Welcome to Vantage Points, a column I will be writing weekly during the NFL season as a window into every game of the week. With access limited more than ever this year and with no preseason games for us to put our own eyes on, I have the utmost respect for sportswriters covering the NFL on a daily basis, giving us a window into what these teams might look like and where their strengths and weaknesses — beyond the obvious — lie.
The purpose of this column is to highlight the work of those writers, but to also turn some of their observations into actionable fantasy advice. The goal isn’t just to highlight obvious angles, but perhaps some of the lower-end ones that could lead to fantasy advantages. I’m also taking advantage of watching press conferences and reading transcripts from coaches and players, as well as using stats to back up narratives and look for fantasy-relevant angles. I’ll also cover notable injuries.
I will publish this column twice weekly — on Wednesdays to preview the Thursday night game, and on Fridays to preview the Sunday slate.
All times are Eastern.
Buffalo at Denver (Sat, 4:30 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Bills…
The Bills have been getting it done with the passing game all year — after all, by FootballOutsiders DVOA, their passing game is the 4th-best in the NFL, and their run game is 21st. Indeed, the Bills’ playcalling bears that out, as they run it the 12th-fewest in the NFL (39.7%). But they used the run game effectively on their game-sealing drive against the Steelers last week.
The Steeles had all three timeouts left when the Bills took over following a Ben Roethlisberger interception with 7:11 left last week. Pittsburgh never got the ball back; according to The Athletic’s Tim Graham, it’s the NFL’s longest end-of-game drive by 51 seconds this year.
Most interestingly, the Bills were able to run the ball when needed. Graham writes:
“Rookie tailback Zack Moss, benched for most of the Week 11 victory over the San Francisco 49ers because of a costly fumble, ran around the right end for 4 yards.
The play seemed ordinary, but it was significant. Moss clamped down on the ball as All-Pro outside linebacker T.J. Watt tried to strip him. Before the whistle blew, two other Steelers joined Watt, but they couldn’t pry it out. Moss also stayed inbounds.
Buffalo’s run game slammed the game shut from there.
Moss’ best run happened on the next snap. He again headed right, shoved safety Marcus Allen aside, cut inside two-time All-Pro defensive tackle Cameron Heyward and jittered for 13 yards with about four minutes remaining.
“Zack made a great run,” [OC Brian] Daboll said. “Now we’re thinking, ‘We just ran the ball twice with some effectiveness.’ We kept moving the ball forward. Our line was doing a really good job. When you’re in that situation, it was something we felt good sticking with.”
Somewhat surprisingly, Buffalo has struggled to run all year. But Moss and Devin Singletary, though not consistent, have had some solid games between them.
In the passing game, QB Josh Allen won’t have one of his favorite weapons on Saturday — WR John Brown (ankle) returned to practice this week but the Bills still won’t activate him off of IR. The Bills clearly want Brown — who had played through injury all year — to get healthier in time for the playoffs.
What They’re Saying About the Broncos…
Obviously, one of the things you like when you watch QB Drew Lock is his big arm and his willingness to take shots down the field. But that’s also the area in which he’s gotten himself into the most trouble in his brief NFL career.
“It’s about taking the shots when they’re there and not forcing them,” Lock said on Thursday. “It’s cost us having to come off the field.”
As Troy Renck of Denver7 ABC points out, in his two best games of the year (against Houston and Carolina), Lock was a combined 30/34 passing on throws of 5 or fewer air yards. He was exceptionally efficient against Carolina last week, and it came at a critical time, as the Broncos need to make a decision on whether or not to move forward with Lock.
Both Denver RBs Melvin Gordon (shoulder) and Phillip Lindsay (hip) are questionable, but are expected to play. TE Noah Fant (illness) isn’t on the injury report.
With K Brandon McManus on the COVID-19 list, Taylor Russolino will kick for Denver this week.
The Bill RBs are FLEXes. You know who you’re playing from the passing game.
Even after his big game last week, I don’t trust Lock. Gordon is a low-end RB2… Lindsay is not a fantasy option.
Carolina at Green Bay (Sat, 8:15 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Panthers…
The Panthers have activated WR DJ Moore off the COVID-19 list, so it appears he’ll be in position to play against the Packers on Saturday. However, WR Curtis Samuel popped up with a hamstring injury on Thursday and is listed as questionable. Mid-week downgrades, as always, are not great news.
RB Christian McCaffrey (quad) is doubtful and isn’t likely to go — Mike Davis, yet again, is going to contribute big numbers to your fantasy team.
As it stands, the Panthers are dead for 2020. That was expected! This was not a good roster, and coach Matt Rhule should be commended for having the Panthers extremely competitive this year, even if they’re 4-9. So with the Panthers being competitive, that should reflect well on QB Teddy Bridgewater… right? After all, the Panthers have the #9 offense in FootballOutsiders’ DVOA.
