Week 5 was another strange week in the NFL. Graham Gano kicked a game winning 63 yard field goal, Greg Joseph kicked the ugliest game winning field goal in recent memory, and one of the NFL’s best kickers, Mason Crosby, missed 5 kicks against the Lions. The Jets running game rose from the ashes, the Chief’s defense, not offense, lead the charge against Jacksonville, and Ezekiel Elliot didn’t get a shot on 4th and 1 in overtime. With the standings close across the league, the next three weeks should bring a bit more clarity to both the league itself and the fantasy season as it approaches it’s second half. Let’s take a look at what Week 6 could have in store…
Please note that since this article was written, Derrick Willies broke his collar bone.
Key Players: Melvin Gordon, Keenan Allen, Philip Rivers, Derrick Willies, David Njoku
Little has changed for the Chargers as Melvin Gordon continues to do just about everything for their offense. Last week he totaled 58 rushing yards on 19 carries with 1 touchdown along with 62 receiving yards on 4 receptions. The Ravens last week inexplicably decided to ask Joe Flacco to throw 56 times when I thought Alex Collins and Buck Allen had better success against the Browns’ defense. I do not expect the Chargers to make the same mistake, look for Gordon to get 20-25 carries this week. Also look for him in the screen game, as Greg Williams’ aggressive style has left plenty of open space the last two weeks. The Browns have been attacking while playing Cover-2, leaving a huge gap in the middle of the field as Joe Schobert tries to cover the deep seams. In the passing game, Philip Rivers has continued his hot start. Last week he was 22-27 for 339 yards and 2 touchdowns. On the season he’s completed 70.1 percent of his passes for 14,95 yards with 13 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions. He’s savvy enough to get the ball out quickly against the Browns and possesses the accuracy Joe Flacco does not. Keenan Allen posted 8 receptions on 9 targets for 90 yards. He hasn’t scored a touchdown in the last four games and will likely be followed around by Denzel Ward this week, making him a bit of a wild card, but still a good play in deeper PPR leagues.
The Browns were finally able to win a close game in overtime, their third in five games. When Rashard Higgins went out with a knee injury, Baker Mayfield turned to undrafted rookie Derrick Willies with the game on the line. It’s not clear whether Willies will be one of those players know for one big catch and never heard from again or if he might end up playing a big role for the Browns this year. I lean towards the former for a few reasons. The most obvious reason is simply that if Higgins is going to be out a while, the Browns do not have much depth at the position. More than that, Antonio Callaway has not shown consistent hands, though there have been tantalizing flashes, and Willies has the size (6’4″ 207 pounds) the Browns have needed on the outside since they traded Josh Gordon. Most importantly, the Browns did not give Baker Mayfield a lot of reps with the first team this off-season or in the first few weeks of the season. Who else was on the second team and in rookie mini-camp? That’s right, Willies, making it likely the two developed a rapport while Tyrod Taylor was still the starter. The other receiver who stuck out last week in Cleveland was David Njoku, who finally caught those intermediate passes the Browns have desperately needed him to catch. He set a career high in receptions with 6 for 69 yards. Like Willies, he has the size the Browns need.
Key Players: Jameis Winston, Matt Ryan, Devonta Freeman,Tevin Coleman
Fitzmagic has ended and the Bucs are turning back to Jamies Winston. The value of all the other Bucs players revolves around Winston since all the numbers they have put up thus far came with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center. Of all the games for Winston to return to the starting role, this is the best one. Not only is he coming off of a bye week, he will be facing the Falcons, a team who have given up an average of 40 points per game over their last three. We’ll follow up on the Bucs next week when we have some film to review.
