“I hate myself, sometimes, I love myself.”
These are song lyrics that I almost had tattooed on me at one point. They’ve meant a lot to me throughout the years, and they still do. They represent the struggle we go through internally with who we are and who we strive to be. There are times I love the person I am, and while I won’t use the word “hate” anymore, there are times I wish I could be a better version of myself.
I’ve saved this one for the final version of The Primer this year because it meant a lot to me, and if there’s one thing I want you to remember throughout the offseason, it’s that you can be whoever you want to be. You’re not always going to be that person, but if we don’t strive to be, then what are we doing here?
None of us are perfect. Let’s just get that out of the way right now. I had a conversation with my soon-to-be 18-year-old daughter a few years ago where she was struggling to understand the point of striving for perfection.
All her life, she’d been an A-B student, so when she came home with a D on her report card, it was out of character. We came down hard on her and told her she was better than that. She essentially screamed at me and said, “I’m not perfect. I can’t be perfect.” I sat her down and tried to explain to her that she’s right in a way, that no one is perfect, but that she should always strive to be.
This goes throughout every walk of life. As a husband, it’s my job to treat my wife better than anyone ever could. What does that mean? Think about this for a minute. If someone were able to take your husband/wife out on a date, would they treat him/her better than you do? Would they have a better time? If the answer is yes, then you need to do better.
Have you ever watched a romantic comedy with your husband/wife and thought, “I really wish I could do something that would sweep my partner off their feet.” Sure, it may seem corny in movies, but there’s a reason those movies do so well in the box office. Everyone wants to feel wanted. What’s stopping you?
Again, this comes back to the idea that we’re not going to be perfect, and there will be days where you take the people in your life for granted. You fall into a routine and it’s easy to forget how you made them love you in the first place. But don’t forget to stop and ask yourself from time-to-time, “Could anyone else treat them better than I do?”
The same can be said for your kids. The same can be said for your friends. The same can be said for your job.
I think about that all the time. Could anyone ever walk in, take my job for a day/week/month and do it better than me? If they can, I don’t deserve it. I work even harder today than I did in my first year of writing about football for a living. Why? You deserve the best, and if I can’t deliver that, then I don’t deserve this job.
During the holidays, give your family the best version of yourself. Strive for perfection. Be the person you know you can be. Be the person you love. Be the person that can treat your family like no one else can. You’re going to have hiccups, but that’s all part of the ride.
Thank you so much for all the support this year. I hope you know I wouldn’t be here without you guys and gals, and that means the world to me. I promise to always self-evaluate and ask myself, “Am I the giving them the best I can?” With the final version of The Primer this year, I can honestly say that I’ve given it my all and tried my best in this crazy year. May you all have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
TB at DET | SF at ARI | MIA at LV | CAR at WAS | IND at PIT | ATL at KC | CHI at JAC | CIN at HOU | NYG at BAL | CLE at NYJ | DEN at LAC | PHI at DAL | LAR at SEA | TEN at GB | BUF at NE
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.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Detroit Lions
Spread: Buccaneers -9
Buccaneers at Lions Betting Matchup
Tom Brady: It was looking extremely ugly for the first half of last week’s game against the Falcons, but Brady found his rhythm in the second half, pushing out 390 yards and two touchdowns by the time it was all said and done. It hasn’t been pretty as of late for the Bucs offense, though Brady has managed to eke out at least two touchdown passes in seven of his last eight games, including each of the last five games. That at least gives you somewhat of a floor out of a non-mobile quarterback. With two weeks left in the NFL regular season, the Lions have overtaken the Falcons as the defense who’ve allowed the most fantasy points per game to their opponents. Between quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends, they’ve allowed a massive 105.7 PPR points per game. Sure, their opponents run a lot of plays (66.0 per game), but they also allow a lot of efficiency, as evidenced by the 1.60 PPR points per offensive play. The Bucs themselves have scored 1.60 PPR points per offensive play, which ranks as the fourth-highest number in the league. This matchup is similar to last week’s against the Falcons in a lot of ways, though you can actually run the ball against the Lions, which could limit Brady’s upside. That hasn’t stopped quarterbacks against the Lions as of late, though. Three of the last four quarterbacks who’ve played against the Lions have totaled 30-plus fantasy points. On the year, they’ve allowed the fourth-most fantasy points per game (21.56) to quarterbacks. Despite allowing more touchdowns to running backs than any other team in the league, they’ve also allowed the fourth-most passing touchdowns to quarterbacks. They’re one of just three teams in the league who’ve allowed higher than a 6.0 percent touchdown-rate (Cowboys and Jaguars are the others). Removing all rushing production from quarterbacks, the Lions have allowed a ridiculously-high 0.557 fantasy points per actual pass attempt. If Brady finished with his season average of 38.7 pass attempts, that would amount to 21.6 fantasy points for the average quarterback. The Lions are also one of just five teams who’ve sacked the opposing quarterback on lower than 4.0 percent of their dropbacks, which bodes well for Brady, who’s posted a 11.5 QB Rating from a clean pocket this year. Again, the only concern is that the Lions allow production everywhere, and that’s led to teams throwing the ball just 53.5 percent of the time (4th-fewest). Still, you have to believe Brady is going to produce at least low-end QB1 numbers against this defense that’s allowing a league-high 31.1 points per game.
