Tom Brady is back and the Patriots are as dangerous as ever. But from a fantasy perspective, the Steelers continue to prove they're the scariest offense out there.
If the NFL were Hollywood, Tom Brady’s 2016 debut would have come against the Broncos. He would have had to deal with arguably the league’s best pass defense, as well as the team that got the better of him the last time he was on the field. Maybe he would have struggled in that game, or maybe he would have carved them up. No matter what, though, he would have to earn it.
The NFL isn’t Hollywood, though. It may seem like an alternate reality at times, but it’s still part of our world. And in our world, Brady’s revenge tour following his four-game suspension got off to a roaring start against opponent was an all-too-willing patsy.
Brady completed 28 of his 40 pass attempts for 406 yards, 10.15 yards per attempt and three touchdowns in the Patriots’ 33–13 drubbing of the Browns. It was Brady’s first 400-yard game since Week 2 of last season, when he hung 466 yards on the Bills. He needed all of 3:13 on his first drive of the season to lead the Patriots 80 yards for a touchdown, capped off by a 1-yard LeGarrette Blount run. Brady went 4 for 5 for 65 yards on the drive and, at that point, was done sharing the touchdown glory.
Brady threw his first touchdown pass of the season on New England’s next possession, hooking up with Martellus Bennett from seven yards out. Bennett would end up on the receiving end of all of Brady’s touchdowns, highlighting a reality facing every team that squares off with the Patriots now that Brady is back: every single player in the offense is now a weapon.
Bennett hogged the end zone spotlight, finishing with five catches and 67 yards, along with his three touchdowns. Rob Gronkowski instantly came to life with Brady back, hauling in five passes for 109 yards. Chris Hogan had four receptions for 114 yards. James White also caught four balls, with his going for 63 yards. Strangely enough, it was Julian Edelman who fell short of expectations, pulling down five passes from Brady for 35 yards. He did lead the team with 10 targets, though, which marked just his second double-digit target game of the season. Now that Brady is under center, Edelman is going to break through sooner rather than later.
The Patriots managed to go 3–1 without Brady, getting by mostly on the strength of the run game, defense and, of course, Bill Belichick. With Brady back, though, the passing game again took center stage on Sunday. That should be the norm for the rest of the season, and the ramifications will be felt across the fantasy community. Even with Brady back, though, the Patriots likely do not have the best offense in the league. To find that team, we need to head to Pittsburgh and kick off the rest of the Week 5 fantasy takeaways.
The Steelers are unstoppable
The Jets held Le’Veon Bell to 66 yards on 20 carries. They limited Antonio Brown to 78 yards through the air. So that’s something. Why, with Bell and Brown below their respective averages, they must have had a good chance to pull off the upset, right?
Not even close.
Ben Roethlisberger carved up the Jets, throwing for 380 yards, 8.09 YPA and four touchdowns in the Steelers 31–13 win. Bell may have had just 66 yards on the ground, but he caught nine passes for 88 yards. Brown failed to top 80 yards, but he caught nine of his 11 targets and scored his fifth touchdown of the season. Sammie Coates, meanwhile, had the best game of his young career, racking up six catches for 139 yards and a pair of scores. Jesse James scored yet again, his third touchdown of the season, and finished with six receptions for 43 yards.
As great as Bell and Brown are—and they might be the two best non-quarterback skill players in the league— Roethlisberger makes everything go. He has thrown for at least 300 yards in three of Pittsburgh’s five games this year, and has three or more touchdowns in four games. Roethlisberger is up to 1,496 yards, 7.79 YPA and 15 scoring strikes against four interceptions. With Roethlisberger stirring the drink and Bell and Brown the two key ingredients, there appears to be no slowing down this offense.
Coates developing into a legitimate weapon adds another nightmarish dimension to the Pittsburgh offense. He kept his 40-yard-catch streak alive, with his first touchdown coming on a 72-yard bomb. He has at least one 40-yard catch in all five of Pittsburgh’s games, and is averaging a ridiculous 22.16 yards per catch on 19 receptions this year. He still has plenty of work to do; all five of Roethlisberger’s incompletions to Coates were catchable, and he dropped what should have been a 2-yard touchdown. Still, he appears to be developing into one of the league’s premier deep threats. Adding him to the Bell-Brown duo makes an already-dangerous offense even better. Until further notice, Pittsburgh has the best offense in the league.
Good news for two of the league’s elite units sharing the field in Denver
“Don’t start Matt Ryan,” they said. “Denver’s defense is too good,” they intoned. They were wrong. Make no mistake, Atlanta’s offense is great. You’re not going to want to fade its key players in any circumstance.
To be clear, the Falcons didn’t explode in Denver the way they had against New Orleans, Oakland or Carolina. In a way, their efficiency against an elite Broncos defense was even more impressive. Ryan threw a season-low 28 passes, completing 15 of them for 267 yards, 9.54 YPA and a touchdown. Devonta Freeman ran for 88 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries, while Tevin Coleman piled up 132 yards and a score on four receptions.
What does this mean for the Falcons? They’ve earned our trust in all situations. That includes next week when they travel to Seattle to take on the Seahawks. With Ryan at the helm and a trio of enviable weapons in Freeman, Coleman and Julio Jones, the Falcons are equal parts explosive and bankable. That makes them the most reliable fantasy offense, this side of Pittsburgh and New England.
It wasn’t all bad for the Broncos. They did shut down Julio Jones, limiting him to two catches for 29 yards, and that’s where the silver lining comes for this group. The Broncos suffered their first loss of the season, partially because of Ryan’s efficiency and the chunk plays ripped off by Atlanta’s backs. Denver shut down another of the league’s best receivers, though, one week after he hung a 300-yard game on the Panthers. Teams can run against the Broncos, and you can bet that they’ll try to do just that after seeing the blueprint the Falcons put together on Sunday. With all due respect to the Vikings, the Broncos remain the premier pass defense in the league.
