Soared and Floored: NFL Week 8 Fantasy Recap

Welcome to PFP’s weekly studs and duds fantasy recap for the 2021 football season! Here we take a look at some of the standout performances, both and good and bad, from Thursday’s and Sunday’s contests. These are more instant reactions rather than in-depth analyses, with things to keep in mind as the season progresses. Let’s see who took to the skies and who bottomed out in Week 8! No article for Week 7, but you can check out Week 6 here.

Players Who Soared

Credit: Big Blue View

Quarterbacks

Mike White: 37/45, 405 passing yards, 3 pass TDs, 2 INTs, 5 rushes, -1 rushing yards

We lead off this week’s article with the most unlikely top QB of the year: Mike White. The third-year veteran out of Western Kentucky got the start for the injured Zach Wilson. The first couple of drives went about how you’d expect for a backup to a bad team: A decent first drive ending in a score, followed by two awful interceptions. From there, though, White caught fire, able to command the rag-tag group of offensive players. He kept the Jets in contention as the Bengals struggled to separate against an inferior team. White looked good enough to start raising questions about if Wilson will even get his job back once healthy. A short week into a Thursday night contest against the Colts will shed some light on this enigma of a standout performance.

Justin Fields: 19/27, 175 passing yards, 1 pass TD, 1 INT, 10 rushes, 103 rushing yards, 1 rush TD

We finally got to see Fields’s potential shine through, and all it took was Matt Nagy to cede head coaching duties thanks to COVID. Just as expected, it was the rushing stats that are cheat codes for quarterback fantasy production doing the heavy lifting here. Fields still looked shaky as a passer but showed some flashes on limited attempts. It’s the top-5 rushing stat-line that showed what he can do as an athlete. Hopefully, when Nagy returns they’ll be able to start working this aspect of Fields’s game in more often. Heading on the road to Pittsburgh next week will be a true test for the young star.

Others of Note
  • Josh Allen: 29/42, 249 passing yards, 2 pass TDs, 8 rushes, 55 rushing yards, 1 rush TD
  • Jimmy Garoppolo: 17/28, 322 passing yards, 5 rushes, 4 rushing yards, 2 rush TDs
  • Tom Brady: 28/40, 375 passing yards, 4 pass TDs, 2 INTs, 1 rush , 2 rushing yards

Running backs

Credit: USA Today
Michael Carter: 15 rushes, 77 rushing yards, 1 rush TD. 9 receptions, 95 receiving yards

Along with his new starting QB, Carter exploded onto the scene against the Bengals Sunday afternoon. He not only led the team in rushing attempts and yards but also lead the team in targets (14 total). Unlike White, Carter’s rise was a bit more telegraphed. His snap counts have been steadily increasing, lead by his utilization in the passing game. He now has 23 total targets in the last two games, which is a recipe for sustained fantasy success on a team that will consistently find itself in negative game scripts. Carter will find himself as a weekly flex play if he can maintain this level of usage, especially in PPR formats.

Joe Mixon: 14 rushes, 33 rushing yards, 1 rush TD. 4 receptions, 58 receiving yards, 1 receiving TD

On the opposite side of the contest, it was a weird day for Mixon. The Jets defense which typically gives up all kinds of yardage to running backs gave Mixon a significantly tougher time than expected, only averaging just north of 2 yards per rush. The receiving work and multi-touchdown performance helped save his day in a big way. The good news is that nothing about this stat line is indicative of troubles to come. Mixon is still the clear leader in the backfield with Samaje Perine (2 for 16 receiving) barely getting any work behind him. He is one f the true workhorse backs in the league and will continue to have opportunities for big games fall in his lap.

Others of Note
  • Darrell Henderson: 14 rushes, 90 rushing yards, 1 rush TD, 1 reception, 3 receiving yards, 1 receiving TD
  • Aaron Jones: 15 rushes, 59 rushing yards, 1 rush TD, 7 receptions, 51 receiving yards
  • Elijah Mitchell: 18 rushes, 137 rushing yards, 1 rush TD

Wide Receivers

Credit: USA Today
A.J. Brown: 10 receptions, 155 receiving yards, 1 receiving TD

Brown is finally starting to hit his stride after a slow start to the season marred by a nagging injury. Julio Jones being inactive due to his ailments certainly helped his case as well. Brown has commanded 29 targets over the last three games, averaging 126 yards and compiling two scores over that timeframe. While this meteoric stretch is more of a regression to the mean rather than the new norm, it’s a great indicator that Brown is finally healthy and ready to contribute. You should not be scared to start him anymore, even in tough matchups against the Rams and Saints over the next two weeks.

Chris Godwin: 8 receptions, 140 receiving yards, 1 receiving TD

Godwin won the Brady roulette this week, as Mike Evans (2 for 48 with 1 TD receiving) was busy dealing with his long-time nemesis Marshon Lattimore all day. Godwin became the focal point of the passing game, continuing the positive momentum he had from last week as well. As Antonio Brown and Rob Gronkowski continue to battle injuries, Godwin should continue to see this increased target share in one of the best offenses in the league. However, those guys have a great chance to get healthy going into their bye week, so it remains to be seen how much Godwin will continue to be involved moving forward. The pedigree of the offense and his relatively safe 5 target floor will keep Godwin in the WR2/flex conversation every week.

Others of Note
  • Michael Pittman: 10 receptions, 86 receiving yards, 2 receiving TDs
  • Cooper Kupp: 7 receptions, 115 receiving yards, 1 receiving TD
  • Amari Cooper: 8 receptions, 122 receiving yards, 1 receiving TD

Tight Ends

Credit: The Fantasy Footballers
T.J. Hockenson: 10 receptions, 89 receiving yards

The season has not been as kind to Hockenson as his fantasy owners were hoping. While the third-year big man has been seeing a crazy amount of looks (at least 8 targets in six of eight weeks), the touchdowns and quality yardage just haven’t been there. What you can rely on is the targets: Jared Goff (25/34 for 222 passing) has been hyper-focused on Hockenson and the running backs in the passing game all season. That kind of consistency is extremely hard to come by at the tight end position this year. Look for Hockenson to retain his safe floor through the Week 9 bye.

Pat Freiermuth: 4 receptions, 44 receiving yards, 1 receiving TD

With Eric Ebron missing the game due to a hamstring injury, Freiermuth took full advantage of his increased role in the offense. He saw the second-most targets on the team (7) and continues to earn red-zone looks from Ben Roethlisberger. Right now he sits solidly in the TD or bust category of tight ends, but these flashes are very encouraging for his owners. Rookie tight ends especially take some time to reach their full potential, and the future is looking bright for Freiermuth so far.

Others of Note

Players That Got Floored

Quarterbacks

Credit: Yardbarker
Matt Ryan: 20/27, 146 passing yards, 1 pass TD, 2 INTs, 2 rushes, 3 rushing yards

Heading into Week 8, Ryan enjoyed some consistent production against bad teams over the last few weeks. With the Panthers coming to town, and Calvin Ridley missing this game and potentially the rest of the season due to personal reasons, he crashed back to Earth hard. Carolina shut Kyle Pitts (2 for 13 receiving) out of the game as much as possible and Ryan was unable to compensate. It’s time to abandon ship on Ryan for now with the team headed to New Orleans next week as the offense goes back to sputtering.

Kyler Murray: 22/33, 274 passing yards, 2 INTs, 6 rushes, 21 rushing yards

The scoring streak, unfortunately, ends for one of the most consistent quarterbacks in terms of fantasy on the year. This was a rough game all around for Murray. The abuse he was taking over the last couple of games has finally caught up to him, culminating in a bum ankle at the end of this contest. His favorite target DeAndre Hopkins (2 for 66 receiving) is also dealing with a reoccurring hamstring injury. One final egregious plunder by A.J. Green (5 for 50 receiving) that led to Murray’s second interception capped an incredibly disappointing game for the young star QB. Murray has 10 days to get healthy and bounce back against San Francisco next week.

Others of Note

Running backs

Credit: numberFire
David Johnson: 2 rushes, 4 rushing yards, 1 reception, -1 receiving yards

The departure of Mark Ingram from the Texans running back room has appeared to have caused an even worse situation for the team. No one out of Johnson, Phillip Lindsay (3 for 8 rushing), Scottie Phillips (5 for 11 rushing, 2 for 9 receiving), or Rex Burkhead (4 for 21 with 1 TD rushing, 3 for 27 receiving) managed to stand out during the game against the Rams. Burkhead may have come away with the score, but the Texans will continue to use this four-headed amalgamation of a running game. If Ingram leaving gave you even a glimmer of hope that you could utilize anyone in this running game, this should convince you to leave it alone for the rest of the year.

Alex Collins: 10 rushes, 44 rushing yards

This was another instance of too many mouths being fed, as Seattle appeared to be distributing the snaps across their whole running back room to keep Collins healthy. He had some injury question marks coming into this game, opening the door for Rashaad Penny (7 for 7 rushing), DeeJay Dallas (1 for 6 rushing), and Travis Homer (4 for 9 rushing, 1 for 3 receiving) to give it a shot. The good news is Collins is still the clear best runner of the group. Also, Seattle heads into their bye next week, allowing Collins to get fully healthy and take back command as Chris Carson continues to heal.

