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.
The Bucs also have a sleeper candidate, as previously mentioned, but it is a hard trigger on
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
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.
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