What We Learned: 2021 Preseason
Check back here every week to listen to Tim: analyze what we saw, discuss who's trending up or down, and jump to some wild conclusions.
1. Lamar Jackson breaks another record
On Sunday, not only did Lamar Jackson earn his tenth win of the season against the previously top-ranked 49ers, helping the Ravens claim the top spot in the power rankings, he also broke yet another NFL record.
In week 13, Jackson became the first player to record four double-triples in a season. That's four games where he finished with over 100 yards (triple digits) in two stat categories. In classic fashion, Jackson got it done by rushing and passing. He finished with 101 yards on the ground and 105 yards through the air. He also recorded his seventh rushing and 25th passing TD of the season.
Jackson's previous three double-triples came in week two against Arizona (272 passing, 120 rushing... Also a record for first player to throw for 250+ and rush for 120+ in a single game), week six against Cincinatti (236 passing, 152 rushing... Probably another record), and week seven against Seattle (143 passing, 116 rushing).
As the accolades continue to pile up, we must make sure we don't take Jackson for granted. We are witnessing, perhaps the greatest single season by a QB, or any player for that matter, in NFL history.
Of course Jackson was already an elite rusher, but there were questions about his ability as a passer entering this season. Now that he is leading the league with 25 touchdown passes, only one question remains. How high can Lamar Jackson really fly?
Jackson scoots his way in to the end-zone with ease against the 49ers top ranked defense. Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports
2. Is Raheem Mostert the 49ers RB1?
RB 'Sit of the Week' Tevin Coleman went for just 15 yards on six touches in Sunday's matchup with the Ravens. It's no surprise Coleman has been trending down recently, but the opposite has been the case for his teammate Raheem Mostert.
If you scroll back far enough, to the top-10 takeaways I wrote after week two, you'll see I had a section titled, "The 49ers backfield is an enigma". In that very segment, I included my sentiment that I wasn't convinced Mostert wasn't the 49ers best back. Although he hadn't seen much action in his first six years in the league, I have seen flashes of some major talent these past two years. He finally got an opportunity to put it on full display in week 13.
Mostert received a career-high 19 carries against the Ravens, and it paid dividends. He finished with 146 yards rushing, and added two catches for eight yards. His 7.7 YPC on the day was impressive, but what's more impressive is that Mostert boasts a career average of 6.3 YPC on 133 career carries. It's fair to wonder, why doesn't this guy get the ball this often every game?
Mostert averages just 6.6 carries per game over the past two seasons. Every time he has received 10 or more carries in his career, he has finished with 79 rushing yards or more.
So, has Kyle Shanahan finally figured out that Mostert can be their workhorse? Does this mean he'll be the 49ers lead back from here on out?Unfortunately, I doubt it.
Matt Breida will soon return from injury and his presence will certainly murk the backfield situation up. Despite his recent lack of efficiency, Tevin Coleman will surely be forcefully integrated as well. Add in a little Jeff Wilson Jr. around the goal line and you're looking at the same enigma of a backfield I warned you about earlier this season.
I know how it looks, and I certainly wouldn't blame you for rolling out Mostert next week. The numbers speak for themselves. Heck, if it was me coaching the 49ers, I would be giving him 20 carries every game. But I'm not the head coach, so I have to watch the roll coaster ride of the 49ers backfield continue, just like everyone else.
3. Eagles fall apart in upset loss to Dolphins
So apparently, the Eagles defense is good against good teams (no more than 17 points allowed to Buffalo, Seattle, or New England in weeks 8-12), but they are bad against bad teams (surrendered 37 to Miami Dolphins, more than they allowed to their previous two opponents, the Patriots and the Seahawks, combined).
It didn't matter that Wentz had his best game since week one (310 yards, three TD's), Alshon Jeffery had his best game of the season (nine catches, 137 yards, one TD) and Miles Sanders proved to be effective in a feature back role (22 touches for 105 total yards and one TD), because the Eagles defense couldn't stop, well, anyone.
Despite entering halftime with a 21-14 lead, the Eagles were outscored in the second half, 23-10. This was thanks mostly to the fact the Eagles secondary had Devante Parker looking like Randy Moss out there (seven catches, 159 yards, two TD's). But it wasn't just Parker, they also allowed a kicker to catch a TD pass from a punter... Yes, you read that correctly. It's the first time any defense has allowed such a thing to happen in NFL history.
On a side note: Devante Parker should be locked-in to all lineups until further notice.
