Fantasy football roundtable: Which Week 11 games are most crucial for owners?
Michael Beller: There's just three weeks left in the typical fantasy regular season, and that means it's moving week for fantasy teams. Plenty of owners will clinch playoff berths this week, and others will be mathematically eliminated. Good luck to all of you, especially those of you who are devoted readers of the roundtable. We like everyone out there, but we like the dedicated fans a little more.
It's moving week for NFL teams, as well, and several of the matchups with playoff implications on both sides project as the best fantasy games. Let's start with the game that features a player near and dear to the roundtable—Marcus Mariota's Titans go to Indianapolis to take on the Colts. Indianapolis won the first meeting between these two teams in Nashville a few weeks ago, and our guy struggled. He managed a decent fantasy day, but throwing for 232 yards and two touchdowns, but got 6.27 yards per attempt (his second worst YPA of the season) and completed less than 60% of his passes. I think he bounces back in a big way in a game that the Titans could surely use, given that they're 1.5 games behind the Texans in the AFC South.
The Colts, meanwhile, enter at 4–5, and a sweep of the Titans would be huge for their prospects in the division. Andrew Luck was masterful in Nashville, throwing for 353 yards, 9.05 YPA and three touchdowns in the win. I think both quarterbacks and, by extension, both offenses, put on a show on Sunday. Vegas agrees, with this game featuring an over/under of 52 as of Thursday. I've got Luck ranked third among QBs this week, and if anything, I think I'm too low? What say you on the Colts offense this week?
It's also moving week for the Packers and Redskins, who will meet on Sunday night in Washington. Green Bay is suffering through a surprisingly ugly season, characterized by inconsistent offense and bizarre defensiveness from Mike McCarthy in more than his fair share of press conferences. And yet, at 4–5 the Packers are just one game off the NFC North lead, trailing both the Lions and Vikings.
Washington, meanwhile, has a long way to go to catch the 8–1 Cowboys in the NFC East, but is right in the thick of the wild-card chase. They hold the final spot in the playoffs right now, half a game ahead of the Eagles and Vikings, who are technically in second in the North because of tiebreakers. This, too, is expected to be a shootout, with a game total of 50.5. It'll be interesting to see how much run Christine Michael gets after the Packers claimed him off waivers on Wednesday. How much does this complicate matters for James Starks, who was really only receiving tepid support from fantasy owners? And what would happen to fantasy football twitter if Michael threw a touchdown to Jeff Janis on a halfback pass?
That's where I'll leave it for now, Fitz. You know I had to get the Packers in here, so you could give us a window into the Green Bay fan's psyche.
Pat Fitzmaurice: Nice of you to give me a Packers lead-in, Beller, since I bleed melted cheddar and have a heart made of bratwurst. Even if I squint, I have a hard time seeing Michael becoming fantasy-relevant. As I said Thursday morning on Twitter, it took Michael three years to get any sort of traction in Seattle (his brief stop in Dallas notwithstanding), and now we expect him to get on the same page with demanding taskmaster Aaron Rodgers in just a week or two? Jeff Janis has been in Green Bay for two-and-a-half seasons and still hasn't been able to sync with Rodgers. It's hard to imagine C-Mike fitting seamlessly into the Green Bay offense, and I'm not sure why we should expect this to work out any better than the earlier signing of Knile Davis, another highly athletic underachiever.
This reeks of desperation on the part of Ted Thompson, who's probably in the twilight of his GM tenure in Green Bay. Thompson knows what he's doing in the draft, but his curious in-season maneuvering and his utter scorn of free agency have tested the patience of Packers fans. It's probably time for Ted to hit the bricks. As for Starks, I have a hard time feeling good about any of the Green Bay RBs. I still think the offense works best with Ty Montgomery lined up in the backfield, but apparently Mike McCarthy doesn't agree. I'll bet the under on 50.5 in Green Bay-Washington. I don't trust the Packers' offense to hold up its end of the bargain.
Where are you on Cousins, Beller? I'm lukewarm on him despite the favorable matchup—I think he's no better than an average NFL starter. He runs the offense pretty well until he gets inside the red zone, where he turns into Blaine Gabbert. If you gave him 20 chances to complete just one fade from the opponent's five-yard line, I'm not sure he could do it. Cousins' fantasy value is propped up by heavy passing volume. He's tied for sixth in passing attempts but ranks only 14th in fantasy points among quarterbacks. And now he's going to have to make do without suspended left tackle Trent Williams, one of the best in the business, for several weeks. I'll be fading the man who can't throw a fade.
But yes, I love the shootout potential that Titans-Colts holds. I have Mariota ranked QB5 and Luck QB6 this week. That might indeed be too conservative with Luck, but his poor offensive line and his penchant for ill-advised hero throws both tamp down my enthusiasm a bit. But I'm feeling pretty good about Colts WRs T.Y. Hilton and Donte Moncrief (not that it's any sort of bold position to be high on those two). I also think Jack Doyle can maintain low-end TE1 value despite the return of Dwayne Allen, who's basically a glorified sixth offensive lineman at this point.
