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As if the clock struck midnight, the Falcons defense turned back into a pumpkin in week 12. After huge games in back to back weeks, they were unable to get much pressure on Jameis Winston and surprisingly failed to record a sack or force a fumble against the Buccaneers. Being the festive sort of quarterback he is, Winston did gift-wrap a pair of interceptions, one of which bailed out an otherwise dismal stat line for De’Vondre Campbell. Beyond that, Falcons defenders gave us nothing to get excited about with Deion Jones leading the fantasy charge at 5-4-0.
One of those earlier big games came against the Saints when Atlanta racked up six sacks in an upset win at New Orleans. That game now appears to have been a mirage. The Saints are a strong matchup for our tackle producing defenders but we should not expect much in the big play columns, especially when it comes to the pass rushers.
Damontae Kazee recorded three tackles and three assists in the first meeting despite playing 90% of the defensive snaps. He has seen at least 90% of the action in each of the last three games including 98% of the plays last week. Kazee should be a much bigger IDP factor in the rematch. In week 11 Andrew Adams and Mike Edwards combined to go 11-1-1 against the Saints and Eric Reid racked up 11-4-0 with a pass breakup against them on Sunday.
Eric Reid has been on fire of late so sitting him is not going to be an option for most managers, but consider that only one safety has reached five solo tackles against the Redskins since week six and only two have exceeded five solo stops against them all season. Reid could also be a little gimpy this week. He was down with an ankle injury in the third quarter against New Orleans but was able to get back on the field. It could be an issue once the soreness sets in.
Nick Kwiatkoski turned in a dud in week eleven, largely because his playing time was limited to base packages. He was 4-1-0 with a pass breakup against the Giants, but it is noteworthy that he played 57 of 60 snaps in that game. This week’s matchup makes him a near must start. Detroit is the team Kwiatkoski blew up against in week 10, going 9-1-1 with an interception. In fact, five linebackers have recorded at least seven solo stops against the Lions over their last four games, including Cole Holcomb who was 7-6-1 last week. Can you say, Bo Scarbrough?
Germaine Pratt had his most productive game of the season with six tackles and two assists against the Steelers. He is still seeing less than 70% of the playing time each week, but the Bengals have to like what they are seeing.
Everyone is talking about the Browns turnaround on offense, but their defense has stepped up of late as well. Chad Thomas is playing well as a starting defensive end. He is 10-0-2 with a batted pass in three games including 3-0-1 and a pass defended against the Steelers in week 11. The Brown could get Olivier Vernon back this week which would be a plus for Thomas, but even if Vernon is not on the field, Thomas deserves strong consideration in this one.
Most people expected to see Chris Smith as a starter last week but he remained in the third man role, seeing time mostly on passing downs. Bryan Cox Jr got the start opposite Thomas and turned in a respectable game.
Sheldon Richardson was huge against the Dolphins with a line of 4-1-2, a forced fumble and a batted pass. Larry Ogunjobi had a sack against the Steelers in week 11 and is coming off a week of rest compliments of the commissioner. The Steelers have not been a particularly strong matchup for interior linemen but I have a feeling that could change with their new starting quarterback. Call it a gut feeling but I like both of these players this week.
Surprisingly Sean Lee did not take on an every-down role with Leighton Vander Esch out last week. Instead, Lee played slightly under 70% of the snaps in somewhat of a timeshare with Joe Thomas. It is hard to say if this was by design or a product of the game situation/weather. If he plays full time, Lee is a strong start versus the Bills this week, as Leighton Vander Esch has already been ruled out.
Alexander Johnson (11-4-0), Todd Davis (9-4-0), and Justin Simmons (7-1-0) all showed up strong in the box scores last week. Those numbers had a lot to do with the Bears running the ball 47 times in that game. The Chargers was a mediocre matchup for linebackers and safeties for much of the season but have been a different animal since the return of Melvin Gordon a few weeks back. They are all worthy of strong consideration this week.
Jarrad Davis is coming off his best game of the season at 6-2-1 and is facing a Chicago team that was a stellar matchup in week 12. The problem here is we have no idea which Bears team will show up. If it is last week’s version, Davis is a strong start. If it is the team that played the Eagles in week nine when Philadelphia players combined for 25 tackles and 18 assists or the one that caused Cory Littleton to go 1-2-0 in week 11, Davis is in for an ugly game. For what it is worth, he was 5-3-0 when these teams met in week 10.
