Carolina at Cleveland – Cam Newton
The Carolina quarterback has been better than expected after a down season in 2017 and coming off a surgery to his throwing shoulder. But we do need to accept the fact that some of his numbers have been inflated a bit thanks to the stellar play of Christian McCaffrey. While Newton is credited with 3,000 yards on the season with 24 touchdowns, McCaffrey has accounted for better than a fifth of the yards and six of those touchdowns. While we’re not trying to poo-poo on Newton as the likes of Philip Rivers, Tom Brady and Drew Brees all utilize their mismatch receiving backs, but the point is that his arm strength is very much in question. In fact, on more than one occasion this season, Newton has been pulled during the Hail Mary routine. A historically inaccurate passer with even less options with the loss of Greg Olsen and a bum shoulder could lead to hiccup at the worst possible time for us. The playoffs are upon us as it’s put-up-or-shut-up time. Could Carolina end up benching its franchise player when it becomes mathematically eliminated? Carolina needs to beat up on Cleveland to keep not only its playoff dreams alive but ours as well.
Atlanta at Green Bay – Davante Adams
We at “Risers and Fallers” love to take a long look ahead, way earlier than we probably should. The question we have about Adams is, “Has he done enough to earn love among the best of the best?” Are you ready to take Adams in the same draft area as Odell Beckham, Mike Evans, DeAndre Hopkins and Mike Thomas? With 85 catches on the year, Adams has already broke the 1,000-yard plateau and has double-digit touchdowns on the year. But has he shown us enough to earn that late first-round nod? He needs to finish the last quarter of the season on a hot streak in order to leap-frog some of the aforementioned alternative options at the position. Being Aaron Rodgers’ right hand man, Adams has the stats and the situation in order to deserve the accolades but games like this against Atlanta will help him pad his stats and have his star shining even brighter.
New England at Miami – Tom Brady
Anyone else notice the latest trend with Josh McDaniels in the red zone lately? If not, let us fill you in. The New England offensive coordinator looks to be purposely dialing up passing plays to take the team inside the 5-yard line. Instead of trying to get the receivers the additional room needed for a touchdown, he’s using guys like Julian Edelman to gain the first down and then hit the deck inside the 5. After getting that first down, McDaniels then turns to the running game for players like James White and James Devlin to go for a few short yards and then a 1-yard score. Last week, the fullback Devlin had two of these types of touchdowns. Is this the new formula? Is New England going to make opposing defenses bend with the passing game and then break with the run? Is this design more than just a scoring formula or is it a way to keep the elder quarterback from taking too many hits from short yardage blitzes? Regardless of the rationale, Brady is hemorrhaging fantasy points on end-arounds and fullback dives. If this doesn’t change down the stretch, Brady will be outside the Top 10 next season and viewed as much more of a QB2.
New Orleans at Tampa Bay – Drew Brees
It’s really hard to sit here and knock against Drew Brees but the last two weeks have been a little crazy. Combined over the last two games, Brees hasn’t totaled more than 300 yards. Three hundred yards is something that we’ve grown so used to seeing from Brees, it’s like he could do it in his sleep. Last week, Dallas completely threw him off his game as it featured one of the better playoff caliber defenses he’ll see all season. This week, Tampa Bay will be the easiest remaining defense left on New Orleans’ 2018 schedule. After this one, Brees is going to have to knuckle up against Carolina twice and a Pittsburgh team playing for its entire season. Brees and the New Orleans passing offense is going to have to put the pedal to the floor for us to feel good about him during the harder matchups with more on the line. The New Orleans offense should destroy the Tampa Bay defense and help it re-position the bar for our expectations for the rest of the season.
New York Giants at Washington – Kyle Lauletta
How much longer are the Giants going to continue to beat this horse? Eli Manning is done. He’s filled in nicely this year as a bridge option but there will undoubtedly be a tearful good-bye at the end of this season. The Giants offense is full of young receiving options and New York can’t afford to let Manning bring them down again next season. With so many needs on both sides of the field, the Giants would be smart to see if they have anything special in their rookie quarterback. Even though Lauletta was still on the board at the 108th pick, teams were rumored to be in on him as early as the second round. One of those teams was supposed to be New England and future head coach Josh McDaniels. If Lauletta was good enough that McDaniels figured that he could be a starter in one of the most complex offenses in the league with almost nothing at receiver, shouldn’t he be able to run the show with league’s highest paid left tackle, with first round talents at wide receiver, running back and tight end? It’s time for Manning to head out to pasture and for us to see if Kyle Lauletta is a future asset.