The Primer: Week 10 Edition (Fantasy Football)
Jacksonville Jaguars at Indianapolis Colts
Line: IND by 3.0
Blake Bortles: It’s odd how everyone acts that Bortles should be benched now when he’s the same quarterback he was last year. Here’s the comparisons of his stats over the last two years:
|Pass Yds/gm||Comp %||TD/gm||INT/gm||FPts/gm|
His rushing totals are better in 2018, too, so he’s the same quarterback he’s always been. The difference is that he cannot pull his team out of a deficit, which is more apparent given the state of the Jaguars defense this year. The Colts are a team who’s under a new regime, so it’s pointless to bring up last year’s stats against them. They’ve offered a semi-high floor to quarterbacks, allowing at least 243 yards to 7-of-8 quarterbacks with the lone one who didn’t hit that number being Derek Anderson, who started on a few days’ notice. They’ve also allowed at least two passing touchdowns to five different quarterbacks, including Derek Carr before their bye week, though it helped that the Colts were missing safety Malik Hooker in that game. When playing Bortles, you want to be able to rely on some rushing yards, though the Colts have allowed just 80 rushing yards to quarterbacks this year. There’s silver-lining, though, as they’ve played just one truly mobile quarterback, and it was Deshaun Watson who racked up 41 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Still, they play a lot of zone coverage, so it’s unlikely we see bookoo rushing yards from Bortles. They’ve also allowed a 72.4 percent completion rate, so this matchup likely suits the oft-inaccurate Bortles better than most. He’s on the middling QB2 radar who should present a solid floor despite his weak performances as of late.
Andrew Luck: After his first three games, Luck seems to have settled in over the last five games, racking up 18 touchdowns over that span, with no less than three of them in each game. A lot of it can be attributed to the play of his offensive line, as he hasn’t been sacked since Week 5. The Jaguars pass-rush has been inconsistent to say it nicely, as they’ve totaled just one sack in two of their last four games. There’s a lot of directions their defense can go after the bye, though this is a game they need to show up for. After allowing just one top-12 performance to quarterbacks last year, they’ve allowed two of those performances over the last three weeks (Dak Prescott, Carson Wentz). Here’s the deal, though. They’ve still allowed just a 60.6 percent completion rate (4th-lowest), 6.7 yards per attempt (2nd-lowest), and a 3.66 percent touchdown percentage (4th-lowest) on the season. They should have A.J. Bouye and Barry Church back this week, so they should return closer to form. It’s tough to bench Luck against them with the way he’s been playing, but their opponents are averaging just 30.8 pass attempts per game, which means he’d have to be extremely efficient on the throws he does get. Luck is more of a high-end QB2 than a must-play QB1 this week.
Leonard Fournette and T.J. Yeldon: Stop, alert the press! Fournette is back in action this week and despite some thinking he’ll be eased back in, I’m not one of them. They played it as safe as they could after he reaggravated his hamstring injury, holding him out for five weeks. Did you see Dalvin Cook return last week? Well, Fournette doesn’t have a Latavius Murray stealing goal-line work from him. The Colts have yet to allow a 100-yard rusher this season, though Joe Mixon, Sony Michel, and Chris Ivory all came close. The volume shouldn’t be an issue, as there’ve been six different running backs who’ve totaled at least 15 carries against them, which is likely because their opponents average 64.9 plays per game, which ranks as the 10th-most in the NFL. Some have worried about the role Carlos Hyde would have, but he’s likely just a handcuff who’ll see 4-6 touches per game, especially after he totaled just 11 yards on six carries while in London with Fournette inactive. It’s not a great matchup, but it’s not a bad one, either. Consider Fournette a high-end RB2 who should get plenty of opportunities. The Colts have allowed a very-high 76.9 percent completion percentage to running backs, though they’ve allowed just 5.9 yards per target and one receiving touchdown to them. They keep the play in front of them, so we could see Yeldon rack up some receptions and be usable in PPR formats as a high-end RB4 who lacks upside.
Marlon Mack and Nyheim Hines: After tearing up the Jets, Bills, and Raiders defenses for 401 total yards and four touchdowns, Mack will face his toughest test yet when they host the Jaguars in Week 10. If you go back to the last difficult matchup he had back in Week 2 against the Redskins, Mack totaled just 34 yards on 10 carries, though the offensive line is playing much better as of late. The Jaguars are one of just six teams who’ve held their opponents under 4.0 yards per carry and allowed five or less total touchdowns. The other teams are the Eagles, Bears, Cowboys, Ravens, and Vikings. You wouldn’t feel great about starting him against those teams, right? Despite the Jaguars struggles, not much has fallen on their run-defense. They have allowed four running backs total 87 or more rushing yards against them, but each of them totaled at least 18 carries, something that’ll be tough for Mack to do when he’s playing just 55-65 percent of the snaps, unless of course the Colts run away with the game. Mack should be considered a middling RB2 who could disappoint, while Hines may be a sneaky RB3/4-type play. With Jalen Ramsey taking on T.Y. Hilton and with the Jaguars holding tight ends to the ninth-fewest yards, Luck may have to rely on Hines in the screen-game to try and slow the pass-rush. The negative is that the only player who caught more than four passes for 26 yards against them was James White, who is obviously a different breed. Still, he may be able to deliver a decent PPR day for those with bye week issues.
