The Primer: Week 13 Edition (2020 Fantasy Football)
There are going to be times in your life where you feel like you’re in a rut you’ll never escape. Those times feel like everything is crashing around you. You feel helpless and just want that time to pass. You promise yourself you’ll appreciate things more if by some divine miracle things can just go back to normal. Let me tell you a story.
Have you ever hit a bad shot in the game of golf? If you’ve ever played golf, I promise you have. It’s easy to get frustrated at that moment, as you screwed up your tee shot and put yourself in a bad position for the remainder of the hole.
When I first started playing golf, which wasn’t until I was 28 years old, I didn’t want to go out and embarrass myself around my brother and friends, so I went to the golf course by myself. If you’re solo, they’ll sometimes pair you with others who are by themselves. I don’t know anyone who actually wants to play golf with a complete stranger for the day, but when they asked, I said I didn’t mind because I don’t like to come off as rude.
When you’re playing golf with someone you don’t know, it’s pretty important you keep your cool. You don’t want them to think they got stuck with a lunatic for the next four hours. Again, this can be tough in the game of golf, but I did well for most of the day.
I’ll never forget the 10th hole that day. After stopping at the clubhouse to grab a hot dog and something to drink after the first nine holes, I had a clear head and was ready to build on my final few holes over the front nine (I think I had back-to-back pars). I walked up to the tee box confident as ever, swung and sliced the ball 250 yards, about 75 yards to the right of where I intended to hit it. The older gentlemen watched me grind my teeth and could see the disappointment on my face. He walked over and put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Mike, don’t you worry about that shot. You have enough distance to make up for it, just watch.”
I chuckled a bit and said, “Yeah, if I could get through the trees that are going to be in the way.”
He didn’t hesitate in his response. “You could’ve hit the best tee shot of your life off this tee. Who knows, you may have hit a birdie, but you know what? You wouldn’t remember it.” I looked at him confused, wondering why I wouldn’t remember it. “I’ve seen you drive the ball about, what, 300 yards today? Some of them have gone straight. No one remembers the holes that were easy. No one talks about them or tells their friends stories about them. It’s the shots like the one you’re about to take are the ones you’ll remember. The stories you tell your friends will almost always stem from you being in a bad position.”
Do you remember that shot Tiger Woods hit out of the sand at the World Golf Championship a few years back? No one talks about how it was a bad shot that put him in the sand. They talk about the miraculous shot that he somehow curved while looking like Zorro hitting the ball around a tree and landing on the green.
Do you remember the Super Bowl in 2014 where the Seahawks won 43-8? Unless you’re a Seahawks fan, it probably doesn’t carry a whole lot of memories. Now how about the 2017 Super Bowl where the Patriots rallied back from being down 28-3? Of course you remember that one.
When I got to my ball, which was on the next fairway over, I decided I was going to just go for it. I was about 200 yards out from the green, and there were a few trees in the way, but I saw a sliver of hope. I hit a four iron that wound up just 10 yards short of the green.
Every time I slice a ball off the tee now, I look for positive ways to get out of my messy situation because, in the end, it’ll make for a great story.
The moral of this story is that some of the best things in life happen when you’re put in a bad/tough spot. The only way you’re going to be able to get the best out of those times is to relish in those moments. Know that something special can come from them. Make the story you want to tell.
DAL at BAL | CLE at TEN | WAS at PIT | LV at NYJ | JAC at MIN | CIN at MIA | IND at HOU | DET at CHI | NO at ATL | NYG at SEA | LAR at ARI | NE at LAC | PHI at GB | DEN at KC | BUF at SF
So, what does The Primer offer? Anything you could ever want. Seriously, it’ll have wide receiver/cornerback matchups, recent history against each team, comparable player performances, unique stats, and most importantly, how they should be played that particular week. The idea here is to give you as much information and confidence as possible when you hit that ‘Submit Lineup’ button each week.
On top of all that, I’ll come back by Saturday morning to update once practice participation reports are posted. Still want more? We’ll be doing a livestream on our YouTube channel every Sunday morning from 11-12 EST, breaking down the inactives and letting you know which players benefit the most from them.
Dallas Cowboys at Baltimore Ravens
Cowboys vs. Ravens Betting Matchup
Andy Dalton: For the second time in three games, Dalton struggled against the Washington defense, though the conditions were even worse on the Thanksgiving game, as he lost both Zack Martin and Cam Erving on the offensive line early on. He was already without Tyron Smith, so the nightmare season for the Cowboys just continues. We did see Dalton take advantage of one matchup this year, though it was a great spot for him to succeed against the Vikings. Unfortunately, that’s not the case in Week 13 when the Cowboys travel to Baltimore. The Ravens have allowed just 6.59 yards per attempt to quarterbacks this year, which ranks as the second-lowest mark in the league. The Ravens are also one of just four teams who’ve held their opponents to fewer than 20 actual points per game. Despite playing without many of their starters on defense against the Steelers on Wednesday, they managed to hold them to just 19 points. They have played some good quarterbacks this year, which makes you think about their schedule adjusted matchup ranking, which is just as bad. They rank as the seventh-worst matchup for quarterbacks in that metric, so when you add that in with what we’ve seen out of Dalton and this Cowboys offensive line so far, you shouldn’t be trusting Dalton for much of anything.
Lamar Jackson: For now, we’ll assume that Jackson returns to the lineup. If he doesn’t, I’ll update the notes later in the week. The Cowboys have only intercepted four passes all year long (1.1 percent interception-rate), which should allow for the Ravens to take some chances. I think many teams have taken that approach, and it’s led to a league-high 24 passing touchdowns against them (league-high 6.90 percent touchdown-rate). When you remove rushing totals, the Cowboys have allowed a league-high 0.556 fantasy points per pass attempt. The only concern for quarterbacks has been the lack of passing, as the Cowboys opponents have chosen to throw the ball just 51.6 percent of the time (second-lowest percentage in the NFL), but it’s not like Jackson is a high volume quarterback, as the Ravens have thrown the ball just 48.1 percent of the time. Still, the Cowboys have allowed a league-high 32.6 points per game to opponents, while no other team in the league has allowed more than 29.8 points per game. That’s not possible without the massive 136.8 total plays that their games net, which is the most in the league. We’ve also seen fellow mobile quarterback Kyler Murray rack up 74 yards and a touchdown on the ground against them. All in all, the Cowboys have allowed a league-high 1,720 yards on the ground (quarterbacks and running backs combined) to go along with 15 rushing touchdowns, which should present Jackson with a massive floor. What he does through the air is just a bonus. He should be played as a solid QB1 this week, provided he’s back with the team.
