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NFL Survivor Pool Picks (Week 7) - Targets and Avoids

It started off as a great day of football but the decision to have just two 4 p.m. games quickly backfired when the Dolphins-Jets and Bucs-Packers became blowouts after the first quarter. Another decision that is still, and will continue to be, scrutinized is the Texans decision to go for two. It was the right decision. Houston's defense was awful Sunday and Romeo Crennel, a defensive guy, knew his team wouldn't be able to stop Tennessee. A two-point conversion would've iced the game. They had the right play, the receiver was wide open, but the ball got deflected. I'm always in the belief when you can control a situation and finish something, then go for it.

Underdogs went 9-5 against the spread with six outright upsets. The biggest was the Broncos beating the Patriots in Foxborough which knocked out around 20 percent of remaining entrants in pools. Majority of entrants chose the Dolphins which required no sweat in an easy win against the Jets. My survivor plays went 3-1 straight-up. The Vikings were an avoid and they got blown out.

Week 7 kicks off with the Giants at the Eagles Thursday night. The Colts, Dolphins, Ravens, and Vikings are on bye.

 

Survivor League Week 7

Teams favored by a touchdown or more in Week 7; Bills -13.5 @ Jets, Chiefs -9 vs. Broncos, Chargers -7.5 vs. Jaguars, Saints -7.5 vs. Panthers.

If you're reading this article on Thursday or later, these lines are from Tuesday. Check the current spreads and see how the line moved.

I also give out my three top plays against the spread. That can be found at the bottom of the column.

 

Top Survivor Picks for Week 7

Bills -13.5 @ Jets

Not only are the Jets winless but they're also 0-6 against the spread. There's really not much to say about this game, only whether the Jets will cover. It's really remarkable to not have covered a game yet but that should eventually end.

Bills 30 - Jets 19

 

Packers -3.5 @ Texans

Both these teams have similarly explosive offenses, but the one difference in the stats are the Packers are fifth in converting third down's while Houston is 21st. Green Bay hadn't been tested before Sunday and they got a refreshing wake-up call, especially their defense. The Texans Defense though is so bad giving up 6.1 yards per play, 27th, and 23rd in opponent third-down conversion percentage. Aaron Rodgers should pick apart the secondary.

Packers 31 - Texans 23

 

Chargers -7.5 vs. Jaguars

The Chargers could really be 5-0. They should have beaten the Chiefs, had a great chance to beat the Panthers, and blew leads to the Bucs and Saints. Justin Herbert has been getting better by the week. Their defense ranks 17th in yards per play, 10th in getting off the field on third down, and fifth in opponent red zone touchdown percentage. But they have looked a lot better than the stats and they're fresh off a bye.

I wrote this last week about Jacksonville; "the Jaguars are who we thought they were before the season; a bad team." The Chargers should finally cruise to a win.

Chargers 26 - Jaguars 14

 

Chiefs -9 @ Broncos

Denver played a great game Sunday in New England but six field goals just won't come close to cutting it against Kansas City. I don't care how great your defense is, you won't hold Kansas City to less than 17 points or less. The Broncos offense ranks 27th in yards per play, 29th in third down conversions, and 30th in scoring touchdowns in the red zone. They may very well cover but you can't beat the best offense like that.

Chiefs 28 - Broncos 20

 

Rams -5.5 vs. Bears

Chicago keeps winning despite an offense similarly bad to Denver's; 28th in yards per play, 27th in third down conversions, and 26th in touchdowns in the red zone. Their defense is in the top six in those defensive categories. The Rams though have had all their wins come against the NFC East. They've lost to the Bills and 49ers. Jared Goff struggles in bad weather and a good pass rush. The weather will be fine in LA but the Bears pass rush will put him under immense pressure. Sean McVay better have a good plan to get the ball out of Goff's hands quick.

Another point is if the Bears are actually good and since the Rams have played a cake schedule, shouldn't this line be three. I think that's a big tell from the Vegas bookmakers.

Rams 24 - Bears 17

 

Top Survivor Picks to Avoid 

 

Saints -7.5 vs. Panthers

This game goes either two ways; the Saints come off their bye and win convincingly or struggle immensely. I can't get over the memory of last year when New Orleans came off a bye at 7-1, and were double-digit favorites over the Falcons only to be beat 26-9. The Saints don't look like a team that should be favored by more than a touchdown over anyone. Not even Carolina despite them looking awful against the Bears. However the Panthers have been up-and-down and this is a divisional game which usually tends to be close.

Saints 23 - Panthers 21

 

Browns -3.5 @ Bengals

This teams met on Thursday night football in Week 2 with the Browns winning 35-30. The game was not as close as the score was but Joe Burrow would not go down. Both teams are off losses, but Cleveland got blown out and you wonder how they'll respond. A road divisional favorite of 3.5 is too much with a guy like Burrow on the other side.

Bengals 23 - Browns 21

 

Best Bets for Week 7

  • Packers -3.5 @ Texans
  • Dallas -1.5 @ Washington - Cowboys are off an embarrassing blowout loss on national television. Teams in that situation usually rebound the following week.
  • Chargers -7.5 vs. Jaguars

 

Running Totals

  • Last week: 2-1
  • 2020 season total: 9-9
  • 2019 season total: 23-26-2


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Week 7 Defense (DEF) Streamers and Starts - 2020 Fantasy Tiers, Rankings

We had some surprise defenses crack the top-10 in Week 6 with the Atlanta Falcons picking off Kirk Cousins seemingly at will and the Tampa Bay Bucs easily handling Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. Even with that, we were able to get six of the top-10 defensive units, but the Indianapolis Colts may be showing some cracks in the armor, and Washington offensive ineptitude surprisingly flipped the script and allowed the Giants to finish as the only top-10 unit in that matchup.

I've been mentioning this for weeks, but it bears repeating that scoring and yards are at an all-time high this year. 4,621 points or 25.4 points per game so far this season and are gaining 363.3 yards per game, which are both the most through the first five weeks of any season in the Super Bowl era. With offenses putting up video game numbers, it means that we can't continue to judge a defense solely by the number of points they allow or the number of yards they give up. Those numbers will naturally be higher than we're used to. Instead, we need to look for which offensive lines are truly weak points and which defenses will either be blitz-heavy or get consistent pressure with their pass rush. These are all incredibly important pieces of information in determining which defenses to play in any given week.

Remember that picking the right defense is not about identifying who will allow the fewest points, but who will cause the most turnovers or tally the most sacks since that has a higher correlation to weekly fantasy DST leaders. That means that, as much these rankings are about the talent on the defensive side of the ball, it is equally about taking advantage of the lack of talent on the offensive side. Starting the right defense every week can be a difference-maker, so remember to check back here during the week as I will make updates once we get more information on some of these injuries and also get a better sense of the weather for the game.

 

Week 7 Defenses To Start & Stream: Tiers & Rankings

Below are my Week 7 defense tiers and rankings, or which defenses to stream, start and target off the waiver wire for Week 7 of the NFL and fantasy football season. Our weekly tiered defense rankings are a guide to making waiver wire pickups to improve your lineups, and to decide which defenses to start, sit, target, avoid or stream for Week 7. I've broken out our defense rankings into tiers with analysis on each matchup. Some of these Week 7 defenses have good matchups and are not widely-owned, representing fantasy scoring opportunities if they are available on your league's waiver wire for a Week 7 pickup or add.

Returning for this year: Confidence Ratings (out of 15) - Since every league's DST scoring is different, projections don't always make a ton of sense. The confidence rating, which Bill Dubiel started last year, is a guideline for how much more I like one team over another instead of a straight point projection. A zero means "do not start," then the confidence rises from there. I take a lot of factors into account: opponent injuries, home-field advantage, weather (which will be updated during the week), etc. We still have only one game of in-season data to work with, so this week's rankings weigh schedule and personnel heavier than they will down the line.

Typically the top three tiers will be DSTs you should target, with Tier 4 being options in deep leagues and Tier 5 being desperation plays or good defenses in horrendous matchups.

 

Tier 1 Defenses

Rank Tier DST Week 7 Opponent Confidence Rating
1 1 Buffalo Bills Defense @ NYJ 13.9
2 1 Philadelphia Eagles Defense vs. NYG 13.5
3 1 Kansas City Chiefs Defense @ DEN 12.3
4 1 Los Angeles Rams Defense vs. CHI 11.8

Perhaps I'm about to be overly hard on the Bills as a life-long Bills fan, but their defense is concerning me right now. Yes, the Jets are a terrible offense. They rank 31st in passing yards, 26th in sacks allowed, 31st in drives ending in a score, and 15th in rushing and now are without Le'Veon Bell. But, as the Chiefs showed on Monday night, the Bills can be run on, even though Frank Gore and the Jets offensive line are not Clyde Edwards-Helaire and the Chiefs unit. This is clearly not the same Bills defense that we've seen over the last couple of years. In addition to being gashed by the run, they are dead last in pressure rate. If you are not creating pressure, then you don't give yourself much chance to add fantasy points through sacks and turnovers. With Sam Darnold coming back, the Jets should become a little better on offense, though not much. I know you simply want to play defenses going up against the Jets, and the Bills have enough talented defensive players that you have to imagine they can take advantage of this matchup, but I could just as easily see the Eagles as the #1 DST this week due to their ability to create pressure.

The Eagles have started to get healthier on defense and are currently fourth in the NFL with 21 sacks. The Giants are 25th in the NFL with 17 sacks allowed, so I expect a healthy Eagles defensive front to get in Daniel Jones' face throughout the game which is good news since the Giants are already third-worst in the NFL with 18.4% of drives ending in a turnover. Even without the pressure, the Giants simply aren't a good offense right now. They're 27th passing yards, 28th in rushing yards, and 25th in drives ending in a score. If the Eagles are without Miles Sanders and Zach Ertz, who both left hurt on Sunday, the already sputtering offense will be even more short-handed which could lead to some short fields for the Giants. However, that's not enough to scare me off using this Eagles unit against one of the worst offenses in the NFL.

The Chiefs defense came to play Monday night against a solid Bills offense. The Chiefs send blitzes at one of the highest rates, and although they didn't sack Josh Allen, they were in his face all night long. Kansas City is 7th in the league in pressure rate, tops in quarterback knockdown rate at 1o.6%, and 9th in quarterback hurries. That will be useful against a Denver offensive line that is 22nd in sacks allowed and 5th-worst in the league with 16.7% of drives ending in a turnover. Obviously, having Drew Lock, Melvin Gordon, and Phillip Lindsay back will help the Broncos offense overall, but they don't have the firepower to keep up with the Chiefs and their defense is too banged up to keep the Chiefs from scoring. That will mean the Broncos will be forced to pass in the second half, which will lead to more blitzes, sacks, and turnovers for the Chiefs defense.

The Rams had been riding high on defense before falling short against the 49ers on Sunday night. However, maybe you're noticing a trend, but the Bears offense is simply not as good as the 49ers with all their pieces back. The Bears are 15th in sacks allowed, 18th in passing yards, 25th in rushing yards, and 27th in drives ending in points. While their sack numbers aren't egregious, the Rams defense is 5th in the league in sacks and 5th in drives ending in points against. With Jalen Ramsey likely shadowing Allen Robinson, I don't expect the Bears to be able to move the ball much in this game, which will allow more chances for Aaron Donald and company to get to a super immobile Nick Foles.

 

Tier 2 Defenses

Rank Tier DST Week 7 Opponent Confidence Rating
5 2 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Defense  vs. LV 10.9
6 2 San Francisco 49ers Defense   @ NE 10.6
7 2 New York Giants Defense @ PHI 10.3
8 2 Pittsburgh Steelers Defense @ TEN 9.8

Tampa Bay thoroughly dominated Green Bay on Sunday, so it's not too much to expect a similar outing against a lesser-talented Las Vegas team. It's clear that losing Vita Vea didn't inhibit the Bucs' ability to stop the run. They're tops in the NFL with only 3.0 yards allowed per carry, which should help them against a Raiders' offense that relies heavily on Josh Jacobs. The Bucs are 3rd-best in pressure rate at 28.3% and second-best sack total, which means that, despite the Raiders not allowing many sacks this season, the Bucs should still be able to generate pressure on Derek Carr and the offense. That's good news considering Las Vegas is 9th-worst in the league in drives ending in turnovers. I expect Tampa Bay to score nearly at will against this Las Vegas defense, and even if the Raiders do put up points, they will also likely cough up a few turnovers. Tampa Bay is just playing too well to bet against right now.

The 49ers came to play on Sunday against the Rams, starting to look a little more like the playoff contenders they've been in recent years. Despite their rash of injuries, they are still fifth in the league in pressure rate, third in quarterback knockdowns and fourth in quarterback hurries. As we saw on Sunday against the Broncos, this is not the same Patriots offense, even with Cam Newton back. They are 17th in sacks allowed, 30th in passing yards, 7th-worst in drives ending in points, and worst in the league in drives ending in an offensive turnover at 19.2%. The Patriots are unlikely to put up lots of points against this 49ers defense, which raises their defensive floor and it wouldn't surprise me if San Francisco can also notch a few sacks and force some turnovers.

I honestly can't believe I have the Giants this high, but here we are. They just finished as a top-10 unit against Washington and now will face an Eagles offense that will be without Miles Sanders and Zach Ertz and possibly still without Alshon Jeffrey and DeSean Jackson. This is also an Eagles offense that is dead last in sacks allowed, 26th in yards per play, and 27th in drives ending in a turnover. Also, this Giants defense hasn't been as bad as many think. James Bradbury has been great in shadow coverage against opponents' top receivers, and the team is 9th in pressure rate, 10th in sacks, and 10th in quarterback knockdowns. With the Eagles not even entirely sure who will be starting for them at right guard on Thursday, I expect the Giants to be able to get into Carson Wentz's face throughout what should be an ugly game with lots of turnovers.

The Steelers absolutely dismantled the Browns on Sunday. Now they will get a much stiffer test in the Tennessee Titans. I think the Steelers are the best defense in the NFL, but the Titans are no joke on offense, so it moves Pittsburgh down a little bit in our weekly ranks. The Titans offense is second in the league in drives that end in a score, fourth in the league in yards per play, and best in the league in sacks allowed. However, there is only so far down that I can drop a Steelers defense that is the best pressure defense in the NFL by a large margin. Their 38.9% pressure rate is well above the second-best rate of 29.2%. The Steelers blitz the most in the league (46.3%), have the most quarterback hurries, and are 2nd-best in yards per rushing attempt at 3.3 yards. Add to that the fact that the Titans just lost starting left tackle Taylor Lewan to a torn ACL, and I think the Steelers will be able to get some pressure on Ryan Tannehill in this game.

 

Tier 3 Defenses

Rank Tier DST Week 6 Opponent Confidence Rating
9 3 Los Angeles Chargers Defense vs. JAX 9.3
10 3 Cleveland Browns Defense @ CIN 8.9
11 3 New England Patriots Defense vs. SF 8.6
12 3 New Orleans Saints Defense vs. CAR 8.3
13 3 Chicago Bears Defense @ LAR 7.7
14 3 Washington Football Team Defense vs. DAL 7.5
15 3 Green Bay Packers Defense @ HOU 6.9

The Chargers are fresh off the bye and have two weeks to prepare for a Jaguars offense that has been struggling with consistency of late. While Jacksonville is 6th in passing yards, Minshew has also thrown 11 interceptions, the offensive line has given up the 18th most sacks, and the Jaguars have the 7th-most drives ending in a turnover. The Chargers may only have eight sacks on the season, but they are 11th in pressure rate and 3rd in quarterback hurries. The Chargers are getting healthier on defense with Melvin Ingram and Justin Jones back both at practice. If either one of them, or both, is able to return on Sunday, it would be a big boost to a pass rush that could wreak havoc on an over-matched Jaguars offensive line.

As I mentioned above, the Browns got trampled on Sunday by the Steelers, but their defense had been playing good football up until that point. They will also face a much softer test this week. The Bengals are 31st in the NFL in sacks allowed, 24th in drives ending in points, and have an offensive line that has been below average in almost every blocking metric. The Browns defense is 6th in the NFL in rushing defense, allowing only 3.6 yards per attempt, but they have been destroyed through the slot. That means the Bengals only hope is Joe Burrow to Tyler Boyd. If the Browns can build an early lead against a bad Bengals Defense and force passing downs, it will give more opportunity for sacks for a defense that is 2nd in the NFL in quarterback hurries and 2nd-best in the league in drives that end in an offensive turnover at 18.2%.

The Patriots defense certainly wasn't the reason they lost to the Broncos on Sunday. They are 4th in the league in pressure rate and best in the league in drives ending in a defensive turnover. That pressure will be a factor on Sunday considering the 49ers are 27th in the league in sacks allowed and may not have as strong of a running game with Raheem Mostert out to keep the Patriots from coming after Jimmy Garropolo. What keeps me from pushing the Patriots into the top-10 is the fact that their defensive faults have been overshadowed a bit by the talent-level of opponents and gamescript. They are 18th in the NFL in yards per play allowed, 13th in yards allowed per carry, 15th in drives ending in a score, and 27th in yards allowed per pass attempt. The 49ers offense is middle of the road in drives ending in turnover and has been much better at protecting the ball with Jimmy G and Deebo Samuel back in the lineup. I expect them to take better care of the ball and scheme ways to take advantage of a Patriots defense that is giving up a fair amount of yards per play and surviving by slowing down the pace of play.

The Saints will come off their bye week with two weeks to prepare for a Carolina offense that is 19th in sacks allowed and just scored 16 points against the Bears. Teddy Bridgewater has been solid for the Panthers, but he also has five interceptions to only six touchdowns on the season. With the Saints offense expected to get Michael Thomas back, they should exploit a vulnerable Panthers Defense and force Bridgewater to have to throw often to keep up. That will leave open opportunities for a defense that had the bye week to get healthy. What this comes down to for me is simply that the Saints have been a strong defensive unit for a couple of years now and have too many good players to keep giving up this many yards and touchdowns through the air. With Sean Payton and company coming out of the bye week, I expect them to begin to right the ship.

The Bears defense showed up to play against a solid Panthers offense on Sunday, but this still a defense that is underperforming its previous levels. They are 21st in pressure rate, 24th in quarterback hurry percentage, and 15th in drives ending in an offensive turnover. The best way to slow down the Rams offense is to get pressure on Jared Goff. However, the Bears pressure rate matched up against a Rams offense that is 4th in the league in sacks allowed doesn't give me confidence that Goff will be under a lot of pressure. That means he can manage an offense that is 10th in yards per play and 4th in expected points contributed by the offense.

What we saw from the Cowboys offense on Monday night made me even more confident in playing the Washington defense against them. The Cowboys may be 21st in sacks allowed, but their cobbled together offensive line gave up a ton of pressure against the Cardinals, and the task won't be any easier against a Washington team that is 8th in sacks, 13th in pressure rate, and 11th in quarterback hurry rate. The Cowboys offense is 31st in the NFL in offensive drives ending in a turnover and clearly doesn't have the firepower to score quickly with Andy Dalton under center. I don't expect Washington to handle them the way Arizona did, but a few turnovers and sacks seem likely.

The Bills' offense set the league on fire for the first four weeks, but we've seen the return of frazzled Josh Allen. The strong-armed quarterback has continued to score points and gain yardage with his legs, but he has also begun turning the ball over a bit more and the Bills are now 25th in the league drives ending in a turnover. The Jets get pressure at a below-average rate and their offense continues to put the defense in poor positions, but if Josh Allen is trending towards past issues with inaccuracy and holding onto the ball too long, it's likely going to lead to some questionable decisions, sacks, and maybe turnovers.

 

Tier 4 Defenses

Rank Tier DST Week 7 Opponent Confidence Rating
16 4 Dallas Cowboys Defense @ WAS 6.7
17 4 Tennessee Titans Defense vs. PIT 6.3
18 4 New York Jets Defense vs. BUF 5.9
19 4 Denver Broncos Defense vs. KC 5.1
20 4 Cincinnati Bengals Defense vs. CLE 4.9
21 4 Seattle Seahawks Defense @ ARI 4.4
22 4 Atlanta Falcons Defense vs. DET 3.9

 

Tier 5 Defenses

Rank Tier DST Week 7 Opponent Confidence Rating
23 5 Arizona Cardinals Defense vs. SEA 3.4
24 5 Jacksonville Jaguars Defense vs. LAC 2.9
25 5 Las Vegas Raiders Defense vs. TB 2.3
26 5 Detroit Lions Defense @ ATL 1.9
27 5 Houston Texans Defense vs. GB 1.1
28 5 Carolina Panthers Defense @ NO 0.9
29 5 Miami Dolphins Defense BYE 0.0
30 5 Baltimore Ravens Defense BYE 0.0
31 5 Indianapolis Colts Defense BYE 0.0
32 5 Minnesota Vikings Defense BYE 0.0


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Be sure to also check out all of our other daily fantasy football articles and analysis to help you set those winning lineups, including this new RotoBaller YouTube video:

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Check out all of RotoBaller's fantasy football rankings. Staff rankings are updated regularly for all positions and include standard formats, PPR scoring, tiered rankings and dynasty leagues.




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2020 Fantasy Football Advice 2020 Fantasy Football Matchups and Start/Sit 2020 Fantasy Football Projections & ADP Analysis Editor Note Fantasy Football Waiver Wire Pickups NFL Analysis RotoBaller - All Fantasy Sports Articles

Week 6 Defense (DEF) Streamers and Starts - 2020 Fantasy Tiers, Rankings

I was riding high after predicting eight out of the top ten defenses two weeks ago, but we saw some craziness this Sunday (along with some top tier defenses postponed or canceled), which caused only a 50% success rate in identifying top-10 units. Miami throttling San Francisco was truly a surprise, as was a Kansas City defense that hadn't allowed more than 20 points in any game this season allowing 40 points to Las Vegas.

I touched on this last week, but teams have now scored 3,900 points or 25.6 points per game so far this season and are gaining 367.4 yards per game which are both the most through the first five weeks of any season in the Super Bowl era. With offenses putting up video game numbers, it means that we can't continue to judge a defense solely by the number of points they allow or the number of yards they give up. Those numbers will naturally be higher than we're used to. Instead, we need to look for which offensive lines are truly weak points and which defenses will either be blitz-heavy or get consistent pressure with their pass rush. These are all incredibly important pieces of information in determining which defenses to play in any given week.

Remember that picking the right defense is not about identifying who will allow the fewest points, but who will cause the most turnovers or tally the most sacks since that has a higher correlation to weekly fantasy DST leaders. That means that, as much these rankings are about the talent on the defensive side of the ball, it is equally about taking advantage of the lack of talent on the offensive side. Starting the right defense every week can be a difference-maker, so remember to check back here during the week as I will make updates once we get more information on some of these injuries and also get a better sense of the weather for the game.

 

Week 6 Defenses To Start & Stream: Tiers & Rankings

Below are my Week 6 defense tiers and rankings, or which defenses to stream, start and target off the waiver wire for Week 5 of the NFL and fantasy football season. Our weekly tiered defense rankings are a guide to making waiver wire pickups to improve your lineups, and to decide which defenses to start, sit, target, avoid or stream for Week 6. I've broken out our defense rankings into tiers with analysis on each matchup. Some of these Week 6 defenses have good matchups and are not widely-owned, representing fantasy scoring opportunities if they are available on your league's waiver wire for a Week 6 pickup or add.

Returning for this year: Confidence Ratings (out of 15) - Since every league's DST scoring is different, projections don't always make a ton of sense. The confidence rating, which Bill Dubiel started last year, is a guideline for how much more I like one team over another instead of a straight point projection. A zero means "do not start," then the confidence rises from there. I take a lot of factors into account: opponent injuries, home-field advantage, weather (which will be updated during the week), etc. We still have only one game of in-season data to work with, so this week's rankings weigh schedule and personnel heavier than they will down the line.

Typically the top three tiers will be DSTs you should target, with Tier 4 being options in deep leagues and Tier 5 being desperation plays or good defenses in horrendous matchups.

 

Tier 1 Defenses

Rank Tier DST Week 6 Opponent Confidence Rating
1 1 Baltimore Ravens Defense @ PHI 13.4
2 1 New England Patriots Defense vs. DEN 12.9
3 1 Indianapolis Colts Defense vs. CIN 12.1
4 1 Pittsburgh Steelers Defense vs. CLE 11.6

Yes, Philadelphia is set to get a little bit healthier on offense with the returns of Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson, and they just put up 29 points on the Steelers, but they are also the third-largest underdog on the slate, according to Las Vegas.  The Eagles are still going to be hobbled on the offensive line, and Lane Johnson is getting a second opinion on his troublesome knee, which is an even bigger issue than their beleaguered receiving corps. Philadelphia has allowed the third-most sacks in the league, with 19 in only five games. The relentless pressure has also caused Carson Wentz to throw nine interceptions, which is the most in the league. As I mentioned above, I'm not really concerned if the Eagles are able to put up 20 points in this game since most teams are doing that relatively consistently this year. The Ravens defense hasn't been elite this year, ranking only 14th in pressure ate, but they are 6th in the NFL in sacks and should find themselves in the backfield consistently on Sunday, racking up sacks and causing a few interceptions. All of which makes them one of the best bets at DST in Week 6.

Holding the Chiefs offense in check the way the Patriots did during the first half last Monday night was a truly impressive feat; however, I'm not sure we should have expected much different from Bill Belichick. Yes, the Chiefs wound up with 26 points and the win, but their offense was stalled way more than usual. Belichick has always been an incredible defensive coach, but now his task gets significantly easier on Sunday, even if the Denver Broncos get Drew Lock back under center. The Patriots may only have six sacks on the season, but they are second in the NFL in pressure rate at 30.9% and third in the league with 26 quarterback hurries, numbers that are more impressive when you consider that three of the four teams the Patriots have played are in the top-13 in pressure allowed. Meanwhile, the Broncos were 28th in the league with 13 sacks allowed before missing this Sunday with a "BYE" and simply don't have the playmakers to scare these Patriots defenders. Yes, Jerry Jeudy will be good, but he's not somebody that is going to consistently get the better of Stephon Gilmore, who should be back from his COVID diagnosis on Sunday. I expect the Patriots to control this game and cause lots of problems for the Broncos offense.

The Colts are the second-largest favorite according to Vegas odds, but this game will hinge on the health of their defense. Star linebacker Darius Leonard missed Sunday's game against the Browns with a groin injury and, despite playing, fellow linebackers Anthony Walker and Bobby Okerele were banged up during the week and came into the game hobbled. As a result, the Colts gave up 385 yards to the Browns and lost 32-23. The Colts were able to pick Baker Mayfield off twice, but only got one sack against the Browns stalwart offensive line. It will be a much different story on Sunday against a Bengals offensive line that has been one of the worst in football, allowing a league-leading 22 sacks, including seven last week to a Ravens team that has consistently gotten less pressure on the quarterback than Indianapolis. That's good news for a Colts defense that is 8th in the NFL in pressure rate and 9th in quarterback hurry percentage. With Phillip Rivers more likely to find success against the Bengals Defense than he did against the Browns, and the Bengals likely playing this game without A.J. Green (who admittedly wasn't really productive when in) the Colts should get up early in this game and take advantage of a weak Bengals offensive line.

As I mentioned above, the Browns don't give up a lot of sacks, but Baker Mayfield is still one of the more turnover-prone quarterbacks in the league. Only 53.2% of his passes have been on target, according to Pro Football Reference, and he was one of the worst quarterbacks in the league last year when pressured. So far this season, he has only been pressured on 13.5% of dropbacks and has been hurried a total of 13 times in five games. That has allowed him to curtail some of his mistakes (even though there have been a few head-scratching throws); however, the Steelers have the third-highest blitz percentage at 38.7% and the best pressure rate in the league at 38.1%. Since the Steelers are second in the league with only 3.3 yards allowed per rush, the Browns may have to turn to Baker more often than they want. If he is not able to stand in a clean pocket, he's more liable to make mistakes that lead to turnovers. Pairing that with the likely low-scoring total in this division rivalry, and I like the Steelers as a high floor offense with a good chance at a defensive touchdown.

 

Tier 2 Defenses

Rank Tier DST Week 6 Opponent Confidence Rating
5 2 Miami Dolphins Defense  vs. NYJ 11.3
6 2 Washington Football Team Defense @ NYG 10.4
7 2 Tennessee Titans Defense vs. HOU 10.2
8 2 Los Angeles Rams Defense @ SF 9.8

The Dolphins defense just manhandled a near-full strength 49ers team, so it makes sense to have faith in them to put up a similarly inspired effort against an undermanned Jets team. Le'Veon Bell came back, but his usage continued to be questionable. Sam Darnold missed last week, as did left tackle Mekhi Bechton, but they may return this weekend which would be a boon for the Jets. The Dolphins as a unit have been fairly average on the year, ranking 13th in pressure rate and 16th in hurry percentage despite being tied for 7th in sacks. This pick is really more about the ineptitude of the Jets offense that is 25th in the league in sacks allowed and 28th in total yards.

If we're attacking the Jets, then we should also be attacking the other New Jersey (sorry, New York) team. The Giants put up 30+ points against the Cowboys, but that is more about Dallas featuring one of the worst defenses in the league than the Giants all of the sudden becoming a strong offense. Devonta Freeman lacks explosiveness and Darius Slayton gives the Giants one consistent weapon on the outside, but he doesn't have much help. Washington got Chase Young back this Sunday, which is great news for a pass rush that suffered a bit without him. However, on the year, they are 3rd in the league in interceptions, sixth in the league in sacks, 12th in quarterback hurry rate, and will now face a Giants team that is 27th in total yards and 26th in sacks allowed. I think Washington will be a surprisingly high-scoring defensive unit this week.

As of this writing, the Titans have only played one half of football in two weeks, but they look pretty good for a team that was a bit short-handed due to their COVID designations. Another week should allow them to get talented players that Kristian Fulton and Jeffrey Simmons back in the fold. Coming into Tuesday night's game, they are fourth in the league in pressure rate and first in quarterback knockdowns, despite having only four sacks. That tells me that a big week is coming, and who better to have it against than a Texans offensive line that is 28th in sacks allowed. The Titans defense is 7th in the league in drives ending in points, so I expect them to keep this from turning into a truly high-scoring affair, especially with Derrick Henry grinding down a weak Texans Defense, so I feel more confident in using the Titans this weekend.

As I mentioned above, the Dolphins defense held the 49ers to 259 yards of offense, picked off two passes, and registered five sacks. They've also consistently generated a worse pass rush than the Rams throughout the season. That makes me a little bullish on a Rams defense that is 9th in the NFL in pressure rate and tied for first in sacks. The 49ers are 29th in the league in sacks allowed and are clearly discombobulated right now as they recover from a slew of injuries, which means it's the wrong time to have to face Aaron Donald. The Rams defense has been steadily improving on the season, so I look for Los Angeles to take advantage of a beaten-down 49ers team.

 

Tier 3 Defenses

Rank Tier DST Week 6 Opponent Confidence Rating
9 3 New York Giants Defense vs. WAS 9.1
10 3 Kansas City Chiefs Defense @ BUF 8.9
11 3 Chicago Bears Defense @ CAR 8.4
12 3 New York Jets Defense @ MIA 8.1
13 3 San Francisco 49ers Defense  vs. LAR 7.9
14 3 Denver Broncos Defense @ NE 7.6
15 3 Cleveland Browns Defense @ PIT 7.1

OK, we all know the Giants defense is not that good, but Washington's offense may be worse. They benched Dwayne Haskins and got even worse production from Kyle Allen and Alex Smith. It was great seeing Smith back on the field, but he was hit constantly and he clearly doesn't have the mobility that he used to. The Giants are 11th in pressure rate and 12th in sacks, but this play is simply about attacking one of the worst offenses in the NFL. If Alex Smith starts again, which should be expected, the Giants really only have to worry about stopping Terry McLaurin and can go to work on an offensive line that is 31st in the NFL in sacks allowed with 21 in five games.