Donte Moncrief: It’s pretty odd that when you go to take a look at fantasy points per game allowed to wide receivers, you see the Colts defense as the 24th-best matchup, or 9th-worst. They’ve not been as good as that number, as they’ve allowed a rather-high 71.6 percent catch-rate and 9.1 yards per target, both of which are among the 10-highest numbers in the league. They’ve allowed limited points to them because they’ve faced just 141 targets through eight games, or just 17.6 targets per game, which ranks bottom-five. The Jaguars wide receivers have been targeted an average of 22.4 times per game, so we could see more production than the ‘points allowed’ statistic shows. Moncrief is going against his former team and has now seen 34 targets over the last four weeks, easily the highest on the team. His 32.7 percent of targeted air yards ranks top-20 and is ahead of guys like Stefon Diggs and Michael Thomas. He’s also totaled at least four catches and 54 yards in four of the last five games, so he’s shown a decent floor despite Bortles’ struggles. The Colts don’t have a single cornerback who’s been shut-down, but they’ve also limited big plays this year, allowing just 23 plays over 20 yards, which ranks as the fourth-fewest in the NFL, and it’s also where Moncrief has done most of his damage. He’s in the WR4 conversation due to target share but will likely need to score to be anything more than that.
Dede Westbrook: His matchup with Kenny Moore in the slot is likely the worst of the Jaguars receivers, as Moore’s been really good in coverage, allowing just 22-of-33 passing for 203 yards and one touchdown. For a slot cornerback, those are phenomenal numbers and it’s not too far off the numbers he allowed last year, so it’s likely not a fluke, but it doesn’t automatically mean Westbrook is completely off limits. The Colts have Moore in zone coverage over 60 percent of the time, so that’s why you’ve seen some decent numbers put up by slot receivers in the matchup against them. The question is whether or not Bortles and Westbrook can connect in the soft spot of those zones, but it’s worth noting Westbrook has been much better against man coverage this year. He should be considered a low-end WR4/high-end WR5 this week.
Keelan Cole: I’m pretty confident when I say Cole is the most well-rounded wide receiver on the Jaguars roster right now. I’m not confident when I say he’s the best play against the Colts, but I want to be. He’s going to see Nate Hairston more than anyone else, and Hairston has been the weak point, allowing a 79 percent catch-rate and three touchdowns on 33 targets in coverage. Cole’s best routes when targeted have been the go-route and corner-route, which just happens to be the routes Hairston has struggled against the most. The issue is that Cole has seen five or less targets in three of the last five games, which have netted four games under 50 yards. He’s also failed to score since Week 2, so how in the world can you feel comfortable starting him, especially with Bortles struggling? Well, this does require a leap of faith, but knowing he’ll see Hairston 45 percent of the time, it just might be worth it starting him as an upside WR4 who obviously comes with some risk.
T.Y. Hilton: In the two games since returning from his injury, Hilton has totaled just five catches for 59 yards, though the two touchdowns against the Bills definitely masked what would have been a brutal day. He’s likely to see Jalen Ramsey most of the day, which is no bueno. On the year, Ramsey has allowed just a 52.5 percent catch-rate in his coverage with just one touchdown on 40 targets, and that came against DeAndre Hopkins who is a much different wide receiver than Hilton, who relies on finesse. When the Jaguars trusted Ramsey on fellow-speedster Tyreek Hill, he limited him to just 4/61/0 on seven targets. It’s hard to sit Hilton with Luck playing the way he is, but Hilton is just a high-end WR3 this week and not one I’d play in DFS.
Chester Rogers: We’ve seen his snap percentage decline for four straight weeks now, from way up at 80 percent in Week 4 and then just 77, 67, 55, and 50 percent since that time. Now that Dontrelle Inman is there, we may see Rogers phased out when Ryan Grant returns. He ran 14-of-16 routes in the slot against the Raiders, but he was targeted just one time and finished with no catches. The Jaguars have been beaten in the slot this year, though they are likely to get D.J. Hayden back from injury this week. He’s been out since Week 2 with a calf injury. Whatever the case, you cannot trust Rogers in his declining role.
David Grinnage: It seems like James O’Shaughnessy is going to remain questionable with a hip injury, so we cannot trust him in fantasy leagues (not that you would have anyway). Grinnage saw five targets in his absence against the Eagles, which turned into three catches for 37 yards. The Colts have been among the most generous defenses to tight ends, allowing 8.9 yards per target (fifth-most in NFL), including a 74.2 percent catch-rate (sixth-most). There were just two tight ends who’ve totaled less than 44 yards against them, and to no surprise, they were Charles Clay and Jordan Akins. The production coincided with the injuries to Clayton Geathers, who is a solid cover safety when healthy. He returned to his full-time role in Week 8, though Jared Cook was able to haul in four catches for 74 yards and a touchdown. Grinnage isn’t a preferred streaming option, but if you’re like me playing in some deep dynasty formats, he may not be the worst option on 99 percent of waiver wires.
