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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.  

unleashing lewis?

Baltimore does not seem like the best place to begin "The Best Of" as a spot for recommended fantasy production. As Mark Wimer and Joe Bryant noted in Week 14's Rushing Matchups, the Ravens are among the best in the league at stopping the run.

They are tied for least rushing scores allowed in the NFL with just four given out, and are first in the NFL averaging 73.8 rushing yards allowed per game. From Week 10 to Week 13 of regular season (the last four weeks, but includes 10 teams on byes during that time span - each team has at least three games played in the last four weeks), Baltimore averages 11.5 fantasy points allowed to opposing running backs per game (least in the NFL).

But sit back, imagine a newspaper-lined table with blue crab, little wooden mallets, and your favorite beers, and stay with us. It's always worth examining the context of a stat like the last one about 11.5 fantasy points allowed to opposing backs during the last four weeks. Here are the last four starters that faced the Ravens/

  • Jay Ajayi: Miami wants to run and has very little weaponry besides Ajayi. As I reported in the Top 10, shut him down and Miami is a one-read passing offense thanks to Ryan Tannehill's inadequacies. How central is Ajayi in this offense? He still earned 18 touches in this game despite Baltimore building a large early lead in this game. A third of his touches came as a receiver. Hold onto that. 
  • Jeremy Hill: Hill has the role of the hammer in the Hill-Gio Bernard backfield that has been Cincinnati until Bernard got hurt. Rex Burkhead is now in the Bernard role, earning 7 touches for 38 yards in that contest. It left Hill a familiar role that the Ravens squashed.
  • Ezekiel Elliott: The rookie had the best performance of the group—25-97 and 4-30. If he scored, it would have been a typical strong week.
  • Isaiah Crowell/Duke Johnson: The Browns and Bengals running games are mirror images, but without the passing game and defensive support. Notably, the duo combined for 6 catches for 55 yards. 

The trend here is the amount of love the Ravens give up to backs in the passing game. Ari Ingel noted this in this week's Docket while discussing Lewis. 

I’m thinking this is the week they finally unleash Lewis and he had a solid 9 touches and 5 targets last week, while the Ravens give up around 7 catches a game to opposing RBs. I think Lewis is a sneaky bet for RB2 numbers in PPR leagues while White is a what the heck flex in PPR.

Sigmund Bloom agrees, noting a hidden ramp-up of Lewis' production ahead of this week's game:

Lewis was trending up in snaps and touches in his first two weeks back, but his growth as a fantasy option stopped in Week 13. That is, if you look at the stat line. The reality is that Lewis actually had all but one of his touches in the first half. If the game with the Rams was competitive, he might have notched 15 or more touches. This week he gets the Ravens #1 ranked run defense, which likely means less Blount and more of Lewis and James White. This is the week to unleash Lewis in PPR leagues.

My Advice: I'm on board. The Patriots tight ends are useless. I wrote about this for the past two weeks, showing video of Martellus Bennett in the Top 10 where he couldn't even plant his right leg in the ground to block backside for the running game because of a high ankle sprain that he's been battling since the beginning of the year. This morning Bennett told the media that he's not 100 percent due to the ankle and his shoulder. 

It means the Patriots will use more spread sets. The best runner for those sets isn't Blount, but Lewis. Although Blount will earn his carries and he has good feet and burst, Lewis is quicker than most backs in the league and he's a much better receiver. 

Lewis is a better fit in these spread packages and unlike Ajayi, Hill, or Crowell, the Ravens will struggle to handle him because he's more like a slot receiver-running back combo in the best facets of both positions whereas the three mentioned above can catch well but they aren't dangerous route runners. The Ravens will be forced to play more nickel. 

Why is this important? Because those three backs often earn the ball facing the QB or if they have to transition downfield from receiver to runner, it takes longer and it's less pressure on the defense. Lewis transitions much faster from receiver to runner because of his routes and his stop-start quickness. The result is often more yards gained. 

is forte fantasy gold?

Ingel thinks so...

The 49ers are giving up over 33 FPG to opposing RBs the past five weeks, and with Petty under center, they should lean on Forte in this one. A sneaky DFS play nobody will be on. It should be noted that the Jets will be without Center Mangold and possibly LT Giacomini. 

