ASHBURN, Va. — It’s not the first time Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden has entered a season on the hot seat and, if he’s here next year with anything short of a long playoff run in 2019, it won’t be the last.
But this time, it could be real: The Redskins haven’t made the playoffs since 2015, when they lost in their only postseason game. They’re 31-32-1 the past four years after a 4-12 mark in Gruden’s first season. His contract expires after the 2020 season.
“Had it my first year, probably,” Gruden said, maybe only half-joking, of the speculation. “That’s just the way it is. That’s what happens when you sign on the dotted line. All you care about is that season and then after the season you have a chance to talk about contracts and where you’re at with job security. But you can’t worry about that.”
As the Redskins prepare for Sunday’s opener at Philadelphia (1 p.m. ET, Fox), all Gruden can do is focus on what he can control. The hard part? He enters the season with his fourth starting quarterback (Case Keenum) in six years and a receiving corps that has one player with more than three career games played, and with seven-time Pro Bowl tackle Trent Williams still holding out.
It’s not ideal, even if paired with a defense that could crack the top 10.
“I’m very excited about 2019,” Gruden said. “Anytime I’ve been a coach or a player all I care about is the year I’m in. Everything else will take care of itself. We’re focused on Philadelphia. What happens after the season I’ll worry about then, but right now I feel confident we can line up with the defense we have and compete and win every game we play.”
And he’s confident in what the offense can do under Keenum, who is with his third team in three seasons. They still have tight end Jordan Reed, who looked good all summer until suffering a concussion. They still have third-down back Chris Thompson, who said he never felt healthy last year and it showed in his play. He had only one catch of more than 20 yards last season. In 2017, before breaking his leg in Week 11, he had 10 such gains.
“If we can be diverse in what we’re doing, be balanced,” Gruden said, “stay away from holding calls and the negative plays … if we can do that on offense, we have a chance to be really, really good.”
They do have a healthy Derrius Guice at running back, and his ability to help in the run or pass game should enable them to be less predictable.
That’s part of Gruden’s reason for optimism.
“I see great skill set from our tight ends and backs,” he said. “They can carry the ball and they can catch it out of the backfield. Our tight ends are versatile in what they can do and where they can line up.”
Then there are the receivers. Washington has three rookies, including one who was undrafted, among its six wideouts. Starting slot receiver Trey Quinn, in his second year, has nine catches in three career games. Paul Richardson, with 115 career receptions, is the most experienced player. But Gruden sees positives. They have speed (Richardson, rookie Terry McLaurin and undrafted Steven Sims Jr.,) and size (four of the six are at least 6 feet tall and 200 pounds).
“When you have tiny guys out there and you want to be physical and run the ball and someone has to come in and block Malcolm Jenkins or a Landon Collins, I mean, come on,” Gruden said. “Now we have the physicality to where we can do that and match a bigger receiver with a safety, maybe block him on an end from time to time. There’s a lot of things we can do in the run game that will help with the bigger guys we have. We have versatility with what we can do.”
Gruden had hoped they found a quarterback for the foreseeable future last offseason in Alex Smith. But he broke his leg in Week 11 and remained on crutches as of this week. That forced the Redskins to again start over at the position; they traded for Keenum and drafted Dwayne Haskins. They don’t feel the latter is ready so the former gets the start.
Two years ago Keenum helped Minnesota reach the postseason and left for Denver, where he was ousted after one season. Kirk Cousins, now in Minnesota, started three years with Gruden; no one other quarterback has started more than one.
“It’s a process that people don’t understand how difficult it is to get a new guy ready to play, no matter how many games he’s played,” Gruden said. “It’s getting used to him, him getting used to the receivers, tight end, the line, cadence, terminology, protection, audibles. It’s a lot of work for a quarterback and it takes some time.
“It does get a little frustrating because there are plays we’ve seen for six years [that] they’ve only seen for six months. It’s like, ‘How do you not know this?’ It’s like, ‘Well, s— I don’t remember that play.’ It’s a matter of repetition. Case has picked it up very well.”
Redskins president Bruce Allen declined to comment on Gruden’s job security entering the season. Gruden’s demeanor has largely remained the same; he’s still self-deprecating, though there’s less humor during his news conferences. On the field during training camp, Gruden at times chastised his group more — he made the lines run extra sprints for their behavior in one practice.
Players say they haven’t noticed a difference.
