THE SHADOW KNOWS Week 1 2020
It got largely forgotten in the postseason madness that followed last year, but in Week 17 of the 2019 season, the Miami Dolphins knocked off the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium. It cost the Pats a Round 1 bye-and set the stage for Tennessee's upset of the (then) defending champions the following weekend.
A big part of that upset was the play of wide receiver DeVante Parker, who squared off that day against the cornerback who would go on to be named Defensive Player of the Year in Stephon Gilmore. Not only did Parker hold his own against Gilmore, but he went off-eight catches on 11 targets for 137 yards.
As Henry McKenna reported for Patriots Wire, Gilmore downplayed the personal significance of a rematch with Parker in Week 1.
"The good thing about football, every year starts over. So, you know, you've got a chance to prove yourself every year," Gilmore told reporters this weekend when asked about the matchup with Parker. "This is the first game that you get the opportunity to go out there and prove yourself. I take that mindset each and every week no matter what happened last year, the year before. I try to prove myself each and every week and every game. I'm looking forward to it."
Gilmore being salty about getting lit up (which he most assuredly is, protests to the contrary notwithstanding) isn't the real concern about Parker in Week 1, although it doesn't help-Gilmore allowed barely half the passes thrown in his direction to be completed last year and didn't surrender a touchdown.
It's more an issue of well the Pats have historically had defending Parker before that day-per Mike Clay of ESPN. Parker's last four meetings against the Pats prior to last year's finale netted six catches for 60 yards total. The Patriots were also dead last in PPR fantasy points allowed to wide receivers last year and their CB corps returned intact.
Oh, and both Parker and Gilmore are nicked up already-already a theme in this first 2020 edition of The Shadow Knows.
Do not play any drinking game Sunday that includes the word "hamstring."
Los Angeles Chargers at Cincinnati Bengals (Casey Hayward vs. A.J. Green)
On Thursday, something happened in Cincinnati that had not taken place since 2018-A.J. Green logged a full practice with the Bengals. Green has stated that he's 100 percent recovered from the foot injury that wiped out his 2019 season. He even ran routes with Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow on the team's off day this week.
Good feelings and optimism abound that the 32-year-old might be able to peel off one more big statistical year and put the past two injury-marred seasons behind him. Unfortunately, there are also some harsh realities about Green's 2020 debut.
There have been reports that while Green is a "full go," he will also likely be on a snap count against the Chargers in his first game since December 2, 2018. And when Green is on the field, he will likely draw veteran corner Casey Hayward in coverage. If you've read this column before, you know that Hayward has long been a personal favorite of mine-over the past two seasons he has surrendered barely two receptions a game while regularly shadowing opposing No.1 wideouts.
Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens (Odell Beckham vs. Marcus Peters)
In Peters and Marlon Humphrey, the Ravens may well have the best one-two punch in the secondary in the NFL-both made the Pro Bowl in 2019. It was the third Pro Bowl for the 27-year-old Peters, who told Yahoo Sports that in his mind, when he's targeted in coverage opposing quarterbacks are throwing too him as much as at him.
"Every time the quarterback drops back to pass, our chances of picking it off is 50-50," Peters said. "So why not give you an opportunity at making a play? Once the ball is in the air, it's see-ball get-ball. It's whoever can go get it first. It is what it is after that."
Beckham won't necessarily see Peters all day-with two such formidable corners, the Ravens usually just let each man their respective sides of the field. That's not good news for OBJ though. In two meetings against the Ravens in 2019, Beckham had just six catches for 64 yards, although one of those receptions did go for a score.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints (Mike Evans vs. Marshon Lattimore)
It's entirely possible that this entire section of this column will be moot come Sunday afternoon. Evans is nursing a hamstring injury that has kept him off the practice field so far this week. The 27-year-old, who last year joined Randy Moss as the only two wide receivers in NFL history to post 1,000 receiving yards in each of his first six seasons, is shaping up as a true gametime decision.
That is not the kind of news fantasy managers want to hear about their WR1 before the first weekend of the regular season. But odd as sit sounds to say it, Evans' absence might be a blessing in disguise that spares them an ugly stat line to open the year.
Evans and Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore have a log history-one that includes at least one memorable sideline dustup. And for the most part, Lattimore has won this battle, especially last year. In two games against the Saints in 2019, Evans had just 4 receptions for 69 yards.
That all came in Tampa. The last time Evans played in the Superdome? Goose-egg on three targets.
Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Football Team (Darius Slay vs. Terry McLaurin)
Recently, the news surrounding the Philadelphia Eagles has (sadly) been all about injuries. But there was a time when the big story was arrival of Slay-a three-time Pro Bowler acquired in an offseason trade with the Detroit Lions. CBS Sports analyst Charles Davis expects a return to form for the 29-year-old Slay in 2020 after a disappointing final season in the Motor City.
It helps greatly when you have a guy that accepts a challenge and can play at the level of Darius Slay. I don't think he played at that level last year, but I think a lot went into that," Davis said. "He had been there for a while, obviously wasn't happy with the situation there and now he goes to a place where he's like, 'hey they want me, they respect me.' Typically, we do see players who still have it in the tank and I'm sure that he does, they make a nice little jump that first year somewhere else. That will help greatly."
As recently as 2018, Slay allowed just 46.8 percent of the passes thrown in his direction to be completed and had a passer rating against of just 72.1. Slay wasn't nearly as effective last season, but it's another concern for a young receiver who already has to contend with a lack of help around him and shaky QB play.
Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers (DeAndre Hopkins vs. Richard Sherman)
That Hopkins joined the Cardinals in the offseason is hardly news-it was the biggest trade of 2020. Neither is the fact that "Nuk" is one of the most dangerous receivers in the NFL. Or the fact that he regularly catches just about everything thrown at him-in part because of his (and I kid you not) XXXL hands.
Am I only the only one who thinks that's a little dirty-sounding?
"I'm not an expert on receivers or hand size or things of that nature," Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury said via ESPN, "but I've never seen a player his size with that type of hand width. And he engulfs that thing. I mean, he catches the ball one-handed with ease. I mean, easier than I catch it with two, and that obviously helps who he is as a player."
It's not that hard to imagine Kingsbury looking to scheme Hopkins in early. And it's not that hard to get Sherman off him in coverage-just flip Hopkins to the other side of the field. But Sherman's one touchdown pass allowed last year also wasn't the only reason that San Francisco was a bottom-10 matchup for fantasy receivers in 2019.
Don't be alarmed if Hopkins' Cardinals debut isn't exactly Nuklear. It will come.
Dallas Cowboys at Los Angeles Rams (Amari Cooper vs. Jalen Ramsey)
This has been a rotten year for most folks, but Ramsey's 2020 picked up substantially in recent days-the Rams just handed him $105 million over five seasons after bringing the 25-year-old in in a blockbuster trade last season. With his extension in the books, Ramsey is all business now, and he told ESPN that he expects to have his hands full with Cooper when the Cowboys visit Sunday night.
"In my opinion, I think he's one of the most underrated receivers in the league," Ramsey said. "And that comes off of experience. What he's been able to do since he got to Dallas, it's elite."
This is actually a movie fantasy football managers have seen before-and recently, to boot. In Week 15 last year, the Cowboys blasted the Rams 44-21 in Dallas. But that line is misleading-with Ramsey on him in coverage most of the day, Cooper was targeted all of twice and had one catch for 19 yards. It's the second time in as many career meetings that Cooper has all but been erased by Ramsey.