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I probably won’t pick the Titans to win the AFC when the playoffs begin. The Chiefs are a generational juggernaut, and the undefeated Steelers have a loaded roster.
But I’ll certainly give Tennessee a puncher’s chance against anyone. This is a tough, nasty, confident football team, well-coached and afraid of no one. When you see them on the schedule, you know you’re getting a three-hour physical challenge.
The Titans punched Indianapolis in the mouth from the opening snap Sunday and basically never let up, en route to a 45-26 trouncing. Derrick Henry was the primary star, rumbling for 178 yards and three touchdowns, spearheading four of Tennessee’s five first-half scoring drives. The Tennessee offensive line pushed the Colts around consistently — to be fair, the Indianapolis defensive line was missing key personnel — and Henry did the rest, quickly hitting the hole and finishing all of his runs.
Post-Thanksgiving football meshes nicely with Henry football. He’s a power guy (they call him Tractorcito for a reason), made for an off track. Obviously the footing was perfect inside of the Indianapolis dome, but Henry’s tread makes Tennessee especially dangerous in any outdoor game. Tennessee has two more home games this year, and a fascinating Week 16 trip to Green Bay. And there will be critical outdoor opportunity in January.
When you have power running and smart coaching, like Tennessee does, your game travels anywhere. The portable style makes these guys especially dangerous. Less than a year ago, the upstart Titans ended Tom Brady’s career in New England, then toppled the heavily-favored Ravens a week later. The Titans won’t kiss the ring for anyone.
The Titans seldom feel the need to pepper A.J. Brown with targets, but the second-year star can do a lot with a modest workload. He had another signature catch-and-run touchdown against the Colts, a 69-yard bob-and-weave through the state of Indiana. A 4-98-1 line was just fine on six looks, but Brown gifted his managers with an unexpected cherry — a touchdown runback on a particularly poor Colts onside kick. Good work if you can get it.
Is Brown basically Terrell Owens 2.0? The comp seems to fit. No current wideout is better after the catch, combining speed, power, physicality, and sheer will.
Corey Davis was only targeted three times, though he caught all of them, good for 70 yards. Davis has turned into this year’s DeVante Parker, a post-hype receiver who finally figured the game out. His usage rate is very close to Brown’s. He’s at least a WR3 every week.
Jonnu Smith was pressed into the trenches, blocking for Henry and going without a target. Smith’s been mostly a touchdown-dependent source this year, averaging about 34 yards a start into this week. He stays in the Top 10 at the position because of the goal-line deodorant, but there’s not a big upside.
Ryan Tannehill came to Tennessee as a make-good backup; a year and a half later, he’s a legitimate star. He’s slipped slightly from last year’s career year, as anyone would expect — when you lead the league in YPA, rating, and yards per completion, there’s nowhere to go but down. But check out the indexed efficiency stats on Tannehill’s ledger — he’s still well above league average in just about everything. Maybe escaping Adam Gase — and landing with a skilled OC like Arthur Smith — really is the key to everything.
The Titans just finished the defensive gauntlet of its schedule — Bears, Colts, Ravens, Colts. The rest of the slate is fantasy friendly: Cleveland, Jacksonville, Detroit, Green Bay. If your league still uses Week 17, the Texans are a chummy closer.
Henry looks ready for a December to Remember. Brown is still one of the biggest matchup nightmares in the league. Davis might never become a star, but he at least has Circle of Trust privileges. As we navigate to and through the fantasy playoffs, I am going to remember the Titans.
I know, I know, come up with a new tagline. Fair enough. Let’s see what else happened on Sunday.
We can’t trust the 2020 Raiders
Derek Carr isn’t consistent enough to be trusted, it’s as simple as that. Yes, he was outstanding in Week 11, going toe-to-toe with the Chiefs, but he followed that up with a massive egg at Atlanta: six points, 215 passing yards, 6.3 YPA, 70.1 rating. The Falcons entered the league ranked 26th in pass defense DVOA.
Vegas walked into the building as a three-point favorite. It sulked out, after a 43-6 humiliation.
I recognize we don’t want to flip out after a single outlier result, but also consider Carr had just 430 passing yards and three touchdowns in the three-week run-up to the Kansas City game. He’s QB21 in cumulative fantasy points (despite starting every game), and QB27 in per-game average. You’re not winning hardware with those ranks.
This offense doesn’t have enough consistency or continuity for fantasy managers to trust it. Other than TE Darren Waller and RB Josh Jacobs (if healthy; Devontae Booker is a fine replacement), I’m done looking deep with this group. Nelson Agholor, Hunter Renfrow, and Henry Ruggs show up just enough to break your heart. I realize the Jets look like a divine matchup in Week 13, but didn’t we say that about the Falcons?
• You can start the engraving on the Patrick Mahomes MVP — for him to not win it at this point, he’d probably have to get hurt while something special happened elsewhere, like Ben Roethlisberger having a big December for an undefeated Steelers team. If you’re trying to identify the league’s No. 2 quarterback, for today or tomorrow, that’s a long and fascinating debate. But Mahomes has no company, and no obvious flaws.
