Before getting into the usual, let me first wish you all a Happy Holidays. Nothing is more important than family and loved ones, especially at this time of year. So I hope you are warm and safe with those that mean the most to you.
It’s kind a of hard to believe we’re already approaching Week 16 in another crazy NFL season. We are now down to just two weeks of games. Fear not; this column will be in place all the way through the conference championships. It will not, however, have ownership data from Thursday/Saturday GPPs. This is the last week for said GPPS, but given the holiday and importance to family, both The Fade and The Contrarian were written before that data was available. We will have those numbers for you; be sure to keep an eye on the Cracking FanDuel blog for them.
But for now, we’ll carry on with our traditional approach of identifying a few players that might be under-owned in large tournaments.
(Update: ownership data is available here)
In half of his games this year, Alex Smith has thrown for only one touchdown and averages below 230 yards per contest. If not for his fourth-ranked 382 rushing yards, his season-long rank would be well below its current status of 17th overall. This week he hosts a Browns defense that, when not being gutted by running backs, has allowed 32 combined touchdowns to passers (three rushing) and the fifth most fantasy points. The Chiefs implied team total of 26.75 points is one of the highest on the board with Vegas favoring them by 11. It’s possible that those points all come from their running backs. But it’s also possible that Smith generates a combination of passing and throwing scores on his way to paying off his reasonable $6,800 salary.
The Bears are traveling to Tampa Bay this week in what has sneaky shootout potential. The Buccaneers are just a smidge better than mediocre against the pass, having allowed the 15th most passing yards to go along with 28 touchdowns. Jay Cutler is as inconsistent as they come, but over the last two weeks he has managed a combined 546 yards and four touchdowns with one interception. For $6,900, you’re hoping he can find Alshon Jeffery a couple of times in the end zone, and maybe even connect with Matt Forte for chunks of yardage. We’ll never confidently plant a flag in Cutler as a good contrarian play, but with the Sunday slate of games looking rather dry outside of the top-five, he may be our best bet to return value from the bargain bin.
Believe it or not, quarterback Jimmy Clausen has been playing better-than-bad football—competent football, even—and looks like a much better option than Matt Schaub. We could have done without the two interceptions, but his 281 yards, two touchdowns and five scrambles for 30 yards were good enough for QB14 last week. And that was against a respectable Chiefs’ defense. This week he gets a Steelers secondary that has allowed the eighth most points to quarterbacks and the second most passing yards. For $6,100 Clausen is worth a look, and maybe even worth stacking with one of his receivers or tight ends.
Denard Robinson had great matchup last week but failed to crack 75 total yards and had a goal line touchdown vultured by his quarterback. Given recency bias and injury concerns, it’s likely the crowd will be spooked despite the fact that he has an even better matchup this week. We especially like his situation should Drew Brees be ruled out of Sunday’s game. In case you need to be reminded, the Saints 16 total touchdowns allowed to running backs ranks fourth and their 2,561 combined yards is the most in the league. Pay his $6,400 salary with confidence.
We wrote up Ameer Abdullah in this space last week noting that the Lions might want to see what their rookie is capable of. He ended up playing the most snaps among Lions running backs, just barely edging Joique Bell 22-21, and turned in his best performance since the first week of the season. This week he has another great matchup against a 49ers defense that has allowed the most rushing touchdowns and fourth most rushing yards. Per usual, we’d much prefer to fill our rosters with running backs that aren’t part of a three-headed backfield, but for $5,300, we feel Abdullah is worth the risk. The Lions are at home—a fast track for speedsters like Abdullah—and are heavy favorites over one of the worst teams in football. A brave soul might use the entire Lions backfield—both Abdullah and Bell—and hope their combined $10,600 salary hits the 31.8 points needed to return tournament value. The two combined for 31 points last week. It was an outlier performance, to be sure, but outliers win tournaments.
We hate to put too much credence on matchups, especially when targeting a player on a bad offense with a backup, backup quarterback. But that’s the case with Frank Gore. He’s on the road to Miami with Charlie Whitehurst more than likely running the offense. The only reason we need to even consider Gore an option, besides his roster-friendly price tag of $6,000, is Miami’s run defense, which has allowed the third most rushing yards and the second most combined touchdowns. The last time he had this friendly of a matchup—Week 7 against the Saints—he returned only 10 points. His salary has been falling ever since and is now at a season-low. But we’ve also seen Gore look like the one we saw for so many years in San Francisco, such as in Week 9 against the Broncos (16.7 points) and Week 13 against the Steelers (16.9 points). Both of those defenses have been tough on running backs all season. So there is hope of him returning value.
