Patriots

Fantasy Football Beat: Even against the Bengals, it's hard to trust Tom Brady

Fantasy Football Beat: Even against the Bengals, it's hard to trust Tom Brady

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: SONY MICHEL vs. BENGALS DEFENSE

I know what you're thinking. How could he possibly even mention Sony Michel as a potentially-viable option in fantasy? I get it. Michel hasn't scored double-digit fantasy points since Week 7. He had five rush attempts last week against the Chiefs. He had 10 the week prior against the Texans. He's a non-factor in the passing game. I get it.

But consider this: The Bengals are allowing a league-worst 156.7 yards rushing per game, and against them, volume equals fantasy relevance. Ten backs have taken at least 12 carries against the Bengals this year. All 10 ended up as top-20 options in fantasy, according to Mike Tagliere of Fantasy Pros. And if you're worried about his waning workload the last two weeks, just look at the scores of those games. They got away from the run as they got down and had to try to come back. That's James White territory.

I think the Patriots will start the game trying to run the football, and I think they'll do it successfully, as they did against Houston two weeks ago. If they can keep the lead — which they should against Andy Dalton and Co. — then Michel should get more work. The end of the season could resemble the end of last season for the Patriots, when they embraced being a running football team. It's unclear whether they have the personnel to do that, but they have to try. And against a defense that's generous to opposing backs, Michel is worthy of a FLEX spot in your lineup this week. 

POPPERS

JULIAN EDELMAN: He's all kinds of banged up, but you can be the one not to start him this week. Won't be me. He's Mr. Consistency, seeing double-digit targets in eight straight games, and picking up at least 14 fantasy points in each one. He's broken 20 fantasy points in PPR leagues over the last two weeks. Don't think too hard about this one. If he's active, and I'd expect him to be, he has to be in your lineup.

JAMES WHITE: This isn't the no-brainer you might think it is. White is only two weeks removed from having 11 total yards in a win over the Cowboys. But since then, the Patriots have used him more as a runner — in part because of Sony Michel's ineffectiveness — and he's seen 33 touches in the run and pass games. This Patriots offense is at the point where they can't keep their playmakers off the field. White should be out there quite a bit Sunday, and he should be fantasy-relevant. 

DROPPERS

TOM BRADY: Until Brady's line can protect him consistently, and until a third option in the passing game — Mohamed Sanu? N'Keal Harry? — emerges, then you can't trust him in your fantasy playoffs. He still has plenty of skill, but he needs more time in the pocket. And when he has time, he needs someone who can uncover. This Patriots passing game is a mess right now, and even against a defense that allows 8.4 yards per attempt, it's hard to trust anyone outside of Edelman or White. Brady is a borderline top-12 option this week. 

PATRIOTS RECEIVERS NOT NAMED EDELMAN: The Patriots are going to need either Sanu or Harry to show up at some point, and time is running out. Maybe this is the week they establish themselves as real threats, but you can't bank on that. If you need a Hail Mary, I'd say both have an outside shot at fantasy points. Harry is a back-shoulder throw in the red zone away from a handful of points — though he hasn't seen one of those kinds of passes since the Cowboys game — and if Sanu's healthy, then he's a threat to play every snap. You just can't depend on either. 

JOE MIXON: The Patriots allow 4.2 yards per carry (which slots them in at 15th in the NFL), and Mixon contributes some as a pass-catcher (eight targets the last two weeks). But you can't be excited about Mixon against a defense that teams don't even try to run against all that often (third-fewest attempts faced in the NFL). In the passing game, though Texans backs beat the Patriots more than once, they're still fifth in the league in terms of limiting that position through the air. They allow just 5.1 yards per target to pass-catchers out of the backfield.

JOHN ROSS: Even after allowing a 48-yard touchdown to Mecole Hardman last week, the Patriots are still fourth in the NFL in terms of allowing explosive pass plays. Only six percent of attempts against them turn into explosive gains. They've also allowed just 30 explosive plays this season (also fourth). That's enough to scare me off Ross, who seems like a good option for Jonathan Jones and a safety over the top. 

TYLER BOYD: The most dependable Bengals wideout this season is finishing the year on a high note, racking up 13, 17 and 19 fantasy points in his last three games. If A.J. Green doesn't play — and at this point, why would he? — then Boyd would be likely to get the Stephon Gilmore treatment, which would mean you should go ahead and bury him on your bench this week. 

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Kyle Shanahan reflects on 28-3 collapse, gifting of Jimmy Garoppolo from Patriots

Kyle Shanahan reflects on 28-3 collapse, gifting of Jimmy Garoppolo from Patriots

MIAMI — The most famous comeback in Super Bowl history — maybe sports history — happened in Super Bowl 51 three seasons ago.

Everyone knows the Patriots role in it. The credit for the tsunami of playmaking on both sides of the ball when all margin for error was spent is shared between dozens of players and coaches.

But when the blame is ladled out, it mostly falls on the shoulders of one man. Former Falcons defensive coordinator and current Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan.

