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Buccaneers Fantasy Corner: Week 16

Posted Dec 21, 2013

For most, Week 16 spells the fantasy football championship game...If you made it this far, how will the Bucs-Rams game potentially affect your run to the title

  • If Tavon Austin is out, Vincent Jackson is likely to be the only WR getting much attention in fantasy circles in Sunday's game in St. Louis
  • The Rams' tight ends are targeted heavily, but it's difficult to discern which one to start
  • Most Zac Stacy and Bobby Rainey owners are likely to stick with those two as RB2 or Flex options
There are two weeks of football left before the NFL playoffs begin, but for a handful of skilled fantasy football owners, this is the week that matters most. Week 16 marks the championship game for most leagues as the two top performers vie for year-long bragging rights. For others who stretch fantasy football to the final week of the NFL season, this is the chance to get into the title game.

Of course, as the season nears its end, a number of games have no NFL playoff implications, which highlights one of the beauties of fantasy: Every matchup still creates its own buzz, unique storylines and relevancy with a championship on the line.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are on the road, headed to St. Louis to take on the Rams in Week 16. Despite win-loss records that will keep them out of January football, both the Rams and Bucs players care much more deeply about the final outcome than the fantasy points they will inevitably generate. That’s good for fantasy owners: That motivation will raise the level of play and keep fans across the country feverishly checking their phones or eagerly awaiting Bucs vs. Rams stats to roll across the bottom of their TV screens.

So, with a number of St. Louis and Tampa Bay stars gracing the lineups of a handful of Championship-bound fantasy teams, let’s take a look at how Sunday’s battle will impact your scoreboard.

1. One Name in the Passing Game

Both teams boast a great deal of fantasy sleeper value, which provides sneaky upside during the regular season but is much harder to stand behind when the fantasy trophy is on the line. This makes things a bit dicey for owners of all wide receivers in this matchup, except for one: Tampa Bay’s Vincent Jackson.

- RB Bobby Rainey faces a Rams defense that has been strong against the run
Despite increased coverage over the last half of the season, Vincent Jackson is still receiving the lion’s share of Buccaneers passes. Over the last five games he is averaging 85.8 yards per game (ypg), scoring a touchdown in each of the last two games. This season, the Rams’ defense is allowing the sixth most passing yards and in only one game this season have they allowed fewer than 20 points to an opponents’ WR corps. With Jackson as the unquestionable big name on the field, things are looking good for this matchup.

The Bucs also have a sleeper candidate, as previously mentioned, but it is a hard trigger on Tiquan Underwood to pull with so much on the line. He has had one monster game with three receptions, 108 yards and two scores against the Lions, but in the three games since, he has managed just 11 fantasy points. He is a high-risk, high-reward player that should be reserved for only deeper leagues.

The Rams come into the game with one massive questionable designation, rookie WR standout Tavon Austin. Austin missed last week’s game against the Saints, but has shown his big play potential in the second half of the season. Austin didn’t practice all this week and it will be hard for fantasy owners to feel confident starting him, although the game’s 1:00 p.m. start will allow owners a chance to see the early inactive list.  If he doesn’t line up, all Rams’ receivers carry the risky status of a sleeper.

The first WR behind Austin in fantasy points is Austin Pettis, who is averaging just 6.4 fantasy points per game or 89 total for the year. However, 65 of those points came in the first five games of the season. Since then, he has been a fantasy non-factor. With Austin out, he had four receptions and eight fantasy points last week against a good New Orleans defense, but should by no means be relied on here.

Chris Givens is the team’s leading wide receiver in terms of yardage, but has yet to find the end zone this season, and again, with Austin potentially out, it is likely that he will draw a lot of attention from Darrelle Revis. Finally, there is WR Brian Quick, who is the only Rams wide receiver besides Austin to have caught a touchdown pass from current starting quarterback Kellen Clemens, who took over in Week Eight. He had three catches and a TD against the 49ers in Week 13, but that was just his second double-digit scoring game of the season. In the two games since, he has not caught a single pass.

Thought the Buccaneers rank 16th in points allowed to opposing receivers, it could be the right call to keep all the Rams out of the starting lineup this week as they are too big a risk. It is worth noting that the Buccaneers have improved greatly in the last two weeks, as receivers averaged just 94.5 ypg in the last two outings.

