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Week 7 Fantasy Booms and Busts: Bengals crash AFC North party

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It’s been six years since the Cincinnati Bengals have been relevant, and six years is an eternity in NFL time. The 2015 Bengals won the AFC North, helmed by Marvin Lewis, Andy Dalton, Jeremy Hill, and A.J. Green.

The names are all different in Cincinnati now. But this current group of Bengals has more plausible upside. It’s time to get excited in the Queen City.

Cincinnati wanted to make a statement Sunday at Baltimore, and for three hours, the Bengals punctuated their point. Cincinnati walloped the Ravens, 41-17, forcing a tie for the division lead. Obviously the Bengals currently hold the tiebreak edge. The road to the AFC North runs through Cincinnati now.

Joe Burrow started slowly but was brilliant for the final three periods, finishing with 416 passing yards and three touchdowns. Burrow averaged just under 11 yards per attempt, and kept the negative plays at a minimum (one pick, one sack). His arm, body, and confidence have never been better since joining the NFL.

Cincinnati’s target tree is especially narrow, and that’s a joy for fantasy managers. All but one of Burrow’s 36 targets were aimed at the Big 4 of Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd, and Week 7 special C.J. Uzomah. Baltimore’s pass defense had egg on its face for two hours.

We have to mention Chase first, who might have Rookie of the Year wrapped before Halloween. Chase smashed for 201 yards on eight catches, including an electrifying 82-yard scoring pass where he pinballed off multiple defenders. He’s starting to have that Randy Moss/Justin Jefferson tint to his freshman season. Chase can score from anywhere on the field.

Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase (1) scores a touchdown during an NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens, Sunday, Oct. 24, 2021 in Baltimore, Md. (AP Photo/Daniel Kucin Jr.)
Bengals receiver Ja'Marr Chase had 201 yards receiving, including an 82-yard touchdown. (AP Photo/Daniel Kucin Jr.)

Higgins actually took the target lead Sunday, though his 15 looks were mildly disappointing (7-62-0). And Boyd didn’t have a big game, either (4-39-0, seven targets). But given how concentrated the passing game has become — and how sharp Burrow is playing — we need to keep all these receivers in our fantasy plans, especially as we continue to navigate through bye week season.

Is Uzomah ready to become a thing at tight end? He ambushed the Ravens with two scores and 91 yards receiving on three opportunities, his fourth and fifth scores over the last four games. The Bengals still aren’t giving Uzomah a ton of targets — a modest 19 in seven weeks — but given his size, speed, and recent production, he’s worth considering as someone around the TE12 cutline. The Jets are a favorable draw next week.

Notably absent from the Cincinnati passing game was tailback Joe Mixon — he handled 12 carries (59 yards, touchdown), but was not targeted. Meanwhile, Samaje Perine also collected 12 touches. The runaway final score enabled Cincinnati to manage Mixon carefully, but unless Mixon gets some foothold as a receiver, he’s going to have a difficult time paying back his ADP.

Ravens left searching for answers

The Ravens offense did what it could to keep up, but it junked the running game early and asked Lamar Jackson to save the day. Jackson had a better fantasy day than a real-life one, throwing for 257 yards and a score, with 88 more yards on the ground. Marquise Brown did what Hollywood generally does — one nifty touchdown catch, a few near misses, and a very playable 5-80-1 line on a whopping 14 targets. Rashod Bateman’s second start was a step forward — 3-80-0 on six looks.

Forget about the Baltimore backfield, there are no right answers there. Oh, Devonta Freeman had 39 total yards and a touchdown on seven touches; that made him the chairman for the day. Le’Veon Bell was running in cement — partly due to Cincinnati’s underrated defense, partly due to Bell’s career arc — and finished with four yards on six touches. The Ravens remain reluctant to use Ty’Son Williams much (2-10 rushing, 2-24 receiving). Latavius Murray (ankle) did not dress. 

Baltimore gets its bye week at a good time, with injuries mounting and defensive problems apparent (the Ravens did shut down the Chargers last week, but Indianapolis put up 513 yards two weeks ago). Minnesota visits in Week 9.

Patriots take Jets behind the woodshed 

You don’t want to go overboard applying New England’s 54-13 rout of the Jets. Bill Belichick has a Jets vendetta that cannot be satiated. Even after Mac Jones was pulled late in the blowout, the Patriots continued to throw the ball, seeking more points. Stay thirsty, my friends. 

But if the Patriots usage could tighten up just an eyelash, you can see fantasy value sticking here. Hunter Henry only had two catches, but he’s scored a touchdown in four straight games. Running mate Jonnu Smith flashed early but left with a shoulder injury. 

Damien Harris (14-106-2) is a nifty two-down grinder, and Branden Bolden (6-79-1) has turned into the new version of James White, a reliable pass-catcher. I don’t expect J.J. Taylor’s two short rushing scores will carry over, but Henry, Harris, and Bolden will continue to get fantasy run as we deal with incomplete midseason rosters.

