By JEFF PAUR
Sr Fantasy Writer
Drew Brees setup for success
And then there were four. Yes, we are down to just four teams in the playoffs. And the four teams are the top two seeds in each conference. It normally doesn't play out this way in the NFL, but it has fallen this way this season. This should make for a highly entertaining Sunday of games. Well, it shows that way on paper. We know things haven't been great the first two week of the playoffs, but here is to hoping this week's games are top notch viewing. I know I'm excited. Now for my random thoughts for the week. . . . .
It will be interesting to see what the Chiefs do at running back next season. Damien Williams is sure making it a hard decision for them. He just keeps getting it done as a starter and producing big in that role. He is a dual threat with great moves in the open field. Williams just seems a great fit for the offense. I wouldn't be surprised if they keep Williams as the starter and draft a back in the middle rounds to become the eventual starter. We'll see.
It is amazing to see what good coaches can do with that extra week to prepare for a game. This was on full display last weekend, especially in New England and Kansas City. Those two offenses put on a clinic against their opponents. And both those defenses were much maligned throughout the season, but did a great job last week. It was quite the impressive display of game planning. You can underestimate the value of having a great coach in the NFL.
I like the hiring of Adam Gase for the Jets. I think he'll be good for the development of Sam Darnold and that offense. Gase did do a few peculiar things in Miami while head coach, but he knows offense and has done well developing quarterbacks in the past. Darnold should continue to grow with Gase at the helm.
One hire I'm not so sure about is Kliff Kingsbury going to the Cardinals. This seems a really risky hire for the Cardinals. Kingsbury had a losing record as a head coach in college and has no NFL coaching experience. He had some top offenses at Texas Tech, which is why the Cardinals went this direction. He is going to need to surround himself with some proven coaches on his staff if this is going to work. I really think this hire was a swing and a miss for Arizona, but I have been wrong before. We'll see.
Another hire I wanted to mention, but didn't involve a head coach, was the hiring of Mike Munchak by the Broncos to be their offensive line coach. Munchak is considered the best offensive line coach in the game and done a great job with the Steelers the past few seasons. He gets a chance to coach up the Broncos unit and improve a running game that already was decent last year. This could really help the value of the entire offense of the Broncos going forward. And on the flipside, the Steelers lose a great coach, which could adversely impact that team's offense.
So Kyler Murray declared for the NFL draft. It will be interesting to see where he gets picked. He obviously has a ton of talent, but his size (5-9) is going to hurt his stock. That is really small for an NFL quarterback. Plus, he was a top-10 pick in the MLB draft and could end up playing baseball instead. There is going to be a lot of talk swirling around Murray in the coming months. It should be fun to watch.
News and Notes: The Eagles stated in their season-ending press conference Tuesday that Carson Wentz is the team's starting quarterback going forward. . . . .The status of Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is a bit up in the air. The team stated they aren't sure if he will need surgery on his shoulder or what a possible time recovery might be if he has surgery or doesn't have surgery. There were even reports Newton has a chance to sit out all of next year.
Drew Brees, QB, Saints. Brees did miss on some throws last week but had a solid game overall, throwing for 301 yards and two touchdowns in the Saints playoff opener. He has two straight 300-yard games. Brees is setup for big things this week, playing the Rams. He threw for 346 yards and four touchdowns against this same Rams team in Week 9. The Rams have been middle of the pack against the pass much of the season. Los Angeles allowed 31-passing touchdowns during the regular season.
Sony Michel, RB, Patriots. Michel had a career high 129-rushing yards and three touchdowns last week. He has 100-yard games two of his last three. He also has at least 50-rushing yards seven straight games. The Patriots could have a similar game plan against the Chiefs this week, rushing the ball and using a short-passing attack. This bodes well for Michel, playing a rush defense that allowed the third most fantasy points to running backs during the regular season.
Tyreek Hill, WR, Chiefs. Hill has three touchdowns his last two games and at least four receptions five straight games. He continues to get a workout on a weekly basis as the top receiver in the Chiefs potent passing game. Hill had his only three-touchdown game of the season against the Patriots in Week 6. You can expect him to get plenty of chances to make big plays in this one. He should do well against the Patriots, a team that was just 22nd against the pass during the regular season.
