The Tampa Bay Buccaneers might be about to play perhaps the most fantasy football-relevant game in their entire history. Fantasy team owners are expecting fireworks when the New England Patriots come to Raymond James Stadium on Thursday night, and they probably won't be disappointed.
Just consider the following:
- The Patriots have the number-one offense in the NFL in terms of yards per game and the number-two attack in terms of points scored.
- The Buccaneers have the ninth and 12th-ranked unit in those categories.
- That Buccaneer offense, coming off a 434-point game, will be going against the worst defense in the league by a wide margin, at least statistically.
- Six different Buccaneers and Patriots scored a touchdown this past Sunday.
- New England QB Tom Brady is the highest-scoring player in fantasy football so far this season.
- Chris Hogan (NE), Brandin Cooks (NE) and Mike Evans are all among the top 16 highest fantasy scorers among receivers so far.
- New England's Rob Gronkowski is the top scoring fantasy tight end so far. The Buccaneers' Cam Brate is eighth.
- Here are the scores of this year's first four Thursday night games: 42-27, 13-9, 41-39, 35-14.
- Doug Martin is about to play his first game of the season.
If the short week is going to mess with either side in this game, it's probably going to be the two defenses. Expect a shootout and a whole bunch of fantasy points. We'll get to some of the specifics below.
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. After two very strong weeks of fantasy advice, I got a barely passing grade this past week. The first of three suggestions was good but the other two probably didn't help much. I'm going to tweak this a little bit moving forward by giving myself letter grades for each suggestion.
Advice #1: At the start of the season, I advised caution about starting either of the Bucs' two pass-catching tight ends, Cam Brate and O.J. Howard, until their roles were more defined. Last week I said, yes, you should go ahead and start Brate.
Review: B+. Brate had 80 yards and a touchdown, which is a marvelous night for a fantasy football tight end. So you're welcome for that one. But I can't quite give myself an "A" because by pushing Brate I also tacitly came down against starting Howard. Howard had 63 yards and a touchdown and would have been a great streaming or spot-start play.
Advice #2: Eli Manning might have seemed like an attractive play after the Bucs' struggles in the secondary against Minnesota's Case Keenum the previous week, but don't chose Manning over a comparable quarterback in this game because the Bucs' pass rush was going to get to him.
Review: C-. The Bucs' pass rush most definitely did not get to Manning. He ended up with a good, if not overwhelming, fantasy day, throwing for 288 yards and two touchdowns without an interception.
A look back at all of the match-ups between the Buccaneers and the Patriots.
Advice #3:** More as an effort in prognostication than real Week Four fantasy help, I picked a deep sleeper on the Bucs' offense to score a touchdown against the Giants: Alan Cross.
Review: D. Alan Cross did not have a reception, but two other Buccaneer tight ends scored. Winston threw all three of his touchdowns from some remove from the goal line. Cross probably needed a goal-to-go rollout pass to have a shot at scoring.
Altogether that wasn't as sharp as my previous two weeks of advice. Still, if you started Brate you're happy, if you didn't start Manning you're probably not that upset and if you actually picked up Cross based on my guess…well, that's on you. Now, let's get to another round of advice.
Three Burning Questions: Patriots at Buccaneers
1. Let's start with the most obvious question, and it's a two-parter thanks to the return of Doug Martin: 1. If I've been stashing Doug Martin, do I immediately throw him into the lineup? 2. If I've been playing Jacquizz Rodgers in Martin's absence, do I now have a back with far less fantasy value?
There are three possibilities here in terms of having the two Buccaneer backs on your fantasy roster: 1) You drafted and stashed Martin believing he'd produce like a second-round pick after he finished his suspension; 2) You drafted Rodgers hoping to get RB1 value out of him for at least three weeks; or 3) You drafted both backs hoping that between them you'd have one good starter for the whole year. I can raise my hand for Option #3 in one of my leagues.
Let's take them order. If you have only Doug Martin, do you immediately put him in the starting lineup? My advice: No. I think it's just a little too risky in his first game back. I believe the team will still keep Rodgers very much involved, and maybe even give him the first crack at running the ball, so at best you're looking at a time-share. If Martin does well with his early work, maybe he'll get a larger share of the load as the game progresses, but that is no sure thing. Plus, we're in somewhat uncharted territory here, trying to predict what a back who is fully healthy but has been away from the game for a month will do in his first game back. Too big of a risk for me; I'm not starting Martin unless I don't have another comparable/better option.
