Week 14 Starts and Sits
December 8, 2016 | Scott Cedar
Brian Hoyer in 2015: 60.7 completion percentage, 5.1 touchdown percentage, 1.9 interception percentage, and 7.2 adjusted yard/attempt.
Brock Osweiler in 2015: 61.8 completion percentage, 3.6 touchdown percentage, 2.2 interception percentage, and 6.9 adjusted yards/attempt.
Pretty similar, right? So why did the Texans jettison Hoyer to give Osweiler a 4 year, $72 million contract? And how come Hoyer could only land a 1 year, $2 million contract to back up Jay Cutler? Is it because Osweiler is younger? Taller? More handsome? Maybe, but I think Hoyer’s playoff apocalypse—15/34, 0 TDs, 4INTs, 2 fumbles—probably had a lot to do with it.
The lesson: don’t flame out in the playoffs. You could have $71M on the line this weekend, so let’s get these right.
Two quick ground rules. First, the goal is to highlight some less obvious plays—Andrew Luck is a start this week and every week; you didn’t need to read through a bunch of stats and bad jokes to know that. Second, not every “start” is a must start on every team—DeSean Jackson is a “start” because I like him more this week than general, but he won’t make every lineup. Any questions, check out the TFF Rankings or hit me up on Twitter (@scedar015) or in the comments section below.
Start: Matthew Stafford vs. Chicago
Let’s give it up for the Chicago Bears defense. One of the worst in the league last year, they brought in an influx of new talent, fought through an ungodly amount of injuries, and improved to a respectable 16th in points allowed (22.5 per game).
The ride ends this weekend. This hasn’t been the typical high-voltage Lions offense—their 22.9 points per game ranks 18th in the NFL—but they’ve been efficient, scoring on 41.5% of their drives (7th best in the league). And it’s been all Stafford. Only the Browns have fewer rushing attempts this season, and no team has fewer rushing touchdowns. Stafford had slowed down during a rough stretch Week 8-12 where he faced 4 top passing defenses, but bounced back with a 23.84 gem against New Orleans last week. He sits at QB9 on the year and is playing great.
The aforementioned Bears defense is really banged up. They were able to hide it last week against Chip Kelly, who somehow called only 15 passes all game (10 of which came from Blaine Gabbert). They won’t be able to hide it on Sunday against one of the pass-heaviest teams in the league. Nor will they be able to hide Matt Barkley, as they’ve been doing so successfully since Jay Cutler went down. With the Detroit defense healthy and playing better, I think this is the week Barkley gets exposed, putting the Lions in favorable situations. They might hold the ball close to 40 minutes this game. And again, it’ll be all Stafford.
Other starts: Philip Rivers @ Carolina, Andy Dalton @ Cleveland
Sit: Marcus Mariota vs. Denver
One of the biggest surprises of the season, Mariota is QB4 on the year. He’s coming off a bye. He has at least 21 points in 4 straight games. He shaved his moustache. Everything’s coming up roses, no?
No. Denver is death to quarterbacks, allowing just 12.5 points per game, lowest in the league by nearly a point. Mariota, meanwhile, has been racking up his big games against one of the easiest schedules in the league. Here’s his slate since Week 5: Miami, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, San Diego, Green Bay, Indianapolis, and Chicago. Playing Denver after this schedule will feel like going from reality TV star to Presi… let’s just say he’s going to find Denver is more difficult than his prior matchups.
The other concern is Denver actually hasn’t been great against the run (26th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA). Tennessee is a great rushing team with a Luddite coach who loves running the ball. This shapes up as a low volume, low efficiency week for Mariota.
Other sits: Tyrod Taylor vs. Pittsburgh, Carson Palmer @ Miami
Start: Danny Woodhead vs Baltimore
I know he didn’t do anything against the Rams last week, but that’s largely because Jeff Fisher made him the focal point of the defensive gameplan. Oh, and he’s been on IR since Week 2. And hasn’t been on the Patriots since 2012.
Let’s start over….
Start: Jeremy Hill @ Cleveland
Hill has been really bad since A.J. Green and Giovanni Bernard were placed on IR, managing just 54 yards on 35 carries (1.5 YPC). Yeah, the offensive line isn’t very good, and this isn’t an apples to apples comparison, and it’s a small sample size… but Rex Burkhead has averaged 5.2 YPC in that same span. Hill doesn’t catch passes or rack up rushing yards, so he just isn’t all that useful unless he’s scoring touchdowns.
Luckily, he’ll be scoring touchdowns this weekend. He gets a Browns defense that has given up 13 already (8th most in the league). Even if he doesn’t find the end zone, the Browns are giving up 4.5 YPC (5th most in the league), so for the first time in forever Hill should be able to gain decent yardage. He should also have volume, as the 0-12 Browns have faced the 2nd most rushing attempts in the NFL as team after team runs out the clock on them. I have a sneaking suspicion that this game is a trap, but assuming everything goes according to plan, Hill should get fed and have a good chance at multiple scores.
Other starts: Matt Forte @ San Francisco, Todd Gurley vs. Atlanta; Robert Kelley @ Philadelphia
Sit: LeGarrette Blount vs. Baltimore
The Ravens have allowed the fewest yards, yards per carry, touchdowns, and not surprisingly, points to opposing running backs. This isn’t a case of teams avoiding the run to attack a weak secondary; the Ravens’ pass defense is also stout (allowing 5.7 net yards/attempt, tied for 4th lowest in the league). This defense is legit. They’re just one murderer away from the glory days of the 2000s.
