The Primer: Week 15 Edition (2020 Fantasy Football)
I’ve been shot.
It’s something I was reminded of the other day while my son asked me for a nerf gun for Christmas. Sure, it may seem harmless, but kids will be kids and get themselves into trouble. That will also wind up leading to embarrassment. Well, at least it did in my story.
My parents never bought my brother and me toy guns for whatever reason. Maybe it’s because we always wanted the new pair of Jordan shoes or gaming system that came out, and if you got one of those, that was pretty much the only present you’d get because they weren’t cheap. Anyway, my friend Kyle was more adventurous than us who got presents like off-road RC cars and BB guns.
Naturally, we’d get some enjoyment out of his presents when we were all hanging out. On one particular Sunday morning, we were out in the field with his brand new BB gun. “Dude, the more you pump this thing, the more air that builds up, the faster it shoots!” I recall him specifically pumping this thing 12, 13, 14 times each pop. Thinking back to it now, I’m sure there was some sort of limiter on it, but this thing broke glass bottles. It was powerful.
Like an idiot, I started running out into the field and Kyle decided he was going to try and shoot some sort of bird that was making his way through. You already know what happened next. It hit me in the right shoulder blade. It frickin’ hurt, I knew that. I remember thinking, “this is why kids don’t have guns!”
We didn’t even know where the BB was. There was what looked like a little puncture in my skin with a red ring around it. Heck, as far as I’m concerned, that BB might still be in me somewhere. But as 13-year-old kids, you don’t worry about that. You worry about the consequenses. We couldn’t tell our parents that he’d shot me. Not only would we lose the chance to shoot his BB gun ever again, but we’d likely be grounded for being morons. I told Kyle I was going to suck it up and just deal with the pain, that I wouldn’t tell anyone.
Later that night, my mom did what she always did. Stepped outside, put her fingers to her lips and whistled so loud that I could hear it from up to a half mile away. It was dinner time. I went home feeling good about protecting my friend, as he was obviously worried about getting in trouble for it. I sat down at the dinner table and started to work my way through the meal, but as my mom came back to the table with some bread, she paused behind me.
“What the heck is that?” She put down the bread and gasped as she pulled my shirt back. This is where I remind you that I was 13 years old and not the brightest one when it came to hiding war injuries from me and my friends. I had a basketball jersey on, which obviously doesn’t cover your entire back. I remember Kyle and I making sure that the jersey covered the part of my back with the puncture hole in it, but we didn’t plan on it spreading a massive bruise so fast. Apparently my mom saw a little black and blue, and that’s what made her pull my jersey back.
It was the moment of truth. I had to decide in that moment exactly what I was going to say. Was I going to rat out my friend, or was I going to come up with a lie that was believable? I did what every loyal friend would do. I lied. “Relax Mom, it’s fine. There’s this girl on the bus who accidentally stabbed me with a pencil. It doesn’t even hurt.” I even reached back and kind of patted myself on the back to try and prove it to her, though it hurt quite a bit. As a mom, her immediate concern was that I had lead poisoning, though my dad told her he thought I’d be fine.
My mom wanted to know what this girl’s name was, so my mind immediately ran to the girl on the bus who told me I wasn’t cool enough to sit in the back of the bus. Her name was Liz and while she was the boss on the bus, I desperately wanted to earn her acceptance and make my way back there. I know, I know… Why the heck would you tell your mom the girl’s name that you’re trying to gain her acceptance? Like I said, I was young and dumb. Also, I was put on the spot and asked a name.
The last part of this story is the worst part. As I stood there waiting for the bus on Monday morning, my mom emerged from the house and runs out to the bus. She starts telling the bus driver that someone on his bus named Liz stabbed her son with a pencil the other day. I remember sitting there thinking, “this is going to end my social life.” In case I didn’t tell you, this was a brand new school for me for my freshman year of high school.
Fortunately, my mom didn’t push the issue too far and it seemed like she just wanted to let the bus driver know that he needs to watch the students on his bus a bit closer. In today’s world, there’s no way that situation ends there, but back then, it was just how things were in a small town. As I sat there completely embarrassed and ready to kill Kyle for making me go through all of this, I heard a voice coming from the back of the bus. It was Liz and she was waving me to come over by her. As I made my way, I figured her friends were just waiting to punch me.
“So what the heck was that all about?” she asked. I decided to tell her the truth about the entire situation because I had nothing left. She said, “I think it’s really cool you did that to protect your friend. You’re good with me.” From that moment on, she was cool with me sitting wherever I wanted on the bus.
BUF at DEN | CAR at GB | SF at DAL | SEA at WAS | CHI at MIN | NE at MIA | JAC at BAL | TB at ATL | DET at TEN | HOU at IND | PHI at ARI | NYJ at LAR | KC at NO | CLE at NYG | PIT at CIN
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.
Buffalo Bills at Denver Broncos
Spread: Bills -6
Bills at Broncos Betting Matchup
Josh Allen: He posted solid fantasy numbers against the Steelers last week, though it’s worth noting that it’s not the same Steelers defense we’ve watched for much of the year, as the injuries have piled up. Still, Allen was playing in not-so-great of weather and still managed to post 18.3 fantasy points. He gets another defense that’s reeling with a lot of injuries this week. You might see the fact that the Broncos have allowed the second-fewest passing touchdowns (16) this year, but that doesn’t factor in that they lost their three starting cornerbacks prior to last week’s game and then lost one of their backups (Duke Dawson) to a torn ACL in last week’s game. It’s a shame we haven’t gotten to see this defense at full strength, as they’ve allowed just 0.395 fantasy points per actual pass attempt, which is the fourth-lowest mark in the league, behind only the Rams, Ravens, and Steelers. Keep in mind that the cornerbacks are not the only major pieces they’ve lost (OLB Von Miller, DT Jurrell Casey, DT Mike Purcell). The Broncos have allowed a massive 318 rushing yards (4th-most) and six rushing touchdowns (most in NFL) to quarterbacks, which amounts to the second-most fantasy points on the ground to quarterbacks, and obviously bodes well for Allen’s floor, even if he were to have a bad day through the air. Considering he’s scored 25-plus fantasy points in more than half of his games this year, while giving you a 15.1-point floor in 12-of-13 weeks, Allen should be locked-and-loaded as a QB1 in your lineup.
