Shawn Siegele breaks down a few of the key matchups for Monday Night Football and highlights the biggest developments of fantasy football Week 14.
Week 14 offers the FFPC finals, and I felt blessed this season to get three of nine Main Event squads into the championship round. That dovetails nicely with the podcast-oriented feel of the Monday column, as one team was with my OT co-host Colm Kelly, one with my Stealing Bananas co-host Ben Gretch, and one with Ben and his Ship Chasing co-hosts Pat Kerrane and Peter Overzet.
Ben and I have a team directly into the sprint that’s playing for third place this week, and my team with Colm is directly in, but we need a victory in the other matchups to get a third and hopefully fourth team into the mix. In those matchups, Ben and I were heavily favored, Colm and I were solidly favored, and the Chasing Stolen Bananas team was a solid underdog. But all three matchups had plenty of potential to go either way. With a lot of overlap in players we’re playing and players we’re playing against, the ultimate goal is to thread the needle in our favor but to definitely, under no circumstances, thread it the wrong way.
As to that, well . . .
Week 14 was a roller coaster. At one point early, Ben and I had our projected margin of victory climb above 35 points. Then the defense and special teams units got involved.
You could make the case that Minnesota and Las Vegas set football back 50 years, but the players of yesteryear won’t claim any association with what happened Sunday afternoon. It certainly raises the question of whether chasing Aaron Rodgers (and the entourage that comes with him) or Josh McDaniels (and the QBs that come with him) is worse for the long-term health of your organization. For Joshua Dobbs and Aidan O’Connell, the Cinderella stories ended very abruptly.
It’s actually a bit of a funny story, although not funny ha-ha. Having more FAAB going into the final week, Ben and I blocked our opponent’s acquisition of Houston’s defense, and several others. If only we’d left it alone, we would have played Cleveland for 12 points, our opponent would have played Houston for 6.0, and the deficit would have been +6.0 instead of -16. You win some, you lose some.
Speaking of winning . . .
Late in the week it became clear that Geno Smith was not going to play, while the NFL’s ludicrous bye schedule meant Sam Howell would miss the championship. We had to put in for a bunch of $1 QBs, hopefully getting Joe Flacco as opposed to Bryce Young or Tommy DeVito.
There is a rule in fantasy where if you pick Flacco off of the waiver wire and outscore fantasy’s best QB by 14 points – and obviously outscore what Smith would have provided – then you can’t complain about any other bad luck.
Fantasy football will always be wildly and unaccountably weird in one-game increments.
We’re now trailing by 6 and need Jaylen Waddle and De’Von Achane to overcome Raheem Mostert and Tucker Kraft. In so many different ways, everything about the 2023 fantasy season has seemingly come down to Achane, despite his limited participation. It doesn’t change tonight.
I wouldn’t say I have everything riding on Waddle tonight, because in looking across my best-ball portfolio and the teams on the 2/3 bubble in FFPC and Underdog contests, that would almost be an understatement.
Waddle has not been a strong pick in 2023, and yet in some critical areas, he’s taken a step forward.
2022 Receiving Peripherals
|On Target Catch %
If we start with the Dolphins’ 2022 numbers, we get gaudy results in the two components of yards per route for both WRs. Tyreek Hill claimed the top of the YPRR leaderboard despite Tua Tagovailoa missing a good chunk of the season. Waddle ranked fourth overall, his 2.67 sliding in just behind Justin Jefferson.
Hill tied for No. 1 in targets per route (32%), while Waddle ranked No. 1 in yards per target (11.7). We wouldn’t expect Waddle to sustain the crazy YPT numbers, but there was room for some balancing within the context of his on-target catch percentage and evasion rate, both of which were poor for a player of his quality.
2023 Receiving Peripherals
|On Target Catch %
Hill’s 2023 has been extraordinary, as he’s taken his already luminous stats and pushed them to the next level. He’s commanded targets on even a higher level of routes, and he’s pushed his evasion rate through the roof.
