Week 7 in the fantasy football season finds Green Bay, Pittsburgh, Oakland, and Seattle all on their bye weeks. Bad news for Rodgers and Roethlesberger owners, perhaps good news for Derek Carr and Amari Cooper owners. At least they’ll be spared the aggravation. Raiders jokes aside, it’s not just Rodgers and Roethlesberger; James Conner, Antonio Brown, Juju Smith-Schuster, Davante Adams, Jimmy Graham, and Chris Carson are also amongst the players on a bye this week. This makes Week 7 the worst bye week yet or, as I prefer to think of it, Bye Week Hell.
With that in mind, I’ve tried to tailor this week’s coverage to helping fantasy owners find under the radar players to fill in the gaps this week.
Tennessee Titans at Los Angles Chargers
Key Players: The Titans’ Offensive Line, Melvin Gordon, Tyrell Williams
I mean, the video about says it all, doesn’t it? At the start of the season, I thought the Tennessee backfield would a goldmine of fantasy points. Now it’s a desert. Neither Derrick Henry nor Dion Lewis have managed to do much in the running or passing games. I’m most surprised by Lewis, I really thought he would be a great back to have in PPR leagues at the very least. Certainly the inconsistency at quarterback has hurt, but now that Marcus Mariota is back, the offensive line is what will hold them back. Hopefully they can get it together soon. It is, however, unlikely “soon” will come this week against a very good Chargers defense.
Last week Gordon absolutely torched the Browns to the tune of 132 yards on only 18 carries, along with 3 touchdowns. As to what Gregg Williams was thinking as he continued to blitz up the middle as Gordon hit them on the edge, I don’t know. Which isn’t to take away from what Gordon accomplished, Williams’ game plan just didn’t do much to stop him. Gordon has been one of the most consistent fantasy players in 2018. He already has 9 touchdowns (6 on the ground, 3 through the air) in the first 6 games. If you’re weak at the running back position and can afford to flip two good receivers (one elite, one second tier), try and take a run at Gordon. As for a potential sleeper on the waiver wire, take a look at Tyrell Williams. Last week he scored 2 touchdowns against the Browns. He only has 16 receptions this season, but those 16 receptions have averaged 19.4 yards. He’s a classic boom or bust pick, I admit. Those that own Brown and Smith Schuster might want to try a gamble this week.
New England Patriots at Chicago Bears
Key Players: Sony Michel, Tarik Cohen, Taylor Gabriel
So far Sony Michel has been everything the Patriots could have possibly hoped for when they grabbed towards the end of the first round. After years of effectively employing a running by committee approach, the Patriots look poised to return to the days of Corey Dillion and let Michel loose as their feature back on the I-formation power runs that were once the staple of their offense. As I write this, it’s 38 degrees in Boston, so look for his usage rate to continue to go up as winter comes to Foxboro. In the passing game, Tom Brady did an excellent job using all of the weapons at his disposal. Since all the weapons are now back from their injuries and suspensions, it’s hard to advise starting any of the Patriot skill position players outside of Michel. If there’s one thing that has always set the Patriots aside from the rest of the league, it’s their ability to drastically change schemes from week to week. One week they could be in the spread all day, making Josh Gordon and Julian Edelman smart plays, then the next week, they’re in the I all day with the passing game focused on Gronk. While it makes them a fascinating team to watch on Sundays, the commitment to balance makes them a hard team to project week to week in fantasy.
Even though they lost last week to the Dolphins, the Bears offense is really starting to look good. The two biggest standouts last week were Tarik Cohen and Taylor Gabriel, both of whom are likely on your waiver wire. Cohen especially is finding his niche in the passing game. Since the Patriots are back to full strength, he’s a must play this week. The Chiefs were once more able to exploit the Patriots in the passing game with Kareem Hunt coming out of the backfield, so look for Matt Nagy to pull those same plays out of his playbook this week, especially if the Patriots get out to an early lead. While the Bears are better, they are not on the same level as New England. They will need to pass if they hope to keep the game close and Cohen will play an integral role in that strategy. As for Taylor Gabriel, he’s starting to fill the same role in the Bears’ offense that Tyreek Hill fills in the Chiefs’. His speed and ability to catch the ball anywhere on the field must be exploited this week. The Patriot defense is strong in the front seven and savvy in the defensive backfield. However, they are also a bit slow. Look for a big game from Gabriel as he looks to replicate Hill’s 3 touchdown performance from last week.
