The Primer: Week 14 Edition (2020 Fantasy Football)
Atlanta Falcons at Los Angeles Chargers
Spread: Falcons -2.5
Falcons at Chargers Betting Matchup
Matt Ryan: Ryan ran into a Saints defense that’s been playing lights out defense over the second half of the season, which kept him under 14 fantasy points for the third straight game. The good news is that his pass-catchers are healthy. Can he get back on track in Week 14 in what’s perceived as a great matchup against the Chargers? They’ve allowed the sixth-most fantasy points per game to quarterbacks, but is the matchup as good as it seems? The 5.79 percent touchdown-rate they’ve allowed is the third-highest in football, but we know touchdowns are volatile, right? The much stickier stat is the 6.73 yards per pass attempt, which ranks as the fourth-lowest mark in football. There’s been no quarterback who’s averaged more than 7.17 yards per attempt against them since back in Week 4. If you were to remove the rushing production that every team has allowed to quarterbacks, the Chargers would be the 14th-best matchup, not the sixth-best. The 236 yards and six touchdowns they’ve allowed on the ground certainly skews the numbers. The good news is that this game will be played indoors and both teams rank top-six in total plays per game, so there should be plenty of opportunity and volume for Ryan to deliver a decent floor. Because of volume, nine quarterbacks have totaled at least 16.0 fantasy points against them. Ryan isn’t a surefire QB1 or anything but he should be in the high-end QB2 conversation. *Update* With Julio Jones being ruled out, Ryan moves down into middling QB2 territory.
Justin Herbert: If there’s a silver lining to Herbert’s performance last week, it’s that it was the week before the fantasy playoffs. Believe me, you probably wouldn’t have been there without him. That was just the second time all year he’s finished worse than QB14, which is simply remarkable for a rookie. Herbert has now thrown 154 pass attempts over the last three weeks, which is great news for his follow-up performance to that bad game. When an opponent takes an offensive snap against the Falcons, it nets an average of 1.60 PPR points, which is the highest number in the league. It might not seem like much more than the league average of 1.44 points, but when you add in the 63.9 plays per game their opponents are averaging, it amounts to more than 10 fantasy points. So, when you see the Falcons have allowed a league-leading 23.7 fantasy points per game to quarterbacks, you shouldn’t be shocked. That’s a full point per game more than the No. 2 team in that category. We all love it when quarterbacks throw for 300-plus yards, right? Well, the Falcons have allowed 300.7 passing yards per game on average. We’ve also seen Herbert rush at times this year, which is another positive of this matchup, as the Falcons have allowed 322 rushing yards (3rd-most) and six rushing touchdowns (most in NFL) to quarterbacks. That amounts to 68.2 fantasy points, which is the most in the league. There should be tons of plays in this game, too, as both teams rank in the top-six for total plays per game. I’m buying into Herbert bouncing back as a top-five option for the first week of the fantasy playoffs.
Todd Gurley and Ito Smith: He was playing in-between 52-70 percent of snaps from Week 2 through Week 9, then came their bye week. Since that time, he’s played 37 and 33 percent of the snaps. You don’t need me to tell you that’s bad news. Smith actually out-snapped him in Week 13, 24-22. This puts us in a very bad spot because the Falcons running backs as a whole have averaged just 20.4 PPR points per game this year. When you start dividing that into multiple players, it’s an issue. The good news is that the Chargers have allowed 4.92 yards per carry on the season, which ranks as the third-highest number in the league. But then we go back to the bad news, which is that teams have averaged just 20.6 carries per game against them, which again, is bad for timeshares. Gurley has still received 77 percent of the carries inside the five-yard-line, which gives him the best chance to score, and the Falcons do have a 26.0-point team-implied total. The Chargers are also one of seven teams who’ve allowed 70-plus receptions to running backs, though they haven’t been very efficient, as they’ve allowed just 4.63 yards per target, which is the fourth-lowest mark in the league. Gurley is shaping up to be a touchdown-dependent low-end RB3 with a very limited ceiling. Smith might turn out to be the better play in this game, as he’s played well over the last two weeks, recording 101 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries, while catching five passes for eight yards. If you want to play him as a low-end RB3/flex, nobody should really wonder why, as Gurley might be done.
Austin Ekeler: Can we all agree to just throw last week’s performance by the Chargers in the trash? Ekeler did see 17 total opportunities, though they netted just 10.8 PPR points. The entire offense was just off, and everyone suffered. Ekeler has seen 25 targets over the last two weeks, which is phenomenal for his floor, and they’re going to be necessary in this matchup. Of the fantasy production the Falcons have allowed to skill-position players, running backs have accounted for just 25.1 percent of it. That’s the lowest percentage in the league. They’ve allowed the fifth-fewest yards per carry (3.73) this year, while allowing a rushing touchdown once every 43.2 carries. When you add everything up, they’ve allowed the third-fewest fantasy points on the ground to running backs, behind only the Saints and Buccaneers. You don’t think about the Falcons like that, do you? They’re extremely tough to produce on the ground against, but going back to Ekeler’s receiving role, the Falcons have allowed the ninth-most fantasy points through the air to running backs. They’ve allowed a solid 1.61 yards per target (8th-most), while also allowing four receiving touchdowns. Of the six running backs who’ve scored 15-plus PPR points against the Falcons, five of them caught at least five passes. Just how important is that receiving work? The Falcons have allowed four running backs to post 22-plus PPR points, and none of those running backs topped 89 rushing yards, while just one of them scored. This matchup suits Ekeler’s role extremely well, so start him as an RB1.
Julio Jones: It would appear that Jones is perfectly fine after playing 63-of-67 snaps last week. He saw 10 targets in his return to the lineup, and though he didn’t score, he did catch six balls for 94 yards. The Chargers have allowed decent production to their opponents, but wide receivers have accounted for just 46.6 percent of the production by skill-position players, which is tied for the third-lowest mark in the league. Part of the issue has been volume, though. Wide receivers have only seen an average of 19.1 targets per game against the Chargers, which is a league-low, and something we really don’t have to worry about with the Falcons receivers who average 25.1 targets per game. When we look at the Chargers opponents, receivers have averaged 4.0 fewer PPR points per game against the Chargers than they do versus their season-long average, which makes it the fifth-toughest schedule-adjusted matchup. However, on a per opportunity basis, receivers have averaged 0.02 more PPR points per target against the Chargers than they do in non-Chargers matchup. In the end, if the volume is there, it’s not a bad matchup. You’re starting Jones if you have him as a low-end WR1/high-end WR2. *Update* Jones has been ruled OUT for this week’s game with his hamstring injury.
Calvin Ridley: Despite Jones returning to the lineup, Ridley was still heavily targeted (10) and posted 14-plus PPR points for the ninth time in 11 games (one of the games where he didn’t, he left early). There has been just one game all year where he’s played the whole thing and failed to finish as a top-30 wide receiver. The Chargers have allowed just 32.7 PPR points per game to wide receivers, which is the fifth-lowest mark in the league. Part of the reason is due to lack of targets, as they’ve faced just 226 of them on the year, the lowest in the league. From an efficiency standpoint, they’ve allowed the 15th-most PPR points per target. Ridley’s primary matchup will come against Casey Hayward, who’s been a Pro Bowl cornerback, though he hasn’t played like it this year, allowing 26-of-57 passing for 468 yards and five touchdowns in his coverage. That’s just a 45.6 percent catch-rate, but when he allows a catch, it goes for 18.0 yards. Ridley does lead the team with 24 targets that have traveled 20-plus yards down the field, so we could see some splash plays in this game. Keep him rolling as a low-end WR1 who should have a higher floor now that Julio Jones has been ruled out.
