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 will publish this column twice weekly — on Wednesdays to preview the Thursday night game, and on Fridays to preview the Sunday slate.
New York Giants at Chicago (Sun, 1 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Giants…
I don’t think anyone would argue that Darius Slayton is an elite NFL WR, but check this out. After Monday night’s loss to the Steelers, Slayton now has his third game with 100+ receiving yards and 2 TD. Since he entered the league in 2019, that’s tied with Chris Godwin for the most in the NFL.
It was an inauspicious debut for Saquon Barkley for the 2020 NFL season, running for just 6 yards on 15 carries against a Steeler defense that was consistently finding its way into the Giants backfield. More problematic, the Bears have allowed just five 100-yard rushing performances since the start of the 2018 season… though Barkley is one of those performances (he ran for 125 yards against the Bears in Week 13 of 2018). Comments from OC Jason Garrett this week suggest that the Giants aren’t going to be giving up on the run any time soon.
The problem for the Giants in Week 1 was very much the offensive line, which had only their two guards — LG Will Hernandez and RG Kevin Zeitler — starting in the same spots in Week 1 2020 as Week 1 in 2019.
TE Evan Engram had a really bad Week 1, catching just 2 of his 7 targets for 9 yards, missing some blocks and dropping two passes. Kim Jones of NFL Network reports that OC Jason Garrett gave Engram sort of a vote of confidence following the game — Garrett thinks Engram can be a complete TE. The good news is that Engram saw the third-most targets on the club, behind Slayton and Barkley. The bad news is it looks like WR Golden Tate (hamstring) will be back this week. Was Engram just getting his feet wet after missing much of 2019, or is he just what he is at this stage?
What They’re Saying About the Bears…
WR Allen Robinson might be taking some cues from Alvin Kamara and Dalvin Cook. In a whirlwind early part of the week, Robinson removed all references to the Bears on his social media, a clear sign that he isn’t happy with his contract situation. Apparently, Robinson had a chat with coach Matt Nagy and will not be holding out or requesting a trade, according to Jason Lieser of the Chicago Sun-Times. It’s easy to see why ARob is frustrated with his contract, though, as he caught 98 passes with Mitchell Trubisky at QB last year. Robinson deserved to be paid like one of the league’s best WRs. Nagy told Robinson that the Bears have a history of “taking care of guys.”
What’s going on with WR Anthony Miller? Despite a productive day in Week 1 against the Lions (4/76/1 on 6 targets), he played only 42% of the offensive snaps, which is not terribly conducive to consistent fantasy success. That was despite the Bears playing 41 of their 64 snaps (64.1%) out of sets of three WRs or more (Sharp Football Stats). The Chicago Tribune’s Brad Biggs suggested the Bears wanted some balance and thinks Miller’s snaps should be above 50% most weeks, but that doesn’t explain why the snaps were so low in even 3-WR sets. Hopefully, Miller’s production makes it hard to ignore him going forward.
In the piece linked above, Biggs also wrote he’s “said all summer” that RB David Montgomery will “be more involved in the passing game this season.” Montgomery out-targeted Tarik Cohen 3 to 2 in Week 1.
The Bears’ pass rush could get a boost this week if DE/OLB Robert Quinn (ankle) can play this week after missing Week 1.
At this point, there’s clearly a connection with Slayton and Daniel Jones. I’m going to view Slayton as an every-week WR3. I think Shepard and Tate are bench fodder at this stage. I’ll give Engram another week or two before I start thinking about truly replacing him, but I’d be aggressive on the Waiver Wire to try to get some upside for my bench.
Obviously, you have to play Barkley, and just hope that the Giant OL plays better.
Robinson is in my lineup. No questions asked. I think Miller is a risky WR3 given his role. I have no idea why he didn’t play a lot. I feel way better about Montgomery as a FLEX option than I do Cohen at this stage.
Atlanta at Dallas (Sun, 1 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Falcons…
The Athletic’s Tori McElhaney said she “wasn’t really expecting” RB Ito Smith to play 25% of the Falcons’ offensive snaps in Week 1, behind 46% for Todd Gurley and 27% for Brian Hill. She indicated that was far more than she expected. She also noted that Hill was the primary back for the Falcons’ first TD drive, but that Gurley came in at the goal line — it appears the Falcons acknowledge that Gurley isn’t capable of handling a massive snap share. Keep an eye on this rotation going forward — it could be a good week for Atlanta to run it with both Cowboy LBs Sean Lee (groin) and Leighton Vander Esch (collarbone) on IR.
McElhaney also talked about TE Hayden Hurst, who had just 5 targets and 3 catches as the Falcons had three WRs go for over 100 yards. “I still believe Hurst is going to do big things this year,” she said. OC Dirk Koetter agrees: “He graded out pretty well, but he just didn’t get many opportunities… That’s not going to be an every-week thing,” Koetter added about the WRs.
Falcon WR Julio Jones was limited before Week 1 with a hamstring injury and posted 9/157 receiving on 12 targets. He’s limited again this week, but there doesn’t appear to be any reason to worry (“My concern level is low,” coach Dan Quinn said). Meanwhile, our Greg Cosell said on our Matchup Points livestream that Calvin Ridley “looked smooth as silk.”
The Cowboys are expecting slot CB Jourdan Lewis (ankle) to play this week — that’s not great news for the prospect of WR Russell Gage to repeat his massive Week 1 performance.
