What We Learned: 2021 Preseason
Check back here every week to listen to Tim: analyze what we saw, discuss who's trending up or down, and jump to some wild conclusions.
1. Patriots, historically good, or a product of the schedule?
For the third time in the past five seasons, the Patriots are undefeated going in to week nine. At this point, it seems routine. Yet, some are calling this 2019 squad the best Patriots team in history. Some would even go as far as to say the 2019 Pats are the best team ever, period.
"This Patriots team is the best football team I've ever watched with my own two eyeballs," said Packers super-fan/football guy, Alex Altermatt.
Unlike New England's undefeated regular-season run in 2007, the Pats are dominating on the defensive side of the ball.
"This Patriots defense is the best in NFL history," wrote ESPN staff-writer, Bill Barnwell in an article posted this morning.
Nobody can take away what New England has done this season. 43 points allowed through eight weeks (5.3 PPG) is the best rate in league history, and on pace to overshadow the '85 Bears and 2000 Ravens. They currently boast a 2:19 TD to INT ratio, and have scored six TD's, which is more than Julio Jones, Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara, Leonard Fournette, Travis Kelce, Stefon Diggs, Keenan Allen, and JuJu Smith-Schuster to name a few. Entering week eight, from a QBR standpoint, teams had a better chance spiking the ball on every play (38.4) than actually attempting to pass against the Pats (37.9). The list goes on. But as the accolades continue to pile up, it's fair to ask the question: Are the Patriots really this good, or are they simply a product of their schedule?
Aside from the Bills, the Pats haven't played one team with more than two wins this season, including one of the two teams with zero wins this season. As I'm writing this, the Patriots 2019 opponents from weeks 1-8 have a combined 13 wins. The Bills have five of those wins, and the Pats beat them by just six, the smallest margin of any of their eight victories.
Pro Football Reference (@PFref on Twitter) claims that, by their metrics, New England has faced THE easiest schedule of all 32 NFL teams so far. According to them, in terms of quality, the Patriots average opponent has been roughly as good as the Bengals... who are 0-8.
Sure, the numbers and the eye test would suggest New England's defense has been historically good. But what if we were to give another team with an elite defense the same schedule? Take the Saints for example. Over the past five weeks, they've held their opponents to 244.8 YPG (Pats: 255.0 YPG). New Orleans is an impressive 7-1, facing a schedule of opponents with a combined 32 wins. They have had to deal with QB's such as Russell Wilson, Deshaun Watson, Dak Prescott, Kyler Murray and Jared Goff, while the Patriots of had the pleasure of lining up against Case Keenum, Josh Rosen/Ryan Fitzpatrick, rookie Daniel Jones, Sam Darnold (twice) and most recently, the train-wreck that has been Baker Mayfield this season. There's no way to say definitively that they would boast the same TD:INT ratio, or as many defensive TD's as the Pats, but given the same schedule, it's fair to assume we'd be talking about the Saints in the same light.
It will be interesting to see how the Patriots fare in the second half of their season, when the going gets tough. It will be an opportunity for the Patriots to either be exposed, or silence the critics altogether. In their next five games, they will face a slate of five consecutive playoff contenders. Dallas, Philadelphia, Houston, Kansas City and next week, for the first time this season, they will face a team that is above .500, the Baltimore Ravens.
Nobody would be surprised to see the Pats leave this game with a few turnovers, but even the most elite of defenses would struggle trying to keep Lamar Jackson from making plays with his legs. Is it possible that in week eight, Nick Chubb (20 carries, 130) exposed a weakness of this New England defense? And if so, can Harbaugh and the run-happy Ravens exploit it? There is perhaps no matchup in week nine, worth keeping an eye on more than this one. Nobody is denying the Pats are contenders, but the major question that could be answered this week is: are they pretenders?
Lawrence Guy was as surprised as anyone when Baker Mayfield’s shovel pass ended up in his hands for an interception.JIM DAVIS/BOSTON GLOBE STAFF
2. Stefon Diggs = Elite
From 'Should I drop him?' to 'Thank god I have him,' real quick. After an abysmal start to the season where Diggs caught just six passes for 101 yards and one TD over the first three games (remember when I said those should be single-game stats for him?), he has since been unleashed. Diggs has recorded seven catches and 140+ yards three weeks in a row, breaking Randy Moss's record for most yards by a Vikings WR in a three game span.