Well, the Falcons didn’t get caught up in another shoot-out last week. Unfortunately that was because they were on the wrong end of a blow-out instead. Fortunately for them, the Bucs have also had recent struggles on defense. Before their bye week, they were absolutely shredded by Mitch Trubisky and the Bears. This week, I expect the Falcons will try to keep the ball on the ground in order to keep their defense as far away from the field as possible. Even if it isn’t this week, it has to be coming. The only question remaining is: who will be getting those carries? Devonta Freeman didn’t practice Wednesday because of bone contusion in his foot. This leaves Tevin Coleman as the main back. Neither has had much success this season, but they have to keep trying. Clearly Matt Ryan can’t pass them out of this. The one bright spot, from a fantasy perspective, is that Ryan will need to keep throwing, inflating his numbers. Last week he was a pedestrian 26-38 for 285 yards and only 1 touchdown. Since he’s facing the same defense that allowed 6 touchdowns two weeks ago. With Drew Brees and Matthew Stafford on bye weeks, he’s a solid play.
Key Players: James Conner, Antonio Brown, Juju Smith-Schuster, Joe Mixon, A.J. Green
It remains to be seen if Le’Veon Bell will report to the team in Week 7. In his absence, James Conner has eased any sense of urgency in the Pittsburgh front office. Last week he posted 21 carries for 110 yards and 2 touchdowns. With a resurgence of 2015 Andy Dalton, the Steelers will want to let Conner carry their offense to keep the Bengals off the field. Whether this plan works or not, Antonio Brown and Juju Smith-Schuster will both remain must plays this week. Either because Conner will force the Bengals to come up, leaving them susceptible to play-action, or because the plan won’t work and the Steelers will have to try and match the Bengals score-for-score. Last week Brown had 6 receptions on 13 targets for 101 yards and 2 touchdowns, while Smith-Schuster only had 4 receptions for 34 yards and 1 touchdown. Two weeks ago, the Falcons showed what two dynamic receivers (three counting Mohammed Sanu) can do against the Bengals. This was without much of a running attack, so expect big things from Brown and Smith-Schuster this week.
Joe Mixon returned with a bang last week, regulating Giovani Bernard back to the bench. Those of you who picked him up to cover for Mixon, don’t be so quick to cut him loose. He showed he is more than capable of carrying the load when Mixon is out. Mixon’s health is a critical thing to watch in the second half of the fantasy season. Against the Dolphins, Mixon posted 22 carries for 93 yards along with 3 receptions for 23 yards and 1 touchdown. His skills in the passing game will be needed this week against an aggressive Pittsburgh defense, so he will be valuable in PPR leagues even if he doesn’t repeat his 22 carry effort. I’ve spent a lot of time talking about Tyler Boyd this season, meaning I really need to take some time to pay A.J. Green homage. Last week he was kind enough to remind us how great he is, finishing with 6 receptions for 112 yards. In the biggest games of the season, teams need their stars to show up. I expect Green will show up this week and have a big game against the Steelers, especially if he continues to see time in the slot running RPO’s. Seriously. Rewatch the Bernard highlight and look at the RPO to Green. A player of his skill making catches like that out of the slot? It’s borderline unfair.
Key Players: Chris Carson, Mike Davis, Tyler Lockett, Marshawn Lynch
Last week I speculated there would be chaos in the Seattle backfield. As it turned out, i as wrong. Chris Carson and Mike Davis ended up splitting the carries with equal success. Carson ended up with 19 carries for 116 yards, while Davis posted 12 carries for 68 yards and 1 touchdown. This week against the Raiders, either seems like a solid play, especially for those players who have Kerryon Johnson, Mark Ingram, or Alvin Kamara on a bye week. Two weeks ago both Carlos Hyde and Nick Chubb put up big numbers against the Raiders defense, as did Melvin Gordon last week. The other unpredictable duo in Seattle, Tyler Lockett and Doug Baldwin, had the opposite story. Baldwin was practically invisible, while Lockett finished with 3 receptions for 98 yards and 1 touchdown. This week, both seem like good plays against the Raiders. As the Raiders are forced to come up to stop Carson and Davis, they are susceptible to RPO quick throws. Even when Russell Wilson has to stand in the pocket as plays develop, he’ll be fine. When the Raiders shipped Khalil Mack away, their pass rush went with him.
