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Fantasy football highs and lows from NFL Week 3: Josh Allen on historic pace



Week 3 of the fantasy football season featured plenty of notable performances around the NFL on Sunday. What should we make of them? Matt Bowen and Tristan H. Cockcroft are here with analysis on the biggest performers — and duds — of the week.

His performance thus far has been one of the most promising developments of 2020, and let’s get right to the history first. With his 31.2 fantasy points on Sunday, Allen has 93.9 for the season, and that is the second-most by any quarterback through his team’s first three games of any season since at least 1950, trailing only Ryan Fitzpatrick‘s 97.4 as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers‘ starter to begin 2018. But don’t let “Fitzmagic’s” tale from the remainder of that season down your optimism for Allen in this, which has all the markers of a huge breakthrough campaign. Allen has made monstrous strides with his accuracy, completing 71.1% of his overall pass attempts (58.8% in 2019), especially on deep throws, as he is 8-of-13 (61.5%) on passes that traveled at least 20 yards downfield and 30-of-45 (66.7%) on throws of 10-plus yards, after he completed just 22.2% and 44.5% respectively in 2019. Best yet: He did it against a Los Angeles Rams defense that presented his toughest 2020 matchup to date, a sure sign that Allen, rather than his matchups, deserves the full credit. You’re looking at a locked-in, weekly top-five QB: Lamar Jackson, Patrick Mahomes, Dak Prescott, Russell Wilson and Allen are probably going to capture those five slots in the rankings each and every week, barring any of them facing a super-stingy D. — Cockcroft

Tristan, I’ll add this on Allen: Look at the QB designed runs inside the tight red zone (10-yard line to goal line). On Sunday, Allen only rushed for 8 yards, but he did produce a touchdown on a speed option play. So, in addition to what Allen can do on schemed throws and second-reaction plays, his ability as a runner — which is definitely a part of the Bills game plan in scoring position — boosts his rapidly ascending fantasy value even more. — Bowen

Dalvin Cook has the look

The scoring production was there for Cook in the first two weeks of the season (three touchdowns), but this is what managers expected when they drafted him as a top-5 play at the position. Cook looked really explosive on Sunday — versus a quality Tennessee defense — finishing with 199 total yards and a score on 24 touches. But this is also what you get from Cook when the Vikings can play within the flow of their offense. Remember, Minnesota is a run-heavy team that builds out to set up the play-action pass game. And when Cook gets his 20-25 touches, he will be in position to produce upper-tier RB1 numbers. — Bowen

Joe Burrow continues to open eyes

I’m plenty impressed by his play through three weeks, including the prime-time Week 2 contest during which he had his best individual weekly score (24.5), and it’s time to declare Burrow a locked-in weekly QB2. He has shown plenty of poise in the pocket, good accuracy (64.5% completion) and, despite not showing it on Sunday, the mobility you want in a fantasy quarterback. Remember, Burrow’s Weeks 1 and 3 matchups weren’t exactly the easiest matchups, especially for a rookie passer, and despite that schedule he has totaled 61.2 fantasy points, becoming only the 18th quarterback since at least 1950 to score at least 60 points in his first three career starts. There are some tough matchups in Burrow’s future, including the Weeks 5-6 road assignments at Baltimore and Indianapolis, but he’s a definite “go” for Week 4 against the Jacksonville Jaguars. — Cockcroft

Tristan, I think you can start Burrow in Week 4 as a QB1 in deeper leagues versus that Jags defense. We are seeing all of the traits here that made Burrow the No.1 pick. He’s a decisive thrower, the processing speed jumps, and his movement ability creates more production opportunities. Now, toss in the scheme fit with formation, alignment and route design. There’s a reason Burrow — in a heavy volume pass offense — has thrown for over 300 yards (with 5 touchdowns) in his last two games. — Bowen

Justin Jefferson breaks out

His 30.5 PPR fantasy points Sunday were the most by any wide receiver, and he enjoyed a 36% (9-of-25) target share in doing it! Rookies reaching the 30-point plateau aren’t that uncommon, but he shares the future-superstar skills of many of the other names on the list from the past decade, including Odell Beckham Jr. (5 times), Amari Cooper, Michael Thomas (2 times), JuJu Smith-Schuster (2 times), Calvin Ridley and A.J. Brown. — Cockcroft

After Jefferson’s breakout game versus Tennessee (7-of-9 targets, 175 yards receiving, one touchdown), the rookie wide receiver will be a prime pick-up on waivers this week. Rostered in just 33.8% of ESPN leagues, we saw how the Vikings can scheme up the rookie — especially off play-action. And with a matchup versus Houston in Week 4, Jefferson has WR3 upside in deeper league formats. — Bowen


