Before the 2013 season began, a Week 11 battle between the Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers looked as if it would be a star-studded fantasy football matchup right when fantasy seasons were hitting the stretch drive. Now, the game features a slew of players who were likely waiver-wire pickups in your league, but players who can make strong cases to be featured in your lineup this week.
The Buccaneers start QB Mike Glennon (1.7% owned) in place of Week One starter and current Minnesota Viking Josh Freeman. At running back, the Buccaneers will feature Brian Leonard (6.2%) and Bobby Rainey (2%) as Doug Martin and Mike James have both been lost for the season. Vincent Jackson (100%) is not the only active Buccaneer player owned in more than seven percent of leagues, but he will line up with Tiquan Underwood (0.2%) as Mike William is also on IR. And surprise rookie fantasy sleeper Tim Wright (4.6%) rounds out the offensive skill players.
The injury bug hit the Atlanta Falcons particularly hard as well, but some of their more well-known playmakers are finding their way back in the lineup after having missed much of the season. Matt Ryan is still a fantasy must despite some recent struggles, and he'll be joined in the backfield by Steven Jackson, who missed four weeks in the middle of the season and has yet to post a 10+-fantasy point game or find the end zone since his return. With him in the backfield, perhaps snagging some carries are Jacquizz Rodgers (66.4%) and Jason Snelling (9%), though Snelling is dealing with injury and legal issues. WR Roddy White starts his second game since missing three (including the first matchup with the Bucs) but will miss fellow starter Julio Jones, who is on IR. Harry Douglas (65.9%) did a fine job trying to fill Jones's shoes, but he is listed as questionable after missing practice Thursday and being limited Friday. Could WR Darius Johnson (0.0%) emerge? Finally, at tight end, fantasy legend Tony Gonzalez, who is also listed as questionable after missing multiple practices this week, is usually an automatic start but could be sidelined. Next on Atlanta's TE list is Levine Toilolo (0.2%) with eight catches, 31 receiving yards and two scores this year.
To recap. Should Harry Douglas and Tony Gonzalez miss this game, Atlanta vs. Tampa Bay could feature eight players owned in fewer than 10% of leagues. If you feel like impressing your friends with your sleeper-prediction knowledge and foresight, we must suggest choosing from this NFC South rivalry.
1. Brian Leonard or Bobby Rainey?
The biggest fantasy football question surrounding the Buccaneers this week is which of the two running backs will be a more impactful fantasy football player. In Doug Martin's absence, rookie Mike James made himself a very respectable fantasy player and began finding his way into many starting lineups before going down on Monday Night.
Despite losing Martin, the Bucs are still the 15th ranked team in the NFL in rushing yards with 111.1 per game, which shows that there is strength in the offensive line, and that even without the first-round fantasy pick Martin, the team is able to get things done on the ground.
Even after James left the game on Monday, fantasy points continued to come in through the rushing game, although it's doubtful many players had Leonard or Rainey in their lineups last week. Brian Leonard finished the game with eight PPR fantasy points with 20 carries for 57 yards, and two receptions for 16. Bobby Rainey, in his first action as a Buccaneer, added a spark with 12 fantasy points, coming from eight carries for 45 yards and a touchdown.
The fact that the running game didn't slow down after James left the game isn't the only positive aspect for the new Bucs rushing duo. The Atlanta Falcons find themselves ranked 21st in fantasy points allowed to RBs, surrendering 26 or more points in each of their last three games. In Week Eight, the Cardinals ran for 192 yards and a score, in Week Nine Carolina had 109 on the ground, one running back TD and eight RB receptions. Finally, last week, Marshawn Lynch and the Seahawks had 191 yards and a score.
Of the two, Leonard has found his way onto more fantasy teams. He received the bulk of the carries on Monday night, and through the last three games has actually been a solid fantasy contributor in PPR leagues. In his time on the field against the Seahawks and Panthers, Leonard had 10 receptions out of the backfield for 80 yards. Now that he will likely get at least half of the touches to add to his pass-catching prowess, he becomes a very solid Flex play in Standard and PPR formats.
Bobby Rainey showed last week that he looks like more of a home run-hitter than Leonard, breaking one run for 31 yards and also finding the end zone from a yard out. However, he had just eight carries to Leonard's 20. Assuming that they split the workload evenly, Rainey could have some opportunities to gash this defense with a big play, but he does seem the riskier option of the two.
2. The Potential Resurgence of Vincent Jackson
In his first matchup against the Falcons this year, Vincent Jackson had 22 targets, seven more than the next highest game in his career. He also had 10 receptions (tying a career high), 138 yards (his ninth highest total) and his ninth multi-touchdown performance in the NFL. His 35 fantasy points was the most he had ever posted in a Buccaneers uniform.
However, in the three games since, Jackson has the same number of receptions, 20 fewer yards, zero scores and 15 fewer fantasy points than he posted in the Georgia Dome. Jackson, with the help of quarterback Mike Glennon will be looking to break out of that fantasy point funk as they face the Falcons again, this time on Buccaneers' home turf.
The Atlanta Falcons rank 25th in the NFL in points allowed to opposing receivers and have allowed 19 receiving touchdowns this year, tied for fourth in the NFL. They have given up at least one touchdown to a receiver in all but one game this season, and multiple WR scores in four of their 10 games.
