Some victories are more memorable than others. My second fantasy football league title occurred in 2009, in which running back depth was lacking entering the playoffs. I claimed Cleveland running back Jerome Harrison off waivers and hoped for the best, knowing he had a promising schedule in Week 15 and Week 16. Imagine Mr. Burns saying “Excellent” and tenting his fingers as I watched Harrison rush for 434 yards and four touchdowns. He added 127 yards and another score in Week 17 for good measure.
Stories like that can be the impetus of whether you win or lose. Gambles won’t always pay off, but no starting lineup is perfect and tough decisions must be made. This is why I’m a proponent of playing the best matchup even when the stakes reach their highest point. Although an ’09 Harrison-like monster performance is unlikely, consider the following players if your roster has question marks.
Joe Flacco, QB, Baltimore (vs. Indianapolis)
Flacco has played well in recent games, posting borderline starting fantasy numbers. He threw for 288 yards and one touchdown in a blowout win against 0-14 Cleveland. Before that, he had 269 yards, two touchdowns and one interception against Pittsburgh’s No. 4 passing defense in Week 14, and the same yardage, touchdowns and no picks the previous game against Detroit. The 3-11 Colts rank 30th in passing defense at 257.1 yards per game; 21 touchdowns is 17th. Heck, Denver backup Brock Osweiler threw two touchdown passes, ran for a touchdown and posted a 147.7 passer rating against Indianapolis. And Osweiler stinks. He went into that game for an injured Trevor Seimien, after being benched the previous few games. In Osweiler’s three previous outings, he threw three touchdowns, four interceptions and completed 53.1 percent of his passes for a 65.7 passer rating. Flacco may not score three touchdowns against Indianapolis like Osweiler, but he’s a serviceable option when facing one of the league’s worst passing defenses in fantasy points allowed to opposing quarterbacks.
C.J. Anderson, RB, Denver (at Washington)
Anderson is a must-start RB2 or flex. He rushed for 130 yards on 30 carries in Week 15 against Indianapolis and hasn’t had less than 15 touches in four weeks. Denver’s committed to running the ball and Osweiler, as described above, is a mostly terrible quarterback. Washington’s rushing defense ranks 28th at 123.4 yards per game. Anderson hasn’t scored a rushing touchdown in five games and his other touchdown occurred in Week 2; thus, six points for a score will likely not happen. Being the lead back against a poor opponent should pay dividends. In Week 13 and Week 14, Dallas’ Alfred Morris and Rod Smith combined for 154 yards and two touchdowns, and New Orleans’ Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara had 176 yards and one touchdown. The Denver rushing productivity does not match Dallas or New Orleans, but the numbers point to Anderson having a big day.
Kenyan Drake, RB, Miami (at Kansas City)
If you’re like me, you claimed Drake off waivers weeks ago but have been too hesitant to start him over more proven halfbacks. It’s time to stop doubting the 23-year-old, second-year Alabama product. Drake rushed for 234 yards on 48 carries (4.9 average) in Week 13 and Week 14, including a touchdown against Denver. He ran for 78 yards and a touchdown against Buffalo on Sunday and now faces Kansas City’s 27th-ranked rushing defense. Kansas City allows 122.9 yards (4.3 average) and almost 1.1 touchdowns per game. I predict Drake will score more fantasy points than at least two of these players: Ezekiel Elliott (vs. Seattle), Devonta Freeman (at New Orleans), Ingram and/or Kamara (vs. Atlanta) and Todd Gurley (at Tennessee).
Robert Woods, WR, Los Angeles Rams (at Tennessee)
There are many reasons to start Woods. For example, the Tennessee passing defense ranks 25th at 242.6 yards and almost 1.7 touchdowns per game. Rams quarterback Jared Goff has a strong rapport with Woods. In the three games before injuring his shoulder, Woods caught 20 receptions (26 targets) for 322 yards and four touchdowns. He also played well in his return Sunday at Seattle, catching six receptions for 45 yards and a touchdown. Tennessee has the third-best rushing defense, allowing 87.2 yards (3.5 average) per game and a league-low five touchdowns. Odds are Tennessee will contain Gurley on the ground and make Goff win through the air. Considering what DeAndre Hopkins (80 yards, eight receptions) and Antonio Brown (144 yards, 10 receptions, three touchdowns) recently did to Tennessee’s secondary, Woods — and a Rams team that scores 31.3 points per game, including a 42-7 whooping of the Seahawks in Seattle — could have a field day.
Dez Bryant, WR, Dallas (at Seattle)
Several rational reasons exist to bench Bryant in Week 16. I’m here to talk you off the ledge. Seattle’s No. 1 priority on defense is to contain Elliott following a six-game suspension. Bryant is one of his team’s best options to score points. Amid a down season, Bryant caught a touchdown reception in two straight games before just 59 receiving yards Sunday. Seattle is missing multiple Pro Bowlers, such as cornerback Richard Sherman, safety Kam Chancellor and defensive end Cliff Avril. Before getting embarrassed by the Rams, Seattle’s unit performed admirably in their absence, but the defensive line isn’t creating as much pressure on quarterbacks and the secondary is more susceptible to big plays. I think Dallas will lose the game. I also think Bryant will help you win a fantasy title with at least 70 receiving yards and one touchdown.
Other Players to Like
Alex Smith, QB, Kansas City (vs. Miami)
Nick Foles, QB, Philadelphia (vs. Oakland)
Kerwynn Williams (if healthy), RB, Arizona (vs. New York Giants)
Carlos Hyde, RB, San Francisco (vs. Jacksonville)
Cooper Kupp, WR, Los Angeles Rams (at Tennessee)
JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, Pittsburgh (at Houston)
Jared Cook, TE, Oakland (vs. Philadelphia)
Eric Ebron, TE, Detroit (at Cincinnati)