Michael Beller: Please excuse me Fitz—and you, too, dear readers—if I seem a bit distracted in this edition of the roundtable. You see, the baseball playoffs have begun, and the Cubs host the Giants in Game 1 of the NLDS on Friday. I hope you can all forgive me if at least part of my brain is over on the corner of Clark and Addison, 1.5 miles north of where I'm sitting and writing.
On to the business at hand. I've always thought the week between Week 4 and 5 of the NFL was one of the most crucial for fantasy owners. One-third of the fantasy season is in the books. You're not out of it if you're 0–4 or 1–3, but you need to start getting wins now. Conversely, if you're 4–0, you can really start to take some risks. You can trade for, say, Donte Moncrief, likely at a discount, and wait for his return. You have the luxury of burning a roster spot on a player who won't be back for another few weeks, knowing he can make a huge impact when healthy.
The trade market is where I want to begin this week's roundtable. Circumstances dictate, to a certain extent, the players you target in a trade, but is there any player or handful of players you've been checking on in all your leagues? I've been taking the temperature of the Odell Beckham Jr. owner in all my leagues where I'm not already the OBJ owner. I laid out in detail in this week's Target and Snap Report why no one should be concerned about Beckham or Eli Manning. For that matter, in my superflex leagues, I've also been gauging Manning's price. That passing game is going to explode and find a high degree of consistency sooner rather than later.
For my money, Atlanta at Denver is the most intriguing Week 5 game. The Falcons’ offense has set the league aflame this season. Now they get to measure themselves against one of the league's two elite defenses (the other resides in Minnesota). I think they'll do well enough for themselves. Everyone knows to start Julio Jones, but I'm not shying away from Matt Ryan or Devonta Freeman, either.
There are a few more games I want to hit on, but I'll let you take your first whack at Week 5 before I bring those up. I suppose I would be remiss if I let the roundtable get to its second entry without saying something about Tom Brady. As I said on the podcast a few weeks ago, I'm expecting a William Tecumseh Sherman-style assault, with the Browns defense playing the role of the Georgia and South Carolina countrysides in the winter of 1864–65. Brady can make this march, and he can make the Browns howl. What do you think we see from the Patriots in Brady's 2016 debut?
Pat Fitzmaurice: You're forgiven for being distracted by the MLB playoffs, Beller. After all, Cubs World Series opportunities only roll around every 71 years or so. The Cubs are so insanely stacked with talent, but, um, this franchise has a pretty dubious postseason history. I suppose that's what happens when you deny a goat and his vengeful Greek owner entry into your ballpark. Disrespect a goat, carry a curse for eternity. But maybe this is the Cubs' year. If Christine Michael can finally break through, why not the Cubs, right? I can't say I'll be rooting for them—my schadenfreude as a Brewers fan prohibits it—but as a fellow Chicagoan who can feel the electricity the city is throwing off, I'll be closely following the Cubbies' plight.
It goes without saying that Angry Tom is going to rain hellfire down upon the Browns. Even if you don't buy the narrative that Brady is going to be seething after his four-game suspension, the juicy matchup with Cleveland points to a banner day. The target distribution is what I'm anxious to see. Does Julian Edelman get 12–15 targets? Is Rob Gronkowski healthy enough to be his typically transcendent self? How will Martellus Bennett fit into a Brady-propelled offense? And can Tommy Touchdown breathe life into the fantasy value of Chris Hogan, James White and/or Malcolm Mitchell?
You mentioned trades, and I actually just traded for Brady in one league. There was a Terrance West owner who wanted to slam the back door on the Ravens' RB situation, so I dealt him Kenneth Dixon and Eli Manning for Brady. Eli's numbers aren't awful, and I don't want to overreact to one poor game against a havoc-wreaking Vikings defense, but something about the Giants' passing game just seems ... off. It doesn't help that Shane Vereen is on IR, or that the Giants' tight ends are atrocious. But I'm also concerned about the makeup of the WR corps. The talent level is fine, and I do agree with you for the most part that Beckham is worth an inquiry if you sense that his owner is disgruntled. Thing is, the Giants basically have three slot receivers. Yes, I know that Beckham is a versatile weapon capable of doing lethal damage from wherever he lines up. I'd love to see him line up in the slot as often as possible, but I don't think Sterling Shepard is physical enough to be effective as a boundary receiver, and Victor Cruz has always done his best work out of the slot. Someone has to line up outside. I'm not sure how well these little blue Smurfs can coexist. I'm also not that confident in Ben McAdoo. But no matter—I'll let the other owner worry about Eli and the New York passing game.
