Fantasy Football Week 9 Care/Don't Care: When in doubt, Patrick Mahomes always has a counterpunch

5 Things I care about

Chiefs have mainstays — and counterpunches

The Chiefs got punched in the mouth on Sunday night. The Titans' defense was physical and got in the face of the Kansas City pass-catchers. They put the pressure on up front and pushed around the NFL’s best offense.

It worked so well for Tennessee … right up until it didn’t.

The Chiefs have faced this game plan before. Defenses love to play tight man coverage against these receivers. The Titans got great results with that but Patrick Mahomes eventually broke the dam because he’s just a fantastic talent — and the whole offense now has a few counterpunches.

There’s a clear top two in the pass-catching rotation now. Travis Kelce remains the top guy but JuJu Smith-Schuster has emerged as a worthy sidekick, catching 10 passes for 88 yards. JuJu isn’t a flashy player; he’s a complementary piece. However, his physical brand of football has been a welcome addition. He earned a first down on 42 percent of his targets against Tennessee.

Fantasy managers have to love this trend almost as much as the Chiefs. JuJu has a team-high 325 yards on 25 targets with two touchdowns in his last three games. He looks like he’s going to more than return on his mid-round ADP.

Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (9) is gaining fantasy value
JuJu Smith-Schuster is looking more and more like a fantasy win. (Photo by William Purnell/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

With Kelce and JuJu, the Chiefs only need a small sprinkling of juice from other guys. Noah Gray made the huge catch in overtime and Mecole Hardman had another strong outing after a three-touchdown game before the bye. Hardman, especially, doesn’t look like a guy willing to cede his job to anyone else.

Of course, the biggest counterpunch comes courtesy of Mahomes himself. All six of his carries for 63 yards came on scramble moments. It was especially key on the late fourth-quarter, game-tying drive. The Titans left themselves vulnerable to this with the type of coverage they were playing. Mahomes made them pay. He’s one of the best players on the planet and brings a counterpunch Plan B unlike any other quarterback in the league.

The Chiefs' offense has always been efficient. They’re more spread out at times than in previous years but they have just enough mainstays for fantasy folks to count on.

And when things don't go to plan, they still have No. 15.

This version of Justin Fields

Too often over the last couple of years we've had legitimate reasons to fear we’d never get the best version of Justin Fields. Whether it was his own lack of confidence or his poor fit in an offense Bears coaches seemingly didn’t craft for him, there were times when it looked bleak.

We are finally in the clear.

Ryan Fitzpatrick and the TNF recap crew really laid into offensive coordinator Luke Getsy for trying to force Fields into dropback passing situations after their Week 6 loss to Washington. It was a takedown that you usually don’t hear from postgame booths. I have no idea if it was because of that national (streaming) TV scolding but that moment has been an inflection point in the Bears’ season.

Ever since that loss to Washington, the Bears have ditched the dropback game and are taking advantage of Fields’ best traits. Since Week 7, he’s been in the shotgun on almost 70% of his plays and is fourth among all players in rushing.

It all culminated in a record-breaking performance on Sunday.

Fields has split his 320 rushing yards almost even between scrambles and designed runs. He’s taking chances in favorable situations and the coaching staff is finally doing their part and putting plays in to let him shine. He’s a rare athlete with big-time acceleration. It shows.

The Bears’ play-calling shows they're fully dedicated to getting the best out of Fields and are ready to invest in him. Fields is giving them every reason to feel that way with his play.

Garrett Wilson

The Jets managed to topple the mighty Bills in Week 9. New York got a steady performance from Zach Wilson one week after he offered up a disaster outing against New England.

One guy who has managed to shine no matter the circumstance is rookie wideout, Garrett Wilson. The 10th overall pick is already a star at the position.

Wilson has 231 yards on 20 targets since Week 7. He’s somehow more impressive than his stats would indicate.

When Joe Flacco started the first three games of the season, Wilson was primarily playing as a slot receiver. He was good there but he’s been even better since the team moved him to the perimeter. Wilson has lined up outside on 71.2% of his snaps over the last three weeks. Wilson has pristine movement skills and is a strong route runner against man coverage. That’s why he’s a better fit as a big-time playmaker out wide.

The Jets haven’t had a clean season on offense. Quarterback play has been shaky, they lost their dynamic rookie running back Breece Hall and the Elijah Moore saga hasn’t been fun. But they can take solace in the fact that they hit a home run with Wilson as their No. 1 wide receiver.

