THE SHADOW KNOWS Week 17 2021
THE SHADOW KNOWS: Week 17
Justin Jefferson of the Minnesota Vikings has had quite the start to his professional career. As a matter of fact, after hauling in eight passes for 116 yards last week against the Los Angeles Rams, Jefferson has more receiving yards over his first two seasons than any player in the history of the National Football League.
However, that big game came in a loss-one that severely damaged Minnesota's chances of making the playoffs. And while speaking with reporters after the game, Jefferson wasn't at all shy about criticizing the team's 2-for-5 performance in the red zone.
"I think we should be more aggressive when we get down there," Jefferson said. "As soon as we get down there. But I'm not the one calling the plays. I'm just here to do my job and do what's told of me. But we can't get down in the red zone that many times and come out with three points."
"I can only control what I can," Jefferson continued. "I definitely will keep the energy up, keep talking my guys up, trying to pick them up. But at the end of the day, I can't go out there and play for them. … It's not totally over yet. We've got some juice left, but you've just got to go and win these two games. Be aggressive, be emotionally into it and just be mentally prepared to go in there and fight our butt off."
Jefferson's comments kept sports talk radio hosts in Minneapolis busy last week, but they also set the stage for a "squeaky wheel" game in which Jefferson is peppered with targets-especially with Adam Thielen's season over after ankle surgery.
Usually, a coverage date with Pro Bowler Jaire Alexander would rob even that appealing scenario of some of its appeal-when healthy Alexander is on the short list as one of the NFL's very best cornerbacks. But this is the 24-year-old's first game action since he suffered an AC joint injury all the way back in Week 4.
Alexander is all but certain to be on a snap count Sunday at Lambeau Field, and while Rasul Douglas has been quite the find for the Packers this season, he isn't the sort of corner who would cause reservations about Jefferson's fantasy prospects in Week 17.
At this point, maybe no one is.
Los Angeles Rams at Baltimore Ravens (Jalen Ramsey vs. Mark Andrews)
Yep. You read that right.
There is absolutely zero question that Baltimore tight end Mark Andrews is the most dangerous player in the Ravens passing attack. He has been making fools of linebackers and safeties all season long. But in Jalen Ramsey, the Rams have something of a unicorn-an All-Pro corner who can play all over the field. As Clifton Brown wrote for the Ravens website, Andrews himself admitted that he expects to see Ramsey at least past of the time Sunday.
"He's a different type of corner than most out there," Andrews said. "Very versatile, extremely strong but fast, physical, all those different things make him an elite guy. That's going to be a tough matchup for anybody that he goes against. I don't know exactly who's going to get matched up. The first time we played against them, it was a few times that I went against him. Obviously, [he's] great player, [and it's a] huge matchup. There are a lot of guys on our team. Our receivers are balling out, so we'll see what happens with that."
Andrews leads every receiving category that can be led in Charm City by a massive margin, and he's going to set a new franchise record for receiving yards in Week 17. Obviously, fantasy's top-scoring tight end through 16 weeks is a must-start regardless of matchup-especially given the ridiculous tear he has been on. But if there's one defender in the league who could have the skill-set to hold in Andrews in check, Ramsey's the guy.
Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Football Team (Darius Slay vs. Terry McLaurin)
It has been a long season in Washington, one that just got that much longer thanks to the locker rook being blindsided by a fatal car crash involving safety Deshazor Everett and the death of edge-rusher's Montez Sweat's brother in a shooting. Per Bryan Manning of Washington Wire, Terry McLaurin allowed that while the players are making no excuses, the added stress for an already-reeling team has been a blow.
"I don't think any of us use that as a crutch or an excuse because we know what comes with being a professional football player and the expectations that come with it," he said. "But it still does affect you, and you try to just compartmentalize the best you can. … We're trying to support our brothers that aren't here, praying for them, thinking about them, but we still have to try to gather ourselves and make something of the rest of these last two games."
