This time of year, there are no easy answers. Maybe you’ve got the horses, maybe you don’t; the pickings in the free agent pool are somewhere between slim and non-existent. The trading deadline has likely passed, leaving you to dance with the horses who have brung you this far—assuming, of course, you’re still playing.
Mix in the cruel twists of fate that are injuries, bad matchups, and the sheer bad luck of facing Maurice Jones-Drew and his four touchdown day or something similar and this fantasy football season won’t end well for most of the teams in your league.
So… what can be done to make sure you’re the last one standing?
Maybe nothing. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. Without full benefit of the research that goes into the Start/Bench List, here’s a little unsolicited lineup advice.
If you’re trotting one of the matchup-proof guys—Rodgers, Brees, Brady for sure, and throw Eli, Romo, Stafford and a rejuvenated Rivers into that mix as well—you don’t need to put much thought into this decision.
If you’ve been rolling the bones with inconsistent wonders like Newton, Vick, and Tebow, the upside all but demands you trot them out there again. This is no time to play it close to the vest.
And if you’ve been cobbling together the quarterback position on a week-to-week basis, you may just have some options this week. Carson Palmer keeps pulling his own twisted version of the Tebow trick, waiting until the Raiders are hopelessly behind before compiling some useful fantasy numbers, and he may be in a similar situation against the Lions this week. Garbage time or no, there’s plenty of upside to his matchup.
Same for Rex Grossman, who for the moment appears to be on the “Good Rexy” side of the equation and will be dueling Eli Manning with the added benefits of a shaky Giants secondary and a depleted Big Blue pass rush.
If you’re really pressed into “swing for the fences” mode, T.J. Yates has a favorable matchup against the Panthers and Christian Ponder (or perhaps Joe Webb) will be playing catch-up against the Saints.
It’s certainly not a week for tepidity; after all, there’s a reason people say “win or go home”.
The list of completely trustable guys isn’t particularly long. You know Rice and McCoy and Foster and CJ, you may get Adrian Peterson back this week, and no one’s been hotter than Maurice Jones-Drew.
But then it gets tricky.
Among the most productive backs the past month are names like Marshawn Lynch, Michael Bush, Shonn Greene, Reggie Bush, Roy Helu, Kevin Smith, and Ryan Mathews—all guys who have brought as much (if not more) frustration to their fantasy owners as they have elation. Bush and Smith have favorable matchups, while Mathews is the only member of that group with what could be construed as a shutdown matchup—hosting the Ravens, who may get Ray Lewis back. Of that group Mathews is the only one who’ll likely be subject to WDIS questions, unless you’re truly stocked at the position.
The decision should be less difficult for backs like LeGarrette Blount and Beanie Wells, both of whom have an extremely favorable schedule this week. Yes, both have absolutely hosed fantasy owners in the very recent past, but you’re unlikely to have a more favorable matchup in your lineup.
Where the money will be made is in making decisions between the likes of Rashard Mendenhall, Frank Gore, and Mark Ingram or Chris Ivory—all of whom have tougher matchups—and longshots like Ryan Grant, Felix Jones, and whichever New England back you think might bogart the touches this week. While I reserve the right to change my mind based on what further research reveals, my initial instinct in these instances is to swing for the fences with the favorable matchup—with the exception of the Patriots, who are splintering the workload too much for me to bank on in any way, shape, or form.
When it comes to receivers, I like to go where the yardage is. The positive fallout of the Greg Jennings injury is that not only will Jordy Nelson see more looks but also James Jones, Donald Driver, and even Randall Cobb can be looked to for at least a portion of Aaron Rodgers’ 300-plus yards.
I’m also looking for banged-up secondaries; how many times this past weekend alone did we see receivers running free down the field thanks to a blown coverage? In many instances that’s due to defensive backs’ unfamiliarity with each other so that one guy is playing man while another is playing zone.
The Rams have put a dozen cornerbacks on injured reserve this season, making not just A.J. Green but also Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell viable options. Jacksonville still grades out as a difficult defense, but in the past couple weeks they’ve lost their top three corners to injury so Julio Jones and Harry Douglas join Roddy White as good plays. And the Vikings, who opened the season wafer-thin in the back half of their defense, are down to rejects and retreads; you think Drew Brees will have trouble finding Lance Moore and Robert Meachem in addition to Marques Colston? No, me either.
On the other hand, you have matchups like the talented but wildly inconsistent Vincent Jackson against the Ravens, or Jeremy Maclin (or Desean Jackson) on Revis Island. Bench fodder? The downside, of course, is that on any given Sunday Maclin or either Jackson could blow up for 150 and two or three touchdowns. But the volatility of these targets make them too risky for my blood, assuming I have a favorable option to replace them with.
Finally, a couple sneaky sleepers. Devin Aromashodu is seeing ridiculous snap counts in Minnesota since taking over for Michael Jenkins, and the Vikings are not shy about taking deep shots at him. You also have any and all Broncos receivers—specifically Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker—squaring off with the Patriots’ Swiss cheese secondary and Jonathan Baldwin and Steve Breaston playing catch-up against the Packers while Charles Woodson sits on Dwayne Bowe.
Got Gronk? Only one team does, and if it’s not you you’ll have some making up to do at the position. Jimmy Graham and Jermichael Finley have disappointed recently, but the former—if healthy—has an extremely favorable matchup with the Vikings and the latter can be looked to to pick up at least some of the slack in Green Bay left by the injury to Greg Jennings.
If you’re forced to scrape the bottom of the tight end barrel, check out Jared Cook (at Indy), Anthony Fasano (at Buffalo), and Marcedes Lewis (at Atlanta). All three face teams who have given up more than their share of fantasy points to the tight end position over the past couple months.
There’s something to be said for a kicker on an offense that struggles in the red zone. Over the past five weeks David Akers has made more field goals (17) than any other kicker has even attempted. He’s bound to be counting by threes again on Monday night against the Steelers.
Working off that same list of the past five weeks, the next three names are quite likely available in your free agent pool: Rob Bironas, Dan Bailey, and Steven Hauschka. The Seahawks are in Chicago, which should take Hauschka off your radar, but Bironas will be kicking indoors against Indy and Bailey will be in Florida to take on Tampa Bay. If you’re dissatisfied with your kicker situation, those are a couple names to consider.
At this juncture, Team Defenses are all about playing the matchup. So while it would be nice to lock in the Ravens or Packers, there’s nothing wrong with reaching for the Saints (available in 50% of My Fantasy League leagues, facing the error-prone Vikings), Titans (available in 50% of MFL leagues, facing Dan Orlovsky and the hapless Colts), or even Browns (available in 85% of MFL leagues, taking on John Skelton and the Cardinals).
That’s an overview of the WDIS thought process for Week 15. If after perusing the Predictions and Projections and Start/Bench List you’re still in a quandary, feel free to tweet me at @jtuvey and I’ll settle any internal arguments you may have about those key roster decisions.
Hey, that's what we're here for.