The Shadow Knows Week 13 2018

By Gary Davenport
Gary Davenport

The fantasy playoffs are (in many leagues) nearly here.

As a matter of fact, for a great many fantasy owners, the playoffs are essentially here.

You know the situation. You're sitting at 6-6 or 7-5. Pouring over potential playoff tiebreaker scenarios. Dusting off your abacus to figure out how many total points you need to keep Lenny from Accounting from claiming the last playoff spot in your office league.

And the only thing you hate more than math is Lenny. He smells like feet. Always.

You don't ne to tell you that in this all-important week, every matchup matters. Every fantasy point counts.

And in that regard, hopefully a breakdown of some of the week's biggest WR vs. CB matchups will be at least marginally helpful.

As always, the higher the panic level, the more antsy you should be about a receiver.

Denver Broncos at Cincinnati Bengals (Chris Harris vs. AJ Green)

Per ESPN's Katherine Terrell, Green said he'll be back on the field Sunday against the Broncos. "I'm definitely back," he said. "I feel good. Nobody is 100 percent at this stage of the season, but I feel good. I feel ready. I'm going to practice today and go through my regular routine. With this injury it just took time to heal. (And) me getting mentally ready to where I could go out there and play at a high level and not just be out there limping around."

That Green is returning from his toe injury is good for fantasy owners – I guess. That he's doing so just in time to face a hot Harris coming off a solid game against the Pittsburgh Steelers isn't so much. But the real kick in the junk is the fact that Green will be catching passes from Jeff "Who?" Driskel with Andy Dalton out for the season.

Panic Level: 5 (Long layoff, sketchy matchup, backup quarterback. It's a killer combo)

Los Angeles Rams at Detroit Lions (Brandin Cooks vs. Darius Slay)

As Ian Hartitz of The Action Network wrote, Slay is the best cornerback the Lions have by about 37.75 miles. "Slay, who ran a 4.36-second 40-yard dash," he said, "is one of few cornerbacks with the type of top-end speed to feasibly hang with Cooks (4.33), but there’s hardly been anybody capable of stopping the Rams’ premiere field-stretcher while indoors since he entered the league in 2014. Overall, Cooks has posted an average 5.1-72.4-0.53 line in 32 career games inside compared to a 4.8-70-0.35 line in 37 career games outdoors. (Robert) Woods (in the slot) and (Josh) Reynolds have more favorable matchups against Nevin Lawson and Mike Ford. Quarterbacks have posted absurd passer ratings of 115.4 and 118.8 against Lawson and Ford, respectively."

That admonition isn't to say that Cooks is doomed in Week 13, or that his fantasy owners should seriously consider sitting him—you don't sit shares of the Rams offense. But Jared Goff is going to throw to the guy who is open. And on Sunday at Ford Field, the Rams wideout who looks to have the tallest order to get open is Cooks.

Panic Level: 3 (This feels like a "temper expectations" kind of game. Don'tcha hate those?)

Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville Jaguars (TY Hilton vs. Jalen Ramsey)

The Jags have done a pretty good job of covering Hilton in the past, but as Alaa Abdeldaiem reported for Sports Illustrated, head coach Doug Marrone indicated that knee and groin injuries may keep Ramsey off the field Sunday in Jacksonville. "We have two games in [five] days, and he has a legitimate thing that he's dealing with," Marrone said. "I think it'll be tough. I think we'll have a better idea later in the week, but I do have a high level of concern."

The problem is that it's not Ramsey who will spend most of the game on Hilton—that would be AJ Bouye, who may be the best corner on the team. In the Colts' first meeting with the Jaguars a few weeks ago, Hilton was held to 77 yards on three catches, and he had just five catches for 78 yards and a score in two games against the Jaguars in 2017.

Panic Level: 4 (You can't sit him, but the Jags have kept Hilton in check the past two years)

Cleveland Browns at Houston Texans (Denzel Ward vs. DeAndre Hopkins)

As Aaron Wilson wrote for the Houston Chronicle, Hopkins and Deshaun Watson are as in sync as any QB/WR duo in the league. "Me and Hop, we see the same things," Watson said. "If he sees something, he communicates with me, and if I see something, I communicate with him. Me and him are just always talking ball when we’re hanging out, when we’re here at the stadium, at the facility. We just make sure that we’re always on the same page. I’ve just got to give him a chance with the ball and those opportunities, and most likely he’s going to come down with it. We’re always talking to get on the same page to make sure he has an opportunity to get the ball in his hands.”

Hopkins is barreling toward another monstrous season—he's seventh in PPR fantasy points among wide receivers this season. Last week's win over the Titans was actually Hopkins' worst statistical effort of the year, and he's a good bet to bounce back this week against Ward and the Browns. Ward's had a fine rookie season, but the Browns are allowing the seventh-most PPR fantasy points to wide receivers in 2018.

