The Chiefs will be difficult to beat if their defense continues to play as well as it did against the Bengals. The Chiefs have played well at times defensively in all of their games except a recent one against New England, but it’s possible they turned a corner with a consistent defensive showing against Cincinnati. — Adam Teicher
Andy Reid expresses his emotions on getting his 200th win, including playoffs, in the NFL and says “everybody is involved” in this milestone.
Where has the Bengals’ defense gone? The Bengals have given up at least 480 yards in three of the past four games, and they couldn’t stop the Chiefs’ offense all night. That doesn’t bode well, as the Buccaneers and Saints are coming to town soon. The Bengals clearly don’t match up well against speedier offenses, and that’s going to be a problem moving forward if they don’t generate turnovers. — Katherine Terrell
Don’t look now, but the Chargers are one of the hottest teams in the NFL, riding a four-game win streak into their bye week after edging the Titans in London. The break comes at a good time for the Chargers, with Melvin Gordon nursing a hamstring injury and defensive end Joey Bosa potentially playing for the first time this season against the Seahawks in Week 9 after missing time with a bruised left foot. “Was it our best game all around? Probably not,” quarterback Philip Rivers said. “But the name of the game is to score one more point than the other team, and we did that.” — Eric D. Williams
The NFL Countdown crew breaks down why the Chargers are showing signs of positive growth.
The Titans’ offensive struggles were showcased in their third consecutive loss. They’ll have plenty of time to figure out what went wrong as their bye week comes at an opportune time. “We’re gonna get back to work and we’re going to improve the stuff we didn’t do very well and get better,” coach Mike Vrabel said. Time off will allow the Titans to work on their ineffective red zone offense. Titans offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur will get a chance to showcase his revised scheme Week 9 against the Cowboys. — Turron Davenport
The Patriots wanted to prove they can win on the road after opening 0-2 away from home. They showed mental toughness in overcoming several sudden changes in a win over the Bears. At the same time, three turnovers continues an alarming trend, as Tom Brady called them “frustrating” and an area that has to be corrected heading into Monday night’s road game against the Bills. So while the Patriots were pleased to win, they felt this was far from their best effort. — Mike Reiss
For the Bears to beat a quality opponent like New England, quarterback Mitchell Trubisky has to play better. Trubisky had some good moments on Sunday, particularly in the run game, but he missed the mark on 24 pass attempts and tossed a pair of interceptions. Even with Trubisky’s last-second Hail Mary completion to Kevin White, the Bears’ starting quarterback still had a passer rating of below 70.0. Not having Khalil Mack at full strength hurt, but the Bears need better accuracy from their quarterback to win big games. They look to get back in the win column next week against the Jets. — Jeff Dickerson
Coach Ron Rivera called this a “statement” win. Indeed, the Panthers not only overcame a 17-0 fourth-quarter deficit, but also did it on the road where they were 0-2 this season. With two home games coming up against Baltimore and Tampa Bay, the Panthers, 3-0 at Bank of America Stadium, have a chance to keep pace with the Saints in the NFC South. — David Newton
Cam Newton notes Carolina’s persistence as the team kept battling to overcome a 17-point deficit.
There’s no excuse for a fourth-quarter collapse against the Panthers that drops the Eagles to 3-4 and sets up an uphill climb. The defense shut Cam Newton out for three quarters — a first for a Newton-led team — but couldn’t hold late. There are major questions to be answered with their London game against the Jaguars on deck. Eagles coach Doug Pederson said after the game: “Basically told ’em that, ‘Hey, pressure’s off of us. Nobody on the outside world is giving us a chance to do much of anything, and the pressure’s off, so we can go play, have fun and just relax.’ Lot of football ahead, too.” — Tim McManus
The Texans won their fourth consecutive contest and gained sole possession of first place in the AFC South, playing their best and most complete game of the season. Houston did it with another stellar effort from its defense and an improved running game, two areas the team needs to continue to have success with on Thursday night against the Dolphins as quarterback Deshaun Watson plays through ribs and lung injuries. — Sarah Barshop
Things are falling apart for the Jaguars. Players were heard yelling at each other in the locker room, and at one point, Calais Campbell was restraining Yannick Ngakoue. Jalen Ramsey said there’s no secret to what’s going on: It’s a mess right now. Coach Doug Marrone said the starting QB job is up for grabs after benching Blake Bortles along with pretty much every other spot on offense heading into Sunday’s game against Philadelphia in London. — Mike DiRocco
Even after failing to capitalize on great field position created by the special teams unit throughout the game, the Vikings’ offense still hung 37 points on the Jets in their third straight win. As long as Minnesota has Adam Thielen, who recorded his seventh consecutive game of 100 yards receiving, it’s going to be difficult for teams to contain the Vikings’ explosive passing attack. Now the Vikings face their biggest test of the season next Sunday night when they host the Saints in rematch of last year’s “miracle” finish in the divisional playoffs. — Courtney Cronin
Harrison Smith praises Adam Thielen’s performance so far this season, saying “now you see kind of all the fruits of his labor.”
