Week 16: 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 is ultimately up to you whether you decide to bench or drop them.
It is championship week for most league formats. Hopefully you're playing for the title and hey, even if you're not, there's no harm in making the most out of this week. I'll admit that I'm playing for third place in one of my leagues, so it happens to all of us.
Week 15 had some big performances by guys like Drew Brees and Calvin Johnson, but don't forget about guys like Reggie Bush, C.J. Spiller and Donald Brown who may have catapulted their teams into the finals. Any given Sunday, right?
Sorry Flacco, you have to play the Cleveland Browns twice. Flacco had his worst game of 2011 against the Browns in Week 13 when he only completed 10-of-23 passes for 158 yards and no TDs. Cleveland is up again and it is not a good week to rely on Baltimore's quarterback. Even though the Browns have lost their last four games, that's not necessarily a good thing for a passing game. With teams in comfortable leads and a steady run game at their disposal, there's just no need for many big throws. Will Flacco end up with an okay game? In all likelihood, he will. He should probably pass for about 200 yards and maybe a touchdown, but this is championship week! This is your league's Super Bowl. You're asking a lot of the rest of your team if Flacco is your starter and he only scores around a dozen fantasy points.
Palmer has been unable to get his act together for Oakland. Put it to you this way, Palmer has been Oakland's starting QB for eight games now and only with his Week 15 numbers did he finally surpass Jason Campbell with more fantasy points. Campbell only played five full games. Palmer threw for a lot of yards last week, but he's going up against Kansas City in Week 16 and the whole nation should take notice of what the Chiefs did last week. Kansas City shut down Aaron Rodgers and blanketed his wide receivers. KC has been good all year against WRs, but they're peaking now. They haven't allowed a WR to score double-digit fantasy points since Week 10. This is pretty incredible when you consider this team has been playing without Eric Berry all year long. Don't count on Palmer to have anybody to throw the ball to in Week 16.
Brown may be coming off a career game last week, but he'll be facing a much more difficult run defense in the form of the Houston Texans in Week 16. The Texans haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher since Week 6. They have the second best fantasy defense against running backs in 2011. RBs are averaging only 14.2 fantasy points per game against them in standard scoring leagues and that goes for the entire backfield, not just a single player. In Week 1, a healthy Joseph Addai and Delone Carter combined to rush for 64 yards against them. The Texans still have plenty to play for whether it's a first round bye or homefield advantage. The bottom line is that Brown was a smart start in Week 15, not this week.
Lynch opened the year against San Francisco and played poorly as you might expect. He was held in check with only 33 rushing yards on 13 carries. Things are much different now as he's rushed for over 100 yards in five of his last seven games. He's also tied for third in the NFL with 11 rushing scores. Lynch is a Top 10 RB, a bona fide workhorse, but not against the 49ers. This downgrade should come to no surprise as the 49ers have continuously dismantled their opponents run attacks. Consider this, the absolute best game anyone's had against them is Roy Helu with 14.6 fantasy points in standard scoring leagues. That's as good as it gets. Only use Lynch if you have other decent backup options.
The Chargers have seemingly found their stride. Like Stella, they've got their groove back. Winners of their last three games (including a convincing Week 15 dismantling of the Baltimore Ravens), San Diego is playing well on both sides of the ball. They haven't allowed a running back to score a rushing touchdown since Week 11. Up next for them is another tough game against Kevin Smith and the Detroit Lions. Smith has only averaged 37 rushing yards per game since his Week 11 breakout performance (201 total yards and three scores). As he continues to struggle with an ankle sprain, his fantasy production isn't getting the job done. Oakland was a great match-up for him, yet he had only 2.9 yards per carry. This confluence of Smith's erratic, underwhelming play going up against San Diego's peaking December crescendo is not a risk worth taking. Sit Smith this week and look for points elsewhere.