Sunday, Feb 11th — Late
Bye Week:
Bears
Bengals
Bills
Broncos
Browns
Buccaneers
Cardinals
Chargers
Colts
Commanders
Cowboys
Dolphins
Eagles
Falcons
Giants
Jaguars
Jets
Lions
Packers
Panthers
Patriots
Raiders
Rams
Ravens
Saints
Seahawks
Steelers
Texans
Titans
Vikings

AFC EAST

Buffalo Bills

Coaching/Philosophy/Scheme Changes::

  • Offense: Ken Dorsey in year two as offensive coordinator
  • Defense: Leslie Frazier gone, head coach Sean McDermott to call defensive plays in 2023

Personnel Changes::

  • Isaiah McKenzie and Jamison Crowder depart, former Saints WR/KR Deonte Harty added; likely opens up additional slot snaps for Khalil Shakir
  • Devin Singletary departed for Houston; team signed Damien Harris for likely short yardage/early down role
  • Depth perimeter WR Jake Kumerow remains unsigned; team signed WR Trent Sherfield

Schedule::

  • Divisional Games (6)::
    • Dolphins x2, Patriots x2, Jets x2
  • AFC West (4)::
    • Broncos, Raiders, @Chiefs, @Chargers
  • NFC East (4)::
    • Giants, Cowboys, @Commanders, @Eagles
  • Other (3)::
    • Jaguars, Buccaneers, Bengals

Bull Case::

The Bills have finished third in scoring during each of the previous three season, the most recent of which came with a change at offensive coordinator. During that time, they have averaged 29.13 points per game and quarterback Josh Allen has established himself as one of the league’s most consistent and elite quarterbacks.

The team brought in high-profile free agent guard Connor McGovern, signing him away from Dallas, to bolster the offensive line, and signed free agent running back Damien Harris to take over for the departing Devin Singletary. The trio of Stefon Diggs, Gabe Davis, and Khalil Shakir at wide receiver gives this team the perfect complement of skillsets to run an offense that has made a name through being able to attack multiple areas of the field through a layered approach. Tight end Dawson Knox and 2023 first-round rookie tight end Dalton Kincaid provide size and athleticism that can be mismatched over the middle of the field, in the slow, out wide, and in the red zone. Finally, Buffalo led the league in red zone scoring percentage in 2021 before finishing the 2022 season ranked ninth, a reflection of both their offensive play calling and the elite dual-threat athleticism of quarterback Josh Allen.

Bear Case::

So much of this offense is derived from what both Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs bring to the table, which begs the question of “what happens should one of them get injured?” Both players have been blessed with relatively healthy careers to this point, but this offense could be in trouble should that change in 2023 considering the high reliance from the elite athleticism each contributes.

Another interesting aspect of the bear case for the Bills in 2023 is the noticeable dip in red zone performance under offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey, when compared to the previous seasons under offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. Yes, this offense still finished third overall in points per game a season ago, but their red zone touchdown rate fell over six percent and their scoring per game fell over two points per game under Dorsey’s tutelage.

Truth be told, those are both extremely nitpicky items to bring up in the bear case for this offense, highlighting just how elite this unit has been over the previous three seasons. 

Expectations/Takeaways::

Per Sharp Football Analysis, the Bills hold the league’s second hardest strength of schedule for 2023, which is determined utilizing projected win totals based on early Vegas lines. With head coach Sean McDermott set to take over defensive play calling duties, this could be a case where the Bills are pushed on the scoreboard more frequently to start the season. That is likely to provide a scenario where the chances for shootout games increases over the first half of the season for Buffalo.

Quarterback Josh Allen and wide receiver Stefon Diggs should continue their respective dominance in the league, with Allen developing into a dual-threat freak and Diggs virtually uncoverable in a prototypical “X” wide receiver role. The biggest question for this team is where to expect the secondary production to come from.

Gabe Davis should reprise his role as the “Z” receiver while the depth chart has suddenly opened up for second-year slot-plus wide receiver Khalil Shakir. I expect Shakir to be the primary slot wide receiver, likely ceding situational work to recent addition Deonte Harty. The additions of athletic specimen tight end Dalton Kincaid through the draft and running back Damien Harris through free agency are likely to give Dorsey the manpower to present interesting looks in the red zone, which should benefit the aforementioned dip in red zone touchdown rate.

