Fantasy Football Intelligence: R-E-L-A-X

Fantasy Football Intelligence: R-E-L-A-X
September 10, 2019

The headline is a reference to Aaron Rodgers or perhaps Frankie Goes to Hollywood, but this week’s theme is really about The Who.  Can You See The Real Me?

We finally got to see all 32 teams play a game that counts, but what did we really see? Austin Ekeler is on pace for 48 TDs. Case Keenum looked like Aaron Rodgers. Patrick Mahomes played like, well, Patrick Mahomes.

In the presence of only a small amount of data, we imbue the data we have with outsized importance. This is why a five game losing streak for the Sox in April bothers us more than the same losing streak in August – maybe not a good example this year, but more on point, it is why too many fantasy owners are freaking out about their team’s performance after about 7% of the season has been played. Today we will take a quick spin through the games and talk about what is real, what isn’t, what is actionable, and what requires more data before drawing conclusions about our fantasy futures.

Patience is prudent now more than ever since so many teams rested their starters in the preseason. It is not a surprise that so many of these games looked more like week 3 of the preseason than the season opener.

Patriots 33 – Steelers 3: Since we are Pats fans at NH1, I’ll go deep on this one – the rest of the capsules will be much shorter.

If you haven’t already, be sure to watch Do Your Job Part III (America’s Game was good too, but IMHO, DYJIII was better). I watched it on Wednesday and I was hit by something Belichick said, speaking about how he and McDaniels spoke late in the season and he said in effect, “We can keep throwing it 40-50 times, but if we want to win, we need to think about what we do really well that will help us accomplish what we are trying to do.” It was from that discussion that they started morphing into the power run team that they became in the playoffs.

When the Patriots signed AB on Saturday, that quote came back to me. I realized that the Patriots are not first and foremost a running team, they are first and foremost a winning team. It isn’t that they can’t win if Brady throws 40 times, it was that the power run strategy was their best chance to win last year. That is not necessarily the case now and even less so if Antonio Brown actually behaves himself. I immediately grabbed Tom Brady off the waiver wire and started him.

So what was real last night? The Patriots are for real. Not a newsflash. We saw a lot of big formation personnel last night, but Brady passed quite a bit and the play action game was deadly. The Patriots defense is also real. They will be sound, but generally they play safer coverages (lots of 6-7 DBs) so other teams may get more sacks and turnovers. However, the Patriots have some soft targets on the schedule for the next six or seven weeks so they should score well. The Patriots spread the running and catching around, so Michel, Gordon, Edelman (and eventually AB) will have their moments, but the targets and carries will vary week to week. Don’t pick up Dorsett; his role is unclear going forward and Pittsburgh was starting a safety from the AAFL letting him run free. Usually the Patriots’ goal line back is good for double digit scores and that is still probably Michel, though he didn’t get home last night. Note: with 40% turnover on the O-line plus the retirement of a pre-eminent blocking TE, against the team that led the league in sacks last year, Brady got sacked once. If a Michel owner you know is panicking, by all means go out and get him if there is a discount. He is still a high end RB2.

Pittsburgh did not look good. They played an elite team last night so we need to see them against different competition before pushing the panic button. James Conner made a couple of plays, but the Steelers got away from the run early and he was a non-factor most of the night. JuJu did not get open nearly enough and the Patriots took him away with just Gilmore much of the night. Big Ben struggled to find open receivers and the Steelers second tier receivers didn’t get open consistently. Some recommended Vance McDonald on draft day. We did not. The Steelers have Seattle at home next week; if they score less than 24 points it will be cause for some concern.

Chargers 30 – Colts 24 (OT): The Chargers are real, solid contenders. Other than Mike Williams (injured), use your Chargers with confidence. Monitor the RB situation – if/when Gordon comes back (likely by Oct/Nov) it may get messy. Hunter Henry did not break out, but he should be fine. Keenan Allen got through the game healthy and was productive – not always a given. The Colts were also very encouraging with Mack and Hilton putting up big numbers. The TEs were not involved in the offense this week, but that may not be a trend. The Colts defense got pushed around, but very few defenses should start against the Chargers. Colts visit Tennessee next week. They can win 8-10 games without Luck. Adam Vinatieri had perhaps the worst game of his career. Hopefully he is not your kicker.

