AFC North Preview – Josh Brickner
What We Learned From Last Week:
America, Meet JuJu Smith-Schuster
It’s been quite the whirlwind week for Steeler WR JuJu Smith-Schuster; he gets ripped by teammate Martavis Bryant on Sunday night of Week 7, his beloved bike is stolen on Tuesday/returned on Wednesday, and he explodes against the Lions on SNF for seven receptions, 193 yards, and a TD in Week 8. His performance was highlighted by an impressive franchise-record 97 yard TD catch while Wally Pipp… I mean Martavis Bryant could only seethe from the sideline in street clothes.
This column has advocated picking up and stashing JuJu for weeks. If you didn’t listen, he’s still available in over half of Yahoo leagues and Pittsburgh is on bye this week so you MIGHT still be able to acquire him cheap. However, it more than likely will cost you a waiver priority/decent chunk of your FAAB budget as his breakout game happened on national TV. No matter Bryant’s future with the Steelers (the team is still steadfast Martavis is going nowhere ahead of Tuesday’s trade deadline), JSS looks to remain as the Steelers’ WR2 for the foreseeable future.
Foreign Country, Same Result
The Cleveland Browns held their first halftime lead of the season (13-12) in Jolly Olde England as there was the talk of chilling the champagne at the Brickner household. Of course, Isaiah Crowell fumbles on the first play of the second half and that was the beginning of the end for the beleaguered Browns. They were outplayed, outscored (21-3), and outclassed by the first-place Vikings in the second half losing 33-16.
Despite the game-changing fumble, Crowell had his best game of the season totaling 118 yards (64 rushing; 54 receiving) and scoring his first touchdown of the season. The Crow was able to take advantage of the extra snaps as a result of Duke Johnson being placed in concussion protocol early in the 4th quarter. I’m selling high on Crowell after his Week 9 bye to an RB-needy team or the hopelessly optimistic Browns’ fan in your league (not all of us are as realistic as yours truly). Duke Johnson Jr. cleared the concussion protocol postgame and still appears to be the “best” weekly fantasy option on this dumpster fire of an offense.
What to Watch For:
Joe Mixon: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
It might be time to stop blaming the Bengals’ coaching staff for Joe Mixon not “breaking out.” The former Sooner falls into the category of many other first-year RBs; an extremely talented player whose fantasy ceiling will be limited early in his career due to rookie mistakes. Both traits were on display Sunday; Mixon used his elite athleticism to break multiple tackles on a 67-yard screen pass to set up an A.J. Green TD and failed to properly secure the football on another pass resulting in a critical fumble in Bengals’ territory.
Joe Mixon finished the uneven performance catching all three of his targets for 91 yards, but rushing 11 times for meek 18 yards. Mixon played on 62% of the offensive snaps (compared to just 37% combined for Bernard & Hill) and is the still the RB to own in this backfield. Temper expectations for Mixon to a low-end RB2/Flex for the remainder of the season and specifically against a stout Jaguars D who just traded for Pro-Bowler Marcell Dareus to shore up its run-stopping abilities.
The Ravens Two-Headed Monster at RB
If Ravens’ head coach John Harbaugh’s goal this season was to frustrate fantasy football owners with his RB rotation, then he has succeeded. Alex Collins had an impressive night carrying the ball 18 times for 113 yards while adding two catches for 30 yards. Not to be forgotten, Javorius “Buck” Allen received 18 touches himself for 57 total yards (17 rushes/55 yards; 1 reception/2 yards). So far this season, both men are cannibalizing the other’s potential upside; however, that may be changing.
John Harbaugh came out on Monday and said Alex Collins deserves more playing time moving forward in the season. Now, all coach speak must be taken with a grain of salt; however, Collins looks like not only the most talented RB on the Ravens’ roster but their most dynamic playmaker on offense. Collins is available in 65% of Yahoo leagues and is worth your waiver priority/25% of your FAAB budget as he could be an every week starter given the workload. During this week’s #Byemageddon2, Collins is a low-end RB2 while Allen registers as a Flex play against a tougher than expected (21st in fantasy points allowed to opposing RBs) Titans run defense.
