The Primer: Week 12 Edition (2020 Fantasy Football)
Arizona Cardinals at New England Patriots
Spread: Cardinals -1.5
Cardinals vs. Patriots Betting Matchup
Kyler Murray: You could probably tell that Murray’s shoulder was bothering him throughout the game, and while he still turned it into a decent passing performance, his rushing totals went down the drain, and that’s a problem. If we were to look at strictly his passing totals of all quarterbacks this year, he’d rank as the No. 14 fantasy quarterback in points per game, right behind Drew Brees. This is an issue. Now, to be fair, he does get 10 days before playing his next game, and it’s not like he’ll have no mobility, but it’s fair to downgrade his expected rushing output. I mentioned last week with Deshaun Watson that you were more scared about the Patriots reputation than you were about the actual matchup. He wound up throwing for 344 yards and two touchdowns, while rushing for another 36 yards and a touchdown. The Patriots have allowed a league-high 8.69 yards per attempt, while no other team in the league has allowed more than 8.41 yards per attempt. Crazy, right? The reason the numbers haven’t been massive against them is due to their opponents averaging a league-low 57.6 plays per game, while throwing the ball a league-low 51.2 percent of the time. That all adds up to just 28.2 pass attempts per game against them. The Cardinals have thrown the ball just 54.7 percent of the time (rank ninth in run play percentage) this year, which may sound crazy but you have to think about the fact that Murray has averaged 9.2 carries per game himself. He’s still averaged 35.3 pass attempts per game because the Cardinals have run 67.5 plays per game, which ranks as the sixth-most in the NFL. If we’re dialing back a few rushing attempts for Murray and expecting him to run fewer plays due to the slow-paced nature of the Patriots offense, that’s problematic for his ceiling. This is from a DFS perspective, as you’re never going to sit Murray in a season-long league. The Patriots have allowed all but four quarterbacks to finish with at least 19.4 fantasy points against them, and those quarterbacks were Josh Allen (threw just 18 passes), Jimmy Garoppolo, Drew Lock, and Ryan Fitzpatrick. The biggest question mark here is Murray’s health, not the matchup.
Cam Newton: He’s third in the NFL with 12 carries inside the five-yard-line, which is truly ridiculous, as no other quarterback has more than seven such carries. He’s scored a ridiculous nine rushing touchdowns this year, but despite that, he’s averaged just the 14th-most fantasy points per game among quarterbacks. The good news is that he’s delivered a relatively high floor in most games, scoring 16.8 fantasy points in 7-of-9 games played. The Cardinals defense has allowed at least 28 points to each of their last four opponents, as the injuries have started to pile up. First, it was their top pass-rusher Chandler Jones. Next, it was their top interior lineman Corey Peters. Week 10 was the first time they played without Peters, and in that game, we watched the Seahawks running backs combine for 123 yards and a touchdown on just 21 carries, and they also allowed Russell Wilson to rush for another 42 yards. Allowing rushing production to quarterbacks is nothing new to the Cardinals defense, as they’ve allowed 269 yards on the ground to them, which is the third-most in the league. The 5.98 yards per carry they’ve averaged ranks as the second-highest mark in the NFL. This is all highly important to Newton, who’s totaled nine or more carries in 7-of-9 games, and it’s where the majority of his fantasy production comes from. The Cardinals have been a decent pass defense, allowing less than 7.0 yards per attempt on the season, which is something only 12 NFL teams can say. But again, we aren’t playing Newton for his passing totals. His offense has a 23.5-point team-implied total against a team who’s got a void in the middle of their run defense, which gives him high-end QB2 value.
Kenyan Drake and Chase Edmonds: It was practically a 50/50 timeshare between these two last week, as Edmonds played 36 snaps to Drake’s 33 snaps. Drake did touch the ball 15 times to Edmonds’ six touches, including the goal-line carries, which are clearly worth a lot, especially with Kyler Murray dinged up. Drake also saw a season-high five targets against the Seahawks, which would be massive for his value moving forward. It’s not like the Seahawks were a matchup to exploit through the air, but part of me wonders if it was due to Murray’s shoulder issue. Time will tell, but Drake clearly has a valuable role. The Patriots opponents have run the ball a league-high 48.8 percent of the time, which has led to 22.4 carries per game against them by running backs. “Wait, why isn’t it more than that for a team who faces such a high percentage of run plays?” It’s due to the fact that teams have averaged just 57.6 plays per game against them. Removing the one game where Drake didn’t play, the split in carries has been Drake 146 – Edmonds 39. We should be expecting 16-plus carries out of Drake this week. Efficiency hasn’t been that much of an issue against the Patriots who’ve allowed 4.42 yards per carry and 6.47 yards per target to running backs; both of which are above the league average. Every running back who’s received at least 14 carries against the Patriots (five running backs have) has finished with at least 83 total yards. Drake should be worth considering as a low-end RB2 for this week. Edmonds has averaged just 8.0 touches per game when Drake is active, which is hard to trust as anything more than an RB4.
