Editor's note: This is Part 3 in a several part series where we dissect each offensive fantasy position and tell you what happened this season (2016) and how you can apply those lessons into your draft for next season (2017). You can check out all the lessons learned from quarterbacks, wide receivers, running backs, and tight ends throughout the offseason.
Coming out of the 2015 season, the 2016 quarterback landscape was looking good. In 2015 all of the top 13 QBs threw for 30+ touchdowns and the top 6 all had over 300 fantasy points. In 2016 however, only five players threw 30+ touchdowns and only three QBs topped the 300 fantasy point bar. So, what did we learn about the quarterback position this fantasy season? Did anything go right or was this just simply a down year for quarterbacks?
We learned that…mechanics make the wheel go round
2016 was the year the general football consensus learned the importance of QB mechanics. Many quarterbacks have managed to skate by on arm talent alone and that makes them good fantasy options for one season. But inconsistent mechanics means inconsistent quarterback play and this means inconsistent fantasy production in the long run, explaining the huge drop off in quarterback production from 2015 to 2016.
Brock Osweiler was at the helm of arguably the most talented offense in the NFL. Surrounded by DeAndre Hopkins, Lamar Miller and Will Fuller, Osweiler’s lethargic wind-up and sluggish release resulted in batted balls and many uncatchable targets due to his side-arm release.
The same goes for Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles. The Jags offensive performance in 2015 garnered questions as to whether they were home to the best wide receiver tandem in the league in Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns. Bortles’ terrible 2016 mechanics resulted in Allen Robinson, a borderline 1st/2nd round pick in August, becoming effectively unusable this season as Bortles began to drop the ball below his elbow in his wind up leading to an unnecessarily long release and producing overthrown passes.
Even last year’s MVP Cam Newton along with rookie prospect Carson Wentz had their mechanical flaws expose them this season. Relying on arm strength alone leads to inaccuracy and produces passes often too low for receivers to catch. Forced passes and backfoot throws are all traits of a quarterback’s reliance on their arm strength and often result in passes being too far behind receivers. Using your arm instead of your body is a quick recipe for an interception. Neither player steps into their throws and so they struggle to throw with touch and anticipation.
Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees on the other hand have perfect mechanics and it comes as no surprise that both of them are consistently top 5 fantasy quarterbacks, with the odd SuperBowl thrown in too.
We learned that…mojo doesn’t last
Momentum is a term we hear a lot regarding NFL offenses and it is often why fantasy owners worry when their players return from their bye-weeks as offense is all about practice, repetition and chemistry. Offenses that can keep their momentum going throughout the season are both NFL gold and fantasy gold.
In 2015 we saw that a few offenses certainly were feeling their mojo and this lead to stellar quarterback play. Cam Newton, Blake Bortles and Carson Palmer were all part of high-flying offenses last year and all finished as top 5 fantasy quarterbacks.
However, without relatively much changing, all three of those quarterbacks failed to repeat this in 2016, with Newton following his QB1 season finishing as the QB18 and Palmer slotting in right behind him. Strangely enough, the much maligned Blake Bortles finished as the best of the bad bunch with a confusing QB8 ranking.
As we all accept Bortles is a fantasy anomaly year on year, the rankings clearly show that momentum doesn’t carry over through the offseason. With this in mind, beware of drafting the wildly inform quarterbacks from this season again in 2017. I’m looking at you Matt Ryan and Matthew Stafford.
We learned about…the new kids on the fantasy block
2016 however, wasn’t all bad. With Peyton Manning retiring and Tom Brady and Drew Brees getting up there in years, 2016 saw the birth of the new crop of fantasy studs. Derek Carr (QB9), Marcus Mariota (QB15) and of course Dak Prescott (QB6) had a coming out party this year.
Carr was an MVP candidate this season and probably would’ve finished as a top 5 QB without his injury in week 16. Mariota, who was also similarly injured to Carr in week 16, was complete gold-dust early in the season with three top 5 finishes in quick succession and threw for two or more touchdowns in two thirds of the games he played in in 2016.
And we couldn’t discuss young quarterbacks without talking about the man of the moment, Dak Prescott. Prescott finished 2016 tied 5th for total touchdowns with 29 but the true measure of Prescott’s greatness this year has been in his ability to limit his interception total with only 4 INTs. Not only does that result in less negative points but it also keeps drives alive and results in more scoring opportunities for Prescott, who has also demonstrated legitimate rushing capability too.