Keenan Allen: We don’t need to harp on last week’s performance, as Herbert simply had a bad day at the office. It was just the second time all season Allen finished outside the top-36 wide receivers with Herbert under center. This is the type of game we needed after that one, as the Falcons have allowed the second-most fantasy points in the league to wide receivers (43.1 PPR points), behind only the Seahawks. They’ve faced the fifth-most targets (22.3 per game) but have also allowed the second-most yards (207.9 per game) to wide receivers, leading them to allow a massive 9.31 yards per target, so the efficiency is certainly there. The reason they’ve allowed the second-most points per game is due to the lack of touchdowns, as receivers have scored one every 24.4 targets, which ranks as the eighth-most in football. That has been due to the fact that tight ends have been money in the red zone against them, stealing some of that production. Between wide receivers and tight ends, the Falcons allow a massive 58.8 PPR points per game. There have been nine wide receivers who’ve surpassed 100 receiving yards against them. Do we really need to continue? Allen is a locked-and-loaded high-end WR1.
Mike Williams: Rather than focus on the negatives from last week’s game, let’s focus on the fact that Williams has averaged 6.8 targets over the last six games, which is more than enough to be considered a fantasy starter. He’s scored just one touchdown over the last five games, which has kept his overall performance down, but those will come. The targets are what’s most important, especially against the Falcons who have allowed 9.31 yards per target to wide receivers, which ranks as the second-highest number in the league. He’ll see a combination of A.J. Terrell and Darqueze Dennard in coverage, a duo that’s allowed 75-of-110 passing for 859 yards and six touchdowns in their coverage, which is good for a 100-plus QB Rating. There have already been 23 different receivers who’ve finished as top-40 options against them, including 20 who’ve scored 12-plus PPR points. The average number of points it took to finish as a top-36 wide receiver in 2019 was 11.7 PPR points. Williams is squarely in the middle of the WR3 conversation and should be considered a solid leverage play off Keenan Allen in DFS tournaments.
Hayden Hurst: There are many fantasy managers out there panicking now that Hurst has finished with fewer than 10 yards in two of the last three games and hasn’t scored since back in Week 6. Don’t panic too much about those two recent performances, as they both came against the Saints, a defense who’s been playing extremely well against them this year. The Chargers are not a team to worry about. They’ve allowed 2.05 PPR points per target to tight ends, which ranks as the sixth-highest mark in football. I will say that number has been carried a bit by touchdowns, as they’ve allowed a tight end touchdown every 8.4 targets, which is more often than any team not named the Jets. There have been seven tight ends who’ve finished with 32-52 yards against the Chargers, but Travis Kelce is the only one who exceeded that number. But here’s something you need to know… When you factor in their opponents this year, the Chargers allow 18.3 percent more production to tight ends than they’ve averaged in all non-Chargers games, making it the seventh-best schedule-adjusted matchup. Hurst is back in the low-end TE1 conversation.
Hunter Henry: Should we not talk about the Week 13 game? We probably shouldn’t, though I did try and warn you about how tough the Patriots were against the tight end position. It was just the third time this year Henry didn’t see at least six targets, so feel free to consider it an outlier. Like almost all other Chargers players, get him back into lineups and expect a big rebound. The Falcons have allowed the fifth-most fantasy points per game to tight ends this year, which includes them resurrecting Jared Cook from the dead last week when he caught his first touchdown since Week 8. When you look at it from an efficiency standpoint, the Falcons have allowed the second-most PPR points per target (2.28) to tight ends, behind only the Jets. There have been seven tight ends who’ve finished with five-plus targets against the Falcons, and six of those tight ends finished as the TE11 or better. When you factor in their competition, the Falcons rank as the best matchup for tight ends in schedule adjusted rank, allowing 26.5 percent more production than their opponents typically average. Get Henry back in lineups as a high-end TE1.
Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions
Spread: Packers -7.5
Packers at Lions Betting Matchup
Aaron Rodgers: If you were to break down every quarterback into fantasy points per actual pass attempt (no rushing), Rodgers has been head and shoulders above everyone. He’s averaged 0.665 points per pass attempt, while the closest quarterback (Patrick Mahomes) has averaged 0.593 points per attempt. That’s the reason he’s the only quarterback in the top-eight with fewer than 152 rushing yards (he has just 87). Despite being a strictly pocket passer, he’s finished with 18.2-plus fantasy points in 11-of-12 games. You can essentially do whatever you want against the Lions, as evidenced by the 1.56 PPR points per offensive play against them, which ranks as the second-most only to the Falcons. The Packers themselves average 1.58 PPR points per play, which leads the league. There are going to be a lot of fantasy points to go around for the Packers this week. Not only does Rodgers lead the league with his 36 passing touchdowns, but the Lions have allowed a passing score on 5.57 percent of pass attempts, the fifth-highest number in the league. There have been just two quarterbacks all year who’ve averaged fewer than 7.09 yards per attempt against them, which highlights the consistency of their struggles. The Lions rank as the 11th-worst team in terms of average pressure-rate, which is going to be an issue for them, as Rodgers has a ridiculous 126.9 QB Rating while throwing from a clean pocket. The Lions are also down their top two cornerbacks in Desmond Trufant and Jeff Okudah. The Lions are one of just two teams who Rodgers has thrown fewer than three touchdowns against this year, though Davante Adams did have to leave that game early. The only concern for Rodgers would be that the game is not competitive, and the running backs do all the work against a cakewalk Lions run defense. You’re still playing him as a safe QB1.
Matthew Stafford: Sometimes you just have to throw up your hands and say, “it makes no sense.” There have been four games where Stafford has topped 18.5 fantasy points this year. Those games have come against the Bears, Colts, Saints, and Washington. Those are all teams who rank as bottom-11 matchups for quarterbacks. Does that make him a must-play against this week’s opponent? The Packers have allowed the eighth-fewest fantasy points per game to quarterbacks this year. The reason for that is because their offense has been so efficient, it’s kept opponents off the field. They’ve averaged just 60.1 plays per game, which is the third-fewest in the league. Overall, Packers games net just 123.3 plays per game, which is the second-lowest number in the NFL, while the Lions games have netted 129.8 plays, which is slightly above the league average. If there’s something Stafford has going for him, it’s that the Packers have struggled to get consistent pressure, though that hasn’t really benefited him this year. In one of the oddest stats I’ve found this year, Stafford has a 100.9 QB Rating when under pressure (best in NFL), but just a 92.5 QB Rating while kept clean (37th). Again, it makes no sense. Stafford completed 20-of-33 passes for 244 yards and two touchdowns in the first meeting against the Packers this year, finishing as the QB19 back in Week 2. Prior to holding the Eagles quarterbacks in check, the Packers did allow both Philip Rivers and Mitch Trubisky to throw for three touchdowns apiece in Weeks 11 and 12, so it’s not like it’s a must-avoid matchup. Stafford has the look of a mid-tier QB2 who should be playing from behind for most of the day.
