Patriots

Fantasy Football Beat: Lamar Jackson due for down fantasy day against Belichick

Fantasy Football Beat: Lamar Jackson due for down fantasy day against Belichick

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: LAMAR JACKSON VS. BILL BELICHICK

Yes, Lamar Jackson is arguably your fantasy league's MVP given where he was drafted and the production he's provided. Yes, he's been a top-notch fantasy quarterback even when he hasn't thrown for touchdowns. (He's been a top-10 fantasy quarterback in his last two games with no passing touchdowns thanks to monster rushing performances.) But he's due for a regression this week.

The Patriots have bottled up athletic quarterbacks in Greg Roman's offense in the past, holding Tyrod Taylor to just 6.0 rushing fantasy points per game, per Sharp Football Analysis, and Colin Kaepernick to just 28 yards rushing in 2012. If Jackson is similarly limited on the ground — and the expectation is that Bill Belichick will make that a priority of this week's game plan — then Jackson's fantasy value will be tied to his arm. Of course he can make teams pay that way, as he did against Miami in Week 1. But the Patriots have put together historic numbers when defending the pass this season, and Jackson is coming off of a 9-for-20 performance two weeks ago against the Seahawks.

The Patriots defense has had its issues against the run this season, but when it's a focus of their game plan, they seem to be able to scheme against it. They were run over in December last season by teams like the Dolphins and Steelers, but then made it one of the centerpieces of their game plan in Super Bowl LIII, loaded up their front to cover every gap, and held the Rams rushing attack to 3.4 yards per carry. If you're a Jackson fantasy owner this week, just know this is likely going to be a down week for him. If you have an opportunity to start Dak Prescott or Tom Brady over Jackson this week, I would.

SEE 'EM POPPING

TOM BRADY: The Patriots look like an offense that is better spreading things out and throwing. We now have eight weeks of evidence. They haven't been able to run the football, and there are no reinforcements coming until Isaiah Wynn returns when the Cowboys come to Foxboro. With Mohamed Sanu and potentially N'Keal Harry getting added to the mix, we could see the Patriots use their 10-personnel packages more often. They've utilized those sets more over the last two weeks, and that look arguably allows Josh McDaniels' best players to get on the field. The Ravens allow 7.7 yards per attempt, and if New England can protect Brady, he should have a nice fantasy day. Nobody blitzes more frequently than the Ravens but they're only 14th in pressure rate, per Sharp Football Analysis. If Brady can avoid being pressured quickly in downs, there should be openings in the secondary to attack. 

JULIAN EDELMAN: This is the lone true go-to fantasy option for the Patriots this week. Maybe Mohamed Sanu will end up with a big night after getting a little more time in the Patriots system under his belt. He should play plenty of snaps, but it's unclear exactly how many targets he'll see. Edelman has been hammered with targets every week, as our Tom E. Curran pointed out Sunday, and that should continue this week. He may be looking forward to the bye as he now deals with rib and shoulder injuries, but against a defense that allows 8.2 yards per target to receivers, he's a high-end fantasy option once again this week. 

JAMES WHITE: It looked like James White ended up a little hobbled after his 59-yard screen catch-and-run against the Browns last week, but he's avoided the injury report and should be good to go for Sunday. The Ravens have had issues checking backs in the passing game this year, allowing a 59 percent success rate — 30th in the league, per Sharp Football Stats — so White should get the green light as an RB2 this week.

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N'KEAL HARRY: We're not even sure yet if Harry will get the nod to play this weekend, but even if he does, it would reek of desperation to have him in your lineup. In a dynasty league, he's totally enticing. In a keeper league of any kind, you should have him on your roster. But start him this week? After missing most of training camp and the first half of the regular season? I don't think so. Even if he's mentally up to speed thanks to all the work he's done in his team's "virtual room," there's a significant difference between being able to line up correctly in your first pro game and understanding how your quarterback is going to read a defense in your debut. 

BEN WATSON: Watson impressed with a nice high-point grab down the seam last week, but he's still just averaging 22 yards receiving in his two games this season. If Matt LaCosse and/or Ryan Izzo are back in the lineup — both practiced on Wednesday — then that could hurt Watson's value as well. Unless you're in the deepest of leagues and you're hoping for a play-action pass to go to Watson at the goal line, you'd be better off leaving him be this week. 

SONY MICHEL: Perhaps Michel will be a more reliable option after running backs coach Ivan Fears told reporters this week that he simply has to get "downhill" more quickly when things aren't blocked up perfectly for him. Michel's issue is that even if he were to do that, he hasn't proven that he can elude tackles consistently near the line of scrimmage... and there have been a plethora of tacklers near the line of scrimmage week after week when the running game hasn't been blocked up properly. If the Patriots do move more toward a spread style — not altogether ditching the running game but de-emphasizing it — then Michel's value will continue to dip. He's a touchdown-dependent FLEX option for me. Not a bad thing to be as part of an offense that runs as much as the Patriots do inside the five. Still, hard to depend on.

MARQUISE BROWN: We're at the point where it's hard to start any wide receiver against the Patriots defense until someone proves that this secondary can be punctured. Brown is back in the lineup after a long layoff, so he should have fresh legs, and perhaps the Patriots won't be able to double-team him the way they've doubled other diminutive speedsters in the past like Tyreek Hill or T.Y. Hilton because they'll be dedicating more defenders to the box to stop Jackson's running ability. Still, even when paired with a unique threat like Jackson, starting receivers against the Patriots has been a losing proposition this season. Don't count on that changing this week against a quarterback who has been scattershot on occasion. 

