Fantasy Football: 5 Things We Learned in Week 14
The NFL is really heating up, and as if it wasn't exciting before, it certainly is now. The playoff picture is becoming clearer with each passing week and turns what would have been promising matchups just a few weeks ago into mini playoff preview performances.
The San Francisco 49ers' last-second win over the New Orleans Saints could go down as both the game of the year and a sneak peek at the NFC Championship game in the playoffs. If watching George Kittle literally drag three Saints defenders down the field -- all while fighting through probably the longest face-mask penalty of the season -- on a critical fourth-down play doesn't get you revved up for football, you don't deserve football.
The AFC wasn't without its share of excitement. The New England Patriots offense still struggled in this one, but their defense held Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs to just 23 points -- and they could very likely have won outright were it not for some terrible officiating. And the Baltimore Ravens shut down the wild-card frontrunner Buffalo Bills in decisive fashion in what could be another future playoff game this winter.
And what weekend of NFL action would be complete without explosive plays and flashy touchdowns? There were 11 different touchdowns scored on plays of 40 or more yards in Week 14 -- it felt like every other play the broadcast was interrupted with a scoring update from another game.
Hopefully, all of the excitement translated into fantasy production for your playoff teams. If you're still alive in your league, or if you're trying to avoid brutal last-place punishments, you need to be paying attention to the goings-ons now more than ever. If you miss something now, you'll end up regretting it for an entire offseason. And with how much happened this weekend, it would be pretty easy for something to fly under your radar.
The Titans are Rolling Right Now
Did you know that since Ryan Tannehill took over as starter, the Tennessee Titans are second only to the Ravens in percentage of drives to end in a score? They've been tearing it up on offense lately and could be a key to finding success in your fantasy playoffs.
Starting with Tannehill, who, now freed from the life-draining grasp of Adam Gase, has been electric in 2019. He leads all passers in completion percentage over expectation with a ridiculous 10-yard differential, per Next Gen Stats, and ranks second in overall completion percentage -- which illustrates how he's not just taking easy passes, but also executing more difficult passes at an extremely high level. Tannehill's 10.2 adjusted yards per attempt leads the league by a full yard, and even exceeds Mahomes' league-best 9.58 mark from 2018. He's playing out of his mind right now, and has established himself as one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the league in 2019.
That means that Tannehill's ceiling in fantasy is sky-high -- especially in leagues where quarterbacks benefit from their rushing production -- but it also means that the floor can be pretty low. We got a taste of it last week against Philadelphia, but the Titans have shown that they are willing to take the air out of the ball and spam Derrick Henry rushes when they're up big. Over the past four games, Tannehill is averaging just 21.5 attempts per game, which is a frighteningly low number for fantasy football production. Still, you should be able to trust in Tannehill from here on out, as he'll have to keep pace against the high-ceiling offenses of the Houston Texans and Saints in Weeks 15 and 16.
Speaking of Henry, who had yet another monster performance in Week 14, make sure you pick up Dion Lewis in your leagues as insurance. You wouldn't guess it from Henry's stat lines, but he's been playing with a dinged-up hamstring recently and has been limited in practice the past two weeks. Henry has been a monster with 827 rushing yards and 10 total scores since Tannehill took over, but his heavy workload could take a toll on him.
Finally, we can't talk about the Titans without mentioning A.J. Brown. The rookie receiver has been sensational the past few weeks, showing off his 4.49-speed on plays like this 91-yard touchdown, as well as his near-league-best ability to break tackles -- he averages a broken tackle every 6.5 receptions -- like on his 16-yard score later that game. Brown is available in 75% of Yahoo! fantasy leagues and is a must-add if he's on your waiver wire.
The Titans are trending up as the NFL season draws to a close. Make sure to catch their wave and ride it through your fantasy playoffs.
Some Stars Were Hurt in the Making of Week 14
Week 14 brought us a ton of exciting action, but it wasn't without a price -- several big names suffered injuries you'll need to be aware of heading into Week 15.
Mike Evans caught a deep bomb for a touchdown in the Bucs win, but it cost him his hamstring. He didn't return to the game and appears to be in danger of missing more than just Week 15. In his absence, 2018 fifth-round pick Justin Watson played 55% of the Bucs' snaps and caught 5 of 8 targets for 59 yards and a score, while O.J. Howard also had one of his best games of the season. If you're desperate for a tight end, Howard should be near the top of your list this week -- despite how disappointing he's been this season. Watson should be on your radar as well, but it's worth noting that his role could evaporate if Scotty Miller heals up in time for their Week 15 match.
Just when things were starting to get going for Rashaad Penny, they came crashing to a halt this week. The 2018 first-round pick has already had a turbulent career in the NFL but appeared to be carving out a role alongside Chris Carson in recent weeks. Unfortunately, Penny injured his knee in the Seattle Seahawks loss and will likely miss the rest of the season. For fantasy, this means Carson should continue to see a dominant workload as the Seahawks bell-cow back, but it is worth noting that C.J. Prosise appeared to be the next in line behind him. If you're looking to handcuff Carson, Prosise is probably your best bet.
D.J. Chark left Week 14 with an injury as well. The sophomore had been enjoying one of the most surprising breakout campaigns of the year but was seen in a walking boot after the Jacksonville Jaguars' humiliating loss. It's tough to play football in a boot, so keep an eye on his status heading into next week. If he can't go, Dede Westbrook has the most to gain among the rest of the team's receivers.
