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.
New Orleans at Atlanta (Sun, 1 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Saints…
Look, we all get annoyed with Sean Payton and his tendencies to have to prove he’s the smartest man in the room. But let’s be frank — he’s pretty damn smart. As Larry Holder of The Athletic points out, the Saints are 7-0 over the last two years when Drew Brees is out. That’s insane. And Holder also notes that the Saints have success replacing a ton of big-time players, not just Brees. That speaks to how well-run this organization is.
Fill-in starter Taysom Hill didn’t have a great game last week against the Broncos, but frankly, he didn’t have to given the Broncos were literally playing without a quarterback. Coming off a very clean first start, Hill completed just 9 passes in his second, but it was more than enough for a win.
While Hill didn’t play well, both Payton and Hill acknowledged a change in mindset given Denver’s QB situation.
“I've never been in a situation like that and, honestly, it's never happened before where you're getting ready to play an opposing team and all of a sudden, they don't have a quarterback that can play in the game. So it was a unique experience for me. And I wish I would have done a few things differently. But yeah, I think you certainly don't want to take any unnecessary risks,” Hill told reporters this week. “I think the conservative nature of the game, you end up in a few situations that you're typically trying to avoid throughout the game. I don't know what the exact number was, or how many third and long's we ended up having. But it was just the nature of the game. And I definitely found myself being more conservative, which led me to be a little bit late on some of the things that I was trying to do, but again, we managed the game and we got the win. That was the plan and then we did it.”
Obviously, Hill’s first start was against Atlanta, and he’s going to have to do more to beat them again.
What They’re Saying About the Falcons…
No team in the NFL plays man coverage more than the Saints (51%, per SIS), and whether or not Julio Jones plays, that suggests a positive for Calvin Ridley, at least on a macro level.
Per SIS, Ridley’s target share splits are drastic based on the coverage he sees — he’s seen 28% of the Falcons’ targets against man, compared to 19% against zone. Of course, he also sees much more of their targets when Julio is out — 27% when Julio isn’t on the field, and 16% when he is. To add another layer to the equation, he’ll probably catch a shadow from Marshon Lattimore if Julio doesn’t play… though per SIS, Janoris Jenkins has been the tougher matchup, giving up receptions on just 22 of 45 targets (48.9%), with a TD and 3 INT in coverage. Lattimore has surrendered 27 completions on 43 targets (62.8%), with 4 TD and 1 INT in coverage. Jenkins, meanwhile, is out for this game with a knee injury.
Julio (hamstring) and Todd Gurley (knee) have a chance to play this week, but I’d obviously be far less optimistic to play Gurley for fantasy — Gurley hasn’t averaged even 3.5 YPC in a single game since Week 5. Perhaps a week off for injury will help that, but the Saints still have the NFL’s #2 rush defense in DVOA, per FootballOutsiders.
Julio felt good in practice on Friday, which probably bodes well for his status. He and Gurley are officially questionable.
What’s gotten the Saints back on track as a Super Bowl contender, by the way? The defense, which will make things difficult on Atlanta this week. Check out this nugget from NFL Research: The Saints have had two or more takeaways and allowed fewer than 15 points in each of the last four games, the longest such active streak in the NFL and tied for the longest such streak in team history (1991, in the days of the “Dome Patrol”). Since Week 9, the Saints rank 1st in the NFL in PPG allowed (7.0), total YPG allowed (208.8), takeaways (12), and opponent passer rating (42.8). Is that good?
Anyway, with Saint DL Marcus Davenport (concussion) unable play in Week 13, that would be good news for Ryan, who was under siege last time these two teams played. Davenport and Jenkins being unavailable give Ryan more upside than typical in this matchup.
The Saints’ run game has been dominant with Taysom, so you can play him, Kamara, and Latavius Murray with some degree of confidence. The receiving work for Kamara is such a bummer, though.
Keep an eye on Julio’s status, but if he plays, the outlook for the Falcons’ offense is significantly higher than two weeks ago in this matchup given the Saints’ defensive injuries.
Detroit at Chicago (Sun, 1 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Lions…
The D’Andre Swift concussion has been a bizarre story. We still don’t know how and when he got concussed, and the Lions aren’t telling. Meanwhile, interim head coach Darrell Bevell called Swift’s recovery “up and down” when talking to reporters on Wednesday. Bevell also said Swift is closing in on a return, but that doesn’t appear certain given he didn’t practice on Thursday.
What RB Adrian Peterson had to say about Swift was alarming — essentially that Swift hasn’t been himself. I can’t imagine the Lions will be eager to rush him back if he can’t get through a full week of practice — or more — with his old energy level. In fact, it’d be flat out malpractice if they did.
Then, after Peterson’s troubling comments, the Lions removed Swift from the concussion protocol and listed him as not practicing with an illness. It’s a bizarre saga, but even if Swift plays, he isn’t going to have a full workload, per Bevell. Swift is officially questionable.
The Lions won’t have WR Kenny Golladay (hip), and we wonder why the team didn’t put him on IR since it doesn’t appear he became anywhere close to playing the last few weeks.
The Bears have been resting EDGE Khalil Mack (back) in practice this week, though coach Matt Nagy still expects him to play. Things will be better for the Lions, though, if Bear DT Akiem Hicks (hamstring) can’t play. He’s a catalyst for their defense and it looked awful without him in there last week.
