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Fantasy Football Weekly: Bucs-Panthers

Posted Oct 27, 2017

Does O.J. Howard's big day in Buffalo put him solidly on the fantasy radar? Perhaps, but there are some nuances to that situation

My 14-year-old son now plays fantasy football. Has for a couple years, but now he's doing it totally on his own, without any help from his Dad. It's more of a lark for him than it is for me; he's in a league with a bunch of buddies and he clearly doesn't take it very seriously. That's probably for the best. I think he likes the midweek trash-talk and trying to make trades more than actually following the action on Sunday.

That said, he has already found out how cruel fantasy football can be.

This story is completely true and entirely unembellished. In Week Four, the Kansas City Chiefs were playing host to the Washington Redskins on Monday night. My son had a small lead on his opponent, whose last remaining "player" was the Kansas City defense. As time was running down in the game, the Chiefs and Redskins were tied, 20-20 but Kansas City was driving for a potential winning score. They got it on Harrison Butker's 43-yard field goal with four seconds left.

At this point, my son's lead had dwindled to seven points. All Washington had time for was the typical desperation pitch-around play, like the one the Buccaneers attempted last weekend in Buffalo. That it didn't work was no surprise. What did come as a surprise was when the play resulted in a loose ball that Kansas City linebacker Justin Houston scooped up, whereupon he egregiously ran into the end zone for a touchdown. Kansas City had the game won as soon as Houston got his hands on the ball, but the touchdown changed the final score from 23-20 to 29-20.

It also changed the score of my son's fantasy game. The fumble recovery got his opponent two points and the touchdown added six, giving his opponent a one-point victory on the week. On a meaningless touchdown on the last play of the last game of the entire week. That was a nasty surprise to wake up to on Tuesday morning.

I commiserated with him, then told him that most people don't care to hear about your fantasy bad-beat story, so it would be better not to spend all day Tuesday moaning about it to his friends at school. To be honest, he saw the humor in the whole thing and handled it far better than I likely would have.

The point is, you can do everything right in any given week in fantasy football and still go down in flames for the most random of reasons. But you can come out on the other side with a dramatic and sweeping story of misfortune and tribulations…albeit one you can only share with your Dad. And I say all of that for one reason: If any of my advice in these columns leads you to a painful loss like the one my son endured, try not to hate me. Just enjoy your new story!

Now, on to the Buccaneers and Panthers and our latest Three Burning Questions, which you'll find below, after a little bit of housekeeping.

**

Accountability Section: This season, each Fantasy Football Weekly article is going to include a review of the previous week's advice to see if it was actually helpful. Here's a recap of what we covered last week, along with self-inflicted letter grades for each piece of advice:

Advice #1: Those fantasy owners who are starting Jameis Winston should hesitate to pick up Ryan Fitzpatrick as insurance with the idea of starting whichever quarterback got the call on Sunday in Buffalo. If there's early enough news on Winston starting stick with him. If not, find a lower-risk option in case they end up splitting time.

Review: B-. Full disclosure: Last week's article was written on Thursday but not posted until Saturday. By then, Head Coach Dirk Koetter had made it crystal clear that Winston would start against the Bills. That rendered any weekend hand-wringing moot, but it did prove to be a good idea to stick with Winston, who threw for 384 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. It's hard to take too much credit for a play that was essentially obvious before the article hit the site.

Advice #2: With the heavy bye weeks approaching in Weeks Eight and Nine, it would be a good idea to pick up Adam Humphries for WR depth, but only in PPR leagues.

Review: I. That's "I" for incomplete. I wasn't actually suggesting anyone should start Humphries in Buffalo. In fact, I advised against it because the Bills had done a great job against slot receivers in the first six weeks. Forget the fumble, which was critical to the game's outcome but extremely out of character for Humphries. From a fantasy point of view, his two catches for 13 yards on a big day for Winston were more telling. This could still work out, as Carolina hasn't been nearly as good as Buffalo against slot receivers.

Advice #3: On teams with great RB depth, LeSean McCoy was still a good play in the flex position. That was clearly true in PPR leagues but still a good choice in non-PPR leagues.

Review: B. Judged simply on whether or not "Start LeSean McCoy" is good advice, this one was a winner. I can't give myself an "A," though because it was a little too easy. I did add some qualifiers to make it a little tougher of a decision, so I'll take the "B" without guilt. McCoy had his best game of 2017 with 122 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns, his first two of the season.

I've settled into a bit of an up-and-down performance after a couple great weeks to open the season. The Bucs are ready to get back on track in division play after a 2-4 start; let's see if I can do the same regarding Tampa Bay vs. Carolina.

**

Three Burning Questions: Panthers at Buccaneers

1. O.J. Howard – wow! Should I pick him up even if I have an okay tight end situation? Should I start him right away?

Sign him? Yes, I would recommend it as long as you can do so without costing yourself an important player on your roster. If you're carrying two tight ends at this point – which is more likely with the heavy bye weeks approaching – you probably have one you clearly favor over the other. It's probably worth taking a shot on Howard to see if he's going to start regularly producing big numbers.

