Fantasy Football Start or Sit: Week 13
I'll never forget that Thanksgiving Day.
My family and I were travelling to Lancaster, Pennsylvania - amish country, where my dad grew up - to visit my grandparents. It was a four-hour drive from Pittsburgh (where I was born and raised), and my pops, brother and I were forced to miss our beloved Steelers take on the Lions that day because of the trip.
Now, this was in 1998. There was no such thing as streaming a game on your phone, and cell phones were twice the size of your head and generally attached to your car with a coord. Radio - you know, that thing with a knob in your car - was the only way we could know what was happening in the game.
If you remember, that 1998 contest between Pittsburgh and Detroit was the Jerome Bettis coin flip game. "Tails," I heard Bettis say through the Dodge Caravan speakers.
"He said heads," proclaimed Phil Luckett, the referee. "It's tails. The Lions have won the toss and will receive."
I screamed like a child. Because I was one.
The Lions won the game in overtime before the Steelers could even get the ball. At the time, it was the worst Thanksgiving of my life.
Today, I'm thankful for that experience. I'll always remember my dad trying to explain what happened during that coin toss, unable to find the right words - because every dad needs to at least try and explain the unexplainable to his children. I'll remember my mom caring about the game as much as Jay Cutler cares about his own, and my brother sitting in silence for two straight hours as we approached the town full or horse and buggies.
All because of, to us Pittsburghers (Yinzers), a coin toss.
Here's to new football-related Thanksgiving memories. Let's make them good ones in fantasy football.
Start Alex Smith - Smith's ceiling is generally the same as his floor, if we're being honest. But I do like him this week. The last time he faced the Broncos, he was able to score 14.4 fantasy points without throwing a touchdown pass or scoring on the ground. He had 42 rushing yards and a season-high 42 pass attempts, throwing for 255 yards, another season high.
Smith is bound to see volume against Denver this weekend, as the Broncos have faced the most drop backs in the NFL this season, 31 more than any other team. If he ends up throwing a touchdown pass (or, if he gets a little crazy, maybe two!), Smith should end up as a strong option this week.
Sit Russell Wilson - After ranking 23rd and 22nd among quarterbacks in Weeks 8 and 9, Wilson's bounced back with three straight games of 19 or more fantasy points. During this three-game stretch, he's rushed for 251 yards, or about 84 yards per game.
Whether you think this is sustainable or not, Wilson has a matchup this week that should surely slow him down. The 49ers have the sixth-best defense in the NFL according to our Net Expected Points (NEP) metrics and, for what it's worth, have given up the seventh-fewest rushing yards to opposing signal-callers this year. They've been tough against opposing passers, too, holding six of their last eight quarterback opponents to 13 or fewer points.
You may not be able to bench Wilson given alternatives, but in shallow legues, there should be better options.
Start Ryan Tannehill - Tannehill came through big time last week in a plus matchup versus Denver, scoring over 26 fantasy points en route to a top-three quarterback finish. Since Week 7, Tannehill's ranked 4th, 19th, 3rd, 20th, 8th and 3rd in weekly quarterback scoring, with one of those mediocre finishes coming against Detroit, one of the best defenses in the NFL.
This week he'll face the Jets. Yes, the same Jets team that was destroyed by Buffalo on Monday night, and the same one that's given up multiple touchdown passes in all but one game this year. Yes, please.
Sit Jay Cutler - Jay Cutler doesn't make any sense. After torching one of the better secondaries in the league two weeks ago, he came out in Week 12 and threw 130 yards against one of the league's worst secondaries.
He's essentially alternated a good week with a bad one over his last five games, but I'm not so sure the pattern continues into Week 13. The Bears will face the Lions in Detroit, a team that's surrendered the third-fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks this year. Only one quarterback has hit the 20-point mark against Detroit this year, and that signal-caller was Drew Brees - I'm pretty sure Jay Cutler, who has a worse Passing NEP per drop back than Drew Stanton, isn't Drew Brees. Only three quarterbacks have scored more than 16 points.
All in all, it's tough to trust the inconsistent Cutler. Especially with the season on the line.
Start Andre Ellington - And the worst running back in the NFL this year is...Andre Ellington.
That's not a subjective statement. According to our Rushing NEP metric, Ellington's -28.45 score ranks dead last in the league among all running backs. He's been that bad.
So why be bullish about him in Week 13? His opponent, Atlanta, is the Andre Ellington equivalent at stopping the run. They're bad.
The Falcons have allowed 11 top-20 running back (PPR) performances this season. That's turned into the most fantasy points against at the position, and a 29th ranking in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP. Because Ellington will continue to get the majority of touches in the Cardinals backfield, he becomes a de facto good play this weekend despite being relatively mediocre of late.
Sit Steven Jackson - On the other side of the field from Ellington will be Steven Jackson, who's been rather reliable in fantasy football over the Falcons last four games. I wouldn't come close to starting him this week versus Arizona though, as the Cardinals have yet to allow a runner finish with more than 15.5 fantasy points this year. And only Joique Bell has finished a week against Arizona as a top-12 (RB1) back.
Arizona's been silly-good at stopping the run, and that shouldn't change this week.
Start Denard Robinson - Shoelace has been a stud since taking over the Jaguars' backfield, averaging 15.62 PPR points per game. His worst performance came in a good matchup against Indy last week, but he still scored 9.2 points - his floor is fantastic.