MARK INGRAM: The Patriots have been generous to opposing backs at times this season, allowing Nick Chubb to go for 131 last weekend and giving up 4.6 yards per carry this season. But Ingram might not get the requisite workload to be fantasy viable on Sunday night. He's averaged 14 carries per game over the last month, and in three of his last four he's averaging 12.6 carries. In part due to the fact that they get off the field quickly (league-leading 15.6 third-down conversions allowed), and in part because they're consistently playing with the lead (leading opponents by a combined score of 87-7 after the first quarter), the Patriots allow the fewest rushing attempts per game in the NFL (18.5). Add it all up, and unless Ingram gets in the end zone — something the Patriots still haven't allowed a running back to do this season — he's not startable.

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How the reported expanded NFL playoff proposal impacts the Patriots

How the reported expanded NFL playoff proposal impacts the Patriots

NFL owners are pushing for a big change that would be part of a new collective bargaining agreement with the players. The league reportedly will propose expanding the postseason to add a seventh playoff team in each conference.

As ESPN's Adam Schefter detailed, the league would now have six games on Wild Card weekend under the new proposal, three in each conference, and only the No. 1 seed in each conference will get a playoff bye.

Also in the proposal is a 17-game regular season and a shortened preseason to three games. The changes would be implemented for the 2020 season if the new CBA is ratified by the owners and NFL Players Association.

If adopted, this is certainly a massive change and one that could have a big impact on the New England Patriots. 

The Patriots have mastered the art of qualifying for a bye in their two-decade-long dynasty. In fact, this past postseason was the first time New England didn't have a first-round bye since the 2009-10 postseason. The Patriots finished as the No. 3 seed and promptly lost to the Tennessee Titans at home, marking their earliest playoff exit since the '10 postseason.

Thus, the elimination of one of the byes could have a significant impact on the Patriots. Since Bill Belichick took over as coach before the 2000 season, the Patriots have made it to the Super Bowl nine times. In each of those seasons, they've had a first-round bye.

In the Belichick Era, the Patriots have been the AFC's No. 2 seed on six occasions. They advanced to the Super Bowl and won three times in those six instances, and it's fair to wonder if they would've had a similar chance to advance had they needed to play another game, even if it was against a seventh-seeded team.

In the past seven Super Bowls overall, no team has made it to the big game without a first-round bye. The 2013 Ravens were the last team to play Wild Card weekend and make the Super Bowl.

So, needless to say, the No. 1 seed in each conference will now have a major advantage, and the Patriots are going to have to fight harder to earn it. They're certainly capable of earning the No. 1 seed. They were the No. 1 as recently as the 2017 and 2018 playoffs, when they beat the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl 51 and lost to the Philadelphia Eagles in SB 52.

The road to the Super Bowl will become a little more difficult without that No. 1 seed if the new format is approved. Only once in the Patriots history have they reached the Super Bowl as a Wild Card team and that was 35 years ago in the 1985 season. The No. 1 seed and home-field advantage will carry even more importance, but they'll have to outduel some powerful up-and-coming AFC teams if they want to earn it in the near future.

For a team with the NFL's toughest projected strength of schedule in 2020, that will be no easy task.

Here's how Jim Craig compares Bill Belichick's leadership to legendary Herb Brooks

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USA TODAY Sports

Here's how Jim Craig compares Bill Belichick's leadership to legendary Herb Brooks

Motivation is essential to being a great head coach, and few coaches have motivated players with more success than Bill Belichick and Herb Brooks.

Brooks was the United States men's hockey coach at the 1980 Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid, N.Y. He helped lead Team USA to an amazing 4-3 semifinal win over the Soviet Union in one of the greatest upsets in American sports history. The U.S. beat Finland for the gold medal a few days later. 

Belichick has won a record six Super Bowl titles as head coach of the New England Patriots. His first championship came in 2001 when the Patriots upset the heavily favored St. Louis Rams -- aka the "Greatest Show on Turf" -- in Super Bowl XXXVI.

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Boston University star Jim Craig was the starting goalie for Brooks' 1980 Olympic team, and in an appearance Wednesday on WEEI's "Dale & Keefe" show, he explained how Brooks and Belichick are so effective in instilling a strong sense of belief in their players. 

“What both Herb and Bill have very much in common is there's only one winner, and they know that. What they do is they focus and prepare to win, not to compete against a team. That preparation for us was so revolutionary, and Herb drove change. We played 61 games in a little over four months, and we played it against the best in the world. What he did is he put us in positions to fail so that we would know how to prepare to win. As we got closer as teams, the recruiting and how Herb recruited was really great. All the teammates that I played with had won at every level. They knew how to win.

"In the book I always say it's amazing what you can accomplish when nobody has to take credit. What Bill does really well, in my opinion, and what Herb did really well is they don’t take credit for it. It’s their job. They prepare. They become your confidence. In leadership, there’s two types of leaders: There's people who want people to follow them, and there’s people who want people to believe them. Herb and Bill are ones who prepare people so that not only do they believe in what he’s doing or what the coach is doing, but they believe it themselves."

One part that sticks out from Craig's comments is not taking credit. Belichick isn't one to publicly praise himself for a great season, even as he's gripping the Lombardi Trophy after a Super Bowl triumph. 

It's all about the team, doing your job, and trusting your teammate will do his job. It all sounds cliché, but it's impossible to argue with the results from Belichick's and Brooks' legendary careers as coaches.