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.
Tampa Bay at Detroit (Sat, 1 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Buccaneers…
How about this story, yet another bizarre chapter in the year of COVID? The Lions are having someone who has never even coached a position group call their defensive plays against QB Tom Brady and the Bucs this week.
Because of DC Cory Undlin and multiple high-ranking defensive staffers joining interim HC Darrell Bevell as coaches unavailable for this game because of high-risk contact with a COVID positive individual, the Lions are turning to research assistant Evan Rothstein to call the entire defense.
MLIve’s Kyle Meinke writes:
Rothstein’s promotion was more of a surprise given that he’s not even a position coach. Bevell said he made that choice because Rothstein knows the defense so well and already has experience with game strategy.
“As far as all the orchestration, communication, the knowledge of the ins-and-outs of everything that we’re doing, Evan has a great feel for that and a great understanding of that,” Bevell said. “We’ll be able to communicate adjustments that we need. He’ll also be calling it from the box, just so you’re aware there. I think he’ll do a great job.”
Obviously, it’s a shorthanded defense anyway, but this makes it a glorious matchup for Brady and the passing game. The Bucs haven’t scored a point in the first quarter in four straight games. I’d be surprised if that continued this week.
What They’re Saying About the Lions…
With interim HC Darrell Bevell unavailable to call this game because of being a close COVID-19 contact, Lions WR coach Robert Prince will serve as, uh, interim-interim HC, while QB coach Sean Ryan will call the offensive plays. Neither Prince nor Ryan have ever called plays at any level.
My guess? QB Matthew Stafford will have obscene freedom at the line of scrimmage this week.
How much will it matter? I’m not entirely sure, since I was anticipating this to be a rough draw for the Lions anyway, as WR Kenny Golladay (hip) won’t play.
Bevell might not be available on gameday, but that didn’t stop him from exerting his influence over the franchise — he fired ST coordinator Brayden Coombs over an unauthorized fake punt call last week.
I’m all over the Bucs’ entire offense in this game, for obvious reasons.
San Francisco at Arizona (Sat, 4:30 PM)
What They’re Saying About the 49ers…
We’ve said it for weeks on the site. I’ve said it for weeks in this article. I don’t know why the 49ers would authorize TE George Kittle to return from injury this week, even though he’s beyond the timetable to be ready from his foot fracture. But Kittle is a competitor, and it looks at this point like he’s going to go. Coach Kyle Shanahan confirmed as such on Thursday.
GM John Lynch said that Kittle was ready to go last week, but the Niners have actually been extra cautious with him. Still, it’s a little jarring to see him coming back when the Niners will be on their third QB of the year with CJ Beathard now taking over for the injured Nick Mullens (elbow).
Elsewhere, it looks unlikely for Raheem Mostert (ankle) and WR Deebo Samuel (hamstring) to play, effectively ending their fantasy seasons. That opens the door for big contributions from RB Jeff Wilson and WR Brandon Aiyuk.
Wilson is a great fit when the Niners use gap scheme runs, our Greg Cosell writes: “Wilson continued to impress with his combination of downhill urgency and competitiveness, and speed to the perimeter. Wilson showed explosive downhill short-area burst.”
Meanwhile, the Niners’ offensive star this year has been rookie WR Brandon Aiyuk, who needs 197 receiving yards over his final two games to break Jerry Rice’s record for a rookie in San Francisco. This is despite Aiyuk having missed three games this year!
By the way, the 49ers signed Josh Rosen off the Bucs’ practice squad. He’ll back up Beathard this week — and as our Greg Cosell said, he’s a very good fit for this system. It’s a good spot for him to learn.
What They’re Saying About the Cardinals…
Cardinal QB Kyler Murray is having a good season, and an excellent fantasy season. I don’t think many will deny that. Just look at the numbers, and they speak for themselves — per NFL Research, he’s accounted for 312.7 yards per game and 37 TD, making him the third second-year QB ever to average 300 or more yards per game with 35 or more TD. The first two — Dan Marino in 1984 and Patrick Mahomes in 2018 — won the NFL MVP.
But it’s also an example of the changing league and Murray’s unique skill set that no one is really discussing him as MVP… and rightfully so. As our Greg Cosell put it in his film review this week, Murray continues “to be a splash player capable of special individual plays but lacking the needed consistency to play at a high level.” Does that doom Kyler as a tease for all time? Of course not. But there’s still a frenetic level to his play that results in too many mistakes. He’s got all the physical tools — with the exception of height — to improve.
Murray and WR DeAndre Hopkins get a boost with the Niners being down CB Richard Sherman (calf) and S Jimmie Ward (concussion). Ward’s absence could also make things interesting for TE Dan Arnold, who has come alive of late, but is listed as questionable this week with a back injury.
RB Chase Edmonds (ankle/knee) has missed multiple practices this week and looks to be up-in-the-air to go this week, which obviously would be a great opportunity for RB Kenyan Drake, as Drake attempts to get the Cardinals to be impressed enough to bring him back next year.
I think Wilson is a borderline RB1 this week. Aiyuk is a WR2. As for Kittle, I think you can make an argument he’s a top-5 TE — or close to it. There are very few guys — Kelce, Waller, maybe Thomas — where I say I’d definitely play that guy over Kittle.
