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It’s been hard to find fault with Le’Veon Bell this season. Sure, he didn’t play in the opening three games, due to suspension. Yeah, he’s been a little underwhelming in the touchdown column, given his other ridiculous numbers. Nitpick, if you must.
But in Week 14, Bell was your snow angel in Buffalo, your one-man ticket to the second round of the playoffs. Bell picked a lovely time to have the best fantasy game of the 2016 season.
Pittsburgh’s 27-20 victory in snowy Buffalo was all about Bell (meanwhile, Ben Roethlisberger was throwing up another road-game stinker). Bell racked up 236 rushing yards and 62 through the air, with three short touchdown runs. It adds up to 47 points in a basic scoring league, the biggest fantasy haul from anyone this season. It’s just the 19th time someone has hit that 47-point plateau since the 1970 merger; Jamaal Charles was the last to get there, almost three years ago.
Pittsburgh’s offensive line was terrific from the opening snap, but Bell would be unstoppable in almost any setup. He has the durability and power to run inside; the uncanny patience to change direction and take things outside; terrific hands; and a second gear at the second level. Stamina also comes with the Bell model — his 38 rushing attempts and 42 touches Sunday are new standards for this season.
The Bell vs. David Johnson debate is going to be a fun one for the rest of the year and into 2017 draft season (and maybe Ezekiel Elliott belongs in that mix). Johnson, surprisingly, was kept quiet in Arizona’s loss at Miami on Sunday: 20-80 on the ground, 5-41 through the air, zero touchdowns. It was just Johnson’s fifth game without a touchdown, and the 121 total yards were well under his seasonal average. Many Johnson owners were probably sitting on a bye anyway, didn’t need this game, but it was pesky to see a step back at such a critical time. Carson Palmer, you’re killing us.
In some other Booms and Busts for Week 14:
— Changing of the guard in Jacksonville
If you didn’t watch much of the Vikings 25-16 win at Jacksonville, good for you. Anything is better time spent. Shoveling. Shopping. Community service. Whipping up a batch of cookies. A midday nap.
But if you insist on suffering through the Jacksonville offense on a weekly basis, it’s time to give up on the Allen Robinson experiment. it’s not happening. Robinson had just one catch Sunday, on three targets; the Jags hardly looked in his direction. Another fantasy mess.
If you have to play a Jacksonville wideout the rest of the year, Marqise Lee looks like the man. Remember, Lee was a big deal for a while at USC, but his preliminary time in the NFL was riddled by injuries. Lee racked up a 5-113-0 line against Minnesota’s solid secondary, handy work on eight targets. With Julius Thomas and Allen Hurns hurt, and Robinson swimming in seaweed, Lee could have some fantasy juice against Houston and Tennessee the next two weeks.
— Zack Ertz keeps trucking along
The Philadelphia passing game has been a tricky watch for several weeks — the salad days of September are a fading memory — but at least Ertz has come to play in recent weeks. He jump-started his season with a snappy 8-97-0 line against the Giants in Week 9, and he’s been a steady contributor since. Ertz scored touchdowns in the losses to Seattle and Cincinnati, and he posted a useful 10-112-0 line on 13 Sunday targets against Washington.
The schedule doesn’t play nice for the rest of the fantasy playoffs — Philly draws the Ravens and Giants over the next two weeks. But given Ertz’s volume and efficiency over the last two months, he’s certainly earned circle of trust privileges. He’s Carson Wentz’s first read now.
— Skinny is heaven in Denver passing game
While the Broncos only produced 10 points in their loss at Tennessee, the passing game was a fantasy bonanza. Trevor Siemian went for 334 yards and a score on a whopping 51 attempts, and he funneled most of his work to Denver’s two main receivers, Demaryius Thomas (10-126-0, 16 targets) and Emmanuel Sanders (11-100-1, 14 targets).
Some teams spread the ball to several receivers, while other teams focus on a limited amount of guys. Denver falls into the latter category, which is why Thomas and Sanders have been able to produce over the last two years despite mediocre quarterback play (don’t forget how putrid Peyton Manning was last year). For all the advantages that come with talent, it’s a wonderful thing when that blends with runaway opportunity. In Denver, there really isn’t a Plan C.
We should also note that the Broncos running game fell apart in this game. Devontae Booker had just three carries, good for one yard, while Justin Forsett rushed six times for 17 yards, and lost a fumble. Ice that arm, Siemian. You’ll be chucking it plenty the rest of the way.
— Morphing Saints and Bucs put the kibosh on production
If you needed something good in the New Orleans-Tampa Bay game, you probably came away disappointed. Tampa Bay scored a 16-11 victory, and neither quarterback threw a touchdown pass (Drew Brees, in fact, was intercepted three times for the second straight week).
This result is a good example of why I consider strength of schedule look-aheads to be grossly overrated. Back in the summer — or heck, a few weeks ago — many fantasy owners were looking at the two late New Orleans-Tampa Bay tilts to be free-flowing fantasy carnivals. Sounds good on paper, but the NFL is fluid — and sometimes units vastly improve or deteriorate. In the cast of the Saints and Bucs, both teams — especially Tampa Bay — have made significant improvement on defense.
Some fantasy pundits insist on using a telescope with these look-aheads. For my money, the best fantasy work is done with a microscope. Play the position in front of you, and don’t look ahead months in advance. Maybe the rematch in two weeks will be a pinball game, but see the broader point here.