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In this space, I’ll go through all that we learned from the Week 10 action and give you five things I care about along with five things I can’t muster up the emotional energy to care for.
Good news for you: We’re going to do this exercise in emotional turmoil every Sunday of the regular season
5 Things I care about
The Chiefs are back
We might have just wasted a lot of air and spilled a lot of needless digital ink worrying about an offense captained by not just a superstar but one of the best football players on the face of the planet.
To be fair, there were plenty of legitimate issues within the Chiefs offense and real critiques to level at Patrick Mahomes’ play over the last month. If your response to that was, “Yeah, sure, but ... it’s Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. They’ll figure it out,” that would have also been extremely fair.
You may well have been right.
After the struggles of the last month, the Chiefs came out and dropped an absolute hammer on the division-rival Raiders. Patrick Mahomes put up a vintage performance with over 400 yards and five touchdowns. It was clear he was more willing to take what was there and his guys made plays for him in 50/50 situations for the first time in months.
Patrick Mahomes was the fantasy QB1, Tyreek Hill the WR3, Travis Kelce the TE2 and Darrel Williams the RB3 on the week (before Monday Night Football).
It’s not as if the Raiders have been a pushover all season, either. They were just thoroughly, completely and undeniably crushed by a team that looked like a superpower on Sunday night. For all the weeping over the last few months, the Cheifs now sit atop the AFC West.
Throw out the last few weeks — we should be zero-percent surprised.
We know how the deal with football and how it is covered. Every week is analyzed to no end and a month-long stretch for a player or team is spoken about in such finite terms. We have a hard time seeing beyond what is happening “in the now” and certainly struggle to project an offense as anything but the exact unit we’re seeing in real-time. It doesn’t matter what we know about the participating players. The longer a slump goes on, the harder we look for deep reasons other than “things happen, but they’ll figure it out.”
But that can still be the right answer.
Remember when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers looked like a middling operation, at best, early in the 2020 season only to suddenly click and make a run to the Super Bowl? Why can’t the Chiefs do that? If anything, the Chiefs have a much stronger infrastructure and many more years built into the program than last year’s Bucs.
As much as we wanted to find a deeper reason — whether it was two-high defense, Travis Kelce being in decline, Patrick Mahomes’ lack of patience, whatever — for the Chiefs’ struggles, the answer could have been far simpler than that all along. It may have just been a weird stretch of struggles and a great coach, quarterback and roster littered with future Hall of Famers simply figured it out. If any team could have come up with a counter punch, it was this collection of guys.
I am no longer carrying any doubt about the Kansas City Chiefs. Wipe the sweat from your brow and let out a deep breath. We’re fine.
The lesson of Rhamondre Stevenson
Did you need evidence as to why you should stash backup running backs once we clear the second half of the fantasy season? Rhamondre Stevenson put a firm stamp as to why in Week 10.
The rookie had shown juice when he got opportunities in a largely murky backfield all season. He’d started to get a legitimate workload alongside Damien Harris of late. When the latter was set to miss Week 10 and Stevenson was going to own the early-down work, it was game on.
Stevenson shined with his chances, taking 24 touches for 114 yards and two scores. He brings an explosive element that no one else provides in the run or pass game for the Patriots. Stevenson may well remain a factor going forward even though Harris is not going to just give up the RB1 gig.
The bigger takeaway here is to be proactive about rostering guys who have a direct path to top-10 fantasy back upside in the event of chaos.
That WR5 that you will almost certainly never start again the rest of the season? Drop him and stash a backup running back. It’s likely too late to pick up Stevenson and he won’t have this kind of outlook anyway when Harris gets back, but chaos will hit another backfield. It’s the inevitable reality of the late-season NFL.
Make the move for the next Stevenson. High-end backups like Sony Michel, Samaje Perine, Ronald Jones, etc. should be 100 percent rostered in Yahoo leagues.
Speaking of which ...
We just covered the value in stashing running backs. A.J. Dillon doesn’t count as that, as he’s a FLEX with benefits (shoutout Mike Wright of The Fantasy Footballers) because he’s been getting a standalone workload but he no question comes with a path to monster upside.
Unfortunately, we’re about to walk down that road with Aaron Jones suffering an MCL sprain, which will reportedly sideline him 1-2 weeks.
In a picture-perfect winter setting, AJ Dillon handled 21 carries and scored twice. He’s looked explosive all season and the team’s trust in him seems to grow with each passing week. Dillon is good at the game.
