Welcome to Vantage Points, a column I will be writing weekly during the NFL season as a window into every game of the week. With access limited more than ever this year and with no preseason games for us to put our own eyes on, I have the utmost respect for sportswriters covering the NFL on a daily basis, giving us a window into what these teams might look like and where their strengths and weaknesses — beyond the obvious — lie.
The purpose of this column is to highlight the work of those writers, but to also turn some of their observations into actionable fantasy advice. The goal isn’t just to highlight obvious angles, but perhaps some of the lower-end ones that could lead to fantasy advantages. I’m also taking advantage of watching press conferences and reading transcripts from coaches and players, as well as using stats to 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.
Pittsburgh at Baltimore (Sun, 1 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Steelers…
Steeler QB Ben Roethlisberger threw 3 INTs against Tennessee this past week, and when a team is undefeated, beat writers gotta nitpick something. That’s been the case for Ben.
Roethlisberger and coach Mike Tomlin told reporters that Ben throwing 49 times was part of the plan against Tennessee, utilizing quick passes and RPOs. And Tomlin didn’t see any alarming trend with the picks, noting there was a tip, an end-of-half heave, and an aggressive play late (one Ben would likely want back).
“Sometimes when you’re throwing a lot of the underneath stuff and quick routes, the ball has to come out of your hands quick, and it’s going to, obviously, be a lower pass. Coach Tomlin says all the time, ‘If you’re not going to get home, get your hands up,’” Roethlisberger said to reporters this week. “I think that’s what we are seeing a lot from defenders when they think they’re not going to get home or they think the ball is going to come out quick, they’re just getting their hands up. That’s creating some tipped balls, but we’re not too alarmed with it yet.”
The quick game could be more important this week too — Baltimore has added DE Yannick Ngakoue to a defense that already ranks 2nd — behind Pittsburgh — with a 45.5% pressure rate this year.
The Ravens have noticed Ben getting the ball out quicker, writes PennLive’s Aaron Kasinitz.
I appreciate beat writers asking questions that, if not specifically fantasy focused, are clearly slanted to answer a fantasy dilemma. Mark Kaboly of The Athletic asked one to Mike Tomlin this week: do the Steelers know which of their talented receivers is going to have a big game going into any particular matchup?
Tomlin gave a classic Tomlin non-answer, pointing to the psychology of his players.
“You know, it reveals itself leading up to the game, in the personality, in their style of play, schematics but also people,” Tomlin said. “We have to forecast a little bit, but no question, we go into the game with an understanding of who may have an opportunity to have a big day from a matchup or schematic standpoint.”
By the way, WR Diontae Johnson (toe) was a full participant in practice on Thursday. And when he’s out there, Ben treats him like a go-to guy.
What They’re Saying About the Ravens…
Steeler coach Mike Tomlin said this week that the Steelers’ gameplan is always to shut down the run first and foremost. That’s what they did against Derrick Henry last week, and it’s doubly true of what they want to do against the Ravens.
But as for which back he should focus on stopping? Well, Tomlin seems as confused about the usage of their RBs as fantasy players.
“I can’t speak to their intended use of the runner, but they have utilized three runners to this point in the season, and it doesn’t appear to be any schematic differences in the play selection of anything of that nature,” Tomlin told reporters this week. “I just think they have three backs that they like, and they’re utilizing all of them. I would imagine that they are getting to know their young one without preseason and so forth.”
He might not have to worry about RB Mark Ingram this week though. Ingram has missed practice with an ankle injury, not a great sign coming out of the bye. Could this be a week for JK Dobbins to show what he can do?
By the way, the Ravens added WR Dez Bryant to the practice squad this week, and if he shows something he could end up on the active roster at some point. The Ravens don’t appear to have big plans, however.
“He hasn’t played for how many years? So, we’ll see where he’s at. There’s a lot to learn. He looked good in the workout. I don’t think you need to make too much more of it than that,” coach John Harbaugh told reporters. “He’s on our practice squad roster, which means he’s available to us. So, when and if he’s ready to go, he’ll be out there.”
I think Ben is a mediocre starter this week, but I really like Diontae as a WR2. It’s a tough matchup, but the quick passes will absolutely help him.
With Ingram potentially out, I wonder if this is finally the week Dobbins gets a chance to break out — we saw the Lions “self scout” over their bye and get D’Andre Swift more work. I will be using Dobbins as a low-end RB2 this week, with Gus Edwards a FLEX option.
New England at Buffalo (Sun, 1 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Patriots…
When it rains, it pours. The Patriots are already one of the worst fantasy teams in the league, but they’re about to get worse — WR Julian Edelman will be out at least this week with a knee injury that required surgery (or, the more minor version, “a procedure”).
Edelman seems like an IR candidate, while fellow WR N’Keal Harry (concussion) looks likely to miss this week. So, uh, it’s Gunner Olszewski and Damiere Byrd time?
With the Pats in the toilet, there have been some talks they might trade 2019 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore, though Bill Belichick obviously wouldn’t lend any credence to that in his weekly press conference.
In fact, it’s not just Gilmore the Patriots are willing to deal — they will “listen on almost anyone,” according to SI’s Albert Breer. It’s the right move for Belichick and company. QB Cam Newton isn’t playing well, and even if he was, would the team around him be good enough for it to matter?
By the way, speaking of Cam, is there a medical reason he isn’t throwing the ball to his right? OC Josh McDaniels said no, calling it “more coincidence than planning.” This week, he might not be throwing the ball in any direction, given the state of these WRs.
What They’re Saying About the Bills…
The MVP campaign for QB Josh Allen has cooled off the last couple weeks, with the Bills losing two national-TV games and narrowly beating the Jets in Week 7. Allen’s accounted for just 4 TD and 4 turnovers over those three games, after accounting for 15 TD and 4 turnovers during the first four games of the season.
