We’ve learned through the years to be careful when analyzing outlier results. NFL teams are seldom as great as they look when they win big, nor as lousy as they appear when they’ve been blown out.
So let’s try to keep both cleats on the ground with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, because they’ve been on both poles the last two weeks.
New Orleans kicked the tar out of the Bucs last Sunday, but in Week 10, it was Tampa Bay’s turn to name the score.
‘Tompa Bay’ bounces back, crush Panthers
The end result was a 46-23 victory at Carolina, where Tampa Bay showed the mammoth potential of its offense. The Buccaneers collected 544 total yards and scored on nine consecutive possessions. Almost everyone in Tampa Bay’s huddle was able to get something juicy for fantasy; Tom Brady had one of his classic rebound games, while Ronald Jones overcame an early mistake and turned into a Week 10 RB smash.
We’ll start with Brady, who was sharp most of the day (28-for-39 passing, three touchdowns, one TD rush). He maneuvered the pocket skillfully and avoided negative plays — no picks, just one sack. He rolled up an 8.7 YPA and 124 rating — and this all came against a Panthers defense that’s been respectable in pass defense this year.
Most of Brady’s short and intermediate passes were well-placed, on time and on point. He occasionally struggled with deeper accuracy — Antonio Brown, Mike Evans, and Rob Gronkowski all broke free on post routes but didn’t receive an on-target pass. To be fair, there were also some shorter completions where Brady wasn’t perfect with his throw, but was saved by one of his uber-skilled teammates. If you want to nitpick those plays, fine. But I rewatched every snap and I can’t see how anyone could view the totality of the game and not be impressed by Brady and friends.
It’s not easy to keep everyone happy in a wide target tree, but Brady pulled it off. Chris Godwin (6-92-0) secured all of his targets and was probably the wideout most in sync with Brady. Although Godwin’s had plenty of stops and starts this season and he’s not getting deep as often, he’s still putting up a solid year. He’s snagged 83 percent of the targets aimed his way.
Brown didn’t look electric over his eight targets, but he caught seven of them (69 yards) and kept the chains moving. The key with Brown might be getting him to accept something less than a featured role. He can still help this team, but he’s probably not the best skill player on the roster.
Gronkowski and Cameron Brate both had touchdowns; Gronk’s was a gift flip after the Carolina defense sold out on the play, while Brate’s was a laser at the left pylon. Gronk also had two other near-scores; a rumbling 44-yard catch-and-run that was tripped up just short of the goal, and that nine route that Brady missed on.
Mike Evans posted a solid line (6-77-1) that could have been a monster game. Brady regularly targeted him around the goal line, as usual; one of those passes clicked Sunday, but a handful fell incomplete. Evans was also free on a post route that easily could have been a touchdown. If you nudged Evans out of the Circle of Trust, it’s time to get him back in.
And speaking of the Circle of Trust, that’s where Jones clearly stands now. Perhaps the most astounding thing about this game was Jones losing a fumble on the second snap of the game and not being immediately mothballed. The Buccaneers didn’t even bench Jones after the mistake — he made a key block on the next offense snap — and he wound up having a terrific afternoon (192 rushing yards, including a 98-yard touchdown). Jones finished the day with 24 touches, while Leonard Fournette had just ten (all for a measly 30 yards). Fournette also dropped one pass.
The Jones touchdown gallop will get play on the highlight shows, but let’s appreciate just how successful he was on an every-snap basis. He was impressive on inside and outside runs, showcasing a nifty jump-cut and the ability to run with power. He handled a heavy workload and was effective as a pass protector. I realize this backfield has been impossible to project week-to-week, but after what Jones did in this featured role, I can’t imagine him not being a major factor down the stretch.
The Buccaneers will be challenged the next two weeks, matched against the Rams and Chiefs. At least both of those games are at home. Then Tampa Bay takes a pesky Week 13 bye, but hopefully, you don’t need them that week. The playoff schedule looks like a daisy — Minnesota, at Atlanta, at Detroit.
Good work if you can get it.
Rookie backs come through for Washington, Detroit
It hasn’t been a fun year for freshman running backs, at least of the pedigree variety (you’re excused, James Robinson). So it was encouraging to see D’Andre Swift and Antonio Gibson answering the call Sunday, trading points in a pinball match between Detroit and Washington.
Swift ultimately won the day — better efficiency, and a victory for the Lions. He rolled up 149 yards and a score on 21 touches, as Detroit mercifully let him start and control the backfield. Adrian Peterson had just five touches, Kerryon Johnson a mere one. Let your best players be your best players.
Gibson’s day was more about touchdown deodorant — two scoring runs make the most out of a 13-45 rushing effort, though he also had four catches for 20 yards. Remember, he’s still learning how to play the position, after limited use at Memphis. He’s unquestionably a special athlete; imagine what’s possible once Gibson actually has a bank of NFL experience. Credit Washington for giving him a consistent baseline for touches every week.
Maybe this one Motown hit can take a sad song and make it better. I don’t have a positive spin on Jonathan Taylor right now. I still don’t understand why the Packers bothered to draft AJ Dillon. Cam Akers collected 10 rushes in the Los Angeles win over Seattle, but they went for a modest 38 yards. Clyde Edwards-Helaire has run hot and cold, toggling between CEH and MEH. (The Chiefs have shifted to an offense that scores almost exclusively through the air.) J.K. Dobbins did nothing Sunday night, in the cold November rain.
But there’s still plenty of upside in that above paragraph. We’re just looking for some daylight, for a reason to believe. Swift and Gibson answered the Week 10 call.
