Denver Broncos: Questionable roughing the passer call

George Kittle and the Looming TE Salary Explosion

In a games of inches in a league where all teams share a hard cap, achieving an edge not only through coaching and schemes but in creating salary cap value. Players outperforming their deals does not only apply to Quarterbacks. Successful teams exploit market inefficiencies. In today’s NFL no position other than QBs on rookie deals is more under-compensated than the Elite TE, rookie deal or not.
With a PFF rating of 95.0 and a pair of the best seasons ever enjoyed by a TE, George Kittle has the potential to be the sui generis of the next generation of Tight Ends. He is a cornerstone of the league’s #2 rushing attack while averaging over 1100yds receiving the previous two seasons. Simply put, the man is a game-breaker.
**Historical Market*\*
InJune 2014 NFL Arbitrator Stephen Graham made the historical decision to deny Jimmy Graham’s petition to be labeled as a Wide Receiver - a decision that meant he would miss out on $5m as the Franchise Tag value for TEs was around 7mil compared to the ~12 million WR tag. 5 years later and Jimmy Graham is the NFL’s highest paid TE with a 10m APY contract after his 2017 Free Agent deal with the Packers.
Under the current CBA there has been no ‘shake-up’ in the market value of a Tight End. Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz signed 5-yr extensions for ~7.7m APY in 2016. Interestingly, in terms of APY these deals were for less than Aaron Hernandez’s 2012 extension of 5yrs/40m. The Packers’ 2017 deal for Jimmy as a 32yr-old free agent came after a torn patella and three years of above-average production with the Seahawks. George Kittle is not Jimmy Graham.
Rob Gronkowski, the gold standard for the position during his time in the NFL, signed a 6 year extension with the Patriots after his second NFL season - giving the club 8 years of player control. This contract would be reworked add incentives over the course of its life, but he never provided a measuring stick for the game’s other elite players to leverage. “He bought into the Patriot Way.”
Bottom line - no tight end has really pushed the market. Even worse they have been signing long extensions where they are not compensated at the same rate the cap rises. **They all suffer for it.*\*
**Today’s Baseline*\*
Players, fans, and front offices alike know the value and extra dimension an elite Tight End brings to an offense. Joe Buck or whatever commentator is on each week, ”They can block in the run game, they can block in the passing game, and they catch in the passing game! They’re too big for DBs and too fast for LBs!” Their partner will add “(He) really puts the defense in a bind.”
With Jimmy Graham’s contract at 10m APY the equivalent value by salary cap % would put a baseline for the 2020 season (200m project cap) at $11.3m/yr for a TE. The league’s highest paid center, the least valuable OL position, makes $11.3m APY.
*note: the following is based on projections and doesn’t account for a new CBA, TV deals, or other things that could make the cap explode or change the overall salary cap pool for player compensation.*
**49ers’ GM John Lynch’s Leverage and Philosophy*\*
The 49ers theoretically have 3 years of cap control on George Kittle. 2020 would be the final year of his contract where he would be set to make 735k, with an overall cap hit of 810k. 2020’s TE franchise tag for TE is projected around 11m. If this stays roughly stable, and accounting for the 120% boost for a second tag, the 49ers could pay Kittle 810k in 2020, 11m in 2021, and 13.2m in 2022 - about 25m. With inflation and other factors let's increase that to 27m for 9m/yr. This approach, aka the ‘milk for all it’s worth” traditionally isolates and angers the player. Then it stirs drama, invites holdouts, dominates local and/or national headlines (see: LeVeon Bell), and has other players constantly barraged with inquiries about the situation. It also means the player will choose to take their talents elsewhere when the dust settles.
Frankly, this won’t happen. Everyone should doubt it happens. Why? Amongst other things, organizations tend to keep a player when he is arguably the best in the NFL at their position. Especially when the player lacks drama, off-the-field issues, and is a leader. If you are one of the better teams in the NFL, you also try to avoid inviting those kinds of distractions. But it’s a negotiating piece to where the organization is not immediately looking at paying the next Julio Jones, Aaron Donald, or Todd Gurley.
From a philosophical perspective Lynch has been willing to pay team leaders eg) Joe Staley, Richard Sherman, and Jimmy G. Division rivals in Los Angeles and Seattle have both also been willing to set top-of-market deals for core players. Kittle fits that mold. Prudence would see the deal completed before Kittle plays the final year for some cap hit mitigation.
**Kittle’s Leverage*\*
Top-of-the-market contracts are exploding. CJ Mosely got $18m APY when the LB franchise tag was 12.8m the year prior. Safeties went from making 10m APY to 14m. Even RBs made a substantial jump. In the last two years the top contracts by APY have been significantly reset for DT’s, DE’s, LB’s, Safeties, RBs, and RBs. Even RTs are making over 16m APY. It’s time for TE’s to get their due.
From an impact perspective, the 49ers had arguably the most potent rushing attack in the league this season at 144 rushing YPG. (Yes, the Ravens were better, but an incomparable comparison for Kittle given the dimension Lamar brings to that offense). In the two games where Kittle did not play the 49ers averaged 60 yds/game on the ground. Jimmy G’s passer rating in games with Kittle was 104.8, which is in the neighborhood of Patrick Mahomes and Russell Wilson. In games without Kittle, the 49ers went 1-1 and Garappolo’s passer rating dropped to 90.5 - against the #31 and #26 overall passing defenses. Marcus Mariota lost his job this season with a passer rating of 92.3. He is the player that makes the 49ers offense click.
I won’t speculate on Kittle’s desire for a new deal or the compensation he thinks he deserves. Nor his willingness to bet on himself vs ensuring his financial security after suffering from the wrath of Uncle Sam, CA State Taxes, and Bay Area cost of living. However, it would not be unreasonable for him to think the 49ers are not in the Super Bowl without him, especially if they win it all. Through the air his receiving numbers by total yards and yards/catch are akin to a top 15 receiver. At the very minimum he should see himself at least as valuable as an elite guard where the top salaries are in the 14m+ range. How much he wants to throw his weight around in contract negotiations is up to him. However the NFLPA and his agent may push him to play hard ball.
**The Deal*\*
Before the start of the 2020 season George Kittle signs a record 4y60m extension with the 49ers with $20m guaranteed. The 12.25m/yr cap hit for the 49ers is manageable for their offensive lynchpin. The APY resets the TE market and aligns it to that of an elite RB and/or 1B WR. More valuable than any guard or center, but not as valuable as a WR, QB, or Tackle. The 20m in guarantees is the highest ever for a TE, trumping the total 1st round pick TJ Hockenson received in his 100% guaranteed rookie deal. Soon after Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz see their deals reworked with added incentives to keep them happy.

references:
Thank you to overthecap.com, nfl.com, espn.com, and PFF for the stats, numbers and figures.
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The Rookie Report: Week 5 Starts & Sits

Welcome back to the Rookie Report! Week 4 was a rough one for me here at the Rookie Report, and it was a rough week to be a rookie in general unless your name is AJ Brown or Diontae Johnson. TJ Hockenson found the end zone, but also suffered a brutal concussion. Terry McLaurin was unable to play in a plum matchup. DK Metcalf, Hollywood Brown and Mecole Hardman had a brutal week as they COMBINED for just 37 yards – and Hardman lost a fumble as well. Miles Sanders got to watch firsthand as Jordan Howard put up a monster fantasy game and took the majority of the Eagles’ backfield production against a bad run defense, and David Montgomery finally got some serious volume but managed just 53 yards on 21 carries (2.52 ypc). As for the quarterbacks, Daniel Jones and Kyler Murray both had lackluster days, but Dwayne Haskins wouldn’t be outdone. Haskins was Nathan Peterman-esque in his debut, throwing 3 interceptions in just 17 attempts. Josh Jacobs and Gardner Minshew both posted respectable weeks, but the rest of the rookie pool was mostly a wasteland. Let’s talk about what to do with your rookies in week 5 and see who might bounce back…

Rookies to Start:
RB David Montgomery, CHI (Wk. 5: @Oak.): While the overall efficiency for Montgomery was frustrating last week, the volume is a great sign. Monty saw season highs in snaps, carries, and targets with Chase Daniel under center. It’ll be Daniel at the helm again in London, and the Bears are favored by 5 & a half points. The Raiders have been solid against the run so far this year, but they aren’t on par with the Vikings. A similar workload against a less formidable defense should lead Montgomery to a solid RB2 afternoon (or evening if you’re in London).
WR Marquise Brown, BAL (Wk. 5: @Pit.): Hollywood definitely failed to put on a show in week 4, but the targets were still there. He’s going to consistently see the football come his way, and the Steelers are not a pass defense to fear. They rank 19th in pass defense DVOA. Brown showed you what the floor looks like in week 4, but you’ll be kicking yourself if you leave him on the bench and he hits his ceiling.

Borderline Rookies:
QB Kyler Murray, ARI (Wk. 5: @Cin.): I like Kyler in this matchup, but I’m a little hesitant to give a full-throated endorsement here. Murray hasn’t exactly set the world on fire like I thought he would yet, and he’s likely to be missing his number 2 receiver Christian Kirk. The expected replacement is Pharoh Cooper. The matchup is a good one. Only Miami and the Cards themselves have allowed a higher passer rating to opposing QBs than the Bengals. Murray should be a safe QB2 option this week, and his QB1 ceiling remains intact in the plus matchup.
QB Daniel Jones, NYG (Wk. 5: vs. Min.): This isn’t the best spot for Jones as a potential streamer, but it’s also not quite as bad a spot for him as it could be. Jones’ dink-and-dunk style could work well against a Vikings’ defense that has allowed the 6th-highest completion percentage to opposing QBs, especially with the return of Golden Tate. 7 of the 8 offensive touchdowns Minnesota has given up have been through the air. Jones would be outside of my top-12 QBs for the week, but not by a lot.
RB Josh Jacobs, OAK (Wk. 5: vs. Chi.): The trip to London for Jacobs this week is unlikely to be a pleasant one. His volume keeps him on the flex radar, but this is still a bit of a committee situation for Jacobs. After coach Jon Gruden talked about wanting to get more targets for Jacobs during the week, the rookie RB was targeted just twice in the passing game. He also played just 54% of the snaps in a game that Oakland led for most of the day. Oakland is a 5.5-point underdog this week against the Bears, who rank 3rd in Football Outsiders’ run defense DVOA stat and have allowed fewer RB rushing yards per game than everyone except New England, Philly and Tampa. You can start Jacobs if you have to, but temper your expectations.
RB Miles Sanders, PHI (Wk. 5: vs. NYJ): It’s tough for me to endorse starting Sanders this week. He’s going to see enough volume to at least be in consideration for your flex spot, especially with the Eagles favored by two touchdowns, but the Jets have been stout against the run. Outside of 4 magical Devin Singletary carries in week 1, the Jets have allowed opposing backs to run for just 146 yards on 54 carries (2.7 ypc) despite facing Nick Chubb and Sony Michel in one-sided losses. The Jets have surrendered 3 rushing scores through 3 games, but after watching Thursday night’s game it’s hard to imagine the goal line carries would go to anyone but Jordan Howard. Sanders is going to need to break a long play or two to return solid value as a flex this week.
WR DK Metcalf, SEA (Wk. 5: @LAR): Metcalf posted just 1 catch for 6 yards last week, but the opportunity has still been there. He had 107 air yards worth of targets last weekend and was targeted in the end zone once and didn’t cash in. In fact, 40% of all of the Seahawks pass attempts into the end zone have targeted Metcalf so far. The opportunities will continue to be there this week and he matches up with a Rams defense that gave up 385 passing yards and 4 TDs to the Bucs Sunday. Metcalf is a boom-or-bust WR3 this week.
WR Mecole Hardman, KC (Wk. 5: vs. Ind.): Hardman had an abysmal game in Detroit last week, and while I’d like to see him get back on track at home against Indy, Patrick Mahomes hasn’t put up quite the same video game numbers in matchups against teams that play a lot of zone. In 5 games against teams that ranked in the top-10 in zone defense %, Mahomes topped 300 yards just once and threw for more than 2 TDs just twice (per Rotoworld’s Ian Hartitz). The upside is still there as it always is in this offense, but Hardman is probably on the wrong side of the borderline for me this week.
WR Terry McLaurin, WAS (Wk. 5: vs. NE): I can’t completely write off McLaurin this week since he’s had at least 5 catches for 60 yards and a TD in every game this year, but this is a week where I wouldn’t be very confident he gets to those numbers. The Patriots have been the league’s best defense this year. Sure it’s been aided by a schedule that included the Jets, Dolphins, and Bills already, but Washington still hasn’t decided who will be starting at QB this week. It could be a rough game for the entire offense. You can give McLaurin a try this week if you’re feeling spicy, but know that there is a low floor.
WR Diontae Johnson, PIT (Wk. 5: vs. Bal.): Johnson’s recent play with Mason Rudolph at quarterback has been solid enough to at least get him on the flex radar for now. Diontae has a 20% target share with Rudolph at the helm (just one fewer target than JuJu), and he’s found the end zone in back-to-back games. It was also a promising sign that the Steelers went right back to him after an early fumble. The concern for Johnson is that the Steelers have been a low volume passing offense that isn’t throwing the ball downfield. He was the recipient of a long TD pass on Monday night, but it was one of just 3 passes that Rudolph threw more than 10 yards downfield. The Ravens haven’t exactly been a shut down unit, ranking 25th in pass defense DVOA, but the Steelers’ current offense doesn’t make Johnson a high upside option. You’ll likely need him to find the end zone again to return strong value.

