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Fantasy Football Week 4 lineup decisions: Starts, Sits, Sleepers and Busts to know for every game

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Fantasy Football is all about the matchups. Even though you drafted your team with certain hopes and intentions, your weekly lineup decisions shouldn’t be determined by the order you picked your players in. You need to check who your players play and make sure you’ve got the right guys in — and the wrong guys out.

It’s too early to be absolutely sure on which matchups will be easy and which ones will be tough, but we can take some educated guesses based on healthy personnel, defensive schemes, track records and key details of offenses. The things we know can help us minimize the impact of the things we don’t know. This should lead to better decisions being made.

We’ll go through every game and highlight the players who aren’t obvious starts and sits (because you don’t need to be told to start Jonathan Taylor). You should feel more comfortable starting or sitting players based on the information given, and feeling comfortable with your Fantasy lineup before the games start is the best feeling in the world.  

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All lines from Caesars Sportsbook.

Bust Candidate (Lineup Decisions)

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Dave’s Notebook:

  • MIAMI: Offense played just 43 snaps last week, should be more rested than a typical offense playing on Thursday. That includes Tagovailoa, who didn’t practice much this week with ankle and back injuries. 
  • MIAMI: Because the Dolphins defense played 92 snaps, the onus might be on the offense to control the clock and play at a slow pace. However, per TRU Media, they’re already the third-slowest in seconds between plays.
  • TAGOVAILOA: Has struggled against blitzes (higher completion rate, yards per attempt, TD rate, QB rating vs. non-blitzes) and has been less efficient versus zone coverages (higher completion rate, yards per attempt, TD rate, QB rating vs. man coverages).
  • BENGALS: Have played the eighth-least zone coverage, but this is their first matchup against a potent passing offense. They’re expected to play more zone coverage. The Bengals have also blitzed less week over week, and with defensive tackle D.J. Reader out for a while, their blitz rate may fall below 20% for the first time this season. The more the Bengals play zone and not blitz, the worse things get for Tagovailoa. 
  • BENGALS: Have seen the second-most pass attempts of 20-plus Air Yards (15) to wide receivers this season, but only four have been completed and only one for more than 30 yards. The 26.7% catch rate allowed is sixth-best. The Bengals also lead the league in fewest YAC/rec (Yards After Catch per reception) allowed to receivers (1.61). 
  • BENGALS: Have not allowed more than 15 Fantasy points to a quarterback through three games. But, they’ve played Mitch Trubisky, Cooper Rush and Joe Flacco.

Start Him (Lineup Decisions)

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Dave’s Notebook:

  • COUSINS: Struggled mightily with man coverage so far this year (-0.40 EPA/dropback, 42.2% completion rate), and outside of a terrific TD rate (10%!) has been equally bad when blitzed (-0.29 EPA/dropback, 42.5% completion rate). He’s been blitzed on one-third of his dropbacks and seen man coverage on one-third of his dropbacks (and both blitzed and versus man coverage on 21% of his dropbacks). 
  • COUSINS: Has to get rid of the ball faster — the Lions sacked him once but forced 10 incompletions on 14 pressures. 
  • VIKINGS: Have surprisingly allowed a pass rush pressure on 35.5% of Cousins’ dropbacks — including 34.1% last week against the Lions. 
  • SAINTS: Finally generated pass rush pressure (32.1% of snaps) and dialed up more blitzes (39.3%) in Week 3 against the Panthers. 
  • SAINTS: Played the least amount of zone coverage last week (50.8%) since the start of 2021. They usually play more zone but they’ve been getting more comfortable with man coverage over the past two weeks. 
  • SAINTS: No QB has 20-plus Fantasy points against them this year, but the defense has faced Mariota, Brady without top receivers and Mayfield.

