Seven Stats & Expectation Trends for Week 14 (Fantasy Football)
Each week of the fantasy season is the ‘most important week so far,’ but that mantra rings especially true next week. Most fantasy playoffs begin in Week 15, which means this is your last chance to improve your record, jockey for seeding, and/or slide into the postseason. Even if you’re sitting pretty with the #1 seed, this is your opportunity to look ahead and prepare for crucial upcoming matchups. Here are seven things I’ve got my eye on; all data is from nflfastR.
The Curious Case of the Houston Texans
I won two crucial matchups in Week 13, all thanks to an insane performance from the Cleveland Browns D/ST that included the triple threat: pick-six, punt return, and fumble return touchdowns. This was very out of character for the Browns, who have been among the worst fantasy defenses all season long. What happened?
Enter their opponent, the Houston Texans:
Fantasy Half-PPR PPG since Week 7:
Dalvin Cook (RB11) – 14.6
Saquon Barkley (RB6) – 14.3
Rhamondre Stevenson (RB9) – 15.0
Amon-Ra St. Brown (WR7) – 14.3
Kirk Cousins (QB14) – 15.2
Defenses facing the Houston Texans in ESPN standard scoring – 15.0
— Matt DiSorbo (@datavizuals) December 7, 2022
For the past seven weeks, the D/ST facing the Texans has been basically as good as an RB1 or WR1, and even better when you consider the comparative advantages to other defenses. That’s been even more true in recent weeks: the Washington Commanders‘ D/ST put up 21 points in Week 11, the Miami Dolphins D/ST 20 points in Week 12, and of course the bountiful Browns in Week 13.
So what’s the plan? You won’t be able to pick up the Texans’ opponent this week, since they draw the Dallas Cowboys, the #1 D/ST in most scoring formats. What you can do (besides praying that you don’t face the Cowboys in fantasy), is to look ahead to the next few weeks: the Texans close out the season with the Kansas City Chiefs, Tennessee Titans, and Jacksonville Jaguars in the fantasy championships. Each of these D/ST units is average to below average and will likely be available on your waiver wire, especially the Jags. If you’ve got the bench space, consider rostering one for that big matchup. If that week rolls around and they’re still on the waiver wire, don’t be afraid to spend big on FAAB or waiver priorities to get them. After all, 15 points out of your D/ST spot is nothing to sneeze at!
I built a simple model that takes into account targets, air yards, and defensive prowess and predicts what we expect WRs to score on the week. Then, we can see which wideouts score more, in a sense overachieving given their workload. Here are the leaders:
In my opinion, there’s not much to take away here. We expect the top three guys – Davante Adams, Amon-Ra St. Brown, and AJ Brown – to be overachievers since they are just bona fide WR studs. The next two names – Marcus Jones and Trent Sherfield – turned a few targets into big touchdowns, but aren’t on anyone’s fantasy radar because of their lack of involvement. Let’s see if there is anything more actionable from the ‘underachievers’:
Tyler Conklin is an interesting name: he saw seven targets but came down with just two catches for nine yards. As we’ve seen, Mike White is the perfect quarterback for fantasy, throwing for over 300 yards in both his starts; Zach Wilson managed just one 300+ yard outing in his whole season. Conklin is as good a streamer as any in what is a verified tight end wasteland.
Finally, let’s pour one out for Diontae Johnson. The Pittsburgh Steelers‘ wideout saw a whopping 11 targets on Sunday, for just five catches, 60 yards, and a WR41 overall finish. He’s notching 8.8 targets per game, and yet his best finish on the season is WR29 all the way back in Week 3. It’s probably time to leave him to the waiver wire; unfortunately, targets have not been adding up to actual fantasy production.
So much in fantasy is left untold. Here are the pass-catchers who have ‘almost scored’ the most: tackled inside the five on drives where they didn’t end up scoring eventually.
CeeDee Lamb stays atop this chart with four ‘almost touchdowns’ in the last three weeks. It’s not like he hasn’t been great this season: he’s the WR6 on the year and has been posting 18.0 PPG since his bye in Week 9. The point is that things could be even better. He’s one of the best wideouts you could have on your team right now, probably only outside of Davante Adams and Tyreek Hill, as the Cowboys fight for home-field advantage down the stretch.
