THE WIRE TAP: WEEK 14
December 6, 2016 | Scott Cedar
On any top 10 list of greatest sports press conferences, you can argue all day about spots 4-10. There are plenty of good nominees: Mike Gundy’s “I’m a man, I’m 40!” (the perfect reply when your manhood is questioned). Denny Green’s “The Bears are who we thought they were!” (Overrated, in my opinion—more awkward than funny, and I do take the 3rd preseason game like it’s BS). Herm Edwards’ “You PLAY, to WIN, the GAME.” (Fantastic cadence. Factually accurate).
But the top 3 on the list are clear, inalienable, and not subject to debate:
3) Allen Iverson’s “We talking about practice.” I remember watching this live, in utter disbelief. He can’t say it again. Boom. Okay, no way he says it again. Boom, another one. He’s got to be done now, right? Nope. An unbelievable 2 minutes and 22 seconds.
2) Randy Moss’s “Straight Cash, Homey.” Okay, not technically a press conference, but still. Everyone remembers Joe Buck’s “that is a disgusting act” call (after Moss didn’t actually moon the crowd), but not enough remember the fallout. “When you’re rich, you don’t write checks” is such a great line (and now true when you’re poor too–thanks Venmo!). If you owe your buddy money and aren’t quoting Moss extensively, you’re doing it wrong.
1) Jim Mora’s “Playoffs?!?” rant. 15 years later, and my first reaction anytime I hear the word “playoffs” is to repeat it in Jim Mora’s goofy intonation. Still. And people know exactly what you’re talking about.
So here we are, the fantasy playoffs. For purposes of waivers, that means honing in on the short term. We don’t care about bench depth, durability, or season-long outlook. We care only about two things. Based on matchups and opportunity: 1) who can help us this week, and 2) who might help us next week, if we’re so lucky. Let’s get to it. As always, the focus is on players owned in under 40% of Yahoo or ESPN leagues, ranked roughly in order of preference.
PAY THE IRON PRICE
(Pry these players from your leaguemates’ cold, dead hands. Figuratively.)
Ladarius Green (22% Yahoo, 12% ESPN)
It was simmering for a while.
Green finally emerged as the Steelers’ #2 option in the passing game, with 6 receptions for 110 yards and a score. The 48% snap count is a bit concerning, but ameliorated by his team-high 11 targets. The Giants have been susceptible to tight ends, but it was still an impressive performance by Green, and exactly what you needed to see to use him in the fantasy playoffs. Pittsburgh gets a nice matchup against Buffalo on Sunday, who may need to fire its offensive coordinator again after getting burned for 38 points in Oakland. Green is a top 10 tight end the rest of the year with tremendous weekly upside.
Malcolm Mitchell (29% Yahoo, 20% ESPN)
I talked about Mitchell last week but didn’t really love him against the Rams. Part time player. Offense that spread the ball around. Likely run-heavy game script. Oops.
Mitchell finished with 8 catches for 82 yards on 10 targets (2nd behind Julian Edelman), looking like the downfield threat the Patriots need in a post-Gronk world. We’ve seen the Patriots pull the rug out from under us before, as they change offensive gameplans week-to-week more than any team in the league, so you’ll always be a little nervous starting Mitchell. Case in point: Mitchell has played 85.7%, 46.5%, and 84.8% of the snaps in his 3-week breakout. For now, at least, he appears to have a solid place in the top offense in the league.
Cincinnati Defense (33% Yahoo, 51% ESPN)
The obvious play, Cleveland has thrown 12 INTs (tied for 8th most in the league), fumbled 20 times (tied for 4th most), and allowed 45 sacks (most in the league, by a lot). Cincinnati just put up 8 points against Carson Wentz, including 3 INTs, and anything less this week would be a disappointment.
Check your wire (players owned in <75% of leagues): Cameron Brate is a must-start next week against New Orleans. With Mike Evans bottled up on Sunday, Brate led the Bucs with 6 catches on 9 targets for 86 yards and a touchdown….It feels like a trap, but on paper, Andy Dalton should be the top streaming option this week against Cleveland.
PRETTY-AY, PRETT-AY, PRETT-AY GOOD
(Should be owned in 10- and 12-team leagues, whether by you or someone else.)
Brandon LaFell (16% Yahoo, 17% ESPN)
I made the case for LaFell last week, which was actually a look-ahead to this week’s matchup with the Browns. It looks even better after a productive Sunday, where he caught 5 of 7 targets for 95 yards and a score in a blowout win over Philadelphia. A top fill-in option this week.
Tyler Lockett (37% Yahoo, 25% ESPN)
Better late than never?