The Bills offense has been an elite offense this season, but they looked relatively mediocre in a first half without John Brown and both starting right guard Jon Feliciano and his back-up Brian Winters. That's not a great sign against a Chiefs defense that is 7th in the league in pressure rate. Josh Allen has gotten away with a few questionable throws heading into Tuesday night, and then had those decisions come back to bite him against the Titans on national television. The Chiefs were exposed against the Raiders on Sunday, but this is still a strong defensive unit that blitzes the 6th-most in the league and could cause problems for replacements on the Bills'offensive line. I think this game will be fast-paced and involve a fair share of sacks and turnovers.

The Bears defense has so far lacked the bite of recent seasons, ranking 18th in pressure rate, 16th in sacks, and 23rd in quarterback hurry percentage. They're also 12th in the number of drives ending in scores and will face off against a surprisingly strong Panthers offense that has the fourth-most yards in the league. The Panthers have allowed the 15th-most sacks in the NFL, so it's likely that the Bears bring down Bridgewater a couple of times, but this isn't the slam dunk game people would have assumed once Christian McCaffrey went down.

I know we don't want to pick on the Dolphins offense after what they just did to San Francisco, but we've seen enough of Ryan Fitzpatrick to know that turnovers are always on the table when he takes the field. The Jets' secondary has struggled, but they are 9th in the NFL with five interceptions, tied for third in quarterback knockdowns, and are 17th in the NFL in pressure rate, so they still have a little bit of pep, unlike the offensive side of the ball. Maybe I'm alone here, but I think we could just as easily see the Dolphins throw two interceptions and yield three-plus sacks as I can see them turn in another rout.

This hasn't been a great season for the 49ers, and they've lost some key pieces on the defensive line, but they are still 5th in the NFL in pressure rate and 7th in quarterback knockdowns, which means they're getting after the quarterback. The Rams have only allowed seven sacks total on the season and are third in the league in total yards, so they will score points and keep the 49ers from putting up a massive fantasy total, but we all know how Jared Goff's play diminishes when he's under pressure, so there's a chance we can see Bad Goff on Sunday in a messy game overall. I think the 49ers are too well-coached to come out and lay another egg.

An extra week means the Patriots will most likely be starting Cam Newton in this game instead of Jarrett Stidham, which is, as I'm sure you know, a massive difference. The Broncos defense is still 6th in the NFL in pressure rate and 5th in quarterback hurry percentage, but they banged up enough that I'm not sure they can contain a well-coached Patriots offense for the entire game. I just don't see a lot of upside in the matchup, especially with how the Broncos offense put their defense in bad positions throughout the entire game against the Jets. However, I think the Broncos can get to Cam a couple of times, and I can't envision this being a high-scoring, or exciting, football game.

The Browns have played really solid defense of late, including a strong game in limiting an admittedly average Colts offense. The Steelers have a near-elite offensive line that has allowed only six sacks in four games and should have little problem with a Browns pass rush that has a mediocre 19.6% pressure rate. However, the Browns do lead the league in quarterback hurries with 30, which could cause problems for Ben Roethlisberger since the veteran loves to hold the ball a little longer than he should. Chase Claypool was superb last week, but if Diontae Johnson misses next week, Claypool will really need to deliver against since JuJu Smith-Schuster will likely get a heavy dose of Denzel Ward. I expect this to be a grinding, low-scoring game that should keep the fantasy DST floors relatively safe.

 

Tier 4 Defenses

Rank Tier DST Week 6 Opponent Confidence Rating
16 4 Buffalo Bills Defense vs KC 6.9
17 4 Green Bay Packers Defense @ TB 6.3
18 4 Carolina Panthers Defense vs. CHI 6.1
19 4 Cincinnati Bengals Defense @ IND 5.3
20 4 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Defense vs. GB 4.9
21 4 Arizona Cardinals Defense @ DAL 4.5
22 4 Jacksonville Jaguars Defense vs. DET 4.2

 

Tier 5 Defenses

Rank Tier DST Week 6 Opponent Confidence Rating
23 5 Houston Texans Defense @ TEN 3.8
24 5 Philadelphia Eagles Defense vs. BAL 3.1
25 5 Detroit Lions Defense @ JAX 2.7
26 5 Dallas Cowboys Defense vs ARI 2.1
27 5 Atlanta Falcons Defense @ MIN 1.2
28 5 Minnesota Vikings Defense vs. ATL 0.9
29 5 New Orleans Saints Defense BYE 0.4
30 5 Las Vegas Raiders Defense BYE 0.3
31 5 Los Angeles Chargers Defense BYE 0.0
32 5 Seattle Seahawks Defense BYE 0.0


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Check out all of RotoBaller's fantasy football rankings. Staff rankings are updated regularly for all positions and include standard formats, PPR scoring, tiered rankings and dynasty leagues.




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NFL Survivor Pool Picks (Week 6) - Targets and Avoids

Five weeks into the season and we're starting to see who some teams really are. We already knew the Jets and Giants were awful, but are the Rams actually good? They're 4-1 with all their wins coming against the NFC East and their lone loss against the Bills. It'll also be real interesting to see how the Saints play in the coming weeks with Drew Brees unable to zip a throw in.

Underdogs went 8-6 against the spread with four outright upsets. The biggest was the Raiders beating the Chiefs which knocked out around 25 percent of remaining entrants in pools. The Dolphins beating the Niners did a little damage too. My survivor plays went 5-1 straight-up. None of my avoids lost but the Saints and Seahawks both had to come back late to win.

This is a difficult week with only three teams favored by a touchdown or more, but there is one play I really like and it's a team you won't want to choose again. There is no Thursday night football this week due to COVID rescheduling. The Chargers, Raiders, Saints, and Seahawks are on bye.

 

Survivor League Week 6

Teams favored by a touchdown or more in Week 6; Colts -8 vs. Bengals, Ravens -8 @ Eagles, and Dolphins -8 vs. Jets.

If you're reading this article on Thursday or later, these lines are from Tuesday. Check the current spreads and see how the line moved.

I also give out my three top plays against the spread. That can be found at the bottom of the column.

 

Top Survivor Picks for Week 6

Lions -3.5 @ Jaguars

You won't get another chance to take the Lions. They fit one of my favorite gambling trends; road favorite off a bye. The trend is 63-26 since 2002. RJ Bell explained why the trend is so successful.

"The team that's traveling is clearly better. Because you can't be favored on the road unless you're clearly better. But because you're clearly better, you have the distractions on the road. You might be looking ahead. You might be a little beat up from last week. Whatever it is, it's going to cause you not to play your best game; you're more susceptible to a team you think you should easily beat, even more susceptible on the road. That's why road favorites are so dangerous. Well, when you have a bye, all that stuff goes out the window. If you haven't played for two weeks, you're not going to look ahead. You're going to be focused on that team. You're not going to be tired. All the things that make traveling tough, you have that total focus."

The Lions are 1-3 and have held a double-digit lead in all three of their losses. The Jaguars are who we thought they were before the season; a bad team. They surprised many with their Week 1 against the Colts but have since lost four in a row. The stats point to Jacksonville but the eye test points to Detroit. If the Lions shore up their defense, particularly in the red zone and on third down, they could run away with this one.

Lions 27 - Jaguars 16

 

Colts -8 vs. Bengals

Cincinnati better figure out a way to protect Joe Burrow because he's been getting crushed. Now they face a ferocious Colts Defense that's first in opponent yards per play. Phillip Rivers was awful Sunday but should rebound against an average Bengals Defense. They allow 159 rushing yards per game, 29th in the league. That will allow Indy to go back to the running game to open up the passing game. Colts will control this through and through.

Colts 24 - Bengals 13

 

Ravens -8 @ Eagles

As I keep saying, Baltimore beats up on bad teams. Are the Eagles bad though? It's unclear because their win over the 49ers two weeks ago doesn't seem so good after they got blown out by Miami. Philly is off a tough loss to Pittsburgh in which their defensive front looked better, but will they be able to stop the Ravens rushing attack? They're 17th in that department and even if they do slow down Baltimore, their offense won't be able to keep up. Baltimore is fifth in opponent yards per play, and fifth in getting off the field on third down.

Ravens 30 - Eagles 20

 

Panthers -2.5 vs. Bears

Chicago is the most overrated 4-1 team I can ever remember. They should've lost to the Lions, barely beat the Giants, should've lost to Falcons, were a no-show against the Colts, and somehow beat the Bucs last Thursday. Their offense is bottom-ten in yards per play, third-down conversions, touchdowns in the red zone. But their defense is top-ten in all those statistical categories. But the defense will have their hands full with the Panthers offense. They rank sixth in yards per play and are sixth in converting on third down. Teddy Bridgewater has looked better and more comfortable each week. If they can put up 20 points in this one, they should win.

Panthers 23 - Bears 17

 

Top Survivor Picks to Avoid 

Dolphins -8 vs. Jets

You probably think I'm crazy to lean toward the Jets here but, Miami is off their biggest win of the season. This is a divisional game with an over/under at 47.5. That's pretty low for current NFL standards with 59 percent of games going over the total. A lower total means less points will be scored which gives you a lean to the underdog. The stats are pretty even for these teams with Miami's defense ranking 27th in opponent yards per play and the Jets, 22nd.

Dolphins 23 - Jets 21

 

Vikings -3.5 vs. Falcons

Minnesota may be an appealing survivor pick because they're playing the putrid Falcons and when would you be able to take Minnesota again? Atlanta is also off firing their general manager and head coach. Their owner won't even commit to Matt Ryan in the future. The team is a mess. But there are just too many question marks with not only the Falcons but Vikings too. How will Minnesota respond after a gut-wrenching last-second loss in Seattle. Their defense seems to be much improved in the past two weeks but the Falcons will throw, throw, and throw. I don't trust the Vikings in this spot.

Vikings 31 - Falcons 30

 

Best Bets for Week 6

  • Lions -3.5 vs. Jaguars - Road favorite off a bye.
  • Panthers -2.5 vs. Bears - Chicago will get exposed in this spot.
  • 49ers +3.5 vs. Rams - Niners have lost two in a row, and looked awful Sunday. Rams haven't beat anyone good yet. I'll take the home team and the hook.

 

Running Totals

  • Last week: 2-1
  • 2020 season total: 7-8
  • 2019 season total: 23-26-2


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NFL Survivor Pool Picks (Week 5) - Targets and Avoids

A month into the season and coaching is somehow getting worse and worse. The Chargers were in every position to upset the Bucs but Anthony Lynn had them run the ball up 24-7, with under a minute to go from their own 10. The Chargers proceeded to fumble and Tom Brady converted for a touchdown. 24-14 at halftime and that was it. If you've been reading this column for some years, you know I've been an early Bill O'Brien hater and been saying for four years he shouldn't be the coach.

Favorites went 10-5 straight up in Week 4 and 7-7-1 against the spread. My best bets went 1-2 against the spread, survivor plays went 3-0 and avoids went 0-3. The Ravens and Rams were the plays in survivor pools last week. LA gave everyone a scare but came through. The 49ers were the biggest favorite to lose outright.

This week we have another full slate kicking off with the Bucs and Bears Thursday night. Bye weeks also begin with the Lions and Packers off.

 

Survivor League Week 5

Teams favored by a touchdown or more in Week 5; Chiefs -13.5 vs. Raiders, Ravens -13.5 vs. Bengals, Cowboys -9.5 vs. Giants, Rams -8 @ Washington, Seahawks -7 vs. Vikings, Saints -7.5 vs. Chargers, Steelers -7 vs. Eagles, and Cardinals -7 @ Jets.

If you're reading this article on Thursday or later, these lines are from Tuesday. Check the current spreads and see how the line moved.

I also give out my three top plays against the spread. That can be found at the bottom of the column.

 

Top Survivor Picks for Week 5

RAVENS -13.5 vs. Bengals

Baltimore beats up on bad teams. They get into trouble when facing elite teams. The Ravens, who average 160 rushing yards per game, third most, will be able to run the ball all over Cincy. The Bengals allow 158 yards on the ground per game, 27th in the league.

Joe Burrow is going to be very good, but he's taking way too many big hits. Baltimore will blitz Burrow and get to the rookie.

Ravens 31- Bengals 14

 

CHIEFS -13.5 vs. Raiders

Kansas City is the best team in football. They rarely make mistakes, and when they do, you better make them pay. Just ask New England. The Raiders don't have the offense or defense to keep pace with the defending Super Bowl champions.

Chiefs 37 - Raiders 21

 

Rams -8 @ WASHINGTON

Are the Rams actually good? Their three wins have come against the Cowboys, Eagles, Giants, all NFC East teams. Their lone loss was against Buffalo where they fell down 28-3, then scored 29 unanswered, and then lost. It's too early to know about the Rams. The fact that they couldn't blow out the Giants was telling though. Jared Goff was 25-32 for 200 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions. 55 of those passing yards came on a Cooper Kupp catch-and-run. Goff is not good when facing a good pass rush, which Washington has. He's also bad in cold weather, which it shouldn't be cold Sunday, but there is a chance of rain.

Washington is 30th in yards per play and Aaron Donald is going to constantly pressure Dwayne Haskins. However, Washington's defense will make some plays, but the Rams pull it out late.

Rams 24 - Washington 19

 

STEELERS -7 vs. Eagles

The Eagles offense is abysmal. They're averaging 4.5 yards per play, tied for last with the Jets. The Steelers are off a bye (COVID postponement) and have a defense that's second in opponent yards per play with 4.8. Pittsburgh's offense is average and Philly's defense does rank in the top-five in yards per play and third down's. But how much can their defense hold up against a legitimate two-dimensional offense with an offense that stinks?

Steelers 21 - Eagles 13

 

COWBOYS -9 vs. Giants

The Giants Defense somehow ranks sixth in opponent yards per play, but now they face a statistically great offense. Dak Prescott has been putting up such good numbers, because their defense is so bad. The Giants offense is 29th in yards per play, 27th in third-down conversion percentage, and dead last in scoring touchdowns in the red zone. If there's a game the Cowboys Defense can play well, it's this one.

Cowboys 28 - Giants 10

 

Cardinals -7 @ JETS

Can it get any worse for the Jets? Their loss to practice squad quarterback Brett Rypien on a short week was embarrassing. Sam Darnold gave the team a chance, but the defense couldn't get off the field and make the stops when they needed to. Now the defense faces a dynamic dual-threat quarterback, Kyler Murray, and plethora of weapons.

Arizona's defense is average but if the Jets can't convert touchdowns in the red zone, like they couldn't last week, then this game is over.

Cardinals 23 - Jets 14

 

Top Survivor Picks to Avoid 

SAINTS -7.5 vs. Chargers

The Chargers put up a really good fight Sunday in Tampa Bay and they should have won. This game in April seemed daunting but without fans on a Monday night in New Orleans, it seems to be just another game. Drew Brees's arm strength is shot and the Chargers Defense has looked good. They're above average in opponent yards per play and third-down conversion percentage, but they force field goals in the red zone ranking third in that category. The Saints are 12th in scoring touchdowns in the red zone. That's the key to this game.

A7.5 is too much to lay especially considering how much Justin Herbert has been improving by game.

Saints 27 - Chargers 26

 

SEAHWKS -7 vs. Vikings

Seattle has finally taken the leash off Russell Wilson and their offense has looked dominant. Wilson's rainbow throws are pure beauty. Their offense is second in yards per play and they're averaging 35.5 points per game, second in NFL. They should have no problem against a Vikings Defense that ranks 25th in opponent yards per play. But Seattle's defense has not shown me anything. They're 29th in opponent yards per play and 30th in getting off the field on third down's. The Vikings have two very good offensive weapons in Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson that will expose the Seahawks secondary.

Seahawks 38 - Vikings 35

 

TEXANS -6 vs. Jaguars

Houston will either blow out Jacksonville or lose a close one. They have a new interim head coach in Romeo Crennel so this game is really a crapshoot.

Texans 24 - Jaguars 17

 

Best Bets for Week 4

  • Vikings +7 @ Seattle - Notes above. Backdoor cover will be wide open late too if they're down two scores.
  • Washington +8 vs. Rams - Washington's front-seven will keep them in this game.
  • Panthers +2.5 @ Falcons - I'm getting points against a team that is nothing short of a mess. The Falcons are poorly coached, can't play defense, and make one boneheaded play after another.

 

Running Totals

  • Last week: 1-2
  • 2020 season total: 5-7
  • 2019 season total: 23-26-2


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Week 5 Defense (DEF) Streamers and Starts - 2020 Fantasy Tiers, Rankings

After successfully predicting eight out of the top ten defenses last week, we may be starting to hit our groove. Some of them felt a bit like gimmes, but the Jets in the top-10 was the subject of criticism and watching the Bills round into form a bit was also nice. The only two outliers here were my faith in the Seahawks Defense to capitalize on Ryan Fitzpatrick's mistakes, and my belief that the Cardinals Defense could curtail the Christian McCaffrey-less Panthers. However, the Cam Newton news on Saturday (after the rankings were published) also drastically shifted the defensive landscape.

Now four weeks in, certain stats have started to stabilize and we have a good idea that the limited preseason may be impacting defenses more than offenses. Entering Monday night, teams had scored 3,151 points, which was already the most through the first month of any season in the Super Bowl era. On top of that, there has been a combined average of 13.65 penalties per game, down from an average of 18.54 through the same stretch last season. All of this is causing offenses to put up video game numbers, which means that we can't continue to judge a defense solely by the number of points they allow. Those numbers will naturally be higher than we're used to. Instead, we need to look for which offensive lines are truly weakpoints and which defenses will either be blitz-heavy or get consistent pressure with their pass rush. These are all incredibly important pieces of information in determining which defenses to play in any given week.

Remember that picking the right defense is not about identifying who will allow the fewest points, but who will cause the most turnovers or tally the most sacks since that has a higher correlation to weekly fantasy DST leaders. That means that, as much these rankings are about the talent on the defensive side of the ball, it is equally about taking advantage of the lack of talent on the offensive side. Starting the right defense every week can be a difference-maker, so remember to check back here during the week as I will make updates once we get more information on some of these injuries and also get a better sense of the weather for the game.

 

Week 5 Defenses To Start & Stream: Tiers & Rankings

Below are my Week 5 defense tiers and rankings, or which defenses to stream, start and target off the waiver wire for Week 5 of the NFL and fantasy football season. Our weekly tiered defense rankings are a guide to making waiver wire pickups to improve your lineups, and to decide which defenses to start, sit, target, avoid or stream for Week 5. I've broken out our defense rankings into tiers with analysis on each matchup. Some of these Week 5 defenses have good matchups and are not widely-owned, representing fantasy scoring opportunities if they are available on your league's waiver wire for a Week 5 pickup or add.

Returning for this year: Confidence Ratings (out of 15) - Since every league's DST scoring is different, projections don't always make a ton of sense. The confidence rating, which Bill Dubiel started last year, is a guideline for how much more I like one team over another instead of a straight point projection. A zero means "do not start," then the confidence rises from there. I take a lot of factors into account: opponent injuries, home-field advantage, weather (which will be updated during the week), etc. We still have only one game of in-season data to work with, so this week's rankings weigh schedule and personnel heavier than they will down the line.

Typically the top three tiers will be DSTs you should target, with Tier 4 being options in deep leagues and Tier 5 being desperation plays or good defenses in horrendous matchups.

 

Tier 1 Defenses

Rank Tier DST Week 2 Opponent Confidence Rating
1 1 Pittsburgh Steelers Defense  vs.PHI 14.1
2 1 New England Patriots Defense vs. DEN 13.4
3 1 Baltimore Ravens Defense vs. CIN 12.1
4 1 Los Angeles Rams Defense @ WAS 11.4

Having a game postponed due to positive COVID tests is never a good thing, but it did give the Steelers an extra few days to gameplan for Carson Wentz and the Eagles. Coming into Sunday's victory over to the 49ers, the Eagles offense was a shell of itself. Repeated injuries to their offensive line, as well as to Dallas Goedert, DeSean Jackson, and Jalen Reagor left Wentz with practice squad wide receivers. Even though the Eagles scored 25 points and won the game on Sunday night, they only gained 267 yards of total offense against a defense that has been decimated by injuries. Alshon Jeffrey may come back next week, but he's going to be incredibly rusty, and the Eagles offensive line will still be the walking wounded, especially with the revelation that Lane Johnson will have to play the entire season through injury. Through four games, the Eagles are allowing a tremendous amount of pressure, tied for 29th in the NFL in sacks allowed, and the Steelers lead the league in blitz percentage (51.2%) and pressure rate (46.5%). San Francisco was able to get to Wentz three times despite losing yet another defensive lineman (Ezekiel Ansah) to injury, so I expect the Steelers to make his life miserable this weekend.

Holding the Chiefs offense in check the way the Patriots did during the first half on Monday night was a truly impressive feat; however, I'm not sure we should have expected much different from Bill Belichick. Yes, the Chiefs wound up with 26 points and the win, but their offense was stalled way more than usual. Belichick has always been an incredible defensive coach, but now his task gets significantly easier on Sunday against Brett Rypien (most likely) and the Denver Broncos. Fresh off of throwing three interceptions and almost giving the game away against the Jets, Rypien looks like fresh meat to the Patriots coaching staff. The Patriots may only have six sacks on the season, but they are sixth in the NFL in pressure rate at 26.9% and seventh in the league with 19 quarterback hurries, numbers that are more impressive when you consider that three of the four teams the Patriots have played are in the top-13 in pressure allowed. Meanwhile, the Broncos are 28th in the league with 13 sacks allowed and simply don't have the playmakers to scare these Patriots defenders. Yes, Jerry Jeudy will be good, but he's not somebody that is going to consistently get the better of Stephon Gilmore right now. I expect the Patriots to control this game and cause lots of problems for Rypien. UPDATE: Stephone Gilmore recently tested positive for COVID, which will likely downgrade this defense, slightly, when I update the rankings after Thursday's game. 

The Ravens surprisingly allowed 343 total yards to Washington in their 31-17 victory on Sunday, coming away with only one sack and one turnover against Dwayne Haskins, who had been on the verge of demotion before the game began. To make matters more troubling, Washington is currently 25th in the league with 13 sacks allowed, so the fact that the Ravens couldn't get to Haskins often is mildly concerning and a microcosm of their larger issues. On the season, the Ravens are tied for a disappointing 15th in the league with nine sacks and are 22nd with only a 20.4% pressure rate. Those numbers simply aren't going to do it. However, the Bengals may be just what the doctor ordered. Despite their victory against Jacksonville, and Joe Mixon's big day, the Bengals offensive line has been horrendous. They get very little push in the running game and are 31st in the league with 15 sacks allowed. I'm betting on the talent the Ravens have on defense, and if they can't come away with multiple sacks this weekend, it may be time to move them out of the elite tier.

After getting shellacked in the first half against the Bills, the Rams defense has really started to wake up. They were getting no pressure on the quarterback early in the season, but are now fifth in the NFL in sacks and 17th in pressure rate, which is a major improvement over the last two weeks. They now get to face the aforementioned Washington offense, which should be no contest for this Rams defense. With Jalen Ramsey more than capable of making life hard on Terry McLaurin, Haskins will need to consistently move the ball with his other options on offense. I simply don't seem that happening against a Rams defense that is playing fast and hungry. They got to Daniel Jones five times on Sunday, and I expect more of the same this week. Remember, Dwayne Haskins was on the verge of being benched for Kyle Allen. One mediocre game doesn't all of the sudden make him a much better quarterback.

 

Tier 2 Defenses

Rank Tier DST Week 5 Opponent Confidence Rating
5 2 San Francisco 49ers Defense  vs. MIA 11.1
6 2 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Defense @ CHI 10.6
7 2 Indianapolis Colts Defense vs. CLE 10.1
8 2 Arizona Cardinals Defense @ NYJ 9.8

As I mentioned above, the 49ers just suffered yet another defensive injury, but they are also second in the NFL with a 30.9% pressure rate and held the Eagles to under 300 yards of total offense. The good news for the 49ers is that there is a chance they get linebacker Dre Greenlaw and cornerbacks Emmanuel Moseley, K'Waun Williams, and Ahkello Witherspoon back in time for the game against Miami. While those won't help their decimated pass rush, getting some starters back in the secondary will be crucial for a match-up against pass-happy Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Dolphins. The Harvard graduate as thrown the third-most interceptions in the league, but the Dolphins have only allowed six sacks per game, so that San Francisco pressure rate will be put to the test. I expect the 49ers to grind this game out on the ground, not giving Miami a chance to run as many plays as they did this weekend. That will lead to this being a low-scoring game with a Fitz interception or two thrown into the mix for a solid overall game at the office of the Niners defense.

While the Chargers put up 31 points against the Bucs on Sunday, only 24 of those came against the defense, and, as mentioned above, scoring is up across the league, so we can't judge a defense only by the amount of points they give up. The Bucs limited the Chargers to 324 total yards; yet, 125 of them came on two touchdowns passes by Justin Herbert. Now, those still count, but that means, outside of two big plays, the Bucs held the Chargers to 199 yards on 48 plays, or 4.1 yards per play. The only reason I bring that up is that the Chicago Bears with Nick Foles are not the kind of explosive offense to take advantage of the Bucs' tendency to give up big plays. However, they also aren't the type of offense to give up a ton of sacks, as they held the Colts high-pressure defense to only one. They also only put up 11 points in a loss. I don't think the Bears are going to do much damage on offense and the Bucs are currently fourth in the NFL in sacks and 3rd in pressure rate (29.9%), so they'll likely get to Foles once or twice and at least pressure him into some bad throws since I expect the Bears to be playing from behind.

Losing Nick Chubb is a major blow for the Browns offense. Yes, they still have Kareem Hunt, but those two as a tandem never gave the defense a chance to breathe. While Hunt is explosive, he doesn't have Chubb's power inside and isn't as effective in goal-line situations. The rushing offense is absolutely crucial to the Browns' success because it puts less pressure on the erratic play of Baker Mayfield. In Sunday's win, the Browns ran for 307 of their 508 total yards. That's going to be a lot harder to do against a Colts defense that is 6th in the NFL with 3.6 yards allowed per attempt and tops in the league by allowing only 26.7% of drives end in points. If the Browns aren't able to control the game on the ground and use it to set up play-action then Mayfield is going to have to put more weight on his own shoulders against a Colts defense that is 4th in the league in pressure rate (27.9%), tied for 8th in sacks, and tied for 10th in quarterback hurries. A game where Baker throws more usually means more interceptions and less high-scoring offense, especially against a defense that isn't allowing many points to begin with.

It's pretty clear after four weeks that you play your defenses against the Jets. Even the Browns Defense that had lost nearly every impact starter other than Bradley Chubb still put up a reasonable performance. Believe it or not, this Cardinals defense is better. They are tied for 6th in the league with 11 sacks and are 15th in drives that end in a score. They're relatively average in both rushing and passing defense, but they have been a bit weaker against the run this year,  a fact which shouldn't hurt them much against Frank Gore and the Jets. The Cardinals will also likely get safety Budda Baker back this week, which only makes them a stronger play. On the other side of the ball, I simply can't see the Jets Defense stopping Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins, provided the veteran receiver is healed enough from a foot injury that clearly hampered him against Carolina. If the Cardinals are scoring points, that will put the Jets in catch-up mode, and they simply don't have the offensive line to consistently protect Darnold in that situation. The young signal-caller has made some great plays this year, but is also making more head-scratching mistakes as a result of his dismal supporting cast. I expect more of the latter on Sunday.

 

Tier 3 Defenses

Rank Tier DST Week 5 Opponent Confidence Rating
9 3 Buffalo Bills Defense @ TEN 9.5
10 3 Kansas City Chiefs Defense vs. LV 9.4
11 3 Tennessee Titans Defense vs. BUF 8.5
12 3 Cleveland Browns Defense vs. IND 8.2
13 3 New Orleans Saints Defense vs. LAC 7.9
14 3 Denver Broncos Defense @ NE 7.4
15 3 Houston Texans Defense vs. JAX 7.1

The Bills defense is starting to come around. They kept Raiders star Josh Jacobs in check for much of Sunday afternoon and stifled an admittedly banged up Raiders offense until a garbage-time touchdown at the end of the game. However, this is a different task. The Bills are still only 16th in the NFL in yards allowed per carry with 4.4, and the Titans will bring bruiser Derrick Henry with them on Sunday. Now, the Titans offensive line hasn't been great and they're currently 27th in the league with only 3.8 yards per attempt, but we know Henry's talent and the Bills also lost linebacker Matt Milano to injury on Sunday, so if he's unable to play, this advantage swings even more to Tennessee. With news that wide receiver A.J. Brown is on track to return Week 5, this becomes a more dangerous Titans offense. Considering they've only allowed four sacks on the year, I don't expect the Bills to get to Ryan Tannehill that much, which means this could be a slow, low-scoring game that won't yield too many fantasy points. UPDATE: With more Titans testing positive for COVID, this game has a real chance to be postponed or outright canceled (with Tennessee forfeiting) since the Titans have already had a bye. Get a back-up option ready. 

The Chiefs just came out of that Monday night game with a dominating win over the Patriots, even though it was a version without Cam Newton. However, the Chiefs defense is 9th in the NFL in pressure rate, fifth in the NFL in sacks, and third in interceptions. That opportunistic nature is going to be important against a Raiders offensive line that's banged up and looked to tire in the second half against the Bills. What's more, it's unclear if the Raiders will get Henry Ruggs or Bryan Edwards back for this game, leaving Darren Waller and Hunter Renfrow as the main pass-catching options. If that's the case, the Chiefs defense may move up in the rankings, but I think Derek Carr will be throwing in catch-up mode all game long, which will lead to garbage points, but also a lot of turnovers and sacks.

The Bills offense has been on fire to start the season, but they've also not played a defense that is the same caliber as the Titans. Add to that that the Titans had extra days to prepare for this Bills team, and you could see the first rough Sunday for this Buffalo offense. The Bills offensive line is without Jon Feliciano and also lost Brian Winters on Sunday; that's not great for a line that is already 18th in the league in sacks allowed. The Titans may only have four sacks, but they are 5th in the NFL in pressure rate and second in quarterback knockdowns, so they are likely going to be in Josh Allen's face. The quarterback's near-injury and horrible fourth-quarter sack on Sunday show that there are still chinks in his armor. If the Titans can get pressure on him, they can turn some of that Hero Ball mentality into some turnovers, which will be crucial in what should be a low-scoring game. UPDATE: With more Titans testing positive for COVID, this game has a real chance to be postponed or outright canceled (with Tennessee forfeiting) since the Titans have already had a bye. Get a back-up option ready. 

The Browns defense is decidedly average when it comes to pressure rate (16th) and quarterback knockdowns (30th), but they are tops in the league in quarterback hurries and 8th in yards allowed per rushing attempt at 3.9 yards. Those last two stats are particularly important in this game because Phillip Rivers remains relatively immobile, and the Colts will try to win this on the ground. TY Hilton has looked like a shell of his former self and has yet to top 87 yards in a game since Andrew Luck retired. If the Colts can't get Jonathan Taylor going against a solid run defense, then I expect a fair share of stalled drives and punts. The Colts offensive line is good enough to prevent many sacks, but I expect an interception from the Browns and a really ugly game without many points scored.

The Saints secondary is beyond banged up right now, and Justin Herbert actually looks pretty good. However, the loss of Austin Ekeler hurts the Chargers offense enough to keep the Saints in play in deeper leagues. The Saints had done a decent job containing the Lions, limiting them to 281 yards on the day, 112 of which came on two scoring drives when the game was essentially already decided. Still, this is a team that's 27th in the league in pressure rate and 28th in drives ending in points allowed with 53.1%, so there is cause for concern. If the Saints secondary, particularly Marshon Lattimore, can come back healthy on Sunday, then I like them to take advantage of a banged-up Chargers team and a rookie quarterback. If not, I would stay away from this game.

This ranking is assuming that Cam Newton misses another week since he was diagnosed with COVID-19, which has a 14-day quarantine period. With Brian Hoyer or Jarrett Stidham under center, this offense simply isn't scary. The Broncos defense is banged up enough that I'm not sure they can contain a well-coached Patriots offense for the entire game, so I just don't see a lot of upside in the matchup, especially with how the Broncos offense but their defense in bad positions throughout the entire game against the Jets. However, I think a few turnovers are in store with those either of those players at quarterback, and I can't envision this being a high-scoring, or exciting, football game.

