Is Week 12 over yet? Maybe it was having the off-day in the middle of the week. Maybe it was just a slate of lackluster games. Whatever it was, Week 12 felt like the longest seven-day stretch of the season. Thankfully, the calendar has flipped over to a new week. If you hadn't felt like we were in the stretch run before, you should definitely feel it now. There are just two more weeks in the fantasy regular season in most leagues.
Just to spice things up, the NFL has decided to throw in a few late-season bye weeks for good measure. Two teams have this week off, but next week is the second installment of Byemageddon. Six teams will have the week off when fantasy managers are making their last push for the postseason. That magnifies the importance of every start-and-sit decision and makes every win that much more crucial.
Now I'm not sure who has more pressure -- you who are setting the lineups, or me for offering up the advice? If it doesn't work out, I'll refund the money you spent to read this. Anyway, here are some names.
Football fans as a group are an impatient lot. We clamor for our stars to immediately be stars. None of this “waiting around for guys to develop” for us. That clamoring gets even louder when that prospect has the “generational” label attached to him. But for those who weren’t ready to bail on Lawrence, the time might be arriving. Over his last three games, Lawrence is averaging more than 270 passing yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions. It peaked in Week 12 when he threw for 321 yards and three scores against the Ravens.
Now he gets to take the hot hand into Week 13’s matchup against the Lions. Detroit has been a soft target for fantasy managers looking to play matchups. They’ve allowed four 300-yard passing games and six games with multiple passing touchdowns. So far, eight different signal-callers have scored a weekly top-12 finish against the Lions. With the Jaguars' high-volume passing offense starting to come together, Lawrence could make it nine.
Mariota has been a model of mid this season. Most weeks, he hovers anywhere between 12 and 17 points. Sometimes he goes under. Occasionally he goes over. But generally, he lives in a world that screams “too good to totally ignore but not good enough to actually start.” But this could be a week that gives Mariota a little bit of extra attractiveness.
The Steelers have been bad against quarterbacks all season long. And while it’s mostly been the ability to stop the pass that has plagued Pittsburgh, the defense hasn’t enjoyed scrambling quarterbacks. Signal-callers have averaged more than seven yards per carry when forced to take off running. Of Mariota’s 82 rushing attempts this year, 34 of them have been unplanned -- nearly three per game. On those runs, he’s gaining just short of seven yards per attempt. If that holds, it’s potentially three fantasy points banked. If he can combine that with even a decent passing total, Mariota could be a nice 2QB option in Week 13.
In a lot of other situations, advocating for a guy like White after one decent game would feel like a big example of point chasing. But we now have a decent sample size by which to judge White. In four starts, he’s topped 300 yards twice and has a pair of games with multiple touchdown passes. His two poor starts came last year against a strong Bills defense and in a game against the Colts in which he left early with an injury.
This week, White also has a favorable matchup against the Vikings. The Purple People have been left black and blue by opposing quarterbacks this season. Over their past six games, things have been particularly bad. Four signal-callers have passed for more than 320 yards while five quarterbacks have tossed for multiple scores. White might not be able to duplicate Mac Jones’ 382-yard, two-touchdown game from last week, but he should be able to hold value in superflex leagues.
Pierce has gone from preseason sleeper fave to early-season waiver wire darling to potential late-season waiver wire fodder. The rookie has seen his usage and production fall off a cliff recently. Pierce had fewer than 15 touches in consecutive weeks after going eight straight games with at least 16 touches. Game script has had a lot to do with it. In both weeks, the Texans found themselves trailing shortly after the national anthem.
That could be the case again this week with Houston facing a Browns offense that will play its first game with Deshaun Watson. But the silver lining for Pierce is a bad Browns run defense. After Kyle Allen’s disastrous showing in Week 12, Houston might feel more comfortable leaning on its running game. If the Texans are to stay in this game, Pierce is going to need to be heavily involved.
