THE SHADOW KNOWS Week 14 2019
THE SHADOW KNOWS: Week 14 It's Week 14-the first week of the fantasy football postseason in most leagues and the final week of the regular season in others. If you're playing for anything but pride in Week 14, the math is easy enough-score more points than the other dude (or dudette) or the season's over.
In this pressure-packed week, there's no shortage of potentially week-swinging matchups between high-end wide receivers and prominent cornerbacks. One of the biggest would appear to be occurring in the biggest game of the week in the AFC when Tyreek Hill and the Kansas City Chiefs travel to Gillette Stadium to face Stephon Gilmore and the New England Patriots.
The league's most dangerous deep threat vs. the game's best shutdown corner. A truly titanic struggle.
Too bad that's not going to happen. Or too good, as the case may be.
In both meetings with the Chiefs in 2018, the Patriots used Gilmore to shadow Sammy Watkins while bracketing Hill with a cornerback and safety help. In the AFC title game, it worked like a charm-Hill was targeted just three times and had only catch.
In Week 6, it, um, didn't-Hill exploded for a 7/142/3 line on 12 targets.
Cue fantasy managers drooling.
As to Watkins, he fared pretty well in the AFC title game-four catches for 114 yards. But while Hill was going bonkers in October, Watkins was taking a nap-two grabs for 18 yards.
The moral of this story? The more things change, the more they stay the same-Hill's the same high-end WR1 he would be any other week, while Watkins is a boom/bust play more likely to do the latter than the former.
Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions (Stefon Diggs vs. Darius Slay)
The past two weeks have been a microcosm of Diggs' 2019 season. In Week 12 against the Broncos, Diggs peeled off five catches for 121 yards and a score. Last week against the Seattle Seahawks it was a different story-just four catches for 25 yards with an ankle injury thrown in for good measure.
The ankle's reportedly fine, but this week's matchup leaves quite a bit to be desired. Partly, that's the matter of the matchup with Slay, who be much more well-known was he not stuck in the sixth circle of football hell known as Detroit. Per Ian Hartitz of Rotoworld, since Diggs entered the NFL, he's been shadowed by Slay four times. In those games, Diggs has one 100-yard game (in 2015) and two touchdowns. He's averaged 4.5 catches and just over 70 yards a game.
The even bigger issue might be the continued absence of Adam Thielen opposite Diggs. Thielen hasn't been ruled out yet, but he also hasn't practiced and has played less than 20 snaps total since originally pulling his hamstring in Week 7. With Thielen out, there's no reason for opponents not to double Diggs early and often. Last week at least, it worked.
Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons (James Bradberry vs. Julio Jones)
Fantasy owners were most assuredly not thankful when Julio Jones was scratched from last week's Pie Night (it's the evening of Turkey Day, silly…duh) matchup against the Saints with a shoulder injury. But the normally durable Jones practiced in a limited fashion both Wednesday and Thursday, and all indications are he'll be out there for Sunday's battle of NFC South disappointments.
A few weeks ago, then-Panthers coach Ron Rivera told ESPN's David Newton that he valued having a big-bodied corner like Bradberry who both body up and shadow receivers like Jones. "It's a tall task every week when you ask James to do certain things," Rivera said. "So,
to have a guy like James, we feel very fortunate. We just think he has the right skill set, the right mental makeup."
Rivera's gone now, but the coverage isn't likely to be any different in Atlanta than it was in Charlotte. Jones caught six passes for 91 yards in that matchup a few weeks ago, but Bradberry's historically fared about as well against Jones as one could reasonably expect-Jones has just one 100-yard game and one touchdown in five games against Bradberry since 2017.
San Francisco 49ers at New Orleans Saints (Emmanuel Sanders vs. Marshon Lattimore)
Lattimore missed time this season with a hamstring injury, but the 2017 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year was back on the field last week against the Atlanta Falcons. The Saints are usually pretty predictable about their pass coverage-Lattimore follows the opponent's perceived No. 1 receiver around the field.
The question then becomes who exactly the team's No. 1 receiver is.