Who Drops the Boom:
With six teams on bye this week, including two in the AFC North, it’s time to get creative with your lineup. Enter Jeremy Maclin. Maclin had fallen off the fantasy radar both due to missing Weeks 6 & 7 with a shoulder injury and the Ravens’ offense, particularly Joe Flacco, looking inept. Maclin returned with a vengeance in Week 8 turning a team-high five targets into 3 receptions, 53 yards, and a TD. Maclin seemed to ignite the entire offense with his 34-yard 1st quarter TD reception as Joe Flacco (10/15 101 yards, TD) was looking good through the 2nd quarter until he took a vicious shot to the head and was ruled out for the game with a concussion. The Ravens won the TNF game 40-0 behind their running game and D/ST lowering Maclin’s overall stat line. It appears as if the signs are pointing towards Flacco playing on Sunday and this is great news for Maclin. Maclin is a low-end WR2/Flex option with a healthy Joe Flacco against a below-average (12th in fantasy points allowed to opposing WRs) Titans’ secondary.
Who Drops the Ball:
Let me be clear, you’re not benching A.J. Green this week; not only is it #Byemageddon2, but Green is still one of the best WRs in the NFL. The seven-year vet finds himself here because expectations must be lowered this week due to his team’s erratic QB play (looking at you Red Rifle) and the toughest matchup of the season. Green has still been a focal point of the Bengals’ offense the last two weeks with 14 targets; unfortunately, those targets have only produced six catches, 68 yards, and a TD. Things will not get easier this week as Green goes head-to-head with the vaunted Jacksonville D ($50 to anyone outside of Jacksonville who could have predicted writing that sentence a year ago) who has allowed the fewest fantasy points to opposing WRs on the season. The secondary is the strength of the Teal Curtain as they’ve only allowed ONE touchdown to opposing WRs the entire season.
Jacksonville Jaguars 24 Cincinnati Bengals 13
Baltimore Ravens 30 Tennessee Titans 21
Bye Week 14 Cleveland Browns 0
Pittsburgh Steelers: Bye
AFC South Preview – Shaun Crandall
What We Learned Last Week:
Houston and their offense wish the defense was at their level. Houston’s offense has scored at least 30 points in their last 5 games, which all coincide with the Deshaun Watson era beginning. This looks like a team with enough offensive weapons to where a team could start two players from this team and not worry about a lack of points. Lamar Miller gave fantasy owners another surge of confidence in his abilities last week and has put himself in the discussion each week of an RB2/Flex starter.
What to Watch For:
As I mentioned last week, Lamar Miller had never been thought of as a workhorse back and they drafted D’Onta Foreman to build a timeshare entering the 2017 season. Miller did his best to squash that notion last week as he carried the ball 21 times. He was able to claim a touchdown with one of his three receptions and turn in an RB1 week. Miller faces a Colts team that has done well against fellow running backs, so it will be interesting to see if this is a Miller or Foreman week.
Who Brings the Boom:
DeAndre Hopkins will be the guy again that brings the production. Indianapolis has given up their shares of 100-yard games and the Hopkins/Watson connection has shown its ability to face any defense and produce.
Who Drops the Ball
T.Y. Hilton may be approaching the droppable area of the season. He may have a couple games where he produces WR2 numbers, h, wever he does not look to be a stable roster filler, and depending on league/roster size, there is most likely a better alternative on the waiver wire.