So does Jeff Tefertiller who makes a similar argument in his weekly Value Plays

Forte has been held in check most weeks.  The Jets have a poor offense, anchored by poor quarterback play.  The good news is that the 49ers are next up on the schedule.  San Francisco has yielded an average of 29.93 PPR fantasy points per game.  This is good for dead last in the league defending the running back position.  This is a full point and a half more than the second-worst defense, the Atlanta Falcons. 

Justin Bonnema disagrees, listing Forte as a prime fade this weekend

Forte could easily log a similar stat line… if this were 2008. He looks slow to me as the season wears on. The Jets’ offense is terrible and they finally pulled the plug on Ryan Fitzpatrick for the season. What that tells me is they’re going to be interested in seeing what Bryce Petty can do in a soft matchup, even if it’s a cross-country trip. Which means more passing and less running.

In fact, despite Colin Kaepernick’s flop last week, this game could turn into a lot of offense given how bad both defenses are. The over/under is set at a measly 43.5 points—one of the lowest of the week. I’ll take the over and grab a few Petty shares while I’m at it.

Forte did rip off a big catch-and-run last week. But earlier versions of the running back wouldn’t have been chased down in that situation. If you remove that 40-yard catch, he ends his night with 39 total yards. His touches per game since Week 9 are as follows: 13, 22, 16, and 12. Clearly, the term workhorse doesn’t apply.

Of course, he is still a good running back who is reliable in the red zone. He proved he can make bad defenses pay such as in Week 8 against Cleveland (22.8 points), and was even good against an underrated Miami defense in Week 9 (16.2 points). But his salary is $800 more than it was a week ago and is now the highest it has been all season.

That seems like bad timing to me, especially when you consider that Bilal Powell is splitting time nearly equally and even surpassed him snap counts last week (28 to 24). Heck, even C.J. Spiller stole three touches in garbage time. I expect the Jets to at least compete in Week 14, but on short rest and a long road trip, I won’t have much Forte.

My Advice: It's worth noting that Bonnema is discussing Forte in the context of DFS salary versus other potential values so a lot of his points are dead-on. At the same time, I have to disagree with Bonnema's point about removing Forte's big play from the analysis.

I don't even see how the part about a younger Forte earning more even makes any sense. The fact that he can still earn 40 yards on a play remains a positive, relevant thing. Let's also look at the context for the touch counts.   

  • Week 9 vs. Miami: 12-92-1 is his stat line despite missing two starting offensive linemen, most importantly center Ryan Mangold. Center is the bulwark for the run game. 
  • Week 10 vs. LA: 20-98. 
  • Week 11 vs. New England: 13-27 and 3-23 in a game with New England also missing Mangold and the Jets playing from behind.
  • Week 12 vs. Indianapolis: The Colts rained down 24 points on the Jets in the first half. Dump off passes and runs aren't the strategy an offense takes down 24-3 in the third quarter. 
Even with Bryce Petty, I expect the Jets to stay in this game long enough for Forte to earn a solid touch count. With Nick Mangold back and a game under his belt, I expect more from Forte.
 
The bigger danger is if the Jets go into full "evaluation mode" and give a healthy amount of touches to practice squad call-up Brandon Wilds, a talented rookie from South Carolina out-played Tevin Coleman in the preseason, (and I'm talking about meaningful production between the tackles and after the catch) but got hurt and was given an injury settlement.  
 
I wouldn't overthink Forte for your playoff lineups. 
 

Paper champion

Sorry Packers fans, it's what I call your team's run defense. Statistically, they're good, but some of the stats lack context. Thomas Rawls has a good shot of playing Clubber Lang in this one. 