With so many questions at receiver, the fantasy point outlook for quarterbacks is not sky-high either. Mike Glennon has managed games well, winning four of his last six, and has tossed two touchdowns in four of the last five games, but his yardage has not broken 180 in the last three weeks. Even with Jackson getting open, there are likely better options. Kellen Clemens has not put up more than 15 fantasy points in any game this season. Both quarterbacks have shown they have what it takes to lead their team to a win, but likely won’t be as valuable from a fantasy standpoint.

2. Battle at Tight End

On paper, the tight end outlook seems more fruitful than that of the wide receivers. Last week, the Rams produced two tight end touchdowns, but neither of them went to their number one weapon at the position, Jared Cook. Of QB Kellen Clemens’s 192 attempts, a remarkable 30% have gone to his tight end group. Compare that to the 19.4% of attempts that the NFL’s top TE Jimmy Graham accounts for in the Saints offense. Four of Clemens’s seven passing TDs this season have gone to his tight end group.

Of course, the question becomes which of the Rams at this position is the one to plug into your lineup. The aforementioned Cook would be the most secure option. He leads all Rams pass-catchers this season in receptions, yardage and first downs and is tied for the most touchdowns. He has two double-digit fantasy point games since Clemens took over, but is averaging just 2.3 receptions, 35 yards and five fantasy points per game over the last three weeks.

Lance Kendricks and Cory Harkey caught touchdowns last week, but being owned in a combined 0.1% of fantasy leagues is enough of an indicator that they are much too unsteady to find your starting lineup. In the last four weeks, the Bucs have allowed three TE touchdowns, making Cook a decent starting option this week.

The Buccaneers’ Tim Wright has 31 total fantasy points over the last two games. His seven-catch, 82-yard and one-TD performance last week was his best of the season, coming against one of the best defenses in the league. In the last four weeks, he put up 15 points against the Lions (ranked ninth against opposing TEs), scored 10 vs. the Bills (ranked ninth) and his performance last week was against the fourth-ranked 49ers defense.

The Rams’ defense ranks second against tight ends, Wright’s toughest matchup to date, but his targets and credentials coming into this game should be enough to inspire confidence in Wright owners. The Rams have also slipped in the last few weeks, allowing 11 or more TE points in four of the last three games. Remarkably, despite ranking 16th among tight ends and rarely playing in the first three weeks, Wright is owned in just 2.1% of fantasy leagues. With Cleveland big man Jordan Cameron declared out, ATL’s Tony Gonzalez and HOU’s Garrett Graham questionable and a recent IR trip for NE’s Rob Gronkowski and WAS’s Jordan Reed, Wright should be worth consideration when looking for a replacement.

3. Running Backs

Finally, we move on to the last piece in the offensive fantasy football puzzle. The Rams and Buccaneers running backs have held sleeper status all year and will continue to do so this week, filling RB2 and Flex spots in a fair amount of leagues.

Since Week Eight, after losing starting quarterback Sam Bradford, it has been no secret about the offensive goal of the St. Louis Rams: win the ground game. Zac Stacy has been their man since Week Five and has produced numbers to put him in the conversation for Offensive Rookie of the Year. He has topped 25 carries four times, surpassed 15 fantasy points four times and found the end zone seven times.

The Buccaneers allow the seventh fewest fantasy points to opposing running backs, but Stacy’s workload and back-to-back TD-scoring games make him a solid starter for Championship week.

For the Bucs, RB Bobby Rainey had a quiet outing last week, carrying just 11 times and rushing for only 27 yards against the 49ers, both his lowest marks since becoming the Buccaneers’ starter. His owners should not be worried however about Rainey paying back those fantasy points this week. Despite finding themselves in the top 12 in rushing yardage allowed (105.4 ypg), the Rams are the 29th-ranked fantasy defense against RBs. They have allowed 16 rushing touchdowns this year (fifth-most in the league). Start Rainey with confidence.

For good measure, it should also be noted that a main contributor to the Rams’ low ranking against running backs actually lies in the passing game. No defense has allowed more passing yardage to running backs this season than the Rams, who are giving up 58.9 passing ypg to RBs. While this slightly boosts the expected point total of Rainey, it also adds RB Brian Leonard into the mix of potential fantasy sleepers this week. While Rainey is the workhorse, Leonard holds the edge in the receiving game and on third down. He has 174 receiving yards this season and actually has the third-most receptions among all Buccaneers players. He’s much too big a risk to throw in your lineup, but he could be an unexpected contributor to the Buccaneer offense this week and is worth keeping an eye on if injuries have depleted your fantasy backfield.