But this could be a great week for Allen to get back on track. According to SIS, the Patriots play man coverage at the highest rate in the entire NFL (58%). This season, Allen has 11 TD passes and 0 INT vs. man, with 4 TD and 4 INT vs. zone. WR Stefon Diggs sees 33% of Allen’s targets against man (26% vs zone), and is top-3 in the NFL in targets (26) and completed air yards (216) vs. man. And CB Stephon Gilmore tweaked his knee in practice this week and might not go for New England. It could be a massive spot for Allen and Diggs.
Also, one of the reasons Allen has produced for fantasy despite not accounting for as many TDs the last few weeks? He’s run 19 times the last two games, with 8 of them designed (SIS). They were Allen’s first designed runs since Week 1, when he had 6.
Moreover with Allen, he should be getting WR John Brown (knee) back this week after Brown sat out last week’s game. Allen has been far better with Brown on the field than off — he averages 8.35 YPA with 10 TD and 1 INT with Brown out there, and 7.06 YPA with 6 TD and 3 INT when Brown is off the field (SIS).
Bills OL Cody Ford (knee) seems unlikely to play this week.
The only Patriot I’d consider this week is RB Damien Harris as a FLEX. What a disaster.
Allen has struggled in his career with the Pats, but if Gilmore can’t play, he’s got a lot more upside in this one. Diggs will be a WR1, and Brown a WR3.
Tennessee at Cincinnati (Sun, 1 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Titans…
The Titans lost their first game of the season in Week 7’s thriller with the Steelers, but coach Mike Vrabel doesn’t think new LT Ty Sambrailo — filling in for the injured Taylor Lewan — was a reason why. Vrabel isn’t particularly enlightening in his press conferences, but he was overall effusive in his praise of the veteran Sambrailo.
“I appreciate what he did and how he played. He’s played throughout the course of the year at different times, which probably got him ready for that,” Vrabel said, noting that the Titans didn’t have to change many protections to account for Lewan’s loss. “If we get that type of play from Ty going forward, that would be a huge positive.”
SIS’ analysis, by the way, credits Sambrailo with 0 blown blocks on 55 attempts. That’ll do… though our Greg Cosell disagreed with Vrabel’s assessment — the tape showed that the Titans helped Sambrailo and RT Dennis Kelly all game, which limited what the Titans could do in the passing game. That will probably change against the Bengals, who are 28th in the NFL with a 29.3% pressure rate (Pittsburgh is #1, at over 55%).
One of the areas the Titans didn’t succeed last week on their final drive was getting to ball to RB Derrick Henry in the screen game — Henry was stuffed twice, losing 3 yards on 2 receptions. Still, Henry is on pace for 45 targets and 27 receptions, both of which would be easily career highs. They won’t stop throwing him the ball, Vrabel said.
“Derrick’s got a unique skillset. It didn't work out for us last week. We weren’t able to get the guy blocked. Give them credit,” Vrabel told reporters this week. “You don't call in plays thinking they aren’t going to work, but hopefully we can get that guy blocked and we can get him running in man coverage when everybody else is tied up with their guy.”
What They’re Saying About the Bengals…
You might have seen the Titans get absolutely carved up last week on the interior of their defense — indeed, Diontae Johnson and JuJu Smith-Schuster spearheaded a Steeler attack that posted 13/128 on 18 targets directed to the slot alone. That’s not uncommon, per SIS — the Titans are one of three teams to allow 50% of the completions they’ve surrendered this year to come out of the slot (Lions, Bills). Among those teams, the Titans’ 74% completion rate allowed is the highest.
Meanwhile, stud slot man Tyler Boyd runs 89% of his routes from the slot, where he leads the NFL in targets (56) and receiving yards (490). And it’s a good matchup for QB Joe Burrow too — the Titans have pressured the QB on just 24% of dropbacks (second-lowest in the NFL) and Burrow’s on-target throws increase from 69% under pressure to 85% when he’s kept clean.
Meanwhile, Titan coach Mike Vrabel is well aware of the defensive struggles, but he hopes the return of CB Adoree’ Jackson from IR (he didn’t play last week after practicing) could be a boon. In fact, could we see Jackson move to the slot, as our Greg Cosell predicts? Jackson has only played sparingly in the slot in his career, but that career overlapped with the Titans having Logan Ryan, one of the most prolific slot defenders in the NFL, on the roster. The Titans’ weakness against the slot has been staggering so far this year, so it’s worth a try. There was talk of moving Jackson to the slot this off-season. That is, of course, if he’s able to play.
What will also help the Titan defense expand that pressure rate is the Bengals’ rash of injuries up front — starting LT Jonah Williams (neck), starting C Trey Hopkins (concussion), and starting RT Bobby Hart (knee) are all injured.
Don’t expect RB Joe Mixon (foot) to play this week — it’ll be another week of Giovani Bernard in the backfield.
Just plug Henry in there. He’s going to have a big game this week.
For Cincy, we’ve waffled back and forth on Boyd. I want to love him, but the possibility Jackson returns and the bad weather give us pause. Then, later in the week, it appeared Jackson isn’t ready to go. I’m still firing him up as a WR1.
Gio is a solid RB2, and Burrow is a QB1, though you wonder which front — the Bengals’ injured one or the Titans’ underachieving one — will win this matchup.
Las Vegas at Cleveland (Sun, 1 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Raiders…
The Raiders are hoping to get T Trent Brown (COVID) back this week, coach Jon Gruden said, but he isn’t expecting have G Richie Incognito (Achilles), though Incognito is “improving,” Gruden said.
Gruden acknowledges the run game and the production of RB Josh Jacobs isn’t where they want it — Jacobs is averaging just 3.4 YPC. There are a couple of factors going into that, Gruden said, but one really stands out — the line.
