Welcome to Vantage Points, a column I will be writing weekly during the NFL season as a window into every game of the week. With access limited more than ever this year and with no preseason games for us to put our own eyes on, I have the utmost respect for sportswriters covering the NFL on a daily basis, giving us a window into what these teams might look like and where their strengths and weaknesses — beyond the obvious — lie.
The purpose of this column is to highlight the work of those writers, but to also turn some of their observations into actionable fantasy advice. The goal isn’t just to highlight obvious angles, but perhaps some of the lower-end ones that could lead to fantasy advantages. I’m also taking advantage of watching press conferences and reading transcripts from coaches and players, as well as using the NFL’s Next Gen Stats info to look for fantasy-relevant angles. I’ll also cover notable injuries.
I will publish this column twice weekly — on Wednesdays to preview the Thursday night game, and on Fridays to preview the Sunday slate.
All times are Eastern.
Arizona at Carolina (Sun, 1 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Cardinals…
Cardinal QB Kyler Murray — as good as he has been for fantasy — did not throw the ball well last week against the Lions in a loss. He threw 3 INTs and probably should have been picked off a fourth time. According to NextGenStats, Murray’s performance has significantly been worse on throws up the seams than outside the numbers — all 4 of his INTs have come on throws up the seams.
In 2019, Murray was better on seam throws, posting a -1.3 CPOE (completion percentage over expectation) as opposed to -3.1 outside the numbers. But that’s changed this year, where he’s +1.5 up the seams and +6.9 outside the numbers. So he’s improved by 10.0 outside the numbers… where WR DeAndre Hopkins leads the NFL with 18/222 receiving and a 90% catch rate, per NextGenStats. So the Hopkins effect has been easy to see on film and in the stat sheet. Unfortunately, he’s also been easy to see on the injury report this week, as he missed practice on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday with an ankle injury. WR Christian Kirk, who missed last week with a groin injury, has been limited.
Hopefully Hopkins and Kirk play, because also adding up for success in this matchup for Murray is the high rate of zone coverage the Panthers play. Carolina plays the second-most zone coverage in the NFL, per SIS, while Murray averages 8.1 YPA vs. zone and just 6.0 vs. man in his NFL career so far.
Hopkins, for what it’s worth, is on pace to beat his career-high of 1572 receiving yards (2018) by 326 yards. At this pace, he has a shot to be only the second player in NFL history — after Calvin Johnson in 2012 — to top 1900 receiving yards.
Everything is adding up for RB Kenyan Drake… except for fantasy points. Drake 5th in the NFL with 54 carries, and is one of just five RBs with 15 or more carries in every game. But with only 5 targets and Murray eating up the rushing TDs, Drake is just RB28 in total PPR FP. In three games, though, the Panthers have allowed Josh Jacobs to finish as the overall RB1, with Austin Ekeler and Leonard Fournette to finish as the overall RB3. This is a great week for The Drake to get off The Schneid.
If Hopkins can’t play, I expect the Cardinals to lean on Drake.
What They’re Saying About the Panthers…
How’s this for a tidbit? Panther RB Christian McCaffrey (on IR — ankle) has only 7 receptions this year. Handcuff Mike Davis has 8 receptions… in each of his last two games. He’s doing a very good CMC impression for fantasy.
The Panthers could get some help up front if LT Russell Okung (groin), who returned to practice this week, can go.
Obviously, a lot hinges on the availability of Hopkins and Kirk. But you have to play Kyler anyway given his running ability. WR Andy Isabella scored last week and might have an expanded role this week. It’s looking like Hopkins is a true game-time decision, so it’s fortunate this is an early Sunday tilt.
I think this is the week The Drake breaks out. He’s getting the touches, and the Panthers have been awful against the run.
For Carolina, Davis is an RB1 in PPR as long as CMC is out.
Indianapolis at Chicago (Sun, 1 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Colts…
While TE Mo Alie-Cox has had big fantasy games the last two weeks, keep in mind his role shrunk big time last week with Jack Doyle back in the fold. He ran just 8 routes to 16 for Doyle. I don’t know what more coach Frank Reich needs to see, but Alie-Cox should have a bigger role moving forward.
One guy who needs to have a bigger role is WR TY Hilton, who is one of the last men standing on a decimated WR corps that has Parris Campbell on IR (though Reich won’t rule him out for the season) and Michael Pittman out after compartment syndrome surgery on his leg.
What They’re Saying About the Bears…
Why is QB Nick Foles so much better coming off the bench than when he’s a starter for an extended period? We might never know, though maybe it has something to do with pressure. But he’s more than willing to shoulder the burden of a struggling QB. According to NFL Research, Foles has a career 105.6 passer rating in games in which he appeared in relief (minimum 125 attempts). That’s the highest in NFL history… one spot ahead of Joe Montana (98.3). Foles’ rating in games he’s started is 88.3.
Foles really excelled in Week 3 against Atlanta on throws of 10 yards or fewer through the air, per NextGenStats — 13/16 for 102 yards with 2 TD and 0 INT. The Colts, meanwhile, are surrendering just a 76.5 QB rating on such throws, which is a top-10 number in the league. Foles might have to go deep more — he was just 3/11 with a TD and a pick on throws of 10 or more air yards last week.
If he does go deep more, WR Allen Robinson will benefit. Per NextGenStats, Robinson’s 6 targets from Foles in Week 3 averaged 9.3 air yards, against just 6.2 from Mitchell Trubisky on 7 targets.