Rookies to Sit:
QB Gardner Minshew, JAX (Wk. 5: @Car.): Week in and week out, Minshew continues to put up solid performances and has proven to be a passable weekly QB2 option. That’s not too bad for a kid that NO ONE thought would start games this year. This week’s matchup isn’t one to target Minshew in though. He still may finish as that steady QB2 he’s been, but it’s hard to see the upside for much more than that. The Panthers are allowing a league-low 182 passing yards per game and have given up just 4 passing scores so far. There are more appealing QB2 options this week.
QB Dwayne Haskins, WAS (Wk. 5: vs. NE): Haskins’ NFL debut was an unmitigated disaster. It makes you wonder why Washington didn’t have him better prepared if they knew they would have such a quick hook with Keenum. It was bad enough that he might not even make the start this week. Colt McCoy is apparently now healthy and could get the nod Sunday. If Haskins does start again, this would be about as bad a week as I could imagine to play him. The Patriots have allowed zero passing scores and have 10 interceptions through 4 games. Run far away from him this week.
RB Alexander Mattison, MIN (Wk. 5: @NYG): Mattison’s fantasy upside this season has been directly tied to game script. He’s done nothing in close games and when the Vikings have trailed (6 carries for 30 yards against Green Bay and Chicago in losses), but he’s shown value in positive game scripts (21-107-1 against Atlanta and Oakland in blowout wins). The Vikings are favored this week by 5.5 points, so there is a chance for another strong outing. If you’re in a really deep league and are confident the Vikes win easily he’s a guy to keep in mind, but be aware that the highest reasonable expectation for Mattison would be in the ballpark of 50 yards and a TD.
RB Ryquell Armstead, JAX (Wk. 5: @Car.): Armstead surprised last week with nearly 50 scrimmage yards and a touchdown, but I wouldn’t chase last week’s points. It was the first extended playing time he’s gotten all year, and he still played just 14 offensive snaps. The Panthers haven’t been great against the run, ranking 29th in run defense DVOA, but I don’t expect Armstead to play enough to take advantage of that.
RB Tony Pollard, DAL (Wk. 5: vs. GB): The Packers look like a defense to target with your running backs this season, but your running back has to see the field to be able to take advantage. Pollard was great against the Dolphins in a blowout win, but in a close game with the Saints on Sunday night he played just 2 offensive snaps. Dallas is favored by 3.5 in this game, but I don’t see Green Bay getting too far out of this one at any point. Keep Pollard sideline this week.
RB Dexter Williams, GB (Wk. 5: @Dal.): Williams will likely get some chances to spell Aaron Jones if Jamaal Williams isn’t recovered from his head injury in time for this one, but I wouldn’t expect the split to be anywhere near as even as it is with Jones and Jamaal. Aaron Jones should operate as the clear lead back. The matchup isn’t ideal as the Cowboys have allowed the 8th-fewest RB points per game. Dexter is also a bit overpriced to be a cheap DFS play at $4,200 on DraftKings,
RB Jon Hilliman, NYG (Wk. 5: vs. Min.): Hilliman saw 10 carries last week with Saquon Barkley out of commission, but much of that work came with the game already out of hand after two Wayne Gallman touchdowns. New York is much less likely to run away with this game as a 5.5-point underdog against the Vikings. There isn’t any reason to consider Hilliman this week.
WR AJ Brown, TEN (Wk. 5: vs. Buf.): Brown came up with a huge performance in week 4, with his second game with 90+ yards while also scoring his first 2 touchdowns. The weekly performance swings with Brown are going to be huge, and this isn’t a week to target him to go off again. The Bills have a reputation as one of the most formidable secondaries in the league and rank 3rd in pass defense DVOA thus far. This is likely to be more of a floor week than ceiling for Brown.
WRs Deebo Samuel & Jalen Hurd, SF (Wk. 5: vs. Cle.): The 49ers have already had one of the toughest WR rotations to figure out from a fantasy perspective, and things get even messier this week with Jalen Hurd expected to make his debut and Tevin Coleman likely to return to steal some targets from the WR group. George Kittle is still option #1 in the passing game, but your guess is as good as mine when it comes to who is #2, 3, and 4. The Browns rank 9th in pass defense DVOA, so I’d prefer to look for other options rather roll the dice on one of the 49ers’ receivers this week.
WR Hunter Renfrow, OAK (Wk. 5: vs. Chi.): Renfrow’s role as the Raiders’ primary slot receiver is secure, but so is his limited upside. He’s yet to top 4 catches or 30 yards in a game and has just 2 red zone targets on the year. He faces the Bears’ elite defense this week. There isn’t a reason to expect a breakout game from Renfrow this week.
WR Miles Boykin, BAL (Wk. 5: @Pit.): Boykin found the end zone for the 2nd time in 4 games last weekend, but he’s still playing behind Willie Snead and Seth Roberts and the Ravens’ passing game runs through Hollywood and Mark Andrews. Boykin will have the occasional game where he finds the end zone, but they’re going to be hard to predict. Until he moves up the depth chart he’s best left on your bench.
WR Andy Isabella, ARI (Wk. 5: @Cin.): There was speculation that this could be the week that Isabella sees an expanded role with Christian Kirk out of action, but head coach Kliff Kingsbury dumped a bucket of cold water on that thought on Wednesday. Kingsbury reiterated that Isabella will continue to work primarily as a perimeter receiver for the time being, and Kirk plays the vast majority of his snaps in the slot. It’s possible that Kliff is just trying to keep plans to unleash Isabella in the slot secret, but for now I’ll take him at his word. Isabella has been running behind KeeSean Johnson and Trent Sherfield on the outside and is yet to play more than 8 snaps in a game. It’s still a situation to monitor on Sunday, but I would avoid playing him anywhere.
TE Zach Gentry, PIT (Wk. 5: vs. Bal.): Gentry profiles as more of a receiving tight end than newly acquired Nick Vannett, but it was Vannett who played 75% of the offensive snaps on Monday night and saw the only 2 tight end targets with Vance McDonald sidelined. If McDonald sits again this week, I wouldn’t expect much to change. The Ravens have given up 60 yards per game to opposing tight ends, but I wouldn’t count on Vannett and Gentry to combine for that amount this week.
TE Foster Moreau, OAK (Wk. 5: vs. Chi.): Moreau had his best game of the year last Sunday, going 3-30-1 on 3 targets, but he still has just 7 targets on the year and isn’t seeing enough volume to even be a DFS dart throw against the Bears in London.

Rookies on Byes: RB Ty Johnson, DET, WR Preston Williams, MIA, TE TJ Hockenson, DET

Deep League Sleepers, Stashes, and Cheap DFS Options:
RB Devin Singletary, BUF (Wk. 5: @Ten.): It appears that Singletary is on track to return from injury this week, but I’d be a little hesitant to trust him to have a full workload after a multi-week layoff. Still, there is some upside for him to have a solid return. The Titans have allowed 6.5 catches per game to opposing RBs. Frank Gore has just 5 targets on the year, and TJ Yeldon played just 7 offensive snaps in the 2 weeks Singletary was active. There is some upside for a decent PPR game if Singletary is a full go this week.
RB Damien Harris, NE (Wk. 5: @Was.): I mainly mention Harris here as a stash in deeper leagues. Sony Michel has been much less effective than expected this year. He has literally zero broken tackles through 4 games and he’s averaged just 2.8 yards per carry. If that continues, he’s eventually going to lose playing time. We’ve already been seeing a decent amount of Rex Burkhead mixing in, but it’s only a matter of time before Harris starts getting looks as well. In his first 2 years as a Patriot, Rex hasn’t exactly been a picture of health, missing 14 of a possible 32 games with a range of maladies. There isn’t a reason to consider Harris this week as he may be inactive again, but he’s definitely a guy to be aware of playing in an offense that has scored 42% of their touchdowns with the ground game since the start of 2017.
WR Parris Campbell, IND (Wk. 5: @KC): This is a moot point if TY Hilton winds up being active this week, but Campbell led the team with 8 targets last Sunday with their WR1 sidelined. They were mostly short targets, but this is a game where game script is likely to force the Colts to throw just as much as they did last week. If he manages to turn a couple of those short throws into bigger gains, he could suddenly be a sneaky WR4 in PPR leagues. Monitor Hilton’s status if you’re considering using Campbell this week.
WR KeeSean Johnson, ARI (Wk. 5: @Cin.): The Christian Kirk injury will open a ton of opportunity in this offense this week, and I don’t imagine that all of it will go to David Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald. Kirk is averaging better than 9 targets per game, and it isn’t as if the Cards will suddenly be run-heavy this week. The Bengals defense is strongest on the perimeter, where Johnson plays, but he’s a better bet to pick up some extra work this week than Trent Sherfield or Pharoh Cooper. That makes him an intriguing DFS dart throw at just $3,500 on DraftKings. The Bengals rank 31st in pass defense DVOA.
TE Noah Fant, DEN (Wk. 5: @LAC): Fant scored his first touchdown of the year in week 4, and while his yardage totals have been between 29 and 37 each week, his snap share has been consistently high. The Chargers have allowed 3 touchdowns to opposing tight ends in the first 4 games, which makes Fant a decent bet to find the end zone for a second consecutive week. There isn’t much more you can ask for from a bottom of the barrel TE option in DFS ($2,800 on DraftKings)
TE Dawson Knox, BUF (Wk. 5: @Ten.): Knox has worked his way into the rotation as the Bills’ primary receiving tight end and has posted lines of 3-67-1 and 3-58 in the past two weeks. He’s only seen 7 targets total in those two games, but so far he’s making the most of them. The Titans allowed a TD to an opposing tight end in each of the first 3 games of the year. They managed to prevent it from becoming 4 straight last Sunday, but they allowed Austin Hooper to go 9-130. This is an enticing matchup for Knox. It’s reasonable to expect him in the 40-50 yard range with possible TD.
That’s all I’ve got for this week. Hopefully it helps you with the toughest lineup decisions you have that involve rookies. Keep on eye on the injury report leading up to the games this week and make sure you don’t start any inactive players. If you have any specific questions for me or just want to yell at me because you started DK Metcalf on my advice last week, feel free to reach out on twitter and let me know (@Shawn_Foss). As always: Good luck, trust your gut, and have fun. It’s just a game.
Original article by Shawn Foss on drinkfive.com
submitted by xylopolist to fantasyfootball [link] [comments]

Week 13 - Panthers vs Saints - Pregame Report

GAME INFORMATION

ESPN GAME CENTER
TEAM Record Against the Spread
CAROLINA PANTHERS 8-3, 7-4-0 ATS
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS 8-3, 7-4-0 ATS
Betting Odds
Oddsshark Information
Spread Consensus: New Orleans -4.5
OveUnder: 48.5
GAME TIME AND LOCATION:
Mercedes-Benz Superdome - 4:25 PM - December 3, 2017
WEATHER FORECAST: It doesn't matter because they are wusses and play in a dome.
Stadium Type: Dome
NFL Broadcast Map - RED
Broadcast Station FOX
Announcers: Joe Buck and Troy Aikman
Where to Watch
NFL Red Zone - Provider Participation Required
NFL Streams - Look here 30 minutes before the game for Streams
Radio Broadcast Information
Need A Ticket?
/PANTHERS TICKET THREAD
StubHub
Ticketmaster
SeatGeek
Head Official John Hussey
CAROLINA WILL BE WEARING WHITE JERSEYS.

INJURY REPORT

Panthers Injuries
Player Position Injury Thu Fri Sat Gameday Status
Thomas Davis LB Hamstring DNP LP LP Questionable
Ryan Kalil C Neck LP LP LP Questioniable
Christian McCaffrey RB Shoulder DNP LP LP Questionable
Greg Olsen TE Foot DNP DNP DNP Questionable
John Theus T Illness DNP DNP DNP OUT
Shaq Thompson LB Foot LP LP LP Questioniable
Saints Injuries
Player Position Injury Thu Fri Sat Gameday Status
Coby Fleener TE Concussion DNP DNP DNP OUT
Marcus Williams S Groin DNP DNP DNP OUT
P.J Williams CB Ankle LP LP LP Questionable
Marshon Lattimore CB Ankle LP LP LP Questionable
Muhammed Wilkerson DE Foot LP LP LP Questionable
Terron Armstead T Thigh LP LP LP Questionable

PICKS

All 2017 expert NFL Picks compared for accuracy. A free, advert-click funded service tracking every analyst at ESPN, Bleacher Report, CBS, FOX, Yahoo!, ProFootballFocus, USA Today, Accuscore, NFL Network, NFL.com, SI.com and more – sorted by season win percentage.
Click HERE for breakdown of all expert picks
CAROLINA PANTHERS 9%
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS 91%

TOP TEN EXPERT PICKS

Rank Expert Network Season Record % Pick
1 Neil Greenberg 109-50 68%
2 Patrick Schmidt 120-57 67%
3 Kevin Sherrington 119-58 67%
4 Kayla Knierim 116-58 66%
5 Microsoft Cortana Cortana 117-60 66%
6 Mike Renner 117-60 66%
7 Jake Walerius 107-55 66%
8 Mike Dyce 116-61 65%
9 Nathan Jahnke 116-61 65%
10 Chris Burke 115-62 64%

PROJECT FIVETHIRTYEIGHT - 2017 TEAM PREDICTIONS

CAROLINA PANTHERS 34%
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS 66%
Click HERE for complete breakdown of Project FiveThirtyEight predictions for the 2017 season)

Season Prediction

ELO Rating One Week Change Pred Wins Pred Losses Playoffs? Win Division Win Super Bowl
1580 + 19 10.7 5.3 74% 24% 3%
1627 - 22 11.1 4.9 87% 56% 6%

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Julius Peppers
With CJ out for the next 4 weeks, Peppers will officially start at DE. Expect Brian Cox to help give him breaks, but the increased snap count could provide the freak of nature a chance to wreak havoc on Drew Brees. This will be crucial as the Panthers routinely sent 5 after Brees earlier this year and failed to put much pressure on the gunslinger. It will be interesting to see how Pep holds up in the 2nd half.
Luke Kuechly
The week 3 matchup with the Saints was incredibly sloppy on defense. Hardly anyone held their lanes against the run game and often tacklers set bad angles. The key to slowing down the Saints will lie with the defenses 5 star general. Luke needs to not only perform at his normal level, but help diagnose plays and keep the rest of the defense together. New Orleans used motion before the snap to confuse zone defenders against us in September, Luke will need to help keep everyone's assignment clear to better the Panthers' chance at success.
Worley/Bradberry/Seymour
The Carolina CBs will need to do something they aren't asked to do all that often this week. Play solid press coverage. Drew Brees gets the ball out extremely fast. That's one reason the DL didn't get much pressure on him in September and also a reason why they stayed ahead of the chains. If these 3 guys can be physical at the line and take away those short passes it will limit their game plan. Being physical shouldn't be a problem, but not getting beat deep is. Be careful of double moves this week "thieves."