“The one thing we’re lacking right now is one long run. We need a breakout run, we need a big run. We hadn’t had that yet, but we’re making positive yards, we’re moving the ball, we’re doing a lot of good things,” Gruden told reporters. “I think we’re better offensively than we were last year, but we’d like to get Trent Brown and Incognito back to help us out.” Again, Brown might go this week, but it’s not looking good for Incognito.
Jacobs, meanwhile, is dealing with a knee tweak, which has left him limited in practice this week. That’s clearly also a factor.
Gruden acknowledged the presence of DE Myles Garrett is a huge task for his offense (you think?). But one area he’s been impressed with QB Derek Carr has been Carr’s legs, and Carr thinks his confidence in getting outside the pocket could be huge this week. Carr has run for 53 yards this year, and while it’s not a huge number, keep in mind he hasn’t gone over 100 yards since 2015, his second season in the NFL.
“I think finally now a lot of completions outside the pocket on scramble drills, me running for first downs and things like that, multiple first downs in games. That’s stuff that we have stressed, it’s becoming second nature for me,” Carr said. “When you do play dominant pass rushers like Myles is, and all those guys on their front. When you play those guys sometimes lanes can open and you can take off and make big plays with your legs, get a first down here and there. So, same thing last week [against the Bucs]. They have so many good defensive linemen, good rushers that sometimes lanes happen, and I was able to do that.”
Carr has also noted that he feels more comfortable being aggressive down the field. While his 7.1 air yards per attempt isn’t exceptional (26th among QBs with 50 or more pass attempts), it’s nearly a full yard up from last year’s super-low 6.2. Carr credits rookie Henry Ruggs and the emergence of vet Nelson Agholor, in addition to his comfort in the scheme, with his more aggressive nature. Carr also got rookie WR Bryan Edwards (foot, ankle) back in practice this week. He hasn’t played since Week 3.
What They’re Saying About the Browns…
Yes, Baker Mayfield knows the stats with and without Odell Beckham Jr. — a 108.2 passer rating this year when not targeting OBJ, and a 78.2 rating when he does. No, he doesn’t want to hear about it.
“No.1, I think it is just completely insensitive to a guy that just tore his ACL. I am not even going to comment on it. You never want to lose guys, and that is where I am going leave that one,” Mayfield said this week when asked about it. DAMN. Baker seemed to be playing with some fire last week, and he carried that into his press conference.
That all said, there seems to be something there with Mayfield and WR Rashard Higgins. Not to pile on OBJ, but Mayfield has averaged 10.8 YPA while targeting Higgins in his career.
“Higgy has always been my guy and he knows how much I trust him,” Mayfield said after the game last week.
Mayfield has also been impressed with rookie WR Donovan Peoples-Jones, who showed initiative this off-season in going down to Texas to work with Mayfield to get some reps in. Mayfield said he was confident going to DPJ on what turned out to be the game-winning TD pass against the Bengals.
“He has just been locked in on terminology and learning the offense a lot quicker than most rookie receivers would be in terms of learning and the pace of that. He is just all about his work and all about his business,” Mayfield said. “I said it after the game, I missed him on a go-ball shot on a third down where they lined up offside, and I told him I was going to come back to him. It just so happened to be that circumstance.”
The Browns aren’t expecting to have RB Nick Chubb (MCL) back until after the bye week next week. That should mean another round of bell-cow work for Kareem Hunt. Raider coach Jon Gruden is expecting the Browns to run it a ton — they do anyway, but with WR Odell Beckham (ACL) out for the year, they’ll probably do it more. That doesn’t comfort Gruden, though.
“You guys covered the Raiders, you know Bill Callahan as the offensive line coach, he’s a great line coach. I have a lot of experience working with him,” Gruden told reporters. “They have two of the best backs in the AFC and in the NFL. They know how to use them. They can run the ball inside or out, gap scheme or zone scheme, traps, shotgun, you name it. When they get the running game going, Baker is really hard to stop because of the play action passes and the bootlegs.”
Gruden has been really impressed with Callahan’s work, in particular.
“He’s got a good, young offensive line and they really benefited by the addition of [Jack] Conklin at right tackle and their first-round draft choice at left tackle [Jedrick Wills Jr.] is quite impressive,” Gruden said.
You have to play Jacobs as an RB1, but yes, this has been a frustrating year. I kind of like Carr as a QB streamer on the lower end, given the Browns’ lack of secondary talent outside of CB Denzel Ward. Because the Browns don’t have a deep middle-of-field safety worth a damn, I bet Ruggs or Agholor — or both — make a downfield play. Both are volatile WR3s.
I’m probably avoiding Mayfield this week, but Higgins is a WR2 given their rapport. It’s perhaps the final week to fire up Hunt as an RB1.
Indianapolis at Detroit (Sun, 1 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Colts…
Why hasn’t Jonathan Taylor had the big season everyone has been expecting? Well, if you listen to the Indianapolis Star’s Joel Erickson, it’s because he isn’t playing enough.
Erickson writes: “Taylor has rushed 54 times for 244 yards over the past four games, a 4.5-per-carry average that dwarfs the rest of the running game. Over the same four-game span, backups Jordan Wilkins and Nyheim Hines have produced just 107 yards on 39 carries, an ugly 2.7 yards per carry.”
Erickson wonders if the Colts might have used their bye week to transition more to a Taylor-focused offense — he’s tied for third on the team with 16 receptions, by the way (only Hines and TY Hilton have more).
The Lions could get slot CB Justin Coleman (hamstring) back from injury this week. For what it’s worth, that would mostly affect Zach Pascal, who plays over 60% of his snaps from the slot (PFF). Coleman has been out since Week 2 with the injury.
The Colts could have some reinforcements coming, with both WR Michael Pittman (calf) and TE Mo Alie-Cox (knee) returning to practice this week. Alie-Cox seems more likely to go than Pittman — Pittman was on IR with compartment syndrome. OC Nick Sirianni said Pittman’s “unique skillset” allows him to be a very good situational receiver for QB Philip Rivers.
