This week’s Thursday Night Football matchup sets up as a battle between two former Super Bowl MVPs. Tom Brady travels to Chicago to face Nick Foles which will be the first time the two face each other since Super Bowl LII. The stakes aren’t nearly as high, but there’s enough fantasy-relevant intrigue for us to take notice. Tampa Bay is coming off of a 38-point comeback victory against the Chargers. Meanwhile, after Foles rallied the Bears to a victory in Week 3, Chicago turned in a lackluster performance against the Colts last Sunday. Last week’s Thursday Night matchup taught us any game can go sideways, but the focus will likely be on the future Hall of Fame quarterback and what the Buccaneers do amidst the many injuries hampering their team.
Injuries. So Many Injuries.
O.J. Howard (Achilles) has already been placed on Injured Reserve ending his season. Chris Godwin (hamstring), LeSean McCoy (ankle), and Justin Watson (chest) have been ruled out. Leonard Fournette (ankle) is listed as doubtful. Mike Evans (ankle) and Scott Miller (hip) are probable. The pile of injuries has left Tom Brady relying on rookie Ke’Shawn Vaughn and Cameron Brate as his primary reads are battling through their respective ailments. We have to adjust our expectations for Tampa’s offense but the real-time analysis, good or bad, will be a reflection of Tom Brady and what he can still do at 43 years of age.
Brady’s Week 1 results left the fantasy community, and possibly Bruce Arians, wondering if all of the offseason hype was for naught. Brady’s 5.3 Adjusted Yards per Attempt (AY/A) was his worst season-opening performance since 2014. His deep-ball completion rate was just 37.5%. After throwing two interceptions and losing to a division rival, questions about the Buccaneers’ seasonal outlook took center stage. But it appears Brady just needed time. His Completion Percentage over Expectation (CPOE) has jumped from just +0.2% in Week 1 to +3.3% over the last three games. Brady’s Expected Points Added per Play (EPA/P) are also on the rise stabilizing at +0.3 over the last two weeks after a disastrous -0.3 in Week 1. Together, both metrics contextualize the down, distance, and probability of his performance which have translated to wins for the franchise and fantasy managers rostering Brady. He’s thrown for either 300 yards or multiple scores in back-to-back games and finished as a QB1 in each. Chicago’s only allowed 6.1 AY/A against them, but there’s a path for Brady to maintain his fantasy relevance for another week as he prepares to duel with Nick Foles in Week 5.
It’s tough to grade Nick Foles after a single start in Week 4 against the Colts who reduced Sam Darnold and the Jets to a JV squad the prior week. We expected less and Foles still underperformed with a -5.0% CPOE and -0.1 EPA per Play. By those metrics, his pass attempts were actually helping Indianapolis rather than his own team. Regardless, the positive takeaway is that the offense didn’t shift schematically as their neutral passing rate stayed above the league average at 63.0% and Foles relied on Allen Robinson as his primary receiver (23.8% target share). Tampa’s primary strength is up front as they’ve allowed two 100-yard receivers (D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson, Week 2) and double-digit scores to pass-catching running backs in multiple weeks (Alvin Kamara, Mike Davis). The game is only projected for 44.5 points, but there are enough playmakers in this game to push the total.
Points of Interest in TNF
I’ll be watching to see how Tampa Bay has prepared for Chicago amidst their depleted offensive personnel. The Bears’ outside coverage is yet to allow a touchdown so opposing offenses have taken to the interior. Danny Amendola (7-81-0, Week 1) and Calvin Ridley (5-65-0, Week 3) had useable results in the slot during their respective contests. Plus, Evan Engram (7-59-0, Week 2) and T.J. Hockenson (4-40-1, Week 1) were either close to or in the TE1 conversation for their output. If healthy, Chicago’s weakness would behoove Arians to scheme Mike Evans inside (55.6% slot rate with Godwin out). If not Evans, Thursday could be Tyler Johnson’s time to shine. Johnson primarily played in the slot during his time at Minnesota and has at least been on the field for 46 of the team’s offensive snaps over the last two weeks. Otherwise, a combination of Cameron Brate and Rob Gronkowski are the likeliest options to complement Evans and Miller as the Buccaneers take the field.
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Pandemic Déjà Vu
It’s like we’re back in Week 4. The Titans are now up to 19 total cases (11 players, 8 personnel) after two new positive results were confirmed. Corey Davis was the latest from Tennessee to be placed on the COVID-19/reserve list placing the Titans’ upcoming Week 5 matchup against Buffalo in jeopardy. In addition, the league is now investigating an unauthorized workout held by Titans’ players on their unscheduled bye week. The league is yet to hand down its punishment, but heavy fines, game forfeiture, and loss of draft picks has been discussed throughout the community as another postponement appears likely.
The Patriots find themselves in a similar position as their star cornerback, Stephon Gilmore, joins Cam Newton on the COVID-19/reserve list. Gilmore confirmed the results Wednesday morning and New England was forced to shut down the facility except to conduct daily testing. The team will be holding virtual meetings over the coming days before they host the Broncos this weekend. As of this writing, the game is reportedly scheduled to occur on time unless more cases turn up before Sunday.
Washington Going in a Different Direction
Dwayne Haskins has been replaced in Washington by Kyle Allen. Ron Rivera gave both players the news Wednesday before practice as the team prepares for to face the Rams. And Haskins was not only benched, he’s not even the backup. Alex Smith now has the backup role with Haskins as the team’s QB3. Rivera’s timing is curious at best. Haskins was erratic through the first three weeks (5.7 AY/A) while taking at least three sacks per game and causing multiple turnovers. But against Baltimore, arguably his toughest defensive opponent, he had his cleanest performance. He broke 300 yards passing, despite 165 of his 314 yards coming in the second half when they trailed by 18 points, and had no interceptions or fumbles. Washington still has a chance in the NFC East and Rivera has only worked with Haskins for four games of a season with limited workouts over the summer. It could mean Haskin’s time in Washington is over, but the team (and fantasy mangers) must now contemplate what Kyle Allen will do for this offense over the coming weeks.
The positives are that Allen understands Scott Turner’s system, has a QB1 finish in his range of outcomes, and will spread the ball out to his pass catchers. Switching to the former Panther bodes well for both Antonio Gibson and Logan Thomas as Allen targeted their respective positions on 20.0% and 28.0% in 2019. The Panthers were eighth in neutral passing rate under Allen which significantly deviates from their current position at 17th. The volume may be there but there are reasons Allen went undrafted. He had two four-game streaks of at least one interception or lost fumble. He caused three or more turnovers in five different games. There’s not much to suggest he’s objectively better than Haskins, but his prior experience may lead to better execution of the offense with better matchups ahead for Washington’s offense.
Injury Slant – Concern in Baltimore
Lamar Jackson missed practice with what’s been reported as a minor knee injury. He’s not expected to miss their game against Cincinnati and should be at practice by week’s end. Adam Thielen was limited with a shoulder injury, but his game status isn’t in doubt. Philadelphia appears to be getting some offensive help with the return of both Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson. Both practiced in limited fashion with Jeffery looking to make his season debut against the Steelers. Cam Akers began practicing this week to add further confusion to the Rams’ backfield. Jimmy Garoppolo and Raheem Mostert logged limited practices on Wednesday. San Francisco needs their starting quarterback back under center after benching Nick Mullens during their primetime loss to the Eagles in Week 4.