Expect Harris to start the season as the preferred early-down and goal line back while James Cook reprises his role as a change-of-pace-plus talent out of the backfield. Most notably, the upside that Shakir, and his plus route running abilities, brings to the table at a currently depressed ADP is tantalizing.

Quick side note on these teams with clear alphas at pass-catcher and questionable secondary pieces (Chiefs, Bills, Vikings, Colts, and Rams, to name a few) – the field typically approaches these situations trying to guess which piece will emerge as a viable fantasy asset, and oftentimes we see certain players flip in ADP as the offseason progresses through various news cycles. For that reason, I typically like to simply let ADP guide my exposure levels. In practice, that means loading up on guys like Shakir (Justyn Ross in Kansas City, Jordan Addison in Minnesota, Alec Pierce in Indianapolis, and Van Jefferson in Los Angeles are other examples currently) when their ADP is depressed, which it literally can’t get any more depressed now considering he’s routinely available in the last round of early UD drafts.

Miami Dolphins

Coaching/Philosophy/Scheme Changes::

  • Offense: Head coach Mike McDaniel calls plays
  • Defense: Vic Fangio in as defensive coordinator after Josh Boyer let go

Personnel Changes::

  • TE Mike Gesicki departs to New England, leaving Durham Smythe atop the depth chart at tight end
  • WR Trent Sherfield departs; team signed WR Braxton Berrios and WR Chosen Anderson
  • QB Teddy Bridgewater remains unsigned; team signed QB Mike White to back up Tua Tagovailoa

Schedule::

  • Divisional Games (6)::
    • Bills x2, Jets x2, Patriots x2
  • AFC West (4)::
    • Broncos, Raiders, @Chiefs, @ Chargers
  • NFC East (4)::
    • Cowboys, Giants, @Eagles, @Commanders
  • Other (3)::
    • Titans, Panthers, @Ravens

Bull Case::

The elite concentration through the air, dynamic play-calling abilities from head coach (and offensive play caller) Mike McDaniel, and speed up and down the roster amongst skill position players makes this a fun offense to buy into. Another significant contributor to the bull case from this offense is the addition of backup quarterback Mike White, who has proven to be a capable pocket passer from his time with the Jets. That should provide an increased level of comfort for Best Ball drafters that sink significant draft capital towards the services of Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle.

The Dolphins finished the 2022 season ranked 11th in points per game at 23.8 but averaged 26.5 points per game in Tua’s 12 starts (that would have finished the full season sixth in scoring behind the Lions). McDaniel is well versed in attacking an opposition’s weakness and/or taking advantage of the looks his opponents show him, meaning the upside is virtually uncapped from this unti in 2023 (assuming health of Tua, Hill, and Waddle). 

Bear Case::

Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa suffered two debilitating concussions in 2023 in addition to a back/neck stinger that forced an NFL rules change. It was so bad for Tua that he contemplated retirement this offseason. Another head injury could force his hand if faced with that decision again.

The hyper-concentrated nature of the aerial offense is an infinite plus for as long as Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle remain healthy, two players that are virtual uncoverable due to their athleticism, speed, and the ability of McDaniel to scheme them the ball, but that is something that also brings a level of dependency that can fall apart quickly should one (or both) pick up an injury in 2023. As in, the Dolphins have invested so much to build around both Hill and Waddle that there is a case to be made that things could deteriorate in their absence. 

Expectations/Takeaways::

Sharp Football Analysis gives the Dolphins the league’s fifth hardest strength of schedule for 2023 (again, based on projected win totals in Vegas). Aside from the selection of Devon Achane in the third round of the NFL Draft, the biggest predictive movement from the Dolphins this offseason was the decision to let tight end Mike Gesicki walk with no further efforts to replace him on the depth chart. We saw last year how Mike McDaniel chose to utilize his tight ends, which should largely remain the same heading into 2023. Basically, their running backs and wide receivers are simply so fast and such good fits for this scheme that McDaniel would prefer a tight end that can stay in and block as opposed to running routes, meaning the mismatches he can create off the edge on the ground and through the air to his elite wide receiver duo outweigh the mismatches he can create on the interior with tight ends.