Jack Doyle and Eric Ebron: In his return to the field, most would’ve thought the Colts would slowly reintroduce Doyle to the offense, but nope… he played 57-of-78 snaps in Week 8 and hauled in six of his seven targets for 70 yards and a touchdown. Meanwhile, Ebron played just 17 snaps and is clearly second-fiddle to Doyle. In the three games both have played, Doyle has totaled 193 snaps to just 69 snaps for Ebron and has seen nearly double the targets in those games. It’s a tough matchup for one tight end this week, let alone two of them, as the Jaguars have allowed just 41.6 yards per game to tight ends, and that’s despite playing against Zach Ertz, Travis Kelce, Evan Engram, and Rob Gronkowski. In fact, Kelce was the only one who totaled more than 32 yards against them. We all know the issues the Chiefs offense presents, so seeing him do something makes sense, but we need to dial back expectations for these two this week. Doyle is still on the low-end TE1 radar due to how often he’s targeted, but Ebron will need to score to not completely bust. They’ve allowed just three tight end touchdowns, so it’s unlikely we see both tight ends finish as top-15 options.
Detroit Lions at Chicago Bears
Line: CHI by 6.5
Matthew Stafford: We talked about Stafford’s struggles against the Vikings over the last few years, so it makes sense that he struggled without Golden Tate, though it was shocking to see him fail to throw a touchdown for the first time since Week 8 of last year. The Bears defense is better than it’s been in some time, though they’ve now been under Vic Fangio for the last few years, so we can draw at least some experience. Over the last two years, he’s played against the Bears four times, averaging 243.0 yards with 1.3 touchdowns and 0.8 interceptions per game. It’s better luck than he’s had against the Vikings, and the Bears had shown some vulnerability against the pass in Weeks 6 and 7 when they allowed Brock Osweiler and Tom Brady to combine for 657 yards and six touchdowns. The biggest concern for Stafford is his suddenly his protection as he took a career-high 10 sacks last week. His previous career-high was seven sacks, so something definitely went wrong. The loss of Golden Tate took away one of his safety blankets over the last handful of years, so that’s definitely something that would affect him holding onto the ball too long. The Bears have been without Khalil Mack for the last two weeks, but he’s likely returning for this divisional showdown. The protection is a problem but knowing teams cannot run the ball on the Bears (3.43 yards per carry), Stafford is the one who’ll be relied upon to move the ball. He’s not a great play, but he’s still in the high-end QB2 conversation.
Mitch Trubisky: It was a lackluster game for Trubisky against the Bills, though you should’ve already known that was going to be the case. Though the stats don’t show it, he played one of his best games of the season. The Lions are an interesting case to project him against because their success against the pass is purely based on volume, as they’ve been near the bottom of the league when it comes to efficiency. Part of the issue for opposing quarterbacks have run into is the 58.5 plays per game they average against the Lions, which is the second-lowest mark in the league. The Bears average right around the league-average of 63.5 plays per game, so it’s not as if Trubisky’s numbers have come because of volume, as he’s thrown the ball more than 35 times just once all season. The Lions defense on a per pass efficiency rate are terrible, as they’ve allowed 8.5 yards per attempt (4th-most) and a 7.2 percent touchdown percentage (3rd-highest) this year. They’ve also allowed at least two passing scores in 6-of-8 games this year. One surprising stat is that they’ve allowed a league-low 37 rushing yards to quarterbacks despite running zone coverage about 25 percent of the time. They have played some less-than-mobile quarterbacks this year, as Dak Prescott was the most active one of them, and they played in Week 4 before he started using his scrambling ability. It’s likely still an area that can/will be exploited by the Bears, putting Trubisky on the board as a low-end QB1.
Kerryon Johnson, Theo Riddick, and LeGarrette Blount: We saw Riddick return to the offense last week and steal some of the thunder out from under Johnson, as he went from 81.4 percent of the snaps in Week 8 to just 55.7 percent of the snaps in Week 9. It was a tough matchup against the Vikings in Minnesota, but they get another brutal matchup against the Bears this week. The Bears have now played eight games. In those eight games, there’s been just three running backs who’ve finished as a top-24 option. Two of those running backs scored receiving touchdowns. Frank Gore was the other and is still the only one who has totaled more than 57 yards on the ground against them, so you’ll likely need the receiving work from Johnson to get anywhere near the RB1 territory. There’s been no running back to carry the ball more than 15 times against the Bears, so that combined with a 3.43 yards per carry average doesn’t add up to great fantasy things. The Bears defense has still yet to allow a rushing touchdown to a running back as well, while every other team in the league has allowed at least two. This is despite running backs totaling 12 goal-to-go carries against them. They have allowed three receiving touchdowns to running backs, so that’s where you’ll look for production to the Lions backfield. We saw Riddick tally eight targets last week, but Johnson still received five targets, which is more than enough to do some damage. Consider Johnson a low-end RB2/high-end RB3 this week, while Riddick should be considered a high-end RB4 who would receive the bump into RB3 territory in PPR formats. Blount is not playable.
Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen: The Bears have had two amazing gamescripts against the Jets and Bills the last two weeks (65-19 combined scoring), so don’t act surprised to see Howard carry the ball 36 times while Cohen received just 11 carries. Although it made fantasy owners sad (myself included for DFS purposes), the Bears wisely kept their trick plays in the bag against the Bills. Since 2015, the Bears and Lions have played six games. In those games, there was just one decided by more than four points. The trick/gadget plays will likely make a return in a home game against the Lions, who have allowed a league-high 5.58 yards per carry. They did add Damon Harrison, but they’ve still allowed 258 rushing yards (4.69 yards per carry) and two touchdowns on the ground the last two weeks with him there. Howard has looked pretty bad in this offense, but the matchup against what might be a bottom-five run defense in a close game will keep him RB2 relevant, while Cohen should pop back into the RB2 conversation as well. He’s now played at least 51 percent of the snaps in each of the last three weeks, so even if his touches were down, it’s near a 50/50 timeshare between the two, though Cohen offers much more upside.
