After a truly mesmerizing display on Monday Night Football, the offensive juggernauts in Los Angeles and Kansas City are on a bye this week. If you haven’t had a chance to look at the highlights, I suggest you get on that immediately. Within these highlights, you’ll see where the NFL, and by proxy fantasy football, very well could be headed as the college spread concepts merge with both the West Coast and Air Coryell systems. When the season is over, I’ll take an in depth look into how said future, a future of points and distributed wealth, might impact the formation of fantasy rosters. But for now, let’s look at where points can be found in Week 12 with a couple of the biggest names on bye.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Buffalo Bills
Key Players: Leonard Fournette, Zay Jones, LeSean McCoy
It seems likely the Jaguars season is over. After dominating Pittsburgh for 3 quarters, they were unable to run out the clock and suddenly find themselves sitting at 3-7, effectively out of the playoff hunt a year after a near upset in the AFC Championship Game. A loss like this has a tendency to completely demoralize a team. If this is the case, then it has serious fantasy implications. For all the struggles on offense, Jacksonville still has one of the better defenses in the NFL, so long as they are focused they can hang in games. Assuming they are demoralized, we can also assume the defense will not be as focused. So, opposing offenses may produce points they would otherwise be unable to produce when facing Jacksonville’s defense. More on that below. The other major implication revealed against the Steelers was the complete lack of faith in Blake Bortles displayed by the Jacksonville coaching staff. They called 43 running plays compared to 18 passing plays, with the passing plays called being decidedly conservative. One of the reasons they were able to shock Pittsburgh in the playoffs last season was their ability to employ play action passing on early downs. They did not do the same in Week 11. Instead, they relied on their defense and Leonard Fournette (28 carries for 95 yards and 1 touchdown). This means Fournette, so long as he’s healthy, will be the only viable fantasy option in Jacksonville as the 2018 season comes to a close.
Returning to the Jaguar defense, this week is a great test of their resolve heading down the stretch. For the first time in weeks, the Bills showed some signs of life on offense against the Jets in Week 11. Now we can see if they can carry the momentum into Week 12 and if Jacksonville will play like the Jacksonville defense we’re used to seeing. Against the Jets, Matt Barkley finished 15 of 25 for 232 yards and 2 touchdowns. While these are not huge fantasy numbers, they are the best seen in Buffalo in weeks. With moderate competency under center, LeSean McCoy finally looked like LeSean McCoy, to the tune of 26 carries for 113 yards and 2 touchdowns. Reviewing the highlights, it was vintage McCoy. He had time to read the defense and makes his jump-cuts. The Jets were unable to load the box and contain he cut-backs because they had to respect Barkley’s ability to throw the ball, perfectly exemplified by this throw to Zay Jones. Jones is another player to watch, having hauled in 8 receptions for 93 yards and 1 touchdown. Josh Allen looks slated to return, but their last game may have helped open up the passing game for this team. As teams on their way to the playoffs start to rest their players, teams like Buffalo are the perfect place to start looking for waiver-wire help, making this Week 12 match-up one to watch closely.
Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals
Key Players: Nick Chubb, Duke Johnson, Baker Mayfield, A.J. Green
As I watched the Browns unlikely win against the Falcons in Week 10, I found one thought ruminating in my mind: this is the offense the Browns’ should have been running all season. With Carlos Hyde in Jacksonville, Nick Chubb has shown why the Browns were so dead-set on grabbing him in the 2018 Draft. Last week Chubb rushed for 176 yards on 20 carries, scoring 1 touchdown on the ground and adding another through the air. Chubb reminds me of Le’Veon Bell with his patience as he comes to the line and then the burst of speed and power when he finds the hole. How Todd Haley never realized this is beyond me, but at least Freddie Kitchens (a future NFL head coach?) has seen it and is using it. Having seen what the Saints and Ravens accomplished in their running games against a reeling Bengal defense, I expect Chubb to post big numbers. His backfield partner Duke Johnson scored another touchdown in Week 10 through the air, showing Kitchens’ also understands how best to use his best receiving option. Both backs are solid waiver-wire pick-ups since the Browns still lack a deep option on the outside. The passing game must flow through the backs until they hopefully draft a big time receiver in the 2019 Draft. While I am sold on Baker Mayfield as the Browns’ franchise quarterback (words cannot express how grateful I am for that), I’m not sure he’s a fantasy starter just yet. Against the Falcons he completed 17 of 20 passes for 216 yards and 3 touchdowns. Chubb’s power and the glaring lack of a deep option in the receiving corp probably mean Mayfield will not put up huge numbers down the stretch. 17 for 20, however, is not something to overlook.
