Before we dig into the action, I want to examine some of the factors that are intrinsically built into the nature of football. It’s likely obvious that roles in the starting lineup are not static. An individual must earn the distinction of being featured by a franchise during training camp and then during each day throughout the season. Yes, a player’s guaranteed salary, cap hit will play a factor. Rather than sitting a struggling player on the pine alongside millions in devoted cash, a front office may ultimately decide that continuing to play a struggling player could allow them to dig themselves out of their poor play in order to improve their trade value.
It’s extremely important to consider that, when we discover a clear vulnerability with the coverage/play of a particular defender, chances are that his team’s staff is keenly aware, as well. When his play reaches a finite level of bad, even when the coaches have exhausted all of their internal options, reaching outside the organization for a replacement is the next course of action. This may all see to be obvious, but it’s still important to understand that what we see on the film from the previous week and what all of the matchup numbers suggest leading up to a game may be completely nullified when the game begins if the staff has made the decision to alter that player’s roles, reduce his involvement, or sit him outright.
How do we defend our hard-earned bankroll dollars from falling prey to an unexpected replacement matchup? At a certain point, everything we may try will fall short of a guarantee. But we can look out for a few factors potentially providing clues that a change is imminent. Those include simply understanding the contract information, monitoring a player’s snaps/usage, and watching out for convenient injuries popping up that were not clearly picked up during the previous game. Even with the extent of the NFLs involvement in injury reporting, teams are still able to take advantage of the injured reserve list to remove a struggling player from the equation. But such a move usually comes with some notice in advance of game time.
All we can do is use the information we have in front of us. And you can trust that I am attempting to track all of these factors each week. Without further delay, let’s take a look at the Week 4 matchups.
Against the Spread Picks (8-9; 3-2 in Week 3)
Tennessee Titans (-8.0) at New York Jets
Carolina Panthers (+4.0) at Dallas Cowboys
Chicago Bears (-3.0) vs. Detroit Lions
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-6.5) at New England Patriots
Las Vegas Raiders (+3.5) at Los Angeles Chargers
Total Wagers (5-4; 2-1 in Week 3)
Kansas City Chiefs at Philadelphia Eagles (Over 54.0)
Detroit Lions at Chicago Bears (Over 42.0)
Arizona Cardinals at Los Angeles Rams (Under 54.5)
Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers (Over 51.5)
Moneyline (5-1 in Week 3)
Kansas City Chiefs (-320) at Philadelphia Eagles
Tennessee Titans (-365) at New York Jets
Green Bay Packers (-290) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-280) at New England Patriots
Las Vegas Raiders (+150) at Los Angeles Chargers
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New England Patriots
8:20 PM EST (Sunday Night Football)
Game Time Temperature: 62℉
Wind: 5 MPH
Wind Gusts: 7 MPH
Chance of Precipitation: 56%
Betting Line: Buccaneers -7
Moneyline: Buccaneers (-302), Patriots (+240)
Notable Injuries/Possible Key Inactives
RB Giovani Bernard (Limited Practice - Questionable - Knee)
WR Antonio Brown (No Practice - Probable - COVID-19)
WR Scotty Miller (No Practice - OUT/IR - Toe)
WR Jaydon Mickens (No Practice - Questionable - Abdomen)
TE Rob Gronkowski (Limited Practice - Questionable - Ribs)
DE Jason Pierre-Paul (No Practice - Doubtful - Shoulder)
CB Carlton Davis II (Full Practice - Probable - Abdomen/Ribs)
CB Jamel Dean (Limited Practice - Questionable - Knee)
CB Sean Murphy-Bunting (No Practice - OUT/IR - Elbow)
RB James White (Full Practice - OUT/IR - Hip)
RB Damien Harris (No Practice - Probable - Finger)
OT Trent Brown (Limited Practice - Questionable - Calf)
OT Isaiah Wynn (Limited Practice - Questionable - Knee)
DT Henry Anderson (Limited Practice - Questionable - Ankle)
OLB Matt Judon (Full Practice - Probable - Knee)
OLB Kyle Van Noy (Limited Practice - Questionable - Groin)
ILB Ja'Whaun Bentley (Limited Practice - Questionable - Undisclosed)
ILB Josh Uche (Limited Practice - Questionable - Back)
S Adrian Phillips (No Practice - Questionable - Not Injury Related)
Matchups to Target
Tom Brady, TB ($7.2K DK | $8.1K FD) vs. Patriots’ Cover 1 | 3
How can we not invest in the GOAT’s return to Foxboro? Even if you don’t want to invest in Tom Brady, little gives credence toward fading Brady in this spot.
