We’re 10 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.
Will Deshaun Watson overthrow another MVP candidate?
A month ago, we watched as Deshaun Watson took out the Chiefs in Kansas City. Despite some turnovers, Watson completed 71 percent of his passes and totaled three scores as his ground game barreled over Kansas City’s defense.
His injury in the week to follow is a major reason why, but Patrick Mahomes lost major ground in the week’s MVP race following that loss. Meanwhile, Deshaun Watson rocketed up the standings with a 105.5 passer rating and 115 yards on the ground over the next three games. He’s been steadily fantastic all season and is the undisputed catalyst of not just the Texans offense, but the entire franchise. His numbers point to a clear MVP resume.
Deshaun Watson’s passing metrics rank:
Touchdown rate: 5th
Adjusted Yards per attempt: 7th
Passer rating: 4th
Completion rate: 4th
In the needless culture of persistent, weekly awards chatter (which I’m aware I perpetuate), Watson lost ground in the mythical standings of the MVP race to Lamar Jackson in the last two weeks. It’s not really Watson’s fault. He was just on a bye while Jackson followed up his defeat of the Patriots with a romp of the Bengals that featured several season-defining highlights.
Watson has a chance to reconstruct the narrative this week. Helping the Texans take down Jackson in his own building would help launch Watson back into the top-two of the race.
The problem is, Jackson has a clear matchup advantage over Watson in terms of opposing pass defense. The Ravens secondary is one of the most transformed units in the NFL. A weakness to start 2019, now they go four-deep with a playmaker like Marcus Peters to create chaos when his offense maintains great leads. On the other side, Houston’s pass defense is wilting and their moves to help have been to acquire a pair of first-round busts. After gaining the rights to Gareon Conley, who the Raiders were thrilled to play against the same week they shipped him off, they picked up Vernon Hargreaves this week after he was released by the Bucs. Bruce Arians described the decision as “not hard” when asked if saying goodbye to the young first-round pick was a difficult choice.
Over their last three games, the Texans have allowed over 296 passing yards on average with a 7:2 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Their issues as a deep passing defense have been notable and that’s a problematic hole going into a game with Lamar Jackson and Marquise Brown. We know the quarterback is an every week smash play but Brown is a tough player to get out of fantasy lineups this week.
Does the Patriots receiver corps have the juice to rip Philly?
For months, the Eagles secondary was a safe haven for wide receivers. They were there when we needed to get Stefon Diggs going, ceding three scores to the star receiver. Philadelphia gave Davante Adams a line of 10-180 as a parting gift before he left the scene for over a month.
We knew that the opposing team’s wideouts held a matchup advantage over the Eagles on a weekly basis. It’s worth wondering if that’s the case here in Week 11.
For starters, pun intended, the Eagles are getting most of their primary cover corners back. With Ronald Darby, Jalen Mills and Avonte Maddox, the Eagles don’t have some star-studded defensive back room but this is more what we expected the unit to look like. The secondary is not about to turn into a team strength, but these players returning might be enough to not make it such a debilitating weakness.
On the other side of the field, we must also wonder if the Patriots offense has the type of juice to make the big plays against this secondary that we’ve grown accustomed to seeing. New England has a funnel receiver situation developing. The last time we saw them, Mohamed Sanu and Julian Edelman combined to see a target on 54.3% of Tom Brady’s throws. Neither is a big-play threat, however. The duo both caught 10 passes apiece but came in under nine yards per reception. So far, neither maintains an average depth of target in the double digits.
The Patriots don’t have much beyond them. Outside of pass-catching running back James White, no one else on the team cleared 30 receiving yards against the Ravens.
New England is far from a mess on offense; they just don’t have a ton of big-play potential. Edelman is an every-week starter and Sanu is well worth a sleeper play in fantasy. However, Tom Brady and his cast vs. the Eagles secondary certainly looked sexier on paper a few months ago.
Will Josh Jacobs run away with OROY?
The Offensive Rookie of the Year honor is probably wrapped up. However, with Kyler Murray really starting to heat up and quarterback deference always inhabiting these awards, Josh Jacobs could use an authoritative hammer drop on Sunday to seal his candidacy.