We learned to…please wait on QB
If 2016 has taught us anything, it is that you please, PLEASE wait on a quarterback when you draft next season. Unless you’re drafting Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees, there is no need to take a quarterback in the first 6 rounds. Top RBs and WRs are so few and far between and with injuries too, the need to stockpile your skill position players is greater than ever before. Fantasy is usually uses only one quarterback per line-up and as quarterback is so deep there is no need to waste a high pick on a brand name quarterback. Instead take a RB/WR and wait for a sensible upside QB.
For example, Ben Roethlisberger had a 6th round ADP and finished as the QB16 whereas Dak Prescott for instance had a 12th round ADP and finished as the QB6. It doesn’t stop there either; Kirk Cousins, Matthew Stafford and Derek Carr were all available in rounds 10-12 and all finished as top 10 QBs this season. But the craziest thing of all…Matt Ryan was undrafted this year in the majority of leagues. Wait and bet on upside, you might just wind up picking up the QB2 off the waiver wire.
Thank you for reading, you can follow Will Pendleton on twitter @willpendosports
In my first installment of Buy/Sell I broke down the fantasy value between Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, and the Broncos Peyton Manning. For my second installment, I am going to dissect the fantasy potential of two of the league’s most prolific passers, Saints quarterback Drew Brees, and the Falcons Matt Ryan.
Buy: Matt Ryan
When Dirk Koetter signed on in 2012 to be the Falcons offensive coordinator one thing was for certain, Matt Ryan was going to throw the ball all over the yard. In the three seasons that Koetter was in charge of play-calling, the Falcons had one of the more pass-happy offenses in the NFL, finishing in the top-10 in passing attempts and passing yards every year.
Despite having one of the best offensive units in football the Falcons were held back by sub-par offensive line play, and arguably the worst defense in football. Due to these deficiencies the Falcons finished the 2014-15 season with a 6-10 record, leading to the dismissal of head coach Mike Smith and the rest of the Falcons coaching staff.
New Coaching Staff
Despite Kyle Shannahan taking over for Dirk Koetter as the Falcons offensive coordinator, I do not expect the Falcons offense to take a step back in the 2015-16 season.
During Shannahan's 7 seasons as an offensive coordinator in the NFL with the Texans, Redskins, and the Browns, Shannahan has been one of the most pass-happy coaches in the NFL, ranking in the top-10 in 5 out of 7 seasons in total passing attempts. The only two times that Shannahan did not rank in the top-10 in pass attempts was in 2013, one year after Robert Griffin III suffered a torn ACL, and in 2015 in Cleveland when he had to deal with the sub-par quarterback talent of veteran journeyman Brian Hoyer and rookie Johnny "Football" Manziel.
Aside from having one of the worst offensive lines in football, the Falcons offense is still littered with playmakers that have the potential to make even an average quarterback look like a Joe Montana.
Julio Jones has finally taken over as the focal point as the Falcons passing attack, with Roddy White shifting to more of a possession. Despite ranking third in the NFL in both targets (154) and receptions (103) Jones only found pay-dirt 6 times causing Jones to be an elite PPR asset, and a low WR1 in standard formats.
Although "Rowdy" Roddy White (as my buddy Paddy refers to him as) is getting closer to the twilight zone of his career he still proved to be a reliable receiver for fantasy owners. Despite missing two games in 2014, White still ranked in the top 20 in targets (122), receptions (80), and touchdown receptions (7), ranking White as the 24th overall wide receiver (Low WR2) in ESPN standard scoring leagues.
Sell: Drew Brees
Just like with Peyton Manning, I am not telling you that Drew Bress is a player you should completely avoid in fantasy football, but should definitely temper your expectations for the former MVP. After losing Jimmy Graham to the Seahawks and the team investing a large amount of money to stabilize the running game, the Saints could be looking at a shift in offensive philosophy in 2015.
Jimmy Graham Departure
Normally the loss of a tight end would not be something that scares me off from drafting a quarterback in fantasy football, but when that tight end is Jimmy Graham you have to take note.
As you can see by the table below Graham has been one of the most dangerous pass-catching tight ends over the last three seasons. Last year, in what could be considered a "down year" by the standards that fantasy owners hold Graham to, Graham was still able to post double-digit touchdowns and almost 900 receiving yards, ranking him the no. 3 overall tight end in fantasy football.
|Graham||TA||Rec.||% Ct||Yds||Yds / Rec.||YAC||YAC / Rec.||LG||TD|
With Graham's departure to Seattle, it leaves a gaping hole in the Saints receiving corps. All-purpose receiver Brandin Cooks showed promise during his rookie season, but would be more effective as a slot receiver than a player that predominantly plays on the boundary. Marques Colston re-structred his contract to stay with the team but is in no way capable of being a no. 1 WR at this point in his career.