Murray is obviously a top option this week, as is Hopkins. Drake is an RB1 if Edmonds can’t go. I like Arnold as a streaming TE, but he took a big hit in my personal rankings when he came down with a back injury in practice this week.
Miami at Las Vegas (Sat, 8:15 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Dolphins…
Here’s a fun little nugget from NFL Research. Not only are Tua Tagovailoa and Marcus Mariota both from Hawaii, but they went to the same high school — St. Louis High School in Honolulu. If they start against each other this week, however unlikely it is that Mariota plays, they’ll be the 6th pair of QBs from the same high school to start against each other in an NFL game since 1950.
They’re also the second pair of QBs from the same high school to both be drafted in the top five of the NFL Draft… and the first two who aren’t related (Peyton and Eli Manning).
The Dolphins got 122 rushing yards from Salvon Ahmed last week and a big game from Matt Breida, but it’s looking like we could have a nasty RB-by-committee in Week 16 with Myles Gaskin activated off the COVID-19 list.
I would anticipate coach Brian Flores will keep their potential usage close to the vest, but for what it’s worth, The Athletic’s Josh Tolentino does expect Gaskin to get a lot of work.
“Gaskin is the team’s best all-around back because of his pass blocking and route-running abilities, so whenever he returns he should still receive a significant amount of reps, but Ahmed and Breida are proving their worth late in the season,” Tolentino writes.
The Dolphins could also get WR DeVante Parker (hamstring) and TE Mike Gesicki (shoulder) back this week. But Parker hasn’t produced much with Tua, and believe it or not, but only six teams have given up fewer fantasy points per target to TEs (1.60) than the Raiders have this year.
The Raiders could be down some key defenders in the middle of the field, however — S Erik Harris and LB Nick Kiwatkoski have been placed on the COVID-19 list, which could open room for Gesicki to operate.
What They’re Saying About the Raiders…
This is obviously going to be a difficult matchup for whatever Raider QB — Derek Carr or Marcus Mariota — suits up this week, as they take on a Miami defense and a hungry team that still has hopes for the playoffs.
But just how good a job has HC Brian Flores and his staff done with this defense? Potentially a history-making job. According to NFL Research, Miami is in position to go from the worst scoring defense in 2019 — 30.9 PPG — to the best scoring defense in 2020 — 18.4 PPG. Since the 1970 merger, that has never happened.
Carrr (groin) has been practicing in full, so it looks like he’ll go, but he’s thin on the perimeter against Miami’s elite CB duo. WR Henry Ruggs (COVID) will rejoin the team this week but it’s a tough matchup. Still, you wonder if Carr is “rushing” back because Mariota looked pretty good last week… coach Jon Gruden told reporters on Thursday that he isn’t going to spill the beans about Carr’s availability, though it seems pretty clear he’ll play.
Meanwhile, it could be yet another useful game for WR Nelson Agholor. The Dolphins are playing man at a 53% clip over the second half of the season, per SIS, which is third-most in the NFL. And on the year, Agholor has been targeted 19% of the time against man to just 16% against zone.
The Miami backfield is a mess — I view Gaskin and Ahmed both as RB3s with a slight edge to Gaskin for third-down work. If he plays, Parker is a WR3, and Gesicki a TE1 if he goes.
I want nothing to do with Carr this week. Agholor is a “meh” WR3.
NY Giants at Baltimore (Sun, 1 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Giants…
It shows you how messed up the NFC East is this year that the Giants still have a decent shot to win the damn thing but fans are very much relitigating the career of QB Daniel Jones already, as he’s in the midst of a mediocre and injury-plagued second season in the NFL.
Jones’ future is back in the spotlight this week in a bigger way because he’s going up against Lamar Jackson, whom the Giants passed on to take Saquon Barkley at #2 overall in 2018 (of course, Jackson went #32).
Coach Joe Judge is already having to answer questions about 2021. “Daniel Jones is our quarterback,” Judge said when asked about next season’s plans, per Pat Leonard of the NY Daily News.
Of course, Jones might not even be the Giants’ QB this week, as he’s still dealing with the hamstring injury that severely limited him in Week 14 and kept him out in Week 15. Judge thinks Jones is on track to start, and whether it’s Jones or Colt McCoy, the Giants QB figures to have TE Evan Engram, who is practicing in full despite a calf injury this week. WR Golden Tate, also dealing with a calf, was a midweek downgrade, however, and is out.
What They’re Saying About the Ravens…
The Ravens have been disappointing this year, for both fantasy and reality, and actually they’re still on the outside looking in at the playoff picture as we stand right now.
However, since coming off the COVID-19 list, QB Lamar Jackson is playing the best football he’s played this season, and he’s actually resembled the MVP QB of 2019. What’s changed? The Athletic’s Mark Bullock takes a look at the film. Bullock writes:
“While Jackson’s athleticism is a huge weapon in this offense, it’s made even more so when he’s not having to run every play. When he’s comfortable and afforded time in the pocket, he is perfectly capable of working through progressions, remaining patient and finding the open receiver. We haven’t seen that a lot this season, but perhaps for the Ravens, it’s coming at the right time.
The calmness in Jackson’s game was particularly promising in Week 15. I’ve written previously this season that he’s been too quick to take off running at times when he’s had checkdowns available. But against the Jaguars, he showed he was more willing to take the checkdown when it was available and he was often rewarded for it.
