Before Week 5 kicks off with the Patriots visiting the Buccaneers on Thursday night, pop open a cold six-pack and get up to speed on some of the more interesting storylines with Arthur Arkush.
1. Nice Diggs: Few likely had Minnesota's Stefon Diggs (WR9) pacing fantasy wideouts through four weeks with 22-391-4 receiving. Even fewer foresaw this reality with Case Keenum quarterbacking in three of them. Credit Diggs, who has added scoring (four TDs matches his career high) and big-play propensity (17.8-yard catch average is more than 40 percent higher than his career 12.7-yard mark) to what was already an impressive resume for the 2015 fifth-rounder.
That Diggs has continued flourishing despite a quarterback change certainly is encouraging for his 2017 outlook. But let's not pretend we haven't seen brilliant stretches like this from him before. Diggs came on like gangbusters to begin his rookie season with 25-419-2 in his first four NFL games — after being a healthy scratch, to boot! — and had back-to-backs last season of 16-285-1 and 26-244.
The two digs on Stefon entering Year Three were consistency and durability. What he's done so far isn't unchartered waters; sustaining it as he heads into the season's next quarter-pole would be. That his first toe into those waters comes against Chicago Monday night is exciting: Diggs has totaled four scores and 226 yards in just three outings vs. Chicago, whose success against No. 1 wideouts under Vic Fangio hasn't been sustainable since subduing Julio Jones in Week 1: Mike Evans (7-93-1), Antonio Brown (10-110-1) and Jordy Nelson (4-75-2).
2. The last time Thomas Rawls (RB14) owners were treated to an RB1 showing was Week 13 of last season, when he parlayed 16 touches into 118 total yards and two scores vs. Carolina's run 'D' that finished the season sixth overall. Rawls' worst game during his injury-marred sophomore showing — and perhaps in his brief NFL career — came two weeks later against the Rams, whom it appears he'll again face as Seattle's lead back on Sunday.
The Rams have surrendered a league-worst seven combined touchdowns to opposing backs and are currently ranked 30th in run 'D.' Ever since Rawls' breakthrough rookie campaign ended early due to a broken foot, Seattle has worked hard to replace him, drafting four backs over the past two years and signing Eddie Lacy. We can't exactly call Rawls, relegated by Chris Carson to healthy scratch last week while Lacy and someone named J.D. McKissic were active, a surivor, necessarily.
But we'll reiterate what we wrote in this week's "9 route:" Seattle's offense under Pete Carroll has functioned optimally with a workhorse, not a committee. Rawls, not Lacy, leads the Seahawks backfield with 20-plus carry games since 2015 (five). We don't trust him to stay healthy, but Rawls was the first name mentioned by Carroll to replace Carson for a reason. Most are afraid of the Seattle backfield for good reason, but we can't shake the suspicion Rawls is ready to surprise.
3. There are surprises and then there's the 2017 Rams. And if you think their leading the NFL in scoring — and it's not close, frankly, despite what Tom Brady's Patriots and Alex Smith's Chiefs are doing — is stunning, imagine the shocker they can pull by putting another 30-something up Sunday at home vs. Seattle.
Lest we forget, however, Jeff Fisher's Rams won four of their last six games vs. the Seahawks, including three consecutive at home. So if McVay's Rams lose, will fans call for Fisher again?
McVay's Rams are averaging 35.5 points, up more than a field goal over the second-ranked Patriots, and McVay's Todd Gurley has averaged 1.75 total touchdowns and 149 yards. Fisher's Rams averaged 18.5 points and coaxed .55 TDs and 86.4 yards per game out of Gurley. You know, just in case you thought we were serious about fans pining for Fisher.
Jared Goff (QB18) has parlayed meetings with the Colts, Washington, San Francisco and Dallas into QB10 standing after four games. Unlike Seattle, the seventh-toughest fantasy 'D' vs. opposing quarterbacks after holding Goff to 125 yards and 5.4 per attempt in December, the Colts (28th), Washington (13th), Niners (22nd) and the Cowboys (23rd) served as an asterisk in gauging Goff's growth. He can remove the asterisk with another commanding performance Sunday.
