Patriots 17 Panthers 16
Although Cam Newton’s stat line looked pretty solid on Friday night (17-of-28, 160 yards, 1 TD), it is becoming more and more evident that this season might be a struggle for him in terms of fantasy production without top target Kelvin Benjamin and no one legitimate to fill his spot. Cam is going to have to earn every yard and touchdown he gets this season, and without many talented players to help him out, this season might be frustrating for anyone who drafted him.
The other sideline on Friday night has a QB issue of their own that dwarfs the severity of the Panthers offensive struggles. From what we have seen so far this preseason, the Patriots aren’t having on the field issues with their quarterbacks (though Brady could have looked better against the Panthers on Friday night) but really the issue lies in the hands of a New York City judge. If the ruling is held up and Brady is suspended for the first four games of the season, Brady owners better have themselves properly handcuffed with Jimmy Garoppolo, who has looked pretty good in extended play this preseason. Word is though, that even if the judge sides with Goodell, Brady is prepared to counter with an appeal that could take over a year to process, which would in theory allow him to suit up without any issues this season. We should have a better idea on this in the coming days.
Lions 22 Jaguars 17
Matt Stafford was very sharp on Friday night against the Jaguars, not only throwing two touchdowns on 173 yards through the air, but also recording what was nearly a perfect passer rating (150.8). He looks poised to have a nice bounce back season this year now that Calvin Johnson is healthier than he was most of last season.
In the Jags “regular season dress rehearsal”, or so they call the third preseason game, Blake Bortles proved that he put some hard work in during the offseason, as he went 20-of-29 for 245 yards and a touchdown. Bortles often goes unsung by the media, but he has displayed consistent improvement this preseason, hopefully pointing to the fact that the Jaguars might have finally settled on their first franchise quarterback in about a decade.
Chiefs 34 Titans 10
My anecdote last week was at bit snarky when Alex Smith finally found a way to throw a touchdown to a wide receiver in his previous preseason game, but now that he did it again this week, I’m starting to feel a little more comfortable with him as a fantasy quarterback this season. During their season long wide receiver touchdown drought in 2014, I was firmly “Team Bowe” in that I mostly blamed Alex Smith’s conservative mentality as a quarterback for the embarrassing streak, however, now that Andy Reed finally has his “West Coast” type receiver in Jeremy Maclin (who he drafted in Philadelphia), it appears that the Chiefs offense is ready to take the next step forward, even with conservative Alex Smith at the helm. Although incredibly talented, maybe Dwayne Bowe just wasn’t the right fit in KC.
Despite struggling yet again, Bishop Sankey seems to have a firm grip on the starting running back role in Tennessee. With no one else really stepping up, and the unfortunate injury to Sankey’s only real competition in rookie David Cobb, it’s almost like Sankey never really had to win this job outright. That is never good for fantasy prospects, as competition is the best situation to put young players in when trying to tap potential. This mediocre camp and overall preseason from Sankey should scare fantasy owners away, but just keep in mind that he will see the lions share of the touches in the Titans offense. When doing your drafts, acknowledge his starter status, but don’t be surprised if he only provides handcuff production this season.
Bills 43 Steelers 19
As advocated for in previous iterations of this article, Bills head ball coach, Rex Ryan, named Tyrod Taylor his starting quarterback for Week 1. Taylor clearly had the best camp out of all the quarterbacks on the roster, while he also possesses the most athletic ability to give the Bills the best chance to win on Sunday’s. He’s got game breaking speed and one heck of an arm, both of which should go a long way to sustaining drives and keeping their talented defense fresh. Consider him a legitimate QB2 in most formats.
Other news coming out of Buffalo: Long time Bills running back, Fred Jackson got cut on Monday afternoon, proving that Rex Ryan truly isn’t in this just to make friends, as he will likely anger Buffalo fans and media alike by cutting a fan-favorite.
Unfortunately for Steelers fans and Martavis Bryant owners his appeal was denied, making it official that he will have to miss the first four games of the season. What makes this an even harder pill to swallow is that he was arguably the best player on the field Saturday night against the Bills. He finished the game with three catches for 138 yards and a touchdown. This should solidify Markus Wheaton’s status as the number two receiving option on the Steelers going forward.
