AFC North Preview – Josh Brickner
What We Learned From Last Week:
A Lost Season. I challenged myself to find any silver lining and be more positive about the Browns in these weekly previews. Fortunately, the Browns defense played their best game of the season in holding the Titans to 269 yards of total offense and 12 points (4 FGs) in looking to lead the team to its first win. Unfortunately, the offense once again fell flat on its face. DeShone Kizer threw two more INTs and was benched for Cody Kessler in the third quarter. Kessler played better than his predecessor, but threw his own interception as the Browns lost 12-9 in OT to the Titans. How can things get any worse for this offense? Joe Thomas, the Browns All-Pro left tackle who had played 10,363 consecutive snaps, tore his tricep in the third quarter and is lost for the season. This offense was already averaging a league-worst 14.7 points per game with the 10 time pro-bowler protecting the quarterback’s blindside and now… the Browns are going to be a fantasy goldmine for opposing D/STs. The Factory of Sadness should be operating at maximum output for the rest of the season as it’s becoming almost impossible to put any Cleveland Brown in your fantasy lineup.
The Killer B’s Are Back? Le’Veon Bell proved once again on Sunday that he’s the best RB in football, fantasy and otherwise, as he ran the ball 35 times for 135 yards while catching all three of his targets for 58 yards. Antonio Brown was targeted ten times, but finished the game with the productive, yet unspectacular, line of 4/65/1 as the Steelers were content letting Bell carry them to the 29-14 victory. Both of these men are the tops at their position and should be in your starting lineup as long as they’re active. Ben Roethlisberger was a serviceable fantasy starter throwing for 224 yards, 2 TDs, and 0 INTs. Big Ben is still only a matchup-dependent weekly streamer as the Steelers have begun to lean on their running game and up-and-coming defense in recent weeks. The Steelers’ signal caller is best left on your bench this week in a road tilt against a solid Lions’ secondary that is in the Top 10 for least fantasy points allowed to QBs.
What to Watch For:
Paging Joe Mixon. Coming off a bye week there were many, including yours truly, who thought Sunday would finally be the breakout game for Joe Mixon. Mixon looked explosive and well on his way in the first half as he rushed seven times for 48 yards with his long run of 25 yards setting up a Bengals’ TD. I’m not sure what “adjustments” were made at halftime, but they were terrible. In the second half Joe Mixon had zero carries, A.J. Green had 0 catches, and the Bengals could only muster 19 yards of total offense on their way to a 29-14 loss in Pittsburgh. The former Sooner was less than pleased by his second half disappearing act nor should he be as it’s obvious that Mixon is the most talented RB on the Bengals’ roster. Sadly, talent is only one part of the formula for success in fantasy football as a player must get the opportunity to produce. Mixon should get more than seven carries this week against an Indianapolis D who bleeds fantasy points to opposing RBs (2nd most allowed on the season) and is a low-end RB2/Flex play with workload concerns but tremendous upside.
Martavis Bryant: The Saga Continues. This column has spent the last two weeks highlighting both the evolution of JuJu Smith-Schuster and the disintegration of Martavis Bryant in the Pittsburgh offense. That situation has come to a head in recent days. Despite reports he would see an increased role against Cincinnati, Bryant was a ghost catching one of his two targets for just three yards while playing on only 36 offensive snaps. A frustrated Bryant lashed out on Instagram Sunday evening ripping Smith-Schuster and the entire Steelers organization while inferring he wants out of Pittsburgh. Even though Bryant apologized later on Instagram, he showed his true character on Monday morning when he “called in sick” for a mandatory team meeting. The Steelers’ aren’t going to trade the bombastic Bryant, but he needs cut from your fantasy roster ASAP!
JuJu Smith-Schuster had a solid game against Cincy pulling in two of his three targets for 39 yards and a TD. JuJu, and his six RZ targets on the season, is still a great stash candidate as he should continue to benefit from Bryant’s questionable life choices. JSS is a low-end flex play this week against a Lions defense that is middle of the pack (15th in fantasy points allowed) in defending opposing WRs.
Who Drops the Boom:
A.J. Green, Tyler Kroft, and… Andy Dalton?!
