The fantasy football regular season is (mostly) in the books, pending the schedule makers making a mistake and not really admitting it and having two Monday Night Football games, randomly, in week fourteen. With the fantasy playoffs looming, three storylines developed on Sunday that piqued my interest and led me to dive a little deeper. Let’s delve into the Falcons, the Chiefs and the Browns to see how Sunday potentially changed the landscape down the stretch.
Can We Trust the Falcons Now?
The Atlanta Falcons lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, but it wasn’t for a lack of trying. Desmond Ridder threw the ball 40 times, the second-highest of his career, at 9.9 yards average depth of target, the fourth-highest of his career. This is a trend lately, as three of the four highest aDOT games of his career have come in the last four games. They’ve also come in good matchups (the Buccaneers) and downright terrible matchups (the Jets). This tells me that perhaps, just perhaps, that Arthur Smith has pulled his head out of his rear end, at least temporarily.
With the Falcons throwing the ball more, Kyle Pitts (14 targets, 7 catches, 108 yards and a touchdown over the last two games) and Drake London (top-30 wide receiver finishes in two of the last three games) become better plays. They’ve also prioritized Bijan Robinson, with Bijan mercifully getting at least 15 touches in four-straight games, leading to four-straight top-20 RB finishes for Bijan. While Ridder finished top-five this week, more often than not, he doesn’t come along for the ride.
The only major concern comes down to the schedule: at Carolina, versus Indianapolis, and at Chicago. For the passing game, those are bad, neutral, and good matchups, and for the running game, Carolina is a primo matchup, with Indianapolis and Chicago ranking as neutral matchups. While I am wary of the passing game next week, the run game will go wild next week, but if they continue to air it out, I can, and will, trust Desmond Ridder and the Atlanta Falcons.
Is Rashee Rice a League Winner?
I’ve been saying it all year. Screaming it from the mountain tops to anyone who would listen: Rashee Rice is a good football player. During draft season, I compared him to burgeoning star Brandon Aiyuk in San Francisco, with the same sort of dynamism and “my ball” mentality that’s served Aiyuk well. This week, we saw Rashee Rice prove me right, finishing with a team-high ten targets, and finishing with seven catches for 72 yards, and a touchdown (we won’t talk about the fumble).
Week 14 was Rice’s third-straight double-digit PPR day, and the second time he topped 20 PPR points in the last three weeks. This all comes with an increase in target share for Rice, who has 29 targets—for a higher target share than even Travis Kelce—for 8/107/1, 8/64, and a 7/72/1 finish in the last three games. That’s good enough for a 26.4% target share, after averaging a 12% target share over the first 11 weeks of the season. It also explains why he’s WR10 over the last three weeks, after being WR50 over the first 11 weeks of the season.
Should the Chiefs maintain that target volume to Rice (and they should, as he’s the best wide receiver on the team by a large margin), then Rashee Rice is not only a must-start receiver down the stretch, he’s a potential league winning wide receiver.
Is Joe Flacco Worth it Down the Stretch?
Joe Flacco put a definitive stamp on the Browns’ 2023 season this week, as he sliced and diced the Jaguars to the tune of 311 passing yards, 3 touchdowns, and a pick. The Browns won the game, marking the ninth time that a Browns quarterback has won a game with 300 passing yards and 3 touchdowns (since their return to the league in 1999). As I write this, he is a top-ten quarterback, and with Will Levis and Anthony DeVito making up half the remaining quarterbacks, he’s looking as though he will finish as a QB1 this week. But, is it something that we can trust?
First, Flacco did this against the Bengals, who allow the third-most fantasy points, the third-most passing yards, the fourth-most passing touchdowns, and the eleventh-highest quarterback rating per game to opposing QBs. They’re truly dreadful, which is why Flacco is the fourth-straight quarterback and fifth in their last six games to top 20 fantasy points against them. But, here’s the fun part: Joe Flacco’s schedule continues to stay soft, right up until the fantasy finals.
On paper, it looks like Flacco can cruise the next two weeks. In week fifteen, Joe Flacco gets the Bears (eighth-most fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks) and the Texans (sixth-most fantasy points allowed). And Joe Flacco is going to sling the dang rock. Flacco started and finished seven games in the last three seasons, and he threw the ball at least 39 times in six of them, averaging 45 pass attempts per game. The Texans are a sieve on defense, allowing at least 19 fantasy points to five of the last six quarterbacks to face them, including 300 passing yards to Zach Wilson this week.
The Bears, conversely, shut down Jared Goff this week, and their rank is riding their early season woes. The Bears traded for Montez Sweat on Halloween, and in the four games since then, they’ve allowed a total of 33.88 fantasy points, in four games. Granted, they played Jared Goff twice, Josh Dobbs (RIP) and Bryce Young. But still, they aren’t a cupcake matchup. Then, unfortunately, the Browns get the Jets in week seventeen. While some might say that has revenge game all over it (it doesn’t), the Jets are one of the stingiest pass defenses in the league, and I wouldn’t trust Joe Flacco against them.
So, if you are desperate fantasy manager looking for a one week streamer (a Justin Herbert or C.J. Stroud manager, for example), then you can start Flacco next week. I wouldn’t start him in week sixteen or week seventeen, however.