This week we discuss the following:
- Bengals offense
- Seahawks running backs
- Denard Robinson
- Patriots running backs
- Tim Hightower
- Ted Ginn
- Beckham versus Norman
- Dez Bryant
- Blake Bortles
- Kickers and defenses
Jeff Pasquino: I actually think that A.J. McCarron can hold the fort in Weeks 15 and 17. Matchups against SF and BAL in those weeks look okay to favorable, so there's no reason to panic. I would look elsewhere for QB help (and move off of the entire Cincinnati offense) in Week 16 against Denver, as they can shut down anyone. Jeremy Hill does benefit some against San Francisco and Baltimore as the Bengals may operate a little more in balance and with leads against the 49ers and Ravens.
Chad Parsons: I would adjust expectations of Green about 10% downward without Dalton in the lineup. I liked McCarron more than most coming out of Alabama. Hill was and remains volume and goal line look-centric. Without Dalton, Hill might see one or two fewer red zone touches per week, which I would guess softens his projection by 10-15% overall.
Ryan Hester: A.J. McCarron came off the bench cold and impressed last week against Pittsburgh. A.J. Green was a huge beneficiary of McCarron's play. While the offense's ceiling is lower as a whole, Green's doesn't change that much. In fact, the contrarian in me wants to say that his floor might actually rise a bit. Inexperienced quarterbacks like McCarron are more likely to make one read and look to their best player. If McCarron makes a "bad" decision and throws Green a contested pass, Green has the skills to come down with it. Eifert's outlook (when he returns) is probably a wash. While inexperience quarterbacks also tend to use quick passes to intermediate targets closer to them on the field (like tight ends), Eifert's value has come in the red zone, a place the team may see less frequently without Dalton.
Jeff Haseley: My gut says A.J. McCarron will have a limited list of down field plays, which leads me to believe A.J. Green won't have an impressive stat line. He may have 6-8 catches, but his yardage will suffer. A six for 70 line seems about right for Green. As for Jeremy Hill, I like his match up against a 49ers run defense that has been a doormat for opposing running back this year. In 13 games, the 49ers have allowed a running back to reach 20+ PPR fantasy points eight times, including five of the last six games. Isaiah Crowell was the most recent to reach pay dirt. I can see the Bengals leaning on Hill without Dalton under center. If he performs well early, he could have a big day.
Justin Howe: I really don't foresee a huge drop-off for the passing game. The Bengals should suffer a bit as a team, but their receiving numbers may not. Last week, once Dalton left the game, the Bengals kept throwing the ball downfield—and not just because they had to. Keep in mind that McCarron was given 32 attempts, and note that he averaged a studly 12.7 yards per completion—a better number than Russell Wilson or Eli Manning posted amidst their huge Week 14s.
I'm not sure Hill benefits much, though I still like him going forward. He still splits time, and the Bengals are unlikely to get better (and therefore create better game flows) without Dalton, so I figure we've already seen the outer edges of Hill's opportunity.
John Mamula: I am higher on A.J. McCarron that most and expect similar production as compared to Andy Dalton. McCarron has three full seasons of SEC conference experience where he had 77 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. If Tyler Eifert plays, I expect him and A.J. Green have success in Week 15 vs. San Francisco (6th worst vs. the pass) and Week 17 vs. Baltimore (12th worst vs. the pass). Week 16 will be a more difficult test as Denver has the best pass defense in the league. Jeremy Hill will thrive if given touches vs. San Francisco, who has the second worst rush defense in the league allowing 133.2 rushing yards per game and a league-leading 16 rushing touchdowns this season. Hill will struggle in matchups vs. Denver (3rd best rush defense) and Baltimore (11th best rush defense).
Mark Wimer: Green may actually benefit as I don't think Eifert will be out of the concussion protocols by game time and Green will be heavily targeted by the inexperienced McCarron. Volume usually means good fantasy results for receivers. Jeremy Hill likely gets a bump in carries as well—I think Marvin Jones Jr is the guy to avoid this weekend.
Jeff Pasquino: This screams committee to me, as Bryce Brown was just brought back in to help. Michael did little in his previous stint with Seattle, so I think that Seattle just keeps on throwing the ball and letting Russell Wilson scramble if he needs to for the time being. If Lynch can come back for the Week 17 matchup with Arizona, it will be the Wilson show against Cleveland and St. Louis.
