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The Best of Week 14

Matt Waldman scouts our in-season content and shares five must-knows and his takes on each.

You guys have a ton of articles. 

This statement about Footballguys is a blessing but it can feel like a curse. Our staff delivers insights that change seasons for the better yet realistically, no fantasy owner has the time to read everything we publish in a week. 

If this describes you, let me be your scout. Here are five insights from Footballguys articles that I find compelling for the weekend ahead. I'll share what should help you this week, touch on the long-term outlook, and sometimes offer a counterargument.  

This week, we examine a veteran turning it on, a touchy injury situation, two tight end sleepers, and a returning stud.

1. Better late than never, will beast mode continue in Kansas City?

You probably took Lynch in the middle rounds or added him when a frustrated team waived him. The grand plan for Oakland was slow-rolling the league with Lynch later in the season. With 48 touches for 232 yards and 2 touchdowns during the past 2 weeks — including a 75 percent share of the running back snap count in Week 12 — there's reason to believe that Beast Mode is in gear. 

But should we trust him this week in Kansas City? The crew writing our Rushing Matchups is ambivalent. 

Neutral matchup. It seems as though the Raiders had planned this all along where they start Marshawn Lynch out slow and then as we got closer to the playoffs they start to utilize the running back to save him to be fresh later in the year. Lynch looked great last week against the Giants as he had his longest run since 2015 on a 51-yard run early in the game last week. The offensive line for Oakland continues to be a tremendous strength for this team led by a very strong left side of Donald Penn, Kelechi Osmele and center Rodney Hudson contribute to their ranking of the second best offensive line by Matt Bitonti.

The Chiefs run defense has been battle-tested over the last four games as they have given up the most rush attempts to opponents in the NFL with 31 attempts per game. While they have given up a lot of attempts, their defense has played relatively solidly holding opponents to just 3.3 yards per carry over their last four games which include games against two of the leagues better running backs in Ezekiel Elliott and LeSean McCoy. On the year, the Chiefs have been a team that is about league average when it comes to defending the run as they are solid up the middle with Bennie Logan and linebackers Reggie Ragland and Derrick Johnson, but do have some weak spots that can be exposed as Frank Zombo and the safeties have struggled against the run this season. 

Since they referenced Bitonti, it's notable that he and Justis Mosqueda tout this matchup as one to trust In The Trenches

OAK +20 

Oakland @ Kansas City - Sunday 1 PM ET 

JM: Between Week 6 and Week 12, the only team making fewer tackles at or behind the line than the Kansas City Chiefs were the Cincinnati Bengals. Last week against the New York, Jets quarterback Josh McCown was virtually untouched as he had a nearly flawless game through the air and run for two touchdowns. Chris Jones isn't making as many plays as he was in the first month of the season. Justin Houston can't be Superman every game. Allen Bailey is now a splash play-only lineman. When Houston drops into coverage (often), Derek Carr is going to have a lot of time to throw the ball.

BIT: The Raiders' offense has only run power blocking with Marshawn Lynch seven times this season. But Lynch averages 11 yards-per-carry when they go power run blocking (as defined as pull trap man scheme). The offense has run more power of late, taking advantage of their extremely talented line and the offense was clicking last week against the New York Giants. It's hard to pick just one Raiders' offensive lineman to praise. Donald Penn is extremely nimble and Rodney Hudson is a technician. The guards of Gabe Jackson and Kelechi Osemele are churning through defenders recently. "KO" particularly is putting together another All-Pro campaign. All of this adds up to a potentially unfortunate matchup for the Chiefs defense at home. 

My Take: I love that Bitonti referenced the type of blocking schemes that have been working well for Lynch in recent weeks. Last week, the Raiders staff told the media that it has simplified its playbook in the running game, opting for plays that were most productive. With this in mind, let's look at the defensive matchups and see how teams fared that run power blocking plays. 

