Facts vs. Feelings: Limping our way into the fantasy playoffs

Facts vs. Feelings: Limping our way into the fantasy playoffs
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Fantasy football is a passion for many. Sometimes that passion causes fantasy managers to make emotional decisions even when the data suggests otherwise. Each week during the 2023 NFL season Liz Loza will attempt to strike a balance between what the data states and what the heart wants. This is called Facts vs. Feelings.

Why does everyone get sick in December? I’m sure there’s a scientific reason. Probably something to do with the cold weather keeping folks trapped inside where germs can fester. Or maybe the chilly air impedes our ability to fend off bronchial infections. Perhaps it’s just that we’re so run down after a year of doing all the things that our bodies start screaming, “take a nap,” but our bosses and parents and partners and children are like “nah, you’ve got two more weeks of magic making before you get to rest … and then it’s only really one day and you’ll still have to spend half of it thanking your in-laws for another ill-fitting turtleneck.” (Did I say that last part out loud?)

Anyway, the same post-apocalyptic respiratory virus has ripped through my whole house. The constant expectorating is next level. It’s giving anti-ASMR. I legitimately texted my best friend, “What happens first … my kids stop coughing or I have a nervous breakdown from all of the hacking?”

Guess, what? I’m still standing. It took two doctor visits, lots of green juice (hey, I live in L.A.), plenty of cough medicine and a tub of Vicks, but we licked it. We’re not 100 percent. There are some chapped noses and under-eye circles, but we’re soldiering onward. Toward what, I can’t be sure, but at least there is forward motion.

A similar analogy can be drawn to the fantasy playoffs. Lots of us hobbled (particularly those of us who invested in Joe Burrow, Garrett Wilson, Jonathan Taylor and Darren Waller) our way into the postseason. There are a lot of injury concerns surrounding key players (who hexed the Chargers anyway?). We have trust issues we need to work out (Gabe Davis, come on). Plus, Saturday games seem like an unneeded plot twist.

Obviously, not all of us will advance, but let’s play like this is our last shot of the year … because it might be.

Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Dolphins: What happens when Tyreek Hill comes off the field? Not Tua much. As bad as that joke was, it packed more punch than the Dolphins QB did Monday. With Hill (ankle) absent or limited for three quarters, Tagovailoa managed an underwhelming 240 passing yards versus a getable Titans pass defense. The surprisingly lopsided affair was Tagovailoa’s first scoreless game and second-lowest fantasy output of the season (9.1 fantasy points).

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Tagovailoa has now gone under 20 fantasy points in five straight games and managed fewer than 15 fantasy points in three of his past five efforts. That’s not a pleasant trend heading into the most crucial weeks of the fantasy season. And it’s especially foreboding given the Fins’ upcoming matchup versus the Jets. New York has given up the fifth-fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks. Gang Green has, additionally, allowed just one signal-caller (Josh Allen, Week 11) to clear 20 fantasy points while five of the past six QBs the team has faced have been held to single-digit outings (Justin Herbert, C.J. Stroud, and Tagovailoa (back in Week 12).

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With Hill likely to be compromised and given the aforementioned matchup, fantasy managers would be wise to look elsewhere at QB. Tua figures to fall outside of the top 15 fantasy football QBs in Week 15.

Jordan Love, QB, Packers: Not much illustrates the week-to-week nature of the NFL better than Love’s swing from Week 13 to Week 14. After tossing three TDs and posting over 23 fantasy points versus a stunned Chiefs squad – his third consecutive outing clearing at least 20 points – Love came crashing back down to earth at MetLife Stadium. The Packers QB struggled under the G-Men’s pressure, making numerous mental mistakes and taking two sacks. He was, admittedly, without Aaron Jones and Christian Watson, but the outing certainly shook (or cost) the 42%of ESPN fantasy managers who believed in Love’s upward trajectory.

I’m not terribly worried, though. Love has a better than good shot at bouncing back at Lambeau versus the Bucs on Sunday. He knows how to work against a generous defense. The Giants got off to a slow start, but the team’s linebackers have steadily improved over the course of the season. Meanwhile, the Bucs have allowed the second-most passing yards (1,109) to opposing QBs over the past four weeks.

Interestingly, Love has dominated when facing teams that rank inside the bottom 12 in terms of fantasy points allowed. In fact, he’s averaging 20.4 FPPG against squads that ranked 20th or worse, with five of his top seven performances coming versus such teams. With Watson and Jones potentially returning and noting the Bucs’ willingness to offensively outduel their opponents, as well as Tampa’s defensive vulnerabilities, the over on 41.5 seems more probable than possible. Love figures to ride the wave to a top-10 fantasy QB finish.

James Conner, RB, Cardinals: The last time we saw Conner, he was putting on a revenge game clinic at Pittsburgh in Week 13. Conner cleared 20 carries, scored twice and gifted managers a season-high 22.5 fantasy points in that effort. His midseason journey appears to be on the up as of late. Conner’s touches have increased to 16.8 per game (from 15.2) since his return from injury in Week 10. Additionally, he has recorded 72% of the team’s backfield opportunities over his past two efforts (although Emari Demercado exited early in Week 13).