Joe Judge flips the New York script
As we meander towards Thanksgiving, the 2020 Giants remind me so much of the 2019 Dolphins. New York has been sneaky-competitive in most games, buying in with their rookie head coach. The culture is changing. The defense is a pain to compete against. The Giants can squint into the future and see contention. And heck, in the current NFC East, no team is really eliminated. Looks like I’ll be auditing those divisional odds again this week.
Wayne Gallman gets projectable volume every week, and goal-line opportunity. That lands him in the startable RB2 bucket every week, even if he’s just an average player in real-life talent. I don’t see any reason why the Giants have to go back to Devonta Freeman when he returns from IR. And Freeman can’t come back before Week 13, anyway.
The Eagles get a partial pass because of a crazy amount of injuries, but you have to wonder why Doug Pederson’s teams traditionally struggle after their bye weeks. How much did Frank Reich have to do with Philly’s championship run? Have we been overrating Pederson ever since that parade? It’s a fair question to ask.
• Buffalo had a stomach-punch loss at Arizona, capped by Kyler Murray pulling off the NFL’s Play of the Year. But don’t overlook Buffalo’s sluggishness on offense. The 30 points sound nice, but the Bills had to settle for three field goals, Josh Allen only averaged 5.8 YPA (and made some spotty decisions), and Zack Moss and Devin Singletary combined to rush 11 times for 35 yards. If you want to be a serious contender, you need to multiply by seven, not by three. We’re only a few weeks removed from Tyler Bass attempting eight field goals against the Jets.
• Sean McVay and the Rams were refreshed after their bye week, shutting down MVP favorite Russell Wilson and the Seahawks. Wilson was sacked six times, lost three turnovers, and didn’t account for a touchdown. No Seattle offensive player coated himself in glory, but it’s shocking to see D.K. Metcalf held down to 28 yards on four targets; then again, the Rams have the best pass defense in the league right now (Jalen Ramsey on the flank and Aaron Donald crashing the pocket is a pretty nice start). If you can hold the Rams DST through some tricky matchups, note it draws the Patriots (Week 14) and Jets (Week 15) in the fantasy playoffs.
• With Travis Kelce on bye and George Kittle on IR, the tight end landscape was more depressing than ever. Hunter Henry finally scored a touchdown, capping a four-catch, 30-yard day. Congratulations, kid, you’re the TE2 for Week 10.
Gronkowski landed at the top of the list with a useful but modest 2-51-1 day. Unstartable guys who crashed the Top 12 include Pharaoh Brown, Richard Rodgers, Durham Smythe, and Colin Thompson. Tyler Higbee had his best line since Week 2, not that anyone throws a parade over a 60-yard game.
• The Saints were lucky to cover, given that the Niners had more first downs and 44 more yards of offense. Four San Francisco turnovers, one of them a gift fumble from an unfocused punt-return blocker, gifted the game to New Orleans. Brandon Aiyuk needed 14 targets to post a passable line, but you can understand why Kyle Shanahan targeted him in the first round.
Drew Brees is headed for an MRI after taking a shot to the ribs; Jameis Winston played the second half. Winston was a blast in last year’s Tampa Bay carnival, but do the Saints have the downfield weapons to maximize his big arm? Michael Thomas remains in a funk, posting a depressing 2-27-0 line on seven targets. Unfortunately, the @canguardmike Twitter account is already taken.
• A.J. Green had five targets, zero catches. Watching him try to separate during an end-zone route made me sad. Green was on a Hall of Fame trajectory before injuries robbed him of his athleticism. Most things end badly, or else they wouldn’t end. But at least the Bengals knocked it out of the park with Tee Higgins.
• A field goal 50 yards and up used to be a monumental event. Now it's so common, you hardly blink. There were 11 such bombs this week, and 10 last week. Matt Prater's game-winner covered 59. Makes you wonder how the heck Zane Gonzalez was short on that 49-yard attempt last week.
• Say this for the Dolphins, they sure scouted the heck out of the University of Washington football program. Myles Gaskin was a useful featured back into mid-October, and Sunday it was Salvon Ahmed — who played with Gaskin at U-Dub — posting a useful line (22 touches for 90 yards and a score). Anything that keeps Jordan Howard off my screen, I’m in favor of. Miami’s defense also made Justin Herbert look uncomfortable for three hours, the first time anyone’s done that to the rookie this year.
• Entering Week 10, only two teams had failed to lose a game by eight or more points this year: the Steelers (of course) and the Chargers. I guess Anthony Lynn took it as a challenge. The Chargers job, if it opens up, is the juiciest possible opening for next year. The team offers a franchise QB early on his rookie deal, a deep roster, a new stadium, good weather, and a low-pressure media and fanbase. Every hot candidate should be drooling over the possibility.
Lynn is well-liked and came across favorably in the Hard Knocks series; I think he’ll be a dynamite position coach or coordinator somewhere else. But his series of game-theory mistakes can’t be ignored. So often in life, perfect is the enemy of good. But in the NFL, good is the enemy of great. Once you know your quarterback or head coach probably doesn't have a significant upside, you have to start thinking about the next guy. Modern teams are becoming more proactive here.
• I doubt the Broncos can coach the recklessness out of Drew Lock’s game, and that’s a shame. He doesn’t have enough upside to offset his consistent mistakes, and as a result Denver isn’t getting the full mileage from a loaded stable of skill talent. The Broncos need to start their QB hunt as soon as the year ends.
• New England’s whiff on N’Keal Harry might go down as an all-time blunder (look at that loaded 2019 receiver class again), but at least they’ve found something with undrafted free agent Jakobi Meyers.