It’s fantasy championship week, and senior FantasySharks.com writer Matt Wilson is here to help you win. In his newest edition of “Traps & Trends,” Matt sifted through the Week 15 aftermath and came up with a list of players that will be either nice or naughty in fantasy bowl lineups.
1. SO ABOUT THAT LONG AWAITED AND TOTALLY OVER-HYPED RETURN OF YOU-KNOW-WHO IN MINNESOTA. CAN THIS GUY HELP YOU WIN A FANTASY BOWL NEXT WEEK?
The Dude: Adrian Peterson
The Damage: The Minnesota Vikings billed his first game action since Week 2 as a knock-off-the-rust outing. Peterson was very rusty to say the least during his team’s shocking loss to the Indianapolis Colts (Minnesota got caught looking ahead to a Week 16 showdown with the Green Bay Packers), and the 31-year-old ball carrier’s performance looked like a rerun of his poor play back in early September. Getting the start, Peterson compiled just 22 yards on six carries and was unable to spark the Vikings offense. His longest run was 13 yards, and Peterson lost a fumble at the Indianapolis 9-yard line. In case you’re interested, Peterson also caught one pass for one yard. He didn’t play during the second half, which is when Minnesota leaned heavily on passing-down back Jerick McKinnon while attempting a half-hearted comeback from a huge deficit. Apparently, the Vikings’ plan was to have AP ready to go next week against the Packers at Lambeau Field. Can you trust Peterson in your fantasy bowl starting lineup?
The Diagnosis: TRAP
While Peterson obviously will get the starting nod again, I wouldn’t trust him. Minnesota’s offensive line is still terrible, and – dare I say this – I think Peterson has lost at least a step. In addition, the game script will work against him in the Packers matchup. Green Bay has been stingy against the run at home, and the Packers likely will roar out to a huge lead and force the Vikings to play from behind, which favors heavier usage for McKinnon since Peterson has never been a force as a receiver. If you have a Week 17 fantasy bowl, Peterson’s Week 17 home matchup versus a leaky Chicago Bears defense looks far more promising, but I’d still be reluctant to trust Peterson.
2. IS IT SAFE TO START THE HOUSTON TEXANS’ NO. 1 WIDEOUT AGAIN?
The Dude: DeAndre Hopkins
The Damage: It happened at least a couple of weeks too late, but the Houston Texans finally benched struggling $72 million dollar triggerman, Brock Osweiler, after he tossed interceptions on back-to-back passes in Week 15 against the Jacksonville Jaguars to finish just six-of-11 for 48 yards. Backup Tom Savage, the Texans’ 2014 fourth-round draft selection who had appeared in just three regular-season contests, replaced Osweiler in the second quarter. Savage led Houston to a come-from-behind win over the Jaguars, completing 23 of 36 throws for 260 yards. He didn’t toss any touchdown passes, but Savage also didn’t turn the ball over. What does all this have to do with Hopkins? I’m getting to that. For the game, Hopkins was targeted a season-high 17 times, with 15 of those targets caming from Savage. Hopkins finished with eight receptions for 87 yards, which was his best outing since Week 6. If you made it to a fantasy bowl with Hopkins on your roster, is it safe to start him again?
The Diagnosis: TREND
I’m making a big assumption here based on just one game: Barring an injury to Savage, the Osweiler experiment is over for this season. The Texans are battling for the playoffs, and head coach Bill O’Brien apparently has decided that Savage gives them the best chance to win. Savage clearly learned a valuable lesson while watching Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett and T.J. Yates play last season: Hopkins, an elite route-running technician, is the engine that drives the Houston offense, and he should be targeted as often as possible. Assuming Savage draws the Week 16 start (all bets are off for Hopkins if he doesn’t), Hopkins is a solid start as a fantasy WR1 on his home field versus a mediocre Cincinnati Bengals defense that will have an exhale game after a frustrating Week 15 divisional loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
3. WILL THE NO. 1 TAILBACK IN BALTIMORE PLEASE STAND UP?
The Damage: During a Week 14 loss to the New England Patriots, it looked like we had witnessed the changing of the guard in the Baltimore Ravens backfield. In that contest, rookie Kenneth Dixon compiled 81 total yards and one receiving touchdown on 19 targets (eight receptions) while Terrance West amassed just 26 combo yards on six touches. However, during the Ravens’ Week 15 triumph over the Philadelphia Eagles, Dixon carried just nine times for 36 yards and one score (no catches) while West racked up the bigger touch and yardage numbers, tallying 122 total yards on 17 touches. Can we expect Baltimore to continue using a hot-hand timeshare for the rest of the season?
The Diagnosis: TREND
After the New England game, I had thought Dixon would be the lead dog in the Ravens’ backfield, but this looks like a two-man committee for now. It looks like West will receive the bigger workloads against the weaker run defenses while the more explosive Dixon, who is also the better receiver of the two, will get the nod against tougher run defenses and in passing-down/come-from-behind game situations.
4. IS IT SAFE TO TRUST THE TENNESSEE TITANS’ NO. 2 TAILBACK IN STARTING LINEUPS?
The Dude: Derrick Henry
The Damage: In late November, Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Mularkey had hinted he would consider using Henry more in short-yardage situations to save a little wear and tear on workhorse starter DeMarco Murray. Mularkey wasn’t blowing smoke on this. During a Week 12 victory over the Chicago Bears, Henry toted the rock eight times for 60 yards and scored on an 11-yard scamper. This past Sunday, during a surprising win over the Kansas City Chiefs, he hit pay dirt on a four-yard run and a one-yard plunge while amassing 58 rushing yards on nine carries. Is it safe to use Henry as a flex option?
The Diagnosis: TREND
The Titans clearly want to use the talented Henry as their goal-line runner, and I think he’s a solid flex option in Week 16 versus a Jacksonville Jaguars team that struggled against the run. The Jaguars also just fired head coach Gus Bradley, so they’re probably going to phone it in the rest of the way. Henry, however, comes with risk – he’s very touchdown dependent. The rookie runner has been targeted in the passing game just once since Week 8. If Henry doesn’t score, he’ll leave a hole in your lineup.
5. IS IT TIME TO BENCH THE SEATTLE SEAHAWKS’ LEAD TAILBACK?
The Dude: Thomas Rawls
The Damage: His disappointing performance against what many had thought would be a disinterested Los Angeles Rams defense that was sans head coach Jeff Fisher was one of the biggest sources of frustration for fantasy owners. Even though the Seattle Seahawks handled a Los Angeles Rams team that hadn’t thrown in the towel, Rawls eked out just 34 yards on 21 carries to go along with two receptions for five yards. Concerns about Rawls run deeper than just this one outing. Since he returned from a long injury layoff in Week 11, Rawls has either scored or eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark in just one game. With a fantasy championship likely on the line for you, is it time to sit Rawls?
The Diagnosis: TRAP
With a Week 16 home matchup against the Arizona Cardinals on tap, give Rawls one more chance. After watching the Cardinals cough up 48 points to the New Orleans Saints at University of Phoenix Stadium this past Sunday, it’s safe to say that at 5-8-1 they’re already thinking about next year. When the Arizona defense was playing well earlier in the season, it was still getting gutted on the ground in road contests. Nine of the 12 rushing scores that the Cardinals have allowed to running backs came in away games.