What They’re Saying About the Cowboys…
Per Next Gen Stats, Cowboys QB Dak Prescott completed only 50% of his passes when pressured in Week 1, vs. 72% when not pressured. The good news for Prescott? Per SportsInfoSolutions, the Falcons’ 17.1 expected points gained for their opponents in Week 1 pass-rush situations was tied with the Vikings for worst in the NFL. That could help the Cowboys offset injuries to their offensive line — RT La’El Collins is on short-term IR, and his replacement, Cam Erving (knee), got injured last week against the Rams and ended up on IR himself. LT Tyron Smith didn’t practice on Thursday with a neck injury.
With TE Blake Jarwin out for the year, Cowboys VP Stephen Jones said the Cowboys will “see what’s out there at tight end,” suggesting they could sign a free agent (Delanie Walker?) or perhaps make a trade. For now, there are plenty more targets for rookie WR CeeDee Lamb in the slot, and Dalton Schultz will likely be the new starter to replace Jarwin.
The Athletic’s Bob Sturm noted that the Cowboys were terrible on third down in Week 1, with little creativity from OC Kellen Moore — the Rams seemed to understand the Cowboys could be exploited on the offensive line and selectively blitzed.
The Cowboys might have a true find in veteran EDGE Aldon Smith, who hadn’t played a single game since 2015 because of myriad issues. Smith impressed in his Cowboys debut — DC Mike Nolan told The Athletic’s Jon Machota that at times Smith “could dominate the point of attack.” That could be especially notable this week, with Falcon LT Jake Matthews (knee) dinged up and not 100%.
Cowboys WR Amari Cooper was limited in Thursday’s practice with a foot injury. It’s a new injury, which is always some level of concern.
I think Gurley is still an RB2 at this point, but the Falcons clearly don’t want to overwork him. I’m going to be following this situation to see if someone might hold independent fantasy value.
I’m going to give Hurst another week in my lineup with the Cowboys’ weak LB and safety groups — I don’t think this is a great week for Gage with Lewis expected back in the lineup.
For the Cowboys, I’m watching Cooper’s status, but this Falcon defense stinks. It’s all hands on deck — I’m playing everyone, including Lamb.
Detroit at Green Bay (Sun, 1 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Lions…
After rookie RB D’Andre Swift dropped what would have been a game-winning TD pass last week, there is a lot of concern that coach Matt Patricia or QB Matthew Stafford would lose faith in him. Well, Swift’s teammates rallied around him this week, with fellow RB Adrian Peterson taking him aside and Stafford telling reporters on Wednesday that he would go to Swift again in that situation “100 times out of 100.” Now, Patricia and OC Darrell Bevell need to back it up by putting him on the field. I remain skeptical that will happen.
The Lions could have a little easier go of it on the ground this week with Packers DT Kenny Clark (groin) looking unlikely to play.
The Lions could have RT Halapoulivaati Vaitai (foot) back this week, though it’s more likely for Week 3. It appears unlikely, however, that star WR Kenny Golladay (hamstring) will play.
The player to keep an eye on if Golladay can’t play again is rookie WR Quintez Cephus. Cephus’ 10 targets led the Lions in Week 1, and he played 79% of the offensive snaps, behind only Marvin Jones at WR for the Lions. It’s possible he earns a big role if he impresses, even once Golladay returns. MLive’s Kyle Meinke reports that Stafford and the coaching staff say Cephus still has some details to iron out, but overall came away impressed.
What They’re Saying About the Packers…
Packer QB Aaron Rodgers was PFF’s highest-graded player of Week 1 (96.0).
Could the Packers have more depth at WR than we though? I think it’s interesting that Rodgers had talked up both Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Allen Lazard this off-season, and both scored in Week 1. (MVS also dealt with some drops.) Rodgers suggested that MVS needs to stop being so hard on himself.
I’m not expecting this to be a regular occurrence going forward, but Rodgers now seems to trust his younger guys. That’s especially notable this week, because the Lions are really hurting at CB — rookie Jeff Okudah (hamstring) missed last week, and though he should be back this week, the Lions lost both Desmond Trufant and slot CB Justin Coleman to hamstring injuries, with neither likely to play this week (Coleman is on IR).
Star Packer WR Davante Adams had 8 catches and 2 TD out of the slot in Week 1… and Coleman is out. Is that actionable?
Unfortunately for the Packers, their offensive line took a massive hit in Week 1, with RG Lane Taylor going down with a torn ACL. His replacement? Jon Runyan Jr. You might remember his dad from his battles with Michael Strahan. Runyan played left guard for most of camp, but stepped right in on the right side and earned praise from coach Matt LaFleur.
I consider both Swift and Peterson RB3s at this stage. Peterson is clearly more reliable, but we’ll see if the trust coaches and players are showing in him is just lip service.
I don’t think I’m playing him except in super deep leagues, but Cephus should be a priority add in most leagues, given the Lions are going to have to score a lot to compete this year.
I’m back on the Rodgers train. He absolutely crushed the Vikings’ man coverage last week, and the Lions play a ton of man. Do the Lions play more zone because they’re down a bunch of corners?
Adams is my favorite WR play of the week, without any question.
For me, I have more faith in Lazard than MVS for fantasy — Rodgers’ trust in him is evident. Hell, he said so himself. It’s why Fantasy Twitter legend Jeff Janis never got on the field. I don’t want to backpedal too much after Week 1, because things are never as good (or as bad) as they seem after just one game. But both guys are viable lower-end options this week with the Lions’ secondary in shambles.