Along that line of thinking, the fact that Durham Smythe now finds himself atop the depth chart at tight end for the Dolphins should key us in to how we expect this team to operate in 2023 (through their dynamic trio at running back, Tyreek Hill, and Jaylen Waddle). Furthermore, the selection of running back Devon Achane (who has 99th-percentile speed) provides further indication of this assertion. The team was also forced to forfeit their first-round selection in this year’s NFL Draft, held only four draft picks, and had a relatively quiet free agency and still took a third-round running back and sixth-round tight end. Everything adds up to provide a situation where we should feel pretty good about the certainty with which we view the fantasy path of the Dolphins in 2023.

Both Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle have very little competition for work through the air and should both be viewed as locked-in WR1s. Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was on a torrid pace in 2022 before the concussion saga that eventually led to an NFL rules change. Tua is currently being drafted as a borderline QB1/QB2, a price I’m more than comfortable paying considering the makeup of this team.

One of the considerations likely to be swept under the rug for the Dolphins in 2023 is the state of their defense, a unit that added defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, cornerback Jalen Ramsey, and inside linebacker David Long this offseason. Fangio has been around this league for a long time and is one of the pioneers of his style of defense, which basically equates to a 3-4 scheme designed to clog the interior and force teams to attack the sidelines, an area of the field that is more difficult for opposing quarterbacks to throw to and leads to an increased rate of mistakes. That is very likely to affect the way the team is run towards the end of the season but is also equally as likely to take some time to transition towards. The secondary, consisting of Xavien Howard, Brandon Jones, Jevon Holland, Jalen Ramsey, and Kader Kohou, is one of the more talented on-paper secondaries in the league.

The secondary pass-catchers (Cedrick Wilson, River Cracraft, Braxton Berrios, and the tight ends) should all be considered late-round dart throws reserved for sporadic exposures. The backfield now consists of three backs with 95th-percentile plus speed in Raheem Mostert, Jeff Wilson, and third-round rookie Devon Achane, all of whom possess the physical traits to be successful in this system (as was proven last season when the combination of Mostert and Wilson posted weekly RB2+ value in a Best Ball format). I would recommend getting some level of exposure here, likely spreading ownership numbers around between the three.

New England Patriots

Coaching/Philosophy/Scheme Changes::

  • Offense: Bill O’Brien returns to New England as offensive coordinator
  • Defense: Steve Belichick enters year 5 with the team

Personnel Changes::

  • WR Jakobi Meyers out, JuJu Smith-Schuster in (similar contracts)
  • WR Nelson Agholor departs for Las Vegas, leaving Kendrick Bourne and second-year wide receiver Tyquan Thornton to split time opposite DeVante Parker
  • TE Mike Gesicki brought in from Miami to play alongside Hunter Henry
  • RB Damien Harris departs for Buffalo, replaced by RB James Robinson

Schedule::

  • Divisional Games (6)::
    • Bills x2, Dolphins x2, Jets x2
  • AFC West (4)::
    • Chargers, Chiefs, @Broncos, @Raiders
  • NFC East (4)::
    • Commanders, Eagles, @Giants, @Cowboys
  • Other (3)::
    • Colts, Saints, @Steelers

Bull Case::

Mike Gesicki. That’s the bull case for the Patriots. I kid. That signing confused the living daylights out of me. Anyway, I digress. Actually, let’s poke fun some more, while we’re here. Why did Belichick and company let Jakobi Meyers walk only to turn around and pay Juju Smith-Schuster about the same money that Meyers got from the Raiders? I will go on record saying Meyers is the more complete wide receiver. Anyways, questionable free agent moves aside… yea, honestly, I don’t have much in the way of bull cases to be made for the Patriots for 2023. 