Carson Wentz, QB, Philadelphia Eagles: After another multiple-interception game — his third straight to start the season — is it time to sit Wentz down and look for a replacement quarterback in your lineup? Sure, Wentz battled today. We can see that. But he’s looked tentative as a thrower this year, and his ball location has been inconsistent. Now, add in more injuries for the Eagles pass-catchers, plus a three game stretch coming up for Wentz against the 49ers, Steelers and Ravens defenses. Brutal stuff. I wouldn’t drop Wentz from your roster at this point, but I do recommend going to your QB2 or picking up a new starter off waivers. — Bowen

Brandon Aiyuk, WR, San Francisco 49ers: A hamstring injury might’ve cost him Week 1, but Aiyuk returned to play 42 of 59 (71%) snaps in Week 2, then burst forth with a 21.1 PPR fantasy point performance on Sunday. He capitalized upon injuries to George Kittle (knee) and Deebo Samuel (foot), and while their eventual return — Week 4? — will probably prevent a repeat of his 23% (8-of-35) target share, Aiyuk might’ve done enough to earn himself a good amount of run as a slot and/or outside receiver, especially in three-receiver sets. Coach Kyle Shanahan kept getting creative with the rookie in Week 3, including a 19-yard rushing touchdown, and that versatility could prove useful in the future. Certainly Aiyuk warrants a pickup as you build your depth. — Cockcroft

Darrell Henderson, RB, Los Angeles Rams: Henderson (120 total yards, one score) was the lead back on Sunday, totaling 21 touches to Malcom Brown‘s seven. And the Rams are getting much better play from the interior of the offensive line, plus the amount of misdirection in Sean McVay’s offense creates leverage in the run game. Now, we have to wait on the injury status of rookie Cam Akers heading into Week 4. However, if Akers is down again, then Henderson is a solid RB2 play versus a sub-par Giants defense. — Bowen

Jerick McKinnon, RB, San Francisco 49ers: Can anyone stay healthy in that San Francisco 49ers backfield? With Tevin Coleman (knee) on injured reserve and Raheem Mostert (knee) also sidelined, McKinnon put together a third consecutive productive fantasy point total despite limited touches — although his 17 in this one were easily his season high. Unfortunately, he reportedly suffered a rib injury in the process, which bears watching during the next several days. Jeff Wilson Jr., who had 15 touches and a backfield-leading 21.9 PPR fantasy points, would be the next man up, but keep an eye on JaMycal Hasty, promoted from the practice squad over the weekend, who warrants a just-in-case stash. — Cockcroft


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Toronto FC hoping to make MLS Cup run having spent much of 2020 far from home



On a recent Thursday in Hartford, Conn., Toronto FC goalkeeper Quentin Westberg pondered the dichotomy of wanting to reach MLS Cup on Dec. 12, but also desiring to see his family again. Meanwhile, Jim Liston, the team’s director of sports science, was planning a trip to Lowe’s to buy 15 garbage cans so players could have an ice bath after training. As for manager Greg Vanney, he was fretting about his team’s health and the lack of practice time their schedule was affording.

Such is the life of a team as it attempts to not only navigate its way through the COVID-19 pandemic, but has been forced to do it away from home.

Due to travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada, TFC — like the league’s other two Canadian teams, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps — set up a “home” base in the U.S. for the remainder of the season; Toronto were stationed in Hartford. (Vancouver Whitecaps took roost in Portland, ground-sharing with Timbers, while Montreal Impact split use of New York Red Bulls’ facilities in Harrison, N.J.) This was on top of nearly every team spending nearly a month inside a bubble back in July at the MLS is Back Tournament outside Orlando, Florida.

The Reds spent about seven weeks back in Toronto as they played a series of matches against Canadian teams. In mid-September, the remainder of the regular season — and the temporary move to Hartford — beckoned. The vagabond nature of the campaign is what led Liston to joke that he was willing to discuss “whatever five seasons” the team has been through so far. But for Vanney and the players, the campaign has required a special kind of focus.

“A lot of what we’ve done here, and what we try to preach here is just control the controllables, and don’t get too drawn into the things you can’t,” Vanney told ESPN. “Roll with it, and make the best out of whatever the situation is.”

Stream FC Daily on ESPN+
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Toronto has largely succeeded in spite of its odyssey. While there was disappointment at missing out on the Supporters’ Shield to the Philadelphia Union, TFC went 7-3-2 during its Hartford sojourn and finished with the second-best record in the league. But the challenges have still been immense. Simply being out of one’s home environment is difficult enough, but the time spent away from family and loved ones weighs heavy on the psyche, even as Vanney has given players the occasional trip back to Toronto — under quarantine — to reconnect with loved ones.

