Sadly, we're now at the halfway point of the NFL regular season and by extension, the fantasy football season. In my review of the first quarter of the season, I posed an important fantasy question for each NFL team that many fantasy players were facing. Some of those questions -- specifically aimed at the AFC teams in this instance -- have been answered at this point, like whether Lamar Miller would bounce back with Dan Campbell appointed as interim head coach (he has), musings on if the Raiders' offense was legit (it is) and if Melvin Gordon could get anything going in San Diego (he couldn't). Others still remain unclear, such as whether or not the Broncos' offense could get back on track, as they've still shown very little to this point in the season and had what was their best game in Week 8 against the Packers.
Now that we've made it to the midpoint of the season, it's time to take another look at the state of each team and pose some more important questions for fantasy players going forward. Like last time, the teams will be listed by division and we'll look at the AFC teams first. Check back later in the week for the NFC version.
Baltimore Ravens: With #1 wide receiver Steve Smith now out for the year, who will take over at the top option in the Ravens' passing game?
This was just one of the few horrible injuries fans were forced to take in on Sunday in Week 8, as Smith went down with a torn Achilles' tendon and had to be helped to the sideline, possibly seeing a football field for the last time in his career. Smith had been having a great year up until the injury, ranking 11th in the league in both targets and receptions among WRs and 8th in receiving yards. Now all of those opportunities have to go somewhere else. At this point, the guys most likely to see an increase in targets are WR Kamar Aiken and the multiple TEs used by the Ravens, headlined by Crockett Gillmore. While I'm sure Baltimore will have to sign a player or two off the street to add depth to the position, I still see Aiken as having the biggest opportunity here. He won't be Steve Smith, but he could be a low-end WR2 or solid WR3 going forward.
Cincinnati Bengals: Will Andy Dalton continue to produce as a Top-5 QB?
Dalton had his first really disappointing game in Week 8 against the Steelers in Pittsburgh, as he finished with only 13 fantasy points in standard leagues, the first time he's had less than 19 points all season and only the second that he's had less than 22. He is now 5th in total fantasy points among QBs this season and it took a 6 touchdown game from Eli Manning for him to overtake Dalton. Also, three of the four guys ahead of him -- that one is Tom Brady, shocking, I know -- have not had their bye yet, while Dalton has. I say all this to tell everyone not to be afraid of Dalton going forward. I know, I know, I was one of those people who had Dalton and Drew Brees last week and left Brees on the bench. We all know how that worked out, but it's only one game. Dalton will be solid as long as he still has weapons around him like A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert and the combo of Marvin Jones/Mohamed Sanu, not to mention Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard. He's still a QB1 and likely a Top-5 one at that.
Cleveland Browns: What has gotten into Gary Barnidge and is he an every-week Top-5 TE?
What the *%#&?! Where did this come from?! Barnidge has been amazing this season and he's the #2 TE right now, only sitting 14 points behind Rob Gronkowski. It's no fluke either, as he's got the third-most targets for any TE (behind only Gronk and Greg Olsen) and is the focal point of the Browns' passing game. The dude has at least 10 fantasy points in six straight games...he's legit. Until he proves that he isn't, Barnidge is a Top-5 TE going forward.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Can DeAngelo Williams continue to fill the big shoes of Le'Veon Bell?
Another one of those terrible injuries in Week 8 (and probably the worst one to have actually seen) was to Steelers' RB Le'Veon Bell, who was said to have torn his MCL, along with other extensive damage to his right knee. This is a crushing blow for Bell, the Steelers and Bell's fantasy owners. But can replacement DeAngelo Williams fill-in as admirably as he did during the first two games of the season, when Bell was suspended? Williams led all RBs in fantasy points through Week 2 and looked good again in relief of Bell this week. Now, nobody should expect Williams to put up exactly the same numbers as Bell would, but he should still be very good in this potent Steelers' offense. I'd view him as a Top 10-12 RB for the rest of the season.
Buffalo Bills: Will Tyrod Taylor pick up where he left off before he was injured?
In the first quarter review, I asked whether or not Tyrod Taylor could continue to be a QB1 in fantasy. Unfortunately, that wasn't considering a possible injury to Taylor, who has been out since Week 5 at Tennessee. In those five games, Taylor averaged over 20 fantasy points per game and was a surefire QB1. Taylor should return this week after Buffalo's Week 8 bye and with what appears to be only two difficult match-ups in the second half of the season -- the Jets in Week 10 and Eagles in Week 14 -- he should continue to put up strong numbers for his fantasy owners. He should be viewed as a QB1 when he returns.
Miami Dolphins: Which Dolphins' offense is the real one: the one we saw in Weeks 6 and 7 or the one we saw in Week 8?