Others of Note
  • Nyheim Hines: 1 rush, 2 rushing yards, 4 receptions, 22 receiving yards
  • D’Andre Swift: 12 rushes, 27 rushing yards, 5 receptions, 24 receiving yards, 1 fumble lost
  • Javonte Williams: 9 rushes, 35 rushing yards, 2 receptions, 13 receiving yards

Wide Receivers

Credit: Doc’s Sports
Mike Williams: 2 receptions, 19 receiving yards

This was a disappointing day for the Chargers offense as a whole. Williams fell victim to Bill Belichick‘s old ways, getting schemed out of the game almost entirely. He’s now had two weeks in a row where he’s most likely killed your chances of winning. I would not expect this to continue, with matchups against Philadelphia and Minnesota in the coming weeks. Fantasy owners just need to take their lumps for now and hope Williams can get back to his scoring ways soon.

Courtland Sutton: 2 receptions, 40 receiving yards

Sutton’s dud of a game this week was a combination of Teddy Bridgewater’s (19/26 for 213 and 1 TD passing) low-volume passing attack and Jerry Jeudy (4 for 39 receiving) returning to the lineup. The dominance Sutton enjoyed over the last few weeks is now over, and he’ll once again be left to fight over scraps in a less-than-stellar offense. There is still an opportunity to shine here: Dallas and Philadelphia on the schedule next bring the possibility of having to play catch-up for most of the game. As long as Jeudy can stay healthy, Sutton is nothing more than a boom-or-bust WR2 even in those positive matchups.

Others of Note

Tight Ends

Credit: Best Odds
Anthony Firkser: 1 reception, 8 receiving yards

Firkser was a popular sleeper candidate going into the season and he is still trying to fight his way towards meaningful usage. He hasn’t seen more than 5 targets in a game this year and only has 4 total over the last three weeks. Geoff Swaim (4 for 23 with 1 TD receiving) got the only valuable points at the position thanks to the touchdown this week. Firkser is essentially irrelevant for fantasy unless the Titans suddenly change up their offensive gameplan over the second half of the season.

Ricky Seals-Jones: 2 receptions, 12 receiving yards

This is Seals-Jones’s first true dud game since taking over the primary tight end role from Logan Thomas. Denver’s underperforming defense was able to corral the Washington offense enough such that they were unable to do much overall against them during this game. His snap counts are still best in the league and that level of availability has been a serious boon for his owners. However, his time in the sun may be coming to an end as Thomas has made enough progress to have a chance to play after the Week 9 bye.

Others of Note

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Patriots Can Reframe AFC Playoffs Versus Chargers

Last year, the Patriots steamrolled the Chargers in SoFi Stadium. In front of no fans, the Chargers folded against an inadequate Patriots team whose strengths were often afterthoughts in the world of football. Special teams and defense carried New England to a 45-0 victory. A game where quarterback Cam Newton only had to throw for 69 yards. This game will surely be a whole different type of game. The Chargers have improved significantly, leading the AFC West, and look like an explosive team headed into the halfway mark of the season. Justin Herbert hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down and it looks like the hiring of Brandon Staley has worked wonders for the Chargers defense.

The Patriots are coming off of a 54-13 domination over the New York Jets. A game where the offense finally looked like it clicked. Mac Jones threw for 307 yards and two scores. Meanwhile, the defense suffocated anything New York gave them. The Chargers will be a taller task though, and will not be a walk in the park. The Patriots need to start stringing some big wins together. They’re just a game out of the playoff picture, the next several weeks will be huge in their push. So let’s get to it. Set it up Bailey, and let’s get this one underway.

Three Keys to The Game

Patriots vs. Jets: Live updates, score, news, game details - Pats Pulpit

Key #1: Keep Offense Hot

The Patriots finally put a complete effort on offense together last week against the Jets. Over 300 yards through the air, and nearly 150 yards on the ground. The Pats shouldn’t have any lack of confidence when it comes to the capabilities of this unit after such a dominating outing last week. Though the Chargers are far more talented than the lowly Jets, I don’t see any reason why the Pats should just collapse. There will be more resistance, but by no means should they be shut down. Josh McDaniels has opened this playbook just enough to show just how productive they can be. I wouldn’t expect another 300-yard day for Jones, but efficiency is within the realm of possibility for this squadron.

Key #2: Contain Justin Herbert

The sophomore slump hasn’t affected Justin Herbert in the least bit. The 2020 rookie of the year has been lights out through six games. The former Oregon Duck has already passed for 1,771 yards and 14 touchdowns, proving to be one of the most productive signal-callers in the game. He’s got a plethora of weapons to throw to. Mike Williams, Keenan Allen, Jared Cook, and Austin Ekeler out of the backfield could prove to be a nightmare for a beat-up Patriots secondary. Herbert will probably be airing the ball out and often to start, the Pats need to be prepared for the Chargers’ main weapon of choice.

Key #3: Neutralize Joey Bosa

Joey Bosa is probably the best pure pass rusher New England has faced to this point of the season. The sixth-year (yeah, that shocked me too) pro has already racked up 3.5 sacks and 8 QB hits on the year. Ranking top-10 in win percentage versus opposing lineman and the fourth-best graded edge rusher according to PFF. Isaiah Wynn or whoever ends up playing at right tackle this week will have their hands full versus the former Buckeye. If The Patriots are going to have a chance this week it’ll have to include making sure Mac Jones doesn’t get torn apart by Bosa.

X-Factor: Kyle Dugger

LOCAL PRO ROUNDUP: New England's Dugger 'hyped' for 2021 NFL season |  Sports News | hickoryrecord.com

Two interceptions in two games is really impressive for second-year safety Kyle Dugger. He’ll have his hands full against the crafty veteran Jared Cook this weekend. The Patriots love to man up against these tight ends with athletic safeties. Dugger certainly fits this bill and he’s taken over the Chung role to take on these freakishly talented tight ends. Adrian Phillips will play a significant role in this defensive gameplan as well, but I’m really hoping Dugger gets a chance to shine against one of the NFL’s best.

Closing Thoughts

Patriots-Rams betting: Sharps grab side, total | Las Vegas Review-Journal

What makes this game so appealing is that both of these teams are vastly improved from a season ago. The Patriots have totally remodeled themselves into an offense with some serious potential. Meanwhile, the Chargers have turned themselves into the top-tier AFC contender we all thought that they could be. Taking the AFC West and currently running away with it, with the help of the unforeseen collapse of the Kansas City Chiefs of course.

Even with all of that being said, I think New England is seriously onto something here. I haven’t seen the team this amped up since the departure of Tom Brady. No matter who it’s against, dropping a 50 burger on anybody is surely confidence-inspiring, and I think New England pulls out a tough win on this road trip getting back up to .500. Having them feeling good versus Stephon Gilmore and the Carolina Panthers next week.

Final Score: 31-28, New England (4-4)

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The Patriots Need to Close the Door on the Jets

The New England Patriots have a chronic issue. They can never close the door. Forget that all of their losses have been at home. They’ve been in every game they’ve played. There have been countless chances to win it. Versus the Dolphins week one, Damien Harris fumbled late and cost them. Versus the Saints week three, the defense held on just long enough but Jonnu Smith dropped a pass that got taken back to the endzone by Malcolm Jenkins. Week four against Tom Brady and the Bucs, a Mac Jones pass was batted down on the last drive of the game and forced the Patriots to kick a 56-yard field goal, just too much to ask of an injured Nick Folk.

Then last week against Dallas, they were simply outcoached and outplayed. They held a late lead but Mac Jones threw a pick-six and in overtime, Nelson Agholor dropped a pass that he could’ve taken all the way to end the game. The Patriots have nobody to blame but themselves for their 2-4 record. If it was not for the Dolphins starting out 1-5, they’d be perpetually in third place of the AFC East. Luckily, the third-place spot is about the floor for this team. As their opponent this week, the New York Jets, are more of a mess than almost anybody in the NFL. The Patriots floored them 25-6 in their week two matchup. Forcing four interceptions off rookie quarterback Zach Wilson.

I don’t foresee them having an issue keeping the Jets out of the game, but Gillette Stadium hasn’t been a good place for the Patriots this season. Which means we can’t rule anything out at home. So without further delay, set it up, Bailey! Let’s get this underway.

Three Keys to The Game

The Patriots-Jets rivalry has entered the Mac Jones-Zach Wilson era, but  the result is the same – The Athletic

Key #1: Confuse Zach Wilson … Again

In week two, the rookie in green threw four interceptions and saw ghosts, just as Sam Darnold did before him. It was obvious that the Patriots’ defense set the tone early and got in his head often. Obviously, Bill Belichick can’t just copy and paste his week two strategy. It’s been five weeks, and the Jets actually have a win under their belt against a solid Titans team. But being just as complex and overwhelming as they were in week two will go a long way. Get in the rookie’s head. I’m sure he’s baked more turnovers for the boogeymen to enjoy.

