Jesse Pantuosco (@JessePantuosco): Hollywood has always been big on happy endings. That’s not the NFL’s style. Many of the year’s early success stories have already fallen by the wayside. The second-half reality check is in full bloom and it seems to be taking more victims than usual.
A month ago we were drawing up plans for the Packers’ Super Bowl parade. Now they’ve fallen on hard times and are second in the NFC North behind Minnesota. Meanwhile the Broncos have lost two straight and it looks like Peyton Manning’s career will end on a sour note. Cincinnati’s honeymoon ended Monday with an embarrassing loss to Houston and the Falcons have fallen flat in their last three outings. New England is still undefeated but injuries to Julian Edelman and Dion Lewis could change that.
Which leads me to this week’s Roundtable question: which contender feels the most vulnerable to you and how might this affect the fantasy landscape? Denver’s the one that worries me the most. Brock Osweiler is completely unproven and I don’t think we can expect much from Peyton even if he comes back. With so much turmoil at quarterback and a mostly non-existent running game, this is bound to end badly.
Raymond Summerlin (@RMSummerlin): This week will tell a lot about what to expect from the Patriots after losing two of their three best playmakers in the passing game the last two weeks. New England attacked Buffalo mercilessly with the short passing game in the first meeting in Week 2. Just 16 of Tom Brady’s 59 passes traveled more than 10 yards in the air, and zero of Julian Edelman’s 11 catches came more than 10 yards away from the line of scrimmage. LeGarrette Blount, who was in his first game back from suspension, had two carries and the running back corps handled just 10 carries total. The game plan was clearly to spread the Bills out and avoid the perceived strength of the defensive line with quick passing, and that game plan worked so well it would be crazy for the Patriots to adopt a dramatically different strategy this week. The problem is the two biggest cogs in the strategy, Edelman and Dion Lewis, are out with injuries, meaning New England would have to rely on big games from Danny Amendola and James White if they plan to employ the same strategy. Given how well the plan worked the first time, if they decide to deviate from it in a significant way this week, it will say a lot about how much they trust the replacements to fill the void. I am positive New England does not trust White to fill Lewis’ role, and I doubt they want Amendola to play as big a role as Edelman did. That presents some big problems for the offense moving forward, and it is one of the more interesting things to watch down the stretch.
Evan Silva (@evansilva): Minnesota and Atlanta both have great records, but it's hard to envision either as a true contender. The Falcons have major talent deficiencies on defense, weak passing-game weapons beyond Julio Jones (and Devonta Freeman), and three losses over their last four games -- to not-very-good teams -- with only a narrow win over the lowly Titans mixed in. The Falcons have also trailed in the fourth quarter in almost all of their wins.
The Vikings have a pretty average or perhaps slightly above average defense. Their formula is fragile as a one-dimensional, run-based team. Teddy Bridgewater has severe talent limitations, and the Vikings have relied on squeaking out close wins in games that could've gone either way.
Both of these teams are on the upswing and deserve credit for where they are right now. They earned it. But I'd be surprised if either wins more than one playoff game and wouldn't be surprised if either slumps down the stretch and misses the postseason, or gets bounced pretty easily in the first round.
Rich Hribar (@LordReebs): I think we've already seen it start to bear out in the results for Green Bay. They really only have one quality win on their resume and their offensive personnel is mediocre as a whole outside of Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers' margin of error is so razor thin with this receiving unit and teams really have no reason to respect their running game right now.
Randall Cobb has reached 60 receiving yards in fewer games than Jacob Tamme, the sands are starting to thin for James Jones and Davante Adams is just being jammed with targets even though he's a mixed bag from opportunity to opportunity. Richard Rodgers is fine, but he's just the new Bubba Franks for fantasy as outside of the 20, there's little action. Aaron Rodgers was a lower QB1 for the entire beginning of the season when Green Bay was winning games and is now squeezing out effective fantasy weeks because of junk game script.
This team will still win enough to get into the dance because of Rodgers, but they are a bad road team and are far from the Super Bowl favorites Vegas labeled them as even after the Jordy Nelson injury. There aren’t consistent fantasy points to bank on here as fantasy owners have probably already figured out.
Pantuosco: You could poke holes in almost all of these teams. I even go back and forth on whether I trust the Panthers. The defense has been excellent and so has the running game, but can Carolina really survive a deep playoff run with this receiving corps? I just can’t imagine a world where Ted Ginn is the No. 1 wide receiver on a Super Bowl-winning team. I guess the Seahawks have gotten away with some subpar receiving groups in their last couple Super Bowls but that’s a lot easier to pull off when you have an amazing defense behind you. Carolina isn’t quite on that level yet.
Patrick Daugherty (@RotoPat): The Pats have suffered the biggest losses, but I trust them to adapt on the fly as much as any team in the league. LeGarrette Blount isn't going to be game plan specific anymore. He's going to get 20 weekly carries, and the Pats aren't going to be as manic through the air. I'm buying into Blount as an every-week RB1 from here on out.
At some point the Packers have to commit to Eddie Lacy. Maybe he's just not physically able right now, but the talent differential between him and James Starks is a gulf. The committee seems to hurt both Lacy's confidence and effectiveness. I think he needs to be given a chance to go wild on some big first-half workloads, regardless of the initial results.
Jeff Brubach (@Jeff_Brubach): The Atlanta Falcons are the most vulnerable contender in my eyes and their recent performances have reinforced this, as Evan mentioned. The one win the Falcons have recorded since October 11th was a 10-7 victory over the Zach Mettenberger-led Titans and this group just doesn't have anything in terms of offensive weaponry outside of their two beasts, Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman. The Atlanta defense is also underwhelming, as New England DE Chandler Jones has more sacks this season than the entire Atlanta team. Hopefully the Falcons can get hot before their two fantasy playoff meetings with Carolina, but this team is looking weak right now.
Hribar: As seen last night and from Adam Schefter's tweet about the NFL having the most teams under .500 this deep in the season in over a decade, the overall NFL product right now is just largely bad. The games are close because there's a litany of bad football being played. Thank goodness for fantasy.