By JEFF PAUR
Sr Fantasy Writer
Fournette will get lots of work
Well, those first round games were a bit of a dud. Hopefully, this week is better viewing for all of us. I'm not so sure about the AFC but maybe they will surprise me. I think both the Patriots and Steelers are looking strong to advance. It is a different story in the NFC, though. Both those road teams can win this week. I really feel that. So on paper, I would expect the NFC games to be better to watch this weekend as they should be closely contested games. We'll see. Now for my random thoughts. . . . .
The Jaguars need to address their quarterback position this offseason. Blake Bortles is a mess and has really regressed in recent weeks. He seemed to turn the corner some about midway through the season but all that has gone out the window in recent weeks. The Jaguars have a really good team but are lacking a passing game. An upgrade at that position makes them really dangerous going forward. I think they have to address this during the offseason.
Many have speculated this already but I would be shocked if Alex Smith was back in Kansas City. He had a great year but fizzled out down the stretch and lost in the first round of the playoffs. It is time for Patrick Mahomes to take over for the Chiefs. He will be an electric player for fantasy teams next year. I think he could be the next big thing in fantasy circles. Exciting times.
I like the upside of Corey Davis going forward. Injuries derailed his season but he was the top target at receiver this year while playing for the Titans. Davis has a legit No.1 receiver skill set. He was the top targeted receiver for the Titans last week and I think this will be a trend going forward. Don't overlook him come draft day because of injuries this past season. He has big-time potential.
And speaking of the Titans, I still don't know what to think of Derrick Henry. He looks like one of the best backs in the league one week and then disappears the next. I do think he'll get his shot next year as the lead back for the Titans, but I'm not penciling him as an elite fantasy back just yet. He needs to show me more, especially in the consistency department.
I'm anxious to see how both Nick Foles and Case Keenum do on the big stage for each of their respective teams. I have more faith in Keenum because of his play throughout the year. He has shown the ability to make the big play when needed and guided this team to a great record when starting. Foles has some past success but shown poorly in recent weeks, which is a huge concern. Either way, both these backups have a lot of pressure on them with both their teams expecting to go to the Super Bowl.
The Raiders made a big move, making Jon Gruden their head coach for the foreseeable future. From a fantasy perspective, this is good news for the offense, especially Derek Carr. Gruden is a top offensive mind and should get this offense going in the right direction once again. The Raiders were a hot fantasy team before this past season, but didn't pan out. The pieces are there for success, especially from Carr. Things are looking up for the Raiders once again with Gruden back on board.
Julio Jones, WR, Falcons. Jones had a big playoff opener, catching nine passes for 94 yards and a touchdown against a good Rams pass defense. Jones is battling some injuries but it isn't showing in his play. He continues to get it done on a weekly basis and should get a big workload this week against the Eagles. The Eagles allowed the eighth most fantasy points to receivers this season and were 17th against the pass.
Leonard Fournette, RB, Jaguars. Fournette wasn't great last week but managed 78 total yards against a good Bills defense. He got his touches and was a big part of offense once again for the Jaguars. Fournette should get a workout again this week against the Steelers. The Jaguars are going to feed him often to help keep the Steelers high-powered offense off the field. Plus, Pittsburgh allows the most fantasy points to running backs out of the remaining playoff teams. The Steelers also allowed 14-rushing touchdowns, which bodes well for Fournette.
Tom Brady, QB, Patriots. Some are a little down on Brady because of his late-season play and the recent article on ESPN about the state of the Patriots. It is hard to bet against Brady, though. He seems to play his best when adversity hits. And we wouldn't bet against him this week against the Titans at home. Tennessee is just 25th against the pass and allowed the 13th most fantasy points to quarterbacks this season.
Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Steelers. Roethlisberger normally performs very well at home but he is a concern for this week. He gets the best pass defense in football this week. The Jaguars allowed the fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks and ranked first overall against the pass. Antonio Brown is expected to return this week but his health is a concern. You have to wonder how healthy he'll actually be for this big game, which is another knock on Roethlisberger's value.