A’Shawn Robinson is coming off a great game at 4-0-1 with a batted pass. This after a string of five games with two or fewer tackles and no big plays. Some of Robinson’s inconsistency comes down to the position he plays but there are some other factors with him. When the Lions are at full strength, they like to rotate a lot of guys at the tackle positions. Mike Daniels, Damon Harrison, John Atkins all see significant action when available. When one or more of these guys are banged up, Robinson gets a lot more playing time. Over a three-game stretch starting in week eight, he was on the field about half the time. In weeks 4,6,7,11 and 12 he averaged better than 70% of the snaps. The bottom line here, if you are thinking about playing Robinson this week, consider that he had two tackles the last time these teams met, and watch to see if any of his fellow interior linemen are going to miss the game.
The Patriots are an excellent matchup for corners. The problem is, we have no clear picture of what the Texans will look like at that position this week. Against the Colts, Houston started Gareon Conley and Johnathan Joseph, with Vernon Hargraves seeing 55 snaps as the third corner. This week the team may get Bradley Roby and Lonnie Johnson back from injury. Both guys are practicing this week. Hargreaves and Conley are both young and talented former first-round picks who are likely to be long term starters but they are both relatively new to the team. Missing this matchup stinks but unless we get some clarity from the team later in the week, there will be a lot of risk with either of these guys.
Brennan Scarlett had another solid outing with five tackles and an assist. That makes four straight games with at least five solo tackles or a sack.
Justin Reid returned to practice on a limited basis early in the week. He may be available against the Patriots but the shoulder injury has been an issue for several weeks and will continue to have an effect on his production.
Ronnie Harrison left the week 12 game in the first quarter with a concussion. Keep an eye on his status as the week moves along. The Buccaneers are a mediocre matchup for safeties anyway, so this might be a good week to sit Harrison even if he does go.
Quincy Williams found his way back into the lineup in week 12. His numbers did not stand out with four tackles and two assists, but he did play all 53 snaps in the game.
Los Angeles Chargers
It is too little and too late for the Chargers but star safety Derwin James is practicing this week. If all goes well he could be activated from IR in time to play against Denver. If not this week, then probably next versus Jacksonville. Adrian Phillips is also close to returning.
To update a topic from last week’s column, Drue Tranquill is battling a calf injury that kept him out of the week 11 game. His absence from the injury report that Friday was an oversite by someone as he was officially questionable leading up to the game. The bye week has allowed him to rest and heal but he remains questionable for week 13. This is a player to watch down the stretch as he could be a major factor in the near future.
The Vikings could be hurting at safety this week. Anthony Harris missed the week 11 game with a groin injury and Harrison Smith was out of practice on Tuesday with a hamstring issue. That could mean Andrew Sendejo gets another start at strong safety with Jayron Kearse possibly working at free. The Seahawks have been a solid matchup for safeties on most weeks, so keep an eye on Minnesota’s practice reports as the week progresses.
New Orleans Saints
Starting in week seven, Marcus Davenport went four games without recording a solo tackle or making any sort of impact play. In week 11 his playing time was reduced to a mere 23 snaps which were by far his lowest of the season. After what was a relatively normal rookie campaign, this was supposed to be Davenport’s breakout season. So what is the deal?
As far as we know there are no injury issues here. I believe it is a matter of a young player being worn down. He was not particularly impressive early on but did have 10 tackles, 7 assists, 3 sacks and a forced fumble over the first five games. Over the first seven games, Davenport played well over 70% of the snaps. Then the coaching staff began to back him off some. Maybe the 23 snap game was a message to the young man or maybe it was a case of giving him a bit of a break. Whatever the reason, Davenport got back in the sack column against the Panthers. For redraft managers, he is not worthy of a roster spot at this point, but those of us in dynasty leagues may want to give him a little more rope before cutting ties.
New York Giants
Jabril Peppers left the week 12 game with a back injury that has been diagnosed as a transverse process fracture. Coach Shurmer does not believe this to be a season-ending injury but it sounds a lot like the injury that has kept Lions quarterback Matt Stafford out for the last few games. We might get Peppers back in time for a deep playoff push, but at this point, we should not expect him to be available.
New York Jets
The Jets are expected to make a decision on C.J. Mosley in the next few days. The former Ravens star has played two games this year due to a groin injury that was aggravated when he tried to go in week seven. After unloading the Brinks truck to land him, the team would like to get some return on their investment this year, but it is starting to feel like Mosley is headed for IR. Those of us who picked up James Burgess will want to keep a close eye on this situation.
Burgess had his best game of the season versus Oakland with six tackles, three assists, a fumble recovery, and a pass breakup. He has been a solid addition for the Jets who are playing well defensively and has now recorded double-digit fantasy points in four straight games. MNatchups with the Bengals and Dolphins this week and next are nothing to be excited about, but the Jets have the Ravens and Steelers in weeks 15 and 16.
We were watching to see if the Raiders expanded the role of D.J. Swearinger Sr in his second game with the team. They did not. He and Curtis Riley once again split the free safety duties relatively evenly. After getting spanked by the Jets, Oakland may choose a different approach this week in a huge matchup with the Chiefs, but for now, we cannot count on either of these guys.
