Patriots

Fantasy Football Beat: Add Eagles' Carson Wentz to Bill Belichick's list of baffled young quarterbacks?

Fantasy Football Beat: Add Eagles' Carson Wentz to Bill Belichick's list of baffled young quarterbacks?

Fantasy football players seem to get smarter every year. The leagues get deeper. The competition gets better. That's partially because of the sheer amount of information available to fantasy geeks willing to put the time in.

But it's not always easy to find sound fantasy advice on players making up the back ends of fantasy depth charts. That's where we'll try to help fill in the gaps by providing you with information we've gleaned by being on the Patriots beat.

MARQUEE MATCHUP

Carson Wentz vs. Bill Belichick
With the way the Eagles offense and Patriots defense are constructed right now, there's no way you can play Carson Wentz this weekend. Even in two-quarterback leagues, he feels like a borderline play. The Eagles simply have no explosive element to their offense at the moment. And that was when Alshon Jeffery was in the lineup. Jeffery could be out due to a calf injury, and there is no one else at the receiver position who will scare the Patriots defense. As a group, Philly receivers have 933 yards receiving this year, putting them on pace for almost 1,700 yards total. Michael Thomas of the Saints is on pace to break that mark all by himself. In their last six games, Philly receivers don't have a touchdown catch longer than six yards. It's not good for Wentz. And his favorite target, Zach Ertz, will certainly be getting extra attention from Belichick's defense. Yes, Wentz may find matchups he likes in Dallas Goedert and Miles Sanders (more on them later), and he has the ability to scramble for fantasy points. But you simply can't depend on Wentz, against a very good Patriots pass defense, as anything more than a borderline top-20 option this week. I'd start Matthew Stafford replacement Jeff Driskel over him. 

POPPERS

Julian Edelman
According to Pro Football Focus, the Eagles are allowing a league-low 7.6 fantasy points per game to opposing slot receivers, but Julian Edelman still needs to be in your starting lineup. The Patriots will want to get the football out quickly against Philly's pass-rush -- led by the still-ridiculous Fletcher Cox -- and Edelman will be a big-time beneficiary. It's worth noting that Edelman is off of the injury report for the first time since Week 3. 

Mohamed Sanu
One more week in the system. One more week to gain the trust of Tom Brady. There's a reason why both Sanu and Brady have said they're "gonna have some fun" when they get on the same page. Sanu, who played outside against the Ravens but could eventually see more time in the slot, is coming off a 10-catch game in Baltimore and should see plenty more targets this weekend. Even if he plays outside for another week, that'd be a good thing against the Eagles, who allow 29.6 fantasy points per game to opposing outside receivers -- most in the NFL. 

James White
Philly has had some success against pass-catching backs this year. They rank second in success rate allowed to backs, per Sharp Football Stats, but this feels like a game where the Patriots will rely on their excellent receiving back. The Eagles have linebackers who've struggled in coverage at times, and if the Patriots can get a 'backer -- particularly linebackers Nigel Bradham or Nate Gerry -- aligned across from White, they'll have it made. The screen game, which could slow down the Eagles pass-rush, could also be key this weekend. If it's deployed, White is likely to be the beneficiary. Rex Burkhead is someone we have to see contribute regularly -- and stay healthy -- before we could consider starting him. 

Jordan Howard
The Patriots are 26th against the run this season, allowing 4.7 yards per carry through nine games. Couple that with the fact that the Eagles passing game could be stuck in neutral -- explained above -- and Howard could be looking at a nice little fantasy day. He has 42 attempts combined in his last two games and should be used early and often again this week. 

Dallas Goedert
OK so "popping" is a relative term here on the Fantasy Beat. Will Goedert have as many fantasy points as Ertz (mentioned below)? I don't think so. But I expect him to out-perform his expectations, if that makes sense. He's considered to be in Vance McDonald/Darren Fells territory this week by some experts. I'd have him ranked higher. I'd have him ahead of Noah Fant in Denver and ahead of Mike Gesicki in Miami. The reason? I expect him to play quite a bit, since the Eagles have been using more and more two tight end sets -- and since Jeffery is looking like he'll be out or really limited. Plus, the Patriots have had a helluva time trying to stop two tight end looks. We went into detail on the "how" and "why" of things here, but it wouldn't surprise me if Goedert ended up with a top-12 fantasy day at tight end against New England. 