With his efficiency, it’s not the worst-case scenario for him to get 18 touches per game, but it does seem like they’re capping him there. The Lions have allowed tons of fantasy production; we know that. What we also know is that running backs have accounted for 39.1 percent of the fantasy points they’ve allowed to RBs/WRs/TEs, which ranks as the second-highest mark in the league, behind only the Packers themselves. That all amounts to a league-leading 32.7 PPR points per game to running backs, which is enough for two running backs to be viable. A large portion of that comes from the fact that they’ve allowed 16 rushing touchdowns on the year. Just last week, they allowed two rushing scores to David Montgomery, who’d had two rushing touchdowns in his previous 20 games combined. Touchdowns aren’t just easy to come by on the ground against them, as running backs have totaled a league-high seven touchdowns through the air. That’s 23 total touchdowns to running backs, while no other team in the league has allowed more than 17 of them. It’s not just the touchdowns, either. The Lions have allowed the second-most total yards per game to running backs, and when you factor in weighted opportunity, they allow the most fantasy points per opportunity. In fact, they’re 6.4 percent higher than any other team. The 7.10 yards per target they’ve allowed ranks second to only the Packers themselves. Start Jones as a superstar RB1 who destroyed this defense back in Week 2 for 45.6 PPR points, which was the second-biggest running back performance of the year. The Lions do face an average of 29.4 running back touches per game, so we should see Williams get into the 12-touch territory, which certainly has low-end RB3 value against this defense.
D’Andre Swift, Adrian Peterson, and Kerryon Johnson: Are we finally going to be getting Swift back into the lineup this week? Some will think he’s still out due to the concussion, but he missed last week due to an illness, not the concussion, so I’m expecting him to return. He did return to practice on Wednesday, which is always a good thing. We definitely want to monitor this situation, as there are going to be fantasy points up for grabs this week. Of the fantasy production the Packers have allowed to skill-position players, running backs make up a league-high 39.6 percent of it. All in all, the Packers allow the third-most fantasy points per game to running backs (28.8). That’s a very high number considering their opponents have only averaged 60.1 plays per game (third-fewest). They’ve faced 27.1 running back touches per game (15th) but have allowed the seventh-most total yards. When you factor in points per weighted opportunity, they’ve allowed the second-most points per opportunity, behind only the Lions themselves. We’re expecting the Lions to face a negative gamescript here, right? Well, the Packers have seen just the 12th-most targets to the running back position, but they’ve allowed the second-most receiving yards to them. Surprise, surprise, the 7.15 yards per target they’ve allowed to running backs is the highest number in football. The wildcard here is that we don’t know how interim head coach Darrell Bevell will handle this backfield, as he gave Adrian Peterson much more run than Kerryon Johnson, which differed from what Matt Patricia did with Swift out. I’d assume Bevell goes to the most talented back at this stage, especially in the passing game, and that’s Swift. Provided he’s back, Swift should be considered an RB2 with top-10 upside should Bevell give him the workhorse role. Peterson would be just a touchdown-dependent RB4, while Johnson is someone who belongs on waivers in redraft formats.
Davante Adams: The all-time record for Packers receivers in a single season is 1,519 yards. Adams is currently on pace for 1,440 yards… while missing two full games and a half of another. That’s not to mention the 11 touchdowns he’s scored in the last seven games. He’s playing on another level and is about to go against a secondary that is missing their top two cornerbacks. The Lions don’t just get stomped on the ground by opponents. They’ve also gotten railed through the air, as evidenced by the fact that they’ve allowed the third-most yards per target (9.28) to wide receivers. While they’ve been on the wrong end of the touchdowns, we know that can flip with the way the Packers have called plays inside the red zone. Will Fuller tagged this injured secondary on Thanksgiving for 6/171/2, so what do we expect from Adams? Shocker: he’s worth playing everywhere.
Allen Lazard: It seems he’s stuck in the 4-6 target range with plenty of other wide receivers, though he gets more consideration because his targets come from Aaron Rodgers. Whether it be touchdowns or yardage, Lazard has posted at least 7.5 PPR points in 5-of-6 games, which isn’t much, but it’s at least some floor. The Lions held him to just three catches for 45 yards on five targets in the first matchup between these two teams, and that was the game Adams needed to leave early. There have been 17 different wide receivers who’ve totaled five-plus receptions against the Lions, which allows for multiple receivers to be relevant. He’ll see a lot of Justin Coleman in coverage, who’s allowed 21-of-27 passing for 199 yards and one touchdown in his slot coverage, so nothing too great. Lazard is someone who should be considered a touchdown-dependent WR4/5 option.
Marquez Valdes-Scantling: Ever since we heard about him injuring his Achilles a few weeks back, he’s been targeted just twice and hasn’t caught a single pass. You shouldn’t be considering him until we see him get back into the 4-6 target range, as he might be out there as a decoy right now.
Kenny Golladay: He’s still not practicing, which means you’re likely to be without him for another week.
Marvin Jones: Just when you’re ready to give up on Jones, he pops back up and reminds you that he’s the No. 1 wide receiver on the Lions. He’s averaged a robust 10.0 targets per game over the last four weeks, which ranks as the sixth-most among wide receivers. He’s been the No. 9 wide receiver in PPR formats during that time, too. Jones has actually scored 10.8-plus PPR points in six of his last seven games, so this goes beyond no Golladay. Any wide receiver who’s averaging 10.0 targets per game needs to be in lineups, even if it’s a not-so-great matchup. The Packers would qualify as one of those, as they’ve allowed the sixth-fewest fantasy points per game to them. The 1.72 PPR points per target they’ve allowed is the 10th-lowest mark in the league, but that’s where we need to be reminded about what volume means to wide receivers. Even if Jones were the average NFL wide receiver against them and got the same target share he’s received over the last four games, he’d finish with 17.2 PPR points, which would be a top-20 performance. He’s probably going to draw Jaire Alexander in coverage, who’s allowed 26-of-49 passing for 273 yards and two touchdowns. That’s a bit worse, as his coverage has amounted to just 1.33 PPR points per target, but 13.3 PPR points would still be a mid-tier WR3 performance. I just wanted to share why we’re constantly harping on volume. Jones was struggling out of the gate this year and though he only saw six targets without Golladay in the lineup, he finished with 4/23/1 in the Week 2 matchup against the Lions. It’s not the greatest matchup with Alexander, but he’s a high-end WR3.
Quintez Cephus and Mohamed Sanu: It’s tough to trust either of these receivers, as they’re currently splitting snaps. Even though Sanu out-snapped Cephus last week, it was Cephus posting 63 yards and a touchdown in a brutal matchup against the Bears. Neither received more than four targets, and knowing that Packers opponents have averaged just 18.9 wide receiver targets per game, it’s not a time to get cute and chance it with either of these two. Let’s hope we see some distance in the snaps this week so we can potentially trust one of them.
Robert Tonyan: We all know it’s been a weird year for tight ends, right? Tonyan has seen more than five targets just twice all year, yet he currently sits as the No. 4 tight end on the year. He’s averaged a ridiculous 2.95 PPR points per target. How ridiculous is this? There have been 46 tight ends who’ve seen 20-plus targets this year, and no one else has averaged more than 2.58 points per target. If we set the threshold at 30 targets, the closest is 2.28 points per target. Crazy, right? Over the last three weeks, he’s caught 14-of-15 targets for 150 yards and three touchdowns. That’s the good news. The bad news is that tight ends have accounted for just 11.8 percent of the skill-player production against the Lions, which is the lowest mark in the NFL. Due to a minuscule 57.6 percent catch-rate, tight ends have averaged just 3.2 receptions and 31.8 yards per game against them, though they have allowed a touchdown every 11.0 targets, which ranks as the sixth-most often. In schedule-adjusted rank, they’re the ninth-toughest matchup in the league. Their opponents this year have averaged 7.0 targets per game in non-Lions games, but have averaged just 5.5 targets against them, so is it their scheme that leads offenses in other directions? Potentially, but it’s nearly impossible to get away from Tonyan as at least a low-end TE1 with the way he’s played recently.
