Realities and Illusions for Week 15
While many of you may be waiting on the results of tonight’s Panthers-Saints game to see if you’re making it to your Fantasy Championship, many of you already know the result, for better or worse. Maybe you knew you were out weeks ago, but are still paying attention because you enjoy playing Fantasy Football. Or maybe you’ve been coasting to a championship thanks to strong drafting and utilizing RotoExperts’ advice all season long. Either way, there will always be Realities and Illusions to help you parse what transpired in Week 15 and prepare for either an impending Fantasy Super Bowl bout or the 2019 season.
The Norse Word for “Run” is “Rún” So This Is Not a Great Joke
After the Vikings lost to the Seahawks 21-7 in Week 14, they fired offensive coordinator John DeFilippo and promoted quarterbacks coach Kevin Stefanski to interim offensive coordinator. But the quarterbacks coach, ironically enough, knew what was plaguing the Vikings’ offense: not running the ball enough. He remedied this situation immediately, unleashing Dalvin Cook—and, to a lesser degree, Latavius Murray—on the Dolphins in a 41-17 thrashing. Cook looked like the guy we wanted to draft early, picking up 136 yards and two scores on 19 carries, plus one reception for 27 yards. Kirk Cousins attempted 21 passes, a season low. While this was partially game script related —the Dolphins are awful against the run—the Vikings never committed to the ground game like that before, much to the detriment of those who have relied on Adam Thielen. Expect a continued emphasis on the run next week against the Lions, who are right behind the Dolphins in Points Per Game allowed to the position. And looking ahead to next season, expect the hiring process to result in a coordinator who will look to utilize Minnesota’s running backs more.
With Emmanuel Sanders no longer available, a Broncos rookie has stepped up big time. But just like how Phillip Lindsay emerged as the top back and not Royce Freeman, it’s slot receiver DaeSean Hamilton, not the presumptive Courtland Sutton, who is making the largest impact. While Tim Patrick led the Broncos in receiving yards for the second week in a row, Hamilton has seen almost every bit of Sanders’ vacated 25 percent target share. Case Keenum threw 12 passes his way in Week 15, connecting seven times for 46 yards. The yards aren’t there yet, but mix in the volume with a matchup against the Raiders next week and you have a good recipe for his upward trend to continue into Week 16. While Sanders will presumably return to his role next season, he is scheduled to make over $10 million and will be coming off an Achilles injury. Hamilton will be a name to remember heading into draft time if he produces more with his targets over the final two weeks.
Stay hot, young man. Dante Pettis has continued to be a bright spot in an injury-riddled and disappointing 49ers season. He led San Francisco wide receivers in yards for the fourth straight game (that qualifier is because of George Kittle’s 210 yards last week). Pettis will probably have a rough go of it next week against the Bears, but he showed he only needs a little space to make something happen on this 30-yard reception. Even if he doesn’t perform all that well in Week 16, he’s established himself at the 49ers top option and should at the very least be significantly involved in 2019, with Jimmy Garoppolo back under center.
More Like Saquoff Barkley
Look, you’re not going to bench Saquon Barkley next week. However, it is fair to be worried about his production. Barkley had his worst game of his career, picking up 56 total yards from scrimmage; I am sure there are a good number of you who were bounced from the playoffs because of him. But if you’re still alive, he’s not guaranteed to rebound next week against the Colts, who also shut out an NFC East team in the Cowboys. While Ezekiel Elliott was pretty much himself in that one—87 yards rushing, another 41 receiving on seven catches—Indianapolis can stack the box against Barkley more than it could against Elliott, especially if Odell Beckham Jr. is still out. It’s also worth mentioning that Barkley simply might be wearing down in his first NFL season. Like I said, you’re going to start him, you’re going to draft him Top Five next year, but he may come up short again at a critical time after this week’s debacle.
Lightning Struck Twice
Derrick Henry had another big game. I’m sure you heard. In this space last week, I was so thoroughly unconvinced by his big game against the Jaguars that I wrote about a Thursday game, which I do not do normally, and also didn’t even use his name like he was Voldemort. Well, he had yet another strong performance this week, using a monster 33 carries to pick up 170 yards and two scores in a wet game at MetLife against the Giants. This was a performance built on game script, as there was no way the Titans were going to have Marcus Mariota throw much in bad weather when he barely even throws when it’s sunny and 70. So why do I still have him as an illusion? Because I’m not convinced we should believe in him now after a shocking outing and then him finally succeeding in the perfect opportunity. There is every chance he has another good game against Washington’s middle-of-the-road rushing defense next week, and I can’t recommend you bench him for that game. But come 2019 draft time or keeper decisions, don’t let these last two weeks make you forget Weeks One through 12.
That pun is about as bad as Tevin Coleman has been since taking over lead back duties following Devonta Freeman headed to IR, besides a strong Week Nine performance. But against the horrid Cardinals’ rushing defense, Coleman needed just 11 carries to pick up 145 yards and a score. He had 161 yards rushing over his last five games, including just six yards in Week 12 and eight in Week 13. Coleman’s track record of being a strong fill-in for Freeman cratered this year, and he shouldn’t be trusted in your crucial Week 16 championships when he faces the Panthers.
Dougie Fresh and Clean
Doug Baldwin finally did some Doug Baldwin things in Week 15, scoring twice and picking up 77 yards on four receptions. Despite that, Doug Baldwin still scares me. For one thing, all of that production came against a backup rookie corner after Ahkello Witherspoon left with an injury. Also, Russell Wilson needed an extra overtime drive to get to just 31 pass attempts. Even when he did throw the ball, running back Mike Davis led the team in targets with eight, while Baldwin was tied for second with another running back, Chris Carson. Baldwin will have to do a lot with a little. However, he does get a matchup with the Chiefs next week, which like playing against a bunch of backup corners. But the Chiefs will also let opponents score however they want, and the Seahawks want to do it running the ball, further limiting Baldwin’s opportunities.
All Cooped Up
Amari Cooper, the only receiver hotter than Dante Pettis coming into Week 15, threw up a dud against the Colts, pulling in four of his seven targets for just 32 yards. The Cowboys’ offense, one of the hottest units in football over the past five weeks, fell apart against the Colts. Ezekiel Elliott had a good game despite not reaching the end zone, but everyone else stunk. However, you don’t need to worry that Cooper has rapidly regressed to his Raider ways, at least not yet. Week 16 brings a special Christmas gift: a matchup with the Buccaneers and their fifth-most points allowed to wide receivers. Dak Prescott will have more success against them, and so will Cooper. It will feel a little more risky following this disappointing game, but if you survived to advance to your championship, keep Amari Cooper in your lineup.