Wembley Stadium in London has hosted NFL regular season games for the past 12 seasons. Clive Rose/Getty Images
LONDON — Whenever the NFL International Series rolls into town, the same question always arises: Is it a matter of when or if London will get a franchise?
The question is as inevitable as the plethora of jerseys worn by gridiron aficionados at the matches, or the smell of barbecues and beers at the tailgates. But there is a growing feeling a potential franchise is nearer than ever to becoming reality.
So what are the key hurdles that remain, and how would it all work?
When could a franchise start in London?
There is growing optimism within NFL circles that there could be a London-based franchise by 2022. NFL executive vice president Mark Waller told ESPN that was a “logical time frame from a business perspective” as the current collective bargaining agreement and media deals expire in 2020 and 2022, respectively. Waller pointed to how 29 of the 32 franchises have played in London since the International Series began in 2007, and they have seen for themselves “the passion, the size, scale and enthusiasm for the sport”.
“The fact that they can see it, touch it, play it, know that works, know they can travel back and be competitive in their seasons [the four winning teams in London in 2017 all reached the playoffs], I think we’re closer than ever,” Waller continued. “We have tested and continue to test all the variables. This year, playing three games [on successive Sundays] at Wembley has tested the field, tested the ability to sell out on consecutive weekends, which is how we’d have to schedule any franchise based here. I think we’re in good shape.”
Such has been the demand, when the opening of Tottenham Hotspur’s stadium was delayed and the Seahawks-Raiders game was moved to Wembley, that the 20,000 extra tickets sold out in a blink of an eye and it became the highest-attended London game. That record was then broken on Sunday for the Eagles-Jaguars match played in front of 85,870 fans. Only Dallas has hosted games with greater attendances in the NFL this season.
The Tottenham stadium delay turned a potential setback into a feather in the cap for the NFL in the U.K., a defining moment in this 12th season of games in London. Roger Goodell, the NFL commissioner, hailed the “extraordinary” political support for the venture, with London mayor Sadiq Khan a vociferous supporter of the league’s international expansion.
While Khan would love a Super Bowl to come to London, time zone complexities make this highly unlikely. Instead, the focus from the league is firmly toward testing all the variables involved in having a franchise overseas. The NFL confirmed on Monday that the 2019 season will see four games staged in London, as was the case in 2017. It is all a movement toward a time where London hosts eight regular-season games, the same as a franchise would have to stage each season.
How would a franchise work?
A London franchise would likely play its games in blocks, with a batch of home matches before then going on the road and vice versa. This would limit the number of transatlantic trips.
Waller believes a franchise would likely have a hub of operations in the U.S. as well as in London. “That would enable us to ensure the team, when it was in the States playing its games there, would have a centre of operations for the whole season to be able to work on player roster, recruitment and replenishment,” he said.
As for where a London franchise would be based, there was a surprise twist in recent weeks when Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan pulled out of a bid to purchase Wembley Stadium. Such had been the backlash toward the proposal in the U.K., with the Football Association bearing the brunt of it for contemplating selling what many see as a prized asset to the game of soccer in England.
That news broke while ESPN was interviewing Waller, and there was little doubt that it was a blow to the NFL as well as Khan. Waller declined to comment but was clearly surprised.
It means Tottenham’s stadium is the clear front-runner to become the primary venue for a future franchise. Their 62,062-capacity ground has a retractable pitch, and it was built with the NFL in mind, including two vast changing rooms to house the teams. Despite the delays this year and the relocation of the Raiders-Seahawks game, the NFL confirmed on Monday that it will host two matches as of next year.
Tottenham’s dedication to the NFL saw them include merchandise in the stadium’s new megastore, with jerseys from the various franchises and other paraphernalia on sale. They have gone all in.
“Clearly we wouldn’t both be putting all this into this stadium if there wasn’t the prospect of one day a team eventually coming to London,” Levy told ESPN in 2016. “But there are certainly no guarantees that A) a team comes to London, and B) they have to use our stadium. I think we’re all putting the effort in in the hopes that they will do it.”
What are the remaining roadblocks?
Melvin Gordon missed the Chargers’ match against the Titans after his hamstrings tightened up on the flight to London. Harry How/Getty Images
With the NFL unlikely to expand anytime soon beyond 32 franchises, it is going to need one owner to take the plunge and embrace the risk of relocation.
But there are other logistical difficulties, and any London-based franchise would have to be factored into the new CBA.
“It would be a significant change in the working conditions in one of our teams, so that would require agreement with our players’ union,” Waller said.
The NFL are in discussions with the U.K. government around economic and tax issues and these would have to be factored into the salary cap. Brexit is actually seen as making a franchise’s existence easier in London as it removes certain legal hurdles, whereas there could have been issues with the revenue-sharing model and draft system if the U.K. remained in the European Union beyond March 2019.