Seahawks 21 – Bengals 20: Most expected a Seahawks blowout. Andy Dalton threw for over 400 yards in Seattle. The Bengals could not run effectively (Mixon left the game) or they might have pulled the upset. The Seahawks Chris Carson got a great opportunity share and two TDs. Despite the 44 yard TD, Tyler Lockett was troublingly ignored. The takeaway is that there will be weeks where Seattle only passes 20 times and it will be tough for Lockett (or rookie D.K. Metcalf who looked good) to be productive. Russell Wilson is great, but he is not in a situation suited to high productivity on a weekly basis. Seattle’s defense was a disappointment, they will have a tougher test in Pittsburgh next week, but do not look top 10. Andy Dalton threw 51 times and while he may not do that every week, he will throw a lot. John Ross had the game of his career and at some point A.J. Green will be back, making Ross the likely 3rd option. He’s worth a flyer if you need help at WR, but I am not sold yet. Dalton may be a streaming option or a QB2 in leagues starting two. Cincinnati gets SF at home next week, which should give a good read on them. Joe Mixon left the game, but the injury doesn’t appear serious. Watch the injury reports though, you may need to replace him for next week.

Cowboys 35 – Giants 17: I’m reminded of Denny Green who said, “They are who we thought they were.” The Giants are bad, as advertised. Eli played fairly well and it still was not close. On the bright side, Barkley and Engram both look like they will live up to their fantasy billing, though Barkley lost a late TD to Wayne Gallman. Sterling Shepard went out with a concussion; if he is lucky, he won’t remember this game. Do not roster any other Giants other than in the deepest leagues and don’t look at the defense, it is ugly. The Cowboys studs, Zeke and Cooper, produced and Prescott and Gallup both look like they have starter upside. We won’t really know what they are made of until the go to New Orleans in week 4, but if Gallup is sitting on the waiver wire, grab him. Dallas defense remains stream-worthy, though they did not do much this week.

49ers 31 – Buccaneers 17: Speaking of ugly…when I predicted the 49ers to double their wins, this wasn’t what I had in mind. Jimmy G. is not playing well enough and other than George Kittle, he is taking the rest of the offense down with him. Remove the pick 6’s and the Niners scored 17 points. Kittle had two TDs called back by penalty in a sloppy game. Tevin Coleman and Matt Breida both got hurt, but Breida came back and Coleman looks like he will miss time. If he is healthy, Breida may have some use @ Cincy next week. The Bucs looked brutal. Winston threw three picks and looked horrible. Godwin and Evans (illness) COMBINED for 5 catches and 81 yards. Owners are preparing to kick Jameis to the curb, but before doing so, make sure your replacement is going to throw 35 times a week because Winston will still be high volume. Try and hold him through week 3 vs. NYG. Start someone else next week @ Panthers if you have a good option and you lack the stomach for chucking and ducking.

Packers 10 – Bears 3: This is one of those faux pre-season contests. The defenses looked great and if the Pack are on your waiver wire they have 8-10 games this season where they look viable. Aaron Rodgers’ numbers were not good, but he is still Aaron Rodgers. Other than Mahomes, he is the best thrower in the league and he makes plays. They have three home games in a row against good defenses starting with Minnesota next week. We’ll know a lot about the offense very soon. Aaron Jones was ineffective but will have better days. The Pack did next to nothing offensively in the first and third quarters, so nobody had good stats. Marquez Valdes-Scantling looks equal to or better than Geronimo Allison. The Bears defense is as advertised. The offense looked like a group that did not play in the pre-season. Allen Robinson got good target share but I am not clear that will be the case every week. There may be less offense than we thought spread among more people. David Montgomery looked good, but Matt Nagy remained committed to a time share with Mike Davis and Tarik Cohen. They visit Denver in week 2 which will tell us more about both teams.

Chiefs 40 – Jaguars 26: Similar to Pats/Steelers, we learned more about the Chiefs than the Jags. The offense looked fantastic and the defense did enough. Tyreek Hill’s injury could be a few weeks or a few months, but it looks like he will avoid IR. Either way, congratulations to Sammy Watkins owners. He is still as injury prone as ever, but his upside goes from 1,000 yards/9 TDs to 1,300 yards/14 TDs depending on how long Hill sits. He should light up Oakland next week. Shady McCoy will definitely eat into the value of Damien Williams and he is worth a roster spot. If Williams goes down it could be a bonanza. If they both play, both have RB2 potential. I’m not as high on Mecole Hardman or Demarcus Robinson putting up consistent points. Jacksonville had a tough day. They had a power outage in the stadium, Miles Jack got the boot and Nick Foles is lost for the foreseeable future. He just had surgery and is headed for IR. Rookie Gardner Minshew performed well (22/25 275 yards, 2 TDs) but he doesn’t have a track record. The Jags traded for Steelers #3 Joshua Dobbs, so Foles won’t be back anytime soon. This tempers my enthusiasm for Dede Westbrook and D.J. Chark who had a great performance with 4/146 and a TD as well as Chris Conley (6/97/TD). Unless I am a Hill owner looking for a temporary replacement, I would not be looking for these guys. Leonard Fournette ran well but was not a part of the game plan once Jax fell behind. The Jags defense let up 40 points, but see what they do against an offense that isn’t other-worldly before cutting bait, even though the loss of Foles hurts them too.

