Wondering whether or not to start Tom Brady and Demaryius Thomas, or to bench Johnny Manziel and Darren McFadden? The network bozos specialize in that kind of advice. If you’re looking for help with your real starting lineup conundrums, read on.
Here are my picks to roll, and get rolled, in Week 16 of the 2014 season.
Watch ‘em roll
Matt Ryan, QB, Falcons at Saints. Even if Julio Jones (hip) isn’t on the field, Ryan will take full advantage of New Orleans’ generous secondary with the other weapons at his disposal. He tore up the Saints in Week 1, as has virtually every other offense that faces this defense. Even Jay Cutler managed to toss two TDs against this bunch, despite an otherwise miserable outing.
Jonathan Stewart, RB, Panthers vs. Browns. Everyone (but me) was high on Stewart last week; but in my experience, the veteran too often comes up short when the most is expected. His modest 73-yard performance against Tampa Bay is about what I anticipated. This week is different. Facing a weak Browns run defense (that Jeremy Hill torched last week) and with that Manziel-led offense struggling to stay on the field, even Stewart can’t screw this one up.
Fred Jackson, RB, Bills at Raiders. Oakland’s run defense has fared marginally better of late than their season average, but a workhorse like Jackson should have plenty of success. Factoring in his production as a receiver, and his nose for the end zone, F-Jax can be trusted in the Black Hole.
Marques Colston, WR, Saints vs. Falcons. With three TDs over his last four games, Colston is finally looking like his reliable old self again. More importantly, Drew Brees is targeting him more often, especially in the red zone. Frankly, any starter from either team’s passing game is worth playing in this likely shootout.
Brandon LaFell, WR, Patriots at Jets. LaFell hasn’t found the end zone since his two-TD performance against the Packers in Week 13. But he’s still getting plenty of Brady’s attention, and the Jets have surrendered a next-to-worst 29 passing scores to date. Call it a hunch, or just a great matchup; but LaFell ends his modest scoring drought on Sunday.
More thumbs up (excluding the no-brainers): QBs Matt Stafford, Tony Romo, Russell Wilson; RBs Mark Ingram, Steven Jackson, C.J. Anderson, Joique Bell, Jeremy Hill, Lamar Miller; WRs Roddy White, Golden Tate, Kenny Stills, Julian Edelman, Odell Beckham, Lee Evans, Emmanuel Sanders, Kelvin Benjamin, Steve Smith, Pierre Garcon, Jeremy Maclin.
Roll ‘em back
Philip Rivers, QB, Chargers at 49ers. He’s suffering from a painful back injury as well as tender ribs, and Keenan Allen (collarbone) is out for the season. The 49ers’ secondary kept Russell Wilson in check last week, but they have been vulnerable most of the year. I just don’t think Rivers has enough ammo this week to do the job.
LeGarrette Blount, RB, Patriots at Jets. Just when it looked like Bill Belichick had settled on Blount as his workhorse, he let Jonas Gray out of the doghouse with 11 carries last week. Blount still found the end zone against the Dolphins, but the going gets tougher Sunday against New York’s stingy run defenders.
Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West, RBs, Browns at Panthers. Those of us banking on Crowell or West to take the pressure off Manziel last week were rudely awakened by just how quickly this offense fell apart. With no need to defend against the pass, all Carolina must do is stack the line and play “kill the man with the ball.”
DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Texans vs. Ravens. All bets are off for the Houston passing game with Case Keenum (most likely) starting at quarterback. Hopkins has been sitting out practice to nurse a wobbly ankle, but he’ll be in the starting lineup come Sunday. Whether you ever hear his name called is another story entirely.
Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Cardinals vs. Seahawks. Arizona’s passing game is in a similarly precarious position with Ryan Lindley at the controls. Lindley has never celebrated a touchdown among his 181 career passes. Fitzgerald is a future Hall of Famer, but he doesn’t stand a chance with that QB playing against Seattle’s secondary.
More thumbs down: QBs Eli Manning, Colin Kaepernick, Jimmy Clausen; RBs Giovani Bernard, Alphonso Smith, Andre Williams, Branden Oliver, Darren Sproles, Chris Ivory, Latavius Murray, Kerwynn Williams; WRs Reggie Wayne, Percy Harvin, Eric Decker, Stedman Bailey, James Jones, Josh Gordon, Michael Floyd, Martavis Bryant, Michael Crabtree, Doug Baldwin, Marquess Wilson, Jordan Matthews.
TAKING A FLIER
Greg Jennings, WR, Vikings at Dolphins. Charles Johnson is soaking up all the fantasy love, but Jennings has quietly reached the end zone in three of his last four games. Facing a Miami secondary that has been gouged recently, and playing with a more confident Teddy Bridgewater, the grizzled veteran has a solid chance to keep the good times rolling.
DON’T BE THE BONEHEAD WHO…forgets to check your lineup before the two Saturday games. Yep, the NFL is throwing us for a loop again, and with the Christmas rush in full swing, countless owners will completely overlook these games. This is no time to take your eye off the ball.