Week 4 Matchups

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WEEK 3 ROSTER BREAKDOWN

Point Total: 147.86

(Jump to Games)

Reminder: I always write my initial diagnosis of my roster right before games kick off, in order to capture my honest thoughts on the build. Here are those thoughts.

Second reminder: this is my DraftKings roster, as that’s where the majority of my play goes; but the breakdown of thought process is beneficial for all sites and styles of play.

28.26 — Patrick Mahomes
19.60 — Giovani Bernard
24.40 — Christian McCaffrey
24.10 — Will Fuller
16.80 — Cooper Kupp
8.00 — Allen Robinson
8.30 — Eric Ebron
16.40 — Melvin Gordon
2.00 — Cowboys

Results :: This team was good for a partial cash in double-ups, while falling short in tourneys.

What I Wrote Before Kickoff:

This week, there are a few clear mistakes I believe most of the field will make. I elaborated on this in the #OWSChatPod on Saturday, but basically, I think that the following chalky plays could be categorized as “bad chalk”:

Corey Clement
Kareem Hunt
Latavius Murray
Julio Jones

There are a few others, but those are the main ones that stand out to me heading into the slate.

Not to say that all of these plays will fail; but all of these plays carry enough question marks that they really should not have shaped up as chalk.

This creates a weird position for me, as someone who plays over 50% of his money in cash games each week. Do I side with the chalk — at least in cash — and simply play with the wisdom of the crowd? Or do I stick to my own research and “play to win,” rather than “playing to not lose”?

Naturally (as could be guessed by my wording of that set of options…), I have found it is far more profitable to lean toward the latter: always playing what the research has led us to believe are the “best plays,” regardless of what the field thinks.

On most weeks with one or two pieces of “bad chalk,” it can be terrifying to fade that chalk, as even “bad chalk” can hit for a big weekend; and if you miss out on those one or two pieces of “bad chalk,” it can be very difficult to keep pace with the field. Those types of weekends tend to be unprofitable more times than other types of weekends (though, of course, the winnings on those weekends can be substantial when the bad chalk misses). But on a week such as this one, with a good six or seven chalky pieces that I am not especially fond of, it is almost guaranteed that at least a few of those chalky pieces will disappoint.

As such, I have landed on a strategy for this weekend that calls for me to take an extremely safe approach — loading up on targets from all areas of my lineup.

With Giovani Bernard, Christian McCaffrey, and Melvin Gordon, I have three workload-secure backs who are heavily involved in the pass game — and all three of them will see heavy work on the ground if game flow works away from the pass.

At wide receiver, I have the target-secure floor of Cooper Kupp and Allen Robinson — with secure touchdown upside on each. I also have the big-play upside of Will Fuller; and while he feels strange in cash, I genuinely believe his workload is secure in this offense at the moment, and we’ll see seven to 10 targets flowing his way most weeks.

I round out this roster with the clearest tight end play in Ebron, the safest cheap DST play in the Cowboys, and my favorite quarterback in Mahomes — and while I could go down to Deshaun Watson or Drew Brees and feel good about what I’m getting, there really isn’t a place where I feel I improve myself with the savings.

Once again, I landed on this team on Friday night — but unlike last week, I continued to mess around with it all the way through Sunday morning. I feel like there are improvements I can make to this team — ways to grab a little more upside than I am grabbing — but I am landing in a spot where I feel that any further changes are just as likely to mess up this team as to improve it. As such, I’m feeling as good as I can heading into this weekend. I am giving this team about a 65% shot at profitability; which isn’t quite as exciting as the 80% chance I felt my roster had in Week 2, but it’s a solid place to be on a week I feel has a lot of potential landmines.

There will be more “out of my control” this week than I love. I’ll need to hope these one-dimensional running backs (Clement / Murray / Hunt) don’t punch in a boatload of touchdowns, and I’ll need some of the other chalk to stay within a certain range. With that said: all of the guys on my roster also have upside, so there is a scenario in which all of them could hit together, and I could be looking at an awesome weekend. This team doesn’t correlate nearly as well as my teams from Weeks 1 and 2, and I’ll need everyone to hit at once for a monster weekend; but I’m certainly giving myself a strong chance going in: fading what I feel is “bad chalk,” and loading up on guys who all provide high floor and ceiling.

We’ll see what happens.


How I use Game Notes

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UPDATES MADE:

Randall Cobb Questionable (Sept. 28)

Golden Tate Questionable (Sept. 28)

Jack Doyle Out (Sept. 28)

Leonard Fournette set to play (Sept. 28)

Rishard Matthews has quit the Titans (Sept. 28)

Doug Baldwin set to play (Sept. 28)

More injuries to NYG offense (Sept. 28)

Matt Breida a game-time decision (Sept. 28)


Kickoff Thursday, Sep 27th 5:20pm Eastern

Vikings (
21) at

Rams (
28)

Over/Under 49.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Vikings Run D
27th DVOA/22nd Yards allowed per carry
Rams Run O
1st DVOA/7th Yards per carry
Vikings Pass D
8th DVOA/29th Yards allowed per pass
Rams Pass O
10th DVOA/18th Yards per pass
Rams Run D
21st DVOA/7th Yards allowed per carry
Vikings Run O
2nd DVOA/6th Yards per carry
Rams Pass D
11th DVOA/5th Yards allowed per pass
Vikings Pass O
20th DVOA/22nd Yards per pass

VIKINGS // RAMS OVERVIEW

This game is likely to be skewed a bit in the public perception by what happened to the Vikings last week against the Bills — but the reality is that this matchup pairs two of the best teams in the NFL, with a couple of good offenses doing battle with a couple of top defenses.

When these teams faced each other last season, in Minnesota, the Rams scored on their first drive of the game before being shut out the rest of the way and losing 24-7. There are a few changes on each team, but the biggest difference this week will be that the Rams are the home team, which will make it far easier for Jared Goff to check into the play he wants to check into at the line, and for the Rams’ offense to attack this Vikings unit more fluidly.

The line in this game has been set aggressively in favor of the Rams (as of this writing, the Vikings’ Vegas-implied team total sits at 21.5, compared to 28.0 for the Rams), and it won’t be surprising if this game plays closer than that. But there are definitely enough offensive weapons on either side of this matchup for DFS goodness to pile up.

VIKINGS PASS OFFENSE

The Rams have been one of the toughest teams to pass on to begin the year, ranking fifth in yards allowed per pass attempt while forcing offenses to the short areas of the field and tackling well after the catch. This week, however, the Rams will be without Aqib Talib on one side of the field, and they will almost certainly be without Marcus Peters on the other. Although Wade Phillips has the ability to change his defense on the fly, and he is not going to overtask Sam Shields and Nickell Robey-Coleman with the same high-level responsibilities he gives to his two All Pro corners, the loss of these two players will have an impact across the board on this defense. The Rams will either need to be less aggressive on the attack in order to provide extra help on the back end, or they will expose themselves to big plays on the back end as a result of the talent loss they are currently experiencing.

We should expect Wade Phillips to mix and match these approaches — occasionally remaining hyper-aggressive, while at other times showing aggressive looks and backing out into zone coverage schemes that take away the perimeter of the field and force passes to the middle.

This Vikings passing attack really consists of only two players at the moment. Adam Thielen has accounted for 43% of the team’s air yards to date, while Stefon Diggs has accounted for a 37.7% share of his own — with these two combining to see over 80% of the Vikings’ air yards to date.

