Week 12 Vantage Points

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Week 12 Vantage Points

Welcome to Vantage Points, a column I will be writing weekly during the NFL season as a window into every game of the week. With access limited more than ever this year and with no preseason games for us to put our own eyes on, I have the utmost respect for sportswriters covering the NFL on a daily basis, giving us a window into what these teams might look like and where their strengths and weaknesses — beyond the obvious — lie.

The purpose of this column is to highlight the work of those writers, but to also turn some of their observations into actionable fantasy advice. The goal isn’t just to highlight obvious angles, but perhaps some of the lower-end ones that could lead to fantasy advantages. I’m also taking advantage of watching press conferences and reading transcripts from coaches and players, as well as using stats to back up narratives and look for fantasy-relevant angles. I’ll also cover notable injuries.

I will publish this column twice weekly — on Wednesdays to preview the Thursday night game, and on Fridays to preview the Sunday slate.

All times are Eastern.

Las Vegas at Atlanta (Sun, 1 PM)

What They’re Saying About the Raiders…

The Raiders have become a run-first team that has had some success uncorking the ball with QB Derek Carr when need be, but their offensive line will not be getting a reinforcement from star G Richie Incognito, who has been out since Week 2 and now needs season-ending foot surgery. The Raiders have had some success without Incognito, but it’s still a bummer for an offense that was looking for an upgrade.

Anyway, the Raiders are 6-4 and in the final AFC playoff spot right now, the same place they were in last year before losing five of their final six games. It’s the same record as last year, but Carr and GM Mike Mayock agree: this is different.

The Last Vegas Journal-Sentinel’s Vincent Bonsignore writes:

“Carr’s assessment is reflected in how effectively the Raiders are playing offensively while averaging the eighth-most points in the NFL at 28.6. Carr has the fourth-best quarterback rating and fifth-best passer rating, a clear sign his game has moved to a higher level in his third season with Jon Gruden and the enhanced talent at wide receiver and running back.”

Bonsignore notes the Raiders have played just three total snaps with their projected starting offensive line, and credits the development of backups Denzelle Good and Brandon Parker with the Raiders’ success.

Meanwhile, Raider RB Josh Jacobs is dealing with a hip injury. He’s played through injuries all year, and this is the second time — after Weeks 3 through 5 — that he has been listed as limited in practice with a hip injury.

What They’re Saying About the Falcons…

With COVID-19 still ravaging the country, the Falcons have been affected again, shutting down their facility for the third time this year, with two positive tests to non-coaching staffers. The NFL has been trying to avoid moving games at all costs, but given what happened with the Ravens this week, it obviously has to be monitored.

There are also multiple injuries we have to monitor for the Falcons — TE Hayden Hurst (ankle) and RB Todd Gurley (knee) have each missed multiple practices this week. Hurst got hurt early last week and didn’t catch a pass, while Gurley obviously has a history of knee issues. Gurley is out, and Brian Hill would probably be the next guy up, but — perhaps because of Gurley — only the Bears and Texans have worse rushing DVOA than the Falcons, per FootballOutsiders.

Of course, the key for Atlanta is WR Julio Jones, who is playing through a hamstring injury that’s plagued him for basically the entire season. Check out QB Matt Ryan’s splits when Julio is on the field vs. off — Ryan has completed 70.3% of his passes for 8.19 YPA with 12 TD and 3 INT with Julio on the field, and 58.9% of his passes for 6.89 YPA with 3 TD and 4 INT with Julio off the field (SIS). Fantasy players know the impact well.

Dolan’s Takeaways

Carr is a decent streamer against the pass-funnel Falcons. You gotta play Jacobs, but it’s a tougher matchup for a dinged-up guy (Jacobs does not have an injury designation).

With Gurley out, Brian Hill becomes an intriguing RB2 option this week. I want to see until we get Julio’s status on whether or not I decide to play Ryan, because Hurst is also questionable and this formidable weaponry doesn’t look so hot with those guys hurt.

LA Chargers at Buffalo (Sun, 1 PM)

What They’re Saying About the Chargers…

The big news for the Chargers is that RB Austin Ekeler is practicing this week as he makes his way back from a hamstring injury. However, the Chargers are merely activating Ekeler’s 21-day window to return from IR, and it’s not expected he plays this week (per Adam Schefter). Still, it’s a good sign as the Chargers try to build a formidable offense around rookie QB Justin Herbert.

If Ekeler can’t play, this could be a very thin backfield this week — RB Kalen Ballage, who has done most of the filling in these recent weeks, is listed as questionable with ankle and calf injuries. If he can’t go, it’ll be the Joshua Kelley and Troymaine Pope show.

By the way, that Keenan Allen is pretty good, isn’t he? After 16 catches against the zone-heavy Jets in Week 11 (4th-most zone coverage in the NFL, per SIS), he gets a Bills defense that plays the 6th-most zone in the entire NFL. Allen has a 28.9% target share vs. zone, behind only his opponent in this game, Stefon Diggs. Allen has posted 38/431/4 receiving against zone coverage this year, and the Bills are allowing 8.5 YPA while in zone, 7th-most in the NFL. Ride that hot hand.

The Chargers have been struggling on special teams this year, so head coach Anthony Lynn demoted coordinator George Stewart to a senior analyst.

What They’re Saying About the Bills…

One of the big stories of the off-season was the Bills’ trade for Stefon Diggs. Diggs was clearly unhappy with the run-focused attack in Minnesota, but the big question was how — if Diggs were generally unhappy with an accurate QB like Kirk Cousins — he would get along with the “erratic” Josh Allen in a similarly frigid climate.

