Crystal Ball Week 15 2017

By Evan Tarracciano
Evan Tarracciano “Enough about the past, how about we focus on the future!!”

I stared at my computer screen for a moment and tried to comprehend what the Twitter follower was getting at. Followers of our website are no different than the writers. There is a reason that we refer to ourselves as “Diehards”. We aren’t common folk, or ones to take this casually. We know the backups of handcuffs, the fifth string wide receivers, and the quarterbacks waiting in the wings. The “fluff” information doesn’t help us, since we already have a firm grasp from social media about the latest news.

This person was right. Enough was enough.

Every Tuesday night for the last two seasons I’ve run a “QandA” session, most recently via Periscope and through my Twitter handle, answering all of the burning questions that our followers have, from waiver wire pickups to trade analysis. I pride myself on having a unique viewpoint in my analysis, and I’ve had plenty of great feedback about the content. In the past, our conversations have mainly focused on the prior week’s action, putting an emphasis upon the box score for each game. Though numbers don’t lie, they sometimes fail to explain the full story. The difference between a 4/52/1 line and 6/105/2 is pretty major for a receiver, yet the numbers will fail to explain that the player could have had a much bigger day if the quarterback had better ball placement on a deep throw, or if their team opted to accept a pass interference penalty downfield. Little things often make the difference, and I was happy to share the bigger story with my audience.

As much as retrospective analysis helps, it is simply the norm. Our followers can’t change what already happened in the past, but they can take the time to set an optimal lineup for the future. A win or a loss is behind them by Tuesday, but their upcoming matchup still lays ahead. Therefore, I’ll focus more on future matchups during my weekly chats than simply reviewing what already happened in the past. There is a very famous poem entitled “Excelsior” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow where the main character is focused on moving “Onward and Upward”. And so shall we. Time to win next week’s matchups!

Q: Aaron Rodgers is set to make his return for the Green Bay Packers next week. What does that mean for the offensive outlook for the team? And are they now a legit playoff contender?
A: One can’t understate the significant impact that his return will have on the team. Fantasy owners who have been patiently holding onto Rodgers (and Jordy Nelson, for that matter) since his Week 6 collarbone injury will finally be rewarded, now that he has gained medical clearance. During his absence the team has been kept afloat by an improved running game under Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams, but the team can now go back to their roots of an aerial attack. Brett Hundley was able to keep Davante Adams in the WR2 discussion, but both Nelson and Randall Cobb truly suffered. Nelson has failed to catch a touchdown since Rodgers injury, and has been held to 35 yards or less in each matchup since Week 6. Cobb’s numbers have been slightly more respectable, but have been inflated due to catching dump-off routes rather than going downfield. With the exception of Davante Adam’s Week 11, no Packers wide receiver has eclipsed 100 yards in any game this season – a truly staggering feat. Nelson will be back on the low-end WR1 radar with Rodgers set to return, with Adams being a solid WR2 and Cobb a FLEX. The team does face two stout defenses in a row with the Carolina Panthers and Minnesota Vikings, but faces an easier road in Week 17 against the Detroit Lions. Since all three games are truly “must win” for the Packers, expect Rodgers to get a healthy amount of throws from the get-go.

Q: Speaking of quarterbacks, this year has been BRUTAL with injuries. In my league I had Carson Wentz as the starter and Josh McCown as my backup. GAH! What do I do??
A: Not that there is a real silver lining in losing Wentz for the remainder of the year (especially given the level that he was playing at), but at least he threw for nearly 300 yards and four touchdowns before departing the Week 14 matchup against the Los Angeles Rams. Wentz’s ACL tear is expected to not only keep him off the field for the remainder of 2017, but there is a real possibility that he enters next summer’s training camp on the PUP list, given the 9-12 month recovery timetable.

Nick Foles is a serviceable backup, but there is a reason that he was never able to duplicate the success he enjoyed in 2013 – he is an oft-injured, inconsistent starter. The Philadelphia Eagles still boast one of the most robust receiving cores in the league with Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, Zach Ertz and Torrey Smith (coupled with their stable of pass-catching backs), so Foles upside won’t be limited to not having enough weapons around him. The team also finishes the year with a real powderpuff schedule in the New York Giants, Oakland Raiders and Dallas Cowboys, who (respectfully) rank 31st, 25th and 23rd in passing yards allowed each week.

In each of his last three seasons, Foles have averaged less than 7.5 yards per attempt, which means that he is reluctant to look downfield and favors shorter throws. This mindset obviously hurts Smith greatly, while favoring Ertz and Agholor, who stay closer to the line of scrimmage on their routes run. Alshon Jeffery is set to take the biggest step backwards of this crew.