As for the Raiders, they are one controversial call away from being 0-5. On offense, the only sure bet had been Marshawn Lynch before last week where he only got 9 carries as the Raiders found themselves in an early hole. Amari Cooper has been M.I.A. for most of the season and Jared Cook is up and down. For now the only Raider player to start is Lynch. This week he appears to be a solid play since he’s going up against his former team.
Key Players: Mitch Trubisky, Tarik Cohen, Taylor Gabriel, Kenyan Drake
I’ve been waiting a week to cover the shocking performance in Chicago two weeks ago. Mitch Trubisky effectively ended Fitzmagic, going 19-26 for 354 yards and 6 touchdowns. Every week he looks more comfortable in Matt Nagy’s offense and the Bears are starting to look dangerous. With the Packers and Vikings sleepwalking and the Lions consistently inconsistent, dare I suggest the Bears are the best team in the NFC North? Perhaps not yet, but they do look good. Trubisky does not have nearly the same arm as Patrick Mahomes, so I won’t compare them. I will, however, say the Bears are starting to remind me of the Chiefs under Alex Smith. It’s remarkable how many of the throws in the highlight above were to wide open receivers. The receivers are running complicated routes out of spread and bunch formations, making it easy for them to get lost in the shuffle. If this keeps up, Trubisky may just find himself in Tier 2 of the fantasy football hierarchy. Two other players that stuck out two weeks ago were Tarik Cohen (13 carries for 53 yards, plus 7 receptions for 121 yards and 1 touchdown) and Taylor Gabriel (7 receptions for 104 yards and 1 touchdown). While neither is the main option at their position, it’s important to remember that what makes Kansas City so dangerous is their ability to get the ball to their fastest players in space. The Bears want to do the same and those players are Cohen and Gabriel. Nagy wants to get them the ball on screens, quick throws, and mid-level routes with other players drawing the defense deep. Keep an eye on both of them as the season progresses.
As for the Dolphins, we finally saw some flashes of the player once known as Kenyan Drake last week. He had 46 rushing yards on 6 carries (compared to 12 for Frank Gore) to go along with 7 receptions for 69 yards and 1 touchdown. I know a lot of people who drafted him in early rounds who have been praying for a sign of life. Was this it? Perhaps. We need to see if he can build on it before declaring he’s back and ready to live up to his draft status.
Key Players: Christian Kirk, David Johnson, Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen
Here comes the first game where there is little for me to say:
The hopeless Cardinals of a few weeks ago seem gone for now. Josh Rosen may not be a fantasy option yet, but his willingness to throw the ball downfield has finally given the Arizona skill position players some space to work. A couple weeks after Matthew Berry effectively buried David Johnson, he posted 18 carries for 53 yards and 2 touchdowns. While these are certainly not the numbers those who drafted him expected at the start of the season, at least he has a pulse. As for the Vikings, it was the same story last week. They can’t run the ball, leaving Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen to do all the heavy lifting. Fortunately for the Vikings, as well as Diggs and Thielen owners, they once more rose to the challenge.
Key Players: Eric Ebron, Nyheim Hines, Isaiah Crowell, Bilal Powell, Robby Anderson
I hope everyone else who drafted Jack Doyle went out and picked up Eric Ebron a few weeks ago. I did and it’s the only reason I won last week. Ebron finished with 9 receptions on 15 targets for 105 yards and 2 touchdowns. Even with 10 days to recover, Doyle has been ruled out for this week already. So has T.Y. Hilton, leaving Ebron as the main receiver in Indy. If you have him, hold on to him and be sure to start him this week. A potential sleeper to watch in the second half of the fantasy season is Nyheim Hines. His usage rate has increased every week, hitting a high last week with 15 carries for 45 yards along with 7 receptions on 9 targets for 45 yards. Though not explosive numbers, they show the confidence Frank Reich is starting to develop in his fourth-round pick. Since Marlon Mack can’t stay healthy and Jordan Wilkins hasn’t taken over, why not turn to Hines? Any team that’s seen his college tape would surely think twice about blitzing Andrew Luck. Hines is dangerous as a runner and in the passing game, his speed could give Luck some room to breathe. Be sure to keep an eye on him.
