Once upon a time -- 2010 -- I made my 14-team PPR league finals with Kerry Collins as my quarterback.
I can't say exactly how I got so lucky to somehow make my finals in spite of this, but it ultimately came down to a loaded roster other than at quarterback. I drafted Joe Flacco, traded him for Austin Collie, had Jay Cutler on my roster, dumped him for Jon Kitna after Tony Romo got hurt that year, rode him and the Lions backups (Matthew Stafford also got hurt) and then decided that Collins, who piloted the Titans, was my guy.
That is until Week 16, when he played at the Chiefs. Tennessee was going nowhere, Kansas City was playoff bound. The Chiefs defense was solid and the matchup suggested a rough week for Collins.
In the same week, the Broncos were to host the Texans, whose pass defense was dicey. Quarterbacking the Broncos was a rookie named Tim Tebow. Ever hear of him? A week earlier at Oakland he completed just half of his 16 passes for 138 yards and a touchdown but also ran for 78 yards and a touchdown. He wasn't anything special as a quarterback but the Texans were nothing special as a defense, plus he would run. And he was on waivers.
Facing one of the perennial contenders in the league for the title, I decided to take a calculated risk and played the matchup. Tebow threw for 308 yards, the only 300-plus-yard game of his career, ran for 27 yards, totaled two scores and had a turnover. Collins also had two touchdowns but also two turnovers and threw for just 235 yards. Tebow outscored Collins by seven -- I won my league title by five points. I've since put Tebow on my bench for every title game since, including the one I'm in this week, if only for good luck.
My story is a reminder that playing the matchups is still vital. You won't ever bench a proven talent unless you have another proven talent to take his place. And you'll never start a good-but-not-great player in a very tough matchup. But it's those players in the middle that you'll struggle with. And with that in mind, I've dug up some players who aren't exactly studs but are looking at some juicy matchups in Week 16. They should be considered for your lineup.
Kirk Cousins, QB, Redskins (vs. DAL): Cousins took advantage of a favorable matchup last week, throwing for 381 yards and three touchdowns despite three turnovers. I liked how he played in the fourth quarter, completing 13 of 17 passes for 126 yards, a score and a pick after stinking in the third quarter. He played mostly well when under pressure, was willing to throw deep and while on the run and made very good throws on his first two touchdowns. If Cousins had a game against a tough defense then I'd stray from him, but the Cowboys just got done making Matt Flynn look like Aaron Rodgers. If Flynn could withstand the Cowboys pass rush then Cousins should be able to as well. Dallas ranks dead last in Fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks and has allowed three four-touchdown games in their last five with an average of nearly 300 passing yards given up per game.
Early week projection: 333 pass yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions (21 Fantasy points)
Worth starting over: Andrew Luck, Matt Ryan, Carson Palmer, Ryan Tannehill, Russell Wilson
Chris Ivory, RB, Jets (vs. CLE): Ivory is owned in most leagues but could go from the bench to the starting lineup quickly. Without question he's the Jets' best answer at running back -- he barely leads the team in carries but has more than 100 rush yards than anyone else on the team. He's also scored in two of his last three home games. But the matchup is the real reason for putting him in a prominent roster spot as the Browns have allowed a rushing score in each of their last two games along with a rush average of 4.9 yards per carry over their last three games. When the Browns lost defensive tackle Desmond Bryant for the season three weeks ago their defensive line became a lot more vulnerable and as a result, teams have had an easier time running on them. I'd expect the Jets to do what they can to protect their young quarterback and give Ivory a lot of work -- every time this season he's had at least 15 carries he's turned in at least 10 Fantasy points.
Early week projection: 71 rush yards, one touchdown (13 Fantasy points)
Worth starting over: Fred Jackson, Bobby Rainey, C.J. Spiller, Ben Tate
Jordan Todman, RB, Jaguars (vs. TEN): Todman is another poster boy for when opportunity meets a good matchup. There isn't a worse defense at stopping the run than the Titans and Todman could be in a position to exploit it. A lot of teams might allow one rushing touchdown a week. Tennessee has allowed two or more scores per week to a running back in seven of their last nine games! Week 12 was the last time they didn't allow a running back to run for a touchdown against them (but one caught a touchdown) and Week 4 was the last time they didn't allow any running back to score on them at all. It all depends on Maurice Jones-Drew's status: If he's in then Todman is out, but if MJD is out then Todman should rack up the numbers.