Tom Brady
It looked like the Patriots found something in Baltimore. Their hurry-up offense was productive and allowed Brady and his teammates to get into a rhythm we haven't seen much from them in 2019. They could use it again in Philly to help slow down players like Cox or Derek Barnett or Brandon Graham. If that's the case, Brady will be chucking it all over the lot. He'll need time -- the numbers suggest he's as good from a clean pocket as he's ever been, but he's as bad when facing pressure as he's ever been -- and if he gets it, he'll be a top-10 play this week. The Eagles secondary is flawed and their middle-of-the-field players -- their linebackers and safeties -- have been so aggressive coming downhill that I'd expect Brady and Josh McDaniels to try to toy with them early with play action. 

DROPPERS

N'Keal Harry
Going hurry-up might help Brady's numbers. I'm not sure it'll do wonders for Harry's. The rookie first-rounder was kept on the sidelines in Baltimore as Brady orchestrated a fast-paced offense in a hostile environment. Will one more week of prep have Harry ready to go if the game plan is similar in Philly? It sure sounds like Harry is going to play this weekend, but until we see what kind of role he'll have, you could only play him in the deepest of leagues as you hope for a red-zone target. (That is the type of thing Harry could help them with so it's not completely out of the realm of possibility.)

Zach Ertz
I think there's a decent chance we see Stephon Gilmore take Ertz the way we saw Aqib Talib take Jimmy Graham back in 2013.b

Miles Sanders
I wouldn't hate Sanders as a FLEX play in deep leagues, but if you're doing that, you're doing it in the hopes that as Wentz and the Eagles get away from receivers in the passing game, they start to move targets towards someone like Sanders. Still, he's had just three targets in each of Philadelphia's last four games. He could hit them for a few long ones, as he did in Minnesota in Week 6, but so far the Patriots have been pretty effective against backs in the passing game. They're fifth in the NFL, allowing just 5.0 yards per target to opposing backs. If they come at Wentz with zero-blitz pressure, that might be an effective way to neutralize Sanders in the passing game since it would likely require him to stay in the backfield to help as part of the pass-protection scheme. Wentz is smarter than most of the passers the Patriots have seen this season, but all the Patriots have to do to generate pressure is confound someone like Sanders or fellow rookie left tackle Andre Dillard. 

Sony Michel
If you're playing Sony Michel, you're hoping for a touchdown. And there's a chance you'd get one on the goal line, but the Patriots have been throwing more lately from down in close, which has meant fewer opportunities for New England's big back. He has just five red-zone carries in the last two games, and he's averaging 1.2 yards per attempt on those, with no touchdowns. What happened to Michel in the passing game in Baltimore, with one drop and one snap where it looked like he ran an incorrect route, there just doesn't seem to be much opportunity looming for him. 

Phillip Dorsett
The hurry-up might be a good thing for the Patriots passing offense, but the emergence of Sanu and a potential Harry debut make Dorsett's role a little less certain. He's dependable when he's thrown to, but he doesn't see enough targets to make him a must-start in any week. This week is no different. 

Eagles receivers
Just don't do it. 

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If Patriots just did this, the offense would see a big improvement

If Patriots just did this, the offense would see a big improvement

Every week during the NFL season, Tom E. Curran & Phil Perry will go head-to-head and offer their own takes on a Patriots or NFL-related topic. This week: Call me crazy, but if the Patriots would just do THIS offensively, they’d see a big improvement. 