A week after dumping on the Jets, I am return for a slice of humble pie. Isaiah Crowell torched the Broncos defense for 219 rushing yards on only 15 carries, adding 1 touchdown. Not far behind was Bilal Powell with 99 rushing yards on 20 carries. Both are worth keeping on the roster, as consistency is still a concern. The Colts have allowed 100 yards rushing in 3 of their 5 games, narrowly missing the mark last week with Patriots hitting 97, making this an ideal game to gauge the value of Crowell and Powell going forward. One thing that will allow them to repeat their feat from last week is Robby Anderson stretching the defense vertically. If he and Sam Darnold can replicate this throw once or twice a game, Crowell and Powell are definitely worthy of roster spots.
Key Players: Christian McCaffrey, Adrian Peterson, Chris Thompson
The Panthers continue to show remarkable balance in their receiving corp. Combine this with Cam Newton once more being haunted by turnovers and it leaves Christian McCaffrey as the only reliable fantasy player on the Carolina roster. I still haven’t given up hope on Devin Funchess, it’s just for now he’s too much of a risk as a starter. McCaffrey showed once more that even in games where he doesn’t get much going on the ground (17 carries for 58 yards), he still holds value in PPR leagues (5 receptions for 35 yards and 1 touchdown). The Redskins have allowed an average of 100 (technically 100.67) yards rushing in their last 3 games. While this is actually much better than last season, it’s still an issue and makes McCaffrey a must start this week.
In Washington, the running game has become murky. The passing game, at least for now, can be written off, adding all the more importance to their running game both in fantasy and reality. Adrian Peterson separated his shoulder last week, meaning the carries should fall to Chris Thompson. Then again, Peterson claims he will be back this week. For any other player, I would doubt them. This, however, is Adrian Peterson we’re talking about. If he says he can play, we have to believe him. So, I can’t recommend starting Thompson this week. The Redskins are in waiting and see mode for now.
Key Players: LeSean McCoy, Keke Coutee, Ryan Griffin
The Bills somehow pulled out another win last week. LeSean McCoy showed some life with 24 carries for 85 yards. However, so long as Josh Allen steals the rushing touchdowns, McCoy is a flex back up at best. The only interesting thing to watch with him is whether or not he gets traded before the deadline. Maybe back to Philly after Jay Ajaiyi was lost for the season?
Keke Coutee built off of his strong debut with 6 receptions for 51 yards and another touchdown. The touchdown came on one of the jet sweep pitches that are becoming all the rage these days, putting Coutee in play as a red-zone threat. I suggest going out and finding him if someone in your league hasn’t already. With DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller on the outside, what are teams supposed to do? Move their best corners inside for Coutee? I think not. Speaking of the room the outside guys open up, Ryan Griffin finally gave my “Houston tight ends should be good” theory some positive signs. Against the Cowboys he posted 6 receptions for 65 yards. Was this a flash in the pan or is he finally becoming a real option as a tight end? We’ll have to wait and see.
Key Players: Todd Gurley, Cooper Kupp
This is my second game where I have little to say. The Rams are great, the Broncos got torched by the Jets last week. Start all Rams, as both Cooks and Kupp have cleared concussion protocol. Definitely start Gurley after Isaiah Crowell and Bilal Powell combined for 318 rushing yards last week. As for the Broncos, it’s too hard to say. What if the defense isn’t that good? Should Thomas and Sanders start if the have to keep coming back? Did they just have a lull against the Jets? Does this make Freeman and Lindsay the only options again? It’s too hard to say, let’s see how they do against one of the best offenses in football and go from there.