MATCHUP HISTORY

All Time Record: 24-21 (Panthers lead)
Largest Victory: 45-13 (01/02/2000)
Current Streak: 1L
  • Since Cam came to Carolina, the Panthers are 7-6 against the Saints.
  • The 8-3 Panthers Have a chance to grab the division this week by winning against the similarly 8-3 Saints, who hold the division via tiebreaker due to a loss early in the year.
  • The last time the Saints and Panthers went into game 2 tied by record, and with the Saints holding the division (again, via a H2H tiebreaker), the Panthers came out on top and ended the 2013 season as division champion.
  • Since Cam started as the Panthers QB, the games have been high-scoring affairs, with only a single game coming under 38 combined points. In fact, 30+ points have been scored by a single team 12 times, 7 times by the Saints, and 5 times by the Panthers.

HEAD TO HEAD

CAROLINA OFFENSE VS. NEW ORLEANS DEFENSE
Points/Game 22.5 (#16) 20.2 (#12) Opp Points/Game
Yards/Game 333.2 (#16) 334.7 (#15) Opp Yards/Game
Points/Play 0.344 (#18) 0.329 (#13) Opp Points/Play
Yards/Play 5.1 (#20) 5.5 (#22) Opp Yards/Play
3D Conversion % 44.59% (#5) 439.58% (#18) Opp 3D Conv %
4D Conversion % 42.86% (#17) 33.33% (#8) Opp 4D Conv %
RZ Scoring % (TD) 54.29% (#16) 54.84% (#20) Opp RZ Scoring % (TD)
TDs/Game 2.4 (#17) 2.2 (#11) Opp TDs/Game
NEW ORLEANS OFFENSE VS. CAROLINA DEFENSE
Points/Game 29.3 (#4) 18.8 (#8) Opp Points/Game
Yards/Game 409.4 (#2) = 288.3 (#2) Opp Yards/Game
Points/Play 0.459 (#3) 0.333 (#14) Opp Points/Play
Yards/Play 6.4 (#1) 5.1 (#13) Opp Yards/Play
3D Conversion % 38.81% (#14) 35.51% (#9) Opp 3D Conv %
4D Conversion % 80.00% (#1) 26.67% (#4) Opp 4D Conv %
RZ Scoring % (TD) 60.53% (#5) 63.64% (#27) Opp RZ Scoring % (TD)
TDs/Game 3.3 (#2) 2.1 (#8) Opp TDs/Game

BY THE NUMBERS

*21.4%
The Panthers only converted 21.4 percent of their third down conversions against the Jets, but that shouldn't be cause for concern. The Panthers have shown that they can do much more with much less: since they entered the league in 1995, they are the only NFL team with three wins where no third downs were converted (the Bengals are the only team with 2, 11 teams have one such game). For the curious: 2006 against Cleveland, 2011 against Tampa Bay (the 91-yard LaFell TD game), and 2013 against New Orleans (the Hixon game).
10
Kaelin Clay's spin cycle punt return for a touchdown was the 10th punt return TD in Panthers history. Clay moves into a five-way tie for second on the all-time leaderboard, joining Eric Guilford, Winslow Oliver, Iheanyi Uwaezuoke, and Philcorey Brown. Clay has a long way to go to chase down Steve Smith, who took five punts back for scores in his time as a Panther. Ice up, son.
61.7%
Looking ahead to the game against the Saints, our first rematch against an NFC South opponent this season, it's useful to look at the first game and try to figure out what went wrong. The story of that game was Cam's interceptions, all three of which came when he wasn't facing pressure. Per Pro Football Focus, Cam is actually tied with DeShone Kizer for the worst completion percentage in a clean pocket, at 61.7 percent. But on the flip side, Cam is second only to Tom Brady in completion percentage under pressure at 56.7%. So, weirdly, Cam is almost more accurate under duress.
91.8
In the Louisiana Superdome, where the Saints will host Cam Newton and the Panthers this Sunday, Cam has a QB rating of 91.8, which is actually superior to his QB rating on his home turf at Bank of America Stadium (85.8). His completion percentage there is also superior than at home (60.56 to 58.49) as is his TD-INT ratio (3 to 1.6). Granted, his winning percentage at home (61.8) is better than in NO (50), but maybe the bright lights of the Bayou is what he needs to start his typical end-of-season tear?
47.4
That's another QB rating. Specifically, 47.4 is the QB rating allowed by Saints rookie CB Marshon Lattimore on the 38 times he's been targeted so far this year. Even scarier is the fact that Lattimore missed the first game of the season. We don't know for sure if he's going to play in this game or not, but the Saints already will be fielding an Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate in Alvin Kamara. Hopefully they won't have their DROY candidate either.

PANTHERS POWER RANKINGS

Outlet Rank Last Week Weekly Change Notes
7 7 - The Panthers have a huge NFC South showdown at New Orleans this week, and Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore’s health is of the utmost importance. The Panthers only have one viable option at receiver, and that’s Devin Funchess. If Lattimore is close to 100 percent and can limit Funchess, I’m not sure where else the Panthers passing offense would turn, especially if tight end Greg Olsen’s foot injury is still an issue.
8 8 - An 8-3 team has to be doing a lot stuff well, but the Panthers' biggest strength this season might be what they don't do: commit penalties. Carolina has been flagged a league-low 67 times, and only 21 of those have been against the defense.
8 8 - Recap: Two days before this road tilt with the Jets, the Panthers got back one of their key offensive weapons back as tight end Greg Olsen was activated from injured reserve. But he would not last the afternoon as he reinjured his foot and was lost for the remainder of the game. Meanwhile, Carolina managed to gain only 299 yards of total offense but got scoring contributions from the defense (Luke Kuechly’s 34-yard fumble return) and special teams (Kaelin Clay’s 60-yard punt return). The Panthers somehow managed to put 35 points on the board with Cam Newton completing only 11-of-28 passes. Next Week: It is the biggest game of the season in the NFC South, at least to date. The Panthers look to avenge that surprising 34-13 home loss to the Saints back in Week 3. The Superdome has been fairly kind to Carolina as Rivera’s club has won three times in the past five years in the Big Easy. Playoff Hopes: While this team doesn’t resemble the 2015 NFC champions, it has proven to be very resilient and has improved following an up-and-down start. Avenging that 21-point home loss to the Saints back in September is huge if Ron Rivera’s club wants to win the NFC South.
6 7 ↑ 1 The Panthers keep finding ways to win. But if they’re going to be a legitimate contender for NFC supremacy, they need QB Cam Newton to be more consistent as a passer. They need TE Greg Olsen’s surgically repaired foot to be sound enough for him to return to being Newton’s security blanket. And they need rookie RB Christian McCaffrey to be a versatile and dynamic part of the offense, game in and game out.
7 6 ↓ 1 WR Devin Funchess has come alive since Kelvin Benjamin's departure, averaging nearly 100 yards and a TD in three games since ex-mate's trade.
6 5 ↓ 1 The Panthers sort of sleepwalked through the game against the Jets. The big thing, though, is the defense made some big plays when it had to, and Carolina found a way to win when Cam Newton wasn't playing his best. Newton was off against New York. However, that may have been a product of the bye week, and I don't expect it to be a trend. This was one of the poorer games the Panthers have played this season, but they found a way to come out on top. They deserve credit for that. Carolina got enough big plays from each side of the ball, plus a special teams touchdown. This was the type of sloppy win that can motivate a team to tighten things up. I still view Carolina as a legit title contender.
7 8 ↑ 1 Was afraid that the Panthers might fall flat at the Big Snoopy. Called it in my "Game Picks" column and on the "Power Rankings Show" last week, in the "Rankings Wrecker" segment. What was nice to see from Carolina -- despite the scare from Josh McCown and Gang Green (to clarify, McCown doesn't have gangrene) -- was the defense and special teams stepping up when the outcome was on the line. For the Panthers to be successful, especially in January, it can't be solely the Cam Newton show. Luke Kuechly's fumble recovery for a TD, then New York being forced into a three-and-out followed by a punt-return touchdown was encouraging for a Panthers outfit too often spoken for by the franchise quarterback in the, uh, loud outfits.
6 7 ↑ 1 It wasn't pretty against the Jets, but they found a way. Now they face a big division road game against the Saints.

NFL STANDINGS

Team Overall Record Division Division Record Conf Record PF PA Streak
Eagles 10-1 NFC East 4-0 8-0 351 191 W9
Steelers 9-2 AFC North 3-0 6-1 258 193 W6
Vikings 9-2 NFC North 3-1 7-1 271 195 W7
Patriots 9-2 AFC East 2-0 6-1 325 220 W7
Rams 8-3 NFC West 2-1 5-3 329 206 W1
Saints 8-3 NFC South 2-0 6-2 322 222 L1
Panthers 8-3 NFC South 2-1 4-3 248 207 W4
Titans 7-4 AFC South 3-1 6-4 242 269 W1
Jaguars 7-4 AFC South 2-1 7-2 269 168 L1
Falcons 7-4 NFC South 1-1 6-1 265 230 W3
Seahawks 7-4 NFC West 4-0 5-3 266 212 W1
Chiefs 6-5 AFC North 2-1 4-3 272 236 L3
Ravens 6-5 NFC East 2-1 5-3 236 187 W2
Bills 6-5 AFC East 1-1 4-3 224 260 W1
Lions 6-5 NFC North 3-1 5-4 294 264 L1
Cowboys 6-6 NFC East 3-1 5-4 286 284 W1
Bengals 5-6 AFC North 2-2 5-5 199 215 W2
Chargers 5-6 AFC West 2-2 3-5 249 202 W2
Packers 5-6 NFC North 2-2 4-4 232 261 L2
Raiders 5-6 AFC West 2-2 5-5 225 261 W1
Cardinals 5-6 NFC West 2-2 3-5 203 278 W1
Redskins 5-7 NFC East 1-4 4-6 272 314 L1
Jets 4-7 AFC East 2-3 4-4 228 257 L2
Dolphins 4-7 AFC East 1-2 3-4 174 289 L5
Bucs 4-7 NFC South 0-3 2-5 223 262 L1
Texans 4-7 AFC South 1-2 3-5 283 285 L1
Colts 3-8 AFC South 1-3 2-5 195 300 L2
Bears 3-8 NFC North 0-4 1-8 177 252 L4
Broncos 3-8 AFC West 2-3 2-6 197 280 L7
Giants 2-9 NFC East 0-3 0-8 172 267 L1
49ers 1-10 NFC West 0-5 1-9 187 284 L1
Browns 0-11 AFC North 0-4 0-9 166 289 L11
  • (x) Clinched Division
  • (z) Clinched Bye
  • (y) Clinched Playoff Berth

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Krispy Kreme changes Panthers Campaign
Kaelin Clay gets a game ball with first punt return TD since 2014
Luke named Defensive player of the week
Panthers become the 8th team outside the AFC East to sweep the division.
Charles Johnson suspended 4 games for performance enhancing drugs.
QB Controversy in Carolina
Daryl Williams is 4th highest graded tackle.
Cam vs. Cam: Panthers’ Newton and Saints’ Jordan escalate their war of words
Bye Week Grades by BananaGooP
How The Panthers Can Beat The Saints
Dameire Byrd activated to fill Charles Johnson's roster spot
Everything But Football: Luke Kuechly
Cam gets a sweet moustache to prove he is old enough for those roughing the passer calls.
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Forgotten Games: Part IV- Cleveland Browns @ Chicago Bears (Week 8, 2001)