Damien Harris and James White: Now that Rex Burkhead is out for the year, we have narrowed down the running backs available to syphon touches to Harris and White. While there’s surely someone else to come in and take a few touches, these are the mainstays. Here are the numbers that have been generated from the Patriots running backs this year:
As you can see, there are plenty of opportunities to go around, especially when it comes to White, who has newfound targets. Why should we assume he inherits most of the opportunity that Burkhead had? Well, because Harris and Sony Michel have totaled seven targets… combined. That’s not one week. That’s all season, so they’re essentially non-factors, and it’s the reason White saw a season-high nine targets last week. He’s never going to be someone who gets more than a handful of carries, but in PPR formats, he’s certainly valuable. The Cardinals have allowed 4.39 yards per carry, which is essentially the league average, though it’s important to note that they lost interior lineman Corey Peters prior to their Week 10 game. He was their best interior lineman, and it allowed the Seahawks to rush for 123 yards and a touchdown on just 21 carries. Harris is extremely similar to the downhill runner that Carlos Hyde is, so that performance bodes well for Harris. It’s still worrisome that no running back has totaled more than 84 yards on the ground against the Cardinals, but the loss of Peters is huge. Harris should be considered a high-end RB3 who is a bit gamescript dependent with his lack of pass-game usage. Running backs haven’t seen many targets against the Cardinals (6.3 per game), but when they do get targeted, they’re averaging a solid 5.89 yards per target and 1.57 PPR points per game, which are both above the league average. There’s been just one running back who’s totaled more than 31 receiving yards due to the lack of targets, but White should get at least 10 opportunities in this game, making him a worthwhile RB3/flex option, especially in PPR formats. Think of him like a J.D. McKissic-like option.
DeAndre Hopkins: It has been a rollercoaster with Hopkins this year. Don’t believe me? Here are his PPR points by week: 29, 20, 23, 11, 25, 9, 24, 6, 25, 10. Since Week 3, we’ve had a lot of ups and downs, and I don’t know if we should expect that to end with Murray’s shoulder injury. Hopkins has still seen at least seven targets in 9-of-10 games, so it’s not like you’re too worried, but more from a DFS cash game perspective. The Patriots matchup isn’t one to worry about, though Hopkins is surely going to get the Stephon Gilmore treatment. He hasn’t been the defensive player of the year that he was last year, allowing 15-of-24 passing for 209 yards and two touchdowns in his coverage. That amounts to a 100.9 QB Rating, which is easily the worst mark of his career (previous high was a 91.2 QB Rating). Hopkins has played against the Patriots six times in his career, and though he’s never totaled more than 78 yards or scored against them, this isn’t the same team on the other side of the ball. As a whole, the Patriots have allowed a massive 2.12 PPR points per target to wide receivers, which ranks second to only the Cowboys. You’re starting him as a WR1 this week, and the matchup has not been something to worry about. He’s not someone I’d be playing in cash games, though.
Christian Kirk: It seems we’ve come back down to earth with Kirk, as he’s finished with just eight catches for 77 yards in the last two weeks combined. There was a three-game stretch in there that made it mighty difficult to bench him, but he’s no longer someone you must start, especially when you consider Murray’s shoulder injury that could negatively impact his passing. The matchup against the Patriots is not a bad one, as evidenced by the league-leading 9.65 yards per target to wide receivers they’ve allowed. Kirk also leads the Cardinals starting wide receivers in average depth of target, so it helps to know the Patriots have allowed 14.52 yards per reception, which is second to only the Falcons. While Hopkins is sure to see Stephon Gilmore, that leaves Kirk with Jason McCourty. Of the 88 cornerbacks who’ve played at least 175 snaps in coverage, McCourty has allowed the second-most PPR points per target (2.48) in his coverage. The risk with Kirk comes back to Kyler Murray and his shoulder injury, as he needs to be able to get the ball downfield. Despite the Patriots being as bad as they are from an efficiency standpoint, they’ve allowed just 16 wide receivers to finish as top-48 options (12 of whom were top-36). That’s not great when we view Hopkins as the No. 1 receiver for them. Kirk is in the WR4 conversation in a plus-matchup but there is concern, meaning he’s not a must-start.
Larry Fitzgerald: He’s now finished with at least 54 yards in three of the last four games, and actually led the team with 10 targets in Week 11. Why do you think that was? It appeared that Murray wasn’t quite comfortable throwing the ball down the field with his injury, so it made sense that Fitzgerald would receive more targets with his short 5.5-yard average depth of target, which ranks third-lowest among wide receivers. The Patriots have allowed the second-most fantasy points per target to wide receivers, which is the second-most in the league. The touchdown every 12.1 targets certainly helps. Jonathan Jones is the one the Patriots have covering the slot, and he’s allowed 32-of-48 passing for 353 yards and two touchdowns in his coverage. You’re not playing Fitzgerald for a ceiling, that’s for sure, but if you’re looking for four-plus catches and 40-plus yards, he should be in that range.
Jakobi Meyers: What changed for Meyers in Week 11? Just three targets? During the previous two weeks, Meyers played 98 snaps on the perimeter and 37 snaps in the slot. In Week 11, he played 32 snaps on the perimeter and 33 snaps in the slot, so he much more of the slot receiver with N’Keal Harry back in a full-time role in the offense. It shouldn’t have been a negative against the Texans, but it certainly led to less targets in a game Newton threw for 300-plus yards. Of the production the Cardinals have allowed to skill-position players, 56.2 percent of it has gone to wide receivers, which ranks as the third-highest mark in the league, behind only the Seahawks and Steelers. There have been just 14 wide receivers who’ve finished as top-40 options against the Cardinals, though they’ve been struggling a bit as of late, as they’ve allowed multiple wide receivers to finish with 12-plus PPR points in each of their last three games. It’s also worth noting that four of the top-six performances they’ve allowed to wide receviers have gone to slot-heavy options. Considering the loss of Burkhead, there should be a tad more targets available for everyone, including Meyers. Despite a dud last week, he remains in the WR4 conversation this week.
Dan Arnold: He’s still hasn’t seen more than four targets in a game, and though he scored his first touchdown of the season in Week 11, you don’t want to trust a tight end who averages 2.2 targets per game. It also doesn’t help that the Patriots are ranked as the third-toughest defense when it comes to defending tight ends, according to Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric.
