<
>

Facts vs. Feelings: Sage advice for your Thanksgiving feelings and fantasy decisions

Justin Fields returned from a four-week absence in Week 11 against the Lions and rushed for a season-high 104 yards on 18 carries. Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire

Fantasy football is a passion for many. Sometimes that passion causes fantasy managers to make emotional decisions even when the data suggests otherwise. Each week during the 2023 NFL season, Liz Loza will attempt to strike a balance between what the data states and what the heart wants. This is called Facts vs. Feelings.

Happy Thanksgiving, fam! I hope you're hunkering down and ready to receive a day full of whatever makes you the most thankful. I enjoy how that's different for everyone. My colleague Keith (hello, Keith) can wax poetic about sweet potatoes and stuffing for a solid 20 minutes. On the other hand, my best friend, Cissy, has a whole therapy session every year while making her grandma's cranberry sorbet (which tastes much better than it sounds). And, me, well I just want to sip mezcal and be left alone (shrug emoji).

I shared that with my cousin, whom I visited while I was in Connecticut this past week. She lives about an hour south of Bristol in a gorgeous neighborhood overflowing with New England charm. Her husband has family littered throughout the county and, as a result, they all just show up unannounced at her stunning 2-acre property.

When she told me that she was hosting Thanksgiving and expecting 20-plus people to show up, I nearly fainted. For me, the pressure would be the opposite of relaxing. This time of year is so busy and I'm "on" so much that having to do more sounds absolutely exhausting. But she was excited to "do it up" and, frankly, distract herself from the chaos of her life with a different kind of chaos. And I get it. Because we're all always going (in some way or another) and changing up the routine can often realign our priorities and refresh our energy.

We do that on a smaller scale each week during the fantasy season. Whether we're contending with bye weeks or the challenges presented by different matchups, there's a predictable pandemonium that becomes a fraught but (mostly) welcome divertissement. With trade deadlines looming, the potential "shaking up" of things feels all the more intense. We're in the homestretch! Yes, every week matters (especially right now). But if we're investing in this hobby to cultivate more excitement and happiness into our lives, then bring on the fun ... in whatever way makes the most sense to you.

Go ham for unranked super sleepers like Justin Watson. Or stay the course with inexplicably consistent floor players like Gus Edwards and Courtland Sutton. Maybe you jump off the Christian Watson hype train in favor of the Jayden Reed Little Engine that Could Starter Set. Perhaps having faith in a Derrick Henry bounce-back is what brings you peace (I certainly don't have the stomach to sit him versus Carolina). This is your story, and you can tell it whatever way makes you thankful for having taken the ride.

Justin Fields, QB, Chicago Bears: Oh, did you not expect this long-suffering Bears fan to kick off a Thanksgiving-themed column highlighting one of the greatest fantasy comebacks in the virtual game's history? And did you not foresee even a touch of hyperbole? Nah, I know you saw it coming. In all seriousness, it wasn't a perfect showing from Fields, but it was a healthy game in which he demonstrated his high-ceiling skills and playmaking ability.

Fields closed out last year as fantasy's QB6 overall largely because of his rushing numbers. It was gratifying, then, to see him return from a four-week absence to eclipse 100 yards on the ground. The player out of Ohio State has now managed 45-plus rushing yards in five of seven games this season. Additionally, his 18-carry effort in Week 11 is tied for the most by any QB in more than two calendar years!

But Fields wasn't just electric on the ground. He showed improved poise (again, not perfect, but better) as a passer. The way he stepped up confidently in the pocket and connected with DJ Moore for a 39-yard score in the third quarter was a chef's kiss moment. It also revived Moore's fantasy value, as the star receiver has now averaged 12.2 fantasy points per game more with Justin Fields at the helm than he did with Tyson Bagent throwing the ball.

