The Fantasy 32 analyzes the NFL from a fantasy perspective, with at least one mention of each of the league’s 32 teams. Though efficiency will be discussed plenty, the column will lean heavily on usage data, as volume is king (by far) in fantasy football. Use these tidbits to make the best waiver-wire, trade and lineup decisions for the upcoming week and beyond. Be sure to check back each week of the season for a new version of the Fantasy 32.
Throughout the below team-by-team rundowns, I’ll be referencing “OFP” and “OTD.” OFP stands for opportunity-adjusted fantasy points. Imagine a league in which players are created equal. OFP is a statistic that weighs every pass/carry/target and converts the data into one number that indicates a player’s opportunity to score fantasy points, or his “expected” fantasy point total. For example, if a player has an OFP of 14.5, it means that a league-average player who saw the same workload in the same location on the field would have scored 14.5 fantasy points. FORP is the difference between a player’s actual fantasy point total and his OFP. OTD works the same way, except instead of fantasy points, it’s touchdowns. Volume is king in fantasy football, so this is not information you want to overlook.
That said, here is the post-Week 7 OFP Leaderboard:
*Complete OTD and OFP positional leaderboards will be posted on ESPN+ this week.
Next, here are the players who exceeded their OFP by the largest margin this past week and are thus candidates to see a dip in fantasy production moving forward, assuming they see a similar workload:
And these players fell short of their OFP by the largest margin last week, and thus you shouldn’t be too quick to overreact to their performance when making lineup, trade or waiver decisions:
Arizona Cardinals: Kenyan Drake struggled with and eventually left Sunday night’s game against Seattle with an ankle injury. Arizona’s lead rusher played 31 snaps (39%), whereas Chase Edmonds ended up on the field for 48 plays. Edmonds had the opportunity to carry the ball only five times for 58 yards with Arizona playing catchup down the stretch, but he was a major factor as a receiver (7-87-0 on seven targets). Arizona is headed to its bye week, but if Drake remains out in two weeks, Edmonds will be a borderline RB1 option. Rookies Jonathan Ward (undrafted) and Eno Benjamin (seventh round) would figure to see a few snaps, but it’s very possible Edmonds would push for an 80% snap share. He’s well worth claiming on waivers and stashing through the bye.
Atlanta Falcons: Another week, more Todd Gurley II touchdowns. The 26-year-old found the end zone twice (once accidentally) against Detroit on Sunday and has now scored seven touchdowns in as many games this season. Gurley’s scoring has coincided with a healthy workload, as he’s racked up 122 carries (second most in the NFL) this season, which includes at least 14 attempts in all seven games. Gurley has also seen a boost in passing-game work recently. He was targeted only eight times during Atlanta’s first four games, but he has seen 12 during his past three outings. Gurley’s heavy workload, touchdown production and increased passing-game duties have solidified him as a solid weekly RB2. Fantasy’s No. 8-scoring back has a great matchup against Carolina this week.
Baltimore Ravens: As a group, Ravens’ wide receivers entered the team’s Week 7 bye ranked 31st out of 32 teams in fantasy points per game. The unit is averaging only 14.7 targets per game and has totaled a 58-737-2 receiving line on 88 targets in six games. Despite plenty of offseason Marquise Brown hype, this lack of production shouldn’t be a surprise. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman has called plays for seven seasons and only one of his WR units finished higher than 21st in targets (the 2019 Ravens finished 31st). Brown’s heavy usage (45% air yard share) had him 30th at wide receiver in fantasy points prior to the bye, though he’s managed one top-25 week, compared to four finishes of 38th or worse. Brown remains in the WR3 discussion, but the likes of Willie Snead, Miles Boykin and Devin Duvernay don’t need to be close to rosters.
