Week 12 was a microcosm of the entire 2020 season. It had almost everything. Multiple players across the league were moved to the reserve/COVID-19 list after positive test results or violations of league protocols. Four non-quarterbacks scored over 30 fantasy points. Plus, we had a game featuring two backup quarterbacks. All of the Week 12 excitement, that started nearly a week ago, culminated in an AFC North battle with the Baltimore Ravens missing 17 players. I captured all of the details from Wednesday Afternoon Football along with some notes on the fantasy playoffs and a quick recap of Wednesday’s news.
WAF Went as Expected
For the first 10 minutes of the game, you’d have thought you were watching a college bowl game. A bad college bowl game. The first six drives ended in either a punt or a turnover. Pittsburgh fans were dreading that the Steelers would play down to their opponent again, but Ben Roethlisberger (266-1-1) did enough to secure the victory.
The Ravens were missing nine starters (6 offense and 3 defense) at kickoff. It was fun to think that Robert Griffin III would be throwing to Dez Bryant, but the daydreams turned to nightmares in a hurry. Griffin’s -10.9% Completion Percentage over Expected (CPOE) and -0.58 Expected Points Added per Play (EPA per Play) on just 12 attempts were both in the Bottom 3 for Week 12. Joe Haden was nearly three yards ahead of James Proche when Haden intercepted a quick out route and returned it for a touchdown. The Ravens entered Week 12 averaging 31.7 yards per drive (26th in the league). It’s a far cry from their 41.8 yards per drive last season, but they were still Top 12 in PPG. With 17 players out, the Ravens averaged just 18.3 yards per drive. They ran just 19 plays on Pittsburgh’s side of the field with five of those plays resulting from a muffed punt. The Ravens had to rely on their defense with their offense running just seven plays from within the 20-yard line. The five-point deficit to end the game speaks to how well Baltimore rallied despite their personnel losses. In addition, it highlighted some imperfections in the only perfect team left in the league.
Box-score scouts will say the Steelers were fine. The offense averaged 37.0 yards per drive (greater than their seasonal average of 33.6). Ben Roethlisberger’s 266 passing yards were near his yards per game average for the season (253.4). Diontae Johnson was the primary receiver. Benny Snell handled 84.2% of the running back carries with James Conner out. It all seems fine. But we expected more than 19 points against the depleted Ravens’ squad. We expected more than 5.2 Yards per Attempt (lowest this season). We expected more than just four deep attempts on 51 total passes. We expected fewer mental mistakes (five drops, three fumbles, one lost fumble and 1one interception). The positive is that the Steelers didn’t change their offensive approach. Pittsburgh had averaged a 70.3% overall passing rate with a 75.0% red-zone passing rate over their last four games. Against Baltimore, Roethlisberger held those rates at 71.8% and 80.0%. If you play in PPR leagues and waited on any Pittsburgh pass-catcher you were likely rewarded. Eric Ebron led the team in receiving yards (11-54-0), but Chase Claypool (9-52-0) and Diontae Johnson (13-46-0) weren’t far behind. Plus, JuJu Smith-Schuster got the only touchdown (9-37-1). Pittsburgh will take the win. We’ll take the points. However, there was a lot left to be desired from the Steelers given their opponent.
For the Ravens, the only positive was Marquise Brown. He re-earned his ‘Hollywood’ moniker with a 70-yard touchdown catch and run from Trace McSorley. In addition, he was back to being the team’s primary target leader (8 targets on 18 pass attempts) after falling behind Willie Snead over their last two games. Otherwise, there’s not much else to take away from this game. Devin Duvernay (3-20-0) and Justice Hill (2-5-0) were the only other pass-catchers to have any receiving yards for Baltimore. With the Ravens running just 46 plays, we’ll just have to look forward to Week 13 when all of their starters return.
For the Steelers, the focus was on the passing game without James Conner. Diontae Johnson led the team again in targets (25.5% share) but his inefficiency was on display during the island game. Multiple drops and a fumble out of bounds hampered what should have been a productive day. Entering their Wednesday matchup, Johnson was tied with DK Metcalf for the most drops in the league (8). While drops aren’t predictive and his targets haven’t diminished, it’s interesting that Johnson earned just 1 of 12 targets while the team was in the red zone. Regardless, Roethlisberger’s passing volume should be enough to sustain all of the pass-catchers moving forward as the team prepares for Washington in Week 13.
We’re entering the final week of the regular season for most leagues. There’s no Thursday game to preview, so I decided to look ahead at the playoffs. Weeks 14 through 16 are essentially crunch time. Win out or wait for next season. To help in the decision-making process, I’ve identified some of the top plays at each position. A quarterback streaming recommendation felt more appropriate given the replaceability and scoring volatility at the position. Regardless, all have positive matchups over the three-week stretch enabling top performances from each.
