Not sure what it is about Minneapolis. If we go back to Super Bowl IV, the last game before the merger, the Vikings were heavy favorites for the trophy. The Kansas City Chiefs, representing the AFL for the final time, set out to prove the two leagues had the parity to compete with the older established NFL.
The Chiefs proved it. Winning 23-7 including a famous play known as the "65 Power Toss Trap" which became a turning point - much like the "Philly Special" in the Super Bowl last season.
The Vikings would play in three more Super Bowls during the 1970s and lose each one. And in each one they brought an outstanding team. Fran Tarkenton was the star of those teams. He was the prototype of the modern scrambler which is now a second nature style for many quarterbacks in the league to this day.
Fast forward to the modern Vikings and we see some curious parallels. Take for instance the NFC Championship versus the Eagles. Both the Eagles and especially the Vikings barely survived their Division Playoff games, but the Vikings went in as three point favorites and lost 38-7.
When the Vikings lose in an upset, you see it often by these wide margins. The Bills jumped out to a 27-0 lead at half-time last week and that was it. For the entire first half, their offense never snapped the ball once beyond their side of the field. Kirk Cousins completes 40 of a whopping 55 pass attempts and yet their rally consisted of an early 4th quarter Kyle Rudolph touchdown.
It changed some for the Vikings. A second consecutive loss (38-31) to the Rams tells us though that this team is far from where they ought to be. From my perspective it appears that a small piece of chemistry disappeared after Case Keenum left the team. It almost seems Kirk Cousins brought the running game from Washington to Minnesota too.
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- The Patriots have won 5 of their last 6 games at home following a loss on the road with 150 passing yards or less.
Games to Watch
Dolphins at Patriots
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Something struck me about that opening three-and-out series by the Patriots in Detroit last Sunday night. They talk about leaving "meat on the bones" when it comes to running backs and receivers, but rarely, if ever, apply it to quarterbacks.
Tom Brady did not look tired, did not look hampered, and certainly did not look old. Matt Patricia knows the Pats style all too well, but that game in Detroit just did not look right. It was only the 5th time in Brady's career that he threw for less than 150 yards in games where he played in all four quarters.
On to Foxborough. It's been a while since the Patriots were behind a rival in the AFC East by two games at this point in the season. So there's no way to understate the importance of this game to both teams.
The Dolphins have good defense and solid pass-protection to thank for their 3-0 start. Ryan Tannehill ranks 5th in average QBR (quarterback rating) and hit 155.3 in his last game versus the Raiders. Only the second time in his career has he crossed the 150 mark in efficiency.
The Dolphins know all too well that the Patriots will try and disrupt Tannehill. I expect a heavy pass rush early to prevent Tannehill establishing a rhythm. It may come at the expense of giving pace to the Dolphins running game, so the Patriots will try and balance their defense because of the success Detroit had against them on the ground.
If Kenyan Drake can help the Dolphins gain a similar game flow that the Lions had, they can force the Patriots into allowing Tannehill shots to Kenny Stills and Jakeem Grant. DeVante Parker (quad) may be ready for this one and could figure well in the Dolphins mix.
The Josh Gordon debut may have to wait another week. And for some reason, the anticipation just isn't building. The return of Julian Edelman in Week 5 appears more significant because he's a favorite target for Brady. His absence perhaps can account for a large portion of the Patriots offensive recession.
Sony Michel and James White could not be in better shape for fantasy and no doubt will play a substantial part in Sunday's game. Rob Gronkowski seems somewhat unheralded these days and now shares a domain with the other high range tight ends. Gronkowski needs a strong performance and I would say is the key to winning this game.
Once again we circle to Tom Brady. The Patriots haven't had this slow a start in the passing game since 2014. There's no cause for alarm - yet. We know Josh Gordon and Julian Edelman will boost the team as the season moves into the second quarter.
Sleeper: Jakeem Grant, WR, Miami Dolphins
Saints at Giants
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This sparkling matchup has all the makings of a shootout not too different than the Thursday game.
Michael Thomas already has three touchdowns, but his fantasy value goes beyond that. Thomas is rapidly approaching Antonio Brown for the crown of most desired fantasy receiver, if not already. 38 receptions after Week 3 is just too enormous to dismiss. He is on a pace to soar past Marvin Harrison's record of 143 set in 2002. In fact, Harrison after his Week 3 had 23 receptions and his highest three game stretch total that year reached just 34.
After all that, Odell Beckham Jr. seems rather lowly in comparison. He should have enough incentive built up to at least score his first touchdown this year. It's a quarterback pairing matter that puts OBJ on a lower rung.
This is not to discredit the ability of Eli Manning. His numbers are middle of the pack, but the Giants are a team of a different balance offensively. I'm still unsure what the character is exactly of the Giants under Pat Shurmur. The wholesale changes of personnel on this team suggest much more needs to play out.
