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Week 7 NFL score predictions – Guide to best games, fantasy outlook, more


We’re previewing the Week 7 NFL slate with score predictions for each game from our Nation reporters, what to watch for in fantasy, Football Power Index projections from ESPN Stats & Information and much more.

Thursday Night Football result: DEN 45, ARI 10
Teams with byes in Week 7: GB, OAK, PIT, SEA

Jump to a matchup:
TEN-LAC | NE-CHI | CAR-PHI | HOU-JAX | MIN-NYJ
BUF-IND | CLE-TB | DET-MIA | NO-BAL | LAR-SF
DAL-WSH | CIN-KC | NYG-ATL


SUNDAY’S GAMES

Point spread: LAC -6.5 | Matchup quality: 55.9 (of 100)

Turron Davenport’s pick: The Chargers’ offense is too explosive in both the running and passing game. The balanced attack is averaging 412.5 yards per game. Philip Rivers will take shots at Malcolm Butler, leading to at least one explosive play. After not scoring a touchdown in two consecutive weeks, Marcus Mariota will have a bounce-back game, but it won’t be enough to end their losing skid. Chargers 27, Titans 24

Eric D. Williams’ pick: The Bolts are playing better on defense and facing a Tennessee offensive line that allowed 11 sacks of Mariota in a loss to the Ravens last week. However, the Titans have been stingy on defense, giving up just 17.8 points per game, so this one likely will be a low-scoring affair. The Chargers have won nine of their past 10 games against Tennessee. Chargers 24, Titans 17

FPI win projection: LAC, 71.9 percent. Mariota’s 11 sacks last week pushed him to a 14.5 Total QBR, his lowest in a game in more than two years. This week’s opponent won’t be much easier, as the Chargers are allowing a 48.3 Total QBR in 2018, third lowest in the league.

What to watch for in fantasy: The Chargers D/ST could extend its double-digit point scoring streak to three games, and that makes them one of the best streamer D/ST options in Week 7. Read more.

In case you missed it: Rivers’ focus on accuracy resulting in career seasonIs Mariota to blame for Titans’ woes? It’s complicatedChargers figuring out how to get pass rush without Bosa


Point spread: NE -2.5 | Matchup quality: 72.4 (of 100)

Mike Reiss’ pick: This is a good spot for the Bears to possibly pull the upset, with the Patriots coming off an emotional Sunday night victory, but two things have me sticking with the Patriots: Khalil Mack isn’t 100 percent with a right ankle injury; and the Tom Brady-led offense has scored 38, 38 and 43 points in its past three games and has even left points on the field. The New England defense will tighten up against the big play for the team to get its first road win of the season. Patriots 27, Bears 20

Jeff Dickerson’s pick: The Bears are catching the Patriots at the wrong time. Mack’s ankle injury, while not believed to be serious, is likely to limit his effectiveness versus Brady and the New England offense on Sunday. The Bears probably will put up a good fight, but in the end, New England’s firepower on offense will be too much for Chicago to overcome. Patriots 27, Bears 21

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Tedy Bruschi and Darren Woodson see the Patriots taking out the Bears in Chicago after a huge Week 6 walk-off win vs. the Chiefs.

FPI win projection: CHI, 50.8 percent. The Bears are slight favorites at home, one of just two remaining games in which the Patriots are an underdog, according to FPI (Week 15 at PIT). Brady is 4-0 against the Bears in his career, but he faces a defense ranked second in defensive efficiency and first in takeaways per game (2.8) and points off turnovers per game (8.8) this season.

What to watch for in fantasy: Taylor Gabriel is arguably the most underrated asset in fantasy. Available in nearly two-thirds of ESPN leagues, he should be scooped up and considered a fringe WR3 option against New England. Read more.

In case you missed it: Gordon elevates near top of Patriots’ WR depth chartTrubisky looks forward to first meeting with BradyBrady to Gronk: A connection at its best in crunch time


Point spread: PHI -5 | Matchup quality: 58.8 (of 100)

David Newton’s pick: Philadelphia’s secondary is banged up, but the Panthers haven’t taken advantage of any secondary with deep passes. They have just two receptions for 20-plus yards, a league low. The Eagles are second against the run defensively, so look for them to put pressure on Cam Newton to beat the Panthers. Newton threw three interceptions in a loss to the Eagles last year, and that was at home. This one is on the road, and Philadelphia is coming off arguably its best game yet. Eagles 24, Panthers 17

Tim McManus’ pick: The Eagles own the No. 2 rushing defense in the NFL (79.8 yards per game), which will come in handy against a Carolina squad that averages five yards per carry. Carson Wentz is looking like his old self, and the swagger is back on offense. It should be a good day at the office for the Eagles, who have won 13 of their past 15 home games. Eagles 30, Panthers 24

FPI win projection: PHI, 69.8 percent. The Panthers enter the week with a 35 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to FPI. A win would propel their chances to 51 percent, while a loss would drop them down to 29 percent. That’s the biggest potential swing for any NFC South team in Week 7.

What to watch for in fantasy: Greg Olsen will probably see at least five targets, but the Eagles’ defense has given tight ends a lot of trouble this season. Read more.

In case you missed it: Gronk? Kelce? Right now, NFL’s top tight end may be Ertz ... Panthers, Eagles still searching for identity in inconsistent NFCEagles borrow another Patriots play — and convert it into another TDPanthers need Moore to bounce back from two costly fumbles


Point spread: JAX -5 | Matchup quality: 45.6 (of 100)

Sarah Barshop’s pick: How each quarterback is able to hold up against the opposing pass rush will likely be the story of the game. Deshaun Watson has been under pressure on 41.5 percent of his dropbacks this season, which is the second-highest rate behind Tyrod Taylor, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. The Jaguars lead the league with a 35.3 percent pressure rate, which will lead to a long day for Watson and the Texans’ offense. Jaguars 17, Texans 14

Mike DiRocco’s pick: The Jaguars swept the Texans last season and outscored them 74-14, but Watson only played the second half of the first game and none of the second game. The Jaguars’ defense over the past two weeks has given up 63 points, 802 yards and 49 first downs. One of the constants in those losses? Mobile quarterbacks really hurt the Jaguars when they got outside the pocket. Watson has that ability too. With the severe limitations on offense and the uncertainty of which Blake Bortles is going to show up, the Texans might only need 14 points to win. Texans 17, Jaguars 6

FPI win projection: JAX, 60.7 percent. This game has the biggest swing in terms of chances to make the playoffs and win the division of any game in Week 7. The Texans would have a 63 percent chance to win the division with a win and a 30 percent chance with a loss. The Jaguars would have a 43 percent chance to win the division with a victory and a 13-percent chance in defeat, according to FPI.

What to watch for in fantasy: It might be unfair to call Watson’s stock “falling” if he struggles again in Jacksonville, but that is what would happen. Read more.

In case you missed it: Defensive star power defines Jacksonville-Houston matchupAfter 0-3 start, Texans now ‘back to where we want to be’Jaguars’ problems go far beyond injuries and Bortles


Point spread: MIN -3.5 | Matchup quality: 40.5 (of 100)

Courtney Cronin’s pick: Like the Jets, the Vikings feel pretty good after winning their past two games, but it’s still too early to determine whether everything’s back on track. Minnesota might struggle against the run if Linval Joseph isn’t healthy enough to play; and offensively, Kirk Cousins has to be extra cognizant of ball security against a defense that thrives off creating turnovers. Cousins can beat the Jets’ pressure by relying on Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, and that might be easier to do, given the injuries in New York’s secondary. Vikings 27, Jets 19

Rich Cimini’s pick: The Jets are confident after two straight wins, but confidence can’t cover Thielen. Without Trumaine Johnson and Buster Skrine, rookie Parry Nickerson will draw Thielen in the slot. Thielen could go for 200 yards against the Jets’ beat-up secondary. Offensively, the Jets will struggle because the Vikings play excellent situational football, as Minnesota is No. 1 in third-down defense and No. 2 in the red zone. Vikings 28, Jets 17

FPI win projection: MIN, 55.5 percent. At 67.1, the Jets are a top-five team in terms of defensive efficiency, according to FPI, and that number increases to 77.3 in home games. Intriguingly, Cousins has performed better away from home this season, posting a 83.1 Total QBR in road games compared with 43.8 at home.

What to watch for in fantasy: Thielen aligns in the slot 60 percent of the time, and he’s a terrific bet to continue his outstanding early-season success this weekend. Read more.

In case you missed it: Cousins proving to be ‘real deal’ as new leader of VikingsHow the Cousins rejection changed everything for the JetsCousins, Thielen emerge as NFL’s top QB-WR duo

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Tedy Bruschi and Darren Woodson explain their picks for the Week 7 matchup between the Jets and Vikings.


Point spread: IND -7.5 | Matchup quality: 32.7 (of 100)

Mike Rodak’s pick: This game has the potential to be sloppy between two teams that rank in the top six in turnovers lost and in the top nine in turnovers forced. It seems reasonable to lean in the direction of Andrew Luck over Derek Anderson and in favor of the home team. But one bounce the Bills’ way could change the outcome. Colts 17, Bills 14

Mike Wells’ pick: The Colts are off to their worst start since the 2011 season. The only positive outside of Luck’s play this season is that they could have receiver T.Y. Hilton (hamstring) back for the first time since Week 4. Hilton’s return will help a group that has 13 drops in the past three games. Scoring will be tough, as Buffalo is ranked 10th in total defense. Colts 17, Bills 10

FPI win projection: IND, 79.5 percent. The Colts are the biggest favorite of the week, according to FPI, but they might not put up points on offense the way they have over the past few weeks. Luck’s three-game streak of 300-plus yards and three touchdown passes could come to an end, as the Bills’ under-the-radar defense ranks fourth in defensive efficiency.

What to watch for in fantasy: LeSean McCoy has had 45 touches over the past two weeks, a big bump from the 29 touches he saw in his first three games combined. The Colts are allowing the fourth-most RB completions per game (6.83), so his floor could be elevated this week. Read more.

In case you missed it: Colts’ alarming rate of drops is past the point of being a ‘fluke’Bills to start QB Anderson against Colts


Point spread: TB -3.5 | Matchup quality: 32.3 (of 100)

Pat McManamon’s pick: The Browns’ defense has given up 45, 9 and 38 points over the past three games, with two losses. It now gets to face the NFL’s top passing offense without two of its top-three corners. The Browns have to find big plays and points to win this game. The offense did that in Oakland, and it will do it again against a weak defense. Browns 34, Buccaneers 31

Jenna Laine’s pick: After dropping three straight games and firing defensive coordinator Mike Smith, this game is must-win for Tampa Bay. It’ll be facing an offense that is averaging a little over 21 points a game, but it could possibly be without Gerald McCoy and Vinny Curry, which would be significant. If Jameis Winston can manage to have production somewhat near last week’s four touchdowns and eliminate the turnovers, I like the Bucs’ chances here. Buccaneers 30, Browns 21

FPI win projection: TB, 74.1 percent. Will this game be Baker Mayfield‘s breakout? The Buccaneers are last in defensive efficiency, according to FPI, and have allowed an 80.2 Total QBR. There’s a long way to go, but the highest Total QBR allowed in a full season in our dataset (since 2006) is 66.1 by the 2009 Giants.

What to watch for in fantasy: Things seem to be aligned nicely enough for Mayfield to have a chance at a top-10 week. Read more.

In case you missed it: How the Browns’ wide receiver plans fell apartMayfield’s next challenge: Rebounding from worst loss everDuffner brings passion to Bucs’ defensive coordinator role

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Tedy Bruschi and Darren Woodson explain their game picks for the Week 7 matchup between the Browns and Buccaneers.


Point spread: DET -3 | Matchup quality: 20.2 (of 100)

Michael Rothstein’s pick: Miami might be good at home, but don’t be fooled. This matchup actually plays pretty well for Detroit. The Dolphins aren’t good at reaching the quarterback (4.7 sack percentage), and if you give Matthew Stafford time to throw, he’ll beat you. As long as the line continues to hold up — and the potential return of T.J. Lang should help — Stafford could have a monster day. The Lions’ run defense is suspect, but it’s an overall favorable matchup for the Lions, particularly since Brock Osweiler has only completed 56 percent of his passes against Matt Patricia defenses in his career and hasn’t had a game against Patricia with over 60 percent passing. Lions 27, Dolphins 20

Cameron Wolfe’s pick: It’s tough to get a peg on this Dolphins team so far this season. They’re 4-2 with a backup quarterback likely leading them through the rest of October. The Miami heat and their stadium represent one of the best home-field advantages in the first two months of the season. The Dolphins are 3-0 at Hard Rock Stadium this season. Will the Osweiler revival continue against a stingy Lions pass defense? Probably not, but this seems like a prime game for Frank Gore and Kenyan Drake to bully the Lions’ 30th-ranked rushing defense, especially in the fourth quarter. Dolphins 24, Lions 23

FPI win projection: MIA, 50.9 percent. The Dolphins will be without Ryan Tannehill for a second straight week, but the switch to Osweiler doesn’t change their chances to win, according to FPI. The Dolphins would have a 51 percent chance to win with either quarterback under center.

What to watch for in fantasy: The platoon setup Miami has adopted for Drake and Gore does place a cap on the upside value of their Week 7 blocking advantage over Detroit, but placing either of them into an RB2 or flex starting role is a high-percentage play with notable upside potential. Read more.

In case you missed it: Baker, McMillan extend Buckeye brotherhoodLions make case for NFL’s best receiver trio


Point spread: BAL -2.5 | Matchup quality: 80.9 (of 100)

Mike Triplett’s pick: I’m tempted to pick a loss here for the Saints since they’re on the road and facing the NFL’s No. 1 defense. But I can’t bet against Drew Brees accomplishing something he wants to add to his career bucket list in felling the Ravens, the only team he has never beaten in his 18-year career. And the Saints actually have been very good outdoors lately, with a 5-2 record over the past two years. Expect Brees to lean on his RB duo of Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram to get this one done. Saints 25, Ravens 22

Jamison Hensley’s pick: The Ravens are coming off a franchise-record 11 sacks, but they’ll be hard-pressed to get to Brees. He gets rid of the ball quicker than anyone in the league, which creates a big problem for Baltimore. Since the start of the 2015 season, the Ravens are 11-17 (.392) when recording two or fewer sacks in a game. Saints 30, Ravens 27

FPI win projection: BAL, 60.4 percent. Brees is second in the league with a 79.2 Total QBR this season, but he goes on the road to face a Ravens defense that has allowed the lowest Total QBR in the league (44.2). The Ravens lead the league in defensive efficiency and are allowing an NFL-best 8.5 points per game at home.

What to watch for in fantasy: The Saints have the seventh-lowest pressure rate this season, while Joe Flacco sports a stellar 8-to-1 TD-INT rate with 7.3 yards per dropback from a clean, unpressured pocket. Read more.

In case you missed it: Brees’ next historic hurdle: Beating Ravens for first timeIn league of its own, Ravens’ defense is now ‘chasing history’What to expect from Kamara, Ingram going forward

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Steve Young previews Sunday’s matchup between the Saints’ high-powered offense and the Ravens’ stifling defense.


Point spread: LAR -10 | Matchup quality: 68.0 (of 100)

Lindsey Thiry’s pick: The Rams feature the top-ranked offense, and Todd Gurley is coming off a 208-yard rushing performance, which will make it difficult for the 49ers to decide whether to focus on stopping the run or the pass? The Rams’ defense is still looking to put together a complete performance over the last few weeks after a dominant start, but the unit solved its run-game issues against the Broncos, a trend they expect to continue. Rams 34, 49ers 21

Nick Wagoner’s pick: After losing Jimmy Garoppolo, the 49ers have been in position to win every game they’ve played, but they haven’t been able to win any of them. The difference is a lack of top-end playmakers as compared to many of their opponents. That should again be the case on Sunday, when the star-studded Rams come to town riding the wave of a six-game winning streak against the Niners, who have lost four in a row and 12 straight October games. Kyle Shanahan’s familiarity with the Rams and their staff could make it closer than expected, but the Rams’ star power will provide enough for the win. Rams 34, 49ers 24

FPI win projection: LAR, 73.3 percent. One reason for the Rams’ success has been their domination on both sides of the line of scrimmage. The Rams lead the league in ESPN’s pass block win rate and ESPN’s pass rush win rate, according to tracking data from NFL Next Gen Stats.

