When evaluating the prospects of starting Tom Brady or Colin Kaepernick in fantasy football Week 15, one should arrive at a particularly important question:
Why would you ever start Kaepernick over Brady?
And for a follow up:
Why would you ever start Kaepernick over Brady in the confines of New England?
Surface-level logic would reveal that Brady heads the Patriots No. 1 ranked scoring offense (36.3), produces the second-most weekly fantasy points (21.65) and is 37-2 at home dating back to 2007.
He has passed for 3,833 yards, owns 32 total touchdowns (three rushing) and has produced just five turnovers (four INT) in 2012.
Kaepernick, on the other hand, has averaged 17.87 fantasy points over five games (four starts) since replacing Alex Smith. The 49ers have averaged 24 points per game with the second-year man at the helm. And his record over his entire starting career is 3-1 (1-1 on the road).
Kap’s individual 2012 production amounts to 1,073 yards passing, 351 yards rushing, eight TDs (five rushing) and three turnovers (one INT).
Instant analysis would indeed declare Brady as the obvious choice. You take the No. 2 fantasy producer and future Hall of Famer over the talented but unproven QB making his fifth career start on the biggest stage of his life.
Yet, not so fast my friend—there is more than meets the eye in this seemingly lopsided matchup.
From the quarterback’s standpoint, Brady must deal with the 49ers’ punishing defense that ranks No. 2 overall.
These defenders allow just 185 passing yards per game and have surrendered all of 13 TDs through the air on the season (both good for No. 2). They also have eight fumble recoveries, 10 INT and 32 sacks, including 19.5 by league-leader Aldon Smith.
Their staunch disapproval of opponents putting points on the scoreboard doesn’t help Brady either (league-low 14.2/g).
Most impactful to Brady on Sunday, however, is the 49ers’ suffocating effect on opposing quarterbacks in fantasy scoring. They boast the fifth-best mark with a paltry 12.96 points given up each week.
On paper, it seems Kaepernick may have an easier go at it against the Patriots defense.
The New England contingent grades out at No. 26 overall, including a dreadful 29th against the pass. It has surrendered 276 yards per game and 22 passing touchdowns. It also ranks 11th in scoring with 21.1 points/g allowed.
Furthermore, this defense has surrendered 10 touchdowns on the ground (compared to San Francisco's total of three) and ranks near the bottom of the league with 18.15 weekly fantasy points surrendered to opposing quarterbacks. Both of these statistics bode well for Kaepernick, as he generates points with both his arm and rushing abilities.
Unfortunately, the Patriots are an extremely opportunistic bunch that, on paper, might create some real havoc for Kaepernick. No team is more adept at creating takeaways than the constantly adapting defense run by Bill Belichick. The Patriots rank No. 2 in the NFL with 34 takeaways (15 INT, 19 FR). Similarly, their No. 2 ranking in fantasy defense (150 points) bolsters that quality even further.
They’ll devise complex schemes in front of Kaepernick, surely looking to bait him into an interception. The fleet footed quarterback has also been known to be a bit careless with the ball when keeping it on the ground. That propensity could feed right into the Patriots’ knack for stripping the ball.
On a similar, yet contrary note, the 49ers aren’t nearly as proficient in the defensive turnover department, as evidenced by their 16 fewer takeaways. They also have a legitimate deficiency in the secondary—most notably with cornerback Carlos Rogers’ inability to cover skilled route-running wideouts out of the slot (see: Wes Welker).
And, if the Patriots’ fifth-ranked offensive line (only 20 sacks allowed) manages to neutralize Aldon and Justin Smith—certainly no easy task—Brady will have a clean pocket with which to attack Rogers. The 49ers just don’t offer much of a multi-faceted pass rush. It’ll be up to their outstanding linebackers to defend Brady’s short-area passing attack (and perhaps a J. Smith paw knocking down passes at the line).
So, where does that leave us?
At the most basic level, just 3.78 points separate Brady and Kaepernick in terms of average weekly production. It would seem that Kap could overcome that deficit based on the 5.19 additional points per game allowed to QBs by the Patriots defense.
Yet, Brady has also racked up 28 points on the road against a solid Rams defense, as well as that same amount against an injury plagued, but still formidable Texans unit.
The intelligent and tough-minded corps of 49ers defenders is surely a different breed and may very well be up to the task. Brady, however, will at the very least produce amply for his fantasy owners, even if it comes during a Patriots loss.
Kaepernick will meet his average, but so will Brady. Go with the proven veteran on his home turf.
The 49ers will put a notch in the win column, while Brady will help do the same for your fantasy squad.
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