Former Browns’ coach Hue Jackson has been hired by the Bengals. Usually I would say this is a reason to worry about Browns’ players this week as their former coach is now working for the opposing defense. In this case, I’m not as worried. The whole reason Jackson is back with the Bengals is because he didn’t know how best to use the Browns offensive weapons. As for the Bengal offense, it has become painfully clear that without A.J. Green, their other options are not as dangerous. If he plays, Joe Mixon and Tyler Boyd are legit fantasy starters. If he sits again, they may not be.
New England Patriots at New York Jets
Key Players: Sony Michel, Julian Edelman, Josh Gordon, James White
The Patriots are all the more dangerous when they’re coming off an ugly loss and facing an inferior opponent. Losing 34-10 to a team who hadn’t scored above 30 all season and being held under 300 yards for only the second time all year is about as ugly as it gets. On a side note, the only other game where the Patriots were held under 300 total yards this season was Week 3 against the Lions. Meaning the two times it’s happened it has come against former Patriots Matt Patricia and Mike Vrabel. I’m not sure if there’s anything to that, but it’s a trend to watch. Anyway back to Week 12, I’m curious to see what the Patriot offense is going to provide down the stretch. At 7-3 it doesn’t seem likely they’ll rest players in the closing weeks. Pittsburgh and Houston have similar records and the Patriots will want to ride home-field advantage if they can. Sony Michel says he feels better coming off his injury now that he’s seen game action, then got a bye week. Look for him to return to the back we saw before his injury. As I’m writing this, it’s 10 degrees outside, so it’s fair to assume winter has come to New England. His ability to run between the tackles, draw out drives, and carry the offense in the bitter cold will be needed in the 3 remaining home games (plus the Week 15 game at Pittsburgh). So, Michel is a solid play this week and going forward. What remains to be seen is how his return will impact James White, Julian Edelman, and Josh Gordon. All have had dominant moments in the passing game, but until we see what Josh McDaniels cooked up over the bye week, we can’t be sure how it will all come together from a fantasy perspective. Rumor has it even Gronk will make an appearance for the first time since Week 8. Though we know the Patriots will always have a great offense, we simply have not seen all the weapons on the field for New England long enough to project where the fantasy points will come from.
For the Jets everything revolves around who will at quarterback this week. The latest news has Josh McCown starting over Sam Darnold. Unless McCown knows a secret about the Patriots, it doesn’t seem like the Jets are a very good place to look for fantasy football points in Week 12.
New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles
Key Players: Saquon Barkley, Odell Beckham Jr., Josh Adams, Carson Wentz
After it looked like Eli Manning’s career was over in New York, he’s emerged from the bye week much improved. The Giants have won both games after the break, are averaging 32.5 points per game, and last week he completed 17 of his 18 passing attempts. Yes, these wins came against the 49ers and Bucs, I get that, but at this point, competency is a huge step in the right direction. Saquon Barkley continues to prove those who questioned taking a running back with Sam Darnold still on the board (voices who grew louder during Eli’s struggles) wrong. He carved the Bucs apart to the tune of 27 carries for 142 yards and 2 rushing touchdowns, plus another receiving touchdown. Seeing as the Eagles allowed 171 rushing yards against the Cowboys in Week 10 and 173 yards against the Saints, it appears Barkley is a solid play again this week. The other reliable source of fantasy points in New York is Odell Beckham Jr. who is coming off a 4 reception, 74 yard and 1 touchdown Week 11. The Giants offensive line is still shaky, but Barkley neutralizes some of the damage, as exemplified by Beckham’s longest receptions coming off of play-action passes. So long as Barkley is on the field, he and Beckham are solid fantasy plays.