What to watch for in fantasy: This week, Cooper Kupp will be out, leaving a 27.1 percent share of the Rams’ red zone targets to be distributed. Robert Woods is the main candidate to see a massive bump. Read more.

In case you missed it: McVay’s quest for playcalling perfectionIt’s problems with the basics and much more with 49ers’ suspect secondaryGet beat, move on: Just part of Peters’ success syndrome


Point spread: WSH -1.5 | Matchup quality: 50.5 (of 100)

Todd Archer’s pick: The road has been unkind to the Cowboys this season, as they are averaging just 12.3 points, 276 yards and 16 first downs in their three losses away from home. That might be a poor forecast for Sunday’s game at Washington, but the Cowboys have found FedEx Field a friendly place as of late. The Cowboys have won five games in a row in Landover, Maryland. In those five victories, the Cowboys have averaged 29.4 points. They won’t score that many this time, but they will improve to 2-0 in the NFC East this season. Cowboys 24, Redskins 17

John Keim’s pick: The Redskins are 9-16 after a win over the past three years under coach Jay Gruden, so they’ve had a lot of trouble handling any sort of success. In their three wins this season, they’ve outscored opponents by a combined 38 points; in their two losses, they’ve been outscored by 36. They’ve been the ultimate Jekyll and Hyde team. Dallas stopped Washington’s run game last year, but in the first meeting, the Redskins’ line had only one regular starter. The Redskins are 12th in yards per carry allowed and have faced four offenses with better quarterbacks. Redskins 21, Cowboys 20

FPI win projection: DAL, 51.9 percent. This game will have a big impact on whether these teams make the playoffs from the NFC East: The Cowboys would have a 61 percent chance with a win and 34 percent with a loss, while the Redskins would be at 36 percent with a win and 14 percent with a loss, according to FPI. It should be a close game; FPI has Dallas at 52 percent to win, while Vegas has the Redskins as a two-point favorite.

What to watch for in fantasy: The Redskins’ Paul Richardson is a deep sleeper this week against Chidobe Awuzie (ankle) or Anthony Brown. Read more.

In case you missed it: Beasley knew a big day was coming; can Cowboys keep it going?Norman smoothed over issues with team, then came through


Point spread: KC -6 | Matchup quality: 62.9 (of 100)

Katherine Terrell’s pick: The Bengals’ defense had trouble stopping the Steelers in the last minute of a loss last week, and now it is potentially down three defensive starters. Combine that with the Chiefs’ high-scoring offense and an offensive line that has only allowed six sacks and it doesn’t make for a good matchup for Cincinnati in a primetime game on the road. The Bengals’ offense would need to keep pace with the Chiefs to be able to stick around. Chiefs 33, Bengals 24

Adam Teicher’s pick: Each team could look in the mirror and almost see Sunday’s opponent. Both have high-scoring offenses (Chiefs 35.8 points per game, Bengals 29.0) but yield scores almost as fast (Kansas City 28.7, Cincinnati 26.3). The significant differences come in the kicking game, where the Chiefs rank in the top five in every key statistical category while the Bengals are near the bottom in many. Look for Tyreek Hill or Tremon Smith to make the difference with a big kick return. Chiefs 37, Bengals 33

FPI win projection: KC, 69.9 percent. This game has the largest impact on a first-round postseason bye of any Week 7 matchup. The Chiefs would have a 71 percent chance at a bye with a win, according to FPI and a 46 percent chance with a loss. The Bengals would have a 21 percent chance at a bye with a win and a 6 percent chance with a loss.

What to watch for in fantasy: Consider tight end C.J. Uzomah. Andy Dalton claims the league’s seventh-highest rate in yards per dropback (9.2) and fifth-highest completion clip (81 percent) targeting tight ends. The Chiefs have allowed 91.7 yards per game and the third-most fantasy points (16.8) to the position this season. Read more.

In case you missed it: Bengals game might be the most important of Chiefs’ seasonBengals have to flip script quickly after yet another loss to Steelers

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Tedy Bruschi and Darren Woodson predict that Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs will outduel Andy Dalton and the Bengals on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium.


MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL

Point spread: ATL -5 | Matchup quality: 44.6 (of 100)

Jordan Raanan’s pick: Finally a matchup that might favor the sputtering Giants offense. The Giants play a decimated Falcons defense that is allowing 32.0 points per game. With 11 days between games, the Giants should have plenty of time to exploit Atlanta’s weaknesses, which include stopping opposing running backs from catching the ball out of the backfield. And Saquon Barkley just so happens to lead all running backs in receptions. This is the week the Giants pull the upset. Giants 26, Falcons 23

Vaughn McClure’s pick: The Falcons average 34.5 points per game at home and are 14-of-16 in scoring in the red zone at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Matt Ryan has thrown 13 touchdowns with one interception there, so scoring points in the Monday night matchup shouldn’t be a problem, even if Ryan is missing an offensive weapon or two. Yes, the Falcons’ defense has given up an average of 33.3 points per game at home, but the Giants average just 19.5 points per game. Falcons 35, Giants 17

FPI win projection: ATL, 69.7 percent. Look for Ryan to have another big game at home. He has an 83.3 Total QBR at home this season as compared with 31.2 on the road. Thanks in large part to that, the Falcons have an offensive efficiency of 90.8 at home, second only to the Rams.

What to watch for in fantasy: Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley will see struggling Janoris Jenkins and Eli Apple on most of their Week 7 routes. Receivers facing Jenkins have scored 96 fantasy points this season, which is third highest in the league. Read more.

In case you missed it: Has Darnold made Jets kings of New York over Manning, Giants?Smith aims to ignite Falcons’ run game with Freeman outLauletta showing his stuff as Giants’ scout-team quarterback‘Nobody wants to miss tackles’: Falcons rely on video, D-coordinator for help



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Fantasy football picks, sleepers, busts for Week 7


By now, you’ve probably seen the rant.

I say this because it seems like everyone has seen the rant. If you haven’t, you can watch it right above. But I can’t tell you how many tweets, texts, DMs and emails I got from friends, co-workers and fellow fantasy players about it. They all said some version of the same thing. “Man, I’m sorry for your pain. That’s awful. But I can relate.”

Because they’ve been there.

Story after story poured in. “I feel you. You think that’s bad, listen to this one.”

I often write about the unifying aspect of fantasy football, the universal language it speaks and how it brings people from all parts of life together because of a group of shared experiences. I talk about the joy it brings, the hope and light it can shed, the bonds it creates.

I don’t talk about the pain.

Late Monday night, after the game, I was sunk into my couch with only the glow of the television faintly illuminating the room. The rest of my family was long asleep, Scott Van Pelt and Stanford Steve were on the TV, appropriately talking about bad beats, and I just lay there. Depressed. Why do I do this to myself?

Why do we care so much? I get wanting to win, I get being disappointed when I don’t. I get the frustration that comes from spending an entire week of preparation on a game where, every week, half of all teams will take an L. But at the end of the day — realize this is me saying this, a man who has spent three decades of his life dedicated to fantasy football — it’s still just a make-believe game.

And so, I sat on my couch, just destroyed. Like, legitimately depressed. The night before that intense rant, I was seriously questioning why I play this dumb game.

Make no mistake, logically, I get it. I had some bad luck. I did what you are supposed to do in fantasy football. I did the research, I played the odds that gave me the best chance to win and due to a bunch of unlikely events, I fell just short. It happens. Every week, all the time, to anyone who has ever played the game.

It makes complete and total sense and my brain just nods. While my heart just crumbles. Emotionally, I am just destroyed. Why does this game do this to us? How do we get so wrapped up, so invested in a semi-random group of professional athletes who we’ve never met and have no connection to each other except they were selected, in some order, by some random person, at some point in August?

When I win a game, I am happy, but you know my overriding emotion? Relief. Relief that I didn’t lose. That my make-believe collection of players scored more points than my opponent’s make-believe collection. That I don’t have to feel like crap. And if the reaction I got from that rant is any indication, I’m not alone.

To be clear, I don’t take every loss the way I took this one. In fact, I never have. But I do truly care. That was one reaction I heard a lot. People were surprised that I cared this much about any one league, all these years later.

Oh, I care. I always care. The issue is time. I’m in 12 leagues, plus the two “Vampire” leagues. There’s another 15 or so that I “help” out with and need to keep reasonable track of. There’s DFS of course and smaller games, like Pigskin Pick ’em and Eliminator. All in all, I probably make some sort of decision hundreds of times a week. Some of them fall through the cracks. There’s a league where I’ve known I desperately need to make a trade for three weeks now, and I haven’t found the time to go through rosters to see the team that would make the best potential trade partner and to try to negotiate that deal. But I definitely care about every single league I’m in.

The league is called The Scott Fish Bowl and if you are active on Twitter, you may have seen a bunch of people tweeting about it, especially in the middle of July, when we draft. Some of us, Le’Veon Bell. Yeah, this rant was months in the making.

The league is run by my friend Scott Fish, a fantasy analyst for Fanball. Scott is just an awesome human being and he does the league to support a great cause, and the whole industry has rallied around it. There are 800 teams divided into 12-team leagues with 22-man rosters. It is a “super flex” league, where you can play four flex players, including one QB, so ideally you are starting two quarterbacks with three traditional flex players.

Half-point PPR, half-point per first down, except you get one point for tight end receptions and one point for tight end first downs. Also, no kickers or defense, which I love. If you used ESPN standard roster size and eliminated kickers and defenses, it is basically the equivalent of an 18-team league. Unless you’ve ever played in an 18-team league, you have no concept of how deep it is.

Coming into this week, I have lost five of six. I got a lot of comments from folks about how they couldn’t believe an expert had lost five games, but I didn’t want to lie. I’ll own it. Here’s the team that I started this past week:

QB: Carson Wentz, Alex Smith
RB: Christian McCaffrey, Sony Michel, James White, Marshawn Lynch, Alfred Morris
WR: Julian Edelman, Dede Westbrook, Antonio Callaway
TE: Greg Olsen

I have the aforementioned Le’Veon Bell on my bench and Jack Doyle in my training room. I also had drafted Larry Fitzgerald, which was my biggest miss in the draft. Middle of July, in this format, thought he’d be a star. Just dead wrong. He has been unstartable. But other than Larry Fitz? I think that’s a strong team in that deep a league. A little weak at wide receiver, but given that I’ve gotten zero from my first-round pick and almost nothing from my tight ends in a tight-end heavy format? I’m pretty happy that I’m still able to compete.

I lost the week before by 3.8 points to a guy who got that crazy Monday Night Football performance from Mark Ingram, against my Redskins.

Lost the week before that by 4.8 points to a team that started and got six touchdowns from Mitchell Trubisky. That’s right. He needed a six-touchdown game to beat me by four points.

Prior to that, Callaway had become just the 14th person in NFL history to get 10 targets in a game and fewer than 10 receiving yards (hat tip to Ryan McDowell for that stat).

You can’t make it up.

On and on, it has been like that in that league. Starting with the early draft, Le’Veon Bell deciding his career is more important to him than my fantasy team, and all the close losses … It all led up to Monday night, where I was down 0.9, he was done and I had Alfred Morris needing one tiny little point. Not even 10 yards: a six-inch dive for a first down would have been enough. Morris plays literally just one snap, gets a first down called back because of a holding penalty … and I lose again, 158.64 to 157.74.

WHY COULDN’T ALFRED MORRIS GET ONE STUPID POINT?!?!?

So depressed. And then the next morning, when it came up on the podcast, I just snapped. And it was caught on camera and it is now there for you to enjoy my misery whenever you feel like feeling better about your own loss.

I’ve thought a lot about why we care so much, how this game affects us the way it does, and I believe it’s because we have the illusion of control but in reality, we have none. All we can do is watch and hope and pray and yell and use whatever body English we can think of to will the ball into or out of a player’s hands.

I sat on the edge of my couch, watching every single play Monday night like a hawk. Where is Alfred Morris? Is that him lined up in the backfield? I can’t see that guy’s number, is it him? I can’t remember the last time I went through an emotional roller coaster like that. Except maybe the day before. And the Thursday before that. And the Sunday before that. It’s unlike anything else in my life, this relationship I have with fantasy football. After the rant, Scott Van Pelt reached out with some kind words and as we were texting back and forth about it, he wrote this: It’s why fantasy football is so great and terrible. The despair and joy. Side by side. Each can reach out and touch the other.

That they can, Scott. That they can.

And after I got that rant out, I felt better. And I started looking at my Week 7 matchups, I started making waiver claims and what the hell do you know? I’m sucked right back in, ready for Week 7. Bring it on, Fantasy Gods. Because you owe me one.

Let’s get to it. A reminder, this is based on projections for ESPN PPR leagues. “Loves” are players I think meet or exceed their projections, “Hates” are players I feel fall short. Thanks as always to “Thirsty” Kyle Soppe and the Stat-A-Pillar himself, Damian Dabrowski, for their help at various points in this column.

Quarterbacks I love in Week 7

Jameis Winston vs. Browns (ESPN projection: 18.7): Great matchup here, as the Browns have allowed at least 298 passing yards OR multiple TDs in five of six games this season. (The lone exception was Sam Darnold, in Cleveland, on a short week.) The three times QBs have attempted more than 35 passes against the Browns, they’ve averaged 356.7 passing yards. Dating back to 2017, Winston has at least 35 attempts in four of his past five starts. And as a position this season, Tampa Bay QBs are second in fantasy points per game (27.57).

Kirk Cousins at Jets (ESPN projection: 18.4): The Jets blitz at the fifth-highest rate this season (30.3 percent). Cousins ranks fourth in passing yards against the blitz this season and ranks behind only Drew Brees in completion percentage when blitzed. Cousins is averaging 43 pass attempts per game, he is fifth in the NFL in passing yards and third in completion percentage, and now he gets a Jets team that has allowed at least 20 fantasy points to QBs in each of the past three weeks (the Falcons are the only other team that has done that).

Carson Wentz vs. Panthers (ESPN projection: 18.3): The Eagles have had 10 days to prep for a Panthers team that has allowed a touchdown on 81.8 percent of red zone drives this season, second worst in the NFL. Wentz certainly looks healthy, as he has scored at least 20 points in three straight games (matching Andrew Luck for the longest active streak among QBs). In those three weeks, he ranks as QB6 in terms of total points (ahead of Patrick Mahomes). Worth noting: Wentz has more than 275 passing yards and multiple TDs in three straight games, something that, prior to this run, he had never done in his career.

Baker Mayfield at Buccaneers (ESPN projection: 16.7): You know who chucks it deep? Baker Mayfield chucks it deep. Among QBs currently starting, he ranks top five in terms of air yards per target (9.24). Among the many things the Bucs’ defense struggles with is the deep ball. They are tied with the Saints for the highest deep completion percentage against (59 percent; league average: 44.8 percent) and deep completions allowed per game (4.60; league average: 3.24). Mayfield has the fourth-most pass attempts over the past three weeks (trailing only Luck, Aaron Rodgers and Joe Flacco), which makes him my favorite streamer this week.

Others receiving votes: Mitchell Trubisky is the fourth-best QB in fantasy since Week 4. And that includes Week 5, when, you know, he was on a bye. Six touchdowns will do that for you, but he’s also fifth in rushing yards among quarterbacks. That keeps his floor high, especially against a Patriots defense allowing the ninth-most rushing yards to QBs. … It has certainly been ugly, but believe it or not, Eli Manning now has five straight games with 250-plus passing yards. Atlanta will have no issue putting up points on the Giants, which means Eli will keep throwing against a Falcons defense that has allowed at least 21.5 points to a QB in five of six games this season. … I mentioned him in this section last week as well and now C.J. Beathard has at least 17.8 points in three straight games (multiple passing TDs in each). The only QBs who can say that? Tom Brady, Wentz, Luck and Beathard. Junk time still counts, baby.

Quarterbacks I hate in Week 7

Deshaun Watson at Jaguars (ESPN projection: 15.6): Man, he has looked bad from a real-life-football point of view. And now that has caught up to him fantasy wise, with just two TD passes over the past two weeks (once every 34.5 attempts) after throwing multiple TD passes in each of the prior three games (once every 19 attempts). Houston is allowing pressure at the highest rate this season (41.4 percent of dropbacks) and the Jaguars create pressure at the highest rate this season (35.3 percent). For his career, Watson has seven TDs and eight INTs versus pressure (21 and 7 when not pressured). I like the chance of the Jags’ defense bouncing back more than Watson in this one.