Game Predictions :
Tennessee Titans 27, Baltimore Ravens 23
Jacksonville Jaguars 31, Cincinnati Bengals 28
Houston Texans 37, Indianapolis Colts 20
AFC East Preview – Jay Santos
What We Learned From Last Week:
Looking beyond the box scores, here’s what I learned from last week’s games:
Patriots – This isn’t an elite offense anymore. This was a grind it out type of game that the Patriots have gotten used to over the last 4 weeks. They have point totals of 19, 24, 23 and 21 over the last 4 weeks and although the Bucs, Jets, Falcons and Chargers defenses aren’t pushovers, they’re not elite either. One of the two trustable players, Tom Brady, completed 5 or more passes to 5 different receivers although he was again hit more often than he has in years past. The other trustable player, Rob Gronkowski, capitalized on a red zone look but is trending to produce below his previous season’s totals in catches, targets, yards where he played 15 games (already missed a game this year). Cooks, Hogan, White and the rest of the clang all contributed but no one really stood out. That’s great for real football because it keeps defenses honest. However, without scoring TD’s on a regular basis, it doesn’t really create any elite players beyond the regular two of Brady and Gronk.
Jets – The Jets will be competitive the entire year but continue to struggle down the stretch. This makes three weeks in a row that the Jets have blown a 4th quarter lead. What hurt them this time was that they weren’t able to run the ball all game long as Bilal Powell and Matt Forte ran into brick walls continuously. They both kind of made up for it in the passing game but they were only able to help manage 3 second half points. Robbie Anderson is proving to be the most talented WR on the team as he tied the team lead in receptions and caught all of his targets (6) which was second on the team. He also showed that he can hang with some of the better corners in the league as he shook Desmond Trufant off the line of scrimmage for a 24-yard TD. ASJ had a disappointing day at the office. His stat-line shows 5 receptions but a couple of those were short gains on the last drive of the game. However, most TE’s have struggled against the Falcons this year so I won’t penalized him for that. His floor is still solid and he’s one of the most consistently involved receivers on the team.
Dolphins – This. Offense. Is. Brutal…That’s all that needs to be said about it as they couldn’t do anything on Thursday night. Granted they were playing on a short week which condensed the playbook and the Ravens are one of the better defenses in the league but they managed only 3 yards per play and that was with the Ravens playing off coverage towards the end of the game. Outside of a 21 yard gain by Jay Ajayi on their 3rd play of the game, he was only able to muster a grand total of 2 yards on his next 12 carries. It definitely wasn’t his fault as time after time the Ravens were hitting Ajayi in the backfield on almost every handoff. They Dolphins neglected upgrading their offensive line in the offseason and it’s shown over and over that their one of the worst in the league. Matt Moore is a backup for a reason. Don’t get me wrong, he’s one of the better backups in the league but he can’t make up for a sloppy offensive line. The only savings grace is that you can count on production from Kenny Stills when DeVante Parker is out of the lineup. His stat-line of 5-65 could have been better if not for a drop on a long pass in the second half. If either Jarvis Landry or Parker were to miss time in the future, plug Stills into your lineups.
Bills – The Bills are a bona fide playoff caliber team. This team’s winning record is for real as they took advantage of errant play from the Raiders. But hey, that’s what good teams do right? The Bills’ defense created 4 turnovers and returned one of them for a TD. Not only did they create turnovers but they didn’t commit one themselves as they played to their strengths which is to give LeSean McCoy opportunities, and a lot of them. Shady touched the ball 33 times (27 rushes, 6 receptions) and had a combined 173 yards total with a rushing TD. Those numbers are inflated because of a 48 yard run to salt the game away towards the end. But when you get as many touches as he does with the talent he possesses, he’s bound to break a few loose. Tyrod Taylor saved his day with a leaping TD at the goal line but he’s proving again this year that he can be counted on for streaming purposes and more depending on your team construction. None of the team’s receivers really stood out but that shouldn’t shock anyone as this offense runs and passes through McCoy.
