- Tristan H. Cockcroft, Fantasy
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(All statistics -- including fantasy points allowed -- in this column are updated through the games of Sunday, Nov. 17.)
What's that you say? There are 37 shopping days remaining until Christmas?
If you've come to these pages, you recognize that the real shopping season is the fantasy football trade season, and there are only two days remaining; the trade deadline in ESPN leagues is Wednesday at noon ET.
No, no, don't fret. Last-minute shopping can be as rife with opportunities as shopping done in advance; the primary difference is a larger volume of panicky deal-seekers. Mind your price tags and you might snag yourself a heck of a holiday gift.
To prepare you, let this space serve as your shopping guide. Accounting as much for strength of remaining schedule as the individual player's ability, the "buys" and "sells" recommended below are household names, though ones you should aggressively pursue or shop in these next 48 hours or so. The "buys" are ones for whom I'd pay the extra buck; that means going above and beyond to land them. The "sells" are ones I'd be willing to move, even if for less than anticipated.
Buy: Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions (Remaining: TB, GB, @PHI, BAL, NYG, @MIN): You might have noticed on Sunday that Adam Schefter tweeted that Stafford's Lions have the most favorable remaining schedule, going by remaining opponents' combined 2013 win-loss records. Now spin it from a fantasy angle: the Lions' schedule is fourth best for a quarterback, regardless of whether you use raw fantasy points allowed data or adjust them for strength of competition as I tend to do. But paying the extra buck for Stafford is as much a home/road argument as it is the matchups; since the beginning of 2012, he has averaged 19.3 fantasy points per game at home and 16.6 on the road, and four of his final six games will be played at Ford Field. As for the road games? The Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings are top-eight quarterback matchups, and in the case of the Vikings, Stafford has averaged 20.6 fantasy points in the Lions' past five meetings with them. I think he is one of the three best quarterbacks to own the remainder of the season.
Sell: Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons (Remaining: NO, @BUF, @GB, WSH, @SF, CAR): He has three major obstacles standing in his path: One is a diminished group of receivers, with Julio Jones out for the season and Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez and Harry Douglas all battling injuries at varying points. The next is an offensive line that doesn't provide him nearly the protection it did in the past; entering Week 11 he was under duress on 23.7 percent of his dropbacks for the season, up considerably from 2012's 13.0 percent. And the final, and perhaps key, obstacle is the schedule listed above, which includes three defenses (New Orleans Saints, Buffalo Bills, Green Bay Packers) ranked among the top eight in sacks, and two (Bills, Carolina Panthers) in the top five in interceptions.
Buy: Eddie Lacy, Green Bay Packers (Remaining: MIN, @DET, ATL, @DAL, PIT, @CHI): With Aaron Rodgers on the sidelines, there's perhaps a perception that Lacy, and the Packers' offense as a whole, doesn't have as promising a stretch run as he does. But Rodgers could be back by Thanksgiving (Week 13), and the Packers' remaining schedule, any way you slice it, grades No. 1 for any running back (that's using raw fantasy points allowed, adjusted totals, playoff schedules, adjusted playoff schedules, whatever). Lacy has proven a workhorse, averaging 22.4 carries in his first seven games exiting the bye, and even if you claim the "workload" question, even at that post-bye pace he'd finish with a reasonable 307. I'd argue that a regular 20-carry amount supports his RB1 status, but the Packers might ease off slightly in December, helping his per-carry production, after Rodgers' return. With Lacy coming off a poor Week 11, there's no better time to send his owner a trade offer.
Sell: Frank Gore, San Francisco 49ers (Remaining: @WSH, STL, SEA, @TB, ATL, @ARI): Workload is the concern for Gore, a 30-year-old on pace for the third-largest carry total of his career (280), and one who has 2,086 on his career résumé. But even if that's not the primary reason he cools come December, his schedule sure increases the chances. None of those four playoff-weeks matchups (Weeks 14-17) grades a plus -- though the Falcons one is close -- and the Arizona Cardinals one in particular is one of the worst in the league going by fantasy points allowed. Gore might currently rank among the top 10 at his position in fantasy points, but his odds of finishing there aren't great.