Drew Brees at Ravens (ESPN projection: 15.9): Brees has played one outdoor road game this season. That was against the Giants and he scored 8.6 points. He has traditionally struggled on the road outdoors (he scored fewer than 14.5 points in three of six such games last season). Other than the Steelers, the Ravens haven’t played a strong offense in the past four weeks, but still they’ve allowed just two touchdown passes in their past four games.

Dak Prescott at Redskins (ESPN projection: 16.2): There have been 128 instances this season — from 36 quarterbacks — of a QB completing 20 or more passes in a game. None of those 36 QBs are named Dak Prescott. He has a league-high four games this season in which he has thrown at least 25 passes and failed to pass for at least 200 yards. You’re counting on rushing with Dak and the Redskins allow the seventh-fewest rushing yards per carry to QBs this season (3.19). The 42-point over/under is among the lowest in Week 7.

Alex Smith vs. Cowboys (ESPN projection: 15.5): Smith has just one game this season with more than 220 passing yards AND at least one touchdown pass, so his ceiling has been limited thus far. This doesn’t seem like the game he changes that. A slow pace of play has resulted in Dallas being the fifth-least-passed-on team in the league this season. Because the Redskins’ defense has mostly played well this season, Smith hasn’t needed to get into shootouts, and he’s not really running, either, with just one game of more than 15 rushing yards.

Running backs I love in Week 7

Saquon Barkley at Falcons (ESPN projection: 21.9): The best part about doing this new “over or under the projection” way of doing Love/Hate is that I can now talk about “obvious” guys like Barkley. I’m taking the over here against a Falcons team that has allowed more than 20 points to a single running back in all six games this season, including the likes of Jay Ajayi, Giovani Bernard and Peyton Barber. Forget his rushing for a second; Barkley has more catches than Keenan Allen and more receiving yards than Demaryius Thomas and Calvin Ridley, to name a few. The Falcons are giving up more than eight receptions a game to running backs and that’s not changing Monday night. My No. 1 running back this week.

Joe Mixon at Chiefs (ESPN projection: 18.1): Say what you want about Marvin Lewis (seriously, go ahead, what do I care?), but the man commits! One back for him and that’s it. Injuries have something to do with it, of course, but in Mixon’s four games and Giovani Bernard’s two starts, the lead back has gotten at least 20 touches. That volume should work well against a Chiefs defense that is third worst in terms of yards allowed before first contact to RBs this season, gives up 5.32 yards per carry to running backs and gives up the third-highest rate of carries that gain 10 yards or more.

Tarik Cohen vs. Patriots (ESPN projection: 10.1): In the past three weeks, Cohen is the fourth-best RB in fantasy on a points-per-game basis (only Todd Gurley II, Barkley and Melvin Gordon have been better). Of course the Bears had a bye in Week 5, but in the past two games they’ve played, Cohen has out-touched Jordan Howard 32 to 25 and their snaps are almost equal (64 for Howard, 59 for Cohen). He has 18 carries for 84 yards and a TD, 14 catches for 211 yards and a TD in those two games, and I expect that production to continue against a Patriots defense that coughs up the fifth-most receiving yards to opposing running backs.

Phillip Lindsay at Cardinals (ESPN projection: 11.8): The always-risky call of a guy in a committee playing on a Thursday night, but I just lost by one point because of Alfred Morris. What the hell. In the past three games, Lindsay has at least 10 touches in each game, has caught 11 balls and has a 15-6 red zone snap edge over Royce Freeman. The Cardinals are one of the worst run defenses in the NFL, allowing almost 200 total yards a game to opposing backs. They’ve allowed 10 touchdowns to running backs, the second-most fantasy points per game and what are the Broncos gonna do, let Case Keenum throw it? Exactly.

Others receiving votes: Running backs who have gotten 15 or more carries against the Dolphins this season (four instances) have averaged 19.3 points per game. The only question is will Kerryon Johnson get 15 carries? I’m not sure, but I do like his chances of beating his projection of 10.1 points. … With the Chargers more than a touchdown favorite, I like Austin Ekeler and his amazing 3.34 yards per carry after contact to get some nice run in the second half and be flex-play worthy. … If you listened to the podcast this week, you know I am a believer in Ito Smith being top-25-or-so worthy against the Giants. Since his first carry in Week 2, Smith leads the Falcons in rushing attempts inside the opponent’s 10-yard line and leads the Falcons with 13 red zone carries (six more than Tevin Coleman). Giants opponents have cashed in four of eight rushing attempts inside the 10-yard line this season, the third-highest rate in the NFL. … It took a bit, but with Jameis Winston under center last week, Peyton Barber finally got going (17 touches for 106 yards and a TD … RB9 finish), and I like his chances of keeping it going against a Browns team allowing the fourth-most rushing yards per game this season and the third-most yards per carry after first contact. … And you know all those stats I gave in the Phillip Lindsay section about how bad the Cardinals are? They also apply to Royce Freeman, who, while certainly risky, has a decent chance to hit pay dirt in this one. If ever there was a week to use Royce, this is it. How lucky do you feel?

Running backs I hate in Week 7

Jordan Howard vs. Patriots (ESPN projection: 11.8): Howard hasn’t caught a ball since Week 3 and is trending in the wrong direction, as he was averaging 45 snaps the first three games but just 32 in the past two. Of more concern is that, while Howard’s playing time is going down, the Bears’ offense has gotten a lot better. This sets up more as a Cohen game than a Howard one against a New England defense that has allowed just one rushing touchdown all season long.

T.J. Yeldon vs. Texans (ESPN projection: 16): For the season, Yeldon ranks as a bottom-10 RB in terms of yards per carry after first contact. That’s an issue, because the Texans allow the fifth-fewest yards per carry before first contact this season. Yeldon has yet to have a game with 60 rushing yards, so he’ll need to be effective catching the ball. However, Houston is allowing the sixth-fewest yards per attempt when targeting RBs this season. You gotta start him if you have him, but gimme the under on 16 points.

Lamar Miller at Jaguars (ESPN projection: 10.8): In his past three games, Miller is averaging just 2.69 yards per carry. And now he gets an embarrassed Jaguars defense in Jacksonville? Yeesh. The Jags are a top-10 defense in terms of limiting red zone drives and limiting the efficiency of drives when opponents do reach the red zone. The odds of Miller scoring his first rushing touchdown of the season are not great.

Dion Lewis vs. Chargers in London (ESPN projection: 11.1): In the past three games for Lewis, he has 21 carries for 43 yards (2.05 YPC). LeSean McCoy is the only RB to rush for more than 70 yards against the Chargers this season … but it took him 24 carries to get there. I don’t see Lewis getting that kind of volume (he averages 10 carries per game this season). He has just two games this season with eight or more fantasy points, and he has been held below 10 rushing yards in two of the past three games. Since Week 2, he is just RB45. After this game, the Titans are on bye, so if you need the roster space, feel free to drop him.

Pass-catchers I love in Week 7

Odell Beckham Jr. at Falcons (ESPN projection: 19.5): Remember 2016, when Beckham was WR4? He was WR22 through 5 weeks in that season before a breakthrough game. Through six weeks this season, he’s WR13. His 30.7 percent target share this season trails only Adam Thielen and Julio Jones, and while, yes, Eli is #notgood, he hasn’t been good for a while. Beckham will be fine and it starts this week against a Falcons team that is allowing the most red zone drives per game, the most touchdowns to opposing wide receivers and the fourth-most fantasy points to wideouts.

Tyreek Hill vs. Bengals (ESPN projection: 17.4): Eight different WRs have scored more than 15.5 points against the Bengals this season. Hill has 32 targets in his past three games and I expect another huge game. The Bengals create pressure at the fourth-lowest rate this season and that’s good, because Patrick Mahomes owns the highest passer rating when not pressured since that crazy Nick Foles season of 2013. With time to throw, you can bet Hill will get open. And if he’s within 80 yards of Mahomes, he’ll get the ball.

Jarvis Landry at Buccaneers (ESPN projection: 16.2): You already know I think Mayfield throws the ball a ton here. Well, a lot of that is going to Landry, who has a team-high 26 percent target share this season with Mayfield under center. Opponents are completing 80 percent of passes when targeting the slot against Tampa this season (second-highest rate in the NFL). That’s where Landry lines up.

Tyler Boyd at Chiefs (ESPN projection: 14.4): Boyd has a touchdown or 100 yards in four of his past five games, and he should keep it going against a Chiefs defense that is a bottom 10 against the slot, in terms of catches, yards and yards after the catch per reception. Can you even tell which stat line belongs to Boyd and which one is A.J. Green‘s?

Player A: 37 catches on 51 targets for 455 yards and 4 TDs, 0 drops, recording a catch on 17.1 percent of routes

Player B: 33 catches on 55 targets for 494 yards and 5 TDs, 3 drops, recording a catch on 15.9 percent of routes.

Player A … is Boyd. Now, Green got a little banged up in one game, but still … I don’t think people fully realize what they’re dealing with here.

George Kittle vs. Rams (ESPN projection: 11.2): In a game I expect the Niners to throw a bunch to keep up with L.A., it’s worth pointing out the Rams allow the ninth-most tight end receptions per game this season (5.33) and here are the teams they’ve faced: Raiders, Cardinals, Chargers, Vikings, Seahawks, Broncos. Jared Cook and Kyle Rudolph are the only two real tight ends they’ve faced (sorry, Antonio Gates and Ricky Seals-Jones). Kittle is fifth among tight ends in receptions the past four weeks.

David Njoku at Buccaneers (ESPN projection: 10.6 points): His connection with Mayfield is growing, as evidenced by his 11 targets in each of the past two games. In each of Baker’s three starts, Njoku leads Cleveland in receptions and receiving yards. As we may have mentioned, this is a great matchup; Tampa Bay gives up 7.2 catches, 94.8 yards and the most fantasy points to opposing tight ends.

Others receiving votes: On a per-game basis, the Saints are giving up the most fantasy points to opposing WRs this season (51.86). I like John Brown and Willie Snead IV in this game, as I expect Michael Crabtree to find himself lined up against Marshon Lattimore the most. … Taylor Gabriel has caught all 12 of his targets over the past two games (214 yards and 2 TDs), actually leads the Bears in receptions and yards this season, is second in routes run and has as many slot receptions (11) as any other Bear has targets. The Patriots have allowed six slot TDs this season (second most in the NFL, and four over the past two weeks). … Josh Gordon is coming off a game in which he led the team in routes run, and I’m taking the over on his 11.4-point projection against a Bears defense that has allowed the seventh-most deep TD passes this season. … With Quincy Enunwa out, I expect Jermaine Kearse to play the majority of snaps in the slot against a Vikings team that has given up the fourth-most yards to the slot this season. Heavy target share for Kearse. … Austin Hooper now has at least nine catches and 70 yards in consecutive games (Zach Ertz is the only other tight end who can say that). Hooper has 22 targets in those games and I like him Monday night in a game where a lot of the other receiving options are banged up. … In his first game back from injury, O.J. Howard played 13 more snaps and ran five more routes than Cameron Brate. I expect that gap to widen further this week in a plus matchup. Thirteen of Winston’s past 24 touchdown passes have gone to tight ends.

Pass-catchers I hate in Week 7

Demaryius Thomas at Cardinals (ESPN projection: 11.8): Thomas has seven or fewer targets in four straight games and his fantasy output has been bailed out by some late touchdowns. I much prefer Emmanuel Sanders to DT in a game where I expect Denver to go run heavy. The Cardinals have allowed the seventh-fewest fantasy points per game to opposing WRs so far this season and Thomas is likely to see the most of Patrick Peterson in this one.

T.Y. Hilton vs. Bills (ESPN projection: 14.7): This game is at home, which helps, but I’m lowering expectations under the idea that he says he’s still not 100 percent and because he’s likely to be shadowed by Buffalo’s terrific young corner Tre’Davious White. The Bills have allowed the third-fewest deep completions and have yet to allow a deep TD pass (one of three defenses that can say that).

Will Fuller V at Jaguars (ESPN projection: 10.6): It’s been a tough two-week stretch for Fuller, and things will get better. But not this week, not against this defense. The Jags have given up zero deep touchdowns and opponents are completing 36.4 percent of deep attempts (tied for second lowest). They will get after Deshaun Watson as well, making it tough for deep plays to develop. Even with a modest projection of 10.6, I’m taking the under.

Matthew Berry, The Talented Mr. Roto, is down to praying for stat corrections. He is the creator of RotoPass.com and one of the owners of the Fantasy Life app and FantasyLife.com.



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Fantasy football RB depth chart for 2018


NOTE: These depth charts will be updated throughout the 2018 regular season.

This is a file I’ve done in the past — previously known as the “Tamme Index” — and it’s important to note it does not necessarily reflect a player’s position on his NFL team’s depth chart.

A player listed in the “starter” column is the most valuable running back on his team in terms of fantasy value.

A player listed under “handcuff” should see increased fantasy value if the starter becomes injured or sees his role diminish.

The “value” column reflects the likely upside that player would have in standard leagues if he becomes a starter: RB1 (top 10), RB2 (11-20), bench (worth a speculative add), waivers (not worth adding as a free agent).

More fantasy depth charts:

Quarterbacks | Wide receivers | Tight ends



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Fantasy football — Fantasy intel for all 32 NFL teams ahead of Week 7


The Fantasy 32 analyzes the NFL from a fantasy perspective, with at least one mention of each of the league’s 32 teams. Though efficiency will be discussed plenty, the column will lean heavily on usage data, as volume is king (by far) in fantasy football. Use these tidbits to make the best waiver-wire, trade and lineup decisions for the upcoming week and beyond. Be sure to check back each week of the season for a new version of the Fantasy 32.

Note that data from Monday Night Football may not be reflected in charts in the article until Tuesday afternoon.

The infirmary

Falcons WRs Calvin Ridley (ankle) and Mohamed Sanu (hip) both left Sunday’s game with injuries. Justin Hardy was the biggest benefactor, drawing seven targets on 24 of a possible 42 pass routes in the game. If one of Ridley or Sanu is out this week, Hardy is safe to ignore, but if both are out, Hardy will certainly jump into the flex discussion, especially with Janoris Jenkins likely to shadow Julio Jones.

Jets WR Quincy Enunwa went down with a right ankle injury on Sunday and is expected to miss some time. Enunwa had been handling a hefty target share, but it was starting to dip a bit with Jermaine Kearse healthy and taking over as the team’s primary slot receiver. Kearse led the Jets’ passing attack on Sunday with nine catches and 94 yards on 10 targets (four more than any other Jet). Kearse, fantasy’s No. 26 wideout in 2017, had only registered 71 yards on seven catches during his first four games, but an expanded role — coupled with Enunwa’s absence — puts him in the flex discussion in 12-team leagues. Robby Anderson (five targets on Sunday) and Terrelle Pryor Sr. (six) are too risky to start.

Raiders WR Amari Cooper went down with a concussion after only nine snaps and only hours after trade rumors began to circulate. In Cooper’s absence, Jordy Nelson (36 of 37 possible routes) and Martavis Bryant (29) worked the perimeter with Seth Roberts (31) in the slot. Oakland is headed to its bye, but if Cooper misses time or is traded, Nelson’s stock will rise enough to place him in the WR3 discussion most weeks. Bryant’s playing time would increase significantly and his downfield ability would be enough to land him in the flex discussion. Roberts is only worth a look in deep PPR leagues.

Rams WR Cooper Kupp‘s knee injury doesn’t appear to be serious considering he returned (albeit briefly) to Sunday’s game. However, should he miss time, Josh Reynolds needs to be on your radar in an offense that ranks third in touchdowns per game (3.5) and first in three-plus wide receiver sets when passing (98 percent). Reynolds was held to two targets on Sunday, but was on the field for 20 of the team’s 33 pass plays (Kupp ran 13 routes and was targeted once). Reynolds, a 2017 fourth-round pick, showed flashes as a rookie and Kupp’s absence would bump him into the flex discussion. Gerald Everett — who doubled up Tyler Higbee in pass routes on Sunday — would join the TE2 mix.