The Packers’ offense wasn’t firing on all cylinders this week but that was to be expected with the last few weeks they’ve lived through. It’s still a perfect situation for Dillon to inherit. He’ll be a feature back in an Aaron Rodgers-led offense that wants to establish the ground game, one paired with a defense that’s getting better as the season goes on.
Green Bay gets the Vikings next week, a team that’s ranking bottom-10 in run defense DVOA all season. The question isn’t whether we’ll rank Dillon as a top-10 back next week — but how high he will climb in that top 10.
The Cam Newton effect
When asked how much of the playbook he knew prior to kickoff, Cam Newton replied, “Two-touchdowns worth.”
We love a guy who stays on brand.
Another thing that’s undeniably part of the Cam Newton brand: Being a gravitational force that teammates rally around.
That was one of the theories as to why Newton was released by the Patriots, one that Newton himself shared on his YouTube channel. You can’t have a guy like that be a backup to a rookie you want to own the locker room. It was already on display in his first game action with the Panthers:
— Will Kunkel (@WillKunkelFOX) November 14, 2021
The reason Cam Newton was such a uniquely good signing at this point in the season was his baked-in history with the Panthers. He already has years of experience with stars like Christian McCaffrey and DJ Moore but that history has immediately altered the vibes in Carolina.
I’m sorry if it offends your analytics sensibility but that matters.
This is a team that just one week ago had starting receivers barking at a starting quarterback who was actively sinking the offense. Now they have a legitimate franchise icon re-installed as one of the team leaders and looking like he’s still got gas in the tank. This team has some flaws but plenty of positives in its corner to still believe they can make a playoff push.
In addition to all that, Newton showed he still has the unique ability as a power-back playing quarterback in the red zone. That’s going to continue to keep his own outlook trending in the right direction. He’ll be on the fantasy starter borderline in Week 11 and he’s rescued the fantasy floors of Moore, CMC and perhaps even guys further down the pecking order like Robby Anderson.
Stefon Diggs’ big game
In this house, we do not panic about verifiably great wide receivers who are receiving volume.
The big Stefon Diggs game was certainly overdue but we finally got it in Week 10. Diggs dropped 162 yards and a touchdown on the Jets with a team-high 13 targets.
Let’s not act as if he’s been killing your fantasy team. All the peripherals (target share, air yards, red-zone usage) were there to signal Diggs was still an extremely valuable receiver. For whatever reason, it just hadn’t clicked yet. The Josh Allen-to-Diggs connection did more than just click on Sunday. Diggs’ 13 targets easily led the team; no one else registered more than three.
Would anyone be shocked if Diggs finished as a top-three fantasy scoring wide receiver the rest of the way? You shouldn’t be. As long as we follow volume and proven talent, we usually get to the right place, even if the journey isn’t clean. We’re on track with Diggs.
5 Things I don’t care about
Whatever the catch total is on Hunter Renfrow’s player prop line
Just hammer the over on Hunter Renfrow catches almost every single week, I don't care what the line is set at.
Renfrow’s catch prop was set at a meager 5.5 catches on BetMGM. It was my lock prop on the Yahoo Sportsbook Live show (watch us every Sunday at 2:30 pm PT).
With Henry Ruggs out of the mix and DeSean Jackson still a player you can only play on a limited snap count, we should expect the Raiders to continue to feature Renfrow. Darren Waller should be the center of the team’s passing universe but he’s a player that opposing defenses can dictate true coverage toward since he plays so much outside. Renfrow, on the other hand, will remain the layup receiver over the middle of the field as teams elect to let Bryan Edwards or Zay Jones beat them outside (it happened against Kansas City).
The more we watch the Raiders, the more their offensive line issues continue to pop up. Whether it’s in-season injuries or the fruits of their offseason makeover rotting, Las Vegas has some problems there. Renfrow will be needed every week as the layup man.
Can you tell I didn’t have much to say about the Raiders after that effort? What a mess.
Week 9 Cowboys loss (The Blueprint)
Vic Fangio had some boastful words about his team figuring out a new way to play the Dallas Cowboys after their upset win last week. Some even wondered if it would provide a “blueprint” for future teams.
If Denver did write a blueprint, the Atlanta Falcons neglected to read it. Dallas dropped a hammer on Atlanta, defeating them 43-3.
If you’re Dallas, losing in the fashion they did last week is never good. However, things just happen in the NFL. It’s a weird week-to-week league. The key is how you respond to that and there is no better way to respond than to just obliterate an inferior team as Dallas did against Atlanta. The Cowboys didn’t even allow the Falcons to put up any cute garbage time points.