T.J. Hockenson: He’s been one of the most reliable tight ends in fantasy football, hauling in 53-plus yards in 8-of-12 games, and he’s scored in three of the four games he hasn’t hit that mark. So, he really has just one “bust” performance on the year. The last time he played the Packers, he caught all four of his targets for 62 yards. The four targets tied a season-low, which has been a common theme against the Packers, as they’ve seen just 68 tight end targets all season, which is the fourth-fewest in the NFL. There have been just four tight ends who’ve seen five or more targets against the Packers this year, and their finishes were TE6, TE12, TE14, and TE15. So, when you see that the Packers are the fifth-toughest matchup against tight ends while allowing just 9.7 PPR points per game, it’s due to a lack of targets. That does need to be factored in, as tight ends have averaged 35.9 percent fewer fantasy points per game against the Packers than they have in non-Packers games, which makes them the fourth-toughest schedule-adjusted matchup. You’re still starting Hockenson as a TE1 with how consistent he’s been, but don’t expect a dominating performance is all.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Buffalo Bills
Spread: Bills -2.5
Steelers at Bills Betting Matchup
Ben Roethlisberger: We knew it was a tough matchup against Washington last week, and though Roethlisberger did throw for 305 yards and two touchdowns, the day should’ve been so much more, as the pass-catchers continually let him down. They combined for six drops in that game. Now they’re heading to play in Buffalo and suddenly have just a 22.0-point team-implied total? Here are the Steelers point totals by week: 26-26-28-38-38-27-28-24-36-27-19-17. They played their last two games against the Ravens and Washington, two of the best defenses in the league. Meanwhile, the Bills have allowed the 14th-most points per game (25.6). Quarterbacks have benefited from that, averaging the seventh-most fantasy points per game (20.2) against them. The Bills have faced 35.3 pass attempts per game while their opponents have passed the ball on 58.3 percent of plays. Meanwhile, the Steelers have had Roethlisberger drop back to pass 62.5 percent of the time, including 71.1 percent of the time over his last three games. They’re going to get James Conner back this week, but even then, the offensive line hasn’t created much room on the ground for their running backs, as they’ve averaged a league-low 0.92 yards before contact. No other team is below 1.04 yards. But the line has been wonderful when pass-blocking, allowing Roethlisberger to be sacked just 10 times all year, including zero times in his last five games. The Steelers points need to go through Roethlisberger in this game, and we’ve already seen 9-of-12 quarterbacks finish with 18-plus fantasy points against the Bills this year. He should be considered a high-floor low-end QB1 this week.
Josh Allen: Whew. After struggling in the prior three games without John Brown, Allen silenced the doubters last week, crushing the 49ers defense to the tune of 375 yards (third-highest mark of his career) and four touchdowns (tied career-high). He’s finished with 25-plus fantasy points in seven different games this year and has scored fewer than 15.1 fantasy points just once, so he not only comes with a sky-high ceiling, but he’s also he’s about as safe as they come. He gets another tough test in Week 14 against the Steelers defense, though they’ve been falling apart as the injuries continue to pile up. First it was linebacker Devin Bush. Next it was edge rusher Bud Dupree. Now it’s linebacker Robert Spillane (knee) and cornerback Joe Haden (concussion) who are in danger of missing this game. The Steelers allow the fewest fantasy points per offensive play to their opponents, and it’s quite ridiculous how good they’ve been. They’ve allowed just 1.21 PPR points per offensive play, which is 0.24 points below the league average. It may not sound like much but when you add in the 61.7 plays their opponents average, we’re talking about 15 fewer fantasy points. Quarterbacks have averaged a league-low 13.59 fantasy points per game against the Steelers. They’ve intercepted a league-high 16 passes this year, while no other team has forced more than 14 of them. But again, have the injuries added up to the point where they’re going to start slipping? Alex Smith was the first quarterback who threw for more than 279 yards against them, but they still hold the 22-game streak of no 300-yard passers while no quarterback has thrown for more than two touchdowns in any of their last 20 games. Because of that, they have not allowed a top-12 quarterback performance since Week 11 of last year. We did see both Lamar Jackson and Robert Griffin rush for 65-plus yards against them, which is where Allen will need to get some of his value this week. He may not carry you to a win this week singlehandedly, but he’s shown enough of a floor to be considered a mid-to-low-end QB1.
James Conner: He’s been cleared to return and will play in this game after a two-game absence. While he was out, no Steelers running back earned a bigger role, that’s for sure. Benny Snell totaled just 65 scoreless yards on 24 carries while Anthony McFarland tallied 24 yards on seven carries. It’s not like Conner has been great when on the field recently, either. It’s because their offensive line is creating them just 0.92 yards before contact, which is the lowest mark in the league. Conner has averaged a rock-solid 2.89 yards after contact, which is what his value higher than most. Meanwhile, the Bills have allowed ball carriers just 1.33 yards before contact, which ranks as the 14th-lowest number in the league. They’ve struggled to tackle though, because running backs have averaged a rock-solid 4.52 yards per carry against them, including a touchdown every 26.9 carries, which are both working in Conner’s benefit. They’re the definition of an average run defense, though it’s been somewhat feast or famine against them. We’ve seen just four running backs top 60 rushing yards, but those four running backs all ran for 100-plus yards. When you add in the 9.0 PPR points per game they’ve allowed through the air to running backs, you have what is the team that allows the 12th-most fantasy points to the running back position. We’ve watched 12 running backs finish as the RB26 or better, which should make you feel solid about getting Conner into lineups as a low-end RB2 who should be fresh.
Zack Moss and Devin Singletary: After a costly fumble inside their own five-yard line, Moss was benched in Week 13. It opened the door for Singletary to play, and he played extremely well considering the opponent. Over the last two games, Singletary has racked up 185 total yards on 35 touches, giving him fantasy appeal. We shouldn’t expect Moss to be in the doghouse forever, but it’s not like he was playing at an exceptional level, which is why Singletary might be the more attractive option right now. Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter all that much this week, as you really don’t want to play either of them if you can help it. As a whole, the Steelers have allowed just 74.8 PPR points per game to their opponents, which is ridiculously low. Then you add in the fact that the Bills are a bottom-five team in running back scoring, and we have the recipe for disaster. If you’re hoping for targets, that’s probably not going to go well against the Steelers, as running backs have seen just a 15.4 percent target share against them. Sure, J.D. McKissic saw 10 last week, but he’s targeted like a wide receiver. All in all, the Steelers have allowed just 61.2 PPR points per game to skill-position players, which is the lowest number in the NFL. Running backs have averaged just 17.9 PPR points per game, which ranks second to only the Saints. The injuries on the front seven may have an impact moving forward, though we didn’t see that with Washington against them last week when they totaled just 45 yards on 21 carries. Singletary should be considered a back-end RB3 who’s gained some momentum, but he doesn’t have much of a ceiling. Moss is back into the touchdown-dependent RB4 territory against a team who’s allowed a rushing touchdown once every 34.3 carries.