Jaguars TE Niles Paul went down with a leg injury on Sunday just one week after Jacksonville lost Austin Seferian-Jenkins for the season. Paul went down on his fourth snap, which led to James O’Shaughnessy running 24 of 29 possible routes. Unless the Jaguars make an impact acquisition, this is a situation to ignore except in the deepest of two tight end leagues.

Opportunity alert

Throughout this piece, I’ll be referencing “OFP” and “OTD.” OFP stands for opportunity-adjusted fantasy points. Imagine a league in which players are created equal. “OFP” is a statistic that weighs every pass/carry/target and converts the data into one number that indicates a player’s opportunity to score fantasy points, or his “expected” fantasy point total. For example, if a player has an OFP of 14.5, it means that a league average player who saw the same workload in the same area of the field would have scored 14.5 fantasy points. “OTD” works the same way, except instead of fantasy points, it’s touchdowns.

That said, here is the Week 6 OFP Leaderboard:

*Complete positional leaderboards will be posted at ESPN+ this week

Vikings WR Adam Thielen‘s record-setting early-season pace is likely unsustainable, but OFP tells us that he can afford a drop-off in efficiency and still manage elite numbers. Thielen’s full-season FORP sits at 31, meaning his 31 fantasy points above his expected total. Still, his 123 OFP is second highest, behind only DeAndre Hopkins at wide receiver. Thielen is a legitimate top-5 fantasy wide receiver moving forward and you shouldn’t feel the need to try and trade him at his ceiling.

Buccaneers QB Jameis Winston entered his first 2018 start as a solid QB1 play and that’s how you should view him moving forward. Granted it was a light matchup against Atlanta’s injury-plagued defense, but Winston delivered … and then some. He completed 30 of 41 passes for 395 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions, adding 31 yards with his legs. Remember, Winston posted a top-10 fantasy week in 46 percent of his starts last season, which was ninth best at the position. Surrounded by a terrific group of skill position players, Winston should be in lineups against Cleveland on Sunday and most weeks going forward.

Falcons WR Julio Jones has yet to score a touchdown this season, but his 116 fantasy points are actually higher than his 113 OFP. Jones is no longer getting much work near the goal line (one end zone target during his past five games), but he’s still seeing so much volume that he’s fantasy’s No. 5 scoring wide receiver.

Ravens QB Joe Flacco sits 20th at quarterback with 100 fantasy points, but his 111 OFP ranks fifth at the position and suggests better days could be ahead. Flacco hasn’t posted a top-10 fantasy outing since Week 1, but the Ravens’ offense is averaging 75.8 plays per game (most) and 2.8 touchdowns per game (10th). An abnormal number of those scores have been of the rushing variety (47 percent, which is fifth highest), so we should expect more passing touchdowns from Flacco going forward. Flacco is an outstanding streaming option at home against the Saints this week and is a strong QB2 going forward.

FORP

FORP is the difference between a player’s actual fantasy point total and his OFP (or expected fantasy point total).

First, here are the players who have fallen short of their OFP by the largest margin and are thus candidates to see a rise in fantasy production moving forward, assuming they see a similar workload:

Browns WR Jarvis Landry is handling a career-high 29.2 percent target share, which is impressive considering he’s cleared 27.5 percent each of the past three seasons. He’s averaging a career-best 12.6 yards per reception, but a 47 percent catch rate and one touchdown have him sitting 27th at wide receiver in fantasy points. Landry ranks eighth at the position in OFP, which tells us better days are likely ahead. Teammate Antonio Callaway‘s inefficiencies seem to have him destined for a demotion, but as long as he’s in his current situation, a big play or three is inevitable.

Texans TE Ryan Griffin has flirted with occasional fantasy value during his career, which makes his brutal 2018 efficiency a bit surprising. Griffin has been targeted 25 times, but has only 10 catches for 140 yards and zero scores to show. He’s 37th at the position in fantasy points, but 10th (seriously) in OFP. The gap between his touchdown total (0) and 3.3 OTD is largest in the league. Houston’s offense has underachieved against some tough defenses the past two weeks, but an upcoming slate including Jacksonville, Miami and Denver means it may be a bit before we see a major rebound. Nonetheless, FORP suggests Griffin and his quarterback are headed for better days. Both Griffin and Broncos TE Jeff Heuerman, who is handling a 15 percent target share over the past three weeks, are TE2 options.

Jaguars WR Donte Moncrief sits 26th at wide receiver in OFP, but is 58th in fantasy points. Moncrief’s 2.5 OTD ranks 18th at the position and he’s seen four end zone targets. He’s too risky to throw into lineups right now, but Moncrief’s role should allow more production going forward, especially in the Jaguars’ pass-heavy offense.

And these players have exceeded their OFP by the largest margin and are thus candidates to see a dip in fantasy production moving forward:

Will Falcons QB Matt Ryan repeat his incredible 2016 season? He’s certainly well on his way. In 2016, Ryan posted a ridiculous 124 FORP (430 fantasy points, 306 OFP). Through Week 6 this season, he’s “on pace” for a 120 FORP (403 points, 283 FORP). Obviously we can’t count on this level of efficiency moving forward, but even with a return to earth statistically, Ryan’s OFP ranks sixth at the position. Fantasy’s No. 2 scoring quarterback can afford some regression to the mean and will still carry QB1 value.

Dolphins WR Albert Wilson is fantasy’s No. 20 scoring wide receiver despite seeing the field on only 61 percent of the Dolphins’ pass plays this season. His OFP ranks 52nd at the position. As boom or bust as they come, Wilson has finished 37th or worse in four of six outings (50th or worse in three), but top-10 in the other two games. He has four touchdowns, but a 0.7 OTD (that 3.3 gap is fourth-largest in the league). Wilson’s receiving touchdowns have required post-catch runs of 24, 43, 72 and 78 yards, which is as hard to believe as it is unsustainable. The total OTD on those three plays was … 0.03. Incredibly, he’s seen one target inside the opponent’s 13-yard line. This is one of the easiest regression-to-the-mean calls in a decade, though Wilson will be on the flex radar if the Dolphins trade DeVante Parker.

Seahawks WR Tyler Lockett is another wide receiver unlikely to come close to sustaining his current production. Lockett sits 56th at wide receiver in OFP, but five touchdowns have him sitting 19th in fantasy points. The 3.4 gap between his touchdown total and OTD (1.6) is third largest in the league. Lockett has hauled in all three of his end zone targets, but has seen only one additional target inside the opponent’s 10-yard line. His other scores required runs of 10 and 25 yards. Lockett entered 2018 with a grand total of 10 offensive touchdowns in three NFL seasons, including four the past two seasons. The No. 2 target in an extremely run-heavy offense who is limited to a 19 percent target share, Lockett is a player to try to trade this week.

Deep dive

Bears WR Taylor Gabriel was discussed in this column prior to Chicago’s Week 5 bye, but this past Sunday is yet further evidence that he’s arguably the most underrated asset in fantasy. Gabriel cleared 100 receiving yards for the second consecutive game and is now handling a 22 percent target share for the season (7.0 per game). Mitchell Trubisky‘s No. 2 target has at least five targets and four receptions in each of Chicago’s five games. Available in nearly two-thirds of ESPN leagues, he should be scooped up and considered a fringe WR3 option against New England.

Colts RB Marlon Mack was finally healthy for a full game on Sunday and that was enough to allow him to easily lead the Indianapolis backfield in carries (and efficiency). Mack carried the rock 12 times for 89 yards and was targeted twice. Mack’s strong effort figures to solidify his role as the top ball carrier in an offense averaging a very strong 3.0 touchdowns per game this season. Note that while Nyheim Hines was limited to three carries and three targets, he did out-snap Mack 29 to 23 and will continue to play a sizable role in passing situations. Mack is available in 74 percent of ESPN leagues. Scoop him up and consider him a flex option against the Bills this week and going forward.

Cowboys WR Cole Beasley broke out for nine catches, 101 yards and two touchdowns on 11 targets against Jacksonville in Week 6. QB Dak Prescott admitted after the game that the team planned to attack Jaguars’ slot CB Tyler Patmon and the plan obviously worked. Despite the strong effort, Beasley shouldn’t be considered a reliable weekly starter just yet. He totaled 17 catches for 193 yards and no scores on 24 targets during Weeks 1-5, which was barely off a 2017 target pace that led to 36 catches on 62 targets for 314 yards and four scores in 15 games.

Needless to say, the Redskins’ passing game has been a disappointment. Alex Smith posted an 11th-place fantasy outing in Week 1, but hasn’t notched a finish better than 16th in four games since. Paul Richardson (best weekly finish is 38th), Jamison Crowder (33rd) and Josh Doctson (67th) have all been busts. Backs Chris Thompson and Adrian Peterson and tight end Jordan Reed are the only players from this offense worth considering for your lineup most weeks.

Snap attack

Seahawks RB Rashaad Penny registered nine carries and two targets on Sunday, but only played 13 snaps. His upside makes him a worthwhile bench stash, but nothing more with Chris Carson (24 snaps) and Mike Davis (23 snaps) more involved.

Panthers TE Greg Olsen was on the field for 58 of the Panthers’ 59 offensive snaps against Washington in Week 6. It was Olsen’s first action since he went down with a leg injury on his 14th snap of the season back in Week 1. Olsen’s massive role and his seven-target effort put him right back in the mix as a midpack TE1.

Browns WR Damion Ratley stepped up with six catches and 82 yards on eight targets on Sunday. Injuries ahead of him on the depth chart helped the 2018 sixth-round pick to a career-high 62 snaps against the Chargers. He was on the field for 45 of the team’s 50 pass plays. With Rashard Higgins expected to miss more time and Rod Streater done for the year, Ratley is expected to work as the team’s No. 3 wide receiver against a struggling Tampa Bay secondary this week. He’s a sneaky play in deep leagues.

Patriots WR Josh Gordon has been unleashed. The former Brown (they could really use him these days) was on the field for 35 of New England’s 37 pass plays on Sunday night, registering nine targets in the game. The production wasn’t great (five catches, 42 yards), but better days are ahead with Gordon now playing a full complement of snaps in one of the league’s best offenses. He’s a WR3 against Chicago this week.

Eagles running backs: Week 6 marked the Eagles first game with Jay Ajayi on injured reserve. Corey Clement was limited but still played 25 snaps, handling 11 carries and three targets. Wendell Smallwood led the unit with 42 snaps and 18 carries, adding a pair of targets. Josh Adams was active but did not play a snap. We should expect a similar dynamic moving forward, though Clement figures to take on more work when healthy and Darren Sproles will chip in significantly in passing situations once he returns from a hamstring injury. Smallwood and Clement are flex options against Carolina this week.

Bengals WR Tyler Boyd has been on the field for 84 percent of the Bengals’ snaps, including 88 percent of the pass plays this season. He’s handling a 23 percent target share and sits 19th at the wide receiver position in OFP (79) and 12th in actual fantasy points (107). Boyd is enjoying a third-year breakout and should be locked into weekly lineups.

Lions RB Kerryon Johnson has been on the field for 40 percent of Detroit’s snaps, has run a route on 29 percent of the team’s pass plays, is handling 45 percent of the carries and has accrued a seven percent target share. Johnson entered the Week 6 bye 35th at the position in OFP. The rookie remains in a rotation in Detroit and is no more than a shaky flex until he takes on a larger role.

Saints WR Cameron Meredith was on the field for a season-high 59 percent of the Saints’ pass plays and also hit a season-best with five targets when the Saints were last on the field against Washington in Week 5. Meredith has emerged as the team’s top slot target, but needs a bit more playing time and target volume to make him a consistent flex option. Nonetheless, he should be on benches.

Burning questions

Can I start either Titans’ running back with confidence right now? No — the Titans’ offense is a mess. Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis combined for an atrocious 40 scrimmage yards on 15 touches against Baltimore on Sunday. Henry has yet to produce a top-40 fantasy week and Lewis has two in six tries. Lewis’ 15 percent target share keeps him in the flex discussion, but he’s a shaky play with the Titans’ offense averaging an almost-unbelievable and league-worst 1.0 touchdowns per game. Henry is trailing Lewis in carries and is a non-factor as a receiver, which means he’s barely worth a roster spot in 10-team leagues.

Is 49ers WR Marquise Goodwin a weekly fantasy starter? I’d consider the matchup, but yes. QB C.J. Beathard is an obvious downgrade from Jimmy Garoppolo, but the second-year passer has been better than expected. The Packers’ secondary has struggled, but Goodwin proved healthy on Monday night, seeing the field on 95 percent of the team’s snaps while also using his world-class speed to break loose for several big gains, including a pair of touchdowns. His big-play ability and Beathard’s competent play position Goodwin as a weekly flex option.

Is Falcons TE Austin Hooper now a TE1? If not, he’s close. Hooper has caught nine passes in back-to-back games, handling 22 targets during the span. He’s turned the heavy workload into a pair of 70-plus receiving yard efforts and one touchdown. Granted, both Ridley and Sanu were injured in Sunday’s game, but considering how injury-plagued the tight end position has been, Hooper is on a short list of players you can feel somewhat confident in right now. He’s a fringe top-10 play against the Giants in Week 7.

Has Cardinals WR Christian Kirk worked his way into the WR3 discussion? Despite some strong efforts as of late, I wouldn’t go that far. Kirk has cleared 76 receiving yards during three of his past four games and is fantasy’s No. 31 scoring wideout during the span. The problem is that the Arizona offense is struggling badly and Kirk’s average of 6.0 targets per game isn’t enough to allow consistent fantasy numbers when touchdown opportunities are so far and few between.

Is Packers WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling worth rostering through the bye? Outside of dynasty leagues, no. The fifth-round rookie has been impressive, but Packers NFL Nation reporter Rob Demovsky agrees that he will return to fourth on the depth chart once Randall Cobb and Geronimo Allison return from injury (likely in Week 8). Valdes-Scantling has 10 catches for 171 yards and a score on 16 targets over the past two games, but is no more than the rare notable handcuff at the wide receiver position.



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Fantasy football – NFL Week 6 inactive players




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Fantasy fallout: Keep calm, add Kerryon (and other trade targets) – NFL Nation


Six weeks into the NFL season, it’s hard to find a true “sleeper” anymore. Either the secret is out or the player has been so sleepy that you can’t really trust him going forward.

But if your team needs a boost, here are some recommended trade targets, courtesy of ESPN’s NFL Nation reporters, who might still be available at bargain rates.

RB Kerryon Johnson, WR Kenny Golladay: ESPN Detroit Lions reporter Michael Rothstein has been making a strong pitch for both of Detroit’s dynamic young playmakers, and he expects their rise to continue after the team’s Week 6 bye.

“Both are only going to see more work and touches as the season goes on, particularly Johnson,” Rothstein said. “They are the clear future in Detroit.”

Johnson, a rookie second-round pick out of Auburn, has averaged only 12.6 touches per game — and veteran running back LeGarrette Blount vultured two short-yardage touchdowns from him in Week 5. But Johnson is averaging 5.7 yards per carry (third among NFL running backs with at least 35 carries). And his role has steadily increased.

Johnson had 18 touches in Week 3, when he became the first Lion to rush for more than 100 yards in a game since 2013. And he had 14 touches this past Sunday before a minor ankle injury sidelined him in the fourth quarter.

As for Golladay, his breakout has already begun. The second-year pro ranks 11th in the NFL with 428 receiving yards on 27 catches, with three touchdowns, despite being in a crowded receiving corps with established veterans Golden Tate and Marvin Jones. And he had another diving 46-yard TD catch called back in Week 5 because of a penalty.

Rothstein wrote about how Golladay and quarterback Matthew Stafford have been building a better rapport this year after the receiver missed part of last season with a hamstring injury. And he expects Golladay to get even more red zone looks in the future because of his size (6-foot-4, 213 pounds) and his freakish leaping ability and catch radius.

RB Sony Michel: It might be too late to get the New England Patriots rookie at a discount after he has rushed for 210 yards and two touchdowns on 43 carries over the past two weeks. Be warned that he has been limited in practice this week after dealing with a knee injury in the preseason. But ESPN Patriots reporter Mike Reiss wrote that it’s Michel’s time to shine because of his impressive play and because of season-ending injuries to other runners in New England.

Of course, James White is still a terrific pass-catching option in New England and has great fantasy value in PPR leagues. But as Reiss wrote, the Patriots’ backfield picture is now clearer than usual after unpredictable rotations have frustrated fantasy owners for years.

