Fantasy Football Cheat Sheet: Browns shuffling running backs in Week 12
The upper Midwest has experienced a spell of bitter cold in the last few weeks, with typical January temperatures hitting the region in the middle of November. The airwaves in Chicago may need to use the weekend to prepare for a blast of hot air, however, with all the hot takes they could get after the Bears host the Buccaneers on Sunday.
If you don’t recall what was happening in Chicago a year ago at this time, allow me to give you a quick refresher. Career backup Josh McCown was pressed into action for an injured Jay Cutler, and he actually played quite well. The Bears went 3-2 in McCown’s starts, and he threw for 1,829 yards and 13 touchdowns against just one interception. The Bears ended up losing the division in the last game of the season, launching thousands of doltish opinions suggesting the Bears would be better off with McCown than Cutler as their starter in 2014. No doubt, those same intellectual neophytes circled this game the moment McCown signed with the Buccaneers. Assuming they can read a calendar.
Unfortunately for all the proprietors of hot takes out there, Cutler is going to have a top-five week among quarterbacks. However, they will be able to hang their hat on McCown’s performance this week. Just as he did last year, McCown is coming around at the perfect time to save quarterback-needy fantasy teams.
McCown has looked good since reasserting himself as the starter in Tampa, throwing for 589 yards four touchdowns and two interceptions in the last two weeks. He has succeeded with the help of Mike Evans, who has emerged as a true WR1 in fantasy leagues over the last six weeks. The Buccaneers drafted Evans with the seventh pick of the first round partially at McCown’s urging. After he had the most success of his career by leaning on physically dominating receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery in Chicago, McCown encouraged the Buccaneers to go get some big targets for themselves. He’s now taking advantage of those targets, and that is propelling him to big fantasy numbers. McCown will once again post such stats in a potentially triumphant return to Chicago for both him and Lovie Smith.
The Bears have allowed the most fantasy points per game to quarterbacks this year. In their defense, a large reason for that is because they’ve been torn apart by two of the very best players in the league. In a pair of wins over the Bears this year, Aaron Rodgers threw for a combined 617 yards and 10 touchdowns, netting 64.68 points in standard-scoring leagues. Tom Brady lit up the Bears to the tune of 354 yards and five touchdowns. All told, 45.7 percent of the fantasy points the Bears have allowed to quarterbacks this year have come via the right arms of Rodgers and Brady.
McCown may not be Rodgers or Brady, but he is equipped to throw all over the Bears on Sunday. Forecasts are calling for 15 mph winds in Chicago, which are not significant enough to mess with passes in the air. Both quarterbacks should be able to rip apart opposing defenses that simply are not up to the task of slowing down strong passing games. Cutler will get the better of McCown and the Buccaneers, but the latter will be a winner in fantasy circles this week.
With that, let’s get to the rest of the last-minute news you need to know for Week 12.
Tate’s departure opens the door for Crowell, West
Crowell and West already passed Tate on the depth chart a few weeks back, but his presence in Cleveland was still a menace. So long as he was plodding the shores of Lake Erie, the specter of a Tate takeover loomed over the more talented rookies. Now that Tate is plying his trade in Minnesota, Crowell and West owners no longer have to worry about their guys ceding carries to the lackluster veteran. There’s no better way to celebrate that than by getting both of them active this week.
Let’s start with Crowell and West themselves. West first took the primary role from Tate three weeks ago, running 15 times in that game and 26 times the following week. After that heavy workload in consecutive games, he gave way to Crowell last week, who picked up 91 yards from scrimmage on 16 touches. They enter this game without clearly defined roles, though we can realistically expect West to handle short-yardage work and Crowell to be the primary third-down back. Even with Josh Gordon back, don’t expect the Browns to all of a sudden take to the air 50 times on Sunday. They’ve had success on the ground this season, and while that was partially out of necessity, they’re not going to totally abandon what has worked so well. In fact, Gordon’s return only helps West and Crowell by forcing opposing defenses to respect Brian Hoyer and the passing attack. That should free up some running room for both backs.
