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  • Should Colin Kaepernick and Kirk Cousins be trusted to lead you into the fantasy playoffs and beyond? Which Saints wide receiver will have a big day against Detroit?
By Michael Beller & Pat Fitzmaurice
December 02, 2016

Michael Beller: After our one-week Thanksgiving hiatus, the roundtable is back. Fitz, how was your Thanksgiving? Mine was unfortunately compromised thanks to a bout with pneumonia that I finally got over earlier this week. Luckily I still had an appetite, but that was about all I had. Anyway, I’m happy that’s in the rearview mirror.

You know what else is nearly in that same mirror? The fantasy regular season. Yes, I know there are some of you out there who play 14-week seasons, but most fantasy leagues will turn the page to the playoffs after Week 13. This is always a fun week, with regular season championships and playoff berths on the line. That’s where I want to start, Fitz. How do your leagues treat the regular season champion? In my opinion, winning the regular season is more impressive than winning the playoffs. I know that raises the hackles of the Herm Edwards “you play to win the game” crowd, but this is just one of those ways that the fantasy game can’t match up to real life. I don’t think it’s controversial to say it’s harder to be the best team over 13 weeks than in three weeks that happen to fall at the end of the season. That’s why my leagues award the regular season winner with the same, or a greater, prize as the playoff winner.

Are you in any leagues where the final playoff spots are awarded based on total points and not by best record? With my stumping for the importance of the regular season, you might assume that I’d be a fan of that, as well, but I don’t feel quite as strongly about total points over record when we get this far down the line. Your typical fantasy league has a few teams at the top of the total points standings that have separated themselves from the pack. It’s possible, but exceedingly rare, that one of those teams has a record so bad as to keep it out of the playoffs. Sure, they could suffer bad luck and go 6–7, but a 6–7 record with the second- or third-most points in a league is usually good enough to get in the traditional way. Once you get beyond the teams that have truly separated themselves in points, there’s not much practical difference. Is a team that went 5–8 and had the sixth-most points in a league better than a team that went 6–7 with the seventh-most points? I’m not so sure. What I know is that having the sixth-most points doesn’t make the playoffs your birthright. I can get on board with total points deciding the final playoff spots in a league, but I’m not a zealot.

I’ll leave it there for now, giving you the first whack at the Week 13 slate. It’s good to be back, Fitz.

Pat Fitzmaurice: Good to have you back, Beller! As mentioned on Twitter earlier this week, I was concerned that you were Patient Zero in the coming zombie apocalypse. Good to know you won’t be shambling around the north side of Chicago, groaning incessantly and searching for human flesh.

One of my conventional redraft leagues awards a wild-card spot to the highest point scorer who didn’t otherwise qualify for the playoffs. The not-so-conventional Scott Fish Bowl League, a 480-team battle royale skillfully organized by Scott Fish of Dynasty League Football, awards half of its wild-card spots based on record, half based on total points. (I’m grateful for the total-points stipulation, since it allowed me to qualify despite a 5–7 record.) My other four redraft leagues go strictly by record.

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Like you, I’m fine with awarding a playoff spot based on total points, but I’m also fine with not awarding a playoff spot based on total points. In the 16-team league that I run, I’m 5–7 and will miss the playoffs despite being fourth in total points. I lead the league in points against by an enormous margin. But, hey, that’s head-to-head fantasy football. Sometimes a team has the second-highest score in a given week and just happens to run up against the team with the highest score. Unlucky? Of course. Some owners seethe over such injustice and advocate the play-all format, where your point total is compared to every other team each week, so you’re playing 11 games each week instead of just one. But what happens if your starting quarterback gets knocked out in his first series? There’s a good chance you’ll go 0–11 or 1–10.

Face it: It’s impossible to legislate bad luck out of fantasy football. Injuries make that impossible. We can no more shed the influence of bad luck in fantasy football than we can shed the influence of bad luck in everyday life. Running backs pull hamstrings. Cars get flat tires. Teams sometimes lose with high point totals. Bad stuff happens. Que sera, sera. I have a theory that in any 12-team fantasy league, three of the owners are destined to be screwed by bad luck to such a great degree that they’ll be unable to manage their way out of it. Not just some degree of bad luck, mind you; I’m talking about 25% of fantasy teams running into god-awful luck. They get railroaded by injuries, their opponents consistently put up huge point totals, or they have a terrible record in games decided by three or fewer points. It eventually happens to everyone who plays this game. But the lumps you take in fantasy football are what make the championships so sweet. (Well, along with all the cash.) So if you want to award a playoff spot based on points, cool. But if your league doesn’t work that way and you miss the playoffs with the highest point total among non-qualifiers ... tough luck, bub.

