Week 14 Fantasy Booms and Busts: You'll remember the 2019 Titans

Saturday afternoon, on a plane. Decide to dial up Remember the Titans, a 2000 film I’ve never seen. For a few hours I was entertained, albeit there isn’t a plot-twist you don’t see a mile away. Predictable, but sure, memorable. 

Sunday afternoon, on a plane, watching video feeds and wrestling with pesky internet. I can assure you, I’ll remember the 2019 Titans. Now this is a story no one could see coming. 

Ryan Tannehill? Ordinary journeyman, flamed out in Miami, now ready for clipboard or headset duty. 

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A.J. Brown? Hey, this isn’t 2014. We don’t rock with rookie wideouts. Let them learn their way, we’ll reevaluate in a year or two. 

Derrick Henry? Sure, a power runner, a fun watch. He went off in the second half of 2018. But how much upside does a non-catch back have on a team not expected to challenge for the playoffs? Isn’t the ceiling capped here? 

And now these guys are your fantasy heroes. 

Tennessee’s season flipped when Tannehill got the starting job in Week 7. Marcus Mariota’s confidence was shot, his pocket awareness evaporated. Tannehill still takes a few too many sacks, though he wasn’t dumped in Sunday’s romp at Oakland. But the rest of the stats are delicious — he leads the league in YPA and passer rating, he’s thrown 15 touchdowns against just five picks, he’s completing 73.4 percent of his passes. He’s even been handy as a runner, with 147 yards and three scores. Add it all up, and he’s the QB3 over the last seven weeks. One more time for emphasis — the third-best fantasy quarterback over the last two months. 

The Tennessee offense started to click when Ryan Tannehill took over (Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports)
The Tennessee offense started to click when Ryan Tannehill took over (Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports)

Brown hasn’t always been the easiest fantasy start, as the Titans spread the ball around and Tannehill averages just 26.7 pass attempts per week. But when Adam Humphries was scratched in advance of Sunday, you had to figure Brown — despite being a different type of receiver — could be in for more work. He bumped up to seven targets against the generous Oakland secondary, and he made them count — five catches, 153 yards and two touchdowns, including a glorious 91-yarder. Speed, power, competitiveness, Brown offers the full package. Maybe Tennessee whiffed on Corey Davis in 2017, but this sure looks like a hit. 

Henry is the type of guy who wins a fantasy league for you, a volume monster and a floor monster. He simply doesn’t have bad games. He gashed the Raiders for 103 yards and two scores, his fourth straight 100-yard effort. He’s scored nine touchdowns in his last five games, and 15 overall. Something clicked in Henry’s game midway through the 2018 season, and he’s been dominant ever since. Not even a nagging hamstring issue could hold him back Sunday. 

The general lesson to all this is to stay open minded. And maybe we saw clues all along. Tannehill did play well in the preseason, and his Miami play was occasionally effective — that’s saying something, given what a mess he was working with. Brown started to pop around the time Tannehill was promoted, and maybe the term rookie doesn’t apply to someone at this time of year. Experience has been acquired, improvement has been shown. On Henry, perhaps the PPR players misjudged the potential upside of someone who’s ordinary in the passing game. The Titans haven’t had a challenge to Henry all year — Dion Lewis has a paltry 258 yards. There aren’t too many one-back backfields in today’s NFL. When we luck into one, let’s appreciate it for what it is. 

Grave Dancer’s Union in New England

Lots of Patriots grave dancing, which is what happens anytime they lose. I get it, no one wants to see the same team be great for 19 years. I think the hate narrative has gone too far on Tom Brady, though. He's no longer a star or an MVP candidate, but he's still an okay player. And he’s doing it despite a limited amount of help.

Quarterback rating isn't a perfect stat, but it's a good back-of-envelop number. Brady's indexed rating — where 100 is the current league average — is 92; thus, he's eight percent below the league average. By comparison, Peyton Manning's indexed rating his final year was 68 — basically he was a weekly liability. Comparing 2019 Brady to 2015 Manning is not a fair or useful exercise. 

Circle of Trust is going to be the New England’s plan the rest of the way. Look for a ton of Julian Edelman, natch, and James White as well (running, catching, even blocking — he had a terrific blitz pickup on New England's final snap Sunday). This offense badly needs a third option to emerge, but between injuries, inexperience, and modest upsides, it's hard to find a candidate. 

I can't kill the Patriots for drafting Sony Michel over Lamar Jackson — most of the league missed on Jackson. Drafting is hard for everybody. Heck, the Ravens took an ancient (by draft measures) tight end, Hayden Hurst, before Jackson. They didn't see Jackson coming, to this extent, either. 

The problem isn't that New England took Michel over Jackson; the problem is New England drafted Michel at all. Michel had an injury history in college, and running back is the easiest position to fill and fix on a budget (the Niners wave hello). I wonder if Bill Belichick trusts his college connections too much at times; he has a well-documented rapport with the Georgia staff. 