Thielen has doubled Diggs’ snap rate in the slot, giving him a much safer floor in this spot — especially as the Rams’ perimeter injuries should leave the middle of the field even more open against them, as they adjust outward on defense. Each guy should be heavily involved, however, and each is a strong bet for production in this spot. Thielen has at least 12 targets in every game this season, while Diggs has double-digit looks in two of three games. The matchup has the potential to be more difficult than people will assume at first glance, simply because Phillips will have something in place to account for the missing pieces on the back end; but especially on DraftKings and FantasyDraft, where pricing has been adjusted downward to account for the matchup, these guys stand out as strong tourney plays even on the 15-game slate, as the usage is absolutely locked in from week to week.

Behind these guys, Kyle Rudolph has seen an 11.7% share of the team’s air yards, with target counts of two, eight, and six — with two targets inside the 20 and one target inside the 10. The Rams are susceptible against the tight end; but as always, Rudolph will need a score in order to really pay off for your roster.

VIKINGS RUN OFFENSE

Minnesota has had a slow start to the year on the ground, ranking 29th in yards per carry while totaling only 198 rushing yards through three games. The matchup against the Rams is middling (the Rams do not focus on taking away the run — but their personnel is strong enough that they have been average against the run anyway), but the bigger concern for the Vikings is that they will likely be without Dalvin Cook again. Mike Zimmer and Cook himself have implied that he still has a chance to suit up this week, but their actions indicate otherwise. If Cook does play, he becomes an intriguing piece on the one-game “slate,” but he’ll be at risk of a lightened workload in order for the Vikings to avoid setbacks in this spot.

Last week with the Vikings falling into catch-up mode early, Latavius Murray played only 57.6% of the team’s snaps, seeing two carries — which he turned into one rushing yard. Encouragingly, however, Murray ran 28 pass routes and stayed in to block on only eight plays — leading to seven targets and five catches for 30 yards. Murray will never be anyone’s idea of an explosive weapon out of the backfield, but he can be teed up on the short slate as a game-flow-independent back with low-ceiling pass game involvement. Mike Boone and C.J. Ham each got decent run as well last week, and I don’t imagine we will see Murray crack a 70% to 75% snap share; but that will be enough to give him some touchdown upside in this spot, even if an explosive yardage game will be difficult to come by.

RAMS RUN OFFENSE

Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen is dealing with mental health issues that will take him off the field for Thursday night’s game, but the Vikings still boast an extremely strong defense, with impact players at all levels of the field. With Harrison Smith at safety, the Vikings are able to roll with five defensive backs against the Rams without sacrificing too much against the run; and last year in this matchup, the Vikings were able to trust their front four to slow down Todd Gurley, while allowing linebackers Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks to play back against run looks from the Rams — enabling them to be in position against the pass on all the misdirection and play-action the Rams like to run. This is a poor setup for the Rams’ passing attack, which relies on the threat caused by Todd Gurley to suck in linebackers and safeties and open up deep routes on play-action and short routes on misdirection plays. Last season in this matchup, the Rams had to fight for every yard, as the Vikings were able to maintain coverage and force tight-window throws all game long.

Last year in this matchup, Todd Gurley totaled 37 yards on 15 carries, while catching only three of four targets for 19 yards — for one of his most disappointing fantasy weekends on the year.

While these elements add up to make this a spot in which Gurley is less likely to hit than normal, his secure usage and his explosive ability will always keep him in play. His ceiling remains as high as it is in any matchup; but this is one of the rare matchups that requires us to bump down floor expectations. Gurley is always a fade-at-your-own-risk kind of player, but the Vikings have the personnel and the defensive philosophy that would allow them to hold Gurley below expectations more often than not in this spot.

RAMS PASS OFFENSE

Last year in this matchup, Xavier Rhodes primarily followed Sammy Watkins around the field — and given the way the Rams are using Brandin Cooks, it would make sense for the Vikings to shift Rhodes onto Cooks this week.

“Rhodes on Watkins” freed up Robert Woods last year for 11 targets and an 8-81-0 line, while Cooper Kupp maintained his typical role and hauled in six of seven targets for 64 yards and no scores. Woods is going to have a difficult time shaking free for big plays downfield against this clamp-down Vikings defense, but he should again see heavy usage, and he enters this week third in the NFL in percentage share of team air yards, behind only Julio Jones and Odell Beckham.

Incredibly, Woods, Cooks, and Kupp account for over 93% of the Rams’ air yards, which always makes this a great passing attack to target when we expect one player to have a below-average game (or, at least, to have a below-average matchup). Woods stands out above Kupp from an upside perspective, but Kupp carries a nice floor in this spot, with a locked-in role that yields six to nine targets most game, and that has yielded the fourth-most red zone targets in the NFL (seven).

Finally, realize that a bad matchup does not make it impossible for Cooks to hit; it simply makes it less likely. Cooks should go overlooked in this matchup with expectations that he finds himself in Rhodes’ shadow — making him an intriguing “upside” tourney pivot for the big play potential he carries.

JM’S INTERPRETATION

I like to avoid players against elite defenses when I can, as such matchups introduce more question marks than I like to find on my team. As such, I would consider all of these players to be fringe options if this game were on the main slate — guys I would mark down on my early-week list, but would probably not end up playing.

With that said: Adam Thielen and Robert Woods each stand out as strong “opportunity” plays, as each guy should see guaranteed work filtered his way as a result of the way his matchup sets up. Each is a strong play on the one-game slate, with Thielen the preferred option, but with Woods around 30/70 to outscore him.

Kupp carries “floor” with sneaky upside, while Cooks and Diggs have slate-winning upside if things go right. We should still expect Thielen to out-target Diggs, but Diggs is getting downfield looks (an aDOT of 11.8, compared to 8.9 for Thielen), and the injuries to the Rams’ secondary give him a great opportunity to hit. Cooks will need to blow past Xavier Rhodes a couple times in order to post a monster score himself, but he has the ability to do so. In all, the wide receivers in this game fall into this order for me:

Thielen // Woods // Diggs // Kupp // Cooks — but all five of them are playable on the one-game slate.

Latavius is uninspiring, but he’ll have a goal line role and should haul in another two to four receptions. If he punches in a touchdown or two, he’ll pay off.

Gurley still has to be given the highest raw projection on the one-game slate, given his role and his talent; but we shouldn’t be surprised if he falls short of expectations this week.

I don’t expect either defense to be among the five or six highest-scoring “players” on the small slate, but each side has the talent to force mistakes and score a touchdown.

Kirk Cousins and Jared Goff set up nicely for something like a 250-2-1 line through the air, with upside for more. The nature of this matchup means that shootout expectations should be kept in check — but there are enough explosive weapons on either side of this game that some crazy things could happen.


Kickoff Sunday, Sep 30th 1:00pm Eastern

Bills (
17.25) at

Packers (
26.25)

Over/Under 43.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Bills Run D
24th DVOA/21st Yards allowed per carry
Packers Run O
10th DVOA/10th Yards per carry
Bills Pass D
28th DVOA/15th Yards allowed per pass
Packers Pass O
6th DVOA/14th Yards per pass
Packers Run D
25th DVOA/12th Yards allowed per carry
Bills Run O
32nd DVOA/29th Yards per carry
Packers Pass D
25th DVOA/18th Yards allowed per pass
Bills Pass O
4th DVOA/6th Yards per pass

BILLS // PACKERS OVERVIEW

The Packers have allowed 23 points to the Bears, 29 points to the Vikings, and 31 points to the Redskins to begin the season. And yet, the Bills enter this game with a Vegas-implied total of only 17.75 — which speaks to how limited the weapons are on this Bills team. Even in their 27-6 unseating of the Vikings on the road last week, the Bills only threw the ball 22 times, with Josh Allen accounting for 39 yards and two touchdowns with his legs, and with Buffalo totaling only 292 total yards on offense. This is still one of the least-talented offensive attacks in the NFL, and they will have a difficult time keeping up with the Packers this week.