Well, you can just see on Diggs’ face how much he’s bought in with the Bills and their franchise. It’s one of the best-run ships in the entire NFL, and the culture is clearly embracing him, and he is embracing it. Buffalo being one of the NFL’s pass-heaviest teams — with Allen playing the best football of his life — is helping matters, to be sure, but there’s a clear chemistry here that Diggs just didn’t have with Cousins or his coaching staff in Minnesota.

Diggs is likely to draw both more attention from the Chargers defense — while CB Casey Hayward (groin) doesn’t look like he’s going to play, Bill WR John Brown (ankle) isn’t going to either. That will open up a chance for rookie Gabriel Davis to make some plays, especially if CB Chris Harris — whom the Chargers activated off IR this week — is able to go for LA.

The Bills have another major injury, as G Cody Ford suffered a torn meniscus in practice this week and will miss the rest of the season, coach Sean McDermott announced. That means the Bills — who came into the league with the offensive line projected to be a major strength — will go an entire year with their projected best five. Buffalo’s offensive line has struggled as a result, ranking 27th in run blocking and 18th in pass protection, per FootballOutsiders.

The Chargers placed OLB Melvin Ingram on IR, which helps this banged-up offensive line for Buffalo.

Dolan’s Takeaways

Ballage is a low-end RB2 if he goes. If he doesn’t, Kelley and Pope are FLEX plays. It doesn’t look like Ekeler will play this week. Allen is in the mix for the overall WR1 this week.

For Buffalo, Diggs’ matchup takes a bit of a hit with the Harris news, but given Brown is out, he’s still going to be peppered with targets. Davis is an interesting WR4/FLEX flyer if you need one this week, with Brown out. Cole Beasley could get WR2 treatment, as well.

NY Giants at Cincinnati (Sun, 1 PM)

What They’re Saying About the Giants…

The Giants might be able to stake claim to the most functional offense in the NFC East right now, which is really saying something given it’s not particularly good for fantasy. But one guy who has a positive matchup against the Bengals this week is TE Evan Engram.

According to SIS, the Bengals’ 24% target share allowed to TEs (80 targets total) is 3rd-highest in the NFL. They’ve given up 589 yards and 6 TDs on those targets. Meanwhile, Engram has run a route on 89% of passing plays since Week 7, the 2nd-highest number among TEs who have played 75% of their teams’ offensive snaps over that span. Engram’s 28% targets per route run and 24% target share are highest among TEs over that span, as well.

Of course, the biggest news of the week for the Giants was the firing of OL coach Marc Colombo, who apparently went nuclear on HC Joe Judge following the addition of veteran coach Dave DeGuglielmo to the staff as a consultant. The Athletic’s Dan Duggan described the Judge/Colombo relationship as one that was probably doomed to fail, anyway. However, Duggan also described the fiery Colombo as popular with his players, and said several players have succeeded under his tutelage.

The player who might have cost Colombo his job, however, is rookie LT Andrew Thomas.

Duggan writes:

“Thomas’ struggles were alarming. Considered the safest option among a group of four top tackles in this year’s draft class, the Giants took Thomas with the No. 4 pick. Thomas was a disaster early in the season, frequently oversetting and getting beat on inside moves. He looked nothing like the player who had handled SEC pass rushers for three years at Georgia.

Colombo recognized the problem, speaking about it candidly in an interview with reporters after Thomas gave up a season-high nine pressures in a Week 5 loss to the Cowboys.

Thomas’ body position and pad level became a major coaching emphasis in an attempt to stop him from drifting wide and getting beat inside. Thomas and the rest of the line have improved in the past two games.

Judge has spent more time working with the offensive line in recent weeks, according to a source. But the impact of that is dubious.”

Duggan also speculates — informed speculation — that the firing could further strain the relationship between Judge and OC Jason Garrett, who looks like no guarantee to be back next year.

What They’re Saying About the Bengals…

The injury to Joe Burrow absolutely kneecaps this entire Bengal offense, and backup Ryan Finley was so bad last week against Washington following the injury that the Bengals have called up Brandon Allen off the practice squad to start him against the Giants. It shows exactly what the Bengals think of Finley to promote Allen in this spot — he went 1-2 in three starts with the Broncos last year, completing 46.4% of his passes.

The Athletic’s Jay Morrison broke down the switch, and made a fantasy-relevant prediction.

Backup quarterbacks, and especially ones with suspect offensive lines, tend to check down to tight ends and running backs more frequently. The positioning likely will be similar, but it will be interesting to see the target splits between Tyler Boyd, Tee Higgins, and AJ Green as Allen has had hardly any reps throwing to them before Wednesday. [AJ] McCarron relied heavily on Green when the wide receiver was in his prime in 2015, but that’s no longer the case. Look for Boyd to see most of the action on shallow crosses and slants as Zac Taylor and offensive coordinator Brian Callahan try to get the ball out of Allen’s hands as quickly as possible.”

In terms of checking down, we’ll see if Allen will have RB Giovani Bernard (concussion) this week. If he doesn’t go, Samaje Perine will get the start, but Perine has only 29 career receptions.

Dolan’s Takeaways

Engram — Lord help me — will be one of my favorite DFS TEs this week.

The Bengal offense gets a massive downgrade with Burrow out, though I’ll still play Boyd as a WR3, and I can be talked into FLEXing Perine if Gio is out. Gio is a low-end RB2 if he goes.

Tennessee at Indianapolis (Sun, 1 PM)

What They’re Saying About the Titans…

Injuries are the story for the Titans this week.