The early play-calling with play-action bootlegs and RPOs helped settle Jackson down and get him into rhythm early and the protection up front was much better than it has been for most of the season. That gave Jackson time to work within the pocket and progress through reads. The fact he was able to do that rather than feeling like he had to scramble after one or two reads is hugely beneficial. If the offense can continue to function like that, then Jackson might have rediscovered his best form at the perfect time of the season.”
It’s also helped that the Ravens have chosen to focus their run game on JK Dobbins and Gus Edwards, with Mark Ingram playing a total of one snap the last two weeks. WR Marquise Brown has also come alive, though he was added to the injury report this week with a knee injury. The Giants are also getting CB James Bradberry back off the COVID list.
I’d prefer to sit every Giant this week.
Keep an eye on Hollywood’s status. If he goes, he’s a WR3. Lamar is a QB1, Andrews a TE, while Dobbins (RB2) and Edwards (RB3/FLEX) are also viable.
Cincinnati at Houston (Sun, 1 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Bengals…
The Bengals upset the Steelers last week, which typically would thrill Bengal fans. But while the focus has been on the Jets potentially blowing the #1 overall pick — and QB Trevor Lawrence — by winning last week, Bengal fans are more distraught that there could be now multiple teams in the mix for Oregon LT Penei Sewell, whose fit with Cincinnati couldn’t be more obvious.
We’ve always seen fanbases make stadium signs for incoming rookie QBs, RBs, WRs, and even elite defensive players. But how often have you seen them for offensive linemen? It’s both an example of a knowledgeable Bengal fanbase, and an example of how badly neglected this line has been — and it might be responsible for the fact that franchise QB Joe Burrow is seriously hurt.
But if you want the true pulse of the fans, Reddit is always entertaining.
“If a guy like Sewell falls to three and the Bengals trade we should burn the stadium down,” one fan writes. Yikes.
The Athletic’s Paul Dehner thinks the upset win showed ownership that the Bengals play hard for coach Zac Taylor and might have “secured” his job for 2021.
Anyway, despite the win against Pittsburgh last week, QB Ryan Finley completed only 7 passes and beat writer Ben Baby expects Brandon Allen (knee) to start this week. RB Joe Mixon (foot) will not play, however. WR Tyler Boyd (concussion) may not go either, so the Bengals will be shorthanded for this glorious matchup with the woeful Texan defense.
What They’re Saying About the Texans…
The Texans will be consulting with QB Deshaun Watson on their head-coaching hire, and if early interviews are any indication, Watson and the Texans are looking at veteran, respected coaches.
Houston has met with Marvin Lewis and Jim Caldwell so far. These names might not be exciting to fans, but Houston is obviously looking to turn their tenuous situation into a stable one. They have the QB in Watson, the hardest part of a stable franchise to find. The coach is the next part.
The only Bengal I’m considering is RB Gio Bernard as a FLEX.
With Dukie out, DJ is a high-end RB2 this week.
Chicago at Jacksonville (Sun, 1 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Bears…
The Bears! They’re hot! Mitchell Trubisky is playing the best football, potentially, of his career right now. According to FiveThirtyEight, Chicago has a 32% chance to make the playoffs as it stands right now, and that would go a long way toward saving the jobs of GM Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy.
NBC Sports Chicago’s Adam Hoge is already advocating the Bears to keep Nagy. I don’t necessarily disagree — while Nagy’s had some ups and downs, he’s also been straddled with a bad QB situation that is not of his doing. Nagy writes:
Nagy was brought here to run a high-scoring offense and develop Trubisky. This has turned into an extremely layered storyline with a very blunt conclusion: the results have been poor. Trubisky was benched in Week 3 of this season and the offense only got worse without him -- ranking near the bottom of the league in almost every relevant category.
But this is where things get tricky. Nagy has relinquished play-calling, significantly changed his offense on the fly, re-inserted Trubisky over the quarterback he brought in (Nick Foles) and the offense is suddenly showing major improvements.
“Coach Nagy’s done everything he can to get these wins and to get us back on the winning track,” tight end Jimmy Graham said. “Those six weeks were extremely tough for us, but you know, talk about character building. And talk about a coaching staff that never gave up.”
Meanwhile, ESPN’s Bill Barnwell is definitely going to trigger some Bear fans. First of all, Barnwell suggests the Bears trade Foles to the Eagles to back up Jalen Hurts next year which, uh, no (from Philly’s perspective).
But the move that made me laugh the most — Barnwell suggesting a four-year extension for Trubisky. Now, Barnwell makes it clear that he’s only looking at possible scenarios and not what he thinks or suggests should happen, but even with the Bears playing some exciting football right now, it sure doesn’t feel like the fans could get behind the team paying Trubisky.
The Bears are listing WR Allen Robinson as questionable this week with a hamstring injury. He was a mid-week downgrade but got in a limited session on Friday. His status must be watched.
What They’re Saying About the Jaguars…
Look, the Jaguars have already fired their general manager. Coach Doug Marrone almost certainly knows he’s a goner. Which is what makes this situation so tough to analyze. The Jaguars would almost certainly benefit from losing out, and Marrone knows that, but he is trying to win.
