Hard as it is to believe, there’s only one week until the playoffs begin in the majority of fantasy leagues, and if you received a late-season boost this past holiday weekend, it’s likely that a huge day from a wide receiver helped get you there.
An old NFL adage insists that the ground games heat up as the weather grows colder, but it was the wideout crop that made the biggest impact in Week 12 as Julio Jones (at last), Antonio Brown, Robby Anderson, Keenan Allen, Marvin Jones Jr. and Jamison Crowder all scored 20 or more points in standard-scoring leagues and, of course, provided an even bigger boost in point-per-reception formats.
Meanwhile, only three running backs topped 100 rushing yards, and the list of starting-caliber fantasy backs who finished with five or fewer fantasy points this weekend included the likes of Mark Ingram, Jay Ajayi, Jordan Howard, Kareem Hunt, Alfred Morris, Doug Martin, Leonard Fournette and Ameer Abdullah.
In any case, though, there’s no shortage of statistics to sift through as we try to make sense of it all here in the late, late stretch run of the fantasy season. So let’s delve deeper into the significant stats, notable numbers and illuminating integers of the weekend and figure out what they mean for your Week 13 fantasy fortunes – and beyond.
Here goes …
Boffo Big Ben
Remember back in Week 5 when Ben Roethlisberger was all but written off in fantasy – and reality – following his five-interception disaster in a 30-9 home loss to the Jaguars?
That brutal outing came in the midst of a four-game stretch where Big Ben produced all of three touchdown passes and seven interceptions, and afterward, the 35-year-old QB could be found on far more waiver wires than in starting fantasy lineups.
However, those fantasy general managers who have kept the faith – or snatched him up off waivers as a wait-and-see sign-and-stash move – have been handsomely rewarded here in the late-season stretch run.
Ever since the Steelers trailed 10-3 at the half in their Week 10 game at Indianapolis, Roethlisberger has absolutely taken off, throwing for 819 yards and 10 TDs over the last 10 quarters in guiding Pittsburgh to 88 points and three straight wins.
Those 10 TD tosses have equaled his TD output from his previous 8.5 games (or 34 quarters) this season and easily have produced his top three fantasy outings of the season.
Sunday night’s showing against the Packers was the best yet with Big Ben throwing a quartet of TD passes for the second straight game while hitting or equaling season highs in completions (33), passing yards (351) and rushing yards (25).
Now, sure, there is nary a top-10 fantasy QB defense to be found among the Steelers’ last three foes (Colts, Titans and Packers), but there are some other “threes” to keep in mind here as in three (Browns, Patriots and Titans) of Pittsburgh’s final five foes rank among the 12 worst against fantasy QBs and three of the Steelers’ final five contests are at Heinz Field where Roethlisberger – for whatever reason – has always enjoyed far more productive aerial outings.
In the meantime, the Steelers’ once seemingly vastly improved defense has shown some definite cracks of late – most notably Sunday night in surrendering 28 points to the previously struggling Brett Hundley-led Packers offense – and Big Ben and the offense likely will be counted on even more heavily down the stretch which, of course, includes the fantasy playoffs.
So if you’re a Roethlisberger owner who’s been hampered by the recent late-season travails of Alex Smith, Dak Prescott or Marcus Mariota in you starting QB spot, make the late-season switch to Big Ben and ride the surge of fantasy points.
Big Apple’s best-kept secret
2017 has been a standings struggle for the league’s two New York – or, rather, New Jersey-based teams – with the Giants and Jets a combined 6-16 so far and bringing up the rear in the two East divisions.
But there is some fantasy gold to be found amid the rusted scraps – a fact that Robby Anderson owners cashed in on big time again Sunday with the second-year wide receiver’s six-catch, 146-yard, two-TD showing against the Panthers. All three figures set or matched career highs, and his 146 receiving yards marked only his second 100-yard game in two seasons.
The yardage, however, only tells a sliver of the story, as it’s Anderson’s TD production that’s the true eye-popping number here. Anderson has caught a scoring pass in each of his last five games – with six total during that span – and only DeAndre Hopkins (9), Antonio Brown (8) and Marvin Jones Jr. (8) have totaled more than Anderson’s seven on the season.