Drew Lock: After failing to top 11.1 fantasy points for three straight weeks, Lock threw for 280 yards and four touchdowns against the Panthers on just 27 pass attempts. His 10.4 yards per attempt in that game was the second-best mark of his young career. It was also just the fourth time in 15 career games where he’s topped 13.1 fantasy points, so we can’t get too excited. The Broncos offense as a whole has averaged just 1.20 PPR points per offensive snap, which ranks as the fourth-lowest number, behind only the Jets, Giants, and Patriots. We talked about how the Panthers lacked pressure up front, which is something Lock has struggled with throughout the year. Do the Bills have that same issue? Not quite, as they average the fifth-highest pressure rate on opposing quarterbacks. This is where I remind you that Lock has a league-low 25.0 QB Rating when pressured this year. You get a 39.6 QB Rating for simply throwing the ball at the ground. The Bills pass defense has been extremely hot/cold all year long, as they’ve held seven quarterbacks to fewer than 7.0 yards per attempt but have also allowed four quarterbacks to average 8.1 or more yards per attempt. There have only been three quarterbacks who’ve finished with fewer than 18 fantasy points against them, though two of them have come over the last three weeks, and they happened to be very good quarterbacks (Justin Herbert and Ben Roethlisberger). Looking at strictly passing (Lock offers next to nothing on the ground), the Bills have allowed 0.446 fantasy points per actual pass attempt, which ranks as the 13th-fewest. Considering how much pressure they bring, Lock shouldn’t be trusted this week.
Devin Singletary and Zack Moss: Moss played a season-low 15.1 percent of the snaps after his benching in Week 13 but bounced back and played his usual 58.7 percent of snaps in Week 14 while Singletary played just 40.0 percent of them, which was a season-low. Moss out-touched Singletary 13-8, though that’s still not going to do fantasy managers much. This timeshare has been maddening all year, as the Bills don’t run the ball enough to support a consistent option in a timeshare that’s been 55/45 most of the year. Here are their touch totals by week:
So, Moss hasn’t seen more than 14 touches in a game, while Singletary has been capped at 15 in games where Moss hasn’t missed or gotten benched. The Broncos have really started to struggle against the run over the second half of the season. After allowing just 3.67 yards per carry and one touchdown to running backs over their first six games, they’ve allowed 4.75 yards per carry and 11 total touchdowns to them over their last seven games. Knowing the Bills are projected for 28.3 points, Moss should have a good shot at finding the end zone. Still, his 14-touch ceiling doesn’t allow for much more than an RB3 start, even in a plus matchup. Singletary is someone who benefits from a negative gamescript, as he’s run twice the number of pass routes than Moss has. Oddsmakers don’t see this as being one of those games, though, which puts Singletary in the low-upside RB4 territory as someone who’s scored just five touchdowns on 347 career touches.
Melvin Gordon and Phillip Lindsay: Will the Broncos continue to share the carries between these two? It seems obvious that Lindsay may be trying to play through an injury, as his efficiency has dropped significantly over the last three games, totaling just 70 yards on 34 carries (2.05 YPC). Meanwhile, Gordon continues to play well, racking up 230 yards on just 40 carries (5.75 YPC). It’s probably foolish to expect them to start giving Gordon the workhorse role, but you have to assume Gordon continues to slither his way into more touches. The Bills have been what can only be defined as an average matchup for running backs, allowing 4.42 yards per carry, 5.70 yards per target, and 11 total touchdowns to running backs through 13 games. Those are all right around the league average, so it makes sense that they’ve allow the 17th-most fantasy points to the position. Volume has been average as well, as running backs have totaled 26.6 touches per game against them, which ranks… 16th. It’s been somewhat of a hit-or-miss matchup, as there’ve been just four running backs who’ve topped 60 rushing yards against them, but those who did totaled 102-plus rushing yards while one (Derrick Henry) rushed for two touchdowns. I will say that since their bye week, they’ve held each of the Chargers, 49ers, and Steelers running backs to less than 80 yards rushing. The projected gamescript here favors Gordon’s role as the primary receiving option, as he runs practically twice the number of routes that Lindsay does. Still, we’re stuck in-between 12-16 touches in each of the last five games for Gordon, so we can’t fully trust him. He is playing well as of late and it could lead to a bigger role, which gives him high-end RB3 viability this week. As for Lindsay, it’s tough to recommend him as even a flex/RB4-type option, as he’s failed to record more than 31 total yards in three straight games, and he hasn’t found the end zone since back in Week 8. He is just a handcuff at this point.
Stefon Diggs: Not that Diggs wasn’t a must-play against the Steelers regardless but once we got news that Joe Haden was out, the flood gates would open. Diggs poured it on with 10 catches for 130 yards and a touchdown despite playing through some bad weather. It was his fifth 100-yard game of the year, and that’s not even including the other four games he’s totaled 86-93 yards. In fact, there hasn’t been a game this year where he’s totaled fewer than 10.8 PPR points. It certainly helps that he’s seeing 10.3 targets per game. The Broncos had a cornerback unit that was playing very well, allowing the 11th-fewest points per game to wide receivers. But notice how I said they “had” a cornerback unit? Over the last week and a half, they’ve lost four of their top five cornerbacks, including all three starters. It was A.J. Bouye to suspension, and then Bryce Callahan, Essang Bassey, and Duke Dawson to injured reserve. The cornerbacks Diggs will face this week include rookie Michael Ojemudia and former undrafted free agent De’Vante Bausby. They combined to allow 10-of-15 passing for 125 yards in their coverage last week against the D.J. Moore-less Panthers receivers. You’re starting Diggs as a WR1 every week, and the matchup against the Broncos does nothing to change that.
