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The Shadow Knows Week 18 2022
The New York Jets enter Week 18 a disappointed franchise-after a 7-4 start the Jets have lost five straight games and were eliminated from the playoffs in Seattle last week. But in reality, not many expected the Jets to win even seven games, and in cornerback Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner and wide receiver Garrett Wilson, New York appears to have hit a pair of home runs in last year's draft.
It isn't all that often that a rookie cornerback plays at a Pro Bowl level from the moment he hits the field in the NFL. But that's what the former Cincinnati standout has done-Gardner has allowed just over 53 percent of the passes thrown in his way to be completed with a passer rating against of just 61.2 and a league-leading 20 passes defensed. Gardner's stellar rookie season has made him the odds-on favorite to be named Defensive Rookie of the Year, and while Gardner told ESPN that he'd prefer to be playing on after Week 18, winning that honor would mean a great deal to him as well.
"I always say I want to make history," he said. "That's always going through my head. I don't know what I'm going to do, but I'm always trying to make history. We grow up with so many things we want to accomplish, goals and aspirations, but when we're in the moment, we basically just think about winning. Winning games is more important than any and everything. But, of course, it would be big to make that happen."
For his part, veteran defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins sees greatness in both Gardner and Wilson.
"If you told me in 15 years that Garrett was the greatest Jets receiver of all time and Sauce was in the conversation for being better than [Darrelle] Revis for the best Jets DB of all time, I'd say, 'Yeah, you're probably right,'" said Rankins. "You see the talent. You see the mentality."
Gardner has helped turn the Jets into one of the worst matchups in fantasy for wide receivers-per ESPN's Mike Clay, the Jets have allowed the second-fewest fantasy points to receivers overall and the least to perimeter wideouts. Since Week 4, only one WR (Jakobi Meyers of the Patriots) has reached 20 fantasy points against New York-and that includes matchups with Amon-Ra St. Brown, Justin Jefferson and Stefon Diggs. In Week 5, Tyreek Hill of the Miami Dolphins caught seven passes-but for just 47 yards..
It's not that often that the words "downgrade" and "Tyreek Hill" are mentioned in the same sentence. But between this week's brutal matchup and Skylar Thompson likely Miami's starting quarterback, that's where we are in Week 18.
Dallas Cowboys at Washington Commanders (Trevon Diggs vs. Terry McLaurin)
Trevon Diggs has had an interesting second season. On one hand, the splash plays and interceptions that made him a sensation in 2021 have been further and farther between. On the other hand, he also hasn't been beaten in coverage as regularly. While speaking to reporters recently, Dallas defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said that in his opinion, Diggs has improved markedly as a player-regardless of that the stats say.
Things you thought wouldn't show up would be run support. Where he's outside and turned those plays back inside," Diggs said. "Some of his game doesn't show up on the stat sheet right now in terms of the interceptions, but he's playing better today than he was a year ago today. Our defense is playing better."
Diggs has admittedly allowed over 200 fewer yards in coverage this year and fewer touchdowns, but he's still on pace to surrender over 700 yards, and his passer rating against and completion percentage are both worse than last season. The Cowboys aren't a fantasy matchup to fear-Dallas is fifth in PPR points allowed to wideouts. Rookie Sam Howell's debut is a bigger threat to Terry McLaurin's fantasy value this week than facing Diggs.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons (Mike Evans vs. A.J. Terrell)
For most of the 2022 season, fantasy managers lamented the "disappointment" that Mike Evans had become. Some actually sat the only wide receiver to post eight consecutive 1,000-yard seasons in Week 17-I know because in one championship game my opponent did. After Evans, Tom Brady and the Tampa offense exploded against the Carolina Panthers last week, Buccaneers offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich told reporters that the only people who lost faith in Tampa's offense were those outside the Bucs locker room.
"I think there's been moments where we really haven't been that bad," Leftwich said. "I think you guys overexaggerated because we look different. The numbers say that we're not that far off. We're off on third down and red zone. It's disappointing, those two things for us as a team with who we have. But when you really listen to people talk about us, that's emotions talking. That's not really people watching us, watching us get better every week. For some reason, everybody want to throw dirt on the Bucs. But we're not ready for people to throw dirt on us."