Don't look now, but we have a Replacement Coach Narrative. After the Texans fired Bill O'Brien, there was a report that the Texans players felt a sense of relief. They will now be playing for Romeo Crennell, the defensive coordinator, who appears well-loved in the locker room. However, that's not reason enough to want to play them. What is the reason is that the Jaguars are 27th in the league in sacks allowed and the Texans are tied for 10th in the league in sacks. The Texans blitz the 7th most in the league, which could confuse a mediocre Jaguars offensive line and cause issues for Gardner Minshew, who already has four interceptions on the year. I expect the Texans to be fired up and think they could dominate the Jaguars in this game.

 

Tier 4 Defenses

Rank Tier DST Week 5 Opponent Confidence Rating
16 4 Dallas Cowboys Defense vs. NYG 7.0
17 4 New York Jets Defense vs. ARI 6.6
18 4 Seattle Seahawks Defense vs. MIN 6.5
19 4 Chicago Bears Defense vs. TB 5.2
20 4 Philadelphia Eagles Defense @ PIT 4.9
21 4 Washington Football Team Defense vs. BAL 4.5
22 4 Miami Dolphins Defense @ SF 4.2

Yes, I know the Cowboys are playing the Giants, but they just gave up over 500 yards to the Browns and have given up 1,722 yards through four games, over 430 per game. The fact that they're playing the Giants gives them some upside for sacks and turnovers, but this is also a really bad defense that could give up 20+ points easily in this game.

The Jets run defense is solid, but they're secondary is not equipped to handle Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins. They may notch a sack or two, which can keep them interesting in super deep leagues, but this isn't a match-up I would be targeting.

Jamaal Adams appears to be another week away from returning, so that makes the Seahawks secondary vulnerable to Adam Thielen and emerging Justin Jefferson. I expect the Seahawks to score at will against Minnesota, which will lead to lots of garbage time points and yards for the Vikings offense. The Seahawks will likely get enough sacks to keep them in deep league consideration, but I don't love the play this week.

The Bears defense simply doesn't have the bite it's had in year's past. They are 28th in the league in pressure rate and have a mediocre eight sacks over four games. They rarely blitz and simply aren't getting pressure with their front four, especially against a Bucs offensive line that has allowed five total sacks in four games. With the way Tom Brady just torched a better Chargers secondary, I wouldn't feel comfortable lining up the Bears against him this week, even with Chris Godwin likely to miss another week.

The Eagles defense woke up against an injured Niners team on Sunday night, and I think this defense is one to keep an eye on now that they're starting to get healthy. I'm just not interested in them this week. Facing Nick Mullens, Jerrick McKinnon, and the Niners, even with George Kittle, is much different than facing this Steelers offense. Additionally, I think the Steelers defense is going to have a field day with the Eagles offensive line, which will likely lead to turnovers and a lot of bad spots for the Eagles defense. That's never good for fantasy production.

Michael Thomas is likely to return this week, and the Chargers just allowed 38 points to a Tampa Bay offense without Chris Godwin. Are you really confident in rolling them out against a fully healthy Saints offense?

Washington gets a tremendous amount of pressure, which keeps them from the bottom tier, but this isn't going to be a game you want to play them. They are banged up on the defensive line and don't have the secondary talent to keep this Ravens team from running up 30+ points.

The Dolphins squeeze into the bottom of this tier because we still don't know who is suiting up for San Francisco. If Jimmy Garropollo, Raheem Mostert, and/or Deebo Samuel come back, this is an entirely different offense and one that I am not comfortable attacking with the Dolphins and their mediocre pass rush.

 

Tier 5 Defenses

Rank Tier DST Week 5 Opponent Confidence Rating
23 5 Los Angeles Chargers Defense @ NO 3.9
24 5 Atlanta Falcons Defense vs. CAR 3.1
25 5 Cincinnati Bengals Defense @ BAL 2.5
26 5 Jacksonville Jaguars Defense @ HOU 2.4
27 5 Carolina Panthers Defense vs. ATL 1.5
28 5 New York Giants Defense @ DAL 0.8
29 5 Minnesota Vikings Defense @ SEA 0.4
30 5 Las Vegas Raiders Defense @ KC 0.3
31 5 Detroit Lions Defense BYE 0.0
32 5 Green Bay Packers Defense BYE 0.0


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Check out all of RotoBaller's fantasy football rankings. Staff rankings are updated regularly for all positions and include standard formats, PPR scoring, tiered rankings and dynasty leagues.




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Low-Usage Running Backs Bound For A Explosion

If you're not familiar with Expected Points (EP), here's a quick definition per RotoViz: EP are the number of fantasy points that a target or carry should score based on game situation (down, distance, and field position, based on similar past plays). They transform raw opportunities (carries and targets) directly into fantasy points. As we know what players actually did on the field, we can calculate how they performed with their opportunities and get their Fantasy Points Over Expectation (FPOE). FPOE accounts for both yards and touchdowns in a single, catch-all number.

Adding EP (opportunity) and FPOE (efficiency) together, we arrive at the player's actual fantasy-point outcome.

Today, I'm taking a look at some running backs that are currently being underutilized by their teams (that doesn't mean they should be giving them more opportunities, though), and exploring both the EP and FPOE they are being given and generating, trying to spot potential breakdowns bound to happen during the next few weeks. Let's go analyze!

 

Running Backs Bound For A Explosion

To write this article I have fetched all data from the first four weeks of the 2020 season, including the last TNF game between Chicago and Tampa Bay. After I got all of those season-stats, I filtered them in order to find interesting players that:

  1. Have not played a super-low volume of snaps through the first four weeks of the season, combined (so we get rid of injured players, players with just a few snaps on a single game, etc.)
  2. Are not logging a lot of snaps per game (player on secondary or tertiary roles, not heavily used)
  3. Rostered in at least one of 20 Yahoo! leagues (avoiding mostly-irrelevant fantasy players)

Even without applying a positional filter, you can clearly see how running backs populate the chart above. All of them except one (WR Cordarrelle Patterson) are tailbacks, and even Patterson can be considered a rusher as he's used as an RB/WR hybrid by the Bears.

All of the players within the applied filters have also featured on snaps that were expected to generate 0.21+ EP each. Just for context, every fantasy player generating 0.2+ EP (including those heavily used and with high snaps per game amounts) is generating 11+ PPR points and the whole group is averaging 17+ PPR points per game. In other words, give the players above more snaps and opportunities, and they will most probably thrive.

Let's break down some names with the potential to break out during the next few weeks if they find a way to get more reps.

 

Cordarrelle Patterson (CHI) - 7% Rostered

Patterson entered the waiver wire conversation a couple of games ago when Tarik Cohen fell injured and was lost for the season. His usage hasn't changed a lot, truth be told, but he should see more opportunities as the season advances if Chicago doesn't add any player to its backfield.

While the snaps have been limited (10, 14, 11, 11, and 15), the EP that Cordarrelle has been given have been the most among the players highlighted above. The problem with Patterson, and his potential breakout, is that he has played way below expectations with a negative -0.16 FPOE per snap this season, which means he's generating 0.42 PPR points per snap instead of his expected 0.59.

Don't get that wrong, though. Those 0.42 rank as the third-highest mark among the players above even widely underperforming. If Patterson keeps getting opportunities as valuable as those he's seen so far through his five games, odds are he positive regresses and puts even more PPR points on the board weekly.

 

Alexander Mattison (MIN) - 37% Rostered

Alexander Mattison (along with Tony Pollard) was one of the top rushers targeted by fantasy GMs to attach to their RB1 counterparts (Dalvin Cook and Ezekiel Elliott). This has stayed the same for the 2020 season, and in Mattison's case, the rostership has even gone higher than expected sitting at 37% in Yahoo! leagues at the time of this writing.

Obviously, Mattison's upside is entirely tied to Cook's health. As long as the RB1 of the Vikings keeps healthy and is able to play, Mattison won't put up big fantasy points. That being said, though, his average EP per game have gone up from last season and he's playing more snaps per game given his efficiency. Mattison is averaging 0.04 FPOE points per snap, and an average 0.41 PPR points each play he's on the field. That average ranks fourth-highest among the players in the chart above only behind Fournette, Michel, and Patterson.

Mattison shouldn't be a starter in any shallow league, but if you're part of a deeper (16+ teams) league, definitely consider Mattison a weekly starter at your FLEX position as one of the best RB2 in the league.

 

Mark Ingram II (BAL) - 94% Rostered

Ingram is, simply put, stuck in backfield-hell. The Ravens are deploying a three-headed backfield these days playing all three of Ingram, Gus Edwards, and J.K. Dobbins between 17 and 22 snaps per game. None of the three rushers has topped 88 snaps through Week 4, and Edwards has the fewest at 70. The share is absolutely balanced, which kills the upside of the three.

While Ingram is probably past his heyday and peak-years, he's still a very valuable player, and the moment either Edwards or Dobbins goes down injured (if that happens) he will get that RB1 role probably all by himself as he's the player with most rushing attempts in that backfield at this point and is just two targets short of Dobbins' (5 to 7).

His rostership percentage tells you all you need to know. At a massive 94%, it is going to be hard to get Ingram, but if you should target him in trades as a secondary piece to add in a bigger deal. Ingram is only one of five players in the chart above averaging more than 0.4 PPR points per snap, and one of six overperforming the expectations by at least 0.05 PPR points per snap.

 

Brian Hill (ATL) - 21% Rostered

The Falcons signed Todd Gurley II this past offseason bringing him back home to Georgia. So far, though, Gurley has more than disappointed by averaging just 13.6 PPR points per game and 54.3 total through four weeks in 157 snaps (fourth-most among teammates). That averages to 0.34 PPR points per snap. RB2 Brian Hill, on half his usage (75 snaps) is generating more PPR per snap at 0.37, overperforming the expectations by 0.05 FPOE per snap, and having a heavier role on the passing game (9 targets to Gurley's 8; 54 receiving yards to Gurley's 9).

It is going to be virtually impossible to see Atlanta drop Gurley from RB1 duties after acquiring him not long ago and making him one of the staples of the offense. His pedigree won't just allow them to do that. But what are the Falcons going to do going forward if they keep losing? For one, pass the ball (advantage Hill). For two, potentially trade their win-now assets (that is, QB Matt Ryan or RB Todd Gurley if there is interest).

Although his usage is still low, Hill's 75 snaps rank as the second-most among the players in the group above, only bested by Ingram's 80, but his 0.37 PPR per snap rank 7th and he's one of only five players with 0.33+ EP/Snap and 0.05+ FPOE/Snap. Make Hill one of your WW targets to acquire next week, and a good FLEX option in deeper leagues with upside to score TDs here and there given his usage near the goal line.

 

Leonard Fournette (TB) - 81% Rostered

After losing time due to injuries earlier in his career, Fournette proved to be healthy and good last season playing 15 games without any problem. He's missed time in 2020 already, but it doesn't look like too much of a big deal. What is more worrying is the fact that Tampa Bay signed Lenny and then put him in a backfield comprised of LeSean McCoy, Ke'Shawn Vaughn, and Ronald Jones II. That makes it four players for one position. Ugh.

Fournette has only been on the field for 61 plays (18%) while Jones leads all running backs with a 55% snap share (virtually three times as high). On low usage, though, Fournette is averaging 8.7 PPR points per game to Jones' 12.9, but considering the number of snaps played by each of them, Fournette outperforms Jones with an average of 0.57 PPR/Snap against just 0.35 by Jones. That means Fournette is getting 0.12+ PPR points each time he's on the field, and on a similar usage (187 snaps over 5 games) he'd be averaging 21+ PPR per game compared to Jones' 12.9...

I'm a Fournette stan, not going to lie over that. I believe he will end overtaking Jones in the pecking order and taking on the weekly RB1 role for the Bucs. Thanks to his middling start to the season, though, you might still be able to get Fournette for cheap in a trade. Don't forget to check the WW just in case you still find him there, but chances are low at that. Must-add/trade-target in deeper leagues, interesting stash in shallower ones in case Jones falls injured or gets demoted to RB2 in Tampa's offense.



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Frank Ammirante's Rest-of-Season PPR Rankings

We're a quarter through the NFL season, so it's the perfect time to update my PPR rankings. These are tiered rankings organized by position. My rankings prioritize upside and downgrade injury concerns.

In this article, I'll identify players to consider trading away or acquiring to help you find trade targets and optimize your redraft lineups. These rankings account for overall volume and remaining schedule.

Below you'll find a few selections that will surely have you raising an eyebrow. Be sure to voice these concerns and come at me on Twitter @FAmmiranteTFJ! I can assure you that I'll be ready to provide insights behind these selections and we can engage in debate.

 

Quarterbacks

Tier Rank QB Previous Rank
1 1 Patrick Mahomes 2
1 2 Lamar Jackson 3
1 3 Kyler Murray 6
1 4 Russell Wilson 5
1 5 Dak Prescott 4
1 6 Josh Allen 11
2 7 Deshaun Watson 1
2 8 Cam Newton 15
2 9 Aaron Rodgers 14
3 10 Joe Burrow 10
3 11 Tom Brady 13
3 12 Matthew Stafford 12
3 13 Matt Ryan 7
3 14 Ben Roethlisberger 19
4 15 Carson Wentz 8
4 16 Daniel Jones 9
4 17 Justin Herbert 34
4 18 Drew Brees 16
4 19 Gardner Minshew II 22
4 20 Teddy Bridgewater 24
4 21 Ryan Tannehill 18
4 22 Jared Goff 21
5 23 Jimmy Garoppolo 17
5 24 Kirk Cousins 27
5 25 Baker Mayfield 25
5 26 Derek Carr 28
6 27 Tua Tagovailoa 33
6 28 Drew Lock 20
6 29 Nick Foles 32
6 30 Philip Rivers 30
6 31 Ryan Fitzpatrick 31
6 32 Sam Darnold 26
6 33 Dwayne Haskins 29
7 34 Mitch Trubisky 35
7 35 Jameis Winston 37
7 36 Jalen Hurts 36
7 37 Andy Dalton 38
7 38 Jarrett Stidham 40
7 39 Jacoby Brissett 39
7 40 Brett Rypien N/A

BUY HIGH: Josh Allen looks like a different passer this season, ready to join the elite ranks of the position. The addition of Stefon Diggs has been massive to Allen's growth as a quarterback. Pay the premium price to acquire Allen.

BUY LOW: Daniel Jones has really struggled this season, but the Giants have had a tough schedule. This will be a pass-heavy team that plays at one of the fastest paces in the league, so the fantasy points will be there. Jones has probably been dropped in your league.

SELL HIGH: Dak Prescott is one pace to shatter yardage records, but the Cowboys are playing at too fast of a pace, which is leaving their defense out to dry. Expect them to slow things down a bit and feed Zeke more. This team also loves to run in the red-zone, which caps Dak's upside. Sell high on the current QB1.

SELL LOW: Drew Brees is no longer the big-play passer that he once was. It's tough to trust a 41-year old quarterback to provide fantasy production, especially when quarterback is such a deep position. Currently QB23 in fantasy points per game, it's time to trade Brees for 40 cents on the dollar.

 

Running Backs

Tier Rank RB Previous Rank
1 1 Alvin Kamara 5
1 2 Ezekiel Elliott 3
1 3 Dalvin Cook 12
1 4 Aaron Jones 10
1 5 Derrick Henry 4
1 6 Clyde Edwards-Helaire 6
1 7 Christian McCaffrey 2
2 8 Joe Mixon 8
2 9 Josh Jacobs 7
2 10 Kareem Hunt 27
2 11 Miles Sanders 9
2 12 Jonathan Taylor 16
3 13 James Robinson N/A
3 14 Melvin Gordon 19
3 15 Chris Carson 22
3 16 James Conner 13
3 17 Kenyan Drake 15
3 18 David Montgomery 30
3 19 Todd Gurley 25
4 20 Antonio Gibson 18
4 21 Raheem Mostert 24
4 22 Devin Singletary 32
4 23 David Johnson 21
4 24 Myles Gaskin N/A
5 25 Le'Veon Bell 20
5 26 Ronald Jones II 38
5 27 Mark Ingram II 23
5 28 Leonard Fournette 26
5 29 Darrell Henderson 48
5 30 Cam Akers 17
6 31 Latavius Murray 40
6 32 D'Andre Swift 34
6 33 J.K. Dobbins 28
6 34 Damien Harris 42
6 35 Austin Ekeler 14
6 36 Joshua Kelley 49
6 37 Jerick McKinnon 79
6 38 Nick Chubb 11
7 39 Chase Edmonds 39
7 40 Devonta Freeman N/A
7 41 Mike Davis N/A
7 42 Alexander Mattison 41
7 43 Phillip Lindsay 47
7 44 James White 48
7 45 Zack Moss 29
7 46 Jamaal Williams N/A
7 47 Adrian Peterson N/A
8 48 Tony Pollard 44
8 49 Nyheim Hines 50
8 50 Duke Johnson 45
8 51 Rex Burkhead N/A
8 52 Malcolm Brown 50
8 53 Darrel Williams 53
8 54 Carlos Hyde 54
8 55 Giovani Bernard 55
8 56 Kerryon Johnson 31
8 57 Wayne Gallman N/A
8 58 Brian Hill N/A
8 59 Boston Scott 59
8 60 Darrynton Evans 60

BUY HIGH: James Robinson has come out of nowhere as an undrafted rookie for a rebuilding team to deliver RB1 production. He's become the bell cow of the Jaguars' backfield, even adding some receiving production. Jacksonville has the ninth-friendliest schedule for running backs.

BUY LOW: David Montgomery has the easiest schedule for running backs. The injury to Tarik Cohen could allow him to see more work in the passing game. Nick Foles is an upgrade at quarterback, so we could see more touchdown opportunities.

SELL HIGH: Kareem Hunt has been highly productive this season and now Nick Chubb is on the shelf, but the Browns seem to prefer to keep their committee in the backfield. Some people view Hunt as a top-five back going forward, so take advantage of this selling opportunity.

SELL LOW: Mark Ingram is stuck in a committee that has become a situation to avoid for fantasy players. There's a chance that the Ravens start to give more work to rookie J.K. Dobbins, who looks like the more dynamic player. Try to sell Ingram's big-name for a more appealing bench piece with upside.

 

Wide Receivers

Tier Rank WR Previous Rank
1 1 DeAndre Hopkins 13
1 2 Davante Adams 1
1 3 Michael Thomas 2
1 4 Amari Cooper 15
1 5 Tyreek Hill 3
2 6 Allen Robinson 11
2 7 Adam Thielen 8
2 8 Keenan Allen 28
2 9 Calvin Ridley 19
2 10 Tyler Lockett 22
2 11 D.K. Metcalf 18
3 12 A.J. Brown 5
3 13 Mike Evans 10
3 14 Odell Beckham Jr. 12
3 15 Kenny Golladay 14
3 16 Terry McLaurin 16
3 17 Stefon Diggs 26
3 18 Cooper Kupp 21
3 19 Robert Woods 20
3 20 D.J. Chark 17
3 21 Will Fuller 23
3 22 Tyler Boyd 24
4 23 D.J. Moore 6
4 24 Julio Jones 4
4 25 Chris Godwin 9
4 26 JuJu Smith-Schuster 7
4 27 Diontae Johnson 45
4 28 Marquise Brown 27
5 29 CeeDee Lamb 30
5 30 Robby Anderson 57
5 31 DeVante Parker 25
5 32 Justin Jefferson 63
5 33 Julian Edelman 36
5 34 Michael Gallup 31
5 35 Deebo Samuel 24
6 36 Jarvis Landry 41
6 37 Tee Higgins N/A
6 38 Jamison Crowder 44
6 39 Darius Slayton 57
6 40 John Brown 42
6 41 T.Y. Hilton 35
6 42 Jerry Jeudy 45
7 43 Laviska Shenault Jr. 56
7 44 Jalen Reagor 39
7 45 Christian Kirk 37
7 46 Marvin Jones 40
7 47 A.J. Green 34
7 48 Brandon Aiyuk 48
7 49 Cole Beasley N/A
7 50 Mike Williams 50
7 51 Golden Tate 51
7 52 N'Keal Harry 59
7 53 Mecole Hardman 43
8 54 Hunter Renfrow 66
8 55 Brandin Cooks 38
8 56 Emmanuel Sanders N/A
8 57 Russell Gage N/A
8 58 Scotty Miller N/A
8 59 Preston Williams 58
8 60 Corey Davis 68
8 61 Sammy Watkins 67
9 62 Allen Lazard 65
9 63 Parris Campbell 55
9 64 Alshon Jeffery 71
9 65 DeSean Jackson 47
9 66 Sterling Shepard 46
9 67 Michael Pittman Jr. 62
9 68 Tim Patrick N/A
9 69 Keelan Cole N/A
9 70 Anthony Miller 53

BUY HIGH: Amari Cooper is still the alpha WR1 in Dallas, posting over 25% target share and more than 30% air yards share, both of which lead the team. He's currently WR1 in PPR PPG and he should remain an elite option on a pass-heavy offense loaded with weapons.

BUY LOW: D.J. Moore has been a massive disappointment, but he still has over a 23% target share and more than 42% air yard share, so the production will come soon. Try to pry him off a fantasy player who thinks that Robby Anderson has supplanted Moore as the Panthers' WR.

SELL HIGH: JuJu Smith-Schuster still has the big name and his production has been inflated by his three touchdowns, but Diontae Johnson actually leads the Steelers in target share. There's a chance that Diontae has surpassed JuJu as Ben's favorite target.

SELL LOW: A.J. Green looks like a declining player, ready to be supplanted by promising rookie Tee Higgins. If you can use Green's big name to pick up an upside bench player like Chase Edmonds, I would fully support that move.

 

Tight Ends

Tier Rank TE Previous Rank
1 1 George Kittle 1
1 2 Travis Kelce 2
2 3 Darren Waller 5
2 4 Mark Andrews 3
3 5 Zach Ertz 5
3 6 Evan Engram 6
3 7 Hunter Henry 19
4 8 Jonnu Smith 15
4 9 T.J. Hockenson 12
4 10 Noah Fant 7
4 11 Robert Tonyan N/A
4 12 Hayden Hurst 14
4 13 Mike Gesicki 13
4 14 Jared Cook 19
4 15 Tyler Higbee 7
5 16 Dalton Schultz N/A
5 17 Mo Alie-Cox N/A
5 18 Rob Gronkowski 18
5 19 Eric Ebron 23
6 20 Dallas Goedert 17
6 21 Jimmy Graham N/A
6 22 Jordan Akins N/A
6 23 Logan Thomas N/A
6 24 Greg Olsen N/A
6 25 Chris Herndon 11

BUY HIGH: Jonnu Smith is breaking out before our very eyes, posting a 20.83% target share (3rd among tight ends), including 33.33% in the red-zone (2nd among tight ends). He's currently TE3 in PPR PPG and looks here to stay as a TE1.

BUY LOW: Evan Engram ranks second in targets among tight ends, but the production has not matched the volume yet. Luckily, he plays on a fast-paced, pass-heavy offense that has the second-easiest schedule for tight ends. Engram should get back on track this week against the Cowboys.

SELL HIGH: Robert Tonyan is generating tons of hype after his dominant performance on Monday Night Football. While I still consider him a TE1 going forward, try to take advantage of his big game and see if you can acquire someone reliable like Jonnu Smith.

SELL LOW: Tyler Higbee is just not receiving enough volume to put up TE1 numbers, ranking 22nd in targets among tight ends. While it's only been three games and he does have a three-touchdown performance under his belt, Higbee is someone to move right now - perhaps you can grab an upside wide receiver like Tee Higgins for Higbee.



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Check out all of RotoBaller's fantasy football rankings. Staff rankings are updated regularly for all positions and include standard formats, PPR scoring, tiered rankings and dynasty leagues.




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Resetting the Rules - How Fantasy Leagues Can Cope with COVID

Out, out, out, in, in, in, in, in, in, out, in, out, in, in, out, in, out, out, out, in, in.

That’s not me working as a bouncer for the pretend nightclub I started in my house (it’s me and my wife and my two dogs, no Darren Waller fundraiser situation here,) it’s me seeing how many of the Rotoballer Top 20 have missed time, barely four weeks into the season. 

It’s worth noting that by no stretch of the imagination is this unexpected, but for a pastime that most of us specifically leaned into because it was something to do mid-COVID-19 (more so than usual) some of our leagues didn’t spend September toiling away at the lengthy rules that were needed to ensure that games could function week-in and week-out.

 

Changing the Rules

Many of us haven’t had to set a roster with a Tuesday night football game involved when the 2010 Eagles and Vikings were forced to postpone their game due to a snowstorm (if you’d like to win bar trivia, that was Andy Reid’s Eagles team, which would’ve put him in the useless statistics library if the Chiefs-Patriots game had to be pushed to Tuesday.) Many of us wouldn’t have assumed an IR of 10 players was a good idea for the whole league. While some of our leagues maybe did away with buy-ins or other facets to make the complicated game slightly more simple in 2020, a much larger portion of you did not. 

Sportrac has 224 players on IR as I write this, plus 67 opt-outs in the pre-season. This doesn’t cover the players who are on a single game Out designation, of which there are 62 on offense as of my writing this on 10/5. There are bad years, and then there is 2020. 

The NFL is a bit of a moving target as far as rules and regulations for COVID-19; while it originally hoped daily testing and contained travel would help ensure games could be played safely and normally, the league has also dished out hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines before even a hundred total games have been played. It announced Monday that regulations would be updated, which serves as a nice reminder; the league didn’t quite know how this would shake out.

The NFL updating its own rules serves as an important reminder to everyone in your league; it’s not too late to update some of your own. For some of you, you’ve already done this. For others, especially the ones frustrated over how your teams have been affected while your leagues have ultimately stayed silent, this is something you can forward over to your commissioner to review. 

One last note: none of these rules require a change that should affect anyone’s roster. We won’t recommend you switch to team QBs like an XFL fantasy league or switch the scoring to best ball, as those changes wouldn’t affect all teams equally. Too much season has already occurred, now it’s more about making it sustainable the rest of the way.

 

Ground Rules

Any new league rule that is proposed and adopted should abide by the following three principles:

  1. The rule has to provide relief for poorly affected teams while also providing an opportunity for less affected teams, without straying too far in either direction
  2. The rule has to be unanimously approved, or at least majority+1 (seven of the 10 in a 10-player league, though I always hope the commissioner lets the league decide and stays out of it); if we’re not largely on board, then let’s not do it
  3. Is the juice worth the squeeze, or will instituting this rule cause more of a headache to everyone than it will provide a solution? The goal is to ensure that the league is fun, fair, and competitive. A hundred rules to try to provide total fairness to an already weird year isn’t a solution, it’s just some temporary safeguards that may have some unintended consequences. 

I would also say that rules are more necessary if there is a financial implication, or even a winner/loser punishment system, for the league. Leagues that didn’t have a buy-in or prize this year may find that rolling the dice week to week makes more sense. On the other hand, if you’ve paid quite a bit of money for a down year, I’d almost certainly insist that some rules be added so that I didn’t simply forfeit my investment.

Everything on my list follows these three rules, and while it may evoke some commissioner eye-rolling, it’s a good start that most of the league can agree upon!

 

Designated Players

If a game is being threatened with a COVID-19 related postponement, one of the easiest things you can do is mark a designated player for each of your starters whose games are being threatened with a new start date. Whether it’s a “wait and see” approach like the Patriots and Chiefs ended up taking, or rescheduling for a future contest like the Titans and the Steelers, more games will end up being threatened this year in a similar matter. Your ground rules should be as follows

  1. If a legitimate reporting sports organization (ESPN and Adam Schefter, the NFL or NFL PR, Fox Sports, or another outfit that has reporters who communicate directly with the league off) reports that a game risks being postponed the day before a kickoff, swap in the temporary starter and bench the designated player. The designated player is the starter you’d prefer to start whose game is being threatened. 
  2. Text or email your commissioner and their opponent to let them know which of their starters are being substituted for a designated player. This must be done the day before the game, and cutoff times can be decided by the league. 
  3. If the game that was set to be postponed is actually played, the commissioner swaps in the designated player. If the game is not played, the lineup is not adjusted.

This means that you have a safeguard in place for the games whether they occur or not, and you win or lose based on a full lineup, not a last-second cancellation.

 

Additional IR or Bench Spots

With the statistics I highlighted above regarding league-wide injury statistics, there’s a high probability that each team in your league has enough major injuries to warrant consideration of more IR spots. For affected teams, it’s a necessity. Keeping a healthier roster, having the room to acquire backups or upside guys, means that they’ll be competitive even if they’re less so. For teams not affected, especially when it comes to keeper leagues, the upside is obvious; you get more places to stash the guys who you can keep next year. 

Not interested in IR specific roster spots? Why not open up the bench and let guys go deeper. This is even more of a boon for the team managers who don’t have a lot of IR guys, though it may require a way to do a mini-draft to fill the five or six bench spots more fairly (though waiver chaos has its obvious benefits)

It’s arguably one of the most controversial new rules on this list, but if your bench is small and BYE weeks are arriving, is it really worth winning because teams had to drop their short-term IR studs just to roster a whole team? I have no interest in winning a matchup because a guy felt the need to drop Christian McCaffrey to temporarily roster Justin Jackson.

 

Best Projected Substitutes

If a game is canceled on the day-of and the “designated player” option isn’t doable, you can institute a sweeping rule that allows for any day of replacements, even if games have already started, for the highest projected player. For lack of a better term, I call it the “Best Projected Substitute”

The rule is simple; if the league votes to institute this rule, and a game is canceled on the day-of, any affected players are automatically replaced with the highest projected player in that position on the bench. Team managers are allowed to add drop or adjust their lineup as they see fit without commissioner intervention, but it is a stopgap for teams that may not be able to adjust in time to institute a replacement, or their best available replacement is locked. 

This is one of the trickier rules, as your league may find that you want this rule to only be in place once Sunday games start. But the most careful clarification is regarding locked players and projections; the commissioner is only allowed to substitute in the player with the highest projection, regardless of the actual score. This may mean a player has already played on Thursday and gets added to a lineup, or it could regard a player with a questionable designation on Monday. You’ll want to be clear here because solving one problem could mean more are added, so it’s best to get this rule exact before it becomes necessary.



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Week 4 Defense (DEF) Streamers and Starts - 2020 Fantasy Tiers, Rankings

Another week, and another six out of the top 10 defenses correct. Some of the top ones were gimmes, and I'm a little surprised by how the Chargers Defense laid an egg versus Carolina and the way the Bills Defense just seemed totally lost against the Rams in the second half. I'm happy I trusted my gut with Cleveland despite most experts having them in the mid-teens, and it's becoming clear which teams we really want to target now with our defenses.

After three weeks, we're starting to get a better sense of which offensive lines are truly weakpoints and which teams are playing at a pace that's too slow to really capitalize on for defensive streamers. We're starting to learn which teams are going to be blitz-heavy and which offenses may consistently put their defenses in bad positions. These are all incredibly important pieces of information in determining which defenses to play in any given week.

Remember that picking the right defense is not about identifying who will allow the fewest points, but who will cause the most turnovers or tally the most sacks since that has a higher correlation to weekly fantasy DST leaders. That means that, as much these rankings are about the talent on the defensive side of the ball, it is equally about taking advantage of the lack of talent on the offensive side. Starting the right defense every week can be a difference-maker, so remember to check back here during the week as I will make updates once we get more information on some of these injuries and also get a better sense of the weather for the game.

 

Week 4 Defenses To Start & Stream: Tiers & Rankings

Below are my Week 4 defense tiers and rankings, or which defenses to stream, start and target off the waiver wire for Week 4 of the NFL and fantasy football season. Our weekly tiered defense rankings are a guide to making waiver wire pickups to improve your lineups, and to decide which defenses to start, sit, target, avoid or stream for Week 4. I've broken out our defense rankings into tiers with analysis on each matchup. Some of these Week 4 defenses have good matchups and are not widely-owned, representing fantasy scoring opportunities if they are available on your league's waiver wire for a Week 4 pickup or add.

Returning for this year: Confidence Ratings (out of 15) - Since every league's DST scoring is different, projections don't always make a ton of sense. The confidence rating, which Bill Dubiel started last year, is a guideline for how much more I like one team over another instead of a straight point projection. A zero means "do not start," then the confidence rises from there. I take a lot of factors into account: opponent injuries, home-field advantage, weather (which will be updated during the week), etc. We still have only one game of in-season data to work with, so this week's rankings weigh schedule and personnel heavier than they will down the line.

