FOX aired a 1 1/2-hour tribute to the legendary John Madden on Christmas
Day. It wasn't nearly long enough to sum up what he meant to the
game, so I do not expect to do it in a few paragraphs. What I can
do is try to articulate the impact he had on my love for the game.
Madden died unexpectedly at his home on Dec. 28 at the age of
85. The term "football lifer" is thrown around a lot
nowadays, but perhaps no one embodied or epitomized that term
more than Madden. His professional coaching career started in
1967 - just months after the first Super Bowl took place - when
the Oakland Raiders hired him as a linebackers coach. He remained
a central part of the game for the next 42 years until he announced
his retirement from the broadcasting booth in 2009, although the
only thing that changed much over the final 12 years of his life
was how often he was in the public eye. There are numerous accounts
from other "football people" who visited Madden at his
home about how plugged into the NFL he still was in his retirement.
Perhaps the only thing bigger than his larger-than-life personality
was his impact on the game as a whole. One of the better summations
of his impact was from NFL Network's Rich Eisen, who was shocked
to learn that Madden wasn't already in the Pro Football Hall Of
Fame when he was inducted in 2006. As many have stated over the
years, Eisen believed then that Madden could have been inducted
into the Hall three times - as a coach, broadcaster and/or an
innovator/contributor - and no one would have likely batted an
I recall listening to the iconic broadcast team of Madden and
Pat Summerall beginning around the mid-80s, but his true impact
on my life came about 20 years later when the Electronic Arts'
video game bearing his name began to push the envelope in regards
to authenticity. Although I played high school football, I undoubtedly
learned more about football strategy from his tutorials in the
video game series than I did from any coach. Madden earned his
degree in teaching and loved football as much as anyone ever has,
so it was only natural that both of those passions manifested
themselves into his work - whether he was broadcasting a game
or "coaching" us up in the video game.
One of the reasons I felt confident starting Inside the Matchup
on this site back in 2006 is how much I learned from Madden by
playing the video game. Little did I know at the time that I would
still be talking football (and maybe teaching others a bit about
the game in the process) 15 years later. More than any "boom"
he ever uttered or Brett Favre story he told, Madden helped shape
my football mind into what it is today.
As I have done in recent years, I will devote the final Blitz
of the season to answering reader questions in hopes I can assist
them in winning fantasy championships. Thus, the rest of the column
this week will answer lineup questions for Week 17 (assume PPR
scoring unless otherwise specified):
Given Wednesday's (Dec. 29) announcement from HC Kliff Kingsbury
that Conner (heel) would be a game-time decision, it is probably
OK to eliminate him from the conversation. Singletary is a bit
of an interesting case in that he appears to be taking over the
Buffalo backfield at just the right time for fantasy managers.
With that said, he has rushed for less than four yards per carry
in four of his last five games (and the one exception was a game
in which the Bills did not give a carry to a running back in the
first half). Buffalo has shown little ability to establish the
run and even less interest in making it a priority, which makes
Singletary a good bet to disappoint in any week he does not score
a touchdown. The Bills' Week 17 opponent (Atlanta) has done a
respectable job keeping running backs somewhat in check over the
last six games; only a pair of backs with 20 or more touches against
them have returned solid RB1/2 value (Leonard Fournette, Jeff Wilson).
This leaves us with Williams and Michel. While Williams flashed
his RB1 upside in Weeks 12-14 as Melvin Gordon was dealing with
a hip issue, he has returned to what he was before the injury
in the last two games - a back still very much in a strict split
committee with Gordon. The one thing that makes this question
more difficult to answer is a matchup against the Chargers, who
just surrendered 149 rushing yards and two touchdowns to freaking
Conversely, Michel should have the backfield mostly to himself
for at least one week following the recent announcement that Darrell Henderson (knee) was placed on IR. While there appears to be a
small chance that Cam Akers (Achilles) will see his first action
of the season this weekend, it is a near certainty it would be
in a bit role. Michel has emerged as a workhorse over the last
month. Baltimore is not a great matchup for fantasy running backs,
but last week's effort against the Bengals (not to mention the
combined efforts of Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon one week earlier)
is enough evidence that the Ravens are not necessarily a matchup
to avoid. With Baltimore's offense struggling to score more than
21 points most weeks, Michel should have another opportunity to
handle 20-plus touches. I would not hesitate to start him as an
Kudos to a receiver room that any fantasy manager would be proud
of in 2021. Even with five wideouts who are considered the top
receiver on their respective teams, Jefferson and Brown stand
out from the rest of the pack. Jefferson is an even more obvious
pick than usual given Wednesday's news that Adam Thielen will
miss the rest of the season due to ankle surgery. Brown is not
quite as obvious as Jefferson, but Tampa Bay will likely be without
Mike Evans (hamstring, COVID list) for at least one more week.