Key Players: Ezekiel Elliot
This is my third, and final game, where I have very little to talk about. The Cowboys are painful to watch on offense, leaving Ezekiel Elliot as their only fantasy option. Assuming Jason Garrett doesn’t decide to keep him on the sidelines for downs 1-3 (as well as 4), he’s all they have. The bad Blake Bortles reared his ugly head this past week in Kansas City throwing 4 interceptions. Unless T.J. Yeldon goes off this week, there is little reason to start any Jaguars, especially since the Dallas defense doesn’t deserve blame for the erratic start.
Key Players: Michael Crabtree, John Brown
Alex Collins and Buck Allen both ran pretty well against the Browns, making it all the more perplexing the didn’t get the ball very much. For some reason, the Ravens asked Joe Flacco to throw 56 passes in a 3 point game. Michael Crabtree had a chance to win the game, only for it to (pun very much intended) slip through his fingers. How much longer will Flacco look his way? For now, the only Raven player worth starting is John Brown. Even though he only caught 4 of the 14 passes thrown his way, he has been far more reliable than Crabtree. With the Titans offense a total wild card, I expect the Ravens to pounce early. The best way for them to do that is Flacco to Brown, early, deep, and often.
A week after giving some hope for the Titans’ fantasy prospects, Corey Davis floundered last week. This means there is no point in tracking the Titans offense again this week. Until someone changes my mind, I see no reason to write much about them.
Key Players: Kareem Hunt, Tyreek Hill, Julian Edelman, Josh Gordon, James White,Rob Gronkowski
This is a huge game for both the AFC hierarchy and for fantasy players. We all remember what Kareem Hunt did against the Patriots’ Big Nickel defense last season. This season, he’ll be running those double move routes out of the backfield with Patrick Mahomes instead of Alex Smith. That has got to have even the great Bill Belichick a little scared (by the way, I know by saying that there’s a decent chance the Pats completely shut down Hunt and I awake next week to see Belichick staring at me in my driveway, the slightest of smirks on his face). The other player to watch for Kansas City is Tyreek Hill. The Patriots are not very fast on defense and they love to play their safeties as deep as possible. Sammy Watkins on the outside and Travis Kelce in the seam are not going to inspire them to change this philosophy. It will leave them vulnerable, like last year, to plays underneath: screens, draws, jet sweeps, all the tricks Andy Reid has up his sleeve. When he goes to these tricks, he will use Hunt and Hill. No one of the Patriots’ defense can match their speed. Look for a lot of two back sets with Hunt and Hill and look for them to post big games.
James White held his own in the passing game, even with the return of Julian Edelman. I’m very curious to see how Tom Brady will spread the wealth between White, Edelman, Josh Gordon, and Gronk. Gordon is listed as questionable for now (not that the Pats injury list has ever been completely trustworthy), so maybe we won’t see this week. If he can play, this is a must watch game as we really, really need clarity on where the ball is going in New England in the second half. Let’s watch and discuss next week.
Key Players: George Kittle, Alfred Morris, Davante Adams, Aaron Jones
The 49ers really need Alfred Morris to step up this week. C.J. Beathard turned the ball over 4 times last week. George Kittle remains his favorite target with 5 receptions on 7 targets for 83 yards. If Morris doesn’t take some of the pressure off Beathard (Matt Breida has more injury trouble), Kittle is the only 49er worth owning. We need to watch them and see what happens this week.
I have no idea what is going on with the Packers. Their season has seem lost ever since that terrible call against Clay Matthews in Week 2. Thus far the only consistent fantasy option has been Davante Adams. Against the Lions, he had 9 receptions for 140 yards and 1 touchdown. It feels wrong writing this when I know this team has Aaron Rodgers, but for now it looks like Adams is the only safe bet on the Packers. I really hope Aaron Jones gets some more carries this week. I don’t have him on my team, I’d just like to see them take some of the pressure off of Rodgers and the passing game. This has never been Mike McCarthy’s style, I know. The 49ers don’t look very good without Jimmy G under center, so maybe this would be a good week for it. Let Adams put the 49ers in an early hole and then see what Jones can do? Maybe? Please, Mike. Give it a shot.