From the day he first burst onto the sporting scene at Auburn, Cam Newton has generated two things in equal measure: Wonder at his on-field accomplishments, and column inches about everything else. Is he worth the No. 1 overall pick? Is his smile fake? Can he stay healthy? Can he stay focused?
Through it all, he’s played quarterback unlike anyone else in NFL history, and led his team to back-to-back NFC South titles. Now the latest #taeks out of the NewtonNarrativeGenerator™ are centered on a new question: Is he an MVP candidate?
For all the ways in which Newton is futuristic — we’re talking about a 6-foot-5, 245-pound signal caller with 38 rushing touchdowns in 70 career games — he also does some things star quarterbacks haven’t gotten away with in over 20 years. When was the last time someone completing only 53.6 percent of his passes was being bandied about for the league’s top honor? It’s a Bradshaw-ian number, the kind that appeared to die off during the 21st century’s passing explosion. Newton is also averaging a modest 7.39 yards per attempt, and on pace for “just” 28 scores through the air.
So where does Newton’s case reside? In dual-threat playmaking ability that doesn’t usually translate beyond the college level. Newton completed only 15 passes Sunday, but three of them went for six. He rushed 10 times for 57 yards, scoring a fourth touchdown where he skied over the scrum and broke the plane with hand strength akin to an alligator’s jaw. Although some of them sailed high, Newton never stopped delivering lasers in the passing game, or punishment as a runner.
All this, with a supporting cast that consists of Greg Olsen and … that’s about it. Behind Newton’s No. 1 weapon are: A 28-year-old running back averaging 3.88 yards per carry, a 30-year-old deep threat who’s caught 21-of-50 targets, a receiver who can’t decide if he wants to be called “Philly” or “Corey,” a rookie wideout with 10 career catches and Jerricho Cotchery.
Averaging 26.4 fantasy points, and 27.9 if you throw out his shaky Week 1, Newton is having a remarkable season by any reasonable standard. Is he the MVP? Not in a league where Tom Brady is on pace for 5,418 yards, 44 touchdowns and four interceptions. But that doesn’t matter. The number of players more important to their teams — not to mention fantasy owners — can be counted on one hand. One of the game’s top talents is having his finest season. Instead of worrying whether it’s the best season, sit back and enjoy the kind of campaign we might not see again for a while.
Five Week 9 Negatives
Dion Lewis’ knee issue. From Browns castoff to RB1 for the league’s best offense, Lewis has been one of the season’s best stories. But barring an MRI miracle with his “loose” ACL, his 2015 in peril, and quite possibly over. Lewis was a potential league-winning pick before going down on Sunday. Now he’s a black hole in your lineup, and invitation to mystery behind LeGarrette Blount. Who will catch passes out of the Patriots’ backfield? Brandon Bolden? James White? A free agent? All of the above? Where Lewis provided unusual clarity for one of the league’s least predictable positions, chaos should once again reign on third down in New England, making it a spot to avoid in fantasy leagues.
Ben Roethlisberger’s latest left leg injury. Predictably in much sharper form after struggling in his Week 8 return, Big Ben was dicing up the Raiders’ suspect secondary before Aldon Smith rolled up on his left foot. For the second time in as many potentially season-ending 2015 injuries, Roethlisberger has somehow escaped with a week-to-week issue, but at the very least, he won’t take the field until after Pittsburgh’s Week 11 bye. If he’s not back by then, it could be too late for both the Steelers and fantasy owners.
The Falcons’ performance in San Francisco. Blaine Gabbert, Shaun Draughn, Torrey Smith, Jerome Simpson and Quinton Patton. Those were the starting “weapons” for the team that beat Atlanta 17-16 on Sunday. More humiliating was a game plan that once again leaned on Matt Ryan instead of NFL yards from scrimmage leader Devonta Freeman, and a coaching staff that decided to kick a field goal down four from the 49ers’ one-yard line with 2:55 remaining. It was an incomprehensible decision from rookie coach Dan Quinn, one that cost his team the game. The Falcons can clearly compete in the up-for-grabs NFC South, but it’s time for Quinn to prove he knows which adjustments to make. Not treating Ryan like he’s Aaron Rodgers should be at the top of the list.
Teddy Bridgewater’s concussion on a late hit. Quarterbacks are taught to give themselves up at the end of scrambles. That’s what Bridgewater did with 13:29 remaining in the fourth quarter, but Rams CB Lamarcus Joyner ignored the rules, slamming Bridgewater’s head into the turf and causing a brain injury. Joyner should have been ejected, and deserves a suspension. Bridgewater should be considered day to day, and questionable for next Sunday’s appealing matchup with the Raiders. Bridgewater will be on the DFS radar as a tournament play if he can suit up.
Mike Evans’ drop-fest against the Giants. Drops are a subjective stat, but by the NFL’s count, Evans’ six were the most in the past 10 years. Thankfully for fantasy owners, Evans still caught eight passes for 152 yards, but it was another strange chapter in a season that’s lacked for anything resembling rhythm. Evans will continue to soak up targets — Jameis Winston has no one else to throw to — but a player who should be a no-brainer WR1 is instead a boom-or-bust WR1/2.