Buffalo Bills: Cole Beasley caught 11 of 12 targets for 112 yards against the Jets on Sunday. The 31-year-old slot man now has either 53 yards or a touchdown in all seven games this season. That has allowed him at least 9.8 fantasy points every week, and Sunday’s performance vaulted him to 19th among wide receivers in fantasy points this season. Beasley’s usage might drop slightly once John Brown is healthy, but considering he has handled at least six targets in six of seven games, it’s clear he’s settling in as a PPR flex option in Buffalo’s pass-heavy offense.
Carolina Panthers: Curtis Samuel caught all six of his targets for 48 yards and scored a 5-yard touchdown on his only carry against the Saints on Sunday. It was easily Samuel’s best fantasy day of the season, as the score was his first of 2020 and he has yet to clear 51 receiving yards in a game. Samuel’s average of 4.8 targets and 2.7 carries per game has allowed him only one weekly finish better than 36th and two better than 48th. The Panthers have been vocal about their efforts to get Samuel more involved, but he was on the field for only 47% of the offensive snaps Sunday (his lowest rate since Week 11 back in 2018). Carolina’s versatile offensive talent remains a borderline bench option who can’t be trusted in the flex.
Chicago Bears: Jimmy Graham caught five of six targets for 31 yards against the Rams on Monday Night Football. Graham has handled five or more targets in six of seven games this season, including each of his past five. The usage hasn’t led to much in terms of yardage, as Graham has totaled no fewer than 31 yards but no more than 34 in four consecutive games. He has found the end zone four times this season, but his 6-60-2 receiving line on 10 targets back in Week 3 is looking more and more like a major fluke. Graham is a TE2 option who is going to hit for you only if he finds his way into the end zone.
Cincinnati Bengals: Joe Mixon was sidelined Sunday, which allowed Giovani Bernard to play 75% of the offensive snaps (55 of 73). Samaje Perine (two touches on 19 snaps) and Trayveon Williams (zero) were non factors, but Bernard obviously was not. The scat back didn’t do much on the ground (13-37-0) but put up a healthy 5-59-1 receiving line on five targets and finished the week as a top-10 fantasy RB. Mixon is questionable for Week 8, so if he remains out, Bernard’s usage suggests he’ll be right back on the RB1 radar against the Titans.
Cleveland Browns: Odell Beckham Jr. went down for the season with a knee injury Sunday after only two snaps. With the team’s No. 1 wideout sidelined, Rashard Higgins played 44 snaps (86%), which led the team’s wide receiver room. Higgins caught all six of his targets for 110 yards in the last-second victory. Higgins is a fan favorite but apparently not liked very much by multiple coaching staffs, as he has often been a healthy scratch and/or buried on the bench the past few seasons. That, of course, will change now with Beckham out. Higgins, who found the end zone in a situational role in both Weeks 5 and 6, is positioned as one of Baker Mayfield’s top targets. He’s well worth a bench spot, though not yet a flex option in one of the league’s run-heaviest and tight end-dependent offenses. Jarvis Landry, meanwhile, is a more secure WR3, and rookie Donovan Peoples-Jones (35 snaps on Sunday) is worth a flier in deep and dynasty leagues.
Dallas Cowboys: Michael Gallup went without a catch on two targets in Washington on Sunday. Gallup has now posted receiving-yardage totals of 23 and 0 during Andy Dalton’s two starts, and that comes after we were already worried about his low target share when Dak Prescott was healthy. Gallup has managed double-digit fantasy points only twice in seven games this season, and most of his production came in one game against Seattle back in Week 3. Gallup doesn’t need to be on rosters, and Amari Cooper (7-80-0 on Sunday) is the only Cowboys’ pass catcher who should be locked into lineups right now, though even he is risky after Dallas netted 59 pass yards on Sunday. CeeDee Lamb, by the way, is a risky flex after also failing to catch a pass on Sunday.
