Week 14’s biggest fantasy football questions: NFL reporters give advice for Sunday
There won’t be a question about the New England Patriots this week, as they’re on a bye, but they sure generated some questions for the Buffalo Bills after their windswept victory in Orchard Park, New York, on Monday night.
Bill Belichick responded to the conditions by grounding his offense. Literally. The Patriots had 49 offensive snaps and ran the ball on 46 of them.
Frustrating for fantasy managers of New England rookie quarterback Mac Jones. A joyous occasion for fantasy managers of Patriots running back Damien Harris.
It just goes to show you weather can have a major impact on fantasy games, just as it can on actual games. It’s especially important, as fantasy leagues reach the playoffs and the weather turns, to pay attention to conditions at any given venue.
ESPN fantasy sports researcher Kyle Soppe came away wanting to know more about what happened with the Bills, so look for that answer below. He also has questions concerning Dak Prescott, Jarvis Landry, Javonte Williams and lots more.
Don’t look for questions about Miami, New England, Indianapolis or Philadelphia. They have byes this week. Every other team was fair game. Away we go.
Anything to take away from Monday night’s weather-impacted home game (the Bills’ final four games are all in the Northeast)?
Not much. If anything, it proved again that the Bills’ running backs are unreliable and shouldn’t be considered fantasy options. The Bills’ offense is at its best when Josh Allen is either running or throwing the football, no matter what the weather conditions may be. That’s what the loss to the Patriots was a reminder of. The Bills have had only three games when an individual rusher gained 100-plus yards since Allen was drafted in 2018, and have had the fewest touchdowns by running backs over that stretch (23). Continue to stay away. — Alaina Getzenberg
New York Jets
True or false: Elijah Moore should be considered a top-30 receiver the rest of the way?
False. Moore suffered a quadriceps injury on Sunday, and his status for the game vs. the Saints is unknown. Even if he plays, Moore probably will be affected by the injury. If healthy, he’d be a top-30 receiver based on his recent performances. Since Week 9, he leads all wide receivers with five touchdowns and ranks seventh in receiving yards (392). — Rich Cimini
Three straight slow games for Marquise Brown: Time to consider benching him despite the consistent volume?
No, especially if you look at the history. Brown really took off in his last five games last season, scoring five touchdowns. After Sunday’s game against Cleveland, Brown’s last four games are against defenses that rank 15th or worse in passing yards allowed to wide receivers. This all favors Brown bouncing back for the stretch run. — Jamison Hensley
Should we view Tee Higgins as the WR1 in this offense for the final five weeks?
As of now, yes. With defenses giving Ja’Marr Chase a lot more attention, Higgins has been left with some very favorable matchups. And with Higgins’ confidence increasing, expect quarterback Joe Burrow to throw Higgins more 50-50 balls downfield, which should yield a combination of big plays and touchdowns. Defenses will likely be more willing to roll the dice with Higgins than let Chase beat them deep. — Ben Baby
Jarvis Landry had a strong Week 12 at Baltimore (6-111) after significant struggles since returning from injury. Was this a flash in the pan, or should he be considered a flex option in PPR leagues?
It’s difficult to trust any pass-catcher in the Cleveland offense right now. The Browns have scored more than 17 points only once since Oct. 10, as their passing game has struggled. Maybe Cleveland can turn it around after this past bye week. But until we see it, it’s hard to believe in anyone, including Landry, as a viable starting WR. — Jake Trotter
Should we lock in “RB vs PIT” for the remainder of the season, or are the Steelers’ recent defensive struggles correctable?
Simply, yes. The Steelers defense isn’t what it used to be, and historic reputation isn’t stopping running backs from gashing them for historic numbers. Joe Mixon had 165 yards, and Dalvin Cook rushed for more than 200. But it’s worse than that, even backups are putting up big numbers. In Week 6, Alex Collins had 101 yards on 20 carries. The Steelers’ run D has been a big problem all season, and there aren’t any signs it’s going to get better in the final four games. — Brooke Pryor
Brandin Cooks was able to overcome shaky QB play early, but his production has faded. Should we bench him again until he proves he can overcome the shortcomings of this offense?
