Week 17 Quarterback Spotlight
Aaron Rodgers: With an increased level of familiarity, aren’t divisional defenses supposed to have a better chance at slowing down offenses? In his last 16 games against the NFC North, Rodgers has completed 68.9 percent of his passes (a higher rate of accuracy than Peyton Manning’s finest season) for 4,181 yards, 39 touchdowns, and just five interceptions. In his last 16 home games, Rodgers has completed 67.1 percent of his passes for 4,630 yards, 43 touchdowns, and just three interceptions. So what do those numbers suggest we can project for Rodgers this weekend in a divisional home game with the NFC North title on the line? Average both of those 16-game samples together and you’re looking at an expected stat line of: 22 of 32 for 276 yards, 2.5 passing touchdowns, and 0.3 interceptions. If you want to adjust that slightly for the 38 pass attempts that opponents averaged against the Lions this season prior to their Week 16 showdown with the dysfunctional Bears, then we are talking: 26 of 38 for 328 yards, 3.1 passing touchdowns, and 0.3 interceptions.
Tony Romo: Can we stop considering Romo a serious risk on a weekly basis yet? I understand that the feeling of uncertainty regarding the Cowboys quarterback is the result of years of up-and-down Fantasy production, but he’s been rock solid to close out 2014 (five straight 20-plus point performances when not on that quick turnaround for a Thursday night game after a Sunday night game) and I’m expecting no different in the regular season finale. He’s been a man on a mission this year, using the league’s top running game to his advantage and averaging a touchdown toss for every 13.7 times he drops back, 7.4 percent fewer drop backs per scoring strike than TD leader Peyton Manning. Romo has followed the rest of his Dallas teammates when it comes to producing at a high level all season long, but especially when away from Jerry World. Through the air he is averaging 1.09 Fantasy points per completion on the road this season, giving him an 18.5 percent edge in Fantasy points per road completion than Andrew Luck, 25.3 percent more than Drew Brees, 34.6 percent more than Peyton Manning, and 36.3 percent over Aaron Rodgers. He may throw the ball less than those elite options, thus resulting in his “Tier 2” status, but when he has been asked to sling it, few have been more efficient in 2014. He gets a lot of flack about not being able to produce when all the chips are on the table, but his 44:8 touchdown-to-interception ratio in December since 2009 says otherwise. Romo may not be “clutch” in NFL circles, but that gets it done in our Fantasy world.
Eli Manning: He may not be the perfect Fantasy quarterback due to his inconsistencies and potential for the awful game, but that doesn’t mean you can’t pick and choose your spots to insert him into your lineup if the matchup dictates you do so … and it does this weekend.
The Eagles are not an elite run defense. So? Well, Manning chews up defenses and spits them out when the threat of a strong run game is present. I could tell you that Manning leads the league in play-action touchdowns or that he is averaging 26.1 percent more yards per attempt when pulling the ball out of his running backs stomach this season, but I’ll instead focus on his excellence against non-elite run defenses (teams that rank in the top third of the league in PFF’s run defense grading system and ESPN’s Fantasy RB Points against).
256 completions on 377 attempts for 2,978 yards, 24 TDs, and three interceptions
Yea, not exactly the type of numbers that comes to mind when you hear “Eli Manning.” The Eagles may not be a great run defense but their pass defense hasn’t been any better (multiple touchdown tosses allowed in 12 of their 15 games this season). Ooo yea, there’s that Odell Beckham Jr. guy, who is kinda playing at a high level too. Since Beckham’s first 100-yard performance in Week 9, Manning is completing 41.7 percent of his passes thrown at least 20-yards down the field, with 11.1 percent of his pass attempts being thrown downfield. Those numbers may not mean much on the surface, but they indicate an increased willingness to take chances down the field, as only 9.8 percent of his passes traveled 20 yards down the field prior to the Beckham explosion (and he was only completing 27.3 percent of those passes). Don’t get me wrong, he is still the second best quarterback in his family, but he comes with more upside this week than you’d assume.
Philip Rivers: He’s been a QB1 for the most of this season, but there is little to like in his regular season finale. The Chargers’ primary weakness, their offensive line, should be exposed against the fifth-best pass rush the NFL has to offer, a major concern for Rivers, who completes 74.4 percent of his passes when not under pressure and 49.7 percent when feeling the heat. The season numbers are less than encouraging and the recent trends inspire even less confidence in Rivers’ title as a starter in anything but very deep leagues. Since Halloween (six games), San Diego’s signal caller is averaging just 233 passing yards with 10 interceptions, numbers that have him ranked as fringe QB2 over the last two months. I’ve got him in that general area again this week, as the Chiefs have allowed multiple passing touchdowns in just two of their last nine games. A bulging disk in his lower back isn’t going to sideline him for this contest, but it certainly doesn’t help his Fantasy owners feel any better about a quarterback who would be a statistical risk if he was 100 percent healthy.