Sam Darnold suffered his worst game in part because the Jets’ pedestrian receiving group — down Quincy Enunwa (ankle) and Terrelle Pryor (released/injured) — was exposed by the Vikings. Now the front office must weigh the pros and cons of acquiring a receiver before the trade deadline. The Jets could be hurting Darnold’s development if they stand pat. — Rich Cimini
The Colts rushed for 220 yards in their 32-point victory over the Bills. Sunday was the first time since the 2011 season that the Colts rushed for at least 200 yards on the ground. Second-year running back Marlon Mack‘s 126 yards marked just the fourth time in Andrew Luck‘s career that he had a player rush for at least 100 yards in a game. “It just gives you a feeling of physical power,” Colts coach Frank Reich said. The Colts could extend their winning streak next week against struggling Oakland team. — Mike Wells
Three interceptions and a lost fumble by Derek Anderson made it clear Buffalo is doomed whatever direction it turns at quarterback. Whether it’s raw rookie moments from Josh Allen, disastrous interceptions from Nathan Peterman or the expected flaws Anderson showed Sunday less than two weeks after being signed, the Bills (2-5) have little choice but to accept their situation at the position. Their defense’s performance Sunday proved it was too soon to call the unit elite and too optimistic to expect that side of the ball to bail out a bottom-feeding offense this season, especially next week against the Patriots. — Mike Rodak
The Bucs turned the ball over four times, but defensively, they were able to pressure the quarterback and their secondary didn’t have the coverage breakdowns we’ve seen much of this season, simplifying things on the back end. Losing linebackers Kwon Alexander and Jack Cichy played a role in allowing the Browns back into the game, but this is a step in the right direction for the Bucs, who play at Cincinnati next Sunday. — Jenna Laine
Another slow start, another struggle in overtime. Coach Hue Jackson said he will have to get more involved in the Browns’ offense. “I got to jump in headfirst, all hands, feet, everything, and go figure it out,” Jackson said after his team fell to 2-4-1. Jackson will take the plunge just in time for the Steelers and the possible return of Le’Veon Bell next week. — Pat McManamon
It was the Lions’ best day running the ball since the Barry Sanders era, and that says something for their future. After gaining 248 rushing yards — Detroit’s best since Sanders had 216 yards against Indianapolis in 1997 — in a road win to get back to .500, the Lions appear to have a more diversified offense than at any time during Matthew Stafford‘s career. And that can make Detroit dangerous with a critical portion of its schedule upcoming with a home game against Seattle followed by road trips to Minnesota and Chicago. — Michael Rothstein
Kerryon Johnson breaks through and takes off for a 71-yard run to set up a field goal for Detroit.
The Dolphins’ wide receiver room is getting extremely light after injuries to Kenny Stills and Albert Wilson, the Dolphins’ two most productive receivers this season. To make matters stickier, DeVante Parker‘s agent called Adam Gase “incompetent” after his client was inactive once again. That situation seems volatile, but the Dolphins have to turn around and travel to Houston on Thursday with injuries that may force their hand into different personnel in another week of Brock Osweiler. — Cameron Wolfe
The Saints (5-1) won their most important game of the season to date, coming back from a 10-point deficit at Baltimore against the NFL’s No. 1 defense. As coach Sean Payton and his players preached Sunday, these are the types of games that build a team’s character. Mark Ingram II said they proved they are “road warriors.” The tests don’t stop, though. They’re at Minnesota next week, then they host the undefeated Rams. — Mike Triplett
The Ravens need to prove consistency before they can be stamped as a playoff contender. Baltimore has a bad habit of following up big wins with disappointing losses. Earlier this season, the Ravens lost at Cleveland after beating Pittsburgh. On Sunday, Baltimore fell to New Orleans after shutting out Tennessee on the road. Now, the Ravens will have to rebound at Carolina, where the Panthers have won eight in a row. There have been too many close losses over the past two years in September and October, costing the Ravens playoff trips. — Jamison Hensley
After a 4-turnover performance against the 49ers, Sean McVay tips his hat to the defense and looks forward to next week’s test against the Packers.
