This week's Footballguys Roundtable covers the playoffs, profiles`17 non-factors with potential in `18, shares recommended football resources, and takes stock in its own fantasy seasons:
Fantasy playoff landscape and advice
Matt Waldman: Let's discuss the fantasy playoffs.
- Are there any Week 15 and Week 16 games where there's a chance a team rests its key starters? Who are these players and are there any preemptive pickups fantasy owners should be aware of?
- December weather often becomes a fantasy concern. What type of weather merits a concern and for which positions?
- What advice do you have for fantasy owners with teams in the postseason?
Help the people out. Let's begin with the potential for teams resting starters.
Daniel Simpkins: I’m terrified that the Steelers will rest Le’Veon Bell in week 16 if they cannot improve their seeding. They play the Patriots head-to-head in week 15, so a scenario where this happens is not inconceivable.
Stephen Holloway: At this point in the season, I don’t see any teams resting starters until week 17 at the earliest this season. Playoff positioning and particularly home field advantage is far from secure yet for any team. If you are in leagues with rather large rosters or have a weakness at a position, you should definitely be searching all available options to improve depth for the fantasy playoffs and to cover for that possibility.
Darin Tietgen: There's always concern for the Pats since they seem to be so far ahead come this time of the season, but I don't see them being in a position to sit anyone and I think Belichick will want to keep things rolling especially with guys like Burkhead who are really starting to come into their own.
As Daniel mentioned, there may be a chance the Steelers rest Bell, but I think it's only a minor chance. The Steeler offense relies so much on rhythm and I think they will want to keep that fresh. It doesn't hurt to add James Conner, though, just in case. If Bell sits, Conner would be a lower-level RB1.
Mark Wimer: It's still a little far out to see how the seeding will work out, but as others have mentioned the Patriots may well be locked in as the No. 1 seed by Week 16. This week's divisional tilts (NE/MIA on MNF; BAL/PIT on SNF) will tell us a lot (Pittsburgh and Cincinnati got beat up on MNF this week, which gives Baltimore a chance to steal the game at Pittsburgh - New England, on the other hand, should roll over Miami) . Then, as Daniel highlighted, Pittsburgh and New England clash in Week 15, so the seeding may be sewn up in Week 15.
Maurile Tremblay: For me, this is always a "cross that bridge when you come to it" situation. If somebody has a decent chance of sitting a few weeks from now, I'm not going to cut him right now. If I might need to use a fill-in for a resting player in a few weeks, that means I'll need depth at that position, but I already want depth even if nobody is going to rest because somebody could get injured.
That said, I don't see any teams that appear likely to rest people in Weeks 15 or 16. The Steelers and Patriots are battling for the top seed in the AFC while the Eagles and Vikings (and perhaps Rams and Saints) are battling for the top seed in the NFC, and everybody else in the hunt is jockeying to make the cut.
Danny Tuccitto: I don't think any team has the luxury of resting players in Week 15, and there are only four teams -- New England, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Minnesota -- that have a greater-than-zero probability of resting players in Week 16. Others have already mentioned Pittsburgh resting Le'Veon Bell at home against Buffalo, so I'll throw out someone else that isn't so obvious: Zach Ertz.
If Philadelphia beats the Rams on Sunday, then they'll probably clinch a bye at the Giants in Week 15. Their next game would be at home against a Raiders team that may be out of contention because of their next two games (at Kansas City and vs. Dallas). With health being Ertz' biggest weakness and Trey Burton being a capable fill-in, I could see the Eagles erring on the side of caution against Oakland given how vital Ertz is for a potential Super Bowl run.
Waldman: What about December weather?
Tuccitto: The one situation you want to avoid during the fantasy playoffs — if you can — is when a quarterback or wide receiver on a dome team is playing on the road in temperatures near or below freezing. It's a combination of two effects, both identified in studies by Brian Burke. First, dome visitors pass the ball less efficiently the colder it gets. Second, dome teams lose more often the colder it gets.
Tremblay: First, it should go without saying (but I'll say it anyway) that precipitation, wind speeds, and temperature really don't matter in cities with domed stadiums.
Waldman: Ha! Although in Dallas, whichever team recovers the headpiece to the Staff of Ra has a distinct advantage.
Tremblay: Without a doubt.
Outdoors, the wind is what I'm most concerned about. It will skew offenses toward more running and less passing and will reduce offensive production overall. It's also terrible for kickers.
