The Shadow Knows Week 12 2022

By Gary Davenport
Gary Davenport

The Green Bay Packers are running short on good news these days.

As the Packers head to Philadelphia to take on the Eagles in a primetime tilt, they do so as losers of six of their last seven games. Green Bay is in danger of missing the postseason for the first time since 2018, in part because the offense has struggled.

However, in recent weeks a bright spot has emerged. Rookie wide receiver Christian Watson has come into his own of late, hauling in three touchdown passes against the Dallas Cowboys and then following that up with two more last week against the Tennessee Titans. Per ESPN's Rob Demovsky, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers praised the progress that Watson has made in recent weeks.

"I think we've got to get the ball to our playmakers, and he's stepped up the last two games," Rodgers said. "The over-the-shoulder catch [against the Cowboys] opened up a whole new world of confidence for him. We caught them with too many on the field, and I gave him a 'trust ball'. Threw it up in the back of the end zone, and he came down with it. He's playing with a lot of confidence."

Watson's recent play hasn't gone unnoticed by the Eagles, either. As Chris Franklin wrote for, veteran cornerback James Bradberry said that stopping Watson was a priority for Philadelphia this week.

"Watson is really fast, and Aaron Rodgers is a great quarterback who throws it on a dime," Bradberry said. "We have to stop the run, get after the quarterback, take away the explosive plays. Christian Watson is pretty fast, and you want to make sure he does not go over the top of the defense."

Five touchdowns in two games will quickly endear you to fantasy managers. But both Watson and Allen Lazard face an uphill battle in Week 12. Bradberry and fellow cornerback Darius Slay are both playing a Pro Bowl level, the Eagles are second in the league in pass defense and Philly allows the 10th-fewest PPR points per game to wide receivers this season.

The rookie's hot streak likely ends Sunday night.

Atlanta Falcons at Washington Commanders (A.J. Terrell vs. Terry McLaurin)

The change at quarterback from Carson Wentz to Taylor Heinicke gave the Commanders a big-time boost in the standings, and it has also spurred a surge in production from McLaurin. He might not get mentioned alongside the likes of Justin Jefferson of the Vikings and Tyreek Hill of the Dolphins as the best in the game, but as ESPN's John Keim wrote McLaurin is willing to stack his ability up against any wideout in the NFL.

"Because I've worked so hard, a lot of people don't give me my flowers on the God-given athletic ability," he said. "I've been touched by God to have this ability to run fast, jump high, be extremely strong, really smart, leadership. A lot of things you can't quite coach and teach, but it comes out naturally because it's who I am. It's not a façade. ... I'm not the flashiest player, you can't look at me and say, 'Wow, he does X well.' I pride myself on being a complete receiver."

Over the first six weeks of the 2022 season, McLaurin was 32nd in PPR points among wide receivers. But since Week 7 (with Heinicke under center) McLaurin sits eighth. Terrell is a talented young cornerback with a bright future, but the Falcons are allowing the most PPR points in the NFC to wide receivers this season. That number portends a continuation of McLaurin's hot streak this week.


Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Cleveland Browns (Mike Evans vs. Denzel Ward)

Like the team he plays for, Denzel Ward has had an up-and-down 2022 season. He has played relatively well when healthy, but he has battled injuries and missed three games. As ESPN's Jeremy Fowler wrote, in the opinion of one NFL executive, that's the rub with Ward-he's very good while on the field, but his lack of size and hard-nosed playing style can cause problems.

"If the dude is healthy and on the field, he's one of the best man coverage players out there," the executive said. "He has elite footwork and fluid movement. Would knock him on instincts -- he'll probably never be a Deion Sanders, top-level anticipator. But he's got all the tools. He's actually darn tougher than given credit for; he's just small. So it's more durability than toughness."

At the moment, Ward is 100 percent-or at least close to it. But if he's tasked with covering Tampa's Mike Evans Sunday it's a nightmare matchup for the former Ohio State star. Evans' biggest strengths are high-pointing 50/50 balls and bodying up defensive backs. There's not a lot Ward can do about either. This could be a smash spot for Evans.




Houston Texans at Miami Dolphins (Brandin Cooks vs. Stephon Gilmore)

It has been a miserable season for Houston wideout Brandin Cooks. His numbers are way down relative to last year. Cooks publicly blasted the team after he wasn't moved at the trade deadline-a move that got him benched for a week and stripped of his captaincy. Since then, player and team have smoothed things over, although as DJ Bien-Aime wrote for ESPN, Cooks allowed that all the losing continues to wear on him.