But the interesting thing is actually happening with Waddle’s numbers. The concerns about Waddle’s ability to draw targets has fallen away. He entered tied with Amon-Ra St. Brown for fourth overall in TPRR. His YPT numbers have fallen from the 2022 heights – in part due to an aDOT drop of over 2 yards – but he’s improved his success at the catch point and with the ball in his hands. As a result, his YPRR number is identical to that of 2022.
Unfortunately for Waddle, a bit of bad luck in the injury and TD departments have limited his ability to make a consistent fantasy impact.
Waddle has only two games with at least 75% of the snaps after averaging 74% snaps a season ago.
For everyone with Dolphins tonight, it’ll again be a race to see who can get their scoring in before the game’s out of touch. If you’ve read Blair’s Wrong Read, you know that Tennessee is among the best run defenses in success rate and limiting FPOE, but they still face a lot of rushing attempts due to game script. That could favor Achane if Miami deploys their backs in a similar fashion to Week 13.
The Titans are simultaneously a very poor team against the pass.
Over the last five games they’ve given up 20-plus to Diontae Johnson, Mike Evans, Calvin Ridley, and Michael Pittman. (Only one of those receivers was even held below 25.)
From Blair’s piece, we also have reason to believe that their weaknesses directly line up with Miami’s strengths. Over the last eight weeks, the Titans are the worst defense at generating pressure, while the Dolphins are the top offense at avoiding it. Tennessee is also a bottom-five defense in allowing WR separation, while Miami is a top-five unit at creating it.
The Passing Matchup Rater will tell you that only Detroit and Tampa Bay came in with even or worse numbers in allowing WR points over expected (and both of those defenses were shelled by hybrid QBs in Week 14).
We could get quite a few points from Tagovailoa, Hill, and Waddle from tonight’s game if the script and weather cooperate.
* If you’re as scared of the weather in tonight’s game as I am, Mat Irby has some great notes in his weekly weather column.
The Detroit Meltdown
The Bears came into this game surging on defense, and they got to play at home and outside. Coming into this game, Jared Goff had been a very different passer outside the friendly confines of the Detroit dome.
The 40-TD/4663-yard home pace puts him in the mix for a Pro Bowl; the 17/7 road split in TD-to-INT ratio is a borderline benching offense in the contemporary NFL. It would get worse on Sunday.
Chicago got torched by St. Brown in Week 11, but they limited his opportunities in the rematch. St. Brown responded with a flurry of drops, including a key failure on fourth-and-17 with 5:16 to go. The long conversion would have kept Detroit on life support and provided more late-game upside for fantasy managers. Goff’s throw forced him into a diving/rolling attempt, but it was very makeable for a receiver of his caliber. Instead the ball bounced off of his chest.
This game also featured . . .
- a deep ball to Jameson Williams that could have gone for an 71-yard score but was underthrown by a good 15 yards.
- a dropped screen pass by Gibbs on what was set up as a potential long TD.
- two INTs and a fumbled snap.
St. Brown and Sam LaPorta caught only five of their 15 targets. LaPorta came in with the weakest PMR of the group, and the Bears shut him down for the second time in a month.
The Chiefs Can’t Get Out of Their Own Way
It’s been a weird year in K.C. where a handful of games have been decided by WR gaffes that feel like flood-of-the-century type moments, and yet that flood is happening every week.
Against the Bills, Kadarius Toney lined up so far offside that the officials had to make the call, unfortunately wiping out the TD of the season. It would be a lot easier for Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid – both of whom can expect meaningful fines – if not for the MVS non-call last week, or an even more blatant Bills offsides that wasn’t called just a couple plays later.
Isiah Pacheco’s absence allowed Kansas City to get back to what they do best. The Chiefs came into the game with some offensive splits that illustrate so much of what’s wrong with their 2023 game plan.
Because teams want to take the ball out of Mahomes’ hands and shorten the game at all costs, Kansas City ranks No. 1 in yards before contact and No. 10 in success rate, but they continue to really struggle in the attributes that most closely connect to both RB attributes and winning games. They’re awful in yards after contact, evasion rate, and the generation of big rushing plays.
Ben and I broke down how the Packers essentially allowed the Chiefs to run the clock out on themselves last week. But against the Bills – and facing another of these early-game deficits that have become ubiquitous of late – they leaned away from the overmatched Clyde Edwards-Helaire and continued to unlock Rashee Rice and Travis Kelce.