Temperature itself, except for really extreme situations, doesn't matter very much.
Precipitation matters more on some fields than others (because of mud and footing concerns), but it usually matters less than most people think. It makes it harder to throw and catch, but it also makes it harder to rush the passer and to cover receivers. So it cuts both ways and to at least some extent has effects that cancel each other out.
Wimer: When the temperature dips well below freezing (20 F and below) the football becomes very hard and slick, which can cause issues with ball-handling in all phases of the game. Also, the "K" balls (special footballs only used for kicking) are very stiff/hard, to begin with, and become even harder and less resilient in sub-freezing temperatures.
So I definitely pay attention to conditions in places like Green Bay, New England/Foxboro, Pittsburgh etc. at this time of year — outdoor venues in cold climates — and look out for extreme cold. I especially avoid kickers playing in that climatic condition.
Also, any venue with winds over 20 MPH is a concern for the passing and kicking games. Any venue that has both sub-freezing temps and high winds is a huge red flag for me when it comes to kickers and passers, but it may indicate an emphasis on the teams' running games (depending on their capabilities in that area).
Tietgen: Obviously, the passing game would be most affected by snow but heck, a short bubble screen could turn into a 70-yard score in those conditions. I don't really plan for weather issues except I do like having kickers in dome situations. Play merry-go-kicker and this shouldn't be a problem
Holloway: If you have some flexibility with your starters, it is great to have running back options that might cover for wide receivers that seem more exposed to the challenging weather conditions. It is always a good plan to find a dome kicker or at least one with a milder climate closing schedule.
Waldman: What advice do you have for fantasy owner about the playoffs?
Simpkins: I talked about this on a recent podcast with Jeff Tefertiller that you can listen to here. The condensed version is that, while I think attention to detail and matchups are important, it’s also equally as important to not overthink your lineup decisions. Go with your gut calls that got you here in the first place. I’ve lost a championship or two because I’ve listened to the wisdom of the crowd instead of doing what I knew deep down I should do. Your intuition is such a powerful force. Don’t deny it at the most important moment!
Tietgen: Start your studs unless they are for sure going to play limited snaps. Don't overthink your matchups. Also, it doesn't hurt to hedge your bets a little if you play in DFS. Playing against some big-time studs this week? Plug them into DFS contests so if they end up going off, well at least you could win some money this week.
Wimer: As Stephen mentioned above, look to add a dome kicker who has home games/away games in another dome during the fantasy playoffs. Expanding a bit on his point — Matt Bryant of Atlanta plays at home in Week 14, in warm-weather Tampa Week 15, and then at New Orleans' dome in Week 16. See if you can pick him up.
Second-best would be a warm-weather venue kicker like Jacksonville's Josh Lambo, who has a home game vs. Seattle in Week 14, then is facing Houston at home in Week 15, and finally at temperate San Francisco in Week 16. These are two examples of favorable end-of-year schedules for the placekicker position on your fantasy roster.
Tremblay: The main thing that changes during the postseason is that bench spots should be used less for stashing sleepers that could develop later, and more for players with immediate value. I'd never carry two kickers and I'd rarely carry two defenses early in the season, for example, because a sleeper RB is more valuable then. But in the playoffs, I'll look ahead by a week or two and stash an extra kicker or defense with a future matchup I like.
Tuccitto: My main piece of advice is what I said in this space last week: Dance with the one that brung ya. The big application of that idea in Week 14 is, don't bench Russell Wilson.
One other thing I would suggest is clearing the end of your bench, replacing those players with additional kickers and defenses that have plus matchups over the next few weeks. As an example, in one of my home leagues, I dropped Bilal Powell to pick up Phil Dawson. On my roster, Powell was an RB5 that I'd never start over Melvin Gordon III or Alvin Kamara. Meanwhile, Phil Dawson faces three of the most kicker-friendly teams in the league over these three playoff weeks: versus Tennessee, at Washington, versus New York Giants.
I also picked up Blake Bortles and Josh Lambo a couple of weeks before that, as I saw that Jacksonville plays Houston and San Francisco in Weeks 15 and 16. Russell Wilson is my starting quarterback, so I'm never benching him. But if he happens to get hurt, I'll at least have a quarterback going against two of the league's worst pass defenses.