BILLS PASS OFFENSE

The Packers’ pass-focused defense has not actually been strong against the pass so far this season, with only eight teams allowing more yards per pass attempt to begin the year. Green Bay ranks 24th in sacks, and only seven teams are allowing a higher expected yards per target than the Packers. That’s the good news if you want to load up on Buffalo pass catchers.

The bad news is that Buffalo’s top weapons are Kelvin Benjamin (six catches on 15 targets to begin the year, with 58 yards through three games) and castoff Andre Holmes (four catches on nine targets, for 53 yards). Zay Jones actually led all wide receivers in snaps last week…at 62.7% of the team’s total offensive snaps. He has 10 targets on the year, which he has turned into six catches for 106 scoreless yards. Even with negative game script in two of three weeks, Buffalo ranks 23rd in the NFL in passing play percentage. Expectations should be low on this passing attack every week right now — with bonus points awarded any week they look competent. Josh Allen has an absolute cannon for an arm, but that’s about all this passing attack has going for it at the moment.

BILLS RUN OFFENSE

Unsurprisingly — given their pass-focused tendencies on defense this year — the Packers come into this week with below-average run defense numbers, ranking 23rd in yards allowed per carry and 27th in rushing yards allowed per game. Through three games, however, Buffalo’s offense ranks 28th in yards per carry, with an offensive line that has failed to open holes, and with personnel on the outside that is allowing teams to clamp down on the run.

LeSean McCoy is still a question mark at this point in the week, though he has disappointing to-date numbers on the year: 16 carries for 61 scoreless yards, and five catches for 28 scoreless yards. Disconcertingly, he played only 34 of the Bills’ 64 snaps in their blowout Week 1 loss to the Ravens — his last fully healthy game. If he plays this week, expect him to lead the backfield in touches, but this is shaping up as an iffy-workload situation on a bad offense, with low weekly scoring expectations.

If McCoy misses, Chris Ivory (54 snaps last week) and Marcus Murphy (16 snaps) will carry the load. In positive game script last week, Ivory totaled only 56 rushing yards on 20 carries (though he did haul in three of four targets for 70 yards — buoyed by a 55-yard play). If the Bills fall behind this week, this backfield will likely tilt in favor of pass-catching back Murphy. The matchup is not a concern, but the offensive line and the game flow still present reasons to worry.

PACKERS PASS OFFENSE

Unlike the last couple weeks, which set up really nicely for Geronimo Allison, this week sets up best for Randall Cobb (I know — “ugh”). Typically, “Cobb weeks” are the best weeks to avoid this Packers passing attack, as Cobb’s lower aDOT (7.2) and less explosive skill set makes it tougher for him to hit for a big game than what we get on Allison/Adams weeks.

So far this season, no team in the NFL has allowed a lower aDOT than the Bills — who have quietly begun their return to form after a rough Week 1, looking more and more like the defense that carried this team to an unexpected playoff berth last year. Buffalo aims to take away the outside of the field and push everything toward the short middle — which played out last week in the manner we expected, with Adam Thielen posting a monstrous 14-105-0 line on a ridiculous 19 targets, while Stefon Diggs managed only 4-17-0 on 10 looks of his own.

The key to the Bills’ attack in Week 3 was their pass rush, as Buffalo brought pressure with Jerry Hughes and Trent Murphy, while moving Lorenzo Alexander to the defensive tackle position at times on passing downs to command double-teams and free up edge rushers on the outside. With Sean McDermott taking over some of the defensive play-calling duties last week, we saw a more ferocious version of this Bills defense than we had seen in the first two weeks, and their goal this week will be to make life difficult on a hobbled Aaron Rodgers.

For his part, Rodgers will often have to decide between short throws over the middle to Cobb and more aggressive throws into a tight zone on the outside to Allison and Davante Adams. Adams has seen 29 targets through three games, though he will likely need a multi-touchdown game in order to pay off his lofty salary on DraftKings (15.6% of the salary cap — the seventh highest-priced WR on the main slate). He is more reasonably priced on FanDuel and FantasyDraft, at under 14% of the salary cap on each. The matchup is still difficult, though the work should be there, as Rodgers is comfortable making tight-window throws and allowing Adams to win on contested catches.

Allison has had the strongest downfield role in this offense, but this will play poorly in this spot, given what the Bills do on defense. Allison is simply a “bet on talent” play this week.

This passing attack rounds itself out with Jimmy Graham, who has target counts to begin the season of four, eight, and seven. He has quietly soaked up 19.4% of the team’s air yards, with an aDOT of 10.1 (trailing only Allison on the team). With Graham’s downfield targets primarily coming over the middle of the field, he’s a sneaky bet to lead the Packers in receiving yards this week. Only three teams allowed more receptions to the position last year than the Bills, and only seven teams allowed more yards. It is a concern, however, that Adams has retained his massive red zone role this season (seven targets so far), while Graham has only one red zone look on the year.

PACKERS RUN OFFENSE

The distribution of touches last week in the Packers’ backfield looked like this:

10 touches — Ty Montgomery // seven touches — Jamaal Williams // seven touches — Aaron Jones

Montgomery is the best pass-catching back, while Jamaal Williams is the best pass-blocking back and Aaron Jones is the most explosive weapon on the ground. This creates a headache of a situation, as Williams’ blocking ability is important in this backfield right now in order to keep Rodgers protected, but he is still going to cede receiving work to Montgomery and rushing work to Jones. Until Jones proves that he has improved his pass blocking, this should be viewed as a backfield to stay away from, with completely unpredictable usage from week to week. Buffalo has also tightened up against the run early in the year, ranking ninth in yards allowed per carry. You’re on your own if you want to try to “guess right” on a back in this spot.

JM’S INTERPRETATION

At first glance, this looked like it might turn into a fun game to attack this weekend; but after digging in, it appears there is simply not a ton to love. The Bills’ passing attack is still a wreck, with receivers who cannot get open, while the Bills’ backfield is both ineffective and unpredictable.

On the other side of the ball, Rodgers always has the upside to make a difference on a slate, but this matchup sets up poorly for the Packers, with their least-explosive weapon running routes in the area of the field where the Bills are (by far) the most attackable. Look for a decent PPR game from Cobb, but he will need a broken play or a touchdown in order to actually be worth a roster spot. Adams should still get his looks, and he has succeeded plenty of times before in difficult matchups, but it will be tough for him to notch a week-winning score. And Allison is going to need his talent to win out over a defense that does a good job taking away everything he wants to do.

Perhaps the most intriguing piece in this game is Jimmy Graham, who should be involved early and often, and should be able to pick up yards between the 20s. His lack of scoring-position usage is a concern, but he sets up nicely for something like a 4-40-0 line in this spot as a floor, with obvious upside for more. We’ll see how the rest of this slate shakes out, but he’s a name I’ll be adding to my tight end list on the front end of the week.