Diontae Johnson: I’m convinced that Johnson is one of the most skilled wide receivers in the league when it comes to route running and his ability to gain separation, but he just might have the worst hands in the league. He’s been charged with a league-high 10 drops this season, including three in last week’s game against Washington. It led to Mike Tomlin stepping forward and saying, “They can catch the ball, or they can get replaced by someone who will catch it… It’s just as simple as that. Like I’ve often said, I expect guys to make routine plays, routinely. When there is a pattern of that not happening, we have to look at who we are throwing the ball to.” This is not good news for Johnson and the 10-plus targets he’s seen in each of the last five games. Despite his drops, he’s caught at least six passes in each of his last five games and has offered a stable floor for fantasy managers. The Bills are right around the league average, allowing 73.9 PPR points per game to the combination of running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends. However, wide receivers have accounted for just 46.3 percent of that production, which is the second-lowest mark in the league. Of course it helps when receivers have only been targeted 19.8 times per game against them. Meanwhile, the Steelers target theirs 28.3 times per game. From an efficiency standpoint, the Bills are a slightly below-average matchup for receivers, allowing a 64.6 percent catch-rate (20th), 8.03 yards per target (21st), and a touchdown every 21.5 targets (20th). But I don’t know if they have the depth to handle the Steelers receivers. While Tre’Davious White is top-notch, Levi Wallace can be burned (as proven last week versus the 49ers receivers), as can Taron Johnson. We might see Johnson lose some opportunity this week due to his drops, but it could’ve been a warning for moving forward. You should keep rolling him out as a mid-to-low-end WR2 who does have a bit more volatility and may not be a cash game play because of that.
Chase Claypool: What in the world happened with him last week? The Steelers had him out there for just 43.7 percent of the snaps. The snap counts among the Steelers receivers were: Smith-Schuster 61, Johnson 57, James Washington 38, Claypool 31, and Ray-Ray McCloud 5. Heck, Jaylen Samuels played just four fewer snaps than Claypool. He wasn’t the one dropping passes, so that’s not it. It’s an outlier, as he’d seen eight-plus targets in five straight games before his four-target outing against Washington. If anything, Johnson’s drops should help Claypool get more. It should be noted that Claypool has now gone seven straight games without recording 70 yards. We don’t know what the Bills will do with Tre’Davious White, as they could just choose to play sides with him, so we can’t factor that in too much. On the season, there have been just 15 wide receivers who’ve finished better than the WR45 against the Bills, so it’s very likely that someone disappoints among the Steelers wide receiver corps. But if Claypool gets back to his pre-Week 13 targets, there’s been just one wide receiver (Hunter Renfrow) who’s seen eight-plus targets and not finished as the WR31 or better against them. His snap count does force us to be a bit more cautious, but he remains in the solid WR3 territory.
JuJu Smith-Schuster: It’s now been three straight weeks where he’s finished with fewer than 40 yards, though two of the matchups were particularly brutal. The good news is that he’s seen 19 targets over the last two weeks, catching 15 of them. While fantasy managers may be getting tired of the dink-and-dunking with him, this week’s matchup against the Bills is probably exactly what he needs. There have been 16 wide receivers who’ve finished as the WR45 against the Bills, and seven of them were slot-heavy receivers, including four who finished as top-24 options. It’ll be Taron Johnson he matches up with, a slot-heavy cornerback who’s allowed 54-of-71 passing for 572 yards and a touchdown in his coverage. The 488 yards he’s allowed in the slot ranks second to only Buster Skrine (539) of the Bears, while there are no other cornerbacks who’ve allowed more than 399 yards in the slot. Both Jamison Crowder and Cooper Kupp were able to rack up seven-plus receptions and 107-plus yards against this secondary. He should bounce back as a low-end WR2/high-end WR3.
Stefon Diggs: When Diggs got traded to the Bills, we wondered if the targets would be there. Boy were we wrong, as his 121 targets rank second to only Keenan Allen. Talent wasn’t ever in question and Diggs has proven that while racking up 1,037 yards in the first 12 games, though he’s scored just four times. Still, he’s the No. 5 receiver in PPR formats 75 percent through the year. There are many people who see the Steelers on the schedule and think, “Uh oh.” You shouldn’t be one of them. Of the fantasy production the Steelers have allowed to skill-position players, wide receivers have accounted for 56.5 percent of it, which ranks as the third-highest mark in the league, behind the 49ers and Seahawks. Diggs played both of those teams, finishing with 9/118/0 and 10/92/0. Basically, when the Steelers are allowing production, it’s to the wide receiver position. Football Outsiders has their biggest weakness as No. 1 wide receivers, as they’re the 11th-best matchup for them in DVOA. That’s why we’ve seen five 100-yard receivers against them this year, while just one of them saw double-digit targets. They’ve only allowed a 57.4 percent catch-rate to receivers, which is the lowest mark in the league, but when they do allow a reception, it goes for 13.84 yards, which is the sixth-highest average in the NFL. We also need to watch the status of Joe Haden and Steven Nelson, as Haden suffered a concussion while Nelson has missed time with a knee injury (Haden is out). You’re starting Diggs as a WR1 every week and the Steelers secondary shouldn’t scare you.
Cole Beasley: You want to see something crazy? Take a look at this…
Before you berate me with comments, I’m well aware that Lamb’s numbers have severely dipped since the quarterback change. However, on a weekly basis, I see Lamb over Beasley in the consensus rankings. The point is that Beasley’s been underrated and currently sits as the No. 19 wide receiver on the season in PPR formats, ahead of guys like Chase Claypool and Cooper Kupp. After doing extremely well in a tough matchup versus the 49ers, he moves onto a matchup with the Steelers, who rank as the No. 1 team in DVOA while defending the short pass. But here’s the kicker, do you know who No. 2 is on that list? The 49ers, the same team Beasley just tagged for 130 yards and a touchdown. There’s been some real inconsistency to Beasley’s usage, though. He’s finished with four or less targets in three of their last five games, which has led to fewer than 40 yards in each of them. Mike Hilton has been playing better as of late and has allowed 20-of-28 passing for 223 yards and one touchdown in his coverage, but we have seen five slot-heavy wide receivers finish as top-36 options against the Steelers this year. With how much we’re expecting the Bills to struggle running the ball, Beasley should be targeted semi-frequently, so consider him a low-end WR3 who should provide a stable floor.
Eric Ebron: He’s one of the guys Mike Tomlin was talking about when he said, “start catching the ball or we’ll put someone in who will.” Ebron dropped another two balls in Week 13, bringing his season total to six, which is tied with Evan Engram for the league-lead among tight ends. This is likely just a warning to Ebron, as the Steelers really don’t have anybody else at tight end who presents a threat, unlike the wide receivers. For fantasy purposes, Ebron’s been great, totaling 11-plus PPR points in six of his last seven games. It sure helps that he’s seen a massive 54 targets over those seven games, but it’s all relative. There have been just six teams who’ve allowed 15-plus PPR points per game to tight ends, and the Bills are one of them. They’re allowing a sky-high 73.7 percent catch-rate, 8.11 yards per target, and a touchdown every 14.1 targets. That all amounts to 1.97 PPR points per target, which is the eighth-highest number in football. It gets even better when you factor in their opponents, as tight ends have scored 20.2 percent more PPR points against the Bills than they have in their other matchups, making this the third-best schedule adjusted matchup for the position. You should have him in lineups as a TE1 right now.
