The Shadow Knows 2016 week 14

By Gary Davenport
Gary Davenport
“The playoffs are the playoffs. You just play who is put in front of you.” -- Steve Nash

We’ve reached fantasy football’s second season in most leagues, and the postseason tournament brings with it a new ball game. One bad performance or one dud stat line can mean the end of championship dreams and the beginning of a post-defeat tequila binge.

What? I’m very sensitive to failure. Don’t judge me.

Of course, football is a game of matchups inside matchups. It isn’t quite a simple as just playing the man in front of you.

But where wide receivers are concerned, that man in front of them can make all the difference in the world.

Davante Adams, Green Bay Packers (vs. SEA – Richard Sherman)
When the Seahawks and Packers met last year, something strange happened. Richard Sherman had a bad game. In fact, per Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus, Sherman received the lowest game grade of his career. “What we saw, Monson said, “is that even the league’s best corners get beat sometimes, and even a player as talented and consistently excellent as Richard Sherman can have a bad day at the office. When your competition is Aaron Rodgers, the league’s best quarterback, it’s especially easy to have that off night.”

THE SHADOW SAYS: You might be expecting to see Jordy Nelson’s name here, but if Sunday follows last year’s script Nelson will spend most of the game lined up on the opposite side of the field. Aaron Rodgers isn’t going to force passes into Sherman’s coverage when other, better options are available. Like Nelson. And Randall Cobb. And Ty Montgomery. Get where I’m going with this?

Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys (at NYG – Janoris Jenkins)
As ESPN’s Marty Callinan wrote, quite a bit has changed since Bryant and the Cowboys met the Giants in Dallas back in Week 1. “Bryant averaged 0.2 yard per route run in Week 1, the second-lowest average of his career,” he said. “Since then, the seventh-year pro has averaged 4.3 yards per route run, sixth best among wide receivers with at least 50 targets. Prescott has six touchdowns and no interceptions targeting Bryant this season.”

THE SHADOW SAYS: Quite a bit has changed in Dallas since Bryant caught one pass for eight yards in Dak Prescott’s first NFL start. With every game, Prescott appears to become more comfortable challenging teams downfield. And as Antonio Brown of the Pittsburgh Steelers showed in catching six passes for 54 yards and a score against the Giants last week, Jenkins can be had in that regard.

DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans (at IND – Vontae Davis)
Colts head coach Chuck Pagano admitted to Zak Keefer of the Indy Star that 2016 has been an injury-filled slog for his best cover man. “Obviously, it hasn’t been clean, hasn’t been how you wanted it to start,” Pagano said. “You start playing good and stacking a couple of games together and then have another setback, unfortunately. A little bit up and down as far as the health goes. Sometimes that’s just how it goes.”

THE SHADOW SAYS: Davis played about half the team’s snaps against the New York Jets and appeared to escape no worse for wear. Given that and the stakes of Sunday’s AFC South showdown, it’s a safe bet that Davis and Hopkins will see a fair bit of one another Sunday afternoon – like fantasy owners needed another reason to be leery of one of the biggest busts at wide receiver this season. The main problem for Nuk remains the same though – his quarterback is a fat bag of suck.

Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals (at MIA – Byron Maxwell)
As Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald wrote, Miami defensive coordinator Vance Joseph has been impressed by Maxwell’s play of late. “It’s not even close of how he’s playing right now compared to before,” Dolphins defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said. “He played well Sunday. He was not a guy that played soft in coverage. He was up for the challenge. You can see he has been in big games. I’ve been impressed with the guy. He’s putting the work in after practice, during practice, watching film, doing extra sprints. He has put the work in. I’m impressed by the guy.”

THE SHADOW SAYS: In that same piece Maxwell proclaims himself the best player at his position in the NFL, which is crazy talk. However, to be fair Maxwell is having arguably the best season of his career, grading sixth among cornerbacks in pass coverage at Pro Football Focus. Maxwell also experience playing the slot – enough experience that the Fins might have him shadow Arizona’s only dependable receiver this year. I’m not “worried” about Fitz necessarily, but he’s going to have to earn his stats in Week 14.

Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons (at LA – Trumaine Johnson)
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan insisted to Michael Cunningham of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the sky isn’t falling if Jones and Mohamed Sanu can’t play against the Rams Sunday. “As far as adjusting scheme, we are pretty deep on offense and I think that’s shown throughout the year (with) the number of guys we’ve used,” Ryan said. “It is not ideal when you don’t have all your guys, and we will see where (Jones and Sanu) are at. We will be OK. We’ve got a number of different guys who can go out there and make plays for us, who can step up.”

THE SHADOW SAYS: Tell that to Jones’ fantasy owners, who are apoplectic about his potential absence at this point in the season. The Falcons are optimistic Jones will play in Week 14, but he did not practice Thursday. Add in a relatively tough matchup with Trumaine Johnson Sunday, and the prospects of a hobbled Jones shadowed by a lockdown CB is enough to make a fella break out that tequila I mentioned earlier.

Rishard Matthews, Tennessee Titans (vs. DEN – Aqib Talib)
Some may be surprised by Matthews’ success in Tennessee this year, but as Jim Wyatt of the team’s website reported Matthews isn’t. “I knew my abilities coming in, but I don’t think the whole staff did,” Matthews said. “Just playing time, and when we brought Andre (Johnson) in. … In the beginning I don’t think I had their trust completely. Now, I feel like I do have their trust, or I feel like it’s getting there. I always knew what I was capable of, and I think Mr. (Jon) Robinson did as well. That’s why he brought me here. But I feel like it is showing now. I like the direction things are going.”

THE SHADOW SAYS: Fantasy owners have liked the direction Matthews has been trending in as well, with the fifth-year veteran emerging as a viable WR3 for fantasy owners over the second half of the season. However, Talib and Chris Harris form likely the most formidable one-two punch at cornerback in the league, and no team has been stingier to opposing wideouts this season. It isn’t what you want to hear, but look elsewhere if at all possible.

Allen Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars (vs. MIN – Xavier Rhodes)
Matthew Coller of ESPN Twin Cities hailed Rhodes recently as one of the NFL’s best young cover men. “There’s another part of his game that’s helped elevate Rhodes to elite status,” he said. “He has the same calm confidence that you’d want in your surgeon. After breaking Odell Beckham, he smiled, talked quietly and laughed politely as interview requests came in waves – ESPN, NFL Network and on and on. After he picked off Arizona Cardinals’ quarterback Carson Palmer twice, including one for a 100-yard touchdown, Rhodes joked at his locker with a mass of reporters about needing oxygen on the sideline. His play suggests he’s a only-talks-once-a-week player, but he leaves the diva status to the receivers he shuts down.”

THE SHADOW SAYS: In many respects, this is a similar situation to that facing Hopkins in Week 14 – only worse. Rhodes has regularly shut down opposing top receivers in 2016 – receivers who had good or at least average quarterbacks passing to them. Robinson, on the other hand, has Blake Bortles – a large part of the reason why Robinson’s vying with Hopkins for bust of the year status at wideout. If you start Robinson, just go ahead and pray for some patented Blake Bortles Garbage Time. You’re going to need it.

Steve Smith, Baltimore Ravens (at NE – Malcolm Butler)
According to Matt Dolloff of CBS Boston, Smith vs. Butler is one of the most intriguing individual battles of Monday night’s marquee matchup. “Butler vs. Smith is the kind of showdown that makes you wish they had a picture-in-picture isolation option on TV screens,” Doloff said. “It’s likely that Butler draws Smith in man coverage since Butler has the speed and quickness to match Smith’s skill set, but he also has the same competitive, feisty nature to keep up with Smith to boot. The latter point, especially, will make their matchup great theater.”

THE SHADOW SAYS: Dolloff isn’t just blowing smoke. It should be fun to watch – the grizzled veteran wideout who has never backed down from a fight and the scrappy young corner who’s more than willing to give him one. Some might want to give experience the edge here, but consider this – only Denver’s Aqib Talib and Chris Harris have a higher grade among corners at PFF than Butler in 2016. However, Butler can be had – he’s allowed over 75 receiving yards four times and surrendered four touchdowns in coverage this year.

Gary Davenport is a Senior Staff Writer at Fantasy Sharks, an NFL and Fantasy Football Analyst at Bleacher Report, a Contributing Writer at Rotoworld and a Contributing Author and Associate Editor at Football Diehards. A member of the Pro Football Writers of America and Fantasy Sports Writers Association, Gary was the winner of the 2015 FSWA award for Print Article of the Year.