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. Niners top Saints despite Brees huge day
1,012 yards, twelve total touchdowns, 94 combined points and it all came down to the final three seconds. Now that's what I call a football game.
In what could go down as the game of the year, QB 'Sit of the Week' Drew Brees came out firing, tossing two 25+ yard TD's to TE 'Sit of the Week' Jared Cook in the first quarter. So much for that, right? (Could go down as my worst call ever... Stay tuned) After Brees tossed yet another TD three seconds in to the second quarter, and the Saints got off to a 20-7 lead, it looked like it was curtains for the San Francisco. But the Niners would not go quietly into the night.
Jimmy Garoppolo answered Brees with a 75-yard TD toss to Emmanuel Sanders less than 15 seconds later. San Francisco outscored New Orleans 14-7 for the rest of the quarter, thanks to two Raheem Mostert TD's. They entered the locker room at halftime with a 28-27 lead thanks to an early failed 2-pt conversion by the Saints.
Emmanuel Sanders finished with 157 yards and a TD on seven catches. He also threw one pass for a 35-yard TD. Raheem Mostert finished with 109 total yards, a rushing and a receiving TD on just 12 touches. Deebo Samuel finished with 109 total yards on seven touches. Kendrick Bourne caught two TD's on three catches. Jimmy Garoppolo threw for a massive 349 yards and four TD's. But make no mistake, George Kittle was the 49ers MVP of this game.
The third quarter began with another lead change as Wil Lutz (fantasy football's highest scoring kicker) converted from 55 yards out. But as the Niners drove back down the field, it was Kittle who powered his way in to the end-zone to reclaim their lead. But it wasn't a lead they would hold for very long.
The Saints rallied to score two fourth quarter TD's (both Brees passing TD's) to put them up 46-45. With less than a minute left, on fourth and two, when they needed it most, Kittle delivered.
The former Iowa TE picked up 39 yards on a short dump-off, and while dragging four defenders with him, drew a face-mask penalty which added an extra 15 yards on to the play. By sheer force of will, and a bit of luck, Kittle set them up just 30 yards away from the game-winning field goal. A field goal that 49ers kicker Robbie Gould ended up nailing.
So despite a monstrous performance from Brees (349 yards, six total TD's, no turnovers, 40 fantasy points), Michael Thomas (11 catches, 134 yards, one TD, 30.4 fantasy points), Jared Cook (64 yards, two TD's, and 20.4 fantasy points on his first two catches before exiting with a concussion), the Saints could not pull off a victory.
The two missed two-point conversions proved to be fatal for New Orleans as they fell 46-48. If this game had been tied and gone to overtime, I firmly believe whoever got the ball first would have won. But I guess we'll never know since the game of the year ended in the final seconds of regulation time.
It was puzzling though, that in a game that was so heavily offensive (Saints and 49ers D/ST, the number two and number five scoring fantasy D/ST's, combined for -14 points) Alvin Kamara was held to pedestrian totals (17 touches, 43 total yards, season-low 6.3 fantasy points).
It adds to the disappointing slide Kamara has been on, well, most of the season. He has not found the end-zone since he did so on the ground and through the air against Seattle in week three. He has not had over 50 receiving yards in any game since then. He has just one game with over 20 PPR points since then as well. He has not rushed for more than 75 yards since week one. After being selected as a consensus top-three RB this season, Kamara sits as just RB11 after putting up his latest dud in week 14.
The Saints will look to continue their offensive success, hopefully translating it to a win (and some fantasy points for Kamara) in week 15 against the Colts. Meanwhile, the Niners are riding high, on their way to a first-round bye after the formerly division-leading Seahawks fell to the Rams on SNF. Next up for SanFran is a matchup with the suddenly resurgent Atlanta Falcons. Whatever the case, it will be nearly impossible for both teams to put forth a more entertaining game than they did in week 14.
San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle scores a touchdown in front of New Orleans Saints linebacker Craig Robertson during Sunday’s game. (Jonathan Bachman / Getty Images)
2. Jets prevail in a battle of the field goals
On the opposite end of the spectrum, we had the pleasure of watching a field goal-off between the Jets and Dolphins in week 14.