The big one is LT Ty Sambrailo, already filling in for the injured Taylor Lewan (ACL). The Titans haven’t disclosed an injury, but placed him on IR, which is a disastrous development for a team that’s been very much limited by its struggles up front, struggles it didn’t have in its run to the AFC title game last year. It’s going to be hard to keep track of all the changes the Titans need to make upfront, but will we finally see first-round pick Isaiah Wilson make his NFL debut? Wilson has had COVID-19 and has a DUI this year before taking his first NFL snap. If he’s going to step up, the time is now.

Things would be better for the line if G Rodger Saffold, who missed last week’s game with an ankle injury, is able to play.

Against a Colt defense that’s 5th in FootballOutsiders DVOA, the Titans are at least getting one break — Colt DT DeForest Buckner, a potential game-wrecker, will miss this game after testing positive for COVID-19. That’s a big break for RB Derrick Henry. The Colts will also be without LB Bobby Okereke (ankle) and sack leader DL Denico Autry (COVID-19), so there’s plenty of offset to the Titans’ OL woes in this one.

WR AJ Brown has been managing his knee injury in practice all season long and missed multiple practices this week, but has no injury designation for the game. TE Jonnu Smith (ankle), is practicing in full and also has no designation.

What They’re Saying About the Colts…

Injuries are the story for the Colts in this one, as well, though the Titans have a couple key defensive injuries.

Let’s start on the offensive line, where the Colts might have some issues in the interior against DL Jeffery Simmons, because C Ryan Kelly (neck) is questionable and star G Quenton Nelson (back, ankle) is also dinged. But the Titans put two key contributors on IR this week — LB Jayon Brown (elbow) and EDGE Jadeveon Clowney (knee). You wonder if that will help RB Jonathan Taylor build on his strong Week 11 performance.

Colt QB Philip Rivers is dealing with a toe injury that kept him out of multiple practices this week, but he’s expected to play against Tennessee. Unfortunately for the Titans, Rivers being even more hobbled than usual doesn’t really matter. When these teams played in Week 10, Rivers could do whatever he wanted, going 28/38 for 303 yards and a TD, as the Titans didn’t generate any pressure. The Titans’ overall pressure rate of 30.8% on dropbacks is tied with the Lions for fourth-lowest in the NFL.

It makes Titans staff writer Jim Wyatt wonder if they’ll blitz more this week.

Dolan’s Takeaways

The Titans’ OL woes are offset somewhat by the Colts’ injury situation. I’d start the Titans you’re used to starting, with a bit of a downgrade for Ryan Tannehill given his struggles in this matchup earlier this year.

Our Greg Cosell wrote this week that Colt RB Jonathan Taylor appeared to be more decisive than at most times this year in his strong game last week. He owed that to Taylor getting into a flow with more carries, and given the Titans’ front-seven injuries, this is a good week to fire him up as an RB2, sick as that might make you to do.

Cleveland at Jacksonville (Sun, 1 PM)

What They’re Saying About the Browns…

The Browns are touchdown favorites and already run the ball more than they throw it in neutral situations (52%, a league-high per SIS). That spells great news for Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, but especially Chubb. Moreover, the Jaguars have either missed a tackle or allowed a broken tackle on 14% of attempts over their last five games, 2nd-worst in the NFL. It’s prime for the Browns to run the hell out of the ball (as it is most weeks).

With the Browns chasing the playoff, The Athletic’s Zac Jackson did a nice primer on where they stand right now.

He touched on just about everything about this club, but I thought his section on Jarvis Landry was particularly interesting. Landry has been dealing with injuries all year, and last week against Philly he had just 2 targets, only the second time in his entire career he’s had two or fewer targets. That’s led to more work for KhaDarel Hodge on the perimeter, a player OC Alex Van Pelt discussed this week as doing the dirty work the Browns like.

Jackson writes:

“Is Jarvis Landry on a bit of a pitch count as he recovers from a broken rib? Is KhaDarel Hodge going to be a full-time player down the stretch? WE DON’T KNOW the answer to either question right now, but over the last two games, Hodge has gotten the bulk of the snaps as the lone wide receiver when the Browns use their three-tight-end sets. Hodge had his most productive receiving game last week as the Browns used play-action bootlegs and some double moves on the outside to push the ball down the field.

WE KNOW a healthy Landry can still spark the offense. The 27-year-old has caught at least two passes in 105 straight games. He’s a popular locker-room leader and up until the last month has been an incredibly reliable pass catcher — so reliable that even a few drops stand out as abnormal. He has never missed a game and has no plans to, and the Browns can still use his savvy in trying to spark the passing game. Stefanski clearly isn’t afraid of trick plays, and Landry has shown that he can throw passes and line up anywhere across the formation as the Browns try to catch opponents keying on the run game.”

So in other words, the Browns are having to adjust to the way they use Landry, but it isn’t likely to be beneficial for fantasy purposes.

What They’re Saying About the Jaguars…

The Jaguars will be giving a third QB a start this season as they continue to bottom out toward the 2021 QB class. With rookie Jake Luton in over his head — to be fair, he had to play against Pittsburgh last week — and Gardner Minshew (thumb) still not 100%, Jacksonville is turning to veteran Mike Glennon. Yay?

Glennon is excited for the opportunity, telling ESPN’s Michael DiRocca that he has nothing to lose.

And quite honestly? He doesn’t! At this point, we don’t expect the Jaguars to be good or even competent. But if Glennon is willing to let ‘er rip, that could at least lead to some fantasy production for the WRs here.