This is the fourth part of a series I’m going to be doing on NFL. In each installment, I will highlight a great game that many fans may not know/have forgotten about. My goal with this series is to shine some light on the forgotten games of NFL history. While some of these games are fairly recent, it is my belief that more people need to be aware of them. If you prefer to quickly skim this article, I have included several charts at the bottom of this post, including a scoring summary and stats recap. I already have a fairly long list of potential games, however, if you do have a suggestion, put it in the comments. Please let me know if you’d like to see this again and some changes I could make to make these more engaging.
Detroit Lions at Tennessee Titans - September 23rd, 2012
Chicago Bears at Atlanta Falcons - October 12th, 2008
Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville Jaguars - October 3rd, 2010
Cleveland Browns at Chicago Bears - November 4th, 2001
Coming Next: Atlanta Falcons at Pittsburgh Steelers - November 10th, 2002
Seasons so far:
Cleveland Browns- The Browns were coming off a bye week, and were 3-2 in their matchups so far. They had lost by a score of 9-6 to the Seattle Seahawks in Week 1, but defeated the Detroit Lions the next week. In Weeks 3 & 4, the Browns defeated the Jacksonville Jaguars and San Diego Chargers. They then lost to the Cincinnati Bengals 24-14, and defeated the Ravens 24-14 before entering their bye week. The Browns passing game was abysmal, with QB Tim Couch cracking 200 yards passing only once so far in the season (Week 3 vs Jacksonville Jaguars). Their rushing offense was not much better, only rushing for 40 yards against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 5. They did post a 139-yard performance against the Detroit Lions in Week 2. The Browns made their living on defense, where they were stout against the pass. They allowed the following passing performances between Weeks 1-6: 150, 189, 161, 143, 201, 208. Their rushing defense was a little more porous, allowing 199 yards in a loss to the Bengals. The Browns defense also recorded 7 turnovers in Week 2. The Browns were not anything special, but they were in the midst of a season that fans today would kill for.
Chicago Bears- The Bears were 5-1 entering the game, and although the stats did not show utter dominance, they meshed together as a team to generate wins. They were coming off an OT win over the San Francisco 49ers, and were riding high off early-season momentum. The Bears had lost to the Baltimore Ravens, and defeated the Minnesota Vikings before an early Week 3 bye. The Bears then won over the Atlanta Falcons, Arizona Cardinals, Cincinnati Bengals, and San Francisco 49ers. Their passing offense, led by QB Jim Miller, was a middling attack, with Miller failing to break 250 passing yards so far during the season. The Bears rushing offense (with RB Anthony Thomas) was very up-and-down. During the first three games of the season, the Bears failed to rush for over 80 yards in a game. However, the following three weeks, the rushing attack was unstoppable, with the Bears posting the following totals: 137, 203, 135. On defense, the Bears pass defense was solid, giving up 235 passing yards a game. Their rush defense was normally reliable, save for 104-yard and 103-yard performances by the Minnesota Vikings and Atlanta Falcons in consecutive weeks. The Bears were a team to look out for, and many expected them to prevail.
Gameday:
Pre-Game Report- This game was fairly hyped up, and was slated to start at 4:05 PM. [This]() ESPN article from 2001 provides game predictions for each matchup, and every expert predicted a Bears victory. With starting QB Jim Miller out, backup Shane Matthews was given the start. However, many fans still expected an exciting game, as Cleveland could catch fire at any second. Over 65,000 raucous fans packed into the stands of Soldier Field to enjoy the game on a 48° day. The betting line was set at Chicago -4.5, and the O/U was at 34.
Some players of note included:
Cleveland Browns Chicago Bears
QB Tim Couch, WR Quincy Morgan, DE Courtney Brown, LB Jamir Miller, CB Corey Fuller QB Shane Matthews, WR Marty Booker, DE Bryan Robinson, LB Brian Urlacher, S Mike Brown
First Quarter- On the opening kickoff, Bears RB Autry Denson returned the kick 37 yards to the Chicago 38 yard line. However, on only the second play of the game, disaster struck for the Bears. QB Shane Matthews was strip-sacked by Browns LB Wali Rainer. The loose ball was scooped up by DE Courtney Brown and taken in for a score, giving the Browns an early 7-0 advantage. Many felt that this play was a sign of things to come, as the Browns continually battered Matthews. The Bears were more efficient and began to get into a rhythm. On 3rd-and-3 at the Chicago 40, Matthews found RB Anthony Thomas for a 21-yard gain and a first down. However, two plays later, Matthews was picked off by S Earl Little. This was the second Bears turnover in only 2:54, and many fans began to grumble. The Browns took over, and although QB Tim Couch completed a 16-yard pass to WR Kevin Johnson, the offense eventually stalled out. The Bears took over possession, and began to drive downfield. On a drive that lasted 6:21, the Bears converted two third downs, and were in business. However, on the 13th play of the drive, Matthews threw his second INT of the game, this time to LB Brant Boyer. Having already committed three turnovers in the first quarter, Bears fans became increasingly restless with the offense’s play. The Browns offense was sputtering as well, and were forced to punt after just three plays. The Bears took the ball back, and on the third to last play of the quarter (a 3rd-and-7), Matthews found WR Dez White for a 32-yard gain. After 15 minutes, the score was Cleveland Browns 7, Chicago Bears 0.
Second Quarter- On the first play of the second quarter, Matthews was sacked by DE Greg Spires, and the Bears were forced to punt. The Browns received the ball back, but were unable to get going, and themselves had to punt. The Bears and Browns proceeded to trade punts, and Chicago received the ball with 8:29 remaining in the half. On the first play of the drive, Matthews found WR Marty Booker for 13 yards. Three plays later, Matthews hit WR David Terrell for a 15-yard gain. An additional 15 yards was tacked on due to a taunting foul by Earl Little. However, a holding penalty killed the drive, and the Bears were forced to punt on 4th-and-14. On the first play of the ensuing Browns drive, Couch found TE O.J. Santiago for a 19-yard gain. However, Couch was sacked by Bears DE Phillip Daniels, and the Browns offense would not recover. The Bears received the ball with 2:37 and 3 timeouts to use. On the first play of the drive, Matthews found Dez White for a 16-yard gain. However, the next play, RB Anthony Thomas lost 17 yards on a failed stretch play. Following the two-minute warning, Matthews found Thomas for an 18-yard gain, giving the Bears a first down at their own 46-yard line. The very next play, Matthews found Thomas once again, this time for 23 yards. Two plays later, on 3rd-and-5, Matthews completed a 6-yard pass to Marty Booker. Following two incomplete passes from the Cleveland 2, Anthony Thomas plunged in on third-and-goal. Kicker Paul Edinger’s XP was good, and the was tied 7-7 at halftime.
Third Quarter- The opening kickoff of the second half was returned by RB Jamel White for 31 yards, setting up the Browns at their own 43-yard line. The Browns moved inside the 35-yard line, but on 3rd-and-1 at the 31, RB James Jackson was stopped for no gain. Unfazed, coach Butch Davis elected to go for it on 4th-and-1. Couch completed a 28-yard pass to WR Quincy Morgan,setting up the Browns with 1st-and-goal at the 3. The next play, Couch found WR Mike Sellers for the touchdown, making the score 14-7. The following drive, Matthews connected with Marty Booker for 12 yards and 16 yards. However, after 5 straight Anthony Thomas runs, Chicago allowed Matthews to pass again. Matthews’s pass was intercepted by CB Raymond Jackson, but Jackson was unable to return the INT. Matthews had thrown his 3rd INT of the day, and many Bears fans wondered if their team would ever be able to break through. The defense was playing lights out, but the offense was unable to score any points outside of a second-quarter TD run. The Browns went on a quick efficient drive, including a 17-yard run by James Jackson and a 20-yard reception by WR Dennis Northcutt. The next play, Couch went deep for Kevin Johnson, who made the catch and sprinted into the endzone for a 55-yard TD. As Bears fans became increasingly agitated, their offense went 3-and-out. The Browns took the ball back following a Chicago punt, but Couch was sacked by LB Rosevelt Colvin on the first play of the drive. The Browns would not recover from the sack, and Couch found TE Aaron Shea for a 4-yard gain on the final play of the third quarter. After three quarters, the score was Cleveland Browns 21, Chicago Bears 7.
Fourth Quarter- It was during the fourth quarter that this game became legendary. The first play of the quarter was a punt, which Bears RB Leon Johnson returned 35 yards. The long runback set up the Bears offense with the ultimate chance to score, at their own 49-yard line. Five plays later, the Bears faced 4th-and-4 at the Cleveland 30. The Bears elected to go for it, but Matthews was sacked by Courtney Brown for a 10-yard loss, and the Browns took possession with 12:17 remaining. The Browns would proceed to go 3-and-out, and would kick the ball right back to the struggling Bears offense. The Bears got the ball back, and gained 15 yards on the first play due to a roughing the passer penalty. However, the drive would stall, and the Bears would face 4th-and-20 from the Cleveland 43 with 5:46 remaining. Down 14, and with no choice but to go for it, Matthews took the snap and threw a deep pass intended for Dez White. White was unable to corral the pass, and the Browns took over with only 5:39 left in the game. Hope appeared to be lost for the Bears, as fans began to make their way to the exits. The Bears offense, whose QB had thrown three INTs, did not have a spectacular showing by any means. The Browns offense came back onto the field, and James Jackson gained 12 yards on the first play of the drive. Three plays later, on 3rd-and-12, Jackson was tackled for no gain. However, a personal foul by LB Warrick Holdman negated the result of the play, giving the Browns 15 yards and a first down. The Browns, however, would stall just outside of field goal range and be forced to punt. The Bears received the ball with 1:52 remaining and down by 14. The game appeared to have slipped away, as the Browns seemed to have come into Chicago and stolen the game. On the second play of the drive, Matthews found Marty Booker for a 14-yard game. Matthews would then proceed to complete a 12-yarder to Dez White, a 9-yarder to David Terrell, a 17-yarder to RB James Allen, and a 13-yarder to Dez White. With only 0:36 remaining, Matthews spiked the ball at the Cleveland 14. Then, on 3rd-and-5, Matthews found Marty Booker in the endzone, making the score 21-14. The Bears still appeared to be finished, down by 7 with only 0:32 remaining. However, Paul Edinger’s onside kick attempt was successful, as LB Bobbie Howard recovered the bouncing kick. Matthews then proceeded to find James Allen for consecutive 4- and 9-yard gains. With only 0:08 remaining, the Bears decided to run a Hail Mary. On the final play, Matthews stepped up and heaved a pass into the endzone. The ball was deflected by a scrum, and bounced towards the side of the endzone. James Allen made a diving catch,securing what appeared to be the game-tying TD. The referees conferred, and confirmed that the touchdown would stand. Edinger’s extra point was good, and despite te Bears’ abysmal showing on offense, the game was going to OT, tied at 21.
Overtime- In overtime, the Bears received the ball first, and Leon Johnson returned the kick 31 yards, to the Chicago 32. However, the Bears went 3-and-out, and were forced to punt on 4th-and-2. Punter Brad Maynard kicked the ball 52 yards downfield to a waiting Dennis Northcutt, who returned the kick 4 yards. On the first play of the drive, Tim Couch found Kevin Johnson for a 16-yard gain, and Chicago’s heroics appeared to be all for naught. The next play, Couch was sacked by Rosevelt Colvin. Then, on 2nd-and-15, Couch dropped back, and fired a pass towards the right side of the field. The ball was deflected by DE Bryan Robinson,who caused the ball to carom into the air. S Mike Brown, who had not made a big play all day, ran under the ball and intercepted it. Brown then proceeded to race into the endzone for the game winning TD, capping what was one of the most improbable victories in NFL history. Despite their awful showing during the first 55 minutes, the Bears offense was able to buckle down when it mattered the most, and they prevailed: Chicago Bears 27, Cleveland Browns 21.
Rest of the season:
Cleveland Browns- The Browns would go 7-9, and finish 3rd in the AFC Central. The following week, they would lose in OT once again, this time to the hated Pittsburgh Steelers. Two consecutive wins over division rivals Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals had Browns fans ecstatic, but four consecutive December losses dampened the high spirits. A 41-38 victory over the Tennessee Titans moved the team to 7-8, and in Week 17, the Browns finished off the season with a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. QB Tim Couch would have a rather disastrous season, although his 3040 passing yards would not suggest so. Rather it was his 17:21 TD/INT ratio that undid the Browns. The Browns rushing attack was non-existent, as leading rusher James Jackson had only 554 yards and 2 TDs. Jamel White was more productive in the TDs department (5), but he only rushed for 443 yards. In the receiving part of the game, WR Kevin Johnson was the only bright spot, leading the team in receptions (85), receiving yards (1097), and receiving TDs (9). The next best receiver on the team was WR JaJuan Dawson, who recorded a grand total of 22 catches for 281 yards and a score. On defense, CB Anthony Henry led the team in INTs, with a whopping 10 picks. LB Jamir Miller would lead the team in sacks (13) and forced fumbles (4). While the Browns 2001 season was forgettable, no fans of either side will forget this game anytime soon.
Chicago Bears- The Bears enjoyed an extremely successful season going 13-3, as well as earning the top spot in the NFC Central. Despite starting QB Jim Miller returning the following week, Chicago still fell to the Green Bay Packers, 20-12. Three consecutive victories had them at 9-2 entering Week 13. A week 13 loss to the Green Bay Packers dropped them to 9-3, which would be their last loss on the year. Four consecutive victories to close out the season catapulted them into the playoffs, and the Bears had all the momentum. Despite all this, the Bears would be eliminated in their first playoff game (against the Philadelphia Eagles in the Divisional Round), 33-19. The Bears passing offense was mediocre, with Jim Miller passing for 2299 yards and 13 TDs/10 INTs. Backup Shane Matthews passed for 694 yards, 5 TDs and 6 INTs. In rushing, RB Anthony Thomas led the team with 1183 yards and 7 TDs. The best receiver on the team was Marty Booker, who caught 100 passes for 1071 yards and 8 TDs. On defense, Mike Brown led the team in INTs (5). LB Rosevelt Corvin led the team in sacks (10.5), while several plays on the Bears defense tied for the team lead in forced fumbles (3). While the Bears quickly faltered in the playoffs, their regular season was a thing of beauty, featuring two consecutive overtime victories (both of which were won on an OT Mike Brown pick-six).
Charts:
This game’s PFR page is available here.
Points Summary-
Team Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 OT Final
Cleveland Browns 7 0 14 0 0 21
Chicago Bears 0 7 0 14 6 27
Scoring Summary-
Quarter Time Team Detail Cleveland Browns Chicago Bears
Q1 14:05 Cleveland Browns Courtney Brown 25-yard fumble return TD 7 0
Q2 0:20 Chicago Bears Anthony Thomas 2-yard rushing TD 7 7
Q3 10:25 Cleveland Browns Mike Sellers 3-yard receiving TD 14 7
3:08 Cleveland Browns Kevin Johnson 55-yard receiving TD 21 7
Q4 0:28 Chicago Bears Marty Booker 9-yard receiving TD 21 14
0:00 Chicago Bears James Allen 34-yard receiving TD 21 21
OT 12:10 Chicago Bears Mike Brown 16-yard INT return TD 21 27
Statsheet-
PlayeTeam Passing Completions Passing Yards Passing TDs
Tim Couch, Cleveland Browns 14/23 211 Yards 2 TDs
Shane Matthews, Chicago Bears 30/50 357 Yards 2 TDs
Rush Attempts Rushing Yards Rushing TDs
James Jackson, Cleveland Browns 22 71 Yards 0 TD
Anthony Thomas, Chicago Bears 31 96 Yards 1 TD
Catches Receiving Yards Receiving TDs
Kevin Johnson, Cleveland Browns 5 99 Yards 1 TD
Dez White, Chicago Bears 7 92 Yards 0 TD
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Offseason with Cidolfus: Rebuilding the Defense

