It's the Baltimore Ravens at the Dallas Cowboys in a noon start, and I've got my Top 5 Fantasy Picks for the game ... but are they impacted by breaking news out of The Star via the final practice/injury list?
Dez Bryant has a back problem? We've got the scoop. But let's do this in Fantasy order, with my Top 5:
1. RB Ezekiel Elliott. This is one week where the stats line up as a tough matchup in both the fantasy football world and the real football world. The Ravens are No. 1 against the run in both the NFL and No. 1 against running backs in fantasy football. Baltimore represents perhaps Elliott’s most daunting challenge to this point. Now, Elliott has taken on tough defenses before, at least tough ones on paper (Green Bay and Pittsburgh come immediately to mind). But this Ravens unit is giving up 71.3 rushing yards per game and allowed 100 or more rushing yards to a TEAM twice this season (against Cleveland, inexplicably, and the New York Jets). Neither of those teams were as good up front or in the backfield as the Cowboys’ offensive line and Elliott. This contest shapes up as one where Elliott could earn every bit of the 90 or 100 yards rushing I expect him to get. The wild card is what you saw in the passing game last week. Can he take a short pass and break one? That would boost his value to you in your starting lineup.
2. WR Dez Bryant. So here is where fantasy numbers can go somewhat wonky. This Ravens outfit is No. 7 in fantasy terms against quarterbacks. But the Ravens are ranked No. 26 against wide receivers. So how the heck is that possible? Well, receivers score points quicker than quarterbacks in most standard and PPR leagues. Plus, it could be a bit skewed by the 222 yards Odell Beckham Jr. put on the Ravens a few weeks ago. The fact is the Ravens have given up just three 100-yard receiving games this season. So, while the rankings don’t look good, the Ravens have actually fared better against receivers than you might be led to believe.
But there’s are two reasons why it’s smart to believe Bryant could have a big week.
First, I believe the long touchdown pass last week from Dak Prescott is a sign that the Cowboys are getting more comfortable going downfield with the rookie, and that boosts Bryant’s value.
Second, the Ravens’ top cornerback, Jimmy Smith, didn’t practice Wednesday and Thursday due to a back injury. Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said Thursday that he expects Smith to play, but a back injury could just as easily keep Smith out of the game, meaning that a rookie, Tavon Young, could draw the main coverage duties on Bryant. If Smith doesn’t play Bryant could feast.
But wait. What about Dez' back? Here's the story:
Two weeks ago, Dez told our Mike Fisher that he reported a mild back discomfort to the training staff. I'll paraphrase here: "You tell the trainers, they give you an aspirin, you're fine, but they still mark you down on the report.''
So that's it. Was Dez OK on Friday? Fish tells me that Bryant was his usual frisky self on the field, was engaging in Greco-Roman wrestling with Lucky Whitehead on the sideline, and was shooting lefty jumpers in the locker room later during Laundry-Bin Basketball.
Dez says he's fine. We believe him.
Fish also reports that Dez' mood is fine, even as we are confirming a FWST note that he'll spend Sunday back in Lufkin for the funeral of his father.
3. QB Dak Prescott. Prescott has one of his toughest matchups of the season, in terms of fantasy. The Ravens come in as the No. 7 fantasy defense against quarterbacks. In the real world of the NFL the Ravens are No. 4 against the pass. There are other factors to keep in mind, too. They’ve allowed 16 passing touchdowns, an average of nearly two per game. But the Ravens have also picked off 11 passes and sacked the quarterback 22 times. Those two numbers are among the best in the NFL and are the numbers that concern me with Prescott. Like a typical Ravens defense, they can bring pressure and they can force turnovers. That puts Prescott squarely in the crosshairs of a defense that can force him into a few mistakes. If your league deducts for turnovers, keep that in mind. He’s still worth the start, but I believe this could be one of Prescott’s weaker fantasy games.
4. WR Cole Beasley. Smith’s injury could have a trickledown effect that could benefit Beasley. If the Ravens must play without Smith, it might alter their coverage patterns and force them to roll more coverage to Bryant’s side of the field. That would benefit Beasley, who could work the middle of the field and potential mismatches with underneath routes and help the Cowboys move the chains. I suspect Beasley’s numbers could be better than last week’s 5-33 line against Pittsburgh.
5. TE Jason Witten. Witten has a tough matchup this week. The Ravens are ranked No. 2 against tight ends in fantasy football. The Ravens have linebackers that have good coverage skills and can keep Witten in check. This might be a week to keep him on your bench.
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