I need your take on two other things, Beller, both of them related to Dolphins-Rams, a game that doesn't exactly quicken pulses. I'm sure there are very few people starting Jared Goff this week, other than me in the Scott Fish Bowl 480 superflex league. (Hey, blame it on Philip Rivers' bye.) But how do you think the Keenum-Goff transition will affect the two fantasy-relevant Rams—Todd Gurley and Kenny Britt? And am I crazy to think that DeVante Parker, who had five catches for 103 yards last week, can keep it up? I just feel that Parker is a better fit for what Adam Gase wants to do with the Miami offense than Jarvis Landry is. Your thoughts?
Beller: I may not be a Wisconsin native, Fitz, but I'm right there with you when it comes to bleeding cheddar, mainly because I love cheddar cheese. Specifically Merkt's Cheddar, which is a delicacy here in the upper Midwest. Those of you who aren't fortunate to live in an area where the Merkt's cheddar flows must try it on a burger next time you're in my and Fitz's part of the country. You will not be disappointed.
Our pal Peter Bukowski pointed something out to me on Twitter earlier this week. Something has to be up with Montgomery's health, right? He was so good in the two games where he had a featured role in the offense. His disappearance from the game plan entirely last week can't be attributed entirely to McCarthy's whims, can it? I'd love to see him back in that role where he's netting 15 or so opportunities split between carries and targets, but it doesn't seem to be in the cards, no matter the reason.
We're in lockstep on Cousins. I'm sure you remember me selling him all summer. I don't think I had him as a top-20 quarterback coming into the year, and I think he has mostly justified my derision. As you said, he's getting by on volume. He's this year's Blake Bortles. You know who I like best in that game from a fantasy standpoint? Jamison Crowder. I love what he has made for himself in that Washington offense, and I think the Packers are going to have a lot of trouble keeping him in check coming out of the slot. I also hope we see a lot of Jordy Nelson in the slot this week, as we did a week ago. Once he moves outside, he'll be staring across the line at Josh Norman. The football fan in me would love to see that showdown, but the Jordy investor in me wants him matched up with Washington's lesser DBs.
Goff can't be any worse than Keenum, right? Keenum was completing barely more than 60% of his passes for 6.93 YPA. He had nine touchdowns against 11 interceptions, and the Rams ranked dead last in the league in scoring on his watch. If the quarterback change in Los Angeles has a negative effect on Gurley and Britt, it will be marginal. From a fantasy perspective, I'm excited for both of them this week. This is definitely one of those cases where you'll go with the devil you don't know rather than the one you do.
As for Parker, I love the player and I agree that his skill set seems to jibe with what Adam Gase wants to do more so than Landry's. Still, his no-show across the entire middle-third of the season has me a bit concerned. We've all seen the flashes of greatness—going back to his days at Louisville, we know there's a true No. 1 receiver lurking in his body. The question is whether or not he can be consistent enough for that player to emerge. I've got Parker pegged as a low-end WR3 this week. If he shows up on Sunday, I'll be the first to congratulate him and you, and re-calibrate his rest-of-season value.
We had a little back and forth on Twitter about Blake Bortles, so I'll bring that discussion front and center. I've already had my say on him this week, devoting the intro of the start or sit column to the maligned Jaguars quarterback. Despite the fact that he has clearly regressed in real life, he remains in the QB1 discussion more often than not in fantasy leagues. I'm of the opinion that he can exploit a bad Detroit pass defense, especially now that he's force feeding Allen Robinson, who has 40 targets in the team's last three games. I know you aren't high on Bortles, either generally or this week. So give our readers the counterpoint. Why shouldn't they trust Bortles on Sunday?
Let's take stock of the AFC West. The Broncos are on a bye this week at 7–3. The Chiefs and Raiders are 7–2 and heavy favorites against the Buccaneers and Texans, respectively. Are we penciling these three teams into the playoffs? And if we aren't, who's most likely to fall? I think it might be the defending champions, who still have both their meetings with the Chiefs, a trip to Tennessee, and a date with the Patriots in Denver ahead of them.
Fitz: I think all three of those AFC West teams are going to make the playoffs, though I wouldn't be shocked if the Broncos fell by the wayside. The Denver defense can only carry that team for so long. I don't understand why the drumbeat for Jared Goff to replace Case Keenum has been so much louder than the one for Paxton Lynch to replace Trevor Siemian. Other than Siemian's slightly more palatable TD-INT ratio, Siemian and Keenum have very similar numbers, and Keenum has far more completions of 20-plus yards. No way do the Broncos repeat as champs with Siemian at quarterback. Lynch might at least give them a fighting chance, but Denver has to begin that transition now so that Lynch is feeling some level of comfort in that offense by January. And perhaps a QB change in Denver would boost the fantasy prospects of Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders.
It's sort of amazing that Bortles currently ranks 12th among QBs in fantasy scoring, given how putrid he's been this year. But I suppose it's not unlike what we saw last season, when Bortles somehow bumbled his way to finish the No. 4-scoring QB largely because he was the undisputed king of garbage time. I'll grant you that the matchup is highly favorable. I think opponent passer rating is a decent measure of pass defense, and the Lions' opponent passer rating of 112.4 is by far the worst in the league. Bortles has also attempted 187 passes in his last four games, and it's hard to argue with that sort of volume. But I just can't back a lousy quarterback in a road game, no matter the opponent. It's truly amazing how often Bortles piles up big fourth-quarter numbers in decisive losses, but it still isn't a bankable trait. I have him ranked QB17 this week, and even putting him in the top 20 feels dirty.