Rebuilding the Defense

Last week, I examined how the Dolphins might approach rebuilding the offense, and this week I’m going to take a look on at the other side of the ball. Even though the defense has more foundational pieces, I think there’s a lot more interesting discussion to be had here than on offense. It’s fairly simple to analyze what’s wrong with the current state of our offense and propose a solution moving forward: we need a quarterback and we need to solidify the offensive line. That’s obviously easier said than done, but in a series that’s mostly concerned with team-building on a macro-level, there’s not a lot of debate to be had about that as a path forward. As I’ve said before, I don’t pretend to be a great evaluator of talent and most of my individual player analysis is largely dependent on statistical analysis of their performance and contract projections based on those performance metrics.
Unlike the Dolphins offense, though, the defense is at a crossroads. Current personnel puts the team in an interesting position, particularly because the contracts on the books leave us extremely thin along the defensive line, particularly at defensive end. This presents both a major hurdle to overcome (pass rushers are a premium in the NFL and expensive to replace) and also a huge opportunity to make some changes (we have an awful lot of flexibility to change our scheme). With that in mind, I’m going to propose two different strategies for the defense based on what I view as the two major options for this team.
Like last week, let’s take a look at the defensive depth chart after our cuts and before free agency.
Position 1 2 3
DE
DT Godchaux Spense
DT Taylor Norton
DE Harris
OLB Alonso
MLB McMillan Allen
OLB Baker
CB Howard Davis
CB Tankersley McTyer Armstrong
SCB McCain
FS Fitzpatrick Aikens
SS Jones/McDonald
If you missed the entries explaining the decisions leading to the above, links are below:

Two Paths Forward

Those of you who have been following these posts have no doubt noticed I’ve been in favor of considering a move to a 3-4 front. First we’ll take a look at what options are available to us assuming we stay in a 4-3 front, then we’ll examine different choices we might make if we make the switch. Before anyone mentions it, yes, I am aware that it’s more likely that we’re going to continue to do what most NFL teams do and run some blend of the two. I am also aware that in today’s passing-heavy NFL the nickel defense is more often than not a team’s base defense by snap count. That said, whether we see ourselves primarily as a 4-3 or 3-4 front, particularly as how it relates to our formation at the line even in the nickel defense.
Patrick Graham, the Green Bay Packers linebackers coach, is reported to be Flores’s pick for defensive coordinator, and the Packers have primarily ran a 3-4 front during his tenure with the team. They brought in Mike Pettine last year who, on his arrival, spoke openly about how they would run a combination of both 3-4 and 4-3 fronts with pass rushers standing up or with their hand in the dirt in different situations as necessary. Pettine commented, though, that their personnel would dictate their philosophy. I expect that’s exactly what’s going to happen in Miami next season.
First, we’ll look at personnel decisions that would lead to keeping a 4-3 front; then we’ll take a look at what would need to change to adopt personnel that lean more to 3-4 as our primary look.

The 4-3 Front: Returning Free Agents

The following assumes we plan to keep a primarily 4-3 front. The decisions with our exclusive rights free agents and restricted free agents (as we’ll discuss in just a second) won’t change substantially regardless of which scheme we decide to run, at least as it concerns impacting the salary cap available. That said, it could pretty dramatically change our free agency and drafting strategy as to how we handle unrestricted free agents and who we target in the draft.

Exclusive Rights Free Agents

Just like with the offense, these are minimum salary guys who aren’t going to have any real impact on our salary cap space available. We have two ERFA players on defense: Jonathan Woodard at defensive end and Maurice Smith at safety. Expect both to come back and compete for spots on the roster regardless of which scheme we choose.

Restricted Free Agents

Mike Hull is our only restricted free agent on defense, and unless he agrees to a minimum contract with us, he’s certainly not going to be offered any of the tenders. If we keep him, it’s not going to have any meaningful impact on our cap space, so this isn’t much of a discussion worth having.

Unrestricted Free Agents

Before we get into the more difficult decisions, let’s look at the easy names not to bring back: Sylvester Williams and Ziggy Hood. Both are over thirty and playing at what ultimately amounts to replacement level. Both played under veteran minimum deals with the Dolphins last year, so their salary cap charge was minimal. It’s possible they could be retained on similar deals moving forward, but that decision won’t meaningfully impact the cap, and I think with Godchaux, Taylor, and Spence returning at defensive tackle, anybody else we’re looking for that rotation in a 4-3 will be a young flyer who we see having developmental potential or a high draft pick we’re bringing in to be an obvious upgrade. The more snaps veterans are taking away from young guys with potential on the team, the worse we’re doing, and with two recently-drafted young guys already at DT, I don’t see bringing back two guys on the wrong side of 30 who we brought in to fill out depth after injuries as key players to retain.
The next free agent on the list is William Hayes. Hayes is an interesting veteran presence to consider whether we move to a 4-3 or 3-4 front because he could feasibly slide in at defensive end in a 3-4 front instead of outside linebacker. Unfortunately, I think his age and injury history are going to work against him here. Hayes will be 34 by the time the 2019 season begins, and it’s likely that he’s looking at retirement. We retained him on a one-year, $4 million deal last season, and he only ended up playing three games for us before suffering a season-ending injury. While Hayes has potential and we need depth at the position, I just don’t see us returning him for the 2019 season.
This brings us to the biggest decision that the Dolphins have to make about our own free agents in 2019. The reason that the Miami Dolphins have primarily run a 4-3 front in recent memory is because of one player: Cameron Wake. Wake does his best work with his hand in the dirt, and efforts to put him at outside linebacker standing up and occasionally dropping into coverage (which we’ve done occasionally since we adopted the wide nine under Vance Joseph and Matt Burke) have had mixed results at best.
But Cameron Wake isn’t under contract. Despite having a productive season last year (six sacks, ten hits, and 38 pressures), Wake is at the tail-end of his career. Wake will be 37 before the 2019 season kicks off, and he’s stated that he’s interested in coming back to the Dolphins in the right circumstances. The change in the coaching staff and move toward a rebuild certainly muddy those waters. How much money does he want? What’s his role on the defense going to be? It’s not worth Wake or the Dolphins’s time to pay Wake a lot to play out of position most of the time. Will he accept a smaller role if we do change our scheme and he’s only in on obvious passing downs? Will he accept the pay cut that goes with that reduced role in the defense?
For this first time in the past several years, Wake will not be the first or second most important player on our defensive line. He can’t be. At nearly 37-years-old, it’s painfully obvious that Wake does not make the cut under our new 2021 rule. He’s no longer a foundational building block for this team, and we can’t make our defensive decisions up front based around his skillset any longer.
Wake wants to come back, though, and I think the organization realizes how important it is to treat Wake right. The optics on treating long-time veterans well are important (although perhaps not as important as some people would like to believe). Whether we keep or move on from Wake, the way we handle that decision is going to be important. He can still be productive in pass-rushing situations (he’s finished fourth, twelvth, and fourth in the past three seasons in PFF’s pass rushing productivity metric), but we he’s obviously not the long-term future of the team.
If we plan to stick primarily in a 4-3 front, I expect to see us try to retain Wake as a pass-rushing specialist on a one-year, fully-guaranteed deal in the ballpark of around $6 million--a little more than the deal we gave William Hayes to return last year. Such a move would leave us with about $23.2 million in salary cap space remaining.

The 4-3 Front: Other Free Agents

So based on the moves above, let’s see where our depth chart is at headed into free agency on defense.
Position 1 2 3
DE Wake
DT Godchaux Spence
DT Taylor Norton
DE Harris
OLB Alonso
MLB McMillan Allen
OLB Baker
CB Howard Davis
CB Tankersley McTyer Armstrong
SCB McCain
FS Fitzpatrick Aikens
SS Jones/McDonald Smith
We need a lot of depth across the board, particularly in our front seven, but looking at this list I see two positions where we absolutely need to look at upgrading our starters: defensive end and our second boundary corner position. We’ve got approximately $24.2 million to pursue these two positions, and I expect we’re going to prioritize finding someone who can start right away at defensive end and then look to a middle-of-the-road free agent corner who can provide some stability at the position opposite Xavien Howard. As I mentioned in previous entries, even consistently average production at our second boundary corner position would be absolutely huge for us. Let’s start with the options at defensive end.

Defensive End

Trey Flowers, New England - 25: This move just seems to make sense. Flowers is a young, talented defensive end who performed well against both the pass and the rush last year. His Pass Rushing Productivity was 18th among 185 qualifying defensive ends at 8.3 (nine sacks, twelve hits, and 43 hurries on 466 passing snaps where he rushed on 94.6% of those snaps. He saw pass rushing snaps from both the left and right side of the line and was more effective on the left side (as is typical). Flowers also posted a solid 10.5% Run Stop Percentage (PFF’s stat which tracks the number of defensive stops against the run--specifically tackles that result in a loss for the offense) which was 20th among 123 qualifying defensive ends.
There’s also the obvious connection with Brian Flores as our presumed head-coach-to-be. We’ve seen over and over (not just on the Dolphins) how new coaches like to try to bring some pieces they’re familiar with along with them. Moreover, the Patriots aren’t in a great position to retain Flowers long-term. While Gronkowski retiring would certainly save them some substantial cap space, they have a number of key free agents to retain that would make the cost of paying Flowers starting defensive end money pretty difficult without makin some deep cuts. Spotrac projects Flowers’s market value at $15.3 million per year, and even with Gronkowski gone, the Patriots only figure to have about $30 million in cap space gone with free agents like Trenton Brown, Jason McCourty, Chris Hogan, Malcom Brown, Stephen Gostkowski, Phillip Dorsett, Danny Shelton, and LaAdrian Waddle all having played more than 30% of snaps slated to hit unrestricted free agency. Obviously some of those guys are more replaceable than others, but it would be hard to make a market offer for Flowers (or tag him) and keep other important parts of the core together.
Frank Clark, Seattle - 25: Clark is comparable to Flowers as a defensive end target. He’s also extremely young, and while Flowers had more defensive stops (Clark’s run stop percentage was 5.6% although he still graded positively overall for run defense), Clark performed slightly better as a pass rusher (his overall 8.7 pass rushing productivity score was twelfth best in the league with 13 sacks, 13 hits, and 38 hurries on 465 pass-rushing snaps).
Unlike New England, Seattle has the cap space to make keeping Clark a priority. Spotrac projects his contract value at just north of $12 million per year, and that’s definitely manageable given the nearly $55 million that the Seahawks currently have available under the salary cap. Like the Patriots, they have several other free agents they’re likely to want to retain, but they figure to have the cap space to comfortably do it. Still, it’s possible that Clark could be lured away at the right price.
Demarcus Lawrence, Dallas - 26: Lawrence was tagged with the franchise tag for good reason. His 12.3% run stop percentage was eleventh best in the NFL with 28 defensive stops on 228 snaps against the run. His 8.3 pass rushing productivity (13 sacks, 11 hits, and 39 hurries on 472 pass-rushing snaps) was tied with Flowers’s for 18th best in the NFL. Signing Lawrence would be a huge boon to us, but Spotrac projects that Lawrence will command a contract much more expensive than our previous two options at about $19.5 million in salary cap space. It’s a move that we could absolutely make, and one that wouldn’t be too awful considering his age, but I consider this the least likely among the options available, especially because Dallas is in a very strong cap position right now where they have over $50 million in cap space available but their only free agents who played more than 30% of total snaps in 2018 are Lawrence, Cole Beasley, Geoff Swaim, and LP Ladouceur (their long-snapper). Don’t expect Lawrence to leave Dallas without a contract unless he’s trying to force his way out. They can absolutely afford to pay him.
Ezekiel Ansah, Detroit - 29: Ansah’s the odd one out on this list. By the time the 2019 season begins, he’ll be 30 years old, which is typically older than you’d like for a guy signing his first major, non-rookie contract after getting hit with his fifth-year option and then playing last season under the franchise tag. He’s also got an injury history that’s marginally worrisome. He’s missed twelve games in the last three seasons, playing less than half of all games for the Lions last year under the tag. That said, in his limited snaps last season (101 total pass-rushing snaps), Ansah finished first overall among defensive ends on PFF’s pass-rushing productivity score with an 11.9 with four sacks, three hits, and thirteen hurries.
Ansah was no slouch in run defense when he was on the field either, logging a run stop percentage of 11.1%, tied for 15th among all defensive ends. Despite his age and injury history, Ansah remains an interesting prospect if the price is right, and it might be. Spotrac projects Ansah to get a contract just north of $13 million per year.
There are obviously other, middle-tier prospects we could consider at defensive end in this position, but I fully expect we’ll try to make a run at one of these guys because of how poor our pass rush was at finishing at the quarterback last year. Among these top options, Flowers seems the most likely because of the connection with our new head coach and the difficulty that New England will have retaining him (and Belichick’s hesitance to hand out big contracts). Being a little conservative, I’d expect we can sign him on a deal that averages $16 million per year. I’d expect that any deals we sign this year will probably put a larger portion of the guaranteed money cap hit in the second year (we figure to have a lot of cap space in 2020), so it would be reasonable to expect that with cap accounting that such a deal for Flowers might run us about $14 million against the cap in 2019, that would result in a total cap cost of about $13.5 million after displacing a minimum contract, leaving us with $10.7 million to shop for corners.

