Well kids, the championships are upon us!
Week 16 of the 2012 fantasy football season kicks off tomorrow night with a Saturday Night Special, and fantasy owners everywhere are ecstatic because it isn’t a Thursday Night Special. Unfortunately, the matchup may just as well have been on a Thursday because I think we’re in for another bad NFL game as the Atlanta Falcons travel to the great, (probably) white north to take on the Detroit Lions.
Given that this isn’t a Thursday night game, and given that this is Championship week for most fantasy owners, I’m not going to highlight three sleepers in this game like I’ve done earlier this season. Don’t risk your league title on a sleeper pick! Instead I’m going to offer my overall thoughts on the relevant fantasy starters on each team.
For the visiting Falcons, we have to start with QB Matt Ryan. While Ryan has been a solid QB1 all season, his last non-Sunday appearance left a lot of fantasy owners in mourning as he put up a pathetic 12 points against the New Orleans Saints in Week 13. Over Weeks 14 and 15, Ryan has averaged over 25 fantasy points and thrown for 2 and 3 TDs respectively. Against a Lions’ defense which has allowed 20+ points to opposing QBs over the past three games, I look for Ryan to continue his groove and be a solid QB1 start once again.
In the Falcons backfield, Michael Turner has scored a TD in his last five games, salvaging what would be pedestrian numbers as he has averaged a mere 42 yards per game over the same span. If Turner scores a TD he rewards owners, but if he doesn’t find the end zone he is very likely to put up single-digit fantasy points. Chances are if you are playing in your league championship you’ve gotten there without relying on Turner as much more than a flex player which is where I would rank him against a better-than-average Lions run defense. If you don’t need Turner I’d recommend a different option this weekend.
The Falcons receiving corps has continued to perform pretty well for owners.
Tony Gonzalez simply defies time and age, and stands as the #1 TE in fantasy football in standard leagues through 15 weeks of the season. With TDs and double-digit production in two of his last three games, Gonzalez should definitely be in your lineup this week unless you happen to also own Jimmy Graham. (Graham is the only TE I’d rank higher than Gonzo this week.)
As far as the Falcons WRs are concerned, if you own Julio Jones you probably couldn’t be happier as the early-round pick has paid nice dividends during fantasy crunch time with a 21-point, two-TD game against the Giants in Week 15. Jones is a WR1 this week and I look for him to have another big game. Roddy White, on the other hand, has been dealing with not only a knee issue, but also with declining production here in the latter part of the season. White did put up 17 points in the Falcons’ Week 14 loss in Carolina, his only double-digit game since Week 11. White has only scored one TD since Week 6 and I don’t expect Roddy to be as productive against the Lions Saturday night. If you have another option at WR I’d recommend replacing White this week.
For the host Detroit Lions, it is hard to know what to expect. In 2012 the Lions have found minimal success on their home field with a 2-4 record thus far. While the record is bad, the Lions have actually been quite competitive at home – their last three losses have come by a combined 9 points. I believe that Detroit will be primed to spoil Atlanta’s bid for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, unfortunately I don’t think they have the healthy personnel make it happen this week.
QB Matthew Stafford picked a terrible time to play his worst NFL game in two seasons, and likely cost many fantasy teams a loss in Week 15 with his 0-TD, 12-point performance last week against the Cardinals. While I would like to believe that Stafford will bounce back with a top-tier game against Atlanta, I can’t predict that he will. The Lions’ receiving corps is dealing with too many injuries right now and I have very low expectations for Stafford this week. For fantasy owners who have no choice but to start him, hope for a big Falcon lead early and lots of garbage time numbers for Stafford…
Lions’ RB Mikel Leshoure has been on a similar path to the Falcons’ Michael Turner – if he scores a TD he puts up solid numbers but if he is held out of the end zone single-digit production is almost guaranteed. While Leshoure has scored in four out of the Lions’ last five games, the Falcons have only allowed one rushing TD over their last three games. I would not give Leshoure more than a flex consideration this week unless you have no other alternative.
As I mentioned, the Lions’ receiving corps is a mess right now. Other than Calvin Johnson, who by sheer volume of targets and other-planetary skills has posted seven straight 100-yard games, you can’t trust any part of the Lions’ receivers. Kris Durham has been the WR2 over the past two weeks, seeing 14 targets and catching only five for 68 yards. It doesn’t look like TE1 Brandon Pettigrew will play this week, which means the TE role goes to Tony Scheffler. Scheffler has been Stafford’s #2 option in Weeks 14 and 15 with 17 targets, however, he has only grabbed six catches for 56 yards. Other than Calvin, steer clear of the Lions’ receivers this game.
As I said in the opening, while this game is a Saturday night affair (and on ESPN which means it is really Monday Night Football on Saturday) we are going to think it is a Thursday night game because I see the Falcons continuing to roll. While I don’t think they are going to shutout the Lions like they did the Giants last week, I look for Atlanta to establish a big lead heading into halftime and winning the game by a TD at least.
To all, good luck if you have a championship on the line this weekend. If you don’t have a meaningful matchup this week, 2013 will be here before we know it… (Assuming we make it through December 21, that is!)
Happy Holidays everybody and enjoy the games this weekend!