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 6 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: Has the Kenyan Drake we knew and loved last season — and then again during 2020 draft season — finally returned? It’s possible after Arizona’s lead back went for 164 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 20 carries against Dallas’ imploding defense on Monday Night Football. Drake played on a healthy 70% of the Cardinals’ offensive snaps, which is a good sign. However, he was once again a nonfactor as a receiver, with zero catches on two targets. Drake is up to No. 20 in RB fantasy points, but Monday marked his first weekly finish better than 17th. Barring a significant boost in targets, he’s likely to continue producing borderline RB2 numbers — but no better.
Atlanta Falcons: I think it’s safe to say Julio Jones is back. The 31-year-old superstar missed all but 15 snaps during Atlanta’s previous three games but exploded back onto the fantasy scene with an 8-137-2 receiving line on 10 targets against Minnesota on Sunday. Jones has now played three full games this season, and two resulted in 10-plus targets and 25-plus fantasy points. Jones, who led Atlanta’s wide receivers with 64 snaps on Sunday, is a top-30 fantasy receiver despite all the missed action. He, of course, remains a solid WR1 and has a great matchup against Detroit in Week 7.
Baltimore Ravens: Mark Ingram II left Sunday’s game against the Eagles with an ankle injury after nine snaps. In his place, Gus Edwards played 30 snaps (45%) and rookie J.K. Dobbins played 27. Edwards also paced the unit with 14 carries but was held to only 26 yards, compared to nine carries for 28 yards for Dobbins. Edwards wasn’t targeted, and Dobbins was held to 1 yard on four targets. If Ingram misses time (which is far from a lock with Baltimore headed to its bye), we can count on, at least, a two-headed attack with Edwards and Dobbins, though Justice Hill could also see a few passing-down snaps. Considering Baltimore’s running backs rank 24th in fantasy points and 29th in targets this season, this isn’t a particularly enticing situation, but Dobbins would be the best flex option in that scenario.
Buffalo Bills: Zack Moss finally returned from injury on Monday night, but the rookie was all but a nonfactor against the Chiefs. Moss played on just 13 of 50 (26%) of Buffalo’s offensive snaps, which was well behind the 37 snaps played by Devin Singletary. Singletary didn’t do much either, with 10 carries for 32 yards and 13 more yards on a pair of targets. Moss accrued a mere 10 yards on five carries and wasn’t targeted at all. Singletary flashed a bit earlier in the season, but has struggled to reach 78 yards on 23 touches (with no TDs) during Buffalo’s past three games. Moss, who had played on a generous 44% of the Bills’ snaps during the first two weeks of the season, only figures to see more work as the season progresses. He remains worthy of a bench spot in 12-team leagues.
Carolina Panthers: Teddy Bridgewater ran the ball eight times for 48 yards on Sunday, both of which are new career-high marks. The rushing production helped offset a rough passing day (216 yards, 0 TDs, 2 INTs) to some extent, though Bridgewater finished 15th or worse at the position in fantasy points for the fourth time in six games. Bridgewater has thus far been about as matchup-dependent as they come, posting duds against good Buccaneers, Chargers and Bears defenses, but proving serviceable against the Raiders, Cardinals and Falcons. He has only one weekly finish better than 12th to his name, so there’s obviously not much upside here, but perhaps that can change if he keeps running the ball as often as he did Sunday. For now, Bridgewater is best viewed as a midrange QB2 and occasional streaming option.
Chicago Bears: Remember Anthony Miller? Yeah, me neither. A popular breakout candidate in both his second (2019) and third (2020) NFL seasons, Miller has plummeted off the fantasy radar. The 2018 second-round pick is averaging 4.3 targets per game, and that includes a Week 6 performance in which he caught all three of his targets for 8 yards. Miller found the end zone in Weeks 1 and 3, but he hasn’t cleared 41 yards in a game since Week 1 and has posted two weekly finishes better than 60th. Miller, who has played 53% of the offensive snaps this season, obviously does not need to be on rosters.