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Matthew Berry, Field Yates and Stephania Bell detail Greg Olsen’s possible Week 6 return and what to expect from the Panthers’ tight end.

TE Greg Olsen: Get the Carolina Panthers tight end while you still can. He officially is listed as questionable, but coach Ron Rivera said the three-time Pro Bowler is on target to return from a fractured foot this week. And though you might want to keep him on your bench while he works through the rust, Panthers reporter David Newton expects him to find that old familiar groove with quarterback Cam Newton sooner rather than later.

Olsen went through this same process last season, when he first broke his foot. And he started slowly. But he had two games with more than 100 yards, 12 targets and a touchdown over his final four games — including the playoffs.

Also, this has been a shorter and easier rehab process, since the screw that was surgically implanted last year kept the bone from completely breaking again. Olsen didn’t require surgery this time around. And he said that this time he has “the benefit of I kind of now know what to expect. I know what it’s supposed to feel like and not supposed to feel like. I’m ahead of where I was this time last year.”

RB Kenyan Drake: We wrote about Drake at the top of last week’s Fantasy fallout, but he’s worth mentioning again here because Miami Dolphins reporter Cameron Wolfe still expects more regression to the mean after his disappointing start to the season.

Last week, Dolphins RB Frank Gore had twice as many carries as Drake (12 to 6). But Drake played 15 more snaps than Gore (41 to 26). And Drake caught seven passes for 69 yards and a touchdown, while Gore caught zero. Wolfe wrote that he expects the timeshare to continue, much to the chagrin of fantasy owners, because the Dolphins believe Gore’s consistency keeps the offense on schedule, whereas Drake has bigger hits and bigger misses. But Drake’s involvement in the passing game should keep him heavily involved.

“[Coach Adam] Gase said the RB split last week was his ideal way to use them, except for getting away from the run in the second half,” Wolfe said. “I honestly think Drake is a 15-touch-per-game back on average going forward, with the potential to have more.”

Wolfe also gave a nod to the Dolphins’ defense as an underrated play going forward. The unit leads the NFL with 10 interceptions despite being put in so many bad situations.

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Matthew Berry plays love-hate for Week 6 which includes opinions on Kenyan Drake and Chris Carson.

Deeper sleepers: New York Jets reporter Rich Cimini isn’t quite ready to give a full buy-low endorsement to receiver Robby Anderson. But he also said Anderson’s long-awaited breakout in Week 5 (TD catches of 76 and 35 yards) was no fluke after Anderson and rookie quarterback Sam Darnold have been working hard to build a chemistry that didn’t develop instantly on the field this summer.

Cleveland Browns reporter Pat McManamon said third-year receiver Rashard Higgins is worth picking up when he returns from an MCL sprain that is expected to sideline him for two to four weeks. McManamon recommended Higgins earlier this year because of the rapport he had developed with rookie QB Baker Mayfield in the summer. And sure enough, Higgins had worked his way into the Browns’ No. 2 receiver role and had three catches for 66 yards and a touchdown before suffering the injury in Week 5.

Denver Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold and Pittsburgh Steelers reporter Jeremy Fowler each mentioned a rookie receiver with untapped potential: Denver’s Courtland Sutton and Pittsburgh’s James Washington.

As ESPN’s New Orleans Saints reporter, I could lump rookie receiver Tre’Quan Smith in with that group. But I’m only cautiously optimistic, because Smith’s breakout game in Week 5 (three catches, 111 yards, two TDs) came with veteran Ted Ginn Jr. out with a knee injury. When Ginn was healthy in Weeks 1-4, Smith had just one total catch for 18 yards, and Ginn could be back after the Saints’ Week 5 bye. Still, the Saints can’t ignore Smith’s big-play potential, so he is at least a good stash if more injuries pop up in New Orleans.

If you’re in a two-quarterback league or need some bye-week help, Arizona Cardinals reporter Josh Weinfuss likes the potential he has seen from rookie QB Josh Rosen, who sparked a sagging offense with a 75-yard touchdown pass early in Arizona’s first win of the season against San Francisco in Week 5. Weinfuss also wrote about how Rosen has become a favorite among teammates, who say “he’s not weird.” And even more important for fantasy purposes, there is a chance he could help boost the stock of early disappointments David Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald.

Quick hits

New Orleans Saints: I’m planning to do a more in-depth post on the renewed timeshare between running backs Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram early in Week 6. But the CliffsNotes version is that you shouldn’t panic over Kamara’s small role in Week 5 (six carries, three catches, no touchdowns). The Saints took advantage of Ingram’s fresh legs to give Kamara a breather after he had taken on a monster workload during Ingram’s four-game suspension to start the season. And the way the game played out (a 43-19 rout over the Washington Redskins) allowed the Saints to run out the clock and keep Kamara on ice. If the Saints ever need to throw the ball more in a closer game, Kamara will get a lot more work. I still expect Kamara to be a slight 1A to Ingram’s 1B, with the touchdown opportunities about even. But be prepared for the occasional quiet day for either one of them, depending on how certain games play out.

Seattle Seahawks: Seattle finally found its run game and leads the NFL with 473 rushing yards over the past three weeks. But as Seahawks reporter Brady Henderson broke down, rookie first-round draft pick Rashaad Penny has not been a part of it. Penny didn’t play a single offensive snap in Week 5, though coach Pete Carroll suggested opportunities could still come down the road.

Chicago Bears: Likewise, Bears coach Matt Nagy stressed he still envisions running back Jordan Howard being a “big part of this offense,” after he had a season-low 11 carries for 25 yards in Week 4, as Bears reporter Jeff Dickerson wrote.

Atlanta Falcons: To nobody’s surprise, the Falcons are insisting that they intend to get receiver Julio Jones more opportunities than they did in Week 5, as Falcons reporter Vaughn McClure wrote. Jones didn’t have a catch until the fourth quarter (before finishing with five for 62 yards). According to ESPN Stats & Information, it was just the third time in his career and the first time since 2012 that Jones didn’t have a catch in the first three quarters.

New England Patriots: Although New England’s RB picture is a little clearer, its receiving corps is only getting more crowded with the addition of Josh Gordon and the return of Julian Edelman over the past two weeks. While that might be annoying for fantasy purposes, it’s good for the Patriots’ offense, as Reiss wrote.

Denver Broncos: Denver’s rookie RB timeshare of Royce Freeman and Phillip Lindsay has been frustrating for Freeman’s fantasy owners. But Legwold wrote that there is plenty of evidence to suggest that Freeman’s role should increase — and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said it’s time to “take the training wheels off” both of them.

Green Bay Packers: Aaron Rodgers and the Packers have been battling a disturbing trend of slow starts. No one is blaming it on Rodgers’ recovery from a knee injury. But if that’s not the problem, then what is? pondered Packers reporter Rob Demovsky.

Minnesota Vikings: Who knew Adam Thielen‘s breakout 2017 season was just a warm-up act? As Vikings reporter Courtney Cronin wrote, Thielen became the first player in the Super Bowl era to have 100 or more receiving yards in each of his team’s first five games.

Pittsburgh Steelers: As Fowler wrote, Ben Roethlisberger said running back James Conner “has done some amazing things and deserves to be on the field” even when Le’Veon Bell returns from his contract holdout.

Indianapolis Colts: Colts reporter Mike Wells wrote: “Remember when there were questions about whether quarterback Andrew Luck could be effective again after missing last season because of his injured right shoulder? Consider them answered.” Luck is on pace to shatter the NFL single-season records for completions (471 by Drew Brees in 2016) and attempts (727 by Matthew Stafford in 2012).

Baltimore Ravens: QB Joe Flacco is also making a run at that attempts record, as Ravens reporter Jamison Hensley wrote. But Baltimore’s run game has been less prolific. And coach John Harbaugh acknowledged the obvious this week when he suggested the team will likely use a committee approach with RBs Alex Collins, Buck Allen and maybe even De’Lance Turner.



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Week 6 NFL score predictions – Guide to best games, fantasy outlook, more


We’re previewing the Week 6 NFL slate with score predictions for each game from our Nation reporters, what to watch for in fantasy, Football Power Index projections from ESPN Stats & Information, and much more.

Thursday Night Football result: PHI 34, NYG 13
Teams with byes in Week 6: NO, DET

Jump to a matchup:
PIT-CIN | ARI-MIN | TB-ATL | CAR-WSH | BUF-HOU
LAC-CLE | OAK-SEA | CHI-MIA | IND-NYJ | LAR-DEN
BAL-TEN | JAX-DAL | KC-NE | SF-GB


SUNDAY’S GAMES

Point spread: CIN -2.5 | Matchup quality: 68.5 (of 100)

Jeremy Fowler’s pick: The Steelers found three things in last week’s blowout of Atlanta — an improved defense, the Ben Roethlisberger-Antonio Brown connection and their overall edge. Bunch those factors with a five-game winning streak in Paul Brown Stadium, and the Steelers should get their first divisional win. Steelers 27, Bengals 21

Katherine Terrell’s pick: The Bengals have lost the past six meetings to the Steelers, so recent history would say to not pick Cincinnati. However, most of the team from the 2015 playoff game that began the losing streak is gone, and in its place is a team that averages 30.6 points per game. While the Bengals don’t match up well against the Steelers’ defensive line or running back James Conner, they have a turnover-forcing defense and an offense that can keep pace. Bengals 27, Steelers 24

FPI win projection: CIN, 52.9 percent. This is only the fifth time (playoffs included) since the start of the 2008 season that the Bengals have been FPI favorites against Pittsburgh. But they are only 1-4 in those games with the lone win coming in 2013.

What to watch for in fantasy: The Steelers have a secondary lacking in depth, a weakness that Andy Dalton can exploit — and exploit he will, considering his remarkably good chemistry with slot man Tyler Boyd to date. Read more.

In case you missed it: Bengals off to hot start, but Steelers game looms largeRoethlisberger: Conner has earned playing timeWatt’s ‘blackout’ sack celebration a sign defense is working


Point spread: MIN -10.5 | Matchup quality: 45.4 (of 100)

Josh Weinfuss’ pick: The Cardinals’ offense is ranked last or second-to-last in the league in 11 categories. While the Vikings don’t have a great defense, it will be enough to slow down rookie Josh Rosen and the Arizona offense. Arizona boasts the 31st-ranked rushing offense while the Vikings have the 13th-ranked rushing defense. The way Kirk Cousins has been playing — fifth in the league in completion percentage, second in yards and seventh in touchdowns — the Cardinals might find themselves abandoning the run by the second half. Vikings 31, Cardinals 17

Courtney Cronin’s pick: The explosive numbers Cousins, Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs have put up in the first five weeks show the Vikings can rely on their passing game to carry them where the running game won’t. Against the 31st-ranked rushing defense, Minnesota might look to tee up the run if Dalvin Cook is healthy enough to carry the load. Even if he isn’t, the Vikings can still rely on their screen game to generate yards and move the offense downfield quickly against a defense that allows 391 yards per game. Vikings 23, Cardinals 18

FPI win projection: MIN, 84.4 percent. The last time the Vikings were an 80-plus percent favorite was when they were upset by the Bills and their rookie QB in Week 3. Could the Cardinals make it two big upsets in the span of three weeks?

What to watch for in fantasy: The Vikings have had an exceedingly difficult time keeping opposing tight ends in check, and Ricky Seals-Jones has been routinely getting looks on deeper throws. His 10.6-yard average depth of target is fifth-highest among tight ends. Read more.

In case you missed it: The philosophical pass-rusher: Weatherly filling void for VikingsCousins is at his best when pressure is cranked upRosen a favorite among teammates, who say ‘he’s not weird’


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Steve Young sees Jameis Winston’s return going well after a bye week against a bad Falcons defense in Week 6.

Point spread: ATL -3.5 | Matchup quality: 45.2 (of 100)

Jenna Laine’s pick: Through four games, the Bucs have given up 445.8 yards of offense per game, while the Falcons’ 55 percent third-down conversion percentage is worst in the league. The Bucs are giving up 34.8 points a game, the most in the league, with Falcons right behind them at 32.6. The difference is that in spite of their early hiccups, the Falcons have averaged 30 points a game the past two weeks. That’s a big question mark for Tampa Bay with Jameis Winston starting his first game coming off suspension. Falcons 34, Bucs 28

Vaughn McClure’s pick: The Falcons are on a three-game losing streak but have won three straight over the Buccaneers, averaging 33.7 points in those wins. At home this season, the Falcons are averaging 34.7 points per game and are 11-of-13 in the red zone. So even if the depleted defense struggles some against Winston and the Bucs’ explosive weapons, expect Matt Ryan and the offense to put up enough points to break the skid. Falcons 42, Bucs 28

FPI win projection: ATL, 65.1 percent. Expect both QBs to light it up on Sunday. The Buccaneers have allowed the highest opposing Total QBR of any team this year with an 83.3, and Atlanta has allowed the third worst at 64.6.

What to watch for in fantasy: In Keanu Neal‘s first two seasons, the Falcons’ defense allowed a completion rate of 64.9 percent. Without Neal this season, that number is up to 69.8 percent. Don’t be surprised to see Jameis Winston to post more than 300 yards and multiple scores. Read more.

In case you missed it: Trufant knows he can’t ‘half-step’ in battle with EvansFalcons’ new priority: Keep Ryan uprightBuccaneers put solo spotlight on Winston in promotional video


Point spread: WSH -1 | Matchup quality: 43.4 (of 100)

David Newton’s pick: The Panthers are getting back their defensive leader (Thomas Davis) and offensive leader (Greg Olsen). As quarterback Cam Newton said, “The band is back together.” The emotional boost from that and Washington coming off a Monday night loss should give Carolina an edge, even on the road. That Newton has a career record of 4-0 with a passer rating of 115.4 against Washington also bodes well for Carolina. Panthers 31, Redskins 21

John Keim’s pick: There’s no reason after Monday night to expect Washington to win at home vs. a good team. Washington struggles after a win under coach Jay Gruden, so the loss to New Orleans was predictable. But they’re 14-6-1 under him after a loss in the past three years. And quarterback Alex Smith is 9-4 after a loss since 2011, when he’s coming off a game where his passer rating is 69 or below — as it was Monday. This is a defining game for Washington. Redskins 24, Panthers 23

FPI win projection: WSH, 55.0 percent. If the Redskins want any chance to make the playoffs in a wide-open NFC East, a win over Carolina would go a long way. The Redskins are slight favorites with FPI over the next two weeks, but after that, they are just favored to win two of their final 10 games.

What to watch for in fantasy: Should you bench Jordan Reed following his one-catch effort on Monday Night Football? No. Read more.

In case you missed it: Bradberry, instead of Norman, quietly makes Panthers betterDavis: Returning to Panthers helps cope with family tragedy


Point spread: HOU -8.5 | Matchup quality: 41.3 (of 100)

Mike Rodak’s pick: The Texans have blitzed opposing quarterbacks the eighth most this season, which spells trouble for rookie Josh Allen, who has an NFL-worst 1.6 passer rating and 21.9 completion percentage when facing pressure. The Bills tried to mask that weakness in a win last Sunday over Tennessee by running the ball on the highest percentage of plays of any NFL team this season, but that will be a taller task against a Texans defense that is fourth-best against the run. Texans 20, Bills 7

Sarah Barshop’s pick: Houston’s defense has shown improvement — especially in the secondary — the past two weeks and has a good chance to take a step forward on Sunday against the Bills’ league-worst passing offense. The Bills are averaging just 121.8 passing yards per game and have allowed an NFL-leading 22 sacks this season, an area in which this defense should be able take advantage. Texans 21, Bills 14

FPI win projection: HOU, 78.2 percent. The Bills’ offensive efficiency is currently 16.9, the lowest in the league this season. Only four teams have posted a lower offensive efficiency in a full season since tracking began in 2006, and none have since 2012.

What to watch for in fantasy: Expect Tre’Davious White to be glued to DeAndre Hopkins on most of his Week 6 routes. Hopkins should be downgraded, and look for Will Fuller V (vs. Phillip Gaines) and Keke Coutee (vs. Taron Johnson) to pick up the slack. Read more.

In case you missed it: Bills win a throwback, but eventually Allen must throwDespite no early picks, Texans draft class making early impactWatson says he’s fine to play Sunday despite weeks of hard hits


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Steve Young thinks the tough Chargers defense will give Baker Mayfield a tough day if he is not patient.