Chad Parsons: Michael did not impress the Seahawks when he was with them before. Bryce Brown is that big, straight-line speed back without a ton latelyral agility or vision to complement the physical attributes of note. Both Michael and Brown have a long track record of deficiencies. The biggest beneficiary is Russell Wilson and his uptick lately. The passing game will see a few more attempts a game and Wilson will be the centerpiece of sustaining drives.
Ryan Hester: This screams committee. Brown is uber-talented but struggles with fumbling issues, and the same could be said for Michael. Fred Jackson has the football IQ of a full-time runner but is aging and perhaps not capable physically of that workload. But Jackson will see most passing downs, and he could see carries at the end of the game in clock-killing mode due to the unreliability of Brown and Michael. It's possible Seattle gets 30+ carries this week when they host Cleveland. Brown and Michael could out-carry Jackson, but Jackson could add three or four receptions before the game-flow slows down the passing game.
Jeff Haseley: I see a committee approach here with Fred Jackson, Christine Michael, and Bryce Brown. Brown hasn't played a snap with Seattle, so I imagine they will use kid gloves with him this week, unless he shows he can be effective as a runner, but also in pass protection. This could be a 5-7 catch game for Fred Jackson. He's the one that I see having more of a fantasy role this week.
Justin Howe: A committee does seem to make the most sense. Neither Brown nor Christine Michael have ever looked like full-time players, and the Seahawks have had no intention of turning to Fred Jackson for lead back duties. That said, a committee isn't really the Seahawks way. They prefer to hammer one back at a defense, and their backup generally serves as a spell man for a handful of snaps. (Jackson's role has stayed pretty static all season, a passing down back and not a real threat for early work.) So all told, I expect one back to garner 70-75% of the team's 30ish rushes.
Of the available options, I like Brown, if only for Week 15. The fact that the team hastily brought him on board while simultaneously waiving last week's lead man (DuJuan Harris) suggests that Brown topped their plans. Things can change over the course of the week, and Michael's signing makes me wonder if the team will value familiarity. But at this relatively early point in the week, the cards are pointing toward Brown pacing
John Mamula: I agree that this looks like a committee situation with Fred Jackson and Bryce Brown. While Cleveland (4th worst vs. the rush) represents a good matchup this week, I think Seattle continues to attack via the passing game. Russell Wilson is coming off one of the best four game stretches in NFL history throwing 16 touchdowns with 0 interceptions. I expect another multiple-touchdown performance from Wilson this week vs. Cleveland.
Mark Wimer: I think Russell Wilson may have the most carries at the end of this game—I'm not investing in any of the Seattle backs this weekend, but I am starting Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett where I own them.
Jeff Pasquino: Yes, I do. Jacksonville is in the hunt if they can win the games in front of them and the Texans stumble a bit, which is definitely possible. Jacksonville is not out of contention for the weak AFC South, and with their next two against the Falcons and Saints, there is plenty of room for both wins and offensive production against two teams that are not offering up much opposition lately. Robinson looked better than Yeldon has all year long, so I would not be surprised if Robinson sees 50% of the work or more even if Yeldon comes back to full strength.
Chad Parsons: With Yeldon out, I would have Robinson in the upside RB2 zone outside of a stingy matchup. Robinson has more initial burst than Yeldon and with Jacksonville's passing game good enough to keep seven in the box, Robinson will have a few cracks a game to reel off a chunk gain with one man to beat in the hole.
Ryan Hester: Robinson could be the more electric player than Yeldon at this point. He may not have the size or consistency to be an every-down player for a long period of time (hence, the team's drafting of Yeldon and their usage of him thus far), but Robinson is more than capable of putting together a quality game on a starter's workload. I would absolutely trust him as a fantasy starter, and there could even be some playoff teams that should start him despite the fact that their teams are strong enough to have gotten them into Round two. Robinson is somewhere in the RB13-17 range for me this week against an Atlanta team that looks like it has given up. If Jacksonville gets an early lead and momentum shifts their way, it may never shift back.
Jeff Haseley: I love Denard Robinson this week against Atlanta. The Falcons are splitting at the seams defensively, especially their run defense which has allowed the second most fantasy points to opposing running backs over the last three games. Robinson could help save your season this week. I'm comfortable starting him as a RB2 in my lineup.