Flex Starter (Lineup Decisions)

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Dave’s Notebook:

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  • THIELEN: After closing Week 2 strong, Thielen landed a 21.6% target share and cashed in an 8-61-1 stat line against Detroit. 
  • SAINTS: Have allowed an impressive 61.5% catch rate to opposing receivers, especially since they’ve seen the sixth-most targets through three weeks, but they’re allowing 14.3 yards per catch and an egregious 6.25 YAC/rec (that’s third worst). 
  • SAINTS: If the Saints opt to play a lot of man coverage, which they might, considering the Eagles and Lions had some success with it against Minnesota, it’s assumed Thielen will draw lighter coverage than Justin Jefferson. Thielen is efficient versus both man and zone but better against man.

Bust Candidate (Lineup Decisions)

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Dave’s Notebook:

  • HUNT: Exactly 15 touches in each game this year. Has averaged 4.2 yards per run and 6.0 yards per catch, both of which are lower for him compared to his career totals. He totaled at least 60 yards per game. 
  • HUNT: Had five touches inside of 10 yards compared to six for Chubb. Chubb has scored more often, including in Week 3 when Hunt had three straight goal-to-go carries and couldn’t score, but Chubb did on a fourth-down try. 
  • FALCONS: Allowing 4.49 yards per carry so far this season (a little above league-average), and no running back has more than 10 PPR or non-PPR points against them, but they haven’t exactly been tested. Of the 59 carries they’ve seen, only three have come from inside of 10 yards.
  • FALCONS: Seem especially deficient against runs to the edge (7.24 yards per carry allowed) compared to runs up the middle (4.22), and they’ve allowed much fewer yards before and after contact on edge runs compared to between the tackles. 
  • HUNT: Averaging 3.86 yards per carry on edge runs; Chubb is averaging 4.92. Chubb’s better than Hunt on between-the-tackle runs, but both are north of 4.40 yards per carry.  

Start Him (Lineup Decisions)

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Dave’s Notebook:

  • NJOKU: Became a factor in Week 3 picking up a bunch of short-range targets from Jacoby Brissett. Only one target, and only two of his 27 routes, went beyond 10 yards downfield last week. 
  • NJOKU: Seemed to be more involved against Cover-2 and Cover-3 style defenses recently. Last week, 9 of 10 targets came against those specific coverages, and the week before he had two efficient catches against Cover-3. Both types of defense are designed to eliminate the big play while still fighting the run, which is perfect for a short-area outlet like Njoku. 
  • FALCONS: Lead the NFL in Cover-2 snaps played through three weeks (23.8%), and are just below league average in Cover-3 snaps played (32.8%).  
  • FALCONS: Rank bottom-five in catch rate allowed (78.3%) and receiving yards allowed (219) to tight ends. Also rank bottom-10 in yards per catch (12.17) and first-down receptions allowed (nine) to tight ends.

Sneaky Sleeper (Lineup Decisions)

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Dave’s Notebook:

  • RAVENS: Have allowed an 82.4% catch rate (third highest) and two TDs to tight ends through three games. Quarterbacks have earned a 158.0 QB rating when targeting tight ends against Baltimore. 
  • KNOX: It’s discouraging that in a game when Josh Allen was dinking and dunking for most of his 63 pass attempts last week that Knox saw just four targets. Knox played 71% of all snaps, but 68% of all pass snaps.

Sit Him (Lineup Decisions)

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Dave’s Notebook:

  • BILLS: Between the heat and the matchup, the Buffalo offensive line allowed a pressure on 45.1% of their snaps, more than double what they averaged in their first two games combined. That helped Singletary’s crazy-high target rate last week. Of Singletary’s nine catches, only two seemed like designed throws (including his touchdown versus man coverage). 
  • RAVENS: Rank 24th in pass rush pressure rate (28.8% of snaps) and 20th in blitz per dropback rate (23.5%). They don’t attack quarterbacks quite like they used to.
  • RAVENS: Their defensive breakdowns tend to happen further downfield against receivers and tight ends; as far as defending running backs through the air, Baltimore is a little better than league-average in catch rate and yards per catch allowed to running backs and top-10 in YAC/reception to runners.
  • SINGLETARY: Had 10 or fewer touches in Weeks 1 and 2, and may only see more than that in Week 4 as a way to slow down the pace of the offense after playing 92 snaps in the heat last week. Note the use of the word “may”; the Bills still throw the ball on 66.2% of their snaps, sixth-highest in the league. 

