Even though we’re well past the midway point of the NFL regular season, there’s still uncertainty about some quarterback and running back situations. Is the Patrick Mahomes era starting this week? Can two AFC North quarterbacks help lead your team to a championship? Who is the true lead runner in the Minnesota Vikings’ backfield? FantasySharks.com senior writer Matt Wilson answers those questions as he sifts through the aftermath of Week 11 in his newest edition of “Traps & Trends.”
1. Is the Patrick Mahomes era going to start soon?
The Dude: Alex Smith
The Damage: The Kansas City Chiefs’ 12-9 overtime loss to the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium was a shocker on two fronts. Kansas City was coming off a bye, and head coach Andy Reid is very tough to beat when he has two weeks to prepare. Think about it – two weeks to prepare for one of the NFL’s worst teams. This is also the same Giants team that lost by 10 points to the San Francisco 49ers during a pathetic showing back in Week 10, which had sparked rumors about the Big Blue players allegedly quitting on their coach and Bob-McAdoo-is-going-to-be-fired rumors. As for Smith, we had been hearing Most Valuable Player buzz about him from the so-called national NFL experts earlier in the season, but that talk has cooled off.
The Chiefs are 1-3 in Smith’s last three outings, and his numbers have failed to impress. Even though Kansas City defeated the Denver Broncos back in Week 8, Smith passed for just 202 yards and one touchdown. He followed that up with 263 passing yards and two scoring strikes against his first interception of the season versus the Dallas Cowboys in Week 9, but more had been expected against a soft Dallas secondary. This past Sunday was Smith’s worst outing of the season. So much for his trend of throwing multiple touchdown passes in road contests. Smith, misfiring on many routine throws, passed for 230 yards, which was his first contest without at least one scoring strike, and Smith tossed a season-high two interceptions. Is this the beginning of the end for his reign as Kansas City’s starter? Is it time to dump Smith?
The Diagnosis: TRAP
Everybody loves a rookie quarterback. However, as long as the Chiefs remain in playoff contention, I very much doubt that we’ll see Patrick Mahomes – barring an injury to Smith. Kansas City is sitting atop the AFC West with a 6-4 mark, two games ahead of the 4-6 Los Angeles Chargers and the 4-6 Oakland Raiders. While I’m not going to blame the windy weather at MetLife Stadium entirely for his awful outing against the G-Men, the conditions were a factor. Keep in mind that Smith was due for some regression, too, because his start to the season wasn’t sustainable statistically. Getting back to the Giants, they actually have a good secondary that finally played to its potential after underachieving during the last few weeks. Fearless prediction: Smith bounces back in Week 12 at home against a Buffalo Bills defense that’s in free fall.
2. Is Big Ben primed to produce big numbers down the stretch?
The Dude: Ben Roethlisberger
The Damage: This past Thursday night, he absolutely torched a still leaky Tennessee Titans secondary with 299 yards and four touchdowns. There had been some whispers that Roethlisberger “looked old” during his pedestrian Week 10 outing versus the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium (236 passing yards and two touchdown tosses). Bigger numbers had been expected since the Colts defense had been ranked dead last in passing yards allowed and 14th in touchdown passes, but most folks chopped out the soft performance due to Roethlisberger’s well-known home-away performance splits. Getting back to the big fantasy picture, Roethlisberger has now racked up two straight games with multiple touchdown tosses after tossing just four scoring strikes in his previous four outings. Is he finally trending upward?
The Diagnosis: TREND
Roethlisberger kicked off the 2017 regular season with multiple touchdown passes in his first two outings. However, he tossed just one or fewer scoring strikes in five of his next six and looked washed up after throwing five picks during a Week 5 home loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, which is why he was either parked at the end of fantasy benches or anger-dumped into free-agent pools.
With six scores in the last two weeks, Roethlisberger is playing well, and his schedule sets up nicely overall through the fantasy playoffs with home matchups against the Green Bay Packers (Week 12) and the New England Patriots (Week 15). Roethlisberger faces the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 13, but he gashed them two touchdowns in Week 7. Big Ben’s Week 16 matchup is on the road against a Houston Texans defense that surrendered a 257-3-2 passing line to Blaine Gabbert (Cardinals). The only truly scary matchup on Roethlisberger’s schedule is a Week 13 home clash with the Baltimore Ravens.
3. Isn’t this guy supposed to be the more talented runner in the Miami Dolphins backfield?
The Dude: Kenyan Drake
The Damage: During his first post-Jay Ajayi outing (Week 9), Drake, despite operating in a timeshare with Damien Williams, amassed a 9-69-0 rushing line and a 6-35-0 receiving line, which he followed up with 7-82-1 rushing and 2-10-0 receiving (Week 10) in his next outing. This past Sunday, however, Drake, despite drawing a favorable matchup against a struggling Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense, cobbled together disappointing 7-4-0 rushing and 1-10-0 receiving lines while backfield partner Williams, who was out-snapped by Drake 38 to 27, racked up 10-78-0 rushing and 1-24-0 receiving. Does the Dolphins backfield belong to Williams now?
The Diagnosis: TOSSUP
There are two worries here: the presence of Williams and Drake’s production. This backfield will remain a timeshare, and it looks like it’ll be a hot-handed one. Drake was the more productive of the two in Week 9 and Week 10, but the pendulum swung back to Williams this past Sunday. Whoever is the more effective runner of the two in a given matchup obviously will receive more touches. As for Drake, in Week 9, he padded his rushing numbers with a 42-yard scamper and did the same thing in Week 10 with a 66-yard scoring jaunt. He obviously didn’t break off any long runs against the Buccaneers. If Drake doesn’t break off long gainers, he’s not going to give you much, like Jeremy Hill. As things stand now, Drake is clearly a boom-or-bust flex option while Williams, who is quietly handling a little more passing-down work, is the slightly safer option of the two – but that could change.