If/when Brown and Gronkowski return, it will shake up the TD equity for all of the receiving options but also increase the chances of the team as a whole having monster games. When everyone is healthy, the Bucs present matchup problems across the board, and defenses have to make choices about where to direct their attention. The Bucs have a very good offensive line, but Brady has always thrived on timing and precision. When they have everyone, Brady can scan the line of scrimmage before the play and isolate the best matchup and attack it with confidence. Injuries have forced them to play more 12 personnel (two tight ends) and use receivers that defenses don’t fear as much, which has allowed defenses to key on Evans and Godwin. That added defensive attention, while not unbeatable, makes it harder for those two receivers to get open quickly and keep Brady in rhythm while the ancillary players (Brate, Howard, and Tyler Johnson) are not as capable of creating separation or making plays on their own. These things result in Brady having to hold the ball longer or force the ball into tighter windows.
The Bucs have eight games left with five of those games against teams who are currently .500 or better. Four of those eight games are divisional matchups and all of the teams in the division are currently within two games of the Bucs. The Bucs really need to get healthy and get back in rhythm offensively. Their defense had some significant struggles early in the season but has improved lately, they’ve just been put in tougher spots the last couple of weeks due to the offense’s struggles to sustain drives. The Bucs are still only one game behind the NFC leaders in the loss column, making a run at the one seed in the NFC still a possibility if they can clean things up quickly.
Trevor Siemian has quietly looked very competent in his time as the Saints quarterback, coming off the bench to lead them to a victory over the Bucs, and then losing on a last-second field goal to a divisional opponent and AFC leading Titans on the road without their best weapon (Kamara). Perhaps the greatest takeaway from his time under center has been that in each of the last two games, Siemian has been able to pass the ball to get the Saints back in games when they fell behind. Once Kamara is back to full strength, it is possible Sean Payton will put more on Siemian’s plate and play more aggressively early in games to try to build leads instead of the conservative “keep it close and hope it works out” approach they’ve had most of this season. On the flip side, it is also possible that Payton turns to Taysom Hill as he has always been infatuated with Hill’s versatility. If that were to happen, Hill would still be a risky play on a weekly basis as Siemian would likely be brought into games in relief if the Saints fall behind. I think Payton will stick with Siemian, but just something to think about if Hill becomes the starter at some point for a non-injury related reason.
Mark Ingram also arrived at just the right time as he should allow the Saints to ease Kamara’s workload. Kamara has never averaged 20 touches per game in a season prior to this year and is now averaging 23.75 through eight games. The nature of Kamara’s usage has also changed as his between the tackles carries have increased significantly, while he is averaging one and a half receptions less per game this season. The result is he is touching the ball more and taking more of a pounding on the touches he receives. That workload has caught up with him as he missed Week 10 with a knee injury. For fantasy owners, an ideal situation would be if Ingram can take some of the pounding workload off of Kamara’s plate, and if the Saints can become more aggressive offensively through the air, getting Kamara in space for more receptions and big plays.
The Saints are a potential sleeping giant. They are the only team to beat the Packers at full strength (and did so in blowout fashion), and they are only one game behind the division leader while holding the head-to-head tiebreaker. They are 3-3 in their last six games but those losses have been a pair of two-point losses that came down to the wire and an overtime loss. The Saints have eight games remaining and five of them are against teams who are currently .500 or worse. Also, the Saints have shown the ability to beat the top teams in the league with wins over the Packers and Bucs. The strength of this team is their defense and coaching. If they are able to get more consistent quarterback play, and Alvin Kamara’s injury doesn’t linger, they can make a run in the NFC standings. While they probably aren’t good enough to make a deep postseason run, they are competitive enough on a weekly basis that they could easily exceed expectations during the regular season if things break right.
The return of CMC to a full-time role and the acquisition of Cam Newton gave this team new energy and enthusiasm that hadn’t been seen since early in the year. If Newton is able to play at even an average level, his presence and the dynamics he brings to the field should open up a lot of things for this Panthers offense. His rushing ability will hold linebackers and make play-action passing more effective, while also opening up outside runs and dump-offs for CMC and DJ Moore. Newton also showed better chemistry with Robby Anderson in limited action in Week 10 than either Sam Darnold or PJ Walker had shown all season. Assuming Newton steps in as the full-time starter, all of the major offensive pieces in this offense just got a huge shot in the arm and should see more volume and scoring opportunities going forward.
The Panthers looked to be dead in the water as recently as Week 9 as they were beaten soundly by the Patriots to drop their fourth game in five weeks. However, this had the look of a different team in their Week 10 trouncing of the NFC-leading Cardinals. The Panthers have games against Washington and Miami before a Week 13 bye. They could easily ride their momentum to a 7-5 record and use the bye to stay fresh for the stretch run. Unfortunately, the schedule down the stretch gets VERY difficult for them. The Panthers will host the Falcons in Week 14 before a gauntlet of four difficult matchups to close the season with games at Buffalo and New Orleans as well as two games against the Bucs. The Panthers *should* be able to put themselves in a position for a playoff run over the next few weeks, and then will have to prove themselves against top competition to end the year.
Matt Ryan is one of the most matchup-dependent quarterbacks in the league and his team needs him to have a good game to have a chance to win. Ryan averages 23.8 DraftKings points per game in the Falcons four wins while averaging 13.9 points in their five losses. If Patterson can return from his ankle injury, he was seeing usage that gives him a great ceiling due to his explosiveness. Mike Davis would likely see some productive, albeit low-ceiling games, if he is thrust into a feature role. It is hard to see any of the Falcons wide receivers being reliable as they are all replacement level or lower talents who have very low target floors. Kyle Pitts will have a chance to truly become the team’s “alpha” receiving option. The Falcons play the Patriots in Week 11 and Belichick will likely scheme him away, but it is important to note that rookie receivers usually see significant improvement in the latter parts of the season. Due to his expected high-volume role and a reasonable expectation of improved efficiency, we could really see him explode down the stretch. Pitts would be a great trade target for contending season-long teams.
The Falcons have played over their heads and taken advantage of some scheduling quirks to get to their current 4-5 record. Down the stretch, they are very likely to be exposed. The Falcons have two games against the Jaguars and Lions, but in their other six games, they are likely to be significant underdogs. The Falcons have one of the worst defenses in the entire league (31st in defensive DVOA), only one above-average offensive player who is currently healthy, and a bottom-five pass-blocking offensive line, according to PFF grades through Week 10. This is a team that is likely to have a very rough two months to finish the season and that we should be actively looking to attack in both DFS and season-long start/sit decisions.