“Michael is big and physical, but he has almost like little-man feet, like where he is able to get in and out of breaks like a guy who is 5’10” and he’s 6’3”,” Sirianni said this week. “That’s a very good ability to have because he can win with both his quickness and his strength and size.”
Little-man feet! I like it.
The Lions also added a pass rusher, trading for Everson Griffen with the Cowboys. Griffin will have a crunch to be ready for Week 8 because of COVID protocols (our Adam Caplan doesn’t expect him to play), but the Lions need the help — according to SIS, their 29.1% pressure rate on dropbacks is 5th-lowest in the NFL. Griffen struggled to start the year, but was beginning to have a positive impact the last two weeks, and the struggling Cowboys parlayed that into a late-round pick.
The Colts could have an injury problem along the offensive line — C Ryan Kelly (knee) was downgraded to no practice on Thursday, and we never like to see a mid-week downgrade, especially coming off a bye week.
What They’re Saying About the Lions…
There are some positive trends for Lion RB D’Andre Swift, according to SIS. In Week 7 against the Falcons, he set season highs in snap share (44%), carries (9), and carry percentage (45%). His RB route percentage of 56% was second-most on the season, behind 59% in Week 1.
And now, among 31 RBs with 75 or more routes run, Swift ranks 3rd with a 33% target/route run rate. Put simply, that means he’s getting open a lot. But the Colts’ excellent LB corps is allowing just 17% of targets to go to RBs this year (26th in the NFL), and only one RB — Kalen F’ing Ballage — has topped 3 receptions and 30 yards against the Colts this season.
The Lions coaches have, obviously, been peppered with questions about the backfield rotation.
“We’re always taking a look at what we’re doing, how well the players are playing, how well we’re giving them the stuff that they do best,” OC Darrell Bevell said. “Even last week, I think Swift ended up with the most just total number of plays, not necessarily the most carries, but the most total number of plays. It’s still in flux each and every week, trying to put guys in positions to be successful.”
The writing was on the wall with the questioning, though. The beat writers wanted to know if the Lions’ offense is too predictable when RB Adrian Peterson is on the field. According to SIS, the Lions’ offense does struggle more when Peterson is on the field.
Overall, the Lions lose 0.13 points by EPA with Peterson on the field, including 0.21 points in the run game alone. That suggests predictability — The Lions run on just 28.9% of their snaps when Peterson is off the field, and 57.0% of their snaps when he’s on. That’s staggering.
“Sometimes you make a good play. Sometimes the defense makes a good play as well. I don’t think it’s anything necessarily against Adrian, I think it can happen to like, really, any of the backs that are in there, but there are things that we can do better,” Bevell said. “I think if you talk to him, the first thing he’ll say is that there’s some runs that he could do better and we’re going to continue to work at that.”
For what it’s worth, Peterson (abdomen) was added to the injury report on Thursday.
Obviously, Lions coach Matt Patricia, a defensive guy, knows the Colts’ defense well from breaking down film. He called Indy “sneaky good,” and the numbers would back that up — while the Colts aren’t getting the press of the Bucs, Steelers, or Ravens defenses, FootballOutsiders has them tied for 3rd with Baltimore in defensive DVOA.
Patricia also noted that the Colts play a lot of zone — also correct! SIS has them at 75.6% zone coverage, 5th-most in the NFL. According to SIS, Lion QB Matthew Stafford is completing 68.5% of his passes against predominant man coverage, but for just 6.8 YPA. He’s more aggressive against zone — he’s completing just 56.0% of his passes, but for 9.1 YPA. Expect Stafford and company to take their shots to Kenny Golladay and even Marvin Jones in this one.
Keep in mind, though, that the Colts have seen somewhat of a resurgence from CB Xavier Rhodes, who is giving up a reception in coverage just once every 15.4 coverage snaps, 9th-best in the NFL (min 50% snaps, PFF).
I think this is a huge week for Taylor. I’m using him as an RB1. Hilton is a WR3, and if he can’t get it done in this matchup… whew.
I have no idea what is taking the Lions so long to give the ball to Swift, but it should be obvious they need to do it more after last week. He’s an RB2, and Peterson a TD-dependent FLEX.
The Colts’ defense is nasty, but I expect Stafford should be able to make a big play in this one, giving him low-end QB1 appeal. That is despite the Lions doing everything they can to restrict the offense against Stafford.
Minnesota at Green Bay (Sun, 1 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Vikings…
NOTE: KEEP IN MIND THERE ARE PROJECTED HIGH WINDS FOR THIS GAME.
Look, you know at this point that you have to play both Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson for fantasy, given how “narrow” a fantasy team the Vikings are. But this matchup spells well for them overall.
The Packers’ defense is playing the league’s third-highest zone coverage rate (80%), while ranking in the bottom-three in completion percentage (75%), positive-play rate (60%), and QB rating against (114.9), per SIS. Meanwhile, Jefferson (21%) and Thielen (27%) make up nearly 50% of the Vikings target share vs zone coverage, but Jefferson has done the most damage since his Week 3 breakout. He has 12/227/2 on 18 targets against zone since Week 3, with a 3rd-highest 12.7 yards per target in the NFL.
Viking RB Dalvin Cook (groin) is expected to play this week, but he still hasn’t gotten full practices in. So keep an eye on that status and keep Alexander Mattison at the ready.
Still, OC Gary Kubiak said this week that he doesn’t think Cook will need a limited workload, though he’s leaving the decision up to RB coach Kennedy Polamalu.
“Practice, to me, the past few days hasn’t indicated that that should be the case,” Kubiak said. “He’s worked his load and practiced well, but Kennedy knows him better than anybody, so we’ll see where it goes. How Dalvin goes we normally go, so obviously we’ve got to get him going and get him back to work.”
I could have gone without hearing that Cook “worked his load,” but well…
Cook is officially listed as questionable with the Groin injury, but coach Mike Zimmer said on Friday he should be good to go.
