My heart's not in it.
As I sit down to write the Week 16 edition of Love/Hate, I find it is hard to muster enthusiasm for an open. Be it on Twitter, Facebook, by email or when I meet someone in person, the majority of feedback I get is about my opens. A quick Google search for "fantasy football help" returns over 195 million results. I feel my advice is good, but honestly, there are lots of people who give good advice, both here on ESPN and elsewhere. You can get good advice from lots of places. The open, however the open is mine.
So I take it seriously. I work hard on it. I start thinking about it about 20 minutes after I hand in the previous week's column. I've written this column, "Love/Hate," for different websites for well over a decade. I've also done a weekly baseball column for longer than that, and I used to do a weekly pickups column for football, and even, once upon a time, fantasy basketball. All of them had opens. I've written hundreds upon hundreds of them since I started in this business in 1999.
And this week, my heart's not in it.
I thought about looking back at some preseason stuff. Which calls panned out and which didn't from the preseason Love/Hate, whether my Draft Day Manifesto strategy paid off, what we can learn from this year as we look toward next year. And maybe I'll still do that next week.
But as I thought about how I'd present all that, I realized my heart wasn't in it.
I thought about doing something funny and maybe a little sweet about the upcoming "end of the world" on Dec. 21, as the Mayans have supposedly predicted. Like, on the off chance we have only two days left on Earth, here's all the people I want to tell off before I no longer have a chance, and then something sweet about regrets I have, paths not traveled, that sort of thing.
But my heart's not in it.
Thought about doing something about last week's games and coming up with funny ways to show how many big-name stars disappointed. A team starting Ray Rice and Doug Martin at running back with Jamaal Charles in the flex, Demaryius Thomas and Victor Cruz at wideout, Jimmy Graham, the 49ers' defense and fantasy's highest-scoring kicker heading into Week 15, Lawrence Tynes, with your choice of Eli Manning, Matthew Stafford or Josh Freeman at quarterback would have scored, at most, 21 fantasy points. And would have lost to a team that started Dennis Pitta and no one else. Just a lot of things like that.
Eh. Heart's not in it. Kept searching.
Thought about talking about my daughters, who just recently turned 1, and what the past year as a parent has been like. About how my world view has completely changed, about the hopes and fears I have for them and about what those two little beans mean to me. Thought about talking about my brother Jonathan, who turns 40 this weekend. Thought about a rant, thought about a mailbag, thought about a way-too-early 2013 ranking.
But my heart's not in it.
It's in Newtown, Conn.
So let's get down to the business of Love/Hate and, here in Week 16, the advice remains the same. Don't get cute. Don't overthink it. Check my rankings for my opinion on specific player-versus-player comparisons and then use it as a loose guideline.
Quarterbacks I love in Week 16
Robert Griffin III, Redskins: Welcome back. He's gonna play. For the Redskins and for your fantasy team. You might be worried about the legs or the injury. Which I get. But it's the finals. Don't get cute. As John Parolin of ESPN Stats & Information points out, we know how much Washington loves play-action; they lead the NFL with 115 completions and 1,980 passing yards on play-action passes. Well get this: The Eagles' defense has a league-worst plus-9 TD-INT differential on those passes, and is one of four defenses (Colts, Titans and Rams) not to record a single interception on those passes this year.
Peyton Manning, Broncos: Less than 15 points in two straight and only one touchdown pass in each of the past two, Peyton has only two touchdowns total in five career games versus the Browns. As a result, I'm starting to hear a few whispers of panic. I have none. He's at home where, this year, he has a 16-2 touchdown to interception ratio in six games. Cleveland allows over 19 fantasy points a game to opposing quarterbacks on the road this year. He got you this far, you're not bailing now. Papa Bear is firing up the grill for you, too.
Colin Kaepernick, 49ers: Yes, he is on the road. Yes, it's a very good defense. Yes, he is a very young player. But you know who else has a really good defense? New England. And Chicago, when he played them. At least 18 points in four of the five games he has started, never less than 14 and the Seahawks may be without both starting corners for this game. Going Next Level here to tell you that, of Kaepernick's four touchdown passes in Week 15, three came on throws of more than 20 yards downfield. He's the first QB with three TD passes on throws more than 20 yards downfield in a game this season. Plus, you know about the rushing; he's always a threat and I expect Seattle to focus on stopping Frank Gore, who gashed them for 182 total yards earlier this season. A top-10 play for me.
