We’re up to Week 3 in the NFL with some interesting storylines developing around the league. But more importantly, after two weeks of performances we can at least get something resembling a read on the quality of many of the teams and start to parse out who’s legitimate and who’s not. Vegas odds get more accurate, teams get more film on each other, and the HOPE is that this all congeals together into a complete picture that makes sense.
In this week’s 13 game Sunday slate we’ve got some matchups that should be extremely one-sided, a few that could shootout to the Nth degree (including one starring the NFL’s new marquee star Pat Mahomes), and the return of one of the most elite QBs in the NFL last season in Carson Wentz. There’s a lot to unpack.
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Buffalo Bills (12.5 implied points) at Minnesota Vikings (28.5 implied points)
The Bills hit the road for the first time in a matchup where should be once again outgunned. LeSean McCoy is currently questionable with a rib injury and reportedly it’s a pain management issue. Whether he suits up or not, I have no interest in him or anyone on the Bills offense. The Vikings defense should be able to generate pressure and likely some interceptions against a QB in Josh Allen who really isn’t ready to play.
The Vikings face a similar conundrum to previous Bills opponents: Can players here score enough points given how likely the Bills are to be blown out at a shamefully fast rate? For that reason, I’d be less inclined to go to Kirk Cousins or Adam Thielen given that he should see less volume than he would in a normal competitive matchup. Stefon Diggs may break a play for a touchdown, something he’s done at a rate as efficient as anyone in the league at the WR position, but he too could be less needed if scoring comes from the other cogs in the offense. Dalvin Cook might be able to get on track after a few games for him where the touches have been there at 17.5 per game but the results really haven’t. At Cook’s price on DraftKings though, I’m not sure I’m dying to go his way either. I think I’d be most inclined to give Diggs a spin given the possible game scripts but the Bills can be beaten so many ways that anyone in the Vikings offense has a shot to go off or underperform accordingly.
Green Bay Packers (24.3 implied points) at Washington Redskins (21.3 implied points)
Green Bay faces another defense that should be somewhere between “stifling” and “somewhat inconvenient” for the banged up Aaron Rodgers. The Redskins have limited the amount of plays offenses have run against them and currently allow just 247 yards per game. Teams have also only scored on 18.2% of the drives against them, good for second in the league. Overall, it’s not the best spot for Rodgers and company. They will get a boost in the returning Aaron Jones, a player whose ability and performance last season warrants a bigger role than Jamaal Williams but it’s unclear if he’ll see it. The rest of the offense will face a challenge with a defense who’s limited production by at least 27% for every position in the passing game according to Football Outsiders’ DVOA. Jimmy Graham got himself involved in the offense and it’s possible Rodgers works his magic to get passes to Davante Adams and Randall Cobb but overall I’m inclined to think the Redskins will be able to contain the Packers and at least make offense hard to find in the matchup.
Washington will get a much easier matchup versus a not nearly as impressive Packers defense, giving up a 70% completion rate and 387 yards per game. The run defense isn’t much better, giving up 4.6 yards per rush. Chris Thompson should be a beneficiary after averaging 10.5 targets per game, a key part of Alex Smith’s short passing approach. His 28% target share will mean a lot of opportunity in the matchup. Green Bay has also given a 32.3% production boost via DVOA to the WR1 position, a somewhat interesting chance for Paul Richardson to pay some dividends if he’s active. Adrian Peterson seems due to rebound slightly after a downer Week 2 performance but the game script could be a problem for him if the Packers jump on the Redskins D fast. Jordan Reed continues to be useful as a touchdown target but his current role has him catching balls just a few yards out from Smith, a less compelling usage of him that should limit his upside a bit. His talent is there but the offense is not giving him the opportunities he needs to be an elite TE play at his price.
Tennessee Titans (16.8 implied points) at Jacksonville Jaguars (22.8 implied points)
The Titans are not off to the hottest start offensively under new coach Mike Vrabel and new offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur and a matchup with Jacksonville is certainly not a get-well spot. Dion Lewis ceded some snaps to Derrick Henry, a 56% to 44% snap split in Week 2 after Lewis dominated the downs in Week 1. It’s unclear if it’s a matchup situation or what but it’s hard to trust either guy. Honestly it’s hard to see wanting to play anyone here. Marcus Mariota may be back but there’s nothing this offense has shown that makes me think they’re ready for Jacksonville. I’d consider the Jaguars defense way more than anyone on this side.
