Fantasy Football Week 14: What We Learned

Peyton Manning

Fantasy football’s problem with no name, the one I rambled about in June while evaluating potentially elite second-tier quarterbacks, struck again in Week 14, and it struck hard: an iron fist to the ribs of anyone and everyone who had enjoyed the fruits of their early-round quarterback’s labor.

Only two quarterbacks — Zach Mettenberger and the ghost of Brian Hoyer — scored fewer fantasy points than Peyton Manning in Week 14. Manning threw 20 passes as Denver’s offense continued its conversion to the pre-forward pass era, and two of those tosses were picks. None of them were touchdowns.

Drew Brees, meanwhile, managed 13 fantasy points thanks to some fourth quarter garbage time production. Brees’ inefficiency against Carolina’s exploitable defense was downright stunning: He scored 0.25 fantasy points every time he dropped back to pass. That’s less than half the per-dropback production of a typically elite signal caller.

From my summertime musings on fantasy’s problem with no name…

This is the unspoken problem with drafting an elite quarterback — the problem with no name: you’re stuck, you’re trapped, and you feel like you’re betraying your draft day self if you forsake your signal caller when it matters most. This is fantasy football though; allegiance should have nothing to do with your lineup decisions.

The problem with this line of argument, of course, is that Brees had a cake matchup — one that made him a clear top-3 play, no matter the results. This was not a situation in which Brees owners felt forced into deploying their guy against a top-end defense to kick off the fantasy playoffs. He was a must-start.

Manning, on the other hand, was going up against a Buffalo defense that had allowed the fourth fewest fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks through 13 weeks. Signal callers had scored 15 or more fantasy points just five times against them. Buffalo’s defense had given up two passing scores in five weeks. The Bills’ secondary is stocked with some of Pro Football Focus’ most highly rated cover guys. Buffalo is, by any definition, a bad matchup for quarterbacks.

But it’s Peyton. You can’t sit him. The mere notion is a thoughtcrime punishable by fantasy football execution in the Twittersphere.

You can’t sit him in December weather conditions in which he’s traditionally struggled. You can’t sit him because the Broncos’ offensive identity has undergone a radical an undeniable shift over the past three weeks. You can’t sit him because three quarterbacks with juicy matchups are out there, sitting on your waiver wire, begging for your attention.

Peyton owners have benefited from their quarterback for most of 2014. They have the second-most quarterback fantasy production — 59 fewer points than Andrew Luck owners. Peyton’s nuclear performances have single handedly carried fantasy squads to victory. There is no divorce in marrying elite quarterbacks, however, even when someone better catches your eye.

This is the nameless problem. It’ll haunt Peyton Manning owners all off-season.

Here are some takeaways from Week 14 action…

    • Travis Kelce ran a whopping 44 pass routes Sunday against Arizona, nearly double the number of routes he’s run in a very frustrating 2014 campaign. Anthony Fasano ran just 21 routes. It seems Andy Reid came to grips with Kelce as a difference maker in the passing game, especially against a Cardinals defense with linebackers and safeties who have struggled mightily in coverage. Kelce, somehow, is fantasy’s No. 9 tight end through Week 14. He’s done this despite being a part-time player. His schedule isn’t particularly appealing down the stretch, but if Kansas City is ready to use Kelce as a central part of a dink-and-dunk offense, he could quickly become a difference maker in the fantasy playoffs. Only Rob Gronkowski is more efficient than Kelce on a per-target basis.
    • Those who stashed Marquess Wilson — the Bears wideout who saw his fair share of preseason buzz — could be handsomely rewarded in fantasy football’s final two weeks. Brandon Marshall is done for the year with injuries to his ribs and lung, leaving Wilson as a starter in a Chicago offense that has turned incredibly pass heavy as their season once again circles the drain. Wilson saw two deep shots from Jay Cutler last Thursday against Dallas. I’d expect to see much more of that from the big-armed Cutty as Wilson is the team’s lone speedy deep threat. While Alshon Jeffery should turn into a target hog in Marshall’s absence, it’s Wilson who could be the beneficiary of more splash plays. I think the 6-foot-3 195-pound Wilson becomes an instant starter in 12-team leagues, and I would hardly be shocked if he posted a gaudy line against the Saints’ porous secondary in Week 15.
    • Is Jimmy Graham startable? Can Graham owners, flying high through much of this season, trust the fantasy No. 4 tight end? Graham delivered his second consecutive disastrous line in Week 14 against Carolina, catching just three of 11 targets. That means, rather simply, that Graham’s opportunity remains intact. He also played on more than three-quarters of New Orleans’ offensive snaps. Whether it’s injury or double teams, the tight end’s efficiency has bottomed out, leaving owners with the incredibly uncomfortable choice of sitting their stud and seeking the week’s best matchups. If I owned Graham anywhere (I don’t, naturally), I’d be hard pressed to sit him for anyone on the waiver wire. Would you sit your tight end if he was guaranteed double-digit targets and playing a defense giving up 19.9 schedule-adjusted fantasy points to tight ends? I wouldn’t.
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C.D. Carter Fantasy Football Analyst
C.D. Carter is a reporter, author of zombie stories, writer for The Fake Football and XN Sports. Fantasy Sports Writers Association member. His work  has been featured in the New York Times.