Fantasy Football Start or Sit: Week 10
Everything is right in the world when Christmas music is playing. When I'm driving in December and rocking out to some Andy Williams and Bing Crosby -- two artists you can surely "rock out" to -- you'll find nothing but a smile on my face.
I'm all about holiday music. I love it.
Except when it's played at the beginning of November.
Can we relax, maybe for just a second? The obvious rule of thumb with Christmas music is that it can't be listened to until after Thanksgiving. Then, it's fair game. But November 1st? November 12th? No. No way. That's like celebrating your February birthday during the previous calendar year.
This same notion holds true in fantasy football. Everyone's so concerned with the fantasy playoffs, analyzing schedules to find good buy low and sell high candidates. And look, I'm guilty of it too -- just check my 15 Transactions column from this week. But we can't lose sight of where we're at now. We can't look too far into the future, because we'll forget about the present. We'll start to forget about, I don't know, Thanksgiving.
Christmas music is great. The fantasy playoffs are important. But let's worry about today, too.
Quarterbacks to Sit
Jay Cutler (at St. Louis): Cutler owners know how consistent and good he's been in fantasy football since coming back from injury. Over his last five games, the fewest fantasy points he's scored is 17.24, while his highest output hit 19.54 points. Pretty incredible for a guy everyone consistently makes fun of.
Smokin' Jay may have a tough time this week. The Rams, according to our schedule-adjusted Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, trail only the Broncos in pass defense. No quarterback against St. Louis -- and they've faced guys like Aaron Rodgers, Carson Palmer and Russell Wilson -- have finished higher than 15th in weekly scoring, which generally is around 15 or 16 fantasy points. In other words, Cutler's typical fringe QB1 numbers don't look likely in Week 10.
Tyrod Taylor (at New York): Taylor's floor has been sensational. He's yet to score fewer than 14.46 fantasy points in a single game, and much of this has to do with the fact that he's rushed for 40 or more yards -- the equivalent of an additional touchdown pass -- in four of six contests this year.
With that being said, it's tough to back him when he's facing the Jets in New York during a Thursday night game where the over/under sits at a fairly low 43 points. New York has the sixth best secondary according to our metrics, and while they've looked mediocre from a fantasy standpoint over the last three weeks, keep in mind that Tom Brady scored a rushing touchdown, helping his numbers, and Blake Bortles still threw two picks. Derek Carr, at home, has been the only passer to really torch them. This really isn't a good spot for Tyrod.
Start These Quarterbacks Instead
Joe Flacco (vs. Jacksonville): On the season, Flacco actually has just two duds. One of them came against Denver, the top secondary in the league according to every imaginable metric or film-based analysis, and the other was against Pittsburgh on a Thursday night game where he lost top receiver Steve Smith halfway through it.
Though Smith will no longer be in the offense thanks to a season-ending injury, the Ravens are coming off a bye, and we should rightfully assume they're prepared for life without Smith. More importantly, they're facing a Jaguars' secondary that ranks in the bottom five per NEP. They've also allowed 15 or more fantasy points to every quarterback faced since Week 1.
Vegas thinks the Ravens are going to score a decent amount of points in this one, and considering implied team totals correlate strongly to fantasy output, it's more reason to give Flacco the nod this week.
Kirk Cousins (vs. New Orleans): On paper, the best streamer of the week has to be Cousins, who's at home, is playing in a game with a high team total, and is facing the league's worst secondary. New Orleans is so bad against the pass that they've surrendered three 30-point performances to them so far this year (OK, truthfully it's two, but Cam Newton scored 29.9 points), with the worst quarterback performance producing 14.34 points. And it was to Brandon Weeden.
Don't think the Saints have only faced studly competition, either -- Marcus Mariota, Sam Bradford and Jameis Winston each posted reasonable weeks against the Saints. Though Cousins usually has a low floor -- he's ranked 24th or worse in weekly scoring five times this year -- that could be mitigated by the amazing matchup he's about to encounter.
Running Backs to Sit
Chris Johnson (at Seattle): It's certainly not easy -- especially during a week full of byes -- to bench a running back who's more or less a lock for 15 to 20 touches. But there's a chance that, in shallower leagues, you can afford to bench Johnson given his opponent.
Seattle has been nasty against running backs this season, at least one the ground. No back has hit the 100-yard mark, while just five have rushed for over 45 yards.