Waldman: My advice? Make sure you know what a stud is and do a bit of a background check on who you think brought you to the dance. If a stud you've been starting no matter what is a stud in name but he has been a dud with his game for the past 4-6 weeks, you better admit to yourself he's a dud.
If a player has been struggling and you are hoping he's going to turn it around because of a good matchup, one of the following situations better apply to him or you're fooling yourself:
- He's been playing injured and he's finally healthy.
- His supporting cast has been hurt and they are finally healthy.
- The past few games have been against top opponents and he has a track record of strong production against lesser competition and that sub-par competition is ahead.
maybe next year
Waldman: Name two players who failed to make an impact as fantasy starters in 2017, but you are optimistic about his chances to become a viable commodity in leagues in 2018?
The criteria for this question: No one currently among the Top 16 QBs, Top 36 RBs, Top 48 WRs, and Top 16 TEs, and no players who missed at least 2 games this year due to injury.
Tuccitto: The big one for me at quarterback is Marcus Mariota, who currently ranks 18th. Going into this season, I had him as my No. 8 fantasy quarterback due to high efficiency according to my "true" stats. There are two reasons I remain optimistic for 2018. First, he'll have more time to get on the same page with Corey Davis. Second, hopefully between now and then, Tennessee will finally hand the backfield reigns over to Derrick Henry. Of course, that requires an assumption of rational coaching, which the Titans offensive staff has failed to demonstrate. Indeed, their offense should not rank 16th in DVOA with all of that individual talent on the roster.
The only other player I can think of is Sammy Watkins provided he remains with the Rams and stays healthy. He ranks 40th in PPR leagues and has really only had two big games. A full offseason of developing a rapport with Jared Goff and mastering Sean McVay's offense should result in a monster 2018.
Tremblay: Two wide receivers with what ended up being ugly quarterback situations this year were Randall Cobb and Donte Moncrief. They could easily both find themselves back on the fantasy map next season with the return of Aaron Rodgers and Andrew Luck, respectively.
Wimer: Buffalo's Zay Jones (78th wide receiver at 25/291/2 receiving this year) is improving as the year winds down and is in position to be a starting wide receiver for that club in 2018 and beyond. I agree with Darin that Trent Taylor (SFO) is worth considering as a bench receiver in your 2018 drafts, and I think that George Kittle (30th tight end at 30/311/1 receiving this year) could be a top-10 guy at tight end next year if Jimmy Garoppolo works out for the 49ers.
Even though it is against the criteria for this question, I will mention one guy who didn't play at all this year due to his wrist injury — quarterback Chad Kelly is waiting on IR in Denver and given the disastrous results from the current rotation of quarterbacks, he is a guy I am watching in 2018 preseason as he may have a big opportunity ahead in 2018.
Tietgen: I think Jay Ajayi is a monster in 2018. He's currently RB40 in PPR formats and once he's had a full off-season working with the Eagles coaching staff and Carson Wentz, he will be productive. LeGarrette Blount is a free agent and may not be retained since Ajayi is good between the tackles. And I believe that Trent Taylor (SFO) will be a guy to watch in PPR formats next season. Pierre Garcon will be widely owned but Taylor is one to watch, especially once Jimmy Garappolo is comfortable under center in the Niner offense.
Holloway: I continue to have confidence in Derek Carr in Oakland. The Raiders offense has not been nearly as effective, but the primary reason has been the rushing game. The rushing totals are on pace to be over 500 yards less than a year ago and the average yards per carry has fallen from 4.4 to 4.0. This has resulted in far fewer sustained drives and a drop in scoring. Carr is completing a slightly higher percentage of his passes and 0.2 more yards per attempt but is on pace for eight less touchdown passes.
Continuing with that first name theme, Derrick Henry would be my choice to become a viable commodity in 2018. Henry continues to produce better as a rusher this season and his percentage of the carries has increased to 47 percent. DeMarco Murray will turn 30 in the off-season and his average per carry thus far in 2017 has fallen 0.7 to only 3.7 ypc, while Henry is averaging 5.0 this year.
Simpkins: Jay Ajayi is RB37 in most garden-variety PPR leagues. I thought the Dolphins would feature him more, but he got himself back into Gase’s doghouse. The trade to Philadelphia helps, as it will give him a chance to be the main cog in what looks to be a very productive offensive scheme going forward.
good, bad, and Lucky
Waldman: Every successful fantasy owner makes decisions that are good, bad, and lucky. Share a good, bad, and lucky decision (draft pick, lineup decision, trade, and/or waiver wire addition) from your leagues this year -- any format (re-draft, dynasty, keeper, DFS, IDP, etc.).
