Fantasy Football preview: Ten things to watch for in Week 12

Numbers suggest Kansas City Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt should find the end zone more down the stretch. (AP Photo/Colin E. Braley, File)

Here are my top 10 things to watch for from a fantasy perspective heading into Week 12:

1. The Eagles are arguably the league’s best offense and lead the NFL in points yet don’t have a single non-QB with 100 fantasy points through 10 games (standard scoring). They do have five with over 65 and that doesn’t even include Jay Ajayi. To get a sense for how odd this is, there are 21 players right now with more than 100 fantasy points in standard scoring, representing 17 teams. This makes the Eagles offense tougher to defend, since it’s not focused on any one player. And it thus bodes well for quarterback Carson Wentz’s continued production. But this is such a wasted opportunity for fantasy owners. The fear is that a true committee offense may catch on since success breeds imitation. Plus, it’s cheaper from a salary-cap perspective.

2. The Patriots have generally been this kind of team except for Rob Gronkowski. But Gronk is just 30th in standard scoring, just ahead of DeMarco Murray and, at tight end, Zach Ertz. The Patriots star (we thought) tight end has five more points than Robby Anderson. Gronk has missed a game, to be fair. But in the last four games, he has one TD and has scored 27.9 points, putting him behind Rex Burkhead and James White, who fantasy players don’t even want to start. That’s one more point that Tarik Cohen and two more than Matt Breida. And this may be all there is. In his last 17 games, Gronkowski has scored 8 TDs. Previously, in 80 games he scored 66 touchdowns. So he’s gone from .825 expected TDs per game to .47. And it’s not like the Patriots scoring has declined.

[Week 12 fantasy rankings: Overall | PPR | QBs | RBs | WRs | TEs | FLEX | DST | Ks]

3. What do we make of Kareem Hunt, who is second in fantasy scoring overall behind Todd Gurley but can’t seem to find the end zone. Yes, the home runs are gone but the big problem is that the Chiefs very flukily do not get close enough to the end zone. Consider Kansas City is seventh in scoring yet tied for 30th in goal-line plays (6), which are plays at or inside the opponent’s three-yard line. The average of the rest of top 10 is 18. That’s minus-12 expected goal-line plays. And since 27.2% of these plays are rushing TDs, call it three lost expected rushing TDs for Hunt. So Hunt should have nine TDs right now, or 0.9 per game. Thus the projection for the rest of the season is 5.4 TDs, unless you think the Chiefs offense isn’t top 10 or there is something magically keeping them from getting to the doorstep of the end zone.

4. I’ve long maintained that Julio Jones not being a diva hurts his owners and the Falcons since he should be more central to the Falcons objectives when it comes to scoring touchdowns. But let’s do the work and see if there’s evidence that he’s lost something. According to the NFL’s NextGen Stats, his average separation this year is 2.3 yards. That’s below average but in line with 2016 (2.2 yards) and it makes sense that the top receivers would be covered more closely. His catch rate is down insignificantly. His share of the team’s air yards (a very predictive stat for receivers according to our friend Josh Hermsmeyer at Rotoviz) is actually up a little to 39.9% (fourth-most in the NFL). Jones’ major problem remains bizarre red zone usage that I outlined in a piece I did earlier this year at FiveThirtyEight.

5. Cam Newton has rushed for more than 40 yards in five straight games and has totaled 346 yards rushing in the period. This is Newton’s longest streak with at least that many rushing yards in his career. The record is 12 by Michael Vick in 2006. The matchup with the Jets is interesting because New York will use one of the game’s fastest linebackers, Darron Lee, to spy on Newton. Lee has really come on after a disappointing 2016.

6. I did not see DeMarco Murray averaging under 4.0 per carry. More work should be coming for Derrick Henry, who is a very tough player to model because he is so big (but generally, for running backs, being that big has been bad). The Titans have to do something radical given they are minus-31 points in scoring this year (allowed 253 and scored 222) and should be 4-6 not 6-4.

7. C.J. Beathard should not be starting over Jimmy Garoppolo after he just cost the team a very high second-round pick and is a free agent after the season who will either command a franchise offer of about $25 million for one year or a long-term deal with at least $60 million guaranteed. Wasting time with a third-round pick who has been one of the league’s worst quarterbacks (33rd in passer rating) is just nuts. Since 1990, the best third-round quarterbacks, according to Pro-Football-Reference’s calculations after Russell Wilson are Matt Schaub, Neil O’Donnell, Brian Griese, Josh McCown and Nick Foles.

8. The Seahawks running game minus Russell Wilson seems historically bad but I’m shocked to find there are two teams this year who are averaging less yards per carry with running backs than Seattle (3.23): the Bengals (3.05) and the Cardinals (3.01).

9. The Rams get lauded for a lot of Sean McVay magic but he’s actually using the oldest trick in the book. As I wrote this week at The Wall Street Journal, you take away the play-action, like the Vikings did in Week 11, and there’s really nothing left. Here’s the shocking stat: Jared Goff averages 54% more yards on play-action than on all other passes.

10. It’s reasonable to drop Jordy Nelson, still owned in 93% of Yahoo leagues. In the four games that Aaron Rodgers has not started, Nelson has 10 catches for 92 yards and no touchdowns. That’s like one half of play for Keenan Allen of late. The quarterback makes the receiver, most often, and that certainly seems to be the case right now with Nelson.

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