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I only wanted one thing as I watched the 49ers and Bears compete in Week 8.
Chicago’s hope is obviously pinned on rookie quarterback Justin Fields. The Niners hope centered around veteran Jimmy Garoppolo, trying to hold off another rookie, Trey Lance.
Both starting quarterbacks came out winners. And as a result, we have a lot more fantasy faith routed through these offenses.
Although the Niners got the victory, 33-22, let’s start with Fields, who had the most intriguing start of his rookie year. The Bears called a few designed runs for Fields, and he also had a gorgeous 22-yard touchdown jitterbug on a broken fourth-and-1 play. Add a few other scrambles and Fields finished with 103 rushing yards on 10 carries, his most proactive playmaking of the year.
Dare we say it, the Chicago offense was crisper without head coach Matt Nagy on the sideline.
Fields looked better as a passer, too, completing 19-of-27 passes for 175 yards and a touchdown. Not pinball stats, but a step forward. Fields could have had a second touchdown, but Cole Kmet could’t hold onto a goal-line fastball.
There were some loose moments, to be fair — Fields absorbed four sacks. That’s the price of a playmaker. He also had a late interception, though the Bears were down multiple scores at the time and the jump ball Fields threw was appropriate for the game situation. You don’t hold that pick against him.
At minimum, I’ll have a big bucket of popcorn ready for Fields at Pittsburgh next Monday night. And Darnell Mooney (6-64-0, nine targets) and Khalil Herbert (23-72-0 rushing) are both worth strong fantasy consideration, even against the formidable Steelers defense.
49ers find their footing
Garoppolo got the win and a much needed show of confidence. Basically, he played like his job depended on it, and maybe it did. Garoppolo chucked for 322 yards and capped off two scoring drives with stunning touchdown runs, both by design. Garoppolo, an Illinois native, was emotional throughout, showing off for his college friends and a large contingent of family.
Even if Garoppolo never fully enters the fantasy circle of trust, we want sound play so we can dial up Deebo Samuel (6-171-0, nine targets). Samuel won all over the field Sunday, on a variety of routes, and was tackled inside the 5-yard line on two different occasions. He was an eyelash from a monster game, not that anyone will say no to that yardage total. Brandon Aiyuk was also heard from, a 4-45-0 line on seven looks, plus a 2-point conversion.
Elijah Mitchell moved the pile and picked up the pieces late, trucking to 137 yards and a score on 18 carries. JaMycal Hasty (five touches, 33 yards) isn’t threatening Mitchell’s job at all. The 49ers want to be a power running team, and Mitchell has the chops to head this backfield.
San Francisco picked a great time to get back in form, because the NFC West comes calling now. The Cardinals visit Levi Stadium next week, with the Rams in transit after that.
Underdog quarterbacks steal the show
Surprise quarterback play was the theme of Week 8. Garoppolo stands as QB3 as I write the dinnertime notes, with Fields at QB5. And who expected Mike White (QB2) to shock the world against Cincinnati? White threw for 403 yards and three scores in the signature upset, and tacked on a two-point conversion catch off a gadget play.
New York’s win was the biggest Survivor moment of the 2021 season. Cincinnati is the first favorite of 7.5 points or more to lose this season.
If White was the shocker of the day, Geno Smith isn’t far behind. I aggressively faded Tyler Lockett this week, running away after watching Smith and Lockett show zero chemistry in the two earlier starts. But you know how the snow globe NFL is, crazy results come out of nowhere. Smith clicked on 20-of-24 passes against Jacksonville, good for 195 yards and a couple of scores. And Lockett hauled in 12-of-13 looks, racking up a monster 142-yard game.
Montana to Rice. Manning to Harrison. Smith to Lockett.
Perhaps this is the last Smith start for a while — Seattle doesn’t play next week, and Russell Wilson has a shot at playing Week 9 at Green Bay. But it will be nice to take Lockett off the restricted fantasy list, while I shake off some Week 8 analyst embarrassment.
• Sticking with the backup quarterback theme, Cooper Rush tripped up Minnesota in the nightcap. Rush is obviously no Dak Prescott, but the Dallas offensive infrastructure is the best in the NFL. That includes OC Kellen Moore, who will be interviewed by every rebooting franchise in 2022.
• For the most part it’s been sunshine and lollipops for Tom Brady with Tampa Bay, but the Saints have defended him well in all four meetings. New Orleans won three of those games, and Brady only had 199 yards passing in the playoff win — he didn’t drive that decision, either.
• Joe Mixon bailed out a Top 5 finish but it was all touchdown deodorant — 14 carries netted just 33 yards. At least Mixon was active in the passing game, for the second time in three weeks (four catches, 58 yards).
• The Jets have something with Michael Carter, who’s popped two straight weeks. And White loves looking for Carter when a play breaks down.
• Last week at San Francisco, Carson Wentz threw a few interceptions that the Niners couldn’t hold onto. The Titans didn’t have that problem Sunday. I get that you only want Wentz for the numbers in this space, but if you do decide to start him, please don’t watch him. Your blood pressure will go haywire.
• Michael Pittman is spreading his wings nicely with the Colts, though Wentz is still leaving plays on the field. Pittman is probably a lower-end WR2 in most leagues now, but he’d have WR1 upside on a better team. And if you understand why the Colts keep soft-pedaling the usage with Jonathan Taylor, let me know. It’s criminal he had just 16 carries in the overtime loss.
• The last three weeks for A.J. Brown — 25-379-2 on 29 targets. Not coincidentally, the Titans have beaten Buffalo, Kansas City, and Indianapolis over that run. Brown averaged a paltry 6.3 targets per game in his first two seasons. Brown is just as important as Derrick Henry is for Tennessee’s long-term upside.
• The only way to get Jakobi Meyers into the end zone is try a 2-point conversion.
• Pat Freiermuth is just what Ben Roethlisberger needs, another matchup problem who presents easy throws. Still, it's telling that a good game for Big Ben these days is 266 passing yards and one touchdown. His fantasy upside has left the building.
• For the first time in the 2021 season, Cooper Kupp was held under 10 targets. He threw 7-115-1 at the Texans anyway. He'd be the first or second pick in any redraft league that assembled tomorrow. And there's nothing wrong with the other primary Rams; the Los Angeles usage tree is so narrow, an unneeded DeSean Jackson is angling for a trade.
• Mike Williams hasn't looked healthy for a few weeks now, and the Chargers offense is suffering for it. And Bill Belichick is now 2-for-2 against Justin Herbert.
• Tough watch for Miles Sanders managers — the Eagles refused to commit to the running game for almost two months, and then Philly throws 46 rushing attempts (and 16 pass attempts) at the Lions, with Sanders unavailable. Granted, the score was 17-0 at halftime — game flow allowed this to happen. Most of Kenneth Gainwell’s touches came in garbage time, and he was the only Eagles back who wasn’t effective.