With Tarik Cohen going on IR, the Bears signed rookie Artavis Pierce off the practice squad. But they also expect to increase the role of WR/RB Cordarrelle Patterson. Bear beat man Chris Emma of The Score reports that Matt Nagy has loved Patterson’s progress. “I think it’s only going to get better, and possibly more carries,” Nagy said of Patterson.
I can’t imagine the Colts won’t give Alie-Cox more targets given the injuries they have at WR, but if you’re digging deep this week, Zach Pascal could get enough volume to be a WR3. Overall, I expect the Colts to run the hell out of the ball this week.
I don’t think this is a great matchup for the Bears’ offense — the Colts’ defense is actually #1 in FootballOutsiders DVOA. But Robinson is on the WR1/2 border. With Cohen out, David Montgomery is a borderline RB1, but I’m most excited to watch Patterson this week and see what kind of role he has. I’m picking him up in deeper leagues.
Jacksonville at Cincinnati (Sun, 1 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Jaguars…
We can’t say enough about what rookie UDFA RB James Robinson is doing. And yes, if you’re wondering, it’s historic.
If Robinson runs for 90 yards against the Bengals, he’ll become the first Jaguar to run for 300 yards in his first four games (Fred Taylor had 290 in 1998). And if he gains just 51 yards from scrimmage, he’ll pass Cleveland’s Kevin Mack for most by a UDFA in his first four games since the merger. The Bengals, of course, are surrendering a league-high 154.1 rush YPG since the start of the 2019 season.
OC Jay Gruden has loved everything he’s seen from Robinson, telling reporters that against Miami, he was “the best player on the team out there on offense. He was excellent in the passing game. He was great in protection. Obviously running the football, he had two touchdowns and some nice hits. So he's been everything we hoped he would be.”
The Bengals remain significantly dinged along the DL — DTs Geno Atkins and Mike Daniels will not play this week, so Robinson will have plenty of holes to run through.
For the passing game, the Jaguars are expected to get WR DJ Chark (chest) back this week. It seemed like the only reason Chark didn’t play last week against Miami is because it was on a short week. It’s a good matchup against Cincy, too. Coach Doug Marrone said the Jags are “comfortable” with Chark playing.
What They’re Saying About the Bengals…
We know Bengal RB Joe Mixon is killing folks. He’s posted back-to-back games of under 50 rushing yards despite being just one of five RBs in the NFL to carry the ball 15 or more times in all three games this year. It’s the first time he’s been under 50 yards in back-to-back games since Weeks 6 and 7 of last season…. The latter of which was a 10-carry, 2-yard performance against the Jaguars. The good news? Mixon averaged an outstanding 98.1 rush YPG the rest of the year after that stinker. He averaged just 36.3 YPG before that. So he’s rebounded from a dreadful start before.
The Bengals are clearly taking note of the poor run game. QB Joe Burrow said both Mixon and the OL “take that to heart.”
As for Burrow, our Greg Cosell has been impressed, but he missed a couple of throws to WR Tee Higgins last week that would have been big plays. According to Cosell, Burrow’s throws lost some juice on the back end.
Robinson is an RB1. I’m not trying to tiptoe around this anymore. You have to play him.
I’m considering Chark a WR3 this week, but Keelan Cole has gotten enough work to consider on the lower end in deeper leagues. I also think it’s a good week to stream QB Gardner Minshew after a disappointing Week 3.
I’m still firing up Mixon as an RB2 this week, but I absolutely understand why folks have trepidations. Burrow is on the QB1 radar in this matchup, and I’m now comfortable using Higgins as a WR3.
Cleveland at Dallas (Sun, 1 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Browns…
I don’t know if the Browns are the team that could do this to the Cowboys, but if Dallas surrenders 38 points to Cleveland, it will be the first time Dallas has done such a thing in three straight games since 1960 — the first season in franchise history. That’s how bad this defense has been.
The Cowboys’ defense has allowed 9 TD passes the past two games. They didn’t allow 9 TD passes until Week 10 last season. And somehow things should be worse — no team has had a higher percentage of passes dropped against it than Dallas — 10.5%, per PFF’s Ian Hartitz. But the Browns’ passing game might not be equipped to take advantage.
That’s because WR Odell Beckham has been battling a back injury and popped up on the injury report this week (he’s fully expected to play), while the unproductive Jarvis Landry still isn’t 100% recovered from off-season hip surgery, OC Alex Van Pelt told Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon-Journal.
Don’t tell NextGenStats that RBs don’t matter, by the way. Per NGS, the Browns’ blocking has their backs expected to gain just 3.49 yards per rush, fourth-lowest in the NFL. However, The Browns have the NFL’s highest rushing yards per carry over expectation in the league (2.01). Why? Nick Chubb (103 RYOE) and Kareem Hunt (83) are the two best backs in the category in the entire NFL. (Hunt is tied for 2nd with Dalvin Cook.)
Hunt has also missed two practices with a groin injury this week, but longtime beatwriter Mary Kay Cabot said it “isn’t believed to be serious.” It’s obviously concerning when he misses multiple practices during the week, however, and the Browns signed Dontrell Hilliard off the practice squad.
What They’re Saying About the Cowboys…
The Cowboys have had no choice but to attack down the field this year given how awful their defense has been, but it helps that they have a great group of receivers to take shots to. According to NextGenStats, QB Dak Prescott has the 2nd-best completion percentage (59.3%), second-best YPA (13.3), and sixth-best QB rating (121.4) on throws of 10 or more air yards since the start of the 2019 season. Meanwhile, the Browns’ defense has allowed 7 TD on such throws, tied for the most in the NFL with the Titans this year, and CB Denzel Ward is playing through a groin injury that limited him to just one half of football last week.
