NFL

NFL Fantasy Picks: Raiders offense a safe bet in Atlanta, Giants the defense to own in Week 12

By Sports Desk November 25, 2020

The Las Vegas Raiders came up short in Week 11 against the Kansas City Chiefs but did so with a performance that was another reminder of the strides they have made on offense this season.

Head coach Jon Gruden, whose coaching tree includes innovators such as Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay, widely regarded as the two best play-callers in the NFL, is overseeing one of the most efficient offenses in the league in the 2020 season.

The Raiders, therefore, are worthy of fantasy consideration every week and managers with Las Vegas players on their roster should have no hesitation starting them in Week 12, when they face the lowly Atlanta Falcons.

NFC East teams have been far less trustworthy this year, but three of the four teams in the division feature in this week's edition of fantasy picks.

QB: Derek Carr - Las Vegas Raiders

The Raiders' success this season has not resulted in fantasy consistency for Derek Carr despite his clear improvement as a quarterback in 2020.

But he is coming off a three-touchdown game against the Chiefs and this week takes on the most generous fantasy defense to opposing quarterbacks in the Atlanta Falcons.

If you have Carr, make sure he is in your starting line-up.

RB: Miles Sanders - Philadelphia Eagles

The primary source of competence on the Philadelphia offense, last Sunday's loss to the Cleveland Browns was just the second time this season that Sanders failed to put up double-digit fantasy points.

Do not expect him to record a third such game against the Seattle Seahawks, who are allowing 19 points per game to opposing running backs. Sanders also has successive games with five targets in the passing game, meaning he has some points per reception upside against the worst pass defense in the NFL.

WR: Terry McLaurin - Washington Football Team

In what is somehow an important game in the NFC East between two three-win teams, McLaurin is almost certain to play a pivotal role against a Dallas Cowboys defense giving up the second-most fantasy points to wide receivers.

He has at least seven targets in every game this season and caught seven of his 11 targets for 90 yards and a touchdown in the reverse fixture in Week 7. McLaurin is a safe bet to replicate and perhaps outperform that production in this Thanksgiving clash.

TE: Darren Waller - Las Vegas Raiders

Believe it or not, that Falcons defense that struggles against opposing quarterbacks also has difficulties defending tight ends.

Atlanta allow the most fantasy points in the NFL to tight ends, meaning it should be another productive day for Darren Waller.

After some quiet weeks by his standards, Waller caught all seven of his targets for 88 yards against the Chiefs and should keep the momentum going in the city where he played his college ball.

D/ST: New York Giants

The Giants, like every other team in the league's worst division, are firmly in the mix in the NFC East.

New York's 15 turnovers are tied for the fifth-most in the NFL and they should have a chance to add to that tally against a Cincinnati Bengals team starting backup quarterback Ryan Finley following the season-ending injury to Joe Burrow.

Given the Bengals' struggles in protecting the quarterback, Sunday could be a hugely profitable day for fantasy managers willing to back the Giants defense to take advantage of a favourable matchup.

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  • Allen makes case for defense as Johnson steals the show for Bills Allen makes case for defense as Johnson steals the show for Bills

    Josh Allen praised Buffalo's defense after the Bills clinched a place in the AFC Championship Game - then revealed how he played a part in Taron Johnson's record-tying touchdown.

    The Bills overcame the Baltimore Ravens 17-3 on Saturday to progress in the NFL playoffs, quarterback Allen throwing a touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs in what was a hard-fought victory.

    That score put Buffalo 10-3 ahead in the third quarter, though the Ravens threatened to respond with a drive of their own that put them in range to score.

    However, cornerback Johnson picked off a pass from quarterback Lamar Jackson in the end zone and then returned the ball 101 yards, creating clear daylight between the teams in a low-scoring contest.

    Buffalo will be involved in the AFC Championship Game for the first time since 1994; they will either travel to the Kansas City Chiefs or host the Cleveland Browns next Sunday.

    "This was a fun one to be part of. There are some things we can clean up but, at the end of the day, it's the playoffs: you win or go home," Allen told the media.

    "Our defense stepped up. Taron Johnson made the play that just changed the game. Unbelievable.

    "We've got to turn our focus to the Browns or Chiefs next week - and that's what we were going to do."

    Johnson tied the NFL record for the longest interception return for a touchdown in a playoff game, matching Green Bay's George Teague, who achieved the feat for the Packers in the 1993 Wild Card round against the Detroit Lions.

    Allen divulged how he played a minor role in helping his team-mate produce a play that will live long in the memory.

    "I saw him come out of the end zone with a lot of bodies around him, and usually you want them to stay in. I thought he was going to get tackled at the five or the 10," he said.

    "I tell you what, for Tre'Davious White to go ahead and get a block on Lamar, spring him free, was unbelievable. You practice for those situations.