What They’re Saying About the Packers…
The Vikings are clearly not in a position of power entering Week 8 against the Packers, and certainly not in a position they’d want to be in coming off a bye week. They’re going to have to go against QB Aaron Rodgers and company severely depleted at the CB position.
Mike Hughes (neck) hasn’t practiced this week after missing the Vikings’ two games before the bye. Holton Hill (foot) hasn’t played since Week 4, and isn’t practicing this week. Cameron Dantzler (COVID-19) isn’t going to go. That’s three of Minnesota’s top four CBs — their top CB is now rookie Jeff Gladney. Yikes. And WR Davante Adams is coming off a career day with 13/196/2 against the Texans last week.
The Vikings are down LB Todd Davis (COVID-19) this week and will have to start rookie Troy Dye in his place. That’s obviously good news for whoever is starting at RB… which could be Jamaal Williams yet again. Coach Matt LaFleur said this week that the Packers can afford to be cautious with star Aaron Jones, and with the Vikings really hurting defensively, they apparently are going to take that to heart. Jones didn’t practice on Wednesday or Thursday, so it seems highly unlikely he’ll go after missing last week’s action.
By the way, the Packers got some really good news at WR — Allen Lazard (core muscle surgery) is back to practicing this week, though he hasn’t yet been activated off IR. Obviously, the fact that he’s back to practicing is a good sign he’ll be available shortly, given the Packers have just 21 days to activate him off of IR.
Green Bay should also get LT David Bakhtiari (chest) back this week, strengthening their offensive line against a Minnesota defense that weakened its pass rush over the bye with the trade of Yannick Ngakoue to Baltimore.
If you have K Mason Crosby, prepare for an alternative. Crosby (calf, back) is trending toward missing the first game of his NFL career. The Packers don’t currently have a kicker on the roster or practice squad, but have been putting rookie Nick Vogel through COVID protocols this week. They can sign Vogel if Crosby can’t go.
The Vikings are the same team every week for fantasy, though the high winds might give you reason to downgrade this passing game. Keep an eye on Cook’s status, but he’s an RB1 if he goes.
I think Williams is a great bad-weather back, so I love him as an RB1 this week if the winds are bad.
NY Jets at Kansas City (Sun, 1 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Jets…
I’m gonna leave my favorite quote about the Jets here. Chief DT Chris Jones says it all.
"That's a very good football team. People forget that because they haven't won a game,” Jones said. I knew I was forgetting something!
Anyway, there’s pretty much nobody I want to play from the Jets in this one — WR Breshad Perriman (concussion) is out, and Jamison Crowder (groin) is looking doubtful. This could be an awful week for QB Sam Darnold, not that many are good weeks these days.
“I look at [the injuries] as a great opportunity for a lot of dudes,” Gase said on Friday. That includes Braxton Berrios, Jeff Smith, and Vyncint Smith. Have fun, Jets fans.
One thing the Jets might continue to do this week is more pre-snap motions, according to Greg Joyce of the New York Post. OC Dowell Loggains will continue to call the plays, although that has serious “deck chairs/Titanic” vibes.
What They’re Saying About the Chiefs…
Obviously, a big focus of this game — which has a three-touchdown spread — will be the Le’Veon Bell revenge game factor. The Chiefs seem to love having a rotation with Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Bell, and OC Eric Bieniemy called it a “thunder and lightning” scenario.
But this isn’t a Ron Dayne/Tiki Barber kind of obvious split. So, reporters asked, who is “thunder” and who is “lightning?” According to TE Travis Kelce… well, both.
“I was just trying to differentiate the two, man. They’ve both kind of got the dual-threat thunder and lightning package. It’s just the ultimate weather storm out there,” Kelce said. “With the different types of runs that we have built in for them both, they can give you that one-two punch or they can give you that thunder and lightning, whichever one you want on that play.”
Coach Andy Reid wouldn’t play up Bell’s want for revenge here, but knowing Bell and knowing Reid, I wouldn’t be shocked if Bell gets a TD opportunity or two here.
Meanwhile, Bieniemy was asked about one of the Chiefs’ underachieving players this season, WR Mecole Hardman. The Chiefs gave him two touches on their first series last week against the Broncos, including a 13-yard run on their first offensive play. Was that by design to get Hardman into a groove?
“I’m hoping that it is a positive trend. I thought he did a heck of a job of starting the game off for us. I mean, he had two explosive plays. He’s a tremendous kid, he’s a very intelligent kid, but the thing that we talk about all the time is making sure that he’s straining to finish and making sure that second effort is always there,” Bieniemy said, “because my biggest conversations that are always discussed with him are not what he’s going to do when the ball is in his hands, it’s what he’s going to do when the ball is not in his hands.”
To me, that sounds like the Chiefs want Hardman to give more effort across the board, and that’s perhaps why Hardman hasn’t gotten the snaps we’d expect with Sammy Watkins (hamstring) hurt. Watkins, by the way, isn’t expected to play this week. Neither is RT Mitchell Schwartz (back).
I want to avoid the Jets if at all possible.
I’ll make a prediction that Bell gets in the end zone here — he is an RB2 and CEH an RB1. Hardman is a FLEX type of play… it still seems Bieniemy wants to see more out of him.
LA Rams at Miami (Sun, 1 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Rams…
Believe it or not, the Rams have run the ball on 47% of plays this year, which is the second-highest rate in the entire NFL (behind only their opponents, the Dolphins, this week).
The Dolphins are a team to run against, by the way — Miami’s 49.6% pressure rate on dropbacks is third-highest in the NFL, but they have allowed a 51% positive run rate, which is highest in the NFL (SIS). And RB Darrell Henderson is the right guy to handle the workload in this matchup — his 53% positive-run rate is highest among any RB with 70 or more carries. Coach Sean McVay has been running it a ton this year, and you can’t imagine he’ll change this week.