The recent storyline suggesting Bill Belichick failed to evolve his style with Brady’s only fuels the fire at just the right time. When I am able to help it, staying away from the “REVENGE NARRATIVE” has served me well. But this is one with few outs. And I do feel both teams will play with a healthy respect for one another, and that Brady will receive a warm welcome from the New England faithful. The most significant downside to targeting Brady is paying out QB5/QB4 pricing. And those values are appropriate considering the Bucs are passing at the league’s highest rate (77%), the otherworldly level of Brady’s play, and the Bucs scoring the most PPG this season (34.3).
Watching Brady throw for 432 yards without an INT against the Rams in Week 3 really highlights Brady tapping into another level of matchup-proofing. In general, anytime Brady is set to face a Cover 1-heavy defense, we want heavy investment. It’s understood that the Patriots have permitted the sixth-fewest FPG to QBs this season. But qualifying that number shines a spotlight on the fact that they put that impressive number together facing Tua Tagovailoa, Zach Wilson, and Jameis Winston. New England is mixing together top-five rates of Cover 1 and Cover 3. Over the last three seasons, Brady has averaged 0.51 FPs/dropback (FP/Db, fifth-best) against Cover 1. That number is fused to throwing 38 TDs, compared to 10 INTs, and with a 17% increase in air yards/attempt. Brady has not been quite as extraordinary vs. Cover 3 over that time, but he still ranks 17th-best in FP/Db, 16th with a 94.9 passer rating, and with a 14% spike in air yards/attempt.
Mike Evans, TB ($6.5K DK | $7.0K FD) vs. Jalen Mills, NE
We have three outstanding stack options with Brady: Mike Evans, Rob Gronkowski, and Antonio Brown. Brown will be activated from the COVID-19 list on Thursday. It is a slight concern that his reps might end up reduced with no way of knowing for sure how he dealt with the virus. Evans’ history of coverage success aligns the best out of Brady’s WR options. During the three previous seasons, Evans’ 0.49 FPs/route (FPs/route) ranks 20th-best against Cover 1. He also ranks 20th with 0.45 FP/Rt against Cover 3 over the same timeframe. In addition, Evans ranks sixth-best against Cover 3 with 2.71 yards/route run (YPRR) and has been provided with the 12th-highest target rate at 25%.
We do need to consider that Evans will butt heads with Jalen Mills on around half of his reps on Sunday night. Mills has been an outstanding addition to the Patriots, limiting his coverage to 0.46 yards/coverage snap (YPCS, ninth-best out of 77 qualified outside CBs), 0.10 FPs/coverage snap (FP/CS, fourth-best), and with a 44.9 targeted passer rating (seventh-best). New England has limited opposing WR units to the third-fewest FPG (27.1). However, yet again, we must consider the quality of the WRs the Pats shut down. Miami and New York do roster some talented wideouts, but QB play limited their output.
Rob Gronkowski, TB ($5.7K DK | $6.5K FD) vs. Kyle Duggar, NE
All of the same nostalgic-reunion factors pushing us toward Brady also apply to Rob Gronkowski. In Gronk’s case, it’s all about dem Cover 1 reps. His 0.53 FP/Rt against single coverage only trails Darren Waller’s 0.55 among all TEs over the last three seasons. He ranks second with a 126.3 targeted passer rating, first with 14.2 air yards/target, and second with 2.58 YPRR. On 24% of his total routes the last three years, Gronkowski has collected 33% of his receptions, 40% of his total yardage, and 42% of TDs against Cover 1. And we will be in for an absolute treat watching Gronk work against Kyle Dugger. The 2020 second-rounder has limited his coverage to the fewest YPCS, fewest FP/CS, and second-lowest targeted passer rating. But Dugger has not matched up with anything within a thousand miles of the Brady-Gronk awesome-sauce.
