BENGALS // FALCONS OVERVIEW
This is one of the most exciting games on the weekend, with a pair of teams that have started the season hot on offense. Through three games, each of these teams ranks in the top nine in points per game — with Cincy’s mark of 29.7 actually high enough that it would have ranked first in the NFL last year, and with Atlanta not far behind at 26.7 points per game. Obviously, we are dealing with small sample sizes to begin the year, but each offense already boasted explosive weapons coming into the season, and each has seen a nice uptick in production from young receivers in Tyler Boyd and Calvin Ridley — further enhancing the floor for these offenses as a whole, and creating opportunities for each superstar wide receiver (A.J. Green and Julio Jones) to draw more single-coverage moving forward.
Each team has also drawn our eye the last couple weeks because of injuries in their respective backfields. Right now, it is looking like the DFS community will be without Joe Mixon and Devonta Freeman for at least one more week, which will open up starter-level snaps for Giovani Bernard and Tevin Coleman. These offenses also focus their distribution on a narrow band of players, making it easy for us to know where we can expect the ball to go. I had to wait until Wednesday to write up this game, in order to allow injury news to shake out further, but I had to exercise some serious patience during that wait. I’m looking forward to this game this weekend.
BENGALS PASS OFFENSE
The perception of this Atlanta pass defense seems to be perpetually skewed by what Atlanta does on offense — with people continually assuming this is a unit to attack. In reality, Atlanta has a pair of solid corners in Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford, and this Dan Quinn defense does a great job limiting downfield passing. Even with a tough schedule to begin the year (Nick Foles, sure — but followed by Cam Newton and Drew Brees), Atlanta has allowed the fifth-lowest aDOT to begin the year, and only seven teams are allowing fewer expected yards per target. Only eight teams are allowing fewer yards per pass attempt, and that’s after a matchup with Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara.
This creates a difficult spot on the outside for A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd. We’ll get to Boyd (and his price) in a moment, but Green first:
Green is questionable to play this week with a groin injury (now being called a pelvis injury), but he was probable to return to last week’s game at one point, and it seems likely we see him on the field this week.
So far this season, Green has target counts of eight, nine, and eight — though the second eight-target game occurred last week, when Green was injured early in the second half. He has a solid 30.9% of the team’s air yards so far, with a respectable aDOT of 11.0. As always, his targets are less “securely plentiful” than most of the other high-priced wide receivers; but every so often, Green will unexpectedly spike to 13 or 14 targets — and he has the talent to do damage even on single-digit looks, and even in a difficult matchup. He’s far from a lock this week, but the upside remains.
The number two piece on this passing attack — and make no mistake about it, he is very clearly the number two piece, far ahead of John Ross — is our boy Boyd. My biggest regret last week was the fact that (as discussed in the video recap of my roster) I failed to trust my research on Boyd, and I rolled with an Allen Robinson / Melvin Gordon pairing, over the Boyd / Gurley pairing I could have fit instead. It’s one thing to look at early-season air yards and target data and see that Boyd was severely underpriced last week…knowing that early-season target and air yards data can prove to be fluky over a larger sample size. It’s another thing altogether to be someone with a background in film study, and to have broken down the Bengals’ Week 2 game…and to have seen that he was clearly being trusted and featured. My background in film study is one of the big advantages we have on this site, and I’m glad many of you took the available edge and loaded up on Boyd last week in my absence.
But enough of all that; what does this mean for Week 4?
Boyd was the first read on the first pass play of the game for the Bengals last week — which tells us that they are scripting him the ball in advance of games kicking off. He was also the first read a number of times last week when the Bengals got closer to the end zone, with Boyd and Green stacked on top of one another in the Bengals’ pre-snap formation in order for Green to draw the defense’s attention while Boyd was cleared to run free. This team is operating right now as if they have two elite weapons at wide receiver, and it is not fluky that Boyd is right behind Green with 28.3% of the Bengals’ air yards, and with a similar aDOT of 12.0. Targets should remain close between the two for most of the year. Boyd is playing on the outside in two-wide sets, but he is kicking into the slot when Ross is on the field, which has led to an 82% snap rate in the slot — where Boyd will match up this week with the Falcons’ weak link in Brian Poole (last week, the Saints were also able to move around Michael Thomas to get him lined up on a linebacker or safety for six of his 10 catches — which Boyd will be in position for this week as well). Boyd is underpriced for his role on FantasyDraft, at 10.2% of the salary cap. That’s the place where he is most expensive, as he checks in at only 9.67% of the cap on FanDuel and 9.2% on DraftKings.
