Crystal Ball Week 16 2017

By Evan Tarracciano
Evan Tarracciano My gut is many things.

Ever expanding. A real pain to get rid of. A spare tire around an otherwise chiseled body (hey, stop laughing!). Most of all? It’s trustworthy.

Like many of you, I’ve gone against my gut feelings when setting a lineup or selecting a pick’em contest, only to wish that I hadn’t listened to all of the outside “noise” surrounding situations. To quote my freshman year high school English teacher Mrs. Katz – “an easy acronym for many situations in life is K.I.S.S. – Keep. It. Simple, Stupid”.

Try not to overthink things in the championship week. There is a very slim chance that anyone currently available on the waiver wire should grace your starting lineup, even in the direst of circumstances. As I referenced several times during the course of my Periscope chat on Twitter last night, don’t go back and tinker around too much with each practice report. Let all of the information come in and then make an informed decision. Don’t be a slave to site projections, and above all, trust your instincts. The odds of someone “lucking” their way into the championship contest is minute. Have a little faith in yourself, and trust the process that carried you this far.

When setting your final lineup, take into account your opponents team, and decide how many risk-reward type players you absolutely need to insert. If you are a heavy underdog – swing for the fences. Fingers crossed that a lottery ticket or two can help you, especially in an above-average matchup. Should your team be projected to win by a handy margin, attempt to avoid starting players who have demonstrated high levels of inconsistency in the past – try and lock in a solid floor and foundation to rely upon.

Granted, all of these tips are easier said than done to execute. Like many of you, I’ll be sweating things out during the two Monday Night games (yes, you read that right – there is no Thursday Night Football game this week in lieu of two games on Monday evening). Buckle in, suit up, and lets bring home the bacon.

Q: I patiently waited for Aaron Rodgers to come back, and he nearly lost me my matchup last week. Now the Green Bay Packers already placed him back on I.R.! I know that you said I shouldn’t start anyone off of the waiver wire, but are there any upside plays at the QB position this week? HELP!
A: I’ve received this question a number of times on various social media outlets, so I wanted to address it first and foremost here. Odds are, whichever quarterback you relied upon to carry you through week in and week out when Rodgers was hurt is a better replacement than anyone on the waiver wire. With that in mind, everyone’s league is completely different in terms of size and availability, so here are a few upside plays that are owned in less than 50 percent of 12-team formats that I could back starting this week.
1. Nick Foles – Foles is the obvious choice here, both due to his Week 16 matchup against the Oakland Raiders at home, and the amount of success that he showed last week when filling in for Carson Wentz. Zach Ertz has returned from his concussion symptom-free, and showed no signs of obvious rust this past week. The Philadelphia Eagles are going to put up plenty of points in this contest, and I’d be fine picking up Foles, if he is still out there.
2. Blake Bortles – Somehow, Bortles is still owned in less than 45 percent of leagues, despite the high level of play he has shown since Week 12. He has only thrown one interception since Week 11, and has multiple touchdown passes in each of the past three games. The emergence of both DeDe Westbrook and Keelan Cole adds another dimension to this offense. Owners who add him need to be cautiously optimistic about his upside, as his success has occurred when Leonard Fournette has been banged up or declared out. Recent reports from Jacksonville’s head coach Doug Marrone suggest that Fournette will play, and should instantly find his way into 20-25 touches.
3. Eli Manning – Yep, the New York Giants homer in me just couldn’t resist. Call me a sucker for backing players with something to prove, but Manning has really elevated his play since being benched for Geno Smith in Week 13. This past weekend against a very good Philadelphia Eagles secondary he threw for 434 yards and three touchdowns, largely in part due to an ineffective running game. The Arizona Cardinals defense has been stout against quarterbacks over the course of the season, but this is a hunch on my part. Even with a depleted core of receivers, Manning still has Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram.

Q: Julio Jones missed Wednesday’s practice with an ankle injury – should I be worried about him not playing this upcoming week? I need my WR1 for the championship!
A: No, I wouldn’t stress about Jones missing a practice. Similar to Alshon Jeffery or other bigger-bodied WRs, Jones has a tendency to suffer lower body injuries that force him to miss portions of the game or early-week practices. Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn said that he will likely be limited for the remainder of the week, but is expected to play against the New Orleans Saints. In his prior matchup against the Saints at home, Jones caught five receptions for 98 yards. I’d expect something similar to that here – he is the team’s best deep-threat option, and Matt Ryan will need to rely upon him to keep this game close.