Chris Hogan, WR, Patriots. Hogan was targeted five times last week but caught just three passes for 13 yards. If there is a positive for Hogan, it is he has 16 targets his last two games. He is getting more chances to make plays. The bad news is Hogan isn't making many plays with those chances. At this point, Phillip Dorsett is easier to trust than Hogan despite Hogan having a better track record overall.
Jared Goff, QB, Rams. Goff has not played bad by any means down the stretch, but he hasn't been called on to do as much. He has fewer than 30-pass attempts three straight games. He also has fewer than 200-passing yards three of five. He is always capable of the big game in this offense, but you have to worry about him on the road in such a big game for the first time in his career. We wouldn't be surprised if he has some struggles this week, especially with the Saints defense playing much better than earlier in the year.
Brandin Cooks, WR, Rams. Cooks is getting some decent reception totals lately, but his yardage numbers have been pretty poor down the stretch. He has 65 or fewer yards six straight games. The big game has been nonexistent for Cooks, which is normally his calling card. We aren't sure he suddenly emerges this week despite a favorable matchup. He could draw Marcus Lattimore in coverage, which wouldn't be a good thing for Cooks.
Ted Ginn, WR, Saints. Ginn was on Injured Reserve much of the season because of a knee injury but returned late in the year. He has been a big part of the offense since his return, having eight receptions for 118 yards in two games. Ginn also has been targeted 15 times those two games, which is very encouraging. He might have the best matchup of the Saints receivers this week, getting the Rams No. 2 or 3 cornerback, so don't be surprised if the Saints exploit this favorable matchup.
C.J. Anderson, RB, Rams. Unfortunately, we had Anderson on our cold list last week. He proved us wrong, continuing to get plenty of chances in the Rams suddenly run-heavy offense. It really looks like this is the formula for the Rams offense right now, dominating the line of scrimmage with a powerful running back. Anderson should get his chances even in a backup role. He has three straight 100-yard games and four touchdowns during that stretch. Remember, he led the Rams in rushing last week, producing better than starter Todd Gurley.
Phillip Dorsett, WR, Patriots. Dorsett did little much of the season but is getting more chances this days, especially with Josh Gordon gone. He has touchdowns two straight and nine receptions in those two games. He is a good fit for the slot and can make plays with the ball in his hands. Dorsett is never a sure thing in this offense, but with Rob Gronkowski doing little right now, Dorsett could benefit with more targets. He is worth a flier for fantasy teams.
High/Low Scoring Games
Each week we will take a look at some of the high and low scoring games for the coming week. In high scoring affairs, get your marginal players on those teams in your lineup to take advantage of the possible points barrage. And in the low scoring games, keep those marginal players on the bench and make sure to have your defenses involved in those contests.
High Scoring Games: Saints/Rams, Patriots/Chiefs.
Low Scoring Games: None.
Jeff Paur is a two-time finalist for FSWA Fantasy Football Writer of the Year and won the FSWA award for Best Fantasy Football Article on the Web in 2011. He also was the most accurate expert in 2012, winning the FSTA Fantasy Football Accuracy Award. If you have any questions for Jeff, email him at email@example.com. Follow Jeff on Twitter @jeffpaur.
The New Orleans Saints signed long-time Minnesota Vikings punt returner Marcus Sherels to an undisclosed one-year deal on Thursday, according to a source. The 31-year-old was the Vikings primary punt returner for the last eight years and averaged 12.0 yards per punt return in 2018 to finish in the league's top five for the third time in the last six seasons. He was also used occasionally as a kickoff returner and was a backup cornerback. New Orleans ranked in the league's bottom 10 teams in punt return yardage the last two years. Sherels won't be an option in most fantasy leagues with his move to the Saints.
The Baltimore Ravens re-signed backup quarterback Robert Griffin III on Thursday to an undisclosed two-year deal. The 29-year-old will continue to back up starter Lamar Jackson in 2019. The former first-round pick can be an invaluable source for Jackson as he matures heading into his second season, but RG3 will continue to have no fantasy value.
The Indianapolis Colts signed free-agent outside linebacker Justin Houston to a two-year deal worth $24 million on Thursday, a source told NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. Houston had nine sacks for the Chiefs last year, but he was cut with the team trying to get younger and defense while transitioning from a 3-4 base defense to a 4-3 scheme. The Colts also run a 4-3, but they project to use him as a defensive end for the first time in his career. The 30-year-old has dealt with a nagging knee injury in recent years but still has 18.5 sacks in the last two years. The veteran will certainly help boost a weak Indy pass rush from a season ago.
