Fantasy football is a passion for many. Sometimes that passion causes fantasy managers to make emotional decisions even when the data suggests otherwise. Each week during the 2023 NFL season, Liz Loza will attempt to strike a balance between what the data states and what the heart wants. This is called Facts vs. Feelings.
I got in a little trouble last week. Some of you will probably think I deserved the scolding. And I’m not saying I didn’t, but I can also tell when someone is relishing an opportunity to sneak in a dunk.
My “home” fantasy league was established in 2006. I joined the crew a handful of years into its existence (and promptly won the Super Bowl at the close of my rookie campaign). We, obviously, go way back. This was the league in which I was introduced to fantasy football. The catalyst for my ongoing love affair with the virtual game. And the inspiration for my less-than-conventional career path. I’ve been a diligent (and oft-sniped) manager for nearly 15 years.
When I was in Bristol for Week 11, however, I made an error in saving my lineup. In between commercial breaks, I made a few tweaks to my roster and then moved on to the next task hand, assuming the changes had been auto-saved (note: This league does not play on ESPN’s platform). I was wrong. All of my other leagues were saved. But I fielded an incomplete squad in my longest-running and most-beloved league.
Girl, the note I received from my commish! It wasn’t over the top “How dare you” but giving more “Are you OK? It’s not like you to be so messy” vibes. For real? I mean … you can turn on the TV and know that I’m fine. Or you can send me a text and say, “Hey, clown, you forgot to set a lineup.” But don’t send the side-eye with an “I just want to check in because I’m concerned” email.
I have seen other members of this league forget to swap out players on bye or leave in injured flex options. This was fantasy grandstanding at its best (i.e., most passive-aggressive). For all I know, I’m going to get a strongly worded email Thursday about using my personal league experiences for professional gain (although no one complains about that when they get a shoutout on a pod or ask my advice in a different league). But that’s the conceit of this column.
Anyone posting ranks or asking start/sit questions had better also be suffering through the Cooper Kupp Catastrophe(s) and/or the Taysom Hill Tilt(s). We’re a community. A wonderfully weird and curiously passionate band of beautiful misfits … who sometimes (like once every decade) absolutely blow it and gift their opponents a dub.
Just don’t let it happen again (don’t worry, Kev, I won’t).
Russell Wilson, QB, Broncos: Wilson is also no stranger to receiving a talking-to on the heels of a public blunder. Those mistakes, though, have been reduced in his second year at Mile High. The interceptions, sacks and “Let’s Ride” declarations have all subsided. In turn, Wilson’s yards per attempt has decreased (7.3 in 2022 to 6.9 in 2023), but the friskiness in his legs appears to have returned. For fantasy, that is a welcome exchange.
Wilson is managing more than 24 rushing yards per game, which is up from his average of 18.5 last year. More specifically, he has gone over 30 rushing yards in six games this season. Only Lamar Jackson, Josh Dobbs and Jalen Hurts have cleared that line in more outings. But that’s not all. Wilson is succeeding through the air. Yes, he has become more conservative, but he remains one of just three players with a passing score in every game this season (Josh Allen and Tua Tagovailoa are the other two). The aerial numbers are far from gaudy, but they have been consistent, which has been an unforeseen blessing in 2023.
Averaging nearly 17 fantasy points per game, Wilson enters Week 13 as fantasy’s QB14 overall. He’ll battle a Houston defense that has allowed the third-highest completion percentage (68.9%) and the eighth-most fantasy points to opposing QBs. The Texans have given up at least 19 fantasy points to the position for four consecutive outings. That figures to keep Wilson looking a little less vintage and on the QB1/QB2 board for another Sunday.
Bijan Robinson, RB, Falcons: I want to believe that the great unleashing of Robinson occurred last Sunday. But the Arthur Smith of it all has me processing a wellspring of fantasy trust issues. The facts are plentiful, though not entirely conclusive.
Bijan’s snap count doesn’t provide many clues. Not including headache-gate, the Texas standout recorded a snap share of 71% before the past two weeks … and a snap share of 70% over the past two weeks. Additionally, he registered an 87% snap share on third downs before his past two efforts, but a snap share of 86% over his most recent pair of outings.
Although his time on the field has remained steady, there has been a positive shift in his usage. And those facts are giving big feelings. Robinson’s touches have increased from 16.3 per game to 21 per contest over the past two weeks. Additionally, his role in the red area has grown. Robinson managed just six red zone touches in the seven games previous to Week 10. Since then, though, he has recorded six red zone opportunities over his past two games. That has in turn (here’s where it gets really good) led to three scores in the past two weeks (whereas he had three all season before that).
Robinson heads into Week 13 with top-14 fantasy appeal at the position. His dual usage (4.3 targets per game, RB6) in tandem with the aforementioned increase in high-value opportunities allows for upside against a Jets defense that’s easier to beat on the ground than through the air. Give me over 85 total yards and a score Sunday!
Joe Mixon, RB, Bengals: The vibes are not as high for Mixon. With Jake Browning under center and Tee Higgins sidelined, he recorded just 10 touches in Week 12. That was a season low! More concerning was the fact that (again, in Browning’s first full game) Cincy ran just 41 plays this past Sunday, which ranks 358th out of 360 games this season.