Then there’s the Eagles. As I said last week, I don’t know what to make of the Eagles. Their Week 11 performance against the Saints did little to quell my concerns nor did it offer any clarity on what comes next. Josh Adams only had 7 carries for 53 yards and 1 touchdown. As the Saints poured on the points, it’s perfectly understandable the Eagles moved away from the run. I’d like to see what Adams does this week as though the Giants have made improvements, they are not an explosive offense. With a bit more breathing room, I assume Doug Pederson finds Adams a few more carries. Watching the highlights, I feel like he has to. The other backs in Philly can do some nice things, but only Adams is both an ideal fit for their scheme and a complete back. More carries for Adams should drastically improve Carson Wentz’s efficiency. With the Eagle offense desperate to pass their way back into the game in Week 11, Wentz struggled mightily, finishing with a mere 156 passing yards, 0 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions.
San Francisco 49ers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Key Players: Anyone, but also no one?
Here’s my first game where I have little to say. Not because both teams are a barren waste of fantasy talent, quite the opposite. The problem with both the 49ers and Bucs is that from week to week it is almost impossible to calibrate who is solid play and who is not. The 49ers are on their third quarterback, who had flown under the radar until he exploded against the Raiders, and the Bucs keep switching from Fitzpatrick to Winston. Matt Breida looks like a fantasy stud one week, then is a forgotten man the next. The Bucs’ receiving corp is loaded with weapons, but their stats fluctuate as much as their quarterback. Hence the ludicrously vague sub-title to this section.
Seattle Seahawks at Carolina Panthers
Key Players: Chris Carson, Tyler Lockett, Christian McCaffrey, D.J. Moore
As I’ve said week after week, the Seahawks are one of the most balanced offenses in the NFL, making them tough to analyze from a fantasy perspective. In a search for fantasy points, the most consistent options this season have been Chris Carson and Tyler Lockett. In their Thursday night win over the Packers, Carson carried the ball 17 times for 83 yards and 1 touchdown. In 2018 overall, he’s dealt with injuries and the need to share the ball with two other backs. When he is on the field, he’s averaging 4.5 yards per carry and has three 100 yard games. If you’re comfortable with a player who has consistent numbers to offset his inconsistent playing time, then Carson is a good third back to carry on your bench. As for the Seattle receiving corp, Tyler Lockett leads the team with 38 receptions and 7 receiving touchdowns. Like Carson, he’s a reliable back-up as he hasn’t had more than 5 receptions in any game this season. However, he does average 14.6 yards per reception and has scored in 7 of their 10 games.
D.J. Moore is the first non-Christian McCaffrey Panther player I’ve written about in a few weeks. In Week 11 he posted 7 receptions for 157 yards and 1 impressive touchdown. This is right around the time one would assume a first round pick would start to learn the nuances of the NFL, so Moore appears to be on schedule. Though he has only 30 receptions thus far, he has seen only 39 targets, giving him a catch percentage of 76.9. Not bad for a 21 year old rookie on a competing team. The Panthers have waited for someone to step-up in their receiving corp and give them reliable productivity, making Moore a player to watch. Against the Lions in Week 11, McCafrey only carried the ball 13 times, yet still managed to finish with over 100 total yards. Look for more of the same from him in Week 12 against a Seattle defense that allowed 160 rushing yards against the Chargers in Week 9 and 149 rushing yards against the Rams in Week 10.
