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Week 4 Booms and Busts: WFT, Falcons living that fantasy carnival life

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We thought the Washington Football Team would have a nasty defense this year. That hasn’t been the case.

We thought the Atlanta Falcons would have a juicy offense in 2021. Maybe it’s going to happen after all.

What we know for sure — Atlanta and Washington met in Atlanta on Sunday afternoon, and it was pinball at its finest.

The Football Team had the last laugh, 34-30, in a game that was a fantasy bonanza. The teams combined for 50 first downs, 786 yards of offense, and buckets of big plays from primary fantasy sources.

Let’s start on the winning side, where Taylor Heinicke (290 passing yards, three touchdowns, 43 rushing yards) is doing a very believable Ryan Fitzpatrick imitation. Heinicke is part gunslinger and part daredevil, making more than a few “no no no YES” throws every week. And he’s steering the ball where we want it to go — Terry McLaurin (6-123-2) was a monster Sunday, and J.D. McKissic caught five passes, including the gorgeous 30-yard touchdown that provided the difference in the game.

ATLANTA, GA  OCTOBER 03:  Washington wide receiver Terry McLaurin (17) catches a touchdown pass while defended by Atlanta free safety Erik Harris (23) during the NFL game between the Washington Football Team and the Atlanta Falcons on October 3rd, 2021 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, GA.  (Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Washington receiver Terry McLaurin had a two-touchdown game against Atlanta. (Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Antonio Gibson (two catches) hasn’t been involved much in the passing game, which caps his upside. But a 14-63-1 line on the ground keeps him playable. Logan Thomas left in the first half with a hamstring injury; his status forward is unknown.

Washington going off against Atlanta’s lousy defense is no surprise — the Falcons were 30th in defensive DVOA entering this week. But the WFT defense was just one slot higher, which explains why Atlanta’s offense finally showed some friskiness.

Falcons show signs off life

Matt Ryan, given up for dead in some fantasy circles, finally had a day worth savoring (283 yards, four touchdowns). To be fair, he still averaged a modest 6.7 YPA, so this isn’t some aerial circus. But it’s a step forward from where the Falcons passing game has been.

Cordarrelle Patterson continues to be the shocking star of the Falcons offense. He scored three times on just six targets and 12 routes (5-82-3), and while one of the touchdowns was a gift from the Washington defense — Patterson was 10 yards behind the defenders on an ordinary route — we have to acknowledge that Ryan, head coach Arthur Smith, and Patterson are on the same page. Patterson is 30 years old and on his fifth NFL team. He’s made it to four Pro Bowls as a special-teams ace, but maybe the Falcons finally figured out how to best utilize his first-round pedigree, even if it's on such a low snap share. 

There are other first-round talents in Atlanta, of course. We’re still waiting for them to cash in. Calvin Ridley’s 7-80-0 line on 13 targets is a step up, even if he’s still not getting downfield as often as we’d like. Kyle Pitts managed 4-50-0 on nine targets; he still flashes one or two times a game, but this is not the player we expected when Atlanta selected ostensibly a hybrid wide receiver with the fourth overall pick.

Mike Davis managers can’y be thrilled — he ran nowhere (13 carries, 14 yards) while Patterson and Wayne Gallman (6-29-0) were also utilized. Alas, Davis bailed out his fantasy day with some deodorant — a determined 7-yard touchdown catch in the fourth period. The fantasy angle for Davis this summer was that he could overcome ordinary talent through heavy volume, but the Patterson emergence is going to cap his upside.

Washington looks like the fun team going forward, lining up with the Saints, Chiefs, and Packers in the next three weeks. Atlanta wings over to London to play the Jets, then takes the standard post-Europe bye.

Chiefs another "outscore-em" traveling circus  

We expected the Chiefs to be a carnival team entering the year, and it’s lived up to that expectation. Patrick Mahomes knows he has to win every game with a big offensive day; his defense can’t stop much of anything. Most of the featured fantasy angles in the Kansas City at Philadelphia game came through, with the Chiefs getting the victory (and a much-awaited cover), 42-30.

There’s little left to say about Mahomes these days — five touchdown passes, 9.3 YPA, he can do that in his sleep. But it was encouraging to see Tyreek Hill go bananas after two quiet games — Hill ran past the Eagles secondary all day, en route to a game-smashing 11-186-3 line. It was Travis Kelce’s turn to be underutilized, but Clyde Edwards-Helaire (114 total yards, touchdown catch) had one of his better performances.

