⚔️ Every remaining playoff team’s secret weapon

Three more football games this season...

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Name a random WR. We’ll start: Peerless Price…

In today’s Fantasy Life Newsletter presented by Caddis:

  • Low-key players and schemes to fear on Championship Sunday

  • Fantasy Football Report: Just how much does Brock Purdy have to do with the 49ers success?

  • QUICK HITTER: This week’s TE1 (no, not Taylor Swift’s bf)

  • Former Eagles/Cardinals TE Zach Ertz signs with the Lions

  • Utilization Report: Travis Kelce has flipped the switch

  • It’s 1/23 (ha!). Take it away, Ian Hartitz…

The majority of big-game football analysis comes down to the QB. And for good reason: It’s the most important individual position in all of sports and they are usually the primary factor in deciding the outcome of any given game.

Usually. Not always – especially when the opposition can create true game-changing plays that quickly turn the tide of any given contest.

That’s today’s goal. Every team’s potentially under-the-radar ace up their sleeve that may just be capable of swinging a pivotal play or two on Championship Sunday.

😈 Ravens: Fear the blitz

Defensive coordinator Mike MacDonald is a popular name on the coaching carousel at the moment. Not only has this Ravens defense allowed a league-low 16.5 points per game, but they’ve done so largely in style, holding C.J. Stroud (x2 games), Jared Goff and Brock Purdy to a combined zero passing TDs this season.

One of the keys to their success: Simulated pressure. The Ravens threaten to blitz more than just about anyone, yet only actually blitzed on 28.1% of their opponent's dropbacks this season (19th).

But when they do go ahead and blitz? Look out.

No defense has allowed a lower passer rating (65.4) than the Ravens when sending the blitz, while only the Browns and Saints produced a lower EPA per play.

💪 Lions: The deep ball

Yes, Detroit has the league’s single-lowest deep ball rate (20-plus yards) of any offense this season. Jared Goff's 7.2-yard average target depth is the fourth-lowest mark of any QB; this group hasn’t made a habit of overly testing the backbone of a defense all season long.

Also yes, this offense has crushed when they do go ahead and take that shot downfield.

  • Yards per attempt: 17.3 (No. 4)

  • Explosive pass-play rate: 52% (No. 3)

  • Completion rate: 52% (No. 3)

While nobody has more deep ball receptions than Amon-Ra St. Brown (9), complementary WR Kalif Raymond (5) leads all other Lions. His potential return from a knee injury would be low-key huge ahead of Sunday’s matchup with Nick Bosa and company.

🚀 Chiefs: WR Justin Watson

All attention on the Chiefs offense instantly goes to Patrick Mahomes. Then Travis Kelce. Then Taylor Swift. Then Rashee Rice. Then Isiah Pacheco.

After that? Sixth-year veteran Justin Watson is probably the next man up.

Kudos to the former Bucs receiver for averaging a team-high 17 yards per reception this season on his way to racking up as many explosive plays (14) as Marquez Valdes-Scantling (10) and Skyy Moore (4) combined.

While Watson has been relatively quiet in recent weeks, he’s still the offense’s de facto No. 3 WR and helped save the day by recovering Mecole Hardman’s first fumble last Sunday. It’d make sense if someone other than Kelce or Rice is forced to step up this weekend; by and large, Watson has (sadly) been the Chiefs’ next-best pass-game option for most of this season.

💨 49ers: Trent Williams IN MOTION

Caveat: The 49ers haven’t utilized this since the 2021 playoffs.

But could you imagine what it’d be like if they bust it back out for the occasion? PLEASE.

To be fair, that tactic didn’t work the second time Kyle Shanahan dialed it up against the Packers on that snowy January evening, but here’s to hoping the 49ers pull out all the stops to get more creative than usual to run the football with Deebo Samuel (shoulder) banged up.

After all, this could be their last game of the year – can’t hold anything back now.