I also still like the idea of attacking this Bills offense with DST units. Last week, Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll added a lot of misdirection in an effort to protect Allen and get guys open; but with a chance to watch film on that approach and prepare for it, the Packers should be able to shut it down. The Bills’ receivers are simply not capable of getting open with regularity, which will create opportunities for sacks and interceptions this week.

FRIDAY EVENING UPDATE // Full “Updates” List

Randall Cobb is questionable to play this week, and while we may gain some clarity after the Packers’ walk-through on Saturday, there is a chance we will not know until Sunday whether or not he is suiting up. If Cobb is out, keep in mind that Buffalo is most attackable over the middle of the field. This will give a small boost to the already-solid setup Jimmy Graham has over the middle this week. This would also create an opportunity for Ty Montgomery to be an underrated asset. There are obvious risks involved in that play, but it would make sense for the Packers to get him some slot routes and some underneath work in the absence of Cobb.


Kickoff Sunday, Sep 30th 1:00pm Eastern

Bengals (
24.5) at

Falcons (
28)

Over/Under 52.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Bengals Run D
23rd DVOA/28th Yards allowed per carry
Falcons Run O
26th DVOA/20th Yards per carry
Bengals Pass D
16th DVOA/25th Yards allowed per pass
Falcons Pass O
16ths DVOA/3rd Yards per pass
Falcons Run D
8th DVOA/6th Yards allowed per carry
Bengals Run O
27th DVOA/26th Yards per carry
Falcons Pass D
30th DVOA/31st Yards allowed per pass
Bengals Pass O
26th DVOA/13th Yards per pass

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.

JM’S INTERPRETATION

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.


Kickoff Sunday, Sep 30th 1:00pm Eastern

Lions (
21) at

Cowboys (
23)

Over/Under 44.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Lions Run D
30th DVOA/26th Yards allowed per carry
Cowboys Run O
18th DVOA/24th Yards per carry
Lions Pass D
12th DVOA/20th Yards allowed per pass
Cowboys Pass O
22nd DVOA/1st Yards per pass
Cowboys Run D
29th DVOA/32nd Yards allowed per carry
Lions Run O
13th DVOA/18th Yards per carry
Cowboys Pass D
21st DVOA/12th Yards allowed per pass
Lions Pass O
19th DVOA/20th Yards per pass

LIONS // COWBOYS OVERVIEW

The goal of this Dallas offense is to shorten the game — playing at a slow pace and running the ball at a high rate, while hoping that enough things break their way for a win to fall in their lap. The approach on the Lions’ side is the opposite, as they run plenty of no-huddle and pass the ball as often as any team in the league.

These contrasting styles have put Vegas in a bit of a bind — especially with these teams being close enough in talent for the home team (the Cowboys) to be installed as the favorite. It’s difficult to project the Cowboys for more than 21 to 24 points, which is pulling the total of this entire game down. Realistically, the Lions will have a difficult time popping off for four or more touchdowns in the slowed-down environment in Dallas, which makes this an interesting spot for us from a DFS perspective — where the matchup is not “scary,” but expectations need to be lowered a bit nonetheless.

LIONS PASS OFFENSE

It’s no secret what the Cowboys want to do on defense, as only seven teams have faced a lower aDOT than the Cowboys, and — given the slowed-down nature of the Cowboys’ games — only two teams in the league have seen fewer total air yards. Only two teams have allowed fewer total yards than the Cowboys this season. They make it tough for us to rack up big fantasy points against them.

It is going to go overlooked, but last week’s Lions/Patriots game told us a lot about the way the Lions view their wide receivers.

Through the first two games of the season, Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay were used primarily downfield, while Golden Tate was used primarily underneath. Last week, however — against a man-heavy Patriots coverage scheme — Golladay saw his route tree go from this:

Week 2

To this:

Week 3

Meanwhile, Marvin Jones continued to be deployed primarily downfield — which essentially tells us that in a matchup like this one (against a zone-heavy Cowboys team that filters everything to the short middle of the field), Golladay is the receiver likelier to see his usage and route tree adjusted for the matchup. Expect Jones to continue working primarily downfield this week, against a defense that ranked top eight last year in fewest pass plays of 20+ yards and fewest pass plays of 40+ yards.

Golden Tate should continue to work the middle of the field, where the Cowboys are most attackable. He is averaging 12 targets per game to begin the year, and while his aDOT of 6.2 would be pathetic elsewhere, Tate offers enough YAC ability to put up points on such theoretically low-upside usage.

LIONS RUN OFFENSE

LeGarrette Blount played 26 snaps last week, to 32 for Kerryon Johnson; and while Johnson continues to look like the better player, the two split work down the middle — with no end in sight to this timeshare. Theo Riddick soaked up 21 snaps of his own, though his role is not predictably useful for DFS unless the Lions can be expected to fall behind big, which is not the likeliest scenario here.

The Cowboys rank fourth in the NFL to begin the year in yards allowed per carry. If you feel compelled, for some reason, to go to the Lions’ backfield, Johnson is obviously the best bet for upside, and there will hopefully be a week soon in which he finally takes on a bigger share of the workload.

COWBOYS PASS OFFENSE

There is no easy fix for this Cowboys passing “attack” at the moment, as they simply do not have NFL-caliber weapons. This last week, they gave 27 snaps and 21 pass routes to Deonte Thompson — a 29-year-old UDFA who has made his career as a special teams player and “in a pinch” number five wide receiver. He has 86 catches in his career, with nine of them coming this year.

Cole Beasley “led” the Cowboys last week, playing 42 of a possible 59 snaps (71.2%), while running 36 pass routes and going 3-46-0 on five targets. Allen Hurns ran a close second, with 39 snaps and 30 pass routes run, turning in a 2-22-0 line on four targets. Geoff Swaim has taken over the lead tight end role in this attack, with 35 pass routes run a week ago, which he turned into seven targets and five catches for 47 yards. Swaim will need a touchdown in order to really pay off. The Cowboys have been gifted three above-average passing matchups to begin the year, and Dak Prescott has yet to top 170 yards through the air in a game. He has two touchdowns to two interceptions on the year.

Why are we still talking about the Cowboys’ passing attack?

COWBOYS RUN OFFENSE

So far, Ezekiel Elliott has managed to survive a declining offensive line and an ineffective passing attack to compile three respectable fantasy days — though he did need a touchdown in two of those to save his day from disappointment. Detroit is not a daunting matchup (even after bottling up Sony Michel in Week 3, the Lions rank 32nd in yards allowed per carry), but they should be able to load the box and dedicate extra attention to Zeke in this spot, making this a more difficult matchup than it appears on paper.

The news begins to turn better for Zeke when we look at his pass game involvement, with an average of six targets per game to begin the year, and with at least three catches in every game so far. Because opposing defenses have no respect for the Cowboys’ passing attack, they have been able to effectively bottle up Zeke after the ball is in his hands (37 total receiving yards through three full games), but he obviously has the explosive “on his own” talent to break off a big play. There are a lot of negative data points for Zeke, but it only takes one or two big plays to make his day, and he is capable of notching those plays against this defense.

JM’S INTERPRETATION

This game is obviously not going to be a major draw for the DFS community this week, and I’ll be surprised if any players from this game end up on my main roster; but there are a few things to at least take note of, on both sides of the ball.

