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 the NFL’s Next Gen Stats info to 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.
Detroit at Atlanta (Sun, 1 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Lions…
There have been few players as disappointing in recent weeks as Lions WR Marvin Jones, who has just 6 catches in the last three games, since Kenny Golladay (hamstring) first played. OC Darrell Bevell admitted to the Detroit News this week that it’s been frustrating for Jones and that the Lions are looking to try to get him the ball more. Bevell also credits Jones with “some of the dirty work that he's done in the run game,” so he sees a player who is giving effort but just hasn’t produced. To me, I’m wondering how much of the “we’re looking to get him involved” talk is just coachspeak, though. Moreover, Jones is dealing with a knee injury that cost him some practice time this week.
Perhaps one of the reasons the Lions haven’t been getting the ball in Jones’ hands is because they’ve been kind of force-feeding it in the direction of TE TJ Hockenson, whom the Detroit News’ Justin Rogers sees as on the verge of a breakout: “With each passing game, it feels like T.J. Hockenson is so close to putting it all together,” Rogers writes, citing how his receiving and blocking have kind of waxed and waned so far this year.
"I think right now, just looking for him to be more consistent, basically down in and down out," Bevell said on Tuesday. "If you watched this last game, probably one of his best games, in terms of his overall blocking. I thought he did a really nice job there, kind of took a step forward. Still, I think there were some things in the pass game that we're looking for him to continue to gain some separations and come through with some big plays for us."
Bevell noted that Hockenson had to focus more on rehab from his ankle injury last year than working on technique this off-season, which has contributed a bit to his inconsistency. But Hockenson has opportunities — his 6 end-zone targets are tied with Travis Kelce for second in the NFL, behind only Adam Thielen (9).
For fantasy, most folks will be focused on RB D’Andre Swift, who had a massive day in Week 6. But Swift still played under 40% of the snaps, and The Athletic’s Chris Burke notes that there was a play on which he ran the wrong route in the passing game. Still, if the Lions aren’t getting explosive plays out of Jones, they need them somewhere, and Swift is where they can find ‘em.
The Lions are acknowledging that things can be tough up the middle this week — DT Grady Jarrett was earning a lot of praise from Lions players and coaches. It definitely helps Detroit that starting G Joe Dahl (groin) returned from IR last week against the Jags and made it through the game unscathed.
What They’re Saying About the Falcons…
While I wrote last week that the Lions’ preference to man coverage might have spelled bad news for Gardner Minshew, the Lions actually played more zone last week than they had all season against Jacksonville — in fact, the Lions’ 39.1% man coverage in Week 6 was the lowest under Matt Patricia, according to MLive’s Benjamin Raven. Lion DC Cory Undlin credits the switch on an improving run defense, which shut down James Robinson last week. That’s not great news for Falcon RB Todd Gurley, who gained just 47 yards on 20 carries last week, if the Lions’ fixes over their bye stick.
One area where the Falcons were particularly impressive last week against the Vikings was on fourth down — they scored 2 TDs on the down, as Jason Butt of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution points out. The Falcons are 8/13 on fourth down this year, and given they’re 1-5 with a lame-duck coaching staff, it’s probably wise to expect them to continue their aggressiveness on that down, especially if QB Matt Ryan continues to be great on third downs. Ryan was 8/10 for 113 yards and a TD on third downs against Minnesota.
One player fantasy players really want to see get going is TE Hayden Hurst, who has flashed this year but hasn’t put it together consistently. He thinks the consistency is coming. “It’s definitely unique because I’m sure Matt’s used to a certain body and frame at the tight end position,” Hurst told the AJC. “I think I bring a different skill set, if you will. Again, it’s Matt gauging how fast I run certain routes, how I use my body to get open on these certain looks. It’s Week 7, it’s an ongoing thing. I think it’s going to be better and better each week.”
Uh, did he just call Austin Hooper slow?
Falcon WR Calvin Ridley had an elbow injury pop up in practice this week. It doesn’t appear to be anything to worry about.
Lions nickel CB Justin Coleman (hamstring) is practicing this week, but it doesn’t look like he’ll be ready to go until next week.
I really want to get Swift in my lineup this week as a RB2. Jones isn’t creating any explosive plays, and Swift gives them something they don’t have elsewhere. It’s just hard to trust Bevell and Matt Patricia’s harebrained rotations sometimes.
Frustrating as he is, Hockenson is a TE1. I just can’t sit someone getting targeted that much in the red zone and at the goal line.
Gurley is an RB2. This should be another good week for the Falcon passing game, and I’m holding Hurst where I have him, though this is definitely a battle of frustrating TEs.
Cleveland at Cincinnati (Sun, 1 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Browns…
So, once again, WR Odell Beckham has been inconsistent this year. Yay. Part of the reason is that QB Baker Mayfield has played poorly so far. Another reason? How about OBJ just kind of casually letting the media know on Wednesday that he’s playing through a low-grade turf toe injury!
