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The 15: Travis Kelce and Tarik Cohen Rally Owners Into the Playoffs

Shawn Siegele uses the RotoViz apps to break down 15 of the biggest fantasy stories of the weekend. And yes, he’ll talk about No. 15 Patrick Mahomes.

I got in some singles and doubles this weekend in the Holiday Open and only suffered one groin injury and several other minor maladies. We’ll call that a win. By the time I started yesterday’s binge, the games had really stacked up on the DVR, but I finished 10 of them before falling asleep. Sadly, that didn’t include Miami/Buffalo where Zay Jones caught two touchdowns and Josh Allen rumbled for 135 rushing yards. I’m looking forward to watching that one as soon as I break my DirecTV password.1

And we jump into a week that saw numerous seismic busts and a late-game hero turn from Tarik Cohen . . .

1. Patrick Mahomes carries teams to the fantasy playoffs, cements his status as MVP front runner. In the first game post-Kareem Hunt, Mahomes completed 23 passes for 295 yards and four TDs. He added 52 yards on the ground as the Chiefs held off a late flourish from the Raiders. It depends on your format, of course, but in most leagues Mahomes now has at least eight games with 30 or more points. His efficiency numbers are correspondingly crazy.

Mahomes vs 2018 field

2. Drew Brees and Philip Rivers are also having astonishingly good seasons. Brees fell to the fringes of the MVP discussion with his Thursday night dud, while Rivers rallied the Chargers and jumped Brees in the battle of ridiculous AYA numbers. Despite long, stellar careers, Rivers’ 9.1 adjusted yards per attempt in 2009 represented the previous high-water mark for either of them. This season they’re just two of the five QBs with numbers north of 9.0.

3. Jared Goff and Russell Wilson round out the elite quintet, but they went in different directions on Sunday. While it’s been a fantastic season for Goff, his struggles against Detroit help explain why Sean McVay gets so much credit for offensive innovation. The second-year QB repeatedly missed open receivers, throwing wide and deep of intended targets. Goff’s inaccuracy left the game tied at 3-3 until deep in the second quarter when he found the always reliable Robert Woods for an 8-yard TD. No Rams receiver reached 70 yards in this one, and the Week 11 heroes – Josh Reynolds and Gerald Everett – managed only 26 yards on eight targets.

4. Frustratingly for anyone who didn’t have the No. 1 overall pick this season, the offensive malaise didn’t extend to Todd Gurley. Just when it seemed like Gurley might at least be held in check – if not go the way of guys like Brees, Alvin Kamara, Julio Jones, and Andrew Luck – the Lions defense eventually capitulated, and the star back exploded for two second-half scores. The only silver lining? At least you weren’t facing Tarik Cohen with a regular season title on the line.2

gurley second half wk 13 5. Maybe the Bears should have deployed Cohen earlier. It gets worse for those of us squaring off with Cohen. That was my fate in a game I need to win to clinch best record outright in a Main Event, and as I followed the crawl, the uberscat wasn’t showing up.3 And wasn’t showing up. And then … 12 receptions for 156 yards. The reason? All 29 second-half points came in the fourth quarter and overtime. And if you’re staring at the 10 catches for 148 yards and wondering where the extra points came in, he also threw a TD pass to Anthony Miller.

Cohen was one of our Zero RB targets, and we made the bold prediction that he’d outscore Jordan Howard. He not only holds a nearly 80-point lead in PPR as the RB10 but leads by 32 points in standard formats. Of course, considering Howard in the same category with Cohen seems crazy now, but the two players were flipped during draft season.

Cohen v Howard ADP 2

Zero RB rarely receives the credit it deserves because of hindsight. By the time postmortems are performed, year-end values appear to have been “obvious,” when they were anything but for the majority of owners at draft time. The presence of James Conner (22.3), James White (19.4), Cohen (16.0) and Phillip Lindsay (16.0) again proves that you can get full blown stars later in drafts, not just low-end RB2s. And the volume is there. As of today, 12 of the top-24 RBs were drafted outside of the high-leverage rounds.