Ryan Izzo: This might be the battle of the least usable tight ends in this game, as Izzo has averaged just 1.9 targets and 19.3 yards per game, and has still yet to score. Knowing he hasn’t seen more than three targets in any game, you don’t even need to be concerned with the matchup.
Carolina Panthers at Minnesota Vikings
Spread: Vikings -3.5
Panthers vs. Vikings Betting Matchup
Teddy Bridgewater: As of now, it seems like Bridgewater will be back under center for the Panthers this week, though after watching P.J. Walker last week, they could keep him on a short leash. If Bridgewater is healthy, he should have no issue with his Week 12 matchup against the Vikings. There are just four teams who’ve allowed a touchdown pass on more than 6.0 percent of attempts, and the Vikings are on that list. There have been five quarterbacks who’ve thrown for three or more touchdowns against them, and that’s despite just three quarterbacks throwing the ball more than 37 times against them. Meanwhile, Bridgewater has thrown multiple touchdowns in five of his last seven games. The Vikings pass rush has been a major issue for them, as they’re averaging just a 27.1 percent pressure-rate on the season, which ranks 27th in the NFL. While operating in a clean pocket, Bridgewater has a 116.7 QB Rating, which ranks eighth among quarterbacks. Then you look at the position they struggle the most with (wide receivers), and you combine that with Bridgewater’s highly-targeted players, you realize that this matchup is very good for him. The downside is not knowing if he’s truly 100 percent. If he gets in a full practice by the end of the week, Bridgewater can be considered as a decent QB2 with top-12 upside, though there is certainly risk.
Kirk Cousins: He can perform when they ask him to, though the problem is getting that to happen, as Cousins is averaging just 27.5 pass attempts per game. Did you know he leads the league while averaging 8.9 yards per attempt? Or how about that his 7.3 percent touchdown-rate ranks third behind only Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers? Yeah, he’s been wonderful, but the volume hasn’t. Will it be there against the Panthers? Probably not in a game that has just a 48.5-point total where they’re four-point favorites. That just screams run-heavy, doesn’t it? The Vikings have thrown the ball just 49.8 percent of the time, which is the fourth-lowest mark in the league, while the Panthers have faced a pass on 60.2 percent of plays, which ranks as the 11th-most, so something has to give. Prior to shutting down the Lions offense, the Panthers had allowed seven passing touchdowns in the prior two games to Patrick Mahomes and Tom Brady. The difference is that those guys threw the ball 39-plus times while Cousins has topped 36 pass attempts just once all season. In order to expect Cousins to throw the ball enough to be considered as a streamer, you need the Vikings to fall behind, which is something oddsmakers don’t see to be the case. On top of that, we don’t even know if he’ll have Adam Thielen available, as there were conflicting COVID tests. It’s best to just find another streamer for this week, as there are too many ifs to start him confidently.
Mike Davis: With Christian McCaffrey ruled out for another week, it’ll be Davis’ backfield. We’ve had to dial back expectations for him after that hot start, as he’s failed to crack 66 yards on the ground or 34 yards through the air since Week 5. He’s scored just twice since that time, so maybe the workload caught up with him? There have been three running backs who’ve topped 75 yards on the ground against the Vikings, but all of them totaled 20-plus carries, which is a mark that Davis hasn’t gotten to this season. Unfortunately, the Vikings have also limited production through the air to running backs as well, as there’s been no running back who’s topped 36 yards through the air against them. When you start factoring those things in with Davis’ lack of ceiling over the last six weeks, it’s a bit problematic. On top of that, the Vikings have allowed just seven total touchdowns to running backs, which ranks as the fifth-fewest in the league. In terms of efficiency, the Vikings have allowed the 11th-fewest fantasy points per weighted opportunity to running backs, but the good news is that they’ve had to face 28.7 running back touches per game. That’s where Davis gets his value, as he’s locked into 15-plus touches in this game, and maybe 20 of them. Because of that, he belongs in the mid-to-high-end RB2 territory.
Dalvin Cook: We’re starting to enter 2019 Derrick Henry league-winning numbers with Cook, who’s now totaled at least 27 carries in four of the last six games. He’s rewarded fantasy managers with 1,184 total yards and 11 touchdowns over his last seven games, which is flat-out ridiculous. We’ve actually seen the Vikings start to involve Cook more in the passing game the last few weeks, which is massive for this matchup. The Panthers have allowed running backs a massive 6.8 receptions and 46.6 yards per game against them. When you add in the two receiving touchdowns, you’ll find the team that’s allowed the fourth-most fantasy points through the air to running backs. They’ve also been pretty horrendous against the run as well, allowing 4.76 yards per carry and 10 rushing touchdowns. There’s legitimately nothing that stands out as a negative in this matchup, including the opportunity, as the Panthers have faced far more weighted opportunity to running backs than any other team in the league. There have already been six running backs who’ve posted top-five numbers against the Panthers, and Cook should make it seven.
Robby Anderson: Did you know Anderson ranks ninth among wide receivers in yards, right behind Keenan Allen? The one touchdown he’s scored has left fantasy managers feeling empty, especially knowing it came all the way back in Week 1. Can he get back into the end zone against the Vikings? They’ve allowed 17 wide receiver touchdowns this season, while there’s just one other team who’s allowed more than 14 of them. They’ve allowed a touchdown every 12.1 targets to wide receivers, which is the second-most often. This is great news for the receiver who’s averaged 8.6 targets per game. He’s likely going to see a lot of rookie Cameron Dantzler in coverage, who’s been burned in coverage, allowing 29-of-40 passing for 331 yards and four touchdowns in his coverage. He just returned from a serious injury last week and played just 20 snaps, so he’s still getting back into form. Anderson should be in lineups as a mid-to-low-end WR2 who should have a good shot to score.