Count The Athletic’s Joseph Person among those who aren’t so sure. Bridgewater is 0-7 in come-from-behind chances this year, and there are issues that popped up last week against Denver that should concern Rhule.
“With only three games left, he looks like a quarterback who can lead a team to the playoffs, as he did his second season with the Vikings — but not one who can win a Super Bowl.
“I don’t believe in panic. I don’t believe in huge, huge, huge changes in the middle of a season,” Rhule said. “I think you go through the season and you try to do what you do better.”
So don’t expect Rhule to give P.J. Walker or Will Grier a December start — nor should he. Bridgewater has three more chances to show the Panthers they don’t need to use their first-round pick on a quarterback or sign a free-agent QB.
But based on Bridgewater’s 2020 track record, the Panthers are soon headed for some serious discussions about the QB position, lest history keep repeating itself.”
It’s very possible the Panthers are picking top 10, if not top 5, in April. That discussion must be had.
What They’re Saying About the Packers…
We’re at the time of year where there frankly isn’t much to say about that Packers that isn’t already known. This is the NFC’s best team playing with the likely MVP frontrunner in QB Aaron Rodgers. We know what to do for fantasy.
However, The Athletic’s Bob McGinn — who knows the Packers better than anyone — thinks perhaps we’re seeing coach Matt LaFleur delegate more work to RB Aaron Jones rather than employing a more even split with Jamaal Williams. Both backs have been effective though.
McGinn writes about last week’s game with Detroit:
“The 27-snap difference between Aaron Jones (47) and Jamaal Williams (20) was the largest of the season. It had been 19 against the Eagles. Jones is No. 1, and Matt LaFleur apparently sees the time as right to utilize him even more. LaFleur cares about the ground game, and the pair did combine for 25 carries and 107 yards (4.3 avg.). It’s just that the passing yards have become almost automatic for this offense, and with the jacked-up Lions better equipped to stop the run LaFleur emphasized pass. There’s no denying the second effort and talent of the two four-year veterans. They never take a down off, let alone a carry. They pick up the blitz, no questions asked.”
This may be another week for LaFleur to emphasize “pass” — the Panthers are 27th in FootballOutsiders’ pass defense DVOA, but 19th against the run. Certainly, Green Bay should have success in every department, to be fair.
Davis is a high-end RB2. Bridgewater is not a good fantasy option, though I do think that Moore is back on the WR2 radar, especially with Samuel questionable.
The Packers are the Packers at this point — you know who you’re playing.
Tampa Bay at Atlanta (Sun, 1 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Buccaneers…
Buccaneer RB Ronald Jones has had an eventful week. He was likely going to be out anyway after fracturing a pinky, an injury that required a surgery similar to what teammate Chris Godwin had earlier this year when he missed one game. But the Buccaneers also had to put him on the COVID-19 list, so it’s a virtual guarantee he won’t be in the game against the Falcons this week.
So, who is going to lead this backfield? Remember, Leonard Fournette was a healthy scratch last week. OC Byron Leftwich isn’t really offering any definitive answers, though he did say he could “lean on” Fournette.
““He’s been great [following being a scratch],” Leftwich said. “He’s been here all week putting in work, he’s been working since he got here. It’s great for us to have a guy like that, that you can lean on.”
Both Leftwich and QB Tom Brady also mentioned LeSean McCoy and rookie Ke’Shawn Vaughn as guys who have done a good job.
Regardless, it’s a good week for the Bucs to throw it — the Falcons are 20th in FootballOutsiders DVOA against the pass, and #4 against the run, defensively.
Still, will that passing plan involve WR Antonio Brown? Coming out of the Bucs’ Week 13 bye, Brown caught 5 passes for 49 yards… but played a season-low 49% of the offensive snaps. Brady obviously loves throwing it to AB… but he isn’t out there enough to produce on a more consistent basis. Will that change against a pass-funnel defense like Atlanta?
What They’re Saying About the Falcons…
The Falcons might be dead in the water right now. Frankly, it’s staggering how much worse they are when WR Julio Jones doesn’t play vs. when he does. I mean, I know that should be obvious, but look at the numbers.
With Julio potentially done for the year with a hamstring (he’s not playing this week and coach Raheem Morris is calling him “week-to-week” … with one week left in the fantasy season), QB Matt Ryan’s Ryan’s time as a useful fantasy QB in 2020 — which was already extremely fragile this year — is likely over.
He was awful against the Chargers in Week 14, going 21/32 for 224 yards with a TD and 3 INT. But that’s just part of it. Check out these splits — in games in which Julio played 70% or more of the snaps this year, Ryan averages 22.5 FPG (seven games), with 15 TD, 3 INT, and a 67.8% completion rate. In games in which Julio hasn’t reached that benchmark, Ryan has averaged 10.9 FPG (six games) with 4 TD, 8 INT, and a 58.7% completion rate. So, extrapolated, he goes from QB8 to QB38 among QBs who have played four or more games.
