Expect plenty of points in Philly, plus Kirk Cousins as fantasy hero

Saturday December 21st, 2013

McCoy takes his league-leading rushing total against the Bears' last-place run defense Sunday night.
Carlos M. Saavedra/SI

With apologies to those of you who play your championships Week 17, the biggest week of the fantasy season has arrived. Luckily for those of you who have made it this far, the fantasy community isn't dealing with any real lineup uncertainty this week. We know Adrian Peterson will start, we know Ben Tate is out, and we know Aaron Rodgers is not making his triumphant return. You should be able to relax Sunday morning and just wait for the craziness to begin. If something changes, though, we'll be here for you.

We'll be updating the Cheat Sheet all Sunday morning with important news as it breaks, and be sure to check out The MMQB chat with Alex Miglio and Eric Edholm from 10:30 to 12:30.

12:29 a.m. update -- Willis McGahee is active today, but that really shouldn't matter for fantasy owners. He's likely to split carries, and the Jets feature one of the league's best run defenses. They've allowed the fourth-fewest fantasy points to running backs this year and surrender 3.2 yards per carry, the lowest total in the league.

11:57 a.m. update -- We knew Calvin Johnson came into Sunday with a questionable tag, but now it appears he is a true game-time decision and has a real chance to sit out. Needless to say, this would be a huge development in the biggest week of the fantasy season. We'll keep you posted as more information is available.

11:45 a.m. update -- As expected, Adrian Peterson is active and will start. The matchup isn't great, and he is coming off what looked like a devastating injury when it happened, but this is Adrian Peterson. You start him with extreme confidence every single week

11:19 a.m. update -- Given the snow coming down in Green Bay, I'd think long and hard before starting Ben Roethlisberger. That kind of weather can really disrupt a passing game, and Roethlisberger was already just a fringe QB1 this week. I wouldn't avoid him at all costs, but you should likely be able to do better.

11:10 a.m. update -- Maurice Jones-Drew is expected to play for the Jaguars after missing last week's game with a hamstring injury. Assuming he does, you cannot start Jordan Todman. It's hard to imagine him getting enough touches to register in fantasy leagues with MJD active. As for MJD himself, consider him an RB2 thanks primarily to a great matchup. The Titans have allowed the second-most fantasy points to running backs this year.

Sunday night should be a fantasy treat

The Bears are second in the league in scoring, averaging 29 points per game. The Eagles are seventh with an even 26. The teams flip in yards, with the Bears ranking seventh and the Eagles second. Chicago features one of the league's best passing offenses. Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery make up objectively the league's best receiver duo this season, and Jay Cutler, for all the abuse he takes, remains one of the most talented quarterbacks in the NFL. The Eagles have allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to quarterbacks and most to receivers. LeSean McCoy leads the NFL in rushing, and the Bears have been an absolute sieve against the run, allowing a 100-yard rusher in 10 of their 14 games this season, as well as the fourth-most fantasy points to backs. Overall, the Bears have the last ranked defense against the run. In other words, you'll be quite happy on Sunday night if you own anyone on the Bears or Eagles.

There are a few scenarios to pay attention to, however. These teams currently lead their divisions, and depending on the outcomes of a few games earlier in the day, both the Bears and Eagles could have nothing to play for on Sunday night. Let's start with Philadelphia, given that it's more likely that the game is meaningless for them. If Dallas beats Washington on Sunday, the winner of the Dallas-Philly game in Week 17 will win the NFC East, regardless of what the Eagles do against the Bears. It's hard to imagine Chip Kelly sitting any of his regulars outright, but they may see less work than usual.

As for the Bears, this week's game won't mean anything if Green Bay beats Pittsburgh and Detroit loses to the Giants. Should that happen, the Packers-Bears game in Week 17 would decide the NFC North champion. That seems much less likely, as the Lions are 9.5-point favorites against the Giants, but Marc Trestman has said it's possible he'd rest some guys if the game doesn't matter in the standings. If you've got some roster space with which to play, check on Michael Bush's availability.

Kirk Cousins, Championship Hero?

I can't wait for someone to eventually write an oral history of the 2013 Washington Redskins. I'll particularly enjoy the part when Mike and Kyle Shanahan start arguing with each other as the history is being told. I also wonder if Cousins' fantasy playoffs stardom will get any mention.

In a cushy matchup with the Falcons last week, Cousins threw for 381 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions, helping many of those who started him to the fantasy championship game. Now he gets the best matchup a quarterback could hope for, going up against a hapless Dallas defense that has allowed the most fantasy points to quarterbacks this season. Even that doesn't do this defense justice. They've given up, on average, 2.2 percent more points per game than Minnesota, which has allowed the second-most points to quarterbacks. They've made fantasy stars out of also-rans like Matt Flynn, Eli Manning (he's an also-ran this season anyway) and Christian Ponder. Cousins has the weapons around him to keep the Dallas' defense off-balance, as well. They've allowed the most fantasy points to running backs, so it's not like they can just dare Alfred Morris to beat them. Usually I would warn owners about overrating a matchup, but after 15 weeks, I think it's safe to trust nearly any quarterback against Dallas. Start Cousins with confidence.

