Week 4 Primer: Analyzing All 16 Games (Fantasy Football)
So much for the NFL getting back to the way it’s “supposed to be.” In the third week of the season, we saw names like Marcedes Lewis, Jacoby Brissett, and Case Keenum look like fantasy all-stars. Then we also saw Matthew Stafford, Amari Cooper, and Jay Ajayi struggle in really good matchups. We saw the Steelers lose to the Bears and the Jaguars blow out the Ravens. This is the time where we need to allow our opinions to remain fluid. Just because something happened in 2016, it doesn’t mean history will repeat itself in 2017. Just ask Todd Gurley about that.
At the same time, I’ll be here to remind you that it’s just three games, which is an extremely small sample size. I mean, coming into last week everyone wanted to write off Andy Dalton as toast. Meanwhile, we remained level-headed and recommended that you play him in cash DFS lineups against the Packers. The NFL season is so short in duration that we have to take small sample sizes into account, but it doesn’t automatically mean there’s information to be gained from it. For example, let’s assume you were trying to decide on whether or not to start Martellus Bennett last week against the Bengals. You may have seen that the Bengals ranked No. 1 against tight ends, which is concerning, right? Well, they had played against Nick Boyle and Evan Baylis in the first two weeks, making it not so concerning. It’s not always going to work out the way it’s supposed to, but these are the things we’ll look at as we go through the Week 4 schedule.
If this is your first time reading The Primer, I want to give you an idea as to what you should expect. Knowledge, facts, stats, numbers… lots of numbers. The idea is to give you so much knowledge that you’ll feel better than ever when you hit that ‘submit lineup’ button. The Primer will be here for you every single week of the NFL season, where we’ll dive into every game, talking about every fantasy relevant player. Once done reading it each week, you should have a better idea as to how the game should go, as well as an idea as to who you should be playing in season-long and who to target in DFS. All games are in order of the time they are taking place, with the Thursday game first and Monday night game last.
*Keep in mind that the game lines and totals may change as the games approach. All of my up-to-date rankings can be found right here.
New Orleans Saints at Miami Dolphins (Wembley Stadium in London)
Line: NO by 2.5
This is a game where you may have thought differently about just one week ago, you know, before you witnessed the Dolphins lose a game to the Jets. Not only did they lose that game, but it was 20-0 until the very end when Jay Cutler found DeVante Parker in the end zone with zero seconds remaining on the clock. Meanwhile, the Saints just put up 34 points on the road against a Panthers defense that had allowed a total of six points in the first two games, although their games were against the 49ers and Bills.
QBs: After watching Philip Rivers and Josh McCown combine for 9.4 yards per attempt against this Dolphins defense, Drew Brees has got to be licking his chops. Not just that, but they completed 79 percent of their passes in those first two games. The Dolphins lack a playmaking presence in their secondary and the closest thing they have to one is T.J. McDonald, who is suspended until mid-season. Seven of the last 12 quarterbacks to play against the Dolphins have totaled 20 or more DraftKings points. Brees is a lock-and-load QB1 in a plus-matchup. There were a lot of questions in my Twitter feed about Jay Cutler last week and I warned a lot of fantasy owners – never fully trust Cutler. After his 220-yard, one touchdown performance against the Jets, most won’t ask ever again. With that being said, he’s a very strong QB2 option against the Saints this week. They have allowed multiple touchdown passes in 13 of their last 17 games and have multiple defensive players ailing, including cornerbacks Delvin Breaux (who is out until further notice), Marshon Lattimore (missed last week), and Sterling Moore (missed last week). Again, never fully trust Cutler, but he should bounce back just fine in this game.