Matthew Stafford and Chase Daniel: It was miraculous that Stafford was able to play last week, as it seemed like he’d miss the game due to his rib cartilage injury. With the Lions mathematically eliminated from the playoff race, we should be prepared for the Lions to sit Stafford the remaining two games. There’s this misconception that the Bucs are a team you want to avoid with quarterbacks, but it’s quite the opposite. You’d have to go all the way back to Week 6 to find the last quarterback who’s finished outside the top-16 against them. You see, teams have had no success moving the ball on the ground, and it’s led to them scoring fantasy points on strictly volume. Teams have thrown the ball 64.9 percent of the time (2nd-most) and accumulating the third-most pass attempts per game (38.6) because of it. Quarterbacks have also been able to complete 69.4 percent of their passes against them, too, which ranks as the fifth-highest number in the league. The biggest strength with the Bucs defense is the pressure they bring (rank third in average pressure rate), but that hasn’t affected Stafford too much, as he’s posted a 95.7 QB Rating while under pressure this year, which ranks second behind only Justin Herbert (who crushed this defense for 290 yards and three touchdowns). The issue is Stafford himself, as he can be knocked out of the game with one big hit. Because of that, he must remain in the middling QB2 territory, but if he were healthy, he’d be a solid streaming option. If Stafford sits, Daniel is not someone you’d want to stream and it would downgrade all of the Lions offensive weapons.
Ronald Jones and Leonard Fournette: Sure, Fournette found the end zone twice, but that’s the caveat of having the workhorse role in a high-scoring offense. He totaled just 49 yards on his 14 carries, though it was a tough matchup against the Falcons run defense. Whatever the case, we should expect Jones to resume as the primary back this week (if he returns). Why is that? According to NFL’s NextGenStats, Jones has averaged 1.13 yards per carry more than he was expected to this year, which is tied for the second-highest mark in the NFL. If he were to have been simply an average running back, he would be sitting on 696 rushing yards instead of the 900 that he is. Meanwhile, Fournette has averaged -0.26 yards per carry less than expected and has 21 fewer yards than the average running back would. The Lions are the team who’s allowed more fantasy points per game to opponents as a whole, but it’s even better for running backs, as they’ve accounted for 37.9 percent of the fantasy production to skill-position players, which is behind only the Packers. The 31.9 PPR points per game they’ve allowed to running backs is the most in the league, while the Texans are the only other team who’s allowed more than 28.8 PPR points per game to them. It’s not just volume, either. When you factor in weighted volume, they’ve allowed the most PPR points per opportunity in the NFL by a full 3.7 percent. Targets are worth a ton against them, as the league-leading 1.96 PPR points per target highlights (no other team is over 1.83). Because of that, they’ve allowed the second-most fantasy points through the air to running backs. The downside is that Jones has caught just three balls over his last four games, while Brady has targeted the wide receivers more often. Still, there should be enough production on the ground to carry him into at least RB2 territory. There’s also a ceiling to be had, as there have been six different running backs who’ve scored multiple touchdowns. There have now been 16 different running backs who’ve finished as a top-20 options against the Lions. They’ve played 14 games. The question becomes: How much do they involve Fournette after he played competently in Week 15? That’s why Jones remains in RB2 territory. Meanwhile, Fournette is someone who should be able to net 8-12 touches in this highly-efficient matchup, which gives him low-end RB3/flex value. Update: After hearing Bruce Arians say that Jones should be considered doubtful, Fournette needs to be locked into lineups as a low-end RB1/high-end RB2.
D’Andre Swift and Adrian Peterson: It was nice to see the Lions stick with Swift despite the fact that he fumbled on the goal line early in last week’s game. He rewarded them by finding the end zone twice after that. It was also great to see them commit to him as the workhorse once again, as he finished with 20 of the 26 total opportunities available to Lions running backs. That’s elite territory, and knowing he did nothing but produce with them, it’s highly unlikely he loses that role. Unfortunately, the matchup this week is one of the worst in football, so he’s going to need all the volume he can get. Of the production the Bucs have allowed to skill-position players, running backs have accounted for just 27.3 percent of it, which is the second-lowest number in the league. Volume is extremely important for running backs in this matchup because the Bucs have allowed the sixth-fewest PPR points per weighted opportunity to the position. The matchup is the worst in the NFL when it comes to yardage, as the Bucs have allowed a league-low 94.2 total yards per game to running backs. In fact, there are 15 teams who allow more than that on the ground alone. When you look at production strictly on the ground, the Bucs have allowed a league-low 8.8 fantasy points per game. Think about that for a moment. Despite seeing 17.4 carries per game (which is the lowest total in the league), running backs – as a team – have averaged just 54.0 rushing yards and 0.57 rushing touchdowns per game. Just one running back (Dalvin Cook) has topped 59 yards on the ground against them all season. However, when you switch over to the passing side of things, that’s where production can be had. The 164.3 PPR points they’ve allowed through the air to running backs is the sixth-most in the NFL. With Swift back in the lineup the last two weeks, he’s run 47 pass routes while Peterson has run 16 and Kerryon Johnson has run 14. This matchup clearly favors Swift’s strengths, even if his ceiling is capped. If there’s any glimmer of hope, it’s that there have been just four running backs who’ve seen more than 15 touches against the Bucs, and each of them finished as the RB13 or better, though all of them did score at least one touchdown. If Swift keeps his workhorse role, he’s still a fine RB2 play, though there is some risk in this matchup. Needless to say, with Peterson’s lack of role in the passing game, he should not be inserted into lineups.
Mike Evans: Through six games with Antonio Brown on the roster, Evans has seen a 20.1 percent target share in those games, which leads the team. He’s also the best producer during that time, registering 406 yards and four touchdowns, and finishing as a top-24 receiver in four of the six games. Now on to play against a secondary that might be even worse than the Falcons one he played last week. The Lions have allowed a league-high 9.53 yards per target to wide receivers. Much of that stems from the fact that they’ve allowed a league-high 71.3 percent completion-rate to them. They haven’t really been healthy all year, though to be fair, it didn’t really make much of a difference with all their starting cornerbacks on the field. Whatever the case, they were forced to resort to 2019 undrafted free agent Alexander Myres playing in his first NFL game last week. The combination of Corey Davis and A.J. Brown went for 9/154/2 on 12 targets. There’s certainly a chance of the Bucs running backs stomping all over the Lions, but everyone has done that, and wide receivers have still averaged the fourth-most PPR points per game (41.6) against them. Evans should be in lineups as a rock-solid WR2 with top-10 upside.