It goes without saying, but the Cowboys’ dinged-up offensive line (down two RTs and potentially LT Tyron Smith if he can’t return from his neck injury this week) could tell the story of this game. Prescott has been pressured on 32.9% of his dropbacks this year, per NextGenStats, which would be the highest of his career. He has a QB rating of just 60.8 when under pressure. On the other side of the ball, Browns DE Myles Garrett leads the NFL with 18 pressures and 4 turnovers caused by pressure.
For what it’s worth, coach Mike McCarthy is optimistic Smith can go this week.
Keep an eye on Hunt’s status, but even though the Browns will have to score to keep up with Dallas, Chubb is an RB1. He’s just a stud.
I’m inclined to play OBJ as a WR2 this week, and Landry and Austin Hooper are on the streaming radar because of the matchup with this abominable Dallas secondary. I like Mayfield as a fill-in QB or DFS option if your regular starter doesn’t have a particularly appealing matchup.
Dallas is the same team every week — you better have a good excuse to bench Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, or any of their big three receivers.
New Orleans at Detroit (Sun, 1 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Saints…
Hey, when Alvin Kamara decides to get in the end zone, he can’t get enough of it. In games in which he’s scored, Kamara has nine straight multi-TD games, dating back to 2018. In all games, he has five straight games with multiple TDs, dating back to the final two games of 2019. His five-game multi-TD streak is the most since LaDainian Tomlinson had eight such games in 2006.
But it’s not Kamara’s rushing that has us excited — it’s his receiving. According to NextGenStats, Kamara has been targeted on 31 of 71 routes run this season. That’s a staggering 43.7%, which easily leads the NFL. #2 is Chargers WR Keenan Allen (33.9%). Kamara’s 4.0 yards per route run is easily the most in the NFL, as well. And how good is that number? George Kittle’s 3.3 YPRR in 2019 was the most since NGS started tracking the stat.
Kamara is also looking to become the first player since Chris Johnson in 2009 to have three straight games with 150 scrimmage yards and multiple TDs.
That, of course, could be tougher to do if WR Michael Thomas (high ankle) plays this week, which remains in question. While that might hurt Kamara’s numbers, QB Drew Brees will be happy — since Thomas was drafted in 2016, Brees is 0-3 in games without Thomas. Thomas’ absence is one of the reasons Kamara has been targeted so much, and Brees is having perhaps the biggest “checkdown artist” season of all time. Brees is averaging just 4.8 air yards per attempt, which is by far the lowest in the NFL (Jared Goff is at 6.0).
Brees should at least have time to throw this week — per SIS, the Lions rank last in the NFL in pressure rate on dropbacks. Brees is on target with 82% of his throws and averages 8.0 YPA when not pressured, as opposed to 69% and 6.4 YPA when he is.
Though Thomas is aiming — with no guarantee — to be back, it looks like Brees will be without TE Jared Cook (groin), which could mean more opportunities for rookie Adam Trautman and (*gulp*) Taysom Hill. Meanwhile, the Lions could get CB Desmond Trufant (hamstring) back.
Ergo, it’s a Kamara game.
What They’re Saying About the Lions…
I absolutely loved this tidbit from SIS — The Saints have given up 21 completions to TEs from the traditional attached TE alignment, which is 9 more than any team in the NFL so far. In fact, it’s the most any team has allowed through Week 3 since 2015. This benefits Detroit’s TJ Hockenson, who has 9/108/1 receiving on 10 targets when lined up as a traditional TE (he’s seen 10 of his 16 targets from the traditional alignment).
One of the biggest WTF? questions of the 2020 NFL campaign is that rookie RB D’Andre Swift is barely involved for Detroit, as the Lions are in love with giving the ball to RB Adrian Peterson. Swift played just five snaps last week, but will still “spell” Peterson, OC Darrell Bevell says. Poor Swift has to spell “chrysanthemum” when Peterson is getting “cat.”
The Lions’ top WR Kenny Golladay, who scored a touchdown in his return from a hamstring injury last week, could have a little bit easier go of it in Week 4 than he might have expected — Saint CB Marshon Lattimore (hamstring) suffered an injury in practice this week and is no guarantee to go.
The Saints have some critical injuries on defense, in addition to Lattimore. DE Marcus Davenport (elbow, toe) now has two injuries, and CB Janoris Jenkins (shoulder) popped up on the injury report midweek as well.
I said it in my Talking Points column this week, but Kamara is the overall #1 fantasy player right now and there’s no reason to get off that bandwagon.
We need to keep an eye on Thomas’ status — if he doesn’t play, I’m downgrading Brees to a high-end QB2, while upgrading Emmanuel Sanders and Tre’Quan Smith again. It’s completely reasonable to bench Brees given Thomas and Cook’s injuries.
I love this matchup for Hockenson and Golladay, and think it’s a great week to plug QB Matthew Stafford into lineups.
The only Lion RB who is worth considering right now is Peterson, which isn’t exactly exciting. He’s a FLEX and you have to hope for a TD.
Minnesota at Houston (Sun, 1 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Vikings…
Obviously, this is a Dalvin Cook game. Houston has been utterly destroyed on the ground by the Chiefs, Ravens, and Steelers, surrendering a league-high 188.3 rush YPG this year.