The current competition for targets includes Cyril Grayson, Scotty Miller, Breshad Perriman and Tyler Johnson. Brown returned from
a 2 1/2-month absence in Week 16 to draw 15 targets against the
Panthers. There is no telling how high his ceiling is versus the
Jets if the Bucs decide to lean on the pass more than they did
Finding the third starter out of this bunch is a bit trickier.
Lamb has WR1 upside but has only been the best fantasy receiver
on his own team six times this season. Waddle is seeing massive
volume but is averaging less than 10 yards per catch. St. Brown
is much like Waddle in terms of his volume and production (at
least recently), but how much does the potential return of D'Andre
Swift eat into the former?
On the plus side for Lamb this week, the Cardinals have been
very gracious to slot receivers for most of the season. Another
feather in his hat: Dak Prescott has been significantly better
at home (20 passing TDs, two interceptions, 117.9 passer rating)
than on the road (9, 8, 86.6). Week 17 is a home game. While it
is true that the Cowboys' road schedule has been more challenging,
it is hard to make the case that the difference is significant
- and certainly not to the point where Prescott would be Aaron Rodgers at home and Baker Mayfield on the road. Working against
the Lamb is that he has been a virtual non-factor for most of
the season at AT&T Stadium. I'm not sure how it is possible
or if it is even worthy of being considered when making lineup
decisions, but the fact remains that he has only been a good fantasy
start in two of the six games he has played in Dallas this year.
My stance on Lamb is the same as it was before the season: he
has two other studs at his position to share the ball with, two
running backs that demand targets and a tight end Prescott trusts
in Dalton Schultz. The one variable that has changed from this
summer (and it is not good for Lamb) is the degree to which Dallas
has improved its defense, thereby lowering Prescott's overall
Waddle lacks Lamb's TD upside, but he might as well be the only
show in town whenever Tua Tagovailoa is under center. In the last
four games the former college teammates have played together,
Waddle has seen no fewer than nine targets and scored at least
18 fantasy points. Going back even further, the No. 6 overall
pick has attracted at least eight targets in every game Tagovailoa
has started since the opener. He may not be Cooper Kupp in terms
of production, but he is consistently getting about as many looks
as the runaway WR1 in fantasy this season.
The option that scares me the most is St. Brown. Including the
Thanksgiving Day game in which Swift injured his shoulder, the
rookie wideout posted 39 catches for 352 yards and no TDs (74.2
fantasy points). During Swift's four-game absence, St. Brown has
35 catches for 340 yards and three TDs (89.6). In his first 10
games, he had 52 targets. In his last four, he has 46. Swift was
the team's de facto top receiver before getting hurt, so it is
hard to believe that he won't significantly eat into St. Brown's
opportunities when he returns. Has St. Brown done enough to maintain
fantasy starter status? Yes. However, I think it would be a mistake
to assume he will see another 11 or more targets for the fifth
straight week if Swift plays in Week 17.
Thus, I would feel comfortable starting Jefferson, Brown and
Waddle from the above group.
This question may not have a good answer until Sunday morning.
Carson Wentz's fifth day in COVID-19 protocol will fall on game
day, per HC Frank Reich. Also according to Reich, if Wentz clears
the protocol on Sunday morning, he will start. If he does not,
Reich will roll with rookie Sam Ehlinger. In such a scenario,
Renfrow is an easy choice over Pittman.
However, if Wentz does clear, can he perform at a high level
after missing practice all week? Furthermore, how much should
any fantasy manager count on a receiver - even if he is the clear
top wideout - in an offense that is averaging 20.6 pass attempts
over the last three contests? Those two questions alone make me
question how great of a fantasy start Pittman would be even before
the matchup against the Raiders is considered. As I noted a few
weeks back in the Dirty
Dozen, Las Vegas CB Casey
Hayward Jr. is a matchup to avoid. In fact, the Raiders' secondary
has been bad news for opposing receivers for most of the year.
is the only wideout to score a touchdown against the Raiders since
managed to do so in Week 11. Only two receivers over that time
have reached double figures in fantasy points, and both of them
play on the same team (Cowboys). The combination of a potential
Hayward shadow for a large part of the game and the lack of touchdown
upside against an underrated pass defense is enough to scare me
off Pittman (and all of this assumes that Wentz does not skip
Renfrow has been pretty much money in the bank - certainly relative
to his fantasy draft position - since the start of the season.
