Quarterback play that was both surprising and disappointing grabbed the fantasy headlines in Week 13. Marcus Mariota had Week 13 off, but there’s reason for his fantasy owners to worry. In addition, can a certain running back who plays in the NFC West be a fantasy factor in the playoffs? FantasySharks.com senior writer Matt Wilson answers those questions and sifts through the fantasy aftermath of Week 13 in his latest version of Traps & Trends. In case you’re wondering, no, Matt won’t talk about a certain quarterback who plays for the San Francisco 49ers that wrecked a lot of playoff runs because he seemed unhappy about doing his job outside in the snow.
1.THE NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS’ FOUR-TIME SUPER BOWL WINNING QUARTERBACK SHOULD DO JUST FINE IN THE FANTASY PLAYOFFS WITHOUT FAVORITE TARGET ROB GRONKOWSKI, RIGHT?
The Dude: Tom Brady
The Damage: Heading into Week 13, Brady had tossed multiple touchdown passes in every game played with favorite target Rob Gronkowski (back surgery) so far this season. The New England Patriots triggerman also threw multiple scoring strikes in the one full contest played without the services of his stud tight end (versus the inept San Francisco 49ers defense in Week 11). In Week 13 versus a porous Los Angeles Rams secondary, Brady, operating without the services of Gronkowski, attempted 46 passes but threw for just 269 yards and one touchdown. We all know that Brady’s production always takes a hit when Gronkowski is out of the lineup. Should we expect this level of production from Brady for the duration of the fantasy playoffs?
The Diagnosis: TREND
Yes. Life without Gronk won’t be easy for Brady going forward. Granted, the Patriots will do their best to compensate for the loss of Gronkowski by expanding the roles of their pass catchers, but there are issues with Brady’s supporting cast behind Julian Edelman. Even though James White and Dion Lewis will see more work, they’ve both lacked consistency. Danny Amendola (ankle) is injured. Martellus Bennett, the presumed replacement for Gronkowski, is also banged up and has become a boom-or-bust option. Malcolm Mitchell has earned weekly No. 3 fantasy wideout consideration, but rookie wideouts aren’t always reliable. Chris Hogan is a hit-or-miss No. 4 fantasy wideout. Brady’s next two matchups are toughies. He gets to face a vastly improved Baltimore Ravens defense at home (Week 14), and Brady will travel to face the elite Denver Broncos secondary (Week 15). Brady owners should consider him a fantasy QB1/QB2 for the next two weeks.
2. IT WAS THE NEW ORLEANS SAINTS’ FUTURE HALL OF FAME QUARTERBACK PLAYING AT THE SUPERDOME VERSUS A LEAKY DETROIT LIONS SECONDARY. WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG?
The Dude: Drew Brees
The Damage: Coming into Week 13, the Saints’ triggerman had thrown for an average of 357 yards and 3.2 touchdowns per contest. With fantasy playoffs on the line for a lot of his owners, Brees picked the worst time to log his first game without a touchdown pass at the Superdome since Week 4 of the 2009 season – that was 60 games ago – throwing for 326 yards and three picks during an ugly 28-13 loss to the Detroit Lions. A decision to bench Brees for Week 14 would be a major overreaction, right?
The Diagnosis: TRAP
Of course it would. The elite passer propelled your fantasy team this far, and you’re smart enough not to give up on him so easily. I suspect the entire New Orleans Saints team had a letdown after dropping 49 points on their former defensive coordinator, Gregg Robinson, (the “Bountygate” guy) during an emotional win against his Los Angeles Rams unit last week. However, I’m a little worried about some things concerning Brees. During the Lions game, his deep passes looked wobbly to me. He could playing through an injury, but we’ll have to wait and see whether Brees appears on the injury report.
His schedule also doesn’t look like smooth sailing during the next two weeks with road contests against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Week 14) and the Arizona Cardinals (Week 15). Brees hasn’t been as productive on the road, averaging just 289 passing yards and 2.2 touchdown tosses per outing. The Tampa Bay defense isn’t a world beater, but the Buccaneers have played tougher at home in recent weeks. In case you missed it, the Cardinals did a nice job of containing the visiting Kirk Cousins this past Sunday. Brees should be fine, but don’t go overboard with your expectations in the fantasy playoffs.
3. CAN WE COUNT ON THE SAN DIEGO CHARGERS’ AERIAL ATTACK TO RACK UP THE POINTS IN A STRETCH OF THREE VERY FAVORABLE MATCHUPS DURING THE FANTASY PLAYOFFS?