What They’re Saying About the Bears…
The firing of Matt Patricia could bring some changes to the Lions, it goes without saying, though we don’t know exactly how much DC Cory Undlin will change against the Bears this week in terms of coverage.
But the Lions were a disaster last week against Deshaun Watson and Houston, especially second-year CB Amani Oruwariye. Here’s what our Greg Cosell said in his Week 12 Coaching Tape review:
“What stood out watching this game is the Lions did not play cover 3 very well — far too many voids and easy throws for Watson at the short and intermediate levels. Oruwariye had a tough day in man coverage: Fuller’s 40-yard TD in the fourth quarter was a straight go route and Fuller ran right by Oruwariye.”
Again, this is a thin Lion defense that is down CB Jeff Okudah and had to put CB Desmond Trufant on IR. So it’s a good matchup for WR Allen Robinson. The problem is that QB Mitchell Trubisky is still struggling with simple things that he’s always struggled with — like a locked front leg when delivering the football.
Cosell said the same thing. While noting that coach Matt Nagy rolled him out much more than Nick Foles to take advantage of his mobility, the same limitations were there:
“Trubisky remains a locked front leg thrower which limits his ability weight transfer and ability to drive the ball with velocity … Overall, Trubisky is not a natural thrower and will always be limited with both his ability to drive the ball and his ball placement.”
Just keep an eye on the status of Mitchy Poo’s WRs — both ARob and Darnell Mooney are questionable with knee injuries. ARob tweaked his knee in practice and apparently this is precautionary, but his status must be monitored.
Use the Lions at your own risk — Swift is a FLEX at best if he plays.
Believe it or not, Trubisky is actually a decent streamer this week given the matchup, and a DFS stack with ARob is defensible… if he plays.
Indianapolis at Houston (Sun, 1 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Colts…
He had a disappointing game last week, catching just 2 of 9 targets in a sloppy performance against the Titans, but WR Michael Pittman could be a major beneficiary of Texan top CB Bradley Roby joining Will Fuller in getting popped for PEDs. Roby’s season is over with a six-game suspension, and hopefully Pittman and QB Philip Rivers can bounce back this week.
With Roby out in Week 9 against the Jags, the since-benched Jake Luton went 26/38 for 304 yards with a TD and a pick. So this secondary should be ripe for Rivers to exploit.
And as our Greg Cosell wrote this week, the Colts have a plan for Pittman — “The Colts feature Pittman on shallow crossers and in-breakers. They want to get him the ball on the move where he can use his outstanding run-after-catch ability.”
However, just because Rivers has a well-earned reputation for playing through pain, doesn’t mean he isn’t hurting out there. Rivers was dealing with a toe injury that cost him practice time both this week and last, and it was evident on film that he was hurting. Colt G Quenton Nelson told reporters this week that Rivers’ toe issue is “really bad.”
Colt RB Jonathan Taylor is off the COVID list and will play this week. Would he have gotten the short TD opportunities that Jacoby Brissett (“The Sneak Specialist”) got last week had he played?
What They’re Saying About the Texans…
What did Deshaun Watson do to the football gods? First, Bill O’Brien traded away his guy, DeAndre Hopkins, for cents on the dollar. Then, WR Will Fuller finally had the healthy season we’ve been waiting for, and he’s emerged as a superstar… only to get popped for a six-game PED suspension that ends his 2020 season. It’s a major loss for fantasy, not just because Fuller was contributing in a big way, but because it’s a huge loss for Watson as well. And keep in mind the Texans cut Kenny Stills last week, which seems to indicate they didn’t know this was coming!
The Athletic’s Aaron Reiss broke down some players who need to step up, including prodigal son Keke Coutee, rookie Isaiah Coulter, and TE Jordan Akins.
Here’s what our Greg Cosell wrote about Coulter coming out of Rhode Island in his Draft Guide:
“Coulter comes from the FCS level but his 2019 tape consistently featured a desirable WR profile of size/speed/athletic ability/hands/body control. As you project and transition Coulter to the NFL, the concerns would be play speed and overall quickness (both route quickness and separation quickness). Coulter is a smooth and fluid glider but he's not sudden or explosive and the tape showed that he was more of a one-speed vertical receiver than an extra-gear vertical receiver. Coulter has traits to work with and develop (I love the way he attacked the ball in the air) but needs much refinement in his approach to route running to better create opportunities to separate and win versus quality man coverage at the NFL level. Can Coulter develop into a boundary X as he gets coached and gains experience at the NFL level? The traits are there (length, hands, ball skills) but much work needs to be done.”
As for Akins, he could have some intriguing value. As Reiss points out:
“Of the team’s top three tight ends, Akins, who played wide receiver in college, offers the most upside in the passing game. Among tight ends with at least 20 catches, he ranks eighth in yards per route run (1.76) but 30th in target share (8 percent). He’s run 23 percent of his routes from the slot this year, compared to 34.6 percent a season ago. That number could now creep back up.”