Sit Him (Lineup Decisions)

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Dave’s Notebook:

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  • DOBBINS: After playing just 44% of the snaps last week (Justice Hill played more), and turning seven carries into 23 yards, it’s quite a leap of faith to trust Dobbins. 
  • JUSTICE HILL: The Ravens’ other rusher last Sunday played more snaps (47%), was much better rushing (6-60) and took on 7 of 11 snaps on 3rd/4th downs as well as 5 of 7 snaps inside the 10. Dobbins used to share rushing work with Gus Edwards back in 2020, so that doesn’t seem to be changing. 
  • BILLS: Have given up just 2.66 yards per carry to running backs (second-best in the league). Their D-line has been something else, pinning running backs to a 0.23 yards before contact average (which is somehow only second-best). 

Sit Him (Lineup Decisions)

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Dave’s Notebook:

  • BATEMAN: Start thinking about him like you used to think about Tyler Lockett — a boom/bust Fantasy receiver thanks to his big-play ability. He currently leads all qualifying receivers in yards per catch (28.25!) and YAC/reception (14.88!) and is fourth in average depth of target (17.56 yards). 
  • BATEMAN: There’s an obvious downside, which you saw last week. He dropped a deep ball that would have been a touchdown, and he’s only commanding an 18.8% target share in an offense throwing the ball 56.6% of the time. Bateman also has zero red-zone targets. 
  • BILLS: At 87.3%, the Bills play the second-most zone coverage of any team. Only five teams have allowed fewer completions of 20-plus yards (six). Buffalo’s secondary is thin on talent, but they’re typically one of the best-coached defenses in football. Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle combined for 135 yards last week on six catches/10 targets, but neither scored.

Bust Candidate (Lineup Decisions)

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Dave’s Notebook:

  • ROBINSON: Has been a Fantasy hero for three straight weeks, averaging 4.5 yards per carry and scoring four times.
  • ROBINSON: Beyond the rushing average, his efficiency is not that great. He ranks outside of the top-30 running backs in yards before and after contact and in rushing plays of five-plus yards (27.5%). Of his 56.3 PPR Fantasy points, 35.1 have come on the four plays he’s scored. It’s also worth mentioning that both of his long touchdown runs came when the Jaguars were winning by at least two scores. 
  • EAGLES: After a rough Week 1 against a good Lions O-line, the Eagles have halted running backs to 3.2 yards per rush, 0.83 yards before contact and 2.38 yards after contact per rush, all top-five in the NFL. They haven’t allowed a run of more than 11 yards in their past eight quarters. 

Flex Starter (Lineup Decisions)

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Dave’s Notebook:

  • JAGUARS: This front seven is legit. They have yet to allow a touchdown to a running back, have given up 3.62 yards per carry (fifth-best), are top-10 in yards before and after contact allowed, and have allowed just 10 rushing first downs on the season! If there’s a rub, it’s that the Jaguars have seen the fewest rush attempts by running backs of anyone in the NFL (39). 
  • EAGLES: However, Philadelphia running backs have accumulated 65 total carries, which is low considering their 3-0 record and average margin of victory of 12 points per game.
  • SANDERS: Has 45 carries through three games, which is solid, but just four have come in the red zone (and that leads the team!). 
  • SANDERS: Last week was disappointing as he was given 15 carries against the Commanders and averaged an ugly 3.07 yards per carry. He also has five explosive runs (12-plus yards), but only two have come over his past two games. 