It’s reasonable to expect lots of passing from the Jets when they host the Patriots on Sunday. It’s also likely that Brandon Marshall will spend a good chunk of the day in Malcom Butler’s coverage. Not that we needed any reason to pivot to Eric Decker, who comes into the week with the fifth most receiving touchdowns and ranks 11th overall among wide receivers. Over the last three weeks only three other receivers have more targets and with the running game somewhat stalling, Decker could be in for a big day. The Patriots aren’t the easiest matchup on the board, but this is a high-volume situation, just as it was in Week 7, during which Decker saw 12 targets and finished just shy of 100 yards.
Since losing Stephon Gilmore two weeks ago, the Bills have allowed Nelson Agholor and DeSean Jackson to combine for 215 yards and two scores. Next up is a date with Dez Bryant, who will now have Kellen Moore throwing to him. The good news is that Moore targeted Bryant seven times last week after Matt Cassel was pulled. The bad news is that two of those targets were intercepted. But we can expect to see Bryant be heavily involved again as Moore will look to his best option, especially after a full week of practice. Note, that if you have the courage, a Moore/Byrant stack will cost you just $13,000—21.6 percent of the cap. If that’s too edgy, at the very least Bryant won’t have trouble returning value on his $7,000 salary.
Doug Baldwin and the entire Seattle offense has been on an absolute tear lately. They have scored at least 30 points in every game except one since their bye in Week 9, have combined for at least 400 yards of offense in every game but one during that span. Now there’s this:
Pete Carroll says WR Doug Baldwin (hamstring) may be a game-time decision Sun. vs STL. #Seahawks— Gregg Bell (@gbellseattle) December 24, 2015
The lesson here is that Tyler Lockett becomes a solid play should Baldwin sit. The Rams are a good secondary but just allowed Mike Evans to tee off for 157 yards on 17 targets last week. Lockett is a boom/bust option but is the 11th highest scoring receiver over the last five weeks. His $6,200 is a great relief for those of us paying up for Antonio Brown and a top-five quarterback.
We don’t have a lot of faith in the Giants/Vikings tilt turning into a full-blown shootout, but we do have faith in the Giants’ defense living up to their name and allowing Kyle Rudolph to become relevant. They’ve allowed the second most yards and second most points to tight ends this season. Rudolph has been mostly bust, but he occasionally booms and is the eighth highest scoring tight end since Week 11. His $5,000 salary allows for a competitive roster.
With Crockett Gillmore placed on injured reserve, Maxx Williams steps up as the clear starter for the Ravens. Last week he didn’t do a lot but at least saw six targets—second to only Kamar Aiken’s 12. This week he’s at home against a vulnerable Steelers defense that has allowed over 800 yards and eight touchdowns to tight ends. Williams gives you kicker-priced option with touchdown upside. And as mentioned, Clausen has been playing better than mediocre football.
It won’t be surprising if Will Tye winds up as a popular option Sunday night, so labeling him as a contrarian play here may not make sense. In any case, logic suggests that Odell Beckham’s production has to go somewhere. It will most likely be spread across the entire offense, but the most obvious option is Tye, who has been one Eli Manning’s favorite targets over the last few weeks. The Vikings are a tough defense but volume is something we always want on our side. The Giants are still in the hunt to win a bad NFC East so expect them to do what’s necessary to get a win on Sunday night, even if the Vikings have nothing to play for.
If Drew Brees is ruled out, or even better, if he plays, we have to like the Jaguars at their bargain price of $4,300. A hobbled Brees is going to toss a few ducks to the defense. His 11 interceptions are currently good for 12th most. If Brees doesn’t play, then we get Matt Flynn, who hasn’t started a game since 2013. The Jaguars defense is bad, to be sure, but bad quarterbacks make bad defenses good.
The Vikings are the real winner of Odell Beckham’s suspension, as they’ll get to face Manning and the Giants without their best player. To date, they rank 14th overall in FanDuel defensive scoring and have allowed just nine passing touchdowns to six interceptions in their seven home games. We’ll take the home favorite in freezing conditions for $4,700.