If you’re lucky, at this point in the season your fantasy leagues are just like the real NFL - an upside-down corkscrew roller coaster game of King’s Cup where nothing makes sense and somehow everyone except maybe 3 people still has a theoretical road to the playoffs.
And if you’re mathematically eliminated by now, take heart - you can always still make some noise in the final weeks of the fantasy season with a time-honored tradition that’ll warm even the saltiest New Englander’s heart, especially if you grew up at the peak of Red Sox-Yankees:
Ruining someone else’s day.
Last time we checked in with the New England Patriots and their utility in fantasy football, the Pats sat at a pathetic 2-4 after a kick-in-the-dick overtime loss to the Dallas Cowboys. Things were getting reeeeeeeal close to the dark, dark time when fans decide to mail it in for the rest of the season and start binging mock drafts and re-watching The Office again by the bye week.
Suffice to say, things are looking up. And like we said earlier, hopefully your fantasy squad has taken a few lumps, but emerged victorious more often than not and remains in the fight for the trophy/title belt/eternal Internet and pub bragging rights that we all play the game to win.
Most leagues have two games left, counting this weekend’s games. Obviously, the Patriots finally have their well-deserved bye week after Monday night’s division showdown with the Buffalo Bills, but not only could some Patriots push you over the edge in Week 13, they could be worth a stash for when you (of course) make the playoffs.
So let’s run ‘em down one last time to ice the season and hopefully push you over the edge.
Starting with the man who’s been winning over the hearts of the entire region, one 8-yard out-route completion at a time!
Mac Jones (QB)
Standard Scoring Rank: 17th in QBs
PPR Scoring Rank: N/A
My how the turntables! Prior to last weekend against the once-terrifying but extremely mortal Tennessee Titans, Mac’s only 20-point performance all season was against the somehow-things-got-worse New York Jets. And while beating the Jets remains an excellent slumpbuster, unfortunately the Patriots have already played both of their division games against the Jets this season, and neither of their games against the Buffalo Bills, who are next on the schedule. And those would also be the same Buffalo Bills with the #2-ranked defense in all of fantasy football, who’ve allowed 17 or fewer points in the last 5 games in real life. Mac’s not exactly a strong play by any definition here, especially in a game that looks to be a cold, rainy Monday Night Football rock fight.
There is at least one situation in which you may find Mac Jones a useful fantasy asset this week:
This week’s byes include both the Green Bay Packers and the Tennessee Titans. If you need a one-week replacement for either Aaron Rodgers or Ryan Tannehill (or a permanent replacement for Tannehill, given the state of the Titans these days), you could do a lot worse than Mac, who’s probably not going to hang 30 on anyone, but has posted 19, 10, and 21 points in his last 3 outings.
Damien Harris, RB
Standard Scoring Rank: 18th in RBs
PPR Scoring Rank: 20th in RBs
Damien’s somehow been both pretty much what we expected going into the season, as well as a pleasant surprise. The Patriots haven’t hesitated to hand the lead-back duties to Harris week after week, and in terms of a safe floor, he’s scored at least one touchdown on the ground in 6 out of New England’s last 7 games. It doesn’t exactly sound like a compliment, but he’s pretty much guaranteed not to get you a goose egg.
That being said, there is one (1) reason for caution: Harris’s snap counts have been notably reduced in recent weeks. Per Pro Football Reference, Damien went from playing 53% of the offensive snaps against the Chargers to 39%, 39%, and 37% in the last 3 games. THAT being said, even with the lighter workload, he’s still getting double-digit carries per game. And as we always say, in fantasy, volume is king.
Standard Scoring Rank: 40th in RBs
PPR Scoring Rank: 49th in RBs
While Rhamondre’s been a true joy to watch in real life, in fantasy terms, he hasn’t exactly become the hybrid of LeGarrette Blount’s sledgehammer running and James White’s set-your-watch-by-it third-down receiving skillz, Stevenson’s successfully emerged as a viable fantasy running back if you’re in a pinch (and who isn’t?). His “Rhamondre has entered the chat” performance against the Cleveland Browns ended up as a monstrous 23.4 points in standard scoring, and while he hasn’t cracked double-digit fantasy points in the two games since, he hasn’t exactly been riding the pine either.
