- Philip Rivers, Matt Ryan and Ben Roethlisberger are all playing their best football of the season. Can fantasy owners trust them in the playoffs?
Week 13, the final week of the typical fantasy season, is here. Good luck to everyone fighting for a playoff berth. Take solace in the fact that you’ve done all you can. You’ve made your final set of waiver claims. You’ve considered all your options. You’ve set what you believe to be your best Week 13 lineup. All you can do now is sit back and watch the action unfold. We here at SI.com are with you. Technically, we’re with your opponent, too, but don’t let that get in the way of an uplifting paragraph.
For those of you who have already clinched a spot in the postseason, congratulations. The rest of this column is for you. Even if you’re still hoping to lock up a bye or a regular season championship this week, chances are you’ve turned at least some of your attention to the playoffs. We have, too. It’s in that spirit that we considered the following question.
The Falcons, Steelers and Chargers figured to be among the most bankable fantasy offenses this season. All have gone through unexpected struggles, but seem to be hitting their stride as fall turns to winter. No one is questioning Le'Veon Bell or Antonio Brown or Julio Jones, and anyone who owns Devonta Freeman, Melvin Gordon or Keenan Allen is starting them with confidence. The quarterbacks of these three teams, however, might be a different story. Can playoff-bound fantasy owners trust Matt Ryan, Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers?
John Paulsen: Ryan has thrown for at least 300 yards and/or two touchdowns in five straight games. Three of his four remaining games are indoors, and the only outdoor game is in Florida against the Buccaneers. He does have two games against the Saints, who are much better against the pass this year, but New Orleans is banged up at corner. If those injuries linger, Ryan should post good numbers the rest of the way. If the Saints get healthy, at least he’ll be playing indoors in what should be high-scoring games against a high-powered offense.
Roethlisberger has 10 touchdowns in his last three games, so he’s peaking at the right time. However, his home/away splits over the last few seasons are the stuff of legend. I’m not counting on a great fantasy line in Cincinnati this week, but he has two home games (Baltimore, New England) in Week 14 and Week 15 before a tasty matchup with the Texans in Houston. I’d be a little worried about starting him against the stingy Ravens, but he should be able to post QB1-type numbers against the Patriots and Texans.
Phil Rivers is hot. Since his Week 9 bye, he has averaged 307 passing yards and 2.3 touchdowns per game, and that included 235 yards and two scores against a very stingy Jacksonville defense. His upcoming schedule looks pretty good with three favorable matchups against the Browns, Chiefs and Jets, and a mediocre matchup against Washington sandwiched in the middle in Week 14. I’d feel confident about starting him the rest of the way.
Michael Beller: I’m confident in all three of these quarterbacks returning at least low-end QB1 numbers the rest of the way. That goes for the three playoff weeks collectively, and each one individually, as well.
John gave you all the pertinent numbers and matchups, so there’s no reason for me to repeat them. I’ll take a different tack and dive a little deeper on the one I feel best about: Philip Rivers.
Rivers’s gaudy post-bye averages go beyond the numbers John gave you above. I want to start with my favorite quarterback statistic, yards per attempt. Rivers has 9.02 YPA over his last three games. He juiced that average with 13.15 YPA in the Chargers 28-6 win over the Cowboys on Thanksgiving, but 7.84 YPA against the Bills and 6.35 YPA against the Jaguars were similarly impressive. How? The Bills have allowed 6.63 YPA this season, while the Jaguars have surrendered a paltry 5.16 YPA, tops in the league. In other words, 23.5% better against the Bills and 23.1% better against the Jaguars, in terms of YPA, than the average quarterback has been this season.
Second is the matchups. As John said, Rivers gets the Redskins, Chiefs and Jets during the fantasy playoffs, with the Week 15 and 16 games on the road. None of those is a terrible matchup, and the Chiefs and Jets are both ranked in the bottom-third of the league against quarterbacks in 4for4’s schedule-adjusted fantasy points allowed metric (aFPA). None of those defenses will give Rivers’s owners pause, and he doesn’t have home/road splits issues like Roethlisberger.
Finally, check out the play of Rivers’s weapons. Keenan Allen has put up consecutive games with double-digit catches and at least 159 yards. Hunter Henry is back in the mix, catching five passes for 76 yards and a score last week, and has been a dangerous pass-catcher in every game where he has had a major role. Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler are a scary, versatile combo out of the backfield. This is the offense the Chargers were supposed to have all season. They now have it, and not a moment too soon for Rivers’s fantasy owners.
Jennifer Eakins: Out of these three signal callers, Big Ben is the guy I would trust the most, due to his schedule and experience down the stretch. He has a tough game in Week 14 against the Ravens, but it’s at home where he excels. He’ll follow that up with matchups against the 19th and 32nd-ranked defenses in quarterback aFPA. Philip Rivers should prove valuable, too, as his opponents during the fantasy postseason consist of defenses that sit in the bottom half of the league in quarterback aFPA. My concern with Matt Ryan is that the Falcons schedule looks much tougher. He’ll face the Buccaneers in Week 15 in Tampa, where they’ve been much better this season. The Falcons get both of their meetings with the Saints in the fantasy playoffs, sandwiching the game against the Buccaneers. That used to be a fantasy owner’s dream, but this is a different Saints defense. New Orleans plays tough against the pass, ranking fifth in both quarterback and wide receiver aFPA this season. I’d still roster and start all three over most of the quarterbacks in the league, but that’s not saying too much the way the position has worked out injury-wise this season.
T.J. Hernandez: Efficiency is king when it comes to the fantasy value of quarterbacks and Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers have been among the most efficient quarterbacks lately. Over the last six weeks, only two quarterbacks have averaged more fantasy points per pass attempt than Big Ben or Rivers, while Matt Ryan ranks outside the top 10 in that time span. According to 4for4's Hot Spots Report, the Chargers have the easiest playoff schedule, and with Melvin Gordon's recent struggles, Los Angeles is the least likely of these teams to lean heavily on the run down the stretch. Owners that have been riding Roethlisberger's current hot streak may want to look for a streaming option early in the playoffs, as the Steelers face the Ravens in Week 14, but get Houston at home in Week 16, which is arguably the best matchup any quarterback can see. With two games against the Saints during the fantasy playoffs, Matt Ryan should be sat for a streaming option come playoff time.