The off-field distractions are the least of McLaurin's problems. As the result of mostly woeful quarterback play, McLaurin's numbers have fallen off a cliff-just 12 catches for 164 yards without a score over his last five games combined. That includes two catches for 51 yards on four targets against Darius Slay and the Eagles in Week 15-the only thing "Scary Terry" is frightening right now is fantasy managers who are forced to start him in a must-win contest.
Miami Dolphins at Tennessee Titans (Xavien Howard vs. A.J. Brown)
For the first time since he caught five passes for 48 yards against the Houston Texans in Week 11, Brown was back on the field last week against the San Francisco 49ers. And what a return it was-11 catches on 15 targets for 154 yards and a touchdown. As John Glennon wrote for All Titans, no one was happier to see Brown back on the playing field than his quarterback.
"I have talked about how I love throwing A.J. the ball and I love playing with him," Ryan Tannehill said. "He kind of showed us why on Thursday. He is a heck of a playmaker. He makes plays all over the field. I definitely have a lot of confidence that if I throw it in his area, he has a chance to go get it and he is going to go make a play."
At first glance, Sunday's matchup with the Dolphins would appear highly favorable for Brown-despite the presence of two Pro Bowl cornerbacks in Xavien Howard and Byron Jones, the Dolphins have surrendered the ninth-most PPR points to wide receivers. About the only thing at this point that could muck up the fun is the calf injury that caused the 24-year-old to miss practice on Thursday.
Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints (D.J. Moore vs. Marshon Lattimore)
New Orleans Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore was recently named to his fourth Pro Bowl in five seasons. But at least to an extent, that accolade had as much to do with Lattimore's reputation as his performance this season. As Andrew Bell wrote for Canal Street Chronicles, Lattimore's season has been a tale of two extremes.
"In Weeks 1-7, Lattimore led the league by a wide margin in pass breakups with 11 (according to PFF), while only allowing a 45% catch rate when targeted in coverage (T-8th best among qualifying corners)," he said. "It was incredible to see the work he was doing on elite receivers while having a cast on his hand for most of that time period. In Weeks 8-13, however, he not only came back down to Earth. He crashed down. In that time span, he gave up a league-leading 401 receiving yards on a 71.1% catch rate when targeted, five TDs (most) and 162 yards after the catch (third-most)."
Given Lattimore's struggles over the latter half of the season, one might have increased confidence in D.J. Moore's prospects for Week 17. Or at least it would be if Carolina's offense hadn't completely imploded over the past month-plus. Moore's target share (43 over the last four games) has enabled Moore to maintain value as a WR3, but given the sad state of the Panthers passing game that's about all he is.
Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers (Denzel Ward vs. Diontae Johnson)
There's a good chance that we'll be witnessing some NFL history Monday night at Heinz Field. The all-important showdown between the Steelers and rival Browns is Pittsburgh's final home game of the season, and as Marla Ridenour wrote for the Akron Beacon-Journal, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger as much as admitted that this could be the end of the line for him at the stadium, he has called home for so long.
"I don't ever speak in definites or guarantees, that's just not what I've ever done or who I am," Roethlisberger said. "But looking at the bigger picture, I would say that all signs are pointing to this could be it. Regular season, that is. I know we still have a chance to potentially get a playoff game there if things fall our way and we take care of business and things have to happen. But in the grand scheme of things, in terms of regular season, signs are pointing that way, this could be it."
For Roethlisberger to have a successful regular season swan song and Keep Pittsburgh's lagging postseason aspirations alive, Diontae Johnson will have to have a big game-the third-year pro has over 50 more targets than Pittsburgh's next-closest receiver. Johnson has cooled some of late (largely because Roethlisberger has struggled), but given the target share he'll surely see and the success he has had against Denzel Ward and the Browns in the past (including six catches for 98 yards in Week 8), fantasy football's seventh-ranked wideout in PPR points is at least a WR2 in Week 17.