I’ll admit the Cincinnati Bengals had me excited after a week. Optimistic about Andy Dalton. Curious about John Ross. Validated over Tyler Boyd. Intrigued by the running game, and a believer in head coach Zac Taylor.
Maybe Taylor and crew will get there eventually. But Sunday against San Francisco, it was time to meet the new boss — same as the old boss.
Offensive designer Kyle Shanahan could do no wrong on the other sideline.
Shanahan carries one of those gigantic play sheets, the laminated page that looks like a Denny’s menu. Sunday at Cincinnati, Shanahan hit a grand slam, dialing up winner after winner. It added up to a 41-17 beatdown and a reminder that any Shanahan offense is usually a fruitful one for fantasy.
Of course, the usage tree could be stretched out in San Francisco, making our fantasy choices difficult. Raheem Mostert racked up 151 yards and a score on 16 touches, while Matt Breida collected 132 yards on his 13 opportunities. Both of those lines will play, but it was pesky to see Jeff Wilson (10-34 rushing) steal a couple of touchdowns. Tevin Coleman is out multiple weeks, putting Breida and Mostert well inside the cut line Week 3 against Pittsburgh.
The downfield passing had a platoon feel to it, too. Deebo Samuel jumped off the screen, bobbing and weaving for a 5-87-1 afternoon on seven targets. Perhaps the fresh season is going to be partially defined by breakout rookie receivers, and Samuel looked the part here. Veteran Marquise Goodwin was only targeted three times, but he caught all three of them, racking up 77 yards and a score.
We’re not going to worry about George Kittle, even off a 3-54-0 day (three targets). The Niners won’t be able to run the ball 42 times a week. But perhaps it’s not going to happen for Dante Pettis; despite playing in about half the snaps, he didn’t see a target. His one moment of consequence came on a 16-yard option pass.
I’ve been openly questioning just how good Jimmy Garoppolo is — perhaps a fool’s errand. Garoppolo avoided negative plays (zero sacks, just one pick) and made the most of 25 attempts: 17 completions, 297 yards, three touchdowns. That hashes out to a 131.2 rating and a 11.9 YPA. Those are Pro Bowl numbers.
The Bengals rushing game was DOA, but at least Dalton was able to fill the stat page (26-for-42, 311 yards, 2 TDs, 1 pick). If the Bengals defense is going to play this poorly, Dalton is the likely beneficiary. The reliable Boyd caught all of his looks (10-122-0), while Ross came through for the second straight week (4-122, albeit his 66-yard score came in total garbage time).
Remember, A.J. Green will eventually be back in this offense. Dalton is locked in as a Superflex quarterback for now and could push for QB1 consideration, depending on how stuck you are with your primary guy. Those rostering Cam Newton and Jameis Winston might want to take a look, not to mention anyone rostering a recently-injured quarterback (we’re playing the waiting game with Ben Roethlisberger and Drew Brees).
The early Cincinnati schedule has some potholes, to be fair. A nasty trip to Buffalo looms, and the Bengals also have two Baltimore games in the first half of the schedule. But with a much-needed offensive remodel, Dalton has a realistic shot at relevance.
Chiefs dominate one quarter, coast to victory
You don’t thumb your nose up at any wins in the NFL, but the Chiefs looked somewhat bored in their 28-10 victory at Oakland. Kansas City spotted Oakland a 10-point lead in the first quarter, then hit the hosts with a 28-point blitz in the second period. After that, no more scoring — for anyone. Just tackles on the infield dirt, Halloween in the stands, and running out the clock.
Patrick Mahomes once again looks like an unfair weapon — 443 passing yards, four touchdowns, 131.2 rating. But it’s interesting that Sammy Watkins (6-49-0, 13 targets) was the one major part of the KC passing game that couldn’t get on track. Meanwhile, Demarcus Robinson had a breakout game (6-172-2), Travis Kelce looked like the uncoverable freak he is (7-107-1), and Mecole Hardman came to play (4-61-1). Watkins is too talented not to rebound, but I never accepted he was an automatic Top 10 wideout in the post-Tyreek Hill offense. Season to taste.