Chris Godwin: It’s a little concerning he’s seen just eight targets over the last two games combined, but fortunately, he was able to find the end zone against the Falcons, salvaging his fantasy performance. Prior to Week 14, he didn’t have a single game all season where he finished with fewer than six targets, a threshold he’s been under in each of the last two games. Since Antonio Brown joined the team, Godwin has actually seen the fewest targets among the trio (Evans 47, Brown 41, Godwin 39). He may not offer the floor he did earlier in the year, but that shouldn’t matter all that much against the Lions secondary that’s allowed 41.6 PPR points per game to the wide receiver position. He’s going to see Justin Coleman for much of the day, a slot cornerback who’s allowed 29 completions on the last 33 targets he’s seen in coverage that netted 258 yards and a touchdown. Here are the slot receivers who’ve finished with five-plus targets against the Lions.
As you can see, top-12 is within the range out outcomes, while top-30 production seems all but certain when you consider who was throwing to each of these wide receivers. Godwin should remain in lineups as a stable low-end WR2/high-end WR3.
Antonio Brown: He finally had an efficient game in Week 15, totaling five catches for 93 yards and a touchdown against one of the league’s worst secondaries. He’s now out-targeted Chris Godwin 41 to 39 since joining the team, and he’s now got a better grip on the playbook, so we could continue to see that trend. While it’s hard to say Brown is the better option, as Godwin has been more efficient, they’re closer than most realize in the fantasy landscape. The matchup against the Lions has been highly beneficial for all receivers, as they’ve allowed 22 different wide receivers who’ve scored 11.5 or more PPR points while finishing as the WR38 or better against them. Based on where Brown lines up most of the time, he’ll have the toughest cornerback matchup with Amani Oruwariye. It’s not a bad matchup by any means, as he’s still allowed 9.06 yards per target in his coverage, though 44.3 percent of the yards he’s allowed have come after the catch. Brown has averaged 5.1 yards after the catch this year, which is the most among wide receivers on the Bucs, so maybe there’s something there. Brown has seen enough targets to earn WR3 consideration in this matchup, though it’s always tough with Bucs wide receivers, as they can cannibalize each other’s production. He’s a risk/reward WR3.
Marvin Jones: Did we get one last hurrah with the Jones-Stafford connection last week? He was targeted a team-high 12 times that netted 10 receptions for 112 yards and a touchdown. He’s now seen a Davante Adams-like 44 targets over the last four games, which is volume you must play, though you do have to pay attention to whether or not Stafford is starting. With Kenny Golladay being out, Jones will receive the No. 1 wide receiver treatment from the Bucs. While Carlton Davis is a very good up-and-coming cornerback, he’s not someone you need to absolutely avoid, as evidenced by the fact that he’s allowed 783 yards in his coverage, the second-most in the NFL. There have been 11 wide receivers who’ve seen double-digit targets against the Bucs, and every one of them finished as a top-30 wide receiver. While that’s certainly not guaranteed for Jones, he has hit that mark in four of his last six games. As long as Stafford is under center, Jones should be played as a low-end WR2/high-end WR3 who comes with a stable floor in a game they should throw the ball 40-plus times. *Update* Carlton Davis isn’t going to play, giving Jones a decent boost into WR2 territory.
Danny Amendola: He’d finished with 62 and 66 yards in Weeks 13 and 14 against the Bears and Washington (two brutal matchups for wide receivers) but then posts just 20 yards against a Titans team who’d been allowing tons of production to wide receivers. Despite that lackluster performance, Amendola has still totaled 54-plus yards in five of his last seven games, so you don’t want to simply forget about him if you’re looking to stream wide receivers. Just don’t go in with sky-high expectations because he’s yet to finish better than the WR30 in half PPR formats. He happens to have the best matchup on the field this week, as Sean Murphy-Bunting has been the weakest link in the Bucs secondary, allowing 40-of-46 passing for 459 yards and four touchdowns in his coverage. That’s a massive 10.0 yards per target and a touchdown every 11.5 targets, which are both massive numbers for a slot cornerback, and they add up to 2.39 PPR points per target. The concern is that Mohamed Sanu is eating into some of his snaps, which adds a bit of concern. If you’re looking for an emergency WR5-type option who won’t crush your team, Amendola should be able to fill that role.
Rob Gronkowski: The good news is that he saw seven targets against the Falcons horrendous secondary (that had allowed the fifth-most fantasy points to tight ends). The bad news is that he finished with just three catches for 29 yards. That makes it the fourth time in the last six games where he’s finished with fewer than 30 yards. Keep in mind that’s when Antonio Brown arrived, so he’s clearly lost some of his appeal with Brown in the lineup. On top of that, Cameron Brate has started to see a more consistent role in the offense and has seen 18 targets over the last five games. Gronkowski’s 11.5 air yards per target is 2nd among all tight ends, which strikes me as odd at this stage in his career. Tight ends have only accounted for 12.7 percent of the production by skill-position players against the Lions, which is the lowest percentage in the NFL, though it does help that they’ve given up a massive number of points overall. It certainly doesn’t help that tight ends have seen the fifth-lowest target share (16.9 percent) against them. There have been 10 different tight ends who’ve finished with double-digit PPR points against the Lions, but none who’ve topped 15.0 PPR points. This all comes back to the limited targets that tight ends have seen because the 1.79 PPR points per target is right around the league average to the position. Bottom line, you can pick your poison against the Lions, and based on what we’ve seen, Brady hasn’t been picking Gronkowski too much lately, knocking him down into the low-end TE1/high-end TE2 territory.