Cornerback

With just north of $10 million left in cap space, don’t expect to pursue anyone at the top end of the free agency pool here. That said, $10 million still gets you recognizable names (Logan Ryan, Aqib Talib, Richard Sherman, Joe Haden, and Prince Amukamara are all veterans currently on the back end of their careers playing on contracts under $10 million per year).
Justin Coleman, Seattle - 25: On 451 coverage snaps in 2018, Coleman allowed 49 receptions on 73 targets for 500 yards (407 yards coming after the catch) for two touchdowns and one interception. That was good for a 90 passer rating (just below the league median passer rating). His 1.11 yards per coverage snap was 59th in the NFL, his 6.2 coverage snaps per target was 56th, and his 9.2 coverage snaps per reception was 52nd. By just about every metric for coverage, Coleman was a just above average corner throughout the 2018 season.
I expect that all of this means we’d be able to sign Coleman at a relatively average cornerback contract as well--somewhere in the neighborhood of $7-8 million per year. Seattle may want to retain him (and as discussed earlier, they can afford to do so), but he’s just the first of many options available to us.
Steven Nelson, Kansas City - 26: Last year, Nelson was targeted on 113 or 694 coverage snaps, allowing 60 receptions for 825 yards, five touchdowns, and four interceptions for a 76.8 passer rating. Notably, he allowed only 184 yards after the catch an average of just 3 yards allowed after the catch per reception. His 11.6 coverage snaps per reception was 35th among qualifying corners. Spotrac estimates Nelson’s market value at about $9.6 million per year--right about where we’re looking to spend.
Pierre Desir, Indianapolis - 28: Desir allowed 42 receptions for 566 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception (88.1 passer rating allowed) on 534 coverage snaps. He allowed 192 yards after the catch and averaged 1.06 yards per coverage snap, 7.5 coverage snaps per target, and a great 12.7 coverage snaps per reception (23rd best). He wasn’t targeted often and he didn’t give up much when the ball was thrown his way.
Morris Claiborne, New York Jets - 28: Claiborne posted a similar season to Desir: 588 coverage snaps, 80 targets, 45 receptions for 6662 yards, 212 yards after the catch, and four touchdowns and two interceptions (89.7 passer rating allowed). His yards per coverage snap (1.13) and coverage snaps per target (7.5) are right around the other guys we’re looking at, and his 13.1 coverage snaps per reception was twentieth best in the league.
Other names we might look at might include Phillip Gaines from Buffalo, Jimmie Ward from San Francisco, or Darryl Roberts from New York. All of these three are 27- to 28-years-old. Like those above, none of these guys are world-beaters, but they’d provide some consistency at our other starting corner spot opposite Xavien Howard. Likely these guys would all be even cheaper than the others mentioned more explicitly above, but whichever direction we go, we’re not going to want to spend too much money. Re-signing Xavien Howard is likely to be a major priority in 2020, and if he continues to perform at his current level he’s going to be expensive (and probably a franchise tag designee for negotiating leverage).
Despite what others have suggested, I don’t think we’re going to hammer out an extension for Howard now. If he’s already posturing by demanding to be paid top money, there’s no reason for the Dolphins to throw money at him before his rookie contract is over and then tag him if you can’t get an extension agreed to before he hits free agency in early 2020.
Playing on the conservative side, I think it’s a reasonable bet that we could sign one of these guys to play opposite Howard at a figure around $10 million per year. That would leave us about $1.2 million leftover (on top of the $10 million we’ve held aside for emergency signings and rollover) to make some slightly-above-minimum signings to fill out depth on the roster.

The 4-3 Front: The Draft

Let’s take a moment to examine our projected depth chart on defense so far:
Position 1 2 3
DE Wake Harris
DT Godchaux Spense
DT Taylor Norton
DE Free Agent Woodard
OLB Alonso
MLB McMillan Allen
OLB Baker
CB Howard Tankersley
CB Free Agent McTyer Armstrong
SCB McCain
FS Fitzpatrick Aikens
SS Jones/McDonald Smith
In this scenario, we head into the draft with a lot of flexibility on defense. As a quick reminder, I discussed the general feel of what I expected in the draft on offense. I mentioned targeting interior offensive line in the second round and a quarterback in the fourth or the fifth. That’s as much a projection based on need as it is on how early looks at the draft expect the value to shake out. If we’re sticking to a 4-3 front, we’d like to pick up another defensive end relatively early so that we can have been more top-end to our rotation at the position and keep Wake’s snap count manageable. But if the stars don’t align, we’ve got flexibility to take the best player available at 13 except at safety and we can try to address that depth later.
Moving forward from here, we’re flexible to draft BPA on defense at just about any position except maybe safety (and even then, drafting a strong safety would allow us to save some money in 2020 by moving on from either Jones or McDonald, whichever we’re unable to trade). In this scenario, we’re likely targeting DE, DT, and CB roughly in that order, so let’s look at some of the prospects we might expect to get at each position. Unlike offense, where I broke down players by position because of more pressing needs, here I’m going to call out some players I expect we might pursue based on who might be the best available at our top picks. In retrospect, I wish I’d done offense similarly.

Pick 13

At thirteen overall, we’re looking an awful lot like our pick last year where Fitzpatrick fell to us. The top talent of the 2019 draft heavily skews towards defense and, fortunately for us, heavily towards defensive end and edge players in general. At pick thirteen, we could feasibly see guys like Clelin Ferrell, Jachai Polite, Rashan Gary, Ed Oliver, and Jeffrey Simmons falling to us. There’s an outside chance at top corners like Deandre Baker or Greedy Williams could also be available. Really, the only way I can see us blowing this pick would be drafting a quarterback too high. I expect to see two quarterbacks go in the top 15 this year, and I don’t want us to be the sucker who picks the guy not named Haskins.

Pick 48

I mentioned last week that I expect our draft to shake out so that we’re looking at interior offensive line in the second round, but in the event we do go offense at 13, there are some defensive line players we might expect to see early day two such as Zach Allen, Brian Burns, Jaylon Ferguson, and Chase Winovich on the edge, Dexter Lawrence or Jerry Tillery on the interior, or even Byron Murphy or Chauncey Gardner-Johnson at corner.

Pick 78

It’s getting murky here, but I expect in the third round we’ll be looking for either a defensive end or a cornerback if we haven’t picked one up yet. Especially if we’re still in a 4-3 defense, I think defensive tackle is off our board unless there’s someone who’s fallen unexpectedly. Expect names like Jalen Jelks, Austin Bryant, Carl Granderson to be options on the edge and Saivion Smith, Lonnie Johnson Jr., and Joejuan Williams at corner.
I’m not going to project past our third round pick. It’s just way too early. As I’ve mentioned many times before: I don’t consider myself a great evaluator of talent, so projections here are mostly based on other peoples’ draft boards and names I’m regularly seeing projected around where we might pick at positions I expect us to target. If our front office is smart, they’re going to lean heavily towards BPA and not worry about addressing needs this year anyway, so all of this could get flipped upside down.

The 3-4 Front: Returning Free Agents

Let’s switch gears here and assume we make the change to a 3-4 defensive front. This obviously changes some of our free agency strategy around. As far as our own returning free agents go, though, the only major change would be that we become substantially less likely to pursue re-signing Cameron Wake. If we’re going to commit to a defensive scheme change that forces Wake out of position, paying him even a team-friendly $6 million on a one-year deal doesn’t make a great deal of sense. Expect everything else to pan out the same way other than letter Cameron Wake walk to sign a short-term deal with a competitor so he can chase a ring as a pass rush specialist in the twilight of his career.

The 3-4 Front: Other Free Agents

Let’s re-evaluate our defensive depth chart without Wake and switch to a 3-4 front.
Position 1 2 3
DE Spence
DT Godchaux Norton
DE Taylor
OLB Harris
ILB Alonso
ILB McMillan Allen
OLB Baker
CB Howard Davis
CB Tankersley McTyer Armstrong
SCB McCain
FS Fitzpatrick Aikens
SS Jones/McDonald Smith
The depth chart at the three spots up front gets a little murky. Expect Godchaux, Spence, and Taylor to move around with a preference for Godchaux at the nose due to his slight size advantage over the other two, but in this scenario Miami lacks a true nose tackle. If we make a change to the 3-4 front, defensive tackle becomes a bigger concern for us. Edge and cornerback still remain a need, but priorities shift a bit. Obviously we’re looking for a different kind of outside guy who’s also going to be able to drop back into coverage a bit more often.
Part of the potential good news about a move to the 3-4 front is that it puts Harris back into the position at outside linebacker he played in college, and maybe that helps us get some more production out of him. Additionally, it puts Alonso and McMillan together in the middle of the field which can hopefully maximize their value. Baker showed the best ability among our linebackers last year as the swiss-army knife linebacker: he was able to rush the passer in his very limited opportunities, but he also performed well against the run and was decent in coverage.
The need and type of player we target at corner doesn’t change much in this scenario. Expect us to be looking for the same types of guys at a similar price point. So let’s operate under the assumption that we’re not re-signing Wake and we’ll still make the same moves at corner. This would leave us with approximately $19.2 million in cap space to add depth to our defensive tackle rotation and pursue someone for outside linebacker, so let’s take a look.

Defensive Tackle

There aren’t very many free agent options at defensive tackle for guys who have experience in 3-4 schemes, but here are a couple guys who might be worth looking into if they make it to free agency.
Shelby Harris, Denver - 27: Harris is a restricted free agent and one of the best 3-4 defensive linemen available in free agency. Harris recorded 19 defensive stops as well as 3 sacks, six hits, and ten hurries as well as an interception. Harris was originally a seventh round pick, and if he got an original-round tender, that’d be an acceptable deal to make. Harris played 36.3% of Denver’s snaps, so it’s unclear whether they’d want to spend the money necessary to hit him with a higher tender. If he gets the original round tender or makes it to free agency, he’s worth pursuing.
Michael Pierce, Baltimore - 26: Like Harris, Pierce is a restricted free agent, but he was an undrafted free agent so there’s no draft pick cost to attempting to sign him unless they designated him a first- or second-round tender; Baltimore will simply have the chance to match. Pierce played all three front spots for Baltimore last season but spent most of his time at nose tackle. He was excellent in stopping the run, earning 22 defensive stops. He’s definitely worth taking a run at if he makes it to free agency.
Aside from these two names which most stick out, Brandon Dunn out of Houston and Bennie Logan from Tennessee figure to be cheaper options available to provide additional depth along the defensive line. Regardless of which of the above players are available, 3-4 DT is not a particularly expensive position. Expect that we can probably make a competitive run at any of these guys for around $6 million per year, leaving us the $14 million first year cap hit we expected for DE in our 4-3 look to be available to pursue 3-4 outside linebackers.

Outside Linebacker

We’ve got quite a few options at outside linebacker available, and with the just under $15 million available, we should have the flexibility to pursue some of the top guys in free agency at the position.
Dante Fowler, Jr., Los Angeles Rams - 24: The Rams have a good chunk of cap space available to them in 2019, but they also have several free agents to re-sign that may prevent them from locking down Fowler long-term. Fowler would serve as a more pure pass-rushing outside linebacker (his 7.8 pass-rushing productivity was tied for 28th best among all edge rushers), but he’s solid across the board and could provide good value and depth at the position.
Jadeveon Clowney, Houston - 26: After injuries plagued his earlier career, Clowney posted perhaps his best season as a Texan on his fifth-year option last year. Clowney recorded nine sacks, twelve hits, and 42 hurries on 613 pass-rushing snaps, but it was against the rush where he was truly dominant, grading at 91.2 against the run on PFF. Clowney totaled 41 defensive stops over the season. Clowney is going to be expensive (Spotrac projects a market value of $16.6 million per year), but he might be worth it if we’re looking to reimagine our defensive front seven, and he’s young enough that we’re likely to see the full value of such a contract.
Aaron Lynch, Chicago - 26: Lynch relatively quietly had a good season last year in his limited snaps in Chicago. While he had a down season rushing the passer compared to his previous performances in San Francisco (three sacks, six hits, and seven hurries), he was stout against the run and performed well when dropping back into coverage. Lynch figures to be a cheaper, more-realistic option at outside linebacker than Clowney or Fowler who figures to bring a lot of versatility to our linebackers.
Za’Darius Smith, Baltimore - 26: Smith had something of a coming out party in Baltimore in his contract year. He was very productive rushing the passer, recording 10 sacks, 17 hits, and 34 hurries. He performed acceptably in coverage, but his biggest weakness was definitely against the run where he was something of a liability at times. Given that Baker’s strength is primarily against the run and in coverage, we can stand to have the opposite outside linebacker primarily rushing the passer, and Smith would figure to fit in alongside Charles Harris in obvious passing downs.
Some of these names likely push the amount of cap space that we have available, but that could just mean we earmark less to rollover or go a bit cheaper at defensive tackle or corner. More likely, though, I expect we’ll go with one of the options who expects to be a bit cheaper like Aaron Lynch or Za’Darius Smith instead of the bigger names like Fowler or Clowney. Another name I’m not as high on but who could be a cheap option to provide some additional depth would be Shane Ray. It might even be possible that we’d sign a guy like Lynch and then also Ray for the similar cost of Clowney or Fowler.

The 3-4 Front: The Draft

The depth chart here shakes out a little bit differently which changes some of our draft priorities a bit. Coming out of free agency, here’s the defensive depth chart we’re looking at.
Position 1 2 3
DE Spence
DT Free Agent Godchaux Norton
DE Taylor
OLB Free Agent Harris
ILB Alonso
ILB McMillan Allen
OLB Baker
CB Howard Tankersley Davis
CB Free Agent McTyer Armstrong
SCB McCain
FS Fitzpatrick Aikens
SS Jones/McDonald Smith
The biggest different in our draft priority here is that we may evaluate some of the edge rushing and interior defensive line talent different depending on where we see them fitting in either defensive scheme. Polite, for example, might project better a 3-4 outside linebacker and that may move him up our draft board in the first when we’re on the clock. Similarly, big bodies for the defensive interior become more important early on as well, and it may adjust who we’re looking at for defensive ends in the third, fourth, or fifth rounds.
It’s not going to change our overall strategy very much, though. We’re still going to be looking for the best player available; the definition of who the “best available” is may just change depending on where we see them on the field for us.