Oh, he also said COVID and he have “mutual respect” and that’s why he hasn’t contracted the disease. Fun.
Elsewhere at WR for the Browns, the constantly banged up Jarvis Landry told reporters that the injury he suffered against the Colts two weeks ago — and played through last week — was a broken rib. He’s dealing with extremely painful rib and hip injuries, the latter still lingering from off-season surgery. Landry has never missed a game.
The Bengals’ run defense could get a boost this week if DT Mike Daniels (elbow), who was on IR for the last three games, can return. They’ve recently gotten Geno Atkins back as well, and though DJ Reader is out for the season, things are starting to shore up just a little bit for their ground defense against Kareem Hunt (who, by the way, is dealing with a rib injury).
Browns TE Austin Hooper (non-COVID illness) is out this week. Reports have it as an appendectomy.
What They’re Saying About the Bengals…
What’s going on with RB Joe Mixon (foot), who sat out of practice all week and won’t play on Sunday? The Bengals used Giovani Bernard in hurry-up situations last week, and while that’s not entirely uncommon, it likely means Mixon was hurting at the end of the game against the Colts. He injured the foot in the first half but was able to return to the game.
The fact that Mixon missed practice all week is obviously a sign that things did not heal they way the Bengals wanted. Bernard will start this week.
There have been trade rumors swirling around Cincinnati. In addition to key defenders like Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins involved in rumors, WRs John Ross and AJ Green have popped up in talks. Ross has actively asked for a trade, while Green has been clearly frustrated so far this year. Coming off his season-best performance against the Colts, perhaps Green showed enough left in the tank for teams to come calling.
The only Brown I feel really comfortable playing at this point is Hunt, and he’s dinged up. OBJ is a WR3, and Landry maybe less than that. Perhaps if you’re dying at TE this week, you can take a shot on Harrison Bryant with Hooper out.
Gio is a borderline RB1 with Mixon out. If I had Green on a roster for his somewhat vintage performance last week, I would have been shopping him in fantasy immediately, much like the Bengals might be now.
Green Bay at Houston (Sun, 1 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Packers…
Obviously, Aaron Rodgers’ MVP-level resurgent season took a big hit last week against the Buccaneers, as he was constantly under siege. Rodgers took 4 sacks against the Bucs, after having been sacked just 3 times in the entire season leading up to last week. A big part of that was the absence of LT David Bakhtiari, who left early with a chest injury.
If Bakhtiari can’t play, that’s bad news for Rodgers — while the Texan defense has struggled this year, it’s still generating pressure on 36.1% of opponent dropbacks, which is middle of the pack in the league. And their sack rate of 10.9% is 10th-highest in the league (SIS).
The Packers have options — as the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel points out, the Packers can move “Billy Turner from right tackle to left tackle and inserting veteran Rick Wagner at right tackle. Or [they] could move left guard Elgton Jenkins to left tackle and shuffle the rest of the line to account for the open left guard spot.” The MJS points out that Wagner was dominated by the Bucs last week, so he probably won’t be the solution.
The status of TE Robert Tonyan is one to watch for Green Bay. He played just 58% of the snaps last week against Tampa as he was fighting through an ankle injury suffered early in the game, and he didn’t practice early this week. He’s looking like a true game-time decision. Could Jace Sternberger be asked to step up?
The Packers are obviously going to be well aware that Derrick Henry torched the Texans for over 250 yards from scrimmage and 2 TD last week. But Texan coach Romeo Crennel doesn’t plan on loading the box constantly just to stop the run.
“We can kind of load up the box, OK? And then when you load up the box, then Aaron likes that because then he knows that he has one-on-one coverage down the field,” Crennel said. “That’s one where you pick your poisons.”
What They’re Saying About the Texans…
This could be a huge game for QB Deshaun Watson. I mean, they typically are these days, but this matchup in particular is juicy.
According to SIS, the Packers play zone 79% of the time, third-most in the NFL. And despite that being the Packers’ predominant defense, they have struggled with it, giving up a 112.9 QB rating in zone coverage (2nd-highest in the NFL). Meanwhile, Watson leads all QBs with a 10.6 YPA against zone this year, and dating back to last season, he is averaging 9.3 YPA vs. zone and 7.2 YPA vs. man. The Packers defense has also generated the league’s lowest pressure rate (23%), and Watson’s has been far more accurate (85% on-target throws) from a clean pocket, vs. 60% when pressured.
It’s also potentially a great week for WR Brandin Cooks to keep things cooking — he’s posted 17/229/2 on 21 targets since Bill O’Brien was fired two weeks ago. If Will Fuller catches a Jaire Alexander shadow, things are especially juicy. The Packers have also given up the league’s fewest receptions to slot receivers (37), and while the Texans move all their receivers into the slot, that’s mostly Randall Cobb territory — Cobb runs 91% of his routes out of the slot. So this might not be the most productive revenge game for Cobb.