Unfortunately, neither DJ Chark (ribs) nor Chris Conley (hip) will be available to play against a Cleveland defense that won’t have top CB Denzel Ward (calf), and potentially won’t have DE Myles Garrett (COVID-19). So it’s potentially a big week for Keelan Cole and Laviska Shenault.

Dolan’s Takeaways

Play the Browns RBs. I think I’d rather play Hodge and Rashard Higgins than Landry, though, which tells you how dinged up I think Landry is.

It’s a huge bummer the Jags don’t have Chark this week, but Cole has some serious WR2 appeal and you can talk me into Shenault as a FLEX.

Carolina at Minnesota (Sun, 1 PM)

What They’re Saying About the Panthers…

The Panthers are anticipating having Teddy Bridgewater (knee) available for his return to Minnesota after he sat out with a mild MCL sprain last week. He was a game-time decision and was able to work out before last week’s win over Detroit. He’s practicing in full this week so he’ll get to make his homecoming.

It’s not a REVENGE GAME for Teddy, though. As The Athletic’s Chad Graff writes, he and Viking coach Mike Zimmer have a special relationship.

The Panthers, however, will likely not have RB Christian McCaffrey (shoulder). Though he’s listed as questionable, coach Matt Rhule said he’s “pessimistic” CMC will play this week. McCaffrey has been limited in practice this week, so there’s a chance he’s ready for Week 14 — when the Panthers come out of their bye — but it’s looking like another week of Mike Davis usage.

Carolina does have a bunch of OL issues, though. G Dennis Daley (concussion) is out, while G John Miller (leg) and T Russell Okung (calf) are questionable.

What They’re Saying About the Vikings…

The big story for the Vikings this week is that WR Adam Thielen was placed on the COVID-19 list. Thielen tested positive for the virus, but then later tested negative, so if he continues to test negative, there’s a chance he’s able to play on Sunday against a Panther defense likely down top CB Donte Jackson (toe - doubtful). This does not seem likely, however, so prepare to fire up Justin Jefferson.

A lot of the discussion around the Vikings is their failed two-minute drive against the Cowboys last week, and a lot of fans are blaming it on QB Kirk Cousins. The Athletic’s Arif Hasan — not one to shy away from criticizing Cousins — doesn’t believe that’s fair.

“The criticism of Cousins following the game is more a product of his history, not his specific performance here. He had a brilliant game and was forced to put the team on his back once more. He mostly did his job and did it better than the players around him. When we’re figuring out what more he could’ve done, we’re entering the realm of nitpicking,” Hasan writes. It’s yet another example of a QB getting more blame in a loss than he deserves, though Cousins typically doesn’t get the credit other QBs get when they win.

The Vikings are likely without TE Irv Smith (groin - doubtful) and G Ezra Cleveland (ankle - out) this week.

Dolan’s Takeaways

Teddy is a viable streamer this week, while I will enjoy getting one more week of usefulness out of Davis.

It looks like this will be a huge game for Jefferson, though Cousins’ streaming appeal takes a hit with Thielen likely out.

Arizona at New England (Sun, 1 PM)

What They’re Saying About the Cardinals…

The presence of top CB Stephon Gilmore, it goes without saying, presents a huge change for how the Patriots play defense. According to SIS, the Patriots have played 58% man in games with Gilmore, and just 35% man in games without him.

Cardinal QB Kyler Murray and his club have seen defenses employ zone at a 77% clip against them this year, which is the highest in the NFL by far. The guess here is teams want to avoid Murray killing them on the ground with defenders locked on receivers. But, SIS says, Murray has actually been worse as a rusher and as a passer against man coverage.

He’s played two games — against Detroit and Dallas — in which teams played more than 30% man coverage. Here are his splits in those games.

SPLITATTEMPTSON-TARGET%TD/INTRUSHING
IN5964%4/315/103/2
OUT29475%15/578/519/8

The rushing performances, for fantasy, were his 5th- and 8th-best games in that category. It’s worth noting, of course, the Lions’ game was in Week 3, when the Cardinals were still bizarrely not stretching the field with alacrity. Murray has become decidedly more difficult to stop since. But the numbers suggest man coverage is the way to go here for Bill Belichick, and I imagine he will play as such.

Murray is fully expected to play through an AC sprain in his throwing shoulder, by the way, though the Cardinals could activate three QBs for the first time all season. Murray will be down WR Larry Fitzgerald, who tested positive for COVID-19 this week, however. Murray does not have an injury status for the game.

The Patriots might not have S Kyle Dugger, who missed practice Thursday with a toe injury. Top CB Stephon Gilmore (hand) is questionable, but expected to play.

What They’re Saying About the Patriots…

Patriot WR Julian Edelman (knee) is eligible to return off of IR but hasn’t yet been cleared to practice. Coach Bill Belichick didn’t seem to think there’s any reason to rush him back.

The Patriots also have to replace RB Rex Burkhead, who went on IR with an ACL injury this week. They will get some reinforcements in the person of RB Sony Michel, who spent significant time on IR with a quad injury but is returning this week. Belichick said he’s had some good practices the last few weeks. But James White is likely to be the back who handles much of what Burkhead did, especially with JJ Taylor (quad) dealing with an injury this week.

The Pats will not have starting LT Isaiah Wynn (knee) this week.

Dolan’s Takeaways

Start your typical Cards, though this could be an underrated week for the run game given the Patriots’ struggles there and Murray’s shoulder injury. I expect DeAndre Hopkins will catch a Gilmore shadow.

