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Roundtable: Which fantasy players can be trusted at the season's halfway point?

In many fantasy leagues, Week 7 marks the season's midpoint. What have we learned, and who can we trust down the stretch? Michael Beller and Pat Fitzmaurice toss around the fantasy topics that are weighing on them.

Michael Beller: Week 7 is upon us. As I noted in this week’s podcast, that means we’re halfway through the typical fantasy regular season. I’ve never really thought about it until this year, but do you realize that people in our shoes spend as long a time, or perhaps even longer, preparing for the fantasy season as the season itself actually lasts? Even the die-hard fantasy player who isn’t in the industry is in that boat now. If you started your draft prep on June 1, which a lot of die-hards do, there were 99 days between then and the Thursday night opener between the Broncos and Panthers. A 13-week fantasy regular season lasts 91 days. We all do crazy things for love.

Running back has slowly but surely become a wasteland, hasn’t it, Fitz? Doug Martin suffered a setback in his return from a hamstring injury, and Carlos Hyde is out this week, as well. How many backs do you absolutely trust to deliver their expected production this week? Ten? Maybe 13 or 14? There hasn’t been a better week this season to be invested in wide receivers. You know there’s someone out there who used a first-round pick on David Johnson and then fell into DeMarco Murray in the fifth round who is just laughing at everyone else in the fantasy community.

What do you make of our guy, Marcus Mariota? He got off to such a terrible start that even true believers like you and I were wondering if we had it all wrong. But over his last two games, he has 447 passing yards, 8.43 yards per attempt, and six touchdowns to go along with 124 rushing yards and another score on the ground. We haven’t seen much of him as a runner in his year and a half in the league, but if the last two weeks represent a trend and not a mirage, his floor just jumped a few levels. And have you seen his upcoming schedule? Including this week, the Titans’ next six games are against the Colts, Jaguars, Chargers, Packers, Colts again, and Bears. Not exactly a murderer’s row of defenses standing in his way the next six weeks.

Week 7 marks the first showdown of our real-life teams, the Bears and Packers. Of course, my attention is going to be slightly divided with the Cubs and Dodgers playing Game 5 of the NLCS. And by “slightly divided” I mean I’m going to be paying complete attention to the Cubs, with maybe a glance or two at Bears-Packers. I know both these games will be over by time the roundtable is published, but I had to at least mention it, especially since you and I are on opposing sides of the NFL’s longest rivalry. I’ll be interested to see the ratings for the two games in Chicago. There’s no question baseball will outdraw football in the city we both call home. I’m just wondering by how much.

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Pat Fitzmaurice: Just when it looked as if the Packers were going to tie up the alltime series last year, they laid a dodo-sized egg on Thanksgiving night, with Brett Favre on hand at Lambeau Field to have his number retired. That was such a kick in the teeth for Packers fans. Green Bay had been chiseling away at Chicago’s all-time series lead for decades, closing ground fast during the Dave Wannstedt/Lovie Smith eras. I’m hoping that by the time readers see this, the Packers are back to within a game. [Editor’s note: They are.] As for baseball, could you imagine a Cubs-Indians series? It would be the baseball equivalent of a Browns-Lions Super Bowl. Oh, the collective angst! I’m no Cubs fan, but this needs to happen.

The RB position is a fiery hellscape this week, Beller. Jacquizz Rodgers and Mike Gillislee are currently top-15 running backs in my weekly rankings. Yeah, there are only about 14 RBs I’d be enthusiastic about starting this week. You bring up an interesting point about this being a good year to be invested in wide receivers. For the most part, I agree. I took a Zero-RB approach in several leagues, and those teams have done fairly well for the most part, though not in all cases. In one draft I started with Odell Beckham Jr., Allen Robinson, Alshon Jeffery, Sammy Watkins and Donte Moncrief. Couldn’t have been happier with the way that draft went, but things have gone haywire, and only a series of low opponent point totals have allowed me to eke out a 3–3 record. Meanwhile, the owners who drafted David Johnson or Ezekiel Elliott in the first round are whistling a happy tune. If you drafted Johnson, Elliott or DeMarco Murray, you’re lapping the field at RB. I still believe that a Zero-RB draft strategy was the right percentage play this year, but as every owner who drafted an DeAndre Hopkins-Keenan Allen combo can attest, that strategy isn’t foolproof, and as every owner who hit the D.J.-DeMarco jackpot will remind you, an early-RB strategy can work out fabulously.