Buffalo Bills at Indianapolis Colts
Key Players: No Bills, Eric Ebron, Marlon Mack
Woof, the Bills are not looking so hot right now. Starting Derek Anderson is usually not a sign an offense is heading in the right direction. It also likely means Nathan Peterman‘s time Buffalo is on a ticking clock. As I’ve said before, I really liked Peterman coming out of college. He’s the last guy from that draft class I would have picked as an interception machine. Alas, that is what he has become. Now the Bills must turn to Anderson, rendering all Bills as non-options until we see exactly which Derek Anderson turns up.
T.Y. Hilton looks like he’ll be out again, as will Jack Doyle. So, for the Colts the only solid start is Eric Ebron. Thus far in 2018, he’s scored a touchdown in every game but one and has been the Colts only option in the red zone. He is a must start until further notice. Marlon Mack looked like an under the radar back with potential at the start of the season. He very well could still be, if he can find a way to stay on the field. Last week he showed a glimpse of what he can do with 89 yards on only 12 carries. It’s likely he was dropped in your league in the early weeks, so go find him if you’re looking for a second running back this week. The Bills are a great match-up for him to build off of his Week 6 performance as they have allowed over 100 yards rushing in 4 of their first 6 games. With little going for them on offense, they aren’t going to scare the Colts into passing nearly as much as they have thus far. Look for Frank Reich to give Andrew Luck a break and let Mack try and carry the offense for a bit.
Detroit Lions at Miami Dolphins
Key Players: LeGarrette Blount, Kerryon Johnson, Albert Wilson, Frank Gore
What exactly is going on with LeGarrette Blount? Just as soon as it looks like he has no place in fantasy football, he pops up with 2 touchdowns. Is he going to be a touchdown vulture? Or is he going to score every few weeks, while posting meager stats the rest of the time? Both his and Kerryon Johnson‘s value lie in the answer to those questions. Johnson has clearly become the number one back in Detroit, but he needs the touchdowns Blount stole last week to be a starting fantasy back. Normally a running back like Johnson can weather a touchdown vulture like Blount in PPR leagues, as the short-yardage power back isn’t involved in the passing game. Unfortunately for Johnson, Theo Riddick is not only a third down back, he’s one who has built a rapport with Matthew Stafford.
After weeks waiting for Kenyan Drake to come alive, it was Frank Gore of all people who rushed for 100 yards last week. Gore has been so good for so many years, I always forget his injury history coming out of college. When he was drafted, it would not have been out of the realm of possibility for his career to last only a few seasons. As we now know, that was not how things worked out. Instead he went on to become one of the most consistent runners of the last decade, and if Week 6 is any indication, it doesn’t look like he’s slowing down just yet. He’s a good guy to grab off the waiver wire if you’re in need of another running back. As for keeping him long term, let’s wait and see on that. Kenyan Drake may not be alive yet, but he could explode any week. Since he figures to be in the Dolphins long term plans, it’s unlikely he is relegated to number 2 status if he breaks out. The Dolphin passing game is impossible to gauge from week to week, last week it was Albert Wilson who broke out with 6 receptions for 155 yards and 2 touchdowns. Thus far, Wilson has put up the best numbers overall and has the most responsibilities in the passing game. He’s a good one week filler, so long as the fantasy owner understands the long term projections are fuzzy at best. If you find yourself desperate for a receiver this week, take a chance on Wilson.
Minnesota Vikings at New York Jets
Key Players: Latavius Murray, Adam Theilen, No Jets
The Minnesota running game finally showed up last week! Murray exploded with 24 carries for 155 yards and 1 touchdown. I was all ready to put his name down as a potential fill-in on the waiver wire, until I saw Dalvin Cook has returned to practice. This leaves the Viking backfield clouded in uncertainty once more. It’s not clear who will get a majority of the carries, nor is it clear whether last week was a break out week for the Viking running game or an aberration. Having said that, the Viking pass offense has been very good all season, there is a chance they get out to a decent lead and try to let their backs take over. I would still only recommend Cook or Murray in a desperate situation. Speaking of the Viking passing game, last week was the first week both Adam Theilen and Stefon Diggs did not put up big numbers. Theilen did, to the tune of 11 receptions for 123 yards and 1 touchdown. Meanwhile, Diggs was an afterthought with 3 receptions for 33 yards. This is a key stat to watch going forward as it shows that when both aren’t putting up numbers, it looks like it will be Theilen getting the most receptions. Diggs owners should not panic, unless the running game really has taken off and there will no longer be as many passes flying around. If this happens, try to flip him before the trade deadline.
