We’re 14 weeks into the NFL season. A few plots have played out to our expectations. Far more has gone far off the chain of our projected storyboard.
Each week of the season brings with it a new set of questions. Here, we’ll attempt to lay out five of the most pressing in the NFL that week. The answers to those will reveal deeper truths about how the rest of the story of the 2019 NFL season will unfold.
We’ll find that these revelations will have a lasting impact on not just fantasy managers, but the league as a whole.
What does the Drew Lock encore look like?
From a bottom-line perspective, Drew Lock’s second career start was nothing short of fantastic. He completed 81.5 percent of his passes for 309 yards and three scores as the Broncos went on to obliterate the Texans. Unlike his first game against the Chargers, big plays were flooding through the Denver passing game. It was a performance that brought hope anew to Broncos Country, hope that the team may finally have a future at the quarterback position.
How Lock follows up that Week 14 surprise will be even more important in evaluating his future. The Texans’ secondary has been breaking down more and more as the season has worn on. Meanwhile, in Kansas City, where Lock will find his next opponent, they’ve been building an impenetrable fortress.
Over the last month, the Chiefs pass defense has been downright dominant. Since Week 10 Kansas City allows the fourth-lowest passer rating (70.9), a 5:7 touchdown-to-interception ratio and rank sixth in the NFL with a 35.7% pressure rate, per Sports Info Solutions. Much of that work came against their other two inner-division foes, a floundering Patriots offense and statistically the best quarterback in the NFL, Ryan Tannehill. That last sentence was weird to write.
Lock may be missing one of his top weapons on Sunday, further complicating matters. Rookie tight end Noah Fant was a major catalyst in boosting Lock’s yards per attempt to such epic proportions. He’s missed practice time this week with a foot injury. It’s a shame too, as this is a good spot for Fant. The Chiefs allow an NFL-high 85 catches to the tight end position. Fant’s absence could help push more targets to Courtland Sutton’s direction, helping him get rolling even in a tough matchup.
How can the Rams keep it rolling?
Over the last month, the Rams have started to find their groove. If you remove the buzzsaw they ran into against the Ravens on Monday Night Football, the offense is starting to remind us ever so slightly of their 2017-2018 output.
With a switch to a power-run-blocking offensive line up front, Todd Gurley has come alive the last four games. He’s averaging 95 total yards on 21 touches per contest. It’s trickled down to the passing game too. While we know play action is impactful regardless of how well a team runs, the Rams have traditionally molded the approach of both phases together. Over the last four games, Goff leads the NFL with 17 dropbacks that have included a bootleg play action. He has a 108.2 passer rating on those 17 throws.
The formula Sean McVay has landed on for this version of his team looks like a sustainable one. The only downside for fantasy managers is that we’re hardly at a place where all the weapons in the passing game can go off in one week. Brandin Cooks has barely made an impact since he returned to action with just four catches for 56 yards in his last three games. He is the obvious odd man out, or at least he has been thus far. It’s a bit of a guessing game when splitting up the rest of the targets.
Robert Woods has led the way the last four weeks with 28 targets and 26 catches for 367 yards. Tyler Higbee and Cooper Kupp are right behind him, tied at 19 catches on 20 targets apiece. The tight end has the lead in yards at 243.
The latter two players could be in for big days against the Cowboys this week. All kinds of defensive issues have continued to creep up for Dallas all year. They’ve been especially problematic while defending the middle of the field of late. Since Week 8, the Cowboys allow a 101 passer rating on short throws (under 15-plus yards) over the middle of the field and a perfect 158 rating on deep throws. Both Higbee and Kupp should lurk there all game.
Can a pair of Seahawks go off?
With Rashaad Penny out for the season, Chris Carson returns to the focal point of the Seahawks running game. It’s not as if we have any questions about whether he can hold up to such a beefy workload. Carson is currently sixth in the NFL in touches. He enjoyed a five-game stretch this year where he toted the ball 20-plus times.
