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
Jacksonville Jaguars at Cincinnati Bengals
8:20 PM EST (Thursday Night Football)
Paul Brown Stadium
Game Time Temperature: 67℉
Wind: 5 MPH
Wind Gusts: 7 MPH
Chance of Precipitation: 0%
Betting Line: Bengals -7.5
Moneyline: Panthers (-348), Texans (+274)
Notable Injuries/Possible Key Inactives
TE James O’Shaughnessy (No Practice - OUT/IR - Ankle)
OG A.J. Cann (Limited Practice - Probable - Hamstring)
OG Andrew Norwell (Limited Practice - Questionable - Ankle)
OC Brandon Linder (Limited Practice - Probable - Back)
DT Roy Robertson-Harris (Limited Practice - Questionable - Ankle)
OLB Lerentee McCray (Limited Practice - Probable - Hamstring)
OLB Jordan Smith (Limited Practice - Probable - Knee)
CB Tre Herndon (No Practice - Questionable - Knee)
CB Tyson Campbell (Full Practice - Probable - Calf)
WR Tee Higgins (Limited Practice - Questionable - Shoulder)
OT Riley Reiff (Limited Practice - Questionable - Ankle)
OG Xavier Su'a-Filo (Limited Practice - Questionable - Knee)
DT Larry Ogunjobi (Full Practice - Probable - Groin)
CB Trae Waynes (Limited Practice - Questionable - Hamstring)
CB Mike Hilton (Limited Practice - Probable - Chest)
CB Chidobe Awuzie (Limited Practice - Questionable - Groin)
CB Darius Phillips (Full Practice - Probable - Thigh)
S Ricardo Allen (No Practice - OUT/IR - Hand)
S Jessie Bates III (Limited Practice - Questionable - Neck)
Matchups to Target
Joe Burrow, CIN ($5.9K DK | $7.2K FD) vs. Jaguars’ Cover 1 | 3
It hasn’t been a perfect season for Joe Burrow. And it’s not a perfect matchup for him, either. His O-line has the extremely rare distinction of allowing the third-highest sack rate while also limiting defenses to the lowest QB pressures rate. Yes, the Steelers were without T.J. Watt, but they still managed to pressure Burrow only twice last week. Burrow has all of three rushing attempts — I always remove kneel downs and fumbled exchanges — this season. That’s fitting while he recovers from ACL surgery. But two of those came last week, perhaps informing us he is gaining confidence in his knee. He may rank 23rd with 16.8 overall FPG, but he ranks sixth-best with 0.536 FPs/dropback (FP/Db), and 15th with 15.2 pure passing FPG.
Only Jameis Winston (24.0) averages fewer opportunities (passing plus rushing attempts) than Burrow (26.0) this season. Part of that is the product of the Bengals’ offense working at the second-lowest pace of play (54.7 plays/game) and handing off at the second-highest rate (48.2%). Even with everything mentioned, as well as Burrow’s four uncharacteristic INTs through three games, we need to be considering the sophomore QB in GPP lineups on the Thursday-to-Monday (T2M) slate. The Jags have welcomed the sixth-most FPG to opposing backfields (28.8) — which drops to 12th-most over the last two. That thanks to accrediting the third-most rushing TDs/game. But their defense is limited RBs to the seventh-lowest YPC (3.40). If the run is limited, forcing Burrow to pass would pit him up against a predictable defense using the third-highest combined rate of Cover 1 and Cover 3. We’ve seen considerable strides from Burrow against Cover 3 this season, and he has cemented himself as a top-eight Cover 1 QB during his young career.
Joe Mixon, CIN ($6.5K DK | $7.5K FD) vs. Damien Wilson, JAX
Joe Mixon is receiving a massive 84.8% team carry share (second-highest) that simply can never be overlooked. He may rank second with 24.7 touches/game, but he’s only seeing 2.3 targets/game (9.6% target rate ranks 21st). After being provided with four targets in Week 1, he’s only been provided with three over the last two games combined. Meanwhile, Chris Evans has been inserted over the last two games seeing the same number of targets as the “receiving back,” but with far better efficiency (4.14 yards/target (YPT) for Mixon, 13.33 for Evans). He may have the only such TD for Cincy, but Mixon has only been offered two attempts inside the five.
Much of the issue lies with the Cincinnati O-line. They have not provided the same quality of push as protection of the pocket. Then why are we even considering Mixon this week? In actuality, I do have my reservations. However, the Bengals are favored by a TD — at least at the time of this writing — implied to score the ninth-most points. In turn, the Jaguars’ defense is handing over the third-most PPG (30.3). And we can count on Mixon being rostered among the top-10 RBs in the T2M slate. Mixon’s higher rate of negative runs (13th-most) is a concern against a front authorizing the seventh-fewest YPC. But the fact that Jacksonville leads the NFL in giveaways (nine) and combined with allowing the third-most rushing TDs, Mixon is a good bet to cover floor value at 19.5 FPs on DraftKings (DK) and 18.8 on FanDuel (FD).
