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The Primer: Week 3 Edition (2019 Fantasy Football)

by Mike Tagliere | @MikeTagliereNFL | Featured Writer
Sep 18, 2019

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Hooters wants to help you win money this season with a $1,000,000 contest hosted at FantasyDraft. Enter a lineup today for your chance to take a piece of the million home. Be sure to head to your local Hooters for some Monday Night Moneyball action too! Have fun watching the game, answer some questions, and you could win food, swag, and even cash prizes!

There were many who reached out to me this past week, saying they appreciated the personal touch atop The Primer, so I thought I’d share another personal story this week, though it’s not sports-related. Instead, it’s something that affects many people on a daily basis: weight gain.

It’s been just over three years since I was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism. What does that mean? It means your body is working at an increased level and that your thyroid (which controls your metabolism) is overactive. One day, a full hour after a workout, I had a resting heart rate of about 150 beats per minute. With my wife being a nurse and sensitive to all things health-related, she scheduled me for a doctor’s appointment.

After a bevy of tests, they told me I had a hyperactive thyroid and that they needed to destroy it with radioactive iodine treatment. Not having much of a choice in the matter, I showed up to the appointment. As I waited in the room, multiple doctors walked in with what looked to be spacesuits on. They also had a canister that contained a pill inside of it. They left it on the counter and walked away so I could take it. It was clear they wanted no part of the pill, and though my body needed it, neither did I.

After taking the pill, I couldn’t be around any people or pets for a full 48 hours. I had to use my own toilet and everything. It was essentially poison they gave me in order to reverse this condition. They said in order to make things right, they had to turn it into hypothyroidism. You can give someone medication to increase the output of their thyroid, but you can’t give anything to dramatically slow it down. What they didn’t tell me is that they had to wait my thyroid was completely gone before giving me said medication.

Once it was completely gone, we had to start on the lowest dose of synthetic thyroid and slowly increase it to ensure my body wasn’t working too hard. I was 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds when this process started, so obviously not a small guy. In order to get me to the level of medication I needed, it took six months. During that six months, I gained 72 pounds and was up to 277 pounds, the most I’d ever been in my life.

No matter what I did, I gained weight. There was one month in particular I clearly remember where I worked out five days a week and ate absolutely no fast food, yet gained 10 pounds. I was told that I essentially had no metabolism and that it wouldn’t have mattered what I did. When you gain that much weight, it’s easy to get depressed and think there’s no way you’ll get back to where you want to be.

It may have taken a long time (two years), but I’m proud to say I weighed in this past week and the scale said 204.8 pounds. My situation may be different than yours, but we all have obstacles that prevent us from reaching goals. If there’s one thing I want you to take away from this, it’s that you can reach your goals, even if it takes longer than you’d initially hoped.

Is it going to be easy? No. If it were, everyone would be walking around with six-pack abs. It takes a lot of hard work. This offseason, I went to the gym at least five days a week, including 54 days in a row at one point. Even if it’s just 30 minutes a day, do it. While exercise certainly helped, one thing I’d recommend to anyone trying to drop weight and get healthy is intermittent fasting. I’ve made it my lifestyle over the last year and it’s worked wonders. If it helps one of you reach your goals, I’ve done a good thing here.

In case you’ve missed it, I’ve been going back into The Primer on Saturday morning trying to update you on the injury reports that impact your decisions. While I cannot write a whole new article, I do talk about a lot of these things on our Sunday morning livestream, which is FREE to everyone. It’s where I discuss all the latest injury news and then take your questions live from 11-12am EST. Click here to be taken to our YouTube page where you can get notifications when we go live.

If you’re new around these parts, here’s what you can expect out of this article each and every week: numbers, facts, stats, opinions, and some shenanigans here and there. It’s my unbiased opinion about everyone on your roster. Whether it be season-long advice, DFS advice, wide receiver/cornerback matchups, or snap counts, it’s all covered. The idea here is to give you as much information as possible and give you as much confidence as possible when you hit that ‘submit lineup’ button each week. Who should be in your lineup this week?