“It’ll take time to iron out the complexities of a specific set of arrangements for one team and ensure that team is well treated but not competitively advantaged versus the other 31,” Waller said. “It’s not a straight-forward proposition but it ultimately should be doable.”
Goodell is also concerned by potential playoff logistics. “You can’t really plan for that,” Goodell said. “So we could probably work the schedule in a fair way during the season, but when you get to the postseason it could be unfair to a team — if Seattle had to come over here for a playoff game — that’s a tough one. So we’ve got to find an answer to that.”
The NFLPA, the players’ association, will have a significant voice in the discussions. ESPN spoke to a number of players back in 2013 on whether they would play for a London-based franchise, and the majority were reluctant. Former Eagles and Colts linebacker Trent Cole said the franchise would have to “go get some rugby players,” while their cornerback Cary Williams advised the NFL to “stay in America, man”.
This season, at least publicly, coaches and players have been positive about their experiences in London, save for perhaps the four Jaguars players who were arrested prior to their game against the Eagles. But whether that sentiment holds behind closed doors when CBA discussions commence between the NFL and NFLPA will be the acid test for a London franchise.
The travel is also a sizeable problem, even for players who are not contracted to a London franchise. The current longest journey within the NFL is the five-and-a-half hours it takes the Seahawks to get to Miami to play the Dolphins. Seattle’s trip to London this year, however, saw them cross eight time zones.
For their part, the Los Angeles Chargers negated this sensibly for their match this year by playing the Browns, then training in Cleveland and flying on to London. They then defeated the Tennessee Titans at Wembley. But not every team scheduled to play in London would necessarily have the chance to play on the east coast the week prior, nor might they be comfortable with two road games in succession, either.
Last year, after the Baltimore Ravens suffered a 44-7 loss in London, their coach John Harbaugh said he had no plans “on going over there anytime soon to play again”. This year, Melvin Gordon’s hamstrings tightened up on the flight from Cleveland to London, he injured himself in Friday practice and then missed the Chargers’ game at Wembley against the Tennessee Titans. When star players are missing out, it becomes a huge question mark for teams, players and the league.
Would fans support a franchise?
The NFL is growing in popularity, year-on-year. The league itself puts the U.K. fan base at just over 13 million, including 2.8m fans described as “avid”, while 47,000 snapped up season tickets for the three matches this year. Participation levels are currently at 40,000 and 23m watched U.K. television coverage of the 2016 season, according to the most recently available figures.
But a franchise is a different proposition. There was widespread support for a London franchise from fans at the games at Wembley when ESPN spoke with them, but it would take some convincing for them to ditch their current NFL allegiances and support a London team instead. Even the designated home teams in London this season have had less vocal support than the road teams, with Seahawks and Eagles fans clearly outnumbering Raiders and Jaguars backers respectively.
But money talks and the demand in London is there with room to spare. StubHub, the online ticket exchange company, revealed the Eagles-Jaguars game was the “number one most in-demand NFL game globally” on their website. It has also seen demand for tickets increase by 333% in five years, while buyers from 42 different countries purchased tickets for this year’s three games.
What are the next steps?
Logistically, Mexico City would make more sense than bringing a team to the U.K., and last season’s attendance of 77,357 for the Patriots-Raiders match proves the demand is there.
But London has accepted every challenge thrown at it and interest continues to grow.
The CBA will be key, as are the media rights with renewals due in the U.K. in 2019 and the U.S. in 2022. The league will keep a close eye on Tottenham’s new stadium and other sub-plots, such as a renewed bid for Wembley by Shad Khan and the appetite for the Chargers in Los Angeles. All the while, nothing will be taken for granted in London.
“I think we have to continue working hard to grow the popularity and fan base,” Waller said. “It’s not a case of waiting until 2022. This is a great sports market with a lot of great sports options for fans. We need to make sure we stay present and excellent and execute everything really well and give fans what they want.”
As you may have read in the Week 8 Love/Hate, I spent a few days at Disney World last week with my wife and young daughters. They turned 7 last Thursday and did so at the Happiest Place on Earth, and it was just as magical as I could have ever hoped. But that’s not the reason I am writing.
During the trip, I got a chance to visit with fans at the ESPN Club down there. (Side note: Highly recommended when you find yourself in Orlando. They always take great care of me and my family, and you never know who will stop in. A few days before me, Brian Urlacher was there.) Anyway, I was very flattered by how many folks came out, and we did a Q&A for about 90 minutes.
Most of the questions were about Week 8 lineups, trade advice or requests for trash talk videos to folks in their league who weren’t there. All great fun. But at the very end, a young man stood up. He said his name was Geddy, he was 14 and his dream was a career in sports. And he wanted to know what my advice was for him.