Dolphins 13 Falcons 9
It’s tough to make too much out of preseason games, but that’s what they pay me for here, so I’m going to read a bit into this one. As stated earlier, many consider the third preseason game the “dress rehearsal” for the season opener, so is it any coincidence that the two ball carriers with the most touches for the Dolphins were Lamar Miller (no surprise) and rookie Jay Ajayi (surprise), a player who is currently listed fourth on the depth chart and made his NFL debut on Saturday night against the Falcons. Ajayi not only led the team in carries, but also in rushing yards, while making a couple of nice gains. His flaw right now is as a pass protector, but he clearly has the chops to be an NFL runner. I’m not going to sit here and guarantee him as the handcuff for Lamar Miller, but he might make a shocking case for the number two job as the regular season rapidly approaches.
Browns 31 Buccaneers 7
Both Johnny Manziel and rookie running back Duke Johnson were out for the Browns on Saturday night, failing to take advantage of the opportunities in front of them to make an impression on coach Mike Pettine. Many believed that Pettine considered both players for the starting jobs at their respective positions, so the lack of health amongst the young players is a bit disappointing. Well, Manziel didn’t have a real shot out of camp, but if he had continued his progression for the rest of the preseason, the pot might have begun to stir in Cleveland. Instead, unopposed, Josh McCown finished up his preseason in strong form, going 17-of-23 for 117 yards and two touchdowns against the Buccaneers on Saturday night. Johnson, who is now dealing with a concussion, right after nursing a hamstring issue for most of the preseason, only registered one carry for four yards, yielding the bulk of the carries to Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West, two veterans who had no problem splitting carries last season. Headed into the regular season opener, Johnson obviously has a better shot than Manziel to get in the mix for some fantasy relevancy, but if he can’t prove to stay healthy, his opportunity might slip away. Johnson had repetitive health issues at Miami, making fragility his only real concern coming out of college. This is simply something to keep in mind, so don’t give up on Duke just yet.
Vikings 28 Cowboys 14
The Cowboys all-world offensive line finally showed up this preseason, as they dominated the first team snaps on Saturday night against the Vikings. They opened up gaping holes for Darren McFadden and allowed Romo to look like vintage Romo, as he had plenty of time to dance around, extend plays, and most importantly, throw touchdowns. Expect this intimidating unit to shine once again this season, even without reigning Offensive Player of the Year, DeMarco Murray.
There is also a further development coming out of Cowboys camp in the running back saga, as the fantasy feared “running back by committee” seems to becoming more and more of a reality in Dallas this season. For most of camp, the job seemed to be Joseph Randle’s to lose, however he hasn’t been particularly sharp or healthy, and on Saturday night, free agent, Darren McFadden opened some eyes. With both players possessing the ability to make big plays and Lance Dunbar almost certain to man the third down duties; unfortunately my fantasy friends it appears that we have a “three headed monster” on our hands. Hopefully Dallas’ line proves to be so good that all three players can become fantasy relevant, similar to the “Earth, Wind, and Fire” situation that played out for the Giants during their Super Bowl run in 07-08, but that is very wishful thinking. One thing is for sure however, if there is one line in the league that has the ability to make three running backs relevant, it’s the Dallas Cowboys starting unit.
Before getting all caught up on the Cowboys, lets not forget that the Vikings won this game, and displayed an extraordinary expo in quarterbacking, throwing only three combined incompletions across four QB’s. In particular, second year pro, Teddy Bridgewater has been a shining star for the Vikes this preseason, as he has shown incredible improvement in decision-making and accuracy across his four games played. He has been a “hot-sleeper” this fantasy draft season, perplexing us all, as an oxymoron has become an accepted term to categorize players, but that is the world we live in nowadays. Expect a fine second season for Bridgewater, as he now appears to have the supporting cast to help him succeed on a fantasy relevant level.
Colts 24 Rams 14
The Colts might have won the game on the scoreboard, but the eye test told a different story on Saturday night, as the Rams won the physical battle, and as a first team offense, they provided Nick Foles with the proper pocket to go 10-for-11 for 128 yards and a touchdown.
