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With the confirmation Friday that Bengals RB Joe Mixon will sit out this week’s matchup against the Chicago Bears with a concussion, a fantasy free agent is suddenly in a big spot to shine.
Giovani Bernard is owned in almost half of all ESPN leagues on Friday, and he is in an ideal spot for this week’s matchup. Bernard entered the season with a murky role in the Bengals backfield, but he is officially the last man standing on the depth chart.
Jeremy Hill, who entered the regular season as Cincinnati’s lead back, went on injured reserve after ankle surgery in early November. It was the start of a blossoming for Mixon, who endured a slow start to his rookie season. Mixon saw an increased workload in November, and exploded for a career-high 114 yards two weeks ago against Cleveland. Against the Steelers, Mixon touched the ball just eight times before exiting with concussion symptoms.
Enter Gio. The fifth-year Bengal had eight touches on the opening week of the season, and saw a steady decline in that meager workload through the season. That changed on Monday, when Bernard saw a season-high 15 touches in Mixon’s absence.
Now the primary ball carrier for a fringe playoff contender, Bernard meets a Bears defense allowing over 20 fantasy points per game to running backs in PPR scoring. Bernard has been known to be a productive PPR back, reaching 50 targets in each of his first four professional seasons. The Bears have lost five straight dating back to October, and last week were beaten in Jimmy Garoppolo’s debut by five field goals.
The receiving yards matter, because the Bengals have been one of the worst rushing offenses this season. That’s why the Mixon breakout was such a revelation: the Bengals are one of only three NFL teams to not reach 1,000 team rushing yards at this point in the season. They are averaging just 3.4 yards per carry, ahead of only the Lions and Cardinals for the league’s worst rushing offense.
Even if Bernard blows up, this is an ideal spot for a one-week rental. The Bengals visit the Vikings in Week 15, eliminating any chance of back-to-back Bernard breakouts. All Mixon owners should consider picking up Bernard as mandatory, and anyone starting a questionable running back should take a look at Gio for Sunday.
Because the Bengals have a good shot at beating the Bears, the game script indicates Gio could see upwards of 20 touches. My prediction is around that, and I think Bernard is an effective starts in PPR formats.
Prediction: 13 carries, 65 yards, TD, 5 catches, 41 yards
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