Peering into the near and remote NFL and Fantasy futures after Wild Card Weekend
Here is a look ahead to the next rounds and upcoming offseasons for this past weekend’s Wild Card Round teams, from both NFL and Fantasy perspectives.
Dallas: Ezekiel Elliott actually gets an easier draw in his second playoff game of the year against the Rams’ 23rd-ranked run defense. He is an obvious key to controlling the clock, which Dallas will desire to do against the Rams. Dak Prescott was able to limit errors against the Seahawks, and the Cowboys will have a legitimate shot to win this game if the pass protection holds up vs. Aaron Donald and the Los Angeles defensive line. Amari Cooper, who had many key catches in the Wild Card Game, showed this weekend against Seattle that he can do more than just hit the big play. He’s also become very capable of making several timely grabs to keep drives flowing. He had eight catches for 76 yards in the first meeting with the Saints and is showing signs of becoming much more dependable. Cooper is shaping up as a low-end Fantasy WR1 for 2019.
Seattle: After Chris Carson was repeatedly stifled Saturday, we may be looking more to a future where he shares touches with Rashaad Penny next year. Carson banging on the inside and Penny challenging defenses with his speed and open-field ability in space seemed to be a direction Seattle wanted to go in, as it worked well in a Week 13 win over San Francisco. Penny tore off a 28-yard run against Dallas in the third quarter but then was permanently shelved for the day when he was dropped for a loss on the next play. Late-season injury issues for Penny prevented the Seahawks from employing the duo more in this manner. A healthier Doug Baldwin could re-emerge for a much better season in 2019, and adding another WR or TE would help on important passing downs. Free agent Jared Cook would be a nice fit as a big target for Russell Wilson, especially in the red zone. Seattle should want to implement passing the ball more often for optimal offensive balance.
Indianapolis: Much will be made of how the Colts can tear up the Chiefs on the ground, but Kansas City also had the league’s 31st ranked pass defense. Kansas City did tie for the league lead with 55 sacks, but the Colts allowed the least with 18. The Chiefs don’t really seem to have an advantage when the Colts have the ball other than their loud home crowd. Indianapolis ranked eighth against the run and appears more capable of these two teams of getting a defensive stop. Colts stacks in DFS are going to be all the rage this upcoming week. Keep in mind that after beating the Chargers in the season opener, Kansas City went 1-4 against playoff teams the rest of the way, with three losses in its final six games to postseason-bound opponents.
Houston: The Deshaun Watson we saw Saturday is one that struggles when the deep ball and DeAndre Hopkins are taken away. Watson struggles when forced into situations where he has to rely on high percentage passing. If he improves in that regard next year, he could indeed become a true Fantasy superstar as hoped prior to 2018. Lamar Miller simply is not dynamic or consistent, and he could be a cut candidate. The Texans could use a versatile RB who catches passes consistently. Le’Veon Bell would be a big difference-making acquisition here, but Mark Ingram and Tevin Coleman are curious lesser, but possibly impactful, options. A healthy Will Fuller and a rising Keke Coutee could help Watson be more consistent as well, as could a bolstered offensive line. Solidifying the supporting cast around Watson this offseason could boost him in real life and the Fantasy world.
Los Angeles Chargers: Obviously the Chargers should be able to open things up more this week against New England’s 22nd-ranked pass defense, but can Philip Rivers get over the mental hurdle of being 0-7 against Tom Brady? He has not taken the Chargers to an AFC Title Game since 2007. The Chargers have momentum and played terrific away from Los Angeles this season, and the Patriots seem more vulnerable than ever. But Rivers has never been a big-game QB and is facing the greatest one ever, and New England regained momentum late in the regular season. But from an intangible perspective, we cannot write off New England just yet, as they underperformed by their usual standards and still earned a No. 2 seed. This game will be about more than just the matchups on paper, especially when you consider Bill Belichick is still on one of the sidelines. The Chargers could start building a new storyline as a Los Angeles team by finally toppling New England, but Brady and Belichick may prove you can never underestimate the hearts of champions. This is the most compelling matchup of Divisional Weekend from a storyline perspective.
Baltimore: In the shorter term, the Ravens do not want to turn Lamar Jackson into Robert Griffin III, who was ruined through pocket passing experiments. In the long term, they want him to be a more consistent passer than Michael Vick was, although that’s a bigger project to undertake. Even more than with Watson, here is a QB who needs a much better supporting cast, especially among his playmakers. Bringing in a receiving back to complement Gus Edwards and employing pass-catchers who can effectively run the scramble drill and get open for Jackson when he is throwing on the run can only help the QB in his second year. Jackson will have a high Fantasy floor and can be a more consistent starter if they bring in dependable receivers who can also make things happen after the catch. Jackson’s coaches will be massively responsible for his development. Golden Tate would be a nice fit in Baltimore.
Philadelphia: Nick Foles should be a good DFS and Fantasy Postseason play this week against the Saints’ 29th-ranked pass defense. The Eagles have no threat of a running game, and the Saints have a strong defense in that regard, as well. Darren Sproles could be looking to burn his former team this week, and the Eagles have the playmakers to push this game higher on the scoreboard. Of course, that could mean we see the Drew Brees we did not late in the regular season, the version that could really respond against a vulnerable Philadelphia secondary.
Chicago: The Bears seem to have everything in place around Mitchell Trubisky to make him succeed, but he was erratic all year long and on Sunday. The offseason and 2019 will be about fine-tuning and accelerating his development. Despite his roller coaster ways, he put the Bears in position to win against the Eagles. Allen Robinson played well on Sunday but was a disappointment overall. The Bears have potential pieces to produce in the passing game but have no one to truly stretch the field. Robby Anderson would seem to be a really good addition, but the Jets could look to make a strong push to retain him as an unrestricted free agent. Trubisky has some potential playmakers, but none that can regularly take the top off a defense.