Justin Howe: Robinson has always been a playmaker, so he's been an upper-tier handcuff all season. But what I love about his Week 15 outlook is the fact that the team absolutely trusts him to shoulder a starter's load. He took 14 rushes in relief last week, but perhaps most tellingly, he's been the team's primary back near the goal line lately. He and Yeldon have dominated the team's short-yardage game, and the starter projects to see 2+ touches from inside the 10. A negative or neutral game plan would make either a fine bet to find the end zone.
All told, I figure the Jaguars have scripted a running game entirely around Robinson (assuming he draws the start)—and his usage may even eclipse what we've come to expect from T.J. Yeldon. Robinson could notch 20 touches in an insanely favorable matchup.
John Mamula: Yes, I trust Denard Robinson if T.J. Yeldon is out. As Jeff mentioned, Atlanta has been struggling vs. the rush over the past few games. They look like a team that can't wait for the post-season to arrive. If Yeldon is out, I have Robinson as a low RB1 in this matchup. I project Robinson for 90 total yards and a better than average chance at finding the end zone this week.
Mark Wimer: Yes I do trust Robinson on a short-term basis. He was the starting back for Jaguars for a portion of last season and did well when he was relatively fresh in Weeks Seven through Ten before he wore down (see 2014 game logs HERE), Yeldon has been the workhorse during 2015 to this point, so I think Robinson is now again relatively fresh and has good upside especially against the Falcons who have been playing miserably during their losing streak. There may be a lot of opportunities for Robinson to carry the ball protecting a lead in the second half.
Ryan Hester: There's still too much uncertainly for my liking, particularly in regards to Bolden. White's role is much clearer, and he could even get some of the former Blount role with some goal-line carries or clock-killing carries. It's a huge gamble to rely on one of these players in the fantasy playoffs.
Jeff Haseley: I tend to think James White is the better fantasy play, especially in PPR leagues. In White's last home game (against PHI), he had 10 catches, granted most of those came while trailing. I don't expect to see New England struggling for a second consecutive home game. The match up against Tennessee favors the passing game, not so much the run. I'd be willing to take a gamble on White in daily games and consider him as a flex option in season long.
Justin Howe: The Patriots love to demarcate their rushing roles between an early-down hammer and a receiving back. But they also like to mix those roles up, leaving us with no clue what to expect. Sometimes Bolden will serve as a special teamer who plays 5-10 passing down snaps, and sometimes he's the primary emergency back. White is usually a receiving back only, but he'll see carries from near the goal line here and there. The offense can always support a viable fantasy RB2 or better regardless of roles, so both have to be considered. But projecting snap and touch counts—let alone situational value—is tricky.
The bottom line is that both are in the picture for Week 15. Montee Ball may never sniff the active roster, and it's hard to believe Steven Jackson is coming aboard for a key role, if at all. Bolden is a fairly longtime Patriot, a trusted special teams captain and a more-than-capable back who's posted solid career averages in the backfield. My money is (tentatively) on Bolden commanding the lion's share of snaps for Week 15 and being used to grind the clock in the likely event of a solid Patriots lead. White is hard to trust as the third-down back in a matchup unlikely to need him on the field too much.
John Mamula: One thing that I have learned over the Bill Belichick era is that you can never trust any New England running back. I prefer James White as compared to Brandon Bolden but I am not forcing either RB into my lineup. New England will attack Tennessee through the air this week. Over the past three weeks, Tennessee has allowed 11 passing touchdowns. Tom Brady has a chance for a very big day this weekend.
Mark Wimer: The role of any New England back on any given weekend is subject to game planning constraints. I never trust New England to do the obvious, and Bolden is the obvious choice to assume the early-down running back duties, so the Patriots may just throw the football all day long, doing "long handoffs" to James White. I get weary trying to pick the right New England back for my fantasy starter, so I generally avoid doing so if it is possible.
The other option rather than avoiding all the Patriots backs is to pick one and start that guy every game taking the good weeks along with the bad weeks—but don't expect consistency from this team at this position.
How comfortable would you be starting Tim Hightower this week against the Lions?