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Matchup Links:
MIA at DAL | CIN at BUF | ATL at IND | OAK at MIN | BAL at KC | DEN at GB | DET at PHI | NYJ at NE | CAR at ARI | NYG at TB | NO at SEA | HOU at LAC | PIT at SF | LAR at CLE | CHI at WAS

Miami Dolphins at Dallas Cowboys

Total: 47.5
Line: DAL by 21.0

Ryan Fitzpatrick or Josh Rosen:
I mentioned in this article last week that you won’t be able to trust a Dolphins quarterback in fantasy, as they’re pulling them like you would a running back in a blowout win or loss. Given the fact that they’re 21-point underdogs, not much should change against the Cowboys, who have allowed just 6.5 yards per attempt through two weeks. It’s not saying much when they’ve played Eli Manning and Case Keenum, but let’s not pretend the Fitzpatrick/Rosen duo doesn’t belong in that group, especially when Fitzpatrick is coming off a game where he threw three interceptions on 21 pass attempts against the Patriots. Just say no to Dolphins fantasy players.

Dak Prescott: He’s currently the No. 2 quarterback in fantasy football, behind only the red-hot Lamar Jackson. While Prescott has had the dream start to his season with the Giants and Redskins, it continues this week with the Dolphins, who have now allowed 43-of-54 passing (79.6 percent) for 643 yards (11.9 yards per attempt) and eight touchdowns (14.8 percent touchdown rate) with no interceptions. They essentially made Lamar Jackson and Marquise Brown household names. Prescott reminded everyone he’s still capable of running the ball for chunks of yardage last week, too, as he totaled 69 yards on the ground. The Cowboys are projected to score 34.3 points in this game, which is nearly unheard of. At home, expect the Cowboys to win big on the back of Ezekiel Elliott, though Prescott should be able to deliver rock-solid QB1 numbers on the minimal attempts he does make. The only concern is that Elliott puts them up big early and limits Prescott to around 20 pass attempts, though as we’ve seen, that can still amount to plenty against the Dolphins. He’s cash-game viable, though his tournament upside is capped considering the Dolphins can’t score points. The loss of Michael Gallup does sting and removes some more of his potential as well. The Dolphins trading away safety Minkah Fitzpatrick this week surely didn’t make them better, though, and the Dolphins have already announced fellow safety Reshad Jones as out.

Kenyan Drake and Kalen Ballage:
It’s been reported that the Dolphins have talked to multiple teams about a trade involving Drake, which would make sense considering they’re completely stripping their roster of any/all talent. It’s something to pay attention to, because if they really are shopping him, they need him to remain healthy, which would mean limiting his touches. After getting just 17 total touches in the first two weeks, it’s hard to cut back much more, especially when Ballage is the “other guy.” There was a play during their Week 2 game against the Patriots where Ballage actually ducked out of the way on a target that was going to him. I can’t make this stuff up. The Cowboys had one of the better run defenses in the league last year, allowing just 3.83 yards per carry on the ground, though they did struggle a bit against the pass, allowing 101 receptions and 747 yards through the air to running backs. That’s continued into this year, as they’ve already allowed 17 receptions and 110 yards to them through two games. That’s the Drake role, as he has nine targets through two weeks, while Ballage has seen six of them, and we already talked about his “ducking” issue. The real issue is that the Dolphins cannot sustain any drives right now and rarely find themselves in scoring position, so even if your running back gets the touches you’d hoped, he lacks any form of upside. Avoid this backfield, though as I said last week, if you must pick one, it’s Drake.

Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard: When playing against the Dolphins, everyone needs to be considered in fantasy, even the backups. Through two weeks, they’ve allowed 309 yards on 69 carries (4.48 yards per carry), including three rushing touchdowns. Keep in mind that those numbers have come while they’ve played at home. Both the Ravens and Patriots backfields scored more than 30 PPR points against the Dolphins and their run-game isn’t on the level as that of the Cowboys, though the passing game has taken center stage the first two weeks. Despite allowing Pollard 32 percent of the touches, Elliott is a top-10 running back through two weeks. After watching Sony Michel total 85 yards and a touchdown, and Mark Ingram total 107 yards and two touchdowns, you don’t need me to tell you that Elliott is the RB1 this week, bar none. He should be locked into cash-game lineups and be a favorite in tournaments. If Pollard continues to get 32 percent of the touches, he can be a fantasy factor in this game, as the Dolphins opponents have averaged 37 running back touches per game. That would amount to roughly 12 touches versus the Dolphins, and it could be more if it’s a complete blowout, like oddsmakers are expecting. Pollard is on the flex radar this week.

