There’s a simple, yet genius rule to Fantasy Football, and all Fantasy sports for that matter, and it goes, “start your studs.” While that is normally true, it gets tested when a trip to Fantasy glory is on the line.
Chances are you likely have ridden on Peyton Manning’s and Demaryius Thomas’ shoulders all year. You’ve endured LeSean McCoy’s early season struggles and have reaped the rewards of late. You stashed Josh Gordon all year with hopes of late season greatness. When you envisioned yourself holding up your league trophy, (or belt, or cash, or whatever your league’s top prize is), I’m sure these players were the first that came to mind. Then, Week 14 happened. These studs performed like perennial duds, putting up numbers you would never want to sniff your lineup. If you were able to survive these performances (I got bounced in two leagues, thanks Broncos) the question remains, should you start these players?
Perhaps there was no safer play in Fantasy all year than Peyton Manning. He had thrown a touchdown in 51 straight games, had six games with over 300 passing yards, two in which he broke 400. He was coming off his first game of less than 200 passing yards since last November against the Pats, and unlikely to do so again. But that is just what happened. He followed up one dud performance (179 and two TDs for Peyton is a dud) with another. Not only did he only throw for only 172 yards and fail to record a touchdown, he threw two picks. He finished with two Fantasy points in many leagues. His struggles dragged down Demaryius Thomas, who only caught two balls for 11 yards on five targets. You know it is bad when Wes Welker leads the team in receptions and receiving yards (6-82). Emmanuel Sanders was also disappointing, posting four receptions for 56 yards. This week they will take on the Chargers, against whom Manning has great success. Early this season he lit them up for 286 yards and three scores, all to Sanders. Both Sanders and Thomas broke 100 yards receiving. It is especially helpful to know that over the past month, the Chargers have allowed the sixth fewest points to opposing running backs, meaning that the Broncos will likely have to throw more than the past two weeks. You can trust Peyton, Thomas and Sanders this week.
Another QB/receiver tandem that has disappointed Fantasy owners is a little different, only because one that receiver is a tight end. You know who I mean, Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham. Brees is having a down year by his standards, but still ranks sixth amongst all QBs on the year in four-point passing touchdown leagues. After lighting up the Steelers for five touchdowns, he followed up by falling flat on his face in a prime matchup against the Panthers, only throwing for 235 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Turnovers have been his biggest downfall, as he has already thrown 12 picks this year. As for Graham, he was not even targeted in Brees’ five-TD performance. The Saints clearly made him a priority last week, targeting him 11 times, but he only caught three passes for 25 yards. In fact, Graham has failed to top 50 yards in four straight games, and only has one game this year with over 100 yards. He has become slightly TD dependent, but that plays into his hand this week. On the season, the Bears are the worst team against opposing tight ends and only the Jets have allowed tight ends to score more touchdowns than the Bears’ 11. As for Brees, the Bears allow the second-most Fantasy points to opposing QBs and have allowed more passing touchdowns than any defense in the league. Neither Brees nor Graham may live up to their costly draft value, but if there is ever a week to roll them out with confidence, it’s this one.
Ah, what a year it has been for Shady McCoy. Barely coming in as a RB1, the top pick in many drafts can be viewed as a disappointment. Whether it was his fault or his O-line’s is a separate discussion. Recently, McCoy was returning into the electric back we all know and love, rushing for 88 yards, 130 and a touchdown, and 157 and a touchdown in his last three games before facing the Seahawks, against whom he only rushed for 50 yards. A down performance should have been expected, as Seattle and their front seven have been great against backs all season. This week he gets the Cowboys in a matchup that is better than it seems. The Cowboys may be middle of the pack in Fantasy points allowed to opposing RBs on the year, but they have allowed the seventh-most over the past month. Much of that is in part to McCoy’s huge 157-yard game against them on Thanksgiving. McCoy hasn’t done much in the passing game, but he is a lock to see over 20 carries and has a legit chance at being the top RB in Week 15. Roll him out with confidence.
Things get tricky with everyone’s favorite former car salesman, Josh Gordon. If any of you have followed me and my work, you know I could not wait for the Browns to plug in Johnny Manziel and let him and Gordon tear up the league, and while I think it will happen, I’m not sure it does right away in Week 15. As Frank Stampfl wrote, Manziel will only help this Browns offense, as he is more dynamic than Hoyer. He will certainly help the running game, as I think Isaiah Crowell can be considered a high end RB2 this week with a chance to finish as a RB1. As for Gordon, I am not so sure he pulls in as a WR1 this week. There have been questions about his conditioning and his targets have dropped every week he has played this year, likely due to lack of confidence from Hoyer, as some of his interceptions could fall on Gordon’s shoulders. Last week he only hauled in two passes for 15 yards and he is upset that he has been getting benched on third down. This week the Browns get the Bengals, who have only allowed wide receivers to catch two touchdowns over the past month. On top of that, we all saw the ridiculous numbers Le’Veon Bell put up last week. While I’m not saying any Browns RB will match those numbers, I am saying that the run game, whether it’s Crowell, Terrance West, or Manziel himself, will be the focal point of the offense this week. Gordon comes in as a solid WR2 with upside.
Just one week after catching nine receptions for 238 yards and two touchdowns, DeAndre Hopkins failed to impress, only having four receptions for 49 yards. It is hard to get mad at Hopkins, as his huge performance likely put many owners into the Fantasy playoffs (Hopkins and Tre Mason did so for me). But if you were able to survive his dud last week, should you trust him this week? His targets dropped from nine two weeks ago to six last week, his lowest in seven weeks. Consistency has eluded Hopkins but facing the Colts is just what the doctor ordered, right? Not so fast. Over the past month, the Colts have allowed the third-fewest Fantasy points to opposing wide outs. Over that span they have only allowed one TD to a receiver. It looks like the Texans may be without Andre Johnson this week, meaning that Hopkins could draw stud DB, Vontae Davis. The Texans will have to put up points to hang with the Colts and if they fall behind could air it out, likely targeting Hopkins deep. He has high upside this week, but falls in as a high end WR3 with upside for me.
Remember, last week I wrote about the players you cannot trust going forward in the Fantasy playoffs. Check it out, as not much has changed, but I would trust LeGarrette Blount and Chris Johnson this week if you are looking deeper.
For any other start/sit questions, hit me up on Twitter, @MichaelFFlorio.