The result was clearly not a recipe for success, so perhaps a tweak and subsequent positive shift in Mixon’s volume is looming. Forgive me, however, for not holding my breath. Without a hefty number of touches, Mixon’s numbers underwhelm. The 27-year-old has long struggled with efficiency. He’s no longer a player who regularly rips off breakaway runs or jukes his way past defenders. It makes sense then that when his offense falters, his production similarly nose-dives.
Unfortunately, even an uptick in opportunities doesn’t figure to provide Mixon with enough oomph to push him into top-15 FF RB territory when he travels to Jacksonville on Monday night. The Jaguars have allowed just two rushing scores to RBs this year, and only two backfields (ATL and SF) have managed at least 80 rushing yards. Woof.
Brandon Aiyuk, WR, 49ers: The quantity carousel surrounding S.F. is a top-tier fantasy conundrum. I get it. There are only so many touches to go around. Except these are some of the highest-value touches in the league. I understand why folks feel like the 49ers’ pass-catchers (outside of Christian McCaffrey, of course) are boom or bust. But those aren’t facts. Because Aiyuk doesn’t bust. He has gone under 10 fantasy points in only two of 10 games all year.
I’m not saying it’s not scary to back a player with volume variance. However, Aiyuk always makes the most of his opportunities. He found the end zone for a third straight outing last Thursday. And he did it on a season-low two grabs. Interestingly, he has averaged more fantasy points per game (18) on fewer looks (13 total) over his past three games with Deebo Samuel back on the field than he did with more opportunities (25 total targets) in the three prior efforts with Deebo sidelined (12.7 fantasy points per game).
Aiyuk has a knack for thriving on low volume. He’s managing a thrilling 3.44 yards per route run, which ranks second in the NFL behind only Tyreek Hill (4.20 yards per route run). That doesn’t figure to change in Philly this weekend. The Eagles are allowing the most fantasy points per game to WRs (46.5 FPPG, which is 13.6 points more than the average). Additionally, the Birds have given up 200-plus yards as well as two or more receiving scores to opposing wideouts in six of 11 contests. I expect Aiyuk to stay on brand and take full advantage. He’s my WR9 heading into this weekend’s action.
Rashee Rice, WR, Chiefs: Kansas City’s passing attack has labored to find a downfield option behind Travis Kelce. Fantasy managers have been begging Andy Reid & Co. to give Rice an extended look, noting the rookie’s explosiveness and potential as a deep threat. It appears as though the virtual game’s digerati have willed the former Mustang’s breakout into existence. A hint of this happening was reported by The Athletic’s Dianna Russini mere hours before the Chiefs stormed Allegiant Stadium, relaying that the Chiefs “reviewed coverage adjustments with their younger wideouts so they ‘play fast and not have to think.'”
Rice has got those instincts. And they showed up this past Sunday as the 23-year-old had a career-best effort, converting 8 of 10 looks for 107 yards and a score. Not only was Rice’s 10 targets a season high (he hadn’t seen more than seven targets thus far into 2023), but it was the second-most by any Kansas City WR all season. Additionally, Rice’s 24.7 fantasy points was the most by a Chiefs receiver this year. Even with Justin Watson (who is second behind Travis Kelce in end zone percentage) on the field, Rice was still able to secure his fifth TD of the year (WR16).
While Green Bay appeared frisky on Thanksgiving, it’s unlikely that Rice will command the same offensive attention as he did versus the Raiders. Still, Patrick Mahomes‘ second-most targeted pass-catcher is a valuable asset. With MVS dropping balls, Kadarius Toney seemingly always banged up, and Skyy Moore failing to stand out, Rice has another chance to shine Sunday. He’s a flex-worthy option for managers seeking a ceiling play.
Pat Freiermuth, TE, Steelers: Kenny Pickett said goodbye to Matt Canada and hello to Freiermuth last Sunday. The third-year tight end posted a career-high nine grabs for 120 yards in the Steelers’ six-point victory over the Bengals in Week 12. Freiermuth was targeted on a whopping 50% of his routes, leading the team in looks with 11 for the day. With three catches of 15-plus yards apiece, the player out of Penn State proved to be an effective safety valve and field stretcher for a struggling Pickett, who wasn’t great but at least managed a season-best 72.7 completion percentage.
It’s possible coverages will tilt and Freiermuth will falter in Week 13. However, given the aforementioned stability he provided his QB as well as the lights-out production he posted, it’s unlikely that Mike Sullivan and Eddie Faulkner will abruptly move away from the incredibly capable tight end. Furthermore, the Cardinals have been more generous to the position of late, giving up five scores to opposing TEs over the team’s past five games. Freiermuth appears on track to deliver north of 10 fantasy points in what could be a closer game than projected come Sunday.
Chig Okonkwo, TE, Titans: I try not to recycle names, but at this point in the season nearly all of the potential TE sleepers have either been shaken awake or left to hibernate. Okonkwo hasn’t made good on his preseason buzz, but he did record his highest target share (19%) since Week 8 versus Tampa Bay this past Sunday. He also registered his second grab of more than 20 yards (the first came back in back in Week 2 versus the Chargers) in that same contest.
The Titans could build upon that momentum this weekend. Indianapolis has been regularly picked on over the middle, tied (with the Falcons) for the third-most targets (91) allowed to tight ends. It’s a clear weakness for the Colts, as the team has given up the eighth-most fantasy points to the position and let Cade Otton convert on all four of his opportunities in Week 12. While the matchup isn’t serving fantasy fireworks, Okonkwo could deliver top-15 fantasy numbers in a streaming-only situation.
Follow Liz on social @LizLoza_FF
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