It would be huge for the Colts’ defense this week if DT DeForest Buckner plays, and both he and DT Denico Autry were activated off the COVID-19 list this week. Per Next Gen Stats, Buckner (COVID-19 list) might be the Colts’ most important player. He has played 73.1% of the Colts’ defensive snaps this season. With Buckner on the field, the Colts have allowed 3.2 yards per carry and a 77.1 opponent passer rating. With Buckner off the field, the Colts have allowed 5.1 YPC and a 107.8 passer rating. That’s a drastic difference.
However, the Texans’ run game could get a boost with David Johnson (concussion) potentially being activated off IR in time for Sunday’s action.
I’m a little wary about playing a receiver with an injured Rivers, but Pittman is a great upside WR3 this week in a big spot with Roby popped for PEDs. Taylor is a high-end FLEX.
While you’re still playing Watson, boy, the loss of Fuller is such a huge bummer. Coutee is a WR3 option, and Coulter is a stash. I’m playing Cooks as a WR2. Akins is a streamable TE, while we need to wait on DJ’s status to determine what to do with this backfield.
Cincinnati at Miami (Sun, 1 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Bengals…
It’s the time of year when you start to acknowledge what teams aren’t going to help your fantasy team, and the Bengals — without Joe Burrow (knee) — are one of them. That said, it’s good news that the swelling in Burrow’s knee was already low enough that he could have “successful” surgery this week.
Anyway, Bengals fans are now hoping for the tank, as The Athletic’s Paul Dehner Jr. writes in his mailbag. Why? Oregon LT Penei Sewell is viewed as one of the best offensive line prospects in ages, and the Bengals really need to protect Burrow in the future.
Dehner also discussed the easy-to-see decline of WR AJ Green. He writes, depressingly:
“What’s happening with Green right now — and for his sake, I hope he goes somewhere and finds a productive second act next year — is part of why players like Calvin Johnson, Jim Brown and Barry Sanders, among others, retire early. You never want to go out like this.”
What a shame.
What They’re Saying About the Dolphins…
Dolphins coach Brian Flores said this week that he isn’t going to make a decision on who will start at QB this week between Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tua Tagovailoa, who missed last week with a thumb injury and has been limited in practice this week.
Look, we know that if we want fantasy production from guys like DeVante Parker and Mike Gesicki, then Fitz is the guy we want here. And NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport said there’s a decent shot that Fitz is the guy in Week 13. Here’s what The Athletic’s Josh Tolentino had to say about this situation:
“Parker and Miami’s receivers need to keep building chemistry with Tagovailoa because he is the future, but it’s clear Parker and a few others, including tight end Mike Gesicki, enjoy and benefit from playing with Fitzpatrick because of the veteran’s willingness to trust the receiver to compete for 50-50 balls thrown in tighter windows. Additionally, Parker has done exceptionally well against man coverage. The Bengals allow 390.5 yards per game, seventh-most in the NFL, so the Dolphins should have opportunities to rack up yardage and points, regardless of who’s the starting quarterback.”
I’ve written multiple times in this space about how bizarre the Dolphins’ handling of Tua has been, but ESPN’s Cameron Wolfe broke down why this next month is so important to him.
Via Wolfe, Tua explained that he needs to be more selectively aggressive. He hasn’t thrown a pick in his NFL career, but he also doesn’t turn it loose the way Fitz does.
“It's not me playing like I'm scared or anything. It's me trusting what I see. If I don't see the guy open, I'm not going to throw it and that's really how it's been in the games and also in practice, too," Tagovailoa said. "It's one of those things where you've just got to practice. You see it, you practice, get throws with guys in tight coverages and tight windows and then you kind of dictate how you felt through that and if you didn't like it, then it won't happen in the game."
Meanwhile, the Dolphins’ run game has been anemic. Wolfe is wondering if Myles Gaskin (knee), who can return off IR at any point, will be back to fix things. What’s entirely evident here is that the Dolphins are still in desperate need of a back next season. If Gaskin can’t come off IR, I have no idea who will be handling the majority of the workload, with Salvon Ahmed (shoulder) and DeAndre Washington (hamstring) both doubtful to play, and Matt Breida is on the COVID list. Could it be Patrick Laird?
The Bengals are a mess.
Frankly, so are the Dolphins. I’m downgrading this whole offense if Tua plays, and the backfield is impossible to suss out until we know whether or not Gaskin is activated.
Jacksonville at Minnesota (Sun, 1 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Jaguars…
At this point, it appears the Jaguars are just benching Gardner Minshew (thumb). While Minshew is still technically hurt, coach Doug Marrone told reporters on Wednesday that QB Mike Glennon will continue to start in Week 13 — he went with the old “he gives us the best chance to win” line. Glennon certainly wasn’t bad last week considering the circumstances, playing without both DJ Chark and Chris Conley.
Anyway, the real superstar of the Jaguars’ season is RB James Robinson, putting together a top-5 fantasy campaign on an awful team. Given that this team is so bad and he’s still putting up excellent numbers, what does our Greg Cosell see from him?
“Robinson has the patience, vision, then decisiveness and short-area burst to clear the first and second levels of the defense.
Robinson is more straight-line than overly shifty and elusive, but he is a desirable combination of patient and decisive, getting downhill with urgency. He consistently ran hard with leg drive and strong finishing traits – he is a volume runner in the Jaguars offense.”
Chark, by the way, is off the injury report in terms of having a gameday designation and will play through his ribs injury. Conley (hamstring) is questionable.