Denver Broncos: Jerry Jeudy was held to two catches for 20 yards on four targets against the Chiefs on Sunday. Jeudy has now been held below 33 yards and without a touchdown in back-to-back games after managing at least 55 yards during each of his first four NFL games. The good news is that Jeudy played 76% of the offensive snaps, which led the team’s wide receivers and matches his previous career high. Jeudy’s ceiling doesn’t appear to be very high in Denver’s low-scoring offense, but his target volume and production will improve in better matchups. He’ll be on the flex radar in 12-team leagues over the next few weeks against the Chargers, Falcons and Raiders.
Detroit Lions: T.J. Hockenson caught five of seven targets for 59 yards and the winning touchdown against Atlanta on Sunday. The second-year tight end has now scored in three consecutive games and is up to four touchdowns on the season. Hockenson has been targeted at least four times in all six of Detroit’s games, which has helped him to the sixth-most fantasy points at the position. Hockenson has played 68% of the snaps and sits ninth in receptions, 10th in yardage, fifth in touchdowns, first in OTD (4.2) and first in end zone targets (six) among tight ends this season despite already serving his bye. Hockenson is quietly breaking out in his second NFL season and has emerged as a fine TE1 option.
Green Bay Packers: Aaron Jones was sidelined in Week 7, which opened the door for Jamaal Williams to operate as the team’s feature back. Williams was a workhorse, playing 89% of the offensive snaps (54 of 61), compared to only 14 snaps for AJ Dillon and zero for Dexter Williams. The heavy usage allowed Jamaal Williams a 19-77-1 rushing line, as well as 4-37-0 on five targets. Jones is expected back in Week 8, but if his calf injury costs him another game, Williams will be locked in as an RB1. Dillon, by the way, managed only 11 yards on five carries and wasn’t targeted Sunday, so he won’t be a flex option either way.
Houston Texans: Let’s check in on David Johnson, who has predictably been a high-volume, low-efficiency producer most weeks this season. The 28-year-old was held to 42 yards on 14 carries against the Packers on Sunday, though he has either one rushing touchdown or 63 rushing yards in five of seven games this season. Johnson made up for the shaky rushing day on Sunday with a 4-42-1 receiving line on four targets. It was his first touchdown catch and his highest receiving yardage total in a game this season. Johnson is now up to 101 carries (10th among RBs) for the season, and he has handled three or four targets in six of seven games. He sits fifth among backs with nine carries inside the 5-yard line. Johnson sits 16th in fantasy points and is seeing enough volume to produce as an RB2 most weeks.
Indianapolis Colts: Marlon Mack’s season-ending injury in Week 1 seemed like it was going to vault Jonathan Taylor into a weekly RB1, but the rookie hasn’t yet truly exploded onto the fantasy scene. The story here has been a mixed bag of volume and efficiency as both a rusher and receiver. He has seen good rushing volume (entered the team’s Week 7 bye ranked 10th in carries with 89), but is lacking efficiency (4.1 YPC, 1.3 YAC). As a receiver, he hasn’t cleared four targets in a game since Week 1 and sat 27th among backs in the category, but he has caught 16 of 17 balls thrown his way for 162 yards (ninth most). Taylor has been “fine” (15th in fantasy points through Week 6), but there’s certainly room for more in the Colts’ run-first offense. The Colts are set up with one of the “easiest” schedules for running backs from Week 8 on, so Taylor is a player you might want to try and trade for this week.
Jacksonville Jaguars: James Robinson delivered another strong performance in Week 7, posting a 22-119-1 rushing line, as well as a 4-18-1 receiving line on six targets. The undrafted rookie played a career-high 90% (53 of 59) of the snaps and is now averaging 15.3 carries and 4.6 targets per game on the season. Robinson has leapt to second in fantasy points among running backs and hasn’t finished a week worse than 34th (one finish worse than 20th since Week 2). Jacksonville is headed to a bye week, and Robinson will be on the RB1 radar once back on the field in Week 9, but keep in mind he has arguably the hardest schedule for a running back during the fantasy playoffs. Starting in Week 14, he’ll need to face Tennessee, Baltimore, Chicago and Indianapolis to wind down the season. Robinson isn’t a bad name to float in trade talks, though his heavy usage might bail him out down the stretch.
