A Flacco Surge; Be Afraid, Zeke Owners; Brandon Marshall Owners Should Abandon All Hope
Hopefully this isn’t a playoff week in your fantasy league since it’s the fourth-to-last week of the NFL regular season and you should be playing until Week 16 then redrafting weekly for the NFL playoffs. But hopefully, if this is your league’s postseason, you are participating in it. And hopefully, if it’s your league’s postseason and you’re not participating in it, you can find something to fill the unrelenting emptiness you feel inside.
With that, I give you The Fantasy 40…
Doug Martin, Jacquizz Rodgers and Charles Sims: Martin claims he’s doing fine after tweaking his back on Sunday, but you’d better call Rodgers and ask him to join your fantasy team. Sims’ potential return throws a wrench into the whole thing too, though he’s probably still a week away from a significant role.
Dwayne Allen: Three touchdowns in the first half on Monday night! And the last player to do that in the first half of a game was Larry Donnell. And I think we all remember traveling through time and space to see Larry Donnell’s induction into Canton 15 years from now. Allen’s fine as a low-end boom-or-bust TE1. But don’t get carried away. Unlike the Jets on Monday, most teams will have defenders guard eligible receivers on passing plays.
Sammy Watkins: He went 25 snaps in Week 12, then 49 in Week 13. And while he had only three catches in Oakland, they came on nine targets. Unless you’re in a “no Sammys” league, go ahead and play him. And even if you are in a “no Sammys” league, it’s Sammys, you can have one.
Jordan Howard: The 117 yards and three TDs came on 412 carries (or thereabouts), and hey, everyone loves a big workload. The problem is that the Bears are going to be significant underdogs in all four of their remaining games, and playing from behind means fewer touches for Howard. He’s too good to bench, but he’s a shaky RB2.
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Kelvin Benjamin: His numbers have been decent, but Benjamin has been an inconsistent, mistake-prone mess from play to play, and now Ron Rivera is talking about pulling him back down the stretch. That’s no good for his fantasy value.
Jay Ajayi: A banged up offensive line (and then a non-competitive defense that left them with a huge deficit at Baltimore on Sunday) has conspired against Ajayi. He has a shot at a big finish with his front five getting healthy, and Ajayi belongs in lineups, but you wonder how he’ll hold up after 171 touches over the last eight weeks, more than twice as many as he had over the first 12 games of his NFL career.
Robert Griffin III: He has a chance to return for Week 14, and he could be fun down the stretch for a Browns team that figures to be playing from behind. So if your starting QB gets hit by a meteor mid-week and you need to scrape something off the waiver wire, keep RG Jr. Jr. in mind.
Alshon Jeffery: If you’re planning on stashing him, now’s your last chance (and really, you’re probably already too late already). Jeffery returns Week 15 at Green Bay, and while we’d all feel better if it were Jay Cutler and not Matt Barkley under center, the Bears will likely be playing from behind in each of their final four games, opening up opportunities for the free agent-to-be.
Mark Ingram, Tim Hightower and Tavaris Cadet: My guess is that Ingram will be fine going forward, even after aggravating a toe injury on Sunday, so this is probably a moot point. But Hightower is still the second back to own in New Orleans. Cadet only out-touched him on Sunday because the Saints pooped their proverbial collective pants, falling behind big to the Lions.
Ladarius Green: Days like Sunday were what the Steelers had in mind when they signed Green. He still only played 35 snaps, but with his legs getting back under him, and with Jesse James knocking down passes like a defensive back defending a Hail Mary, Green’s playing time should continue to go up. He won’t be going against Landon Collins and Co. every week, but Green is fine as a boom-or-bust starter down the stretch.
Paul Turner: He stepped in for a banged up Jordan Matthews on Sunday, and caught six of eight targets for 80 yards. Of course, the Eagles ended up throwing 60 times in Cincinnati as they played from a million points behind. But if Matthews is shaping up to sit on Sunday, Turner is an acceptable alternative in deep PPR leagues.
Ty Montgomery, James Starks and Christine Michael: You don’t want to play any of these guys in Week 14, but if you are contractually obligated to start a Packers running back, Montgomery is the pick. He was far better than the other two backs in Sunday’s win in the snow. Michael looks worn down, while Starks ran like he regretted not bringing his snow pants and mittens to recess.
Blake Bortles: With his pick-six to Bradley Roby on Sunday, Bortles has now thrown more TD passes to opponents than to teammates over his career. That’s not true, but it seems like it could be, right?
Amari Cooper: It’s all becoming a bit worrisome, as the Raiders have been better at scheming Michael Crabtree open. Cooper has been held under 60 yards each of the past four weeks. Thursday night presents an interesting scenario though. Teams don’t typically have the time to think outside-the-box for Thursday Night Football, so schematically you can expect more of the same, but Cooper has consistently gotten the better of Marcus Peters over their three matchups (even if he hasn’t gotten the ball often enough in those games).
Joe Flacco: Like a white, unibrowed Warren Moon. Flacco is averaging 40 pass attempts per game since Marty Mornhinweg (you know, the guy who replaced Marc Trestman because Trestman threw it too much) took over the offense. And with Steve Smith Sr. back healthy and Breshad Perriman improving and Mike Wallace and Dennis Pitta fully comfortable in the offense and Kenneth Dixon providing a strong receiving option out of the backfield, Flacco has a chance to turn those 40 throws into the kind of production he had on Sunday. Maybe not 381 and four TDs, but enough to be a suitable QB1 over the last quarter of the season.
