NFL

NFL Fantasy Picks: Russ to cook the Titans, Kittle in line to clip Eagles

By Sports Desk September 15, 2021

Week 1 can be strange. Not everything goes to plan and, for NFL coaches and fantasy owners alike, it's best not to overreact to the weekend just gone.

However, avoiding falling 0-2 is just as important as keeping your cool. In the high-pressure world of the NFL and amid the considerably lower stakes of fantasy football, nobody wants to fall into a hole early in the season.

And, in both cases, identifying the players who can be relied on to produce a big performance is the key to victory.

In this week's edition of Fantasy Picks, Stats Perform looks at the players who should be considered sure things to deliver the goods.

QB: Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks vs. Tennessee Titans

Wilson could hardly have been more impressive as the Seahawks swept aside the Indianapolis Colts on the road in Week 1.

Continuing his remarkable rapport with Tyler Lockett, who had two receiving scores, Wilson threw for 254 yards and four touchdowns as his marriage with new offensive coordinator Shane Waldron got off to a spectacular start.

Second in air yards per attempt (10.43) among quarterbacks with at least 10 attempts, Wilson carries substantial upside as one of the best deep-ball throwers in the NFL and should receive ample opportunity to demonstrate that prowess against an extremely vulnerable Titans defense shredded by the Arizona Cardinals for 280 net yards passing and four touchdowns through the air in their opener.

RB: Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers vs. Detroit Lions

Nothing went right for the Packers in their 38-3 loss to the New Orleans Saints, with Jones held to nine yards on five carries on a miserable day for the entire offense.

Yet a Week 2 clash with the Detroit Lions should prove the perfect tonic. Detroit gave up 131 yards on the ground to the San Francisco 49ers in the opener, with sixth-round rookie Elijah Mitchell gashing the Lions for 104 yards and a touchdown at a rate of 5.5 yards per carry.

The Packers operate a zone running game akin to that of the Niners, so Jones should be confident of finding room to rack up similar numbers. Jones has topped 100 yards in two of his past three games against the Lions, including a 168-yard, two-touchdown effort at Lambeau Field last year.

WR: Keenan Allen, Los Angeles Chargers vs. Dallas Cowboys

Justin Herbert's rapport with a receiver who has a case for being the premier route runner in the NFL continues to blossom, with the reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year going to Allen time and again as the Chargers edged out the Washington Football Team in their opener.

Allen was targeted 13 times and caught nine passes for 100 yards in a 20-16 victory. He registered a burn, which is when a player wins his matchup with a defender on plays where he is targeted, on 12 of those 13 targets.

He did that against a Washington defense that allowed the second-fewest yards per pass play (5.33) in the NFL last season. Now he gets to face a Cowboys defense that ranked 21st in that same metric with 6.69 yards and gave up 7.58 per play in their opening loss to the Buccaneers. Book in Allen for another big day.

TE: George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers @ Philadelphia Eagles

Deebo Samuel overshadowed Kittle in the Niners' win in Detroit, but the top all-round tight end in football still produced with four catches for 78 yards and should be salivating at the prospect of facing the Eagles.

Last season, in a home loss to the Eagles, Kittle hauled in all 15 of his targets from Nick Mullens for 183 yards and a touchdown.

He might not see the same level of targets at Lincoln Financial Field this year but, with a healthy Jimmy Garoppolo under center, he should see enough of the ball to excel in a matchup with an Eagles defense that has consistently struggled to defend tight ends.

Defense: New England Patriots @ New York Jets

The Patriots may have come up short against the Miami Dolphins, but there was much to admire about their performance on defense.

With the likes of Matthew Judon and Josh Uche excelling at getting pressure on Tua Tagovailoa, New England's front is likely to have great success against the Jets' offensive line, which will be without left tackle Mekhi Becton.

Jets rookie quarterback Zach Wilson was sacked six times in their loss to the Carolina Panthers, which saw him throw an interceptable pass on 5.56 per cent of his attempts, according to Stats Perform data.

Expect New England's defense to create more interception opportunities and make it another long afternoon for Wilson and the Jets.

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  • NBA 2022-23: Can the Lakers bounce back or will LeBron regret penning new deal? NBA 2022-23: Can the Lakers bounce back or will LeBron regret penning new deal?

    It is safe to say 2021-22 was a season to forget for the Los Angeles Lakers.

    A record of 33-49 meant failure to even reach the play-in tournament, unthinkable at the start of the campaign.

    The Lakers finished 11th in the Western Conference, and only managed a measly three wins from 13 against Pacific Division opponents.

    They actually won five of their first eight games, but by the end of the season they had reached peak crisis-mode.

    Heading into their final 10 games, the Lakers knew they needed to win several to get into the playoffs, before proceeding to lose eight in a row, with two consolation victories saving a minimal amount of face.

    It was quite the failure, and yet LeBron James did not seem to think twice about signing a new two-year, $97.1million contract extension that includes a player option for 2024-25.

    Before the new season gets underway, Stats Perform has taken a look at the Lakers' prospects to try and determine if there is cause for optimism, or if James could be left to carry the load on his own once again.