He leads the Jets in targets (74) and yards (714) while trailing team-receptions leader Jermaine Kearse (42) by one catch. He’s been on the receiving end of seven (41.1 percent) of Josh McCown’s 17 scoring tosses and his gaudy 17.4-yards-per-catch average topped all league players who had 40 or more receptions through Sunday.
Overall, Anderson ranks ninth among WRs in standard-scoring fantasy points and 14th in PPR formats.
So with the Jets allowing 23.4 points per game and forced to air it out week-in and week-out in order to keep pace on the scoreboard, plug the sizzling Anderson into one of your starting WR slots and don’t think twice about the Jets’ record.
Finally, a wideout has emerged in D.C.
Earlier this season in this space we covered the spread-the-wealth nature of Kirk Cousins’ aerial-game targets in the nation’s capital, but recently a clear No. 1 pass catcher has stepped forward with authority.
After pacing the Redskins with seven catches for 141 yards and a TD on 10 targets Thanksgiving night, previously disappointing WR Jamison Crowder now has led or tied for the team target lead in each of the last four games he’s played – he missed the team’s Week 9 contest in Seattle with a hamstring injury – and has accounted for a 29.2-percent team-target share and a full 50 percent of the Washington wide receiver targets during those four outings.
In that four-game stretch, Crowder has caught 27 of 42 targets for 412 yards and a TD. In his first six games of the season, Crowder only caught 19 of 30 targets for 149 yards and no TDs and was largely written off as a bust by those hoping he could follow up on his 67-847-7 season of a year ago.
Barring an end zone explosion over the last five weeks, Crowder isn’t going to match his TD total of a year ago, but his other numbers are well within reach and fantasy GMs need to take full advantage of the now-clear No. 1 target in one of the league’s most potent aerial attacks.
Don’t overlook ancillary weapons
Speaking of potent offensive attacks, the Eagles (31.9 points per game), Rams (29.9) and Patriots (29.5) are the league’s three highest-scoring teams entering December, and shrewd fantasy GMs should be exploring any and all fantasy options on these squads to get a piece of the ample production.
Sunday provided another case in point with L.A. rookie WR Cooper Kupp (19.6 PPR points), New England RB Rex Burkhead (19.3) and Philly WR Nelson Agholor (18.2) all continuing to provide sneaky-good fantasy production as more-or-less ancillary offensive options on their respective high-scoring teams.
So, in short, lean on team offensive production as a telling tiebreaker when making your toss-up starting lineup decisions.
- Whether it’s the dreaded rookie wall, injuries, a decline in usage or whatever, Jaguars first-year RB Leonard Fournette has picked a less-than-ideal time for a marked dip in production, which continued Sunday with a season-low 42 total yards – including 25 rushing on 12 carries – in a 27-24 loss to the Cardinals. Fournette scored a TD in each of his first six games, then missed two starts to injury and suspension and has since gone three straight without finding the end zone. Throw in the Jaguars’ Week 8 bye and it’s been it’s month-and-a-half since Fournette has produced a TD for his fantasy GMs. And, just perhaps, maybe the NFL hasn’t proved to be as “easy” as it seemed when the rookie made his infamous preseason proclamation in August.
- First-year Giants tight end Evan Engram also has hit the untimely rookie skids of late, catching only four of 13 targets for 27 yards and no TDs over his last two games. Dropped passes have been glaring, and by some measures, Engram now has nine drops on the season – trailing only Raiders WR Amari Cooper.
- Meanwhile, two veteran tight ends – the Seahawks’ Jimmy Graham and the Titans’ Delanie Walker – keep chugging right along, ranking fourth and fifth at their position (PPR scoring) after snaring TD passes Sunday. For Graham, it was his tight end-most eighth scoring grab of the season – all coming in last nine games – while Walker found the end zone for the first time all season and ranks fourth overall in TE receptions (53) and yards (613).
- With Burkhead and Dion Lewis grabbing bigger workloads in the Patriots’ backfield, the touches continue to dwindle for fellow RB James White, who had four Sunday and has nine total over the last two games. It’s been particularly glaring in the pass-catching department, as White has caught one pass for 2 yards in the last two contests after averaging 5.1 receptions per game over his first nine outings.
- The unproductive revolving QB carousel in Denver has taken its toll on previously reliable fantasy WRs Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, who caught eight of their 14 combined targets Sunday in Oakland for a grand total of 30 yards and no scores.