No team loves to pound the rock like Seattle. They’ll have every incentive to do it on Sunday. Seattle will travel east to play the Carolina Panthers, who sport a truly heinous rush defense. Carolina is ranked 32nd in Football Outsiders rush defense DVOA. Big plays have flown through their front seven, as 16% of the carries against them have been charted as an explosive run.
If you’re projecting the Seahawks to be in positive game script for most of the day (and you should be — have you seen the Panthers play lately?!) combined with the matchup, Carson looks like he’s in a smash spot. He could legitimately crack 30 carries in this game.
The more interesting question is whether Tyler Lockett can finally get off the map through the air. It’s been a painfully slow stretch of late for Lockett but the always honest, truly trustworthy coach Pete Carroll says he’s truly back this week. Lockett got sick after he suffered a leg injury during the team’s win over the 49ers on Monday night last month. He’s totaled just 81 yards over three games since.
However, if Lockett is truly back to form, he’s returning to a gorgeous spot. The Panthers allow 124 yards per game to slot receivers, ninth-most in the NFL. They’ve also been ripped down the field of late, giving up a 100.6 passer rating on throws of 15-plus yards over the last four weeks. He’s as risky as they come but a couple of big plays could help Lockett smash what he’s put up the last few weeks.
Are we going to see anything from Odell Beckham Jr.?
All the juju and every drop of the vibes are bad around Odell Beckham Jr. right now. Any part of the theater you want, it’s here. We’ve got medical mishaps, trade whispers and what fantasy managers care about most, a hideous box score.
Beckham has gone under 65 yards receiving in five of his last seven games and has scored just twice all year. For a receiver who was second in touchdowns per game and third in yards per game since entering the league, that is a stunning lack of production. Whether it’s due to the injury, a poor fit with his new team/quarterback or something else about the receiver himself, it’s the reality of where we are at.
Fantasy managers will be tempted to roll him out there this week regardless of the slow output for much of the season. The matchup against the Cardinals is that good. Arizona is the 28th-ranked pass defense by Football Outsiders and has been pummeled by big plays all year. Their 122.1 passer rating allowed on throws of 15-plus yards ranks dead last.
On paper, that’s certainly tempting for OBJ. It’s just impossible to count on him as anything more than a boom-or-bust play. This is especially true when you consider Jarvis Landry has been the obvious focal in the Browns wide receiver corps. Landry is averaging 10 targets per game since Week 8 and has scored five times in that span. For how bad the Cardinals defense is in general, they are extremely beatable inside. Arizona has allowed a league-high 159.9 yards per game to slot receivers on the year.
Beckham is in play but if you have a reliable option, you should debate it. All the while, Landry is an obvious smash play at $23 in Yahoo DFS.
Will the Cowboys get Amari Cooper to his ceiling?
The Cowboys desperately need a win after dropping two straight in primetime to the Bills and Bears that have sent any sense of optimism about their season swirling down the drain. The Rams are surging of late (scroll back up to read about that) and Dallas cannot afford to let the rush keep going.
Getting a big game out of Amari Cooper could be crucial in Dallas’ efforts to keep up with Los Angeles. He’s hardly been a problem of late, snagging 13 total balls and clearing 80 yards in each of the last two games. We just haven’t seen his ceiling in quite some time.
Jalen Ramsey will have a few things to say about getting Cooper there. The still-new top corner in LA has caught fire since the team’s bye. He allows just 22 yards per game with a 73.4 passer rating in coverage since Week 10. With that being said, since Week 10, the Rams give up 97 yards per game to receivers lined up out wide. There are ways to beat this matchup. Much of that comes away from Ramsey, as Troy Hill has been an up-and-down running mate.
The Cowboys can find ways to get Cooper off Ramsey by moving him around the formation, or deploying him at slot and flanker to get him a free release. Typically we don’t think of “creativity” and “Dallas” in the same thought but they have done a good job of this concept specifically since Cooper arrived on the team. That creativity will be crucial. Given the likely high-scoring nature of this game and the possible options to get Cooper open by design, he’s worth the risk in fantasy lineups.