Kansas City Chiefs: Le’Veon Bell made his Chiefs debut on Sunday and was on the field for 33% (17 of 51) offensive snaps. That’s compared to 27 snaps for Clyde Edwards-Helaire, 10 for DeAndre Washington (most of this in garbage time), one for Darrel Williams and zero for Darwin Thompson (healthy scratch). Bell looked good, posting 39 yards on six carries, but he was not targeted in a game in which Kansas City attempted only 25 passes. Edwards-Helaire managed an 8-46-1 rushing line and a 17-yard catch on four targets in the win. It’s tough to get a full picture in a complete blowout, but Edwards-Helaire can be viewed as a must-start against the Jets in Week 8, with Bell a borderline flex.
Las Vegas Raiders: Nelson Agholor produced a 5-107-1 receiving line on nine targets against the Buccaneers on Sunday. The big day marks his highest target total since Week 11 of the 2019 season and his first 100-yard game since Week 2 of that campaign. Agholor has now scored a touchdown in three consecutive games and in four of six games since joining the Raiders. Agholor has emerged as the team’s No. 1 wide receiver, pacing the unit in snaps during each of Las Vegas’ past four games, but it hadn’t led to many targets prior to Sunday (total of nine during the first three games of the span). Though he’s fantasy’s No. 24-scoring wide receiver during those four weeks, Agholor isn’t yet a recommended flex, even with Cleveland on deck this week.
Los Angeles Chargers: This Justin Herbert kid might be pretty good. The rookie was terrific again Sunday, and this time it led to his first NFL win. The Oregon product completed 27-of-43 passes for 247 yards and three touchdowns, adding nine carries for a team-high 66 yards and another touchdown. Herbert has now delivered three consecutive top-nine fantasy weeks and has put up 22.2 fantasy points in four of five starts. During the five weeks he has played, Herbert ranks fourth among quarterbacks in fantasy points and no lower than seventh in passing yards, passing touchdowns, carries and rush yards. Herbert has one of the easiest remaining fantasy schedules based on fantasy points allowed, so especially considering his rushing production, there’s very much QB1 upside moving forward.
Los Angeles Rams: The Rams decided to make Monday Night Football a “Josh Reynolds” game, as the team’s No. 3 wide receiver racked up a game-high eight targets. Reynolds posted a solid 4-52-1 receiving line while playing 75% of the offensive snaps. He has now scored in back-to-back games, but they mark his only touchdowns of the season and he’s yet to clear 60 receiving yards in a game. Reynolds entered the week with a 14-226-1 receiving line in six games and, at least as long as Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp are healthy, he simply can’t be counted on for flex production in the Rams’ run-heavy offense. Reynolds is barely worth a bench spot.
Miami Dolphins: If we had to vote right now for this year’s fantasy football MVP, Myles Gaskin wouldn’t win … but he’d certainly be a finalist. The 2019 seventh-round pick played 121 snaps as a rookie but beat out Matt Breida and Jordan Howard to earn Miami’s lead back job prior to Week 1 and has since taken control of feature back duties. Gaskin opened the season with four fantasy finishes in the 21-to-36 range but has now fired off a pair of top-eight weeks. Gaskin is averaging 16.5 carries per game since Week 3, and he has been targeted at least four times in all six games. He entered the bye 16th at running back in fantasy points and 11th in OFP. Especially with Howard no longer active on game day, Gaskin is locked and loaded as a high-floor RB2 play. Miami’s RBs have a midrange schedule in the second half.
