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Highs and lows from Week 7: Burrow, Higgins forming something special

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Week 7 of the fantasy football season featured plenty of notable performances around the NFL on Sunday. What should we make of them? Matt Bowen and Tristan H. Cockcroft offer their analysis.


Joe Burrow and Tee Higgins building a strong chemistry

First, let’s talk Burrow. The first rookie quarterback in NFL history to pass for at least 400 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for an additional score, Burrow also became only the 14th different rookie quarterback since at least 1950 to score 30-plus fantasy points in a game, and his 33.6 points were 11th best by any rookie quarterback during that same time frame. He rebounded in a major way from a pair of challenging matchups, reestablishing himself as a matchups-conscious, yet borderline top-10 fantasy quarterback. That Burrow’s Cincinnati Bengals continue to struggle to keep opponents’ offenses in check only supports his cause, as he’ll keep contending for the league’s lead in pass attempts; and that he’s faring as well as he has despite a shaky offensive line only further signals his massive talent. He’ll get the Tennessee Titans next, a matchup that could vault him into said top 10 in the positional rankings — within that top-10 tier of fantasy QBs, two are on a bye (Kyler Murray, Deshaun Watson) in Week 8 and another (Ben Roethlisberger) faces a brutal matchup (at Baltimore). — Cockcroft

Now Higgins. With five or more targets in every game this season (in a volume pass offense), Higgins has WR3/Flex value in deeper leagues — with more upside in Non-PPR formats. The Bengals rookie wide receiver caught 5 of 5 targets for 71 yards and a score versus the Browns. He can run the in-breakers and adjust to the ball on back-shoulder throws. That meshes with the accuracy and processing ability of Burrow in Cincinnati. — Bowen

Davante Adams knows the formula to find volume

Who needs other wide receivers when you’ve got Adams? His 44.6 PPR fantasy points set a new personal best, breaking his previous mark of 41.6, set in Week 1, and those are his first two games of 40-plus points in his 90-game NFL career. Even when defenses know it’s coming, they can’t seem to contain Adams, who has seen such an outrageous amount of targets that he has two of the top seven single-game target shares despite having been active for only four games thus far (47.1% this week, fifth-largest; 41.5% in Week 1, seventh-largest). Health willing, he’s in good shape to be the top-scoring wide receiver the remainder of the year, accounting for his volume as well as a favorable remaining schedule, with only his Weeks 12 (CHI), 15 (CAR) and 17 (@CHI) matchups looking that challenging. — Cockcroft

Major troubles for the Dallas Cowboys‘ offense

That’s back-to-back ugly games for the Cowboys after losing Dak Prescott to a season-ending injury in Week 5, and with Andy Dalton departing Sunday’s game due to a concussion, there’s legitimate question as to how adversely all these injuries — not to mention the team’s defensive struggles — will affect the offense going forward. Consider that in those two games, Ezekiel Elliott scored 12.0 and 6.1 PPR fantasy points, well beneath his 22.3 average in the first five weeks; CeeDee Lamb scored 13.4 and 0.1 points on 16 total targets; Michael Gallup scored 4.3 and 0.0 on eight total targets; and Dalton Schultz scored 7.5 and 4.2 points on nine total targets. After rookie Ben DiNucci took over under center midway through the third quarter, the Cowboys totaled only 20 yards on 11 offensive plays, with all three of their possessions ending in punts. One might think things can’t get much worse for the Cowboys, and that things should even out against weaker defenses, but the fact remains that they don’t face many more easy matchups, other than perhaps the Week 11 game at the Vikings. I’d worry about — and am downgrading — any of the above names for the time being, though their rebound prospects might at least improve should coach Mike McCarthy take over playcalling or perhaps the team acquires a more proven quarterback. — Cockcroft

I agree, Tristan. And let’s not forget that Lamb was held without a catch versus Washington (five targets). Lamb has the ability to make plays up the seam, win on deep overs and more. And you can scheme him up on screens and jet sweeps. Get him the ball in space. However, this Dallas pass game already lacked juice with Dalton under center. And if the veteran quarterback can’t go, we have to wonder about Lamb’s fantasy value in Week 8 versus the Eagles. — Bowen