DeVante Parker:
After providing some numbers against a tough Ravens secondary, Parker couldn’t get anything going against Stephon Gilmore in Week 2, as he totaled seven targets but no receptions. The Cowboys have allowed four wide receivers to hit double-digit PPR points against them through two weeks, though just one has finished as a top-36 option (Terry McLaurin). He’ll match-up with Byron Jones for much of the game, the Cowboys 2015 first-round pick who’s been a bit up-and-down throughout his career. His 2018 season was the best he’s had, but 2019 hasn’t gotten off to a great start. Just last week, he allowed 7-of-11 passing for 78 yards and a touchdown against the Redskins, who faced a similar gamescript to the one we’re expecting for the Dolphins. The issue is that the Dolphins have very little scoring opportunity (10 points through two games), which puts Parker outside the confident starter range. He should be able to post respectable WR4/5 numbers but there’s risk involved considering the state of the offense.

Preston Williams: He’s bypassed Allen Hurns on the depth chart quickly, playing 44 snaps in Week 2 while Hurns played just 27 snaps. Williams has now seen 11 targets through two weeks, turning them into 7/87/1, which is more than any other Dolphins pass-catcher can say. With DeVante Parker facing Stephon Gilmore last week, it was always likely Williams would be the better option. This week is more of an even playing field, which favors Parker, who is clearly the team’s No. 1 option when it comes to both snaps and targets. Unfortunately, the Cowboys aren’t a team who allows multiple fantasy relevant receivers in a single game. In fact, there were just 14 wide receivers who hit 11.7 PPR points (the average WR3 performance) against them last year, which tied for the fourth-fewest in the NFL. Knowing how quickly he’s ascended up the depth chart, it shouldn’t be a shock if he’s competing with Parker for the No. 1 receiver spot, though we’re not there yet. He’s a stash in fantasy leagues, though it’s hard to stash anyone associated with this Dolphins roster.

Amari Cooper: Through two weeks, he actually trails Michael Gallup in targets, receptions, and yardage, though Cooper has made his count a bit more, as he’s scored two touchdowns. Part of the reason he wasn’t targeted too heavily in Week 2 was due to the Redskins using Josh Norman to shadow him. While Cooper can win that matchup (clearly), it was the toughest matchup on the field. We don’t know if the Dolphins will shadow Cooper with Xavien Howard, who is far and away the best cornerback on their roster, but it seems likely they will after finding out Gallup is out for 2-4 weeks. Through two weeks, Howard’s allowed just two catches for 17 yards in his coverage. The Dolphins will probably trade him before this game. I’m kidding… kind of. Again, if he were going to shadow anyone, it would be Cooper, making him a riskier start than most might think, though it’s important to note that Howard doesn’t travel into the slot. Cooper’s still going to be started in season-long leagues as a high-end WR2 but you shouldn’t be playing him in DFS cash-games this week.

Devin Smith: With Amari Cooper likely dealing with Xavien Howard in coverage, it should’ve allowed Michal Gallup to continue his hot start that had him leading the team in targets, receptions, and yardage through two games. His 15.1 yards per target ranks as the second-best mark in football among those who’ve seen at least 10 targets. Instead, he’s out for 2-4 weeks with a slight tear in his knee. Enter Smith, the former 2015 second-round pick who many had forgotten about. He played just 18 snaps in Week 2 but finished with three targets, catching all of them for 74 yards and a touchdown. He’ll see Eric Rowe in coverage, which has simply netted results. Through two weeks, he’s been burned for 10/136/2 on just 12 targets. Keep in mind that one of those two incompletions should have been his third touchdown allowed, but Tom Brady underthrew Antonio Brown. How lucky are you feeling? If Cooper is shut down by Xavien Howard, Smith would be the primary beneficiary. He’s a dart-throw WR4/5 but could be a good one in this matchup.