“He’s been the same for the most part,” said Thompson, entering his sixth season. “We can feel more how bad he wants this, how bad he wants to win year in and year out. I’m sure it sucks to hear every year that your job is on the line. … That’s one reason why I try to go out and play as hard as I can for him. He’s a great coach; he’s a great human being. He deserves to be that head coach that changes this program around.”
Long-snapper Nick Sundberg, entering his 10th season, said he hasn’t seen a change in Gruden, either.
“He’s trying to do his best to get the best out of every one of us,” Sundberg said. “Not to say he hasn’t done that in the past, but maybe he’s holding himself to a different standard in the way he holds us to a different standard. It’s not necessarily different. But when we have team meetings there is more accountability on guys.'”
Gruden said he does not feel a different sense of urgency.
“Not really, no,” he said. “Everybody has a great desire to win every year that I’ve been here. Some things get blown up here and that we’re dysfunctional … but we’re all focused on our job. We have to get players ready to go and they have to buy in and perform on Sundays. That’s what it’s all about every year.”
Elway calls out OT Bolles for holding penalties
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Denver Broncos have tried patience, constructive criticism and a sliver of tough love for penalty-prone left tackle Garett Bolles. And now, after another rash of yellow flags in the Broncos’ first two games, the clock is ticking on the former first-round pick’s place in the lineup.
Teammates have tried to help Bolles. Denver hired one of the best offensive line coaches in football, Mike Munchak, to, among everything else on his to-do list, help out the former first-round selection.
Bolles, the 20th pick of the 2017 draft, is really the only one who can fix it.
“Obviously it hurts us [Sunday] at different points in the game. … You know a lot of times, even though we overcame a couple of them, they’re a drive-stopper,” Broncos coach Vic Fangio said. “We’ve got to be able to block our guy without holding.”
Even the guy who drafted Bolles and has been one of his biggest supporters — Broncos president of football operations/general manager John Elway — has had enough.
“Well, it’s got to stop. Period,” Elway said on his weekly appearance on KOA NewsRadio. “There are no more excuses for it. He’s had 26 holding penalties in the last two years and two games, so it’s got to stop. The bottom line is if he thinks he’s getting singled out, he is. He’s got to understand that. He’s got to understand what he’s doing. And that was my question [Sunday], ‘Does he know what holding is?’ Does he know what he can and can’t do?’ If he thinks he’s getting targeted, he’s got to realize he isn’t. We’ll keep working for it and he’s still a talented guy. He cannot do that because it’s beating us.”
Bolles has indeed been flagged for 26 holding penalties in 34 career games, including four times in the Broncos’ 16-14 loss to the Chicago Bears last Sunday. And this is certainly not a new issue with Bolles, who was highly penalized player in his one year at Utah.
He was flagged 15 times overall (three were declined) as a rookie in 2017, 14 times overall in 2018 (four were declined) and five times already this season (three have been declined). That’s 34 penalties and almost 450 yards walked off against the Broncos’ offense.
There is some feeling in the Broncos’ complex that if Elijah Wilkinson, who is Bolles’ backup and who worked with the starting offense plenty in training camp, was not already filling in for the injured Ja’Wuan James at right tackle, a move would have already been made in the Broncos’ lineup.
When asked Monday if Bolles could be taken out for a series or two in games at times when he was clearly struggling, Fangio said: “With our depth the way it is at this point, that’s probably not an option.”
James has missed the Broncos’ first two games with a knee injury and has not yet returned to practice. The Broncos initially expected his return to take four to six weeks, so that may now be the time frame Bolles has to figure out a solution before Wilkinson moves to left tackle.
Some also took notice Bolles seemed to point the finger at the officials after Sunday’s game instead of at his own play.
“It was frustrating,” Bolles said. “I’ve built a reputation for myself in this league of holding. I disagree with it, to be honest. There are some calls I disagree with, and there are some things that I understand. … But I have the best O-line coach in the National Football League with Coach Munchak. … I’m going to turn this around. I promise you all that. I promise Broncos Country that. I promise my teammates that. That was just unfortunate that they keep coming after me, but it is what it is.”
Bolles added he thought he had done a “phenomenal job” improving from last season and that while he could improve his technique with his hands and footwork, he is “not going to change my physicality, I’m not going to change my mindset.”
Former Broncos guard Mark Schlereth, who is a co-host on a morning radio show in Denver and worked Sunday’s Broncos game as an analyst for Fox Sports, has repeatedly cited Bolles’ “stubbornness” in changing his technique and offered earlier this week on his show that Bolles “flat-out can’t play.”