Kenny Golladay: What in the world has happened to Golladay? He’s now seen just seven targets over the last three games combined after averaging 8.2 targets per game in the first five games of the season. With Golden Tate gone, it seemed like the perfect scenario for him to see increased targets, even if the game was against the Vikings, who are the third-best defense against wide receivers. Seeing four targets wasn’t what we had in mind. Against the Bears, it’s a much better matchup, as they’ve allowed the 16th-most fantasy points to wide receivers, but more importantly, they’ve allowed 12 different wide receivers to finish with five or more receptions against them, which shows the floor that this matchup should provide. Teams haven’t been able to run on them, so the passing-game is where the Lions will have to go. He’ll see a mix of both Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara, who have both held receivers under a 56 percent catch-rate, but they’ve allowed 13.9 (Amukamara) and 14.4 (Fuller) yards per reception, so there’s big play possibility. The targets are a concern, but in this matchup, he needs to see them by necessity. Plug him in as a low-end WR2/high-end WR3 who should provide a stable floor.
Marvin Jones: Is he back to being the No. 1 option for Stafford? He’s totaled 18 targets over the last two weeks, while Golladay fights for the scraps and has totaled just five targets in those games. Jones has delivered too, as he’s posted 13/183/2 in two tough games against the Seahawks and Vikings. Like Golladay, he’s going to see a mixture of both Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara. In two games against them last year, he totaled 85 yards in each game, while scoring in one of them, so he was essentially a rock-solid WR2 in those matchups. Knowing that the Bears have allowed zero rushing touchdowns to running backs, we’re likely to see Jones get targeted even more in the red zone this week. He’s totaled 11 red zone targets while Golladay has just five of them, so it’s Jones you’d want to look at as most likely to score a touchdown. For the time being, we’ll say that Jones has more appeal Golladay, making him a solid WR2 moving forward with touchdown upside.
Allen Robinson: It’s still unclear if Robinson will play in this game, but seeing he’s been practicing on a limited basis the last two weeks, he’s got to be close. He’d return to a matchup with Darius Slay, though that hasn’t been a death sentence for wide receivers this year. He’s allowed just 10.4 yards per reception, but he’s also allowed four touchdowns on 36 targets in his coverage. Still, it’s the toughest matchup on the field for a wide receiver coming off a multi-week injury. Keep expectations in check until we see Robinson back for a full game, but he’d be on the low-end WR3 range if he were to return. Update: Robinson has been declared 100 percent and will play this weekend. More good news… Slay has been ruled out for this game, so feel free to trot Robinson out there as a solid WR3.
Taylor Gabriel: The last three game stretch for Gabriel reminds me of the start of the season where he totaled 25, 30, and 34 yards in Weeks 1-3, but his target numbers were solid (5, 7, 10). He hasn’t seen massive target totals, but he’s still seen 15 targets over the last three weeks. With those targets, Gabriel can have big weeks, though we need to monitor the knee injury he suffered at the end of the Week 9 game. The Bears have said he should be good to go, but it’s an additional risk. The Lions have allowed the second-most PPR points to target to wide receivers but have been targeted a league-low 115 times (next lowest is Cowboys with 129 targets), so their 10th-best tag against fantasy wide receivers doesn’t carry much water. They’ve allowed a wide receiver touchdown once every 11.5 targets, which is the worst in the NFL, so there’s plenty of positives here. Nevin Lawson is the one who Gabriel will likely see the most, and despite allowing three touchdowns on 29 targets this year, he’s yet to allow a play over 37 yards in his coverage. Gabriel should be considered an upside WR4 provided he’s practicing in full by the end of the week.
Anthony Miller: We’ve seen the Bears involve Miller more and more over the last three games, as he’s now seen 20 targets in that span, and at least six targets in every game. The chemistry between him and Trubisky has taken some time to develop, but they connected five times for 49 yards last week, both season-highs. If there’s a matchup on the Lions defense that’s most exploitable, it’s the slot, as they’ve rotated Jamal Agnew, Teez Tabor, and now DeShawn Shead at nickel cornerback. None of them have allowed less than a 103.6 QB Rating in their coverage. Some may wonder why Adam Thielen didn’t go off last week, but with Stefon Diggs out, it required Thielen to play a lot more snaps on the perimeter than he typically does, and Matt Patricia has talked about taking away the opponent’s top-option in the passing game. Miller isn’t the ‘top-option’ in the Bears’ offense, so it’s not a bad matchup to plug him in as a high-floor WR4/5-type option who has scored on three of his last 32 targets. Don’t forget the Lions have allowed a touchdown to wide receivers once every 11.5 targets, the worst ratio in the NFL.