Ezekiel Elliott: The loss of Dak Prescott was the start of his nightmare, but it’s only gotten worse, losing left tackle Tyron Smith, and then both Zack Martin and Cam Erving in the first quarter of the Thanksgiving game. At some point, it doesn’t even matter who the running back is; they’re going to struggle playing behind backups. The only good news is that he leads the NFL with 19 carries inside the five-yard line. Elliott has now finished with fewer than 55 rushing yards in six of the last nine games. He’s also failed to record more than 18 receiving yards in six of the last seven games. Did I mention that he’s scored one touchdown over his last six games? It’s bad, guys. And now he has to go on the road to play against the Ravens. They’ve been without interior linemen Brandon Williams and Calais Campbell over the last couple weeks, which has led to them allowing a bit more production, but they’ve still allowed just the 11th-fewest fantasy points to running backs. With that being said, there have been eight running backs who’ve seen at least 12 carries against the Ravens, and each of them have finished as top-24 running backs, including Damien Harris. I suppose the 4.34 yards per carry they’ve allowed isn’t anything to be scared of when it comes to Elliott’s floor. Because of that, you can keep Elliott in lineups as an RB2, albeit a low-end RB2.
J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards: Ravens running backs are averaging 1.68 yards before contact, which is the second-highest number in the league, behind only the Cardinals. It would appear having a mobile quarterback helps. When you combined this with the fact that the Cowboys have allowed the most yards before contact, you have the recipe for major success. The only team who’s allowed more yards on the ground than the Cowboys are the Texans. No other team is within 150 yards of those two teams. It surely helps that running backs have been able to accumulate 27.1 rushing attempts per game against them, which is enough to feel comfortable with a timeshare, which is something that may be a thing of the past if Dobbins returns to the role he had in Week 10. If you look at production on the ground alone, the Cowboys have allowed 215.8 fantasy points, or 19.6 points per game. They are one of just three teams who’ve allowed more than 16.5 points per game on the ground. Most of this stems from the fact that their opponents have chosen to run the ball 48.4 percent of the time (2nd-most), though efficiency has been there, too. We know the Ravens running backs aren’t targeted much in the passing game, but it’s even less likely they are against the Cowboys, who’ve seen a running back target on just 15.5 percent of pass attempts, tied for the third-lowest mark in the league. Even when they get targeted, it hasn’t amounted to much, as the Cowboys have allowed a league-low 5.5 PPR points per game through the air to running backs. When you look at explosive performances against teams, I require 20-plus PPR points for running backs and wide receviers and 15-plus PPR points for tight ends. The Cowboys have allowed a league-high 15 explosive performances this year, so when you think about the Ravens, you want to find that gem for this game. I’m comfortable playing Dobbins as an RB2 this week who comes with top-five upside if he returns to his workhorse role. Edwards can fill an RB4 role, as it appeared like he passed Mark Ingram on the depth chart a few weeks ago.
Amari Cooper: I mentioned it last week, but despite all the turmoil on this Cowboys team, Cooper has been the shining light all season. He’s now finished with at least five catches and 67 yards in 9-of-11 games, highlighting a floor that not many receivers have. Unfortunately, his scoring opportunities aren’t going to be there (just three touchdowns all year), limiting expectations for his ceiling. We still view Terry McLaurin as a valuable fantasy asset, right? Well, take a look at this:
Cooper may not have a massive ceiling without Prescott, but he’s still offering plenty of value. Wide receivers have seen just a 53.8 percent target share against the Ravens, which ranks as the fourth-lowest mark in the league. Not just a lack of targets, but lack of efficiency is a real thing against them, as receivers have averaged just 1.58 PPR points per target, which is lower than all teams not named the Rams or Bears. Last year, the average top-12 wide receiver performance took 19.7 PPR points, which is a number the Ravens have allowed just once this season. I describe explosion performances as 20-plus points for wide receivers and 15-plus points for tight ends. The Ravens have allowed just one explosive performance all year to those positions, while no other team has allowed fewer than three. Given the lack of scoring opportunities, Cooper sits in WR3 territory in this tough matchup.
CeeDee Lamb: The demise since Dak Prescott left the lineup continued in Week 12, as Lamb failed to top 34 yards for the fourth time in five games. He’s getting the volume necessary to produce, as he’s seen at least five targets in every game, including seven-plus targets in 7-of-11 games. The reason it’s hard to forget about him is due to the fact that he’s seen 28.6 percent of the Cowboys’ targets inside the 10-yard line, giving him plenty of touchdown opportunities. Will the Cowboys be inside the 10-yard line very often this week? The Ravens have allowed just six touchdowns to wide receivers all season, which is the lowest total in the league. Lamb seems to have gotten an upgrade when the Ravens played on Wednesday, as he was slated to see Marlon Humphrey in coverage, one of the best slot cornerbacks in football. However, with Jimmy Smith needing to leave with another injury, that pushes Humphrey to the perimeter, and matches Lamb up with 37-year-old Tramon Williams. He came in and allowed the touchdown to JuJu Smith-Schuster on Wednesday. He’s still not a bad cornerback, but could have trouble keeping up with the youngster all game. There have been 19 wide receivers who’ve either scored or posted 50-plus yards against the Ravens, so it’s not all bad, but pay attention to the status of Jimmy Smith, as his absence would upgrade Lamb’s matchup. For now, Lamb should be considered a low-end WR3/high-end WR4.
Michael Gallup: It’s almost to the point where Gallup shouldn’t even be considered, as he’s had just one game all season with more than 13.1 PPR points, and that game came all the way back in Week 3 against the Seahawks. Outside of that game, he’s failed to top 73 yards this year, and has finished with 41 yards or less in 6-of-11 contests. His 1.21 yards per route run ranks 47th of 53 wide receivers with 50-plus targets. When you add in a matchup with the Ravens, that’s problematic. Gallup would be seeing one of Jimmy Smith or Marlon Humphrey most of the day, which is bad news no matter which one he gets, as Smith has allowed the fewest fantasy points per target in his coverage, while Humphrey has allowed just 370 scoreless yards on 60 targets in coverage. Think of Gallup the way you do Marquez Valdes-Scantling, only with a worse quarterback. To be clear, Gallup is the far superior player, but their roles are similar. He’s a big-play-or-bust WR5 who’s in a bad matchup.