“Obviously, I’m going to keep trying to talk to Bolles and see if we can get him right and understanding what he’s doing wrong, because obviously to say that he’ll been all right is not OK,” Sanders said. “He needs to understand that he is doing something wrong because they keep throwing the flags on him and he keeps holding. I’m going to talk to him and hopefully we keep breaking down the film and just see him make that jump and get that debt off his back, because it’s been happening for like two or three years.”
Matthew Berry’s Love/Hate – Fantasy football picks, sleepers, busts for Week 3
We are all prisoners of the moment.
Hard not to be, right?
Especially in an emotional game such as fantasy football, in which way too often our heart, eyes and brain are in conflict.
“He plays for my favorite team and I drafted him early!”
“But he looks awful and hasn’t had a good game in a month!”
“But they play the Dolphins!”
There might be no wider range of emotions than an NFL weekend for a fantasy player, as we go on a roller-coaster filled with highs, lows, dread, hope, anger, prayer, yelling, cheering and cursing.
These are our guys.
We scouted them, we studied them, we drafted them, we started them and we watched them.
These are our guys.
At least they are supposed to be.
How could you not freak out? Joe Mixon! You could have had Dalvin Cook, but no, the idiot site you were on had Mixon ranked higher, so you took Mixon, even though podcast fans know exactly what happens whenever you count on the Bengals.
But you took him early, and then Donnie, stupid Donnie, with his dumb laugh and annoyingly loud voice, who showed up late with no draft materials and has been farting up a storm, asks someone who the next-highest running back is and some jerk tells him it’s Cook, so he takes him one pick before it comes back around to you. And now Donnie, moronic, gassy Donnie is in first place and hasn’t even logged onto the site yet, but you’re stuck with Mixon, and why the hell do you play this stupid game anyway?
I get it.
But if I may, before we go too far down a shame spiral, I’d like to offer a few blind résumés:
Player A: 18.2 total points, 26.5% target share
Player B: 21.8 total points, 26.4% target share
(Player A is George Kittle through the first two weeks of 2018. Player B is George Kittle through the first two weeks of 2019. Kittle finished last season as TE3.)
Player C: 21.4 total points, with one game under 7.5 points and another over 14
Player D: 22.8 total points, with one game under 7.5 points and another over 14
(Player C is Robert Woods through the first two weeks of 2018. Player D is Robert Woods through the first two weeks of 2019. Woods finished last season as WR11.)
Player E: 10.7 points
Player F: 14.9 points
(Player E is Mike Evans in Weeks 9-10 in 2018. Player F is Mike Evans through the first two weeks of 2019. Despite a two-week stretch when he was brutal, Evans still finished 2018 as WR11.)
Player G: 39.5 points (QB12)
Player H: 37.7 points (QB14)
(Player G is Matt Ryan through the first two weeks of 2018. Player H is Matt Ryan through the first two weeks of 2019. Ryan finished 2018 as QB2.)
Player I: 39.5 points, a TD reception in both games, 18 targets (6 deep) with 3 deep receptions, 89.8% of snaps played.
Player J: 40.7 points, a TD reception in both games, 16 targets (7 deep) with 4 deep receptions, 89.4% of snaps played.
Player K: 32.8 points through Week 2 (his previous worst start to a season in his career), 56.7% completion rate, 2 TDs
Player L: 27.3 points through Week 2, 62.5% completion rate, 3 TDs
(Player K is Aaron Rodgers at the start of 2009. Player L is Aaron Rodgers so far this season. Rodgers finished 2009 as QB1.)
I could do this all day. It’s two weeks, kids. Last season, through the first two weeks …
• Tarik Cohen was RB51 (10.6 points) … finished as RB11.
• Chris Carson was RB45 (11.3 points) … finished as RB15.
• Dak Prescott was QB26 (23.6 points) … finished as QB10.
• Andrew Luck was QB21 (30.8 points) … finished as QB5.
And it’s not just about slow starters. Last season, through the first two games (all stats below are on a per-game basis, so as not to be influenced by injury) …
• Javorius “Buck” Allen was RB16 … finished as RB64.
• Nelson Agholor was WR20 … finished as WR51.
• Jesse James was TE2 … finished as TE32.
• Will Dissly was TE3 … finished as TE17.