Diggs has now had at least seven catches and more than 100 yards four times in his past five games. That sounds like WR1 production to me. He is benefiting from Kirk Cousins playing out of his mind, who is benefiting from Dalvin Cook playing out of his mind. There may not be an offense more potent than this Minnesota squad, especially with Thielen back in the fold. It is plausible to assume Cousins and both Vikings WR's can sustain this production and both finish as top-ten fantasy receivers. And if Thielen should miss any more time due to the hamstring injury he suffered in week seven, Diggs value would shoot through the roof, even more than it has already.
If you made a trade for him during his slump, kudos to you. If you didn't, good luck getting him now.
3. Mitchell Trubisky should retire
Four trips to the RedZone, EIGHT plays within five yards of the end zone and the Bears still. couldn't. score. And that was just on one drive in the second quarter. Chicago was 0-11 in goal-to-go situations in the first half. They managed to put up just nine points in the first half after settling for several field goals. They ended up losing the game by one point. And, as you might have guessed, I blame Trubisky.
Now it's not his fault his kicker missed the game winning field goal, and it's not his fault that his coach decided it would be a good idea to burn the last 40 seconds off the clock and line up to kick rather than using the time to attempt to actually get in the end zone. EVEN THOUGH conditions were extremely windy in the... ahem... Windy City of Chicago, and Piniero had already missed earlier in the game, even with the luck they've had with their kickers, Matt Nagy thought this would be the safest bet. That should tell you how much confidence he has in his QB.
The loss clearly isn't entirely on Trubisky, but if he could score even one TD, and not turn the ball over twice against a Chargers defense that was torched by Ryan Tannehill the week before, that game doesn't come down to a field goal and the Bears win.
If I have to watch another game where Trubisky drags his team down to his own sub-par level, I might just get on a plane and apply for the position of QB1 in Chicago. And even though my throwing arm is currently in a sling, I'd give myself about a 50/50 shot.
4. Montgomery shows signs of life
If there's one good thing to be said of Chicago's offense in week eight, it's that David Montgomery finally delivered an RB1 performance. Montgomery took his 27 carries for 135 yards (5.0 YPC) and one TD. He also caught four passes (career-high) for 12 yards. All I can say is, it's about time.
Montgomery received an RB1 workload for the first time in his young NFL career, and it paid dividends. Week eight marked his first 20+ point fantasy game, and his highest scoring game of the season (24.7). As long as Trubisky continues to be terrible, they'll have to continue to ride Montgomery. At least, in theory. I still don't trust Nagy to do what makes sense offensively, but even if it isn't by much, Montgomery is clearly the more efficient runner than the highly ineffective Tarik Cohen (2.3 YPC this season).
I hesitate to call him an RB2 going forward, but at the very least he's shown he is worth flex consideration.
5. Cooper Kupp rebounds with career day
After a four week stretch of elite production, Kupp came crashing back down to Earth. He entered week eight with a total of ten catches for 67 yards in his previous two games. He made up for all the ground he lost in week eight with seven catches for 220 yards (career-high) and one TD for a season high 35 PPR points.
Not one of Kupp's catches went for less than 20 yards against a winless Bengals team, that has surprisingly been stingy towards WR's this season (fifth-least fantasy points allowed to WR's prior to week eight). He showed why he's been heralded as a WR1 in fantasy, and has seemingly taken all the attention away from his teammate Robert Woods. Now that Brandin Cooks is set to miss some time with an injury, both of their values should be elevated, which sounds crazy given Kupp's value is already sky-high.
6. Mike Evans: all or nothin
Well, it looks like you either get average production or an absolute eruption from Mike Evans. With Godwin around, it seems like there is no in between.
Evans finished with 11 catches for 198 and two TD's in week eight, his second game with 190+ yards and multiple TD's this season. Aside from his two monster games, Evans has failed to top 100 yards in any game this season. And the only game Godwin has dipped below 50 yards were those two weeks.