Vikings 28 – Falcons 12: This was a more interesting fantasy game than a real game. Minnesota dominated Atlanta. They played a terrific game and only threw it 10 times. It was an extreme example of their plan, but it was great news for Dalvin Cook, who is looking like a top 5 back and bad news for Kirk Cousins, Adam Thielen and Stefan Diggs, all of whom were low on my board for just this reason. Minnesota’s D had four sacks and three turnovers against a good offense. They have some tasty matchups on the schedule – keep them on your radar. Atlanta’s two garbage time TDs salvaged the day for Matt Ryan and Julio Jones. It is reasonable to consider this as bad as it will get for Matt Ryan and he still managed 300 yards and 2 TDs. Julio caught a TD so we won’t have to hear about his TD woes. Austin Hooper, who was higher on my board than most, caught 9 for 77 while in catch-up mode. It was a bad day for Devonta Freeman, but it was also horrible game flow for him. If this becomes a trend it could be a problem for Freeman owners and his next three games are vs. PHI, @ IND and vs. TEN, all of whom play the run pretty well.

TEN 43 – Cleveland 13: If you followed this blog, you are not surprised by this. Tennessee played well and even with erratic Marcus Mariota, Derrick Henry looks like a stud. Delanie Walker seems recovered and if you don’t like your TE and he’s available, I endorse picking him up. Like Minnesota and Seattle, I don’t think the WRs here have enough opportunity to be consistently productive and both of the other teams have better QBs. A.J. Brown’s 100 yards look nice, but it was three catches and I am not interested in rolling the dice week to week. The defense is stream-worthy. Cleveland’s spirit animal must be Rex Ryan. Lots of talk, drama and overconfidence. You can see my detailed opinion in earlier blogs where I faded Cleveland based on the tough early schedule and the likelihood that Freddie Kitchens will be out-coached most weeks. All of a sudden, next week’s game @ Jets on Monday night feels important with the Rams and Ravens coming behind them. Nevertheless, no need to fire sale your Browns and they will likely have a great run in the second half of the season when the schedule eases. The O-line was weak and Mayfield and Chubb paid the price. Chubb had a quiet 75 yards and had a TD vultured. Beckham got a fair share of targets, but I would be hesitant to start Landry or Higgins and i would consider Njoku TD dependent. Cleveland’s D played okay, but the offense kept them on their heels with turnovers.

Bills 17 – Jets 16:  A tale of two halves. The Jets started out well, turning over the Bills 4x in the first half including a TD. The Jets defense under Gregg Williams can make plays, though the corners will be exploited either by Cleveland next week or New England in week three, or both. Sam Darnold was disappointing, not executing as well as he did in the preseason or at the end of last year. You are probably not starting him and if you listened to me and stashed him, hang on and see how he looks against the softer part of the schedule in mid-season. Or you could cut him and monitor him. Buffalo has a decent defense and both of these teams have two games with Miami and one with Washington so stream away when appropriate. Offensively, Bell looks like a big part of the Jets offense and should be a RB1. Robby Anderson is banged up but remains their upside receiver unless you have Jamison Crowder in PPR who managed to parlay 14 catches into only 99 yards and no scores. Josh Allen still has a long way to go with his throwing, but he bails himself out with his legs. He will have plenty of weeks when he is viable, but consistency remains a concern. John Brown had 7 catches/123 yards and a TD. Nice numbers and maybe worth a pickup, but remember that this is not a throwing team and Brown will be hit or miss. Devin Singletary showed that he deserves more playing time and if you drafted him as a RB3, you’ll be rewarded.