Shanahan wasn’t responsible for the ineptitude that led to blockheaded holding penalties, Matt Ryan’s lack of pocket awareness, or the defense’s inability to get off the field. But he was the one calling the shots when his team blew a 28-3 lead. And he was the one who, after Atlanta had reached the Patriots' 23 with four minutes left and a 28-20 lead, dialed up a first-down throw. That throw turned instead into a sack. Then came the hold. Then came an incompletion. Here came the Patriots.  

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I asked Shanahan if Sunday is an opportunity to drive a stake through the heart of that memory.

“Not really,” he said. “I know it comes off that way from a media standpoint, the narrative. I’d like to drive a stake through that if it works out right. But that stuff, as a coach, it was harder for me early in my career.  

“The four years in Washington (as offensive coordinator from 2010 to 2013) helped me a little bit where you start to realize that you can’t worry about what everyone says, you just got to prepare and do as good as you can and not hesitate.

“Sometimes when you worry about being blamed for stuff that’s when you will hesitate and make mistakes. I go through everything. I’m always hard on myself but I try to lay it out there, lay it on the line and not try to play it safe. We’ll see what happens this week but that’s how I treated every game before that Super Bowl, that’s how I treated that Super Bowl and that’s how I’ll treat every game going forward.”

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Even though he was victimized by Bill Belichick — a longtime friend and admirer of Shanahan’s father, Mike — the Patriots head coach went out of his way to be gracious with the younger Shanahan after SB51, calling Shanahan to check in with him after the loss.

“I know him and my dad had a good relationship through the years, I remember when the Broncos beat the Patriots (in the 2005 playoffs), Bill coming into my dad’s locker room and talking to him. I got kicked out, but I remember my dad saying how cool it was, him coming over after they had lost and talk ball with him. He knew he was just a true football guy and loved talking ball any time.

"It was cool how Bill reached out to me after the Super Bowl just to talk and it was cool to spend some time with him at the Combine which I was very appreciative of (Belichick and Shanahan reportedly met “for hours” at the Combine). Any time that guy talks, everyone in the world listens. Especially someone like me who’s aspired to be a coach and tried to do things like he’s done.”

Belichick’s warmth for Shanahan didn’t stop at comforting words. When he was out of options for what to do with prized backup Jimmy Garoppolo, Belichick sent him to Shanahan and the 49ers straightaway in October of 2017. Belichick initiated the transaction with a text to Shanahan requesting the Niners coach call him. That’s when the ask — a second-round pick — was made.

This was a part of Belichick’s statement after he dealt Garoppolo.

“I have a tremendous amount of respect for Jimmy,” he said. “I couldn't ask for him to give us any more than he's given us. The 49ers are getting a good player, and they're getting a good person, and they're getting a great teammate and they're getting a good quarterback. Jimmy is getting a good coach. His career is moving forward. He's a talented individual, was a great person to coach. I met with him weekly and, again, have a tremendous amount of respect for him. As his career moves forward we have to look to our team, both this year and beyond, and that's a consideration we have to make.”

It’s abundantly obvious that sending Garoppolo to a good football home was a priority for Belichick. And he believed Shanahan would provide that.

“Having someone like Bill say something like that is as cool a compliment as I can have so that feels great,” Shanahan said when asked to reflect on Belichick’s comments. “Hopefully that’s true. But I’m very glad he felt that way because I feel very fortunate that we were able to get Jimmy.”

49ers' Dee Ford has chance for redemption after costly offsides vs. Patriots

49ers' Dee Ford has chance for redemption after costly offsides vs. Patriots

There's a very good chance the New England Patriots would not have won Super Bowl LIII if Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Dee Ford didn't commit an offside penalty in the AFC Championship Game.

Ford was penalized for offsides late in the fourth quarter on a play where Patriots quarterback Tom Brady threw an interception that likely would have sealed a win for the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. The penalty gave the Patriots new life and they ultimately prevailed with a 37-31 overtime victory.

Ford was traded to the San Francisco 49ers during the offseason, and on Sunday night he will square off against his former Chiefs teammates when the two franchises battle in Super Bowl LIV in Miami.

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The veteran defensive lineman is doing his best to stay positive after last season's costly mistake. He's also very grateful to have another opportunity on the championship stage.

"I'm being really serious, I've been through worse than that," Ford told reporters Monday at Super Bowl Opening Night, per NFL.com. I wasn't even supposed to be playing. I came off my second back surgery that I had to beg my surgeon to do. He didn't want to do it. I wasn't supposed to play last year. I had my second back surgery before that year. Nobody expected me to come back. I came into training camp, I was 25 pounds under weight. So, I've been through worse things than that. You have to block out the negative, focus on the positive."

Ford also added: "I'm very fortunate. I don't remember of a player ever being in this situation, and I feel fortunate. I'm going to make the most of this opportunity."

The 49ers defense will face its toughest challenge of the season against a Chiefs offense that is firing on all cylinders entering the Super Bowl. Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes has averaged 307.5 yards passing with a total of eight touchdowns and zero interceptions through two AFC playoff games, and Kansas City has won seven consecutive games overall.

Putting pressure on Mahomes will be key to the 49ers' chances of winning, and Ford will play a pivotal role in that as an experienced pass rusher. Ford tallied 6.5 sacks in 11 regular season games for the 49ers, in addition to one sack through two playoff games.

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