I get this question a lot. Like every day. I wish I could respond to all the questions I get, but because this one keeps coming up, I thought I should write about it here and at least I’d have a link I could point folks to. I’ve written about this subject before, but that was four years ago and since folks continue to ask, I thought it would be helpful to address again. Obviously there is some overlap from my 2014 column, but that’s my best piece of advice in terms of producing any kind of content, be it for sports, for the public or even a presentation at work: Always be honest. Audiences will forgive almost anything, as long as you are honest with them. So yeah, I’ve written a version of this column before.
Here we go.
My 10 best pieces of advice for getting the career you want
1. Learn to communicate: This was the biggest piece of advice my father ever gave me, and it’s the most crucial advice I can give you. My dad’s point was simple. Nothing happens if you can’t communicate. Let’s say you found the cure for cancer. Awesome. It does no one any good if you can’t communicate how to do it. I had been doing fantasy analysis since I was 14, so I had that part down. But the communication part? I had done radio in high school and college, and when I got to L.A. right out of college, I took a few years of improv classes. The idea wasn’t about acting. I just wanted to get comfortable speaking in front of strangers and being able to handle things I wasn’t prepared for. It took work, but I got to a point where I felt, even if you disagreed with my take, I could express to you how I felt about a player or team, and be reasonably entertaining while doing so.
Also understand that communication takes many forms. I’m definitely better at some than others, but I believe one of the things ESPN values about me is that I can write a 5,000-word column, do an hour-long podcast, a three-hour TV show, an eight-minute radio segment, a 45-second TV hit, a 280-character tweet or a fun picture for Instagram. I have varying levels of ability, but I’m at least competent in all of them, my beignet photo notwithstanding.
In a changing media landscape with many platforms, more than any other piece of advice you read here, you MUST be able to communicate.
2. Get good: I get so many questions like, “How do I get an agent? How do I get to ESPN? How do I get my dream job?” And the answer is … get good. Just get good at whatever you’re passionate about. I swear, we are ALWAYS looking for talented people who can make us better. So is every other company. There’s no conspiracy to keep talented folks out. Get good, and we’ll find you. Promise.
So that means doing your craft. Write for a small website for free. Or start a blog. Or a podcast. Or a YouTube channel. Whatever translates best to what you want to do. Don’t worry about whether anyone is reading/watching/listening. Just get good. I’m a better writer today than I was two years ago. I was better then than I was three years before that. Stuff I wrote 10 years ago makes me cringe. It’s just reps, man. I’m a big believer in Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000-hour rule (look it up). Whatever you want to do, start doing it, somehow, someway. And then do it again. And again. And again.
3. Do what you can control: When I started out, I had no idea whether my analysis/approach/writing/persona/etc. were any good. I’m sure there were people who could do a deeper stats dive than I could, who had played the game and could break down film better than I could, who had more insider contacts than I did. I knew the only thing I could control was my work ethic. I just had to outwork them.
When I graduated and was first trying to break into show business, I knew absolutely no one. So I decided my job was getting a job. Every day I scoured for jobs I could apply for. I applied for five a day, no matter what. I tailored my résumé and cover letter for each job. That was my morning each day. Then in the afternoon I’d call to see if they’d gotten it, could they look for it if not, could I get a meeting? I cold-emailed people I admired, alumni from my school, every family member I could think of. “Do you know anyone you’d feel comfortable introducing me to?” No stone unturned — I had to outwork everyone.
When I speak to college students, I talk about two traits: brand aware and brand trust. Every person has a “brand.” You’ve just been arrested. Which of your friends do you call? You’ve just won an all-expenses-paid trip to Vegas, leaving tonight. Which of your friends do you call? I bet you had immediate answers for both and I bet they weren’t the same person. We all have “brands” — how others perceive us.
When starting out, you are working on “brand aware.” To pay the bills after I graduated, I worked at a toy store. So whenever I got a show biz interview, I brought a toy gun that shot bubbles and offered it as a gift at the end as a thank you for the interview. I’d show them how to work it. It was a fun toy. As they looked at me weird, I’d say, “Hey, I’m sure you’re interviewing a ton of people for this job. I’m trying to stand out. I bet you’ll remember the guy who brought a bubble gun.” And sure enough, when I’d call to check back in, they all took the call and remembered me. “Brand aware.” Ultimately, my first real job came from bubble gun No. 5.