4. At no point during the 2017 season would I have guessed the Raiders' best fantasy play would be their defense. Sunday, when EJ Manuel makes his first start for injured Derek Carr, an Oakland 'D' hosting listless Joe Flacco's Ravens qualifies.
Only the pairings of Indianapolis' Scott Tolzien-Jacoby Brissett and Cleveland's DeShone Kizer-Kevin Hogan have been better to fantasy defenses than Flacco's Ravens. Heck, I might start Manuel before looking to Flacco for help this week. The Raiders were second in the NFL in takeaways last season (30) but have just four combined through four games. Flacco should boost that total this week.
As for the 215-pound beast in the room, reports from Oakland say Marshawn Lynch (RB28) is taking on a greater leadership role with Carr out to jumpstart a stalled offense and ground game in particular that's contributed 56 yards on its past 28 carries (Lynch has 30 and 15, respectively, over that span).
Perhaps a Baltimore 'D' surrendering the 10th-most fantasy points to backs, or seeing Alex Collins, whom Seattle drafted two years ago to help replace Lynch and has broken out for Baltimore the past two weeks, prompts Lynch's own turnaround. We're not crazy enough to recommend him, but Lynch is needed now more than ever by the Raiders and has delivered in tougher situations before.
5. Cam Newton (QB8) donned his Superman cape in Foxboro Sunday for essentially the first time in a year. He made it less than 72 hours before making sexist remarks to the Charlotte Observer's Jourdan Rodrigue that swayed the conversation back to what's wrong with Newton.
Shame on Newton for his immaturity and lack of awareness. And Rodrigue shouldn't get a pass for her old Twitter posts including racist remarks, regardless of when they're written.
Newton still clearly can't be trusted to do the right things off the field. And while his on-field performance on Sunday seems trivial in light of the latest needless controversy he's started, this is a fantasy football column. So, do you trust Newton on the field to come anywhere close to replicating last week's mastery?
What helped Newton finally click again vs. the Patriots was his best rushing performance in more than a calendar year (8-44-1). It's no coincidence he appeared more confident as a thrower the more he got back to doing what he does best — stressing defenses with his arm and legs — and running with power and purpose.
Detroit has allowed all of one rushing yard on two carries to quarterbacks this season. Teryl Austin's 'D' is playing both opportunistically and with discipline, which has prevented rushing chances for quarterbacks, albeit none near as dangerous as Newton.
The Lions get first-round LB Jarrad Davis back from a two-game absence. He has the speed to spy Newton and prevent him from getting outside the pocket, in addition to containing Christian McCaffrey in coverage. Detroit's impressive safeties will help, too, in preventing Kelvin Benjamin (WR21) and Devin Funchess (WR31) from doing damage downfield. Even before Newton created unnecessary distractions this week, we didn't love his chances of stacking upper-echelon QB1 outings.
6. About the only stranger things (great Netflix show, by the way) than advocating for Oakland's 'D' is doing the same with the Jets' stop-unit and not one but two-headed backfield monster in Bilal Powell (RB15) and rookie Elijah McGuire (RB39).
Indeed, the Browns don't just do strange things — think they'd like Carson Wentz or Deshaun Watson now? — they make us do them, too.
Powell has been RB5 and RB9 in his past two Matt Forte-less starts dating back to last season and again appears poised to lead the Gang Green charge in Cleveland with Forte (toe) still sidelined. McGuire needed merely 19 snaps to rack up 131 yards, including a dazzling 69-yard touchdown vs. the Jaguars last week. McGuire's touches have gone up in three consecutive weeks, as he's clearly emerged as the Jets' most explosive back.
The Browns have played decent run 'D' but DeShone Kizer has made every defense he faces not only play-able but highly successful. Forget Josh McCown revenge game and think a second consecutive week of grounding-and-pounding by Todd Bowles' team — which could be ahead of the Patriots in the AFC East by the time Week 5 wraps.