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Love/Hate and the playoff process

From ESPN - December 7, 2017

Before we dive in, I thought I would give you a quick partial peek at my top 10 QB rankings for the week.

1. Alex Smith
2. Josh McCown
3. Blake Bortles
4. Russell Wilson
5. Cam Newton
6. Andy Dalton
7. Joe Flacco.
8. Jameis Winston
9. Marcus Mariota
10. Ben Roethlisberger

What do you think? Is it a good list? Do you like my rankings? A little surprising, right? Bortles at three? Flacco at seven? McCown over Wilson? No Tom Brady, no Carson Wentz and no Philip Rivers, who has been red-hot and gets Cleveland at home this week?

What's that you say? Rivers played Cleveland last week? That's correct. He did. You caught me. Those are not my QB rankings for this week. Instead they are the actual QB scoring results from last week in ESPN standard leagues.

Alex Smith was the best QB in fantasy last week, and it was not close. Bortles was a better play than Wilson. Flacco was better than Roethlisberger. Further down the list, you'd have been better off playing Tom Savage over either Derek Carr or Jared Goff. Jay Cutler was a better play than Kirk Cousins or Matthew Stafford in Week 13.

And all of them were better than Brady, whose 8.3 points had him finishing Week 13 as QB 28, behind Jacoby Brissett, Blaine Gabbert, Mitchell Trubisky and ... wait for it ... Geno Smith, who had 9.8 points for a QB27 finish.

Had I submitted these exact, clearly plausible ranks last week, you'd have said I was crazy. Wait, you'd say ... you have Jay Cutler -- against Denver -- ahead of Kirk Cousins, facing a Cowboys defense that seems to have given up? Where's Brady? At QB28? Behind Geno Smith? Are you out of your flippin' mind? Except, you would not have said flippin'.

And by the way, you would have been correct with that response, even though those rankings would have proved to be 100 percent correct. Because even though it turned out exactly like that, the odds of that happening were extremely low. That would have been results over process, and over the course of a season, that approach would have hurt much more often than helped.

At the start of every season, I write a big column called The Draft Day Manifesto. And every year, I write the same thing: At a fundamental level, fantasy football is all about minimizing risk and giving yourself the best odds to win on a weekly basis. That's it. That simple. You ca not predict the future. I definitely ca not predict the future. No one can predict the future. So all you can do is minimize risk and give yourself the best odds to succeed. ...

I bring all this up because it's an important reminder, especially this week, when our decision-making is more crucial than ever as we enter the fantasy playoffs. The important part of research and data (mine or anyone else's) is to understand how to use it. This column is fairly simple. Will these players play above or below general expectations. That's it. It's more matchup-based than anything else, and the "love" and hate" refer to their expectation for the given week in fantasy football, not the particular person.

What is most likely to happen? Minimize your risk. Give yourself the best odds to win and hope for the best.

Trust the process.

This is win-or-go-home territory. And if I lost last week because I started Tom Brady over Blake Bortles and cost myself 16.8 points, I will live with that, because more often than not that decision is going to work out for me. Trust the process. This week and the rest of the playoffs more than ever. Because I really want you to win. Truly. Desperately.

But not nearly as bad as you do. So make the decisions that you can live with. And with that in mind, let's get you a win this week. Here are the players I believe are likely (but NOT guaranteed!) to either exceed or fall short of their general expectations this week.

As a basic reminder, I try to not to put obvious, Antonio Brown-like no-brainers in here and because it is the fantasy playoffs, I have been saying for a long time "do not get cute" and "always start your stars." So, there are fewer names in here, as your playoff team should have fewer decisions to make than in a normal, regular-season week.

Quarterbacks I love in Week 14

Philip Rivers, Chargers: I am back on Rivers this week, as he has had back-to-back games with at least 340 passing yards and a 70 percent completion rate. Rivers has at least 15.3 points in every game since his Week 9 bye, including against two top-five defenses, so he's peaking at the right time. Now he's facing a beat-up Washington team that has allowed multiple touchdown passes in four of its past five games (the Thanksgiving game where the Giants were traveling on a short week being the only exception). And prior to facing a struggling (and injured in game) Dak Prescott and Eli Manning, the Skins had given up 295-plus passing yards AND multiple passing scores in three straight. He's a top-10 play for me.

Matthew Stafford, Lions: He is banged up, so watch the reports about his hand. And he is traditionally not great on the road and outdoors. But I am in on him this week as a top-10 play as, since Week 6, he is averaging a NFL-high 312.3 passing yards per game. The Buccaneers have really struggled in pass defense, ranking 30th the past four weeks and allowing a league-high 4.1 deep completions per game this season (most by a defense since the 2013 Cowboys).

Others receiving votes: Case Keenum has scored at least 16.9 points in five straight games. If you have been riding him to get here, I have no issue firing him up once again, as very quietly Carolina is 27th against the pass the past four weeks. ... Dak Prescott started to look like "old" Dak Prescott last week, and he's had 10 days to prepare for a Giants team that has allowed the fourth-most QB points and, since Week 4, is allowing a league-high 286.6 passing yards per game. ... If you are in a deep league and super desperate, I will say that the addition of Josh Gordon, the fact that he is averaging more than seven points a game with just his legs the past five games, and a matchup with Green Bay's 28th-ranked pass defense the past four weeks puts DeShone Kizer just inside of my top 20 and makes him an interesting, cheap DFS play.

Quarterbacks I hate in Week 14

Cam Newton, Panthers: This is mostly matchup driven, as the Vikings' defense is all sorts of terrific. They have allowed just three touchdown passes in their past five games, have given up the sixth-fewest points to opposing quarterbacks, and Cam's passing has been inconsistent. He has failed to throw multiple touchdown passes in five of his past seven games, so you are really counting on Cam's rushing. That's always possible, but it's worth noting Minnesota has allowed just 56 yards rushing to opposing QBs this entire season, fewest in the league. In 10 of the 12 games the Vikings have played this season, they have kept the opposing QB to less than 16 points. Cam is outside my top 10 this week.

Marcus Mariota, Titans: Mariota has driven me nuts all year long and even after a good game last week (fantasy-wise, at least), I ca not trust him in a playoff week. After returning to action in Week 6, he has been QB23 on a points-per-game basis and that includes games against Cleveland, Houston and two against the Colts. He was not 100 percent healthy during some of that stretch, but just from the eye test, he looks bad. Inaccurate throws, looking scared in the pocket, unable (or unwilling) to challenge down the field, and the Titans are a very conservative offense, with 53 rushing attempts (and just 48 passing attempts) in their past two games. More than 31 percent of Mariota's fantasy points come from his legs, so I guess it depends on if you think he runs one in this week. Quietly, Arizona is fifth best against the pass the past four weeks and Mariota is too risky for me to consider in a standard league. On the road against Arizona, he is merely a low-end QB2 for me.

Running backs I love in Week 14

Running backs I hate in Week 14

Wide receivers I love in Week 14

Wide receivers I hate in Week 14

Tight ends I love in Week 14

Tight ends I hate in Week 14

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