Thanksgiving is next week, and for a lot of us that means a full day and night of watching NFL football.
I mean, sure, the turkey is nice and Grandma's oyster stuffing is an annual treat. And I guess there's the whole taking-time-to-give-thanks-for-all-the-good-things-in-our-lives factor. Don't want to forget that. If you space it out right, you can probably even get two or three different desserts down. Those are all good things.
But it's the football we're really looking forward to, right? You can admit it. Well, here's a way to make those 10-12 hours of watching the NFL even more fun: Inject an extra fantasy football element into it. Here's what you do: Email a bunch of your friends and invite them into your Thanksgiving Fantasy Football Challenge. Give them each a sheet with some form of fantasy starting lineup, something like this: QB, RB, RB, WR, WR, TE, FLEX, IDP, IDP, Team DEF. Maybe throw in an extra FLEX or a second quarterback. Tell them to fill out that lineup with only players from the six teams playing on Thanksgiving and send it back to you.
Pictures of some of the Dolphins' top players.
Use any scoring system you like. You'll probably have to enter the data by hand to see who wins, so you probably want to keep it small, say 10-20 participants. If you're an Excel whiz, you can probably handle this part of it pretty easy. Then sit back and enjoy Giants-Redskins on a much better level than you probably would have without this added fantasy element. You're welcome.
Now, let's focus on this week, before Thanksgiving, with the Buccaneers headed to Miami. We'll get to some specifics of that matchup below in our latest Three Burning Questions. First, we continue with tradition and review the advice from last week.
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 I covered last week, along with self-assigned letter grades for each piece of advice:
Advice #1: With Mike Evans out, the one player in the Bucs' passing game you might want to treat differently is tight end O.J. Howard, since the team might rely on more two-TE sets.
Review: C. Howard didn't catch a pass and the Bucs ran a lot out of their two-TE sets as they got up in the second half and waged a field-position battle with the Jets. So why do I get a "C" and not an "F?" Well, the rest of the advice to that question made sense. I didn't think Evans' absence would do anything for the numbers for Adam Humphries (2-17) or Cam Brate (1-10), and it didn't. I didn't suggest starting DeSean Jackson if you weren't going to already; he had a good day (6-82) but nothing you probably felt terrible about leaving out of your lineup. And I expressed caution about Chris Godwin, who also had a good day (5-68) but not a great one (in fantasy football terms, of course).
Advice #2: You could start Ryan Fitzpatrick against the Jets in a pinch but I wouldn't expect big numbers in this game.
Review: C. I was right to be bearish on Fitzpatrick's numbers in this game, but I probably should have just said "no" outright instead of hedging it a little bit. In most scoring systems, Fitzpatrick would have got you about 10 points on Sunday.
Advice #3: There probably is no need to stash Peyton Barber on your bench, unless you want Doug Martin's handcuff for the playoffs, and even then probably not.
Review: B. Too easy to be worth of an "A" grade. The part of my advice from last week that you want to take away for the rest of the season is that Doug Martin is likely to continue to get the vast majority of the Bucs' carries.
The Buccaneers started to get their season back on track with a win over the Jets. I'm going to try to do the same with the fantasy implications of the upcoming game in Miami.
Three Burning Questions
1. I own Mike Evans and am glad he's back from his suspension. However, are there enough red flags that I should be wary about starting him again right away? A couple unproductive games before his suspension, the suspension itself, Jameis Winston's injury?
Well, I wouldn't blame anybody for at least considering these things before plugging Evans right back into the lineup. This is probably only a consideration for teams with every good depth at wide receiver, of course. I have Mike on one of my teams and when he was out last week I started Cooper Kupp. You can bet I'm going right back to Mike this week.
But what if you have, say, Evans, Adam Thielen and Jordy Nelson, or something like that. You have an RB in your Flex spot so you only want to start two of the above three. Thielen is probably a must-start at this point, so you're choosing between Evans and Nelson. Given the QB situation in Green Bay and the Packers' offensive struggles without Aaron Rodgers, you would probably choose Evans. However, as noted, there have been reasons for concern with that choice, too.
My take: Don't worry. Evans had two low-scoring games before his suspension, but before that he was producing at pretty close to his normal career per-game levels. Most notably, he had four touchdowns through six games, which is quite good. Tampa Bay's offense as a whole didn't do much in those two games, so Evans' dip was likely not the result of declining play on his part.