This probably isn't a completely fair question, as Miami had to play against the Patriots in Foxborough on Thursday night in Week 8. While the Dolphins had been amazing in two straight games coming off a coaching change and a Week 5 bye, they ran into the buzz-saw that is Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the Pats. I don't think you can hold that one against them. Lamar Miller has looked so much more like the guy many of us expected to see at the beginning of the season and I think he's a Top-10 RB for the rest of the season. Ryan Tannehill is a good QB and while I think he'll have his off games, I believe he's a fringe QB1 type of guy, especially if the running game continues to be strong. Rishard Matthews has been a pleasant surprise for fantasy owners, but he's really been the only guy you can count on in the receiving game. I'd love to see Matthews, Jarvis Landry and first-round pick DeVante Parker on the field together in three-WR sets, but it looks like Parker still isn't very involved in the offense. If the Dolphins could get him on the field and integrated into the offense, I think it would bode well for the continued growth of Tannehill and provide a better deep threat than Kenny Stills. Either way, I like what I've seen from Miami's offense since Dan Campbell took over. Let's hope it continues.
New England Patriots: What will Brandon LaFell give fantasy players for the rest of the season?
What? I had to come up with something interesting and you already know how good guys like Tom Brady, Gronk, Julian Edelman and Dion Lewis are. LaFell is the one piece in this offense that hasn't been around all season and he should be used as the deep-threat that New England really hasn't had up to this point, even if you couldn't tell they were missing it. Yes, LaFell has always been known for having his fair share of drops, to put it nicely (seriously, did you see his game in Week 7?), but he was good in this offense and for this team last year, catching 74 passes for 953 yards and 7 TDs, all career highs. If he's still on your waiver wire he's well worth a look and he could be a good WR3 or flex as he continues to get back up to speed, especially the way Tom Brady is throwing the ball.
New York Jets: Can the Jets' relevant fantasy players continue to produce when so many of them are injured?
Both Ryan Fitzpatrick and Geno Smith went down in Week 8 with injuries and it was sounding like rookie Bryce Petty could be in line to make his first start in Week 9 against the Jaguars. The Jets are on a two game losing streak and if Fitzpatrick misses multiple games with this hand injury, what will the offense look like? WR Brandon Marshall also suffered multiple minor injuries in last week's game and his status for Week 9 is unclear at this point. Eric Decker has been playing through a knee injury and RB Chris Ivory has had hamstring problems recently, which could possibly be somewhat responsible for his struggles in the past two games. You have to hope all of these are just normal nicks and bruises players sustain throughout the season and that Fitzpatrick is able to return fairly quickly, as he had looked good and was at least able to get Marshall and Decker the ball consistently.
Houston Texans: Will any of the RBs in Houston be fantasy relevant for the rest of the season?
Although it didn't occur in Week 8, another tough injury to see was that of Arian Foster, who also tore his Achilles' tendon. While he hadn't been producing great rushing numbers, Foster was putting up fantasy points for his owners by being so involved in both the running and passing game. With Foster out, the Texans will likely use a RBBC with Alfred Blue presumed to lead the backfield in carries. The other backs figured to be involved are Chris Polk and Jonathan Grimes, particularly as receivers and change of pace guys. While Blue did have one good game in Week 3 when Foster was still out with a groin injury, it took 31 carries for him to accumulate 139 yards rushing and 1 TD. I've just never seen anything from Blue that makes me think he's an especially talented player and you obviously can't assume he'll give you anything close to what Foster would. That being said, Blue could be a low-end RB2 or flex option if the Texans give him the majority of carries out of the backfield. He's worth owning, but don't put a ton of faith in him or the situation.
Indianapolis Colts: What is going on with Andrew Luck?
Yeah, so I'm kind of cheating here. In my first quarter review of the season I wondered whether or not Luck could turn his season around and I'm basically building on that here. While Luck has put up some decent fantasy numbers after missing two games with a shoulder injury, none of it has been pretty. He's been playing some terrible football and hasn't looked good throwing the ball for the most part. Luck has provided his fantasy owners with some points by coming alive late in games in comeback attempts, but that's about it. Something just doesn't look right most of the time when you watch him play. I suspect the main culprit is a porous offensive line that has allowed Luck to just get decimated by pass rushes, but some of the blame has to fall on Luck himself. The Colts have another tough game in Week 9, as the Denver Broncos come to town with their smothering defense just coming off a performance in which they allowed just 77 yards passing to Aaron Rodgers...You can't expect a lot from Luck in that game either, but the Colts' schedule gets considerably easier after their Week 10 bye, as they don't face another defense that scares you the rest of the way. At this point you're stuck with Luck if you have him and you have to hope that he gives you something in what would hopefully be a run into the fantasy playoffs...as long as he hasn't completely killed your team so far.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Is Blake Bortles actually a Top-10 fantasy QB?
Through Week 8, Blake Bortles is the #8 QB in standard fantasy leagues. I know, right? Bortles has put up in the neighborhood of 22 fantasy points per game and has had less than 18 points only once (13 in Week 1 against Carolina). He also now has guys like Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns and Julius Thomas to throw to, making him an even more appealing option. Whenever you take a deeper look at the stats, however, you see that Bortles has only completed 55.7% of his passes and while he has 15 TDs, he also has 8 INTs. The real question here is whether or not you can trust Bortles as a no-questions asked starter each and every week, to which I say no. I understand that he's put up some great fantasy numbers so far, but I just don't feel comfortable with him as my only QB. That being said, Bortles is a good rotational starter and in good match-ups you shouldn't be afraid to roll him out there.
