Fantasy Football Cheat Sheet: Waiver wire running backs to provide a boost
A number of running backs have been the waiver wire darling of the moment at different points of the season. One -- Justin Forsett -- has been a year-long stud, and another -- Denard Robinson -- has largely delivered over the last five weeks. Others, such as Jerick McKinnon and Isaiah Crowell, have had their moments. Ronnie Hillman and Branden Oliver were effective in short doses, but are no longer factors in fantasy leagues. Latavius Murray became the latest waiver wire sensation the moment he broke a 90-yard touchdown run in Oakland’s win over Kansas City last week, but he suffered a concussion in that game that will keep him out this week. Still others, like Matt Asiata, Lorenzo Taliaferro and the Buffalo duo of Bryce Brown and Anthony Dixon, were rightly forgotten shortly after their moments in the waiver sun. One last back who has basked in the warm light of that same sun is set to shine for his owners in Week 13.
Tre Mason first entered the fantasy consciousness back in Week 6 when he piled up 52 total yards on just six touches against the 49ers. He burst into our collective consciousness the following week, running for 85 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries in the Rams’ upset victory over the Seahawks. He hasn’t quite lived up to that hype since, though a lot of that has to do with the lack of opportunity associated with the St. Louis offense. Mason hasn’t visited the end zone since that breakout performance against the Seahawks, though he has had at least 80 total yards in each of his last three games. Two weeks ago, when the Rams sprung another huge upset win, this time over the Broncos, Mason ran for 113 yards thanks primarily to a season-high 29 carries.
While Mason hasn’t been a reliable RB2 this year, he has shown decent explosion. In five of the seven games he has been active this year, he has a carry of at least 20 yards. At the same time, he has had at least 18 touches in all but one game since taking over as the starter. The overall production hasn’t been there, but that has more to do with the lack of a passing game than it does with Mason’s individual ability.
Mason can transcend the Rams offense this week with a great matchup against the Raiders. They’ve allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to running backs this season. In all but three of their games this season, they’ve let a back score a minimum of 16.2 points with standard scoring. For sake of comparison, only Arian Foster (20.1), DeMarco Murray (18), Matt Forte (17.1) and Marshawn Lynch (16.9) are averaging more than 16.2 points per game this year. On top of that, the Rams are favored by a touchdown, and could easily be protecting a lead for most of the second half. If that is the case, Mason should get plenty of volume. I’d bet on Mason eclipsing 100 total yards and scoring at least once on Sunday.
With that, let’s get to the rest of the last-minute news you need for Week 13.
Bernard still can’t surmount the Hill
Giovani Bernard returned from his hip injury last week, running for 45 yards on 17 carries and catching two passes for 22 yards. The good news for his owners was that he made it through the game unscathed. The bad news was that Jeremy Hill was clearly the better back. The rookie out of LSU picked up 87 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries and held down most of the short-yardage work.
Even though Bernard started last week and the pair split the workload right down the middle, Hill is comfortably the better play in Week 13. On the surface, the Buccaneers present a great matchup for both backs, as they’ve allowed the 10th-most fantasy points to the position. If you get down into the weeds, though, you see that they’ve been more vulnerable against backs like Hill.
Tampa Bay has allowed just 3.93 yards per carry this season, and only one runner -- Justin Forsett -- gashed them for 100-plus yards. Five of the nine touchdown runs they’ve surrendered this year have been for fewer than five yards, and only one was for more than 20. That tends toward Hill’s skill set more than Bernard’s.
More importantly, Hill has simply been the better running back this season. He has 643 yards on 131 carries, good for 4.9 yards per carry. Bernard, meanwhile, is averaging fewer than four yards per tote on 491 carries. The North Carolina product is the superior receiver, but Hill has more yards per catch (9.9 to 8.4) on just seven fewer receptions. Bernard hasn’t made a really meaningful impact in the passing game since the second week of the season.
Finally, the Buccaneers may own the only NFC South win over an AFC North team this year, but this game could get out of hand in a hurry. Hill would likely be the back of choice if the Bengals are protecting a big lead, especially since they don’t need to chance Bernard aggravating his hip injury as they make a playoff push.
An abbreviated Thanksgiving Fast Forward
The counting stats were decent for Jay Cutler, but it was not a terribly efficient day for the embattled Bears’ quarterback. He threw for 280 yards, 5.83 yards per attempt, two touchdowns and two interceptions in the loss to the Lions. Alshon Jeffery caught nine passes for 71 yards and a pair of scores, but Brandon Marshall had six receptions for just 42 yards. The Chicago passing attack has fallen far short of expectations this year, and a lot of that has to do with the sputtering Cutler-to-Marshall connection. The latter has had fewer than five fantasy points in six games this season.
On the other side, Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson and Joique Bell all starred for the Lions. Stafford took advantage of the opponent to throw for 390 yards and a pair of scores, and the good news for his owners headed to the playoffs is that the schedule for the next three weeks is very beneficial. The Lions host the Buccaneers and Vikings in their next two games, then head to Chicago in Week 16.
Bell has gone north of 100 total yards in two of his last three games, and hit paydirt twice against the Bears. Even when Reggie Bush is able to return from an ankle injury, the Lions have to lean on Bell as their primary runner. He has simply been too effective on the ground for them to give Bush a ton of carries once he’s healthy.