Bang it to the tight ends. So far this season, the Patriots have 26 catches for 349 yards and a touchdown from Benjamin Watson, Matt Lacosse, Ryan Izzo and Eric Tomlinson. The 27 catches have come on 38 total targets. Tomlinson’s long gone and Izzo hasn’t played since Week 6 against the Giants. Lacosse, meanwhile, has missed five games. The 38-year-old Watson has been targeted twice in the past two games but has pulled in 12 of the 17 passes sent his way in the past six weeks. Last season, a dinged-up Rob Gronkowski caught 26 passes for 304 yards by himself and that came on 43 targets. It’s astounding that an offense that’s been as reliant on the tight end as the Patriots has only directed 38 passes to the position through 12 games. Even in 2016, when Gronk missed a big chunk of the year, the team was still able to get 55 catches and 701 yards from Martellus Bennett. I have a feeling the Josh McDaniels has noticed the absence of the tight end in their offense. I’m also sure that part of the reason it hasn’t been anything more than an afterthought is A) they’ve had a revolving door there with Lacosse injured and Watson suspended for the early part of the year; B) they’ve had woeful pass protection especially on the left while Isaiah Wynn was out and needed to keep a tight end in at times and C) they don’t have dynamic players at the spot. But last week, the Patriots got a much-missed seam pass to Lacosse for 23 yards and a 32-yard catch-and-run from Watson. Could that be a motivator to get the ball out there a little more often? Couldn’t hurt.

***

I'm not sure there's anything they can do right now to see a BIG improvement. But there are improvements there to be made, no doubt. I'd focus on the red zone because that's the area of the field where there's the most obvious potential for growth for the Patriots. There really is no reason for the Patriots not to be at least a little more effective at scoring touchdowns when they get inside the 20. They're currently 24th in the NFL when it comes to red-zone efficiency at 48.89 percent. That's a tick below bad offensive football teams like the Giants (53.12 percent, 22nd), Bears (59.46 percent, 14th), Bills (63.64 percent, 9th) and Dolphins (67.74 percent, 4th). How do they improve? Go big. Go bigger in the passing game. Get those tight ends you mention, Tom, out there and allow them to use their bodies to post up on defenders in an area of the field where space is tight. Use N'Keal Harry, even if it's only as a specialty player in there, because he knows how to make a back-shoulder catch. Maybe give Phillip Dorsett and Jakobi Meyers a breather when you're in there. And go big in the running game deep in opponent territory. Multiple tight ends. Maybe an extra offensive lineman at times. Since Isaiah Wynn's return, and since LaCosse has been healthy enough to be a factor as a blocker, the run game has improved. Especially out of two-tight end sets. In the last two weeks, they've run for 4.2 yards per carry out of 12 personnel (one back, two tight ends). That number was 3.4 yards per carry in Weeks 2-11 without Wynn. They picked up 3.3 yards per carry in games without Wynn this year, whereas they've averaged 4.4 yards per carry the past two weeks -- regardless of personnel package. They should be able to run it closer to the goal line with the offensive line and tight end spots healthier. And if they prove they can do that, that'll open up the play-action passing game down there. Poof. Just like that, the red-zone offense will be better and the Patriots will see more points on the scoreboard as a result.

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That 617 Life Podcast: Who made who? Bill Belichick or Tom Brady

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NBC Sports Boston Illustration

That 617 Life Podcast: Who made who? Bill Belichick or Tom Brady

The people's court is now in session. The topic of debate: Who made who, Bill Belichick or Tom Brady?

The two New England Patriots greats will always be inextricably linked for the success they've had in creating the Patriots dynasty. Together, the duo has won six Super Bowl titles and has overseen the most dominant two-decade stretch in NFL history.

Still, the question of who is chiefly responsible for the team's success has long been a debate among the New England faithful. And this week, Shanda, Cerrone, and Leroy take a deeper dive into the case for both sides on the latest episode of "That 617 Life Podcast".

Cerrone kicks off the "trial" by defending Brady, arguing that his on-field play and his arrival to the team snapped the Patriots out of the funk that they were in for most of the early part of their franchise's existence.

[The Patriots] were the team that nobody wanted to use in TecmoBowl. Now, for everybody in America, you're cheating if you use Tom Brady in Madden.

Furthermore, from Cerrone:

There's teams in the NFL over the past 20 years that still haven't defeated Tom Brady. Still, over 20 seasons. There are organizations and fan bases that still have not seen a victory in front of Tom Brady.

As for the case for Belichick, Leroy laid out a simple case for Belichick and called him "possibly the greatest coach in sports history."

Hear more of the trial and thoughts on the latest Boston sports stories on the latest episode of the "That 617 Life Podcast", which drops every Friday as part of the NBC Sports Boston podcast network.

CURRAN: Are we watching Brady's final day with the Patriots?>>>

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