Fournette is a low-end RB2 with RoJo out. I actually really like Brady and his receivers in this pass-funnel defense.
The only Falcons I want to play are Calvin Ridley (WR1) and Russell Gage (RB3).
Jacksonville at Baltimore (Sun, 1 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Jaguars…
The Jags are returning QB Gardner Minshew to the starting lineup this week against Baltimore. Minshew had missed time with a thumb injury, but it also appeared that his play was part of the reason he missed starts, with the Jags turning to both Jake Luton and Mike Glennon since Minshew made his last start back in Week 7. Last week, Minshew entered in relief and went 18/31 for 178 yards and a TD against the Chargers.
Minshew’s a smart guy, and he almost certainly knows that the 1-12 Jaguars are going to be in position to draft a QB in April. So he’s gonna have some fun.
"I wouldn't say there's a ton of pressure right now. I don't think anybody really expects much of a 1-12 team, but we expect a lot of ourselves,” Minshew said. “We're going to go out there, try not to let what's going on this season determine what happens these next three games. We're going to go try to have a lot of fun, make the most of them, put some good stuff on tape."
One thing the Jags haven’t been able to get going is the passing game to #1 WR DJ Chark. Chark is 11th in the NFL in intended air yards, per SIS, but is 37th in completed air yards. And he has only 3 drops this year, so erratic throws haven’t been the problem.
“We've tried to target him and it just hasn't happened, whether it's a protection issue, whether he's been covered, whether it's been a poor throw, whatever. It just has not happened the way we anticipated it happening in training camp,” OC Jay Gruden said. “He had a great training camp. He's a great player and we just have to try to continue to figure out ways to get him the ball, whether it's in the slot, whether it's outside, whether it's in a stack.”
Minshew is expected to have G Andrew Norwell back from an ankle injury this week — he’s missed three games on IR. That’s good news, because it’s a REVENGE GAME for Raven DLs Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue.
What They’re Saying About the Ravens…
While the Ravens did put three WRs on COVID-19 reserve this week, all three — Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin, and James Proche — are expected to be available to play against the Jags this week. WR Dez Bryant also came off the list.
Meanwhile, the Ravens narrowed their usage in their backfield in Week 14. RB Mark Ingram started the game in Week 14, and didn’t come back after his only snap. The Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec wonders if Baltimore might be able to free up a roster spot by deactivating Ingram going forward —- #4 RB Justice Hill isn’t an option for that, because he’s a special-teams contributor.
This could be another big week for QB Lamar Jackson in terms of the ground game. He crushed the Browns, who played a lot of man coverage last week, as The Athletic’s Ted Nguyen breaks down. If the Jaguars don’t make an adjustment, this could be a problem — they play man at a 46.5% clip this year, 6th-most in the NFL (SIS).
The only Jags I’m considering are James Robinson (RB1) and Chark (WR3).
With the Jags down CB Sidney Jones (Achilles), I can consider Brown as a WR3. I love Jackson this week with the plus matchup, and RBs JK Dobbins and Gus Edwards are RB2s.
San Francisco at Dallas (Sun, 1 PM)
What They’re Saying About the 49ers…
With the 49ers all but certain to be out of the playoffs at this point, I don’t know why they’d be rushing to get TE George Kittle (foot) back on the field, but they have activated his window to practice. He isn’t expected to play this week, so if he returns at all, it’ll be in Week 16, fantasy championship week.
Earlier this season, coach Kyle Shanahan told reporters that he wouldn’t bring Kittle or QB Jimmy Garoppolo back unless the 49ers were in the playoff picture. Has he changed his mind, with the Niners almost certainly out of the picture?
“If I thought it would help him and I thought it would help our team, definitely. I mean, there's more things to it than just making the playoffs,” Shanahan said. “Obviously, that's the number one thing, but it would have to do with what George, if he's risking anything, then it'd be an easy decision.” So, basically, if Kittle’s 100%, he’s gonna play.
QB Nick Mullens will start for the Niners, though coach Kyle Shanahan got asked about the potential of CJ Beathard taking over at some point.
“We'll always see what goes on in practice, but Nick’s the guy we'll start out with and we'll see how it goes,” Shanahan said this week.
Though RB Raheem Mostert (ankle) is expected to play, even with Shanahan confirming the high-ankle mechanism that was affecting him earlier this year involved with his injury, you wonder if he will lose significant snaps to grinder Jeff Wilson.
What They’re Saying About the Cowboys…
You’re probably not at the point of your fantasy season in which you want to play Michael Gallup in season-long fantasy, but deep-diving DFS players might want to check him out this week.