Little known second-year tight end Josh Hill will be given the opportunity to fill the void left by Graham in the Saints passing game. Saints head coach Sean Payton has raved about Hill this offseason stating in an interview with ESPN, "This Josh Hill is another player that I love. I love," Payton said "When you look at his runs, jumps, height, weight, speed, you look at his measurable ---- and he didn't go to the Combine, thank God.
While it is fair to assume that Hill will see an uptick in production in 2015, I highly doubt that the will come anywhere close to the production Graham posted aside from his 31/356/5 that Graham posted his rookie season.
With the draft quickly approaching, and the Saints in possession of two first-round picks the Saints could be in line to add wide receiver early in the draft for the second year-in-a-row.
Photo Courtesy of Football Schedule Flickr Page
Strength of schedule is always one of the hottest topic in the offseason and the debate regarding whether or not strength of schedule matters is always a controversial one. One of the most important things to remember is that it's February, so we're early in the offseason and you have expect each team's strength of schedule to slightly shift with every free agency acquisition/departure, every draft pick, every retirement announcement and every current player becoming just one year older. All these transactions affect the team's chemistry as a whole and when you play in a league with such a small margin for error like the NFL, then one small change can make a big difference.
So while you may be deciding many things about your fantasy team such as which player to keep or which player you should get rid of, just remember that you really want to take your potential keepers strength of schedule into consideration when deciding if you should keep him. You should also base your decision on several other factors as well such as his age, the talent surrounding him and his team's offensive system. But for now, let's take a look at which players stand to benefit most from the 2015 NFL schedule released by CBS earlier this week.
1. Matt Ryan/Julio Jones
The Atlanta Falcons have the easiest schedule on paper in 2015 with a combined opponent record of 104-150-2. They lead off the first three weeks with New Orleans, Cincinnati and Tampa Bay. Of those three opponents, the Buccaneers ranked 3rd worst against wide receivers, averaging 24.7 fantasy points per game. The Saints weren't far behind, giving up 23.3 points per game to wideouts as well. The Bengals fared better against the pass but ranked in the bottom five in fantasy points allowed to running backs. They surrendered 19.4 points per game on average to RBs in 2014. Keep in mind, this is just the first three games.
But with strength of schedule, you always have to look at the opponents during the money weeks (usually Weeks 14,15 and 16 in most leagues). In that span, the Falcons get Green Bay in Week 14, Pittsburgh in Week 15 and New Orleans in Week 16. Both the Saints and Steelers were in the bottom six for fantasy points allowed against quarterbacks.
Julio Jones came a little over 100 receiving yards shy of winning his first receiving title in 2014. Had he not been injured over the final stretch of the season, he probably would've gotten it as he really caught fire in the waning games with 613 total yards in his last four contests. Unless some of the Falcons' opponents really revamp their defenses in the offseason, Julio could easily kick off 2015 on a similar note. If you want to go with Ryan and Jones as a combo in 2015, this is the year to do it.
2. Andrew Luck
The Colts are a team on the rise. Since Luck entered the picture as the team's franchise quarterback in 2012, Indy has been passing its checkpoints with flying colors and hasn't shown any hitches in the process. Make the playoffs in your first year? Check. Make the playoffs in your second year and win in impressive comeback fashion? Check. Make the playoffs your third year and advance all the way to the AFC Championship game? Check.
To top it off, the Colts will have the second easiest schedule on paper in 2015 with a combined opponent record of 106-149-1. The Colts play in the weak AFC South, a division where two of its teams will be picking in the top 3 come the 2015 draft. They also get the benefit of playing tougher opponents like New England at home in their cozy dome as opposed to the often unforgiving cold weather in New England. The Colts are 19-5 at home since Luck took over and they haven't lost more than two games at Lucas Oil Stadium since then as well.
3. DeAndre Hopkins
The Texans announced Ryan Mallet as their likely 2015 starter at quarterback earlier this week and his performance will definitely play a huge role in Hopkins' further development. Good news for him and his fellow wide receiver Hopkins that he'll have a relatively easy slate to work with in 2015. Like Indy, the Texans will feast on the defensive backfields of Tennessee and Jacksonville twice. They will also play three of the worst fantasy defenses against wide receiver teams in New Orleans, Tampa Bay and the New York Jets. All those games are home games as well.
Hopkins is coming off a solid 76/1,210/6 season and posted a monster game against Tennessee where he compiled nine catches for 238 yards and two touchdowns. Mallet's big arm complements Hopkins speed perfectly. Hopkins is a big play receiver, as evidenced by 15.9 yards per catch average which ranked eighth overall in 2014. That, plus a weak division and three additional shaky secondaries makes Hopkins a high upside WR2 in 2015.
