Week 17 Fantasy Football Stats Notebook: Can Bills get Stefon Diggs rolling and beat Bengals?

Stefon Diggs has been targeted on 16 percent of his routes in the last two weeks. It’s come at a poor time during the fantasy football playoffs but it’s unlikely to be instructive for the team or player’s outlook going forward. Diggs’ target per route run mark in Weeks 15 and 16 would put him in a similar range with the mercurial Gabe Davis. Diggs ranked eighth among all pass catchers in targets per route run in Weeks 1-14.

This is one of those classic, “Yep it happened, but I don’t think it means anything” types of trends. Millions of fantasy players, including yours truly, can be a little miffed about the timing. But if Diggs had a couple of “slow” statistical games back to back in mid-October no one would think it was a big deal.

So we don’t really think this is a big deal, either.

The only part of this little slump for Diggs that is interesting is deciphering whether it's a product of opponent game planning. I’d wager that no receiver has gotten more extra attention from defensive coordinators — double teams, cloud coverage, brackets, etc. — than Diggs this year. That is both a product of how incredible Diggs is as a player and, as I’ve talked about in this column before, the lack of respect for the other players around him.

Stefon Diggs #14 of the Buffalo Bills is a fantasy star
Stefon Diggs' fantasy output has declined at the worst time. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

That might be changing a bit. Tight end Dawson Knox has been a force of late. He leads the team in receiving over the last three weeks with 177 yards and has scored three times. This is the type of production the Bills expected to get out of Knox all year.

The running game has been awesome, too. Buffalo led all teams in Weeks 15 and 16 with 404 rushing yards and 6.7 per carry. Some of that is certainly opponent driven, as Buffalo is the lone team to average more than three yards before contact (3.92) per rush in that span. But if the performance of the run game can be sticky, it would go a long way to helping this team out.

Week 17’s matchup with the Bengals has a playoff feel to it. Seeding in the AFC will matter a lot and this matchup will go a long way to moving those posts.

The Benglas defense is well-coached and has been quite efficient at slowing down big-time outside receivers. Cincinnati allows the third-best completion rate (58.5%) on throws targeting receivers lined up wide.

We’ll see just how much the Bengals respect the other aspects of the Bills offense. My bet is the Bengals dedicate extra attention to Diggs and man up on the other Bills receivers, daring someone else to beat them.

If the Bills' mini-rushing revival is real, it might be a good opportunity to try and establish something against a Bengals team that’s better at stopping the pass, on the whole, this year. That could help bring a safety down into the box — especially if Josh Allen gets involved as a rusher — and free up some one-on-one chances for Diggs down the field.

No QB gets rid of the ball faster than Tom Brady this year at 2.3 seconds

Tom Brady checked in with a 1.88-second time to throw on Sunday against the Cardinals. Which is absurd. And not in a good way.

It’s clear that Brady doesn’t want to get hit at this point of the season and doesn’t trust his five-man pass protection as far as he can throw them.

That ultra quick-release has really taken a toll on the downfield-passing game. It’s just not reasonable to ask any vertical receiver to get open in two seconds or less. As a result, the Bucs have become too screen and check-down-centric. Big shots to Mike Evans are never on time, because of course they’re not. Brady’s sped-up clock has become an issue.

There are many problems with Tampa Bay’s offense right now, a multitude of which are a result of the coaching staff’s decisions. However, all the problems compounded with the style of offense Brady is playing in the pocket have created an untenable situation in the aerial attack.

The only time Tampa looks good is when they go to their two-minute offense, when they spread things out and Brady can point and shoot with tempo and precision. Otherwise, his style and the team's offensive design have become oil and water at this point.

Sam Darnold leads the NFL in adjusted yards per attempt since he took over as a starter

He also ranks second in EPA per dropback and good old-fashioned yards per completion. Much has been made of the Panthers' overwhelming rushing attack since Steve Wilks took over as head coach. However, Darnold’s play has been a big factor in the team’s solid run down the stretch.

Darnold has taken his shots when available but the biggest difference in his play this season has been the lack of mistakes. Darnold is a talented player who has his strengths. He can just send the entire offense into a hole when the situation erodes. He can’t operate in chaos.

The current Panthers sneakily offer him a nice little incubator. The rushing attack keeps them ahead of the sticks, DJ Moore is playing extremely well and the offensive line is better than its been in years.

If Darnold can continue to play mistake-free football, the Panthers can absolutely beat the Bucs this weekend and put themselves in a position to win the NFC South. It’s a truly wild result based on where this team was in the season's first five weeks.

Teddy Bridgewater averages 9.0 YPA in games he threw more than five passes

Unfortunately, we won’t get Tua Tagovailoa under center this weekend and there’s a chance we don’t see him for quite some time after yet another concussion. In the meantime, the Dolphins will turn to Teddy Bridgewater as the starter.