In the leagues where I haven't picked up Terrelle Pryor already, I'm trying to trade for him. I just dealt away Isaiah Crowell and Sammie Coates for Pryor and DeAngelo Williams. Think I gave up too much? It wasn't a "sell high" on Crowell. I really rolled Yahtzee at running back in that league—LeSean McCoy, Le'Veon Bell, Jordan Howard, T.J. Yeldon and Dixon—and I was hard-up at receiver. Williams is a logical handcuff for Le'Veon, and I'm pretty much all in on Pryor. He's such a physical marvel, it more than makes up for whatever nuance he lacks as a route runner. And with Josh Gordon out of the picture, I'm no longer worried about his target share (even though Corey Coleman figures to be involved once he gets back from a broken hand).
You might be a little higher than I am on Matt Ryan this week, Beller. Yeah, he's averaging 10.52 yards per pass attempt, which is insane, but the Denver defense is giving up 4.88 yards per attempt. Something has to give, and I'm betting that Matty Ice takes a more liquid form on Sunday. Speaking of the Broncos, let me ask you this: Has Emmanuel Sanders become a more valuable fantasy property than Demaryius Thomas?
And one more receiver question for you: How are you feeling about Kelvin Benjamin these days? I didn't want to touch him in drafts this year. Then he had 13 catches for 199 yards and three TDs in his first two games. But in his last two games, he's caught three balls for 39 yards (though he did score a TD last week). Nervous?
Beller: (Skip the next two paragraphs if you don't care about baseball.)
Wow, the goat, 1945, you almost pulled off the trifecta there, Fitz. Nice work. The Cubs are, without question, the best team in baseball. The starting rotation was lights out all year, featuring a pair of Cy Young candidates in Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks, and last year's Cy Young winner, Jake Arrieta. Kris Bryant is probably going to win the MVP. Anthony Rizzo likely won't be far behind. There's talent up and down a beautifully constructed lineup, from Dexter Fowler to Ben Zobrist to Addison Russell. The 2016 Cubs arguably feature the best defense in MLB history, and that doesn’t slump. Finally, Theo Epstien and Jed Hoyer turned the bullpen from a soft spot into a strength at the trade deadline by acquiring Aroldis Chapman and putting him at the end of a three-headed monster that also includes Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon. The team is a juggernaut.
We know, however, that being the best team guarantees you exactly nothing in the playoffs. Short-series baseball is a crapshoot, and every team still alive is good enough to be better than any other team across five or seven games. I've always known this, but SI's own Joe Sheehan really opened my eyes when he put some numbers to it. The difference between a 100-win team and an 88-win team in the regular season is massive. It also translates to half a win per week, which is effectively nothing in a small sample, and that's what the playoffs are. San Francisco is a great team with an excellent rotation and a playoff-tested manager. If the Cubs can get by them, another great team will be waiting in the NLCS, no matter if it's the Nationals or Dodgers. I'm going to enjoy the ride, and hope and pray that it ends with the greatest party the city of Chicago has ever known.
O.K., back to the gridiron. You make a good point about the Patriots. There isn't much intrigue with Brady and the passing game as a whole, beyond him beginning his revenge tour. But how exactly will the numbers shake out among his pass catchers? I think this is the week Edelman owners have been waiting for, but I'm most interested in what happens with Gronkowski and Bennett. The latter has looked good while Gronk has been on the shelf, or hobbled by the hamstring injury. I don't think that's going to end any time soon.
I don't want to get too far into the weeds on the Giants, since I've spilled a lot of ink on them this week. I do think you bring up an interesting point about the makeup of the receiving corps, but I just can't see a group with all this talent falling short for much longer. Manning is putting up massive yardage numbers, save for last week against the Vikings. Beckham is a freak. Shepard is taking quite well to the league, and Cruz is a veteran who can fit into a number of roles. These guys are going to be fine the rest of the season. Considering both the Giants and Packers’ secondaries are banged up, I think we see a whole lot of fireworks on Sunday night. And how about that, another NFC North team in prime time. That makes every week but the opener that we've had at least one team from the division under the lights. Hope you're enjoying the upper Midwest, America.