Kenny Golladay carries intriguing upside as a guy who is good enough to pop off in any matchup. His floor is lowered in this spot, but his flexible usage in this offense makes him at least worthy of a mention.

Golden Tate should have an easy time reaching his floor this week, as targets will be filtered his direction, and the Cowboys are all about “forcing short targets and tackling after the catch.” They do tackle well, which will make it tougher for Tate to pop off; but it only takes one play, and ownership should be low. He’s interesting in large-field tourneys as a guy who won’t kill your roster, and who has long-shot (but very real) upside for a week-winning game.

I’m not interested in taking a shot on the Lions’ backfield or the Cowboys’ passing attack. Those are easy stay-aways for me. Crazy things happen every week in the NFL, but hunting for those “crazy things” in such bad spots leads to losses over time.

I do like Zeke as someone similar to Saquon Barkley last week: “Plenty to dislike, but enough talent and usage to pop off for a big game while everyone is looking the other way.” Again: he’s likely not a Core Roster piece for me this week, but he is at least intriguing, and I’ll add him to my list for consideration. I’ll probably end up with some Zeke exposure if I throw a few extra teams into large-field tourneys.

FRIDAY EVENING UPDATE // Full “Updates” List

Golden Tate is questionable heading into the Lions’ game in Dallas. If Tate is out, T.J. Jones will step into most of the slot snaps for the Lions, and would become a very intriguing salary-saver on full-PPR sites. He won’t grab all of Tate’s targets, but he would almost certainly see more than enough work to matter — with a high floor for his salary, and with a reasonable 15- to 18-point ceiling.


Kickoff Sunday, Sep 30th 1:00pm Eastern

Texans (
24.5) at

Colts (
23.5)

Over/Under 48.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Texans Run D
23rd DVOA/31st Yards allowed per carry
Colts Run O
22nd DVOA/28th Yards per carry
Texans Pass D
8th DVOA/22nd Yards allowed per pass
Colts Pass O
15th DVOA/10th Yards per pass
Colts Run D
6th DVOA/3rd Yards allowed per carry
Texans Run O
23rd DVOA/31st Yards per carry
Colts Pass D
3rd DVOA/2nd Yards allowed per pass
Texans Pass O
8th DVOA/4th Yards per pass

TEXANS // COLTS OVERVIEW

If this game had been part of the Week 1 slate, it would have been viewed as a potential shootout, and DFS expectations would have been much higher than they will likely be at this point. Naturally, a new season brings plenty of “new things to learn,” and the “new things” that are most heavily impacting this game are both on the Colts’ side of the ball:

1) The Colts simply cannot attack deep. There were times last week against the Eagles when the Colts were facing an eight-man box on early downs, and Andrew Luck did not even bother to check out of the called run play. There were other times when he threw passes behind the line of scrimmage to players who had no chance of picking up yardage after the catch. It’s going to be difficult for the Colts to get into any true “shootouts” for as long as their attack remains so conservative.

2) The Colts’ defense has been a pleasant surprise to begin the season, ranking 16th in yards allowed and 14th in points, after finishing bottom three in each category last year. The Colts have started the year against Cincy, Washington, and Philly — three average to above-average offenses. Even the early-week Over/Under of 47.0 might prove to be a bit aggressive; and while this line could move either way, I’m guessing we see it slide down to 46.5 or even 46.0 before kickoff on Sunday.

TEXANS PASS OFFENSE

Only three teams in the NFL have faced a lower aDOT this year than the Colts, though we are dealing with a unique situation this week in the elements this matchup presents.

The Colts have been playing with a lot of six-man boxes early in the season, rushing four and dropping back into an effective zone defense — typically with five defensive backs and every-down linebackers Darius Leonard and Anthony Walker dropping back in coverage. Each of these linebackers has had a scorching-hot start to the season, which is enabling the Colts to be flexible against the run and the pass on all three downs.

What the Colts are essentially doing is taking away the deep outside of the field and making things tough over the middle — forcing teams to settle for short curl routes and hybrid slants that call for the receiver to settle into a soft spot in the zone. This was an approach that the Bengals were happy to take against the Colts in Week 1, and was also an approach the Eagles stepped into in Week 3 (while the Redskins, in Week 2, were set to run this sort of short-area attack anyway). This week should provide something different, however, as Deshaun Watson is one of the most attack-minded quarterbacks in the NFL. In fact, no quarterback at this point has a deeper average intended air yards than Watson’s 12.1 mark.

The easy reaction here is to point out what the Colts have done against the pass, and to call this a difficult matchup; but because the Colts have not yet been tested deep, we have not yet seen what Nate Hairston and Pierre Desir can do when tested. Each guy has the height to hang with the 6′ Fuller and the 6’1″ Hopkins, but there is a sizable talent gap here. I’m a big believer in scheme; but when it comes to a quarterback like Watson — who is going to attack downfield even if his guys are “covered” — I’m very willing to bet on talent. To date, Hopkins has at least 10 targets in every game, with an aDOT of 14.3. Fuller has target counts of 11 and nine through two games, with an aDOT of 16.0. Each guy is running a nuanced route tree, and while catch rate could be low in this spot on the covered deep shots these guys will see, the upside is still there.

TEXANS RUN OFFENSE

The Colts have been solid against the run, without putting too much emphasis on stopping the run — with further credit going to Leonard and Walker, who have been able to clog up holes and shed blockers through the first three games — allowing Indy to rank 15th in yards allowed per carry in spite of rarely leaving more than six men in the box.

Lamar Miller has been unsexy through the first three games of the season, totaling only 176 yards on the ground, on 44 carries. He has, however, maintained a stranglehold on lead-back duties, playing 76.5% of the Texans’ snaps last week, and running 37 pass routes (five catches on six targets) in a game script that led to his rushing work drying up. Expect Miller to return to the 15 to 20 carry range in this one, with an opportunity for four or five targets if Watson decides to check things down a few times with his main weapons in tight coverage deep. As always, Miller will need a touchdown in order to really have significant value, but he’s priced affordably, at under 11% of the salary cap on all three sites, and he’ll be an interesting piece to consider if value proves to be difficult to come by this week. With all the deep passes the Colts are taking away, they have given up the second-most running back receptions on the season so far — behind only the Falcons.

COLTS PASS OFFENSE

While Andrew Luck did throw 10 passes last week that traveled more than 10 yards downfield, he only completed two of them. Luck’s passes are not as sharp as they need to be when he attacks downfield — and while there is some slim case to be made that this is simply the result of rust, the likelier truth is that we will continue seeing a dink-and-dunk attack from Indy all season long. Through three games, Marcus Mariota is the only quarterback with a lower average intended air yards than Luck.

This is dimming expectations on the entire Colts’ passing attack, as T.Y. Hilton‘s speed is being wasted with an aDOT of 8.2, and defenses are playing everything close to the line of scrimmage and forcing Luck to go deeper than he wants to.

In better news for Hilton: he is soaking up over 35% of the Colts’ air yards (such as they are), and he has explosive upside with the ball in his hands — especially on the turf at Indy. Houston has allowed a below-average aDOT so far this season, while allowing an above-average catch rate and above-average YAC-per-reception marks. “Hilton with the ball in his hands” is a recipe for upside, though he’ll almost certainly need to hit for a big YAC day in order to truly reach his ceiling. His floor is boosted by target counts through three games of 11 // 11 // 10.