We’ve seen Bridgewater in this offense already and he’s had success in games where he’s played extended snaps. This offense is so well set up that almost any competent quarterback can have success. Bridgewater is quite high up on the backup quarterback rankings, so he’s more than capable of captaining this offense.

Tua has been fantastic this year and his accuracy has added layers of value to an already excellent ecosystem. However, Bridgewater’s strengths also overlap well with the spacing and speed of this unit. I wouldn’t change projections too much based on him starting this game.

Mike White is averaging 43 pass attempts per game

If you extrapolate the non-Zach Wilson games the Jets would have well over 700 pass attempts this year. It’s remarkable how different of a unit they become as soon as any backup quarterback gets on the field.

Some of these players have been productive even with Wilson under center. The ceiling of the unit is just dramatically different however, simply from a volume standpoint, when White is on the field.

Mike White #5 of the New York Jets is back to help fantasy teams
The Jets' passing offense becomes a fantasy boon when Mike White is on the field. (Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images)

Guys like Garrett Wilson and Zonovan Knight instantly pop in projections when this offense reaches competency. Knight in particular couldn’t get rolling early against Jacksonville but with game script in his favor against a sinking Seahawks team, he could rip some big runs against a vulnerable defense.

A.J. Dillon has five rushing TDs and converted 50% of his third-down runs in December

There’s certainly a thread of the “big back, late-season” narrative to tug on here. However, the bigger variable to Dillon’s success might be Aaron Jones nursing an injury and the Green Bay line playing a bit better.

No matter what, Dillon is clearly running better now than he has at any point earlier in the season. He’s been one of the more efficient runners with his chances to close 2022.

The defensive matchup against Minnesota clearly favors the wideouts in Green Bay, but Dillon can still get in on the party. If Allen Lazard and the younger wideouts can find open room and move the offense down the field, Dillon can act as the closer down in the scoring area.

I’m expecting another end-zone trip for the big back this week.

Tyler Allgeier has had a 55.6% rushing success rate since Week 12.

The rookie has played on more rushing snaps than Cordarrelle Patterson and only three fewer passing snaps in that time span.

Any success rate north of 50% for a running back is quite good. Allgeier is playing well to end his first season.

Going into what should be a good matchup in a close game against the Cardinals, Allgeier looks like a sneaky good fantasy play this week. There are many established backs I’d consider ranking behind the Falcons lead back.

A more interesting conversation might be his 2023 outlook. We often see these Day 3 or undrafted surprise backs eventually get usurped by another player — think Michael Carter and Breece Hall, James Robinson and Travis Etienne, etc. Allgeier has a chance to finish strong the last two weeks and potentially persuade the Falcons to allocate their resources elsewhere this offseason.

Think what you want about the Falcons offense — their run game concepts are awesome. We’ll be extremely interested in whoever leads that backfield going forward.

T.J. Hockenson ranks second on the Vikings with a 24% target per route run rate in the last three weeks

The Vikings traded for T.J. Hockenson in the middle of the year because it was clear that, despite Justin Jefferson’s elite play, they needed a matchup advantage at the second pass-catching spot.

It hasn’t always been smooth sailing for the talented tight end this year — he’s left some plays on the field with the Vikings — but in recent weeks he’s started to become the guy they wanted.

As defenses becomes more and more dedicated, albeit powerless, to stop Jefferson, Hockenson’s play will only become that much more important.

Miles Sanders’ -0.23 EPA per rush the last two weeks is tied with David Montgomery for the worst among backs with 30 carries

The fumbles have something to do with that but it’s just been a rough couple of weeks for Sanders. If the Eagles are without Jalen Hurts again on Sunday his play is all the more important.

The Eagles should be able to dispense of the Saints without much issue, even as they deal with secondary issues. If Philly can hold a lead, Sanders may be able to offer a big rebound performance in a positive game script against the league’s 20th-ranked defense in EPA per rush allowed.

The Texans allow the second-most rushing yards per game since Week 13, and the 12th-fewest passing yards per game

Playing a game against the Malik Willis-led Titans will boost those pass-defense numbers but it’s a reminder Houston is not laying down on defense.

You can tell who watches the games based on how they’ve reacted to the recent run of good play by Houston. Those defenders are absolutely flying around and hitting opposing players. They laid the wood on the Cowboys and Chiefs in back-to-back weeks and then launched the team to an upset over Tennessee.

Jacksonville’s main focus will be defeating the Titans to win the division next week. But any sort of stumbling against the Texans, a team they’ve already lost to in 2022, will result in another upset. Houston does not have one eye on the golf course to end the season.

James Conner has played 92.2% of the snaps over the last six games

I don’t have many other notes to add here. It’s just wild to see this usage for James Conner given his injury history. The Cardinals are loading this guy up with touches to end a meaningless season. Conner is an excellent back with a three-down skill-set but you still just never see backs play at this high of a rate.

As long as Conner can hold up under this workload, he makes for a matchup-proof high-level fantasy play. Not that you were worried about a Week 17 matchup with the Falcons' run defense, anyway.

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