As the fantasy football season rolls into the playoff stretch, managers are looking to find any edge they can for the upcoming elimination matchups. And now, with no margin for error, every tidbit could be vital when selecting your gameday roster. In this edition of fantasy football fallout, we look into interesting facts for each NFL team in the AFC and NFC South in the hope that it will push you over the top at the business end of the season.
AFC South and NFC South Fantasy Football Fallout
Slim pickings here as you can imagine, especially with Brandin Cooks on the reserve/COVID-19 list. In fact, it’s hard to recommend any of the wide receivers or running backs; Cooks produced seven of the Texans top 10 wide receiver performances in 2021 and the highest running back fantasy finish for a Texan was the RB20 in Week 14. Though if you forced me at gunpoint to pick a dart-throw-type play, then tight end Brevin Jordan is an interesting player. He’s produced the three best TE fantasy performances on the team (TE5, TE12, TE6) and scored two touchdowns in his last three games. Couple his seven-target outing in Week 14 with the fact he faces a Chargers team ranked 31st against the position and you just might have a sneaky good (albeit touchdown-dependent) play.
It would be understandable if the confidence in Michael Pittman Jr. had waned. After a rancid dud in the fantasy quarter-finals, it becomes hard to trust a guy who’s finished outside the top 24 in four of the last five weeks. But there were rays of optimism going into Week 16. For starters, Arizona was the perfect matchup to force Wentz into making Pittman a game-breaker. As the second toughest running back matchup and the twelfth easiest wider receiver matchup (per Fantasy Pros), the Cardinals would prove a decent challenge for Jonathan Taylor even after he ripped off a 43-yard run on the Colts’ first offensive play. And when Wentz was forced to throw, Pittman became the primary beneficiary (eight catches for 82 yards); he now boasts over 33 percent of the team’s air yards (the fifteenth largest share in the NFL among receivers with at least 50 targets).
Can Trevor Lawrence buck his three-game scoreless streak? Facing the Jets, you’d like to think so! After 14 games, only two quarterbacks have failed to score multiple touchdowns against them (Teddy Bridgewater and a wide receiver-less Ryan Tannehill). Lawrence’s inability to move the ball is already well-established, so much so that he averages just 2.8 passing attempts in the red zone per game. But against a porous Jets defense, you have to imagine that it’s now approaching do-or-die territory for the rookie. If you’re in a Superflex league, it could be the only time you could talk yourself into starting him.
Aside from A.J. Brown’s record-breaking antics which kick-started Week 16, the Titans have very little fantasy interest. Surely, no other receiver is getting a look in now that Brown has returned along with his swashbuckling highlight-reel plays? After all, he commanded an eye-watering 69 percent of the team’s receiving yards in Week 16, which (if it were to continue) severely waters down the rest of the offense’s fantasy relevance. Plus it was clear against the 49ers that their number two option, Julio Jones, was out there running decoys because he can’t shirk his nagging injury.
Perhaps the only other option as a spot start in case a team runs into COVID trouble is D’Onta Foreman. The 25-year old has established himself as the lead in a three-headed attack. Since Jeremy McNichols returned from injury, Foreman has out-snapped him and Dontrell Hilliard (52-49-42), out-touched them (33-16-20) and received more work in the red zone too (4-3-3).
Sadly it’s tough to include Tannehill in the honorable mentions. As the QB15 on the year and having been outside the top 12 four weeks in a row, streaming a quarterback is a better option at this vital stage.
Russell Gage has certainly taken a stranglehold of the WR1 role in Atlanta as Calvin Ridley’s leave of absence continues. Since his reception-less outing in Week 10, Gage has commanded a domineering lion’s share of the Falcon’s targets (29.1 percent); second-best is Kyle Pitts with 20.5 percent. Ultimately, his late-season purple patch has yielded finishes of WR35, WR14, WR8, WR47 and WR7. It’s certainly not bad for a former waiver wire pick-up and one that could win you a championship at that! After all, who isn’t starting the WR6 over the last five games against Detroit this week?
For those wondering how Cam Newton’s unprecedented homecoming would affect the fantasy sphere in Charlotte, well, it didn’t take long to establish. And unfortunately, the fantasy football fallout was pretty bleak for the most part.
Much to the chagrin of fantasy managers, Newton has picked up from where he left off at the end of his Pats tenure. He is still struggling to produce consistently in the passing game and has only thrown for multiple touchdowns twice in his 19 starts since the beginning of the 2020 season. Naturally, that greatly affects the upside of his pass-catchers, not to mention DJ Moore’s ability to post a monster game. Though in fairness, he has found a floor as a low WR2 in Newton’s starts. Ridiculously, Moore has recently posted three of his best weeks (WR22, WR23 and WR20) since Carolina’s fourth game of the season. Yep, that’s how bad Darnold was before him.
Meanwhile, given that running backs are in short supply (as tends to be the case at the business end of the season), Chuba Hubbard didn’t seem like a bad stretch run fantasy play by any means. However, Newton has pilfered away basically all of his upside in his first four starts, rendering Hubbard a desperation play at best. Averaging around 40 yards (nine carries) on the ground while scoring a rushing touchdown in every game so far, Cam continues to pose as a running back killer.
New Orleans Saints
With an untested fourth-choice rookie quarterback at the helm, the Saints are on the avoid-like-the-plague list. Of course, if you have Alvin Kamara and no other RB1-type studs on your roster, then you’re going to have to play him against Miami and hope that enough screen passes add up to save you in a PPR scoring format.
The only other play worth considering is the DST, which is tied for sixth on the season. Their statement shutout of the league’s most prolific offense last week certainly will encourage plenty to call upon their services in the fantasy playoffs. And after the Jets forced a sack, a fumble and two interceptions, including a pick-six against the Dolphins in Week 15, there could be plenty of merriment up for grabs for the Saints defense this Christmas.
Tip: Saints DST is a stronger play in a league that rewards more defensive points since Miami rank in the bottom 10 in that scoring format compared to 12th in standard DST scoring.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Antonio Brown’s return to the fold could easily be a league winner for many fantasy managers. His long absence from the Buccaneers’ offense helped produce two top-12 WR’s this year in Chris Godwin and Mike Evans who saw a huge uptick in production once Brown was sidelined with an ankle injury followed by his subsequent suspension.
With Brown out of the lineup, Evans improved by almost two fantasy points per game (15.5/game to 17.3/game). Meanwhile, Chris Godwin’s production rocketed further; without Brown, he averaged 19.9 fantasy points compared to 14.6 playing alongside him. All this to say, there are plenty of fantasy points to reap with the absence of Brady’s most trusted targets.
What’s more, Brown actually out-produced both Godwin and Evans when all three played together. His 18.8 points per game had him as the WR15 after six weeks of the season, which is all the more impressive when you consider that he only managed five games due to being on the reserve COVID list in Week 3.
Stay tuned for more Fantasy Football Fallout across the other divisions as the playoffs continue.
*Average scoring points were calculated using a .5 rounding system.
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