The Fantasy Basement is a weekly piece that provides fantasy advice on lineup calls, sleepers, waiver-wire moves and rookie spotlights, along with the occasional ramble or two. Why “Fantasy Basement” you ask? There is a common misconception that sports writers dwell in their childhood cellars, that the institution promotes arrested development. Um…how does that have negative connotation? After all, who wouldn’t enjoy coming home to fresh-baked cookies and having their laundry done?…Anyway, enjoy!
QB: Colin Kaepernick, 49ers
This column hasn’t been kind to Kaepernick this fall, warning that his fantasy value was more bark than bite. In the first half of the year, this was rightfully so, with the Niners quarterback owning as many turnovers as touchdowns in a nine-game stretch following the season opener. Moreover, the ground endeavors from Kaepernick’s celebrated playoff run were painfully absent, curbing his roto appeal.
So what spurs this endorsement at the most critical of fantasy junctures? In the words of Aziz Ansari, “Game recognizing game.” As of late, Kaepernick has turned his fortunes around, flaunting seven scores versus one pick. That he’s accomplished such feats against stout defenses in Seattle, St. Louis and Tampa is all the more impressive. The Niners offense is predicated on the run, yet with Frank Gore hitting a wall (averaging less than four yards per carry in four of the past five games), look for Kaepernick to serve as the team’s stimulus. Given his relative disappointment to his proprietors this campaign, Kaepernick has a chance at redemption this weekend. Other starts: Andy Dalton, Tony Romo
RB: Ray Rice, Ravens
Bearing in mind his first-round stock, Rice’s output has been the fantasy equivalent of punting Baxter off the bridge, finding the Promised Land just once in the past nine weeks. Worse, his only conquest has come against the Bears, a team so bad versus the run that someone named Edwin Baker hit pay dirt last weekend. Rice’s body of work, or lack thereof, makes insertion of the 26-year-old a risky venture.
His disappointing showing can be salvaged this weekend with a strong performance, a premise not as arbitrary as believed. New England is allowing the second-most rushing yards to opposing backs at a 132.5 clip, and as bad as Rice has been, Bernard Pierce is not a threat to siphon touches. And for those searching for parallels, Baxter did return to save the day. So, yeah. Other starts: Gio Bernard, Dennis Johnson
WR: Mike Wallace, Dolphins
Wallace is the winner of this year’s Vincent Jackson Award, bestowed to the fantasy player who catches fire in the final weeks after submarining many a fantasy season with his first-half no-shows, rendering said triumphs useless except for padding his stat line and thus tricking new managers into ownership the following year. (Unfortunately, the description did not fit on the trophy mantle.) Through the first 10 games of the season, Wallace failed to build rapport with Ryan Tannehill, crossing the goal line just once and averaging a pedestrian 53.4 yards per contest. The last month has been a different tale, justifying his opulent offseason contract with three touchdowns and 83.3 yards per outing. Look for this prosperity to continue against a Bills team that’s been generous to wideouts, ranking 25th in fantasy points allowed. Other starts: Keenan Allen, Torrey Smith
TE: Tyler Eifert, Bengals
This candidacy is asserted in a hip injury sidelining Jermaine Gresham this Sunday against a Vikings club that’s giving up the second-highest point total to tight ends. Gresham and Eifert often negate each other’s fantasy worth, but Bengals’ third-string tight end Alex Smith is unlikely to see Gresham’s usual allotment of targets, bequeathing an amplified rate of balls in Eifert’s direction. Available in 92 percent of FOXSports.com fantasy football leagues, Eifert is a must-start if Gresham can’t go. Other starts: Zach Miller, Dennis Pitta
DEF: Cleveland Browns
Shutdown corner back Joe Haden’s readiness is uncertain after taking a knee to the side versus the Bears. Excluding Haden from a crew that’s lost eight of its past nine seemingly places stay-away status on the Browns defense this weekend. My counter to such a claim: Geno Smith will be lining up on the other side of the ball, he of 21 interceptions and eight fumbles (four lost). For owners iffy on Carolina, Baltimore or Kansas City, Cleveland is a viable option. Other starts: Denver Broncos, Detroit Lions
QB: Russell Wilson, Seahawks
I love Seattle. The duo of Shawn Kemp and Detlef Schrempf was an unstoppable force in NBA Jam. When I disclosed my affinity for homemade coffee brewing, more than a few from the Emerald City shot their homemade recipes via Twitter or email. Twins Peaks was the bomb.
I preface as much knowing the following will upset the 12th Man: should we be concerned with Wilson’s performance on the road? In the friendly confines of the Clink, Wilson boasts a QB rating of 114.1, 68.3 completion percentage, 13 total touchdowns, four interceptions and two fumbles (one lost) in six games. Away from Washington? Eh: a 62.3 completion rate, 12 touchdowns (but in eight contests, not six), four picks and a whopping eight fumbles (four lost). Not saying, just saying.
Arizona is without playmaker Tyrann Mathieu and Wilson did notch three touchdowns in their last meeting. Nevertheless, there are better fantasy options in Week 16 than running out the sophomore signal caller in opposition to the seventh-ranked resistance. Other sits: Tom Brady, Andrew Luck
RB: Saints backfield
This stat will blow your socks off, assuming you have them on: the Minnesota offense averages more points per game (25.9) than the Saints (25.3). How about them apples?