One area where the Texans were extremely successful against the Titans last week was throwing the ball on first downs — they had 188 passing yards on first down in Week 6. “If it’s working, don’t fix it. Whatever works, we’re going to go to,” interim coach Romeo Crennel said this week.
And Watson has been impressed with new playcaller OC Tim Kelly since O’Brien’s firing.
“He’s actually taking what we learned from the previous week and just stacking onto the next week and continuing to learn, and he’s not afraid to call different things and make mistakes. That’s the biggest thing,” Watson said. Sounds to me like the Texans will continue to be aggressive throwing the football.
The big news for the Packers is going to be the status of Jones. He thinks he’ll go, but if he doesn’t, Williams is a rock-solid RB2 and Dillon a desperation FLEX.
This Houston passing attack is a lot of fun. I’m playing everyone, and can even talk myself into revenge game Cobb, despite Green Bay’s success covering the slot. Fells is a TE streamer if Akins can’t play.
Carolina at New Orleans (Sun, 1 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Panthers…
It’s a Teddy Bridgewater revenge game! It also could be the least contentious revenge game in the history of professional football, because the Saints allowed Bridgewater to build up his value and land a big contract with the Panthers this off-season. But Bridgewater also worked with OC Joe Brady in New Orleans in 2018, and it’s helped his transition, according to HC Matt Rhule.
“I think [his familiarity with the system] was a game-changer with no offseason and no OTAs,” Rhule told New Orleans reporters on a conference call, while noting the similarities of the two offenses. “Had it been someone new, the language, all that stuff would have been really hard. They were able to sit in a room and a lot of the language was similar, some of it being new and different. Joe's put his own twist on a lot of things obviously, but it's the same basic premise, same overall philosophy and I think it really has helped us."
One thing Bridgewater might see more of this week than he did in practices with the Saints — zone coverage, specifically quarters. The Saints are still playing man at the 8th-highest rate in the NFL (46.3%, per SIS), but top CB Marshon Lattimore has acknowledged that DC Dennis Allen is playing more zone.
“Cover 1 is easy: guard your man and don't let him catch it,” Lattimore said this week. “Cover 4, we have more adjustments, like during the play and before the play. You've just got to be zoned in, keep good eyes, and just know what's coming." Lattimore acknowledged that the Saints have had some communication issues this year. On the season, Bridgewater has a 93.5 QB rating and 9.5 YPA vs. Cover 1. He has a 100.2 rating and 8.9 YPA vs. Cover 4 (SIS). So there is a good chance he’ll be successful this week after a down game last week. Lattimore and the Saint CBs, meanwhile, have been under fire from fans for giving up significant production.
What They’re Saying About the Saints…
Obviously, keep an eye on New Orleans. This game will get moved if the Saints have any more positive tests.
The big news for the Saints this week is that they were expecting to get WR Michael Thomas back from a high ankle sprain and team discipline — he was suspended for the Saints’ last game before the bye for punching a teammate in practice. But Thomas tweaked his hamstring in practice on Wednesday, and it’s looking like a longshot for him to go on Sunday. Ouch.
WR Emmanuel Sanders was placed on the COVID list, so he’s out too.
I have a hot take: this could be a pretty important game for RB Alvin Kamara. I know, I know … going out on a limb. But there’s a hell of a reason to expect him to explode in this matchup in particular, besides the fact that he’s Alvin Kamara.
No team has played more zone coverage than the Panthers (83%) this season, per SIS. Well, around the NFL, RBs get targeted 19% of the time against zone, and just 12% of the time against man. The Panthers, meanwhile, have seen the third-highest percentage of passes go to RBs (26%) this season. On top of that, the Saints have thrown to their RBs on a league-high 33% of their attempts, and Kamara’s target share doubles against zone coverage (22%, while 11% vs. man).
Let’s just say that Kamara himself has noticed the Panthers hemorrhaging yards and points to RBs. “Make the game go through us [the RBs],” Kamara told reporters on Thursday.
The Panthers could be down starting CB Rasul Douglas, who missed practice on Thursday for non-injury reasons. Coach Matt Rhule said he didn’t know if Samuel would be available for Sunday.
Davis is an RB1 and Teddy is a viable QB streamer this week.
Buffalo at NY Jets (Sun, 1 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Bills…
It was probably obvious watching the game against the Chiefs on Monday, but coach Sean McDermott told reporters this week that WR John Brown isn’t 100% healthy — he’s dealt with multiple injuries to his legs, including calf, foot, and knee problems. Brown was held catchless on 4 targets against Kansas City. Brown won’t play this week, which could open the door for Gabriel Davis, a rookie out of UCF, to start at “X.”
One of the big shocks for the Bills this year is that their run game hasn’t gotten going. GM Brandon Beane seems to think one of the big reasons for that is on the offensive line. Beane released G Quinton Spain, who was benched three weeks ago, this week — despite signing him to an extension in March. It was a surprising move, considering LG Cody Ford (knee) left last week’s game and could miss a couple of games.