On the other side of the ball, the Colts offensive line was no match for the all-world defensive front of the Rams, which should comes as no surprise, as they did little to improve their protection during the offseason and were one of the worst units in the NFL last season. What was shocking was that second year defensive tackle, Aaron Donald of the Rams, somehow provided evidence that he has gotten even better during the offseason, despite being already regarded as one of the best in the league at his position as a rookie last season. On Saturday, late in the first half, while the Colts were backed up to their own 5-yard line, Donald single handedly forced an Indy three-and-out, by making three consecutive plays behind the line of scrimmage. He blew up the porous first team offensive line of the Colts, bringing down the running back behind the line on all three plays, while almost forcing a safety on third down. Expect Donald and the Rams elite defensive front to cause tons of havoc this season, while attempting to unseat the Seahawks as the champs of the NFC West.
Jets 28 Giants 18
There wasn’t really much that the Jets first team offense couldn’t do against the Giants on Saturday night, as they ran for a healthy 4.5 yards per carry as a team, while Ryan Fitzpatrick finally stepped up and proved that he is worthy of this starting quarterback job, by going 9-of-14 for 127 yards and two touchdowns. In this well-oiled first team offense was running back Zac Stacy, who proved to be a bit of an X-factor for head coach, Todd Bowles on Saturday. Stacy ran the ball 13 times for 60 yards, while adding a 24-yard touchdown reception. While many believed that Stacy would simply serve as Chris Ivory’s backup this season, if Saturday night was any indication, he will have a much bigger fantasy impact than that for 2015.
Defensively, it finally looks like the gang is back together, as the Jets cornerback combo of years past flashed it’s 2015 potential on Saturday night against the Giants. Not only did Antonio Cromartie record a pick six of the 59-yard variety to end the first half, but on the other side, Darrell Revis handled Odell Beckham relatively well, allowing five catches for only 31 yards. We all know that coach Bowles is a defensive minded guy, so he would make due regardless, but it appears that he has the tools on this Jets defense to really do something special in 2015.
As for the Giants, they struggled once again this preseason, looking sluggish from the opening whistle. They played some sloppy football, and had their only significant first half drive, kept alive by two massive Jets penalties. Something better change for coach Coughlin’s crew, or they will be in for a rude awakening against the Cowboys on Sunday Night Football in Week 1. Something tells me that they will kick it into gear before then though, as Cowboys vs. Giants games in primetime never disappoint.
Bengals 21 Bears 10
The Bengals first team offense had a lot to prove on Saturday night against the Bears, after committing three turnovers in their previous preseason game. In particular, starting quarterback Andy Dalton had something to prove and did his best on the Bengals first drive. He went 6-for-6 for 52 yards on the drive, while scoring on a QB sneak near the goal line. The problem is that he injured himself on the scoring play, not allowing him to command the first unit for the rest of the game. Backup quarterback, AJ McCarron, came in for some extended action after Dalton and didn’t disappoint. He finished the day going 12-of-17 for 149 yards and one touchdown. He proved to the coaching staff that he is capable of commanding a team as a starting quarterback, something that should scare Dalton, as he is already in the doghouse with the Cincinnati faithful. If anything should go wrong with this Bengals team throughout the season, expect Dalton to be first on the chopping block, with McCarron ready to step in his place.
Redskins 31 Ravens 13
In case you didn’t hear, RG3 has been benched. Not only is he being usurped by backup Kirk Cousins, but also by veteran journeyman, Colt McCoy, who will serve as Cousin’s immediate backup. This leaves Griffin as the third string QB… What a fall from grace. The Redskins need to find a way to get him out of Washington because the dream is dead. Having RG3 on the roster will do neither party any good, so it’s best to cut him and let another team sit him behind an established veteran QB for a while. Hopefully another team can tap his potential, because it would be an incredible waste of talent to let him fizzle out the way he has in Washington. Best of luck to Griffin.
Without Griffin on the field, the two other Redskins quarterbacks shined once again in the preseason, shredding the Ravens defense on Saturday night. Now starter, Kirk Cousins, went 20-of-27 for 190 yards and a touchdown, while backup, Colt McCoy, went 10-of-12 for 95 yards and two touchdowns. Cousins is starting to emerge as a dark horse fantasy candidate, while McCoy appears more than capable if anything were to happen to Cousins.