A week after combining for over 300 yards against the Broncos (on a side note, what on Earth is going on with the Denver run defense?), Isaiah Crowell and Bilal Powell posted far more pedestrian numbers in Week 6. The Jets offense is still trying to find it’s way, having shown tantalizing flashes in both the running and passing game in 2018. Unfortunately, those flashes have been offset by the struggles any team with a rookie quarterback would expect to face. Crowell and Powell may be on the waiver wire this week and are worth a look. My only caution would be this: the Vikings offense is too strong to be taken lightly. The Jets could very well be in an early hole and forced to turn to the air. As neither Powell nor Crowell have a defined role in the passing game, they come with huge risks that outweigh their potential rewards. Be cautious.
Carolina Panthers at Philadelphia Eagles
Key Players: Christian McCaffrey, Carson Wentz, Alshon Jeffrey, Zach Ertz
Christian McCaffrey remains the only viable starter from the Panthers. In a pinch, you could dip into their receiving corp, knowing that you can find a receiver who will likely post 3-5 receptions for 35-60 yards. The trick is finding the one who scores this week’s touchdowns. Thus far, it’s been impossible to guess, making McCaffrey the best option. McCaffrey’s ability to do everything a modern running back is required to do makes him an untouchable in my mind. Don’t take him out of your line-up and do not trade him unless the offer is insanely one-sided in your benefit.
Carson Wentz looks like he’s the Carson Wentz who would have been the MVP last season if not for his knee injury. Wentz was on fire last week against the Giants. He is clearly feeling confident in the pocket and is getting the ball out quickly again. He finished the game 26 of 36 for 278 yards and 3 touchdowns. Most importantly, he only carried the ball twice. While I do not deny he has plenty of skills in the running game, it’s best for him to stay in the pocket when he can. If he leaves, he drastically increases the risk of another knee injury. Now that he’s back, his two favorite targets, Alshon Jeffrey and Zach Ertz, are back to being the fantasy studs of 2017. In Week 6, Jeffrey had 8 receptions for 74 yards and 2 touchdowns, while Ertz collected 7 receptions for 43 yards and 1 touchdown. When Dallas Goedert showed flashes a few weeks ago, some Ertz owners (including one in one of my leagues) panicked and dropped Ertz. So, he might be out there if you’re missing Jimmy Graham or Jared Cook this week. That would be a solid pick-up that could have lasting value.
Cleveland Browns at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Key Players: Carlos Hyde, David Njoku, Duke Johnson, Peyton Barber, O.J. Howard
The Browns cannot keep any wide receivers healthy this season. How much longer can they keep Duke Johnson out of the passing game? Against the Chargers, he finally showed signs of life with 4 receptions for 74 yards. Unless Antonio Callaway fixed his drop problems in practice this week, look for Johnson to see extended time in the slot or even split out wide with Jarvis Landry returning home to the slot. It certainly is not out the realm of possibility, given two decades of overwhelming evidence, for the Browns to somehow forget Johnson yet again. I just have a hard to time believing they will make the same mistake once again. Johnson should be on the waiver wire, go find him. Another Brown who might have ended up being cut a few weeks ago is David Njoku. After a forgettable start to the season, he’s showing some signs of life. Last week he finished with 7 receptions for 85 yards and 1 touchdown. Like Johnson, he can move all over the formation. The Browns would be crazy not to take advantage of that, so he’s a good pick-up because of the probable rise in his usage rate.