Minnesota at Indianapolis (Sun, 1 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Vikings…
WR Adam Thielen is healthy. He hurt his hamstring in Week 7 of last year, and never recovered for the rest of the season. His game of 100 receiving yards and 2 TD against the Packers in Week 1 marked the first time he did that since Week 5 of 2019, just before the hamstring injury.
One area the Vikings are trusting Thielen to take a step up is on downfield routes. Per Next Gen Stats, Thielen ran 11 downfield routes in Week 1 (average of 9.1 in 2019), and he averaged 18.7 air yards per target in Week 1 (12.7 in 2019).
Minnesota is already down a starting offensive lineman. Though G Pat Elflein hasn’t exactly had a stellar career thus far, the Vikings will have to replace him in Week 2 after putting him on IR. Second-year man Dru Samia or rookie Ezra Cleveland could be the new starter, though the Vikings might not want to mess with Cleveland’s position if they want him to play tackle. Pass pro could be easier for the Vikings this week, though — Colts EDGE Justin Houston was added to the injury report with a calf injury on Thursday.
The Vikings’ 43 points allowed were the most allowed by a Mike Zimmer defense since the Bengals allowed 44 in Week 1, 2012, when Zimmer was the defensive coordinator in Cincy.
What They’re Saying About the Colts…
The Vikings’ defense got absolutely torched by Aaron Rodgers last week, but coach Mike Zimmer has had Philip Rivers’s number throughout his career. Since 2010, Rivers has posted 4 TD, 7 INT, and a 74.9 passer rating against Zimmer defenses. He has lost all five games he’s faced Zimmer in this span.
That said, the Vikings had a miserable go of it last week — per SportsInfoSolutions, CB Mike Hughes was the worst CB in the NFL in Week 1 by the points saved metric (-4.7), and per PFF, Hughes, Holton Hill, and Cameron Dantzler all allowed a QB rating of 100 or more. The big question: is that a serious problem and can Rivers take advantage, or was that just Rodgers being Rodgers? Note that Dantzler is highly questionable to play this week with a rib injury.
The Colts figured to be a high-usage “12” personnel (1 RB, 2 TE) team this year, but those plans changed in a big way in Week 1 with Trey Burton (calf) on IR — their 81% “11” personnel usage ranked behind only the Jets and Cowboys (Sharp Football Stats). And they might have to use more of it in Week 2 with TE Jack Doyle (ankle, knee) out. That’s good news for Parris Campbell, who was third among all WRs with 9 slot targets in Week 1.
The Indianapolis Star’s Joel Erickson featured Campbell this week following his breakout game. One thing that stood out to me — Rivers told Erickson that because of Campbell’s knowledge of the offense, he felt he was a veteran, and not someone who had missed basically his entire rookie season. “The ceiling is so high for him,” Rivers said.
I think Thielen is a high-end WR1 this year. I’m floating that I got him so much in the fourth round.
Campbell is now on the WR3 radar. He looked absolutely explosive last week and with Doyle looking like he’s going to miss and Pittman and Pascal dinged up, he could be in line for 10 targets. The Vikings gave up 3 TDs to slot receivers last week, so I really love Campbell here.
Buffalo at Miami (Sun, 1 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Bills…
Week 1 star WR John Brown missed practice on Wednesday with a foot injury, but it appears it was just precautionary as he was back in full on Thursday.
But if either Brown or Stefon Diggs were to miss time in the near future, the Bills seem to have plenty of confidence in rookie WR Gabriel Davis. Our Adam Caplan reported all off-season that the Bills are in love with the third-round pick, and his Week 1 usage suggests as much — he played 49% of the snaps in his first career game. Caplan told us the team views Davis as its future “X” receiver.
What They’re Saying About the Dolphins…
It was an utterly miserable Week 1 for QB Ryan Fitzpatrick. According to Next Gen Stats, all 3 of his Week 1 interceptions were from a clean pocket — he had only 5 such picks in all of 2019. I guess the good news is, uh, the Bills should generate a lot of pressure? The Bills had the NFL’s third-most successful pass rush by SportsInfoSolutions’ EPA metric in Week 1.
WR DeVante Parker (hamstring) has been limited in practice this week, after leaving early last week. It looks like he has a good shot to play this week, but unfortunately, it’ll be in a matchup with shutdown CB Tre’Davious White (for what it’s worth, White didn’t shadow any Jet WR last week). He looked good in Friday practice, but he’s looking like a true game-time decision.
The most shocking lead back in Week 1 was probably the Dolphins’ Myles Gaskin, who played 63% of Miami’s offensive snaps to 23% for Matt Breida, and just 15% for Jordan Howard. Coach Brian Flores told reporters that the Dolphins have to play the guys “who are productive,” while OC Chan Gailey said “we’d like to play Breida more.” That, uhhh… doesn’t sound great for Howard, who had just 7 yards on 8 carries in Week 1 (with a TD, a true Jerome Bettis stat line).
For what it’s worth, the run game could be a little easier for Miami this week with both Bill LBs Matt Milano (hamstring) and Tremaine Edmunds (shoulder) out.
I’m considering Brown and Diggs both WR3s this week against the Dolphins’ excellent secondary. But I was super impressed by how Josh Allen played last week (also, the Dolphins gave up 2 rushing TD to Cam Newton last week).
I’d prefer to sit everyone on this Dolphins’ offense. I think Howard is droppable at this stage. I didn’t get good vibes from the comments that coaches were making this week.
