- Should fantasy owners start Russell Wilson against the Jaguars' defense or Carson Wentz against the Rams this weekend? Absolutely.
Loyal readers of the Target and Snap Report know that we like to utilize aFPA, 4for4’s schedule-adjusted fantasy points allowed metric. It’s a great tool because it takes fantasy points allowed and elevates it, thereby making it more valuable. Instead of just ranking defenses by fantasy points allowed, aFPA acknowledges that not all schedules are created equal, and that opponent quality should matter when determining defensive strength.
Consider the following example. Defense A surrenders 20 points to Carson Wentz, 22 points to Tom Brady and 24 points to Russell Wilson. Defense B allows 15 points to Derek Carr, 17 points to Trevor Siemian and 19 points to Jacoby Brissett. Defense B has allowed fewer points, but, given the competition, are they really the better defense against quarterbacks? Adjusting for schedule, as aFPA does, places all defenses on an even playing field, regardless of to-date opponents.
Why the quick rundown on aFPA to kick off the Week 14 Target and Snap Report? It’s the first week of the fantasy playoffs in most fantasy leagues, and five quarterbacks who have been instrumental in getting their owners to this point have brutal matchups. The top-five defenses in quarterback aFPA are the Jaguars, Ravens, Rams, Chargers and Vikings. In Week 14, the Jaguars host the Seahawks, the Ravens visit the Steelers, the Rams welcome the Eagles to Los Angeles, the Chargers host the Redskins in another part of town, and the Vikings take a trip to Charlotte to play the Panthers. That means Wilson, Ben Roethlisberger, Wentz, Kirk Cousins and Cam Newton all will have their hands full this weekend.
To be sure, it will be hard for fantasy owners to bench any of the five. Wilson ranks first among quarterbacks in standard-scoring leagues, 25.94 points ahead of Wentz, who sits in second place. Newton and Cousins are fifth and sixth, respectively, while Roethlisberger has shaken off a slow start to the season to climb to 11th place in quarterback scoring. Still, those of you who own one of these five quarterbacks and have the luxury to go in another direction may want to consider it. We’ll take each one on a case-by-case basis, starting with the most interesting one of them all: the No. 1 quarterback against the league’s No. 1 pass defense, by both traditional metrics and quarterback aFPA.
Russell Wilson vs. the Jaguars
Wilson is a one-man wrecking crew this season. He’s accounted for all but one of the Seahawks’ 30 touchdowns. He’s the team’s leading rusher. He has had at least 24 fantasy points, the equivalent of 300 yards and three touchdowns in standard-scoring leagues, in eight of his 12 games this season, and more than 30 points three times. His team may not match the Patriots or Eagles in record, but he’s got as strong an MVP case as Brady or Wentz.
The Jaguars defense, meanwhile, is an 11-man wrecking crew. They’ve allowed a schedule-adjusted 8.2 fantasy points and 10.84 actual fantasy points per game to quarterbacks this season. The biggest game they’ve surrendered was a 241-yard, two-touchdown miracle effort by Blaine Gabbert, totaling 16.34 fantasy points. Seventeen quarterbacks are averaging more than 16.34 points per game this season. The Jaguars have allowed just 10 passing touchdowns all year. They’ve limited quarterbacks to 5.74 yards per attempt. To put that into individual player terms, Joe Flacco has a 5.54 YPA this season. They picked off Roethlisberger five times in Pittsburgh. They limited Jared Goff to 124 yards and 5.9 YPA. They’ve held opposing quarterbacks to single-digit points in seven of their 12 games.
Clearly, this is going to be the toughest test for both Wilson and the Jaguars this season. While the Jaguars defense deserves all the respect in the world, there’s no way I can counsel sitting Wilson, unless you somehow also own Brady. Offense dictates too much of what happens on the field in the modern NFL to fade an elite quarterback at the top of his game, no matter the matchup. Wilson always has the QB1 ceiling, even against the Jaguars. What makes him different, though, is that he’s good enough to bring a top-10 floor into even the toughest matchup. This is not a “start your studs” argument. It is a “Wilson is a special player who can always be trusted” argument.
Carson Wentz vs. the Rams
Wentz had a tough time in Seattle last week, but he’s still second among quarterbacks in points, 10 points ahead of Alex Smith, and 15 ahead of Brady. Like Wilson, he has huge season-long numbers while also being reliable from week to week. Wentz has scored at least 18 points in 10 of his 12 games this season, and has hit 24 points five times (one of those was 23.98 points, but we’ll round up). Even in what was one of his worst performances of the season last week against the Seahawks, he threw for 348 yards, 7.73 YPA and one touchdown, finishing with 18.42 points.
The Rams haven’t been quite as stifling as the Jaguars, but they have some impressive trophies on their wall. They held Cousins to 11.86 points, Wilson to 12.52 points and Drew Brees to 14.34 points. All told, those three top-flight quarterbacks combined for 623 yards, 6.49 YPA, three touchdowns and one interception against the Rams. None threw for multiple scores, and Brees was the only one to top 200 yards.
Wentz could be playing without Zach Ertz, who suffered a concussion last week. Trey Burton has been a capable stand-in when called upon, but the Eagles offense isn’t nearly as efficient or dangerous without Ertz. Despite that, the great track record of the Rams defense and the singular force that is Aaron Donald, I can’t sit Wentz in most circumstances. The Eagles go into the game as two-point underdogs, but it carries an over/under of 50 points, highest on the Week 14 slate. Games like that can underwhelm, especially as teams like the Rams and Eagles that have been able to run up big scores on lesser defenses step up in weight class when they face one another, but both of these offenses have been remarkably efficient this season. That should help create a solid foundation, no matter the defense on the other side. Wentz is my QB5 this week, behind Brady, Philip Rivers, Brees and Wilson.
