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Saturday's game between Washington State and Stanford officially produced one of the strangest plays of the 2017 college football season.
After a Washington State touchdown pass, a fan ran onto the field and proceeded to pull down his pants - perhaps at the Stanford defense?
This may seem hard to believe, but there is video evidence:
TOUCHDOWN WAZZU wait what the hell pic.twitter.com/QNedfGhaSL— SB Nation (@SBNation) November 4, 2017
PANTS OFF IN PULLMAN pic.twitter.com/f41ss6Nbwi— Dr. Saturday (@YahooDrSaturday) November 4, 2017
It was only a matter of minutes at Martinsville Speedway. But as the laps clicked down, Chase Elliott’s career timeline hit a roller-coaster ride from dream to disaster. For a split second, he was Chase-ing his first Cup Series win, a Championship 4 appearance and a surge in national attention and popularity.
That’s when Denny Hamlin chased him a little too hard into Turn 3, Chase-ing those dreams into “wait until next year” territory. NASCAR, during a rough year for ratings took a hit, considering their 21-year-old has been one of the top 5 Most Popular Drivers on Twitter this year despite a winless season.
A consolation prize was the backstretch bumping and post-race confrontation with Hamlin seen around the country. Elliott, for the first time in his maturation stood his ground and let it be known he won’t be used as a bumper car going forward. A new rivalry was born, one that had people talking around the water coolers this week.
Over the long term, that’s great for the sport. But in the short term? The championship road ahead for Elliott appears to sit somewhere between difficult and impossible. He’ll start 34th Sunday, adding insult to injury by failing pre-qualifying inspection at Texas Motor Speedway. While the No. 24 car had a similar situation back in the spring, surging from 34th to ninth at the finish that won’t be good enough.
“If you get your car driving good, you can pass,” Elliott told ESPN’s Bob Pockrass. “It’s doable. We’ll see.”
Teammate Jimmie Johnson, who went from last to first here in the spring, has a bit better outlook, qualifying inside the top 10. But the No. 48 team of Hendrick Motorsports is also coming off a disappointing weekend, getting lapped at one point on a Martinsville track where he’s made mincemeat out of opponents for decades.
That leaves NASCAR’s best team over the 21st Century with their backs against the wall – again – in this current playoff format. Over the past three years, the four-car operation has only filled two of 12 spots in the Championship 4 and won the title with Johnson last year more out of survival than success. Johnson and Elliott would both be on the outside looking in if Homestead-Miami slots were awarded right now.
The problems, of course, run deeper than those two at HMS. Dale Earnhardt Jr. has had a miserable final season and only lately has returned to a shell of the driver he once was. Kasey Kahne was released effective the end of this season and been invisible outside of his Brickyard 400 upset. Fresh blood is coming, youngsters Alex Bowman and William Byron filling those slots, but they remain somewhat unproven on this level.
So the end of this year, with Toyota still surging serves as a referendum of sorts on HMS. Can the best program for Chevrolet, especially with Chip Ganassi Racing out of the picture, turn it around before it’s too late? And if they don’t, are they really be considered the best team in this sport anymore? Martin Truex Jr. and the four-car team of Joe Gibbs Racing, a program that could easily win a second title in three years would beg to differ.
AAA Texas 500
Time: Sunday, Nov. 5 at 2 p.m. ET
Track: Texas Motor Speedway (Fort Worth)
Radio: PRN, SIRIUS XM Channel 90
Who’s at the Front: Kyle Busch
Busch proved the beneficiary from the Chase Elliott-Denny Hamlin and Elliott-Brad Keselowski contact down the stretch. Muscling past Hamlin on the final restart, the No. 18 Toyota became an unlikely winner after Sunday’s Martinsville mayhem.
But was it really all that farfetched? Busch led 184 laps on the day and overall has led 662 laps during this version of the NASCAR Playoffs. In fact, only once since Richmond in April (July’s Daytona plate race) has Busch failed to lead at least one lap in a Cup Series event. During that 25-race stretch, he’s won five times while giving Truex a run for his money atop the standings. Busch will be hard to beat at Homestead-Miami no matter how well the No. 78 and Truex run the next two weeks.
Who’s at the Back: Kyle Larson
A wreck at Martinsville by Larson gave him back-to-back DNFs for the first time since running for Chip Ganassi Racing in the Cup Series. That’s a span that dates back to February 2014. It looks like Playoff elimination has taken a bite out of a No. 42 team that entered the postseason a dark horse to take the title from Truex and Busch.
Pre-qualifying inspection woes continue to haunt NASCAR teams. A total of seven cars failed to pass Friday, leaving everyone from Round of 8 driver Chase Elliott to BK Racing cars run by rookies Corey Lajoie and Gray Gaulding without an attempt. Having 17.5 percent of the NASCAR Cup Series field on the sidelines while setting the grid is not exactly ideal for this sport.
Click ‘n Close became the first of what will likely be several primary sponsor deals surrounding the No. 43 and Darrell Wallace Jr. next year. Reports also surfaced this week that Smithfield will stay with the Richard Petty Motorsports team in some capacity despite moving on to Stewart-Haas Racing with driver Aric Almirola next season. The Smithfield-Almirola deal should be announced in a press conference Wednesday at SHR.
Darian Grubb has been announced as the crew chief for William Byron next year at HMS. Byron, finishing up his rookie season in the XFINITY Series, will slide into the car vacated by Kasey Kahne for 2018. Grubb has won 23 races as a head wrench with multiple programs and captured the 2011 championship with Tony Stewart. Grubb, of course, was best known as the guy who hung tough despite being fired by Stewart before the playoffs that year effective the end of the season. The duo still stuck by each other and defeated Carl Edwards in one of the series’ closest title races since the turn of the century.
NASCAR by the Numbers
Victories for the Hendrick Motorsports engine department following Johnny Sauter’s Friday night victory in the Truck Series race at Texas Motor Speedway. HMS has been providing motors within the top levels of NASCAR since 1984.
Top-10 finishes for Martin Truex Jr. over 33 Cup races this season, leading the series. No one else has more than 20.
Playing the Odds (Fantasy Spin)
It’s hard to bet against Jimmie Johnson heading to TMS. He’s won four of the last six races here, including that last-to-first outing in the spring and enters the weekend with his back against the wall. Can the No. 48 team rise to the occasion? Even if they fall short of Victory Lane, you’ve got to think a top-10 finish is virtually a guarantee.
Brad Keselowski has gone under the radar for many fantasy teams this week. The Team Penske driver himself claimed his No. 2 Ford didn’t have the speed at intermediate ovals to reach Victory Lane. But after a slew of sponsorship renewals this week (Discount Tire, Miller Lite) I expect this team to come out swinging. Kes has never won at TMS but does have four top-10 finishes in his last six starts at the track.
How about Roush Fenway Racing? Teammates Trevor Bayne and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ran 13th and 14th, respectively, at Texas this spring. Both men have combined for five top-20 finishes in their last six TMS starts. And the pressure of the NASCAR Playoffs is off for Stenhouse, driving for a No. 17 team that’s overachieved this season. I think these Fords are in building mode for 2018 and Sunday gives them a chance to strut their stuff.
Danica, Danica, Danica. I really feel like Patrick has the motivation to end the season strong and was running well in the second half until a few wrecks put a damper on her performances in recent weeks. She’s qualified 14th for this race, the second-best effort of her career at Texas Motor Speedway, and has the benefit of learning from teammate Kurt Busch and his pole-winning setup. Yes, Patrick has never run better than 16th here, but I expect a career-high performance come Sunday.
What Vegas Thinks
Not surprisingly, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch lead the betting lines. Truex was 5/2 and Busch 9/2 to win at Texas at last check.
What I Think
How many years have we bet against Jimmie Johnson only for the No. 48 team to come through? I’m not doing that this weekend. Expect the seven-time champ to reassert himself and punch his Homestead ticket in a bid for a record setting eighth Cup title.
(Top photo courtesy of NASCAR.com)
DraftKings’ daily fantasy NASCAR heads to Texas Motor Speedway this weekend for the AAA Texas 500. This race marks the second event of the Round of 8 in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs. The green flag flies Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. ET on NBCSN.
ELITE TIER: $9,500 and up
Martin Truex Jr. ($11,000)
Texas: 24 starts, three top fives (12.5 percent), 13 top 10s (54.2 percent)
Average finish at Texas: 13.6
Truex’s 2017 season has been the most dominant in NASCAR Cup Series history when it comes to intermediate tracks. He has six wins on 1.5-mile ovals this season, posting an average finish of 2.8. Because of that, he has all but locked himself into the Championship 4 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Truex enters the weekend with a full race lead over fifth place in the standings and starts Sunday's race inside the top 10.
Truex has five straight top-10 finishes at Texas and has led laps in three straight races there. It’s easy to assume there is another impressive performance on the horizon.
Kevin Harvick ($9,800)
Texas: 29 starts, seven top fives (24.1 percent), 17 top 10s (58.6 percent)
Average finish at Texas: 11.7
Harvick has yet to win at Texas but has the fourth-best average finish among all active drivers (11.7). He has six straight top-10 finishes at the track, including four inside the top five. Harvick started on the pole at the speedway back in April and led 77 laps in a fourth-place effort.
Harvick currently has the points to make Miami and will need a good finish to maintain that position. Add in a top-10 start and there's plenty of proof the No. 4 car should be a Sunday contender.
Jimmie Johnson ($9,600)
Texas: 28 starts, seven wins, 15 top fives (53.6 percent), 21 top 10s (75 percent)
Average finish at Texas: 8.1
There are six drivers fighting for the final two final playoff spots at Homestead, and Johnson is one of them. The seven-time Cup champion is currently three points below the cutline and may need a win in order to ensure a spot in the Championship 4. Misfortune from the other drivers could be helpful as well if Johnson plans to capture his eighth championship in a mediocre year for the No. 48.
Luckily, Texas is a great track for Johnson to do just that. He won at Texas earlier in the season, his fourth victory in the last six races at the track. In that event, he started 24th and led 18 laps.
Johnson is the all-time wins leader at Texas with seven wins in 28 starts. He also holds the record for the most top-five finishes (15), top-10 results (21) and laps led (1,041). It's hard to bet against a man as accomplished as this one inside the Round of 8.
ALL-STAR TIER: $8,000 – $9,400
Joey Logano ($9,400)
Texas: 18 starts, one win, eight top fives (44.4 percent), eight top 10s (44.4 percent)
Average finish at Texas: 15.8
Logano was in position for a solid finish last weekend at Martinsville before a tire rub sent him spinning in the final moments. He led 59 laps from the pole and had a fast racecar all weekend before fading to 24th.
Logano has three straight podium finishes at Texas and has earned five top-five finishes in the last seven races at the track. He also led 178 laps in this race in 2016, finishing in the runner-up position en route to the Championship 4.
Another bid for the title has already fallen far short this year. But Logano has bounced back as of late and will look to play spoiler this weekend.
Chase Elliott ($9,100)
Texas: Three starts, two top fives, three top 10s
Average finish at Texas: 6.0
Elliott was fighting for the victory at Martinsville last weekend until his run-in with Denny Hamlin. He has yet to win this season or in his young Cup career. That said, he is still holding out hope for the 2017 series championship. The sophomore driver is in a win-only mindset heading into Texas, 26 points below the final transfer spot.
Elliott has finished inside the top five at all three 1.5-mile tracks since the playoffs began, two of which were second-place results. At Texas, he has top-10 finishes in all three of his starts at the track. He finished ninth in April after starting way back in 33rd; that means you should shrug off Friday's 34th-place starting spot after failing pre-qualifying inspection.
Elliott showed a new, aggressive side to his driving style last weekend. Expect that to continue and only grow this Sunday if he's chasing a win during the final stage.
Kasey Kahne ($8,200)
Texas: 26 starts, one win, five top fives (19.2 percent), nine top 10s (34.6 percent)
Average finish at Texas: 18.2
Kahne has been electric over the past two seasons at Texas. He finished eighth in the spring of 2015 and was eighth again in both starts last season. It's a guy whose bread-and-butter over the years has always been intermediate ovals the size of this track.
It's been a difficult NASCAR playoff for Kahne, who is leaving Hendrick Motorsports after the season. But even as a lame duck, he has top-10 potential this weekend no matter the starting spot.
BARGAIN TIER: $4,500 – $7,900
Dale Earnhardt Jr. ($7,900)
Texas: 29 starts, one win, seven top fives (24.1 percent), 18 top 10s (62.1 percent)
Average finish at Texas: 13.1
Texas Motor Speedway was the destination for Earnhardt’s first Cup win back in 2000, and it very well could be the same for his last. NASCAR's Most Popular Driver has been great there ever since he first rolled out onto the track. While Junior hasn’t had the most storybook ending to a storied career, his only 2017 top-five finish came at TMS back in April (fifth).
Earnhardt has finished five out of the last six Texas races inside the top six, although he's done so without leading a single lap. In the last five, he started each race from 10th or worse only to race up towards the front.
Earnhardt could be a great sleeper pick this weekend. Position differential potential is also in play after a 17th-place qualifying effort.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ($7,800)
Texas: Nine starts, two top 15s, five top 20s
Average finish at Texas: 20.8
Stenhouse has been inconsistent at intermediate tracks this season and over his career. However, Texas has told another story for the No. 17 team.