Start Him (Lineup Decisions)

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Dave’s Notebook:

  • CHARGERS: With Keenan Allen back, the expectation is that targets will be funneled through the receivers more than the tight ends. There’s also the impact of losing left tackle Rashawn Slater — it could mean the Chargers will use a tight end to help block pass rushers. Both may cost Everett snaps and targets. 
  • EVERETT: In Week 1 with Allen on the field for 21 snaps, Everett played just 12 snaps and ran six routes (he stayed in to block on two pass plays). He was targeted twice and had a big gain on the one catch he had due to a missed tackle. 
  • TEXANS: Lead the NFL in lowest catch rate allowed to opposing tight ends (47.1%), but they haven’t really been tested. Only 17 throws from opponents have been targeted to a tight end. Yet despite not facing any dangerous tight ends, they’ve allowed the second-highest receiving average (13.75). 
  • EVERETT: Really is used more like a receiver than a traditional tight end, so expect the Texans to have some kind of game plan for defending him. 

Sit Him (Lineup Decisions)

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Dave’s Notebook:

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  • HALL: Came alive in the second half last week with 28 yards on three carries including runs of 9 and 16 yards. This happened after the Bengals’ top D-lineman, D.J. Reader, left the game. 
  • HALL: Overall Hall was more efficient than Michael Carter, and he played slightly more than Carter (51% of snaps to Carter’s 49%). He particularly dominated in the pass game, playing on 17 of 21 third/fourth down snaps and collecting six catches on 11 targets. 
  • ZACH WILSON: The former first-round pick is expected to start for the Jets after recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery. With Wilson on the field last season, the Jets ran the ball 39.5% of the time. With Wilson on the field, running backs were targeted 19.1% of the time, right around league average. In the first three weeks of this season, Joe Flacco threw to his running backs 27.2% of the time. 
  • STEELERS: After relatively containing Joe Mixon in Week 1, the Steelers struggled to hold back Damien Harris (15-71-1) and Nick Chubb (23-113-1). Yet they’re still slightly better than league-average in yards per carry allowed (4.18) and yards before contact allowed (1.05). Only the Texans have seen more running back carries against them.

Start Him (Lineup Decisions)

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Dave’s Notebook:

PENNY: Still the preferred running back for the Seahawks. Played 68% of the snaps last week (DeeJay Dallas played 22%, Kenneth Walker played just 13%) including 11 of 20 snaps on third/fourth downs. He’s also played 3 of 4 snaps inside of the 10 for the Seahawks this season, but with no carries. Walker is still running with hesitation while Penny has flashed consistent vision and burst in his runs. 

LIONS: Given up 94 rushing yards and/or a rushing TD to a running back in 16 of their past 20 games (going back to start of 2021). Even Antonio Gibson had 9 non-PPR points against a Lions defense that played well against the Commanders run game in Week 2. 

LIONS: Allowed six rushing touchdowns to running backs through three games including one to every running back who had at least four carries. 

Start Him (Lineup Decisions)

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Dave’s Notebook:

LOCKETT: Has worked as Seattle’s No. 1 receiver over the past two weeks, earning a massive 31% target share and turning 22 targets into an 18-183-0 stat line. That’s an 81.8% catch rate. 

LOCKETT: His ADOT has been trimmed to 10.38 yards, down from 14.6 in 2021. It means he’s getting shorter throws, but more of them. He’s also playing a little more in the slot so far than he did in 2021. 

LIONS: Rank in the bottom-10 in catch rate allowed (66.7%) and YAC/reception (5.25) allowed to slot receivers. Half of the six completions of 20-plus yards allowed have gone to wideouts who lined up in the slot. 

Start Him (Lineup Decisions)

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Notes:

  • WILLIAMS: In two games he started without D’Andre Swift last year, Williams had at least 17 carries and found at least 77 total yards per game. In the fourth quarter last week with Swift on and off the field, Williams had 10 carries for 38 yards and no receptions. The Lions played with a lead for nearly the entire quarter.
  • WILLIAMS: Has not seen a sizable target share yet this year, nor did he as the main running back in 2021. After Week 1 of last year when he had eight receptions on nine targets, Williams hasn’t seen more than three targets in 14 of 15 games. This doesn’t mean he can’t catch, but it might mean his coaches don’t want him to do it a lot. 
  • SEAHAWKS: Every lead running back against them in 2022 has found at least 100 total yards, and a running back has run for a touchdown on Seattle in each of its past two games. 
  • SEAHAWKS: Rank dead-last in yards before contact per carry to running backs this year (2.36), a sign their defensive fronts are getting pushed around.
  • LIONS: As a group, the Lions’ running backs rank second in yards before contact per rush (2.32). They also rank third in yards per carry (5.42), though Williams actually brings these metrics down (3.9 yards per rush, 1.58 yards before contact per rush). 