If you're desperate: The way Russell Wilson is playing, I don't care who he is facing. Solid option outside the top 10. More mobile than you think, Jake Locker is coming off two straight 15-point games and has a real shot at some quality junk time against the Pack. Sad that Joe Flacco has dropped into the "desperate section," but in general he plays better at home and things should be easier this week against the Giants' 28th-ranked pass defense. With two good receivers at his disposal in Cecil Shorts and Justin Blackmon, and one bad defense that will let Tom Brady have his way with them, I could see Chad Henne having a big junk time day here. He wouldn't be the first.
Quarterbacks I hate in Week 16
Eli Manning, Giants: No question, he could have a good game here. It's not a terrible matchup. But if you somehow survived last week with Eli as your quarterback, are you really trusting him again? Exactly. He has a total of two, count 'em, two touchdown passes in his past five road games. Two. In five.
Andrew Luck, Colts: I think he'll be OK here, but I have him outside my top 10, which puts him on the hate list for me in a 10-team league. We know about Luck's struggles on the road -- 17 turnovers in seven road games this year -- and for all the Chiefs do poorly, they are actually seventh against the pass and shut down Carson Palmer last week. Expect to see a lot of Vick Ballard in this game, and you also won't see Luck needing to lead a crazy comeback in a game that should be fairly low-scoring from the K.C. side. Again, think he'll be OK -- think 15 points or so -- but not a top-10 play for me. Like him more in leagues that don't count turnovers.
Josh Freeman, Buccaneers: Same story as with Eli. You wanna go back to this well? Fool me once, and all that. Like the Chiefs, the Rams are another pass defense that is better than you think (ninth versus the pass, 14 points or fewer to opposing quarterbacks in five straight); they held Kaepernick to his lowest total since becoming a starter. Freeman does play better at home and the Rams have played some terrible quarterbacks recently, if you want to play the other side, but in Week 16 I want safe, and Freeman has two weeks in the past four where he has had zero touchdowns. Completing only 53 percent of his passes in the second half, I think we see a lot of Doug Martin in this one, making Freeman a 12- to 15-point play here but nothing awesome. I think it's kind of a low-scoring game, too.
Sam Bradford, Rams: Getting lots of questions about Bradford after he put up big numbers last week and he now has a tasty matchup. But 14 points or fewer in the four games previous to last week, I don't see St. Louis falling behind big here like last week and as I said in the previous paragraph, I expect this to be a low-scoring game. Don't get cute. Ask yourself: What is most likely to happen? Bradford goes off or Bradford has a 12- to 14-point game? Exactly. Ask everyone who played Freeman last week "because he had a great matchup." Sometimes it works, sometimes it don't.
Running backs I love in Week 16
Doug Martin, Buccaneers: In case you were worried about last week. The way you beat the Rams is on the ground and Tampa will do just that.
Matt Forte, Bears: Jay Cutler's 15.8 Total QBR against at least five pass-rushers is the second-worst among 37 qualified quarterbacks. Arizona sends extra pressure on 41.5 percent of drop backs, second-most in the league. If the Bears are going to beat the Cards, it's going to be by attacking their 28th-ranked run defense. And with Michael Bush done for the year, there's a chance Forte gets goal-line carries. (He got three last week, did nothing with them, but still, he got them). Top-10 play for me.
Stevan Ridley, Patriots: Not worried about last week, not worried about the fumble. They were in catch-up mode. Starting him with confidence.
Jamaal Charles, Chiefs: I know. Last week was tough. But he -- like Ridley and a lot of the "obvious" names -- is on this list because I want to express that I still have confidence in him against a Colts team that has allowed 357 total yards to opposing running backs in their past two road games.
Vick Ballard, Colts: Well, you know I like the Colts to win this game and I don't think Luck has a huge game, so Ballard is averaging 19 touches a game in his past two, they trust him as a workhorse. Dude averaged almost 6 yards a carry against Houston. What do you think he's going to do against the Chiefs, who give up 4.6 yards per carry? He's getting 100 total yards, it's just a matter of if he gets in the end zone. I say he does.
If you're desperate: I feel so dirty, forever unclean, in fact, but the fact remains that DeAngelo Williams has 324 total yards and two scores in his past three games and has a great matchup with Oakland. Even if Ahmad Bradshaw plays, I could see David Wilson having a "post-hype sleeper" big week. Just a gut call on him. Mikel Leshoure is the Lions running back you want, but if you are in a deeper league, Joique Bell does have a 2.51 yards after contact per rush average and no team gives up more yards after contact than the Falcons. I don't expect Atlanta to have any trouble scoring here, so Bell could be in on a lot of passing downs as well.