I really hope the Michel return doesn’t dampen the Damien Harris breakout, but the Burkhead injury should mean White can produce high-end FLEX numbers in PPR after being a forgotten man for much of this season.

Miami at NY Jets (Sun, 1 PM)

What They’re Saying About the Dolphins…

Let’s be honest — the entire discussion around the Dolphins is the bizarre benching of Tua Tagovailoa for Ryan Fitzpatrick at the end of last week’s game against Denver, which coach Brian Flores said was for performance reasons. (Flores even had a built-in excuse of Tua being sacked six times and getting rolled up on during the last sack.) While no one would argue that Tua was good against the Broncos, typically teams want their young QBs to fight through adversity — in fact, Tua did just that against Arizona in a comeback victory in Week 9.

After the game, Tagovailoa admitted he was holding the ball too long, and that was a factor in some of the sacks. He is going to start against the Jets, and it’s a great spot, because the Jets are a true example of a “pass-funnel” defense —- teams have basically ignored running the ball against them and have had a ton of success throwing it. So it’s a great bounce-back spot, if he can play (thumb — questionable).

But I can’t stop thinking about the fact that I’ve never seen such a benching of a rookie QB before, and I can’t stop thinking back to this Adam Schefter report from October that suggested the Dolphins wanted to see if they needed to go grab a QB in the 2021 NFL Draft.

There’s a lot of smoke here that Tua hasn’t exactly impressed the higher-ups.

Still, it is a good matchup, and there are only three teams in the NFL that play zone coverage as much as the Jets (72%). The Jets allow a league-worst 111 QB rating vs. zone coverage, per SIS. And with Tua at QB, Jakeem Grant has outproduced DeVante Parker in zone (small sample warning, of course). Grant has caught 10-of-15 targets against zone coverage for 103 yards with Tua, vs. 8-of-14 and 93 yards for Parker. Both receivers would get a fantasy upgrade if Tua can’t play and Fitz starts, though Grant is questionable with a hamstring injury. Keep an eye on his status.

This week, Tagovailoa discussed how he’s adjusted to the Dolphins’ style of WRs, and how Grant fits what he’s used to at Alabama — speed.

The Dolphins will be without RB Salvon Ahmed (shoulder) this week. If Myles Gaskin (knee) can’t go, it’ll be the Matt Breida and Patrick Laird show. Gaskin is a game-time decision, coach Brian Flores said on Friday.

What They’re Saying About the Jets…

The Jets are expected to get QB Sam Darnold back from a shoulder injury to start this week. Uh, yay?

The big question is if that will matter to Jamison Crowder the slot master who has put up big numbers with Darnold at QB but much lighter numbers with Joe Flacco, at least in recent weeks. That, of course, has coincided with the rise of Breshad Perriman and Denzel Mims focusing targets to the perimeter.

The outside receivers have the tougher draw against Miami CBs Xavien Howard and Byron Jones in this one. So maybe this is Crowder’s chance to reemerge with Darnold auditioning for other clubs.

Meanwhile, the Dolphins’ run defense is getting a big boost for this Frank Gore revenge game — DT Christian Wilkins is coming off the COVID-19 list. The Jets will be down to their third-string RT in Conor McDermott with George Fant and Chuma Edoga both doubtful to play.

Dolan’s Takeaways

It’s too early to make calls on the Dolphins with all the uncertainty.

I think Gore is an RB3, and Crowder is — reluctantly — my favorite Jet WR play because of the matchup here.

New Orleans at Denver (Sun, 4:05 PM)

What They’re Saying About the Saints…

Of course, QB Taysom Hill is the talk of the league. Hill has been a fantasy wrench and punchline for many in recent years, so you have to imagine he and coach Sean Payton are smirking given his near flawless start against the Falcons last week, his first-ever NFL start.

And what did Payton change for Hill? Well, not much.

“They ran their normal offense. I was turning on the tape maybe to see something different, but it’s the Saints offense they’ve been running ever since Sean’s been there and they’ve evolved to, with the addition of his ability to have the quarterback designed runs,” Broncos coach Vic Fangio said. “But other than the quarterback designed runs which are unique to him, they ran their offense.”

Our Greg Cosell, in his Week 11 Coaching Film notes, writes he was impressed with Hill as well.

“Hill showed effective pocket movement with both the ability to slide away from pressure and climb the pocket,” Cosell wrote. “Hill showed the arm strength to drive the ball with velocity when the throw demanded it.”

The latter, of course, is not something we’ve seen from Drew Brees in recent years (or maybe ever).

The Saints will be without OL Andrus Peat (concussion) in this game.

What They’re Saying About the Broncos…

Bronco rookie WR Jerry Jeudy has been getting open on a consistent basis, but the production just hasn’t been there — he’s caught just 37 of his 77 targets (48.1%) on the season. QB Drew Lock has acknowledged that the ball needs to be put in a better place.

SIS would agree with that — only 49 of Jeudy’s 77 targets have been deemed catchable. However, SIS also charts Jeudy with 6 dropped passes, which ranks him tied for #4 in the NFL. His 12.2% drop rate is 11th among receivers with 30 or more targets this year.

A close observer has told us at FantasyPoints that Jeudy needs serious work on his hands technique, which is likely a major contributor in his struggles in this department. So we have a struggling young QB with a rookie WR who is having hands issues, which is why the connection has been so inefficient this season.

Unfortunately for Jeudy, the Saints are expecting to have top CB Marshon Lattimore (abs) back after he missed last week, and Jeudy himself is in question for this week with a foot and ankle injury that’s bothered him for a while.