D.J. Moore: Who would’ve thought that all we needed to unlock Moore’s production was a Teddy Bridgewater injury? P.J. Walker was willing to chuck it Moore’s way 10 times, amounting to seven catches for 127 yards. Moore is currently the No. 4 in yardage among wide receivers. Seriously. It helps that he’s now totaled 93-plus yards in five of his last seven games, though many are still questioning starting him. The Vikings have allowed a massive 2.03 PPR points per target to wide receivers, which ranks as the fourth-highest mark in the league. Even better is that he’ll see backup Kris Boyd in coverage, last year’s seventh-round pick who’s allowed 20-of-26 passing for 267 yards and a touchdown in his coverage this year. There have been 15 wide receivers who’ve posted top-36 numbers against the Vikings, so the floor should be there for Moore as well. Go ahead and plug him in as a low-end WR2 who might have more volatility than Anderson, but his ceiling might be worth it.
Curtis Samuel: I mentioned last week that Samuel is somewhat of an extension of the run game, and knowing the Lions were struggling with that, he made sense as a bounce-back play. He was tied for the team lead with 10 targets, turning them into a team-high eight receptions for 70 yards and a touchdown. How do the Vikings stack up? Well, they’ve been very good against the run, but their defense in the slot has been lackluster, to put it nicely. They have rookie Jeff Gladney covering the slot, and of the 42 cornerbacks who’ve played 75-plus snaps in slot coverage, his 123.0 QB Rating ranks as the sixth-highest in the league. He’s allowed five touchdowns in the slot, which is two more than any other cornerback. We know the running backs won’t rack up 28.7 touches, which is what the Vikings have faced, which leaves even more targets and/or carries for Samuel, who should be considered a low-end WR3/high-end WR4.
Adam Thielen: He’s now seen a league-high 46.9 percent of his team’s red zone targets. No other player in the league has seen more than 35.4 percent. Now you know why he ranks 19th in yards (646) among wide receivers, but first in touchdowns (11). The issue is that we don’t know if he’ll play this week after getting mixed reports from a COVID test. It’s something we will be paying attention to as the week goes on. We don’t know if Donte Jackson will play this week, either, but it’s something to monitor as his replacement Troy Pride has only been targeted 28 times, but when targeted, he’s allowed a robust 2.37 PPR points per target, which ranks as the 12th-most among 128 cornerbacks who’ve played 100-plus snaps in coverage. Oddly enough, the Panthers have allowed the eighth-fewest fantasy points to wide receivers, so it’s not a great spot for a team that throws the ball just 27.5 times per game, but when they do throw, it often goes Thielen’s way. If he’s active, go ahead and play him as a high-end WR2. *Update* It’s not looking like Thielen will play, but double-check early Sunday morning.
Justin Jefferson: He’s averaged 2.61 PPR points per target, which ranks as the most in the NFL among wide receivers who’ve seen at least 40 targets. His talent is not in question. His targets… that’s a different story, as he once again saw just five targets last week. He’s seen five or less targets in 7-of-10 games this year, which is quite ridiculous, but that’s what happens when you’re the No. 2 target on a team that throws the ball less than 28 times per game. On top of that, wide receivers have accounted for just 45.6 percent of the fantasy production by skill-position players against the Panthers, which ranks as the third-lowest number in the league. The 1.71 PPR points per target they’ve allowed to wide receivers ranks as the ninth-lowest number in the league. On the year, they’ve allowed just seven wide receivers to finish inside the top-24 and six of them needed double-digit targets to get there, which doesn’t bode well for both him and Thielen to both accomplish that feat. Lowering the bar even more, there have been just nine wide receivers who’ve finished top-36 against them. If Thielen plays, Jefferson should be considered a low-end WR2/high-end WR3. If Thielen sits, Jefferson would be a must-play low-end WR1 who should see eight-plus targets.
Ian Thomas: The Panthers have played one more game than 30 other teams, yet Thomas has seen just 18 targets all season. He’s averaging just 1.1 receptions and 8.5 yards per game. You’re not considering him.
Irv Smith: In his return to the lineup, Smith played fewer snaps than Kyle Rudolph, but he ran six more routes, which is what we care about. Unfortunately, the two of them combined for just five targets in a game where Cousins threw the ball more than he normally does. There’s still yet to be a game this year where a Vikings tight end has seen more than five targets, and in fact, there’s been just three games where they’ve hit that five-target mark. Because of that, we have just three double-digit PPR performances out of them, which is what you essentially need to get into the top-12 discussion. To be fair, the Panthers have allowed nine different tight ends to score 10-plus PPR points against them, but when you look at the competition, it gets a bit more grim. Based on the players they’ve gone up against, the totals they allow look great. Tight ends have averaged 5.1 percent fewer fantasy points against the Panthers than what they do in non-Panthers games, which makes this the 11th-toughest schedule adjusted matchup for tight ends. Basically, their schedule has been a gauntlet of top-tier tight ends. You don’t need to stream Smith in this matchup, though he’d get a solid bump in the rankings if Thielen sat this game out. *Update* Smith is now considered doubtful, while Thielen is likely out, which makes Kyle Rudolph a decent last-minute streaming option this week.
