Welcome back loyal 5thDownFantasy readers! With Week 14 officially in the books we’ve reached the point in the year where teams are splitting off into two camps. The teams that won in Week 1 are now sprinting towards the semi-finals with championship gold on their minds, and teams that lost are licking their wounds and turning to the real-life NFL playoff race for their entertainment. Fear not fellow owners, I was bounced from 2 of my 3 leagues this past week and I know how you feel right now. It stings to see your fellow league mates move forward without you, but there’s plenty of great football left on the table for this 2018 season and the REAL playoffs are set to start in just a few short weeks. So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at who showed out and made a name for themselves this week:
AMARI COOPER (Dallas Cowboys)
December 9th, 2018: The Day the Amari Cooper 1st Round pick jokes died.
Mark it down on your calendars if you need to people, because No. 19 has officially killed the trolls that came out to mock his arrival in Big D. In a must win game against the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles, Cooper showed out and provided Dallas with the best game of his young career. Cooper shredded the thread-bare Philly secondary for (10 Rec/217 Yds/3 TDs) including 2 breakaway scores AND the final dagger to win the game in overtime. In a word, Cooper was essential for Dallas on Sunday. Since arriving in Dallas he’s gone from the de facto WR1 to a legitimate No. 1 Wideout in the league for both real life and fantasy purposes. Owners who played Cooper in the first round of the playoffs are likely grinning from ear to ear on their way to the 2nd round. The budding star put up 44 total points on Sunday night, and that was just in standard scoring format. Add to that the fact that Cooper’s caught 44 of 53 targets since arriving in Dallas and you have the recipe for a complete metamorphosis from the player we saw in Oakland. A first round pick looks more than fair for what the Cowboys have gotten in Cooper at this point.
GEORGE KITTLE (San Francisco 49ers)
WE HAVE THREE TIGHT ENDS ON THIS WEEK’S RUN DOWN!
I was shocked, and pleasantly surprised to realize that the tight end position had distinguished itself so well this week. We have two bigger names to talk about later in the rundown but we’re going to start with a name you SHOULD know after this past Sunday. I’m of course talking about George Kittle, the default WR1/TE1 in the Bay Area and a man that nearly had a date with NFL history this week. Kittle exploded for 210 receiving yards in just the first half against a surging Broncos team and came within 5 yards of tying/breaking the single game TE yards record held by Shannon Sharpe. The young tight end tacked on a touchdown for good measure and lead the Niners to a stunning victory over Denver. Kittle will be/should be a Top 5 tight end name in all 2019 drafts, especially with Jimmy G set to resume duties under center next season. The 210-yard performance (32 fantasy points) accounted for Kittles 3rd 100+ yard receiving game on the year. For a young team with a keen offensive mind at the helm like Kyle Shanahan, Kittle looks to be a cornerstone of their plans for the foreseeable future.
JULIO JONES (Atlanta Falcons)
Julio Jones was like a squirrel during the 2018 fantasy season. He was frustrating fantasy owners/Falcons fans the entire year with this insane touchdown drought. All the while he was simply storing his TDs for the 2nd half of the season and the fantasy playoffs. Since scoring his first TD of the year in Week 9 Julio has scored 5 TD’s and scored 20 or more fantasy points in every week except Week 13 against Baltimore. The perennial late 1st/Early 2nd round draft pick has been returning on owners’ investments late this year and showing that he’s still undoubtedly one of the best wide receivers in the game today. His performance on Sunday (8 Rec/106 Yds/2 TD) accounted for 27 fantasy points and Jones’ first dual TD game of the 2018 season. With the Falcons playing for nothing down the stretch I see no reason why Julio won’t be allowed to feast on a tasty playoff schedule featuring the Cardinals/Panthers/Buccaneers. Ride your WR1 to the fantasy playoffs, he’ll stay hot down the stretch.
T.Y. HILTON (Indianapolis Colts)
The Andrew Luck/T.Y. Hilton connection is back and better than it’s ever been before in 2018. Hilton’s performance this past Sunday was worthy of a video game (9 Rec/199 Yds), and it all came while Hilton was struggling with flu-like symptoms. Ballers ball out when they need to though, and Hilton channeled his inner Michael Jordan to post his highest yardage total of the season and his 3rd 100+ yard performance in the last 4 games. Over the past four weeks Hilton’s seen the lion’s share of Lucks targets (9/10/13/12) and turned them into 33 Receptions for 556 yards and 2 TDs. He’s a locked in WR1 for the remainder of the season and will continue to catch Luck’s eye in matchups against Dallas/New York/Tennessee. Hilton’s back on the fantasy stud radar with his quarterback healthy and playing some of the best football of his life.