Bear Case::

The Patriots finished the regular season with an 8-9 record. Five of their eight wins were aided by a defensive touchdown (scored seven total D/ST touchdowns in 2022), meaning they managed only three wins in games they failed to score on defense. Not that this is some end all, be all sticking point, it’s just that their 16th-ranked 21.4 points per game value falls to 18.5 points per game without those seven defensive scores from a season ago. That would have been “good” for 25th in the league – just behind the Commanders and their hodgepodge group of quarterbacks. Yes, a lot of that was due to a rather inept offensive coordinator/play caller (who is no longer with the team), but a lot of it is also due to a relative dearth of top-end talent on offense.

That should also serve to highlight the identity of this team in the wake of Tom Brady, one whose identity is very much derived from their defense. Being that this is a Bill Belichick team and all, they also addressed what had really been their one glaring blemish following free agency through the draft, grabbing a player I consider to be one of the steals of the first round in Christian Gonzalez (without having to do something silly like trade up to get him). All of that to say, this Patriots team likely goes as their defense goes in 2023 – not their offense – which should be considered the strongest bear case to be made for their fantasy expectations in 2023. 

Expectations/Takeaways::

Sharp Football Analysis gives the Patriots the hardest strength of schedule for 2023 (calculated through Vegas projected win totals) – not exactly what you want to see from a team who derives their identity from their defense. Returning our attention back to the “bull case” section, there isn’t a ton to get excited about from this offense this coming season. New England attempted just 31.8 passes per game in 2022 and their quarterback, Mac Jones, has a similar advanced passing profile to Davis Mills and Kenny Pickett. Their “alpha” wide receiver, DeVante Parker, hasn’t returned fantasy viability in years. Newcomer paid-like-the-alpha wide receiver Juju Smith-Schuster has one credible fantasy season on his resume, has been living off the hype since, and was recently allowed to walk from the top offense in the league. The most pertinent pass-catcher to fantasy football, and, more importantly, Best Ball on the team is whoever is running as the ”Z” wide receiver. The problem there is we should see a maddening split in that role between Kendrick Bourne and second-year pro Tyquan Thornton. Gun to head, give me some fliers on Thornton in the last couple rounds of Best Ball drafts.

Presumed starting tight end Hunter Henry ran 360 routes in 2022 but was targeted on just 16.4% of those routes, good for 34th at the position. In fact, Henry has had a declining targets per route run rate in every year of his seven-year NFL career (missed 2018 and barely played as a rookie).

The lone shining star on the roster is third-year running back Rhamondre Stevenson, who showed last year that he can shoulder the load if given the opportunity. Stevenson amassed 279 running back touches in 2022 (210 carries and 69 receptions), emerging as the lead back through injuries to Damien Harris. He saw the third most targets at the position, held the ninth highest expected fantasy points per game value, sixth highest route participation, and had the third most evaded tackles on the third highest juke rate. He did all that on a 65.1% average snap rate and the team chose to replace Harris with James Robinson, blown out Achilles and all. I expect a 65% snap rate to be Stevenson’s weekly floor, making his 15.5 expected fantasy points per game value from 2022 a legitimate outcome in year three. I currently have Stevenson ranked at RB10 in half-PPR, providing a nice little discount at current RB13 cost. 

New York Jets

Coaching/Philosophy/Scheme Changes::

  • Offense: Nathaniel Hackett signed as offensive coordinator after serving as head coach for the Broncos, where his offense ranked dead last in points per game in 2022 (16.9)
  • Defense: Third year for head coach Robert Saleh and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich

Personnel Changes::

  • WRs Allen Lazard, Mecole Hardman signed; Jeff Smith and Braxton Berrios gone
  • QB Aaron Rodgers acquired via trade
  • RB James Robinson departs for New England

Schedule::

  • Divisional Games (6)::
    • Patriots x2, Bills x2, Dolphins x2
  • AFC West (4)::
    • Chiefs, Chargers, @Broncos, @Raiders
  • NFC East (4)::
    • Eagles, Commanders, @Cowboys, @Giants
  • Other (3)::
    • Texans, Falcons, @Browns

Bull Case::

This is a team that is going from Mike White and Zach Wilson to Aaron Rodgers. The franchise went out and made Rodgers’ landing as comfortable as possible, bringing in familiar faces in wide receiver Allen Lazard and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hacket, each of whom Rodgers has extensive experience with from their time together in Green Bay. It’s difficult to downplay how big of an impact the change at quarterback will be for this team moving forward.

