So there’s the Watusi and the Waltz. The Tango, the Twist. You might remember the Humpty Dance. And in fantasy football, there’s the Dance of the Recently Eliminated.
Not familiar with that one? Meet me in Tampa Bay, where Tom Brady and Mike Evans put on a clinic against Carolina on Sunday.
Brady’s been a middling fantasy option for most of the year, sitting at QB13 entering this week. His efficiency metrics are down, but the league’s busiest passing game has given him some buoyancy. Brady wasn’t driving managers to the championship, but you could squint and see his secondary value.
Evans, meanwhile, has been a fantasy loss, especially in the second half of the year. He posted just 215 yards in four mediocre December games. Evans was sitting as the WR27 entering Week 17, and his no-show at Arizona last week (3-29-0) probably knocked a lot of fantasy managers out of the playoffs. It was his 11th straight game without a touchdown, a shocking slump for a receiver who will eventually garner Hall of Fame support.
So much for that slump.
Evans rocked the house for 10 catches, 207 yards and three touchdowns Sunday, all of them suitable for framing, as Tampa Bay rallied past Carolina, 30-24. Evans posted 43.7 points in Yahoo’s standard half-point PPR scoring, the best wide receiver score of the year. Football is lovely, isn’t it? Evans loses his way for a few months, then breaks football on New Year’s Day.
If your league has bonus points for distance scoring, Evans really smashed the calculators. His touchdowns came from 63, 57 and 30 yards out. The undermanned Panthers secondary couldn’t mark him.
Back to the dance intro. I call this type of game "The Dance of the Recently Eliminated" because it seems to be a fairly common occurrence. Often, an NFL player goes on a scoring binge the moment it’s too late to help fantasy managers. Maybe it’s confirmation bias, perhaps it’s selective memory. If you advanced to your final in spite of Evans and still dialed him up Sunday, I’m thrilled for you.
Of course, I might feel a little bad for your opponent, too.
It’s the third time Evans has turned the hat trick in his career. He had three spikes against the Bears in Week 7 last year, and there was a three-touchdown party against the Giants in Week 3 of 2019. He also pushed over 1,000 receiving yards for the campaign, his standard. He’s made it in all nine of his professional seasons.
The Buccaneers did most of their scoring late, par for the course. Carolina raced out to a 14-0 lead and still led 21-10 early in the fourth period before Brady locked in, throwing two scoring passes to Evans and tacking on a quarterback sneak for another score.
Brady now has 24 touchdown passes for the year, and most of them are beat-the-clock specials. Thirteen of the touchdowns have been in the final period; only one has come in the first quarter. The Buccaneers need to figure out how to replicate their fourth-quarter urgency into first-half outcomes. Brady's final count was 432 passing yards and four total touchdowns, nudging past Daniel Jones on the Week 17 leaderboard.
It will be interesting to see how the Bucs handle Week 18’s game against Atlanta. Tampa Bay clinched the NFC South title Sunday but can’t advance past the No. 4 seed. It will host a playoff game — and likely be an underdog — in the first round of the tournament. Brady’s posted a winning record in every professional season, a streak he’d probably like to continue. The Bucs are now 8-8. But getting any key personnel hurt in a meaningless game wouldn’t make much sense, would it?
This could be the Last Dance for Tampa Bay’s fantasy offense. There are rumors that Brady will play somewhere else next year, and heck, he turns 46 in August — maybe he’ll finally retire for good. Evans steps into his age-30 season. Leonard Fournette turns 28. A cliff season could come for any of these guys at any time.
Those are problems for another day, I suppose. Tampa Bay doesn’t look like a primary Super Bowl contender, but the Buccaneers aren’t dead yet. Brady, Evans and friends will be making another appearance in the NFL playoffs, after putting their stamp on the fantasy ones.