4. Cam Newton
The Carolina Panthers finished strong in 2014 despite a banged up defense and an unfortunate car accident that sidelined quarterback Cam Newton for a game with two back fractures. Even with that, the Panthers found their run game thanks to a resurrected Jonathan Stewart and rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin showed much promise as a red zone jump ball threat.
The Panthers have one of the top 5 best schedules in 2015 with a combined opponent record of 111-145 (.434) and hopefully their bad injury luck will be a thing of the past. They play in the weak NFC South which was full of terrible defenses last year and they also get (I can see you're sensing a theme here) the AFC South as their out of conference opponents.
5. Tom Brady
Coming off his first Super Bowl victory in over a decade, Brady and the Patriots will have the luxury of a not-so-difficult path on their way to repeating as champions. They play Philadelphia at home, a team that gave up more fantasy points to wide receivers than any other team in the league last year. The team right behind Philadelphia in that category was the Washington Redskins, a team New England will also play at home. New England also plays AFC South punching bags Tennessee and Jacksonville. Consider Brady and all his receivers including Brandon LaFell, Julian Edelman and of course, Rob Gronkowski as viable fantasy options in 2015 once again.
I’d like to wish a Happy Thanksgiving weekend to all the readers and families of readers out there. Thanksgiving is far and away my favorite holiday of the year. The holiday encompasses my two favorite activities, eating (hopefully) really good food and watching football. It’s that simple. There are no gifts I need to worry about buying, there’s no religious aspect to the holiday, there’s no costumes and people ringing my doorbell all day long, and as much as I love kids, there’s no Thanksgiving fictional character that I have to worry about blurting out isn’t real. It’s really just “Hey, come over we’ll watch football, we’ll eat really good food and then we’ll watch a little more football.” What a holiday! I’m sure the attendees at the 1st Thanksgiving did not incorporate football into the plans for how the tradition would carry on, but I’d like to say thanks on this Thanksgiving to the pilgrim who invented this holiday, I thank you sir/madam. Whoever you are/were, you started what became the perfect day, a national holiday solely based around food and football. Ok I do admit the holiday gets me thinking about how thankful I am for my beautiful wife, the rest of my wonderful family, and all my friends, and it even gets me thinking about how thankful I am for my freedom and about how incredible our soldiers are. So in summary, football, delicious food, more football, family time, and ignoring the bad momentarily while accentuating all the good things in life to be thankful for…..it’s the perfect holiday.
This is the last week of many regular seasons. Do or die, make or break, or in my case division title and first round bye, or monumental collapse. Use these sleepers and busts to jockey for playoff position and to ensure that this will not be your last week.
Happy Thanksgiving once again to you all. I’m also thankful for each and every one of you out there giving this article a read.
Without further ado, your week 13 Sleepers and Busts:
DISCLAIMER:A sleeper is not a must start and a bust is not a must bench, they are merely indications that a player will have a better or worse game this week than they normally do. It all really depends on your alternatives. I will give an example of a few players for whom I personally would start the sleeper over or bench the bust for.These players are simply there as an indication of how good or bad I think the sleepers/busts will perform so you have a comparison in mind when applying it to your actual lineup. For example if I am comparing a QB to a stud like Andrew Luck, I am not necessarily saying you need to start him over Luck (even if I would) but it will imply that I feel really good about him.
Matt Ryan v. Arizona
Is Arizona a very good defense? Sure. Is this matchup ideal for Matt Ryan? Probably not. But Ryan is at home against a team who we know for a fact will not allow the opposition to run the ball. Ryan is ranked as the number 20 or so QB on most popular sites and if he did perform that poorly it would just mean the Falcons would get totally shut down completely at home. I refuse to believe this will happen. In 4 home games (they’ve had 1 neutral game in London which I am not counting) Matt Ryan has thrown 9 TDs while only committing 3 turnovers. Also, the Cardinals, while they are one of the elite NFL defenses, have allowed the 8th most passing yards per game this season. He’s not a must start QB1 but Ryan historically performs significantly better at home than he does on the road, and even if the Falcons lose this game handily, he’ll still have a good amount of yards and a couple of TDs to show for it.