What They’re Saying About the Vikings…
Viking coach Mike Zimmer told reporters on Wednesday that it looks like WR Adam Thielen, who missed last week’s game on the COVID-19 list, should be ready to play. The Vikings officially activated Thielen from the COVID-19 list on Wednesday, so it looks like he’s in the clear, though we obviously need to keep monitoring the status.
Anyway, the talk of the Vikings media this week has been the workload for RB Dalvin Cook, who briefly exited last week’s game against the Panthers with an ankle injury. Zimmer acknowledged Minnesota needs to be “smart." While Cook appears likely to play in Week 13, he’s averaged 28.8 touches per game over the last five weeks. So reporters asked Cook about potentially breaking down.
He wasn’t happy.
“What does that mean?” Cook said. ““I’m a running back. I’m a running back just like anybody else. I don’t think that’s a question you’ll ask Derrick Henry or anybody else. I’m a running back. There’s no wearing down. I’m ready to tote the ball.”
Still, you wonder if the Vikings will continue to allow their passing game to “cook” in this one, despite the game flow (the Vikes are 10-point favorites) suggesting this is a great week to run the ball. As for Dalvin, he has no game designation so he’s ready to go.
Check out the metrics from SIS that show this is a great matchup for QB Kirk Cousins. Jacksonville’s 45% man coverage rate (6th-most), 24% pressure rate (lowest), and 10 explosive passing TDs allowed (most) are all big signs for Kirkie. Dating back to last season, he’s averaged 9.5 YPA vs. man, and 7.5 YPA vs. zone. He’ll see a lot of clean pockets, and Cousins ranks 2nd in YPA from a clean pocket this season (9.3).
The Vikings have also produced an explosive play on 12% of pass attempts, 2nd-most in the NFL, and Cousins has been accurate on 67% of deep balls, the highest in the NFL, all per SIS.
Viking TE Irv Smith (groin) continues to be out.
There are two Jags I’m willing to play — Chark and Robinson.
For Minnesota, I’m playing four guys, and I love them all — Cook, Cousins, Thielen, and Justin Jefferson. I do think there is some credence to the notion that Cook could be limited a bit this week though.
Las Vegas at NY Jets (Sun, 1 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Raiders…
The Raiders had an embarrassing performance last week, so much so that coach Jon Gruden had to apologize for the egg they laid in Atlanta. Though the Jets provide a nice-bounce back opportunity for them, they might have to play without two of their three most relevant fantasy options.
RB Josh Jacobs (ankle) and WR Nelson Agholor (ankle) have both missed multiple practices this week, with Jacobs being ruled out, which at minimum opens the door for handcuff RB Devontae Booker to make a big impact. Could WR Henry Ruggs have some value against this pass-funnel defense?
Raider FB Alec Ingold, playing through broken ribs, discussed the Raiders’ struggling run game with The Athletic this week.
“It’s just a little bit of adversity,” he said. “Everyone is dealing with something right now. I love my job, I love coming to work every day, so I am going to do everything I can to play for these guys. That’s just Step 1 in being a football player and being a Raider here. It means a lot to me to play through adversity and to be there for my guys.”
What They’re Saying About the Jets…
How about this quote from Adam Gase? I mean, I’m sure he’s an intelligent enough fellow to realize the end is nigh in New York for both him and QB Sam Darnold, but I can’t remember the last time I saw a sitting coach criticize himself so efficiently yet so bitingly.
“I came here to help him develop his career,” Gase said of Darnold via Connor Hughes. “We haven’t been able to do that.”
I mean, it’s true, but damn it’s kind of sad to just see Gase lay it all out there like that. Darnold has acknowledged the disappointment, too. Both Gase and Darnold are losing their jobs, but Darnold can still make himself appealing to other teams with a strong enough performance down the stretch. But the Jets are inching ever so closer to Trevor Lawrence, and Darnold must be contacting realtors already.
Meanwhile, expect more work for Frank Gore! He had 21 touches and a 58% snap share last week, both second-highest of the season. Adam Gase is just going though the motions right now.
I mean, Gase can’t possibly be saying things like this with a straight face. This job has broken him, and he has broken this job.
Booker is an RB2 for me. If Agholor plays, he’s a high-end WR3, and I can see taking a prayer shot on Ruggs given the matchup.
I don’t want to play any Jets if I can avoid it, but Gore is a FLEX just on volume alone.
Cleveland at Tennessee (Sun, 1 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Browns…
NFL Research has discovered just how incredible this RB matchup is. Browns RB Nick Chubb 16 career games with 100 or more rushing yards and 5 or more yards per carry are tied for 3rd-most in a player’s first three seasons with Walter Payton, behind only Chris Johnson (18) and Eric Dickerson (17). Check out the Titans’ section for how Derrick Henry has an incredible achievement of his own…
Chubb is an excellent, well-rounded back, one our Greg Cosell used an old basketball idiom to describe.
“Chubb consistently shows outstanding patience and vision as a runner, He is a perfect embodiment of the old John Wooden adage: ‘Be quick, but don’t hurry.’ Chubb is an excellent cutback runner in the zone run game. That results from his patience and vision, and then he has outstanding short-area explosiveness.”