Key #2: Contain Quinnen Williams

The Jets aren’t good at much. But Quinnen Williams is a monster on the defensive line. A true force to be reckoned with. Not quite Aaron Donald, but he’ll wreck a game for your offense if you let him. He wins about 19% of his pass-rush snaps, which is in the top-16 for defensive tackles. He’s also already got three sacks on the year and is consistently ranked as one of the premier pass rushers in the NFL by PFF. Williams is a dominant force and the battered Patriots offensive line is going to have their hands full come Sunday afternoon. Mac Jones, per usual, won’t have all day to throw the football. Not only because the offensive line is that ugly, but that Williams is that damn good as well.

Key #3: Establish an Offensive Attack

The Jets quietly have a top-10 defense in both terms of rushing yards and passing yards. They stuffed the Patriots’ run game with only allowing Damien Harris and James White to have a combined 82 total yards rushing in their last meeting. Meanwhile keeping Mac Jones quiet, only allowing 186 yards through the air for no score. This is where closing the door comes into play. The Patriots cannot allow the Jets to get chance after chance because the offense stalls.

Simply relying on your opponent to be worse than you doesn’t work that often. Especially for the Patriots this year, no more evident than when they almost choked a game away against the Houston Texans, allowing Davis Mills to drop over 300 passing yards and 4 touchdowns on their head. Zach Wilson is much more dynamic than Mills. If he taps into his potential, he’ll take advantage of a lazy defense. Don’t make the defense work harder than they have to. The offense needs to pick up some of the slack. Whether it be Harris or Rhamondre Stevenson on the ground, or through Jones and the air attack, they can’t fall asleep.

X-Factor: Jonnu Smith

Jonnu Smith, <a rel=

A lot of Jonnu Smith’s teammates have been gassing him up, saying that a breakout game is coming soon. Could this be his opportunity? The Jets are a bottom-10 team against the tight end position according to fantasy points allowed. Not to say that Fantasy Football is the end-all-be-all of defensive rankings, but it’s a spot they’ve been vulnerable at and the stats show it. Hunter Henry has been eating the most recently out of the two. It might be Jonnu’s time to shine after a quiet handful of weeks. If he comes alive, this Patriots offense becomes so much closer to everything it’s supposed to be.

At this point, I’ll personally take any big-time impact from the new guys we brought in. We’ve seen Kendrick Bourne break out. Particularly last week versus the Cowboys. We’ve seen Hunter Henry become a consistent target for Mac Jones. It’s time to see Jonnu Smith become the same.

Closing Thoughts

3-Time Super Bowl Champion Richard Seymour Voted into Patriots Hall of Fame  | Bleacher Report | Latest News, Videos and Highlights

In case you missed it, Patriots legend Richard Seymour is getting his red jacket this weekend at Patriot Place. His induction into the Patriots Hall of Fame is on Saturday ahead of this matchup. Just to remember how much of a beast he was; he racked up 39 sacks over the course of 8 seasons with the team, 64 tackles for loss, and won three Super Bowls with the franchise. Making up one half of a deadly combination between him and Vince Wilfork, another surefire Patriots Hall of Famer and possibly bound for the NFL Hall of Fame at the same time. Seymour is well-deserving of this honor and will be remembered as one of the most fierce linemen of the Patriots dynasty, after terrorizing countless opponents in the biggest games imaginable.

As for the game at hand, there’s no reason Patriots fans shouldn’t be confident. This is a really abysmal Jets team, with a rookie quarterback and head coach still struggling to find their identity. Who were also dominated by New England just five weeks ago. But I think the Jets have a good chance of keeping pace with the Pats. The New England offense just hasn’t found its groove yet. They can compete with the best of them, but winning the game has proven to be something that they struggle with.

Despite all this, I will give New England the win. The Jets have failed to prove much of anything themselves. Despite good defense against the rush and the pass, they struggle to win more than New England does. Anything can happen though. We’ve seen Gillette Stadium become a grounds for losing it hasn’t seen in its almost 20-year history. I’d like to think that changes on Sunday.

Final Score: 28-12, New England (3-4)

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Motor City Bulletin: Week 6-7

We’re right around the halfway point between Weeks 6 and 7, and it’s time for my first Motor City Bulletin for Pro Football Press! This series will serve as a closing of the book on the previous week, and an early look forward to the next matchup for the Lions. In this edition, we’ll look at some comments after the Lions’ loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, as well as some comments from both the Lions and Rams sides of things as their Week 7 matchup approaches. We’ll wrap up with a very brief look at where the Lions and Rams are in the standings and a small discussion about the very obvious storyline surrounding this game. Let’s begin.

Closing The Book On Week 6

Photo Credit: Getty Images

As I mentioned in my Lions-Bengals review, frustration was apparent everywhere in the Motor City on Sunday. It was especially clear in Dan Campbell‘s post-game press conference. Speaking regarding starting quarterback Jared Goff, Campbell said, “I feel like he needs to step up more than he has. And I think he needs to help us, just like everybody else.” This is more of the now-familiar Dan Campbell brand of transparency we’ve seen since the day they hired him. Mixed in was that frustration I was talking about.

“We got whipped,” Campbell said to open his presser. “That was a beatdown,” Campbell admitted to being angry after seeing the performance. “That team is not thirty-something points better than us… we weren’t even in that fight. You look at our stats offensively, it’s because they were in Prevent Cover 2.” This version of coach Campbell comes in stark contrast to the version we saw last week in Minnesota with tears in his eyes after another heartbreaking loss. And yet, in the same vein, it’s not too different from that version of the head coach: he showed emotion. He showed, unlike past head coaches, that he cares.

After a day to clear his head, coach Campbell highlighted a bright spot to open his Monday presser. “I thought that one of the bright spots for us yesterday was that our defense, in the first half, was the most efficient we had played all year,” he said. “We just needed more of that in the second half.” Campbell said Sunday that he had “a million” ideas in his head on how to improve the team, but was vague about what exactly would change. He did mention that he liked the Lions’ offense while they were in a two-minute drill. And that while he thinks “there’s a place to huddle,” he may like to see them call everything at the line. “You gotta keep tinkering with it, and explore some of the things you haven’t done yet.”

When asked what the Lions’ offense has done well thus far, Campbell was blunt with his answer: “Not much.”

If you’d like to hear coach Campbell for yourself, you can watch Sunday’s presser here (starts at 13:50), and Monday’s here.

Looking Ahead To Week 7

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Paul Sancya

This upcoming game against the Los Angeles Rams is interesting for multiple reasons. We’ll get to the main storyline later on, but there is still a lot of interesting bits here. Detroit’s GM Brad Holmes and assistant GM Ray Agnew were with the Rams before coming to Detroit. Defensive lineman Michael Brockers is returning to LA for the first time since they traded him this past offseason. And Brockers is already focusing on this game following the loss to the Bengals.

“We’ve had some bad losses, and some losses where we barely lost,” he told the media on Monday. “One thing I know about this game, whoever is the most focused team, the team that executes the most, usually comes out to win on Sunday.”

When asked directly about his past with the Rams, the veteran defensive lineman didn’t give it much weight. “Yes, I do have a lot of ex-teammates on that team, and a lot of good friends. You know, there was no love lost between me and the Rams when I left. It’s understanding that I made a pro decision, and I came here, and we just gotta move forward.”

Shifting gears, coach Campbell mentioned on Monday a few players that he felt were coming into their own. He mentioned rookie corner Jerry Jacobs, who covered Bengals wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase on Sunday. “Jerry’s getting better. Jerry is improving, and he’s competitive, he plays hard, and he communicates well. We like where he’s going, and he’s only going to get better with reps.” Campbell also went on to mention how he saw improvement from guys such as rookie defensive tackle Alim McNeill, rookie linebacker Derrick Barnes, veteran defenders Austin Bryant and Tracy Walker, and second-year guard Jonah Jackson.

The Quarterbacks

Photo Credit: Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images
The Game

I’ve avoided the main storyline up until this point, but it’s time to talk about the quarterbacks. This game will be the first time that longtime Lions starter Matthew Stafford and longtime Rams starter Jared Goff will face their former clubs since the trade. And the way this season has unfolded for these two couldn’t be more opposite.

Goff has thrown for 1505 yards in six games this season, with seven touchdowns and four interceptions. His longest pass from scrimmage was a 46-yard pass to Quintez Cephus during the Lions’ Week 2 matchup. In these last two games, Goff has barely thrown for over 200 yards. It hasn’t worked out for him in the Motor City, and there is little hope that things will get better. Goff, like the Lions, is in something of a slump.

