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Week 5 was a challenge.
The Packers and Lions had the NFL’s first regularly scheduled week off, the Patriots-Broncos game was postponed for a week, and the Titans-Bills was moved to Tuesday, leaving many fantasy football managers with hard choices about whether sit the Titans' Derrick Henry, the Bills' Josh Allen and other stars, unsure if a COVID-19 outbreak would claim that game too.
The threat of the pandemic wreaking havoc with the schedule hasn’t gone away, but now we have four teams taking their off week.
Cross your fingers.
The four teams scheduled to be off — the Raiders, Chargers, Saints and Seahawks — stings for fantasy managers, and not just because they’ll miss Josh Jacobs, Keenan Allen, Alvin Kamara and Russell Wilson in their lineups.
Their teams’ defenses are great for other fantasy players too. With the exception of the Chargers, all of those teams rank in the top 10 in overall fantasy points allowed (standard format), according to FantasyData.com. And the Chargers rank 14th.
Still, plenty of good matchups can be had if you know where to look.
Texans QB Deshaun Watson at Titans
The Titans gave Josh Allen a hard time Tuesday night, intercepting him twice, but the Bills quarterback still came away with two touchdowns and 18 fantasy points. And it seemed as if he missed John Brown, who was inactive with a calf injury.
One thing Watson seems to have in abundance now: weapons.
I’m going to refrain from taking a cheap shot at fired coach Bill O’Brien, so let’s chalk up Watson’s earlier struggles to a brutal first few games, injuries to receivers such as Brandin Cooks and a passing game that has been building chemistry.
“You never know who can make a big play,” Watson said via the Houston Chronicle. “One week it’s Will (Fuller), one week it’s Cooky (Cooks), one week it’s (Randall) Cobb, then one week it could be (Kenny) Stills or the tight ends. We have so many weapons that can really be very, very explosive. We’ve just got to make sure we take advantage of those times and those opportunities for us to do that.”
The Titans pass defense is middle-of-the-pack with a 94.4 rating by opposing quarterbacks.
Also consider: Lions QB Matthew Stafford at Jaguars
Steelers RB James Conner vs. Browns
After two straight 100-yard games, Conner ran for 44 yards Sunday against the Eagles, and yielded seven rushes in each of the last two games to Benny Snell. But in the big picture, sharing the workload has been good for Conner, who notched his third-straight game with a touchdown.
“Balance helps, particularly at the running back position, having that different skill set to balance your group out,” coach Mike Tomlin said via the Asbury Park Press. “For us, it’s about having a diverse attack.”
Conner also augments his value with receptions, and the Browns have allowed 5.8 catches per game to the position.
Also consider: Vikings RB Alexander Mattison vs. Falcons
Buccaneers RB Ronald Jones II vs. Packers
Jones passed the first test: surviving Leonard Fournette. So far Fournette has been just a Week 2 blip on the radar.
Then Jones hurdled the Chargers and Bears defenses with at least 14 fantasy points against each.
Now he draws the Packers. Not only have they allowed two touchdowns to running backs in all but one game, but the position is averaging a whopping 70 receiving yards against them.
Jones has received at least four targets — and as many as nine — in the last three games.
Also consider: Colts RB Jonathan Taylor vs. Bengals
Rams WR Cooper Kupp at 49ers
Injuries hit the 49ers hard in Week 2, and their woes persist in the secondary. Ahkello Witherspoon is dealing with a hamstring issue, Dontae Johnson (groin) missed Sunday’s game against the Dolphins, and slot corner K’Waun Williams (knee, hip) was placed on injured reserve before the game.
The Niners hope Emmanuel Moseley can return from a concussion, but coach Kyle Shanahan said he’s “not counting on this week” for Richard Sherman’s return from a calf injury.
The Niners have had to resort to Brian Allen, who has given up a perfect 158.3 quarterback rating, according to Rotowire.com, and Jamar Taylor, Williams' replacement after being promoted from the practice squad. The Dolphins exposed both. Jason Verrett might figure into the mix, as well as Parnell Motley, whom the Niners claimed off waivers from the Buccaneers.
The 49ers are trying to piece together a secondary with spit and glue — and on the fly, mind you — but the most vulnerable spot is slot corner.
Kupp has run the overwhelming majority of his routes from the slot or tight to the formation. He caught a touchdown pass in the Chargers' last game in San Francisco.
According to Pro Football Focus, Kupp has the second-highest grade — 91.4 — in single coverage, trailing only Adam Thielen.
Also consider: Jaguars WR Keelan Cole vs. Lions
Chiefs WR Mecole Hardman at Bills
Sammy Watkins (hamstring) will miss a few weeks, so you can take a bit more comfort in starting Hardman with all the competition in Kansas City.
Hardman figures to inherit at least some of Watkins' snaps; they weren’t that far off to begin with. Hardman runs the bulk of his routes from the slot and likely will face Taron Johnson, who has given up the most completions and yards among Bills defensive backs, according to Rotowire.com.
Also consider: Eagles WR Greg Ward vs. Ravens
Vikings TE Irv Smith vs. Falcons
Offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak mulled over why the promising Smith had just two receptions through Week 4.
“We’ve got to get the ball in Irv’s hands,” Kubiak said, according to Sports Illustrated. “That’s on me. He’s playing hard.”
