Try as we might, the fantasy game cannot perfectly mirror its real-life counterpart. Some of the irreconcilable differences between them mean that there are certain aspects that will get lost in translation. There are plenty of solid real-life players who are irrelevant in fantasy. At the same time, how many bad performances result in strong fantasy games? Every single season, there are countless garbage time heroes. They’re almost always in garbage time because they played poorly from a real-life perspective. It’s just the way the fantasy blends with the real life, and it has helped keep Blake Bortles mostly on the fantasy community’s good side.
Bortles is regressing in his third year. You can’t watch the Jaguars this season and come to any other conclusion. He has completed 60% of his passes, which ranks 28th in the league. When you count drops as completions, as Pro Football Focus does with its adjusted completion percentage, he jumps all the way to 26th. Bortles’s 6.37 yards per attempt is 30th among quarterbacks who have started every game this season, better than only Joe Flacco and Brock Osweiler. His mechanics are terrible, and he may no longer be the quarterback of the future in Jacksonville. These are the facts, and they are indisputable.
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And yet, the fantasy world looks at Bortles in a different light. In standard-scoring leagues, Bortles ranks 10th in total points and 12th in points per game. He has had four QB1, or top-12, weeks, including two where he was in the top five. He has only had one truly disastrous week, finishing 22nd at the position in Week 6. Rarely has it been easy, but Bortles remains on the QB1 radar every week in typical fantasy leagues. His dot on that radar is blinking rapidly and shining brightly in Week 11, moving right toward the center of the picture.
Bortles and the Jags visit Detroit to take on a Lions defense that has been quite friendly to quarterbacks this season. The Lions have allowed the third-most points per game to the position, with only the Falcons and Browns more susceptible to the pass. They’ve held two quarterbacks—Osweiler and Sam Bradford—under 17.6 points. The other seven they’ve faced, a group that includes Carson Wentz, Case Keenum and Brian Hoyer, have averaged 23.94 standard-league points per game. By comparison, Drew Brees, who leads all quarterbacks in points per game, is putting up 23.8 points in an average week. “Quarterbacks Facing the Lions” have outscored the No. 1 quarterback on a per-game basis.
If you haven’t been paying close attention to Jacksonville, you may also have failed to notice that Allen Robinson has finally gotten going in the last three weeks. He has 40 targets in his last three games, catching 22 of them for 253 yards and two touchdowns. The Lions have allowed the second-most points to tight ends this year, and Bortles has someone at that position who can take advantage in Julius Thomas. Add to all this the game total of 47 and the Lions’ ability to get up and down the field against the Jacksonville defense, and it sets up to be a shootout in Detroit on Sunday. If you start Bortles, you may not want to watch the game, but you’ll be happy with what you see in the box score once it’s over.
Manning is having a down year across the board, throwing for 7.09 YPA, 15 touchdowns and 10 interceptions through nine games. Still, it’s hard to see him struggling against the Bears’ defense at home. He doesn’t have top-five upside at quarterback this week, but it’d be a huge surprise if he didn’t turn in top-12 numbers. You’re starting him if you own him, unless you also have someone like Matt Ryan, Tom Brady, Cam Newton, or another locked-in QB1. Of course, if that’s the case, you have some problems with resource allocation.
Matthew Stafford (vs. Jacksonville)
As I said at the end of the Bortles intro, there should be a good environment for scoring and passing in Detroit on Sunday. Stafford has slowed down a bit of late, throwing for 459 yards, 5.96 YPA and three touchdowns against one interception in his last two games, but those were against the Texans and Vikings. He’ll be happy to see Jacksonville’s defense across the line this weekend. Stafford is in the same range as Manning. He’s not going to be a top-five quarterback this week, but he’d have to have one of his worst games of the season to fall out of the QB1 class.
Colin Kaepernick (vs. New England)
Rushing production is a beautiful thing for a quarterback. In four starts this season, Kaepernick has thrown for more than one touchdown and 210 yards one time. He’s still averaging more than 20 standard-league points per game, and he has scored at least 18.1 points in all but one of his starts. That’s because he has scored at least 6.6 points with his legs three times, which is equal to better than 1.5 passing touchdowns in standard-scoring leagues. Kaepernick’s rushing ability raises his floor to a point where it’s nearly impossible for him to not be a top-20 quarterback. That makes him nearly a must-start in superflex formats.