The Dude: Philip Rivers
The Damage: In Week 13 at home versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Rivers threw for 225 yards and two scores. As you probably heard, Travis Benjamin dropped what would have been an 80-yard scoring bomb from Rivers, so the San Diego Chargers’ triggerman could have compiled a bigger fantasy outing. In his last three games, Rivers has averaged 284.3 passing yards and 2.2 touchdown tosses per contest, so he’s obviously playing well. With three favorable matchups on the horizon – at the Carolina Panthers (Week 14), versus the Oakland Raiders (Week 15) and at the Cleveland Browns (Week 16) – Rivers should continue to rack up the strong weekly numbers, right?
The Diagnosis: TOSSUP
The matchups aren’t the issue, but Rivers doesn’t always play his best in road venues. I’m worried about Rivers’ production going forward because of the health of his receiver corps. It’s rumored that Benjamin is still limited by the PCL injury that forced him to miss Week 10. Since Benjamin returned, he has been targeted just two times and four times in the Chargers’ last two games. In case you missed the news, Benjamin lost his starting job to Dontrelle Inman, who is San Diego’s only healthy starting wideout at the moment. Tyrell Williams, playing through a serious shoulder injury, caught just two passes for 47 yards and one score on four targets. Williams likely will be okay going forward, but he’s clearly a risky play. Rivers’ other targets, aside from Melvin Gordon, are the 36-year-old Antonio Gates, who is running on fumes, and rookie Hunter Henry. He has scored in two of his last three games, but Henry hasn’t amassed more than 20 yards in a contest since Week 6. Maybe I’m sounding the alarm bell about Rivers for nothing here – he’s a good quarterback and probably will find a way to take care of business – but fantasy owners should move forward with caution. If Inman goes down with an injury, Rivers’ fantasy ceiling will take a major hit.
4. IS THERE FANTASY HOPE FOR THE CINCINNATI BENGALS’ PASSING ATTACK WITHOUT A.J. GREEN AND GIOVANI BERNARD AFTER ALL?
The Dude: Andy Dalton
The Damage: Two weeks ago, Dalton, in the first game played without A.J. Green (hamstring) and Giovani Bernard (ACL), threw for 283 yards and one touchdown versus a stout Baltimore Ravens defense. The performance seemed to validate fears that Dalton’s production would regress sharply without Green and Bernard. However, Dalton surprised many with a very good Week 13 fantasy outing, throwing for 332 yards and two scores at home against what has become a leaky Philadelphia Eagles’ secondary. Assuming Green remains out of action for the foreseeable future, can Dalton continue to compile solid numbers and operate as a safe option in starting lineups?
The Diagnosis: TREND
Yes and yes. I think a lot of fantasy owners overreacted to Dalton’s performance against a top-level Baltimore defense. It also looks like Brandon LaFell, who played through a knee injury versus the Ravens (he compiled just three catches for 38 yards on nine targets) apparently is feeling better. LaFell made five grabs for 95 yards and one touchdown against the Eagles. As long as Green remains out, the two keys to Dalton’s success are the health of LaFell and the matchups. Dalton’s Week 14 road matchup versus the Cleveland Browns doesn’t need analysis (the Browns defense is terrible), and his Week 15 home matchup versus a Pittsburgh Steelers defense that’s softer on the road is decent but maybe not the safest of starts. However, Dalton will have a Week 16 road matchup against a Houston Texans defense that has played solidly at home all season. Overall, I see one good matchup, one so-so one and one tough one for Dalton. Again, that’s assuming Green doesn’t return.
5. IS WHAT HAS BEEN A SUPER PRODUCTIVE TENNESSEE TITANS PASSING ATTACK GOING TO LEAVE FANTASY OWNERS HIGH AND DRY DURING THE FANTASY PLAYOFFS?
The Dude: Marcus Mariota
The Damage: Damage? What damage? The Titans enjoyed a Week 13 bye. Mariota, who won AFC Offensive Player of the Month honors, has been on fire, averaging 259.1 passing yards and 2.6 touchdown passes per game since Week 5. He also has averaged 34 rushing yards per contest and has notched two rushing scores. Is Mariota injured? No. Will Mariota continue to roll after the bye?
The Diagnosis: TRAP
The smooth sailing is over for Mariota owners. The Titans’ next two games are tough matchups against a Denver Broncos defense (Week 15) that has allowed 10 touchdown passes all season and a road contest versus a Kansas City Chiefs defense that has usually has been stingy against the pass at home. In Week 16, Tennessee will face a road matchup versus a Jacksonville Jaguars defense that had yielded the 10th-fewest fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks as of Week 13, but it’s hard to say whether the 2-10 Jaguars will still be playing hard. It’s hard to bench a hot player like Mariota, but it’s hard to see him racking up big numbers during the next two weeks.