Typically the top three tiers will be DSTs you should target, with Tier 4 being options in deep leagues and Tier 5 being desperation plays or good defenses in horrendous matchups.

 

UPDATED FRIDAY MORNING 9:30 AM ET

Tier 1 Defenses

Rank Tier DST Week 2 Opponent Confidence Rating
1 1 Baltimore Ravens Defense   @ WAS 14.1
2 1 San Francisco 49ers Defense  vs. PHI 13.0
3 1 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Defense  vs. LAC 12.1
4 1 Los Angeles Rams Defense vs. NYG 11.9

A week after facing the Kansas City Chiefs and giving up 517 total yards, the Baltimore defense gets to get back to work against Dwayne Haskins and the Washington Football Team. For two weeks, Haskins looked moderately better than what we saw in 2019, and the team was showing some signs of life, but he really crashed down to earth against the Browns on Sunday, throwing three interceptions and finishing with a 30.8 QBR. While the Ravens were unable to get much pressure on Patrick Mahomes on Monday night, we know not to judge a defense solely by how it handles the Chiefs. The Ravens Defense is filled with talent and should absolutely capitalize on Haskins and an offense without many playmakers. Look for the Ravens to take out their frustration repeatedly on Sunday.

The 49ers defense may be banged up, but this team still has tons of talent and finished as the 5th ranked defense after limiting the Giants to nine points while notching two sacks, two fumble recoveries, and an interception. The 49ers suffered yet another injury on Sunday as starting cornerback Emmanuel Moseley left with a concussion, but the Eagles will come into this game with a similarly hobbled offensive line that has allowed the fourth-most sacks in the NFL through three games. To add insult to injury, the Eagles' receiving corps took a hit on Sunday after both DeSean Jackson and Dallas Goedert were unable to finish the game. Goedert is expected to miss "some time," and Jackson seems unlikely to play Sunday, which will mean that, since Alshon Jeffrey still seems like he's another week or so away, the Eagles will face San Francisco with Zach Ertz and Greg Ward and little else. Doug Pederson is already talking about ways to get Carson Wentz out of his own head, and the Eagles have looked like a sloppy mess all season, even allowing Cincinnati to finish as the 13th ranked defense, fueled by three sacks and two interceptions. Even injured, this 49ers defense is worlds better than what the Bengals are putting out on the field. If the Eagles can't get healthy in time for Sunday, it's going to be a long day.

So let's see, the Carolina Panthers just held the Chargers to 16 points and finished as the 7th ranked defense after getting shredded by the Bucs and Raiders. Justin Herbert may have an exciting future ahead of him, but he's clearly still prone to rookie mistakes, and it cost the Chargers last week. Tampa Bay is an elite run defense, giving up only 2.9 yards per carry, so the Chargers will need to rely on Herbert to move the ball through the air. That's going to open him up to a Bucs pass rush that is second in the league in blitz rate (43.8%), third in the NFL in sacks, and second in the league in tackles for a loss. Bryan Bulaga (back), Mike Williams (hamstring), and Trai Turner (groin) all left Sunday's game injured and have been unable to practice so far this week, which is only going to make Herbert more vulnerable against an opportunistic defense.

The Rams may have been burned by Josh Allen repeatedly on Sunday, but that defensive line also tormented him in the second half of the game. That's a good sign since this defense has underperformed in terms of pressure so far this season, registering only a 19% pressure rate and seven sacks on the season. However, the matchup is too good to ignore. The Giants don't have a strong enough running game to keep the Rams' defensive line honest, which means Aaron Donald and company can come after an offensive line that is 24th in the NFL with nine sacks allowed on the season. The Rams' secondary has issues, but the Giants offense doesn't have near the same firepower as the Bills do to take advantage of issues. In fact, Daniel Jones has thrown four interceptions already this season, so it wouldn't be surprising to see him add to that total on Sunday.

 

Tier 2 Defenses

Rank Tier DST Week 2 Opponent Confidence Rating
5 2 Indianapolis Colts Defense  @ CHI 11.3
6 2 Seattle Seahawks Defense @ MIA 11.1
7 2 Denver Broncos Defense vs. NYJ 10.4
8 2 Buffalo Bills Defense @ LV 10.2

I said last week that the loss of Malik Hooker could prove detrimental to the Colts when they face an offense that can really air it out against them; however, potentially getting starting corner Rock Ya-Sin back could help. Even with Nick Foles, I'm not convinced the Bears are that offense. Foles certainly looked more competent than Mitchell Trubisky, but he has his own flaws as a passer, and the Colts are currently 2nd in the NFL with a 35.5% pressure rate and seventh in the league with nine sacks through the first three games. If the Colts secondary was in better health, I'd be even more confident about this, but the Bears just lost a dynamic weapon in Tarik Cohen and Anthony Miller seems to have been demoted to a non-factor, so the offense is basically David Montgomery and Allen Robinson with Foles. There's some talent there, but I expect the Colts' pressure to make Foles uncomfortable and create a few turnover opportunities in what could turn into a low-scoring slugfest between two solid defenses with good running backs.

The Seahawks may have given up 31 points to the Cowboys on Sunday, but they finished as the 8th ranked defense thanks to two sacks, two interceptions, a safety, and a blocked field goal. All of which just goes to show what an opportunistic defense they are and how even average or slightly above average defenses can be helped by their elite offense piling on points and forcing teams to keep up. That's especially true this week. I expect the Seahawks offense to dismantle the Dolphins Defense while the Seahawks defense, which is third in the NFL with only 3.0 yards per carry allowed, shuts down the Miami running game. That will put gunslinger Ryan Fitzpatrick in catch-up mode against a team that's best in the league in quarterback knockdowns, tied for second in the league in interceptions, and tied for eighth in quarterback hurries, despite only notching five sacks. Fitzpatrick may throw for tons of yards and a handful of points, but he's going to get sacked and likely turn the ball over a few times. UPDATE: With Jamaal Adams and starting linebacker Jordyn Brooks likely out for this game, it downgrades the Seahawks a little since the Dolphins will clearly try to get Mike Gesicki involved frequently in the middle of the field now. 

It's pretty clear after three weeks that you play your defenses against the Jets, but the Broncos defense just hasn't been great to start the season. There is still talent on that defense, but losing Von Miller, A.J. Bouye, and now Jurrell Casey takes a bit of the teeth out of a once-ferocious unit. Still, the Jets offense is truly inept, and, to make matters worse for them, starting left tackle Mekhi Bechton is being evaluated for a shoulder injury and may miss this Sunday's game, which would damage an already fragile offense. The Broncos defense is tied for 9th in the league in quarterback knockdowns, so despite their mediocre pressure and sack totals, they may be able to create some pressure against a depleted Jets offensive line. What this ranking really comes down to is that this is likely to be an ugly game that few people will actually enjoy watching, but should be low-scoring enough to lead to a solid defensive night for the Broncos. WHOOPS. The defense played relatively well last night, but a blown sack led to a long Sam Darnold touchdown and Bretty Rypien's repeated mistakes put the defense in bad positions throughout the night. 

Something is not right with the Bills defense. A lot of it is health-related. Tremaine Edmunds came back on Sunday, but was out of the game and being monitored by the training staff a few times, and the Bills also lost Micah Hyde in the middle of the game to an ankle injury. However, both men are expected to play on Sunday after practicing this week, and it seems like the Bills may also get starting cornerback Josh Norman back, which would be huge news for a defense that has really struggled with its CB2 play. That is especially important with a banged-up Raiders passing attack coming to town. The Raiders are currently top-five in quarterback rating and expected points contributed by the passing offense; however, both Henry Ruggs and Bryan Edwards and likely to miss this Sunday's game, leaving the starting wide receivers as Nelson Agholor and Zay Jones (Revenge Game?). The Patriots also provided a clear blueprint for how to defend this passing attack, and the Raiders have the most fumbles lost in the NFL through the first three weeks, so it's possible that the Bills defense can capitalize on the injuries and mistakes. With how dominant the Bills defensive units have been since this coaching staff has taken over, you have to give them the benefit of the doubt that they can right the ship.

 

Tier 3 Defenses

Rank Tier DST Week 2 Opponent Confidence Rating
9 3 Arizona Cardinals Defense @ CAR 9.7
10 3 New York Jets Defense vs. DEN 9.1
11 3 Los Angeles Chargers Defense vs. TB 8.3
12 3 Kansas City Chiefs Defense vs NE 8.2
13 3 Philadelphia Eagles Defense @ SF 7.6
14 3 Chicago Bears Defense vs. IND 7.4
15 3 Jacksonville Jaguars Defense  @ CIN 7.1

I know the Panthers won last week without Christian McCaffrey, but let's not all of the sudden forget the way in which losing him saps this team of so much firepower. We've also started to see that this Cardinals defense is not the doormat that many people assumed it would be because of the popular narrative of how they were unable to contain tight ends last year. Arizona is fifth in the league with 11 sacks despite a mediocre pressure rate and quarterback knockdown totals, which tells me that they're not getting consistent pressure but are making the most of the pressure they get. Still their secondary has been strong, allowing only 6.2 net yards gained per pass attempt, which is good for 13th in the league. With Kyler Murray and the Cardinals offense likely to score early and often against the Panthers Defense, Teddy Bridgewater will be under a lot of pressure to push the ball down the field, and he's yet to show that he can be a consistent playmaker. I expect a couple of turnovers in this game for the Cardinals defense and I'd be surprised if the Panthers score over 20 points.

The Jets may be bad on offense, but their defensive line is certainly still solid. The Jets are 12th in the NFL with a 24.3% pressure rate and sixth in the league with 12 quarterback knockdowns. They will now be facing a Broncos offensive line that is 30th in the league with 13 sacks allowed and just lost their starting right tackle Elijah Wilkerson, who was already a back-up thrust into action due to COVID opt-outs. With Brett Rypien now looking like the starting quarterback for the Broncos, this should be an ugly game between two of the worst offenses in the NFL. The Jets defense may actually keep this team in the game and be a sneaky fantasy play. They gave up a lot of points and surprisingly got gashed by a big Melvin Gordon run at the end of the game, but the interceptions and defensive touchdown are always something you like to see. 

Yes, the Chargers just suffered a shocking loss to the Panthers. However, that doesn't change the talent that this defense possesses and the fact that they have the fifth-best pressure rate in the NFL (27.3%) and the second-most quarterback hurries at 22. If there's one thing we all know about Tom Brady, it's that he hates being pressured and hit. With Chris Godwin leaving Sunday's game with a hamstring injury, there's a good chance that Brady is down one elite weapon against two Pro Bowl corners in Casey Heyward and Chris Harris Jr., provided Harris Jr. is fully recovered from his own foot injury. The Bucs still have the pieces to put points on the board, but they only scored 23 points in Week 1 when Godwin left early and 28 points last week, which included a Godwin touchdown, so it's not as if this offense is setting the world on fire. In fact, they are 23rd in total yards and 21st in percentage of drives that end in a score, so it's not a given that they are going to hang a huge amount of points on a good defense. Don't be surprised if the Chargers get to Brady for a few sacks and maybe an interception as well.

The Chiefs just came out of that Monday night game with a dominating win over the Ravens in which they held Baltimore to 20 points, 228 yards of total offense, and sacked Lamar Jackson four times. If they can do that to the Ravens, then why not the Patriots? Yes, Cam Newton has looked good, and the Patriots are 3-0, but they've also played two poor defenses in the Dolphins and Raiders, and got into a shootout with an average Seahawks defense. The Patriots don't have the rushing attack that the Ravens do and have only slightly better receivers. Plus, you can make a strong case that the Ravens defense is better than New England's defense which means the Patriots offense, which is 21st in the NFL in possessions that lead to points, will be chasing 30+ points as well. The Chiefs Defense is fourth in the league in pressure rate, sixth in sacks, and seventh in quarterback hurries, so I expect that they make this hard on Cam Newton and likely force a couple of turnovers to go along with some sacks. However, if Chris Jones, who has only had limited practices this week, is unable to go, it would be a big loss against Cam.

The Eagles defense is starting to get healthy and they had eight sacks against the Bengals last week, plus 10 tackles for a loss, and 18 quarterback hits. They will face a 49ers team that just lost another offensive weapon as Jerrick McKinnon seems unlikely to play this week with a rib injury. Nick Mullens looks good in relief on Sunday, and the team should get George Kittle back, so this won't be a cakewalk. Plus, I expect the Eagles offense to put the defense in some bad spots on Sunday; however, I think the defense can create some pressure, which will raise the floor of their fantasy point total.

The Bears had a rough task against the Falcons on Sunday, and will likely be in another slugfest this week; however, I expect this one to be slower and more focused on the Colts' dominant offensive line and rising star Jonathan Taylor. The Colts throw the eighth-fewest passes of any team in the NFL and have the eighth-most rushing attempts. The Bears have also allowed the 7th-most yards per carry in the league at 5.0, so it makes sense for the Colts to pound the ball. To make matters worse for the Chicago defense, the Colts have only allowed three sacks on the year, and the Bears have had below-average pressure metrics with the 31st ranked 10.4% pressure rate despite seven sacks on the season. Like the Steelers above, the pace of this game is likely going to limit the Bears' chances for sacks, but it should keep the game relatively low-scoring, and there is always a chance for a Phillip Rivers interception to shift the tide of the game.

As I mentioned above, the Eagles were in the backfield a ton against the Bengals on Sunday. On the season, the Jaguars are better than the Eagles with a 24.2% pressure rate (13th in the league) and 11 quarterback knockdowns (tied for 7th). If the Eagles were able to do that to the Bengals, then I expect the Jaguars to be able to do something similar; however, their upside is limited by the fact that Joe Burrow still threw no interceptions despite the pressure, and the Jaguars secondary could get burned by his up-tempo Bengals offense that is healthier than what the Eagles trotted out onto the field last Sunday.

 

Tier 4 Defenses

Rank Tier DST Week 2 Opponent Confidence Rating
16 4 Cincinnati Bengals Defense vs. JAX 6.9
17 4 New Orleans Saints Defense @ DET 6.4
18 4 Houston Texans Defense vs. MIN 6.2
19 4 New England Patriots Defense @ KC 5.9
20 4 Washington Football Team Defense vs. BAL 5.4
21 4 Dallas Cowboys Defense vs. CLE 4.8
22 4 New York Giants Defense @ LAR 4.4

The Bengals are 28th in the NFL in pressure rate with a 14.9% rate and have only five sacks on the year and one quarterback knockdown on the year. However, they finished as the 13th ranked defense in Week 3 against the Eagles and will now face the Jaguars, who are 28th in the NFL in sacks allowed with 10, only one fewer than the Eagles. I basically expect this game to play out much like the Eagles game did last Sunday, which keeps the Bengals on the radar in deep leagues.

Kenny Golladay is back for the Lions, which makes this a little bit less of an appealing matchup than it would have been earlier in the season. The Saints also have an alarmingly low 17.2% pressure rate (27th in the league), and 53.1% of the offensive drives against them have ended in a score, the 5th-worst mark in the league. With the secondary playing well below levels of previous years, this could be a high-scoring game against Matthew Stafford and a healthy Lions receiving corps.

The Texans' defense has been bad, allowing scores on 58.6% of offensive possessions, which is second-worst in the league. They are also 23rd in the league with a 19.4% pressure rate and have only seven sacks, four quarterback knockdowns, and nine hurries on the year. However, as we mentioned with the Titans, facing the Vikings can do wonders for a team's defense. Kirk Cousins has already thrown six interceptions and the offense has an 8.2% sack percentage, which is 26th in the league. JJ Watt alone should be able to make Cousins' life miserable on Sunday, which will make the Texans a sneaky defensive option.

Bill Belichick is an elite defensive mind and completely shut down the Raiders offense last week. Yet, going into Arrowhead and stopping Patrick Mahomes and crew is a whole other ballgame. I expect the Patriots to make this a game and cause a mistake or two, but I don't think they have the firepower to stay with the Chiefs. The Chiefs have also allowed only two sacks on the year and Mahomes has thrown zero interceptions, so it's going to be hard for the Patriots defense to add many extra points to their fantasy total in this one.

Washington has a tough task on its hands on Sunday, but the Chiefs showed that it can be done, sacking Jackson four times. Washington's defense may not be great overall, but its pass rush is near the tops in the league, with the seventh-best pressure rate (26.1%), the second-most sacks (13), and the ninth-best hurry rate (11.8%). I expect the Ravens to score and win this game, but it wouldn't surprise me if the Washington defensive line caused a few problems along the way.

 

Tier 5 Defenses

Rank Tier DST Week 2 Opponent Confidence Rating
23 5 Las Vegas Raiders Defense vs. BUF 4.1
24 5 Green Bay Packers Defense vs. ATL 3.3
25 5 Cleveland Browns Defense @ DAL 3.1
26 5 Carolina Panthers Defense vs. ARI 3.0
27 5 Minnesota Vikings Defense @ HOU 2.8
28 5 Atlanta Falcons Defense @ GB 1.5
29 5 Detroit Lions Defense vs. NO .4
30 5 Miami Dolphins Defense vs. SEA 0.3
31 5 Tennessee Titans Defense BYE 0.0
32 5 Pittsburgh Steelers Defense BYE 0.0


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2020 Fantasy Football Advice 2020 Fantasy Football Matchups and Start/Sit Betting Picks - Sports Bets, Wagers, Advice Editor Note NFL Analysis RotoBaller - All Fantasy Sports Articles

NFL Survivor Pool Picks (Week 4) - Targets and Avoids

Another great week of football that saw comebacks, blowouts and even a tie. And now we're dealing with the first COVID outbreak in the NFL. Hopefully everyone is healthy and if any games get postponed, they will be played.

Favorites went 9-6-1 straight up in Week 3 and 9-7 against the spread. My best bets went 1-2 against the spread, survivor plays went 3-1 and avoids went 2-1 with the Bengals and Lions coming through. The Colts were the big play in survivor pools last week and they easily took care of business. The Chargers and Cardinals losing, and the Eagles tying, knocked out more than 30 percent of remaining entrants.

This week we have another full slate kicking off with the Broncos and Jets Thursday night.

 

Survivor League Week 4

Teams favored by a touchdown or more in Week 4 per The Action Network (home team in caps); Ravens -13 @ WASHINGTON, RAMS -13 vs. Giants, BUCS -7.5 vs. Chargers, PACKERS -7.5 vs. Falcons, CHIEFS -7 vs. Patriots, 49ERS -7 vs. Eagles, Seahawks -6.5 @ DOLPHINS

If you're reading this article on Thursday or later, these lines are from Tuesday. Check the current spreads and see how the line moved.

I also give out my three top plays against the spread. That can be found at the bottom of the column.

 

Top Survivor Picks for Week 4

Ravens -13.5 @ Washington

The Ravens were exposed by the best team in football. The Chiefs were able to stop the run and dare Lamar Jackson to try and throw to beat them, which he couldn't do. But the Ravens beat up on non-elite teams. Washington is a nice team with a good front-seven, but they won't be able to match the Ravens scoring output. I also love backing a team that's off a big loss on national television.

Ravens 38 - Washington 14

 

RAMS -13 vs. Giants

The Rams are off a really tough loss where they came back from a 28-3 deficit, to take a 32-28 lead and then were hosed on a defensive penalty on 4th-down when the ball was uncatchable. The Rams offense has been very good ranking third in yards per play. The Giants are 27th. The biggest edge though is the Rams will be able to sustain long drives; they rank first in third-down conversions and the Giants are dead last in opponent third-down conversions.

The Giants have no big-play capability. They have eight plays of 20 yards or more, bottom half in the league, while the Rams are third in the league with 17. The Giants can not throw 5-yard passes and think they'll win.

Rams 31 - Giants 13

 

PACKERS -7.5 vs. Falcons

How does a team recover from not one, but two straight losses after being up by 16 and 17 points late in the fourth quarter. Now they have to play the Packers on Monday night football with the 31st ranked pass defense. The Packers meanwhile rank sixth in passing yards per game. Aaron Rodgers is an MVP frontrunner through three games, and will be salivating over this matchup.

Packers 38 - Falcons 24

 

Top Survivor Picks to Avoid 

CHIEFS -7.5 vs. Patriots

The way to beat Kansas City is to run the ball, go on long drives, and score touchdowns when in the red zone. New England is first in rushing yards per game, seventh in time of possession, and 18th in the red zone. The Patriots have the system to beat the Chiefs, but their defense will have to get off the field on third down. The Chiefs are first in converting on third down and the Patriots are seventh defensively. That will be the key to this game.

Chiefs 24 - Patriots 23

 

BUCS -7.5 vs. Chargers

It's really interesting to see the Chargers rank higher in yards per play than the Bucs. You'd think the Bucs would be a lot higher based on the fact they're averaging 27 points per game and the Chargers are averaging 17. Tampa's defense is second in opponent yards per play and should be able to hold the Chargers in check.

Tom Brady does not do well against a fierce pass rush and the Chargers Defense had that but are without pass-rusher Melvin Ingram. Still, 7.5 is too much.

Bucs 20 - Chargers 17

 

Seahawks -6.5 @ DOLPHINS

What makes me nervous about taking Seattle is that they're allowing 430 passing yards per game, last in the NFL, 80 yards more than the next team. They're also 29th in getting off the field on third down and 31st in opponent yards per play. I have no doubt Russell Wilson will have this offense humming along but their defense will keep the Dolphins in this game with a good chance to pull off the upset.

Dolphins 27 - Seahawks 24

 

Best Bets for Week 4

  • Lions +4.5 vs. Saints - Drew Brees is really struggling to throw the ball down the field. The Lions finally have a two-dimensional offense and should be able to move the ball to cover this line.
  • Browns +4.5 @ Cowboys - Dallas's defense has looked awful. Cleveland should be able to run and open up the passing game.
  • Patriots +7.5 @ Chiefs - Notes above.

 

Running Totals

  • Last week: 1-2
  • 2020 season total: 4-6
  • 2019 season total: 23-26-2


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Regression is Coming - Five Players Bound to Decline

It's been three weeks of games already. That means we're quickly approaching the completion of the first quarter of the season. Time flies, folks. With a big enough sample of data already in our hands, it's time we start separating the wheat from the chaff before it's too late. And that's what I'm here for.

By my count, at least 90 players--all positions considered--have been on the field for 150 or more snaps so far this season. Those 90 players are averaging 186 snaps through Week 3, which means they are playing near 62 any given Sunday. More than enough to put up numbers, right? Well, that's correct, but how are they scoring fantasy points? Are they getting them with season-long sustainable production, or have they just put on some fluky, bound to regress performances?

Today, I'm taking a look at some players around the league to let you know about their scoring so far this season, and how it is more than probable that they drop their production levels during the next few weeks. Let's go analyze!

 

Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills

Before you close this tab and label me as a hater, let me tell you that I am and have always been Allen's no. 1 stan. This is not hating on Allen, it is just pointing out facts.

After three games, Allen leads all quarterbacks (tied with Russell Wilson) in fantasy points (100.9) and is second in FP per dropback with 0.79 (Wilson is first with 0.83). You can make a case for Wilson to drop his production too, but Wilson at least has some serious track record to make me believe he can average 20+ FPPG while Allen has been average through two pro-years averaging 17 and 18 FP per game.

So far, Allen has completed 81 passes against 6 drops. Among QBs with at least 100 pass attempts (20), Allen has the 9th-lowest drop-to-completion ratio. He has also passed for more than 300 yards in all three games of the season, being the only player to do so. He's second to Wilson (14) in touchdowns with 10 in three games.

Although he's not the highest-yardage rusher of the league (8th, 83 rushing yards) Allen has scored 2 TDs on the ground already, becoming one of just five QBs having 2+ scores rushing through W3.

While Allen ranks first in EP, that is, has had the best chances at getting high fantasy-point tallies, he's also third at the QB position in surpassing the expectations. In fact, strictly looking at passing numbers, he ranks second with 22.7 FPOE. All things considered, it's going to be tough for Allen to keep all of those marks up for much longer.

 

James Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars

Former Illinois State running back and undrafted free-agent signee James Robinson has taken the league by storm in his rookie season. Three weeks into the year, Robinson is the RB5 only behind Kamara, Jones, Elliott, and Gordon in PPR points. He's already reached 61.9 for an average of 20.6 FPPG after replacing always-underperforming Leonard Fournette in Jacksonville. That, my friends, is unexpected and probably unsustainable at the very least.

It is too early to know if Robinson's performances are just a fluke, or if he's actually a stud on his way to becoming one the best rushers in the league. That being said, though, the EP he's been put in position to get (22nd-most among RBs) and the way in which he's overperforming the expectations (3rd-highest FPOE) don't align at all. And the marks he's putting up make it clear.

Robinson has played 101 snaps in 2020. In those plays, he has seen 54 opportunities and turned 53 of them in actual touches. He's converted 10 of 11 targets and rushed the ball 43 times already. Not only is Robinson good at running with the rock, but he's also played to an incredible level as a low-volume receiver so far this season averaging 11.7 yards per target and 12.9 per reception (both lead the league among RBs with at least 10 targets, and it is not even close).

Only two other RBs are generating more PPR points per snap (Mostert, Kamara, and Jones) than Robinson (0.61) among players with at least 25 opportunities through W3, and Robinson is also generating the 8th-highest PPR points per touch (1.17). The rookie has scored 3 TDs too, one of only 10 rushers to do so this season.

 

Rex Burkhead, New England Patriots

Veteran rusher Rex Burkhead is currently the RB17 in PPR leagues. He's scored 46.9 points in three games playing for the Patriots and as part of an infinite-RB-committee backfield that will be welcoming back even more players soon.

Looking at Burkhead counting stats you'll be amazed at his production given his low-key profile entering the year: he is averaging 15.6 FPPG, has caught 11 of 15 targets for 96 yards and a score, and most importantly he's rushed the ball a super-efficient 19 times for 83 yards (4.4 YPC) and 2 TDs on the season.

Now compare those numbers to these ones: 13 rushing attempts, 4 of 6 receptions, 81 yards from scrimmage, zero touchdowns. Those were Burkhead numbers in weeks 1-2. And those stats are most probably what we should expect from Burkhead going forward, not his monster W3 performance (6 carries for 49 yards and 2 TDs, 7 receptions for 49 yards and 1 TD).

Rex Burkhead featured in 13 games in 2019 and finished with 103.1 PPR points as the RB47. This season, in just three games, he's already at 46.9 (that is 45.5 percent of all points he got last season in four-times more games). Among running backs with at least 30 touches through Week 3, Burkhead (1.56) ranks second to Alvin Kamara (1.84) in PPR points per touch and he's 13th in PPR points per snap played.

Of Burkhead's 46.9 PPR points, 74.2 percent of them came in just his Week 3 performance against Las Vegas. Forget about this becoming the average and expect a hard-hitting regression coming his way.

 

D.K. Metcalf, Seattle Seahawks

Truth be told, calling Metcalf regression-bound might be a stretch at this point. The Seahawk has played all three games to an impossibly steady average level of performance: 19.5, 19.2, and 19.0 are the PPR points he's scored to start the season, which amounts to virtually no variation at all in his scores. And in fact, his stats have been very similar game to game: 4 receptions in each of them, 95/92/110 yards in order, and one TD in every game. That's insane.

Obviously, such a great three-game span has Metcalf ranked as the WR5 in 2020 with 57.7 fantasy points. Now, the problem I see with Metcalf is his usage and the ridiculous efficiency he's put up through Week 3. Metcalf has played 199 snaps, and just for context, Tyler Lockett has played 194 himself in the same offense. Lockett has scored 73.9 PPR points in the same games.

The difference between Lockett and Metcalf, though, is that Lockett is averaging a reasonable 0.38 PPR points per snap to Metcalf's 0.30, but Metcalf is outperforming Locket by a thousand miles in PPR points per touch: Metcalf has just 12 receptions for 297 yards and 3 TDs (should have been 4 had he not fumbled in W3 near the end zone) while Lockett has 259 yards and 4 TDs in twice those receptions (24).

Metcalf has caught just 60% of the passes thrown his way, has an aDOT of 17.5 yards downfield (third-highest among WRs targeted 20+ times), and his averages of 14.9 Y/Tgt and 24.8 Y/R (!!!) aren't even close to the rest of the players at the position. To put a cherry on top of this unsustainable level of performance, Metcalf is also averaging 5.3 YAC good for 6th among WRs.

We all know Russ is cooking, and Metcalf is definitely eating. But at this rate, the logical next event is for Metcalf to put on a dud and have very serious indigestion served by Chef Wilson.

 

Jonnu Smith, Tennessee Titans

As I'm writing this (Saturday), we have already watched the match between the Jets and the Broncos from the W4 scheduled games. Right now only three tight ends have reached 49+ PPR points in the season (Smith, Noah Fant, and Travis Kelce) and just two are averaging more than 14 FPPG (Kelce and Smith). Not bad, right?

Jonnu Smith (179) leads Tennessee is snaps played, followed by Corey Davis (171) and Derrick Henry (161). One man missing that top-three but expected to get there in due time: WR A.J. Brown, who has been out from Week 2 on after getting injured. That alone is reason enough to expect some regression from Smith. But there is more to it.

In a similar case to that of Burkhead (read above), Jonnu Smith has tallied most of his fantasy points in just one game in Week 2. After starting the season with a relatively good game (4-36-1 for 13.6 PPR points) he absolutely exploded in Week 2 against Jacksonville posting a 4-84-2 line that rocketed Smith to 24.4 fantasy points and a TE4 finish on the week. He came back to Earth already last weekend when he could only reach 11.1 PPR points even while having a season-high in receptions with 5 and being targeted the most times so far this season (8).

The tight end position holds no secrets. It is the most volatile one, and heavily touchdown-dependent. Up to 25 tight ends have been on the field 120+ snaps through Week 3 and W4's TNF. Of those, Jonnu Smith is averaging the second-most PPR points per snap (0.27) while "only" having 181 receiving yards compared to Fant's 219 and Kelce's 227. The reason? Smith's 3 TDs compared to Kelce's and Fant's 2 TDs.

On top of all of the prior numbers, Smith is also posting the highest YAC average at 7.5 yards (T.J. Hockenson is second at 7.3; no other TE is over 6.5 YAC), the highest Y/R average at 13.9 (Higbee is second at 13.4)... but one of the lowest catch rates among the heavy-use TEs this year catching just 65% of his targets (Kelce, for context, is catching 84% of his targets).



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Completed Air Yards Over Expectation - Fantasy Football Risers, Fallers

If you play fantasy football, you know your great deal of statistics and metrics. At the end of the day, we need some way to measure production. While the basic numbers (targets, receptions, yards,...) are often enough to give us a solid idea of what we're dealing with, the truth is that the deeper we dig, the more information we get, and the more data points we have to make sound decisions that help our teams.

At this point in time, the NFL analytics movement is going forward at a good pace and through the last few years, we have seen concepts make it to the surface and become mainstream when assessing players. Enter Air Yards, and "stats over expectation". For example, the very own NFL is publishing data related to how quarterbacks are completing passes over or under expectation over NextGenStats, that is, if they are connecting with receivers in plays they shouldn't (based on historical data) or the opposite. The same goes for rushers and the yards they gain, or receivers and the yards after catch they are able to rack up.

One metric that doesn't appear in NGS, though, is Completed Air Yards Over Expectation. Today, I'll be writing about it and how the field of NFL players have feared in that metric through two weeks of games and leading up to this Sunday's slate of games. Let's get to it.

 

Completed Air Yards Over Expectation (CAYOE) Model

Although the NFL has made public multiple "over-expectation" metrics already, one that is not available but can be easily calculated is the one named in this section's headline: Completed Air Yards Over Expectation (CAYOE). I'm not using NGS data nor model to calculate those values, though, so you might find some differences if you make calculations yourself using those numbers.

As we know the completion probability of every pass thrown by quarterbacks (from zero percent to 100 percent), the air yards traveled by each of those passes, and whether they finished as being completed throws or incomplete ones, we can calculate the CAYOE of each play/receiver and come up with a total and an average per target easily.