Derek Carr: I’m not going to tell you that he is a must-start, but if you’re even looking this deep in the QB pool, Carr is among the best values for daily gamers or the sneakiest of plays in very deep or two-quarterback leagues. Volume. Talent is very important, but volume can be a great equalizer and there isn’t a better percentage volume play on the final week of the regular season than the Raiders’ rook. He has thrown the sixth-most passes in the NFL this season, and while his completion percentage leaves plenty to be desired, he has completed more passes than Aaron Rodgers this season. Again, with the lack of talent around him those completions haven’t netted great production, but the best way to have sleeper value as a quarterback is to throw the ball and throw the ball often, something the Raiders have allowed Carr to do all season long. On the surface, the matchup with the Broncos may seem less than favorable, but there is an argument to be made that they are the perfect team to finish the regular season with. No defense has been passed on more often than Denver, thus giving the volume argument even a bit more merit. Hmmm … a high volume quarterback against an oft passed against defense that potentially has nothing to play for? You have to like the sound of that. Think the Raiders pull off the upset? Me neither, and that should be just fine for those taking a flier on Carr (42 pass attempts per game in Oakland’s last six losses). His improved ability to take care of the rock (140 pass attempts since his last interception) raises his floor a bit, making him a nice plug’n’play option this weekend if your starter stands to be rested or is battling through injuries.[table “1319” not found /]
Week 17 FLEX Spotlight
Mike Evans: The Saints won’t be playing for a playoff spot this weekend, in large part due to their inability to slow down top receivers. Their 31st ranked coverage secondary has been gashed by Vincent Jackson (with an inactive Evans), Golden Tate (with an inactive Calvin Johnson), Randall Cobb, A.J. Green, Antonio Brown, and Alshon Jeffery in addition to a banged up Julio Jones last week to the tune of at least 17.7 PPR points and an average of 23.2 points. As bad as the Saints have been, Evans has been good. Since Week 9, he has 120.1 Standard Fantasy points, more than veterans Marques Colston and Vincent Jackson have for the entire season. He’s hit double figure PPR points in eight of his last 11 and has been targeted at least seven times in every one of those games. So where exactly is the low floor that we often expect from inexperienced receivers? The limited downside is nice, but not nearly as enticing as the high ceiling. No receiver in football (minimum 50 receptions) has a higher aDOT than Evans, and his second-highest catch percentage (trailing only DeSean Jackson and dead even with Antonio Brown and Dez Bryant) on passes thrown at least 20 yards down the field demonstrates his ability to make the most of his opportunities. Jordy Nelson is generally viewed as one of the premier high upside options in the league, but Evans is averaging 7.5 percent more Standard Points per reception than the Packers’ top option, a level of productivity that few players in the league offer. His strong campaign is being overshadowed by the greatness of Odell Beckham Jr., but Evans is very quietly have a very productive season and should be considered a must-start in this plus matchup.
Justin Forsett: Yea, yea, yea, I get it. If you’ve made it this far in your Fantasy playoffs, you’ve won multiple postseason games in spite of Mr. Forsett, but you can’t afford to overreact to back-to-back dud performances. The Ravens still own the fourth-best run blocking offensive line in the NFL and should have their way with a front seven that grades out below average when it comes to stuffing the run (their 2,136 rushing yards allowed is the most in the league). Despite a 9-6 record this season, Joe Flacco has thrown more passes in losing efforts than in victories, a statistic that tells me Baltimore is likely to look to establish a consistent ground attack on Sunday, something that should skyrocket Forsett’s value, as he tops the league in Breakaway Percentage, and no defense has surrendered more first downs via the run than Cleveland. Even if the Ravens decide to air the ball out a bit, it would stand to reason that they try to build Flacco’s confidence after an awful 21 for 50, three interception performance. What better way to do so than to utilize one of six backs in the NFL that has at least 50 receptions and is catching at least 80 percent of the balls thrown his way? Forsett played a big role in getting you into the playoffs and he should help you raise the trophy in Week 17 if you survived his consecutive poor outings.
Mike Wallace: The Dolphins’ wideout has been far better than anyone seems to want to admit (his 2014 is a near replica of Larry Fitzgerald’s 2013) and he’s been much more consistent than you realize (11 games with at least 65 receiving yards or a touchdown). He owns a WR Rating (Tannehill’s quarterback rating on passes thrown in his direction) of 115.1, good for the eighth-highest mark in the league and ahead of studs like Demaryius Thomas and Julio Jones. I could rattle off positive Wallace stats all day long, but none of them will make you feel as comfortable as this one; he plays the Jets in Week 17. The same Jets team that has allowed opposing WRs total at least 26 Standard Fantasy points on five different occasions this season and is allowing five touchdown passes per interception. This defense – not good. One final Wallace stat to help get him into your Week 17 lineup; he comes with the “deep threat” label, but 60 percent of his receptions as a Dolphin have come within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, a role that helps raise his Fantasy floor.
Charles Johnson: We used to view Wallace as a receiver you’d plug in when the matchup was favorable, knowing that there was a low floor due to his affinity to go deep and wanting to maximize the upside if you were going to take a chance on him. Enter Charles Johnson. The Bears’ offense gets the headlines, but their defense has just as much to do with their disappointing 2014 season. Since Chicago’s bye week (seven games), they are allowing 198.3 yards per game to opposing receiver corps, giving up nine scores in the process. For the season, Da Bears have given up the second-most yards through the air and the most passing touchdowns as a result of a secondary that ranks as the fifth-worst when it comes to pass coverage. The monster production has come via the big play, as Chicago is allowing more than four pass plays to go for 20-plus yards per game (second most in the NFL). But enough about the favorable matchup; is Johnson in an explosive enough offense to take advantage? The numbers say “Yes” in large part due to the accuracy of Teddy Bridgewater. The rookie quarterback is completing an NFL-high (you read that right) 79 percent of his aimed passes over his last four games, a trend that should continue given the Bears struggles. The high completion percentage is an obvious plus and it only helps that Johnson, who has one fewer target than Dez Bryant over his last three games, is the Vikings aDOT leader. It’s hard to imagine Chicago shutting down any passing game, so while Minnesota’s aerial attack is less than lethal, there is enough upside to slide Johnson into the WR3/Flex talks this weekend.
Week 17 Tight Ends[table “1320” not found /]
Week 17 Defense/Special Teams[table “1321” not found /]
Hope you’ve had a great Fantasy Football season and have enjoyed the insight offered by the RotoExperts Staff. I’m active on Twitter year-round and offer material/advice in Fantasy Baseball and Fantasy Basketball as well, so never hesitate to ask what’s on your mind!