    "I'm going to give myself a pat on the back, as in practice I go up behind him and try to punch the ball out. So Taron had that extra sense to look back, feel that someone was coming and to hold onto the ball.

    "It was an unbelievable play, one of those that will be remembered for a really long time."

  • Inter v Juventus: Who has the firepower to win the Derby d'Italia? Inter v Juventus: Who has the firepower to win the Derby d'Italia?

    A little before the midway point of the season, heading into Sunday's Derby d'Italia, you could argue Inter have Juventus just where they would have wanted them.

    Antonio Conte was brought to San Siro in 2019 and strongly backed in the transfer market with the primary aim of ending the dynasty he launched back in 2011-12 in Turin.

    Juve have won every Scudetto since then but are four points behind Inter having played a game less.

    Unfortunately for Conte, the Nerazzurri aren't the only side with designs on ripping away the Bianconeri's long-held crown.

    Milan remain top of the table despite succumbing to a 3-1 defeat to Juve earlier this month, where they were subjected to arguably the most authoritative display of the fledgling Andrea Pirlo era.

    Nine points separate Milan from Atalanta, Napoli and Lazio in fifth, sixth and seventh. Like fourth-place Juve, the former two have a game in hand on the leaders.

    Inter are their local rival's nearest challengers, three points from the top and three better off than third-place Roma, who were left with wounded pride by Friday's 3-0 derby defeat to Lazio.

    Struggles for consistency and congested title races can be seen across Europe as the effects of truncated pre-seasons and packed schedules continue to shake out.

    However, the firepower up front for Inter and Juve provides a strong case for both breaking clear of the pack, while promising a thrilling high-stakes shootout at San Siro.

    Lukaku-Martinez partnership brings joy

    Conte's second and final season in charge of Chelsea in 2017-18 was soured before kick-off as Manchester United beat him to the signature of Romelu Lukaku.

    It was clear that state of affairs did little for either man by the time they finally came together at Inter before the start of last season.

    Had Lukaku ranked himself as being among the top five strikers in world football, as he did last month, during the 2019 transfer window, plenty would have sniggered.

    But the big Belgian has put a patchy spell at Old Trafford behind him to shine at San Siro.

     

    Since the start of last season, Lukaku has 51 goals in all competitions - placing him fourth among players across Europe's top five leagues during that period, in between Lionel Messi in fifth and a certain prospective weekend opponent who is five goals better off.

    While not quite as prolific, Argentina international Lautaro Martinez has been a more than able accomplice, racking up 31 in 73 matches over the past season and a half.

    Nevertheless, despite this mountain of goals and Inter being Serie A's top scorers, there is a sense that Conte's front two could be more clinical.

    No player in the big five leagues with 25 goals or more to their name since the beginning of 2019-20 has a lower shot conversion rate than Martinez's 12.4 per cent.

    While Lukaku's conversion rate in 2020-21 is comparatively healthier at 27.9 per cent, in Serie A alone his nine goals from open play come in below an expected goals (xG) figure of 9.8 (Lukaku's three converted penalties do not figure in Opta's xG calculations).

    The concern for Conte is that this relative wastefulness takes a heavier toll on the big occasion.

    Inter crashed out of the Champions League after winning a solitary group match and have failed to win any of their four Serie A matches so far against last season's top six - a run continued by the raucous 2-2 draw with Roma last time out.

    Ronaldo finds ideal foil in Morata

    An obvious fear from an Inter perspective is that issues Martinez and Lukaku might have on the grandest stages will only be magnified by comparison to who they face this weekend.

    No man in the 21st century has hit the heights of goalscoring obsession known by Cristiano Ronaldo.

    Even if Juventus do not have the rampaging version that thrilled at Manchester United and Real Madrid, Ronaldo is raging against Father Time with utter conviction when it comes to putting the ball in the net.

    Only Robert Lewandowski - way out in front on 78 - has more than the Portugal great's 56 in the big five leagues from August 2019 onwards.

    Among that group of attackers with 25 goals or more, Ronaldo has fired off the most shots with 354. Messi (329) and Lewandowski (297) are not particularly close behind.

    Chillingly for opponents, he has found much greater efficiency this season. Ronaldo's shot conversion rate is 23.5 per cent in 2020-21 so far, a 10 per cent increase on the prior campaign. His 11 open-play goals in Serie A have an xG value of 7.9.

     

    If there is a new level of serenity to Ronaldo's play, part of the credit can perhaps go to the man alongside him. 

    Alvaro Morata was the third corner of the tangled Lukaku-Conte transfer triangle back in 2017, his time at Chelsea proving to be as sapping as Lukaku's at United. A loan to Atletico Madrid arrived midway through 2018-19. 

    Despite that move being made permanent, another loan back to Juventus came prior to the current campaign. 