Dawson Knox: Yes, he saw a season-high four targets last week. He also finished with fewer than 37 yards, just like he has in every other game he’s played this year. The Steelers have allowed the third-fewest fantasy points per game to tight ends this year, and it’s not even due to competition, as tight ends have averaged 5.9 fewer points per game against the Steelers than they have in their other games. You’re not going to play Knox. Not even if there’s a fire.
Baltimore Ravens at Cleveland Browns
Spread: Ravens -1.5
Ravens at Browns Betting Matchup
Lamar Jackson: There were highs and lows to Jackson’s performance on Tuesday night, but in the end, he came out of it with 25.68 fantasy points, which is all you could really ask for. He’s now rushed for at least 51 yards in nine of his last 10 games, while scoring a rushing touchdown in four of them. He’s also completed 70-plus percent of his passes in three of the last four games, so maybe we’re trending in the right direction at the right time. Now onto a matchup with the Browns, a team he’s played extremely well against over his time as a starter. In their last three matchups, he’s thrown for 275/3, 238/3, and 247/3. Good, right? He’s also rushed for 66, 103, and 45 yards in those games, giving you massive fantasy performances. Despite playing in three games that involved extremely high winds and/or rain, the Browns have allowed 25 passing touchdowns this year, the fourth-highest number in the NFL. Before factoring in any rushing whatsoever, they’ve allowed the sixth-most fantasy points to quarterbacks through the air alone. Jackson was one of four quarterbacks who’ve rushed for at least 34 yards against the Browns this year, so it’s not like he won’t produce there (he always does). Jackson should be considered a solid QB1 with a rock-solid floor in this matchup.
Baker Mayfield: Want to hear something crazy? If you were to remove rushing totals and break down quarterbacks strictly as passers, Mayfield has averaged the seventh-most fantasy points per actual pass attempt. Of course, that doesn’t matter all that much when you’re averaging just 27.3 pass attempts per game. The matchup against the Titans, yeah, that was a good one. He took full advantage of the fact that they don’t pressure the quarterback. The matchup against the Ravens is not that type of matchup. They have lacked pressure lately due to all the injuries/sicknesses they’ve had, but they should be getting back to near full strength. If they can get pressure to Mayfield, he falters. Of the 40 quarterbacks who’ve dropped back 100-plus times, Mayfield’s 32.0 QB Rating when under pressure ranks as the third-lowest mark in the league. If they let him stand tall in the pocket, his passer rating skyrockets to 115.9. Back in Week 1, he threw a season-high 39 passes against the Ravens, though they netted just 21 completions, 189 yards, and one touchdown. Mayfield’s top three fantasy performances this year came against the Bengals, Titans, and Jaguars. Those aren’t exactly tough matchups. Those are also the only three times he’s topped 15.58 fantasy points. You shouldn’t consider Mayfield a strong option even in 2QB formats.
JK Dobbins, Gus Edwards, and Mark Ingram: We didn’t know if Dobbins was going to get the workhorse role back in the lineup, but the answer was apparent. The touch split was Dobbins 11, Edwards 7, Ingram 7, and Justice Hill 1. The snaps were Dobbins 21, Edwards 18, Ingram 11, and Hill 6. The 38 percent snap share Dobbins’ lowest since back in Week 5, but that could’ve been because it was his first game back from COVID. He certainly looked good, though it’s important to note it was against the Cowboys, who appeared to forget how to tackle. The Browns have done a good job limiting the production to running backs, which is evidenced by the fact that they’ve accounted for just 26.7 percent of the production by skill-position players against them, which ranks as the third-lowest number in the league. There’s been just one team of running backs who’ve rushed for more than 128 yards against them (Raiders, 166), so it’s been a major problem for timeshares like the Ravens have, especially when they’re non-existent in the passing game. Even when you factor in the level of competition they’ve had, they’re the 10th-toughest schedule adjusted matchup for running backs. In the first meeting, the Ravens running backs combined for just 68 yards on 21 carries, though they did score two rushing touchdowns. All in all, there have been eight running backs to finish top-24 against the Browns, and six of them totaled 18-plus touches, a number we won’t likely find in this group. You’re looking for big plays or touchdowns here, and Dobbins is certainly the most likely to deliver. He should be considered a low-end RB2. Edwards looked good against the Cowboys while Ingram looked like the same running back he’s been all year. Edwards should be considered a touchdown-dependent RB4 while Ingram isn’t someone you should aim to play.
It’s clear that Chubb is the primary ball carrier, but Hunt has seemingly lost the value he once had as an RB2. If he scores, he’ll get into that territory, but if he doesn’t, you’re looking at a back-end RB3 finish. The Ravens have allowed 11 different running backs to finish as top-24 options against them, though it needs to be noted that nine of them totaled at least 17 touches, a number that seems unlikely for both Chubb and Hunt to hit. The Ravens have not been an immovable force on the ground, allowing 4.30 yards per carry but their opponents have averaged just 20.8 carries per game. Meanwhile, the Browns running backs have averaged 28.5 carries. There hasn’t been a single team whose running backs have combined for 30 carries against the Ravens this year, while just two of them have topped 25 carries. Unless they go back to utilizing the running backs in the passing game (they’ve combined for just 11 receptions the last four games), it’s tough to find tremendous value. Chubb has been playing so well, he should remain in lineups as a low-end RB1, but know that he’s finished with just 101 yards and no touchdowns on 25 carries in the last two games combined against the Ravens. Hunt still comes with an RB3 floor, which obviously doesn’t factor in his touchdown upside in this run-heavy offense, but know that he’s scored just one rushing score in his last eight games, which is why you should keep him in the RB3 territory.
Marquise Brown: After failing to hit double-digit PPR points in seven of his first 10 games, Brown has popped back onto the fantasy radar the last two weeks, tagging the Steelers for 4/85/1 and then the Cowboys for 5/39/1, hitting at least 14.9 PPR points in each of them. We talked about it two weeks ago, but Brown complained about not being utilized and John Harbaugh said they needed to rectify that. Well, he has eight targets in the two games since then, a number he hit just twice over the first 10 games. This obviously bodes well for his stability in fantasy lineups. There’s been one game all year where Brown has topped 100 yards. Do you know who that game was against? The Browns. There have been 19 different wide receivers who’ve finished as top-40 options against the Browns, including both Corey Davis and A.J. Brown last week when they combined for 15 catches, 269 yards, and a touchdown. It’s worth noting that they were without top cornerback Denzel Ward, but he missed practice again on Wednesday and is considered a big question mark to play. With him out, Terrance Mitchell and Kevin Johnson combined to allow 10-for-15 in their coverage for 147 yards and two touchdowns. Wide receivers have seen 49 targets in the red zone against the Browns, which is the most in the NFL, so maybe Brown can add on to his two-game scoring streak? Lamar Jackson has thrown three touchdowns in each of his last three games against the Browns, so it’s possible. I’m not saying you should completely trust him, but as a low-end WR3/4 with upside? Sure.