Cincinnati Bengals: Is A.J. Green back? It sure seemed like it Sunday when the 32-year-old put up an 8-96-0 receiving line on 11 targets while playing a season-high 80% of the snaps against a good Colts defense. Green entered the week with a total of 119 yards on 14 catches in five games, but heavy volume (34 targets) suggested better days were ahead. There are several mouths to feed in the Bengals’ offense, especially after rookie Tee Higgins had another strong day Sunday, but Green’s usage in a Bengals offense that has attempted a league-high 246 passes is enough to keep him in the WR3/flex discussion. The Bengals’ wideouts are set up with a good Week 7 matchup against a Browns defense that has allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to wide receivers this season.
Cleveland Browns: Austin Hooper caught five of six targets for 52 yards against the Steelers on Sunday. Hooper has either 50-plus receiving yards or a touchdown in three consecutive games, which has worked out to double-digit fantasy points each week. Hooper, who has averaged at least six targets and exactly five catches during the span, is up to sixth at tight end in receptions for the season and sits sixth in fantasy points since Week 4. He’s a fringe TE1.
Dallas Cowboys: Andy Dalton‘s first start with Dallas did not go well. The longtime Bengals starter completed 34 of 54 passes for 266 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. Those numbers would have been significantly worse if not for garbage-time production. For what it’s worth, Dalton’s target distribution was as follows: Ezekiel Elliott (11), Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb (10), Michael Gallup (6), Dalton Schultz (5) and everyone else (10). Based on what we saw on Monday, Elliott and Cooper remain lineup locks, Lamb is a flex, Schultz is a TE2 and Gallup is barely worth a roster spot. Things may not get much better in Week 7 against a Washington defense allowing the fewest WR fantasy points this season.
Denver Broncos: With Melvin Gordon III sidelined on Sunday, Phillip Lindsay was on the field for 40 (64%) offensive snaps. Royce Freeman (24 snaps) was the only other Denver back to see the field. With Denver protecting a surprising lead in New England, Lindsay was able to accrue 23 carries for 101 yards but wasn’t targeted. Freeman was held to 30 yards on nine touches. Should Gordon return next week, he’ll remain a fringe RB2 with Lindsay a bench option. If Gordon sits, Lindsay will be an RB2 play against the Chiefs.
Detroit Lions: We spent the past two weeks wondering if rookie D’Andre Swift would play a larger role following the Lions’ Week 5 bye. The answer? Kind of. Swift certainly had his most productive game, with 14 carries for 116 yards and two touchdowns, adding three catches for 7 yards on four targets. His receiving role wasn’t much different from what we saw during Weeks 1-4, but there was an obvious uptick in rushing work, as the second-round pick entered the day with a total of 12 carries for 42 yards for the season. That’s all good and well, but the problem is that Swift was limited to only 37% of the snaps. That’s only his third-highest rate of the season and was just behind Adrian Peterson (39%). Detroit led throughout the game, which provided a good game script for Peterson, so it’s very possible Swift will play more in close games moving forward. Swift isn’t yet a safe weekly start, but he’s certainly up to fringe RB2 territory in PPR.
Green Bay Packers: Davante Adams has played two full games this season. In Week 1, he put up a 14-156-2 receiving line on 17 targets. On Sunday, he produced a 6-61-0 line on 10 targets in the blowout loss to Tampa Bay. Adams has a ridiculous 38% target share during his two full games this season and has seen double-digit targets in 11 of his past 13 full games, which includes each of his past seven. It’s obvious you should always be starting Adams, but this is a reminder that he very well might be the top wide receiver in fantasy football moving forward. He’ll see the Bradley Roby shadow against Houston in Week 7.
