Fantasy Beat

Fantasy Football: Patriots-Cowboys has the potential to be a fantasy wasteland

Fantasy Football: Patriots-Cowboys has the potential to be a fantasy wasteland

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: STEPHON GILMORE VS. AMARI COOPER

Dak Prescott is having one of the best seasons of any quarterback in the league this season. He's a legitimate MVP candidate, and a big reason why is that he's had a full season alongside a true No. 1 option in the passing game. His offensive line has been solid. He has a talented back to hand to.

But what Prescott has done — ranking first in the NFL with 8.8 yards per attempt, ranking second in Football Outsiders' DVOA metric, ranking third in Next Gen Stats' competition percentage above expectation — has seemingly been thanks in large part to his best target. Cooper has 56 catches for 886 yards and seven touchdowns, averaging a whopping 11.2 yards per target.

But this isn't the week to start Prescott or Cooper. The Patriots defense has ruined games for opposing passers this year outside of Lamar Jackson, and Prescott simply does not have the running ability Jackson does — nor does he have the creative scheme Jackson does supporting him. Cooper figures to be a key part of the offensive plan for Dallas on Sunday, but if he gets the Stephon Gilmore treatment, you'll be kicking yourself for starting him.

Here's what Gilmore has done in his last five games: He's allowed 10 catches on 27 targets for 108 yards and broken up six passes. That's 4.0 yards per target. That's not wise. Prescott will go elsewhere with the football, he'll be willing to let Cooper's numbers dwindle, which means he doesn't care about your fantasy team.

It might be hard to bench the guy who's likely been your best wideout this fantasy season, but you'll be better off. Until someone goes off against Gilmore, you're in a holding pattern. 

SEE 'EM POPPING

EZEKIEL ELLIOTT: If the Cowboys have been paying attention, they know that the Patriots have been run on. Danny Shelton, Lawrence Guy and Co. did a nice job up front in Philly, but Bill Belichick's defense understands teams will still try to run on them — even if they did hold the Eagles to fewer than 4.0 yards per carry last weekend. They're 26th in the NFL in yards per carry allowed through 10 weeks (4.6). "It's gonna be the same thing against Dallas when we play them next week," Devin McCourty said after beating the Eagles. "They're going to test us in the run game, and see if they can get some things that happened two weeks ago [or] early in the season."

JAMES WHITE: White didn't have a world-beating statistical line against the Eagles, but he still got you almost double-digit points in PPR formats. The number you should love if you've rostered White is that he had seven targets against Philly's aggressive front. The screen game was clearly a huge part of the plan — and I think it will be again this weekend. The Cowboys generate a ton of pressure with their front, which takes advantage of their speed and explosiveness along the defensive line. In order to slow that down, the Patriots will likely turn to their draw plays and screen game. Even if Rex Burkhead is in that mix, that should mean plenty of work for White, who may be one of the only veteran pass-catchers on the field for Tom Brady this weekend while Mohamed Sanu and Phillip Dorsett deal with injury. 

JULIAN EDELMAN: Well . . . that didn't last long. Coming off a bye week, Julian Edelman was briefly removed from the injury report. Then he saw double-digit targets yet again — his fifth consecutive game with at least 10 targets — and landed on the injury report this week with a shoulder issue. No matter. Get him in your starting lineup. He'll be banged up. He'll be doubled — again, particularly if Sanu is out. But Brady has to throw to someone. That someone will be Edelman. He hasn't had fewer than 13 fantasy points in PPR leagues since the calendar flipped to October. Start him and don't think twice. The Cowboys, though they're seventh in the league in yardage and points allowed, haven't been amazing against opposing wideouts — especially in critical situations. They're 23rd in the league in success rate allowed to wideouts.

SEE 'EM DROPPING

MICHAEL GALLUP: The Patriots have had success in the secondary for reasons far beyond Stephon Gilmore. He's No. 1 on the list, but this is a well-oiled machine against the passing game. With Devin McCourty calling the signals and a variety of versatile pieces who can change assignments on the fly, it makes life difficult on young quarterbacks. As good as Prescott has been, he's still relatively green, and he's taking more chances than ever before. That's a good thing for an offense that's benefitted from his explosive-play productivity, but against the most turnover-happy defense in football it could be his downfall. The Patriots still lead the league in yards per attempt allowed to wideouts at just 5.0. Whether it's Jason McCourty or J.C. Jackson on him, it's not likely Gallup goes off.

MOHAMED SANU: Even if he's active, he's clearly dealing with an ankle injury that limited him in practice this week. There's an off-chance he ends up in the end zone — where his speed in a short area might not be as crucial — but it's hard to depend on anything from him while he recovers from an injury suffered in Philly. 

SONY MICHEL: Even with Isaiah Wynn back, it's hard to say this offense has the ability to run it down a defense's throat. When the Patriots have been at their best running the football, they've been in the hurry-up, with either White or Burkhead on the field. That's not necessarily Michel's game because he's not as versatile. And try as they might to incorporate him in the passing game, Michel might see fewer chances through the air. Yes, he caught the first pass of the game in Philly and ran for a gain of 12. But he also had a Brady pass bounce off his chest plate and very nearly land in the arms of a defender.

RANDALL COBB: Jonathan Jones figures to be the matchup here as Randall Cobb has started to turn things up of late for the Cowboys from his slot position. That's not excellent news for Cobb fantasy owners. Jones is the No. 2 graded corner in football this season — behind Washington's Quinton Dunbar — according to Pro Football Focus. What's helped Jones over the course of the last three games? He's been fresher. Why? The addition of Justin Bethel has allowed Jones to take a breather on Patriots punts. Previous to Bethel's arrival, Jones was a gunner, meaning he'd sprint about 60 yards and then be asked to perform in coverage soon thereafter. 

PHILLIP DORSETT: Another injury situation here. Worth monitoring, though. If Dorsett plays after suffering a concussion in Philly, and if Sanu sits out, starting Dorsett in your fantasy lineup would make some sense. Again, the number of experienced targets Brady will have to work with will make any available veteran a little more valuable on Sunday. 

N'KEAL HARRY: If you're desperate, I could see it. If Dorsett and Sanu miss time, Harry could be in line to be the No. 2 wideout on the roster, meaning he'd be in line to get almost every snap. His nerves showed a bit against the Eagles as he left his feet to try to reel in a pair of slants — one was caught, one wasn't — even though his frame is big enough that he doesn't have to protect the ball in that fashion. He acknowledged after the game that it felt good to get the first few grabs of his career out of the way so maybe he'll be less cautious and more willing to work back to the football, keep his feet, and pluck it out of the air with his hands. 

TOM BRADY: Just take a listen to what Brady himself has said this week. The strengths of this team are its defense and special teams units. That puts the offense in more of a management role, which means gaudy statistics for the quarterback should be hard to come by. His protection will be better with Wynn back — long gone should be the sprint-out passes that took Brady away from the left side of the offensive line in Wynn's absence — and that should help Brady feel more comfortable in the pocket. But his weapons, and the style of game called by Josh McDaniels if it's one built to protect the football, could make it a difficult day for Brady fantasy owners.

DAK PRESCOTT: See: Cooper, Amari; Gallup, Michael; Cobb, Randall.

JASON WITTEN/BEN WATSON: Impressive as it is that these two remain in the league and remain key pieces of their respective offensive attacks . . . you can't do it. Watson's ceiling is likely what we saw last week in Philadelphia, where he cracked 50 yards. Witten's is about the same. His season-high came on Nov. 4 when he caught eight passes for 58 yards. You might be desperate because it's a shallow position group across the league, but keep those expectations low.

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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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