Dalton is my QB16 this week, immediately behind Tyrod Taylor, Kirk Cousins and Dak Prescott. The three quarterbacks preceding him are in the buffer zone. Technically, they don’t make my group of starters because they’re outside the top 12, but all of them can be trusted, depending on the individual circumstances of their owners. Dalton is the first quarterback for whom I’d look for an alternative this week. Not only is Buffalo better than average against the pass, it plays a slow-paced game that limits possessions for both teams. Dalton will have to be hyper-efficient to show up as a QB1.
Jameis Winston (at Kansas City)
I could basically cut and paste what I just wrote for Dalton, change the details to reflect the right names and teams, and it would be completely accurate for Winston as well. The Chiefs play a slow-paced brand of offensive football that will help take the air out of the ball for the Buccaneers. The over/under on this game is 44.5, tied for the third lowest of the week. Winston is going on the road to a hostile environment, and he has been much better at home this season. He’s a mid-tier QB2 for Week 11.
Carson Palmer (at Minnesota)
Last week, Cousins turned in the best game a quarterback has had against the Vikings this season. He threw for 262 yards, 7.94 YPA and two touchdowns in Washington’s 26-20 win. I’m not exactly bullish on Palmer’s ability to repeat that, especially since this Arizona passing game is at its best when it is pushing the ball deep down the field. Minnesota’s defense, specifically its pass rush, is built to stifle just such passing games. Add to that the game total of 41, and this doesn’t appear to be the most fertile passing environment. Stay away from Palmer.
C.J. Prosise and Thomas Rawls (vs. Philadelphia)
I wrote a lot about the Seattle backfield in this week’s Target and Snap Report, so I won’t repeat everything I said there. With Rawls likely handling early-down and goal-line work, and Prosise in the backfield for third downs and obvious passing situations, there’s an easy path to RB2-plus numbers for both of them. We’ll get a good sense of what the Seahawks want to do with their new two-back approach this week, but for now consider both of them worthy starters.
James Starks (at Washington)
Starks returned from a knee injury last week, totaling 44 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown on 10 touches. Just as importantly, he played 55 snaps out of the backfield, compared to just 20 for Ty Montgomery. Say what you will about that strategy (I’d like to see more Montgomery), but it appears it’s the course the Packers will take. Starks’s control of the Green Bay backfield makes him an RB2, especially in a matchup with a Washington defense that has allowed 4.62 yards per carry to running backs this season.
James White (at San Francisco)
Dion Lewis is still a theory. The sooner his fantasy owners understand that, the better off they will be. With Rob Gronkowski out this week because of the punctured lung he suffered against Seattle, White should take on a larger role in the New England passing game. It’ll be up to him and Martellus Bennett to replicate a lot of what Gronkowski brings to the table. I’m willing to bet that White gets eight or more targets in this game, making him an easy play in PPR leagues and an RB2 in standard formats.
Hey, look at that, Jennings ran for 87 yards on 15 carries in the Giants win over the Bengals last week. Congratulations Rashad. I’m still not trusting you generally. As we hammered home last week with respect to Doug Martin, the Bears have a surprisingly strong run defense for being such a bad team. They’ve held backs to 3.56 yards per carry and the fourth-fewest fantasy points per game. Martin ran for just 33 yards on 16 carries last week, though he did manage to punch in a goal-line touchdown. Jennings is no better than a low-end flex play in deeper leagues.
Terrance West (at Dallas)
The bloom has quickly come off West’s rose, with the running back totaling 96 yards on 44 carries in his last three games. He hasn’t had more than four yards per carry in a game since rushing for 95 yards on 11 totes against Washington in Week 5, his second game as the Ravens starter. Kenneth Dixon is entrenched as the team’s pass-catching back, and has likely earned a few more looks carrying the ball, as well. Finally, the Ravens matchup with the Cowboys sets up terribly for West. Not only do the Cowboys control the clock and dictate pace better than any team in the league, they’re likely to put the Ravens in a position where Joe Flacco and the passing game will have to shine.