But perhaps the most interesting player for Minnesota is WR Justin Jefferson. It’s well documented that Jefferson was almost universally a slot receiver in his final season at LSU, catching 109 passes out of that position alone. But his Week 3 breakout game was different. Per NextGenStats, Jefferson aligned out wide on 87.8% of snaps in Week 3, after being in the slot for 84.7% of snaps in Weeks 1 and 2.
I thought this column from The Athletic’s Jon Krawczynski, focused on Jefferson, was overall pretty biting and poignant. Krawczynski argues that coach Mike Zimmer’s ground-and-pound attack simply can’t work for a team that’s sitting at 0-3 right now. “The way to salvage this season is to reimagine the identity of a team that looks nothing like the Zimmer squads of yesteryear. It cannot rely on ball control, tough defense and discipline to win games. It has to morph into a team that is built to win shootouts, something closer to Denny Green’s Vikings than Bud Grant’s,” Krawczynski writes.
It’s hard to argue with that.
What They’re Saying About the Texans…
Sometimes, guys just can’t shake the injury bug. It’s always concerning when a player is added to the injury report midweek, and that’s the case for WR Will Fuller, who was added on Thursday with a dreaded hamstring injury. Again, maybe the Texans are just being precautious, but for someone with Fuller’s history (and with his hamstrings), it’s a brutal Thursday update ahead of this glorious matchup. Coach Bill O’Brien said on Friday that Fuller was just resting on Thursday, but it still makes us queasy.
It’ll be interesting to see what the role is this week for RB Duke Johnson, who is practicing in full for the first time since suffering an ankle injury in Week 1. After looking like his old self briefly in Week 1, veteran RB David Johnson has not produced the last two weeks — but O’Brien blames it on the blocking and the scheme.
Our Greg Cosell agrees, by the way. He thinks Johnson looked pretty good last week.
Cook is a slam-dunk RB1.
I am a little skeptical about Jefferson’s performance becoming the norm (obviously), but I’m OK playing him as a WR3 this week and trying to ride the hot hand. He should be added in all leagues.
The hamstring injury for Fuller is scary, and it’s extra disappointing because this is a juicy matchup. I’m going to take the gamble because of the matchup, but I have to understand the risks of doing so.
DJ is an RB2 — it was good to get Cosell’s take that he looked good on film.
Seattle at Miami (Sun, 1 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Seahawks…
The Russell Wilson vs. Josh Allen vs. Aaron Rodgers MVP race has been thrilling. My opinion is that Wilson is the guy with the head up now — he’s the only QB in NFL history with 4 TD passes in each of the first three weeks of the year. He is impossibly hot. If he throws 3 TD passes this week, he’ll top Peyton Manning’s NFL record 16 through four games (2013 season, Manning’s first in Denver).
And it’s not exactly tricky how Wilson is beating teams. He’s throwing the ball outside the numbers and deep. Per NextGenStats, his 48.5% rate of throwing outside the numbers is second-highest in the NFL, while he leads the NFL in completion percentage (82.0%), TDs (9), and passer rating (147.8) on such throws.
Wilson also is elite at throwing deep (20-plus air yards), where WR DK Metcalf leads the NFL in yards (220) and is tied for the lead in catches (5) and TD (3). Obviously, Metcalf should have 4 deep TD, but he got Leon Lett’d against Dallas last week.
Wilson’s QB rating when throwing to Metcalf (119.1) and Tyler Lockett (130.9) since the beginning of the 2019 NFL season are the two highest such combos in the NFL. Everything about this passing game is elite. The Dolphins aren’t expecting to get CB Byron Jones back from an Achilles injury this week (he’s listed as doubtful), and they’ll need him alongside Xavien Howard to try to do something to slow down this passing attack. Rookie Noah Igbinoghene has really struggled, as you typically expect from rookie CBs.
Seahawk RB Chris Carson (knee) suffered a knee sprain after a cheap shot from Cowboy DT Trysten Hill last week. If he is limited, The Athletic’s Michael-Shawn Dugar is excited to see rookie DeeJay Dallas, who likely got some reps in practice this week. “Dallas was explosive in training camp and could make a big play or two in the passing game if given a chance Sunday,” Dugar wrote.
Both Carson and Carlos Hyde (shoulder) have been limited in practice this week. Pete Carroll expressed some positivity on Carson being available. It’s looking like he’s good to go, but perhaps with some limitations.
What They’re Saying About the Dolphins…
If you think Myles Gaskin is going away in this backfield, you probably should think again. Coach Brian Flores is in love with the guy.
In a call with Seattle media, Fores said Gaskin is “everything we’re looking for in a Dolphin.” Gaskin played a season-high 75% of the snaps last week, and is clearly far ahead of Matt Breida and Jordan Howard.
But you’d think the Dolphins and QB Ryan Fitzpatrick will have to air it out against this Seahawk defense. It’s concerning that WR Preston Williams (knee) played only 57% of the snaps last week, but Williams told Joe Schad of the Palm Beach Post that it wasn’t because of an injury, but because of “varied packages.”
The Seahawks are giving up massive numbers in the passing game this year, and this could be an especially exploitable matchup if S Jamal Adams (groin) can’t play (I don’t expect him to go). CB Quinton Dunbar (knee) also is trending in the wrong direction.
Everybody in the Seahawk passing game is a must-play stud. I think Carson is more of an RB2 this week — with the Seahawks huge favorites, they don’t need to push him too much.
I think Fitzpatrick will be a popular streamer and DFS QB this week, with both Williams and DeVante Parker viable WR3s. Adams being out is also good news for TE Mike Gesicki, who I expect will be very popular for DFS.