LeSean McCoy has been the elite RB1 that everyone expected, and not a moment too soon for his fantasy owners. He tore apart the Cowboys to the tune of 159 rushing yards and a touchdown on 25 carries. In the last two weeks, he has 289 yards on the ground and a pair of scores. The Eagles do not have a run-friendly schedule for the fantasy playoffs, with games against Seattle, Dallas and Washington in the offing. Still, count on McCoy as at least a low-end RB1.
Tony Romo flopped in what should have been a great matchup with the Eagles, throwing for 199 yards, 6.86 yards per attempt, zero touchdowns and two interceptions. Dallas visits Chicago and Philadelphia, and then hosts Indianapolis in their next three games. Even after his terrible Thanksgiving game, Romo will be a worthy fantasy starter in all three of those matchups.
Tony Moeaki was the leading receiver in the Seahawks-49ers game, and he caught one pass for 63 yards. That should tell you all you need to know about the reliability of the receiving options on these two teams.
Frank Gore predictably struggled, running for 28 yards on 10 carries. He has now had fewer than 70 yards in all but four games this year, and is running for 3.9 yards per carry. At some point, the 49ers, who are 7-5 and in real danger of missing the playoffs, are going to have give Carlos Hyde more touches. I’m betting that point comes next week.
Russell Wilson threw for 236 yards, 10.73 yards per attempt and a touchdown on Thanksgiving night, totaling 13.44 fantasy points through the air in standard-scoring leagues. He again added to that on the ground, running for 35 yards on seven carries. However, Steven Hauschka, with his four field goals, was the fantasy star for the Seahawks.
Fred Jackson -- Jackson has been able to practice fully all week, so his groin shouldn’t be a concern. The Browns have allowed 4.38 yards per carry to running backs this year, making them a particularly good foil for Jackson. He should easily register as a flex play for his owners this week.
Julian Edelman -- Edelman has been a PPR monster again this year, catching 70 passes for 695 yards. He has just two touchdowns, though, and that could have owners in standard leagues thinking about benching him this week. That would be a mistake. The over/under on the Patriots-Packers game in Lambeau Field is 59. Chances are strong that both of these high-powered offenses will put up at least 30 points. You want as many players in this game active as possible.
Steven Jackson -- Jackson has been able to get in the end zone in three of his last four games, but this is a terrible matchup for the aging running back. The Cardinals have allowed the second-fewest points to backs this year and have yet to let a back hit the century mark on the ground. They’ve also surrendered just five rushing touchdowns on the season.
Andre Johnson -- The 33-year-old Johnson is suffering through the worst season of his career, and his fantasy owners are suffering right alongside him. He has just one touchdown and hasn’t topped 70 yards for four consecutive games. The Titans rank slightly worse than league average in pass coverage, but a decent matchup isn’t going to save him. He had seven catches for just 55 yards the first time the Texans and Titans met this year. Don’t expect much more this week.
San Diego Chargers at Baltimore Ravens
No significant injuries.
Cleveland Browns at Buffalo Bills
• Jordan Cameron (concussion) was a limited participant in practice. You shouldn’t be counting on him at this point of the season.
• Robert Woods is probable with an ankle injury. Consider him a WR4 in this matchup.
Tennessee Titans at Houston Texans
• Arian Foster was limited all week because of his groin injury, but he is expected to play. Whoever starts for the Texans, be it him or Alfred Blue, is a slam-dunk fantasy starter.
Washington Redskins at Indianapolis Colts
• Jordan Reed (hamstring) was limited this week in practice. You should be able to find a better option.
• Dwayne Allen (ankle) didn’t practice all week, essentially guaranteeing he won’t play on Sunday. Coby Fleener should be universally started.
New York Giants at Jacksonville Jaguars
No significant injuries.
Carolina Panthers at Minnesota Vikings
• Jerick McKinnon is out with a back injury, making Ben Tate a sneaky play in what should be a great matchup. Matt Asiata remains a low-value option, given that he only gets work near the goal line.
New Orleans Saints at Pittsburgh Steelers
• Khiry Robinson (forearm) has not participated in practice all week. He shouldn’t be on your radar regardless.
Oakland Raiders at St. Louis Rams
• Latavius Murray will sit out due to the concussion he suffered against the Chiefs last week.
Cincinnati Bengals at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
• Charles Sims (ankle) has been limited in practice, but he is expected to play against the Bengals. He’s no better than a low-end RB3. Austin Seferian-Jenkins (back) was limited for most of the week, but he should be good to go for Sunday.
Arizona Cardinals at Atlanta Falcons
• Larry Fitzgerald (knee) hasn’t participated in practice. You don’t want to count on him this week.
• Roddy White (ankle) has been limited in practice all week, but head coach Mike Smith said he’s confident White will play. He’s a solid WR2, as always.
New England Patriots at Green Bay Packers
• Shane Vereen (ankle) and Brandon LaFell (shoulder) have both been limited in practice, but they’re expected to be active for the Patriots. You want both of them active in what should be a very high-scoring game.
• Davante Adams (heel) popped up on the injury report toward the end of the week. He’s a low-end WR4 option, even when fully healthy.
Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs
• The Chiefs may finally get Donnie Avery (hernia) back this week, but he would make more of a real-life impact than a fantasy one.
Miami Dolphins at New York Jets
• The official injury report isn’t yet available for this game, but Charles Clay (knee) is expected to return this week. He’s a borderline starter, though I have him outside the top 12 at the position. Mike Wallace (chest) returned to practice late in the week, and should also play on Monday night.