It’s Friday, December 4th, and Week 12 is finally over. It was the longest week of football and it certainly felt like it. We saw the Ravens-Steelers rescheduled from Thanksgiving to Sunday, then Tuesday, until it finally came to fruition on Wednesday afternoon. We also saw a game with no quarterbacks and witnessed WR Tyreek Hill dominate in fantasy with 269 yards, three touchdowns, and 57.9 points in PPR.
It feels oddly hollow not to be covering a Thursday game, but this is a strange year.
So, You’re Not in the Playoffs
It’s disappointing, but don’t give up. Don’t be that fantasy player that completely loses interest or blows off setting their lineup simply because they do not have a shot to win it all. There are many things you can do in the remaining few weeks to stay involved.
First, it’s incredibly fun to play spoiler. For many of us, playoffs start next week and you may be facing off against someone who needs a win to make the cut. They look at you with a losing record and think, “I’ve got this in the bag,” as they rest on their laurels in Week 13. Meanwhile, the rest of the league laments your unwillingness to set your lineup, which compounds the embarrassment of missing the playoffs.
Stop it. Don’t be that player.
Instead, imagine the smack talk you have at your disposal if you can ruin another player’s fantasy playoffs hopes. Scour the waiver wire and pick up players so your league mates can’t stream a good match up. If you’re going to go down, go down swinging.
Second, pay attention to the remaining games. This year has been the strangest year of fantasy in a long time, if ever. Start making a list of players to draft next year and where they could fall given poor production. Keep this list handy, make a reminder in your calendar during the draft season in 2021, and watch their usage.
For example, Michael Thomas and Ezekiel Elliott are two first-round draft picks who have severely underperformed in 2020. For Thomas, it’s been a matter of being healthy and on the field. For Elliott, it’s due to a new head coach and rotating quarterbacks.
Conversely, make notes of players who may be overhyped and who you may want to avoid next season if their situation doesn’t change. RB Miles Sanders has been disappointing in fantasy while QB Carson Wentz and the Eagles struggle with production, consistency, and injuries. Is he a player you want to count on in fantasy next year? We can’t answer that question with 100% accuracy, but you have the opportunity to observe these matchups with a different lens.
Keep an eye on rookies who may break out next year, running backs who play more of a role than just as a backup, and players who you don’t want to fool you again next year.
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Matchup to Watch in Week 13
New Orleans @ Atlanta
The Falcons have the momentum in their favor after a surprising 43-6 blowout victory over the Las Vegas Raiders last week. The Falcons entered Week 12 second to last against QBs, allowing over 250 completions, over 3,100 passing yards, and 22 touchdowns. They were second to last against WRs with over 200 receptions, 2,000 yards, and 10 touchdowns allowed and were dead last in the league against TEs.
This game should have had the Raiders’ name on the 43 side. Falcons interim head coach Raheem Morris had a plan dialed up for Jon Gruden and Las Vegas and thoroughly embarrassed their opponent who was coming off of a close loss against Kansas City.
This week, the Falcons will face their division rival for the second time in three weeks. Their loss to the Saints and Taysom Hill (making his backup QB debut) is still fresh in their minds from Week 11. If Morris had a plan for QB Derek Carr, RB Josh Jacobs, and TE Darren Waller, you can bet he has been planning for Hill, RB Alvin Kamara, and WR Michael Thomas.
There is another wrinkle for fantasy when it comes to the Saints Offense. Since Hill has started under center, Kamara has been frighteningly absent compared to his time with Drew Brees. RB2 Latavius Murray has been the back to benefit the most since the change. Both backs were nearly equal in Week 11 with Kamara rushing 13 times for 45 yards and Murray rushing 12 times for 49 yards. The only significant difference was a touchdown that helped Kamara just barely surpass double-digit fantasy points at 10.5 in PPR. He was not targeted at all in the passing game after seeing 80 total targets in Weeks 1 through 10.
The gap between the two backs was far more extreme last week against the Broncos. Kamara out-snapped Murray by only one, but Murray out-rushed him with 19 attempts to Kamara’s 11, 124 yards to Kamara’s 54, and two touchdowns to Kamara’s zero. The passing game wasn’t any better. Kamara had two targets for one reception that resulted in a loss of two yards.
There is an argument to be made that the Saints did not need to rely on Kamara as much with a rushing quarterback and a healthy margin of victory, especially while Kamara has been playing injured. Why not let the RB2 take a majority of the load in a sure-fire victory over the QB-less Broncos? Or against the beleaguered Falcons who were trailing 9-17 heading into the fourth quarter? I understand this idea, but I still don’t like how much Murray has been involved as a Kamara manager.