Marquise Brown: Who would’ve thought that by the Ravens playing their third-string quarterback Trace McSorley that Brown would have his best game of 2020? Sure, one play made up most of that production, but that’s the type of player many thought they were drafting at the start of the year. He has a chance to build on that performance in Week 13. The Cowboys have allowed more wide receiver touchdowns (19) than any other team in the league. They’ve allowed one every 10.9 targets this year, which is truly ridiculous. That’s been a major contributing factor to them allowing a league-high 2.12 PPR points per target to wide receivers. The Cowboys have also allowed the fourth-most yards per reception (14.04) to wide receivers. There have been 10 wide receivers who’ve posted 19.7-plus PPR points against the Cowboys this year, which is the average number of points it took to finish as a top-12 wide receiver last year. The only team who’s allowed more is the Seahawks. Bar too high? How about top-24? The Cowboys have allowed 15 wide receivers hit the 14.5-point mark it took to get there in 2019, which again, is the second-most in the league. If you’re willing to take some risk, Brown offers plenty of upside in one of the best matchups of the year. He’s a risk/reward WR4 this week and one I’ll have some tournament exposure to.
Dalton Schultz: There are only a handful of tight ends who can say they’re averaging six targets per game this year, but Schultz is one of them. He’s finished with 22-53 yards in each of the last six games without Dak Prescott, which is presenting some sort of floor, though the ceiling is lacking, especially knowing this offense has averaged just 14.7 points per game without Prescott. Now going to play the Ravens, a team that allows just 19.5 points per game (third-lowest mark in NFL), those ceiling concerns aren’t going away. I will say, however, that the tight end position is the one who’s been least affected by the matchup. They’ve been a pretty average team against the position, allowing 6.72 yards per target and a 67.8 percent catch-rate to tight ends, which are both in line with the league averages, but the volume has been slightly above average, as tight ends have seen 7.9 targets per game against them. No tight end has finished with more than 14.8 PPR points against them, but seven tight ends have been able to finish with at least 10.3 PPR points. Those are not bad outcomes for someone like Schultz, who should be considered a mid-to-high-end TE2 for this game.
Mark Andrews: For now, we’ll assume that Andrews returns to the team, though it’s clearly a situation to monitor throughout the week. It stinks Andrews had to stop right when he was getting heated up, as he’s caught 12-of-16 targets for 157 yards and a touchdown over the last two games. I’m guessing he’ll pick up right where he left off against the Cowboys. They’ve allowed a massive 77.4 percent completion-rate (third-highest), as well as a touchdown every 10.3 targets (fifth-most often) to tight ends, which has amounted to 2.09 PPR points per target, which is the fourth-most in football. Every tight end who’s seen more than four targets has finished with 11-plus PPR points against them. Andrews should be locked in as a high-end TE1 as long as he’s active and on the field.
Cleveland Browns at Tennessee Titans
Spread: Titans -5.5
Browns vs. Titans Betting Matchup
Baker Mayfield: It wasn’t all pretty for Mayfield last week, but in the end, he delivered a solid fantasy performance, completing 19-of-29 passes for 258 yards and two touchdowns against the Jaguars B-squad. It’s been crazy-high efficiency or bust for Mayfield all year, as he’s topped 30 pass attempts just once. For a pocket passer, this just won’t work. It’s why his Week 12 performance was just the second time all year he scored more than 15 fantasy points. It does help to know the Titans are one of just seven teams who are allowing 100-plus fantasy points per game to opposing offenses. With that said, they’re facing a robust 39.8 pass attempts per game, which ranks second to only the Seahawks. When opponents do drop back, they’re sacked just 3.09 percent of the time against the Titans. There are just two teams in the league who’ve generated a lower percentage than that. When Mayfield drops back to pass, he should have a clean pocket. That’s big for him, as his 33.3 QB Rating when under pressure ranks as the second-worst mark in the NFL behind only Drew Lock. If you want to contemplate streaming him, it’s not a bad idea in 2QB leagues, as there’s been just two quarterbacks who’ve failed to throw at least 37 pass attempts over their last 10 games. Those quarterbacks were also part of run-heavy offenses (Kirk Cousins, Lamar Jackson), so there’s always a chance he flops. He’s in the low-end QB2 conversation but it shouldn’t be considered a shock if he finishes as a top-18 quarterback this week.
Ryan Tannehill: It seems like Tannehill is back on track after a lull in the middle of the season. He’s totaled over 40 fantasy points over the last two weeks, and he’s doing it on the back of Derrick Henry. Sure, Henry isn’t used much in the passing game, but the threat he presents has opened play action to Tannehill and the receivers. He’s right back to being the high-floor streamer we’ve come to know and love over the last two years. The Titans also have the third-highest team-implied total on this slate (29.8 points), which is great news for Tannehill’s floor. The Browns are likely getting their top pass-rusher Myles Garrett back for this game, which will give their pass-rush a boost, but again, that’s somewhat negated with what Henry has done to defenses. There have been just three times all season where a quarterback has thrown more than 37 pass attempts against the Browns and just three who’ve finished with more than 7.36 yards per attempt, so it feels as if there’s a low floor here, but Tannehill isn’t someone who ever relies on pass attempts to get things done. He’s topped 31 pass attempts in just three of his 11 games this year, yet he’s still been able to finish with 17.3-plus fantasy points in 8-of-11 games. The Browns have allowed a high 5.38 percent touchdown-rate, which ranks as the ninth-highest mark in the league, and let’s not forget the fact that their overall numbers are going to look better than they are because of the three crazy-high-wind games they played in Weeks 8-11. Tannehill should offer a stable floor as a mid-to-high-end QB2, and he could be an interesting pivot off Henry in mass-entry tournaments, as we have seen two 35-point quarterback performances against the Browns this year.
Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt: Chubb has averaged a league-high 4.43 yards after contact, which has accounted for 72.7 percent of his yardage. No other running back with more than 60 carries has averaged more than 3.70 yards after contact. Knowing that, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he ranks second in the NFL of 15-plus-yard runs. Think about that… he’s missed four games and he still ranks just one 15-yard-run behind Derrick Henry. Not by coincidence, just 11 of his carries this year have accounted for 44.9 percent of his rushing totals. The Titans have allowed seven 20-plus yard runs this year, which is essentially toward the middle of the pack. They’ve allowed 4.29 yards per carry and 92.7 yards per game to running backs, so it’s tough to say it’s a highly-efficient matchup, but the fact that their opponents average a massive 68.0 plays per game have allowed enough volume to make them an above average matchup. Running backs have averaged 26.5 touches per game against them, which isn’t the greatest when Hunt is getting 43 percent of the touches since Chubb’s return to the lineup. The reason both have been somewhat successful is due to the fact that they’ve combined for 35.7 touches per game over the last three weeks. Even knocking that down to 30 for this game wouldn’t be good for Chubb, who has very limited involvement in the passing game. He’s one of the best 1-2 down backs in the league, but we have to take weighted volume into consideration, which knocks him into the low-end RB1 conversation. As for Hunt, he was highly touted as the pass-catching option out of this backfield, but he hasn’t totaled more than three receptions since back in Week 1, and he hasn’t topped 28 receiving yards all season. Despite having more than double the red zone carries that Chubb does (33 to 16), Hunt has four rushing touchdowns to Chubb’s six. In terms of weighted opportunity, Hunt is on par with someone like Ronald Jones. He should be considered a low-end RB2/high-end RB3 who needs to start finding the end zone at a higher rate.
Derrick Henry: I told you winter was coming. He leads the NFL with seven 100-yard games on the ground, while Dalvin Cook is the only other running back with more than four such performances. If the Titans wanted to, Henry could’ve rushed for 250-plus yards last week in the blowout win over the Colts. As we talked about last week, Henry gets better as the season goes on, and we’re now in December, which is his time to shine. Of the production the Browns have allowed to skill-position players, running backs have only accounted for 27.9 percent of it, which is less than all but four other teams. Henry isn’t involved much in the passing game, but it’s worth noting that running backs have received just 15.6 percent of targets against the Browns, which is the fifth-lowest mark in football. Because of all that, the Browns have allowed the 10th-fewest fantasy points per game to running backs, but here’s the thing… they’ve faced the fourth-least amount of weighted opportunity to them. When you factor in efficiency, they’ve allowed the 15th-most fantasy points per weighted opportunity, so it’s far from a must-avoid matchup. There have been three running backs who’ve finished with more than 16 carries against them (James Robinson, Josh Jacobs, James Conner), and each of them finished with at least 100 yards on the ground. Henry is the No. 1 player in fantasy football right now and should be in lineups every week. In DFS, I’d prefer to keep Henry as a tournament play considering his lack of involvement in the passing game, but I won’t argue if you wanted to play him in cash.
Jarvis Landry: Week 12 was the first game that Landry has played without Odell Beckham Jr. that was in non-extreme windy/rainy conditions this year. It was against the Jaguars backup cornerbacks, but still, Landry took full advantage, racking up eight catches for 143 yards and a touchdown. All those numbers were his best marks over the last calendar year. We can’t forget it was just his second game all year with more than 12.8 PPR points, so we can’t get too far ahead of ourselves. The Titans have seen 61.6 percent of targets go to the wide receiver position, which ranks as the fourth-highest mark in football. The efficiency hasn’t been quite the same, as wide receivers have accounted for just 51.0 percent of the production against them, which ranks 15th. That comes down to them allowing just 11.27 yards per reception, which is lower than all non-Rams teams. This plays well into Landry’s role as the primary underneath receiver, and that’s evidenced by his 9.2-yard average depth of target. The Titans did upgrade their slot cornerback in the defense at the trade deadline, making a move for Desmond King, who’s still learning communication in the Titans secondary, as he’s allowed 12-of-16 passing for 143 yards in his four games with the team. Knowing teams have thrown the ball nearly 40 times per game, we should see more pass attempts to go around, and Landry does have the highest target share. There have been 12 wide receivers who’ve been able to post six-plus receptions against them, so feel free to start Landry as a decent low-end WR3 this week, especially in PPR formats.
Rashard Higgins: It’s now been four straight games where he’s finished with four or less targets, which makes him impossible to trust, though we can’t forget they played in those three high-wind games during that stretch. Still, that’s going to happen on a team that almost never throws the ball more than 30 times, especially when you’re the No. 2 receiver on the team. The perimeter duo of Malcolm Butler and Breon Borders have been competent, though not great in coverage, allowing 65-of-106 passing for 804 yards and three touchdowns. They’ve done a good job not allowing the big play, which is not something Higgins is necessarily known for. It helps that the Browns are expected to throw the ball more in this game, though Higgins hasn’t seen enough targets to be trusted as anything more than a WR5, though it does help to know that Khadarel Hodge and Taywan Taylor were ruled out.
A.J. Brown: He’s a monster with the ball in his hands and he continually shows it off. He’s scored in seven of his last eight games, and it seems like he’s never actually in the end zone when he scores a touchdown, but rather breaking tackles and running after the catch to get them. He’s still yet to see more than nine targets in a game this season, yet he’s managed 12.4-plus PPR points in seven of his last eight games. His 7.22 targets per game ranks 28th among wide receivers. Now on to play the Browns who don’t have a shadow cornerback and simply play sides. He will line up the most against Terrance Mitchell, who has allowed 37.8 percent of his yardage in coverage after the catch. There have been 91 cornerbacks who’ve seen 30-plus targets in coverage, and Mitchell ranks 33rd in yards after the catch allowed. There have been five wide receivers who’ve posted top-12 numbers against the Browns, including three receivers who posted 100-plus yards. Ideally, we’d see him lined up in the slot a bit more, but we’ll take him wherever we can. Keep plugging him in as a high-end WR2.
