Nothing in fantasy football is static. Things change, trends shift, game plans vary, defenses adjust, game flow wreaks havoc, opportunity ebbs and flows, and variance rules.
Just when we think we’ve nailed down a team or player or situation as inherently good or bad, change takes charge.
We saw quite a bit of that immutable change in Week 16 action, as championships were won and lost thanks in large part to those subtle – or not-so-subtle – shifts in the fantasy landscape.
We need look no further than the Packers’ seemingly mouthwatering matchup against the Bucs. It was Tampa’s defense, after all, that was once shaping up to be an every-week target for quarterback streamers. From Derek Anderson to Brian Hoyer to Joe Flacco, the Bucs’ early season struggles against the pass were quickly becoming jaw dropping.
Tampa’s defense, in fact, allowed 21.5 fantasy points per contest over the season’s first eight weeks. It’s been an entirely different story in the wake of Tampa’s midseason bye week, as opposing signal callers have notched just 13.7 fantasy points per game over the past seven weeks. That second half average would rank the Bucs among the seven stingiest teams against quarterbacks.
Aaron Rodgers owners saw that trend in horrifying detail this week. Rodgers, thanks to a late touchdown toss, scored 14.7 points to finish as Sunday’s No. 16 fantasy quarterback.
The same goes for the Jets’ once-horrid pass defense. Gang Green was torched by opposing quarterbacks from Week 1-6, allowing an astounding 30 fantasy points per game. That stretch included nice lines from Kyle Orton and Derek Carr.
It’s been a vastly different story of late. The Jets have allowed a meager 13.7 fantasy points to quarterbacks over the past six weeks. New York beat reporters have written in recent weeks about the team making adjustments to ensure their sub-par cornerbacks aren’t left in single coverage all that often, as they were when the Jets were giving up nuclear quarterback performances in September and October. This was actionable information that should’ve been taken seriously by every fantasy footballer.
Tom Brady was the latest quarterback to put up a downright ugly stat line against the Jets in Week 16. He managed 10.2 fantasy points, good for QB24 status.
There were other matchup-related performances that won and lost championships: Lamar Miller taking on a Minnesota run defense that had slowly devolved into one of the league’s worst, Toby Gerhart against Tennessee’s dissolving front seven, Torrey Smith against a Houston secondary that had given up the most schedule-adjust fantasy points per game in 2014, and Marshawn Lynch against an Arizona defense that had been gouged by runners in several recent games that saw game flow remain somewhat normal throughout.
At some point in 2014, every one of those matchups looked only decent, if not outright bad.
Were you supposed to bench Rodgers or Brady in Week 16, with your fantasy title hanging in the balance? Were you going to bench an injured DeMarco Murray for Miller? I suppose not. Perhaps this is a lesson better suited for daily fantasy footballers who aren’t married to a top-end signal caller or an elite runner with injury issues. Maybe it’s a valuable lesson for those who go all in on elite quarterbacks in the first couple rounds of fantasy drafts. You will enjoy the fruits of monstrous statistical performances here and there, but you’ll be burdened by the Problem With No Name.
Whatever the lesson is here – and I expect some will reject this as a lesson at all – I think it’s critically important not only to acknowledge that matchups are a hugely important part of fantasy production, but that an otherworldly matchup in October doesn’t make for one in December.
Here are a few more takeaways from Week 16 action…
- It’s too late for many who stashed Jonathan Stewart, but it’s become clear that, when healthy, he’s a difference-making fantasy producer. Stewart, freed from the statistical chains imposed by De’Angelo Williams’ presence, is RB7 over the past four weeks, just a few points behind Marshawn Lynch and Arian Foster. Carolina’s offensive line is a decent run blocking unit – but it’s been Stewart’s ability to turn short runs into longer gains, especially late in games. His fantasy efficiency is also worth noting, as the veteran is notching .71 fantasy points per touch over the past month. Perhaps this is but a brief reprieve from the injury apocalypse that has been Stewart’s NFL career. It’s worth noting that if it’s not – if Stewart is able to maintain some semblance of health – the Panthers’ back deserves plenty of fantasy attention headed in 2015. No one has rushed for more yards over the past month.
- Jeremy Hill, who went berserk Monday night against a stout Denver run defense, could very well be the poster child for the much-discussed Zero RB approach to fantasy football drafts, in which fantasy owners stock up on elite wide receivers and tight ends before taking educated stabs at running backs in the late rounds. Zero RB represents not just a critique of the ever-popular value-based drafting approach, but a total and complete repudiation of VBD. The running back position, as Zero RB creator Shawn Siegele wrote, endures a tremendous amount of upheaval through the course of a season. You can benefit from that upheaval by stashing late-round running backs who could catch a break and have an opportunity to consistently produce. Enter Hill, who is now, incredibly, fantasy’s eighth highest scoring runner. Hill was taken in the 11th round of fantasy drafts as a guy who may or may not split carries with Giovani Bernard. Injuries and general ineffective running from Bernard pushed Hill to the forefront, and those who drafted the rookie runner in the final rounds of their draft suddenly had a workhorse for almost no cost. Other 2014 Zero RB heroes include C.J. Anderson, Justin Forsett, Matt Asiata, and depending on when your draft was held, Mark Ingram. Congrats if you snagged Hill. He was a league winner in every sense of the phrase.
- I won’t harp on it again until next summer, but Odell Beckham, Jr. once again made Eli Manning into an elite play in Week 16. Manning’s numbers have spiked since the Giants committed to OBJ as the centerpiece of their otherwise middling offensive attack. Remember when the Matthew Stafford–Calvin Johnson combo was a fantasy force? I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that’s what we have here with Eli and Beckham, who is clearly not human and could conceivably be a first round pick in 2015 fantasy drafts. And I’d say Eli is a (very) early candidate to be 2015’s preeminent quarterback value pick. Now is the time to acquire Eli in dynasty formats, as strange as that sounds.