4. You get one chance: Most people are nice and remember what it was like when they were starting out. Most people are willing to help out. ONCE. There are SO many people who want to get into … well, many different fields. But that’s especially true for sports, so if you aren’t rock-solid and buttoned up when you meet someone who could help, you’re done. There are too many other options and too little time to waste. Once, when my writing partner and I were trying to break into sitcom writing, we got a meeting with the late, great Sam Simon, executive producer of “The Simpsons.” He offered to read one script of ours, but warned us not to send it to him until we were ready. We were like, yeah, yeah, and sent him the first one we wrote. It was “The Simpsons”! We couldn’t wait. And he passed. As he should have. In retrospect, it wasn’t close to being good enough. We didn’t get a writing job until our eighth script. Which was when we were finally ready and capitalized on our one shot. When you get your one at-bat, don’t strike out.
Also, make it easy for someone to help you. When I got sports meetings, I always had clips of my writing, a DVD of the little TV I had done, a résumé, etc., to hand out in case they asked. Whatever you can do, when you get that one shot, be prepared and make it super easy for someone to help you.
5. Play the hand you’re dealt: I’m friendly with the actor/director Kevin Connolly, who is best known for playing “E” on the show “Entourage.” I remember him telling me a story once about being bummed that he didn’t get a part and his agent told him not to sweat it, because it wasn’t the right part for him. “Hey Kevin,” the agent said, “you’re never gonna star in ‘The Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Story,’ you know? It is what it is.” I always think about that. It doesn’t mean Kevin isn’t a great actor, but his agent is right. So play the hand you’re dealt. When I started out, my one card was I went to Syracuse. So I reached out to every single alumnus I could find. When I tried to break into fantasy sports, my one card was my Hollywood career. So my TV sitcom agent was able to finagle a meeting for me with the NBA to pitch them a fantasy basketball show, and the NBA ended up hiring me for two years off that meeting. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Focus on your strengths and don’t try to be something you’re not. As an analyst, I’m good with stats, but I’m not Mike Clay. I’m good at watching film, but I’m not Matt Bowen. I’ve got good sources around the league, but I’m not Adam Schefter. So I focus on what I do well, which is taking what could be dry and sometimes complex data, film study, team sources and research and condensing it, making it easily understood, and most of all, making the whole experience entertaining. And if you’re reading this, I’d say I’m doing a damn good job. We’re 1,700 words into a fantasy football article and I have yet to mention a player.
6. Get in the door/get good at one thing: The most important thing is just to get in the door at wherever you want to work. I’ve told this story before, but the first time I got a chance to be on national radio, instead of calling in like everyone else, I offered to drive to the studio to do my five minutes in person. They thought it was weird, but OK. I did it just so I could meet them face to face. Because once you are in front of someone, you are a living, breathing thing. Not some email or text that needs to be returned, like a million others. Sweep the floors, get lunch, intern, whatever it takes to be where the action is, and get face time. And once there, make yourself invaluable. Figure out what would make your boss’ life easier and do that. Really well. When starting out, get good at just one thing. Focus on that initially. I got good at writing scripts. Just that. But that got me a chance to write fantasy sports columns. And being good at that got me a chance to do TV, which got me a chance to do a podcast, to be on a weekly TV show, to eventually get my own show. All because I got good at one thing.
7. Brand trust: I talked earlier about brand aware. The other piece of it is “brand trust.” You get one call to a friend to bail you out of jail. Whom do you call? I bet not all of your friends make the cut. That’s “brand trust.” We all have people in our life we know we can count on and others we like, but … come on. You need to be the person at work who gets the jail call. Err … you know what I mean. With shrinking budgets and more scrutiny than ever on workplace behavior, you need strong “brand trust.” And that starts with how you carry yourself at all times and not posting anything dumb on social media. When someone asks me for advice, I look up their social media account. Because before I put my name out there, I need to know whether I can trust this person. Social media is definitely a tricky place. But if you can’t be trusted on social media, how can a company trust you with their brand, behind their microphone?
8. No journey is made alone: You’ll need help to get where you’re going, and once you’re there, give back. You never know how things will go. Someone I hired for a job 12 years ago and gave a shot to is now my boss at ESPN. You never know. One thing that gives me great joy is, over the years, there have been a number of people in the fantasy sports industry, at places other than ESPN, who have reached out for help/advice/connections with their career, and I always say yes, and it stays between us. It’s my pleasure. People like Matthew Pouliot and Rick Wolf were so good to me when I started, so it’s my duty to give back. And who knows? One day, one of these people may hire me for something. Just always be nice. That’s good advice for life as well.
9. Be original; it’s OK to fail: You don’t know how big a ditch you can jump over until you fall in. To get anywhere good, you’re gonna need to be original and have your own way of thinking. I always felt, if you took the bylines off a bunch of fantasy columns, you couldn’t tell who wrote what. But whether you love or hate me, you don’t need my byline to know it’s a Matthew Berry article. Same with the TV show. A lot of shows have three or four people at a desk. We have puppets and lime-colored graphics. It may not be your cup of tea, but it’s nothing you see anywhere else. Ultimately, it will take you time to find and hone your own voice/style, and the only way that happens is by trying different stuff and being OK if it fails. I’ve failed more times than I can count.