Sneaky Sleeper (Lineup Decisions)

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Notes:

  • TANNEHILL: Has posted at least 20 Fantasy points in two of three starts this season, which is pretty impressive considering the Titans offensive line, receiving corps and Tannehill’s minimal rushing. 
  • COLTS: Typically play a lot of Cover-3 defense under Gus Bradley but did not do that last week against the Chiefs last week. I suspect they’ll revert back to playing more Cover-3 this week, which they did against the Titans last year with a different playcaller. 
  • TANNEHILL: Has been very good against Cover-3 this season (10.5 yards per attempt, 69.2% completion rate, 100.5 QB rating). Tannehill also crushed the Colts for three touchdowns (and two interceptions) in each of two meetings in 2021. He actually has at least 20 Fantasy points in three straight against Indy. 

Sit Him (Lineup Decisions)

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Notes:

  • COMMANDERS: The O-line allowed 41.8% pressure rate versus Philly and a 39.6% pressure rate against Detroit, so they’re clearly not protecting very well. Wentz has a hideous 50% completion rate and a -0.38 EPA/dropback when pressured this year.
  • COWBOYS: Applied a crazy amount of pressure last week against the Giants (55.1% of snaps) and blitzed more than normal (28.6% of snaps). By comparison, the Cowboys had a 32.4% pressure rate and a 16.2% blitz rate in Weeks 1 and 2 combined against the Buccaneers and Bengals’ O-lines. 
  • COWBOYS: Have yet to allow more than 17 Fantasy points to a quarterback this season. They’ve faced Tom Brady, Joe Burrow and the legend himself, Daniel Jones. 
  • WENTZ: Was barely blitzed by the Eagles last week and still was sacked four times in the first quarter and nine times total. A putrid combination of feeling pressure when it wasn’t there and too many pass plays with too many covered downfield targets led to a nightmarish day for Wentz. 

Start Him (Lineup Decisions)

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Notes:

  • COWBOYS: Compare favorably to the Eagles in terms of pass defense against outside wide receivers. They give up just a little more in terms of catch rate, yards per catch, yards after catch, but they’ve missed just one tackle all year compared to five for Philly. They’re tough. 
  • McLAURIN: Didn’t have a catch until the middle of the third quarter last week, then came through on a pair of well-thrown deep passes from Wentz for 45 and 18 yards to help push him over 100. It could have been an even bigger day if Wentz looked for him more and was a more efficient passer (and not under duress). 
  • McLAURIN: Has at least 16 PPR points in each of three career games against the Cowboys with at least seven targets. McLaurin has eight-plus targets in each of his past two games. He’s also got at least a 30-yard reception in each game. 

Sneaky Sleeper (Lineup Decisions)

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Notes:

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  • COMMANDERS: Allowing 5.27 yards per carry and 2.07 yards before contact to running backs, both in the bottom six in the league. 
  • POLLARD: Ranks sixth in yards per rush (5.57) and fifth in yards before contact per rush (2.0). He also happens to rank 11th in yards after contact per rush (3.57). 
  • POLLARD: Overtook Elliott in run efficiency metrics last week when he finally notched double-digit carries. 
  • COWBOYS: Have run the ball at the ninth-heaviest rate in Cooper Rush’s two starts, both wins. 