Dolan’s Takeaways

Taysom might not be TE eligible anymore, but he is surely a QB1.

If Jeudy can’t go, Tim Patrick is a solid WR2 for Denver, though the Lattimoe matchup is problematic.

San Francisco at LA Rams (Sun, 4:05 PM)

What They’re Saying About the 49ers…

Health is the story for the 49ers this week. It looks like at least one of RBs Raheem Mostert (knee) and Jeff Wilson (ankle) will be back (Tevin Coleman is still out), which ends the fantasy relevance of Jerick McKinnon and JaMycal Hasty. Mostert and Wilson are officially listed as questionable.

The 49ers could have LT Trent Williams back from the COVID-19 list this week, though coach Kyle Shanahan called it an “outside chance.” It does not appear that Brandon Aiyuk will be activated, however. WR Deebo Samuel (hamstring) and TE Jordan Reed (illness) are questionable as well. The Niners appear optimistic that Deebo will play, giving QB Nick Mullens one of his biggest weapons. However, will the Rams shadow him — both inside and outside — with Jalen Ramsey the way they did Mike Evans last week?

The Niners will be down RG Tom Compton, who suffered a concussion in practice this week.

What They’re Saying About the Rams…

There are few QBs in the NFL who look as different as Jared Goff does when he’s under pressure vs. when he isn’t. The good news for Goff is that the 49ers, over the last four weeks, have pressured QBs on only 23% of dropbacks, 2nd-lowest in the NFL (SIS).

Check out Goff’s splits this season when pressured vs. not (all data from SIS).

PRESSURE?ATTEMPTSON-TARGET%YARDS/ATTTD/INT
YES11055%4.74/4
NO26285%8.812/4

Meanwhile, over the last three weeks, no player has been targeted on a higher percentage of his routes run (35%) than Goff’s top man, Cooper Kupp.

The matchup could get tougher if 49er CB Richard Sherman (calf) can play. He hasn’t played since Week 1, one of the first in a long series of injuries for the 49ers this year. Sherman is listed as questionable.

It appears unlikely that Ram TE Tyler Higbee (elbow) will play this week… it seems he’s on the “doubtful” side of “questionable.” That would open more reps for Gerald Everett, but also incentivizes the “11” personnel attack that Kupp and Robert Woods thrived in against the Bucs last week.

Dolan’s Takeaways

I really need to see the statuses of these 49er players on Sunday before I make a call here, especially because it’s such a tough matchup.

I think I’m comfortable playing all of Goff, Kupp, Woods, and Everett as near must-starts in my lineup. The backfield has taken a huge backseat for the Rams, as it probably should.

Kansas City at Tampa Bay (Sun, 4:25 PM)

What They’re Saying About the Chiefs…

The Chiefs are a “boring” team in this column every week. I like that, because there are no surprises! And Chiefs fans should be happy about that too, because it means there’s currently smooth sailing with QB Patrick Mahomes.

There is some news, however — the Chiefs had to put WR Byron Pringle on IR with an ankle injury, but they will get WR Sammy Watkins back from hamstring and calf injuries. The Chiefs have gotten inconsistent production from the WR spots opposite Tyreek Hill with Watkins hurt.

What They’re Saying About the Buccaneers…

The Bucs have had one of the weirdest offenses in the NFL this year — they’ve had games in which they looked utterly dominant, and others in which they looked sub-mediocre. That’s because there are two areas that seem exploitable.

First of all, they can’t run the ball with any sort of consistency. While the run game is 15th in FootballOutsiders’ DVOA, Ronald Jones seems to alternate big games with terrible ones, and Leonard Fournette sparked a debate on Twitter this week if he has any idea what he’s looking at. (We’ll give him the benefit of the doubt against the Rams, as star G Ali Marpet missed his second consecutive game with a concussion, so the Bucs had to shuffle their interior offensive line. And C AQ Shipley may have suffered a career-ending neck injury last week.)

But the big thing that’s really cost them is Tom Brady’s utter inability to throw the deep ball. And when I say “inability,” I mean “inability.” According to Next Gen Stats, Brady’s last 22 deep passes (20 or more air yards) have fallen incomplete or were intercepted. That’s the longest such streak by any player since 2017. In fact, he’s just 3 of his last 36 in that department, and it’s a major hindrance to the offense right now.

So will recent form or history be in Brady’s favor? Per NFL Research, Brady is 4-0 in his career (including playoffs) against the defending Super Bowl champions.

For the Bucs to get to the Super Bowl, they’re going to have to establish something consistent. Right now, that’s nothing, our Greg Cosell writes in his Week 11 Coaching Film notes.

“The Bucs do not have an offensive identity at this point. They have no commitment to a run game on a week-to-week basis,” Cosell said. “Brady had snaps in which he did not eliminate and isolate effectively, he’s not processing throws that were there within the reading progression. He played a little fast in the pocket.”

Dolan’s Takeaways

Treat the Chiefs as you always do.

The Bucs annoy me, because there’s so much blowup potential to both ends of the spectrum here. I tend to think there’s too much upside to sit Brady and the boys, but I understand why that might make you a little leery given how he’s looked in some of the recent weeks.

Chicago at Green Bay (Sun, 8:20 PM)

What They’re Saying About the Bears…

The Bears are coming out of their bye one of the coldest teams in the NFL, but they still have playoff hopes, and a kickstarted offense would really help matters.

Will they get it from QB Mitchell Trubisky? Trubisky (shoulder) will start on Sunday night, with Nick Foles (glute) doubtful to play (Foles might have been benched anyway). Foles will travel to the game in the event he can be active as Chicago’s backup, but the Bears are expected to promote Tyler Bray off the practice squad.