Matchups to Avoid
Damien Harris, NE ($5.4K DK | $5.7K FD) vs. Buccaneers’ Cover 2
Even with the injury to James White, Damien Harris’ role within the offense will actually be threatened if the Patriots choose to keep Rhamondre Stevenson active on game days. But we should be off Harris due to facing a run defense that has permitted the third-fewest rushing YPG (63.7), third-fewest YPC (3.10), and has yet to give up a run of 20-or-more yards. Easy decision.
Final notes on Tampa Bay
As if a three-headed backfield weren’t enough to deal with, Leonard Fournette ($5.0K/$5.9K), Ronald Jones II ($4.8K/$5.1K), and Giovani Bernard ($4.7K/$5.0K) also need to get their ground work in on only 23.1% of the snaps (lowest rate in the NFL). Chris Godwin ($6.3K/$7.5K) is more than capable of piecing together a solid line despite not showing out against man coverage during his career. Antonio Brown ($5.0K/$6.0K) is priced with field-busting potential against all of the Cover 1 and Cover 3 goodies he’s shredded during his career.
Final notes on New England
It’s extremely unlikely that recently-signed Richard Sherman will get up to speed quickly enough to face the Patriots. And Jamel Dean sounds unlikely to take the field. But, even with Tampa Bay’s struggles defending the pass, Mac Jones ($5.0K/$6.5K) has simply not shown us enough to get that excited about exposure in this spot. But a few GPP darts definitely wouldn’t be the worst idea. Without Dean, the Bucs’ secondary will shift around enough to know who would ultimately land with Jakobi Meyers ($5.2K/$5.7K) as his responsibility. But I still like Meyers the most among all of the Patriots’ receiving options. Jones just hasn’t been able to feed Nelson Agholor ($4.5K/$5.4K) with the deep targeting where he thrives. Crazier things have happened, and a significant negative game script could force loads of targeting volume at New England that could land in the hands of Kendrick Bourne ($4.0K/$5.1K). It’s reached straight avoidance levels for me with Jonnu Smith ($3.5K/$5.0K) and Hunter Henry ($3.7K/$5.0K) this season.
Las Vegas Raiders at Los Angeles Chargers
8:15 PM EST (Monday Night Football)
SoFi Stadium (Dome)
Game Time Temperature: 65℉
Wind: 4 MPH
Wind Gusts: 7 MPH
Chance of Precipitation: 5%
Betting Line: Chargers -3.0
Moneyline: Chargers (-166), Raiders (+140)
Notable Injuries/Possible Key Inactives
QB Derek Carr (Full Practice - Probable - Ankle)
QB Marcus Mariota (No Practice - Questionable - Quadriceps)
RB Josh Jacobs (No Practice - Questionable - Ankle)
OG Richie Incognito (No Practice - OUT - Calf)
OG Denzelle Good (No Practice - OUT/IR - Knee)
DT Gerald McCoy (No Practice - OUT/IR - Knee)
DT Johnathan Hankins (Full Practice - Probable - Knee)
DT Darius Philon (Full Practice - Probable - Knee)
DE Yannick Ngakoue (Full Practice - Probable - Hamstring)
DE Clelin Ferrell (Full Practice - Probable - Back)
DE Carl Nassib (Full Practice - Probable - Pectoral)
ILB Denzel Perryman (Full Practice - Probable - Hip)
ILB Nick Kwiatkowski (Full Practice - Probable - Concussion)
ILB Devine Diablo (Full Practice - Probable - Ankle)
S Trevon Moehrig (No Practice - Questionable - Concussion)
S Roderic Teamer (No Practice - Questionable - Ankle)
S Dallin Leavitt (No Practice - Questionable - Concussion)
QB Justin Herbert (Limited Practice - Questionable - Hand)
RB Austin Ekeler (Full Practice - Probable - Ankle)
OT Bryan Bulaga (No Practice - OUT/IR - Back)
OG Matt Feiler (Full Practice - Probable - Ankle)
DT Justin Jones (No Practice - Questionable - Calf)
DE Joey Bosa (Full Practice - Probable - Foot)