“It’s just very different, very challenging and emotionally exhausting,” Westberg said of his experience while based in Hartford.

Westberg has arguably had it tougher than most. The TFC goalkeeper is married with four children, including a baby girl who was born in June. For that reason, Westberg and his wife, Ania, made the decision at the end of September that it would be better for her and their kids to head back to his native France so they could be surrounded by family. Westberg called it “the least bad decision,” but there are difficulties nonetheless.

“I’m a very even person, and this year has challenged me a lot,” he said. “I’m still pretty even, but I keep a lot to myself and for sure there’s some difficult days, seeing your family [struggle] from your absence.”

The inability to be home has affected the players and staff in other ways. In Toronto, there are ways of disengaging from the game. Being with friends, loved ones or even in familiar surroundings can be the best medicine in terms of forgetting a bad game or training session. But in Hartford, at the team’s hotel, that escape is nearly impossible even as players try to distract themselves by reading or taking online classes.

“You don’t really unplug,” Westberg said. “You FaceTime family, or this or that, but it’s too short. You’re 100 percent focused on your soccer, and your whole day basically relies on being ready for whatever soccer activity that you have next, whether it’s practice or game. It’s good for your physique, it’s optimal for the way you eat and the way you [train]. But mentally, you’re not as fresh as your body.”

That isn’t to say there are only negatives to the separation. There is also an us-against-the-world mentality that Toronto has adopted, given that their players and personnel are experiencing the season in a way that is vastly different than most other teams. The team staff has done what it can to make their surroundings a home away from home, whether it’s personalizing the locker rooms at Rentschler Field or having hotel staff brand the surroundings in TFC colors. The hotel went so far as to bring in a barista who could consistently give the players their coffee fix. Supporters groups have even sent down banners in a bid to convey the fact that the players are remembered.

The care that TFC takes for players has extended to families back home, with the club supplying meals to loved ones three times a week.

On the logistical side, Liston made sure that one of the gyms used at MLS is Back was brought to TFC’s hotel in Hartford, and he remarked that the food at the hotel is “arguably the best we’ve ever had on the road.”

There have also been efforts to create new routines. Assistant coach Jason Bent, aka DJ Soops, has been in charge of the pregame music selection for the past 18 months — no easy feat for a squad that has a considerable international presence. In Hartford, Bent has set aside Thursday nights to spin music in one area of the hotel. He’ll even go live on Instagram or Twitch for those who prefer to relax in their rooms.

“[We] opened it to players and staff and basically anyone that’s part of our bubble to come relax, listen to music and just enjoy each other’s company,” Bent said. “I enjoy making people happy so if it’s helping everyone even in the slightest, I have no problem arranging the set and spinning.”

For Vanney, the pandemic and operating outside of the team’s home market has meant any number of challenges. He said the team has used three different training facilities in Hartford, with varying field conditions. He recognizes that the trips home are vital for the mental health of his players and staff, but any breaks also mean less time spent on the practice field. The compressed schedule, which at times involved games every three or four days, has had an impact as well. Even the best-laid plans in terms of squad rotation were impacted as minor injuries began popping up.

“We end up with a lot of guys in different positions because they need special kinds of treatment or care to help them get fit and back to health,” Vanney said. “So it ends up being a lot of different things kind of going on all at once, and that’s been the challenge of it.”

Recovery from matches has been complicated by the fact that TFC doesn’t have access to the same level of facilities that it does at home — hence Liston’s emergency trip to Lowe’s to fashion impromptu ice baths for the players. Then there are the different ways the players occupy themselves on the road as compared to home, especially amid the pandemic.

“There’s really no life outside of the hotel,” Liston said. “[At home], you may go walk the dog in the afternoon or go for a walk with your wife or friend or girlfriend or family and you’re out and about. The recommendation [here] is to kind of stay put. So you’ve got a really active population and pro athletes, who we’re asking them to be sedentary the rest of the time, kind of stay in the hotel from a COVID and safety standpoint. That’s not optimal for recovery either.”

There are also the creature comforts of home that are no longer available on the road, which can impact sleep.

“Sleep is the number one tool for recovery, and that’s definitely been a challenge,” Liston said. “We do well-being questionnaires and the scores on quality of sleep, and hours of sleep, just drop.”



Tom Barlow and Brian White seal Toronto’s fate in a 2-1 win for New York Red Bulls. Watch MLS on ESPN+.

Another change has been same-day travel, which has drawn mixed reactions from the TFC players and staff. Vanney and Westberg are generally in favor, saying it reminds them of when they each played in France. Flying back the same night also means a training day isn’t lost. Liston has a different perspective in that he prefers arriving the day before, and then leaving the same day.