Corey Davis: Davis was extremely efficient with his targets in Week 12, but he just didn’t get enough of them. He tied his season-low with just three targets, but he still managed to hit double-digit PPR points, which is something he’s done in 8-of-9 games this year. He’s been a very competent/consistent WR3 on fantasy teams to this point, though not many view him as such. Even given his lack of true ceiling, he sits as the WR34 on the season in PPR formats. The Browns have allowed the 11th-most fantasy points to wide receivers this year, which much of it stems from where they’re being targeted. Wide receivers facing the Browns have seen a league-high 45 targets while no other team has seen more than 39 of them. Davis has only seen four of them himself, while A.J. Brown has seen 10 of them. Davis will see a lot of Denzel Ward (he’s been ruled out), who is the most talented cornerback on the Browns, though he’s not the shutdown cornerback they thought they were getting when they selected him at No. 4 overall in the 2018 NFL Draft. He’s allowed just 6.24 yards per target in his coverage this year but has allowed four touchdowns on just 54 targets in coverage. Now that it’s Derrick Henry season, we don’t expect a whole lot of pass attempts for the Titans, which obviously affects Davis, like we saw last week. Because of that, he should be considered a low-end WR3/high-end WR4.
Austin Hooper: Just like everyone else in this offense, you run the risk of low volume with Hooper. Those worst fears were realized in Week 12 when he saw just two targets, but fortunately, he turned one of them into a touchdown. This team is also continually running 2TE sets, which also allows for guys like Harrison Bryant to steal targets (he saw two targets as well in Week 12). The matchup this week is a good one for him to bounce back in the target column. Titans opponents have thrown the ball 39.8 times per game, so if we get near the 20-percent target share that Hooper has had multiple times this year, we should hope to get 6-8 targets. Tight ends have averaged a sturdy 6.9 targets per game against the Titans, and efficiency has been good, too, as the 2.09 PPR points per target they’ve allowed suggests. There have been a league-high seven tight ends who’ve scored at least 10.6 PPR points against the Titans, which is the average number of points it took to finish as a top-12 tight end last year. Hooper should make for a solid low-end TE1/high-end TE2 in this game.
Jonnu Smith: When I initially saw that Smith had zero targets, I needed to double-check and ensure I didn’t miss an injury. In reality, it shouldn’t be that shocking when you factor in that he’s seen just two targets in three of his last six games, and the Colts have been the best team in the league at defending fantasy tight ends. This week is a lot different, as Smith will be going against the team that’s allowed the second-most fantasy points to the position. We’ve seen tight ends average 8.2 targets per game against the Browns, which ranks third-most in the NFL. They’ve been targeted when it matters most, too, as they’ve seen a league-high 22 times in the red zone against them, which bodes well for the touchdown-dependent tight end. They’ve allowed four tight end touchdowns over the last three weeks, and that includes two high-wind games against the Texans and Eagles. There have been nine tight ends who’ve scored double-digit PPR points against the Browns, and that’s not even including another two tight ends who finished as the TE16 and TE17. Smith certainly comes with some risk, but what tight ends don’t? I’ll consider him a high-end TE2 this week who should bounce back. *Update* Smith has been ruled OUT for this week’s game. If you’re looking for a last-minute replacement, Anthony Firsker is worth a look.
Washington Football Team at Pittsburgh Steelers
Football Team vs. Steelers Betting Matchup
Alex Smith: It’s a feelgood story with Smith, it really is. However, you should not need me to tell you that you’re avoiding him at all costs this week. Smith has played with happy feet all year, continually dumping the ball down to his underneath options because of that. When you mix his hesitance and the Steelers pass rush, bad things happen. They’ve generated a sack on a league-high 9.9 percent of dropbacks. While under pressure, Smith has completed just 15-of-32 passes for 136 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions. That amounts to just a 43.2 QB Rating, which is the fifth-worst in the NFL among quarterbacks who’ve taken at least 100 dropbacks. The league-low 54.9 percent completion-rate the Steelers have allowed is not great for a low-volume quarterback like Smith. On top of that, the Steelers lead the league with 15 interceptions. I really wouldn’t even want to play Smith in Superflex/2QB formats this week.
Ben Roethlisberger: We really didn’t know what to expect on the Wednesday game, but we figured it would be an easier time for the Steelers offense given all the injuries/COVID cases on the Ravens defense. Sadly, that was not the case, as Roethlisberger threw for just 266 yards and one touchdown on a massive 51 pass attempts. His wide receivers did him no favors, though, as they dropped at least five passes during that game. The Football Team has allowed just 79.1 PPR points per game to opposing offenses, which ranks as the fifth-lowest mark in football. Quarterbacks have averaged a league-low 216.0 passing yards per game against Washington. In fact, just four quarterbacks have thrown for more than 215 yards, while just one quarterback (Jared Goff) has thrown for more than 286 yards. Much of that comes from the fact that they’re under tremendous pressure all game, as the 9.5 percent sack-rate Washington has generated ranks second to only the Steelers themselves. I will say that the level of competition they’ve played has been poor for the most part. Quarterbacks have averaged just 0.3 fantasy points per game less against Washington than they do versus their seasonal average, which makes them just the 15th-toughest matchup for quarterbacks when you factor that in. Washington is only used to seeing a pass attempt on 56.1 percent of their plays, which is one of the lowest pass-rates in the league. Meanwhile, the Steelers have thrown the ball close to 70 percent of the time over their last four games. Roethlisberger has played well enough this year to trust him as a low-end QB1/high-end QB2, even in what’s perceived to be a tough matchup.
Antonio Gibson and J.D. McKissic: It’s happening. Gibson is getting the role we’d hoped he would as the season went on, as he played a career-high 45 snaps on Thanksgiving. He rewarded that trust with 136 total yards and three touchdowns against the Cowboys. Sure, Peyton Barber got 11 carries as well, but the game was out of reach rather quickly. We knew that matchup didn’t favor McKissic’s role, but he was still on the field for 28 snaps. Gamescript is still the biggest factor in determining how valuable each player will be. Opponents have put just 17.1 points per game up on the scoreboard against the Steelers, which is not what you want to see from a low-scoring offense like Washington. That has clearly affected the running backs and their production, as the Steelers have allowed the second-fewest PPR points per game to them (17.0 per game). Despite the Steelers winning every single one of their games and being ahead most of the time, running backs aren’t targeted much against them. They have faced a league-low 14.8 percent of targets to the running back position, which doesn’t bode well for Gibson or McKissic, though Smith has targeted running backs a ton. Washington is big underdogs in this game, right? Well, here’s the argument against playing Gibson as anything more than a mid-to-low-end RB2 this week:
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This doesn’t bode well for Gibson, who’s really padded his stats in two wins over the Cowboys. Meanwhile, the Steelers have allowed just one top-12 running back since the start of last year. Gibson had his breakout party last week, but he’s likely to disappoint in this game. McKissic could have another one of his more relevant fantasy games here, though the lack of targets to running backs doesn’t look great for him. But he’s been on the field much more in the losses that Washington has had, so he can be considered a flex/high-end RB4 in this contest.