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I’ve vowed to stop being such a wind sock on Mariota. We were both high on him before the season. Then, a few weeks ago, we were ready to hold hands and leap off the careening Mariota bandwagon together. But luckily I didn’t sell off any of my shares, and now I’m feeling good about his outlook again. And you’re right about his upcoming schedule: It’s light, fluffy cake with buttercream filling. The run-heaviness of the Tennessee offense prevents Mariota from having a Sistine Chapel-esque ceiling, but Mariota’s running ability is a big plus. His wide receivers are collectively below average, but it’s nice that Kendall Wright showed a pulse last week, and Delanie Walker remains one of the better pass-catching TEs in the league. I think he’s back to where we had him pegged in August: low-end QB1 territory.

By the way, Beller, have you noticed that we play each other this week in the one league we’re in together? No Eddie Lacy or Carlos Hyde for me, so I’ll do my best Lou Holtz imitation and say that I don’t know how I’m going to be able to compete with a team as great as Odell’s Vengeance, but we’re going to give it a go, and hopefully we can stay within a couple touchdowns of your squad. (Never mind that Yahoo considers me a 51% favorite.)

Speaking of your team, I can’t help but notice that you’re starting Blake Bortles this week. (It’s a super-flex league, dear readers, so you shouldn’t think THAT much less of my colleague for starting Bad News Blake.) Pretty much everyone in this Jacksonville offense has disappointed this year, Marqise Lee notwithstanding. What are you expecting the rest of the way from Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns, Julius Thomas, Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon?

Beller: Just as I started to write my reply, I saw a shocking statistic. Lambeau Field opened in 1957, and the Bears have visited 57 times. In all of those games, the Bears have had one 300-yard passer. I sat nonplussed for a second, and then, when I came to, immediately pulled up the Pro-Football-Reference play index to confirm the stat’s veracity. It’s true. Erik Kramer threw for 318 yards and two touchdowns in a 35-28 Packers victory on Nov. 12, 1995. That basically sums up the Bears-Packers rivalry in my lifetime. Curtis Conway, Rashaan Salaam, Edgar Bennett and Robert Brooks all had two touchdowns in that game, putting a blow on this blast from the fantasy football past. A Cubs-Indians World Series would be something, notably in the Beller household, which is home to a lifelong Cubs fan and a born-and-bred Clevelander, the future Mrs. Beller. As I said in the roundtable a few weeks ago, she’s not a huge sports fan, but she is very loyal to her hometown. I like to think that in a battle between me and Cleveland, though, she’s on my side all the way.

Ah yes, Odell’s Vengeance. I think the only thing that makes me happy about that team is OBJ, and how he and I are taking on the world, one touchdown at a time. I cannot believe that team is 4–2. That was a relatively early draft because of conflicting schedules, and as the commish, I was just as worried about making sure everything went smoothly for everyone and that we had a good setup at the bar that hosted us. But hey, I’ll take 4–2 with the fourth-most points in the league. I definitely catch a break facing you in a week where you’ll be without Lacy and Hyde. I definitely like my chances, especially with that James White share starting to pay off now that Tom Brady is back. And I do think this will be a good week for Blake Bortles against a substandard Oakland defense. Before tackling the Jaguars, let’s give a hat tip to The MMQB’s Emily Kaplan, who is in fourth place in that league.

I’ll take the Jacksonville running backs first, because I think they’re the easiest to diagnose. I expect little to nothing from both Ivory and Yeldon. That offensive line is just a mess, particularly when it comes to run blocking. The only team they’ve had any success on the ground against this season was the Colts, and the Indy defense could end the season among the most futile against the run in league history. You can squint and see a path to fantasy relevance for Ivory because he gets goal-line work, but I don’t want either of these guys near my starting lineup. As for Hurns, I was off him all summer, and we’ve seen why all season. As good as his numbers were last year, he was a product of all the volume in the Jacksonville offense. I figured both the defense and run game would be improved this season, thus taking away a lot of that volume. My reasoning wasn’t exactly right, but it got me to the same point, and sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. I’ve never been a Julius Thomas fan, and I think he’s once again proving that he was nothing more than a product of Peyton Manning’s Denver offense, one of the best offenses we’ve ever seen. I do think that Bortles and especially Robinson will be mostly fine, but Bortles’s erratic ways are going to hurt both of them. For me, Bortles is a streamer who projects as a mid-tier QB2 for the rest of the season. As for Robinson, I’ve got him right on the WR1/2 borderline. If you want to compare struggling first-round receivers, give me DeAndre Hopkins over Robinson all day.