John Brown or Gabriel Davis: We don’t know if Brown will be back this week, but both him and Davis play the same role, so we can apply these notes to whoever is starting, though we’ll plan on Davis for now. He’s made the most of his opportunity in the lineup, totaling at least 68 yards in three of the last five games, while scoring a touchdown in four of the last five games. The Broncos are dealing with injuries to four of their top five cornerbacks, which has led to them starting rookie Michael Ojemudia and 2015 undrafted free agent De’Vante Bausby. We have seen Ojemudia get significant playing time this year with injuries, and he’s allowed 42-of-64 passing for 615 yards and four touchdowns on them, so he’s certainly nothing to run from. The only concern is that both Diggs and Beasley have plus matchups, and they come ahead of Davis in the pecking order. He’s in the WR4 conversation as someone who’s continually outperformed expectations.
Cole Beasley: Even though he’s failed to top 41 yards in four of the last six games, we have to take solace in the fact that he’s seen double-digit targets in three of the last four games. The Broncos have lost their starting slot cornerback, as well as their backup slot cornerback, which has led to safety Will Parks coming down to cover the slot. He’s been with the team for one week. Over his five years in the league, Parks has seen 137 targets in coverage, allowing 95 catches for 1,013 yards and nine touchdowns on them. Beasley may not have a massive ceiling like Diggs but he’s finished with 9.1 or more PPR points in 11-of-13 games this year, which gives you a decent floor, and he obviously has a plus-matchup with a third-string cornerback. He can be considered as a low-end WR3 this week who gives you a safe floor.
Jerry Jeudy: Here’s a not-so-great stat on Jeudy prior to their Week 14 game against the Panthers: Based on the number of targets he’s seen, how deep down the field they were, and where they took place, Jeudy has scored 20.9 fewer PPR points than expected, which is one of the worst marks among receivers. To be fair, we had KJ Hamler right there with 14.8 fewer points than expected, so something tells me the quarterback is the problem. Jeudy has seen just nine targets over the last three games combined, so he’s become someone you need to find reasons to start, rather than one you need to find reasons not to start. Jeudy plays most of his snaps at LWR, though that doesn’t really tell us which cornerback he’ll see the most of this weekend. The Bills have used Tre’Davious White to shadow opposing No. 1 receivers, but we can’t say with any degree of certainty who the Bills would consider to be the No. 1 on the Broncos. You’d much rather have Jeudy go up against Josh Norman than White, but again, we don’t know how the Bills will handle these two. As a defensive unit, they’ve allowed just 7.77 yards per target to wide receivers, which is the 10th-lowest mark in football. Of the 17 wide receivers who’ve finished as top-40 options against the Bills, only one of them did it with fewer than six targets, which is no longer a given for Jeudy. I don’t think we found the reason to start Jeudy, who’s failed to top 42 yards in four straight games. There are just too many variables to trust him as anything more than a risky WR4/5.
Tim Patrick: Not only is Patrick out-producing Jeudy, but he’s also out-snapping him, playing more snaps in each of the last five games. That was around the time Jeudy started popping up on the injury report, so maybe there’s something to it, but either way, Patrick has taken full advantage, scoring three touchdowns over the last two weeks. Patrick has now finished as a top-36 wide receiver in eight of his last 10 games where he actually had a quarterback. The Bills have allowed 17 different wide receivers to finish as top-40 options against them, so even though they’re a below average matchup for receivers, it’s not an impossible matchup. But has Patrick been good enough to warrant shadow coverage from Tre’Davious White, or do they still view Jeudy as the most talented receiver on the team? It’s possible they simply play sides, but that would mean Patrick would see more of White, who’s one of the better cornerbacks in football. Just like Jeudy, Patrick has seen minimal targets over the last three weeks, finishing with 2, 4, and 5 targets in them, though one was a game where they didn’t have a quarterback, and the other two were in games where Lock threw just 27 and 28 pass attempts. The Bills have allowed a below-average 1.72 PPR points per target to wide receivers, which is the 12th-lowest mark. There are enough concerns in this matchup to keep Patrick in WR4 territory despite his consistency this year.
K.J. Hamler: Before you get too excited about Hamler’s big game in Week 14, you need to understand that he totaled those 86 yards and two touchdowns on just three targets. No wide receiver in the NFL averages more than 2.53 PPR points per target, so it doesn’t matter if it’s Tyreek Hill (the most efficient receiver in the NFL), three targets just aren’t going to cut it. The Panthers were a defense that struggled to generate any pressure, so taking shots down the field to Hamler made some sense. But to be fair, Hamler hasn’t been used in a down-the-field role, as he’s had just seven targets that have traveled 20-plus yards in the air, and three of them came in Week 14 alone. He’s the No. 3 option in this offense and has an 11.7-yard average depth of target. The good news is that the Bills have struggled with slot-heavy receivers. Taron Johnson is the one who’s manned the slot and he’s allowed a 75.4 percent catch-rate in his coverage along with 7.86 yards per target, though he hasn’t been charged with a touchdown yet. There have been eight wide receivers who’ve totaled double-digit PPR points against the Bills, so if you’re looking for a last-minute replacement in your lineup who should give you a semi-decent floor, Hamler could fill in as a WR5.