West Virginia quarterback Will Grier had separate dinner meetings on Wednesday with the Carolina Panthers and Washington Redskins, according to NFL Network's Aditi Kinkhabwala. Carolina hasn't drafted a quarterback since taking Cam Newton in 2011, while the Redskins are still looking for another signal-caller after trading for Case Keenum.
The Philadelphia Eagles are signing free-agent defensive lineman Vinny Curry to a one-year deal worth $2.25 million on Thursday, a source informed of the deal told NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. Curry has the potential to earn an extra $1.25 million in incentives. He was initially drafted in the second round by the Eagles in 2012 and had 21 tackles and 2.5 sacks in 12 games last year with Tampa Bay. The 30-year-old pass rusher should play a rotational role behind Brandon Graham and Derek Barnett.
The Atlanta Falcons and wide receiver Julio Jones are both in a good place and plan to continue negotiating with the star wideout on a contract extension. The Falcons also plan to negotiate with defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, who received the $15.2 million franchise tag. They have until July 12 to reach an extension with Jarrett, but there is no timeline on Jones' deal. Despite heading into his age-30 season, Jones remains one of the best and most productive wide receivers in the NFL. He has now gone over 1,400 receiving yards in each of the last five seasons and has 100-plus catches three of those years. Jones also found the end zone eight times in 2018 after disappointing with only three touchdowns in 2017. There are injury risks, but Jones should still be one of the first few wideouts off the board in fantasy drafts.
The New Orleans Saints are expected to sign free-agent tight end Jared Cook, sources told NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. Cook, who turns 32 next month, had a career year with the Raiders in 2018, catching 68 passes for 896 yards and six touchdowns. The veteran can stretch opposing defenses down the seam and should open up more space for star receiver Michael Thomas on the outside. While it would be foolish to expect Cook to put up better numbers than he did in Oakland, he should remain a strong TE1 option in the high-flying offense of the Saints.
The New York Jets agreed to terms with free-agent quarterback Trevor Siemian on a one-year, $2 million deal on Wednesday, a source told NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. Siemian can make up to $3 million in incentives. The 27-year-old former Bronco didn't play at all with the Vikings last year while backing up Kirk Cousins. He was the starter in Denver in 2016 and 2017, completing 59.3 percent of his passes for 30 touchdowns and 24 interceptions. New York's addition of Siemian likely means that veteran Josh McCown, a 40-year-old journeyman quarterback, will leave in free agency or retire. Siemian won't have any fantasy appeal in his new digs while backing up Sam Darnold.
Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins met with the New York Giants on Tuesday night and has meetings scheduled with the Broncos, Raiders, Dolphins and Redskins, who all have a pick in the top 15 of the first round of this year's draft. NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said that Haskins checks off many of the boxes that NFL front offices look for when considering a franchise quarterback. Haskins showed his athleticism and strong arm at his pro day after producing a school-record 50 touchdowns and 4,831 passing yards in his lone season as a starter. Along with Oklahoma's Kyler Murray, Haskins is one of the top two QB prospects in this draft and he'll surely come off the board to a QB-needy team in the first round. Where he lands will help determine his future fantasy outlook.
Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin told Sports Radio 950 KJR in Seattle that "more surgeries (are) on the way, most likely." NFL Network's Mike Garafolo reports that Baldwin will visit with Dr. William Meyers soon to see about possibly undergoing sports hernia surgery, according to a source informed of the plan. Head coach Pete Carroll revealed during the scouting combine that Baldwin had knee and shoulder surgeries after the 2018 season ended. The 31-year-old showed his age last year while dealing with multiple injuries, catching only 50 passes for 618 yards and five touchdowns. Baldwin's fantasy stock is trending down after a poor 2018 season, and his latest injury and possible surgery won't help matters.