Moore is a bit of a tough call this week. On the one hand, we love seeing Moore with a season-high in receiving yards and fantasy points -- even if the totals were modest. What is concerning is that his usage was still very low. Moore played fewer than 35 percent of the snaps with three total opportunities (two targets, one rush attempt). We have seen, however, that White is adept at getting the ball to his playmakers. That’s enough to inspire hope.
Also inspiring is a Vikings secondary that has allowed more yards to receivers lined up wide than any other defense in the league. Minnesota hasn’t been much better when those receivers have been targeted deep. If the Jets are still looking to use Moore as a deep threat, there is a chance for big plays. Moore’s best value will be in deeper leagues or as a DFS play.
Jones comes around in our fantasy lives every so often, reminding us not only that he exists but that he can occasionally be a worthwhile start. I don’t think anyone predicted last week’s 27.5-point explosion, but it is the end result of a player seeing more opportunity in an offense that looks like it’s finding its footing. Over the last two weeks, Jones has earned more than 35 percent of Jacksonville’s targets. That’s particularly notable in an offense that has been one of the NFL’s most pass-happy over the last several weeks.
Enter the Lions. Again. Teams have thrown the ball very effectively against Detroit all season long. After all, there’s a reason I started this week’s column with Lawrence. This contest has the makings of a scorefest with both teams doing work through the air. With the Jaguars filtering most of their targets through two guys, Jones should have another great opportunity.
For the past couple of seasons, the Patriots haven’t given us much to get excited about in the wide receiver category. This year’s corps features a group of players who are average fantasy options at best. Jakobi Meyers is the consensus WR1 on this roster, but his fantasy ceiling is a WR3. That normally wouldn’t generate much excitement for Parker, a player who didn’t have a breakout until his fifth season and hasn’t come close to matching it since.
But this week is different. That’s because the Bills are coming to town, which is a weird thing to say about a team that’s still a heavy favorite to reach the Super Bowl. This year’s Buffalo defense hasn’t been the fearsome unit we avoided last year. Injuries at all levels have made this team vulnerable to opposing passing games. Combine that with Mac Jones having a bit of a moment and Parker could have some deep league appeal.
Let’s agree on one thing, Arthur Smith doesn’t give a damn about fantasy football. He made that clear early in the season when he was questioned about his team’s usage of Kyle Pitts. Things haven’t gotten much clearer as the season has progressed. The only consistency is inconsistency. Welcome Olamide Zaccheus to our chaos. With Pitts done for the year, Zaccheus becomes Atlanta’s second-most targeted player. We were all shocked to see him get eight targets last week that he turned into five catches for 91 yards.
This week is a chance for him to double up on that production. Fantasy managers have been able to pick on the Steelers secondary all season long. Last week, the Colts weren’t able to mount a coherent pass attack and Michael Pittman still posted nearly 20 fantasy points. The Falcons won’t morph into the Chiefs just because they’re lining up against Pittsburgh but there are plays to be had in the passing game. If Smith continues to ignore his main playmakers (see: London, Drake), Zaccheus should be there to pick up the slack.
Early in the year, the Seahawks were a soft target for any fantasy managers looking to stream players. Things have mostly turned around for this unit -- we won’t talk about what happened with Josh Jacobs last week -- but it still wasn’t a group that we were considering starting on a regular basis.
This is a week that we can change that thinking, if only temporarily. Seattle takes a trip to Los Angeles to take on a Rams team running on fumes. Most of L.A.’s key offensive pieces are injured. The rest are just trying their best to do what they can. It hasn’t been enough to scare us off of streaming defenses against the Rams this year. Let’s keep that run going.
The Browns' run defense has been bad. That’s been enough to prevent us from suggesting them as a start this season. But the Texans offense has also been bad. That might be enough to get us to change our minds. Kyle Allen had a rough go of things and there’s no reason to believe it will be better this week. Even if Dameon Pierce has a good game (yes, he is still a sleeper), it’s hard to think it will be enough to completely torpedo Cleveland’s fantasy potential in Week 13.