Meanwhile, QB Baker Mayfield has missed some throws of late (including a couple of brutal ones for potential TDs last week), but OC Alex Van Pelt has been focusing more on Mayfield avoiding turnovers than the inaccurate throws. Mayfield has gone 123 attempts without a pick, and Van Pelt says he’d prefer a short completion over Mayfield playing a hero ball searching for a big play.
The Browns’ game planning clearly is trying to get Mayfield into a rhythm, defining throws out of run-heavy personnel. Take a reception Jarvis Landry made for 21 yards last week on the Browns’ second possession, as described by Greg Cosell:
“It was a good example of the Browns’ pass game out of 12 personnel: [lay action boot off outside zone run action to the boundary with Landry crossing the formation from a reduced boundary split. The Jaguars played cover 3 out of base with the conflict defender being on-the-ball LB Correa, who was the flat defender to the field – Great design with an easy throw for Mayfield.”
However, Cosell still notes there’s plenty for Mayfield to clean up:
“Mayfield still had too many snaps in which he played fast and frenetic with his movements in the pocket. He rushed his mechanics (poor footwork and balance) and the result was too many inaccurate throws to open receivers. Mayfield left a lot of throws on the field — he was all over the place.”
Landry had a huge game out of nowhere last week, and he might need to have a big one this week, as well, with WR KhaDarel Hodge out with a hamstring injury.
What They’re Saying About the Titans…
As alluded to above, NFL Research also uncovered a historic achievement for Derrick Henry. Henry’s seven career games with 150+ rush yards and 2+ rush TD are tied with two Hall of Famers — Walter Payton and Earl Campbell — for 3rd-most all-time in a player’s first five seasons. It’s behind only two more Canton inductees — Jim Brown (nine) and Eric Dickerson (eight).
One thing that helped Henry last week against the Colts? Our Greg Cosell called their offensive line performance “outstanding,” and that’s something that’s been lacking from the Titan offense for most of the season, especially once LT Taylor Lewan went down.
“This was the best run blocking game of the season for the interior three of the Titans OL as a group,” Cosell wrote, especially calling to mind the performances of Gs Nate Davis and Rodger Saffold. “Outside zone remained the foundation of the Titans’ run game with Henry, but we also saw zone lead, iso lead, pin-pull, and some gap scheme.”
With Jonnu Smith (knee) out this week, it’s a solid week to potentially stream Ryan Tannehill favorite Anthony Firkser.
It’s good news for Tannehill and his WRs that Browns top CB Denzel Ward (calf) is out.
Play Chubb and Kareem Hunt, and maybe Landry is back on the WR3 radar after he finally showed up last week.
For the Titans, I can start all of Tannehill, Henry, AJ Brown, and Corey Davis. But I’m also willing to stream Firkser with Jonnu out.
LA Rams at Arizona (Sun, 4:05 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Rams…
There’s good news and bad news for the Rams’ passing game this week. The good news for fantasy is that the Cardinals have been on the field in Cover 1 for 162 pass attempts, which is the most in the entire NFL, per SIS. In Cover 1, Cooper Kupp dominates the Rams’ passing game, with a 33% target share to Robert Woods’ 21%.
The bad news is that QB Jared Goff was mystified by the 49ers’ Cover 1 scheme last week. While Robert Saleh is a wizard, I would anticipate Cardinal DC Vance Joseph will continue to play to his strengths.
One other thing that’s been hurting Goff? Per Next Gen Stats, his efficiency on play-action has been abysmal since coming off the Week 9 bye. In Weeks 1 through 8, Goff had 6 TD, 0 INT, and a 115.7 passer rating on play-action. Since Week 10, Goff has 0 pass TD, 3 INT, and a 44.4 passer rating on play-action attempts.
Meanwhile, our Greg Cosell thought rookie RB Cam Akers played the best game of his career so far last week: “Akers looked quick with excellent short area burst – this was the first game I thought he looked like he did at Florida State,” he wrote. Could it be time for him to take the Lions’ share of work in this backfield?
What They’re Saying About the Cardinals…
Obviously, Kyler Murray’s dinged up throwing shoulder is a major factor here, and it might be why he averaged only 3.65 air yards per completion against the Patriots last week — he entered the action with 6.10 air yards per completion in his previous 10 games (SIS). When Murray was in a tiny bit of a slump earlier in the season, it was because the Cardinals weren’t throwing the ball down the field much.
So this is a very interesting matchup, because the Rams have FootballOutsiders #4 pass defense by DVOA. And one would anticipate that top CB Jalen Ramsey — if he’s healthy enough with his hip injury — will match, at least at some points (Sean McVay said it won’t be exclusively), with WR DeAndre Hopkins. But this is a matchup both are familiar with from their time in the AFC South. According to PFF, no receiver has more than Hopkins’ 396 yards against Ramsey in his coverage.
That said, The Rams Wire’s Cam DaSilva did a phenomenal breakdown of the matchups the two have had through the years and noted that Hopkins made very few big plays and didn’t do a lot after the catch. Check it out.
You just kind of have to suck it up and play Woods and Kupp every week, though Goff is always tough to make a call on. I think he’s a low-end starter this week. Akers is a fragile RB2.
I’m still playing Kyler, but last week was a huge concern in terms of his unwillingness to go down the field.
NY Giants at Seattle (Sun, 4:05 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Giants…
Giant QB Daniel Jones (hamstring) is officially listed as doubtful for Sunday’s action against the Seahawks, which paves the way for Colt McCoy to start.
