After months of minor adjustments and rigorous debates around them, the start of the NFL season has significantly shaken fantasy prospects. The wide range of outcomes for players is narrowing. We more closely understand the usage and prospects of each player. Now finding minute edges separates the profitable players from ones paying the rake. Analyzing trends and matchups can give an advantage over the average player, but we must understand the degree of uncertainty around these. Prognosticating a wider range of outcomes than most does not provide an advantage in games like these, where we pit one player against another, head to head. We must keep our eye on the median scenario to profit.
Cleveland @ Atlanta
Cleveland and Atlanta have not excited spectators regularly in the last few years, but this game should as it possesses the second highest total of the week. In the early season, the Falcons have shown no signs of stopping anyone on defense, giving up 27, 31 and 23 points so far. Their opponents have included the Seahawks and the Saints, two teams struggling on that side of the ball. Similarly, the Cleveland defense has struggled, surrendering 24, 31 and 17 points. These outcomes give the appearance of being respectable, but when playing the Panthers, Jets and Steelers allowing an average of 24 points should disappoint even the most optimistic of onlookers.
The chart above illustrates how putrid these teams have played defensively. Cleveland and Atlanta have allowed a staggeringly high expected points added per rush play. Cleveland drives its offense through the running backs, and the defensive woes of Atlanta give them little reason to alter their preferences for this game. Chubb and Hunt will have room to succeed in this environment. Chubb acting as the early down grinder has amassed the most points for a running back this season. Despite Chubb’s success, Hunt has higher expected points in two of three games. Chubb receives the bulk of the touches, but many of these are not as valuable as the Hunt’s receiving work. For Chubb to beat Hunt substantially, he requires several chunk plays or touchdowns. Atlanta will leave the door open for Chubb to punish us, but taking Hunt +5 seems mighty tantalizing to me.
The success of early-round rookie wide receivers has been one of the narratives in fantasy land to this point. Players like Garrett Wilson and Drake London have displayed why they were and continue to be attractive commodities. Either of these players has been arguably the most impressive rookie, but this week I side with London over Wilson (+1). The Jets' environment looks shaky as Zach Wilson comes back. Zach Wilson has not practiced with Garrett Wilson much because Garrett Wilson had to fight his way onto the first team this off-season. Additionally, Wilson has serious competition with Elijah Moore, Corey Davis and now even Tyler Conklin getting volume targets.
Contrasting the Jets’ outlook with the Falcons, London has commanded targets and practice time from day one. The coaching staff has backed London at every chance giving him ample opportunity to succeed. London has gone for at least 54 receiving yards and 9.9 fantasy points in every game. To accompany his stats, London graded at 71.5 or higher in PFF’s grading system each week. Most importantly, London plays a significantly higher percentage of his team's snaps than Wilson. Opposing this view, Atlanta runs passing plays much less than expected; whereas, the Jets pass more than expected.
Given the lopsided nature of the pros versus cons, I am siding with Hunt (+5) over Chubb and London over Wilson (+1) this week. If this week is anything like last, I have a close read on the Falcon's footing this week too.
Minnesota @ New Orleans (London)
This year's first European game features Andy Dalton and the New Orleans Saints against the Kirk Cousins lead Minnesota Vikings. Dalton and Cousins have played each other in London before, albeit with different teams at the time. We will continue the narratives of the matchup and focus on running backs and a rookie wide receiver here.
Minnesota’s Dalvin Cook comes back from a mid-game injury last week to compete in this one. Similarly, New Orleans’s Karmara has battled through injury this season. Neither Cook nor Kamara has been efficient this season, subsequently, both look to show their prowess of yesteryear. Interestingly the parallels continue, as Cook and Kamara appear in different environments than in the last few years. Minnesota has a more progressive coach than the hardnosed Mike Zimmer, and New Orleans tries to carry over past success with Dennis Allen. The largest change to Kamara’s outlook is the quarterback play. Jameis Winston remains the gunslinger he has always been with a high average depth of target games and few targets dolled out to running backs.
In this outing, Andy Dalton, a more conservative quarterback, leads the Saints. Dalton should help provide Kamara with the steady floor he has lacked recently. Minnesota projects to struggle on the ground this game against a stout New Orleans rush defense. New Orleans has been a tough rush defense for the last few years, as seen in the chart below. This season, they have performed better than in the past, allowing a mindboggling -0.23 expected points per run play. The Saints’ run defense should funnel Minnesota into the air and diminish Cook’s potential this week. With Cook coming back from injury and the insane New Orleans rush defense, take Kamara over Cook (+0.5).
New Orleans spent a staggering of draft capital for Chris Olave this year. The early returns are about as promising as one could hope. Coming off of back-to-back 13-target games, Olave will lead the Saints receiver corp this week. Michael Thomas plans to sit this game, so Olave should be the offensive focus. Another first-round pick, Treylon Burks, became a full-time player last week. Burks has displayed his creativity and potential, but expecting him to break out in week four could be “wish-casting”. Olave has demanded volume, and the Saints are missing another premier receiver, while Burks has only impressed in small doses. Burks could perform superbly, but I believe his median outcome to be more than three points less than Olave’s median outcome.
Back Olave over Burks (+3) and Kamara over Cook (+0.5) as the Saints head to London in week four.
Last week started rough but finished alright. In the early slate of games, Joe Burrow tore apart the Jets. Joe Mixon never got going on the ground, so the Flacco play had little hope. On the other hand, while Moore did lose to Tyler Boyd, Moore’s expected points far exceeded that of Boyd. Boyd and Moore finished with 18.5 and 6.9 points but accumulated 7.9 and 15.4 expected points. In this iteration, we did not actualize our value, but more often than not we should win matchups like this one.
Arthur Smith appeared to hear the public when he featured Kyle Pitts on the first drive of the game. Following the first drive, Pitts had limited usage, especially in the second half. London had the opposite trajectory, starting slow and ramping up over the game. The other pick, Patterson over Penny (+1.5) obliterated. Patterson deserves far more respect than he gets. Patterson finished with the second most rushing yards on the week and 21.8 half PPR points.
Last week included a few ups and down, so hopefully, these matchups can continue the upswing from the end of last week. Agree or disagree, 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.