ILB Kenneth Murray (Full Practice - Probable - Ankle)
CB Chris Harris Jr. (No Practice - OUT/IR - Shoulder)
SS Derwin James Jr. (Full Practice - Probable - Toe)
Matchups to Target
Keenan Allen, LAC ($6.8K DK | $7.1K FD) vs. Nate Hobbs, LV
Nate Hobbs has been outstanding at nickel for the Raiders this season. He’s limited his coverage responsibilities to the third-fewest YPCS, fifth-fewest FP/CS, and 10th-lowest targeted passer rating. That said, watching Keenan Allen put a 3/94/0 line on Trevon Diggs in Week 2 proved that the only thing that can prevent Allen blowing up in any given game is the volume he receives. Las Vegas will align in a Cover 3 at the league’s highest rate on Monday night. Over the last three seasons, Allen has generated 0.50 FP/Rt (13th-best), 2.48 YPRR (16th), and a 24% target rate (18th) against Cover 3.
Hunter Renfrow, LV ($4.6K DK | $5.6K FD) vs. Tevaughn Campbell, LAC
As promised, here is the clip of Hunter Renfrow getting the best of Xavien Howard for a TD last week:
September 29, 2021
We all know the ball is fed through the hands of Darren Waller first. But Henry Ruggs III and Renfrow are both averaging north of 14 FPG. That’s a significant number from Renfrow considering he’s only on the field for two-thirds of the passing snaps. With Chris Harris Jr. sitting on injured reserve, Refrow will work against Tevaughn Campbell. He hasn’t played enough to qualify, but Campbell proved last week against Kansas City that he is game to be in coverage with the best. The Chargers converted their scheme rotation toward featuring Cover 1 and Cover 6 at top-five rates under new DC Renaldo Hill. Renfrow has been solid when facing both schemes during his career, producing more than 0.40 FP/Rt, and drawing top-30 target rates. One factor that doesn’t show up in the metrics is the obvious progression in Renfrow’s route-running. That is a factor that actually will show up in the numbers with increased rates over time.
Final notes on Las Vegas
Just another day in the office for Derek Carr ($5.9K/$7.4K) last week, putting yet another insane passing yardage number (386) in the books. Carr has been feeding his boys well this season. Josh Jacobs ($6.1K/$7.2K) is priced as though he’s in mid-season form. And not as a RB unable to shake multiple concerning ailments. I’m counting on seeing better numbers from Kenyan Drake ($5.2K/$5.8K) and instant regression in those from Peyton Barber ($5.1K/$6.5K) for however long Jacobs remains out.
Until we can collect more data and see evidence of consistency from Henry Ruggs III ($5.4K/$5.9K) and Bryan Edwards ($4.1K/$5.3K), it’s difficult to trust them as more than a GPP dart toss. Don’t confuse the fact that Darren Waller ($7.1K/$7.5K) is listed here as a downgrade. You just do not need me to tell you he is a weekly monster biding his time to devour an opponent. And LAC may throw enough man coverage his way so he can do just what he wants.
Final notes on Los Angeles
Justin Herbert ($7.0K/$7.6K) popped up on the injury report as questionable with a hand injury. It would be one of the early shocks of the early season to see him sit after working his tail off last week to defeat Kansas City for his 2-1 record. If you dig deep enough into the analytics, the Raiders’ run defense numbers don’t hold up. But Austin Ekeler’s ($7.6K/$7.9K) pricing is bloated beyond consideration. Calling for Allen to blow up does not preclude the same from Mike Williams ($7.2K/$7.8K). If Carr goes passing yardage-happy again, that might be exactly what we see next during Williams’ breakout season.