San Francisco at NY Jets (Sun, 1 PM)
What They’re Saying About the 49ers…
This could be a week for the 49ers to run the hell out of the ball. Despite the Jets getting shredded through the air against Josh Allen last week, the Niners are dreadfully thin on weapons with WR Deebo Samuel (foot) on IR and TE George Kittle (knee) — they added former Kyle Shanahan favorite Mohamed Sanu to the fold this week. The Jets did post the #2 DVOA run defense in Week 1, however.
To expect Sanu or rookie WR Brandon Aiyuk (potentially making his debut this week following a hamstring injury) to rectify everything that was wrong with the pass game would be a huge mistake though — QB Jimmy Garoppolo had a 47.9 passer rating when targeting WRs in Week 1, and a 136.6 passer rating when targeting everybody else. That, obviously, would change if Kittle can’t play. If Kittle can’t go (and he didn’t practice this week by design), veteran Jordan Reed would have a bigger role. Our Adam Caplan reports that the 49ers “will take it as long they can” until they make a decision on Kittle.
Even though Sanu knows the offense, he could be slow off the mark. Because of COVID protocols, he can’t practice until Friday.
It could be a big week for the RBs in the passing game. Garoppolo was 7/12 for 150 yards with 2 TD throwing to receivers out of the backfield last week (TDs to Raheem Mostert and Jerick McKinnon). The Jets allowed 8/11 passing for 39 yards and a TD (Zack Moss) to backfield-aligned receivers last week.
As for Mostert, his child is expected to be born next week. NBC Sports’ Matt Maiocco says Mostert will travel to Cleveland for the birth, but is not expected to miss any game time.
What They’re Saying About the Jets…
It’s always a good thing when the team owner has to give his coach a vote of confidence after Week 1… yikes. Jets fans are at the end of their respective ropes when it comes to Adam Gase.
So… with the Jets’ backfield decimated (Le’Veon Bell on IR and Lamical Perine not playing), should the Jets run QB Sam Darnold more? The 49ers are unbeaten since the start of the 2019 season against QBs that haven’t run for at least 25 yards (Kyler Murray had 93 last week).
At RB, Frank Gore will get the start, Gase said. With Bell on IR, the Jets signed Kalen Ballage — who might have been the worst RB in the NFL last year — to the active roster. However, the player Jets fans and players alike are most excited to see is rookie RB La’Mical Perine, who missed Week 1 with an ankle injury. The New York Post’s Brian Costello reports that Gase doesn’t want to “overwork” Gore, while Darnold says Perine “has big play written all over him.”
Frankly, the Jets might not have a choice but to run it a lot — slot WR Jamison Crowder (hamstring) was injured in practice on Wednesday and is out this week. Meanwhile, Breshad Perriman was the only WR in the entire NFL who played 100% of his team’s snaps in Week 1, and the Niners are now down CB Richard Sherman (hamstring — on short-term IR). Is a breakout game for Perriman coming?
Darnold could also have more time to throw this week if 49ers EDGE Dee Ford (neck) can’t play. But according to our Greg Cosell, that sometimes doesn’t matter — Darnold is an undisciplined player who occasionally creates and perceives pressure when it’s not there.
Obviously, you’re playing Kittle if he goes, but it appears he’s a true game-time decision. If he doesn’t go, Garoppolo isn’t exactly the most advisable play, unless you’re trying to be a DFS contrarian. Reed could be a one-week streamer if Kittle doesn’t go. I’m probably going to give Aiyuk a week before I plug him into lineups, but you can make an argument that he’s geared up for volume in his first NFL game.
Mostert is a rock-solid RB2 this week. I’m intrigued by McKinnon in deep leagues. I’m not playing Tevin Coleman until I see what his role is (he was limited last week because of air quality issues).
The two Jets I’m OK with playing are Perriman and TE Chris Herndon. They’re going to need to get targets with Crowder out. And Sherman not playing helps Perriman, for sure.
LA Rams at Philadelphia (Sun, 1 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Rams…
One thing the Rams did in Week 1 to get their offense back on track after a subpar 2019 season was to get QB Jared Goff to make quicker decisions and get the ball out. According to Next Gen Stats, Goff’s average time to throw (2.59 seconds) and average air yards per attempt (4.3) from Week 1 would be the lowest rates of the Sean McVay era if extrapolated out for the full season. Goff’s previous season-low in Air Yards/Attempt? 7.8 in the 2019 season.
I would expect Goff to mix in some deeper passes, but that was a staggering adjustment for McVay’s against Dallas’ formidable pass rush last week. I’d expect the same against Philly’s DL this week. Star DE Brandon Graham (concussion) is expected to play, and fellow starting DE Derek Barnett (shoulder) is expected to play this week after missing Week 1. The return of Barnett will help the Eagles offset the loss of DE Vinny Curry (hamstring), who is expected to miss about a month.
The Browns got a Week 1 breakout performance in the backfield from RB Malcolm Brown, but the Rams’ official website reports that Brown is dealing with some general soreness following the win over the Cowboys. He is not listed on the injury report, but perhaps this will create an opportunity for rookie RB Cam Akers to get some more work.
What They’re Saying About the Eagles…
The Eagles, whose offensive line utterly collapsed in an embarrassing Week 1 loss to Washington, are getting a significant reinforcement. RT Lane Johnson (ankle) is expected to play in Week 2, and the numbers speak for themselves — under coach Doug Pederson, Philly is 36-17 when Johnson plays. The Eagles are 6-12 when he doesn’t. Of course, LT Jason Peters was added to the injury report on Wednesday with a knee injury.