James Conner: Why haven’t the Steelers run the ball more? Well, part of it is due to the fact that their offensive line just isn’t getting much push. Conner and the Steelers backs have averaged just 1.12 yards before contact, which ranks third-lowest mark in the NFL. That’s not something they’re used to, but the passing game has been working, so there’s not much of a reason to force the issue with Conner. So, if the Steelers will throw the ball a lot, can we rely on Conner to catch quite a few passes? Not really. Running backs may be asked to stay in and block against Washington’s fierce pass-rush, which could be the reason for them seeing just 15.8 percent of the targets against them (sixth-fewest in NFL). Running backs haven’t seen much volume against Washington in general, as running backs have combined to average 25.7 touches per game. Knowing Conner concedes some work to the other backs, combined with the fact that he’d be coming off COVID, we could see them split the workload a bit more. All in all, running backs have faced the second-least amount of weighted volume against Washington, behind only the Steelers themselves. With just one running back topping 86 rushing yards against them all year, it’s not an obvious great spot for Conner to get back on track, which makes him a low-end RB2/high-end RB3 this week. If he had to miss another week, Benny Snell would jump right into his spot in the rankings.
Terry McLaurin: We watched Alex Smith throw just 26 passes last week, but we also watched McLaurin get 34.6 percent of them. He kept his streak of seven-plus targets going despite the blowout win over the Cowboys. He’s also been able to finish with at least 61 yards in 10-of-11 games, including seven games with seven-plus receptions. There’s likely to be a bit more pass attempts against the Steelers this week. I understand that there’s not much production to go around against the Steelers, but of the production they do allow to skill-position players, wide receivers make up for 59.1 percent of it, which is the second-most in the NFL behind only the Seahawks. They are the only teams in the NFL who have a percentage higher than 55.7 percent. It’s not a coincidence that Marquise Brown had his best game of the year last week, though much of his production came on one play. According to Football Outsiders’ DVOA, the Steelers rank as the 13th-best matchup for No. 1 wide receivers. There have been 10 wide receivers who’ve finished with 15-plus PPR points against them, so while it’s not an ideal matchup, it’s not the worst, either. McLaurin should remain in lineups as a high-end WR2.
Diontae Johnson: It wasn’t the greatest game for Johnson, as he had two clear drops against the Ravens, but the one that matters stayed consistent. He saw a team-high 13 targets, bringing his total over the last four games to an astonishing 50 targets, or 12.5 per game. This should be interesting to see how the Steelers receivers fare in this matchup, as the Football Team has allowed just 1.63 PPR points per target to wide receivers, which is the fifth-lowest mark in the league. If you were to look at the combined performances of their opponent’s WR1, WR2, WR3, and TE1 totals against them, you’d see that they have not combined to score more than 48.3 PPR points in any of their last 10 games. The competition has not been top notch, but that’s an impressive stretch for any team against any opponent. The only teams who’ve allowed fewer points per game to skill-position players are the 49ers, Rams, and Steelers. Even adjusting for schedule, this is the fourth-toughest matchup in football, as opposing wide receivers have averaged 4.9 fewer PPR points against them than they’ve averaged on the year. Still, Johnson is continually seeing double-digit targets, which make him a must-start. If we look at the five wide receivers who’ve had nine-plus targets against Washington, four of them finished as top-24 options with three of them scoring 17.5-plus PPR points. Johnson isn’t a can’t-miss play this week, but he’s worthy of a mid-to-low-end WR2 start.
Chase Claypool: He hasn’t seen “Diontae Johnson-type targets” over the last five weeks, but he’s close. He’s now seen at least eight targets in five straight games but hasn’t finished with more than 69 yards in any of those games, making him a bit touchdown-dependent. Washington has allowed just 10 wide receiver touchdowns on the year, which doesn’t appear great. Neither does the fact that they’ve allowed the third-fewest fantasy points per game to them. This should get interesting because the Steelers rank as the No. 1 team in wide receiver points per game. He’ll see veteran Ronald Darby for much of the contest, who’s arguably been their weakest link, allowing 38-of-64 passing for 581 yards and two touchdowns in his coverage. While the 59.4 percent catch-rate isn’t ideal, the 15.29 yards per reception is certainly a nice sight for Claypool’s deep ball potential. He hasn’t hit on one recently, but Claypool does lead the team with 19 deep-ball targets this year. He should be treated as a low-end WR2 who’s worth the risk of the tough matchup.
JuJu Smith-Schuster: It was a tough matchup for the entire team against the Ravens, but Smith-Schuster managed to sneak away with eight catches for 37 yards and a touchdown. It was a great performance for PPR leaguers, while it was still very serviceable in standard leagues with the touchdown. He’s now finished with 67 yards and/or a touchdown in five of his last six games and looked healthy after dealing with some sort of lower leg injury at the end of Week 11’s game. It’ll be interesting to see how the Steelers distribute the targets this week knowing Washington has seen an average of just 18.3 wide receiver targets per game, which is the sixth-fewest in the league. That low number comes large in part because of the 31.1 pass attempts per game they see in total. Meanwhile, the Steelers wide receivers are used to splitting a monstrous 27.8 times per game. When targeted, Smith-Schuster will be covered by Jimmy Moreland, who’s done a phenomenal job in slot coverage this year. He’s allowed just 207 scoreless yards on 38 targets, including just 0.99 yards per snap, which ranks as the 10th-lowest among slot cornerbacks. Smith-Schuster might have it tougher than the other two Steelers receivers this week, making him a high-end WR3.