Ravens 59 – Dolphins 10: We learned for sure that Miami stinks. Actively stream defenses against them and stay away from all of their offensive players (they did not appear on the FFI draft board). We learned that Baltimore might be better than we thought. Lamar Jackson looked terrific and Marquise Brown is worth a waiver pickup, especially if you just lost Tyreek Hill. If available, he is right at the top of WR options depending on how deep your league is. The Ravens were dominant. They should be pretty good at home against Arizona next week too. It will be interesting to see what this offense does in KC in week three. Last year, Baltimore played them very tough. TE Mark Andrews and RB Mark Ingram both had 100+ yards and scores (Ingram had 2). Feel good about starting both of them for the next few weeks at least. The Ravens defense is a worthwhile play against the Cardinals next week.

Eagles 32 – Redskins 27: The Skins needed a meaningless late score to cover this game, but it was close for a half. We learned that the Eagles may not be as elite as we thought or that the Skins might not be quite as bad. Case Keenum threw accurately and Washington’s corps of no name receivers did very well. They have home games with Dallas and Chicago the next two weeks, which seems daunting. The Giants in week 4, much less so. No sooner was Derrius Guice handed the #1 role than he went out with an injury on the leg that wasn’t operated on. If you already have him, don’t cut him, but don’t run to grab him. Expect Adrian Peterson to dress next week. Keenum is not worth rostering, but Terry McLaurin (who I am dying to call McLovin) might be. He had 5/125 and a TD and with the Skins often playing from behind, he should be active. I’d consider him with M. Brown, right along with a couple others, including DeSean Jackson who had a monster game (8/154/2). The only thing scaring me about D-Jax is the wide array of targets in Philly, but he is on the radar along with Brown and McLovin. The Eagles did not play their best game and still won going away. Wentz, who we were high on at the draft, shook off the rust faster than others who did not play preseason and he has an array of weapons. It was a quiet week for Zach Ertz, but no reason to panic; Wentz will take what the defense gives him, which will vary week to week. The backfield is crowded. Miles Sanders looked the best, but Darren Sproles got touches and Jordan Howard still looms as a time-share and/or goal line back. If you have to take a chance on one of them, depending on your rules, try Sanders. The Philly defense was a disappointment against what we thought was a weak offense, but we need more data. They are not recommended next week in Atlanta.

Rams 30 – Panthers 27: For a guy not on a snap count, Todd Gurley sure looked like a guy on a snap count. Malcolm Brown had 11 carries for 52 yards and two short yardage 2 TDs, so if you are not handcuffing Gurley with him, you should be. That is the bad news. The good news is that Gurley had 14 carries for 97 yards and on occasion, looked fairly spry. When the game was on the line he played and did well. I own a share of him because I couldn’t resist in the middle of the 4th round, but I stand by my statement that Gurley may not be there when fantasy owners need him most, and to roster him without Brown is even more perilous. The rest of the Rams offense also looked like they took the preseason off, which they did. Goff made some uncharacteristically bad decisions and the offense was not smooth. Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp ate up most of the targets, but Tyler Higbee caught Goff’s only TD pass. Brandon Cooks was not particularly involved. Nevertheless, despite the lackluster performance on offense, they managed to beat the Panthers on the road. Even though they let up 27 points, the Rams defense generated pressure and caused turnovers. They will have some big games when opponents are playing catch up, but they may have another shootout next week with the Saints. If you have a backup or streaming option, consider it. If you were playing any Panther other than Christian McCaffrey, you were disappointed. Newton did not throw a TD and the best of the receivers, D.J. Moore, gained 76 yards but fumbled. McCaffrey had 29 touches, over 200 yards and 2 TDs, looking very much like the top 3 back he is. Those 10 receptions are especially sweet for PPR folks. With the next two games at home with Tampa and then in Arizona, the good times should continue to roll. In fact, look for Newton and the others to get healthy next week. If an impatient owner drops Curtis Samuel’s 3/32 for one of the hundred yard receivers from this week, grab him.