Shockingly, this was only the third time Kelce hit 10 targets this season. It did extend a three-game streak with 80-plus yards after he’d only accomplished it twice over the first 11 weeks. For Rice, it was the continuation of his emergence. He now has 29 targets over the last three games, and if you started your league in Week 5, he’s the overall WR16. (Rice made his own contribution to the WR game-killing mistakes column, fumbling on a drive following two KC touchdowns and briefly stealing the momentum.)
The Bills made their own adjustments. After a fast start to the season, James Cook averaged only 13 opportunities from Week 4 to Week 10. Following the coordinator change, Buffalo has re-committed to James Cook with 21, 23, and 15 opportunities, and they appear to have found a star. His exploits carried the Bills offense on a night where Kansas City’s secondary otherwise owned the contest.
The PMR didn’t care for the Buffalo pass-catchers, and the alignment tool was right.
These are still the two best teams in the AFC, and we shouldn’t be surprised to see them in the AFC Championship game, depending on how the draw falls out. The Bills arguably played one of their weaker games of the season – Josh Allen struggled while Stefon Diggs was held in check – and yet the breaks finally went in their favor.
In the end, the Bills get a win to save their season, and the Chiefs miss an opportunity to eliminate a potential early-round playoff opponent of Buffalo’s caliber.
Our OT squad experienced the Sunday emotions from the opposite direction. Goff, St. Brown, and LaPorta combined for approximately 21 points, which was barely a good DST score in Week 14. Appearing dead early, the rest of the roster rebounded. Travis Etienne’s 17.2 was the lowest score we got from the RB1, RB2, WR1, Flex1, and Flex2 slots, while our opponents hit on low-end outcomes other than the Courtland Sutton miracle catch.
To win, we need the Dolphins to limit DeAndre Hopkins. The former superstar has gotten a boost from the move to Will Levis.
You’ll note that the bounce is due entirely to TDs. We shouldn’t scoff at the importance of a QB with the arm and willingness to create a few of those opportunities, and yet Hopkins has dropped below a 50% catch rate with the neophyte passer. His yards per route with Levis has fallen almost full yard even as his targets per route remain among the league leaders (30%).
This is also another game where Blair’s breakdown in the Wrong Read reminds us that Tennessee’s passing weaknesses are a poor fit for Miami’s defensive strengths.
The PMR and GLSP are more optimistic about Hopkins’ outcomes, but if you’re playing against him, the low floor gives you hope.
Zach Wilson Saves His Career (as a Backup)
If you bet on Wilson playing the game of his life in a deluge, against a rising defense, and after reportedly articulating reluctance to resume the starting job, you’re either an incorrigible optimist or own a time machine.
Of course, the game of his life did include a first half with 11 consecutive punts and a 0-0 halftime score. (There’s a reason Ben and I played the Houston defense.) But in the second half the Jets scored on six possessions and didn’t punt once! (Even this deserves an asterisk, as the final three FG drives came after the Texans turned it over on downs. Those drives generated a total of -8 yards.)
Colm and I discuss Wilson’s ability to avoid the rush and find Garrett Wilson on numerous strikes down the field. For his part, the receiver Wilson committed an egregious drop and one of the more humorous false starts, but was otherwise the type of player who might go No. 1 overall in 2025 drafts.
Wilson is up to No.3 in seasonal targets, No. 4 in air yards, and No. 2 in air share, trailing only Davante Adams.
On the RB side, Breece Hall really boosted Wilson’s totals by taking his nine targets for 86 yards and a score. Hall entered the week No. 3 in RB receiving evasion rate at 45% and No. 4 in yards per route (1.9). It’s a unicorn profile and yet another reminder that the Jets’ season has transpired in this fashion despite having two players who are top-five overall pick candidates in fantasy.
Good luck to everyone tonight. It’s been a pretty wild ride to this point, and that’s without even discussing all of the best ball teams that are trying to get over the line. So much depends on the outcome of the MNF double header. We’re rooting for you.