Leaning heavily into data gives me most of my preserved edge in fantasy. One can lose track of the context behind the numbers, diminishing their usefulness. Hopefully, we can avoid this by maintaining a more holistic view of games and matchups. Last week, a San Fransisco win seemed assured against the lowly Falcons. On paper, the Falcons may have outmatched at every position, but the injury report told a different story. The 49ers have lost most of their planned starters since week one. The Falcons managed to take advantage of these holes. Without analyzing the greater context, a Falcons win may have looked impossible. This is to say, context often dictates how much weight we can put into past data, and we must keep that in mind to exploit our edges.
Tampa Bay @ Carolina
Carolina attracted the buzz of the league Thursday night when they traded Christian McCaffrey to the 49ers. Pundits speculate that more players may be on the move before the trade deadline. Commensurate with a team that fired their head coach and traded the face of their franchise, Carolina enters week seven with an almost unimaginably low implied team total, 13.25 points. Tampa Bay comes to Carolina looking to get back on track after a surprising loss to the Steelers. An angry Tom Brady should be able to reestablish himself as a force to reckon with against a team amid a fire sale.
With average teams, I would worry about when starters might get pulled if this gets out of hand. The Buccaneers enjoy laying the points on, evidenced by their six games with margins of 20 or more points last year. While I typically do not buy into many narrative-based arguments, I 100% expect Tom Brady to take that loss personally.
The Buccaneers have failed to impose their will on other teams through the run game, so anticipate the passing game driving this game. With a receiving corps full of accomplished receivers, Chris Godwin has garnered the largest target share since returning from injury. Seeing 13 targets last week, Godwin’s ability to demand targets and his connection with Brady remains apparent. The other top offensive weapon, Mike Evans, had a low-volume game last week. Due to the low involvement, the team and Brady talked about increasing Evan’s involvement.
Evan’s dominance in the red zone can propel him to heights most receivers cannot reach, but his targets per route run rate leaves more to be desired. Sitting at 20% on the season, Evan’s falls far behind Godwin’s 27% TPRR. While the discrepancy is large this year than in years past, this difference in TPRR holds last year as well, albeit with a 4% difference.
When the Buccaneers reach the red zone, defenses likely think of Mike Evan fades first, but Leonard Fournette may be more likely to punch it in. Fournette has scored in the last three weeks and has averaged nearly one touchdown per game since last October. Three weeks ago, Fournette scored despite seeing three carries. The reversion to last year’s pass-happy nature has unlocked Fournette. When the offense succeeds, so does Fournette. Fournette’s involvement in the passing game should impress fantasy players as well. He has seen 6, 7, 11 and 6 targets over the last four weeks. No matter how the Buccaneers plan to rout the Panthers, Fournette will be involved.
Carolina’s defense has been slightly worse than the average defense over the last five years. Considering that scoring and offensive efficiency is down this year, having a worse than average defense historically is even more damning. Tampa Bay’s defense is stout against the pass and respectable against the run. Combining this with the offensive woes for Carolina, expect Tampa Bay to run near the most offensive plays of the week. Carolina’s rushing defense may concern Fournette owners, but it should not. His involvement in the passing game and near the end zone is where he pays off.
Green Bay’s Aaron Jones is a potential TopProp opponent for Leonard Fournette this week. Jones’s talent far outclasses his utilization. Despite the capability to put up 30-point weeks like in week two, Jones continues to split backfield work and struggle to see consistent touches. In four weeks, Jones failed to reach ten fantasy points. Green Bay lacks the offensive capabilities to consistently rack up first downs, so looking for another explosion spot may be difficult for Jones this week.
Follow the higher median projection and TPRR this week with Chris Godwin (+1.5) over Mike Evans. Additionally, Leonard Fournette over Aaron Jones (+2.5) presents an opportunity.