Other Stuff

That’s about it for what amounts to an early off-season look at the Dolphins. I expect a lot of this to change moving forward. I’ll admit that after looking at the options for switching to a 3-4 front, I’m less sure that it’s the right move going forward, particularly because of what it means for our interior defensive line. I feel like it’s an interesting thought because of how it would work out for our linebackers, but we’ll just have to see what we do. The bigger point I want to make is that we have an awful lot of flexibility to take some pretty different paths.
I’m planning on re-visiting this series in early March when free agency is in full swing or perhaps right before. It’ll depend how things shape out and what contract news is worth discussing at that point. Similarly, I’m planning to do a post-draft analysis that takes all of free agency and the draft into consideration and takes a look at what the off-season moves this year suggest about the long-term strategy of our rebuild (particularly as it relates to contract commitments we make and what our timeline is looking like afterwards).
Other than that, that’s all for now, folks. I’m looking forward to the boundless optimism that is the NFL offseason before what looks to be a rough season in 2019. Here’s to the future.
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Quick Thoughts on every Week 2 game

PRO-TIP: CTRL+F the players you care about

Accountability Section

I think it’s important to look back at the previous week and see what I got right and what I got wrong, so you guys know you’re not reading advice from a complete sham. Here are the major things I was able to gather:
What I got wrong:
• Adrian Peterson: He unexpectedly bombed when the Titans were able to stop him by stacking the box. Perhaps it was because Shaun Hill is not a threatening passer. Peterson has dealt with stacked boxes before so it is a bit concerning long term. Either way, I was WAY off, predicting RB1 numbers for the veteran RB.
• Todd Gurley: Another case of talented back meets stacked box. Gurley and AP are in similar situations; they’re very talented, with bad quarterbacks who defenses do not respect. I also predicted RB1 numbers for Gurley and that couldn’t have been further from the truth.
• The Panthers Offense: I overestimated the Denver defense and underestimated Cam Newton and Kelvin Benjamin. I won’t make that mistake again; Kelvin looks like he’s back in a big way. I was right about Olsen as a solid TE1 and Jonathan Stewart as a poor start, however.
• Danny Woodhead: I said he would fair very poorly against the Kansas City Chiefs, as he has done in the past, but Woodhead scorched them, getting 20+ carries and large passing volume for one of the highest RB scores of the week. I was very, very wrong and I won’t be underestimating Woodhead again. With Allen done for the season, he’s a large part of this offense going forward.
• Tyrod Taylor: I said he had a safe floor, yeesh, so much for that. The Ravens shut him down and it’s now quite obvious that he is not a good fantasy start with Watkins not at 100%.
What I got right:
• Jordan Matthews: I predicted him as a high upside WR2/3 against the Browns. I like him even more now after seeing that volume.
• Barnidge and Walker: I predicted target share reductions for Gary Barnidge and Delanie Walker as a result of their morphing offenses and I was correct, although I still recommended them as starts. I didn’t think their target shares would decrease THAT much!
• Charles Sims: He didn’t hit his ceiling, but Sims did show off that very valuable flex floor I talked about in my first write up. He even caught a touchdown and put his low-end RB2 numbers! Not too shabby, Sims.
• Jameis Winston: I said he’d put up QB1 numbers this week, which I don’t think was a particularly popular opinion going into the matchup. He certainly did that. I love the Buccaneers offense going forward, even going into their tough pre-bye schedule.
• Isaiah Crowell: One of my most controversial picks of the weeks, I said Crowell would put up Flex to RB2 type numbers, and by God, he did it! Crowell finished as the RB16 on the week in PPR.
Now there was obviously a lot more that I got wrong, and a lot more that I got right, but those felt notable to me. There are always going to be hits and misses in fantasy analysis and I’ll always try to explain my reasoning. I hope nobody got too badly burned by any of my advice last week, and I especially hope it was helpful to some of you. With that being said, let’s get into the week’s matchups:

Jets @ Bills

Ryan Fitzpatrick should continue to be a serviceable QB2 in this matchup against a team that made the shambling corpse of Mike Wallace look good last week. I like Brandon Marshall to rebound well from his disappointing week 1 showing and put up the low end WR1 numbers we were expecting. Eric DeckerAKA “Mr. Consistency” is as always a great WR2 play, and he should perform better than last week – he was targeted 7 times but only hauled in 2 catches. Quincy Enunwa made a great case for himself, tying Brandon Marshall for a team-high 8 targets – he is an intriguing waiver add and flex play.
• One major fact we learned from week 1 is that the split between Matt Forte and Bilal Powell was probably overblown. Forte operated as a workhorse, and is an RB1 for the foreseeable future on workload alone. Powell’s status diminishes to very low-end flex/handcuff status.
• I was going to write that we shouldn’t overreact to Week 1’s very bad no good Tyrod Taylor performance. However, with news that Sammy Watkins is dealing with serious pain in his foot, this whole offense takes a downgrade. Without Watkins’ playmaking ability, Taylor will be no more than a low end QB2. If he’s your every week starter in a 1QB league, it’s time to look to the waiver wire. Sammy Watkins was a good rebound candidate after a disappointing week 1, but with this news I would downgrade him to a boom or bust WR3. Start safer options if you can until he’s proved himself. I wouldn’t want to start Robert Woods or Charles Clay under most circumstances - as second and third passing options on a run-first offense, their good weeks will be difficult to predict and few and far between.
LeSean McCoy was the lone solid fantasy start for the Bills, and he should continue to be a solid start as the workhorse on a run-first team. There is, however, legitimate concern that defenses stack the box on him without Watkins as a downfield threat, and this could seriously hurt McCoy’s efficiency. If Watkins does play, however, his mere presence should improve things for McCoy. McCoy will be more of an RB2 against a stout Jets run defense either way. Mike Gillislee is his handcuff.

Cowboys @ Redskins

Dak Prescott was not asked to do many fantasy-productive things on Sunday, rushing only twice and throwing mostly checkdowns. This prevented him from throwing interceptions as intended, but also kept him from scoring any touchdowns. It’s obvious the Cowboys want to play to their strengths and be a run-first team with first round pick Ezekiel Elliott who received 20 attempts and can be fired up as an RB1 against a weak Redskins run defense. This development is concerning for Dez Bryant who received only 5 targets. It’s not time to panic yet, but Bryant’s skill set does not mesh with what the Cowboys want to do right now. Jason Witten performed well as he usually does against Giants – he is a low end TE1. Cole Beasly got a whopping 12 targets and with Prescott throwing so many checkdowns, there is potential for it to keep up. Beasly is a potential season-long flex play if things keep going to plan for the Cowboys.
Kirk Cousins didn’t look good Monday night, throwing poorly for no touchdowns and two interceptions. It’s not a good sign for those who drafted Cousins late as a bargain QB1, but the good news is QB is so deep you should be able to find a good replacement! Cousins is no more than a QB2 going forward. DeSean Jackson drew 10 targets and made good use of them, going for over 100 yards. He’ll have a tougher time this week against the Cowboys who are hard on the passing game, and is a boom or bust WR3. Jamison Crowder interestingly received just as many targets as Jackson, but wasn’t able to do nearly as much with them – he is a WR4/deep league flex. Pierre Garcon was also involved in the passing game but will only be a desperation flex in this tougher matchup. Jordan Reed was targeted a team high 11 times and is the best TE in football with Rob Gronkowski out – he’s your every week TE1 as long as he’s healthy. Matt Jones looked dreadful, receiving only 7 carries which he turned in 24 scoreless yards – the Redskins basically abandoned the run game. It makes Chris Thompson a much more intriguing option, particularly in PPR leagues – he was more involved when the Redskins needed to play catchup. Jones is a flex play against a weak Cowboys run defense, as is Chris Thompson in PPR formats.

Chiefs @ Texans

Alex Smith is a rock solid QB2 because of his rushing floor who will occasionally turn in great performances like last week. Jeremy Maclin turned in a solid week 1 for owners despite a tougher matchup, he is the quintessential high-end WR2. The other top option in Kansas City’s passing game, Travis Kelce, is an every-week TE1 on volume. Chris Conley receiving 7 targets (as many as Kelce and Maclin) is surprising – he’s not worth an add yet but keep an eye out, he is a talented deep threat.
Spencer Ware is so crazy good. He showed off his impressive receiving abilities and was totally gameflow-proof. Without Charles he’s an every week RB1. Even when Jamaal Charles returns, Ware has earned a significant chunk of the carries. Charles and Ware will likely become RB2s in this split, but I’d favor the younger RB without health issues. When Charles does return Charcandrick West will likely be fully put in the backup role.
• The Texan’s offense looks as good as advertised against the Bear’s lowly defense, but they will all face a tougher matchup against Kansas City. Brock Osweiler will be a mid to low end QB2 in week 2. DeAndre Hopkins is an every week WR1 with his talent. Hopkins owners shouldn’t worry about Will Fuller receiving more targets, it will happen from time to time but Fuller is a boom or bust WR3. Not to say Fuller doesn’t have value, he has GREAT value, and should be the number one waiver claim if he’s available. Osweiler clearly loves to throw to him. Lamar Miller operated as a clear workhorse, toting the ball 28 times against the Bears, and as a result of this rare workload he should be considered an RB1 even in the tougher matchup.

Bengals @ Steelers

• With only one threatening weapon, Andy Dalton is a mid to high end QB2 in most matchups. That one threatening weapon, AJ Green, is the guy you really want. Showing that the offseason speculation about his ridiculous workload was justified, AJ Green caught 12 of 13 targets whilst on a visit to Revis Island. He’s a WR1 in any matchup, and may wind up THE WR1 if things keep up. Brandon LaFell and Tyler Boyd are picking up the leftovers in the passing game, and LaFell looked like the most efficient of the two. LaFell would be a low end flex, and Boyd is safely droppable.
Jeremy Hill will be a threat to score a goal line TD any given week, and as such he is a high end flex/RB3, but his efficiency and matchup against the Steelers leave much to be desired. Giovani Bernard was surprisingly less involved in the Bengals offensive plan against the Jets than expected. The Steelers are a better matchup for him than Hill, but I would qualify him as a flex play.
• The Big Three, Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, and DeAngelo Williams (for now) showed how good they are against the Redskins Monday night. Each of them are in the first tier of their respective positions this week against Cincinnati. Eli Rogers made a case for himself as the Steelers’ WR2 and is worth a pickup in deeper leagues just in case, but with Markus Wheaton coming back, and Sammie Coates still vying for his chance, it’s getting a bit muddy for my tastes. Jesse James looks like a decent TE1, getting enough targets, and with plenty of chances in the red zone thanks to the Steelers’ explosive offense. If you need a TE1 replacement, grab him up.

49ers @ Panthers

Blaine Gabbert gets the Panthers this week, and it’s gonna be a disaster. The one fantasy positive on this team in PPR formats, Jeremy Kerley should rack up checkdown targets and make a case for himself as a strong PPR flex – he is one of my top waiver adds this week. Chip Kelly uses the slot receiver heavily. Torrey Smith looks done – he does not play to Gabbert’s talents. Carlos Hyde had a great week against the horrible, awful, no good Rams, but rarely will the 49ers ever be up by multiple scores again this season. That will certainly not be the case against the Panthers. Game flow will render Hyde an RB3, and bring Shaun Draughn in for more passing downs, though I wouldn’t flex him until we see how the targets shake out this week – it could all go to Kerley. Vance MCdonald was able to catch a touchdown, but was otherwise pretty uninvolved. I think his role may increase in future weeks and the touchdown means he’s viable as a streamer.
Cam Newton draws the easiest matchup on paper against the 49ers. He should be a huge part of both this game getting out of hand, as well as running out the clock once the 49ers fate is sealed. He is, as ever, a QB1. Kelvin Benjamin showed last week that he’s still a WR1, and if he can do it against the Broncos he should have no trouble against the 49ers. Greg Olsen is an every week TE1 as a critical part of this offense. Jonathan Stewart gets a much better matchup than last week and can be trusted as an RB2 who will help run out the clock.

Ravens @ Browns

• The Browns defense looked pitiful last week, so we’re gonna want to start some Ravens this week. Joe Flacco goes from QB2 to low-end QB1 with the plus matchup. Steve Smith, though quiet last week, received the most targets (9) on the team, but was inefficient with them. Those targets should translate to production against the Browns, and I’d feel alright about starting him in the WR3/Flex positions in a boom or bust capacity. Mike Wallace also impressed on his 6 targets, showing more efficiency than Steve Smith, putting him in the flex range against the Browns. Kamar Aiken looked uninvolved last week and is safely droppable.
Justin Forsett and Terrance West formed a near even split last week and I would expect that to continue. Getting 10 and 12 carries respectively, I would consider them flexable against the Browns but their upsides are each capped by the other.
• Welp, unfortunately Robert Griffin III was injured Week 1, so Josh McCown will now be leading the charge for the Browns’ offense – and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s an especially nice boost for Gary Barnidge who thrived with McCheckdown in 2015, owners can feel more confident rolling him out as their TE1. Terrelle Pryor and Corey Coleman remain boom or bust WR3s; it will be interesting to see how the targets shake out with McCown under center.
Duke Johnson should also benefit from McCown’s checkdowns in PPR formats – he’s a Flex option against the Ravens.Isaiah Crowell performed fairly well against the Eagles, but I like his outlook slightly less this week against a tougher opponent. He is a touchdown dependent RB3.

Titans @ Lions

Marcus Mariota was serviceable for fantasy purposes against the tough Vikings D, so I like his odds against the defensively inferior Lions. The Lions also have a good offense that could drive the score up on the Titans, forcing Mariota to throw the ball. That’s good news for rookie Tajae Sharpe, who led the team in targets by a wide margin operating as their WR1. Sharpe is a solid WR3/Flex play this week. Delanie Walker did suffer the predicted volume reduction as a result of new additions Sharpe, Rishard Matthews and Andre Johnson. I would give him another chance as your TE1 in this plus matchup, but that is as far as I’d go with the Titans’ passing game.
DeMarco Murray is, for now, in command of this run-first offense backfield over Derrick Henry, which is very good news for Murray’s fantasy owners. He rushed 13 times to Henry’s 5, and was targeted in the passing game 7 times to Henry’s 2. Henry is a great handcuff, but flex value is a stretch right now. Murray, on the other hand, is an every week RB2 with a nice floor thanks to his involvement in the passing game.
Matt Stafford will continue to excel in this offensive scheme in this matchup. The Titans defense doesn’t scare me. I’m rolling out Marvin Jones and Golden Tate as upside WR3s, with preference to Jones who received deeper targets. The Titans defense is good at stopping the run, so I don’t feel good about Ameer Abdullah this week, but given his play last week I think he’s earned RB3/flex consideration. Same goes for Theo Riddick who is a solid flex in PPR. Eric Ebron looks quite involved in the offense and is a nice lower end TE1 play; with his size he should be used in the red zone.