Evans came back this week and spoke about how he wanted to prove himself again over the final seven games of the season. I think you're going to see a very driven player in the weeks ahead. He's also fully healthy and well-rested. He said he had banged up his knee before the suspension but he has come back at 100 percent.
Yes, Winston is out for at least one more game, but Fitzpatrick has the tools to get a lot of points out of the Bucs' impressive array of offensive weapons. Miami has given up at least 27 points in each of its last four games, including 45 last week to the Panthers. I think the Buccaneers are going to be much more productive in Fitzpatrick's second start, and Evans will be at the center of it all.
2. You told me to think about starting O.J. Howard in the last game, and then he had zero points. You're not seriously going to tell me to look at Howard again, are you? Do you think I'm that gullible?
Yes. I'm sorry, I can't help myself. I feel like Howard is a sneaky good play this week. I don't blame you for not jumping onboard with me, and I certainly recognize that there are many, many safer fantasy TE options out there. But if by some chance you're not in love with your tight end this week – or you were rolling with Jack Doyle or Ed Dickson and they're on byes this week – at least hear me out.
Miami has had trouble with tight ends this year. The Dolphins' linebacking corps is a little long in the tooth, which may be contributing to that issue. Dickson scored against them last week, his first touchdown of the week. Antonio Gates, Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Ben Watson have all scored touchdowns against Miami this year. Hunter Henry and Austin Hooper had good days against them, Jared Cook had a huge day against them.
We know Howard is capable of exploiting a shaky middle of a defense if the ball comes his way. His breakout performance in Buffalo was the highest-scoring game of that week among tight ends. The issue, of course, is whether it will be him or Cam Brate who takes advantage this week. And that's where we get to the hunch part, and isn't half of fantasy football just playing hunches?
Brate has been a great red-zone threat for the Buccaneers but last week the Jets keyed on him around the end zone, giving him the double-team they might usually give to Evans. Evans is back so that is less of an issue, but you still have to believe that opposing defenses are keeping a close eye on Brate in the red zone. That could open up opportunities for Howard. As for the passing game in the rest of the field, Howard's superior athleticism could spell trouble for Miami in the more open space.
I'm doubling down: If you don't have a tight end option you feel solid about, pick up Howard and give him a spot start.
3. For a while there, I needed a radiation suit to touch the Bucs' defense in fantasy football. Is it safe to take the gloves off now? Are they at least a consideration for a streaming start this week?
If you're like me, you have at least one team on which you are completely streaming defenses from week to week at this point in the season. Tampa Bay's defense had some start-worthy outings early in the year but, uh, not so much in October or the beginning of November. At this point, they are only 10% owned in Yahoo! leagues and there probably weren't too many fantasy players who reaped the benefits of last week's six-sack, two-turnover, 10-points-allowed performance against the Jets. Too bad. The Bucs were the third-highest scoring team defense in fantasy in Week 10.
Last year, the Buccaneers' defense turned things around in dramatic fashion in the second half of the season. From Game Nine to Game 16, they were one of the stingiest defenses in the league and they racked up the most turnovers. The sack totals weren't huge, but you can't always have everything. This year, the Jets game was number Nine, so there is obviously hope in Tampa that the same sort of turnaround is underway.
To take that turnaround for granted would be too optimistic, and some looming dates against Atlanta, Carolina, Detroit and New Orleans don't look very attractive from a fantasy standpoint. But I think you could take a chance this week in Miami. The Dolphins are the league's lowest-scoring team this season, averaging 15.2 points per game. There's been a bit of a Jekyll-and-Hyde thing going there, with two shutouts against them but also one game with 31 points against the Jets and another with 24 against Oakland. With Jay Ajayi gone, the Dolphins' two young backs are still a bit of a mystery, and Kenyan Drake did have one very big play last week. So there's the possibility for a breakout here, and Jay Cutler probably has some big games left in him.
Still, I think you play the odds here. The Dolphins have mostly struggled to score points and the Bucs' defense looks to have figured a few things out. The pass-rush picked up a little steam last week; if that continues, the turnovers will come. Brent Grimes is back and he would probably like to hurt his former team with a takeaway or two. Lavonte David is on fire. Go ahead, give the Bucs' defense a streaming start this week.