Smith then had four catches for 64 yards Sunday against the Seahawks — not a huge haul, but it’s progress. Kubiak would be crazy not to target Smith and Kyle Rudolph against the Falcons, who have allowed seven touchdowns to tight ends.
Also consider: Lions TE T.J. Hockenson at Jaguars
Cardinals K Zane Gonzalez vs. Cowboys
Gonzalez hasn’t always gotten consistent opportunities, but the Monday nighter looks to be fireworks-filled. The Cowboys have allowed four field goals in two games and at least two field goals in all but one game. But not everybody can be as efficient as Russell “Touchdowns Only” Wilson.
Also consider: Titans K Stephen Gostkowski vs. Texans
Patriots defense/special teams vs. Broncos
The Patriots have had some highs and lows as a fantasy DST, but to be fair they’ve had to face the Seahawks and Chiefs, and the Raiders and Dolphins since have put up decent numbers too. The Patriots still have managed to score two touchdowns in four games.
For some reason they’re being dropped in Yahoo and ESPN leagues (about 5%). Someone please explain why. Are these really shallow leagues that needed the roster spot?
Drew Lock, who hasn’t played since injuring his shoulder early in Week 2 against the Steelers, has a good chance of returning for the Broncos.
Also consider: Washington at Giants
Panthers QB Teddy Bridgewater vs. Bears
Bridgewater has been solid in real-football terms (a 101.3 quarterback rating), but his touchdown percentage (3.6%) is lower than his 2019 rate (4.6%) with the Saints, and his interception percentage (1.7%) is also up from last season (1%).
It’s not a perfect breakdown, but D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson, who run most of the team’s outside routes, account for 49% of Bridgewater’s targets. However, Bears corners Kyle Fuller and Jaylon Johnson are holding opposing quarterbacks to a 61 and 67.1 rating, respectively. The Bears have held every opposing quarterback to a touchdown — including Tom Brady.
They might not shut out Bridgewater, but there probably are better options. Besides, this matchup is a revenge game for former Bear Mike Davis in what may be his last chance to shine before Christian McCaffrey returns from a high ankle sprain.
Also consider: Bengals QB Joe Burrow at Colts
Patriots RB Damien Harris vs. Broncos
The Broncos have been pretty tough against the run. The Patriots also have a lot of variables involved, such as Cam Newton or a host of other running backs siphoning prime scoring opportunities. Harris burst onto the scene with a 100-yard game against the Chiefs. If you can afford to wait, let’s see how that backfield shakes out.
Also consider: Rams RB Darrell Henderson at 49ers
Browns RB D’Ernest Johnson vs. Steelers
Replacing Nick Chubb is not so easy, huh?
Johnson found it tough sledding Sunday against the Colts defense, rushing for 32 yards on eight carries. The Colts give up just 3.8 yards per attempt to running backs, according to ESPN, and the Steelers are even stingier at 2.3.
The Steelers are more likely to give up receiving production, which is more suited to Kareem Hunt, who had some success in that phase against them last season.
Also consider: Jets RB Frank Gore at Dolphins
Washington WR Terry McLaurin at Giants
If you’re playing McLaurin in a PPR league, disregard this recommendation. But in standard formats, consider whether you have safer options.
The Giants might be bad in a lot of ways, but one thing they got right is shadow corner James Bradberry, who locked down the Cowboys' Amari Cooper on Sunday.
Quarterback Kyle Allen will start again if he’s healthy, but there’s no great comfort that he’s any better for McLaurin than Dwayne Haskins or Alex Smith. Last season for the Panthers, Allen threw 17 touchdowns and 16 interceptions in 13 games for a quarterback rating of 80.
McLaurin hasn’t shown quite the hot pace he displayed for stretches last season. He has had a couple of 100-yard games but just one touchdown. And he had his first dud (2.6 points) Sunday against the Rams, another team with a shutdown cornerback.
Also consider: Bears WR Anthony Miller at Panthers
49ers WR Deebo Samuel vs. Rams
Samuel eventually will get back on track but he faces some obstacles. He’s played Sunday against the Dolphins after missing two practices with an illness but caught just two of eight targets. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo got benched in that game and is at a crossroads with the franchise.
With few exceptions, the Rams secondary is solid across the board. If not for a rushing touchdown, he would’ve put up two duds against them last season.
Also consider: Ravens WR Marquise Brown at Eagles
Washington TE Logan Thomas at Giants
Thomas started the season with a bang but has really faded since then. He really cratered with a 0.9 (Yahoo format) against the Rams. The Giants give up the second-fewest points to the position, according to FantasyData.com.
Also consider: Buccaneers TE Rob Gronkowski vs. Packers
Rams K Samuel Sloman at 49ers
Sloman has only made more than a single field goal once and he has missed two attempts. If the Rams find themselves in an ambush against their division, it’s conceivable Sean McVay might opt to “go for it” more than usual, especially if he doesn’t fully trust Sloman.
Also consider: Bills K Tyler Bass vs. Chiefs
Buccaneers defense/special teams vs. Packers
Aaron Rodgers has taken just one sack in each of the last three games and has yet to throw an interception. The Packers have yet to score less than 30 points. Don’t even think about it.
Also consider: Vikings DST vs. Falcons
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