This isn't an all-inclusive look, but from my own observation, the Broncos, Giants, Chargers, and Patriots are all on the list. The results are encouraging:

Devontae Booker 8 6 40 1 3 14 0 11.40
C.J. Anderson 8 15 78 0 1 7 0 8.50
Jamaal Charles 8 8 39 0 1 5 0 4.40 

 

Orleans Darkwa 11 20 74 1 2 16 0 15.00
Wayne Gallman 11 6 19 0 1 3 0 2.20
Shane Vereen 11 2 13 0 3 15 0 1.80
Melvin Gordon 3 17 79 1 0 0 0 13.90
Branden Oliver 3 8 16 0 4 18 0 3.40
Austin Ekeler 3 0 0 0 1 6 0 0.60
Mike Gillislee 1 15 45 3 0 0 0 22.50
James White 1 10 38 0 3 30 0 6.80
Rex Burkhead 1 3 15 0 1 8 0 2.30
Dion Lewis 1 2 9 0 0 0 0 0.90

Gillislee was the Patriots' power-blocking runner earlier this year, Darkwa killed the Broncos on trap plays and fared well against the Chiefs, and the Broncos switched to a power scheme this year. It all looks promising for Lynch when scouting recent play-calling tendencies, opponent weaknesses, and Lynch's play. Go for it.    

2. Don't shy away from Matthew Stafford

David Dodds' Game Predictor's yardage and touchdown projections for the Lions are top-three for the week in each category. Tampa Bay's secondary is that bad and the Lions passing offense is better than many realize.

If you're new to The Best Of, then you may not be familiar with Game Predictor. It's one of the driving forces behind Dodds' fantastic track record of projecting fantasy production. The application becomes better with each passing week, which means at this point, the projected data works well if there aren't major changes to personnel.

Teams                                            Pass
Comp
Pass
Att
Pass
Yds
Pass
TDs
Pass
Int
Rush
Att
Rush
Yds
Rush
TDs
Score
Detroit Lions 23 36 270 1.7 0.9 22 88 0.6 23.2
at Tampa Bay Buccaneers 23 37 269 1.5 1.0 25 99 0.6 20.9

The big question is Stafford's hand. He's renown for his toughness but gutting through an injury to a throwing hand could have residual consequences for a strong fantasy corps of skill players.

Jene Bramel's Monday Injury Rounds delivered a clear idea of how to monitor Stafford's injury for the week ahead:

Television replays of the hand injuries suffered by Stafford and Prescott were striking. But, while the area on the back of the hand was swollen and painful, these injuries won't be a major concern. The back of the hand is one of the areas on the body notorious for swelling quickly and dramatically. If x-rays are negative and the player has enough grip strength to play his position, it's a "looks worse than it is" injury. That should prove to be the case with both Stafford and Prescott. Both reportedly have no bony injury and should be able to return to practice after early week treatment and rest. 

Bramel's Thursday Night Injury Expectations delivered a green light for Stafford this weekend: 

***Matthew Stafford reportedly looked more comfortable throwing in Thursday's practice. There was never any doubt Stafford would play but today's news is reassuring for his ability to throw with his usual accuracy and strength.

My Take: There's a likelihood for any quarterback to bounce his throwing hand off a defender's helmet in any game, which increases the concern for an aggravation to Stafford's injury and a downward spiral for the highly productive Jones and reliable Tate. However, Stafford has shown some skill protecting himself when he's playing hurt. 

If Bramel believes there will be no adverse impact on Stafford's game, this is a great matchup. If a share of the Lions got you this far, don't overthink Stafford's hand.

3. Stephen Anderson is your tight end sleeper du jour

On the hand, you may be forced to think a little harder if Rob Gronkowski is a big reason for your playoff bid. There are a lot of candidates capable of delivering in Gronkowski's stead this week.   

One of them is Sigmund Bloom's favorite option in this week's Sleepers:

Stephen Anderson, HOU (vs SF) - Even with Will Fuller possibly back this week, Anderson is a solid TE1 play against the 49ers. He should still be among Tom Savage’s top targets getting most of the tight end snaps. The floor for combined tight end production with Savage has been 3-40, and the 49ers are especially generous to opposing tight ends, allowing six scores in the last six games, including a five-game tight end scoring streak only broken by Mitchell Trubisky’s 15-attempt affair last week. Anderson is coming off a 5-79-1 performance that likely earned more trust from Savage with multiple catches in traffic.