Dawson Knox: Over their last three games, Knox has jumped to 61-80 percent playing time from just 34-48 percent of the time in Weeks 2-9. It’s led to him seeing at least four targets in three of his last four games, which could put him on the fantasy radar. He’s also scored touchdowns in two of those games, but he’s still failed to top four receptions or 36 yards all season. Now, to be fair, he has played against the Cardinals, Chargers, 49ers, and Steelers since playing his larger role, and three of them rank as bottom-five matchups for tight ends. The Broncos have been the ninth-toughest matchup for tight ends, so he doesn’t get much luckier this week. They have allowed a 73.6 percent catch-rate while allowing a respectable 7.78 yards per attempt, which are both above the league average, but they’ve allowed just three touchdowns to tight ends, dragging down the overall numbers. There’ve been just four tight ends who’ve finished with double-digit PPR points against them this year, and each of those tight ends saw at least seven targets, which is not something we should come to expect from Knox just yet, especially given how great the wide receiver matchups are this year. He is working his way up the TE2 ranks, though.
Noah Fant: He left fantasy owners high-and-dry last week after leaving in the first quarter due to an illness. He didn’t see a single target, which may have lost some their matchups in the first week of the playoffs. These things can certainly happen, though the timing on this one was obviously not ideal. His replacements combined for eight receptions, 73 yards, and a touchdown. Provided he’s over his sickness, he’ll return to a great matchup with the Bills. Tight ends see a massive 23.0 percent target share against them (4th-highest in NFL), and it’s led to tons of production, as eight different tight ends have been able to finish as top-14 options against them. The 7.86 yards per targets they’ve allowed to the position ranks as the eighth-most in football. We know running back and tight end targets correlate very strongly, and we also know the Broncos don’t utilize their running backs a whole lot in the passing game, so maybe Fant can get some of those targets too, as running backs have been targeted a rock-solid 19.9 percent of the time. If Fant is in the lineup and gets six-plus targets, he’s likely going to finish as a TE1, as that’s been the case with six of the seven tight ends who’ve hit that mark against the Bills. He’s hit that mark in 7-of-11 healthy games, so we’re talking about a better than average shot for him to hit double-digit PPR points and be worth of a start. He’s in the low-end TE1/high-end TE2 conversation provided he’s practicing in full by the end of the week.
Carolina Panthers at Green Bay Packers
Spread: Packers -8.5
Panthers at Packers Betting Matchup
Teddy Bridgewater: Despite being shorthanded with D.J. Moore out of the lineup, Bridgewater threw for 283 yards in Week 14 (his fourth-highest total on the year). He failed to throw a touchdown, but he did manage to run for one while also adding 31 yards with his legs, which made for a quality fantasy day. It needs to be noted that the Broncos were without all three of their starting cornerbacks, which made life a bit easier on him. Bridgewater has now thrown for 221.6 yards per passing touchdown, which is the third-most among quarterbacks who’ve thrown at least 300 passes this year, behind only Cam Newton and Daniel Jones. Is he unlucky or is this a real thing? Considering he’s averaged a solid 7.6 yards per attempt, I’m going to chalk it up as unlucky. The Packers have allowed a 5.1 percent touchdown-rate, which is the 13th-highest mark in the league, but the issue is volume against them. The Packers are the slowest paced team on offense, and they’ve been so efficient, it’s limited their opponents to just 60.0 plays per game. In turn, that’s led to just 33.3 pass attempts per game against them. If Bridgewater can find the attempts, they’ve allowed the 10th-most fantasy points per actual passing attempt. The Panthers do throw the ball 59.4 percent of the time (15th-most), which gives Bridgewater hope, but know that there’ve been just one quarterback who’s reached 40 pass attempts against them, and just three quarterbacks who’ve topped 36 pass attempts. When you add in that the Panthers are projected for just 21.3 points, you have enough question marks to knock Bridgewater out of the streaming conversation in 1QB leagues, though he should be a fine QB2 for those in Superflex leagues.
Aaron Rodgers: He’s leading the Packers to a league-high 1.74 PPR points per offensive snap this year, which is flat out ridiculous, as there’s no other team in the league over 1.70 PPR points per snap, and just two others (Chiefs, Seahawks) over the 1.58 mark. Despite being on pace for just 551 pass attempts this year, Rodgers is on pace for 48 passing touchdowns, which would be a career-high. Did I mention he’s thrown just four interceptions? The Packers take their time on offense, running a play every 30.7 seconds, which is the highest number in the league. I’m convinced that if they were to run more hurry-up, we’d see record-breaking numbers out of him. He’s on a roll right now and likely the favorite to be the league’s MVP. There are just six teams who’ve allowed greater than a 67.9 percent completion-rate to quarterbacks, and the 69.2 percent the Panthers have allowed certainly qualifies, so Rodgers should have no issue putting the ball where he wants. The Panthers defense has really weakened against the pass over the weeks, as they started out extremely strong but have struggled over the second half of the season. Here are the splits:
|First 6 games||148||221||1,343||6.08||7||4|
|Last 7 games||182||256||2,046||7.99||16||1|
Clearly, the more tape that teams have on this Phil Snow defense, the more success they’re having. The biggest issue for the Panthers is that they’re not generating pressure, sacking the quarterback on just 3.83 percent of dropbacks, the fifth-lowest percentage in the league. Need I remind you that Rodgers has a league-best 128.8 QB Rating when kept clean in the pocket. You’re starting him as a QB1 and not thinking twice about it with this matchup.
