Patrick Mahomes won the highlights. The Chiefs won the stat sheet. The Titans, somehow, won the game.
And for the most part, fantasy managers were content. It’s good to have the best player in the league back.
In the real world, it’s a stinging day for Kansas City. It’s frustrating to lose to an inferior opponent, especially when you outgain them 530-371 and have nine more first downs. But the Titans made some big plays — a defensive touchdown, especially, pays the bills — and escaped with the 35-32 triumph. And most of our fake starters came through with flying colors.
Start with Mahomes, who dissected the Titans for 446 yards and three touchdown passes. Mahomes didn’t turn the ball over and was sacked just twice. Tyreek Hill (a juicy 11-157-1, on an insane 19 targets) and Travis Kelce (7-75-1) were open all day.
The play everyone will remember was the Mahomes jump pass to Mecole Hardman, who exploded for a 63-yard touchdowns. Maybe Hardman needs more than one target. Meanwhile, Sammy Watkins had his usual day — lots of attention (nine targets), not much return (5-39-0). In some circles, those name brands die hard.
Damien Williams was busy during LeSean McCoy’s skip week — 24 touches, 109 yards. But the Titans turned a Williams fumble into a defensive touchdown, the swing of the game. The KC understudies hardly got into the flow — Darrell Williams had three touches, Darwin Thompson two. Your speculative picks probably belong elsewhere.
While the Chiefs were running 76 scrimmage plays, the Titans only had 45 snaps. Most of Tennessee’s work went to the underrated Derrick Henry, who ripped 188 yards and two scores against Kansas City’s leaky defense. Henry can grind out power yards, but he also has an explosive gear. His signature run was a 68-yard touchdown.
The Titans spread around Ryan Tannehill’s 19 targets, aiming for seven different receivers. No one played Kalif Raymond (52-yard catch), and no other Titan topped 36 yards. Wide usage trees can be soul crushing. If you played Jonnu Smith, reasonably, you swallowed a 4-30-0 line. Adam Humphries at least cashed his only target into a 23-yard touchdown, the game-winning score.
The Chiefs and Chargers hook up next Monday, with pinball likely. Mahomes is back in form, and the Chiefs defense can’t be trusted. Kansas City then takes a bye, with the Raiders and Patriots following after the break. Kansas City dropped to 6-4 with Sunday’s loss; Oakland is only a half-game back. There’s no wiggle room left.
The Titans remain one of those teams that can beat anyone and lose to anyone. Next week’s home game against Jacksonville could be a race to 17 points. After that, the Titans visit Indianapolis and Oakland.
Christian Kirk breaks the game
But back to Kirk, I wasn’t as sold on his Week 10 prospects. Why have the Cardinals struggled so much to unlock him? Kirk didn’t score a touchdown in the first nine weeks. I decided to spend my DFS cash elsewhere, and I did not rank Kirk optimistically.
With that in mind, I spent much of the afternoon getting (justly) sacked on Twitter. Operation Naked Murray went down in flames.
One of Kirk’s touchdowns was a fluke deflection, but the other two scores were flat-out roastings of a horrible secondary. It added up to a 6-138-3 line, the best receiver score of the day, the game-changer of the DFS slate. While Andy Isabella made another big catch (a 55-yarder) and Larry Fitzgerald caught all eight of his targets, it was Kirk who clicked with Murray.
And the Cardinals needed that connection, because Arizona’s ground game went nowhere. David Johnson ran like someone not healthy, tentatively making just two yards on five carries. Kenyan Drake had one 17-yard scamper; his other nine rushes went for 18 total yards. Murray had one 32-yard jaunt but otherwise didn’t run proactively.
The Bucs, of course, gave some of it back — they always do. Jameis Winston was intercepted twice and Ronald Jones lost a fumble. Tampa nonetheless scored the 30-27 victory, dusting off some fantasy afterthoughts.
O.J. Howard (4-47-1) did what tight ends do against Arizona; spike in the end zone. Peyton Barber had a touchdown run. Jones, a logical play this week, had a touchdown run on 11 otherwise-useless carries, but he also caught eight balls for 77 yards. Mike Evans (4-82-0) and Chris Godwin (6-74-0) got their yards — and Godwin had a whopping 12 targets — but didn’t get into the end zone.
I’d like to sign up Arizona for carnival life, but the schedule might not play along. The 49ers, Rams, and Steelers — three surging defenses — come calling the next three games with a bye in Week 12 mixed in.
Brian Hill’s close-up
While the Kirk stuff was a personal disaster, maybe a proactive add of Brian Hill can help save the week. Hill wasn’t special in the shocking upset at New Orleans, but he was used plenty. With Devonta Freeman dinged up, Hill rushed 20 times for 61 yards and added a 10-yard touchdown catch.