Yes. Unless you’re desperate for a starting receiver, it’s time to bench Cooks. Cooks is playing in an offense that has struggled for most of the season and a team that benched Tyrod Taylor on Sunday. At this point, there’s not a fantasy player on the Texans’ roster that you should feel comfortable starting, especially come playoff time. — Sarah Barshop
If you had to bank on one Jacksonville pass-catcher for the rest of the season, his name is …
Probably Laviska Shenault Jr., because he’ll get some touches out of the backfield, too. Laquon Treadwell has been the Jaguars’ leading receiver the past two games, so he’s someone to consider, too, but Shenault leads the team in targets (36) and catches (22) the last six games. — Michael DiRocco
Who leads this backfield in touches for the rest of the season?
It probably will be Dontrell Hilliard who leads the Titans’ backfield in touches. Hilliard is the most explosive of remaining Titans backs. Hilliard’s 8.7 yards per attempt average should make it more enticing for the Titans’ staff to give him the ball. His 68-yard touchdown run against the New England Patriots was the longest overall run by a Titan since Derrick Henry’s foot injury four games ago. Hilliard is also a viable option catching the ball out of the backfield, which allows him to stay on the field on third downs. — Turron Davenport
What did you think of Javonte Williams’ debut as the lead back, and how do you think it’ll impact the touch distribution when Melvin Gordon III returns?
The touch distribution won’t be impacted as much by Williams’ efforts against the Chiefs last Sunday night — 178 yards from scrimmage — because the Broncos have known since training camp he has that kind of production in him. It will be affected more by Melvin Gordon III’s health. Gordon (hip/shoulder) was limited in practice Wednesday. If Gordon is physically ready to play Sunday, the carries will get split some, especially with Mike Boone having flashed some impact in the loss to the Chiefs when Gordon did not play. But Williams has likely done enough to open some additional drives at times that Gordon may have opened earlier this season. — Jeff Legwold
Kansas City Chiefs
Barring an injury, is there any reason to believe Clyde Edwards-Helaire will be a viable play in this pass-first offense for the remainder of this season?
Probably not as a runner, but the Chiefs have talked about the need to get him more involved in the passing game. Having those plans and actually using him more as a receiver are two different things, but it is interesting that the two most productive Chiefs receivers in last week’s game were Edwards-Helaire and fellow running back Darrel Williams. It makes sense given the struggles of many of the Chiefs’ receivers that they would turn more to Edwards-Helaire. But I wouldn’t count on it. — Adam Teicher
Las Vegas Raiders
Can we bank on 20-plus touches a game from Josh Jacobs the rest of the way?
As intriguing as that sounds, pump the brakes a bit, because even with Kenyan Drake lost for the season with a broken right ankle, Jacobs’ stature doesn’t quite match up with his hard-charging running style. He missed three of the Raiders’ final four games of his rookie season and only had one game with 20-plus touches in the season’s final four games last year. Jacobs catching a career-high nine passes last week was an anomaly, what with Drake lost in the second quarter and pass-catching back Jalen Richard on the COVID-19 list. Now, if Richard does not return and Jacobs is simply sharing the load with Peyton Barber, all bets are off. — Paul Gutierrez
Los Angeles Chargers
Given the skill set of Jalen Guyton, do you think there are enough deep targets for Mike Williams to consistently produce down the stretch, or are we signing up for wild swings in numbers from him?
Williams is on the day-by-day COVID list this week, as is Keenan Allen, who has already been ruled out. It pretty much has been a roller coaster with Williams all season. It just depends on if you have the stomach for it. Guyton is a reliable receiver; he caught four of four for 90 yards vs. Cincinnati. — Shelley Smith
Are Dak Prescott’s days as a threat on the ground behind him (at least for the remainder of this season)?