Oakland Raiders at Baltimore Ravens
Key Players: Gus Edwards, Joe Flacco, Lamar Jackson
I feel bad for the Bay Area. After expressing uncertainty with 49ers, I must do the same with the Raiders. I’ve always liked John Gruden and have decided he must have a plan. A plan that involves tanking, clearly, but a plan nonetheless. Unfortunately, this plan doesn’t appear to provide any fantasy help until 2019, so we’ll check back in with them then. As for the Ravens, everything hinges on who plays quarterback in Week 12. This, of course, usually dictates fantasy expectations. However, it all the more prevalent with the Ravens as there perhaps are no two quarterbacks more different than Joe Flacco and Lamar Jackson. Gus Edwards is a potential sleeper regardless of who plays quarterback this week. His 17 carries for 115 yards and 1 touchdown in Week 11 will make him hard to remove from the starting line-up. Especially because he can run the single back, zone plays required to play wit Flacco and the shotgun options required to play with Jackson.
Arizona Cardinals at Los Angeles Chargers
Key Players: Melvin Gordon, Keenan Allen, Antonio Gates
David Johnson has improved over the past few weeks. Unfortunately for Johnson and Cardinals, they have to travel to Los Angeles and face a Charger team seething over last second loss in Week 11. Though the Chargers have allowed over 100 rushing yards in 7 of the 10 games in 2018, I expect the offense to come out firing and the defense to load the box to force Josh Rosen to beat them.
The Charger offense put up 479 yards against the Broncos, but only managed to score 22 points. Melvin Gordon rushed for 69 yards on 18 carries, adding 6 receptions for 87 yards. He’ll be facing a Cardinal defense that has allowed over 100 yards rushing in every game except one in 2018. Even the one game where they held an opponent to under 100 rushing yards, they allowed 90 to the Rams and lost 34-0. So, yeah, odds are Gordon will rush for over 100 yards this week. In the passing game, Keenan Allen had 9 receptions for 89 yards and 1 touchdown in Week 11. This gives him touchdowns in consecutive weeks after going 7 weeks without a touchdown. The other Charger receiving touchdown came from the ageless Antonio Gates, who finished with 5 receptions for 80 yards and said touchdown. This was only his second touchdown of the year and his 5 receptions were more than he had in the past 4 weeks combined. I don’t know if it was an aberration or not, it would not be out of the question for the Chargers to look his way a bit more since they have struggled to put up points of late.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver Broncos
Key Players: James Conner, Antonio Brown, Juju Smith-Schuster, Phillip Lindsay, Royce Freeman
With James Conner held in check, the Pittsburgh passing game, lead as always by Brown and Smith-Schuster, fueled an improbable comeback against the Jaguars. Facing a tough Denver pass rush, I’d imagine the script will be flipped in Week 12. Even if he doesn’t wrack up the yards on the ground, Pittsburgh has long punished blitzing defenses with well-timed screen passes, a strategy dependent on Conner. Look for the Steelers to establish Conner early, get Brown and Smith-Schuster going in the quick passing game, and then look to hit the Broncos vertically when they start to cheat up. This will make all three players must starts in fantasy football for Week 12.
Pittsburgh comes to Denver with a dynamic pass rush of their own. Since the Broncos do not have the depth the Steelers do on the outside, their offense will once more flow through Lindsay and Freeman. Both scored touchdowns last week against the Chargers, giving each 5 thus far in 2018. The Denver passing game continues to be average, though it is worth noting in the two games before Demaryius Thomas was traded, Case Keenum completed 65% of his passes, in the two games since, he’s down to 60.5%. Combining this trend with the Steeler pass rush, it’s clear that barring an aberration or sudden emergence of Courtland Sutton, the Denver running backs remain the only stable fantasy options.
