This week we discuss the following:
- Backup running backs getting starts
- Players who may disappoint this week
- QBs on the rise
- Julio Jones against Josh Norman
- Ted Ginn's and Larry Fitzgerald's TD prospects
Injuries have stirred things up in many backfields around the league. Handcuffs aren't always as plug-and-play as they might seem, however. Last week, people who started Denard Robinson, Brandon Bolden, Bryce Brown or Fozzy Whittaker were disappointed with the results.
Still, there are a number of opportunities around the league for a backup to step in and put up good numbers.
Daniel Simpkins: Out of this group, I'm going to take Artis-Payne for two reasons. The matchup is fantastic against an Atlanta front that has struggled to stop the run consistently over the last month. Though the Panthers are adamant that they still have something to play for, the coaching staff undoubtedly recognizes what a beating their personnel took against the Giants. Assuming rational coaching, they'll want to keep Stewart and Tolbert out of harm's way so that they can have them ready to go for the playoff run. That should mean that Artis-Payne gets more work, especially if there is significant garbage time in this contest.
Jason Wood: I'm with Steve, Danny Woodhead is the only guy on this list I would feel good about starting in a Finals matchup. He's coming off a 4-TD game and with Melvin Gordon III out, he's going to play on all downs and distances. Of the remaining, I would roll the dice on Michael if I needed a miracle big score from an unlikely contributor. With LeSean McCoy out, it's tempting to roll with Karlos Williams—but his fumbles have him on a short leash.
Dave Larkin: This completely depends on your situation in your championship game. If you are a risk-taker, I would go with Christine Michael. He has the talent to produce a couple of big plays against a Rams defense that, while stubborn at times, could flop if things go south quickly. Cameron Artis-Payne is a decent middle of the road option for owners who want that safe floor of 10-12 points, although he flashed some nice power and burst at times last week to suggest he could have an explosive play in him. To echo the rest of the guys, I would have most confidence in Danny Woodhead if I had to choose. His four-touchdown week aside, he simply has the highest upside due to his expected heavy workload and the matchup.
Chris Feery: Count me in with the majority—I would be most confident in Danny Woodhead, hands down. As Dave mentioned, four-touchdown outing aside, Woodhead has the most predictable workload in front of him and would provide me with the biggest comfort level of the backs mentioned for championship week. If I was looking to roll the dice a bit, I'd be inclined to go with Williams out of the remaining choices, but would be pretty concerned that we are looking at a potential committee situation with Mike Gillislee.
Bruce Hammond: No brainer for me, the answer is Woodhead. As scary as it is to have to play a backup in a finals game, Woodhead has shown time and again that when given the opportunity he gets it done. With Gordon out Woodhead has lots of potential this week against Oakland.
Sometimes when people get into their league championship, they may start to over-think things and get too cute with their lineup decisions. Don't do that. Start your studs over your longshots just like you did all season to get you this far.
That said, sometimes we do have to make tough decisions, including potentially benching decent players in marginal situations if we have better options.
Who are some players that have been decent-to-solid fantasy starters for most of this season whose Week 16 prospects you're a bit sour on?
Daniel Simpkins: For me, Tom Brady is that man. He draws a tough Jets matchup, likely without Amendola or Edelman. Historically, we know that Brady tends to struggle when he experiences heavy interior pressure. That's precisely what the Jets bring to the table with Sheldon Richardson, Leonard Williams, and Muhammad Wilkerson. I anticipate that Brady is in for a tough afternoon against a team that very much wants to secure a wildcard playoff spot.
Stephen Holloway: I am going to hesitate starting Larry Fitzgerald this week as the Cardinals defense and running game are both on the rise. Palmer has two other excellent receiving options in Brown and Floyd. In addition, Palmer's injury last week could reduce the number of passes thrown, unless the Packers get out to a big lead which I don't expect.
Jason Wood: There's absolutely no way on this Earth I'm benching Brady considering he's been the best QB asset outside of Cam Newton this year. He'll shred the Jets in an important game against a division foe. No worries there. At all.
For me the name that's atop the list is Todd Gurley. Very difficult matchup against the Seahawks with a game script that marginalizes him.
Dave Larkin: I would be shying away from A.J. Green going up against an embarrassed Broncos defense out to salvage some pride in prime time. Green has disappeared at times this season, and could be blotted out completely by a combination of Aqib Talib, Chris Harris Jr and Bradley Roby. You can bet taking away A.J. McCarron's top target will be a big emphasis in the Broncos' defensive meeting rooms all week.
Chris Feery: If I were a Gary Barnidge owner, I would be pretty concerned about his prospects heading into championship week. The Chiefs have been on an absolute roll and should completely steamroll over the Browns this Sunday at Arrowhead. They have allowed exactly three touchdowns to opposing tight ends in 2015. The prospects of the Browns passing game as a whole facing off with a Chiefs defense that has been one of the top units in the league over the second half of the season would not instill me with a ton of confidence.
