Cam Newton's positive COVID-19 test result, announced Saturday, has wide-ranging impacts on the Fantasy Football landscape for Week 4 and potentially beyond. The Patriots matchup with the Chiefs has been postponed to Monday at 7:05 p.m. EST, per reports, with the very real possibility that it is further delayed pending further testing and tracing on both the Patriots and Chiefs — the Chiefs also had a practice squad player test positive. Because the Patriots have to travel for this game, there are added complications that didn't exist last week when, say, A.J. Terrell tested positive for the Falcons. That means you have to make plans for both teams.
Benching Newton is obvious. But if you intend to start any Chiefs or Patriots players in Week 4, you need to find replacements if you do not have them already. And it has to happen now, especially since we may not know whether this game is happening until Sunday at the earliest.
Newton's unavailability might last until Week 7. Assuming the Patriots' schedule isn't altered, he'd theoretically not get cleared to play in Week 5 due to quarantine restrictions — a player needs to either go 10 days without a positive test or five days without two negative tests at least 24 hours apart, plus have no symptoms to be cleared. The Patriots have a bye, for now, in Week 6. Get ready to put Newton on your bench or on an IR spot for a while.
The best replacement for Newton for this week, at least in my eyes, is Ryan Fitzpatrick (43% rostered). He's played very well the past two weeks and takes on the league's worst-rated pass defense in the Seahawks. He might have outperformed Newton anyway. The next two best quarterbacks you might find on waivers who could put up big numbers are Baker Mayfield (57% rostered) and Kirk Cousins (40%).
Naturally, these three would also be stash-worthy if you have Patrick Mahomes penciled into your lineup.
What about a Patriots quarterback? It's been reported that Brian Hoyer will start over Jarrett Stidham, who has been a healthy scratch so far this season. Neither one would be a particularly reliable Fantasy option, partially because one may replace the other in the middle of the game. Any quarterback who you know is starting is a better choice than one of them.
Without Newton, there's not a whole lot of appeal for Patriots pass catchers, either. The only one Fantasy managers were considering anyway was Julian Edelman. If the game happens Monday, Edelman is still worth using in Fantasy lineups. There's still mild appeal for Edelman in all formats, but not for anyone else. N'Keal Harry, Damiere Byrd and all of their tight ends should be far away from Fantasy lineups.
If the game gets canceled, or if you just cannot trust Edelman, the best replacements among receivers on waivers right now are led by Preston Williams (61% rostered), Hunter Renfrow (64%), Greg Ward (24%), Anthony Miller (60%), Golden Tate (53%) and for those more desperate, Zach Pascal (8%) and Nelson Agholor (4%). Also keep an eye out for Christian Kirk (48%) or Andy Isabella (11%), who would potentially be in smash spots if they're active and teammate DeAndre Hopkins is not for their matchup at Carolina.
The Patriots run game would probably see an uptick in touches with Stidham or Hoyer under center, though expecting big numbers from any one of them is a fool's errand. Bill Belichick has a revolving door of runners he can rely on for anywhere from 7 to 10 touches per game. Knowing which one will play the most is a guessing game, though at least in a matchup against the Chiefs, it's safe to assume the Patriots will have to start implementing the forward pass at some point. James White and Rex Burkhead will probably split the majority of the touches, but Patriots running backs don't necessarily get a lot in games the team is trailing — the Week 2 matchup at Seattle is an example of that as the running backs totaled 19 touches.
Finding a replacement at running back off waivers is a challenge, especially this late in the week. Pretty much any rusher with a decent role and a pulse is worth the grab. Nyheim Hines (63% rostered) is probably the best bet with role players like Brian Hill (39%), LeSean McCoy (6%), Travis Homer (20%), Jordan Howard (44%), Jamaal Williams (25%) being more like space fillers than Fantasy sleepers.
Imagine having to bench Clyde Edwards-Helaire for one of these guys. Gross, but you should at least have somebody ready to replace the rookie in case the Chiefs don't play.
The tight ends to check out as possible replacements for Travis Kelce (because no one is starting Ryan Izzo, Devin Asiasi or any other Patriots TEs) are led by Dalton Schultz (61% rostered) of the Cowboys, who really should be rostered in every league. Mo Alie-Cox (44%), Robert Tonyan (35%), Jimmy Graham (58%) and Logan Thomas (28%) all offer some modest upside.
Last-minute DST options include the Texans (11% rostered), Cowboys (27%) and Packers (41%). Kickers to replace Harrison Butker and Nick Folk should include Joey Slye (15%), Rodrigo Blankenship (42% rostered) and Sam Sloman (29%).
Critical decisions for commissioners
We may get to Sunday morning and not know for certain when the Patriots-Chiefs game will be played. A lot of the details will hinge on if players on the Patriots begin testing positive for COVID-19. Shoot, there's also a possible outbreak on the Chiefs after it was discovered that backup quarterback Jordan Ta'amu tested positive and was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
If we aren't promised a game between the Patriots and Chiefs by, say, an hour before kickoff of Sunday early games, then league commissioners should agree to a contingency plan for those Fantasy managers who have players on those teams in their active lineups.
The best idea: Have the managers designate emergency players who would count in place of the Patriots and Chiefs players if the game is postponed. The manager would have to actually roster the players and declare them to the league commissioner and to their opponent before kickoff of the early games. Players on the Patriots and Chiefs must also be in active lineups, not on the bench or anywhere else. If the Pats-Chiefs matchup doesn't happen, the manager still has players who would count for Week 4. If it does happen, the manager gets credit for those Patriots and Chiefs.
Another idea: A manager sets his lineup as normal. If it comes to pass that the Patriots and Chiefs game is moved off of Week 4, the manager would get to reset his or her lineup with players who have already played. However, the opposing team would ALSO get to reset his or her lineup. Frankly this option doesn't seem very fair but at least both teams would get credit for a full lineup, theoretically.
Anything is better than forcing managers to choose whether or not to start Patriots or Chiefs players without complete information about their game by Sunday at 1 p.m. ET. No one wants to start some scrub over Patrick Mahomes, and no one wants to start a player whose game ultimately gets postponed. That's not fun. Remember, this is Fantasy, it should be fun. Work with your league commissioners on a fair plan; league commissioners should want to have something fair established -- it could help settle situations similar to this one that arise in the future.