Luke Willson: With Golden Tate gone, the Lions had to target their tight ends more last week, right? Nah. Willson finished the game with just two targets that netted 17 yards. He’s totaled eight targets over the last three games, so he is being utilized a bit more, but it’s touchdown-or-bust as of now, and he hasn’t caught a touchdown all year. The Bears defense hasn’t allowed much yardage to tight ends (40.8/game), but they have allowed five touchdowns to them, or one every 10.2 targets, which is the second most often in the league. But here’s the thing… Michael Roberts has all five red zone targets for the Lions, so he’d technically be the one who’d have a shot at scoring against the Bears. Knowing he has just nine targets on the season, it’s fair to say you shouldn’t stream either of them.
Trey Burton: Some may look at Burton’s lines the last two weeks and be worried, but you shouldn’t be one of them. In fact, you should be happy he scored last week in a tough matchup against the Bills. He had two matchups against top-five teams at defending tight ends, but it’s not that way in Week 10 against the Lions. They have allowed the 13th-most points to tight ends, but like everything else, it’s volume related. They’ve allowed a 70.2 percent completion rate (11th-highest), 8.87 yards per target (7th-highest), and a touchdown every 11.8 targets (5th-lowest) to tight ends. The wild card is that the Lions defense under Matt Patricia has sold-out to stop the top option in the opposing passing game, similar to the way they did it in New England. If I were game-planning against the Bears, it’d likely be Burton (Robinson if he were 100 percent healthy), which adds a level of risk. Maybe that’s why I wouldn’t use him in cash games, but Burton is still a rock-solid TE1 this week.
New Orleans Saints at Cincinnati Bengals
Line: NO by 4.5
Drew Brees: Coming off the big win over the Rams, the Saints will head out to Cincinnati to play a Bengals team that’s dealing with a lot of problem on defense. They’ve allowed the fourth-most points per game to quarterbacks, eighth-most points to running backs, sixth-most points to wide receivers, and third-most points to tight ends. Am I missing something, or are they maybe a bottom-three defense in the league? They lose defensive end Carl Lawson for the year, have cornerbacks Darqueze Dennard and Dre Kirkpatrick nursing injuries, and then linebackers Nick Vigil and Vontaze Burfict likely out. Oh, I forgot to mention the fact that they lost defensive tackle Ryan Glasgow back in Week 3. The Saints can choose which way they attack this defense, but on the road, my guess is that they go run-heavy. The Saints average 31.8 rushing attempts on the road, compared to 25.5 attempts at home. We’ve seen four quarterbacks throw for at least 319 yards against the Bengals, but every one of those quarterbacks threw the ball at least 39 times, something Brees hasn’t done with Ingram active. While Brees can likely post 500 yards in this game if they wanted him to, I’m expecting a lower volume game for him which should still net 250 yards and two touchdowns, leaving him as a middling to low-end QB1.
Andy Dalton: What will life without A.J. Green look like? Well, let’s just say it’s not great. There’s been 11 games that Dalton has played without Green in his career. In those games, he’s averaged 253.3 yards, 1.0 touchdown, and 0.7 interceptions. He should be getting John Ross back this week, but he’s nowhere near the level of Green. The Saints defense has allowed a massive 8.85 yards per target to opposing quarterbacks, which has included nine plays of 40-plus yards, so you have to expect Dalton to take some shots down the field in this game. The Saints defense has allowed 344.7 passing yards per game since their bye in Week 6, and it appears the addition of Eli Apple hasn’t done much, but it’s hard to see Dalton succeeding without his go-to receiver. The Saints have allowed at least 14.4 fantasy points to every quarterback they’ve played this year, so Dalton should be able to post at least middling QB2 numbers in this game, but it’s not a game you should be attacking with Dalton.
Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram: There’s a lot of people out there who’ve given up on Ingram after multiple bad outings. If there’s someone like that in your league, go out and trade for him. Did you forget when everyone was panicking about Kamara when Ingram returned? Stop it, peeps. Ingram has still totaled 40 touches in the last three games, but has played against the Ravens, Vikings, and Rams defenses, three top-10 run defenses. The Bengals are no such thing and have now allowed 735 yards on 136 carries (5.40 yards per carry) with five touchdowns over their last six games. There are going to be some rushing touchdowns for the Saints backs in this game, and though Kamara has out-carried Ingram 12-4 in the red zone over the last three weeks, it was Ingram 3-0 before that. Kamara is the better back, that I’m sure of, but Ingram will get his in this duo and makes for a low-end RB1 this week. Kamara is an every-week elite RB1 play and this contest is no different. Play both of them and don’t think twice about it.
Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard: It appears that Bernard is set to make his return this week after returning to practice on Monday. Not that it’ll matter much, as his touches were extremely limited when Mixon was on the field, though there are likely a lot of opportunities that’ll open up in the passing game with Green out for a few weeks. The matchup this week is about as bad as it can get for Mixon, as the Saints run defense has been lights out through eight games, allowing just 421 rushing yards (second-lowest in NFL). It hasn’t been volume, either, as they’ve allowed a league-low 3.10 yards per carry. Despite playing against Todd Gurley and Saquon Barkley, they’ve yet to allow a top-eight performance to a running back. The Bengals haven’t used Mixon nearly enough in designed pass plays, as he’s failed to top 22 yards receiving in every game since Week 1. It’s as if the Bengals forgot what they did in the preseason with him. They should bring some of that back with Green on the shelf, but this matchup is brutal. Mixon should be considered a middling RB2 who’s is likely to disappoint unless the Bengals utilize him in the passing-game. There’s been no running back who’s totaled more than 56 yards through the air against them, so the ceiling is limited even if they do. Bernard should be considered an emergency RB4/5 who should get some work through the air.