BAKER MAYFIELD (Cleveland Browns)
Baker Mayfield on Sunday against Carolina: (18/22, 238 Yds, TD)
The number themselves won’t wow many people, but this past Sunday’s performance is arguably Mayfield’s most impressive showing of his rookie campaign. In a match-up against a reeling Panthers team and a former league MVP in Cam Newton, Mayfield rose to the challenge, protected the football and led the Browns to victory. I spoke earlier in the season about the identity that Baker brings to this Browns team, and that swagger was on full display in this game Sunday afternoon. They took chances (letting Jarvis Landry throw a deep ball to the end zone), they played to their strengths with their run game and their defense stifled the Panthers best efforts for all four quarters. This Browns team isn’t like Browns teams of the past, their record may not be stellar, but their combination of youth, talent and work ethic on every snap will make them a deceptively hard out for years to come. They have their No. 1 overall pick to thank for that mindset.
SAQUON BARKLEY (New York Giants)
In a divisional game that looked more like a pop-warner pick-up game Saquon Barkley looked like the face of the Giants future. On a day where the battered Washington defense seemed to just give up and accept their fate, Barkley rushed the ball down their throats without mercy. On just 14 carries the consensus Offensive Rookie of the Year accumulated 170 yards and a score, boosting his touchdown total to 13 on the year (9 Rushing/4 Receiving). The Giants rookie is quickly becoming the new face of the future at Metlife Stadium, and he’s backed up those accolades every time he’s suited up. For fantasy purposes Barkley has posted double digit total in EVERY week of the 2018 season and has eclipsed 100 yards on the ground in 6 of those match-ups. He’s an undisputed superstar in the league already, and he’s only going to get better once New York figures out it’s situation at quarterback.
ROB GRONKOWSKI (New England Patriots)
The 2nd of 3 tight ends on this week’s rundown is the most recognizable player to field the position in the past decade. The mighty Gronk lived up to his mythological status against the Dolphins on Sunday. No. 87 put in a vintage performance, hooking up with Brady for (8 Rec/107 Yds/TD) and posting his highest fantasy point total of the year (22 points). Gronk had a perfect catch rate (8 for 8) on the day and showed that his recovery from chronic back pain was coming along well. Despite taking multiple hard hits while going up for the ball, the big man got right up and brushed the pain off. A healthy Gronk and a known history of dominance in the month of December makes the Patriots look as scary as ever as we head down the final stretch towards the playoffs. Though some fans in Miami may have a few jokes to throw their way for years to come.
TRAVIS KELCE (Kansas City Chiefs)
The man they call “ZEUS” played with the might of a Greek god on Sunday afternoon in a tough match-up against the Ravens. Baltimore presented a new kind of test for the Chiefs high octane scoring offense. They had been beaten in the battle of the mega-powers in LA against the Rams, but against Baltimore they needed to show they could win in the trenches and beat a hard-nosed defensive team. They nearly allowed this one to slip away late but were able to claim victory because of their defense and the efforts of Kelce. With Tyreek Hill struggling with a foot injury for most of the game Patrick Mahomes homed in on his big Tight End for the majority of the game and Kelce responded by catching 7 balls for 77 Yards and a touchdown. The performance marked Kelce’s 3rd straight game with a Touchdown and showed just how important he is to what the Chiefs do on a week to week basis. Kelce is receiving a WR1 share of the targets right now (15/13/9), and he’s performing at an elite level by making the most of every one of those opportunities. On the year Kelce has 10 TDs and is well on his way to the 1,000-yard mark, he’s a bonified Top 3 option at the Tight End position and has only gotten better with Mahomes under center.
