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Fantasy Football Week 14: What We Learned

The lesson this week is that we might read too much into matchups, especially in the high stakes atmosphere of the playoffs

Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning
Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning

Dec 8, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18) throws the ball during the first half against the Tennessee Titans at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Broncos won 51-28. Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Peyton Manning has a succinct message for those who doubted his ability to perform in freezing temperatures: “Stick [that narrative] where the sun don’t shine.” The same might be said for fantasy footballers’ talk of matchups.

It was Manning, after all, who ran roughshod over a Tennessee Titans’ secondary that had been a fantasy albatross from opposing quarterbacks and receivers. He dissected the NFL’s best coverage unit for 397 yards and four touchdowns.

LeSean McCoy, meanwhile, posted a cool 217 rushing yards and two scores against a Detroit Lions’ defense that had allowed the fewest fantasy points to enemy runners in 2013.

Bucking mactchups hardly ended there: Josh Gordon poured a giant bucket of ice-cold water on the prevailing theory that he faced a nightmarish Week 14 matchup, going up against Aqib Talib’s suffocating coverage and Bill Belichick’s propensity for taking away the opposition’s most effective weapon. Gordon cruised to 151 yards and a touchdown.

Then there was Drew Brees, who took a blow torch to a Carolina Panthers’ defense that had shut down passing attacks of every kind throughout the 2013 campaign. Brees managed 313 yards and four touchdowns against a defense that had held signal callers to single digit fantasy points seven times this year.

The lesson in all this is that we, as fantasy owners, might read too much into matchups, especially in the high stakes atmosphere of the fake football playoffs. Over-analyzing is natural, even expected, when fantasy title runs hang in the balance during the waning days of our season. Examining every statistical crevice is what we do, and there’s a lot to be gained from having a thorough understanding of numbers and trends and probable outcomes.

To put too much stock in weekly matchups, however, is to say that all players were made equal. While I don’t abide by the axiom that instructs us to always start our studs — there should be no absolutes in this game — I think it’s foolhardy to pretend all players are vulnerable to matchups in equal proportion.

They’re not, as we saw time and again yesterday. Skill and opportunity should be taken into account well before we evaluate matchups. Even the week’s most hideous matchups can be neutralized by the game’s elite. It’s a fairly obvious lesson, and one we’d do well to remember.

  • Tom Brady’s short-lived days as a matchup-proof quarterback have come to a horrifying end with the loss of Rob Gronkowski for the remainder of the season. Gronk tore his ACL on a wicked hit from Browns’ safety T.J. Ward. Gronkowski’s presence in the New England lineup changed everything for Brady, who was not a startable fantasy quarterback until his all-world tight end returned from injury Week 7. Gronkowski’s mere presence opened up the Patriots’ offense by forcing the defense to find ways to stop the pass-catching man-beast. Brady, since Gronk’s return, has been the seventh highest scoring fantasy signal caller, posting a few eye-popping stat lines along the way. That all changes now, and Brady owners should take note. Meanwhile, Shane Vereen’s usage should continue to be otherwordly. He’s a locked-in top-10 running back in PPR leagues for the season’s remainder.
  • If you survived C.J. Spiller’s dud of a Week 14 performance, keep some semblance of faith in the Bills’ running back. Yes, he barely cracked 40 yards against the Buccaneers yesterday, but here’s something that won’t show in the box score: Spiller’s 80-yard touchdown reception was called back on what could be the most questionable holding call of the season. He appears to be his old, incredibly explosive self — far different from the guy hobbling around on one leg for the better part of two months. Spiller and backfield mate Fred Jackson have the most favorable fantasy playoff running back schedule in the NFL. Neither guy should be dead to you.
  • Adrian Peterson owners who somehow survived the loss of their team’s anchor will have to navigate the rest of the fantasy postseason without the half man-half machine. Peterson’s foot injury is expected to cost him the last few weeks of 2013, leaving Toby Gerhart to lead the Minnesota backfield. Gerhart performed admirably in Peterson’s absence (89 yards and a touchdown), and now faces a Philadelphia defense that has allowed more than 80 yards in each of their past five contests. It’s hardly a dream matchup — and yes, Gerhart is subject to matchup analysis — but it could be much worse. Peterson owners should sell their fantasy souls this week to pluck Gerhart from the waiver wire.


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