New Orleans dropped 31 on the Panthers in their first rendezvous. However, in their other 13 games, Carolina has held challengers to a meager 13.6 points per tilt, putting an aberrational reflection on the Saints’ victory. Coupled with a front seven that is relinquishing only 84.9 rushing yards per game (second-best in the NFL), the forecast looks ominous for the Big Easy running backs. Even in PPR formats where Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles hold a preeminent standing, keep these entities on the pine. Other sits: Steven Jackson, Zac Stacy
WR: T.Y. Hilton, Colts
Oh Mr. Hilton, you are a fickle squirrel. Imagined to be the de facto No. 1 target in Reggie Wayne’s absence, the second-year receiver out of FIU has fallen short of these projections. Before Week 15’s modest harvest (eight receptions, 78 yards), Hilton was colder than Michael Corleone, accumulating a scant 135 yards in the previous four games. In truth, Hilton has been a dud the majority of the time, surpassing the 80-yard barrier in just four games. For those seeking further proof, Hilton’s five touchdowns become tainted upon discovering they emitted from just two games.
The heightened figures from the Kansas City secondary are somewhat of an illusion, dividends of a five-game stretch featuring Ryan Fitzpatrick, Terrelle Pryor, Case Keenum, Jason Campbell and Jeff Tuel. Nevertheless, the Chiefs defense is a sound group, one that should wreak havoc on the Indianapolis aerial game. Other sits: Dwayne Bowe, Danny Amendola
TE: Martellus Bennett, Bears
Philadelphia is allowing 291.6 passing yards per game, second-most in the league. Jay Cutler is back under center for Chicago, welcomed news for Bennett, as the tight end wasn’t seeing as much love with Josh McCown at the helm. Ipso facto, Bennett gets the thumbs-up facing Philly. And since I have nothing else to add, what the hell, Shia LaBeouf? You realize Google exists, right? While we’re here, for a guy who spends a lot of his time combating alien machines, you sure lose a lot of bar fights. But keep rocking that kimono, dude. That will stop people from questioning your sanity. Other sits: Coby Fleener, Heath Miller
DEF: Pittsburgh Steelers
This comes with a proviso. If Matt Flynn is the Green Bay field general, feel free to ride the Steel City. If the sleeping giant that is Aaron Rodgers awakens? You don’t want any part of that rodeo, cowboy. Other sits: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Indianapolis Colts
Waiver Wire Watch: Delanie Walker, Titans
Winning just twice since the end of September tends to push a team out of the national spotlight. Still, fantasy owners that examine Nashville’s gridiron affairs will realize Walker has become a dependable receiving asset. The former Niners tight end has garnered at least eight targets in four of the past five contests and made the most of these opportunities, stamping three end-zone excursions in this span. Though the Jaguars are not the historically-awful team we once believed, Jacksonville is surrendering the third-most fantasy points to tight ends in 2013, vaulting Walker to a must-start designation.
Email of the Week
Before we get into this segment, a reminder that we’ll be hosting a mailbag on Friday to accommodate fantasy championships, so feel free to send your questions/comments/rants our way!
This week’s winner comes from J. Cheong from Cape Coral, who writes:
You never answer my emails but giving it one more try: final week – DeMarco Murray or Pierre Thomas? Carson Palmer or Philip Rivers? Please answer for once.
I scavenged through past messages starting from August, and couldn’t find any dispatches from “J. Cheong,” “Cape Coral” or even this dude’s email address. Sure you haven’t been sending your missives to Jay Bilas? Understand the mix up. Aside from the Bilastrator’s sagacity, wit and benevolence, we’re basically the same guy. (One plus for moi: the hair department. Eat it, Jay!)
As for your predicament, Murray and Rivers. For whatever reason, the fantasy community hasn’t put its conviction in Rivers this year despite his career season. Don’t fall into this fallacy this weekend.
Fantasy Flyer: Andre Caldwell, Broncos/Aldrick Robinson, Washington
The first suggestion parades a caveat – Caldwell’s worth is hinged on Wes Welker’s availability. If a concussion keeps Welker shelved for the second straight week, implement Caldwell as your WR3 or Flex play. Houston is holding adversaries to the second-lowest passing output in the league at 183.3 yards per game; of course, the Texans are also 2-12, so don’t be too concerned about that lowered mark.
Kirk Cousins is set to make his second start for Washington, but it could be Robert Griffin III, Rex Grossman or Patrick Ramsey under center and we’d still endorse Robinson against Dallas’ league-worst secondary. Coming off a 99-yard day versus the Falcons, roll with Robinson in most standard formats as a Flex and possibly a WR2 in deeper leagues.
This Week in BRENT CELEK
C-Note saw just one target, paling in comparison to rookie Zach Ertz’s nine looks, in the Eagles’ 38-48 loss to the Vikings. Coincidence? I think not.
Speaking of Celek, a few readers wondered why our favorite tight end was left out of the celebrity-packed street fight in Anchorman 2. Seemingly an oversight, his omission is understandable, as Celek was already on the set of Grudge Match. As in, tearing the location apart, trying to stop that monstrosity from being filmed. Martin Scorsese is taking down corporate greed, Bobby D, while you’re working with Kevin Hart. These are facts. 2013 stats: 26 receptions, 373 yards, four touchdowns Linebacker Body Count: 11.
Personal Foul on: The Shanahan-Snyder-RG3 feud
Knock it off, fellas. You’re starting to give “Redskins” a negative connotation.
Gatorade Shower Goes to: St. Louis Rams P.R. department
Last week I took a shot at the Rams for promoting punter John Hekker for Pro Bowl selection. Upon further deliberation, good for St. Louis for showering love for their kicker, as most teams treat the special teams unit like the redheaded stepchild. Here’s to “Johnny Football” spending February in Honolulu.
Joel Beall is a writer for FOXSports.com and WhatIfSports.com. He lives with a Golden Tee machine and a jump shot that’s currently broken. Reach Joel on Twitter @FOXSportsBeall