My Take: Bloom and I discussed Anderson in detail On The Couch — and hour-long podcast where Bloom hosts fantasy writers from around the industry. I always liked Anderson's game because he was a savvy zone receiver who could withstand physical play at the catch point. He's a smart, over-achiever who's currently paired with a quarterback who can't help himself when he sees the hint of an opening in a highly trafficked area. Look for a lot of volume to Anderson. He's not a well-known name, but his skills and matchup make him a strong play.

4. David Njoku could also cure your Gronkowski blues

Njoku is the type of option that I bet many Gronkowski owners drafted late after taking the Patriots tight end in the top quarter of drafts. An athletic option with a strong catch radius and a flair for the acrobatic, Bloom notes how Njoku is emerging in the Browns' offense. 

David Njoku, CLE (vs GB) - Njoku has four catches in each of the last two games, and he had the best game of his career last week, which in no coincidence marked Josh Gordon’s return to the lineup. The Packers have given up three tight end scores in the last two weeks, and Njoku is easily the most athletic tight end their limited inside linebacker group has faced all year. Njoku is risky, but as long as he maintains his strong snap and target count, he could come through in a big week.

I also agree with Bloom about Njoku. I analyzed Njoku's performance against the Chargers in The Top 10: Week 14. I believe he will benefit most from Josh Gordon's return: 

It's just as important to consider that Gordon opened the field for tight end David Njoku (and whomever the Browns wish to feature on the single side of formations against man coverage). 

 

Why offenses covet TEs that can be detached from the line. Njoku TD

A post shared by Matt Waldman (@mattwaldmanrsp) onDec 4, 2017 at 7:51am PST

 

 

Njoku up the seam

A post shared by Matt Waldman (@mattwaldmanrsp) onDec 4, 2017 at 8:34am PST

I would anticipate that Njoku, and not Corey Coleman, will be the primary beneficiary of Gordon's return. Coleman will likely earn some big plays, but the Browns offense wants to run the ball and deliver the play-action pass. 

The game plan also features a lot of two-tight end sets. These sets create more issues for defenses that must account for the ground game. It means a linebacker or safety will be aligned over Njoku in single coverage because the formation forces the defense to account for the Browns running to Njoku's side.

If the Browns draw a cornerback over the two tight ends, they'll run the ball (this didn't work out early in the game when Desmond King earned leverage against Seth Devalve and stuffed Isaiah Crowell). If they draw a safety or linebacker, we'll see Kizer look to Njoku up the seam or running the deep post.

My Take: The scheme explanation offers a logical map for Njoku's usage. It's also notable that Njoku had two targets last week where he made excellent catches, but the accuracy of the throws couldn't keep the tight end in-bounds. 

With former Browns GM Sashi Brown losing the cold war with head coach Hue Jackson, we'll continue to see Jackson wield an aggressive vertical attack — especially against a susceptible Packers defense (more ahead). 

5. Don't be afraid to start Josh Gordon

I've been writing about this for two weeks. There's more evidence worth your time this week.  

Let's begin with Ryan Hester's Trendspotting, which will likely have a segment in this feature every week because it's that good. Here's what Hester wrote about the Packers' pass defense and what it means for Gordon: 

A THEME IS DEVELOPING

Green Bay's struggles against the pass have been documented above, but their struggles against WR1s lately are apparent. Prior to holding Mike Evans in check last week, Green Bay had allowed:

 

Josh Gordon's 210 air yards in Week 13 were the 15th highest single-game total in 2017. 

Watching it back, he created multiple opportunities to score. Kizer's accuracy was an issue.

 

Make no mistake; Josh Gordon is the WR1 in Cleveland, three-year hiatus or not.

My Take:  This week's Top 10 followed-up on last week's Gut Check on Gordon, and the film matches the stats.