Bruce Hammond: I really hate to say it since I own Gurley in one of the leagues I'm in the finals of this week—and am going to start him—but I think there is a very good chance he gets shut down by Seattle. Of course it depends on the other options on your roster but if you are deep enough at RB to can consider alternatives, sitting Gurley isn't at all unthinkable. His prospects for a touchdown as far worse this week against Seattle than in most weeks, and if the Rams fall behind early Gurley might not see all that many carries.
Stephen Holloway: Kirk Cousins and Teddy Bridgewater both have awesome match-ups against poor pass defense teams in Philadelphia (29th) and the New York Giants (32nd). For week 16, I prefer Cousins over Bridgewater, simply because he has consistently passed for more yards per week and has nearly as good a match-up, with overall better receiving options. I don't see either of these guys as top twelve dynasty options, but would prefer Cousins and his much less expensive cost.
Daniel Simpkins: I really like Kirk Cousins and Teddy Bridgewater as streaming options this week against defenses that struggle mightily to defend the pass. As far as their dynasty prospects, I'm a little more reserved. Both will have big games from time to time, but struggle to put up the consistent production we want from our fantasy starters. Of the two, Bridgewater is more likely to keep his job long-term and has a higher fantasy ceiling.
Jason Wood: I'm of the mind that very few people are legitimately in the finals of their leagues with either Cousins or Bridgewater as their top options. It just didn't happen much. But to play along, I would feel much better starting Cousins than Bridgewater. Cousins is balling and faces a division opponent in a must win game. Plus he's got DeSean Jackson rounded back into shape and Jordan Reed is the best TE not named Rob Gronkowski right now. Bridgewater is still a game manager who's reliant on a high TD% in a given game to matter.
Dave Larkin: Let's start with Cousins, because to me he is the more interesting case in both redraft and dynasty. The Washington have finally settled on an offensive scheme that, as long as the game script remains viable, can work very well with Cousins. Jay Gruden obviously values Cousins' down-to-down semi-consistency. Long term, I believe the Washington will keep Cousins in the fold and he could be a decent low-end QB1 at times, but I still believe he will be a placeholder for the next guy. He will make enough poor decisions in among his good decisions to keep that scintilla of doubt in the minds of fans and coaches. In the short term, Cousins looks like a solid start against the Eagles in Week 16. Philadelphia is certain to sell out to stop the ground game after their embarrassing showing last week, but Cousins has enough guts to take shots downfield against single-high looks. Don't be surprised to see his connection with Jordan Reed continue to blossom.
As for Bridgewater, I have no problem if you have to start him this week against the porous Giants defensive secondary. Opportunities will be there for him, and when the opposing defense cooperates he can be a very efficient passer. But like my colleagues Jason Wood and Daniel Simpkins, I am skeptical about his long-term prospects as a true building block in dynasty leagues. A change of offensive scheme to one that emphasizes timing throws with shorter drops might help him—especially if the Vikings don't invest in their offensive line—but until he proves otherwise he will remain a fringe QB1 for me.
Chris Feery: For Week 16, I'm definitely more comfortable starting Cousins. We can be confident that Cousins will continue to air it out this week against the Eagles, while Bridgewater can easily regress back into a game manager type role this week against the Giants, in spite of last week's stellar output against the Bears.
Long-term, I would flip the two around and regard Bridgewater as the better dynasty prospect. I'm more confident that the Vikings will stick with Bridgewater as a team building block. Cousins is the flavor of the week in Washington, but a couple of poor performances will quickly have them looking elsewhere based on their organizational history. Organizational fit aside, Week 15 may have provided a perfect glimpse into the future for the Vikings. A hobbled Adrian Peterson led to the team relying on Bridgewater a bit more and he responded with his finest game of the season. As father time unfortunately catches up with Peterson over the next few years, we could see Bridgewater gain more responsibility and realize his potential.
Bruce Hammond: Cousins has continued to improve as the season has progressed, and the passing game has opened up more with the return of Desean Jackson. Most importantly, he has cut down on the interceptions in the second half of the season, something that has been his main problem. He's a borderline QB1 against the Eagles this week, and he should have a good chance to continue to improve in 2016 and beyond.
Bridgewater has been handicapped by the offensive scheme this season more than his own ability, and given more opportunity would probably put up consistently good numbers. I think the Vikings will play it conservative against the Giants this week and Bridgewater is no better than a lower QB2. But in dynasty he has a chance to have a very bright future as Adrian Peterson nears the end of his career and Bridgewater (just 23) needs to be relied on more.