Darren Sproles (at Seattle)
I’ve given up on trying to figure out the Philadelphia backfield. All I know is that I’m going to trust my instincts when it comes to Sproles, and those have always told me to fade him. I hate relying on players who are big-play dependent, especially when those players are pass-catching running backs. Sproles basically needs everything to align perfectly for him to have a meaningful fantasy game. The chances of that happening are always slim, but even more so with the Seahawks defense on the other side of the line of scrimmage.
Tim Hightower (at Carolina)
The Saints’ backfield committee likely isn’t going away, but over the last two weeks Mark Ingram has played more snaps, received more carries, and been more effective than Hightower. That trifecta should lead to Ingram garnering an even larger share of the work out of the backfield. Aside from Ingram’s benching that led to the committee, Hightower has had one more successful game this season, and it was against the 49ers and their putrid run defense. He’s on the low-end flex radar in deeper leagues, and that’s it.
Matthews kept on chugging right along last week, catching three passes for 63 yards and a touchdown. Over his last six games, he has 24 catches for 303 yards and six scores. Yes, his touchdown rate is alarmingly high, and his target base suggests that a regression is on the horizon, but clearly he and Marcus Mariota have the right sort of connection on the field. He could be dealing with a heavy dose of Vontae Davis on Sunday, but you don’t want to fade this hot hand.
Kenny Britt (vs. Miami)
The sixth-year semi-breakout for Britt is one of this season’s most fun, underreported stories. Long since forgotten in the fantasy world, Britt has 44 receptions for 693 yards and three touchdowns on the year. Absent a dramatic reversal, he’ll post the first 1,000-yard season of his career. The move to Jared Goff certainly complicates matters for Britt this week, but he’s the Rams best option in all facets of the passing game. The Dolphins, meanwhile, have allowed the sixth-most fantasy points per game to receivers.
Cameron Meredith (at New York Giants)
Meredith is set for a return to prominence in the Chicago offense with Alshon Jeffery suspended for the next four games. Meredith has played just two games where he was a starter and targeted more than two times. In those games, he has 20 catches for 243 yards and a touchdown, good for 15.15 standard-league points per game. Jay Cutler mostly ignored him since returning to the starting lineup in Week 8, but he won’t have that option any longer. Meredith is going to have to volume his way to fantasy relevance, but there’s every reason to believe the targets will be there for him with Jeffery out.
Willie Snead (at Carolina)
It’s nearly impossible for a team to produce three worthy fantasy starters at receiver in the same week, and Snead has to deal with Brandin Cooks and Michael Thomas stealing looks. Still, if I’m a Snead owner who doesn’t also have Cooks or Thomas, I’m rolling him out with confidence on Thursday night. The over/under on Saints-Panthers is 52 points, and the Panthers have allowed the ninth-most points per game to receivers. I want to take my chances on anyone I might own in that game, Snead included.
Hill has enjoyed a boomlet of support after racking up 24 targets the last three weeks, catching 18 of them for 198 yards and a touchdown. He has a great matchup this week against a Tampa Bay defense that has allowed the second-most points per game to receivers. The problem, however, is the nature of the Kansas City offense and the overall offensive environment in which this game will be played. The game total is 44.5, and Spencer Ware should be able to run all over a weak Buccaneers run defense. This is a game the Chiefs can control with their rushing attack and defense, and that would marginalize Hill.
Ty Montgomery (at Washington)
This is the equal and opposite reaction to the action of James Starks returning for the Packers. Montgomery played just 22 snaps last week, netting two targets and three carries. Even if his role is larger this week, how much could he possibly factor into team’s plans after being a virtual no-show last week? If you’re starting him, you’re betting on something we haven’t seen and simply crossing your fingers that PAckers coach Mike McCarthy will change his stripes. There simply aren’t enough targets to go around with Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Davante Adams healthy, and with Starks in command of the backfield, Montgomery is the odd man out.