Houston Texans: Randall Cobb scored his second touchdown of the season on Sunday, but Houston’s slot man was otherwise nonexistent, with only three catches for 17 yards on four targets. That aligns pretty well with Cobb’s season so far, as he had a strong 4-95-1 receiving line in Week 3 but has otherwise been held to 15 catches for 165 yards. He’s averaging 4.7 targets per game and hasn’t cleared six in a single game. Cobb and his 6.7 aDOT do not make for a good flex option except in the deepest of leagues.
Indianapolis Colts: Trey Burton opened the 2020 season on injured reserve, but the veteran tight end has quickly emerged as the Colts’ top pass-catcher at the position. Burton has been targeted at least five times in all three games since his return and had his best effort Sunday with a 4-58-1 receiving line, as well as a 1-yard rushing touchdown. Burton hasn’t operated as an every-down player and his 12% target share on Sunday won’t cut it moving forward, but he did play a season-high 57% of the snaps. Burton’s usage, combined with Frank Reich and Philip Rivers’ affection for tight ends, is enough to make him worthy of a bench spot, but he’ll be best-valued as a TE2 once the Colts return from their Week 7 bye.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Keelan Cole Sr. went off for six catches and 143 yards on nine targets against the Lions on Sunday. The big day marks Cole’s highest yardage total since 2017 and his highest target total since 2018. Cole has played 74% of the offensive snaps and is now averaging 6.3 targets per game this season. He hadn’t cleared 58 yards in a game prior to Week 6, but he did have three touchdowns during his first five games. Jacksonville’s offense is struggling, but Cole is nonetheless up to 20th in fantasy points among wide receivers. He’s seeing enough work to allow flex production in 12-team leagues.
Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs were without Sammy Watkins on Monday night, which opened the door for Demarcus Robinson to step in and pace the team’s WR room with 69 snaps (95%). Mecole Hardman (29 snaps), Byron Pringle (28) and Marcus Kemp (2) were significantly less involved behind Robinson and Tyreek Hill (67). The heavy usage allowed Robinson to post a solid 5-69-0 receiving line on six targets, the latter of which trailed only Travis Kelce (7) for the team lead. Watkins is expected to miss more time, so Robinson will be on the flex radar in 12-team leagues. Hardman was limited to a single target and certainly has upside for big games going forward. That said, for now, he is a risky dart-throw flex candidate.
Las Vegas Raiders: Prior to Las Vegas’ Week 5 bye, Josh Jacobs sat sixth at running back in fantasy points, which was powered by a pair of top-five weeks. Jacobs entered the break leading the NFL with 106 carries, while also sitting second in rushing yards, second in rushing touchdowns and first in touches. Jacobs’ heavy rushing volume is no surprise, but he has also ramped up his receiving work, running a route on 43% of Las Vegas’ pass plays while seeing a boost from 2.1 targets per game in 2019 to 4.0 per game this season. Jacobs rushing efficiency has dropped off compared to his rookie season, but there’s no reason to believe he’ll see less volume after the bye. Jacobs is a certified weekly RB1.
Los Angeles Chargers: The bye week came at a perfect time for Keenan Allen, who left the team’s Week 5 game with a back injury after only 12 snaps. Allen was limited to two targets in the game but had previously been force-fed the ball by rookie Justin Herbert in three full games together. Allen totaled 40 targets during the outings, including at least 10 in each. That works out to a 39% target and 44% air yard share, both of which would easily be career highs for the 28-year-old. Even with the Week 5 dud, Allen entered the bye week ranked fifth among wide receivers in targets, sixth in yardage and eighth in end zone targets. He’s a WR1 option moving forward, and that’s especially the case against the Jaguars this weekend.
Los Angeles Rams: Cooper Kupp was held to three catches for 11 yards against the 49ers on Sunday night. Despite the dud, there’s little reason for concern. Kupp was targeted eight times in the game and leads the Rams with 44 on the season (Robert Woods is next with 42, and no one else has more than 21). Kupp’s quiet day comes after four consecutive games with at least 12 fantasy points, 5 catches and 66 receiving yards. Kupp sits 23rd among wide receivers in fantasy points and remains on track for a fringe WR2 campaign.