Leonard Fournette has returned to practice for the Jaguars likely portending some changes from the air-it-out offense Jacksonville showed in Week 2. Tennessee has been equally beatable on the ground and in the air and if Fournette’s hamstring holds up, he could run all over them and help the Jags do the bare minimum to escape with a win. The Jaguars play differently with Fournette on the field and tend to shift away from letting Blake Bortles air it out as he did distributing targets to Dede Westbrook, Keelan Cole, and Dede Westbrook in addition to TJ Yeldon and Corey Grant and Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Because of that, I’m likely to stick my interest just to Fournette and, even then, will likely minimize my exposure given the recurring nature of many hamstring injuries.
New Orleans Saints (25 implied points) at Atlanta Falcons (28 implied points)
The Saints escaped their surprisingly defense heavy Week 2 matchup against Cleveland with a win largely thanks to kicker incompetency. They’ll need more from Alvin Kamara this week to escape Atlanta with a win and the Falcons giving up the third most rushing yards per attempt should help him get going on the ground. The Falcons were also carved up through the air by Christian McCaffrey in Week 2, a player who offers 80% of what Kamara does in the passing game. The Falcons have done better defending WR1s with a 20% DVOA downtick, meaning the hot hand Michael Thomas may find some tougher sledding even if he maintains the torrid 16 targets per game pace he’s had thus far. Ted Ginn and Benjamin Watson loom as threats to take the passing load if Thomas is well-covered; the Falcons have given up 6.2 points per red zone visit and Watson’s 1.5 red zone targets per game could pay off. Drew Brees is at an appealing price given his upside and the likelihood of him being aided by some of the matchup problems that Kamara and Thomas should create. I don’t see it being a huge yardage game but there may be touchdowns aplenty.
Atlanta will likely seek to take advantage of New Orleans’ defensive deficiencies more than the Browns did in Week 2 as they attempted to squeeze the air out of the ball. The Saints have been brutal versus the pass, giving up a 74.1% completion rate and touchdowns on 8.6% of opposing QBs’ attempts. Julio Jones might be in the wide receiver smash spot of the week – if he’s healthy after missing practice this week. Matt Ryan should get the chance to throw the ball as much as he wants with the Saints giving up 11.2 yards per pass attempt and 11.4 air yards per attempt. The offseason work Austin Hooper did with Matt Ryan paid off with a touchdown last week but this week doesn’t look as good for him with New Orleans decreasing TE production by 59% according to DVOA thus far this season. That would give me some extra interest in Mohamed Sanu or Calvin Ridley as a low-owned flyer who might be the beneficiary of a shootout. Tevin Coleman is priced up but he should have at least as good of an opportunity versus the Saints as he did versus Carolina. Coleman picked up 20 touches in Week 2 and a similar load versus New Orleans could pay some serious dividends on the ground and through the air.
Oakland Raiders (20.3 implied points) at Miami Dolphins (23.3 implied points)
Miami’s defense has been shockingly good after an awful preseason but that may be a symptom of games versus an overmatched Titans team and the young Sam Darnold. Regardless of the reason, the Dolphins have held QBs to a 57% completion rate, rushers to 3.3 yards per rush, and they’ve intercepted 6.3% of the pass attempts against them, third most in the league. The Raiders offense is generally pretty unappealing but these factors make them pretty close to unplayable to me this week. It’s entirely possible Amari Cooper continues to get more targets and has some use or that Jared Cook becomes a necessity in another game where open receivers are hard to find but I’m not super confident in either.
