The Bengals offense
Matchup: at Packers, Sunday, 4:25 p.m.
Not taking his third step into the football season, fantasy and otherwise, is Ken Zampese. For some reason, the brain trust at Cincinnati decided that becoming the first team since the 1939 Eagles to start a season without a touchdown in two straight home games was a fireable offense. (Hey, just as Bill Walsh had his West Coast Offense, Zampese can proudly lay claim to the Fireable Offense.)
In any event, Zampese is out as the Bengals’ offensive coordinator, and former quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor is in. Lazor was last seen as an O.C. doing some good things for Ryan Tannehill and the Dolphins a couple of years ago, so there’s at least hope for Andy Dalton. If Dalton, who looked awful last week against the Texans, can get his act together, that obviously will mean good things for the attack as a whole.
I touted A.J. Green as a buy-low candidate this week, and after his complaints about not getting the ball enough, he figures to get fed targets in Green Bay. If he has another disappointing day, however, such as falling under 80 yards and again failing to reach the end zone, Green will really be a player on whom to buy low. Assuming he’s healthy, he’s simply too good to stay mediocre for long, and Dalton hasn’t had problems in the past keeping the WR’s elite status afloat.
I may well have buried the lede, though, because the real intrigue could, and really should, come with the RBs. Given that Cincinnati’s offense has not been working at all, Lazor seems likely to pare down the trio of Jeremy Hill, Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard to a duo, all the better to establish more of a rhythm and identity.
Bernard appears to have the most secure role, so Hill could be the odd man out. Or does a team in desperate need of a win go with veteran reliability (or at least the theoretical existence thereof) and bench the rookie, Mixon? No matter what happens, the Bengals will likely be in catch-up mode against Aaron Rodgers and Co., so we should see a more aggressive game plan.
Isaiah Crowell, RB, Browns
Matchup: at Colts, Sunday, 1 p.m.
The RB15 by ADP in PPR drafts, Crowell could be forgiven for getting off to a slow start. Okay, make that a molasses-like start — just 70 yards on 27 carries, plus 33 yards receiving, and no touchdowns — but it has come against two tough defenses in the Steelers and Ravens.
Less forgivable would be Crowell laying an egg against the Colts, even if Indy has been surprisingly stout in that department, allowing just 2.5 yards per carry so far, second-lowest in the league. Without Andrew Luck to run up a big score at home, the Colts likely won’t be able to force Cleveland to air it out, affording Crowell chances to break a long run, something for which he showed a knack last year. The Browns made some big investments in their offensive line, so they and plenty of other interested parties would like to see a solid return.
Elsewhere in the game, it remains to be seen who steps up, if anyone in particular, as Cleveland’s top WR. Corey Coleman is out with a broken hand, leaving Kenny Britt as the logical beneficiary, except that Britt has been such a free agent disappointment, he’s reminding Browns fans of Dwayne Bowe (which is just about the most brutal comparison any NFL player could elicit). Rashard Higgins was a popular waiver-wire add this week, and after catching seven passes for 95 yards last week, a similar follow-up could have him looking very much like a low-end WR2.
Trevor Siemian, QB, Broncos
Matchup: at Bills, Sunday, 1 p.m.
One of the true early-season surprises, Siemian will take his No. 2 fantasy ranking among QBs to Buffalo. This will be his first road game, so it will be interesting to see how he fares without Denver’s high-altitude home field advantage.
A former seventh-round pick out of Northwestern whose college numbers were so unimpressive many were surprised he was drafted at all, Siemian has made great strides. After turning his training-camp battle with former first-rounder Paxton Lynch into a rout, Siemian has continued his strong play into the regular season, helping to more than solidify the values of wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders.
Siemian has already proven to be solid on the road, with a 58.2 completion percentage, 11 touchdowns, four interceptions and an 84.6 rating in eight games away from Mile High. However, he is now attempting to live up to loftier billing as a potential high-end QB2 and streaming option.
Christian McCaffrey, RB, Panthers
Matchup: vs. Saints, Sunday, 1 p.m.
McCaffrey was drafted on average as the 12th RB in PPR leagues, so his owners are definitely unhappy with what they’ve gotten so far from the real draft’s eighth overall pick. Brought in to redefine Carolina’s passing attack, he has just nine catches for 72 yards and no touchdowns on 12 targets, and his ground production has been even more disappointing. McCaffrey has taken 21 carries for 57 yards, making for a Ron Dayne-esque 2.7 average, while veteran Jonathan Stewart has managed a 3.2 average on his 32 carries (not much better, but better).
Greg Olsen’s pain could well be McCaffrey’s gain, though, as the TE’s broken foot has him out for at least eight weeks. That takes away Cam Newton’s favorite target but leaves the QB little excuse for not trying to find McCaffrey more often on underneath routes. Of course, Newton will have to demonstrate a newfound ability to not treat all his receivers as if they stand 6-foot-6 with seven-foot wingspans, but he should have plenty of chances to practice some pitch-and-catch with his new weapon against the pillowy soft Saints defense.
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