 

This is the formula I'm using:

CAYOE = (IF (Complete Pass) THEN (AirYds) ELSE 0) - (IF (AirYds)>0 then COMP%*AirYds ELSE 0)

 

Basically, I look for air yards gained in a play (AirYds if the pass is completed, 0 if it is not), and subtract CMP%*AirYds from it. That means that for example, a pass of 10 AirYds with a 100% chance of being completed would yield the following formula:

CAYOE = 10 - (1.0*10) = 0

 

Meaning the receiver was 100% expected to make the catch, and did so, so he gained no CAYOE at all. If the pass only had a 50% chance of being completed and the receiver hauled it in, though, that'd mean:

CAYOE = 10 - (0.5*10) = 10 - 5 = 5

 

The receiver would be expected to make that catch 50% of the times he's being targeted with it, and as he completed it, he gained 5 CAYOE. Had he missed the reception, then it'd have been "0 - 5 = -5 CAYOE".

 

CAYOE Leaders/Trailers Through Week 2 (Individual Games)

First of all, here is the leaderboard (top-10 leaders and bottom-10 trailers) through two weeks of games, with the performances taken individually--meaning each game is considered separate from each other instead of all combined (we'll tackle that in later in the next section). I have set the minimum targets at 5 for each player/game and sorted the leaderboard by CAYOE/Target.

Some quick takeaways:

  • Julian Edelman had an impossible Week 2 performance. He was targeted more than 10 times (it has happened only 28 times this season through two weeks of games) and racked up the most yards of every player in Weeks 1 and 2 with his 179 (16.2 per target). 86% of those yards came through the air, with just 25 after the catch.
  • Edelman's 83 CAYOE almost doubled the second-highest mark of the first two weeks (Darius Slayton's 43), although on a per-target average the difference wasn't that large between Edelman (7.5) and Marquise Brown (6.5).
  • Edelman's biggest bump in CAYOE came from this insane downfield completion (28% completion probability):

 

  • Don't get it wrong, though: Edelman's 83 CAYOE had little to do with his season average as he posted a negative minus-8 (-1.1 CAYOE/Tgt) in Week 1. The 83-mark was definitely a weekend-winning stat, but it was also a large outlier.
  • Minnesota had a great debut this season with Adam Thielen as its new WR1 after Diggs departure, and he played to the expected level--actually, over it. He was targeted 9 times, reached 112 yards virtually without needing YAC at all (4), and averaged 4.3 CAYOE/Tgt to make the top-10 so far this season. But look at what happened in Week 2: Thielen reached just under a quarter of his Week 1 yard-tally when he should have at least completed receptions for double his yards, and posted one of the bottom-10 CAYOE/Tgt of the first two weeks.
  • Both Odell Beckham Jr. and A.J. Green were the only players to post CAYOE marks at-or-under minus-45. No matter what, they were targeted 10+ times each and wildly underperformed the expectations with less than 30 completed air yards while expected to reach at least 59 in each of those two games.
  • Shame on Christian Kirk. The volume was low at just five targets, but he and his minus-3 completed air yards didn't help Kyler Murray at all while he should have racked up 26 for (at least) an average of 5.0 yards per target without taking potential YAC into account. His worst play in terms of CAYOE was a ball that he was so close to catching but ultimately couldn't:

 

CAYOE Leaders/Trailers Through Week 2 (Season Totals)

With the individual games covered, here is the season-long leaderboard (top-10 leaders and bottom-10 trailers) through two weeks of games. I have set the minimum targets at 10 for each player and sorted the leaderboard by CAYOE/Target over the year.

Some quick takeaways:

  • As I told you above, Edelman's Week 1 was far worse (he posted a negative CAYOE of minus-8) than his Week 2, but even with that he still leads the field through two weeks of play for an average of 4.2 CAYOE/Tgt. Brown also retains his no. 2 spot, in this case with steadier performances of 39 and 6 CAYOE respectively.
  • While Stefon Diggs has been targeted the fifth-most times this season (22), he ranks fifth overall in CAYOE/Tgt after hauling in passes for a combined 67 air yards over expectation. That raw mark is the second-largest only behind Edelman, but it's much healthier as Diggs had 27 CAYOE in W1 and 40 in W2 compared to the much-more-volatile Edelman numbers.
  • This has been Diggs' best play so far, good for all of 24 CAYOE in W2:

 

  • Atlanta's Calvin Ridley is the only player to have accrued more than 200 completed air yards through Week 2 games. He's 13 yards over second-best Stefon Diggs, although he's averaged 0.5 CAYOE/Tgt less than the latter and both are tied with 239 receiving yards.
  • If we go by expected-CAY, then the best receivers of the season should actually be D.J. Moore (153 eCAY) and A.J. Green (148). While Moore has produced at least to those expectations (160 CAY, 0.3 CAYOE/Tgt), Green has been absolutely atrocious with just 67 CAY for a minus-3.7 CAYOE/Tgt.
  • No wonder why Green is the worst receiver so far, no matter the angle you look at him from:

 

  • Although Corey Davis missed on the top-10, he's got the 15th-best CAYOE mark of the year so far and he's converted the most targets in first downs (77%). Only Cooper Kupp (73%) and Calvin Ridley (70%) are at-or-above 70% on the season while targeted at least 10 times.
  • One of the most talked-about players during the first couple of weeks of the season has been TE Logan Thomas, from Washington. He's been good for TE18 through Week 2, but he's been far from efficient completing just 36 air yards of an expected 73 (minus-2.2 CAYOE/Tgt) and still tied with Terry McLaurin (another underperformed) in targets (17).
  • This pass-incomplete combination between QB Dwayne Haskins Jr. and TE Logan Thomas has been the most costly CAYOE-wise from the tight end (minus-9.7 CAYOE, 70% completion probability):

 

Get ready for another Sunday of action, packed-full of interesting matchups. With three matches in the bag when all is said and done after today's (and tomorrow's) slate of games, we should start to see trends solidifying and outliers getting wiped out of the map. Here's to hope Julian Edelman keeps it up and A.J. Green rebounds to his years-prior self and helps Joe Burrow at least a bit more than he has so far this season.



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Week 3 Defense (DEF) Streamers and Starts - 2020 Fantasy Tiers, Rankings

About ten minutes into Week 2, it became clear that the week for fantasy teams would simply be a matter of luck and survival. Some of the NFL's top players on both offense and defense went down with season-ending or multi-week injuries, drastically changing a number of matchups in mere minutes. While injuries are part of the nature of football, it was a particularly devastating week of injuries and one that will have us re-evaluating many of the defensive rankings in weeks to come.

With the chaos in mind, I'm relatively satisfied with getting six of the top 10 defenses correctly for the week. In hindsight, I wish I had trusted the Colts' Week 1 pressure rate a little more against a mediocre Minnesota offense, I may have been too high on the Titans new-look defensive line, and the Bills' defensive injuries impacted the overall scheme more than I had anticipated. So, we will readjust using the new information at our fingertips, and see if we can get a little more accurate this week.

Remember that picking the right defense is not about identifying who will allow the fewest points, but who will cause the most turnovers or tally the most sacks since that has a higher correlation to weekly fantasy DST leaders. That means that, as much these rankings are about the talent on the defensive side of the ball, it is equally about taking advantage of the lack of talent on the offensive side.

 

Week 3 Defenses To Start & Stream: Tiers & Rankings

Below are my Week 3 defense tiers and rankings, or which defenses to stream, start and target off the waiver wire for Week 3 of the NFL and fantasy football season. Our weekly tiered defense rankings are a guide to making waiver wire pickups to improve your lineups, and to decide which defenses to start, sit, target, avoid or stream for Week 3. I've broken out our defense rankings into tiers with analysis on each matchup. Some of these Week 3 defenses have good matchups and are not widely-owned, representing fantasy scoring opportunities if they are available on your league's waiver wire for a Week 3 pickup or add.

Starting the right defense every week can be a difference-maker, so remember to check back here during the week as I will make updates once we get more information on some of these injuries and also get a better sense of the weather for the game.

Returning for this year: Confidence Ratings (out of 15) - Since every league's DST scoring is different, projections don't always make a ton of sense. The confidence rating, which Bill Dubiel started last year, is a guideline for how much more I like one team over another instead of a straight point projection. A zero means "do not start," then the confidence rises from there. I take a lot of factors into account: opponent injuries, home-field advantage, weather (which will be updated during the week), etc. We still have only one game of in-season data to work with, so this week's rankings weigh schedule and personnel heavier than they will down the line.

Typically the top three tiers will be DSTs you should target, with Tier 4 being options in deep leagues and Tier 5 being desperation plays or good defenses in horrendous matchups.

 

Tier 1 Defenses

UPDATED: THURSDAY 4:00 PM

Rank Tier DST Week 2 Opponent Confidence Rating
1 1 Pittsburgh Steelers Defense  vs. HOU 14.1
2 1 Indianapolis Colts Defense  vs. NYJ 13.6
3 1 San Francisco 49ers Defense  @ NYG 12.7
4 1 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Defense  @ DEN 11.7

Yes, the Steelers haven't played the best offenses with wins over the Giants and the Courtland Sutton and Drew Lock-less Denver Broncos, but you can't argue with the talent on this defense. They're first in the league with a 42.6% pressure rate (according to Pro Football Reference) and second in the league with 10 sacks through two games. They're also second in the league with three interceptions. They now face a Texans offense that is 21st in the NFL with an 11.1% turnover rate and has allowed a league-high eight sacks. Even if Deshaun Watson winds up putting points on the board, the Steelers are going to be in the backfield all game, which will lead to sacks and turnovers and that is what we want to target when choosing a fantasy defense.

Man, the Jets are not a good football team. The 49ers were already without George Kittle and Deebo Samuel, but they lost their starting quarterback, starting running back, and two starting defensive ends in the first half of the game against the Jets and still won 31-13. Without Le'Veon Bell and Jamison Crowder, there simply wasn't enough to keep the 49ers guessing on defense. It's possible that Crowder is back on Sunday, but the Jets also lost Chris Hogan and Breshad Perriman to injury this week, which means they would still be extremely short-handed when they take on a Colts defense that is 4th in the NFL with a 33.3% pressure rate and third in the league with seven sacks. Considering the Jets also lost their starting center, Connor McGovern, on Sunday, the Colts' pressure rate could be even more of a factor. While the Colts did lose Malik Hooker to a torn achilles tendon, it likely won't impact the team's ability to stop the undermanned Jets; however, it's a major blow to their long-term outlook.

Talk about two teams limping into a game against one another. The New York Giants, much like the Panthers, just lost their top player in running back Saquon Barkley to a torn ACL; however, the 49ers had defensive stars Joey Bosa and Solomon Thomas leave the game early with apparent ACL injuries, and they're already missing pass rusher Dee Ford. it's a brutal blow to both teams. However, I think the 49ers' defense is better positioned to absorb the losses given the depth on their defense. The Giants without Saquon are just an entirely different offense and one in which the 49ers won't have to fear the run. That will put a lot of pressure on the shoulders of Daniel Jones, and while he may put up a lot of yards and some points, he will likely be on his back a lot since the Giants are second-worst in the league with seven sacks allowed through two games. A young quarterback behind a bad offensive line with no running back help is almost always going to lead to poor decisions and turnovers.

Tampa Bay is an elite run defense. They proved that last year and continue to show it this year by allowing only 2.9 yards per carry on 58 rushes, despite also facing Alvin Kamara, Latavius Murray, and Christian McCaffrey for three quarters before he got hurt. In addition to that, the Bucs have registered a slightly below-average 21% pressure rate (18th in the league) but have six sacks (tied for fourth). On Sunday, they will face a Broncos team that is second-worst in the league with seven sacks allowed and will be without Drew Lock, Courtland Sutton, and Phillip Lindsay. Even at full strength, the Broncos were likely going to find it hard to run on the Bucs, but now they will also have to try to beat them through the air with two rookie wide receivers and Jeff Driskel at quarterback. That's a matchup that you're going to want to target.

 

Tier 2 Defenses

Rank Tier DST Week 2 Opponent Confidence Rating
5 2 Buffalo Bills Defense  vs. LAR 11.5
6 2 Los Angeles Chargers Defense vs. CAR 11.4
7 2 Washington Football Team Defense @ CLE 10.3
8 2 Cleveland Browns Defense  vs. WAS 9.9

The Bills defense has played only two quarters this season with star linebackers Matt Milano and Tremaine Edwards. The impact was obvious on Sunday as you watched Dolphins tight end Mike Gesicki just toy with thee backups. However, both men have gotten limited practices in to begin the week so there is optimism that they will be back in time for the showdown against the Rams. That's good news for the Bills, who rely on their linebackers to not only cover the middle of the field but in their blitz packages. The Bills have blitzed the 6th-most in the NFL so far, so getting those weapons back will be crucial for them. While the Rams are currently 2-0, with wins over the Cowboys and short-handed Eagles, let's not forget who Jared Goff has proven himself to be in his NFL career. With a clean pocket, he is a talented passer; however, he is prone to collapses and boneheaded throws. A healthy Bills defense will be a much bigger test than anything he has seen so far this season, especially after starting right guard Joe Noteboom left Sunday's win with a calf injury and didn't return.

The Chargers defense was impressive in keeping the Chiefs offense off the scoreboard for much of Sunday afternoon, and they are also 5th in the league with a 29.9% pressure rate and have two sacks in each game. The talent on this defense is clearly top-notch and they will now get to face a Carolina team that won't have its best player after Christian McCaffrey suffered a high ankle sprain on Sunday. So the defense that just held Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill, and Sammy Watkins to 289 passing yards will face Teddy Bridgewater, D.J. Moore, and Robby Anderson. That offense is no match for a Chargers secondary that just added Chris Harris Jr. to a secondary that already featured Pro Bowl CB Casey Heyward. With the Panther likely being forced to pass more, the Chargers can sell out on the pass rush, and I don't think Bridgewater will be able to make them pay.

Washington may not be a great football team, but it's really their offense that still has a fair amount of improving to do. The Washington defensive line is elite and their secondary was much-maligned coming into the season, but they put up a respectable showing against Kyler Murray and a high-powered Cardinals offense by limiting him to 278 yards passing and picking him off once. Yes, they were also taken advantage of on the ground, particularly by Murray, who ran for 67 yards and two touchdowns. However, Washington still sacked Murray three times and is 11th in the NFL with a 24.7% pressure rate and first in the league with 11 sacks through two games. That sack rate is clearly not sustainable, and they will now face a Browns team that has only given up two sacks total on the season, but Baker Mayfield is prone to making head-scratching throws, and this Browns offense is as inconsistent as they come. There will be ample opportunity for Washington's elite pressure rate to cause sacks and poor decisions which will lead to turnovers and fantasy points.

You may be thinking: "the Browns in the top 10? Are you crazy!?" The answer is that I hope not. The Browns have always had talent on their defense but have underperformed or been let down by their offense. That hasn't been the result so far, even though beating up on the Bengals on Thursday isn't exactly a high threshold to meet. However, through two weeks, the Browns are sixth in the NFL with a 28.6% pressure rate. That has only turned into five total sacks, but some of that can be attributed to Ben Roethlisberger getting the ball out in time and Joe Burrow scrambling around more than many quarterbacks will. The Browns will now bring their elite pressure rate into a matchup with Dwayne Haskins and the Washington Football Team, who are tied for second-worst in the league with seven sacks allowed in two games and just lost Brandon Scherff, one of the best guards in football, to a knee injury. With the Browns likely to get lots of pressure, I would be shocked if that didn't lead to a Haskins turnover or two, which only makes Cleveland a more attractive defense in Week 3.

 

Tier 3 Defenses

Rank Tier DST Week 2 Opponent Confidence Rating
9 3 Philadelphia Eagles Defense vs. CIN 9.5
10 3 New England Patriots Defense  vs. LV 9.0
11 3 Los Angeles Rams Defense @ BUF 8.4
12 3 Atlanta Falcons Defense vs. CHI 7.6
13 3 Tennessee Titans Defense @ MIN 7.5
14 3 Arizona Cardinals Defense vs. DET 7.4
15 3 Cincinnati Bengals Defense @PHI 6.9

 

The Eagles defense certainly hasn't looked great to start the year; however, I believe this has more to do with an offense that has allowed eight sacks and turned the ball over six times in two games. The offense has repeatedly put the defense in terrible situations and kept the defense on the field, causing the players to get tired and worn down. Fortunately for Philadelphia, their opponent on Sunday has been equally as giving on offense and might not have the firepower to make the Eagles pay for their mistakes. The Bengals have allowed six sacks in two games and have turned the ball over three times. The Eagles are only 15th in the NFL with a 22.7% pressure rate, but they just got Brandon Graham, Javon Hargrave, and Derek Barnett back for the first time on Sunday against the Rams. With a full week of practice under their belts, I expect those three talented defenders to put up a much better showing against a mediocre Bengals offensive line and put pressure on rookie quarterback Joe Burrow.

The Patriots may no longer be the favorites to win the AFC East, but that doesn't mean that they aren't a good football team. They are 3rd in the NFL with a 33.8% pressure rate, and while that has only led to three sacks, it has led to 12 quarterback hurries and contributed to picking off three passes against Ryan Fitzpatrick in Week 1. Week 2 was not as kind, but the Seahawks are going to be a tough matchup for anybody now that they're letting Russell Wilson cook. The Raiders allowed zero sacks in their Week 1 blowout, but the game against the Saints was a big step up in competition. The Saints were able to get to Carr three times, and the Raiders offense only gained 375 total yards, but they did put up 34 points on a good defense, which indicates that they could be a challenge for opposing defenses. The Patriots gameplan without Tom Brady appears to be to slow the game down and use Cam as a runner (unless they're forced to play catch-up). This will likely mean fewer plays, which knocks them down the rankings a little bit, but I also expect Belicheck to scheme a way to stop Josh Jacobs and force Derek Carr to beat them through the air, which could lead to a few sacks from that high pressure rate and a turnover or two.

The Rams defense is underperforming their talent so far. They're 26th in the league with a 15.7% pressure rate and have only three sacks in two games. That's particularly troubling considering one of those games was against the Philadelphia Eagles, who lead the league in sacks allowed. The Bills offense has allowed four sacks in two games, and Josh Allen has looked tremendous, but he's also prone to stupid mistakes and nearly lost another fumble last week when he tried to take on a linebacker and then a defensive end to fight for a first down. The Rams defense will be a big step up for Josh Allen and company, and I would imagine Sean McDermott will try to slow the game down and keep the Rams offense off the field if he can. This could mean fewer scoring opportunities for the Bills.

Yes, Atlanta blew a massive lead to Dallas and most people will scoff at the idea of using their defense. However, facing Dallas and Seattle is not exactly an easy task for an opposing defense, and the Falcons were playing really well in the first half before going on cruise control. They are 9th in the league with a 26.7% pressure rate with four sacks and ten quarterback knockdowns despite playing two incredibly mobile quarterbacks in Russell Wilson and Dak Prescott. On Sunday they will face Mitch Trubisky. The Falcons run defense is currently 9th in the league, allowing 4.1 yards per carry to two elite run defenses, so I expect them to be able to stop the Bears on the ground and face Trubisky to beat them through the air. That is going to lead to sacks and turnovers.

I have not been impressed by the Titans' defense so far. They've allowed 803 total yards, which is 24th in the league, have only two interceptions and two sacks on the season, and are 20th in the NFL with an 18.8% pressure rate. They also lost Jonathan Joseph to injury last week after already being without Adoree Jackson, so this secondary is really beat up. The only reason I have them this high is that the Vikings are not a talented football team and Gary Kubiak, their offensive coordinator, came out this week and suggested that their team needs to run the football more. Yes, they have Dalvin Cook, but running the ball more isn't going to all of the sudden make this offense scary, and it also doesn't take advantage of the injuries on the Titans. Perhaps this is a get-right game for a defense that has a talented line.

The aforementioned Cardinals are now 2-0 and making good on their promise to be one of the breakout teams of 2020. However, they've been doing it as much with their defense as with their high-flying offense. The Cardinals are 12th in the NFL in pressure rate with a 24% rate and are tied for third in the league with seven sacks. However, the Detroit Lions will likely get star wide receiver Kenny Golladay back this week, which is a massive upgrade for their offense. They're currently 21st in the NFL with five sacks allowed through two games, but I think this is likely going to be a high-scoring game, and with Golladay in tow, Stafford has more weapons to throw to, which could limit the time he needs to spend in the pocket. If the Lions can also get D'Andre Swift more involved in the passing game, that could severely limit the Cardinals' sack chances.

Surprisingly, the Bengals are 8th in the NFL in pressure rate with a 27.6% rate. They have only two sacks on the year, but their 13 quarterback hurries are 4th in the NFL. That's enough to make me intrigued by them in deeper leagues since they are going up against an Eagles team that leads the league in sacks and pressure allowed. The Eagles also lost another offensive lineman on Sunday when guard Isaac Seumalo went down for what is likely to be the rest of the season. That means Jason Kelce is the only presumed Eagles starter on the offensive line that has survived the first two weeks. I expect the Bengals to be in the backfield often this week.

 

Tier 4 Defenses

Rank Tier DST Week 2 Opponent Confidence Rating
16 4 New York Jets Defense vs. IND 5.9
17 4 New Orleans Saints Defense vs. GB 5.5
18 4 Kansas City Chiefs Defense  @ BAL 5.2
19 4 New York Giants Defense vs. SF 5.0
20 4 Baltimore Ravens Defense vs. KC 4.5
21 4 Green Bay Packers Defense @ NO 4.4
22 4 Chicago Bears Defense @ ATL 4.0

The Jets may be bad on offense, but their defensive line is certainly still elite. The Jets are currently 7th in the NFL with a 28% pressure rate. They have six sacks on the season, to go along with 11 quarterback knockdowns. While their numbers against the run aren't great, those are skewed by two big plays against the 49ers, one of which was when the game was already out of reach. The Jets defensive line certainly has the personnel to keep Jonathan Taylor from running wild, which will lead to more passing attempts for immobile Phillip Rivers who is throwing to a depleted Colts receiving group with TY Hilton looking like a shell of his former self and Parris Campbell and Jack Doyle both out. I expect the Colts to score points, and probably win, but I think the Jets will notch a few sacks and give themselves a chance at a decent fantasy day.

The Saints may have allowed 34 points to the Raiders on Monday night, but they actually did a good job with Josh Jacobs, holding him to 88 yards on 27 carries. The Raiders receivers were also relatively ineffective, as the only offensive player to really do damage was tight end Darren Waller. The Packers don't have that kind of weapon at tight end. Davante Adams will be back, but may be at less than 100%, and will have to square off against Marshon Lattimore. The Saints have six sacks on the season and will be facing a Packers offensive line that has already lost two starters in Corey Linsley and Lane Taylor.

You never really want to recommend defenses playing against Lamar Jackson and company, which is really the only reason the Chiefs are so far down on this list. They're an opportunistic defense that is 4th in the league with a 26.7% pressure rate, tied for 4th with six sacks, and also has two interceptions on the young season. While Lamar Jackson is elusive and a dangerous playmaker, the Ravens have allowed a combined six sacks in the first two games of the season, so it's not as if the Chiefs will be held to a blank slate on Sunday. I expect the pace of play to be high here, so the more plays the offenses will run, the higher the chances of sacks and turnovers become. That gives this Chiefs Defense a chance to put up a decent number of points despite the tough matchup.

The Giants get the benefit of facing a 49ers team that will be without Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, Jimmy Garropolo, Raheem Mostert, and Tevin Coleman. Yes, they will likely still lose that game, but it's not an offense to be incredibly scared of. The Giants currently have a respectable six sacks and 19.1% pressure rate, so they could notch a few sacks in what should be an ugly and low scoring game.

The Baltimore Ravens are currently the favorite in their Monday night showdown with Kansas City, but I'm not as optimistic about their defense for fantasy purposes. They're still a tremendously talented group, and a top play against most opponents, but the Chiefs have allowed only two sacks total on the season 12.2% pressure rate is 22nd in the NFL. It's possible that the blowouts they've had in both games have led to more defensive substitutions, which has led to decreased production, but I don't love their chances to put up a massive sack total against the Chiefs. The Ravens also lost starting cornerback Tavon Young to a season-ending knee injury, and while they have the depth to replace him, losing cornerback depth right before playing the Kansas City Chiefs is never an ideal situation. In the end, I think the Ravens will get a couple of sacks and maybe a turnover, but the Chiefs are also going to put points on the board so I don't see a ton of upside in this matchup.

As we saw on Monday night, the Saints are not as dynamic an offense without Michael Thomas. They simply lack the big-play ability, and Drew Brees has an exceptionally low average depth of target (aDOT) as he uses his running backs more in the passing game. They can still put up points, but I don't think this is a team that is going to score 30+ until Thomas comes back, which raises the floor for defenses playing against them. The Packers are 13th in the NFL with a 23.2% pressure rate and have six sacks in two games, so they can raise the fantasy floor a little bit; although, I don't think there is really high upside in this contest.

The Bears have a shockingly low 12.8% pressure rate, which is 30th in the NFL. They've managed five sacks on only 12 total pressures, which is a tremendous rate, but is also showing that they're not getting to the quarterback that much. They've been solid against the pass, currently 10th in the league in yards allowed per attempt, but they've also played the Giants and Kenny Golladay-less Lions, so the competition hasn't been incredibly strong. This Falcons offense is another animal and if the Bears aren't going to get into the backfield and put pressure on Matt Ryan then I can't be too confident in them as a play.

 

Tier 5 Defenses

Rank Tier DST Week 2 Opponent Confidence Rating
23 5 Seattle Seahawks Defense vs. DAL 3.9
24 5 Jacksonville Jaguars Defense vs. MIA 3.7
25 5 Houston Texans Defense @ PIT 3.3
26 5 Miami Dolphins Defense @ JAX 3.1
27 5 Denver Broncos Defense vs. TB 2.5
28 5 Las Vegas Raiders Defense @ NE 1.7
29 5 Dallas Cowboys Defense @ SEA 1.5
30 5 Carolina Panthers Defense @ LAC 0.6
31 5 Minnesota Vikings Defense vs. TEN 0.55
32 5 Detroit Lions Defense @ ARI 0.4


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NFL Survivor Pool Picks (Week 3) - Targets and Avoids

Week 2 saw another great day of action, but some teams will begin looking very different after devastating injuries across the league. Saquon Barkley, Nick Bosa, Courtland Sutton, are all out for the season with torn ACLs. Malik Hooker is done with a torn Achilles. Christian McCaffrey and Drew Lock will miss some time. Jimmy Garoppolo too. It's tough to fathom how anyone could replace Barkley, Bosa, and Sutton but I'm reminded of the famous football saying, 'next man up.'

My best bets against the spread went 1-2 but my survivor picks went 6-0 straight up. Nothing to brag about when favorites went 14-2 straight up (Rams and Raiders were sole outright underdogs winners.) Underdogs though went 9-7 against the spread. With Week 2 seeing nearly all the favorites win, it can only mean one thing for the coming weeks; beware, survivor doomsday is nearing.

This week we have another full slate kicking off with the Jaguars and Dolphins Thursday night.

 

Survivor League Week 3

Teams favored by a touchdown or more in Week 3 per The Action Network (home team in caps); COLTS -10.5 vs. Jets, PATRIOTS -6 vs. Raiders, EAGLES -6.5 vs. Bengals, BROWNS -7 vs. Washington, CHARGERS -7 vs. Panthers, CARDINALS -6.5 vs. Lions, BUCS -6 @ Broncos.

If you're reading this article on Thursday or later, these lines are from Tuesday. Check the current spreads and see how the line moved.

I'm going to be giving out my three top plays against the spread. That can be found at the bottom of the column.

 

Top Survivor Picks for Week 3

COLTS -10.5 vs. Jets

The Jets may be the worst team in the NFL. The offense ranks bottom five in many statistics like yards per play, rushing yards per game, and rushing yards per game. They have no playmakers. Sam Darnold looks like he's taken a step backward. The team looks lost. They'll have real trouble moving the ball Sunday against a Colts Defense that's first in the league in opponent yards per game with 208. The Colts offense is averaging 5.9 yards per play which ranks in the top half of the league.

Colts 27 - Jets 14

PATRIOTS -6 vs. Raiders

Vegas is off a huge win to open their new stadium. They gave a 110% percent going all out in a physical game against the Saints. I'm not sure if that will take a toll on a team traveling east for an early 1 p.m. game.

I loved the Steelers last week because the Broncos played in the second Monday night game and then had to travel east. The Raiders are in the same situation. Records for West Coast teams from 2003 to 2018 were 80-133 (37.6%) straight up, a 37.6% win percentage. Jon Gruden is very good at scripting plays early on, but so is Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels.

Patriots 24 - Raiders 16

Bucs -6 @ BRONCOS

This game is more about the injuries to Denver. They're without Drew Lock, Courtland Sutton, and Von Miller. Bradley Chubb has looked nonexistent in two games with only three tackles, one for a loss, and one quarterback hit. The way to beat Tom Brady is to pressure him and they won't be able to do that. Plus their offense is going to struggle to score without its top playmaker.

Bucs 28 - Broncos 16

CHARGERS -7 vs. Panthers

The Chargers gave one valiant effort against the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs. As of this writing, it's unclear if Tyrod Taylor or Justin Herbert will start. Herbert looked a lot better but this game won't be about the Chargers offense. Their defense is one of the league's best and the Panthers have no offensive firepower with the absence of Christian McCaffrey.

Chargers 24 - Panthers 13

 

Top Survivor Picks to Avoid 

EAGLES -6.5 vs. Bengals

Philly has played one good half of football so far. Carson Wentz is unpredictable. How could he throw an interception into double coverage in the end zone against the Rams. The Eagles Defense has good statistical numbers but when you watch them, they don't look so good. They've given up 27 and 37 points. Joe Burrow and the Bengals will come in with nothing to lose and play fearless. They've had an extra few days to prepare for this one too.

Eagles 23 - Bengals 21

BROWNS -7 vs. Washington

This game will come down to Washington's front seven against the Brown's offensive line. Cleveland has allowed two sacks while Washington has 11 sacks. Baker Mayfield is really bad under pressure and if they can't get their running game going, it's going to be a big problem for the offense. Washington isn't going to score a lot but their defense can keep them in games if they can hold the opponent to around 17-20.

Washington 17 - Browns 16

CARDINALS -5.5 vs. Lions

The Cardinals look like the highest-octane offense in football through two games while the Lions look like the same hapless team. Detroit is going to give their all in all attempts not to fall to 0-3. It's hard to believe but they've held double-digit leads in both losses this year.

Lions 31 - Cardinals 27

 

Best Bets for Week 3

  • Patriots -6.5 vs. Raiders - Also really like Patriots first half in case Raiders come out sluggish with early 1 p.m. start.
  • Titans -2.5 @ Vikings - Minnesota looks like one of the bottom-five worst teams. I know it's only two games but their offense looks dreadful. Tennessee can play defense and score points.
  • Rams +2.5 @ Bills - Buffalo beat the Jets and Dolphins while the Rams beat the Cowboys and Eagles. Let's see how Buffalo plays against a team with an actual offense.

 

Running Totals

  • Last week: 3-3
  • 2020 season total: 1-2
  • 2019 season total: 23-26-2


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Week 2 Defense (DEF) Streamers and Starts - 2020 Fantasy Tiers, Rankings

Man, it was fun to watch NFL football again. In addition to just enjoying the games, we got to get a more clear understanding of the talent that teams are putting out onto the field and who might have stronger offensive or defensive units than we initially anticipated. Remember that picking the right defense is as much about the talent on the defensive side of the ball as it is about taking advantage of the lack of talent on the offensive side.

Below are my Week 2 defense tiers and rankings, or which defenses to stream, start and target off the waiver wire for Week 2 of the NFL and fantasy football season. In case you missed it, this is our eighth year now writing this weekly column. Our weekly tiered defense rankings are a guide to making waiver wire pickups to improve your lineups, and to decide which defenses to start, sit, target, avoid or stream for Week 2. Starting the right defense every week can be a difference-maker.

Below I've broken out our defense rankings into tiers with analysis on each matchup. Some of these Week 2 defenses have good matchups and are not widely-owned, representing fantasy scoring opportunities if they are available on your league's waiver wire for a Week 2 pickup or add.