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Fantasy Life Fantasy Football Report Brock Purdy

There might not be a QB who elicits more volatile critique than 49ers signal-caller Brock Purdy. Lucky for us, Fantasy Life senior analyst Ian Hartitz is here to cut through the noise and break down exactly how much Purdy has had to do with the 49ers’ offensive success this season.

Opinions vary on second-year 49ers QB Brock Purdy.

It’s easy for supporters to simply point to Purdy’s overwhelming on-field success:

  • The man has gone 20-5 as a starter, and an early shoulder injury heavily influenced his only postseason L.

  • Purdy’s career average of 9.2 yards per attempt and 113.0 passer rating are good for the highest marks of any QB with 500-plus pass attempts … ever.

  • The 49ers lead the NFL in EPA per play (+0.152), yards per play (6.5) and total offensive TDs (83) since Purdy took over under center in Week 13 of last season.

Even Purdy’s biggest critics can’t deny the 49ers offense deserves an A+ group grade over the past two seasons – the question comes down to whether or not the primary individual involved has pulled the same weight as the other top players at his position.

Fantasy Life Fantasy Football Report Brock Purdy

🙃 Saturday Night was not so purdy for Mr. Purdy

The 49ers’ Wild Card win over the Packers wasn’t supposed to be close. We’re talking about a well-rested one-seed coming in as 10.5-point home favorites against a Green Bay defense that ranked a mediocre 22nd in EPA allowed per play during the regular season.

While Jordan Love’s decision to go full Brett Favre clinched the victory for San Fran, it was hard to ignore just how rough Purdy had looked for the majority of the evening. We’re talking “multiple dropped INTs that will probably keep Packers fans sleepless for a few nights” level of rough.

There were some good throws – notably the TD to George Kittle, deep out to Chris Conley and dime down the middle to Jauan Jennings – but certainly more bad than good. Mother Nature was a factor, as Purdy took his glove off after just one drive and later dried off his hands mid-dropback.

49ers fans shouldn’t really care. Purdy played his best when it mattered most and got the win. It’s ultimately a free country: Compare the final-drive heroics to Joe Montana if you want.

However, modern society necessitates that we constantly rank and evaluate the individual pieces of football teams because we apparently can’t think of anything better to do as we spin around on a rock throughout space.

And with that in mind…

👎 Purdy’s splits with and without Deebo are not great

Purdy has looked awfully mortal without the services of stud WR Deebo Samuel (shoulder) over the past two seasons

Purdy with and without Deebo:

  • With (19 games): +0.362 EPA per dropback, 87.2 PFF pass grade, 119.5 passer rating, 38 TD-7 INT, 9.4 YPA, 70.4% completion

  • Without (7 games): +0.124 EPA per dropback, 65.4 PFF pass grade, 80.6 passer rating, 10 TD-7 INT, 8.3 YPA, 62.9% completion

No QB is exactly better off without the services of one of their team’s very best overall players. All-world LT Trent Williams was also sidelined in two of the non-Deebo games in 2023.

Still, we’re talking about a QB who has gone from being the most efficient passer ever with Deebo on the field … to one who would find themself ranked outside the game’s top-30 QBs in pretty much any metric other than yards per attempt without.

Of course, credit shouldn’t only be given to Deebo. This whole offense is loaded. Overall, no team has a higher average PFF rushing, receiving, pass blocking and run blocking grade than the 49ers (80.1) – everything except for passing.

Just one thing…

It’s Tuesday, which means Freedman was up at the crack of dawn publishing his Fantasy Football rankings for the week. Wait…rankings…in the playoffs? Yes, for you sickos in playoff leagues, Freedman has you covered. Get a sneak peek below…

George Kittle Ranking
Around the Watercooler (August 2022)

👀 Draft season never ends. Way-too-early 2024 mock draft results.

🤝 NFL teams continue to churn out coordinator changes. The Titans land an old rival to lead the O, while the Jaguars have a new leader on D.