Lockett was a popular preseason breakout candidate, but an early PCL injury and a host of other issues with Seattle’s offense led to a slow start. Now healthy, Lockett is starting to emerge, with increased playing time and 6 targets in 3 of his last 4 games. For many that volume wouldn’t be enough, but big play ability (like this 75-yard run) plus one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the league renders it moot. Thomas Rawls ruined the night for Seattle’s passing game last week, but it should be a different story in Week 14 as Seattle travels to Green Bay. The Packers have a pretty good run defense (allowing 3.8 YPC, tied for 5th fewest in the league), but are getting torched by opposing receivers (allowing 26.4 fantasy points to opposing WR, 3rd most in the league).
Charles Sims (13% Yahoo, 9% ESPN)
Jaquizz Rodgers (21% Yahoo, 26% ESPN)
You know what doesn’t sound like a good injury? Bending backwards, which Doug Martin did on Sunday, knocking him out of the end of Tampa’s big win over San Diego.
Rodgers closed out the game, recording 7 carries for 29 yards and a 21-yard catch. Rodgers averaged 13 points in the 3 games he started this year, handling massive workloads. If Martin can’t go, Rodgers would get the Saints in Week 14, who are giving up the 7th most points per game to running backs.
Unfortunately, it looks like Charles Sims will return on Sunday to cloud the picture. He’s the better talent and started the year ahead of Rodgers, so if Martin can’t go I’d probably try Sims first. It’s admittedly a guess as this is a murky situation Tuesday morning… keep an eye on the reports as we get closer to game time.
Vernon Davis (37% Yahoo, 53% ESPN)
I talked about Davis last week. With Reed sidelined, Davis continued his hyper-efficient season with a respectable 4.7 points against an Arizona defense that’s death to tight ends (allowing 2.8 fantasy points per game, best in the league by nearly 2 points). Jordan Reed didn’t seem close to playing, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Davis gets another start. Unfortunately, his matchup isn’t much better this week, as Washington plays at Philadelphia (giving up the 2nd fewest points to opposing tight ends).
Alfred Morris (12% Yahoo, 15% ESPN)
Morris has played sparingly as Zeke Elliott’s backup, but it’s that time of year. Dallas clinched a playoff berth Sunday and holds a 2.75 game lead over Seattle for homefield advantage in the NFC. If Dallas locks up the top seed in the next week or two, you could see a heavy dosage of Morris to close the year. Elliott leads the NFL with 291 touches, and as a rookie, has obviously never had to deal with the pounding of a 16-game NFL season.
While we’re talking handcuffs, backups that should be owned in all leagues, in order:
- Tevin Coleman
- Mike Gillislee
- Tim Hightower
- Jalen Richard
- DeAngelo Williams
- Kenneth Dixon
- Derrick Henry
- Bilal Powell
- Charcandrick West
- Kenneth Farrow
- Andre Ellington
- Damien Williams
- DuJuan Harris
Obviously you can’t own all of these guys, but you can probably make room for one by shedding unnecessary depth on your bench. Guys like Mike Wallace, Willie Snead, Rashad Jennings, Mohamed Sanu, T.J. Yeldon… all owned in >50% of leagues, all perfectly fine bye week fill-ins, and all droppable if you have better starting options this week.
Dontrelle Inman (20% Yahoo, 20% ESPN)
I highlighted Inman’s favorable schedule the rest of the way in last week’s column. It’s off to a good start. Even as the Chargers’ passing game struggled, Inman caught 2 balls for 49 yards and a touchdown, his 2nd straight week with double digit points. In addition to the favorable schedule, Tyrell Williams popped up on the injury report last week with a shoulder injury, and was a game-time decision in Week 13. If that injury continues to bother Williams (or if he tears an ACL because, ya know, that’s what Chargers receivers do), then Inman could emerge as Philip Rivers’ #1 target.
Rex Burkhead (5% Yahoo, 5% ESPN)
For the 2nd week in a row, Burkhead ran for more yards than Jeremy Hill on far fewer carries. Burkhead was also more involved in the passing game this week after Hill dominated those touches last week. Normally this would portend good things for Burkhead, and he’s already playing a lot (47% of the snaps since Gio Bernard went on IR). Unfortunately, Cincinnati’s matchup this week (@ Cleveland) is almost too easy. Hill should be able to get back on track next against the Browns, and it should be a run-heavy Hill type game, but Burkhead has earned a bigger share of the workload.
Pierre Garcon (32% Yahoo, 44% ESPN)
Jordan Reed has a shoulder injury. Jamison Crowder has a hip pointer. And Kirk Cousins keeps on dealing.
If all three hold on Sunday, it bodes well for Garcon, who would be in line for ~10 targets. It’s a nice matchup against the Eagles, whose once-mighty defense has crumbled behind a bad secondary and inept offense that can’t stay on the field. Garcon’s only issue this year has been a lack of touchdowns, but his 11 red zone targets are 2nd on the team, so some regression may be coming.