Ryan Hester does a fantastic job of illustrating why context matters in this week's Trendspotting

 

Seattle (at Green Bay)

Notes

  • QB performances against Green Bay in the last six games: Osweiler (202-2-0 / 20-0 / 3.5x value); Wentz (254-0-1 / 33-1 / 3.4x); Cousins (375-3-0 / 4-0 / 5.2x); Mariota (295-4-0 / 8-0 / 5.0x); Luck (281-1-2 / 15-0 / 2.2x); Ryan (288-3 / 9-0 / 3.5x).
  • Green Bay has allowed 3+ passing touchdowns five times.
  • As shown above, Green Bay allows the ninth-fewest fantasy points to running backs. However...
  • Five running backs have received 18+ touches against Green Bay...
  • Those running backs have averaged 4.9x value on their respective salaries.
  • A Seattle running back has received 18+ touches five times (with 17, 15, 17, and 16 touches also being registered).
  • Green Bay's Pass Defense DVOA ranks vs. receiver types: WR1 - 32ndWR2 - 31st"Other WR" - 26thTE - 8th, RB - 7th.
  • Tight end receptions allowed by Green Bay in the last six weeks, starting with most recent: Houston - 10, Philadelphia - 6, Washington - 5, Tennessee - 10, Indianapolis - 7, Atlanta - 7.

Going further on the running back point, Green Bay was once a "funnel" defense, then they were a seive, and now recently, they're back to being stout. This is a classic example of opponent-driven numbers. Workhorses such as Ezekiel ElliottFrank Gore, and DeMarco Murray averaged 24.8 DraftKings points. Add Rob Kelley to that mix, and the average acutally goes up to 27.3. Gore and Kelley scored five touchdowns combined against Green Bay. The point here is that workhorse runners on at-least-competent offenses can produce against Green Bay. To me, Thomas Rawls checks both boxes.

 The counter argument comes from Jeff Tefertiller, who has Rawls performing more like Lang in the second fight with Rocky...

Rawls was awesome in the lopsided victory over Carolina.  He was dominant.  The game in Green Bay this week will not be as accommodating for fantasy success.  The Packers only give up an average of 20.47 PPR fantasy points to opposing running games.  This is good for sixth-best in the league.  Green Bay is weak in the secondary so we expect Seattle – and quarterback Russell Wilson – to throw often to expose the Packers’ lack of talent and depth at the cornerback position. 

We can see that Tefertiller doesn't account for Hester's context with the ground game stats, but the weaknesses in the secondary are a fair point and the expectation that this game is a high-scoring, pass-driven affair is reasonable. Does this hurt Rawls?

Kelley, Elliott, Murray and Gore were involved in games where the teams scored combined point totals of 66, 46, 72, and 57. Unless the Packers jump on the Seahawks early and force Seattle to overcome a lead of 17 or more, I doubt Rawls that will be non-fantasy-factor. In most of these games, the opponent jumped on Green Bay's defense and forced the Packers to play catch-up. 

The venerable John Norton's Eyes of the Guru feature adds terrific context to the state of the Packers defense heading into this week. 

Jake Ryan was back on the field to start in week thirteen but aggravated the ankle injury early in the game. As of Wednesday it looks like neither he nor Blake Martinez will be able to go in week fourteen. This leaves Green Bay exceptionally thin at inside backer with Carl Bradford and Joe Thomas the only healthy options. They could shift Clay Matthews inside as they have done in the past but he is struggling with a shoulder injury himself; not to mention both Kyler Fackrell and Nick Perry are hurt at the outside positions. The moral of this story is; play your Packers safeties this week.

Seattle's offensive line may give Rawls' owners a case of nerves each weekend for its youthful inconsistencies, but the Packers linebackers in a tattered unit.

My Advice: If you're a Rawls' owner, you should hope that the Packers put Clay Matthews inside because he has difficulty with run fits when he plays out of position and it creates open creates that lead to big plays. Even if he doesn't, the fact that the Packers would be tempted to make this change tells you that the team is concerned the healthy guys aren't equipped to do as well as Matthews. 

The Seahawks passing game is based on the ground game because the deep game works off play-action. So does the intermediate game. Look at Dallas' offense this year with coordinator Scott Linehan and you'll see similarities. The differences are the quality of the Cowboys' line and the freedom that the Seahawks give to Russell Wilson that Dak Prescott hasn't earned yet. 

Don't shy away from Rawls. He's running hard and hot and it fits Pete Carroll's story to the media last month that he had to tell Rawls to slow down in practice because he wasn't going to gain 1000 yards in a weekend. 