Dolphins @ Patriots

• This should be quick because there are only three fantasy relevant Dolphins. Ryan Tannehill is a mid-to-low end QB2 with Jarvis Landry, a solid PPR WR2, his only dependable receiver. Arian Foster looked good against the Seahawks and I expect him to put up solid RB2 numbers for as long as he’s healthy – start him while you’ve got him.
Jimmy Garoppolo functioned well as a real life football player in Week 1 but will remain only a QB2 for fantasy purposes. Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan served as New England’s top two receivers in terms of offensive snaps played. Edelman is a WR2 until Brady returns, and Hogan is a prime bench stash or desperation flex play. Danny Amendola is either warming up from his injury or is less involved in the offense this season, I wouldn’t trust him. Rob Gronkowski will likely be out another week and yet Martellus Bennett primarily served as a blocker last week. Bennett will be difficult to trust as the Patriots are targeting their WRs for now with Brady out.
• The Patriots should dominate this game, so it figures to be a LeGarrette Blount type of game. I like him for RB2 numbers, with a pretty good shot at the end zone. James White should also be involved, albeit less so than in close games – he’s a flex play in PPR leagues.

Saints @ Giants

• This game has definite shootout appeal because it involves Drew Brees and the ever generous New Orleans defense. Brees is an obvious QB1 but what about his receivers? Well, once again, I would start (almost) everyone I can. Brandin Cooks is an obvious WR1. Willie Snead exploded last week in a very good way but I don’t think anyone is ready to anoint him a WR1 yet – a WR2 though, with upside? Absolutely. Mark Ingram is still an RB1 play against the Giants despite a lackluster performance Week 1 – it remains to be seen if Travaris Cadet’s targets in the passing game will stick or if they were merely a fluke consequence of Brees spreading the ball around. Coby Fleener had a disastrous and concerning week 1, but this is still a great matchup. As an owner myself, I’m treating this as a second and final chance for him to get things going in this prolific offense – start a safer option if possible, but don’t drop him yet. Michael Thomas is a flex play in this offense where anybody could explode – the 6 targets last week weren’t bad either.
• With three solid wide receiver options to throw the ball too Eli Manning is looking more and more like a true QB1 this season. Odell Beckham is an automatic WR1 start – the Cowboys just proved last week that they are offensive kryptonite with their clock killing playstyle, which slowed Beckham down. Victor Cruz and Sterling Shepard received 4 targets apiece, which should increase in this shootout, and each caught a touchdown. Both are viable flex plays this week. I don’t see too much value in the tight end situation between Larry Donnell and Will Tye but I suppose you could take a shot on one if truly desperate in a deep league.
Rashad Jennings should be able to get more going this week against the Saints putrid defense. I like him as an RB2 in this contest. Shane Vereen will come into play when the Giants are down and is passable as a low end flex.

Buccaneers @ Cardinals

• The Buccaneers begin their nightmare schedule against the Cardinals at home. Jameis Winston becomes a high end QB2 against this very tough defense. Mike Evans will be covered heavily by Patrick Peterson which will impact his floor and ceiling – Evans is still a good WR2 play on the basis of volume and talent. Vincent Jackson was targeted just as much as Evans, but did not look nearly as good – he is not even a flex play in this tough matchup. Despite the TD, Austin Seferian-Jenkins is in a muddled timeshare with fellow TEs Brandon Myers and Cameron Brate. I would have a hard time trusting any Buccaneer TE.
Doug Martin received the heavy workload we were all hoping for and that should continue in week 2. Roll him out as a nice RB2 this week. Charles Sims showed off his tackle breaking ability and safe flex floor last week, and that will continue in this game. Start him safely as a flex with upside for more if the Buccaneers go down hard early and need to pass.
Carson Palmer proved me wrong in Week 1 and turned in a solid QB1 performance in Week 1, and I expect it to continue against an easier opponent in Week 2. With this array of weapons, it is hard to deny Palmer will be good most of the season. Larry Fitzgerald laughs in the face of time and dominated against the Patriots last week, he will be a low end WR1 this week. Michael Floyd was the next WR up for the Cardinals, and makes for a rock solid WR3 play. John Brown played significantly last snaps than Fitzgerald and Floyd, and is a low end flex play at best. David Johnson is a beautiful unicorn of an every-down back and you’ve gotta start him as an RB1 every week.

Seahawks @ Rams

• The Rams usually keep these divisional games interesting but Russell Wilson is a QB1 regardless. Doug Baldwin is in play as a WR2 as the most targeted player on the team by far. Tyler Lockett was the next most targeted player in the passing game, but his role is still uncertain – he’s a risky WR3. Jermaine Kearse was the third passing option for Seattle and not one that I’m interested in for fantasy purposes. Jimmy Graham can still not be trusted coming off of his patellar tendon injury. Thomas Rawls started the second half of week 1 and became more involved. Pete Carroll said after the game that Rawls’ workload is clear to be increased. This spells the likely end of the Awakening of Christine Michael barring an injury to Rawls. Rawls will be an RB2 against the Rams and Michael would be a risky flex.
• I have never seen a scene as gruesome as the one I witnessed on Monday night. Case Keenum looked clueless, and the offense looked uninterested in winning as the Rams went for punt after punt after INT after punt after INT after punt. Some people think Todd Gurley will bounce back – I’m legitimately concerned about his chances of doing so. Gameflow is going to be a huge hindrance on his performance, and defenses will stack the box on him if Keenum continues to be under center. I’m not so sure Jared Goff or Sean Mannion would improve things over Keenum either. It is truly worrying and I would only feel safe starting Gurley as my RB3 against a much tougher Seahawks defense. There is no way you can consider starting any Rams passing option for the foreseeable future. May God have mercy on their souls.

Jaguars @ Chargers

Blake Bortles draws a nice matchup against the Chargers who just got lit up by Alex Smith – he’s a QB1 this week. Allen Robinson, as always, is an elite WR1 start, and you can expect good things in this matchup (EDIT: as noted by space_is_fun Robinson may be covered by CB Jason Verrett, which should negatively impact his floor and ceiling, but I still like him to produce WR2 numbers with upside). In a potential shootout Allen Hurns will be a solid WR3/Flex as a threat to enter the end zone. Monitor his injury situation, but if he suits up you can feel good about starting Julius Thomas as your TE1. Although inefficient in Week 1, TJ Yeldon gets one of the worst defenses against the run and should put up good RB2 fantasy numbers once again this week as long as Chris Ivory is held out as expected.
Philip Rivers is just not playing at his ceiling without Keenan Allen and I can’t endorse him as more than a low-end QB1 without him. However, other members of this offense will see their roles increase. Antonio Gates sees his already considerable redzone upside increase a bit, so fire him up as a TE1 with as good a chance as anyone to score a TD. Travis Benjamin and Tyrell Williams will see the biggest boost out of the receiving corps. Benjamin is the early favorite for a production increase but I believe Williams is the one you want to own in the end; he has the size and athletic ability to become special if things work out. Danny Woodhead should see 2015 levels of production once more; he was involved heavily in Week 1 even when the Chargers were up. Woodhead is a boom or bust RB2, much like in 2015. Woodhead nearly doubled Melvin Gordon’s snap count in week 1, which is concerning for Gordon’s outlook. If Gordon is not the primary back when the Chargers have a lead (not the case Week 1) it will be hard to trust him outside of an RB3/flex capacity.

Falcons @ Raiders

• Another game with shootout potential, I like Matt Ryan’s chances at QB1 numbers in this game throwing to a nice array of weapons. Julio Jones is an every-week WR1. Mohamed Sanu if active, looks worthy of low-end WR2, definite WR3/Flex consideration with his impressive 8 targets. Jacob Tamme received the kind of volume (8 targets) that makes for decent TE streamers in good matchups like this one. Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman are in the throes of a full blown RBBC, and who does better in any given week is anyone’s guess at this point; Coleman has the hot hand right now. Both are excellent flexes and low floor RB2s.
Derek Carr will benefit from yet another high scoring game to put up QB1 numbers. Amari Cooper should, like Mike Evans a week ago, put up WR1 numbers against the Falcons. Michael Crabtree is an underrated bet to put up solid WR2 numbers, even if followed by Trufant he will get the volume to overcome it. Latavius Murray will be a lock for RB2 production with volume on his side. Jalen Richard was a fluke on only 3 carries. Clive Walford is a fringe TE streaming option.

Colts @ Broncos

Andrew Luck and the Colts get a rough matchup on the road against the Broncos, who should be able to exploit the Colts’ porous offensive line and rough Luck up. I’d prefer to stream decent QBs with better matchups over him this week. That’s bad news for TY Hilton, Donte Moncrief, and Phillip Dorsett in the passing game, though they still hold plenty of value as a WR2, high end flex and low end flex respectively. Dwayne Allen is still a TE1, as the Broncos are surprisingly generous to the tight end position from a fantasy perspective. Frank Gore should get swallowed up by the Denver defense behind that bad o-line, he is a risky RB3.
Trevor Siemian isn’t anybody you’d ever want to start but he can support fantasy viable receivers. Demaryius Thomas is currently questionable to play coming off of a hip injury, and I’d feel very risky starting him this week unless better news comes out closer to game time; with the news I have now I’d say sit him for better options if you can. Thomas’ loss is Emmanuel Sanders gain however, and he should rack up a ton of targets against the Colts this week for solid WR2 numbers. Virgil Green looks like a favorite of Siemian’s and although he had a mediocre week, he got the requisite targets for a streaming tight end (5) and was also targeted in the end zone. You could do worse for your streamer or fill in. CJ Anderson will continue rolling to RB1 numbers this week against the Colts who couldn’t even contain Ameer Abdullah last week.

Packers @ Vikings

• The Vikings are a tough defense, so expect a middling performance for Aaron Rodgers – although a middling performance from Aaron Rodgers is still a QB1. To give you an idea, he has averaged 17.225 Yahoo standard fantasy points in his last four games against Minnesota. With the offense fully healthy once again, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb should be locks to produce WR2 numbers. Davante Adams received just two fewer targets than Jordy Nelson last week, and only one fewer than Cobb. He failed to haul in more than half of them but made a catch where it counted in the end zone. He may have taken a step forward since last year and should be on the flex radar if he can keep it up. Eddie Lacy should have no problem racking up solid RB2 numbers week in and week out with the offense running smoothly again. Jared Cook and Richard Rodgers have knocked one another out of fantasy relevancy barring an injury or a breakout; don’t start ‘em til they prove it.
Shaun Hill is out, Sam Bradford is in. Hopefully it won’t affect Stefon Diggs who was on fire last week with his 9 targets – I believe he is talented enough t o warrant WR3 consideration each and every week. Kyle Rudolph rose from the dead Week 1, finishing as a decent starting TE. If you’re desperate at the position you could do a lot worse if he keeps up his target share. Adrian Peterson had a miserable Week 1, but should bounce back to post at least low end RB2 numbers this week. His lack of involvement in the passing game is concerning, and time may be catching up with him. If that’s the case, there’s little fantasy owners have to hope for in terms of his efficiency improving – so let’s hope it was just a bad week because the defense didn’t respect Shaun Hill. I’ll be watching Jerick McKinnon to see if offseason hype about him holding standalone flex value on third down was legitimate or just smoke.

Eagles @ Bears

Carson Wentz looked pretty good against the Browns, and is worthy of streamer consideration against the Bears in Week 2. Zach Ertz will be out for some time with a rib injury, and that means Jordan Matthews will be locked into a heavy workload similar to the one he received in Week 1. Matthews is a high upside WR2 in this matchup – volume is king, and he’s talented. Ryan Mathews should have a slightly tougher time this week against the Bears as compared to the Browns; he's still an RB2 on volume however. Darren Sproles is a dual threat as a runner and pass catcher but he was relatively uninvolved last week in favor of Mathews, he’s a low end flex in my book. Nelson Agholor is too unproven with too small a target share for me to trust him in my lineup.
Jay Cutler is a mid to low end QB2 with only one viable weapon in the passing game. Alshon Jeffery should feast this week with Eagles’ top corner Leodis McKelvin likely out with a hamstring injury – he’s a solid low end WR1. Jeremy Langford operated as a true bellcow in week 1 and we should expect a good week of RB2 production since he’s going against the Eagles who allowed Isaiah Crowell to go for 5.17 YPC. Zach Miller and Kevin White struggled last week, which I don’t anticipate changing here; if anything it solidifies and justifies Alshon’s role as the one true playmaker in this offense.
Thanks for reading! As always feel free to leave your questions in the comments all week. I am a fantasy degenerate and am more than happy answering questions about it all the time.
If you enjoyed this consider checking out this thread about the Fantasy Collective, a fantasy team drafted and managed by the popular vote of redditors like yourself. We’re setting our lineup today so just pop in, vote for who you would start, and you’re done!
Best of luck to all in Week 2!
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Former number one overall pick Myles Garrett has gotten off to a rough start this season. Literally rough. In just a game and half played, the Browns standout DE has accumulated three roughing the passer penalties and cost his team a total of 45 yards. He had one roughing the passer penalty on Tennessee Titans starting quarterback Marcus Mariota. Myles Garrett understands that with great compensation comes great responsibility. After signing a 5-year, $125 million contract extension, Garrett talked about his need to be the leader for the Browns defense to help bring glory to Cleveland's long-suffering fans. The 15th Sunday of the NFL season is in the books, and, as always, there's a lot to take away from this week's action. We're very late into the season, so not all of these takeaways will be Social media doesn’t agree on much, but the consensus on Clay Matthews’ roughing the passer penalty at the end of the Green Bay Packers tie with the Minnesota Vikings Sunday afternoon was clear. The call, which negated a game-sealing interception, was widely considered bogus, especially in the eyes of most NFL media. Earlier today Green Bay Packers defensive star Clay Matthews called out the NFL for "getting soft" when he was called for his third roughing the passer penalty in consecutive weeks. Seahawks roughing the passer penalty involving Dak Prescott Was Bad

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