Stenhouse, coming off a NASCAR playoff appearance has finishes of 16th or better in three straight races at the track. That should be more than enough from a back-end-of-the-lineup driver, even though he starts 12th.
(Top photo courtesy of ASP, Inc.)
With six teams on a bye this week (again), finding a solid starting lineup can be tough for fantasy owners as we get ready for Week 9. Add in injuries to a number of skill players and deciding who to play where is going to be a challenge. However, plenty of good matchups can be exploited. In addition, injuries to some players mean a clear path to playing time for others. This list takes all of that into account, as well as past performance.
At the end of the column is the full disclosure, listing how well last week's picks performed. Please note that 5 Up/5 Down is a guide on players that should exceed or fall below their rank this week. This is based on past performance, injury status and matchup. This is not a start/sit column, rather a guide.
Jameis Winston, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Given Winston's performance last week, it is hard to trust him as a QB1 this week. He is ranked No. 14, just outside QB1 territory, but he has a great matchup against the Saints. Winston was dealing with a shoulder injury and didn't even throw in practice until Friday last week. This week, however, he was able to throw in practice all week and even put in a full practice on Friday. He should bounce back on the road playing indoors against New Orleans.
Aaron Jones, RB, Green Bay Packers
After turning 17 carries into 131 yards and a touchdown in Week 7 before the bye, Jones is a must-start running back this week. He's ranked No. 10 but he could easily exceed that. Brett Hundley isn't going to throw the ball for a win, so the Packers are going to have to rely on their running game. The team has been getting away from using Ty Montgomery, so it's the Aaron Jones show this week (Packers play Monday night) and for the rest of the season.
Adrian Peterson, RB, Arizona Cardinals
While Peterson - and the entire Cardinals offense was a disappointment in Week 7 (before the bye), the team only gave him 11 carries and Carson Palmer was knocked out of the game. It's the Drew Stanton show in Arizona now, and similar to Green Bay, this offense is not going to rely on the quarterback. The Cardinals have said they are going to feed Peterson this week. He is ranked No. 13 but should exceed that ranking.
Devin Funchess, WR, Carolina Panthers
Even though (spoiler alert) Cam Newton is on the "5 Down" list, his No. 1 receiver is on the "5 Up" list. The reason being that there really is no one else to throw the ball to. Curtis Samuel and Russell Shepard are the other pass catchers on the team now that Kelvin Benjamin is with Buffalo. Funchess has been a boom-or-bust receiver, with three touchdowns and no 100-yard games, but this is his chance. He's ranked No. 30 but should exceed that.
Vernon Davis, TE, Washington Redskins
With Jordan Reed already ruled out, Davis will be the starting tight end for the Redskins. The matchup against the Seahawks, on paper, is a tough one. However, Earl Thomas has been ruled out, which helps both Kirk Cousins and Davis. Cousins looks for his tight end often. In Week 3 when Reed was out, Davis had five receptions for 58 yards and a touchdown. He is ranked No. 11, but should be a TE1 this week.
Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers
Aside for two weeks in the middle of the season, Newton has been a disappointment. He has thrown for less than 240 yards in the past three games. He has two touchdowns and six interceptions in that span. Newton faces Atlanta in Week 9, which isn't a terrible matchup, but it's just hard to trust him. He's now without Kelvin Benjamin and Greg Olsen, leaving him Devin Funchess and two receivers who have yet to have more than two receptions in a game to throw to. Newton will get yards from Christian McCaffrey, but he should fall out of the top 10 this week.
C.J. Anderson, RB, Denver Broncos
Despite having 15 carries for 78 yards in Week 8, Anderson has fallen out of fantasy favor. He's ranked No. 19 this week, but Devontae Booker is back and is taking work away from him. Jamaal Charles has always been in the picture, but now with Booker, Anderson's role drops even further. The Broncos face the Eagles in Week 9, who allow the sixth-fewest fantasy points to opposing running backs.
Alshon Jeffrey, WR, Philadelphia Eagles
The Denver Broncos give up the second-fewest fantasy points to opposing wide receivers, and that is who Jeffrey faces in Week 9. While Carson Wentz has been great lately, a lot of his points come from finding Zach Ertz, not Jeffrey. With Nelson Agholor still in the mix, Jeffrey is in for a rough outing in Week 9. He's ranked No. 19, but he easily can fall out of the top 20. In a week with six teams on a bye, he's still a WR3, just not the WR1 that fantasy owners have expected this year.
Will Fuller, WR, Houston Texans
Deshaun Watson's season-ending injury obviously changes the outlook for any Texans pass catcher, and this may especially be the case for Fuller. As great as Fuller has been this season, he isn't going to get to his No. 18 ranking this week without Watson. Tom Savage will be under center, which drastically lowers Fuller's value. He's had 13 receptions this season and seven touchdowns in that span. Clearly, those numbers weren't sustainable for the season, but losing Watson will put an end to that streak.
Tyler Kroft, TE, Cincinnati Bengals
With Tyler Eifert out for the season, Kroft has stepped onto the fantasy radar. In the past four games, he's had at least four receptions. He's added three touchdowns in that span as well. However, in Week 9, he faces the Jacksonville Jaguars, which has a tough pass defense. They haven't allowed a tight end to have more than 61 yards, although they have allowed three touchdown catches to the position. Kroft is ranked No. 12, but he is a TE2.
Full Disclosure, Week 8:
Derek Carr, QB, Oakland Raiders (Ranked: 15, Actual: 16)
Joe Mixon, RB, Cincinnati Bengals (Ranked: 11, Actual: 20)
Christian McCaffrey, RB, Carolina Panthers (Ranked: 19, Actual: 36)
Nelson Agholor, WR, Philadelphia Eagles (Ranked: 23, Actual: 51)
Jack Doyle, TE, Indianapolis Colts (Ranked: 13, Actual: 2)
Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons (Ranked: 9, Actual: 11)
Doug Martin, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Ranked: 12, Actual: 25)
Dez Bryant, WR, Dallas Cowboys (Ranked: 6, Actual: 39)
Will Fuller, WR, Houston Texans (Ranked: 27, Actual: 3)
Jordan Reed, TE, Washington Redskins (Ranked: 7, Actual: 46)
— Written by Sarah Lewis, who is part of the Athlon Contributor network and lives, eats, and breathes fantasy football. She also writes for SoCalledFantasyExperts.com among other sites. Have a fantasy football question? Send it to her on Twitter @Sarah_Lewis32.
(Top photo courtesy of www.houstontexans.com)
Danica Patrick is an accomplished race car driver, model, spokesperson and author. She’s one of only 14 drivers ever to lead laps in both the Indianapolis 500 and Daytona 500. But Patrick, 35, is also one of over 38 million Americans suffering from migraine attacks.
“I remember when I first started getting [migraine attacks], I didn’t know what was happening to me,” Patrick says. “They’re so different than a headache. They are usually a 48-hour transition period. I get to the point where I even feel nauseous. There’s been plenty of times on where I’m laying on the couch in the living room just trying to figure out what can I do to feel better.”
Despite the fact that roughly 12 percent of the U.S. population suffers from the neurological disease, migraine misinformation remains rampant. Patrick has teamed with the Excedrin Works campaign (excedrin.com/migraines) to raise awareness about a disease that significantly impacts the workplace, resulting in an estimated 113 million missed work days and $13 billion lost annually.
Unlike other common ailments such as diabetes or heart disease, overall health does not appear to be a factor when it comes to susceptibility to migraines. Even a workout warrior and diet-obsessed athlete like Patrick is at risk.
“I would go so far as to say I don’t know anyone that eats healthier than me,” says Patrick, who has a food and fitness book, Pretty Intense, coming out in December. “I eat a lot of fruits, vegetables, grass-fed, quality, wild-caught proteins, nuts and seeds. And I generally follow a paleo diet. The only kind of sugars that I add into my diet are honey and maple syrup, and natural ones with fruit.”
Patrick takes precautionary steps to minimize the frequency of her migraine attacks. She has had an MRI and environmental allergy testing. She abides by a consistent meal and sleep routine. She abstains from alcohol or exercise when she feels a migraine coming on. Now she is raising awareness on the volatile and unpredictable nature of the disease.
“I wish I had all the answers to what is always going to trigger a migraine,” says Patrick. “It’s not 100 percent. I don’t always know. I just try and do what I can.”
“Migraine is characterized by episodes of neurologic symptoms,” says Dr. Elizabeth Seng, a headache researcher and clinical psychologist. “Migraine pain is typically on one side of your head. It’s moderate to severe, it pulses, and it gets worse with physical activity. Other symptoms can include nausea and vomiting, sensitivity to light and sound, as well as sensitivity to other sensations like smell and touch. Many people with migraine experience cognitive changes. Difficulty thinking. A little bit of confusion.”
For migraine sufferers, there are a variety of factors that might “trigger” an attack.
• Lack of food/water
• Lack of sleep
• Increased stress
• Harsh lighting
• Strong smells
• Loud sounds
• Hormonal changes
“It’s really important to catch these attacks early. And many people with migraine report waiting until the end of the next meeting or the end of the next phone call or just get through a few more emails. But by that point, the migraine may be in a full-blown attack. It’s much harder to treat at that point,” says Seng.
“In general, if you’re having a headache and you don’t know what it is, you should talk to your doctor and make sure that you have the right diagnosis. Especially if your headache came on suddenly, or you had headaches for a long time and it suddenly changed.”
Both the Oakland Raiders and the Miami Dolphins will be looking to get back on track when they meet down in South Florida for “Sunday Night Football.”
The Raiders (3-5) lost to the Bills 34-14 on the road last Sunday. Oakland put up 367 yards of total offense, including 313 passing from Derek Carr, bur four turnovers and 151 rushing yards by Buffalo running back LeSean McCoy were too much to overcome. Oakland has now lost five of its past six games.
The Dolphins (4-3), however, fared even worse last week, getting shutout by the Ravens 40-0 on Thursday night. Miami mustered just 196 total yards of offense as backup quarterback Matt Moore was picked off twice. Both of those interceptions were returned for touchdowns and Baltimore’s defense also scored on a fumble return. The loss snapped the Dolphins' three-game winning streak.
This will be the first time these teams have met since 2012. The regular season series between Oakland and Miami is tied at 16-16-1.
Oakland at Miami
Kickoff: Sunday, Nov. 5 at 8:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NBC
Spread: Oakland -3
Three Things to Watch
1. Marshawn Lynch
Lynch (above, right) will be back after his one-game suspension for leaving the bench and pushing an official in Oakland’s Week 7 win against Kansas City. Besides returning to action, Lynch also will look to get his production back on track.
Prior to being ejected in the game against the Chiefs, Lynch had just nine rushing yards on two carries. For the season, he’s averaging just 3.7 yards per carry and hasn’t run for more than 76 yards in any game.
Miami has done a good job against the run to this point, giving up just 95.4 rushing yards per game. So facing a defensive line consisting of Ndamukong Suh and Cameron Wake may not be the best way to get Lynch going, but the Raiders need to get more from their running game.
2. Dolphins’ offense
Miami enters Sunday night ranked last in the NFL in both total (252.4 ypg) and scoring offense (13.1 ppg). Things hopefully bottomed out last week when the Dolphins managed just 196 total yards (only 45 rushing) against the Ravens while getting shut out for the second time this season (Week 4 vs. New Orleans in London).
Jay Cutler will be back at quarterback after missing the Baltimore game because of cracked ribs. Prior to the injury, Miami had averaged 25.5 points per game in the last two Cutler started.
Oakland’s defense is 26th in the league in yards allowed per game (356.9) while surrendering 24 points per contest. As bad as the Dolphins looked last week, there should be opportunities to move the ball against the Raiders.
One thing that bears watching is how the running game fares for Miami following the trade of Jay Ajayi to Philadelphia. Damien Williams is listed as the starter on the depth chart, but expect Kenyan Drake to get his chances as well. The two have combined for just 57 yards on 22 carries (2.6 ypc) thus far.
3. Khalil Mack
Last week, Miami gave up three sacks to Baltimore as the Ravens were able to put pressure on Matt Moore all game. Besides throwing for just 176 yards, Moore completed 25 of his 44 attempts and also tossed two pick-sixes.
For the season, the Dolphins have done a decent job protecting the quarterback with just 16 sacks allowed (tied for 12th), but this week the offensive line will face one of the best pass rushers in the league in Mack (right). In eight games, Mack’s sack numbers may be down (4.5) through eight games, but the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year is still having an impact.
If anything, Mack continually demands a double team on every play. So it will be important for the Miami’s protection schemes to account for him, while also looking out for another Oakland defender that may benefit from the extra attention Mack draws.
Both the Raiders and Dolphins made the playoffs after lengthy postseason droughts last season. While both teams have struggled this season, they each will be looking to spearhead a playoff run during the second half of their schedules.
Despite losing last week, Oakland quarterback Derek Carr threw for 313 yards against Buffalo. Statistically, Miami has held up well against the pass (210.9 ypg), but the Falcons, Jets and Ravens were each able to pick up some big yards through the air on certain plays too.
Carr has turned the ball over some this season, but look for him to get back to the quarterback that completed 88.3 percent of passes that went at least 15 yards for two touchdowns and no interceptions in his first two games, as opposed to the 31.3 completion percentage and three TDs with four interceptions since then.