I expect Rawls and the Seahawks to force the weakened Packer secondary to creep towards the line of scrimmage early and get burned by Wilson after the running back gashes them repeatedly in the first half. I pity the fool...

facing Sherman

Dion Lewis made this week's feature because the playoffs often require tough lineup decisions from owners. Picking the correct fantasy receivers from the Packers offense is a prime example. Most are higher on Ty Montgomery, Davante Adams, and Randall Cobb this weekend, anticipating that Sherman will face Jordy Nelson.

Montgomery is a Bloom Sleeper: 

Montgomery resumed his role as the shotgun back in the second half of the win over the Texans last week after James Starks and Christine Michael fizzled out. He was successful with 35 yards on five carries, and it follows that the Packers would allow him to play the role for the whole game against the tough Seahawks defense in Week 14. Montgomery comes with the risk of an uncertain role and maybe even a snap count related to his sickle cell condition, but Montgomery also has a high PPR ceiling and he has been a good fit as both a runner and receiver when Packers go to a spread offense.

The best discussion of this situation came from this week's Roundtable panel with Nelson as the primary focus, but the rest of the receiving corps were included in the analysis. 

Andy Hicks: If Earl Thomas was on the field I wouldn't be including Nelson, but Thomas is the heartbeat of the Seahawks D and will be missed. They are capable of adjusting, but Green Bay will be hitting them at the perfect time to attack them.

Matt Waldman: I agree with you on Nelson and I think he's capable of beating Richard Sherman 1-2 times for big plays and if he's not, we could see Sherman matched against Davante Adams enough for Nelson do damage elsewhere. I like what Hilton did during his last outing gainst Houston despite playing hurt. While I'm hoping the best for Pryor, I'm wondering how good Griffin will be this week. I'm going with Matthews against Denver's defense because I think Tennessee could get him matched up with a linebacker often enough to produce a big play. I'll go Hilton-Nelson-Matthews in that order. 

Chris Kuczynski: This is a tough matchup, but as Matt mentioned, I can't see Sherman staying on Nelson all game. The Packers will be throwing since their run game is sub par. Rodgers is also the best QB for this list of possible WRs. 

I don't love the matchup, for several reasons Matt mentioned I'm on Matthews this week. Matthews has proven to be a reliable WR2 and Mariota's favorite target. Robinson vs MIN and Parker vs ARI are equally difficult matchups with lesser QBs throwing to them, and I wouldn't trust Pryor with RG3 throwing to him because we have no idea what to expect, even though Cincy is the best matchup listed.

Daniel Simpkins: Despite this defense having a reputation of being great, their secondary doesn’t scare me at all right now, especially sans Earl Thomas. With no running game, the only way Green Bay wins this game is through the air and the hands of Jordy Nelson.

Chris Feery: The Seahawks secondary is beatable, and Nelson is typically a strong play in the confines of Lambeau Field. Add those two things together, and I’ll give him a 50% chance of hitting 20 points.

David Dodds agrees with us. He has Nelson projected as his No.6 receiver this weekend. Adams and Cobb are 22nd and 52nd on his list. Bloom has Nelson 14th, Adams 39th, and Cobb 46th. Maurile Tremblay has Nelson 3rd, Adams 25th, and Cobb 73rd.

My Advice: Richard Sherman typically plays on the left side of the field (if you're facing downfield as an offensive player). The Seahawks rarely move him around. With Earl Thomas out, I'd be surprised if they were tempted to do so even if Nelson was far and away the biggest threat to the defense. 

He's a terrific receiver, but he's not in that category because Davante Adams has matured to the point that Seattle disrupting its typical defensive gameplan (which relies on smart, high-effort, athletic players in a simple scheme) to shadow Nelson could generate more mental mistakes with the rest of the unit than it's worth.

Nelson does not play on strictly one side of the field. If you look at some of the highlights from this week's Top 10, Nelson plays, and produces, on either side of the formation.  

Even when Nelson faces Sherman, Aaron Rodgers is hyper accurate and confident targeting the receiver when there's a good shot at a one-on-one opportunity. Ryan Fitzpatrick did it with Brandon Marshall earlier this year. Matt Ryan did it with Julio Jones and when it didn't work, Earl Thomas was quick enough to get across the field to help. 

Earl Thomas is done for the year. 

