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Fantasy Football Weekly: Bucs-Falcons

Posted Nov 24, 2017

While recovering from a full day of Thanksgiving football and food, we discuss fantasy implications for Doug Martin, Cam Brate and Patrick Murray in Sunday's game in Atlanta

Last week, I offered some advice outside of the typical stuff regarding who would perform well in the upcoming Tampa Bay Buccaneers game and who would not. The tip: Make your Thanksgiving Day football-watching marathon more fun by creating a one-day fantasy football competition for you and your friends or family members. I had to bring that up the week before Thanksgiving because I knew this week's column would run after turkey day.

If you scroll down a bit, you'll see that my regular fantasy football advice last week was really quite good. I hope you took it. I hope you also took my Thanksgiving advice, because the actual football needed some help. The first game was the most interesting of the three, and even that one was marred by some head-scratching calls. Playing a fantasy game would have helped hold anyone's interest. So did you? Well, I did.

I didn't actually run one of these competitions, but I knew someone who did and I joined in. Here was the team I chose:

QB: Kirk Cousins, WAS

RB: Melvin Gordon, LAC

RB: Alfred Morris, DAL

WR: Jamison Crowder

WR: Keenan Allen

WR: Adam Thielen

TE: Evan Engram

FLEX*: Latavius Murray

OP*: Philip Rivers

K: Matt Prater

DEF: Minnesota

IDP: Eric Kendricks, MIN

(* Flex could be RB, WR or TE. OP, or offensive player, could be any of those plus QB.)

This is the third year I've been in this competition and I did very poorly the first two times. So this year I spent more than two minutes on my lineup and actually did some research. For instance, I found that Washington's defense has had trouble with tight ends, so I went with the Giants' athletic rookie, Evan Engram. Similarly, the Chargers have the NFL's worst run defense, so I took the Cowboys' Alfred Morris even though there were some more talented backs available. And when I saw that the Giants have given up 20 touchdown receptions this year, the worst of any team playing on Thanksgiving, I had to have at least one Washington player. That was wide receiver Jamison Crowder.

So how did I do? Pretty good! Crowder was a good call but Engram and Morris were not. I made a terrible pick at IDP and am kicking myself because my first thought was to go with Landon Collins. I ended up coming in sixth out of 34 entrants, but I would have been second if I had chosen Collins instead of Eric Kendricks.

The moral of this story? I spent a lot of time on that game, which may make you wonder how long I spent on the advice offered below. Valid concern. Still, given my performance last week (see below), I think you can remain confident in me. We'll get to this week's advice in our latest Three Burning Questions. First, however, we continue with tradition and review the advice from last week.

**

Accountability Section: This season, each Fantasy Football Weekly article is going to include a review of the previous week's advice to see if it was actually helpful. Here's a recap of what I covered last week, along with self-assigned letter grades for each piece of advice:

Advice #1: Ignore the red flags around Mike Evans – coming off suspension, different quarterback, a couple low-scoring games – and start him with confidence against Miami.

Review: B+. It would be an "A" if he had notched a touchdown but the scoring passes went to O.J. Howard and DeSean Jackson. I said Evans would be at the center of a passing game that did much better than the week before, and that was true. He had 10 targets; nobody else had more than five. Evans finished with 92 yards on five catches, which is not an enormous day but not one that would make you regret starting him, either.

Advice #2: Even after my previous advice to consider starting Howard against the Jets was a bust, double down this week and use him against the Dolphins, whose linebackers were susceptible to the rookie's athleticism.

Review: A. It would have been "A+" if Howard's second touchdown wasn't called back by a penalty. Still, even without that, Howard was the third-highest scoring tight end in the league in non-PPR formats and the fourth-highest in PPR formats.

Advice #3: Though you've understandably been staying away from the Buccaneers' defense recently, this is a good week to pick them up for a streaming start.

Review: B+. Against all odds, this was actually a good fantasy play this week. I didn't give myself and "A," however, because while the advice was good a lot of the reasoning that went into it was not. Tampa Bay was the fourth-highest scoring fantasy defense this week, and the only one near the top you would have reasonably found on the waiver wire. The key was the last play of the game, a meaningless fumble recovery for a touchdown on a Dolphins pitch-around play.

Your Buccaneers are on a two-game winning streak in real life, and I may be getting my fantasy-advice season back on track, too. That was probably my best performance since the season opener against the Bears.

**

Three Burning Questions: Buccaneers at Falcons

1. I know it's not all Doug Martin's fault that the Bucs' running game is struggling, but the cause is pretty irrelevant when it comes to fantasy football. I took Martin out of my lineup last week in favor of (oh, let's say Latavius Murray). Should I leave him there or put him back in the lineup this week?

I know Murray has already played; I just used him as a hypothetical. What would you do on Wednesday if you had these two players? Murray has been very hit-and-miss since he essentially took over as the Vikings' lead back following the injury to Dalvin Cook, but he has three touchdowns in the past two weeks. It would have made sense to put him in the lineup over Martin recently.

But you just can't let go of your desire to play Martin, a Buccaneer, and you know that when he has a big fantasy game, sometimes he has a BIG fantasy game. CBS Sports, in fact, was predicting that Martin would break out with one of his big games last Sunday in Miami.