T.J. Hockenson: There were concerns with Hockenson last week due to Stafford’s injury, but knowing he played as well as he did, it was shocking to see Hockenson finish with just two catches for 18 yards against a Titans defense that has struggled with tight ends. The four targets were the biggest shocker, as he’d received 35 targets over their previous four games. We can’t panic too much, as Hockenson has still posted at least 53 yards and/or a touchdown in 12-of-14 games this year. Not only have tight ends seen the eighth-most targets against the Bucs, but they’ve also allowed the ninth-most PPR points per target (1.90) to the position. Because of that, we’ve seen 11 tight ends finish as the TE14 or better against them. At the very least, they’ve allowed a 72.6 percent completion-rate to tight ends, which should provide a rock-solid floor and we’ve already seen Hockenson flash a ceiling, making him a must-play TE1.
San Francisco 49ers at Arizona Cardinals
Spread: Cardinals -3.5
49ers at Cardinals Betting Matchup
C.J. Beathard: Some speculated that Mullens was benched last week against the Cowboys due to turnovers, but that’s not the case. He lost some feeling in his elbow after his arm was hit on his follow through, which led to Beathard stepping in and completing 5-of-7 passes for 100 yards and a touchdown in relief. Mullens has been placed on IR, so his season is over. Does that change much for this team? Not really. Mullens had played poorly all season, throwing just as many interceptions (12) as touchdowns (12). Is the matchup against the Cardinals one to consider for streamers? When you see they allow the 13th-most fantasy points to quarterbacks, you might think “eh,” but it does seem like Shanahan knows how to attack this defense. The last three times that Jimmy Garoppolo started against this defense (with the same defensive coordinator and scheme), he threw for 259/2, 424/4, and 317/4. Sometimes, schemes just match up well against each other. Those were three of Garoppolo’s six best games over the last two seasons. He also had George Kittle for all those games, which likely won’t be the case here for Beathard. It’s pretty crazy that despite losing their best pass rusher early in the season, the Cardinals have managed to generate a sack on 7.8 percent of dropbacks, which is the fifth-highest mark in the league. They’ve also allowed the ninth-fewest yards per attempt (6.92) to quarterbacks, so don’t let the fact that Jalen Hurts crushed them last week cloud your judgement. In fact, there have been just two quarterbacks all year who’ve surpassed 7.85 yards per attempt against them all year, and none since Week 9. It would be pretty tough to trust either of these quarterbacks knowing that one can get benched for the other if they start the game poorly, but if you’re in a 2QB league, the risk might pay off if it’s Shanahan’s scheme against Vance Joseph’s scheme that works so well.
Kyler Murray: I think it’s safe to say his shoulder is doing just fine, eh? After lighting up the Eagles for 406 yards and three touchdowns through the air, and another 29 yards and touchdown on the ground, Murray has reclaimed the No. 1 quarterback spot in fantasy football, slightly edging out Patrick Mahomes with two games to play. Knowing he’s rushed the ball 21 times over the last two weeks, we’ve reestablished the confidence we had playing him earlier this year. The matchup with the 49ers is one that we’ve already seen this season, though a lot has changed since back in Week 1 when he finished with 230 yards and one touchdown on 40 pass attempts, while rushing for 91 yards and a touchdown. Despite all the injuries they’ve dealt with this year, the 49ers have allowed the fifth-fewest fantasy points per game (80.99) overall to their opponents. It sure helps that they’ve only faced 32.1 pass attempts per game (3rd-fewest) because the 0.455 fantasy points per actual pass attempt they’ve allowed ranks as the 18th-highest mark (essentially the league average). So, an average matchup through the air… what about on the ground? The 49ers have allowed the fourth-most rushing yards (342) to quarterbacks this year, though it is worth noting that no team has seen more carries (80) than them. Part of the allure to the Cardinals offense is the number of plays they run (68.1 per game), but the 49ers opponents have averaged the third-fewest plays per game (60.9), which takes away some of that appeal. Even when factoring in their schedule, the 49ers opponents have averaged 1.8 fewer fantasy points per game against the 49ers than they have in their non-49ers games, making it the fifth-toughest schedule-adjusted matchup, but also not one that’ll wipe Murray out of the QB1 conversation. He should be considered a solid mid-tier QB1 this week who has his fantasy floor back now that he’s healthy.
Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson: It seemed like everything was going well for Mostert last week, racking up 68 yards on 14 carries through the first 32 minutes against the Cowboys, only to hobble off the field, apparently re-aggravating his ankle injury (he’s now been ruled out for this game, so you’re free to drop him). Wilson took over from there and wound-up rushing for 60 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries, as Kyle Shanahan continued to show his trust in the third-year veteran. Knowing Mostert is ruled out for this game, we should move forward as if Wilson is someone who’s locked-and-loaded for 15-plus touches. As a whole, the Cardinals have allowed the 12th-fewest fantasy points per game to them, though where they do allow points bodes well for Wilson’s strengths. If you look at just the production that teams have allowed on the ground, the Cardinals have allowed the 17th-most fantasy points, making them a relatively average matchup. The 4.30 yards per carry they’ve allowed is the league average, while the touchdown every 29.7 carries is the 14th-most often. Wilson hasn’t topped 13 yards receiving since back in Week 3, so those numbers are extremely important to him. On top of that, running backs have seen the third-lowest target share (14.9 percent) against the Cardinals this year. The Cardinals haven’t allowed a running back more than 84 yards on the ground this year, so don’t expect miracles out of Wilson, but he should be able to be played as a low-end RB2/high-end RB3.