Yes, Gordon looks like a fantasy starter after an 85-yard performance against Casey Hayward and the Chargers. I've seen some Tweets floating around that his performance was "sober" or "good, but not great." From the perspective of the box score, these judgments make sense. 

The film is more promising. As expected, his connection with a rookie quarterback would be the bigger issue than rust. Gordon did strong work when Deshone Kizer could get the ball within a reasonable range of the receiver's frame. 

 

Perfect attack of the ball by Gordon on the slant

A post shared by Matt Waldman (@mattwaldmanrsp) onDec 4, 2017 at 7:12am PST

A rusty receiver's hands would have been sloppy on a target like the one above. The hands wouldn't have been as uniform to the ball.

It's highly unlikely the receiver would have attacked the ball with full extension. Several veteran receivers that haven't missed time should spend the offseason watching this play and developing the same technique. 

Gordon does this in even more impressive fashion on this target up the sideline. Casey Hayward jams Gordon after the receiver slips during the final step of his release footwork. It spoils Gordon's opportunity to use a chop and earn a free release outside the defender.

However, Gordon is strong enough to work past Hayward and Kizer shows the confidence to give his star receiver a chance to win the ball. This is the biggest takeaway fantasy owners should have about Sunday's performance: Kizer showed confidence with Gordon against a top corner in tight coverage, and we should expect more of this in subsequent weeks. 

 

Well played by Hayward but doesn’t matter and great hands tech by Gordon

A post shared by Matt Waldman (@mattwaldmanrsp) onDec 4, 2017 at 7:46am PST

Dez Bryant could take a couple of pointers from Gordon on this play. Gordon's hands are in perfect position, the thumbs are together, and he does a terrific job of extending his arms so his hands are together and meet the ball at the same time. Bryant, and several other good 50/50 receivers, often can't get their hands in this position while making an in-air adjustment.

Gordon won't always, either, but this was a difficult target where Gordon's hands were in synch. The ball didn't bounce off one hand while forcing the other to make a second attempt at the ball. It's these type of ball strikes to uneven hands that often result in drops against tight coverage. 

Hayward had a lot of good moments against Gordon, creating tight windows that Kizer couldn't target accurately enough on at least 3-4 routes. One of them was a low throw that Gordon nearly dug out but couldn't hang onto. However, it's notable that Gordon nearly earned 100 yards in his debut against a top player. 

As for Gordon, he's automatically the primary receiver in this offense and the Browns moved him around the formation. He lined up outside, in the middle of a trips set, and in the slot. On one of these trips plays with Gordon in the middle, Kizer overshot Gordon on a crossing route breaking up the right flat against a safety. 

Gordon's strength was also on display after the catch.

 

Gordon for 39 yds

A post shared by Matt Waldman (@mattwaldmanrsp) onDec 4, 2017 at 8:47am PST

When it comes to readiness, Gordon is a fantasy WR1 immediately. However, we must factor Kizer into the equation. The rookie made some solid throws throughout the game, but he's still learning how to be a good field general in pivotal moments. 

The Packers, the Ravens (with Jimmy Smith hurt), and Bears are a kind schedule for those with an interest in Gordon. I'd expect no worse than WR3 production each week with a small chance of elite WR1 upside thanks to Gordon's skill in the air and after the catch.

If none of this tells you that Gordon is a starter, Hayward told Sirius XM NFL this week that Gordon has been his toughest matchup all year. Cleveland reporter Kyle Kelly mentioned this on Twitter, reminding his audience that Hayward also faced Odell Beckham, Jr., Dez Bryant, Brandin Cooks, Demaryius Thomas, Michael Crabtree, Tyreek Hill, and Alshon Jeffery this year. 

When I wrote that Gordon's talent is on par with the likes of all-time greats like Lawrence Taylor, Bo Jackson, and Barry Sanders, I wasn't an over-excited Browns fan. I haven't been one of those since Earnest Byner was a few steps away from the Broncos end zone in an AFC Championship over 30 years ago. 

May none of your Week 14 games end like Byner's this weekend.