Week 13: Player Downgrades
Player Downgrades is a column focused on a handful of players who are losing fantasy value. Rather than discuss injured players, these guys are healthy and getting playing time, but are still underachieving. It's ultimately up to you whether you decide to bench, trade away, or drop them.
With only one week before your fantasy league's playoffs begin, this week's Player Downgrades will focus on players who should be benched for Week 12 only.
Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers are collectively having a rough 2011 season. Many NFL analysts are suggesting that Rivers must be playing with an injury since he's playing so poorly. While he hasn't played awful, something is certainly amiss for the Chargers. In Week 13, San Diego will face the Jacksonville Jaguars. Since Week 6, the Jags have only allowed five touchdown passes. In fact, Jacksonville's defense ranks fifth in the NFL in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks. Rivers leads the league with 17 interceptions, which is already a career-worst for the sixth-year QB. Considering his top receiver -- Vincent Jackson -- is producing such inconsistent performances week-to-week, there is little evidence to suggest Rivers will succeed against Jacksonville's improved secondary.
Although it may be tempting to take a chance with Alex Smith against St. Louis, it isn't their pass defense that is struggling. In fact, the Rams are allowing the fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks in the last three weeks. They're allowing 10.4 fantasy points to QBs over that stretch. The 49ers are going to pound the rock; even when San Francisco opens up the passing game, they're content to work the short and intermediate routes. Combine the fact that the Rams have only allowed three passing TDs since Week 8 along with Smith's 1.2 TD tosses per game and you've got a recipe for underwhelming fantasy totals. Teams are beating up on the Rams with their run games, as evidenced by Beanie Wells rushing for 228 yards and a TD against them in Week 12. Don't count on Smith to carry you into the playoffs if you're in need of a replacement starter.
The Baltimore Ravens -- Cleveland's Week 13 opponent -- has only allowed two rushers to eclipse the 100-yard mark this year. In both instances, the 100-yard rushers carried the ball 30 or more times. Considering that Peyton Hillis has been injured for a good part of the year and that the Browns could spread the carries between Hillis, a potentially healthy Montario Hardesty and Chris Ogbonnaya, the production is unlikely to accumulate in Hillis' favor. Hillis had an okay game in his return to the starting lineup in Week 12 when he rushed for 65 yards on 19 carries, but you want more than that at this critical point of the fantasy season. Few teams are putting fewer points on the board than Cleveland (15 ppg), so the likelihood of a high scoring output for Hillis doesn't seem likely. Sure, Hillis put himself on the fantasy map in 2010 by rushing for 144 yards and a touchdown against Baltimore, but when Cleveland played the Ravens again, they held him to 35 yards. Does anyone think Ray Lewis and his teammates forgot about what Hillis did last year? Doubt it.
This will be St. Louis' first meeting against the 49ers. San Francisco's run defense is very stout as they've yet to allow a rushing touchdown through 11 games. Steven Jackson has been a solid RB2 for the majority of the season, but this match-up will be brutal for him. The 49ers are coming off only their second loss of the season to Baltimore and will be looking to get back on track. To make matters worse, the Rams are almost always playing from behind (which limits how often they can run the ball effectively). San Francisco held Ray Rice to 59 rushing yards on 21 carries last week and Beanie Wells to 33 yards on eight carries the week before. Jackson will need to augment his scoring with lots of receptions to muster a decent fantasy point total but even then, the Niners have only allowed backs to score one receiving touchdown and that came long ago in Week 4. Jackson is going to have his hands full for sure.
Without looking closely at the statistics, you might not expect that the Cleveland Browns would impose such a dominating pass defense, but that's the truth. The Browns are only allowing wide receivers to score 12.9 fantasy points per game in standard scoring leagues. In fact, they've allowed the fewest receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns to opposing wideouts (which is why it's tough to get on board with the idea of starting Anquan Boldin). He may be one of the better possession receivers in the NFL, but that isn't likely to translate to much fantasy success in Week 13. In his last three games, Boldin only has seven receptions (which really illustrates why it's tough to count on him for big point totals). In standard scoring leagues, he's been limited to only four double-digit point totals, a very low number for such a marquee WR2 in most lineups.