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Fantasy football highs and lows from Week 6: D’Andre Swift delivers

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Week 6 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 offer their analysis.

Yes, the matchup was extremely favorable — the Jaguars entered granting opposing running backs nearly five full PPR fantasy points above average — but Swift’s career-best 27.3 point performance contained additional promising developments. Typically the Lions’ passing-down back, with Adrian Peterson a clear step ahead of Kerryon Johnson as the team’s early-down back, Swift managed 14 rushing attempts, nearly single-handedly led his team downfield for a touchdown on their second drive, and absorbed all four of the team’s rushing attempts inside the Jaguars’ 10-yard line, punching in two of them for touchdowns (including the one on the aforementioned drive). Could it be the turning point of the rookie’s season? Perhaps, though it’s important to point out that Peterson still paced the team’s running backs in snap percentage, so it’s not like the Lions are shifting away from their committee anytime soon. But it’s important to get ahead of any potential shift in roles in this backfield: The Lions have some really good second-half matchups (see: Panthers, Week 11; Texans, Week 12; Packers, Week 14), and Swift’s ceiling, if he can earn the requisite touches, is legitimately RB1. — Cockcroft

Derrick Henry isn’t slowing down

Say hello to your Week 6, 1 p.m. ET game block PPR scoring leader (40.4), and bear in mind it was a nine-game block. While it wasn’t a career best — Henry’s 47.8 PPR fantasy points in Week 14 of 2018 still holds that honor — it’s important to note that five of his eight best single-game performances have now come in his past 11 regular-season games played, with two 200-plus yards from scrimmage playoff performances sandwiched in there. The Titans continue to utilize Henry as a true go-to running back, and while that’s something that might worry you from a fatigue standpoint, he’s a prime-age 26 years old and is the kind of back who seems to gain a ton of momentum the more you use him — a point Matt aptly made in one of our in-game discussions when Henry was off to a sluggish Weeks 1-2 start — with 32 of his 47 career regular-season touchdowns coming after halftime and seven of his 10 best single-game scores coming in the second half of the NFL season. He’s a locked-in RB1, and one who probably doesn’t receive enough credit as one. — Cockcroft

A.J. Brown thrives in his role

It’s the physical play style here, plus the red zone ability, that has Brown closing in on the WR1 tier. In his past two games, Brown has caught 12 of 16 targets for 148 yards and three scores. And all three of those touchdown grabs came inside the red zone. That’s where we see his route running, strong hands at the catch point and the one-on-one ability to body up defenders. Plus, in Tennessee’s offensive structure, with Ryan Tannehill at quarterback, Brown also will be schemed open on crossers and in-breakers off play-action. And catch-and-run opportunities. With a matchup versus a very good Pittsburgh secondary in Week 7, Brown will land as a high-end WR2 in my ranks. — Bowen

Justin Jefferson continues to rack up stats

After catching nine of 11 targets for 166 yards (with two touchdowns), the rookie has topped the 100-yard receiving mark in three of his past four games. Sure, game flow played a role on Sunday, as Minnesota was down early to Atlanta. However, even in matchups in which Minnesota can control offensive tempo, Jefferson still has a high ceiling given the deep-ball play-action in this system, plus the rookie’s ability to create separation on crossers and over routes. He will be a solid WR2 in my ranks when the Vikings return from the bye with a Week 8 matchup versus the zone-heavy Packers defense. — Bowen


Quick-hitters

Lamar Jackson, QB, Baltimore Ravens: Lamar rushed for 108 yards and a touchdown in the Week 6 win over the Eagles, with his 37-yard score coming on a designed-run concept. However, the Baltimore passing game remains stagnant, as Jackson has now failed to top the 200-yard passing mark in four straight games. When the Ravens return from the bye with a Week 8 matchup versus the Steelers, Lamar will slide down into the mid-tier QB1 range in my ranks. — Bowen

Cam Newton, New England Patriots: Newton did rush for 76 yards and a score in the Week 6 loss to Denver, but this New England passing game looked out of rhythm from the jump, which forced hesitation from the quarterback in the pocket. Newton finished with just 157 yards passing, and has now failed to top the 200-yard passing mark in three of his four starts this season. With a lack of explosive-play targets in this offense, the Patriots need the play-action concepts to get rolling. They must open up the middle of the field for Newton on seams and crossers. Look for Newton to stay as a lower-tier QB1 for the Week 7 matchup versus the 49ers’ defense. — Bowen