• Tyreek Hill just gave us the best fantasy receiver game in 20 years. And whatever you had to do during draft season to land Travis Kelce, a weekly rock, it was worth it. But all those Andy Reid plaudits about Clyde Edwards-Helaire — suggesting the rookie was actually a better version of Brian Westbrook — drove fantasy managers into a ditch.
— scott pianowski (@scott_pianowski) November 30, 2020
• The Julio Jones Matrix lives on — when he’s not around, the Falcons offense can’t do much. Don’t let the final score fool you, Matt Ryan managed just 4.7 YPA against a lousy defense. A touchdown bailed out Calvin Ridley on a 9-6-50 afternoon. The running game was steady, but with Ito Smith and Brian Hill sharing work, no one went off. Hayden Hurst and Russell Gage were acceptable only if you had the smallest of expectations.
• Kyle Shanahan was dealt a lousy hand all year, and it’s amazing that the Niners are still 5-6. Give him some pieces back and this is a dangerous team. And Raheem Mostert can play for my team anytime — a mixture of speed, physicality, intelligence, and heart. Make sure you draft Deebo Samuel next year.
• Anything can happen once, twice is a trend. I fully understand Alvin Kamara managers flipping out right now, mindful that Taysom Hill’s power running isn’t going away, and concerned that Latavius Murray looks rejuvenated, too good to overlook. The Saints can’t be faulted for wanting to keep Kamara fresh for the playoffs, but his skillset is contradictory to what Hill does well. And while Drew Brees will come back eventually, it might not be until the NFL playoffs. I wish I had a better takeaway — Kamara is obviously too good to sit, but he might not have the upside to push you like he did for two months.
• We’ll all fighting for scraps at tight end, so take note, Saints rookie Adam Trautman is starting to work ahead of Jared Cook. Maybe that’s useful for the rest of the year, or maybe you apply it for 2021.
• I’m not going to dock the Rams much for their flat loss; it was an ambush spot. The Niners were rested and prepared off a bye, while the Rams were pressed after a Monday game. Still, you know Sean McVay must dream about what he could do with a true star quarterback. Jared Goff is good enough to win with if all the support is in place; he can ride the bus, but never should drive the bus.
• Jarvis Landry finally found the end zone and had a monster game, if you had the patience to wait him out. Smart managers probably moved him or replaced him a while ago; I bet a bunch of Landry teams collected a worthless victory this week. If you have to wait three months for it, it’s far too late.
• If you told me Sterling Shepard had the same line for every healthy start, I’d believe you. But the Daniel Jones injury might be just enough to keep the Giants from winning the NFC East. Mind you, I’m still picking anyone but Philly here; the Eagles have been the misguided favorite for weeks and I expect them to get convincingly beaten by Seattle on Monday. But whatever you make of Jones, it is a notable drop from him down to Colt McCoy.
• Just about everything is burning around him, but James Robinson never has bad games. And you probably landed this guy with a late draft pick or a modest FAAB bid. He could be termed the fantasy MVP, depending on your criteria, and he’s certainly in the Top 5.
on Sunday, Jags rookie RB James Robinson became the 1st undrafted rookie in NFL history with 1,000+ scrimmage yards in his first 10 games
only 25 other players on this list, including Eric Dickerson, Edgerrin James, Zeke, Marshall Faulk & Adrian Peterson (all were drafted)
— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) November 23, 2020
• It was another mess of a game for Anthony Lynn, no shocker there. This is a repeat note but worth a reminder: every hot coach should be dreaming at the LAC setup. The Chargers offer perfect weather, a new stadium, a star quarterback early on his rookie deal, a deep roster, a non-antagonistic media, and a non-expectant fan base. This will soon be the most attractive vacancy in America.
• Eventually the Dolphins have to shift back to Tua Tagovailoa, develop and evaluate, take a big swing for the future. But if I needed any Miami skill players for the balance of the fantasy season, I’d be begging for Ryan Fitzpatrick to ride things out. Yes, good is the enemy of great. Yes, I grasp the big picture. Tua’s upside, while still somewhat unclear, is obviously higher than that of journeyman Fitzpatrick. But there’s no denying who’s better right now.
• It took Rob Gronkowski a while to get his sea legs, but he’s been outstanding for two months. We welcome it, especially at a thin position. Maybe the same type of patience will reward the Buccaneers with Antonio Brown, but I’m not optimistic. This offense has a collection of talented and diverse playmakers, but adding Brown solved a problem the roster didn’t have. Brown is currently averaging 5.8 yards per target, ninth-best on the team. Every throw to him is a gift to the opponent.
• Bill Belichick confused Kyler Murray for three hours, and the Patriots also muted his effectiveness as a runner. We used to wonder why Kliff Kingsbury didn’t do more with Patrick Mahomes in college; soon we might be asking the same question, NFL version. If not for the Hail Murray, the Cardinals would be 5-6. Every NFC contender has flaws, but I don’t see any playoff upside for the 2020 Cardinals.