Also, if you're in a waiver league, you can potentially get Howard now, late in the week, without messing up your waiver claim priority. On ESPN, Howard has seen a spike in his ownership in the last seven days, but only from 9.9% to 19.4%. For some reason, the Bucs' rookie is more popular in Yahoo! leagues, where he's owned in 34% of them, though that number was only 12% a week ago.

Honestly, there wasn't much reason to own Howard up until now, unless you were playing in a dynasty league or you somehow foresaw that his numbers would rise throughout the season. But six catches for 98 yards and two touchdowns is hard to ignore. He was the highest-scoring fantasy tight end in the NFL in Week Seven.

If you needed an emergency replacement at tight end this week, with six teams on their bye weeks, should you sign and play Howard? That's a tougher call. According to Football Outsiders, the Panthers rank 17th in the NFL in defending tight ends this year, but I don't know about that. I see a depth chart loaded with playmaking linebackers (especially if Luke Kuechly plays) and I'm a little skeptical. In a more concrete fantasy football sense, Carolina has allowed the 10th fewest points to tight ends this year.

In addition, I'm still not convinced that Howard's big game has shifted the balance of targets between him and Brate. Unfortunately, this is almost like a backfield committee situation in which you can feel pretty good about the Buccaneers getting fantasy production from their tight ends every week, but you can't really know who will be providing that production. In my book, Brate is still the better week-to-week play until that is proven otherwise.

Fortunately for the Buccaneers, that doesn't matter in real, live football. The Bucs have to be absolutely thrilled with the combined production their getting from their tight ends.

2. I watch every Buccaneers game, and strictly from a standpoint of how he's running the ball, I think Doug Martin looks great. But I also had him stashed on my fantasy team, and he's been only decent since coming back three weeks ago. Is he still a no-brainer start, at the very least in the flex position?

At this point, I think so. I mean, check this out:

I'm not going to jump up and down about this because I remain somewhat skeptical about PFF grades. Still, this one jibes with the eyeball test. Martin had 49 yards on 20 carries in Buffalo, but I remember remarking at the time that he was earning every one of them. Center Ali Marpet said on Wednesday that the Bucs' offensive linemen were not satisfied with their run blocking to this point and are making that their primary focus. If Martin gets some cleaner rushing lanes to exploit, those shifty moves that are buying him two and three yards out of nothing could become open-field ankle-breakers and big gains.

Look, Martin's been back for three games. He's scored a touchdown in two of them and he even has a two-point conversion. The yardage totals haven't been eye-popping, but the Bucs have spent most of the last two games rallying from big deficits. And there hasn't been much of a timeshare to worry about in Tampa Bay's backfield. Since his return, Martin has accounted for 47 of the 57 carries by Buccaneer running backs. You could even throw in the idea that Martin still has fresher legs than many other backs due to his layoff in September.

I think this is a pretty easy answer in non-PPR leagues. Martin looks good and the overall efficiency of the Bucs' offense is eventually going to create opportunities for him when the team is not chasing big deficits on the scoreboard. He doesn't add much in the passing game, though, and in that regard there is a much more even split in touches between him, Charles Sims and Jacquizz Rodgers. So if you have a comparable option in a PPR league, I think it's acceptable to sit Martin for a game or two to see if his numbers are going to come around.

3. People in my fantasy leagues are running from the Bucs' defense like it's lava coming down the mountainside. However, one of my leagues has an IDP slot. I was playing J.J. Watt but now he's done. If you were going to suggest one player on the Bucs' defense to pick up and play in my IDP slot, who would it be?

First, how good is my recommendation of streaming the Bucs' defense in Week Two looking right now? That was a command performance, but the fantasy results from Tampa Bay's defense since then have not been very good. I think that could turn around, much as it did last year, but right now you're definitely not starting the Bucs' D in fantasy.

Second, I'm not a fan of the IDP (individual defensive player) option in fantasy football. I know fantasy as normally constituted ignores half of the league's players – or, more accurately, lumps them into team units – but I just don't care. Is your fantasy league really better because there are 12 individual defensive players in it?

But, if you must, and you want a Buccaneer to represent your team, I'd go with Lavonte David. He missed a couple games with an ankle injury but all he's done in two games since his return is rack up 17 tackles, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and a touchdown. I honestly don't know how IDP scoring is set up, but I've got to believe that above stat line would lead to a lot of points.

Okay, fine, I'll look it up. According to the Yahoo! rankings for Week Eight, David is projected to be the third-highest scoring IDP player in the league. I truly did not know that before starting the answer to this question. Apparently being a consistent producer of tackles helps, as do TFLs, which are a David specialty. Now that I'm looking at this list, I should report that Kwon Alexander is also projected as a top-10 IDP scorer this week, so take your pick. Personally, I'd stick with David, as he has been back in the lineup a little longer and has had more time to shake off the rust. I also have a sneaking feeling that we're about to get one of those games where David contributes a sack or an interception, more likely a sack.