Jeff Pasquino: Comfortable is not the word I would use, but if I don't have a better option, I would be OK with Hightower as my RB2 or flex option. Todd Gurley just torched the Lions, but no one will confuse Hightower for Gurley. I think Hightower is a reasonable spot starter but that game could quickly become a shootout between Brees and Matthew Stafford, reducing the value of any running game.
Ryan Hester: Hightower is a middling RB2 to me this week. Detroit has been up and down all season, but New Orleans showed that they're willing to get Hightower the ball in many situations throughout the game. On volume alone, he's an RB2. If he gets a carry inside the five, he'll exceed that expectation.
Jeff Haseley: Detroit is a decent rushing match up for Tim Hightower and the Saints, but that doesn't necessarily mean the Saints will rely heavily on the ground game. I would take a long look at giving Hightower a spot in my playoff lineup, but in the end, depending on my other options, I'm probably passing. His involvement as a receiving back was minimal last week (1 rec, 10 yards on one target). I'm convinced you need to be involved in the passing game to be an effective fantasy back on the Saints. Tim Hightower doesn't appear to have that edge.
Justin Howe: Put it this way: I doubt Hightower will close the season a viable fantasy starter. He's just not a starting-caliber back on early downs. C.J. Spiller looks to be out of the team's plans, but I have to expect they'll try to squeeze at least something from this year's hefty salary. And if we assume Hightower will struggle mightily to generate yardage going forward, I think we can expect Spiller to see the field a bit more.
That said, Hightower looks like a fairly shrewd play this week. The matchup does look ripe for a shootout to erupt, but running backs aren't blackballed from those. A high-volume guy like Hightower, who also dominates the short-yardage game, can absorb plenty of short touchdown opportunity from such games. Until we see evidence of him slipping from the every-down role, he's well worth RB2 projection and play.
John Mamula: I am OK with using Hightower as a RB2 or flex play this week. He will receive the bulk of the touches for the Saints in a high total (50.5) game. The Lions have allowed the most rushing touchdowns this season (18). With all the uncertainty at RB, you can do worse than Hightower this week.
Mark Wimer: After seeing C.J. Spiller flop AGAIN I am very comfortable with Hightower—the Lions' rush defense gave up the game to Todd Gurley last week (29/203/2 rushing by the Rams last week, with 16/140/2 allowed to Gurley). Now that they are officially eliminated from playoff contention, the Lions' players' focus may be more on finishing the season healthy rather than going for big hits or digging for that extra effort, whereas Hightower has fought to keep his NFL career alive and knows he is auditioning for 2016 here in this game.
How about Ted Ginn Jr this week against the Giants?
Jeff Pasquino: Ouch, is this a tough call. The Giants are trying to stay alive in the NFC East and be that perfect team record killer yet again, but somehow Ted Ginn Jr gets open deep each week. The big question is not if he will be open, but if he will actually catch the ball. Ginn has elite speed and Cam Newton keeps going to him, but Ginn's hands have kept him from piling up touchdowns this year. Dominic Rodgers-Cromartie shut down DeVante Parker on Monday Night Football and he could do similarly against Ginn, so I would only use Ginn if I needed a WR3 with a ton of upside that could give me a big game. Ginn could score 20+ points or score two.
Chad Parsons: Do you feel lucky? Boom-Bust is exactly that. I cannot imagine playoff teams being in position to roll Ginn into lineups outside of start 5+ wide receiver formats or other deep settings. In GPP daily play Ginn makes sense with some exposure looking for the upside, however, I am one to play regression trends more than a red-hot streak like Ginn's current one to continue.
Ryan Hester: If I were in a spot where I thought I was an underdog, I would deploy Ginn as he is a low-floor but high-ceiling play. The Giants are downright terrible against quarterbacks, allowing 18 or more fantasy points to opposing passers in five of their last six games. Against wide receivers, opposing WR1s typically have success as players like Jarvis Landry, Brandon Marshall, DeSean Jackson, Danny Amendola, Mike Evans, Brandin Cooks, and Anquan Boldin have all had big success against the Giants. That list of players doesn't profile one specific type of receiver, which suggests to me that it's an all-around lack of talent in the secondary that can be exploited by nearly any passing game. Another place the Giants are poor is at defending tight ends. Greg Olsen was injured in Week 14. He's expected to return this week, but if for some reason he can't, Ginn's floor rises.
