The heart of this weekly article is the examination of a few fantasy football performances that were, let’s say, unexpected. Although sometimes we zero in on superstars or super-scrubs, the main goal is to provide clarity on those players who fall somewhere in the middle. These are the guys who force you to make the toughest decisions week in and week out. They are the ones who lead to the inevitable Monday morning angst of, “If only I started Chris Godwin over JuJu Smith-Schuster or Zay Jones over Quez Watkins, it all would have worked out differently.”
Or worse, “I knew I should have started X over Y and never should have listened to those stupid rankings.”
This is what we know as outcome bias or attribution bias. You didn’t know, I didn’t know, none of us knew what everyone’s fantasy scores were going to be prior to the games being played. We all use the best information we have to make our judgments; sometimes we’re right, and sometimes we’re wrong. I understand this as one of the premier cognitive biases designed to protect our egos. We blame others when our decisions turn out badly and take credit when they go well. That’s fine. But I think the honest examination of these close decisions is an interesting task if you want to be a better fantasy player.
If you chose poorly, you might feel regret today. It’s not an emotion any of us enjoy, but it can be motivating. Instead of wallowing in it, it’s sometimes worth trying to figure out if a better decision could have been made – not with what you know now, but with what you had then. Were there signs of a breakout or decline that you failed to notice, or discarded without giving them due diligence? Did you go against public or expert opinion on a player for a specific reason — maybe you wanted to use a receiver that your opponent’s QB was throwing to or you wanted to use a player you could root for during Thanksgiving celebrations?
Luck plays a role in the outcome too. A great defender giving your receiver a nightmare matchup steers you to using someone else in that spot, but that defender gets hurt and your original guy has a fantastic game. Stuff happens. Regret is only useful if it spurs you to avoid feeling it again, and that starts with digging into the surprise hits and misses. Let’s figure out what we can learn from Week 12's wild stat lines.
Mike White and New York Jets receivers
The Jets have quietly been putting together a very competitive season (7-4 after Week 12). It was built on Breece Hall and defense, so once Hall was lost for the season, a lot of people kind of forgot about the Jets.
Enter: Mike White. The third QB to take over starting duties this season put on the best performance they’ve had since Joe Flacco’s super-fluky 4-TD game vs. Cleveland in Week 2. White threw for 315 yards and three touchdowns in terrible weather vs. Chicago. His pass-first approach made Garrett Wilson and Elijah Moore relevant, and anyone watching got to see why Moore wanted the ball in his hands more often. The two targets weren’t super-comforting, but he certainly did enough with them to earn a larger share going forward.
The Jets have the fourth-best QB schedule for fantasy remaining, so this quality showing for the Jets’ pass offense might not be a fluke at all. Their defense is doing a fantastic job getting turnovers and limiting drives, ranking seventh in opponent first downs per game, which gives the offense its chances. I’m more likely to buy in on a sudden good QB outing when the whole team is moving in a positive direction.
That said, my early feeling on Zonovan Knight operating as the lead back in Week 12 is: Fluke. I’m waiting to see what the verdict is on Michael Carter’s ankle injury, and would assume that James Robinson will get in the mix next week if Carter is forced to miss time.
Trevor Lawrence, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Speaking of having your best game of the year, Lawrence was close to perfect in the win over Baltimore. After a delayed start due to lightning, the Jaguars were ready to go and never let up. Lawrence threw for 321 yards and three touchdowns, and his wide receivers took advantage of the soft matchup with the Ravens’ secondary. Zay Jones collected 14 targets, catching 11 for 145 yards. Jamal Agnew and Marvin Jones Jr. each caught 100 percent of their combined eight targets and scored for the Jaguars, while Christian Kirk was the lone let-down (4-of-9 for 46 yards, mostly on the last drive of the game).
JaMychal Hasty also helped out, playing a big role in the pass game after Travis Etienne was injured early on. Unlike what I said about the Jets, the Jaguars have proven to be one of the more uneven teams in the league. There are definitely solid pieces here on offense and defense, but they are rarely able to put it all together, and it’s nearly impossible to figure out which receiver will be worth a start week-to-week. It sounds like Etienne will be fine for Week 13, and he’s the only player I’m confident in starting outside of 2-QB leagues, where Lawrence is also definitely still relevant.
Rachaad White, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
I’ve spilled a lot of ink complaining about Bill Belichick and the NE running backs over the years, but maybe it was really evil Tom Brady behind the weekly uncertainty at the position. The Bucs seemingly have a totally different game plan every week; from both Leonard Fournette and White having fewer than 10 carries in Week 8 to them combining for over 30 carries in Week 10. With Fournette out in Week 12, White produced a balanced stat line by catching all nine of his targets (the second-most targets to an RB this season) and rushing 14 times for 64 yards. It was the best RB stat line for the Bucs since Fournette had back-to-back great efforts in Weeks 5 & 6.
White is definitely a player who forces you to make tough roster decisions. As long as Fournette is definitely out, he’s 100 percent worth a start. When both are healthy, however, and in the absence of any team commitment to White, I’d be aiming to start someone with more demonstrated reliability and opportunity.
Darnold joins White in providing a spark for his struggling team, producing the third-best Panthers’ QB stat line of the season in Week 12. Unfortunately, the Panthers throw at the fourth-lowest rate, averaging just 28 passes per game (Darnold didn’t help, tossing just 19 passes in the win). Case in point: Chuba Hubbard and D’Onta Foreman combined for 41 carries in Week 12. We’ve seen enough of Darnold to realize he’s not going to suddenly become Patrick Mahomes. While I do think he might do enough to keep DJ Moore in starting conversations, it will probably come down to matchups for me.
Cooper saved the day with a great catch in overtime that made up for his horrific fourth-quarter drop. It was the second week in a row that he saw 12 targets (sixth time this season in double-digits). Though he didn’t score this week, all eyes will be on him as Deshaun Watson returns for Week 13 against Houston. This is pretty much a must-start spot for Cooper.
Godwin busted out big time with 12 catches for 110 yards and a touchdown. His previous high in receptions, despite multiple double-digit target games, was seven. As noted above for Rachaad White, this is an offense that is hard to trust from week to week. Tom Brady has shown recent flashes that he isn’t as done as we decreed in Week 6 or 7, but there are still a lot of mouths to feed here, and no guarantee that Brady won’t revert back to those unsustainable weeks with one or no touchdowns per game.
With Mike Evans coming off a two-catch game (on nine targets), he’s my pick for a big Bucs WR game next week. There are still plenty of mid-range receivers that I’d prefer to start Godwin over (any Bronco, Panther, Titan or Texan, to start).
Pollard was a big source of regret for fantasy managers this Thanksgiving. It may be the first time he’s had a bigger workload but fewer fantasy points than Elliott. Yet your decision can’t be faulted if you started either back. Pollard has the four best fantasy games of the Cowboys running backs this season. We know his upside is three touchdowns and a ton of open-field rushing and receiving yards, and we know that Elliott is going to be the preferred short-yardage/goal-line guy.
This matchup with New York was a tough one; both NY defenses are better than they are credited this season after years of being pushovers. Dallas is committed to the run, but can also move the ball effectively through the air, so regardless of matchup, both of these backs deserve to be starting over a lot of middle-of-the-pack guys like Devin Singletary, David Montgomery or AJ Dillon.