 

Week 2 Defenses To Start & Stream: Tiers & Rankings

Typically the top three tiers will be DSTs you should target, with Tier 4 being options in deep leagues and Tier 5 being desperation plays or good defenses in horrendous matchups.

Returning for this year: Confidence Ratings (out of 15) - Since every league's DST scoring is different, projections don't always make a ton of sense. The confidence rating, which Bill Dubiel started last year, is a guideline for how much more I like one team over another instead of a straight point projection. A zero means "do not start," then the confidence rises from there. I take a lot of factors into account: opponent injuries, home-field advantage, weather (which will be updated during the week), etc. We still have only one game of in-season data to work with, so this week's rankings weigh schedule and personnel heavier than they will down the line.

 

Tier 1 Defenses

Rank Tier DST Week 2 Opponent Confidence Rating
1 1 San Francisco 49ers Defense vs. NYJ 14.75
2 1 Buffalo Bills Defense @ MIA 13.1*
3 1 Pittsburgh Steelers Defense vs. DEN 12.7
4 1 Baltimore Ravens Defense @ HOU 11.5

Yes, the 49ers took a surprising loss to the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday; however, that doesn't stop them from being one of the league's top defenses. With the addition of DeAndre Hopkins and Kyler Murray feeling more confident in his second year in the offense, the Cardinals were always a trendy pick to take a big leap forward this year. Don't overreact to one game. Instead, imagine what the 49ers are going to do to Adam Gase and his inept offense. The Jets put up 276 yards against the Bills in Week 1 and 69 of them came on one busted play for Jamison Crowder. The rest of the time, the Jets were unable to sustain any drives, except after the game had been put away in the 4th quarter, and, to top it off, Le'Veon Bell left the game early with a quad injury. If the Jets have to go forward with only Frank Gore and Breshad Perriman to help Crowder and Sam Darnold, it's going to be a very long day.

The Bills defense thoroughly dominated the Jets on Sunday. As mentioned above, they allowed 207 yards if you take away one busted play to Jamison Crowder. The Jets gained 86 additional yards on their final drive of the game when the Bills were up 27-10 with less than six minutes to play. With three sacks and an interception added on top, the Bills showed just how elite a unit they can be. Certainly, one with way more talent than the Dolphins' offensive unit possesses. However, a key will be to monitor the health of the Bills linebacking corps. Four of the Bills six active linebackers, including starters Matt Milano and Tremaine Edwards, left the game with an injury. *If one or both of them isn't able to suit up against the Dolphins, it would be a blow to the Bills defensive ranking and really test their depth.

The Steelers lost Javon Hargrave in the offseason, and some wondered what type of impact that would have on their defensive unit. None. This team is stacked. Listen, I know the Giants haven't been good in a while, but their offense has scored points. The Steelers putting the clamps on them was not a given, but it was a good sign that there will likely not be any dropoff in this unit. Now they get another young, inexperienced quarterback and don't have to gameplan for a dynamic talent like Saquon Barkley (although Courtland Sutton isn't a slouch). I expect it to be a low-scoring affair and wouldn't be surprised if the Steelers came away with a few turnovers and a handful of sacks as the cherry on top.

As we mentioned in Week 1, the Baltimore Ravens have perhaps the most balanced defensive unit in football, and they made Baker Mayfield and the Browns look awful on Sunday. While they only recorded two sacks, they forced three turnovers and had the Browns disoriented all game. You may look at the Texans and say that they are a stiffer test, but I'm not entirely sure that's true. Without DeAndre Hopkins, this offense is not much different from the Browns. Yes, Deshaun Watson is much better than Mayfield, but the Browns backfield and wide receiver corps are vastly superior to what the Texans trot out there, and that's before we get to the offensive line. On Thursday night, the Chiefs had 18 QB hurries, 25 pressures, and a 62.5% pressure rate against these Texans. That's an absurd stat and makes me think that the Ravens defense is absolutely going to feast on this Texans offensive line.

 

Tier 2 Defenses

Rank Tier DST Week 2 Opponent Confidence Rating
5 2 Kansas City Chiefs Defense vs. LAC 10.95
6 2 Los Angeles Rams Defense @ PHI 10.5
7 2 New Orleans Saints Defense @ LV 10.2
8 2 Tennessee Titans Defense vs JAX 9.6

As mentioned above, the Chiefs' defensive unit was in the backfield at will on Thursday. They dialed up 13 blitzes, hit Watson seven times, sacked him four, and picked off one pass. This is, in part, because the Chiefs offense is so dynamic so their defense knows teams have to throw to keep up. That gives them the freedom to pin their ears back and get after the quarterback, which means that even if they let up a decent amount of yards and points as a unit, they still can finish with a huge fantasy day. I expect that to continue against a Chargers offense that looked totally punchless against a poor Bengals team. Tyrod Taylor has the legs to avoid taking too many sacks, but if the Chargers need to throw the ball to keep up with the Chiefs, it's going to take Tyrod out of his comfort zone and led to forced throws and turnovers.

Despite being a massive underdog, the Washington Football Team allowed only 265 total yards to the Eagles while sacking Carson Wentz eight times and forcing two interceptions. The performance was partially an indication of the talent on Washington's defense but also just a clear warning sign of how banged up the Eagles are on offense. They were without three starting offensive lineman, plus Miles Sanders and Alshon Jeffrey. Sanders and Lane Johnson will "try to do more in practice" this week, but this is still going to be an under-manned offense that will allow tons of pressure, which is horrible news against a defense line of Aaron Donald, Michael Brockers, and Leonard Floyd. The Rams held a strong Cowboys offense in check on Sunday night while also sacking Dak Prescott three times. The Cowboys offensive line - and offense in general - is much better than what the Eagles will trot out on Sunday, and this could be another game where the defense feasts on the birds.

We expected the Saints defensive unit to finish in the top 10 but were a little worried about what the new-look Bucs defense would do. It turns out, it simply didn't matter. The Saints allowed only 325 yards of total offense while sacking Brady three times and picking him off twice. The Las Vegas Raiders boast some talent on the offensive end, but it's not anything close to what the Bucs put on the field, and the Saints dismantled that unit. If the Saints can do that to the Bucs offense, I love their chances of handling the Raiders on Sunday.

The Tennessee defensive line is scary. After signing Jadeveon Clowney, they added him to a defense that already features Jeffrey Simmons, Vic Beasley, and a dynamic secondary. The Titans were a little banged up in Week 1 without Beasley and cornerback Adoree Jackson (who will be out three weeks), and the Jaguars put up a solid performance in a 27-20 win against the Colts but that was mainly on the back of their defense, which sacked Phillip Rivers four times and had the league's highest pressure rate. While the Colts' defense is solid, this is more of a sign that the Jaguars haven't quite fixed all of their offensive line issues from last year. The Titans have a superior defensive line and should be able to get in Gardner Minshew's face just as much as the Colts did. The Titans offensive gameplan will also slow the game down and give the Jaguars offense less time on the field, which should lead to fewer yards and, potentially, fewer points than the 27 they hung on the Colts. All of which makes me inclined to buy into the Titans this week.

 

Tier 3 Defenses

Rank Tier DST Week 2 Opponent Confidence Rating
9 3 Arizona Cardinals Defense vs WAS 9.1
10 3 Chicago Bears Defense @ NYG 8.9
11 3 Denver Broncos Defense @ PIT 8.1
12 3 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Defense vs. CAR 7.9
13 3 Indianapolis Colts Defense vs. MIN 7.5
14 3 Seattle Seahawks Defense vs. NE 7.1
15 3 Miami Dolphins Defense vs. BUF 6.9

Well, the Cardinals certainly rose to the challenge in Week 1 against the defending NFC champions, holding the 49ers to 20 points and sacking Jimmy Garroppolo three times. I don't all of a sudden think that this is a ferocious unit, but Dre Kirkpatrick is a fine complement to Patrick Peterson and both Chandler Jones and newly-signed Jordan Phillips can push the pocket. Where the Cardinals shine for me this week is their matchup. Washington may have won Week 1, but their offense didn't look inspiring at all. They simply capitalized on a banged-up Eagles team. The Cardinals offense should do much better against Washington, which will force Dwayne Haskins to play catch-up and take more chanced through the air. That's where the sacks and picks will come, and a big reason the Cardinals could put together another stellar defensive performance.

The Bears did not look great against the Lions this week, but the Lions are a solid offense with Matthew Stafford under center, even without Kenny Golladay. Still, this is not the same elite Bears unit. They do have impressive top-end talent in Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks, plus an experienced corps of linebackers, but it's not a unit to win you your week like they used to be. The good news for the Bears is that the Giants' offensive line has its own share of weaknesses and Daniel Jones still takes a few too many chances with the ball, which means some sacks and turnovers could add fantasy value despite the Giants being able to move the football and score.

The Broncos have lost Chris Harris Jr. and Von Miller, so even though they gained A.J. Bouyeand Jurell Casey and got back Bradley Chubb, this is not as dynamic a unit as it could have been. Still, the were able to hit Tannehill eight times behind a strong Titans offensive line and showed some punch in a grinding Monday Night Football battle. It should be a knocked down, drag-it-out fight against the Steelers, but a Steelers offense with Ben Roethlisberger back is far more dynamic than the one led by Mason Rudolph. Keep an eye on James Conner's status because if he were to miss the game, it would elevate the Broncos a few spots, even though Benny Snell did look good in the win over the Giants.

The Tampa Bay Bucs may have come out flat in their showdown against the Saints, but it wasn't the defense's fault. There was some excitement surrounding the unit after they signed Ndamukong Suh and drafted Antoine Winfield Jr to pair with solid young players like Lavonte David, Devin White, and Vita Vea. The Bucs were an elite run defense last year and carried that over into 2020 allowing the Saints to gain only 2.4 yards per carry on 34 rushes. Everybody knows how Carolina wants to move the ball. If the Bucs can make it hard for Christian McCaffrey to get going, they can keep the Panthers in check and force them to make Teddy Bridgewater make plays.

As I mentioned above, the Colts had the second-highest pressure rate in the league after Week 1 and the highest sack percentage at 16.7%, which is good news because they spent a lot of resources on improving their defense in the offseason. The Colts also only allowed 264 yards of offense but were done in by a few Phillip Rivers turnovers in his own end. They now take on a Minnesota Vikings offense that features a dynamic running game but a passing attack that has lost some of its bite without Stefon Diggs. They totaled 393 yards in a shootout with the Packers but a lot of that was in playing from behind, and I don't think this is much more than a ball-control offense. They likely won't give up many sacks but the Colts should keep them from scoring too many points, which still makes them a solid unit for the week.

It's simple here: the Dolphins defense might not be great, but Josh Allen loves to turn the ball over. The Dolphins had two sacks and a fifth-best 9.5% pressure rate against the Patriots, and the Bills are without their starting right guard Jon Feliciano. The Dolphins could lose and still come away with a few turnovers.

 

Tier 4 Defenses

Rank Tier DST Week 2 Opponent Confidence Rating
16 4 Cleveland Browns Defense vs CIN 6.5
17 4 New England Patriots Defense @ SEA 6.2
18 4 Washington Football Team Defense @ ARI 5.15
19 4 Green Bay Packers Defense vs. DET 4.9
20 4 Philadelphia Eagles Defense vs LAR 4.45
21 4 Dallas Cowboys Defense vs ATL 4.15
22 4 Minnesota Vikings Defense @ IND 3.9

Losing Mack Wilson is a bit of a blow for the Browns defense, and Olivier Vernon is still only practicing as a limited participant, which isn't great news before a Thursday game. On top of that, rookie cornerback Greedy Williams hasn't even been able to practice with a shoulder injury. That turned a potentially enticing streaming matchup against the Bengals into simply a solid, but not salivating opportunity.

The Patriots are a solid defensive team, but I'm not sure they're particularly elite. Yes, they picked Ryan Fitzpatrick off three times but what NFL franchise hasn't done that? They were also only able to get a 3.2% pressure rate against a mediocre offensive line, and I don't want to trust them after Russell Wilson looked lights out to start the season.

Guess who the number one fantasy defense is after one week? Yup, the Washington Football Team. While that is clearly a product of the Eagles limping into the game, this defense is loaded with former first-round picks, including second overall pick Chase Young, who had 1.5 sacks in his first NFL game. Washington had the third-best pressure rate last year, and also the third-best rate in Week 1. The secondary is still an issue, and I look for the Cardinals to put up a lot of yards and a fair few points, but I think Washington will record enough sacks and force a turnover or two, which will make this a startable defensive unit in deep leagues.

The Packers allowed almost 400 yards of offense to the Vikings and weren't able to get much pressure on Kirk Cousins. The Lions will feature perhaps a more dynamic offense (especially if Kenny Golladay returns), so this isn't a game that I'm excited to roster any defense.

The Eagles just lost Vinny Curry for four weeks on top of all of their other injuries. The offense will likely keep putting the defense in bad spots until they can get to full strength.

The Cowboys lost Robert Quinn and Maliek Collins in free agency and then lost Leighton Vander Esch for six weeks during a Week 1 loss. It's a banged-up unit set to face an elite offense. Even with some talent left on the Cowboys' roster, that's just not a match-up I can recommend attacking.

The narrative about the Minnesota Vikings being a top-notch defensive unit is outdated. They've seen a lot of talent leave town and they now have a collection of young talent learning how to play together. That inexperienced unit allowed 522 yards to the Packers while getting 0 pressures against a mediocre Packers offensive line. The Colts don't have the same offensive firepower, but their offensive line is one of the best in the league and won't make it easy for the Vikings to get any pressure.

 

Tier 5 Defenses

Rank Tier DST Week 2 Opponent Confidence Rating
23 5 Jacksonville Jaguars Defense vs. TEN 3.7
24 5 New York Jets Defense vs. SF 3.0
25 5 Cincinnati Bengals Defense @ CLE 2.9
26 5 New York Giants Defense @ CHI 2.8
27 5 Detroit Lions Defense @ GB 2.5
28 5 Atlanta Falcons Defense @ DAL 2.1
29 5 Los Angeles Chargers Defense vs KC 0.85
30 5 Las Vegas Raiders Defense vs NO 0.65
31 5 Houston Texans Defense vs BAL 0.55
32 5 Carolina Panthers Defense @ TB 0.4


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NFL Survivor Pool Picks (Week 2) - Targets and Avoids

A full Sunday slate of football, watching the Red Zone channel, and not having to change the channel finally felt like a return to normalcy. What felt even more normal was Phillip Rivers throwing a late-game interception, the Lions losing in heartbreaking fashion, the Broncos losing yet another close one, and Baker Mayfield looking lost.

My best bets against the spread went 2-1 but my survivor picks went 1-2 (Colts lost to Titans, Lions lost to Bears, and Steelers beat Giants). The Colts held a 7-0 lead with the ball in the red zone late in the first. They proceeded to have fourth-and-one from the three when Nyheim Hines got stuffed. Right then and there, Colts backer knew we were in trouble. I even in-gamed Indy -13.5 in the red zone so that was a loser right there. As for the Lions, this is the second year in a row where the Lions held a lead of 17 points or more in the fourth quarter to then blow it (they tied the Cardinals last year.) Then for D'Andre Swift to drop the ball was nauseating. Even more sickening, I have Detroit to win division, make playoffs, and over their win total.

The Colts losing knocked 25 percent of survivor entrants out of my pool. The Eagles knocked out anther nine. Favorites went 7-6-1 against the spread, 9-5 straight up with underdogs winning five games outright. Two games were pick 'em. This week we have another full slate kicking off with the Bengals and Browns Thursday night.

 

Survivor League Week 2

Teams favored by seven or more in Week 2 per The Action Network (home team in caps); TITANS -9.5 vs. Jaguars, BUCS -9 vs. Panthers, 49ers -7 @ JETS, CHIEFS -8.5 @ Chargers. There are several games where the line is around six.

If you're reading this article on Thursday or later, these lines are from Tuesday. Check the current spreads and see how the line moved.

I'm going to be giving out my three top plays against the spread. That can be found at the bottom of the column.

 

Top Survivor Picks for Week 2

49ers -7 @ JETS

I'm usually hesitant about taking west coast teams traveling east for a 1 PM ET game. Records for West Coast teams from 2003 to 2018 were 80-133 (37.6%) straight up, a 37.6% win percentage. But this is more how about how putrid the Jets are than the Niners having to travel east. As a Jets fan, I couldn't even watch their game against the Bills. This was the Jets drive summary in the first half Sunday.

Just embarrassing. The 49ers, like the Bills, will jump all over the Jets early. The 49ers Defense seemingly struggles with mobile quarterbacks, but Sam Darnold is not a dual-threat. The Jets Defense looked awful and the Niners have more weapons than the Bills do.

49ers 24 - Jets 13

 

STEELERS -6 vs. Broncos

As I ignore the trend of a west coast team coming east, I now veer to it. But this one I like more because Denver played in the last game of the week, the 10 p.m. Monday game and then have to travel to Pittsburgh for an early 1 p.m. start Sunday. Pittsburgh also played Monday night but it was the early game and it was in New Jersey, not that far from Pittsburgh.

The Steelers Defense, as expected, stifled Daniel Jones and the Giants offense. The Steelers offense picked it up as the game went along. Meanwhile the Broncos looked just how they did last season. Good defense, an offense that doesn't take too many chances, and then losing with less than 30 seconds left. Drew Lock did not face too many good defenses last season, but Pittsburgh has one of the best.

Steelers 27 - Broncos 14

 

Chiefs -8.5 @ Chargers

Having no fans this year is actually beneficial to the Chargers because the opposing teams fans can't take over the stadium. Anyway, this is simple; the Chargers offense won't be able to keep pace with Kansas City's. Tyrod Taylor is a solid quarterback but you need around 30 points to beat the Chiefs. Since Taylor became a starting quarterback in 2015 for Buffalo, and several games with Cleveland, he's started 47 games with their team scoring 30+ points 12 times.

Chiefs 35 - Chargers 17

 

TITANS -9 vs. Jaguars

One week is not going to change my perspective on the Jaguars season outlook. I wasn't the biggest fan of Tennessee's to begin with, but they got the win Monday night and that's what matters. They have a lot more talent than the Jaguars and are better coached. This line is too high though.

Titans 24 - Jaguars 17

 

CARDINALS -6.5 vs. Washington

This feels like letdown game written all over it for Arizona. They're off a huge win against the Super Bowl runner-up. Washington is also off a great come-from-behind win where they scored the final 27 points winning 27-17. The Football Team looks like a vintage Ron Rivera team; run the ball, play good defense, and be extremely physical. But the Cardinals just have one too many weapons with DeAndre Hopkins, Larry Fitzgerald, Kenyan Drake, and then Kyler Murray's running ability too.

Cardinals 28 - Washington 19

 

BEARS -6 vs. Giants

Taking the Bears gives me the jitters, but their defense should be able to do enough to keep the Giants under 17 points. If Mitchell Trubisky can get this offense to score more than 20, they should win.

Bears 21 - Giants 16

 

Top Survivor Picks to Avoid 

BUCS -8 vs. Panthers

I'm not sure what warrants this line being eight. The Panthers were moving the ball Sunday. Teddy Bridgewater went 22-34 for 270 yards, one touchdown, and no interceptions. Christian McCaffrey was his usual self running for 96 yards and two touchdowns. They scored 30 points narrowly losing to the Raiders.

The Bucs did not look in sync and need more time to gel. After they scored the first touchdown Sunday, the Saints outscored them 34-16. You're paying a Tom Brady premium here if you bet Tampa.

Panthers 31 - Bucs 30

BROWNS -6 vs. Bengals

I'm not sure how this line isn't three. Just from Week 1, these teams looked very even. I'd highly advise not put tingyour survivor pool life into the hands of Baker Mayfield.

Bengals 16 - Browns 14

 

Best Bets for Week 2

  • Steelers -6.5 vs.  Broncos - As discussed above, I love the angle of Denver having to travel East after a late Monday night game that ended in a crushing loss.
  • 49ers -7 @ Jets - San Fran has too much talent for the Jets.
  • Panthers +9 @ Bucs - Just way way way too many points for a solid Carolina team.

 

Running Totals

  • Last week: 2-1
  • 2019 season total: 23-26-2


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Know When to Hold 'Em... Players Who Shouldn't Be on Waivers

Many fantasy players overreact to results from the first week of games, and at varying levels. Some experienced competitors know how to remain patient after such a small sample size. Others are too quick to throw underperforming players onto the free-agent list and then regret such moves later on.

You may be thinking of cutting some of the following players, or you already have. That could turn out to a mistake. If you released any of the guys featured here, get them back on your roster if you can. If someone else cut any of them, you should add these players to your roster.

Every name on this rundown could realistically appear on your free agent list this week. There are always the impatient types who will impulsively make a regrettable move. Don't be the one to make these mistakes, be the one to capitalize on them.

 

Running Backs

Matt Breida, Miami Dolphins: He should still emerge as the lead running back in Miami. Myles Gaskin may turn out to be a wasted waiver addition. Breida will bounce back from a 22-yard outing in the opener and should be a quality flex option this year as long as he stays healthy.

Mark Ingram II, Baltimore Ravens: He rushed for 29 yards in the opener and J.K. Dobbins was the lead RB. Don’t be surprised if the Ravens work him back into the offensive flow in Week 2. They are not just going to mothball a proven veteran RB who can be very useful.

Leonard Fournette, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: After a five -arry, five-yard offensive debut, in which Ronald Jones II looked like the better RB, you may be down on Fournette. But at the very least, once he becomes more comfortable in the Tampa Bay offense, he will earn his part of a timeshare. The possibility remains that he could still become the Buccaneers’ lead RB over time.

James White, New England Patriots: He caught only three passes in his first game playing with Cam Newton. The new Patriots QB will soon realize that White is his best pass-catching option outside of Julian Edelman.

Le’Veon Bell, New York Jets: Sometimes, Fantasy players make the mistake of cutting a player when he is injured. Bell could return as soon as Week 5 and will likely assume a heavy workload again. You don’t want to release a player who will get a lot of volume when he returns. Bell is no longer a Fantasy superstar under Adam Gase, yet he will continue to be a busy RB when he gets back into New York’s offensive mix.

Cam Akers, Los Angeles Rams: Savvy fantasy players will know they have to be patient with Akers. Yet there will certainly be some who overreact to Malcolm Brown outplaying the rookie on Sunday. Don’t be one of those fantasy GMs/coaches, because Akers was drafted to be the lead back and just needs some more time to be eased into the role.

 

Wide Receivers

Breshad Perriman, New York Jets: It was a tough defensive draw for all of the Jets this week other than Jamison Crowder, who caught seven or more passes for the third consecutive time against Buffalo. Perriman will get more involved in the New York passing game going forward, especially when they get involved in some high-scoring affairs.

Tyler Boyd, Cincinnati Bengals: It was clear that Joe Burrow was leaning more heavily on A.J. Green in his pro debut. But as he progresses as a pure passer, Boyd will start to produce more. We all know that we cannot count on Green to stay healthy, so Boyd could become Cincinnati’s No. 1 WR again at any time.

Keenan Allen, Los Angeles Chargers: Expectations are certainly lowered for Allen working with Tyrod Taylor. He totaled 37 receiving yards in the season opener. There will be times going forward, though, when Taylor will lean on Allen for quality totals. There does not appear to be much upside with Taylor at the helm, but Allen does not belong on free agency, either.

Preston Williams, Miami Dolphins: He is coming off a major knee injury and only caught two passes at New England. It was a tough matchup in Williams’ return to action. Ryan Fitzpatrick will have some better outings ahead and Williams will benefit. An eventual QB switch could also lead to more steady production.

Odell Beckham Jr., Cleveland Browns: This is a prime example that no name in this feature is safe from hitting the waiver wire. I had someone directly ask me early this week if they should cut Beckham.

You can never fully release a player with such tremendous talent who is capable of a big performance at any time based on a disappointing outing. Sure, Beckham has fallen short of expectations since he came to Cleveland, but he is certainly capable of producing much better than just about anyone you would find on free agency. Maybe Beckham is not who he was in New York fantasy-wise, but that does not make him waiver wire fodder, either.

 

Tight Ends

Rob Gronkowski, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: He was invisible in Tampa Bay’s opener, but he is coming off a long layoff and Tom Brady will have to go to him more in key situations to expand his chances of keeping the offense moving. Exercise some patience with Gronkowski, who missed a year and has changed teams during an unusual offseason and preseason.

Dan Arnold, Arizona Cardinals: Seeing him not do much against the 49ers does not shake my confidence that he remains a super sleeper. The TDs and improved Fantasy output are not far away at all.

Mike Gesicki, Miami Dolphins: He only totaled 30 receiving yards in Miami’s opener, but a breakout season remains very possible.

Chris Herndon, New York Jets: He finished with 37 receiving yards against Jacksonville, but he did catch six passes and TD receptions are coming soon. He is another potential breakthrough candidate who should remain on your roster.



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The Engel Eye: Key Fantasy Football Observations and Tips

Here are some of the King’s important observations as we move forward after Week 1.

It is important not to overreact too much to opening week results. We help you deduce what could turn out to be for real and what may be illusions.

These insights can certainly help you make some key roster decisions as your team takes further shape for the weeks ahead. The aim of the feature is to help you stay level-headed after just one week of results.

 

The King’s Key Fantasy Insights, Observations and Tips

-Running backs dominated the first two rounds of fantasy football drafts this season, yet there were no 100-yard rushers on the first Sunday of the NFL season. This likely won’t turn out to be a regular trend, but it is an indicator that the league is more pass-happy than ever. Many teams will attempt to emulate the Kansas City offensive attack as best they can, after defense did not win a championship last season. RBs who finished near the goal line on Sunday seemed to stand out even more in Week 1.

-There was internal buzz in Seattle about how we have not seen the best of Chris Carson as a pass-catcher yet. Carson caught six passes for 45 yards and two TDs at Atlanta. The screen pass to the RB was emphasized more than usual in the opener, and if Carson adds more frequent receptions, he will be a no-doubt RB1 with top-six potential when healthy.

-Cam Newton is back to being the fantasy QB he was in Carolina - he is a strong and fearless rushing threat with a shaky supporting cast. Rushing for 75 yards and two TDs in his Patriots debut shows he is already back on the fantasy QB1 radar, but he won’t be back in Top 5 territory unless playmakers other than Julian Edelman emerge. James White can help Newton produce even better if he develops a better rapport with him.

-A reminder that opportunity does not always lead to production: Boston Scott was the “hot” starting call of Week 1 with Miles Sanders out, yet he was mostly unproven in a potential featured role. Scott is a nice complementary piece to a main RB, but showed he cannot be counted on in any sort of lead role. He totaled 55 yards from scrimmage and was not much of a factor at all. The buzz on Scott was too loud, and I had warned he should not be used over a more established performer. Remember the Scott example next time you are considering a plug-in starter with not much of a track record over another option who has succeeded in the past.

-Some are shocked that Peyton Barber rushed for two short scores and “vultured” Antonio Gibson. The reality is, goal-line running is not easy. No one just “falls into the end zone” in the NFL. Be patient with Gibson, though. He will begin to grasp the finer points of goal-line running over time; he is a raw talent who needs to progress in that regard. Clyde Edwards-Helaire will also improve soon as a short-yardage artist. Neither one of these rookies experienced a true preseason. Their time as bigger threats near the scoring stripe will come. CEH, of course, will emerge more quickly for shorter TDs and may not share any touches in such situations when he does.

-Aaron Rodgers looked like his classic self in the season opener. But Matt LaFleur does like to run the ball, and it’s unlikely Green Bay will return to being a pass-first team. If the Packers go back to such a model, it leads to heavy defensive focus on Rodgers and exposes him to more frequent hits. Green Bay needs the Rodgers they saw on Sunday, who made crisp and pinpoint timely throws. But they must maintain offensive balance if they can. Rodgers is capable of leading the Packers deep into the playoffs again, yet it would be an optimum approach for him to be highly efficient rather than very busy. What makes sense for the Packers could lead to Rodgers being a solid, and occasionally outstanding Fantasy QB this year rather than him rejoining the elite.

-Don’t waste a waiver pickup on Marquez Valdes-Scantling. We have seen this act before, where he explodes and then disappears for awhile. For those fantasy footballers who remember Devery Henderson, it’s a very applicable comparison. Henderson would catch a deep pass or two every once in a while, would get added in many leagues, and then would be dropped during the quiet spell that lasted for a few weeks afterward.

-You have all heard the horrifying numbers so far: Austin Ekeler caught one pass for three yards. He was targeted just one time. Virgil Green was targeted twice as much as Ekeler. Tyrod Taylor is just not Philip Rivers. He does not seem interested in making the safe pass. The coaching staff will remind Taylor that Ekeler caught 92 passes last year. Yet it already seems highly unlikely that Ekeler will produce anywhere near the type of receiving totals he did last year. Don’t expect more than 75 catches at max. It’s too early to panic on his receiving output, but the QB change should erase talk of Ekeler as a Fantasy RB1 based on pass-catching volume. He can still be a good dual purpose RB2.

-I maintain that Dan Arnold will emerge as a back-end Fantasy TE1. He caught only two passes for 21 yards against San Francisco, but he should be a more significant contributor in Week 2 vs. Washington. The upcoming opponent allowed 11 catches for 119 yards and a TD to the Philadelphia TEs in the season opener.

-I have to admit that Ronald Jones II didn’t look bad against a tough Saints run defense. He rushed for 66 yards on 17 carries. Leonard Fournette was held to five yards on five carries. I expect he will perform better going forward. If Jones can continue to play at a respectable level this could possibly turn out to be a pure time share in a best case scenario for him.. But after one week, I am sticking with Fournette still emerging as the better Fantasy option as the goal-line runner and more dependable producer.

-Cam Akers ran very tentatively on Sunday night, and Malcolm Brown simply looked like the more confident and assured veteran. You will have to be more patient on Akers than you might have anticipated. He was not as decisive as expected, reminiscent of Miles Sanders early in his rookie year. Every player is different, yet it is clear the unusual preseason may have hindered Akers’ progress. Still, he should eventually emerge as the preferred RB for the Rams.



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NFL Survivor Pool Picks (Week 1) - Targets and Avoids

Believe it or now, Week 1 of the football season is here. It's hard to believe how fast these last few months went. The season seemingly snuck up on us with no preseason games, but did we even miss those? However, without the preseason, it's making Week 1 more difficult than usual. There are two things I'll be looking at to help you navigate Week 1 and advance on.

Returning starters vs. roster turnover. How many starters are returning from last season and which teams have the most new players? Continuity is going to be so important this year with teams unable to build chemistry in preseason. The Steelers have 20 of 22 starters returning. The Ravens are returning 19 of 22 starters. The Patriots, a team of consistency for years, not only lost Tom Brady but had several defensive starters opt-out.

Another indicator to help me navigate the early weeks is regular-season win totals. If you're unsure if teams are even, check out who's win totals are higher.

 

Survivor League Strategy

I usually have several rules but this year that's all out the window. Survive and advance. We have no idea what's going to happen so make this a week-to-week game. What if one week the Jaguars, who are expected to be one of the worst teams in football, are playing the Chiefs, but the Chiefs are missing several starters to COVID. My point is you have no idea what will happen with the swirling questions. This year it's a week-to-week game.

For those of you unfamiliar with survivor pools, it’s very simple: pick a team to win each week; if they win, you move on to the next week. But you can't use that team again. There's no point spread involved.

Teams favored by seven of more in Week 1 per The Action Network (home team in caps); CHIEFS -9.5 vs. Texans, Colts -8 @ JAGUARS, RAVENS -8.5 vs. Browns, 49ERS -7 vs. Cardinals,

If you're reading this article on Thursday or later, these lines are from Tuesday. Check the current spreads and see how the line moved. Lines I'll be using are from topbet.eu.

With gambling now legal for some of you, I'm going to be giving out my three top plays against the spread. I will italicize the team I like. It will look like this for example: Chiefs -7 vs. Broncos.

 

Top Survivor Picks for Week 1

Colts -8 @ JAGUARS

This is going to be one of the most popular plays survivor plays of Week 1. Jacksonville is so bad. Their quarterback is Gardner Minshew and running back is James Robinson. It feels like they're getting ready to throw this season away, fire their entire front office, head coach, and restart with Trevor Lawrence.