Jeff Haseley: The Giants have been a defense to exploit all season long. Why stop now? Ted Ginn Jr has eight touchdowns (and he should have at least 10). He's is clearly Cam Newton's biggest down field threat, however he doesn't see enough targets to make him a fantasy mainstay. He lives and dies by the touchdown. If he scores, great. If he doesn't, he likely was a poor lineup decision. There is no in between. To start Ginn is to have faith in the Panthers passing game. Ginn has two good games in a row. Can he make it three? The matchup is ripe, but I'm not sure I'd feel comfortable starting him.
Justin Howe: I'm fine with it, assuming I'm in a 12-team league or I'm drained of better options. Nothing against Ginn, but as iffy as we typically feel about the Panthers pass game, he's even more difficult to project. His targets and catches over the last six weeks are concerning: one of four, four of eight, five of eight, 0 of 0, five of 10, and two of three. That really dings his floor.
Still, Ginn isn't just a deep threat in the current Panthers offense. He's also caught two red zone touchdowns over that span. And regardless of his occasional inefficiency, he's Cam Newton's clear No. two target. That boosts his floor squarely back into the WR3 stratosphere, where I prefer him to the likes of Michael Floyd or Travis Benjamin.
John Mamula: When I think of a boom-or-bust player in the NFL, Ted Ginn Jr is one of the top names on my list. If he breaks a couple of long plays like last week, he is fantasy gold. Ginn can also very easily put up a goose egg for your team. Matchups aren't as important with Ginn as other receivers. The key is whether he will hold onto the ball or break a long play. I am never comfortable playing Ginn but I don't mind him as a WR3, flex play, or GPP receiver because of the big-play upside.
Mark Wimer: Ginn is always a roll of the dice thanks to his inconsistent hands. I'm neither more nor less comfortable with him this week over last week (or next week). He'll get his chances, and sometimes he'll bust 1-2 long gainers, usually for a TD—and some weeks he'll have one catch for 25 yards.
Jeff Pasquino: Odell Beckham Jr Jr. The guy is just that good, and even the best corner cannot shut down a player of his caliber for a full game. The Giants will find ways to get Beckham open and run plays that slide him behind coverage (smoke screens, rub routes, etc.) and then Beckham will try to go deep a few times. I would not bench Beckham in any league.
Chad Parsons: The answer can be both. Temper expectations for Beckham (probably 10-15% off his typical projection) and Carolina's overall defense can limit Eli Manning's opportunities down the field.
Ryan Hester: For the sake of argument, let's define "win the battle" as an over/under of 5.5 catches and 91.5 yards. While I have no basis for these numbers as I can't find player props at the time of this writing, they seem fair compared to what Beckham and Norman have been doing lately. I think Beckham will go slightly over both of those totals but definitely won't go "nuclear" like he did on Monday Night Football in Week 14. A line like seven catches and 98-110 yards is reasonable as Beckham might be the most un-guardable receiver in the NFL. Last year, when the Giants visited Seattle, Beckham dropped a 7-108-0 (9 targets) line while being primarily guarded by Richard Sherman. This test (and result) will be similar.
Jeff Haseley: I agree with Jeff—you can't bench Odell Beckham Jr. Julio Jones was bottled up by Norman last week, but there were a handful of plays where Jones was matched with a different cover man. Right now, the Panthers secondary is weak, outside of Norman. Bene Benwikere is out for the year with a broken leg and Charles Tillman is not fully healed from a sprained knee. Colin Jones is a liability at nickel and Cortland Finnegan was retired only a few weeks ago. The only way I see Beckham struggling is if the Giants can't handle the Panthers pass rush and Eli Manning is forced to rush his throws. I don't see that happening in a home game for the Giants. It's possible Beckham has a pedestrian five for 60 yards, but he could also just as easily have seven catches for 120 yards with a touchdown. In my opinion, Beckham wins this battle. He has proven to be an effective receiver against all types of coverage. Norman may put up a fight and not allow a score, but ultimately, Beckham should still have a decent stat line.
Justin Howe: I'd probably bet on Norman more often than not. After all, he's done a number on some fine wideouts this year and is a true Defensive Player of the Year guy. But that doesn't render Beckham useless nor even downgrade him all that much. Norman isn't strictly shadowing top wideouts, and Beckham is moved around the formation a ton. In fact, he's seen 28% of his targets and caught 34% of his passes from the slot, where Norman doesn't typically go (just seven snaps all year).