Q: Fair enough. I also have Davante Adams on my team though, and he missed today’s practice and is still in the concussion protocol. Is he worth freaking out over?
A: In this case, yes. Adams was the victim of yet another dirty hit, this time with Thomas Davis blindsiding him after an interception. Since he is still in the league’s protocol midway through the week, there is a very small chance that he is able to get cleared in time to play. Additionally, the Green Bay Packers are now mathematically eliminated from making the playoffs – the very reason that they placed Aaron Rodgers back on the I.R. The team has zero reason to rush him back in an otherwise lost season. This is an even bigger shame since Brett Hundley will be back under center, who had demonstrated a very strong connection with Adams earlier this year.

Q: All year long I’ve started the Pittsburgh Steelers DST, but they have been getting torched over the last month. Are they trustworthy against the Houston Texans? And if not, who should I pick up instead?
A: Absolutely correct. The Steelers have given up at least 20 points in each of the past four games, after not surrendering more than 20 just once since Week 1. Regarding the Houston Texans, they currently rank 16th in total offense per game, averaging just over 330 yards in each contest. The saving grace in this matchup is the Texans propensity to turn the ball over – they currently have a -9 turnover margin, which is the fourth worst in the NFL. In leagues that happen to give bonus points for interceptions and fumble recoveries, that could be a big boon. In terms of other DSTs that are widely available, the Chicago Bears are the most obvious recommendation, as they take on the Cleveland Browns at home. The San Diego Chargers face the New York Jets, and the Philadelphia Eagles take on the Oakland Raiders. I’d invest in any of those games.

Q: How did you end up in all of your leagues? Still in the championship game in any of them? I heard you on Sirius XM talking with Bob Harris and Mike Dempsey about it…
A: Yep! Out of the six leagues that I participated in, I made the playoffs in four and am currently in the championship game in two. Not that I want to value any league over another, but these happen to be two of the “experts” leagues where I square off against participants from other websites. Proud to make it this far but I still have some work to do!

Q: Any updates on Keenan Allen? And if he doesn’t go, who benefits in his absence?
A: Man, lots of WR injuries to discuss this week! To answer this quickly, all reports currently have Allen expecting to start – sentiments which his coach Anthony Lynn confirmed on Monday. A back injury is the reported culprit, which does have a tendency to flare up. The Los Angeles Chargers are set to take on the New York Jets, who currently rank 20th in passing yards allowed each game. In the unlikely event that Allen sits, Travis Benjamin would be a WR3 play, with Mike Williams being upgraded to FLEX discussion.

Q: Speaking of WR injuries… Antonio Brown. Sigh.
A: Yeah, as if this season wasn’t already bad enough on high—profile players getting hurt. Brown missing the championship game is a real heartbreak for his owners, but they will need to try and work around it. I’d upgrade JuJu Smith-Schuster and Martavis Bryant the most directly, with Smith-Schuster falling into the WR2 discussion, and Bryant being an upside-FLEX play. Houston’s secondary has been torched week-in and week-out, and you better believe that the Pittsburgh Steelers are going to play angry after the awful ending to Week 15.

Q: Yeah, that call was brutal. Was it the right call? Seems like the Steelers got screwed…
A: By the definition of the rule, it was the right call. That said, anyone who has ever played football knows that it should be considered a catch. This is definitely something that the rules committee will have to clarify in the offseason. Then again, we say that every year…

Q: Is it safe to trust Ezekiel Elliott after he hasn’t played since Week 9? The matchup against the Seattle Seahawks isn’t the greatest, either.
A: Remember when I said to trust your gut? Elliott didn’t miss time because of a lingering injury, it was due to a suspension. You have to assume that the Dallas Cowboys are going to try and give the middle finger to Goodell and Co. by feeding him as much as he can handle the next two games. Yes, the matchup isn’t the greatest, but the Seattle Seahawks do allow over 110 yards a game on the ground, and opponents are averaging 4.3 yards per carry against them. “Unleash the Zeke” with confidence this week.