It was a game that saw ten total field goals find their way through the uprights. The second half featured a scintillating six field goals and zero TD's.
Dolphins kicker Jason Sanders actually set the franchise record for most field goals made in a single game in this one. The Dolphins scored 21 points in week 14, but it wasn't thanks to three TD's. Instead, they got there with seven mothaf@#$in' field goals. An absolute spectacle to behold.
This week, Sanders finished with more fantasy points (23) than Todd Gurley, Amari Cooper, Allen Robinson, Lamar Jackson, Dalvin Cook, George Kittle, and Patrick Mahomes, to name a few.
But in the end, it was the Jets who prevailed thanks to some field goal heroics of their own. The Jets put two TD's on the board in the second quarter, so despite being out field-goaled 7-3 by Miami, New York ended up with a 22-21 victory thanks to a last-second 44-yarder by 'Kickin' Sam Ficken. I personally couldn't think of a more fitting finish to such a brilliantly exciting football game. (If you haven't picked up on the sarcasm by now, allow me to make it obvious...)
3. Joe Mixon finally breaks out
In week 14, Joe Mixon finished with 186 total yards and one TD on 26 touches for a season-high 27.6 fantasy points. All I can say is: it's about damn time.
But I guess this isn't completely out of nowhere. Since his week nine bye, Mixon has been on a bit of a tear, averaging 17.4 PPG over the last five weeks. It doesn't sound like much, but it is a vast improvement compared to the 10 PPG he averaged in weeks 1-8.
After recording zero 100+ yard rushing games and zero rushing TD's weeks 1-8, Mixon has now finished with 100+ yards rushing twice, and has scored three rushing TD's in his last five games.
This uptick in production can likely be attributed to an increase in volume. Before his bye week, Mixon averaged just 15 touches per game. Since then, he averages 23 per game. The results speak for themselves. When he gets the touches, he produces.
Next up is a scary week 15 matchup with the Patriots where Mixon will no doubt be the focal point of New Englands defensive game plan. After that? Miami and Cleveland... again.
If you stuck with Mixon, your patience is about to be rewarded. If you were savvy enough to trade for him for cheap while he was in a slump, kudos to you.
4. Is Drew Lock a thing?
Drew Lock in the first half against the Texans, week 14: 16-19, 235 yards, three TD's.
Tom Brady in the first half against the Texans, week 13: 7-19, 82 yards, one INT.
Soooo... Drew Lock is better than Tom Brady, right? Well... Maybe not yet. But Lock certainly made a case for himself as Denver's franchise QB on Sunday as the Broncos got off to a 38-3 start against Houston, a team that had most recently defeated the New England Patriots.
Lock finished 22-27 with 309 yards and three TD's. He didn't do a whole lot in the second half because he didn't really need to. Instead, the Broncos worked the clock for the entire second half in order to secure their victory.
Courtland Sutton underwhelmed in an easy matchup after going off the week before. He led the team in receptions (5) but finished with just 34 yards. Noah Fant, however, despite catching just one pass for seven yards in Lock's debut, finished with 113 yards and a TD on four catches in week 14. It was Fant's second game with over 100 yards since Flacco was shut down in week eight, and his third game with a TD this season.
If Fant were ever to receive consistent volume, I'd consider him as a top-ten fantasy TE. I believe he has that type of speed/play-making ability. But playing with three QB's this season he has received more than five targets in a game just twice.
What I'm trying to say is, Lock appears to be trustworthy in fantasy if the matchup is right. Fant, on the other hand, I'd say pump the breaks. At least for now.
5. Chargers offense delivers in blowout win
In week 14, nearly every player on the Chargers offense came through. Melvin Gordon, Austin Ekeler, Hunter Henry, and Mike Williams found the endzone. Phillip Rivers finished with a season-high 24.6 fantasy points and exited the game before the fourth quarter had begun. The only player that seemed to be left out? Keenan Allen.