John Brown (at Minnesota)
Over his last four games, Brown has a total of 20 targets, hauling in 12 of them for 144 yards and a touchdown. That translates to five targets and 5.1 standard-league fantasy points per game. This is someone fantasy owners want to trust going up against the vaunted Minnesota defense? This might seem like low-hanging fruit, but it emphasizes just how deep the start-worthy pool of receivers is this season. You shouldn’t have to dig this deep, at either receiver or flex, unless you’re absolutely desperate.
Julius Thomas (at Detroit)
Thomas is not a good tight end. No good tight end goes six straight games without topping 30 yards. I don’t think that’s a controversial statement. He does have Bortles’s attention, however, with the Jaguars get into the red zone, scoring a touchdown in three of the team’s last four games. The Lions, meanwhile, have allowed the second-most points per game to tight ends, and are tied with the Browns for touchdowns allowed (nine) to the position. Thomas should be a top-10 tight end this week.
Zach Miller (at New York Giants)
The tight end crop thins out once you get to the backend of the TE1 class, where players like Thomas, Eric Ebron, Miller, Kyle Rudolph, Cameron Brate and C.J. Fiedorowicz reside on a weekly basis. Miller is worth a start this week based on the changes in Chicago, most notably the suspension of Jeffery. With the Bears’ top pass-catcher out, Miller and Meredith are the most likely to see an uptick in targets. That’s enough to make Miller an attractive fantasy starter in all formats.
Kyle Rudolph (vs. Arizona)
Rudolph unquestionably has a tough matchup, facing off with an Arizona defense that has allowed the fewest points per game to tight ends this year. At the same time, Rudolph is a fixture in the Minnesota offense, catching 37 of his 65 targets for 392 yards and five touchdowns. He’s third among tight ends in targets and fourth in targets per game. Any tight end getting that many opportunities and delivering on them should be in your lineup, regardless of opponent.
Fiedorowicz is simply on the wrong side of the TE1/2 border this week, if we consider a hard cutoff at No. 12. Nothing has changed because of a down game last week. Fiedorowicz is still a constant presence in the Houston offense, and the Raiders have allowed the eighth-most points per game to tight ends. If Fiedorowicz is the best tight end on your roster, so be it. I’d rather play him than the other players who share this section with him, as well as Gary Barnidge, Vernon Davis and Dwayne Allen. I simply think there are 14 tight ends who are better plays than him this week.
Zach Ertz (at Seattle)
Ertz was productive again last week, getting seven targets and catching six of them for 55 yards. There’s good reason to believe he’s carving out a fantasy-relevant role in the Philadelphia offense that will have him on the start radar during the final few weeks of the fantasy regular season and playoffs. Unfortunately, this is just a bad week for him with the Eagles visiting Seattle. The Seahawks have allowed the sixth-fewest points per game to tight ends, and Ertz has yet to reach the status in the Eagles’ offense that Rudolph has for the Vikings.
Jason Witten (vs. Baltimore)
After one big game, Witten was back to his role as hybrid tight end and sixth offensive lineman last week. He had six catches for 59 yards in the Cowboys dramatic win over the Steelers, marking the sixth time this season he had fewer than six points in standard-scoring leagues. Witten is a capable bye-week spot starter, so if you typically play Antonio Gates or Hunter Henry, or if you just lost Rob Gronkowski for Week 11, Witten can be an emergency play. Outside of that, however, you should be able to do better.
Defenses to stream
Miami Dolphins (at Los Angeles)
Any defense facing a quarterback making his NFL debut is going to be a strong stream candidate. Enter the Dolphins, who get to see Jared Goff in his first career start. The Dolphins have been quietly productive in typical fantasy leagues, scoring the 11th most points, while racking up 22 sacks and 12 takeaways. All you need from them is a handful of sacks and a turnover or two, especially if they can keep the Rams’ point total low.
New York Giants (vs. Chicago)
Jay Cutler and the Bears head to New York this week without Jeffery, Kyle Long and potentially Jordan Howard. The improvements the Giants made on defense this season haven’t translated to the fantasy game (bringing this week’s start/sit full circle), but Cutler is one of the most giving quarterbacks in the league. The bet here is that without Long on the line, the Giants can get at Cutler, pressuring him into multiple mistakes. This is a great week to be streaming defenses, with the Giants and Dolphins readily available and both projected as top-10 plays at the position.