Injuries might have been the name of the game at the tight end position this season, but at quarterback, the prevailing 2013 storyline is points, points and more points ... often from the least expected sources.
Peyton Manning might be on a straight path to the single-season record for fantasy points among quarterbacks -- he's 37 away from Aaron Rodgers' 2-year-old mark of 385 -- but it's impossible to ignore that, in Week 15, he scored a mere 17 points, fewer than Ryan Fitzpatrick (30), Matt Cassel (28), Matt Flynn (25), Ryan Tannehill (24) and Kirk Cousins (21).
All five of those players were started in fewer than 10 percent of ESPN leagues.
A week earlier, in Week 14, three of the 10 quarterbacks to score 20 or more points were in the under-10-percent-started group: Jason Campbell (29), Tannehill (23) and Geno Smith (21). A fourth, Andy Dalton (30), was started in fewer than 20 percent of ESPN leagues.
The common thread: Seven of those quarterbacks' nine opponents rank in the upper half of the league in fantasy points allowed to the position, four of them ranking among the top six. It seems that exploiting the matchups is a valid strategy during this season's fantasy playoffs ... though to bring this discussion full circle back to Manning, the studs still have a place.
The point here is that replacement levels at the quarterback position continue to rise, so those top-shelf talents are becoming less automatic, lending credence to mix-and-match strategy. For instance, the No. 15 quarterback in fantasy points this season has 209, only 15 fewer than the No. 15 quarterback scored in 2012. Granted, only 19 quarterbacks appear to have a realistic chance at 200 fantasy points in 2013 -- last season, an NFL-record 21 reached that plateau -- but the point remains: Second-tier talents can win you a week when you pick their matchups correctly.
It's something keeper-league owners, or those already eliminated from postseason contention thinking about 2014 rankings, should keep in mind. Value over replacement dictates that, once again, waiting on quarterbacks will be a viable strategy next season.
But for those still in the hunt this year, let's take a look at the final two weeks' matchups, both for the quarterback elite and those in the matchups class.
The league's elite
Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints (at Carolina, versus Tampa Bay; 71.4 percent Consistency Rating): Normally, Brees would never be questioned by his fantasy owners, at any time of year. But with a Carolina Panthers matchup -- they are the No. 3 fantasy defense and league's No. 2 defense (going by total yards allowed) -- next up, not to mention this burgeoning home/road-split criticism of him, Brees is under the microscope this week. The Panthers have afforded opposing quarterbacks the second fewest fantasy points (10.6 per game), and using consistency standards, they've allowed only two "Starts" (top-10 weekly performance) and zero "Studs" (top-2) all season, with eight opposing starters "Stiffs" (performance outside the top 20).
As for the home/road split, there's no sense in hiding that Brees has averaged 25.5 fantasy points per game at home, compared to 18.7 on the road, since the beginning of 2011. He did, however, score 28 fantasy points against the Panthers in Week 14, by far the best performance by any quarterback opposing the Panthers in 2013. And, most importantly, consistency standards have him Start-worthy in 65.2 percent of his road games, still an extremely healthy number. He's a risky play -- for this week at least -- but couple this with his history of excellent performance against the toughest defenses and he'll be a starter in my rankings.
CONSISTENCY RATINGS BENCHMARKS
Using 2013 statistics, and fantasy points determined by ESPN's standard scoring, the charts contained in this column rate players based upon how consistently reliable they are. To familiarize you with some of the terminology:
Start: The number of times that the player's point total in a given week was worthy of having had him active in an ESPN standard league.
Stud: The number of times the player's point total ranked among the top at his position.
Stiff: The number of times the player's point total ranked among the worst at his position, making almost any waiver-wire option a smarter choice.
These are the benchmarks for what constitutes a "Start," "Stud" or "Stiff" performance, numbers identifying the player's rank at his position:
Sat: The number of times the player missed a game. Players are not charged "Stiff" points for sitting out, but it hurts their overall Consistency Rating.
%: The player's overall Consistency Rating, calculated as number of "Start" performances divided by scheduled team games.
Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos (at Houston, at Oakland; 71.4 percent Consistency Rating): He'll hit the road to face a somewhat challenging Houston Texans defense, and he's coming off his fourth-worst fantasy performance of 2013, but keep in mind that Manning will have a key element in his favor in both remaining weeks: the weather. He'll play under a retractable roof in Houston, and should enjoy temperatures near 60 degrees both weeks; there'll be no reason to cite his history of shaky performance in colder weather.
Manning's Week 17 matchup, assuming he plays the game, is one of the better ones for a quarterback besides. The Oakland Raiders have allowed the third most fantasy points to the position.
Attractive matchups plays
Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins (versus Dallas, at New York Giants; owned in 3.0 percent of ESPN leagues): He tallied an impressive 21 fantasy points in his first start of 2013 in Week 15; that matched his output in his only start in 2012 (21, in Week 15 of that year). Now he'll face the defense that has allowed the most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks, the Dallas Cowboys (21.4 per game). Keep in mind that the Cowboys have afforded eight Starts and three Stud efforts to the position this season; he makes a compelling case for top-10 status.
Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals (versus Minnesota, versus Baltimore; owned in 50.5 percent of ESPN leagues): No defense has allowed a greater number of quarterbacks to register a top-10 weekly fantasy point total than the Minnesota Vikings; they have allowed nine Starts and three Studs to the position this season en route to the second most fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks (21.2). Dalton, to this point in his career, has also played tightly to the schedule: He has been a Start 11 times and a Stud once in 20 career games against defenses that ranked in the upper half in terms of fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks, for a 55.0 percent Consistency Rating in those contests; he has only four Starts and one Stud in 26 games against the bottom half, for a 15.4 percent Consistency Rating.
Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens (versus New England, at Cincinnati; owned in 52.8 percent of ESPN leagues): These are key real-life games for Flacco, as his Ravens are in the running for a playoff spot, and he'll get a cozy Week 16 matchup against a New England Patriots defense that has struggled to defend opposing quarterbacks of late. In the past five weeks combined, the Patriots have afforded 21.0 fantasy points per game to the position, third worst in the league, and they've allowed back-to-back "Start" (top-10 performances) games to Jason Campbell (Week 14) and Ryan Tannehill (Week 15).
Consistency Ratings chart
Players are initially ranked in order of their Consistency Rating, calculated as the percentage of the player's scheduled games -- not games played, scheduled games -- in which his fantasy point total registered a "Start" score. All categories are sortable both ascending and descending; just click on the headers to sort.
Players must have at least a 25.0 percent Consistency Rating in either standard scoring or PPR leagues for inclusion in the chart. All defense/special teams are included, regardless of whether they met those minimums.
These statistics are for 2013 only. Statistics for games since 2010 can be found here.