Start Him (Lineup Decisions)

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Notes:

  • HERBERT: Looked outstanding last week rushing against the Texans, who entered Week 3 ranked 23rd in rush yards allowed per game (4.86). 
  • GIANTS: Enter Week 4 ranked 31st in rush yards allowed per game (5.57). 
  • GIANTS: Rank bottom-10 in third-down rush conversions allowed, yards before and after contact per rush allowed. Also ranked second in missed tackles with 20 and dead-last in defensive rushing EPA at -9.13. 
  • BEARS: Lead the universe in rush play rate at 65.4%. 
  • HERBERT: Ahead of David Montgomery in literally every rushing metric including yards per carry (7.27!), yards before contact per attempt (2.45!), yards after contact per attempt (4.82!) and plays resulting in five-plus rush yards (48.5%). Herbert is also top-13 in the league in each of these categories. 

Start Him (Lineup Decisions)

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Dave’s Notebook:

  • RAIDERS: This might be the perfect get-right matchup. Las Vegas has a pair of great pass rushers, but they’re generating a pass rush pressure on just 31.3% of their snaps (tied for 12th-lowest rate). They’re also blitzing just above the league average rate. 
  • RAIDERS: Every quarterback they’ve faced has found at least 20 Fantasy points, including Ryan Tannehill last week. All three passers have thrown for more than 250 yards on Vegas. 
  • WILSON: Over the past two weeks, Wilson has completed just 53.1% of his passes for 6.3 yards per attempt. He’s attempted 32 passes per game, and even though he’s taking shots downfield (14.1% of his throws have gone 20-plus yards), he’s still struggling, complete with a 71.3 QB rating. 
  • WILSON: Has especially struggled with zone coverage. His completion rate is brutal to begin with, but at 62.8% against zone it’s still low. His EPA per dropback is at -0.10 and his QB rating is 75.3. He’s performed significantly better against man coverage. 
  • RAIDERS: Have played the ninth-most man coverage in the league. 

Flex Starter (Lineup Decisions)

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Dave’s Notebook:

  • STEVENSON: Played 62% of the snaps last week for the Patriots including 7 of 11 snaps on third/fourth downs and 5 of 8 snaps inside the 10. He was fifth among all running backs in yards per carry (6.08) and yards after contact per rush (5.50), and sixth in avoided tackle rate (41.7%). His five targets in Week 3 ranked tied for 12th. 
  • STEVENSON: It’s impossible to know for sure if he’ll get the lion’s share of work this week because the Patriots are committed to using multiple backs. However, his explosiveness combined with his strength make him an attractive option, particularly since the offense will be quite different with Brian Hoyer under center. 
  • PACKERS: Though they held the Bucs run game to under 3.0 yards per carry in Week 3, they’ve still given up 5.44 yards per run and are bottom-five in terms of yards before and after contact. With the Patriots offensive line playing better, expect the unit to get tested. 
  • STEVENSON: Has been particularly effective on runs outside of the tackles (5.85 yards per rush). The Packers are particularly ineffective on such runs (5.63 yards per carry allowed, 4.30 yards after contact per attempt, both rank in bottom-five). 

Bust Candidate (Lineup Decisions)

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Dave’s Notebook:

  • CARDINALS: Have called the third-most pass plays this season (68% of their snaps). They’re below average in yards per rush, yards after contact per attempt, and explosive runs among their running backs. 
  • CONNER: Has been woefully bad, averaging 3.0 yards per carry with below-average efficiency in terms of explosiveness and before/after contact. He has no rushes of 12-plus yards. 
  • CONNER: Kyler Murray spoke this week about getting Conner going, saying “he’s one of our best players, got to give your best players the ball, get them involved, and I think we’ll do that.” Murray acknowledged that not having a good run game makes it tougher on the rest of the offense. Kliff Kingsbury also specified how important it was for the offense to “stay on schedule.” The Cardinals might 
  • PANTHERS: As a run-defense unit, they’ve been better over the past two weeks, containing Saquon Barkley and Alvin Kamara. In those games they’ve allowed 3.74 yards per carry with a relatively-good six missed tackles. 

Analysis to come.

Analysis to come.

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NFL odds Week 13: Insights on Packers-Bears, Commanders-Giants; Big bets

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Gambling Insider Patrick Everson explains how sharp bettors are playing conference championship games and what the big bets are for this weekend’s NFL games.