It should surprise no one that the Colts’ D is bad from both a real-life (31st ranked total D) and fantasy football (Top 10 in points allowed to WRs, QBs, and TEs) perspective and is exactly what the Bengals offense needs to get back on track. A.J. Green is a Top 3 WR play this week in what should be a huge rebound game following his worst performance of the season (3/41) against the Steelers. The last three games, Tyler Kroft has converted his 16 targets into 14 receptions, 129 yards and three touchdowns. Kroft deserves a spot on your fantasy roster and is a solid TE1 against a Colts’ pass defense that has given up three TDs to opposing TEs the last four games.
There’s no way to sugarcoat it; Andy Dalton was bad (140 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs, 63.2 QBR) against the Steelers on Sunday. Normally, you won’t find Dalton as a recommended start in this space; however, the Week 8 #Byemageddon, the rash of injuries at QB, and a plum matchup have us here. The Red Rifle is facing a Colts’ secondary who allowed 330 yards passing to Blake Bortles (yes, that Blake Bortles) in Week 7. Let me be clear, Dalton is a great streaming option for this week only, and is not a long-term solution at QB for your fantasy squad.
Who Drops the Ball:
The Browns Offense
If the endless parade of mediocrity at QB, combined with the loss of the franchise’s most important player, weren’t enough to scare you away from the Browns offense then let’s give you a few more. The Browns travel across the pond for the first time on Sunday to take on the Vikings. If the Browns offense could only manage 9 points at home against the Titans’ questionable defense in Week 7, I doubt an 8-hour plane ride and the NFL’s fourth-best defense will turn things around for Cleveland. If the #Byemageddon has you desperate, both Duke Johnson Jr (6 receptions/45 yards) and Isaiah Crowell (4/36) showed in Week 7 they can both be simultaneously effective in the passing game. Both are risky, garbage-time dependent PPR flex options against a Vikings front seven that has shut down (2nd least fantasy points allowed) opposing RBs this season. If you are considering any Browns’ receiving options for your starting lineup then please quit fantasy football and donate the money for next year’s league dues to charity.
The Ravens Offense
If not for a meaningless TD pass to Chris Moore as time expired in Week 7, Joe Flacco would have gone his third straight game without a passing TD. In fact, that was the first offensive TD for the Ravens since a 2nd quarter TD run by Javorius Buck Allen in Week 5 versus Oakland. That’s nearly 162 minutes of football without an offensive TD! The Ravens offense might not be to the level of suck of the Browns, but it’s just about as worthless for fantasy purposes. Again, if in a bad spot, Buck Allen has a middling 15 receptions for 58 yards the last three games and can be used as a Flex in PPR leagues.
Pittsburgh Steelers 27 Detroit Lions 24
Minnesota Vikings 27 Cleveland Browns 6
Cincinnati Bengals 34 Indianapolis Colts 13
Miami Dolphins 14 Baltimore Ravens 13
AFC South Preview – Shaun Crandall
What We Learned Last Week:
Jacksonville still looks like a team that will compete for a division crown and a playoff spot as I mentioned last week. They are now 4-3 and enter the bye week with a legitimate chance of winning the division with 9 games remaining, 3 of which are divisional.
What to Watch For:
The utilization of D’Onta Foreman will be something to monitor against the Seahawks and in the weeks ahead. Lamar Miller has never been thought of as a workhorse back and they drafted Foreman to build a timeshare entering the 2017 season. The timeshare could start to lean more towards Foreman this week after his performance last week against Cleveland when he had a rush for 39 yards, but was tackled on the 2-yard line and appears to be the more explosive of the two. Miller would be brought in more as a replacement and third-down back.
Who Brings the Boom:
DeAndre Hopkins will face a challenge this week against Seattle’s secondary. Hopkins has been outstanding this year and has carved up multiple top tier defenses including Jacksonville and Cincinnati. I think he continues his strong start to the season, however he may not find the end-zone, which could be left to Will Fuller if coverage shadows Hopkins who should still put WR1 numbers once again this week.
Who Drops the Ball
I’m going back to the well, as they say. I think T.Y. Hilton has another week where he is not startable. After a poor performance last week against Jacksonville he faces Cincinnati, who ranks 3rd in the league in opponent passing yards with just 177.7 given up per game. Jacoby Brissett is still learning and this won’t be the week he passes any exams.