Christian McCaffrey and Mike Davis: In the first six games McCaffrey missed, Davis was playing 71-88 percent of the snaps. In the three games since his Week 9 injury, Davis has played 52-73 percent of the snaps, so they’re clearly not giving him that McCaffrey-like workload anymore. He took advantage of an injury-plagued Broncos defense in Week 14, finding the end zone twice, while racking up 93 total yards on 16 touches. With McCaffrey out, here are Davis’ touches: 21-21-25-20-12-14-11-21-18-16. While there was a lull in there, it appears we’re getting close to the workload he had when he first took over the job. The Packers have faced the 12th-fewest carries to running backs but have managed to allow them 28.7 PPR points per game, which ranks as the fourth-most in the league. The biggest issue for predictability against the Packers is that their opponents have averaged just 60.0 plays per game (2nd-fewest). The good news is that they’ve seen a running back targeted on 21.0 percent of pass attempts, which ranks as the fourth-highest mark in football. Despite the Packers seeing just the 12th-most targets to running backs, they’ve allowed a massive 7.25 yards per target, which has led to them allowing more fantasy points through the air to running backs than any other team in the league. They’ve allowed 13.1 PPR points per game through the air alone to running backs, which is where Davis/McCaffrey have made most of their mark this season. While plays per game have been an issue for Packers’ opponents, they’ve still allowed 18 total touchdowns to running backs, which is tied for the second-most. If McCaffrey suits up, he’s obviously going to be in lineups. If he sits out, Davis is once again a high-end RB2 who has the valuable role in the passing game you’d like in what’s projected to be a negative gamescript. *Update* McCaffrey has been ruled doubtful, so he won’t be playing in this game.
Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams: It’s kind of crazy to think that Jones hasn’t played more than 71 percent of snaps in a single game this year, right? While Jones was out for those two weeks, we saw Williams play 89 percent and 85 percent of those snaps. As we talked about last week, Jones hasn’t topped 18 touches in the last five games with Williams in the lineup. It seems like Jones is continually getting to that mark, while they’re giving Williams anything that’s left over. The Panthers have faced an average of 27.5 running back touches per game and the Packers running backs average 30.0 touches per game, so the logical place to start with projections would be Jones with 18 and Williams with 9-12 of them. While the Panthers were one of the run defenses we attacked last year, and even early this year, but they’ve really turned things around as the year’s gone on and have allowed running backs just 0.89 yards before contact, which is the second-lowest number in the league. Since the start of Week 6, the Panthers have allowed just one team of running backs to rush for more than 130 yards, while five teams have failed to rush for more than 92 yards. Still, based on the competition they’ve played, the Panthers rank as the 13th-best matchup for running backs, as they’ve averaged 1.5 more PPR points against the Panthers than they have in non-Panthers matchups. We’ve seen running backs rack up 77 receptions against the Panthers (3rd-most), so maybe we see Jones get a bit more usage this week? He’s totaled just eight targets over the last three weeks combined. You’re going to play Jones every week, though it kind of stinks that he’s being capped at 18 touches. As for Williams, you may want to be a bit more cautious considering how good the Panthers have played against the run recently. He’s still in the low-end RB3/high-end RB4 territory on a high-scoring offense, though he may lose a tiebreaker to another running back in that territory.
Robby Anderson: We knew Anderson would see a bump in targets with D.J. Moore out of the lineup and 12 of them certainly qualifies as a decent bump. Getting eight catches for 84 yards is certainly a quality game, though we did have sky-high expectations as the Broncos were without all their starting cornerbacks. Anderson has scored in-between 10.5 and 19.5 PPR points in nine of his last 11 games, which means he’s typically in either the WR2 or WR3 range, depending on the matchup. The matchup against the Packers hasn’t been very beneficial to wide receivers, as they’ve allowed the seventh-fewest points to the position. Volume has been part of the issue (opponents run just 60.0 plays per game), but efficiency hasn’t been great, either. They have the sixth-lowest catch-rate (62.3), the eighth-lowest yards per target (7.71), and have allowed the 11th-fewest PPR points per target (1.71). Another potential issue is Jaire Alexander, though the Packers haven’t done any shadowing with him in recent weeks. Anderson plays most of his snaps on Alexander’s side of the field, but he will see Kevin King roughly 30 percent of the time, too. That’s who we want, as King has constantly allowed wide receivers get over the top of him since coming to the league. Still, there have been just six wide receivers all year who’ve finished as top-24 options against the Packers, so it’s highly unlikely we see multiple Panthers get into that territory. Anderson should be considered a high-end WR3 who comes with a sturdy floor, though his ceiling may be lacking in this contest.
D.J. Moore: The Panthers are expecting to have Moore back off the COVID list this week, though we have no idea how he’s rehabbed his ankle injury that he suffered at the end of Week 12. It’s something to monitor throughout the week and I’ll come back to post updates at the bottom of these notes. The Packers matchup isn’t a great one to return to, as they’ve been one of the more consistent defenses in football, allowing just 10 wide receivers to finish as top-36 options against them, which doesn’t even amount to one per game. Moore has been on a roll as of late, totaling 55-plus yards in seven of his last eight games, including 93-plus yards in five of them, so we’d probably be giving him the benefit of the doubt as a WR2 if it weren’t for the question marks surrounding his injury and returning from COVID. His primary matchup would be against Kevin King, a cornerback who’s been susceptible to the big play over the course of his career, as evidenced by the 15.6 yards per reception he’s allowed. Moore likely deserves to be in your lineup as a WR2/3 provided he can get a full practice in by the end of the week, but don’t pretend like there’s not a bit of risk with him here.