Cleveland Browns at Jacksonville Jaguars
Spread: Browns -6
Browns vs. Jaguars Betting Matchup
Baker Mayfield: I don’t care which quarterback we were talking about, but if someone is averaging just 26.5 pass attempts per game, he’s not going to be a fantasy asset unless he offers Lamar Jackson-like mobility. It’s fair to say Mayfield doesn’t. Not just that, but he hasn’t been an efficient passer, completing just 60.8 percent of his passes for 7.0 yards per attempt. He has thrown a touchdown on 5.7 percent of his passes, which is above the league average, but again, the lack of volume is limiting him to just 1.5 touchdowns per game. This week’s matchup is enticing, though. Passing, rushing, it doesn’t matter; the Jaguars have allowed 1.59 PPR points per offensive play to their opponents, which is the second-most in the league, behind only the Falcons. Them and the Jets are the only two teams who are below average against every position. It sure helps that they’ve allowed a touchdown pass on 6.03 percent of pass attempts, which ranks as the fourth-highest mark in the league. It also helps to know quarterbacks have completed 70.1 percent of their passes against them. They just haven’t generated pressure, as evidenced by their league-low 2.52 percent sack-rate. It won’t help that they’ll be without Josh Allen, their top pass-rusher for this game. We know Mayfield isn’t a mobile quarterback, so when you break it down to passes only (no rushing), the Jaguars have allowed a massive 0.548 fantasy points per pass attempt to quarterbacks, which is the third-most in football. Even if Mayfield threw the ball just 30 times, it would amount to 16.4 fantasy points on average, which is a decent mark for streamers. But can we count on 30 pass attempts? That’s a number he hasn’t hit since way back in Week 5. Mayfield hasn’t thrown for more than 247 yards in 9-of-10 games this year, which means he’s extremely touchdown-dependent. The Browns should be running the ball in the red zone, which makes Mayfield a low-end QB2 despite the plus matchup.
Gardner Minshew or Mike Glennon: (Yes, I’m leaving this intro on purpose) As of now, I’m assuming Minshew will be back for this game. He took part in some of the pre-game warmups last week and has received medical clearance. Head coach Doug Marrone has lost one of his excuses for struggling to run a competent football team, so he’ll likely go back to the guy who got the Jaguars their lone victory this season. Or… not. He’s going to continue to run out poor quarterbacks rather than the best one he has on the roster. Glennon will be asked to start behind an offensive line that’s less than 100 percent, as guard Andrew Norwell is going to miss some time. I think he’ll take the trade-off, as the Browns have already announced they’ll be without top pass-rusher Myles Garrett for this game, as he remains on the COVID list. The Browns have been a slightly above average matchup for quarterbacks this year, scoring 19.06 fantasy points per game against them, and that’s including their last three games, which were played in crazy-high winds and/or rain. The last game they played in regular weather, Joe Burrow destroyed them for 406 yards and three touchdowns through the air, and another on the ground. Keep in mind that game was with Garrett on the field. He was one of four quarterbacks who totaled 25-plus fantasy points against the Browns in their first seven games. The issue is going to come back to plays run for the Jaguars, as the Browns are extremely likely to control the clock with their ground game against a Jaguars porous defense. The Browns opponents have averaged 66.4 plays per game, but the Jaguars defense is so bad that expectations need to be tempered. There’s no way you’re going to consider streaming Glennon.
Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt: Chubb has now played in six games this year. He’s totaled 100-plus rushing yards in four of them. He’s averaging a league-high 6.0 yards per carry, and it’s not just the offense. According to NFL’s NextGenStats, Chubb should be averaging just 4.4 yards per carry based on the number of defenders he’s seen in the box and the yards before contact he’s been given. The 1.61-yard difference is the most in the NFL, as no other running back has a gap larger than 1.32 yards. Now he gets to go against the Jaguars? It seems unfair. The Jaguars have allowed the third-most fantasy points per game overall to their opponents, and we know the Browns run-game makes up for most of the production. Where do all the fantasy points they’ve allowed come from? Well, they’ve allowed a massive 29.8 points per game to their opponents and the Browns team-implied total sits at 27.5 points, so we’re likely to see multiple touchdowns out of the Browns backfield this week. The issue is this… Chubb has seen 34.2 percent of the Browns’ carries this year, but has seen just 22.6 percent of their carries inside the red zone, so it’s clear they trust Kareem Hunt quite a bit in that area of the field. Chubb has also seen just five targets on the season, which essentially means he’s touchdown or bust. When I say bust, it’s a relative term, as he’s viewed as an RB1 in fantasy leagues. Knowing both Joe Mixon and D’Andre Swift were able to rack up 115-plus rushing yards and two touchdowns apiece against them, Chubb is going to be okay. Start him as a low-end RB1 who should score at least once. As for Hunt, he’s still received 37 opportunities in the last two games with Chubb back, and though they were certainly aided by the weather, this game should be aided by the lack of competition. Running backs have faced an average of 29.7 running back touches per game, while the Browns running backs have averaged 30.9 running back touches per game. That’s more than enough for both of these running backs to be viable, so feel free to start Hunt as a mid-tier RB2 this week.
James Robinson: We’re now at 10 straight games where Robinson has seen at least 16 touches, which is remarkable given the state of the Jaguars as a team. He hasn’t finished worse than RB31 all season, and he has finished as a top-12 running back in 5-of-10 games. In fact, he’s played well enough to give the new coach (when they eventually get one this offseason) something to think about, as the Jaguars have tons of early-round draft picks next year. Last week was probably the toughest matchup he’ll have all year against the Steelers, though this week is no walk in the park, either. Of the fantasy production to skill-position players against the Browns, we’ve watched running backs account for just 27.1 percent of it, which is the third-lowest mark in the league. There have been six running backs who’ve totaled 15-plus touches against the Browns (what Robinson is essentially guaranteed), and each of them finished with at least 11.1 PPR points but none of them finished with more than 20.6 PPR points. In terms of efficiency, they rank 16th in PPR points per weighted opportunity, which is the league average. They’ve only faced 25.0 running back touches per game, which is not extremely detrimental to Robinson’s outlook, as he’s a one-man band. With his workload, plug him in as a high-end RB2 this week, though the move to Glennon certainly doesn’t help matters.