“I think a lot of factors happened,” Beane said. “It just worked out where the coaches felt like it was better to have Q coming off the bench than starting with this year's group.”
Our friend Sal Maiorana of the Democrat and Chronicle has been particularly disappointed in RB Devin Singletary, especially in regards to Singletary’s lack of explosive runs. Maiorana points out that Singletary is not one of 76 players in the NFL to have a run of 20 or more yards, despite having 71 carries through six games. Last year, he had 7 such runs, tied for 9th in the NFL, despite having just 151 carries.
Obviously, the Bills have seen enough of QB Josh Allen to increase their reliance on him. But eventually, they’re going to have run it successfully if Allen is going to struggle more with his accuracy, the way he has the last two weeks (and most of his career). While OC Brian Daboll is playing darling to the analytics crowd by running it just 56 times on 1st-and-10 (3rd-fewest in the NFL), the Bills are having zero success in that department, averaging 2.95 YPC. Daboll has acknowledged the Bills are seeing fewer crowded boxes because of Allen’s success, so what gives? Maybe Zack Moss will continue to see more action going forward. As for this week, the Jets are giving up 125.5 rush YPG, tied with Philadelphia for 12th-most in the NFL, so there should be opportunities.
The Bills probably aren’t going to have TE Dawson Knox (calf) yet again this week.
What They’re Saying About the Jets…
I mean, the only real reason to think about the Jets these days is to make fun of them, and maybe see if Sam Darnold (shoulder) can create some trade value for himself when he plays next. Darnold is expected to be back in the lineup this week (he will have to play through some pain, he said), and OC Dowell Loggains had a pretty aggressive defense of Darnold this week, while not exactly shying away from the state of this Jet roster overall.
“Sam is the least of our worries,” Loggains said on Thursday. Of course, The Jets are the only winless team in the NFL, and the fanbase has turned on Darnold and is focusing on Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence.
There is one guy on this team who is a very good fantasy option, and that’s WR Jamison Crowder.
Crowder is one of the best slot receivers in the NFL, and one of the most prolific — he has lined up in the slot on 87% of his routes, and his 40 slot targets are #3 in the league despite Crowder missing some time. On the season, Buffalo has seen the second-highest target percentage go to the slot (74%) and have allowed 8.7 YPA, compared to 6.9 YPA to receivers lined up out wide (the Tre’Davious White Effect).
Of course, Crowder tweaked his groin in practice this week, in true Jet fashion. His status should be watched, but it mostly looks like the coaches here are being cautious. He is listed as questionable.
Darnold could actually get rookie WR Denzel Mims (remember him?) back from injuries to both of his hamstrings this week. It’ll be interesting to see Mims when he plays, because he will be on the Jets’ team next year — Darnold may not.
With Brown out, obviously Stefon Diggs gets a big upgrade, but Davis is a usable WR3 too. Neither of the Bill RBs are anything more than FLEX plays until further notice.
If Crowder doesn’t play, there is no Jet I’m willing to put in a lineup.
Pittsburgh at Tennessee (Sun, 1 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Steelers…
Pittsburgh’s offense could get a little bit of an added challenge in this game — the Titans have activated CB Adoree’ Jackson’s window to return from IR this week. Jackson has missed every game this season with a knee injury suffered in camp, but could return as early as this week.
Pittsburgh is expecting to get WR Diontae Johnson back from a back injury this week. That’s going to make JuJu Smith-Schuster’s disappearing act even more interesting. Despite QB Ben Roethlisberger averaging the lowest time to throw in the NFL at 2.33 seconds (it’s also the lowest in the history of NextGenStats), which one would think would benefit a big slot receiver like JuJu, Ben simply hasn’t been throwing the ball to the middle of the field.
Per SIS, Roethlisberger has targeted slot receivers on just 57 dropbacks (34.5% of his throws), 27th in the NFL. He’s targeted the left middle, middle, or right middle of the field just 93 times, 20th in the NFL. Roethlisberger led the NFL with 675 pass attempts in 2018, his last healthy campaign and JuJu’s breakout year, but 280 of those attempts went to the slot — 41.5%. That’s a pretty significant dropoff.
Meanwhile, JuJu’s snaps from the slot are at a career-high 73%. It’s a conflagration of matters that are adding up to this disaster.
JuJu, who is an impending free agent, has taken his lack of statistical success in stride this year… while acknowledging the damage it’s done to fantasy players.
“I’m happy being 5-0,” Smith-Schuster said Tuesday, reports Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “People tell me you only got me two points this week in fantasy. I’d rather have two points and be 5-0 than be 1-5 and have 25 fantasy points.”
The Titans got a big boost last week in the return of DT Jeffery Simmons from the COVID list, and he immediately made an impact in the run game. Gentry Estes of The Tennessean called Simmons “the best player on the Titans defense” in a column this week. Will Simmons face off against Steeler G David DeCastro, who missed last week’s game with an abdominal strain? It could be tough sledding for James Conner if not.