Tennessee Titans: With Ken Whisenhunt now being fired and Marcus Mariota hopefully returning from injury, I ask again: Are you starting any Titans' player consistently?
Ah, another question that is being recycled. I'm nothing if not environmentally conscious. Really though, how has starting anybody from the Titans gone for you this year? Sure, you might have gotten a useful game out of Delanie Walker as a bye-week replacement or something like that, but otherwise there's been nothing. Antonio Andrews has been the best RB but he doesn't get a full workload. WR Kendall Wright has been unpredictable and unreliable. And while Marcus Mariota looked good in his first three games, his performance dipped in the two games following the bye and he suffered an MCL injury in Week 6 then missed the next two games. I just see no way that you should be relying on any Titans' players at this point in the fantasy season as anything more than bench guys with a little upside. One guy to keep your eye on is rookie RB David Cobb, who should be back from short-term IR in the near future. If he manages to take over the RB job when he's healthy, maybe there will actually be something to see here.
Denver Broncos: Is there any chance that the Broncos' offense continues what it started in Week 8?
Well, that was a bit different. The Broncos were actually pretty effective on offense on Sunday, which was surprising considering what they had looked like all season and the fact that they were going up against what was believed to be a pretty good Packers' defense. Peyton Manning went 21/29 for 340 yards and although he didn't have TD, he looked good. Demaryius Thomas finished with 8 catches for 168 yards, while Ronnie Hillman got 19 carries for only 60 yards but scored 2 TDs. Could it be!? Yes! C.J. Anderson actually had a good game here too, finishing with 14 carries for 101 yards and a TD as well. The big question is if this was just a mirage in a desert of what has been terrible play by the Broncos for most of the season. Denver doesn't have many tough defensive match-ups in the second half of the season, but does that really matter? They've had quite a few games this year that looked like good match-ups going into them, only to come out and look horrendous on offense. I think you have to take a wait and see approach on this, especially with Manning and the running backs. Hillman should get the majority of touches as long as he's not seriously injured and Anderson has been just bad the whole year up until this game. You're sticking with Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, but I'd still temper expectations. As an end-note, Denver did add TE Vernon Davis in a trade with San Francisco prior to the trade deadline. I'm not sure what his value will be yet on a fantasy level, but he's worth paying attention to since Peyton has used his TEs extensively throughout his career and nobody has separated themselves for the Broncos up to this point.
Kansas City Chiefs: Is Charcandrick West forreal?
Since Jamaal Charles went down for the year in Week 5, West has been the go-to guy for the Chiefs and he's looked good doing it. He's been a Top-10 scorer among RBs in both of the past two weeks and it looks like he will be the surefire starter and workhorse the rest of the way in Kansas City's backfield. West has averaged 4.6 yards per carry this season on 63 carries and has gotten 24 total touches in each of the past two games. What also bodes well for West is that the Chiefs have won both of their last two games while featuring him as both a runner and receiver out of the backfield. At this point you have to be ecstatic if you were able to pick up West off of waiver, whether you were a Charles owner or no. He's at least a a solid RB2 going forward.
Oakland Raiders: Are there really four starting options on the Raiders' offense?
Yes. Like I said earlier, that's the answer to my previous question of whether or not the Raiders' offense was legit. It may also prove to be the answer to this question, as QB Derek Carr has been on fire, giving life to a franchise that it hasn't had in almost 15 years. Carr is the #11 QB in fantasy right now, he's thrown 15 TDs to only 3 INTs and is completing 65.5% of his passes. I mean, what else can the guy do? He's been helped by WRs Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree, as well as RB Latavius Murray as both a runner and receiver. While Cooper has been great in his rookie season, Crabtree has been just as good in his new start across the bay from his old home in San Francisco. In 12-team leagues I think you can feel good about both guys as WR2s going at this point and Murray is a high-end RB2 or even a low-end RB1. As for Carr, I think he really could be a low-end QB1 and while you probably are not quite to the point where you should make him an every-week starter, he's definitely making his way there.
San Diego Chargers: Can Philip Rivers keep up this pace?
Despite the Chargers having a 2-6 record, Rivers has been just incredible, from both a real life and fantasy perspective. Rivers is completing almost 70% of his passes to go along with 18 TDs and he's got five straight games with at least 300 yards passing, netting him at least 30 fantasy points in four of those five. He's the #3 QB in fantasy so far and the guy is just on fire. It's truly unfortunate to see them keep losing games when he's putting up performances like this. I'm not sure it will be to quite this degree (partially due to WR Keenan Allen possibly being out for the rest of the season with a kidney injury), but I think Rivers can keep putting up similar numbers due to the Chargers' inability to find anything with their ground game. Rookie Melvin Gordon has been a huge disappointment and the most productive back from any perspective has been Danny Woodhead. With how he's been playing, I don't think you can get full value for Rivers in the trade market and because of that, you have to keep riding him. He should continue to put up some monster fantasy games.