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Fantasy Football Booms and Busts: The party is in the NFC West

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I’ve spent all summer looking forward to NFC West football. The Matthew Stafford-Sean McVay pairing in Los Angeles. Shane Waldron, a new offensive coordinator, taking over in Seattle. Kyle Shanahan and all his toys in San Francisco.

Well, perhaps I’ve sold the Arizona Cardinals short.

Let’s be clear: It’s not like I overlooked stars like Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins. But at times I wondered if Murray was too reliant on running and broken plays and not as reliable as needed in the pocket, and I also had major reservations about head coach Kliff Kingsbury. Kingsbury didn’t record a winning season in his first two Arizona campaigns, and went 12-13 in the last two years at Texas Tech, despite some guy named Patrick Mahomes behind his QB. (There was also a 2-7 year at Texas Tech when Mahomes was a part-time quarterback.)

Of course, the NFL is a snow globe league. And after watching Arizona light up the sky at Tennessee on Sunday, I’m open to reevaluating this club.

Let’s be fair, the Tennessee defense looks like a nightmare. But Murray and Friends had a hand in making it look bad Sunday, rolling up 22 first downs and 416 yards of offense. It added up to a 38-13 blowout, a beat-the-traffic special all the way. The outcome was never in doubt.

Murray was fantasy’s top scorer through the 1 pm ET wave, and he did it primarily with his arm. He completed 21-of-32 passes for 289 yards and four touchdowns, against one interception. He was accurate, he was patient, he threw with anticipation, and he challenged all levels of the field. And no one questions the cannon he has in his right arm.

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (1)
Kyler Murray was incredible in Week 1. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

Murray threw in a rushing touchdown for good measure, though he only scrambled for 20 yards on the day. This is a more sustainable plan for future success — run occasionally, but throw most of the time. Murray created quite a highlight tape through two seasons, but there’s still room for him to grow as a complete player. Perhaps a spike in Year 3 is coming.

Murray didn’t force the ball to anyone specific, though the amazing Hopkins did well on eight targets (6-83-2). Post-hype sleeper Christian Kirk snagged all five of his looks, good for 70 yards and two scores, and Rondale Moore (4-68-0) got loose a few times.

Chase Edmonds has the best of the backfield, beating James Conner in total yards (106 to 53) and yards per touch (6.6 against 3.3). Both players handled the ball 16 times, Conner exclusively on the ground.

Arizona backers will like the next two weeks on the schedule, hosting a gettable Minnesota defense next week, then traveling to Jacksonville in Week 3. Jacksonville’s defense was embarrassed by the Houston Texans, of all teams, Sunday.

Efficient Seahawks deliver the goods

Seattle’s 28-16 victory at Indianapolis wasn’t quite as explosive, but you know the Russell Wilson story by now — often we accept efficiency in place of volume. Wilson only attempted 23 passes against the Colts, but they were high octane — 254 yards, four touchdowns, 11.0 YPA. And when Wilson gets the ball into the end zone, we know who’s likely to snag those passes — Seattle has one of the narrowest distribution trees in the league. Tyler Lockett (4-100-2) made noise with two early scores, and DK Metcalf (4-60-1) spiked after intermission. New tight end Gerald Everett had the other touchdown, though he was only targeted twice.

Back to the narrow distribution — Seattle’s backfield was dominated by Chris Carson (16-91 rushing, 3-26 receiving). If we ignore Wilson for a second, Carson was the only other Seattle player to carry the ball more than two times. There aren’t many bell cows in the NFL these days, but Carson sure looks like one.

The dangerous Seahawks get to host disorganized Tennessee next week — talk about a pinball matchup — then travel to Minnesota in Week 3.

Shanahanigans in San Francisco's win

Let's be clear upfront, Kyle Shanahan is a terrific offensive mind. But the 49ers could be a tricky landing spot for fantasy managers this year; perhaps the team with the biggest gap between real-life value and fantasy value. Although San Francisco scored 31 first-half points at Detroit and held on for a 41-33 victory, the Niners side of the summary was laced with potholes. 

You can't blame anything but bad luck for Raheem Mostert's day; he suffered an early knee injury and that was that. But Trey Sermon's pregame health scratch was a shock, as was Brandon Aiyuk scarcely playing. Aiyuk didn't start the game and was not targeted for the day. 

