Fantasy Football Fallout: AFC and NFC North

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As the fantasy football season rolls into the championship weekend 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 North in the hope that it will push you over the top at the business end of the season.

AFC North and NFC North Fantasy Football Fallout

AFC North

Baltimore Ravens

With question marks at the quarterback position, the Ravens boast very few set-it-and-forget-it-type options. However, despite still being thought of as inconsistent, Marquise Brown is a reasonably safe play this week. Whether it’s with a hobbled Lamar Jackson or his stand-in, Tyler Huntley, Holywood is going to command a healthy chunk of the targets. Under Jackson, he has averaged almost 29 percent of the share in 2021 and the Ravens’ backup recently followed suit; Huntley has targeted Brown 21 times on 78 attempts (26.9 percent).

Yes, there are understandable reservations regarding his ceiling, but Brown can at least be rostered as a floor play. For although his last touchdown came back in Week 7, he is still the WR20 over this scoreless span. And there may even be scoring-upside for him against the Rams. The last time Brown played with Huntley in Week 15, he earned a team-high five red-zone targets.

Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals wide receiver corps is a smash play at the moment. With Joe Burrow entering beast-mode, he has now produced a top 10 wide receiver in five consecutive weeks. And while it may be difficult to sustain the three primary pass-catchers this week, the matchup is certainly favorable. Not only is Kansas an easy quarterback matchup (4th-most QB points allowed), but they will also keep up in scoring. As a result, Tee Higgins, Ja’Marr Chase, and Tyler Boyd are all playable options. And on the two occasions that Burrow has attempted over 40 passes in the last five weeks, all three wide receivers finished inside the top 24.

Cleveland Browns

It’s Nick Chubb or bust at this stage for any fantasy manager holding Browns players. Unfortunately, there’s very little dependable upside elsewhere on the roster. Sure Jarvis Landry has earned 27 targets in his last three games but his usage prevents much beyond 15 PPR points. Baker Mayfield favors his tight ends around the goal line and has looked Landry’s way only twice since Week 12. As for other options, the tight ends cannibalize each other’s effectiveness and Donovan Peoples-Jones is a no-go flyer. In the seven games both he and Landry have played together, Peoples-Jones has finished as a top 24 wide receiver just once.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Since his Week 8 bye, Pat Freiermuth has equaled TE1 Mark Andrews’ red zone efficiency. They have both hauled in nine catches on 14 targets for six touchdowns in eight games inside 20 yards. Overall, that leaves the rookie tight end boasting a team red-zone target share of 24.5 percent, which is second only to Diontae Johnson. Therefore, provided he clears the concussion protocol, Freiermuth is a decent play against a Browns defense that struggles to contain tight ends.

NFC North

Chicago Bears

Jimmy Graham’s appetite in the red zone is the main obstacle preventing Cole Kmet from reaching top-10 tight end status. Since returning from COVID protocol in Week 9, Graham leads the team in red-zone targets (seven) and has a 22.6 percent share of the looks inside 20 yards. Seemingly, the 35-year-old veteran, who has only commanded 17 total targets over the aforementioned span, is being deployed as an end zone specialist by the Bears; but had his three touchdowns gone to sophomore Kmet instead, the 22-year old would be cooking at a top-five TE pace since Week 9.

So, with his red-zone limitations established, is there any merit to slotting Kmet into your lineup if you are in need of a TE streamer? Well, he at least has been getting opportunities to accumulate yardage. For five straight weeks, Kmet has at least five targets per game. In fact, his total haul of 37 ranks fourth among all tight ends. Thus, outside of the top 10 options for Championship week, Kmet at least provides a fairly dependable floor without a touchdown, (similar to the likes of Tyler Higbee) which is more than can be said for a Gerald Everett or Austin Hooper-type.

Detroit Lions

Aside from D’Andre Swift, who is still the RB16 despite missing four and a half games due to injury, the only surefire play on the Lions is Amon-Ra St. Brown. The rookie wide receiver has continued to thrive in spite of a quarterback change as Tim Boyle managed to stay on script and hyper-targeted Brown, which was in keeping with a three-week status-quo. Remarkably, St. Brown’s 46 targets and 35 receptions since Week 12 are bested only by Cooper Kupp (51 targets and 40 receptions).

During this seismic purple patch, St. Brown has logged finishes of WR6, WR28, WR6, and the WR6 again. Last week he accounted for over 48 percent of the Lions’ yards through the air. Therefore, you can expect both him and Swift to be the focal point of the offense, which should, despite the tough matchup at the position against Seattle, provide an unparalleled floor.

Green Bay Packers

With the Packers facing off against a backup quarterback in the freezing cold, there is one obvious fantasy depth play. Having elevated himself beyond backup status this year, A.J. Dillon becomes a must-play during Championship weekend. The human fridge might just batter your fantasy opponent (and the Vikings) into oblivion and secure your title in the process.

Considering that he has out-touched teammate Aaron Jones 30-9 during their last five games together in the fourth quarter, he may be a sneaky Week 16 play. Especially since this game will likely be finished before the second half starts. That leaves plenty of time for fantasy point accumulation on the ground for the 1B option at running back. As a result, expect both Jones and Dillon to have a good outing against a below-average fantasy run defense.

Minnesota Vikings

While it is perhaps unwise to apply the previous performances of a backup quarterback as foolproof evidence of what can be expected from future outings, it at least informs fantasy managers on the likeliest range of outcomes for their Vikings studs. And with the news that journeyman, quarterback Sean Mannion is the starter for Minnesota’s Week 16 trip to Lambeau Field, expectations must be adjusted swiftly.

The last time Mannion played in 2019, he managed just 12 completions on 21 attempts. And seven of those completed passes went to the running back and tight end positions. In other words, Dalvin Cook may salvage his fantasy day in the receiving game but the waters are much murkier for Justin Jefferson. For unless Vikings offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak has Jefferson receiving behind the line of scrimmage a la Deebo Samuel, it’s unlikely he’ll be the championship winner many had forecast him to be. Still, with the talent he has, you have to play him and hope he rips off a big play. The best advice for playing Jefferson, though, would be to seek higher ceiling options in other areas of your lineup.

 

Stay tuned for more Fantasy Football Fallout across the other divisions as the playoffs continue.

*Fantasy Football Fallout Stats compiled using Fantasy ProsLineupsFTN Fantasy, and Fantasy Data.

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