Volume concerns have become an issue recently with only eight
targets in his last two games combined following a stretch during
which he saw nine targets in three of his previous four. Should
that be enough to concern fantasy managers? Probably not. Renfrow's
slow night in Week 15 was primarily the result of Cleveland trusting
its run defense enough to sell out and defend him. The combination
of Denver's talented secondary and a mere 25 pass attempts from
Derek Carr in Week 16 resulted in another lackluster fantasy performance.
Indy's Kenny Moore has made himself into a very good slot corner,
so Renfrow's matchup isn't great either. However, there is almost
no chance Las Vegas attempts only 25 passes against the Colts.
With the Raiders struggling to run the ball, they could very easily
use Renfrow as an extension of the running game this weekend.
Regardless of Wentz's status, I would roll with Renfrow in a
dome with a familiar face a quarterback over a receiver trying
to create instant chemistry with a rookie quarterback making his
first career start - especially one who drew Taysom Hill comps
during the draft process.
Since I addressed Renfrow above, I will spend the bulk of my
time on the running backs and discuss why I prefer them.
Even if we assume Renfrow sees the volume he was accustomed to
over the first 14 weeks of the season, the last time the Colts
surrendered more than 11.8 fantasy points to an individual receiver
was Stefon Diggs in Week 11 (4-23-2). The most receptions any
receiver has managed against Indy over the second half of the
season is seven. No wideout has topped 52 receiving yards over
that time, while Antoine Wesley and Diggs are the only two receivers
to score a receiving touchdown against the Colts since Week 9.
I think Renfrow can push a few of those marks - something like
six catches for 50 yards - but there isn't much upside here.
Williams faces a similar challenge with a Bengals' defense that
has improved dramatically over the last month or so. Cincinnati
hemorrhaged fantasy points to running backs over the first half
of the season, but it has been a much different story since the
team's Week 10 bye. Austin Ekeler is the only back over that time
to top 12.1 fantasy points. This change of fortune is not the
byproduct of facing a bevy of committee backfields or chumps at
the position (Najee Harris, Melvin Gordon and Javonte Williams
So what makes Williams different? He has the best supporting
cast of any opponent, allowing Kansas City running backs to operate
against light boxes. It's not hard to commit as many resources
as necessary to running backs when Pittsburgh and Denver lack
the quarterback play to scare a defense. The Chiefs are the most
like the Chargers among the teams the Bengals have played since
their break, and Cincinnati gave up 41 points to the Chargers
in Week 13. With Clyde Edwards-Helaire (shoulder) unlikely to
play in Week 17, Williams should go right back to the volume he
enjoyed when CEH missed five games (18.6 touches per game from
Weeks 6-10). The combination of likely positive game script, RB1
volume and a defense that cannot key on Williams is enough reason
to trust him despite what appears to be a difficult matchup.
Recommending Wilson is a bit dicier right now, if only because
Elijah Mitchell (knee) could return this week. If he doesn't,
Wilson could be a top 10 play this week against a Houston defense
that just made Justin Jackson look like an all-pro. What is clear
is that Wilson is no longer feeling the effects of the knee injury
that delayed his season debut until Week 10. Mitchell's activation
is the only reason why Wilson should not be in starting lineups
It is not hard to understand why many fantasy managers are flocking
to the Bears DST this week. The Giants (Chicago's opponent) have
failed to score more than 13 points in five of their last six
games and appear to be leaning toward playing both Mike Glennon
and Jake Fromm this weekend. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay's defense is
beat up. Among those who have been ruled out or are expected to
miss the game include Lavonte David, Shaq Barrett, Sean Murphy-Bunting,
Jamel Dean and Antoine Winfield Jr.
At this point, the Giants are probably the more inept offense
among the New York teams, but I struggle with putting my trust
into a defense like the Bears that surrenders a ton of rushing
yards and has not forced many turnovers despite compiling 42 sacks.
While Chicago is certainly a decent option this week, I would
rather go with a Bucs' defense that has something to play for
and still has playmakers on every level. Even though Zach Wilson
has been playing better since returning from injury, it will be
on him to carry the offense with Tampa Bay likely to smother New
York's rushing attack. Further helping matters is that the Bucs
will probably ride their rushing attack against the league's worst
run defense and shorten the game.
Doug Orth has written for FF
Today since 2006 and been featured in USA Today’s Fantasy
Football Preview magazine since 2010. He hosted USA Today’s
hour-long, pre-kickoff fantasy football internet chat every Sunday
in 2012-13 and appears as a guest analyst on a number of national
sports radio shows, including Sirius XM’s “Fantasy Drive”.
Doug is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.