Nobody has a more stacked lineup of fantasy analysts and NFL team reporters than ESPN. It’s the rare backfield by committee that is actually a good thing for fantasy managers. Every Tuesday, we’ll ask our NFL Nation reporters a series of burning questions to help inform your waiver-wire pickups and roster decisions.
So much for those Week 13 QB rankings. The actual scoring leaders at quarterback on Sunday looked like they had been shaken out of a snow globe.
Among the biggest surprises: Baker Mayfield (29.46 points) and Matthew Stafford (26.08) landed in the top five in ESPN standard scoring, despite being ranked outside the top 20 in analysts’ projections. Meanwhile, Derek Carr (31.74) and Cam Newton (23.56) both bounced back in a huge way after they flopped a week earlier with less than four points each.
But can these inconsistent quarterbacks sustain this? Can you actually trust them in the fantasy playoffs? As always, ESPN’s team reporters have you covered.
Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield has six touchdowns and no interceptions over his past two games. AP Photo/Wade Payne
Browns reporter Jake Trotter suggested that Mayfield might indeed be worth grabbing for your playoff run now that he is “regaining the scintillating passing touch he showed as a rookie.” Especially considering that he will play at the New York Giants in Week 15 (18th-ranked pass defense) and at the New York Jets (31st) in Week 16 after hosting the Baltimore Ravens in Week 14.
Mayfield threw for a season-high 334 yards with four first-half touchdown passes in Sunday’s 41-35 win at Tennessee. He is now the only QB in the NFL to throw four TD passes in a half this season — and he has done it twice (also in the second half at Cincinnati in Week 7).
Sure, Mayfield’s good days have been unpredictable. But it’s worth noting two things that Trotter has shared in this column in previous weeks. While endorsing wide receiver Jarvis Landry last week, Trotter explained that Cleveland’s entire passing offense suffered from Weeks 8 to 11 because it kept playing in awful weather conditions. When you remove that stretch, Mayfield has performed very well in every other game since Odell Beckham Jr. was lost to a torn ACL in Week 7.
Also, Trotter pointed out after Week 7’s bonanza that Mayfield’s fantasy value wouldn’t be hurt as much by Beckham’s injury as people might expect — because Mayfield tried to force the ball to his elite playmaker at times. They actually had the lowest completion percentage of any duo in the NFL.
Here’s how the postseason bracket looks at the moment and what scenarios lie ahead.
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Lions reporter Michael Rothstein gave an even stronger endorsement to Stafford after he threw for 402 yards with three TDs and one interception in former offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell’s debut as Detroit’s interim head coach.
“It’s safe to start him once again,” said Rothstein, who said Stafford looked more like his 2019 form during the come-from-behind win at Chicago. “Bevell’s offense took more downfield shots and was more aggressive. Stafford can be counted on as a QB 1/high QB 2 in almost any league.”
Although Bevell was already calling the Lions’ plays under recently fired head coach Matt Patricia, Rothstein said that Bevell’s goal was “essentially to just let Stafford play.”
“That’s why Stafford looked much more like the quarterback we saw in Bevell’s offense in 2019 — willing to take shots downfield, OK with a bit more risk and generally more comfortable than he looked at any point during the 2020 season,” Rothstein said. “It’s definitely a different offensive mindset and approach, without a doubt.”
The model of inconsistency, Carr now has six games with more than 19 fantasy points this season — and six games with less than 16. Raiders reporter Paul Gutierrez said that makes some sense, considering Carr “has shown that he can win games via the dink-and-dunk West Coast offense, handing off to a ground-it-out run game and by letting it fly against defenses that play zero coverage in Hail Mary-type situations.”
That last line was, of course, a nod to Carr’s game-winning, 46-yard TD pass that led to Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams being fired — and turned Carr’s up-and-down outing into a monster fantasy performance (381 passing yards, three passing TDs, one interception, one rushing TD).
Carr might not be your best bet for consistent production. However, Gutierrez does believe that he “will have to engineer some shootout-type affairs down the stretch to keep the Raiders’ playoff hopes alive.” And he expects Carr to keep feeding Darren Waller after the tight end’s “epic performance” versus the Jets with 13 catches for 200 yards and two TDs.
For the second week in a row, the Patriots won a game despite Newton throwing for less than 100 yards. But Newton ran the ball 14 times for 48 yards and two TDs — and Patriots reporter Mike Reiss said that’s why he expects Newton to remain a fantasy asset as the 6-6 Patriots “are playing for their playoff life.”
Field Yates marvels over Cam Newton’s performance in a 45-0 shutout of the Chargers in Week 13.
Newton’s 12 rushing attempts in the first half of Sunday’s 45-0 rout at the Los Angeles Chargers were the most of any half of his career, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
“They can’t afford to lose another game. So what this game told us is they are going to hold nothing back when it comes to Newton as a rusher. They are gonna run him as much as they have to,” Reiss said. However, he did point out that you’d be taking a risk relying on those “goal-to-go scores.”
“Because there are still significant questions if they can consistently be productive in the passing game,” Reiss said. “Also consider the strength of the next two opponents — the Rams and Dolphins. Pretty good defenses there.”