QB Gardner Minshew is trying to win. RB James Robinson wants to win so badly that he is apparently pushing to play through what looked like a potential high ankle injury. Robinson is questionable for the contest. If he doesn’t play, it’s likely Devine Ozigbo would be the top back.
But you know who doesn’t want the Jags to win? Their fans. Well, they have millions of new fans in the New York region, but the fans in Jacksonville don’t want them to win. And let’s be honest, anyone interviewing for this GM job (or the eventual coaching job) don’t want the Jags to win either.
QB Trevor Lawrence is a potential franchise-changer. The next GM here would love to roll out of bed on the morning of the 2021 NFL Draft, like Colts GM Ryan Grigson did in 2012, and make the world’s most obvious pick and immediately look like a genius. Owner Shad Khan has to know this too… but can ownership even intervene in this way?
Mitchy Poo is actually a viable streamer this week. He’s played well lately! However, that takes a huge hit if ARob is out. Keep an eye on his status.
If Robinson doesn’t play, I don’t really like any Jag except maybe DJ Chark with the Bears down a couple corners.
Atlanta at Kansas City (Sun, 1 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Falcons…
Leave it to the Falcons. QB Matt Ryan had his first good game of the season with Julio Jones out last week… and Atlanta blew a massive lead to Tom Brady. You laugh to avoid crying if you’re a Falcons fan.
Anyway, the Falcons are in pure 2021 mode. Julio (hamstring) looks like he’s taken his last snap of the season. Interim coach Raheem Morris admitted this week he’s benched RB Todd Gurley — he endorsed RB Ito Smith as the lead guy in this backfield.
Ryan’s going to have to chuck it a bunch to keep pace with the Chiefs in this one. Now, he’s trying to convince the incoming regime in Atlanta that it should continue to try to build around him and open another Super Bowl window.
What They’re Saying About the Chiefs…
We know Andy Reid is one of the most aggressive “starter resters” in the NFL, dating back to his time with Philadelphia (though I guess that makes him conservative?). The Chiefs have not yet locked up the AFC’s #1 seed, though, and a win in Week 16 will accomplish that feat. But there’s also some history on the line.
Chief TE Travis Kelce is one of the great ushers of the golden age for tight ends. In the last two seasons, we’ve seen Zach Ertz break the record for most TE receptions in a season, and George Kittle break the record for most TE receiving yards in a season. Well, Kelce is looking to put his name in those record books. With just 60 yards over his last two games — if he plays in Week 17 — he’ll pass Kittle’s record 1377 from two years ago. But Kelce also is just 2 catches away from being the first TE in NFL history with multiple 100-catch campaigns, per NFL Research.
The Chiefs will be down RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire (hip, high ankle) for at least the rest of the regular season, but should — that being the operative word — have WR Tyreek Hill this week as he plays through a hamstring injury.
If the Chiefs take care of business this week, they’ll be able to rest everyone for two weeks, as they’ll lock up the AFC’s #1 seed.
I know the Falcons theoretically have to score this week to keep pace with the Chiefs, but I still am not fond of Ryan without Julio. One week doesn’t change that for me.
The Chiefs are the Chiefs. You know what to do. Bell, however, has RB1 upside. I’m treating him as a mid-range RB2.
Cleveland at NY Jets (Sun, 1 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Browns…
A big break for the Browns: the Jets’ best defensive player — DL Quinnen Williams — has been placed on IR with a concussion and neck injury. That helps the Browns’ entire offense, but especially the run game.
We could talk for hours about the Browns’ dominant run game, but there’s been one factor that makes it look like Cleveland could actually threaten in the playoffs — the play of resurgent QB Baker Mayfield.
The Browns have a system now: Start Mayfield off in the shotgun with a few short throws to let him find his rhythm, mix in runs with both Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt and then bring Mayfield under center and let the defense start guessing what’s coming next. Almost every pass play that begins with Mayfield under center now involves play action.
Against the Giants on Sunday, Mayfield completed his first eight passes involving play action. He finished the night 12-of-14 for 133 yards and two touchdowns on play action.
Our Greg Cosell has noticed Mayfield’s improvements on tape, as well:
What continued to stand out with Mayfield was how decisive he was, playing within the timing and structure of the pass game. Also, his ball placement continued to be precise.
Mayfield was spinning it at a high level versus the Giants [last week]. The ball came out with velocity.
Mayfield made excellent timing tight window throws versus zone coverage in this game; A function of decisiveness, timing and ball location.
Legendary sports writer — and longtime suffering Browns fan — Joe Posnanski thinks the offensive line deserves a significant part of the credit. Read that whole piece. Posnanski can make anything interesting, but his breakdown of the Browns’ very deliberate and very successful offensive line breakdown can give hope to fans of other long-suffering franchises… like the Browns’ opponents this week, perhaps.
Posnanski and Browns fans hope the biggest part of that rebuild — rookie LT Jedrick Wills — can play this week. Wills is on the COVID-19 list as a high-risk contact, though coach Kevin Stefanski thinks he could clear protocol this week and play if he continues to test negative. Third-stringer Kendall Lamm would start if Wills can’t. The Browns are still down G Wyatt Teller (ankle) too.
What They’re Saying About the Jets…
I’ve been perusing a lot of Reddit this week, especially as it pertains to bad, suffering fanbases. The Jets might have had the single most painful win I’ve ever seen from an NFL team last week — as it stands now, they now hold the #2 pick in the NFL Draft, or one spot behind where Trevor Lawrence will get drafted.