The Raiders have been atrocious on the ground so far with a league worst 5.7 yards per rush allowed, an interesting opportunity for Kenyan Drake. Drake’s shown explosive upside in the past and the 16 touches he gets a game could easily result in long broken touchdowns. The receiving group should get more space with the return of Davante Parker and that would give me a slight bit of interest in Kenny Stills, a player not equipped to be the focal point of a defensive gameplan but able to get into space when teams’ attentions are diverted elsewhere. The Raiders have been slightly better versus the pass though and held QBs to a 54.4% accuracy rate so it may be tough sledding for the air attack. Kenyan Drake or maybe Frank Gore would be the only parts to consider here for me as a result.
Indianapolis Colts (20.8 implied points) at Philadelphia Eagles (26.8 implied points)
Andrew Luck had a tough time getting anything going versus Washington in Week 2 and he’s going to have a tough time staying clean versus the Eagles pass rush. The Eagles couldn’t keep up with Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Bucs’ vertical attack in their matchup last week but they have generated pressure at a solid rate. With Luck seemingly not able to throw it deep currently, Luck may be able to avoid the pressure but will have a harder time moving the ball downfield. TY Hilton has been running a different set of routes with Luck’s deep arm not available and he’s done a decent job with it and his 11 targets a game. Without the deep ball upside, Hilton has lost a little oomph and I don’t think the Eagles are the spot where he’ll be able to make up for it with short route success. The running back committee got more garbled with the return of Marlon Mack and no one there is getting enough touches to be trusted, particularly with the Eagles only giving up 2.0 yards per rush. The tight end position for Indianapolis continues to be a bit too garbled to be useful with Jack Doyle and Eric Ebron. If the Eagles rush becomes problematic, having a tight end in to block instead of running routes could be a necessary pivot for the Colts but, if not, Doyle could find himself being a popular safety blanket for Luck to get anything going.
The Indianapolis defense should make for a decent return spot for Carson Wentz in his first game back from his knee injury. Wentz should continue the trend started by Nick Foles and pepper Zach Ertz and Nelson Agholor with targets while also being a bit more willing to push the ball downfield, a downer for Mike Wallace believers now that he’s been sidelined. But there is a chance the Eagles lean heavily on the run game to ease the burden on Wentz, an interesting spot for Corey Clement with Jay Ajayi and Darren Sproles unlikely to play in Week 3. Clement has averaged 5.1 yards per rush and has been efficient with his targets in the pass game, two things that could be highly beneficial if the game plan is designed to keep Wentz safe.
New York Giants (18 implied points) at Houston Texans (24 implied points)
Saquon Barkley has been an elite running back play despite his team not offering a whole lot everywhere else offensively thus far, something that bodes well for Barkley even if Eli Manning can’t unearth any of his past magic. Houston hasn’t been particularly good as a run or pass defense so the Giants should have at least a shot at getting their receiving group on track and that begins with the highly targeted Odell Beckham. Beckham hasn’t been able to break any of his 12 targets per game thus far but it’s only a matter of time given how explosive he can be on the most basic of routes. Evan Engram hasn’t been getting as many targets with so many weapons available this season compared to last but Houston does offer a 79% performance boost to TEs according to DVOA so there should be some interest in him at a reasonable price point.
The Giants have only allowed 301 yards per game but they do seem due for some regression, particularly while generating a league worst 1.7% sack rate. The Giants have also given up 5.2 yards per rush, tied for third worst in the league, and that could set up nicely for the steady but unspectacular Lamar Miller. There’s a real chance for the Texans offense as a whole to get on track here. Their offensive line is brutal but with the Giants unable to generate pressure, their deficiencies should be less obvious. DeAndre Hopkins is averaging 12.5 targets per game and Will Fuller chipped in 9 targets of his own in his return from injury. Both players have the ability to beat this Giants secondary, possibly multiple times and for long plays. A higher team total would give me hope for an onslaught lineup construction with Houston but even without that gaudy Vegas implied score I’ll still have exposure to the various parts of this offense in the hopes they explode like they did last season.