I’m not confident, however, that the 28-year-old won’t falter in Week 15. The matchup versus the 49ers is rough. The last time Conner teed off at the Bell Bottom, he carried the ball 11 times for 52 rushing yards, which was tied for the third-most rushing yards allowed by San Fran (only Joe Mixon and Jerome Ford rank ahead of Conner, managing more than 60 rushing yards). Sure, that game featured Joshua Dobbs under center, but even with Kyler Murray starting, the Desert Birds are 13.5-point underdogs. Furthermore, San Francisco is allowing the fifth-fewest fantasy points to RBs. In fact, only four running backs have reached 12 FPTS when facing the Niners (Kyren Williams, Mixon, Rachaad White and Kareem Hunt).

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As hard as the Cards fight, the facts have me feeling Conner is likely to underwhelm Sunday. Consider him on the RB2/RB3 bubble for fantasy purposes.

Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Patriots: The Patriots’ passing attack has been anything but, forcing Bill Belichick to focus on the ground game. That shift in offensive ideology had begun to take shape with Rhamondre Stevenson’s increased workload just ahead (and out of) New England’s Week 11 bye. The philosophy didn’t shift with Stevenson sidelined. Instead, Elliott reminded the world (in prime time) that he’s still got some post-Dallas juice in those 28-year-old legs.

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Admittedly, the former Cowboy was far from electric, averaging just 3.1 yards per attempt at Pittsburgh in Week 14. However, he handled the ball a whopping 29 times, which ranks among the top 10 total touches by any player this season and was the most opportunities a player has recorded since Week 10. More impressive than the carries, of course, was Zeke’s usage in the passing game. Converting 7 of 8 balls for 72 yards and a score, Elliot led all New England pass-catchers in receptions, thriving as a much-needed safety valve for Bailey Zappe.

Given that Stevenson’s ankle sprain is of the high variety, it’s unlikely (though not impossible) that he’ll suit up Sunday. Zeke has proved he’s capable of handling the load and (bit by bit) dragging the offense forward. Coming off 10 days of rest, the vet could post top-12 fantasy numbers versus a Chiefs defense that has allowed an average of nearly 20 fantasy points per game to opposing backfields. Elliot’s dual usage and potential volume might make him one of this season’s biggest fantasy saviors.

Puka Nacua, WR, Los Angeles Rams: While everyone else is celebrating Cooper Kupp’s third comeback of the season, can we please give Nacua a round of applause for being consistent? Not only is he fantasy’s WR10 overall but he is also the only player in the league with six or more targets in every game thus far into 2023.

Sure, his production hasn’t been as robust now as it was at the top of the year; however, Nacua has managed double-digit fantasy efforts in nine of 14 games (1.25 of which featured the talents of Brett Rypien). He additionally leads all Rams’ pass-catchers in PPR points per snap (0.31) and target (1.71). As if that’s not enough, the BYU alum has also gained opportunities out of the backfield (an indication that the coaching staff is striving to get him involved), recording four carries over his past four efforts (Kupp has yet to register a single rushing attempt).


Kupp, undoubtedly, had the better statistical outing in Week 14. Yet he and Nacua were similarly deployed. Kupp recorded 71 snaps to Nacua’s 68 and ran one more route (42) than the rookie. Each receiver’s longest reception went for exactly 34 yards. As such, the two pass-catchers are ranked close to each other for a matchup versus a Commandeers defense that has allowed the second-most fantasy points to WRs. Kupp and Nacua both figure to deliver top-20 to top-24 fantasy numbers Sunday.

DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Titans: I will take the “L” on prematurely anointing Will Levis. He might not be a fantasy godsend to his position, but he’s been a gift to Hopkins. The 31-year-old wideout has recorded six touchdowns over seven games with Levis as the starter. He had zero in six outings with Ryan Tannehill under center.

Levis has, unsurprisingly (especially when noting his particular skill set and arm strength), been more willing to air it out. That has, in turn, boosted Nuk’s opportunities and production. Hopkins’ targets jumped from 7.8 per game to 8.5 per contest with Levis at the helm. In addition, his yards per game shifted from 63 YPG to 75 YPG post-QB change. As a result, the veteran receiver has averaged nearly seven more fantasy points per effort, managing 10.7 FPTS/gm pre-bye and 17 FPTS/gm since Week 7.

With a deeper aDOT and an increased number of yards per route run, Hopkins has climbed in the rankings. Coming off his third 100-yard outing of the season and facing a Texans secondary that just gave up over 300 receiving yards to the Jets, Hopkins is deserving of top-20 WR consideration in Week 15.

Facts vs. Feelings: Limping our way into the fantasy playoffsLogan Thomas, TE, Commanders: At this point in the season, most sleeper tight ends are fully awake. My hope with this pick, however, is to remind you of a player who, frankly, has been forgettable of late. Not only was Thomas on bye last week but he also disappointed in consecutive efforts leading up to the Commanders’ break.

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Trying to project Washington’s usage trees has been a maddening endeavor. Thomas, however, has had his opportunities. He’ll get another one when he takes on the Rams this Sunday. Los Angeles has allowed the third-most fantasy points to tight ends. More specifically, the Rams have given up the third-most yards, third-most yards per reception, and seven TDs (tied for the most in the NFL) to the position. Fact is, Thomas hasn’t found pay or cleared 10 fantasy points since Week 8, so maybe – and this is just a feeling – he’s due!

Follow Liz on social @LizLoza_FF