His usage along makes Gaskin an RB2, though he’s not a particularly exciting one.
LA Chargers at Tampa Bay (Sun, 1 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Chargers…
The story for this game will be rookie QB Justin Herbert against the complex, relentless pressure packages of Buccaneer DC Todd Bowles. Herbert has utterly dazzled under pressure thus far, according to NextGenStats — Herbert has the NFL’s third-best QB rating when under pressure, and third-worst when not. It appears his natural athleticism and instincts are helping him out.
Herbert was great against the blitz in Week 2 (105.6 rating) and not so much in Week 3 (52.1), but because of Herbert’s success against the Chiefs’ 37.1% blitz rate, the Panthers dialed it back in Week 3 (11.8%). My guess is Bowles will want to get after the young QB, but I’m sure he’s impressed with Herbert on film.
It looks like Herbert might not have WR Mike Williams hamstring this week. But Herbert and Keenan Allen have had a ridiculous rapport so far, and Williams was seemingly on the backburner. If Williams can’t play, Jalen Guyton would be the fill-in — he played 81% of the offensive snaps last week.
What They’re Saying About the Buccaneers…
We’re beginning to get a picture of what the Bruce Arians/Tom Brady pairing is looking like. And it might look more similar to an Arians offense than you might have expected with Brady at QB.
According to NextGenStats, Brady is using play action at his lowest rate since 2016, with just 15 of his 109 attempts (13.8%) coming from play action. Brady has also thrown 15 deep balls (20 or more air yards), which is tied for fifth-most in the NFL, and his 262 yards on such throws is tied for third-most. So he’s having success throwing the ball down the field, adjusting to the new weapons he has. Brady had a 67.4 passer rating throwing to WRs outside the numbers in 2019, a league-worst number. But in 2020, that number sits at 95.2.
Of course, Mike Evans is going to have to step up this week with Chris Godwin (hamstring) out. And presumed Godwin fill-in Scotty Miller (hip/groin) looks very iffy, as well. So it could need to be Justin Watson, back from a shoulder injury, who steps up. The Chargers are shorthanded with top CB Chris Harris on IR with a foot injury, so this is a great opportunity for Watson here. Expect to see rookie Tyler Johnson as well when the Bucs go three-wide.
Of course, the RoJo Truthers are going to be locked and loaded for this one! RB Leonard Fournette (ankle) will miss this week, which will fire up Ronald Jones as a rock-solid fantasy play in a game in which the Bucs are pretty comfortably favored. I also wonder if rookie Ke’Shawn Vaughn could get some play in this game.
The only guys I feel really good about for the Chargers this week are Allen, RB Austin Ekeler, and TE Hunter Henry. It’s a tough spot for a rookie QB against a Bowles defense.
Brady is a borderline QB1, and with Harris out, I’m firing up Evans as a massive play (not to mention Godwin also being out). The Miller hype train is struggling to get out of the station this week with his being a game-time decision. Watson could be an interesting dart throw if Miller can’t play.
I am the exact opposite of a RoJo truther, but he has to be on the RB2 radar with Fournette out. If you need a prayer at RB, expect LeSean McCoy to get some more work, as well.
Baltimore at Washington (Sun, 1 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Ravens…
Most NFL teams are more comfortable when they’re ahead than when they’re behind. That’s kind of self-evident. But perhaps the run-heavy Ravens are built so uniquely that their play from behind dips more than most teams. According to Next Gen Stats, Raven QB Lamar Jackson’s passer rating dips from 133.4 when the Ravens have a win probability of 75% or higher to 77.4 when the Ravens have a win probability of 25% or lower.
This dip especially comes on deep passes — Jacksons’ 22.5% completion on passes of 10 or more air yards when win probability is under 25% is 10th-worst in the NFL. When win probability is 75% or more? His completion percentage on these throws is 42.1%, which is 2nd-highest in the NFL. All this means Jackson is 0-6 — and the Ravens are 0-10 since 2018 — when trailing at halftime.
Fortunately for Jackson, you’d anticipate he will have a higher win probability in a game against the Team than he did against the Chiefs.
To illustrate more how unique this Ravens team is, WR Marquise Brown led Raven WRs with 13 receiving yards in Week 3. The Ravens have three games since the start of the 2019 season in which a WR didn’t reach 15 receiving yards. The rest of the NFL has three such games combined, per NFL Research.
Of course, this feels like a game the Ravens use to reestablish their run game. Since the beginning of the 2019 season, the Ravens have the NFL’s best run game (199.7), while the Team has the second-worst defense (142.8 YPG). And Washington will be shorthanded this week, with DE Chase Young (groin) and DT Matt Ioannidis will miss the rest of the season with a torn biceps.
The Ravens are lucky the Team has some injuries up front, because LT Ronnie Stanley (shoulder) has missed multiple practices this week.
What They’re Saying About the Football Team…
The story for the Team this week has been injuries at the WR position. Star Terry McLaurin was added to the injury report this week with a thigh injury, and a midweek add is never great news. Meanwhile, Steven Sims is dealing with a toe injury. That could mean more work for veteran Dontrelle Inman, who scored twice last week, and of course TE Logan Thomas.
It’s a bad matchup in general for the Team, but the Ravens do have some injuries on the back end with CB Jimmy Smith (knee) dinged. Of course, if McLaurin is out or limited, the recently extended CB Marlon Humphrey will have an easier go of it.
I have no idea what to do with the Ravens’ backfield, but with Baltimore two-TD favorites, I think you can plug in Mark Ingram as an RB2 and hope he finds the end zone. Those looking for a deep RB dart throw could also try out JK Dobbins or Gus Edwards as the Ravens close out a likely comfortable win.