Running backs I hate in Week 16
LeSean McCoy and Bryce Brown, Eagles: Don't know how much work McCoy actually gets compared to Brown, it's a bad matchup (Redskins are sixth against the run) and, in Week 16, that's too much risk for me. If I have to pick one I am going with McCoy, but I want no part of this if I can help it.
Trent Richardson, Browns: I can't imagine you have better options than him, so chances are you're starting him, but check out these numbers: 95, 85, 72, 42, 28. Those are his rushing totals the past five weeks, and they are heading in the wrong direction. You haven't cared the past two weeks because he has been scoring, but I hate to count on that, especially against Denver. The Broncos have allowed only five rushing touchdowns all year, second-fewest in the league. I expect the Broncos to make Cleveland one-dimensional in this matchup, making it tough sledding for T-Rich.
Beanie Wells, Cardinals: Just for old times' sake.
Jonathan Dwyer, Steelers: Didn't look good to me last week and I hate the matchup with a red-hot Bengals defense that is top-10 against the run, having given up an average of 55 rushing yards a game to opposing running backs, and has had extra time to rest and prep.
Wide Receivers I love in Week 16
Steve Smith, Panthers: As Cam Newton has gotten hot, so has Steve Smith. Funny how that works, right? Double-digit fantasy points in three straight, he's a big-play guy. Only five teams have allowed more completions of 20-plus yards and only three teams have allowed more yards after the catch than the Raiders. Very surprised that only two of us had him inside the top 10 this week.
Pierre Garcon, Redskins: Think RG III plays. And when he plays, he only has eyes for Pierre Garcon. In the past four weeks, he is top 10 in the NFL in targets and leads the Skins in that category by a significant margin. Last week was the first time he hadn't scored in four weeks, either. Eagles are well, it's not their year, you see.
Cecil Shorts, Jaguars: At least 100 yards and/or a score in the past five games he has played, he's averaging 90 yards a game over his past eight. And yes, they will be throwing against New England. Shorts is tied with A.J. Green (you've heard of him, right?) for the NFL lead in TD receptions of more than 50 yards. No team in the NFL has allowed more pass plays of more than 20 yards than the Patriots.
Randall Cobb, Packers: Now and forever. I have seen the future and its name is Randall Cobb.
Brandon Lloyd, Patriots: Only 13 weeks too late! If I had done my "don't look back in anger" thing as my open as I was thinking of, these last two guys definitely would have made the list. Cobb was a big preseason favorite of mine and has panned out in a big way. Lloyd was a big preseason favorite of mine who has, um, not. Terrible call, although he has redeemed himself somewhat recently. And yeah, I'm buying this. The targets are a bit out of whack because the Patriots were in catch-up mode last week, but we know they are going to throw it and we know the Jags have no chance of stopping it. Top-20 play for me.
If you're desperate: If he's healthy, I like Torrey Smith to bounce back with a big game against a very burnable Giants secondary that gives up the fifth-most fantasy points to opposing wideouts. Speaking of big-play guys, T.Y. Hilton gets to face a Kansas City Chiefs defense than allows the highest yards after catch percentage of any team in the NFL. Danny Amendola is not on the injury report this week. I repeat, Danny Amendola is not on the injury report this week. Wanna win a bar bet? No wideout has more yards after contact this year than Anquan Boldin. And as noted, I don't think a whole lot of the Giants' secondary these days.
Wide Receivers I hate in Week 16
Danario Alexander, Chargers: Well, that was fun while it lasted. In a week where a lot of big-name stars laid an egg, his was among the most surprising to me. The Chargers are a mess right now and this is a bad matchup with the Jets and Antonio Cromartie, who has played very well this year. The Jets allow the second-fewest fantasy points to opposing wide receivers and haven't given up a touchdown to a non-New England wide receiver at home since Week 1.
Greg Jennings, Packers: What can I say? I don't believe in himsmelf. Could he go off, a la James Jones last week? Of course. He has the talent and the quarterback. But he also could do what he has done the past three games, which is nothing. Only 11 points total over three games, it's Week 16. You can't wait any longer for him to become great again. I want safe rather than upside this week unless I'm a big underdog. Jennings has upside but he is far from safe.
Jeremy Maclin, Eagles: Despite the good matchup, Maclin failed to get a catch the last time he faced Washington and he has five points or fewer in three of the past four. He was actually on his way to a good game last week when he left with an injury, but that's another concern. As of this writing, he's officially listed as questionable. Good matchup or no, how comfortable do you feel with your fantasy title resting on Nick Foles getting your guy the ball?