“I think [same-day travel] makes for a really long day,” he said. “And there’s definitely a negative impact on performance, taking three bus rides and a plane ride before your game. You’re getting home — it can be 12:30, but it could also be 1:30 in the morning, and that’s where you know our well-being scores and sleep hours and quality just disappear. When you have so many games in succession, you can’t make up the sleep.”

With the playoffs set to begin for TFC on Nov. 24, the end is in sight, even as it makes for a complex — and even conflicting — set of emotions.

“This is the tricky part. I miss them a lot,” Westberg said of his family. “But in a way I want to see them as [late] as possible in December, because obviously, there’s this idea that we want to do well in the playoffs and we want to keep going. TFC has a history of setting high standards and high expectations. It’s a heavy load to carry but also an exciting one.”

Win or lose, it’s a season they’ll never forget.


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Bettman: NHL is mulling temporary realignment



The NHL is considering a temporary realignment of its teams for the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, according to commissioner Gary Bettman.

Bettman said Tuesday that restrictions on travel across the Canadian border, as well as “limitations in terms of quarantining when you go from certain states to other states” within the United States, could mean the NHL creates a more regionalized alignment for its upcoming season.

“As it relates to the travel issue, which is obviously the great unknown, we may have to temporarily realign to deal with geography, because having some of our teams travel from Florida to California may not make sense. It may be that we’re better off — particularly if we’re playing a reduced schedule, which we’re contemplating — keeping it geographically centric and more divisional-based; and realigning, again on a temporary basis, to deal with the travel issues,” Bettman said during a 2020 Paley International Council Summit panel with fellow commissioners Adam Silver of the NBA and Rob Manfred of MLB.

The NHL board of governors has a meeting scheduled for Thursday which will provide a progress report and possible recommendations for a season format, based on talks between the league and the NHL Players’ Association. The target date for starting next season remains Jan. 1.

Bettman said the league is considering a few scheduling options for the 2020-21 season. Something that’s off the table: playing the entire season in the kind of bubbles the NHL had in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta, to complete last season. But Bettman said teams opening in their own arenas is a possibility, along with a modified bubble.

“We are exploring the possibility of playing in our own buildings without fans [or] fans where you can, which is going to be an arena-by-arena issue. But we’re also exploring the possibility of a hub. You’ll come in. You’ll play for 10 to 12 days. You’ll play a bunch of games without traveling. You’ll go back, go home for a week, be with your family. We’ll have our testing protocols and all the other things you need,” he said.

Bettman also indicated that the NHL is exploring “a hybrid, where some teams are in a bubble, some teams play at home and you move in and out.”

The NBA’s board of governors unanimously approved a deal with the players’ union that sets the stage for a season that will open on Dec. 22 and with a reduced schedule of 72 games. Silver said that the commissioners are in communication on COVID-19-related issues, especially the NBA and the NHL, since the two leagues’ teams share arenas and, in some cases, team owners.

Silver said he senses that the NBA will have fans in many of its buildings this season.

“We’re probably going to start one way, where we’re maybe a little bit more conservative than many of the jurisdictions allow,” he said. “What we’ve said to our teams is that we’ll continue to work with public health authorities. Arena issues are different than outdoor stadium issues. There will be certain standards for air filtration and air circulation. There may be a different standard for a suite than there will be for fans spaced in seats.”

Silver said there will be standardized protocols that are consistent from arena to arena, such as proximity between players and fans: “In certain cases, for seats near the floor, we’re going to be putting in testing programs, where fans will certify that they’ve been tested — some within 48 hours, some within day of game.” While Silver supported a continued expansion of the NBA postseason through its play-in tournament, Bettman said that he’s not in favor of expanded playoffs or “playing with the fundamentals of the game.” The NHL had 24 teams in its postseason last summer.


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The Battleground States Where We’ve Seen Some Movement In The Polls



With apologies to The Raconteurs, the presidential race continues to be “steady as she goes,” with little sign of tightening despite a plethora of new polls. FiveThirtyEight’s presidential forecast gives Joe Biden an 89 in 100 shot at winning the election, while President Trump has just an 11 in 100 chance. This makes Biden the favorite, but still leaves open a narrow path to victory for Trump, for whom a reelection win would be surprising — but not utterly shocking.

At the same time, we also have fewer polls from live-caller surveys, which have historically been more accurate and have shown slightly better numbers for Biden, than polls that use other methodologies, such as polls conducted primarily online or through automated telephone calls. Nevertheless, while the overall picture has shifted only a little in recent days, a few battleground states have seen at least some movement in their polls, which has slightly altered the odds Biden or Trump wins in each of those places.

What election stories need to get more coverage | FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast


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