The five most pressing NFL questions in Week 13: Can Cooper Kupp get the Rams back on track?

We’re 12 weeks into the NFL season. A few plots have played out to our expectations. Far more has gone far off the chain of our projected storyboard.

Each week of the season brings with it a new set of questions. Here, we’ll attempt to lay out five of the most pressing in the NFL that week. The answers to those will reveal deeper truths about how the rest of the story of the 2019 NFL season will unfold.

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We’ll find that these revelations will have a lasting impact on not just fantasy managers, but the league as a whole.

Can the Eagles go full-Browns?

Playing the Dolphins lifted the Browns to their best offensive performance of the season just one week ago. Cleveland recorded a season-best 41 points and gained their most first downs of the year (41), while Baker Mayfield posted his highest completion rate (70.6 percent) and passer rating (118.1) of 2019. 

The temptation will be to extrapolate that result to Miami’s Week 13 opponent, the Philadelphia Eagles. Also in dire need of a big offensive performance after an outright disaster against Seattle last week, Philly has to be letting out a sigh of relief seeing the Dolphins on their schedule. The problem is, the Eagles just don’t have the same ingredients Cleveland has which led to that explosive Week 12 outing. 

The Browns were trending up heading into Week 12. They’d gone 2-1 in their prior three contests and Baker Mayfield had a 5:0 touchdown-to-interception ratio and been sacked just 1.7 times per game. The team had successfully integrated Kareem Hunt as a receiving back, getting new bodies rather than losing them.

On the other hand, the Eagles are trending down heading into their matchup with the Dolphins. The Browns offense scored 41 points in Week 12 but the Eagles have scored 41 points as a team over their last three games. They’ve gone 1-2 in that span with quarterback Carson Wentz boasting a measly 5.7 yards per attempt. 

The Browns were hitting on all cylinders offensively from a personnel perspective. Nick Chubb was firmly established as the engine of the attack and Kareem Hunt was an excellent change-of-pace option. The Eagles can’t establish a consistent running game with rookie Miles Sanders as Jordan Howard continues to miss time. Cleveland had constricted its passing game down essentially to just the backs and their No. 1 and 2 receivers, Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry. The nightmarish revolving door at the Eagles wideout position is well documented as Wentz has been spraying the ball to a cast of nobodies for almost a month now. Don’t forget about the injuries on the offensive line for Philadelphia, another contrast to a Browns unit that is affording Mayfield more time as the season goes on. 

The matchup is good enough for Wentz to have an economical outing in Week 13. However, with a broken offensive ecosystem that’s encouraging him to get stuck in bad habits, we simply can’t expect an explosive rebound like Mayfield enjoyed last week. The best Wentz can hope for is a dull but clean game that keeps his doubters at bay at least another week. 

Are the Rams capable of rolling in a great spot?

When Robert Griffin walked onto the field Monday night, the conversation slowly shifted from how gorgeous Lamar Jackson and the Ravens offense was, to just how embarrassing this all was for the Rams. Once a team that looked in position to build a potential decade-long contender, the events of the last 10 months have their future as murky as any NFL operation.

For the immediate future, the Rams will walk into a solid bounce-back spot against the division-rival Cardinals in Week 13. Arizona sits at the bottom of the NFC West standings at 3-7-1 but has proven legitimately frisky over the last month. Kyler Murray has looked downright fantastic, even giving the 10-1 San Francisco 49ers all they could handle in two meetings. 

While the offense does look like it’s rounding into form, the defense remains a massive problem. Since Week 9, the Cardinals give up a 70.7% completion rate, 106.5 passer rating and an NFL-high 351.7 passing yards per game. 

In theory, this is a spot where Jared Goff should be able to right the ship. After beating up on cupcakes in the Falcons and Bengals, Goff enjoyed an absolutely hideous November run. The Rams passer averaged a paltry 209 yards per game with a 0:5 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He needs a soft landing spot like this more than anyone right now. If he can find Cooper Kupp, he should be able to get it done.

We know the Cardinals get worked by tight ends more than any other team in the league but their entire middle of the field is vulnerable. Arizona has allowed league highs in catches (179), yards (2,239), touchdowns (19) and catch rate (75.2%) to slot receivers and tight ends combined. Kupp has fallen way out of the circle of trust after catching nine passes for 88 yards over his last three games but fantasy managers can roll him out here in Week 13.

Will the Raiders keep it close?

The fantasy landscape has moved en masse to call for a bounce-back performance by Raiders running back Josh Jacobs in Week 13. After his dud performance last Sunday, going against the team who allows the most points to the running back position seems like the perfect landing spot. At $33 in Yahoo DFS, he is the most expensive human entity at running back, aka, this side of Christian McCaffrey.

However, don’t count the chickens before they hatch here. Considering the warning signs we saw with not only the Raiders performance last week, but the Chiefs’ win over the Chargers back in Mexico City, it would be foolish to bank on it.

The Raiders took on one of the best run defenses in the NFL last week with the New York Jets, who allow a league-low 2.99 yards per carry. That was obviously problematic for Jacobs but the reason he finished with just 10 carries (tying a season-low) was due to his team’s inability to keep the game close defensively and the utter lack of juice in the passing game when the script went awry. As the points piled on, the Raiders were never able to reintegrate Jacobs into the game plan. 