Nelson and Adams are excellent fade route specialist and it's the most difficult route for any corner to cover when a quarterback has the accuracy to complete it. In case you woke up from a 10-year sleep, Rodgers is that guy. 

I'd feel good about Nelson, Adams, and even Cobb on a lesser scale because the Seahawks defense is weakest when it's forced to pass off receiver assignments between them in the middle of the field in its zones. When a quarterback can buy time to force this occurrence with regularity, Seattle becomes vulnerable and Cobb and Nelson both run their share of crossing routes.  

TE Playoff Streamers

Let's lead off with some Fresh Fish, the Top 10's segment on defenses that are easy prey for opposing offenses. Some of these links will take you to Instagram videos of unfortunate plays for these defenders.

  • Atlanta LBs: The youthful crew of Falcons backers gave up big plays to Travis Kelce and Spencer Ware in the passing game. They continue to run into each other in the open field after the catch, too. Talent is there, but their inexperience is your fantasy boon.
  • Kiko Alonso and the Dolphins LBs: Dennis Pitta had a 2-TD game on this corps that was completely out of sorts trying to cover the right player. You can add the Miami nickel backer McClain and safety Kenyon Rambo to this list, too. 

Naturally, we should look at who these units are facing this weekend. Atlanta gets the Rams and it means Jared Goff should look to one of his favorite targets early and often, says Sigmund Bloom in this week's Sleepers. 

Kendricks had a five-game run between Weeks 4-9 that established him as a somewhat reliable fantasy play despite being in a poor offense. He has been quiet since Jared Goff took over, although Kendricks did post a 4-51-1 line against the Saints in Week 12. Week 14 is setting him up for another good game, as the Falcons offense could stake the road team to a lead and force Goff to throw more. If and when he does, he’ll be challenging a defense that has given up seven scores to tight ends this season. Nine different tight ends have had at least five catches and 35 yards against the Falcons this year. It’s clearly one of the matchup to exploit, the only question is whether Goff can effectively do it.

Although Scott Bischoff is recommending Kenny Britt in this segment of Starting Stacks, the data he lays down about the Falcons defense also warrants a closer look at Kendricks. 

The Falcons are the league’s last-ranked passing unit allowing 280.8 yards per game and are allowing a passer rating of 100.5 which is ranked No. 28 in the NFL. The Falcons allow 7.2 yards per attempt which is No. 15 in the NFL but they have given up 26 touchdowns in 2016. Only the Cleveland Browns have allowed more touchdowns than the Falcons in 2016.

The Falcons have allowed 331 completions which is ranked No. 31 league-wide. They’ve allowed a touchdown-to-completion ratio of 7.9 percent which is No. 27 in the NFL. The Falcons are yielding a lot of completions and a high number of those completions go for touchdowns.

Cornerback Desmond Trufant is the Falcons No. 1 cornerback and he is out for the season with a pectoral injury. The Falcons struggled to stop the pass before Trufant’s injury and this should open the door for a big-bodied receiver like Britt to have plenty of opportunity on Sunday. From a game script outlook, it is likely that there will be more passing game volume from the Rams as they should be trailing in this game and throwing late to play catch up.

My Advice Part I : Although this is about Britt, keep in mind that a team missing a top cornerback will often use a safety to lend help to that replacement player on the top receiver. It means the middle of the field is left open more often and that benefits, Kendricks. If you're in need of a streamer, this is a solid bet. 

The better bet is Jermaine Gresham. The Cardinals draw the Dolphins this weekend and Bloom also likes this matchup for the Arizona tight end. 

The Cardinals don’t throw enough to the tight end to make their starter fantasy relevant - at least that’s what we thought coming into this year. Along the way, Michael Floyd, JJ Nelson, and John Brown battled injuries and inconsistent play, and Arizona looked to Gresham to pick up the slack. He has had five catches in back-to-back games, and this week he faces the Miami defense that just gave up a 9-90-2 line to Dennis Pitta, who hadn’t scored all year heading into Week 13. The Dolphins have actually allowed five scores to tight ends over the last four weeks, so Gresham has a real chance to score for the second time in three weeks.