Prediction: Raiders 28, Dolphins 17
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.
(Top photo courtesy of www.miamidolphins.com)
CenturyLink Field has been the home of some wild finishes in its 15 years of existence. Last Sunday, was the latest chapter as the Seattle Seahawks (5-2) rallied to defeat the Houston Texans 41-38 in a good, old-fashioned Wild West shootout. Russell Wilson bounced back from a late interception to execute a game-winning, three-play, 80-yard touchdown drive to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Now, what will Wilson and company do for an encore this Sunday afternoon when they take on the Washington Redskins (3-4)?
For the Seahawks, it was their ability to create big plays with Wilson in the passing game as he completed 26 of 41 attempts for 452 yards and four touchdowns. This epic performance by Wilson and the receiving corps overshadowed a running game that could not get anything going against Houston’s defense. Jadeveon Clowney in particular was living in the Seattle backfield all day long as the offensive line had zero chance of slowing him down. Defensively, the game played out as expected as Deshaun Watson threw for more than 400 yards and the Legion of Boom created a couple of key turnovers to hold off the Texans.
Washington comes into this game in a must-win situation with Philadelphia pulling away in the NFC East race. The Redskins lost 33-19 last week at home to the Cowboys in a game that was played in a driving rain storm. Kirk Cousins completed 26 of 39 passes for 263 yards, a touchdown and an interception. The inability to run the ball was a problem for the Redskins as well, as they mustered just 49 yards on 15 carries. Turnovers were another problem, finishing minus-two against Dallas. Ball security is going to be important moving forward for Washington with little margin for error.
Washington at Seattle
Kickoff: Sunday, Nov. 5 at 4:05 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Seattle -7
Three Things to Watch
1. Seahawks’ offensive line with Duane Brown
After another rough week of running the football, Seahawks general manager John Schneider acquired left tackle Duane Brown in a trade with Houston. A three-time Pro Bowler, Brown will immediately upgrade an offensive line that has been an issue the last few seasons. Seattle took the Walmart style approach when it came to the offensive line for as long as the team could afford. In the end, they had no choice but to pay a Tesla Model X type price in draft pick compensation to get Brown as the road to the Super Bowl coming out of the NFC is wide open. The running game should benefit from Brown’s addition with Eddie Lacy set to get the first opportunity as the primary ball carrier. If Lacy struggles look for Thomas Rawls and J.D. McKissic to get their shot at staking their claim to the No. 1 role.
2. Kirk Cousins and the Redskins’ passing game
Cousins, will make his first appearance in front of the 12s which will be interesting to see how patient he will be with the football when he drops back to pass. Jamison Crowder and Chris Thompson figure to be busy on Sunday given Washington’s issues running the football. Crowder should have opportunities for chunk plays against the Seahawks’ secondary, which got exposed numerous times last week against Houston, and Thompson will get his chances catching the ball out of the backfield. The screen pass can be a very powerful weapon against a fierce pass rush and expect Seattle to push the envelope and bring the heat all afternoon long. If the Seahawks can’t make tackles in open space, it increases the Redskins’ chances of staying in this game and stealing a win on the road.
3. Life without Earl Thomas
Thomas is arguably the most valuable player on the Seahawks roster, let alone the defense. Thus, if Thomas is out with a hamstring injury this week (did not practice Wednesday or Thursday) the pressure will be cranked up on the rest of the secondary to make up for his absence. Bradley McDougald is expected to take Thomas’ place in the lineup if he is unavailable. McDougald, has been a special teams ace so far in 2017 as he leads the team with seven special teams tackles on the season. In addition, McDougald stepped up in a big way covering Giants tight end Evan Engram two weeks ago in Seattle’s 24-7 win. Another thing that will ease the transition for McDougald will be a healthy Kam Chancellor, who should be able to pick up the slack should Thomas not be able to play.
On paper, this game looks like it should be a convincing win for the Seahawks. However, Seattle has only gone 3-4 against the Vegas point spread this season so all bets are off as far as how this game unfolds. The running game will be the difference-maker as the Seahawks have not imposed their will on opponents on the ground this season. If Eddie Lacy or one of the other running backs can provide a spark behind a new-look offensive line, Seattle should win going away. For Washington, the Redskins need to stay patient on offense and not turn the ball over in order to keep the game close. Expect that to be the case in the first half before the Seahawks pull away in the third and fourth quarters for a two-score victory and extend their winning streak to five in a row.
Prediction: Seahawks 31, Redskins 20
— Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and writes for College Sports Madness, covering college football, basketball, softball and baseball. Follow Scott on Twitter @ScottWhittum.
Thanks to a temporary stay granted by a federal court Friday morning, Dallas will have star running back Ezekiel Elliott on Sunday for its home game against Kansas City in the latest development involving his on-again, off-again six-game suspension. That could be bad news for the Chiefs, who are tied for the best record in the AFC at 6-2 but haven’t looked as dominant recently as they did during their 5-0 start.
With Elliott in the backfield, Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott proving his stellar rookie season was no fluke, and one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, Dallas should be able to move the ball against a defense that ranks 28th in the NFL against both the run and the pass and 30th in yards allowed per game.
The Cowboys’ defense has the task of trying to slow down a Kansas City offense that ranks third in both scoring and total offense and is averaging 34.5 points per game on the road this season. But the way both the Chiefs' offense and the Cowboys' defense are trending indicates things may swing the home team’s way.
Kansas City at Dallas
Kickoff: Sunday, Nov. 5 at 4:25 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Chiefs -1
Three Things to Watch
1. After fast start, the Chiefs have slowed
Over the first five weeks of the season, the Chiefs' offense looked so good that some were wondering if they would ever lose. But then the Steelers held them to 251 total yards and 13 points at Arrowhead. Last week, the Chiefs totaled only 276 yards against Denver and scored only one offensive touchdown. They won 29–19, thanks in part to their defense forcing five turnovers. In between those games was a 31–30 loss to Oakland, but even in that shootout there was a red flag: only 94 yards rushing against a defense that just got gashed for 166 by the Bills. Some of the drop-off can certainly be attributed to injuries along the offensive line, but there’s no denying the Chiefs need to find a way to get Kareem Hunt (above, right) going again. The rookie back topped 100 yards rushing in four of his first five games but has only 154 total in the last three. He’s also gone five weeks without a touchdown after scoring six times in his first three NFL games.
2. Will Ezekiel Elliott make the most of his latest reprieve?
At the start of the season, Elliott was making more headlines for what was happening off of the field involving his appeal of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s six-game suspension rather than what he was doing on it. But that’s what happens when you run for a total of 173 yards in Weeks 2-4 combined. Since then, however, Elliott has picked things up considerably. In his last three games, Elliott has piled up 413 yards and four touchdowns. He enters this game third in the league in rushing at 690 yards, just 73 behind Hunt for the league lead. Kansas City is near the bottom of the NFL in rushing defense, allowing 131.1 yards per game (28th). Every team that the Chiefs have faced except one (Oakland in Week 7) has gained at least 107 yards on the ground. That’s not a good sign considering Elliott’s recent performances, as he seems to be approaching every game lately as it could be his last.
3. Dallas must take care of the ball
Obviously this could be a key for every NFL game, but it’s even more important when facing a team like the Chiefs that rarely turns the ball over (tied for fewest giveaways in the NFL with three). The Cowboys have also been pretty good at avoiding turnovers (eight so far, 10th-best in the NFL), but they have given the ball away seven times in their three losses. While the Dallas defense has tightened up since the bye, allowed fewer than 300 yards in back-to-back wins, it has also forced six turnovers in those two games. The Cowboys can’t count on gifts like that from Kansas City.
Prior to Friday, it appeared that Kansas City would catch a break and not have to worry about facing Ezekiel Elliott. A federal court changed that, however, and now the Chiefs must adjust their defensive game plans on short notice. This team also is pretty banged up (wideouts Dee Ford and Albert Wilson both hadn’t practiced as of Thursday, and leading sacker Justin Houston has been limited) right now. Besides having Elliott for at least one more game, it feels like the Cowboys are some bad turnover luck from being 6-1 right now; before the bye they lost back-to-back home games despite scoring 30 and 31 points thanks to five giveaways. As long as Dallas takes care of the ball, the home team should be able to take care of business.
Prediction: Cowboys 30, Chiefs 24
Big-time fantasy names keep dotting the top of the leaderboard for running backs. Ezekiel Elliot (who got another last-minute reprieve from the courts) and LeSean McCoy led the way in scoring in Week 8, while Melvin Gordon and Lamar Miller continued to prove their RB1-worth with top-five performances.
With all the Week 9 byes, there are probably some lineup spots that need to be filled this week. Here are those running backs you should trust and those you may want to consider leaving on the bench, as tough as that might be with so many teams on bye.
Good Calls for Week 8...
Start Alvin Kamara (16.6 fantasy points) – In a week where six teams were on bye, Kamara came through huge for fantasy owners.
Sit Thomas Rawls and Eddie Lacy (-0.1 FP combined) – The Seahawks are terrible at running the football and the way Russell Wilson is playing, they don’t need to run it.
Bad Calls for Week 8...
Sit Isaiah Crowell (15.8 FP) – Crowell has done nothing all year, and finally, in London of all places, he has a decent game and scored a touchdown against a stout Vikings defense.
Start Jay Ajayi (4.1 FP) – Are the Dolphins really better off with Jay Cutler under center than Matt Moore?
Teams on bye: Chicago, Cleveland, Los Angeles Chargers, Minnesota, New England, Pittsburgh
START THESE RBs...
Ameer Abdullah, DET (at GB, Mon.)
His 11 rushes for 27 yards could scare you away, but game flow can lead to a better production from Abdullah. If the Lions get out to an early lead against the Packers, which they should, we may see Detroit try to eat up the clock with Abdullah, and to a lesser extent, Theo Riddick. I want to believe. All the coaching staff needs to is give Abdullah a few goal-line carries and everything is just fine.
Doug Martin, TB (at NO)
New Orleans is giving up some ground this year, allowing 4.9 yards per carry and more than 130 rushing yards per game. Martin’s been featured by the Bucs every week since he’s come back from serving his suspension, and he’s guaranteed at least 15 touches against the Saints. Roll him out confidently as an RB2 with RB1 upside.
Alvin Kamara, NO (vs. TB)
Mark Ingram fumbled twice last week and got benched for the last drive in favor of Kamara. Head coach Sean Payton already has a dislike for Ingram, and two fumbles sure don’t help his cause. So, given the history, there is a good chance Payton starts Kamara this week. More importantly, Drew Brees will throw the ball a lot against Tampa Bay. Kamara is often further downfield than the wide receivers on passing plays. He has as good a chance at going over 100 receiving yards as Michael Thomas or Ted Ginn Jr. Start Kamara.
MIGHT BE WORTH THE RISK...
Joe Mixon, CIN (at JAC)
The Bengals’ game plan should focus on attacking the league's worst rushing defense on Sunday. Fantasy owners should anticipate minimal pass attempts for quarterback Andy Dalton and at least 20 touches for Mixon. Despite a dip in workload over the past two weeks, he eclipsed 100 yards from scrimmage for the second time against the Colts last week. Mixon leads the Bengals’ backfield in carries (85) and receptions (17). Expect him to see a high volume of touches in a conservative offensive approach against an aggressive defense. He's a must-start player in Week 9.
SIT THESE RBs...
Adrian Peterson, ARI (at SF)
Maybe Bruce Arians and the Cardinals got things right after their bye, but with Drew Stanton under center, how can you expect anything less than eight men in the box at all times, ready to stuff AP? It’s a sad situation. The comeback lasted for one game.
Devonta Freeman, ATL (at CAR)
Atlanta looks to get back in the NFC South race this week with its first divisional game. Over the first eight weeks, Freeman has put together the quietest top-10 fantasy performance in the league. He is averaging 4.5 yards per carry, but inexplicably has averaged just 11 carries per game over his last three. The Falcons’ offensive identity has yet to be determined under coordinator Steve Sarkisian, but limited carries and the third-stingiest fantasy defense of the Carolina Panthers make Freeman a tough start in Week 9.
C.J. Anderson, DEN (at PHI)
Denver is turning to Brock Osweiler at quarterback, so Anderson’s value could go back up. But the Broncos seem to be moving toward a full-blown running back-by-committee with Anderson ceding more touches each week to Jamaal Charles and Devontae Booker. That will make achieving a fantasy-relevant day even harder against Philadelphia’s top-five rushing defense.
— Written by Michael Horvath, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Horvath is a Canadian who also happens to be a fantasy football (not to be confused with CFL) and fitness nut. Follow him on Twitter @realmikehorvath.
(Top photo by Michael C. Herbert, courtesy of www.neworleanssaints.com)
Last week we saw the apparent fantasy demise of both Terrelle Pryor and Martavis Bryant while Houston’s duo of DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller continued to enjoy life with Deshaun Watson at quarterback. Unfortunately, Watson tore his ACL in practice on Thursday, which changes the outlook of the duo moving forward. The Texans have a good matchup against the Colts’ soft secondary, but will it matter with Tom Savage now in at quarterback?
Julio Jones still has the big name and tremendous ceiling so he remains in the top five, but this season has been beyond disappointing, not that his owners have much choice. The touchdowns simply haven’t been there and as for this week, Carolina’s defense has been pretty solid this season. But Jones has had some big games against the Panthers before so you never know.