Morris will have a plan for the Saints and it will revolve around taking away Hill’s legs and forcing him to throw. Hill has completed 27 passes on 39 attempts for 311 yards and no touchdowns in two weeks. I should note 233 of those passing yards came against the Falcons, but he also rushed in two touchdowns. If Hill can settle into a role as a passing QB and rely on the safe dump-off passes to Kamara, we may see more production from the number one back. Then again, why fix what isn’t broken? Perhaps this will be the matchup where it becomes just that. For Kamara managers, let's hope that fix comes during this game if the current scheme isn't working.
Until Kamara can return to prominence, Murray can be considered a flex option if you need a spot start. He has carved out a role as a ground and pound back and could be an option if you are dealing with injuries or if you need to fill in for Texans’ WR Will Fuller at the flex.
If Hill is forced to throw, Thomas should be the primary beneficiary as he bounces back from his injury time off. In their last performance against Atlanta, Thomas saw 12 targets and hauled in nine receptions for 104 yards. He has yet to throw for a touchdown this season. Hill completed only six other completions to Emmanuel Sanders (four) and Murray (two).
Saints TE Jared Cook seems to be an afterthought for Hill and in fantasy. He has seen 32 targets for 21 receptions, 279 yards, and four touchdowns in Weeks 1 through 9, but his production has taken a steep nosedive. In three weeks, Cook has only seen five targets with one reception for six yards.
While the Falcons have been habitually bleeding points to opponents (save last week against the Raiders), the Saints DST is a different story. They are fourth against QBs, ninth against WRs, 14th against TEs, and are the best in fantasy against RBs.
Matt Ryan’s stat line was eerily similar to Hill’s in their Week 11 meeting with 19 completions on 37 attempts for 232 yards. Ryan, however, isn’t known for his rushing or finding his way to the end zone with his legs like Hill is.
WR Julio Jones was held to only two receptions for 39 yards and 5.9 points while Calvin Ridley did a touch better with five receptions for 90 yards 14 points. The Falcons were playing from behind after half-time so game script played a big role in Todd Gurley’s production of only 26 rushing yards and 3.9 points.
On paper, this matchup looks lopsided in favor of the Saints, but I am not so sure this is how the game will play out on Sunday. As I mentioned, the Falcons have the momentum behind them, play at home and with a chip on their collective shoulders. This could turn out to be a fantasy gold mine as head coach Sean Payton and Morris duke it out in Week 13.
Keep an Eye on D’Andre Swift
Productive running backs are coveted players in fantasy and when one is missing from your lineup, it can be a big deal. This week, it could mean the difference between making or breaking your playoffs hopes.
Every injury is significant and I will have a more comprehensive list at the end of this piece. However, as I mentioned, this has been a strange year and an even stranger week. If you haven’t seen the news, RB D’Andre Swift has cleared concussion protocol, which would normally be great news. However, the rookie did not practice today. The official report is an “illness” but his veteran teammate, Adrian Peterson, is expressing concerns for Swift’s well-being.
Carolos Monarres of the Detroit Free Press reported Peterson as saying, “To kind of see him not being himself, that energy level when you see him not being the same because of what he’s dealing with, it hurts because I want to see him be successful.” He later said they need Swift on the field, and he’s certainly not wrong.
Peterson continued discussing his teammate, but other than speculation, we don’t have much to go on. The Lions are being rather quiet about Swift’s health after saying that he suffered a “brain injury”, which aren't typically the words one uses for a concussion.
The Lions are far better when Swift is healthy and on the field, as Peterson pointed out. Now that HC Matt Patricia has been fired, it will be interesting to see how interim head coach and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevel handles his new team.
Injury Updates and Quick Hits
Raiders RB Josh Jacobs (ankle) and WR Nelson Agholor (ankle) did not practice Thursday. … No timetable for Steelers RB James Conner’s return. … Falcons WR Julio Jones did not practice Thursday and RB Todd Gurley was not seen. … Chiefs RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire was held out of practice with an illness. … QB Lamar Jackson is still considered questionable for Week 13. … Giants QB Daniel Jones did not practice Thursday with a hamstring injury. … Titans WR A.J. Brown did not practice with a hip injury. … Seahawks RB Carlos Hyde did not practice Thursday. WR Josh Gordon was conditionally reinstated … Jaguars WR D.J. Chark limited at practice. ... Miami QB Tua Tagovailoa is a game-time decision. ... Vikings RB Dalvin Cook was limited at practice. ... Eagles TE Zach Ertz limited at practice. ... Patriots QB Cam Newton limited at practice. ... Packers WR Allen Lazard was limited at practice. ... Lions WR Kenny Golladay did not practice Thursday.