The Bills and the Patriots are set to square off on Thursday Night Football a week after both took center stage on Thanksgiving last week. So, this one isn’t like your usual Thursday Night Football game on short rest. Both teams get a full week of rest for this one, which means that the defenses won’t be left on their back feet, and defenses are a calling card for both teams. The Bills and the Patriots both rank inside the top ten in the fewest yards per play allowed, and both are bottom-six in opponent scoring rate while being top-eight in opponent turnover rate. All told, this isn’t a great game to start your ancillary pieces, and there are only three or so must-start players in this game. Let’s dive into what should be a defensive slugfest on Thursday Night Football.
Josh Allen (QB), Stefon Diggs (WR), Rhamondre Stevenson (RB)
Mac Jones (Week 12: 28/39, 382 passing yards, 2 passing touchdowns, 0 interceptions)
Last week, Mac Jones had his best fantasy football week of the season, and his best since he finished as QB9 in week three (he finished as QB7). He’s not a high-powered quarterback, and he mostly took advantage of a woeful Minnesota Vikings defense. He finished with 382 yards thanks to the Patriots’ receiving options doing the hard work, with Mac Jones getting 183 of his 382 passing yards after the catch, the highest number of the season for Jones and the second-most YAC yards in his young career. This week, things won’t be so easy for the New England pass catchers, as the Bills allow the tenth-lowest yards after the catch per completion. Jones had himself a great Thanksgiving Day game, but I don’t see that happening again in week 13. Go ahead and sit Mac Jones.
Devin Singletary (Week 12: 14 carries, 72 yards, 1 target, 1 reception, 8 yards)
James Cook (Week 12: 2 carries, 4 yards, 5 targets, 2 receptions, 14 yards)
Devin Singletary had a weird week last week. The Bills went up against the Lions, who have exactly one good part of their defense: their rushing defense. On the balance of the season, they look to be one of the worst, but in the last month or so, they’ve tightened everything up. Devin Singletary was merely the victim of the deceptively good Detroit Lions’ run defense, who allows 3.7 yards per carry over the last five weeks. This week, unfortunately, he gets one of the handfuls of teams stingier with their rushing yards than the Lions. The Patriots allow 2.4 rushing yards per running back carry over the last five weeks, and they’ve allowed the fewest fantasy points per game to opposing running backs over the last five weeks. With this tough matchup and a healthy Josh Allen once again getting carries inside the five-yard line, I can’t advocate starting Devin Singletary this week, so if you can help it, sit Devin Singletary.
As for James Cook, he had 13 opportunities for 86 yards in week 11 and did it on about 25% of snaps. The sub-20 snaps stuck around in week 12, but the opportunities and yards dried up… just like I said they would last week on Thanksgiving. Cook had a fun week, and he might have a nice future, but this week there’s no reason to start him against the league’s eighth-best overall defense. Sit James Cook.
Damien Harris (Week 12: 5 carries, 16 yards)
Damien Harris left week 12 early with a hamstring injury and is trending toward not playing. Even if he does play, that isn’t an encouraging bit of information headed into TNF. Sit Damien Harris.
Gabriel Davis (Week 12: 5 targets, 4 receptions, 38 yards)
Isaiah McKenzie (Week 12: 10 targets, 6 receptions, 96 yards, 1 touchdown)
Khalil Shakir (Week 12: 0 targets)
Gabriel Davis is one of the more uniquely frustrating wide receivers in all of fantasy football. Just as soon as we think that we have a bead on him, he switches it up on us. To start the year he famously alternated between two weeks averaging top-fifteen wide receiver numbers with two weeks well outside the top sixty. He did this cycle a couple of times, getting boosted by touchdowns. Now he seems to have settled as just a guy in the offense, after getting 17 targets in the two pre-Thanksgiving games, he had just five targets, four catches, and 38 yards on Thanksgiving. A ton of this had to do with the Lions being vulnerable in the slot, and Isaiah McKenzie proving to be a good weapon to take on that slot defense. The Patriots, on the flip side, allow the ninth-fewest fantasy points per game to opposing slot receivers, so that means that it won’t be an Isaiah McKenzie game again this week. Because of that, I am going to advocate that you start Gabe Davis and call last week a blip on the radar.
McKenzie had himself a nice week last week, but as I outlined above, that had more to do with how to attack the opponent than anything having to do with Isaiah McKenzie having a sudden leap in talent. He ended up second on the team in targets, with ten, and that isn’t something I see happening again this week. You can get panicky and start him, but I would sit Isaiah McKenzie until we know if last week was a fluke or not.
Jakobi Meyers (Week 12: 4 targets, 3 receptions, 62 yards)
Kendrick Bourne (Week 12: 4 targets, 3 receptions, 36 yards)
Nelson Agholor (Week 12: 8 targets, 6 receptions, 65 yards, 1 touchdown)
DeVante Parker (Week 12: 4 targets, 4 receptions, 80 yards)
Jakobi Meyers is a must-start wide receiver if he is starting. But, we aren’t sure if he’s going to play this week after he suffered a shoulder injury early in the Thanksgiving game that held him in-and-out of the contest. Despite this limiting him to only 16 snaps, Meyers had four targets, three catches, and 62 yards. He’s by far the best player in the Patriots’ passing game, so if he’s playing, I am going to start Jakobi Meyers this week, despite the tough matchup. He’s the only one of these guys that I would start this week, outside of a desperation Nelson Agholor play should Jakobi Meyers miss this one. Meyers isn’t in a great spot, to begin with, so going with Meyers-lite isn’t the soundest of calls.
Dawson Knox (2 targets, 2 receptions, 17 yards)
“For most of the year, people saw Dawson Knox as a boom-bust tight end who mostly relied on his touchdowns to give him good weeks. And those people were objectively correct. In the first eight weeks of the season, Knox finished inside the top fifteen twice… in his two games where he scored a touchdown. His other games saw him finishing as high as TE18 and as low as TE49 on the week. Then, in the last couple of weeks [before Thanksgiving], he had 7 targets and 6 targets, which are his first games this season with back-to-back games over four targets. In these games, he hasn’t scored a touchdown, and he finished as TE11 and TE4.”
So, I wrote that last week, and I stand by it, despite him having just two catches for 17 yards. Knox was just a victim of the Isaiah McKenzie Thanksgiving Day Parade presented by the Lions’ Slot Defense. This week, he should get back to his high-target volume, as the Patriots are bad against tight ends and good against slot receivers. Also, if you think he’s still just a touchdown or bust tight end… The Patriots have allowed the second-most tight end touchdowns this season. You can start Dawson Knox this week.
Hunter Henry (Week 12: 5 targets, 3 receptions, 63 yards, 1 touchdown… should have been 2)
Jonnu Smith (Week 12: 0 targets)
Last week, I wrote about the “Hunter Henry produces when he gets targets” statistic (at least 9.0 fantasy points in his last four games with more than two targets now), and he got targets and scored fantasy points. He’s in line to do that again, with injuries along the offense to Jakobi Meyers, Damien Harris, and DeVante Parker. The Bills are one of the stingier defenses against tight ends (bottom ten in fantasy points per game allowed to the position), so don’t expect a huge game, but if you need someone in a deep league to get you some points, then you can start Hunter Henry. Jonnu Smith did absolutely nothing last week, sit Jonnu Smith (on your waiver wire).
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