For Washington, I feel good about exactly no one given McLaurin’s injury. I have a tough time benching him if he’s playing, but this would be the first time I actively consider it.
NY Giants at LA Rams (Sun, 4:05 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Giants…
The Giants have an offense that is so broken right now it’s hard to really recommend much of anyone for fantasy. Perhaps the biggest reason for that is the offensive line — according to NextGenStats, QB Daniel Jones has been under pressure on 47.5% of his dropbacks, the most in the NFL so far. That’s bad news, because his passer rating dips from 81.1 when not under pressure to 53.5 when he is under pressure.
And according to SportsInfoSolutions, no player has blown more blocks in pass protection than rookie T Andrew Thomas, with 10. This could be a long day for Jones… will the Rams move DT Aaron Donald outside strategically to try to take advantage of Thomas?
What They’re Saying About the Rams…
I’ve mentioned it multiple times in this column this year, but the success of the Rams’ offense has been once again predicated on the play-action game that got away from Sean McVay and QB Jared Goff last year.
According to NextGenStats, Goff has the highest ratio of his dropbacks coming on play-action in the NFL — 47.9%. He’s one of only three QBs, along with MVP candidates Josh Allen and Russell Wilson, to average 70%+ completion and 9.0+ YPA on play-action this season. And he’s been most effective when the Rams move the pocket on play-action, completing 92.3% of his passes in this instance. If your eyes have shown you that Goff is moving more this year, the tape backs it up.
The unique thing about the Rams is that their play-action game makes their run game more dangerous, and not vice versa. So despite Goff’s success, the Rams are running the ball more in neutral situations (53%) than any other team in the NFL, per SIS. And when inside the 10-yard line, they’ve run 18 times to just 2 passes.
I also really like WR Cooper Kupp this week. I mean, I like him every week, but he has a matchup with the Giants’ primary slot CB Darnay Holmes, who is a fourth-round rookie out of UCLA, and the Giants have been playing a bunch of man. It’s a tough draw for Holmes.
The run game will filter through second-year man Darrell Henderson yet again. Henderson followed up his breakout game in Philly two weeks ago with his first career 100-yard performance last week against Buffalo. Henderson has earned the opportunity to start, McVay said, and will continue to do so with Cam Akers (ribs) out and Malcolm Brown taking a backseat.
However, keep in mind that our Greg Cosell said the Giants’ DL — especially DT Dexter Lawrence — dominated the 49ers’ offensive line in the run game last week.
One tidbit that intrigues me from PFF’s Jarad Evans — while TE Tyler Higbee has had a decent start to the season, his routes are way down from his 2019 breakout. He’s running a route on just 53% of Goff’s dropbacks, as opposed to 73% over the last five games of the 2019 campaign.
The Giants offense is awful. The only guy I am really considering is WR Darius Slayton — the Rams are a zone-based defense and top CB Jalen Ramsey doesn’t travel much.
I’m firing up all my Rams, especially Kupp. That observation from PFF does make me a little leery about Higbee rest of season — I’d play someone like TJ Hockenson over him this week, for instance.
I was skeptical, but Henderson’s performance last week makes me feel like it’s the real deal. Given how much the Rams are running the ball, he’s an RB1 for the time being.
New England at Kansas City (Sun, 4:25 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Patriots…
It was obvious the Patriots’ offense was going to change significantly with Cam Newton at QB this year, but the numbers are already showing just how much it has changed. The Patriots have run for over 200 yards in two out of their three games this year, after doing so just twice in their previous 101 games (including playoffs).
Expect the Pats to try to control the clock with their run game and with Newton under center. According to NextGenStats, the Pats ran 31 times for a ridiculous 245 yards with Newton under center in Week 3 alone (against Vegas), after posting 30/132 rushing from under center in the first two games combined. And they did with regular G Joe Thuney moving to center to take the place of regular starter David Andrews (hand — on IR).
Teams have chosen to attack the Chiefs up the gut, too — per SIS, the Chiefs have faced a league-high 55% of runs against them from gap-scheme attacks. And that’s because they’re allowing a league-high success rate on those runs — 71%. A lot of QB power/counter/sweep could be coming for Kansas City.
This backfield is about to get a lot more crowded, too — the Pats pulled RB Damien Harris off IR, and James White has returned to practice following his devastating personal tragedy. Harris is one of the players I really want to watch, given he was apparently awesome in camp, but this is a super-crowded backfield that was overall effective last week against the Raiders.
What They’re Saying About the Chiefs…
QB Patrick Mahomes is great against any coverage, but this week he should expect to be playing against man, which the Patriots have run on 59.9% of coverage snaps since the beginning of 2019, according to NextGenStats. However, perhaps resulting from some key opt-outs, the Pats haven’t been as effective with the coverage scheme so far this year.
In fact, they haven’t been nearly as effective. After allowing just a 59.0 QB rating in man snaps in 2019, a top-five number in the NFL, the Pats are surrendering a 101.3 rating on those snaps this year.
And even when the Pats were a top man-coverage defense, Mahomes has shredded them in the past — according to NextGenStats, the Pats have used 55.9% man coverage against Mahomes in all their career meetings (including playoffs). Mahomes has cooked them for a 63.3% completion and 110.1 rating in man coverage.
But this is also a different Mahomes than we’re used to seeing — he’s averaging just 6.7 air yards per attempt this year, which is 6th-lowest in the NFL and by far a career-low (8.6 last year). He’s getting the ball out at a career-quickest 2.6 seconds per pass attempt.