Allen led the team with five receptions in week 14, and finished with 83 yards. But in a game where the Chargers put up 45 points, Allen accounted for zero TD's. Mike Williams caught his first TD of the season (finally). Derek Watt scored a goal-line TD. Heck, even Tyrod Taylor threw a TD. So what gives?
In all likelihood, it was a product of game script and nothing more. Still, with three consecutive games of over 16 fantasy points, expectations for Allen were high in what's been a disappointing season overall.
But the real story of this one wasn't Allen's lack of scoring, but rather Ekeler's insane efficiency.
In week 14, Ekeler finished with 101 rushing yards on eight carries as well as 112 yards and a TD on four catches (31.3 fantasy points). In other words, 213 total yards on 12 touches. That's 17.7 yards per touch, which is just unbelievable. Ekeler has gone 128 targets without dropping a pass this season. He is on pace to become just the fourth RB to finish with over 1,000 receiving yards in the modern era of the NFL (nugget courtesy of Field Yates).
Anyone who has had the pleasure of owning Ekeler this year knows he was a tremendous value, with an ADP of 48 overall (round five). Melvin Gordon owners, however might not feel as loving of Ekeler as Gordon is averaging 7.5 points per game less than he did last season. Whatever the case, if you own anybody on the Chargers offense, you left week 14 feeling satisfied.
6. Julio/Mahomes/Wilson continue to slide
You've heard me mention how Kamara has been in a bit of a slump, but he isn't the only fantasy star that maintained their recent downward trend in week 14.
Russell Wilson, after averaging 24.1 points per game weeks 1-10, is averaging just 12.3 in his last three, including two games with 10.6 or less. He has failed to top 245 passing yards or score more than two TD's in a game since week nine. Since then he has a TD:INT ratio of 4:4. Since beginning the season as an MVP frontrunner, Wilson's pace has slowed down significantly.
Patrick Mahomes, another player who was at one point leading the race for MVP, has also seen his pace decline. After throwing for over 300 yards in each of his first five games this season, he has done so just once since then. He has failed to throw for multiple TD's, and is averaging just 213 passing YPG/16.2 fantasy PPG over his last three games.
Julio Jones, a player I once had listed next to Mahomes as players too obvious to be listed in any weekly Starts/Sits, has been very quiet recently as well. He has no less than 66 yards in his last four, which is impressive, but it's not exactly translating to fantasy points. Since his week nine bye, Julio is averaging 12.2 fantasy PPG. He's fallen all the way down to WR15 on the season.
It's anyones guess as to why these stars have not been performing like we are used to them performing. For Mahomes and Wilson, it's hard to predict when/if they turn it around in time. For Julio, a brighter future may be ahead sooner rather than later.
Falcons second-year star WR Calvin Ridley has been ruled out for the rest of the season. In recent weeks, it has been the Ridley Show (averaging 21.5 fantasy PPG over the last four weeks). With Ridley out, I expect Julio to pick up the slack and then some. It has been a while since Jones has erupted. Too long, if you ask me. The way I see it, It's only a matter of time.
7. Ravens trump Bills as Lamar Jackson closes in on QB rushing record
The Ravens D/ST proved their worth yet again, scoring 11 points in a tough matchup with the Bills. They now have double-digit fantasy points in six of their last seven games. They held QB Josh Allen to his second-lowest fantasy total of the season (10.6). The Ravens are the first team to hold Allen under 50 rushing yards or without a rushing score since week eight.
Baltimore is the now only team to hold Bills WR John Brown to less than 9.5 PPR points this season.
Bills rookie RB Devin Singletary, however, seemed to avoid suffering from this tough matchup as he picked up 118 total yards on 23 touches (17.8 fantasy points). Instead, Mark Ingram was the RB who found it difficult to score points in this week 14 battle of AFC contenders. Ingram finished with 79 yards on 18 touches (just 10.9 PPR points).