Beat writer Ryan Dunleavy seems to think this could be good news for Golden Tate out of the slot — not only is McCoy a less aggressive thrower than Jones, but Tate had a week practicing with the backups on scout team when he was being disciplined.
“Colt’s had a good week of practice. He’s working hard. Colt’s got a lot of experience. He doesn’t really miss a beat. He gets in there, it’s like riding a bike for this guy. He gets in there and he competes. Everything is very, very competitive with Colt,” coach Joe Judge told reporters on Friday. “He goes in there, especially offense versus defensive period, we’re making it competitive. He gets a lot of the juice flowing there throughout the team. He’s not afraid to mix it up and talk a little smack with the guys. It’s fun seeing him operate.”
McCoy could get a little bit of a cleaner pocket if Seahawk DE Carlos Dunlap (foot) can’t play.
Anyway, I thought this was funny — Judge (a Mississippi State alum) lost a bet to Ole Miss alum TE Evan Engram over the Egg Bowl this past week, and was decked out in ridiculous Ole Miss gear at his Friday press conference.
What They’re Saying About the Seahawks…
Seahawk WR DK Metcalf went nuts against the Eagles last week, showing Eagles fans what they remind themselves about constantly — that Philly should have taken Metcalf instead of JJ Arcega-Whiteside. But you wonder if Tyler Lockett will get a little bit more volume this week against the zone-heavy Giants.
Last week, per SIS, the Eagles played man coverage a season-high 77% of the time, and Metcalf roasted top CB Darius Slay. Metcalf will have a matchup with James Bradberry this week, but the Giants actually play quite a bit of zone coverage — 72%, to be exact, 7th-most in the NFL. Lockett has a 26% target share against zone, compared to 20% for Metcalf. So expect Lockett to get a lot more work this week than he did last.
Still, there’s no good reason to bench Metcalf (duh). His 20.5 yards per reception, 16.9 air yards per reception, and 85% first-down rate ranks him first among all WRs against zone coverage. He’s a monster against any coverage, but the matchup does suggest to be a productive one for Lockett.
Moreover, Lockett might be dinged up — he has had a knee issue he’s been playing through, and beat writer Michael Shawn-Dugar doesn’t sense the same kind of shiftiness that has been part of Lockett’s game at his best.
Oh, Metcalf is on a historical pace, as well. Per NFL Research, he leads the NFL with 1039 receiving yards this season, joining Josh Gordon, Randy Moss, and Isaac Bruce as the only players in the Super Bowl era to lead the NFL in receiving through Week 10 or later in a season prior to turning 23. Metcalf — who is on pace for 13 receiving TD and what would be a Seahawks single-season record 1511 receiving yards — would be the youngest player in NFL history with 1500+ receiving yards and 13 receiving touchdowns in a season.
Speaking of Gordon, FOX’s Jay Glazer reported this week that the NFL will be revoking his suspension in time for him to be available for the final two weeks of the season.
It’s probably not going to result in any fantasy production this year, but it’s good to see Seahawk RB Rashaad Penny could be healthy enough to get on the field this season, per Pete Carroll.
And in the backfield, it’s good news Chris Carson came through last weekend unscathed, because Carlos Hyde (toe) didn’t. Hyde is questionable, though Pete Carroll expects him to play. He also expects to get Carson more work this week.
Tate, Engram, and Wayne Gallman are the only Giants I want to play with Jones likely out.
I’m playing my usual cast of Seahawks, including Lockett (though I am concerned about his health).
Philadelphia at Green Bay (Sun, 4:25 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Eagles…
There’s been so much — so much — said about the Eagles this year and for good reason. I threw my hat into the ring this week with my own personal take. I’d appreciate it if you checked it out, but the TL;DR version is that I think the Eagles need to end their relationship with GM Howie Roseman, whether or not Doug Pederson and/or Carson Wentz go with him.
Pederson might cede some playcalling duties to Press Taylor or Rich Scangarello this week, but neither is an offensive coordinator, and again this looks like a “too many cooks in the kitchen” scenario.
The Eagles are expecting to get TE Zach Ertz back this week from a high ankle sprain, but prior to going down with an injury, Ertz was one of the least effective players at his position in the NFL, averaging just 0.78 yards per route run (PFF). That’s 56th of 64 TEs with 10 or more targets, and the struggles can’t all be put on Wentz — teammate Richard Rodgers (2.67 YRR) is first in that category, while Dallas Goedert (1.52) is tied for 21st.
By the way, Packer coach Matt LaFleur is acknowledging it’s a Travis Fulgham revenge game. Maybe the Eagles will realize it! Or, more likely, they’ll continue to hold out Fulgham and throw the corpse of Alshon Jeffery out there.
What They’re Saying About the Packers…
Packer QB Aaron Rodgers is having an absolutely spectacular season. He ranks first in the NFL with a 117.6 passer rating and 33 TD passes, and per NFL Research he would be the first QB to lead the NFL in both categories since Tom Brady did so in 2010, when he won the MVP. Each of the six QBs to finish a season ranked first in both metrics since 2000 have won either the NFL MVP or Super Bowl MVP Award that season (Kurt Warner was the last to do both, in the 1999 season).
