What to care/not care about from Week 9: Fantasy hero Lamar Jackson graduates to MVP candidate

Matt Harmon

So much happens on any given Sunday in the NFL. It’s hard to keep track of it all. More importantly, it’s quite a lot to decide what we should value as signal and what we should just ignore as noise. In this space, I’ll go through all that we learned this week and give you the five things I care about coming out of Week 9, along with five things I can’t muster up the emotional energy to care for. Good news for you: We’re going to do this exercise in emotional turmoil every Sunday of the regular season.

5 Things I care about

Lamar Jackson is firmly in the MVP race

The Baltimore Ravens thoroughly beat the New England Patriots, 37-20, on Sunday night. If you’re looking for a reason why the Ravens took this one, look no further than this: The Patriots couldn’t stop the best player on the field. I can’t imagine what any of the doubters have to say at this point besides a baseless appeal to a future injury they can’t possibly predict.

There was no grand defense provided by Bill Belichick for Lamar Jackson. His dominant stop unit was often in a position to snare Jackson in the pocket or out on the run, but the ultra-dynamic wizard simply would not be denied. Efficient as a passer and as electric as ever as a rusher, Jackson was in peak form on Sunday night. His 73.9 percent completion rate and 107.7 passer rating were his best marks since Week 1 against the Miami Dolphins. The Patriots are on the other end of the level of competition spectrum. He tacked on 61 yards with a pair of scores on the ground for good measure.

Remember how dominant the Patriots defense was coming into this game? They didn’t have an answer for Jackson. Belichick loves to take away what you do best on offense. When you’re Lamar Jackson and you can do just about everything, that’s quite a challenge.

An MVP campaign usually needs some signature moments when the race is tight. That looks to be the case here in 2019 with a crowded group of hopeful quarterbacks at the top. He might not win it in the end but after slaying the great AFC dragon that is the Patriots and their historic defense, it’s time to have Lamar Jackson in the conversation with Deshaun Watson and Russell Wilson right at the top.

He’s not just a fantasy football hero. Lamar Jackson is one of the defining characters of the 2019 NFL season.

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND - NOVEMBER 03: Quarterback Lamar Jackson #8 of the Baltimore Ravens scores a first quarter touchdown  against the New England Patriots at M&T Bank Stadium on November 3, 2019 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Todd Olszewski/Getty Images)
Lamar Jackson is firmly in the MVP race after a win over New England. (Photo by Todd Olszewski/Getty Images)

Zach Pascal’s production and Parris Campbell’s health

With T.Y. Hilton on the shelf for multiple weeks, the Colts desperately need weapons to step up on offense. A pair of young wideouts gave them a reason for hope.

Zach Pascal stacked his second big game in three weeks with five catches for 76 yards and a score against Pittsburgh today. He turned in a massive 6-106 line with a pair of touchdowns two weeks ago against Houston. The 2017 undrafted free agent has popped up for strong outings this year but he’s starting to play a steady complement of snaps and running a ton of routes. On his third team in the NFL in as many seasons after coming out of Old Dominion University, he’s found a home. It’s encouraging he’s produced with both members of the Colts quarterback room now.

He wasn’t the only young Colts receiver to produce today. While he didn’t have the same pop line, rookie Parris Campbell finally looks healthy and ready to make an impact. He accumulated 80 total yards on Sunday with 3-27 coming as a runner. Campbell was a multi-dimensional playmaker in college, so this usage makes sense. With Hilton set to miss multiple games and Indianapolis looking for more ways to vary the offense with a backup quarterback possibly under center, we should expect Campbell’s role to stay.

Matt Nagy’s latest reveal

There’s something you need to know about Matt Nagy. The thing is, it’s something you should have known a long time ago.

It should have been clear when the Bears head coach made the entire offseason about parading kickers through their facility while ignoring larger problems within his own team. The signs were there when he seemed to have a weird trick play ready to debut at the least opportune moment. You’d be hard-pressed not to wonder as he doubled down with a little extra fervor when reporters asked him if he wanted to rethink his decision to not gain extra yards before a last-moment field goal against the Chargers in Week 8.

Through all of that, I’ve generally defended Matt Nagy even as countless fantasy managers were furious with his lack of usage for David Montgomery. Yet, for whatever reason, when he trotted out Tarik Cohen for an interior goal-line rush, I finally accepted reality.

Matt Nagy has been on tilt ever since Cody Parkey missed that kick against the Eagles in the playoffs. He just hasn’t found his way back yet.

