By: Brian McDonald (@sackedbybmac)
Fantasy football rewards owners who put in the time to research players, trends, and just generally pay attention to what’s going on in the league, but that’s even more true this time of the year during the playoffs.
With the real NFL teams either clinching playoff spots or being eliminated from contention, it’s important to keep up with and know which teams might be resting players, and which teams and players have already started making their vacation plans.
The Houston Texans game this week against the Cincinnati Bengals will either be for a chance to clinch another division title, or possibly have absolutely nothing on the line in terms of playoff scenarios; those scenarios hinge on the result of the Tennessee Titans playing at the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Bill O’Brien has said multiple times this week during his media availability that he game plans to win every game and will play all his players, but expect exceptions to be made for veterans dealing with any sort of injury.
It makes perfect sense—and I agree with him—that all the offensive players should start because Tom Savage needs more reps, the offense needs to keep building a rhythm with their new quarterback, and frankly they’re not a good enough offense to trust flipping the switch back on after shutting down for a week.
On defense, that group has some banged up players like Vince Wilfork, Whitney Mercilus, and Johnathan Joseph who can handle their business and could use some rest, so I wouldn’t risk anything with those players.
So, any Texans’ offensive player you have will probably play—except maybe Lamar Miller—but if you have the Texans defense, that’s something to keep an eye on.
(These start/sit suggestions will assume that each player will play this week against Cincinnati, since this was written on Thursday, and any decision to rest players because of what happens in the Titans game wouldn’t be made until Saturday afternoon.)
The third-year player out of Pittsburgh will face a lower-ranked defense this week, but the Cincinnati Bengals won’t be a push-over.
Cincinnati has been middle-of-the-road on defense this year with ranks of 16th in passing touchdowns allowed, 12th in QB rating allowed, 16th in completion percentage allowed, and 13th in passing yards per game allowed.
So, they haven’t been great, but they do have talent and are capable of capitalizing on any mistake made by the young quarterback.
By comparison, the Jaguars rank fourth and fifth respectively in passing yards allowed per game and passing touchdowns allowed. The fact that Tom Savage played well last week against a better defense than the one he’ll see on Christmas Eve is encouraging, but we also must remember that the Bengals will have time to game plan for him with film unlike last week.
Savage played well last week, but he’s not worth the risk in standard leagues.
Verdict: Sit in all standard leagues. He’ll be extremely cheap in daily leagues this week, so not a terrible cap-saver option to allow for big spending on stars at running back and wide receiver.
This is a friendly matchup for Lamar Miller against the Bengals, but that’s only if he plays this week.
Cincinnati ranks 22nd in rushing yards per attempt allowed, and 26th in rushing yards per game allowed, so Miller could be in for a big performance. The veteran back is tied for fourth in rushing attempts per game, and sixth in rushing yards this season; he’s an RB1 most weeks if healthy.
Miller dealt with a rib injury earlier in the season, but an ankle injury suffered last week against Jacksonville caused him to miss practice Wednesday.
My unqualified medical guess is Miller will be able to play, but if the Titans win—which makes the Texans game meaningless for the playoff scenarios—then he could sit the Bengals game out to rest.
Verdict: Start in all formats this week, but watch his injury status closely and check for updates frequently on Saturday.
In just barely over two quarters of play with Tom Savage throwing him the ball, DeAndre Hopkins finally started to look like the 2015 version with eight receptions for 87 yards.
This may shock you, but as it turns out, if a quarterback throws the ball accurately to a spot (instead of throwing behind the target and too high), a good receiver like Hopkins will make the catch, and good things happen.
Sad that all it took for Hopkins to regain his Pro Bowl form was just competent play from his quarterback; it can’t be oversold how bad Brock Osweiler had been before getting benched.
As mentioned earlier in the section about Tom Savage, the Bengals are just an average defense against the pass, so that works in Hopkins favor this week. Not having to face a tough, physical man-coverage corner like Jalen Ramsey of the Jaguars, and having a quarterback who showed a connection with, trust in, and somewhat of a dependence on getting Hopkins the ball last week also works in his favor in this game.
Verdict: He’s back, I’m ready to trust Hopkins again. Start in all formats.
The rookie wide receiver had a solid two game stretch over Week 12 & 13 when he caught nine passes for 119 yards. Those numbers aren’t amazing by any means, but it gave me hope that he could regain the fantasy starter status he had over the Texans first four games.
Unfortunately, in the two games that followed, Fuller had a combined six receptions for 64 yards, so he remains untrustworthy for fantasy owners.
Verdict: Sit in all formats.
C.J. Fiedorowicz has had a surprisingly productive season, but I wouldn’t play him this week for several reasons.
First, Fiedorowicz hasn’t had a fantasy starter level performance since their Week 8 game on October 30th, so the lack of consistency makes it hard to trust him during the fantasy playoffs.
Second, part of what made Fiedorowicz a surprise success in fantasy was that the only routes and parts of the field Brock Osweiler threw well to were usually occupied by the third-year tight end. When Tom Savage came in, his superior passing ability opened more of the field and got the receivers more involved, which could decrease the number of targets Fiedorowicz receives.
Third, Fiedorowicz has had multiple concussions this year, so it’s fair to be concerned about his durability and the possibility that he may have to leave an important game before it’s over.
Verdict: Sit in all formats.
Fantasy owners need their starting kicker to average at least two made field goals per game to be relevant, since extra point makes can’t carry a team being worth only one point.
Nick Novak has met that requirement easily with an average of 2.28 made field goals per game, and he’s made at least two field goals in 11 of the Texans 14 games this season.
That includes nine made field goals over Novak’s last two games.
Novak’s season has been so good that only the great Justin Tucker ranks ahead of him in field goals made (33 to 32) through 14 games.
Verdict: Start in all formats.
By the standards of doing what it takes to win the actual game, the Houston Texans defense has played very well the last two weeks in wins over the Indianapolis Colts and Jacksonville Jaguars.
However, as you should already know, that doesn’t always translate into fantasy success.
As well as the Texans played the last two weeks, their defense was only able to score eight fantasy points against the Colts and nine fantasy points against the Jaguars, which ranked 15th and 11th respectively those weeks.
Why is that the case?
The Texans defense ranks 29th in sacks, and 25th in takeaways with just 15 through 14 games played.
Verdict: Sit in all formats.
Top 5 Starts of the Week:
- Tom Brady (vs New York)
- Matt Ryan (at Carolina)
- Drew Brees (vs Tampa Bay)
- Philip Rivers (at Cleveland)
- Aaron Rodgers (vs Minnesota)
- Ezekiel Elliott (vs Detroit)
- LeSean McCoy (vs Miami)
- DeMarco Murray (at Jacksonville)
- Le’Veon Bell (vs Baltimore)
- Jordan Howard (vs Washington)
- Odell Beckham Jr. (at Philadelphia)
- Mike Evans (at New Orleans)
- T.Y. Hilton (at Oakland)
- Antonio Brown (vs Baltimore)
- Jordy Nelson (vs Minnesota)
(Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
- Delanie Walker (at Jacksonville)
- Greg Olsen (vs Atlanta) *watch his injury status
- Cameron Brate (at New Orleans)
- Travis Kelce (vs Denver)
- Antonio Gates (at Cleveland)