Rodgers has been excellent on play-action this year, per Next Gen Stats, and that might be fueling his resurgence. Rodgers leads the NFL with 14 pass TD and a 133.8 passer rating on play-action this season, and has used play-action on 26.5% of his dropbacks. Rodgers had 10 pass TD on play-action passes in the previous three seasons combined, with a 20.8% rate of play-action from 2017 to 2019. So yes, Rodgers and coach Matt LaFleur have cooked up significantly more play-action this year, but Rodgers has also been much better when using it.
And our Greg Cosell agrees, writing this week that “the Packers run a highly schemed offense that features multiple personnel packages, formations, motions and shifts. Play action and play action boot are featured – Rodgers more efficient than in previous seasons [on these plays].” Rodgers has also been spectacular out of empty formations this year, though his empty-set rating is actually less than his pristine overall QB rating: 41/63 passing (65%), 494 yards, 3 TD, 0 interceptions, 104.9 QB rating.
The Packers’ run game could also get a big boost this week if star Eagle DT Fletcher Cox (neck) is less than 100%. That could help offset the loss of C Corey Linsley (MCL), who is out at least a few weeks. Cox is expected to play but is dinged up.
The Eagles could be prime for pickin’s through the air if top CB Darius Slay (calf) can’t play with an injury suffered this week in practice, and heck, he could be less than 100% anyway (he is expected to play). Not that you’re sitting Davante Adams anyway, but…
Use any and all Eagles at your own risk. You understand what it means given how broken this team looks — it even refuses to put the ball in the hands of Miles Sanders. Ertz is a low-end TE1, by the way, and I’d rather have Goedert.
On the flip side, start your Packers, and given the Eagles’ struggles at the #2 CB slot opposite Slay, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Allen Lazard are solid DFS and low-end FLEX options.
New England at LA Chargers (Sun, 4:25 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Patriots…
Patriot QB Cam Newton is dealing with an abdominal injury that could limit him this week, though Cam hasn’t expressed much concern about his status. Newton is officially listed as questionable for Sunday, though we know how Bill Belichick treats those designations.
That could be a concern for multiple reasons. The Athletic’s Jeff Howe had a takeaway column from the Patriots’ win over the Texans last week, and noted the Pats’ pass protection continually broke down (Joey Bosa wrecked the Bills last week), and Cam wasn’t good enough to take advantage of the Texans selling out to stop Damien Harris and the run game.
One observation from Howe that I found pretty intriguing was this: “Newton has displayed numerous times this season a penchant for pushing the ball down the field when it’s been called. He hasn’t gotten in as much of a rhythm when the calls have been more conservative.”
The Patriots were talking as recently as last week about potentially getting WR Julian Edelman (knee) back off IR, but they also had to put him on the COVID-19 list this week. With just four weeks left in the season, it becomes less and less likely Edelman will return at all.
What They’re Saying About the Chargers…
We’re not used to seeing this from New England, but per SIS, the Patriots have allowed a “successful” passing play (a play that meets criteria given down and distance) on 52% of attempts, the worst in the NFL. They’re still playing man coverage at a high rate — 48% — second only to the Saints in the NFL this season.
WR Keenan Allen has seen 43 targets against man coverage, the most in the NFL, and he’s seen a 30% target share against man, as well. However, SIS points out that returning star RB Austin Ekeler has a great matchup, too. The Pats are allowing a league-worst 70% success rate on passes behind the line of scrimmage, the worst in the NFL (league average is 55%). Ekeler had 16 targets last week, so Justin Herbert isn’t afraid to feed him.
Newton is a low-end QB starter. The Patriots are an awful fantasy team.
Start Herbert, Allen, and Ekeler with confidence.
Denver at Kansas City (Sun, 8:20 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Broncos…
Look, the Broncos are going to have a QB in Drew Lock this week, presumably, as they’ve activated their QB room off the COVID list. That’s good! It’s still not a great fantasy team though, although Lock gives life to WRs Tim Patrick and Jerry Jeudy. (Jeudy is listed as questionable with a knee injury.)
Bronco RB Phillip Lindsay (knee) is listed as questionable.
Anyway, I thought this story about emergency QB Kendall Hinton was a cool read, since that’s the most interesting thing going on with the Broncos these days. The only two ‘emergency QBs” in NFL history now have a connection. Hinton took one for the team in impossible circumstances, and that should be commended.
What They’re Saying About the Chiefs…
The Chiefs are pretty much the same team every week at this point — if you’re playing a secondary receiver, you just hope for a touchdown.
RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire (illness) is questionable for Sunday night, however, and given it’s a night game, you should have a replacement ready to go if you plan playing CEH. CEH missed practice on both Thursday and Friday with the illness. Coach Andy Reid thinks CEH will play.
Anyway, if you focus just on Patrick Mahomes’ insane arm, you’re missing plenty. The guy would probably be good even without the next-level cannon he has, our Greg Cosell wrote this week.
“It is easy to focus on Mahomes’ high-level throwing traits, but the tape tells you he has outstanding elimination and isolation traits. He wins a lot of downs before the snap, and is therefore able to manipulate defenders and then be decisive within the structure of the pass game.”
The one Bronco I actually feel best about playing this week is Patrick, who has been really productive with Lock at QB.