Watch Jets fan Rich Eisen’s rant on his radio show. And then browse r/nyjets. I feel so bad for Jets fans.
As for their current QB, how did Sam Darnold play in last week’s upset of the Rams? Our Greg Cosell breaks it down:
Darnold is a splash thrower capable of excellent throws with touch, velocity, and ball location, but those traits do not show up consistently. He still shows a tendency to throw across his body not stepping to his throws – Darnold has a strong tendency to be a thrower without needed transfer of weight.
To me, that doesn’t sound like a hopeless cause. But Jets fans obviously would prefer to watch Darnold try to get corrected somewhere else.
Baker is obviously a viable QB1 this week, though I’d feel better about him if Wills can play.
I’m not into any Jets with the exception of maybe Jamison Crowder as a WR3.
Indianapolis at Pittsburgh (Sun, 1 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Colts…
The Steelers’ defense has obviously taken a big hit since losing EDGE Bud Dupree, but per Next Gen Stats, they’re still pressuring QBs at the league’s highest rate — 38.6%. However, Colt QB Philip Rivers has the league’s highest passer rating when under pressure this year — 104.1.
Still, you wonder if the Colts might take a run-heavy approach like Cincinnati did last week. Pittsburgh has more key defenders — DE Stephon Tuitt, LB Ulysses Gilbert, and LB/S Marcus Allen — missing practice this week. But Allen was a big liability in last week’s game, and Pittsburgh is expected to get LB Vince Williams, probably their best second-level run defender, off the COVID-19 list this week.
Frank Reich is adamant his offense works best when the run game powers it. A late-season surprise for the Colts has been the ascent of rookie Jonathan Taylor, who’s playing better than he has all year after struggling in a big way midseason.
Taylor’s had 80 rushing yards or more in four straight starts. He’s found the end zone four times in that stretch and is running with better vision and instincts. The way his offensive line is playing, particularly with left tackle Anthony Castonzo back in the fold, certainly helps. If the Steelers can’t stop Taylor, the Colts offense has a shot to control the game.
Our Greg Cosell, who noted Taylor’s struggles heading into this excellent stretch, has some high praise for him:
Taylor has become much more decisive as the season has progressed with vision and lateral quickness off initial downhill path. He has become much better working inside in confined space, playing to his size.
The more I watch Taylor the more I wonder if there is a valid comparison to Fred Taylor given his size and running traits. I’m not ready to go there yet, since Fred was special, but something to consider as Taylor’s career moves forward.
Colt TE Jack Doyle was added to the injury report this week with a quad injury. He missed practice on Thursday.
The Colts also won’t have RT Braden Smith, who is out on the COVID list, while Castonzo (knee/ankle) remains questionable.
What They’re Saying About the Steelers…
Obviously, all the discussion has surrounded the brutal struggles of the Steelers’ offense, and particularly QB Ben Roethlisberger. It was quite ironic that Roethlisberger’s people leaked to Adam Schefter last week right before kickoff that Ben plans to return in 2021 for his 18th season… and then he proceeded to play what some beat writers called the worst game they had ever seen him play in an embarrassing loss to the Bengals.
The Athletic’s Mark Kaboly has a measured take on Roethlisberger:
I think there’s a better chance of him getting an extension this offseason than him being cut. The Steelers could use some cap relief and get some by adding years onto Roethlisberger’s deal, which is up after the 2021 season. I guess he could retire, but I wouldn’t anticipate that. You really can’t believe everything you hear about him. His arm isn’t about to fall off, and his leg isn’t going to need to be amputated above the knee. I don’t see much difference with him from when he was being called an MVP earlier in the season than now — at least physically. He threw the ball 50 yards down the field off his back foot while rolling to his right on the first play of the game Monday. If your elbow is shot, that doesn’t happen. They need some better offensive line help and some diversity in the scheme. They can still win with him. His demise, in my opinion, has greatly been exaggerated.
Kaboly’s colleague, Ed Bouchette, is very plugged in and has covered the team for a long time. He has a take on why Ben is struggling so much:
Things looked really bad Monday for sure. I talked to a few people I trust and they believe Ben Roethlisberger is anticipating too many throws because he doesn’t want to get hit. They’ve seen that in other older quarterbacks as well. The arm still seems fine, but unless they can protect him longer and he stays in there and looks over the whole field, we may see more of the same.
Bouchette also has a sobering look at 2021, as many Steeler fans believe in investing in a backup QB with more upside than Mason Rudolph in the event Ben looks the same — or worse — next year. The cap makes that hard, Bouchette writes:
If Roethlisberger is not with the Steelers next season, what do they do for a quarterback? Mason Rudolph is their man. He may not be their man, but for 2021 it must be that way. There’s no sense trading for one — you’re going to need those draft picks as you blow it up. There’s no sense drafting for one — they’ll be near the end of the first round in 2021, so the pickings will be slim. Go with Rudolph and get your man in the 2022 draft, if you can. By then, Rudolph will be a free agent and gone, unless he performs so well in 2021 that you franchise him or sign him to a mega-deal.
It’s amazing that the talk of “what are the Steelers going to do?” resembles the panicking fanbases on Reddit… for a team that was 11-0 just three weeks ago. But there’s no doubt there are some big, big problems here.