NBC Sports’ Dave Zangaro reports the ankle surgery Johnson underwent is making the veteran tackle feel like new. Johnson said he’s essentially been playing through a high ankle sprain for two seasons, and the procedure will fix that.
The Eagles are also expected to get RB Miles Sanders (hamstring) back. The absence of Sanders and Johnson in Week 1 led to Pederson calling the NFL’s pass-heaviest game in Week 1 — the Eagles ran the ball on a league-low 25.4% of plays in Week 1. As our Greg Cosell pointed out, the Eagles’ weakness along the offensive line and with the Washington pass rush should have dictated the opposite. It was a bad gameplan, with Pederson likely being spooked by his thin personnel. Sanders says he’s ready for a full workload.
Our Adam Caplan has suggested that Sanders might have been ready to play last week, but the Eagles want to be cautious. Now, he just needs to avoid setbacks.
The Eagles’ beat writers were in constant observation mode with WR DeSean Jackson in Week 1 — he played only 54% of the snaps, and it led to some speculation that the oft-injured Jackson was hurt again. But it was all part of the plan to get him through the game — he’s completely healthy. In fact, Jackson was frustrated with how much he was limited. NBC’s John Clark said Jackson’s role is expected to increase in Week 2. My assumption is that so will the role of rookie WR Jalen Reagor, who led Philly receivers with a 58% snap share in Week 1.
Meanwhile… expect more snaps for second-year WR JJ Arcega-Whiteside. Yes, more — Pederson has been pleased with JJAW’s progress, and said the Eagles’ first TD — which went to Zach Ertz — was actually a designed play to JJAW that the Team took away.
Goff is on the QB1 radar, though I don’t think it can be discounted that the Eagle defense could be really good, and Goff didn’t have big numbers last week against Dallas. Higbee is a TE1 as well, given the weakness of the Eagles’ linebackers.
Brown is the safer play in this backfield over Akers, but the Eagles’ run defense probably relegates both guys to flex options.
I’m firing up Sanders in all lineups. The Eagles really missed him last week. Jackson and Reagor are WR3s, and I expect both to play more snaps this week. I’m still monitoring JJAW, but he’s obviously not a fantasy option.
Denver at Pittsburgh (Sun, 1 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Broncos…
The Broncos might have pulled out a win last week against the Titans if not for a couple of horrible drops by rookie WR Jerry Jeudy. But Jeudy isn’t letting the drops get to him — he has an overly positive attitude, posting on his Twitter page that “failure is growth.” Jeudy told ESPN’s Jeff Legwold that the drops “probably helped” him to avoid doing the same the rest of the season.
The Broncos are anticipating being without RB Phillip Lindsay (turf toe) for at least this week, and perhaps beyond. That will open the door for Melvin Gordon to be a bell cow, though unfortunately this week it’s against a Steeler defense that held Saquon Barkley to just 6 yards on 15 carries.
The Broncos seem to think WR Courtland Sutton (shoulder), who missed Week 1, has a chance to play. Coach Vic Fangio called Sutton “questionable.” He’s trending to a game-time decision.
Though Broncos LT Garrett Bolles didn’t miss a snap last week with a sprained elbow, he’s going to have to play in a brace against this brutal Steelers pass rush. Bolles is clearly a tough dude, but pray for Lock.
What They’re Saying About the Steelers…
The buzz in Pittsburgh — and for fantasy purposes — is in the backfield. Presumed starter James Conner injured his ankle in Week 1, and was thoroughly outplayed by a slimmer and more explosive version of second-year pro Benny Snell. Snell earned praise from coach Mike Tomlin, who insinuated he could look at Snell as a bell cow.
Conner practiced in full on Thursday, suggesting his injury isn’t serious and that he knows his time could be limited in Pittsburgh if he doesn’t prove he can stay healthy. He was getting emotional on the sidelines during Monday’s game against the Giants, following his injury.
The Steelers’ passing game looked solid with QB Ben Roethlisberger in Week 1, mostly on quick passes, and they’re going to benefit from an injury in Denver’s secondary. CB AJ Bouye is dealing with a separated shoulder, which should help WR Diontae Johnson rebound from an up-and-down Week 1.
The quicker passing game for Ben could have to continue, even against a Broncos’ defense down Von Miller — RT Zach Banner tore his ACL last Monday, while guards David DeCastro (knee) and Stefen Wisniewski (chest) are in danger of missing the action. That benefits Johnson and WR JuJu Smith-Schuster in terms of volume, but maybe not explosive plays.
This is just a brutal matchup for the Broncos’ passing game, but I’m fine going back to Jeudy. I was super impressed with his comments after the game, and I’m not sure Sutton will be ready. It’s not a week to be using Lock.
The Steelers’ run defense destroyed Saquon last week, so it’s tough sledding for Gordon, but he’s firmly on the RB2 radar with Lindsay likely out.
Conner is probably going to play, but if I had to pick a Steeler back to start against this good Bronco run defense (they did a great job on Derrick Henry last week), it would be Snell. I don’t know if Pittsburgh can go away from Snell given Conner got hurt last week and Snell totally outplayed him anyway. The offensive line woes for Pittsburgh are also concerning, so I’m fine sitting this one out this week to see what the breakdown of snaps is. Snell is a FLEX to me.
The Be n-JuJu connection is real. Ben is a QB1 and JuJu is on the WR1 radar. I’m firing up Diontae as a WR3 — I was encouraged by his rebound after the early lost fumble.