I’d Start Matt Ryan over: Eli Manning, Cam Newton, Andy Dalton, Zach Mettenberger,
Cam Newton at Minnesota
Newton is coming off a bye week so maybe he’s been able to heal, but he clearly hasn’t been playing healthy. He’s no longer the threat he used to be running the ball. He’s also reverted back to his poor decision making ways with only 4 TD and 10 turnovers in his last 4 weeks. Minnesota is at home and is coming off an impressive showing against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. They lost the game but they put pressure on ARod and limited the Pack to 24 points, not an easy feat. The strength of the Vikings defense lies in their secondary where Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith lead the way, limiting teams to the 7th fewest passing yards per game. They’re also a top 5 defense against opposing TEs, the position of most strength in the Panthers passing attack. Newton is being ranked as a matchup QB option, in the 13-16 range but I see him as a borderline QB2 and maybe even a non-start in 2 QB leagues.
I’d Start the following players over Cam Newton: Andy Dalton, Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Zach Mettenberger, Kyle Orton,
Dan Herron v. Washington
Herron was a surprise starter last week, even to fellow Colts RB Trent Richardson. There was a fairly even time share between he and Richardson, but Herron out touched him and out gained him and most importantly he racked up five receptions while playing on 3rd downs. The Colts will miss Ahmad Bradshaw but it’s nice to see that they have a better talent than Richardson in Herron that they can use when killing clock. Clock killing is exactly what the Colts will be doing this week at home against the hapless Redskins. The Skins will be going into Indianapolis start Colt McCoy. This seems like a total mismatch, one that will heavily favor the Colts. Look for Herron to once again out touch Trent Richardson and approach 100 yards while getting in the endzone at least once. Herron is a high RB2 this week.
I’d start Dan Herron over: Isaiah Crowell, LeGarrette Blount, Giovanni Bernard, Fred Jackson
Isaiah Crowell at Buffalo
Isaiah Crowell is a great talent that much is clear. His future in this league is bright. The Georgia alum was able to break out last week, ripping apart the Falcons in a homecoming game for him in Atlanta. However, I do not think he’s matchup proof and is not a must start. Buffalo is ranked 5th against fantasy RBs in .5PPR leagues. At home they’ve limited their opponents and have only allowed the Patriots to put up more than 22 points. This game has cold weather low scoring game written all over it. The Bills defense is fast at LB on the edges and match up with Crowell’s skill set. Despite Josh Gordon’s return to the lineup, the Browns will not have success moving up and down the field, and the opportunities for redzone touches and scores will not be there for the Crow. Crowell is a flex option this week but I would not trust him in leagues that start only 2 RBs.
Charles Johnson v. Carolina
Charles Johnson was a much hyped up rookie coming into the season but had not been a factor until week 10. In the last two weeks his catches, targets, yards and playing time have all skyrocketed. This past week it was apparent that he was the Vikings number 1 WR, playing 67/69 snaps and receiving 11 targets. He only turned those targets into 3 catches for 52 yards but he did score a TD and was open on several other occasions. The last two weeks have resulted in 9 catches for 139 yards and a TD. Carolina comes to town sporting the 26th ranked defense against fantasy WRs. CB Captain Munnerlyn and safety Mike Mitchell have been major losses in the secondary from a once dominant defense. Perhaps an even bigger factor has been the suspension of All Pro defensive end Greg Hardy. Hardy’s absence has all but eliminated the Panthers pass rush and QBs and WRs are having a field day against the new Panthers defense. Look for Teddy Bridgewater to have one of his best days as a pro passer and for his new number 1 target, Charles Johnson, to be the major beneficiary. Johnson can be started in many 3 WR leagues.
I’d Start Charles Johnson over: Kenny Stills, Michael Floyd, John Brown, Steve Smith, Julian Edelman
Kenny Stills at Pittsburgh
Kenny Stills was expected to step up after Brandin Cooks went down with a broken thumb, and he did not disappoint. Stills caught 8 balls for 98 yards in his new role, however this week he and his teammates at WR could be in for a down game. The Saints, a disappointing offense, travels to Pittsburgh. The Steelers sustained early season injuries and after weeks of being decimated on defense return 3 key starters in Ike Taylor, Troy Polumalu and Ryan Shazier. The defense has been able to remain effective ranking 16th in passing yards against and 9th against fantasy WRs despite these key losses. Now with the defense back at full strength the Steelers should be able to once again become a viable defense, especially at home. Other than Jimmy Graham there is no sure thing in this difficult road matchup.