Tremblay: In the Lucky category, I ended up probably objectively overspending on tight ends this season, but it worked out because Travis Kelce and Rob Gronkowski ended up outperforming expectations. So what seemed like overspending at the time, even to me, ended up working out just fine.
On the flip side of that, I also ended up spending more than most people thought was warranted on David Johnson in some auctions. Call it getting unlucky or call it a reckless decision to put too many eggs in one basket, but that was obviously difficult to recover from.
Wimer: My "bad" pick this year was actually unlucky Aaron Rodgers of Green Bay who had his collarbone broken on a dirty late hit/being thrown to the turf. That cost me going to the playoffs in my staff redraft league this season (yes, I am bitter). Good picks in that same league included Adam Thielen and Evan Engram, who almost kept my club in contention for the playoffs despite losing Rodgers. I was lucky/unlucky enough to pick Deshaun Watson for my quarterback of the future in one of my IDP dynasty leagues — lucky in that he looks like a world beater of the future but unlucky in that he blew out his ACL in practice in the midst of a historic run for a rookie quarterback.
Waldman: My good picks tended to be either a player I believed like Marvin Jones Jr who most had written off but his downturn in production had logical reasons, or understanding the behavior of a league and waiting on a specific resource that I believed my league mates overvalued. In the latter case, I waited until very late with my second quarterback in a superflex league with two QBs and took Blake Bortles. While he hasn't been a game-breaker, Bortles is the No. 16 QB in this league and a terrific value to pair with Matthew Stafford (the No. 6 QB thus far). Waiting on Bortles allowed me to take players who've been consistently good producers at other positions while some teams were taking their third quarterbacks.
My bad picks were Terrelle Pryor and Doug Martin. I trusted too much in Pryor transitioning fast and he not only got off to a slow start, but he lost his confidence. He began questioning techniques he seemingly already mastered in Cleveland. I trusted Martin when his offensive line was still a question mark.
My lucky pick was Alvin Kamara. I valued Kamara's fit in New Orleans and hoped he'd have RB2 upside in a passing offense. I didn't anticipate that Kamara would fix his ball security woes, mature as a decision maker between the tackles faster than most high-profile rookies who also had this as a weakness, and land on a team that went from a pass-oriented scheme to a run-heavy unit.
Getting Kamara in the 13th round of this same league I've referenced Bortles has given me an elite fantasy RB despite beginning my draft with the combo of Antonio Brown and Dez Bryant (I also traded back into the second round for extra picks in a dynasty league where I landed Kamara after already picking up Jamaal Williams and Cooper Kupp earlier in the same round). Luck is the product of being in the right place at the right time and if there's any credit I can take for Karama its that I set my draft up to take mid-round and late-round backs while going for surer things at other position in the very early rounds.
Holloway: My story is an unbelievable turnaround in my only dynasty league this year also involving Kamara. The combination of a draft-day trade and three top-14 picks which definitely combined being lucky and good.
In 2015, my team won a single game and was the league’s lowest scoring team by far. The team improved in 2016 as the 10th highest scoring team of 12 with a record of 5-11. Prior to this year’s draft, I compiled the 2nd, 9th, 12th and 14th picks.
I badly needed running backs and wide receivers. I had Leonard Fournette at the top of my wishlist, but he went first overall. While considering both Christian McCaffrey and Corey Davis, I received a trade request for my pick and I gladly gave up the pick for DeAndre Hopkins.
I anxiously watched the running backs fly off the board as I waited for my next pick at ninth overall and even though I received offers chose Alvin Kamara, the fifth running back taken. Our league has heavy tight end scoring and I was lucky to get Evan Engram at 12th overall, the 3rd tight end taken.
All three players in my draft greatly improved my team roster, but the impact this season has been far greater than expected. The only negative is the 14th overall pick. Only one pick to be taken between Engram and my next pick which was planned as Kareem Hunt. Yes, that indeed is the one I missed out on. Here we are in week 14 and Team Holloway is tied for the division lead and the league’s leading scoring squad.
