The Best Of Week 12

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 includes prime matchups courtesy of Game Predictor, trench matchups of concern, returner projections, and the Rams sans Robert Woods.

1. Leading off with Game Predictor

David Dodd's statistical simulation tool becomes increasingly refined with each passing week of the fantasy season. I like to pair Game Predictor with each team's Defensive Game Logs as a way to spot the best rushing and passing match ups.

Here are a few matchups that fantasy owners should take note of this weekend. The data in bold are the units with strong matchups:

Teams                                     Pass
Comp
Pass
Att
Pass
Yds
Pass
TDs
Pass
Int
Rush
Att
Rush
Yds
Rush
TDs
Score
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 22 38 256 1.4 1.1 21 84 0.5 18.6
at Atlanta Falcons 23 34 279 1.8 0.8 25 98 0.9 28.5
Buffalo Bills 19 32 213 1.2 0.9 26 119 0.6 18.1
at Kansas City Chiefs 22 34 250 1.7 0.7 24 119 0.9 27.7
Tennessee Titans 21 33 249 1.5 1.0 28 124 1.0 24.9
at Indianapolis Colts 19 33 224 1.3 0.9 27 99 0.7 20.2

My Take: Matt Ryan's fantasy production is no longer at the MVP-caliber pace it was last year. Even so, Cam Newton is the only quarterback on the schedule who hasn't thrown at least 260 yards and a touchdown against them — and the list of past foes includes all-stars like Mike Glennon, Eli Manning, Tyrod Taylor, Josh McCown, and Matt Moore.  

In fact, 18 players (receivers, tight ends, and backs) have earned at least 60 receiving yards against the Buccaneers in 10 games. I would count on Matt Ryan supporting 2-3 players with this baseline of production. I'll roll with Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, and Tevin Coleman. I'd also take a chance on Austin Hooper if my other tight end possibilities are weak.

The Chiefs ground game has taken a slight downturn and Kareem Hunt owners have become neurotic about his value. The Bills are a strong temporary remedy for what ails Hunt's fantasy owners. Since Week 9, Buffalo has given up 614 yards and 9 touchdowns on the ground to running backs — 204 yards and 3 scores per game to the likes of Matt Forte, Bilal Powell, Alvin Kamara, Mark Ingram II, Melvin Gordon III, Austin Ekeler, and Trey Edmunds

Hunt should roll. If you are desperate for running back production, perhaps take a chance on some Charcandrick West garbage time.

Jacoby Brissett was experiencing a steep learning curve when he his first faced against the Titans. This weekend should be more promising. Tennessee has allowed at least 260 passing yards and 2 touchdowns to 6 of the 10 starting quarterbacks on its schedule. It's also a T.Y. Hilton and Jack Doyle week. Throw in Donte Moncrief if you're feeling needy.

The Colts defense is even more generous — 6 of its 10 opposing quarterbacks have delivered at least 295 yards and a touchdown this year. Mariota earned 306 yards and a score against Indianapolis 5 weeks ago. Look for nearly equal distribution of love among Rishard Matthews, Corey Davis, and Eric Decker.

On the surface, the Colts' Defensive Game Logs don't reveal a lot of promise for Delanie Walker. Although Indianapolis has allowed five touchdowns to tight ends, only Jimmy Graham and George Kittle earned more than 60 yards against them. Walker's totals from the first matchup were an uninspiring 8 targets, 4 catches, and 17 yards. 

Even so, I think this tough matchup has a chance to be a mirage. Look at the game logs and you'll see names like Gerald Everett, Tyler Higbee, Ifeanyi Momah, Seth Devalve, David Njoku, Marcedes Lewis, Stephen Anderson, and Vance McDonald

Not exactly a murderer's row of tight end opposition. If you have a great matchup for another productive tight end on your depth chart, you wouldn't be wrong to consider it ahead of Walker this week. Otherwise, don't allow this game log to dissuade you from Walker. 

The Colts rushing defense began the year strong, allowing no more than 52 yards to a single back during its first 5 games. However, it's worth noting that those backs included the Rams depth chart in the opener — and Jared Goff posted 306 yards in response to the Colts stacking the box — and a toothless and injured run unit of the Cardinals and Browns.

Seattle's Eddie Lacy earned that 52-yard day against the Colts at the end of the month and he and his teammates combined for 27 carries, 132 yards, and a touchdown on the ground. What I'm telling you is that the Colts rush defense as an underrated powerhouse is a mirage. 