Jarvis Landry: In the two non-windy/rainy games the Browns have played without Odell Beckham, Landry has seen 21 targets, bringing in 16 receptions, 205 yards, and two touchdowns. To be fair, he played against two of the worst defenses in football (Jaguars, Titans), but it’s still huge to see him get a massive 33.9 percent of the Browns targets in those games. This week is going to be much tougher against a Ravens defense that’s allowed the 12th-fewest fantasy points to wide receivers. It’s not due to a lack of trying, as receivers have been targeted 21.7 times per game, which is the seventh-most in the league. When you break it down to fantasy production on a per-target basis, the Ravens rank as the second-toughest matchup behind only the Rams, allowing a tiny 1.56 PPR points per target. This is a matchup the Ravens are familiar with, as they play these guys twice a year. In their last two games, which had the same cornerback trio, Landry has finished with 5/61/0 and 7/74/0, so he was still useful. It’ll be Marlon Humphrey in coverage most of the game, who’s been attacked quite a bit lately. Over the last three weeks, he’s allowed 17-of-27 passing for 147 yards and a touchdown. That’s not great production, but he’s been targeted a lot, which amounts to fantasy points regardless. Landry should deliver a solid floor as a mid-to-low-end WR3.
Rashard Higgins: Sure, he saw nine targets against the Titans last week, but we can’t forget about his two-target game the week before that against the Jaguars where he caught one ball for 15 yards. It’s been extremely tough to gauge the Browns receivers without Odell Beckham, as they’ve dealt with high winds/rain in 3-of-5 games. There have been two games Higgins has produced more than 65 yards this year and those two games came against the Bengals and Titans, who are not quite the Ravens. This week’s matchup will be against Marcus Peters and Jimmy Smith, who’ve combined to allow just 57-of-94 passing for 655 yards and four touchdowns this year. That’s just 6.97 yards per target, which is not enough to consider the shaky Higgins as anything more than a low-upside WR5.
Mark Andrews: He was activated off the COVID list on Wednesday and will be good to go this week. Hopefully he picks up where he left off, as he’d caught 12 passes for 157 yards and a touchdown in the two games before winding up on the inactive list. With Lamar Jackson looking better over the last month, you should feel a lot more confident starting Andrews. The Browns have allowed the second-most fantasy points per game to tight ends (16.5 PPR points) this year, behind only the Jets. They’ve allowed nine touchdowns to the position, which again, ranks second to the Jets. It’s not just touchdowns that have accounted for those points, though, as the 69 receptions they’ve allowed through 12 games ranks as the second-most in the league. Andrews is one of 10 tight ends who’ve finished with double-digit PPR points against them this year. In his last three games against the Browns, Andrews has racked up 5/58/2, 6/93/2, and 4/31/1. It’s clear that he’s had their number. The touchdowns he’s scored (and others) likely stem from the fact that tight ends have seen a league-high 24 targets in the red zone against the Browns. Andrews should be inserted back into lineups as a strong TE1.
Austin Hooper: He’s been back in the lineup for a month now but has seen just two targets in three of the last four games. He hasn’t recorded more than 33 yards since way back in Week 6, so it’s unlikely many fantasy managers are considering him. If the Browns use matchups to their advantage, the Ravens are a team that’s above average against almost every position but tight ends. Their overall adjusted opponent rank is the seventh-worst matchup as a whole, but against tight ends specifically, they’re just the 16th-toughest matchup, which is essentially just the average matchup. We haven’t seen any tight end finish with more than 14.8 PPR points, but we have seen 11 tight ends finish with at least 44 yards and/or a touchdown against them. In the first meeting between these two teams, Hooper finished with just 2/15/0, but David Njoku contributed 3/50/1, and we know he’s an afterthought. They also had Odell Beckham stealing 10 targets that game. Hooper is a risky proposition considering his recent target share, but his matchup shouldn’t be the reason to dislike him. He’s a middling TE2.
New England Patriots at Los Angeles Rams
Spread: Rams -5.5
Patriots at Rams Betting Matchup
Cam Newton: After another two-touchdown performance on the ground, Newton has now averaged 10.0 fantasy points per game on the ground, which is just a sliver behind Kyler Murray‘s 10.5 points per game. Unfortunately, we don’t get much of anything through the air with Newton and why he’s the No. 18 quarterback on the year. He’s still delivered a 16.8-point floor in 8-of-11 games, which certainly allows for him to be considered as a streamer, though you might want to think twice this week. When an opponent takes a snap against the Rams, they average a net of 1.21 PPR points per play. This is not good. In fact, the only other team who’s better than them in this category is the Steelers. Simplifying it a bit, the league average is 1.44 points per play. When you add in the 63.1 offensive plays per game against the Rams and the 63.2 plays per game for the Patriots offense, that amounts to nearly 15 fewer fantasy points than average for their opponents. This is bad when the Patriots are already the third-lowest scoring fantasy offense in the league, behind only the Jets and Giants. All in all, the Rams allow just 76.5 fantasy points per game to their opponents, which is the second-fewest to only the Steelers. That obviously affects quarterbacks, as they’ve averaged a tiny 13.8 fantasy points per game, which is the second-lowest mark, again, only to the Steelers. They’ve allowed a league-low 14 passing touchdowns on the year. Everything is low against them. The touchdown rate (lowest in NFL), yards per attempt (lowest in NFL), and completion-rate (fourth-lowest) are all historically low. They’ve allowed just 0.343 fantasy points per actual pass attempt this year, which is equal to what Nick Foles has averaged this year. Newton is not getting it done through the air. The Rams have also allowed the third-fewest yards on the ground to their opponents this year. Quarterbacks themselves have averaged 5.03 yards per carry and have scored three touchdowns, so it’s possible we see Newton get a floor that way, but I wouldn’t bank on more than middling QB2 numbers in this matchup.
Jared Goff: He’s now thrown 0-1 touchdowns in four of his last five games, though he did sneak in a rushing touchdown last week to prop up his fantasy numbers. It was the fifth time this year where he’s totaled 23-plus fantasy points. Great. Unfortunately, he’s finished with 11.7 or less fantasy points in five games, too. Oddsmakers are not seeing this game as a high-scoring one, either, as the Rams have a mediocre 25-point team-implied total. The Patriots opponents have averaged a ridiculously low 59.8 plays per game this year, which continues to be the concern. Quarterbacks have averaged a league-low 30.8 pass attempts per game against them, which doesn’t bode well for Goff. Because of the low play count, as well as the high-run percentage, quarterbacks have averaged just 15.3 fantasy points per game against the Patriots, which is tied for the fourth-lowest mark in the league. The Patriots have been very middle-of-the-pack with their pressure rate this year, but if they want to succeed, they’ll need to get pressure. Goff’s quarterback rating while under pressure is just 42.0, which ranks 35th among the 40 quarterbacks who’ve dropped back to pass 100-plus times. The Patriots weren’t exactly the most efficient defense into the last two weeks with Kyler Murray and Justin Herbert, but they held those two to just 379 yards, no touchdowns, and three interceptions combined. I don’t want to say they’re fixed and that everything is back to normal, but it’s enough to add some uncertainty to an already shaky Goff. He’s a high-variance QB2 but I don’t see enough firepower on the other sideline to keep him dropping back to pass a whole lot.