Kenyan Drake and Chase Edmonds: Despite it looking grim for Edmonds to play mid-week, he turned in the best fantasy performance of this backfield against the Eagles, totaling 66 yards and a touchdown on 14 touches, while Drake struggled to get anything going, finishing with just 40 total yards on 12 touches. Drake appeared to get banged up during the contest, but he did play through the game, so he should be fine. We continue to see these two split the snaps, though it’s pretty much Drake as the 70/30 guy on the ground while it’s Edmonds as the 70/30 guy through the air, so gamescript needs to be factored in. The matchup with the 49ers is one we’ve already seen back in Week 1 where Drake finished with 65 total yards and a touchdown on the ground, while Edmonds had 45 total yards and a touchdown through the air. That’s fine and all but this is not a matchup you need to attack aggressively. In fact, there have been no teams of running backs who’ve totaled more than 107 yards on the ground against the 49ers this year. Sure, we saw Tony Pollard rush for two touchdowns last week, but outside of one 40-yard run, he had 29 yards on 11 carries. Outside of that Week 1 game against the Cardinals, the 49ers have allowed just five running backs to top 12.9 PPR points against them, which is ultimately around what it’ll take to get into RB2 territory with a full slate of games. If we look at strictly production on the ground, the 49ers have allowed the fourth-fewest fantasy points in the league to running backs, which obviously affects Drake. Without him getting much work in the passing game now that Murray is healthy, he needs to be bumped down into low-end RB2/high-end RB3 territory and is more touchdown-dependent than we’d like. The 49ers have been a bit more susceptible to through the air, allowing a healthy 6.02 yards per target and the 16th-most fantasy points via receiving to running backs. Knowing we’ve seen seven running backs reach 30-plus receiving yards against them, and that Edmonds outplayed Drake last week, he belongs in the low-end RB3 conversation.
Brandon Aiyuk: He continued his productive ways with Deebo Samuel out of the lineup. In the last four games Aiyuk has played without Samuel for all/most of the game, he’s finished with 8/91/1, 7/75/1, 10/119/0, and 9/73/1. You’d have to go back to Week 6 to find the last time he’s finished with fewer than 73 yards. He’s developed into a superstar wide receiver who’s doing it with backup quarterbacks. Of the production the Cardinals have allowed to skill-position players, we’ve watched wide receivers account for 54.6 percent of it, which is the third-highest number in the league. There have been 10 wide receivers who’ve seen 10-plus targets against the Cardinals, with eight of them finishing as the WR19 or better. The only two who didn’t were CeeDee Lamb (WR27) and Jeff Smith (well, yeah). While 10 targets might seem quite optimistic, Aiyuk has totaled at least nine targets in each of his last five games, and it’s not as if the 49ers rushing attack is running on all cylinders right now. The Cardinals haven’t done much shadowing with Patrick Peterson this year, but you have to wonder if they do this week with Aiyuk being the clear-cut No. 1 receiver on the 49ers. Peterson isn’t the cornerback he used to be, allowing 47-of-72 passing for 640 yards and five touchdowns in his coverage this year. That amounts to a 99.3 QB Rating in his coverage, which is the second-highest mark of his career (2019 was the highest), so again, he’s not someone you absolutely need to avoid. We’ve reached the point of must-start status for Aiyuk, who should be locked into lineups as a WR2, especially when you know that the Cardinals have allowed 15-plus PPR points to 13 different wide receivers.
DeAndre Hopkins: As expected, Hopkins crushed the Eagles secondary that was without their top cornerback for 9/169/1. With Kyler Murray back to full health, there are very few questions about Hopkins in lineups. Here’s a fun fact: His season-high in targets is 16, receptions is 14, and yards is 151. All those marks came in one game… against the 49ers, his Week 16 opponent. It’s not that the 49ers have been bad against wide receivers; they haven’t. The 35.1 PPR points per game they’ve allowed ranks as the 11th-fewest in the league, while the 1.79 PPR points per target they’ve allowed is essentially the league average. Hopkins lines up for most of his snaps at LWR, which will be against Jason Verrett, who wasn’t on the field when they played back in Week 1. Verrett used to be one of the best cornerbacks in the league until injuries derailed him for a few years. He’s played well with the 49ers this year, allowing 31-of-45 passing for 308 yards and one touchdown in his coverage. He’s arguably been the best cornerback on the roster. Hopkins was one of just four wide receivers who’ve finished as a top-12 receiver against the 49ers, and they’ve allowed just one such receiver since Week 9, so it’s not like this is a “can’t miss” DFS play, but you’re playing him as a WR1 no matter the matchup in redraft. He’s also perfectly fine to use in tournaments as one of the handful of wide receivers who can see 15-plus targets in a game.
Christian Kirk: After another weak performance against a struggling Eagles secondary, Kirk is not someone you want to trust during fantasy championships. Think about it: Kyler Murray threw for 406 yards and three touchdowns in Week 15, yet Kirk finished with just three catches for 33 yards. Heck, he finished behind DeAndre Hopkins, KeeSean Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Dan Arnold, and Maxx Williams in production. He’s now failed to top 50 yards in seven of his last eight games, including each of the last six. When you add in the fact that he’ll see Richard Sherman more than anyone else, it’s a pretty easy fade. While Sherman hasn’t been there all year, teams still respect him, as he’s been targeted just once every 14.4 snaps in coverage, which is the most in the league among cornerbacks who’ve played 200-plus snaps. Kirk isn’t someone you should aim to play as anything more than a WR5.