• Before this season, George Kittle had never scored more than six touchdowns in a season. He’s now sitting on nine, after spiking five times in the last three weeks. Score one for Brock Purdy, quarterback savior out of nowhere.
Kittle was the tight-end hero of the fantasy playoffs, especially if you compete in a standard format. He’s racked up 53.6 points over the last three weeks, easily outpacing Taysom Hill (34.26), T.J. Hockenson (34.10), and Tyler Higbee (31.20). Travis Kelce sits back to 26.10 points, and hasn’t scored a touchdown since late November. He’s still been juicy in PPR-based formats (23-261-0), but touchdowns pay so much of the fantasy bills.
• Speaking of backup quarterbacks reviving a slumping star, how about the Jarrett Stidham show against the 49ers defense? Stidham threw a couple of picks but wasn't sacked, and his 365-yard, three-touchdown parade was the biggest shock of the day. And his sparkling play pumped life into Davante Adams.
Adams was in a monster funk entering Week 17, posting a piddly 9-114-0 line over three games. Success and failure both have several parents; the Adams slump could be partially blamed on Derek Carr, Josh McDaniels, and Adams himself. But for one day at least, the Raiders had downfield answers. Adams hasn't been the most consistent receiver this year, but he leads the league in receiving touchdowns, and he's sitting on the WR2 tag for the year.
• I’m never going to bash Justin Jefferson, the No. 1 receiver on my board and a candidate to go 1.01 overall next year. And obviously Kirk Cousins did not play well at Green Bay. But we at least need to acknowledge Jefferson’s indoor/outdoor splits through his young career.
In 30 dome games, Jefferson has posted a 219-3319-20 line, with 11.03 yards per target. When he plays outside, the production dips to 88-1256-4 over 16 games, with 8.26 YPT. On a per-game basis, it’s 110.6 yards indoors, and 78.5 outdoors. Food for thought.
At least the schedule is always indoor-friendly for Jefferson, given Minnesota's friendly confines. He'll have at least 11 indoor games next year (the full set of opponents isn't determined yet, but we know most of the slate already, since divisional round-robins are set ahead of time). I'll certainly have some Jefferson shares next year.
NFL Coach of the Year can be a bit of a popcorn award; voters often overreact to how misjudged a team was before the season. Look at how many COTY winners fade away quickly. Somehow Mike Tomlin has never won the award. He won't win it this year, but he's been amazing yet again.
— scott pianowski (@scott_pianowski) January 2, 2023
• Austin Ekeler and Christian McCaffrey were the two best running backs of the fantasy playoff stretch (Weeks 15-17), no surprise there. But plenty of timing stars fell into relevance over this stretch. Jerick McKinnon sits as RB3 (four receiving touchdowns have been divine), Cam Akers is RB4, James Conner is RB6 (despite Arizona falling apart), and Tyler Allgeier is RB7.
McKinnon’s fantasy juice was solidified when Kansas City gave him Circle of Trust privileges — they like him as a pass-catcher and pass protector. Akers forged his way to projectable volume and goal-line equity, which will always lead to fantasy relevance. Conner almost never leaves the field for Arizona, and volume remains king at this position. Allgeier goes down as the second-most valuable rookie back this year, after Kenneth Walker. It’s a shame we didn’t get four full months of Breece Hall.
• Let’s close with some nice words about Daniel Jones, one of the most underrated players around (and fantasy's QB2 in Week 17). He has the lowest interception rate in the league and he’s cut down on his fumbling problem — this is a guy who dropped the ball 19 times as a rookie, in just 12 games. His YPA is below league average and he still takes too many sacks, but given the lack of playmakers on the outside and New York’s patchwork line, Jones’s season goes down as a major success. The Giants need to find a way to keep him, and if they don’t, suitors will pop up in several other cities.
Jones somehow is the QB7 for the year, a nod towards his rushing chops and survivor bias, but also a major coup given how little help he has. Imagine what’s possible if Jones gets to work with average receivers next year.