THE SHADOW KNOWS Week 17 2020
Quite a few NFL teams are in the same position as most fantasy managers-the 2020 regular season is over, even if there's a game to play. A fortunate few have secured a playoff seed that allows them to rest players in Week 17. Several others have nothing to play for this week-and as a result to reason to risk injuring banged up players.
But there are also teams facing immense stakes in Week 17-teams like the Arizona Cardinals and Los Angeles Rams, who will meet at SoFi stadium Sunday with a playoff spot on the line.
That game features a renewal of a rivalry that dates back quite a while. Going back to their time together in the AFC South, this marks the ninth time that Cardinals wideout DeAndre Hopkins and Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey have met. Before last month's first meeting of 2020 between the two, Ramsey quipped to reporters that Hopkins followed him to the NFC West because he just can't stand to be away from the Pro Bowl corner.
"Me being traded last year, got out of the division and didn't think I was going to be playing him again for a while," said Ramsey. "And just seems like he followed me. Wherever I'm going, he's going. I follow him during the games, he followed me to the division."
The reality is that there isn't a wideout in the game who wants to face Ramsey-even one as good as Hopkins. For the season, Ramsey has allowed a career-low completion percentage against of 51.6 percent. His passer rating against is 70.0-also a career-best. And while Hopkins has had some success against Ramsey in the past, as a whole it's Ramsey who has gotten the better end of their matchups.
Back in Week 13, Hopkins was targeted 13 times. The 28-year-old caught eight of those targets and found the end zone, but he averaged just 6.5 yards a catch.
You're starting Hopkins in a Week 17 title game. But temper expectations.
Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants (Amari Cooper vs. James Bradberry)
It's been a miserable season in Dallas, largely because the Cowboys lost starting quarterback Dak Prescott to a season-ending ankle injury. But the Cowboys offense has picked up its level of play of late, and while speaking with the Dallas Morning News, wide receiver Amari Cooper attributed the upswing in production to increased familiarity with Andy Dalton.
"I would just attribute it to repetition,' Cooper said. "When Dak first went down obviously, the first team guys at receiver we hadn't had much experience with Andy. But since then, obviously he's been taking all the first-team reps and we've just been able to learn each other _ the way he likes to throw the ball and obviously he's been able to learn the way we like to run our routes. So, that's what I would attribute it to, I would attribute it to just the repetition."
The first meeting between the Giants and Cowboys this year just so happens to have been the game where Prescott got hurt. In that first meeting between Cooper and James Bradberry, the sixth-year wide receiver had one of his worst games of the season-just two catches for 23 yards on four targets. Bradberry's coverage had a lot to do with that stat line, and it makes Copper hard to trust as more than a middling WR2 this week.
Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills (Xavien Howard vs. Stefon Diggs)
In last week's win over the New England Patriots, Stefon Diggs scorched young cornerback J.C. Jackson and the Pats secondary for 145 yards and three touchdowns on nine catches. As Nick Wojton reported for Bills Wire, Jackson admitted that he rather got his hat handed to him at Bills Stadium.
"I learned from it that each play, you can't take any reps off," Jackson said. "You can't fall asleep, you've got to be alert and ready every play when you're playing a receiver like that. He's a playmaker, he comes back to the ball better than any receiver in the league. He's got great hands. You've got to almost be perfect when you're guarding somebody like that. You've got to almost have perfect coverage in man-to-man."
Miami's Xavien Howard has been playing as well as any cornerback in the NFL this year-he has allowed only 48.4 percent of the passes thrown in his direction to be completed and has a miniscule passer rating against of 43.8. But there's one concern and one concern only that should potentially give Diggs managers pause heading into Week 17-the possibility that Diggs could exit the game early if the Bills decide to pack it in ahead of the playoffs.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns (Diontae Johnson vs. Denzel Ward)
It has been quite the rollercoaster season for Johnson in 2020, who has shined at times and struggled mightily in others. Last week's 8/74/1 line last week against the Colts was one of Johnson's best efforts and weeks, and Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin lauded Johnson's toughness for rebounding from a bad case of the dropsies.
"We've all had our struggles of late. None of us are removed from that", Tomlin said, per the team's website. "This is a fighter's business. This is a competitor's business. And I expect all to compete and smile in the face of adversity, and he did".
Johnson has eight catches and a touchdown in each of the last two games, but there are multiple factors working against him in Week 17. The Steelers have already announced that Ben Roethlisberger won't play, and there's a big drop-off from Big Ben to Mason Rudolph. Johnson may well not play the entire game. And this week Johnson faces a cornerback in Denzel Ward who has allowed less than 55 percent of the passes thrown in his direction to be completed.
Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears (Jaire Alexander vs. Allen Robinson)
One of the NFL's oldest rivalries carries added stakes in Week 17-if the Chicago Bears win, they are in the playoffs, while a victory by the visiting Packers gives Green Bay the No. 1 seed in the NFC. As Dante Green reported for Bear Report, one of the biggest games within the game Sunday features Pro Bowl cornerback Jaire Alexander locking up again with Bears wideout Allen Robinson.
"Alexander is a stud at corner and while he may get away with a lot of holding and grabbing, he presents a tough challenge for Allen Robinson," Green said. "If Robinson is covered properly this may be the time to get Anthony Miller and Darnell Mooney more involved."
Alexander is having the best season of his career-the third-year pros is allowing less than 52 percent of his targets to culminate in receptions and just completely erased Titans receiver Corey Davis in Week 16. However, before fantasy managers with shares of Robinson hit the panic button, it's worth noting that Robinson had eight catches for 74 yards and two scores against the Packers in Week 12.
Arizona Cardinals at Los Angeles Rams (Patrick Peterson vs. Robert Woods)
The Rams have been battered by bad news this week-first Jared Goff was ruled out for this week's matchup with the Cardinals, then Cooper Kupp joined him after reportedly testing positive for COVID-19. However, as Max Staley wrote for Fanduel, Kupp's injury status could be a blessing in disguise for fantasy managers of Robert Woods.
"Woods has been great this season, checking in as the WR12 in PPR formats on the year," Staley said. "His 8.1 targets per game are second on the team, trailing only Kupp (8.3). With Kupp looking doubtful, though, expect Woods to command the lion's share of the volume in Week 17. His efficiency could be another story. With Goff likely out, Woods will be catching passes from John Wolford, who has never taken a snap at the NFL level. That's obviously a tough break for the Rams' passing game."
It's possible that the Redbirds will roll Peterson over to shadow Woods, although at this pint Peterson is more big name than big-time player in coverage. The much bigger concern this week is Wolford, whose biggest claim to fame is a starting stint as the Arizona Hotshots of the AAF. However, at least Woods' should get a robust target share in Week 17.
New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers (Marshon Lattimore vs, D.J. Moore)
The Saints have been one of the better defensive teams in the NFL this season, in no small part because of the play of Lattimore and the secondary. While speaking to reporters (via the team's website) Lattimore said that when the Saints are at their best, the entire defensive backfield plays as a cohesive unit.
"That's what it's about, we work together," he said. "If we're doing our thing, it makes easy on them and vice versa. Of course, we want to lock everybody up. We don't want anybody to catch the ball. We don't want anybody scoring anything. When we're actually doing that and not allowing it, we feel great."
To be clear, Lattimore hasn't had his best season in 2020-the fourth-year veteran's 104.2 passer rating against is a career high. But as a whole, the Saints have surrendered the 10th-fewest PPR points per game to wide receivers this year. Still, Moore had a big game against the Saints the first time out, hauling in four passes for 92 yards and two scores.
Glad I could clear that up with the last entry of 2020.
Happy New Year, everyone!