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Fantasy trades: Hunt, Evans, McLaurin among players to consider in deals



It’s remarkable to think that we’re nearly halfway through the fantasy football regular season, isn’t it?

That’s how swiftly the season progresses, and while we’re on the topic, there’s no better time to remind you how critical it is to address improvements to your team before everyone is making a last-ditch push at the playoffs. That’s right, folks, it’s prime time for trading season in fantasy football leagues.

In order to get you started on the right foot in your talks, listed below are four players you should consider acquiring in deals right now, while their value is perceived to be lower than the truth, as well as four you should be trading away wherever possible.

Go get ’em

Joe Burrow, QB, Cincinnati Bengals: Forgive him for his struggles the past two weeks — 21.0 fantasy points combined — as the rookie’s matchups (@BAL, @IND) were easily his two toughest on his entire 2020 schedule. Burrow has nevertheless shown more poise than expected as a rookie, and he has a 13.9% off-target rate with his passes (the league’s average is 16.7%), which looks even better if you remember he leads the league in pass attempts. His mobility continues to keep his weekly statistical floor high enough to warrant a weekly QB2 start in two-quarterback or superflex leagues, but as he continues to gain experience and reaches the softer portion of his schedule, he might begin making cases for back-end QB1 rankings. This is the kind of quarterback I want as my No. 2, in every league.

Noah Fant, TE, Denver Broncos: I’ve written often that it’s difficult to trade for a player who’s injured or coming off an injury, in part because your trade counterpart might suspect you have some sort of inside knowledge, and in part because you’re absorbing a heightened level of setback risk. In Fant’s case, I’d push aggressively for such a move. At the time he got hurt, he was tied for the team lead with a 19% target share (26-of-135), had 2-of-7 team end zone targets and was showing good chemistry with now-healthy quarterback Drew Lock, with whom Fant has averaged 10.0 PPR fantasy points per game compared to 6.9 before Lock assumed the job last season in Week 13. The Broncos’ schedule also favors Fant, with their bye week in the rearview and attractive matchups against the Atlanta Falcons (Week 9), New Orleans Saints (Week 12) and Buffalo Bills (Week 15) upcoming.

Kareem Hunt, RB, Cleveland Browns: He’s coming off a pair of disappointing performances as the full-time fill-in for Nick Chubb, totaling 26.0 PPR fantasy points with a worst-in-the-league minus-0.2 yards after contact per carry, and Chubb’s approaching return might cause Hunt’s managers to panic about a shrinking role. That makes it an ideal time to buy. Hunt was performing as an RB1 even with Chubb on the field, playing only nine fewer snaps in their four games together while scoring 9.5 more PPR fantasy points, and as the Browns have struggled to maintain leads all year, Hunt has the advantage of holding the lead in the passing-down pecking order. Hunt also has a lot of extremely favorable matchups in his near future, all at times when Chubb is no guarantee to play, including those against the Las Vegas Raiders (Week 8), Houston Texans (Week 10) and Jacksonville Jaguars (Week 12).

Terry McLaurin, WR, Washington Football Team: You’ll have to pay to acquire him, certainly at a minimum valuation of a mid-range WR2, but if that’s the asking price, count me all in. McLaurin’s season has been exceptional, if you make the requisite adjustments for the miserable quarterbacking in Washington for the first four weeks. His 26% target share is sixth best in the league, and he has generated the most yards after the catch of any wide receiver (271), which speaks to his playmaking ability. McLaurin also has almost all of his most favorable matchups ahead of him: Two against the Dallas Cowboys (Weeks 7 and 12), one against the Cincinnati Bengals (Week 11) and one against the Seattle Seahawks (Week 15).

Trade ’em away

Mike Evans, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Buccaneers’ receivers are finally starting to get healthy, and equally importantly, tight end Rob Gronkowski looked like his New England Patriots self in Week 6. That’s great news for quarterback Tom Brady, but it’s not as good for Evans, who has a history of hot-and-cold performances. In his 96 career games, Evans has as many games with fewer than three PPR fantasy points as he does with at least 35 (5 apiece). Brady’s lack of a vertical passing game puts a strain on Evans’ upside, and frankly, it’s a surprise Evans has as many as six receiving touchdowns, which is what has buoyed his fantasy value to date. With matchups upcoming against the New Orleans Saints (Week 9), Carolina Panthers (Week 10) and Los Angeles Rams (Week 11), as well as an extremely inopportune bye in Week 13 — usually fantasy’s regular-season finale — he’s a prime name to peddle.