For Stafford, it’s been a much different story. He’s coming off a four-touchdown performance in a rout of the New York Giants. Stafford has thrown for 1838 yards, 16 touchdowns, and four picks. He currently sits with a 116.6 passer rating, which would easily be a career-high. Stafford helped lead the Rams to a 5-1 record, his only loss coming to the undefeated Arizona Cardinals. He went toe to toe with and defeated legendary signal-caller Tom Brady for the second time in his career. The Rams are one of the best teams in all of football, and they look like Super Bowl contenders.

Stafford also downplayed this matchup. “In pregame, am I going to be saying hey to some old teammates and friends, the Ford family, hopefully, if they make the trip? Absolutely,” Stafford said. “I’ve got nothing but great relationships with people over there, so have a lot of respect for the organization, the team, the ownership. It will be just another football game once the ball is snapped.”

Goff offered much of the same. “Pregame may be different emotionally, seeing some of these guys, old teammates, old coaches. But once the game starts, it’s all the same,” he said on 97.1 The Ticket. “It really is. We’re so focused on our own stuff right now, we’ve got so many things to worry about cleaning up and getting right and making it work on Sundays, that I don’t think me being selfish and making it more than it is will help us in any way.”

Campbell did acknowledge that these types of media storylines can add pressure on players’ shoulders, and it’s something he’s empathetic to. “As it pertains to this week, I think it’s really how do we give him the best plan possible to have success?” Campbell said. “I would do that with anybody, not just him. Shoot, I remember, last year, it was the Tom Brady and Drew Brees deal. You don’t think a lot about it, but those two guys going at it, that was all that was being pushed that week. It was a huge story and sometimes you take it for granted, the amount of pressure that those guys are under to perform.

“I know this is a little different, but in the same regard, I know it will be a big story,” Campbell said. “So how do we calm it down, just to where he can go and play fast and efficient? And us help him offensively — run game-wise, play action, anything that we can do that’s going to take a little bit off and help him play fast.”

The Trade

Monday saw Rams head coach Sean McVay revisit his handling of the trade that saw these teams swap signal-callers. “Yes, I wish there was better, clearer communication,” McVay told the media. “To say that it was perfectly handled on my end, I wouldn’t be totally accurate in that. I’ll never claim to be perfect, but I will try to learn from some things that I can do better, and I think that was one of them without a doubt.”

In the trade’s aftermath, Goff told the LA Times he hadn’t talked to the Rams since their season ended against the Green Bay in the playoffs. The trade left him “disappointed and upset.” Eventually, he grew to like the idea of playing in the Motor City. “Talking to the Lions,” Goff said, “is what made me go, ‘oh my God, this is how it’s supposed to feel. This makes me feel great,’ how excited they were, how fired up they were.”

Goff went back on 97.1 The Ticket on Tuesday and was asked if McVay’s comments meant anything to him. “I mean, yeah, that’s good to hear, of course. That’s good to hear,” Goff said Tuesday on the Karsch &amp; Anderson Show. “But at the same time, it was handled the way it was and there’s really not many hard feelings. It’s just the way the business is. We’ve had our talks obviously since the trade, back when it happened, but it’s alright. I mean, I appreciate him saying that, but it was handled the way it was.”

With or without this storyline, the Lions will be looking for their first win without Matthew Stafford since 2011. They are 0-14 in that stretch. To close this out, here is where the Lions and Rams are in the standings. Let’s look to see if the outcome of this game changes their divisional standing.

Standings

Detroit Lions: 0-6, 4th in NFC North. A win or loss doesn’t change their standing in the NFC North. The Vikings and Bears both have three wins, so they’re not losing ground to a one-win Lions team or a still winless Lions team.

Los Angeles Rams: 5-1, 2nd in NFC West. A win or loss won’t change their standing in the NFC West, even if the Cardinals lose to the 49ers. The Cardinals have a better head-to-head record, and therefore will retain first place even with a loss.

Featured Photo Credit: Daniel Mears/Detroit News

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Soared and Floored: NFL Week 6 Fantasy Recap

Welcome to PFP’s weekly studs and duds fantasy recap for the 2021 football season! Here we take a look at some of the standout performances, both and good and bad, from Thursday’s and Sunday’s contests. These are more instant reactions rather than in-depth analyses, with things to keep in mind as the season progresses. Let’s see who took to the skies and who bottomed out in Week 6! You can check out Week 5 here.

Players Who Soared

Credit: NFL.com

Quarterbacks

Kirk Cousins: 33/48, 373 passing yards, 3 pass TDs, 2 rushes, 16 rushing yards

After two down weeks Cousins had a strong showing against a Panthers defense that couldn’t make up for Sam Darnold‘s (17/41 for 207 and 1 TD with 1 INT passing, 4 for 48 rushing, 1 fumble lost) struggles. Having Dalvin Cook (29 for 140 and 1 TD rushing, 2 for 3 receiving) back in the lineup certainly helped, which opened up the playbook in a big way. Cousins has been very consistent this year but certainly relies on a powerful running game to keep defenses honest. Luckily, Cook is one of the toughest players in the league and will play through all but the worst injuries to support his quarterback. Look for Cousins to put another quality showing in coming off the bye against Dallas in Week 8.

Jalen Hurts: 12/26, 115 passing yards, 1 pass TD, 1 INT, 10 rushes, 44 rushing yards, 2 rush TDs

It takes a special kind of player to look as bad as Hurts does on the field and still be a fantasy powerhouse. His ability to overthrow his receivers and make poor mental decisions in Philadelphia’s run-pass option (RPO) scheme is truly impressive to watch. Eagles fans must be screaming their heads off to let Miles Sanders (9 for 56 rushing, 2 for 10 receiving) touch the ball more to help create more opportunities for Hurts. Hurts has yet to start a full season’s worth of games in his young career, but his career path is unsustainable. He needs to show more as a passer in his next two matchups against Las Vegas and Detroit.

Patrick Mahomes: 32/47, 397 passing yards, 2 pass TDs, 2 INTs, 3 rushes, 31 rushing yards

The Super Bowl hangover has been hitting Mahomes hard this season. To put it nicely, he has an uncharacteristic 8 INTs this season, more than he finished with the previous two seasons. Despite the obvious struggles, the talent continues to shine through when asked to keep a game from getting out of hand. His second-half looked so much better than his first half, leading the Chiefs on some impressive-looking drives to keep Washington at arms reach. If he can keep that momentum going through his next couple of matchups he should be back to his blow-out ways without any trouble.

Others of Note
  • Dak Prescott: 36/51, 445 passing yards, 3 pass TDs, 1 INT, 3 rushes, 10 rushing yards, 1 fumble lost
  • Matthew Stafford: 22/28, 251 passing yards, 4 pass TDs, 1 INT, 2 rushes, 12 rushing yards
  • Joe Burrow: 19/29, 271 passing yards, 3 pass TDs, 1 INT, 5 rushes, 20 rushing yards
Credit: DraftKings

Running Backs

Jonathan Taylor: 14 rushes, 145 rushing yards, 2 rush TDs, 1 reception, 13 receiving yards

Taylor has exploded the last two weeks, following his massive receiving performance against Baltimore last week by running all over Houston. He averaged over 10 yards a carry and literally carried the Colts’ momentum throughout the entire game. Carson Wentz (11/20 for 223 and 2 TDs passing) focused on efficiency and minimizing mistakes while Taylor keep the offense humming. The second-year back has started to stabilize his role and will be a high-upside option over the next few weeks.

Leonard Fournette: 22 rushes, 81 rushing yards, 2 rush TDs, 6 receptions, 46 receiving yards

Any concerns about Ronald Jones (5 for 20 rushing, 1 for 9 receiving) taking away work from Fournette have essentially disappeared. Fournette dominated the snap count and was relied on at the goal line multiple times in this contest. He is the defacto #1 back in one of the best offenses in the league and should be treated as such. His efficiency can be spotty but his floor is rock solid with his involvement in the passing game. Continue riding Fournette with confidence, even with two less than ideal matchups before the bye week.

Joe Mixon: 18 rushes, 94 rushing yards, 5 receptions, 59 receiving yards, 1 receiving TD

This was an important game for Mixon. He took advantage of a soft matchup and also showed toughness in the wake of recovering from injury. Mixon passed every test with flying colors. The Bengals offense allows Mixon to thrive while defenses are constantly trying to keep Ja’Marr Chase (4 for 97 receiving) from going over the top (and mostly failing). He has a tough test next week in a divisional matchup in Baltimore, so it’ll be interesting to see how he performs in a more hostile environment.

Others of Note
  • Darrell Henderson: 21 rushes, 78 rushing yards, 1 rush TD, 2 receptions, 29 receiving yards, 1 receiving TD
  • Darrel Williams: 21 rushes, 62 rushing yards, 2 rush TDs, 3 receptions, 27 receiving yards
  • Najee Harris: 24 rushes, 81 rushing yards, 6 receptions, 46 receiving yards, 1 receiving TD
Credit: PFF

Wide Receivers

CeeDee Lamb: 9 receptions, 149 receiving yards, 2 receiving TDs

Lamb took full advantage of a struggling Patriots passing defense by absolutely torching them this game. He out-targeted Amari Cooper (5 for 55 receiving) for the third time this season, continuing the dance between one of the best wide receiver tandems in the league. Lamb has certainly looked more explosive than Cooper so far and could easily start stealing more and more snaps and targets as the season goes on. As Dallas continues to hum going into the bye week, look for Lamb to hold his WR1 upside through the break.

