For many, Week 14 of the NFL marks the opening of the fantasy football postseason. And with Tampa Bay Buccaneers at every position playing well above their projected number and average draft positions, it seems safe to believe that many Bucs owners have secured one of these playoff spots.
The Buccaneers up-and-coming "triplets" each reached a season milestone in recent weeks. Josh Freeman topped 3,000 yards while punching his touchdown numbers to 23. His 16.3 fantasy points per week have landed him firmly in the top 12 at quarterback this season. Doug Martin pushed past 1,100 rushing yards and ended last week just two yards shy of 100 all purpose yards. He currently has the third most fantasy points at the running back position, within just seven fantasy points of number one. Vincent Jackson became one of nine NFL players to top 1,000 yards receiving and is comfortably positioned as the fifth best receiver in fantasy.
This week, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are hosting a Philadelphia Eagles team that has allowed its share of points at the key positions. The Eagles rank 11th against running backs, having allowed just six rushing touchdowns on the season, but are 24th against wide receivers and have given up the second most points to opposing quarterbacks. On top of that, the Eagles have turned the ball over 28 times, the second highest mark in the league. With rookies starting at both quarterback and running back for the Eagles, with some big-time pressure the Buccaneers defense might prove themselves a worthy start as well.
This year, Eagles games have averaged 44.75 points per game; Buccaneers games are averaging 51.5. Neither team has been involved in a game where fewer than 25 points were scored. 16 of their 24 games played have yielded more than 45 points. Three have been over 70 points. Needless to day, Buccaneers and Eagles fantasy owners should certainly be expecting another point-heavy affair this Sunday.
1. Welcome Back Doug Martin.
Doug Martin has been a force all year long, racking up 196 fantasy points over the course of the season and turning in the highest single-game fantasy performance of the year. In recent weeks, however, his yardage output has been his lowest of the season, gaining 106 on the ground in the last two weeks combined. However, this weekly must-start should rebound this week against a defense giving up more than 115 yards per game on the ground.
Perhaps the most intriguing question when we talk about Doug Martin is actually what is going on on the other side of the ball. The Eagles recently parted ways with both their defensive coordinator and defensive line coach. Along with their departure goes the defensive scheme they had been using: the Wide Nine. Basically, the Wide Nine sees two defensive ends, lined up like sprinters, on the very outside edge of the tight end. This allows them to pin their ears back and rush the passer. Last season, the Eagles tied for first in the NFL in sacks.
However, with the new coordinator and new defensive line coach, the Eagles have stated that they are changing up their game plan, midseason. The pass rushers that they have added specifically for the Wide Nine lineup will now be moving to a more conventional pass rush (or, in the case of Jason Babin, are now gone). And with a midseason change is likely to come some missed assignments when it comes to gap fits. This is where Doug Martin comes in.
This season, Martin has made a name for himself with his ability to bounce of tackles and make people miss. He has accumulated a lot of his runs with power, but could find more success this week from bouncing it outside. With defensive ends still programmed for the Wide Nine finding themselves on the inside, we could surely see Martin break out on counters or pitches that get him to the edge.
With no Babin in Philadelphia and the new defensive changes, there is no reason to worry about another slow performance from the Dougernaut. Just in time for fantasy playoffs, Martin should return to the midseason form that his fantasy owners have been craving.
2. And Hello Bryce Brown
The Eagles might just have an answer to the fantasy points coming from Doug Martin. The Eagles' Bryce Brown has stepped up big since the injury to Philadelphia's starting running back, LeSean McCoy, in Week 11. In two games, Brown has amassed 53 fantasy points on 347 yards rushing and four touchdowns. Brown will once again see nearly all of the carries for the Eagles as it has been announced that LeSean McCoy will not return this week.
While the performance has been stellar, and with Bryce Brown flying off the free agency list faster than this season's hottest toys, he will certainly be facing his toughest test in Tampa Bay. His breakout game came against the Carolina Panthers, who have allowed 128 yards per game this season. He his 178 yards against them with two trips to the end zone. Last week, against the Dallas Cowboys, he again cracked 160 yards with two scores. However, the Dallas team is also allowing 116 rushing yards per game and were without two starting defensive linemen, their two starting middle linebackers and a starting safety.
Brown will now be going up against the only defense in the league that hasn't given up more than 1,000 total rushing yards this season. And since Week 6, only Adrian Peterson has tallied more than 100 yards on the ground against them.
After two monster performances it would be crazy to not keep him in your starting lineup, but another 150-yard game doesn't look like it's in the cards. While he will likely see his smallest yardage total as a starter, there is still an opportunity for points when it comes to touchdowns as the Bucs have allowed nine on the season, bouncing the points per game total they allow to opposing running backs to 15.
3. Points Through the Air
As with the running game, the passing game in the Eagles vs. Buccaneers matchup should be something to keep an eye on. Each team comes with one big name. The Buccaneers are holding Vincent Jackson, the fifth best fantasy wide receiver, while the Eagles will unleash Jeremy Maclin as their number-one receiver. Maclin has been off to a slow start this season, with just 542 yards and four scores. But in past years, Maclin has proven to be a fantasy force at the position.
Vincent Jackson has been feast or famine for his owners this season. He has double-digit fantasy points in six games, but only one other game where he has scored more than five. However, each time Jackson fails to record more than 60 yards receiving in a game, the next week he registers a touchdown, which is a nice pattern for those who have him in their lineups. The Eagles have also allowed the third most touchdowns to WRs in the NFL this year, behind only the Giants and Chiefs. Jackson has faced both of those teams, scoring three touchdowns and 36 fantasy points against them.
Jeremy Maclin has been cool all year. Losing DeSean Jackson for the season allows opposing defenses to put most of their pressure on Maclin, and it has showed in his output. Since Jackson's injury in Week 11, Maclin has just eight fantasy points: none in Week 11, five in Week 12 and just three last week against Dallas. He does have the advantage of going up against the Buccaneers secondary that is allowing the most passing yards per game in the NFL. He will have to find a way to break double coverage and get open on his own if he will do anything this week.
Outside of the two number ones, each team comes in with a sleeper of sorts. The Buccaneers "not-so-sleeper" Mike Williams finds himself as the 20th-highest scoring fantasy receiver this year, breaking the 100-point mark last week with a 93-yard, one-touchdown performance. Against the Eagles, there are plenty of fantasy points to go around. Even if Vincent Jackson has his predicted monster game, Mike Williams can put up some good numbers. The Eagles have allowed a passing touchdown to at least two receivers in all six of their games since the bye week. Needless to say, Josh Freeman filling a quarterback spot looks pretty tasty as well.
The Eagles do answer with their own sleeper, Riley Cooper. Cooper comes into the game with just 24 fantasy points, but 23 of them have come in the last four games. With DeSean Jackson out, and defenses homing in on Maclin, Cooper seems to be reaping the benefits. He has just 10 receptions in the four games, but has scored twice and seems to be building chemistry with rookie QB Nick Foles. He is far from a reliable option, but if you are in a deep league or in severe injury trouble, he could see another decent performance here against the Bucs.
With the Buccaneers fighting for an NFC playoff spot and the Eagles fighting to break an eight-game skid and prove a point with their young, new-look team, the fantasy points should be flying in this game. In the first round of your fantasy football playoffs, you should expect another good return and another chance to say "Told you so," from whichever Buccaneer you drafted.