I’m into Cam this week — I think the Patriots are going to run the living hell out of the football to try to control matters. The only Pat WR I feel good about is Julian Edelman as a WR3 — our Greg Cosell said N’Keal Harry looked “slow” on film last week.
The Chiefs are the same team every week, and you start your guys. But one thing Cosell said that perked my ears up on the Matchup Points Livestream — he thinks Bill Belichick will be plenty happy if the Chiefs just decide to give Clyde Edwards-Helaire the ball a bunch, because that means Mahomes isn’t taking shots down the field. In other words, Cosell thinks the Pats might choose to play soft against the run.
It’s not like you’re benching CEH, but I’d considering upgrading him to an elite RB1 this week.
Buffalo at Las Vegas (Sun, 4:25 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Bills…
One of the biggest disappointments we had about Bill QB Josh Allen last year was how inaccurate he was on downfield passes. According to NextGenStats, Allen completed under 50% of his passes on throws of 10 or more air yards in each of his first two NFL seasons, including a league-low 37.3% in 2018 (he also had a league-low 59.6 passer rating on such throws).
However, this year, he’s completing 66.7% of such passes, with a QB rating of 130.1. One of the major reasons for this success is how well Allen has been cooking on play-action under an increased focus from OC Brian Daboll — Allen’s 146.2 QB rating on play-action is second-best in the NFL this year… only to his counterpart in this game, Derek Carr.
But Allen can also get it done with his legs in this game. According to SIS, the Raiders are stacking the box on just 3% of snaps this year, the lowest rate in the league. Dating back to 2019, Allen averages 6.8 yards per rushing attempt against a non-stacked box, and just 1.6 with a stacked box. So are the Raiders going to stack the box to try to stop Allen, or help their struggling secondary against Allen’s awesome play-action numbers so far this year?
The Bills’ offense around Allen should also get reinforcements, with RB Zack Moss, who missed last week with a toe injury, a good bet to return. RB Devin Singletary played over 80% of Buffalo’s snaps with Moss inactive last week, but that number is likely to dip this week.
WR John Brown has been dealing with some nagging injuries, the latest a calf, but he returned to practice on Thursday which is a good sign for his availability. Ditto TE Dawson Knox (concussion). Brown is expected to be available, which puts a little bit of a damper on the Gabriel Davis hype train.
What They’re Saying About the Raiders…
I don’t think I’m breaking any new ground here by saying this will be a Derek Carr, Josh Jacobs, and Darren Waller game. It appears highly likely the Raiders will be without WRs Henry Ruggs (hamstring) and Bryan Edwards (ankle).
That means it’ll be a dink-and-dunk game for Carr. According to NextGenStats, Carr averages just 5.8 air yards per pass attempt to receivers not named Rugg, while the Bills haven’t allowed a touchdown on a deep ball (20 or more air yards) since the start of the 2019 season. Like I said, dink-and-dunk.
Meanwhile, I expect that Jacobs will get as many carries as he can handle. The Bills have missed 9 tackles against the run this year, fourth-most in the NFL, while Jacobs is third in the NFL with 9 broken tackles, per SportsInfoSolutions.
Allen is a slam-dunk QB1, and I think he gets it done on the ground this week in addition to through the air. WR Stefon Diggs is a must-start, while I’m a little bit more leery on Brown given his injury status.
If Moss returns, downgrade Singeltary to a low-end RB2.
For Vegas, this is a massive Jacobs game, arguably a top-5 RB week for him. I don’t think the Bills will double Waller the way the Patriots did last week, so he’s in your lineup, and out of necessity I think Hunter Renfrow is a rock-solid WR3.
Philadelphia at San Francisco (Sun, 8:20 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Eagles…
Look, nobody in their right mind right now would say QB Carson Wentz is playing well. Our own Greg Cosell says the normally mentally sharp Wentz has been processing extremely poorly and isn’t seeing things well, which is exacerbating his already poor mechanics and inaccuracy woes.
But what, exactly, is an NFL QB supposed to do when his team has one healthy WR (Greg Ward) on the roster practicing on a Thursday? What is an NFL QB supposed to do when his Hall-of-Fame left tackle has been one of the worst players at his position so far? Wentz is certainly to blame, and if he makes just one or two more throws — and one or two fewer bad decisions — the Eagles may be 2-1 instead of 0-2-1. But this is a horrendously flawed roster, and it’s hard not to blame it for Wentz’s absurd regression.
Wentz, of course, isn’t helping matters. He’s been the NFL’s least-accurate QB on throws of 10 or more yards (31.7%), per NextGenStats, and you can’t blame it all on pressure, since he’s last in the NFL with a 71.3 QB rating when not under pressure. But as coach Doug Pederson alluded to this week, Wentz is probably putting pressure on himself to carry the team, and it’s hurting his confidence.
Meanwhile, Wentz apparently has a sympathetic bunch in the Eagles’ locker room. TE Zach Ertz, who might get 15 targets out of necessity this week (Dallas Goedert is injured), told reporters “the fault of the team is not on Carson.” It’s probably worth pointing out that Ertz has had a pretty public contract dispute with GM Howie Roseman, who built this roster, so it’s easy to read into that comment.
I thought BleedingGreenNation’s Benjamin Solak did a wonderful job distilling my feelings on Wentz’s 2020 season pretty perfectly here.