10. It’s a long and winding road: When I was in college, the job I have didn’t exist yet. Don’t expect success overnight and be open to where your journey takes you. And realize it’s not a race. We all get to where we are supposed to go at our own pace. So buckle in. And trust me, if you want it bad enough and work hard enough, it WILL happen for you. Not immediately and possibly not in the way you imagine on Day 1, but it WILL happen. Go get ’em.
Let’s get to it. A reminder: Love/Hate these days is based on our official ESPN PPR projections. “Loves” are players I think meet or exceed expectations and “Hates” are players I think fall short. Thanks as always to Kyle Soppe and Damian Dabrowski for their help at various points in this column. Here we go:
Quarterbacks I love in Week 9
Jared Goff has fewer than 20 completions in three straight games. That streak should end this week against the Saints, and it could lead to a big day. Christopher Mast/Icon Sportswire
Cam Newton vs. Buccaneers (ESPN projection: 24.9 points): Newton is playing some of the best football of his career, as he has six straight games with multiple TD passes. Panthers offensive coordinator Norv Turner also has him running a lot, as Newton has 43 or more rushing yards in three straight games. As the late, great Jerry Reed used to say, “When you’re hot, you’re hot,” and there’s no better team to keep it going against than a Bucs team that allows a league-high 30.7 PPG to opposing QBs when on the road. It’s a big projection, but I’ll take the over on 24.9.
Ryan Fitzpatrick at Panthers (ESPN projection: 20.6 points): With an over/under of 54.5 (as of Wednesday afternoon), Vegas projects this to be a high-scoring game, and you just read how I expect Newton to go off. The Panthers have given up multiple touchdown passes in six straight (including to Eli Manning and Alex Smith), and since Week 3, on a per-game basis, they have allowed the third-most deep completions and the third-most deep touchdowns. There are only two players who average at least 10 air yards per pass attempt this season: Ryan Fitzpatrick and Jameis Winston.
Jared Goff at Saints (ESPN projection: 20.1 points): Whatever you think of his B-Rad costume choice, you can’t argue with the matchup. The Saints give up the third-most fantasy points per game to QBs this season (24.6), and Vegas has this game listed as the highest-scoring game on the Week 9 schedule. When the Rams have allowed more than 20 points in a game this season, Goff has averaged 26.4 PPG. In a shootout on the turf, give me the over on 20.1 points.
Drew Brees vs. Rams (ESPN projection: 17.6 points): I really like talented NFL QBs in high-scoring games. Hashtag analysis. Thank you, thank you very much, where do I pick up my FSTA football analyst of the year award? While I appreciate the concern of a run-heavy approach, the Rams have allowed multiple pass TDs OR more than 285 passing yards in six of eight games this season (the lone exceptions: C.J. Beathard and Sam Bradford). Vegas says 30 points for New Orleans this week, and well, since 2013, 10 of Brees’ top 11 fantasy performances have come at home in games in which the Saints have scored 30-plus points. I’m taking the over on 17.6 on Sunday.
Others receiving votes: In a week when anyone with a pulse is under consideration, Derek Carrhas, in fact, a pulse. San Francisco ranks bottom-12 in both blitz percentage and pressure percentage, and when Carr is not under pressure this season, he has a completion rate of 77.7 percent and throws a TD every 22.9 passes. Consider that the Niners have allowed multiple passing TDs in seven of eight games this season, and you could do worse for a streamer. … The case for Baker Mayfield this week is … um … nowhere to go but up? Not sure how much the coaching change can help in one week, but when teams play the Chiefs, they attempt 42.1 passes per game this season (second-most in the NFL) in trying to keep up with this offense. If you’re desperate, a volume/junk time play such as Mayfield might work out.
Quarterbacks I hate in Week 9
Ben Roethlisberger at Ravens (ESPN projection: 17.1 points): In Week 4 against these same Ravens, Big Ben threw 47 passes … and finished as QB20! As my friends at FantasyLabs.com point out, “QBs are typically worse in their second matchup with a team (late-season division). They’ve averaged more than two fewer PPG and reached their expected points only 40.7 percent of the time.” Roethlisberger plays the Ravens for the second time this season, and in his past four trips to Baltimore, he has averaged 0.4 TD/INT, one TD pass every 73 attempts, a 59.6 percent completion rate and 10.15 fantasy PPG. I’m taking the under here.