Why? Per SIS, the 49ers are ripe for Gallup to have a big performance — they’re more vulnerable to intermediate and deep passes (29th in YPA) than they are to short passes (2nd in YPA). Meanwhile, Gallup is 1st on the Cowboys in targets of intermediate or deeper… and 5th on short targets.
The Niners have also allowed 9.1 YPA to receivers aligned out wide (2nd-worst in the NFL) and 6.1 YPA to receivers in the slot (best in the NFL). So it’s a bad matchup for CeeDee Lamb, who aligns in the slot 91% of the time (Gallup is out wide 84% of the time).
At this point, I still expect Cowboy RB Ezekiel Elliott (calf) to play, though he’s missing practice and is getting less and less involved as the season goes on, as the Cowboys cede some work to Tony Pollard. The Cowboys are pretty much out of it, and with Zeke in the death throes of a horrifically disappointing campaign, it’s possible they shut him down at any moment.
Kittle is running out of time to contribute, though I don’t deny that rostering him could pay off next week. Mostert is an RB2 and Wilson a FLEX.
I think Gallup is one of the sneakiest plays of the entire slate. Zeke is an RB2, at best, with Pollard a prayer FLEX.
Houston at Indianapolis (Sun, 1 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Texans…
There’s plenty of talk about the Texans’ future. That’s obvious — following the firing of Bill O’Brien, they don’t have either a coach or a general manager, so there’s a lot of transition here. The search has already started: Monday Night Football’s Louis Riddick is on Houston’s radar.
But with the Texans dead in the water, the question has come up — is Deshaun Watson going to play the rest of the year or will the Texans protect him, given he’s been sacked 11 times over the last two games?
Don’t expect Watson to be shut down, interim coach Romeo Crennel says.
“My deal is, we’re in this game, we play this game to win and there’s a season to be played. If you shut down Watson, then should you shut down the rest of the team and everybody pack up and go home for three games left? We’re in the NFL and there’s certain rules about playing,” Crennel said. “I think that probably if you shut down your team and left and didn’t play the games, there’d be a tremendous fine involved. So, we’re going to play the games and try to win as many as we can.”
I don’t believe there are any NFL rules about “tanking” or resting players in a contact sport, but Crennel is obviously a longshot to nab the Texans’ full-time job, so there’s no incentive for him to rest Watson.
As for Watson, he’s said he wants to play.
“I know there are a lot of the fans and people looking for the future and things like that, but right now I live in the present. I want to finish this season out strong,” Watson said. “I want to continue to get the reps that I want to get to be able to continue to grow as a quarterback and as a player and as a teammate.”
“That’s the way it should be. Players want to play the game – If you’re competitors. If you’re not a competitor then you probably go over on the bench and sit down and wrap up and wait for the game to be over,” Crennel said. ”We’re going to play and we’re going to play the best we can until it’s over.”
The Texans have activated RB David Johnson off the COVID-19 and he should be on track to play this week, which pushes Duke Johnson back into a complimentary role… if Dukie can play. He seems to have picked up an ankle injury in practice this week. David, meanwhile, is expected to be a full go.
WR Brandin Cooks (neck) has been limited in practice this week and is questionable.
What They’re Saying About the Colts…
The Colts finally have the breakout star that they were expecting when they drafted RB Jonathan Taylor in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft, as he’s averaged 110 rushing yards per game over the last three weeks after bottoming out at a season-low 12 yards in Week 10 against Tennessee. So what’s happened?
“Confidence and reps. Really, that is as simple as it can be – confidence and reps. He just keeps getting reps, keeps getting better,” OC Nick Sirianni said. “He just keeps seeing it over and over and over again, and he is building confidence from that. You can really see that. Confidence is a crazy thing, and momentum and confidence is a great thing to have. He’s got that and he’s playing really good football right now.”
I mean, it feels like the Colts were intentionally limiting his reps earlier, especially at the expense of a scrub like Jordan Wilkins (Nyheim Hines is a great scatback) but it’s good to see that whatever Taylor was working through seems to be in the past.
“Of course he wanted to get all those carries that they were getting, but he is a pro and he handled it like a pro. He didn’t complain. He just said, ‘Hey, next time I get out there I am going to make the most of my opportunities’ and he has done that,” Sirianni said. “So a big credit to him. Yes, we are still going to ride the hot hand as far as our backs to keep them fresh and mix them up a little bit, but he has definitely shown that he is capable of being a top dog in the NFL.”
I like that, a “top dog.” At this point, Taylor is solidifying himself as a first-round pick in 2021. It should just get better as he adjusts to more of the NFL game — he ran a lot out of shotgun at Wisconsin, and not so much from under center.