Nah, I'm not ready to say Sanders is a better play than Thomas. What I am ready to say is that I whiffed on this passing game. Thomas is back to being Mr. Consistent, reaching 90 yards in all of his last three games, and finding the end zone in the last two. Trevor Siemian wasn't the disaster I thought he was going to be, but I'd really like to see Paxton Lynch get a shot with this collection of weapons. Siemian has already exceeded expectations, but there's no doubt that Lynch is the better pure talent. What if he gets to start for a few weeks while Siemian nurses his shoulder injury, proves to be an upgrade, and keeps the job? Does the Super Bowl then run through Denver? And with the Broncos, Patriots and Steelers looking like the three best teams in the league, what sort of Super Bowl line would you have to get right now to bet on the NFC? I think I might want more than the standard 3.5 points, even with an eye on the Packers or Seahawks taking the NFC crown.
As for Benjamin, I'm squarely in the "not as good as he looked the first two weeks, nowhere near as bad as he looked the last two weeks" camp. For me, he's more high-end WR2 than low-end WR1. I'd be surprised if he weren't a top-20 receiver, but I'd be stunned if he were a top-five receiver. With Greg Olsen in town and Cam being Cam, it's hard for a receiver to regularly post video-game numbers. And just so I don't miss it, I love that Pryor trade, given your roster construction. I've gushed enough about him for everyone to know where I stand. I have him in a few leagues, but I wish I had him across the board.
Alright, let's get to those other games I wanted to discuss. I am quite excited for Chargers-Raiders. Philip Rivers is a modern miracle. How the guy makes this offense tick, no matter how many parts they lose, is incredible. Meanwhile, the next great AFC West quarterback is making his presence felt. Derek Carr has been great this year, breaking the ceiling off how good he could be for the rest of his career (cut to Browns fans nodding sadly, knowing their team passed on Carr to take Johnny Manziel). I think the Raiders win, but I also think the Chargers keep it interesting, with a couple of fourth-quarter lead changes and heroics from both quarterbacks. From a purely fun standpoint, this is my favorite game of the weekend. Giants-Packers is a close second.
I also want to get your thoughts on Eagles-Lions. It can't be this easy for Carson Wentz every week, and yet the Lions don't exactly have the defense to slow down the offense Doug Pederson has crafted in his first year as the head man in Philadelphia. On the other side, Jim Schwartz revenge game! I think he's going to have a lot of exotic looks in store for Matthew Stafford. The Lions quarterback is a sit for me this week. I think Schwartz, with his intimate knowledge of his former QB, figures out a way to get in his head.
Fitz: It's not an ideal matchup for the Lions. The best way to beat Schwartz's "Wide Nine" defense is with the running game, and Detroit can't run the ball. Take away Ameer Abdullah's rushes and Lions RBs are averaging 3.3 yards per carry. And now Detroit won't have TE Eric Ebron in the passing game. So is this the week that we finally see Golden Tate rise from the dead? Holy hat, Beller, this guy was a third-round pick in some PPR leagues! Tate had 99 catches when he joined the Lions in 2014, then 90 catches last year. So far this season, he has 14 catches for 95 yards, which works out to 6.8 yards per catch. There are running backs who'd be embarrassed by that number. And yet the Lions swear that he'll be more involved this week.
Chargers-Raiders could be entertaining, but man, the Chargers are getting butchered by injuries. The loss of Jason Verrett to a torn ACL is devastating. The Chargers rank near the bottom of the league in passing yards allowed, but that's misleading. Their opponent passer rating is 11th-lowest in the league, which suggests that their pass coverage has actually been pretty good. But now, without Verrett? It's going to be open season for Carr, Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree. The San Diego offensive line, so decimated last season, is dealing with another wave of injuries. Rivers is indeed amazing, but I'm starting to wonder how much longer he can turn lemons into Limoncello. I'm also worried about our beloved ex-Badger, Melvin Gordon. He keeps punching in touchdowns, but Mel has averaged 2.0 yards per carry over the last two weeks. Some fantasy writers are getting back on the "Gordon sucks" bandwagon, but for heaven's sake, the Chargers were forced to use their fourth option at left tackle against the Saints last weekend.
Actually, the more interesting backfield in that game is Oakland's. With Latavius Murray out, rookies DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard are going to share the load. I don't think Murray is going to be completely marginalized, but if either Washington or Richard pops against the Chargers, could Murray fall to second in the pecking order? Washington has looked pretty good so far, last week's late fumble notwithstanding. I'm also eager to see more of Richard, who had some eye-catching runs in the preseason.