Still, to be fair, it’s the one position defined by booms and busts. Heck, it’s the name of the column.
The best thing I can say about there Raiders is that Josh Jacobs ran well (12-99-0), and the passing targets were mostly skimmed to three guys: emerging tight end Darren Waller, Tyrell Williams, and Hunter Renfrow (4-30-0, but he did get eight targets). Oakland isn’t likely to have a dynamic offense, but at least the coaching staff is streamlining the usage.
Patriots spread around their 43 points
Given that the Patriots dump-trucked the tanking Dolphins, 43-0, there weren’t a ton of fantasy winners. Off-brand touchdowns gummed up the works — Tom Brady had a rushing score (in addition to two touchdown passes), and the New England defense tackled on two late runback scores. The rest of New England’s offense was filled with pars (Antonio Brown, Sony Michel, James White) and bogeys (Rex Burkhead, Julian Edelman, Josh Gordon). Beware the wide usage tree.
The Cowboys and Chargers get to tee off on Miami the next two weeks. Other than Preston Williams’s credible 4-63-0 day (six targets), there wasn’t a single Dolphins skill player who had a quality game. This is one of the worst NFL rosters we’ve seen in the fantasy era. Miami somehow crammed four interceptions and seven sacks into 46 dropbacks.
• Talk about the most Chargers drive ever — two wiped-out touchdowns, and then Austin Ekeler fumbles at the one. The Chargers commonly are the most talented team that doesn’t make the playoffs — and you could easily see that again.
• A sore wrist cost David Johnson some snaps, but the most frustrating thing from his day was seeing the Cardinals target him just once. You can only get so much out of touchdown deodorant when you handle the ball just eight times.
• Kirk Cousins is just good enough to lose with. Loose throws off the back foot, in the red zone no less — you’re supposed to have those inclinations ironed out of your game by now. Obviously the Vikings have two talented wideouts, but Dalvin Cook is the only player in this offense that I can start with any confidence.
• Aaron Rodgers didn’t make the big mistake and of course we respect the Minnesota defense, but a 6.1 YPA leaves you cold. Remember, he didn’t play particularly well last year, either.
• The Jaguars did the right thing at the end of their loss at Houston — as a heavy underdog, going for two is the right move. You also have the backboard of an onside kick if things fail, as unlikely as a non-surprise kick tends to be. Gardner Minshew had some good throws and some loose throws in his first career start, but the moment definitely didn’t seem too big for him. He could have a decade-long career, even if it’s not primarily as a starter.
• There doesn’t have to be a “this year’s George Kittle” but if pressed for an answer, Mark Andrews is that guy. He’s not headed for a mad increase in volume, but he’ll get enough. And Lamar Jackson not only isn’t a passing liability, he can be an asset. Any time a rookie tight end stays afloat in his first pass around the league, get excited.
• I wasn't sure what to make about all the glowing reports on Cooper Kupp's physical condition. Apparently I should have taken them seriously. You win again, science.
• All Devin Singletary does is make plays, but six carries is not defensible — not when Frank Gore touches the ball 21 times. I’m still a Singletary buyer, but at 2-0, the Bills might not be incentivized to make changes. (Singletary did suffer a minor hamstring injury midway through the fourth quarter, but nonetheless he was underutilized.)
• Don’t look now, but the Colts usage tree looks especially wide. Ten players were targeted Sunday. Jordan Wilkins, of all people, snuck six touches. Jacoby Brissett is also going to run a bit. I like the team much more than I like the individual players, other than T.Y. Hilton and Marlon Mack.
• I have almost no Terry McLaurin, and it drives me nuts. No one hides and holds back elite wideouts like Ohio State. He’s quickly picked up an advanced understanding of the route tree, and the Redskins have made him a prioritized target.
• I was concerned about Zach Ertz’s target share entering the season, with Philadelphia having an awfully crowded usage tree. But players can be spared from gridlocked if injuries hit. Ertz absorbed a whopping 16 looks in Sunday’s loss at Atlanta, as the Eagles lost DeSean Jackson, Dallas Goedert, and Alshon Jeffery. Obviously that changes the frame completely. For the moment, the Ertz runway looks clear.