What to Watch For:
The Bills’ “Offensive” Mafia PT. 2– Some of you might be saying, “Hey Jay didn’t you highlight to watch for the Bill’s Offensive Mafia last week?” Yeah I did but how times have changed in a matter of days since Sunday. We needed some new blood in the AFC East and a stunning trade that brought Kelvin Benjamin to Buffalo is just that and I’m anxious to see what he can do with Tyrod. Tyrod has been missing a #1 WR ever since the team traded away Sammy Watkins in August and now he gets one in Big Benji. The two things that Tyrod does well is throw a good deep ball and give his receivers a chance to win 50/50 balls. Much like Cam Newton, Tyrod is not one of the most accurate of passers in the league. Although his completion percentage is above average (63.8% which is above players such as Carson Wentz, Deshaun Watson and Russell Wilson to name a few), it’s mainly because he’s near the bottom of the league in yards per attempt (6.85). However, that’s where the addition of Kelvin will help most. He’s got a wide catch radius, he’s a monster of man (6’5”, 240+ lbs.) that wins 50/50 balls especially in the red zone with 18 TDs in 40 games, and he’s better at creating separation on deep balls than the short to intermediate levels. Now it’ll take some time before he can produce consistent stats as he’ll need to create some sort of chemistry with Tyrod. But where fantasy points matter most, big plays and touchdowns, I think Benjamin can produce those starting this week.
Who Brings the Boom:
Austin Seferian-Jenkins – I could have easily gone with LeSean McCoy but I wanted to think outside the box a little more. Although this seems like a tough matchup given that the Bills defense has played well all season long, they’ve been vulnerable to TEs and have given up the 9th most points to the position. ASJ is coming off of a disappointing week against the Falcons but they’ve done well against team’s top TEs. ASJ has logged 5 or more targets in all but one game since coming back from suspension and continues to be the Jets’ top option in the red zone. With Robbie Anderson due to face outstanding rookie Tre’Davious White, look for ASJ to be relied upon even more in this matchup on a short week.
Who Drops the Ball:
Robbie Anderson – This might seem like I’m contradicting myself after I mentioned earlier that Anderson showed he can hang with some of the better corners in league after performing well against Desmond Trufant (6-104, TD). However, this matchup presents a different type of challenge. The Falcons like to run a lot of Cover 3 zones much like the Seahawks. However, that sometimes leaves the cornerbacks on an island when the safety leans to one side over another. That helped Anderson especially on his TD reception against Trufant because once he beat Trufant with a great release there was no one that helped over the top. That’s not the case with Buffalo. They do run a lot of zone defenses and the cover 3 is one of their preferred zones but they more so run a cover 2 defense that allows their corners to be aggressive at the line of scrimmage because they know they have help over the top more times than not. White was hand picked by McDermott in the draft to be his Josh Norman and although the team gives up the 10th most fantasy points to opposing pass offenses, White isn’t because of that. Outside of AJ Green’s week 5 performance against him, White’s done a great job against teams’ top wideout. This week consider keeping Anderson on your bench.
Buffalo 27, NYJ 24
Oakland 26, Miami 16
New England Patriots: Bye
AFC West Preview – Anthony Zaragoza
What We Learned From Last Week:
Oakland Raiders – I started last week’s summary with “Welcome back Derek Carr and supporting cast”. That was very short lived. The Raiders offense reverted back to its old ways, no type of tempo or threat of the deep pass. The wet conditions seemed to factor in with two fumbles lost and two interceptions in this game. Carr salvaged his day some what (late in the game), to pass for his second straight 300 yard game (314 yards) and one touchdown. Carr is on pace for numbers similar to his rookie season. Michael Crabtree did not have a touchdown for the first time in four weeks and Amari Cooper came back to reality with a five catch, 48 yards performance. The running game was non existence, with both DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard combining for 11 carries for 48 yards. A lot of credit should go to Bills Defensive Coordinator Leslie Frazier, who elected to play deep in coverage and force the Raiders short handed running game to try and beat them. The Raiders couldn’t run the ball and turned the ball over four times. Now the Raiders are 3-5.
Los Angeles Chargers – After starting the game with a 87 yard touchdown run by Melvin Gordon, my prediction for the upset was looking good. Than, Patriots Defensive Coordinator Matt Patricia got his defense together and held the Chargers to only 262 yards the rest of the game and six points. Philip Rivers, my pick for “Boom of the Week” last weekend, was held to only 212 yards passing, one touchdown and one interception. Travis Benjamin had a nice day, other than his embarrassing safety in the second quarter, with five catches for 64 yards and Rivers lone touchdown toss. In a game many expected to be a shootout, turned into an offensive struggle for both teams. Similar to division foe Oakland, this loss knocks the Chargers to 3-5.