Elsewhere, Willie Snead appears to be out of the picture in New Orleans, and owners who were patient, or spent FAAB on him may be ready to cut ties. I certainly wouldn’t start him with any confidence this week.
Robby Anderson seems to be building a nice bond with Josh McCown after hauling in six catches for 104 yards and a touchdown in Week 8. He climbs the rankings as a top weapon for the Jets along with tight end Austin Sefarian-Jenkins.
And will Corey Davis return and make an impact in Week 9 for the Titans? His owners certainly hope so, but for this week he’s probably just a flex option.
Teams on bye: Chicago, Cleveland, Los Angeles Chargers, Minnesota, New England, Pittsburgh
— Rankings by Chris Meyers, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the FSWA. Meyers' work appears on many other sites, including socalledfantasyexperts.com. Follow him on Twitter @FantsyChillpony.
With Le’Veon Bell on a bye this week, the Week 9 fantasy running back rankings look quite different. However, an unexpected development leaves us with a guy in the No. 1 spot we didn’t think would play – Ezekiel Elliott.
Friday morning’s court ruling gives Elliott at least one more game and he immediately vaults to the top thanks to his strong play recently (413 rushing yards over last three games). Also, for the first time this season there are two rookie running backs in the top tier. To find out who these are and where new Eagle Jay Ajayi, as well as the Dolphins’ reshuffled backfield falls, be sure to check out the full Week 9 rankings below.
Teams on bye: Chicago, Cleveland, Los Angeles Chargers, Minnesota, New England, Pittsburgh
|1||Ezekiel Elliott||DAL||vs. KC|
|2||Kareem Hunt||KC||at DAL|
|3||Todd Gurley||LAR||at NYG|
|4||LeSean McCoy||BUF||at NYJ (Thurs.)|
|5||Leonard Fournette||JAC||vs. CIN|
|6||Mark Ingram||NO||vs. TB|
|7||Lamar Miller||HOU||vs. IND|
|8||Devonta Freeman||ATL||at CAR|
|9||Doug Martin||TB||at NO|
|10||Aaron Jones||GB||vs. DET (Mon.)|
|11||Alvin Kamara||NO||vs. TB|
|12||DeMarco Murray||TEN||vs. BAL|
|13||Adrian Peterson||ARI||at SF|
|14||Carlos Hyde||SF||vs. ARI|
|15||Chris Thompson||WAS||at SEA|
|16||Joe Mixon||CIN||at JAC|
|17||Alex Collins||BAL||at TEN|
|18||Christian McCaffrey||CAR||vs. ATL|
|19||C.J. Anderson||DEN||at PHI|
|20||Ameer Abdullah||DET||at GB (Mon.)|
|21||Tevin Coleman||ATL||at CAR|
|22||Jay Ajayi||PHI||vs. DEN|
|23||Bilal Powell||NYJ||vs. BUF (Thurs.)|
|24||Orleans Darkwa||NYG||vs. LAR|
|25||Marshawn Lynch||OAK||at MIA|
|26||Frank Gore||IND||at HOU|
|27||Matt Forte||NYJ||vs. BUF (Thurs.)|
|28||Derrick Henry||TEN||vs. BAL|
|29||Javorius Allen||BAL||at TEN|
|30||LeGarrette Blount||PHI||vs. DEN|
|31||Marlon Mack||IND||at HOU|
|32||Jonathan Stewart||CAR||vs. ATL|
|33||Robert Kelley||WAS||at SEA|
|34||Ty Montgomery||GB||vs. DET (Mon.)|
|35||Kenyan Drake||MIA||vs. OAK|
|36||Theo Riddick||DET||at GB (Mon.)|
|37||Jalen Richard||OAK||at MIA|
|38||Thomas Rawls||SEA||vs. WAS|
|39||Jamaal Charles||DEN||at PHI|
|40||Damien Williams||MIA||vs. OAK|
|41||Matt Breida||SF||vs. ARI|
|42||DeAndre Washington||OAK||at MIA|
|43||Wayne Gallman||NYG||vs. LAR|
|44||Alfred Morris||DAL||vs. KC|
|45||Eddie Lacy||SEA||vs. WAS|
|46||Chris Ivory||JAC||vs. CIN|
|47||Andre Ellington||ARI||at SF|
|48||Wendell Smallwood||PHI||vs. DEN|
|49||D'Onta Foreman||HOU||vs. IND|
|50||Giovani Bernard||CIN||at JAC|
— Rankings by Michael Horvath, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Horvath is a Canadian who also happens to be a fantasy football (not to be confused with CFL) and fitness nut. Follow him on Twitter @realmikehorvath.
Arizona takes on San Francisco Sunday afternoon in Levi’s Stadium in a matchup of teams in similar circumstances. The NFC West rivals are struggling to win games (Cardinals are 3-4, 49ers 0-8), are dealing with injuries to several key players, and are employing backup quarterbacks.
These two teams played a month ago back in Week 4, a game Arizona won 18-15 in overtime. Outside of the game-winning touchdown pass from Carson Palmer to Larry Fitzgerald, the rest of the scoring was done by kickers Phil Dawson and Robbie Gould. Ironically, neither starting quarterback from that game will be under center for this one, as Brian Hoyer is now in New England and Palmer is on injured reserve with a broken left arm.
San Francisco just finished up a grueling stretch of four of five games away from home with three of those being losses of three points or less. For such a young team, the frustration caught up with them in blowout losses to the Cowboys and Eagles. Rookie quarterback C.J. Beathard (above, right) has struggled, but the team still thought more of him than Hoyer, who was released. Jimmy Garoppolo, acquired in a trade with New England earlier this week, will not be available for Sunday, and Kyle Shanahan said on Wednesday that there was no guarantee Garoppolo would see the field in 2017. No. 1 wide receiver Pierre Garcon went on injured reserve on Thursday because of a neck injury, and he was one of the few reliable weapons the 49ers had.
Arizona lost its last game 33-0 over in London and showed very little fight while getting blown out. The Cardinals have alternated losses and wins the last few weeks and have been struggling with consistency. There was a report that head coach Bruce Arians was considering retirement at the end of the season, but he was quick to shut it down. Drew Stanton is at quarterback while Adrian Peterson set to play in his third game for Arizona since being acquired from New Orleans. Peterson was good in his first game but struggled his last time out behind an offensive line that is very iffy at best. The Cardinals' defense has been way too leaky of late, allowing 30 points or more in three straight contests.
Arizona at San Francisco
Kickoff: Sunday, Nov. 5 at 4:05 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Cardinals -2
Three Things to Watch
1. Mediocrity under center
Drew Stanton is in his 10th year in the NFL and has been around the block when it comes to being a fill-in starting quarterback. His lone action this season was a five-completion game against the Rams with an interception. The offense will look pretty close to the same considering how long he's been in Arizona. Larry Fitzgerald, Jaron Brown and John Brown will do their part to help and should be able to get open against a vulnerable San Francisco secondary.
C.J. Beathard is on the opposite end of the spectrum; it's his rookie year, and now he knows that he's probably not the future at the position for the 49ers. Beathard has not put up good numbers this season as he seems to overthrow a lot of his receivers. Beathard's accuracy, or lack thereof, is an issue for a team that doesn't have game-breakers and needs to matriculate down the field.
I used this key last week when it came to the 49ers game, and the theme continues for this week. What does Beathard think now that San Francisco traded for his replacement? Does he take this opportunity and use it to audition for other teams, or is he down in the dumps? The team has not been competitive the last two weeks and probably won't get much of a bump from a half-empty stadium at home. This will be the first of three straight home games (with a bye mixed in) so there's a chance the 49ers may finally get into the win column. On the Arizona side, do the Cardinals let the Arians retirement rumors bother them, or do they play on? When we last saw them, the Cards were getting blasted, and frustrations were boiling over. They are coming off a bye week, so maybe the team is refreshed and ready to be competitive.
3. Defense, defense, defense
If you look at both teams combined, they've allowed 30 points or more five straight games. San Francisco has already lost several starters to injuries, including defensive lineman Arik Armstead (broken hand) and safety Jimmie Ward (broken forearm), both of whom are on injured reserve. Additionally, first-round pick Solomon Thomas (knee) will more than likely miss this game while second-round pick Reuben Foster (ankle/ribs) and defensive lineman Aaron Lynch (calf) are battling injuries of their own.
Meanwhile, Arizona linebacker Karlos Dansby (finger/hamstring) is the only key member that appears on the injury report. I'd like to think a secondary featuring Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu would be able to hold down the 49ers’ mediocre receiving corps. To me, the big edge is the Cardinals’ pass rush against an offensive line that is really banged up. Joe Staley got hurt in the Eagles game and he’s one of four linemen that appear on the injury report.
Field goals. Lots and lots of field goals are what I see in this one. The short line that Vegas has provided us gives me pause in thinking that this will be a blowout. I thought the 49ers would have shown some fight after their record stretch of five straight losses of three points or less, but they haven't. This one may not be pretty to watch, so consider yourself forewarned.
Prediction: Cardinals 12, 49ers 9
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.
(C.J. Beathard photo courtesy of www.49ers.com)
This is the second game in a two-game series between these programs and at the time the series was announced in 2013, on paper it looked to be a series that would boast two of the best programs outside of the Power 5 leagues. The 2015 contest saw Fresno State enter Provo as a seven-loss team in the month of November. Fast-forward to this weekend, BYU (2-7) is the team with seven losses entering November. Will the Bulldogs (5-3) cruise to an easy win like BYU did two years ago?
BYU at Fresno State
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 4 at 10:45 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN2
Spread: Fresno State -14
Three Things to Watch
1. Fresno State looks to bounce back after shocking loss to UNLV
Last week Fresno State was the toast of the Mountain West Conference after pulling off the biggest win since Derek Carr was at quarterback for the Bulldogs. Fresno State took down San Diego State, but the following week, laid an egg at home against a UNLV team that had a new quarterback. That quarterback for the Rebels was a backup linebacker the previous week, and the Bulldogs still lost.
Was Fresno State reading too much in the headlines and everyone patting the team on the back? Tough question. But the Bulldogs can’t afford to drop another game at home where they are a large favorite. If they do, all the good fortune they built with the win over San Diego State would go out the door. And Jeff Tedford’s team also just needs one more win to become bowl eligible for the first time 2014.
2. BYU linebacker Fred Warner’s status
The 2017 season hasn’t seen many bright spots for the Cougars, but one player has been a joy to watch every week and that’s Warner. The senior linebacker (above, right) suffered an injury last week early against San Jose State. Head coach Kalani Sitake said Warner is currently “day-to-day,” but it’s very possible that Warner misses this weekend’s game which would leave walk-on Morgan Unga as the man to replace Warner. Unga had a team-high 10 tackles a week ago.
3. Fresno State wide receivers vs. BYU cornerbacks
Bulldogs wide receiver KeeSean Johnson is quarterback’s Marcus McMaryion's favorite target. Johnson leads Fresno in receiving with 555 yards with a long of 75 yards against New Mexico earlier this year.
BYU’s cornerbacks are a banged-up unit right now, but despite their injuries, they feel confident they are ready for the challenge of Fresno’s receivers, who did not play physical against an inferior UNLV secondary a week ago. BYU sophomore Dayan Ghanwoloku leads the Cougars in interceptions with two this season.
This is going to be a closer game than the computers or sharks in Vegas are currently forecasting. BYU gained some confidence on offense by actually producing some big plays and points. The Cougars put up 41 points, but was that due to playing a bad San Jose State team? BYU’s offense is showing progress, but ultimately, there are still too many unknowns with this unit from week to week.
Fresno State’s defense is the best defense BYU will have faced since Wisconsin earlier in the season. The Bulldogs’ defensive line is physical and probably will have success against a BYU offensive line that has been solid throughout the year. That combined with the playmakers Fresno has on offense, allows the Bulldogs pull away late in the fourth quarter for a win over their old WAC foes.
Prediction: Fresno State 28, BYU 20
— Written by Mitch Harper, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Harper is BYU Insider for ESPN 960 Sports and Publisher of Cougar Nation, part of the Rivals network. Follow him on Twitter @Mitch_Harper.
(Top photo courtesy of @FresnoStateFB)
Not many college football pundits or fans could have projected that a November matchup between USC and Arizona would decide sole possession of first place in the Pac-12 South. Coming off a 3-9 finish in 2016, which included an eight-game losing streak, Arizona was tabbed for the division's cellar in the preseason media poll and projected as little more than a speed bump for overwhelming preseason favorite USC on its way to the Pac-12 Championship Game.
Likewise, few could have envisioned the impact Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate would have — especially given that Brandon Dawkins started for the first month of the season. But Dawkins' injury at Colorado on Oct. 7 opened the door for Tate, and Tate ran through it like he has run through defenses in the last four games.
The Wildcats carry a four-game winning streak into Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, where they haven't won since 2009. Meanwhile, the Trojans have rolled off 14 straight victories on home turf, spanning the duration of Clay Helton's tenure as head coach. USC is coming off its best performance of the season since dominating Stanford on Sept. 9, blowing out Arizona State in another showdown for first place in the South.
Saturday night's winner isn't assured a spot at Levi's Stadium for next month's conference championship — but the road will be that much easier.