San Francisco 49ers (25.3 implied points) at Kansas City Chiefs (31.3 implied points)
People have said that a Saints home game is the NFL equivalent of Coors Field but after the Browns’ performance last week I think we can say the real Coors Field is playing against the Chiefs. The Chiefs defense has been atrocious and teams need to score at volume to keep up with Patrick Mahomes and his electric distribution of passes all over the field. Jimmy Garoppolo is in an interesting spot as a result, particularly after disappointing tons of people in his underwhelming performance versus Detroit where Matt Breida took lead. Marquise Goodwin being back in practice should help Garoppolo and to create space for the other targets, including last week’s chalk letdown George Kittle. This same Chiefs defense let a much less athletic TE in Jesse James run all over them so Kittle is in an interesting spot priced up after letting down a lot of the public. Pierre Garcon has also gotten enough targets to be useful but overall Garoppolo is really the only one to trust given how agnostic he is to peppering one player with too many targets.
The aforementioned Patrick Mahomes is the buzz of the NFL and all its ensuing coverage after setting all sorts of “through two weeks” and “three career games” records and it does seem like he’s due for some sort of regression. But with his big arm and if his line continues to protect him this aggressively:
This ends with a nice play from Mahomes on 3rd and 2 but LOOK AT ERVING DECIDE HE'S HAD ENOUGH OF THIS CRAP. pic.twitter.com/gVqDKrJQ2p
— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) September 18, 2018
..there’s no reason to believe Mahomes can’t keep it going, especially against a San Francisco game who just gave up a big game to Matt Stafford and has given up 385 yards per game thus far. Mahomes made up for his lack of a connection with Travis Kelce in Week 1 with a ton of targets versus Pittsburgh en route to a 7 catch, 109 yard, 2 touchdown day. Kelce has been a primary target before and he stands to get even more this week versus a Niners squad who has given up a 108% boost to TE via DVOA. Tyreke Hill continues to turn limited touches into gold but he’s now at a price where it’s safe to question if he can continue to get there. I’d much rather pay for the security of Michael Thomas or the matchup of Julio Jones than keep expecting Tyreke to smash value with his price sky high. Sammy Watkins looked like a more important cog in the offense in Week 2 and he’s at a very playable price. Kelce is likely my favorite play here but you could definitely make a case for a few different stacks. One also has to wonder if there’s a Kareem Hunt day on the horizon given how unsustainable Mahomes’ TD performance seems so far. Honestly I want to be contrarian here and consider getting away from Mahomes given all the conversation and hype around him but this matchup might be too fertile to avoid.
Cincinnati Bengals (20.5 implied points) at Carolina Panthers (23.5 implied points)
The Bengals get a matchup with a Carolina defense who might be decent or might be sneakily awful. Through two weeks they’ve generated good pressure and held teams to a score on just 29% of their drives. But they’ve also given up a 74% completion rate, haven’t deflected a single pass, and have allowed 4.9 yards per rush. Whether they’re legitimately bad or just passable, Giovani Bernard is in a stellar spot. No Joe Mixon for the Bengals means all the run and pass action that Bernard can handle and even though his price has taken a jump to account for the situation, he is still likely to get his share of targets and touches against a D who’s been beatable. Andy Dalton should also get some lanes to pass the ball given the secondary’s failures so far and AJ Green should be the main beneficiary, though his 8.5 targets per game don’t quite mesh with the price he’s at. Green will have big weeks like his touchdown heavy performance versus Baltimore but it’s hard to say he’s the same hyper explosive yardage player he’s been in years past. Tyler Boyd showed some of his upside in Week 2 and he’s averaged 7 targets per game, twice as many as returning TE Tyler Eifert. Boyd also outsnapped John Ross by a substantial margin and his super cheap price plus the matchups gives him a good shot at being a solid value play this week. I’d also expect Eifert’s targets to go up a little higher at some point and this could be the week for him with a pivot to him or Boyd likely offering a nice ownership discount in addition to the price one on Green.