I’m still rolling with Taylor as an RB1. He’s hot and the Colts will do what they do.
The Steeler offense is an abomination. The only guy I feel good about is WR Diontae Johnson. Neither RB here is more than a FLEX against DeForest Buckner and company.
Denver at LA Chargers (Sun, 4:05 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Broncos…
Coach Vic Fangio told reporters this week that it looks like RB Phillip Lindsay (knee/hip) would be, at best, a game-time decision. Beat writer Mike Klis is less optimistic. Klis was right — Lindsay is listed as out. Frankly, it seems like we donate a lot of ink to Lindsay, someone who has been less than useless for fantasy — he hasn’t had 10 fantasy points in a single game since Week 8, and has topped 40 yards from scrimmage just five times all year… and just once in the last month.
Lindsay being out means one thing — it’s good news for Melvin Gordon in a REVENGE GAME, who has been the better fantasy option all year anyway. The injury is clearly affecting Lindsay, but it doesn’t change the fact that he’s a zero in the passing game and at the goal line… which is why we avoided him this season in the first place. RB Royce Freeman (calf) is also questionable.
This is one off QB Drew Lock’s last chances to impress before the Broncos go into a very difficult off-season. There have clearly been positives with Lock, who has an aggressive mentality and a playmaker’s disposition. But his mechanics are awful and he occasionally makes atrocious decisions. With a banged-up offense around him, Lock has been PFF’s worst-graded QB this year.
But this is a good matchup for him — per SIS, the Charger defense ranks at or near the bottom of several key deep ball categories: attempts faced (63), completions (28), yards (946), touchdowns (9), and deep ball percentage (14%). And Lock throws it deep on 15% of his attempts, most among all QBs. Hello, KJ Hamler?
Nonetheless, the Broncos might be out of position to do anything at QB in the NFL Draft other than continue to build around Lock or take the old John Elway approach: try to put a veteran band-aid on the position.
The Chargers will again be without DE Joey Bosa (concussion/neck) this week, which will help the entire Bronco offense.
Bronco K Brandon McManus (COVID-19) is activated and will kick this week.
What They’re Saying About the Chargers…
The Chargers have taken a major hit around QB Justin Herbert.
TE Hunter Henry — who has really come alive of late — will miss this game after being placed on the COVID-19 list. Meanwhile, after crushing fantasy players last week following a hamstring tweak, WR Keenan Allen is a true game-time decision, per coach Anthony Lynn. Do you feel good about starting him?
With Henry out, XFL star Donald Parham will start at TE.
The dwindling weapons haven’t stopped our Greg Cosell from being impressed with Herbert, though. Check out his Week 15 observations from the win over the Raiders:
Herbert continued to throw with a refined sense of timing, especially on spot throws outside the numbers.
Herbert continued to be a turn-it-loose thrower,. especially versus one-on-one matchups. That is part of his DNA.
What continued to stand out is that Herbert is seeing the field and going through progressions, He is poised in the pocket making late-in-the-down throws.
Raiders were in nickel cover 6. The Chargers attacked the quarters side of the coverage with Hill from the field slot running the deep out route to control safety Harris, and Guyton running the deep post versus outside leverage corner Nixon. Herbert threw the ball 57 yards in the air sitting on his back foot unable to step into the throw. It was one of the best throws of the season.
So not only are his physical skills outstanding, but Herbert is mentally playing the game like a veteran. Is that good?
Gordon is a borderline RB1 in this matchup given the injuries. I like the potential in DFS for some of these Bronco receivers, but you probably can’t comfortably start any of them in a season-long environment.
I presume Parham will be a popular DFS TE, but there are likely some more appealing streamers for season-long. Herbert definitely takes a hit with Henry out and Allen a GTD, but if Bradley Chubb is out that helps him out too.
Carolina at Washington (Sun, 4:05 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Panthers…
The Panthers are packing it in for 2021. That’s confirmed already, given they fired GM Marty Hurney, but once again it’s unlikely RB Christian McCaffrey plays this week with a thigh injury, and coach Matt Rhule told reporters that he’s unsure if CMC will play in Week 17.
So it’ll be another week of goodness from RB Mike Davis, who will go down as one of the top Waiver Wire pickups of the 2020 campaign.
With Rhule’s leadership, though, this should be an appealing GM job. According to Joseph Person of The Athletic, owner David Tepper wants someone who is focused more on analytics — Hurney was more of a “traditional” GM. Carolina’s currently sitting in the #4 position in the 2021 NFL Draft, which puts them in a prime spot to take their QB of the future, if they so wish. While Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence is the belle of the ball here, it’s a deep and talented class of gunslingers.
What They’re Saying About the Football Team…
The Team can clinch the NFC East this week with just its 7th win, so long as the Giants also lose. It looks like Washington has a good shot to have QB Alex Smith (calf) back this week. Smith is listed as questionable but took the first-team reps in Friday’s practice, which is obviously a good sign that Washington plans to have him start over Dwayne Haskins.
Obviously, Haskins has a lot to work on besides his game — he was disciplined by the team with a $40,000 fine and being stripped of his captaincy for going maskless to a strip club. Haskins’ future is incredibly dicey given his play, immaturity notwithstanding, but coach Ron Rivera is obviously more focused on winning the division now than who his QB in 2021 will be.