Early week projection: 78 rush yards, 29 receiving yards, one touchdown (12 Fantasy points)
Worth starting over: Chris Johnson, Ray Rice, Pierre Thomas, DeAngelo Williams
Greg Jennings, WR, Vikings (at CIN): It took the improbable situation of Matt Cassel leading the Vikings offense and the Bengals defensive secondary losing bodies to turn Jennings from an over-the-hill receiver to a guy you'd actually want to use as a PPR flex or No. 3 wideout. There's no denying the production Jennings has had with Cassel under center: Over five games where Cassel attempted even one pass toward Jennings the two have combined for 31 completions on 44 targets for 416 yards and all four of Jennings' touchdowns. Without Cassel, Jennings has 50 targets for 28 catches, 317 yards and no scores. This duo will catch the Bengals defense down two starting cornerbacks. I suspect the Vikings won't play much with the lead which means we'll see a lot of passing. Jennings has at least 10 targets in each of his last three of Cassel's starts.
Early week projection: Seven catches, 90 receiving yards (9 Fantasy points)
Worth starting over: Anquan Boldin, Riley Cooper, Michael Floyd, T.Y. Hilton
Delanie Walker, TE, Titans (at JAC): Just how big of a weapon has Walker been with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center? He's scored in three of the four games he's finished, getting at least eight targets in each of them. His weekly involvement might negate any challenge a matchup gives him, but in the case of Week 16 it sure doesn't hurt. Jacksonville has allowed nine touchdowns to tight ends on the year and is most definitely weaker against the pass than the run.
Early week projection: Five catches, 48 receiving yards, one touchdown (10 Fantasy points)
Worth starting over: Jordan Cameron, Tony Gonzalez, Dennis Pitta
Fantasy & Reality
Quick observations about the misconceptions (Fantasy) and truths (Reality) from around the league.
Fantasy: I'm done overanalyzing Tom Brady. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. Last week I used this space to make an argument to sit Brady in place of a number of other passers. While many of the suggestions I made ended up as good or better than Brady, it wasn't like he was awful, throwing for 364 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. I said it would take the rest of the Patriots offense to step up and make Brady a hero and they did. The guy's a winner and a heck of a passer, so it would have to take a convincing and simple argument for anyone to confidently call him a sit.
Maybe something like this: The Ravens have held him under 20 Fantasy points in each of their last five games against him, including three playoff meetings.
Reality: Don't be scared of Matthew Stafford. The Lions look ugly following two losses but some circumstances have left Stafford looking worse than he actually is. Two weeks ago he played in a blizzard and couldn't do much right, completing 10 of 25 passes. Last week he was plagued by drops (three by Calvin Johnson!) and only came up with a late touchdown versus three interceptions while throwing 34 times (18 completions). But no one with the Lions is discouraged -- even coach Jim Schwartz said Stafford needs to "keep on throwing." They'll play the Giants this week, a defense that has allowed 21 passing touchdowns on the year. Perfect timing for the struggling Stafford.
Fantasy: Aaron Rodgers won't help Fantasy owners this year. You have to think that if Rodgers is anywhere close to being ready to play that he will give it a go now that the Packers can make a run at the NFC North. With two wins they'll clinch a playoff spot and a home game, pretty remarkable considering where they were a couple of weeks ago. The Steelers have allowed five passing touchdowns and an average of 215.0 passing yards over their last two to quarterbacks, enough evidence to suggest Rodgers will have a solid game if he indeed plays. And if he gets Randall Cobb back as well then it could be time for a major Packers run for Fantasy owners.
Reality: Handcuffing pays off. Matt Asiata and Jordan Todman were Fantasy heroes in Week 15 filling in for Adrian Peterson/Toby Gerhart and Maurice Jones-Drew, respectively. Edwin Baker would have been another one had we been privy to Cleveland's plan to let him be their "primary" running back (he had eight carries but did well with them). It's yet another reminder of why handcuffing your top running backs is vital. File it away for 2014 since you won't need your starters' backups any longer if your league's title game is in Week 16.