Circling back to Ty Montgomery for a moment, yes, it's probably a good bet that his health issues (a kidney issue exacerbated by the sickle-cell trait) kept his snap count down last week. But the Michael signing hints that the Packers aren't planning to use Monty in the backfield regularly, even though it seemed to be working.
There are a couple of guys I want to take your temperature on, Beller, both of them participating in the Chiefs-Buccaneers game, which might be one of the more intriguing games from a “meh”-looking Week 11 slate. At 4–5, the Bucs aren't out of the playoff hunt just yet. How are you feeling about Doug Martin? He wasn't exactly lights-out against the Bears last week, but he got a pretty sizeable workload and managed to punch in a touchdown. (And in fairness, the Bears' run defense has been respectable.) Martin has a home date this week against a Chiefs defense that's yielding 4.7 yards per carry. And can you please help me make some sense of Travis Kelce? Will he be a fantasy underachiever as long as he's tethered to Alex Smith? If you own him, do you simply throw him into your starting lineup each week and hope for the best, or do you try to play matchups if you have a Cameron Brate type backing up Kelce?
And by the way, I second your endorsement of Merkt's cheese on hamburgers, especially if bacon and a pretzel bun are involved.
Beller: I put a lot more stock into Martin's Week 10 workload than his output. It was his first game since Week 2 and the Buccaneers certainly weren't shy about feeding him early and often, giving him 16 carries and a pair of targets. As you said, the Bears defense has been surprisingly strong against the run this year, so I'm not going to get down on Martin managing just more than two yards per carry against them in his first game in two months. That the Buccaneers brought him back into the game so he could get a short-yardage touchdown late after seemingly putting him in bubble wrap with the game well in hand tells me all I need to know about his health. I'm firing him up with a ton of confidence this week and beyond. As for Sunday's date with the Chiefs, I've got him as RB12 for the week.
Fitz, don't you remember when you made sense of Travis Kelce way back in our first roundtable of the season? Or it might have even been one from the preseason. We both picked one player to extricate from his current situation to place on a team that would make better use of his talents, and you went with Kelce. So long as he's tied to Alex Smith and the Chiefs offense, which, for the record, fits the team perfectly and has them in contention for the AFC West crown and a first-round bye, his fantasy production is not going to match up with his ability. I do think that you can play matchups if you have Kelce. Having said that, I'd play him ahead Brate this week. I would consider Julius Thomas or Eric Ebron over Kelce this week, though. Thomas hasn't topped 30 yards since his second game of the season, but he has four touchdowns and no team has allowed more touchdowns to tight ends this year than the Lions.
I'm going to spare us the upset talk this week because I can't see any of the eight teams laying at least 5.5 points losing. If you do, though, feel free to mention it as you steer this ship back into port. You can also give some DFS picks if you'd like. I'll save most of mine for my Saturday column, but I will say that Andrew Luck is going to be a fixture. Finally, taking a cue from last week, give me your top-five Led Zeppelin songs. No explanation necessary, just let 'em rip. Here are mine:
1. “Whole Lotta Love”
2. “When the Levee Breaks”
3. “Good Times, Bad Times”
4. “Hey, Hey, What Can I Do?”
5. “The Ocean”
Fitz: I actually have to make a Kelce/Ebron decision in one of my leagues this week, and I'm playing Kelce. Jacksonville has been tough on opposing TEs this year, and I'm convinced that as soon as I pull Kelce out of my lineup, he'll detonate for 100 yards and two TDs.
There are two DFS plays I really like this week. I can't resist a well-rested Golden Tate, last seen bowling over Minnesota safety Andrew Sendejo with some sort of cartoon-superhero move in overtime of the Lions' Week 9 victory. Tate costs only $5,300, which seems way too low. I also like Isaiah Crowell at $3,900. It's a yard-sale price, and I have a hunch that Crowell will have a nice game this week. As for big upsets, I don't see any brewing, although I like the Titans +3 in a very mild upset of the Colts.
Funny that you bring up Led Zeppelin. My 9-year-old son is starting to noodle around with a guitar–we haven't started formal lessons yet–and he can already play the opening notes of “Seven Nation Army” and “Smoke on the Water.” Anyway, my wife and I are trying to encourage his musical interest, so we've been having him listen to great guitar songs on our iPods. My wife is also a big Led Zeppelin fan, and last night she was playing our son some of the songs with the best Jimmy Page licks. My son was particularly smitten with No. 2 on my list of favorite Zep songs:
1. “When the Levee Breaks”
2. “Over the Hills and Far Away”
3. “Ramble On”
4. “All My Love”
5. “Your Time Is Gonna Come”
The organ intro on “Your Time Is Gonna Come” always gives me goosebumps. And it appears our time has come, Beller. Until next week, my friend…