Even without Jimmy Garoppolo, the 49ers have found themselves in the position to win games over the past few weeks, coming away with something to build on even if they didn’t win. But Sunday’s blowout loss to the Rams was an example of what happens when you pair an uber-talented opponent with the 49ers’ continued mistakes. The Niners are now a league-worst minus-15 in turnover margin, something no team can overcome. Even with “winnable” games coming against the Cardinals, Raiders and Giants, the Niners won’t return to the winner’s circle until they can forge some sort of turnover turnaround. — Nick Wagoner
The Redskins have found a formula that works, and it’s one they haven’t had for a while: strong defense and a run game. It’s why they’re 4-2, and it’s why they’re optimistic that they can continue to contend in the NFC East. Adrian Peterson has provided an attitude for the offense, while young linemen Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen have done so for the defense. They will need quarterback Alex Smith to play better if they want to be serious contenders, but for now their formula is working. — John Keim
The Cowboys enter the bye week at 3-4 in second place in the NFC East after a game-tying field goal attempt hit the upright on the final play. This team is searching for confidence, especially away from home. “You want to come up here and win this ballgame and do everything you can to scratch and claw and find a way to come out on top but unfortunately that did not happen,” coach Jason Garrett said. The Cowboys have five games remaining at AT&T Stadium, but their season could be decided with back-to-back road games against Philadelphia and Atlanta on Nov. 11 and 18. — Todd Archer
Brett Maher misses a 52-yard field goal with a chance for the Cowboys to tie the game, giving the Redskins a 20-17 victory.
Broncos coach Vance Joseph said the team’s defense “got back to what we do best” on Thursday night, when the Broncos finished with six sacks, three interceptions — they returned two for touchdowns — and the kind of effort they’ve been waiting to see for four quarters. When cornerback Bradley Roby plays with discipline in coverage, the Broncos are better equipped to play man on the outside and rush five or more defenders. The Broncos were at their best defensively against the Cardinals, but will it continue next week against the high-powered Chiefs? — Jeff Legwold
The Cardinals came pretty close to rock bottom in this one. It was a bad enough offensive performance to get offensive coordinator Mike McCoy fired on Friday morning, and it’ll be up to quarterbacks coach Byron Leftwich, who replaced McCoy, to right a ship that’s severely off course. When Arizona gets back to work Monday, it’ll be a new dawn for Josh Rosen, Larry Fitzgerald and David Johnson. — Josh Weinfuss
Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette is expected to be out through Jacksonville’s Nov. 4 bye due to his lingering right hamstring injury and will miss games Sunday against the Texans and next week in London against the Eagles, sources told ESPN.
Fournette hasn’t completed a full game this season, and his injury issues are a major reason the Jaguars traded a fifth-round draft pick to the Browns for running back Carlos Hyde on Friday.
The Jaguars want to use a power running game, but they have been unable to count on Fournette and decided they couldn’t wait around for him to get healthy.
Running back T.J. Yeldon‘s contract expires after this season, and he is scheduled to become a free agent this winter, which could leave Jacksonville down another back. The Jaguars already are without backup running back Corey Grant, who is out for the season with a foot injury.
Fournette injured his hamstring late in the first half of the season opener against the Giants and missed the next two games. He returned in Week 4 vs. the Jets but aggravated the injury late in the first half and hasn’t practiced since. He has 71 yards rushing and four catches for 19 yards.
Hyde had rushed for 382 yards and five touchdowns this season with Cleveland. He just barely missed the 1,000-yard rushing mark in each of the past two seasons with the 49ers.
ESPN’s Michael DiRocco contributed to this report.
Last week’s trends came through, with the Pittsburgh Steelers winning outright as an underdog in Cincinnati.
This week, the trends point to a couple of home underdogs — the Chicago Bears and New York Jets — continuing their success in this spot. The trends also call for a Dallas Cowboys upset win in Washington.
Here are the rest of the trends that should help you in betting the NFL this weekend.
