Cincinnati Bengals at Jacksonville Jaguars
- Spread: Jaguars -8.5
- Total: 38.5
- Bengals implied points: 15
- Jaguars implied points: 23.5
Trevor Lawrence: Wheels up! Lawrence easily set a season high last week (at HOU) with 364 yards through the air, and the team was comfortable with him going over the top for a one-yard rush score. With this coming on the heels of his four-touchdown domination of the Titans, all signs are pointing in the right direction.
What has changed during these past two weeks? Well, Zay Jones returned to action, and that has seemed to have a trickle-down effect, allowing this offense to click on all cylinders. If you go a little deeper than the raw fantasy numbers, there are even more reasons to be encouraged:
- aDOT up 36.7% from the month prior
- One sack (70 pass attempts)
On the first drive last week, Lawrence led the Jags on a field goal drive and completed his four passes to four different players in the process. None of those players were Calvin Ridley. Ridley seems to be trending toward the alpha in this receiver room, but the fact that Lawrence isn’t force-feeding him is a great sign of his fantasy sustainability.
Lock in Lawrence this week and plan on that being the case for the remainder of the season.
Joe Mixon: A 39-yard catch bailed Mixon out from a complete dud performance last week against the Steelers — his fantasy value is on very thin ice in this offense that seemingly overachieved their way to 5.4 yards per play in Week 12 with Jake Browning under center.
There are two major concerns I have, and neither is directly a Mixon problem, but both significantly impact his ranking.
- Are they going to have the ball?
- Are they going to be in a position to score?
Nothing Browning did last week gives me any confidence in either. The Bengals had the ball for under 23 minutes against the Steelers (a bottom-f9ve team in time of possession entering that game) and had more drives (10) than first downs gained (nine, not including penalty-aided first downs).
The Jags are a top-five team in time of possession this season and are much more of a threat to script Mixon out of the game than the Steelers were last week. He is teetering on the edge of my RB2 rankings this week, easily the lowest I’ve had him this season, and I fear that this is the new normal.
Travis Etienne Jr.: The lack of efficiency has become something we just have to accept with Etienne at this point (2.8 YPC last week, under 4.0 YPC in six straight). That’s not ideal, but with eight touchdowns on his résumé and multiple receptions in every game, Etienne is locked in as an RB1 with a ceiling that ranks among those not named Christian McCaffrey at the position.
The Najee Harris/Jaylen Warren tandem ran for 148 yards and a touchdown against these Bengals last week after Gus Edwards/Keaton Mitchell piled up 95 yards and two touchdowns in Week in this spot. This is a favorable matchup as a part of an offense hitting its stride — week-winner potential!
Ja’Marr Chase: The “it’s not me, it’s you” tier of receiver is headed by Chase and is barely hanging onto WR2 status in Week 12. This tier includes Adam Thielen, DeAndre Hopkins, and Garrett Wilson — talented players who come with a far lower floor than their skills suggest due to inept play at the QB position.
Chase finishing with 81 yards last week (35.7% of Browning’s total) is about as misleading as a stat line can be — two of those catches came on deflected balls that had no business in being caught (they accounted for 44 of his 81 yards).
Me ranking him atop this ugly tier is me showing respect for his ability to rack up fantasy points in the red zone. He’s in a tough spot to bank on that (PIT: fifth-best red-zone defense), making him a bench candidate if you have a Rashee Rice type on your roster.
Tee Higgins: After not practicing during the week, Higgins missed his third consecutive game with a nagging hamstring injury. It should be noted that head coach Zac Taylor was “encouraged” about Higgins’ recovery progress, and that’s good to hear, but Higgins deserves to be on benches until we have visual proof of that being inaccurate.
Tyler Boyd and Tanner Hudson were the two most targeted Bengals behind Chase — they turned 10 targets into 41 yards. This is beginning to look like a lost season for Higgins (he makes for a good dynasty but if he’s on a team looking to win now).
Calvin Ridley: Here comes Ridley, just in time to pay off the draft pick you spent this summer! In Zay Jones’ two games back (knee), Ridley has posted consecutive 80-yard games, a massive step forward for a receiver that didn’t have consecutive 40-yard games during the first 10 weeks of this season.