Lamar Jackson had a modest fantasy day (by his standards) throwing for three TD's but just 145 yards. He also rushed for 40 yards and finished with his second-lowest scoring game of the season, 19.8 points. Yes, you read that correctly. Jackson has a single game with less than 19.8 points this year. That's how exceptional he's been.
His 40 yards on the ground were enough for him to break the 1,000-yard rushing mark this season. He is the first QB since Michael Vick to do so. Barring some sort of injury or complete drop-off of production, Jackson will break the single-season rushing record for a QB (1,039 yards) held by Michael Vick. My guess is, he gets it done next week.
8. AJ Brown has career-game against Raiders
Ryan Tannehill and the Titans continue to blaze through the competition. Since Tannehill took over as the starter in Tennessee, they are 6-1. But the fact that the former college WR finished 21-27 for 391 yards, three TD's and 27.5 fantasy points wasn't the real story here. It was rookie WR AJ Brown.
The explosive rookie's big-play ability was on full display yet again in week 14 as he took an early second quarter pass from Tannehill 91 yards to the house. Brown finished with 151 yards and two TD's on just five catches (33.6 points). He also took one carry for 13 yards. Emmanuel Sanders was the only WR to outscore Brown in week 14.
I personally believe in his talent, and I think he can be special. Despite having just two games with five or more catches this season, Brown now has four games with over 93 yards. That's pretty ridiculous. The only problem with that is he's not receiving consistent enough volume for me to have confidence starting him each week. By the grace of the fantasy gods I was forced to start him this week in a deeper league, and it payed off. But I don't see him achieving these numbers consistently unless he is more involved in the Titans game-plan going forward.
Even after that humongous week 14 performance, he is averaging just 4.6 targets per game. He has received no more than eight targets in any game. Although he has prevailed a few times this season, you'll basically be rolling the dice on wether or not he scores a huge TD if you decide to start him.
I may have to roll him out again in week 15 but that doesn't mean I have to be confident about it. Like anyone else who uses him in fantasy, I will be banking on a huge play.
9. Derrick Henry making a case as NFL's best RB
It wasn't all Tannehill and AJ Brown in the Titans 42-21 win over the Raiders. Derrick Henry, once again, dominated on the ground.
Henry finished with 109 yards and two TD's on 19 touches (23.9 fantasy points). It was his fourth game in a row with over 100 rushing yards. It was his fifth game in a row with over 23 fantasy points. It was the fourth time in his last five games that he finished with multiple TD's.
The only RB that has played as dominantly as Henry has in his last five games this season that comes to mind is Christian McCaffery. Last season, nobody scored more points during the fantasy playoffs than Derrick Henry. Already off to a 23.9-point start, he looks like he is ready to do the same this year.
In a year where McCaffery and Dalvin Cook have paced the position in points, don't sleep on Henry to finish as a top-two scorer.
10. Cousins/Cook/Rudolph underwhelm in easy matchup with Lions
In what looked like a dream matchup with the Lions atrocious excuse for a defense, the Vikings came up short... At least in fantasy, Last time these two teams mets this season there was a combined 72 points scored. Kirk Cousins tossed four TD's and dropped a season-high 29.4 points, Kyle Rudolph benefitted, catching five passes for 51 yards and a TD, while Dalvin Cook went off for 152 total yards and two TD's. This time, it was a different story.
The Vikings won, but the final score ended just 20-7. QB 'Start of the Week' Cousins threw just one TD in the contest and finished with 13.6 fantasy points, his lowest total since week eight. Rudolph finished with just two catches for 11 yards (3.1 fantasy points, his lowest fantasy total since week five) and failed to find the end-zone for the first time in his last five games. This time around, Cook finished with just 85 yards and a TD on 20 touches (15.5 fantasy points).
It was not the game most fantasy managers anticipated from these Minnesota studs, especially in the first round of the fantasy playoffs, but I wouldn't take is as a warning of things to come. The Vikings should have more competitive games going forward where they will be forced to score to keep up (week 15 vs Chargers, week 16 vs Packers). Instead, I expect this game was nothing but a blip on the radar for Minnesota's offense... At least, I hope it was.
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.