What They’re Saying About the Titans…
While the Titans have a very “narrow” fantasy team in terms of the guys you want to start, it speaks a lot about Ryan Tannehill’s development and how good OC Arthur Smith has been that the Titans are 5-0 despite having a different leading receiver every week — WR Corey Davis in Week 1, TE Jonnu Smith in Week 2, WR Kalif Raymond in Week 3, WR AJ Brown in Week 4, and TE Anthony Firkser in Week 5.
The Titans are expecting to get Davis back from the COVID list and he should be available to go. Smith (ankle) is likely to play after leaving early last week against Houston, opening the window for Firkser to have his breakout game. And Brown sat out of practice on Thursday with a knee injury despite practicing in full on Wednesday. Is it a recurrence of the bone bruise that cost him two games? Whatever the case, he returned to practice on Friday.
Of course, the players the Titans are getting back this week can’t compare to one they lost — LT Taylor Lewan. Lewan tore his ACL last week against Houston, and for an offense that’s as efficient a beast as Tennessee’s, losing such a key player is problematic. Last season, when Lewan was off the field, RB Derrick Henry averaged just 3.9 YPC on 82 runs. He averaged 5.5 YPC on 221 runs with Lewan on the field. And keep in mind the Titans lost their other tackle from 2019, RT Jack Conkin, to free agency. The new left tackle will be veteran Ty Sambrailo — as of right now, the Titans feel more comfortable with the vet than they do rookie first-round pick Isaiah Wilson, who has been on the COVID list twice.
One major caveat — and I mean major — so Henry owners don’t freak out is that nearly all those carries without Lewan last year also came with Marcus Mariota, not Tannehill, at QB.
Pittsburgh has a couple of key injuries on defense, though — LB Devin Bush (ACL) is out for the season, and slot CB Mike Hilton (shoulder) is looking unlikely to play, which could mean WR Adam Humphries has an easier time than anticipated here.
JuJu is a WR3 at best at this point. Ben just isn’t throwing the ball over the middle. I think I’m going to wait and see what Johnson’s role is this week before putting him back in a lineup.
I’m playing everyone on the Titans. Smith doesn’t have an injury designation heading into Week 7, so he’s good to go.
Dallas at Washington (Sun, 1 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Cowboys…
Dallas is always a newsy team, and obviously, the loss of QB Dak Prescott to a horrific ankle injury is probably the biggest story of the 2020 NFL season so far. And if some anonymous Cowboy players are right, Prescott was probably holding this team together way more than he gets credit for.
Several players told NFL Network’s Jane Slater this week that coach Mike McCarthy and his staff are essentially not good at making adjustments or teaching the game which are, y’know, pretty key tenets for coaching football at the highest level. It got bad enough that veteran LB Sean Lee had to go on the record to stand up for his coaches — it appears the reports are true that some players are going behind McCarthy’s back.
One thing that’s definitely not helping McCarthy, QB Andy Dalton, or anyone else is RB Ezekiel Elliott’s fumbling problem. Elliott has 5 fumbles already in 2020, losing 4, all of which have led to an opponent’s touchdown. Only one RB — Seattle’s Chris Carson (7) — had more fumbles than Elliott in the entirety of the 2019 season. Elliott also had 6 fumbles in 2018, so this is not something new for him, but with Dalton at QB and the Cowboys’ defense on a historically awful pace, the margin for error is razor-thin.
Dallas’ offensive line is also a disaster, by the way. With Tyron Smith out for the year and replacement Brandon Knight — who wasn’t playing well anyway — suffering a knee injury, they’re now down to their third-string LT (likely Cam Erving). And Erving himself is coming off of IR (knee). Erving was already Dallas’ second-string RT, behind La’El Collins, so Dallas is on its third-string RT as well (Terence Steele). Moreover, the line’s best player, RG Zack Martin, left last Monday’s game against Arizona with a concussion. He’s out, so Connor McGovern will start there. That’s not great news for Dalton against a strong Team front seven.
What They’re Saying About the Football Team…
The Cowboys could be getting some defensive help this week — DE Randy Gregory has been activated off of his suspension, and both LB Sean Lee (groin) and CB Chidobe Awuzie (hamstring) had his 21-day window to return from IR opened this week. Gregory, who has apparently been impressive at practice, seems to have the best chance of that group to play this weekend.
And have we finally found the team the Cowboys can hold under 30 points? Washington’s receiving corps, already one of the thinnest in the NFL, has taken yet another blow this week. Rookie WRs Antonio Gandy-Golden (hamstring) and Isaiah Wright (shoulder) won’t play. Steven Sims (toe) is on IR. 2018 Bills “star” Robert Foster, signed this week, can’t play because of COVID protocols. WR Terry McLaurin could see a million targets (only a slight exaggeration) in this game. McLaurin and Dontrelle Inman led the Team in routes run last week, per PFF, though it was Cam Sims who scored a TD from QB Kyle Allen. Sims ran only six routes in the game, however.