Jarvis Landry: Did you know Mayfield has completed just 12 passes or less in four of his last five games? That’s extremely problematic for a receiver like Landry who relies on receptions to rack up the points. If you’re searching for that elusive first receiving touchdown from Landry this week, you probably need to know the Jaguars have faced just 10 red zone targets to wide receivers this season, which is easily the lowest in the NFL; no other team has seen fewer than 13 of them. However… they have allowed 11 wide receiver touchdowns this year, so when targeted in that area of the field, they typically lead to production. The Jaguars got D.J. Hayden back into the lineup last week, but he was hurt again and will miss this week. They had Tre Herndon fill in for him before, but with the injuries to both C.J. Henderson and Chris Claybrooks, he may be forced to play on the perimeter (as he did last week), so you have no clue how they’ll field their cornerbacks this week. But this all comes back to Landry. When you peruse through the game logs, he looks like a Larry Fitzgerald-type player, as he’s failed to top 61 yards in 9-of-10 games and has zero touchdowns on the season. There’s just not enough of a floor to play him, and the ceiling is extremely minimal on a team that throws the ball just 26.5 times per game. I wouldn’t be surprised if he caught his first touchdown in this game, but still, he’s nothing more than a low-ceiling WR4.
Rashard Higgins: So, what do we make of Higgins? It’s really difficult to say right now, as he totaled 110 yards in the game Odell Beckham had to leave, leading many to the waiver wire to snag him, only to then have three straight games in high-wind/rainy conditions. He has caught six passes for 113 yards over the last two weeks, which is quite the accomplishment considering Mayfield hasn’t thrown the ball much at all. The Jaguars cornerback depth chart is a mess, as C.J. Henderson is out, D.J. Hayden is out, Chris Claybrooks is likely out, and Sidney Jones missed last week with an Achilles injury. It’s possible they’re without four of their top five cornerbacks for this game. Even with them, the Jaguars have allowed a robust 9.17 yards per target to wide receivers. We shouldn’t see a whole lot of pass attempts out of Mayfield this week, but when we do, they should be quality. Higgins is on the WR4/5 radar.
D.J. Chark: I recall a few weeks back when Chark threw his hands up every time Minshew missed him in a route, and then he’d complain about it after the game. I wonder how he feels after a few weeks with Luton under center. It’s not likely to get much better with Glennon. I know that I’d personally like to get Minshew back for Chark’s efficiency. The Browns have allowed the 10th-most fantasy points to wide receivers, but they’ve surprisingly allowed the third-fewest yards per reception (7.55) to them. The 22.5 targets per game they see helps, as does the 41 red zone targets they’ve seen, which is easily the most in the NFL, as no other team has seen more than 34 of them. They don’t play any shadow coverage, so Chark will see a mix of both Denzel Ward and Terrance Mitchell, who’ve been decent in coverage, though not great. To their credit, there have only been five wide receivers all season who’ve reached 80-plus yards against them, but touchdowns have been their biggest issue, allowing one every 18.8 targets to wide receivers. Chark is hanging out in the low-end WR3 conversation, as we know he offers one-play upside and he has seen seven-plus targets in five of his last seven games, but quarterback play has been (and will continue to be) an issue.
Keelan Cole: Who else misses the days when we could count on Cole for at least 8.3 PPR points every week? With Minshew under center (and not playing with broken bones in his hand), Cole finished with at least 8.3 PPR points in six straight games to start the season, but since that time, he’s been wildly unpredictable. The Browns have Kevin Johnson covering the slot, allowing 20-of-25 passes to be completed, though they’ve only gone for 178 yards and no touchdowns. You might look at the games the Browns let slot-heavy receivers Willie Snead go for 4/64/1, Tyler Boyd 7/72/1, and CeeDee Lamb 5/79/2, but you know what all those games had in common? Johnson wasn’t active. The lone big game by a slot receiver with him in the lineup was Boyd (the second time) when the Browns and Bengals got into that crazy shootout. It’s not like Cole is a sure thing with Glennon under center, so I’d prefer to wait a week to ensure he gets targeted. Cole is in the WR5/6 discussion. *Update* With Chark and Chris Conley ruled out, Cole gets a bump in the rankings into WR4/5 territory, but we really don’t have much hope for Glennon to play Cole with confidence.
Austin Hooper: It’s going to be difficult for any pass-catcher to be successful when Mayfield is throwing the ball as little as he is, though Hooper did see 22.7 percent of the targets last week. Still, he’s topped 34 yards just twice all season and he’s scored one touchdown on 40 targets. That’s not upside you can’t live without, though the matchup this week could present a floor that might entice you. The Jaguars have allowed a league-high eight touchdowns to tight ends. It’s not due to a bunch of volume, either. They’ve allowed a touchdown every 7.9 targets to tight ends, which is more often than any other team in the league. While just one tight end has topped 57 yards against them, six tight ends have totaled at least 33 yards with limited volume. In fact, there’s been just two tight ends who’ve seen more than five targets against them all year, which is likely due to the plus matchups everywhere else on the field. Now that they’re not playing in the wind or rain, we could see them throw the ball a bit more and it’s not like they have a bevy of wide receivers to target. Because of that, Hooper is a high-end TE2 this week.
Tyler Eifert: It’s hard to complain about the opportunity Eifert has received this year, as he’s now seen at least five targets in five of the last eight games. Unfortunately, he’s not done much with them, as he’s failed to top 48 yards all season and hasn’t scored a touchdown since way back in Week 2. For those who are desperate, he may be worth a flier in 2TE leagues this week. Tight ends have averaged 5.8 receptions and 58.3 yards per game against the Browns, which are both near the league high. They’ve also allowed seven touchdowns, which ranks as the fourth-most in the league, so there aren’t many concerns in this matchup outside of Eifert himself. He’s nothing more than a desperation TE2 but he kind of makes sense as long as James O’Shaughnessy sits out again.