I’d start the following players over Kenny Stills: Charles Johnson, DeAndre Hopkins, Mike Wallace, Steve Smith, Sammy Watkins
Charles Clay at. New York Jets
Charles Clay was a top 10 TE last season and he has built fine chemistry in the redzone with Ryan Tannehill. This season he hasn’t had as much success playing in a new offense and dealing with injuries, but he’s shown to be able to produce in the right matchups. Coming off a groin injury, he returns just in time for the 3rd worst team against TEs the New York Jets. The Jets have allowed a mind boggling 12 TDs to TEs and this past week allowed one to Bills TE Scott Chandler. Outside of my top 6 TEs this week (Graham, Gronk, Julius Thomas, Greg Olsen, Delanie Walker) it has not been easy to find consistent TE play so it’s important to play the matchups. I’d start Clay over anyone who isn’t those 6 guys in this game.
I’d start Charles Clay over: Antonio Gates, Coby Fleener, Larry Donnell, Travis Kelce
Antonio Gates at Baltimore
Antonio Gates was the reason why many fantasy teams got off to a great start with his surge of TDs in the first half of the season. Recently he’s been the reason why fantasy teams may be going through an epic collapse to end the season. Gates has combined for only 74 yards the last three weeks. He’s only had 10 targets in that stretch and he hasn’t had more than 61 receiving yards in a game since week 2. He’s TD dependent and is on the road against a defense in Baltimore that has allowed slightly over 10 points per game in five home games. TD opportunities may not be available against this stingy defense. I’d play the matchups and look elsewhere at TE this week.
I’d start the following players over Antonio Gates: Travis Kelce, Delanie Walker, Coby Fleener, Charles Clay, Tim Wright
That’ll be it for this week. Happy Thanksgiving weekend. Good luck and see you in the playoffs!
Start of the Week:
QB - Ben Roethlisberger at New York Jets - #4 in Weekly Rankings
Why not go with the guy who has thrown 12 TDs in the last two weeks as the start of the week? Big Ben set all kinds of records in the past two weeks and his matchup against the Jets is a lot better than his matchups the past 2 weeks against Indianapolis and Baltimore. Maybe he’ll throw 8 TDs this week! Just kidding but I really do not see a way he throws less than 3. The Jets rank dead last in fantasy points against QBs and have allowed an insane ratio of 24 TDs vs. 1 INT. I’d only start Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning and Russell Wilson over him this week. Enjoy the ride.
D/ST – Dallas Cowboys vs. Jacksonville in London - #4 in Weekly Rankings
They’re playing Jacksonville…..case closed. No seriously, that’s most of it. Jacksonville has allowed opposing defenses to score a whopping 2.6 more fantasy points per week than the 2nd worst defense. Blake Bortles at this stage of his career is a turnover machine and many of his INTs are taken to the house. The game in London is on a sloppy field, and the weather is projected to be lousy. Look for a low scoring game where the Jaguars fall behind quickly, forcing Bortles to throw. The more he throws, the more points the Cowboys D/ST will score via sacks and turnovers.
QB – Matt Ryan at Tampa Bay - #7 in Weekly Rankings
It’s been a while since I’ve recommended starting Matt Ryan, but the matchup this week is too tasty. Tampa Bay has waved the white flag on the season. Their personnel in the secondary aren’t NFL caliber players, especially after trading safety Mark Barron two weeks ago. Ryan has an inept offensive line protecting him and he could face some pressure from a formidable front seven, however, the bye week has given the Falcons two weeks to fix their offensive line woes. It’s been a disappointing season overall for Ryan owners, but big points are in store for this week’s cake walk of a matchup.
D/ST – Green Bay vs. Chicago - #9 in Weekly Rankings
Sometimes historical stats don’t matter all that much but in this case I think they absolutely do. Jay Cutler has a win/loss record of 1-9 and 19 INTs all time against the Green Bay Packers. These numbers are jaw dropping. I say the stats do matter here because basically the same coaching staff has been in place in Green Bay during Cutler’s entire career. The Packers know how to attack Cutler and make him a walking breathing turnover. When that many turnovers are bound to happen big points become possible for a fantasy defense. Look for more of the same in Lambeau this week.
QB – Eli Manning at Seattle - #18 in Weekly Rankings
The Giants have been playing football from behind a lot lately and it’s actually led to Eli Manning being one of the better fantasy plays. Eli has been forced to throw for the entire 2nd half and has been able to convert on some late TDs while keeping his turnovers down. The same thing could very well happen in Seattle, but sometimes when you fall behind big too often, the other team starts generating a massive pass rush forcing sacks and turnovers. This is what happened three weeks ago in Philadelphia, and it’s what I see happening this week in Seattle. Seattle hasn’t looked exactly right defensively but the cure could very well be the Giants, who lack the weapons to hang around in this game. The Seahawks allowed the Raiders to make last week’s game close and I’m sure Pete Carroll will remind his team that they have looked absolutely terrible defensively. I expect the Seahawks turnaround to greatness to start this week. A tough day from start to finish is on the horizon for Eli Manning.
