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The Gloom Index: Which Offenses Are Fantasy Football Kryptonite?

Bryan takes us through the Gloom Index (TM) for NFL offenses, breaking down which teams should be avoided at all costs in fantasy football.

EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY - SEPTEMBER 24: Zach Wilson #2 of the New York Jets is sacked by Anfernee Jennings #33 of the New England Patriots in the second quarter at MetLife Stadium on September 24, 2023 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Fantasy football is a game of ebbs and flows, weekly chaos that we attempt to turn into a science. Everyone knows not to make any drastic moves after the first game of the year. “It’s an extension of the preseason,” you might say. Even Week 2 is too soon to panic. By Week 3? Patience is running thin, and the danger of overreacting must be weighed against the danger of underreacting.

For various players across the league, poor performance continues not due to ability, but environment. Awful quarterback play, a shoddy offensive line, or questionable coaching are all capable of derailing any star’s season, and your fantasy team by proxy. Here are six offenses that might keep fantasy managers up at night, with feelings anywhere between “concern” and “existential dread.”

Level 1: Troubling

New York Giants

It’s been an uneven year for the G-Men, with a triumphant win in Arizona sandwiched between beatdowns at the hands of elite defenses (Dallas, San Francisco). It’s hard to put lipstick on a pig (14.3 points per game), but the Giants aren’t as bad as they have looked on offense; it’s hard to think of a more unforgiving way to open the year than the ‘Boys to start the season and a short week against the NFC West’s best. The second half of the team’s comeback against the Cardinals had all the ingredients of what Big Blue wanted to be this season: aggressive downfield, a powerful run game, and a reliance on Darren Waller over the middle of the field.

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The return of left tackle Andrew Thomas (who missed the past two games) and potentially Saquon Barkley, who suffered a high ankle sprain in Week 2, should help a rushing attack that has looked far worse than it did in 2022. With ten days of rest before hosting a middle-of-the-road Seahawks defense, the pressure is on Daniel Jones and Co. to step up; another dismal performance would be indefensible.

Level 2: Sweating

Tennessee Titans

There weren’t any positives to take away from the Titans’ 27-3 loss in Cleveland. Ryan Tannehill passed for a paltry 104 yards, the offense converted two of twelve third downs, and Derrick Henry ran for 20 yards, good enough for just 1.8 yards per carry. This looks like a team that has run out of gas in September; only one other squad has less yardage on offense this season (we’ll get to them later). A typically dominant run game has been ineffective, and DeAndre Hopkins hasn’t replicated the big-play ability Tennessee lost when it traded A.J. Brown to the Eagles last year.

In spite of their shortcomings, there is some hope for the Titans. For most leagues, this is a two-man team, with only Henry and Hopkins startable. Henry has started slow before; he had under nine PPR points over the first two games of 2022. As the weather gets colder, the King’s game always steps up another notch. A generous playoff schedule looms large, with two games against Houston’s perennially awful run defense. Hopkins might not be what he once was, but a promising 30% target share should keep him firmly in the WR2/flex range managers were hoping for. It helps that no other pass catchers have emerged on the Titans this season. Tennessee’s season-long prospects aren’t looking great, but the only two players any manager cares about should return to form.

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Denver Broncos

The Broncos are a national laughingstock, and every punchline is deserved. Their historic 70-20 loss in Miami saw the team give up a mind-boggling 726 total yards while turning the ball over three times. While the offense was bad, it was the defense that bore the brunt for Sunday’s embarrassing defeat. In fact, a porous defense could force Denver to play catch-up more often than not, giving Russell Wilson and Denver’s trio of talented receivers more value over the rest of the season.

Playing from behind doesn’t bode particularly well for the Broncos running backs, especially Javonte Williams. With Samaje Perine stealing passing down and red zone work, much of Williams’ value this year depends on Denver running the ball and chewing up the clock. That’s what makes the Broncos such a mixed bag for fantasy. Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton, and even rookie Marvin Mims Jr. could have better seasons than expected. In fact, the general perception of Denver as a punching bag could make for some intriguing buy-low opportunities. However, Williams and Perine might struggle to provide consistent production this year.

Level 3: Abandon Ship

New York Jets

The Zach Wilson experiment nightmare continues in East Rutherford. In spite of a growing sample size that suggests Wilson might not be a backup in the NFL, let alone a starter, the Jets remain committed to the former number-two pick. Through three games, New York sits at the bottom of the league in passing yardage, total yardage, and total points. Nathaniel Hackett’s offense looks rudderless without Aaron Rodgers, and it’s clear that Wilson isn’t going to cut it as his replacement.

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Jets fans don’t have much to look forward to in October. A Sunday night matchup with the Chiefs could get ugly in a hurry, and a trip to Philadelphia in two weeks could be even worse. While the schedule does open up a bit down the road, this team is staring an ugly season in the face. Breece Hall, recovering from a torn ACL, and Dalvin Cook have been unable to get anything going in the run game, and without the threat of a forward pass, defenses have no reason not to stack the box against the Jets. Until New York gets serious and acquires a legitimate starting quarterback, there are no players fantasy managers should feel comfortable starting in this offense.

Chicago Bears

No team has generated worse headlines through three weeks than the Bears. Justin Fields has performed horribly in his make-or-break year, defensive coordinator Alan Williams resigned, and offseason pickup D.J. Moore believes he’s been misused by the coaching staff. The end result has been a miserable offense, generating 15.7 points per game. Much of the criticism has (rightly) been levied at Fields and head coach Matt Eberflus, the latter of whom has failed to scheme up plays that take advantage of his quarterback’s rushing ability.

Part of Chicago’s inability to run the ball has to do with their predictability; even in last Sunday’s 41-0 blowout to Kansas City, Fields only threw the ball 22 times. There seems to be a lack of urgency on offense, regardless of the situation. While Khalil Herbert and rookie Roschon Johnson are worthy of roster spots, the Bears’ fantasy prospects are attached to Fields and Moore. Unlike the Jets, there is no outside chance of a free-agent quarterback saving the day for the Bears. Chicago is stuck with Fields, and he appears to be regressing under Eberflus’ watch.

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