Arizona at USC
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 4 at 10:45 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: USC -7.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Star quarterbacks
Ask any coach for a general assessment of quarterbacks, and he will tell you that the position gets too much credit in good times and too much blame in the bad. USC's erstwhile Heisman Trophy contender, Sam Darnold (above, right), is the living embodiment of the truth of that perception.
When the Trojans won nine straight in 2016, Darnold was lauded as the reason. And, indeed, USC's fortunes turned around when Darnold moved into the starting lineup, but the Trojans also improved defensively and in the run game during that span. Meanwhile, this season, Darnold's turnovers have been under intense scrutiny — even more so than the mountain of injuries that have limited USC at various positions.
Khalil Tate is in a role similar to Darnold's a season ago; his insertion into the starting lineup kicked off a winning streak that spanned the month of October and included Arizona's first win over UCLA in six years and an upset of No. 15-ranked Washington State. Wildcats head coach Rich Rodriguez is apt to point out that a young defense has made strides throughout the season, however, and Arizona has been healthier this season than in any since 2014 — when it last won the South division.
Darnold and Tate will once again occupy the spotlight Saturday night. Whether it's Tate's rushing ability and big arm, or Darnold's gunslinging and pocket presence, one quarterback will come away from the Coliseum a hero.
Coming off a dismal performance against the run at Notre Dame — quarterback Brandon Wimbush and running back Josh Adams both eclipsed 100 yards — USC responded by limiting Arizona State to just 79 yards on the ground. Up next is an Arizona rushing attack with several similarities to that of Notre Dame.
Behind Tate, who is averaging almost 14 yards per carry and has more runs of 50-plus yards than all but five teams in college football, Arizona boasts the nation's fifth-best rushing offense. The only four teams with higher per-game production all run triple-option schemes.
Rodriguez may not oversee a triple option, but Arizona's scheme does rely on a similarly multifaceted approach. Alongside Tate, three different Wildcat running backs have hit 100 yards in the last three games: Nick Wilson vs. UCLA on Oct. 14; Zach Green at Cal on Oct. 21; and J.J. Taylor last weekend vs. Washington State.
Conversely, USC rebounded from a poor rushing game at Notre Dame to roll up a season high at Arizona State. Running back Ronald Jones II dumped more than 200 yards on the Sun Devils. With the Trojans' run game clicking, it's no surprise Darnold operated from a clean pocket and played a turnover-free game.
3. Late-game heroics
Despite winning by comfortable margins a week ago — USC by 31 at Arizona State, Arizona by 21 against Washington State — both the Trojans and Wildcats have shown a flair for the dramatic this season. In its last game at the Coliseum, USC needed a two-point conversion tackle in the open field from cornerback Ajene Harris to thwart an upset bid from Utah.
Meanwhile, Arizona's winning streak in October kicked off with a three-point win at Colorado, and linebacker Colin Schooler batted a two-point conversion attempt pass away to preserve a one-point victory at Cal.
Indeed, close contests have been the M.O. for both of these Pac-12 South pace-setters in 2017. What's more, the Trojans and Wildcats have been wildly competitive with each other in recent years. USC dominated in Tucson last season, despite Tate scoring a rushing touchdown that served as something of a sneak preview for his 2017 star turn. Prior to that 48-14 win, however, every meeting from 2007-15 came down to a single possession.
Expect a similar finish in 2017. Both teams have been tested in such situations this season, and the final minutes should provide an intriguing cat-and-mouse game.
Arizona's run through October, highlighted by Khalil Tate's individual brilliance, is one of the most shocking turns of the 2017 season. Taking over first place in the division in the final month would be a fitting step for a program that, not long ago, was considered a leading candidate for a change in direction.
Defensive coordinator Marcel Yates' unit has overachieved all season long behind freshmen like Colin Schooler, Tony Fields and Kylan Wilborn up front, and a veteran secondary with Demetrius Flanagan-Fowles and Jace Whittaker has made its own strides. The Wildcats have excelled at generating turnovers, which has been USC's primary weakness on offense.
Meanwhile, the Wildcats' explosive run game is up against its own stiff challenge. Porter Gustin's return to the USC defensive front gives the Trojans their strongest look — although the loss of Midseason All-American Christian Rector looms large. Still, Gustin and Uchenna Nwosu, a strong contender for Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, give the Trojans the best shot at slowing Tate and Co. that any opponent has had yet.
This should be a wildly entertaining, wildly competitive contest ultimately coming down to a final play. USC has proven adept at making such plays, especially at home.
Prediction: USC 38, Arizona 35
Washington quarterback Jake Browning does not especially enjoy talking about "the point." After all, Huskies head coach Chris Petersen disciplined Browning for his finger-pointing taunt of an Oregon player during last year's 70–21 Huskies rout — though neither provided specifics at this summer's Pac-12 media days.
Browning may be contrite discussing the point now, but it's a moment that will live in Washington-Oregon rivalry lore forever. One gesture crystallized the exorcising of frustrations built up over 12 years of Huskies losses to their border foes.
Oregon vs. Washington is one of the most acrimonious rivalries in the Pac-12. However, with Oregon dominating the series from 2004-15, it wasn't much of a rivalry. The tables turned quickly. Washington's 70-21 blowout marked the most points scored in one game in the series and provided the Huskies a stepping stone to the College Football Playoff. For Oregon, the loss was one of eight in a pivotal season for the direction of the program.
First-year head coach Willie Taggart faces a tall task in preventing last season's blowout from turning into a longer-term trend for the Ducks.
Oregon at Washington
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov.4 at 10 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FS1
Spread: Washington -17.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Quarterback play
Oregon's talented sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert sustained a collarbone injury in September, a devastating blow after the Ducks started new head coach Willie Taggart's debut campaign at 4-1. Oregon dropped the next three straight with Taylor Alie and Braxton Burmeister (above, right) manning the job, but last weekend's 41-20 defeat of Utah might have marked a turning point for the position.
Burmeister was a perfectly efficient 9-of-12 passing with a touchdown and no interceptions. The latter is important, because turnovers crushed the Ducks during the losing skid. With a multifaceted rushing attack featuring running backs Royce Freeman, Kani Benoit and Tony Brooks-James, having the proficient passing of Herbert maximizes Oregon's offensive potential — and Herbert isn't definitively ruled out for the Washington game just yet — but the run game is good enough to need only the threat of a pass to flourish.
Meanwhile, the Washington defense has been one of the nation's best at generating turnovers in the past two seasons.
2. Sled Dawgs
One of the quiet surprises of this college football season is the unreal turnaround in run defense that Oregon defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt has engineered. After fielding one of the worst run defenses in the nation a season ago, Oregon comes into Saturday's rivalry tilt ranked No. 15 in the nation against the run.
Take away Stanford's 6.1 yards per carry average with Heisman Trophy candidate Bryce Love, and Oregon's game-by-game per-carry yield goes like this: 2.6, 3.8, 3.7, 2.7, 0.3, 3.5, 3.8 and 3.3. But here comes a Washington offense with an impressive 22 rushing touchdowns on the season — as many as Louisville with reigning Heisman winner Lamar Jackson — and a solid 4.9 yards per carry.
Washington dumped 333 rushing yards on UCLA last week, with running back Myles Gaskin's 169 setting the pace. The Huskies' offense is at its best when it is balanced, as Browning feeds off the multifaceted backfield look with Gaskin and Lavon Coleman.
3. Special teams playmakers
A big special teams play can be pivotal, and both Oregon and Washington feature playmakers who can change the complexion of a game in a matter of seconds.
Washington's Dante Pettis leads the nation with three punts returned for touchdowns on the season. With Pettis leading the way, the Huskies are tied for first in the FBS in punt returns of 20 yards or more with six.
Oregon's Tony Brooks-James is a difference-maker in a similar vein. He has a kickoff return for a score and averages almost 26 yards per opportunity — 20th in the nation.
Last season's meeting in Autzen Stadium provided the perfect storm for Washington to end Oregon's streak in the series in spectacular fashion. Washington was playing some of the best football in the nation, while the Ducks sputtered badly. Willie Taggart and his staff have reinvigorated Oregon football, with the Ducks now sitting just one win shy of bowl eligibility.
Oregon should get to the postseason, but the bowl-sealing win won't come against Washington. Oregon should be more competitive than a 49-point margin this time around, but the Huskies are clearly the better team on both sides of the ball.
Prediction: Washington 42, Oregon 17
The bowl landscape for Pac-12 teams is getting crowded entering the final month of the regular season. Arizona State and Colorado sit two games and one game shy, respectively, of reaching eligibility, but hitting that all-important six-win milestone in these coming weeks is no guarantee for either team.
Colorado at Arizona State
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 4 at 9 p.m. ET
TV Channel: Pac-12 Network
Spread: Arizona State -3.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Run, Ralphie, run
The difference in Colorado's offense when it establishes the run successfully and when it doesn't could not be any more stark. In Pac-12 play, the Buffs have games of 191, 300, 206 and 200 yards rushing, and they average 36.25 points in those contests. In losses to Washington and Washington State, Colorado rushed for 200 total yards and scored a combined 10 points.
Running back Phillip Lindsay (above, right) is the driving engine of the Colorado offense, so it's no surprise that the Buffs are at their best when he gets rolling. With quarterback Steven Montez's proficient running ability and inconsistent passing, success on the ground is paramount for Colorado.
Conversely, Arizona State's midseason surge — wins over Washington and Utah — came on the strength of two outstanding performances against the run at 91 and 110 yards, respectively. The Sun Devils' suddenly blistering defense got doused last week in the form of 341 rushing yards by USC.
2. N'Keal Harry's big-play ability
Few wide receivers in college football have the ability to break off explosive plays quite like Arizona State's Harry. He combines height, remarkable leaping ability, soft hands and breakaway speed to present secondaries with the ultimate coverage conundrum.
Colorado has a cornerback capable of matching up with Harry — if he's in the lineup. Isaiah Oliver missed the Buffs' Oct. 28 game at Cal, and while it didn't hurt Colorado then, Oliver's possible absence would leave a gaping hole in the secondary against big-play receiver Harry and big-armed quarterback Manny Wilkins.
3. Pace of play
Arizona State head coach Todd Graham was a defensive coordinator before moving into the chief role 11 years ago at Rice. However, Graham is apt to tout his track record working with high-tempo, high-scoring offenses. Indeed, his squads at Rice, Tulsa and now Arizona State all put up some impressive point totals. This season's Sun Devils have been better off keeping scores lower in conference play, however.
Colorado's young defense benefits from a higher scoring pace established on the offensive end. In two Pac-12 wins, the Buffs put up a combined 80 points. Their total in four losses is 75, but take away the 42 scored in a 45-42 shootout with Arizona, and the Buffs average 11 points per game in conference losses.
The 48 points Arizona State surrendered a week ago suggest that the stifling defense it played against Washington and Utah may have been an aberration, particularly after an 11-game streak of surrendering 30-plus points dating back to last season. The Sun Devils need to knock Montez around early and establish a slower pace — slower for the Buffs, anyway — and make last week's loss the exception.
Bowl bubbles will burst in the coming weeks for some teams in the Pac-12. Colorado already won one such game a week ago, rebounding from a shutout loss at Washington State to pop surprising Cal in the mouth. The Buffs get USC at home on Nov. 11, but with the Trojans pursuing the divisional championship, that might be the most difficult date on the calendar.
Colorado can avoid sweating it out for the USC and Utah matchups with a win Saturday. Arizona State is under similar pressure — perhaps doubly so, coming in at 4-4 after a devastating loss to USC. Emotions will be high with the Sun Devils honoring the late Pat Tillman as well.
Arizona State needs to set the tone early, particularly on defense. After Ronald Jones II went for more than 200 rushing yards a week ago, the most underrated back in the conference, Phillip Lindsay, could be primed to exploit Arizona State's run defense in similar fashion.
Prediction: Colorado 34, Arizona State 30
Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh finally made the decision all Wolverine fans had been begging for last week when redshirt freshman Brandon Peters entered the game against Rutgers for an ineffective John O’Korn. Peters completed 10-of-14 passes for 124 yards and led the Wolverines to touchdowns on his first two drives of the game, helping Michigan (6-2) defeat Rutgers 35-14.
Minnesota (4-4) is coming off a hard-fought loss in Iowa City, falling 17-10 to the Hawkeyes, and now the Gophers have just a 1-4 record in conference play. The upcoming schedule is not kind to the Gophers, either, with trips to Michigan and Northwestern before closing with Wisconsin.
The Little Brown Jug is up for grabs once again in this Big Ten showdown on Saturday night.
Minnesota at Michigan
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 4 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Michigan -15.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Time to shine
It's the Brandon Peters show from here on out. While Jim Harbaugh downplayed the decision this week to the media, stating that Peters was “likely” to get the nod this week, it's virtually a given that he will turn to the redshirt freshman this week against Minnesota. The jolt to the entire offense was evident last week once Peters entered the game, as the Wolverines scored on their next two ensuing offensive drives. Yes, the playbook was simplified, but Peters was making the simple throws and reads that his veteran predecessors were struggling to make earlier in the year. Unless disaster strikes, this is Peters’ job from here on out.
