By James Reagan
With three NFL games played on Thanksgiving, Week 12 represented the only week of the regular season where diehard fantasy players (with just a regular cable subscription) could watch seven games in full . The Thanksgiving triple-header not only provided an opportunity for resting after eating tons of turkey, but also a chance to see more of your fantasy team in action more than you would on a normal week.
In several leagues, the fantasy playoffs begin in Week 13, which provides a heightened sense of drama for those who need a win to get in. Obviously, it would make sense that most readers of articles like this one would be those fantasy players that think they at least have a shot at a fantasy title. While discussing the Week 12 performances, I will have an eye toward the standard fantasy playoff weeks (Week 13-16) and whether or not the player has a good slate for that time period.
[sc name=”Google Inline Ad”]
Surprise of the Week: Case Keenum, MIN QB.
For this week’s surprise, we go back to the first and most competitive Thanksgiving game of this season. Case Keenum had an unenviable task this week in having to go into Detroit and beat a hot Lions team that had already defeated the Vikings in Minnesota earlier in the year. Keenum has been playing well for weeks, but even so, he has had to deal with whispers that the recently recovered Teddy Bridgewater could be coming in at quarterback any game now.
Keenum’s Week 12 performance may have been enough to put aside any quarterback controversy for now. Keenum went 21-of-30 for 282 yards and two touchdowns, while rushing seven times for 20 yards and a touchdown. That gave him 27 fantasy points, which is sixth on the overall leaderboard and third among quarterbacks. It was his third 20+ performance this season and his fourth consecutive game of 17 or more since a five-point stinker against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 7.
Keenum’s connection with Adam Thielen proved valuable in Week 12, with the latter continuing his amazing season by catching eight passes for 89 yards. The real star though was tight end Kyle Rudolph, who caught both of Keenum’s touchdowns and put up 63 receiving yards for his best game of the season.
Keenum’s impressive play is now more than him simply being a game manager for a team with a stingy rushing attack and a tough defense. He’s helping to throw the team to victory and is easily a worthy weekly starter for 14-team and 16-team leagues. Mike Zimmer acknowledged this when he came out and said that Keenum is the going to be the Vikings’ starting QB against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 13. But he did also say that the quarterback situation will be evaluated weekly, which could be taken to suggest that Bridgewater could still get a start at some point.
The Vikings’ schedule for the fantasy playoffs is not looking super favorable. The Atlanta Falcons in Week 13 and the Carolina Panthers in Week 14 both present the opportunity for him to regress. The Cincinnati Bengals in Week 15 are not a slouch either, though the Green Bay Packers look appealing for a Week 16 game where it’s very possible that they will have nothing to play for. The Vikings have won seven straight and Keenum has been a big part of the success, but the coming Falcons and Panthers matchups should lead to more conservative game plans and lower passing totals for Keenum.
DeShone Kizer, CLE QB.
It’s not popular to say positive things about the Cleveland Browns and, for the most part, deservedly so. The team is 0-11 and is now officially on 0-16 watch, with just five games left this year. Like all Browns QB’s of recent memory, DeShone Kizer has mostly been awful this season.
However, very quietly and not to the benefit of very many fantasy owners, Kizer has put up 19 or more fantasy points in two of the last three weeks. As far as the Browns were concerned, Week 12 represented a soul-crushing 30-16 loss to the Bengals, one of their most winnable opponents left this year. But for Kizer, it was a 19-point day where he went 18-of-31 for a career-high 268 passing yards and ran nine time for 29 yards and a touchdown.
Much of Kizer’s fantasy value has come from his rushing ability, since he now has five rushing touchdowns on the season. While not quite on the level of Cam Newton or Russell Wilson as a rushing QB, five touchdowns are enough to solidify Kizer as a threat on the ground. It didn’t help matters that the Browns coaching staff kept pulling him out and putting him back in, seemingly without any reasoning early in the season.
Now the Browns are playing to avoid infamy and they have no reason to play players that are not likely to be part of their future. Kizer may not be their quarterback of the future, but he at least deserves a shot to try to show the coaches that he could be a part of a quarterback competition next year. His fantasy playoff schedule has the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 13, the Packers in Week 14, the Baltimore Ravens in Week 15 and the Chicago Bears in Week 16.
It’s clearly a mixed schedule that could prove challenging and yet, with wide receivers Corey Coleman and Josh Gordon potentially at his service and Kizer demonstrating improvisational rushing skills, I think that it’s possible he can surprise some people late this season. I’m not going to go so far as to say that he’ll win games or that he’ll become a surefire weekly starter at QB. But I think he could be one to watch and definitely one that could be plugged in for teams that are desperately looking for someone to start at QB.