It certainly seems that way. You would have to pin a lot of that on the broken ankle he suffered last year, but it doesn’t look like Prescott has been hesitant to run or unable to run around. The opportunities haven’t been there as much as in the past. But since the calf injury, the numbers are down. In the five games since the injury, Prescott has eight carries for 21 yards. In his first seven starts, he had 22 carries for 70 yards. The Cowboys want to be judicious with how much they use Prescott on designed runs and RPOs, but they have been ultra-conservative there this year. This is a QB with 24 rushing touchdowns in his career entering the season. He has just one so far this season. — Todd Archer
New York Giants
Saquon Barkley’s snap count has impressed in consecutive weeks. Think we get the 100% healthy version of him for the fantasy playoffs? Will New York extend him despite the lack of promise in this season?
No and no. Barkley popped up again on this week’s injury report with that nagging ankle problem after not being there last week. And last week was tough to watch against Miami. Barkley did not look like a high-end running back. His numbers, in fact, suggest he’s a lesser option through eight games than Devontae Booker. — Jordan Raanan
Washington Football Team
Consecutive duds for Terry McLaurin, and he has underwhelmed in four of his past five. Blip on the radar or a real concern given how this offense looks to limit the number of possessions?
Blip on the radar for this reason: There was a feeling that quarterback Taylor Heinicke was relying too much on tight end Logan Thomas in the pass game — staying on him too long, for example — and by the time he’d work his way to McLaurin, an open receiver was now covered. Without Thomas, a terrific security blanket underneath, Heinicke will have to go through his progressions faster, and that will mean McLaurin will resume being a bigger part of the passing attack. — John Keim
Should we be encouraged by Cole Kmet’s target volume over the past six weeks or discouraged by what he has (hasn’t) done with those opportunities?
He had a bad drop that would have converted a third-and-8 in the first quarter against the Bucs earlier this season, but that’s his only official drop per ESPN Stats & Information. But his catch percentage is a mediocre 74.1%, ranking 14th among qualifying tight ends. However, that could be more indicative of quarterback accuracy. — Rob Demovsky
Big game and promising future for Amon-Ra St. Brown, but can we pencil him in for viable production down the stretch of this season?
Absolutely. It’s no secret that the Lions’ receiving corps has been questionable throughout the year, but scoring the game-winning, walk-off touchdown last week could definitely give St. Brown a confidence booster moving forward. Quarterback Jared Goff says they’ve been looking to get the rookie receiver more involved all throughout the season, but after making a big play like that, St. Brown has gained the respect of not only Goff in crucial moments, but also his head coach, Dan Campbell, which could create more opportunities. “We have a lot of trust in him,” Campbell said following Sunday’s win over Minnesota. “He’s one of those guys who has become pretty dependable for us.” — Eric Woodyard
Green Bay Packers
What do you expect the touch distribution to be in this backfield moving forward?
At this point, it finally may be safe to call it a 50-50 deal, especially with Aaron Jones only a few weeks removed from that knee injury. AJ Dillon has proven his effectiveness, so why overuse Jones and risk reinjury before the playoffs? — Rob Demovsky
Make the case for Justin Jefferson being the first receiver off fantasy draft boards this summer.
Let’s start with this: Jefferson is a superstar. Full stop. It didn’t even take two full seasons for the NFL to realize the young receiver’s dominance (85 catches for 1,288 yards and 8 TDs in 13 games) and ability to single-handedly take over regardless of the type of coverage he’s facing. Minnesota’s chaotic win over Pittsburgh illustrates that perfectly. Without Adam Thielen (ankle), one might assume the way defenders keyed on Jefferson would limit the amount of times Kirk Cousins looked his way. But no matter who else is/isn’t on the field, Jefferson is going to get his opportunities. He was targeted three times in the endzone and matched a career-high 14 targets against the Steelers. He’s shattered record after record and has reached 100 yards receiving in 12 career games, the second-most by any player in his first two seasons. He’s the best at what he does and demonstrated that from his very first start in Week 3 of the 2020 season. — Courtney Cronin
27 targets over the past three weeks for Russell Gage: Can that be sustained as long as Calvin Ridley is inactive?
Sure. The Falcons need to continue to find targets somewhere, and Russell Gage seems to have emerged from his early season ankle injury and midseason slump to finally show some of the potential he did in 2020. Should you expect 12 targets and 130 yards every week? No. But a reasonable stat line of anywhere between five and seven catches and 55 to 75 yards is probably doable in Atlanta’s offense. Gage is worth a roster spot for you in the playoffs and, depending on the matchup, would be worth starting as long as you understand he’s likely third in the offense in terms of usage opportunities. — Michael Rothstein
Chuba Hubbard’s role in the pass game has varied from week to week. How many targets (and total touches) should we expect from him per game the rest of the way?