The Athletic’s Kevin Fishbain did a deep dive into what Trubisky means to the offense… and if he might be better than Foles.

Fishbain writes:

“As easy as it is to point out that Trubisky got the benefit of playing a few bottom-of-the-NFL teams, Foles had multiple opportunities against weaker defenses. Foles has had seven starts now to prove he can move the ball better than Trubisky did, and he hasn’t done that.

There’s a lot more that goes into it than only the quarterback, but the same should go for Trubisky’s struggles. Foles has not done enough in his time as a starter to necessarily earn the right to be the starter no matter what.”

One thing Fishbain points out, among a lot of good points — the run game has been far better with Trubisky under center than Foles, though there are some mitigating circumstances (including injuries along the offensive line). But Trubisky being under center also seemed to contribute to RB David Montgomery’s success — he averaged 4.16 YPC with Trubisky this year, and just 3.34 with Foles. The Bears do not use Foles under center much.

Montgomery, by the way, has cleared concussion protocol and will play this week, though Bear LT Charles Leno is questionable with a toe injury that popped up in practice this week.

What They’re Saying About the Packers…

It’s always amazing when a player with Aaron Rodgers’s resume can still do something historic, and while NFL Research had to do a little digging for this one, it’s still impressive what Rodgers can accomplish this week.

Rodgers has had 300 or more passing yards in each of the last three games, tied with Patrick Mahomes and Jared Goff for the longest active streak in the NFL — Rodgers had one longer streak, a four-game run in his 2011 MVP campaign. Rodgers has also completed 70% or more of his passes in three straight games, also of which he’s only had one longer streak (four games in 2010, when the Packers won the Super Bowl). If Rodgers continues both streaks simultaneously this week, he would be the fourth QB since the 1970 merger with a four-game streak hitting those thresholds, joining Peyton Manning (2012), Tom Brady (2017) and Goff (2018).

Packer WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling suffered an Achilles injury in practice this week and couldn’t go on Friday. He is listed as questionable, while Allen Lazard appears to be 100% recovered from his core muscle injury — he does not have an injury designation for the game.

Two key injuries inside could be a factor for Aaron Jones and the Packers’ run game — Packer C Corey Linsley (back) could play this week, while Bear DT Akiem Hicks (hamstring) is similarly up in the air. Linsley appears more likely to go than HIcks — Linsley got in limited practice this week, while Hicks didn’t practice at all.

Dolan’s Takeaways

I have no idea what Montgomery will look like, but the numbers do suggest he’s better with Trubisky than not. He’s a low-end RB2.

Start your typical Packers, with a boost for Lazard to a WR3 if MVS can’t go.

Seattle at Philadelphia (Mon, 8:15 PM)

What They’re Saying About the Seahawks…

Some turnovers and a little bit of a Seahawks skid have dampened the MVP case for Russell Wilson, but he’s still putting up numbers at a prodigious rate. Wilson is in the midst of the seventh season ever in which a QB threw 30 or more TD passes in his first 10 games. Per NFL Research, five of the previous six QBs won the MVP award (Peyton Manning in 2014 did not). However, none of those QBs won the Super Bowl.

One area Wilson has skidded lately is on deep throws — though he’s been arguably the best deep-ball passer in the league since his arrival, Wilson has completed just 6/24 deep throws over the last five weeks, with a league-high 3 INT on such throws over that span, according to Next Gen Stats. However, the Eagles have been consistently beatable deep, giving up the 3rd-highest QB rating in the league on deep throws this year.

While top CB Darius Slay may shadow DK Metcalf, opposite CB Avonte Maddox is exploitable — he’s given up 6 receptions of 15 or more air yards this season (SIS), tied for 20th in the NFL despite Maddox missing three games.

The Seahawks are expecting to get RB Chris Carson (foot) back in action this week.

What They’re Saying About the Eagles…

Everything about the Eagles right now surrounds Carson Wentz. Nobody would say he’s playing well right now, and trying to figure out what the hell is wrong isn’t absolving him of blame, but rather trying to figure out why things are happening.

NJ.com cited an anonymous source within the Eagles’ building this week who called Wentz “broken,” which is pretty obvious. Anyone who has watched Wentz would acknowledge that. What’s interesting is the article also cited an unnamed defensive player who has seen Wentz be incredibly sharp in practices, so something isn’t translating to game action.

This is a multi-pronged problem, one where the play-calling does not seem to be helping Wentz at all — coach Doug Pederson rolled him out a grand total of one time last week against the Browns — nor is the offensive line. As NJ.com noted, this is what looks to be a “simplified” offense for Wentz, but all it seems to be is a bunch of basic concepts and designs with no creativity and no conflict for the defenses. It’s possible to simplify an offense — like Pederson did for Nick Foles during his magical Super Bowl run — without making it easy to defend. There’s zero creativity here.

The organization hasn’t helped Wentz at all, either. After signing him to a massive contract (of which the organization can’t get out even semi-realistically until 2022), they spent a 2nd-round pick on Jalen Hurts. They’ve continually trotted out old, decrepit players, like LT Jason Peters and WR Alshon Jeffery, whom Pederson said the Eagles need to use more this week!

And Pederson seems to be wavering on whether or not to sit Wentz, for a mental break or more. I understand how difficult a decision this can be, but if this indicates that Hurts isn’t ready — or if the Eagles are struggling with the decision to put Hurts into this situation with an old, injured roster — isn’t that an indictment of the Hurts pick in and of itself?