RBs: We’re starting to get a clear picture as to how the Saints will use their running backs, and while his results haven’t shown it yet, Mark Ingram is in a nearly identical role as his one in 2016. He played just 46 percent of the snaps last year (49 percent if we removed the game he was benched) and is playing just over 50 percent of the snaps this year. The issue is that Alvin Kamara legitimately offers game-breaking potential on every play, something that Tim Hightower and Travaris Cadet did not last year. Still, he’s going to pick up the pace and is a solid buy-low target. Consider Ingram an upside RB3 in fantasy leagues until their offensive line gets healthy, as they are missing both of their tackles right now. Kamara is nothing more than an upside RB4 in PPR formats until Adrian Peterson is phased out of this offense. While Peterson is doing nothing with his touches, Kamara is still losing valuable work to him. He needs to break a long play to be anything more than an RB4. Peterson is touchdown-or-bust and you don’t want to bet on that in this game, as the Dolphins have allowed just nine rushing touchdowns in their last 18 games, though they have allowed two in their two games this year. After totaling just 16 yards on 11 carries against a weak Jets run defense, you have to wonder if Jay Ajayi‘s knee is bothering him more than they’re letting on. He did miss a lot of practice time last week and beat reporters were saying he had a hitch in his step when he returned to practice. If he misses more practice this week, he’s an easy fade in DFS cash games, even if it is the Saints. Keep in mind that despite their reputation, there have been just two running backs who’ve been able to run for more than 85 yards against the Saints in their last 19 games. They have allowed 25 touchdowns to running backs in those games, however, and we know Ajayi gets all the goal-line work. If he practices and plays, he’s got to be in lineups. Damien Williams becomes an intriguing option, should Ajayi miss this game. Stay tuned to my rankings throughout the week.
WRs: Michael Thomas gets his first matchup of the year where he won’t be trailed by one of the top cornerbacks in the game. He has been able to post rock-solid numbers while doing so, including seven catches for 87 yards and a touchdown against up-and-coming star James Bradberry last week. You should get dividends on your 2nd round pick this week against the Dolphins group of cornerbacks. They have no answer for him – he’s an elite WR1 play. I said in this area last week that Ted Ginn was a solid play against his old team and he did score, though he’s somewhat underperformed while Willie Snead has been out with just nine catches for 121 yards and one touchdown through three games. Snead comes back this week, limiting Ginn’s target ceiling, though Brandon Coleman was eating into that already. Byron Maxwell was dinged up last week, so that’s a name to keep an eye on, as he’s the only one who has the speed in that secondary to even try to keep up with Ginn. As always, Ginn is a high-upside WR4 option who plays with Drew Brees. This is the week Snead returns, and though I’d prefer to see him play a full game before trusting him in fantasy lineups, Keenan Allen did rock them out of the slot for a line of 9/100/0 in Week 2. Snead is a risk/reward WR4 in his first week back. It’s very clear that DeVante Parker is Cutler’s go-to-guy in this offense, as he’s now been targeted 19 times, despite having the toughest matchup on the field. I referenced this stat before the season, but here are Parker’s averages in games where he sees five or more targets: 4.4 receptions for 71.1 yards and 0.4 touchdowns, which would amount to 13.7 PPR points per game. If Lattimore is out, this could be a monster week for Parker. I’d feel confident playing him as a WR3 with WR1 upside. Jarvis Landry has seen 26 targets through two games, but that’s netted them just 126 yards, which is not what you’d call efficient. Expect Landry to have a bigger game when Parker is dealing with a legit shutdown cornerback. He isn’t this week, so Landry falls into the WR3 conversation. Kenny Stills is always the odd man out when analysts discuss the Dolphins receivers, but he makes for an interesting play in tournaments. Before playing the struggling Cam Newton, the Saints had allowed 14 passing touchdowns in their last five games. Consider him a touchdown dependent WR4/5 in season-long leagues.
TEs: Well it was fun while it lasted with Coby Fleener, who had scored in each of the three games that Willie Snead had missed in his time with the Saints, but he totaled just one catch for 21 yards in Week 3. Oddly enough, he saw just one target, but it was a game where Brees threw the ball a strikingly-low 29 times. Through two games, the Dolphins look similar to how they did last year against tight ends. Get targeted and you’ll produce. There was just one tight end who was targeted at least five times and failed to hit at least 9.5 PPR points (Lance Kendricks) against them last year. It’s going to get tougher for Fleener to find production with Snead back, but when playing with Brees, anything is possible. Fleener remains on the fringe TE1 conversation. Julius Thomas is who we thought he was, as he’s now gone 10 games straight failing to record more than 28 yards receiving. The Saints have allowed two tight end touchdowns this year, but they aren’t the most tight-end-friendly defense. Thomas belongs on waiver wires until he strings something together.