We just watched this exact story play out when the Chargers faced the Chiefs in Week 11. Los Angeles was running the ball well, as Melvin Gordon averaged a healthy 4.93 yards per carry, his best mark of 2019. However, he finished with just 14 rush attempts. Even in a mortal effort from Patrick Mahomes, the Chiefs maintained a lead and the defense was able to tee off against a wilting Philip Rivers and largely remove the run from the game plan. 

The question for Josh Jacobs’ Week 13 projection has less to do with the matchup; we know it’s juicy. It’s more about what his teammates can manage. The Raiders are 10-point underdogs to the Chiefs. You’ll want them to cover that.

You have to ask yourself whether you believe Derek Carr and the Raiders defense is closer to a surging Titans offense under Ryan Tannehill and their underrated defense or the wilting scoring unit under Philip Rivers and the Chargers’ wildly variant defense. Remember that Tannehill and the Titans took it to the Chiefs and kept Derrick Henry involved all game to the point he cleared 180 rushing yards and scored twice. That was before the Chiefs had Frank Clark and Chris Jones cooking up pass rush at the same time. It’s a weird sentence to type, but Jacobs needs Carr to be more Tannehill than Rivers if he wants to meet expectations. 

How effective will the Steelers’ new leaf be?

Credit the Steelers for this: They saw through any sort of mystique of hope and realized the product they were rolling out the last month-plus just wasn’t going to cut it. The team followed up their utter removal of Jaylen Samuels from the offense by benching Mason Rudolph in favor of Devlin “Duck” Hodges for the upcoming rematch with the Browns.

Rudolph couldn’t move the offense. Had no sense of how to navigate a pocket. Wouldn’t go downfield. Was simply unable of maintaining a functional play clock for when to release the ball until he saw chaos in front of his face. It was obvious weeks ago that he was sending this offense into the tank. My tinfoil hat conspiracy theory was that the team realized Jaylen Samuels’ presence on the field fed into Rudolph’s worse instincts to take the checkdown, as he’s such a reliable outlet receiver. It resulted in receiving lines like 8-57, 13-73 or 5-19. That’s fine for your PPR fantasy teams but utterly worthless to their offensive success. 

This era of Steelers football is over. Thank god — it was painful to watch.

The Steelers will now go forward with Duck Hodges and Benny Snell Jr. as the lead back until James Conner is healthy. The way these two play should complement the Steelers' identity — aggressive defensive football — far better than the finesse style of Rudolph and Samuels. Snell is a rugged runner who gains 2.7 yards after contact per attempt, on par with lead backs like Aaron Jones and Carlos Hyde. Those two have kept their offenses on schedule, and that’s what the Steelers want. 

Benny Snell Jr. is expected to hold down the RB fort in Pittsburgh. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Benny Snell Jr. is expected to hold down the RB fort in Pittsburgh. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Hodges has shown exactly the best that any team can hope for out of its backup quarterback: He moves the offense. There’s a decent blend of fearlessness and knowing when to pick his spots that coaches want out of a replacement. Hodges has shown he can be an effective play-action passer in limited looks with a passer rating in the triple digits. In contrast, Mason Rudolph was terrible at this section of the game. 

The Steelers are still one of the most talent-poor offenses in the NFL when JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner don’t play. That remains the case even with these changes. Yet, Snell and Hodges at least get the unit to a point where they are no longer an all-out fade. 

The most exciting units on either side of the ball — who wins?

The NFL is the greatest whirlwind in sports. Just over one calendar year ago the Ravens offense was stuck in its seemingly 30th iteration of a dull Joe Flacco-led endeavor. Across the country, the 49ers were once again a defense just about everyone barreled over.

Here, as we enter Week 13, these two units’ impending face-off is the most marquee on the slate. 

Now, let’s be clear. I believed that both of these units were on the come up for this season. The addition of Nick Bosa and Dee Ford was just enough to elevate the 49ers to a fascinating front seven. Lamar Jackson, unless you were a wildly unrealistic hater, was certainly enough to make anyone enthralled with the Ravens. The presence of Mark Ingram and Hollywood Brown only made it better. However, it’s unlikely any human on planet earth saw these two units jumping into the No. 1 spot in their respective categories. 

That’s where we’re at. The Ravens are scoring on over 50% of their drives, the only team doing so. The 49ers cemented their place as the NFL’s most ferocious stop unit with an utter domination of Aaron Rodgers’ Packers. No one saw this coming. Yet, here we are.

Even if you were optimistic about these units to improve, they’re now the premier of the league manned by young transformative talents in Bosa and Jackson. 

When giving an edge to one of these doom machines, I’m going with Baltimore. Honestly, it’s mostly because they’re at home. However, the way they’re able to throw layers of deception at an opponent gives them a uniqueness over any defense that they face.

Think about how they were able to consistently to flummox New England. The Patriots are giving up fewer than 10 points to every other team they’ve faced, while Baltimore hung over 30 on them. Rams safety Eric Weddle, like a man who struggled to comprehend what just happened to him, said it best as he spoke to reporters: “I didn’t even know who had the ball.” By the way, he played with Jackson’s Ravens just last year. 

This matchup will be a battle for the ages. It’ll be razor-thin in terms of advantages going in. But we’ve seen that Baltimore can unleash hellfire on a defense with rapidity. The Rams were sunk before they could blink an eye. Just one or two of those plays could provide the small edge the Ravens will need to win. Bench these players in fantasy at your own peril.

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