Streaming Quarterback - Mitchell Trubisky, Bears
Now, bear with me. Trubisky was hazardous from a real-football perspective. He was 19th in EPA per Play (-0.03) and 20th in CPOE (-5.1%) on the week. That was after having both a scheduled bye in Week 11 and the full week leading up to Week 12. However, he still threw 3 touchdowns and finished as the QB9. Chicago has held a 64.2% neutral passing rate (fifth in the league) and 72.0% red-zone passing rate (first in the league) throughout the season. With Trubisky back under center, he kept those numbers at 60.0% and 85.7%, respectively. Their playoff matchups include Houston, Minnesota, and Jacksonville. Houston just lost Bradley Roby to suspension and has allowed two 300-yard passers in their last four games (Cam Newton in Week 11, Jake Luton in Week 9). Minnesota may look like they’re regaining form, but have faced Teddy Bridgewater (13.9 fantasy points), a combination of Nick Foles and Tyler Bray (3.2 total fantasy points), and a combination of Matthew Stafford and Chase Daniel (14.7 total fantasy points). Prior to the string of ineptitude and injury-riddled teams, they allowed two or more touchdowns in four consecutive games and three QB1 performances. If you like Allen Robinson’s matchups to close out the year, Trubisky will be the one throwing it to him making him a viable candidate in the playoffs.
Top Running Back – Derrick Henry, Titans
Normally I’m not one to quote trends based on the month, but #DHember (coined by David Kitchen) is at least entertaining. Well, it’s entertaining if you have Derrick Henry on your squad. In 2018, Henry averaged 115.7 rushing yards per game across his three games starts for 19.3 PPG with two Top-12 finishes. Last season, those same numbers jumped to 137.3 YPG, 23.8 PPG, and three RB1 marks in four starts. He’s set up to do it again in 2020. The Titans have the Jaguars, Lions, and Packers during the fantasy playoffs. Together, those three teams have allowed nine different 100-yard rushers with four occurring within the last month. So, the excitement around Henry carrying fantasy managers to a title is warranted and he’s already trending in that direction. He’s had three consecutive games over 100 yards with at least one touchdown in his last two games. His overall workload has fluctuated (down to 60.6% of the touches in Week 10 but up to 93.5% the next week), but he’s been workhorse in the red zone (86.7% touch rate). With Tennessee’s red-zone passing rate in the Bottom 10, Henry has a clear path to being the RB1 to close out the season.
Top Wide Receiver – Robert Woods, Rams
Actually, I’ll extend this one to both Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp. The Rams are set to face the Patriots, Jets, and Seahawks during the playoffs. Normally, we’d see the Patriots on the schedule and shy away from the matchup. But losses prior to the season and injuries during the season have left them vulnerable through the air. New England has allowed the third-highest Dropback EPA (0.29) over their last four games. It’s resulted in two Top-12 finishes and an average 20.3 fantasy points scored by opposing quarterbacks. Los Angeles is seventh in situation neutral pace and has a 66.2% passing rate while the score differential is within 7 points. Over the last month, Woods has held the greater target share (27%), but Kupp is close (23%) and has out-touched Woods 5 to 2 when the team has been in scoring position. With Jared Goff passing at a 52.0% rate while in the red zone, the combined passing volume should make Kupp and Woods priority starts throughout the playoffs.
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Cincinnati had to move another player to Injured Reserve on Wednesday. Auden Tate (just 14 catches on the season) injured his shoulder on Sunday and the severity required surgery forcing the move. Tate is expected to be back next season to compete for targets in the Bengals’ crowded pass-catching group.
Did Not Practice
Jonnu Smith (knee) and D’Onta Foreman (knee) were absent from practice on Wednesday. The injury would explain some of Smith’s target-less day, but he was on the field for 75% of the team’s snaps. Josh Jacobs (ankle) suffered an ankle injury while losing a fumble in the third quarter of the Raiders’ horrific loss to the Falcons. Initial tests indicated Jacobs won’t miss extended time, but his Week 13 status is in question. Nelson Agholor (ankle) is a new concern for Las Vegas as Agholor finished the game without an injury. His Thursday participation will be telling as the Raiders prepare for the Jets in Week 13. Irv Smith (back) missed the last two games with a groin injury and now appears to have a new injury keeping him from the team. His continued absence means more work for Kyle Rudolph should the rookie miss Week 13 against the Jaguars.
Cam Newton (abdomen) was a surprise addition to the injury report for the Patriots. He didn’t miss a snap during their win against Arizona so his participation moving forward should be monitored. After both Julio Jones (hamstring) and Calvin Ridley (foot) were forced to exit the game in Week 12 due to injury, both were able to get in a limited practice on Wednesday. Todd Gurley (knee) also returned to the team after missing Week 12. Kareem Hunt (thigh) had a similar issue earlier in Week 6, but his Week 13 status isn’t a concern as of Wednesday. Salvon Ahmed (shoulder) returned to practice in a limited fashion after missing all of Week 12. Neither Ahmed nor Tua Tagovailoa (thumb) has been declared active for Week 13 by Brian Flores, but their progress is promising.