Carolina Panthers at New England Patriots
Line: NE by 8.5
There was a time, not long ago, where no team had a shot to beat the Patriots in Foxborough. Not only did the Chiefs beat them there in Week 1, but the rookie-led Houston Texans just went out there and brought the game down to the wire. The Patriots defense is struggling right now, and particularly with the pass-rush. They are sacking the opposing quarterback on just 4.76 percent of dropbacks, which ranks in the bottom-10 in the NFL. Meanwhile the Panthers are struggling more than they should be, large in part to the play of Cam Newton. The defense allowed just three points in each of the first two games, but finally broke in Week 3 when they allowed the Saints 34 points. Until Newton shows signs of life, the Panthers will need to play lights out defense, something that’s incredibly hard to do while against Tom Brady in New England.
QBs: Let’s be clear about this, Cam Newton has never been an elite passer. Heck, I’d argue that’s he’s been below average in all but one of his NFL seasons (2015). To this point in the season, he’s completed 51 of 83 passes (61.4 percent) for 566 yards (6.8 YPA) with two touchdowns. That would be his second-highest completion percentage in his seven-year career, while his yards per attempt is slightly below where it’s been throughout a majority of his career (6.9-7.1 range). His shoulder may be causing him some discomfort, but this is who Newton has always been. The fact that he struggled against the Saints leaves you with zero confidence starting him in season-long leagues, but he makes for the perfect tournament play. Why? Because if Newton is struggling with his arm, there’s only one solution – run. It also doesn’t hurt that the Patriots have now allowed 20 or more fantasy points to each of the quarterbacks they’ve played this year. Newton needs to be played in 2QB leagues despite his struggles, because of the floor that he offers with his legs. The Panthers won’t be able to grind this game out on the ground with Jonathan Stewart. The Tom Brady losing his ability in Week 1 now seems to be a bit dumb, eh? I was one saying that age will catch up at some point, but Brady continues to make us look dumb. Despite not throwing a touchdown in the opener, he’s the No. 1 fantasy quarterback after three weeks. Just one week after Drew Brees toasted the Panthers for three touchdowns, they have to defend Brady in New England. Going back to Week 9 of last year, the Panthers haven’t allowed a quarterback to post more than 20 fantasy points, but as we’ve seen with Brady, he defies what is considered logic. He’s an elite QB1 every week, so it seems.
RBs: The experiment of Christian McCaffrey as the 1B to Jonathan Stewart‘s 1A was short lived, as McCaffrey has witnessed his carries dip from 13 in Week 1, to just eight in Week 2, and four in Week 3. On the plus side, he saw 11 targets with Greg Olsen out of the lineup. Look at him as Tarik Cohen on what should be a slightly better offense, though that hasn’t showed yet. He’ll be an RB2 this week against a Patriots team that has allowed three running backs (one from each game) total 51 or more receiving yards over their first three games. This goes back to last year, too, as they allowed 808 yards to running backs, the third-most in the league. Stewart is a bit riskier, as the Patriots have allowed just six rushing touchdowns in their last 19 games. Even when he scores, it’s not as if Stewart is getting into RB1 territory. Consider him a touchdown-dependent flex play for Week 4. I said last week that there were just three games that LeGarrette Blount didn’t score a touchdown last year and that you should expect something similar out of Mike Gillislee. Be happy that he got one of those games out of the way in Week 3. The Panthers aren’t a much better opportunity for him, though, as they’ve allowed just six rushing touchdowns in their last 18 games. But it’s also important to keep in mind that with the way Brady is throwing the ball, it’s difficult to remain in a base defense and load the box. He lacks massive upside in this game, but I’d still trot out Gillislee as a low-end RB2 this week. James White was probably one of the biggest disappointments of the week for me, as he was on the field for 48 percent of the snaps with Rex Burkhead out, but touched the ball just five times for 17 yards. Keep trotting him out there as an RB3/flex, because every player in that range comes with some risk. His upside just happens to be larger most of the time. There’ve been three running backs who’ve totaled at least 30 yards through the air against them already this year. If Burkhead plays this week (I’d assume he does), consider him a risky RB4 with Danny Amendola back in the lineup taking a lot of the slot snaps.
