We’re in the heart of the fantasy season entering week eight. Everyone has established thoughts on teams bored out from the first seven weeks but anticipating potential second-half pushes. Finding where recent trends show fault lines and others show signs of permanence separates fantasy prognosticators.
Tennessee @ Houston
The world goes round, the sun rises and the Titans outperform expectations are some of the only certainties to life. After starting 0-2, the Titans have roared back in typical fashion for four straight wins. To get their fifth, they must beat the Texans, the last-place team in the AFC South. Despite being 1-4-1, the Texans have proved deceptively spunky in most games. Take last week's bout versus the Raiders. The Texans fell 38-20 but were only down 3 points and nearly had a 40% win probability with 12 minutes left in the game. If the Texans can keep it together a little longer in this game, they may find their second win.
Derrick Henry has been a mainstay in fantasy circles for years. His ability to break models and handle volume knows no bounds. Dameon Pierce should be entering that inner circle of high-end fantasy backs. Pierce may be a young fourth-round pick, but he is absorbing as many touches as he can in Houston. Over the last three weeks, he has averaged 20 carries a week.
Look at passing games. At the same time, Pierce’s backfields mates have combined for an average of two carries a week.
This volume on the ground can be matched by few, but Henry could even outclass Pierce here. Over the last three weeks, Henry has seen an average of 26.67 carries per week. It helps that Tennessee won each of these games. Henry’s involvement in the passing attack should encourage his backer more. Henry has seen target totals of two, three and five of late. As of late, Henry looks like a one-man wrecking crew, but how can he keep this up? The known model breaker averages less than one yard before contact per rush and heavily relies on volume. Henry’s underlying metrics make the sustainability of his production more fragile than others. Seeing 30 carries in games from behind is unconscionable unless your coach’s name is Arthur Smith.
The Texans’ and Titans’ passing games are mostly afterthoughts to most fantasy players. The Titans have passed 7% less than expected, but the Texans have passed 1% more than expected, according to rbsdm.com. The Texans could provide an opportunity to back a wide receiver. Brandin Cooks leads the pass catchers with a 23.6% targets per route run rate and 48.1 fantasy points. The second-leading receiver on the Texans is trending toward missing this game, so there could be more targets going Cooks’s way. This week's number two receiver could be Chris Moore, who has a 13.9% targets per route run rate and has accumulated 23.8 fantasy points this season.
The Titans and Texans sport defenses of relatively similar levels. They both leave themselves open to being exploited. The game's outcome will hinge on which team can take advantage of these opportunities. After last week, the potential for the Texans to let the Titans cull them through the ground game is painfully apparent. Jacobs and the Raiders ran for 6.1 yards per carry and three touchdowns against the Texans. The Titans may seem stout, but timely turnovers have assisted them recently. The Colts moved the ball decently last week, but two Matt Ryan turnovers and a Pittman fumble ruined the Colts’ result. Whichever team can better bottle up the opposing team’s running game should have the advantage in this matchup.
Robert Woods leads the Titans' receivers. Woods, who has 39 points on the year, has come back slowly from his ACL tear. The offense has tried to avoid featuring him and the passing game, and I do not expect a change of heart from Mike Vrabel.
As any projections believer has done time and time again, I’ll be fading the king. Back the young buck, Dameon Pierce (+5) over Derrick Henry in this matchup. Tack on Brandin Cooks over Robert Woods (+1.5) for a less stressful matchup.
Denver @ Jacksonville
The Jaguars and Broncos enter this game 2-5 but have entirely different outlooks thus far into the season. Looking back at previous expectations can be amusing now. Many projected the Broncos as an exciting offense and thought they would win the AFC West. Fading Russ back in Week 2 looked risky, but I wish I went even harder on the take now. The Broncos have amassed 17 or more points in one game this season. Russell Wilson averages less than one touchdown pass per game and, unbelievably, continues to become weirder and weirder. Jacksonville has been one of the most unlucky teams to this point. While they are 2-5, the Jaguars have a +18 point differential. The results have not materialized to this point, but the foundation of a good team is present in Jacksonville.
Russell Wilson enters into week eight coming back prematurely from a hamstring injury. Before his hamstring injury, Wilson struggled mightily. He had an expected points added per pass play of ~0.00, ranking 22nd and directly behind Cooper Rush. Another concern for Broncos believers, Wilson’s pass play succeeded only 39.3% of the time, good for 33rd in the NFL. Accordingly, his top receivers, Cortland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy, have disappointed. Jeudy has taken the backseat to Sutton when playing with Wilson this season, seeing 19% of targets from Wilson to Sutton’s 26%. Being the number two in an inefficient offense in seek of an identity will continue to prove difficult for Jeudy here.
On the other sideline, second-year pro Trevor Lawrence helms the offense. His second year has started much more smoothly for him than last year. Lawrence has the fifth-highest success rate at 51.5%. Additionally, he has put up the 10th-highest EPA per pass play with ~0.13 EPA per pass play. Multiple components have come together to enable Lawrence this year, including offseason additions of coach Doug Peterson, a creative play-caller, and wide receiver Christian Kirk. Kirk has over 1.9 yards per route run and over a 23% targets per route run rate. This success has launched Kirk in borderline WR1 territory, ranking as the wide receiver 14 overall. The Jaguars look to expand upon their offensive success against the Broncos.
The Broncos' defense could be the best in the league. Through the air, the Broncos let up under -0.2 EPA per play. This would be a historic rate. It would rank in the 0th percentile for EPA allowed on pass plays. Coming up against a defense would scare any quarterback, never mind one who has struggled to live up to their draft capital to this point in their career. The Jaguars also stymie teams through the air. Over the last five years, this defense would be in the top quartile of defenses. Coming up against an offense bereft of an identity should continue to bolster these numbers. Look for these defenses to slow down the opposing offense. The overall soundness of the Jaguars' offense should give them a minor edge in this game.
We will not be riding with the Broncos this week. Stick with the Jaguars. Trevor Lawrence over Russell Wilson (+1) and Christian Kirk over Jerry Jeudy (+0.5) are worthwhile plays for week seven.
Week seven brought us back down to earth after two hot weeks. The Buccaneers flabbergasted spectators when they only put up seven points on the board. The basis of the Fournette play would never work in those circumstances. Lenny can only be as good as the Buccaneers' offense. The excitement for Fournette lies in being attached to this offense, not underlying skill. I expect White to eat into his work, as this offense needs an overhaul. Evans should have buried this play quickly but dropped a surefire 64-yard touchdown. Godwin continues to see extreme volume but must improve his efficiency to justify his projections.
The second matchup brought at least one win, with Juju Smith-Schuster and Mahomes eviscerating the 49ers. Mahomes’s spot last week looked favorable, given the injuries to the 49ers, but 400+ and three touchdowns exceeded any expectations. As for Herbert, the Chargers’ blasé offense appears built to hold him back. Facing a defense that allowed 48 points to the Lions and 39 to the Saints, the Chargers ran through check downs to Austin Ekeler. Getting back Allen but simultaneously losing Mike Williams could force the Chargers into more uncomfortable spots.
All streaks must come to an end. My faith in the Buccaneers to figure out their offensive woes may have been misplaced. The second game’s picks tried to thread a needle, backing and fading the KC passing attack simultaneously. Aligning sides to coincide with one another could prove a better formula in the future. 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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TPRR is courtesy of the 33rd Team and Sports Info Solutions and success rate data is from rbsdm.com.