Underrated? A little bit, yes. A powerhouse? Ask Derrick Henry and DeMarco Murray about their combined 31 carries for 171 yards and 2 touchdowns against Indy's unit 5 weeks ago. 

Better yet how about T.J. Yeldon's 9-122-1 stat line a week later. The Titans have struggled on the ground in recent weeks, but I expect a healthier output on Sunday.

The bigger question is which back, if not both? As long as a not-quite-healthy Murray remains the starter, he'll depress the overall potential of this unit. If we somehow learn before Sunday that Henry will earn most of the carries, the ceiling gets much higher. Expect 60-80 yards from Murray and 40-60 from Henry with a combined 30-40 yards receiving and 2 touchdowns. It makes Murray a low-end RB2/high-end flex play and Henry a mid-range flex play, at best.

2.  trench matchups of concern

Matt Bitonti and Justis Mosqueda pair their analysis of offensive and defensive lines for our weekly In The Trenches feature. Here are four matchups that they believe are least favorable for the opposing offenses: 

DEFENSIVE FRONT MATCHUPS

Team Unit                       Rank   Team                    Unit                  Rank Favors Diff           NOTES
Pittsburgh defensive front 2 vs Green Bay offensive line 32 DEF PIT +30  
Cincinnati defensive front 10 vs Cleveland offensive line 28 DEF CIN +18  
Jacksonville defensive front 1 @ Arizona offensive line 17 DEF JAX +16  
Carolina defensive front 7 @ New York (A) offensive line 22 DEF CAR +15

My Take: This is another feature where I like to pair their analysis with the raw data of each team's defensive game logs because it gives me an idea of the style of backs and runners who might prove the exception to Bitonti and Mosqueda's analysis.   

Pittsburgh's front has only allowed a pair of 100-yard games from individual runners — Leonard Fournette and Jordan Howard. Fournette and Howard are both power runners and the Bears and Jaguars have some minor similarities with its run blocking.

However, Howard is a little agiler and skilled as a zone runner while Fournette is a hard-hitting, gap-style back who struggles when he's forced to make a severe change of direction near the line of scrimmage. The most important similarity is that both teams are committed to the run and don't give up on it. 

Jamaal Williams is only beginning to rediscover his burst. The Packers committed to the ground game during the past two weeks, which makes Williams an okay desperation option. However, I wouldn't count on a strong week from Williams because there's not enough balance from the passing game to support him. 

Cincinnati has only allowed a 100-yard day to Le'Veon Bell, who earned 35 carries to reach his 134-yard performance. In other words, this is a tough unit can withstand a pounding all day long and still remain intact. Cleveland doesn't have the balance to pound the ball unless Josh Gordon returns on Sunday, plays without a shred of rust, and elevates the Browns offense. 

I like magical thinking at the movie theater and in children's books, but not in my fantasy football analysis. Duke Johnson Jr might be serviceable due to his passing down production, but keep tabs on the shoulder injury that he aggravated last week. 

Jacksonville has allowed 100-yard games to Todd Gurley (23-116), Bilal Powell (21-163-1), and nearly a 100-yard day to Alex Collins (9-82), Elijah McGuire (10-93-1) and Derrick Henry (14-92-1).  The stats and the film tell me this about the Jaguars defense: It's a young, talented unit at the linebacker position and that youth sometimes includes a lack of gap discipline that leads to long runs. 

Otherwise, the Jaguars require a true commitment to the run for a lead back to earn true production. Adrian Peterson's best days were 26- and 37-carry afternoons against defensive weaklings (Tampa and San Francisco) and his worst were 11-, 21- and 14-carry days against the Rams, Seahawks, and Texans. Peterson has the burst to earn gains of 10-25 yards at will, but I haven't seen evidence of the breakaway speed that he had in his prime. 

Peterson will give you a slugger's shot at a big play due to the likelihood of the Cardinals committing to at least 15-20 touches. However, if you have other running backs with the likelihood of strong volume and a better matchup, lean away from Peterson.

Carolina hasn't allowed a 100-yard runner all year. The only backs with a true lead role that it has faced have been Jordan Howard (21-65) and Devonta Freeman (11-46). Kenyan Drake's 82 yards and a touchdown was the best individual stat total for a back this year and most of it came on one play. 

