Fantasy football players seem to get smarter every year. The leagues get deeper. The competition gets better. That's partially because of the sheer amount of information available to fantasy geeks willing to put the time in.
But it's not always easy to find sound fantasy advice on players making up the back ends of fantasy depth charts. That's where we'll try to help fill in the gaps by providing you with information we've gleaned by being on the Patriots beat.
MARQUEE MATCHUP: SONY MICHEL vs. BENGALS DEFENSE
I know what you're thinking. How could he possibly even mention Sony Michel as a potentially-viable option in fantasy? I get it. Michel hasn't scored double-digit fantasy points since Week 7. He had five rush attempts last week against the Chiefs. He had 10 the week prior against the Texans. He's a non-factor in the passing game. I get it.
But consider this: The Bengals are allowing a league-worst 156.7 yards rushing per game, and against them, volume equals fantasy relevance. Ten backs have taken at least 12 carries against the Bengals this year. All 10 ended up as top-20 options in fantasy, according to Mike Tagliere of Fantasy Pros. And if you're worried about his waning workload the last two weeks, just look at the scores of those games. They got away from the run as they got down and had to try to come back. That's James White territory.
I think the Patriots will start the game trying to run the football, and I think they'll do it successfully, as they did against Houston two weeks ago. If they can keep the lead — which they should against Andy Dalton and Co. — then Michel should get more work. The end of the season could resemble the end of last season for the Patriots, when they embraced being a running football team. It's unclear whether they have the personnel to do that, but they have to try. And against a defense that's generous to opposing backs, Michel is worthy of a FLEX spot in your lineup this week.
JULIAN EDELMAN: He's all kinds of banged up, but you can be the one not to start him this week. Won't be me. He's Mr. Consistency, seeing double-digit targets in eight straight games, and picking up at least 14 fantasy points in each one. He's broken 20 fantasy points in PPR leagues over the last two weeks. Don't think too hard about this one. If he's active, and I'd expect him to be, he has to be in your lineup.
JAMES WHITE: This isn't the no-brainer you might think it is. White is only two weeks removed from having 11 total yards in a win over the Cowboys. But since then, the Patriots have used him more as a runner — in part because of Sony Michel's ineffectiveness — and he's seen 33 touches in the run and pass games. This Patriots offense is at the point where they can't keep their playmakers off the field. White should be out there quite a bit Sunday, and he should be fantasy-relevant.
TOM BRADY: Until Brady's line can protect him consistently, and until a third option in the passing game — Mohamed Sanu? N'Keal Harry? — emerges, then you can't trust him in your fantasy playoffs. He still has plenty of skill, but he needs more time in the pocket. And when he has time, he needs someone who can uncover. This Patriots passing game is a mess right now, and even against a defense that allows 8.4 yards per attempt, it's hard to trust anyone outside of Edelman or White. Brady is a borderline top-12 option this week.
PATRIOTS RECEIVERS NOT NAMED EDELMAN: The Patriots are going to need either Sanu or Harry to show up at some point, and time is running out. Maybe this is the week they establish themselves as real threats, but you can't bank on that. If you need a Hail Mary, I'd say both have an outside shot at fantasy points. Harry is a back-shoulder throw in the red zone away from a handful of points — though he hasn't seen one of those kinds of passes since the Cowboys game — and if Sanu's healthy, then he's a threat to play every snap. You just can't depend on either.
JOE MIXON: The Patriots allow 4.2 yards per carry (which slots them in at 15th in the NFL), and Mixon contributes some as a pass-catcher (eight targets the last two weeks). But you can't be excited about Mixon against a defense that teams don't even try to run against all that often (third-fewest attempts faced in the NFL). In the passing game, though Texans backs beat the Patriots more than once, they're still fifth in the league in terms of limiting that position through the air. They allow just 5.1 yards per target to pass-catchers out of the backfield.
JOHN ROSS: Even after allowing a 48-yard touchdown to Mecole Hardman last week, the Patriots are still fourth in the NFL in terms of allowing explosive pass plays. Only six percent of attempts against them turn into explosive gains. They've also allowed just 30 explosive plays this season (also fourth). That's enough to scare me off Ross, who seems like a good option for Jonathan Jones and a safety over the top.
TYLER BOYD: The most dependable Bengals wideout this season is finishing the year on a high note, racking up 13, 17 and 19 fantasy points in his last three games. If A.J. Green doesn't play — and at this point, why would he? — then Boyd would be likely to get the Stephon Gilmore treatment, which would mean you should go ahead and bury him on your bench this week.
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