Kansas City Chiefs – The Chiefs got back to their winning ways and beat the Denver Broncos 29-19 on Monday Night Football. Kansas City’s defense was the star of the show, causing five turnovers and even scored the game’s first touchdown on a 43 yard fumble return by Marcus Peters. The Chiefs were held to only 273 yards of total offense, but Travis Kelce provided all the offense the team would need. Kelce produced his third 100 yard game of the season and best game overall, with seven catches, 133 yards, and one TD. The Broncos defense had no answer for the 2016 All-Pro TE all night but they did hold the league’s leading rusher, Kareem Hunt, to only 46 yards rushing on 22 carries. If you add his 22 yards receiving, and this game marked the first game all season Hunt was held under 100 yards of total offense. Regardless, the Chiefs were in full control and stretched their lead in the division to 2.5 games at the midway point.
Denver Broncos – Even though the Chiefs won by 10, the game felt like Denver was a play or two away from getting back in it. Unfortunately, those plays never happened. Trevor Siemian had another awful day in the office. He was sacked and intercepted three times each and threw for only 198 yards on 36 passes. The constant turnovers by Denver stopped any potential comeback and put a lot of pressure on running back CJ Anderson to make a big play on the ground. Anderson had a decent game running the ball, 78 yards on 15 carries, but wasn’t not able to bust out a long run. Things didn’t fare better in the passing game. With teammate Emmanuel Sanders out for the second game in a row, Demaryius Thomas could only muster 66 yards on five catches. That gives Thomas only seven catches and 75 yards while Sanders been injured, not the result many owners were hoping for. The offense, as whole, is in disarray and unable to find any rhythm right now.
What to Watch For:
Will the real Raiders offense please stand up?
For all intents and purposes, the Raiders playoff hopes are pretty much dead. It will take a run, similar to the Chiefs 11 game winning streak in 2015, to give them any hope of a playoff bid. So how will the team respond. More importantly, how will the offense respond to the critics for the remaining eight games? It starts this weekend, as the Miami Dolphins host the Raiders in a must win for both teams. Miami, who according to Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase has the “worst offense in America”, has a top 10 defense so far this season. Matt Burke’s (Dolphins Defensive Coordinator) defense is currently #11 and #8 respectively in passing and rushing yards allowed. So will we see the Raiders offense that exploded for 500 yards of total offense in week 6 or the offense that rushed for 54 yards last week in Buffalo? I think we see the explosive offense back on track this weekend in Miami.
Who Brings the Boom:
Kareem Hunt: After showing up on my “Who drops the ball” segment last week, where he had his worst game as a pro with 46 yards rushing and 22 yards receiving, Kareem Hunt will now show the country that last week was a fluke. Todd Gurley (215 total yards, 1 TD), CJ Anderson (154, 2) and Aaron Jones (134, 1) have all had strong games against this Cowboys defense this season, so Hunt will get his turn this weekend in Dallas. He was still heavy involved in the game last Monday (25 touches) but couldn’t get anything going against that daunting defense of Denver. Expect a Gurley type of night for Hunt this weekend.
Who Drops the Ball:
CJ Anderson: This has to do more with the Eagles rush defense and the current state of Trevor Siemian than CJ Anderson as a player. Philadelphia has one of the worst pass defenses in the league but are only giving up 70.4 rushing yards a game, that’s the best in the NFL right now. Anderson rushed for 78 yards on Monday versus the Chiefs but will struggle against the front seven of Philadelphia, led by Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox. Five out of their eight opponents have been limited to 75 yards rushing or less and Melvin Gordon (22 yards) and Carlos Hyde (25) were held in check the last few weeks by this defense. For the lack of better words, a horrible matchup for Anderson.
Oakland Raiders 24, Miami Dolphins 21
Philadelphia Eagles 27, Denver Broncos 17
Kansas City Chiefs 24, Dallas Cowboys 21