The NFL regular season is winding down just as the fantasy football playoffs are heating up. There are a number of games this week with no NFL playoff implications, but there is still buzz surrounding many of them. The reason for that: fantasy football.
The 5-9 Buffalo Bills visit the 6-8 Miami Dolphins in a game where both teams are out of contention, but eyes will still be on C.J. Spiller, Stevie Johnson, Reggie Bush, Brian Hartline and company to see just how their fantasy campaigns will come to an end. Same goes for the Chargers vs. Jets and Raiders vs. Panthers, where the fantasy implications are at least more mathematically compelling than the what those games mean in the standing.
With six wins apiece, the Rams and Buccaneers are in such a position. To be sure, the actual players still care much more deeply about the final outcome than the fantasy points they might generate. But there's no denying there are some potentially significant fantasy football possibilities at Raymond James Stadium that will draw the attention of fans across the country.
The Rams' Steven Jackson and Danny Amendola will certainly be members of some Championship-vying teams this week. And many Buccaneers have made a great fantasy football impact throughout the year with Josh Freeman climbing up the rankings, Mike Williams and Vincent Jackson combining for 15 touchdowns and more than 2,000 yards this season, and Doug Martin primed to go off each and every week.
1. Don't Shy Away
There is no point in dancing around the fact that the Buccaneers struggled last week in New Orleans. Vincent Jackson walked away with an eight-point game, but beyond that, it was an underwhelming showing for the Bucs as the top players at each of their positions fell well below their average fantasy point totals for the season.
But every team and every fantasy player will have an outlier. And last week's game was that for the Buccaneers. As a fantasy owner vying for a Championship, you'll have to shake off the last game just as the players have. The Rams have been having a solid defensive campaign all season for the most part, but the Buccaneer offense is eager to get back into midseason rhythm and cannot be counted out.
Against quarterbacks, the Rams are allowing the 14th fewest points in the league with 14.3. In eight of his 10 games since the bye week, Josh Freeman has topped that number. Four of those games saw him with 20 or more points. It should also be considered that Freeman is performing considerably better at home this season than he is on the road. In Raymond James this year, he has 8.6 yards per attempt with 12 touchdowns and two interceptions, compared to the 6.4 yards per game and 10 interceptions he has on the road.
Also consider that the Rams have only faced three top-15 passing offenses this entire season: the Lions, Patriots and Packers. The quarterbacks for those three teams combined for 1,018 passing yards and eight passing TDs against St. Louis. The Buccaneers are the NFL's 12th-ranked passing team, the third toughest that the Rams have faced. The numbers bode well for Freeman.
On that same note, Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams look like solid propositions again this week. Like Freeman, Jackson has done the majority of his best work at home. Five of his eight touchdowns have come at Raymond James Stadium while he is averaging 102.1 yards per game at home, 30 more than on the road.
Mike Williams maintains the sleeper status that he carries into each weekend. He has been a picture of consistency for the Buccaneers, as he has been targeted between six and eight times per game in nearly every contest this season. The fact that the Buccaneers have thrown the ball 40 times per game over their last five certainly helps his chances.
2. Establishing the Run
A key for each team in prevailing on Sunday is winning the ground game. After his 128-yard, one-score, 18-fantasy point performance at home against the Eagles, Martin touched the ball just 12 times against the Saints, putting up just two fantasy points. It would not be a surprise to see Martin running a bit angrier today.
Last week's game was just the second time that Martin had been held to under 10 fantasy points in a game since the bye week. And the St. Louis Rams are looking like a good opponent to help him get back on track. In their last five games, the Rams have allowed opposing running backs to break the 20-point mark three times. They have surrendered six rushing touchdowns in that span. Last week, Minnesota's Adrian Peterson ran for 212 yards against them. Look for Doug Martin to get things going early, which in turn will help open up the passing game and get the offense flowing.
This season, Steven Jackson became just the 27th player in NFL history to cross the 10,000-yard threshold. He also needs just 91 yards in the next two games to complete his eighth-straight 1,000-yard rushing season and join a group of Barry Sanders, Thurman Thomas, Curtis Martin, Emmitt Smith and LaDainian Tomlinson to have achieved that feat. Certainly, there is no immediate fantasy relevance to this information, just giving credit where credit is due, and suggesting that Jackson is a very steady performer.
Jackson will need to be on point, however, if he wishes to cross that 1,000-yard mark in Week 16. The Buccaneers have only allowed two running backs this year to top 91 yards: Washington's Alfred Morris and Minnesota's Adrian Peterson.
The Buccaneer's maintain their status as the best NFL defense against the run, allowing just 83.3 yards per game. Allowing 11 rushing touchdowns on the season makes them the 13th-stingiest defense when it comes to giving fantasy points to opposing running backs.
Jackson has four straight double-digit fantasy games, but will face his toughest test against the Bucs. He is a focal point of the offense and will be a major player in the game, but unless he can find the end zone, it looks like breaking another 10-point game will be a tough task this weekend.
3. Sleepers, Just in Case
Its Week 16. If you are in the semi-finals or even the Championship game of your league, you most certainly have a solid team. You likely have your lineup set, your favorites in place, and don't have much need for sleeper picks. But, you never know.
Injuries are a part of football and, thus, are a part of fantasy football. And on the chance that one of your starters is on the fence or out, you might need to reach into the free agency pool one last time, looking for some magic. Rob Gronkowski and Brandon Pettigrew are two high-end tight ends expected to miss Week 16 action; Jordy Nelson should miss another game; Ahmad Bradshaw, Bryan Hartline, Jonathan Stewart, Sydney Rice and Roddy White are all listed as questionable; Dwayne Bowe, Ryan Mathews and Malcom Floyd all made their way to IR.
So, should you need to fill a spot on your roster, and your bench isn't necessarily a handsome one, there are a few names you should know in this matchup.
While Danny Amendola is owned in more than half of all fantasy leagues, it is Rams' wide receiver Brandon Gibson, owned in just 15% of leagues, who looks the most interesting from a fantasy perspective. He has turned it on since the fantasy postseason started; in his past two games he has 176 yards receiving and a touchdown.
While the Rams' third receiver, Chris Givens, has been a big play threat all year long, he is little more than that since the return of Amendola from the injury report. Gibson has seen 12 catches in the last two weeks to Givens' four.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are allowing 322 receiving yards per game, the most in the NFL, and have given up 27 touchdown passes, the second most in the NFL. They are also second in the NFL with 35 catches against them going for 25 or more yards. Brandon Gibson is in good position to extend his point streak this week against the Buccaneers secondary. High scoring games have been a trademark of the Buccaneers this season, and Gibson could certainly become a part of that if this becomes another aerial battle. If you suddenly find yourself missing a starter, don't look over Gibson as a solid play for your flex.
For the Buccaneers, once again, TE Dallas Clark has to make the cut. Last week, Clark was targeted 13 times against the Saints. In the last five games, Freeman has looked his way 38 times. He has 23 receptions, 40 yards per game and two touchdowns to show for it. The Rams have allowed just four touchdowns to tight ends all season, but the Buccaneers have been looking more and more to get the ball into Clark's hands.