That didn't happen, of course. Martin came back from his suspension this year and immediately posted a credible 82-yard, one-touchdown game against New England. Unfortunately, he hasn't matched that total since and has no touchdowns in his last five outings. So you're thinking, maybe this Sunday in the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium will be that breakout game. After all, the Falcons' run defense ranks 22nd in the league in rushing yards allowed per game (115.9), 25th in per-carry average allowed (4.46) and 23rd in runs of 10-plus yards allowed (33). Even as the running game has struggled mightily, the Buccaneers haven't given up on it. You know Tampa Bay wants to run the ball, and if Martin gets off to a hot start in any given game they're going to feed him.

So, give it a shot this week? I would be sorely tempted, but I would have to advice caution if you have a Murray-level alternate option. The reason is right there in the question: Martin's lack of production is not all his fault. Or probably even mostly his fault. Head Coach Dirk Koetter said this on Monday after the Dolphins game (emphasis added):

"It’s not him that is not consistently moving the ball. In my opinion, he is not the reason we are not moving the ball on offense. If you look at that tape, Doug’s making a little bit out of not too much more often than not. We went over this exact thing last week."

That's the problem. The Buccaneers are simply not consistently providing Martin with the blocking he needs to have a truly productive day. It seems like the sort of thing they will eventually get sorted out, but until they do, it's hard to play Martin with confidence in fantasy football.

2. As a Buccaneers fan, I really enjoyed O.J. Howard's big game in Miami. As a Cameron Brate fantasy owner, it makes me a little nervous. Given Brate's recent run of games and the possibility of a Howard ascendance, is it time to take him out of my lineup?

Cam Brate earned no-brainer starter status when he averaged five catches and 70 yards over a run of five consecutive games, and also when he caught a touchdown pass in four straight contests. At that point, it started to become criminal to leave him on your bench unless you owned Zach Ertz or Gronk. However, since that five-game run, Brate has had three straight games with exactly one reception. Chances are, if you're a fantasy Brate owner, you started him in at least two of those games, and maybe three.

So what's up? I don't think the presence of O.J. Howard is the issue. Howard has only had one big game in that three-game stretch and Brate still had more targets than Howard in that span, 10-6. The issue, I think, has been an overall decline in the Bucs' offensive success. Tampa Bay isn't sustaining a lot of drives right now, so the opportunities for everyone are down. In Miami, the Buccaneers specifically had a good matchup for the athletic Howard against the Dolphins' slower linebackers, and they made a point of looking his way.

Howard is not slowly taking playing time away from Brate as you might believe when you see the rookie have a big game like he did in Miami. The playing time for those two from week to week has remained remarkably consistent, and only twice all year has Brate played more snaps than Howard. By virtue of his superior blocking, Howard is on the field more and, yes, being on the field more increases your chances of getting targeted. But there are plenty of snaps where Howard is not going out on routes at all, which mutes that advantage a bit.

The more specific point, then, is whether or not this a good fantasy matchup this week for either of the Buccaneers' tight ends. Atlanta has been pretty good against tight ends in fantasy football this year, allowing the 17th most points to the position. They have young linebackers and a physical safety in Keanu Neal who is good at tying up tight ends at the line. I actually like Brate a little bit more in this one because I believe if either tight end returns good value this week it will be because of what they do in the red zone. That remains a Brate specialty.

If, during Brate's recent run of low-scoring fantasy games, you found another viable option at the position, I'd recommend sticking with that for one more week. However, I would definitely not give up on Brate and I expect him to have several more productive fantasy games before the season is over.

3. Patrick Murray is available in my league and I've been streaming kickers since Dan Bailey got hurt. I held on to Bailey but I'm not sure if he'll be back for this game. Should I try Murray for a week?

Obviously, I would need to know what other options you have, but I don't think it's a bad idea. Murray has 21 points in the last two games combined (maybe a little more or less depending upon your scoring system) and he was the fifth-highest scoring fantasy kicker last week.

Murray has made 10 of 12 field goal tries since he took over as the Buccaneers' kicker, including the 35-yard game-winner that he calmly drilled in Miami. He did miss a 42-yarder against the Dolphins, but otherwise his only misfire was on a 54-yard try in New Orleans, and even on that one he made his first attempt but had to try again after a well-time Saints timeout. At this point, I think you can be confident in Murray's reliability. If he gets opportunities, he's going to deliver.

So that's the issue, then. Will Murray get enough opportunities this weekend in Atlanta. It certainly seems possible. Atlanta has allowed the eighth-most fantasy points to opposing kickers this year, and in real-life terms they're giving up nearly 24 points per game. The Bucs and Falcons have a recent history of high-scoring games, with the two teams combining to average 56 points per game over the last four years. Now, granted, there are a couple of Atlanta blowout wins in there, but just last year the Buccaneers tallied 31 and 28 points in their two games against the Falcons. Mike Evans, for one, tends to have huge games against Atlanta. Ryan Fitzpatrick will make his third start for Tampa Bay, and his second one was quite a bit more productive than his first. There's reason to believe that the offense will provide Murray with enough scoring opportunities to make him a reasonable fantasy play.

Patrick Murray is owned in a whopping 1% of Yahoo! fantasy leagues. If you want him, you can probably have him. Tampa Bay's offense hasn't been consistent enough this year to warrant making him your every-week kicker, but he's worth a streaming start this week.