"I was frustrated, absolutely. I want to win, that's not the case," Cooks said. "That's what's going on. That's the way I expressed my emotion. I think we all want to win. We're all frustrated in some sense. "How I'm feeling right now, take it day by day process. I'm here now, for the time being, and as far as everything else getting worked out, we will keep that internal."

Cooks probably isn't going to be in any better mood on Sunday-Houston's chances of defeating a hot Dolphins team are negligible. Frankly, so are the odds of Cooks having a big game. The Dolphins aren't a terrible fantasy matchup, and Xavien Howard has struggled in shadow coverage at times this season. But it's going to take a lot more than the insertion of Kyle Allen at quarterback to inspire confidence in the Houston passing game.




Denver Broncos at Carolina Panthers (Patrick Surtain vs. D.J. Moore)

There has been something of a carousel under center in Charlotte this year-and none of the horses are especially appealing. Baker Mayfield gave way to P.J. Walker, who gave way to Mayfield again. Now it's Sam Darnold's turn after starting for the Panthers last year. Darnold spent a big chunk of this season on injured reserve with a bad ankle, but he told ESPN's David Newton that despite a lack of practice time he's ready to answer the call.

"You learn a lot just by watching," he said, via David Newton of ESPN. "There's a lot to learn in terms of walking around the building, learning from other guys. There's a lot you can learn when you don't have the stress of being a starter. But at the end of the day, I want to be out there."

On some level, Darnold taking over is good news for Carolina wideout D.J. Moore-Moore's target share and per-game production was substantially better under Darnold in 2021 than with Mayfield in 2022. The problem is Darnold's first start comes against Patrick Surtain and a Denver defense allowing the third-fewest PPR points per game to wide receivers. That matchup wipes out most of the Moore-mentum that the quarterback change may have created.




Las Vegas Raiders at Seattle Seahawks (Davante Adams vs. Tariq Woolen)

Adams has been as hot as any receiver in the league over the past few weeks. In each of the past three games, Adams has surpassed the 125-yard mark and found the end zone. He has scored five touchdowns over that span and leads all wideouts in fantasy points by a wide margin. But while speaking to reporters ahead of this week's trip to Seattle, Adams said he's going to have his hands full against standout rookie corner Tariq Woolen.

"He looks good on tape. He's a big, much taller corner than what's normal in the league, Adams said. "Sure to be a fun matchup, but I've got respect for what I've seen on tape so far, for sure."

Seattle head coach Pete Carroll was equally effusive while talking to reporters about Adams.

"Every challenge that a guy could bring, he's an incredible player," Carroll said. "He's so gifted and such a great competitor where he seizes the moments all the time, the catches, the opportunities, the big plays. He's the top guy we have seen."

Woolen has been impressive-so much so that he's a legitimate Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate. His passer rating against this year is an impressive 59.7. But Adams is an elite talent who has been targeted a whopping 44 times the past three weeks. It really doesn't much matter who is covering him.




Pittsburgh Steelers at Indianapolis Colts (Diontae Johnson vs. Stephon Gilmore)

It has been a frustrating season for the Steelers as a team and wide receiver Diontae Johnson individually-Johnson's 45.6 receiving yards per game is his lowest output in that category since his rookie season and almost 30 yards a game lower than last year. Per Noah Strackbein of All Steelers, Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett indicated that part of the issue lies in opponents doing their level best to take Johnson away from the offense.

"I don't really think it's a case of the timing thing," Pickett said. "If it's two-on-one, you can't force the ball, that's how bad things happen. The defense really dictates where I'm going to throw the football. If they're going two-on-one with Diontae, it's tough to get him the football. He's a smart player. We'll come off the field and he'll say 'they're over the top' or they're doubling him up. So he knows, and he's a great player and he wants to help us win. We'll get him in some spots to be successful."

Targets haven't been an issue with Johnson-his 86 targets are the ninth-most in the league. But he's averaging under nine yards a catch, his catch percentage has dropped below 60 and he has yet to find the end zone in 2022. Add in a brutal coverage matchup with Gilmore and a Colts defense allowing the fewest PPR points per game to receivers this year, and Johnson is a hard player to get excited about this week.