If you have only Rodgers, it's a little bit tougher. He is going against (statistically) the most porous defense in the league. New England has allowed 132.8 rushing yards per game and three rushing touchdowns so far. On the other hand, the note above applies to him as well: He's no longer a sure thing to get two-thirds of the carries, as he did through the first three games. Again, I'm thinking it's too big of a risk and I'm going to sit him out this week until I see how the Bucs' backfield opportunities are divvied up. This could all be a lot more clear by Week Six.
Now, if you have both players, there's a good chance you don't have enough other running back to ignore both of them in your starting lineup. Unless you plan on starting them both, you're going to have to choose. Let's go under the assumption that they get a relatively equal share of the carries, although if either of them gets more it would make sense that it's Rodgers, who is already used to a heavy load this season. If it's relatively even, I'd have to go with Martin for two reasons. One, I think he's more likely to break off a long run or two. And, two, if the Buccaneers get into a first-and-goal situation, Martin is probably their best option.
2. You advised starting DeSean Jackson against the Vikings and, indeed, he scored his first touchdown as a Buccaneer. Knowing that Jackson is often a boom-or-bust fantasy player even in his very best seasons, are you ready to put him in the lineup again this week?
I'll admit that this is more of a hunch than anything. As noted in the question above, Jackson is often the type of fantasy player whose value swings wildly from week to week. In a real-life sense, he's incredibly valuable to the Buccaneers (and before that, the Redskins and the Eagles) every game, but in fantasy production is often tied to his – admittedly frequent – big plays. If he gets even one 40-yard touchdown, you're already set for the week.
So far, Jackson and Jameis Winston have yet to forge a reliable connection. That was particularly frustrating for Jackson in the Bucs' last game against the Giants, as he was open for what could have been several big plays but Winston didn't put the football where it needed to be. Jackson's frustration was mitigated by the fact that the Buccaneers won, and it was not a problem in the larger team context. Head Coach Dirk Koetter said Jackson was right to be frustrated.
And this is where the hunch part comes in. I don't think that Winston is going to force the ball to Jackson more than he should on Thursday night. That's the kind of approach that he has studiously worked on getting out of his game. I do think, however, that he'll have a little extra desire to be on target to his speedy receiver after the last game. Jackson has been open plenty of times in his first three games as a Buccaneer. Winston will want him to be rewarded for that, and won't want to see him frustrated for another game.
Plus, if Jackson's value is tied up in big plays, then this is a good game to start him in expectation of getting one. No team in the league has given up more plays of 25 or more yards so far this year than the Patriots.
3. This is the first week with teams on a bye, plus some notable players (including Minnesota RB Dalvin Cook) suffered injuries last week. Is there a player in Thursday's game who might be available on my league's waiver wire that you would advise picking up?
For the purpose of this exercise, I'm going to assume that the following Bucs and Patriots are not available in your league: Tom Brady, Jameis Winston, Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, Doug Martin, Jacquizz Rodgers, Mike Gillislee, Rob Gronkowski and Cameron Brate. Let's go ahead and put James White on that list, too, because, man, he's catching a lot of passes. If I'm wrong about Brate or White being available in your league, then by all means pick them up with due haste.
So, with those guys off the board, who's the pick?
Let's go with Adam Humphries. I'm not saying you're going to pick him up and start him over Julio Jones or even Adam Thielen. But if you're in a bit of dire straits due to byes and injuries, this could be a one-week opportunity to get some sneaky points. This is particularly true if you play in a PPR league. Humphries has exactly as many targets through the first three games as Jackson, and Koetter calls him the "underappreciated" piece of the Bucs' offense. Jackson, Evans and now Cam Brate are all major concerns for opposing defenses, meaning there will be opportunities for Humphries to find open space in the defense from time to time. That's what happened last week when he worked wide open over the middle for a 35-yard gain, and he came fairly close to scoring on that play.
Humphries is not likely to be a player you'll keep on your roster all year, particularly because the Bucs will likely keep feeding Evans first and focusing on Brate in the red zone. Still, he's going to have a couple games during the season in which he would help a fantasy team win. Given the state of New England's defense at this point, this is as good a bet as any to be one of them.