Game Predictions :
Seattle Seahawks 28, Houston Texans 24
Cincinnati Bengals 20, Indianapolis Colts 17
Bye: Tennessee Titans, Jacksonville Jaguars
AFC East Preview – Jay Santos
What We Learned From Last Week:
What we learned from last week and what I learned from last week are two separate things. What I learned is that there’s a method to my madness after having a good week 7 of insights. But I’m sure you couldn’t care less about me patting myself on the back. So here’s what we learned from this past weekend’s games from each team:
Patriots – Dion Lewis has made Mike Gillislee irrelevant. Lewis was on the field the most for the Pats, 26 snaps, even ahead of James White, 23 snaps. Because of their offense, White is usually on the field most but partly due to game script Lewis held that honor in week 7. However, the key word there is partly because Lewis was very effective with those touches as he went for 76 yards on 13 carries. He looks as spry as ever and the Pats have noticed this as he’s seen his snap % increase in each week since the start of the season. With all that said, let’s pump the breaks before we start thinking that Lewis will turn into an RB2. Remember his last two seasons have been cut short due to injuries and also the better course of his career. This is a four back committee between Lewis, White, Gillislee and Rex Burkhead now back. It’s just that Lewis may now be the head of that committee in an offense that’s starting to get going. Beyond the backfield, Tom utilized his outside receivers well as Brandin Cooks and Chris Hogan continue to win their matchups and make big plays. Gronk was neutralized for the most part as it seemed like that’s what Atlanta game planned around.
Jets – You can say this about a lot of teams but the Jets don’t have any consistent flow with their RB rotation. I guess you can say that this is on purpose as it keeps the defense off guard but Matt Forte and Bilal Powell are pretty much producing at the same level. The soon to be 32 year old, Forte, is still showing he has some juice and picked up two big gains. One was a run of 15 yards while the other was a reception to convert a very long 3rd down conversion. Powell did pretty much the same thing ripping off a nice 31 yard reception on the first play of the game and then later a long outside run for 25 yards. Their two guys that play a similar style of play, better receiver than runner, with Powell having more explosiveness and Forte having more power. But to go back to how they’re used, you really can’t pinpoint on what the coaches are trying to do. The essentially played the same downs throughout the game no matter if it was 1st and 10 or 3rd and long. Long story short, this past week didn’t shed any light on who they prefer but did prove that it’s a coin flip on which one will prefer better than his counterpart on a regular basis. In regards to the air attack, Austin Seferian-Jenkins continues to show he’s their safest fantasy player as he scored for a third consecutive week. Meanwhile, Robby Anderson and Jermaine Kearse proved again that their touchdown-dependent fantasy players.
Dolphins – This may be a functional offense with Jay Cutler out of the way. It’s a shame too because Cutler was actually having his best game of the season before getting hurt by going 12 of 16 for 138 yards with 2 TD’s and 1 INT. But when Matt Moore came in he pretty much produced a similar line of 13 of 21 for 188 yards with 2 TD’s and 1 INT. However, Moore was able to complete an unbelievable comeback and lead the Fins to produce 17 unanswered points in a thrilling win over their division rival. He showed great chemistry with Kenny Stills (6-85, 2 TDs) and utilized Jarvis Landry (7-93, TD) in the areas that he works best, within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage and let him create YAC. He didn’t blow the competition away but that’s not needed. All they need is for someone to play like Adam Gase helped Ryan Tannehill play last year. My biggest takeaway was how Jay Ajayi didn’t look right. He got nicked up in the beginning of the game and was seen limping on the sidelines at certain points. Although he did have 26 combined touches, 23 of them rushes, he only had 2 touches in the red zone and that was midway through the 2nd quarter. It’s a little concerning but the Jets did make a concerted effort to stop Ajayi so hopefully this was the Dolphins strategy to attack their defense differently in within the 20’s.