As for regular-season champions, I think they should get something. A cash bonus is a nice reward, though I don’t agree that it should be worth as much as a playoff championship. And if there’s no cash involved, regular-season champs should get a first-round bye at the very least.

Beller, can we talk about Colin Kaepernick for a minute? As of last week, Kap was owned in only 23% of Yahoo! leagues despite finishing in the top eight in QB fantasy scoring for three consecutive weeks. In Week 12, Kaepernick put up huge numbers against the Dolphins and led all QBs in fantasy scoring, and his rate of ownership shot all the way up to ... 44%. What’s going on here? It’s rare that politics and social issues intrude upon our little fantasy world, but is that what’s happening? Do you think Kap’s low ownership rate is more attributable to his kneeling during the national anthem and his attempt to become a social justice warrior, or is it more a case of fantasy owners believing that while Kaepernick has been fantasy-good in recent weeks, he’s still the same guy who lost a QB competition to Blaine Gabbert and still isn’t a very good NFL quarterback, and thus he can’t be trusted to keep racking up big points? And for that matter, Beller, can we trust Kaepernick to keep racking up big points? My toughest lineup decision in any league this week is between Kaepernick and Andrew Luck. Boy, that is NOT the sort of dilemma I anticipated having this season.

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​Beller: Well said, Fitz. And your point drives home the crucial element of fantasy football. We play this game for fun. In a perfect world, the best, most deserving teams will be in the playoffs, but it’s not always going to work that way in traditional head-to-head fantasy football, unquestionably this great game’s best format. Total points or all-play might be fairer, but neither is more fun, and that’s ultimately what we’re after when we play fantasy football.

I’ll get to Kaepernick in a second, but I don’t want to leave behind this notion of fun just yet. Are you in any leagues with playoff wrinkles that make the postseason a more enjoyable experience? I’ve been pushing for a rule change in my home league for years, and we finally instituted it this season. We allow the top seed playing in every playoff round to choose his opponent. Six teams make the playoffs in the Skokie Fantasy Football League, the league my friends and I started back in 1998, with the top two seeds getting byes. In Week 14, the first round of the playoffs, the No. 3 seed gets to choose his opponent from the Nos. 4, 5 and 6 seeds. The remaining two teams play each other. The process repeats the following week, with the top overall seed picking his opponent. The one caveat there is that he cannot choose the No. 2 seed, who also earned a bye and the right to avoid the No. 1 team until the Skokie Bowl.

O.K., back to Kaepernick. I’m not sure his season-long protest is driving down his ownership rate to a statistically significant degree. I’m sure there are plenty of fantasy owners out there who won’t pick him up no matter the circumstances—one of my cousins texted me earlier this week looking for a streamer at quarterback with the addendum of “anyone but Kaepernick”—but I don’t think it’s widespread enough that it’s affecting his ownership in any significant fashion. If he were standing for the national anthem all season, I don’t think his ownership rate would be at 60% or 70%. I think it reflects a few different things. First, by the time Kaepernick became fantasy-relevant this season, many owners already had their QB or QBs, and they feel no reason to move on from them. Second, as you said, this is still the guy who lost a training camp battle to Blaine Gabbert after a couple of distressing seasons. There’s still reason to not believe, despite how productive he has been from a fantasy perspective. As I pointed out in this week’s Start ’Em, Sit ’Em, I think Kaepernick will have a good game this week, but I’m not nearly as high on him as everyone else seems to be. The over/under on 49ers-Bears is 43.5 points, and the Bears are slight favorites. The forecast for Chicago on Sunday calls for snow, wind and a high of 37 degrees. I’d be playing Luck over him with confidence.

What’s our prediction for Brandin Cooks after last week’s no-show? I’m still alive in that fantasy knockout league I talked about a few weeks ago (start with 18 people, everyone picks one QB, RB and WR every week, low score is eliminated, everyone else moves on, can’t use the same player twice), and I think I’m going with Cooks this week. Michael Thomas might be the best receiver in New Orleans, but Cooks isn’t a slouch, and you can bet Drew Brees will be ready to grease the squeaky wheel. I think he goes over 100 yards and finds the end zone at least once, while racking up double-digit targets. Is there a bad investment in Lions-Saints? Anyone you think who will come up short of expectations? Do we finally see a pulse from Marvin Jones again?

Some other games that have me intrigued this week: Can Kirk Cousins keep it rolling in Arizona without Jordan Reed? Can the Buccaneers go into San Diego and knock off the Chargers to stay in the thick of the NFC playoff race? Can Ben Roethlisberger keep rolling at home with the Giants’ strong pass defense coming to town? My quick answers to those are “yes,” “no,” and “definitely,” but I’m wondering what you think. I’ll flesh out those answers in my final volley, but for now I check to the raiser.

