The NFL wonders why ratings are down. Here’s a clue: let’s look at the number of absolutely wretched teams versus the number of truly quality teams.
Wretched: Browns, Rams, Bears, Bucs, 49ers, Jaguars, Jets
Quality: Patriots, and maybe the Cowboys and/or the Raiders
On top of the obvious imbalance toward the inept, the Vikings, Ravens, Seahawks, Broncos, Texans and Cardinals are competitive, but have anemic offenses. Too many games are offensive to fans craving offense. Reduced practice schedules, increased injury rates and too many Thursday games are all contributing to the reduced quality. The NFL needs to come up with a solution, or 2016 will be a turning point, and not just a blip on the radar.
Oh boy, and it’s the Browns at Ravens on Thursday night! That should do wonders for those ratings. One bad team and two bad offenses on a night meant for hockey and basketball.
On to Week 10 …
MATCHUPS TO EXPLOIT
Bears (@ Bucs) Sunday, noon
This is Chicago’s first (and perhaps only) 2016 appearance as an “exploit.” Tampa’s defense gives up 29 points and nearly 400 yards per game. With Jay Cutler back, the Bucs will have to respect the deep throw and that should open up running lanes for Jordan Howard. The Bears are coming off a bye and will be a little healthier than they’ve been in recent games. There is no truth to the rumor that Joe Maddon is going to pull Cutler too early and sub in Aroldis Chapman.
Must start: Howard, Alshon Jeffery
Solid play: Zach Miller
Worth a look: Cutler, Eddie Royal*, Cameron Meredith (if no Royal)
Last resort: Jeremy Langford, Meredith (if Royal active), Connor Barth
Stay away: Bears D/ST
Chargers (vs. Dolphins) Sunday, 3:05
Philip Rivers and the Chargers are having a remarkable season – on offense, at least. They are ranked ninth in yards and third in scoring. They’ve been held under 20 points just once this season (they scored 19 against Denver in Week Eight) and have crested 30 points five times. They are coming off a 43-point outburst against a decent Tennessee defense. Miami is average on defense – they are ranked 17th overall, but a miserable 30th against the run. This looks like a great matchup for Melvin Gordon. We told you that Antonio Gates was running on fumes, but perhaps we were a bit hasty. If Hunter Henry (knee) remains out, Gates is a top-five TE.
Must start: Gordon, Gates (if no Henry)
Solid play: Rivers, Josh Lambo
Worth a look: Travis Benjamin*, Tyrell Williams, Gates (if Henry active), Chargers D/ST
Last resort: Dontrelle Inman, Henry*
Cowboys (@ Steelers) Sunday, 3:25
Powered by an elite rushing attack, the Cowboys and their offense may be the biggest surprise of the 2016 season. Despite being piloted by a rookie QB, Dallas is producing 411 yards and 28 points per game. The old adage suggests that a running game travels well and that certainly is the case here. The Cowboys and their top-ranked ground game are 4-0 on the road this season. Pittsburgh has lost three in a row and has not looked good since Week Five. Their defense is a below average24th overall against the pass. They are a bit better versus the run (13th). Gut instinct has us suspecting this is going to be a close, high-scoring game.
Must start: Ezekiel Elliott
Solid play: Dak Prescott, Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, Dan Bailey
Worth a look: Cole Beasley
Last resort: Terrance Williams
Stay away: Alfred Morris, Cowboys D/ST
Cardinals (vs. 49ers) Sunday, 3:25
Remember the scene in the movie “Airplane” when all of the passengers were standing in line to smack the hysterical passenger? The San Francisco defense is basically the hysterical passenger. The Cardinals' offense was terrible in a Week Seven tie with Seattle and a Week Eight loss to Carolina. Fresh off a bye week and facing the woeful 49ers (at home), Arizona should snap out of its funk, if only for one week.
Must start: David Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals D/ST
Solid play: Carson Palmer, John Brown, Chandler Catanzaro
Worth a look: Michael Floyd
Last resort: J.J. Nelson
Ravens (vs. Browns) Thursday, 7:25
The 2016 Ravens offer few viable fantasy options, and this game should be nearly unwatchable. This week, however, they will be facing the league’s worst team at home. The Ravens D/ST is a must start and Justin Tucker is a solid play. In larger leagues, Mike Wallace, Terrance West and Dennis Pitta are reasonable options.
Giants (vs. Bengals), Monday, 7:30
The Bengals are a disappointing 25th on defense. The Giants have no semblance of a run game, but Eli Manning and Sterling Shepard are intriguing options in this game. OBJ remains a must start.
MATCHUPS TO AVOID
Chiefs (@ Panthers) Sunday, noon
A couple of weeks ago, Carolina was on the verge of collapse. But after a solid defeat of Arizona at home and a good defensive effort against a bad team in L.A., the Panthers are hoping to claw back into the playoff hunt. Kansas City is on its own four-game run and will not be a pushover. The Chiefs are battling through significant injuries on offense, including QB Alex Smith, RBs Spencer Ware and Jamaal Charles and top wideout Jeremy Maclin. Charles is on IR, but the status of Smith, Ware and Maclin was undetermined as of press time. Even if all three play, this is a below-average matchup against a team that has been playing better of late.
Must start: Ware* (if active)
Solid play: Travis Kelce
Worth a look: Smith* (if active), Charcandrick West (if no Ware), Maclin* (if active), Cairo Santos, Chiefs D/ST
Last resort: Nick Foles (if no Smith)
Stay away: West (if Ware active)
Rams (@ Jets) Sunday, noon
It’s easy to understand how the Rams have lost four in a row and five overall. What’s a real head-scratcher is how in the world they won three straight games during Weeks 2-4. Their offense is ranked 31st in yards and dead-last in points with just 16.2 per game. Todd Gurley – selected first in many fantasy drafts – is averaging 3.1 yards per carry and his longest run of the season is 18 (yes, 18) yards! The bulk of Gurley’s ineffectiveness can be blamed on the O-line – Gurley is gaining just 1.34 yards before first contact, the lowest rate in the NFL. The passing game is just as bad – Case Keenum has thrown 9 TDs against 11 picks, and his 77.2 QBR is among the lowest in the league. The Jets' 14th-ranked overall defense is fourth versus the run, allowing just 81 rushing yards per game. Maybe the Rams turn to Jared Goff this week, but will it really make a difference?
Must start: none
Solid play: Gurley
Worth a look: Lance Kendricks, Rams D/ST
Last resort: Kenny Britt, Tavon Austin
Stay away: Keenum, Greg Zuerlein
Jets (vs. Rams), Sunday, noon
The Fitzpatrick vs. Marshall heated exchange last Sunday came as a surprise to absolutely no one in Chicago. The Jets are sputtering and the Rams have enough defensive talent – albeit talent that is poorly coached – to keep this a low-scoring affair.
Vikings (@ Washington), Sunday, noon
Washington’s 22nd-ranked defense is not one fantasy owners would normally steer clear of, but Minnesota’s offense is bad enough right now that no matchup could be considered favorable. In fact, the Vikings' once ferocious defense has spent so much time on the field it is no longer a fantasy lock.
*Check injury status