Jordy Nelson: Sure, his biggest play on Sunday came courtesy of a defensive back slipping in the snow (I told them to shovel that sidewalk). But Nelson looked as sharp as he had all season, and the Packers moved him around the formation, opening up opportunities. He’s set up for a very nice finish.
Dennis Pitta: Way to go, guy! It’s nice to see nice things happen to Pitta, though keep in mind that Sunday’s two touchdowns were his first two touchdowns of 2016. He’s more of a low-end PPR TE1.
Ezekiel Elliott and Alfred Morris: I’m going to write something that might shock and disturb you. And that thing is going to be written riiiight… now! Sometimes Jerry Jones says things that he doesn’t really mean. So when Jones claims that the Cowboys won’t rest their starters even after they clinch homefield throughout the playoffs, I don’t believe that, especially when it comes to his rookie running back who sits at 291 touches through 12 games. Dallas’s magic number is two, and I’d expect that as soon as they get that, Elliott will at least have a reduced role, if not get benched altogether. That would open up an opportunity for Morris. I can’t imagine Elliott getting benched in fantasy leagues anywhere barring a healthy scratch, but that’s a real possibility.
Marquess Wilson: Whatever. I hate the Bears and all their wide receivers. Wilson was glued to the bench in favor of the Cameron Meredith/Deonte Thompson/Josh Bellamy trio on Sunday. Wilson is more talented than any of them.
Carson Palmer: I’ve maintained that while Palmer has clearly been worse this year than he was in 2015, the bigger problem has been a disastrously bad offensive line. That line was better on Sunday, and they stand a puncher’s chance against an up-and-down Dolphins front four this week, and the Saints’ crappy pass rush in Week 15. Palmer is still a risk, but the reward is there in Weeks 14 and 15.
Brandon Marshall: I’ve been stubborn with Marshall all year, but now is the time to officially abandon all hope. Bryce Petty cannot play. He will likely regress over the final four games of the year (unless the Jets fall behind so frequently that teams play the kind of shell defenses you only see in the Pro Bowl, like the Colts did on Monday night). This offense is not going anywhere outside the most garbage-y moments of garbage time. Marshall is not playable.
Devontae Booker, Kapri Bibbs and Justin Forsett: Booker might have caught a break with Bibbs’ season-ending injury, as he’ll continue to hold the feature back role despite an underwhelming run of games. Forsett is reunited with Gary Kubiak, and while it feels so good, he’s merely a deep-league stash who likely won’t have the time to earn a significant role in 2016.
Lamar Miller: He’s a very shaky proposition in the fantasy playoffs, as Miller was hobbled by a rib injury on Sunday. Not to mention, Jonathan Grimes ran well enough to earn a few more carries going forward, and the Texans’ passing game is bad enough that no one will play defensive backs against them ever ever ever.
Malcolm Mitchell, Chris Hogan and Danny Amendola: Pardon my language, but I’ve been quite a “Gloomy Gus” over the fantasy prospects of Mitchell. I guess I should change my tune after a career-high in targets (10) and catches (eight) on Sunday, even if he didn’t score a TD in a third straight game. The Rob Gronkowski injury opens up more playing time, and while Julian Edelman is the clear-cut No. 1, it’s going to be a revolving door for that No. 2 target. On a week-to-week basis, Mitchell is the best bet among the non-Edelman WR trio, though all three are tough to trust. And…
Martellus Bennett: So yes, two catches for four yards is a bit much. It’s a reminder that while Bennett has a poor-man’s-Gronk skillset, he plays with a… certain lack of verve. Like, if instead of Gillette Stadium the Patriots played outside a 7-11, Bennett would constantly be getting summonses for loitering. (I know, part of it is because he’s such a big guy and it doesn’t look like he’s giving maximum effort when he is, but still…). I actually am bullish about Bennett for Week 14 against Baltimore though. I think you’re going to see the Patriots spread it out and invert things a little more often, putting Bennett and, say, Dion Lewis or James White out wide. It will force a Ravens D that’s normally stingy against tight ends to do some things differently. Or, they’ll do things the same and give up a size mismatch against Bennett on the outside.
Jeremy Maclin: Perhaps I’m simply a coward, but I can’t imagine plugging Maclin into a lineup on Thursday night, even if he is indeed returning to the lineup.
Tyler Eifert: That was a close one. Just two targets for Eifert, who saved his day with a touchdown. Don’t sweat it though. The Bengals were up 80-0 before the Eagles had come out of the locker room and got to go conservative for a much larger chunk of the game than usual. Eifert should be fine going forward.
Bilal Powell and C.J. Spiller: Spiller stole 10 snaps on Monday night, many while the game was on its way to being a complete humiliation, but before it had quite reached the point of total embarrassment. You are correct in thinking that it makes zero sense to trot Spiller out there, but we’re also talking about a team that is about to throw Bryce Petty to the wolves and likely ruin him permanently, apparently in an attempt to secure the highest draft pick possible. From a fantasy standpoint, it all makes Powell unplayable barring a Matt Forte injury. (UPDATE: Right after we published, the Jets waived Spiller. So they're Super Bowl-bound again!)
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