Moving along to the New York mess.. err.. I mean, Jets. McCown is also out for the remainder of the season, leaving the team in the less-than-capable hands of Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg. I received plenty of questions during my weekly chat about just how much this knocks down the status of both Robby Anderson and Jermaine Kearse, and I don’t think it can be understated. Both receivers were enjoying a very strong second half of the season, and can’t be viewed as anything more than Hail Mary FLEX options moving forward. The Jets will go back to relying upon their running game and defense to stay competitive.

Q: Any updates on Joe Mixon?
A: As of last reports on Wednesday morning, Mixon was still in the league’s concussion protocol, and his owners should expect to be without his services again in Week 15. Similar to last week I’d expect Giovani Bernard to pick up the vast majority of snaps in his absence. Even if Mixon were to return and be cleared later on in the week, the Cincinnati Bengals have a very difficult matchup against the Minnesota Vikings, who only allow 88 yards on the ground each game, which is second best in the league.

Q: I’ve held onto Ameer Abdullah, and all reports sound like he will be back on the field in Week 15. Is he worth starting at this point?
A: If you’ve been this patient with Abdullah so far, kudos to you, because I would have likely dumped him after Week 8. One of the more highly touted players entering the year at the running back position, the assumption was that Jim Bob Cooter would make a real effort to get the running game going in Detroit, with Abdullah being the main beneficiary. Theoretically, that happened to a degree. Abdullah received at least 11 carries in each of the first 11 weeks of the season, but managed less than 3.4 yards per carry with them, and was vastly outplayed by Theo Riddick. The Lions have been forced to abandon the run in the second half of many games this season, and who can really blame them. Even with Abdullah set to return, he will still lose touches to Riddick (a superior receiver), Zach Zenner (a better short-yardage and goal line back) and Tion Green. I’ll take a hard pass here.

Q: Nice beard! Trying to copy Bob Harris?
A: Ha! I’ll take the comparison as a compliment. I opted to grow one for the first time in a decade, and only gained the approval by my wife after promising her that I would dye it red and green and let her hang Christmas ornaments on it around the holidays. Not kidding.

Q: Mike Davis looked really good against the Jacksonville Jaguars before leaving with another injury in the third quarter. Assuming he plays, where would you rank him in Week 15 against the Los Angeles Rams?
A: I suppose since we are discussing matchups and rankings that this would be a good time to promote my other article that will be up on the site tomorrow afternoon, focusing on players who stand to benefit based upon their opponents. Keep an eye out for it!

In the case of Davis, if he is able to take the field than at minimum he is a FLEX play for me. The Rams rank 28th in the league against the run, allowing nearly 125 yards on the ground per game. Davis has received at least 15 carries in each of the last two weeks, and his yards per attempt has steadily increased. At this point his presence and success has phased out both Eddie Lacy and Thomas Rawls, and one can assume that he would see the most touches in the backfield while healthy. Russell Wilson will still scramble when required, but Davis has a strong shot at his first touchdown of the year and 20-22 touches.

Q: Nice call on Josh Gordon so far! Think he keeps this up?
A: Three years off apparently isn’t much of a big deal to Gordon, who has seven receptions for 154 yards and a touchdown since returning in Week 13. Though he has been peppered with targets by Deshone Kizer, the quarterbacks’ very inaccurate arm has missed Gordon repeatedly, so these numbers pale in comparison to “what could have been”. Gordon took to social media after a Green Bay Packers website said that he was held in check by cornerback Damarious Randall after the game, saying “this kid couldn’t hold my jock strap on my worst day”. Sigh. Come on Josh.

Look, I have all the faith in the world that come next season, Gordon will be a legitimate WR2, regardless of who is at the helm in Cleveland. During his career it hasn’t mattered who has been the team’s signal caller, largely in part due to his freak athletic ability. His maturing process (obviously) still has a long way to go, but if he can put up this sort of numbers after a very long hiatus, the sky is the limit. Fingers crossed he can keep his body clean and his mouth shut!

Q: Any good DSTs to stream this week?
A: The New Orleans Saints are likely already owned in your league, but if they aren’t, add them immediately. They should absolutely throttle the New York Jets. The Denver Broncos are also in a good spot, taking on the Indianapolis Colts in a short week. The Baltimore Ravens face the Cleveland Browns and the Arizona Cardinals take on the crippled Washington Redskins. Both of those options are more widely available and attractive.