Michael Thomas: As mentioned in The Primer last week, if the Rams trusted Marcus Peters on him, he would steal his lunch money. I’m guessing that 12/211/1 will suffice. The Bengals tried using some shadow coverage in the game against the Bucs, though that ended with Mike Evans tagging them for 6/179/1. He’ll likely see a lot of William Jackson in coverage, who is their top cornerback, though he’d been far from a shutdown cornerback this year, allowing 15.5 yards per reception and three touchdowns on 44 targets in coverage. They Bengals have allowed a massive 15 wide receivers to finish with top-25 numbers against them this year, which is among the most in the NFL. There’s been at least one receiver who’s posted a minimum of 15 PPR points against them in 7-of-8 games, with the lone exception being the Dolphins. Thomas should be played as a WR1, though he’s not likely to go bananas in this game due to the limited volume to go around.
Tre’Quan Smith: It was really disappointing to see Smith finish with just three targets against the Rams, as his matchup was top-notch against Troy Hill. He did score a touchdown to salvage his fantasy day but seeing just seven targets over the last two weeks doesn’t inspire a whole lot of confidence when plugging him into your lineup. The Bengals have allowed 17 wide receivers to post top-36 numbers against them through eight games, so there’s plenty of room for two wide receivers to produce. The issue is that Brees is likely to continue his low-volume ways, and the matchup against Dre Kirkpatrick isn’t nearly as good as the one against Hill last week. He remains in the WR4 conversation due to his quarterback’s efficiency, but he’s not someone you must play this week.
Tyler Boyd: Many will wonder what it means for Boyd now that Green is out of the lineup for a few weeks, but it really shouldn’t change his role very much. He plays over 75 percent of his snaps in the slot, while Green plays the majority of his snaps on the perimeter. If there’s one thing you don’t want, it’s for the Bengals to move Boyd out of the slot role to fill Green’s void. It’s doubtful they do, but it’s still a possibility. Boyd’s target floor should be among the best in football, and if he stays in the slot, he’d match-up with P.J. Williams, the Saints worst cornerback in coverage. After Patrick Robinson went down early in the year, Williams was required to play, but has allowed 31-of-43 passing for 406 yards and five touchdowns in his coverage. The gamescript is likely to favor the passing game and knowing the Saints allow a league-low 3.10 yards per carry, the Bengals are best off going to the air and attacking Williams in coverage. Boyd should be played as a high-end WR2 this week and he should offer a rock-solid floor.
John Ross: The return to the lineup won’t be a complimentary role like the one he was playing with Green on the field, as he’ll be asked to play more than a ‘field-stretcher’ role. The issue is that Marshon Lattimore is likely the one who’ll be in coverage this week, and he’s easily been the Saints best cornerback. He’s shadowed opposing No. 1 receivers every week but has allowed just two touchdowns on 40 targets in coverage. He doesn’t travel into the slot, so the Bengals would be wise to use Ross there to create a mismatch. Lattimore also has 4.3-second speed, so it’s not as if Ross can just run right by him. The Saints have allowed nine passing plays of 40-plus yards (2nd-most in NFL), though just two of them have come against Lattimore. Ross is a legit boom-or-bust WR4/5 option this week, though I’d err on the side of caution in his first game back.
Ben Watson: After not seeing a target in Week 8, Watson found his way back into the end zone for the second time in three weeks. He’s not a sexy option to put into your lineup, but he’s semi-reliable at a very unpredictable position. The Bengals have allowed at least 51 yards to six different tight ends this year, while also allowing a touchdown to six different tight ends (including four backups). The tight ends who failed to produce against them included: Maxx Williams, Mike Gesicki, Ian Thomas, and Austin Hooper. The only notable one there is Hooper, who saw just two targets in their matchup. Knowing the Bengals may be down two linebackers, Watson is in the streaming low-end TE1 conversation once again.
C.J. Uzomah: After posting reliable numbers once Tyler Eifert went down, Uzomah let fantasy owners down in the easiest matchup of the year. He’s now known as the only tight end who didn’t post top-12 numbers against the Bucs. He totaled four targets in the game but didn’t catch a single one. He was somewhat limited in practice with a shoulder injury that week, but the bye week should’ve helped him heal up. The issue is that he’ll now go into a matchup with the Saints, who’ve allowed just a 56.9 percent completion rate to tight ends with just one touchdown on 51 targets. They’ve been top-five against tight ends in each of the last two years, making this a bad matchup for Uzomah. There hasn’t been a single tight end to finish as a top-12 option against them this year, so Uzomah is nothing more than a middling TE2 this week.