Cincinnati has allowed the most plays in the NFL run against them with 79 plays per game and one would assume the loss of bellcow back Joe Mixon won’t help them with squeezing the air out of the ball. Christian McCaffrey and his 19 touches a game, 10 of which come from receptions, should be the one to see even more action as a result. Cincinnati will have to gameplan for McCaffrey more than they have other backs but they’ve given up a 20% production boost to RBs in the pass game according to Football Outsiders’ DVOA making it probable that McCaffrey picks up a big percentage of the Bengals’ 402.5 yards allowed per game. Devin Funchess picked up 9 targets in Week 2, up from 5 in Week 1, and he should continue to be a key part of the pass attack with Greg Olsen sidelined. Jarius Wright also solidified his role last week with 7 targets, pulling himself notably ahead of Torrey Smith in that department despite Smith outsnapping Wright 87% to 67%. And last but not least given all of this talk about Cincinnati’s pace and yards per game allowed, Cam Newton should get a chance to put up some numbers through all of these weapons, particularly if Carolina continues to turn what would be running plays into short passes. Newton has to do less work, completes more passes, and has more shots with a player who can break a touchdown on any play from scrimmage in addition to getting goal line work with three red zone rushes a game. It’s a great spot for Cam to pick up value in a variety of categories at a very solid price.
Denver Broncos (19.3 implied points) at Baltimore Ravens (24.3 implied points)
Last week showed that Baltimore’s defense isn’t as good as the hype behind it as the Ravens didn’t come up with the turnovers they usually do and were driven up and down the field by Andy Dalton and co in Cincinnati. Despite that, the Ravens have only given up 263 yards per game, 4.5 yards per pass, and a 46.7% completion rate overall through the two weeks. Case Keenum is going to find it difficult to come across open receivers if the Ravens’ 18.7% pass deflection rate are any indication. Keenum’s accuracy is way down from his Vikings campaign with him completing just 59.5% of his passes and that makes it tough to fall in love with him. Emmanuel Sanders should continue to succeed though, largely thanks to his yards after the catch ability and a gaudy 93.3% catch rate despite being targeted 12.3 air yards downfield. Demaryius Thomas has gotten more targets from Keenum but shown far less of a rapport with Thomas snagging just 52.4% of his 10.5 targets per game. I’d be more inclined to trust Sanders but Thomas’s two red zone targets per game compared to Sanders’ zero does level it out a little. Jake Butt also might deserve some consideration given a decent 14% target share and some solid work around that. The Ravens have allowed a 13.5% performance boost to TEs via DVOA and Butt has the ability to break out one of these weeks.
Baltimore gets their first home game of the season versus a Broncos pass defense who has shown some weakness, allowing opposing QBs a 74% completion rate, 8 yards per pass attempt, and a TD on 6.2% of their throws. It’s not a sexy or thrilling pick to consider but Joe Flacco may deserve a look. His $5400 price on DraftKings is light and though the Broncos are generating an effective pass rush, Flacco at home with some receiving game weapons that he seems to be jelling with is a little interesting to me as a pivot to what will be highly owned higher priced plays at QB. Michael Crabtree has gotten the most targets with 8 per game, John Brown has been targeted 19.1 air yards downfield with his 7 targets per game, and even Willie Snead is picking up 7 closer range targets per game. Flacco is even distributing the ball evenly to tight ends with Nick Boyle and Mark Andrews combining for 9 targets per game. My point is it may be tough to find a stack receiver to trust with Flacco but given Brown and Crabtree would likely be my choices in that order. Alex Colins also desperately needs to get on track but thus far it’s been an even split with he and Buck Allen picking up 10 touches per game despite Collins being more effective on the ground and through the air. The Broncos run D has been solid so I’m more inclined to stick with Flacco than roll the dice on Collins even though his $5,200 price is appetizing.
LA Chargers (20.5 implied points) at LA Rams (27.5 implied points)
The battle for a mostly apathetic Los Angeles rages on and even if the Chargers and Rams haven’t captured the attention of the city, the game should be a fun one. Melvin Gordon showed he’s as elite of a running back play as there is in his matchup versus Buffalo and, while yardage will be less plentiful this week with the Rams allowing just 266 yards per game, the Chargers are going to need him to do something to keep them afloat. Philip Rivers will also likely need a strong game to keep up with the Rams and fortunately for him the one thing the Rams have not done well is pressure QBs with just a 2.9% sack rate thus far. Rivers will need time to throw and I’d expect him to lean as heavily as he can on Keenan Allen and Melvin Gordon. I’d keep an eye on Austin Ekeler too, a very versatile weapon for the Chargers who’s now up to 8 carries and 4 targets per game and 10 yards after the catch per reception.