The Jaguars will face the Giants this week, who have allowed a top-24 (usable running back) running back performance in every game since Week 4. This is a friendly reminder that Robinson shouldn't be benched.
Sit Ryan Mathews - I wasn't high on Mathews last week, and he made me look like an idiot. I'm less confident with my views this week, but his matchup in Baltimore really could be rough.
The Ravens have allowed the second-fewest fantasy points to running backs this season and, like Arizona, have given up just one top-12 performance this year. No back has scored more than the 17 points Giovani Bernard posted in Week 1. Our metrics agree, as Baltimore ranks second in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP. Bench Mathews.
Start Tre Mason - Mason's seen enough volume over the last three weeks to raise some eyebrows, he just hasn't been able to find the end zone. Fortunately, the Rams take on a Raiders team this week that's allowed 11 total running back touchdowns, good (bad?) for one per game. Oakland does rank 11th against the run according to our numbers, so beware that the matchup isn't as good as it may initially suggest. If Mason finds the end zone, however, he has a great opportunity to be a top-15 back in Week 13.
Start Jarvis Landry - Jarvis Landry deserves more love. He now has 26 targets over his last three games, and has ranked no worse than 30th in wide receiver PPR scoring over his last four. That's thanks to 24 receptions - 6 per game - during this time.
As I mentioned with Tannehill, the Dolphins will face the Jets this weekend, who have been awful against passing attacks this year. Landry, who's become Tannehill's favorite target, should come through.
Sit Michael Crabtree - If you're still relying on Michael Crabtree and play in a standard-sized league, I'm not sure what you're doing. He's finished in the weekly top 10 at wide receiver just twice this season, and has more games with fewer than 10 points than more than 10. The 49ers get Seattle this weekend, who have slowly improved against the pass, allowing just two top-20 PPR wide receiver performances since Week 6. And they came in the same game, versus the Giants. If you have another option, go with it.
Start John Brown - John Brown is becoming the only player you can trust in the Arizona offense week in and week out. He's averaging 7.6 targets per game over his last five, and has scored 9 or more PPR points in four of those contests. He'll get the Falcons secondary this weekend, a unit that's surrendered a 20-point PPR game to a wide receiver in each of their last four games. That player this week could be Brown.
Sit Vincent Jackson - It's amazing that Vincent Jackson had a "good game" last week considering all he did was catch 5 balls for 117 yards, good for the 28th-best wide receiver score in the NFL. He's finished higher than 24th at the position in a given week just once this year, and will face a Bengals secondary that's been solid all year against the pass. Things aren't aligning for a good game.
Start Malcom Floyd - Floyd is having one of the more underrated seasons in fantasy football, and has actually been more consistent than many realize. He has five or more targets in every game since Week 6, resulting in an average of four receptions per contest. Not a terrible floor in PPR leagues.
The Ravens' defense has been torched through the air recently thanks to the season-ending injury to Jimmy Smith, and now rank 19th against the pass according to our metrics, down 10 spots from when the injury occurred. Floyd should be able to take advantage of this beat up secondary this weekend.
Start Charles Clay - Clay was unable to go last week in a great matchup, but if he plays this weekend, you could argue that he's in an even better spot. The Jets have allowed at least one tight end touchdown in all but four games this year. They've also given up 12 tight end touchdowns over their last nine games.
Clay's been targeted 23 times in his last three games, catching 17, meaning he could exploit this matchup given his usage. If he doesn't go again, Dion Sims becomes a legitimate option.
Sit Heath Miller - Miller's scored the 12th-most fantasy points at tight end this year, but don't let that ranking fool you - he has three games with double-digit fantasy scores (two with 24 points), and six with six points or fewer. His total, in other words, is being anchored by some monster contests.
The Steelers will take on the Saints this weekend. While New Orleans can't stop the pass, they've been the best team at stopping tight ends - they've allowed just three double-digit PPR games to tight ends this year. Miller shouldn't be started.
Start Travis Kelce - Kelce's inconsistent usage makes him a tough player to trust each week. Add in Alex Smith's tendency to not take risks, and you get an athletic tight end without much of a ceiling.
The matchup this week against Denver is a good one though. As I said with Smith, the Broncos face the most passing plays in the NFL, meaning volume will be there in the Chiefs passing attack. That's what's been missing for Kelce, who's performing like a top-10 tight end in the league on a per target basis according to NEP. The last time he faced Denver - the Broncos rank 28th in fantasy points against to tight ends - Kelce saw 6 targets for 81 yards. That was in Week 2. With more experience, I expect him to be a huge part of the Chiefs offense on Sunday night.
Start the New York Giants - I say this every week, but you need to target the Jaguars offense when you're streaming defenses. Though the Giants have been awful as a fantasy defense this season, only Cincinnati has failed to finish in the top 10 in weekly defensive scoring against Jacksonville this year. Tennessee, Cleveland, Washington, San Diego, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis - there have been bad to mediocre defenses who have done work against the Jags in 2014. The Giants should have no trouble against them this weekend.
Sit the Denver Broncos - The obvious sit in the Chiefs-Broncos game would be the Chiefs, but that's too easy. The Broncos, too, don't seem like a strong play given Kansas City's conservative tendencies. Aside from their Week 1 performance against Tennessee, the Chiefs have allowed team defenses to rank better than 10th just once this year. That doesn't bode well for Denver, who will be on the road.
Other Defenses to Start: Miami Dolphins, St. Louis Rams
Other Defenses to Sit: New England Patriots, San Diego Chargers