Wed Nov 7 10:32 pm
At the highest point of their quarterback careers, the Indianapolis Colts' Andrew Luck and Jacksonville Jaguars' Blake Bortles advanced their respective teams to AFC Championship Game losses at New England.
But aside from both being first-round draft picks who are bringing 3-5 teams coming off a bye into an AFC South Division game Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium, that's about where the similarities end.
Luck, after missing 2017 due to shoulder surgery, is having a career year and the Colts are coming off back-to-back wins for the first time since 2016. He's on pace for career bests in most major passing categories, proof that he's better than when he led the team to a 41-7 loss to the Patriots just one step away from the Super Bowl in the 2014 postseason.
Bortles, who had one of his best games in a 24-20 AFC title game loss to the Patriots in January, is at the helm of a sputtering offense that is 30th in points scored and largely to blame for a four-game losing streak. The Jaguars have been outscored 114-46 during that span.
Neither team can afford a loss, considering division leader Houston (6-3) is on a six-game winning streak, so this game takes on added importance. Not that at least one Colts player wants to look at it that way.
"Not make or break," said Colts four-time Pro Bowl wide receiver T.Y. Hilton. "We know what we need to do and how to get there. We've just got to win."
Indianapolis could find itself right back in the hunt of the AFC South title despite winning just once in their first six games. The Colts have won back-to-back games and play their next three games in the confines of Lucas Oil Stadium.
Bortles knows the margin for error is very small for the Jaguars the rest of the season.
"I think they are all must-wins for me from here on out," Bortles said. "I think we have to win them all. Maybe you get lucky and lose a couple and find a way to still make it, but I think you have to win them all and for sure starting with the first one."
Bortles, whose 81.4 passer rating ranks 31st among quarterbacks who have started multiple games, is also dealing with a left, non-throwing shoulder injury. He says he'll be OK, but he's faced continual scrutiny for an offense that has averaged just 10.5 points in its five losses. He has just 10 touchdown passes with eight interceptions, has lost three of five fumbles and taken 18 sacks.
Luck, whose 96.2 passer rating ranks 15th, is directing an offense that has scored 30 or more points in three consecutive games, the first time that's happened for the franchise since 2010. And his 23 TD passes are the most in his career for the first eight games and second most in team history, trailing only Peyton Manning's 26 in 2004.
Whereas Bortles will be facing an inconsistent Colts defense that, among other negatives, is 25th in points allowed at 26.6 per game, Luck is facing the NFL's No. 1 pass defense. The Jaguars allow just 190 passing yards per game. And they're also second in fewest total yards allowed at 313.2 per game.
"They have really good players all over," Luck said Wednesday of the Jaguars. "They've got guys who can cover, they've got really, really good linebackers, they've got a really stout, strong defensive line and they play the system really well. So it's a combination of a lot of factors. At the end of the day, this game is about the players on the field and they have a lot of good ones."
Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone has been particularly impressed with how the Colts have protected Luck. A reshuffled offensive line that has used 11 different starters has kept Luck from being sacked on 156 consecutive pass attempts. Couple that with a resurgent rushing game that has amassed more than 200 yards in the last two wins and it's no secret why the Colts offense has been clicking at a high level.
"It's a really, really good group and honestly right now collectively, I would have to say when you look at them on film they're probably the best offensive line that we have seen this year," Marrone said.
Bortles, the third overall pick in 2014, concedes his offense needs to vastly improve come Sunday.
"If I knew, if anybody knew," Bortles said of the issues, "we'd fix it in a heartbeat."
Colts first-year head coach Frank Reich is confident his fixed offensive line will be able to block a strong Jaguars defensive front, but admits the opponent poses the "toughest test" for his offense this season.
"It is having really good cover guys," Reich said, "but really I think it starts up front with the pressure that they get on the quarterback. That combination is obviously a really good combination to have. The good secondary play they are getting -- sometimes you get good secondary play just because you get good pressure and you could have average corners and good pressure and it looks good in the back end. This team is good up front, but they are also good on the back end as well."
The Colts must contend with a 4-3 scheme that relies on a front four led by pass-rushing ends Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue, who each have a team-high five sacks. Because the Jaguars can count on standout cornerbacks Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye in man-to-man coverage, that frees up linebackers to blitz and speed up the internal clock of opposing passers.
The Jaguars appear to have good news on the horizon. Running back Leonard Fournette practiced for the second time this week and while still showing up on the injury report, all indications are that he'll be in the starting lineup come Sunday. That's a plus. The Jaguars are 2-0 in the two games he's played in this season. Without him, they are 1-5.
