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We are entering the final week of preseason amid a year that will be unlike others we’ve known in the past. Instead of four weeks of preseason, we have only three, with an extra regular-season week. COVID-19 remains an uphill battle that we will all continually climb this year that will likely have consequences for players and fantasy football.
Either way, we still have football on the horizon and storylines to explore in the last week before kickoff.
NFL Fines Cole Beasley and Isaiah McKenzie for Violating COVID-19 Protocols
It seems the NFL is serious about upholding its rules regarding the COVID-19 protocols. After a nightmare of a season last year, new regulations and stricter policies are a natural step to help stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus and allow us to get back to some semblance of normalcy. While it’s a natural step, that doesn’t make it an easy one.
The NFL has been urging players to get vaccinated to help combat the prolific issues that the virus represents both in football and life in general. However, there remains a slight problem when players and team employees choose to not get the vaccine.
“Slight” is being used with my proverbial tongue planted firmly in my cheek.
Isaiah McKenzie and Cole Beasley, both wide receivers for the Buffalo Bills, were fined for not adhering to the strict protocols set in place by the NFL for unvaccinated players. McKenzie injected some humor into the situation on his Twitter feed.
However much we may want to roll our eyes at a seemingly small amount of money for a professional athlete, the problem persists far past fines and funny tweets.
If the NFL is truly going to stick to their guns about the new rules this year (which it seems they are), not following these protocols very, very closely (especially for unvaccinated players) can cause a big problem for football and fantasy.
According to the new rules for 2021, if a team is unable to field a roster due to the COVID-19 virus, that team will forfeit and be subject to fines and other penalties. Of course, the jargon is more complicated, but that’s the gist of it. There will no longer be back bending to the breaking point to reschedule games like last year.
While most of the league is on board with getting vaccinated and abiding by the protocols, there will inevitably be issues again this season. Understanding that rostering an unvaccinated player on your squad may just make the difference between a win or loss in fantasy is one of them. If you are targeting players who are not vaccinated, you may want to have a contingency plan with your later picks as we enter the final stretch of our fantasy draft seasons.
To make matters worse, it’s very difficult to find out which NFL players are vaccinated and which are not. So far, it’s been about keeping an eye on social media for players you are planning on drafting like DeAndre Hopkins, for example.
Some serious repercussions will ripple across the league yet again in 2021 as much as we all wish this would just go away.
Storylines to Watch in the Final Preseason Games
Who Will Win the QB Job in NE, NO, SF: Since we’re on the COVID-19 train, NE QB Cam Newton has been in the news following a “misunderstanding” of the protocols. He was sidelined because of it and this allowed rookie Mac Jones to make a case to take Newton’s job before the season even starts. Newton is practicing again so he has one more chance to force Bill Belichick to keep him as the starter for 2021.
Before preseason Week 2, there was a significant debate between whether or not Jameis Winston or Taysom Hill would emerge as the starter for New Orleans. After Winston’s electric showing with WR Marquez Callaway last week, he seems to have pulled ahead as the favorite to win the position over Hill who fizzled out in the same game.
There has been a buzz surrounding both Justin Fields of the Chicago Bears and Trey Lance for the San Francisco 49ers. We know for sure that Andy Dalton will be the starter in Chicago, which leaves the battle between Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo left to decipher. Head coach Kyle Shanahan has stated that he has a good idea of who he thinks will start, but has yet to actually name which one. Keeping an eye on this game may give us a clue on which direction he may decide to go in Week 1.
Hurts-Smith Tandem: We saw Eagles QB Jalen Hurts in Week 1 without rookie WR DeVonta Smith. Then we saw Smith in Week 2 without Hurts due to a last-minute stomach illness that prevented the QB from starting. Hopefully, we will be able to see both of these players together at a last on the field. The Eagles are desperate for a WR to emerge in the offense and hopefully, they have found their guy in Smith.
Can the Bears Fix Their O-Line vs. Titans?: As I mentioned, we know that Andy Dalton is the starter for Week 1 of the regular season against Aaron Donald and the Los Angeles Rams. What we don’t know is whether or not the offensive line can keep Dalton alive and unharmed against Donald. Last week, the line looked like Swiss cheese and the pocket collapsed on too many occasions on both quarterbacks. In terms of being able to move the chains, a mobile quarterback can help alleviate offensive line woes. How long Dalton remains in at QB is still a big question mark for the rest of the regular season.
Look for Any Improvement from Ja’Marr Chase with Joe Burrow: There has been a lot of talk from Bengals camp about Burrow not playing at his best and Chase looking slow and unable to create separation. With both players on the field for Week 3 of the preseason, looking for the spark of chemistry between these two players should give us a better idea of their production in the regular season.
Can Daniel Jones Prove His Worth? Daniel Jones will be playing for possibly an entire half. He likely won’t have his playmakers like Kenny Golladay and Saquon Barkley to help him out, but Jones needs to prove that he can be a productive quarterback regardless. He needs to show improvement in short-yardage throws under 20 yards and showcase the ability to move the chains.
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Titans QB Ryan Tannehill and TE Geoff Swaim placed on reserve/COVID-19 list. … Rams RB Darrell Henderson to have a very big role according to HC Sean McVay…Broncos TE Noah Fant is out Saturday with a leg injury but should be good for Week 1… Jaguars WR Marvin Jones suffered an AC sprain but is expected to play Week 1.