In PPR formats, some backs against Seattle have come out fine given teams have utilized their pass-catching runners against them. Benny Cunningham was a top-15 option in Week 1 given his seven targets, Darren McFadden saw eight targets and was the eighth best back in Week 8, and Giovani Bernard was the 21st-ranked back in Week 5 thanks to eight targets.
Johnson isn't the team's top pass-catcher out of the backfield, seeing one or zero targets in all but two games this year. In other words, he'll need to score fantasy points through rushing and scoring touchdowns, which has been really difficult to do against Seattle, let alone Seattle at home. As a result, he's a sit.
Eddie Lacy (vs. Detroit): On paper, this matchup doesn't look so bad. The Lions have the 29th-ranked overall defense according to our numbers, and while they stop the run better than they do the pass, the Packers are huge 11.5-point favorites, meaning a positive game script is most likely in store for them. That means more running.
So why is Lacy on the sit list? Because you can't trust him. Mike McCarthy already came out and said James Starks is the top running back in that offense, and we have no reason to believe otherwise -- he's been out-snapping Lacy, and he has a Rushing NEP per rush that's 0.03 points higher (which is relatively significant in NEP terms). You can't start Lacy until he shows otherwise.
Jeremy Hill (vs. Houston): Though Hill's situation isn't as bad as Lacy's, it's just as frustrating. Many Hill owners held out hope that the main reason he wasn't producing was matchup-based -- the Bengals faced defenses who stopped the pass worse than the run, which meant more Giovani Bernard on the field. But last week changed all that.
Against the Browns -- the worst rush defense in football -- the Bengals still opted to use Bernard, as he played four more snaps than Hill. It's tough to blame Cincinnati, as annoying as it is. On the year, Bernard has a 0.16 Rushing NEP per rush, which is third best among the 48 running backs with 50 or more rushes. Hill's per rush NEP is -0.10, ranking 38th.
With Hill, you're very clearly hoping and banking on touchdown production. That may be fine in standard leagues, but in PPR formats where backs will naturally score more points, he's not worthwhile.
Start These Running Backs Instead
LeGarrette Blount (at New York): The Giants have played nine games this year, and 10 running backs have scored double-digit PPR fantasy points against them. They've faced a good number of high-end backs, and our numbers do have them as an average rush defense when adjusted for strength of opponent, but one thing that's evident is that they've struggled against between-the-tackles backs. With the Patriots as big favorites, we should definitely expect a good dose of Blount, and that can easily translate to fantasy success given the Giants' weakness.
Charcandrick West (at Denver): Folks may see Denver on the schedule and be afraid to use a back like West, but you beat Denver on the ground, not through the air. Not only are they middle-of-the-road against the run in terms of fantasy points against, but West has seen an incredibly high percent of the team's snaps, completely owning the backfield without Jamaal Charles in the picture. Touches are awfully important to the running back position in fantasy football -- I wouldn't be worried about the matchup.
Theo Riddick (at Green Bay): Riddick's opportunity comes when the Lions are trailing. His three highest target totals on the season were in contests against the Cardinals (13 targets), Broncos (10) and Chiefs (7), and those are the only three games where the Lions lost by more than 10 points. As I said above, Vegas thinks they'll lose by more than that this week as 11.5-point underdogs -- Riddick is a logical play in PPR leagues this week.
Wide Receivers to Sit
Michael Floyd (at Seattle): It's great to see Michael Floyd be fantasy relevant, but let's not pretend his market share in the Cardinals' offense has drastically changed since Week 3 when he looked to be fully healthy. He's seeing more volume overall if you were to simply look at total targets, but the percentage of team targets has generally hovered the 15% to 17% range -- Palmer has just had some games, like against Detroit, where he didn't throw as many passes.
Floyd has just found the end zone -- in each of his last three games, actually. That's the real reason for his change in fantasy points scored, and that's a reason to be nervous about him against Seattle. The Seahawks haven't allowed a single top-20 wide receiver performance in PPR formats this year, while they've surrendered just one single wide receiver touchdown. If you recall, it was on a free play from Aaron Rodgers, when he hit James Jones in the middle of the end zone.
So you have somewhat of a touchdown-dependent asset going up against a team that doesn't allow touchdowns. I'll give Floyd the nah wave this week.