New England Patriots at Tennessee Titans
Line: NE by 6.5
Tom Brady: Through eight weeks, there have been 75 different times where a quarterback has totaled more than 21.8 fantasy points. Brady has just one of them. He’s lacking his usual ceiling with Rob Gronkowski ailing, though he’s delivered a decent fantasy floor for most of the season. Over the last four weeks, though, he’s thrown one or zero touchdowns three times. Those games were against the Chiefs, Bears (threw three against them), Bills, and Packers, so it’s not as if it was the toughest schedule. They haven’t lost any of those games, so there’s been no panic, but Brady’s fantasy numbers haven’t been great (QB16 in PPG). The Titans should allow him to get back to his high-floor ways, as they’ve allowed at least two passing touchdowns in 5-of-8 games this year with the only exceptions being Blake Bortles, Josh Allen, and Joe Flacco. Of the three top-tier quarterbacks they’ve played this year, Deshaun Watson posted 310/2, Carson Wentz posted 348/2, and Philip Rivers posted 306/2. The x-factor in this game, however, is that Mike Vrabel is the coach of the Titans, who obviously knows the Patriots very well, similar to the way Matt Patricia does. When the Lions hosted the Patriots earlier in the year, Brady was held to 133 yards and one touchdown, easily his worst game of the year. Will Vrabel have the same success? I’d consider it unlikely, though it’s enough concern to stay away from Brady in cash games. In season-long, he should deliver middling to low-end QB1 numbers.
Marcus Mariota: It was good to see Mariota bounce-back off the bye week, throwing two touchdowns in order to bring his season total up to five touchdowns, which are now even with the five interceptions. Here’s the deal – he’s looked better over their last two games, completing 45-of-61 passes (73.8 percent) for 477 yards and three touchdowns with one interception. He’s also now running the ball a lot more, as he’s totaled at least 25 yards on the ground in five of the last six games. While you shouldn’t be quick to jump on him as an every-week start just yet, he’s moving in the right direction. The Patriots have allowed 6.3 yards per carry to opposing quarterbacks, which has turned into 189 rushing yards (3rd-most in NFL) and one touchdown. That’s where Mariota will have to find his success, because the Patriots allow just 6.97 yards per attempt, and Mariota has thrown the ball more than 32 times just once all season. The reason the Patriots have allowed the eighth-most fantasy points to quarterbacks is due to volume, as they’ve faced the second-most attempts (369) this year, though the efficiency hasn’t been great. Mariota is working his way back, but he’s still just a middling QB2 this week.
James White and Sony Michel: It appears that Michel is on track to return in Week 10, which tells me a lot considering their bye is next week. If he was anything less than 100 percent, the Patriots likely wouldn’t risk putting him on the field with a record of 7-2. The issue that lies ahead is the Titans run-defense that’s been lights out this year. They’ve allowed a mediocre 4.03 yards per carry, but have allowed just two rushing touchdowns and no receiving touchdowns to running backs. It’s why they’ve allowed just one running back to finish as a top-12 option against them, and that was Alex Collins who snuck in as the RB12 in Week 6, and it took him two touchdowns to get there. There hasn’t been a running back who’s totaled more than 85 rushing yards against them and there hasn’t been a running back who’s totaled more than 51 yards through the air against them. Maybe the craziest stat of them all is that there’s been just one team of running backs who’s scored 20-plus PPR points against them, and that was the Ravens running backs with 26.5 PPR points. Bottom line is that even though Michel is expected to come back, he’s just an RB3 in this game. White is impossible to bench and shouldn’t even be treated like a running back at this point in time, as he’s caught more passes than he’s received a handoff. He hasn’t scored less than 14 PPR points in a single game this year, so continue to play him, though he’s more of an RB2 this week, as the Titans have allowed just 1.21 PPR points per target to running backs (2nd-fewest in NFL).
Dion Lewis and Derrick Henry: We have a clear-cut running back who’s emerged out of this backfield, and it’s Lewis. He played a season-high 84.3 percent of the snaps against the Cowboys, while Henry played a season-low 20.0 percent of snaps. It worked, so there’s absolutely zero reason to stop doing it. Lewis will get a shot at his former team this week, who has been a bit unpredictable this year. They’ve held three teams to less than 55 yards rushing as a team, while allowing 110 or more rushing yards on three other occasions. The three teams under: Bills, Bears, Dolphins. The three teams over: Packers, Lions, Texans. What are the similarities? None at all. They did allow Tarik Cohen 83 total yards and a touchdown a few weeks ago, so that’s the closest comp you can come up with. The area to be exploited is through the air to running backs, as they’ve allowed 550 yards, which ranks as the second-most in the league, behind only the Chiefs. With Lewis out-targeting Henry nearly 4 to 1, he’s the one to trust in this matchup, though it’s far from a sure thing. Lewis should be played as a low-end RB2 who’s relatively safe in PPR formats, while Henry is practically unusable knowing that the Patriots have allowed just two rushing touchdowns all season.
Julian Edelman: He’s now averaged 8.8 targets per game since his return, including 10 targets in each of the last two games. He’s essentially the player he’s always been, too. He’s not a WR1, but he’s not going to lose your fantasy matchup because he provides such a safe floor. The Titans have two of his former teammates in Logan Ryan and Malcolm Butler, so he should be very familiar with their weaknesses. Ryan is the one he’ll see most of the time, as he mans the slot for them. Over the last two years, Ryan has been what you’d describe as a slightly below average slot cornerback. He’s consistently mediocre, allowing a 64 percent catch-rate, 11.9 yards per reception, and a touchdown every 20.2 targets in coverage. Knowing this, Edelman should be played in his usual middling to low-end WR2 territory.