Fortunately, the Eagles came to their senses in some regard. Peters — who was brutalized at left tackle last week against Cleveland — is moving to right guard this week, and promising youngster Jordan Mailata will be back in the lineup at left tackle. As our Adam Caplan reports, a source told him it’s an upgrade at both spots. That coincides with a massive downgrade at RT, though, as Lane Johnson (ankle) admitted on Friday he can’t play through his injury anymore and will be out for the year.. Given that C Jason Kelce (elbow) is also playing hurt, the Eagle line isn’t likely to be good no matter how much shuffling goes on here.

Dolan’s Takeaways

Start your Seahawks. Philly has never beaten Russell Wilson.

As for the Eagles, Wentz is a mess and Pederson has no clue how to fix this offense. The matchup is here, however, so use at your own risk.

Baltimore at Pittsburgh (Tue, 8 PM)

What They’re Saying About the Ravens…

Obviously, the big story around the Ravens is COVID-19. Multiple starters on offense will not play on Tuesday — including QB Lamar Jackson and RBs JK Dobbins and Mark Ingram. It appears a reckless strength coach was the catalyst for the Ravens’ outbreak.

Nonetheless, The Athletic’s Jeff Zriebiec argues, Dobbins should be the Ravens’ lead man when he emerges from the COVID-19 list.

As for QB Lamar Jackson, he isn’t the only problem with the Ravens offense, but he is a problem, as Zriebiec writes: “There are plays to be made and he’s not making them on a consistent enough basis.” We’ll see if Robert Griffin III can make those plays this week.

One of the other areas the Ravens need to get better play is on the offensive line, where they went with a shakeup last week against the Titans. C Matt Skura was benched after two weeks of bad snaps, with Patrick Mekari taking over. (Both Skura and Mekari are now on the COVID list.) They have struggled to generate any sort of consistency up front after RG Marshal Yanda’s retirement and RT Orlando Brown moving to LT to replace the injured Ronnie Stanley. At right tackle, the Ravens haven’t chosen a full-time starter between DJ Fluker and Will Holden as they try to replace Brown.

The Baltimore Sun’s Childs Walker writes:

“The Ravens made several changes as they tried to jump-start their offense. With Mekari at center in place of Skura, Powers received a full starter’s workload for the first time this season. Fluker and Holden split time almost evenly at right tackle. The Ravens would like to settle on an offensive line for the rest of the season, but don’t be surprised if this experimentation continues for a few weeks.”

Walker also notes that Dez Bryant played 35 snaps last week, knocking rookie Devin Duvernay’s share down to just 13. Meanwhile, TE Mark Andrews played a season-high 86% of the snaps and had a big game with Nick Boyle (knee) out for the year, so I would expect that to continue. Especially as Marquise Brown continues to struggle.

Zriebiec writes:

“[A] drop by Brown in the first quarter was as routine of a catch as you’ll ever see. He was held without a reception on three targets. It was the first time in his young career he was held without a catch. Fellow second-year receiver Miles Boykin also had no catches, but on zero targets. Boykin has been targeted just once in the past three games combined. It’s pretty telling that Dez Bryant, who hadn’t played in an NFL game in nearly three years, seemed to immediately become a go-to target for Jackson.”

What They’re Saying About the Steelers…

I wrote last week that, when a team is undefeated, there’s always going to be nitpicking going on, and Mike Tomlin is a veteran coach who absolutely knows how to get his boys motivated. Last week, it was the run game that was the focus of the Steelers and the media, and RB James Conner came out and ran for 89 yards on 13 carries against Jacksonville, after three straight games under 50 rushing yards.

So what’s the complaint this week? Well, the offense in general, according to the Trib-Review’s Joe Rutter. Rutter points out that the Steelers are 21st in the NFL at 347.8 yards per game, but are scoring TDs on 69.5% of their red-zone trips, which is 7th in the NFL. The Steelers believe they can get better — QB Ben Roethlisberger is disappointed that Pittsburgh had to punt 12 times the last two weeks despite beating Cincinnati and Jacksonville by a combined 51 points.

“We have to put more points on the board,” Roethlisberger said after Week 11’s victory over the Jags. “I know the scoreboard says what it does, but there are too many times we punted today and we didn’t do enough.”

Offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner says the blame occasionally goes to one guy being out of step or an occasional penalty that kills a drive. And FootballOutsiders DVOA tends to agree that the Steelers can be better — they’re 17th in overall offensive DVOA, including 29th in rushing DVOA (14th in passing). This hasn’t mattered, of course, because the defense is #1, and is consistently forcing turnovers.

But yes, both traditional and advanced numbers suggest there’s room for improvement here.

By the way, WR JuJu Smith-Schuster (foot) had one of the most bizarre injuries in the league this year when he hurt himself stepping on an official’s flag last week. It appears he will be good to go after missing practice Monday but returning later in the week.

After his solid game last week, Conner should have plenty of room to operate this week with both Raven DTs Calais Campbell and Brandon Williams on the COVID-19 list. The Ravens also have front-seven members Pernell McPhee and Jihad Ward on the list.

Dolan’s Takeaways

It’s hard to recommend anyone from Baltimore — except maybe Andrews — with RGIII starting against this defense.

As for Pittsburgh, I’d be starting my guys, but it’s scary that this game might face another postponement.

Joe Dolan, a professional in the fantasy football industry for over a decade, is the managing editor of Fantasy Points. He specializes in balancing analytics and unique observation with his personality and conversational tone in his writing, podcasting, and radio work.

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