Just like that – Fantasy Football 2018 is set to come to an end with this weekend’s games. Oh sure, there are some league that play their championship game in Week 17. For those of you that choose to play that way, I wish you well and hope you’ll learn someday that playing in Week 17 is little more than an abomination. That’s all I will say on the subject now since we have much loftier objectives to achieve here. If you’d like to argue the point further, I am available after Monday night’s game until Fantasy Baseball gets underway in February.
OK, on to our loftier objectives. If you’re reading this, you undoubtedly have a championship to win. So, let’s discuss how you’re going to do that. Rule number one is to play your studs – the guys who got you this far to date. With that out of the way, we need to talk about some of those studs who happen to be injured – and decide what you’re going to do about that mess. To do this, we’re going to break from the usual Start ‘Em Sit ‘Em format to include some additional advice and strategy to consider this week. Then we’ll get to the usual information you’ve come to expect. Let’s start with the list of the walking wounded.
Melvin Gordon: Gordon has missed three straight games with a knee injury but was very close to playing in Week 15. After getting in a full week of practice, he was removed from the Chargers final injury report and is good to go this weekend. Austin Ekeler did not practice Tuesday or Wednesday, making it unlikely that he will be ready to play this weekend. However, you will want to watch those announcements for his status as well. If Gordon is playing (as expected), he is a must-start for all fantasy teams.
James Conner: Conner got in a limited practice on Friday before the Week 15 game and there was some hope he would play. However, it was determined that he had not recovered enough from his high ankle sprain to play. Conner has yes to practice as of Thursday, and it is looking like he will not play Week 16. Given that the Steelers are likely playoff-bound, they will probably try to protect Conner from further/additional injury and keep him sidelined this week. If he does play, he’s the sort of dynamic playmaker that you must start. If he doesn’t play, Jaylen Samuels will get the nod.
Keenan Allen: Allen left Thursday night’s game with a hip injury and dropped a goose egg on his fantasy owners for Week 15. Such is the risk with injury-prone players like Allen. He did not practice Tuesday but was a limited participant on Wednesday, and he’s expected to suit up Saturday against the Ravens. As with teammate Melvin Gordon, fantasy owners should continue to check with Inside Injuries and all Chargers’ team announcements (including the Week 16 injury inactive list) right up to lineup lock on Saturday. If Allen plays as expected, he is a must-start for fantasy owners despite the tough matchup against Baltimore.
Josh Gordon: This announcement came out of nowhere but shouldn’t really be all that surprising. Gordon is stepping away from football to address his mental health, and he is facing another indefinite suspension from the NFL for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Gordon won’t play again this season, and it would be shocking if he ever played again anywhere. I will go without comment here except to say that the odds were stacked against Gordon successfully returning to the game without difficulty. Staying clean is difficult under the most ideal circumstances, and the culture of the NFL is far from ideal. I can cite any number of past and present players to make that point. I do sincerely hope that Gordon can recover and perhaps find some measure of peace. I also hope he has the good sense to walk away from football for good in favor of some sort of a healthy, happy future.
Jaylen Samuels (RB, Steelers)
James Conner told assembled media members that he just “isn’t ready to go” when it comes to cutting and running on the field, so it’s doubtful he will be ready to play Week 16. Believe it or not, the Saints are the top NFL rushing defense in terms of total rushing yards allowed (1,107 yds in 301 attempts), and average rushing yards per game (79.1 yds/gm). Overall, the Saints have allowed an average of 19.8 fantasy points per game to the running back position, fourth-lowest in the league. So, if Conner doesn’t play you can start Samuels against the Saints, but don’t count on him as your RB1 or RB2; he’s probably no better than a flex play in this matchup.
Tevin Coleman (RB, Falcons)
Coleman is the last running back standing in Atlanta now that Ito Smith was placed on injured reserve this week. Unless you want to count Brian Hill, who began the season as the Falcons’ RB5 and has played all of 39 snaps over parts of five games (three last season, two this season). Hill will get a few snaps to spell Coleman now and then, but this will be Coleman’s ground game all the way. While the Panthers can be rather stout against the rush, they’ve allowed a rushing touchdown in each of their last six games, and Coleman is the only running back to beat them for more than 100 rushing yards this season (Week 2, 107 yards). This looks like a good time for Coleman to repeat the feat and perhaps score too. I like his chances enough to start him if I owned him.
Alshon Jeffery (WR, PHI)
Why mention Jeffery in an injury-related start-sit column? Well, because Carson Wentz is gonz (see what I did there?) and Nick Foles is the quarterback! Foles targets Jeffery more consistently than Wentz ever did, and Foles does a much better job of finding Jeffery in the end zone. Even better than all that; the Texans have been giving up fantasy points to wide receivers in bunches over the past three games. Here are the numbers allowed to the WR position over the past three games by the Texans:
|Week||Opponent||Reception Yards||Touchdowns||Fantasy Points|
This game is going to be an aerial show because the Eagles’ ground game is a mess and the Texans’ Lamar Miller is injured. Both Foles and DeShaun Watson are capable passers who can and will air it out to make this a high-scoring affair because the Eagles’ pass defense is crippled by injury and the Texans’ pass defense appears to be wearing down badly. Take advantage! Win!
Lamar Miller (RB, Texans)
Miller injured his ankle during the Week 15 game and did not return, leaving his fantasy owners with a useless 0.8 fantasy points. If you survived that kind of deadly lack of production to play again this week, you’ll want to leave Miller benched this time. The Eagles have the 11th ranked rushing defense in the NFL and they’ve allowed an average of just 104.9 rushing yards per game. Alfred Blue is likely to get close to half the touches, and there is still the threat that D’Onta Foreman will be activated, which will only muddy the picture further and subtract from Miller’s production. Miller was a limited participant in Wednesday’s practice, so he’s clearly not 100 percent, and Inside Injuries has him listed as a High risk for injury with a Below Average Health Performance Factor (HPF), which makes him a poor overall choice for fantasy use in Week 16.
Zach Zenner (RB, Lions)
Over the past two games, Zenner has gotten a total of 22 carries and amassed 99 rushing yards with a pair of touchdowns. Not bad for a guy who had all of four carries prior to that this season. However, those 22 carries came against the Bills and Cardinals. While the Bills can be tough on running backs, they have allowed 19 touchdowns and an average of 26.4 fantasy points per game to the position this season. And the Cardinals have allowed 20 rushing touchdowns along with an average of 30.2 fantasy points per game – fourth-highest in the NFL. This weekend Zenner will be facing the Vikings’ run defense, which has allowed just 10 rushing touchdowns and an average of 22.8 fantasy points per game. This is the same Vikings’ defense that basically shut the Dolphins’ run game down and held them to 17 points last week. Plus, LeGarrette Blount and Theo Riddick will get their share of touches, whether they should or not, which will reduce Zenner’s production further. No thanks. Oh, by the way – Kerryon Johnson is done for the season; not that it matters much in fantasy terms.
Mike Williams and Tyrell Williams (WRs, Chargers)
I’m just expounding a bit further on the Keenan Allen section up top here. If Allen doesn’t play, then Mike Williams becomes a must-start since he will become the top target for Philip Rivers. However, if Allen does play, Mike Williams drops down to more of a WR3 or flex consideration. To complicate things even further, Tyrell Williams could get into the act as well, so using either of the Williams’ is a very risky proposition, especially in this championship game. Obviously, if these are the guys who got you to the dance, then you are relying on them in whatever way you’ve done so all season. However, if you have other options, I’d shy away from the Williams’ if Allen is playing. Got that?