All lines are courtesy of Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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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Bills rookie QB Josh Allen did not practice Wednesday and will not play Sunday against the Colts. Buffalo will start Derek Anderson instead. Allen, wearing a brace over his right elbow, said Wednesday that there is no timetable for his return but offered some context by mentioning next week (vs. the Patriots) or the week after (vs. the Bears) as possibilities. — Mike Rodak
Quarterback is no longer a question mark after Ryan Tannehill was ruled out this week, and Brock Osweiler will start. The Dolphins have some reinforcements coming on the defensive side of the ball with Cameron Wake (knee) and Bobby McCain (knee) returning to practice on a limited basis. Wake and McCain, two key starters, missed the last two games but have a good chance of playing Sunday vs. Detroit. — Cameron Wolfe
Starting right tackle Marcus Cannon was knocked out of Sunday’s win over the Chiefs with a concussion, which puts his availability in doubt against the Bears. That would thrust LaAdrian Waddle into the starting lineup in what would immediately become one of the top storylines of the game: Can the Patriots protect against Khalil Mack & Co.? Cannon has been in and out of the lineup the last two seasons and Waddle has proven to be a capable replacement. — Mike Reiss
The Jets are beat up, especially at wide receiver and in the secondary. They probably will be without three of their top five DBs against the Vikings — S Marcus Maye, CB Trumaine Johnson and nickel back Buster Skrine. Rookie Parry Nickerson would replace Skrine in the slot, meaning his assignment will be WR Adam Thielan. The Jets also could be without two of their top four WRs, Quincy Enunwa and Terrelle Pryor. Also, Robby Anderson is nursing a hamstring injury. — Rich Cimini
Starting left guard Alex Lewis has a pinched nerve in his neck and didn’t practice Wednesday. The Ravens haven’t officially ruled him out for Sunday’s game against the Saints. “That can heal like that,” coach John Harbaugh said while snapping his finger, “or it could take a little bit of time.” If Lewis is sidelined, Baltimore could opt to move James Hurst from right tackle to left guard and start rookie third-round pick Orlando Brown at right tackle. Lewis and cornerback Brandon Carr (knee) are the only injured players to sit out Wednesday’s practice. — Jamison Hensley
The Browns will be without their leading tackler on Sunday, as linebacker Joe Schobert is out with a hamstring pull. Chris Kirksey moves from weakside to the middle, with Genard Avery taking over primary duties outside, though that could change depending on situations. Schobert will be missed for more than his play. He calls defensive signals, and is very adept at recognizing formations for calls. — Pat McManamon
The bye week gives the already healthy Steelers the chance to heal up. Safety Morgan Burnett (groin) says he’s frustrated to miss four games but is taking the rehab process day-to-day. Linebacker L.J. Fort (ankle) expects to play Week 8 against Cleveland. — Jeremy Fowler
Deshaun Watson said on Wednesday that he feels better than he did a week ago while dealing with a chest injury. “I’m cleared to practice,” Watson said. “I’m cleared to do everything. So I’m good.” Watson said he didn’t play with any extra padding on Sunday against the Bills and that his injury didn’t affect much of his game other than playing “a little conservative as far as running the ball.” When the Texans quarterback was asked whether he felt he’d be healthy enough to play on Sunday in Jacksonville, Watson said, “I’m great.” — Sarah Barshop
Receiver Ryan Grant did not practice Wednesday after leaving Sunday’s loss at the Jets early due to an ankle sprain. Grant has been the most reliable receiver not named T.Y. Hilton on the roster this season, with 26 receptions on 37 targets to go with a touchdown. Not all was bad for the Colts on Wednesday, as Hilton practiced for the first time since injuring his hamstring in Week 4. — Mike Wells
Leonard Fournette did not practice on Wednesday and it’s unlikely he plays against Houston, which means it’s the T.J. Yeldon show again — but he didn’t practice on Wednesday either because of an ankle/foot injury. That’s likely more precautionary than anything because it’s important for Yeldon to be as healthy as possible since he’ll get the bulk of the work again even though Jamaal Charles‘ play time is expected to increase from the 17 snaps he played last week. — Michael DiRocco
Starting inside linebacker Wesley Woodyard missed two games after injuring his shoulder against the Eagles in Week 4. Woodyard was limited in practice all of last week but said he feels he is close to being able to play soon. The Titans’ run defense suffered without Woodyard, which is why Mike Vrabel is hopeful to have him back against Melvin Gordon and the Chargers this week. — Turron Davenport
The Broncos have been forced to adjust in the offensive line and players who started the season as backups will have to be up to the challenge of playing far more. Right tackle Jared Veldheer has missed the last two games with a knee injury and is not expected to play Thursday night against Arizona. That has put backup Billy Turner in the lineup there. Left guard Ron Leary also suffered a season-ending Achilles tendon injury in the loss to the Rams this past Sunday, and that will put Max Garcia in that spot against the Cardinals. Garcia and Connor McGovern, who will start at right guard Thursday night, had alternated at right guard against the Rams — until Leary was injured — because the Broncos were trying to repair some struggles against the Jets’ interior rushers the week before. It will likely force the Broncos into far more two-tight end, two-back sets as they try to keep quarterback Case Keenum out of harm’s way. — Jeff Legwold