Of course, one of the biggest problems for fantasy has been the lack of usage for RB Cam Akers, who has played just 4 snaps the last two weeks, and didn’t touch the ball (officially) in Week 7.
“[Henderson and Malcolm Brown] did a nice job, felt like the game was kind of going through them, especially in the run game and it's nothing that Cam didn’t do,” McVay said this week. “It's just more of a reflection of what those two guys did. Sometimes that's a positive problem that we have as far as figuring out ways to get those guys involved. I felt comfortable with Darrell and Malcolm and that was the direction that we went.”
The problem is that we know McVay will bury a rookie if he feels like he’s getting solid play from vets in the same spot — he did the same thing with Henderson last year when Todd Gurley and Brown were playing well enough. As we’re seeing with Henderson, that doesn’t preclude Akers from being good in the future, but he’s running out of time to produce this year.
The Rams cut K Sam Sloman this week — the rookie had been struggling, and they’re getting a veteran in Kai Forbath to replace him.
What They’re Saying About the Dolphins…
Look, everything this week is going to revolve around rookie QB Tua Tagovailoa, making his first start. One of the big questions is if the Dolphins are going to rally around the rookie they way they did Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Earlier this season, TE Mike Gesicki called Fitz the best teammate he’s ever had, and there is apparently some concern that Fitz’s benching will be drastically unpopular in the locker room. (I don’t buy that coach Brian Flores, who seems very well plugged in to his players, would risk alienating his troops.) And if Fitz handles his benching with the grace we’ve come to expect from him — unhappy though he may be — he’s a fantastic mentor for Tua.
“To think there would be division because a guy doesn’t play well, I don’t think we have that on this team,” Flores said this week. “I think when guys make mistakes, this team rallies around each other and pick each other up. To say there will be division, I don’t see that. It hasn’t been that way, and I don’t foresee that.”
Meanwhile, OC Chan Gailey acknowledged a couple of things this week in his availability with the media — the Dolphins will be running a lot of RPOs (which Tua was very comfortable with in college), and that the Dolphins are prepared for Tua, a left-handed QB.
“For us, we practice things both left and right, so it doesn’t change a lot for us. If we’ve had a bootleg that’s been to the right for Fitz, then it’s been on Tua’s wristband every week that he runs it to the left,” Gailey said. “We practiced it all both ways, so nothing really changes for us.”
RB Myles Gaskin, for what it’s worth, said he’s familiar with RPO concepts from his time in college at Washington, so he expects an easy transition.
WR DeVante Parker (groin) was added to the injury report this week, though there doesn’t appear to be a reason to worry about his availability.
Henderson and Cooper Kupp — given the Dolphins’ excellent outside CBs — are my favorite Rams plays of the week.
Tua isn’t a fantasy option for me until I see him out there. Gaskin is an RB2, and Parker a WR3. He’s the only pass-catcher I really would be OK using, though I wonder if the RPOs would benefit TE Mike Gesicki.
LA Chargers at Denver (Sun, 4:05 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Chargers…
The Chargers had a positive COVID-19 test this week — G Ryan Groy. They canceled practice on Friday, but there doesn’t appear to be a worry that this game will be postponed (the Broncos also had a positive test, G Graham Glasgow).
Like just about everyone on planet earth, Broncos coach Vic Fangio has been really impressed with the progress of Charger QB Justin Herbert. Fangio’s comments seem to echo everything that the football world is saying, including our Greg Cosell — he simply was never this good at Oregon.
“I think it’s been a good job both by him and their coaches. He’s been under center a good bit so obviously he’s adjusted to that very well and that’s kudos to him, especially with no offseason and a shortened training camp. He looks very comfortable under center,” Fangio said. “Kudos to their coaches for putting in some of the stuff that he ran in college and felt comfortable with and had success with. I think both sides of that coin need credit.”
Cosell points out that Herbert is indeed more accurate than he showed in college. But he’s also running a creative offense that is tailored to his strengths, something he didn’t have at Oregon. Credit Anthony Lynn, Shane Steichen, and QB coach Pep Hamilton with Herbert’s development.
The Chargers are hoping to get RT Bryan Bulaga (back) and G Trai Turner (groin) into the lineup this week. Beluga hasn’t played since Week 3, and Turner since Week 2. It makes what Herbert is doing even more impressive.
What They’re Saying About the Broncos…
The Broncos will be down starting G Graham Glasgow (COVID-19) this week. Both Glasgow and OL coach Mike Munchak will be unavailable this week.
It’s a Melvin Gordon revenge game, but will the Broncos even let him handle important touches if Phillip Lindsay (concussion) can’t play. But Lindsay did return to practice this week, and the Broncos might want to prevent Gordon — who fumbled twice last week — from handling important touches. But Gordon will be motivated, there’s no doubt about that.
It was a rough game last week for QB Drew Lock against the Chiefs in the snow. Lock is still arguably the most aggressive QB in the NFL — his aDOT on throws is 10.4, which leads all QBs. But the Broncos are trying to keep him aggressive without making dumb throws. Lock said after the Chiefs game that he missed “baby throws,” which I’m guessing is his term for “layups.”
“When you go back and look at a game, everybody is fond of saying, ‘Throw the deep ball,’ but there are times when they legislate against it and you check the ball down. That’s in all games,” OC Pat Shurmur said this week. “Everything is progression driven. You go through your progressions, and if it’s not there, you check it down and you move on.”
Shurmur has also been encouraging Lock to use his legs more.
“That’s why you have progressions. You just go through it. If one isn’t there, you throw it two or three. We’ve all learned how to count to three,” Shurmur said. “At some point, you use your legs, and fortunately, he’s a mobile quarterback. I’m fond of moving the pocket. I think he throws well on the run and we’ve had some explosive gains out of that.”
One guy the Broncos really need to step up this week is WR Jerry Jeudy. It doesn’t look like Tim Patrick, who has kind of become Lock’s go-to guy down the field, will be able to play through a hamstring injury.