WRs: Seeing that we don’t know how Kelvin Benjamin will respond to his injury, it’ll be tough to project the wide receiver roles with the Panthers. Assuming he does play, he’ll likely be doing so at less than 100 percent and going up against a Patriots team that takes away opposing No. 1 targets. There is not another player who’s viewed as a legitimate threat in this offense, so Benjamin will see the safety shift to his side of the field more often than not. Consider him a boring WR3 even if he does play in this game. Devin Funchess is struggling due to the quarterback play, but he’s now getting the targeted to the point where you must consider him. With Greg Olsen out for essentially the last two weeks, Funchess has 17 targets, though they’ve amounted to eight catches for 126 scoreless yards. This is the type of matchup where there will be plenty of targets to go around, so consider Funchess an upside WR4 option. With that many targets, he should be more, but with the way Newton has looked while throwing the ball to non-running backs, it’s impossible. Curtis Samuel played a season-high 61 percent of snaps in Week 3 after playing just 18 percent of the snaps the first two weeks. He has playmaking ability that cannot be taught, and the Panthers may need to use him a lot in this game. You don’t need to use him in season-long, but he’s an interesting DFS play. Brandin Cooks paid off last week like we thought he would, as the Patriots took advantage of the injury-riddled Texans defense. The Panthers almost always keep James Bradberry at LCB, so Cooks should see plenty of Daryl Worley, who wasn’t asked to cover Brandin Cooks when they played the Saints last year. He is a slower cornerback and one that would get burned by Cooks, should they leave him one-on-one. Cooks is a borderline WR1 play with Brady slinging it the way he is. Chris Hogan came through for a second straight week, despite being labeled as questionable with a knee injury coming in. The Texans simply forgot to cover him on both of his touchdowns last week. A full-time player who is seemingly healthy in the Patriots offense? He’s now seen six targets in back-to-back games. Sign me up as having him in lineups as a WR3 almost every week. Danny Amendola will match-up with Captain Munnerlyn a majority of the time, which is not the greatest of matchups. He’s just a WR4/5 for this game. Never cross any of them completely out for DFS, but if the Panthers don’t shadow Cooks with Bradberry, it’ll be the Brandin Cooks show part two.
TEs: It was odd to see the Panthers play without Greg Olsen last week, and that’s likely part of the reason Newton struggled as much as he did. Ed Dickson is simply not the answer for a team who is so used to having their tight end run seam routes and play like a wide receiver. Still Dickson saw just one target against the Saints in a game they threw the ball 33 times. The Patriots have allowed touchdowns to tight ends in back-to-back games, but considering how few looks he got, you can’t trust him. So, that Rob Gronkowski guy is pretty good, eh? Once we found out he was practicing last week, we knew his groin injury really was nothing. He’s now totaled 14/205/2 over the last two weeks, which would have already been a top-50 tight end in PPR leagues last year… over the full season. The Panthers were surprisingly a pretty bad team against opposing tight ends last year, allowing 11 tight ends to post double-digit fantasy games. This year, however, they have held the combination of Charles Clay and Coby Fleener to just four catches for 44 yards and no touchdowns the last two weeks. The catch is that they only saw four targets, which is something that won’t happen with Gronkowski. He’s an elite TE1 play, as usual.
Jacksonville Jaguars at New York Jets
Line: JAX by 3.5
This game has an interesting dynamic, as the Jaguars are coming back from London, a week that is typically reserved for their bye week. The NFL apparently gave the Jaguars an option as to whether or not they wanted their bye and they decided to pass on it (maybe because they were told they’d get the Jets). I shouldn’t really poke fun at the Jets, as they just beat a Dolphins team that looked sharp against the Chargers in Week 2. But in all seriousness, we have no idea how an NFL team will perform after traveling as much as they have over the last week. It does help that they have a very young team (7th youngest in the NFL).
QBs: Just when we write off Blake Bortles, he goes and throws four touchdowns on just 31 attempts against the Ravens defense, a team that had allowed just 10 points in their first two games. Don’t go ahead and assume he’s going to be good going forward, but it really does help that Leonard Fournette has been the real deal. Their offensive line has also exceeded expectations through three weeks, allowing Bortles to be sacked just twice thus far. Against the Jets, he should be considered in 2QB formats, though this is a game where the Jaguars won’t pull a Dolphins and limit Fournette’s carries in an ideal situation. It would be shocking to see Bortles throw the ball more than 28 times this week. Josh McCown isn’t an option, even in 2QB leagues this week, as he’s been sacked seven times through three games, while the Jaguars bring one of (if not the) best pass rushes in the league. They have 13 sacks through three games and will have no issue bursting through the Jets weak offensive line, provided they aren’t too jet-lagged, which is the lone concern with them this game. Still, it’s not enough to consider McCown.