Adam Thielen: 11 receptions, 126 receiving yards, 1 receiving TD

It’s nice to see that Thielen can still produce these types of games from time to time. It’s also a needed reminder for fantasy owners that he’s still one of the best red-zone threats in the league, even as Justin Jefferson (8 for 80 receiving, 1 fumble lost) takes away some of his upside. Thielen came down with a season-high in targets, receptions, and yards against a defense that should have posed more of an issue for this offense. As with Cousins earlier, Cook is really what makes this offense hum and allows for these games to happen. The Vikings head into their bye week to work on getting fully healthy before a prospective shootout against Dallas.

Donovan Peoples-Jones: 4 receptions, 101 receiving yards, 2 receiving TDs

Peoples-Jones’ standout performance this week was propped up by a 57-yard hail mary TD to end the second half. It could be tempting to pick him up off waivers after two straight weeks of flex-level play and with Odell Beckham (5 for 79 receiving) still not truly breaking out. However, it’s important to remember Jarvis Landry is coming off IR soon and this is still a run-first team. Peoples-Jones is nothing more than a cheeky DFS play on a week-to-week basis.

Others of Note
  • Cooper Kupp: 9 receptions, 130 receiving yards, 2 receiving TDs
  • Jaylen Waddle: 10 receptions, 70 receiving yards, 2 receiving TDs
  • Antonio Brown: 9 receptions, 93 receiving yards, 2 receiving TDs
Credit: Predominantly Orange

Tight Ends

Noah Fant: 9 receptions, 97 receiving yards, 1 receiving TD

Fant has had an up and down season for most of 2021 so far. The third-year tight end was someone that the fantasy community expected to break out this season but hasn’t quite lived up to the hype. This week in particular came from some garbage-time production as the Broncos were trailing for most of this game. He’s still commanding a 20%+ target share from Teddy Bridgewater (35/49 for 334 and 3 TDs with 3 INTs passing, 2 for 9 rushing, 1 fumble lost), but his upside is limited due to the inconsistent Broncos offense.

Mike Gesicki: 8 receptions, 115 receiving yards

Gesicki was the biggest beneficiary of the slew of wide receiver injuries the Dolphins had entering this game. He was able to sustain the favorable target share he had even with Tua Tagovailoa (33/47 for 329 and 2 TDs with 1 INT passing, 3 for 22 rushing) coming back from his injury. He’s a top-10 WR in PPR formats due to high volume with limited scoring upside on a struggling team but has found use as an efficient security blanket. He will maintain his TE1 status as the season continues.

Others of Note

Players That Got Floored

Credit: USA Today

Quarterbacks

Daniel Jones: 29/51, 242 passing yards, 3 INTs, 3 rushes, 4 rushing yards, 1 fumble lost

The concussion that Jones suffered in last week’s game against Dallas must have factory reset the Giants quarterback to his 2020 form. These were his first true interceptions of the season, adding two fumbles while not feeling pressure in the pocket for a good amount of the game. His offensive line did let him down, and he lost Kadarius Toney early on to a reaggravated injury, but Jones took some big mental steps back this week. He’ll need to regain all that lost progress quickly to have any chance of having a quality fantasy performance next week against Carolina.

Taylor Heinicke: 24/39, 182 passing yards, 1 pass TD, 1 INT

This was a truly disappointing game for Heinicke. The Washington quarterback had a glorious breakout opportunity against the league’s worst defense but was unable to keep pace with Mahomes and the Chiefs. He did just enough to make sure he wasn’t the reason they lost the game and that was it. Unfortunately, this means Heinicke’s fantasy ceiling is capped moving forward. He’ll need to prove he can do more for this offense if he doesn’t want to lose his job once Ryan Fitzpatrick is cleared to return.

Justin Herbert: 22/39, 195 passing yards, 1 pass TD, 1 INT, 2 rushes, 12 rushing yards

The Ravens defense found a way to stifle the young superstar, making him look absolutely pedestrian following his huge outing last week. Herbert was unable to get anything going while their opponent was keeping all of his major weapons in check. This is the lowlight following the highlight of the previous game, and one Herbert will look to forget going into the bye.

Others of Note
  • Davis Mills: 29/43, 243 passing yards, 2 INTs, 2 rushes, 5 rushing yards
  • Jared Goff: 28/42, 202 passing yards, 1 INT, 1 rush, 1 rushing yard
  • Baker Mayfield: 19/28, 234 passing yards, 2 pass TDs, 1 INT, 3 rushes, 8 rushing yards, 2 fumbles lost
Credit: Fantasy Couch

Running Backs

Myles Gaskin: 5 rushes, 9 rushing yards, 2 receptions, 5 receiving yards

It’s become very apparent that Gaskin is not benefiting from any positive game scripts this season. Even when Miami controls the game, they refuse to give Gaskin opportunities to gain meaningful yardage. He is not built to be the running back sent between the tackles like he’s currently being used. The most disappointing aspect is that with multiple receivers out due to injury he couldn’t establish any usefulness there, even with six targets. Fantasy owners need to fade Gaskin and the rest of the Dolphin’s backfield for their own sanity.

Antonio Gibson: 10 rushes, 44 rushing yards, 2 receptions, 0 receiving yards, 1 fumble lost

Gibson fell hard in this one. The combination of a nagging shin injury and a very negative game script led to J.D. McKissic (8 for 45 rushing, 8 for 65 receiving) taking over the backfield for many of the meaningful snaps in this game. With the way Washington’s defense has performed this year, this may be more common moving forward than Gibson’s owners would be comfortable with. Hopefully, this team can start turning it around after their week 9 bye, but right now expectations have to remain low.

Others of Note
  • Chase Edmonds: 4 rushes, 46 rushing yards, 3 receptions, 4 receiving yards
  • Austin Ekeler: 6 rushes, 7 rushing yards, 4 receptions, 48 receiving yards
  • Tony Pollard: 10 rushes, 41 rushing yards, 3 receptions, 22 receiving yards
Credit: USA Today

Wide Receivers

Mike Williams: 2 receptions, 27 receiving yards

The stat line is very concerning, but totally understandable given the situation. Williams was still recovering from his injury and the Ravens had every answer for this offense. The good news is that Williams didn’t appear to suffer any setbacks during the game. He has the bye week to completely heal up before returning to his normal WR1 self.

Terry McLaurin: 4 receptions, 28 receiving yards

The wide receiver floored section has a very strong “don’t panic” theme this week. McLaurin was also fighting off an injury and Heinicke wasn’t doing the passing game any favors to try and breathe some life into it. There are better days ahead for this offense as a whole, and McLaurin will remain a huge part of it. His 32 targets over the last three games are strong evidence of that.

Others of Note

Tight Ends

Credit: USA Today
Jonnu Smith: 1 reception, 9 receiving yards

Smith was never expected to be a workhorse tight-end going into the season, but even those lowered expectations haven’t been met. Outside of his lone score in Week 4, he’s been practically invisible in an already barren Tight End landscape. Hunter Henry‘s (2 for 25 and 1 TD receiving) emergence as a scoring-upside option in the offense has put the final nail in the coffin for the former Titan. Barring an injury to Henry, Smith doesn’t hold any long-term value in redraft leagues.

Others of Note

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The Kneecap Recap: Lions-Bengals Review

Following their loss to the Cincinnati Bengals and the Jacksonville Jaguars win over the Miami Dolphins in London, the Detroit Lions are now the lone winless team in the NFL this season. And unlike their losses to the Baltimore Ravens and Minnesota Vikings, they never had a chance. The Lions fell to the Bengals 34-11 Sunday afternoon at Ford Field, in a display that will not be fondly remembered. In my first edition of The Kneecap Recap, I’d like to look at where this game puts each team in the standings at the time of this writing, a few top performers for both teams, a big takeaway from both teams, before giving an overall closing thought.

Standings

Detroit Lions: 0-6, 4th in NFC North (next week: @ LA Rams)

Cincinnati Bengals: 4-2, 2nd in AFC North (next week: @ Ravens)

Top Performers

Detroit Lions: QB Jared Goff (28/42, 202 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT), RB D’Andre Swift (67 total yards, 1 rush TD), TE T.J. Hockenson (8 catches, 74 yards)

Cincinnati Bengals: QB Joe Burrow (19/29, 271 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT), RB Joe Mixon (153 total yards, 1 rec. TD), WR Ja’Marr Chase (4 catches, 97 yards)

Lions Takeaway: Frustration Abounds

Photo Credit: Kirthmon F. Dozier/Detroit Free Press

In my Lions-Bengals preview, I said that the fight that this Lions team had would prevent them from being well and truly blown out. In actuality, there wasn’t much fight from this Lions team. They replaced their fight with something else: frustration. The Detroit Lions were frustrated today, and it was clear no matter where you looked. Anytime the FOX NFL cameras focused on head coach Dan Campbell, you could see it in his expression. When you saw the Lions’ offense stall out, you could see it in their body language. Hell, anytime the cameras focused on the fans, you could see it on their faces.