Minnesota Vikings: A few weeks ago, I wrote about how Irv Smith Jr. had disappointed out of the gate this season despite being well positioned for a second-year breakout. After opening the season with six targets in four games, Smith is back on track with exactly five targets in back-to-back games. That has allowed 4-64-0 and 4-55-0 receiving lines and a pair of top-12 fantasy weeks. The uptick in targets hasn’t been coincidental, as he ran a route on a season-high 74% of the team’s pass plays in Week 5 and then upgraded to 78% in Week 6. The 2019 second-round pick still hasn’t scored a touchdown and is working in a very run-heavy scheme, but there’s room for him to emerge as Kirk Cousin’s No. 3 or 4 target. He should be on rosters and viewed as a solid TE2 play for now.
New England Patriots: Cam Newton completed 9-of-15 passes for 98 yards, zero touchdowns and three interceptions, adding 19 yards on five carries against the 49ers in Week 7. Newton has now put back-to-back duds on the board since returning from his time on the COVID-19 list. Newton’s recent struggles have come against strong Denver and San Francisco defenses, whereas his big game earlier this season was against Seattle’s struggling unit. We’ve seen his upside in good matchups, and his rushing prowess will lead to some streaming appeal, but he’s obviously tough to justify as a fantasy starter right now. That’s especially the case this week against another good defense in Buffalo.
New Orleans Saints: With Michael Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders out on Sunday, it was undrafted rookie Marquez Callaway who emerged as the team’s top pass-catcher. Callaway caught eight of his 10 targets for 75 yards, and his 49 snaps (73%) trailed only Tre’Quan Smith’s 55 among the team’s wide receivers. Deonte Harris (20 snaps), Juwan Johnson (12) and Austin Carr (11) were also involved. It’s far from a lock, but Thomas and Sanders could be back in Week 8, so Callaway, whose 18.5 aDOT at Tennessee in 2019 was highest in this year’s entire rookie class, shouldn’t be considered a priority waiver add. Of course, he should be on your radar in deeper dynasty leagues.
New York Giants: Sterling Shepard returned from injury and posted a 6-59-1 receiving line against the Eagles on Thursday. Shepard was on the field for 75% of the offensive snaps and racked up a healthy eight targets. Excluding a Week 2 game in which he left injured after 15 plays, Shepard has now seen at least six targets in 18 consecutive games (seriously). The injuries have distorted the fact that Shepard has been a productive fantasy asset when active. In fact, he was the No. 17 fantasy wide receiver during 10 active games in 2019. Shepard should be valued as a flex option with the upside to join the WR3 (or perhaps even WR2) discussion.
New York Jets: Denzel Mims made his NFL debut Sunday and tied for the team lead in targets (seven) and receptions (four), while pacing the Jets in receiving yards (42). Mims played a hefty 80% (41 of 51) of the offensive snaps, which trailed only Breshad Perriman (49 snaps) and Braxton Berrios (42) among the team’s wide receivers. Granted target-hog Jamison Crowder was sidelined, but note that replacement Berrios basically stepped right into his shoes, handling a massive 32% target share. The Jets’ offense is bad (seven touchdowns in seven games), but Mims has pedigree (2020 second-round pick) and opportunity, so he’s not a bad name to consider for your bench.
Philadelphia Eagles: With both Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert out on Thursday, journeyman Richard Rodgers paced the Eagles in both receptions (six) and receiving yardage (85) while handling a generous eight targets (second most on the team). Rodgers was on the field for 61 (85%) of a possible 72 snaps, compared to a combined eight snaps for backups Jason Croom and Hakeem Butler. Coach Doug Pederson has a rich history of utilizing his tight end, so the strong performance by Rodgers wasn’t a complete shock. The 28-year-old will be a streaming option against a struggling Dallas defense in Week 8.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Diontae Johnson returned from injury on Sunday, and the Steelers’ wide receiver usage and production was as follows: Smith-Schuster led the room with 62 snaps (84%) and posted a solid 9-85-0 receiving line on 14 targets (his most since Week 16 back in 2018). Johnson played 56 snaps and continued his streak of massive usage with 15 targets, which allowed a strong 9-80-2 receiving line. Chase Claypool played 47 snaps and was limited to a 1-yard loss on one target. James Washington (one target on 18 snaps) and Ray-Ray McCloud (two targets on seven snaps) were the odd men out. Impressive rookie Claypool’s dud is going to make it hard to justify him for a flex spot, especially considering how much he was used on special teams, but it’s positive news that he passed Washington on the depth chart. Consider him a bench option for now, with Johnson and Smith-Schuster still weekly must-starts.
