Realities and Illusions for Week 14
Unfortunately, some of your seasons ended in Week 14. Or maybe you didn’t even make the playoffs. Of course, there are plenty of you who also did advance (or are about to), so congrats! But whether you were just eliminated or are planning your next round of the Fantasy playoffs, it’s still important to determine what was reality and what was an illusion in Week 14. This is true not just for the remaining weeks of the 2018 Fantasy season, but also looking ahead to 2019, which I will touch on a bit in each section.
All Cooped Up
Six games, 40 receptions, 642 yards (16.05 yards per reception), six touchdowns, one game under 58 yards receiving, one game with less than five catches. That is Amari Cooper ever since arriving in Dallas following yet another ill-fated Jon Gruden trade. Cooper has now played as many games in Dallas as he did in Oakland this season. He has almost twice as many receptions and more than twice as many yards. And almost all of that yardage came in two big games; he had one game with two receptions, two with one and his final game was a zero-catch dud. Cooper’s immediate success has been covered extensively since he arrived in Dallas, but this larger sample size should underscore his steady value not just to close this season, but also for 2019. He is a strong WR2 with WR1 upside.
Three Patriots Running Backs Walk into Miami…
The punchline is, none of them do well. The Patriots RB crew in a stunning Week 14 loss to the Dolphins felt like a Belichick backfield of old, with all three running backs—Sony Michel, James White and Rex Burkhead—all failing to produce. While Burkhead was no surprise, both Michel and White having mediocre games was a shock, at least, until you remember this is a Bill Belichick team we’re talking about. Even if the third back does nothing, the mere presence of one means no back can be trusted in New England. This committee will be the most frustrating for White owners, as he was a Top 10 PPR back for most of the season and all of a sudden can barely be trusted. You’ll probably have to start him, since the potential for a big game is still very much there, but it could cost you (his dud knocked me out of the playoffs in my home league).
Tight End Roulette
Gooooood evening folks and welcome to another episode of [crowd chants in unison like Wheel of Fortune] Tight! End! Roulette! This week’s contestant: Ian Thomas, the Carolina Panthers rookie who pulled in nine catches for 77 yards on 11 targets in Week 14. After Greg Olsen left the 2018 season for good during Week 13, Thomas finished that game by catching all five of his targets for 46 yards, so he’s produced since Olsen has been out. A big reason he’s performing now but didn’t the last time Olsen was out (besides being a rookie) is Cam Newton’s shoulder injury, which is preventing the quarterback from going deep downfield. That isn’t going to change any time soon, so Thomas should be at least be as useful as any other second-tier tight end has been.
This Justin, Ekeler is Still the Go-to Guy
Sorry Justin Jackson, but even after his coach worried that Austin Ekeler was getting too tired, it was the latter that stayed in the lead back role with Melvin Gordon still out with a knee injury. Ekeler out-touched the trendy pick 17 to nine, but this time was actually productive with said touches, picking up 94 total yards and a score against a weak Bengals defense. Gordon still hasn’t practiced and while the Chargers have been aiming for a Week 15 return for their lead back, he could just as easily not play. If he doesn’t, Ekeler was able to take advantage of a bad defense in Week 14 and will be able to do it again next week against the Chiefs.
A Look Ahead: Matthew Stafford
There are two competing theories about Matthew Stafford in 2018. One is that his down 2018 is simply the product of a decimated receiving corps—it’s been basically reduced to Kenny Golladay after the Golden Tate trade and Marvin Jones injury—and he should provide great value as a late-round quarterback next season. But I am in the second camp: Stafford is in trouble and may not even be worth being drafting at all in standard QB leagues next season. The Lions have looked horrid offensively this season under Matt Patricia, so tempering expectations seems fair. Stafford is on pace to have fewer than 4,000 passing yards for the first since his rookie season. We’re well away from draft time, but I’m not going to be looking for stock in Stafford, and maybe the Lions as a whole next season.
Don’t Even Think About Him
This column usually doesn’t touch on Thursday games, but this topic felt worth mentioning. However, I’m not even going to mention this player’s name in the hopes of fully dissuading you from entering him into your lineups in Week 15 or, looking ahead, and thinking about drafting him next season. This back’s 238-yard, four-touchdown game is in no way a reality. Over his six previous games, he accumulated only 234 yards (that’s 39 yards per game). Also over those six games, he scored four total touchdowns. Don’t think about playing him. Just don’t. You know who I am talking about.
“Tim Patrick” is A Generic Create-a-Player Name
With Emmanuel Sanders done for the season after tearing his Achilles at practice on Wednesday, conversations revolved around what Broncos receiver would help fill his enormous target share. There were, generally speaking, two options. Courtland Sutton certainly did not, catching just two of his six targets for 14 yards. The other was fellow rookie DaeSean Hamilton, who was expected to work out of the slot—Sanders’ usual spot—and did so with some PPR success, pulling in seven catches for 47 yards and a score on nine targets. But leading the way in targets (10), receptions (tied with Hamilton with seven) and yards (85) was second-year UDFA Tim Patrick. He never had more than one catch in a game before. If you’re replacing Sanders for your playoff run and sticking with the Broncos, Hamilton is the player you want, not Patrick. More than doubling his career yardage in one game is an outlier I can’t stomach, especially at this point.
While that pun admittedly is a stretch, so is making too much of Dak Prescott’s 42-of-54 day for 455 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. Going into the Week 14 matchup with Eagles’ lacking secondary, Prescott had yet to attempt over 40 passes or throw for over even 300 yards in a game this season. While Cooper will continue to have big games, Prescott is not going to keep splitting 16 targets between Blake Jarwin and Michael Gallup. He’s no more than a decent streaming option next week against the Colts.
The above is a portion of the Fordham fight song, and can also be applied to your Fantasy team. If you managed to make it through a dreadful game for the Rams against the dominant Bears’ defense, don’t let their worst performance of the year color your decision-making too much for Week 15. Obviously, this isn’t a problem for Todd Gurley. But Brandin Cooks will do better than 3/22/0 next week against the Eagles who, again, just let Dak Prescott throw for 455 yards against them. Even Jared Goff, who has struggled the past two weeks, should be worthy of a start. The Bears’ defense is for real and can apparently make any offense look bad. That doesn’t mean the L.A. offense is actually bad. If you survived to advance, keep rolling with your Rams.
A Look Ahead: Jordan Howard
Jordan Howard has been one of the bigger busts of 2018, and he has been covered in this space often. But for the second straight week, he’s had a solid performance, this one his best of the year, putting up 100 yards for the first time this season and averaging over five yards per carry for the first time since Week One. You could conceivably talk yourself into sticking with a relatively lukewarm hand next week against the Packers. But even if he does well then, and closes the season strong overall, don’t talk yourself into drafting him as a Fantasy starter in 2019. Matt Nagy clearly prefers the versatility he gets from Tarik Cohen, and Howard has clearly struggled with his fewest attempts per game in his career.