THE SHADOW KNOWS Week 165 2019

By Gary Davenport
Gary Davenport

After a summer of draft prep and research and a fall and winter of lineup management, waiver pickups and trade offers, it's finally here.

In most fantasy football leagues, it's championship week. Only two teams remain standing, and by the time the clock winds down at US Bank Stadium one will have been crowned league champion for 2019.

If you're still playing, you've laughed when players have posted ridiculous stat lines. Cried when those same players vanished from the stat sheet two weeks later. And pulled hair out by the handful when they grabbed their hammy and winced.

Fantasy football is a roller-coaster ride, and there's one hill left-the big one. Every fantasy point can mean the difference between glory and agony. Each lineup decision can make or break the week-and by extension the season. Every matchup is critically important.

I'm freaking myself out a little.

Before you start exhaling into a paper bag, know this-from the perspective of matchups between fantasy-relevant wide receivers and big-name corners, there's not a ton of matchups that inspire huffing and puffing. The injuries that have wrecked the position over the past few weeks are a much bigger problem than coverage in Week 16.

Cue Chris Godwin owners nodding solemnly.

However, just because there aren't a lot of coverage matchups that will have a big impact on the fantasy fortunes of the bigger-name wide receivers whose legs haven't fallen off doesn't mean there aren't any-especially with stakes this high.

Buffalo Bills at New England Patriots (John Brown vs, Stephon Gilmore)

On the surface, this is the worst matchup for a wide receiver in Week 16. If you want to know what being covered by Stephon Gilmore can do to a stat line, ask Tyler Boyd of the Cincinnati Bengals.

Scratch that-he actually thinks he did pretty well, despite the fact that Gilmore caught almost as many passes directed at Boyd as he did. If you want the cold, hard truth-ask Boyd's fantasy owners…assuming you can get them to stop b***ing about getting bounced from the playoffs.

Three catches for 26 yards on seven targets. Gilmore caught two of those targets, with one more touchdown. But really, Boyd did OK. In his mind.

However, it bears noting that in Buffalo in Week 4, Brown caught five passes for 69 yards. It's not a monster line, but it's not cat food, either. The $64 question you have to ask heading into this game at Gillette Stadium is this-career year notwithstanding, do those 11.9 PPR fantasy points feel closer to Brown's floor or his ceiling?

Pick the right door, lest ye be zonked.

Baltimore Ravens at Cleveland Browns (Marcus Peters vs. Odell Beckham)

Yes, that's right. No Marcus Peters. Probably. The Ravens haven't done a lot of flip-flopping with their cornerbacks since acquiring Peters in a mid-season trade with the Los Angeles Rams. Yay. Commence the happy-dancing.

Well, except for a few insignificant problems

There's the matter of Beckham's down season-two whole games that left fantasy managers looking like they were doing ipecac shooters for kicks. There's also the matter of the never-ending drama that has surrounded a Cleveland team that appears hell-bent on becoming the Clowns again. There's no more dysfunctional team in the league in 2019.

Then there's the matter of Smith. Had he not been banged-up much of this year, the Ravens may never have swung the deal for Peters to begin with-he's a talented, veteran corner who has already held down one side of the field in a Super Bowl win.

A healthy Smith and Marcus Peters is arguably the best one-two punch at one of the league's most

Los Angeles Rams at San Francisco 49ers (Jalen Ramsey vs. Emmanuel Sanders)

This one doesn't look like it will be a "shadow" situation-the Rams haven't been shy about putting Ramsey on clear-cut No. 1 wide receivers, but the San Francisco 49ers don't have a go-to guy in 2019. That leaves Ramsey covering Emmanuel Sanders in probability, because formations and whatnot.

As Mike Tagliere wrote at Fantasy Pros, that is, as they say, ungood if you were thinking about taking a flier or Sanders this week.

"He's now totaled 41 yards or less in five of his last six games and has seen more than six targets just twice since joining the 49ers back in Week 8," Tagliere said. "That's a problem when you're looking at the fantasy championship week. Another issue is the matchup with the Rams, who've not been kind to opposing wide receivers since acquiring Jalen Ramsey. Over the eight games with him on the roster, they've allowed just two wide receivers to top 15.7 PPR points against them, though there have been 11 wide receivers who've totaled at least 54 yards in those contests. So, essentially, there's been a floor to be had, but not much of a ceiling. With his target share so volatile, it's tough to say Sanders is anything more than a low-end WR3 for this matchup."

He's not lying. Or wrong.

Carolina Panthers at Indianapolis Colts (James Bradberry vs. T.Y. Hilton)

The 2019 season has officially left the rails for the Colts-a 5-2 Indy team now sits at 6-8 and out of the postseason. Hilton's injury issues this season haven't helped matters, but he insisted to Fox 59 News in Indianapolis that hurt or not he's not quite ready to pack it in for the year.

"You just want to get something out of this year,' Hilton said. "Continue to give all you have, continue to play for the team and continue to build that bond heading into next year.' I haven't really experienced being injured, missing games and missing as many as I did this year. It's mentally tough, but I'll be all right.'

There's good news for Hilton's fantasy owners-it's relatively unlikely that he'll draw James Bradberry. He's a lanky, physical cornerback who generally shadows receivers with a similar skill-set.

The bad news for Hilton owners is that he's clearly nowhere close to 100 percent and the wheels have all but come off his quarterback. Other than that though, everything's fine.

New Orleans Saints at Tennessee Titans (Marshon Lattimore vs. A.J. Brown)

It's been quite the 2019 campaign for first-year wide receivers. Whether it was Marquise Brown in Baltimore, Deebo Samuel in San Francisco, DK Metcalf in Seattle or A.J. Brown in Tennessee, there have been a number of rookie wideouts this year who have made a sizable statistical dent.

That said, down the stretch Brown has surged to the head of the pack. Per Ian Hartitz of Rotoworld, Brown's 12.8 yards per target is the second-highest number in that regard from a rookie wideout over the last quarter-century and change. Over the last two weeks, Brown has erupted-13 catches for 267 yards and three scores on 20 targets.

Since Week 10, Brown's a fantasy WR1 in 12-team PPR leagues. There's a reason why in a huge game for both teams Brown's going to draw a Pro-Bowl caliber talent and former Defensive Rookie of the Year in coverage-the Saints know that he's Ryan Tannehill's go-to right now.

You can't sit a guy averaging almost 130 yards and 1.5 scores a week over the last two. But the real fear is less Lattimore than Lattimore and help over the top. And even then, 20 targets the past two weeks offers the sort of volume that's hard to say no to.

Jacksonville Jaguars at Atlanta Falcons (A.J. Bouye vs. Julio Jones)

So, um, about (giggle) this "matchup."

It will all but surely happen. Since the Jags dealt Jalen Ramsey to the Rams, Bouye has been tasked a few times with shadowing wideouts like Michael Thomas and DeAndre Hopkins. He's actually done OK in that regard-in 2019 holding Thomas to 8/89/0 on 12 targets is half a win.

As it turns out, there may just be a reason why Jacksonville is paying Bouye $13.5 million this season.

Still. Um…how to put this…?

It's Julio Jones.

With Calvin Ridley on injured reserve, Jones was targeted 20 times in last week's big win by the Falcons in San Francisco. Yes, I said 20. As in 10 twice. He caught 13 of those targets for 134 yards and two touchdowns.

If Santa and all nine reindeer (including Rudolph) covered Jones, he's gonna clean up on the stat sheet approximately 1225 percent of the time he gets 20 targets in a game.

Talk about gifts.

Happy Holidays!