What we do know is that Saquon Barkley has to be their centerpiece. The funny thing is though, and I noticed this in the Dallas game, is that the Giants offense seems to lack some glue. It's more of a team consisting of individuals as part of a club, than a club of individuals as part of a team. If that makes any sense.
Alvin the K
If we examine how strong Kamara actually is, the Saints are not very far off from the Rams. He is a distant second to Todd Gurley in true production, but the effect for the team as a whole is much the same. I am becoming more convinced that the Saints would do well to not mess up their backfield scheme as it stands when Mark Ingram returns from suspension.
If the Saints had a rough start, then fine, Mark Ingram getting back to shake things up makes perfect sense. You can tell I'm trying to avoid that old cliche, but I really don't think the Saints need to fix much except on defense.
That's what this game comes down to. Which defense can come up with the big stop when they need it?
Sleeper: Rhett Ellison, TE, Giants
Ravens at Steelers
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"My fault, Ben"
- Buccaneers DT Gerald McCoy mic'd up while committing a roughing the passer penalty last Monday night.
Pardon me, but I'm just going to plow head first into your chest area, sorry...
Have rule changes taken the sting out of NFL rivalries? The Steelers and Ravens, despite it all, just never look like friends and neighbors.
Defensive players come in all shapes, but some of the toughest and roughest are the most polite gentle giants you'll find in this world. "Mean" Joe Greene had that tag and never particulary liked it, but a famous Coca Cola commercial softened the nick and his legend of toughness with a gentle nature melded together.
Okay, this game. The AFC North division race is starting out tight and this game could factor into the final playoff standings.
The Ravens are a much improved team and John Brown is a sure candidate for bounce-back fantasy player of the year. He fits so well into the offense and Joe Flacco likes getting him the ball. Michael Crabtree holds a target and reception edge over Brown, but seems slightly under the fantasy levels of Brown.
The Ravens remain lacking in aspects of the running game. The team rushing statistics hover around 25th in the league. Both Alex Collins and Javious Allen work a tandem with week on week boom and bust potential. However, they are more than enough to allow Flacco play-action diversions resulting in the better passing game we see.
The Steelers, for their part, remain without Le'Veon Bell and rumblings of trade rumors are starting to open up. The Jets apparently are among the first inquiring the Steelers about him, but what the discussions came to remain unclear.
It's James Conner that concern the Ravens. This is the key to the game. If they can force Roethlisberger into long down and distance. they can focus on the deadly tandem of Brown and Smith-Shuster to maintain their current status of stinginess against fantasy receivers. The only effective way to do that is of course at the source - Big Ben himself. So expect the Ravens to pursue him relentlessly.
If the Ravens can say, "my fault, Ben" enough without the penalties, then this game will favor them.
Sleeper: James Washington, WR, Steelers
Players to Watch
Patrick Mahomes, QB, Chiefs (at Broncos)
When does it stop? Mahomes seems to think that it's fun to break NFL records every week he plays. 13 touchdowns and zero interceptions. That's one right there. And he still thinks he's not good enough. “You can’t leave the throws that I did out there.” Oh the cheekiness!
Oh btw... no Monday Night game preview this week, I've overfilled my commitments.
Doug Baldwin, WR, Seahawks (at Cardinals)
Baldwin clearly needed the rest and perhaps was part of the Seahawks plan to get him closer to 100% health than his own projections put in the news before the season. The workload he'll get is something to make owners hesitant, but if he's in there the real problem is Patrick Peterson depending on how the Cardinals decide on deployment.
Dak Prescott, QB, Cowboys (vs Lions)
Dak, I'm sorry, but you're just to have to make big throws against the Lions whether you like it or not. Prescott is one of those quarterback duds you just hope for once does what quarterbacks do. That is, uh, play quarterback. Allen Hurns is pretty upset about his target count and now we begin to see why Dez Bryant had a basis for his complaints. Come on Dak, just this once, throw for over 200 yards. I hope I spurred him on.
In the Booth on Sunday
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Kevin Harlan (right)
Bills at Packers: Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts
Bengals at Falcons: Greg Gumbel, Trent Green, Bruce Arians
Dolphins at Patriots: Kevin Harlan, Rich Gannon
Texans at Colts: Spero Dedes, Adam Archuleta
Saints at Giants: Jim Nantz, Tony Romo
49ers at Chargers: Andrew Catalon, James Lofton
Lions at Cowboys: Kevin Burkhardt, Charles Davis
Buccaneers at Bears: Thom Brennaman, Chris Spielman
Eagles at Titans: Chris Myers, Daryl Johnston
Jets at Jaguars: Dan Hellie, Jeff Fisher
Browns at Raiders: Kenny Albert, Ronde Barber
Seahawks at Cardinals: Dick Stockton, Mark Schlereth
Check out the rest of our 2018 Fantasy Football content from our great team of writers.