Logan Thomas: There’s a consistent role for Thomas in this offense, as he’s finished in-between 4-6 targets in each of his last eight games. He hasn’t been the most efficient tight end in the league while averaging just 5.5 yards per target, but he’s now scored in three of his last six games, and Ron Rivera singled him out during an interview this week, saying he’s had an “a ha” moment. The issue with expecting him for another streamer-worthy week? A matchup with the Steelers, the toughest one in the league for tight ends. When playing against the Steelers, tight ends are averaging 4.7 fewer half PPR points against them than they’ve averaged in non-Steelers games. There’s legitimately not a worse matchup in the league. From an efficiency standpoint, the Steelers have allowed a league-low 1.06 PPR points per target. There’s just one other team in the league (Colts) who’ve allowed fewer than 1.41 PPR points per target to the position.
Eric Ebron: It was overall a productive day for Ebron, who hauled in seven passes for 54 yards, but it wasn’t the best game for him, as he flat-out dropped two passes in that game, including one that may have gone for a touchdown. Over his last 10 games, Ebron has averaged a robust 6.5 targets per game, which is elite territory for tight ends. The list of tight ends with more targets than him is: Travis Kelce, Darren Waller, Hunter Henry, Evan Engram, and T.J. Hockenson. That’s it. Of the production that Washington allows to skill-position players, tight ends have accounted for 20.7 percent of it, which ranks as the third-highest mark in football. The Steelers usually have a big pie among their skill-position players, so this is big for Ebron. There have only been five tight ends who’ve posted 10-plus PPR points against Washington, but there have only been four tight ends who’ve seen more than four targets against them. There’s likely to be less volume to go around in this game, but Ebron should still remain in the low-end TE1 conversation.
Las Vegas Raiders at New York Jets
Spread: Raiders -7.5
Raiders vs. Jets Betting Matchup
Derek Carr: I’ve always preached about the lack of 100 percent confidence in non-mobile quarterbacks as streamers because if they have a bad day throwing the ball, they’re going to severely hurt your fantasy team. Unfortunately, I should’ve taken my own advice with Carr last week. He had a horrendous day throwing the ball and it led to him getting benched in the fourth quarter. It’s a shame because he’s been extremely efficient throwing the ball this year. Coming into that game, he’d thrown what’s been deemed a “bad throw” on just 14.6 percent of his passes; only Drew Brees had a lower mark. The process that led to playing him was right for the most part, though Carr just had a bad day. The Falcons have allowed 102.1 fantasy points per game to their opponents, which is funny because the Jets are one of just five teams who’ve allowed more points, even if it’s just a smidge. Shot at redemption for Carr? Quarterbacks have averaged 291.6 yards through the air (third-most) against them, while completing a ridiculous 71.7 percent of passes. This matchup is right up Carr’s alley, as he can just dink-and-dunk his way down the field. It’s fair to wonder if there’s enough competition on the other side of the ball, but we ask that every week with the Jets, right? They’ve allowed 29.3 points per game to their opponents, which is more than all but three teams. Quarterbacks have managed to rip off 21.4 fantasy points per game against them, which is the fourth-most in football. We can’t let one game determine how we feel about Carr moving forward. This matchup says he should return to mid-to-high-end QB2 territory, and Carr has finishes as a top-16 option in 5-of-11 games this year. His team is also projected for 27.3 points this week.
Sam Darnold: New week, healthy pass catchers, same result. With Darnold under center, the Jets have scored more than 17 points just once all season. He’s had just one game with more than 11.8 fantasy points. You really shouldn’t be contemplating him unless you have no alternatives, but this matchup is tempting for those in Superflex formats. The Raiders have faced 38.2 pass attempts per game, which ranks as the third-most in football. They’ve generated a sack on a league-low 2.77 percent of dropbacks. The Raiders are also one of just five teams who’ve allowed opponents 29-plus points per game. The Jets do have a 19.8-point team-implied total, which is higher than usual, too. He can be considered in 2QB formats, but that’s about it.
Josh Jacobs and Devontae Booker: We talked about Jacobs’ matchup last week and how it was tougher than most expected, but for him to total just 10 touches was something no one could’ve predicted. He hurt his ankle late in the third quarter, which knocked him out of the game, but he was mostly inefficient in that game. He will likely be questionable for this game, so pay attention to his status throughout the week. He now has 206 carries on the season, but just four of those carries have gone for 15-plus yards, so you kind of need him to get that high volume. Fortunately, he gets the Jets this week, who’ve allowed the fifth-most touches per game (29.4) to running backs. The downside is that they’ve allowed just 1.16 yards before contact to ball carriers, which ranks as the fourth-lowest mark in the league. We talked about it being necessary for Jacobs to get some of the passing game work last week, and though that didn’t really happen, it helps to know the Jets have watched running backs get targeted 21.9 percent of the time against them, which is tied for the fourth-highest mark in the league. All in all, the Jets have faced the second-most weighted opportunity to running backs this year, behind only the Texans. To see they’ve allowed the 10th-most fantasy points to them should be considered an accomplishment, as they’ve been the 11th-toughest matchup for running backs from an efficiency standpoint. But again, that volume has allowed nine running backs to finish with top-24 numbers against them. If he practices in full at some point, he should be considered a high-end RB2 this week. If he doesn’t, this is likely to be more of a timeshare between him and Booker, downgrading him into mid-to-low-end RB2 territory. If Jacobs were to sit this game entirely, Booker could be played as a middling RB2 who should be locked into 15-plus touches, and maybe even 20 of them. *Update* Jacobs has been ruled OUT for this game, meaning Booker will have the role that nets 15-plus touches.
Frank Gore: He’s a workhorse running back. He doesn’t offer much upside, but after seeing him total 21 touches in Week 12, he’s definitely worth considering in fantasy lineups. Think about someone like David Montgomery. He’s not sexy but offers some stability in lineups. Of the production the Raiders have allowed to skill-position players, running backs have accounted for 35.8 percent of it, which is more than all but three other teams (Packers, Lions, Texans). Gore was targeted three times last week, which is great for his fantasy floor, so when you see that running backs have been targeted 21.9 percent of the time against the Raiders, which ranks as the fourth-highest mark in the league (tied with the Jets), it’s a good thing. Gore has also averaged a very respectable 4.1 yards per carry over the last two weeks and has received 33 carries in those games. When you factor in weighted opportunity, the Raiders rank as the fourth-best matchup for running backs. Football Outsiders has them as the league’s worst run defense in DVOA. There have been 14 different running backs post top-30 numbers against the Raiders. If you’re searching for a high-end RB3 this week with a sturdy floor, Gore can fill that role.