Josh Gordon: He’s now totaled at least 100 yards in 2-of-3 weeks, while seeing 32 targets in his last four games, including a season-high 10 targets last week. It’s safe to say he’s earned Brady’s trust. Now, he’ll go into a matchup with Malcolm Butler, who has been routinely burned in coverage, allowing a league-high seven touchdowns in his coverage. You have to wonder if he’ll be benched at some point when you consider we’re now halfway through the season, and he’s still allowed a 141.8 QB Rating in his coverage. It’s possible the Titans say enough is enough and decide to put Adoree Jackson into shadow coverage, but on a short week, it’s probably unlikely. Raise your hand if you’ve seen Brady target on a go-route or post-route. If you’ve watched the games, you have quite a few times. Butler has been in coverage on nine of those routes, allowing six receptions for 229 yards and three touchdowns. Gordon needs to be in lineups as an upside WR2 who will go off if the Titans don’t change their ways.
Chris Hogan: Just when you thought you’d figured out his usage, you’re wrong. After seeing 15 targets in a three-week span from Week 5-7, Hogan has disappeared the last two weeks while totaling just three targets. He’s still clearly the No. 3 receiver based on snaps, but the opportunity just hasn’t been there. He’d match-up with Adoree Jackson most of the time, who happens to be their top cornerback that they haven’t used in shadow coverage. While it wouldn’t shock me if they started using him as a shadow cornerback this week on Gordon, it’s just a guess at this point. Hogan is nothing more than an upside WR5 who you just know is going to score two touchdowns when everyone least expects it.
Cordarrelle Patterson: There will be a lot of you who wonder how to approach Patterson with his newfound role as a running back, but with Michel slated to return to the lineup, he’s almost positively going back to his 6-8 snaps per game role that he played before Michel went down. Even if they did throw him back in for a few carries, the Titans are not a team you can run on. Patterson is someone you can hang onto in case of an injury at running back, but you don’t want to play him here.
Corey Davis: Things kind of went as expected against the Cowboys, as Davis racked up six catches for 56 yards in what’s been a brutal matchup for wide receivers. Most don’t realize that the Cowboys have allowed the second-fewest fantasy points to wide receivers this year. The Patriots haven’t been a much better matchup, though there’s typically much more volume available against them. Davis will without a doubt face-off against Stephon Gilmore this week, and that’s bad news. After struggling over the first three weeks where he allowed three touchdowns, Gilmore has played as good as any cornerback in football, allowing just 12 catches on 29 targets in coverage that netted just 111 yards and no touchdowns. This is a matchup where Davis needs to score, or he busts, as Gilmore won’t consistently allow catch-after-catch in coverage. He’s just a low-end WR3/high-end WR4 this week and not one you should feel pressured to play. Yes, he scored two touchdowns against them in the playoff meeting last year, but that was also with Eric Decker and Rishard Matthews on the team, playing at a high level.
Tajae Sharpe: With Taywan Taylor dealing with a foot injury, it’s possible that Sharpe is called upon quite a bit more this week. He was targeted nine times against the Chargers in Week 7, but then totaled just one target versus the Cowboys, though Sharpe himself appeared to tweak his ankle before the game. Knowing he pushed through and played 54-of-70 snaps. The Patriots have struggled with slot receivers this year, as 2016 undrafted free agent Jonathan Jones is clearly the weakest link. He’s allowed a 67.3 percent catch-rate, 11.3 yards per reception, and three touchdowns on 52 targets in coverage, including two touchdowns on his last 15 targets. With Davis matched-up with Stephon Gilmore, and Taylor matched-up with Jason McCourty, we could see another heavily-targeted game for Sharpe against a Patriots team where wide receivers average 22.2 targets per game. If he practices in-full all week, you can consider him a sneaky WR4/5 play who should offer a decent floor.
Rob Gronkowski: What can we say about him right now? If he plays, it’s hard to bench him, and at least we’ll know if he’s playing before the games start on Sunday, as this game takes place at 1pm EST. Not only is his health a question mark, but the matchup is a bad one as well. Actually, it’s as bad as it can get, as the Titans have allowed just 33.5 yards per game to tight ends, the lowest in the league. Not just that, though, as they’re one of just two teams who’s still yet to allow a touchdown to a tight end. The 1.18 PPR points per target they allow to the position is 0.16 less than any other team in the NFL, which is quite ridiculous. Even if Gronkowski suits up for this game, he’s just a low-end TE1 who doesn’t necessarily need to be played. Update: Gronkowski is now considered unlikely to play this week, so pay attention to the inactive lists on Sunday morning.
Jonnu Smith: After not posting more than two catches or 12 yards in the first seven games of the season, Smith popped-up on the fantasy radar last week as he totaled 33 yards and a touchdown, though the touchdown did come on a trick-play that had him get a shuffle pass. It’s far from making him an optimal fantasy option moving forward, even if the Patriots have allowed the seventh-most fantasy points to tight ends. Part of the reason they’ve allowed so much is due to volume, as they’ve faced 78 targets to tight ends, which is the most in the NFL. There have been four tight ends who’ve topped 55 yards against them, but each of them saw at least six targets. Smith isn’t quite on the streaming radar yet because the Titans have still yet to target him more than three times.