Herbert continues to be a QB1. Ride him while he’s hot.
I feel better about Lindsay than Gordon in this Denver backfield at this point, but he actually has to play. If he goes, he’s an RB2, with Gordon a FLEX. If Lindsay doesn’t go, Gordon is an RB2. Lock isn’t a fantasy option for me. Jeudy is a deep-league WR3.
New Orleans at Chicago (Sun, 4:25 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Saints…
WR Michael Thomas (hamstring) could go this week. If not, it will be his sixth missed game of the season — three for a high ankle sprain, two for the hamstring, and one for punching a teammate. Yikes. He did return to practice on Thursday and Friday, but he’s trending to being a game-time decision.
Things haven’t gone easily for the Saints this season, at least in terms of expectations, but one player who has lived up to everything and then some is RB Alvin Kamara. One of the reasons Kamara has been so successful? His intelligence, according to coach Sean Payton.
“We've drafted, signed very smart players out of college that, on the football field, maybe needed repetitions or weren't instinctive. Conversely, the league's full of players that may not have been very academically smart or players or students that may have appeared to have been not very smart, and yet on the field, they're extremely intelligent and instinctive. He's both,” Payton told reporters this week.
Payton told reporters that in 2017, he was prepared to take Kamara in the second round, but S Marcus Williams fell, and then the Saints traded back into the third round to draft Kamara.
“He rarely surprises the quarterback in the passing game relative to his routes,” Payton said. ”He understands protections, he can pick things up very quick during the week, and he just has a great ability to learn. And then great instincts as he applies it to the game.”
Payton credited the Saints’ offensive line and its athleticism — 4th in FootballOutsiders adjusted line yards (run blocking) and 7th in adjusted sack rate (pass pro) — with why the Saints have had such success running the ball. And T Terron Armstead and G Nick Easton, both of whom have suffered elbow injuries in recent weeks, are practicing this week. That run game will be important, as Payton noted the Bears’ defense is playing exceptionally well (third-lowest opposing passer rating allowed).
Speaking of intelligence, Payton called out undrafted rookie WR Marquez Callaway in particular for stepping up in Thomas’ absence last week — Callaway posted 8/75 receiving on 10 targets, and now has 12/109 on 16 targets the last two weeks. The Saints have had some luck finding good UDFAs, and they may have another.
“We've been pleased with his progress. Normally, you might have had a chance to see him prior to the start of the season and some of the preseason games, but we felt like he had a good training camp. He opened eyes,” Payton said. Callaway, though, didn’t practice early this week because of an ankle injury.
What They’re Saying About the Bears…
WR Allen Robinson is in the NFL’s concussion protocol, which is obviously not great news for a struggling offense. And keep in mind that Robinson suffered the injury on Monday, giving him one fewer day to get ready for action this week.
And though the Bears are 5-2, the focus has been on that struggling offense, especially QB Nick Foles and coach Matt Nagy. Things came to a little bit of a boiling point — or so it seemed — on Monday Night Football, when color analyst Brian Griese said Foles told him he’s been frustrated with the pressure he’s constantly facing, and intimated the scheme isn’t helping.
The mild-mannered Foles isn’t one to criticize coaches or teammates publicly, and he went to Nagy this week to clear the air.
Foles said his comments to Griese were taken out of context, or misinterpreted. What’s obvious, though, is that the Bears need to figure something out. The run game isn’t helping — David Montgomery has been hugely disappointing. According to FootballOutsiders, the Bears’ much-maligned offensive line has actually done a quality job in the run game, ranking 13th in adjusted line yards at 4.36, their run-blocking metric. However, the backs here average just 3.88 YPC, a net difference of -0.48 YPC, 2nd-worst in the NFL (to only Dallas and the struggling Ezekiel Elliott). Meanwhile, the Saints’ defense is 4th in run defense DVOA. Yikes.
The Bears’ line takes a hit, too, with C Cody Whitehair missing this week with a calf injury.
Keep an eye on Thomas’ status. If he does play, he’s a WR2.
If Robinson doesn’t go for Chicago, I have a hard time expecting this Bear offense to do much of anything. Montgomery is getting RB1 work but is producing like a low-end RB2.
San Francisco at Seattle (Sun, 4:25 PM)
What They’re Saying About the 49ers…
Obviously, with WR Deebo Samuel (hamstring) out the next couple of weeks, the 49ers are going to lean heavily on TE George Kittle, that’s not breaking news.
But even though the Seahawks have been overall stingy against tight ends with just a league-low 10% of completions against them to TEs (0 TD, 2 INT on targets to TEs), their propensity for zone coverage could be a big boon to Kittle. According to SIS, Seattle plays the second-most zone coverage of any team in the NFL (83%). And since his return from a knee injury in Week 4, Kittle has seen 34% of the 49ers’ targets vs zone, and he leads the league with 26 targets against zone over that span.
The Seahawks aren’t expecting to have S Jamal Adams (groin) this week. He’s getting closer, but it’s slow-going. (Peter Carroll, of course, called him a “game-time decision” despite the fact he hasn’t practiced this week.)
The big story for fantasy, though, is San Francisco’s backfield. Both Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson are on IR with high ankle sprains. But Jerick McKinnon, who had been a revelation with Mostert hurt earlier in the year, barely played the last two weeks.
Long-time 49ers beat writer Matt Barrows of The Athletic said this week that McKinnon has been dealing with “tired legs,” which at least backs up what Kyle Shanahan said this week as to why McKinnon didn’t play much last week. We’ll see if McKinnon gets the ball more this week, but the Niners love the way JaMycal Hasty has played.
In fact, this week, beat writer Jennifer Lee Chan tweeted that the 49ers PR department asked beat writers not to write too much about Hasty this summer — they didn’t want to lose him off the practice squad.