Nelson Agholor: He had a competent performance against the Falcons last week with five catches for 54 yards, which really isn’t bad when you consider how bad Derek Carr was in that game. It was just the third time all year Agholor has seen more than four targets. In fact, 51.2 percent of his production this year has come on just five receptions. While he’s struggled to get consistent targets, the Jets have allowed a robust 9.28 yards per target to wide receivers, which certainly helps you feel better about starting Agholor in a pinch. The Jets starting cornerback trio of Bryce Hall, Lamar Jackson, and Arthur Maulet have allowed 28-of-41 passing for 296 yards and two touchdowns over the last two weeks. If the alignment stays the same, it’ll be Jackson who sees Agholor the most, a rookie cornerback who’s allowed a ridiculous 146.4 QB Rating in his coverage. Knowing there have been 20 wide receivers who’ve finished as a top-48 wide receiver (WR4 or better) against them, Agholor certainly deserves WR4 consideration once again this week, especially given his 15 targets over the last two weeks. *Update* He was forced to miss practice on both Wednesday and Thursday with an ankle injury, which downgrades him to questionable for this game. It also adds additional risk to starting him.
Henry Ruggs: He tied a career-high in targets last week… with five of them. The 56 yards he posted against the Falcons was the second-highest mark of the season for him, so baby steps, I guess. The Jets have allowed a massive 72.0 percent catch-rate to wide receivers, a number that’s only grown as the year has gone on. There have been 19 wide receivers who’ve seen at least five targets against the Jets, and 17 of them finished as top-48 wide receivers, so volume is really all we need for Ruggs to get into WR4 territory. Knowing the Raiders run game isn’t particularly healthy and may struggle against the Jets run defense (that’s better than most believe), we should see a bit more pass attempts out of the Raiders offense. The Jets have also allowed 38 pass plays that have gone for 20-plus yards, the seventh-most in football. You know the risk you’re getting into with Ruggs by now, though this matchup is one that really should allow him to shine a bit. He’s a risk/reward WR4/5-type option.
Jamison Crowder: Where has his role gone in this offense? We thought it was due to Joe Flacco under center, but after seeing just five targets in Week 12 with Darnold under center, you have to wonder if they’re trying to move away from the slot receiver as the primary option. You’d have to go all the way back to Week 5 to find the last time Crowder finished with more than 48 yards. He’s no longer someone who absolutely needs to be started. The Raiders matchup is tougher in the slot than it is on the perimeter, too. Lamarcus Joyner has allowed 34-of-48 passing for just 353 yards and no touchdowns in his coverage this season. He has been on the COVID list the last two weeks, but I’m operating as if he’ll come off it. The Raiders did allow big games to both Keenan Allen and Chris Godwin, but both of those wide receivers see plenty of time on the perimeter, which is something Crowder knows nothing about. The more comparable receivers would be Cole Beasley (3/32/1), Jarvis Landry (4/52/0), Curtis Samuel (5/38/0), and Russell Gage (3/34/0), who were all held in check against them. Crowder should be considered a low-upside WR4/5-type option who might have a higher floor than some in that range, but you might be better off sacrificing some floor for ceiling.
Breshad Perriman: It’s pretty remarkable when you consider everything he’s been through with three different teams, but Perriman has averaged 10.2 yards per target over the last three years, which ranks fifth among wide receivers with 100-plus targets over that time. His targets have been inconsistent all year, as we’ve talked about several times. Here are his target totals by week: 5, 2, 8, 2, 7, 4, 8. If the trend were to hold, we’d be looking at a 2-4 target game this week, though we hope that’s not the case. The Raiders have seen just 53.6 percent of targets directed at wide receivers, which ranks as the third-lowest mark in the league. Another downside is that Darnold has thrown the ball deep on just 9.7 percent of his attempts, while Joe Flacco threw the ball deep on 19.4 percent of his attempts. That’s where Perriman makes up most of his value. The Raiders might be missing starting cornerback Damon Arnette for this game, as he suffered a pretty bad concussion in Week 12. His replacement, Isaiah Johnson, allowed 5-of-9 passing for 42 yards and a touchdown in his coverage last week. The Raiders haven’t been too susceptible to the deep ball (32 completions of 20-plus yards), which makes Perriman a boom-or-bust WR5 with his fluctuating target share.
Denzel Mims: He now has three straight games with eight targets, which is certainly good news, and he’s also totaled at least 62 yards in each of them. We noticed that other rookies took some time to acclimate to the NFL, so it could be starting to click for Mims. The matchup he’ll have against the Raiders will be primarily against Damon Arnette (who suffered a concussion last week) or Isaiah Johnson. Neither of them has been particularly good this year, allowing a combined 33-of-47 passing for 473 yards and three touchdowns. That’s over 10.0 yards per target and a touchdown every 15.7 targets. Still, the production against them has been quite spread out, as there’ve been just nine wide receivers all year who’ve topped 68 receiving yards against them. Ultimately, Mims should offer a somewhat stable floor as a low-end WR4 but it’s hard to love him in this offense that’s constantly underachieving.
Darren Waller: It was hardly the week we hoped it’d be for Waller last week, as Carr’s incompetence had a butterfly throughout the offense. If you were to tell me Waller was going to get seven targets against the Falcons, I’d play him all over again. Not only does he rank second in targets (90) among tight ends, but he leads the NFL in red zone targets (17). We get another crack at elite production this week, as the Jets have allowed 2.24 PPR points per target to the position, which ranks third behind only the Jaguars and Falcons. Both Travis Kelce and Jordan Reed were able to post 24-plus PPR points against them this year, highlighting the ceiling, while six other tight ends have finished as the TE14 or better against them. Oh, and those red zone targets that Waller has been getting… yeah, the Jets have allowed a league-high nine touchdowns to tight ends, including one every 8.1 targets, which is more often than any other team in the league. Start Waller as the elite TE1 he is and forgive his hiccup in Week 12.
Chris Herndon: So much for potentially building some momentum, eh? After his three-target game in Week 11 where he scored, Herndon went back to more of the 2020 version of himself in Week 12, finishing with as many targets as you and I had. Zero. It’s not like this matchup is one to target with tight ends, either. Outside of Travis Kelce, they’ve allowed just one tight end to top 9.3 PPR points.