In the blowout win against the Falcons, Stevenson posted a respectable 7.5 points - and that’s without finding the end zone - and then against Tennessee’s still-gnarly defensive line, he still put up 4.6 points.
If it seems like we’re giving you the good news first, and then the bad/a reason for caution, that’s exactly what we’re doing. While Rhamondre’s certainly demonstrated plenty of aptitude for receiving skillz, his role as a pass-catcher hasn’t exactly materialized the way we all hoped it might. After 5 targets in the Browns game, he’s only gotten one lonely target per game the past 2 weeks.
Which is largely due to the most productive season since 2015 for....
Brandon Bolden, RB
Standard Scoring Rank: 54th in RBs
PPR Scoring Rank: 46th in RBs
Ok, admittedly, saying 2021 is Brandon Bolden’s most productive season on offense since 2015 isn’t saying much. Nonetheless, not only has Brandon Bolden rushed for 141 yards on the season, he’s also gotten the lion’s share of the pass-catching responsibilities a lot of us theorized could be going Rhamondre Stevenson’s way. In the past 4 games, he’s seen 11 targets in the passing game, which may not seem like a lot, but it’s more looks on passing downs than both Damien Harris and Rhamondre combined. So, there’s that.
Unfortunately, despite his increased usage as a receiving back, Brandon still hasn’t found the end zone since his lone touchdown of the season against the New York Jets. Not ideal when you’re only getting around 30% of the offensive snaps to begin with!
Let’s be real, if you’re debating starting Brandon Bolden to begin with, you may already be up the creek.
Moving on to the glory boys at wide receiver....
Jakobi Meyers, WR
Standard Scoring Rank: 39th in WRs
PPR Scoring Rank: 29th in WRs
The touchdown curse is broken! And there was much rejoicing!
Since most of us are starting 3 wide receivers anyway, unless you got preposterously lucky in the draft at RB, Jakobi is, by definition, start-able. He’s still getting consistent targets, even though his volume has dipped slightly; after getting double-digit looks in Week 2 and Week 3, Meyers is generally getting anywhere between 4 and 8 targets over the last 8 weeks. Jakobi’s rapport with Mac Jones has always been solid, if not spectacularly productive, and he still appears to be one of the go-to options on third down.
If you really want to get nuts, though, there’s also this: Jakobi threw a pair of touchdowns last season and already has gone 2/2 on passing in 2021 for 45 passing yards. He hasn’t thrown his first touchdown strike of the season yet, but the possibility is always there - especially if, maybe, let’s say, it’s a divisional game when you may have to go punch-for-punch with Josh Allen and the still-dangerous Bills.
Don’t count on it. But it could happen. We’re not saying. Just saying.
Kendrick Bourne, WR
Standard Scoring Rank: 20th in WRs
PPR Scoring Rank: 24th in WRs
Ironically, the analogy I was going to use to describe KB’s fantasy production just so happens to be who he’s ranked next to in PPR scoring on the season: Seahawks deep-shot assassin Tyler Lockett. That’s not to say that Kendrick has Lockett’s 4.4 speed or that their play style and role is even remotely similar, but they do both tend to be extremely boom or bust. When business is good, both guys are popping off for double-digit points a game; when the passes are off-target and the looks aren’t there, though, they may as well both be singing “Not in Nottingham”.
Now, if you like that all-gas-no-brakes, live and die by the big play type of player, KB’s your guy. To make the point, though, here’s his standard-scoring point totals in the last 5 games:
Week 8: 1.8 points
Week 9: 3.4 points
Week 10: 20.1 points
Week 11: 4.9 points
Week 12: 18.1 points
Interestingly enough, his passing-game volume has been roughly similar to Jakobi’s in that time frame, generally getting 4-7 targets a game along with the occasional run play that he’s averaging a svelte 13.0 yards per carry on. Due to Mac carrying on the Tom Brady tradition of “throw the ball to whoever’s open”, Bourne is never going to be a must-start, at least not this season, but if you need a flex play and want to gamble on upside, Kendrick’s your guy.
Also, ALERT: Kendrick Bourne is apparently only rostered in 29.0% of ESPN fantasy leagues right now. Stop reading this and add him to your bench if at all possible, right meow.