I'm optimistic that -- similarly to last year -- the coaching staff will let Justin be Justin down the stretch. That he'll use his legs regularly, while also flashing as a passer, and regularly posting low-end QB1 numbers. His schedule is strong, and so are my powers of manifestation. Fields is the ESPN consensus QB10 heading into Monday night's matchup against a Vikings defense that has allowed three rushing scores to opposing QBs so far this season. Let's do this!

D'Andre Swift, RB, Philadelphia Eagles: I was confident Swift would hit the over on 58.5 rushing yards versus the Chiefs. A top-10 fantasy finish at the position with nearly 20 fantasy points, however, felt like an extra dollop of Cool Whip on my pumpkin pie.

Despite notching his fewest touches since Week 1 (15), Swift cleared 100 scrimmage yards for the fourth time this season. His 76 rushing yards was his most productive ground effort since Philly's 14-point win over Tampa Bay back in Week 3. Despite flying under the radar relative to the team's quarterback and wide receivers, Swift is clearly an integral piece of the Eagles' weekly approach. He has now managed a snap share between 57% and 71% for seven straight games, solidifying his place as a high-end lineup lock at the position.

That figures to remain the case versus Buffalo in Week 12. The Bills were able to bottle up Breece Hall on the ground Sunday, but the Jets' versatile RB smoked Buffalo through the air, converting 5 of 6 balls for 50 yards and a receiving score. Given that Swift can also be deployed as a runner and as a receiver, the Eagles RB should do similar damage. Buffalo has allowed the fourth-most catches and second-most receiving yards to opposing RBs. Consider Swift a top-10 fantasy RB come Sunday.

Jerome Ford, RB, Cleveland Browns: The change in QB precipitated my urge to follow Cleveland's backfield more closely in Week 11. Ford salvaged his fantasy day with a TD (boosting him inside the top 24 fantasy players at the position), but his usage throughout the contest was odd. The former Bearcat registered 10 touches on the first 15 plays (all of which occurred in the first two drives) of the Browns' eventual victory over the Steelers. Yet he managed only four touches on the final 58 plays of the game. To that end, his command of the backfield appeared to slip, as he and Kareem Hunt split carries evenly at 12 apiece.

Those aren't the only head-scratching stats, though. The 24-year-old appeared to fare better than Hunt in terms of passing opportunities. Ford out-targeted his backfield mate, drawing two more looks, yet Hunt caught one more pass. I'm choosing to value the targets more than the receptions, but it's certainly something to tab in one's memory.

One place where Ford was the definitive leader, however, was in the red zone. The second-year back received three straight plays at the goal line, which appears to signal a slight edge in terms of upside moving forward. As does his snap share (51% to Hunt's 43%), which remained consistent with all of the previous weeks.

Dorian Thompson-Robinson's presence under center figures to negatively affect Ford's efficiency. The hope was that an increase in volume could offset any dip in per-touch production. Based on the above, I'm less optimistic about that potential outcome. A trip to Mile High, however, might make the point moot for at least one week. Denver's run defense gave up a combined 154 rushing yards to Alexander Mattison and Ty Chandler last Sunday. As a result, Ford remains on the RB1/RB2 bubble heading into Week 12.

James Cook, RB, Buffalo Bills: Fantasy heads were hopeful that the Bills' change in offensive coordinator would result in more opportunities for Cook. We spoke that into existence, friends! With Joe Brady calling the plays, Cook managed his highest tote total since Week 2. He also led the team in snaps with a 45% share, ahead of Latavius Murray (34%) and Ty Johnson (20%).

Cook's work in the passing game also seemed to get a boost. The second-year back drew four targets (up over his 2.8 average looks per game) and posted a 3-29-1 stat line, which was his most productive effort since Week 7. Given the Bills' lead (and dominance over the Jets), Cook's consistent receiving work feels like a win. It also portends to be a major factor moving forward, given his upcoming schedule (@PHI, @KC, vs DAL, @ LAC).

The red zone, however, remains iffy territory for the 24-year-old. There's not much data to parse, as Josh Allen handled the only goal-line carry in Week 11. Cook did record a receiving score at the goal line, but he has still managed just two carries inside the 5-yard line over the course of 2023. So, we'll have to wait and see. Overall, though, Cook investors have to be happy. The matchup at Philly figures to be tough, but Cook's prowess as a pass-catcher keeps him in at least high-end flex territory for Week 12.