Curtis Samuel: We figured Samuel would have an even bigger portion of the pie in the Panthers offense last week with D.J. Moore out of the lineup, so to see him end up with 11 opportunities, we should be satisfied. He turned his nine targets and two carries into 16.0 PPR points, which was good enough for a top-24 finish. He’s now finished as the WR32 or better in six of his last seven games, which should give fantasy managers plenty of confidence. As noted with Moore and Anderson, the Packers have been pretty dang good against wide receivers this year, allowing just 10 of them to finish as top-36 options. Fortunately for Samuel, five of those wide receivers played slot-heavy snaps. Third-year cornerback Chandon Sullivan has done a competent job holding down the spot that was occupied by Tramon Williams last year, allowing 27-of-45 passing in the slot for 354 yards and a touchdown. That’s a rather-high 13.1 yards per reception from the slot, and it’s worth noting that 205 of those yards have come after the catch. Sullivan has 4.6-second speed while Samuel has 4.3-second jets. Just last week we watched Danny Amendola tag the Packers for 6/66/0 on seven targets. The Panthers have been creative getting the ball into Samuel’s hands and he’s posted 53-plus total yards in seven of his last eight games while scoring in four of them. That’s enough to give him WR3 consideration, even if the Packers have been good against the position. *Update* He popped up on the injury report on Friday with a hamstring injury, so you’re going to need to pay attention to the inactives prior to this game on Saturday because he’s questionable to play.
Davante Adams: Death, taxes, and Davante Adams fantasy points. I talked about Adams on the podcast this week, saying that it reminds me of an all-state high school player coming to town who you know is going to destroy your team and there’s nothing you can do about it. Seriously, these teams know who Rodgers wants to go to, yet Adams has now totaled 68 receptions for 891 yards and 12 touchdowns over his last eight games. Think about that for a moment. If we just took that over a full season, we’d be looking at 136 receptions, 1,782 yards, and 24 touchdowns. He hasn’t scored fewer than 18.1 PPR points since way back in Week 6. There have been seven wide receivers who’ve seen double-digit targets against the Panthers, and every single one of them scored at least 19.7 PPR points and finished as the WR13 or better, including two 32-plus point games by Tyreek Hill and Keenan Allen. Adams moves all over the formation, though he’s on the perimeter most of the time, which means he’ll see a good mix of Donte Jackson and Rasul Douglas, who’ve combined to allow seven touchdowns on 101 targets this year. You’re starting Adams and there’s not a thing the Panthers can do to stop him.
Allen Lazard: His return to the lineup hasn’t been as exciting as we thought, as the Davante Adams show continues to roll from town to town. Lazard has seen just 17 targets in the four games since his return, and he’s failed to top 23 yards in three of them. He’s playing a lot of snaps, but the targets just haven’t been there. This week may not be much different, as teams have targeted their wide receivers just 54.5 percent of the time against the Panthers, which is the fifth-lowest mark in the league. There have been 15 wide receivers who’ve finished top-36 against them, but it’s worth noting that 14 of them saw at least five targets, a number that’s hardly guaranteed for Lazard at this time. His primary matchup will be with Corn Elder in the slot, who’s done a fine job this year. He’s allowed just 23-of-32 passing for 195 yards and one touchdown in his slot coverage, so it’s not as if it’s a plus-matchup or anything. Lazard plays with the league’s MVP right now, so you can’t dismiss him entirely, but he’s stuck in the WR5 territory.
Marquez Valdes-Scantling: So, there was a break in his production that popped up during the time he was dealing with what was described as an Achilles injury. Over those two weeks, he finished with just two targets and didn’t catch a single pass. Suddenly, he popped back up on the radar in Week 14, seeing six targets and catching all of them for 85 yards and a touchdown. Is it something you should take note of? Well, according to Football Outsiders’ DVOA metrics, the Panthers are the worst in the league at defending the deep right area of the field, which is where Valdes-Scantling has done a lot of his damage. On the year, he’s seen 20 deep targets (ranks 13th), bringing in six of them for 302 yards (9th), and three touchdowns (8th). You’re never going to play Valdes-Scantling and feel comfortable with it, but when you do, you know you’re getting someone who can pay off on just one play. Knowing the Panthers have allowed the sixth-most 20-plus yard receptions in the league, he should be considered a decent hail-mary WR5.
Ian Thomas: He finished with four targets, three receptions, and 20 yards in Week 14. The targets and receptions were a season-high. The 20 yards was his second-highest total of the year. If that doesn’t say enough, I don’t know what will.
Robert Tonyan: We talk about it every week, but Tonyan continues to be ultra-efficient with his targets. Of the 52 passes that’ve been thrown his way, just six of them have hit the ground. That’s insane. He’s seen five targets in each of the last four games, and he’s netted at least four catches, 36 yards, and a touchdown in every one of them. Since joining the starting lineup in Week 2, he’s finished with at least 10.5 PPR points in 8-of-12 games. Teams have targeted their tight ends quite a bit against the Panthers, as the 107 targets ranks as the second-most in the NFL, while the 75 receptions they’ve allowed is tied for the league lead. Due to all that volume, there have been a ridiculous 14 tight ends who’ve finished as the TE18 or better against them. While Travis Kelce was the only one who finished with more than 13.8 PPR points, it’s clear that the floor against this team is huge. When you combine that with Tonyan’s efficiency, you have yourself a locked-and-loaded TE1.
San Francisco 49ers at Dallas Cowboys
Spread: 49ers -2.5
49ers at Cowboys Betting Matchup
Nick Mullens: Despite being a strictly pocket passer who has been missing weapons throughout most of the year, Mullens has delivered three 17-plus point performances, so there are times he can be considered. Is this one of them? Despite seeing just 31.0 pass attempts per game against them (2nd-fewest in NFL), the Cowboys have allowed the 11th-most fantasy points per game to quarterbacks. Touchdowns are the reason for that, as they’ve allowed a league-leading 6.70 percent touchdown-rate on the year. They’ve actually allowed the second-fewest passing yards per game (220.4), which is where we get a floor from pocket passers, as you don’t want to rely on touchdowns. There haven’t been a whole lot of yards because teams are throwing the ball on just 50.8 percent of plays against them, which is by far the lowest percentage in the NFL, as no other team is below 52.9 percent. Since the Cowboys lost Dak Prescott, teams have averaged just 28.4 pass attempts against them. If it were up to Kyle Shanahan (and it is), the 49ers might run the ball on 75 percent of the plays in this game. Mullens isn’t a streaming option unless you believe he’ll throw three touchdowns.
