Every week, at least one player becomes my fascination of whether he’s worthy of a fantasy football start or bench. The decision can be a mental wrestling match, but for the purpose of brevity, only one player can be chosen as the fantasy football gamble of the week.
The best fantasy football gamble for Week 14
Tracking my predictions: 6-7-0
Win: Player produces ≥ 75% of projected fantasy points
Loss: Player produces >75% of projected fantasy points
Tie: Player is ejected or leaves with an injury
Last week’s inclusion was Washington Football Team tight end Logan Thomas. For the second time in three weeks, the tight end I correctly picked left injured and is expected to miss the rest of the year. Maybe there is something to that “Bonini black cloud” idea after all….
RB Chuba Hubbard, Carolina Panthers vs. Atlanta Falcons
My first thought was to go with Minnesota Vikings wideout K.J. Osborn, but something came up that prevented me from getting this article out as early as I had hoped to give readers enough runway to factor him into their lineups ahead of the Thursday Night Football meeting with Pittsburgh.
Therefore, I pivoted to Hubbard, even though he may not seem like a huge gamble to many, there are several factors working against him.
- Carolina comes off its bye week with a new offensive coordinator after news broke of Joe Brady being fired during last Sunday’s slate of games. What can we expect on such a short turnaround?
- Then there’s the Cam Newton stealing TDs factor that always is a huge risk. I’d be remiss if the possibility of Cam getting benched again wasn’t mentioned as a slight fear.
- I’m not convinced running back Ameer Abdullah won’t see enough action from Hubbard to make him so one-dimensional that he is forced to find the end zone to live up to even being a fantasy flex play. That’s one fall-back option we have with versatile backs … no TD doesn’t automatically mean no bueno in a lineup.
The last time we saw Hubbard starting in place of Christian McCaffrey was Week 8 at this very opponent. The Falcons allowed the rookie to score 16.1 PPR points, which turned out to be the second-highest number of his young career. He ran 24 times for 82 yards and a TD, adding one catch on two targets for a nine-yard gain.
In the five weeks since, Atlanta has given up three performances of at least 20 PPR points, and all of those backs caught at least three passes, which I feel is a key metric to enable Hubbard to have a career day. That said, he still can be effective in fantasy without breaking personal records.
Of those five games, three other running backs managed to get into double figures, including a Mark Ingram, Tony Pollard and James Robinson — all doing so on as few as 14 touches.
Over the course of 2021, running backs have averaged 26.7 points per game in PPR, and that’s just 0.3 of a point away from making this the third-worst defense at stopping the position. We’ll have to settle with it being the sixth-biggest cupcake. Darn.
It hasn’t exactly been easy, though, as the position has averaged only 4.0 yards per carry and 93 yards a game on the ground. In the aerial game, running backs have balled out, going for 78 catches, 590 yards and a trio of scores to create a TD-per-game average on the season. Only five teams have permitted more receptions, on average, than the 6.5 allowed by Atlanta.
That’s the primary concern here is Abdullah catching five passes or so and effectively kneecapping the upside of Hubbard to whatever he can muster rushing. The veteran was targeted five times in to Hubbard’s two in Week 8, catching three for 35 yards.
It’s a risk I’m willing to take to see this Carolina Cat eat some Dirty Birds for lunch, and the top reason why — beyond all of the metrics — is head coach Matt Rhule wanting to improve upon the team’s lack of rushing the ball. A dozen teams have run at a higher ratio of plays in relation to pass attempts, and I’m willing to buy into that coach-speak thanks to this matchup. Also, it doesn’t hurt Carolina is coming off a bye week, nor can it be a harmful playing at home.
With all of that established, Hubbard will be the first back to break the century mark against Atlanta in 2021, and he’ll find himself celebrating in the end zone along the way.
My projection: 103 rushing yards, 1 TD, 3 catches, 21 yards (21.4 PPR points)