To say that Minnesota’s passing game is bad would be putting things mildly. The Gophers rank 115th in the country in passing offense and only rank ahead of Rutgers in the Big Ten in throwing the football this season. Head coach P.J. Fleck made the move to sophomore quarterback Demry Croft in the hopes of bringing some life to the passing attack, but Croft has thrown for a grand total of 349 yards in three games combined. Eeesh. Minnesota can rely on sophomore receiver Tyler Johnson, who has far and away been the team’s best player in 2017 and is tied for second in the conference with seven receiving touchdowns, but the Gophers don’t offer up much more on offense that threatens an opponent.
3. Defensive battle
Both teams rank near the top of the country in many of the major defensive statistical categories in 2017, so prepare yourself for that good old fashioned Big Ten slugfest on Saturday. Both the Wolverines and Gophers rank in the top 25 in total defense, passing defense and scoring defense, and both are in the top 40 against the run as well. With both offenses ranking in the bottom half of the country in terms of scoring, averaging around 26 points per game, don’t expect to see a ton of fireworks on Saturday night.
Can the Gophers generate enough offense against this swarming Michigan defense to make this a competitive game? In short, it's highly unlikely. While the Wolverines did give up a few chunk plays last week against Rutgers, the defense was excellent once again and shut down the Scarlet Knights' one-dimensional offense. Minnesota, outside of wide receiver Tyler Johnson, is just as inept throwing the football as Rutgers, and that plays right into the Wolverines’ hands. Michigan wins a low-scoring affair and holds on to the Little Brown Jug.
Prediction: Michigan 24, Minnesota 13
— Written by Mike Bainbridge, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bainbridge is a graduate of Northern Illinois University. Follow him on Twitter @MBainbridgeCFF.
The TCU Horned Frogs lost their spotless record last week in an ill-fated trip to Ames, Iowa. Their hopes of a Big 12 title still remain intact, though. TCU needs to knock off an improving Texas team this weekend to keep those hopes alive.
After a rough start, things are looking up in Austin. The Longhorns may have the top defense in the conference at this point in the year, and gutty freshman quarterback Sam Ehlinger may be back on the field soon.
Will the Horned Frogs bounce back, or can UT keep up its newfound winning ways?
Texas at TCU
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 4 at 7:15 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: TCU -7
Three Things to Watch
1. Ehlinger back in business?
UT’s starting QB skipped last week’s trip to Baylor after suffering a head injury versus Oklahoma State a week earlier. Sophomore Shane Buechele got the nod in his place and played coolly efficient football, throwing for an average of 7.5 yards per each of his 34 passing attempts with a touchdown and an interception in a 38-7 win.
That, however, was Baylor. Texas probably needs Ehlinger in the lineup to have a crack at upsetting TCU. Luckily for the ‘Horns, he returned to practice this week.
2. Kenny Hill’s composure
TCU’s signal-caller had managed to avoid disaster this season all the way up until last week. Iowa State picked him off twice at inopportune times – One came in the end zone, while the other sealed the Cyclones’ win. Hill also lost a fumble inside the red zone. It was the kind of meltdown that has plagued him his entire college career. He can’t let it carry over to this week.
3. Turpin time
Speedster KaVontae Turpin represents a dangerous wild card for the Horned Frogs in this matchup. Although the Cyclones shut him out in the receiving game a week ago, Turpin still managed to put the only points on the board for TCU via a touchdown on a kickoff return.
Gary Patterson emphasized getting Turpin more involved in the offense on Saturday in comments that the TCU head coach made to the media this week. You’ve been warned, ‘Horns.
Can Kenny Hill keep the mistakes down? The answer to that question will ultimately determine the outcome of this game. Texas’ opportunistic defense thrives on forcing turnovers; Hill has a history of doing just that.
Assuming their QB takes care of the ball, the Horned Frogs should pull this game out. Even with Sam Ehlinger back behind center, that only upgrades the UT offense from “punchless” to “passable.” The Longhorns need chances for cheap points off giveaways to have a shot at winning when they come to Amon G. Carter Stadium on Saturday night.
Despite UT’s knack for knocking balls loose from opposing offenses, relying on making those kinds of plays isn’t a great formula for consistent success. Look for TCU to win an ugly affair thanks to a home-run play by KaVontae Turpin.
Prediction: TCU 24, Texas 21
— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is founder and editor of BlatantHomerism.com and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.
The Rams are coming off a tough loss at home to Air Force where they had trouble stopping the run. Wyoming, on the other hand, looked impressive in a blowout win over division bottom-dweller New Mexico. In that game, Cowboys quarterback Josh Allen looked impressive, tossing four touchdowns and no interceptions.
Colorado State at Wyoming
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 4 at 7 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS Sports Network
Spread: Colorado State -3
Three Things to Watch
1. Colorado State's receivers vs. Wyoming's defensive backs
This skill position battle will feature some of the very best players the Mountain West has to offer. Rams receiver Michael Gallup (above, right) is simply one of the best in the country at his position. He and his teammates will be running routes in a secondary patrolled by a couple of future NFL players from Wyoming. The Cowboys are allowing only 160.4 yards a game through the air and are tied for second nationally in interceptions with 14. Be that as it may, this thing looks like it has the makings of a shootout. The winner of this battle will likely have the upper hand.
2. Can Josh Allen keep rolling?
When Allen is on his game, Wyoming is a completely different team. He was able to put it all together against an inferior New Mexico squad his last time out, but has struggled to live up to his preseason hype so far in the 2017 campaign. Every possession will count in the matchup. Allen is going to have to take care of the ball much better than he has for most of this season. As good as Wyoming's defense is, the Rams are still going to get their points. It could be Allen's efficiency and ability to finish drives that decides this one.
3. Old school vs. new school
Both of these teams are accurate reflections of their coaches. Colorado State is an up-tempo team that is fun to watch offensively, just the way their head coach Mike Bobo likes it. Wyoming does what it needs to on offense while playing gritty, opportunistic defense — a hallmark of Craig Bohl's teams over the years. This is going to be a sneaky-fun game to watch. There's a lot on the line, and the clash of styles should provide some fireworks.
The later in a season that a game takes place, the more I like the team with the better defense to win what is otherwise a toss-up. It's going to be a bit on the cold side at kickoff, and it will likely be rainy. Wyoming's style of play is more conducive to that environment, while Colorado State's offensive scheme is the kind that leads to turnovers in the elements. Aside from that, Craig Bohl's teams are always prepared for big-time matchups and usually perform well under fire. Combine all of that with the game being on Wyoming's home turf, and I like the Cowboys' chances in this one.
Prediction: Wyoming 30, Colorado State 24
— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He also covers the Big Ten for Black Heart Gold Pants, Iowa's SB Nation blog. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo! and Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.
The 2017 version of Alabama-LSU doesn’t have the hype of some of the previous matchups, but there is still plenty at stake in Saturday night’s showdown in Tuscaloosa. Just how important has this matchup been in recent years? Since 2007, every matchup between the Tigers and Crimson Tide featured both teams ranked inside of the top 25. The 2017 season will be no different, as Alabama checked in at No. 2 in the CFB Playoff poll and LSU ranked No. 19.
If LSU had its pick, the CFB Playoff rankings would have been released after Saturday’s game in Tuscaloosa. That’s largely because Alabama ranked No. 2 behind Georgia, providing plenty of motivation for Nick Saban’s team. While LSU has a tough assignment against the Crimson Tide, coach Ed Orgeron’s team is headed in the right direction after a sluggish start. The Tigers beat BYU and Chattanooga to start 2-0 but was dominated 37-7 in a road loss at Mississippi State. After a win against Syracuse, LSU suffered a disappointing 24-21 loss to Troy in Baton Rouge. While the defeat caused the temperature under Orgeron to heat up, the loss forced the team to evaluate and the coaching staff to get on the same page. Since that game, LSU is 3-0 and staged a second-half rally to defeat Auburn 27-23.
Alabama hasn’t faced the toughest slate so far this season, but Nick Saban’s team has rolled to an 8-0 start. The Crimson Tide defeated Florida State 24-7 in the opener and dominated Fresno State and Colorado State by a combined score of 82-33 in the next two weeks. In SEC play, Alabama easily handled Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, Arkansas and Tennessee and defeated Texas A&M 27-19. While the No. 2 ranking will be used as motivation for Saban, the Crimson Tide won’t have trouble taking over the top spot with their November slate. Alabama takes on LSU, Mississippi State and Auburn in SEC play – all three ranked opponents - and has a looming showdown with Georgia in the SEC Championship (if it wins out).
Alabama owns a 51-25-5 series edge against LSU. The Crimson Tide have won five in a row and eight out of the last 10 versus the Tigers.
LSU at Alabama
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 4 at 8 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Alabama - 21
Three Things to Watch
1. LSU’s Offense
A big selling point of Ed Orgeron taking over as head coach was the ability of LSU to go out and hire a big-time offensive coordinator. Under former coach Les Miles, the Tigers lagged in producing passing attacks capable of helping topple Alabama in the SEC West. While one game isn’t going to prove anything for Orgeron and coordinator Matt Canada, this is a good showcase opportunity.
Under Canada’s direction, LSU is averaging 6.2 yards per play in SEC games and is coming off its best effort on the scoreboard in conference action (40 points) against Ole Miss. Canada’s philosophy is to utilize the entire field by incorporating motions and shifts to create favorable matchups. And his offense seems to be taking hold over the last couple of games, especially when it comes to establishing the run.
Running back Derrius Guice was less than 100 percent for most of the season but gashed the Rebels for 276 yards on 22 attempts. With a bye week since that performance, Guice should be close to full strength for the first time since early September. However, it’s no secret the rushing attack will find limited room against Alabama’s defensive front. The Crimson Tide rank first in the SEC against the run and limit opponents to just 2.3 yards per carry. In the last two meetings between these two teams, LSU has managed less than 100 rushing yards in both games. As if those odds weren’t enough to overcome, the Tigers won’t have left tackle K.J. Malone due to injury
Guice and the rushing attack is the strength of this offense, but in order for LSU to knock off Alabama, the passing game has to find success. Look for Canada to utilize the motions and shifts to create matchups with Guice and the other running backs in the passing attack, but a receiver or two will have to make plays downfield. Quarterback Danny Etling has passed for 1,452 yards and nine scores this year and has back-to-back efforts of more than 200 yards. Of Etling’s nine completions against Ole Miss, zero went to a receiver. LSU won’t win if that happens again versus Alabama.
LSU’s offense with its limited playmakers on the outside and a passing game still in development figures to have its hands full all night against an Alabama defense holding opponents to just 9.8 points a game. Can Canada create enough mismatches to keep the chains moving?
2. Alabama’s Rushing Attack
New play-caller Brian Daboll wasn’t going to reinvent the wheel when he was hired to replace Lane Kiffin. While Daboll has made a few tweaks, one constant remains: Alabama’s rushing attack.
Alabama leads the SEC with an average of 298.8 rushing yards per game and averages a healthy 6.3 yards per rush. The Crimson Tide are led by Damien Harris (697 yards) and Bo Scarbrough (377) at running back, but there’s no shortage of depth with freshmen Najee Harris and Brian Robinson, along with sophomore Josh Jacobs. Quarterback Jalen Hurts (572 rushing yards) is also another factor LSU’s defense will have to account for on the ground.
In addition to the sheer volume this group churns out, Alabama is also adept at generating big plays on the ground. The Crimson Tide have six rushes of 40 yards or more and two of 70 yards or more. The running backs get the attention here, but Alabama’s offensive line is as good as any in college football. LSU’s defensive front is giving up 145.8 yards per game on the ground but gave up less than 200 yards to Auburn (189) and held Ole Miss to 153. Coordinator Dave Aranda’s depth chart for LSU’s defense is filled with underclassmen, and top pass rusher Arden Key was limited due to injury earlier this year.
Stopping Alabama’s ground game is going to be a tough assignment. However, LSU needs to prevent Harris, Scarbrough and Hurts from hitting on big plays and force this trio into small gains to get into obvious passing downs.
3. Alabama QB Jalen Hurts Against LSU’s Secondary
Alabama sophomore quarterback Jalen Hurts has been under the microscope this season. While Hurts was the SEC’s top freshman in 2016 and one of the league’s top quarterbacks, his development as a passer could be the difference between another runner-up finish or national championship trophy.
However, since Alabama has been in so many blowouts, it’s hard to gauge just where Hurts is in his development. From the eye test, Hurts looks more comfortable and seems to be taking a step forward. The stat sheet seems to back that up as well, as Hurts is completing 62.9 percent of his throws and has 1,223 yards and nine scores on 151 attempts.
Even though Hurts seems to be more comfortable, what will happen with the passing game in a close contest? Hurts likes to lock on to No. 1 receiver Calvin Ridley (41 catches). Can LSU’s secondary take away Ridley and force the secondary targets to win one-on-one battles? The Tigers feature a couple of freshmen – safety Grant Delpit and cornerback Greedy Williams – in starting roles, but the standout performer of this group remains junior Donte Jackson. LSU ranks third in the SEC in pass efficiency defense and has allowed only five passing scores all season.
Is Hurts an improved passer and how will this attack perform against a standout defense? We should have some answers by Saturday night.