Buy: Torrey Smith, Baltimore Ravens (Remaining: NYJ, PIT, MIN, @DET, NE, @CIN): It's all about his playoff schedule, and if you're in position to make a playoff-oriented acquisition, now is prime time to act. Smith, entering Week 11, had the second-most targets (39) and ninth-most receiving yards (388) on throws of 15 yards or greater, and each of his final three opponents ranks among the top eight in receptions on throws of that length. Meanwhile, the Minnesota Vikings, his Week 14 opponent, are one of the league's worst pass defenses.
Sell: Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers (Remaining: @CLE, @BAL, MIA, CIN, @GB, CLE): That's two games remaining going directly against Joe Haden, one against a Miami Dolphins defense softer up front and therefore a probable Le'Veon Bell showcase, one against a Cincinnati Bengals defense that has afforded just three double-digit fantasy games to wide receivers all season and one against a Green Bay Packers defense that, at times, tends to key on opposing No. 1 receivers (see A.J. Green, Torrey Smith, Josh Gordon). But here's another troubling fact standing in Brown's path to a top-10 fantasy point total at his position: He's 14th in the NFL in red zone targets, with only two targets all year in goal-to-go situations. Brown's touchdown production might soon dry up.
Buy: Delanie Walker, Tennessee Titans (Remaining: @OAK, @IND, @DEN, ARI, @JAC, HOU): He might even be available as a free agent in your league, but even if he's not, Walker is the kind of low-priced trade target you might want to stash for such a favorable remaining schedule. It's as simple as this: The Denver Broncos, Arizona Cardinals and Jacksonville Jaguars, his Weeks 14-16 opponents, rank sixth, first and second in terms of fantasy points per game allowed to the position this season. Walker has 18 targets the past two weeks combined, three of those in the red zone resulting in both of his touchdowns.
Sell: Antonio Gates, San Diego Chargers (Remaining: @KC, CIN, NYG, @DEN, OAK, KC): While everyone talked up the Denver Broncos' two remaining games against the Kansas City Chiefs in advance of their Week 11 meeting, what rarely got any press was that Gates' San Diego Chargers had two against the Chiefs ... and still do. The Chiefs have afforded opposing tight ends the fewest fantasy points of any team, and let's not for a second forget how much more potent the Broncos' offense is than that of the Chargers. Gates fattened up on some weaker defenses in the season's early stages, but he has 24 targets and 22 fantasy points in his past three games, compared to 33 and 44 in his first four of 2013.
Buy: Seattle Seahawks (Remaining: Bye, NO, @SF, @NYG, ARI, STL): Not that I endorse paying a premium for defenses in trade, but the Seahawks represent the rare case of one worth at least the inquiry. They're in their bye week, meaning both that they have 17 percent fewer games remaining than 28 other teams, and that their owners might be more apt to part with them as they endure the frantic scramble for a fill-in, perhaps a two-week one (that Week 13 against the New Orleans Saints is hardly a favorable matchup). Those final three games, however, make this the A-No.-1 playoff D/ST: The New York Giants (29) and Arizona Cardinals (21) are first and third in turning the ball over, and the St. Louis Rams have afforded 7.3 fantasy points per game to D/STs.
Sell: Carolina Panthers (Remaining: @MIA, TB, @NO, NYJ, NO, @ATL): Again, the Saints represent a poor matchup for a D/ST -- their opponents have averaged just 1.8 fantasy points per game from their D/STs this year -- and the Panthers are the only team that has to face them twice, in fantasy playoff weeks at that (Weeks 14 and 16). Granted, those are the only two treacherous matchups left for this powerhouse defense, but it's poor timing, as the fantasy playoffs are hardly the time for chancing it.
Tristan H. Cockcroft offers a buy and sell candidate for each position before Wednesday's deadline.