The Chargers killed the Browns on the ground last week, which is perfect timing for Peyton Barber. He’s coming off one of his better games with 13 carries for 82 yards, along with 4 receptions for 24 yards and 1 touchdown in Week 6. Since Gregg Williams is likely to blitz Jameis Winston early and often, look for Bucs to lean on Barber early, especially if the Browns have not addressed the concerns on the edge. Also don’t forget, Joe Schobert is out for the Browns. He’s their best linebacker, especially against the run. More importantly, he plays the deep middle in their Cover 2 schemes. Without him, Chrsitian Kirsksey will likely move back inside. Even though he’s one of the better linebackers in football, it remains to be seen if Kirksey can be as effective in the middle of 4-3 scheme instead of a 3-4 scheme. If you have O.J. Howard, he looks like a good start with the uncertainty in the middle of the Browns defense. If the Browns are on their game, he’s still a good start as a safety valve for Jameis Winston in the face of a heavy pass rush.
Houston Texans at Jacksonville Jaguars
Key Players: DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, Keke Coutee
Here’s my first, “I don’t have a lot to say about this” games for Week 7.
Though their overall numbers were not up to their usual standard in Week 6, the Texans receiving trio all remain solid starts. Outside of them, there are no slam dunk options in the Texan offense. The Jaguars are, uh, not doing so well after a great start to the 2018 season. Last week’s 40-7 thrashing by the Cowboys makes it impossible to recommend any of their players in fantasy for the time being.
New Orleans Saints at Baltimore Ravens
Key Players: Mark Ingram, Alvin Kamara, Michael Crabtree, Alex Collins, Gus Edwards
Two weeks ago, Mark Ingram returned with a vengeance, posting 2 touchdowns in his first game back. It was concerning to see Alvin Kamara‘s numbers significantly drop off. He was only able to muster 24 rushing yards on 6 carries and 15 receiving yards on 3 receptions. I’m not going to pretend this wasn’t a huge red flag, but I would not go so far as to say it’s time to panic. The Ravens defense is very, very good, so the Saints are going to need Kamara to create mismatches in the passing game. In 2017, these two formed a dynamic duo in the backfield; there is no reason that won’t continue in 2018. Yes, Ingram will take back those red zone carries and will therefore always be the better scoring option. However, that does not diminish Kamara’s value in PPR leagues. He is also only one touch away from a long touchdown, so do not fear. Though if your fear is too severe, flip him now before those fears become reality.
A week after letting the winning touchdown slip through his fingers, Michael Crabtree rebounded in Week 6 with 6 receptions for 93 yards and 1 touchdown. For those of you who are wide receiver or flex starved heading into this week, take a look at Crabtree. Not only did he score last week, his 9 targets were 6 more than the more reliable John Brown. This isn’t to say he’s going to outshine Brown for the rest of the season, just that Joe Flacco did not lose complete faith in him after that drop against the Browns. He’s a solid pick-up if you’re desperate. The Raven backfield has been a mystery most of the season. Last week Alex Collins posted his usual 54 yards on 14 carries, but was finally able to break through with 2 touchdowns. Even though it looked like Javarious Allen would be his biggest competition this year, it was Gus Edwards who stepped-up last week with a surprising 42 yard debut. He’s an interesting sleeper to track given Collins’ past fumbling issues and Joe Flacco’s inconsistent accuracy in 2018.
Los Angeles Rams at San Francisco 49ers
Key Players: Todd Gurley, Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin
Cooper Kupp will be out this week, maybe more. Look for Robert Woods to step into his shoes alongside Brandin Cooks. With Cooks handling the deep routes, Woods should clean up underneath. In Week 6, Woods had 109 yards on 7 receptions. Even though Jared Goff has looked surprisingly pedestrian the past two weeks, I expect him to bounce back against the 49ers with Woods being a major recipient of said bounce back. Since Cooks and Kupp have, deservedly, received most of the attention in the fantasy world, Woods is likely on the waiver wire. I’m really curious to see how Todd Gurley does this week coming off of a 28 carry, 208 yard, 2 touchdown shredding of the Broncos. Are the Rams going to give him more carries? Or is the Denver defense really just that bad against the run? Answering both of these questions will tell us a lot about the future of the Rams’ passing offense and whether or not the Broncos are going to be one of those defenses that make any opposing running back a must play.
