- The Chiefs running back is playing in his first true game since his ACL tear; should his fantasy owners start him? SI's fantasy experts Michael Beller and Pat Fitzmaurice discuss that and more.
Michael Beller: Fitz, I started last week's roundtable with baseball. Do you really think I'm going anywhere else to start this one? We’re writing this roundtable on Thursday, Oct. 13, and I've never been so happy to wake up and have the Cubs not have a playoff game. Had they not staged the most dramatic ninth-inning comeback in MLB postseason history on Tuesday, I'd be a total ball of nerves right now, unable to think straight or write coherently. So, friends of the roundtable, send your thanks to the Cubs for that Game 4 comeback. (Of course, one of my closest friends had the audacity to schedule his wedding for this Saturday, during both Game 1 of the NLCS and Ohio State-Wisconsin in Madison. Can you believe this guy?!)
Anyway, back to football! Let's start with the late slate of Sunday games—if the league is only going to give us three games there, at least it picked an attractive trio of matchups: Chiefs-Raiders, Cowboys-Packers and Falcons-Seahawks. Out of those three, Chiefs-Raiders is going to get top billing at the Beller house.
And that’s not just because I'm all-in on Alex Smith this week in my home superflex league where I really need a victory—I also cannot wait to see what is supposed to be a 100% version of Jamaal Charles. The long-time Chief is one of my favorite players in the league to watch, and there's probably no player of this era that I've owned more in fantasy leagues. He was on the leading edge of the wave of running backs who are nearly equal parts receiver. There is no Le'Veon Bell or David Johnson without Charles. I think the forerunner has plenty left in the tank, and I couldn't be more excited for his return. I know Spencer Ware is going to retain a role in the offense, but I think we see Charles take back his usual share sooner rather than later. Show me a point in Andy Reid's career, no matter if his lead back was Charles, Brian Westbrook or LeSean McCoy, when he deployed a genuine committee. If Charles is healthy, Charles is the guy.
Cowboys-Packers and Falcons-Seahawks are fascinating for obvious reasons. The Packers and Seahawks are the big bullies in the NFC, the only two teams in the conference to make the playoffs each of the last four seasons. The Cowboys and Falcons, meanwhile, are the NFC's upstart teams, taking different routes to unexpected 4–1 starts. We could very well see all four of these teams not only in the playoffs, but in as division winners, regardless of what happens this weekend. Pat, can you see either of the new kids on the block pulling off a road upset this week? And what do you make of the fantasy prospects for Matt Ryan, Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman and Julio Jones in Seattle? How about Dak Prescott and, more importantly, Ezekiel Elliott, considering how stout the Packers have been against the run this year?
Pat Fitzmaurice: First off, congrats on the Cubs, Beller. But I have to be completely honest here: Not being a fan of the Cubbies, I'll be disappointed if they don't have to play at least one elimination game during their postseason run. Cubs fans deserve a championship, but I want to see them sweat. Let there be drama in the Windy City!
Before I weigh in on Jamaal Charles, allow me to take you back in time to the early part of Andy Reid's head-coaching career, more than a decade and over 2,000 Philly cheesesteaks ago. In 2003, Reid employed a full RB committee, with Correll Buckhalter, Brian Westbrook and Duce Staley all finishing within 30 carries of each other. But your point stands nevertheless: Reid doesn't typically platoon his running backs unless injuries force his hand. Still, I won't be shocked if Spencer Ware gets a significant share of the carries—maybe 40% or so. He's shown that he deserves a role in the K.C. offense, and it probably makes sense to manage Charles's workload more attentively now that he's pushing 30 and has been through multiple knee surgeries.
My guess is that we'll see something close to a 50-50 split this week, and Charles and Ware should both be considered RB2 types against a poor Oakland run defense. I agree that Charles figures to be the more valuable fantasy commodity in the weeks to come, but Ware might still play enough to be flex-worthy.
Now for the other question: Are the Falcons and Cowboys legitimate NFC title contenders? Negative, sir. The Falcons' defense is still a mess. The offense is fun to watch, but it won't be able to carry that lousy defense all season. The Dallas defense has been pretty good so far, but it's overachieved, and the Dallas passing game doesn't have a lot of firepower (even if you assume Dez Bryant will be fully healthy at some point). Atlanta is going down hard in Seattle, and the Cowboys will have a shorter life expectancy in Green Bay this Sunday than one of the android Cowboys in "Westworld." I'm not optimistic about any of the Falcons this week, as the Seattle forecast calls for wind and rain—remnants of Typhoon Songda hitting the Pacific Northwest. Maybe Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman can churn out some fantasy value on the ground, but the Seattle defense is malevolent.
Meanwhile, it will be interesting to see how Zeke fares against the Green Bay run defense. Elliott has averaged 137.3 rushing yards a game and 6.1 yards per carry over the last three weeks, but the Packers are allowing 42.8 rushing yards per game this season and 2.0 yards per carry. I think Zeke will fare reasonably well on Sunday, but I don't think he and Dak Prescott will crank out enough big plays to pull off the upset.