Tennessee Titans at Indianapolis Colts
Spread: Colts -3
Titans vs. Colts Betting Matchup
Ryan Tannehill: Week 11 reminded us of who Tannehill has been since taking over as the starter for the Titans. Even in a brutal matchup, he goes out and produces fantasy numbers. He finished with 21.86 fantasy points against the Ravens, and that’s despite his receivers dropping a few balls early on in that contest. To be fair, the Ravens did completely sell out to try and stop the run, but kudos to Tannehill for taking advantage of that. Despite getting punched in the mouth by Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense last week, the Colts have still allowed just the third-fewest fantasy points per game this year. It surely doesn’t help that their opponents have run just 59.8 plays per game. If you look at fantasy points per actual pass attempt (no rushing), the Colts have allowed the second-fewest points per attempt to quarterbacks, behind only the Rams. Knowing the Titans pass the ball just 51.3 percent of the time, that’s a real issue. So, when you see Tannehill’s low numbers from their first meeting (27 attempts, 147 yards, one touchdown), you shouldn’t be all that shocked. They’re not unbeatable, though. There have now been three quarterbacks who’ve thrown for 300-plus yards against them, and three quarterbacks who’ve thrown for three touchdowns. This game will be in a dome, which certainly helps this time of the year. He’s certainly not a must-play in this game, but he’s also not someone you must avoid as a mid-tier QB2.
Philip Rivers: I highlighted it last week, but Rivers has been playing much better of late. In case you missed it, here’s the chart updated after his Week 11 performance:
The only game he’s struggled in since Week 5 was the game against the Ravens, who happen to be one of the best defenses in the league. The Titans are not one of those teams, and Rivers proved that when he completed 74.4 percent of passes for 308 yards and a touchdown against them just a few weeks ago. The Titans are one of just three teams who’ve generated a sack on less than 3.57 percent of dropbacks. In fact, they’ve generated one on just 2.95 percent of dropbacks, so if a quarterback where to drop back 40 times, he’s only sacked one time. Without Jadeveon Clowney, they’ve only been worse. There have been just two quarterbacks all year who haven’t finished at least top-16 against the Titans, and oddly enough, one of them was Ben Roethlisberger. Just two quarterbacks (Drew Lock, Lamar Jackson) have failed to throw for at least 249 yards, which is where we find the floor for Rivers, as he obviously has no mobility. The Titans have also allowed multiple passing touchdowns in 7-of-10 games, though Rivers wasn’t one of them as Nyheim Hines stole the show. If their last meeting taught us anything, it’s that Rivers should deliver a solid floor as a QB2, though we’re in big trouble if he has an off day throwing the ball. If you’re okay with some risk, he’s fine as a top-18 play.
Derrick Henry: He leads the league with 49 carries inside the red zone and 26 carries inside the 10-yard line. I continually tell people to beware of the Colts defense, and after holding the Packers running backs in check, they’ve allowed just 3.43 yards per carry on the season, which is tied with the Eagles for the second-lowest number in the league. They’re one of just five teams who’ve allowed fewer than 100 fantasy points on the ground to running backs this year. They’re extremely good against the run. The worst part about Henry’s lack of passing-down usage is matchups like this, as the Colts have allowed the second-most points per target (1.82) to running backs. But are you ready for the good news? In Matt Eberflus’ 42 games as the defensive coordinator for the Colts, there’s been one running back who’s been able to total 100-plus yards on the ground. It’s Derrick Henry, and he’s done it twice. In fact, here are his last three games against them (most recent first): 19/103/0, 26/149/1, and 15/82/1. We also know about Henry’s late-season onslaught, right? No? Check this out:
Winter is coming, and Henry absolutely loves it. Keep him rolling as your RB1 who remains a bit touchdown dependent. Oh, and we just got word that interior lineman DeForest Buckner will be out for this week with COVID, only further enticing us.
Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines: Now what do we do? Didn’t I tell you to never fully trust a Colts running back? Just when you think it’s Hines’ job, Taylor comes out and gets a massive 26 touches. The good news is that it appears Jordan Wilkins is back to being the clear-cut third-string running back, which leaves us with Taylor and Hines to fight about. The last time these two teams met, it was Hines who was crushing them for 115 yards and two touchdowns. It wasn’t really a fluke either, because when you factor in fantasy points per weighted opportunity, the Titans rank as the fifth-best matchup for running backs. They’ve allowed 10 top-24 running back performances through 10 games, including five top-10 performances. Most of the production has been on the ground, too, as Hines is the only running back who’s accumulated more than 29 yards through the air against them. David Johnson was the only running back who’s received 15-plus carries and didn’t average at least 4.10 yards per carry, so it wasn’t just one large performance that carried them. They’ve allowed eight running backs touchdowns (6 rushing, 2 receiving) in their last six games, and have been having issues in the secondary, so it’s difficult to say which problem they want to address, though they can’t let Hines run all over them again, as he had massive lanes to run through on seemingly every carry. The matchup here isn’t the problem. Figuring out the timeshare is. Clearly, the Colts want Taylor to be the guy, though he’s also on a short leash. For now, we should consider him the top back in the offense, though it’s not an offense to take things for granted. Because of that, he’ll remain in the high-end RB3 territory. As for Hines, he should be in play as an RB3/flex option considering what he did to this defense the last time around, but you already know the risk involved.
*Editor’s Note: Jonathan Taylor was added to the COVID list and is out for week 12.