6. Phillip Lindsay isn’t going away. Speaking of Lindsay, he moved into the RB1 tier with a video game performance against the Bengals, setting new career highs with 157 yards and 29 fantasy points. If Lindsay looks like this against NFL defenders – he’s not quite Tyreek Hill, but he’s clearly operating at a different speed from most other players on the field – shouldn’t scouts have seen enough in college to at least give him a combine invite? This is where frequent readers are about to groan and mutter, “This is where Shawn reminds us that he was No. 1 in Backfield Dominator Rating by a wide, wide margin.” It’s always awesome when players like Cohen, Matt Breida, Austin Ekeler, and others don’t believe it when NFL GMs play the size card. Don’t let fantasy experts get away with making that claim about these guys either.

Lindsay was already in the process of taking full control of this job before Royce Freeman’s Week 7 injury. But that opened the floodgates.

Lindsay splits thru 13

7. Christian McCaffrey was also too small. Prospect projection models provide valuable insight for those involved in dynasty leagues, but they also present a risk. Is the model asking the question correctly, making the right assumptions, and testing the relevant information? Most RB models place too much emphasis on size, which we’ve explored before and Anthony Amico discussed in building his model this year. As McCaffrey continues to look like the best non-Saquon Barkley back in the league, it reminded me again of Anthony’s work. Among recent classes absolutely loaded at the RB position, McCaffrey actually had the best projection in Anthony’s model, a model that relies heavily on adjusted yards from scrimmage. McCaffrey came in above Barkley, above Ezekiel Elliott, and way above everyone else.

In more recent news, McCaffrey’s 150-plus yards from scrimmage, nine receptions, and a score gave him a fourth game with 30-plus points in his last five. In irrelevant news, my Kitchen Cinco team with Barkley, Cohen, and McCaffrey failed to make it out of the second round free-for-all. Hmm, maybe this wasn’t the right week to start Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, and David Johnson.

8. With McCaffrey scoring at epic levels, how are the Panthers losing? It appears that the entire Panthers defensive coaching staff has either been fired or will be fired by the time I finish this article. Less instruction and oversight is usually not the solution for a struggling unit, and it’s tough to scapegoat the defense, even though they have been bad. But Carolina lost in Week 13 due to an almost impossibly poor performance from Cam Newton. He was picked four times on his 41 passes – three of them by Andrew Adams – essentially killing any chance of victory. Interceptions have torpedoed the team during the four-game losing streak.

Newton splits thru 13

Newton is a fantasy superstar and an above average reality player, but his throwing mechanics deserve a little of the criticism usually reserved for folks like Blake Bortles. The issues are different – Bortles’ arm motion gives you the impression he might be using his off-hand, Newton yanks his head and shoulders ferociously as his arm snaps through – but the results leave something to be desired. As D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel continue to develop, it will be interesting to follow Newton’s progress as a passer.

While the defense has been a train wreck in Carolina losses, the offense has struggled just as much in defeat. Getting back to the playoffs and making a run at a Super Bowl title will require the Newton to elevate his game.

Carolina splits thru 13

9. A report comes out that everyone in Arizona will be fired. Coaches and management take it out on David Johnson owners. In the ultimate troll, Byron Leftwich and company let Johnson out-touch Chase Edmonds 21-7, but gave the backup all of the scoring chances. If your star is struggling, make sure you do everything in your power not to get him going. At least, that’s what I always say. The really dark undercurrent here is that coaches may have actually felt the promising rookie gave them the best chance to score.

10. Defeating a tanking Green Bay team should not change the calculus in Arizona.

Overheard as I watched the Houston game:

  • “That’s Tyrann Mathieu!”
  • “Yeah, Cardinals had to cut him in order to sign Sam Bradford.”
  • “All of them should keep their jobs.”