Andy Dalton: We figured Dalton could be a desperation streamer last week who might deliver, though the Cowboys defense played almost too well. The game was never in question, leading Dalton to throw just 23 pass attempts. He did manage to put 185 yards and two touchdowns up on those limited pass attempts, so he wasn’t a complete bust. The 49ers are one of just four teams who are allowing fewer than 80 PPR points per game to their opponents overall, so this is the opposite of last week’s matchup. Quarterbacks have averaged just 221.3 passing yards per game against them, which ranks as the third-fewest in the NFL. A bit part of that is due to teams not throwing the ball a whole lot, as the 32.0 pass attempts per game they’ve faced is the third-lowest number in football, behind only the Patriots and Cowboys themselves. The Cowboys have averaged 69.9 plays per game this year (second-most) while the 49ers opponents have averaged just 61.1 plays per game (fourth-fewest), so we could see them run fewer plays than normal. When you see that Dalton ranks behind only Sam Darnold, Alex Smith, Daniel Jones, and Cam Newton in fantasy points per actual pass attempt (no rushing), that’s a problem. The 6.92 yards per attempt the 49ers are allowing is also below average. The only positive for Dalton is that they’ve allowed a 5.05 percent touchdown-rate, which is the 14th-highest, but it’s also highly unpredictable. Dalton isn’t someone you should aim to stream this week.
Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson: It makes me sad to say this but Mostert hasn’t played more than 49 percent of the snaps since way back in Week 1. Meanwhile, in the last four games Wilson’s played, he’s totaled 35-56 percent of the snaps. Over the last two weeks, it’s been almost a dead-even split between these two running backs, as Mostert has played 67 snaps and received 26 touches, while Wilson has played 67 snaps and received 21 touches. Does Wilson lose some touches/opportunities for his fumble last week? He played afterward, so it doesn’t seem like it. The Cowboys opponents have elected to run the ball on a massive 49.2 percent of plays (no other team is over 47.1 percent). The Cowboys are also allowing a league-high 30.8 points per game against them, and that’s despite the Bengals scoring just seven points last week. The downside to the 49ers offense is that they’re the slowest paced offense in the NFL in a neutral gamescript, so they don’t run a whole lot of plays. They’re projected to win this game, so expecting them to move at a faster pace wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense. Teams have not targeted their running backs against the Cowboys, and because of that, they’ve allowed just 289 yards and no touchdowns through 13 games. Even if they did target their running backs, the Cowboys have allowed a measly 1.23 PPR points per target, which is the lowest number in the league. However, that’s not why you’re playing Mostert and/or Wilson. The Cowboys have allowed a massive 250.7 fantasy points on the ground alone this year, which ranks second to only the Texans. They’ve also allowed a league-leading 3.21 yards before contact to ball carriers, which should allow Mostert time to ramp up that speed he’s flashed (he has the two fastest MPH runs, according to NFL’s NextGenStats). There have been 13 running backs who’ve totaled 60-plus yards on the ground against the Cowboys this year, and not every team runs the ball 24.2 times per game like the 49ers do. Mostert should be in lineups as an RB2 this week as the more talented of the two, while Wilson can be considered a back-end RB3 who could outproduce those expectations if the 50/50 snap share continues. *Update* Mostert appeared to be highly questionable after needing an MRI on his ankle, but Kyle Shanahan came out on Friday and said Mostert is “ready to go.” In fact, they removed him from the injury report.
Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard: We all know Elliott’s production dipped due to Prescott’s injury, right? Well, it also doesn’t help that he played 77-98 percent of the snaps with Prescott in the lineup but has dipped to 60-78 percent without him. Due to the lack of competition on the other side of the ball, the Cowboys took it easy on Elliott last week, as he netted just 14 of the 27 touches available to their running backs. Even worse? He didn’t even find the end zone on them, leaving fantasy owners with just 7.9 PPR points and a weekend full of regret. Now onto the 49ers, a defense that’s remained stout against the run despite all the injuries they’ve dealt with, allowing the fifth-fewest PPR points per game (19.7) to running backs. They’ve still yet to allow a running back top 88 yards on the ground, and we’re now headed into Week 15, which is a major accomplishment. There have been just three running backs all season who’ve finished with more than 14.5 PPR points against them, and two of them required multiple touchdowns to get there. In fact, there’s been no running back who’s scored more than 12.9 PPR points without a touchdown against the 49ers, which is problematic considering Elliott has scored exactly one touchdown in the eight games without Prescott. The 3.69 yards per carry the 49ers have allowed ranks as the second-lowest number in the league, though they have been a team to attack through the air with running backs, allowing 1.58 PPR points per target. Elliott has seen three or less targets in six of his last seven games, so we can’t even rely on that. We’ve reached the point where he’s just a low-end RB2 who you’re hoping finds the end zone. Pollard has ranged from 5-12 touches every since Prescott was injured, which is a bigger role, though not one big enough to recommend him against this 49ers defense. He remains a solid handcuff and one you can plug into lineups as an RB4 in a real pinch, though you really don’t want to here.