Carolina at Tampa Bay (Sun, 1 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Panthers…
This Bucs defense is really good, and I think that people are going to start realizing it. DC Todd Bowles is a wizard — in two meetings last year, he held Panther RB Christian McCaffrey to his worst two games of last season, with McCaffrey averaging just 55 yards from scrimmage per game and 1.79 yards per carry last year. Against all other teams in 2019, McCaffrey averaged 161.1 yards from scrimmage per game. In other words, Bowles’ defense held McCaffrey to a third of his average performance. No wonder the Bucs were one of my favorite best-ball defenses to draft this year.
What They’re Saying About the Buccaneers…
The Bucs could be really limited at the WR position this week. Mike Evans caught just a single pass in Week 1, and Chris Godwin surprised this week when he showed up in the concussion protocol. That would obviously mean more work for Scotty Miller, who had 6 targets (5 catches) and a rush attempt in Week 1. Godwin was progressing by Friday, so there are some positive signs, but coach Bruce Arians still called him “doubtful.”
If Godwin is absent, that could hurt the Bucs’ plans to be more balanced on first down. Coach Bruce Arians and OC Byron Leftwich suggested, according to Greg Auman of The Athletic, that they didn’t throw the ball enough on first down last week.
PewterReport says Evans wasn’t at 100% in Week 1, obviously — he felt the hamstring “when he would turn and cut.” That’s not ideal for a WR!
As for Miller, he suggested the respect Evans and Godwin get led to his Week 1 success. Who knows if that will change if Godwin and/or Evans misses Week 2.
Check out this stat that Next Gen Stats and the NFL’s research department uncovered. The Panthers starting defense was 25 years and 7 months in Week 1, the 7th-youngest such unit in the NFL. Bucs QB Tom Brady is 46-7 in his career against defenses with an average age of 26 or younger. That’s the good news for the Bucs! The bad news is that Brady lost his last two games in this split last year — Kansas City in Week 14 and Miami in Week 17.
The secret to beating Brady is the same as it’s always been — it’s not much of a secret. According to Next Gen Stats, Brady posted a QB rating of 61.4 when he had less than 2.5 seconds to throw in Week 1, and 101.9 when he had 2.5 seconds or more. Fortunately for Brady, Carolina’s pass rush was the sixth-worst in Week 1 per SIS’ EPA metric (the Saints were fifth-best). And the Panthers’ already thin pass rush could take a big hit this week with rookie Yetur Gross-Matos popping up on the injury report with a concussion.
I understand the Buccaneers shut down CMC last year, but you’re playing him. Thomas is Waiver fodder at TE — I’d rather have someone like Logan Thomas right now.
If Godwin misses, I’m firing up both Evans and Miller. Brady is on the QB1 radar with all the injuries and the lack of talent the Panthers have defensively.
I think RoJo is a strong FLEX this week. I’d probably pass on starting Fournette, but I wouldn’t be shocked if he has a pretty big role this week.
Jacksonville at Tennessee (Sun, 1 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Jaguars…
It was a great debut for undrafted rookie RB James Robinson, who was second to only Clyde Edwards-Helaire among rookies with 16 carries in Week 1. OC Jay Gruden was impressed with Robinson’s physicality and ball security, according to the Florida Times-Union’s John Reid.
Robinson’s 90 yards from scrimmage were the 6th-most ever by an undrafted rookie in Week 1.
Gruden also made a point that we’ve been talking about as soon as the Jags drafted WR Laviska Shenault. Gruden compared him to Mohamed Sanu in terms of versatility, and it makes me excited to see what Shenault can do the rest of the year. We’ll see if it’s a fantasy-relevant role, but it’s certainly encouraging that he scored in Week 1.
What They’re Saying About the Titans…
Midweek additions to the injury report are never good, and that appears to be the case for the Titans’ AJ Brown. Brown — who didn’t practice Thursday with a knee injury — has a bone bruise that could cost him multiple weeks, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
Did fourth-year WR Corey Davis have a breakout in Week 1 with over 100 yards receiving, despite popping up on the injury report with a bum hamstring? Fantasy players might be skeptical for multiple reasons, not the least of which is the fact that Davis missed practice this week on Wednesday with the hamstring injury. That’s especially troubling given the report on Brown.
With Brown and Davis dinged — plus Jacksonville starting safety Jarrod Wilson on IR — this is shaping up to be a big TE Jonnu Smith game, when the Titans actually decide to throw the ball.
Keep an eye on the status of Jaguar DE Josh Allen (calf), who missed practiced Wednesday but got in a limited session on Thursday. Though it’s looking like this is a Derrick Henry.
It’s looking like Titan RB Darrynton Evans (hamstring) is tracking to make his NFL debut in Week 3 — he practiced this week but isn’t going to play.
With Tennessee so banged up in the passing game, this could be lower-scoring than anticipated. It might be close enough to continue firing up Robinson as a FLEX.
I think Chark is a solid WR2, Shenault an intriguing FLEX who should be rostered in every league, and Minshew a decent streaming option.
For Tennessee, Davis’ hamstring is giving me pause, as is the fact that Jag rookie CB CJ Henderson did an outstanding job on TY Hilton last week. I’m probably fading Davis and Tannehill, with maybe a nod to slot WR Adam Humphries in deep PPR leagues.
Henry might end up being the most popular play on the entire DFS slate, while I also really like Jonnu this week.