Quick Hits

• Maybe Odell Beckham Jr. really is significantly hurt. It's interesting when the injury disclosures come this far removed from poor performance. Jarvis Landry has been Cleveland's best receiver all year, either way. And OBJ's slump is further proof that the "always start your studs" motif is the nectar of those who don’t want to think; a slice of fortune-cookie logic and Friendliest Loss. The strongest players look for winning paths. The weaker players try to identify the losing scenario they can most-easily accept. 

• The Browns won despite another horrendous Baker Mayfield game, this one against the Cincinnati giveaway defense. Mayfield and Freddie Kitchens clearly don't speak the same language. I don't know what coach would be the answer for Mayfield, but they obviously have to try someone else in 2020. 

• Alvin Kamara can't be healthy. He hasn't scored a touchdown since Week 3 and his lateral agility has been compromised. You could argue the Saints should be featuring Latavius Murray. 

• The Niners gave the money to Jerick McKinnon and Tevin Coleman. Raheem Mostert and Matt Breida, two undrafted players, are their backfield stars. I trust Kyle Shanahan to ride his best talent the rest of the way; I will play Mostert proactively, and be open to Breida, too.

• Joe Mixon had a monster game and Tyler Boyd was solid — and was tackled about the 2-yard line on one of his catches. When an offense upgrades from a lost cause quarterback to a bonafide starter, it's a seismic event for the fantasy collateral. 

• The Ravens keep winning and are the just Super Bowl favorites, but the Niners and Bills defended Lamar Jackson about as well as you can. You know Jackson is something special when he can have a mediocre game and still throw three touchdown passes. 

• Devin Singletary is a walking splash play. He routinely turns short gains into second-level ones, and can break away on any touch. Even on a day where he fielded 23 touches, you feel like more is left on the bone. Buffalo needs to push in all Singletary chips for the remainder of the year. 

• The Ian Thomas 5-57-1 line required 10 opportunities, but the fantasy points play in the end. Curtis Samuel is always on his way (the Panthers are always trying different things with him), but he seldom arrives. 

• It’s nice to see Sean McVay is a genius again. But I’m afraid Brandin Cooks is following the Sammy Watkins career path. (All Kansas City opponents should thank Andy Reid for playing Mecole Hardman so infrequently. I know, I know, Hardman is raw, still learning the game. But just putting him on the field tilts coverage and scares the crap out of the defense.)

• Deshaun Watson was a garbage-time hero, but Houston's no-show in the first half was shocking. Wait, it's a Bill O'Brien team. Rescind shock. At least Duke Johnson finally received eight targets, though they didn't go anywhere. This team has never found a consistent second wideout after DeAndre Hopkins. 

• Just when we thought we could bank on Minnesota's narrow usage tree, they throw the phone book at us. Twelve guys —12 freaking guys — were targeted against the Lions, and heck, Cousins threw just 30 passes. I nonetheless think you have to give Kyle Rudolph a pass, he's been too good in the red zone in recent weeks. We're not talking about design touchdowns, where the defense doesn't mark him — we're talking about contested, athletic plays. 

• Everyone wants Courtland Sutton next year, obviously. But make sure Noah Fant is on that list, too.

• I'm stunned at how much Adrian Peterson has left in the tank. And keep in mind Washington never buries the run game, even when it falls behind by multiple scores. Peterson can stay relevant in game plans even when the score suggests he should not. You feel for Derrius Guice, who can't get a break from the injury gods. 

• Christian Kirk had one glorious three-touchdown game. Otherwise, he would be stuck at zero. Maybe the Cardinals are going places someday, but I'm surprised this year's version of the team is so ordinary, maybe even boring. 

• I always favor leagues that have deep starting requirements, and the carnage of Week 14 — injuries everywhere — speaks to this point. Football will always have variance and funny bounces, but by starting a bunch of players, we smooth out the impact of any singular outlier event. This is a good thing. This is something we want in our leagues. 

• I'm also in favor of designating one playoff spot to the team with the most points scored that otherwise didn't qualify through W/L record. But I now realize that this tweak probably needs a further step. In some leagues, a No. 3 seed might have to play a monster No. 6 seed, while two lesser 4-5 teams battle it out. The final seed, after all, is essentially going to the strongest team out of a significant batch of teams. In my leagues next year, I'll consider reseeding the 3-6 seeds by points, or maybe giving the 3-seed a choice of opponent. 

And while I encourage you to play in the formats you prefer, I think it's comically misguided to not have rewards in place for the best regular-season team. In one of my leagues, the first-place team, a 12-1 juggernaut, was forced to play in Week 14 because a silly eight teams make the playoffs. The top seed will advance, but that's not the point. You dominate the regular season, you deserve something for the effort, be it a bye, extra FAAB, a "home-field advantage" head start in points, something. 

Fantasy football is awesome. But let’s never stop trying to improve on it.

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