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What else jumps out at you this week? I’m excited to see how the Chiefs use Jamaal Charles and Spencer Ware against New Orleans. Given the Saints’ struggles on defense, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a similar script to last week, when the Chiefs split touches pretty evenly between the two for three quarters, and then let Ware salt away the clock in the fourth.

I think we see a big day for Andy Dalton and A.J. Green with the Browns visiting Cincinnati. I know Cleveland is the center of the sports universe right now, but the Browns are exempt from that. Luckily for them, I don’t think most Browns fans will care if they get waxed by their in-state brethren to the southwest this week. New England and Pittsburgh could have been an offensive onslaught previewing the AFC Championship Game, but that matchup lost all of its luster thanks to Ben Roethlisberger’s knee injury.

I’m also interested to see what Washington, a team I’ve really come around on the last few weeks, can do going into Detroit. I like the Redskins to come out of there with a victory, and I’ve got Kirk Cousins as a top-six quarterback this week. Detroit is terrible against the pass, and that doesn’t seem to be getting much attention.

Fitz: What jumps out to me about the Week 7 slate? How about Brock Osweiler’s emotional return to Denver on Monday night? Think Broncos fans will get misty-eyed? It doesn’t figure to be a banner night for the aforementioned Hopkins or for his tag-team partner, Will Fuller. And by the way, I can’t agree with your Hopkins-over-Robinson choice for rest-of-season value. Give me A-Rob in that one. I still stubbornly believe he’s a true WR1.

The Bills-Dolphins game is somewhat intriguing from a fantasy perspective. LeSean McCoy is a game-time decision, and if he can’t go it will be interesting to see what Mike Gillislee can do in his stead. Granted, the sample size I’m about to lay on you isn’t big, but Gillislee has a career average of 5.8 yards per carry, with five TD runs on 70 rushing attempts. Shady probably isn’t going to get Wally Pipp-ed, but Gillislee looks like a pretty decent fantasy start against a poor Miami run defense. Bills QB Tyrod Taylor doesn’t have Sammy Watkins, and Buffalo has been run-heavy this season, and yet Taylor is QB12 right now in fantasy scoring. I don’t know how the guy does it, since he can look positively Bortles-like on some of his throws. And his primary targets right now are Robert Woods, Charles Clay and Marquise Goodwin. Go figure.

For the Dolphins, I want to see how Jay Ajayi fares after the 200-yard breakout day against the Steelers. He and Adam Gase don’t seem to be bosom buddies, so I’m not entirely sure Ajayi has the lead role nailed down. It will be interesting to see what sort of role Arian Foster plays this week. And what’s up with DeVante Parker? He had eight catches for 106 yards in the opener. In the four games since, he’s averaged three receptions and 42.3 yards. He’s an enigma.

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And we have to mention Chargers-Falcons. In a week that’s probably going to offer a few defensive struggles—Vikings-Eagles, Seahawks-Cardinals and maybe Ravens-Jets and Giants-Rams—there could be serious fireworks in Atlanta. The deployment of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman is always interesting. And after defying difficult matchups against the Broncos and Seahawks, what is Matt Ryan going to do to the Chargers? But can the Atlanta defense stop San Diego? I’ll be particularly interested to see how your boy Hunter Henry fares against a Falcons defense that struggles against opposing tight ends. I’ve become such a Henry fan. I think he’ll be a top-five tight end in next year’s drafts.

O.K., Beller, let’s tip our hats to Cleveland. Give me your favorite Cleveland Indian and favorite Cleveland Brown of all time. I have to go with Omar Vizquel on the baseball side. What a wizard with the glove. I’m old enough to remember watching Browns games from the Brian Sipe/Greg Pruitt era, so I had the pleasure of getting to watch Ozzie Newsome play. He’s a tremendous general manager now, but he was an even better tight end.

Beller: You stole my favorite Indians player of all-time. I love football. Always have, always will. But you know I’m a baseball guy first, and there’s nothing I like more in sports than great infield defense. Obviously, that leads to me being a huge fan of shortstop play, and Vizquel is part of an elite class of defensive shortstop. I’d pay to watch him take infield, and then to step into the old second-base spot of Carlos Baerga (my fiancé’s favorite Cleveland Indian) and turn a few double plays with him. Just to spice it up, I’ll add Kenny Lofton to the mix. Just a joy to watch because A) he was great, and B) you always knew he was having a good time. He gets bonus points for being a huge part of the Cubs run to the NLCS in 2003.