If Fournette is in the starting lineup on Sunday, the Jaguars will not hold back on using him. Marrone made that crystal clear on Sunday, when he was asked if the Jaguars would limit his carries to any degree.
"You're asking me if he is able to play, are we going to kind of hold back or just kind of work him into it? We are full-boring everybody," Marrone said. "Once a guy is ready to play, that has to be our expectation."
"Another guy we got to fight, defend and stop," Colts defensive tackle Al Woods said of Fournette. "So it's going to be interesting, it's going to be a dog fight. Can't wait."
Indianapolis Colts starting free safety Malik Hooker (hip) is expected to miss this week's game against the Tennessee Titans. Hooker has been dealing with the injury since their Week 7 win over the Buffalo Bills. He was able to return last week against the Jacksonville Jaguars after missing a game against the Oakland Raiders and having the bye to rest up. After not practicing all week, the Colts are choosing to hold him out in hopes that he will be ready to go for next week's game. His play-making will be missed on the back end, and it's likely that Mike Mitchell will start in his place this week.
Green Bay Packers tight end Jimmy Graham (hand) broke his thumb in a Week 11 matchup against the Seattle Seahawks on Thursday night. He is expected to miss 4-6 weeks. Graham has been underwhelming, although useful in fantasy in 2018, producing in the bottom of the TE1 range. He has lost a step since his time in New Orleans and does not see the high red zone usage that he had in Seattle. Green Bay has never utilized their tight ends extensively, so this outcome hasnt been much of a surprise. Veteran tight end Lance Kendricks will take most of Grahams snaps. Tight end Robert Tonyan had a big touchdown grab in Week 11 but is unlikely to see any additional work even with Grahams injury. Kendricks is a reliable, although unremarkable player. He is unlikely to accomplish much in the tight end light Green Bay offense. Graham can be dropped without too much concern. His ceiling is not high enough to warrant chewing up a bench spot for weeks. Kendricks should only be picked up in more desperate situations.
The Philadelphia Eagles activated tight end Richard Rodgers from injured reserve on Friday. He replaces Josh Perkins (knee), who was put on injured reserve, on the 53-man roster. The 26-year-old has been out all season due to a knee injury that he suffered during the preseason. Rodgers is expected to serve as the Eagles' third tight end, behind Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert, against the Saints in Week 11. Fantasy owners can ignore the fifth-year vet.
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco (hip) is doubtful for the Week 11 matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals. The 33-year-old did not partake in any of the Ravens' three practices this week, and it was disclosed during the team's bye week that he suffered the injury during the loss to the Steelers in Week 9. While it does not look good for the 11th-year vet to suit up against the Bengals, coach John Harbaugh said earlier in the week that Flacco did not have to practice to play in the game. Flacco has struggled recently, but if he can give the Ravens anything, it wouldn't be a total surprise that Harbaugh started him in what essentially is a must-win game. Lamar Jackson or Robert Griffin will start under center if Flacco can't go.
On one hand, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers can't defend. On the other hand, the New York Giants can't offend (except their fans). Classic movable object meeting a stoppable force situation. The Giants added guard Jamon Brown last week and shored up their line enough to only give up one sack. With weapons all around the field, it doesn't matter that Eli Manning is still throwing to them. No way should the Buccaneers D/ST be recommended this week but if you have to start them it might not be the worst idea.
Los Angeles Rams WR Robert Woods has had at least 70 receiving yards in nine straight games heading into a Week 11 matchup with a Kansas City Chiefs team that is allowing the third-most receiving yards per game.
Fantasy Spin: Woods has shown one of the safest floors among fantasy receivers all year, and he shouldn't slow down in what will likely be a high-scoring affair against the Chiefs.
Houston Texans RB Lamar Miller faces the Washington Redskins in Week 11, and the Redskins have allowed the fifth-fewest rushing yards per game this season.
Fantasy Spin: After a couple of 100-yard rushing efforts, Miller delivered a dud against the Denver Broncos last time out. He's been held under 50 rushing yards in four of his last six games and could be headed for another rough outing against Washington. He's just a volume-based flex play.
Baltimore Ravens RB Alex Collins faces the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 11, and the Bengals are allowing the second-most rushing yards per game and the fourth-most yards per rush.
Fantasy Spin: Collins has struggled with efficiency this year, but he has seven touchdowns and routinely receives double-digit touches. He should be a solid RB2 against a weak Cincinnati run defense.
Chicago Bears LB Roquan Smith has 22 total tackles, including 19 solo stops and a sack, over his last two games, and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said Smith is 'processing quicker' and playing faster.