In a way, I know I'm going against my lead of this column regarding continuity taking the Colts with new quarterback Phillip Rivers but he's a veteran. Head coach Frank Reich is a quarterback's coach. I feel the turnover for the Colts won't be an issue.

Take a look at these two win totals too. The Colts are at nine and Jaguars 4.5.

Colts 27 - Jaguars 20

Steelers -6 @ GIANTS

This line opened at three and has been bet all the way up to six. The big question here is Ben Roethlisberger. How will he look after missing nearly all of last season. There's a lot of consistency around him with 20 of 22 starters returning. The Giants don't have much turnover, but this is Joe Judge's first game as head coach. Pittsburgh's continuity will be enough for them in Week 1.

As for win totals, Pittsburgh's is set at 9.5 and the Giants 6.5

Steelers 34 - Giants 17

LIONS -3 vs. Bears

This line opened at Lions -1 and has now moved to -3. Matthew Stafford was having a career year last season before being lost to the season in Week 9. Their defense has four Patriots starters and third overall pick, cornerback Jeff Okudah. What have the Bears done? Added Jimmy Graham who's underperformed for the past several seasons. I'm sure their defense will be good but with Mitchell Trubisky leading that offense, how are they going to keep up with Detroit's offense?

Lions 24 - Bears 14

 

Top Survivor Picks to Avoid 

BILLS -6 vs. Jets

The Bills are everyone's darling pick to win the AFC East this season but are we sure we trust Josh Allen? Buffalo has a good defense with most of its defensive starters returning. The Jets though have a lot more turnover on its roster. But it is the second year of Sam Darnold and head coach Adam Gase to further their chemistry.

These two teams usually play close games and I expect yet another one. Buffalo will not have their raucous crowd so we'll see how much of a part that plays.

Jets 23 - Bills 20

PATRIOTS -7 vs. Dolphins

As I mentioned earlier in this column, New England has had so much turnover yet are big favorites Sunday. Cam Newton is the starter but they've had no real games to build any chemistry. Miami has Ryan Fitzpatrick starting who's a good quarterback and helped the Dolphins get to 5-11 last season, something not many expected. They even beat New England in Foxborough in Week 17 last year. I think this line is too high and you're paying the Belichick Patriots tax.

Patriots 20 - Dolphins 17

 

Best Bets

  • Lions -3 vs. Bears - Notes are above.
  • Cardinals +7 vs 49ers - Arizona has a ton of speed. Will San Fran's conditioning be ready to go a full 60-minutes to slow down the Cardinals offense? The Super Bowl hangover is another aspect. Seven is too much to lay in a Week 1 divisional game.
  • Saints -3.5 vs. Bucs - I hate going against Tom Brady but New Orleans has so many of their starters returning. Tampa has had their entire team re-done. I don't believe the Bucs will be bad this year but it may take a little time to get going.

 

Season Picks

AFC                                NFC

1 - Chiefs                          1 - Cowboys

2 - Ravens                        2 - Saints

3 - Colts                            3 - 49ers

4 - Dolphins                    4 - Lions

5 - Steelers                       5 - Bucs

6 - Titans                          6 - Seahawks

7 - Patriots                        7 -  Rams

Wild Card:

Ravens over Patriots          Saints over Rams

Colts over Titans                 49ers over Seahawks

Steelers over Dolphins       Bucs over Lions

Divisional:

Chiefs over Steelers         Bucs over Cowboys

Ravens over Colts            Saints over 49ers

Conference Championships:

Chiefs over Ravens          Saints over Bucs

Super Bowl:

Chiefs over Saints



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Week 1 Defense (DEF) Streamers and Starts - 2020 Fantasy Tiers, Rankings

We're back and it feels so good. Below are RotoBaller's Week 1 defense tiers and rankings, or which defenses to stream, start and target off the waiver wire for Week 1 of the NFL and fantasy football season. In case you missed it, this is our eighth year now writing this weekly column.

Our weekly tiered defense rankings are a guide to making waiver wire pickups to improve your lineups, and to decide which defenses to start, sit, target, avoid or stream for Week 1. Starting the right defense every week can be a difference-maker.

Below we have broken out our defense rankings into tiers with analysis on each matchup. Some of these Week 1 defenses have good matchups and are not widely-owned, representing fantasy scoring opportunities if they are available on your league's waiver wire for a Week 1 pickup or add. Good luck in Week 1 RotoBallers!

 

Week 1 Defenses To Start & Stream: Tiers & Rankings

Typically the top three tiers will be DSTs you should target, with Tier 4 being options in deep leagues and Tier 5 being desperation plays or good defenses in horrendous matchups.

Returning for this year: Confidence Ratings - Since every league's DST scoring is different, projections don't always make a ton of sense. The confidence rating is a guideline for how much more I like one team over another instead of a straight point projection. A zero means "do not start," then the confidence rises from there. I take a lot of factors into account here--opponent injuries, home field advantage, weather, etc. We don't have any in-season data to work with in Week 1 obviously, so this week's rankings weigh schedule and personnel heavier than they will down the line.

 

Tier 1 Defenses

Rank Tier DST Week 1 Opponent Confidence Rating
1 1 Buffalo Bills Defense vs. NYJ 12.75
2 1 Pittsburgh Steelers Defense @ NYG 12
3 1 Baltimore Ravens Defense vs. CLE 11.7
4 1 Philadelphia Eagles Defense @ WAS 11.1

The Bills will be truly excellent all year as a DST option, but this week is as juicy as it gets. I'll spare you the Adam Gase humor here, but by all accounts Le'Veon Bell is not going to be treated as a clear RB1. Jamison Crowder is the top wideout, and after him and Chris Herndon it's dicey to say the least. The Bills might not have Bills Mafia in the stadium, but this is one game they shouldn't need them for.

The Baltimore Ravens boast maybe the most balanced defensive unit in football, and even the talented Browns offense isn't going to be enough to overcome that this week. Odell Beckham, Jr. will have to contend with one of the best one-two punches at cornerback in Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters, and new addition Calais Campbell is one of the best run-stoppers in football--so good luck, Nick Chubb. Matthew Judon leads the most blitz-heavy defense in football, and I don't see how Baker Mayfield is able to overcome all of this and have a productive day. The Ravens are going to be a slam-dunk most weeks, to be honest.

 

Tier 2 Defenses

Rank Tier DST Week 1 Opponent Confidence Rating
5 2 San Francisco 49ers Defense vs. ARI 10.65
6 2 New England Patriots Defense vs. MIA 10
7 2 Los Angeles Chargers Defense @ CIN 9.6
8 2 Denver Broncos Defense vs. TEN 9.4

The 49ers are going to be in Tier 1 most weeks given how easy their schedule is this year (4th-easiest based on opponent 2019 win percentage), but I'm wary about the Cardinals. The offense is loaded for Kyler Murray, as he'll have almost everyone return and has a new WR1 in DeAndre Hopkins. Kenyan Drake is suffering from a lower body injury (LOL a "precautionary" walking boot), but if he's out I don't think the Cardinals are in any worse shape with the explosive Chase Edmonds. If Kyler is on, the 49ers' upside is limited. However, with Arik Armstead, Nick Bosa and rookie Javon Kinlaw coming after him, life isn't going to be easy.

The Titans offense got extremely scary in the back half of 2019. The change of scenery turned Ryan Tannehill into a legitimate threat, A.J. Brown's ceiling is immeasurable, and Derrick Henry is one of the best runners in football--if you watched any of the games last year, you can see how they'd give defenses fits. The loss of Chris Harris, Jr. certainly hurts the Broncos secondary, but the arrival of A.J. Bouye should soften the blow. Bradley Chubb, Von Miller and Jurell Casey should keep the pass rush as fierce as last year, but the big question is if they can penetrate the Titans offensive line, which PFF ranked eighth in the NFL after last season.

 

Tier 3 Defenses

Rank Tier DST Week 1 Opponent Confidence Rating
9 3 Chicago Bears Defense @ DET 8.9
10 3 Indianapolis Colts Defense @ JAC 8.55
11 3 New Orleans Saints Defense vs. TB 8.5
12 3 Minnesota Vikings Defense vs. GB 7.7
13 3 Kansas City Chiefs Defense vs. HOU 7.4
14 3 Tennessee Titans Defense @ DEN 6.85
15 3 Dallas Cowboys Defense @ LAR 6.4

With a 100% healthy Matthew Stafford, I think the Lions offense is actually pretty dangerous. The offensive line was tough to penetrate last year, and whether or not DeAndre Swift is healthy for Week 1 I expect Kenny Golladay to get plenty of love. The Bears still wind up in my top 10 because Khalil Mack is still one of the most singularly impactful players in football, and this year he won't be alone. The return of Akiem Hicks helps significantly with both the pass rush and run defense, and the Bears still both an experienced corps of linebackers. Doubtful the Bears return top-five value this week without a touchdown, but you won't be disappointed right away if you drafted them.

I still expect both the Saints defensive and offensive units to finish in the top 10. The pass rush will be anchored by Cameron Jordan, Marcus Davenport and a hopefully healthy Sheldon Rankins, who missed huge chunks of last season due to injury. The secondary is similarly star-studded, with Marshon Lattimore, Janoris Jenkins and Marcus Williams leading the way there. The question for Week 1 is what we get from the Buccaneers. Is this offense all of a sudden lethal with Tom Brady under center? He should be a menace over the middle of the field with Chris Godwin and a theoretically healthy Rob Gronkowski in the mix, and you can never ever sleep on Mike Evans (if Brady can get it to him). This is one of the games I'm least sure about, and I'll be watching this one extremely closely.

The Cowboys suffered some major losses in free agency, but it's possible that they recovered so well they're in a better position. Losing Robert Quinn and Maliek Collins up front stings, but replacing them with upside veterans like Dontari Poe and Everson Griffen ensures that this pass rush will lose none of its edge. The return of Aldon Smith, who has been out of the NFL since 2017 for a bevy of legal troubles, could be a game-changing factor if he shows any of the elite talent that he displayed in San Francisco. In the secondary, it all comes down to whether or not Trevon Diggs can step in as a suitable replacement for Byron Jones. Diggs came into the draft as one of the best coverage DBs in the entire draft, and if he can use his size to break up passes the Cowboys will be in great shape. The middling pressure rate has a very good chance of increasing this year, and if that's the case then Jared Goff is in trouble right from the jump.

 

Tier 4 Defenses

Rank Tier DST Week 1 Opponent Confidence Rating
16 4 Detroit Lions Defense vs. CHI 6.3
17 4 Seattle Seahawks Defense @ ATL 5.9
18 4 Green Bay Packers Defense @ MIN 5.25
19 4 Los Angeles Rams Defense vs. DAL 4.7
20 4 Las Vegas Raiders Defense @ CAR 4.45
21 4 Washington Football Team Defense vs. PHI 4.35
22 4 Carolina Panthers Defense vs. LV 3.9

The Rams have a brutal Week 1 matchup against Dak Prescott and the Cowboys offense, but they're still running out one of the more star-studded defenses in the league. The obvious names here are Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey, who are the definition of game-breakers. After that, they'll look to sophomore safety Taylor Rapp and veteran Michael Brockers up front--and to some degree Greg Gaines and rookie Terrell Lewis in the pass rush. The tough part here is the sheer star power they're going up against. Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, CeeDee Lamb...that's a ton to try to counteract.

The Washington defense is littered with former first-round picks, but easily the most exciting player here is defensive end Chase Young, who they drafted with the second overall pick this year. Young is widely regarded as one of the more transcendent talents in recent memory, and he'll step in to make an immediate impact in the pass rush. Washington actually ranked third in the NFL in pressure rate last year, and with Young now wreaking havoc this could be a truly elite unit in 2020. The question marks lie in the secondary. Quinton Dunbar was far and away their best player in 2019, but was traded for a middling pick to Seattle. Filling the void will be Kendall Fuller, who is returning to his original team after a disappointing season in Kansas City, and former Bills/Eagles standout Ronald Darby, whose play fell off a cliff in 2019.

The Eagles have talent all over the offense, particularly at tight end with Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert, and dynamic sophomore Miles Sanders. We'll see the Washington Football Team higher in the ranks this season, but I'm tempering expectations for Week 1.

 

Tier 5 Defenses

Rank Tier DST Week 1 Opponent Confidence Rating
23 5 Cleveland Browns Defense @ BAL 3.2
24 5 Atlanta Falcons Defense vs. SEA 3
25 5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Defense @ NO 2.9
26 5 New York Jets Defense @ BUF 2.6
27 5 Cincinnati Bengals Defense vs. LAC 2.45
28 5 Jacksonville Jaguars Defense vs. IND 1.8
29 5 Miami Dolphins Defense @ NE 1.15
30 5 Arizona Cardinals Defense @ SF 0.6
31 5 Houston Texans Defense @ KC 0.55
32 5 New York Giants Defense vs. PIT 0.3


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Running Back Committees Worth Investing In

Running back committees are the worst. We can all agree on that, right? You go into the season drafting a guy that you’re expecting to get 300+ touches in a year, and it becomes evident early on that he will in fact be splitting touches with that fourth-round rookie. Rather than getting 25 touches in a game, he’s getting between 12-18. That’s an ok number, but it could be a whole lot better.

Now, if you draft a guy out of a committee, you can still get value from him as long as you have your expectations set appropriately. That’s what we’re going to try and target today. These are the guys who are in committees that you can still put in your starting lineups with confidence and expect they'll put up a safe amount of points every week. They aren’t likely to get you RB1 numbers, but they can get you RB2 numbers without much trouble. 

A committee that still presents value isn’t the most common, but you can still find them if you go looking for them. I wouldn’t advocate for you to make any of these guys your top running backs because there will be weeks where they get scripted out of the game because of score or the other back getting hot. However, having them as your second or third guy is a great option.

 

San Francisco 49ers

I think we all knew this one was coming. Last year, the 49ers were the second-best running offense in the NFL, and they had three running backs who could have been the lead guy on any given week. That doesn’t factor in running back Jerick McKinnon, who has seen his first two seasons in San Francisco cut short before they ever got started. Matt Breida, Tevin Coleman, and Raheem Mostert each shouldered workloads as the lead backs last season.

Breida is gone, but McKinnon is expected to be healthy. The value that is presented in this backfield is immense. Mostert will likely be the lead guy from the outset, especially after he was given a restructured contract this offseason. He still makes less than the other two guys, but he’s coming off a postseason that saw him put up some healthy totals. I’ve got him ranked in my top-24 running backs as a result.

When the 49ers chose to give one of their running backs at least 10 carries, those guys were producing. This scheme hasn’t changed, and they added Trent Williams this offseason to man the left tackle spot that was vacated by longtime starter Joe Staley. Because they’re in a committee, you can get each of Mostert, Coleman, and McKinnon at severely discounted ADPs. This is a backfield with a lot of value to be had.

 

Indianapolis Colts

This backfield is one that I expect to evolve throughout the season. Incumbents Marlon Mack and Nyheim Hines figure to have well-defined roles early on, but rookie Jonathan Taylor appears poised to be the late-season guy that you’ll be wanting to own. Mack was at his best when the team let him get rolling early in the game. Now, with an improved defense, he should have more late-game opportunities to put up points.

With quarterback Philip Rivers under center, this offense will have a much different feel from last year. With that, you can expect a much better season from running back Nyheim Hines. Hines has registered 107 receptions through two years, which is just 30 fewer catches than he has carries. He’s not going to be Austin Ekeler 2.0, but he does have the ability to put in an RB3 season through the volume of his receptions. 

The final piece of this puzzle is Taylor. Right now, Taylor is coming off the board as RB20 compared to RB38 for Mack. I love Taylor as much as the next guy, but I can’t be really be drafting the guy that’s going to be the backup to start the year that early. If you are ok with him failing to return on investment for the first month or so of the season, grab him because he will bring that value later in the year and could help you possibly win your league.

 

Baltimore Ravens

The NFL’s best rushing offense from last season should be the top unit again in 2020. Quarterback Lamar Jackson makes it impossible to defend him in traditional ways, and that’s why they’re so successful. Behind Jackson, Mark Ingram had a great year en route to an RB11 finish. They added rookie running back J.K. Dobbins in the draft and this stable is absolutely terrifying for opponents.

With Ingram, you’re getting a guy that has seen a career resurgence in the last four years. Excluding the 2018 season where he dealt with some injuries and a suspension, he’s gone over 1000 yards in each season, and he’s scored 44 touchdowns in that time span. The threat of Lamar’s running ability forces teams to dedicate fewer resources to him, and that’s going to remain this year. However, if you’re drafting Ingram to be an RB1 again, you’re a little high on him. I will say that one thing I love about Ingram is his efficiency. From the first half of the season to the second half, his scoring line was nearly identical. You just can’t argue with that. His ceiling isn’t the highest, but his floor is damn good.

Who should you be rostering after Ingram? It’s Dobbins. The second-round pick was arguably the best running back in the draft this year, and he’s already been hyped up this offseason by coaches and players. Dobbins brings the aspect of receiving to this team, but he’s also a great runner, which is how he’s able to take over the Justice Hill role. Dobbins averaged 6.2 yards per carry during his time at Ohio State, and he can show that efficiency again. 

If you’re looking for a third running back to roster in this backfield, I would go with Gus Edwards. Edwards doesn’t bring much in the running game, but he’s extremely efficient at running the ball. He’s averaging 5.3 yards per carry, which is an extremely impressive mark. If either Dobbins or Ingram goes down with an injury, he would instantly move up the depth chart. 

Committees can reap havoc on your fantasy team if you’re expecting to draft an elite talent that sees his value diminished due to an insurance back. However, if you plan for it, you can build your roster with this committee member as your third running back with upside if he’s able to emerge. Don’t be afraid of committees. Just know how to manage them appropriately.



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Sophomore Slump: Second-Year Players That Will Decline

For some NFL players, the rookie year is for adjustment and getting acclimated to the NFL system. Many rookies thus don’t perform that well in fantasy because their roles are still being carved or they are simply too small.

Nevertheless, there are some rookies who outperform their expectations by having a huge role in their first season and emerging as a fantasy sleeper. A notable example of this in recent memory is Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott with the Cowboys in 2016 where both led the team to an incredible 13-3 record in their first year.

The realities of second-year players can be quite brutal when teams have tape on them, so a sophomore slump could be realistic. Here are a few 2019 draft picks who could endure a sophomore slump this season:

 

David Montgomery, Chicago Bears

Montgomery endured a groin injury in late August and he was slated to miss quite a few weeks. However, the back is practicing in a limited capacity as of this writing and could hopefully start in Week 1.

Montgomery proved to be valuable in the ground game last season for Chicago despite the team not fully using their backs efficiently. The Iowa State product compiled 242 rushes, 889 rush yards, six rush touchdowns, 3.7 yards per rush, 55.6 rush yards per game, 25 receptions, 35 targets, 185 receiving yards, and one receiving touchdown in 16 games. He also posted 28 broken tackles. The 23-year-old finished 22nd among fantasy backs despite ranking around average when it came to the opportunities provided to him.

In 2020, it will certainly be tough for Montgomery to follow up on this considering Mitchell Trubisky is still the QB and the RB is dealing with an injury heading into the season, which could potentially lead to setbacks. Coach Matt Nagy is focused on getting the ground game going, but if the Bears fall behind in contests, they may be forced to ditch the ground game and therefore Montgomery. The shaky QB situation certainly doesn’t help the back in the passing game. Overall, any lackluster usage and dealing with an injury could mean bad news for David Montgomery’s fantasy value this season.

 

Miles Sanders, Philadelphia Eagles

Like David Montgomery, Miles Sanders is coming off a respectable campaign his rookie year. Nevertheless, this back is also dealing with an injury, particularly to his hamstring, and it has caused him to miss most of training camp. Eagles head coach Doug Pederson claimed Sanders may have to play in a limited fashion at the beginning of the season, thus giving his fantasy value a hit.

Last season, the Penn State product managed 179 rushes, 818 rush yards, three rush touchdowns, 4.6 yards per rush, 51.1 rush yards per game, 63 targets, 50 receptions, 509 receiving yards, and three receiving touchdowns in 16 games. He also had 2.1 rush yards after contact per rush. Sanders finished an impressive 15th among fantasy running backs as a rookie last season.

The sophomore’s injury concern, along with the presence of a capable backup in Boston Scott, means he could see less playing time at the beginning of the season than anticipated. This is a blow to his fantasy value. If he’s not at 100 percent, Sanders may not provide the best fantasy value during the first weeks of the season. This could set the tone for a sophomore slump if he doesn’t get into a groove as the season progresses.

 

Benny Snell Jr., Pittsburgh Steelers

With James Conner dealing with injuries last season, guys like Benny Snell Jr. stepped in to handle the rushing workload on the Steelers. In 13 games, the rookie accumulated 108 rushes, 426 rush yards, two rush touchdowns, 3.9 rush yards per attempt, 32.8 rush yards per game, four targets, three receptions, and 23 receiving yards. This was respectable for a rookie who was not supposed to take on this big of a role.

Nevertheless, Conner is back this season and looking to take on a workhorse role in 2020. Assuming he stays healthy, Snell will take a backseat and fight with Anthony McFarland Jr. and Jaylen Samuels for carries behind Conner. This means Snell could see less playing time and not replicate his rookie numbers depending on how the carries are split among the three backup backs.

 

Darius Slayton, New York Giants

In QB Daniel Jones’ first NFL season (and Eli Manning’s final NFL season), it was surprisingly rookie WR Darius Slayton who emerged as the top receiving option. In 14 games, the youngster recorded 48 receptions on 84 targets for 740 yards and eight touchdowns. He also averaged 15.4 yards per catch and 52.9 yards per game. This is because receivers Sterling Shepard and Golden Tate were limited to 10 and 11 games, respectively.

Therefore, Slayton paced the team in yards and touchdowns. He finished 33rd among fantasy receivers. Heading into 2020, Shepard and Tate will both look to play big roles for the Giants in QB Daniel Jones’ second season, meaning Slayton heads down to second or third on the WRs depth chart. He will now have to fight with Shepard, Tate, and TE Evan Engram for targets once again and if all three of those guys stay healthy, Slayton could see less production.



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Why Noah Fant Will Be This Year's Breakout Tight End

Every year in fantasy football, the tight end position is, for lack of a better word, mediocre.

There are a few stars at the top and then a group of indistinguishable players in the middle. Sometimes though, there is one who waded through the muck and rises to the top of the heap. Last season, we had Darren Waller finishing as TE4 after going mostly undrafted in fantasy. Before this, it was Eric Ebron with 13 TD in 2018 and George Kittle exploding on the scene, Evan Engram's rookie year in 2017, etc. So who is the likely candidate to make the jump this season?

There are a few contenders. Mark Andrews pretty much broke out last year and has an ADP to match, so he is out. A great choice is Hayden Hurst. After being traded from Baltimore to Atlanta to replace Austin Hooper, he will join an offense who threw the ball 80 more times in 2019 than any other team. But there is another gentleman who has a better path to success. A player who is athletic like Engram, on a good offense and young. Oh, and like Kittle, he comes from the tight end factory which is Iowa.

 

A New Mile High Offense

The Denver Broncos took Fant in the first round of the 2019 NFL draft, adding him to Emmanuel Sanders and Courtland Sutton in the passing game. Emmanuel Sanders was gone halfway through the season and the Broncos reloaded on offense during the off-season. With the addition of Melvin Gordon III to the backfield alongside Phillip Lindsay, the run game will be far better than it was a season ago. Gordon is a major upgrade over Devontae Booker who is now in Las Vegas. With the pass-catching potential in addition to his rush work, Gordon could be a bell cow, or a committee leader.

In the passing game, Denver drafted Jerry Jeudy as well as K.J. Hamler. Jeudy, who was considered by many the best receiver in the class, is a technician on the level of Keenan Allen and Stefon Diggs. Not the biggest or the fastest, he will run routes precisely which will allow him to get open. Much like Allen with the Chargers and Amari Cooper in his rookie season, Jeudy will find it easier to acclimate to the NFL then receivers who rely on speed or size to thrive.

In K.J. Hamler, we have the opposite. He is small at less than six feet and 175 pounds. He was also injured at the combine which allowed him to slip. This could be an issue early in the season as he and Jeudy try to join Sutton to create an elite receiving group.

With all of this said, Noah Fant will be the forgotten man in the offense. With all the other weapons to concentrate on, Fant, who had 40 receptions for 562 yards and three TD as a rookie will be left open. Not only will opposing defenses be worried about Sutton, Jeudy and Hamler but with the proficient nature of Gordon in the passing game, Fant is likely the fourth or fifth option defenses will plan for. That may not be the case for Lock, who will look to Fant across the middle frequently.

 

Mismatch Waiting to Happen

At almost 15 yards per reception last season, Noah Fant can spread defenses thin. He is too fast to be guarded by a linebacker and with the trio of receivers, there will not be enough defensive backs to control him.

His first season in Denver was solid for a tight end. He is one of a handful of players to have more than 500 receiving yards at the position as a rookie. That's something George Kittle, Zach Ertz and Travis Kelce did not accomplish. He may not join that elite group this season but he is well on his way to a successful season and career.

If you are a fantasy manager who waits on tight end, it can be nerve-racking. The comfort of a Kelce or Kittle is nice. It also costs a lot to get such comfort. In this case, it means passing up a high-end RB or WR. Noah Fant is currently going in the 10th round and isn't a sure starter on many rosters. At this price, you can build up a great team before drafting him. If it does not work out early in the season, you can pick up any other of the other tight ends with a chance to finish from six to 12 in the fantasy ranks.

For those who have already drafted, Fant could be someone to target in the trade market early on before he blows up. Take the chance on an athletic TE in a budding offense and ride the wave to fantasy glory.



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Coaching Matters: AFC North Play-Calling Impact on RB

In fantasy football, many of us 'experts' in the field try to take as much data into account before concluding players. That includes means looking at things like game tape, the team's offensive line, or their primary play-callers historical tendencies to utilize a certain position. After much research, I've developed a broad knowledge of how each team's play-caller historically has utilized their running backs.

We've gone through the NFC North, NFC South, NFC East, NFC West, AFC South, AFC West, and AFC East so far. In the last entry of this series, we will look at the AFC North. This division has two offensive-minded head coaches (Kevin Stefanski and Zac Taylor), a pure defensive-minded head coach (Mike Tomlin), and a head coach who has an extensive background working in special teams (John Harbaugh).

For today, we will only be looking at the offensive-minded coaches and coordinators in the division. This means we will look at how Kevin Stefanski and Zac Taylor have utilized their running backs over the course of their career, the Browns and Bengals offensive coordinators: Alex Van Pelt (Browns) and Brian Callahan (Bengals), as well as the Steelers and Ravens offensive coordinators: Randy Fichtner (Steelers) and Greg Roman (Ravens). Let's dive in!

 

Cleveland Browns

Primary play-caller: Kevin Stefanski

Kevin Stefanski had been a longtime assistant for the Minnesota Vikings, serving as a tight ends coach, running backs coach, and quarterbacks coach before being promoted to offensive coordinator towards the end of the 2018 season. After a long journey, Kevin Stefanski will finally have the opportunity to run his own team with the Cleveland Browns. Let's take a look at how Kevin Stefanski may use his running backs this season based on his previous 19 game experience as the Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator.

On the ground, Kevin Stefanski has been money in his 19 game career as an offensive coordinator giving his running back room 26 carries per game, and his lead back 15.58 of those carries. These numbers are both significantly above the league average play-caller that gives 22.46 carries to their running backs, and 13.91 carries to the lead back. For fantasy players rostering Nick Chubb or Kareem Hunt, this has got to make you excited about their fantasy potential in this offense.

Through the air, Kevin Stefanski has given his running back room slightly fewer opportunities than the average coach (6.55 targets per game), with his running backs averaging 5.89 targets per game. If this stays consistent for this season, it would mean that Stefanski's running backs would see about 10 fewer targets over the course of the season then they would in the average play-callers offense. So is his use of running backs in the passing game good? No. But it also isn't bad. Considering the amount of touches Kevin Stefanski provides his running backs in the ground game, you should be optimistic about the Browns running backs this year.

Playcaller Net Impact on RB: Positive Kevin Stefanski has been a huge net positive for providing opportunities to his running backs on the ground, giving his running backs 26 carries per game. Set for a 16 game pace, this would amount to a whopping 416 carries for his running backs over the course of a full season (league average among play-callers is around 360 carries). While he's slightly below average at providing opportunities for his running backs in the passing game, it would only amount to about 10 targets over the course of a full NFL season. You should feel very confident investing in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt with Stefanski in the fold.

Secondary play-caller: Alex Van Pelt

Alex Van Pelt has only called plays one season: all the way back in 2009 for the Buffalo Bills. While Kevin Stefanski is expected to be the primary play-caller, there have been whispers that Alex Van Pelt may end up being the play-caller for the 2020 season while Kevin Stefanski devotes his full attention to the team as a whole.

In his one season as an offensive coordinator for the Buffalo Bills back in 2009, Alex Van Pelt gave his running backs more opportunities than the average coach, giving his running back room 22.63 carries per game and his lead back 14.81 carries per game. This suggests that we should remain comfortable investing in the Browns backfield even if Kevin Stefanski decides not to call plays for the team.

Alex Van Pelt's usage of running backs through the air didn't stand out too much in his one season as the Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator back in 2009, with his running backs getting 99 targets over the course of the full season.

Playcaller Net Impact on RB: Neutral - In the ground game Alex Van Pelt is slightly above-average at utilizing his running backs in his one season calling plays. But through the air Alex Van Pelt has provided slightly fewer opportunities for his running backs than the average coach. Considering all this and the fact he's only coached one season, it's probably safest to classify Alex Van Pelt as a neutral influence on his running backs.

 

Cincinnati Bengals

Primary play-caller: Zac Taylor

Zac Taylor became the Bengals head coach last year after the team finally made the decision to fire Marvin Lewis, despite only having five games as an offensive coordinator under his belt prior. The Bengals ended up being disappointing last year and getting the number one pick, but in their catastrophic season how did they utilize the run game? Let's dive in and take a look!

Zac Taylor has called plays for 21 games in his career: five for the 2015 Miami Dolphins as an interim offensive coordinator and sixteen last year for the Bengals. So far in his career, he has given his running back room 21.05 carries per game which is slightly below average, and 16.81 carries per game to his lead back which is significantly above average in that realm.

Zac Taylor hasn't given his running backs a ton of opportunities in the passing game in his 21 games calling plays, with his running backs getting 5.48 targets a game. We'll have to see if this changes in the future, but the initial signs aren't great with his usage in this area.

Playcaller Net Impact on RB: Positive for RB1 in the ground game, negative for RB2 & RB3 in the ground game, slightly negative in the passing game Zac Taylor has done a good job of getting his RB1 carries in his 21 games as a play-caller, but his RB room as a whole has received an underwhelming amount of opportunities in both the running game and passing game. 

Secondary play-caller: Brian Callahan

Brian Callahan also joined the Cincinnati Bengals as a first-time offensive coordinator last year. While it's not expected that he will get play-calling duties this year let's take a look at how he influenced the Bengals offense last year just in case he ends up getting play-calling duties.

Brian Callahan has only has one season under his belt as an offensive coordinator where he didn't even call plays, but in that season his lead back, Joe Mixon, was heavily featured in the running game getting 17.38 carries per game despite the team only averaging 20.69 carries per game (which is below-average for a running back room).

Brian Callahan's stats here are going to be heavily tied to Zac Taylor's because the only difference is Taylor's 5 games as an offensive coordinator in Miami back in 2015. Much like Taylor, Callahan's running back usage through the air has been underwhelming with his running backs only getting 5.5 targets per game.

Playcaller Net Impact on RB: Inconclusive Callahan has only one season under his belt where he wasn't even the primary play-caller, so it makes more sense to classify his results as inconclusive. If he had a more extensive track record, we'd classify him similarly to Zac Taylor: positive for his RB1 on the ground but negative for the overall running back work on the ground and through the air.