    Can LeBron get Lakers out of a jam?

    The man has four NBA championships, four Finals MVPs, four NBA MVPs, 17 All-Star selections and three All-Star MVPs to his name, but this could be his biggest challenge to date.

    Basketball is clearly a team sport, but as James knows all too well, it's not unusual for one player to play so well that he can carry a team to success almost single-handedly.

    That did not happen last season, despite his best efforts, which goes to show just how poorly the rest of the team performed.

    James scored 1,695 points in just 56 games at an average of 30.3 points per game, his best regular season return since 2005-06, and only Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers averaged more (30.6).

    He also reached a notable landmark in March, becoming the first player in NBA history to record 10,000 assists and 10,000 rebounds in a career.

    Of course, one of the issues was that he only managed to play 56 games, and as James turns 38 in December, is he likely to be more involved this year?

    Even if he is, his impressive numbers last season achieved little in terms of the team's outcome, so will he get more help this time round? Perhaps, if the new coach can make an impact.

     

    Can Ham sandwich Westbrook into his team?

    The dismissal of Frank Vogel was about the most predictable thing that happened at the end of last season.

    Just as you thought the Lakers were pulling out of danger, the wheels would fall off again, which was a recurring theme throughout the campaign, with Vogel unable to maintain any consistency.

    His replacement, Darvin Ham, comes highly rated and with a quiet confidence he can step up having impressed as assistant at the Milwaukee Bucks.

    One of his first jobs will be to form a unit out of his key players, in particular finding a way to get James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook on the court together as often as possible.

    While not perfect, the Lakers did win 11 of their 21 games last season when all three featured, but had losing records when only two, one or none of them played, including defeat all five games where only Westbrook played of the three.

    Westbrook actually recorded his worst scoring season since 2009-10, failing to average over 20 points per game for the first time since then (18.5).

    His rebound and assist numbers were also well down on those he produced at the Washington Wizards in 2020-21, with average rebounds falling from 11.5 to 7.4, and assists from 11.7 to 7.1.

    He was, at least, available though, making 78 appearances, while James played 56 times, and Davis just 40.

     

    AD's lack of availability could potentially the biggest issue, as he also only managed 36 outings in 2020-21, meaning he has played less basketball in the last two years than Westbrook did last season.

    However, he is – for the time being – fit now, and after the Lakers' opening preseason encounter with the Sacramento Kings on Monday, Ham said of the trio: "They allowed themselves to help one another… we have a three-series that involves all three of them, a half-court play call, and I think they're gonna thrive."

    There have been persistent rumours the Lakers will trade Westbrook, but Ham is seemingly working towards life with the 33-year-old, also saying on Monday: "I have a plan for him. That plan included him when they gave me the job."

    Keeping them fit is one thing, albeit mostly out of Ham's hands, but if he can find a way of getting the most out of them when they are available to him, and can coax the Wizards form out of Westbrook, that could be the support James so badly needs.

    A new face and a familiar one

    The consensus was that the Lakers needed fresh blood, rather than relying on older players to rediscover their magic.

    So naturally, they brought in 34-year-old Patrick Beverley and re-signed nine-year NBA veteran Dennis Schroder.

    In fairness, there does appear to be method in the two acquisitions. Beverley was crucial for the Minnesota Timberwolves as they returned to the playoffs last season, averaging 9.2 points in his 54 games, as well as 4.1 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game while shooting 34.3 per cent of his three-pointers.

    Lakers vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka also pointed to his "toughness" and "competitive spirit", possibly suggesting Beverley has been signed as much to inspire his team-mates as much as what he can do with the ball in hand.

    Schroder was an interesting pick-up given the German shooting guard's struggles in the playoff exit to the Phoenix Suns in 2020-21, before leaving for the Boston Celtics.

    Overall though, he had a good record of 15.4 points, 3.5 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 1.1 steals in 61 games that season, and rumours are that James played a key role in getting him back to LA.

    Just make the playoffs and go from there

    There are definitely things to work with for Ham, but it is also far from a simple job.

    While he was pleased with the showing from his main men against the Kings, he will have been alarmed to see the drop-off once he made changes in the second half.

    Leading by five points at half-time, the Lakers went on to lose by 30 at the Crypto.com Arena.

    They tip off with the hardest possible job of stopping Stephen Curry and the defending champion Golden State Warriors on October 18, but an NBA season is a marathon and not a sprint.

    The Lakers do not need to be perfect, but Ham has the regular season to find the right formula and as a minimum, reach the playoffs.

    Then just see where James can take them in the situation he has so often thrived in, assuming he gets more help this time.

  • Buccaneers hold banged-up Brady out of practice Buccaneers hold banged-up Brady out of practice

    Tom Brady did not take part in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' practice on Wednesday as the 45-year-old quarterback deals with nagging injuries to his right shoulder and finger.

    Brady acknowledged he played through some shoulder soreness during the Buccaneers' 41-31 home loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday when speaking on his weekly radio show on SiriusXM. The seven-time Super Bowl champion appeared to be in a bit of discomfort after taking a hit on a second-quarter sack that resulted in a fumble the Chiefs recovered.