Eric Ebron played 52 of a possible 59 snaps on Sunday with Jack Doyle out, and he will step into that same role again if Doyle misses once more. He “Ebron’d” his way to only five catches for 33 yards on a whopping 11 targets — failing to connect on multiple end zone targets, and failing to haul in a couple of passes that most tight ends would have had. Ebron has long teased with his athleticism, but we know by now he is not a good tight end. The targets should be there once more if Doyle is out. Sometimes, opportunity trumps all.

If Doyle plays, he will step back into the lead role in this committee. Doyle was on the field for nearly every snap (and ran a pass route on nearly every Luck drop-back) in Weeks 1 and 2. In spite of Ebron grabbing glossy stat lines those weeks, Doyle is the man to play if he’s out there.

Behind these guys, Ryan Grant continues to soak up low-upside snaps as a trustworthy safety valve underneath. Chester Rogers has yet to top 18 yards in a game.

COLTS RUN OFFENSE

True to Frank Reich form, the Colts’ backfield has remained a committee through the first three weeks of the season, with Nyheim Hines taking the heavy snap lead last week against the run-tough Eagles, as expected, but with Jordan Wilkins still soaking up eight touches of his own to 10 for Hines. If Marlon Mack returns this week, this will shift to a three-man rotation, with each guy having a role in the game plan. If Mack misses, Hines is the likelier to lead the workload split against a Houston defense that has been tough on the run to begin the year; but either way, you’re looking at a guessing game on a split backfield behind a poor offensive line.

JM’S INTERPRETATION

There is nothing in this game that stands out as a truly strong play, though there are some pieces that will at least be worth considering.

On the Texans’ side, Lamar Miller works nicely as a role-secure salary saver with moderate upside, while Fuller and Hopkins should continue to be peppered heavily with targets, even if these targets are coming in tight coverage. They both seem more like tourney plays to me at the moment; but while the uncertainty lowers the bankable floor, the ceiling is enticing. Alongside these two, Deshaun Watson is always, always in play in tourneys. His legs and his aggressiveness give him so much weekly upside, even if a dud may drop in there from time to time.

I’ll leave the Colts’ backfield alone, but Eric Ebron and T.Y. Hilton remain in the conversation (with Doyle stepping into Ebron’s place if he’s healthy this week). Hilton is pricey for the way he is being used (especially on DraftKings, where he costs 14% of the salary cap — compared to sub-13% on FanDuel and FantasyDraft), but the targets give him a nice floor, and he still has upside with the ball in his hands.

This probably won’t be the fireworks display we might have hoped for when eyeing this game before the start of the season; but there are still a few interesting pieces on either side of the ball.

FRIDAY EVENING UPDATE // Full “Updates” List

Jack Doyle is out. Ebron will soak up all the number one work at tight end once again. He’s still Eric Ebron, but seven to nine targets is a comfortable projection in this short-area passing attack, keeping him firmly in play in cash games and tourneys.


Kickoff Sunday, Sep 30th 1:00pm Eastern

Dolphins (
22) at

Patriots (
28.5)

Over/Under 50.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Dolphins Run D
32nd DVOA/19th Yards allowed per carry
Patriots Run O
3rd DVOA/4th Yards per carry
Dolphins Pass D
10th DVOA/16th Yards allowed per pass
Patriots Pass O
27th DVOA/28th Yards per pass
Patriots Run D
18th DVOA/27th Yards allowed per carry
Dolphins Run O
23rd DVOA/22nd Yards per carry
Patriots Pass D
17th DVOA/11th Yards allowed per pass
Dolphins Pass O
11th DVOA/17th Yards per pass

DOLPHINS // PATRIOTS OVERVIEW

This game pairs a couple of division opponents who tend to have some interesting games each season. Last year in New England (hey, I was at this game!), the Patriots won 35-17, but the Dolphins won in Miami a couple weeks later by a score of 27-20. In 2016, the Patriots won both games — with point totals of 31 and 35; but in 2015, Miami stole another game, with a 20-10 win at home.

The Patriots traditionally play Miami much better in New England — as they especially tend to be affected by the late-season heat in Miami, which removes some of the concerns this matchup can present for them. But after the Patriots’ sloppy start to the year on offense and the Dolphins’ strong start to the year on defense, we still enter this game with a few question marks from an “upside” perspective. Miami has, unsurprisingly, played at the slowest pace to begin the year — though their offense has been ineffective enough that they still rank 25th in opponent plays per game. This gap should shrink throughout the year, but general “play” expectations remain neutral for the Pats this week.

We’ll get to that (more exciting) side of the ball in a moment, but first: the Dolphins.

DOLPHINS PASS OFFENSE

As noted last week, the Dolphins are actually running a really fun offense if you are watching their games as a fan of this team or as a fan of good NFL strategy, design, and decision-making. I’ve been an Adam Gase truther ever since his time with the Broncos, and while this was obviously not the best spot for him to land as a head coach — with a dysfunctional front office — he has quietly done an awesome job with this team over the last few years. The Dolphins are 3-0 to begin this season, using the same approach they used in 2016 to go 10-6 and reach the playoffs: shortening the game, playing good defense, and getting creative in their offensive scheming. The Dolphins have a bottom-half offensive roster, but Gase is figuring out how to maximize the talents of each player on this side of the ball — creating enough upside each week for Miami to sneak away with wins.

That’s all background, of course, and does not necessarily mean this will be a good game for DFS production. Through three games, no team in the NFL has thrown the ball less frequently than Miami, with an average of only 25 pass attempts per game. Five wide receivers are seeing action on this offense, with Week 3 snaps breaking down as follows (out of 44 offensive snaps in all for Miami):

40 — Kenny Stills // 33 — DeVante Parker // 31 — Danny Amendola // 10 — Albert Wilson // 9 — Jakeem Grant

When Wilson and Grant are on the field, it is often for a purpose, with each guy earning two touches last week on those limited snaps. This eats into the production we are seeing from the other guys on this passing-light offense, and none of the “top three” guys have topped six targets this season. Expect the Dolphins to have to pass a little more this week if the Patriots’ offense comes to play; but it will still be difficult to bank on more than five to seven targets for any of these guys in a Ryan Tannehill offense. If hunting for upside here, Stills clearly carries the most per-touch upside of the bunch, and has the best shot to post a strong score in this game. His role doesn’t yield a clear path to a 100-yard, two-touchdown game — but his talent still clears a path for that sort of production from time to time, alongside an obviously-low floor. If taking price into consideration, it is worth noting that Parker ran 24 pass routes last week to 29 for Stills, and he costs only 7% of the salary cap on DraftKings and 6.9% on FantasyDraft. In 2016, when Parker and Tannehill last played together, Parker posted six games of double-digit points on those sites, with two games of 20+ (including one that came against the Patriots). Given his role, he is honestly not underpriced by much; but his upside is much higher than most guys in his price range, and the Dolphins may have to ramp up the passes this week.

DOLPHINS RUN OFFENSE

The Patriots’ run defense has been poor to begin the year, ranking outside the top half of the league in both DVOA and yards allowed per carry — though Miami continues to split work between Kenyan Drake (17, 15, and seven touches) and Frank Gore (nine, 10, and six touches). Drake is theoretically the preferred option in the passing attack, but the Dolphins are using these two as interchangeable pieces, and Drake will not necessarily see his usage spike if the Dolphins fall behind. His floor is low in this spot, given his to-date usage; but it should go without saying that Drake has one of the highest per-touch ceilings on the slate, and this would be a reasonable spot for him to see around 14 to 18 touches and to produce a solid stat line on those looks. He’ll need a touchdown (or two) in order to truly pay off, but the upside is there.