Now for the rest of our weekly tour around the league:
As Bears reporter Jeff Dickerson said, “There is always reason to proceed with caution when it comes to the Bears’ offense.” And he has been “burned before” with high expectations for Montgomery. But Dickerson said he thinks it is actually OK to trust Montgomery in fantasy playoff lineups after his two best performances of the season over the past two weeks (143 yards from scrimmage and a receiving TD in Week 12, 111 yards from scrimmage and two rushing TDs in Week 13).
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Two of Montgomery’s next three opponents (vs. Houston in Week 14, at Jacksonville in Week 16) rank among the five teams allowing the most fantasy points to running backs this year.
“He ran with a clear sense of purpose versus Detroit on Sunday and had a 100-yard game that horrible loss the week before at Green Bay,” Dickerson said. “Just don’t come after me if it doesn’t work out. These are the Bears, after all!”
Meanwhile, it looks like the rookie Kmet might have supplanted veteran Jimmy Graham as the Bears’ tight end to take a flier on in deep leagues. Kmet, who came into Sunday with just eight career receptions, caught five passes for 37 yards and a TD while Graham had zero catches.
“I held out hope that Graham might have one good fantasy day left in him versus the Lions, but that went up in smoke,” Dickerson said. “The Bears have moved on to Kmet, and they targeted him seven times in Week 13. For those fantasy managers desperate at tight end, Kmet is a good late pickup because the Bears intend to use him — after ignoring him much of the year — over the final four weeks.”
Patrick has soared past fellow wide receiver Jeudy in fantasy points over the past three weeks. In the two games during which they played with actual quarterbacks, Patrick has nine catches for 163 yards and two TDs, while Jeudy has just four catches for 42 yards.
However, Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold pointed out that both wideouts saw four targets in this past game. And he said Jeudy’s diminished production has more to do with him being limited by ankle and shoulder injuries in recent weeks. Legwold said he wouldn’t be surprised to see the rookie first-round draft pick more involved as he gets healthier.
“Patrick may be a safer bet, just slightly, in the weeks ahead because he is playing better than ever, for one. And when the Broncos run the ball a lot, he’s going to get more of the snaps in those personnel groupings because he is such a physical player,” Legwold said. “But Drew Lock always looks to Jeudy, so Jeudy’s lack of targets against the Chiefs was more a physical issue. When he feels better, things will move back and forth between them — and wide receiver KJ Hamler’s targets have steadily increased, as well.”
Field Yates and Stephania Bell agree that despite Brandin Cooks’ history of concussions, the fact that he was cleared to return vs. the Raiders should mean he will be available in Week 14.
Coutee will likely be the hottest waiver wire pickup in fantasy this week after the third-year wide receiver caught eight passes for 141 yards in the wake of Will Fuller V’s season-ending suspension. Texans reporter Sarah Barshop said Coutee should be worth it.
“Coutee is going to continue to get targets for the next four games. Houston is a pass-first offense, even with David Johnson back from injured reserve. And without Fuller, Deshaun Watson needs someone to throw to,” Barshop said. “Coutee had two big games in 2018, his rookie season, but had fallen out of favor with former head coach Bill O’Brien and was a healthy scratch for most of the 2019 season.”
As for journeyman wideout Hansen, who had five catches for 101 yards in his first NFL game action since 2017, it’s harder to expect a repeat performance.
“Hansen had a strong training camp for the Texans, but his inclusion ahead of fifth-round rookie Isaiah Coulter was a surprise,” Barshop said. “I’m not sure he will be getting 100 receiving yards every week, but there’s clearly a trust between him and Watson that has been developed on the practice field.
“Expect Brandin Cooks and Coutee to garner the majority of targets, with Hansen operating alongside them in three-receiver sets, at least until Randall Cobb potentially returns.”
Don’t be alarmed that veteran backup Alfred Morris vultured two touchdowns away from Gallman on Sunday. Giants reporter Jordan Raanan said Gallman is “a must-start RB1 at this point in fantasy.”
“There is no way around it,” Raanan said of Gallman. “He’s had at least 15 touches in four straight games, and the Giants are committed to the run, no matter the opponent. Gallman is coming off a career-high 135 yards rushing Sunday in Seattle, and the TDs were only vultured by Morris because on both occasions he needed a breather after long runs. Gallman still out-snapped Morris 27-11 versus the Seahawks, and he has 13 red zone carries as compared to Morris’ four during this stretch. There should be no hesitation in getting Gallman in your lineup each and every week.”
Stephania Bell and Field Yates discuss the concussion Frank Gore sustained vs. the Raiders and the fantasy impact that has on La’Mical Perine and Ty Johnson.
The second-year running back should also be a popular waiver-wire pickup after he ran for 104 yards and a TD on 22 carries on Sunday, as a result of Frank Gore’s early departure with a concussion.
Jets reporter Rich Cimini said he expects Johnson to get another crack as the leading man next week if Gore can’t return from the concussion. However, Cimini did caution that Johnson will likely split time with third-year RB Josh Adams, who gained 74 yards of his own on eight carries on Sunday.
“I give a slight edge to Johnson in terms of bigger workload, but it could depend on game plan and opponent. For now, I’d say Johnson will be 1A and Adams 1B,” said Cimini, who pointed out that Gore could eventually return to the mix, as well, since head coach Adam Gase has always leaned on Gore so much.