Another game in which I'll be watching the running backs carefully: Washington-Baltimore. Kenneth Dixon will be making his Ravens debut in this regional rivalry, but how many snaps and carries will he get after Terrance West ran for 113 yards and a TD against the Raiders last week? My money is still on Dixon eventually taking command of that backfield, but West isn't going to shirk from battle like General George McClellan. (There's a Civil War reference just for you, Beller, estimable history buff that you are.) I'm also anxious to see more of Matt Jones. Don't look now, but the oft-maligned Jones is averaging 4.5 yards per carry. Granted, he fattened his stats with 117 yards and a TD against the Browns last week, but he looked legit in that game, running decisively and powerfully. It'll be interesting to see if he can keep it up against the Ravens, who for my money have the most underrated defense in the league.
So let me ask you something on an unrelated topic, amigo. I know how much football you watch every week, and now you'll be watching every pitch of every Cubs game the rest of the way. I also know that you're a happily engaged man. So tell me: What do you and the future Mrs. Beller watch together when you aren't watching sports? Because we all know that man cannot live by sports-based television alone.
Beller: She's not a huge sports fan, but I do have her firmly on the Cubs bandwagon. Her favorite players are Dexter Fowler and David Ross. I introduced her to my three favorite drama TV shows of all-time—The Wire, Mad Men and The West Wing—and she loved all of those. I watch Game of Thrones and The Americans, which is the best show on TV in my opinion, but she's not into either one. We're both big fans of HBO's comedy offerings. We love Curb Your Enthusiasm, but we've still got a ways to go before the new season. We're dedicated fans of Veep and Silicon Valley, and we never miss Last Week Tonight With John Oliver. That show is just so damn smart and funny it actually makes me jealous of his talent. As for her influences, I can tell you that I've seen every season of Project Runway since we've been together, and I'm heavily invested in this season. I can't stand that Cornelius. That pretty much does it for the future Bellers when it comes to TV shows.
I think you have to be concerned if you're a Latavius Murray owner. I mean, you already were concerned, given that last year's workload was clearly a relic of the past. Now both Washington and Richard have the opening they might need to pass him on the depth chart. It'll be an interesting weekend in Oakland—and a nervous one for Murray owners. I’m right there with you when it comes to Baltimore and Washington, as well, my one-time stomping grounds (actually where the soon-to-be Mrs. Beller and I met). I cannot wait to get a first look at Dixon on Sunday. Worst-case scenario, he turns into a valuable receiver, along the lines of Theo Riddick. Best case, he takes over the starting gig. It all begins for the Louisiana Tech product on Sunday.
Ugh, McClellan. I have a conspiracy theory that he was playing a long game, trying to drag out the war while bleeding the federal cause dry until the 1864 election, where he would then push reconciliation and ride that to the White House. He tried the second part of that, of course, as the Democratic nominee in 1864, but there's no evidence or actual reason to believe it motivated his actions when he was in command of The Army of the Potomac. Still, it's my little American history conspiracy theory.
Alright Fitz, get us out of here with something better than George McClellan's blunders. What's your Week 5 upset pick? I'm going Bears over Colts in Indianapolis. Until next week, my friend.
Fitz: I commend you for copping to Project Runway fandom. You're a far braver man than Gen. McClellan. My wife is a devoted Project Runway fan, too, but the only time I'll watch is when I'm passing through the room while Heidi Klum is on-screen. Actually, my wife and I don't share as many TV shows as we used to simply because we have so few chances to watch TV together without our kids around. We have some family favorites like Survivor and Modern Family, and because my wife is a big basketball fan, Bulls games are required viewing in our house. Our tastes in television are fairly similar, and yet for some reason I can't convince my wife to watch Breaking Bad. That might be the single biggest source of tension in our marriage. It's probably my favorite show of all time, but she refuses to try it because of the meth angle. So frustrating.
This is the rare week of NFL action where I don't see any of the favorites as being particularly vulnerable. I won't be betting the money line on this one, but I do like the Giants to cover the 7.5 points against my Packers. CB Sam Shields still isn't ready to return from his concussion, leaving the Packers vulnerable in the secondary. Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers should let safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix help shell-shocked CB Damarious Randall handle Beckham on every route he runs, gambling that CBs Quinten Rollins and LaDarius Gunter can handle Victor Cruz and Sterling Shepard straight-up. More likely, the Packers won't double-team Beckham, and OBJ will take Randall's lunch money. I'm also worried that the erratic Green Bay offense may have accumulated rust during the bye week. I'll say the Packers win a 24–23 squeaker.
Enjoy the games, Beller. Catch you next week.