Simpkins: A good decision I made this year was to roster Paul Richardson Jr everywhere I could based on what I saw him do in last year’s playoffs. In the places I didn’t hang on to him, I was able to trade him for something much more valuable than what I paid to acquire him. In the spots I did keep him, I’m very glad I did in a year in which reasonably contributing receivers seem hard to come by on the waiver wire.
Bad (and Ugly): Even if you already know the rules and have been in the league for years, always double-check the rules before drafting. After preparing for our staff league more than for any other league — because of bragging rights — I totally missed that the powers-that-be had switched to a two-quarterback format! What's worse, my draft position was 14th out of 14, so after gleefully selecting Jordy Nelson and Michael Thomas, I ended up watching in horror as nearly every viable quarterback was gone by the time I picked again at 42. Needless to say, I finished 2-11 and will be the butt of jokes within the staff rather than having bragging rights.
Lucky: It's a good thing I was able to acquire Alvin Kamara in my other two locals because I finished No. 1 in points in both despite losing David Johnson in both. The thing is, it was far more luck than skill. In my keeper league, I drafted him in the middle rounds only because I already had Mark Ingram II (and Johnson and had drafted Kareem Hunt in the first round). Kamara was a complete afterthought. And in my redraft league, he wasn't even on a roster until I picked him up after Week 1. Again, this was only because I lost David Johnson and needed a running back, not because I saw his league-winning greatness before anyone else
Waldman: Whether it's a book, a television show, a site a DVD, a YouTube series, or a podcast, what are some resources (you can name more than one) that you've found valuable as a student of the game?
While many readers will want football material, you're welcome to list resources that aren't football-oriented but you've found the information applies well to your view of the game and the fantasy hobby.
Tuccitto: Without a doubt, I'd recommend Supeforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction by Philip Tetlock and Dan Gardner, as well as The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Taleb. Neither book is about football but one need only read their titles to see how they're potentially related to fantasy football. There's so much content out there these days, it's difficult to know who to trust. Superforecasting is invaluable whether you want to start doing your own player projections or want to learn how to evaluate others' projections.
As for Black Swan, one of the most important skills in fantasy football is to not just accept how random it is; embrace its randomness and play accordingly. Winning consistently means, for example, is the person who saw the circumstances of David Johnson's late-season breakout well in advance. Or this season, taking a chance that Jeff Fisher was such a boat anchor for Jared Goff last season, that the addition of Sean McVay and Wade Phillips would not just lead to an improvement over one the worst rookie seasons ever; but a complete transformation into one of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL.
Tremblay: I really like Brett Kollmann's YouTube channel. He provides great analysis and his videos are well edited, so there's not a lot of wasted time in between insights.
Wimer: I play in a large number of IDP dynasty leagues, and I have always found Matt Waldman's Rookie Scouting Portfolio to be an indispensable resource for my rookie drafts in those leagues, as well as being a very useful guide to top rookies in the redraft league context (and also useful for late round "lottery" picks in redraft leagues as well). I recommend that publication in the strongest possible terms, as more and more rookies are becoming impact players in the NFL these days (witness Deshaun Watson, Dalvin Cook and Evan Engram as three examples from this year).
Other than that, our Footballguys.com offerings are unrivaled in the fantasy space in my opinion (and, of course, Matt Waldman is a key Footballguy as well, so Rookie Scouting Portfolio is written and published by a Footballguy). The Audible podcasts should be on everyone's personal devices - I could go on and on.
Last, when things break against you (or Aaron Rodgers breaks his collarbone) I turn to Ursula Le Guin's poetic version of the Tao Te Ching as a sanity break from fantasy football, one which also lends perspective on the tempests we all face in our day to day lives.
Waldman: Thanks, Mark.
Wimer: You're welcome.
Tietgen: If you're looking for something to read, I highly recommend Mark St. Amant's Committed. Please just trust me, if you've been doing this awhile you will most certainly appreciate it. Great read.
Holloway: My mother lode of fantasy resources is Footballguys.com. In the pre-season I listen as often as I can to our podcasts, particularly Sigmund Bloom, Dr. Jene Bremel, and Matt Waldman, making notes on many players. Initial player rankings come from those notes, with a review of last years’ statistics available at Footballguys.com in concert with the player tracker for team changes. Later on, the training camp reports are an awesome guide for adjustments. In season, I rely heavily on MyFBG to see available free agents in my leagues and for confirmation of my week to week starter selections.
Simpkins: There’s so many I wish I could list, but let me give some ideas for our dynasty subscribers.