Five Week 9 Positives
Antonio Brown’s historic day. Brown’s 17 receptions were tied for the sixth most in NFL history. His 284 receiving yards were the ninth most. His 306 yards from scrimmage the eighth most. Not a bad day at the office for a wideout now on pace for 123/1,781/5. The touch of gray, of course, was Roethlisberger’s injury, but god willing, Brown will have to make only one start with Landry Jones under center. And though Brown hasn’t been nearly as productive without Ben, he actually managed 6/124 in Jones’ Week 7 outing against the Chiefs. Brown will remain a WR1 against the Browns’ struggling defense in Week 10, and may even end up a solid contrarian play in DFS leagues.
The Packers’ awakening from the dead. With Aaron Rodgers 6-of-15 for 77 yards before his final throw of the first half, things were looking just as bleak as they did in Week 8. But then Rodgers capped off Green Bay’s first drive of the second half with a 53-yard touchdown to Randall Cobb, and even though it came in a loss, got the Pack’s offense rolling to its pre-Denver levels. With the schedule finally easing up — a Lions defense allowing 8.7 yards per attempt is on tap for Week 10 — the Pack’s mid-season crisis should be over. Rodgers will be a top-five QB1, and Cobb a WR1.
Marcus Mariota’s pasting of the Saints. Granted, a lucky bounce helped set the tone, but Mariota did what you’re supposed to do against a bad defense: Throw all over it. Mariota completed 28-of-39 passes for 371 yards and four touchdowns, extending plays with his legs and averaging 9.51 yards per attempt even as nominal No. 1 receiver Kendall Wright (knee) sat on the bench. The multi-score effort was his first since Week 3, and emphatic exclamation that his knee won’t be an issue going forward. Mariota will come back down to earth against the Panthers next week, but has a mouthwatering slate of Weeks 11-13 matchups in the Jaguars, Raiders and Jaguars.
Sammy Watkins’ arrival to the season. The receiver drafted ahead of Odell Beckham, Mike Evans and Allen Robinson, amongst others, entered Sunday with 11 total catches. He exited it having nearly doubled his 2015 production across the board, dropping 8/168/1 on top of his previous 11/147/2. Finally healthy at the same time as playmaking quarterback Tyrod Taylor, Watkins will offer WR2 upside for however long he stays on the field. That being said, he’ll be more WR3 than WR2 for Week 10’s showdown with Darrelle Revis. Speaking of…
Allen Robinson’s production against Darrelle Revis. Primarily stationed on Revis Island, Robinson caught 6-of-11 targets for 121 yards, giving him his second 100-yard performance of the season, and putting him on pace for 80/1,414/12. A matchup-proof touchdown scorer who is averaging 17.7 yards per catch, Robinson is an every-week WR1, one who gets the Ravens’ disintegrating defense in Week 10.
1. Did anyone ever teach Dan Quinn that the goal was to win football games?
2. “Where do we go from here?” — The first and only question that should be asked after you lose to Blaine Gabbert.
3. Why is Redskins football?
Early Waiver Look (Players owned in less than 50 percent of Yahoo leagues)
QB: Jay Cutler, Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston
RB: Alfred Blue, James Starks, Karlos Williams, Charles Sims, Joique Bell, Shaun Draughn
WR: Marvin Jones, Rueben Randle, Kamar Aiken, Devin Funchess
TE: Jacob Tamme, Eric Ebron, Richard Rodgers, Crockett Gillmore, Vernon Davis, Austin Seferian-Jenkins
Stats of the Week
One. That’s how many touches Eddie Lacy got after fumbling with 4:53 remaining in the first half. James Starks isn’t good enough to blow by Lacy on the depth chart, but a timeshare will persist for however long Lacy persists in not being effective.
Via TurfShowTimes: The Rams are 4-of-37 on third down since returning from their Week 6 bye.
From Field Yates, Peyton Manning is the only quarterback to both start every game and throw a pick each time out this season.
Take it away, Lord Reebs: Through nine weeks, there have been two running backs to finish as the No. 1 overall runner more than once: DeAngelo Williams and Devonta Freeman.
At least before Rivers goes to work on Monday Night Football, Drew Brees and Philip Rivers have identical stats through eight starts.
24.3 percent of Tyler Eifert’s receptions have gone for touchdowns.
The Bills have a +43 point differential against the Dolphins. It’s -24 against everybody else.
Week 9 Fantasy All-Pro Team: QB Marcus Mariota, RB DeAngelo Williams, RB Karlos Williams, WR Antonio Brown, WR Sammy Watkins, WR Michael Crabtree, TE Tyler Eifert
Most Costly Decision of the Week (non-Dan Quinn Division): Jack Del Rio foregoing three timeouts and 30 seconds at the end of the first half in a game he went on to lose by three points.
Marty Mornhinweg Memorial Award: The Vikings taking the wind in overtime … and having it pay off.
The Why God Why Award: Martavis Bryant dropping an 86-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
Infant of the Week Award: This crybaby Packers fan who thought he could just drape a Packers banner over the railing in a stadium 1,000 miles away from Green Bay.
Supervillain Moment of the Week: Absentee Rams owner Stan Kroenke commandeering the Vikings' press box bathroom in Sunday’s loss.