Washington at Arizona (Sun, 4:05 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Football Team…
Everybody wants to know what happened with rookie RB Antonio Gibson in Week 1 — one of everybody’s favorite plays played the third-most snaps of Team RBs. Well, OC Scott Turner doesn’t expect that will continue. Turner told reporters that Peyton Barber played so much because the Team was trying to run the clock out, and that Gibson’s role will expand going forward. Our Greg Cosell liked what he saw from Gibson — he was a physical runner, which might surprise given he played WR in college.
Despite the upset win in Week 1, it wasn’t exactly an impressive offensive performance for the Team, who scored all 27 points on drives that started in Philly territory. But one player who must be noted is former QB and current TE Logan Thomas, who ran the sixth-most routes and saw the second-most targets of any TE in Week 1.
Keep this in mind: rookie LB/S Isaiah Simmons played only 18 snaps in Week 1 (none in subpackage defense), and according to Cosell, was burned on a long TD for Raheem Mostert, and was “manhandled” by George Kittle.
Coach Ron Rivera credits Thomas’ continued development on TE coach Pete Hoener, who has helped to develop Delanie Walker and Greg Olsen, among others.
What They’re Saying About the Cardinals…
Things are pretty quiet in the desert, so I thought I’d bring up a couple of points that our Greg Cosell made on our Thursday livestream. He noted that coach Kliff Kingsbury did an awesome job scheming up quick throws to take advantage of the 49ers’ Cover 4 defense, which allowed QB Kyler Murray to find DeAndre Hopkins for 14 catches in his Cardinals debut.
Cosell also mentioned that Murray threw the ball exceptionally well within the context of the gameplan. But on his 22-yard TD run (which obviously was the most significant play he made for fantasy purposes), Murray wasn’t pressured and WR Christian Kirk was wide open on a wheel route within the playcall as the primary read. Murray just took off. Do coaches grade that play positively when the QB doesn’t make the play as it is called, but makes a play anyway?
Gibson is an intriguing buy-low candidate given how he looked on tape. With Simmons’ struggles in Week 1, I wonder if he is an interesting post-hype FLEX option. Thomas should be added by TE-needy teams, and again, with Simmons’ struggles, he could be an interesting start this week.
Overall, I’m really encouraged by Cosell’s comments on Kyler. He’s still a high-end QB1. And I think while Kirk is droppable in shallow leagues, I’ll tend to hold here given he got open on a play for a TD and Murray never threw the ball.
Baltimore at Houston (Sun, 4:25 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Ravens…
It looks like the Ravens’ backfield could get a little more crowded this week — it seems second-year pro Justice Hill (thigh) has a shot to go this week after missing Week 1.
It is evident that Ravens OC Greg Roman does not give a flying crap about your fantasy team. According to The Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec, expect the rotation to be different every week. “We like to keep people guessing,” Roman says. THANKS GREG!
What They’re Saying About the Texans…
The Texans were 5-0 following a loss in 2019. Unfortunately for them, this isn’t a particularly appealing matchup.
While QB Deshaun Watson can make a play out of basically any situation, he struggled against the blitz in Week 1. Per Next Gen Stats, Watson was 6/14 with an interception when the Chiefs blitzed last week. The Ravens blitzed on 48.8% of Baker Mayfield’s dropbacks in Week 1, 2nd-most in the league. Expect DC Wink Martindale to try to empty the tank against Watson.
Texan RB Duke Johnson left Week 1 early with an ankle injury, but he’s practicing in full this week and should be fine to rotate with the resurgent David Johnson. The Texans should have WR Brandin Cooks (quad) as well, as he had the mini-bye to get healthy after playing through his injury last Thursday night.
The Texans kept TE Kahale Warring over Jordan Thomas, surprising some Texan beat writers, and Warring is already headed to injured reserve. This is not a fantasy-friendly TE room, though Jordan Akins did score in Week 1.
At this point, I’m considering both Mark Ingram and JK Dobbins FLEX plays. I’m wondering if Ingram will get 15-20 carries in a more competitive game, but Dobbins is so explosive that I doubt the Ravens will keep him off the field entirely.
Watson struggled last week, but again, his rushing production and ability to create something out of nothing make him a weekly start, even against a nasty defense. I think Cooks is a low-end WR3 given the matchup and his injury.
In the backfield, David is the only Johnson you can consider. He looked good last week, and with Duke dinged up, I expect Houston will feed him again.
Kansas City at LA Chargers (Sun, 4:25 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Chiefs…
One of the biggest advantages for the Chiefs this week is the fact that Charger star S Derwin James (knee) is out for the season. According to Next Gen Stats, Chief TE Travis Kelce has averaged 4.6 yards per target and caught just 55% of his targets when playing the Chargers with James on the field since 2018. But when James is off the field, Kelce has caught 70% of his targets, averaged 9.2 YPT, and scored his lone TD against the Chargers in that span. QB Patrick Mahomes also airs it out more to Kelce when James is off the field — 11.4 air yards per target to Kelce without James vs. 9.0 with him on the field.
Expect the Chargers to play a ton of zone coverage in Week 2. Though they played more Zone than Man in Week 1 — surrendering 5.76 YPA vs. 6.58 in man — it was a decently even split of coverage, per SIS (58.6% zone vs. 41.4% man coverage) — Next Gen Stats points out that the Chargers have played just one snap of man coverage vs. Mahomes since 2018. But Mahomes has completed 70% of his passes vs. zone and “just” 63.4% of his passes vs. man over that span against all teams, though he has 9 INT vs. zone to just 5 vs. man.