🎧 A game-by-game recap of a wild Divisional Round. Now available on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.

🏆 We’re only a few weeks out from the big game. Everything you need for early Super Bowl prep.

🙂 Cool moment between Lamar Jackson and C.J. Stroud after the game. Real recognize real.

🦁 The Lions add some reinforcements on offense. Ring chasing szn.

🙏 One of the 49ers very best players is “50/50” for Sunday. Please Injury Gods PLEASE.

🐻 The Bears finally make a move at OC. Caleb Wiliams time?

🤓 Great explanation of why teams go for two down eight. Thanks, Mina!

Fantasy Life Utilization Report Dwain McFarland's Utilization Report

Whether rooting for your favorite team in the playoff hunt, or simply looking to make some extra cash in the betting or DFS streets, being fully aware of the changing player utilization at hand will help make you — a scholar — that much better at whatever it is you’re attempting to achieve on Sunday.

Without further adieu: Dwain “The Rock” McFarland’s critically acclaimed Utilization Report.

💡 Travis Kelce has flipped the switch

From Week 13 to Week 17, Kelce averaged only 9.6 fantasy points per game, with his target share dipping to 18%. But the superstar TE might have been saving his best for last. He has looked like prime Kelce in two playoff games, leading the team with a 30% target share and 19.5 points per game.

Travis Kelce fantasy life utilization report game log

The 34-year-old’s 14.7 points per game in the regular season is his lowest mark since 2016, so there is a chance father time is finally catching up to him. However, he delivered a 22% target share and a 1.96 YPRR when excluding missed games. That target share aligns with his three-year average, and his YPRR is still in high-end TE1 territory despite the slight decline from 2.18.

Outlook: Kelce remains a high-end TE1 capable of generating fantasy outputs similar to a high-end WR2.

Fantasy Life Utilization Report Dwain McFarland's Utilization Report

🏈 Lamar Jackson has improved as a passer

The sixth-year QB continues to be a priority on the ground, ranking second in designed rushing attempts (18%) and first in scramble rate (11%) out of all signal callers with at least 450 snaps.

Jalen Hurts Lamar Jackson Justin Fields Josh Allen Russell Wilson designed rush attempt share fantasy life utilization report

However, perhaps the bigger story is his improvement as a passer. Jackson’s 8.0 YPA, 67% completion rate and 85.5 PFF pass grade are all career-high marks. His 225 passing yards per game is his second-best finish, behind his 240 in 2021.

The Ravens don’t have to throw the ball often thanks to their offensive efficiency – ranking third in drives ending with a score (44%) – and the No. 1 yards per play (4.6) defense. However, Jackson has shown a high-end ceiling over the last five games, averaging 242 yards and 2.6 TDs through the air. Over that span, he has been a one-person wrecking crew, delivering 29.2 fantasy points per contest.

Outlook: Jackson is the top-rushing QB in the NFL and now the passing game is starting to click. He UPGRADES to high-end QB1 status.

🦁 Jahmyr Gibbs continues delivering RB1 performances despite the timeshare

We have a significant sample over the last 11 games, where Gibbs and David Montgomery have both been healthy. Over that span, the rookie first-rounder has averaged 16.8 fantasy points per contest – despite accounting for only 41% of the team’s attempts.

Jahmyr Gibbs Fantasy Life Utilization Report Game Log

Gibbs has averaged 11.2 attempts and 4.1 targets over that span, which has historically been commensurate with a mid-range RB2. On the surface, Gibbs appears to be due for regression, but the Lions' commitment to the run and their high-scoring offense (which Gibbs has helped to propel) is working in his favor.

Detroit’s offense has scored the second-most TDs per drive (31%) and runs the football 70% of the time inside the five-yard line. Gibbs has parlayed that combination into five rushing TDs from in close since Week 10, to go along with another three from 10-plus yards out.

Outlook: Gibbs profiles as a mid-range RB1 and has the tools to post an RB1 overall season in the coming years.

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