Brandon Aiyuk: He’s been a stud over his last five games, plain and simple. He’s totaled 56 targets, 36 receptions, 495 yards, and three touchdowns in them, turning into a must-play option. Even last week, in what was a brutal matchup for wide receivers, Aiyuk stepped up and delivered a 10-catch, 119-yard performance. Sure, the loss of Deebo Samuel helped, but that’s going to be the case once again in Week 15, as he’s already been ruled out. In the last three games Aiyuk has played without Samuel for all/most of the game, he’s finished with 8/91/1, 7/75/1, and 10/119/0. The Cowboys allow tons of fantasy points to their opponents, yes, but they’ve also allowed the fourth-fewest completions against them. Sure, low volume has been the reason, but that matters. If Aiyuk continues to get top-notch volume, he’s going to have a big week. The Cowboys have allowed a robust 2.06 PPR points per target to wide receivers this year, which is the most in the league, and just to let you know how bad that is, Calvin Ridley has averaged 2.05 PPR points per target this season. We don’t even know who the cornerback he’ll see is, as there are too many questions about who will/won’t be active, as Chidobe Awuzie is still on the COVID list, while Trevon Diggs hopes to practice this week and return from IR. Whatever the case, you can’t afford to sit Aiyuk playing the way he is, so plug him in as a rock-solid WR2 who would be a WR1 if there were decent competition (a team that could put up points) on the other sideline.
Amari Cooper: Not a lot of volume to go around? Not a problem for Cooper. He saw just five targets against the Bengals but managed to turn them into 51 yards and a touchdown, giving fantasy managers another solid performance. He’s finished worse than the WR38 just twice all year, essentially giving you a WR3 floor despite the shaky quarterback play. The matchup against the 49ers has really been hit-or-miss in a lot of ways. They’ve allowed the 10th-fewest PPR points per game (34.9) to wide receivers, but there have been six different wide receivers who’ve been able to total 92-plus yards against them. It’s worth noting that five of those receivers totaled 11-plus targets, a number that Cooper won’t get in this offense (hasn’t seen more than nine targets since back in Week 6). They move him around the formation, though most of his snaps will take place against Richard Sherman, the veteran who’s only seen 12 targets in his coverage this year, allowing six catches for 64 yards and a touchdown on them. I have no doubt Cooper can beat him in coverage, though the Cowboys may try to attack other matchups given Sherman’s reputation. Still, Cooper has shown enough consistency and is moved around enough to play as a WR3, even if his ceiling is somewhat limited in this contest.
CeeDee Lamb: He wasn’t as fortunate as Amari Cooper last week, seeing just two of Andy Dalton‘s 23 pass attempts. He did make the most of those, churning out 46 yards, while adding a 15-yard rush, but it’s now been 6-of-7 games where he’s failed to top 46 receiving yards, including each of the last four. Since losing Prescott, Lamb is the No. 44 wide receiver in PPR formats. The 49ers may be getting their starting slot cornerback back into the lineup for this game, as K’Waun Williams has missed time with a high-ankle sprain, though that’s no guarantee. His replacement, Jamar Taylor, has allowed 14-of-19 passing for 185 yards in his coverage. He’s far from someone you need to worry about, but it is worth noting that the only slot-heavy receivers who’ve finished with more than 8.6 PPR points against the 49ers were Cole Beasley, who rattled off 9/130/1 a few weeks ago, and Braxton Berrios, who finished with 6/59/1. They’re both shifty slot receivers, while Lamb is more of a physical presence. I’d say temper expectations to WR4 territory in this matchup.
Michael Gallup: The targets have not been an issue for Gallup. Seriously, over the last six games, here are the targets for the Cowboys receivers: Gallup 49, Cooper 40, Lamb 36. Crazy, right? During those six games, he’s topped 41 yards just twice. Getting targets are one thing, though being efficient with them is another. Of the top-100 wide receivers in fantasy football, Gallup ranks 93rd in PPR points per target. Now going into a matchup with the team that’s allowed the 10th-fewest points to wide receivers, it doesn’t seem that great. The 49ers have allowed 1.82 PPR points per target to the position, which is essentially the league average, but they’ve only faced 19.1 targets per game, keeping the overall numbers down. He’s going to see a lot of Jason Verrett in coverage, who’s been extremely impressive returning from multiple injuries the last few years. He’s allowed 31-of-45 passing for just 308 yards and one touchdown while intercepting two passes. That amounts to just 6.84 yards per target and a 76.9 QB Rating in his coverage. The 49ers have allowed just 36 pass plays of 20-plus yards this year, which is the ninth-fewest in football, so there’s nothing obvious here that says you should play Gallup as anything more than an inefficient WR4/5.
Jordan Reed: He’s now finished with five-plus targets in 5-of-6 full games without George Kittle, and even in the one he didn’t, he saw four targets and turned them into 3/32/1. The issue with fully trusting Reed is that he’s still yet to play more than 50.8 percent of the snaps in any one game, while Ross Dwelley continually plays 52-plus percent of them. We expect the 49ers to win this game with a run-heavy attack, which is not somewhere Reed contributes much. On top of that, tight ends are being targeted just 16.6 percent of the time against the Cowboys, which ranks as the fourth-lowest mark in the NFL. When they do get targeted, damage is done, as they’ve allowed 2.04 PPR points per target to the position, the fifth-highest number in the league. I’d like to believe that the reason that happens is due to the plus-matchups their wide receivers have, leaving the tight ends with the short end of the stick. Now with that being said, the loss of Deebo Samuel creates a void and there are targets available. Every tight end who’s seen more than four targets against the Cowboys has finished as a top-10 tight end. Will Reed get there? He should be considered a high-end TE2.
Dalton Schultz: He’s finished in-between 22-53 yards in each of his last eight games, which should be defined as a low-ceiling TE2 who can get into TE1 territory if he finds the end zone. There are plenty of tight ends who fit that bill, so you need to just look at the matchup to determine whether or not Schultz is your guy. With that being the case, this is not the week to play him, as the 49ers have allowed the fewest points per game (8.4) to tight ends. They’ve allowed just 3.6 receptions per game to the position, and even when they allow those receptions, they go for a league-low 8.96 yards. They’re one of just five teams in the league who’ve held tight ends to fewer than 6.0 yards per target. Because of all that, they’ve allowed just two tight ends to finish as top-12 options all season. He’s not the worst option in 2TE formats because he actually gives you a floor, but there’s not enough potential in standard 1TE formats.