The Falcons have been up-and-down against tight ends to begin the year, with the Saints moving Ben Watson around last week enough for him to avoid De’Vondre Campbell on all but one of his five receptions. Tyler Eifert ran a pass route on 72% of Dalton’s drop-backs last week, and he was moved all around the formation, seeing eight targets, and hauling in six for 74 yards. He’s an underrated asset so far, with a tight-end-elite aDOT of 10.1 and a 17% share of the Bengals’ air yards.
John Ross is the number five option through the air (behind Gio Bernard and the three guys mentioned above). He’ll need a big YAC day or a long touchdown to pay off.
BENGALS RUN OFFENSE
If Joe Mixon misses again, Giovani Bernard is the “duh play of the week,” after the Falcons allowed 14 catches to Christian McCaffrey two weeks ago and 15 catches to Alvin Kamara last week. Gio played 87.7% of the Bengals’ snaps last week and ran a pass route on 76% of Dalton’s drop-backs. He saw nine targets and received goal line work. This is the best matchup in the NFL for pass-catching running backs, and Gio is functioning as the rare 85% snap-rate running back in a game in which the Bengals will almost certainly have to remain aggressive throughout. The only potential concern here is that Cincy ranks 27th in offensive plays per game, after ranking 32nd last year. Even with that, however, volume should pile up enough in this spot for Gio to be one of the most workload-secure backs on the slate, in a matchup that sets up perfectly for him.
FALCONS PASS OFFENSE
A lesser regret for me from last week was the fact that I didn’t get onto Calvin Ridley — and I was super impressed with how many OWS subscribers played him themselves. This is a new leak in my game, which has arisen as I have piled up more and more “knowledge and information” over the years. Two or three years ago, Ridley would have been one of my favorite plays heading into the weekend, for the same reason so many OWS readers played him last week: in the NFL Edge, we highlighted that the Week 3 game against the Saints set up well for the Falcons’ offense to stay aggressive throughout…while also highlighting the fact that Julio Jones had a difficult matchup in one-on-one coverage against Marshon Lattimore. A couple years ago, I would have said, “Okay, so how will the Falcons counter this in their attack? Calvin Ridley, of course.” This is what the NFL Edge guided thinking toward last week, and yet I failed to make that obvious leap myself, as I “knew too much” to play Ridley — with his snap share too low to create bankable usage, and with Julio soaking up an extraordinary amount of the Falcons’ air yards to begin the year. This is something I am noticing I need to work on in my own game: getting back to trusting my educated suppositions about how an offense will attack a defense, even when the to-date data does not back up what makes the most sense in that spot. This is similar to the “Jonas Gray game” between the Patriots and Colts a few years ago. There is only so much that predictive data can tell us — and our great edge on this site is our ability to look beyond the predictive data and to understand how an offense is likeliest to attack a defense. I kept wanting to like Ridley last week, but kept getting pulled away by “all the data” that argued against that play. So, again: awesome, awesome job on those of you who pulled the trigger on that play. That’s a former-strength-turned-leak in my own game that I’m now working to correct.
Under new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, the Bengals’ pass defense has been fairly mediocre in all categories except one: yards after catch. In this category, they have been elite — with only two teams allowing fewer yards after catch per reception than the Bengals to begin the year.