“It’s not something where we say, ‘Because we run shotgun, you’re going to do shotgun.’ Well, if it doesn’t fit the player then we shouldn’t do it. Yes we have a system and yes we have things that we want to do, but the first thing that we want to do is run the plays and run the things that our players do best,” Sirianni said. “It’s both adapting to what the player can do and doing what we do as a group.”
Colt TE Mo Alie-Cox (knee) is questionable.
It’s a tough draw for Watson, but I’d feel better if Cooks can go as a WR2. David Johnson is a low-end RB2.
Taylor is a slam-dunk RB1 in a glorious matchup.
New England at Miami (Sun, 1 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Patriots…
The Patriots could get WR Julian Edelman back from a knee injury soon, though I can’t imagine why anyone would want to play him for fantasy at this stage, especially against a tough defense like Miami’s.
It looks like the Pats will have RB Damien Harris (ankle) this week.
What They’re Saying About the Dolphins…
Obviously, rookie QBs do not do well against Bill Belichick — just look at the 45-0 drubbing that Belichick and the Pats gave to Justin Herbert a few weeks ago. The Pats have gone undefeated since 2009 against rookie first-round QBs — Mark Sanchez was the last to beat them.
And the last rookie first-round QB to throw for more TDs than INTs against the Pats? Buffalo’s EJ Manuel in 2013! Heck, only one rookie first-round QB in the last five seasons has had a QB rating above 75 against the Patriots — Deshaun Watson in 2017.
The problem for Tua Tagovailoa this week is that he might not have at least one of his top three weapons — and potentially all three. WR DeVante Parker (hamstring), WR Jakeem Grant (hamstring), and TE Mike Gesicki (shoulder) are all questionable. It appears that Parker and Gesicki are more likely to play than not, but their statuses must be monitored.
At RB, Salvon Ahmed (shoulder) and Myles Gaskin (COVID-19) are both up in the air, with Ahmed more likely to play. If he can’t, DeAndre Washington would be the lead back again.
I’ll be frank — I don’t like anyone in this game. I might make an exception for Gesicki if he plays, but this is bound to be a defensive struggle.
Chicago at Minnesota (Sun, 1 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Bears…
The Bears are obviously in quarterback purgatory. But are they also in coach purgatory? The Athletic’s Adam Jahns examines the relationship between and why coach Matt Nagy and QB Mitchell Trubisky need each other.
Trubisky led the Bears to an absolute must-win last week, ending a six-game win streak and it’s enough to keep them in the playoff hunt.
Trubisky had an interesting quote that rankled Bears Twitter, according to Jahns:
““So these are things I’m very comfortable with, things I’ve been asking for and I think everyone’s buying into it and I think we’re starting to build an identity and we just need to keep getting better and better. At the end of the day when we play 11 guys as one and we’re playing as a unit and we’re executing, that’s when the good plays will continue to happen.”
That right there was the quote that set off Bears Twitter. It was fair to wonder what the heck the Bears were doing and why the hell it took so long to do it. Nagy became the target of the most scorn, at least in my mentions.”
So, were the Bears not allowing Trubisky to get comfortable? Jahns writes:
““Yeah, that’s a good question,” Trubisky said. “I guess you never know. I was asking. I was putting my input in. But you can’t change the past so we are where we are now and the offense is progressing over the last few weeks and all we can do is try to stay on this path that we are now and keep getting better. Can’t change the past. I can’t put myself back in the game a couple weeks ago or anything like that. It’s got to continue with this constant communication, having the open dialogue and always doing what is best for the Bears offense.”
This right here was a stronger quote. It wasn’t that Trubisky seemed to indicate that his input wasn’t being listened to but it was him saying, “I can’t put myself back in the game a couple weeks ago.”
The season got away from the Bears with Nick Foles under center. The stats and, of course, the results all say that. Foles wasn’t the answer for what ailed the Bears offense. Instead, he played like another problem. His comfort and rhythm were questioned.”
What’s going on might not save the jobs of Trubisky, Nagy, GM Ryan Pace, or all three. But at the very least, the Bears are moving the ball, and that’s good news for RB David Montgomery, WR Allen Robinson, and others.
Bear TE Jimmy Graham (hip) is questionable this week, but he’s been losing snaps to rookie Cole Kmet anyway… which Trubisky said is something he’s been advocating.
What They’re Saying About the Vikings…
Look, we know the Vikings are going to run the ball — even against the Bears’ #5 defense in DVOA, they’ll do that. But after a disappointing day for QB Kirk Cousins and his WR duo of Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson against the Bucs last week, you’ll wonder if they’re going to get going more this week.
The Bears are the #10 DVOA passing defense, and they could be down three key secondary players in slot CB Buster Skrine (concussion - out), CB Jaylon Johnson (shoulder - questionable), and S Deon Bush (foot - questionable). Johnson and Bush seem to be more on the doubtful side of questionable, while EDGE Khalil Mack (shoulder) is expected to play but is still banged up.