The Chargers have been a less impressive defense and it’d be surprising if Jared Goff couldn’t throw all over them given some of their pass defense deficiencies with Joey Bosa sidelined. Brandin Cooks should be able to take advantage of the 13.4 air yards per target the Chargers have allowed as he’s really integrated himself in the offense in a way many free agent wide receivers don’t this early. Cook has a 27% target share, Robert Woods has a 27% target share, and Cooper Kupp has a 24% target share while being the only one to pick up a touchdown. If you wanted to play any part of the very cheap Rams pass attack, you’ll know your guy is at least getting looks. Todd Gurley also has been a monster with 22.5 touches per game and the same elite touchdown upside he showed last year. The price hurts and the Chargers are better versus the run than they are the pass but Gurley is still a player who can easily pick up 150 yards from scrimmage and two TDs in a game where his team will likely need the points.
Chicago Bears (22 implied points) at Arizona Cardinals (16 implied points)
The Bears are going to live and die by their defense this year but the offense has definitely shown some flashes with Allen Robinson turning to a new highly targeted role with a 30% target share into some real fantasy usefulness. He hasn’t found the end zone yet but if he does he could easily smash value at his cheap price point. The Cardinals have been hideous in every aspect of pass defense so far and allowed 9.5 yards per pass as well as giving up a second worst 1st downs by penalty on 6.5% of their plays, a really good spot if the Bears attack through the air. The Bears may also opt to rely on Jordan Howard here given how he hasn’t gotten going yet and at 18.5 touches per game, he should be able to do some damage if given the opportunity. I still wouldn’t be too into playing Mitchell Trubisky but if Matt Nagy and Mark Helfrich want to show off their fancy offense, this is the matchup to do it in.
The Cardinals should really get annihilated by the Bears here and I don’t trust any part of their offense in general or in this matchup. David Johnson is only getting 14 touches per game and with everything else on the offense so dismal it’s impossible for him to get going. The Bears secondary is beatable but I don’t see how the petrified Sam Bradford (both in terms of fear and because he stands in the pocket like a block of wood) will be the one to attack the weak spots in the pass defense.
Dallas Cowboys (20.3 implied points) at Seattle Seahawks (21.3 implied points)
The glory days of the Seattle defense are officially gone and the only person competent enough to take advantage of it on this Cowboys offense is Ezekiel Elliott. With 20 touches per game, Zeke should feast against a Seattle front who’s given up 6 points per red zone visit thus far. Dak Prescott doesn’t currently seem capable of taking advantage of the Seattle secondary, though, and there isn’t a wide receiver target who’s emerged from the pack enough to help him out. Allen Hurns 2.5 targets per game are disastrous and Deonte Thompson has pulled into a mediocre target share even with Cole Beasley with both men picking up 5.5 targets per game. Overall this Cowboys team is one who will live and die by defense and the run game and that limits some of their fantasy potential.
Dallas has done a good job defensively thus far and Seattle’s offense has look even worse than expected with Brian Schottenheimer as their new offensive coordinator. Even though Dallas has allowed a lot of shorter completions, they’ve limited the damage and kept teams playing as close to the vest as Dallas does. Tyler Lockett showed some competency as a top option with Doug Baldwin out as he picked up 7 targets, 60 yards and a score versus the stout Bears defense. He’d be the main guy I’d consider here at a very reasonable price. Brandon Marshall may have some use too as a safety valve for Russell Wilson but I’m not sure if he’ll see the yardage needed versus this Dallas D. It’s not a terribly appealing matchup to me on either side, particularly if the Seahawks are unable to go vertical with their offense due to shoddy line play and playcalling.
And there we go, 13 more games in the books. Follow me on Twitter @ChrisSpags, tune into On The Contrary with me, Evan Silva and Awesemo on Saturday and Live Before Lock with me and Josh Engleman on Sunday on the Awesemo YouTube, and I’ll see you guys next week for more in-depth NFL discussion.
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