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Fitz: None of my leagues have playoff wrinkles like yours, but I love that idea, especially for leagues with a group of tightly knit owners. I can only imagine some of the trash talk that the pick-your-opponent stipulation has generated in your league. If you chose to play the higher seeded of two potential opponents and then lost to that team, that owner would rub your nose in it for the rest of your days. It’s a terrific rule, but it’s probably best reserved for groups of close friends. Used in a league made up of relative strangers, it’s destined to lead to hard feelings and ownership turnover.

Brandon Cooks owners had to be floored by his zero-catch, zero-target performance last week. After all, Cooks has been Mr. Home Cookin’ during his brief career, with his home splits far superior to his road splits. He has another home game this weekend and faces a shaky Detroit pass defense. As you noted, Cooks might get the grease gun from Drew Brees after complaining about his lack of usage. I ranked Cooks WR11 for this week, and I’m on board with your plan to use him in your one-and-done league.

You brought up Cousins, and I don’t think I’ve been more conflicted over any player this season. I came into the season thinking he wasn’t a very good NFL quarterback. The evidence suggests that he is, in fact, a good NFL quarterback. And yet every week when I’m doing QB rankings, I’m reluctant to give Cousins his props. There might be some University of Wisconsin bias at work here, since there were some misguided Michigan State fans who insisted a few years ago that Cousins was a better college quarterback than the Badgers' Russell Wilson. (He wasn’t.) Admittedly, Cousins has been playing well this season, but I suspect that a great deal of his success is attributable to Jay Gruden, and that if an aggrieved Cousins leaves D.C. in the off-season after not getting the long-term deal he was seeking a year ago, he’ll struggle in a different environment. I’ll tip my hat to Michael Salfino of the Wall Street Journal, who’s been honking Cousins’s horn all season on the excellent “Breakfast Table Podcast” with Yahoo!’s Scott Pianowski. Perhaps Cousins is really as good as Salfino believes. I’m just not there yet, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he struggled in Arizona this weekend.

Yes, I think the Steelers are going to beat the Giants this week, but not in a blowout. A lot of people think the Giants are overrated, but their defense is legit. I suspect that Le’Veon Bell will do more damage against the G-men than Roethlisberger will, even though Big Ben usually shines at home.

Bucs-Chargers is a fascinating game. Jameis Winston is another quarterback I can’t quite figure out how to assess. It will be interesting to see how he fares against the Chargers, whose defense has soldiered on admirably after the loss of ace cornerback Jason Verrett. Here’s a guy I like in that game: Dontrelle Inman. Tyrell Williams and Travis Benjamin are both ailing, and Antonio Gates runs like he has a grand piano on his back. I’ll bet Inman checks in with 10 or more targets, 80-plus yards and a TD this week.

O.K., Beller, tell me more about your belief that Cousins will take care of business against the Cardinals. And I tipped my hand on Dontrelle Inman as a DFS play I’m looking at this week, so what about you? Any attractively priced DFS plays you’re looking at?

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Beller: Here’s the abridged version of what I said on Cousins in this week’s start/sit column. The attempts are there every week. The yards are there every week. The efficiency, measured in YPA, is there mostly every week. When you have that sort of foundation, it’s awfully hard to fail. Sure, Cousins might not hit exactly what his owners expect every week, but no quarterback does. Cousins is in a group of quarterbacks that has delivered far more often than it hasn’t this year. That sort of reliability is what makes a trustworthy QB1. Cousins doesn’t quite have the weekly ceiling of Drew Brees or Tom Brady, and that has him shy of the gold standard group of quarterbacks, but I know I never have to worry about opportunity with him, and I rarely get a lack of efficiency. That’s what we all want from our quarterbacks. Even without Reed, I’m rolling Cousins out there this week.

I’ll have my usual DFS column going up on Saturday, but I’ve already got my eye on a pair of cheap receivers. In fact, I’ve already written their sections for the column. One of them is Inman, who is incredibly affordable on FanDuel this week. You already made the case for him, so I’ll just add my name to the rolls supporting him as an excellent DFS play for Week 13. I also think he has WR3 juice for season-long owners. The other is Malcolm Mitchell, who should keep a meaty role in the Patriots’ offense with Rob Gronkowski out after undergoing back surgery. Mitchell has nine catches for 140 yards and three touchdowns the last two weeks, and now he’s the team’s most dangerous downfield weapon. He’s just about as cheap as they come on DraftKings this week, checking in at $3,600. I can’t imagine crafting a DK lineup that doesn’t include the essentially free Mitchell. And speaking of Gronk, you’re our master of the waiver wire. Give our readers your top three Gronk replacements for this week and the rest of the season. Remember, they must have an ownership rate south of 50% on Yahoo!.