Rob Gronkowski, NE TE.
One week after putting up a dud performance, Rob Gronkowski is back in more familiar stud territory. Along with several of his New England Patriot teammates, Gronk had a late Thanksgiving feast on the ever-generous Miami Dolphins defense. The Patriots dominated 35-17 and Gronkowski scored 20 fantasy points with five receptions for 82 yards and two touchdowns on eight targets.
Unlike last week’s debacle in Mexico City, Gronkowski was able to lead the team in targets. He did not get the lead in receptions or receiving yards though, with Brandin Cooks narrowly besting him in both categories. Cooks has been red-hot the past two weeks, but thankfully this offense is clearly productive enough to support multiple receiving studs. The Patriots seem to be hitting their stride offensively, as they’ve topped 30 points the last three weeks.
Gronkowski has only topped 100 receiving yards once this season, so like many other tight ends, he does remain touchdown-dependent. Week 12 was his second two-touchdown game this season and his fifth overall with a touchdown. His fantasy playoff schedule looks very inviting with the Buffalo Bills on deck in both Week’s 13 and 16, the Dolphins again in Week 14 and the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 15. Both the AFC East opponents have been struggling on defense, while the clash with the Steelers could be the game that decides AFC homefield advantage throughout the postseason and is a game where the Patriots will absolutely need Gronkowski’s best effort.
Doug Baldwin, SEA WR.
The Seattle Seahawks may have got a much-needed win against the San Francisco 49ers, but it was not an impressive showing for their top wide receiver. Doug Baldwin totaled two passes for 25 yards and an abysmal two fantasy points. This was his worst fantasy performance since week 7 of 2015, representing a rare dud from a player who has quietly been one of the most consistent wide receivers in football.
The most concerning development from this game was Paul Richardson massively out-performing Baldwin. Richardson had a team-high seven targets to Baldwin’s three and he also led the Seahawks with receptions (4) and receiving yards (70). Unlike Baldwin, Richardson has traditionally been more of a feast-or-famine player who can just as easily make a big play or do almost nothing at all on offense. Yet now, Richardson has shown some consistency with four receptions in back-to-back games and he’s topped 50 receiving yards in four of his last six games.
Baldwin’s worst game of the season doesn’t look like it should be reason for concern. For one thing, the Seahawks are still not running the ball with any success. Eddie Lacy led the team with a very mediocre 46 rushing yards on 17 carries. The responsibility for any Seahawks offense falls on the arm of Russell Wilson and he’s going to be looking for Baldwin, Richardson and Jimmy Graham the most among his pass catchers.
Richardson’s ascension should be watched, though it’s unlikely that it will come at the expense of Baldwin moving forward. The Seahawks get the Philadelphia Eagles next week in an epic prime-time clash that should result in a bounce-back game for Baldwin. Baldwin’s fantasy playoffs take a trickier turn though the next two weeks with rough wide receiver matchups against the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Los Angeles Rams, before an inviting Week 16 against the Dallas Cowboys. Baldwin fantasy owners can expect improvement for him next week, though they may want to temper expectations in Week 14 and 15.
T.Y. Hilton, IND WR.
T.Y. Hilton may be the single best example of a feast-or-famine fantasy player this season. Unfortunately for those who started him in fantasy in Week 12, it was the latter. Hilton finished with two receptions for 15 yards on five targets and just 1 fantasy point.
This marks Hilton’s eighth game of four or fewer fantasy points. The other three games though have all been monster performances where he topped 100 receiving yards and where he’s gotten all three of his receiving touchdowns this season. The dud games are sadly not that surprising since the Colts offense as a whole has been pretty awful without Andrew Luck this year. The monster games are all the more maddening since they remind fantasy owners of the enormous ceiling that Hilton has if only he was catching passes from a good quarterback.
The Colts were again awful on offense during this week’s 20-16 loss to the Tennessee Titans, a game where very few players did anything noteworthy for fantasy. Jack Doyle easily led the Colts in all receiving categories with seven catches for 94 yards on eight targets. Hilton was actually second in targets, but he corralled just two of his five and for the second time this season, he was effectively shut down by the Titans’ pass defense.
Hilton draws the Jaguars, the Bills, the Denver Broncos and the Ravens in that order, for the fantasy playoffs. This brutal playoff matchup makes it less likely that he will go off when you put him on the bench. With the exception of the Bills, it’s likely that all his fantasy playoff opponents will be able to contain him. I do think we could get one more random 20+ fantasy point game, but overall, it’s safest to just leave Hilton the bench for now.