Miami Dolphins at Indianapolis Colts
Key Players: Frank Gore, Andrew Luck, T.Y. Hilton
As you may have guessed from the cover photo, I have a feeling Andrew Luck is Andrew Luck again. It’s no coincidence that at the start of the Week 11 highlights, they mention it’s the 5th consecutive game the Colt offense has played together. Years down the line, I wonder if Quenton Nelson will be viewed as the most important pick of the 2018 draft. Since his arrival the Colts line has gone from their biggest flaw to a catalyst for their offensive revival. With a healthy, confident Luck at the helm the Colts moved to 5-5, tied the Titans for second place in the AFC South, and stopped any momentum the Titans had after their upset win against the Patriots. Luck completed 23 of his 29 passing attempts for 297 yards and 3 touchdowns. Finally liberated from horrendous offensive line play, and the resulting onslaught of pass rushers, Luck has his confidence back. He’s also re-established his rapport with T.Y. Hilton, who finished last week with 9 receptions for 155 yards and 2 touchdowns. Look for more good things coming out of Indy as the 2018 season comes to a close.
The Dolphins will have Ryan Tannehill back in Week 12. This makes it hard to project what to expect from the Dolphin offense. Kenyan Drake was viewed as a fantasy stud entering 2018, he now finds himself an afterthought. Frank Gore has seen a majority of the carries (117 compared to 81). Last week he had 90 yards on only 13 carries. Unfortunately for anyone considering adding Gore, or anyone who has been playing him, he has yet to score a touchdown this season. Perhaps the Dolphins can find some late season magic, until that happens, there are few fantasy points to be found in South Beach.
Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings
Key Players: Davante Adams, Aaron Jones, Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen
The Packers emerged from their Week 7 bye week looking to find some rhythm on offense. Instead they have lost 3 of 4 games and have been remained bogged down in inconsistency. Davante Adams has been the only consistent sources of points thus far. Against Seattle in Week 11, he continued his torrid 2018 with 10 receptions for 166 yards. This gives him over 100 yards receiving in 4 of his last 6 games. Even the games in 2018 where he hasn’t had 100 receiving yards, he’s picked up points with 7 or more receptions and touchdowns. Outside of Adams, the points in Green Bay have been pretty hit or miss. I keep waiting for Aaron Jones to get more carries. In Week 11 he posted 40 rushing yards on 11 carries with 1 touchdown, adding 5 receptions for 63 yards and another touchdown. At a certain point, doesn’t Mike McCarthy have to give him 20 carries? I know he’s never been one to run the ball, but come on. Two weeks ago Jones had 145 yards on 15 carries against the Dolphins. Aaron Rodger’s knee is still bothering him and while his numbers remaining superhuman (19 touchdowns compared to 1 interception), he really could use more help. McCarthy has been one of the best coaches of the past decade, yet his refusal to change the way he calls games could end in his termination at the culmination of the 2018 season.
A week after wondering which Viking running back would take advantage of their renewed success on the ground, I sit here once more wary of either back. On Monday Night against the Bears, the Vikings only managed 20 yards on the ground. 20. They were once more carried by Stefon Diggs (13 receptions for 126 yards and 1 touchdown) and Adam Thielen (7 receptions for 66 yards). Either Viking back could be added as an insurance policy, for now, however, the only reliable fantasy points in Minnesota are coming from the Viking receivers.
Tennessee Titans at Houston Texans
Key Players: Keke Coutee, DeAndre Hopkins, D’Onta Foreman
Now we arrive at the last game of Week 12 and, ironically, the last game where I have little to say. After it looked like they turned a corner against the Patriots a couple weeks ago, the Titans reach Week 12 haunted by the same demons that have plagued them all of 2018. It’s not clear who will play quarterback this week and they’ll be going up against one of the best scoring defenses in fantasy football. It doesn’t appear this will end well. As for the Texans, the receiving corp remains the best source of points. Even though Lamar Miller has shown signs of life 3 of the past 4 weeks, D’Onta Foreman is finally ready to make his 2018 debut. Though they proved to be a solid duo last year, it’s not clear how this will work in 2018, making this a must watch game for anyone with running back depth concerns.