Cardinals 27 – Lions 27: For three quarters, Kyler Murray was what I thought he’d be and the Cardinals struggled. I still think there will still be some stinkers ahead, but he righted the ship in the 4th and OT and rewarded owners who have more faith than I with 300 yards and 2 TDs. I still don’t trust him, but he brought his team back. The ageless Larry Fitzgerald still got downfield to the tune of 8/113 and a TD. He might be on the wire, and if he is, it looks like he will be a contributor again this year. My preseason choice Christian Kirk had some play too, including a two point conversion, but only delivered 4/32. David Johnson capped off his day with a 27 yard TD pass, getting him over 100 yards and a score. It comes down to how much you believe in this offense. They got it done late yesterday, but I’m still in Missouri – show me. Matt Patricia had everything under control until late in the 4th quarter. The Lions were trying to ice the game and a miscommunication led to a time out on a play that looked like it would lead to the game clinching first down. They ended up not converting and the rest was Kyler Murray history. The Lions ended up passing far more than expected and Matt Stafford accounted for 385 yards and 3 TDs. He may be forced to sling it the next three games against the Chargers, Eagles and Chiefs so if you are in a super deep league looking to replace Nick Foles, or if you are a disgusted Jameis Winston owner, he might be worth a start. Be careful though, you may be relying on garbage time points and that is always a risky proposition. The hot Lions coming into the draft were Kerryon Johnson and Kenny Golladay. Golladay caught a TD, but neither reached 50 yards. Neither is a candidate to cut at this point, but manage your expectations. Marlon Mack ran through the Chargers, so there is hope for Johnson; Golladay will have some opportunities too with the injuries on the Chargers defense, but neither could get loose against a much weaker Arizona squad. In addition to Stafford, the Lions were led by rookie TE T.J. Hockenson who had 6/131 and a TD. He looks like the real deal and is worth an add since he looks like a meaningful part of the offense. Danny Amendola added 7/104 and a TD, but that seems far less sustainable as the team’s third WR.

Saints 30 – Texans 28: One of the more fun games of the weekend. Both offenses moved the ball and both teams look like contenders. Brees threw for 370 yards and 2 TDs with Thomas, Ginn and Kamara combining for 24 catches. Thomas picked up where he left off as a target monster. Neither he nor Kamara scored, but both were well over 100 yards and will provide the lion’s share of the offense. Latavius Murray will have a role and is one of the better handcuffs. If you have the room, he is worth a stash in the event Kamara gets hurt. Ted Ginn went over 100 yards, but he is a hit or miss deep threat. As we saw last year, Brees spreads it around; the TDs went to Trequan Smith and Taysom Hill. Will Lutz won the game with a 58 yard FG and will be a top scorer. The Saints D registered six sacks, due to a strong rush and the Texans’ still weak pass blocking and despite the addition of LT Laremy Tunsil. Despite the weak line, Deshaun Watson ran and threw effectively; if they improve at all, he might be even more scary. As is, Watson had a hand in every Texans TD and might give Mahomes a run for the MVP if he can stay healthy. He was in the tent a few times with what looks like a back injury. The Texans had one of their better running games with Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson combining for 180 yards. Even with that success, they did not get play around the goal line with Watson connecting with Hopkins from 2 yards out and the other scores coming from outside 10 yards. Hyde looked better than expected but saw only 11 touches. His fantasy significance may only be to serve as a limit on Duke Johnson, but monitor the usage. None of the Texans secondary receivers merit consideration at this point, but Hopkins looks reliable and may be the top WR when all is said and done. Kenny Stills got some play in the slot but Keke Coutee was out so stay tuned. Other than Murray as a handcuff, no recommended pickups here – the fireworks came from the regulars.

Raiders 24 – Broncos 16: Call it the F.U.A.B. game. Despite missing their starting guards, the Raiders took it to Denver in the final MNF in Oakland. There is no question that Oakland came to play, but they beat Denver 27-14 in Oakland in week 16 prime time last year. They stunk then and I’m not sold on them now. That said, the offensive line looked better than expected. The offense ran through Josh Jacobs and he held up well. He had a great opportunity share that was aided by the fact that they led all night. and he got stronger as the game went on. Tyrell Williams also looked the part as the top receiver. He is worth a pickup in the top group (along with Brown, Jackson and McLovin). Darren Waller joins Hockenson as a TE worth picking up with 7/70 and a lot of athleticism. The road gets rough with KC coming to town and a trip to Minnesota. Then the Raiders visit Indy and play the Bears in London before their bye. This may be as good as it gets for a while. The earliest they are likely to be favored is a home game with Detroit on 11/3. Denver was a disappointment. The defense could not stop Oakland from going up and down the field and the offense did not score a TD until late in the 4th quarter on a defense that let up the most points in the league last year. Flacco started finding Sanders and Sutton late and both should be rostered though neither looks better than a hit or miss WR3 until the team shows otherwise. Rookie TE Noah Fant was a non-factor and the running game combined for 23 carries and 95 yards which would be fine for one person, insufficient for Lindsay and Freeman. The defense was the biggest surprise, and not a good one, generating no sacks or turnovers. They are out of the circle of trust until further notice.

There are definitely some adds to consider, particularly among the receivers, but remember, in terms of the players you expect to perform, R-E-L-A-X because in most cases we need to see another couple of weeks before we can answer the following question…