David Montgomery, RB, Chicago Bears: Well, that was fun, wasn’t it? (#sarcasm) Gifted the most favorable matchup among running backs entering the week — the Panthers were granting opposing running backs PPR fantasy points compared to their season average, adjusting for the schedule — Montgomery bombed, scoring only 13.7 points. Worst of all, he managed season highs with 19 rushing attempts and 23 total touches, not to mention three carries on goal-to-goal plays, which included a pair of goal-line opportunities where he was stuffed at the line of scrimmage. If you were blaming most of Montgomery’s problems in terms of fantasy production on the Bears’ playcalling, that wasn’t a valid excuse Sunday, and it’s fair to wonder whether he’s truly capable of greater than midrange RB2 status. Upcoming matchups with the Rams (Week 7), Saints (8), Titans (9) and Vikings (10) don’t seem likely to vault him much higher than that in my rankings. — Cockcroft

Chase Claypool, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers: With a matchup versus the Titans in Week 7, Claypool will be on that WR2/3 line in my ranks. The rookie found the end zone for the second straight week on a schemed-up red zone carry, and we saw the explosive traits again with Claypool in the Steelers’ route tree. He gives this offense another vertical element. And with Pittsburgh finding ways to get him the ball, I expect the volume to remain consistent here. In the past two games, Claypool has racked up 197 total yards — with 5 touchdowns — on 17 touches. — Bowen

Tim Patrick, WR, Denver Broncos: Never overlook the less-competitive teams, as opportunity can do a lot to generate fantasy production. Patrick now has back-to-back 100-yard performances, capitalizing upon the injuries to Courtland Sutton, KJ Hamler and now Noah Fant, and in Week 6, Patrick enjoyed a team-best 33% target share (8-of-24), the second straight game he can claim the lead in that category. Hamler’s and Fant’s injury status will have a bearing on Patrick’s usefulness in fantasy going forward, but he’s well worth a WR3 look when he’s tasked with an expanded role in the offense. — Cockcroft

Ryan Tannehill, QB, Tennessee Titans: He just keeps piling on the fantasy stats. His 28.6 on Sunday pushed his seasonal average to a healthy 23.5 and gave him five of his 10 best single-game scores in what is now a 103-start career in his past 11 regular-season games played. Tannehill and the Titans are rolling on offense, and their bye is in the rearview. They do have a tricky midseason schedule — Bears in Week 9, Colts in Week 10 and 12 and Ravens in Week 11 — but the veteran quarterback has made quite a case for himself as a back-end, albeit matchups-conscious, QB1. — Cockcroft

Brandon McManus, K, Denver Broncos: His 24 fantasy points were the most by any kicker since Jason Myers’ 27 in Week 6 of the 2018 season. They are tied for the eighth-most at this position since at least 1950, and they were only five points shy of Rob Bironas’ single-game record of 29, set in Week 7 of 2007. — Cockcroft

Ronald Jones II, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: With Leonard Fournette still banged up, Jones posted his third straight 100-yard rushing game. You can see the juice he brings to this offense, too. Downhill with speed, plus the ability to slip through defenders at the second level. He can also handle No. 1 volume. I see Jones as a RB2 in Week 7 versus the Raiders, even if Fournette is up for the game. It’s the play-speed difference there. — Bowen

Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: His 2.0 PPR fantasy points were the third fewest he has scored in any of his 96 career NFL games, and keep in mind that his two worst, as well as his fourth worst, came against the Saints, and in two of those contests he was shadowed by Marshon Lattimore. While Jaire Alexander presented a problem for Evans in this one, Evans’ team-leading 24 routes combined with the comeback performance of tight end Rob Gronkowski (18.8 PPR fantasy points) and Chris Godwin’s 5-of-7 effort catching his targets signaled concern among Evans’ fantasy managers. As the Buccaneers get healthier, there’s legitimate question as to whether Tom Brady, who doesn’t offer much in terms of vertical passing, can deliver the ball consistently and effectively enough to feed all of his receivers. Evans does have six touchdowns through six weeks, so he continues to warrant WR2 consideration, but he might play frequently into the hands of his matchups and is in danger of inconsistency — often delivering stinkers at the most inopportune times. — Cockcroft

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

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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+
– 2020 MLS Playoffs: Who’s in, schedule and more
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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.”

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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

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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

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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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