As we mentioned earlier, Alabama isn’t going to be hurting for motivation. Additionally, with two weeks to organize, Saban and his staff will have this team prepared on both sides of the ball. LSU’s defense has the personnel and talent to keep this one close for a half. The Tigers’ pass rush and secondary should keep Hurts in check and create a few problems around the line of scrimmage. However, keeping Alabama’s offense in check for all four quarters will be tough. The Crimson Tide simply have too much talent and will eventually break through in the second half. And even if Alabama’s offense is slowed early on, it’s hard to envision LSU’s attack doing enough to pressure the Crimson Tide defense. Alabama rolls to a 9-0 start.
Prediction: Alabama 31, LSU 10
With four weeks to go in college football’s 2017 season, the race to win the ACC’s Atlantic Division has hit its homestretch, and Saturday’s matchup between NC State and Clemson should provide plenty of clarity. In addition to the implications in the conference, CFB Playoff hopes for the Tigers are hanging in the balance. Coach Dabo Swinney’s team checked in at No. 4 in this week’s rankings, but with one loss already this season, Clemson has no margin for error the rest of the way. Every week is now must-win situation for the Tigers.
NC State has been on an interesting journey since last November. Coach Dave Doeren was squarely on the hot seat after a 4-5 record in 2016, but the Wolfpack rallied to finish 6-6 in the regular season and dominated Vanderbilt 41-17 in the Independence Bowl. With 16 returning starters in place for 2017, NC State was considered a wild card team to watch for the top 25 or to contend with Clemson and Florida State for the ACC title. Despite outgaining South Carolina 504 to 246 in the opener, the Wolfpack stumbled to an 0-1 start. But Doeren’s team rebounded with six consecutive victories before last week’s loss in South Bend to Notre Dame. NC State is 4-0 in ACC play this year, accumulating victories against Florida State, Syracuse, Louisville and Pitt.
Clemson’s national title defense began by dominating Kent State 56-3 in the opener, followed by wins over three top-25 teams (Auburn, Virginia Tech and Louisville) and victories against Boston College, Wake Forest and Georgia Tech. The only blemish on the resume for coach Dabo Swinney’s team took place on Oct. 13 in a road matchup against Syracuse. In that game, quarterback Kelly Bryant was limited due to an ankle injury but was knocked out of the game due to a concussion. While the loss knocked Clemson down the rankings in mid-October, the CFB Playoff selection committee correctly identified the Tigers as one of the top four programs headed into November.
Clemson holds a 56-28-1 series edge over NC State. The Tigers are 9-1 against the Wolfpack over the last 10 meetings. NC State’s last victory over Clemson took place in 2011.
Clemson at NC State
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 4 at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ABC
Spread: Clemson -7.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Clemson QB Kelly Bryant
We are stating the obvious here, but it’s still worth mentioning: A healthy Kelly Bryant makes a big difference for Clemson’s offense. The junior has passed for 1,582 yards and six touchdowns through eight games. Bryant is also connecting on 67.5 percent of his passes and ranks second on the team with 460 rushing yards. The junior suffered an ankle injury against Wake Forest and was clearly less than full strength against Syracuse in the first half. However, Bryant suffered a concussion at the end of the second quarter versus the Orange. The bye week helped the junior get back to full strength, and he responded with a solid outing in bad weather (22 of 33 for 207 yards and two scores and 67 rushing yards) last week against Georgia Tech.
Bryant isn’t as dangerous as former quarterback Deshaun Watson was for the Tigers, but that level of production was going to be difficult to replicate. However, Bryant has to do a better job of connecting on the screen passes that set up downfield shots. Despite the firepower and talent in Clemson’s receiving corps, this offense has connected on just nine passes of 30 yards or more in 2017.
In Saturday’s matchup, Bryant will be tested by NC State’s standout defensive front, which will put pressure on Clemson’s offensive line that has struggled to protect at times. However, if Bryant has time to throw, the Wolfpack rank seventh in the ACC in pass efficiency defense. The junior’s mobility and ability to make plays on the move will be a critical component for Clemson’s attack on Saturday. After Bryant knocked off the rust against Georgia Tech, the Tigers will be looking for the junior to elevate the offense to another level as the final stretch of the 2017 season approaches.
2. NC State’s Defensive Line
This is the unquestioned strength of NC State’s defense. Led by senior end Bradley Chubb, the Wolfpack own one of the nation’s top defensive lines and limit opponents to just 119.6 rushing yards per game. Notre Dame’s offense (318 rushing yards) was the first team to eclipse more than 135 rushing yards against this unit in 2017. Additionally, this line has helped NC State rank fifth in the ACC in sacks generated (20) and seventh in tackles for a loss (55). As expected, Chubb (7.5 sacks) is the top pass rusher. However, a pair of 300-pound tackles – seniors B.J. Hill and Justin Jones – are an underrated cog in the success of this defense. Kentavius Street and Darian Roseboro have combined for 3.5 sacks and are an effective duo opposite of Chubb off the edge.
Why is NC State’s defensive line important for Saturday’s game? Clemson’s offensive line has allowed 18 sacks in 2017 but 14 of them came in ACC play. While this unit certainly hasn’t been awful, it has been vulnerable at times in pass protection. In Football Outsiders’ offensive line statistics, the Tigers rank 110th in adjusted sack rate, 108th in standard downs sack rate and 81st in passing downs sack rate.
NC State’s defensive line and generating pressure on opposing quarterbacks is essential to protect a secondary that has been hit with injuries and has allowed seven plays of 40 yards or more in 2017. Can the Wolfpack defensive line consistently get to Bryant on Saturday? And if they can, how much will that disrupt Clemson’s passing game at the line of scrimmage and opportunities downfield?
In addition to sacks and pressure, NC State’s defensive line will be tasked to slow a Clemson ground game ranked second in the ACC. Travis Etienne (489 yards) and Bryant (460 yards) are the top two rushers, but co-coordinators Jeff Scott and Tony Elliott will also utilize Tavien Feaster (424), Adam Choice (202) and C.J. Fuller (172).
3. NC State’s Offense
NC State offensive coordinator Eliah Drinkwitz is one of the rising stars in the assistant ranks. The chess match between Drinkwitz and Clemson defensive play-caller Brent Venables is going to be an interesting battle on Saturday afternoon.
A key question surrounding NC State’s offense was answered on Thursday. Running back Nyheim Hines suffered an ankle injury versus Notre Dame and was uncertain to play earlier in the week. However, all signs point to the junior taking the field and playing at full strength. Hines’ presence is critical for the Wolfpack ground attack, as he has 654 yards and six touchdowns on 118 attempts. If Hines needs a break during Saturday’s game, Drinkwitz can turn to Reggie Gallaspy II (296 yards) and tight end/all-purpose threat Jaylen Samuels (209 yards).
Of course, establishing the run isn’t going to be easy for Drinkwitz against a standout defensive line. Clemson’s defense is limiting opposing offenses to 119.1 rushing yards per game and has 32 sacks through eight games. Ends Austin Bryant and Clelin Ferrell have combined for 11.5 sacks this season, with sophomore standout Dexter Lawrence and Christian Wilkins anchoring the interior. Countering the talent off the edge and on the interior is a tough matchup for any offensive line, but NC State’s group has been solid all season. The Wolfpack have allowed only nine sacks this season and clear the way for rushers to average 4.4 yards per carry.
In order for NC State’s offense to have success moving the ball, it has to win the battles in the trenches. However, the catalyst for this attack remains quarterback Ryan Finley. The Boise State transfer has a quick release and is accurate to the perimeter with quick passes. Through eight games, he’s passed for 2,181 yards and 12 touchdowns to just one interception. Additionally, the junior is completing 66.3 percent of his passes. Finley will also take some chances downfield, and he’s got plenty of talent on the outside to deliver. Samuels leads the team with 56 grabs, and sophomore Kelvin Harmon isn’t too far behind with 43 catches for 644 yards. Stephen Louis, Jakobi Meyers and C.J. Riley are a few of the other key targets for Finley, as NC State will look to utilize their size and speed to attack the outside and take a few shots downfield.
In order for the Wolfpack to win, Drinkwitz has to keep this offense in third-and-short situations and out of obvious passing downs. The offense can’t afford to throw 40-50 times without the threat of a rushing attack, but Finley needs to hit early and often on quick passes to keep Clemson’s defense off balanced. In the loss to Syracuse, Clemson's defense had trouble with the Orange's tempo on offense. NC State may look to replicate some of that speed or tempo changes on Saturday.
As mentioned above, Clemson has no margin for error if it wants to reach the CFB Playoff. For NC State, its playoff hopes are over, but the Atlantic Division title is within reach. The Wolfpack defense will create some problems for Bryant and the Tigers’ offense. And when NC State’s offense has the ball, Finley, Hines and Samuels are more than enough to give headaches to Venables and his staff. The home crowd advantage should help the Wolfpack’s upset bid in the early going, but the Tigers have too much on defense, and Bryant gets going in the second half to earn a victory by a touchdown.
Prediction: Clemson 27, NC State 20
Streaking NFC South teams are set to meet on Sunday when Tampa Bay pays New Orleans a visit. The Buccaneers are going in the wrong direction, losers of four straight after falling 17-3 at home to the Panthers. The offense continued its inconsistent ways, mustering a field goal and two fourth-quarter interceptions thrown by Jameis Winston killed any chances of mounting a late comeback.
Meanwhile, Sean Payton's Saints extended their winning streak to five with a 20-12 victory over the Bears. New Orleans didn’t light up the scoreboard, but the defense more than held its own and even withstood a pair of fourth-quarter fumbles by Mark Ingram.
The Saints hold a comfortable 31-19 advantage in the head-to-head series with the Buccaneers. The NFC South rivals have split their two meetings each of the past two seasons.
Tampa Bay at New Orleans
Kickoff: Sunday, Nov. 5 at 1 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Saints -7
Three Things to Watch
1. Injuries on Saints’ offensive line
One of the keys for the Saints’ five-game winning streak has been the increased production of the rushing attack. That has given the offense much needed balance. They have gained more than 100 rushing yards in four of their five wins while exceeding 200 passing yards in four of their five victories. Continuity of the offensive line counts heavily in maintaining that success.
The Saints may have to play without a few of their starting offensive linemen. Larry Warford has an abdominal strain that will likely keep him out of the game. Two tackles, Terron Armstead and Andrus Peat, missed some practice time during this week. The Saints already have two other tackles, Martin Wallace and Zach Strief, on injured reserve who cannot be activated for this game.
Will rookie Ryan Ramczyk demonstrate why the Saints chose him in the first round of this year’s draft by becoming a stalwart along the line? Can the Saints’ reserve linemen step into the breech and keep up the level of protection?
2. Injuries among Buccaneers’ skill position players
Jameis Winston suffered a sprained AC joint in his right shoulder in the game at Arizona. That has meant very limited practice for him before the last two games, both losses. This week, he participated in mid-week physical preparation. Has the injury truly healed enough to allow him a full allotment of reps with the first-team offense? Perhaps, did his sub-200 yard passing effort last Sunday force him into the practice sessions sooner than he should have been? Another Bucs’ quarterback, Ryan Griffin, is already on the injured reserve list for the same type of issue.
Wide receiver Adam Humphries will be hobbled, if he plays at all, due to injured ribs. This would be the first game of the season in which has not played. He has the fourth highest total for receiving yards and third most receptions. Backing up Humphries is rookie Chris Godwin, who has caught a total of seven passes for 74 yards so far.
3. Can the Saints handle prosperity?
New Orleans climbed above .500 in Week 6 for the first time since the end of the 2013 season. The Saints have spent the past two weeks in first place of the division. They are riding their longest winning streak since that same year. A large portion of those currently on the roster had not previously experienced such success during their time in New Orleans.
Was the lackluster win at home over the Bears as sign of growing complacency? The Saints scored only two field goals in the second half and committed the same number of fumbles in the fourth quarter. Their defense held off the mediocre Bears’ offense to escape with a victory.
Three weeks ago, the Saints coasted during the second half at home versus the Lions. After taking a 21-point lead into halftime, they allowed Detroit to score four touchdowns, narrowing the lead to only seven midway through the fourth quarter.
Might another second half filled with turnovers, complacent defense and unproductive offense cost the Saints and let a presumed victory turn into a bitter defeat?
The season is slipping away from the Buccaneers, having lost five of their first seven games, including one within the NFC South. A wild card berth seems farfetched at this point a divisional championship less so. A plausible scenario for Tampa Bay is going on a multi-game winning streak then hope that all the tiebreakers go their way. That fantastical possibility would have to start with a victory in New Orleans.
As the NFL is at its halfway point, the Saints sit alone atop the NFC South. However, they lead the Falcons by only one game and the Panthers by less than that. They must win this game in case their narrow advantage disappears. Another win within the NFC South would bolster their chances of claiming the divisional crown.
Prediction: Saints 34, Buccaneers 16
— Written by John La Fleur, a contributor to AthlonSports.com, who focuses on the New Orleans Saints and Michigan State Spartans. He also frequently comments on other teams in the NFL and in NCAA football. Follow him on Twitter @FBConnoisseur and read his viewpoints at gridironconnoisseur.wordpress.com and at gridiron-connoisseur.blogspot.com.
The Tennessee Volunteers will take a much-needed hiatus from SEC competition to host to the Southern Miss Golden Eagles out of Conference USA. The Vols enter the Saturday night matchup following a heartbreaking 29-26 loss to Kentucky on the road. It marked the fourth consecutive defeat for the 3-5 Volunteers, who remain winless in the SEC at 0-5. On the bright side, the Tennessee offense did manage to snap a 15-quarter offensive touchdown drought.