Despite the Eagles entering this week ranked number one against TE's over the last four weeks, Mike Gesicki was able to put forth his best all-around performance of the season with five catches for 79 yards and a TD. It was just Gesicki's second game with more than four catches, his second game with more than 51 yards, and just the second time he found the endzone this season. Meanwhile, top-five TE Zach Ertz was held to 24 yards on three catches against a Miami team surrendering the 12th-most points to his position, but don't get me started on that.
The only area the Eagles could find success defensively was against the run. They allowed a total of 58 rushing yards to the Dolphins as a team.
Just to be clear, the Eagles entered this week allowing the second-least points to QB's, the fifth-least points to WR's an THE least points to tight ends, while allowing the tenth-most points to RB's over the past four weeks. One game against the Dolphins, and they completely reverted the exact opposite. They went back to what we knew them as before, a team that could not cover a pass to save their lives, but could effectively stop the run game.
Let's take a look inside the mind of the Eagles defense:
"Second-least points allowed to QB's? Better correct that by allowing Ryan Fitzpatrick to drop 28.3 fantasy points. Fifth-least points to WR's? That doesn't sound like us... Might as well give Devante Parker 36.4 PPR points. THE least points allowed to TE's? I know! Let's allow Mike Gesicki to have the most complete game of his career! As long as we can get back to only stopping the run... and nothing else. Then we'll be the Eagles again. That'll do it."
Although the Eagles defense HAD been playing really good football, and the Dolphins were (and still are) giving up the second-most points to fantasy D/ST's this season, the D/ST 'Start of the Week' for week 13 finished with negative one fantasy points.
You could not have imagined this game being more of a disaster for Philadelphia than it was. Oddly enough however, they can still win their division. Not that they deserve to, but they can. In weeks 14-17 the Eagles have four straight division matchups. Assuming they can put this embarrassing loss to Miami behind them, they just might make it in to the 2019 post-season.
4. Bengals get their first win against the enigmatic Jets
Speaking of embarrassing losses that make no sense, how bout them Jets?
New York came in to their week 13 tilt against the Bengals red-hot. They entered week 13 with three straight games of 34 points scored. Their D/ST finished with double-digit fantasy points in three straight as well. They found themselves matched up with the 32nd ranked, 0-11 Cincinatti Bengals. The way the Jets have been playing, no way they'd lose their easiest game of the season... Right?
If being a Jets fan for the last 15 years or so has taught me anything, it's that you can never underestimate their ability to lose a game.
QB 'Start of the Week' Sam Darnold, despite scoring nine total TD's in his last three games, failed to find the end-zone as the Jets mustered just six points against a Bengals team giving up the seventh-most points to opposing offenses this season.
As a team, the Jets failed to generate 300 yards of offense against a 31st ranked Bengals defense allowing the second-most yards to opposing teams this season.
Their D/ST, despite averaging 15.3 fantasy points over their last three games, finished with just three points against a team allowing an average of 11.0 to fantasy D/ST's this year.
But hey, the Jets gave the Dolphins their first win of the year. It's only right they give the Bengals their first win too. After all, we can't have other teams out there thinking they're worse than us...
I could sit here and blame Gase, Darnold, the Jets non-existent pass rush, the fact Le'Veon Bell has yet to rush for 100 yards this season, or the fact the secondary couldn't cover a hot pocket with a tarp. But I'd rather just put a bag over my head and root for an NFC team for the rest of the year... Now seems like a good time to hop on the Saints bandwagon.
5. Derrius Guice and AP average a combined 9.9 YPC in win over Panthers
We knew the Panthers run defense was bad, but in week 13, they took things to an entirely new level.
Carolina struggled to contain the Redskins (THE lowest scoring team in football) allowing them to finish with 29 points... It was their highest scoring game of the season.
It sounds like a joke, considering rookie QB Dwayne Haskins has looked like the least effective QB I've ever seen play for this long in the NFL. In fact, If you remove a 119-yard, 2 TD garbage-time fourth quarter against the Jets, Haskins averages just 32 passing yards per quarter this season. If you remove that quarter, Haskins has six interceptions, and zero TD's in 2019. Fortunately for the Skins, they were playing a team that is so bad against the run, they hardly needed to let Haskins throw.
The Panthers weakness as the worst run defense in the league was fully exposed on Sunday as AP and Derrius Guice imposed their will all afternoon. The duo finished with a combined 223 yards and three TD's on 23 carries (9.9 YPC).