It’s two weeks. I get it. I really do. But it’s two weeks. There’s a long way to go.
By the way, here’s one final intriguing fact: Eleven WRs had at least 40 points through two weeks in 2018. Eight of those 11 WRs went on to play at least 13 games … and all eight finished in the top 10 among WRs last season.
This year, there are 15 WRs with at least 40 points through two weeks. Will all of them finish in the top 20?
Sammy Watkins (57.7)
John Ross III (56.0)
Emmanuel Sanders (48.4)
Marquise Brown (47.3)
Keenan Allen (44.1)
DJ Chark (43.1)
T.Y. Hilton (43.0)
Julio Jones (42.7)
Odell Beckham Jr. (42.2)
Michael Thomas (41.2)
Calvin Ridley (40.9)
Larry Fitzgerald (40.7)
Terry McLaurin (40.7)
Chris Godwin (40.4)
DeAndre Hopkins (40.1)
Food for thought, as is this Love/Hate for Week 3. As always, this is not a start-or-sit column. I don’t “love” or “hate” players. I do, however, “love” or “hate” their ESPN projection for PPR leagues. So that’s what this is. Players who are “loves” are players I believe will generally meet or exceed their ESPN projections. “Hates” are players I believe will fall short of their ESPN projections. That simple. For specific “this player or that player” questions, please consult my rankings, which are constantly updated all the way through Sunday at kickoff. You also can watch The Fantasy Show on ESPN+, which expanded to four episodes a week this year, and of course Fantasy Football Now, every Sunday morning on ESPN2. Thank you as always to “Thirsty” Kyle Soppe of the 06010 podcast and the Stat-a-pillar from The Fantasy Show on ESPN+, Damian Dabrowski, for their help at various points in this column.
Here we go:
Quarterbacks I love in Week 3
Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys (vs. Dolphins; ESPN projection: 21.6): The hottest QB in the league takes on the worst defense in the league. Do you need more? Dak is the first player with 25 completions, 330 yards of offense and 3 TD passes in three straight games since Drew Brees in 2012. Las Vegas is projecting 33 to 34 points for the Cowboys in this game. Prescott averages 24 PPG for his career when the Cowboys score 28-plus points. Gimme the over on 21.6.
Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills (vs. Bengals; ESPN projection: 19.1): You had me at Bengals. Cincy is giving up 11 yards per attempt this season (second most). It’s a good matchup for the strong-armed Allen, and with a banged-up run game, expect the Bills to take some deep shots here. Allen’s rushing keeps his floor high; he has six rushing scores in his past six games.
Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (vs. Giants; ESPN projection: 17.2): What’s the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result? I’m definitely crazy. But here I am, writing in front of you, putting Winston on the love list. What is wrong with me? Someone send me to rehab. In the meantime, he is at home and has had 10 days to prepare for a Giants team that has allowed opponents to complete 71% of their passes (seventh highest) for 642 yards (third highest) and has only three sacks on the season.
Others receiving votes: Despite not running very much so far, Kyler Murray is the 12th-best QB in fantasy. Only Patrick Mahomes has attempted more deep passes than Murray. I like the over on 16.7 points at home against a Panthers team that is giving up 9.0 air yards per target (eighth most in the NFL). … Opponents have completed 75% of passes against the Steelers this season for 640 yards, 6 TDs and no INTs, making Jimmy Garoppolo a viable option for two-QB leagues or those streaming QBs in the wake of injuries to Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees and (maybe?) Cam Newton. … Speaking of Newton, if he misses this game, I like Kyle Allen as a dirt-cheap DFS play and/or deeper-league fill-in. Allen is a better QB than you think. He impressed in his Week 17 start last season (16-of-27 for 228 yards and 2 TDs, and he ran in a third), and I like him against the group of people Arizona calls a defense.
Quarterbacks I hate in Week 3
Jared Goff, Los Angeles Rams (at Browns; ESPN projection: 16.4): Currently below Derek Carr in yards per attempt and touchdown percentage, Goff has struggled on the road recently. Since the start of 2018, he averages just 237.4 passing yards and 13.3 fantasy points per game away from home. Myles Garrett & Co. have been great at getting to the QB this season, as the Browns rank third in pressure percentage. When Goff is pressured, he struggles. Since Goff has been in the league, he ranks 24th with just a 3.4% career TD rate when pressured. I’ll take the under on 16.4.
Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns (vs. Rams; ESPN projection: 15.9): Fair warning — the initial over/under for this game was 50.5, one of the highest of Week 3, so there’s a decent chance putting Goff and Mayfield on the “hate” list is going to blow up in my face worse than putting Aaron Jones on it did last week. But here I am because, honestly … I thought Mayfield looked bad on Monday night, throwing into double coverage and missing open receivers. He got two amazing Beckham plays — and hey, he’ll have OBJ on Sunday night, and those kind of plays are certainly in his wheelhouse. But those two crazy plays accounted for 59.2% of Mayfield’s Week 2 points. Without those two big plays, Mayfield’s season features a 59.2% completion percentage, just a single TD pass and four interceptions. The Rams, meanwhile, are giving up the fourth-fewest yards per pass attempt this season. I love Mayfield long term and am a fan, but on a short week against the seventh-best pass defense in the NFL, I’m a bit nervous here.
Mason Rudolph, Pittsburgh Steelers (at 49ers; ESPN projection: 14.9): I think Rudolph will be fine for the Steelers pass-catchers you care about, but there are other fill-in/streaming types I prefer more than him traveling across the country to face a better-than-you-think Niners defense. San Francisco has the eighth-best scoring defense this season, it is sixth best in completion percentage against and it has more interceptions than touchdown passes allowed thus far.
Running backs I love in Week 3
Austin Ekeler, Los Angeles Chargers (vs. Texans; ESPN projection: 17.7): Since the start of 2016, here is the entire list of players who have had consecutive games of at least 55 yards rushing and 65 receiving yards: Melvin Gordon, Le’Veon Bell, Alvin Kamara, David Johnson and … Austin Ekeler. The Texans allow a league-high 4.52 yards per carry before first contact this season. Ekeler has played 74% of the snaps and is locked in as an RB1.
Sony Michel, New England Patriots (vs. Jets; ESPN projection: 13.3): I expect the sun to come up tomorrow morning. I expect the sun to go down tomorrow night. And I expect the Patriots to crush the Jets at home. And when the Patriots are up big against New York, expect a heavy workload for Michel against a Jets team that has allowed the 10th-most yards per carry before first contact this season. Patriots running backs have run for more than 115 yards AND a touchdown in four of the past five games against the Jets. I say it becomes five of the past six on Sunday with Michel doing a good chunk of the damage.
Todd Gurley II, Los Angeles Rams (at Browns; ESPN projection: 14.3): I’m taking the over on 14.3 for Gurley on the road in what should be a raucous prime-time game. Wanting to take the crowd out of it and protect Jared Goff (see above), expect a nice workload for Gurley, who has been the ball carrier for 18 of the Rams’ 24 drives this season. You can run on the Browns, as those with Derrick Henry or Le’Veon Bell have discovered this year. Bell wasn’t efficient, but he got 31 touches and, given the rest of the offense, performed pretty well.
David Montgomery, Chicago Bears (at Redskins; ESPN projection: 12.2): The bell-cow usage is starting to come for Montgomery, as he got 18 of the Bears’ 25 RB carries (72%) in Week 2, up significantly from 54.5% in Week 1. Montgomery’s five goal-to-go carries this season are tied for the most in the NFL (all came last week!). And you couldn’t ask for a better matchup, as the Skins are giving up 5.17 yards per carry.
Others receiving votes: I’m already on the hook for Jameis Winston, so what the hell. Might as well dive all the way in. I don’t think Peyton Barber is anything more than just a guy, but he’s currently the guy for the Bucs and now gets a Giants team that has allowed a league-high four rushing touchdowns in two games. … Assuming Devin Singletary misses the game Sunday with that hamstring injury, Frank Gore should be flex-worthy against a Bengals team that has allowed the third-most rushing yards this season. … There should be enough volume to give both Matt Breida and Raheem Mostert flex consideration. The Niners are the league’s second-run-heaviest team this season, trailing only the Vikings, and the Steelers are a bottom-10 run defense traveling west as a 6.5-point underdog.
Running backs I hate in Week 3
Le’Veon Bell, New York Jets (at Patriots; ESPN projection: 18.0): You have to start him, of course, but I’m taking the under on 18 points here. The Patriots allow just 2.6 yards per carry this season (second best) and opponents have completed just 60% of passes to RBs against them this season (fifth lowest). Now, one of those games was against the Dolphins, so it shouldn’t really count, but still. Pretty sure Bill Belichick will sell out to stop Bell and take his chances with Luke Falk. Volume and junk time will help, but I’m going under on 18.
Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals (at Bills; ESPN projection: 14.1): Brutal, I mean BRU-TAL, offensive line and a concern that he may not be 100% after last week’s game-time decision don’t make you feel good. But even if Mixon is healthy, I don’t have a ton of optimism against a Bills defense that, despite facing Le’Veon Bell and Saquon Barkley to start the season, is top 10 against the run so far. With a pretty low over/under for Week 3 (and you know I like Josh Allen in this one), I fear we see a lot more Giovani Bernard in the passing game than you’d want.
James Conner, Pittsburgh Steelers (at 49ers; ESPN projection: 14.6): I’m not sure he’s going to play, and if he does, I’m not sure how much it’ll be. And regardless of if he plays, this is a tougher matchup than you might think. The Niners are allowing just 3.24 yards per carry this season (seventh best) and my expectation is Jaylen Samuels gets more run in this game. Just like with Bell, if he’s active you have to play him, but I would lower expectations here.
Kerryon Johnson, Detroit Lions (at Eagles; ESPN projection: 13.5): I believe the release of C.J. Anderson means more about the Lions’ confidence in Ty Johnson than it does anything about CJA or wanting to get Kerryon more work. Tough matchup here for Kerryon, who will need significant passing-down work to earn his keep. The Eagles cough up just 2.83 yards per carry this season (fifth best) and have yet to allow a rushing TD. The way you beat Philly is by attacking its secondary (wait ’til we get to pass-catcher love) and given that Johnson (as of this writing) is less than 100 percent, I’m taking the under here.
Pass-catchers I love in Week 3
Kenny Golladay, Detroit Lions (at Eagles; ESPN projection: 13.9): The same reason I am down on Kerryon Johnson this week is why I’m high on Golladay. The way you attack Philly is through the air, as the Birds have allowed 300-plus passing yards and three TDs in both games so far this season. With a 29.6% target share in his past four games and what should be a running game that will struggle, expect Golladay to get plenty of chances to beat 13.9. Gimme the over.
Tyler Lockett, Seattle Seahawks (vs. Saints; ESPN projection: 12.9): Coming off of a career-high 10 catches at Pittsburgh, Lockett makes a repeat appearance on the love list after last week. Likely seeing a lot of Saints slot corner P.J. Williams in a matchup Lockett should win handily, this is another great spot for Lockett against a Saints team that since the start of 2018 has allowed a score on slot passes at the eighth-highest rate. Also since the start of 2018, Lockett has at least five catches or a touchdown in 15 of 18 games. He’ll do it again at home against the league’s sixth-worst scoring defense.
Stefon Diggs, Minnesota Vikings (vs. Raiders; ESPN projection: 12.6): Weird game last week, and Diggs had a touchdown called back. But despite the low volume and inconsistent QB play so far for the Vikes, Diggs still has a 24.3% target share and is averaging 18.9 air yards per target. So far this season, the Raiders have allowed the most receiving yards (382) and the most TDs (4) on deep passes and the second-most deep receptions allowed (11). I’m digging Diggs this week. Sorry. I’ll see myself out.
George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers (vs. Steelers; ESPN projection: 14.0): You know from the intro that I’m on team #patience with Kittle. He’s still getting a significant target share (26.4%), the Steelers’ issues with players out of the slot are well-documented and coming off a game where Will Dissly just hung 5 for 50 and two touchdowns on them, this might be your last chance to acquire Kittle at any sort of a discount.
Vance McDonald, Pittsburgh Steelers (at 49ers; ESPN projection: 9.6): He seemed to have a connection with Mason Rudolph, as he led Pittsburgh with four catches from Rudolph in Week 2, two of which went for scores. McDonald is playing heavy snaps and opponents are 11-for-15 when targeting the TE position against San Francisco this season (73.3%). Given the state of the position, McDonald is locked in as a TE1.