I think he's an every-week starter in fantasy at this point.

Regression hits for Joe Mixon

Running back Joe Mixon checked every peripheral box you’d want. He was getting workhorse volume for a good team. His receiving workload was higher than at any point in his career. The touchdown potential was all there with so much goal-line usage.

Despite all that, he was one of the most disappointing fantasy picks in the late first round because of the inefficiencies. It sure doesn’t look that way after Sunday.

Mixon now sits as a top-four running back in fantasy after his five-touchdown eruption against the Panthers. He’s now third among running backs in catches with 38, behind only insane receiving backs Austin Ekeler and Christian McCaffrey.

Positive regression doesn't always land in COSTCO-style bulk but it did for Mixon. It does almost always arrive for proven players in non-broken situations. The Bengals haven’t been the team expected consistently this season but they are far from a broken situation. Mixon's explosion is the latest evidence of that prior statement.

Geno Smith isn’t turning back into a pumpkin

Geno Smith’s history as a long-time backup quarterback and the way everyone laughed at the Seahawks for starting him this year makes every bad play a little more nerve-racking. A small bit of fear creeps in, that THIS is the moment he’ll turn back into a pumpkin.

Smith threw a pick-six against the Cardinals and that small bit of fear did hit me. And yet, Smith just stayed cool and the Seahawks cruised to a win over their division rival.

I don’t think the pumpkin moment will happen for Geno Smith.

The ecosystem around him is too good. The Seahawks are well-coached and have a strong identity. Smith’s supporting cast is great. Ken Walker looks like one of the best backs in the NFL and we know the receiver duo is as bankable as any in the NFL.

Lastly, Smith himself is different from most backup quarterbacks. You could argue he never got a fair shake to start in New York but he’s certainly never received a legitimate second chance — until now. He’s clearly had untapped potential for a long time. He was just always passed over.

The sideline reporter in this game shared a quote from Pete Carroll that essentially went, “Other teams passed over Geno because of the person they thought he was, we believed in him because of the person he was.”

Smith has deserved this moment for a long time. Now that the moment is here, I don’t see it slipping away any time soon.

5 Things I don’t care about

The Titans passing game

Malik Willis finished 5-of-16 for just 80 yards passing. There was never a moment where it felt like the Titans passing game was going to be able to step up and mount a drive in the final moments of this game.

Frankly, Willis wasn't even the biggest problem.

The rookie threw some good-looking go-balls down the sideline. The Titans just do not employ a healthy wide receiver capable of making a play for any quarterback on the roster.

None of Willis' 80 yards went to a wide receiver. He threw five passes to them, but there was nothing there.

Willis might be quite a ways away from being a legitimate starting quarterback in the NFL, but there are way more problems in this passing game than who is under center.

The Titans and Mike Vrabel deserve major credit for installing a culture and physical brand of football that gives them a winning resume and makes them a tough out every week. Tonight, however, showed their problem when it comes to competing with the AFC's best. They just don't have the juice in the passing game right now to flip a game in big moments, like when Mahomes starts taking over a contest.

Getting too excited about the Bucs

Tom Brady was hyped after the game. It was an unreal ending for Tampa Bay that didn’t look possible given how the team played for the entire game.

I’m not sure that excitement will be replicated in too many more moments going forward.

Brady driving down to win the game had much more to do with the Rams’ defense than the Bucs’ offense clicking. Of course, Brady is clutch and deserves praise for doing what he has so often in big moments. The Rams just couldn’t have made it easier for him.

Los Angeles was the only team to run zone coverage on more than 90% of their plays heading into this week. Their pillow-soft off-coverage might be the only thing to rival its pitiful offensive line on the frustration meter. For the Rams to roll out that same defensive plan on the final drive was just hilariously inexcusable. Brady was able to just go 8 to 10 yards at a time with sideline comeback routes until he could deliver the finishing blow. Even the game-winning touchdown featured the defense with their eyes all in the backfield, giving the tight end a free look to slip into the end zone after a bootleg.

Great moment for Brady and co. The absolutely-finished Rams deserve an honorable mention or an assist for the final drive.

That leaves us with the rest of the game, which was just as troubling as any recent Bucs game. Their running game is a dead weight for the team. There’s not much to say there. Mike Evans has been good but didn’t enjoy his best outing. When he slips, there’s not much to fall back on.

