Welcome to FedEx Air and Ground fantasy analysis. Each week, we'll highlight some favorable quarterback plays and a few running backs that could prove valuable for fantasy owners based on matchups, projected game flow, and most essentially, talent. With Week 12 in the books and another sample of fantasy points against data to work with, here are a few matchups to exploit in Week 13. These players might just win your week.
Matt Ryan has come back to Earth as a fantasy option over the last two games with a 15.47 fantasy point per game average compared to 21.88 over his previous four games. But fantasy owners should feel more confident than ever rolling him out in a plus matchup this week.
Obviously, a big reason that Ryan has been so successful is because he has Julio Jones on the receiving end of his passes. Jones currently leads the NFL in receiving yards with 1,140. But Jones' owners are probably worried about Chiefs star cornerback Marcus Peters' locking him down this week. After all, Peters has held some big-name wideouts in check this year: On the 27 plays that Peters has lined up to face DeAndre Hopkins, Brandon Marshall, Antonio Brown and Amari Cooper, those receivers have posted a combined five receptions on 11 targets for 58 yards, one touchdown (Hopkins) and one interception. The caveat here is that Peters plays almost exclusively at left cornerback with 94.3 percent of his snaps coming on that side of the defense, meaning he doesn't travel to shadow these types of elite receivers. Jones plays 51 percent of his snaps from the wide left position (not the Peters side), so that should leave plenty of opportunities (if Peters doesn't travel) for him to face Phillip Gaines on the other side of the Chiefs defense. Gaines was burned by the Denver receivers on his side of the field last week for 209 yards and two touchdowns.
Let's not forget about the Falcons' other weapons: Taylor Gabriel has broken out of late and while he's a low-volume gadget type player, it looks like he's carved out a role for himself with an uncanny ability to use his otherworldly speed to gain yards after catch, only boosting Ryan's potential for passing yards and touchdowns. Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman are both talented pass-catching backs, and Mohamed Sanu hauled in all eight of his targets last week.
Look for Ryan, who ranks first in the league with 9.25 yards per attempt, third with 26 passing touchdowns and averages 333.4 pass yards per game at home, to post 20-plus fantasy points against the Chiefs this week.
As a fantasy quarterback, Winston has been somewhat inconsistent this season. Even so, his 16 fantasy points last week against Seattle was his lowest since Week 5 and marked the first game all season in which Winston threw fewer than 30 pass attempts in a game.
This week, Winston faces the Chargers who score an average of 28.5 points per game this season, fourth in the NFL. That high number keeps opposing teams in pass-mode which only makes Winston more appealing. The second-year quarterback has thrown 14 touchdown passes with just three picks in his last seven games and has thrown multiple touchdowns in all but one game since Tampa Bay's Week 6 bye. Plus, his 10.2 air yards per pass attempt is the highest in the NFL, so he's not afraid to air it out. When you have a wideout like Mike Evans absolutely dominating opposing defenders, why not?
Expect a huge game from Winston this week in what could sneakily be a high-scoring affair in San Diego.
Since Week 8, Jordan Howard is averaging 103.5 rushing yards per game, second only to Melvin Gordon (111.8) in that span. He's virtually locked-in to at least 20 touches per game and as we saw last week, even in negative game scripts, the Bears will continue to feed him as they lack other healthy/reliable options in the offense. Even with Chicago trailing the Titans last week, Howard saw 10 second-half touches. In addition, he gets work as a pass-catcher. Dating back to Week 8, he's averaging four targets and 28 receiving yards per game. There is no threat to his workload, Jeremy Langford and Ka'Deem Carey combined for two carries last week. He also ranked eighth out of 38 qualified running backs last week in distance traveled per rush yard gained at a clip of 3.4, and ranks among the top 10 backs in that category for the season.
The 49ers own the worst rush defense in the league, and as Nick Mensio of Rotoworld recently cited, fantasy owners shouldn't be scared off after Jay Ajayi failed in terms of efficiency as a runner last week against San Francisco. Miami's offensive line was decimated with injuries. They allow a ridiculous 424.5 yards per game, last in the NFL, along with 171.8 rushing yards per game, also last in the league. They have also surrendered 30-plus points to opponents in eight games this season, so the scoring potential is definitely there too.
For weeks now, I've been going out on a bit of a limb with some of my running back picks in this space (Rashad Jennings, Darren Sproles). And usually, every week, the players who end up being selected for the Ground voting are the big names you'd expect. Last week it was Le'Veon Bell, LeSean McCoy and Mark Ingram. Ezekiel Elliott and Jay Ajayi have each won the voting twice. So I'm going boring here and picking David Johnson, who despite ranking as the highest scoring running back in fantasy has yet to win Ground honors yet this year.
Johnson probably doesn't get a ton of love for the Ground honors because a huge part of his yardage each week comes as a receiver. He even led the Cardinals in receiving last week with 103 yards and has seen 11 targets in each of his last two outings. He's posted 100-plus scrimmage yards in every single game this season and has scored 13 total touchdowns.
This week, Johnson faces a Washington Redskins defense that allows 116.7 rushing yards per game. But the one stat that really stands out is the Redskins' 30th-ranked red zone touchdown percentage, 67.6. It's no surprise that 11 of Johnson's touchdowns have come in the red-zone this year and he ranks first among all running backs with 82.9 red zone fantasy points. It's pretty obvious that the Cardinals will force the ball into Johnson's hands when they get inside the 20-yard line and given how poorly the Redskins are at holding teams to field goals once in the red zone this week makes for the ideal matchup for Johnson to dominate and at least earn Ground nomination honors post-Week 13.
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