Mark Ingram, RB, Saints. Ingram has cooled some in recent weeks. He was shut down by the Panthers last week, rushing nine times for just 22 yards. He has fewer than 50-rushing yards three straight games and four of five. It likely isn't going to be any easier for him this week against the Vikings. Minnesota allows the fewest fantasy points to running backs and are second overall against the rush, allowing just 83.6-rushing yards per game.
Keenan Cole, WR, Jaguars. The return of Allen Hurns and Marqise Lee was a bad thing for Cole. He didn't catch a pass last week and was targeted just once. Cole remains a big part of the passing game but the Jaguars have more quality options to throw, which could lead to less work for Cole. Plus, Cole has a tough matchup against the Steelers, a team that allowed the eighth fewest fantasy points to receivers this season.
LeGarrette Blount, RB, Eagles. Blount has cooled since the arrival of Jay Ajayi, getting less playing time. He has fewer than 40-rushing yards five straight games. He is a back that normally excels at playoff time, though. Blount is a big back that can carry the load and run out the clock with a lead. This could happen this week for Blount, playing at home against the Falcons. He is worth a look as a flex play for fantasy teams.
Marcus Mariota, QB, Titans. Mariota proved us wrong last week, leading his team to an impressive road victory. He was a big part of the win, finishing with 205 yards and two touchdowns. It was an impressive showing for Mariota and showed his ability to be a big-time NFL quarterback. His challenge is even tougher this week against the Patriots but if you are going to beat New England, it is through the air. The Patriots allowed the seventh most fantasy points to quarterbacks during the regular season and ranked just 30th overall against the pass. Mariota could score some points in this one.
Corey Davis, WR, Titans. Davis was the top receiver for the Titans last week, catching four passes for 35 yards. He normally gets the most looks at receiver for the Titans these days, which is good news for him this week against the Patriots. The Titans could be playing from behind, meaning more pass attempts. It wouldn't surprise to see Davis have one of his best games of the season in this matchup. New England is just 30th against the pass and allowed the third most fantasy points to receivers.
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: Falcons/Eagles, Titans/Patriots, Saints/Vikings.
Low Scoring Games: Jaguars/Steelers.
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 Seattle Seahawks hired Brian Schottenheimer as their new offensive coordinator Tuesday. Mike Solari was also named the new offensive line coach. Schottenheimer most recently served as the Colts quarterbacks coach the last two seasons, but he previously was an offensive coordinator with the Jets from 2006-2011, with the St. Louis Rams from 2012-2014 and with the University of Georgia in 2015. Solari spent the last two yearse as the offensive line coach for the Giants. Both Schottenheimer and Solari will have their hands full, mainly fixing the offensive line and getting something out of what was a terrible running game the last two years. Russell Wilson remains one of the best and most athletic quarterbacks in the league, but these new additions don't really figure to benefit him all that much.
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs has certainly seen an increase in popularity this week. After making national news by scoring the game-winning 61-yard touchdown last week against the Saints, Diggs will look to keep the good times rolling against the Eagles. The Eagles defense has allowed the 14th most fantasy points to opposing receivers this season, including allowing eight touchdowns to receivers over the Eagles last six games played. Diggs finished the regular season with eight touchdowns and is coming off of an impressive six-catch, 137-yard performance. Diggs should see plenty of targets and will be a top-4 fantasy play at receiver for the final four of the NFL playoffs.
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen has had a career season with 91 receptions and 1,276 yards, including 74 receiving yards last week in the Vikings wild win against the Saints. But Thielen has only four touchdowns this season and has not caught a touchdown since December 10th. He has been a go-to receiver for quarterback Case Keenum but when the Vikings get in the red zone Thielen serves more as a decoy than a weapon. This week he will take on an Eagles defense that has allowed the 14th most fantasy points to opposing receivers this season. The Eagles have been tough on the run this season but can be beat in the secondary. Thielen is an excellent route runner and should have no issue getting open often this weekend. He may not find the end zone but Thielen is a top-4 play at receiver in fantasy for this weekend.