Calvin Ridley, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars: Congratulations to the 49% of fantasy managers who had the gumption to start Ridley in Week 11. Your collective patience was rewarded with a season-best 31-point fantasy effort! The matchup versus Tennessee (a secondary that has allowed the sixth-most fantasy points to WRs) certainly helped Ridley's monster day. But that wasn't the only factor.

It's my feeling that Zay Jones' return opened up the field for Ridley and allowed for a more comfortable delivery from Trevor Lawrence. The facts bear this out. Jones has played three healthy games over 2023. Ridley has cleared 100 yards and 20 fantasy points in all three of those efforts. Conversely, he posted under 15 fantasy points in the other seven games (all of which Jones was sidelined during).

Jones' continued health figures to aid Ridley's production. The matchup at Houston is tough for numerous reasons, with the Texans secondary being primary as it relates to Ridley. While I expect Evan Engram to remain the most consistent pass-catcher in this offense, given the savvy of Houston's corners, Ridley figures to draw solid volume in a high-stakes affair that has massive postseason implications. Fantasy managers should expect high-end flex (maybe even low-end WR2) numbers from the former Falcon on Sunday.

Tank Dell, WR, Houston Texans: If Ridley's season has been rife with question marks, then Dell's has been abounding with exclamation points. The local kid made (better than) good found the end zone for the third straight week, converting 8 of 10 looks for 149 yards and a score this past Sunday. The rookie has gone over 18 fantasy points in five of nine games this year while managing top-12 WR numbers for three consecutive outings.

Perhaps the most relieving part of Dell's monster effort in Week 11 was the fact that he did it with Nico Collins back on the field. Drawing double-digit targets while the team's de facto WR1 was sidelined is one thing. To log 10 looks with Collins back on the perimeter, however, speaks of C.J. Stroud's confidence in the young speedster.

This is shaping up to be a delicious 1A/1B situation. The two receivers are recording a nearly identical target share with 20% of looks going Dell's way and 19% of opportunities being tossed at Collins. Additionally, both pass-catchers rank inside the top 12 in yards per route run, with Dell averaging 2.54 yards and Collins managing 2.68 yards. Even the aDOTs of these two players aren't so disparate (or are closer than you might initially believe) as Dell (13.8) leads Collins (11.2) by just 2½ yards per target.

As such, both receivers figure to be ranked closely (within five or so spots of one another) and should be considered top-20 fantasy options versus Jacksonville on Sunday.

Isaiah Likely, TE, Baltimore Ravens: It would seem, on the heels of Mark Andrews' injury, that Likely would be in line for an increased role. The question, of course, is how much of an increase. The data suggests that this won't be a one-for-one swap and that fantasy managers should brace for an underwhelming number of opportunities.

Likely turned 25 total targets into an average of 15.8 fantasy points in the three games in which Andrews was sidelined last year. That's great, right? Well, not when you consider the pass-catchers available to Lamar Jackson at the time. The full list of Ravens WRs targeted in those Andrews-less contests include: Demarcus Robinson, Devin Duvernay, James Proche, DeSean Jackson, Charlie Kolar, Sammy Watkins and Tylan Wallace.

Baltimore has made significant upgrades to its wide receiver room since 2022. That helps to explain why Likely has managed just one catch for 4 yards on three targets in the two games without Andrews this go-round. Admittedly, the player out of Coastal Carolina might not need a glut of opportunities to produce at Los Angeles. The Chargers have allowed the fifth-most fantasy points to opposing tight ends.

Fantasy managers would do well to manage their expectations moving forward. Consider Likely more of a streaming option (like green bean casserole but without the crunchy onion bits) than a season-long solution (garlic mashed potatoes, baby). Eat up (but this week only)!

Follow Liz on social @LizLoza_FF