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The 2023 NFL regular season is two-thirds complete. It's effectively over for several teams. Two have acknowledged it by firing their head coaches.
Those teams remaining in contention battle through injuries to remain competitive. Star defensive end Myles Garrett will continue to play despite hearing "a pop" in his shoulder, likely an aggravation of an earlier injury. The Browns' playoff hopes remain alive, albeit on the precarious shoulders of rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson or 38-year-old Joe Flacco.
If the Browns were 2-9, they might shut down Garrett for the season rather than allow him to risk further injury that could impact their 2024 plans. New England's top pass rusher, Matthew Judon, suffered a torn biceps in Week 4. He reportedly might return in December. As of this writing, on the last day of November, there is no news on his pending availability. Judon's 4-year $54 million contract incentivizes the 2-9 Patriots to leave him on IR and prepare for 2024.
Many reliable IDPs play for bad teams. At this point in the season, however, those players' availability might become less reliable. Players expected to return for big money in 2024 are more likely to give way to younger, cheaper options on also-rans than on contenders.
New England Patriots (2-9)
Anfernee Jennings succeeded the aforementioned Matthew Judon in the line-up. Jennings and rookie defensive lineman Keion White each scored their first quarterback sacks of the season versus the pitiful Giants' offense in Week 12. Neither would be easy to trust in less favorable match-ups down the stretch.
Inside linebacker Ja'Whaun Bentley signed an extension ahead of the 2023 season. He has missed time due to injury and appears on the injury report ahead of the Patriots' Week 13 game against the Chargers. Jahlani Tavai assumed Bentley's full-time role in Week 10 and posted adequate numbers for fantasy gamers. If the Patriots shut down Bentley for the year, Tavai will be worth a look in the fantasy playoffs. This defense will struggle to get off the field in their late-season dates with Kansas City and Buffalo.
Cincinnati Bengals (5-6)
The Bengals have a roster built to win now, but Joe Burrow is out for the year, and backup quarterback Jake Browning is clearly not up to the task of sustaining a playoff-bound team. Veteran defenders on lucrative long-term contracts include Trey Hendrickson, Sam Hubbard, B.J. Hill, Logan Wilson, Germaine Pratt, and Nick Scott.
Scott has already given way to rookie Jordan Battle at safety. Battle has recorded 19 combined tackles in two starts and should be on fantasy rosters by now.
The Bengals used their first-round pick on defensive end Myles Murphy, a high-upside prospect with high-end traits. Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo indicates his role is growing. Should Murphy replace the run-stuffer Hubbard with Hendrickson and Hill remaining in the line-up, the Cincinnati pass rush would be worth gambling on.
Draftniks were excited about Akeem Davis-Gaither when he came out of Appalachian State. The first pick of the 2020 NFL draft's fourth round has rarely sniffed the field behind productive and healthy starters Wilson and Pratt. If one were to go down, Davis-Gaither would relish the chance to prove himself as his contract expires this year.
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