Week nine reaffirmed the process with a 3-1 record and a couple of firm victories. Finding where projection systems improperly account for changing circumstances throughout the season or overweight such changes is often easier said than done. Yet if we hone in, those opportunities do still exist. Identifying and diagnosing those lines relies on a keen mind and balanced process. Below I tried to identify a few myself.
Minnesota @ Buffalo
The Vikings travel to Buffalo as uncertainty swirls and continues to mount around the Bills. In a typical week, the storyline would be all about a 7-1 team, many do not think are as skilled as their record suggests, battling the 6-2 Super Bowl favorites. This particular week has media speculating about the prospects of Josh Allen. At the end of last week’s loss to the Jets, Allen, the then-MVP favorite, hurt his elbow. People may not have thought much of it at the moment because Allen proceeded to sling a 75 air-yard throw immediately after sustaining the injury, but the ailment could sideline him for this week and maybe longer.
Systems project Buffalo players as if Allen is playing and 100% healthy. Fading any Buffalo player this week would likely prove profitable, as Case Keenum is not another MVP candidate waiting in the wings. Even if Allen plays, Buffalo backers run the risk of the injury flaring up or significantly impacting Allen’s play.
Look for Stefon Diggs to remain the focal point of the Buffalo offense, regardless of the quarterback. Diggs has more than 60 receiving yards in every game in more than 100 in all but three. The pass-first nature of the Bills’ offense is obvious. They rate as above pass rate expected in all circumstances shown on rbsdm.com’s “pass over expected” charts. The loss of Allen could push this down a bit, but the staff has a philosophy of passing first. Expect this to remain.
Much was made about the transition to coach Kevin O’Connell this offseason for the Vikings. To his credit, the team looks poised to win the division, but he is likely a bit less pass-happy than fantasy players imagined. They are slightly over expected pass rate but nowhere near where teams like the Chiefs and Bills fall. Justin Jefferson has been the focus through the air, seeing a 31% target share. The Bills' mission on defense is to prevent the pass. This could throw a wrench into the Vikings' game plan.
Buffalo rates as one of the most stout defenses. The team allows the fifth lowest expected points added per play. They drive this by allowing a very low EPA/play on passing plays. As far as rushing plays go, they are middle of the road. Intriguingly the Bills let up a successful pass play 46% of the time around the league average. They drive their low EPA/play by restricting chunk plays and forcing turnovers. The Vikings show as a middle of the road defense in both facets of the game.
In a myriad of places last week, analysts suggested fading T.J. Hockenson’s initiation into the Vikings' offense. While the thought that transitioning to a new offense and quarterback could prove difficult in one week was sound, Hockenson and the Vikings’ coaching staff had other ideas. Hockenson played 84% of snaps, drawing nine targets. The Vikings had a specific and clear role in mind for this acquisition. Heavy involvement and the high amount of snaps make Hockenson a second-tier tight end option the rest of the way, trailing only the likes of Andrews and Kelce.
George Kittle remains another second-tier option but represents a different proposition. Kittle embodies the term boom-bust. Kittle has failed to reach 40 yards in three of his six outings this year, but he has surpassed 80 in two games. Kittle’s mean outcome could be higher than Hockenson’s, but San Francisco uses a run-driven offense. The low passing volume increases the variance on Kittle’s projection and represents an opportunity to back other players over him. Hockenson’s lower environmental variance should give him a higher mean outcome.
With questions aplenty in Buffalo, take Justin Jefferson (+1.5) over Stefon Diggs. Follow that play up with T.J. Hockenson (+0.5) over George Kittle.
Green Bay @ Dallas
With the Packers traveling to Dallas, there are narratives galore. Mike McCarthy finds himself up against his old team and quarterback. Additionally, Aaron Rodgers’s descent continues with his team on a five-game losing streak. This streak includes losses to the Giants, Jets and Lions. His frustration continues to boil over as he makes disparaging comments about his team with increasing frequency.
The Packers have struggled offensively this season. They only topped 23 points in two games thus far and need. Accordingly, Rodgers has failed to surpass 17 fantasy points the entire season. Without Davante Adams, finding connections with his current receiver corps has eluded Rodgers. Lazard has the most promise of anyone out wide for the Packers. Last week Lazard had 150 air yards, the fourth most in the NFL. Aside from the first game, Aaron Jones has led the Green Bay backfield, but an ankle injury sustained last week could bring that into question.
Dallas has succeeded in adversity this season after Dak Prescott went onto injured reserve, but Dak has since returned to lead the team. No matter the quarterback, CeeDee Lamb has commanded targets, leading to a 31% target share on the season. In their game before last week’s bye, the Cowboys trounced the Bears, totaling 49 points. Lamb and Prescott connected early for a touchdown, but Tony Pollard did most of the damage with 131 rushing yards and three touchdowns. Without a doubt, Pollard has juice.
Pollard erupted here in part because Ezekiel Elliott missed the game. Even in Zeke’s absence, Pollard only played 53% of snaps and handled 15 touches. The coaching staff has said they want to limit Pollard's snaps, so his explosiveness does not diminish. GM and owner Jerry Jones came out after the game to affirm the team stands with Elliott as the lead back. When Pollard sees the field, he should produce, but Zeke remains in like for goal-line touches and the bulk of snaps.
Neither the Packers nor the Cowboys have particularly strong run defenses. The concern for the Packers is their passing attack is so weak they could struggle to sustain long drives. If the Packers fall behind early, running much more could be out of the question. The Cowboys' outlook looks strong as the Packers allow a 46% rushing success rate, well above the league average, and lost their best pass rusher for the season. Slowing down the Cowboys on either front could prove untenable for the Packers.
Davante Adams has produced outside of Green Bay, but like the Packers, the Raiders’ record leaves much to be desired. Adams received only one catch two weeks ago but returned with a vengeance in week nine. He saw 17 targets. This target dominance should continue for Adams, as he is the most skilled receiver on the team. Also, Waller and Renfrow both went onto the injured reserve this week.
In Dallas, look for Ezekiel Elliott (+2.0) to prevail over Tony Pollard and Davante Adams to overcome the 3.5-point cushion for Aaron Jones.
Last week got us back on track with a solid 3-1 record. Raheem Mostert did not see the volume I anticipated in Jeff Wilson’s first week with the Dolphins. Despite this, Mostert got the touchdown and subsequently outscored Montgomery, who disappointed his backers. Tyreek ranks as either the WR1 or WR2 overall; you can flip him and Kupp, depending on your preference. Even with the 4.5-point cushion, Hill covered the spread.
The Bengals mauled the Panthers, with Joe Mixon serving as the primary beneficiary. Burrow’s passing line was surprising, but he punched one in on the ground casting his TopProp backers to victory. The low passing volume may lead one to think Higgins lost to Moore, but the dysfunction at quarterback in Carolina outweighed the Bengals’ low passing volume. With a run out like this, Moore not covering is surprising, but we will take a 3-1 week.
Week nine got us off the schneid, and resoundingly so. With hindsight, the process looked about as sound as it did at the time. Continuing to find mismatches between players where projections fail to account for all the circumstances allows us to thrive. Agree or disagree with my picks, join me in the TopProp streets this week, where you can put your money where your mouth is.
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