The Carolina linebackers are good at stopping the run and limiting YAC through the air. I would downgrade all Jets running backs. 

Ranking these four matchups from most likely for a pleasant fantasy surprise from a running back to least likely: 

  1. Jamaal Williams
  2. Adrian Peterson
  3. Bilal Powell
  4. Duke Johnson Jr

Good luck.

3.  San Francisco Treat

Jeff Haseley's Beyond The Stats shared a notable data pairing: "San Francisco has allowed the most plays in the red zone (41) and scores in the red zone (22). How does this play out for fantasy owners? 

Haseley also notes that Russell Wilson leads fantasy leagues with six, top-five fantasy weeks at his position. Whether he's throwing the ball or tucking the ball, we can count on Wilson to score — and score big this week. 

Jimmy Graham is tied for third among tight ends in the same category with three, top-five fantasy weeks. Sigmund Bloom's Upgrade/Downgrade report says, "Graham was a mainstay for Russell Wilson and continued to be the first passing option in the red zone for the Seahawks. After a slow start, Graham's end zone dominance has established him as an elite TE1 for the stretch run."

Our Passing Matchup crew of Keith Roberts, Devin Knotts, and Just Howe also note Graham's recent uptick in production and the 49ers ineptitude against tight ends: 

"After starting with no touchdowns in his first four games, Graham now has scored at least one touchdown in five of his last six outings, leading all tight ends with seven touchdowns this season as he ranks as the top fantasy scoring tight end across the last seven weeks. Graham now gets the pleasure of facing a 49ers defense that has allowed a touchdown to opposing tight ends in each of their last four games."

Wilson and Graham are obvious. So is Doug Baldwin. As this trio of Footballguys writers also mentioned, Doug Baldwin "draws a great matchup out of the slot against Leon Hall." Although Baldwin had "a very quiet night last Monday" thanks to Desmond Trufant, the staff also noted that Baldwin earned six targets and finished with a touchdown late in the game for a 2-40-1 evening that could have been a lot worse. 

My Take: Despite still making big plays, Paul Richardson Jr's groin injury is clearly bothering him each week and it's limiting his volume to a boom-bust starter. Tyler Lockett will earn love between the 20s, but he doesn't have Graham, Baldwin, and Richardson's skills in the red zone because he doesn't win the ball in tight coverage as well as them. He has small hands and while he has made some sterling efforts on high targets, he doesn't highpoint the ball as consistently as his teammates. 

If there's a sleeper worth inserting into the lineup, it's J.D. McKissic. The 49ers have authored big plays to running backs in the passing game:

  • Chris Thompson earned 105 yards on 4 catches. 
  • Ezekiel Elliot delivered a 72-yard receiving touchdown.
  • Andre Ellington posted 9 catches for 86 yards.
  • Todd Gurley contributed 5 catches for 36 and a score.
If Mike Davis were playing this week, I would have counted on him for a few big plays on screen passes. He earned over 40 yards on a pair of them against Atlanta before tweaking his groin. McKissic is capable of delivering similar, if not greater production with screen passes, seam routes, and wheel routes. 
 
He should author surprisingly good flex production.
 

4. Return Projections

We offer a full gamut of projections at Footballguys and that includes Return Projections from Adam Harstad. Let's examine his top 10 projected return specialist for Week 12: 

 RETURN PROJECTIONS, WEEK 12

PlayerTeamKRYDKRTDPRYDPRTDTOTYDTOTTD
Brandon Tate BUF 41 0.0 16 0.0 57 0.0
Mike Campanaro BAL 41 0.0 14 0.0 55 0.0
Cordarrelle Patterson OAK 55 0.0 0 0.0 55 0.0
Andre Roberts ATL 40 0.0 14 0.0 54 0.0
Ryan Switzer DAL 40 0.0 13 0.0 53 0.0
Jabrill Peppers CLE 36 0.0 14 0.0 50 0.0
Quan Bray IND 36 0.0 13 0.0 49 0.0
Pharoh Cooper LAR 34 0.0 12 0.0 46 0.0
Adoree' Jackson TEN 31 0.0 14 0.0 45 0.0
Tyler Lockett SEA 29 0.0 16 0.0 45 0.0

My Take: Switzer went 4-25 on kickoff returns, but the projected volume was there in this 28-6 beat-down. Tate is also a notable projection based on the volume that Buffalo's defense should allow. Denver's special teams unit was horrific against the Patriots two weeks ago and Patterson remains one of the better open field runners I have ever seen.