Here’s the same chart for rushers:
Isiah Pacheco leads the way with four near-scores. He’s been rising on the fantasy stage of late, with RB21, RB16, and RB11 performances in the last three weeks; if those trends continue, he’ll be the RB6 and RB1 coming up! In all seriousness, though, he appears to be the first back on the best offense in football, for a team now struggling to maintain their grip on home-field advantage after the loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. He’s a must-start going forward.
Big Play Mavens
It’s certainly fun when your player cashes in a monster touchdown; however, steady production is usually the key to long-term fantasy success. Here are receivers ranked by the percent of points coming from their top 20% of plays (so, if they have had 50 receptions, what percent of points stemmed from ten catches):
Gabe Davis continues to sit atop this list, with almost 60% of his performance coming from a handful of plays. I will continue to say it: he’s a big risk to have in your lineup since his weekly fantasy production is dependent on these monster plays. Indeed, he’s finished as the WR33, WR66, and WR38 in the last three weeks, and only has one top-30 finish since the bye in Week 7.
We’ll ignore Davante Adams in the second slot: he has a ton of catches, so 20% of his plays are actually a lot of plays! More important is Christian Watson, who is on an unbelievable tear with eight touchdowns in the last four weeks. Even more impressive is that he’s only had 17 touches (fifteen receptions and two carries), which means he’s scoring about half the time when he touches the ball. Now don’t hear what I’m not saying: you have to stay in the flames with the rookie. However, it’s really hard for this type of production to be sustainable on this workload in the NFL, so don’t be surprised if the flames start to fade, and don’t be afraid to jump ship sooner rather than later if they do.
A really interesting name on the other side of this chart is Zay Jones, who was the WR5 in Week 12. Zay has had a really impressive workload, averaging over ten targets per game in the last three weeks. You know his output is coming on steady volume, which makes big outings like Week 12 more likely. He’s a really interesting FLEX down the stretch.
Target Risers & Fallers
For a deeper dive into target trends, check out Aaron Larson’s excellent article. My favorite statistic to look at is big movers: players that have seen the biggest increase (or decrease) in targets per game since the first chunk of the season (Weeks 1 – 7 vs. Weeks 8 – 13).
The leader in this category is Nico Collins with four more targets per game in the back half of the season; he’s been quietly putting up 9.8 fantasy points per game in his last four outings. As the Footballers always like to say, even though the Texans’ game may be over early, they still get to play 60 minutes of football. Nico pretty much has a favorable game script locked up in nearly every matchup.
Curtis Samuel sits on the other end of this spectrum. He’s seen his target total fall off by more than four per game, perhaps thanks to the quarterback change from Carson Wentz to Taylor Heinicke. What’s more – and unfortunately for Curtis – it’s working. The Washington Commanders are 3-0-1 in their last four games, so something is going right. Samuel did see seven targets in their Week 13 tie against the New York Giants, but it was his first time eclipsing more than four since Week 7 (and he had zero in Week 12 despite playing 60% of the snaps). He’s on bye this week, and I wouldn’t mind dropping him if you need to make moves to win now.
Two Roads, Diverged?
One statistic I like to look at is the relationship between a team’s top two fantasy performers (not including the quarterback). On the one hand, they might be more likely to go off when the whole team puts up points; on the other hand, they could be taking opportunities away from each other. This result could be pretty important if you roster both guys; will starting them increase your chances of boom/bust, or balance them out? Here are the correlations broken by pairs, for qualifying teams (that score enough points to qualify):
The leading duo is Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, which is unsurprising: when Tua Tagovailoa is slinging it, all of the pass-catching options have plenty to eat. On the other end of the spectrum, we have a bunch of RB-WR duos, most extremely with Stefon Diggs and Devin Singletary.
Now here’s where it gets tricky. Low correlation (and, in turn, high correlation) could be good or bad, depending on the situation. If you roster both Diggs and Singletary and need a monster week to beat your opponent (or outscore another opponent by a lot), then you’re probably going to want to look elsewhere. That’s because Diggs and Singletary are negatively correlated: when one performs well, the other tends to not. On the other hand, if you have a comfortable lead in projections and just want to ensure you don’t lay an egg, Diggs and Singletary would be perfect to start! Just think about the situation that your team is in, and what type of stack they need.
Curse of Consistency
Here’s a chart of the four ‘least volatile’ players by weekly scoring:
Nico Collins, who we’ve already mentioned, leads the way here. Since Week 3, he’s only scored less than 7.3 points a single time (4.8). If you just need solid, no-nonsense points out of your FLEX, Nico might be your guy.
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