D/ST – San Francisco at New Orleans - #17 in Weekly Rankings
The 49ers are always one of the first fantasy defenses off the board. Owners drafted them thinking they can just plug them in every week and the 49ers would at worst be mediocre and at best elite. This year’s defense has not had that type of success. They rank as the #17 fantasy defense this season. Navarro Bowman and Aldon Smith have been out all year and the loss of Patrick Willis has been tremendous. They have not been awful in terms of yardage as they rank 3rd and 5th in rushing yards and passing yards against respectively. However, there are just not enough big plays being made. They’re only on pace for 26 sacks after posting 38 sacks a year ago. The Saints are playing incredible football and are coming off back to back dominant wins at home against Green Bay and at Carolina. They’re mixing up the run and pass enough to keep Drew Brees upright and they’re keeping defenses guessing. The game is in New Orleans where Brees and the offense plays its best football and San Francisco could struggle to get stops if they’re not able to dial up a pass rush. Look elsewhere with a streaming defense this week.
Even though week 5 is a favorable bye week (Dolphins/Raiders), that doesn’t mean you’re locked, loaded and ready to go with your lineup. Maybe you're dealing with injuries and/or suspensions. Maybe your team just hasn’t been very good. Maybe your roster contains players who should either be started or avoided this particular week based on matchups or other football related situations. Or maybe your team is loaded with Dolphins and Raiders, and if that’s the case, I feel sorry for you.
The following predictions for week 5 sleepers and busts at QB and RB. They can assist you with those crucial decisions that could be the difference between winning and losing this week. A sleeper does not mean the player is a must start and a bust does not mean the player is a must bench for you. I’m just pointing out a couple players at each position who I believe will perform better or worse than the general public may think. The decision on whether or not to start these players depends on the quality of your alternatives. Without further ado, your week 5 sleepers and busts:
· Ben Roethlisberger at Jacksonville – This week it’s Pittsburgh’s turn to take on the conglomerate of NFL backup and practice squad talent otherwise known as the Jacksonville Jaguars starting defense. The Jags rank dead last against fantasy quarterbacks, having allowed 11 passing TDs and three 300+ yard performances with only one interception. This matchup is especially tasty since the Steelers' defense is a struggling unit that has lost starting CB Ike Taylor and starting LBs Ryan Shazier and Jarvis Jones due to injury. Blake Bortles should be able to keep this game close or win the game outright in a shootout, keeping the Steelers in throw mode for 4 quarters. Big Ben = Big production = Top 5 QB this week.
I’d start Ben Roethlisberger over: Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, Matthew Stafford, Jay Cutler, Eli Manning.
· Mike Glennon at New Orleans – This entry is for two QB leagues or for those who are extremely thin at the position. Mike Glennon has improved the outlook for all Tampa Bay skill players since taking over for Josh McCown. He has a rocket of an arm, sees blitzes well and takes shots down field. In last week’s upset victory over the Steelers, he posted 302 yards 2 TD and 1 INT. There is no defense outside of Jacksonville worse than the New Orleans Saints (ranked 28th vs. QBs). As long as that funny looking guy who's Buddy’s son and Rex’s brother is calling the plays, the opposing offense will have every chance to succeed. Expect him to match or exceed last week’s numbers.
I’d start Mike Glennon over: Tom Brady, Andy Dalton, Joe Flacco, Alex Smith
· Matt Ryan at New York Giants – Through three weeks, Matt Ryan is the number 4 fantasy QB in the land. The start to this season has many of his owners believing that this could be the year Ryan breaks into that elite discussion, but I have bad news for all of you — the fun is over for Matt Ryan. Ryan lost his starting center Joe Hawley and starting right tackle Lamar Holmes. With left tackle Sam Baker already out for the season this leaves the Falcons with really serious issues on the offensive line. The Giants defense has been flying around the field, hitting the quarterback at will and causing turnovers. A confident defense at home vs. a new and shaky o-line….I’ll take the defense in that matchup. I’m sure Ryan still has some good games left in him in the future but most of them will be at home or indoors where he has proven to be a better QB. If you have a quality QB2 to start over Ryan, I’d go with him this week. Through four games this season, Ryan has thrown four touchdowns and five interceptions in road games.