Randall Cobb: He’s as much of a full-time player as Gallup is in this offense, as he’s actually out-snapped Gallup 100-99. All of the Cowboys receivers have been highly efficient through two games and Cobb is no exception. The Dolphins are really struggling over the middle of the field, too. Of the eight passing touchdowns they’ve allowed, four of them have come in the slot. While Minkah Fitzpatrick was coming down to handle much of those duties last year, he’s likely to be gone sooner rather than later, as the Dolphins have granted him permission to seek a trade (update: he’s gone). Still, even he hasn’t been good this year, allowing three touchdowns in his coverage. Meanwhile, the Dolphins have turned to Jomal Wiltz as their primary cornerback in the slot, and he’s been flat-out abused. Last year’s undrafted free agent has allowed 6-of-7 passing for 126 yards and two touchdowns in his coverage. It’s difficult to project which Cowboys receiver should have the biggest game, as they all have specific things going their way, though there’s only so many attempts to go around. Cobb has been the No. 3 option, but he has a great matchup here, and the exit of Gallup frees up some targets. There are worse options as desperation WR3/4s this week.

Mike Gesicki:
Even though Gesicki was out-produced by Durham Smythe last week, he’s the Dolphins tight end with the biggest opportunity. He ran 30 routes compared to just nine for Smythe and six for Nick O’Leary. But even in games the Dolphins fell behind big, Gesicki has shown no improvement on the stat sheet with neither Ryan Fitzpatrick nor Josh Rosen, as he has just 42 yards on eight targets. When streaming the tight end position, you want one who has a good opportunity to score and it’s possible we never say that about the Dolphins this year. They’re a team projected for less than 14 points this week. Gesicki belongs on waiver wires.

Jason Witten: He may not be a sexy option in fantasy football, but he’s getting the job done at a very unpredictable position. He’s scored in each of his first two games back, even though they’ve only thrown the ball 62 times. His yardage (40) leaves a lot to be desired, but in matchups that we project more pass attempts, Witten may be a good streaming option. Unfortunately, it’s likely touchdown-or-bust against the Dolphins, as we shouldn’t expect anything more than maybe 25-28 pass attempts. The Dolphins have struggled with tight ends, allowing a combined 16-of-16 passing for 208 yards and one touchdown to the Ravens and Patriots options. Because of that, Witten can be streamed in a pinch, but you have to understand it’s likely touchdown-or-bust with him at his advanced age.

Cincinnati Bengals at Buffalo Bills

Total: 42.0
Line: BUF by 5.0

Andy Dalton:
Through two games under new head coach and play-caller Zac Taylor, Dalton has thrown the ball 93 times (second-most in NFL), while throwing for 729 yards (also second-most) and four touchdowns. The fact that they’ve done this without A.J. Green is rather impressive. Going into Buffalo will likely be the end of Dalton’s impressive start. Here are the quarterback performances in Buffalo last year.

Quarterback Yards TDs INTs FPts
Ryan Tannehill 147 0 2 2.8
Matthew Stafford 208 1 0 12.3
Sam Darnold 170 1 1 9.8
Blake Bortles 127 1 2 7.9
Mitch Trubisky 135 1 1 8.0
Tom Brady 324 0 0 13.8
Marcus Mariota 129 0 1 4.2
Philip Rivers 256 3 0 22.7


The first thing you’ll notice is that they played a lot of bad quarterbacks in 2018, but you should also notice that just one quarterback threw for more than one touchdown, and it was Philip Rivers in Week 2. That’s no surprise because the Bills as a team allowed six passing touchdowns in the first two weeks and then just 15 of them in the remaining 14 games. This is their home opener after being on the road for two weeks where they’ve allowed a league-low 4.94 yards per pass attempt. While Dalton has been a surprise to start the season, you don’t want to bank on that happening again this week. He’s not a recommended streamer, even in 2QB leagues. Update: he’s also likely to be without starting offensive tackle Andre Smith this week. 

Josh Allen: For those who continually avoid Allen in fantasy, there has to be a point when you ask yourself why. Over his last eight games, he’s had four top-five performances, and has been a top-15 quarterback in six of them. It’s clear he has some accuracy issues, but he continually gets it done in fantasy football. The Bengals allowed 11-of-16 quarterbacks to finish as top-13 options against them last year, and we just watched the 49ers struggling offense put up 41 points on the board against them, which included a top-six finish for Jimmy Garoppolo. They had a lot of issues tackling last week, which surely won’t help against the 6-foot-5, 240-pound Allen who’s only rushed for 59 yards through two games, though he does have two rushing touchdowns. The Bengals have now allowed 10.93 yards per attempt, which ranks as the second-highest mark in the league through two weeks, while Allen clearly likes to take shots down the field with his 8.9 intended air yards per pass, which ranks in the top half of the league. It also helps that one of the Bengals top pass-rushers, Carl Lawson, left last week’s game with a hamstring injury. If you’re looking for a streamer, you’re not likely to find one with the floor that Allen offers. He should be played as a low-end QB1 this week who offers top-five upside whenever he’s out there. He makes for a steady cash option this week in DFS, too.

Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard:
The good news: Mixon made it out of the Week 2 game without further injuring his ankle. The bad news: you wish he would’ve sat out after watching him post just 27 total yards. There’s some reason for that, though, as Michael Jordan (his starting left guard) left with a knee injury, and Andrew Smith (his starting left tackle) left with a groin injury. Smith was already the backup to Cordy Glenn, who was out, so the Bengals were down to a third-string tackle. We’ll have to pay attention to the injury reports for updates on the linemen, though this matchup isn’t very promising to begin with. The Bills have played Le’Veon Bell and Saquon Barkley the first two weeks and have allowed the 13th most fantasy points, which would rank outside RB1 range despite playing against two of the better running backs in the league, while on the road in both contests. The bright spot is that they allowed 17 rushing touchdowns last year (second-most) and have already allowed two running back touchdowns in 2019, though we already talked about who their opponents were. Mixon is part of a bad situation with that offensive line right now, but he is involved in the passing-game and should get all goal-line work. Consider him a middling RB2 for this contest, provided he gets part of his offensive line back. Bernard did play 27 snaps last week, so he’s more than just a handcuff to Mixon, but it’s clear this team is not in a good place with their offensive line, so he should remain on benches. Update: Jordan and Smith are listed as questionable for this game, though they may not be 100 percent, even if they do play. If inactive, Mixon loses even more appeal.  

Frank Gore and T.J. Yeldon: With rookie Devin Singletary out for this game with a hamstring injury that he suffered in their Week 2 win over the Giants, we should see a healthy dose of Gore in this game with some Yeldon mixed in. The Bengals were completely gashed by the 49ers run-game last week, allowing a combined 244 yards and two touchdowns on 36 carries, and another 84 yards and a touchdown through the air. Through two weeks of the NFL season, the Bengals are allowing 40.8 PPR points per game to running backs. Whether it be the massive 5.40 yards per carry or 8.43 yards per target to them, they’re below-average in every major statistical category. Before saying it’s too early to tell, they allowed a massive 4.95 yards per carry and 7.39 yards per target last year, which both ranked as the second-most in football. Gore had a great matchup with the Giants last week and totaled 83 total yards and a touchdown, finishing as a top-10 option at the running back position. He has another great matchup on his plate and can be started as a safe floor RB2/3 in this game. Yeldon would likely walk into the Singletary role that netted nine touches in Week 1 and then six touches in Week 2 before leaving in the second quarter with an injury. The Bengals have struggled with pass-catching running backs over the last few seasons and have already allowed two receiving touchdowns to them. If you’re looking for a running back who may be able to provide flex/RB4 numbers available on most waiver wires, Yeldon could be that guy.

Tyler Boyd:
In the newly-installed Zac Taylor offense, Boyd has 21 targets through two games that have amounted to a ridiculously-efficient 18 receptions for 182 yards. He hasn’t found the end zone yet, but that’ll come with time. It just so happens that the Bills weak spot in the secondary is the slot cornerback position, as starter Taron Johnson is dealing with a hamstring injury he suffered in Week 1 (already ruled out for this game), while backup Siran Neal has played just 72 snaps in the NFL. We watched Jamison Crowder rack-up 14 catches for 99 yards against this defense in Week 1 and then T.J. Jones, who started due to multiple injuries, tally 38 yards and a touchdown. Boyd should be a relatively safe WR2 play once again this week, though the Bills are likely to control the time of possession in this game, limiting the amount of plays the Bengals will run.

John Ross: Remember when Ross was a deemed “bad” by many analysts? Two games into the Zac Taylor era, Ross has totaled 20 targets, 11 receptions, 270 yards, and three touchdowns. By comparison, he had 210 yards on 60 targets under Marvin Lewis the last two years combined. Coaching matters, peeps. The Bills have been a pretty devastating unit against wide receivers recently, as they allowed just 16 wide receivers finish as top-36 options last year, which ranked as the ninth-fewest in the league. Is there any silver lining to this matchup? Well, yeah. Tre’Davious White and Levi Wallace are the starting perimeter cornerbacks for the Bills, and they’re both somewhat slow by NFL standards. White ran a 4.47-second 40-yard dash at his Combine, while Wallace run took 4.63 seconds during his performance. Ross’ speed has shown up in this offense, as he’s been targeted deep four times through two weeks, catching three of them for 79 yards and a touchdown. The best part about Ross is that Taylor isn’t locking him into a deep threat-only the way the old offense was, as Ross’ 11.3 air yards per target is rather middling. This is a tough matchup, regardless, but all it takes is one for Ross who should be considered a boom-or-bust WR4 in this game.