One of the early-afternoon games that really interests me is San Francisco at Buffalo, believe it or not. I don't think LeSean McCoy and Chip Kelly are on each other's Christmas card lists after their acrimonious parting of ways in Philadelphia. To what degree to you think Shady will stick it to his old coach this weekend, and do you think Rex Ryan might feed McCoy's bloodlust with a few extra carries? And what do you think we see out of Colin Kaepernick this week? I sort of lost hope for him after seeing how bad he looked in the preseason, but I suppose he might at least have some rushing value in Kelly's offense. It'll also be mildly interesting to see if he can keep Jeremy Kerley's newfound fantasy value afloat.
Beller: I do think McCoy will take out his dislike for his former coach on the field this week. Does everyone realize that the Bills are 3–2? McCoy has been a huge reason why. Tyrod Taylor has made a few big plays, but the passing game is a total mess right now, thanks in large part to the team's mishandling of Sammy Watkins. McCoy is single-handedly keeping the offense afloat, and I have him pegged as a top-five running back this week. You make a good point about his head coach being an accomplice in revenge. I do think we'll see Rex Ryan stoke the fire for McCoy a bit, pushing him up toward, or perhaps beyond, 25 touches. As for Kaepernick: In theory, he should be exactly the sort of quarterback Kelly wants. In practice, Kaepernick has to play a whole lot better than we've seen from him in recent seasons, but you can't tell me with a straight face that Blaine Gabbert should be at the helm of this offense. I'm interested to see what he can do in a scheme that, on its face, is a great fit for his skill set.
I'm with you on the Falcons not being a legitimate NFC title contender, but I'm not so sure on Dallas. Yes, the defense has overachieved, but I believe in the offense, largely because of Elliott and the line. I'm still a supporter of Tony Romo taking over as the starter when he returns. He just gives the team a better chance to make plays down the field, something it has lacked this season. If they are still in good shape when both he and Bryant return, and there's little reason to think they won't be, I think they can place themselves at the top of the second tier of contenders in the conference, behind the likes of Minnesota, Green Bay and Seattle. We're on the same page this week, though. The bullies are bullies for a reason. The Seahawks and Packers will both roll.
I want to stay in Seattle for a second before moving on. I was previously all over Alex Smith for DFS purposes this week, but the forecast in Oakland has me jumping off that bandwagon. However, I'm pivoting to Russell Wilson, who could be dealing with the same weather, albeit in a less extreme fashion up the Pacific coast in Seattle. Is that silly? I just can't see Atlanta's defense slowing down Wilson one bit, even if it does get an assist from mother nature.
Lamar Miller and Todd Gurley have been two of the most disappointing fantasy players in the league. We're largely giving Gurley a pass because of the ineptitude of the Los Angeles offense as a whole. Does Miller deserve the same treatment? I'm not sure he does. I still think he's an incredibly talented back, but he has teammates like DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller who can take pressure off of him. That requires Brock Osweiler to make good use of his receivers, and he has fallen short far too often this season.
I think this is the week Miller finally breaks through. The Colts have been dreadful against the run this year, and the Vegas line—Houston is favored by a field goal—suggests a favorable script for Miller. As for Gurley, I laid out in this week's Target and Snap Report an argument for the Rams getting him more looks lined up as a wide receiver. Of course, we're talking about Jeff Fisher, who thought it made sense to kick a field goal with his team at the four-yard line and trailing by a touchdown with six minutes left, and then to call for a fake punt on a fourth-and-five from his own 23-yard line on the Rams’ next possession. Those two decisions don't exactly jibe with one another, but he's the professional coach, not me. Needless to say, I'm not exactly optimistic that the Rams will heed my advice for Gurley.
Fitz: Do people in Southern California get worked up about Rams football, or are SoCal fans more coolly detached than people on the East Coast or here in the Midwest? I ask because I know how fans of, say, the Jets or the Packers would have reacted to those coaching decisions in a narrow loss. Or maybe Fisher was just trying to make people in St. Louis feel better about no longer having an emotional stake in the Rams? But you're right: It's outlandish that the Rams haven't given Gurley a major role in their passing game. Gurley has eight receptions over the past two weeks, so maybe Fisher and his acolytes are starting to see the light. But maybe it's just because third-down back Benny Cunningham has been out for the last two games. I mean, why throw the ball to Todd Gurley when you can throw it to Benny Cunningham? (Sigh.)
As for Lamar Miller, no, he isn’t blameless for his sluggish start. His schedule hasn't been especially easy, but nor has it been so hard that it's a great excuse for 3.7 yards per carry and zero touchdowns. Like you, I'm of the mindset that this is a prime spot for a Miller breakthrough.