Cincy does not have any glaring coverage strengths or weaknesses, which should allow the Falcons to swing back over to Julio Jones this week, after he dropped to only six targets last week. Unlike Boyd on the other side of this game, Ridley has continued to operate as the clear number three receiver — playing fewer snaps and running fewer pass routes than Mohamed Sanu. Sanu’s role is obviously less enticing on this team with his upside-killing aDOT of 6.4, but the Falcons like his skill set on underneath routes and his blocking ability, so he won’t be going away any time soon. Expect Ridley to finish third in snaps again among wide receivers — though his usage should remain fairly strong moving forward, with around five to eight targets most games. His aDOT of 14.0 gives him plenty of upside with “limited” looks, and he’ll hit a few times this year in games (like this one) that don’t necessarily tilt in his favor. He’s a solid play in this spot, with a respectable target share and obvious upside.
Austin Hooper rounds out this passing attack with four to five targets in each game to begin the year. The Bengals are attackable with tight ends, though Hooper is always going to need a broken play or an unpredictable touchdown in order to really pay off, given his role in this offense.
FALCONS RUN OFFENSE
Last week, the Panthers changed up the script on the Bengals and hammered them on the ground, with Christian McCaffrey unexpectedly taking 28 carries for 184 yards. The Falcons will almost certainly try to exploit this area of the Bengals’ defense as well — and while Cincy will try to make adjustments here, they are without Vontaze Burfict for one more week, and may have a difficult time against the run once again.
That’s the good news for Tevin Coleman. The bad news is that Steve Sarkisian is far less willing than Norv Turner to go off script so heavily; and as such, we really cannot bank on Coleman seeing more than the 17 to 20 touches he has seen so far in his two games as the starter. As noted several times in the past in this article, Sarkisian does not use running backs in the pass game as much as he should, and Coleman has disappointed the last two weeks with only seven total targets. Expect something like 16 to 19 carries and two to four catches in an above-average spot this week — keeping his floor moderate, but giving him plenty of upside to hit for a solid game once again.
With so many weapons on each offense and a pair of offensive coordinators who know how to pile up yards, I like this game to become one of the higher-scoring affairs on the slate (the Over/Under has already been climbing early in the week, up a massive 3.5 points from where it started) — and with a narrow distribution of usage on each team, this makes this an appealing game to target in DFS.
Gio Bernard is an early-week lock for me as a guy who is underpriced for his role and expectations. This is the sixth game I have written up on the main slate so far, so this could obviously change if more things pop off the page deeper down the slate (obviously, these thoughts get updated on the Friday night Square Table and on the Player Grid that is posted on Saturday evenings), but so far he looks like a premium play once again. Boyd is also underpriced for his role and for his upside. He’ll be strongly in consideration for me this week — and he and Gio obviously have the ability to both post a strong game on the same week, especially given the likely high-scoring nature of this game. Elsewhere on the Bengals: A.J. Green is intriguing for his tourney upside, while Tyler Eifert carries quiet upside given his to-date usage in this offense. Andy Dalton is also, yet again, a good play — and he is shockingly underpriced on DraftKings, at only 10.8% of the salary cap. Expect him to be popular this week.
Matt Ryan should also be popular after back-to-back monster games, and his price is also shockingly low on DraftKings (12.2% of the salary cap) and FantasyDraft (11.4%). This is a slightly below-average matchup, but not to any extent that we should be concerned about Ryan’s floor or ceiling. He won’t keep hitting for monster games every week, but this is another good game environment for him to be comfortably targeted.
It’s always scary to try to project what Sarkisian will do with this offense, but this shapes up as a week in which Julio Jones should be featured, and he should see anywhere from eight to 14 targets (I would love to condense that range, but we really can’t, given the way Sark runs this offense). Behind Julio, we should see Ridley soak up five to eight valuable targets — giving him a lower floor than last week’s explosion indicates, but still providing him with plenty of upside. Red zone effectiveness is always a question on this offense (and they have solved this issue the last couple weeks by doing the unexpected in the red zone), so it’s scary to bet on Falcons even when we expect the yardage to be there; but the yardage should be there this week, and Julio and Ridley should be an integral part of that.
This attack rounds out with Coleman for me, who should see around 20 touches once again in a quality matchup. This gives him a decent floor and a solid ceiling — with an outside chance of his usage spiking this week as well, and with his opportunity for upside spiking as a result.