What was the difference between the last two weeks? Sure, the Broncos’ defense is better than the Falcons but Dallas just straight-up executed this week. Like I said, weird things happen but there are no concerns going forwards. This is an elite offense and a championship-caliber team.
Pre-Bye Week Antonio Gibson
Why, yes ... I am ready to get hurt again.
You know the rules: No one runs on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. For the most part, teams had completely given up on trying. The Bucs had given up a league-low 159 rush attempts coming into Week 10 and just 3.9 yards per pop.
And yet, it was against those very same Buccaneers that Antonio Gibson had his best fantasy game in forever.
Gibson rang up the Bucs for 26 touches and two touchdowns. Jaret Patterson and J.D. McKissic combined for 10 touches behind him. The backfield split that existed in Week 11 was nowhere to be seen coming out of Washington’s bye. There are a few reasons that the bye could be a huge variable in Gibson’s season redirecting in the right direction.
For starters, while he was still limited in practice leading up to Week 10, perhaps the week away did him some good from a health perspective. If anyone needed a week off, it was Gibson. There’s also a chance that Jack Del Rio and Ron Rivera finally got something going to fix what was a hideous defense through the first few months of the season. Washington had rarely been in the type of positive game script they found themselves in against Tampa following multiple early Tom Brady takeaways. Chase Young’s injury might complicate this variable going forward but there’s no excuse for Washington’s defense being as bad as it’s been thus far.
Lastly, the Football Team did get star guard Brandon Scherff back in Week 10 and that’s the first of many possible returns for Washington’s offense. If the team can be more competitive on offense and defense, that’s only going to impact the possible game scripts for an early-down banger like Gibson.
While he is unlikely to ever return the extremely optimistic expectations many had for him prior to the season, if a few of these factors flip in the right direction, Gibson could finish the season in solid fashion. There’s at least some hope.
The Baker Mayfield/Odell Beckham splits
Yes, we all know by now that the Baker Mayfield-Odell Beckham connection was a failure. Who is at fault or the root cause of that doesn’t matter anymore. It’s a part of the past and the breakup doesn’t guarantee a single thing about the future, as Week 10 reminded us.
Removing Beckham cleared some things up in the offense but the questions about Baker Mayfield’s game remain.
In a positive, friendly script like the Browns provided last week against the Bengals, Mayfield can be efficient and even make a handful of splashy throws. But when he faces a contender-level, physical defense that’s prepared to make you play left-handed ... it can get bad. Fast.
Week 10 was about as bad as it could get for the Browns passing game. Mayfield finished the day 11 of 21 for just 73 yards with an interception. He got banged up in this game and Case Keenum came in relief but the final result was well in hand before that moment. There are simply too many games that go awry for this Browns passing offense, especially this season with Mayfield playing hurt.
I said in this column weeks ago that I was done chasing upside in this passing attack. Nothing that’s happened since has changed my mind. The on/off splits with Beckham are cute but they tell us nothing other than the story about how a sour relationship needed to end. The future is still a question mark.
The early-season Eagles offense
It’s understandable why some fantasy managers are frustrated with the Eagles’ offense now.
Since the team changed to be a more run-first operation, it’s taken a shave off Jalen Hurts’ fantasy ceiling since he’s not having to (unsuccessfully) throw them out of garbage-time situations. You can’t even confidently predict which running back is going to hit a ceiling as Boston Scott (13 touches) and Jordan Howard (12 touches) are splitting the work down the middle with rookie Kenneth Gainwell hanging around the fringes.
I don’t care about any of that because this is the style of offense that the Eagles should have been running all along.
Hurts has been much more effective and poised while operating as the point-man for this run-first attack. It’s so odd they put a mobile quarterback like Hurts into an offense that was so pass-heavy in neutral game scripts. They were begging to get thrown out of rhythm and not be optimal. And let’s not act like Hurts has become a fantasy dud. Hurts ranked as a top-five quarterback in Week 10 (pre-SNF) and was QB12 last week.
Rookie DeVonta Smith has scored three times in two games and is making the mid-year leap. He’s been getting open all season but now that Hurts isn’t just constantly chasing points, he’s starting to find his No. 1 receiver.
So, is Jalen Hurts still carrying fantasy teams with hollow production? Nope. But the trade-off is worth it. This is the type of attack that is much more conducive to success for players throughout the offense and doesn’t tank Hurts’ outlook. It doesn’t hurt that this version is much easier on the eyes, too.