Ja’Marr Chase, CIN ($5.9K DK | $7.4K FD) vs. Tyson Campbell, JAX
The relations between C.J. Henderson and management must have played a significant role in the deal that sent him to Carolina for draft compensation and Dan Arnold. You can argue that the Jacksonville pass defense has played at a bottom-three level. Has Henderson been a liability in coverage? Absolutely. But not worse than the Jags’ remaining options to replace him. And the individual that is likely to start at right corner is 2021 second-rounder Tyson Campbell. In three games, Campbell has supported a 14/187/1 receiving line, leading his team with 12.9 FPG allowed. With 43% more snaps/game, Henderson allowed 33% less FPG. Among 37 qualified slot CBs, Campbell ranks 32nd with 2.10 yards/coverage snap (YPCS), 30th with 0.43 FPs/coverage snap (FP/CS), has drawn zero QB respect ranking 35th with 0.794 air yards/coverage snap (AY/CS), and 33rd with a 128.5 targeted passer rating.
The first tastes of NFL action has not been sweet for rookie WRs that don’t have the luxury of being named Ja’Marr Chase or Jaylen Waddle. Between limited opportunities, extremely poor efficiency, or injury, we will need to see a massive turnaround in order for the group to come anywhere close to the excellence of the 2020 WR class. Even after currently ranking third with 0.713 FPs/route (FP/Rt), 11th in FPG (19.9), ninth with 2.75 yards/route run (YPRR), 10th with 17.4 air yards/target (AYPT), 10th with 13.8 YPT, and sixth with a 151.0 targeted passer rating, Chase is still priced as the WR25 😲 on DK. The efficiency he applies to every one of his targets is worthy of our attention. Yet he is expected to be owned outside the top-20 WR on the T2M slate.
Marvin Jones Jr., JAX ($5.4K DK | $6.8K FD) vs. Eli Apple, CIN
If we simply attached a top QB-WR stack to riding Chase and Marvin Jones Jr. over the first three weeks, we would have provided ourselves with an outstanding opportunity to land above the money line each week. Jones and Chase are in very different playmaking categories during this stage of their careers but, at his salaries on each site, the opportunities Jones gets demand exposure. His Week 1 target share (18%) underlines the importance of proper statistical qualification. Trevor Lawrence attempted 52 passes in Week 1. But Jones was given a 32% and 27% target rate the next two weeks when Lawrence averaged 33.5 attempts. Any receiver averaging nine targets/game over a three-game stretch becomes significant. And that targeting is not empty (115.3 air yards/game).
The Bengals have been quite good in coverage this season. If we see Chidobe Awuzie’s groin and Jessie Bates III’s neck issues clear up and Trae Waynes is finally able to take the field, the challenge for the Jags’ passing attack will heighten. Assuming Waynes continues to sit on his butt collecting game checks, that would pit Jones the most across from Eli Apple. Among 77 qualified outside corners, Apple ranks 34th in YPCS, 47th in FP/CS, 36th in AY/CS, and 36th in targeted passer rating. Cincinnati has given up more FPG out of the slot (10th-most) compared to outside (17th), but Jones has actually been the most used Jacksonville WR out of the slot, and from where he’s scored one-of-two TDs.
Final notes on Jacksonville
Mirroring the struggles of rookie WRs, none of the first-year QBs seeing early action have impressed. And that absolutely includes Trevor Lawrence ($5.4K/$6.7K). He passed for over 300 yards in Week 1 and has thrown five TDs, but the level of his play is a lot closer to the rest of the 2021 class than to the 2020 class of Justin Herbert and Joe Burrow’s. If we see a string of key secondary inactive for the Bengals, sure, take a GPP stab or two. Otherwise, look elsewhere. Jumping back to the Henderson-Arnold discussion, Did the Jags need a TE? Okay, yes. Did they need a TE specializing as a receiver? No. The O-line has been brutal and T-Law’s efficiency plummets in the face of pressure. Does HC Urban Meyer really think Chris Manhertz is the answer as the TE blocking specialist? Yikes!
How crazy would I sound if I suggested James Robinson’s ($5.7K/$6.9K) play is superior to his monster rookie season? Well, I guess I’m crazy. JRob’s elusive rating — something I learned while working for PFF that measures a player’s ability to work through contact — is 43% higher than last season and his YPRR is nearly 10% higher. Even after only seeing a 31% backfield share in Week 1, he still ranks 15th-overall with a 55.4% share. And he just put a 6/46/0 receiving line on six targets against Arizona last week. Time to dust Robinson off to see if this becomes a pattern. I just can’t help myself. Every week I look for reasons to fade DJ Chark Jr. ($5.0K/$6.2K). Nothing personal, I just don’t trust how much time the youngster missed during camp. If Chidobe Awuzie is cleared, that will be my reason to fade in Week 4. I envisioned a big season for Laviska Shenault Jr. ($4.2K/$5.5K). Until I see signs he’s coming out of his shell, I’ll continue to fade.
Final notes on Cincinnati
You might as well consider Tyler Boyd ($5.2K/$6.1K) just behind Chase in a matchup to target if Tee Higgins ($5.0K/$6.5K) is ruled out for a second straight game. We’ll see Boyd’s ownership increase without Higgins, but a matchup across from new starting nickelback Chris Claybrooks is just too appealing. Claybrooks ranks 36th in YPCS, 35th in FP/CS, 33rd in AY/CS, and 28th in targeted passer rating among 37 qualified slot corners. If he’s active, Higgins will draw the “toughest” opposition in Shaquill Griffin. But, if Higgins’ shoulder somehow manages to heal up in time on a short week, I would rank Cincinnati’s WRs as: Chase > Higgins > Boyd.