Panic Level: 1 (Hopkins is about as matchup-proof as wide receivers get, and Ward can be had)

Chicago Bears at New York Giants (Prince Amukamara vs. Odell Beckham)

As Beckham told Tom Rock of Newsday, it will be a bit strange to line up opposite an old friend and former teammate when Amukamara and the Bears visit the Big Apple this week. “I honestly can say I love Prince,” Beckham said. “I have to try to stay focused while I’m in the game with him lined up across from me. He’s always been a good corner, but it’s just Prince. I don’t know how else to explain it. It’s Prince, and he’s there, and he’s just a goofy guy … I’m going to have to take all the joking aside when we get out there, and just go out and play.”

I doubt Beckham will be in much of a joking mood by the time this game is over. Not only do the Bears boast arguably the NFL's best defense, but Chicago's secondary contains three corners who rank inside the top-12 at the position at Pro Football Focus in Amukamara (No, 11), Kyle Fuller (No. 6) and Bryce Callahan (No. 9). The Bears have a shutdown cadre instead of a shutdown corner.

Panic Level: 2 (The Bears can be had – they rank 11th in PPR fantasy points allowed to WR)

Arizona Cardinals at Green Bay Packers (Patrick Peterson vs. Davante Adams)

As Mike Spofford wrote for the team's website, Adams is closing in on one of the best seasons by a receiver in team history. "His 77 catches project to exactly 112, which would tie Sterling Sharpe’s single-season franchise record set back in 1993," he wrote. His 1,022 yards equate to 1,486, which would rank third on the team’s single-season list, but not far off Jordy Nelson’s 1,519 in 2014 and Robert Brooks’ 1,497 in 1995. His 10 touchdowns translate to the 14-15 range, and only three receivers in Packers history have had as many as 15 in one year – Sharpe (18, 1994), Don Hutson (17, 1942) and Nelson (15, 2011)."

Those stats have pleased fantasy owners a great deal, as has the fact that Adams is the sixth-most targeted wideout in the NFL. The Packers are still clinging to the delusional belief that they can make the playoffs, and Adams is the only dependable passing-game weapon the Pack has. Jesus could be covering Adams Sunday and Aaron Rodgers would target him 12 times.

Panic Level: 1 (Patrick Peterson needs a hug after this miserable season in the desert)

San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks (Richard Sherman vs. Tyler Lockett)

As many of his former teammates prepare to face Sherman for the first time as a foe, Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin was his typically candid self when discussing how Sherman's time with the team ended. "I thought it was really s---ty, to be honest with you, how it ended," Baldwin said, via ESPN's Nick Wagoner. "[I] would have really liked for him to stay here and had an opportunity to finish his career with this organization, but it's part of the business. It doesn't work out that way."

It won't be Baldwin who lines up across from Sherman Sunday at CenturyLink Field given that Sherman (as usual) almost always lines up on the left side of the formation. That "honor" will fall to the Seahawks leading receiver this year in Lockett, who ranks inside the top-20 at the position in PPR fantasy points through 12 weeks. That benchmark is going to be hard for Lockett to reach Sunday—he's been somewhat TD-dependent this year, and while Sherman may have lost a step, he's been formidable in coverage this year.

Panic Level: 5 (I honestly believe David Moore out-points Lockett in this game)

Los Angeles Chargers at Pittsburgh Steelers (Casey Hayward vs. Antonio Brown)

As Ryan Tartie wrote for the Long Beach Press-Telegram, the Chargers secondary (led by Hayward) has been as good as any defensive backfield in the NFL this year. "The Chargers secondary certainly deserves respect for how its shut down opposing pass offenses in recent weeks," Tartie said. "Not since September has the Chargers defense allowed more than 250 yards through the air. Over the past month, the secondary has been arguably the league’s best, allowing opposing quarterbacks a mere 177 passing yards per game on average. No NFL corner has been better in tight coverage this season than Casey Hayward, who boasts the league’s best forced incompletion percentage (27 percent), according to Pro Football Focus."

Hayward has again played like the best cornerback in the NFL casual fans aren't familiar with, putting the clamps on most of the receivers he's faced this season. That's saying something in the AFC West. However, Hayward isn't superhuman, and Sunday night he'll face his stiffest test of the season when he faces Brown. Frankly, there's a higher level of concern with Juju Smith-Schuster facing slot man extraordinaire Desmond King than I have for Brown with Hayward.

Panic Level: 2 (for Brown/Hayward) 3 (for Smith-Schuster/King)