Evans was a flat-out league-winner last week in a matchup with a Panthers team he has dominated in recent years, and it was a reminder of how dominant Evans can be. It also put him over 1,000 yards for the ninth straight year. Evans posted a 4/81/0 line on eight targets against Terrell and the Falcons in Week 5, so this isn't a smash spot. But an early exit from Evans in a meaningless game is a bigger worry than Atlanta's defense.
Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers (Denzel Ward vs. Diontae Johnson)
Diontae Johnson has already made NFL history-for all the wrong reasons. This season, Johnson has been targeted 137 times-eighth-most in the NFL. No wideout in league history has been targeted more and not caught a touchdown pass. Despite that jaw-dropping stat, Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett made it clear to reporters that so far as he's concerned, Johnson is one of the best in the game.
"He is really a tough guy to cover," Pickett said. "His stop-and-go is elite, so when DBs feel like they are in trouble, they have to grab him to slow him down or it is was going to be a big play like a couple that we could've had. They are making smart plays because they can get hurt a lot worse with the pass interference or the holding calls. His stop-go is something that I have never seen before."
Johnson is two catches away from setting the record for most receptions in a season without a touchdown, and his catch percentage of 61.3 is, well, bad. Frankly, the law of averages would seem to dictate that Johnson is due to score in a middling matchup with the Browns. But he's been "due" for a month and a half, and terrible efficiency stats have become more rule than exception during Johnson's four NFL seasons. It may well be that Johnson just is who he is.
Los Angeles Chargers at Denver Broncos (Mike Williams vs. Patrick Surtain)
By just about any objective measure, the Denver Broncos were a mess in 2022. But the defense bears very little blame for the team's dismal season, and young cornerback Patrick Surtain bears even less. In fact, Surtain was named the team's MVP in 2022 by the Denver chapter of the Pro Football Writers of America-an honor he said was a bright spot in an otherwise dark year.
"Obviously, team goals come in -- Super Bowl, playoffs," Surtain said. "Obviously, we ain't meet that goal, but there's still years left to prove that. It's still something we can work on, but I'm still humbled and honored to receive these accolades. At the end of the day, it's an honor and a blessing. There's still more to go. There's still more to improve on. But at the end of the day, I'm glad of the player I've become. Compared to Year 1, Year 2, it's a night-and-day difference."
Surtain also earned his first Pro Bowl nod this season, and he's become the anchor of the league's sixth-best defense. The Chargers have reason to play hard Sunday-the fifth seed in the AFC gets them the AFC South champion as opposed to the Bills, Bengals or Chiefs in the Wild Card Round. But when these teams met in Week 6 (albeit with Keenan Allen out) Surtain erased Mike Williams-two catches for 17 yards on six targets.
Seattle Seahawks at Los Angeles Rams (DK Metcalf vs. Jalen Ramsey)
Defending their Super Bowl title hasn't gone at all according to plan for the Los Angeles Rams-the team has been blasted by injuries, Los Angeles holds the dubious distinction of having the most losses ever by a defending champion and the team faces an offseason filled with difficult choices. Star cornerback Jalen Ramsey hasn't played at his usually dominant level, either-and he's the first to admit it.
"I'm my toughest critic," Ramsey said. "I already know my corrections before a coach has to say anything to me or my teammates have to say anything to me. That's just how I am. Going over it in film doesn't bother me because I already went over it like probably 10 times in my head already. I don't really look at a game and say 'I played all right. It's probably a C.' No, I just played s***ty or I played good. That's how I look at it for myself."
Ramsey and the Rams will at least have the opportunity for some misery loves company action-if they can upset the Seahawks it will bounce Seattle from the playoffs as well. Fresh off his worst game of the season against the Jets, it will be DK Metcalf who likely draws Ramsey most of the game in coverage, but given how badly Seattle needs this game and Metcalf's eight catches for 127 yards and a score against the Rams in Week 13, it's not a matchup fantasy managers need fear much.