The Bears have become simple. Montgomery and Robinson are must-starts, while Trubisky and Kmet are viable streamers.
This is a bounce-back game for the Viking pass game given the Bears’ injury woes. I love Cousins, Thielen, and Jefferson.
Detroit at Tennessee (Sun, 1 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Lions…
We know about the Lions’ injury woes — it’s looking like it’ll be tough for QB Matthew Stafford (ribs) to play this week, even though he’s one of the toughest players in the NFL. WR Kenny Golladay (hip) looks less and less likely by the day to return in 2020.
Stafford will make the trip to Tennessee, which at least gives this offense some potential upside, but Golladay is out and I wouldn’t expect to see him the rest of this season.
But the nastiest injury? How about C Frank Ragnow, who somehow managed to finish last week’s game despite a fractured throat. If Ragnow can’t play this week, it’ll be a tough draw against DT Jeffery Simmons and the Titans… especially if Stafford isn’t starting and QB Chase Daniel is in there.
As for Daniel? Well, don’t expect him to run much if he’s playing. “I get tired,” he told reporters this week.
What They’re Saying About the Titans…
Look, I’m not breaking any news here about the Titans, and neither is Lions DC Cory Undlin. He knew he wasn’t going to be super enlightening when discussing the Titans’ offense with reporters this week. He just knows that the Titans are really good at what they do.
“These guys are a little bit more old school. They’ve got some 21-personnel, two-back stuff,” Undlin said. “They can run it obviously. I’m not going to tell you anything you guys don’t already know, and they’re really, really good at it.”
Tackling Derrick Henry might be the hardest gig in the NFL right now, Undlin said. And keeping it up for four quarters is the hardest part.
“It’s a gain of one, it’s a gain of two, it’s a gain of three, then it’s 17. Zero, one, two, 22, and then you get into the fourth quarter, then it’s six and then it’s seven, six, and they’ve just done a good job of wearing people out,” Undlin said.
Henry needs to average 156 yards over the final three games to get to 2000 on the season. It’s a tough task, but this is a terrible Lion defense playing with a very injured QB — if Matthew Stafford can go at all.
The Lions’ offense obviously is more appealing if Stafford can play, but he’ll be less than 100% if he does go.
The Detroit defense stinks — QB Ryan Tannehill and his WRs have big upside in this game, with Henry in the mix for overall RB1.
Seattle at Washington (Sun, 1 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Seahawks…
The Seahawks could activate TE Greg Olsen (foot) from IR this week, though it’s not likely he’ll be very effective for fantasy purposes.
Otherwise, this team is kind of simple to figure out at this point. You know who you’re using. Welcome to Week 15!
What They’re Saying About the Football Team…
It’s not looking good for Washington RB Antonio Gibson (toe - doubtful) to be ready to go this week — he’s missed multiple practices after missing last week’s game. Meanwhile, the Team signed RB Lamar Miller to add some depth.
“Lamar has played some quality football. He’s given some really good minutes. He’s coming off of an injury from last year. We checked up on him and found out everybody thought he’s good to go,” coach Ron Rivera said. “We’re looking forward to having a veteran guy give us some quality minutes available just in case.”
Meanwhile, the Team was apparently “optimistic” that QB Alex Smith will play this week, according to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero. But Smith has missed multiple practices this week, and the Team decided to sit him down given the injury is to his surgically repaired leg. Still, if the Team really wanted him to go, what does that say about Dwayne Haskins?
“Dwayne has worked hard. He’s paid attention and has watched. I believe he’s learned,” Rivera said. “I’m just looking forward to seeing, if he gets that opportunity, how things go.” That doesn’t exactly sound like a ringing endorsement!
Washington might win this division, but it’s going to be in the market for a QB this off-season. That’s never a great spot to be in.
The Seahawks are a simple team right now. Olsen is not a fantasy option.
The entire Washington offense takes a step back with Haskins at QB.
Philadelphia at Arizona (Sun, 4:05 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Eagles…
Look, it’s entirely possible that Travis Fulgham isn’t close to the player he looked when he led the NFL in receiving over a four-game stretch earlier this season. But what the Eagles are doing with him is utter malpractice. He played just 11 snaps against the Saints last week. Why?
“Alshon’s getting healthier and playing better,” coach Doug Pederson said on Wednesday. Dude… seriously?
I know Jalen Hurts played well in his first start, but he isn’t magically curing everything that’s gone wrong with this organization. That said, don’t expect the Eagles to roll over and just try for an early draft pick. This is a veteran-laden team, and well, C Jason Kelce will let you know what he thinks about the concept of “tanking.”