I’d start the following players over Ryan: Colin Kaepernick, Nick Foles, Cam Newton, Tony Romo
· Matthew Stafford vs. Buffalo Bills - This is one of those cases where a bust does not necessarily mean that you’re not starting him. I do still have Stafford as my QB10 on the week, but I’ve seen him mostly in the top 5 or 6. Stafford is coming off a great 293 yard 2 TD performance against the Jets, a 24-17 victory. That game was competitive. Kyle Orton will be getting his second start since January 2011 (last start 12/29/13) in a hostile environment against a very good defense in Detroit. The defense should be able to take care of the win and the offense will step on the breaks in the second half. If Stafford secures his TDs early, he could salvage his day but his upside is limited by a a few things. For one, the game could be a blowout. Two, Calvin Johnson’s possible injury and lastly, the fact that Buffalo’s defense is not bad at all. You’re probably starting him but take a look at the rankings page to see the 9 better options at QB this week.
I’d start the following players over Stafford: Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, Russell Wilson, Jay Cutler.
· Shane Vereen vs. Cincinnati –The Patriots offense has been putrid through 4 weeks and it looks like there's no one answer that will make them any more than an average unit. The offensive line is in shambles. Belichick was benching player after player on the o-line, making the game they were playing look more like musical chairs instead of football. Brady and Belichick have too much pride and intelligence to get blown out week after week. Whether or not they figure out how to be a top team once again, the Patriots will try to figure out how to create big plays and let one of the best players of all time, Brady, determine their fate. The beneficiary of the struggling Patriots in the long term will be Shane Vereen. The Patriots soon to be passing mode offense favors Vereen’s game. His resurgence into fantasy relevance starts this week in a matchup against a very good Cincinnati defense. We saw glimpses of this last week as he totaled 5 receptions and 67 total yards but I expect a lot more going forward. I see a lot of dump-offs, quick passes, screens and wheel routes with some draws mixed in. Plus, if the Patriots do get to the red zone, he should also get a few goal line looks. 8-10 catches, 100 total yards and a TD is within reach for Vereen.
I’d Start Shane Vereen over: Arian Foster, Zac Stacy, Matt Asiata, Ahmad Bradshaw, Chris Ivory
· Reggie Bush vs. Buffalo – While nobody in the real world likes to see an injury, Reggie Bush owners around the world probably were not all that upset when Joique Bell went to the sidelines with a concussion in the 3rd quarter last week. If Bell can’t give it a go, Bush owners will finally get what they’ve been screaming about all year, the majority of touches in the running game. Expect a heavy workload for Bush in probable blowout even if Bell does play as he may be limited. 100+ total yards 5+ catches and at least one score are my prediction.
I’d Start Reggie Bush over: Eddie Lacy, Frank Gore, Montee Ball, Andre Ellington
· Zac Stacy at Philadelphia – The confidence in Zac Stacy among the general public baffles me. I see him listed as a top 12 RB this week so maybe I’m just watching a different game, but I don’t see it. Philadelphia should be able to control this game, easily limiting Stacy’s rushing attempts. In addition, Stacy has not yet earned the complete trust of his own coach, as displayed by his exact 50/50 split with Benny Cunningham (34 snaps each) in week 3. I don’t trust Austin Davis to keep this game competitive and I don’t trust Jeff Fisher to play Stacy enough to warrant this kind of value.
I’d Start the following players over Zac Stacy: Reggie Bush, Khiry Robinson, Doug Martin, Shane Vereen, Andre Williams
· Khiry Robinson vs. Tampa Bay - The New Orleans Saints are a difficult team to figure out when it comes to fantasy RBs. With Mark Ingram out, everyone thought that Khiry Robinson and Pierre Thomas would split the remaining workload. Well, surprisingly it was Travaris Cadet who received the first touch of the game in week 4, and it was Pierre Thomas who played the most snaps on offense. Khiry Robinson averaged almost 11 YPC and totaled over 100 yards but again, the timeshare was alarming (Snapcount: Pierre Thomas-23, Khiry Robinson-18, Travaris Cadet-18). Who knows what Sean Payton will do now after the Saints got trampled in Dallas. Furthermore, the Bucs run defense is healthy and stout with star DT Gerald McCoy having returned last week.This unit held LeVeon Bell to only 3.3 YPC and 63 yards rushing in week 4. There’s too much uncertainty with the Saints backfield for me to trust Robinson as any more than a flex option this week.
I’d Start the following players over Khiry Robinson: Doug Martin, Shane Vereen, Chris Ivory, Andre Williams, Justin Forsett
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Goal of this podcast: To give you one last string of well-educated speculation before the NFL regular season begins. We talk sleeper picks that have been overhyped, plus two bold predictions, some mailbag and a few guys who could rock the denim as well as Aaron Rodgers and crew did earlier this week.