Point spread: LAC -1 | Matchup quality: 40.3 (of 100)

Eric D. Williams’ pick: The Chargers likely will get back tackles Russell Okung (groin) and Joe Barksdale (knee) this week, so Philip Rivers should have adequate protection against an improved Cleveland front four to make plays down the field. Browns defensive coordinator Gregg Williams likes to bring pressure, but Rivers has a league-best 110.1 passer rating when pressured. Defensively, the Bolts will do enough to limit Baker Mayfield and a Browns offense that has allowed 21 sacks through five games, second most in the league. Chargers 24, Browns 20

Pat McManamon’s pick: There’s no doubting the excellence of Rivers, who has completed 70 percent of his passes with 13 touchdowns and only two interceptions. The Browns’ defense leads the league with 15 forced turnovers, though, so something may have to give. It will give in favor of the Browns. Browns 20, Chargers 17

FPI win projection: LAC, 59.8 percent. A Chargers win coupled with a Chiefs loss can open up the division race. Should that happen, the Chargers would move up to an 18 percent chance to take the AFC West. FPI currently gives them a 12 percent chance.

What to watch for in fantasy: Matt Bowen thinks David Njoku is a TE1 in Week 6 and expects him to see more red zone looks with Baker Mayfield slinging it. Read more.

In case you missed it: James showing traits of an elite safetyHow fatherhood made Allen a better playerResetting AFC North: Browns contenders?Browns ‘not bad’? Mayfield believed from the start


Point spread: SEA -3 | Matchup quality: 39.5 (of 100)

Paul Gutierrez’s pick: Since Week 3, Seattle has run the ball better than any team (a league-high 474 rushing yards), has zero turnovers and has six takeaways on defense. That’s a good reason to like the Seahawks’ chances against the Raiders. Oakland is 28th in run defense, and Derek Carr has thrown the most interceptions (eight). The Seahawks shouldn’t have much trouble coming home from London with a win and a 3-3 record heading into their bye. Seahawks 27, Raiders 17

Brady Henderson’s pick: The Raiders have the fewest QB pressures in the league with Pro Football Focus crediting Oakland with 46. The Raiders are also tied for last in the NFL with the Giants with six sacks. So how do the Raiders figure to contain the ultra-elusive Russell Wilson at Wembley Stadium? It will be a long day for Oakland if Wilson runs wild, but former teammate Bruce Irvin should know a thing or two about Wilson’s tendencies. Still, if Marshawn Lynch does not run it in from the 1-yard line late for a Raiders win, then Sebastian Janikowski will kick a field goal at the final gun to lift Seattle, right? Seahawks 19, Raiders 17

FPI win projection: SEA, 65.7 percent. Seattle may already be too far behind the Rams to worry about the NFC West, but it is still in the thick of the race for a wild-card slot. A win would get Seattle to a 42 percent chance, while a loss drops them to 23 percent.

What to watch for in fantasy: The Raiders have allowed at least 26 rushing attempts in four of their five games. Assuming the Seahawks hit that mark, you can predict at least 10 rushes for Mike Davis, making him a good bet for at least 45 rushing yards. Read more.

In case you missed it: Seahawks’ run game is rolling, but where’s first-rounder Penny?Red-eye Raiders: No need for acclimation in Gruden’s travel plansWhat’s with not Marshawn Lynch the ball at the 1-yard line?


Point spread: CHI -3 | Matchup quality: 34.6 (of 100)

Jeff Dickerson’s pick: The Dolphins are in desperation mode after losing two straight, but they are going to have a hard time moving the ball against the Bears’ defense, which leads the league in fewest rushing yards allowed (64.0 per game). The Bears also average 4.5 sacks per game — best in the NFL. The Dolphins have injuries on their offensive line, and Ryan Tannehill struggles with ball security. Look for the Bears to win three in a row for the first time since the start of the 2013 season. Bears 27, Dolphins 17

Cameron Wolfe’s pick: Miami hasn’t lost at home yet, but there isn’t much reason for confidence that it will keep the streak going. It’s going to be a nightmare holding off Khalil Mack and the Bears’ front, and the Dolphins’ banged-up line will force them to rely on their short passing game. Tannehill has led Miami to just 10 points over his past 21 drives (two games), and it’s going to be even tougher against arguably the NFL’s best defense. Bears 20, Dolphins 13

FPI win projection: CHI, 63.7 percent. Not only do the Bears have the most efficient defense thus far, they are doing it without having to blitz to get sacks. The Bears have the lowest rate of sending five or more pass-rushers while sacking the opposing QB on over 11 percent of dropbacks.

What to watch for in fantasy: It should be tough sledding for Kenyan Drake against the Bears’ defense, which ranks first in KC Joyner’s GBR (27.1), GBYPA (6.2) and GBP (1.7) metrics and in rush defense. Read more.

In case you missed it: Trubisky: Bears teammates won’t let him play without arm sleeveMore than mediocre? Dolphins’ offense makes it hard to believeHurting Dolphins trying to piece together plan for Mack


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Darren Woodson and Tedy Bruschi agree that Sam Darnold’s Jets will get the best of Andrew Luck’s Colts on Sunday at MetLife Stadium.

Point spread: NYJ -2.5 | Matchup quality: 29.2 (of 100)

Mike Wells’ pick: The Jets are coming off a 344-yard rushing performance against Denver in Week 5. The Colts are 18th in the NFL in stopping the run, giving up 106.8 yards a game. Andrew Luck heads into Sunday leading the NFL in passing attempts (245) and completions (163). The Colts have had a chance to win each game in the fourth quarter in all four losses this season. This will be a close one, too, with the Colts finding a way to pull it out. Colts 34, Jets 30

Rich Cimini’s pick: The Jets are trying to win back-to-back games for the first time since last October. Robby Anderson says this game “will define us as a team.” Translation: They’re in trouble if they can’t beat a 1-4 team at home. The Jets should prevail as long as rookie Sam Darnold remains patient against the Colts’ Tampa 2 defense. Jets 24, Colts 23

FPI win projection: IND, 50.4 percent. After Week 3, Luck’s average pass was traveling just under 5.5 yards downfield, but in his past two games, it has jumped up to 8.4 yards, much closer to his career average of 8.6 yards.

What to watch for in fantasy: The Colts’ defense has the 12th-highest pressure rate and sixth-highest sack rate in the league. Darnold has completed just 42 percent of his passes with a paltry 1.55 yards per dropback when pressured, rates that rank well below league average. This makes the Colts D/ST an intriguing Week 6 streamer. Read more.

In case you missed it: Shoulder problem? Luck letting it rip at record paceAnderson opens up to Darnold … and gets open (twice)St. Patrick’s Day blockbuster looks like win for Jets — and ColtsAnderson living large as ‘Goose’ mystery widens


Point spread: LAR -7 | Matchup quality: 65.4 (of 100)

Lindsey Thiry’s pick: The Rams anticipate their starting offense will be intact, with receivers Brandin Cooks and Cooper Kupp expected to clear concussion protocol and play against the Broncos. But the Rams’ playbook — and their explosive offense averaging 34.6 points per game — could still be altered in Denver, with freezing temperatures and snow showers in the forecast. Rams 28, Broncos 14

Jeff Legwold’s pick: For a defense that just surrendered 323 yards rushing and 34 points to the Jets, this might not be the matchup the Broncos were hoping for. But as coach Vance Joseph put it: “Nobody’s stopped them and now it’s our turn to try.” The Rams lead the league in total offense, are third in scoring offense and haven’t been held to fewer than 33 points in a game all season. If Von Miller and the defense don’t have their best effort of the season and the offense can’t hold the ball, this one could get ugly. Rams 31, Broncos 23

FPI win projection: LAR, 76.8 percent. The Rams have the highest offensive efficiency (93.9) by any team through five games in a season since our tracking began in 2006. And the Denver defense is not what it once was after a tough start to the season, ranking 27th in the league in defensive efficiency.

What to watch for in fantasy: The Rams rank 28th in both GBYPA (8.7) and GBP (3.9), and rank 21st in KC Joyner’s run-defense grades. The Broncos have the fourth-most favorable run-blocking matchup in Week 6, so rate Phillip Lindsay as an RB2 and Royce Freeman as a very good flex option. Read more.

In case you missed it: How to stop the Rams? Follow these five keysHolding blocks, telling Goff what to do: Inside the Rams OLBroncos need to make teams pay for selling out to stop Miller


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Darren Woodson and Tedy Bruschi see the Ravens leaning on their defense to lead them to a win over the Tennessee Titans.

Point spread: BAL -2.5 | Matchup quality: 59.8 (of 100)

Jamison Hensley’s pick: The Ravens’ defense is going to show former coordinator Dean Pees, now on the Titans’ sidelines, that it’s just as strong without him. This is a lopsided matchup with Baltimore and the NFL’s top-scoring defense going against the Titans, who are averaging 16 offensive points per game (third worst in the NFL). Ravens 20, Titans 9

Turron Davenport’s pick: The Titans are a much better team at Nissan Stadium, having won 12 of the past 13 home games. All of their games this season have been decided by seven points or fewer. Tennessee has to find a way to keep Joe Flacco and John Brown from connecting on deep shots. Both teams are solid defensively, so expect another close game with the Titans coming out on top in a field goal fest. Titans 17, Ravens 12

FPI win projection: BAL, 57.1 percent. This game could be a defensive struggle, as the Ravens and Titans have allowed the second- and third-lowest Total QBR in the league this season. However, the Ravens are the favorite are ranked 17th in offensive efficiency compared with 31st for the Titans.

What to watch for in fantasy: Receivers aligned across from Malcolm Butler have posted a league-high 94 fantasy points. It has been a rough start to Michael Crabtree‘s time in Baltimore, but a 21 percent target share and this matchup keeps him in the WR3 discussion. Read more.

In case you missed it: Can Ravens win with Flacco throwing 700 passes this year?Harbaugh hints at going running back by committee‘Old man’ Dean Pees at home in Nashville working with former pupil


Point spread: JAX -3 | Matchup quality: 56.4 (of 100)

Mike DiRocco’s pick: This is a good matchup for the Jaguars’ defense, because Dak Prescott has struggled throwing the ball, surpassing 200 yards only seven times in the past 13 games and failing to throw for a TD in seven games over that span. Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye should have little trouble with the Cowboys’ receivers, so the Jags can sell out to stop Ezekiel Elliott. Jaguars 13, Cowboys 7

Todd Archer’s pick: First one to six points wins? That’s somewhat of a joke, but points will be at a premium Sunday and not because these teams feature strong defenses. They also have flawed offenses, too. The Cowboys can’t make enough plays in the passing game to score, while the Jaguars won’t have Leonard Fournette, and quarterback Blake Bortles is befuddling. The Cowboys have been a different team at home, winning both games in part because of big plays in the passing game such as 64-yarder to Tavon Austin against Giants and a 38-yarder to Ezekiel Elliott against Detroit. The Jaguars’ defense, however, is better than those of New York and Detroit. Jaguars 20, Cowboys 13

FPI win projection: DAL, 56.1 percent. With no Fournette, the Jaguars will once again go as Bortles goes. Not surprisingly, Bortles has posted an 81 Total QBR in the Jaguars’ three wins this season and a 21 Total QBR in their two losses.

What to watch for in fantasy: Bortles has posted his highest yards per dropback (10.5) and highest QBR (93.3) when targeting Dede Westbrook among the team’s wideouts. Dallas has struggled to contain receivers so far, ceding 14.3 yards per reception to them (sixth most in the league). Read more.

In case you missed it: Jaguars’ task on Sunday pretty clear: Stop ElliottNo Zeke? No Ramsey? What if 2016 draft fell differently for Cowboys, Jags?New Jaguars RB Charles ideal relief for YeldonGarrett’s future in Dallas on the line as patience wanes


Point spread: NE -3.5 | Matchup quality: 72.1 (of 100)

Adam Teicher’s pick: The Chiefs scored 83 points in their past two regular-season matchups with the Patriots, and now with Patrick Mahomes have even more offensive capability. They also know how to defend Tom Brady, who has one touchdown pass, two interceptions and a passer rating of 66.1 in those two games. Look for these trends to continue. Chiefs 33, Patriots 28

Mike Reiss’ pick: History says the Patriots should be in a good place, as under-25 starting quarterbacks are a combined 0-23 on the road in the regular season against New England since 2001. Tom Brady (41) is 18 years, 45 days older than Patrick Mahomes (23), which according to Elias Sports Bureau research, makes this the largest age difference between opposing starting quarterbacks since Matt Hasselbeck faced Jameis Winston in 2015 (they were 18 years, 103 days apart). The Patriots should be able to move the ball and score points on the Chiefs’ defense. Patriots 41, Chiefs 27

FPI win projection: NE, 66.6 percent. This game has the highest FPI matchup quality of the week and could go a long way toward determining who gets the top AFC seed in the playoffs. The Chiefs currently have a 51 percent chance to earn the top seed, and that would increase to 71 percent with a win on Sunday, according to FPI. A Patriots win would increase their chances from 18 percent to 26 percent, while a loss would drop them to just 3 percent.

What to watch for in fantasy: Bill Belichick will use the Pats’ newfound blocking prowess to ruthlessly exploit the Chiefs’ rush defense, which ranks 32nd in rush yards allowed before first defensive contact (YBCT, 3.4), GBR (55.6) and GBP (4.6). That’s good news for Sony Michel and James White. Read more.

In case you missed it: ‘Turbo Andy’ got his guy: Inside the Reid-Mahomes masterpieceHow the Chiefs and Patriots have brought college offenses to the NFLGronk 2.0? Kelce doesn’t see it that wayIt’s Michel’s time to shine as Patriots running back


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Tedy Bruschi and Darren Woodson both see Aaron Rodgers and the Packers taking care of the 49ers without Jimmy Garoppolo.

MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL

Point spread: GB -9.5 | Matchup quality: 47.0 (of 100)

Nick Wagoner’s pick: The banged-up 49ers are again hard to project because of their many injury issues, and a road trip to face Aaron Rodgers doesn’t look like the cure to what ails them. Rodgers has not lost in his past nine home starts, completing 67.7 percent of his passes for 2,470 yards and 22 touchdowns with just three interceptions as he prepares to go against a 49ers defense with a league-low three takeaways. Without some big plays from the defense, all signs point toward the Niners extending their league-high October losing streak to 12. Packers 31, 49ers 17

Rob Demovsky’s pick: The Packers have their bye next week followed by a brutal stretch that includes games at the Rams and Patriots and then at the Seahawks and Vikings sandwiched around a home game against the Dolphins. They needed last week’s game at the Lions and started so slowly on offense that they didn’t get it. They’re aiming for a fast start against a struggling 49ers team to make themselves feel better. This could be the complete offensive game they’re looking for. Packers 37, 49ers 17

FPI win projection: GB, 78.6 percent. The 49ers rank in the bottom half of the league in offensive, defensive and special teams efficiency this season, and they are ranked second-worst in the NFL in overall efficiency as a result.

What to watch for in fantasy: Make sure Aaron Jones is on a roster in your league because when the team finally wises up and gives him 20 touches, it will be too late. Read more.

In case you missed it: What ails Packers’ offense: Rodgers’ knee or other factor?Beathard’s next step? Cutting down on costly turnovers49ers’ injury issues making progress a difficult process



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Fantasy football picks, sleepers, busts for Week 6


I was in the moment I saw the tweet. Easiest call I’ve ever made.

On July 21, Tom Kislingbury, who goes by the handle @TomDegenerate, tweeted the following:

“New league idea: vampire. Normal start-up draft except one team does not get to pick at all. They just have to make a lineup from waivers. This team is the Vampire.”

Tom continued in follow-up tweets.

“Every time the Vampire team wins a weekly matchup, they have to swap one of their starting line-up with one of their opponent’s at the same position. So they’ll start out weak but with each win get a bit stronger. If they manage to beat a good team, they’ll grow much more powerful.”

“So when facing the Vampire, you need to make a choice: Play at full strength and risk losing a good player? Or try to beat a bad Vampire team without risking your stars?”

“Needless to say that if the Vampire wins the league, it’s over. Their reign of dark power is complete.”

WEH-HELL.

As soon as I saw the tweet, I quote-tweeted it and said, “I would totally do this.”

