When we enter the season, we are quick to declare victory on takes from the summer in weeks one and two, but in a league with 17 games, narratives can change quickly. Coaches evaluate players weekly and adjust as their skills and deficiencies become apparent. Accordingly, we must maintain fluidity in our point of view. Adjusting against our priors is often more easily said than done; nonetheless, evaluating with a forward-looking mindset can provide edges against the field. At the end of last year, realizing Amon-Ra St. Brown had emerged and taken over the Lions’ passing game could have led to significant gains. Even after an emphatic end to last season, acknowledging St. Brown’s ascension could have proved profitable to start this season.
Green Bay vs. New York Giants (London)
This week we travel back to London, now with the Packers and Giants. Two 3-1 teams looking to continue their success in this young season. Despite the early success of both teams, they have vastly different trajectories for the rest of the season. Sportsbooks give the Giants a ~33% chance to make the playoffs compared to an ~84% chance for the Packers. The Giants have succeeded this far based on winning close games, playing bad teams and Saquon Barkley’s reemergence. The Packers built their success on a respectable defense, a legendary quarterback, a dynamic backfield duo and a surprisingly adept receiving corps.
Saquon Barkley has carried the Giants on his back to this point in the season. Ripping off explosive runs left and right, Barkley amassed 463 yards on the ground and another 107 through the air. The Packers have allowed one of the highest expected points added per play on the ground of the last five years, landing in about the 95th percentile. A few teams have fared worse than them, including their opponent this week, the New York Giants. These teams’ best skill position players are the running backs, so this game will likely feature a heavy dose of running.
A large part of Saquon's success relies on hitting long runs. Fortunately for the Giants, the Packers let up more chunk plays on the ground than the league average. Looking at the histogram of yards gained on run plays, the Packers’ green bars are at the same height or higher than the league average orange bars. Daniel Jones’s mobility has helped open lanes for Saquon by defenses having to respect his legs. Unfortunately for Saquon, Daniel Jones comes into this game slightly injured and less mobile.
On the other sideline, Aaron Jones heads up the Packers' backfield. He splits significant work with his backfield mate A.J. Dillon. Jones embodies the term boom-bust. Over the last couple of years, Jones often disappointed fantasy players with five games of less than ten fantasy points last year. For each of those performances, he seems to pepper in a two, three, or even a four touchdown game. As Dillon works in more this year, those explosion spots could be more sparse. The Giants' lack of power in the trenches should push the Packers to the ground and away from Aaron Rodgers.
Contrasting Rodgers, Tom Brady and Tampa Bay look to regain their crown as the pass rate over expected kings they have been in Brady’s tenure. The first few weeks lacked the weapons to succeed, so the Bucs relied heavily on Leonard Fournette to lead the charge. When Mike Evans and Chris Godwin returned last week, Brady threw 52 passes and ran the ball only six times. The volume to elevate Tom Brady, the pocket passer, into the second tier of quarterbacks is back.
Fade the Aarons this weekend with Saquon Barkley over Aaron Jones (+2.5) and Tom Brady over Aaron Rodgers (+1.5).
Dallas @ Los Angeles Rams
The Rams host Dallas this week, hoping to get back on track. The reigning Super Bowl champs enter this matchup 2-2, with the lone wins over the inept Cardinals and Falcons. In their other games, the 49ers and Bills blew out the Rams. Dallas came into the season with high hopes, which were dampened when Dak Prescott got injured in week one. Since the devastation of week one, backup quarterback Cooper Rush steadied the ship bringing the Cowboys to 3-1.
While most of the Rams have struggled to pick up where they left off last year, Cooper Kupp has picked up where he left off. Cooper Kupp has dominated the field averaging over 13 targets, over ten receptions, over 100 yards, and nearly a touchdown a game. Tyler Higbee has provided the only help Kupp has seen all year, hauling in 26 receptions for 244 yards. Together these two account for 61.3% of targets and 63.6% of receiving yards for the Rams. Offseason acquisition, Allen Robinson, has less than 100 yards and has 45 less than part-time fullback, Ben Skowronek.
Surprisingly, the unheralded Cooper Rush has performed admirably and possibly better than Stafford. Taking only two sacks in his three starts, Rush has handled pressure well and maintained his composure to distribute the ball. Stafford took seven sacks against the 49ers alone, and Dallas sports one of the most fearsome defensive lines. Sportsbooks peg Micah Parsons as the favorite to take home defensive player of the year.
The Cowboys also have more offensive firepower for this game, with Michael Gallup appearing near full health last week when he played 85% of snaps. Most expected Gallup to take more time and come back slowly, but he is coming back at full throttle. The targets lacked for Gallup, but the playing time alone bodes well for his prospects. Much to Gallup’s delight, the Rams struggle against the pass and bottle up the run well. Gallup should increasingly be a part of the Cowboys' passing game, and I want to be ahead of the curve with him. The return of Gallup should not hurt mainstays like CeeDee Lamb but could impact Dalton Schultz, who has not shown a propensity to demand targets. Last season, Schultz managed an 18% targets per route run and a meager 0.9 yards per route run.
The menacing pass rush of the Cowboys should push Stafford to his safety blankets of Cooper Kupp and Tyler Higbee. To mitigate the pass rush, McVay could also look to call more screens and runs to the backs. The Cowboys' defense should push the Rams to the run, given their performance against the pass and run. Conversely, the Rams' defense has been stout on the ground and rather forgiving through the air, so Cowboys pass catchers could be interesting options this week.
Accordingly, I will be taking Gallup (+0.5) over the anemic Allen Robinson and Tyler Higbee over Dalton Schultz (+2.5).
My picks being injury-riddled thus far only continued last week. In the Saints vs. Vikings game, both my picks involved an injury. One of which stopped the matchup before it even started. Kamara’s absence last week caught many off guard. The Vikings fed Cook the ball but only for 3.8 yards per carry, as the Saints tough run defense held up well. If Kamara had played, I think taking him was the right side. Alongside that, Olave continued his fast start to his professional career with four catches for 67 yards and a touchdown. Olave’s matchup opponent, Treylon Burks, got hurt early in his game, so it is difficult to know how close this could have been.
The Cleveland vs. Atlanta game at least had healthy matchups, but they did not go our way. Hunt still had Chubb by a hair till Chubb put in a 28-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. London saw the volume we hoped for despite Atlanta passing the ball 19 times and running 35 times. London’s seven targets manifested into two catches for 17 yards, a total that Wilson easily blew by. Overall, I am ok with the picks last week, but fading the Chubb touchdown is a play I slightly regret. Hopefully, the results follow the process of the next few picks.
At this point, I believe the process made sense last week. Unfortunately, in this iteration, we did not actualize our expected value. Moving forward we should expect to see more up days than down, but down days are unavoidable and provide windows for reflection. 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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Routes run and expected points data is from PFF and TPRR is courtesy of the 33rd Team and Sports Info Solutions.