What They’re Saying About the Cardinals…
Could the Eagles be uniquely equipped to stop the rushing of Kyler Murray? Over the last five weeks, the Eagles have stacked the box on 36% of defensive snaps, more than any team in the NFL.
The numbers for Murray are absolutely staggering against stacked boxes. Despite taking 28% of the Cardinals’ rushes against both stacked boxes and light boxes. But on 20 rushes against stacked boxes, he averages 0.9 YPC… and 7.3 YPC on 95 rushes against normal or light boxes. After holding Taysom Hill to 33 rushing yards last week, will Eagle DC Jim Schwartz focus on slowing down Kyler?
Of course, stacking the box this week could be problematic for the Eagles, since they are definitely down two secondary starters (S Rodney McLeod (ACL) and CB Avonte Maddox (knee)) and could be down another (CB Darius Slay (concussion)). Will Schwartz leave his inexperienced secondary hanging? Slay is questionable for the matchup with WR DeAndre Hopkins.
With McLeod out, the Cardinals could choose to attack the middle of the field — and that could mean some work for TE Dan Arnold. He’s had some work with Murray, who is beginning to trust him. Arnold has been telling Murray to give him a chance to make plays, and it’s been working.
“I just try to give him a chance, put it to only where he can get it,” Murray told reporters this week. “He’s super athletic, fast, jumps high, got great hands. So I just try to give him a chance to make a play.”
I like Hurts this week against a predominant man coverage Arizona defense. As for his receivers? Not so much.
Murray should be able to throw it against this secondary if the Cards can protect him. Arnold is an interesting streamer/DFS flier.
NY Jets at LA Rams (Sun, 4:05 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Jets…
One of my favorite things to do in recent weeks is read quotes from opposing coaches trying to talk up the Jets. Here’s Rams coach Sean McVay on how good the 0-13 Jets are.
“When you flip the tape on, they've been really competitive. I know it was a tougher game against the Seahawks, that's a great football team. But they've played some really good teams, really tight. They've had a chance to go down to the wire and they played really well offensively, especially at the jump,” McVay said. (The Jets have gone without a TD in two of their last three games.)
The Jets have designated RB La’Mical Perine (ankle) to return from injured reserve and it looks like he’ll be able to play. He further muddies up a useless fantasy backfield. WR Jamison Crowder (calf) has missed some practice time this week but it looks like he’ll go, too. Good luck using him… he’s officially listed as questionable.
K Sam Ficken (groin) has been activated off injured reserve. Yay?
What They’re Saying About the Rams…
We know the Jets are a pass-funnel defense (frankly, they’re an everything funnel defense at this stage), and that sets up well for QB Jared Goff and company this week. But it especially sets up well for WR Cooper Kupp.
According to SIS, the Jets are playing 51% man coverage over the last five weeks, which is one of the highest rates in the league. Against man coverage, Kupp is Goff’s preferred target — he has seen a 34% target share to Robert Woods’s 21%, and has 301 yards to 133 for Woods.
Meanwhile, both Woods and Kupp line up in the slot, where the Jets really struggle. Since Week 8, the Jets have allowed 168 receiving yards per game in the slot, the most in the NFL. Woods is dealing with a thigh injury, by the way.
As for Woods, he’s dealing with a thigh injury, but coach Sean McVay said this week it shouldn’t affect his game status.
This quote from Adam Gase on Goff, by the way, is hilarious: “The majority of the time he's pretty consistent.” So… he’s mostly the same except when he isn’t. Right!
Just bench all your Jets… if you have any.
The Jets have been a pass-funnel defense all year. Fire up Goff and his receivers.
Kansas City at New Orleans (Sun, 4:25 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Chiefs…
While in years past we have tried to avoid going against Marshon Lattimore in head-to-head matchups in the past, but we almost never sit Tyreek Hill. Well, that’s doubly true this year. Lattimore has been having a down year by his standards, and Hill, well, isn’t.
Per SIS, Lattimore ranks 13th-worst in yards allowed (511) and is tied for 5th-worst with 5 TDs allowed among all CBs. Meanwhile, the Saints are playing the most man coverage in the league, at a 64% clip over the last five weeks, and Hill has caught 6 of the Chiefs’ 9 TD passes against man coverage.
What They’re Saying About the Saints…
The Saints are making plenty of headlines this week. After going 3-1 with Taysom Hill as starting QB, the Saints will be going back to QB Drew Brees (ribs), feeling he’s healthy enough to go against the Chiefs. (How much does their loss to the Eagles last week have to do with that?)
Meanwhile, Brees won’t have WR Michael Thomas, who is out with an ankle injury. That could mean a million — just a slight exaggeration — targets for RB Alvin Kamara this week. Thomas must have aggravated the injury in last week’s game against Philly, and you wonder if that was a factor in the decision to start Brees in such a critical game as the Saints try to recapture the NFC’s #1 seed from Green Bay.