Anyway, in the backfield, RB Miles Sanders has been limited this week with a glute injury. And as our Edwin Porras points out, it could be related to his hamstring injury he missed Week 1 with. Sanders insisted on Friday that he’s 100%.
What They’re Saying About the 49ers…
The 49ers might have the most unheralded backup QB in the NFL, but Nick Mullens can play, and it looks like he’s going to get another start this week on Sunday Night Football with Jimmy Garoppolo (high ankle) not getting in full practice time this week.
Obviously, the game has changed. But Mullens has thrown for 2620 yards in his first nine career starts, behind only Patrick Mahomes and Andrew Luck all time. Coach Kyle Shanahan says the “scenario doesn’t exist” in which Mullens could wrest the starting job from Jimmy G, but just acknowledge how much props this guy should be getting.
I expect the 49ers will attack the Eagles’ woeful second-level defenders with TE George Kittle who is looking primed to return from his knee injury. This is an Eagle defense that gave up a TD to Logan Thomas in Week 1, and then three TDs to Tyler Higbee in Week 2. The main culprit is often terrible LB Nathan Gerry, a former college safety who is too small to play linebacker and too bad in coverage to play safety. Gerry has been consistently embarrassed in coverage this year. Kittle says he’s going to “let it loose.” Pray for Gerry.
I thought this was a good piece from The Athletic’s David Lombardi on how the Eagles can wreck this game and get their first win of the year —Lombardi is concerned about the interior of the 49ers’ offensive line against the Eagles’ interior defensive pass rush, led by DT Fletcher Cox, who had a monster game against Cincy last week. He specifically points to LG Laken Tomlinson, who allowed 4 pressures against the Giants last week, as a concern. Lombardi views this matchup, in addition to DE Brandon Graham vs. RT Mike McGlinchey, as the key he’ll be watching the most of this week, as the Niners are 26th in ESPN’s pass-block win rate.
In the backfield, Jerick McKinnon (ribs) will play, so it’ll be the McKinnon and Jeff Wilson show again. Both Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman are expected to miss with their knee injuries.
For the Eagles, I’m playing Sanders, WR Greg Ward (as a WR3), and TE Zach Ertz. It’s unbelievable how decimated this team is by injuries once again, but Wentz now has a narrow target tree.
There are too many good streaming QB options this week for me to play Wentz.
I think Kittle is going to go off in this game against the Eagles’ pathetic LB corps. McKinnon and Wilson are both high-end FLEX plays, while Brandon Aiyuk is a low-end WR3 against a Philly secondary also dealing with some injuries (Avonte Maddox is out).
Atlanta at Green Bay (Mon, 8:15 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Falcons…
This could be a big game for WR Calvin Ridley, not that they all aren’t for the NFL’s second-leading receiver (349 yards, 7 yards behind DeAndre Hopkins). Ridley has eaten up zone coverage for 21 of his 32 receptions, 278 of his 349 yards, and 3 of his 4 TDs this year. According to SIS, the Packers have played 84% zone coverage this season so far, most in the NFL.
Of course, Ridley didn’t practice on Thursday with an ankle injury, but returned on Friday. We’ll see if this carries over into a game status, because maybe they just didn’t want to overexert him with Julio Jones (hamstring) and Russell Gage (concussion) returning to practice on a limited basis, but it’s never a good sign that he’s dinged.
What They’re Saying About the Packers…
This is, to put a twist on the common saying, a meeting of a “moveable force” and an “unstoppable object.” Last week, the Falcons became the first team in NFL history to blow a 15+ point lead in the fourth quarter of consecutive games. According to NFL research, they’re the first team since at least 1991 to do it twice in one season.
Meanwhile, Packer QB Aaron Rodgers is the only quarterback since at least 1991 to lead such a comeback twice in the same season, when he did it in 2018. If the Falcons get up big in this one, there is not a soul on the planet who will think the game is over, least of all Rodgers.
One of the things that is charging Rodgers’ return to the elite is a much higher rate of and more success on play-action passes. Rodgers is using play-action on 30.6% of his dropbacks, per NextGenStats, with a 135.4 rating on such plays. He’s thrown 4 TD to 0 INT on play-action this year. In 2019, he threw 3 TD on play-action all season. And last week against the Saints, Rodgers utilized play-action on 51.5% of his dropbacks, the most by him in a game in at least the last five years.
Rodgers is 1-5 all time against defenses coached by Dan Quinn as either a head coach or coordinator, but you’d have to think play-action will be effective against Atlanta this week. According to SportsInfoSolutions, the Falcons are generating pressure on only 29.2% of dropbacks, which is 7th-lowest in the NFL.
It’s also looking promising for Rodgers to get WR Davante Adams back from a hamstring injury. Adams was practicing on Thursday, the first official day of practice for the Packers this week given their game is on Monday night. Adams told Ryan Wood of the Green Bay Press-Gazette that he won’t play until he’s 100%.
The bad news, though, is that breakout star Allen Lazard needed surgery for a core muscle injury, ostensibly suffered in his career-best game against the Saints last week. It’s a huge blow to Lazard and Rodgers, and now Marquez Valdez-Scantling really needs to step up.
Assuming Ridley, Julio, and Gage are all active, they are all startable WRs with QB Matt Ryan, with Ridley and Julio being must starts.
The Lazard blow is just terrible for Rodgers, especially if Adams isn’t the 100% he said he needs to be to play. If neither goes, you’d think MVS will have WR2 upside, but he’s extremely difficult to trust. Rodgers is playing well enough and this Falcon defense is bad enough that I’d consider starting him anyway, but you have to take into account how banged up his receiving corps is.