Others receiving votes: As I said earlier, I like Kyle Allen. So whether it’s him or Cam Newton on Sunday, I’m in on the Panthers’ offense. You were already starting DJ Moore, but Greg Olsen has run a route on 80% of Carolina’s dropbacks this year. The Cardinals have given up a NFL-leading 273 receiving yards to opposing tight ends. I also like Curtis Samuel, who quietly had 13 targets last week and should see similar volume against Arizona’s bottom-five pass defense. … In the same game, the Cardinals are going to have to throw, so Christian Kirk (currently top 15 in the NFL in targets) is on the WR3 radar and deep-league managers and/or DFS dart-throw seekers should take a long glance at his teammate Damiere Byrd, who has run 92 routes this season (third most among all players) and has gotten seven targets in both games. Breakout game coming soon. Maybe it’s Sunday. … Much has been made of the connection Mason Rudolph and James Washington have from their days together at Oklahoma State. Allow me to be another one echoing that. I interviewed both of them at the NFLPA Rookie Premiere a few years ago and they could not have been more effusive about each other. Washington played 13 more snaps than Donte Moncrief last week and this week expect it to be even more. … For the truly TE desperate, it’s worth noting that Jason Witten has now scored in two straight weeks, Michael Gallup is out for this game and opposing tight ends are averaging 22 points a game against the Dolphins early on.
Pass-catchers I hate in Week 3
Brandin Cooks, Los Angeles Rams (at Browns; ESPN projection: 12.8): You already know I’m down on Goff in this one, so it stands to reason Cooks takes a hit as well. Especially since he has stark home/road splits as well, averaging just 10 points per game on the road as a Ram while averaging more than 19 a game at home. We talked about the high pressure rate Cleveland brings and, for his career, when Goff is pressured he averages just 5.6 yards per attempt (a 33% decline over what he normally does). You still have to start Cooks, but I think this is a close-to-the-line-of-scrimmage Todd Gurley/Cooper Kupp game, so I’m taking the under here.
Tyrell Williams, Oakland Raiders (at Vikings; ESPN projection: 12.9): Xavier Rhodes isn’t what he once was, but he’s still good enough to create issues for Williams. Since the beginning of last season, the Vikings have allowed the third-lowest deep completion percentage (37.6%) in part because they rank fifth in pressure percentage (31.7%). Ten of Williams’ 11 catches this season have come when Derek Carr is not pressured. Volume will help here, but not enough. I’m taking the under.
John Ross III, Cincinnati Bengals (at Bills; ESPN projection: 11.8): He has been a revelation this year and I’m on board with it being more legit than not. But I think the train derails a bit this week against a Bills defense that, so far this season, has allowed just one deep completion. He’ll see more Tre’Davious White than I would like in this one, and given the expected low-scoring nature of this one, I’m going under 11.8.
T.J. Hockenson, Detroit Lions (at Eagles; ESPN projection: 8.9): One good game, one bad one … that inconsistency isn’t a shock from a rookie tight end. And I believe he’s more likely to struggle again this week than have a huge game. Since the beginning of last season, the Eagles have the best red zone defense (45% of such drives have resulted in a TD) and have given up just three — count ’em, three — tight end touchdowns in 18 games. Not a top-10 play for me this week.
Matthew Berry — the Talented Mr. Roto — says that if Mike Evans or O.J. Howard don’t do it against the Giants, then you can freak the hell out.
Nike — Antonio Brown no longer a representative
The Boston Globe on Thursday reported Brown no longer represents Nike.
“Antonio Brown is not a Nike athlete,” a company spokesperson told the newspaper, which also reported the spokesperson declined to comment on why, or the timing of the decision.
Brown joined the Patriots on Sept. 7 after being released by the Oakland Raiders. On Sept. 10, Britney Taylor, Brown’s former trainer, filed a civil suit in U.S. District Court in Miami, accusing Brown of three incidents of sexual assault or rape in 2017 and 2018, in Pennsylvania and Miami.
Days after that lawsuit was filed, Xenith, a football helmet manufacturer, said it was ending its relationship with Brown, who had announced earlier in September he would wear the Xenith Shadow helmet this season. He chose the Xenith helmet after losing two appeals with the NFL to allow him to wear a helmet no longer certified by the league.
In 2018, Brown appeared in a video called “Antonio Brown Goes Sneaker Shopping with Complex” on YouTube. In the video, Brown talks about his passion for sneakers, especially Nikes, and says he’s “getting a huge Nike deal.”
In February 2019, before the Pittsburgh Steelers traded Brown to the Raiders, Nike sold a $100 “Nike Tech Trainer Antonio Brown” shoe, according to the newspaper. The gold-trimmed shoe featured a pattern of Brown’s No. 84 and one of his phrases, “Business is Boomin,” on the tongue of the shoe.
As of Thursday morning, the shoe was no longer available on Nike’s website, though several Steelers and Raiders Brown jerseys were still available.
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