Chicago doesn’t have much, but it does have a running back
The Bears look like they’re ticketed for their second top-10 pick in the last three years (they traded up from 11 to pick ninth in this year’s draft). They’re 1–4 and let a winnable game get away from them on Sunday, falling to the Colts 29–23. It’s still early, but one position the Bears likely aren’t worried about is running back. They seem to have found an answer immediately after letting Matt Forte walk in free agency.
Jordan Howard got his second straight start with Jeremy Langford on the shelf. Last week we told you that Howard became the first Bear not named Forte to run for 11 yards since Kahlil Bell did so on Christmas in 2011. Howard posted his second straight 100-yard game Sunday, something even the great Forte didn’t do in his last two full seasons in Chicago. Howard rambled over the Colts for 118 yards on just 16 carries. A remarkable 111 of those yards came between the tackles, with Howard forcing too many missed tackles to count without re-watching the entire game. He’s shifty, powerful, patient, and, when an opportunity presents itself, decisive.
Howard also caught all three of his targets for 45 yards, including a 21-yard touchdown. In two games as Chicago’s starter, Howard has had the ball in his hands 45 times. He has turned those 45 touches into 295 yards and a touchdown, which comes out to 0.79 points per touch. By comparison, Devonta Freeman got 0.72 points per touch while leading all running backs in standard-league fantasy points last year. Howard is likely to slow down from that pace as his same size increases, but there’s no doubting that he’s a fantasy power.
Houston’s offense is a problem
There’s no shame in struggling against the Vikings defense. The Vikings are 5–0 largely because they’ve shut down every offense they’ve faced this season, a hit list that includes Cam Newton and the Panthers, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, and Eli Manning and the Giants. It now also includes the Texans, but Minnesota’s latest victim has worries beyond what happened Sunday.
When the Texans threw a huge contract at Brock Osweiler this off-season, the thought was that he was ready to take the next step, after getting his first real time as a starter in Denver last season. His transition to full-time starter was, at least theoretically, going to be made easier thanks to the presence of DeAndre Hopkins and Lamar Miller, two of the league’s best players at their respective positions. After the team added Will Fuller in the draft, the front office couldn’t be blamed for failing to give Osweiler enough weapons. The quarterback has failed, however, to make good use of those weapons.
Miller is still looking for his first touchdown as a member of the Texans. He had has worst game of the season on Sunday, running for 20 yards on eight carries. Hopkins, who had 111 receptions for 1,521 yards and 11 touchdowns last year, has 22 catches for 283 yards this year. He does have three touchdowns, but he hasn’t been nearly as explosive or consistent as he was a season ago. The rookie Fuller has been productive in three of the team’s five games this year, but there’s no scenario in which he’s the team’s most prolific offensive player that is good news for the offense as a whole.
The blame falls squarely at Osweiler’s feet. Again, he wasn’t the first, and he won’t be the last, quarterback to have a hard time against the Vikings. That doesn’t excuse the fact that he looked lost on Sunday, and completely undermined the entire Houston offense. Osweiler connected on 19 of 42 passes, which comes out to a completion percentage of 45.2%. Those 19 completions went for all of 184 yards and 4.38 YPA. Despite having two reliable deep threats, Osweiler had just two pass plays for more than 20 yards.
There will be brighter days ahead for the Texans offense. One of those will likely come next week in a much easier matchup with the Colts. There’s unquestionably something wrong with this offense, and until Osweiler finds his footing, the ceiling and floor for Miller, Hopkins and Fuller will take a hit.
He had 100 yards receiving? And him, too?
Through the late afternoon games on Sunday, there were 12 players with 100 receiving yards in Week 5. That list includes Sammie Coates (139 yards), Cameron Meredith (130), Adam Thielen (127) Tyrell Williams (117), Chris Hogan (114) and Jeremy Kerley (102).
The takeaway, here? Even with more data than ever, unpredictability reigns supreme in the NFL.
Week 5 Droppables
From this point forward, the Sunday takeaways will include players we deem droppable. If a player makes it into this section, it does not mean that he is completely devoid of value and should be dropped at all costs. It simply means that he does not need a priority spot on your roster. If there’s someone you want to add, or if you need to go after a specific position because of bye weeks, the following players are safe to drop.
Michael Floyd: The Arizona receiver is falling short of expectations yet again, catching just 12 passes for 170 yards and two touchdowns through five games. What’s more, Jaron Brown has outsnapped him in both of the last two weeks.
Duke Johnson: Johnson netted 22 yards from scrimmage on six touches on Sunday. He has 149 rushing yards, 20 receptions and 136 receiving yards this year. Isaiah Crowell is entrenched as Cleveland’s primary runner, and, with the Browns staring down the beginning of the Charlie Whitehurst era, the passing game is set to take a huge hit.
Golden Tate: So much for Tate’s big game that Jim Bob Cooter insisted was coming. He had three receptions on five targets for 39 yards, once again taking a backseat in the passing game to Marvin Jones and Theo Riddick. Tate has 17 receptions for 134 yards this season. There’s little hope for him to turn it around.
Kenyan Drake: The Dolphins did narrow their running back rotation, as Adam Gase promised they would, and Drake was a clear casualty. He had just two carries for four yards, while Jay Ajayi ran 13 times for 42 yards and a touchdown. Drake could be completely out of the gameplan when Arian Foster returns from his groin injury.
Wendell Smallwood: With Ryan Mathews back from an ankle injury, Smallwood got exactly zero touches on Sunday. The Eagles will continue to use a heavy rotation at running back, and Smallwood could be part of it in the future, but he will never be a worthy fantasy starter while Mathews is healthy.