It’d be easy to say the Niners will go with McKinnon and Hasty this week, but they’re also hoping to get RB Tevin Coleman (knee) off of IR this week.
What They’re Saying About the Seahawks…
Oh, Pete Carroll. The ever-optimistic Seahawks head coach told reporters this week that RBs Chris Carson (foot) and Carlos Hyde (hamstring) have a shot to go this week, despite all evidence to the contrary. Our Adam Caplan doesn’t expect either guy to go. (Carroll himself admitted earlier this week that the Seahawks “saw something” on Carson’s MRI.)
With all the RB injuries — which includes Travis Homer (knee bruise) — the Seahawks are going to have to have rookie DeeJay Dallas start in the backfield. They’re signing former Seahawk Alex Collins to the practice squad, by the way.
With Samuel out, I think Brandon Aiyuk is a sneaky high-end WR2 this week. My preference for the San Fran backfield goes as such — Hasty/McKinnon/Coleman. I’m excited to be proven wrong again.
Dallas is a high-end RB2 given the potential volume here.
Dallas at Philadelphia (Sun, 8:20 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Cowboys…
The disaster season for the Cowboys gets even worse — rookie 7th-round pick QB Ben DiNucci is looking like the starter this week, as Andy Dalton remains in concussion protocol following a cheap shot from Washington LB Jon Bostic last week. DiNucci is a mobile guy, but talk about throwing someone to the wolves.
One bad thing for DiNucci — his top WR, Amari Cooper, has a tough shadow matchup with CB Darius Slay. Cooper has really struggled with Slay in his career, catching just 3 of 11 targets for 38 yards in two career matchups with Slay.
Cooper, for what it’s worth, says DiNucci looks “comfortable” in practice this week.
The Eagles did put LB Nathan Gerry (ankle) on IR this week, but given how Gerry has played this year, that’s a bad thing for RB Ezekiel Elliott and TE Dalton Schultz.
What They’re Saying About the Eagles…
Don’t look now, but the Eagles are getting healthier. OL Jason Peters (leg) might return this week — he could play either LT or RG, depending on if RT Lane Johnson (ankle) can play (if Johnson can’t play, Jordan Mailata will probably move to RT). WR Jalen Reagor (thumb) is looking on track to return this week, while TE Dallas Goedert (ankle) has an outside shot as well.
Whichever of these players can’t go this week — including RB Miles Sanders (knee) and WR Alshon Jeffery (calf) — will probably go in Week 10 after Philly’s bye. Of the injured skill guys, Reagor has the best chance to go this week: he’s expected to play, and it’s a heck of a matchup for him to do so. I anticipate he will play the “Z” to Travis Fulgham’s “X.”
With Sanders out, it looks like another good week for Boston Scott.
One thing that puzzles me — with Peters expected back and Johnson expected to try to play through his injury, the Eagles seem to be willing to move Mailata back to the bench. While Mailata didn’t play well last week against the Giants, that seems to be an awful mistake. Mailata has shown a lot of promise, and I’d argue he’s been better than Peters.
Coach Doug Pederson compared Mailata potentially moving to the bench as a “big-picture” move, like when the Eagles benched Nelson Agholor back in 2016. PhillyVoice’s Jimmy Kempski does a wonderful job pointing out why that doesn’t make any sense.
I don’t feel good about any Cowboys, including Zeke. I think Zeke is an RB2 on volume alone, and none of the WRs can be considered more than WR3s.
For Philly, I think Fulgham is a WR2, Reagor a volatile WR3, Scott an RB1, and Carson Wentz a high-end QB1 in this matchup.
Tampa Bay at NY Giants (Mon, 8:15 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Buccaneers…
The Bucs are going to be thin at WR this week — they still can’t use Antonio Brown until Week 9 (suspension), and Chris Godwin (finger) required a minor surgery and is out this week. Scotty Miller (hip, groin) has been limited in practice this week, but should be able to go.
That means it should be a good week for Mike Evans… in theory. Evans has averaged 21.2 FPG in games without Godwin this year, and just 7.3 FPG in games without him. The worry is that Evans catches a shadow from the perpetually underrated CB James Bradberry, who knows him well from his time in Carolina. I wonder if coach Bruce Arians will move Evans into the slot — which he has been doing more of this year — to avoid the matchup.
Here’s one other thing to watch with the Bucs — the ever-evolving backfield. This week, Arians called Leonard Fournette his “nickel” RB, according to our friend Greg Auman of The Athletic. Of course, that makes Ronald Jones an absolute nightmare to handicap.
Last week against the Raiders, RoJo still got it done for fantasy because he got a 1-yard TD run, but he posted just 13/34/1 rushing and 1/2 receiving on 2 targets (he, again, dropped a pass). He played 31 snaps to Fournette’s 40, and the key for Fournette was he was the Bucs’ primary third-down and receiving back (11/50 rushing and 6/47 receiving on 7 targets). RoJo has run hard this year and has developed into a quality sustainer and grinder, but he has atrocious hands and the Bucs simply don’t trust him on third downs, as Arians basically admitted.
What They’re Saying About the Giants…
This is obviously not going to be a pretty game for QB Daniel Jones, and SIS has the numbers to tell you just how ugly it can get.
The Giants have allowed pressure on a league-worst 44% of dropbacks, and they’ll be facing a Tampa Bay defense that ranks 4th with a 40% pressure rate. Meanwhile, Jones has seen his On-Target Rate drop from 84% to 60%, and his Positive Play Rate fall from 54% to 38% when pressure is involved.
It doesn’t look good for RB Devonta Freeman (ankle) this week, which gives more work to Wayne Gallman. Unfortunately, Tampa is an absolute nightmare matchup for good run games, as they showed against Aaron Jones two weeks ago.
Both Fournette and Jones are RB2s in this game — Jones should get carries because the Bucs should dominate. Evans is a WR2, and Miller a WR3.
I want to bench all my Giants. I think this game is going to be ugly.