The wait for the Chiefs’ two biggest defensive stars, safety Eric Berry and linebacker Justin Houston, appears destined to wait another week. Neither one practiced on Wednesday as the Chiefs began preparations for the Bengals. The Chiefs are trying to get by without the two but that’s difficult judging by the results last week in New England, the first time they played a full game without both players. — Adam Teicher
For a second straight week, the Chargers could be using recently signed kicker Michael Badgley as Caleb Sturgis works his way back from a strained right quad. Sturgis was a limited participant on Wednesday. Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn said whether Sturgis plays could be a game-time decision again on Sunday. Badgley made a 44-yard field goal and all five of his extra points in his first action for the Chargers against the Browns last week. — Eric D. Williams
Linebacker Sean Lee was limited in his first practice since suffering a hamstring injury against Seattle on Sept. 23. The Cowboys have their bye week after Sunday’s game at Washington, but if Lee is healthy enough to play, he will play, according to Jason Garrett. The Cowboys have not missed Lee as much as they have in the past, with Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch performing well in his absence. With his return, the Cowboys will have a good ‘problem,’ and work out a rotation between the three of them like they had before Lee was hurt. Defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence did not work a full practice, as he is working through a shoulder injury that limited his work to mostly passing situations last week and could continue to do the same this week. — Todd Archer
It looks as if tight end Evan Engram will return Monday night against the Falcons. Engram has missed three games with a sprained MCL, but he was moving well at practice on Tuesday and expects to play this week. This should open up the middle of the field a little bit for the struggling Giants offense. — Jordan Raanan
Both offensive tackles are hobbled, but will push to suit up against the Panthers. Left tackle Jason Peters is going to play through a reported torn biceps while Lane Johnson, who missed Wednesday’s practice, is trying to gut through a high ankle sprain. Slot corner Sidney Jones (hamstring) is likely to miss some time, and the secondary is already without S Rodney McLeod. It will be a patchwork group Sunday, with rookie Avonte Maddox a candidate to move into the nickel role for Jones. — Tim McManus
The Redskins, as usual, have key players banged up. Receiver Jamison Crowder is already unlikely to play because of an ankle injury. So the key focus will be on the offensive backfield, where Chris Thompson (ribs/knee) and Adrian Peterson (ankle/knee/shoulder) are hurting. Peterson did not practice Wednesday, but he played through quite a bit of pain last week. Thompson felt better Wednesday and is more optimistic about playing Sunday than he was at any point a week ago. But it still remains uncertain. — John Keim
Bears head coach Matt Nagy told reporters on Wednesday that he planned to play it safe with star pass rusher Khalil Mack, who suffered a right ankle injury in last week’s overtime loss to Miami. “He’s day-to-day right now,” Nagy said of Mack. “We’re just going to continue to keep an eye on it and make sure whatever we do, we’re more cautious than anything. I believe in that and I think it’s important to go that route.” The Bears are still hopeful that Mack will play against the Patriots on Sunday. — Jeff Dickerson
The Lions received positive news Wednesday when T.J. Lang returned to practice on a limited basis after missing two weeks with a concussion. Coming off the bye, Detroit looks fairly healthy (Ezekiel Ansah, Kerryon Johnson and Michael Roberts practiced, too). The biggest level of concern is going to be running back Theo Riddick, who surprisingly sat out Wednesday’s practice with a knee injury. His status would be something to watch — and if he were somehow unable to go, then Ameer Abdullah could see an uptick in his workload, which is currently minimal. — Michael Rothstein
Randall Cobb and Geronimo Allison were close to returning last week. With the bye this week, there’s a good chance the Packers could have both receivers back from their hamstring injuries for what will be the start of their most difficult stretch of the season — at the Rams, at the Patriots, home against the Dolphins, at the Seahawks (on a short week) and at the Vikings. — Rob Demovsky
What kept Linval Joseph out of practice on Wednesday is described as an ankle, knee and shoulder injury, further pointing to why Minnesota re-signed David Parry this week for depth at nose tackle. Mike Zimmer made it sound like Riley Reiff‘s foot injury isn’t a long-term concern, but the left tackle missed his fourth straight practice along with Andrew Sendejo (groin) and Everson Griffen (not football related). The good news? After being a late scratch against Arizona, Dalvin Cook (hamstring) returned to practice in full, as did Tashawn Bower (ankle), who was also sidelined in Week 6. — Courtney Cronin
Defensive tackle Grady Jarrett‘s status remains somewhat of a mystery coming off an ankle injury that has sidelined him the last two games. Coach Dan Quinn continues to sound optimistic about Jarrett’s possible return, but it probably won’t be certain until Jarrett comes off the injury report. The Falcons sure could use him in the middle up front, with Giants rookie Saquon Barkley sure to challenge the entire defense Monday night. — Vaughn McClure
Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen was listed as a limited participant in practice after his return on Sunday from re-fracturing his right foot. But no need to hit the panic button. Coach Ron Rivera calls that the new norm for Olsen, who will get as much rest on possible during the week so as not to stress the foot. Production-wise, Olsen got off to a good start in his first game back with four catches on seven targets for 48 yards. — David Newton