This could mean more opportunities for TE Logan Thomas, who is battling a neck injury but returned to practice this week.
For Dallas, suck it up and play Zeke. But I wonder if Tony Pollard will get more work here soon. Dalton is a low-end QB streamer.
The only Team player I’m comfortable with is McLaurin, though you may take a shot on Inman or Thomas given Dallas’ awful defense.
Tampa Bay at Las Vegas (Sun, 4:05 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Buccaneers…
With Mike Evans (ankle) and Chris Godwin (hamstring), dinged up, QB Tom Brady has started to lean more on an old friend. Over the last three games, TE Rob Gronkowski ranks 2nd among TEs in targets (17) and intended air yards (2), per SIS.
The Raiders aren’t going to have S Jonathan Abram (COVID list) in this one, so it’s potentially another big week for Gronk.
Buccaneer RB Leonard Fournette is practicing in full this week as he looks to make his return from an ankle injury. However, it doesn’t seem like he’ll have much of a role, given Ronald Jones has run for 100 yards in three straight games.
What They’re Saying About the Raiders…
The Raiders had to put starting tackle Trent Brown on the COVID list this week, and it raised a huge scare on Wednesday — coach Jon Gruden told reporters that they had to send their entire starting offensive line home because they were around Brown. They didn’t practice on Wednesday or Thursday, which is obviously hugely impactful against a nasty Tampa defensive front.
Because of Brown’s positive test and the high-risk nature of the rest of the offensive line being in close proximity to him, the NFL has moved this game off of Sunday Night Football (replaced with Seattle and Arizona), in the event the game has to be rescheduled. There is a chance that the Raider line gets cleared for Sunday, but if not, a rescheduled game for Monday or Tuesday could be in the cards.
Everybody who has been watching the Buccaneers and playing fantasy this year knows how nasty the Buc run defense is — the Bucs are allowing just 2.94 YPC, and a ridiculous 0.71 yards before contact. The Bucs are the only team in the NFL, per SIS, to be giving up under a yard before contact on run plays. And despite DT Vita Vea (broken leg) being out for the year, the Bucs traded for space-filling nose tackle Steve McLendon to take Vea’s spot.
It’s already a nasty spot for RB Josh Jacobs. If the Raiders are down Brown and potentially more starting linemen, that’s an absolute debacle.
For the Bucs, I love Gronk this week as a high-end TE. I am not sitting RoJo unless he gives me a reason to.
The Raiders are hard to get a grasp on given their offensive line woes. Stay tuned.
Kansas City at Denver (Sun, 4:25 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Chiefs…
NOTE: The current forecast calls for temperatures in the 20s and snow for this game in Denver. It has knocked the projected total down, and could be big news for the run game.
The Chiefs have been seeing a lot of two-deep coverage this year — my cohost on the Fantasy Feast podcast, Ross Tucker, called color commentary for the Chiefs’ game against Buffalo last week, and noticed that the Bills were really trying to prevent big plays and QB Patrick Mahomes beating them over the top.
Of course, as much as coach Andy Reid likes to throw the ball, he does what any smart coach does — run the football against light boxes. RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire feasted on Buffalo’s light boxes last week, carrying the ball 26 times for 161 yards (and not a moment too soon for him, given Le’Veon Bell is joining the club).
“Believe it or not, they’re a better offense than they were last year because of the addition of Edwards-Helaire,” Broncos coach Vic Fangio said this week. “Andy’s probably having more fun now than he ever has in his coaching career with the guys he has on offense and that quarterback being the trigger guy. They’re really tough to stop.”
Fangio also noted that he’s feeling better about EDGE Bradley Chubb, who tore his ACL last season but is getting stronger each week. “It’s harder to see on a week to week basis to a degree, but if you compare Week 1 and Week 2 to Week 5, then you would see the difference,” Fangio said.
What They’re Saying About the Broncos…
The Chiefs’ defense is giving up the 3rd-most YPG (79.5) to tight ends this year. That’s obviously big news if TE Noah Fant (ankle) can go this week as expected, but if Fant can’t go, it’s worth pointing out that Albert Okwuegbunam led all TEs with 85 air yards last week and had 4 end-zone targets (none were caught, of course, but he kept getting open).
Coach Vic Fangio said this week that the Broncos are “hopeful” rookie WR KJ Hamler (hamstring) can play this week. That would help matters for QB Drew Lock, who confirmed this week that OC Pat Shurmur has faith in him to dial up shots downfield when he sees the right look.