That said, the presence of Norman on outside snaps is troubling enough to bounce Beckham from the tippity-top tier of wideouts. He's still a must-start in any and all formats, of course—outside of 2-team leagues, that is—but there's enough cap on his upside to prevent me from expecting typical top-three numbers. Beckham looks better as a DFS tournament play for contrarian purposes than as a redraft stud for Week 15.
John Mamula: I am taking Josh Norman in this battle when they are lined up against each other. Justin nailed it though. Norman doesn't typically cover slot receivers and I expect the Giants to move Beckham around enough to produce a reasonable stat line this week. I am never benching Beckham in redraft leagues. But I will be tempering my expectations this week.
Mark Wimer: Beckham. He is having a season for the ages, and I don't see anyone (or anyones, when he's double-covered) slowing him down.
Is Dez Bryant useless in redraft leagues? Or is it just a matter of time before he demands the ball and the Cowboys target him 17 times in response?
Jeff Pasquino: Dez is done for the year in my book with the woeful Dallas passing game. He cannot get the throws he needs from Matt Cassel to be successful, and defenses know it and play short coverage accordingly. With games against the Jets and Bills on the horizon, this feels like a total lost season for Dez Bryant.
Chad Parsons: He saw decent volume in Week 14 and it was his drops that took at least three receptions, plus a touchdown, off his stat line. Matt Cassel's noodle arm might fall off if throwing the ball enough to get Bryant 17 targets anyway. I would break all ties against Bryant for the rest of the season as his upside and floor are far lower than previous seasons and Dallas offensive iterations.
Ryan Hester: It seems that between Dallas' slow pace, play-calling, and Matt Cassel's inability to get Bryant the ball, Bryant is growing so frustrated that it's impacting his output. At this point, it would be very difficult to use him in the fantasy playoffs—especially facing off against Darrelle Revis this week.
Justin Howe: Like Odell Beckham Jr, Bryant is more of a contrarian play to win big DFS tournaments than anything this week. But unlike Beckham, Bryant is unlikely to snap out of that once a prettier matchup comes along. He's just not a featured option in that slow, inefficient offense. I would be encouraged if Bryant were seeing 10+ targets each week and just failing to connect with Matt Cassel, with the two just inches away from a big week together. But there's nothing to suggest that's coming. If you didn't deal him away after Tony Romo's second injury, that's a shame—he's more of a dice roll WR3 going forward.
John Mamula: Yes, Dez Bryant is useless in redraft leagues. I prefer other WRs in better situations. Without Tony Romo, Bryant has suffered more than any other top WR. I haven't played Bryant in DFS this season and I am not planning on it anytime soon. For redraft, Bryant should be a value next season.
Mark Wimer: I think Bryant has the "Antonio Freeman Big Contract Hangover" disease (by which I mean the combination of holding out, not being in football shape, an unfortunate injury, and the distractions of sudden extreme wealth), and with the Cowboys' playoff hopes in the tank Bryant is more about getting to offseason and 2016 in good shape than trying to win games. So count me in the "useless" camp.
Jeff Haseley: If Dallas forced-fed the ball to Dez Bryant, I would side on the belief that he could bounce back as a consistent fantasy threat. The problem is that Dallas doesn't target him enough. Even when Tony Romo was healthy, he didn't force the ball to Bryant. I don't see Matt Cassel doing that, which leads me to believe Bryant will struggle to have big games. I wouldn't say he's useless, but he's not reliable enough to consider him a must start fantasy wide receiver.
Where do you rank Blake Bortles this week (against the Falcons) among fantasy QBs?
Jeff Pasquino: Given injuries and other concerns at quarterback in general, I put him as a QB1 for sure. He has Hurns and Robinson back and TE Julius Thomas all healthy, and the ground game for Jacksonville has been nonexistent all year. Atlanta is done and given up, but Jacksonville still has some slim playoff hopes. I like Bortles this week as a solid QB1 option, especially after a strong game last week.
Chad Parsons: Mid-to-Low QB1 range. Bortles has one of the better complements of weapons, plus rushing ability. The matchup is decent and T.J. Yeldon out will have Bortles pushing the ball downfield a little more often.