With Christian McCaffrey out for the season, look for Hubbard to be the first- and second-down back, as he was the first time McCaffrey was out, and Ameer Abdullah to be the third-down receiving back. Hubbard averaged 17.8 rushes per game over the five-game span McCaffrey missed early in the season. With running backs coach Jeff Nixon replacing Joe Brady as the playcaller, look for more commitment to the running game. So anywhere from 15-20 touches a game for Hubbard moving forward seems reasonable. — David Newton
New Orleans Saints
Eleven rush attempts and 41 passes on Thursday vs. Dallas. What do you expect that ratio to look like moving forward?
That passing number got inflated because the Saints were playing from behind — which is something they would obviously like to avoid going forward. But it did show that they won’t be a run-only team, despite Taysom Hill’s finger injury. More importantly for Hill’s fantasy value, the 11 carries for 101 yards are a good sign that they’re prepared to exploit his rushing ability even more than they did during his four-game stint as a starter last year. — Mike Triplett
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Leonard Fournette has been an elite fantasy producer since the bye thanks to an expanded role in the pass game. Any reason to think that changes over the final five weeks?
Bruce Arians will continue to go with the hot hand — Fournette — and that’s who Tom Brady trusts, which is why Fournette has had five touchdowns over the last two weeks. However, we will see Ronald Jones II mixed in a little bit after he battled an illness last week against the Falcons. Fournette has a great opportunity this week against a Bills team that surrendered 222 rushing yards to the Patriots last week and has given up 12 touchdowns this season — tied for eighth-most in the league. — Jenna Laine
What should our expectations be for DeAndre Hopkins the rest of the way? Does he need to score to be viable, or will he discover his elite form from years past?
He definitely doesn’t need to score to be viable. He, in fact, can be as valuable to this team between the goal lines with plays. He has become almost a master at drawing DPIs, which he feels should be counted as its own stat, and, obviously, he can make game-changing catches with ease. But I would expect the Cardinals to start looking at him more in the end zone as their march toward the playoffs continues on. — Josh Weinfuss
Los Angeles Rams
Consecutive weeks where this offense produced three fantasy viable receivers: Do you expect that to be the case more often than not the rest of the way?
Yes. The Rams’ offense has had to shift following the loss of Robert Woods for the season. Opponents have keyed in more on slowing Cooper Kupp, which means Matthew Stafford has looked toward Van Jefferson and Odell Beckham Jr. more often while still ensuring that Kupp gets his catches. Watch for this trend to continue. — Lindsey Thiry
San Francisco 49ers
Brandon Aiyuk didn’t see his role expanded despite Deebo Samuel being sidelined. Should we consider him anything more than a dart throw next week?
Well, the reality of the Niners’ situation was always going to be that Aiyuk, Samuel and tight end George Kittle would carry the load in their own ways, but this season has proved that Samuel is the team’s top offensive threat (in part because of his ability to play running back and get touches that way). Kittle had a monster game in Samuel’s absence last week, so it is fair to say Aiyuk is still the team’s third option in the passing game. But that doesn’t mean Aiyuk can’t produce. Even without an expanded role last week, he still had three catches for 55 yards, and he had 176 receiving yards combined the two weeks prior when Kittle and Samuel were in the lineup. — Nick Wagoner
Encouraged by the efficiency of Russell Wilson, or discouraged by the lack of (non-fake-punt) explosive plays in this offense?
More of the former than the latter. More big plays in the passing game would have been nice, and Wilson missed one when he overthrew DK Metcalf on a deep shot. But he was much more accurate than he had been in the first three games of his return, and his statline would have included another touchdown had Gerald Everett not bobbled the ball to a defender for an interception at the goal line. Third down remained an issue, though, with Seattle going 5 of 15 while getting one conversion via a roughing penalty. — Brady Henderson
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