Guice has looked explosive in limited action this season, and AP is, well, AP. But I'm willing to bet even David Montgomery and Tarik Cohen (possibly the least efficient backfield duo in the NFL) could have had this much success against the Panthers.
Carolina is currently surrendering a league-high 5.3 YPC this season. They've also allowed a league-high 22 rushing TD's... They still have Luke Kuechly, right? Okay, just checking.
6. Ronald Jones face-plants in easy matchup against the Jags
As long as we're on the subject of bad run defenses... The Jaguars are second only to the Panthers this season in average YPC (5.1) and rushing TD's allowed (17).
The week before, Derrick Henry lit them up, finishing with 159 yards and two TD's on just 19 carries. That same week, Ronald Jones led the Buccaneers backfield in snaps and touches, averaging 4.4 yards per touch, scoring a short TD and delivering 15.7 fantasy points. So naturally, given the matchup, it made sense for Jones to break out here.
Matthew Berry included Jones on the 'Love' list. Heck, even IBM Watson was high on Jones this week in what should have been a dream matchup with Jacksonville. But then again, the NFL didn't seem to be in the habit of making much sense this week, did it?
Jones finished the game with eight carries for just six yards (0.6 fantasy points). Instead, it was practice-squad caliber RB Peyton Barber who the Bucs rode in this one. Jones owners watched in horror as Barber galloped his way to two TD's and a two-point conversion before the half.
As perplexing as it was watching Barber (who has been less efficient than Jones all season) receive the majority of the workload, watching third-string RB Dare Ogunbowale touch the ball in the red-zone before Ro-Jo did was even equally confusing and slightly more infuriating.
If you played Jones and want to be angered even further, I'll share with you this nugget: After Barber scored from 15 yards out on his first carry, he picked up 29 yards on his next 16 carries (1.8 YPC)... So, there's that.
I just personally don't understand why they'd feature Barber (a player that has a career average of 3.7 YPC, is averaging 3.2 this season and finished with just 871 rush yards in 16 games as the Bucs RB1 last year) rather than allow their young, explosive and well-rounded second year RB to flourish as a lead back.
It's clear Bruce Arians doesn't care about your fantasy team, and likely never will. But it doesn't take a genius to see that Ronald Jones is by far the best running back the Buccaneers have. Maybe someone should tell that to Bruce.
7. Rams offense returns to form
In week 13, the Rams offense looked like the 2018 version of themselves.
Things have been disappointing in LA this season. The juggernaut Rams that made their way to the SuperBowl last season, averaging 32.9 points per game, have been nowhere to be found at times this season. Last year, Todd Gurley earned the title of fantasy football MVP after he accumulated 1,800+ yards and scored 21 total TD's. This year, Gurley will be lucky to crack 1,000 total yards. Robert Woods who was by far the Rams most consistent pass catcher last season, has finished with less then 10.0 PPR points in five of his 12 games this season after doing so just once in 2018. Jared Goff finished with 32 touchdown passes last season. Through 12 games this year, he doesn't even have half of that.
But in week 13, the Rams returned to form. All it took was a matchup with the 32nd ranked Cardinals defense.
Goff looked sharp, throwing for a monstrous 424 yards and two TD's as he finished with a season-high 25 fantasy points. WR 'Start of the Week' Robert Woods led the way, catching a ridiculous 13 passes for 172 yards (30.2 PPR points). Todd Gurley also looked like his former self, finishing with 115 yards and a TD on 20 touches. His day would have been even bigger if he hadn't had a vintage 20-yard Gurley TD called back because of holding. Even Cooper Kupp, formerly fantasy football's highest scoring WR, finished with over 18 PPR points and scored a TD for the first time since week eight. The question is, can you trust the Rams to keep it up?
Unfortunately, they can't play the Cardinals every week, but they will face them once more by the end of the season. But before that they have matchups with Dallas and San Francisco. Sure, they looked elite in week 13. But, given the up and down nature of their season, I'm not ready to bestow weekly elite status upon them just yet.
8. Courtland Sutton is QB-proof
Courtland Sutton has now caught passes from three different QB's. Each time it has looked worse on paper, but not to Sutton.
He goes from Joe Flacco, a former SuperBowl winning QB (who Sutton averaged 14.7 PPR points per game with), to Brandon Allen, a player that has been in the league for four years but has never played a regular season snap. His first two games with Allen, Sutton averaged 18 points per game.