John Brown: Through two games, Brown is saying, “what accuracy issues?” He’s now caught 14-of-18 targets from Josh Allen at 13.9 yards a pop. He’s reminding everyone of how he was once a top-24 wide receiver in fantasy football on minimal targets, though his 18 targets through two weeks ranks top-20 at the wide receiver position. The Bengals cornerback duo of William Jackson and Dre Kirkpatrick might be the “highlight” of this defense, though that’s not saying much right now. Kirkpatrick may be on the decline of his career at this point, as he’s allowed 8-of-11 passing for 129 yards and two touchdowns through two weeks, while Jackson is more of a physical cornerback who Brown can beat with finesse. The Bengals play a lot of man coverage, which should help Brown, as Allen seemingly trusts him in one-on-one situations. Brown should remain in lineups as a WR3 until you have a reason not to. The Bengals are not that reason.

Cole Beasley: Behind John Brown, there’s not much appeal in the passing game, as Beasley is the next man up on the totem pole, playing just 80-of-136 snaps. He’s seen 13 targets, so we can’t completely dismiss him as a fantasy option. The Bengals have B.W. Webb as their slot cornerback, but he was forced to leave the game in Week 2 with an arm injury, though it was a blowout, so it may have been precautionary. Through two weeks with the Bengals, though, he’s been bad, allowing 5-of-5 passing for 88 yards and a touchdown in his coverage. There hasn’t been much of a reason to throw the ball a lot against the Bengals, which is why wide receivers have only totaled 24 targets against them through two weeks. Are there enough targets to go around to make Beasley startable? Considering his target share through two weeks, he can be looked at as an emergency WR5 who has more appeal in PPR formats. Update: Webb has been ruled out for this game, upgrading Beasley’s matchup a bit more. His backup is Tony McRae, who has seen just 15 targets in coverage over his career. On those targets, he’s allowed 11 receptions for 139 yards and two touchdowns. 

Tyler Eifert and C.J. Uzomah:
It seems the Bengals are moving more and more away from Eifert, even though he scored in Week 2. Through two weeks, here are the routes run by Bengals tight ends: Uzomah 43, Eifert 37, Drew Sample 12. It makes more sense why they signed him to a one-year deal knowing how much they apparently trust Uzomah. It’s been Eifert seeing double the targets, but if he continues to average 3.6 yards per target, that won’t keep up. The Bills have allowed just 6.60 yards per reception to tight ends this year, which included Evan Engram last week. It’s not a fluke either, as they allowed just a 56.3 percent completion rate to tight ends last year (lowest in the league), 5.89 yards per target (second-lowest), and 1.43 PPR points per target (second-lowest). It’s not a week to trust this timeshare.

Dawson Knox: Through two weeks, Knox is clearly the tight end to “own” in fantasy (if for some reason you had to pick one), as he’s run 48 routes compared to just 19 for Tommy Sweeney, the next man up. Unfortunately, Knox has averaged just 0.40 yards per route run, which ranks as one of the worst marks in the league for tight ends. And keep in mind he’s done that while Josh Allen has completed over 64 percent of his passes. It’s a shame, too, as the Bengals are allowing an average of 11.7 yards per target to the tight end position. This comes a year after they ranked in the bottom-three of nearly every statistic against tight ends, so it’s not a fluke. If you’re feeling lucky and want to play the Knox lottery, this is one of the best matchups you can ask for, but I wouldn’t recommend playing a tight end from Buffalo.