Todd Gurley II, RB, Atlanta Falcons: Everyone knows about the injury risk, and most everyone is going to make the sell-high pitch. Still, there’s an angle here: Talk up Gurley’s next two matchups, against the Detroit Lions and Carolina Panthers, as reason for your counterpart to buy in, or if you can’t, hope they forget those schedule advantages when you try to cash in following those weeks. Gurley has had a relatively productive season thus far as the RB14 through six weeks thanks to 10 goal-to-go carries and five rushing touchdowns, but he’s also averaging 16.5 carries per game, down from the 18.0 he averaged from 2015 to ’18, when he built up a lot of name value. It doesn’t help that the Falcons’ defense hasn’t been doing the offense any favors, either, drawing the team into frequent shootouts.

Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers: He’s the lone repeat from my last edition in September, and while things have changed after he endured a Week 6 stinker, that game represents the caution his managers should have going forward. The Packers have one of the worst remaining schedules for quarterbacks, with games upcoming against the Indianapolis Colts (Week 11), Chicago Bears (Weeks 12 and 17) and Carolina Panthers (Week 15), so that’s probably not the last time that Rodgers is going to disappoint you, considering those defenses will probably have an easier time keeping him in check with the limited depth in the Packers’ receiving corps. If you need a sales pitch for Rodgers, try this out: He’s still QB10 in terms of fantasy points per game (21.4), his 8.9 yard average depth of target is his highest since 2011 and his 14.0% off-target rate is the best of his entire career.

Jonnu Smith, TE, Tennessee Titans: To be clear, I like the guy. The Delanie Walker comparisons are apt, as Smith has similar size and therefore fits the mold as a big goal-line target for Ryan Tannehill. The problem, though, is Smith has inflated his perceived value behind five receiving touchdowns, four of which came in two games, and despite placing TE5 in terms of PPR fantasy points, he’s a clear talent level beneath the four names we typically rank at the front of the position. Smith is also nursing an ankle injury, plus faces a brutal schedule for tight ends the rest of the way, including tough matchups against the Pittsburgh Steelers (Week 7), Indianapolis Colts (Weeks 10 and 12) and Baltimore Ravens (Week 11). Unless he’s the one tight end you’ve got after going the cheap route on draft day, he’s someone to peddle.

Keep ’em around

These are players you might be considering dealing, but for whom you might want to have second thoughts upon closer inspection.

Ronald Jones II, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: One would think that on a team with the high-profile names in the passing game the Buccaneers have, not to mention the number of other name-brand alternatives in their backfield, that the perfect time to shop Jones would be coming off a 26.1 PPR fantasy-point performance and three consecutive 100-yard rushing games. I’m not so sure. Jones might well deserve this backfield all to himself, as a big, tough back who currently ranks fifth in the league in yards after contact per carry (2.1), and I wonder whether he’s really going to cede his recent boost in volume to Leonard Fournette once the latter is healthy. At the very least, don’t get tricked into selling low — think: flex tier — on Jones.

D’Andre Swift, RB, Detroit Lions: I wrote a bit more extensively about his Week 6 outburst here, and while it included a caution that the Lions seem committed to their committee for the long haul, I don’t think that’s necessarily as damning to Swift’s rest-of-season value as most do. The team showed a lot of confidence in him by giving him extensive time at the goal line, and Swift’s overall rushing workload has been steadily inching up on Adrian Peterson’s. There’s a RB2 valuation point possible here, and I wouldn’t cash in Swift’s chip for much less than that.


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



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

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

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

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

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

Stream FC Daily on ESPN+
– 2020 MLS Playoffs: Who’s in, schedule and more
– MLS on ESPN+: Stream LIVE games and replays (U.S. only)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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


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Bettman: NHL is mulling temporary realignment



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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



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

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

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


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