“A lot of coaches will ask you how you want to get back into a game. I’ve been out for a little bit, but I dialed up a nine ball (go route) outside, a little alert outside and that was it that was going to be the first ball I threw,” Lock said about the first ball he threw last week, to WR Tim Patrick for a 41-yard gain. “That, in itself, really speaks to me about how much Coach Shurmur knows who I am as a player. A little check-down is not going to make me feel warmed up and ready to go, but rearing one back and letting it fly kind of lets me feel out the game a little bit.”
Fangio also said recently to ProFootballTalk that he will not be disciplining RB Melvin Gordon for his recent DUI arrest, but the league will (probably next season) In terms of Gordon’s usage now that he’s back from a non-COVID illness, Fangio said this week they’ll stick with the plan they had going into Week 1, before Phillip Lindsay got hurt. I’m predicting an annoying split here, but Gordon should get targets — Lindsay didn’t have one last week despite running for over 100 yards.
By the way, Lock grew up a Chiefs fan. “It is cool to be able to put the Darth Vader mask on and steer away from the Jedi and come to the dark side so to say over here in Denver. I kind of like playing that guy. Hopefully, I can be that guy and get a win this Sunday and start the rivalry a little bit,” he told reporters this week.
I actually love CEH in this game after what he did last week and the potential for this game to be played in bad weather.
For Denver, I think Fant is a TE1. The focus for me is on the backfield, though — I think Lindsay out-carries Gordon, but Gordon gets more passing reps. Both of them are low-end RB2s.
Jacksonville at LA Chargers (Sun, 4:25 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Jaguars…
The Jags will be without TE Tyler Eifert with a neck injury. That’s a tough injury for Eifert given his history with neck injuries.
WR DJ Chark, who was clearly playing hurt last week against the Lions but fought through an ankle injury to accrue 14 targets, doesn’t have an injury designation for this game despite practicing in a limited fashion all week. He is good to go.
The Jaguars’ revolving door at kicker is finally closed this week. Josh Lambo, who has been out since Week 2 with a hip injury, will kick.
What They’re Saying About the Chargers…
If you have Justin Jackson and Joshua Kelley, you are probably going to get a lot more usage out of them the rest of the year. On Wednesday, coach Anthony Lynn told reporters it will be “later rather than sooner” for Austin Ekeler’s return, and called his hamstring injury “very serious.” To me, I don’t think it’s a guarantee that Ekeler returns this season, though we still have a long way to go. I don’t think he’ll be back in two weeks, for starters.
Jackson has a knee injury and is listed as questionable for this game, though it appears highly likely he will play given he practiced in full on Friday. WR Keenan Allen, who left the Chargers’ game before the bye with back spasms, isn’t carrying an injury designation into the game, so he’s good to go.
The Chargers will be without G Trai Turner (groin), and T Bryan Bulaga (back), who was hurt before the bye, is questionable, so the Chargers could have some issues on the ground. But the Jags are shorthanded on defense, with LB Myles Jack (ankle) and S Jarrod Wilson (hamstring) out.
Chark is a WR2 on usage alone.
Both Jackson and Kelley are low-end RB2s for me… maybe a little advantage for Kelley given Jackson’s injury status. Allen is a WR1.
San Francisco at New England (Sun, 4:25 PM)
What They’re Saying About the 49ers…
The Niners seem to be in a battle with the Cowboys and Eagles for most injured team in the league, and they suffered two more key ones this past week — C Ben Garland (calf) and RB Raheem Mostert (high ankle) are both on IR. However, LT Trent Williams (ankle) did get some practice time in this week, which is a good sign for his availability on Sunday afternoon.
For fantasy, the story this week will be San Francisco’s backfield. With Mostert and Tevin Coleman (knee) still out, the thought would be that Jerick McKinnon would be given the opportunity to be the RB1 he produced as when Mostert missed two games earlier this season. But the Niners are also likely getting Jeff Wilson back from a calf injury, and they had a little bit of a breakout star in their win over the Rams last week when UDFA rookie JaMycal Hasty ran for 37 yards.
By the way, you probably heard that the Patriots drafted Jimmy Garoppolo! And Bill Belichick might have been forced to trade him to appease Tom Brady! Will Belichick be looking at the 49ers longingly this week?
What They’re Saying About the Patriots…
There isn’t much to say about the Patriots — their offense is atrocious. And one of the players catching a lot of the scrutiny is WR N’Keal Harry. Harry hasn’t looked explosive at all this year, and it’s very possible that he was responsible for the game-ending incompletion from QB Cam Newton.
Harry is catching a lot of scrutiny because he was a first-round pick, but it’s not like anybody else is producing here. As our Greg Cosell pointed out, it’s a slow offense with little explosiveness. It reminds me of how the Eagles played last year.
The Boston Herald points out that neither Harry nor Julian Edelman could get off the Broncos’ man coverage. The 49ers play man about 32% of the time, per SIS, and CB Richard Sherman isn’t expected back anytime soon. But you wonder if DC Robert Saleh will dial up more man coverage given New England’s struggles.