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NFL odds Week 13: Best bets for Commanders-Giants, Jets-Vikings

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Gambling Analyst Sammy P is back with his best NFL bets and the wagers to make for college football conference championship weekend.



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‘Bonfire Brady’ Tkachuk imposes will on opponents to spark Senators resurgence

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If this was the night the Ottawa Senators season turned around, what a night it was. 

The night Brady Tkachuk put the team on his back and carried his teammates to an overtime victory in Madison Square Garden. 

Bonfire Brady’s Tour de Force. 

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There were just enough fumes left from Tkachuk’s Big Night on Broadway for him to score Ottawa’s first of five goals Saturday night in a goofy but entertaining 5-2 romp over the San Jose Sharks

Talk about a back-to-back momentum shift. After so many early season hiccups and setbacks, the Senators have suddenly won four of their past five and are no longer alone in last place in the Atlantic Division. They are tied with the Buffalo Sabres, and within shouting distance of the Montreal Canadiens and Detroit Red Wings.

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Giroux ignites crowd

Saturday’s win over San Jose, featuring three Sens power-play goals against a stingy penalty kill unit, was important for a couple of reasons. It kept the Manhattan mojo going and energized one of the largest gates of the season at the Canadian Tire Centre – 17,101. Given that this was the only Saturday home date of December, the upper suites were brimming with company Christmas party revelers, busting for a good time. 

The Sens gave it to them. Nothing was more entertaining than a wild sequence in the third period, which started with a 4-on-3 kill by the home team, the score 4-2 Ottawa at the time. Defenceman Travis Hamonic broke his stick, making it 4-on-2.5. Somehow, the Sens survived, with goaltender Anton Forsberg stopping a flurry of shots. As the penalty to Thomas Chabot expired, the puck squirted free to Claude Giroux, who had a two-on-none break. 

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And so Giroux – takes a slapshot???

And scores, of course. His second of the game and 11th of the season for the cagy veteran. 

The CTC exploded with noise as their hometown hero delivered with such panache. 

“Between periods, I told Pinto I was going to score on a slapshot, so I didn’t really have a choice,” Giroux said later, typically deadpan. He added that it’s the loudest he has heard the building since he joined the Sens in the off-season. 

“That’s why you play the game,” Giroux added, acknowledging the crowd.

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Tkachuk called the slapshot goal “vintage ‘G’” and “almost the loudest moment that I’ve heard in this rink when that happened. So, it’s definitely exciting.”

Tkachuk game for the ages

As fun as Saturday’s victory was for the home fans, those watching on TV the night before saw a signature performance by a young Ottawa captain who would make a fine comic book superhero. 

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“Bonfire Brady” had one for the franchise annals. Playing in his 300th game, Tkachuk scored his 100th career goal to send a frenetic, playoff-style game against the host New York Rangers into overtime. After surviving a breakaway by former Senator Mika Zibanejad, the Senators counted on Captain Brady for the OT winner, racing clear to tuck a five-hole backhand shot past Igor Shesterkin, who had been brilliant for the Rangers. Career goal No. 101 for Tkachuk, and his 11th of the season in this breakout offensive year. 

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Tkachuk leads the Sens in goals (12), assists (17) and points (29) and is on pace for 99 points.

Wasn’t it enough that Tkachuk led with his heart and his fists? Now he’s the offensive catalyst, too. 

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“I think all you guys know, you saw it, he steps up in big games,” said linemate Tim Stützle, grinning. “That’s what he did (Friday). The whole team played well, everybody followed him . . . and that move in OT, I didn’t know he had that in his bag, there.”

Tkachuk’s game-tying goal, scored on a tip of a Chabot shot, marked the first time the Senators have made a third-period comeback this season, and was their first goal scored with their goalie pulled for an extra skater. That tip is a play Tkachuk works on every day in practice.

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Incredibly, Tkachuk has already scored five career overtime winners with the Senators, placing him tied for fourth on the all-time team list. 