Jordan Reed or George Kittle: He’s now failed to top 32 yards in each of his last four games, which isn’t going to make streamers excited. Even if he scores a touchdown, like he has in two of the last three games, he just barely sneaks into the low-end TE1/high-end TE2 conversation. It’s a shame, too, as he’d totaled at least five targets in 6-of-7 starts without George Kittle in the lineup. Do we have a reason to start him in Week 16? I’m going to make it easy for you. The answer is no. Remember when the Cardinals were the team to attack with tight ends last year when they allowed 2.32 PPR points per target? Well, that time is no longer. In fact, they’re a team to avoid with tight ends, as they’ve allowed the third-fewest PPR points per target (1.44) to them this year. Even when you factor in their competition, it’s a bad matchup. Tight ends have averaged 0.21 fewer PPR points per target against the Cardinals than they have in their non-Cardinals games. It hasn’t been due to a lack of trying against them, as tight ends have seen 103 targets (12th-most), but their efficiency against the position has led to just one tight end to finish as a top-10 option against them all year, and that was a backup tight end (Jesse James with 3/28/1). Reed might provide a top-24 floor with his targets but his lack of ceiling makes him a poor streamer. Update: There are reports that Kittle might try to make it back this week, though that seems foolish with the 49ers mathematically eliminated, but it’s something we’ll pay attention to as the week goes on. If Kittle does somehow suit up, he’d definitely be in the TE1 conversation, though there’s certainly risk with his health and the matchup.
Dan Arnold: On our recap podcast last week, Dan Harris asked me, “Now that we’ve seen Arnold produce a bit over the last month, do you consider streaming him?” My immediate response was “no.” It doesn’t matter what tight end it is; if they’re capped at four targets in 95 percent of their games, there’s no way you can trust them. Think about that. Even if they average 12.0 yards per target (which would lead all tight ends in 2020), that amounts to just 48 yards, and that’s the best-case scenario. You’re essentially betting on a touchdown, which seems foolish considering how little he’s targeted. Now you add in a matchup against the 49ers who don’t allow much fantasy production in general, but it’s even worse for tight ends, who account for just 13.4 percent of the production by skill-position players against them, which is the second-lowest percentage in the league. They’ve also allowed tight ends to a league-low 8.90 yards per reception, which means they need to continually rack up receptions to be fantasy relevant. You can find a better streamer for your fantasy championship.
Miami Dolphins at Las Vegas Raiders
Spread: Dolphins -2.5
Dolphins at Raiders Betting Matchup
Tua Tagovailoa: As expected, Tagovailoa didn’t have a whole lot of production through the air against the Patriots. In fact, he only produced 5.8 fantasy points through the air. However, he did managed to sneak in two touchdowns on the ground, which allowed him to end up with a respectable 18.7 fantasy points for those who were brave enough to start him in 2QB leagues. While Tagovailoa has some mobility as a young quarterback, he’s not someone you want to rely on for production on the ground, as he’s rushed for more than nine yards just twice in his seven starts. As it turns out, firing Paul Guenther may have not fixed the Raiders defense. It never made sense to fire a coach on a short week, but it is what it is. The lone piece of good news for the Raiders defense was that they generated their second-highest pressure-rate on the season, though they converted just one of their 18 pressures to a sack. The Raiders are one of those defenses you can really just attack any way you’d like, as they’ve generated a sack on just 3.1 percent of dropbacks (second-lowest in NFL) and are allowing a robust 4.87 yards per carry to running backs. From a flat-out fantasy standpoint, they’ve allowed at least 17.4 fantasy points to 9-of-14 quarterbacks, including four of the last five. The downside for Tagovailoa is that he’s not going to throw a whole lot of passes, which in turn doesn’t lead to a whole lot of yards. Then you look at the fact that the Raiders have not allowed more than two passing touchdowns in 13-of-14 games, and you’re lacking a real ceiling. If you’re playing him, you’re doing it for a floor, which is something he hasn’t really shown this year, as he’s finished with fewer than 15 fantasy points in 3-of-7 starts. You can find a better streamer to use in the fantasy championship.
Derek Carr or Marcus Mariota: After Carr suffered a groin injury against the Chargers, we watched Mariota come in and look phenomenal early on, though we started to see shades of the player the Titans moved on from as the game went on. In the end, Mariota completed 17-of-28 passes for 226 yards, one touchdown, and one interception (should have been two, one was dropped). But more importantly, he rushed for 88 yards and a touchdown. That was the second-most rushing yards he’s ever had, and the most since Week 13 of 2015, so you don’t want to take that as a given. Mobility is the one trait that Mariota brings to the table that Carr doesn’t, and it would be tough to build a gameplan for Carr unless you were certain he was going to play, so we’ll prepare for Mariota. Unfortunately, he doesn’t get the Chargers poor run defense again, who was also without their best run-defending linebacker for that game. The Dolphins defense has been one of the best in the league, allowing the fourth-fewest fantasy points per game (15.99) to quarterbacks. They’re the only defense in the league who hasn’t allowed more touchdown passes (16) than they have interceptions (16). As a whole, the Dolphins have allowed just 18.4 points per game to their opponents, which is the lowest number in the NFL. Outside of two games against Russell Wilson and Josh Allen (that took place in the first month of the season), the Dolphins have allowed 10 passing touchdowns in their other 12 games. It is good to see that both Kyler Murray and Cam Newton were able to rush for 75-plus yards against them, because Mariota is going to need his rushing totals to get into startable QB2 territory. The only top-20 quarterbacks they’ve allowed were Murray, Wilson, Allen, Justin Herbert, Patrick Mahomes, and Newton (two rushing touchdowns). Mariota is just a back-end QB2. *Update* It appears that Carr will be the starter in Week 16 after he was removed from the injury report, though Jon Gruden hasn’t announced him as the starter. Even if Carr is the starter, he’s not someone you’ll want to play.
Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed: We have a real conundrum here with the Dolphins running backs, as Gaskin is expected back with the team this week, but Ahmed played well enough to raise questions about who should receive more work. The Dolphins gave him 26 opportunities against the Patriots and he made them count, racking up 127 total yards and a touchdown on them. We’ve still yet to see a game with both Ahmed and Gaskin on the field at the same time, so it could turn into somewhat of a timeshare. The Raiders have allowed 1.53 PPR points per offensive snap to their opponents, which ranks as the sixth-highest number in the league. They’ve also allowed eight rushing touchdowns to running backs over their last five games, and that’s not even counting the two rushing touchdowns they allowed to quarterbacks. That hasn’t just started happening, but it’s only been getting worse. On the year, they’ve allowed a rushing touchdown every 18.1 carries, which is more often than any other team. Prior to limiting the Chargers rushing attack to 79 yards on 23 carries, the Raiders had allowed at least 124 rushing yards in each of their last three games, allowing the Falcons, Jets, and Colts running backs combine for 470 yards on 87 carries (5.40 yards per carry). Despite running backs seeing plenty of volume through the air (107 targets) while accounting for a massive 21.3 percent target share, they’ve only amounted them to 1.36 PPR points per target, which is bottom-10 in the league. Still, looking at efficiency against weighted volume, the Raiders are the fourth-worst team in the league against running backs on a per opportunity basis. If Gaskin returns, this backfield is really messy, as it might be a 50/50 timeshare. If forced to pick one, I suppose it’s Gaskin because he’s done it for most of the season, but we must pay attention to the coachspeak this week to try and learn anything we can about Gaskin potentially being eased back in (he’s played just one game since Week 8), or that Ahmed has earned more work moving forward. For now, we’ll consider Gaskin a high-end RB3 while Ahmed is a low-end RB3, as they might cannibalize each other. If Gaskin is held out again, Ahmed would be a high-end RB2. I’ll post updates here late in the week as we hear more. *Update* Gaskin is going to play, though we haven’t heard much about the split. The belief should be that they’ll ease him back in and split the reps, but he wasn’t even limited throughout the week. Gaskin is likely the better play, but they’re both highly-variable RB3s.
Josh Jacobs: You might look at his finishing stat line from Thursday night and think, “That’s a good game!” While 114 total yards and a touchdown is certainly not a bad thing, it was against a bad Chargers run defense that was without their best linebacker and he needed 29 touches to get there. In the end, we don’t care how he got there, just as long as he did, but we have to factor his inefficiency into his projection moving forward. There are going to be a lot of Jacobs supporters (I was one of them coming out of college) coming out of the woodwork to support him here, but take a look at this:
|Josh Jacobs – 2020
|David Montgomery – 2019
The efficiency is roughly the same, though Jacobs has scored more, propping up his numbers a bit. Montgomery was left for dead by fantasy managers after his 2019 season, and Jacobs is supposed to have one of the better offensive lines in football. The matchup with the Dolphins looks below-average on paper, as they’ve allowed just the 10th-fewest fantasy points per game to running backs, though they’re not impenetrable. The 4.40 yards per carry they’ve allowed is slightly above the league average, though they’ve only allowed a touchdown every 36.8 carries, which has kept their overall numbers down. The eight rushing touchdowns they’ve allowed is tied for the sixth-fewest in the league. We haven’t seen a running back top 90 yards on the ground against them all year, but we have seen seven running backs hit 70-plus yards. We’ve also seen three running backs score multiple rushing touchdowns, though two of those running backs came back in the first four weeks of the season. It would be good to see Jacobs used more in the passing game (one of his best attributes) because the Dolphins have allowed 6.56 yards per target, the fourth-most in the league. He did see two targets from the time Mariota came in, so that has to be the hope (that Mariota targets him more). When factoring their competition, running backs have averaged 0.5 fewer PPR points per game against the Dolphins than they do versus their season average in non-Dolphins games, making it the 12th-toughest schedule-adjusted matchup. Jacobs is still someone in line for 18-plus touches, so he’s still in the RB2 territory, but don’t expect fireworks in this matchup.
DeVante Parker: He was close to playing last week, so we should probably assume he returns for this matchup. Parker has averaged a league-low 1.6 yards of separation at target this year while A.J. Green is the only other player who’s under 2.0 yards of separation. That’s not great. It’s also what Tagovailoa was talking about when he said that he’s going to have to learn to throw into tight coverage in the pros a lot more than he did at Alabama. The matchup this week should help, as the world watched the Raiders cornerbacks allow ridiculous production to the Chargers’ backup wide receivers on Thursday night. The combination of Tyron Johnson and Jalen Guyton went for 7/152/1 on just 11 targets in that game. The Raiders were without Damon Arnette for that game, but it’s not like he’s made much of a difference. Even if the Raiders get Arnette back this week, you can’t really consider that an upgrade, as he’s allowed 2.01 yards per snap in his coverage this year, which is the fourth-highest mark in the league. Parker plays on both sides of the formation, so he won’t see one cornerback more than the others. All in all, they’ve allowed 17 different wide receivers to finish as top-36 options against them, which stems from the 1.90 PPR points per target they allow (seventh-most) to the position. Parker should be considered a stable WR3 with a solid floor in this game as long as he gets in a full practice at some point this week. *Update* He was limited in all three practices this week, so while he’s expected to suit up, we can’t have as much confidence, though I still love the matchup.