Don’t count out Baker Mayfield yet

Talk about in-game turnarounds. After going 0-for-5 passing with an interception to begin Sunday’s game, Mayfield came roaring back to complete 22 of his final 23 pass attempts for 297 yards and five touchdowns, including making a near-inexplicable, game-winning touchdown pass to Donovan Peoples-Jones in the game’s final minute. Mayfield set a new personal best in the process by scoring 29.8 fantasy points, and while it could’ve been just fleeting good fortune, it has to be pointed out that he did it while his No. 1 wide receiver, Odell Beckham Jr., was sidelined due to a knee injury. What that means for Mayfield, Beckham and the Cleveland Browns‘ offense going forward is anyone’s guess, as it’s highly unlikely that Beckham is going anywhere as Mayfield’s top target. Maybe it’s a turning point, but it’s a good thing to see from the young quarterback with extremely fantasy-friendly matchups upcoming against the Texans (Week 10), Jaguars (Week 12) and Titans (Week 13). –– Cockcroft


Quick-hitters

Josh Allen, QB, Buffalo Bills: For the third straight game, we saw an opposing defense use late movement and disguise versus the Bills quarterback, which creates some disruption for Allen in terms of timing and rhythm as a thrower. Yes, Allen posted over 300 yards passing, with another 61 yards rushing. And you get that with Allen: the throwing volume, plus the designed run concepts/scrambles. However, with no scoring production on Sunday, and a Week 8 matchup versus the Patriots’ defense, Allen is going to slide back a bit in my rankings. Previously a lock as a top-5 weekly play, Allen drops down into my QB8-10 range against New England. The Patriots have not been a shutdown defense this season, but that’s an exotic coverage team which will use multiple sub-package looks — with late movement and disguise — to force Allen to play more off-schedule. — Bowen

Diontae Johnson, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers: It’s all about the availability with Johnson. Before leaving the game with an injury on Sunday, Johnson caught 9 of 15 targets for 80 yards — with two touchdowns. When he’s up — and healthy — Johnson is a prime fit for the Steelers’ short-to-intermediate pass game with Ben Roethlisberger, which fits Johnson’s traits as a catch-and-run target. If he can go next week, I’m putting Johnson in my lineup as a WR3 in a 14-team league — even in a tough matchup versus the Baltimore Ravens‘ defense. I’m going to trust the volume, and the route tree in Pittsburgh. — Bowen

Terry McLaurin, WR, Washington Football Team: While it did come in a dream matchup against the Cowboys, McLaurin’s 22.0 PPR fantasy point performance underscored his legitimate claim to a WR1 valuation. His 11 targets out of 21 for Washington as a whole boosted his seasonal target share to 29.7%, third largest in the league, and he has a favorable schedule once he returns from the Week 8 bye. In fact, you might want to utilize his week off — fantasy managers sometimes get antsy while their players are on the sidelines — to continue to pursue a trade for him. — Cockcroft

Kenny Golladay, WR, Detroit Lions: Golladay has missed some time with injury this season. However, the veteran wide receiver caught 6 of 7 targets for 114 yards in the win over Atlanta on Sunday, after posting 105 yards receiving in Week 6. His catch radius is ridiculous, and so is the body control. Plus, we know quarterback Matthew Stafford will give him targets on 50/50 balls. Golladay will be a lower-tier WR1 in my rankings next week versus the zone-heavy Colts defense. — Bowen

Dallas Cowboys defense: After another poor performance versus Washington on Sunday, this Dallas defense has now produced a total of -9 fantasy points this season. That’s last in the league and the worst total for a D/ST through seven games since 1940. On top of that, the Cowboys are only the fifth D/ST in that span to have a negative score through seven games. Look, we can all see the issues here, from a lack of communication and discipline, to the blown coverages in the secondary. Bad football at all three levels here. — Bowen

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stream FC Daily on ESPN+
– 2020 MLS Playoffs: Who’s in, schedule and more
– 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.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bettman: NHL is mulling temporary realignment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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