The NFC South was featured on Thursday Night Football this week and didn’t disappoint, with fantasy points spewing from both teams in this divisional matchup. All the big names from Atlanta and Tampa Bay got into the act, but it was the Falcons that built a 33-14 lead through three quarters and coasted to a 43-28 win to move to 6-3 on the season.
Matt Ryan continued his blazing pace with 344 passing yards and a four-pack of touchdown passes on the evening. Ryan has now thrown 23 touchdown passes in nine games and has not finished a single game below 8.0 YPA. Julio Jones was Ryan’s favorite target on Thursday night, with 11 passes intended for the beastly wide receiver, who tallied eight catches for 111 yards and a score after getting off to a slow start. The Atlanta backfield is still missing Tevin Coleman (hamstring), but Devonta Freeman performed well in his absence, stacking up 105 total yards on 19 touches. Coleman has a chance to play in Week 10, but Freeman will continue to run with lead back duties if his troublesome hammy is not fully healed.
On the Tampa Bay side of the ball, Mike Evans was a stone-cold monster throughout this game and has made a serious case to be considered the best wide receiver in football. Not only does Evans have top-flight size and skills for a professional pass catcher, but he is being fed the ball at a ridiculous rate in 2016. Evans hauled in 11 of 17 targets for 150 yards and two scores on Thursday in a performance that included numerous eye-popping grabs. 17 of Jameis Winston’s 37 passes (46%) were directed at Evans, who has double digit targets in every game since Week 1, and is averaging 12.9 targets per week to go with eight touchdowns in eight games. This is the type of player that can carry a fantasy squad to a title, as long as the head injury that Evans suffered near the end of the game doesn’t linger.
The Tampa Bay backfield was one of interest with the Bucs losing running backs seemingly by the minute. Doug Martin, Charles Sims, and Jacquizz Rodgers were all out, leaving a mixed bag of fill-in backs to handle rushing duties on Thursday night. Per Pro Football Focus, Peyton Barber led the Bucs’ backs with 36 snaps, with Antone Smith registering 24, followed by Mike James with 20 snaps. Barber also led in touches, handling the ball 15 times for 55 total yards, but was out-produced by Smith, who accounted for 52 total yards on his eight opportunities. If Rodgers sits again in Week 10 and Martin is unable to return, running-back needy fantasy owners should look elsewhere for safer production.
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Falcons at Buccaneers Quick Slants
Jameis Winston had a solid night before being knocked out of the game on a late two-point conversion attempt. Winston threw for 261 yards and a trio of scores on the night, and now has multiple touchdown passes in three consecutive games. Keep an eye out for news on Winston’s injury status in coming days. … Atlanta rookie TE Austin Hooper filled-in admirably for Jacob Tamme (shoulder), catching three of six targets for 46 yards and a touchdown. Hooper will be a borderline TE1/TE2 option with Tamme out and has a bright future ahead in Atlanta. … Adam Humphries snagged five of seven targets for 46 yards and a score, and will continue to be a decent PPR option in advantageous matchups with the Bucs light on receivers. … Behind Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu was targeted seven times, which he turned into five catches and 74 yards. Sanu now has 158 yards on 14 catches over the last two weeks and is a respectable bye-week filler if needed.
In Other News…
Ben Roethlisberger (knee) is reportedly “on track” to play this week against Baltimore, which is great news for the Steelers’ skill players. Ben was looking for his third-straight 300 passing yard performance when he was injured in Week 6, and will attempt to pick up where he left off against a Baltimore team that has allowed just one quarterback to top 260 passing yards this season. Roethlisberger is a back-end QB1 on the road this week, but his return certainly brightens up the future forecast for fellow Steelers like Antonio Brown.
Spencer Ware (concussion) was unable to practice on Thursday and now looks destined to sit out on Sunday when the Chiefs host the Jacksonville Jaguars. With Jamaal Charles (knees) out, Charcandrick West will be leading the Kansas City backfield on Sunday against the Jaguars, who were torched by Tennessee for 214 rushing yards on 5.0 yards per carry in Week 8. Owners that swiped West in Week 9’s waiver wire madness will be rewarded with a solid RB2 this week and moving forward as long as Ware remains out.
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Seattle QB Russell Wilson (knee, pectoral) has practiced in full this week and is ready to roll for Monday night’s matchup with Buffalo. Wilson has not been at full strength in weeks and should be considered a back-end QB1 until he is fully healed and ready to use his wheels again. … LeSean McCoy (hamstring) was limited at practice on Thursday and is a dicey bet to suit up in a rough road matchup at Seattle on Monday. Mike Gillislee will start again in McCoy remains out. … DeMarco Murray (toe) practiced fully on Thursday and can be started without worry at San Diego on Sunday. …. T.Y. Hilton (hamstring) didn’t practice Wednesday but returned on Thursday, giving him a solid chance of playing in Week 9. … Carlos Hyde (shoulder) has a sprained AC joint and his status should be monitored over the weekend. … Randall Cobb (hamstring) was limited at practice on Thursday and should be on the weekend injury watch list once again this week. … Ty Montgomery (illness) practiced on Thursday and has reportedly been meeting strictly with the Green Bay running backs this week as he prepares to take on rushing duties for the Packers against Indianapolis in a solid matchup. … Devontae Booker (shoulder) was limited on Thursday but should be safe to start at Oakland this week. … Jerick McKinnon (ankle) returned to practice on Thursday and appears on track to return to the field this Sunday. … Corey Coleman (hand) practiced in full on Thursday and will return to the field for the first time since Week 2 when the Browns host Dallas on Sunday. … Travis Benjamin (knee) and Tyrell Williams (knee) were both limited on Thursday and should be monitored as Sunday approaches. … James Starks (knee) practiced in limited fashion on Thursday but is not expected to play in Week 9. Starks should be plucked from the waiver wire in all leagues where he is not owned, as he could see decent playing time upon his return.
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