Dallas Cowboys WR Allen Hurns has played less than 20 snaps in back-to-back games, but he said he is staying patient. 'Just wait for the opportunity and control what I can,' Hurns said.
Fantasy Spin: Hurns has been a disappointment all year, and with Amari Cooper now in the mix, there is no reason to expect him to turn things around.
Detroit Lions WR Bruce Ellington should see 'a lot more work' against the Carolina Panthers in Week 11 with WR Marvin Jones (knee) ruled out, according to Michael Rothstein of ESPN.com.
Green Bay Packers TE Jimmy Graham (thumb) could miss a few weeks while recovering from a broken thumb, according to David J. Chao, MD.
Fantasy Spin: The injury could push Davante Adams' heavy workload to another level, and it will also open the opportunity for someone to emerge as the No. 2 option in the passing attack.
The last time we saw Denver Broncos tight end Jeff Heuerman in action (Week 9) he was having himself quite the day. Possibly the best game he'll ever play over the course of his NFL career. Heuerman brought in 10 of 11 targets for 83 yards and a touchdown, and while I don't believe this will be the norm sans Demaryius Thomas, I do believe it's a positive sign on things to come. Especially, considering the Chargers have allowed three of the last four TEs they've faced to eclipse 50 yards receiving while surrendering three TDs to the position over that stretch. Heuerman was used to neutralize the stout Texans pass rush in Week 9, and it would only make sense for the Broncos to employ a similar strategy given the Chargers affinity to get after the QB. He could be in for an encore in this one, and should be viewed as a viable streaming option for fantasy owners in Week 11.
Denver Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders is coming off two of his lowest yardage totals of the 2018 season -- 57 in Week 8, 47 in Week 9 -- and will have his work cut out for him in Week 11 against a respectable Chargers defense. However, he's seen at least seven targets in seven of the Broncos nine games this season, remains the No. 1 option in this passing attack, and has put up 78.6 yards per game (13th among WRs). Despite the inconsistent play of quarterback Case Keenum, and the less than ideal matchup, Sanders remains a WR2 in Week 11 based on volume and pedigree.
We may have to wait another week to see Denver Broncos wide receiver Courtland Sutton realize his post-Demaryius Thomas breakout as his squad faces a respectable Week 11 foe in the Los Angeles Chargers. Truth be told, this Chargers defense has benefited from facing some not exactly prolific passing offenses -- Buffalo, San Francisco, Oakland (twice)-- but they've allowed just three 100-yard receivers on the season and at 148.8, have given up the seventh-fewest yards per game to the position; just one receiver has found the end zone against them over their last four contests. Sutton is likely to see a minimum of five targets -- so he shouldn't go out silent -- but I wouldn't expect much more than low-end WR2 numbers in this one.
Seattle Seahawks RB J.D. McKissic (foot) will return to practice next week, according to head coach Pete Carroll.
Denver Broncos running back Phillip Lindsay capitalized on the absence of teammate Royce Freeman in Weeks 8 and 9 -- rushing for 155 yards and a touchdown while catching five passes for 41 -- but Freeman was a full-participant in Thursday's practice - signaling the end of Lindsay's run as the man. Lindsay averaged 10.5 fantasy points per game (standard) in the seven games with Freeman in the lineup, so Freeman's return doesn't completely extinguish his value, but this Chargers defense -- which has held opposing backs to just three rushing TDs and 85.7 yards per game -- just might. Nonetheless, given his production to this point in the season (and the six teams on bye), Lindsay still finds himself in the RB2 range; he's just on the lower end of the conversation.
Denver Broncos quarterback Case Keenum averaged 16.1 fantasy points over his last five games before the team's Week 10 bye. But, more importantly, he went into the bye on the heels of his first interception-free game of the season. Keenum told the media, "Its fire-all-the-bullets-in-the-chamber... time for this offense, but unfortunately, he'll draw a Chargers defense which has limited opposing QBs to one or fewer touchdown pass in four of their last five contests while accumulating five interceptions and 18 sacks. He's trending upward, but consider Keenum a low-end, 2-QB league option in advance of this less than favorable road matchup.
Los Angeles Rams RB Todd Gurley (non-injury) did not participate in practice Friday, Nov. 16.
Fantasy Spin: Gurley will have a favorable matchup this week and could receive a lot of touches since the game could be high scoring. He is a must-start option in all fantasy leagues.
Los Angeles Rams WR Cooper Kupp (knee), CB Nickell Robey-Coleman (non-injury), C John Sullivan (non-injury) and OT Andrew Whitworth (non-injury) did not participate in practice Friday, Nov. 16.