Colin Kaepernick, Championship Zero?

When we do a post-mortem of the 2013 fantasy football season, Kaepernick will find himself firmly among the league's biggest busts. Many predicted a huge leap forward for the unexpected star of last season, and they looked like they'd be right after he torched the Packers in Week 1. Since that game, however, Kaepernick has been a major disappointment and is now outside the top-12 quarterbacks in terms of fantasy points per game. He could wash that all away on Monday, though, as the fates have conspired to give him a chance to make it up to his owners with a great matchup against the Falcons in championship week. Unfortunately, I just don't see it coming together for him.

Let's start with the obvious. This should be a relatively simple victory for the 49ers on Monday night, the last game they'll play at Candlestick Park. They're favored by 13 points, and even that somehow seems low. In general, low-stress wins are usually bad for quarterbacks for fantasy purposes, as teams will typically salt away the clock with the run.

The 49ers, in particular, will do this, and that might not even be the worst of it for Kaepernick. The Falcons are just as bad against the run as they are against the pass, and the Niners can likely dominate this game on the ground, a strategy they've used since losing two straight games in September. Kaepernick hasn't had more than 31 pass attempts in a game since Week 2, and San Francisco has gone 9-2 in that stretch. I don't expect them to change it up this week. Kaepernick will again leave his fantasy owners flat on Monday.

Forget last week, Shane Vereen is ready for his close up

Let's get this out of the way right off the bat. Vereen probably cost many of his owners their championship dreams last week. He had just 21 total yards, catching his fewest passes of the season in New England's 24-20 loss to Miami. If you survived despite that performance, don't let it influence your decision-making this week. Vereen is a rock-solid starter, despite what may seem like a bad matchup in Baltimore.

The Ravens have allowed the fifth-fewest fantasy points to running backs this year. However, they've really struggled against pass-catching backs in recent weeks. Le'Veon Bell had seven catches for 63 yards against them on Thanksgiving. Two weeks before that, Matt Forte had five grabs for 42 yards and a score. Giovani Bernard reeled in eight passes for 37 yards and a touchdown. All three had more than 15 fantasy points against the Ravens in standard-scoring leagues. While Vereen isn't nearly the threat those guys are on the ground, he is just as dangerous a receiver. Given that the Patriots are down Rob Gronkowski, Vereen could get even more attention than usual from Tom Brady. He's safely a RB2 this week.

Don't expect the usual Adrian Peterson

After missing last week's game with a foot injury, Peterson will return for Sunday's game against the Bengals. While his stats for the full season fall right in line with his career numbers, he has done most of his real damage against bad run defenses. The Vikings have played five games against teams currently ranked in the top 10 in rushing defense. In those games, Peterson has 321 yards and three touchdowns on 81 carries. Cincinnati ranks fifth against the run, allowing just 3.9 yards per carry and five scores this season. Add in that he's coming back from injury and that the Vikings poor pass defense could put the team in a deep hole, and the argument for his subpar day becomes even stronger. He's Adrian Peterson, so you're starting him with confidence, but I project him putting up RB2 numbers.

Two defenses ready and available for streaming

The top-scoring fantasy defense this season, Kansas City, has been outside the top-12 scorers at the position in five weeks. The same cannot be said about any other position. That's just one of many arguments in favor of riding the defense carousel rather than holding onto one defense all year. This week, that carousel has two horses that stand out above the rest.

The Giants have turned the ball over 39 times this year and have given it up at least three times in nine games. That alone makes the Lions one of the best fantasy defenses for championship week. Still, they remain widely unowned across the fantasy community no matter where you host your league. Unless you have a great option already on your roster, consider the Lions for the biggest game of the season.

Out on the West Coast, the Raiders have the fifth-most turnovers and allowed the seventh-most sacks this season. The Chargers have scored the fourth-fewest points among defenses in standard-scoring leagues, but this is a matchup you can exploit.

Injury wrap lightning round

• Larry Fitzgerald (concussion) and Carson Palmer (elbow, ankle) are both questionable, but expected to play. I'd stay away from Palmer in Seattle, but you should feel comfortable starting Fitz as usual.

• Jonathan Stewart is out with a knee injury, making DeAngelo Williams a great play against a Saints defense that surrenders 4.6 yards per carry.

• Ray Rice is questionable with a thigh injury. If he plays, he's an RB2 against the Patriots.

• Daniel Thomas is questionable because of an ankle injury. He's an RB4, so you don't really want to have to turn to him.

• Maurice Jones-Drew is questionable again this week with a hamstring injury. Either he or Jordan Todman would be an RB2 against a Titans defense that has allowed the second-most fantasy points to running backs this year.

• Jordan Cameron is out because of a concussion suffered last week. He has really fallen off over the second half of the season, so hopefully you already have another option on your roster.

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