Sammy Watkins (at New York): The Jets actually rank 19th against the pass in fantasy points against, but it's mostly due to number-two receivers beating them up, not top ones. On the year, nine wideouts have ranked in the weekly top 20 in PPR scoring at the wide receiver position against New York. Only Allen Robinson, who finished 18th last week, was a top wide receiver. Robinson not only has shown to be a better fantasy asset than Watkins, but his team throws for more volume. It's going to take a lot for Watkins to have a strong performance this week.
Start These Wide Receivers Instead
Kamar Aiken (vs. Jacksonville): Aiken will be slotting into Steve Smith's role, and as I mentioned with Flacco's blurb, the Jaguars' secondary is pretty porous. Despite facing mostly mediocre quarterbacks throughout the season, 11 wideouts have ranked in the top 30 in weekly PPR wide receiver scoring against the Jags, with every wideout seeing eight or more targets ranking, at worst, 31st. Aiken should see that kind of volume in a game the Ravens are supposed to score a good amount of points, making him a good start.
Stefon Diggs (at Oakland): The Raiders' secondary ranks 30th against the pass according to our metrics, and while that hasn't always translated for fantasy wide receivers, we have seen Oakland surrendered seven top-24, usable PPR performances to team wideouts this season. The only team that didn't end up producing one was Cincinnati, and a lot of that had to do with game script, as Derek Carr was hurt and the Bengals were able to simply pound the rock to victory.
With Diggs, some fantasy owners may be wary, as he had his worst output of the season last week. But that was also against the second best pass defense in football -- he still played more snaps than any other Minnesota wideout, it was just tough to be effective. He should be just fine this weekend.
Davante Adams (vs. Detroit): In the four games Adams completed this year, he's played 96.7%, 78.9%, 96.2% and 97.4% of the Packers' snaps, which are top-20ish league-wide numbers at the position. He hauled in 11 targets last week, and will face a Detroit secondary in this one that not only ranks 31st against the pass, but has had trouble defending the outside. Both Adams and James Jones should be on your radar this week, but I like Adams a little more simply because of volume.
Tight Ends to Sit
Charles Clay (at New York): I may be picking on the Bills' passing game, but last week's low number of pass attempts plus the matchup on Thursday night make them a little scary to trust. I can forgive Clay for his single target, but I'm not about to trot him out against a defense that's allowed just two top-20 tight end performances this year, when both games were buoyed by touchdowns.
Start These Tight Ends Instead
Jordan Reed (vs. New Orleans): Reed has seen six or more targets in every game he's played this season, ranking 6th, 6th, 6th, 21st, 1st and 12th at the tight end position in weekly PPR scoring. The utilization of the tight end is nothing new to this Redskins' offense, as the position combined for the fourth most receptions a season ago despite an inefficient passing attack. This week, Reed gets the aforementioned Saints, a team that's surrendered seven top-10 tight end games this season. It's the perfect storm for Reed.
Richard Rodgers (vs. Detroit): If you want to dig a little deeper, Richard Rodgers isn't a bad option. The Packers are heavy favorites, but they also have a high team total, which means points should -- and probably will -- be scored. While this may look like a little point chasing given his big performance against Carolina, Rodgers has four or more targets every week since Week 1, and Detroit has a porous defense. A touchdown makes any tight end relevant, and with decent volume, Rodgers could do more than just simply be relevant.
Defenses to Sit
Seattle Seahawks (vs. Arizona): Using the Seahawks at home has been the most logical defensive move in fantasy over the last few seasons, but I'm not sold on them this week. And it's because Arizona's offense has been anything but friendly to opposing defenses -- in five of eight games, fantasy defenses have scored two or fewer points against them. The ceiling may be OK for Seattle, but the floor is a little scary.
Other defenses to sit: New England Patriots (at New York), Buffalo Bills (at New York)
Start These Defenses Instead
Baltimore Ravens (vs. Jacksonville): If you stream defenses (which you should be doing), you may find this week to be difficult. And in all honesty, the Ravens -- a team that's completely average defensively according to our schedule-adjusted numbers -- are probably your top choice on the week.
They're hosting the Jaguars, a team that, while improved offensively, has still be friendly to fantasy defenses. Over the last four weeks, every defense facing Jacksonville has ranked in the top 10 in weekly scoring, with two of those teams being the Buccaneers and Texans, squads ranking in the bottom half of the league in overall defense per NEP. Baltimore, as pretty heavy favorites at home coming off a bye, aren't a bad look.
Other defenses to start: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (vs. Dallas), St. Louis Rams (vs. Chicago)