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Weirdly, ‘Bonfire Brady’ scored three points (2+1) in his 300th game, just as his father, Walt Tkachuk, did in his 300th game. Of course, Brady is carved from the same granite rock from which ‘Walt’ was created. 

As much as I hate the expression, there was a so-called “Gordie Howe” hat trick on this night. Tkachuk did have a fight, goal (2) and assist in this thriller at MSG. (Howe’s son, Marty, once said the Gordie hat trick should have more accurately described a goal, assist and cross-check to the face. No one wanted to fight Howe). They soon won’t want to fight Tkachuk, who is built like an oak tree, much like Howe. 

At centre ice, Tkachuk fought Rangers captain Jacob Trouba, who was trying to get his team going – coasting a bit against a Sens team that had handled 3-1 in Ottawa last Wednesday.

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No big deal, Tkachuk shrugged. 

“Usually I don’t really think about it,” Tkachuk said about the timing of his fights. “Whenever it happens it happens. 

What a guy, this No. 7. 

In their 30-year history, the Senators have never had a player who brings such a complete package – an elite power forward who can impose his will on a game. A young man who stirs the bench like stirring a drink, still coming into his prime. An animated Tkachuk was jumping up and down on the bench as little Alex DeBrincat was mixing it up in a mini-line scrap near the players’ benches late in the game. 

“I was fired up, for sure,” Tkachuk said. “It’s one of the best parts of the game – when guys are protecting each other . . . whatever it takes to win.”

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Daniel Alfredsson, the longest-serving Senators captain at 13 seasons, was a Hall of Fame captain, a clutch performer with a lot of heart. But he certainly was not an imposing physical figure like the 6-4, 220-pound Tkachuck. Alfie was approaching 27 when he was named captain, already a mature leader. Jason Spezza, an artist and student of the game, had a tough task following Alfie’s footsteps. Erik Karlsson led with his skill. Ditto for Alexei Yashin, who preceded Alfredsson. The early captains, from Laurie Boschman to Randy Cunneyworth, were veteran placeholders until the first group of young stars could emerge, Alfredsson, Marian Hossa etc. 

(A neat aside: Karlsson told reporters prior to Saturday’s game that he spent Friday evening with Alfredsson watching the Sens game. Two former captains watching the new guy on the job flourish). Tkachuk opened Saturday’s game by pounding Karlsson into the boards, heavily. 

Behold this 23-year-old captain, out of the second great youth wave in Ottawa, the rebuild of 2018-22. Tkachuk was the youngest of the ten captains in franchise history when he was given the ‘C’ last November at age 22. 

He was the obvious choice, even if not everyone saw him as the obvious draft choice of 2018. 

When Ottawa drafted him fourth overall, there were comments made about his eight-goal total in his final season at Boston University. Did he score enough to merit a top-five selection at the NHL draft? Never mind that he also had 23 assists for a very respectable 31 points in 40 games.  

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Senators scouts and GM Pierre Dorion saw enough then of what we see today, a kid who simply refuses to back down from any situation. A true winner. With upside as an offensive player, already demonstrated by his brother, Matthew, in Calgary and Florida. 

Now that offensive side of Brady is emerging on a nightly basis. He doesn’t take as many low-percentage shots as he did those first few years, when he was often trying to jam pucks home from the side of the crease. His shot is crisper and sneaky heavy. On breakaways, especially in overtime, it’s usually a done deal. 

Senators head coach D.J. Smith is endlessly praising Tkachuk for his ability to “drag his team into battle.” As a former tough guy defenceman, who loves old school hockey, Smith couldn’t have a more perfect prototype as captain. 

And it was Tkachuk who was most outspoken when fans called for Smith’s firing, over a fourth straight slow start to the season. Despite the team’s record, Tkachuk railed against the “negativity” surrounding Smith’s status. That talk has quieted, to be sure. 

It may take some time for Ottawa’s roster to flesh out into a true contender. 

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When it does, the Sens will have a captain absolutely built to lead them in the playoffs. Their impish comic book superhero who pounds opponents into submission and comes up smiling.

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