Damien Harris, Sony Michel, and James White: We added a third running back to the mix for the Patriots last week, as Michel made his way back into the lineup. Naturally, it dragged down the value of others. Even in a game the Patriots won 45-0, none of their running backs scored more than 10.5 PPR points. This is crazy, but here are my notes from last week on Harris: “Let’s pretend that Harris will get 16 carries for this exercise. He’s failed to receive a target in four of the last five games, so we can’t count on that. Even if Harris gets 16 carries and averages a rock-star-like 5.0 yards per carry, he ends the game with 80 yards. If he doesn’t score, he’s not getting into startable territory, especially in PPR formats.” He finished last week with 16 carries for 80 yards. WHAT. With Michel in the lineup, it’s going to be even tougher for him to get to 16 carries. The Rams matchup isn’t one you should feel the need to attack, either. Factoring in weighted opportunity (targets are worth more than carries), the Rams rank as the third-worst matchup for running backs from an efficiency standpoint. They’re not good from a volume standpoint, either, as running backs have averaged just 20.1 carries per game against them, which is not the best when you’re in a timeshare. We’ve already discussed the issues with Harris getting even 16 carries. Even looking at DVOA, the Rams rank as the seventh-best run defense in the league. If there were a better chance for Harris to score, we could like him a bit more, but when you combine their 19.5-point team total with the fact that the Rams have allowed just seven rushing touchdowns to running backs, you have what is a low-end RB3. Michel was likely on the field more due to the blowout nature of the Chargers game, though it’s another added concern to Harris’ projection. You can’t play Michel with any confidence. The same can probably be said for White, who’s now seen just five targets that have netted exactly zero yards over the last two weeks without Burkhead. White would benefit if the Patriots fell behind and needed to throw a bunch, as the Rams have allowed 11 different running backs total 20-plus receiving yards this year. Still, he’s just a low-floor RB4 who needs a negative gamescript to be more.
Cam Akers and Darrell Henderson: We watched Akers hit career-highs in snaps (63 percent) and carries (21) in Week 13, and though he did find the end zone, his touches weren’t all that efficient. He totaled 94 yards on 22 touches while Henderson notched the Cardinals for 74 total yards on just six touches. Still, it’s clear that Sean McVay wants to play the fresh rookie right now. Teams have chosen to run the ball 46.0 percent of the time against the Patriots, which ranks as the third-highest percentage in the league. Meanwhile, the Rams have the ninth-highest run rate at 43.5 percent, though that mark has been trending down as of late, as they’ve run the ball just 37.4 percent of the time over their last three games. While teams have run the ball a lot against the Patriots, they’ve still faced just 27.1 running back touches per game due to lack of overall plays (their opponents average just 59.8 plays per game). The Patriots have been the definition of an average defense against running backs, allowing 4.37 yards per attempt, 5.20 yards per target, and a touchdown every 32.5 touches. If we were to factor in their level of competition, running backs have averaged 0.9 more PPR points per game against the Patriots than they do in non-Patriots games, making it the 15th-best schedule-adjusted matchup. Now that Akers has 30 touches over the last six quarters while Henderson has just seven of them in that time, we have to believe it’s Akers who’s playable as a low-end RB2/high-end RB3, though I won’t pretend he doesn’t come with risk. McVay has legitimately said he wants to model his running game after Kyle Shanahan. Henderson should be considered a last-minute RB4 replacement who would need McVay to have a change of heart in order to have a shot to contribute.
Jakobi Meyers: Well, it was fun while it lasted, right? Despite all the commotion in the fantasy community about Meyers, he’s topped 60 yards just once all season and it was against the Jets. He’s also still yet to catch a touchdown this year, which is likely to be the case unless he scores a long one, as the Patriots run the ball in the red zone more than most. The Rams have allowed a league-low 29.9 PPR points per game to wide receivers, which makes this matchup one to avoid if possible. The 132.3 yards per game they’ve allowed to wide receivers is also a league-low. Touchdowns aren’t likely to save you, either, as they’ve allowed one every 33.1 targets. All in all, they’ve allowed a league-low 1.52 PPR points per target to wide receivers, so even if we were guaranteed six targets, that doesn’t make him an auto-start against this defense. We’ve reached the point where you need to find specific reasons to start Meyers rather than find ones to bench him. We don’t have a reason to start him here, as he’s just a weak WR4/5 option with a limited ceiling.
Robert Woods: And the targets keep comin’ comin’ and comin’ comin’. If you missed what I was going for, it was the intro to “Let’s Get It Started” by the Black Eyed Peas. I know, I’m awful at this. Whatever the case, Woods has now seen 15-12-11 targets over his last three games, which is welcomed after he averaged just 6.7 targets over the first nine games. There’s little reason to slow those targets down, as he’s accumulated 29 receptions for 295 yards and a touchdown on them. The reason they might slow down this week is due to the matchup with Stephon Gilmore that’s possible. Gilmore rarely goes into the slot, but they had him play there a little bit last week with Keenan Allen, so it’s possible they do the same with Woods this week, who does play in the slot about 45-50 percent of the time. Targets against the Patriots in general have been a good thing, as they’ve allowed 8.64 yards per target (ninth-most) to them, though volume has been hard to come by, as they’ve been targeted just 18.3 times per game. We don’t have a sample with Bill Belichick versus Sean McVay, so it’s tough to say how things will be handled, but given Woods’ target share the last three games, you can’t sit him. He should be in lineups as a WR2, though he’s not a must-play in DFS formats.
Cooper Kupp: While Woods has finished as the WR27 or better in six of the last eight games, Kupp has been a tad more volatile. He’s finished as a top-30 wide receiver just twice in his last eight games, with those matchups coming against the Bucs and Dolphins, two teams that were clearly weaker in the slot than they were on the perimeter. Yes, the Patriots match that description. They have Jonathan Jones covering the slot, who isn’t bad, but also isn’t great. He’s allowed 45-of-69 passing for 470 yards and four touchdowns in his coverage this year, which amounts to a 98.1 QB Rating, which is actually better than his number last year (110.8). If the Patriots have Stephon Gilmore shadow, it would make more sense that it was Woods, who plays on the perimeter more than Kupp, though they do rotate a bit. Of the top-seven wide receiver performances the Patriots have allowed this year, slot-heavy wide receivers have accounted for four of them. The lack of targets against the Patriots have been the biggest issue for receivers this year, but knowing Kupp has a 23.3 percent target share in this Rams offense helps make us feel better about starting him as a low-end WR2 with upside should Woods be shadowed by Gilmore.
Ryan Izzo: The Patriots have targeted their tight ends just 23 times all season, so unless you want to rely on a touchdown against a team that’s allowed just 14 passing touchdowns all year, I suggest you forget about Patriots tight ends entirely.
Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett: This duo continues to share the workload, as the target distribution on the season is Everett 44 – Higbee 43. The pass routes run last week? 44 apiece. Higbee stole the touchdown but it was Everett who had more targets and yards. It’s become a headache trying to figure out which one to trust (if any), but fortunately, you don’t need to contemplate either this week. Tight ends have averaged the fourth-fewest fantasy points per target (1.48) against the Patriots, and that includes some tough opponents. When you factor in adjusted schedule efficiency, the Patriots are the third-toughest matchup in football for tight ends. They’re also ranked as the fourth-best defense in the league against tight ends in Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric. They’ve yet to allow a tight end record more than 13.3 PPR points, so it’s not like you’re missing out on a big ceiling, either. If I had to pick one of these two against the Patriots, it’d be Everett, as he’s more like a wide receiver than he is a tight end.