And I guess I should have seen it coming. If there’s any team in the NFL you’d expect to be frustrated, it’d have to be the Detroit Lions. After all, what team wouldn’t carry some frustration with them after losing twice in three weeks on last-second 50+ yard field goals, one of which was an NFL record? Today, it just seemed like the team couldn’t bottle it up any longer. They wore their frustration on their faces, in the way they carried themselves, but they didn’t channel it into their play. And as a result, they got blown out.

Ultimately, this loss comes down to their failure to execute once again. They were consistent today, which may be a first, but they were consistently bad. They failed to execute on offense most of the game, until offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn just said to hell with it and instructed his receivers to run five-yard routes for most of the second half. And even, the offense struggled to execute much of anything. The defense, while better than the offense, eventually broke down, allowing the game to get away.

Bengals Takeaway: Exactly What They Needed

Photo Credit: David Reginek/USA TODAY Sports

This may sound like I’m down on the Bengals or their performance, but I assure you I’m not. It sounds boring to say, but this is exactly what this team needed all around. After narrowly escaping a then-winless-Jaguars team and losing in heartbreaking fashion to the Green Bay Packers, this kind of win is what the Bengals needed. They were strong on both sides of the ball and never took their foot off the gas. Unlike the Packers, who trailed at half to this same Lions team, they were never in danger of losing.

In my preview, I said the biggest mistake the Bengals could make was underestimating this Lions team. And it seems like they agreed. Taking a 10-0 lead into the half, the Bengals poured it on in the second half, scoring 24 total points to secure the win. Even when head coach Zac Taylor sat Burrow and had Brandon Allen under center, they kept pushing. And it was Allen’s TD pass to wideout Auden Tate that kept the Lions and their fans from having delusions of a comeback.

This is what good teams do. Good teams should be able to face a team like the Lions and win comfortably. And that’s exactly what the Bengals did. They have a huge test next week against the Ravens, but they’ll celebrate this one tonight.

Closing Thoughts

Photo Credit: Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

I am not under any delusions of this actually happening. I don’t believe it’s even under consideration. And I really don’t want this to appear as me jumping on the bandwagon. However, as I sat back at halftime and I considered Jared Goff’s 38-yard first-half performance, I wondered what it is the Lions coaching staff sees in Goff that they don’t see in backup David Blough. He certainly won’t light the world on fire, but I feel confident that Blough will at least see open receivers and/or feel confident enough to throw further than five yards down the field more than once per game.

The Lions are on the road next week to face their greatest quarterback in franchise history. A man who’s thriving with the Los Angeles Rams in a way he never was given a chance to in Detroit. I’ll obviously have clearer thoughts about the Matthew Stafford Derby, if I may borrow a soccer term, later on in the week when it comes time for the preview. However, I don’t see an outcome that doesn’t involve Stafford unleashing years of frustration with this organization onto their defense.

I’ll see you all later this week for The Hunt For Kneecaps Preview.

Featured Photo Credit: Daniel Mears/Detroit News

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The Hunt For Kneecaps: Lions-Bengals Preview

The Detroit Lions are still looking for their first taste of sweet, sweet kneecap this season, and will welcome the Cincinnati Bengals to Ford Field on Sunday. This is the first meeting between the two teams since Christmas Eve 2017 when the Bengals came out on top 26-17 in Cincy. If the Lions were to win on Sunday, it’d be their first victory over the Bengals since 1992, according to The Football Database. Let’s look at their place in the standings, the injury reports, and what exactly each team needs to do in order to pull out the win. And I will give a game prediction at the end of the piece. Let’s get started.

Standings

Detroit Lions: 0-5, 4th in NFC North (last game: L @ Vikings)

Cincinnati Bengals: 3-2, T-2nd in AFC North (last game: OT L vs. Packers)

Injury Report

Detroit Lions: LB Trey Flowers (knee, questionable), TE TJ Hockenson (knee, questionable), RB D’Andre Swift (groin, questionable), RB Jamaal Williams (hip/illness, questionable)

Cincinnati Bengals: G D’Ante Smith (knee, out), WR Mike Thomas (ankle, questionable), G Jackson Carman (not injury related, questionable), HB Joe Mixon (ankle, questionable)

Lions Gameplan: Execute and Execute Consistently

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Duane Burleson

It seems like the easiest thing in the world in discussing how this Lions team can win any game. And yet, Detroit has had serious issues with executing their game plan. A lot of this is because of their injury issues. Besides losing defensive back Jeff Okudah during their Week 1 loss to San Francisco, the Lions have also lost center Frank Ragnow (toe), wide receiver Quintez Cephus (shoulder), and pass rusher Romeo Okwara (Achilles) for the season. Starting kick returner Corey Ballentine is on injured reserve as well.

The Lions are going into this game with a lot of injury issues, but they cannot allow that to hinder them. They have to execute on both sides of the ball if they want to have a chance of winning this game. They’ve shown that they can put together scoring drives this season. This leads me to my next point: they cannot be wildly inconsistent in this game. The Lions haven’t played a good game of football this season.

They’ve had great stretches in a single quarter or half, but they’ve yet to put it all together for 60 full minutes. The closest they’ve gotten was last week against Minnesota. The defense played well enough to keep them in it, but the offense didn’t really show until the dying embers of the game. Even when the offense finally showed up, the defense disappeared, and the Lions lost once again on a last-second field goal. If the Lions can consistently execute their plays on both sides of the ball, they’ll give themselves the best chance to win.

The one player who absolutely needs to be better is quarterback Jared Goff. Yes, he has a makeshift wide receiver core and an offensive line missing key pieces. However, he isn’t guilt-free. He needs to trust himself to throw the ball further than five yards. If he sees an open receiver deep down the field, he needs to trust his arm and his receiver to make the play.

Bengals Gameplan: Don’t Underestimate The Lions

Photo Credit: Kareem Elgazzar/Cincinnati Enquirer

I might underestimate the Lions in my own right, which is weird as a Lions fan, but this is the one mistake I think the Bengals could make that would be costly. The Lions are not a good football team, that much is established. However, the Bengals have been in a similar situation this season. They faced the Jacksonville Jaguars, who are also winless, two weeks ago at home. And it was a game in which the Bengals barely escaped with a win.

It’s not like the Jags played super well. Signal caller Trevor Lawrence barely threw over 200 yards. Wideout Laviska Shenault Jr had 99 yards receiving, but 52 of them came on one play. The Jags’ defense had one sack and two tackles for a loss and didn’t force a single turnover. Despite all of this, Jacksonville led 14-0 at the half and took a 21-14 lead in the fourth quarter. The Bengals needed a last-second kick from rookie kicker Evan McPherson to snatch victory away from Urban Meyer.

This isn’t to say the Bengals are a poor team because they aren’t. I’m saying that the Bengals played down to the Jaguars, despite the result. They cannot afford to do the same to this Lions team. This might be my bias as a Lions fan speaking, but I believe the Lions are better than the Jaguars. They certainly have more fight in them than Jacksonville does. Cincinnati should not give the Lions a chance in this game as they did with the Jags.

For Cincinnati, they should look to the Joe Burrow-to-Ja’Marr Chase connection all game long. Justin Jefferson burned the Lions last week, and there’s no reason to believe that the 5th overall pick in April’s draft shouldn’t do the same. This connection has worked all season, so if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Prediction

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Emilee Chinn

I apologize, fellow Lions fans, but I cannot see them winning their first game this Sunday. While Cincinnati played down to Jacksonville, they went toe to toe with the Green Bay Packers. If it wasn’t for the most bizarre kicking sequence in recent NFL history, the Bengals would be 4-1. And I just don’t see the Lions putting it all together to beat this team. However, the Lions will fight like they always do, so I don’t believe they’ll be completely blown out.

Prediction: Bengals def. Lions 24-14

Photo Credit: Quinn Harris/USA Today Sports

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Patriots Will Be Challenged by Cowboys

The New England Patriots were barely able to escape last week with a 25-22 win over the Houston Texans. After a 312 yard, two-touchdown performance from third-round pick quarterback Davis Mills, the Patriots completed a 13-point second-half comeback. With an offensive line made from the scrap heap, Mac Jones was only sacked once. The pass protection wasn’t the problem last weekend. Ball security and sloppy defense were. Damien Harris fumbled yet again, costing the Patriots a touchdown early. Defensively they couldn’t stop a nosebleed. They relied on Davis Mills falling apart to steal the victory.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist (not you, Matt Patricia) to figure out that they probably won’t get that lucky against the Dallas Cowboys. Dak Prescott has been on an absolute tear to start the season, passing for 1,368 yards and 13 touchdowns on the year. Posting a 116.9 passer rating. He’s surrounded by a plethora of talent. Ezekiel Elliott, CeeDee Lamb, and Amari Cooper far outmatch the talent that Houston had last week. Meanwhile, the Cowboys’ defense is vastly improved. They’re a top-five rushing defense and they rank first in scoring. Not a great matchup for a Pats offense that struggles to put points on the board as is.