On the other side of the ball, the Falcons have been terrible against the run this year. They’ve allowed the second-most points per game (23.3) and yards from scrimmage (1,612) and touchdowns (13) to running backs this year. They’ve let an opposing back score at least 13 points in six games this year, and have twice allowed a pair of teammates to put up double digits. Meanwhile, the Browns have had two backs score at least 10 points four times this season. I’m betting that happens again on Sunday.
Protecting you from the Philip Rivers myth
We’ve already discussed in a few spots why Rivers is a bad play this week. We here at SI.com know you love us, but were not vain enough to think you trust us, and only us, for your fantasy advice. We’re nearly that vain, but not quite all the way there. As such, there’s a good chance you’ve seen a lot of counter-arguments suggesting that Rivers is a good play this week. I’d like to take this opportunity to debunk the points in support of Rivers and get you back on the straight and narrow.
Point No. 1: Despite his recent performance, Rivers was a top-tier quarterback through the first half of the year, and early-season MVP candidate. That is true. However, dig beneath the surface a little bit and you’ll discover why that is a specious argument. The Chargers’ strong offensive performance earlier in the season was a mirage. They beat up on the Jaguars, Jets and Raiders in consecutive games, and in those contests Rivers threw for a combined 978 yards and nine touchdowns. In other words, he had 38.4 percent of his yards and 42.9 percent of his touchdowns against three of the league’s doormats. In four games against the Cardinals, Chiefs, Broncos and Dolphins, Rivers has 833 yards, 6.36 yards per attempt and six scores against seven picks.
Point No. 2: Rivers plays the Rams this week, and they’ve surrendered the 10th-most fantasy points to quarterbacks this year. That is also true. It’s also another case of allowing statistics to obfuscate rather than inform. A major reason why the Rams have given up so many points to quarterbacks is because they’ve struggled to stop them on the ground. The Rams have allowed 215 rushing yards to quarterbacks, second most in the NFL, and a league-high three rushing scores to signal callers. Of course, that’s not a club in Rivers’ bag. Strip out rushing numbers, and the Rams have allowed the 11th-fewest fantasy points per game to quarterbacks. They just forced Peyton Manning’s worst game of the season, and also held Tony Romo and Nick Foles below their per-game averages. This is not a good matchup.
Shane Vereen – I know everyone is all excited about Jonas Gray after last week, but I’m here to dump some cold water on the situation. The Colts have really struggled against the run this season, setting up last week as a great matchup for Gray. The game script unfolded perfectly for him, resulting in a 201-yard, four-touchdown evisceration. This week’s game with the Lions should be the polar opposite. Detroit has allowed 3.1 yards per carry this season and just four rushing touchdowns. If the Patriots win this game, it will be thanks to Tom Brady and the passing game. That means Vereen is the New England running back to start this week.
Reggie Wayne – Everyone is supporting the idea of a Trent Richardson takeover, to whatever degree he’s actually capable of taking over, and I’m partially on board with that. I do think Richardson is a reliable RB2 with Ahmad Bradshaw out for the season. At the same time, he was already getting 15 touches per game and was active in the passing attack before Bradshaw went on IR. How many more touches can he realistically get? Instead, I think the Colts lean on Andrew Luck even more, and that should mean big things for Wayne this week. The Jaguars have allowed the ninth-most points per game to receivers this season. You want to take advantage of this defense any time you get a chance, and that means getting Wayne active this week.
Kenny Britt – Britt has once again become a topic of conversation in the fantasy community after he caught four passes for 128 yards and a score last week. We’ve seen Britt show up in flashes before, only to disappear shortly thereafter, but it is worth mentioning that last week was one of his first times getting a significant numbers of snaps with Shaun Hill under center. Still, do you really want to trust the famously untrustworthy Britt? Furthermore, do you actually want to invest in the St. Louis passing attack? I don’t want to do either of those. Britt is a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency receiver. Keep him in the glass this week.