I personally can't believe Jameis Winston still has a job (ten turnovers in the last two games) but, say what you will, he's keeping Godwin and Evans in business. But unfortunately, it seems like it can only be one or the other. (At least on a per-game basis)
7. Welcome back Brees
Brees forced his way back to action in week eight against the Arizona Cardinals. At first, I questioned the decision to let him play. Bridgewater was undefeated in his absence (5-0), he'd have an extra week to heal if they kept him out (the Saints have a bye in week nine), and not to mention, this game meant literally nothing for them. But I can't say I wasn't excited for Brees to be back on the field.
He showed up, dropped 300+ yards and three TD's like he never left. And just like that, he's a top-seven fantasy QB. Brees will go into his bye week with a sense of renewal, when he returns, he'll get to face a dream matchup with the Atlanta Falcons. What could be better than that?
The 7-1 Saints were already one of the more formidable teams in the league, but with Brees at the helm, they're a whole different animal.
8. Le'Veon Bell: non-factor
If you drafted him first round I feel bad for you son. But I too drafted Le'Veon to be my RB1. I've rolled my eyes at Matthew Berry for placing him on the pre-season hate list, and every hate list since, but now I'm right there with him.
Bell began the season averaging seven catches per game weeks 1-5, trailing only Austin Ekeler in RB receptions. In his last three games, Bell has just five total catches, including two games with just one catch. He's still an impressive athlete, but the Jets just can't seem to get out of their own way. In their most recent contest, Bell had just 12 touches for 35 total yards and a season-low 6.5 PPR points.
Luckily for Bell, his schedule opens up at the perfect time. In the next five weeks, Bell gets to face the Dolphins, Giants, Redskins, Raiders, Bengals and Dolphins again. It doesn't get much better than that. Now is the perfect time to trade for Bell, or stay strong if you still have him. HOWEVER, if he can't get it done against Miami next week, it's DEFCON-1 for me. I will be smashing the panic button so hard it will get sent to China.
9. Tevin Coleman: RB1
I'll admit it, I was skeptical of this San Francisco backfield. To begin the season, it was a mess. Matt Breida 'The Cheetah' obviously can't be ignored, with multiple 100+ yard games and the two fastest plays from scrimmage this season (22+ MPH). Raheem Mostert had made a case for himself, but ended up literally fumbling it away. Even Jeff Wilson had a two-week stretch where he ran for four TD's. But Tevin Coleman has secured such a commanding lead on the 49ers backfield that I'm not looking back. A lead back in Kyle Shanahan's system, as we know, is a VERY fantasy friendly position. (See Devonta Freeman, 2015)
Coleman finished with 118 total yards and four TD's (37.8 PPR points) on just 13 touches. He entered this game against the Panthers with 20+ touches two weeks in a row. He barely needed half of that to deliver over 30 fantasy points in week eight (three TD's on his first six touches).
From here on out, I'm assuming Coleman gets around 20 touches per game, and I will rank him accordingly. He is a top-ten fantasy RB going forward for me.
10. Rodgers is back
No Davante Adams, no problem. Rodgers got it done again in week eight with another 300 yards and three TD's through the air. This time, it was Aaron Jones that led the way with seven catches for 159 yards and two TD's. In fact, both RB's helped out Rodgers in the passing game, as Jamaal Williams caught a TD for the third game in a row. It was Jones's second game in a row with a TD reception, and it would've been his third in a row if Jones didn't drop a wide open pass in the end zone against the Lions, but that's beside the point. The point is, receivers or not, Rodgers will find a way to get it done.
In week eight, Rodgers beat the Chiefs by delivering multiple passes that only a handful of QB's could make. In case we forgot, this is who Rodgers is. He now has back to back weeks with three or more TD passes, and 25+ points. Things can only improve for him when Davante Adams returns, if he ever does...
Tim Brosnan, Fantasy Sports Analyst/Freelance Journalist
Tim Brosnan is a college-educated sports journalist from the New Haven, Connecticut area.
Brosnan earned his Bachelor's Degree from Castleton University where he majored in Media & Communication, with a focus in Journalism.
During his tenure as the sports editor of the Castleton Spartan newspaper, Brosnan created the segment 'Tim's Fantasy Tips'. It began as a simple weekly start/sit column, but since then, the idea has grown into so much more.
Brosnan has taken his experience/passion for fantasy football and combined it with his journalistic know-how in order to bring you a completely original, well-informed, multi-layered fantasy football advice experience.
We hope you enjoy.