It’s not all bad though. The Patriots are finally getting healthy again with Michael Onwenu and Shaq Mason returning to practice. It shouldn’t be long until they’re full strength. So without further ado, set it up, Bailey. Let’s get this one going.

Three Keys to The Game

How the Patriots offense will find success against the Cowboys - Pats Pulpit

Key #1: Stuff The Run

Ezekiel Elliott is one of the best backs in the NFL. Even if the production hasn’t been the same since his first year, he’s a force to be reckoned with. The Dallas offense still revolves heavily around their success with the run game. The Cowboys average 5.3 yards per rush and about 172 yards per game on the ground. Tony Pollard providing some support on the depth chart shouldn’t be overlooked either. He’s averaging 60 yards a game as well. The run game will be a huge factor in the possible rain in Gillette Stadium. If the Patriots can slow them down they’re already in great shape. We’re looking at you, Lawrence Guy, and Davon Godchaux. Do what you do best.

Key #2: Keep Up With The Recievers

It’s not just the ground game that New England has to keep up with. The Cowboys have an MVP caliber quarterback in Dak Prescott, passing to pro-bowl caliber receivers in Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb. Not to mention sneakily dynamic tight ends Dalton Schultz and Blake Jarwin. You’d be hard-pressed to find an offense more talented than Dallas. I’m worried the Pats might not have the secondary to match.

Jalen Mills should be back this week to accompany J.C. Jackson and Jonathan Jones in taking on this tall task. But he’s no Stephon Gilmore. The Pats secondary will have to play infinitely better than they did last week if they want to be even semi-competitive against Dak Prescott. He’s not Davis Mills. Prescott will crush you if given the opportunity. If he’s given the windows that Mills was last week, he’ll make his case for MVP even stronger at our expense.

Key #3: Mac Jones Needs to Leap Forward

Listen, I’ve been just a big a fan of Mac Jones as the rest of the New England region. He’s been a nice change at the position by throwing the ball smartly, safely, and surprisingly accurate. At first, I thought the comparisons to 2001 Tom Brady were a bit reactionary. But I can sort of see it. And reports are from the ownership down, the Patriots organization absolutely loves what they have in Mac Jones. The confidence the organization has in him, and the confidence he has in himself are great. But the results need to start to come.

In the rookie’s first five starts, he’s been anything but flashy. He’s top 10 in total turnover-worthy plays for quarterbacks and his big-time throw rate sits with the likes of Daniel Jones and former Patriot Jacoby Brissett at 3.5 percent. It is possible that play-calling has hindered his ability to show what he has in store. But sooner or later he’s going to have to really hit his potential if the Patriots are to be contenders in 2021. The expectations are high, but that comes with being a first-round selection. He won’t get the pass that some late-round guys do for starting slow.

It’s almost mid-season, it’s put up or shut up time from now until the season’s close in Miami in 12 weeks. I’m sure that Bill Belichick intends on playing further into January as well. Let’s ease up on the training wheels and give Jones a chance to show off against a worthy opponent. Belichick didn’t sign Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith, Kendrick Bourne, and Nelson Agholor for no reason. Let’s see those big additions pay off in the biggest games, and I think this week against a Super Bowl contender certainly counts as one.

X-Factor: Jakobi Meyers

Patriots' Jakobi Meyers trying to carry on <a rel=

Did you know through three seasons in the NFL, Jakobi Meyers doesn’t have a single touchdown catch? He has a couple of throws to the endzone, but never a catch. Sure, he might’ve had one or two his rookie season if Tom Brady didn’t decide he hated rookies in his twilight in New England. But it’s unfathomable that despite being the Patriots’ best receiver last year and into this season, he’s been unable to find the endzone in his natural position.

If Jones is going to have the big day that he might just need to match up with Prescott, Meyers is going to have to break free from Trevon Diggs, and Anthony Brown, who has been electric to start this season. Diggs himself has put up a campaign similar to Stephon Gilmore in 2019 when he won defensive player of the year. If the passing game is to be the focus against the Cowboys, I wouldn’t be shocked if Meyers is the focal point of it and sees around 15 looks from Jones. Isn’t it about the time he’s found the endzone anyway? He’s only been the Patriots’ most reliable target since the conclusion of Julian Edelman‘s career. Which came about eight months before his official retirement announcement.

Closing Thoughts

3 Players Bill Belichick, Patriots Need to Get More Involved Immediately |  Bleacher Report | Latest News, Videos and Highlights

I cannot begin to fathom how bad of a look it would be for the Patriots to lose four straight home games to open the season. The last time the Patriots had a .500 or lower record at home? The 2000 season, Belichick’s first with the team, and effectively Drew Bledsoe‘s last as the starter. Even Cam Newton was able to pull off the wins in Foxboro. I get the schedule hasn’t been easy, and if it wasn’t for a few plays going the wrong way, the Pats are a 4-1 team. But we don’t live in the Marvel Cinematic Universe where “What If?” could be turned into something worthwhile. In the NFL, the win is all that matters.

I would be lying if I said I’m confident the Patriots can pull off a win, but that doesn’t mean they can’t. After keeping up with Tampa Bay’s offense at almost full strength, it isn’t impossible to picture Belichick being able to frustrate the Cowboys. We’ve seen the Patriots do far more with much less. It’s a common theme among various Patriots teams through the years.

The concern obviously lies with the Patriots’ offense making the most of their opportunities. Something they’ve failed on doing thus far into the season. Ranking 25th in total offense. Maybe Mrs. McDaniels can get Josh to finally start being a little more aggressive with the play calls, and let Mac Jones rip it a little. If they can produce at least three touchdowns worth of points on offense? I give the Patriots a real chance. So I’ll ride on the optimism train a little bit longer. Don’t let me down, Belichick!

Final Score: 27-23, New England (3-3)

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A Political and Football Look At Jon Gruden

I have to preface this article with a note that (a) the opinions and ideas written here are strictly that of the author and do not represent the entirety of Pro Football Press, and (b) this article will get political. If this is a bother to you, click away now. If not, let’s take a political and football look at the Jon Gruden situation.

Former Raiders head coach Jon Gruden resigned from his position as head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders on Monday night. This move followed a report from The New York Times about the bigoted language he used in emails as recently as 2018. This new report follows an earlier report in which Gruden used a racist trope to describe NFLPA union president DeMaurice Smith, who is black. Gruden said in a statement, “I have resigned as Head Coach of the Las Vegas Raiders. I love the Raiders and do not want to be a distraction. Thank you to all the players, coaches, staff, and fans of Raider Nation. I’m sorry, I never meant to hurt anyone.”

Anytime we see someone who has past comments and beliefs exposed to the world, there are always two sides developed. One side impugns the person in question, criticizes them, and calls for them to face some sort of repercussion. The other side immediately runs to social media to call anyone who doesn’t like these comments/beliefs soft snowflakes and rage about cancel culture. And the cancel culture/culture war discourse is one that refuses to die down online.

So, I will not shy away from it, because I believe that Jon Gruden needed to go. And in this piece, I want to look at why Gruden isn’t a victim of being canceled for things he said years ago, as well as why Gruden needed to go from strictly a football point of view. Once again, if political discourse is something you wish to avoid, skip this piece. If it’s something that does not bother you, follow along with me.

A Political Examination

Jon Gruden
Photo Credit: Rick Scuteri/AP

Jon Gruden is not a victim. The New York Times and the National Football League did not systematically single him out, and he is not a victim of this nefarious “cancel culture” that internet conservatives and centrists love to complain about. The only thing that Gruden could be a victim of currently is karma. This is a man who now has to live with the consequences of his own actions.

It seems like the most obvious and agreeable thing in the world. When someone says something racist, homophobic, sexist, etc, that person rightly deserves any backlash they receive. And yet we live in a world where a brigade of reactionary white knights will reflexively defend any sort of situation involving bigoted comments. Usually, this comes under the guise of being against cancel culture. There’s also a very popular argument that people can change. They’re not the same person now that they were back when those comments were made.

Honestly? I agree with that last sentiment. I’m a firm believer that people absolutely can change. I believe in reformative justice for everyone. However, my issue with this argument is that Jon Gruden hasn’t changed. There’s no evidence of this being a situation of Gruden saying something back then that he’s later changed his mind on. Again, he was using this type of language as recently as in 2018. That is rather recent. And while three years is definitely an amount of time in which a person can grow and change, let’s not pretend that the most old-school coach in the NFL before his resignation, bar maybe Detroit’s Dan Campbell, is secretly some huge liberal or progressive.