It’s getting worse as Nagy is now coaching like a guy who knows he has a quarterback problem but can’t admit it publicly. That’s wildly problematic. It’s a tone that begins to seep into every inch of who you are as a team. If it’s starting to impact Nagy’s actions, you can be sure the players are at that point too. We’ve seen borderline mutinies go down in other similar situations like with Blake Bortles in Jacksonville or Mark Sanchez in New York, where teams stubbornly stuck it out with a clear bust at QB despite talent at other areas of the roster. An already tilting Nagy, unable to shake the demons of the 2018 playoffs, now must look over his shadow for this next haunt too.

Unless the Bears pull the plug on Mitchell Trubisky, how can you possibly trust anything that has to do with that team? He should never start another game for Chicago. It’s so beyond over.

Devin Singletary’s breakout game

It could be that we all look back to Week 9 of the 2019 NFL season as the moment where Devin Singletary arrived. The rookie back handled 20 carries and made noise in the passing game with three receptions for 45 yards.

It hasn’t been a completely smooth rise for Singletary. Despite playing on 68% of the team’s snaps in Week 1, he saw just four carries. He left Week 2 with a hamstring injury and was wiped out for several weeks. His first two weeks back from injury saw him squarely behind Frank Gore in the rotation.

Week 9 was the first time we saw him in the driver’s seat. It looks like Gore has officially passed over the keys.

The Bills are a run-oriented team that operates with a defense-first approach. A player holding a lead back role for this squad would be of great appeal. It looks even better in the reality where this player isn’t a theoretical asset any longer but a truly capable back like Singletary. The rookie’s longest run was 17 yards. So his 4.8 yards per carry average on 20 rushes was not some inflated total. He sustained the offense. We should only see more of that going forward.

The 49ers are the last unbeaten team in the NFL

Let me have this. At the beginning of last year, I somehow persuaded my employer into producing a five-part Bachelor-style spoof series where I picked the latest team I would be a “lifelong” fan of for the 2019 season.

Through a completely untainted and organic process, that team ended up being the San Francisco 49ers. They were the perfect match for me. A true post-hype sleeper team ready to finally reach their potential with new defensive faces and Kyle Shanahan’s offensive scheme proving to be of true sustaining quality in 2018.

As the New England Patriots fell on Sunday night to the Baltimore Ravens, that left the 49ers as the last unbeaten team in the NFL. I don’t care about who they’ve beaten to get here, and I know truer tests will come. For now, just let me have this, damn it. What a win for one of the most ridiculous internet football series of all time.

5 Things I don’t care about

Marquise Brown’s middling stat line

Marquise Brown returned from an injury absence to total just 48 yards on three catches against New England. We knew it would be a tough outing against the Patriots stiff man coverage defense with Stephon Gilmore likely hot on his trail most of the game.

The rookie receiver still showed in flashes why he’s so special when the ball comes his way. He stacked a few early gains on the opening drive before disappearing for a bit. His third and final catch of the night came on a quick free-release route where his speed let him eat up chunks of space on a 26-yard scamper.

Plays like that last one are a verifiable example of why he’s so different. The Ravens didn’t have anyone like that for Jackson while Brown was out. The Oklahoma product is a true stat assistant, whose presence makes a quarterback’s outing look better every time. It was just a one-play glimpse but that reminded me of why this duo is so lethal together.

His fantasy managers won’t love the bottom-line but if you are invested in members of the Baltimore attack beyond Brown, you need to light a thank-you candle for the rookie because you can bet his presence changes things for the other weapons. The league already knows he’s a coverage dictator. Much like DeSean Jackson, whenever Hollywood is on the field, the entire complexion of the offense’s outlook changes as the defense adjusts. No one cares if that doesn’t show up in the precious box score. It matters.

The result of Jacksonville’s game in the QB debate

You know how NFL coaches tend to behave. Short-sighted, small-sample decisions are not uncommon. As much as fans can fall victim to over-weighing the result of an island game, it’s my belief that coaches and PR-sensitive teams can also get caught up in the reactions to primetime games that everyone watches.

With that in mind, it won’t be a shock to anyone if the Jaguars put more emphasis on the result of their Week 9 London game against the Texans — the only one on at 9:30 am EST — when it comes to making a quarterback decision. Rookie Gardner Minshew had his worst outing as a starter. He completed fewer than 60% of his passes, slaughtered his gorgeous TD-INT ratio with back-to-back picks and all too often couldn’t move the offense. All this came against a beatable Houston secondary in their first game without the help of J.J. Watt.