A few weeks ago, it could have been argued that rookie Deebo Samuel had become "the guy." In Weeks 10 and 11, Samuel exploded to the tune of 16 catches for 246 yards. However, that was with veteran Emmanuel Sanders banged up. In three of the past four games where Sanders was healthy, he's gotten more looks than Samuel-although the margin is admittedly not that wide.
Assuming Lattimore does wind up on Sanders, it could mean good things for Samuel, although the Saints are still a bottom-half fantasy matchup for wide receivers. This isn't to say that Eli Apple isn't a good cornerback. His passer rating against of over 103 does that for me.
If you're wondering about Richard Sherman and Michael Thomas locking horns, don't. Thomas usually lines up on the opposite side of the field, and the 49ers don't use shadow coverage. Consider it a second bullet dodged by fantasy managers in Week 14.
Denver Broncos at Houston Texans (Chris Harris Jr. vs. DeAndre Hopkins)
For a good portion of his eight-year career, Harris has been one of the better cornerbacks in the NFL. As Ben Swann reported for the team's website, fellow veteran defensive back Kareem Jackson has been impressed by what he's seen from Harris in their first year together in Denver.
"What you do in the first couple seconds of that down pretty much determines whether you're going to win or lose that rep," Jackson said . "He's been able to win those first two seconds throughout the years. That's what makes him so good: his strength, his play strength, route recognition and being able to diagnose plays before they actually happen. That's what makes his skill set so unique and it makes him a great player in this league."
The problem with that narrative is that in 2019 at least, the numbers tell a different story. Harris has been uncharacteristically bad in a contract year, allowing four touchdowns and a passer rating against approaching 110. This is the same Denver team that allowed the Vikings to complete umpteen long passes during their Week 12 comeback.
It could be a Nukular Sunday.
I know. I'm clever, huh?
Los Angeles Chargers at Jacksonville Jaguars (Casey Hayward vs. D.J. Chark Jr.)
Minshew Mania is back, baby!
The Nick Foles era in Jacksonville may be over before it ever really started, as the Jaguars' shiny new $88 million quarterback has been relegated to the bench for the remainder of the season. That puts rookie Gardner Minshew back under center, which is just fine with fellow rookie D.J. Chark.
"I love Gardner, and he brings energy," Chark said, via Jordan Dajani of CBS Sports. "So, when he's out there, there's no quit in him. There's no quit in this team. Just seeing him out there, running around trying to make plays, you want to make plays for him. That's the plan."
Minshew's re-insertion at quarterback has to be viewed as a good thing for Chark-the first-year duo combined to make Chark a fantasy WR1 over the first half of the 2019 campaign. Still, Chark's going to have his hands full with Hayward Sunday-last week's bone-headed (and very Chargers-esque) DPI call aside, the veteran corner has anchored a Chargers secondary that has given up the fourth-fewest PPR fantasy points per game to wide receivers this year.
Seattle Seahawks at Los Angeles Rams (Tyler Lockett vs. Jalen Ramsey)
Over the first nine weeks of the 2019 season, Lockett was a top-five wideout in PPR scoring systems. He topped 100 receiving yards three times, a buck-fitty twice (yes, fitty-don't be a Boomer) and scored six times. In Week 9, the fifth-year pro posted a fantasy week-winner-13 grabs for 152 yards and two scores.
Then the sky fell. In Week 10, Lockett suffered a leg injury. He hasn't missed any time, but in the last three games combined he has four catches for 64 yards. Last week against the Minnesota Vikings, the guy who won Week 9 lost Week 13 with a doughnut.
That goose-egg came against a pair of corners in Minnesota who have struggled this year. In this week's massive NFC West tilt in L.A., he'll get one who hasn't. If Jalen Ramsey wasn't (in the eyes of the Rams, at least) a defensive difference-maker, they wouldn't have made the trade to acquire him from the Jacksonville Jaguars. And in Week 10, the Rams didn't just put Ramsey on JuJu Smith-Schuster of the Pittsburgh Steelers in shadow coverage-it was a true shadow-job. Ramsey followed him into the slot, too.
If Ramsey's on a banged-up Lockett Sunday, he may well double-doughnut.
There's no dodging bullet No. 3.