11. Aaron Rodgers took it up a notch to ensure Mike McCarthy’s departure. There was nothing particularly egregious about Rodgers’ behavior against Arizona. It was more the complete lack of animation that was so striking. And you won’t find much evidence of his struggles in the year-long numbers. Rodgers refuses to throw interceptions, which leaves him with a 21-1 ratio on the season and a sterling 8.4 AYA. It was more in the way he refused to throw INTs on Sunday, lofting balls well over his receivers’ heads and drilling them in the dirt at their feet. He still completed 31 of his 50 passes but for only 233 yards. 2018 can be seen more as the continuation of a four-year mini-slide, the type of performance that would be Pro Bowl caliber for almost anyone else but pales compared to the brilliance that started from his first pass but truly began in his second season.

Rodgers recent

12. Rodgers was the closest to what Mahomes is doing through 13 weeks. To remind you just how good Rodgers was and to circle back around to Mahomes’ brilliance, we can place these numbers in the context of Rodgers’ best year.

mahomes v greats 2

These are arguably the best seasons in NFL history. Peyton Manning needed only 497 attempts to finish with 49 TDs in 2004, and after not cresting 40 again for almost a decade, he re-emerged with Denver to set the record of 55 in 2013. Tom Brady threw 50 for the ill-fated 18-1 team in 2007, possibly the most feared offense to ever take the field. Rodgers’ 2011 is not as well remembered, but he led the Packers to a 14-1 record, throwing 45 TDs before sitting out Week 17 and watching Matt Flynn go for 480 yards and six TDs.

13. The Patriots are excruciating unless you own James White.

  • Sony Michel carried 17 times for 63 yards.
  • Rex Burkhead touched the ball nine times for 41 yards.
  • Rob Gronkowski caught three passes for 26 yards.
  • Julian Edelman caught three passes for 25 yards.
  • Because child abduction stories are creepy, Chris Hogan will star next to the fabulous Tchéky Karyo in Season 3 of The Missing.

All that and they still easily bested a Vikings squad rolling out Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, and Dalvin Cook.

14. Make a note to buy Joe Mixon and Dalvin Cook this offseason.

Cook is threading the under-the-radar needle perfectly. It’s difficult to average 9.3 yards per carry and catch eight passes in a high-profile game and still not make waves, but you can do it if you turn those eight catches into only 22 yards and don’t find the end zone. These RBs will be expensive in the summer of 2019, but they won’t cost the ransom it’ll take to buy into the tier with Gurley, Barkley, Elliott, McCaffrey, and Kamara.

15. Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz are the new Gronk and Graham. I did this for Ertz a couple of weeks ago, but with 12 catches for 128 yards and two scores, Kelce leaps ahead of him in the list of best tight end seasons through 13 weeks.

Kelce vs greats

This again helps us remember the dominance of the Big 3, as you have to go 14 players deep to find a TE other than Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham, and Antonio Gates.4

Week 13 could have been even bigger for Kelce owners as the Chiefs were just about to kick the extra point following his third TD when officials were buzzed to replay. Kelce was eventually ruled down and backup Demetrius Harris scored on the next play. The elimination of Hunt and the absence of Sammy Watkins has the potential to fuel a Kelce playoff run that rivals the epic finishes usually reserved for RBs and WRs.

Good luck to everyone tonight. Perhaps Colt McCoy can carry this thing into a shootout.


  1. Because why show the Shortcuts on TV when you can force users to find them on an app.  (back)
  2. Maybe some of you were facing both Gurley and Cohen, in which case I apologize and sympathize.  (back)
  3. This wasn’t one of the games I was following on my 10-game binge, in part because playing Allen Robinson in such an important game didn’t instill me with confidence. There are, however, Robinson highlights. So I guess Robinson at least worked for his 12.9 points  (back)
  4. Other than our 2018 protagonists, of course.  (back)
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