I have been playing fantasy sports for 34 years now. And in that time, I have played every fantasy game imaginable. Every sport … NASCAR, golf, college football and basketball … I’ve played fantasy fishing, fantasy sumo wrestling, hell, I’ve even played fantasy hockey once. I’ve always said if you can find a way to keep score, you can play a fantasy version of anything. So I have done a bunch of fantasy games around entertainment. I have played fantasy “Big Brother” (Tyler got robbed). As you might know, ESPN has a fantasy “The Bachelor” game, which I enjoy way more than I should. And my friends and I even created a game called FantasyMovieLeague.com, which is exactly what you think it is: A fantasy game where you program your fantasy movie theater with real-life movies in a salary-cap format, and based on how much the movie makes at the box office is how much your theater makes. Easy to play, hard to master, it’s hella fun, as I am told the kids once, and possibly still, say.

Not surprisingly, I have played tons of different versions of fantasy football. Dynasty to keeper to best ball to start-up, 2QB, super flex, IDP, high stakes, low stakes, no stakes, enhanced TE scoring. I once did a Punt, Pass and Kick league where you rostered only quarterbacks, kickers and punters. Don’t laugh. I’ve actually played in two different punter leagues. I’ve played in four-person leagues and 20-person leagues. I’m in a league right now with 800 players. I’ve played in leagues where every week is a doubleheader, leagues that are a season-long and DFS hybrid, where you play every team in the league every week, and relegation leagues where the bottom two teams get kicked out to a “lesser” league. I’ve played in expert leagues, work leagues, charity leagues, celebrity leagues, leagues with 12-year-olds, leagues with lifelong friends, leagues with strangers, leagues with my wife and kids.

You name the format, the scoring, the league size and I’ve played them all.

Or so I thought.

Because I’ve never played a Vampire league.

I thought I had heard every idea ever. But this one was new, even to me. I loved the idea and loved the challenge of being the Vampire.

I originally had the idea of trying to auction off spots in the league for charity, but setting that up proved too problematic this time. So I just posted in my FantasyLife app about the league and asked who wanted to play. I got so many responses, I decided to do two leagues. I had Stacy Sailer, who is one the executives running the app, choose the participants so no one could accuse me of cherry-picking my competition.

I basically stuck to Tom’s premise with a few wrinkles of my own. When I got on a conference call with everyone, I laid out the rules for these leagues:

• Nine people would take part in a re-draft league using ESPN standard scoring. That is to say one point per reception with a starting lineup of one QB, two RBs, two WRs, one TE, one flex (RB/WR/TE), one kicker and one D/ST.

• The nine drafting teams must play with the team they draft, meaning they could not make any waiver claims. Because of that, I asked them to think about whether they would want to draft two kickers, two defenses, two QBs, etc.

• After they drafted, I would go and build my team from whomever was left. In addition, I could make unlimited waiver claims during the season. We held the draft on the night of Labor Day, just a few days before the start of the season, so that everyone had the best possible information heading into the season.

• There are no trades allowed in the league, except if I, as the Vampire, beat a team. In that case, I would initiate a trade of one of my players for a player on the team I just beat. And there are rules around that: The player I trade for has to have been in my opponent’s starting lineup. So, if you don’t want to risk losing Todd Gurley II, you can bench him against me and I cannot trade for him. In turn, the player I trade away also has to be someone I started — so I can’t use my bench scrubs to trade for a star — and play the same position. This way, I can’t trade a kicker for a quarterback, for example.

• Teams are NOT required to start a full lineup against me. If they want to bench all of their stars to protect themselves, they can. Out of the 10-team league, four will make the playoffs and we will use ESPN standard playoff settings: two-week semifinals (Weeks 14-15) and two-week finals (Weeks 16-17). Once we hit the playoffs, the four qualifying teams will be allowed to make waiver moves. If I make the playoffs, I get the first waiver move. Otherwise, reverse order of standings prevails.

And that’s it. It’s obviously skewed toward the teams that drafted, but because they can’t make waiver claims at all, it gives me a fighting chance.

I can’t tell you how much fun it has been doing these leagues this year. It’s a very different exercise, and I have to think about my teams in a different way than I run any of my other teams. Yes, I don’t have any superstars, but I do have the entire waiver pool as my bench, in essence, since I can make any adds/drops whenever I want to set my lineup … which is both a blessing and a curse.

While you have all these fill-in guys available … they are all fill-in guys. Calvin Ridley wasn’t drafted in either league, but I’d be lying if I said I started him during his three-touchdown game. Deciding between similar upside plays that I have projected about the same is a challenge. When you play normal fantasy football, there are certain starters that are sort of locked in for you every week, either due to their consistency/star power or just your own lack of roster depth. But when you have infinite possibilities, it’s interesting. Yes, there are available QBs who will score high every week, but you’re deciding between guys like Joe Flacco, Blake Bortles and Andy Dalton. It definitely makes it more challenging.

Not surprisingly, just as Tom predicted in his original post, it has been a slow start for me. But not as slow as you might think. In League 1 (The “Fantasy” Vampire League), I just won my first game. I’ve had a bit of bad luck in that league, as coming into Week 5 I had the second-most points against, but that will even out.

I bet if you thought hard about it, you could probably guess most of my team. Understand, of course, that with the rest of the league drafting, in essence, a nine-man league and at least some of the league using bench spots for extra Ks/DSTs/QBs because of the no-waiver rule, there are some decent players who didn’t get drafted.

I mix and match every week, given specific players and opportunity (Giovani Bernard was a starter for a few weeks there, for example), but my core that I am choosing from every week is this:

And then I stream D/STs and kickers. So after my victory this week, I had my choice of a pretty good team. Aaron Rodgers, Saquon Barkley, Melvin Gordon and Stefon Diggs were among the players available to me.

As much as I like Rodgers and Diggs, of course, I thought running back was my weakest position, as (in theory at least) Leonard Fournette will be back soon, which would push Yeldon back to the Jaguars’ bench. My other running backs are decent players in platoons, whereas my wide receiver depth is actually pretty decent and QB will be easy to figure out from week to week, especially assuming Goff gets all his wideouts back soon (plus Jameis Winston is out there). So I vampired Gordon for Yeldon. Basically a coin flip, but I chose Gordon because I like him (and the Chargers) slightly more than Barkley the rest of the season, and because Gordon’s teammate, Austin Ekeler, is available as well. If something happens to Gordon, Ekeler is a clear alternative who would be productive, while I don’t have as much confidence in the options behind Barkley. So even though I am 1-4 in this league, I like my team and it grows stronger.

League 2 (The “Life” Vampire League), is going even better. I am riding a two-game win streak and just finished Week 5 with the highest point total in the league. I am currently 2-3 in that league and my roster is fairly similar:

And then I stream all the D/STs and kickers. Two weeks ago, I had Bernard in the lineup, so after beating that opponent, I was able to vampire Ezekiel Elliott in exchange for Gio. My victory this week was against a team that chose to hide all of its good players, fearful of the Vampire. He played me with a bench that included Tom Brady, Kareem Hunt, Antonio Brown and Diggs.

Of the useful players he actually did play were Carlos Hyde, Marvin Jones Jr. and Alex Collins. I chose a swap of Hyde for Yeldon, which will be pretty close until Fournette comes back. But I love the Browns’ upcoming schedule and, again, I like my WR depth.

So Team 2 will have starting RBs of Hyde and Zeke (heh heh) with White or a third WR as my flex. Lots of work to do, of course, but I like where this is headed. It has been a really fun challenge. I will definitely do more of these next year, and probably expand to 12-team leagues in at least some of them. But in the meantime, I have more games to win and more players to vampire until my reign of dark power is complete. Let’s get to it.

For those who missed last week, Love/Hate is now very simple. Next to every player is a number — the official ESPN projected total for that player in Week 6 (as of that week’s publish time). If they are a “Love,” I expect them to meet or exceed that projection. If they are a “Hate,” I expect them to fall short. Easy peasy.

Quarterbacks I love in Week 6

Matt Ryan vs. Buccaneers (ESPN projection: 20.1 points): I know. Last week was brutal in what should have been an awesome matchup, but I’m back on him this week as a top-five play. Since the beginning of last season, Ryan is averaging 2.8 more points at home than on the road. To that end, he has scored more than 29 points in all three home games this season. I like him to beat his current projection against a Tampa Bay defense that has given up a league-high 28.6 fantasy points per game to QBs, along with a 77.1 percent completion rate and a league-high 8.3 percent of passes resulting in a touchdown. Giddy up.

Jameis Winston at Falcons (ESPN projection: 19.2 points): It’s pretty easy to see why Ryan Fitzpatrick (and Winston for a half or so) combined to lead the NFL in fantasy points before their bye week. The Bucs can’t run the ball, bad defense puts them in constant passing situations and they have one of the best groups of pass-catchers in the NFL. Now Winston, who is still available in about 60 percent of ESPN leagues, gets a Falcons team that has allowed the fifth-highest completion rate (69.8 percent), 10th-best TD-INT ratio (3.0) and the fourth-most fantasy points allowed to opposing QBs.

Kirk Cousins vs. Cardinals (ESPN projection: 19.1 points): The Cardinals blitz on a league-high 38.9 percent of opponents’ dropbacks. Cousins is completing a league-high 77.3 percent of passes against the blitz this season (also, he ranks third in completion percentage against the blitz from 2015-17). Also, you know, Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs.

Andrew Luck at Jets (ESPN projection: 16.9 points): Weeks 1 to 3: 5.42 air yards per target. Weeks 4 and 5: 8.40 air yards per target (for reference, 2016: 8.25). Luck already has three games of 38-plus completions this season. For comparison, from 2014-17, Ben Roethlisberger led the NFL with three total games of 38-plus completions. There have been three QBs this season who have thrown at least 35 passes against the Jets and they’ve combined for 1,051 passing yards. Those QBs? Blake Bortles, Case Keenum and Matthew Stafford.

Others receiving votes: Carson Wentz has three straight games of at least 35 pass attempts, and the injury to Jay Ajayi certainly doesn’t mean he’ll throw less. Wentz is one of only two QBs to have 300-plus passing yards and multiple passing TDs in each of the past two weeks, which makes him a low-end QB1 on Thursday night. … For those looking for QB2 streaming options, Baker Mayfield should be usable against a Chargers defense that allows the fourth-most yards per catch after the reception this season (6.48). In Mayfield’s two starts this season, Cleveland is sixth in yards after the catch. He’s just one of four QBs with at least 40 pass attempts, 295 passing yards and one passing TD in each of the past two weeks: Deshaun Watson, Aaron Rodgers and Luck are the others. … The truly desperate could look at C.J. Beathard, who should be chucking it a ton against a Packers team that has allowed multiple TD passes in three of the past four weeks (Josh Allen being the lone exception).

Quarterbacks I hate in Week 6

Russell Wilson vs. Raiders in London (ESPN projection: 17.6 points): Under offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer this season, Seattle has the lowest percentage of pass plays in the league (54.4 percent). Last season, the Seahawks had the third-highest rate. Wilson has less than 200 yards passing in each of his past three games, he’s averaging just 24.3 pass attempts per game in that stretch and has only 42 rushing yards this entire season (last season, he averaged 36.6 rushing yards PER GAME). Seattle will not need to play catch-up in this game.

Andy Dalton vs. Steelers (ESPN projection: 19.1 points): Hey, 19.1 is a big number and I get it with the matchup, but the Steelers’ defense did play better last week against Atlanta. In the games this season in which Joe Mixon has been active, Dalton is averaging just 252 passing yards (versus 345 in the two games Mixon missed). Dalton has 16.5 points or fewer in three of five games this season and even with a high over/under in this game, I think this is more of a divisional slugfest featuring a lot of running from both teams. He’s a borderline QB1, but with a projection of more than 19 points, I’m taking the under, making him a “hate” under our new format.

Joe Flacco at Titans (ESPN projection: 14.6 points): Very quietly, the Titans own a top-10 pass defense this season in each of the following (all per-game stats): completions, passing yards, yards per dropback, sacks per dropback and TD-INT rate. Since Flacco threw for three touchdowns in 34 attempts in that Week 1 beatdown of Buffalo, he has just five TD passes in 193 attempts.

Blake Bortles at Cowboys (ESPN projection: 16.8 points): In what should be a low-scoring game (the over/under is 40.5, lowest total on the slate), Bortles faces a Cowboys squad that is a top-10 defense in terms of QB rushing yards per carry allowed this season, despite having already faced Cam Newton, Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson. That matters because, since that awesome Patriots game, nearly 28 percent of his points have come from his legs.

Running backs I love in Week 6

Joe Mixon vs. Steelers (ESPN projection: 18.3 points): As I said in the Dalton section, I expect this to be a slugfest and a heavy dosage of Mixon, who had 25 touches in his first game back from injury (a game Marvin Lewis said he would limit Mixon’s workload). Yeah, right. A volume-driven day is in play here on Sunday against a Steelers defense that has given up an average of 18.3 points to RBs in the four games aside from the Buccaneers game (Tampa can’t run). Loves are about meeting or exceeding projections, and I have him as a top-six play this week.

Sony Michel (ESPN projection: 14.8) and James White (12.9) vs. Chiefs: Great matchup for both guys against a Chiefs team that is a bottom-10 red zone defense this season. They allow a league-high 4.44 yards per carry BEFORE first contact this season. Michel is averaging 2.28 yards per carry AFTER first contact this season, fourth most in the NFL. And White now has consecutive games with at least eight catches, 65 receiving yards and a receiving TD. Here’s the list of RBs who can say they’ve done that: LaDainian Tomlinson (2003), David Johnson (2016) and White. Running backs as pass-catchers have given the Chiefs problems this season. Against the position, the Chiefs have allowed the second-most completions and tied for the most receiving touchdowns this season.

Chris Carson vs. Raiders in London (ESPN projection: 13.8 points): See Wilson, Russell. The Seahawks are gonna run in this one against a Raiders defense that ranks as a bottom-10 unit in both yards per carry before AND after first contact (one of only three teams to do so). Game flow should favor Seattle here, especially as Oakland has allowed the third-most rushing touchdowns this season (six) and the eighth-most red zone drives.

Alfred Morris at Packers (ESPN projection: 11.9 points): Morris has at least 12 carries in four of five games this season, and that was with Matt Breida healthy (Breida is highly unlikely to play this week). Morris should get the majority of early-down work against a Packers team allowing the seventh-most yards per carry AFTER first contact this season. He caught three passes last week, so there’s a little action to be had there as well, given that RBs own a 32.7 percent career target share from C.J. Beathard.

Others receiving votes: I’m not the biggest Lamar Miller fan by any stretch, but he should find success against a Bills team that has allowed a touchdown on 12 of 15 red zone drives this season, making them the fourth-least-efficient red zone defense. … We’ll see what kind of impact Marlon Mack has on this Colts offense, but regardless, I expect the pass-catching Nyheim Hines to continue his touch trend from the past few weeks (5, 10, 13, 22), especially against a Jets squad that allows opponents to complete 85 percent of passes to RBs this season (fourth highest). … In a game that should have some bad weather, I like both Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman against a Rams defense that has allowed 5.0 yards per carry and has given up at least 24 fantasy points to running backs in three of five games. The exceptions being the Vikings game in Week 4 when Dalvin Cook played very little and the anemic Cardinals in Week 2. … Javorius Allen has set a season high in touches in consecutive weeks. He’s a goal-line back who also has at least 6.5 points as a pass-catcher in four of five weeks this season.

Running backs I hate in Week 6

Devonta Freeman vs. Buccaneers (ESPN projection: 16.8 points): Freeman showed up on the injury report Wednesday (again), and this is turning into a three-headed monster, as Ito Smith got four touches last week (compared with 10 for Freeman and nine for Tevin Coleman). Since Week 5 of last season, Freeman has just two games with 15-plus carries. It’s a great matchup, but this is a 40/40/20 split and I believe it’s unlikely he reaches 16.8 points, even if he plays.

LeSean McCoy at Texans (ESPN projection: 12.4 points): As trade rumors continue to swirl, McCoy faces a Texans team that is allowing just 3.44 yards per carry this season (fourth fewest). Playing on a Bills team that is averaging the second-fewest red zone drives per game this season (2.00), he’s going to need to score to get past 12.4, and I think that’s unlikely.