PATRIOTS PASS OFFENSE

Josh Gordon was inactive for the Patriots last week, but it seems unlikely that they glue him to the sidelines again in this one, as their offense is suffering at the moment with no wide receivers who can get open on their own. This is allowing defenses to pay extra attention to Rob Gronkowski, and is limiting the effectiveness of this offense as a whole. While Gordon will likely step into limited snaps in his first game, it would make sense for the Patriots to add a viable second weapon to the field. In the same way the Falcons were able to use Julio Jones last week to free up Calvin Ridley — and in the same way the Eagles were able to use Ertz and Agholor last week to free up Goedert and Perkins — expect the Patriots to use Gordon to free up other areas of the field.

The Pats are going to need that extra spacing on the field this week against a Miami defense that enters the week ranked seventh in DVOA against the pass. Miami is forcing short throws and a below-average catch rate to begin the year, and they rank second in the NFL in fewest touchdowns allowed to wide receivers early on — with only one WR receiving touchdown allowed through the first three games. The Dolphins have benefitted from matchups against Tennessee, the Jets, and Oakland to begin the year, but they have the pieces in the secondary to create issues for the Patriots’ wideouts. Through three games, Chris Hogan has yet to top five targets, and Phillip Dorsett has yet to top seven looks. Dorsett is the guy to target right now if going after Pats wideouts, as he has secured 31.1% of the air yards on this team, to only 17.9% for Hogan.

Because of the extra attention defenses are being able to pay to him, Rob Gronkowski is going underutilized early in the year, with target counts of only eight, four, and seven, and with 26.3% of the team’s air yards (a more-than-respectable mark for a tight end, but low for what Gronk should be getting right now in this broken Patriots’ offense). The Dolphins have been solid against the tight end to begin the year and should actually be able to finish the year middle-of-the-pack against the position, but keep in mind that this team allowed 999 receiving yards to the position last year, and Gronk is in a different class of player than the average tight end. His usage should spike this week regardless; but his opportunities should gain some added value if Gordon is active in this spot.

PATRIOTS RUN OFFENSE

With Rex Burkhead going to I.R. with a neck injury, the Patriots’ once-crowded backfield is down to James White and Sony Michel. I am guessing Michel will end up being fairly chalky this week, given his low price tag and the high total on the Patriots, which makes this an interesting spot to dig into — especially as I wanted to like Michel when I first looked at this slate, but I am having a hard time getting over the hump on some of the issues we run into here.

The first issue is the matchup, as Miami has tightened up against the run to begin the year, ranking sixth in DVOA and third in yards allowed per carry. New England’s offensive line does rank ninth in Football Outsiders’ adjusted line yards (Miami ranks fourth on defense), so the Patriots as a unit have the ability to overcome a tough matchup; but this is a tough matchup.

The second issue is implied by the fact that the Pats rank ninth in adjusted line yards, and Michel has still struggled through two games, with only 84 yards on 24 carries (3.5 yards per carry). Michel is adjusting slowly to the NFL game right now (not unexpected, of course, given that he missed all of preseason), and his eyes are not yet seeing things nearly as quickly as he needs to see them. Multiple times against the Lions’ poor run defense on Sunday, Michel waited too long for holes to develop — and then, on short-yardage situations, he kept his eyes down and slammed into the line on plays when he could have had a bit more patience and broken free for a long gain. Through two games, Michel is leaving a lot of yards on the field, and that could be an issue against what is shaping up early as a tough defense to run on.

The Patriots also continue to lean on James White on passing downs, as there is a lot that White can do in this offense that Michel currently cannot. New England loves the way they can line up White at wide receiver and motion him into the backfield if a more favorable look presents itself — an approach that has opened up White to a total of 13 carries and 14 catches through the first three games of the year.

Expect White and Michel to split snaps fairly evenly in this spot, with White touching the ball another eight to 12 times, and with Michel taking around 12 to 15 carries and two or three targets of his own. Either guy will need a big play or a touchdown (or two) in order to truly pay off.

JM’S INTERPRETATION

As fun as the Dolphins’ offense is from an “NFL” standpoint, they have been a poor unit to target in DFS to date, with low volume across the board, and with a slowed-down approach that has led to them ranking 23rd in total yards to begin the year. If going here, Stills, Parker, and Drake are the guys who stand out as the best bets for upside — but all of them carry too little floor for me to have much interest. You are essentially rostering these guys “hoping for a big play” or “hoping for an unpredictable touchdown.” It won’t be remotely surprising if one of these guys becomes a solid piece this week, but there is a lot of guesswork in trying to determine who that “someone” will be.

New England, meanwhile, incredibly ranks 25th in total yards to begin the year, in spite of seeing two positive matchups in their first three games. The Patriots also rank 25th in points per game.

Naturally, this will change. Tom Brady is still the quarterback of this offense and Josh McDaniels is still calling plays — and the Pats have added Josh Gordon to complement Rob Gronkowski. Julian Edelman will also return after this week, and Sony Michel will likely adjust to the NFL game before long. The question, in targeting this offense, is: “Will any of those things come together this week?”

If Josh Gordon makes his way onto the field this week, I will have definite interest in Gronk, as he’ll see a little less attention than he has been seeing, and the Pats should focus on him a little more heavily as they aim to get their offense on track. I don’t typically pay up at tight end, but this would be a good spot to do so.

If Gordon doesn’t play, I’ll have vague interest in Dorsett, simply given his price and his role in this offense; but it’s a thin play from a floor perspective.

As for the backfield: I’ll have Michel on my list, as he is so cheap (under 10% of the salary cap on all three sites) in this Dion Lewis role that produced consistent fantasy goodness last season; but I will almost certainly be more cautious on him than I expect the field to be, as he simply does not yet look ready to make a heavy impact in the NFL game. This can change, of course — but the floor here is lower than I imagine most will assume.

I’ll also have interest in White, but I’m unlikely to play a running back I can only bank on for around nine to 12 touches.

And finally, I will keep in mind — while building my rosters — that the Patriots regularly score four touchdowns without producing a single “must-have” stat line, as this team can spread the ball around and attack from multiple angles, making it difficult to lock in production even when we expect them to score a lot of points. Gronk is the guy likeliest to top 20 points this week, and I imagine I will not end up looking too far beyond him myself, even with the high Vegas-implied total the Patriots carry this week.


Kickoff Sunday, Sep 30th 1:00pm Eastern

Jets (
16.5) at

Jaguars (
23.5)

Over/Under 40.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Jets Run D
14th DVOA/20th Yards allowed per carry
Jaguars Run O
17th DVOA/30th Yards per carry
Jets Pass D
31st DVOA/24th Yards allowed per pass
Jaguars Pass O
21st DVOA/19th Yards per pass
Jaguars Run D
22nd DVOA/29th Yards allowed per carry
Jets Run O
29th DVOA/23rd Yards per carry
Jaguars Pass D
32nd DVOA/27th Yards allowed per pass
Jets Pass O
30th DVOA/32nd Yards per pass

JETS // JAGUARS OVERVIEW

Each of these teams will be looking to bounce back this week after a disappointing Week 3 — in which the Jets allowed the Browns to get their first win in almost two years, before the Jags followed up their victory over the Patriots with a loss to the Titans. The Jaguars have a much better team and are likely to come out focused and ready to play, making this an especially difficult spot for the Jets and their young rookie quarterback.