If Smith does start, he’s unlikely to have WR Terry McLaurin, who was out all week with an ankle injury. He’s listed as doubtful. However, RB Antonio Gibson is questionable to return from turf toe. If he plays, he’ll get the early-down work, while Smith favorite JD McKissic will continue to dominate the checkdowns.
With McLaurin out, the top WR here will be Cam Sims, who has been up and over 90% of the snaps in the last two games. But TE Logan Thomas — behind only Travis Kelce and Darren Waller in targets, catches, and fantasy points the last month — is likely to be Smith’s top target.
Just keep rolling with Davis.
I consider Sims a WR3 this week, with Gibson a FLEX and McKissic a PPR RB2. Thomas is a slam-dunk TE1.
Philadelphia at Dallas (Sun, 4:25 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Eagles…
Everything in Philly continues to be about the QB situation. And while the financials seem to indicate the Eagles will be holding on to Carson Wentz next season, I don’t think that decision can be made solely on financials … or solely on one factor at all.
There’s no doubt QB Jalen Hurts has exceeded expectations. I had a conversation with our Greg Cosell this week, and while Greg liked Hurts as a developmental prospect with high-level tools coming out of Oklahoma, he’s been impressed with how quickly Hurts seems to have taken to the NFL game. Hurts’ ball placement and anticipation have been better than he ever showed in college, above all.
But the areas he’s really excelling are executing the Eagles’ offense in a timely fashion. “There was no hesitation to his play,” Cosell wrote this week about Hurts’ Week 15 performance against the Cardinals, both in terms of throwing the ball and running it. If Hurts continues to look anywhere close to this level of player, the Eagles are going to have to go into 2021 with him as the quarterback.
In another city, that might not be so obvious. But try as the Eagles might, Philadelphia is different than Jacksonville. I just refuse to believe that, barring Hurts utterly collapsing these last two weeks, the Eagles will have a quarterback controversy be the entire story of their 2021 off-season. I do believe the Eagles failed Wentz in many ways, and I think he has a right to feel that the organization has done him dirty (despite, y’know, the $128 million). I also believe Wentz’s play has been by far the worst of his career this year, and Hurts has been worlds better. Whether or not Wentz is in Philly next year, they must answer “where and why did this go wrong?” to prevent the same from happening again.
Anyway, the Eagles still have a slim shot at winning the NFC East! They should have a near full complement of weapons for Hurts, including rookie WR Jalen Reagor (ankle) and even potentially WR DeSean Jackson, who is back to practice off IR.
If the Eagles have enough bodies at WR, they should consider playing more 3-WR sets. As Cosell noted, Hurts was far better out of 11 personnel than 12 personnel last week against the Cards: 14/18 for 201 yards and 2 TD out of 11, 10/26 for 137 yards and 1 TD out of 12. Is it possible the Eagles’ 12 personnel packages are just totally broken and/or they simply use them too much?
Still, Philly will likely attack down the seams with TE Dallas Goedert — Cowboy S Xavier Woods (ribs) is out this week.
What They’re Saying About the Cowboys…
It looks like the Cowboys are going to get RB Ezekiel Elliott back from a calf injury this week. But the question is how much he’ll actually play following Tony Pollard’s impressive game against the 49ers last week.
Here’s what The Athletic’s Bob Sturm has to say about Pollard:
Look, either you already know that the Ezekiel Elliott contract was a very bad idea, or you are Jerry Jones. There is simply no argument anymore suggesting that he should be the highest-paid RB in pro football. Does he deserve a spot and a role? Sure. But the way he is leveraged and the way they have been reluctant to suggest he is now part of a job-share is disconcerting. As the season has gone on, Tony Pollard has demonstrated that he is worthy of more usage, and I think that is a real positive for 2021. Honestly, spending too much time worrying about the payday is only a mental hurdle to cross.
Pollard has more juice and more wiggle. Elliott still has positive attributes, but you see where this is headed. Allow me to use the best Formula 1 racing anecdote I am capable of: The best competition is usually between teammates. Why? Because, they have the same car, the same equipment, the same budget, the same everything. You can handle being beaten by Mercedes because they have the best stuff, and you don’t. But your teammate? They have the same situation.
In Dallas, that means the same backup QB and the same backup line. The only difference might be playcalling, but if Zeke has some excuses, so does Pollard.
Sturm also has positive things to say about TE Dalton Schultz, which is worth noting this week because the Eagles don’t have S Rodney McLeod (ACL).
It’s also worth pointing out that the Cowboys should have WR Michael Gallup (hip) after a scare last week, and the Eagles should have top CB Darius Slay (concussion). Slay has had some rough matchups the last few weeks, but he historically owns Amari Cooper, who had just 1 catch for 5 yards the first time they matched up this year.
Hurts is a top-5 QB this week. I’m less bullish on his receivers — Reagor is my favorite as a WR3, while I prefer Goedert to Zach Ertz.
I think Zeke is an RB2 and Pollard a FLEX. Schultz is a reasonable TE streamer. Cooper is a WR2 with significant downside this week.