Top cornerback Marshon Lattimore practiced fully on Wednesday, which is a great sign that he is on track to return from his Week 5 concussion (though he is still awaiting official clearance through the NFL’s concussion protocol). On the flip side, WR Ted Ginn Jr. missed practice Wednesday with the knee injury that also sidelined him in Week 5. That’s not a great sign for Ginn coming off of the bye week, but we’ll learn more about his potential availability on Thursday and Friday. If Ginn can’t play Sunday at Baltimore, that should obviously mean bigger roles for Tre’Quan Smith and Cameron Meredith again after they both stepped up in Ginn’s absence two weeks ago. — Mike Triplett
Six-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy left last week’s game against the Falcons with a calf injury and subsequently missed Wednesday’s practice. Defensive end Vinny Curry, who has become one of their best run stoppers up front, also missed Wednesday’s practice with an ankle injury. Cornerback Carlton Davis, who has been dealing with a groin injury, now has a back injury too. On a positive note, cornerback Ryan Smith, who left the Falcons game to be evaluated for a concussion, is not in the protocol. — Jenna Laine
Right guard Justin Pugh is questionable for Thursday night’s game against the Broncos with a broken left hand. He said Wednesday his status for the game will be determined by pain tolerance more than anything. He’ll have it wrapped and hopefully be able to have his fingers free to use against defenders, but the swelling in the hand has gone down significantly from Sunday, when he injured it. — Josh Weinfuss
Receiver Cooper Kupp suffered a knee sprain against the Broncos that will sideline him against the 49ers. Josh Reynolds has proved to be a capable backup and is expected to start in Kupp’s absence. Kicker Greg Zuerlein, who has been sidelined since he suffered a groin injury in pregame warmups in Week 2, is expected to return, which should provide the Rams a reliable safety net for points inside opposing territory. — Lindsey Thiry
The 49ers are again facing multiple injuries, but the cornerback position is the most up in the air this week, which isn’t exactly good timing with the high-powered Rams coming to town. Cornerbacks Jimmie Ward (hamstring), K’Waun Williams (shoulder) and Ahkello Witherspoon (concussion) are considered day-to-day this week. The Niners are hopeful they will have at least some of them back but either way, the Niners will likely enter Sunday’s matchup with concerns at the position. — Nick Wagoner
The Seahawks head into their bye in good shape health-wise after making it out of their last two games without any significant injuries. Furthermore, reinforcements are on the way. Linebacker K.J. Wright and tight end Ed Dickson will likely practice next week, according to Pete Carroll, and will have a chance to make their 2018 debuts on Oct. 28 at Detroit. Carroll sounded confident that Dickson would be available for that game, but stopped short of saying definitively that either will play. He said Wright “has had a couple really good days” in his recovery from a late-August knee score and that “he’ll practice with us and complete to to play next week when we return.” — Brady Henderson
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
I got a flat tire on the way home from LaGuardia on Monday and it got me thinking. First, I thought, “This isn’t going to help me make deadline on this week’s What We Learned column.” Then I thought, “Unless I use this experience in the column lead!”
Maybe it’s a stretch and maybe it’s too meta, but when you’re changing a tire in a rainy parking lot in Mamaroneck, New York, on your way home from rainy Cleveland, you’ve got to find some way to make it work for you.
So what I want to look at here is a couple of teams who were sitting on the side of the road with flat tires in September but now, for one reason or another, find themselves with a chance to make something of their seasons — teams we may have felt like abandoning on the side of the road after the first few weeks but who have roared (or crawled, or lucked) back into contention by mid-October. A 16-game season sounds short, but it’s amazing how much time you actually have to turn things around in this NFL. Unless you’re the Raiders.
This is the weirdest one, because the Texans have rebounded from an 0-3 start with three straight wins for which they seem to have been only partially responsible.
They beat the Colts in overtime after Indy coach Frank Reich went for it on fourth down and didn’t get it. They beat the Cowboys in overtime after Jason Garrett didn’t go for it on fourth down. And they beat the Bills after Josh Allen got hurt and Buffalo had to put Nathan Intercepterman in the game at quarterback.
The Texans are three funny bounces away from being 0-6. They’re the Giants’ only win, which obviously doesn’t scream “playoff contender.” But 3-3 is good enough to be tied for first in the moribund AFC South. They were a preseason favorite in that division for a reason. J.J. Watt looks totally rejuvenated. And Houston’s remaining schedule rates among the easiest in the league. The Texans are in this thing.
Seattle started 0-2 with road losses at Denver and Chicago but has won three of its past four and lost by only two to the undefeated Rams. Now, that’s no small loss, since the Rams sit three games ahead of the Seahawks in their own division. But at 3-3, Seattle’s in a midpack NFC jumble out of which two wild-card teams must eventually emerge. The Seahawks sacked Derek Carr six times Sunday in London, and if the Frank Clark-led pass rush can dominate like that, it will allow the young Legion of Boom replacements in the secondary some time to develop.