This will also be year three of head coach Robert Saleh in New York, which is typically the point in time where we see the biggest improvements from a new coaching staff. Both of those items should come together to provide a situation where we see a massive boost in average time of possession and other efficiency metrics on offense.

The team is expected to transition to a complex West Coast offense under offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, a scheme that fits the talents of Aaron Rodgers much better than what we saw with Hackett and his time in Denver (and, more particularly, quarterback Russell Wilson). Furthermore, the transition in scheme should come much more naturally for Rodgers considering his extensive experience with Hackett when compared to the more drastic shift (and steeper learning curve) for Wilson in Denver. 

Bear Case::

One of the things that make Rodgers such a talent on the football field is his ability to anticipate both coverages and wide receiver intentions, the latter of which comes through repetition and trust built over time. This is part of the reason we saw previous Green Bay offenses start the season slow after major pass-catcher shakeups. Rodgers now has to establish that connection with a new slew of pass-catchers, with his only experience coming with Allen Lazard from their time together in Green Bay. Furthermore, Rodgers is much more susceptible to a collapsing pocket at this point in his career than he was five or ten years ago and the Jets’ offensive line, while non-terrible, is not on the same level as the one Rodgers leaves in Green Bay (yet, anyway).

Those two things could come together to provide a situation where the Jets struggle in the early portion of the season, particularly considering the abridged nature of the offseason and preseason under the new collective bargaining agreement in the NFL. Furthermore, electric running back Breece Hall tore his ACL in October and is likely to miss a portion of the offseason workouts, while the second running back on the depth chart is fifth-round rookie Israel Abanikanda. This is Aaron Rodgers we’re talking about, but that doesn’t change the fact that the two primary backs on this team have a combined seven games of NFL experience under their belts.

Expectations/Takeaways::

Sharp Football Analysis gives the Jets the eighth hardest strength of schedule for the 2023 season, a predictive metric given utilizing Vegas projected win totals. The team ultimately finalized a deal to acquire former Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers just before the NFL Draft, giving this franchise a significant boost as Rodgers follows in the footsteps of Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre via similar career arcs. In yet another change for the Jets heading into 2023, the addition of offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett will have the Jets looking extremely different come September.

Many might glance over the fact that Hackett served as the offensive coordinator in Green Bay and has extensive experience running a West Coast offense in conjunction with Rodgers. The West Coast offense is designed to stretch the field horizontally and leverage calculated downfield attempts and broken coverages to spring yards after the catch for splash play generation. It’s highly likely we see that translate to a hybrid 11-personnel base, with Garrett Wilson primarily operating out of the “Z” wide receiver position, Allen Lazard out of the “X,” and Mecole Hardman the primary slot, or “Y.” Corey Davis is probably the first to mix in for light sets while running back Breece Hall is likely to see a heavy route participation rate out of the backfield.

Garrett Wilson and Breece Hall are likely to be the main beneficiaries from the recent changes in New York, each capable of pushing for top-12 at their respective positions in fantasy points per game. The biggest detractor to that assertion is the ACL injury suffered by Hall in 2022, which is likely to force the electric back to miss a portion of the offseason program this year considering the timing of the injury (October). Things get a little harder to get behind when talking about Allen Lazard, Mecole Hardman, and Tyler Conklin, all of whom should be considered the secondary pieces in this offense. Expect a rather slow pace of play from Hackett and Rodgers, particularly considering the talent and coaching acumen that are present on the defensive side of the ball.

Hackett’s time in Green Bay saw the team run 11-personnel about 60% of the time, with the second highest rate of personnel alignments coming via 12-personnel (about 25%), meaning Mecole Hardman’s snap rate should theoretically be held in check as he cedes playing time to two-tight end sets. That should primarily come through veteran tight ends Tyler Conklin and C.J. Uzomah, the latter of whom is the preferred blocking tight end on the roster.