Allen was benched after an abysmal showing in week 12, opening the door up for rookie QB Drew Lock. One would assume a rookie QB playing against a top-four team in terms of yards allowed, would struggle to find the endzone. Yet, that was not the case as Lock tossed two wildly impressive TD's to Sutton in the first half of this week 13 AFC West matchup.
Sutton finished with 23.4 PPR points, his second highest total this season. It is a small sample size, but could it be that Sutton has found his favorite tosser of the rock yet? He only caught four passes in week 13, but out of the five times he's caught four passes or less this season, he has finished with less than 8.0 PPR points just once.
Whatever the case is, Sutton has earned WR2 status, regardless of his QB. In the fantasy playoffs, he will face Houston, Detroit and Oakland, all bottom-15 defenses in terms of fantasy points allowed to WR's this season.
9. Phillip Rivers can't catch a break
Not to be insensitive, but Philip Rivers couldn't catch a break if it was raining breaks and he had a catchers mitt the size of Manhattan... Since 2015, Rivers and the Chargers have lost 32 games by one possession, by far the most by any player or team. The worst part about it? Most of the time, it's not even Philliam's fault.
It seems like more often than not, the Chargers have to drive their way down the field in the final two minutes of the game. Rivers has led more would-be comebacks than I can count in these situations. But despite tying the game or taking the lead most of these times, the Chargers still find a way to lose, whether it be on defense, special teams, or by being on the wrong end of a costly penalty. Rarely, if ever, is it directly Rivers's fault.
Although they lost yet another close one, this game wasn't a total waste. There were some important fantasy takeaways, especially for the Chargers offense.
For the first time this season, Keenan Allen has back to back games with at least six catches, 68 yards and a TD. It is the first time he has recorded at least six catches and 68 yards three weeks in a row since his dominant stretch in weeks 1-3. Over his last three games, Allen is averaging 18.8 fantasy PPG. He is heating up at the perfect time as we approach the fantasy football playoffs.
But it's not just Allen who is trending up. Melvin Gordon delivered another workhorse performance in week 13, racking up 110 total yards on 22 touches. Gordon earned 99 yards on 20 carries, looking like his former matchup-proof self against a tough Broncos run defense. Gordon is now averaging 17.8 fantasy PPG over his last four games, and perhaps most importantly, is proving he and Austin Ekeler can co-exist. Next up they will face a Jaguars defense giving up the second-most yards per carry (5.1) and the second-most rushing TD's (17) this season.
Although the Chargers can't seem to win any games for themselves in real life, their players can certainly win you some in fantasy in the coming weeks...
10. The Stache returns
The Jaguars gave the people what they wanted in week 13, benching Nick Foles for Gardner Minshew to begin the second half.
Jags fans likely would have appreciated this decision being made earlier, as Foles had already turned the ball over three times and the Bucs had built up a 25-0 lead by halftime, but they appreciated it nonetheless.
Minshew could not complete the comeback attempt against Tampa, but with him at the reigns, the Jags outscored the Buccaneers 11-3 in the second half. It's wasn't much, but it was honest work.
One could understand the Jags decision to start a healthy Foles. After all, they just paid him big money to be their guy. But after watching the two play this season, it's clear the Stache gives them the best chance to win.
As a starter, Minshew was just 4-4, but the Jaguars lost by seven points or less in three of those four losses. When Foles starts, the Jaguars are 0-4 and it's not even close.
Since he returned, the Jaguars average 14.6 points per game with Foles, a full 6.8 points less than the 21.4 they averaged with Minshew under center.
To the joy of all NFL fans, Minshew already has been named the starter for week 14 against the Chargers. And if the Jaguars are smart, this time they'll keep him there.
Tim Brosnan, Fantasy Sports Analyst/Freelance Journalist
Tim Brosnan is a college-educated sports journalist from the New Haven, Connecticut area.
Brosnan earned his Bachelor's Degree from Castleton University where he majored in Media & Communication, with a focus in Journalism.
During his tenure as the sports editor of the Castleton Spartan newspaper, Brosnan created the segment 'Tim's Fantasy Tips'. It began as a simple weekly start/sit column, but since then, the idea has grown into so much more.
Brosnan has taken his experience/passion for fantasy football and combined it with his journalistic know-how in order to bring you a completely original, well-informed, multi-layered fantasy football advice experience.
We hope you enjoy.