LA Rams at Seattle (Sun, 4:25 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Rams…
The Seahawk defense has improved in a big way of late, and getting S Jamal Adams back from injury was the likely catalyst. Adams has 9.5 sacks this season, the most in a single season by a defensive back since the stat has been tracked (1982). Adams also leads all DBs with 14 QB hits and 23 QB pressures (per Next Gen Stats) this season.
The Athletic’s Jordan Rodrigue expects rookie RB Xavier Jones to be active this week. The Rams don’t want to be caught shorthanded with Darrell Henderson having gotten injured in-game multiple times this year.
What They’re Saying About the Seahawks…
The Seahawk offense has been in the tank for a little bit here, and if you’re counting on WR DK Metcalf in Week 16, this matchup couldn’t come at a worse time.
Metcalf had just 2 receptions for 28 yards against the Rams in Week 10. That’s not good as is. But per Next Gen Stats, Metcalf caught none of those passes on top CB Jalen Ramsey… who shadowed Metcalf on 77.1% of his routes, which is a stupid high number in today’s NFL. Ramsey is the only shadow CB who has held Metcalf without a reception in any game this year.
“I was brought here to stop guys like him,” Ramsey said on Thursday.
The Rams also held QB Russell Wilson to his worst performance of the year, with a 57.0 passer rating, 0 TD, and 2 INT. However, NFL Research likes Wilson in this spot. There have been three previous instances in his career in which Wilson had 2 or more INT in the first matchup of the season against a division rival. Wilson has bounced back to win the second matchup that season all three times, with 6 pass TD, 0 INT, and a 131.7 passer rating in those games. So what will give — recent trends or historical ones?
Henderson is an RB2, with Brown as a FLEX. Goff is a middling QB start.
Metcalf is a WR2 in this matchup given the struggles of the offense as a whole. While Wilson is hard to sit, to illustrate where I’m at with him, I’d play Jalen Hurts over him without a second thought.
Tennessee at Green Bay (Sun, 8:20 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Titans…
The Titans are going to play the way they play, and teams are reacting as such — there’s no doubt that overcommitting to stopping Derrick Henry is helping QB Ryan Tannehill put up big numbers. But teams overcommitting to stopping Henry isn’t stopping Henry from putting up big numbers either.
Per Next Gen Stats, Henry has 214 rush yards over expectation, 582 rush yards overall, and 10 rush TD against stacked boxes. All of those numbers lead the league.
Meanwhile, here’s what our Greg Cosell had to say about Henry in his Week 15 film review of the win over the Lions… without the ball in his hands. Cosell writes:
“Tannehill’s 17-yard TD run was a great example of the impact the Henry outside zone run game has on the back side DE, who is the contain player for Tannehill on boot action away from the zone action. DE Okwara raced down the line of scrimmage and totally abandoned his responsibility.”
One way to slow down Tannehill and the passing game, though, and that’s to play S Darnell Savage as a robber over the middle of the field, per our friend Ben Fennell.
What They’re Saying About the Packers…
Packer QB Aaron Rodgers has some catching up to do in the MVP race — he’s a pretty heavy underdog to Patrick Mahomes in the betting markets right now. Fortunately, per NFL Research, Rodgers is likely to make his case on national television on Sunday night.
Rodgers is 5-0 in primetime games this season, with 16 pass TD, 0 INT, and a 132.7 passer rating. His 16 pass TD without an INT are the most by any QB in primetime games in a single season since at least 2000.
Meanwhile, RB Aaron Jones looks ready to go, by his own admission. He’s dealing with a toe injury, and you wonder if the Packers are just being cautious given backup Jamaal Williams (quad) looks unlikely to go — he’s doubtful.
You guys know how to handle this game. Play everyone you usually would… with a focus on the run game.
Buffalo at New England (Mon, 8:15 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Bills…
The Bills might not have a chance to get the #1 seed in the AFC by the time their game kicks off on Monday night — the Chiefs can clinch with a win on Sunday. But the Bills now seem to be in a great spot for the #2 seed with Pittsburgh in a tailspin, so there doesn’t seem to be a reason to believe they will rest their starters, at least this week.
In fact, the Bills cut WR Jake Kumerow, who scored a TD last week, which seems to be a good indicator that John Brown will return from IR and play this week. The Bills will also have WR Stefon Diggs. Diggs left last week’s blowout of the Broncos with a foot injury, but it was minor and he’s been practicing in full this week. That’s all good news for QB Josh Allen.
More good news for Allen? Patriot CB Stephon Gilmore (quad) needs surgery and is out for the year. That should open up plenty of room for Buffalo to air it out.
What They’re Saying About the Patriots…
By sticking with Newton through some of his struggles, it seemed to be an indication Bill Belichick was also considering Newton for another year, even if it’s just for competition purposes next summer. But if Belichick goes with Stidham for the next two weeks, will that change the dynamic? Not from a relationship standpoint — I can’t imagine Belichick and Newton ever having anything but a very strong bond — but would Newton consider another go-round in New England knowing the hold on the top job is far less secure? The counterargument here is Newton hasn’t put enough on tape to suggest there will be a bidding war in free agency or a team that will guarantee him a starting role. Too early to know how this will unfold.
The Pats also have some OL issues — C David Andrews couldn’t finish the game last week and struggled when he was in there because of a calf injury.
I’m loading up on the Bills’ passing game, with Allen and Diggs as a QB1 and WR1, respectively.
I want absolutely nothing to do with the Patriots.