Matthew Stafford at Vikings (ESPN projection: 16.5 points): You know what doesn’t help a quarterback? Trading away the guy who has caught 70.6 percent of his targets (higher than that of all other Lions). You know what else doesn’t help? Facing a division rival that is a top-10 scoring defense and sixth against the pass the past four weeks. I have to start Stafford in a 16-team league this week, so I really hope I’m wrong on this one, but in his past four meetings with the Vikings, Stafford has failed to reach 16.5 points. His best QB finish in those games? QB17.
Mitchell Trubisky at Bills (ESPN projection: 17.9 points): Buffalo has 99 problems, but its D ain’t one. The Bills are giving up the third-fewest yards per attempt (6.77) and the fourth-fewest air yards per attempt (6.96) this season. With Trubisky coming to town, it’s worth also noting that they give up the fourth-fewest yards per carry to opposing QBs this season (2.88). In what Vegas projects as the lowest-scoring game in Week 9 (O/U in this game is 37.5), my expectation is the defense and run game handle the heavy lifting here, keeping Trubisky under 17.9 points.
Running backs I love in Week 9
James Conner at Ravens (ESPN projection: 19.6 points): Obviously everyone who has him is starting him, but I am putting him here because you might be scared off by the Ravens’ defense … and 19.6 is a big number, especially against the Ravens. But I am taking the over, especially because I think the Steelers will lean on Conner, who has three straight games with multiple rushing touchdowns and at least four catches. Why is that impressive? Here are the other players who have such a streak since 1975: Priest Holmes, Ricky Watters, Marshall Faulk and Tony Dorsett. That’s it. That’s the list. Since Week 5, he ranks second in touches per game (25.7) and first in yards from scrimmage per game (175.3, 20.5 more than Todd Gurley). Quietly, during the past four weeks, the Ravens are third against the pass but just 18th against the run.
Adrian Peterson has at least 15 touches in five games this season, and he has at least 97 yards from scrimmage in each of those games. Elsa/Getty Images
Adrian Peterson vs. Falcons (ESPN projection: 15.3 points): Peterson has at least 17 carries in five of his seven games this season, and Washington is 5-0 in those games. Is that because of the running or was the winning what allowed them to run that much? The answer is somewhere in between, but make no mistake: Washington is going to ride Peterson as long as it can. All running backs should have his burst: He’s got at least one gain of 19 or more yards — rushing or receiving — in all seven of his games this season. With Atlanta allowing the seventh-most yards per carry this season (4.81), Peterson is a top-10 play for me.
Lamar Miller at Broncos (ESPN projection: 14.8 points): You know this recommendation gives me the heebie jeebies, but hey, it is Halloween week! Miller is coming off consecutive games with at least 18 rushes, 100 rushing yards and a rushing score — one of only three players with such a streak this season (James Conner and Marlon Mack are the other two) — and I like him to keep it going on the road against a Broncos squad coughing up 135.8 rushing yards per game (sixth most) and 5.1 yards per carry (second most).
Latavius Murray vs. Lions (ESPN projection: 12.8 points): I was gonna go as Dalvin Cook for Halloween, but then I was worried no one would recognize me. Ha! Get it? It’s a joke about how he hasn’t played and no one knows what he looks like! Hey look, it’s not all full-size chocolate bars at the trick-or-treat of life, OK? Sometimes you get a toothbrush. Speaking of clean teeth, I have no idea whether Murray has them. Here’s what I do know: He has gotten at least 17 touches in three straight games and has four touchdowns in that span. Running backs who have gotten 10-plus carries against the Lions this season are averaging almost 5.5 yards per carry. The Lions allow the second-most rushing yards per game this season and I love the over at 12.8 points. This assumes Cook doesn’t play again on Sunday. Just as I was turning this in, he showed up at practice on Wednesday, which means I could rewrite it (and give up that clean teeth joke) or just add this here. Nothing good comes from hustling, kids.
Others receiving votes: The Browns’ new running backs coach is former Cardinals QB Ryan Lindley. No fantasy implications, I just think that’s interesting. Infotainment, baby! It also gives me an excuse to say Nick Chubb has 36 of the Browns’ 39 running back carries the past two weeks, and for all of K.C.’s offensive firepower, the Chiefs have allowed a league-high 5.37 yards per carry this season. … Isaiah Crowell is the ultimate boom-or-bust guy this year, and if ever there was a week to “boom” for Crowell, it’s this one, as the Jets should be competitive against the Dolphins, who have given up 3.9 red zone drives per game this season (fourth most in the NFL ). He’s got a good shot at falling into the end zone at least once here. … Very quietly, Dion Lewis has 20 receptions in the past four games and you have to like his usage before their bye (19 touches for 155 yards against the Chargers). Opponents are completing 83.6 percent of passes when targeting RBs versus Dallas this season, and Derrick Henry is averaging just 3.3 yards per carry this season, without a single carry gaining 15 yards. Here’s hoping the bye week allowed Tennessee to realize Lewis needs to be the feature back.