On offense, Seattle appears determined to sit out the NFL’s high-octane passing-game revolution. But the Seahawks have rushed for at least 100 yards in each of their past four games, which is how they want to play it. Could Pete Carroll’s bunch bore the rest of the NFC wild-card field into submission?
I wrote about the Chargers on Sunday off their victory in Cleveland, so I’ll keep this short. They were 1-2 and have won three in a row to move within a game of Kansas City, and they don’t play a team that currently has a winning record until their Steelers/Bengals/Chiefs/Ravens gantlet to open December. They could have Joey Bosa back by then.
Another preseason darling, Minnesota was 1-2-1 after a Week 4 loss to the Rams. The Vikings rebounded with a signature Week 5 victory in Philadelphia, avenging their NFC Championship Game loss to the eventual Super Bowl champs, then beat the Cardinals on Sunday to move within a half-game of the first-place Bears.
Kirk Cousins is red-hot to start the season, completing 71.2 percent of his passes while ranking fourth in the league in passing yards with 12 touchdown throws against just three interceptions. No one is playing the receiver position better than Adam Thielen, the ground game finally got going in Week 6, and the defense appears to be putting it together after a rough start. Minnesota’s Nov. 25 rematch with the Packers could loom large, as the winner (if there is one!) will hold a tiebreaker edge over the loser. Of course, that’ll matter only if the Bears drop a few more puzzlers like they did Sunday in Miami.
When our man Jeremy Fowler reported two weeks ago that Le’Veon Bell was planning to report to the Steelers after the bye, we suggested in this space that the Steelers could easily lose to Atlanta and Cincinnati and be 1-4-1 by the time that happened. Instead, they drubbed the Falcons and broke the Bengals’ hearts as usual, so they sit a half-game out of the Cincinnati/Baltimore first-place tie.
James Conner already has three games this season with 100 or more rushing yards and two or more touchdowns. Bell has had only three such games in his career. So when/if Bell does return, Pittsburgh will either be stacked at running back or be able to trade Bell for a helpful defensive player and/or nice draft pick. The Ravens’ AFC-leading plus-76 point differential is daunting, and until the final minute Sunday the Bengals had played as well as any AFC team this side of Kansas City. But Pittsburgh knows what it’s like to turn it on in the second half, and the Steelers are sure to be heard from before this is all over.
What? They’ve won two in a row after a 1-3 start. And their plus-26 point differential is only two worse than New England’s. I’m not saying the Jets are a threat to steal the division from the Patriots, but they sure don’t look like a lot of fun to play. Sam Darnold completed EIGHTY percent of his passes in Sunday’s victory over the Colts. Now, the Jets were 3-3 last year and finished 5-11. So let’s see them navigate this upcoming Vikings/Bears/Dolphins stretch before believing. But if the 3-3 Seahawks are on this list, the 3-3 Jets have to be on it, too.
Come on. You weren’t REALLY worried about them at 1-2, were you? We’ve seen this movie before.
Couple of other things we learned in Week 6:
Baker Mayfield reflects on the Browns’ 38-14 loss to the Chargers, saying their execution was poor and admits that he is “at fault for the majority of it.”
Progress is hardly ever smooth, and what the Browns are doing takes time
Cleveland was bummed after Sunday’s 38-14 loss to the Chargers. It was the first game this season the Browns didn’t have a real chance to win, and it dropped them to 2-3-1. Grouchy players left the locker room without doing their postgame interviews. The sense was that it was especially disappointing to be noncompetitive because the Browns consider themselves a team ready to take the next step. When I spoke with wideout Jarvis Landry before the game, he said the first five games were exciting but also resulted in a “want for more.”
It’s easy to look at this year’s Browns and believe more is on the way. Baker Mayfield is an exciting young quarterback. Myles Garrett is a superstar edge rusher. Neither fit those descriptions Sunday, but there are days like that. This year, the difference is that the Browns have had days opposite of that. They are a competitive team, after a long stretch of not being one. They probably are not yet a playoff team, but that doesn’t mean they’re not pointing that way.
I believe they will win more games this year, and ideally build on the positive experiences and spin them into next year as they work their way toward legitimate contender status. Everyone may want the overnight turnaround the Rams made last year, but the reality is that, when you’re coming from where the Browns are coming from, it usually takes time. The Bears went through a similar wake-up call Sunday, losing to Miami with a dud of a defensive effort that reminded their fans that maybe they’re not ready to go from doormat to juggernaut after just one offseason. Chicago’s further along than Cleveland, but both of those results Sunday served notice that building a winner takes time, and that progress is very rarely a smooth line in the upward direction.