So how does Bill Belichick, who does more game-to-game offensive planning than anyone, attack such a strong defense? Well, first he would tape their practices to get an idea of what they’re planning. Then he’d deflate all the footballs to minimize turnovers. And then he may notice that the Ravens—despite having an elite run defense and very good passing defense—are allowing the 4th most receptions to opposing running backs. And he may further notice that he has two, count ‘em, two very good pass-catching running backs. I think it’s one of those games where Blount takes a backseat while Dion Lewis and James White are featured. Blount is always a threat to score, so there’s a risk that all of the above is rendered irrelevant by a short touchdown, but if you have good running backs there are better options this week.
Other sits: Devontae Booker @ Tennessee; Rashad Jennings vs. Dallas
Start: DeSean Jackson @ Philadelphia
Jackson’s boom-or-bust routine always makes him tough to trust, but this week sets up really nicely for him. Philadelphia’s strong front 7 has shut down opposing tight ends (sorry, Vernon Davis), but a weak secondary has allowed the 7th most points to opposing wide receivers. Moreover, the Eagles are susceptible to Jackson’s forte, the deep ball (allowing 12.4 yards per completion, tied for 5th highest in the league). This was clearly a point of emphasis the first time these teams played—though he had just 4 catches for 55 yards, Jackson received 9 targets, his 2nd highest total of the year. Jackson and Kirk Cousins have been clicking lately after a number of near-misses to start the year, with a 50+ yard play in each of the last 2 games and touchdowns in 2 of the last 3 games.
I like Jackson’s chances for a long score this week, but as I said at the top, he’s boom-or-bust. Don’t feel like you have to cram him into your lineup (there are actually a lot of nice WR matchups this week), but I think he’s a really nice flex play, especially if you’re an underdog.
Other starts: Demaryius Thomas/Emmanuel Sanders @ Tennessee, Tyrell Williams @ Carolina, Doug Baldwin @ Green Bay
Sit: Kelvin Benjamin vs. San Diego
Benjamin is currently WR23, but it sure hasn’t felt like it. He’s been a top-24 receiver only 3 times all year, and only one of those was a top-12 finish (all the way back in Week 2). He has 3, 2, and 2 catches in his last 3 contests, a stretch in which he’s caught under 40% of his targets and is losing volume and playing time to Ted Ginn. Really, the entire Carolina passing game has sputtered lately (right, Greg Olsen owners?).
Assuming Cam Newton wears his damn tie this week, the matchup actually isn’t that bad. San Diego is an underrated pass defense (8th in DVOA), but is allowing 22.5 points to opposing wide receivers, middle of the pack. Their secondary is also allowing healthy yardage totals (271 yards per game, 6th most in the league). My big concern with this matchup is the pass rush. Carolina’s offensive line woes showed up bigly on Sunday night. While San Diego’s 21 sacks are bottom 5 in the NFL, they actually have 65 QB hits, putting them in the top half of the league and suggesting they’re getting decent pressure. Those numbers, of course, are deflated by the games Joey Bosa missed when he and San Diego couldn’t agree on contract terms they’ll never exercise.
Other sits: Rishard Matthews vs. Denver; Allen Robinson @ Minnesota
Start: Zach Ertz vs. Washington
Rookie quarterbacks don’t actually rely heavily on their tight ends as safe, easy targets.
Carson Wentz, however, does rely heavily on Zach Ertz. With Jordan Matthews out last week, Ertz got 15 (!) targets, catching 9 for 79 yards and a TD. Matthews may return this week, but even if he does, Ertz has received heavy volume since returning from injury. The reason is simple: the rest of the Eagles receiving corps is trash. They’re the Love Actually of NFL wide receivers: lots of names you’ve heard of, none of them good, and after watching them for 2 ½ hours you want to throw up.
Washington has a strong secondary, which has funneled opponents’ passing to the middle of the field: opposing tight ends have 80 receptions (most in the league) and 796 receiving yards (5th most) against Washington. Certainly Philly would prefer to run, but their defense probably won’t allow it. They’ve given up at least 26 points in 5 of their last 6 games, forcing Wentz into 44.5 passing attempts per game in that span.
Other starts: Tyler Eifert @ Cleveland; Jason Witten @ New York Giants
Sit: Dwayne Allen vs. Houston
Yeah, the Dwayne Allen who scored 25.20 points on Monday Night Football. The highest score from a tight end all season. That one. Sit him.
As I noted in the waiver column this week, he’s still very much touchdown dependent. Chasing touchdowns is never a good thing, especially against a Texans defense that has allowed only 3 touchdowns and the 3rd fewest yards to tight ends all season.
Allen hasn’t taken the step forward this year that many expected. Coby Fleener is gone, but in his place are Jack Doyle and Erik Swope to soak up snaps and targets. As for Allen, he’s averaging just 4.1 targets per game and has played more than 65% of the team’s snaps just once in his past 4 games. Monday night wasn’t really a breakout so much as an embarrassing performance from a pass defense led by a guy who no longer wants to play football. Don’t bet on a repeat.
Other sits: Martellus Bennett vs. Baltimore; Dennis Pitta @ New England