The Falcons may elect to put extra attention on him this week as compared to their last game, but still, against a porous defense and with his previous stats against the Falcons, there is no way to keep him out of your lineup. Expect Jackson's numbers to bounce back into the double digits in Week 11.
To help Jackson succeed, weekly fantasy sleeper candidate Tim Wright will need to make his presence felt, forcing the Falcons to pay attention to him as well. The Falcons did a solid job covering him in the first matchup, as he left with just two receptions for 15 yards, but he has been Glennon's most consistently and frequently targeted receiver behind Jackson. As usual, Wright is a good fill-in for a bye-week replacement or in deeper leagues.
Glennon posted on of his best games against the Falcons, who are 28th in the league against opposing quarterbacks. He put up 256 yards and two touchdowns on them in Week Seven. As Glennon's posture and presence continues to improve, he could post a 20-point game this week against a defense that has allowed five of them so far this year.
3. Atlanta's Mixed-Bag Offense
The Falcons have been a hard team to pin down this year. With injuries across the board, a rushing attack ranked last in the NFL and severely fluctuating fantasy performances by Ryan, it is difficult to pin down specific expectations. For example, Matt Ryan has 144 fantasy points this season, tied for 11th in the NFL. TE Tony Gonzalez has 117. Third on the Atlanta Falcons in fantasy points so far this season? Any guesses? That would be WR Julio Jones, who hasn't played a game since Week Five. You can see why it is a tough task to predict Atlanta's fantasy stars.
Even with WR Roddy White and RB Steven Jackson back, the Falcons are still ducking injuries that may affect their entire starting lineup. As mentioned above, both Douglas and Gonzalez are listed as questionable for the game. Luckily for their owners, the matchup is an early one on Sunday, but having a suitable replacement on your roster is a very good idea, and with a finite number of significant contributors at tight end, finding yourself a backup for Gonzalez should be a priority for you. Perhaps Wright is available in your league.
Ryan has three 22-point performances this season, one of them the last time he faced the Buccaneers. Without the help of Julio Jones, Steven Jackson or Roddy White, Ryan still managed to find his backups for 273 yards and three touchdowns. Since Jones went down, Ryan has managed just a single 300+-yard game, a game in which he also threw four interceptions. Since facing the Bucs in Week Seven, Ryan has yet to break an 11-point game, and has thrown three touchdowns to seven picks. With his past performance against the Bucs in mind, there is no reason he should be taken out of your lineup, but much like the Bucs' Vincent Jackson, the performance over the last three weeks should temper expectations.
The Buccaneers defense allowed just two rushing yards last week against the Dolphins, a team that has 23 rushing yards per game more than the Falcons, even after factoring in the two-yard performance. Even worse news for the Atlanta RBs, Lamar Miller's two yards were countered by Daniel Thomas's negative two yards… meaning that RBs accounted for zero of the rushing yards on 11 carries. To round things off, the Falcons are ranked last in the NFL in rushing yards and 28th in the NFL in rushing touchdowns, while the Bucs defense ranks ninth in fantasy points allowed to RBs and has given up just one RB rushing score.
The Falcons running game is hard to pin down. Both Jacquizz Rodgers and Steven Jackson are great pass catchers out of the backfield, which could be their best way to get fantasy points this week. Rodgers had a stellar game against the Bucs earlier this season, posting 25 fantasy points. He had just 18 yards rushing, but added eight catches for 46 yards and two touchdowns. Steven Jackson is averaging just five points per game since coming back and hasn't yet shown that he is still a relevant fantasy starter. Name value alone will keep him in a lot of lineups, but with his ability in the passing game despite dwindling carries, Rodgers is the sleeper here to be the most dangerous RB.
Finally, in the receiving game, it would make sense to expect Roddy White to line up against Darrelle Revis for most of the day, which makes White's fantasy owners nervous after seeing White's one-catch 20-yard game last week against Richard Sherman and the Seahawks. His value falls further if Gonzalez is out, and even more if Douglas cannot play.
Douglas had a remarkable day against the Bucs in Week Seven, and while number-one receivers have had a hard time against the Bucs, second and third wideouts have had a much stronger fantasy go if it. Douglas had 27 fantasy points with seven catches for 149 yards in the first matchup. He should play, though listed as questionable, and should find your starting lineup if he does.
Gonzalez did not participate in practice on Wednesday or Thursday, and was limited on Friday, making him a true game-time decision and a dangerous start. The Bucs were able to corral him to just two catches for 30 yards in the last game, and the defense has been stingy against tight ends after two very bad TE performances to start the year. Since starting the season giving up 21-point and 33-point tight end games, no tight end group has put up more than 50 yards all season against them.
Gonzalez's backup would be rookie Levine Toilolo, who hasn't had a touch in the last two games. If Gonzalez doesn't play, it would be wise to look elsewhere for his replacement. And, while he is owned in 0.0% of leagues, finding the deep, deep sleeper is always a fun task. He is far too risky put anywhere near your starting lineup, but perhaps you can impress your friends by pointing out Darius Johnson as someone to watch. Johnson had his first touchdown last week and a four-catch, 40-yard performance in Week Eight. Should Douglas not go, Johnson could step up and get his name called a handful of times against the Bucs defense that allowed 11 catches, 120 yards, two touchdowns and 35 fantasy points to Miami's third WR, Rishard Matthews, a week ago.