The ugly time of the year is upon us
Some years it starts earlier than others. Remember the Bengals firing their offensive coordinator last season after two games? This year, it took a little while longer, but the Buccaneers let go of defensive coordinator Mike Smith on Monday after another noncompetitive defensive effort against Atlanta.
Two years ago, when the Bucs were 9-7, Smith’s defense was one of the hot second-half stories in the league and he was interviewing for head-coaching jobs. Things can turn around quickly in Smith’s chosen profession, as he well knows, and sometimes there’s not much you can do about it. The Buccaneers’ secondary isn’t exactly teeming with potential solutions to a coordinator’s problems this year.
Smith’s mid-October firing is a signal to coaches and coordinators of underachieving units that the time has arrived. Teams that expected more than they’re seeing in the standings right now (the Broncos jump to mind as an example) aren’t going to be shy about making changes to try to get things moving back in the right direction before it’s too late. More often than not, those changes involve coaches, and in-season that usually means coordinators. Smith was the first to go this year, but he’s not likely to be the last.
It was Crosby’s fourth field goal of the night. He was good from 29, 39 and 51 yards before the game winner. He also made all three of his extra points for a perfect night.
“It’s very apropos,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “What he went through last week and the team to stick with him, and the guys to kind of wrap our arms around him and encourage him the way we do for our teammates was great. And then he responded. The crowd was very encouraging. I was trying to figure out at first if it was kind of a sarcastic cheer, but I felt like it was a pretty heartfelt encouragement after he made four field goals and three extra points. Obviously very happy afterwards and we were very happy for him.”
Eight days earlier in Detroit, Crosby was surrounded by cameras in the visitor’s locker room after the Packers’ loss to the Lions and he said: “I don’t get this much attention unless it’s really bad or extremely good.”
The crowd around him was even bigger in the victorious home locker room at Lambeau Field.
Mason Crosby expresses his thoughts on his game-winning field goal and how it feels to bounce back after missing five kicks against the Lions.
“Gosh, just so thankful for the Packers organization and my teammates just sticking with me knowing I’ve bounced back a lot in my career,” said Crosby, a 12-year veteran. “I had no days like last week, but this is a special one. This is one of my better days. And to be able to go out there and perform the way I did after last week [was great]. Did a lot of soul-searching this week and made sure I really locked in on my preparation, and it paid off.”
Crosby said he appreciated Rodgers and the offense making the game winner a “chip shot,” as he called it.
He said the more nerve-racking kick was the extra point to tie the game at 30 after Rodgers hit Davante Adams for a 16-yard touchdown with 1:55 left.
“The extra point to tie the game was the one that I was a little more amped up for, making sure I knocked that through,” Crosby said. “But that last one was just kind of muscle memory. The snap came, I felt like I was pretty quick on it and everything was perfect. The protection was great. I felt guys kind of diving in front of me right after, but I was in the zone. It’s special whenever it all comes together that way, and I’m just so thankful for the week of work I had and the guys, how much they never wavered from how they felt about me. To be able to come through like this after a week like I had last week is pretty special.”
An interception by Kevin King with 1:07 left gave the ball back to Rodgers. An illegal contact penalty on 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman wiped out a third-down sack that would’ve killed the drive. Rodgers scrambled on his gimpy left knee for 21 yards, hit Adams for 8 and then rookie Equanimeous St. Brown made a stellar sideline catch for 19 yards, followed by another one to Adams for 19 to set up the game winner.
“That last drive there was unreal,” Crosby said. “The chemistry that this locker room has, everyone is always bringing each other up, trying to make sure that we have each other’s back. Like I said, the guys never wavered from how they felt about me as a man and as a football player. They knew that I worked really hard this week to make sure that I would come through if I was called on this week for this game. Like I said, I’m tired. I’m glad we have the bye week and [I’m] ready to keep moving forward.”
The Packers enter their bye week at 3-2-1 and have four of their next five on the road, beginning at the Rams and at the Patriots. But at least they’re on an emotional high thanks in part to Crosby.
“That’s exactly the way you want to see it end,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “Frankly I wish he didn’t need to kick as many field goals as he did tonight, but yeah definitely, that was a big bounce-back game for Mason and really for our football team. We needed that win.”
And Crosby needed those kicks.
“This week was a grind,” said Crosby, who has made 83.4 percent of his field goals since his career-worst year of 63.6 percent in 2012. “It was one of the tougher weeks of my career just making sure that I didn’t overreact, overanalyze everything. I really did a great job of just locking in and making sure I had good tempo and I kind of just flushed last week and made sure that if I was called upon again this week I was going to come through. Honestly, I had a 51-yarder tonight. When I’m going out there, I was just thankful for another opportunity to hit a kick and felt just really solid with my performance.”