Bills – This one was a great game to watch as it was as back and forth as any game this past weekend. The Bills went back to their bread and butter and focused on getting LeSean McCoy touches whenever they could he had a combined 28 touches (23 rushes with 5 catches) and it worked for the most part. The Bucs held Shady to under 100 yards rushing but couldn’t stop him when they needed to most as he scored twice from within the 10-yard line. As expected, this offense revolves around McCoy and he’s locked into a top 4 RB workload week in and week out. Tyrod did some dancing around himself as he picked up key 3rd down conversions with his legs as he ran for 53 yards on 6 rushes. Even in an offense that isn’t setup to support a top fantasy QB, Tyrod showed last week and in years past that he can produce a safe fantasy QB floor because his rushing ability is equivalent to throwing for a touchdown. The receivers aren’t much to write home about but the thing that stood out to me was that Zay Jones just isn’t ready for the NFL yet. He led the team in targets (9) but was inefficient with them yet again as he was only able to produce a 2 for 17 yards stat line. Keep him on the wire.
What to Watch For:
The Bills’ “Offensive” Mafia– The Bills take on the Raiders this weekend in Buffalo after scoring 30 points this last week against the Bucs. This is with their top WR in Jordan Matthews still nursing a thumb injury, their top TE out of the lineup, and their top offensive draft pick barely performing. Even with all those issues, the Bills got out of nowhere production from Deonte Thompson (4-107) and Logan Thomas (1-22, TD) of all people. Can they keep this up against a struggling Raiders defense that has really struggled to stop anybody? They’ve got a shot, right?…This offense revolves around LeSean McCoy and Tyrod creating plays with his legs so consistently producing 30 point games isn’t in their DNA. Their strategy is to run the ball effectively, win the time of possession game and let their defense create turnovers. That might be a challenge with a Raiders offense coming to town fresh off a big win against the Chiefs, especially considering Amari Cooper just put up 11-210, 1 TD. So this will be a clash of two different playing styles and it’ll be interesting if the Bills will be able to either impose their will on how they like to play or will have to adapt in order to overcome a rejuvenated Raiders offense.
Who Brings the Boom:
Chris Hogan – Hogan has produced all year long but more so at the beginning of the year. Over the last two weeks he’s combined to grab 5 receptions for 90 yards. Not awful but not what we were getting accustomed to. From weeks 2-5 he averaged 5.5 catches per game for 70 yards and over a TD a game. An inkling that a return to those averages is coming is the fact that he basically averaged that this past weekend against the Falcons with a 4-71 stat line. The only thing that was missing was the TD. As the season has shown he’s proving that he can be relied on as the most consistent Patriots receiver producer. Going against the Chargers this week where their top cover corner, Casey Hayward will most likely be spending most of his time following around Cooks, it’ll leave Hogan available to feast on the remaining DB’s. With the Chargers defense also performing well against TE’s look for Hogan to find his way back into the end zone as the top red zone threat.
Who Drops the Ball:
Brandin Cooks – As previously mentioned, Cooks will most likely be matched up with Hayward for most of the day and that has made things a little difficult for teams’ #1 WR’s. So far there hasn’t been a #1 Wr gain 100 yards or more against the Chargers. However, he’s not a world beater as those same WR’s have had 3 TD’s and 3 games of 77, 85 and 97 yards. So this is not to say that you should bench Cooks from your starting lineup but temper your expectations as he’s more likely to produce low to mid WR2 numbers than his current mid to high WR1 ranking.
Baltimore 17, Miami 14
Oakland 27, Buffalo 23
New England 30, LAC 21
NYJ 24, Atlanta 23
AFC West Preview – Anthony Zaragoza
What We Learned From Last Week:
Oakland Raiders – Welcome back Derek Carr and supporting cast. After four straight pitiful performances, the Raiders offense responded with a monster game in a must-win situation for the team. Oakland defeated the first place Kansas City Chiefs, 31-30 in an offensive shootout last Thursday night. Carr threw for 417 yards and three touchdowns, his first game over 300 yards this season. Amari Cooper came out of hibernation and dominated the Chiefs secondary with his 11 catches, 210 yards and two touchdowns game. And lastly, Michael Crabtree added to his TD total for the season and caught his sixth touchdown of the year, on the game’s second untimed down to win the ballgame. Ladies and gentlemen, the passing attack is back!
