Don't look now but there is a new face in the fantasy football wide receiver top 10 this week. After dropping 74 points in the last three weeks, WR Mike Evans has taken over the number nine spot on the list, just one point behind fellow rookie Kelvin Benjamin, who he should likely pass this week with the Carolina Panthers on bye.
It is the second-best three-game WR stretch of the year in terms of fantasy point production and the third-highest three-week output in receiving yards. Below is a list of the top fantasy point-getter of each three-week span so far this season.
Mike Evans joins some very well-established names and will look for another big game to help him top the 10-12 list and make him the third WR to defend his crown. He'll have to get through the Chicago Bears to do so.
Let's take a look at what is in store for Evans and the other wide receivers starring in this matchup along with a host of other fantasy football must-plays coming out of Buccaneers vs. Bears.
Four Stars at WR
Other than a cloudy perspective surrounding the Buccaneers RBs due to injury and timeshares, there is not a bad play in the bunch when it comes to the names in this matchup. That particularly holds true at wide receiver, where all four starters should be comfortably in you lineup.
The Chicago Bears, of course, rely on Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall. Combined they have 196 fantasy points while all other Chicago WRs have a combined 21. Both have missed some practice this week, but are listed as probable for the game. The Buccaneers defense was stellar against WRs last week, giving up just seven catches, 62 yards and five fantasy points to Washington Redskins receivers in the game.
Still, the Buccaneers defense ranks 31st in most points allowed at the position and the two Bears wideouts posted 21 and 19 points last week, respectively. They sit comfortably in the top 20 at the position.
The opponent ranking will tell you that the Chicago Bears defense ranks 17th against opposing receivers, allowing 21.4 points per game. However, if you dig a little deeper, you find that the Buccaneers are up against a bigger task than that for this matchup. If you remove the two Bears games against the Green Bay Packers (239 yards, 4 TDs allowed to WRs in Week Four; 234 yards, 3 TDs in Week 10) and only count their other eight games this season, the Bears secondary is allowing just 16.1 fantasy points per game to receivers, which would be the second lowest average in the league.
Now, with that being said, the Buccaneers have flipped the switch over the last few games and found their passing rhythm. While the group may not quite parallel Nelson, Cobb and Rodgers in Green Bay, the Bucs have proven to have a potent passing attack as of late and that momentum will be in their favor, making Evans and Jackson both reliable plays this week.
Seventy-four of Mike Evans's 116 fantasy points have come in the last three games, so if that is not enough indication to put him in your lineup, I don't know what is. His reliability can be seen reaching back even further than that. He has scored a touchdown and posted double-digit fantasy points in five of his last six games played. Evans has proven to be an incredibly effective weapon down field, leading the league with 12 receptions of 25+ yards and ranking third in the league with 14.2 yards at the catch.
Because of Evans's recent play, we could see defenses begin to shift to his side a little more, meaning that for the first time in his Buccaneer career, Vincent Jackson could find himself not being the defense's focal point in the passing game. This could be just what Jackson needs to begin putting up the numbers we've become used to seeing him produce. After three straight 1,000+-yard, 7+-TD seasons, 2014 has been a slow start for the Pro Bowler, but Evans's production looks to be just what Jackson needs to open up and have a big game.
While he has not matched Evans's numbers in recent weeks, he is still getting attention from QB Josh McCown with 17 passes aimed in his direction over the last two weeks, just one fewer than Evans. His 118 yards in that time frame is nothing to scoff at, but fantasy owners would like to see that turn into a single game number this week with a touchdown thrown in for good measure. Though Jackson has just one 10+ fantasy point game this year, he is still a reliable flex play with tons of upside in Week 12.
Will Tight End Be the X-Factor?
Despite having to share the field with three of the NFL's most dynamic fantasy players in Jeffery, Marshall and Matt Forte, Bears TE Martellus Bennett is putting up the sixth-most TE points this season. He is second on the Bears in both yardage and touchdowns and has the third most catches of any NFL tight end.
He'll go up against the Buccaneers 14th-ranked defense against TEs. Over the last five games, the Bucs defense has allowed just 16 points to the position; however, Bennett will be their first real test at the position since the Bucs faced the Saints in Week Five, and Jimmy Graham only played a quarter of that game.
Graham is one of just two top-12 fantasy performing tight ends that the Buccaneers have gone up against all year long, which makes the outlook here for Bennett a little foggy. Of course, ranked sixth at a weak position in 2014, Bennett is a must play, but it is tough to gauge what kind of production to expect against a team that is performing so well as of late, but hasn't really seen a force at the position since the first quarter of the season.
On the Buccaneers' side of the ball, TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins becomes an interesting fantasy prospect. He is owned in just 2.2% of leagues, but could be a big player in the weekly leagues where he will come quite cheap.
On the plus side, Seferian-Jenkins has touchdowns in two of his last four games. On the negative side, he also has zero fantasy points in two of his last four games. Plus side, he is facing the league's worst defense against tight ends. Negative side, if you erase the 210-yard, 4-TD game against the Patriots, their average points to tight ends drops to barely above average. Bottom-line is that the Bears have proven to be susceptible to tight end attacks, particularly the big, strong, pass-catching types like Gronkowski or Olsen. Seferian-Jenkins, while still not a reliable fantasy producer, definitely fits that mold.
The Best of the Rest
It should go without saying that Matt Forte, the third-highest scoring running back in the league, should be plugged in to your lineup this week. The Buccaneers rank 23rd in points allowed to running backs and were vulnerable on RB passes last week, giving up 93 receiving yards and a TD to Washington's running backs. Forte leads all running backs in receptions and yards and has three scores through the air this year.
Over his four complete games this season, Josh McCown is averaging 17 fantasy points per game, just 0.5 ppg behind Jay Cutler, who ranks eighth at the position. Going up against the 27th-ranked defense vs QBs, and with his ranking through the year, Cutler should be a must start in all leagues, as has been the case for years. McCown is the much more intriguing candidate.
After two straight 19-point week, McCown has seen his ownership go up to 15.6%. With Roethlisberger and Newton on byes and some recent injuries and questionable performances elsewhere in the league, it is not out of the question to put McCown in your starting lineup this week. The Bears have allowed 20+ fantasy points to an opposing quarterback in three of the last four weeks, and have just one interception in that time span. If your quarterback play of late has been a little dicey, McCown is the sleeper play here that could delivery you the ever-important Week 12 victory on the way to the fantasy playoffs.