San Francisco 49ers: With Raheem Mostert on injured reserve, it was expected that Jerick McKinnon would return to feature back duties in Week 7. So much for that. Jeff Wilson Jr. was the clear feature back, posting a 17-112-3 rushing and 2-8-0 receiving line on 35 snaps prior to leaving with an injury. Undrafted rookie JaMycal Hasty (15 snaps) was next in line and produced 57 yards on nine carries and 16 yards on his lone target. Jerick McKinnon was shockingly limited to 12 snaps (apparently it was a de facto rest week, per Kyle Shanahan) and lost 1 yard on three carries. Wilson’s injury appears likely to cost him time, which opens the door for Hasty and McKinnon to get more run in Week 8. Of course, Tevin Coleman might also be back from injured reserve, which will make this backfield very tricky to decipher. None of the three will be safe plays in Seattle, though Hasty and McKinnon will have some flex appeal if Coleman and Wilson are sidelined.
Seattle Seahawks: Chris Carson lasted only 14 snaps (five carries, one target) prior to leaving Sunday’s game with a foot injury. Carlos Hyde was the next man up, playing 36 snaps (51%), which was well ahead of Travis Homer (15 snaps) and DeeJay Dallas (seven). Hyde was productive, producing 68 yards and one touchdown on 15 carries and 12 additional yards on three targets. Homer added 10 yards on three carries but wasn’t targeted. Dallas didn’t carry the ball but put up 18 yards on three targets. If Carson is out this week, Hyde will be a candidate for 15-plus touches against San Francisco. The 49ers have been elite against running backs, but Hyde would see enough volume in Seattle’s high-scoring offense to put him in the RB2 conversation.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Leonard Fournette returned from injury on Sunday and certainly wasn’t short usage. The ex-Jaguar played 39 snaps (56%), compared to 30 for Ronald Jones. Fournette was effective (11-50-0 rushing, 6-47-0 receiving), whereas Jones wasn’t nearly as productive (13-34-1 rushing, 1-2-0 receiving). Fournette seemed to be taking control of the backfield back in Week 2 but suffered an ankle injury in Week 3 and had been sidelined until Sunday. This is likely to be the ole “hot hand” backfield, though the silver lining for Jones is that LeSean McCoy and Ke’Shawn Vaughn combined to play zero snaps. Unless one separates from the other, Fournette and Jones will be in the RB2/flex mix. That includes this weekend against the Giants.
Tennessee Titans: Jonnu Smith struggled to one catch for 9 yards on four targets against the Steelers on Sunday. It was a rare dud for Smith, who posted four consecutive top-10 fantasy weeks to open the season prior to leaving the team’s Week 6 game with an injury. The good news is that Smith played healthy 69% of the offensive snaps, which wasn’t far off his 84% rate during Weeks 1-4. Smith remains a solid weekly TE1 and will be a strong bounceback candidate in Week 8 against a Cincinnati defense that allowed three touchdowns to Cleveland tight ends on Sunday.
Washington Football Team: Dallas is the defense that keeps on giving to running backs, and that was in full force on Sunday. Antonio Gibson set new career-high marks in carries (20) and rushing yards (128) while also scoring his fourth rushing touchdown of the season during Sunday’s blowout win. Gibson went without a reception in the game, though that’s not really a concern moving forward considering he entered the day with five targets in three consecutive games. Gibson is now fantasy’s No. 17 running back, and he has had an extremely impressive floor with six consecutive finishes of 28th or better. Gibson will exit Washington’s Week 8 bye as an RB2 play
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.”
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.
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.
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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