RBs: There are just two running backs in the league with more carries than Leonard Fournette right now and just four of them with more touchdowns. Keep in mind that Fournette has been the No. 5 fantasy running back while playing against the Texans, Titans, and Ravens over the first three weeks of the season, who allowed the 3rd, 7th, and 9th fewest rushing yards to opponents last year. This will be his first game against a non-top-10 opponent, though they just shut down fellow bruiser Jay Ajayi last week. In the two prior weeks to that, however, the Jets were gashed for 275 yards and three touchdowns by the Raiders and Bills rushing attacks. Fournette is locked in as an RB1 this week and the foreseeable future. With Corey Grant and Chris Ivory sharing carries behind him, there is no reason to play either of them, even in a potential blowout. The Jets are now officially a three-headed monster after seeing Matt Forte start and get 28 snaps, Bilal Powell get 23 snaps in relief, and rookie Elijah McGuire get 12 snaps, though he fumbled his way to the bench. Forte did leave that game with some sort of a toe injury, so maybe there’s hope for Powell after all. If there’s one area the Jaguars have semi-struggled, it’s defending the run, as they’ve allowed 338 yards on 71 carries to this point (4.76 YPC) against some mediocre running games (Titans excluded, obviously). It would help if the Jets got guard Brian Winters back in the lineup, who missed Week 3’s contest against the Dolphins. The combination of Calais Campbell and Malik Jackson would eat up the Jets interior line otherwise. Powell is more enticing with Forte’s injury and McGuire’s fumble, but not enough to trust as anything more than a flex play, though he’s slightly more appealing in PPR leagues. Forte and McGuire should be on waivers.
WRs: We knew it would be a tough test for Marqise Lee last week, who was going to see a lot of Jimmy Smith in coverage, so walking away with four catches for 65 yards isn’t the worst case scenario, especially when Bortles only threw it 31 times. The Jets are likely to have Morris Claiborne shadow him in coverage as they did with Amari Cooper back in Week 2. Claiborne is solid but not unbeatable, making Lee a mediocre WR4 in this matchup, though you could do worse. As mentioned last week, Allen Hurns had the best matchup on paper against the Ravens and did score, but was held to just 20 yards. He’s got another solid matchup against Buster Skrine in this contest, but seeing just four or less targets in two of the games is concerning. Hurns is just a dart throw in most weeks and the Jaguars should hold the game-script in this game, making him an unnecessary dart throw. It was good to see Jermaine Kearse come back down to earth, because I don’t want to live in a world where he’s a top-eight receiver. Both he and Robby Anderson will be running a majority of their routes against the duo of Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye this week, something nobody wants a part of. Anderson goes into the slot slightly more, evading those two, but both are just WR5’s this week. Jeremy Kerley is the one who’ll have the best matchup with Aaron Colvin, but do you really want to trust a wide receiver who has just eight targets and 56 scoreless yards on the year? He should rack up a few catches, but it’d take real stones to play him in season-long. This is my notebook, so I just want to plead for the Jets to get ArDarius Stewart more involved. Thank you for listening.
TEs: One week after I talk about the Jaguars unwillingness to go out and sign a tight end this offseason, Marcedes Lewis goes off for 62 yards and three touchdowns against a Ravens defense that had allowed five touchdowns to tight ends all of last season. Don’t go and grab Lewis thinking you found yourself a steal. He hadn’t had more than 23 yards in a game since back in Week 1 of last year. The Jets did allow the third-most touchdowns to tight ends last year and have now allowed eight touchdowns to them over their last eight games, but I’m going to have to see more than just one performance before trusting Lewis. I mean, he had four targets coming into that game. Austin Seferian-Jenkins returned to game action after his two-game suspension to start the season and immediately saw more targets than any tight end with the Jets has since Week 6 of the 2014 season. Not that it was a massive amount (six targets), but it’s a step in the right direction for a franchise that seems to be gunning for the No. 1 pick. The Jaguars have allowed 17 of the 22 intended targets to tight ends to be hauled in, including two touchdowns over the last two weeks to Jonnu Smith and Ben Watson. Seferian-Jenkins is most definitely on the TE2 streaming radar while Anderson and Kearse have tough matchups.