You know what to do with the Chiefs at this point. Hill could go nuts.
Brees is a low-end QB1. I think Kamara could be the #1 overall RB on the slate with Thomas hurt.
Cleveland at NY Giants (Sun, 8:20 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Browns…
He’s probably not someone you’re playing in redraft at this point, but dynasty players should be very much intrigued by Browns rookie WR Donovan Peoples-Jones. An underachiever at Michigan who lit the Combine on fire, DPJ leads the Browns in QB rating when targeted (153.3) and yards per reception (23.8). Yes, he’s made just 10 catches, but for a 6th-round pick, that’s certainly enough to turn heads.
Obviously, the Browns’ run game is what gets them going, and G Wyatt Teller is a big part of that. But teller is dealing with an ankle injury this week that the Browns are saying is unrelated to a calf injury from earlier this season, at least according to coach Kevin Stefanski. Teller won’t play, which is a blow to the run game.
As for the running backs in that run game, expect Stefanski to keep trying to have both Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt fresh.
“That is important for guys. In the fourth quarter, if you do not have a full work’s load and you just have one guy out there, it is hard for him to be at his best,” Stefanski said. “You have seen both Nick and Kareem be able to play well late in games.”
Stefanski said TE Austin Hooper (neck) is “trending in the right direction” to play this week, but he hasn’t been a fantasy asset all year.
What They’re Saying About the Giants…
Let’s be honest… which Giants do you feel comfortable playing right now, with the exception of RB Wayne Gallman? (Oh, and by the way, Devonta Freeman returned to practice this week.)
It looked like QB Daniel Jones came back too early from his hamstring injury last week, and he also picked up an ankle sprain that could cost him this week. The Giants, who a week ago seemed like the favorites to win the NFC East, could now be on a path to a top-10 pick… and has Jones done enough to hold off discussions about his job?
This week, Giant OC Jason Garrett tested positive for COVID-19. Garrett will not be able to call plays this weekend against the Browns as a result… which means tight ends coach Freddie Kitchens will. Yes, it’s a REVENGE GAME for the former Browns head coach.
Jones, by the way, is questionable to play. You wonder if the Giants would be sitting down Jones if they were out of it…
Meanwhile, TE Evan Engram (calf) was added to the injury report this week and is questionable to play. The Browns have problems at safety, but yikes.
The guys I want to play from Cleveland against this tough Giant defense are the RBs and maybe WR Jarvis Landry. As mentioned, DPJ is a dynasty asset.
The only Giant I feel good about — especially with Engram dinged — is Gallman as an RB2. Jones is less than 100%.
Pittsburgh at Cincinnati (Mon, 8:15 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Steelers…
The Steelers are 11-2, but the “2” have come in two straight weeks, and the Steelers have real problems. Of course, the discussion of that isn’t sitting well with QB Ben Roethlisberger.
“The talking heads are doing what they’re supposed to do – which is talk bad about us, and all that stuff,” Ben said on Thursday. Of course, no one should expect Ben to be happy with people talking crap on an 11-2 team, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t real issues here.
The Steelers can’t run the ball. WR Diontae Johnson and TE Eric Ebron seem just as likely to drop a perfect pass as they are to catch it. And speaking of perfect passes, it looks like it’s getting harder and harder for the 38-year-old Roethlisberger to make them with a surgically repaired elbow.
Of course, it might not be just the elbow causing trouble. According to CBS’ Jason LaCanfora, the Steelers are worried about Roethlisberger’s knees, too. Ben called the reports “phony” on Thursday, but it’s obvious he’s not 100%.
Meanwhile, fantasy players are obviously concerned about starting Johnson given he was benched for two first-half drops against the Bills last week, but Roethlisberger said he had a discussion with Johnson on the sidelines at the end of the first half and was happy with how Johnson bounced back. Johnson’s 59 targets since Week 10 lead the NFL, but so do his 9 drops (4 more than anyone else, per SIS).
And the Steelers could be in the process of changing some things up, the film shows. I totally agree that this is a big game for Pittsburgh. It’s an inferior opponent the Steelers must absolutely smoke.
Speaking of the run game, RB James Conner (quad) looks like he’ll go, but most don’t have confidence in using him… for good reason.
What They’re Saying About the Bengals…
Bengal QB Brandon Allen (knee) has missed multiple practices this week. If he can’t play, Ryan Finley will be thrown to the wolves of an angry Steelers team.
Let’s be honest… do you want to play anyone from this team with your season on the line?
Look, the Steelers are a mess, but if they’re going to bounce back, this is the week. Ben is a low-end QB1, with all of his WRs in the WR3 range. Conner is a low-end RB2.
I’d rather play Adam Caplan than any Bengal.