Meanwhile, rookie Eli Mitchell ran well (19-104-1), JaMycal Hasty scored a touchdown on a rogue goal-line opportunity, and Trent Sherfield vultured a receiving touchdown. Deebo Samuel (9-189-1) ran purest of the big-name Niners, though he did lose a late fumble. George Kittle (4-78-0) did the best he could with five targets. 

Jimmy Garoppolo finished with big numbers, throwing for 314 yards against a leaky Detroit secondary. But Garoppolo also lost a few snaps to Trey Lance; ultimately, both players threw one touchdown pass. No position is fantasy-safe with this team at the moment. 

Perhaps Sermon will play next week, especially if Mostert needs multiple weeks to rest. But sometimes picking the Shanahan usage patterns is an exercise in frustration. The Niners travel to Philadelphia next week. 

Speed Round

• Maybe it was the new uniform number talking, but Sterling Shepard looked slippery and sleek as he negotiated 7-113-1 against the strong Denver defense. I’ve always felt Shepard had the chance to be an every-week fantasy staple if health would merely cooperate; perhaps this is his year. He is one receiver that Daniel Jones legitimately shows rapport with.

• The Patriots offense did a lot of good things, albeit in a loss to Miami — New England had a healthy edge in yards and first downs. Mac Jones showed advanced pocket awareness, a keen sense of where to find a clear and quiet area to deliver from. He outplayed Tua Tagovailoa and probably deserved to win his debut. The only thing wrong with Damien Harris’s day was the late fumble, but I don’t think the Patriots will shame him for it. He’s too good.

• It took Corey Davis a while to arrive as a bonafide No. 1 target, but he’s there now. Let’s hope Zach Wilson gets better as the season goes along. But even with Wilson taking his lumps at Carolina, Davis cobbled together a snappy 5-97-2 day on seven targets. He’s a polished player now, capable of running everything in the route tree. He’ll dominate the targets in New York.

• So much for Adam Thielen’s touchdown regression tour — he scored twice at Cincinnati and snagged nine of his ten targets. He’s still in a mind meld with Kirk Cousins, and the Vikings have one of the narrowest usage trees in the league. No one went into draft day expecting another 14 spikes from Thielen — you don’t expect that from almost anyone — but something in the 8-9 range was reasonable, with another double-digit season plausible. Although we get more excited when big-play receivers score from distance, it’s Thielen’s ability to score on in-close targets that prove sustainable year-over-year.

• As wonderful as the Big 3 are in Kansas City, I worry about this offense if anything happens to Travis Kelce or Tyreek Hill (obviously a Patrick Mahomes injury would be a kill shot, but some players are simply irreplaceable). This offense would greatly benefit from a third dynamic running back or receiver; perhaps Clyde Edwards-Helaire can eventually get there. I've stopped waiting for Mecole Hardman to be anything other than a speciality receiver. A Marvin Jones type of addition would have done wonders for this depth chart. 

• I feel like the Browns worked a month on their term paper and got a B. The Chiefs pulled one all-nighter and got the A.

• It's easy to give the Packers a pass for that no-show. The offense came out flat and hardly had the ball in the first half, and then the game was out of hand. They'll fix it. But I applaud Sean Payton for orchestrating a masterpiece, despite so much key talent gone or unavailable. Maybe he can make chicken salad out of the situation he's been handed. 

• Washington is one of the few teams in the league that might not lose much, if anything, if the No. 2 quarterback has to play. Taylor Heinicke threw a scare into the Buccaneers in last year's playoffs (the only quarterback who can make that claim), and he didn't seem spooked by the moment in Sunday's surprise relief appearance. No matter the QB, I remain bullish on Antonio Gibson, Terry McLaurin, Logan Thomas, and this overall offense. 

• The Steelers did almost nothing right on offense but stole a game at Buffalo, courtesy of its stingy defense and a special teams touchdown. Chase Claypool had one 25-yard run and Najee Harris busted free for 18 on one play; the other 19 carries for the day collected 32 yards. Roethlisberger looked every day of his age as he struggled for rhythm and functional space against a Buffalo defense that no one thinks is special. Say this for Diontae Johnson; although he had a modest 5-36 day, at least he got into the end zone, and continued to command targets (10 for the game, about 30 percent of the team’s total).

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