The fantasy postseason is winding down, and for owners skilled enough to make it to this point, each decision carries more weight than ever.
Owners have one shot to get this right. Unlike the fantasy landscape, not much has changed in the realm of actual football—players have a certain value based on matchup and other factors that owners must dissect each day in order to field the best possible lineup.
But what about those not-so-obvious decisions requiring careful analysis? Take a look.
Note: All fantasy scoring info courtesy of ESPN standard leagues. Points-against info courtesy of ESPN.
Start ‘Em: Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins (at BUF)
Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill has been nothing short of reliable when owners need him most in the playoffs.
Tannehill has now scored 20 or more points in three straight weeks. Week 16 is a bout on the road with Buffalo, a team that allows an average of 14.4 points to quarterbacks per game. He only scored 13 against the Bills in Week 7.
That sounds bad, but Tannehill only scored 10 points against New England in Week 8 and turned around with 24 against the Patriots last week.
ESPN illustrates just how well Tannehill has played this year:
Ryan Tannehill’s 23 TD passes this season are most in a season by a Dolphins QB not named Dan Marino
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 15, 2013
Much of success at this stage in fantasy is simply not over-thinking things. Tannehill is a hot hand—ride it.
Sit ‘Em: Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals (at SEA)
Carson Palmer had been good to owners until his last few weeks. Starting in Week 14, Palmer has now gone two weeks with just 14 points or fewer in two games.
Much of the issue is Palmer’s body simply giving way under the stress of a season. As Pro Football Talk reports, the USC product is now dealing with an ankle issue:
Carson Palmer dealing with high ankle sprain http://t.co/6u275391Fm
— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) December 16, 2013
Even if Palmer plays in Week 16 and is 100 percent healthy, it is a matchup in Seattle that owners should avoid like the plague, anyway.
The Seahawks allow the fewest points of any defense in the NFL against quarterbacks. There is no excuse to have Palmer in any lineup in Week 16.
Start ‘Em: Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers (at GB)
Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell is the real deal.
Bell took 24 carries on Sunday Night Football against Cincinnati—a team that ranks in the top five at an average of 11.8 points allowed to running backs—and rumbled for 57 yards and a score, giving him 16 points.
The sledding will be much easier in Week 16 against a Green Bay defense that ranks in the bottom 10 with an average of 17.4 points allowed to the position.
Bell is an every-down back, so the Michigan State product is a must-start option despite his rookie status.
Sit ‘Em: Steven Jackson, Atlanta Falcons (at SF)
One of the biggest fantasy disappointments this year (running lanes were supposed to be so open in Atlanta’s passing attack), Steven Jackson has turned it around in recent weeks.
Jackson has finally been healthy and has scored 13 or more points in three of his last four, including 15 last week against Washington.
The bounce-back campaign is over. Week 16 is a trip to San Francisco, where Jackson will encounter a 49ers defense that ranks in the top 10 against his position.
Jackson should see in the neighborhood of 15 carries again, but the touches will not result in anything of value for owners in a postseason matchup.
Start ‘Em: Alshon Jeffery, Chicago Bears (at PHI)
— NFL (@nfl) December 16, 2013
Outside of Cleveland’s Josh Gordon, Alshon Jeffery has been one of the biggest names in the fantasy landscape at receiver.
Players in the locker room expect Jeffery to make big plays consistently now, as highlighted by a comment from tight end Martellus Bennett, via Rich Campbell of the Chicago Tribune:
Alshon doing Alshon. It’s just like when LeBron James does crazy dunks. You look back there when Alshon does his thing and it’s like, ‘Oh, there goes Alshon again.’ We’ve come to expect it. He makes those plays.
His team expects it, and fantasy owners should, too. After exploding for 36 points in Week 13 against Minnesota, Jeffery fell back to the wayside with 13 points or fewer the past two weeks.
But when Jeffery erupts for major production, he does it in a big way (hence alarming point totals of 20, 27 and 36 this year). Jeffery is in for another big day in Week 16 against Philadelphia.
The Eagles rank dead last against receivers, allowing an average of 28.2 points. It would be easier to name notable receivers who have not had a major day against the unit.
Sit ‘Em: Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals (at SEA)
We’ll stick with the players headed into the no-fly-zone known as Seattle.
Not only is Arizona receiver Larry Fitzgerald headed into a nightmare matchup against the Seahawks, he, just like Palmer, is now dealing with injury issues.
Fitzgerald scored four points in Week 15, snapping his streak of four games with 12 or more points. Fitzgerald’s rise has coincided with Palmer’s, but both are hobbled and in a horrible matchup at the worst possible time for owners.
Start ‘Em: Andrew Quarless, Green Bay Packers (vs. PIT)
Andrew Quarless has emerged as a viable fantasy option in Green Bay, scoring in the top five for Week 15 with only Monday’s contest remaining.
Quarless posted 12 points for the second consecutive week as he continues to build chemistry with quarterback Matt Flynn. He is now headed into a matchup with a Pittsburgh defense ranks in the middle of the pack against tight ends.
Regardless of whether or not Aaron Rodgers returns (great news if he does), Quarless is a gamble worth taking at a shaky position.
Sit ‘Em: Timothy Wright, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (at STL)
Timothy Wright was a hot commodity back in the middle of the season, but Week 15 was his breakout game.
Wright’s 14 points against San Francisco marked the highest output of his season and placed him as the highest scorer at the position for the week before Monday’s game.
Just do not expect this to be the start of a trend. Wright has scored eight or fewer points in each of the prior five weeks and now goes up against St. Louis, a defense that ranks in the top five with an average of 5.6 points allowed to tight ends.