Fantasy Playoff Prep: Three potential X-factors in two-quarterback leagues
Three quarterbacks who only show up as faint dots on the fantasy radar came through with big games in Week 12. Two of those also had great real-life games, while the third did almost all of his damage in garbage time. That, of course, means nothing in this realm. The fantasy community doesn’t discriminate against points by timing or game situation. Thanks to favorable schedules, there’s a very good chance we haven’t heard the last from these quarterbacks in the fantasy world.
Owners in two-quarterback leagues should not dismiss what Alex Smith, Matt Hasselbeck and Ryan Tannehill did in Week 12. All of them could turn in monster three-game runs in the playoffs that help make the difference in two-QB or superflex formats.
Let’s start with Smith, who had the best real-life game in Week 12 and is putting together a fascinating season. He threw for 255 yards, 8.5 yards per attempt and two touchdowns, and also picked up 35 yards on the ground in the Chiefs’ win over the Bills. Smith entered Week 12 sitting at 18th in fantasy points in standard-scoring leagues among quarterbacks, and he did himself some favors with a 21.7-point day. He now has 2,681 yards, 7.57 YPA, 12 touchdowns, three interceptions, 303 rushing yards and one rushing touchdown on the season.
Those numbers don’t exactly jump off the page, but one stat does stand out. Smith’s three interceptions have him tied with Aaron Rodgers for fewest in the league among starting quarterbacks. Smith hasn’t thrown a pick since Week 3, a stretch that covers 283 pass attempts, the fourth-longest streak in NFL history. Smith doesn’t hurt the Chiefs or his fantasy owners with negative plays. That cannot be overlooked, especially in two-QB leagues where your second signal-caller is typically doing his job if he can give you 16 points. All Smith needs to do that is 200 yards and two touchdowns, or 175 passing yards, 40 rushing yards and one touchdown, or 100 passing yards, 30 rushing yards, one passing touchdown and one rushing touchdown, or—well, you get the point. It doesn’t take much for Smith to get to that 16-point mark when he isn’t giving any points away by committing turnovers.
Smith isn’t going to have a significant degree of difficulty the rest of the way, either. All of the real-life playoff focus on the Chiefs has been centered on the AFC wild-card race, but they have a realistic chance to win the AFC West. Over the next five weeks, they’ll travel to Oakland, host San Diego, visit Baltimore, and then wrap up with Cleveland and Oakland at home. That means they’ll face the Chargers, Ravens and Browns in the fantasy playoffs. Those three defenses rank 28th, 27th and 29th, respectively, in pass DVOA. Heading into Week 12, the Ravens had allowed the second-most points to quarterbacks, while the Browns were right behind them with the third-most. The Chargers sat in 19th, but that’s largely because they were lucky to surrender just 16 touchdowns through the air. They’re 31st in YPA allowed, ahead of only the pathetic Saints. Thanks to performance and schedule, Smith needs to be taken seriously during the fantasy playoffs.
Three quarterbacks have helped lead their teams to spotless records as starters this year. Two, obviously, are Tom Brady and Cam Newton. The third is Matt Hasselbeck, who has been at the helm of four wins and zero losses for the Colts. The most recent was a 25–12 win over the Buccaneers in Week 12 that kept the Colts tied with the Texans for first place in the AFC South. In his four starts—wins over the Jaguars, Titans and Falcons, in addition to the Buccaneers—Hasselbeck has thrown for 1,023 yards, seven touchdowns and two interceptions, translating to an average of 16.31 points in standard-scoring leagues. He’s at the same threshold that Smith has hit consistently this season, and there’s plenty of reason to believe he will stay there as long as he’s starting for the Colts.
Andrew Luck’s potential return from kidney and abdominal injuries complicates matters for Hasselbeck owners, but it appears the usual starter is at least a few weeks away from returning. That should keep Hasselbeck in the lineup at least through the first week of the playoffs, in which the Colts take on Jacksonville. The Jaguars have been awfully tough on running backs this year, but they entered Week 12 30th in pass defense DVOA and having surrendered the fifth-most fantasy points to quarterbacks. That, of course, was before Philip Rivers torched them for 300 yards and four touchdowns on Sunday. There’s little question Hasselbeck will rate as a strong QB2 in Week 14.
If Hasselbeck remains the team’s starter through the fantasy playoffs, he’ll face one good defense and another poor one, with the latter coming in Week 16. The Colts meet the Texans in Week 15 in what is shaping up to be a critical game, one that could very well decide the division champion. Houston’s defense has turned it on over the last month or so, spurred by J.J. Watt and his league-leading 13.5 sacks. Hasselbeck might fall out of the starting class that week, but he should be right back there in Week 16 when the Colts visit the Dolphins and a defense that is 25th in pass DVOA. Before getting torched for 277 yards and four touchdowns by Ryan Fitzpatrick on Sunday, Miami had allowed the 13th-most points to quarterbacks. Some quick math shows that the Dolphins will climb to 10th after Fitzpatrick’s big game. Hasselbeck, who has, in part, saved the Colts’ season, could do the same for his fantasy owners during the playoffs.
The quarterback on the other side of that Week 16 game in Miami could be right there with Smith and Hasselbeck in helping carry owners in two-QB leagues to fantasy championships. There’s no doubting that Ryan Tannehill has taken a massive step backwards this season. Tannehill enjoyed a mini-breakout last year that seemed to portend of greater things to come in 2015. Instead, he has been the most disappointing player on arguably the most disappointing team in the league this season. This is indisputable.
Through 30 minutes on Sunday, Tannehill appeared to be putting together another stinker. In the first half of the Dolphins’ loss to the Jets, Tannehill had 83 yards and a touchdown, good for 1.32 fantasy points. He was just as bad from a real-life standpoint, and that helped the Jets get out to a 21–0 lead early in the third quarter. At that point, Tannehill’s fantasy owners had their opponents right where they wanted them. Tannehill ended up throwing for 268 yards and three touchdowns in the second half, 173 and two of which came in the fourth quarter. It’s not the first time Tannehill has starred in garbage time this season. He might not need to resort to such dastardly tactics during the fantasy playoffs.
We already know the Dolphins get the Colts in Week 16. The Indy defense is just league average, at best, against the pass, rating 17th in DVOA and allowing the ninth-most fantasy points to quarterbacks through Week 11. Before Tannehill—and for that matter, his fantasy owners—gets there, the Dolphins will take on the Giants and Chargers. As you’ll remember from the discussion on Alex Smith, the Chargers have one of the worst pass defenses in the league. The Giants are 21st in pass defense DVOA and 25th in YPA allowed (7.7). At the start of Week 12, they had surrendered the fourth-most points to quarterbacks this season. They, too, are another defense against which Tannehill should have success. His fantasy owners will be hoping they won’t have to suffer until garbage time to get there.