Show of hands: Who started Benjamin Watson this week?
The New Orleans Saints tight end entered Week 6 with 15 catches for 139 yards and a touchdown. So naturally he torched the Atlanta Falcons for 10 receptions, 127 yards and his second score of the season.
Outside of Watson’s outlier, the stars shined to open the week. Matt Ryan and Drew Brees didn’t light up the box score, but they didn’t hurt anyone. Mark Ingram found the end zone twice, Julio Jones recorded 93 yards and Devonta Freeman remained a fantasy godsend.
No game will match the plan fully, but they all won’t turn entirely off the rails either. After examining the odds, courtesy of OddsShark, let’s look at a few big-name players facing uncertain times.
Eli Manning, QB, New York Giants
Eli Manning has thrown 10 touchdowns over his past four games, including three in consecutive weeks. On Sunday night, he completed a franchise-high 41 passes for 441 yards, leading the New York Giants to a late victory over the San Francisco 49ers.
All good stuff. Also working in his favor: The Philadelphia Eagles have allowed 279.6 passing yards per contest with a 65.1 completion percentage. The 49 over-under line suggests a high-scoring Monday night bout between bitter NFC East rivals.
This matchup has looked promising before, but Manning hasn’t thrown a touchdown in his last two games at Lincoln Financial Field. He’s well aware of the hostile road environment looming, per the team’s official Twitter page:
The far graver concern, however, lies with Odell Beckham Jr.’s hamstring. The star wideout left Monday night’s game before returning for the final drive to draw a pivotal pass-interference call. While the second-year stud didn’t practice Friday, head coach Tom Coughlin told the New York Daily News’ Daniel Popper, “He’s coming along.”
Beckham investors must scramble for a late Plan B if he sits on Monday, but Manning owners won’t have that same luxury unless they happen to also roster Sam Bradford. Take away his top option by a mile, and Manning will spend the entire evening throwing short passes to Shane Vereen and other drop-happy targets.
The absence of his biggest playmaker would severely hamper his Week 6 upside. Yet if Beckham is good to go, Manning is a top-10 option.
Frank Gore, RB, Indianapolis Colts
Patience has paid off for Frank Gore owners. After two underwhelming games, the veteran running back has compiled 237 rushing yards for three scores over the Indianapolis Colts’ past three bouts.
Last weekend, the Colts afforded him a season-high 22 handoffs. Gregg Doyel of the Indianapolis Star noted the 32-year-old’s improved elusiveness against the Houston Texans:
“I know all the plays,” Bradshaw told ESPN.com’s Mike Wells. “I think they want to make sure my legs are up under me. It’s their decision. I’ll be ready when they call my name.”
His presence couldn’t close the door on Trent Richardson last year, so Gore is fine. Bradshaw will take away some snaps on passing downs, but Gore didn’t contribute as a receiver anyway. At worst, the 29-year-old vultures a couple of touchdowns.
Luckily for Gore’s owners, Bradshaw will only have returned for a few days before facing the New England Patriots. A likely high-scoring affair and potential blowout would mark the perfect chance for him to flourish, but don’t expect an immediate impact. New England struggles against the run, relinquishing 4.7 yards per carry. Opponents, however, have struggled to establish a firm ground attack with Tom Brady and Co. piling up points on the other side.
If the Colts can avoid a blowout, Gore should enjoy an eventful day with plenty of touches and red-zone looks. He’s the steady, high-end No. 2 running back drafters expected.
Antonio Brown, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
Hope you’re happy, Michael Vick. You ruined Antonio Brown.
Three weeks into the season, anyone who used a first-round pick on Brown boasted a sense of superiority over those who instead went conservative and took Eddie Lacy, Marshawn Lynch, C.J. Anderson or any running back after Le’Veon Bell and Adrian Peterson. Brown started 2015 with three 100-yard contests, collecting 29 catches, 436 yards and two touchdowns. Meet the most valuable player in all of fantasy football.
Then Ben Roethlisberger went down, and Brown’s stock plummeted. In two lackluster games with Vick under center, Brown has caught eight passes for 87 yards. This is a receiver who averaged eight catches and 106 yards per game last season, never tallying fewer than 72 yards in a single bout. In the reserve’s defense, Brown failed to corral a touchdown in Week 4.
It won’t exactly be easy against the Arizona Cardinals, who have limited the opposition to 6.3 yards per pass attempt. He’ll also see plenty of star cornerback Patrick Peterson, but ESPN.com’s Jeremy Fowler believes the circumstances are only motivating the Pittsburgh Steelers receiver to explode:
Antonio Brown is determined not to have a third straight below-average performance for his standards. Brown always practices hard, but he’s in especially high gear this week, and players have noticed. Brown has asked Michael Vick to trust him and throw the ball up to him. If these two get comfortable, expect Brown to go off Sunday against Arizona. He’s up to the challenge of a head-to-head matchup with Patrick Peterson.
Until Roethlisberger returns, Brown is no longer a top-tier option. Given his talent and track record, nobody can bench him.
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