Nelson Agholor, WR
Standard Scoring Rank: 50th in WRs
PPR Scoring Rank: 51st in WRs
There’s really nothing to say about Nelson Agholor from a fantasy standpoint. He’s scored a touchdown 3 times this season, which are also, not coincidentally, the only weeks where he’s posted double-digit fantasy points. Without the touchdowns, Agholor generally is good for a steady 2 - (maybe) 6 points a game. And his role as a *football guy voice* TAKE THE TOP OFF THE DEFENSE deep threat hasn’t materialized at all, with his season-long reception being 44 yards that still didn’t result in a TD. In real life, some of his deep routes have done a great job opening up space for other pass-catchers to get open, but unfortunately, we’re only concerned with stat-sheet production here, and Nelson just hasn’t gotten it done in that department.
N’Keal Harry, WR
If only fantasy scoring gave you points for vicious Michael-Floyd-esque blocks on opposing All-Pros, right?
Hunter Henry, TE
Standard Scoring Rank: 4th in TEs
PPR Scoring Rank: 9th in TEs
This isn’t complicated. Unless you have one of the what, 3 tight ends like Travis Kelce and Mark Andrews that get consistent targets on your team, start Hunter. Is he touchdown-dependent? Yes. Is he tied for scoring the most touchdowns among tight ends in the entire NFL and proven to be the favorite red-zone target for QB Mac Jones? Also yes.
Jonnu Smith, TE
Standard Scoring Rank: 30th in TEs
PPR Scoring Rank: 28th in TEs
This also isn’t complicated, but for the opposite reason. As baffling as Jonnu’s lack of passing game production has been all season long, don’t let his revenge game against the Titans last week fool you into thinking Smith’s a steady piece of the offense now (at least for fantasy purposes).
As painful as it is to say, especially if you wasted a precious draft pick on him, Smith doesn’t even belong on your bench. It is what it is.
Finally, let’s run down the defense and the kicker, just in case any of you actually hang on to a defense all season long and don’t just stream based on whoever’s playing the Jets/Jaguars:
Standard Scoring Rank: 1st
Anyone remember that old Alec Baldwin Visa commercial when he says “I have me on my fantasy team”?
Bill Belichick almost certainly doesn’t play fantasy, but if he did, this defense is who he’s drafting whenever his first-round pick comes up.
In terms of what’s made them such a fantasy juggernaut (as defenses and special teams goes, anyway) here’s a few stats to help us appreciate the Pats D/ST barbecuing opposing offenses for the better half of the 2021 season:
Points allowed per game: 15.8 (1st in NFL)
Sacks: 30 (Tied - 5th in NFL)
Interceptions: 19 (1st in NFL)
Forced Fumbles: 11 (9th in NFL)
Yards Allowed: 3,800 (9th in NFL)
Having said all that! As with any dominant defense, just be aware that you could be playing with fire if you start them against a (statistically) top-2 offense like the Buffalo Bills this weekend.
Nick Folk, K
Standard Scoring Rank: 1st
Records are made to be broken, right?
Patriots— Boston Sports Info (@bostonsportsinf) December 3, 2021
Have attempted (34) and made (31) the most FG's thru 12 games in the Belichick era
2021 - 34 att - 31 made
2017 - 32 att - 29 made
wouldn't mind if a few FG's turned in to TD's pic.twitter.com/AuAhrQIFu0
While it’s occasionally supremely frustrating in real life to watch the Patriots being the second-most conservative team in the NFL (not a typo; the coach that famously gave us 4th and 2 is now one of the least likely coaches to go for it on 4th), if you’ve got Nick Folk on your fantasy roster, you know anytime the Patriots cross the 50-yard line, it’s almost guaranteed straight cash. Somehow, his extra-point kicks are a bit shaky - he’s only made 87.9% of his extra-point kicks this year - but Folklore is still an auto-start. Most weeks he’s good for at least a dozen, and on a good week, he’s getting you quarterback numbers from a roster spot where just a couple weeks ago, Bills kicker Tyler Bass scored a -1.
Go forth and conquer, and remember: the fantasy football playoffs are just like March Madness. All you have to do is get in, then it’s Survive and Advance!