Chris Ivory – This recommendation actually has little to do with the weather in Buffalo altering the schedule for the Jets this week. If anything, Ivory should benefit from getting an extra day off and playing a Bills’ defense that wasn’t able to practice until Friday night. However, the Bills have shut down the run this year, allowing just 3.66 yards per carry and the sixth-fewest fantasy points per game to running backs. Ivory did score twice against the Bills when these teams first met this season, but he got a paltry 43 yards on 13 carries.
Cleveland Browns at Atlanta Falcons
• Jordan Cameron is out again because of concussion symptoms, while Karlos Dansby is doubtful due to a knee injury.
• Harry Douglas (foot), Devin Hester (wrist) and Steven Jackson (illness) all participated in full on Friday and are all listed as probable. Jackson is the only one who may have a little fantasy value this week
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Chicago Bears
• Charles Sims was limited in practice due to an ankle injury. He’s listed as questionable. If he plays consider him a low-end RB2.
• As has been the case for most of the year, Brandon Marshall (ankle) was limited in practice on Friday. He is listed as probable and will start, as usual.
Cincinnati Bengals at Houston Texans
• Giovani Bernard will return this week after missing three games because of a hip injury. Consider him a low-end RB2 or flex, with Jeremy Hill still ahead of him for this week.
• Arian Foster is a true game-time decision due to his groin injury. Whomever starts for the Texans at running back, be it him or Alfred Blue, is a slam-dunk play this week.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Indianapolis Colts
• Dwayne Allen has been ruled out with an ankle injury. Coby Fleener is an easy TE1 this week.
Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings
• Jerick McKinnon was limited all week in practice due to a back injury, but he is listed as probable and will play. He will have to deal with new Viking Ben Tate, but Matt Asiata is out because of a concussion. McKinnon is an RB2, while Tate can be pressed into your lineup in the flex spot.
Detroit Lions at New England Patriots
• Reggie Bush (ankle) was a limited participant in Friday’s practice and is listed as questionable. Joique Bell has an ankle injury of his own, but he practiced in full on Friday and is probable. Bell is worth playing this week, but Bush should be on your bench.
• Julian Edelman showed up on the injury report with a thigh injury. He was limited in Friday’s practice, but is probable and should play. Consider him a WR3.
Tennessee Titans at Philadelphia Eagles
• Delanie Walker (concussion) was able to get back to practice late in the week, and is listed as probable. Feel free to deploy him as usual. Justin Hunter (knee) practiced in full on Friday but is still listed as questionable. This would be a good matchup for him, but he’s a total swing-for-the-fences play this week.
St. Louis Rams at San Diego Chargers
• Jared Cook (back) was limited in Friday’s practice. He’s listed as questionable, and is a borderline fantasy starter if he plays. Given that this is a late kickoff, you need to have another option at the ready.
• Philip Rivers will start, but is on the injury report due to a chest injury. We already detailed why he’s a risky play this week.
Arizona Cardinals at Seattle Seahawks
• Larry Fitzgerald didn’t practice Friday because of his knee injury. Don’t plan on having him in your lineups this week. That gives a tiny boost to Michael Floyd and John Brown, but they’re still WR3s, at best.
Miami Dolphins at Denver Broncos
• Charles Clay (knee) did not practice Friday and is listed as doubtful. Cortland Finnegan is also doubtful because of an ankle injury.
• Emmanuel Sanders made it through the concussion protocol and practiced in full on Friday. Julius Thomas, however, didn’t practice and is listed as questionable with an ankle injury. If you have a decent option in the earlier games, you may want to go in that direction. If you want to wait on Thomas, try adding an insurance policy such as Niles Paul or Jacob Tamme.
Washington Redskins at San Francisco 49ers
• Jordan Reed (hamstring) is out, once again opening the door for Niles Paul. Consider him a low-end TE1 this week.
Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants
• No significant injuries
New York Jets at Buffalo Bills
• Kyle Orton (toe) and Fred Jackson (groin) were limited in practice on Friday night, while Sammy Watkins (groin) practiced in full. Watkins is a WR3 this week, while Jackson is an RB3 or low-end flex play.
Baltimore Ravens at New Orleans Saints
• The official injury report is not yet available, but it does not appear there will be any fantasy-relevant injuries to worry about on Monday night.