After five weeks, we can see trends handily taking hold, increasing our confidence in our takes. Sometimes, this confidence can be more folly and fraudulent than legitimate. Finding the cracks in the projections and knowing how to adjust to injuries or returning players separates the winners from the field. Looking at opportunity metrics and advanced statistics can assist in this quest to find an edge.
New England @ Cleveland
New England visits Cleveland this week as they look to build upon the rout against Detroit from last week. In the bout, the Patriots held the Lions, the highest-scoring team in the NFL team at the time, to zero points. Stand-in Baily Zappe delivered on command going 17 for 21 passes. With Damien Harris going down early with a hamstring injury, Rhamondre Stevenson handled all the groundwork seeing 25 carries. The Browns lost on a last-second missed field goal attempt, falling to 2-3. The lack of early success stems from a poor defense; the Browns' offense has put at least 20 points on the board each week.
For the Browns to succeed, Nick Chubb has to continue his incredibly efficient season. To this point in the season, Chubb averages ~118 rushing yards per game and 6.1 yards per carry. This high yards per carry plus his league-high six rushing touchdowns has propelled him to the most points over expected on the year. Despite amassing 15.1 expected points per game, Chubb has averaged 21.6 points per game. Seeing as defenses have held Chubb under 100 rushing yards once this season, it is unlikely the Patriots can completely thwart him this week.
New England has operated as a run-first team this season. The Patriots have a -5% pass rate over expected rate on the season and only show as above PROE in one scenario on the pass frequency page of rbsdm.com. Down one of their two trusted runners, Stevenson projects to see massive volume this week, similar to last. Other running backs will get elevated from the practice squad, but none should significantly eat into Stevenson’s workload.
I wrote about Cleveland a couple of weeks ago, noting how despicable their rush defense has been. Beyond all odds, it only got worse. Regression was crying out and seemed guaranteed to occur over the next couple of weeks, but they sit as the worst rushing defense in the last five years by a wide margin. The Patriots have struggled against the run but still resemble a real NFL defense. The gap between the Browns and Patriots run defenses is cavernous. The average team has surrendered about -0.05 expected points added per rush play. The Browns sit at 0.267, a truly staggering number.
On a positive note for the Browns, David Njoku has ascended the tight end trenches to emerge as a capable and impressive weekly fantasy starter. Njoku plays nearly 90% of snaps, per PFF. With his opportunity, Njoku has delivered to the tune of 250 yards over the past three weeks. Only five tight ends have more receiving yards on the season. Accompanying the statistical results, Njoku has the second-highest receiving grade at tight end from PFF.
Similar to Njoku, Gerald Everett has satisfied fantasy managers with a strong start. Unfortunately for Everett's backers, Everett’s path looks to diverge from Njoku moving forward. Everett played less than 70% of the Chargers’ snaps last week when Donald Parham returned. In addition to Parham’s return, Keenan Allen makes his return this week and should demand more targets from Herbert. Everett is a fine option but does not look to have the same range of outcomes as Njoku.
Do not mindlessly follow past results, back Rhamondre Stevenson (+1.5) over Nick Chubb in week six. Take David Njoku over Gerald Everett (+1) as the second play in this game.
Arizona @ Seattle
Seattle finds itself as a 2.5-point underdog against Arizona in Seattle this weekend. The Seahawks' offensive success and pluckiness have been two of the biggest surprises thus far in the season. After trading away the franchise quarterback for future picks, Seattle has its most exciting offense in years. Last year Arizona found itself at 5-0. One year later, they are a mere 2-3 to start the season. The Cardinals' apparent incompetence, at times, can be infuriating because of their baseline talent on offense, but they continue to put up wanting team totals. Kyler Murray’s late-game magic remains the main driver of their success.
As the season continues, injuries are sure to pile up, and Arizona and Seattle found themselves as victims of injury last week. Last week, Injury-plagued Rashaad Penny broke his tibia. Kenneth Walker stepped in well, promptly ripping off a 69-yard run. Seeing Penny fall to a fluky injury hurts, but seeing Walker step in should be exciting. On the other side, already hobbled James Conner got more injured last week. Soon afterward, one of the backups, Darrel Williams, joined Conner with an injury of his own. This pair of injuries leaves Eno Benjamin as the lone healthy hope for Arizona. Like Walker, Benjamin delivered a touchdown last week to tie the game.
Walker came into the draft as a highly touted runner with limited pass work in college. This hole created two different camps in the fantasy landscape. One camp focused on the highlights and explosive run, and another focused on a potential glaring hole in his game. In the first three games Walker played, he saw seven targets, an encouraging sign for his future. Overstating Walker's success in his last year at Michigan State would be a tall task. Walker racked up over 50% of his team's total yards. He rattled off explosive play after explosive play, even when his opponents knew he would receive the ball. His sub 4.4 forty likely helped with this. Despite this profile and success, he came into the year as the change-of-pace running back. Now he could see less pass work as he assumes the early-down runner role. This potential is particularly concerning because the market has Arizona as the favorite in this matchup.
Zero running back bros have eyed Eno Benjamin since he came into the league as a 7th-round pick. Sticking around for years and claiming the backup running back role is an accomplishment in and of itself for a 7th-round pick. The most tantalizing part of Benjamin’s profile is the glaring hole with Walkers. Benjamin has worked heavily as a pass catcher. With Conner and Williams dinged, Benjamin projects to see all the high-value touches through the air and near the goal line.
Geno Smith has led Seattle valiantly into the abyss that sat in front of them without Russell Wilson. Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf have delivered to heights many thought was not possible due to Smith’s success. The market treated the pair quite differently entering the season often pegging Metcalf as a 5th or 6th round pick and Lockett as an 8th or 9th round pick. While they have both delivered to equivalent levels to this point, we should still consider our priors. We should move both closer together than originally thought, but considering our prior and the outlooks for both Metcalf should be viewed as the better asset. Metcalf is much younger than Lockett and has a higher targets per route run both this season and last.
With the uncertainty surrounding both backfields and the potential roles, I think Benjamin should be the favorite over Walker in this game. Take the generous points with Eno Benjamin (+1.5) over Kenneth Walker. Additionally, side with D.K. Metcalf over Tyler Lockett in this Sunday's game.
Last week got us back on track. The injury bug almost struck again when Saquon Barkley left the London game temporarily, but he returned in full force, getting a touchdown and a 41-yard reception. Saquon outgained Jones 106 - 80, caught one more pass than Jones and punched in a touchdown when Jones did not. Alongside that, Tom Brady beat Aaron Rodgers despite throwing fewer touchdown passes than Rodgers. As expected, the Buccaneers relied on the passing game, and the volume brought Brady over the top.
In our other game of choice, the outcomes were much more drastic. Gallup outscored Robinson easily, as Robinson struggled to bring in three receptions for 12 yards. Gallup was no world-beater but reeled in four catches for 44 yards. Against all odds, we won here, even with the Cowboys passing the ball 14 times compared to the Rams passing 43 times. The volume had to go somewhere, funneling to Kupp and Higbee. Higbee saw one target compared to Schultz’s ten, making this matchup an easy victory.
Not every week will work out as well as the last. Analyzing matchups and finding what projection systems miss will lead us to victory more often than not. After a lackluster week four, coming back with a sweep feels mighty fine. Hopefully, we can mimic our success last week in week six. 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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