Ty Montgomery (35% Yahoo, 37% ESPN)
I was watching the Packers game while simultaneously dominating my daughter in a game of Candyland, but even with that distraction I could see Montgomery was the Packers’ best backfield option by far. Hopefully Mike McCarthy saw it too. Montgomery received 6 carries against the Texans, his most in a month. He was less involved in the passing game (just 2 catches for 16 yards), though that was in part due to a rare off game from Aaron Rodgers. Meanwhile, James Starks and Christine Michael, the traditional running backs, combined for just 20 yards on 10 carries. Montgomery would seemingly be a nice counter to Seattle’s defense, but given his up-and-down usage, will be a risky play in Week 14.
Check your wire (owned in <75% of leagues): DeSean Jackson will be left for dead after a tough matchup in Arizona, but I think that’s a mistake. He and Cousins were just starting to click… Tyler Boyd has shown a consistent floor since A.J. Green’s injury, with at least 4 catches and 54 yards in 3 straight. He gets a chance to show ceiling next week in a prime matchup against Cleveland… C.J. Fiedorowicz’s last 2 games have been quiet, but have actually shown really good floor for a tight end due to volume (9 targets last week). He gets a nice matchup next at the Colts.… Which will also benefit Will Fuller, who had another solid game, catching 5 of 6 targets for 59 yards. If you’re feeling lucky… If you’re on bye and have a roster spot, Alshon Jeffery’s a nice add… Miami’s defense had been playing well before getting shelled by Baltimore. Hopefully an aberration—they get Arizona next, who’s been a plus matchup for fantasy defenses.
DEEPER LEAGUE PLAYS
(In no particular order.)
I wrote up Dwayne Allen for last week’s column then deleted it, as he’s really only usable when he scores touchdowns. 3 touchdowns later, I don’t think much has changed. He literally walked into the end zone for his 1st score, and was uncovered on his 2nd. Addable, but it feels like chasing last week’s big game.
Is Joe Flacco elite again? He sure looked like it on Sunday, throwing for 381 yards and 4 (!) touchdowns in a rout of Miami. QB2 on the week. It’s not crazy to think Flacco—mediocre at best when healthy—had been slowed by an ACL injury suffered late last season. He gets a decent matchup against New England, who has given up startable weeks to Ryan Tannehill and Carson Palmer, among others. Playable in a pinch.
With last week’s star Marquess Wilson injured (per usual), Cam Meredith bounced back from a bad game with 3 catches for 67 yards. Matt Barkley continues to be not horrible (11/18, 192 yards), and the Bears get another good matchup against Detroit (Drew Brees owners may disagree). Still for deep leagues only.
Another heavy target game for Jermaine Gresham, who caught 5 balls for 52 yards. He gets Miami this week, whose defense just gave up 90 yards and 2 touchdowns to Dennis Pitta.
Speaking of, Dennis Pitta led the league in catches and yards without a touchdown until regression hit on Sunday. I don’t think his 11-9-90-2 (targets-receptions-yards-TDs) day is the start of something. Despite a nice real-life season (3rd among tight ends in receptions, 10th in yards), it hasn’t translated to fantasy. This week was just his second all year with double digit fantasy points, and he’s actually scored fewer than 6 points in every other game.
Zach Zenner’s past 4 games: inactive, inactive, 1 carry, 9 carries. Of course. Those 9 carries (for 40 yards) led the Lions, while Dwayne Washington continued his inefficient play with 7 carries for 21 yards. The Lions have the 2nd fewest rushing attempts in the league, and Zenner’s usage ebbs and flows without reason, so this is just if you’re desperate for carries.
Devontae Booker continued to struggle as the lead back with just 35 yards on 18 carries. He did find the end zone, but now has just 2.8 YPC since C.J. Anderson went on IR. If it keeps up much longer the Broncos will have to… I don’t know. Kapri Bibbs was flashing as a backup, but landed on IR. The Broncos signed Justin Forsett, who had his best year with Gary Kubiak in 2014, but has also been waived by two teams already. Speculative add, if you’re RB needy.
For the 23rd time in a row Lamar Miller left with an injury but was able to return. Ok, that’s a made up stat, but it has become a weekly occurrence. Want proof? I made the same joke 3 weeks ago. Miller passed his previous career high in carries on Sunday, and with 4 more games to go, it’s hard to believe he makes it through unscathed. Jonathan Grimes and Alfred Blue would probably split the work if Miller missed time down the stretch.
Ryan Griffin has 5, 5, and 6 targets over the past 3 weeks, and 2 touchdowns in his last 4 games. You’re probably not winning a title starting the #2 tight end in one of the worst passing offenses in the league, but maybe he can help you win the consolation bracket.
James Starks has maxed out at 41 yards rushing since returning from injury a month ago, and on Sunday, Green Bay looked elsewhere. Christine Michael led the team in carries with 9, but didn’t fare much better than Starks, managing just 19 yards. If you’re desperate or have an affinity for narrative street, Michael gets his twice former team, Seattle, next week.
Any questions, hit me up on Twitter, @scedar015. Be sure to check out Chris Manni’s Streaming Spotlight and Adam Cook’s Field of Streams for weekly quarterback, tight end, and defense pickups.