Also coming out of Washington is the emergence of rookie running back Matt Jones, who is compiling quite the case for the number two job for the Redskins. This preseason he has a combined 20 carries for 139 yards and a touchdown. That is good for a 7.0 yard per carry average. Consider him the best handcuff for Alfred Morris, and possibly a player who can steal a couple of series from him per game.
Seahawks 16 Chargers 15
Rookie Watch: Tyler Lockett does it again, as he brought his second kick (first punt) back to the house this preseason on Saturday night against the Chargers. Although he’s not doing much in the receiving department just yet, he is still finding ways to make an impact on the game. He’s an incredibly gifted athlete with game breaking talent, so it’s only a matter of time before he becomes one of Russell Wilson’s favorite targets. Consider him in your drafts, but don’t be surprised if he takes until the middle of the season to breakout as a receiver, as he is likely still getting acclimated to the playbook.
Eagles 39 Packers 26
Chip Kelly’s hurry up, spread, offense appears to be in midseason form right now, as his Eagles are a perfect 3-0 this preseason, while averaging over 38 points per game. On Saturday night against the Packers, they ran the ball effectively and threw it with incredible efficiency. The first teamers shined the most on Saturday, as Sam Bradford was a perfect 10-for-10 through the air with 121 yards and three touchdowns, while DeMarco Murray ran the ball six times for 28 yards, good enough for a 4.7 yard average per attempt.
As for the Packers, with starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers not playing, they were a bit skeptical how things would work out on Saturday night, but rookie backup Brett Hundley proved why they drafted him, as he went 22-of-31 for 315 yards, with two touchdowns, and an interception. It appears that yet again the Packers have hit a home run in terms of their backup quarterback. So as long as he continues to show improvement, they will either have Rodgers’ replacement on their hands, or another trade chip to gain extra draft picks.
Broncos 19 49ers 12
With all of the negative stories swirling around the 49ers this offseason, it’s nice to finally have some good news coming their way from these past two weeks. Although they lost to the Broncos on Saturday night, the story of the night was 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman, who has looked incredible in the second and third weeks of the preseason. Last week, against the Cowboys, Bowman played three snaps, his first three since tearing his ACL over a year ago, and recorded a tackle on all three plays. On Saturday against the Broncos, in some more extended play, Bowman not only recorded nine tackles, but he also registered two sacks of Peyton Manning. He looks like a new man since suffering the injury that made him miss all of 2014, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he has one of the better seasons by any fantasy eligible IDP (individual defensive player) in 2015. Expect him to be the bright spot on a defense that has been shrouded in shadows all offseason.
Texans 27 Saints 13
After starting slow out of the gates this preseason, Jaelen Strong caught his second touchdown in as many weeks on Sunday night, to lead all rookie wide receivers in that department this preseason. He seems to be getting better each week, and finished Sunday with five catches for 40 yards and that one touchdown. Consider Strong a safe bet as the number two receiving option behind DeAndre Hopkins for the Texans in 2015, regardless of where he is currently listed on the depth chart.
Cardinals 30 Raiders 23
Second year pro, Khalil Mack was downright disruptive on Sunday, not only recording three tackles and two sacks, but also recording four quarterback hits and countless hurries of Cardinals quarterback, Carson Palmer. As good as he was in his rookie season, expect him to be even better in 2015, not only due to natural progression, but also because of what new head coach, Jack Del Rio can bring to the table. While in Denver, Del Rio utilized his countless defensive assets in a traditional 4-3 defense. He had a weapon very similar to Mack, who goes by the name of Von Miller. Del Rio would cycle Miller in as a 4-3 outside linebacker, a standup edge rusher, and even times as a hand in the dirt 4-3 end. In this way, Miller was able to work all over the field, create pressure, and impact almost every aspect of the defensive game, on his way to becoming one of the most feared players in the NFL. Expect Mack to become this year’s Von Miller because he is that talented, and he has the head coach that will allow him to shine.