    "My shoulder's doing OK," Brady said on Monday’s Let's Go! broadcast. "You know, just some bumps and bruises, and I kind of took a hit there on it. Got some treatment [Monday].

    "This week will be very similar to a lot of the other ones, just getting on the mend, getting back to practice and trying to improve and be ready to go for next week."

    Brady was listed on last week's injury report with the finger issue, which is considered minor and did not prevent him from practising in full. The three-time NFL MVP threw for a season-high 385 yards and three touchdowns while completing 39 of 52 passes against Kansas City.

    NFL.com reported in September that the Buccaneers were planning on having Brady take Wednesday practices off throughout the season in an effort to reduce wear and tear on his body during his 23rd NFL campaign.

    Brady is still expected to make his 323rd career regular-season start when the Buccaneers host the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.

  • Haaland hits dominant double to earn rare City rest in latest one-sided win Haaland hits dominant double to earn rare City rest in latest one-sided win

    Erling Haaland "will have a break", Pep Guardiola assured the media after his Manchester derby heroics. Just not yet, it seems.

    Concerns around the amount of football Haaland has played since signing for Manchester City are understandable.

    Heading into this week's Champions League matches, team-mate Joao Cancelo was the sole outfield player in the Premier League to play more minutes than Haaland across all competitions this season.

    Cancelo and Haaland are two of three players – the other being goalkeeper Ederson – to start every City match. Named in the line-up once more against Copenhagen on Wednesday, Haaland made his 12th start in City colours; his 12th of last season, playing at Borussia Dortmund, did not come until December.

    Indeed, Haaland had already sustained a thigh injury this time a year ago, and only returned briefly before another lay-off with a hip problem.

    Guardiola is well aware of those issues, though, describing City as "lucky" to have "incredible physios".

    "Last season, he could not play many games," the City manager said after the 6-3 win over Manchester United. "He was injured all the time."

    He added: "Dortmund couldn't do it [keep Haaland fit], and we can do it. That is fantastic for us. That is why I thank them [the medical staff]."

    And if there is no immediate risk of injury, of course Guardiola wants to keep sending his superstar striker out to put opponents to the sword.

    After two goals in the 5-0 defeat of Copenhagen, Haaland has 19 in those 12 matches. Riyad Mahrez (24) was the only City player to score more in all competitions in the entirety of last season.

    City already possessed the best team in England, blessed with a vast array of supreme talents, but Haaland is now the undoubted star of the show.

    Ahead of kick-off on Wednesday, his goals in the warm-up were cheered louder than any other player's, as was his name as the line-ups were announced.

    It was with some inevitability then that Haaland's first touch following kick-off was the opener, steered past Kamil Grabara, who wisely didn't bother to move.

    "Who else?" asked the Etihad Stadium's public announcer, as if the role of confirming the goalscorer was even needed.

    Haaland spoke last month of his "dream" to score five goals from just five touches – an ambition that does not tally with Guardiola's outlook on the game, as he replied on Sunday: "I don't like that. I want him involved. He can touch the ball many more times."

    But Haaland remained as efficient as ever, his second touch a pass to the outstanding Jack Grealish, who in turn found Bernardo Silva for a shot that struck the post.

    That was one of only three passes Haaland made in the first half, yet he was involved in everything, attempting four shots.

    Perhaps the loudest roar of the night from the Copenhagen fans followed a tackle that robbed Haaland of the ball on halfway. It provided only momentary cheer, though, as the City number nine tapped in a simple second soon enough.

    The only way the overmatched visitors could prevent Haaland scoring yet another hat-trick was by themselves prodding beyond Grabara – Davit Khocholava turning in an own goal for the third with Haaland waiting right behind him.

    If Guardiola had no sympathy for Copenhagen when he removed Haaland at the break – assuming his words had not cursed the forward with an injury – perhaps he was thinking of poor Julian Alvarez.

    The Argentina international's second City start had been overshadowed by Haaland just as his first had, when Alvarez scored two against Nottingham Forest but his team-mate netted three.

    There were glimpses of a partnership forming as Haaland's pressing led to a chance from which Alvarez could not get a shot away, but in 235 minutes on the pitch together across seven matches, they have traded just four passes and are yet to combine for a goal – Haaland creating a single chance for Alvarez.

    Alvarez is much more like the type of forward City fans have been used to watching under Guardiola – diminutive and busy, but not as clinical as Haaland. Admittedly, few, if any, are.

    A second-half penalty was dispatched by Mahrez, with Alvarez watching on when Haaland surely would have snatched the ball for his hat-trick, while the former River Plate man later became the second City player to hit the post from a Grealish pass.

    Finally, after another wonderful Grealish run and then a cutback from Mahrez, Alvarez converted the fifth when he simply could not miss in front of an open goal – reward at the end of a slightly frustrating night, if such a thing exists in a 5-0 victory.

    Regardless, unless Haaland's injury woes are gone for good, Alvarez will get further chances in the coming months.

    But for now, fear for Southampton, who face Haaland on Saturday coming off a 45-minute rest – his longest of the season.

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