New England steps up in class the next three weeks, facing the Chargers, Panthers (hey, the defense is solid) and Browns. The Jets draw the Bengals, Colts, and Bills. 

The Jets aren’t sure how badly Zach Wilson (knee) is hurt, but expect him to miss multiple weeks. Backup quarterback Mike White was ordinary in his stint, but he did dump the ball off regularly to featured back Michael Carter (8-67 receiving, 11-37 rushing). Given how precious touches are these days, Carter could sneak into the lower-end RB2 conversation.

Speed Round

• Week 7 was a nifty week for the pocket quarterbacks — nobody in the Top 10 had a rushing touchdown, and only Jackson, Jalen Hurts, and Taylor Heinicke (of that group) made a major impact on the ground. Burrow, Matthew Stafford, Tom Brady and others reminded us that you can still pile up yards and points playing an older style of football.

• The story hasn't changed with Hurts. No player has a wider gap between his current fantasy value and his current real-life value. We just want the numbers, of course. But the Eagles probably suspect they need a different long-term option.

Cooper Kupp would be No. 2 on my board if a fresh draft started tomorrow. He’s absolutely unfair, gobbling up double-digit targets every week. Stafford has a lovely connection with Kupp — they even eat breakfast together regularly — and is comfortable throwing to him off different platforms. Sean McVay’s crossing routes and combination schemes are perfect for Kupp’s quickness and route-running chops. The only thing that would stop this train is injury.

• If I ran the Colts, I'd give Jonathan Taylor about 80 percent of Derrick Henry’s workload. Michael Pittman was wide open most of Sunday night, and easily could have had multiple touchdowns. Sometimes Carson Wentz missed Pittman, often by a considerable margin. Multiple times the 49ers interfered with Pittman.

• The Lions lost with dignity in Los Angeles and D’Andre Swift flashes almost every week, but Jared Goff is who we thought he was — someone who’s just good enough to lose with.

Mike Evans has probably been slightly underrated for 90 percent of his NFL career. He's very close to having a Hall of Fame resume in the books. Brady recognizes that Evans is always potentially open, even when he doesn't look open. 

• You'd swear Arthur Smith and Calvin Ridley met five minutes before kickoff, but Kyle Pitts has been uncoverable for two straight games. That genie is officially out of the bottle. The shocking thing about Cordarrelle Patterson isn't that he's playing so well; it's the fact that so many other respected coaches around the NFL never could truly unlock him. It's too deep in the season to write off Patterson as a fluke.

Myles Gaskin keeps alternating solid games with invisible ones, which is a condemnation of the Miami coaching staff more than it's a comment on him. For some inexplicable reason, the Dolphins thought having co-offensive coordinators was a good idea. Tua Tagovailoa surely hears the trade cries for Deshaun Watson, but he's played well enough since returning. He deserves at least the rest of the season. 

• Watching Allen Lazard and Robert Tonyan produce Sunday, you get the idea Rodgers could turn a stadium usher into a 4-62-1 receiver on game day. But as great as Rodgers undoubtedly still is, the Packers don’t like to step on the throat of opponents. Rodgers has just one 300-yard game in his last 13 starts.

• The Chiefs are 3-14-1 ATS in their last 18 games. At some point you have to stop looking at the team's logo and its three generational talents and consider how fractured the infrastructure is. 

Khalil Herbert had another excellent game, even as the Bears were boat-raced at Tampa. He deserves to keep a significant role all year, no matter who is healthy in Chicago. NFL Films maestro Greg Cosell recently compared Herbert to Tiki Barber, a monstrous compliment.

(Barber deserved a fairer shake for the Hall of Fame, but combination backs are almost always underrated. He was fantastic the final seven years of his career, and ranks 15th on the all-time yards from scrimmage list, despite retiring after his age-31 season.) 

• It's time to cut Brandon Aiyuk, who at last check was still 67 percent rostered in Yahoo. Forget his summer ADP, that's a sunk cost. Deebo Samuel is the obvious No. 1 target here, eventually George Kittle will come back, neither quarterback has settled into a passing groove, and the Niners want to be a run-first team anyway.

Aiyuk can't be fantasy-started until he has at least one prove-it game (perhaps more than one), and you probably can't get anything for him in trade. He's a fantasy obstructor, someone who gets in your way more than anything else. At some point you have to accept the reality of the current season. 

• The Raiders seem especially loose and confident since Jon Gruden was forced out; in short, they're better off. I wasn't worried about the offense post-Gruden, because when you have a tenured quarterback like Derek Carr, that's as good as any offensive coordinator. Carr didn't have Darren Waller on Sunday and Josh Jacobs missed most of the game, but the Raiders never looked worse for wear. 

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