Despite a slow first half, Ridley was able to pay off his loyal fantasy managers (5-89-1) nicely. There are two ways to look at any note, and I tend to skew optimistic, something that I’m going to do here — growth!
Ridley got you the numbers you needed despite earning just 16.2% of the targets. It’s clear that the presence of a second perimeter threat helps his per-target production, and if he is the player we think he is, that target share number should move up with time. Per the Week 13 Cheat Sheet:
- 17-game pace with Jones: 99 catches for 1,520 yards and 14 TDs
- 17-game pace without Jones: 51 catches, 612 yards, three TDs
It’s been a slow burn, but with Lawrence playing as well as he has all season and Jones healthy, Ridley might well end up proving worthy of the preseason hype. The Steelers sans Matt Canada wanted to get Pat Freiermuth involved against the Bengals last week, and they couldn’t stop it (nine catches on 11 targets for 120 yards).
Who’s to say that the Jags can’t get exactly what they want as well?
Freiermuth’s role is different than that of Ridley, but you understand where I’m going. Before Jones’ return, we needed proof of production to combine with a strong target share. We are getting the former, and the ladder feels like it is just a matter of time. Ridley is my WR15 this week.
Zay Jones: The Jones impact has been great on this offense; it just doesn’t put any food on his plate. He has unlocked the best version of Ridley that we’ve seen this season and has allowed Lawrence to trend in the right direction — Jones has five catches (seven targets) for 30 yards to show for his efforts in his two games back from the knee injury.
Jones was very clearly the third receiver in this offense, and I’m not sure that changes.
Week 12 route participation:
- Ridley: 95%
- Kirk: 87.5%
- Jones: 60%
Ridley and Lawrence’s managers need to embrace what Jones means to them but understand that he doesn’t hold Flex-worthy value himself.
Christian Kirk: The four-catch, 89-yard performance looks fine on the surface, but that was greatly buoyed by a 57-yard catch with 10 seconds left in the first half when the Texans were willing to give up the underneath route and just failed miserably in their execution of keeping the Jags in front of them.
Without that grab, and we are again left wanting more from Kirk in a game in which Jones plays. This season, Kirk’s catch rate is 58.3% on games where Jones catches a pass, a drastic decline from his 70% rate in all other games.
I have Kirk ranked as a Flex play this week that offers plenty of risk. That lands him in the same range as both Steelers receivers, your favorite Packers receiver, and Tyler Lockett. It’s not comfortable, but there is still enough upside to at least consider him to round out your Week 13 lineup.
Evan Engram: He extended his season-long streak of games with 4+ catches and saw another eight targets, but again, he was held under 60 yards (something that has been the case in nine of 11 games) and failed to score.
Engram hasn’t scored this season, though Lawrence missed him on a five-yard end-zone target that should have been six points. At this point, you’re pot-committed. His volume elevates him above most other options, and his 82.5% route participation last week continues to point to better times ahead in an offense moving in the right direction.
Engram is my TE6 this week and could swing matchups in the final matchup of the week. Let’s speak a touchdown into existence!
Should You Start Joe Mixon or Jerome Ford?
I have very little faith in either of these offenses, but I do think the Browns can remain competitive, which is enough to drive my decision here. Jerome Ford has been a nice per-touch producer with a reasonable floor, and that’s enough for me in this spot.
Mixon ran eight times for 16 yards against the Steelers a week ago, and, to be honest, he didn’t have a chance to do much more than that on the ground. He ended up with a viable stat line because of a 39-yard catch, but the bottom is at risk of falling out from his profile if the Jaguars jump out to the type of lead I expect.
Should You Start Ja’Marr Chase or Amari Cooper?
Can the answer be neither? Jake Browning should look marginally better this week than last, and if the script favors the pass game, Chase should hold the opportunity edge.
We know Cleveland’s passing game is a mess. We think we know Cincinnati’s passing game is a mess.
That’s a minor distinction, but it’s enough for me to side with the superior talent in Chase and hope that sheer volume pays off.
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