My Advice Part II: It appears that the Cardinals have figured out its strengths and weaknesses on offense. This can take awhile for a team that thought its strengths were its wide receivers and it took two-thirds of the season to realize that it wasn't getting better.

While Carson Palmer is to blame for some of his own struggles, an offensive scheme banging its head against the wall over and over until it realizes that a wall is there isn't always the quarterback's fault. Some of the blame has to go to the team thinking the receiving corps would emerge. 

To its credit, the Cardinals are still in the playoff hunt and Gresham's emergence has helped stabilize this offense. Roll with it against Miami because these linebackers and safeties are a mess. 

The streamer with the highest upside might be Vance McDonald. Maurile Tremblay has McDonald as his No.8 TE and Bloom has McDonald at the top of his sleeper list. 

Many were burned by McDonald last week and might have trouble going back to him in Week 14. Colin Kaepernick is back at quarterback, and he should favor McDonald again. The bay area won’t see the cold weather and snow that slowed down Kaepernick and the Jets don’t seem inclined to slow down a tight end after Dwayne Allen easily scored three times against them on Monday night.

 Bischoff also likes this combination: 

The San Francisco 49ers bring the New York Jets into town in Week 14. The 49ers are a 2.5 point favorite at home and have an implied total of 23.5 points while the Jets have an implied total of 21 points. The 49ers will face the league’s No. 23 pass defense which is allowing 264.4 yards per game and only nine teams league- have allowed more yards wide per catch than the 7.5 yards per catch the Jets allow.

The Jets have allowed 287 completions which is ranked No. 22 in the NFL. They have allowed 22 touchdowns through the air which is a touchdowns-to-completions rate of 7.7 percent which is No. 25 in the NFL.

Kaepernick is really boosting his value by running with the ball which allows him to generate yardage or extend plays to help receivers get open. The Jets don’t do a very good job with pressure as they only have 20 sacks on the season, and only the Browns have fewer sacks in 2016.

Kaepernick’s value gets a boost with the extra time he’ll see in the pocket and that means good things for tight end Vance McDonald, as well. McDonald has emerged as a go-to weapon in this offense and the Jets were torched last week by the Colts and Dwayne Allen’s three touchdown performance.

The Jets are a stout run defense ranked No. 4 in the NFL allowing only 3.5 yards per carry. From a game script outlook, it is easy to see that it’s tough to run on the Jets and very easy to throw on them, and that’s the expectation here.

This is risky as Kaepernick was benched just last week and the 49ers passing attack was nonexistent in the snow in Chicago. However, based on the matchup and the script, there is enough upside to make a case for GPP play here.

So does Hester...

 

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

San Francisco (vs. NY Jets)

Notes

  • Notable quarterback performances against New York (Jets) in the last five weeks: Luck (278-4-0), Brady (286-2-0), Keenum (165-0-0), Tannehill (149-1-0), McCown (341-2-0).
  • New York allows 5.0 rushing yards per game to quarterbacks, second-fewest in the NFL.
  • New York allows 18.9 passing fantasy points per game, seventh-most in the NFL.
  • New York is allowing 13.7 receptions per game to wide receivers, 11th-most in the NFL.
  • New York is allowing 180 yards per game to wide receivers, sixth-most in the NFL.
  • New York allows 8.6 yards per target to wide receivers, fourth-most in the NFL.

My Advice Part III: Although New York's stats in Hester's analysis are receiver-based, the 49ers don't have receivers. I'm being facetious because Torrey Smith is definitely a receiver—he's just figuratively locked up on Alcatraz Island, thanks to his scheme and quarterback(s). 

Tight ends are essentially the receiver substitute for San Francisco. Kind of like margarine for butter. It's not good for you but for taste, it will do alright on bread in a pinch. McDonald is the only game in town that earns Kaepernick's myopic eye.

Forget about last week in the snow.  This is why Blaine Gabbert subbed for Kaepernick, who couldn't maintain a grip on the ball. 

 

CK shot put

A video posted by Matt Waldman (@mattwaldmanrsp) onDec 4, 2016 at 5:45pm PST

 

 If you need a high-upside play, McDonald is it. Gresham is the safest. Kendricks is a good desperation option. Good luck this weekend and may your difficult lineup decisions payoff.