Arizona Cardinals pass rusher Chandler Jones, who was tied for seventh in the NFL with 13 sacks in 2018, is "very excited" to move from defensive end back to outside linebacker in defensive coordinator Vance Joseph's 3-4 defensive scheme. Jones led the NFL with 17 sacks in 2017 the last time he played outside linebacker. The two-time Pro Bowler will certainly be in play in IDP leagues once again in 2019. Jones was also up to 280 pounds heading into training camp last summer, but he is now down to around 255 pounds. With veteran Terrell Suggs in the mix, the Cardinals could be sneaky tough against opposing quarterbacks.
The New York Giants brass met with Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins on Tuesday night, according to NFL Network's Mike Garafolo. Head coach Pat Shurmur, offensive coordinator Mike Shula, vice president of player evaluation Chris Mara, director of college scouting Chris Pettit and assistant general manager Kevin Abrams were in attendance. The Giants have the sixth overall pick in the draft and will need an eventual replacement for Eli Manning. Haskins is a big-armed pocket quarterback, but he could probably use a year of grooming before taking over the starting job in the NFL.
Free-agent S George Iloka (Vikings) is visiting the Oakland Raiders Wednesday, March 20.
Updating previous reports, Los Angeles Rams QB Blake Bortles received a one-year, $1 million deal from the Rams, which will be subtracted from the $6.5 million the Jacksonville Jaguars owe him.
Jacksonville Jaguars RB Leonard Fournette has and will continue to work out with new University of Wyoming director of sports performance Ben Iannacchione, who spent six of the past seven seasons working in the strength and conditioning program at LSU - Fournette's alma mater. Fournette also spoke with executive vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin, who still has 'full confidence' in the player he selected No. 4 overall in 2017. 'With Leonard, a prepared Leonard coming into camp with a mindset that he discussed and we talked about ... I have full confidence in him. He does have some things he's got to prove when he comes back about his preparation, but he's a young, young player, he loves football, had an outstanding year, had a very disappointing year, and I think he wants to - we want him to be a great player and I think he's in the same mindset,' Coughlin said.
Fantasy Spin: Fournette was among the bigger disappointments in fantasy in 2018, twice missing an extended period of time with hamstring injuries and earning a suspension for coming off the sidelines to throw a punch in Week 12. Owners have every right to avoid him for his lack of durability, but he is also shaping up to be a value pick if he slides into the late third round area of fantasy drafts. Until further notice, he will still be the focal point of the offense. He'll also have plenty of motivation on what should be an improved offense.
The Houston Texans signed free-agent quarterback AJ McCarron to a one-year, $3 million deal on Tuesday, a source told ESPN's Adam Schefter. He'll serve as the backup to Deshaun Watson in 2019. The former Alabama quarterback has played in just 12 NFL games, including seven for the Bengals in 2015 when he took over for the injured Andy Dalton. McCarron has completed 64 percent of his passes for 928 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions. He won't be on the fantasy radar.
Free-agent LB Aaron Lynch (Bears) is scheduled to visit the Indianapolis Colts on Wednesday, March 20. Lynch has already visited with the Oakland Raiders and Seattle Seahawks this week.
The Dallas Cowboys signed free-agent wide receiver Randall Cobb to a one-year, $5 million deal on Tuesday, a source told NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. He's likely to replace Cole Beasley as the team's slot receiver alongside Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup. Cobb was a second-round pick of the Packers in 2011 and spent his first eight years in Green Bay. He had a career-high 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2014, but the 28-year-old missed seven games in 2018 with hamstring and concussion issues. Cobb's fantasy stock will be way down, especially going from quarterback Aaron Rodgers to Dallas signal-caller Dak Prescott.
The Oakland Raiders signed free-agent linebacker Vontaze Burfict to a one-year deal worth roughly $5 million (including incentives) on Tuesday, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero. Burfict roamed the middle of Cincy's defense for seven years, including a 2013 Pro Bowl season after he led the league with 177 tackles. The aggressive and controversial linebacker sat out due to suspension for three straight seasons and also has been hurt by injuries. It could be a perfect fit, but Burfict's days of being IDP-relevant are likely over.
The Los Angeles Rams signed free-agent linebacker Clay Matthews to a two-year deal worth a maximum of $16.75 million, a source informed of the situation told NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. The former first-rounder will return to his hometown. Matthews had double-digit sacks in four of his first six seasons with the Packers and was an All-Pro in 2010. The 32-year-old's play has declined in recent seasons, but he'll bring veteran leadership to an already stacked Rams unit.