Kansas City @ San Fransisco
The Chiefs and 49ers left much more to be desired on the field last week. These top-tier teams are coming off of losses. I addressed the 49ers' week six failure in the intro, but much could be the same this week. They enter with a battered secondary and defense, which the Chiefs should be able to exploit. The Chiefs held the Bills to 24 points and had a chance to win near the end, but that hope evaporated when Mahomes threw his second interception. In a close-fought game, the Chiefs relied on the passing game. Mahomes threw 40 times to 10 different receivers, only one of whom saw more than five targets. The methodical yet explosive nature of the 49ers could be the Cheifs undoing once again.
The 49ers' offense got a little more crowded when they traded for Christian McCaffery Thursday night. In his first week with the team, I would be surprised if the Niners involved McCaffrey beyond a few touches, and I expect he could be inactive come Sunday. For one week, the offense should continue to look as it has. The offense brims with talent, but only has so many touches to distribute on any given week. Kittle epitomizes this potential and inconsistency for fantasy players. Last year, Kittle had two games topping 150 yards, three games under 20 yards and three games with three or fewer targets. Consider that Kittle played in 14 games last year. There was about a 21% chance he had either less than 20 yards or three targets, but also about a 14% chance he topped 150 receiving yards.
Kittle, Aiyuk and Samuel will compete for targets. Aiyuk has three games with four or fewer targets and three with eight or more. This variance could play into Aiyuk’s hand as Kansas City has struggled against receivers thus far. Kittle or Samuel could be as likely or more likely to benefit from Kansas City’s lapses in coverage though.
Much was made of the Kansas City receivers going into week six as they only produced one top-20 fantasy receiver week so far. This trend was bucked as Juju Smith-Schuster went for 113 yards and a touchdown. Juju operates as one of the top receivers in the Chiefs’ offense. As long as Mahomes mans the helm, Smith-Schuster should reliably put up points and always has the chance of popping off.
San Fransico’s defense on the year has impressed, but the injury caught up last week, as mentioned earlier. The 49ers could have regrouped this week and schemed up defensive alignments favoring their current personnel, but I would not bank on this. As mentioned in the last segment, when comparing current events to historical defensive trends, we should consider the current environment. The Chief's passing defense should concern supporters as the 49ers thrive on explosive pass plays. The issue with the 49ers is reliably predicting who sees those schemed looks this week.
An interesting TopProp matchup this week pits Mahomes against Justin Herbert. As I have written about, the Seahawks' defense is abysmal. They let Jared Goff put up 45 points and 34 fantasy points against them. A player with the talent of Herbert could likely pick them apart with practice squad players. As I wrongly predicted last week, Keenan Allen looks assured to play this week, giving Herbert another reliable option at receiver. Any way you break down this matchup, Herbert is poised for an eruption.
Take Juju Smith-Schuster (+0.5) over Brandon Aiyuk and Justin Herbert over Patrick Mahomes going into week seven.
Week six started hot on Sunday. Stevenson handily beat Chubb, who should not have been favored in this matchup. Past success is not prescriptive of all future success. The matchup and role favored Stevenson, and it showed. Njoku came out of the gates strong but disappeared after that. As the game traveled into overtime, Everett nearly eeked it out. A timely pass breakup allowed Njoku backer to cling on.
In the second game, Walker’s role was better than we had hoped coming into this matchup. He ran more routes than DeeJay Dallas, the Seahawks receiving downs back. In addition to the role, Walker’s talent proved too much for Eno to overcome. We did see on Thursday night why I thought Eno offered some opportunity for profit. Metcalf and Lockett struggled mightily against the Cardinals' secondary. Luckily, Metcalf proved marginally better, bringing our week to a combined 3-1. Another impressive week and bringing the picks to 7-1 over the last two weeks. Unlikely to continue, but providing a nice cushion of profit.
The edge appears real and exploitable based on last week's results. Keeping up at 4-0 or 3-1 weeks should never be expected, but putting the odds in our favor should ensure more of those weeks than 1-3 or 0-4 weeks. Keeping with the process and trusting projections gives the best opportunity to continue TopProp success. 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.