John Norton ("The Guru") and Gary Davenport ("The Godfather of IDP") are two of the most experienced and knowledgeable IDP analysts in the fantasy football industry. Every week during the 2023 season here at Footballguys, The Guru and the Godfather will come together to answer five of that week's most pressing questions.
It’s one of the most important weeks of the year—and Christmas. In most IDP leagues, this is Semifinals Week. Managers are two wins from glory. One loss from despair.
Plus, what the heck do buy the Guru and Godfather for Christmas? Gift cards? A Lexus? Make it a December to remember?
The Guru and Godfather are well aware of this week’s stakes—and ready to help make sure this week’s game isn’t your last one.
As semifinal week gets underway, which defensive lineman is poised for the huge game that will guide fantasy managers to victory, and which has the biggest chance of disappointing in this must-win week?
GURU: Tanoh Kpassagnon is a backup/early down defensive end whose strength is against the run. He had 13 sacks in seven seasons before last week when he had, by far, the best game of his career. If a guy like Kpassagnon can go 5-1-3 against the Giants, it’s a pretty good bet that Haason Reddick is going to blow up. The Eagles’ pass rush is not what it was a year ago, but Reddick is still getting it and is my top candidate to be the DL1 this week.
Khalil Mack of the Los Angeles Chargers is having one of the best seasons of what is likely a Hall of Fame career. He is a player that most of us simply can’t fathom the possibility of sitting, yet here come the Buffalo Bills. This team has not given up many sacks all year, averaging 1.3 allowed per game since week eight. On top of that, they just discovered their running game. I doubt Josh Allen will get out of this game with 15 pass attempts like he did last week, but I do expect the Bills to get out to an early lead and use their newly discovered toy a lot on the ground. This could be the week Mack comes up short for us.
GODFATHER: For most of the first half of the 2023 season, New York Jets defensive tackle Quinnen Williams was on the side of a milk carton—DL74 over the first seven weeks of the season. From Week 8 on, though, he’s been DL27, and from Week 11 on it bumped to DL21. A decent finish or one big week won't completely make up for a disappointing season from my DT1 entering 2023, but no quarterback in the NFL has been sacked more than Washington’s Sam Howell.
Since Norton stole my Mack call (the more things change, the more they stay the same), I’ll pivot to one of the week’s biggest games. Miami Dolphins edge-rusher Bradley Chubb has broken out in his first full season in Miami—he’s sixth in fantasy points among defensive linemen. But the Dallas Cowboys haven’t been a good matchup for Chubb’s position all season long—30th in fantasy points allowed to defensive ends this year. Chubb’s a hard guy to sit, but he’s headed for a down week.
Linebackers rule most IDP leagues, and playing the right one in Week 16 could make or break the season. What second or third-tier linebacker could explode this week? Which big-name linebacker will play bounce house and end seasons early?
GURU: I will go with a guy that might be a fifth or even sixth-tier linebacker. I was initially looking at Josh Woods, who had put up decent numbers in two of his three games as the Cardinals’ every-down linebacker, with a season-best of 5-7 in week thirteen. Now that Woods has unexpectedly landed on IR, I can go with the same writeup but change the name to Krys Barnes, who is an even better fantasy prospect. Some managers will look at a matchup with the Bears, consider their early season struggles, and write off most linebackers playing against them. Don’t be one of those managers. Since week eight, the linebacker position has averaged 14 tackles, 6 assists, just over half a sack, a pass breakup, and more than half of a turnover versus Chicago. By the Footballguys default scoring, that adds up to 33.35 points per game and makes the Bears the top matchup for linebackers over the last two months.
These are often the hardest calls to make because so much can depend on the game script. For example, if I had seen the stinker coming from Bobby Okereke of the New York Giants last week, I might still be alive in the Huddle Experts league. That was a game script, or more precisely, a game plan tragedy against a team that was a mediocre matchup. It is this week that I would expect Okereke to put up a 2-1. The Eagles offense is misfiring, their running game is off-track, and only the Packers have allowed fewer points to linebackers over the second half of the fantasy season.
GODFATHER: The Guru has a point—one that hurts that much more this time of year. Sometimes, game scripts just go wonky, and a guy vanishes as a result. It’s annoying in Week 5. In Week 16, it ends seasons. If it makes him feel any better, I got bounced in that league last week, too.
There are few things that pain IDP pundits more than saying nice things about Detroit Lions linebacker Alex Anzalone. Even in the best statistical season of his career, Anzalone remains an average NFL talent with an alleged penchant for hitting guys after the whistle. But Anzalone has been a relatively consistent producer for IDP managers this season, and in Week 16 he gets a Minnesota Vikings team surrendering the third-most fantasy points to linebackers. He has (shudder) legitimate LB1 upside this week.
On the other hand, Elandon Roberts of the Pittsburgh Steelers wishes he had Anzalone’s talent—he’s playing in an every-down role based on necessity, not merit. But Roberts has been productive for fantasy managers because of opportunity. This week, however, those opportunities could be harder to come by. The Cincinnati Bengals have been surprisingly successful with Jake Browning under center, but while the quarterback has changed in Cincinnati, one thing hasn’t—the Bengals have been a rotten matchup for linebackers.
Defensive backs are unpredictable on a good day, and that sort of unpredictability can cost fantasy managers the season this time of year. Which defensive back can be counted on in Week 16 to exceed expectations? Who should be avoided lest the year-end in disappointment?
GURU: I like Jonathan Owens of the Green Bay Packers here, as much for his high floor as his upside. There is nothing worse than getting a stinker in a playoff game. Owens is as safe a bet as there is for a DB to give us six or more tackles, regardless of the matchup. He had yet another strong outing last week, going 7-5 against a Buccaneers team that has allowed the seventh fewest points to safeties since week eight. When looking at matchups, many, if not most, managers would see the Panthers and assume they were one to avoid. That is not necessarily the case, as the Panthers rank tenth in points to safeties over the last two months. Just last week, we saw Jessie Bates III and DeMarcco Hellams of the Atlanta Falcons total 18 combined stops against them.
Speaking of Jessie Bates, he has been a weekly standout for us nearly all season, but especially over the second half. He even overcame poor matchups with the Jets and Buccaneers in weeks 13 and 14 to give us 18 and 13 points, respectively. That said, the only safety to reach double-digit points against the Colts over the last eight weeks was Antoine Winfield of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Indianapolis is giving up 14.7 points to the safety position on average. That is a full 3.5 fewer than the Titans, the second-worst matchup for the position.
GODFATHER: I wholeheartedly endorse both of those calls, even if the Bates one makes me sad. Speaking of sad, fantasy managers who made Jalen Pitre of the Houston Texans the No. 1 defensive back drafted over the summer have felt that way much of the year—Pitre hasn’t come close to backing up last year’s gaudy tackle numbers and first-place finish among safeties. But there have been some signs of life of late, and in Week 16, the Texans face a Cleveland Browns team that leads the league in fantasy points surrendered to safeties.
As my esteemed colleague mentioned, the Tennessee Titans are the worst fantasy matchup for safeties in 2023. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers aren’t that much better, though. While Rayshawn Jenkins of the Jacksonville Jaguars has been a top-five fantasy option over the past month or so, this lousy matchup will make it difficult to keep that hot streak going.
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