Minnesota Vikings running back Jerick McKinnon will look to make it two straight playoff games with a touchdown when the Vikings take on the Eagles in the NFC Championship Game. McKinnon punched in a 14-yard score last week against the Saints but will go up against an Eagles defense that has allowed the second fewest fantasy points to opposing backs this season. McKinnon is the de facto backup to Latavius Murray but McKinnon presents more athletic value in the passing game. While the Eagles will try and shut down the Vikings running game, McKinnon could see some opportunities to make some plays in the screen game. The Eagles have allowed only three rushing touchdowns since Week 4 of the regular season which means the Vikings will have to get creative in the red zone. McKinnon's name is flying under the radar in preparation for championship weekend and could certainly provide some fantasy value at a cheap price.
Minnesota Vikings running back Latavius Murray will have a tough matchup Sunday against the Eagles in the NFC Championship Game. It will be tough sledding against a defensive unit that has allowed the second fewest fantasy points to opposing running backs this season. Up until the Cowboys Ezekiell Elliott's 103 yards in Week 17, the Eagles had not allowed a single 100-yard runner all season. Murray has become a reliable force in the red zone, scoring eight rushing touchdowns in the regular season and punching in for another score last week in the playoffs against the Saints. But the Eagles have allowed only three rushing touchdowns since Week 4, making this one of the stingiest match ups Murray will see all season. Murray could struggle to post a solid fantasy stat-line and will be a touchdown-dependent option this championship weekend.
Kansas City Chiefs TE Travis Kelce (concussion) will not participate in the Pro Bowl due to a concussion he suffered in the playoffs. Tennessee Titans TE Delanie Walker has been named as Kelce's replacement.
Minnesota Vikings quarterback Case Keenum will head into the NFC Championship game against the Eagles with his confidence at an all-time high. Keenum was playing solid football last week against the Saints but it was in the final moments where he really shined in helping create the Minnesota Miracle. He has a career-high 22 touchdown passes during the regular season but will go up against an elite Eagles defense one more stepping stone away from the Super Bowl. The Eagles have allowed the 11th fewest fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks this season with 19 interceptions during the regular season. The unit has played extremely well of late, holding opponents to less than 227 passing yards in nine of their last 10 games, including the playoffs. Keenum will have to protect the football and could be in line for a less than stellar fantasy stat line. Nonetheless, he will be the second best quarterback option (behind the Patriots' Tom Brady) in fantasy heading towards championship weekend.
Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian is expected to return in 2018 with full confidence from head coach Dan Quinn and his staff. The Falcons took a notable step back in 2017 with Sarkisian in his first full year as the coordinator after the departure of Kyle Shanahan. Quarterback Matt Ryan's numbers were expected to disappoint after his 2016 MVP season, and Atlanta's offense as a whole never really reached its full potential. With Sarkisian likely sticking around, it may be good news for the continuity of the unit, especially since they should be getting most of their weapons back. It wouldn't hurt to upgrade at the receiver position, though.
Philadelphia Eagles QB Nick Foles has thrown just one touchdown compared to two interceptions in five games played in Philadelphia this season. Meanwhile, he has thrown four touchdowns and zero interceptions in two road contests. The Eagles face the Minnesota Vikings in Philadelphia in the NFC Championship this weekend.
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees says he has no plans to test the market, and that he hopes to re-sign with the Saints before the start of the new league year. "I'm not in the mood to make anything secretive," Brees said. "It's the same way I felt two days ago. It's the same way I felt 12 years ago. That is that I'll be here as long as they'll have me, hopefully." Brees, who turned 39 on Monday, cannot be franchise tagged, giving him a little leverage even if he insists he does not want to test the market. Brees' main goal could be some guaranteed money for 2019.
Seattle Seahawks LB Bobby Wagner (hamstring) will not participate in the 2018 Pro Bowl due to a hamstring injury. Wagner has been dealing with the ailment since late in the season and will be replaced on the Pro Bowl roster by Tampa Bay Buccaneers LB Kwon Alexander.
Atlanta Falcons WR Julio Jones (ankle) will not participate in the 2018 Pro Bowl due to his nagging ankle injury. Green Bay Packers WR Davante Adams will take Jones' place in the Pro Bowl.