Running backs I hate in Week 9
Tevin Coleman at Redskins (ESPN projection: 12.6 points): No one — not Ezekiel Elliott, not Saquon Barkley, not Christian McCaffrey— has run for more than 61 yards against Washington this season. With just one game this season of more than 51 rushing yards, Coleman will need significant passing-game involvement to hit an already relatively low number. Only three times this season has an RB scored more than 13.6 points against the Redskins (13.6 would have been RB27 last week) and considering Ito Smith will steal some work, including in the red zone, I’m taking the under against a Skins run defense that allows the sixth-fewest YPC (3.84) and the second-fewest rushing yards per game (80.1) this season.
LeSean McCoy vs. Bears (ESPN projection: 12.4 points): With Nathan Peterman under center, the argument for McCoy is volume, of course, and 12.4 points isn’t actually that tough a bar to cross. That said, the Bears give up the sixth-fewest receiving yards per game to RBs this season (31.8), are fourth in opponent yards per carry and third in rushing yards allowed per game. I don’t see the Bills scoring a ton in this game (they rank dead last in red zone drives per game, and it’s hard to think that improves under Peterman), so I’ll take the under.
Kerryon Johnson at Vikings (ESPN projection: 12.8 points): In the two games without Theo Riddick, Kerryon is averaging 5.5 targets per game and 16.5 routes run per game. In the five games with Riddick, it’s just 2.8 targets and 12.2 routes. Now, we don’t know if Johnson’s recent inspired play has earned him more touches or if Riddick gets used more as a slot receiver with the departure of Golden Tate. Lots of unknowns here, but one thing I do know? During the past four weeks, the Vikings are allowing the fourth-fewest rushing yards per game (79.5) and the fifth-lowest YPC (3.53). Gurley is the only player to rush for more than 63 yards against Minnesota this season, and the Vikings also have the fifth-best red zone defense this season. Given the byes, you probably have to start him, but I’m taking the under at 12.8 here.
I know. Pretty light on RB “Hate” this week. What can I say? Six teams on a bye. It’s all hands on deck.
Pass catchers I love in Week 9
Matchups don’t get much friendlier for a wide receiver than facing the Bucs. Devin Funchess and his fantasy managers hope that holds true on Sunday. AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
Brandin Cooks (ESPN projection: 14.4 points) and Cooper Kupp (16.2) at Saints: You already know I like Goff in this one, so it stands to reason I like all the Rams’ wideouts against a Saints secondary allowing an NFL-high 235.7 yards per game to opposing WRs. For Cooks, I like that the Saints allow the highest deep completion percentage (59.3 percent), the third-highest deep TD/INT (6.00) rate and the second-most fantasy points per pass attempt to pass catchers lined up out wide (1.52). For My Little Cooper Kupp (legal name) I like that since Week 4, the Saints are a bottom-10 defense in terms of slot completions allowed per game (8.0), slot completion rate (72.7 percent) and slot touchdowns per game allowed. The Saints are also the third-worst red zone defense this season (73.9 percent).
Kenny Golladay at Vikings (ESPN projection: 13.7 points): OK, yes, I am down on Stafford and Kerryon, but it’s not all negative regarding the Lions, Daniel Dopp. I’m back on Golladay, or, as my friend JJ calls him, Babytron, after a slow few weeks. Golden Tate’s departure opens up 9.7 targets per game, and while some of them will go to some combination of TJ Jones, Brandon Powell, Theo Riddick and, of course, Marvin Jones Jr., I think a majority of them go to Golladay, especially with Xavier Rhodes expected to shadow Jones. Given that I expect Minnesota to put up points here and employ strong coverage on Jones, it’s a volume play for me, so I’ll take the over on Golladay.
Devin Funchess vs. Buccaneers (ESPN projection: 13.6 points): Pick a stat, any stat. Tampa Bay is:
• Giving up a league-high 16.4 receptions per game to opposing WRs.
• Giving up the fourth-most yards per game to opposing WRs (198.1).
• Giving up 8.6 catches, 11.1 targets and 22.06 fantasy points per game to the opposition’s top pass catcher.
Danny Amendola vs. Jets (ESPN projection: 9.9 points): Amendola is accounting for 72.2 percent of Brock Osweiler‘s slot completions this season, and the Jets allow opponents the second-most receiving yards, third-most receptions and third-most touchdowns to the slot per game this season. I’m not expecting him to throw for another TD, but considering eight different players have scored more than 10 points from the slot versus the Jets this season, I do say Amendola hits the over on 9.9 points this Sunday.