JETS PASS OFFENSE

How does this matchup set up for the Jets’ passing attack? Let’s start with this:

Last week, the Jets took on a Cleveland defense that looks to force throws to the short areas of the field. Cleveland is not especially good at this, and they don’t have any dominant players in the secondary; but they invite teams to throw short…and this is what Sam Darnold‘s passing chart looked like:

(For those listening to the audio version of the NFL Edge, or for those of you who don’t like to look at passing charts: everything was short; only two passes traveled more than 15 yards downfield, and Darnold incredibly threw more passes behind the line of scrimmage — nine — than he threw to receivers more than 10 yards downfield.)

This week, Darnold is traveling to Jacksonville to take on the Jaguars. Only three teams have faced a lower aDOT than the Jags. And no team has allowed fewer yards after catch per reception (it’s not even close). This is a recipe for any passing attack to fail, but this Jets attack should especially find itself in a difficult position.

If, for some reason, you feel compelled to load up on some Jets players in this spot, Quincy Enunwa continues to dominate targets on this offense, with to-date target counts of 10 // 11 // 8. Robby Anderson, Jermaine Kearse, and Terrelle Pryor have combined for three total games of more than four targets (with each notching one such game).

JETS RUN OFFENSE

The Jaguars rank 17th in yards allowed per carry to begin the year, but since it is early in the season, it is worth pointing out that if we took away just one single run (Saquon Barkley’s beautiful 68-yarder in Week 1), their YPC allowed would drop from 4.2 to 3.4 — which would place them in the top five in the NFL. This is not an attackable run defense, and the Jets continue to split work between Isaiah Crowell (touch counts of 10 // 14 // 18) and Bilal Powell (touch counts of 13 // 10 // 14). Incredibly, these two have combined to average only five targets per game, in spite of all the short passes the Jets are throwing. This offense is simply playing too slow and working too hard to protect Sam Darnold at the moment for either guy to step into a big enough workload to matter on his own.

JAGUARS PASS OFFENSE

Humorously, the Jags have thrown the ball more frequently than 20 other teams to begin the season — one year after finishing dead last in pass play rate. I say “humorously” because you can guarantee this was not the master plan put together in the offseason by Tom Coughlin, Doug Marrone, and Nathaniel Hackett. If Leonard Fournette returns this week, as expected, the Jags will get back to their run-dominant ways.

As pointed out in Week 1 of the NFL Edge, the Jaguars’ dominant defense allowed the Jags to run enough plays last season to finish middle-of-the-pack in pass attempts, in spite of running the ball more frequently than any team in the league. That side of things remains in play this week — though the Jets have been playing at one of the slowest paces in the league themselves, which will limit the overall plays we can expect in this game. The likeliest range for Blake Bortles pass attempts this week is 30 to 33.

This wide receiver corps is working itself out three weeks into the season, with Keelan Cole and Donte Moncrief playing on nearly all downs, and with Dede Westbrook stepping onto the field in three-wide sets. Moncrief continues to disappoint on his opportunities, catching seven of 17 targets so far 64 yards and a touchdown. Westbrook has produced when given the chance, but his target counts on the year are six, five, and four. Cole is the man to chase in this group, with ascending target counts of four, eight, and nine. Behind these receivers, Austin Seferian-Jenkins will do his best to catch-and-fall this week on limited targets. He has exactly three catches on five targets in all three games — with yardage ranging from 18 to 25 yards.

The Jets have started the season hot against the pass, ranking fourth in yards allowed per pass attempt and fourth in expected yards per target — buoyed by a low catch rate and excellent tackling after the catch.

JAGUARS RUN OFFENSE

The Jets have also been solid against the run, ranking 14th in yards allowed per carry; and while the Jaguars expect to get Leonard Fournette back, they cannot be counted on to give him a full workload.

If Fournette does return to a full workload (and especially if we get word from the Jaguars in advance that Fournette will be in line for his normal role), he is a fairly matchup-proof option, as one of the few guys in the NFL who can genuinely be counted on to see 22 to 27 touches every time he takes the field. He’s not exactly “underpriced,” but at a range of 12.83% of the salary cap (FanDuel) to 14.0% of the salary cap (DraftKings), he’s very affordable for the sort of role he has when healthy. The “Fournette/Yeldon” role in this offense has yielded 22 targets already through three games, while Corey Grant has added nine targets of his own — and Fournette figures to eat into some of Grant’s snaps if he is indeed healthy. Somewhere in the range of 20 carries and four to six catches should be the expectation if Fournette is healthy — with all of the goal-line work flowing his way as well.

We’ll be keeping a close eye on news in this spot throughout the week.

JM’S INTERPRETATION

This slate is shaping up to be a pretty ugly one at running back — which makes Fournette an interesting option if we get word that he’ll be stepping back into his normal role. The matchup is neither beneficial nor threatening, but the workload, talent, and price would all line up nicely. If Fournette is healthy but we do not have word that he will see his typical workload, he will enter the tourney discussion as a guy with a lower bankable floor, but still with plenty of upside.

I’ll almost certainly stay away from the Jags’ passing attack, though Cole is somewhat interesting for his big-play upside in tourneys.

I don’t typically take players against the Jaguars, as upside is so thin; but if pricing proves to be especially tight this week on DraftKings and FantasyDraft, it’s worth pointing out that Quincy Enunwa (72% slot rate) draws the best matchup against Tyler Patmon in the slot. (It’s still not a good matchup.) Enunwa has been priced down on those sites to account for this spot against the Jags.

There is also a potential Cheat Code in play this week with Crowell and Powell together on DraftKings, if pricing is tight — but in this matchup, it’s tough to see them combining for 30 points. Optimally, the Cheat Code should be two cheap running backs on the same team who can lock in over 20 points guaranteed, with upside for as much as 40 if everything goes right. I’m not seeing that scenario against the Jags.

FRIDAY EVENING UPDATE // Full “Updates” List

Leonard Fournette will play this week. As laid out above: there is no guarantee the Jags feed him his customary 24 to 27 touches, but there is upside for a big game if the work is there.


Kickoff Sunday, Sep 30th 1:00pm Eastern

Eagles (
22.25) at

Titans (
19.25)

Over/Under 41.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Eagles Run D
15th DVOA/24th Yards allowed per carry
Titans Run O
11th DVOA/5th Yards per carry
Eagles Pass D
29th DVOA/7th Yards allowed per pass
Titans Pass O
2nd DVOA/16th Yards per pass
Titans Run D
16th DVOA/23rd Yards allowed per carry
Eagles Run O
25th DVOA/15th Yards per carry
Titans Pass D
24th DVOA/26th Yards allowed per pass
Eagles Pass O
29th DVOA/24th Yards per pass

EAGLES // TITANS OVERVIEW

I am guessing the public is not yet appreciating just how impressive it is that this Titans team is 2-1 with what they are getting out of their offense. Mike Vrabel has shown an early willingness to “win ugly,” taking down the Texans 20-17 and then taking down the Jaguars 9-6. The offense is supposed to be the engine of this Titans team, but they are figuring out how to win in whatever way they can.

On the other side of this game, we have an Eagles team that is looking to round into form under Carson Wentz. Early in the week, it is looking like the Eagles will have a healthy