Jets at Bengals gives us an interesting spot, with the red hot Jets against the ice cold Bengals, in the return of the Red Rifle. The Jets have scored 34 points in three straight games, and this week they catch a Bengals defense that ranks 30th in DVOA, 32nd in yards allowed per game, and 27th in points allowed per game. Darnold has topped 21 fantasy points in three straight since the Jets’ embarrassing loss to the Dolphins, and has gone for 26+ in back to back spots. Last week, the Jets started to get Le’Veon Bell more involved as a true wide receiver, and even Robby Anderson has started to emerge. It was about a month ago that we said in this space that the Jets offense was going to surprise some people down the stretch, and after their game against the Dolphins it became pretty difficult to stay on board that train (with my own exposure to this offense limited since that spot); but while this offense is not as good as it has looked the last few weeks, there were a lot of reasons for optimism heading into this season, and if not for Darnold’s bout with mono and the ultra-slow start that set up across the board for this team, there is a solid chance this would have become one of the more usable offenses throughout the year. The Jets carry a Vegas-implied total at the front end of the week of only 22.25 — so while that should be noted, it should also be noted that this mark will lower ownership, and there are certainly paths available for the Jets to move well past that mark.
The most interesting element for the Jets is that the Bengals — as explored throughout the season — are facing the lowest opponent pass play rate in the league, with teams hardly even bothering to attack through the air in this spot. Only the Dolphins and Redskins have faced more running back rush attempts than Cincy, while no team has faced fewer wide receiver targets, and only six teams have faced fewer tight end targets. Here are the only notable stat lines allowed by the Bengals to pass catchers this year:
3-98-1 James Wash
With that noted, it’s also fair to point out that Darnold has done his damage the last three weeks on pass attempt totals of 30 // 30 // 29 — roughly in line with the 28.6 pass attempts per game the Bengals are dealing with (the fewest in the league). Cincinnati quietly shaves 9% off the league-average aDOT, but as explored throughout the season, they have struggled to tackle after the catch (James Washington’s long touchdown last week was a perfect example of what the Bengals look like trying to tackle in the secondary, with guys literally getting pushed away and then falling down as they try to re-engage), so while it has been impossible so far this year for multiple pass catchers to hit in the same game against this defense, there should be opportunity for one player from the Jets to produce at a high enough level to matter. Because we are looking for YAC, Demaryius Thomas is the player least likely to hit (he would need multiple guys to fall down to break off a big play, or would need a multi-touchdown game to really reach upside), which leaves the steady six to nine targets that Jamison Crowder sees (with a respectable 4.5 YAC/r mark) and the speed of Robby on his likeliest range of four or five looks. Ryan Griffin has also carved out a legitimate role in the absence of Chris Herndon as an outlet target between the 20s who is schemed some looks near the end zone. The chances of Darnold having to dump off passes to Griffin are lowered in this spot, so he’s primarily a “bet on touchdown” play this week.
Meanwhile, the Bengals have been smoked on the ground, with the following notable stat lines allowed:
121-0 (12) Breida
83-0 (13) Mostert
76-1 (14) Gore
91-0 (17) DJ
68-1 (8) Edmonds
152-1 (19) Lamar
131-0 (29) Fournette
112-0 (23) Jacobs
98-0 (21) Snell
Le’Veon isn’t exactly a “get to the outside and go” runner (which is where the Bengals really struggle), and he has still not topped 70 rushing yards in a game this year, but he has a likeliest range of three to six receptions (with some upside from there), and this is a good spot for him to post his best rushing total of the season. As explored last week: the Jets aren’t getting inside the 10-yard-line much this year (and the Bengals, as we know, have been quietly solid in the red zone, ranking fourth in opponent red zone touchdown rate while allowing only three rushers on that list above to add a touchdown to their yardage), which keeps Bell separated from “lock” territory — but the matchup certainly provides a boost.
On the other side, Andy Dalton — who was benched in a lost season when he needed one more touchdown pass to set the Bengals’ all-time record (way to go, Zac) — returns for an interesting setup with the Jets. While Ryan Finley attempted 30 // 31 // 26 passes in his three starts, Dalton threw the ball 36+ times in each of his eight starts while notching 42+ in half his games. He put up fantasy point totals in his starts of 25.72 (22.72 FanDuel) // 22.64 (19.64 FanDuel) // 18.1 // 5.64 (at Pittsburgh) // 18.98 // 14.6 (at Baltimore) // 21.34 // 21.16 (18.16 FanDuel) — which is a pretty strong list of scores for a guy who is stone minimum on FanDuel (true story) and $4700 on DraftKings. The matchup isn’t great, with Bless Austin and Arthur Maulet emerging as potential long-term answers on the outside for the Jets, and with this team shaving 10% off the league-average aDOT while impressively pairing this with better-than-league-average marks in catch rate and YAC/r allowed, but if volume cooperates (in a game in which the Bengals are facing the second-ranked DVOA run defense in the league), Dalton has a strong shot to be useful at his price.
In Dalton’s last four starts, targets among his primary pass catchers have gone:
>> Tyler Boyd :: 14 // 7 // 14 // 9
>> Auden Tate :: 6 // 11 // 6 // 13
>> Alex Erickson :: 1 // 6 // 14 // 7
Boyd is the best bet for raw production after becoming the first wide receiver in the league to top 100 yards against the Steelers following his public complaints over his workload. Behind him, Tate’s likeliest yardage range is around 50 yards, but he has upside from there and quietly has the sixth most red zone targets in the NFL as a big-bodied piece in the paint. Erickson quietly has an aDOT of 10.1 and a YAC/r rate of 5.8 (both sneaky-solid marks at his price if he sees seven or more targets). In those four games above (after Ross got hurt, before Dalton was benched), Boyd posted one elite price-considered score // Erickson posted one elite price-considered scores, a very strong price-considered score, and a solid price-considered score (while not yet having a role in the offense in the other game) // Tate posted one very strong price-considered score and three solid price-considered scores.
In the backfield, Joe Mixon has been able to find breathing room at last behind the Bengals’ shifting offensive line approach — though he’ll run into one of the toughest matchups in the NFL, making him a “hope for something to break his way” option this week.
JM’s Interpretation ::
Pricing is a bit strange on the Jets this week, with all these guys (wide receivers // Bell // Griffin) priced a bit high for their likeliest score, but with paths available to one of these guys finding his way onto a winning roster. With this offense centered around five players (and with the player who the matchup tilts most heavily toward — Bell — carrying potential to soak up the largest chunk of the points on this team while still falling shy of a price-considered smash), I actually won’t be surprised if I end up with very little exposure in this spot. I do think the Jets offense will do well, however, so I may roll with a bit of Darnold Naked, while you could also try to guess right on production/touchdowns concentrating on one player from this offense and providing a true smash (not the “likeliest” outcome, but certainly still very much in the cards).
On the Bengals’ side, we should expect them to have a tough time running, and we should expect them to eventually be chasing points, which opens opportunity for yet another pass-heavy game from Dalton, and for cheap production to emerge from the concentrated downfield portions of this offense (the running backs and tight ends also soak up some pass game work, but this work is mostly dumpoff-driven). With the price so low on Dalton, I’ll have some interest here from a “Bottom-Up Build” perspective, and I wouldn’t mind spreading some Bengals wideout exposure throughout builds, as the cheaper guys have consistently provided strong value with Ross out and Dalton under center. The Jets have been playing well, and this is still the Bengals — introducing some risk — but these guys are definitely in the mix as salary savers who could be a nice complement to the higher-priced players on this slate.