With only 16 games, there’s little room for error and seemingly endless opportunities for improvement. The same goes for fantasy football, and managing rosters effectively to win that championship.
Throughout the season, players get hot and sees an increased role while others struggle and fight to stay relevant. Experienced fantasy players know this happens every year. In this weekly column, we’ll showcase those who have taken important steps forward and those who have taken steps back.
Matthew Stafford is quietly putting together another terrific season for the Detroit Lions. A team that was expected to struggle over the entire the season, the Lions moved to .500 after this week’s victory standing just half a game out of a Wild Card spot. As has been the case for the whole year, Stafford was at the forefront, tossing four touchdowns on 270 passing yards. It was the fourth time in six games that he’s tossed for at least three touchdowns.
There’s a case to be made that Stafford has been the second best fantasy quarterback this season behind Matt Ryan. At this point, he should be starting in all leagues with a number of subpar defenses in his future. Perhaps the two toughest games he has in front of him this season both come against the Vikings, but those are scheduled for November.
LeSean “Shady” McCoy has arguably been a top-three fantasy running back this season, which was previously unforeseen, much like Stafford’s success. The eight-year veteran tied a career-low with just 12 games played last year, managing just 895 yards and three touchdowns for his worst statistical season since 2012. Having already played in half as many games this year, he’s doubled his touchdown total and is just over 300 yards away from surpassing his total from last year.
McCoy is clearly benefitting from the entire team’s turnaround, as the Bills have won four consecutive games since going down 0-2 on the year. At this point, his injury troubles seem to be gone from the picture, despite a brief scare during Week Six’s romping of the Niners. McCoy should be depended on as the work horse he’s appearing to be, meaning more expected success is in his future.
Second-year quarterback Marcus Mariota has played considerably well so far this season for the 3-3 Tennessee Titans. Perhaps facing weak defenses has played a role in this success, but regardless, he’s posted four games of multiple touchdowns and is fresh off a season-best 284 passing yards against the Cleveland Browns.
For those seeking streamers at the quarterback position with BYEs coming up or struggling backups, the 22-year-old is an ideal candidate. Once again, the primary reason for this is his schedule, with matchups against the Colts (twice), Jaguars, Chargers, Packers, and Bears on the horizon. Perhaps with the most lenient schedule of all the quarterbacks available via waiver wire, he’s a player that should garner strong consideration in the coming weeks.
FALLER - Carolina Panthers (D/ST) - PIC use Luke Kuechly
While quarterback Cam Newton was the star of last year’s Super Bowl-reaching team, the Carolina Panthers also boasted one of the top defenses in the league. Last year’s edition of the unit led the league with 24 interceptions, finished second with 15 fumble recoveries and would finish in the top-10 in both sacks and touchdowns.
This year, however, has been quite the opposite for the defending NFC champions. The Panthers are fresh off giving up 465 passing yards and four touchdown passes to Drew Brees as the team fell to 1-5 on the year. This was the second time in three weeks in which the defense allowed at least 450 passing yards, something the franchise had never surrendered previously.
Perhaps Josh Norman meant that much to this unit, but the results have played a major role in Carolina’s shockingly disappointing season thus far. Those who reached for the Panthers in drafts have been let down in excruciating fashion, and the unit should be benched with matchups against the Cardinals, Saints, Raiders, and Seahawks awaiting.
Unfortunately for the general consensus pick for top wide receiver in the league, Antonio Brown has landed here without playing a role in the outcome. The 28-year-old Miami native was expected to post strong numbers in Week 6 as he returned home for a matchup against the Dolphins, but Brown ended up having his worst game of the season. He had just four receptions for 39 yards in Pittsburgh’s shocking upset loss, but that wasn’t the story of the game.
The Steelers’ stalwart quarterback Ben Roethlisberger suffered a torn meniscus that required surgery this past Monday. At this point, he is expected to miss 4-6 weeks, and this should strike fear into the hearts of fantasy managers who feature Brown on their rosters. When Roethlisberger went down for five games last year, Brown’s numbers took a steep decline, averaging just 6.2 receptions and 68.6 yards per game with no touchdowns. Owners may want to roll the dice next week when the Steelers host the New England Patriots, but starting Brown without Roethlisberger may simply be the wrong decision.
After spending the first eight years of his professional career playing for the Chicago Bears, Matt Forte joined former teammate Brandon Marshall in New York with the Jets. At 30 years old, his tank is considerably emptier, but he showed some life through his first two games of the season, recording 196 yards and three touchdowns along the way. Since then, however, Forte’s numbers have dropped dramatically, averaging 41 yards on 12.5 carries per game. Additionally, he’s failed to find the end zone since his three-touchdown performance in the Jets’ Week 2 victory over the Buffalo Bills.
This past week’s performance against the Arizona Cardinals saw Forte record just 19 yards on nine carries in his latest abysmal performance. New York’s next opponent, the Baltimore Ravens, is a defensive unit allowing just 69.7 rushing yards per game, the second-lowest in the league behind the Jets themselves. As a result, Forte should garner a benching in the immediate future.