The Volunteers will now make a last-ditch effort to salvage what remains of a miserable 2017 campaign. They must win three of their final four games to become bowl eligible. And with the Butch Jones saga now reaching a fevered pitch among the fan base, it won’t be easy.
Meanwhile, Southern Miss is coming off an ugly 30-12 loss at home to UAB, which isn’t exactly boosting fan appeal for head coach Jay Hopson at the moment either. However, the Golden Eagles had won five of their previous six contests prior to last week’s loss, and Hopson’s seat is nowhere near as hot as Jones’.
Southern Miss currently sits at 5-3 on the season, tied for second place in C-USA’s West division. The Golden Eagles will make their way to Rocky Top in search of their first-ever win against the Volunteers. The two teams last met in 2007 with the Vols coming away with a 39-19 victory, dropping Southern Miss to 0–5 all-time against Tennessee.
Southern Miss at Tennessee
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 4 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: SEC Network
Spread: Tennessee -6.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Ito Smith
Statistically, Smith (above, right) is the best running back Tennessee has faced all season. The All-Conference USA performer is well on his way to his third consecutive season with 1,000-plus rushing yards, currently sitting at 834 on the year to go along with seven rushing touchdowns. The versatile senior also is the third-leading receiver for the Golden Eagles with 27 receptions for 325 yards and two touchdowns. He is the only active FBS player with at least 3,000 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards in a career as well. Those numbers are incredibly impressive, even if they haven’t always come at the expense of top-level competition.
Smith will be a player to keep an eye on Saturday night. And he could prove to be a real handful for a generous Tennessee run defense that currently ranks 125th in the nation, allowing 252.3 rushing yards per game. But there may be hope, as Southern Miss’s last two opponents have held Smith to a combined 84 rushing yards by making him the focal point of their efforts on defense. Look for Tennessee to take that approach as well.
2. Tennessee's offense lives?
Despite last week’s loss to Kentucky, the Tennessee offense finally showed signs of life again. Even better, they did so without their top offensive weapon, John Kelly, who will return this week from suspension. The Vols posted season bests in total yards (445), rushing yards (203) and first downs (27) against the Wildcats. More importantly, they actually found the end zone — twice! Jarrett Guarantano had his best performance of the season, passing for 242 yards. And Tennessee’s young stable of running backs exceeded expectations filling the void for Kelly. True freshman Ty Chandler was particularly impressive, rushing for 120 yards and both of the Vols’ touchdowns.
Unfortunately, the Volunteer offense also found some new ways to shoot itself in the foot, racking up senseless penalties and allowing a season-high seven sacks. A few bad habits continued as well — most notably, the inability to convert on third down and in the red zone.
While the Tennessee offense looks to build on the positive aspects of last week’s performance, that may not come easy against a Southern Miss defense that ranks 27th in the nation (331.5 ypg). The Vols' red zone struggles could continue as well. Southern Miss is tied for ninth in the country in red zone defense. The Vols’ pass protection issues also may linger into Saturday’s matchup, as injuries are starting to pile up along the Tennessee offensive line.
3. Southern Miss passing game vs. Tennessee pass defense
Slowing down Smith will be priority No. 1 for the Tennessee defense, but the Vols also must contend with a solid Golden Eagles passing attack that ranks No. 40 in the nation, averaging 263.6 yards and two touchdowns per game. Southern Miss has relied on two different quarterbacks this season in sophomore Keon Howard and junior Kwadra Diggs. Both quarterbacks share similar stat lines, each throwing for a little more than 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns. Both quarterbacks may see action on Saturday as well, although Howard is expected to get the start.
The one thing Tennessee has done well on defense this season is stop the pass. In fact, the Vols currently have the top-ranked pass defense in the nation, surrendering just 148.6 passing yards per game, while allowing only seven touchdowns through the air in eight games. That ranking may be boosted a bit by the fact that opposing teams have opted for a ground-heavy approach against a bad Tennessee run defense. But the Tennessee secondary has been solid all season when called upon. It should make for an intriguing matchup.
On paper, Southern Miss looks like the better team in almost every facet. But stats don’t always paint a reliable picture, and the Golden Eagles aren’t exactly facing top-level competition on a weekly basis. They are a quality team that should give the Volunteers a serious run for their money. However, Tennessee still has the advantage in overall talent. And despite all the Butch Jones drama, the Tennessee players clearly haven’t given up on the season. The offense is trending in a positive direction, and the return of John Kelly should provide an additional boost in that regard. This feels like the week that a determined Tennessee bunch finally finds a way to get over the hump and back into the win column.
Prediction: Tennessee 27, Southern Miss 24
— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.
Fantasy owners with their eye on the playoffs received a brutal blow Thursday afternoon when the news broke that Deshaun Watson tore his ACL in practice. The initial reports were just that he hurt his knee, but it wasn't serious. However, that did not turn out to be the case as the severity of the injury changed and the Texans eventually confirmed the terrible news (and Watson’s owners probably cried).
In re-draft leagues, Watson is now droppable. Most quarterbacks on the waiver wire for Week 9 are not usually fantasy options, but some Watson owners are probably desperate, especially with six teams on bye. So with Week 9 only in mind (and not including Tyrod Taylor or Josh McCown since they played Thursday night), here are some potential replacement options.
Blake Bortles, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Cincinnati Bengals (26 percent owned in Yahoo! leagues)
Bortles has scored a touchdown in every game but one so far this year. The Jacksonville defense has stepped up, so the garbage-time points have been less frequent this year. Last week, against the Colts, Bortles threw for 330 yards and a touchdown. The Bengals have done pretty well against QBs this year but Jacksonville’s defense could set Bortles and the offense up with a short field by way of a turnover or simply give it more possessions via three-and-outs.
Jacoby Brissett, QB, Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans (20 percent owned)
While his Week 7 performance when the Colts were shutout was forgettable, in Week 8 Brissett threw a pair of touchdown passes. He's seemed to develop a nice rapport with tight end Jack Doyle, who had 12 catches (on 14 targets) for 121 yards and a touchdown last week. Brissett also makes plays with his legs, as he has three rushing touchdowns, and he’s taken pretty good care of the football (4 INTs, a fumble lost). Houston’s defense has been devastated by injuries, so the matchup is a good one for Brissett.
Jay Cutler, QB, Miami Dolphins vs. Oakland Raiders (13 percent owned)
Cutler is expected back after missing last week’s 40-0 whitewashing courtesy of Baltimore. Cutler had put two decent games together prior to the injury (2 TD passes in each) and he also should have wide receiver DeVante Parker back this week. This offense will look different with Jay Ajayi now in Philadelphia, so maybe the Dolphins will let Cutler throw it some more. The matchup against the Raiders, who are making the cross-country trip, isn’t a bad one.
Brett Hundley, QB, Green Bay Packers vs. Detroit Lions (10 percent owned)
Hundley’s lone start thus far was certainly forgettable. He finished with 87 passing yards and an interception. Aaron Jones powered the offense, but maybe the bye came at the right time for Hundley. The problem with Hundley is that he doesn’t play until Monday night, so you have to be willing to wait, and Detroit has been pretty solid against quarterbacks. Although a struggling Ben Roethlisberger did just put up 317 yards with a touchdown on the Lions this past Sunday night.
Tom Savage, QB, Houston Texans vs. Indianapolis Colts (4 percent owned)
Fantasy owners that are truly desperate and have a picked-over waiver wire can likely grab Savage. So far this season, he has negative fantasy points (62 yards and two fumbles in Week 1). However, he is the starting quarterback for the Texans, and he has DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller to throw to. He did beat out Deshaun Watson for the starting job in Week 1, but it's clear that Watson is the better quarterback. The positive for Savage is that he does know the offense and can step back into that role.
— Written by Sarah Lewis, who is part of the Athlon Contributor network and lives, eats, and breathes fantasy football. She also writes for SoCalledFantasyExperts.com among other sites. Have a fantasy football question? Send it to her on Twitter @Sarah_Lewis32.
(Deshaun Watson photo courtesy of www.houstontexans.com)
Here are your Week 9 Daily Fantasy Football (DFS) core and value plays, and let’s just hope this week goes (much) better than last week. When it comes to DFS, a bad week (or weeks) is bound to happen, and Week 8 was one of those in which every pick was a flop. I would blame the byes, but there are six teams off again this week, so no more excuses. Let get back on track and in the green this week.
(Reminder: Chicago, Cleveland, Los Angeles Chargers, Minnesota, Pittsburgh and New England are all on bye In Week 9.)
I will be focusing more on the cash game strategy, and by default may be intending these posts for the more novice DFS players. I am not a high-stakes tout, nor will I pretend to be and I am not intending for someone to read these posts and enter high entry tournaments expecting a big win.
What I will be doing each week is listing some top plays for the week at each position as well as a few value plays to help you start building your DFS lineup(s) for the upcoming week. More often than not I will not focus on the Thursday night games. I will be entering some lineups for those slates as well, but be forewarned this post will not include the Buffalo-New York Jets matchup.
So, now that my synopsis is out of the way let’s get into my Week 9 DFS Picks shall we? If this is one of your first times playing DFS feel free to check out my "10 Tips to Win at DFS."
As always any questions, arguments, or glowing praise can be sent to me via Twitter @fantsychillpony.
Week 9 Core Plays
These will be my top plays of the week. These are players who I will try to have in as many lineups of mine as possible. If I can, I will use three or all four in one lineup. A reminder that for cash games going with an elite quarterback is typically recommended. If you go value at quarterback he MUST meet value for your loaded lineup to be worth it.
QB: Drew Brees, New Orleans vs. Tampa Bay ($8,300 FanDuel/$7,000 DraftKings)
Brees has been solid as ever and last week was the first time he didn’t have a touchdown pass. This week he faces a defense that is ranked 30th against the pass and if he finds the end zone a few times along with 250-plus yards he will meet value. This is a safe matchup and Brees’ price tag makes him appealing.
RB: Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams at New York Giants ($9,100 FanDuel/$8,100 DraftKings)
Gurley has been rock-solid this season and now he had a chance to get some rest with the bye week. The Giants are 23rd in the NFL against the run and Gurley should be in line for at least 18 carries and a few receptions. He costs quite a bit, but is still the fourth-highest RB, so he does have you a little bit of money. The DFC projection tool has Gurley as the No. 1 scoring RB this week as well.
WR: DeAndre Hopkins, Houston vs. Indianapolis ($9,100 FanDuel/$9,200 DraftKings)
Hopkins is the highest-priced receiver this week and for good reason. He has been matchup-proof this season, is facing the defense that ranks second to last against the pass, and he has caught a touchdown in each of his last four games.
WR: Ted Ginn Jr., New Orleans vs. Tampa Bay ($5,700 FanDuel/$5,000 DraftKings)
Ginn also is in a great matchup and although he has been the No. 2 option in the Saints’ passing attack, he is still productive. He also is available at a bargain price that will make it easier to have both DeAndre Hopkins and Todd Gurley on your roster too. Willie Snead doesn’t seem to be a factor yet for New Orleans, so that should leave Ginn with plenty of opportunities to put up some numbers against the 30th-ranked passing defense.
(UPDATE: ZACH ERTZ RULED OUT 11/5) TE: Zach Ertz, Philadelphia vs. Denver ($7,600 FanDuel/$6,800 DraftKings)
This season Ertz has been an absolute stud and the top tight end without a doubt. He has scored at least 13 DraftKings points every week and has a touchdown in five of his eight games. Denver has an elite defense, but the Broncos have had some issues against tight ends so Ertz should still be able to do some damage.
Value Plays of the Week
QB: Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay at New Orleans ($7,700 FanDuel/$5,800 DraftKings)
Winston is coming off of a horrible game, and because of that his ownership should be low. New Orleans’ secondary is not very good at slowing anyone as the Saints rank just 17th against the pass (224.4 ypg) and 21st against the run (120.3 ypg). As long as Winston’s shoulder isn’t an issue, he should be able to get back on track this week and back to his 20-plus DraftKings points ways.
RB: Carlos Hyde, San Francisco vs. Arizona ($6,500 FanDuel/$5,200 DraftKings)
Hyde also is coming off of a terrible performance, but it actually could lead to a bigger role in the game plan this Sunday. The 49ers traded for a new quarterback, but it will still be rookie C.J. Beathard under center against Arizona. Hyde has been sharing the workload with Matt Breida, but he’s dealing with a knee injury, so that could mean more carries for Hyde. The Cardinals have been somewhat generous to fantasy RBs, so maybe this is Hyde’s week to break out. This is a bit of dart throw and it’s risky, but if you need cap relief with upside Hyde is your guy.
WR: Sammy Watkins, Los Angeles Rams at New York Giants ($6,000 FanDuel/$4,200 DraftKings)
Watkins has been putrid this season. Prior to the bye week he only surpassed three receptions three times and he has been non-existent aside from his massive Week 3 performance. This week the Giants are without their top corner and if the Rams are going to try and force Watkins in to the offense following the bye this would be a great place to start. Again huge risk, as Watkins could get a goose egg, or he could get 20 points. I am taking the risk.
— Written by Chris Meyers, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the FSWA. Meyers' work appears on many other sites, including socalledfantasyexperts.com. Follow him on Twitter @FantsyChillpony.