Tight ends I love in Week 16
Greg Olsen, Panthers: Scores in two of the past three and four in the past six, Olsen is the clear-cut No. 2 target after Steve Smith. At least 40 yards in seven straight, he's a great bet to get you something with solid upside for more. Raiders allow the fifth-most fantasy points to opposing tight ends and have given up four scores to them in the past six. They are not good. Yummy.
Brandon Myers, Raiders: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me three times, uh blame it on the Mayans. Look, he has been brutal the past two weeks. I get it. Not trustworthy. I am still going back to the well here, as Carolina is top-10 in fantasy points allowed to opposing tight ends, they've given up two scores to tight ends in the past three and there's actually a chance for some junk time here (where Palmer excels) because I don't see Oakland stopping the Panthers.
Tony Scheffler, Lions: Based on the idea that I don't think Brandon Pettigrew plays, I can't see the Lions stopping the Falcons. Which means Matthew Stafford is going to throw even more than his current NFL-leading rate. After Calvin Johnson, they really have no one else to throw to, so expect Scheffler to get a lot of looks against a defense that has allowed 92 yards a game and three scores to opposing tight ends in its past three road games.
If you're desperate: Kyle Rudolph has been hit or miss most of the year, but I say he's a hit against a Texans team that will be going all out to stop Adrian Peterson and allows the sixth-most fantasy points to tight ends. Not hard to imagine the Browns being way down in this game and no team gives up more fantasy points to opposing tight ends than the Denver Broncos. I mean, you saw what Dennis Pitta did to them. Benjamin Watson could get some of that. Brent Celek should be back for the Eagles and Washington gives up the second-most points to tight ends.
Tight ends I hate in Week 16
Jermaine Gresham, Bengals: Under 45 yards in four of his past six games, you really need Gresham to score to be a top-10 play here. The Steelers' defense is banged up but getting healthier and Pittsburgh has given up only three scores to opposing tight ends since their Week 4 bye (although two have come in the past four games). This is the "hate" I feel least confident in, but I don't see him having a top-10 day this week, which is why he is in here.
Antonio Gates, Chargers: I have no confidence in the Chargers' offense. None whatsoever. Gates has been very inconsistent this year to say the least and he's too risky for me in Week 16. The Jets have allowed 11 points, that's 11 points total, to opposing tight ends since their Week 9 bye, and that includes a game against the Patriots.
Vernon Davis, 49ers: It has become a weekly tradition!
Defenses I love in Week 16
San Diego Chargers D/ST: Double-digit fantasy points in two of the past three games and in three of the past five, Greg McElroy may not turn it over as much as Mark Sanchez, but he's not going to go deep as much either. Very low-scoring game here with lots of potential, as the strength of this Chargers team is their run defense. The one thing the Jets could exploit is the secondary, but I don't expect them to throw more than 15 times or so in this game. My best "plug and play" bet this weekend.
New York Jets D/ST: It's not as if a team with Philip Rivers under center and that has just lost Ryan Mathews and Malcolm Floyd scares you. The Jets are averaging over 10 points a game in the past three.
If you're desperate: Jay Cutler is always good for a pick or two and the Arizona Cardinals do play solid defense at home. Despite what we saw last week, I still believe in the St. Louis Rams' defense and, as you can tell by my rankings, I expect this to be a low-scoring game. The Carolina Panthers' defense looked solid last week, they are at home and Carson Palmer has never been shy about throwing into triple coverage.
Defenses I hate in Week 16
Baltimore Ravens D/ST: A total of one point in the past two games, I get you might be thinking about them because of Eli's struggles and I could see them doing well here. But I could also see them getting lit up. They are just too banged up for me to trust.
Miami Dolphins D/ST: Averaging under four points a game at home this year, the one strength of this team (its run defense) will be neutralized by C.J. Spiller, who is due for a big game. (Gut call). Buffalo should be able to keep this one close and won't have to play reckless, so I don't see a ton of turnovers here.
Washington Redskins D/ST: Playing a defense against Nick Foles has usually been a recipe for success, but I don't think so in this case. Washington has trouble generating a pass rush and, despite what we saw last week, they haven't been a huge turnover generator but rather a "bend don't break" kind of defense. Would love to be wrong but don't see a huge game here.
That's all I have. Good luck in Week 16! And remember "What's most likely to happen?"
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