It’s not often a stud running back falls into your lap during championship week of the fantasy football season, but that’s exactly what could happen Sunday.
The Jacksonville Jaguars’ Maurice Jones-Drew is hopeful of playing in Week 16 against the New England Patriots. Jones-Drew has missed eight games because of a sprained left foot. He’s not a slam dunk start just yet, as Jaguars coach Mike Mularkey has labeled him questionable.
If Jones-Drew can go, however, he’s found money for fantasy owners. The Jaguars’ backfield has been a mess since he went out. Jones-Drew is available in about 10 percent of both ESPN and CBS Sports fantasy leagues, so he’s worth picking up this week and making a decision on Sunday.
If the rest of the week goes well and Jones-Drew starts, he makes for an intriguing sleeper option as a flex player, especially in deeper leagues.
Here’s a list of candidates who can outperform their usual or recent fantasy production this week.
• DeMarco Murray, RB, Dallas: Murray has touchdowns in three consecutive games since missing six because of injury. His carries have gone down from 23 to 21 to 14 over that time, but Murray hits the fantasy gold mine Sunday against the New Orleans Saints. They’re leading the NFL in points allowed to fantasy running backs (in standard-scoring ESPN leagues) with 21.2 points per game.
• LeSean McCoy, RB, Philadelphia: Even though he’s expected to split carries with Bryce Brown, McCoy’s a first-round running back who can safely be used at least as a flex player. That’s a big bonus considering he’s missed the last four games because of a concussion. The Eagles will be eager to play spoilers against the Washington Redskins in what could be coach Andy Reid’s final home game.
• Darren McFadden, RB, Oakland: McFadden got 30 carries for 110 yards last week against the Kansas City Chiefs, so it’s clear the Raiders want to revolve their offense around him. Carolina has given up the eighth-most fantasy points to opposing runners, so McFadden should get plenty of work again Sunday.
• Sam Bradford, QB, St. Louis: Tampa Bay opponents have averaged 310.6 passing yards, completed passes 66.4 percent of the time and thrown for 27 touchdowns this season. Bradford’s coming off a 377-yard, three-touchdown performance last week.
• Matt Schaub, QB, Houston: Here are Schaub’s numbers from the Texans’ past four home games, all wins: 72 completion percentage, 328 yards per game, 10 touchdowns and just two interceptions. The Vikings have allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks.
• Brandon Lloyd, WR, New England: Getting hot at the right time, with 17 catches in the past two games. That comes after having just 16 catches in six games. The only worry for Lloyd is that the Patriots take a big lead against the Jaguars and shut it down. But who am I kidding? That’s not going to happen with Bill Belichick as coach.
• Cecil Shorts, WR, Jacksonville: Shorts suffered a concussion in a Week 13 loss to the Bills. He returned last week and made six catches for 101 yards. It’s a good bet the Jags will be playing catch up and throwing a ton against New England.
• Indianapolis Colts defense: The Kansas City Chiefs have scored 13 points or less in six of their last seven games.
Analyzing the Bills
With Buffalo officially out of the playoffs, one of the few things left to play for is milestones. With receiver Steve Johnson just 109 yards away from a third straight 1,000-yard season, expect quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to target Johnson a ton Sunday against the Dolphins. I like Stevie as a No. 2 receiver.
The return of Eric Wood could mean good news for running back C.J. Spiller, but he’s still a must start even if the Bills’ center can’t play.
With Donald Jones out for the rest of the season, Scott Chandler’s production should go up slightly. He’s a low-end starter for Week 16. Stay away from Fitzpatrick and the Bills’ defense.
Miami’s Reggie Bush should benefit with fellow running back Daniel Thomas out for the season, but the former had only 20 carries for 10 yards the first time against Buffalo. He’ll do better than that Sunday, and should be viewed as a No. 2 running back.
Dolphins receivers Brian Hartline and Davone Bess have both appeared on the injury report this week. Neither of them get to the end zone enough (just one touchdown each) to be considered must starts even if they play, but both have some value in points-per-reception leagues (Hartline has 67 catches this season, Bess 61).
Miami’s defense gave up only three points last week against Jacksonville, and is a sleeper play Sunday.
Last note: Don’t forget there is a Saturday night game, between Atlanta and Detroit.