Whenever we say “attractively priced” we typically mean cheap bargains, but there’s one player I love this week who isn’t cheap, but also isn’t obvious. How about a round of applause for Jordan Howard, who continues to get the job done despite being saddled with one of the league’s worst offensive environments? Last week, with Matt Barkley under the helm and the Titans unquestionably keyed on stopping the one true threat in the Bears’ offense, Howard still ran for 84 yards on 18 carries and caught three passes for 43 yards. This has been a brutal season in Chicago, but the team found itself a running back of the future. I fully expect Howard to run all over the 49ers at Soldier Field on Sunday.

All right Fitz, I’m going to end the roundtable on this note. Last Friday, Nov. 25, 2016, was the 40th anniversary of The Last Waltz, The Band’s farewell concert. The Band is one of my two favorite bands, right alongside the Rolling Stones. I know they don’t have the same place in classic rock lore as do the Stones or Led Zeppelin or The Who, but I absolutely love everything about them. I will argue to the death that, when it comes to pure musicianship, no band in history could touch The Band. I’m not sure how many classic rock bands could turn into a string quintet at the drop of a hat, but I’d argue it was one. Three lead singers with distinct voices, making them capable of sounding like three different bands depending on whether it was Levon Helm (the best signing drummer ever), Rick Danko or Richard Manuel singing. A do-it-all musician in the form of Garth Hudson. A true composer and great guitarist in Robbie Robertson, despite his ego-driven faults that served to rip The Band apart. They were phenomenal.

Playing around with uncommonly held musical opinions is a lot of fun. What do you think of mine above, that The Band is the best group ever in terms of pure musicianship? And I’ll leave you with this fact about me that might surprise. Despite the music I love and the profession I’ve chosen, I’m not much of a Bruce Springsteen fan. His influence and songwriting abilities are unimpeachable. I know people think he’s the greatest performer ever. As far as my ears are concerned, though, he’s fine. Nothing more. Have fun with that one, Fitz.

Fitz: Condolences, Gronkophiles. Perhaps a lot of Gronk owners were fated to be part of the doomed 25% I mentioned earlier. (And selfishly, I feel unlucky to have faced Gronk in three different leagues when he went off for 162 yards and a TD against the Bengals in Week 6, and unlucky not to have encountered him in any of the weeks when he was on the shelf.)

Top three Gronk replacements? I’d start with C.J. Fiedorowicz, who’s 38% owned in Yahoo! leagues despite his target and receptions consistency. He has averaged 7.0 targets and 4.6 receptions over his last eight games and has neutral-to-favorable matchups in three of the next four weeks. It’s also worth considering Vance McDonald, who’s only 16% owned. V-Mac has gotten at least six targets in each of the last five games, his 17.4 YPC speaks to his big-play potential, and he doesn’t have a bad matchup over the next three weeks. I’m not quite as enthusiastic about Pittsburgh’s Ladarius Green (15% owned), whose snap counts are worrisome. Still, the potential ceiling is lofty for such an extraordinary athlete playing in an explosive offense.

So you’ll argue about The Band’s musicianship to the death? Geez, man. I hate to push you to that extreme when you’re fresh off a case of pneumonia, but this is an argument I can’t pass up. You’re going to despise me for saying this, but when it comes to pure musicianship, The Band isn’t even No. 1 in Canada. It’s an apples-to-oranges comparison, but I think Rush tops The Band in terms of virtuosity. Alex Lifeson made Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 greatest guitarists, Geddy Lee was voted the fourth-best bassist of all time in a Rolling Stone readers poll, and RS named Neil Peart the No. 4 drummer of all time (which is still too low a ranking). I like The Band just fine. But Rush, man ... those dudes can freakin’ play. For pure rock musicianship, Rush and Led Zeppelin are tops in my book.

But where while we’re not quite on the same page with The Band, we’re in lockstep on The Boss. Springsteen has some great songs (though I count far fewer of them than his most ardent fans do), and his showmanship is undeniable. But I’ve never purchased a single one of his recordings. I respect the hell out of the man, but Springsteen’s music has never been my bag, baby. I guess we’d better not show our faces in New Jersey, Beller.

All right, buddy. On to Week 13. We can pick up our debate about The Band (and Rush) on next week’s podcast. Cheers, mate.

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