Jalen Hurts has become one of the safest fantasy options, scoring with his arm (387 yards, two touchdown passes) and his legs (47 rushing yards). Skilled rookies Kenneth Gainwell (89 total yards, touchdown) and DeVonta Smith (7-122-0) have come out of the box smoking. Dallas Goedert (5-56-1) had a touchdown and Zach Ertz lost one on a pick call; Hurts knows how to find his big targets in the middle of the field.

The loser in this mix is Miles Sanders, who again was marginalized (7-13 rushing, 3-34 receiving). Hurts and Gainwell are cutting into his work, and the Philadelphia pass defense is forcing the Eagles to eschew the conventional running game. The Eagles offensive line is also a problem. The schedule doesn’t help, either, with Carolina and Tampa Bay next on the runway.

Speed Round

• I’ll admit Daniel Jones threw me off the scent when he couldn’t beat that bad Atlanta team in Week 3. Sunday’s win at New Orleans was a big step forward. Jones only has one pick all year — a Hail Mary at halftime. The Saints didn’t sack him. Kenny Golladay is getting comfortable and Saquon Barkley looks a little better every week. The Giants can at least be a frisky offense, and maybe still a fun one. And Jones brings rushing equity every week, fantasy backboard of the gods. 

• Sometimes we make the mistake of assuming a defense stinks just because it’s tied to a mediocre overall football team. The Jets defense definitely does not stink; it’s a credible unit. And it can take a punch.

• Zach Wilson and Justin Fields might not be fantasy factors for a while, but they can support viable fantasy wideouts. Corey Davis is in play all season, and obviously Darnell Mooney and Fields have something working together.

• You can’t complain about the usage in the Dallas backfield — Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard are both ripping off chunk plays. OC Kellen Moore is going to be a hot coaching candidate after the season.

• Jameis Winston improved as the game went along, and you can’t really pin the loss to the Giants on him. But the Saints personnel does not fit what Winston does well, and how comfortable can Winston ever get when he knows Taysom Hill is going to play a chunk in every game? The Saints should just accept the inevitable — they have to be a knuckleball offense, and Hill is the proper quarterback for that style.

• I thought the Rams would continue to frustrate Kyler Murray, but the Cardinals dunked on the Rams from the opening snap. And I’m most impressed when Murray plays like he has of late, running less and looking downfield more. Tight end Maxx Williams is a fun post-hype sleeper, a former pedigree tight end who can sneak up on Arizona opponents who are worried about Murray’s legs and this team’s group of dynamic receivers.

• Next week, I have to take a strong Rams team after being embarrassed. Figure LA finds a way to win at Seattle. And I guess the Seahawks don't like Chris Carson as much as I thought. (Seattle is also playing at a turtle's pace, not the story we were sold all summer.)

• Just when I thought D’Andre Swift was too big to fail, he throws up a clunker at Chicago. But he still is the primary receiving back on a team that’s going to trail more often than not, and Detroit should have scored far more than 14 points Sunday — its overall gross offensive production was equal to Chicago’s.

• The Browns continue to have a phone-book passing game — nine players were targeted, and no one saw more than seven looks. Odell Beckham was wide-open on a walk-in touchdown and Baker Mayfield missed him, but OBJ managers have to accept that their man is never going to be peppered with targets off the bus. This offense is always going to spread the ball around. And Cleveland's plus defense will ensure that Browns games are rarely shootouts. 

• Although one of Deebo Samuel’s touchdowns came on a fluke play, he’s still emerging as the alpha dog in the Niners passing game. He’s led the team in targets four straight weeks, and his monster game Sunday came while Brandon Aiyuk was doing nothing on the other side. 

Although Hollywood Brown isn’t a bad player, the 2019 NFL Draft is notable for all the receiving stars who went after the first round. Look away if you’re a Patriots, Chiefs, or Cardinals fan — Samuel, A.J. Brown, D.K. Metcalf, Diontae Johnson, and Terry McLaurin all came after the first round. 

• James Conner is part volume but mostly touchdown deodorant. Chase Edmonds is an explosive player with almost no touchdown equity. The scout in you always wants Edmonds. The fantasy realist sees the reason to roster Conner. No matter what we think, we have to season things to how the real teams think. 

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