No Sympathy Warranted

I’m also not on the “Gruden was singled out” train. The investigation into the 650,000 emails had little to do with Gruden himself. It was an investigation into allegations of workplace misconduct within the Washington Football Team. His language was discovered because the group he sent the emails to included Bruce Allen, a former executive with the Washington Football Team. After finding Gruden’s first email that included a racist trope, only then did more of his comments receive any extra scrutiny. This doesn’t feel like someone getting singled out by cancel culture. It feels like someone got caught doing something wrong, and further examination brought more wrongdoing to light.

Jon Gruden made his bed, and now he has to lie in it. For all the talk conservative media will make about how “cancel culture strikes again,” this one doesn’t fit. Leaving aside the fact that cancel culture is just a spooky buzzword these days, this isn’t the case of someone getting canceled for out-of-context comments or beliefs they no longer hold. Gruden is the same now as he was then, and it is for that reason that Jon Gruden is only a victim of himself. He now has to live with his actions, which have now recently cost him his enshrinement in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers ring of honor.

A Football Purview

Jon Gruden
Photo Credit: Ben Liebenberg/AP

Online political discourse aside, Jon Gruden also needed to go from a sheer football point of view. He was coaching in a league where 70% of the players are black. He was coaching the first team in NFL history to field an openly gay player, defensive lineman Carl Nassib. There’s absolutely no way Gruden could have come back into that locker room knowing that their coach essentially puts on a mask in front of them that he takes off privately.

If you’re Carl Nassib, how do you reconcile the fact that your coach used homophobic slurs freely and without care? How do you reconcile him pushing for NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to pressure the then-St. Louis Rams into not drafting an openly gay player, Michael Sam, in the 2014 NFL Draft? How do you trust a man who says one thing to your face but mocks you to his friends in private?

If you’re a black player on the Raiders, how do you reconcile his locker room behavior with his private use of racist tropes to describe another black man? If you’ve kneeled for the national anthem, how do you reconcile his private push for more punishments for those who take a knee? How do you reconcile his desire to see former 49ers and Panthers safety Eric Reid “fired” for his protests? If you’re an advocate for social justice causes, how could you trust a coach who wants to curtail NFL involvement in these sorts of issues?

There was just no way for Gruden to continue with this team. It would lead to much distraction, too much to reconcile, and too much distrust. The Raiders organization could no longer ignore it, not with the NFL waiting to see how the team would respond to these emails. Not with this being public knowledge like it is now. The NFL couldn’t ignore it, given their public drive to be more inclusive and diverse.

So, even removed from online political discourse, there was just no way for Gruden to keep this job.

Conclusion

Jon Gruden
Photo Credit: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Regardless of how you slice this, Jon Gruden had to go. The NFL couldn’t allow Gruden to continue, given their public desire to be more inclusive and diverse. The Raiders organization couldn’t allow it to continue. And it was in the players’ best interest for Gruden to step away from this organization.

Simply put, this is who Jon Gruden is. Even in his statement to the media following his resignation, there was no genuine remorse for his language. “I never meant to hurt anyone,” he said. And yet, he meant to hurt people. No one in Gruden’s position uses that kind of language without the intent to hurt someone. And even without the language, there’s still the fact that he actively pushed to prevent an openly gay player from being drafted.

That would be enough to know that he intended to hurt people. Add in that he was also against the NFL’s push to decrease concussions, and we can see that in a literal and figurative sense, Jon Gruden intended to hurt people. Or, at the very least, he was okay with people being hurt. Anything to take this game back to 1998, I suppose.

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Photo Credit: Joe Robbins/AP

Lamar Jackson just put the “M” in MVP

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Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) throws the ball under pressure from Indianapolis Colts defensive tackle DeForest Buckner (99) and defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad (97) during the first half of an NFL football game, Monday, Oct. 11, 2021, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Lamar Jackson. Have yourself a night, young man.

Down 22-3 late in the 3rd, after 3 quarters of sloppy play, the Baltimore Ravens seemed out of this game. The defense couldn’t get stops, the running game was going nowhere, and the Ravens had failed to convert any 3rd downs. The deficit itself was daunting enough, but the play up to that point made it feel even larger.

Worse still, the game had been dedicated to Haloti Ngata, a team legend. Ngata was forced to watch the depressing performance instead of celebrating a victory with his family on a night made for him.

And then Lamar Jackson happened.

The Comeback

After a short two minute drive, Lamar threw a 40 yard bomb to Marquise Brown. The score was now 22-9 with time left in the third and seemed to jolt the Ravens’ offense awake. When the Colts predictably drove down the field and made a field goal to make it 25-9, Lamar got right back to work in the 4th.

Circumstance forced him to drop back snap after snap, and he responded with darts across the field to Mark Andrews. He checked down when he had to, ran when he had to, and punished the Colts down the field. Another touchdown and 2-point conversion later, and this was suddenly a one-score game. 25-17. The drive only took two and a half minutes off the clock.

Then the Colts started driving again, this time into field goal range. The Ravens’ defense still had no answers for anything Indianapolis did on offense. However, a huge Calais Campbell blocked field goal meant the Colts got 0 points for their drive. The game was still winnable.

Just like that, the Ravens drove down the field again behind Lamar’s impeccable throwing. The Colts’ entire defense seemed exhausted at this point, understandable given they had to chase receivers and worry about Lamar running every single play. With barely any time left on the regulation clock, Lamar found Mark Andrews for their second touchdown connection. 25-23. The two-point conversion was successful, and the game had somehow gone to overtime.

Once the Ravens won the toss, everyone seemed to know the game was over. Lamar even said so himself. And everyone who thought that was proven right. The final drive of the game was methodical, featuring checkdowns to running backs. The final play came on a dart to Hollywood Brown just inside the endzone. 31-25.

Lamar MVP?

On a night where seemingly nothing was going the Ravens’ way, Lamar Jackson stepped up like few quarterbacks in the game can. In the second half and overtime alone, he was 29-32 for 300+ yards and 4 touchdowns. He set a new career high in passing yards at 442. He accounted for all but 19 of the Ravens’ total offensive yards. The first QB to ever complete 85% of his passes in a 400 yard performance.

The list of records and mind-boggling statistics all point to one reality; Lamar Jackson delivered an all-time performance with his arm to bring a listless team back from the grave. His heroics also brought the Ravens to 4-1 on the year and atop the AFC North standings.

Such comebacks are the hallmark of franchise quarterbacks. In the truest sense of the title “Most Valuable Player,” Jackson stands out as an anomaly. No Quarterback in the game has accounted for a higher percentage of his team’s total offense. After games like last night’s, it’s also clear he can single-handedly win games for his team even when the rest of the team isn’t playing well. There is a compelling argument to be made that removing Lamar Jackson from the Ravens would hurt them more than removing any other player from any other roster.

Counterpoint

Despite his performance last night, there are also fair reasons why Lamar should not be the frontrunner in the MVP race. The largest factor is the way this Ravens team is 4-1.

While they’ve had an impressive win over the Chiefs, their remaining wins have come against less than stellar competition in the Lions, Broncos, and now Colts. With the Chiefs struggling, the Ravens’ victory over them looks less impressive by the week. Excluding the Broncos game, every win the Ravens have was nail-biting until the final snap. And when you factor in the improbabilities of their victories- a fumble from a running back that hadn’t fumbled since college, a missed delay of game, a 66-yard field goal- these wins look less and less definitive. Realistically, the Ravens could be 1-4.

Winning close games against poor competition is not what MVP quarterbacks do. To win the award, you need statement wins against good teams. Lamar himself benefitted from this during his first MVP season; his wins over the Seahawks, 49ers, and undefeated Patriots on Monday Night Football catapulted him from breakout star to unanimous MVP. Thus far this year, Lamar lacks such a statement win.

The second largest factor is the other Quarterbacks in the league. Tom Brady is ageless, Justin Herbert has been spectacular, Josh Allen has regained his 2020 form, and Kyler Murray is playing playground football on the NFL. All four of those Quarterbacks’ teams can match or exceed the Ravens’ team record, but their wins have been more decisive and against arguably better competition. While the Ravens squeaked by the Chiefs, the Bills dominated them. It’s telling that all four teams are above the Ravens in the latest NFL power rankings according to ESPN. The Ravens are also the lowest-ranked 4-1 team in the NFL in that poll.

So…is Lamar MVP or isn’t he?

The short answer is “yes, but no.” The long answer is “he’s probably the most valuable player in the NFL, but the award factors in more than that. It factors in team success, who a team beats, how they beat them, and even things like how “new” the player is. Lamar benefitted from being the “new” superstar in 2019; now, Kyler Murray and Justin Herbert get the same benefit against him. And right now, when factoring in all of the common criteria for MVP, the league will likely give it to Kyler Murray for his breakout campaign”.

However, the NFL season is long. Longer than ever, actually. There’s still a lot of time for the MVP race to become solidified. If Lamar continues this level of play, he’ll remain on the voters’ radar all season. Even if he doesn’t, one thing is perfectly clear; Lamar Jackson put the “M” in “MVP” last night.

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