Ryan Hester: Bortles is a top-10 option with a ceiling as high as anyone. Bortles' floor is high due to his playing at home, his excellent group of weapons, and his team's tendency to prefer the pass in the red zone due to limited rushing success. His ceiling is also high because Atlanta is a team in shambles. If Jacksonville grabs an early lead, they could simply do whatever they want against a team ready to throw in the towel following five straight losses. Atlanta is very discouraged, as their franchise quarterback is mired in his worst season as a pro. It's a recipe for a blowout if the game doesn't start out right for Atlanta.
Justin Howe: I'm concerned about No. one wide receivers facing Desmond Trufant, who's allowed just 24 catches and a 72.5 rating in coverage thus far. That means Allen Robinson faces an uphill battle for huge numbers, but Bortles' value doesn't depend on his number one wideout for production; he's throwing the ball enough that he's at worst a high-end QB2 option every week. And Bortles' secondary targets—Allen Hurns and Julius Thomas—project well against the rest of a shaky Falcons secondary. As a result, Bortles looks relatively safe as a top-10 QB play, even if he lacks the upside that a huge Robinson projection would add.
John Mamula: Jacksonville has the sixth highest team total (26.25) this week. The Falcons look like they have packed it up for the season. Bortles has multiple-touchdowns in 10 out of 13 games this season. He has taken the next step and is a QB that I am comfortable starting. I project Bortles for 280 passing yards and two touchdowns this week vs. Atlanta.
Mark Wimer: I rank Bortles highly this week—in contention with other players with high ceilings (Cam Newton; Carson Palmer; Ryan Fitzpatrick). Bortles has little depth at running back, high-quality options at both wide receiver positions and the tight end position, and the Falcons' offense is crashing and burning spectacularly, which should provide ample time-of-possession to Jacksonville. Atlanta might get blown-out-and-blanked again in this one, in my opinion. Nobody on that offense appears able to play at the top of their abilities right now—the Falcons have played truly miserable football all month long and I don't see that suddenly changing.
What do you look for, on a weekly basis, when making decisions about kickers and defenses? What are the most important statistics or other factors that help you determine which kickers and defenses will score the most fantasy points?
Let's start with kickers.
Jeff Pasquino: I consider a few things:
1. Which teams are struggling in the Red Zone? Teams that cannot punch it in have to settle for a field goal try.
2. Weather. Not just all weather, but I don't like wind of course, but heavy rain or snow is also a problem. So is the cold, as the ball doesn't travel as far. If the field is a mess, so is the kicking game. Indoor games are usually preferable, but if there is a game at altitude (Denver) then I am going to see what the weather looks like. Those 50+ kicks are worth a ton.
Those are the two main things I look for. I also factor in if the team is favored or not, as a team trailing is more likely to go for two.
All of this has led me to Brandon McManus more often than not this year, which has proven to be a good choice.
Chad Parsons: I look for kickers with high Vegas team totals and kicking in a dome is a bonus. Also, I like offenses with strong pieces, but who stall in field goal range more than usual. Jason Myers in Jacksonville fits this criteria well.
Jeff Haseley: My kicker pick depends on three things.
1. Preferably a kicker at home
2. Preferably a kicker on a team that is Top five in FGs made
3. Preferably a kicker going against a team that is Top five in FGs allowed
If I can get all three, I pull the trigger, otherwise I'll take the cheapest kicker that qualifies at #2 or #3
Justin Howe: I'm always looking for the available guy with the highest Vegas projection. I agree with my colleagues that mitigating factors can warp that, but not to an overwhelming extent. Kicking in a dome, for example, isn't nearly enough to make me consider one option significantly better than one whose offensive matchup looks more explosive. Poor weather matters, of course, but a kicker's value is still intrinsically tied to the performance of his offense (and to a lesser extent, the opposing offense as well).
John Mamula: I target high scoring teams in favorable situations. I have played Gostkowski most weeks this season as he has received multiple field goal opportunities in most games. Gostkowski has gone a perfect 24-24 on field goal attempts this season. I will also check the weather for unfavorable kicking situations due to wind or heavy rain or snow.
Mark Wimer: Jeff H. pretty much detailed my methodology, although I do check on the weather and avoid games where heavy precipitation or high winds (in excess of 10 MPH in certain cold-weather stadiums like TCF Bank Stadium in Minnesota; Lambeau Field in Green Bay; in excess of 15 MPH in Florida or California venues where the weather is generally warmer). I also prefer Denver if the weather is supposed to be decent there.