    Under his old team-mate Pirlo, Morata looks like a player reborn, scoring 11 times in all competitions. Only four of those have been in Serie A but his seven assists over the course of the campaign are already more than he managed in the past two completed seasons - casting him as the ideal supporting act to Juve's indisputable lead performer. 

    One of the best five in the world, one of the greatest of all time, Argentina's next superstar striker or the quiet man from Madrid. On Sunday, one of them is set to step forward and add a key twist to a gripping Scudetto race.

  • Liverpool v Man United: Red Devils one full-back short of reaching the next level Liverpool v Man United: Red Devils one full-back short of reaching the next level

    It is December 16, 2018 – Liverpool have just beaten Manchester United 3-1 at Anfield in Jose Mourinho's final match in charge of the Red Devils.

    Victory sends Liverpool to the top of the Premier League, and while they ultimately narrowly missed out on the title that season, hindsight shows it was a signpost for their potential and depths United have plumbed.

    Ole Gunnar Solskjaer came in soon after on an interim basis and, despite there being critics who consistently call his abilities into question, there can be no doubt of the impact he has had.

    Sunday January 17, 2020 – United go to Anfield top of the Premier League, three clear of their bitter rivals. It is an achievement in itself, though Solskjaer has taken every opportunity to play it down – his terse response when asked in his pre-match news conference if he had received messages of congratulations from former team-mates highlighted his indifference.

    After all, in an ideal world for United, this is just the start – they must now look to make the summit their permanent residence in the table and continue to develop.

    While Solskjaer would surely not say so publicly, there is one area in particular where United should seek inspiration from their old nemesis.

     

    FULL-ON FULL-BACKS

    One of the Liverpool's greatest strengths over the past few years on their ascension back to the top of the pile in English football has been their first-choice full-backs.

    Generally speaking, it is quite rare for a side to have a right-back and left-back who are both effective at either end of the pitch, yet Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold are just that, and especially so from an offensive perspective.

    They can help to create overloads in attack, with their presence in the final third still ensuring they carry a threat out wide even if the likes of Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah have tucked inside, as they frequently do.

    It's difficult to say United find themselves in a similar situation, however.

    Luke Shaw has demonstrably improved as an attacking presence, suggesting the signing of Alex Telles motivated him to work harder.

    The left-back is producing more crosses, successful crosses, key passes and passes into the box than he was last season, whereas Aaron Wan-Bissaka has regressed in each of those areas.

    A reported £50million signing from Crystal Palace in 2019, Wan-Bissaka was billed as potentially United's right-back for the next decade, but at the moment he looks out of place in a team that generally attacks with speed, precision and commitment.

     

    WAN-BISSAKA'S REGRESSION

    Of course, a full-back's primary function is – for the most part – to defend, but as champions Liverpool prove, having players comfortable with both sides of the game provides a real advantage.

    Wan-Bissaka certainly did not look to be a lost cause last season – his tally of three open-play crosses per game, while not outstanding, at least showed a desire to get forward. This season, there are only 13 players who have featured at least 10 times in the league to have averaged more than three.

    But in 2020-21, Wan-Bissaka's numbers have shot down. Now he is delivering just 1.1 crosses per 90 minutes and his overall key passes total of eight only puts him level with United's back-up left-back Telles, who has played just six games.

    Robertson leads the way among defenders with 32, while Alexander-Arnold, Joao Cancelo and Aaron Cresswell have 25 each, and next is the improved Shaw on 22.

     

    UNBALANCED UNITED

    So, what does this mean for United?

    Above all it contributes to them being lopsided. It's no secret that they have issues on the right side of their attack, with Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford both preferring to operate from the left if not through the middle, while Mason Greenwood simply hasn't managed to recapture his form from last term yet.

    This arguably makes it even more important to have a presence on the right, but seemingly Wan-Bissaka's team-mates do not have the same kind of trust in him as they do Shaw and Telles on the left.

    Just 33 per cent of United's passes from the wing into the box this season have come from the right flank, which means they go down the left about twice as often.

    There is no such disparity for Liverpool, though.

    Even in a season when Alexander-Arnold's level is being criticised, Liverpool still frequently look to try their luck down the right.

    In fact, 52 per cent of their passes from the wing into the opposing penalty area have been from his side of the pitch. They have much greater balance, and therefore this ensures they are less predictable.

    Of course, this isn't just on Wan-Bissaka. As mentioned, it highlights an overriding issue with United's right wing, but it does also raise questions about whether they feel he is their best bet long-term at right-back.

    In Wan-Bissaka's first season, his remarkable tackling numbers – which do remain impressive this term – and effort to get forward fairly frequently showed promise, even if some fans expected more from a £50m full-back.

    But with United hoping this is the start of them establishing themselves among the leading powers of English football once again, there's little doubt a right-back with greater attacking presence would offer them another dimension.

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