Miami Dolphins: With six games in the book, calling Mike Gesicki boom/bust would be a major understatement. The third-year tight end has produced 91-plus receiving yards in two games, but he has failed to clear 30 yards during his other four outings. In fact, Gesicki totaled 13 catches, 221 yards and 1 TD on 17 targets against the Bills and 49ers, but has five catches for 60 yards and 1 TD on 13 targets in his other four games. That includes a zero-catch effort on two targets against the exploitable Jets on Sunday. Gesicki is a de facto wide receiver (he’s aligned at wide receiver on 93% of his routes) and still played 66% of the offensive snaps on Sunday, so better days are ahead. Fantasy’s No. 11-scoring tight end will be a fringe TE1 when Miami returns from its Week 7 bye.
Minnesota Vikings: Alexander Mattison was set up for a huge workload with Dalvin Cook sidelined in Week 6. Instead, Minnesota immediately fell behind by double-digits and, of course, abandoned the run. Mattison ended the game with 26 yards on 10 carries and 4 yards on two targets. The impressive second-year back was limited to 23 snaps (46%), compared to 14 for passing-down specialist Ameer Abdullah and five for Mike Boone. Minnesota is headed to its bye week and Cook is expected back in Week 8, so Mattison is not a player whom you can plan on starting anytime soon. His only value is as an elite handcuff, which remains true even after Sunday’s dud.
New England Patriots: Julian Edelman‘s season started well, with 80 yards on six touches in Week 1 followed by an 8-179-0 receiving line against Seattle in Week 2. It has been a struggle since, with Edelman posting receiving lines of 2-23-0, 3-35-0 and, most recently, 2-8-0. Edelman was targeted exactly six times in each of those three games and has yet to score a touchdown this season. Fantasy’s No. 47-scoring wide receiver made his hay on heavy volume during the Tom Brady era, but that might continue to elude him in what is the league’s run-heaviest scheme with Cam Newton. Edelman will be no more than a flex flier against the 49ers in Week 7.
New Orleans Saints: Jared Cook entered New Orleans’ Week 6 bye ranked 17th at tight end in fantasy points. Of course, that’s a bit misleading because the veteran tight end missed half of Week 3 and all of Week 4 due to injury. In three full games, Cook produced a pair of top-10 fantasy weeks and put up 9.3 points in the other outing. Cook has been a top-seven fantasy tight end in each of the past two seasons, which includes a nine-touchdown effort last season (he already has two scores in 2020). Cook remains an underrated fringe TE1 option.
New York Giants: The Giants were without Sterling Shepard again and lost C.J. Board to injury after 10 snaps on Sunday. Despite that, Golden Tate played only 63% of the offensive snaps, which trailed Darius Slayton (85%) and an undrafted rookie making his NFL debut, Austin Mack (74%). Tate’s snaps are trending down the past two weeks, and he set his season high in receiving yardage in Week 2 (47) and his season high in targets in Week 3 (seven). Tate, who is now 32, hasn’t scored a touchdown this season and is outside the top 80 wide receivers in fantasy points. He’s going to see even less work with Shepard due back next week and can, of course, be left on waivers.
New York Jets: In their first game after releasing Le’Veon Bell, the Jets turned to La’Mical Perine as their lead back. The fourth-round rookie played 39 snaps (57%), compared to 25 for Frank Gore and four for Ty Johnson. Perine didn’t produce much in the shutout, managing 36 yards on nine touches. Gore was better, with 46 yards on 11 carries and 24 yards on four targets, and Johnson flashed with 42 yards on three carries. Gore’s passing-game production is notable, as it’s the most targets he has seen in a game since 2017 and his highest yardage total since 2018. Despite the decent day for Gore, Perine remains the more dynamic player and is the best bench stash. We might have just seen Gore’s best performance of the season, so he’s no more than a low-ceiling flex in very deep leagues.