Andre Roberts is a good bet against Tampa because he has consistently delivered returns past the 35 in several games this year. Jabril Peppers and Michael Campanaro are good return specialists. Peppers should earn a lot of kickoffs and Campanaro a lot of punt returns. 

I never liked Pharoh Cooper as a receiver, but he was — and still is — an underrated and dangerous return specialist. I've seen him rip off a number of strong kick returns this year. The most memorable came in the first quarter of the Jaguars game. 

Jackson and Lockett and big-play potential and the opposition to deliver on what will likely be a strong volume of punt returns this weekend. 

5.  Rams Sans Woods Roundtable Segment

We have a great staff at Footballguys and whenever we can get a handful of them together for a roundtable discussion, it leads to good content. This is especially the case when Maurile Tremblay and Jason Wood are part of the conversation. 

That happened this week in our Week 12 Roundtable. We lead off the feature with an examination of the Rams offense without Robert Woods

Matt Waldman: Robert Woods will miss at least three weeks with a shoulder injury and the Rams will be missing a receiver that earned top-15 fantasy production at his position in standard and PPR formats. Let's address fallout: 
  • Will we see a significant change in production for Sammy Watkins or Cooper Kupp
  • If neither Watkins nor Kupp's production changes, are you expecting an uptick in production for Todd Gurley or one of the Ram's tight ends? 
  • Is there anything to see with Tavon Austin, rookie Josh Reynolds, or second-year man Mike Thomas
  • What are your fantasy expectations for Goff during this critical fantasy stretch run? 
Maurile Tremblay: Until Wood's injury, the Rams receivers had remained remarkably healthy this season. So far, none of the team's top six wide receivers or top two tight ends has missed a single game.
 
Woods has led the way with about 36% of the targets to the wide receiver group, with Kupp and Watkins behind him at about 31% and 19%, respectively. I would expect both Kupp and Watkins to be targeted more frequently while Woods is out, as they move into the WR1 and WR2 slots, up from WR2 and WR3.
 
Watkins will get the larger bump because now he'll be on the field in two-WR sets. If we assume that the wide receivers as a group will keep about the same (roughly 62%) share of the team's overall targets, as I think they will, I'd expect Woods' seven targets per game to get redistributed roughly as follows: one to Kupp (from ~6 to ~7), and two to each of Watkins (from ~4 to ~6), Tavon Austin (from ~1 to ~3), and Pharoh Cooper (from ~1 to ~3).
 
Kupp's and Watkins' fantasy prospects will be enhanced — with Watkins getting the bigger relative bump, but Kupp still retaining greater absolute value.
 
Chad Parsons: I project Watkins and Kupp will see an extra 1-3 targets per game as a result of a few trickle-down targets to tight end or running back. Kupp and Watkins will be on the WR2 radar instead of more WR3/4/flex considerations in the meantime.

Jared Goff has only three QB1 finishes all season and the schedule (more than missing Robert Woods) has me shifting down Goff over the next month. Three of the next four matchups are top-8 in pass efficiency allowed (Saints, Eagles, Seahawks) with a neutral matchup of Arizona mixed in. I would be gravitating towards non-Goff options in my streaming or committee decisions in the near-term.
 
Mark Wimer: I think Kupp gets the first crack at increasing his production — he and Goff are growing up in the league together. If Kupp can avoid crucial drops (and he's been very good the last two weeks with seven targets leading to six receptions in both games) I think some of Woods' targets will flow to Kupp. 
 
Gurley probably sees a modest bump regardless of who gets extra targets - the team can rely on him as a dump-off receiver (38 receptions on 52 targets this year — 73% reception percentage) and they will likely emphasize his presence in the game plan while Woods is out. 
 
Tavon Austin is the most overpaid player in the NFL, I expect nothing extra from him. The other two guys are still developing and doubtful to become meaningful fantasy factors while Woods is out. 
 
We'll learn a lot about his level of maturation this week against the Saints.  If Goff can keep his team competitive in this tough matchup/win the game, then I'm going to feel pretty good about Goff for the final month of the season. If, however, the Rams get blown out at home by Brees and company then I'll be less excited about his chances in December. This is truly a "critical" game for the upstart Rams and Goff. 
 