How about defenses?
Jeff Pasquino: Defenses are trickier to pick, but I nailed a tournament call of a defense last week in Jacksonville, and here is how I found them:
1. The opposing quarterback does not move much (Matt Hasselbeck)
2. Checking the sacks and turnovers for the opposition for the past 3-4 weeks
3. Checking the defense's sacks and turnovers for the past 3-4 weeks.
I predicted about three sacks and two turnovers for Jacksonville because Hasselbeck had been sacked 2-3 times a week since starting and had five turnovers in three starts. Jacksonville was at or above the same pace, so it looked like an ideal matchup. The two touchdowns were a huge bonus, but when you find likely turnovers, a touchdown is always possible. The kick return was a huge bonus.
Kick returners are something to consider as well, because those points count too. Teams with a good chance every week to run one back (Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Arizona) and are opportunistic on defense in general are never bad calls.
Normally I will focus on Las Vegas as they key in on weak offenses on the road and those that are unlikely to get more than 14 points a week, but finding a team that can create turnovers is what can lead to a much higher fantasy score for a defense.
Chad Parsons: For defenses, I like strong favorites, ideally playing at home against weak quarterbacks. Their opponent having a weak running game is a bonus to get them closer to one-dimensional. Also, I like a defense with above-average sack numbers as pressure can lead to turnovers even if they have been sagging in recent weeks.
Justin Howe: When I project a defense's weekly score, I look at three factors: sacks (and sacks allowed by the opposing offense), takeaways (and opponent giveaways), and points-allowed potential. I'm not too interested in recent points-allowed totals, because they're often skewed by garbage time and unreliable. Again, I'm looking to Vegas for my data here. Is the game projected to be low-scoring, or at least low in red zone trips? These are the games that not only lack in scoring, but typically feature a handful of turnovers as the teams duke it out between the 20s. These are also the games that tend to feature semi-desperate passing throughout the fourth quarter, creating still more takeaway opportunity.
Most of all, however, I'm avoiding those relatively circumstantial factors and honing on opponents of bad QBs. Who faces the low-efficiency QBs like T.J. Yates and Ryan Tannehill? Or the turnover-prone guys like Matt Ryan and Sam Bradford? Who takes on the QBs that look incapable of moving the ball, like Blaine Gabbert and Case Keenum? The correlation between inefficient opposing QBs and successful fantasy defenses makes this my main avenue in narrowing down the field.
John Mamula: I target teams that are large favorites (6+ pts) preferably at home. I also consider whether the defense will be able to pressure the quarterback into turnovers. I prefer defenses that are playing an inexperienced or backup quarterback in most situations.
Mark Wimer: I look for a defense playing at home against a struggling (Atlanta) offense or injury-riddled offenses (Dallas, San Diego) and I also want to go against inexperienced or career journeymen QBs when possible to maximize the chances for turnovers and pick-sixes. This chart at ESPN.com is good for seeing turnover ratios laid out across the league on one handy chart: GIVETAKE at ESPN—and this and this at NFL.com are useful to cross-reference sacks generated per team vs. sacks allowed per team.
Oh, a few more things about specific teams—Kansas City, generally speaking in year-after-year terms, is much better at generating sacks and turnovers in thunderous Arrowhead Stadium, so I almost always eschew them on the road as their team totals on the above-referenced charts is skewed in their particular case because of the extreme home-field advantage that they enjoy. In contrast, Seattle's defense in recent years has (usually) traveled well and is simply enhanced by their very-high-decibel-level, home-field advantage. Some of my rules of thumb (like the look for a defense playing at home) can be over-ruled if a decent-traveling defensive team is at a struggling or injury-riddled offense's house. Late in the season teams with bad records and less-than-fanatical pro football fans (I'm looking at you, Atlanta) have minimal home field advantage due to mostly-empty venues or fans who come late and leave early. Electronic sales of tickets also lets some teams travel very well (like the Steelers, who have absolutely fanatical pro-football-fans in their fan base) and in some cases teams like the Steelers may have more fans in the stands at contests than the actual home team.
That will do it for this edition of the Footballguys Roundtable. Please join us again next week.