Again, if you’re planning on playing CEH, make sure you have a backup from one of the four late-week games. Otherwise, start your Chiefs as you typically would.
Washington at Pittsburgh (Mon, 5 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Football Team…
There’s not much to say at this point about the Team, other than RB Bryce Love is going to miss his second consecutive season with a knee injury. It’s such a bummer for the 2017 Heisman runner up, as returning to Stanford unfortunately might have cost him NFL glory.
Meanwhile, WR Terry McLaurin is being called questionable with an ankle injury. He played through it — and played well — on Thanksgiving and has an 11-day layoff.
It will be a cleaner pocket for QB Alex Smith this week — Steeler EDGE Bud Dupree suffered a torn ACL on Wednesday against Baltimore, a terrible loss for Pittsburgh.
What They’re Saying About the Steelers…
One of the things that we should watch here for the Steelers — they’ve been mediocre in the red zone, converting TDs at the 11th-best rate in the NFL (you’d expect better from an undefeated team). Meanwhile, as The Athletic’s Rhiannon Walker points out, Washington’s defense is #1 in that category.
The Steeler offense was out of sync as a whole on Wednesday afternoon football, and maybe we should give them a break. But as The Athletic’s Mark Kaboly breaks down, dropped passes from Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, and Eric Ebron almost cost them the game against the Ravens’ skeleton squad.
We still don’t know if RB James Conner (COVID-19) will play this week, but it doesn’t matter in the grand scheme, writes The Athletic’s Ed Bouchette. With key injuries on defense, this now has to be Ben Roethlisberger’s time to step up.
McLaurin should be good to go, and Steeler CB Stephen Nelson is having an MRI on his knee, so the matchup is a little cleaner. I still wouldn’t be streaming Smith in this matchup.
I’m playing my typical Steeler pass-catchers — this run game has been poor, though Mike Tomlin got in OC Randy Fichtner’s face last week against Baltimore for not running it enough.
Buffalo at San Francisco (Mon, 8:15 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Bills…
While you’d think slot WR Cole Beasley will get a ton of work for the Bills with John Brown on IR, but SIS points out the 49ers have been excellent against slot receivers this year.
Through 11 games, San Francisco and wizard DC Robert Saleh rank first with 6.6 YPA allowed, 86 yards per game allowed, and a 72.7 QB rating allowed when targeting slot receivers, to go along with 7 TDs and 8 INTs. Beasley runs 93% of his routes from the slot. The issue? Slot CB Jamar Taylor tore his ACL last week, and that could be a big problem for the 49ers, who have suffered so many terrible injuries already this year.
What They’re Saying About the 49ers…
Bill LB Matt Milano (chest) has been designated to return from IR, so he has an opportunity to play this week. That would be a huge boost to a run defense that has allowed the 13th-most FPG to RBs in PPR and ranks a disappointing 22nd in FootballOutsiders run defense DVOA.
The metrics go deeper than that, though, and suggest an overall positive matchup for RB Raheem Mostert. Per SIS, the Bills have given up a “successful” run on 56% of opposition carries (worst in the NFL), and are giving up 2.4 yards before contact (2nd-worst in the NFL). Maybe Milano can help change that, but the Bills’ offensive explosion this year has covered up their disappointing defense. Of course, the 49ers are also expected to get RB Tevin Coleman (knee) back this week.
Anyway, if the 49ers need to throw it, it’s good news that our Greg Cosell called QB Nick Mullens’ performance “solid” and “efficient” against the Rams last week. It’s not going to win any awards, but the Niners can now move the ball decently through the air, with Deebo Samuel back from injury and Brandon Aiyuk off the COVID-19 list.
Speaking of injured 49ers, don’t rule out George Kittle the rest of the season. He told longtime beatman Matt Maiocco that’s he’s getting closer to getting back on the field.
With the injury to Taylor, I can go back to the Beasley well even though he wasn’t as productive last week as I thought he’d be.
Mostert is an RB2, as I have no faith in Coleman. Deebo is a WR2 and Aiyuk a WR3.
Dallas at Baltimore (Tue, 8:05 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Cowboys…
The Cowboys’ offensive line took a huge step forward in Week 11, QB Andy Dalton’s first start since returning from a concussion and a COVID list. That was because star RG Zack Martin took one for the team, moving to RT and playing a flawless game against Minnesota.
Unfortunately, they’re back in a terrible spot with Martin going down with a calf injury on Thanksgiving, and he could miss up to a month (and, pessimistically, the rest of the season if the Cowboys get eliminated by then). Terence Steele, whom Martin replaced in the lineup, is back at right tackle, while LT Cameron Erving (who was the Cowboys’ backup right tackle before he moved to be the backup left tackle) also got injured last week.
The Cowboys’ offensive line is woefully short for a tough matchup.
What They’re Saying About the Ravens…
Look, I could try to say something profound here, but we literally don’t know who is going to be playing for the Ravens on Tuesday (though RBs JK Dobbins and Mark Ingram should be back).
As of publication, they had 13 players on the COVID list, including Lamar Jackson and Mark Andrews.
If Lamar can’t play, Trace McSorley will start at QB with Robert Griffin III (hamstring) on IR.
The Cowboys get a downgrade across the board because of the offensive line.
There’s no reasonable way to make a call, one way or another, on the Ravens right now.