Jason Wood: Robert Woods was on his way to helping me win a ton of MFL10s, almost by accident. I was all in on Woods given his price/ADP UNTIL the trade for Sammy Watkins. Luckily, I had done enough MFL10s before that move to have a disproportionate share of Woods. He was cruising along as Matt noted but is now sidelined. 

I shudder to say we'll see a "significant" change in production from either Watkins or Kupp, but I think some improvement is possible, for both. Statistical production is in part a function of snaps and targets, and both receivers should -- by default -- see more action. Will they capitalize on those additional chances? I'm less hopeful. I also think we have to remember the Rams are in dangerous territory.
 
For as great as the team's offense has played overall, close scrutiny shows Jared Goff's play versus good teams (.500+ records) as average to below average. He's beaten up on the bad teams, and yet gets a run of tougher matchups. I think the Rams offense could be less productive because of Goff's normalization, but it may be artificially blamed on Woods' injury. 

I see Woods' injury, and the Goff normalization, as being a net negative for the entire offense. I don't foresee peripheral contributors like the tight ends becoming viable. Nor do I see more work for Gurley; he's already a workhorse. 

I have a hard time seeing those reserve players vaulting into prominence when I'm not even sure we'll see Kupp or Watkins improve.

As I alluded, Goff concerns me. He's not playing well against better competition, and I don't think he'll be a legitimate QB1 option in most weeks going forward, for DFS purposes. It's hard to see him projecting as a top 5 quarterback on a Points/Dollar basis without a material reduction in his salary.
 
Waldman: For fantasy purposes, Wood, you are correct that Goff hasn't had the same strong production against the top-flight defenses. However, I will add that it's important for us to differentiate between the sub par production from the player and quality of play. If we don't, we make conclusions that aren't true and have an effect on how we view the player long-term. 
 
Goff's yardage and interception totals aren't massively different when comparing his easy and hard matchups. One thing that I have noticed from watching the Rams weekly is that his surrounding talent has made more mistakes with difficult matchups.
 
Cooper Kupp dropped the go-ahead touchdown against the Seahawks and fumbled a reception at the Vikings one-yard-line last weekend. Mistakes from surrounding talent aren't on Goff and he's done enough to keep drives alive despite pressure and teammate's mistakes. 
 
I find it important to defend Goff for the same reasons that many of us criticized Todd Gurley's elite talent as "fool's gold" last year. The greatest issues for Gurley were with the surrounding talent.
 
I agree with Maurile's assessment of the offense. I also think Chad made good points about the schedule ahead, although I'd say that the Seahawks secondary is banged up and struggling. Its defense is also vulnerable to the type of routes the Rams like to run, and it will be weaker if Kam ChancellorEarl Thomas, and Shaq Griffin aren't fully recovered. I'm actually more concerned about the Eagles defense because some of its more talented defensive backs could be ready to take the field when they face the Rams.
 
I agree with Mark that Austin isn't worth his contract. I expect the Rams will give him another chance to contribute and potentially use some wrinkles that defenses haven't seen, but I'm not expecting consistent production unless he's used more as a scatback than a receiver. 
 
Long-term, I'm a believer in Mike Thomas and Josh Reynolds talents, but I only see them earning 1-2 targets a week (collectively) on shot plays. 
 
I don't foresee a massive change in Goff's attempts but without Woods, I expect a slight dip in completion percentage and yards per attempt. 
 
Darin Tietgen:  Both wideouts should see a fairly decent uptick in production.  Woods was almost a combo of both.  I would expect Watkins to see the biggest uptick. I don't see either of the tight ends producing anymore.  Gurley could see some additional swing passes.   But overall his production should stay about the same. 
 
I could see Austin and Thomas getting more looks. Neither is worth adding at this point though until one breaks out... which is unlikely.
 
Goff's value has taken the biggest hit. Woods was a do-everything producer for the Rams offense.  Couple the Woods loss with an increasingly-difficult schedule and Goff is due to slide a bit.

My Take: You see it above. I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving. If you're Cowboys, Giants, and Lions fans, I hope you taped the games and spent time with your families and away from digital screens. 

I know I did — I finally won a game of Catan. But I managed to sneak a peek or three at some Marvin Jones Jr highlights.

See you next week. 


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