We had a rare Marquise Goodwin sighting last week when he posted 4 receptions for 126 yards and 2 touchdowns. Hopefully this is a sign to come for disgruntled Goodwin owners (myself included). Outside of Goodwin, the other thing to watch in San Francisco this week is the 49er backfield. Last week Raheem Mostert had 87 rushing yards on 12 carries, Matt Breida had 61 yards on 14 carries (one for a touchdown), and Alfred Morris was nowhere to be seen. With Jimmy G out for the season, I expect Kyle Shannahan will go back to the offense he ran with the Browns in 2014: three running backs rotating based on match-ups and throw only when you have to. It will be important to track how this plays out in the coming weeks before taking a chance on a 49er back.
Dallas Cowboys at Washington Redskins
Key Players: Ezekiel Elliot, Cole Beasley, Adrian Peterson
Finally some life out of the Cowboys’ passing game! In their 40-7 evisceration of the Jaguars in Week 6, the Cowboys finally saw Cole Beasley look like the receiver they hoped he could be. Bealey posted 9 receptions for 101 yards and 2 touchdowns. Can he keep up the momentum against the Redskins? It’s hard to be confident knowing Josh Norman will likely follow him around the field. This makes Week 7 a great test for the Cowboy passing attack. Was last week an actual step forward or are the Jaguars ice cold right now? If it’s the former, find Beasley, there’s no way someone in your league held on to him. If it’s the latter, Ezekiel Elliot, fresh off a 24 carry, 106 yard, and 1 touchdown performance, remains the only real option in Dallas.
I have a sincere question about Adrian Peterson: is he a cyborg? Seriously. Last week it looked like he would be out for a while with a shoulder injury, making Chris Thompson a player to watch. Then Week 6 came, Thompson ended up sitting out the game, and Peterson posted 97 yards on 17 carries. With Alex Smith remaining conservative and spreading the ball around, as Alex Smith does, Peterson remains the only fantasy option in Washington.
Cincinnati Bengals at Kansas City Chiefs
Key Players: Joe Mixon, A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd, Kareem Hunt, Tyreek Hill
This could be the top game for fantasy points in Week 7. Both teams are coming off of extremely tough losses and will therefore want to come out swinging. Joe Mixon had only 11 carries for 64 yards against the Steelers, but he did manage 1 touchdown. Against a Kansas City defense that got ripped up by Sony Michel, expect the Bengals to feed him early and keep Patrick Mahomes on the sideline. In the passing game, A.J. Green had 7 receptions for 85 yards last week. Look for him on the quick RPO plays out of the slot if Mixon gets going. The Chiefs will have to come up, leaving Green with room to run if he breaks through the first line of coverage. Tyler Boyd continued his hot start in 2018 with 7 receptions for 62 yards and 2 touchdowns. As long as Green is on the field, he’ll draw the focus of the secondary, leaving Boyd with plenty of room to work underneath. All three are must starts this week.
For the Chiefs, they showed a lot of moxie while refusing to give up last week after a subpar first half. Kareem Hunt continued to give the Patriot defense fits with 10 carries for 80 yards and 5 receptions for 105 yards and 1 touchdown. As teams are starting to acquire enough tape to identify some weaknesses in Patrick Mahomes’ game, minimal though they may be, I expect Andy Reid will turn to Hunt a bit more both in the running and passing games. The other Chief who gave the Patriots problems was Tyreek Hill, who torched them 142 yards on 7 receptions and 3 touchdowns. Since a fan decided it would be a good idea to throw beer on him after one of those touchdowns, I expect him to come out with a vengeance the rest of season, starting Sunday against the Bengals. His continued development as a receiver has allowed him to find the soft spots in the opposing defense. Once he gets there, his speed makes him almost impossible to corral.
New York Giants at Atlanta Falcons
Key Players: Saquon Barkley, Julio Jones, Austin Hooper, Calvin Ridley
Here is my second, “I don’t have a lot to say” games.
The Giants offense is not doing so well right now. The line can’t protect Eli, Eli has lost his touch, and Odell Beckham Jr. looks like he’s about to walk off the field at any moment. The only saving grace for both Giants’ fans and fantasy players has been Saquon Barkley. Through all the drama, he continues to thrive. With Devonta Freeman out for the rest of the season and Tevin Coleman losing carries to Ito Smith, the Falcons receiving corp is the best source of consistent points.