Ben Roethlisberger vs. the Ravens
This matchup isn’t as bad in reality as it appears on paper. Yes, Roethlisberger struggled mightily the first time these teams met, throwing for 216 yards, 7.2 YPA, one touchdown and one interception, totaling 11.54 points. Yes, the Ravens are second in quarterback aFPA, and have held quarterbacks to 6.68 YPA, 11 touchdowns, and 11.72 points per game. Dig a little deeper, though, and you’ll see that this actually doesn’t set up that poorly for Roethlisberger.
First, this game is in Pittsburgh. Roethlisberger’s home/road splits are well known to all fantasy owners, and the pattern has continued this season. In five home games this season, Roethlisberger has thrown for 1,429 yards, 7.01 YPA and 12 touchdowns against seven interceptions. That comes out to 19.63 fantasy points per game. In seven road games, he has 1,809 yards, 7.8 YPA, 10 touchdowns and six picks, translating to 15.19 points per game. Those two home games include a meeting with the Vikings and his dreadful outing against the Jaguars in which he threw five interceptions in the worst game of his career.
Second, while aFPA adjusts for schedule, some slates can be so bad that it can’t completely calibrate to a league-average schedule. As a case in point, consider the quarterbacks the Ravens have faced this season: Andy Dalton, Kevin Hogan, DeShone Kizer, Blake Bortles, Chad Henne, Roethlisberger, E.J. Manuel, Mitchell Trubisky, Case Keenum, Matt Moore, Marcus Mariota, Brett Hundley, Tom Savage and Matthew Stafford. All the schedule adjusting in the world can’t quite get the Ravens on a level Kizer, Blake Bortles, Chad Henne, Roethlisberger, E.J. Manuel, Mitchell Trubisky, Case Keenum, Matt Moore, Marcus Mariota, Brett Hundley, Tom Savage and Matthew Stafford. All the schedule adjusting in the world can’t quite get the Ravens on a level playing field with the rest of the league. Roethlisberger at Heinz Field will be a much different test for them.
Finally, the Ravens will be without top corner Jimmy Smith, who tore his Achilles tendon last week. Pro Football Focus grades Smith as the 13th-best corner in the league through Week 13. His absence could have a domino effect on the entire Baltimore defense, further opening the field for Roethlisberger. Like Wilson and Wentz, I’m trusting him in a seemingly bad matchup.
Kirk Cousins vs. the Chargers
This is the first one where I see a compelling argument for benching the quarterback. The Redskins offensive line remains one of the most banged up in the league. Tackles Trent Williams and Morgan Moses were in the lineup last week, but center Chase Roullier was inactive. With the Redskins all but eliminated from playoff contention, there were some expectations that the team could shut down Williams and Moses, but Jay Gruden has resisted that idea. Still, an offensive line that is less than full strength going up against the Chargers fearsome front four is not good for the quarterback in question.
Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram have led a total defensive turnaround for the Chargers. Their ability to consistently generate pressure has helped turn the Chargers into one of the best pass defenses in the league. Meanwhile, Casey Hayward is PFF’s top-rated cornerback, while Desmond King ranks 10th. The Chargers are a truly bad matchup for any passing game, but even more so for one with an offensive line nearly in tatters and lacking a go-to weapon outside the numbers.
As we’ve said time and again this season, Cousins deserves a ton of credit for what he has done this year. Terrelle Pryor was arguably the biggest bust in the league, from both fantasy and real-life perspectives. Josh Doctson feels like he’s still a year away. Jordan Reed has missed another huge chunk of a season due to injury. The run game has shown flashes, mostly of late with Samaje Perine in the backfield, but has been woefully inconsistent, and largely ineffective. Still, Cousins is the QB6 in standard-scoring leagues. Losing Chris Thompson, however, was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I’d be looking for another option if Cousins were my regular starter.
Cam Newton vs. the Vikings
Remember the list of quarterbacks the Ravens have faced this season? The Vikings have opposed about as opposite a group as is possible. They’ve seen Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Matthew Stafford (twice), Cousins, Jared Goff and Matt Ryan. Cousins torched them for 28.58 fantasy points, but that owed largely to two rushing touchdowns. Takle that away, and none of those quarterbacks, all of whom are in the top 15 in scoring this year, scored more than 17.52 points against them (Roethlisberger in Week 2). The group averaged 245.42 yards, 0.86 touchdowns and 0.29 interceptions per game, to go along with 6.9 YPA. The closest mirror for those numbers is Jacoby Brissett. In other words, the Vikings have made seven of the top-15 fantasy quarterbacks look, on average, like Brissett.
That’s the challenge Newton has on his hands. The next quarterback who manages to be efficient against the Vikings will be the first one who does so in all season. Jameis Winston did throw for 328 yards and 8.2 YPA against them in Week 3, but it was in a 34-17 loss where the entire second half was garbage time. Even if Greg Olsen plays, he won’t be at 100%. That means Newton will need to find a way with one receiver, Devin Funchess, who will get the Xavier Rhodes shadow, and Christian McCaffrey dominating his targets.
In other words, Newton is likely to have to do a ton of damage with his legs if he’s going to show up for his fantasy owners. He has gotten back to that in a big way this season, running for 515 yards and five touchdowns on 89 carries. The Vikings have played just one quarterback, DeShone Kizer, who makes a lot of noise on the ground. They held him to 18 yards on five carries, though he did get in the end zone. The bet here is that Newton will need at least one rushing score to end up as a QB1 this week.
If Newton is on my team, I’m likely still starting him, but he’s just my QB12 for the week. Some quarterbacks I have ahead of him include Josh McCown, Matthew Stafford, Dak Prescott and Matt Ryan.