JUJU SMITH-SCHUSTER (Pittsburgh Steelers)
Steelers fan’s likely don’t have much positive to say about their team following the tragic events of this past Sunday. It’s not every day you see one of the most storied franchises in history fall as flat as the Steelers did against the lowly Raiders this past week. Big Ben went out multiple times due to injury, Antonio Brown was silenced, and Jaylen Samuels failed to bring fantasy owners the James Conner replacement they needed. There was one bright spot though, and that came in the form of Pittsburgh’s budding superstar JuJu Smith-Schuster. Along with being a cross-over talent between the NFL and video game worlds, JuJu is arguably a top 10 wide receiver in the league at just 20 years old. He’s given Pittsburgh a legitimate game breaking option in the receiving game opposite Brown and showed exactly why they love him so much on Sunday by posting a line of (8 Rec/130 Yds/2 TDs). JuJu can score in the red zone with his size, and from 90 yards out with his speed. He’s eclipsed 100 yards receiving in 3 of the past 4 weeks and scored 3 touchdowns in that time while seeing a steady target share of 9+ per game (10/17/9/12). He’s a fringe WR1 for fantasy purposes and is one of the most promising young talents in the league today.
MY TAKEAWAY FROM WEEK 14:
The Chicago Bears are a Super Bowl team.
The LA Rams had defeated every team that stepped in their way for most of the 2018 NFL season. They out-dueled Russell Wilson (twice) in vicious divisional battles, and they out-scored the Kansas City Chiefs in highest scoring game in the history of Monday Night Football. They were used to the bright lights being on them, and they were perfectly confident in their ability to march into any stadium and walk out with a victory. That all changed this past Sunday night when they walked into the cold confines of Soldier Field and realized they were locked in a cage with a rabid Bear. The Bears held the league’s best scoring offense to 6 points on Sunday night, and they did it on the biggest weekly stage in the sport. Everybody saw Sunday Night Football. Analysts, pundits, broadcasters, and fans around the country watched that game and learned one thing: The Chicago Bears are a Super Bowl team.
It wasn’t always like this though, in fact most Bears fans will tell you that this team has outplayed even their wildest expectations. The Chicago Bears of 2017 were a push around team, they were starting Mitch Trubisky in his rookie year and they had no reliable offensive weapons around him. They were also struggling to score points under the management of Head Coach John Fox. The Bears ended the 2017 campaign 5-11, continuing the franchises streak of 4 straight losing seasons dating back to 2014.
Since their last winning season (10-6 in 2012) the Bears had rattled off mediocrity like it was their personal brand:
These years saw the team scramble to find their fit at two of the most important positions in football; head coach and quarterback. They tried Marc Trestman and John Fox at Head Coach to no avail, and they desperately waited and prayed that Jay Cutler would eventually blossom into someone that could lead them to greatness. Fast Forward to present day, all three of those men are now out of the league completely and Jay Cutler is a GIF worthy star of his own reality TV show. Life works in strange ways. Life also has a way of favoring the bold, and that’s exactly the word I’d use to describe the Bears 2018 offseason.
Chicago went out and hired Matt Nagy as their new Head Coach, a disciple of the Andy Reid coaching tree. Given the proven track record of success that tree has spawned (most recently Doug Pederson in Philadelphia), the Bears decided to take a crack at bringing in an offensive mind to lead their team. They also addressed the lack of weapons around their young Quarterback by spending big to acquire Allen Robinson and Trey Burton in the off-season. Then, the cherry on top was the blockbuster trade that brought Khalil Mack to the Windy City to join their top 10 pick Roquon Smith, Danny Trevathan and Akiem Hicks. Chicago saw the changes that were happening in the league around them and opted to dive in to what could have been a rebuild. Instead, they now stand as a legitimate threat to go to the Super Bowl for the first time since 2007.
This year’s Chicago Bears are simultaneously a team of the present and the future. They took a look at what the best teams in the league did last season, adapted their roster and brought in the kind of coach that can make them viable for years to come. They were aggressive in trade negotiations, something that’s becoming more and more prevalent in the modern NFL. Trades are happening more frequently, coaches are being fired and replaced with more progressive minded leaders and young players are being allowed to grow in strong systems almost from day one. The Bears have a Top 10 defense, a potent offense with multiple layers and a legitimate Coach of the Year candidate in Matt Nagy. They took a journey down a half decade of heartbreak, and they’re now bursting out of that darkness and into the limelight in the most spectacular way imaginable. The Chicago Bears did the unthinkable on Sunday night, they silenced the mighty Rams offense, and they brought the Monsters of the Midway mindset back to life for the people of Chicago.
Doubt this team at your own peril.