The bad news just doesn't stop for Derrius Guice, who suffered yet another knee injury in Washington's loss to the Green Bay Packers. Guice was beginning to showcase the skillset that got him drafted in the second round a year ago but will probably have to wait until next season to try again. With him sidelined, expect Adrian Peterson to resume the dominant workload he had earlier this season.
Finally, the Ravens may have won over the Bills, but they lost their lead receiver in the process. Mark Andrews has been the only reliable pass-catcher for fantasy on the Ravens this year, leading the team in every receiving category to date. The early reports sound optimistic, but Andrews still could miss Week 15 with the Ravens playing on Thursday Night. 2018 first-round pick Hayden Hurst did his best impression of Andrews on his long score this week, but it's hard to project him for reliable volume for fantasy purposes.
The Cardinals Backfield is Taking its Final Form
The Arizona Cardinals backfield has taken several forms over the course of the season, creating all sorts of drama for fantasy football. It was the David Johnson show to start the season, with Johnson handling nearly every running back touch and putting up solid numbers for fantasy football. When Johnson went down, Chase Edmonds looked like the waiver wire pickup of the year -- for exactly one game. Edmonds suffered a crippling hamstring injury in his debut as the team's starter, which led to Kenyan Drake taking over as the team's starter.
Drake was the hands-down lead back while Edmonds and Johnson were injured, but things definitely became more complicated over the team's Week 12 bye -- it was unclear how things would break down with all three backs healthy on game days. Would one back rise to the top like Johnson did at the start of the season, or would it turn into a three-way committee devoid of fantasy value?
Fortunately, we have some answers now. We now have two games to look at with all three backs healthy, and there are some tangible takeaways. First, Kenyan Drake is decisively the lead back now. He's handled 29 touches over the past two weeks to Johnson's 11, while Edmonds has been essentially relegated to special teams. This is good news for fantasy -- the touch breakdowns of the past two weeks show us that we can be confident starting Drake going forward. Drake's 29 touches in that span put him in play as an every-week RB2 for the rest of the season.
You should still hang onto Johnson if you can afford to, but don't start him unless you're desperate. Johnson does appear to be much healthier than the last time we saw him in action, but you can't rely on his 5.5 touches per game to produce real fantasy points. However, Johnson does still hold some upside as a pass-catching specialist -- not unlike what Kareem Hunt is doing with the Cleveland Browns right now -- and figures to be in line for his old workload if anything happens to Drake. He caught an impressive touchdown this week that could put him back in the team's good graces going forward.
Don't Worry About Dalvin
I'm sure I'm not the only fantasy fanatic whose heart skipped a beat or eight watching Monday Night Football in Week 13. With no doubt countless fantasy matchups on the line, Dalvin Cook left the game with a chest injury after dropping the football on back-to-back touches. Following his fumble, Cook was promptly ruled out for the remainder of the game. Things seemed pretty dire at the time -- even with Cook repeatedly telling the media that he was fine and that he'd play in Week 14, it was still a massively anxiety-inducing situation for fantasy purposes.
And if you just looked at the Week 14 box scores, you'd probably still be suffering some residual anxiety. While Cook did handle his usual heavy workload, Alexander Mattison was still a massive presence in the win, rushing 14 times for 46 yards. But Mattison's workload needs some context.
The Vikings barely broke a sweat beating the Detroit Lions this week. It wasn't a blowout, but it was clear to anyone watching that the Lions were completely outmatched. In the first half, Cook carried the ball 13 times, while Mattison -- who had 5 first-half carries -- was clearly well behind him in the rotation. The rest of Mattison's 14 carries came in the second half, while all of third-stringer Mike Boone's work came in the fourth quarter.
Cook owners should breathe a sigh of relief. This wasn't a case of the Vikings lightening up on Cook's workload to take it easy on their all-star running back. This was just what happens when you're beating a team on their third-string quarterback in a non-competitive game. Cook reportedly felt healthy after the win and should maintain the elite workload that has made him such a fantasy superstar in 2019.
Gurley is Bouncing Back
Sean McVay might have felt like "an idiot" for how he handled Todd Gurley for most of 2019, but he definitely shouldn't feel that way anymore. With the exception of the Los Angeles Rams' blowout loss to the Ravens, Gurley has had one of the heaviest workloads in the league over the past few weeks.
Starting with their decisive victory over the Chicago Bears in 11, Gurley has handled touch totals of 28, 9 (the Ravens game), 20, and 27. This has resulted in 380 yards from scrimmage, 3 touchdowns, and, most important, a boatload of fantasy points.
He's been really good in this stretch, too. While there were definitely concerns about his arthritic knee all preseason and for the first half of the season itself, Gurley has been great with his new workload. Since Week 11, he's posting a top-tier 52.05% Rushing Success Rate -- the percentage of a back's rushes that add value to his team's expected points total -- and has been a productive receiver out of the backfield. We can't say for certain how his knee is feeling, but at least on the stat sheet, it seems like he's operating at or near full health.
That puts Gurley in position for a big run in the fantasy playoffs -- assuming that having him on your team didn't cost you a playoff spot in your leagues. The Rams have a difficult schedule over the next two weeks, but a schedule that could result in some high-scoring games. They'll play the Dallas Cowboys next week, who, while they have struggled mightily in recent weeks, have been one of the most exciting offenses in the league. The 49ers are their Week 16 opponent, and we saw on Sunday that San Francisco's defense can be attacked.
We probably won't see the same Todd Gurley that won us fantasy playoffs in 2017, but we definitely don't have to worry about the version of Todd Gurley that cost us the 2018 fantasy playoffs. Gurley is back in the RB1 conversation for fantasy purposes.