the wide receiver position in PPR scoring. If you like unnecessary sweats, then you probably love LaFell. But me? I'll take consistency at a highly volatile position any day of the week.
Not only that, but New England faces Detroit this week. The Lions have allowed just one top-10 performance to wide receivers this year in PPR leagues (Kenny Stills in Week 7), while just seven wide receivers have ranked higher than 30th in a given week at wide receiver versus them. That's fewer than one per game.
Start Odell Beckham - I mentioned Beckham last week as a strong play regardless of the matchup, and the main reason I'm throwing him out there again in this one is because he's only starting in 53% of fantasy leagues on ESPN. That needs to change.
Though Dallas ranks fourth in fantasy points against to wide receivers this season, that number isn't as great as it seems. According to our analytics, when you adjust for strength of schedule, the Dallas secondary is 22nd-best in the NFL. And that's a ranking that's consistently dropped as we've moved through the season.
Beckham faced Dallas in Week 7 and was able to catch 4 passes for 34 yards and 2 scores against them. While we shouldn't expect another pair of touchdowns, we should see his yardage total increase - he saw just six targets in that initial meeting. Since that game, Beckham has seen 11, 9 and 13 targets from his quarterback.
Start Coby Fleener - Like most tight ends, Coby Fleener's production looks like a roller coaster. But over his last two games, Fleener has combined to score almost 40 PPR fantasy points, ranking fourth and first at the position in Weeks 9 and 11, respectively.
With Dwayne Allen likely out, Fleener has all the potential in the world against a bad Jacksonville defense. The Jags have allowed five TE1 (top 12) performances this year, and rank 23rd against the position in terms of fantasy points against. Fleener's a great play.
Sit Jermaine Gresham - Plenty of fantasy owners use the previous week's performance as reason to start a player in the upcoming one. That's generally not a great idea, but this is especially true for Jermaine Gresham.
Despite scoring twice last week against the best tight end defense in the NFL, Gresham still ranks just 20th in tight end scoring this year. He's also been wildly inefficient, as only four tight ends in the NFL have a worse Reception NEP per target average. Don't get cute and start him against the Texans, who've proven to stop the tight end position this year.
Start Charles Clay - Clay has 17 receptions on 23 targets over his last three games, and will face a Denver defense this week that's seen the most passing plays against in the league. That logically makes sense, as teams are always playing catch up against them. So Ryan Tannehill should see volume this weekend, and Clay could reap the rewards, especially against a defense that ranks 28th against the tight end position this season.
Start the Indianapolis Colts - In 10 weeks worth of games, the only defense to not rank 9th or better in weekly defensive scoring against Jacksonville has been Cincinnati (Week 9). The Colts get the Jags this weekend. You know what to do.
Sit the Miami Dolphins - The Dolphins defense is really good. Actually, it's the best. According to NEP, they rank first against the pass and 15th against the run. Against Peyton Manning and the Broncos, though, you're better off streaming the position this week.
Other Defenses to Start: San Diego Chargers, Buffalo Bills
Other Defenses to Sit: Arizona Cardinals, Baltimore Ravens