The Arizona Cardinals are putting in second interview requests for their head coach position today. Among those expected to get a call are Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak and Eagles quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo. With so much still in flux, it is still uncertain what the fantasy values of the various Cardinals players will be following this process. Keep an eye on who gets the job and how it will affect players such as running back David Johnson and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.
Jacksonville Jaguars rookie running back Leonard Fournette was involved in a minor car accident Tuesday when his car was rear ended. Fournette was fine and was able to drive home after the accident. Of greater concern for Fournette's availability in the AFC title game against the Patriots is the ankle that he aggravated in the Divisional Round against the Steelers. Fournette's ankle has bothered him at times this season, but he was able to return against the Steelers and carried the Jaguars offense with three touchdowns. Fournette may be somewhat limited in what he can do against the Pats, but rest assured that he'll be the focal point of the offense yet again as they try to pull a second straight huge upset. T.J. Yeldon filled in admirably when Fournette left the game last weekend, and he figures to have a big role as well, even if Fournette is playing.
Seattle Seahawks defensive end Cliff Avril (neck) intends to play again in 2018 despite missing most of the 2017 season with a career-threatening neck ailment. "Right now it's all about recovery. I had surgery. I'm in the process of recovering. It's a long process, a long journey. When I get to the end of that, then I'll figure out what's next," Avril said. Avril was injured in Week 4 and missed the rest of the season, and head coach Pete Carroll even said it would be tough for Avril to ever play again. It remains to be seen how effective Avril can be after his neck injury in 2017, but if he can return to anywhere close to his pre-injury form, his return will be a big boost to a Seattle defense that fell off in 2017, mainly due to injuries.
The Cleveland Browns are interviewing former New York Giants head coach Ben McAdoo for their vacant offensive coordinator position on Tuesday. McAdoo's tenure with the Giants didn't end well as he went 2-10 this past season and caught fire for benching longtime starting quarterback Eli Manning. Despite the rough season, McAdoo has had plenty of success as a play-caller in the NFL, leading the Giants to the sixth-most points in the league in 2015 when he was their offensive coordinator. McAdoo, along with former Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Mularkey and former Texans quarterbacks coach Sean Ryan have all been linked to the job opening.
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was asked on his radio show on Tuesday whether he wanted offensive coordinator Todd Haley back in 2018. Roethlisberger responded by saying, "The least amount of change the better. We don't want to have big changes because we're right there, we're on the cusp...We feel we have some great things going for us." Rumors of a fracture between Haley and Roethlisberger popped up during the season but it is apparent those issues were overblown. Roethlisberger went on to state, "I think its perceived as a bigger deal than it was." Haley is not under contract for the 2018 season but the Steelers could look to bring him back with the support of Roethlisberger.
New Orleans Saints LB Hau'oli Kikaha (ankle) proclaimed himself 'ready right now' when asked by reporters Tuesday, Jan. 16, whether or not he would be ready for OTAs.
Tennessee Titans general manager Jon Robinson remains confident that quarterback Marcus Mariota is the right guy for the gig, and Robinson isn't too worried that the team will have yet another head coach guiding the offense in 2018. "Marcus is a pretty resilient guy. He's a very mentally tough guy," Robinson said of Mariota. "He takes a lot from the standpoint of ownership in things. I have zero concern in Marcus being able to adapt and learn, and do what's best to get the offense going." Mariota will be playing for his third NFL coach after being drafted in 2015. It was a disappointing year for the Hawaiin in 2017, as he threw for just 3,232 yards with 13 touchdowns and 15 interceptions after throwing for 3,426 yards and 26 touchdowns in 2016. Injuries slowed Mariota down again, but he has plenty of pieces around him in the offense to be successful. The right coaching staff may be able to get more out of him, but fantasy owners probably won't want any part of Mariota, definitely not as a QB1.
New Orleans Saints TE Coby Fleener is set to count $8 million against the cap with a $6.3 million salary in 2018, making it highly unlikely he will stay with the team unless he agrees to a pay cut on the five-year, $36 million contract he signed in 2016. The Saints choose to release him, they would still be charged $4.8 million in dead money.