Fantasy Football Start or Sit: Week 16
I love Jay Cutler.
I love his haters, who call for his head when he throws an interception that 90% of the league's quarterbacks would throw. And I love that his genetics -- his facial features -- make people want to punch their television.
But most of all, I love that he's the perfect example of why fantasy football is first and foremost a numbers game. While the Bears are benching Jay Cutler for his terrible on-field performances this season, fantasy owners were prepared to ride him -- even in a bad matchup against Detroit -- because he's scored more fantasy points in 2014 than all but eight quarterbacks.
Now, thanks to a decision that doesn't make a whole lot of sense, championship owners may be looking for another quarterback option. Were they safe with Cutler to begin with this weekend? No, not at all. But sometimes the choices out there are rough, especially later in the season.
Let's hope these passing options can help replace Cutler's DGAF void.
Start Alex Smith - Over the second half of 2014, the Steelers' secondary has been dreadful. Every quarterback they've faced since Week 7 has finished as a top-10 weekly option, including Ryan Fitzpatrick, Joe Flacco, Andy Dalton, Michael Vick and Zach Mettenberger. Smith has hit 16 fantasy points in three of his last four, and really should have no trouble hitting that mark against the Steelers -- all of the quarterbacks listed did. Pittsburgh ranks 25th versus the pass according to our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, and the ranking has dipped roughly nine spots over the season's second half. This all makes Smith a strong play in Week 16.
Sit Philip Rivers - With Keenan Allen out, Rivers would be a tough start regardless of his recent production and his Week 16 opponent. But his recent play hasn't been great, scoring fewer than 20 fantasy points combined over his last two outings, while the 49ers defense usually holds quarterbacks to modest point totals. All of this combined makes Rivers a bench-worthy player this week.
Start Mark Sanchez - Sanchez didn't do much for you last week in a plus matchup, but you can't ignore his opponent in Week 16. Washington has the worst secondary in the league, and has allowed a touchdown pass in every game this season. Every passer -- including Chad Henne -- has posted at least 11 fantasy points, while six quarterbacks have walked away with a top-five weekly score when facing the Redskins. I'd feel great playing Sanchez in the championship this week.
Sit Eli Manning - After a strong Week 15 against the aforementioned terrible Redskins' defense, Eli's got a touch matchup against a Rams' unit that's been playing just as well as any other of late. In fact, since surrendering 37 fantasy points to Russell Wilson in Week 7, no quarterback has ranked higher than 11th in weekly scoring versus St. Louis, while six of the team's eight starting quarterback opponents finished 22nd or worse. No thank you.
Thomas has been back for four games since suffering an injury earlier in the season, and during these four contests, he's seen a grand total of 15 carries. That's not where he gets his fantasy value though. Thomas has also totaled 23 targets, which is the same number Marques Colston has seen over this same timeframe.
Saints running backs have 22 more receptions than any other backfield in the league, and Atlanta's allowed the fourth-most receptions to running backs this season. It's a perfect storm for Pierre Thomas to catch 5 or 6 passes, which is great for running back-needy teams in PPR leagues.
Sit LeGarrette Blount - Blount owners were Belichick'd last week, but a rushing touchdown saved his day. And I'm not optimistic that he has a strong performance in Week 16 against the Jets and their 14th-ranked rush defense.
The last time these two teams faced, it was a Shane Vereen game, because the Patriots tend to utilize him a little more against good rush defenses. I'd mostly expect the same this week. But aside from that, the Patriots eased in a little more Jonas Gray last week, making the backfield a complete disaster to predict. I'm just staying away.
Start Fred Jackson - The Raiders have allowed the second-most fantasy points to running backs this season, including 11 top-10 weekly PPR performances -- that's a top-10 running back outing in 78.6% of their games. Enter FJax, who saw 20 of the Bills' 30 carries in last week's win over Green Bay, including 6 targets in the passing game. He's got a great floor in PPR leagues, and could easily join the club of top-10 backs against Oakland this year.
Sit Chris Ivory - The last time the Jets faced New England, Chris Ivory scored 22.5 PPR fantasy points, which was his best outing of the season. It may seem illogical to bench him this week, but the Patriots aren't the same cakewalk matchup they were back in Week 7.
Since the team's Week 10 bye, the Pats have allowed just one top-20 running back performance, which came against Eddie Lacy. Over this span, he's the only back to hit double-digit PPR points.
With the Jets backfield already split and generally ineffective, I wouldn't trust Ivory in a fantasy championship.
Start Tre Mason - Mason followed up his monster 37.4-point game in Week 13 with back to back duds, albeit against decent competition. He's a strong play again this week versus the Giants though, as New York ranks 28th against the run according to our metrics. He'll get the bulk of the Rams' carries, and if he finds the end zone, he'll be in great shape.
Start Dwayne Bowe - If you're in a pinch, starting the best receiver in arguably the worst wide receiving group in the NFL could save you. The facts are facts: Dwayne Bowe's best performance this year yielded a WR21 result in PPR leagues (funny enough, it was the best wide receiver game Buffalo's allowed since Week 6), and he's scored double-digit fantasy points (PPR) just five times all season long. And, of course, he hasn't scored a touchdown.