A.J. Brown: After what was a brutal start to the game for Brown where he clearly dropped multiple passes, he made up for it by fighting for what was one of the more impressive touchdowns this season. He saw seven targets in that game, now making in 7-of-8 games with seven-plus targets, though he’s still yet to see double-digits. The only game he didn’t hit that number was against his Week 12 opponent, the Colts. After catching a pass for 21 yards on the first drive, Brown didn’t record a single catch for the remainder of the game. He did drop what would’ve been a 70-plus-yard touchdown, though. Oddly enough, that’s the only game he hasn’t scored in since returning to the lineup in Week 5. The Colts have allowed just nine wide receiver touchdowns this season, which is tied for the ninth-fewest in the league. They’ve seen just 18.3 wide receiver targets per game, which is the fourth-fewest, and the reason why we’ve only seen two top-10 performances against them all season. They have allowed a decent floor considering the lack of targets available, as 15 different wide receivers have finished as top-36 options. While I wouldn’t put him in the WR1 conversation this week, I would put him into lineups as a back-end WR2 who should bounce back in their second meeting.
Corey Davis: Who would you rather have on your fantasy team? Davis or A.J. Brown? While the answer is surely going to be Brown, the gap isn’t nearly as large as you might think. We know touchdowns are volatile, right? Well, take a look at this:
Those are the last 10 games for each player. Crazy, right? Outside of that one bad game against the Bears, Davis has totaled at least 67 yards and/or a touchdown in every game, including five catches for 67 yards against the Colts in Week 10. I’m not saying that Davis doesn’t benefit from Brown’s presence – he does – but it doesn’t matter to us; fantasy production is fantasy production. As mentioned in the Brown notes, the Colts have allowed 15 receivers to finish with top-36 numbers (WR3 or better). Davis does have the better cornerback matchup in this game, too, as he’ll primarily see Rock Ya-Sin, who’s allowed 31-of-45 passing for 434 yards (9.64 yards per target), though he hasn’t allowed a touchdown in his coverage. There is a limited ceiling with him, as this is still a tough matchup, which is what keeps him in the low-end WR3/high-end WR4 territory.
Michael Pittman: Did you know that despite Rivers completing 24 passes last week, it was Jonathan Taylor who led the team with four receptions, while no one else had more than three? Pittman had 15 targets in the previous two games but left that game with just three targets. Fortunately for those who took a chance on him, he turned them into three receptions for 66 yards and a touchdown, but we need more volume. Is it shocking to know Pittman saw a career-high eight targets against the Titans the last time they played? Not really. Their opponents have chosen to target wide receivers on 63.7 percent of their pass attempts, which is the second-highest number in the league. That’s led to 17.2 receptions per game for wide receivers against them, which is second to only the Seahawks. Volume has been more important than people realize, though, as the Titans have allowed just 7.55 yards per target to receivers, which is tied for the third-lowest mark in football. As Dan Harris and I discussed on the FantasyPros Football Podcast, Pittman is the sexy WR3 option everyone wants to play, though you have to bake in both the best and worse case scenarios for him, and that makes him a solid WR4 who presents top-24 upside in a plus matchup, but if he gets three targets again, you’re likely going to be upset.
T.Y. Hilton: He’s averaged just 1.23 PPR points per target this season, which ranks 111th among 117 wide receivers who’ve seen 20-plus targets. Whew. The Titans have allowed just 11.0 yards per reception to wide receivers this year, which is the lowest mark in the league, so you need to accumulate receptions to succeed. Hilton has still racked up five-plus targets in 7-of-9 games this year, which is why it’s tough to completely erase him from consideration, but when you see him as the No. 84 wide receiver on the year, behind guys like Jalen Guyton and Gabriel Davis, you’re reminded that there’s almost no upside here. There have been 19 wide receivers who’ve finished as top-48 options against the Titans, too, but still, by playing him you’re likely sacrificing upside with another player. He’s just a low-ceiling WR5.
Jonnu Smith: After scoring three touchdowns over the last three weeks, Smith is back as a top-five tight end. The good news? He’s seen six targets in each of the last two games. The bad news? He hasn’t topped 32 yards since back in Week 5. He’s turned into a touchdown-or-bust tight end, but fortunately, he’s scored eight total touchdowns this year. Teams have chosen to target their tight ends 22.9 percent of the time against the Colts, which ranks as the fifth-highest percentage in the league. Despite that high percentage, they allowed the first receiving touchdown to a tight end just last week. The 1.19 PPR points per target they’ve allowed to tight ends is the second-lowest number in football to only the Steelers. Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric has them as the sixth-toughest matchup for tight ends. Smith was targeted six times against them in their last meeting that only netted two catches for 14 yards, but he did score a rushing touchdown, salvaging his fantasy day. Considering the Colts have allowed just 5.19 yards per target and one touchdown on 74 targets to the position, it’s probably not wise to bet on Smith as anything more than a middling TE2 this week.
Trey Burton: With all the tight ends active once again in Week 11, it was a mess. The routes run were Burton 15, Mo Alie-Cox 15, and Jack Doyle 10. You don’t feel confident in any of those numbers in any given week. Burton led them with five targets, and though they netted just two catches for 25 yards, one of them was for a touchdown. Doyle wasn’t on the field the last time these two teams met, which led to Burton and Alie-Cox combining for seven targets, six receptions, and 43 scoreless yards. That’s not great against a defense that’s allowed the ninth-most fantasy points to the tight end position. In fact, everything they’ve allowed is in the green. The 76.1 percent completion-rate (3rd-highest), 8.21 yards per target (8th-highest), and touchdown every 11.2 targets (6th-most often) are all attractive for streamers, but not when you have a three-way timeshare. Because of that, Burton remains in middling TE2 territory, though he looks like the best play of the bunch.