Chris Godwin’s target totals look awesome but they aren’t valuable looks. He has 34 targets since Week 7 while averaging a measly 3.8 air yards per target. It’s easy to forget Julio Jones plays for this team. You’re reminded when the camera pans to him dealing with some sort of lower body pain multiple times per game.

Scott Pianowski asked me on our Week 9 recap podcast, if I could transfer one non-Cooper Kupp player from this game to 100% of my fantasy rosters, would I even bother taking someone? I answered Evans but I wasn’t even remotely tempted by anyone else.

I don’t see that feeling changing about the Bucs despite this moment of trademarked late-game Brady heroism.

Who Aaron Rodgers might be mad at

"Guys who are making too many mistakes shouldn't be playing. Gotta start cutting some reps. Maybe guys who aren't playing, maybe give them a chance."

Aaron Rodgers let that line rip on The Pat McAfee Show a few weeks back. It felt weird at the time. Who was he talking about on both fronts? Exactly who was Rodgers trying to call out and, more importantly, what magical reinforcements did he think were waiting in the wings?

It looks worse now.

Rodgers can’t blame his teammate for his own mistakes in Sunday’s loss to the Lions.

His timing was off, ball placement noticeably poor and decision-making highly questionable. Green Bay doesn’t have a ton of high-end talent at pass-catcher and sports holes along the offensive line. We all know this. The margin for error is razor-thin and Rodgers’ poor play sliced right through that line.

Who cares who Rodgers might be mad at? He has to wear some of the blame for what’s happened to that offense this year and, more importantly, it’s not instructive. Rodgers can want to cut reps all he’d like but there are way too many injuries to even consider it. Romeo Doubs and Aaron Jones both left this game in walking boots. Depth players are going to have to step up. The starters already aren’t inspiring. That’s not a good recipe.

Rodgers isn’t playing well enough to elevate a situation that needed an unfair amount of help to be passable. It’s just not going to happen for this offense this season.

Cordarrelle Patterson limitations

Cordarrelle Patterson was reportedly going to be “eased in” during his first game back from IR. The final fantasy point total doesn’t tell the story but that report turned out to be true.

Patterson handled just 37% of the team rush attempts and was on the field for 38.3% of the snaps. Fellow running back Tyler Allgeier had the exact same snap rate, recorded double-digit touches and ran just one fewer route than Patterson. Caleb Huntley also stepped in with seven carries.

After the way Patterson looked in Week 9, we should not expect that to be the case for too much longer.

Patterson showed a ton of pop when he got the ball. He had a longer touchdown called back by penalty but demonstrated fantastic power by lowering his shoulder for his second official score of the day. Patterson deserves so much credit for becoming a full-blown, real-deal NFL running back this late in his career.

Now that he’s healthy, Patterson should be taking the lead-back role for this Falcons offense going forward. Atlanta was already an efficient running team and now they’re putting their most explosive back at the top of the totem pole. Patterson will finish the season strong.

The Colts

It’s harsh to put an entire team in the “don’t care” category but Indianapolis deserves it after that offensive performance in Week 9.

Sam Ehlinger didn’t complete his first pass until midway through the second quarter. He was 0-for-2 and took three sacks in the first quarter alone. Disaster doesn’t do it justice.

Ehlinger ranks dead last in EPA per dropback among quarterbacks this week. His legs were supposed to be a decent boost for the Colts' offense. He’s scrambled seven times for 50 yards through two starts. Any benefit his mobility may have brought has been completely negligible.

It’s not all Ehlinger’s fault, to be clear. Quenton Nelson was hard on the offensive line after the game and his words were well-earned. That unit has been one of the biggest disappointments league-wide this season. The Colts have now given up 35 sacks in nine games. Ehlinger has been a sitting duck back there just as much as Matt Ryan was before him.

The Colts put themselves in a weird box by saying Ehlinger was going to start the rest of the season. He’s not some “waiting in the wings,” highly-drafted prospect. He was a sixth-rounder and doesn’t have any tangible special tools. It shows.

The Colts season is already lost but if they run out like that again, they’re not a serious operation. I’m not sure they can just keep Ehlinger out there the rest of the way. There are too many good players on this offense and too much time left to just be playing out the string.

And yet, that’s exactly what this team feels like they're doing.

Editor's note: The Colts fired Frank Reich on Monday and named Jeff Saturday as their interim coach.