McKinnon is still the better play in the San Fran backfield to me, but I’m considering him an RB2 until I know for sure he holds off Hasty (who is a FLEX play).
I don’t feel good about any Patriot outside of James White.
Seattle at Arizona (Sun, 8:20 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Seahawks…
The Seahawks are arguably the favorites to sign WR Antonio Brown — Brown’s suspension expires after next week, and ESPN’s Adam Schefter said Seattle is one team heavily looking into him.
QB Russell Wilson has acknowledged the interest: “I try not to judge people,” he said. Obviously, Brown is not a good guy and is potentially a locker-room problem, but he can clearly help this explosive passing game become even better.
The Seahawks had a quiet bye week, but signing Brown would be a loud move.
What They’re Saying About the Cardinals…
The Seahawks have been a disaster on defense this year, allowing the most FPG to WRs and the second-most FPG to QBs on the season — that’s great news for QB Kyler Murray and WR DeAndre Hopkins, plus WR Christian Kirk who made two big plays against Dallas last week for touchdowns.
But in addition to Seattle struggling statistically, there’s a specific reason this is a great matchup for Murray — he carves up zone coverage. According to SIS, the Seahawks play zone coverage 80% of the time, 2nd-most in the NFL. In his career so far, Murray is averaging 8.2 YPA vs. zone, and just 6.1 YPA vs. man.
A guy I love in particular this week is Kirk — the Seahawks don’t move their corners, and the numbers suggest CB Shaquill Griffin has struggled (no defender has been targeted more than Griffin’s 43 times, per SIS). He’s allowed 30/390/4 in coverage this year. He will line up almost exclusively on the right side of the offense, where Kirk has been deployed for 92% of his snaps. Kirk also leads the Cardinals with 14 targets in zone coverage over the last three weeks. And the Seahawks will not have S Jamal Adams (groin) on Sunday night.
Kirk will be more important in this game because coach Kliff Kingsbury has said that Hopkins’ ankle injury from earlier this season has lingered.
Brown is obviously a stash guy in 12-team leagues. Hopefully, he doesn’t take too much away from Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf.
I love Kirk this week, regardless of Hopkins’ availability (he’s questionable). Make sure you have a contingency plan for Hopkins, now that this game is Sunday night.
Chicago at LA Rams (Mon, 8:15 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Bears…
While Chicago is sitting at a very surprising 5-1 through six weeks, and QB Nick Foles is undefeated as a starter (and reliever), the Bears fans and beat writers have noticed that the offense still isn’t really humming. Foles has made plays when needed, but he hasn’t been a panacea.
One area Mark Potash of the Chicago Sun-Times thinks the Bears can get better is in using no-huddle on a higher percentage of plays. The Bears have selectively chosen to deploy the no-huddle package, but can they do it more? Foles has been excellent with no-huddle dating back to his time with Chip Kelly in Philly, and the Eagles used it effectively in Super Bowl LII.
Potash even points out that RB David Montgomery has had more success in the no-huddle. “Montgomery had gained only 10 yards on eight carries when the Bears went into no-huddle. Montgomery then had gains of five and 11 yards in the no-huddle drive and ended up with 11 carries for 48 yards in the last 20 minutes of the game,” he writes.
“I think it’s something we can build on, and it’s shown in games where we’ve been down and we’ve had to go to no-huddle, and it’s helped us get back in games where statistically we should have lost at that point in the game,” Foles said. “It’s great to have the ability to do that when you need it.”
What They’re Saying About the Rams…
The Rams had a couple of early-week injuries that are nothing to worry about — TE Tyler Higbee (hand) and RB Darrell Henderson (thigh) are both expected to play Monday despite missing practice on Thursday.
So, uh, what the hell happened last week with RB Cam Akers? After coach Sean McVay said Akers would play more against the 49ers after a solid return to action in Week 5, he played just one snap in Week 6.
McVay said it was based on game flow in a poor performance for the Rams.
“When you really look at it, we had four drives in the first half. You have the five-play drive, then you go three-and-out. Then you have the touchdown drive and then we're in a two-minute drive at the end of the half. So, you start the rotation over. Darrell gets going, has a couple of runs. We never even got Darrell in a chance to really get a rhythm,” McVay said. “So, it was nothing that Cam didn't do. It was more of a result of us not really being able to establish the continuity, the rhythm that we'd like to be able to do offensively, where you can activate a bunch of different things and be able to get some different guys touches.”
McVay’s quote was a long-winded way of saying “we have too many running backs to use them effectively,” I think.
Keep an eye on the status of Bear EDGE Khalil Mack, who missed Friday practice with a back injury. Coach Matt Nagy is calling it simply “soreness,” but if he misses, that’s a huge boon for the Ram offense.
Foles isn’t a start-worthy fantasy QB. Montgomery is getting RB1 usage but is producing like an RB2.
I’ve unfortunately dropped Akers in multiple leagues. I’d prefer to stash him if I have the spot, but sometimes you don’t have that luxury.