Lynn Bowden: The Dolphins were obviously shorthanded against the Patriots, which had us attracted to Bowden a bit more than most felt comfortable with. He performed just as we discussed here last week; a decent low-end RB3 or high-end WR4. He finished with six catches for 37 yards and added one carry for nine yards, giving him 10.6 PPR points on the week. Unfortunately, it seems like the Dolphins will get many of their skill players back this week, limiting the target floor for him. The Raiders have allowed a rock-solid 8.80 yards per target to wide receivers, which ranks as the seventh-most in football. Unfortunately, they haven’t been as giving to slot-heavy wide receivers, as Lamarcus Joyner has done a solid job in coverage. On 51 slot targets, he’s allowed 36 receptions for 406 yards and no touchdowns. We did watch Jamison Crowder score two touchdowns against them a few weeks ago, but they were both in goal-line situations where Crowder was on the outside on one play and then the Raiders were in zone coverage the next. Bowden should be considered an RB4 if used as a running back, WR5 if used as a wide receiver.
Henry Ruggs: He should be good to go for this game, as he was placed on the COVID list at the start of last week, which gives him plenty of time to get cleared, though nothing is guaranteed. Unfortunately, you’re not going to want to start a wide receiver who’s seen more than four targets (and never more than five targets) in nine of his last 10 games. It’s all too puzzling why they haven’t used him more, as his 10.9 yards per target ranks seventh among wide receivers with 35-plus targets. The Dolphins have been one of the toughest defenses against wide receivers while allowing the fifth-fewest PPR points per target (1.65), but when they do allow a catch to them, it goes for a league-high 14.39 yards a pop. He’s going to get Xavien Howard in coverage most of the day, which happens to be the Dolphins best cornerback who leads the league with nine interceptions. If there’s any good news, it’s that Mariota threw a deep ball on 21.4 percent of his passes while Carr has done that on just 11.0 percent of his passes this year. The Dolphins have allowed 47 pass plays of 20-plus yards, which is the sixth-most in the league. Still, Ruggs is nothing more than a big-play hopeful WR5 who we haven’t even see Mariota play with. *Update* Ruggs is off the COVID list and will play.
Nelson Agholor: He’s now totaled 43 targets over his last five games (8.6 per game), and though he’s finished with more than 54 yards in just two of them, he’s totaled four-plus receptions in each game. That’s enough to provide a solid floor for a receiver who’s available on waivers in nearly half of leagues. Wide receivers have seen a massive 62.1 percent target share against the Dolphins this year, which ranks as the second-highest mark in the NFL. There have been just 12 wide receivers who’ve caught more than four passes against the Dolphins, which is quite remarkable considering how often they’ve been targeted. Agholor plays most of his snaps on the perimeter, which isn’t a good thing against the Dolphins, as Xavien Howard and Byron Jones are a pretty good duo, though Jones has shown inconsistency at times, and that’s the cornerback Agholor will see the most. Going through his game logs, Jones has allowed at least one 20-plus yard completion in seven of his last 10 games. He’s allowed 15.5 yards per reception in his coverage, which is something Agholor benefits from, as he’s caught nine passes that’ve traveled 20-plus yards in the air this year, which is tied for the ninth-most in the league. Mariota is not as accurate as Carr, which could be problematic, and it’s enough concern to keep him down in the WR4/5 range.
Mike Gesicki: It seemed like Gesicki was trending towards playing in Week 15 after there were reports early in the morning saying he was expected to suit up. However, once the inactives were released, everyone we thought would be out, were out, including Gesicki. But the fact that he was so close suggests he’ll be good to go for this game. His chemistry with Tagovailoa had been building, as he’d totaled 188 yards and four touchdowns over their last three games, so as long as he’s healthy and practicing, you should be considering him. The Raiders have been a tough matchup for tight ends this year, as Hunter Henry was just the third tight end who’s finished better than the TE17 and with more than 48 yards against them this year. It’s worth noting that the Raiders did move on from defensive coordinator Paul Guenther prior to that game, so there could be some fundamental changes because of that. They were also without starting safety Jonathan Abram for that game. Despite that performance to Henry, they’ve still allowed the eighth-fewest PPR points per target (1.63) to the position. Football Outsiders have the Raiders as the sixth-toughest matchup in the league for tight ends, according to their DVOA metric. It’s probably best to play it safe with another tight end this week, as we would’ve ideally seen Gesicki play a full game before trusting him. There’s always the risk where he starts but aggravates his injury, and it’s not as if the matchup is a clear-cut great one. *Update* He was limited in practice all week and is considered questionable.
Darren Waller: The last three weeks have been magical for Waller, as he’s ripped off 29 receptions, 425 yards, and three touchdowns in that span. That’s enough for the third-most points all-time for a tight end in any stretch of NFL history. He’s now seen 26.5 percent of the Raiders’ air yards this year, which is higher than Travis Kelce‘s 26.0 percent share in the Chiefs offense. He’s also seen a league-leading 23 red zone targets this year, accounting for 34.3 percent of the Raiders’ targets in that area of the field. The only other players seeing more than 28 percent of their red zone targets are Davante Adams and Adam Thielen. Not too shabby for a tight end, eh? The Dolphins have been tough on tight ends this year, as they’ve allowed just two TE1 performances all season. Travis Kelce was the only tight end who topped 55 yards against them, while there have been just four tight ends who’ve found the end zone. That all amounts to the Dolphins allowing the fifth-fewest PPR points per game (10.5) to the position. If there’s a positive, it’s that their schedule has proven to be a relatively easy one with tight ends. When you compare what tight ends have done against them versus what they’ve done in non-Dolphins matchups, they’ve averaged 0.4 percent more fantasy points against the Dolphins, making it the 17th-best schedule-adjusted matchup. In the end, you’re playing Waller as a TE1, though it’s not the greatest matchup for those playing DFS cash games.