The scheduling madness that is the 2020 NFL season gave us a Monday doubleheader in Week 13. Washington stunned Pittsburgh in the early game, delivering the Steelers their first loss of the season on the back of another solid performance from Alex Smith. With a final score of 23-17, Washington also stayed in the hunt for first place in the dreadful NFC East. Buffalo dominated San Francisco after a rocky first quarter that saw them fumble the ball away inside their own five-yard line. That brings Buffalo to 9-3 and within striking distance of Pittsburgh, who they face next week.
Pittsburgh Drops the Ball
In the modern era of football, two teams have gone undefeated throughout the course of the regular season. Only the 2007 Patriots have a perfect regular season with 16 wins. Pittsburgh looked poised to join that Patriots team with the Bills in Week 14 as their next big test. They may have been caught looking ahead as the team struggled in their loss to Washington. The Washington front seven didn't sack Ben Roethlisberger but they did manage to tip a number of his passes at the line of scrimmage. For the passes that did make it past the line, it wasn't a done deal that they would be brought down by the receiver they were intended for. Eric Ebron and Diontae Johnson each logged multiple drops for the second week in a row. Both players have shown an ability to generate separation and draw targets but both have also struggled with drops throughout the year. Johnson caught eight of his 12 targets for 71 yards and a score. Ebron logged seven catches for 68 yards on 11 targets. If Pittsburgh can squeeze out a little more consistency from the offense, their defense gives them a high enough floor to win any game.
The biggest surprise on the Washington side of the ball was that they won a game with Terry McLaurin doing next to nothing. He caught two passes for 14 yards. Both marks were season-lows for the stud receiver. In lieu of a good game from McLaurin, Alex Smith took the short throws that Pittsburgh gave him and made a number of key downfield completions. J.D. McKissic and Logan Thomas were obvious beneficiaries of Pittsburgh keeping the passes underneath as the two combined for 19 catches on as many targets. Smith had five passes go for 15 or more yards and those often found their way to Cam Sims. Washington is tied with the New York Giants for first place in the NFC East but the Giants hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over them. However, with just one opponent with a winning record in their remaining three games, Washington has a decent chance to make it out of the East. After returning from a gruesome and life-threatening leg injury, Smith has led his team to three wins and one loss through four starts. He has all but won the Comeback Player of the Year award.
Fantasy Slant: There are two major takeaways from the Pittsburgh side. The first is that Chase Claypool is not an every-down player and can't be locked in for WR2 numbers every week. He was off the field for Pittsburgh's second score of the night. James Washington was in as the field-stretcher and took a 50-yard pass to the house. Claypool still has incredible upside and can't be benched but quiet weeks like his two-catch outing on Monday aren't out of the question. The second is that JuJu Smith-Schuster is going to need 20 targets to have a ceiling game. He was targeted 10 times and managed just 28 yards because of his running back-level aDOT. Antonio Gibson left with a toe injury and did not return. If he misses Week 14, Peyton Barber would take on his role but shouldn't be expected to do much with it. He rushed 14 times for 23 yards but did manage to score. If he doesn't score, Barber is likely to register fewer than five fantasy points. J.D. McKissic could be used on short passes as an extension of the run game and will be a viable RB2 in PPR leagues if Gibson is sidelined.
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Josh Allen Does His Thing
Allen kept doing Allen things on Monday Night Football. He shredded a 49ers defense that has been a shell of its 2019 self this year. He averaged 9.4 yards per attempt and threw four scores to zero interceptions. Allen only took one sack and completed 80 percent of his passes. For Bills fans, this was nearly a perfect game from Allen. He made the tight-window throws without any sudden lapses in judgment or errant passes. Allen was all highs and no lows versus San Francisco. If he can make this kind of performance happen more often, Allen and the Bills will be a nightmare for teams to face in the playoffs. Another reason the Bills will be difficult to prepare for is their depth at receiver. Gabriel Davis and Cole Beasley both found the end zone while Beasley even hit 100 yards for the fourth time this season. John Brown is currently on injured reserve. Once he returns, it will be interesting to see if Buffalo rotates him in with Davis, sends Davis back to the bench, or plays more four-receiver sets.
Unsurprisingly, the 49ers had some high-points with Nick Mullens under center but ultimately struggled to compensate for his shortcomings. He was intercepted on third-and-goal in the final frame of the game on a play that secured Buffalo's ninth win of the year. He had already been intercepted once previously. First-round rookie Brandon Aiyuk posted 95 yards and a touchdown in his first game off the reserve/COVID-19 list. He and Deebo Samuel split the No. 1 receiving role with nine targets each. The duo has rarely been on the field at the same time this year and they will need to continue to dominate with George Kittle likely done for the year. At 5-7, the 49ers are no longer in control of their own destiny. The best they can do is win out and hope for some help from other teams. They are currently a game back from the Vikings in the Wild Card hunt.
Fantasy Slant: All of the Bills receivers are startable in fantasy as long as Brown is out. Beasley could push for WR2 numbers if Stefon Diggs draws the attention of the Pittsburgh defense next week. After a botching a handoff from Allen, Zack Moss was essentially benched for Devin Singletary, who played 51 more snaps than him. The benching is likely temporary but Singletary would enter RB3 territory if he took over as the primary runner for Buffalo. Raheem Mostert led the 49ers with nine carries but Jeff Wilson was just two rushes behind him and ran at 6.7 yards per carry. He also saw five targets to Mostert's one. Mostert remains the only back worth starting on this team but Wilson is a name to monitor in the fantasy playoffs.
Todd Gurley is dealing with a knee injury and although it didn't keep him from playing last week, it did limit him to red zone and third-down duties according to OC Dirk Koetter. He can be benched in all formats in his new role.
Raiders coach Jon Gruden doesn't expect Josh Jacobs to play in Week 14. That makes Devontae Booker the lead-back for Las Vegas once again. If he was missed on the waiver wire ahead of Week 13, be sure to pick him up ahead of the fantasy playoffs as he could work as a three-down back for another week or two.
Curtis Samuel and D.J. Moore were placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list. This doesn't exclude either player from taking the field in Week 14 but it does hurt their chances. If they are forced to sit, Robby Anderson would be bathed in targets versus the Broncos. Brandon Zylstra, who has two targets on the year, would take over as Carolina's No. 2 receiver.
The Panthers also look likely to get Christian McCaffrey back next week. CMC would immediately reclaim his RB1 status and could even see an elevated role if Moore or Samuel are out.