With the fantasy football playoffs nearing an end ahead of Week 16, successful owners have it all on the line at this late stage of the 2013 NFL season.
Several serviceable starters create difficult decisions on a weekly basis, and a few in particular stand out in the upcoming slate of games. Whether it be recent production, a matchup issue, or a combination of those or other factors, there is reason to tread with caution.
Read on for detailed breakdowns and verdicts on what to do with regard to some of the trickier offensive stars in Week 16.
Alex Smith, QB, Kansas City Chiefs
Although no one will ever be blown away by Alex Smith's gifts as a passer, he is proving to be productive from a fantasy standpoint.
Look no further than the incredible effort he put forth in lighting up the Oakland Raiders in Week 15's 56-31 win over the AFC West rival Oakland Raiders, per ESPN Stats & Info:
A breakdown of Alex Smith's passing performance in the Chiefs win on Sunday pic.twitter.com/Ot4E0483P9— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 16, 2013
That's what makes Smith such an interesting proposition at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday against the AFC South champion Indianapolis Colts.
The game day forecast from Weather.com projects a high of 24 degrees with a chance of snow showers and winds of 17 miles per hour. There almost couldn't be worse conditions for Smith to operate in, even on his home field.
A heavy dose of Jamaal Charles should be expected, but that may also be a good thing for Smith's fantasy outlook—especially if last week was any indication.
Charles caught eight passes on eight targets for 195 yards and a whopping four touchdowns, allowing Smith to complete rather simple throws while his electric back did the rest.
Indianapolis will likely make every effort to shut down the screen game, though, and that could prove to be problematic for Smith.
It is true that Smith has thrown no fewer than two touchdowns in each of the past five contests, and he threw for five scores in Week 15. He also offers upside as a scrambler. However, this is the time for Smith owners to look elsewhere.
Start/Sit Verdict: Sit
Le'Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers
There is some serious value to be had for the Steelers' second-round rookie draft pick given the amount of touches he gets and how viable of a receiving threat he is.
Which tricky fantasy option will perform best in Week 16?
That isn't really his fault—it's more of a product of Pittsburgh's shoddy line than anything.
In any event, the Steelers take on a weak Green Bay Packers defense in Week 16. It is 22nd against the pass and 25th against the run, but there is enough talent in Green Bay's front seven between B.J. Raji, A.J. Hawk, Brad Jones and Clay Matthews to stop him.
Some fuel may have also been added to the fire when Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin implied that taking Bell over impressive Packers rookie back Eddie lacy was a no-brainer, per the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Alan Robinson:
Mike Tomlin says decision to choose Le'Veon Bell over Eddie Lacy was "an easy one." #Steelers loved offensive versatility.— Alan Robinson (@arobinson_Trib) December 17, 2013
Although he may be the bell ringer for the Steeler offense, relying on Bell this week is too dangerous, especially since the Pack will likely try to take him away in the passing game in a must-win situation.
Start/Sit Verdict: Sit
Keenan Allen, WR, San Diego Chargers
So how about some positive and—spoiler alert—a player owners can actually plug into their lineups in Keenan Allen?
That Raiders defense Smith dismantled will have to square off against Allen and his QB Philip Rivers. Head coach Mike McCoy was Denver's offensive coordinator, and his knowledge of Oakland's defense will carry over well.
Rivers threw for 411 yards and two touchdowns the last time these teams met in Week 5, while Allen managed the first 100-yard game of his rookie campaign with six catches for 115 yards and a TD.
What undid San Diego in that 27-17 loss was three Rivers interceptions, but the signal-caller has tossed only two picks in the past six games. His rapport with Allen has increased since that time, too.
Allen is in a bit of a dilemma because, after seeing double-digit targets in consecutive games and going over 100 yards in each, he's gotten eight targets in the past two games. However, he has caught five of them and scored four touchdowns in that span.
Allen's ball skills and nose for the pylon should reward fantasy owners' faith.
Start/Sit Verdict: Start