Jacobs has been one of the best pure runners in the NFL this season. According to Sports Info Solutions, Jacobs ranks second among running backs (min. 100 carries) with a 23.2% broken tackle rate and is third with 3.1 yards after contact per attempts. His physical yet slashing running style has given the Raiders a centerpiece they sorely lacked in Year 1 of the Jon Gruden era. Just having an identity has been huge for Oakland.
We really couldn’t ask for a better spot for that needed hammer drop than in Week 11. The Bengals have been a mess as a run defense all season. They might be the stone-worst in the NFL. While they sit at 29th in run defense DVOA, no team has ceded more yards on the ground and only the Panthers have given up a higher per carry average. Cincinnati even gets beat through the air by the running back position, giving up 10 yards per catch. Jacobs hasn’t been thrown to often this season but averages 9.4 yards per reception and is explosive as a route-running back.
It’s wild that Jacobs is just $29 in Yahoo DFS. While he doesn’t have the pedigree of some of the other backs that clear $30, he’s been just as productive. We might see his statement game here that gets him into that range. You’re getting a running back with everything we look for: A good player at home on a solid offense that’s favored over a bad defense. Jacobs is a DFS anchor this week.
Can the Chargers establish the run?
The Chargers have seemingly remade their identity in the wake of Ken Whisenhunt’s firing. Los Angeles racked up 159 and 146 rushing yards the last two games, respectively. In the four games prior, the Chargers had failed to clear 40 yards as a team. Not only is Melvin Gordon clearly in much better game-day condition following his return from a holdout, but the team also appears to be philosophically shifting to a run-based approach.
That will be a key component in how the Chargers attack the Chiefs this week. Kansas City just got barreled over by Derrick Henry for over 180 yards last week and is the 31st-ranked run defense by Football Outsiders. Considering they’re fifth against the pass, that makes the blueprint for how to approach a game with them ultra-clear. The Chargers will be all too happy to oblige.
If the Chargers are able to control the game with Gordon, Austin Ekeler, and the rushing attack, they not only have a chance to cover the four-point spread, they can sink this game well under its 52.5-point total. Of course, it’s a razor-thin margin for error. With Patrick Mahomes and his litany of playmakers against a defense that’s missed the second-most tackles (85) in the NFL this year, the Chargers could find themselves trailing in a hurry. Then they have to worry about protecting Rivers behind a defunct offensive line that can’t hang with now-healthy pass rushers, Frank Clark and Chris Jones.
While Gordon needs the script to go the way of LA controlling the action, Ekeler can benefit in both fashions. He could rip off a handful of big plays against this poor run defense but would be the primary receiving back in a catchup approach. He’s a risky fantasy play because the volume is fading but he makes sense when chasing a ceiling.
What does Nick Foles look like?
When projecting Nick Foles in Jacksonville in the preseason, my worry lay with the ecosystem. Foles has proven he can be a highly successful quarterback when the conditions are right. They were that way at times during both of his Philadelphia runs, especially the Super Bowl year, but were far from settled in his St. Louis years.
In the preseason it was easy to question Jacksonville’s ecosystem. However, not only did Gardner Minshew’s starting run show us his own worth, he helped bring light to the reality of this offense’s playmakers. D.J. Chark has broken out to become one of the best receivers at operating in tight spaces. Chris Conley has brought sizzle and playmaking flashes to a once dull wideout corps. Leonard Fournette is healthy and handling a workhorse role. He’s third in the NFL in touches. Not to mention Dede Westbrook, who isn’t having a good season but is a proven speed slot threat.
You hear plenty of people theorize as to “the type” of receiver Foles fits best with. Some metrics and Nelson Agholor’s success in 2017 would show you he likes the slot. He loved to throw to tight ends but Jacksonville doesn’t truly boast one. Others note how Alshon Jeffery came alive with Foles instead of Carson Wentz and assume he works well with contested-catch players.
The truth is, it’s probably all noisy guesswork. If you liked Chark before, you liked him because he’s good. Keep rolling him out there with confidence.
Foles has weapons to work with. And he’ll do so in an offensive system he’s familiar with and thrived in under John DeFilippo. Given what we know now, it’s clear Foles is in a much better spot than we thought in August. Now he’ll get to show us what that newfound hope translates to in a matchup against a defense allowing the fifth-highest completion rate in the NFL. This is a passing offense to track — and to play, in Week 11.