Nick Foles is due back after the Jaguars bye and recency bias could put him back under center. Of course, the Jaguars wanted Foles to be their starter all along. They didn’t sign him in free agency just to do him a favor. However, let’s be real. If Foles put up the stretch that Minshew did from Week 1 to Week 8, Jacksonville would be doing cartwheels over the signing.

Minshew has earned the right to continue to start for this team, despite what happened to today. Not only has he offered them an identity and a fire the Jaguars haven’t had in years, but his affordable rookie contract gives them flexibility for years as a franchise.

What the Lions want to be

Part of the rationale as to why fantasy gamers wanted to chase Ty Johnson as a waiver claim after the Lions lost Kerryon Johnson to IR was the team brass’ goals to be a run-oriented attack. Problem is, that hasn’t really been the case.

Detroit is middle of the road when it comes to leaning on the run, ranking 15th with a 41.4% run play rate. Perhaps that’s the way they want to think of themselves from an identity perspective; a tough, physical bully, like the idea of a good run game inspires. In reality, though, the Lions offense has been strong because of their passing game.

Coming into Week 9, Matthew Stafford ranked fifth in adjusted yards per attempt and sixth in passer rating among starting quarterbacks. The basis of their aerial success came on the deep ball with the gifted Stafford and his hulking outside receivers. Stafford’s 122 yards per game on passes that traveled 15-plus yards in the air trailed only Patrick Mahomes and Dak Prescott.

The passing game as the bread and butter of the Lions offense has been more apparent than ever with Kerryon Johnson out of the lineup. A true ground-and-pound team would have the type of ecosystem where they could sub in a true backup or even a light committee and produce on the ground. Think what would happen if the Ravens lost Mark Ingram or the Vikings lost Dalvin Cook. Gus Edwards and Alexander Mattison would instantly become fantasy darlings. In Detroit, we watched a backfield that saw Ty Johnson lead the group with nine carries and amass just 29 yards. J.D. McKissic was the top rusher with a whopping 32 yards. Meanwhile, Matthew Stafford put the team on his back with a 9.9 yards per attempt outing.

Maybe Detroit still clings to some identity as a ground-based, bully-ball team. That’s not who they are. And frankly, they’re a much more enjoyable team to watch as a result.

The Jets light schedule

We discussed this on the Yahoo Fantasy Football podcast this week; it’s a perfect time to start considering strength of schedule. However, to put it kindly, sometimes a team is too much an eroding wreckage for that to matter. The New York Jets confirmed on Sunday that they are indeed that team.

According to Sharp Football Stats’ strength of schedule tool, the Jets had the easiest remaining schedule heading into Week 9. We’re left after the conclusion of the week asking: So what? New York managed just 18 points and handed the tanking Miami Dolphins their first win of the season. No one really met any sort of ceiling projections on this offense against the listless Miami defense.

It took Le’Veon Bell 25 touches to amass 121 scoreless total yards. Robby Anderson was a total flop with just two catches for 33 yards. Jamison Crowder predictably led the way for his scattershot quarterback, collecting 83 meaningless yards on eight grabs. All of that is somewhat fine, considering the context of the respective players’ roles but it’s hardly what you want out of a group playing the Dolphins.

The offensive line and coaching staff are simply too large of debilitating forces for this scoring unit to succeed. Adam Gase had plenty of built-in reasons as to why his offense wasn’t working to start this season. Now, he’s looking like the reason fantasy managers will break ties against deploying players in his offense.

Investing too far down the Patriots passing tree

Julian Edelman is the rock of the New England passing game here in 2019, even as many parts have shifted around him. He led the team with 89 receiving yards but lost the top spot on the target chart to Mohamed Sanu at 14 to 11.

Together, the duo drew a look on over half of Brady’s throws. While Edelman and Sanu both cleared 80 yards, no one else on the team pushed 50. James White needed two strange deep receptions to get to his 46 to finish third on the team.

It looks like these two will be the funnel receivers for New England the rest of the way. Not only is no help coming via trades again this year but the bodies behind them just don’t have much street cred to fall back on. Perhaps rookie N’Keal Harry makes things interesting at some point this season but we are a long way from that right now.

Even more clear, the truth few want to admit right now is that even if there do end up being ancillary players we adore beyond Edelman and Sanu, the Patriots passing game isn’t the fertile soil it once was. As such, we just aren’t interested in branches too far down the tree for that team.

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