Ito Smith is already on injured reserve, and Freeman left Sunday with an ankle injury. The Falcons won a surprisingly low-scoring game at New Orleans, but usually this team is a pinball arcade. Even if you can’t get Hill — or don’t want to pay up for him — remember the general idea; when possible, we want to buy fantasy free agents at the bottom of the bucket, not at the top. Look-aheads don’t always have a high completion rate, but we don’t need many connections to make it worth our while.
• Dallas and Minnesota played a game that could have gone either way, but the Cowboys did Minnesota a favor by going to Ezekiel Elliott — and moving away from Dak Prescott — in the critical series down the stretch. Prescott is the man Dallas should have financially committed to, not Elliott. And if Amari Cooper is going to mavigate the sidelines like he did Sunday night, he’s basically unguardable.
Cooper also benefits from a fairly narrow Dallas usage tree. The Cowboys haven’t unlocked Elliott, the receiver, all year.
• There’s no explosiveness left in Kyle Rudolph, but he’s still plenty handy around the goal — two touchdown flips, along with a 2-point conversion. And two of the catches were highlight worthy.
• The Lions tried three running backs but no one went anywhere. At least Jeff Driskel played a little better as the game went along, and he focused on Detroit’s primary weapons.
• Not to be lost in Cincinnati’s blowout loss was a credible Joe Mixon game (151 total yards; a historic 30 carries despite the overwhelming margin) and a respectable showing from Tyler Boyd (6-62-0, eight targets). Of course, Lamar Jackson went video game against the Bengals, accounting for four touchdowns and posting his second perfect QB rating of the year (by way of comparison, it’s happened once in Green Bay history — Aaron Rodgers earlier this year).
• Nick Chubb was hampered by Cleveland’s poor decision making at the goal line — Freddie Kitchens hasn’t realizes that the jumbo package is a losing proposition — but he was magnetic between the 20s. Chubb finished with 22 touches while Kareem Hunt had 11; a reasonable ratio to expect in coming weeks. Odell Beckham drew a couple of pass interference flags, but otherwise was modest on 12 targets (5-57-0). You’re probably taking a loss on him.
• Before the year I saw John Brown as a boom-or-bust guy but someone who would struggle to have consistency. He’s actually been the exact opposite; remarkably consistent, but the blowup weeks have been elusive.
• I’d like to see the Bills make a bigger commitment to Dawson Knox. He set a personal best for snap share last week; he didn’t play as much Sunday, but set new marks with six targets and four catches. This offense could use his seam busting and run-after-catch ability.
• Something is missing in the New Orleans offense. Perhaps Alvin Kamara isn’t completely healthy. Michael Thomas is marvelous, but the Saints have no outside threat or vertical stretcher in the passing game. And to see the Saints this flat after a bye week was shocking.
• Good coaching is often shown as in-season improvement; with that, take a bow, Mike Tomlin. The Steelers defense was ridiculous against the Rams, bageling Cooper Kupp and confusing Jared Goff (two picks, four sacks, 51.2 rating). Pittsburgh’s offense is a boring, plodding, game-manager thing, but the upgraded Pittsburgh defense (Minkah Fitzpatrick especially helps) gives the Steelers a puncher’s chance against anyone.
• Daniel Jones’s gift and curse is his patience in the pocket; he’s always looking to go big-play hunting, but sometimes ball security becomes a problem. To be fair, so long as he doesn’t lose his nerve or confidence, I can live with this trade-off as he gains pro experience.
• It’s not convenient for Darius Slayton to have a monster game before a bye week, but I think he’s worth a grab-and-hold in most leagues. And Golden Tate looked the part with Evan Engram out, commanding the ball and winning after the catch. Wanting to be great isn’t everything, but it matters. You always get the idea Tate is maximizing his ability.
• The Jets offense usually comes out sharp in the first quarter, in the script portion of the game, then runs out of steam later. That’s more of a minus for Adam Gase than it is a credit. The Jets need a repeatable plan after the playbook is face up and there’s no longer an opportunity to ambush.
• Make it two straight wins and five straight covers for Miami. They’re respectable with Ryan Fitzpatrick, and they play hard for Brian Flores. They somehow won at Indianapolis despite the Kalen Ballage nightmare — 24 touches, 45 yards. Maybe give Patrick Laird and Myles Gaskin more run against Buffalo next week.
• The Panthers lost at snowy Lambeau but it wasn’t Kyle Allen’s fault (307 yards, one touchdown, one pick). Fantasy owners appreciate Allen skimming most of his targets to the core four — DJ Moore, Greg Olsen, Curtis Samuel, and the incomparable Christian McCaffrey. Moore, Olsen, and McCaffrey all played 100 percent of the snaps.