As for my favorite Brown, should I just troll Browns fans and say Braylon Edwards? I’m pretty sure he’s every Browns fan’s least favorite Brown, a Michigan man making bad in Cleveland. The old Browns left Cleveland when I was 11, so I don’t remember that version too well. The new Browns haven’t exactly been all that fun. As a football fan and fantasy player, no one jumps out at me, so I’m going to go with your guy and mine, Joe Thomas. Once a Badger, always a Badger, except in the case of Bret Bielema.

The Mike Gillislee thing is throwing me for a loop. I grabbed him in a few leagues last week thinking I’d never use him, and now I’m wondering if I’d be crazy to have him on my bench, assuming he starts this week. In fact, Gillislee vs. Ajayi is a decision I could be making in one league this week. Where would you go with that? It’s hard to bench Ajayi after what we saw last week, but, as you said, Gillislee has been great in short doses for a while now. Is it possible he’d have a stronger grip on a Buffalo backfield without McCoy than Ajayi would on a Miami one that includes a fully practicing Arian Foster? As for DeVante Parker, he’s persona non grata for me. I had a ton of faith in him at the start of the summer, and then he sucked me back in with that big performance in his season debut. I’m not going to be the Charlie Brown to his Lucy any longer.

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You hit the nail on the head with all these defensively driven games, and that’s why I think investment in Chargers-Falcons, from both a season-long (if you can) and daily perspective is all the more important. I wouldn’t be surprised if we had two top-five quarterbacks, two top-five running backs, a top-five receiver and a top-five tight end from that game. In fact, that’s exactly where I have Matt Ryan, Philip Rivers, Devonta Freeman, Melvin Gordon, Julio Jones and Hunter Henry ranked this week. O.K., so I have Gordon as my RB6, but that’s close enough. I’ve gotten my fair share of calls wrong this season (see Parker above), but I will take all the pats on the back anyone wants to offer for Henry. The talent and opportunity once Antonio Gates went down just seemed too great a combination for him to miss. Not only is he going to be a top-five tight end next season, I think he’s the league’s next great player at the position.

All right, Fitz, time for us to wrap this thing up. I’ll give you the last word, but I’m going to give you the assist. I’m John Stockton, you’re Karl Malone. Or, for our younger readers, I’m Chris Paul, you’re Blake Griffin. Or for our even younger readers, I’m Kris Dunn, you’re Karl-Anthony Towns. First, are there any upsets you like this week? Washington is such a modest pick in that regard, but they are underdogs and I do think they take care of business in Detroit. Second, who’s the linchpin of your DFS lineups? I’m building pretty much everything around Andy Dalton and DeMarco Murray.

That’ll do it for me, Fitz. Bring it on home and Bear Down.

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Fitz: Beller, you’re the first person to ever compare me to Blake Griffin ... or Karl-Anthony Towns ... or anyone else with jumping ability. As anyone who’s ever played basketball with or against me can attest, you wouldn’t be able to slide a children’s book underneath my feet when I jump. But I’ll catch your behind-the-back pass and gently lay it in off the backboard, thank you very much.

First, I’m taking Gillislee in a mano-a-mano fantasy battle against Ajayi (and this is coming from a guy who just dropped a boatload of FAAB money on Ajayi in two leagues). It comes down to matchups for me. Miami = bad run defense. Buffalo = good run defense. I think Ajayi is a better player than Gillislee. I know Buffalo has a better run defense than Miami.

Yes! The Ginga Ninja! Glad you agree that Andy Dalton is a great season-long and DFS play this week. The matchup against the Browns is irresistible. It might be different if the Browns had cornerbacks like Hanford Dixon and Frank Minnifield—two more of my favorite Browns of yore. That is far from the case, however. I’ve entered one DFS lineup and plan to enter one more, and the previously mentioned Hunter Henry will be in both. He’s the 11th most expensive tight end on DraftKings, and the matchup against Atlanta makes him a steal at his price. I also like Chris Ivory as a bargain-basement special at only $3,400 on DK. I think he’s starting to take control of the Jacksonville backfield (at least on early downs), and I like the home matchup against the Raiders.

As for an upset special, the Bears were my big one last night, so by the time you read this, I’ll either have added to my modest personal wealth, or I’ll be an impoverished traitor who wagered against his own team. I’m also taking the Chargers and the 6.5 points. Yeah, Atlanta’s offense has looked terrific so far. But the Falcons’ defense ... meh.

All right, my man. Try not to pace a trail into your carpeting during the rest of this NLCS. Peace.