George Kittle vs. Raiders (ESPN projection: 12.2 points): Remember last season when Aaron Rodgers went down and yet Davante Adams‘ value remained elite? Not that Jimmy Garoppolo is Rodgers or Kittle is Adams, but I liked Kittle coming into the season and there has yet to be any reason to pivot off that, even with his starting quarterback out for the season. Kittle has been among the most consistent options at the position over the past six weeks (five double-digit performances and a TE3 ranking), and regardless of who is under center for San Fran, I think that continues against a Raiders squad allowing the highest completion percentage to opposing tight ends this season (81.1 percent).
O.J. Howard at Panthers (ESPN projection: 8.8 points): The Panthers are giving up a league-high 19.2 fantasy points per game to TEs this season, and in the three full games with Fitzpatrick this season, Howard is averaging 74 yards per game. Two of his three scores this season have come from Fitz as well, so considering a tight end has seen at least five targets against the Panthers six times this season and they’ve averaged 13.9 fantasy points, I’ll take the over here on Howard.
Others receiving votes: Per fantasy analyst law, I’m on Courtland Sutton this week as he inherits Demaryius Thomas‘ 20.3 percent target share. He was already running more routes than Thomas and his emergence is part of the reason they dealt DT. … Among the many issues with Thursday night games is when you make a call, it goes wrong and then people are reading this Friday and getting a jump on what a dumb call it is … but whatevs, YOLO, baby. Gimme some Jordy Nelson to beat his 11.5 projection, as he leads the Raiders in deep targets this season. The Niners allow the seventh-most deep completions per game this season (3.8) and the second-most red zone drives per game (4.4). … Taylor Gabriel‘s projection of 10.6 strikes me as low, given that the Bills have allowed the fourth-highest completion rate (74.7 percent) and the fourth-most touchdowns when throwing to the slot. … DeSean Jackson wasn’t traded, which means he gets to play with the guy he once loaned his clothes to for a postgame news conference. D-Jax is averaging a ridiculous 5.69 fantasy points per deep target from Fitzpatrick. Carolina has allowed the sixth-most deep pass attempts against per game. … In the same game, I’m in on DJ Moore, as last week he set season highs in snaps (44), routes run (26), targets (six), catches (five) and receiving yards (90). Tampa Bay, as you may have heard, is not a good defense. … If you think it’s an ugly week for running backs, wait till you see tight ends. But if you’re scrounging around, Vance McDonald is available in more than half of ESPN leagues, had a 5-for-62 line the last time he faced Baltimore and, as our player card on McDonald notes, the Ravens have given up more than 16 points a game to tight ends the past four weeks.
Pass catchers I hate in Week 9
Stefon Diggs vs. Lions (ESPN projection: 16.3 points): If he plays (he missed Wednesday’s practice), you’re starting him, of course, but 16.3 is a big number considering he’s banged up, there’s an expected shadow coming from Darius Slay and he’s been inconsistent (he had less than 40 yards in two of the past three games, and three of the past six). I think this is a big Adam Thielen game (aren’t they all?) and while Diggs could blow up at any time, it’s worth noting he has hit his 16.3-point projection just four times in eight games this season.
Allen Robinson at Bills (ESPN projection: 11.2 points): Not only is Robinson facing potential shadow coverage from Tre’Davious White, but he likely won’t be 100 percent healthy, either. Robinson’s upside has also been much lower than expected this season, as he’s averaging a career-low 11.4 yards per reception and has been held below 65 yards in five of his six games. As Chicago’s offense has come into focus, it’s been great for Mitchell Trubisky and other members of the passing game, but not so much A-Rob, who is no longer the target monster he was earlier in the season.
Trey Burton at Bills (ESPN projection: 9.2 points): In the 16-team “ESPN War Room” league, I am playing against Rex Ryan this week. Which, if you told me I would write that sentence 10 years ago, I would have thought you were crazy. If you can somehow manage it, I HIGHLY recommend getting into a fantasy football league with Rex. He’s HILARIOUS, especially watching the games on Sundays. It is a great joy for all of us in the league. Also, with a bunch of folks on byes (and my Jameis Winston just, ahem, losing his job), I’m rolling out Matthew Stafford and Burton, among others against Rex’s team, which has no bye issues. And Cam against Tampa. Ugh. Gonna need some magic. Anyway, nothing is quite as painful as putting your own guys on the hate list, but the Bills allow a league-low 53.4 percent completion rate when opponents target the TE this season and no TE has caught more than five passes or recorded more than 55 receiving yards versus the Bills. And that includes guys like Kyle Rudolph, Eric Ebron, Jimmy Grahamand, of course, Rob Gronkowski.
Week 9 Quarterback Rankings