But if there's going to be a week -- if a Chiefs wide receiver is going to score a touchdown -- my money would be on this weekend's contest against Pittsburgh. As noted with Alex Smith above, the Steelers have been awful against the pass of late, and allowed three top-10 wide receiver PPR performances in Week 15 alone (to a team that was missing Julio Jones!). Including all three Falcon receivers, the Steelers have allowed five top-10 games to wide receivers over their last three contests.
I wouldn't trust Bowe over proven wide receivers -- not at all. But given this matchup, it wouldn't surprise me at all if he has a nice game. And don't sleep on Chiefs wide receiver Albert Wilson, either, who's seen just 13 fewer snaps than Bowe over the last two weeks, out-targeting him.
Sit Larry Fitzgerald - Larry Fitzgerald is still being started in 23.4% of ESPN.com leagues, and that needs to change. Ryan Lindley is his starting quarterback, Fitz hasn't scored a touchdown since Week 8 and the Cardinals will now face the Seahawks secondary, a unit that's allowed the fewest fantasy points to wide receivers this season. Get Fitz out of your lineup now.
Start Harry Douglas - If Julio Jones doesn't go against New Orleans, Harry Douglas becomes a strong play again in fantasy football. In last week's plus matchup versus Pittsburgh, Douglas saw a team-high 14 targets, catching 10 for 131 yards. The Saints secondary actually ranks worse against the pass than the Steelers' unit does, so if Douglas is the team's number-two wideout again, he should produce.
Sit Sammy Watkins - Buffalo's matchup against Oakland isn't a bad one, but the Raiders secondary, thanks to game script, have faced the second-fewest pass attempts in the league this year. As a result, they've allowed the fourth-fewest points to wide receivers in fantasy.
Watkins continues to struggle from a catch rate perspective -- he's seeing enough volume to produce, but has caught just 59 of his 116 targets this year. The inconsistency is tough to trust, and we should probably expect the ground attack to take over in this game for Buffalo.
Start Vincent Jackson - Vincent Jackson has 27 targets over the Buccaneers last two games. 27! He's caught 16 of them -- he's always had a horrible catch rate -- resulting in a WR8 and a WR24 finish.
The Buccaneers get the Packers at home this week in what will almost certainly be a game where the Bucs are playing catch-up ball. The fear here is that Tampa Bay rarely gets the ball, especially with Gerald McCoy out, which wouldn't be good for Jackson's volume. But I think you could do a lot worse this week.
Start Dwayne Allen - To many, Dwayne Allen is considered a boom-or-bust tight end in fantasy -- that's generally the tag associated to players who seem to be touchdown dependent.
But really, Allen's been anything but. When he's been healthy this season, he's finished in the weekly top eight of tight end scoring in 60% of his contests, with only one really bad performance in PPR leagues this year. This week he'll face a Dallas defense that's struggled against tight ends all season long, and I'd expect him to come through.
Sit Charles Clay - Clay saw a solid seven targets last week against New England, but it was a game where Miami tried to keep pace offensively in the second half. His volume has been there recently, and really, it's tough to find tight ends who see a decent amount of targets. But I'm not in love with him in Week 16.
The Dolphins face the Vikings, and Minnesota's been borderline beastly against the position this season. Only Greg Olsen, Josh Hill and Jimmy Graham hit the double-digit mark in PPR leagues, while no tight end has ranked higher than ninth in weekly scoring against the Vikings. I'd look elsewhere.
Start Scott Chandler - The Raiders have allowed a tight end touchdown in four of their last six games, while Scott Chandler continues to see inconsistent volume in the Bills' passing game. If you're desperate though, I couldn't blame you for throwing in runs-like-a-dad Chandler, who seems to be alternating good and bad weeks (His good week is up next. That's analysis.). Chandler has five games with six or more targets this year, and saw 11 against Denver two weeks ago. You're banking on volatility, which clearly makes him a tough player to trust, but the tight end position is just tough in general.
Start the Jacksonville Jaguars - Two words: Charlie Whitehurst. Tennessee's allowed a top-10 defensive performance in five of their last six games, and Clipboard Jesus will be under center for them on Thursday night. It's also in Jacksonville and they're favorites. You could do a lot worse if you're streaming defenses.
Sit the Houston Texans - In a way, a team's starting quarterback can dictate how a defense performs. Sustaining drives keeps the defensive unit off the field and fresh for when they're called upon.
The Houston Texans' starting quarterback this weekend is either Case Keenum or Thad Lewis. If we were to run simulations, I would guarantee they'd be filled with three-and-outs. Baltimore too, though, hasn't been a great offense to target when looking for a fantasy defense. Over their last five games, no unit has ranked higher than 23rd in weekly defensive scoring versus the Ravens. Don't get cute in Week 16.
Other Defenses to Start: Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo Bills
Other Defenses to Sit: New York Jets, Denver Broncos