Los Angeles Chargers – We have ourselves a battle in the AFC West. Once thought to be a three-way race between Kansas City, Oakland, and Denver, the Chargers just beat the last two (in back to back weeks) to move to 3-4 on the season. More importantly, have the lead in potentially tiebreakers after their 21-0 win against Denver on Sunday. In a defensive battle, Philip Rivers did enough (183 yards and two touchdown passes) against the daunting Denver defense to win his third straight game. Both Melvin Gordon (38 yards rushing) and Keenan Allen (41 yards) were held under wraps,so it was [profiler]Travis Benjamin and Austin Ekeler who were the hero’s of the game, each catching a touchdown for Los Angeles last week. Once left for dead at 0-4, the Chargers are in the thick of things heading into their showdown this weekend against New England.
Kansas City Chiefs – The Chiefs fell to 5-2, losing their second straight game, when they lost on the last play of the game 31-30 vs the Raiders last Thursday. The offense had themselves a game though. Entering the season, quarterback Alex Smith had only passed for 300 yards or more in a game six times, last Thursday’s 342-yard performance was his third of the season. The beneficiary of Smiths night was speedster WR Tyreek Hill, who torched the Raiders defense for 125 yards and one touchdown. Rookie sensation Kareem Hunt went over the century mark for the seventh time this season, when he totaled 117 yards from scrimmage on 22 touches. A once feared defense, Kansas City has now allowed all seven opponents this year over 300 yards of total offense. The Raiders offense amassed 505 in week seven.
Denver Broncos – How fast the mighty have fallen. After starting the season on such a roll offensively, Trevor Siemian and the unit are struggling to get points on the board the last few weeks. Emmanuel Sanders went down last week versus the Giants, so the Broncos were left with Demaryius Thomas, who was held to just two catches for nine yards, and Bennie Fowler as their top pass catchers in this game. CJ Anderson produced his second clunker with only 44 yards rushing on 10 carries. Denver doesn’t have much time to figure things out, as they have to travel to a rough environment in Kansas City for Monday Night Football next week. Things could get ugly for Denver if Siemian is unable to move the ball.
What to Watch For:
Similar to last week, can the Los Angeles Chargers make it four in a row? After their horrific start to the season (0-4), the Chargers are now 3-4 and riding high after their two divisional wins against Oakland and Denver the last two weeks. Last weeks performance wasn’t ideal, only 242 yards of total offense, but Philip Rivers was able to muster enough offense (two TD passes) to beat the struggling Broncos 21-0. This week for Los Angeles, they travel to the east coast and face the 5-2 New England Patriots. This matchup will pit the second-best passing attack in the NFL, New England, vs the third stingiest pass defense in the Chargers. Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley was able to get to Siemian last weekend and make his life miserable with five sacks and one interception. Momentum is huge in this league, and few teams are playing with such passion like the Chargers. Upset alert in New England!
Who Brings the Boom:
Philip Rivers – Man, I’m drinking the Chargers cool-aid this week. After shutting out the Denver Broncos last weekend, Philip Rivers now has a chance to feast on the league’s worst pass defense this week, the defending Super Bowl Champions New England Patriots. Matt Patricia’s defense has allowed five quarterbacks to throw for over 300 yards this season and a grand total of 15 passing touchdowns in seven games. This sets up a juicy matchup for Rivers and his talented WR group to get after New England. Two weeks ago, New York Jet QB Josh McCown threw for 354 yards and two touchdowns against the Pats. No reason to think Rivers can’t reach those marks in this matchup.
Who Drops the Ball:
Kareem Hunt – No, I’m not high for putting the NFL’s leading rusher in this section. But what I see is a potential let down game for the leading candidate for rookie of the year. Hunt has been remarkable so far this season, amassing a total of 1,002 yards of total offense thus fat this season, but he will go against the second-best rush defense in the NFL this weekend. The Broncos defense has bottled up some good running backs so far this season. Marshawn Lynch (12 yards), LeSean McCoy (21 yards), Ezekiel Elliott (9 yards) and Melvin Gordon (38 yards), have all fell victim to this dominant defense, led by Defensive Coordinator Joe Woods. The Chiefs are loaded offensively, so Denver could choose to stack the box and force Smith to throw the ball against pro bowl corners Aqib Talib and [profiler]Chris Harris. High alert for anyone who starts Hunt this week.
Oakland Raiders 24, Buffalo Bills 21
Los Angeles Chargers 27, New England 24
Kansas City Chiefs 24, Denver Broncos 13