Stephen Holloway: Julio Jones will be productive in week 16. Matt Ryan has consistently targeted Jones all year and he will have success this week against the Panthers, whether or not he is consistently covered by Josh Norman.
Daniel Simpkins: You have to bump your expectations for Julio down considerably. We saw Norman dominate the matchup against Odell Beckham Jr Jr. last week. Beckham scored, but he had to switch to the slot to get away from Norman. Jones is capable of playing out of the slot as well, so look for the Falcons to increase his number of snaps in that position in an effort to free him up. Julio put up over 80 yards the last time these two teams faced off, and that's about the right expectation for him this time around.
Jason Wood: We saw that Norman is human against Beckham. And with Panthers don't have much to play for (I'm not a believer that an undefeated season is the same kind of motivator that playing for a playoff berth or bye would have been). I would start Jones with confidence.
Dave Larkin: Well, Norman has performed very well against Jones in their previous encounters, but there is something about facing an opponent twice in quick succession that might flip the script here. Jones and the entire Falcons offense has been a gigantic letdown this year, but with the incentive to end the Panthers' unbeaten run in the air, they should be more motivated. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan manages to get Jones open a variety of ways, so he won't necessarily be up against Norman every snap. The Panthers defense recorded a shutout against Atlanta two weeks ago, but they have been giving up points in bunches at times. The opportunity is there for Jones to have a respectable fantasy outing. Eight receptions for 90-100 yards and a score would not shock me.
Chris Feery: I'm comfortable starting Jones this week and agree with Dave—eight catches for 90-100 yards and a score is within reason. While Norman is an intimidating matchup for opposing wideouts, he's not going to completely shut down Jones. In the last game between the two teams, Jones was targeted ten times and hauled in seven of them for 88 yards. The Falcons are only two weeks removed from being embarrassed by the Panthers to the tune of 38-0 and have little to play for at this point outside of redemption and the satisfaction of putting an end to the Panthers dreams of an undefeated season. Any chance of that happening will have to involve a big contribution from Jones, who I would play with confidence this week.
Bruce Hammond: I'll project Julio Jones for 6-78-0, which isn't anything special. Norman and the rest of the Seahawks defense will make it tough.
Stephen Holloway: Ted Ginn Jr has a much better chance at scoring a touchdown in week 16 against the Falcons than Larry Fitzgerald against the Packers. Fitzgerald has seven TDs on the season, but five of those came in weeks two and three and he only has one touchdown since Week 5. Fitzgerald has not been used much down the field and averages just over 11 yards per catch. Carson Palmer has more dynamic receivers (or at least the equal to the current Fitzgerald) in Michael Floyd and John Brown. Meanwhile Ted Ginn Jr has been frequently targeted by Cam Newton down the field and has had no trouble getting open. He has scored ten touchdowns on the season, including two in each of the Panthers' last three games. He has dropped several, but Newton continues to target him.
Daniel Simpkins: Ginn—he's consistently getting two-to-four downfield targets a game and converting at least one of them. I agree with Steve that Fitzgerald's usage as lately seems to be in the middle of the field. He's more of a chain mover than a red zone target.
Jason Wood: Let's be rational here. Fitzgerald is a better player. Carson Palmer is—like Newton—at the top of the league's passing charts. Ginn has been playing out of his mind and WELL above his statistical norms. I'm DEFINITELY betting on Fitzgerald over Ginn any week, and would double down on the bet each week Ginn kept playing this well until Fitzgerald got the job done.
Dave Larkin: The real issue here is who do you trust more, and for me it has to be Larry Fitzgerald. The Cardinals' use of him in the slot has allowed him to exploit favorable matchups and he should find joy against the Packers cornerbacks this week in what could be a high-scoring affair. Ted Ginn Jr always has that allure of the deep ball, but it is very hit-or-miss. But the Panthers had a lot of success against the Atlanta cornerbacks and safeties two weeks ago, so expect them to go back to it.
Chris Feery: Ginn, simply because he's being targeted downfield at a higher clip. Even his high-profile drops are not deterring the Panthers from taking several deep shots per game. We can expect more of the same this week against the Falcons. As others have mentioned, Fitzgerald has been more of a chain mover lately. He can certainly break free at a moment's notice, but the downfield shots offer Ginn a better chance of finding the end zone this week.
Bruce Hammond: Fitzgerald was piling up stats early when Michael Floyd was dealing with his finger injuries, but has settled down quite a bit in the second half of the season and is now catching mostly short stuff. He has only had one touchdown since Week 5. Cam Newton is really clicking with Ginn now and they are playing a bad Falcons defense. I'm sure they will take several deep shots and Ginn stands a good chance of getting a score.
That will do it for this edition of the Footballguys Roundtable. Please join us again next week.