Speaking of breakthroughs, where are you on Sammie Coates? I'm trying to keep my cool, but after drafting him in multiple leagues, I'm feeling pretty giddy. Does it even matter that he has Slip-'N-Slide hands? The guy is such a physical specimen and such an athletic marvel that you can live with the occasional drop...but boy, it’d be nice if he could cut down on those drops. He really should have had four TD catches last week. I feel like Coates is basically the same type of fantasy asset that Martavis Bryant was pre-suspension. Even with Antonio Brown getting oodles of targets, Bryant was a borderline WR1 for much of last season. I don't know if Coates is quite ready to lay claim to WR1 status, but I do think he's attained must-start status.
Are you silly to pivot away from Alex Smith and toward Russell Wilson? Hmmm. I may have to get back to you on that Sunday morning after I talk to my embedded source in Seattle (a cousin who lives there). Wilson hasn't been running much because of his knee and ankle injuries. If he's restricted to doing damage through the air, high winds and heavy rains wouldn't do him any favors.
Beller: I couldn't agree more on Coates. He was one of my favorite targets back in draft season, and while I did end up with him in a few spots, I wish I had even more exposure. I'm not sure he's as well-rounded a receiver as Martavis Bryant, but he doesn't need to be. Defenses have to pay so much attention to Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown that there are always going to be exploitable matchups for the other players on Pittsburgh's offense. Coates is the ideal receiver to slide in alongside those two, who are arguably the two best non-quarterback skill players in the league. No one lucks into a 40-yard reception in five straight games. Coates is proving to be a lethal deep threat, and with Brown on the other side of the field and Bell coming out of the backfield, defensive coordinators are rarely going to be able to give safety help over the top to their corner responsible for Coates. I don't think we''re going to see Coates venture into WR1 territory this season, but he's going to be a nightmare for defenses—who are already strapped because of the resources they must devote to Bell and Brown—to stop.
I know I'm betting on something we haven't yet seen, but I think Wilson runs a bit more this week. He was lucky to avoid a serious injury on that awkward tackle a few weeks ago, but, hey, he avoided it. He's now three weeks removed from that ding, and five weeks removed from the minor ankle sprain he suffered in Week 1. I'm willing to bet that we get the more mobile version of Wilson that we're used to seeing make life miserable for defenses. Even when his ability to run was compromised the last two weeks, he racked up 10.57 YPA against the 49ers, and 9.66 against the Jets. Right now the forecast in Seattle calls for 15 to 25 mph wind speeds. That's not ideal, but it's far from crippling. I think Wilson has a big game in store.
Speaking of Bell and Brown, they're the two most expensive players, regardless of position, on FanDuel this week. Brown is the priciest player on DraftKings, while Bell is tied for the ninth-highest price tag, his dip owing largely to the fact that DK scoring is full PPR. Still, you likely can't fit both on your DFS roster. So if you're going to go with one of them in a cushy matchup with the Dolphins, who is it?
Is it just me, or is the early slate a little... bland? Jaguars-Bears, Rams-Lions and Titans-Browns could all be clunkers. We're both intrigued by some of the storylines in Bills-49ers, but the game isn't going to hearken back to the days of Jim Kelly and Steve Young. The Steelers are in action, but how much of a fight will the Dolphins mount? The Bengals haven't lived up to their end of the bargain that would have made a visit to New England must-see TV. Giants-Ravens should be interesting, but the Giants offense is a mess right now, and the Ravens don't seem worthy of their modest 3-2 record. Panthers-Saints sets up to be fun, but, for my money, the most important real-life game of the early slate is the Eagles visit to D.C. The NFC East is wide open, in a good way. The winner of that one will score an important midseason coup.
Alright Fitz, time for us to call it a week at the roundtable. Any upsets jump off the page at you? The Saints defense likely isn’t going to slow down the Panthers, but that game has the feel of one of those expected shootouts that doesn't quite materialize. The Panthers defense remains strong against the run, and while Newton should play, he's still dealing with the aftereffects of a concussion. I like the Saints to pull out a 27–24 victory. Enjoy all the action this weekend, Fitz. On Wisconsin.
Fitz: Quickly, let me answer that DFS question: I've already made that choice with one cash-game lineup, and I'm choosing Antonio Brown over Le'Veon Bell. I love 'em both this week, but I like to build cash-game lineups around my wide receivers. I don't like to get cute at the WR position. I'll save the cuteness for RB, where I think you can pinch pennies this week.
I'm not quite willing to pick Cincinnati to win a road game at New England, but I'm picking the Bengals to cover the 9 points, and maybe I'll be able to talk myself into a small money-line play by Sunday morning. The Bengals are better than they've shown so far, and I think they're going to be miffed after laying an egg against the Cowboys last week.
All right, Beller, enjoy your wedding, enjoy the start of the NLCS, and let's hope we're both able to enjoy the Badgers sticking it to Urban Meyer's crew.