Fantasy Faceoff: Week Three
It's easy to write off anomalies from Week 1 that can become mirages of the past or our worst nightmares in Week 2. Conversely, our strong convictions confirmed in Week 1 can be called into question by lackluster performances in Week 2. Week 1 may be where narratives begin, but in Week 2, they begin to take a more solid shape. In the coming weeks, we must carefully weigh pre-season priors against in-season performance. Understanding the thesis of the play and evaluating outs becomes more vital than ever at this point. Keeping this in mind, let’s assess where we might be able to find leverage moving into the weekend.
Seahawks vs. Falcons
This matchup features two dysfunctional franchises that cannot get out of their own way to succeed. The Twitter warriors assumed their natural battle stances as Kyle Pitts underperformed drastically for a second straight week to open the season. Seahawk backers in fantasy football are few and far between, as having high expectations for any of their players was difficult. Even considering the low expectations, Seattle has underwhelmed spectacularly, managing to average running less than 50 plays per game. For reference, Seattle ran the fewest plays per game last year at 56.1, 8.1 more than this year!
Week 2 could be a get-right week for both franchises as neither sports an impressive defense, so they should be able to feed off each other. My main concern for Kyle Pitts has nothing to do with his talent. Kyle Pitts is a generational tight end talent, as he proved last year. Drake London’s dominance could cap Kyle Pitts ceiling as long as Mariota captains the offensive ship. London has nearly doubled Pitts up in targets, 19 to 10, and has lapped Pitts in yards, 160 to 39. The high draft capital, production and 34.5% targets per route run demonstrate London’s alpha capabilities. Pitts will re-emerge as the freak of nature he showed the NFL he was last year, but expect London to continue to outproduce Pitts.
Pete Carroll’s “establish the run” offense inexplicably has not taken the NFL by storm this season. After bludgeoning opponent after opponent last season en route to a nearly undefeated season… oh wait, Seattle had Russell Wilson and still only managed to win seven games? Ah yes, even the most effective running teams still accumulate more expected points passing than rushing. This matchup looks like one Carroll has been salivating over for months because of how incredibly terrible Atlanta has proven against the run. Referencing the above defensive expected points added (EPA) per rush chart, we can see Atlanta has surrendered near the most EPA over the last five years. The chart marks each team with their team color and has previous seasons marked as well. The past two season’s marks gain opacity as they are further from the current day. Carroll’s “establish it” mindset could become even more engrained if that is possible.
The committee outlook could prove an issue for Seattle’s backfield members. Last week Penny, Walker and Homer split the backfield snaps, seeing 41%, 24% and 45%, respectively. This split with no pass-catching upside for Penny could be his undoing.
Getting by Seattle’s stout front could be a tough ask for Atlanta. Atlanta has more versatile backs, with Cordarrelle Patterson leading the backfield. Arthur Smith unshackled the long-time journeyman, Patterson, last season. Patterson’s enticing role has continued into this year, where he demonstrated his explosiveness in week one. Look for human swiss army knife, Cordarrelle Patterson, to lead the Falcons' backfield however the situation requires.
Ride with the early-season performers in this matchup. Take Cordarrelle Patterson over Rashaad Penny (+1.5) and Drake London over Kyle Pitts (+1.5) in the Pacific Northwest this week.
Bengals vs. Jets
These teams had antithetical week two’s, as the Jets managed the most unlikely comeback possibly ever, and the Bengals fell to Cooper Rush and the Cowboys. The Jets quite literally had lost the game if Nick Chubb slid down instead of scoring his third touchdown. Even getting the ball, the Jets needed a miracle to have a chance. The Bengals lost to Mitch Trubisky and Cooper Rush after finishing last season in the super bowl. To make the trip to Glendale this year, the Bengals cannot give up winning opportunities against less talented squads.
The offense has stumbled out of the gates for the Bengals, failing to surpass 20 points in either game. After spending to protect the franchise cornerstone, Joe Burrow, the offensive line grades poorly in three of the five positions. Both center Ted Karras and right guard Alex Cappa, graded at or above 70 thus far. Outside those bright spots, right tackle La'el Collins attained the highest PFF grade of a Bengals lineman at 61.6, ranking 43rd out of 66 tackles. Both remaining lineman grade lower than 60.
This concerning start could have as much to do with execution as it does play calling. The Bengals pass much less frequently than the league average, as shown in the chart below. This chart shows the Jets’ and Bengals’ pass rate over expected in neutral game scenarios against percentile rank in the last five years. Leave it to the human incarnate of wallpaper, Zach Taylor, to manage the Bengals to a bottom 13% PROE so far. The Bengals succeeded last season despite Taylor; this season's start may justify putting him down.
On the other side of the field, Joe Flacco and the Jets are right around the 50th percentile and possess a slightly negative PROE. Consequently, Joe Flacco has more fantasy points thus far into the season, impressive considering Burrow played a whole additional quarter. Flacco and the Jets' offense average slightly over 0 expected points added per pass play. Joe Burrow’s disastrous start to the season has sunk and anchored the Bengals' passing EPA/play, as seen in the lower left chart.
Flacco and the Jets possess one of the most impressive young wide receiver corps. Garrett Wilson has stolen the show thus far, but Elijah Moore should take back some of the spotlight soon. Moore managed to demand a 26% targets per route runs rate as a rookie. Additionally, Moore has run as the first receiver for the Jets, running more routes than Wilson and Corey Davis.
The Bengals could find solace in the chart above this, on the right-hand side. The Jets’ defense gives up near the worst expected points per pass play in the last five seasons. If the Jets’ defensive woes continue, Joe Burrow and the Bengals’ receivers can all feast.
Given the current situation, I am inclined to back Joe Flacco and Elijah Moore on TopProp this week in a couple of matchups. Take Joe Flacco (+5.5) in the battle of Joe superiority vs. Joe Burrow and pair that with Elijah Moore over Tyler Boyd (+1)
I would advise people not to take too much away from last week's selections, as each of the three matchups had one player get hurt. Last week’s results serve as a useful reminder of how variable and violent the game of football is. Injuries can cut both ways.
Retrospectively, I like taking Lance over Fields (+1) in that matchup, as Lance’s game environment and team situation significantly outclassed Fields’s. James Conner vs. Josh Jacobs looked like a potential nail-biter. Jacobs proved more effective running, but James Conner saw much more work through the air as anticipated. Lastly, Goedert (+1.5) getting points equates to a slam dunk in my mind.
Last week showed some of the perils of football, but we can hopefully get back in the saddle and find favorable matchups this 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 data is from PFF and TPRR is courtesy of the 33rd Team and Sports Info Solutions.