Philadelphia Eagles: Miles Sanders left Sunday’s loss to Baltimore with a leg injury after 27 snaps (42%). The running back distribution behind him wasn’t close, with Boston Scott playing 31 snaps, Corey Clement five snaps and Jason Huntley zero. Scott was held to nine yards on four touches in the game, but we saw him produce 54 yards on 11 touches before leaving with an injury of his own in place of Sanders back in Week 1. Sanders is not expected to play Thursday night, so Scott will be a borderline top-20 RB play against the Giants, with Clement a poor flex option.
Pittsburgh Steelers: What to do with JuJu Smith-Schuster? Pittsburgh’s 23-year-old slot receiver exploded for a 6-69-2 receiving line on six targets back in Week 1, but he hasn’t cleared 48 yards in four games since, scoring one touchdown during that span. Smith-Schuster’s slump hit a new low with 6 yards on four targets against Cleveland on Sunday. With Diontae Johnson nearing a return, it’s fair to wonder if Smith-Schuster’s 18% target share (highest on team) and 12% air yard share (fifth) could shrink even lower, especially with rookie Chase Claypool forcing his way into a key role. Smith-Schuster has plummeted to flex territory, but there’s room for a rebound in one of the league’s top offenses.
San Francisco 49ers: After playing a limited role in his return from injury in Week 4, Deebo Samuel has played 85% of the snaps and is handling a 21% target share during the 49ers’ past two games. Samuel had his best game of the season in Week 6, racking up six catches for 66 yards and one touchdown on six targets. An increase in air yards would be ideal (his aDOT is down to 4.1 from 7.7 last season), but six-plus touches per game will be enough to keep Samuel in the weekly WR3 discussion.
Seattle Seahawks: Through Week 5, the Seahawks had called a pass on 67% of their offensive snaps, compared to an expected rate of 59% (based on game situation). That 8% gap was highest in the NFL, which means that, yes, a Seattle team infamous for running the ball is now operating the league’s pass-heaviest offense. The heavy passing volume helped Russell Wilson to the most fantasy points among quarterbacks, Chris Carson to the fifth-most at running back and DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett to top-10 status at wide receiver. Unlikely to make any significant adjustments after a 5-0 start, Seattle exits its Week 6 bye with four players who should be locked into lineups in all formats.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Rob Gronkowski had his first big game with Tampa Bay on Sunday, setting new season highs in targets (eight), yardage (78) and touchdowns (one). After totaling 11 yards on four targets during his first two games with the team, Gronkowski has now reached 48 yards in three of his past four outings, totaling 24 targets during the span (6.0 per game). Gronkowski played 84% of the snaps Sunday, which aligned with his 81% rate entering the game and was well ahead of Cameron Brate (37%) and Tanner Hudson (13%). Gronkowski now has one top-10 fantasy week to his name this season, so while he has trended up to TE1 status, he remains a bit of a risky play.
Tennessee Titans: Anthony Firkser took advantage of a Jonnu Smith injury Sunday and exploded for an 8-113-1 receiving line on nine targets. Firkser entered the week having never cleared five targets, four receptions or 52 yards in a single game, and he had two career touchdowns to his name. Firkser generally plays around 30% of the snaps (he was at 56% on Sunday, which trailed Geoff Swaim‘s 64%), so he won’t even be an enticing tight end starter if Smith misses time.
Washington Football Team: Terry McLaurin had a tough matchup against James Bradberry on Sunday, but the second-year receiver was able to put together a solid 7-74-0 receiving line on 12 targets. McLaurin entered the game off a dud against the Rams in Week 5 but has otherwise had a very high floor this season. McLaurin has been targeted at least seven times in all six games, including double digits three times. He has reached 61 receiving yards in all but one game. McLaurin is struggling to find the end zone (one TD) in Washington’s weak offense, but he still sits 14th among wide receivers in fantasy points. Consider McLaurin a strong weekly WR2 option.
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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