 

Pittsburgh Steelers

Primary play-caller: Randy Fichtner

Randy Fichtner has been the offensive coordinator the last two seasons for the Pittsburgh Steelers after spending many years as the team's quarterbacks coach. While he helped the Steelers have a strong offense in 2018, they disappointed in 2019 with the offense ranking 30th in yards per game and 27th in points per game. While his ineffective offense raised some eyebrows last year, he will get another opportunity to prove himself in the 2020-21 season. One of the big weapons that Fichtner will need to utilize is running back James Conner. Let's take a look at how he's utilized his running backs historically.

On the ground, Randy Fichtner has given his running back room fewer carries than his peers, with 20.13 carries per game going to his backs. Also according to these stats his lead back has only averaged 10.34 carries per game each season, but that might have more to do with James Conner's inability to stay healthy than Randy Fichtner's coaching philosophy. We'll keep an eye on this in the future, but overall Fichtner is more of a pass-happy coach than a run-heavy one.

Through the air, Randy Fichtner has been as close to average as you can get, with his running backs getting 6.59 targets per game when the league average play-caller gives their running backs 6.55 targets per game. He's been pretty consistent year to year as well with his running back room receiving 104 targets in 2018 and 107 targets in 2019. Expect about 105 targets over the full season once again this season from Randy Fichtner's running back room.

Playcaller Net Impact on RB: Negative in the ground game, Neutral in the passing game While James Conner should bounce-back this year, the overall carries given to the Steelers running backs under Randy Fichtner has been below average. With regards to utilizing his running backs in the passing game, Randy Fichtner has been as average as they come.

 

Baltimore Ravens

Primary play-caller: Greg Roman

Greg Roman killed it last year, with the Ravens offense dominating with its elite production on the ground. But how much of this success on the ground comes from Greg Roman's running backs, and how much of this success comes from his other positions. Let's take a look at how offensive coordinator Greg Roman has historically utilized his running backs.

In the running game, Greg Roman does a great job of providing his running backs opportunities, with his running back room averaging 23.99 carries per game and his lead back getting 15.38 of those carries on average. This is something that should make fantasy players very excited to roster J.K Dobbins or Mark Ingram.

Greg Roman through the air is another story. He gives the fewest amount of opportunities through the air for his running backs of any offensive coordinator or head coach in the league, with a measly 3.39 targets per game. This is worrying for fantasy players playing in PPR leagues.

Playcaller Net Impact on RB: Positive in the ground game, negative in the passing game On the ground, Greg Roman has historically utilized his running backs a ton, and it has resulted in some great rushing seasons. But on the flip side, Roman hardly utilizes his running backs in the passing game. Based on this, upgrade Roman's running backs in standard leagues and be more lukewarm on them in PPR formats.



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ADP Showdown: CeeDee Lamb vs. Darius Slayton

Everyone knows the wide receiver position is deep with talent and you can find productive wide receivers in the later rounds of fantasy drafts. This year’s draft class added a lot of quality to the wide receiver pool. The extra depth at the position changed the way some fantasy managers play the game. Loading up at running back in the early rounds while also fading wide receiver has become the taboo draft strategy for 2020.

With there being a plethora of wide receivers to choose from there are going to be some interesting dichotomies in drafts. Players who are very similar in talent and in situation while also holding similar values. It’s a pick your poison situation that we are seeing it a lot in drafts this year.

There are a lot of hard choices to make in the middle of the tenth round. One of them is choosing between Darius Slayton and CeeDee Lamb. Both players are sitting next to each other in ADP with Slayton falling off the board as the WR37 and Lamb as the WR38.

 

Darius Slayton (WR, NYG)

Slayton finished his rookie season last year catching 48 passes for 740 yards and eight touchdowns. He saw 100 air yards or more in five games and had nine games where he received five or more targets. Slayton owned a 16 percent target share and was the team’s deep threat with a 28 percent share of the air yards. Per PFF, 25 percent of his targets went for 20 yards or more.

His 4.39 40-yard dash is always on display whenever he is asked to run anything deep. Even though he’s asked to run a lot of deep routes, he still managed to obtain a 103.1 quarterback rating when targeted and a 60 percent catch rate.

The Giants quarterback, Daniel Jones, had 13.7 percent of his passes go for 20 yards or more, making him the perfect complement to Slayton’s game. The fact that Jones isn’t afraid to chuck it deep and Slayton has the elite level speed to consistently burn past the defense to earn a large share of those deep targets will always give him a chance to produce big numbers in the box score each and every week.

 

CeeDee Lamb (WR, DAL)

The Dallas Cowboys drafted Lamb with the 17th overall pick in this year’s draft. With Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup on the roster, they didn’t need to draft a receiver. This is more than enough evidence the Cowboys rated him as a top-tier talent while not being able to ignore his overall on-field potential.

When compared to the top wide receivers in the most recent draft classes, Lamb stacks up against the best of them. He was highly efficient at Oklahoma, averaging 3.99 yards per route run and posting a 147.7 quarterback rating when targeted. He was productive throughout his entire collegiate career and finished with a 35.4 percent dominator rating during his junior season.

Obviously, Lamb is entering his rookie season and will compete against Cooper and Gallup for targets who are both very good wide receivers. Dallas is expected to have one of the best wide receiver corps in the leagues this year. With Lamb being the third option in the passing game, will there be enough targets to make him a reliable option in fantasy?

With the departure of Jason Witten, Randal Cobb, and Tavon Austin there will be 190 vacated targets in Dallas’ offense. We should naturally expect to see Cowboys' tight end, Blake Jarwin, to see a larger share of the target this year. Since Lamb is a superior talent and has the potential to break out early in his career, there’s a good chance that he owns a large portion of the vacated targets. Talent usually wins out when there are extra targets up for grabs.

Competition for targets could be the downfall to Lamb’s ability to put up fantasy points, but it’s also a legitimate threat to Slayton’s workload. The Giants' offense endured injuries off-and-on throughout the season to Evan Ingram, Golden Tate, and Sterling Shepard. If those three players can stay healthy this year, then the target-well might dry up on Slayton.

 

Verdict

Even though Slayton has one season of NFL production under his belt, he is still not remotely close to being considered the same caliber of prospect as Lamb. Slayton was a fifth-round pick who never caught more than 35 passes in a season during his three-year collegiate career at Auburn. He’s not garnered as a superior talent. He does have home run hitting speed, but the odds of him ever developing into an elite-level player are slim to none.

Lamb, on the other hand, can turn into one of the top wide receivers in the league. It might not happen during his rookie season, but it’s definitely in his range of outcomes and could happen sooner than later. He has played at a high level his entire career and there’s no reason why he won’t do the same when he hits the NFL stage.

When you think about what the two prospects offer in terms of fantasy production, it’s hard to not pivot towards Lamb, because albeit he’s a rookie, he still has the talent to be on of the top wide receivers in the league if he builds a rapport with Dak Prescott. The Dallas Cowboys ranked 10th in the league with 597 pass attempts last season and if the passing volume continues to hold steady, Lamb should be an interesting asset in fantasy this year.

Both Slayton and Lamb have the same amount of risk. They could both be used sparingly in their respective offenses, making them not worthwhile options in fantasy. The difference between the two players is that Lamb has a much higher ceiling. He plays in a better offense and has a much stronger talent profile, making him a no-brainer decision when it comes to deciding between him or Slayton in the tenth round.



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ADP Showdown: Joe Mixon vs. Josh Jacobs

It is officially past the midway point of August and fantasy football drafts are on the horizon. Whether you are in a competitive league for big money or a home league with your friends, it is important to go into your draft prepared. It is essential to go into your draft with a game plan, especially if you find yourself drafting late in the first round. That is a sweet spot for a second tier of running backs and there are a variety of options to consider.

Hitting on your early picks is crucial to fantasy football success. Having the right players allows fantasy players to take chances later in the draft or utilize bench players to make trades to fill gaps due to injuries or ineffectiveness. Having a draft strategy early should also guide your middle round selections to maximize the weekly upside of your roster. This article will be focused on two running backs that are late first-round picks in PPR drafts based on numerous ADP sources, Joe Mixon and Josh Jacobs.

According to the NFFC draft data, Joe Mixon is going off the board as RB6 while Josh Jacobs is the RB12. FantasyFootballCalculator.com has Mixon being selected as RB8 and Jacobs as RB10. Finally, FantasyPros' average PPR ADP has Mixon as RB7 and Jacobs as RB13. No matter how you look at it, both running backs are widely considered as RB1’s this season. If you are selecting late in the first round of your fantasy draft, you will likely get a shot at one of these players, but likely won’t get both. Depending on the team you are trying to build, both are viable options. The purpose of this article is to help you decide which building block to win your 2020 league with.

 

Joe Mixon - Cincinnati Bengals

If you are involved in fantasy football Twitter, you will struggle to find a more polarizing player in the first round of fantasy drafts than Joe Mixon. Some people consider him an easy top-5 selection, while others struggle to include him in their top-12 selections. Here are some things to consider when looking at Joe Mixon for the 2020 season.

Career Production

After failing to make a major impact as a rookie in 2017 (178 carries for 626 yards and four touchdowns with 30 receptions on 34 targets and 287 yards in 14 games), Mixon has put together consecutive 1,000-yard seasons with minimal talent around him on offense. In 2019, the third year running back played in 15 games, carrying the ball 278 times for 1,137 yards and five touchdowns while adding 35 receptions (45 targets), 287 yards, and three additional scores.

Mixon accounted for 72 percent of the team’s carries and seven percent of the team’s targets. Mixon has shown an ability to often make big plays out of nothing and 2019 was no exception. Mixon finished as RB13 in PPR leagues and his 14.1 points per game ranked 20th at the running back position. One aspect that has left fantasy players underwhelmed has been Mixon’s role in the passing game. He has yet to eclipse 55 targets in a season, which has limited his upside in PPR leagues the last three seasons.

Situation

Few players have had more material changes to the offense around them than Joe Mixon in 2020. The Bengals parlayed a terrible 2019 season into the number one draft pick where they selected Joe Burrow out of LSU. Burrow is coming off the heels of the most prolific college football season that we have ever seen out of the quarterback position and should provide a major upgrade for the Bengals at quarterback.

Beyond that, the Bengals get A.J. Green back in the passing game and they'll also finally see 2019 first-round selection Jonah Williams in-game action for the first time. All of these additions should take the pressure off of Mixon to make miraculous plays, avoiding being crushed in the backfield. Mixon led the league with 103 evaded tackles in 2019, mainly thanks to the lack of passing threat and an underwhelming offensive line. With the threat of an adequate passing game and an alpha receiver back in the fold, Mixon should find better running lanes, so long as the Bengals can keep games competitive.

The Bengals do have Giovani Bernard in their backfield as well, and while he does not have a significant role in the run game, the team has shown they have no problem designing him touches as a receiver. Bernard will have a role in Cincinnati regardless of Mixon’s ability.

Negatives

With that being said, Mixon does have some concerning red flags if you are selecting him in the late first round. Burrow faces a severe learning curve transitioning from college to the NFL, given the lack of veteran leadership in the quarterback room and an offseason devoid of preseason games. Burrow could struggle early on (we saw it his first season as a starter at LSU), which would allow defenses to focus on Mixon yet again.

The Bengals also had the 26th rated offensive line in the run game according to FootballOutsiders.com, and they return four of five starters from that unit. While Jonah Williams will certainly help, he is essentially a second-year rookie considering how early he got hurt in training camp in 2019. Nobody, including the Bengals, truly understands how much of an impact he will have in the Cincinnati offense. With luck, the Bengals offense will improve thanks to these young players, but it is hardly a lock to happen.

Finally, the Bengals Defense was a big problem in 2019. They were bottom-10 in nearly every meaningful statistic. While they did attempt to address these problems in the offseason by adding DJ Reader and Mike Daniels to the line and Mackensie Alexander, Trae Waynes, and Vonn Bell to the secondary, it is very plausible the defense will struggle with all these new parts. If the Bengals find themselves trailing again this season, it will force them into passing situations. More passing situations means a higher utilization of Giovani Bernard in the offense, which again will cap Mixon’s upside.

The Bengals have not shown that they are going to feed Mixon on passing downs, and until they do, we can’t assume he will see a significant uptick in that part of his game. Without a steady role in the passing game, Mixon carries some risk in PPR leagues thanks to a capped ceiling.

 

Josh Jacobs - Los Vegas Raiders

On the other side of this debate, we have second-year running back Josh Jacobs. The 22-year-old was productive as a rookie and carved out a significant role in Jon Gruden’s offense in Oakland (now Las Vegas). Thanks to his opportunities as a rookie, Jacobs finds himself as a borderline top-12 running back in fantasy drafts due to his high-floor. Here are some reasons to consider Jacobs with your late first-round pick.

Career Production

The Raiders were criticized by many after selecting the back with the 24th pick of the 2019 draft. However, Jacobs showed in his rookie season that the pick was justifiable in hindsight. He played in 13 games as a rookie, carrying the ball 242 times for 1,150 yards (4.8 per carry) and seven touchdowns. The Alabama product also added 20 receptions (27 targets) for 166 yards. Jacobs handled 55% of the team’s carries (this figure is lower because of the three missed games) and received five percent of the Raiders’ targets in the pass game. Jacobs finished as RB21 in PPR leagues with 191.6 points but ranked 16th overall in average points per game at 14.7.

Jacobs was not highly utilized in the passing game, but some of that can be attributed to him missing three games early in the season with a shoulder fracture. The injury isn’t too concerning long-term, but it does complicate our understanding of how he will be used in Las Vegas.

Situation

When it comes to 2020, the Raiders still seem to profile as an excellent place to be a lead running back in the NFL. Las Vegas returns their entire offensive line from 2019, a unit that ranked sixth in the NFL on FootballOutsiders in terms of adjusted line yards (weighting rushes based on their yards gained and the situation they were gained in). The Raiders were also a top-10 unit in stuffed runs, meaning Jacobs was stopped in the backfield or at the line of scrimmage less than most of the other running backs in the NFL. Jacobs averaged 18.6 carries per game, but only two targets per contest, which means he is doesn’t qualify as a bell-cow running back in today’s NFL.

Beyond the offensive line, there is a level of uncertainty of how the Raiders’ offense is going to look for the 2020 season. The Raiders let DeAndre Washington walk in free agency but added explosive rusher, Lynn Bowden Jr., as a running back in the third round of the 2020 NFL draft. They also retained Jalen Richard and added Devontae Booker in free agency. The Raiders also added Nelson Agholor as a free agent wide receiver and invested a first-round and third-round pick in the wide receiver position (Henry Ruggs III and Bryan Edwards, respectively). This is all on top of Tyrell Williams, Hunter Renfrow, and Darren Waller, who were important members of the offense in 2019.

Negatives

The Raiders love Jacobs as their main back, but they seem reluctant to fully run their offense through him. The Raiders utilized Richard (8% of the team’s targets) and Washington (7% of the team’s targets) more than Jacobs (5%) in 2019's passing game. However, Richard returns to the offense again and Washington was replaced by an equally explosive option in Bowden Jr. Also consider that rookies Henry Ruggs III and Bryan Edwards on the perimeter represents a significant threat to Jacobs' role in the passing game as well.

The Raiders invested heavily in their defense during the free agency period this past offseason. They offered contracts to Maliek Collins, Nick Kwiatkoski, Cory Littleton, Damarious Randall, Jeff Heath, and Prince Amukamara. They also used one of their first-round draft picks on rookie cornerback Damon Arnette out of Ohio State. All of these additions were made to try and help a defense that struggled mightily against the pass in 2019. The Raiders gave up the ninth most points in 2019 (26.19), allowing a 64.1 completion percentage and 256 passing yards per contest while generating just 15 takeaways, which led to a -2 turnover differential on the season.

While there is a lot of talent on this defense now, a reduced offseason could impact the defense's effectiveness, especially early on the 2020 season. Until we know how Las Vegas decides to utilize these different pieces, a bad defense could result in reduced touches for Jacobs, thanks to negative game scripts.

Verdict

When making your decision, it ultimately comes down to what you want your team to look like in the early rounds. If you want upside early in your draft so you can take safer players later, then Mixon has to be your choice thanks to his explosive running style and improvements that can benefit him in 2020. If you want a safer floor, then it is hard to ignore the role Jacobs had in the Raiders offense in 2019. If he had played a 15-game season like Mixon in 2020, at his seasonal averages, he would have finished with 221 fantasy points, just four behind Mixon. Jacobs has also stated that his goal is to catch 60 passes in 2020, and if that comes to fruition then he can easily vault into a top-10 running back for the upcoming fantasy season.

In best-ball leagues where lineups are selected for you, Mixon is an excellent play since you’ll never have to guess the weeks he explodes or falls flat. In leagues where I am setting my lineups, I will personally be choosing Jacobs, if I am drafting late in the first round, thanks to his high floor and the ability for me to have a running back spot I can set and forget every week.



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ADP Showdown: Mike Evans vs JuJu Smith-Schuster

In redraft season, you have to go into your draft prepared for all possible outcomes. Your league mates are going to draft differently every single time. So, when it comes time to make your selections, you have to be prepared to make difficult decisions and adjust to a changing board. Today, we’re talking WR1s that you’re getting in the third round with Tampa Bay Buccaneer Mike Evans and JuJu Smith-Schuster of the Pittsburgh Steelers. They're both incredibly talented receivers that have put up outstanding years in their careers, and they'll be looking to better all of them in 2020.

These two are coming off seasons that finished in completely opposite directions. In the case of Evans in 13 games, he ran up over 232 fantasy points, which was good enough for WR5 on the season. He averaged a healthy 17.3 yards per reception to go with eight touchdowns, and he has a new quarterback in place. While Tom Brady doesn’t have the arm of Jameis Winston, the accuracy should be a huge improvement. We're going to see a different version of Evans than we've had to this point. Winston had the physical talent, but Brady is arguably the greatest quarterback of all time. In a system like Bruce Arians' that allows him to really sling it, it'll be interesting to see how he utilizes these weapons. 

For JuJu, after Ben Roethlisberger went down with an injury, the whole team seemed to follow suit, and Smith-Schuster was no exception. He struggled through 12 games en route to just 42 catches for 552 yards. Without his Hall-of-Fame quarterback under center, he just couldn’t get into a rhythm with the two backups that were trotted out. He's still considered one of the top 20 wide receivers in terms of talent and as long as Ben is throwing him the ball, he's a contender for top fantasy production on a weekly basis. Both are in position for a better 2020, but which one should you be taking?

 

The Case for Evans

Evans has been one of the best receivers for fantasy since he entered the league back in 2014. He’s caught at least 1,000 receiving yards in every season since then, which ties him with Hall-of-Famer Randy Moss for the most 1,000-yard receiving seasons to start a career, with six. After being pegged as a jump-ball receiver for the past few years with Winston under center, Evans will have to change his game some to accommodate Tom Brady. Brady hasn't had a deep-ball receiver like this since Moss a decade ago. He's still got some power left in his shoulder, but he won't be able to fully match what Winston was doing last season. 

Winston was second in the NFL last season in average intended air yards at 10.5, while Brady averaged just 7.6. Deep shots will likely come less frequently because Brady is more willing to take checkdowns. While this definitely hurts Evans’ bottom line, it also means that he’ll have more balls ending up in his hands than his opponents.

Evans isn’t the fastest guy on the field, but he’s deceptively good in YAC. He was in the top 10 in market share of his team's air yards, and I expect that to ring true. The big area of improvement will be in his catch percentage. Due to his proclivity for catching jump balls, that number has remained relatively low. I think he could easily post a career-best mark with Brady under center. 

In six seasons, Evans has caught 48 touchdowns for an average of eight per season. He’s finished as WR23 or better in all six seasons, and he’s been WR13 or better in four out of six. He’s the top receiver on an offense that figures to be throwing the ball a lot under Bruce Arians.

While his deep targets are likely to come down, his overall target share should remain unchanged, and he’s got WR1 upside for a cheap price. For example, Tyreek Hill of the Kansas City Chiefs is being drafted at the end of the first round. He plays in an offense with the best quarterback in the game, but there are a ton of weapons around him that could impact his scoring. In Tampa, Evans will be the 1a or 1b every single week, and you're getting him two rounds later. 

 

The Case for Smith-Schuster

The first thing JuJu has going for him is that he’s fully healthy after dealing with injuries all of last season. After racking up over 2,300 yards through his first two seasons, he just couldn’t stay on the field long enough to contribute last year. Throw in quarterbacks Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges, and you had a recipe for disaster after he was drafted nearly universally in the first or second rounds. He was viewed by many as one of the biggest fantasy busts in 2019. While the injuries occurred to him, he was hurt by all sorts of other factors outside of his control. As long as he does what he can do this year, he's automatically in a better position. 

Now, in 2020, JuJu is healthy and his quarterback will be back. Big Ben suffered an injury early in the season last year and he never returned. Ben played approximately 1.5 games last season and he didn’t even throw a touchdown. It didn’t matter because Smith-Schuster still dramatically outperformed himself in those two weeks.

In the two games with Ben, he averaged more receptions, targets, and he was on pace for over 1200 yards. Ben will be a boon for JuJu. JuJu is the only receiver on the team that Roethlisberger will have any established chemistry with and that will likely show in the early stages of the season. If you don't have a ton of faith in him long-term, you could look to flip him after the first few weeks when he's finished with multiple WR1 performances. 

With Antonio Brown long gone, he’s going to see the opposing team’s best corner on a weekly basis. We’ve seen him make some truly special plays early in his young career, but can he keep that up against an opponent’s best corner? I think so. You’re getting about a half-round discount on JuJu over Evans, and you might even get a greater one depending on how your league mates are viewing him.

A high-volume receiver in an offense that likes to throw the ball is a good mix. Similar to Allen Robinson last year, Smith-Schuster could greatly outperform his ADP just due to raw volume. If James Washington and Diontae Johnson fail to take the next step in their development, Big Ben will likely have to force-feed him the ball. 

 

The Verdict

These guys are separated by just about nine spots in PPR ADP. Evans is going at the front half of the round, and JuJu is coming off the board at the turn before the fourth. They both have aging quarterbacks in offenses that should be throwing the ball a lot. Evans gives you more touchdown and big-play upside, while Smith-Schuster is going to likely see more volume due to a limited receiving corps. I like JuJu as a bounce-back candidate this year, but I’m siding with Evans on this one. His price is higher, but I also prefer his ceiling a lot more. If you can’t get Evans because he’s off the board, JuJu is a great consolation prize with a lot of upside this year.

Take Evans over Smith-Schuster



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ADP Showdown: Amari Cooper vs. Adam Thielen

You’re in the middle of the third round of your draft and you need another wide receiver. Maybe you need to get your first wideout that will be your team’s WR1 throughout the season. The bottom line is that you can’t afford to miss with this pick. Championships aren’t won on draft day, but they can absolutely be lost on draft day. Missing with your third-round pick could leave you fighting an uphill battle all year. Picking between these guys isn't going to cost you your year, but it's going to make things a lot more difficult if you pick the wrong one. That's what we're here to help you avoid.

We’re looking at Adam Thielen and Amari Cooper. Thielen finished as WR7 in the 2018 season. He started the season with eight straight 100-yard games, and he was quarterback Kirk Cousins’ favorite target on the Minnesota Vikings. After a down year in 2019, he’s reasonably slipped a bit. Although, if you look closer, he should be on the upswing. Wide receiver Stefon Diggs is now in Buffalo and while the Vikes brought in Justin Jefferson, he’s a rookie that doesn’t have the rapport with Cousins that Thielen does. Thielen’s only issue last year was health, and we haven’t seen him function as the team’s major offensive weapon thus far, but that doesn’t mean he can’t handle the work.

On the other side of this, you have Amari Cooper on the Dallas Cowboys. When he’s feeling it, he’s one of the best receivers in the NFL for fantasy. Last year, against the Green Bay Packers in Week 5, he ran up 11 receptions, over 200 yards, and a touchdown. The problem with him is that, when he’s not on, he can absolutely disappear. Boom-or-bust players don’t typically get drafted super high, but Cooper could be the exception to that rule. You're getting a guy with WR1 upside for cheaper than most guys, and he's a consensus top-10 dynasty asset because he's locked up in a long-term deal with the Cowboys. Why not get him while his price is still down?

 

The Case for Thielen

After being drafted as WR10 last year, he’s now being drafted as WR9, but he’s fallen backward nearly a full round in overall ADP. From 2.11, he’s gone down to 3.07. Most of that comes as a result of the increased importance of running backs in drafts. He’s also a year older and coming off a season that saw him catch just 30 passes for 418 yards. With Diggs out the door, his stock should be pointing upward rather than the downward trend that we’re seeing now. This is where you can find that additional value that others may overlook.

He dealt with injuries a lot last season, but that doesn’t capture the full story. In the five games before the injury really hampered him, Thielen was on a rather decent pace. He was averaging 16.2 PPR points per game, which would have allowed him to finish as WR9 on a PPG basis at the end of the season. Those numbers were with Diggs still on the field with him. Diggs is now gone and while they brought in Jefferson, the rookie will need some time to get his feet under him. That just means more targets will be going Thielen’s way.

Factoring in his ADP, if Thielen is your first wideout, he should give you a player with a high floor on a weekly basis in the third round. He was averaging six targets per game on an offense that leaned heavily on RB Dalvin Cook in the backfield. The only issue you have with Thielen is his health. He was a WR1 in 2017 & 2018 when he was fully healthy. As long as he’s healthy again this year, you’re going to get 15 to 20 points out of him on a weekly basis.

 

The Case for Cooper

Cooper has yet to be a WR1 in his career. He’s gotten to WR14, but he hasn’t quite cleared the WR12 threshold. While he hasn’t hit that threshold as Thielen has, he brings a different level of play to the field. One major feature that he has working in his favor is the amount of passing game work he will get. QB Dak Prescott had 596 passing attempts last season, which was sixth in the NFL. For comparison, Kirk Cousins had just 444. There were 152 more opportunities for Cooper to score points.

Cooper didn’t have the same injury issues that we saw with Thielen last year, although he has dealt with them in the past. He did see a noticeable decrease in scoring in the back half of the season. His scoring total went down by 33 percent, and a major reason for that was his touchdown and yardage averages decreasing. After being on pace for 12 touchdowns and 1402 yards, those numbers both regressed severely.

Cooper’s ADP has him being taken in the middle of the fourth round, which could allow you to make him your WR2 after taking a more consistent one in the second or third round. Having Cooper as your WR2 is great considering his upside. When Mike McCarthy was running the Green Bay Packers, they were consistently one of the most pass-heavy teams in the league. Even with running back Ezekiel Elliott in the backfield, I expect Dallas to ride Dak’s arm. With Cooper still as the WR1, getting him in the fourth round seems like really good value to me.

 

The Verdict

Both of these guys could finish as WR1s at the end of the year, and none of us would bat an eye. They’re both going to be the top receiving options on their teams, but they are going to do it in different ways. Cooper is a big-play waiting to happen, and he also runs some of the cleanest routes in the league. Thielen relies on his efficiency, as he’s caught at least 62 percent of his passes in the last five seasons. I’m going to take Cooper as the cheaper option with a higher ceiling. If you’re looking for a safer option, Thielen is your guy, but Cooper gives you a much higher ceiling. 

Final Verdict: Cooper over Thielen



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ADP Showdown: Josh Jacobs vs. Nick Chubb

With drafts right around the corner, it's time to dig in and start the final preparations. Preparing for drafts means developing a strategy and what you should expect as the time draws closer. One way to do so is by having a good understanding of current ADP data. The current ADP will give fantasy owners an idea of where players will be coming off the board. This is vital knowledge as you queue players up or having certain individuals in mind as drafts move along. Because it's always better to get your guy earlier than ADP indicates as opposed to waiting and being sniped at the last second. This strategy will be more important than ever in 2020 as it relates to the running back position.

With more teams employing the shared workload backfields, finding the right RB with upside to fill your roster is a must. While other skill positions seem to be getting deeper, bell-cow running backs continue to be fewer and far between. Two of those backs that are being widely debated at the moment are Josh Jacobs and Nick Chubb. Both of these players had great 2019 seasons, but heading into the new year we could point out devaluing factors for both players.

Having questions marks about your potential RB1 is never a good way to start a draft. But with both of these players' current ADP having them come off the board at the end of round one, the more good you can find on the player the better you will feel about your decision. Each will be considered to fill RB1 roles in fantasy drafts in 2020, but which should you be leaning on if presented the opportunity to draft them late in the first round? Josh Jacobs and Nick Chubb, even if they have short-comings, are expected to be large contributors in fantasy for the 2020 season. But the question remains, who should you be drafting based on current ADP data? We dive into the numbers and I'll attempt to discern who should come out ahead as you prepare for draft day.

 

Josh Jacobs, Las Vegas Raiders

ADP: RB8 (10th Overall)

Josh Jacobs' rookie season was considered a massive success. Although he did miss three games towards the end of the year, Jacobs' 1,150 rushing yards and seven scores were good enough to land him a spot as the RB21 at season's end. He showed off the athleticism and elusiveness that had many analysts drooling as he led the league in avoided tackles with 69 on the season. He was seventh in the league in rushing yardage, but most other metrics he landed in the teens in rankings, mostly due to the games missed. But another knock on Jacobs was his involvement in the Raiders passing games. Only bringing in 20 receptions on 26 targets, this was a bit of a dent in his value in PPR formats.

Looking ahead to the 2020 season, many are expecting to see Jacobs' targets to increase. But the moves made by the team would indicate that they are move than fine with his role in the backfield. The team continues to talk up the play of Jalen Richard as the passing-down back (29 receptions on 39 targets) and the selection of Lynn Bowden in the NFL Draft only convolutes the receptions in this backfield even more. So the rushing abilities of Jacobs will continue to be where he makes his money for owners in fantasy scoring.

He will be running behind a Raiders offensive line that was graded out to be the 18th best run-blocking unit in the league in 2019 (per PFF). If the players along the Raiders line continue to progress forward, they could move back into the top-10. Which will make for more room for Jacobs as he looks to avoid the sophomore slump. A 1,600 total yard, eight score season seems within the realm of possibility for Jacobs in 2020 and will put him in the RB1 area easily. But he must show that he can stay on the field and an increase in target share to truly realize his potential.

 

Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns

ADP: RB9 (Overall 11th)

Chubb's second NFL season saw a massive increase in production (261.20 FP) on his way to an RB8 finish on the season. He dominated touches in the Browns' backfield (298 attempts) and contributed six RB1 weekly finishes to fantasy owners. Even running behind the 23rd-best offensive line (per PFF), Chubb had 66 avoided tackles on the year with a robust 5.01 YPC.

His YPC on that many touches behind that line is a great indictment on the type of runner that Chubb is and the value he possesses. Although he's not a top option in the Browns' passing attack, his 45 targets and 39 receptions were good enough to give him the added PPR boost. But those targets did fall off once Kareem Hunt made his return from suspension.

The main objective of the Browns during the offseason was to improve the situation with the offensive line. They did just that with the acquisition of Jack Conklin and the selection of Jedrick Wills in the NFL Draft. The hope is that these additions will make the Browns offensive line one of the best in the league, in turn making Chubb's ability as a runner that much more effective. There is a good chance that Chubb leads the league in rushing in 2020, and could push for double-digit scores as well.

For that to happen, he must improve on his goal-to-go rushing (converting only three out of 16 attempts in 2019). If he continues to get the goal-line work over Hunt, Chubb's regular workload should remain the same, making him a highly valuable player across all formats. With new head coach Kevin Stefanski, it is expected that Browns will be a much more high powered offense in 2020 and that will give Chubb more than enough opportunities. Even with the presence of Kareem Hunt in the backfield for the entire season.

 

Verdict

As for what I would do if presented with the chance to draft either one of these players, I will be going with Nick Chubb for the 2020 season. Both Chubb and Jacobs presents massive potential for the season and will be popular RB1 choices for all those owners drafting at the back-end of the first round. But the choice for me is simple.

Both Chubb and Jacobs seem to have similar ceilings when it comes to passing game involvement, but Chubb wins in terms of what he will be able to do as a runner this season. His rushing yardage should be greater than Jacobs's output and he should have more touchdown potential. That's not to mention that I am currently trusting the Browns offense just a bit more than the Raiders as the season gets closer.



Win Big With RotoBaller

Be sure to also check out all of our other daily fantasy football articles and analysis to help you set those winning lineups, including this new RotoBaller YouTube video:

More Fantasy Football Analysis