It could also be a good week for RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Edwards-Helaire was SIS’ top interior runner in Week 1, averaging 7.9 YPC and scoring his TD. That led to the Texans giving up the most rushing production on interior runs in Week 1. #2? The Chargers!
Though it appears minor, note that Chief RB Darrel Williams is dealing with a hamstring injury. He’s practiced in full this week.
What They’re Saying About the Chargers…
Fantasy players who took Austin Ekeler are up in arms about the fact that Ekeler saw only 1 target in Week 1, a year after he caught 91 passes. Well, The Athletic’s Daniel Popper said, the Chargers don’t care about your fantasy team. Popper says the Chargers view their RB usage in how much their backs touch the ball, and Ekeler’s 20 touches are in line with what the Chargers expected. Popper clearly plays fantasy, because he understands the implications of that.
Ekeler and rookie Joshua Kelley should have a big role this week for as long as the game script allows, because Justin Jackson is dealing with a calf injury. Jackson missed multiple practices this week and doesn’t look likely to play.
Things could be a little easier for WR Mike Williams — whom QB Tyrod Taylor targeted aggressively in Week 1 — this week, if top Chief CB Charvarius Ward (hand) can’t play. The Chiefs are extremely thin on the back end.
Unfortunately for the Chargers, they’re taking a big hit both in the run game and in pass protection, with C Mike Pouncey (hip) expected to miss the rest of the season following surgery.
Edwards-Helaire is an utter hammer RB1. We saw literally everything in his repertoire except for receptions in Week 1. The Chiefs are a really simple fantasy team, for as good as they are. They have four guys (Mahomes, CEH, Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce) who are in the mix for being the top players at their position any given week.
I’m frustrated with Ekeler too, but you have no choice but to use him as an RB2, especially since the Chargers probably will have to throw it more this week. I think I’d bench Kelley in this matchup, though I do expect him to get some carries.
I really like Williams as a WR2 this week. Taylor threw him the ball quite a bit, even in “hospital ball” situations.
New England at Seattle (Sun, 8:20 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Patriots…
The Pats have a new attack with Cam Newton under center. In Week 1 against the Dolphins, the Patriots called a run or play-action pass on 82.5% of their offensive plays. It was the 5th-highest such rate in any game since the start of the 2019 season, per Next Gen Stats. They ran or called play-action on only 55.2% of their plays a season ago, 14th-most in the league.
What They’re Saying About the Seahawks…
Note that the NFL is monitoring the air quality for this contest because of the wildfires — midweek, the weather was not good enough to play the game.
QB Russell Wilson cooked in Week 1, going 31/35 and throwing 4 TD passes, but you might have noticed something different — he wasn’t airing it out. Per Next Gen Stats, Wilson averaged just 5.3 air yards per pass attempt in Week 1, the second-fewest for him in a game since 2016. Wilson was taking what the defense gave him — Falcons DC Raheem Morris admitted he loaded up to stop the run, and Wilson just made easy throws all game.
Wilson told reporters this week that he’s ready "to break away." He wants to keep cooking.
The Seahawks dropped back and threw it on 17 of their 28 first downs last week, despite leading the entire way.
I wish Cam had a receiver I felt really good about, because this Seahawks defense gave up a ton of passing production last week, but he runs enough that he’s a viable QB1.
It’s a tougher matchup for Russ, but I was super encouraged by his usage in Week 1. He, Tyler Lockett, and DK Metcalf are all weekly starts until further notice (you may consider Metcalf a DFS contrarian option, because he’s likely going to get shadowed by Stephon Gilmore).
New Orleans at Las Vegas (Mon, 8:15 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Saints…
With WR Michael Thomas likely out or limited for some time with a high ankle sprain, the Saints have one of the thinnest groups of wide receivers in the entire NFL. My takeaway is that this could be an opportunity for the Saints to get more reps for everyone’s favorite fantasy asset — Taysom Hill. Hill, naturally, had the first target of the Saints’ season.
Our Greg Cosell predicts Hill will see 35-40 snaps, many as a receiver, this week.
Presuming Thomas doesn’t play — though he still refuses to give up hope as of publication — it stands to reason it could be a big week for the Saints’ run game and RB Alvin Kamara. Things are easier for Kamara this week with Raider LB Nick Kwiatkoski (pectoral) likely to miss this game and perhaps beyond.
What They’re Saying About the Raiders…
He returned to play after getting dinged up in Week 1, but Raider rookie WR Henry Ruggs (knee) didn’t practice on Thursday or Friday, so he’s clearly not going to be 100% if he plays. Our Adam Caplan reports that the Raiders still expected Ruggs to play as of Friday morning, but he has to be considered questionable at best. He got a helmet to the knee last week. He’s clearly sore this week.
Raider T Trent Brown (calf) played only 6 snaps in Week 1, and didn’t practice Thursday. That could offset a potential loss for the Saints, who might be down DE Marcus Davenport (elbow).
There’s nothing to be alarmed about here, but RB Josh Jacobs practiced in full on Thursday but was added to the injury report with an ankle. It’s probably just a minor tweak, given he practiced in full.
Check Hill’s eligibility in your leagues, because I think he’s going to play a ton. If he has TE eligibility, he’s a fascinating FLEX option. I like Jared Cook a lot too this week (it’s a REVENGE GAME!).
If I have Thomas, I’m benching him this week unless I can pick up someone from the Monday night game to easily replace him. That guy might be Vegas’ Bryan Edwards, who could be in line for an uptick in targets if Ruggs is out or limited.
Both Kamara and Jacobs are absolute hammer RB1s.