Lamarcus Joyner did not practice at all last week, so there is currently no timetable for his expected return. In the week two meeting between these teams, Joyner spent a lot of time covering Travis Kelce. That job could fall to Erik Harris this time around.
Nigel Bradham not only returned in week 12, but he also came back to play every snap against Seattle. Bradham managed a team-best of nine combined tackles and assists in the loss. He has never been a great fantasy option but in an every-down role, Bradham is a potential LB3 option down the stretch, even with a string of mediocre matchups on tap.
Maybe the biggest surprise and certainly the biggest disappointment from Bradham’s return was Nate Gerry being limited to 54% of the playing time. Sometimes coaching decisions are real head-scratchers. Gerry still managed double-digit fantasy points for the fifth time in seven games, but the reduced role makes him a considerable risk going forward; especially this week versus the Dolphins who are not a great matchup anyway.
The stagnant Bengals offense provided little opportunity for Pittsburgh defenders on Sunday. As a result, none of them managed more than three solo stops. This week’s matchup with the upward trending Browns should be much better, but we still have the issue of trying to figure out what the Steelers are doing at inside linebacker. For the second time in three games, Mark Barron was on the field for over 90% of the snaps. Meanwhile, Devin Bush has not seen more than 80% of the action in a game since week nine and played 36 of a possible 58 snaps against Cincinnati. The bottom line, other than playmakers T.J. Watt and Minkah Fitzpatrick, there are no Pittsburgh defenders we can count on as more than a desperation flier at this point.
Despite being limited to around 70% of the playing time, Mychal Kendricks has become a quality option for us over the second half of the season. He has at least 13 fantasy points in three of the last four games, is coming off an 11 solo tackle outing against the Eagles, and had a strong matchup with the Vikings in week 13.
There has been an Ezekiel Ansah sighting! Before anyone gets excited over his 3-1-1.5 with a forced fumble against Philadelphia, remember that he was 5-0-1 against Arizona way back in week five, then went 2-3-0 with a forced fumble and a pair of recoveries over the next five games. This is a points chaser’s special. Call me when/if he ever puts two or three games together.
Jarran Reed has certainly put a few games together. At 2-1-.5, he was well on the way to a third straight double-digit point performance when he suffered an ankle injury in the first half on Sunday. Reed has not been practicing early in the week but coach Carroll hopes he can get on the field a little by Friday. At best Reed will be less than 100% against Minnesota.
San Francisco 49ers
Fred Warner has been lighting up the box scores in recent weeks. Over the last three games, he is 29-4-3 with a pair of forced fumbles and a pass breakup. No one can sustain that kind of production for long, but he does have excellent matchups with the Ravens and Saints this week and next respectively.
While Warner is rightfully garnering all the attention, Dre Greenlaw has quietly put up strong numbers as well. He has now reached double-digit points in four consecutive games with 21 solo stops, nine assists, a sack and an interception over that span. There is no hope of getting Warner unless he is already on your roster, but Greenlaw may still be available in some leagues
The thing that makes projecting corners so difficult is that we never know how or who an offense will choose to attack in any given week. More often than not it has been Logan Ryan as the Titans’ most productive corner but last week the Jaguars elected to go after Adoree Jackson. The result was 10 tackles, 2 assists and a pass defended for Jackson, and a loss for the Jaguars. Had Jacksonville gotten more out of their receivers in that matchup, we might expect other teams to follow suit in this copycat league. When the Titans and Colts faced off in week two, Indianapolis went after Malcolm Butler who finished 5-2-0 with a pass defended. With Butler on IR, I look for them to target Ryan this week.
With 11 tackles and 4 assists on 98% of the defensive snaps, it is safe to say Jayon Brown has recovered from the groin injury that plagued him for a while. He was 8-2-0 with a pass breakup in the first meeting with a Colts offense that has been a stellar matchup for linebackers.
Ryan Kerrigan is in concussion protocol and is in danger of missing his first game since 2011. If he is not able to go it would mean more action for Ryan Anderson coming off his 6-0-1 performance against Detroit. Managers in big play based leagues may want to take a hard look at Anderson this week. He faces a Carolina offense that has allowed at least three sacks in five straight games and 22 total over that span.
Cole Holcomb was 7-6-1 against the Lions but nothing has changed with his situation. He continues to share the position with Sean Dion Hamilton. Holcomb has not seen more than 68% of the snaps in any game since week five.
That does it for the last week of the fantasy regular season. Best of luck to you at getting into the playoffs and making some noise once you are there. For those not getting a seat at the table, remember it is never too early to start working on next year’s championship.