Kenyan Drake vs. Bears (ESPN projection: 10.8 points): Last week was good, I guess, if you have Drake. There were signs of life. But still — just six carries. Six. And one fewer touch than Frank Gore. Being in a committee on a low-scoring, poor offense will continue to depress his fantasy value, especially against a Bears team allowing the second-fewest YPC to RBs this season (2.93) and a league-low 1.75 red zone drives per game. No player has rushed for 50 yards against the Bears and I don’t believe Drake, with a single-game high of 53 rushing yards, will change that.

Pass-catchers I love in Week 6

Julio Jones vs. Buccaneers (ESPN projection: 19.6 points): 19.6 is a big number and I’m taking the over? Yeah, I am. See everything I wrote about Ryan, Matt. Jones has exceeded 19.6 twice this season and Sunday will make it three, as Tampa Bay’s corners are no match for Julio. Also, I am playing against him in the ESPN War Room League, so I assure you he is going off. I would be very excited to be wrong on this one, but I don’t think I will be. Another blow-up spot coming.

Tyler Boyd vs. Steelers (ESPN projection: 13.4 points): Boyd played fewer snaps in the slot last week against the Dolphins (57.1 percent compared with 66.2 percent the previous weeks), as A.J. Green spent more time there (48.1 percent compared with 27.2 percent entering the game). I assume that was due, at least in part, to trying to get Green free from Xavien Howard. They may do that some this week to try to get Green free from Joe Haden, but Boyd will play enough slot snaps to beat his projection here. The Steelers allow 11.6 slot completions per game this season (second most), while seeing the slot targeted more than any other team (17 times per game). Boyd has at least seven targets in four straight games and is top 15 in the NFL in total targets during that stretch.

Mohamed Sanu vs. Buccaneers (ESPN projection: 11.1 points): Very quietly, Mo Sanu has 15.5 or more points in each of the past three weeks, one of only six wideouts to say that. He leads Atlanta in receptions (12), yards (151), targets (20) and touchdowns (two) from the slot this season, which is important when you consider the Bucs have coughed up a league high in yards (745) and touchdowns (seven) to go along with the second-most completions (55) and completion percentage (82.1) to the slot this season.

Jimmy Graham vs. 49ers (ESPN projection: 10.6 points): As of this writing (Wednesday night), we don’t know the health status of Randall Cobb or Geronimo Allison, but we do know this: The 49ers have given up the most touchdowns to opposing tight ends. They also have allowed the fifth-most red zone drives this season. Since Week 2, Graham is fourth among tight ends in targets (behind only Zach Ertz, Travis Kelce and Eric Ebron). Those three, incidentally, are the top three tight ends in fantasy this season.

Others receiving votes: I whiffed last week on Quincy Enunwa, although in fairness he came within six inches of a long touchdown and would have had it had Chris Harris Jr. not grabbed his jersey (a bad pass interference that wasn’t called). Either way, it allowed for Robby Anderson to wake up and I’m in on both of them this week as flex plays against a Colts secondary that has given up 516 yards and four touchdowns in just the past two games to opposing wide receivers. … In the same game, Chester Rogers faces a Jets secondary that has given up the third-most receptions and yards to the slot. A cheap DFS option, Rogers has run 95 percent of his routes from the slot. … Speaking of the slot, 67 percent of Keke Coutee‘s snaps and 76 percent of his catches this season have come from the slot. With Tre’Davious White having his hands full against DeAndre Hopkins, Coutee should find success against a Bills group that has given up the seventh-most slot receptions this season. … I know it has been tough recently, but I expect Jordan Reed to have one of his better days Sunday against a Panthers team that is allowing opponents to complete a league-high 87 percent of passes when targeting the TE this season (20-for-23). … If O.J. Howard doesn’t play this week, I like Cameron Brate to be a top-10 guy, especially considering his past connection with Jameis Winston.

Pass-catchers I hate in Week 6

Allen Robinson at Dolphins (ESPN projection: 12.3 points): Quietly, the Dolphins are giving up the sixth-fewest fantasy points per game to opposing WRs and my expectation is that underrated Xavien Howard will shadow Robinson. Howard is turning into a shutdown corner and it’s worth noting the Dolphins have allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to opposing RBs this season. I believe this is a heavy Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen game, so Robinson should be OK, but I feel he will fall short of his projected 12.3 points.

Corey Davis vs. Ravens (ESPN projection: 12.7 points): I get the talent and the target share argument, but among starting quarterbacks, only Josh Allen is throwing fewer passes per game than Marcus Mariota. Only one wide receiver has gotten more than 70 receiving yards against Baltimore this season (Tyler Boyd) and that was from the slot. Davis is a perimeter player and I don’t love his chances against a Ravens defense that is allowing opponents to complete just 54.8 percent of passes this season, which, if it holds, would be the lowest rate in the past six years.

David Njoku vs. Chargers (ESPN projection: 9.3 points): Njoku has shown some improved chemistry with Baker Mayfield under center, but this is a tough matchup against the Chargers. The Bolts have allowed the seventh-fewest fantasy points to opposing tight ends and just one score, and that includes games against Travis Kelce, Jared Cook and George Kittle. Yes, Kittle went off, but that was basically one big play. Opponents are completing just 57.6 percent of passes when targeting the TE against the Chargers this season (third lowest in the NFL) and for all his size, Njoku has yet to see a red zone target this season.

Matthew Berry, The Talented Mr. Roto, once heard of a fantasy league that was all about predicting which Phish songs would be played at an upcoming concert. There’s a league for everything. He is the creator of RotoPass.com and one of the owners of the Fantasy Life app and FantasyLife.com.



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Fantasy football — Jameis Winston, Nyheim Hines among top fantasy football free-agent finds for Week 6


It has been said that timing is everything in life; it can apply to fantasy football, too. As we cruise into Week 6 of the NFL season, another notable saying comes to mind: it’s never too soon to plan ahead. In this case, these two thoughts tie together. Though there are just two teams on a bye in Week 6, there will be four in Week 7, four more in Week 8 and six in Week 9. Nearly half the league will be on a bye during a three-week stretch, meaning you’re going to need all sorts of contingency plans for your fantasy lineup.

In Week 7, a team with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback and Antonio Brown at receiver — an enviable duo — will be on the hunt for replacements. But here’s the thing: it’s hard to find them when you absolutely need them. In the same week that you are looking for a Rodgers replacement, someone else might be looking for a Ben Roethlisberger replacement; in the same week you are looking for a Brown replacement, someone else may be seeking Davante Adams reinforcement.

The takeaway? Don’t be afraid of planning ahead. Rather than waiting for the week in which you have no choice but to add a player, get ahead of the curve. It’s sound roster management.

To help you do that and more, here’s the fantasy waiver-wire adds for this week.

Reminder: players must be available in more than 50 percent of leagues on ESPN.com to be eligible for this column.

Teams on a bye this week: Detroit Lions, New Orleans Saints

Jameis Winston, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (12.5 percent rostered): The Bucs return from a bye this week and Winston will take over under center, equipped with a ridiculous cast of pass catchers. In five of his past 11 starts, Winston has finished as a top-eight quarterback in fantasy and he’s completed nearly 69 percent of his passes during his past six games, up from 60 percent during his first 40 games. His upside? It’s top-10 quarterback for the rest of the season.

Nyheim Hines, RB, Indianapolis Colts (47.2 percent): It’s nearly impossible to find quality running backs at this juncture of the season, so don’t bypass your chance to snag Hines. Amidst a crowded Indy backfield, my belief is that Hines has separated himself from the pack. While Marlon Mack‘s health has limited him of late, Hines has emerged as by far the team’s best pass-catching back who can play a lot of snaps when the team is pressed to go up-tempo. A porous defense and offensive line has led Indy to throw the ball an astonishing 121 times in its past two games. Hines has possible top-25-back upside in PPR scoring.

Alfred Morris, RB, San Francisco 49ers (49.7 percent): With Matt Breida now nursing an ankle injury, it’s at least possible that Morris will have the starting gig for a few weeks. While not a big-play threat, Morris should see favorable volume (perhaps close to 20 touches a game) if Breida misses any contests. Morris is not typically a factor in the passing game, but he had three catches in Week 5. A likely top-25 running back for the period that Breida misses.

Corey Clement (28.2 percent) and Wendell Smallwood (7.5 percent), RBs, Philadelphia Eagles: The surprising news of Jay Ajayi heading to injured reserve after tearing an ACL leaves a void of significance in the Eagles’ backfield. How it will be filled is a massive question, and the truth is that we could make a case that Smallwood, Darren Sproles and Josh Adams will all have a role going forward. We’ll turn to Clement to start, though, because of his talent and previously seeing him handle a reasonable workload (including 16 carries in Week 3). He’s an adept pass-catcher, too. Smallwood also merits consideration as a pickup to use sooner rather than later, as Sproles is currently hurt, not having played since Week 1. Smallwood has 18 carries in his past three games, but should see a steady uptick in usage on Thursday against the Giants. If Clement does return (he’s missed two straight games), he’ll be ranked highest amongst Eagles backs in Week 6.

Keke Coutee, WR, Houston Texans (19.5 percent): After a scintillating Week 4 performance with 11 catches on 15 targets, Coutee showed in Week 5 that his role in an offense led by a red-hot quarterback could continue to flourish. He made good on six of his seven targets for 65 yards and a short touchdown reception, flashing quickness out of the slot and a rapport with Deshaun Watson. He won’t be the top wideout in Houston — that’s DeAndre Hopkins — but the early returns are really promising.

Alfred Blue, RB, Houston Texans (14.9 percent): The first of back-to-back running backs we’ll mention whose value is tied to the health of the starter on their roster, Blue actually caught the ball very effectively in Week 5, hauling in eight passes for 73 yards. While he chewed up just 46 yards on 20 carries, volume and overall involvement make him a viable flex play if Lamar Miller sits again (though he was active in Week 5, he did not play in the game). A note: Second-year player D’Onta Foreman is eligible to be back on the field in Week 7. He’s another name to consider rostering for those eyeing a young, upside runner.

Latavius Murray, RB, Minnesota Vikings (45.5 percent): It’s yet to be determined if Dalvin Cook will play for the Vikings in Week 6, but at this point, Murray needs to be rostered in all leagues. He filled in as the starter for Cook in Week 5, handling a total of 13 touches for 56 yards. While Murray has been less effective this season than he was while filling in for Cook last season, there are so few available running back options that Murray is a worthwhile snag in your league.

Cameron Brate, TE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (16.6 percent): Chemistry isn’t always quantifiable on the football field, but for Brate and Jameis Winston … it is. With Winston under center in 2017 and with O.J. Howard in the mix, Brate saw 61 targets for 41 catches, 517 yards and 5 touchdowns, compared to 19 catches on 29 targets for 322 yards and 5 touchdowns for Howard. Howard is now out for what could be another one to three weeks, making Brate a legitimate top-12 tight end option in that time.

Marquez Valdes-Scantling, WR, Green Bay Packers (2.2 percent): It’s totally possible that either Randall Cobb or Geronimo Allison (or both) return next week for the Packers after missing Week 5 due to injury. But, should they be unable to suit up, MVS has a legit chance to remain a factor in the Green Bay passing offense after posting 7 catches, 68 yards and 1 touchdown (and nearly 2 touchdowns!) on Sunday. A deep-league add for someone looking for an upside play.

Josh Reynolds, WR, Los Angeles Rams (0.1 percent): Reynolds, a promising second-year player out of Texas A&M, plays behind a star trio of receivers in Los Angeles. But when Brandin Cooks and Cooper Kupp left Week 5 due to concussions, it was Reynolds who saw an amplified role within the Rams’ offense, catching two passes for 39 yards and adding another 10 yards via a rushing attempt. Should Kupp and Cooks miss Week 6, there is immediate value for Reynolds in one of the game’s best passing attacks. A smart add in any size league.

Baker Mayfield, QB, Cleveland Browns (38.7 percent): We’ve written about Mayfield before and he’s been a popular add since becoming the Browns’ starter. But let’s reframe the context this time, as Mayfield — coming off on 18-point outing against an excellent Ravens defense — has an awesome schedule to be mindful of in Weeks 7 through 10. During that stretch, he faces the Buccaneers, Steelers, Chiefs and Falcons, all of whom profile as very favorable matchups for passing offenses. A good quarterback to add for those keeping an early eye on bye week fill-ins or streamers.

Ryan Grant, WR, Indianapolis Colts (23.8 percent): It sounds at least possible that T.Y. Hilton will not return to the Colts’ lineup by Week 6, leaving them without their top wideout. Grant has been busy all season for the Colts, as he’s on pace for more than 100 targets this season. Game script has helped the Colts’ offense of late, with Andrew Luck attempting 121 passes over the past two games, the most in any two-game stretch by a quarterback in league history.

Chester Rogers, WR, Indianapolis Colts (7.5 percent): Speaking of Colts receivers, Rogers has been hot during the past two weeks, racking up eight catches in each game. The reality for Rogers is that his role is likely dependent upon the availability of Hilton. But should Hilton be out again and you’re playing in a deeper league, keep an eye on Rogers as a flex play.

Mike Davis, RB, Seattle Seahawks (14.5 percent): We now have two weeks of evidence on Davis, who was one of our top adds last week. The mitigating circumstance for Davis is apparent: he’s the backup to Chris Carson, but he handled 14 carries in Week 5 and appears to be a fixed part of the offense. He’s an add in deeper leagues, though Carson is clearly the top Seahawks back.

Kyle Juszczyk, RB, San Francisco 49ers (0.8 percent): This might be the first time we’ve listed a player whose roster position is fullback (he’s a running back in our ESPN Fantasy system, of course), but Juszcyzk is a unique player. He’s an excellent pass catcher whose role might stay robust after a Matt Breida injury in Week 5. He posted 6 catches for 75 yards on 7 targets on Sunday. A deeper-league flex to consider? In PPR leagues of 14 or 16 teams, I’d say so.

Robby Anderson, WR, New York Jets (42.3 percent): If you were among those who dropped Anderson, we don’t blame you after his slow start to the season. Sunday of Week 5 brought a pair of Anderson touchdowns and more than 120 receiving yards, albeit on just three catches. The reality for Anderson is that he is big-play dependent, but he remains a useful bench piece in leagues of 12 teams or more in case the Jets show a stronger dependence upon him going forward.

Tre’Quan Smith, WR, New Orleans Saints (0.9 percent): Smith was a part of history on Monday night as the recipient of the pass that pushed Drew Brees into first all-time for most career passing yards. His two touchdowns and 100-plus yards were encouraging, as was the fact that he played the second-most snaps of all Saints wideouts in this game. New Orleans heads to a bye this week, but Smith is an upside add to the end of your bench.

Trent Taylor, WR, San Francisco 49ers (0.3 percent): The 49ers’ wide receiver depth has been severely thinned due to injuries, and Pierre Garcon was banged up in Week 5. Taylor cashed in with 7 catches for 61 yards and 1 touchdown, albeit while playing fewer snaps than a player such as Victor Bolden. A deeper-league flier to consider, particularly if Garçon’s injury lingers going into Week 6.

Ronald Jones, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (18.2 percent): We’re the hopeful types here, so allow this to be our wildcard add of the week. Is Jones definitely going to be the starter in Tampa Bay? No. Is he going to produce if that becomes the case? That’s no sure thing, either. But after seeing his first action in Week 4 and with Peyton Barber largely sputtering as the starter, the Bucs ought to at least consider more work for Jones. And if you’re desperate for running back depth, the add of Jones is on the hope that he gets a chance and makes good on it. He was the 38th pick in this year’s draft and stranger things have happened than a player with such pedigree finding his way after a forgettable start to his career.

Christian Kirk, WR, Arizona Cardinals (11.1 percent): The talent of Kirk is hard to miss when you catch a glimpse of the Arizona offense. He scored on a 75-yard strike from Josh Rosen to open Arizona’s Week 5 scoring, and while he added just 10 more receiving yards in that game, Kirk is the kind of end-of-the-bench player who fits on your roster. He’s got enough ability that if Rosen makes strides, Kirk could eventually fly onto the flex radar.

Donte Moncrief, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars (12.8 percent): Disclaimer: There have been multiple wideouts from the Jaguars to make this list this season, but let’s add another in the mix in Moncrief. He has 11 catches over the past two games and saw an astounding 15 targets in Week 5 against the Chiefs. A starter in your lineup each week? Nope. But a name to keep on the radar in a deeper league, with enviable size and some red zone upside.



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Fantasy football – NFL Week 5 inactive players




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