Atlanta Falcons at Indianapolis Colts

Total: 47.5
Line: IND by 2.5

Matt Ryan:
It was a weird game last Sunday night, as there were injuries all over the place, and while Ryan looked great at times, he looked horrible during others. One thing is for sure – he has the best wide receiver duo in the league. It looks like the Colts will be without one of their starting cornerbacks for this game, as Pierre Desir has a bone bruise on his knee. That’s only going to help against the Colts defense that’s allowed a combined 487 yards and four touchdowns to Philip Rivers and Marcus Mariota. Staying healthy in their secondary all of last season, the Colts secondary did allow a massive 70.8 percent completion rate to quarterbacks, which ranked as the second-highest mark to only the Bucs. What limited quarterback performance against them was the fact that they kept the play in front of them and allowed just a 3.88 percent touchdown rate, one of the lowest marks in the league. Going through their games from last year, however, I noticed they played just two games when their opponent had two legitimate receivers on the field (Bengals and Texans). In those games, they allowed 243/2 to Andy Dalton and 375/2 to Deshaun Watson. Knowing the Chargers had two legitimate options in Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, it’s no surprise to see Rivers’ finishing line of 333/3 in Week 1 this year. With Desir out, it’s not likely to get better. Ryan should be played as a solid QB1 this week.

Jacoby Brissett: Some are wondering if the Colts are going to be just fine without Andrew Luck after watching Brissett toss five touchdowns over the first two weeks. Those touchdowns are going to regress when you see his miniscule 6.1 yards per attempt, which ranks fifth-worst in football, even behind Eli Manning. The Falcons pass defense has gotten off the hook in each of the first two weeks, as they only had to face 10 Kirk Cousins passes in Week 1 due to a blowout, and then watched the Eagles pass-catchers drop like flies at the start of Week 2, leading to Nelson Agholor and Mack Hollins as the team’s top receivers. So, when you see that they haven’t allowed more than one passing touchdown in a game yet, there’s a reason for that, and it’s not because they’re crazy talented. They are healthy, which is something they couldn’t say last year. One thing to watch with Brissett in this matchup is his rushing, as the Falcons have allowed a rushing touchdown to a quarterback in each of their two games this year. We also watched Brissett rush seven times last week compared to just three times in the opener, so he appears comfortable taking off. Still, being held under 200 yards passing in each of his first two games isn’t ideal, but you can make the case that this is his best matchup yet. He can be played as a low-end QB2 in 2QB formats, though he’s not very appealing in standard formats.

Devonta Freeman and Ito Smith:
It’s been a brutal start to the season for Freeman, as he’s totaled just 41 yards on 19 carries (2.2 yards per carry) without a single touchdown and even lost a fumble. The snap count is also much closer than his owners would like, as he’s played 76 snaps compared to 61 for Smith. It doesn’t help that they lost their starting right guard for the year and then appeared to lose their starting right tackle last week (though he returned late in the game). Under Frank Reich, the Colts have still yet to allow a 100-yard rusher, though they have allowed a massive 5.50 yards per carry (sixth-most) through two games this season. They’ve also struggled at defending running backs through the air, as they’ve allowed 8.36 yards per target (fourth highest mark in the league). It’s possible that Freeman has caught them at the perfect time after having two brutal matchups against the Vikings and Eagles to start the year. Freeman has seen double the targets that Smith and has nearly double the carries. The Falcons have to know they’ll need Freeman to get going if they want to win games, and this game could help boost some of that confidence. He should be in lineups as a low-end RB2/high-end RB3 who might surprise given the Colts struggles. Smith is clearly getting more work than expected but knowing the lack of strength on the offensive line combined with them being on the road as an underdog doesn’t bode well for his role this week. He does appear to be Freeman’s direct handcuff, though. *Update* The Colts declared inside linebacker Darius Leonard out for this game, upgrading Freeman’s matchup. 

Marlon Mack and Nyheim Hines: Through two weeks of the NFL season, Mack leads the league in carries with 45 of them, while his 225 yards ranks third. Against the Chargers and Titans, his owners should be ecstatic. The Falcons defense did shut down the Eagles last week, but this is clearly a better matchup than Mack’s had the first two weeks. The biggest area of weakness for the Falcons is through the air, as running backs have continually crushed them with receiving totals. They allowed a massive 243.6 PPR points through the air alone last year, which was the most in football. That alone would have ranked as the No. 10 running back in fantasy football last year, ahead of Joe Mixon. The Colts said they’d be using Mack more in the passing game, though three targets through the first two games isn’t ideal. One tidbit I did find, however, was that Mack has run 37 pass routes to this point, which is the 18th-most among running backs, so it could be a sign that his production will come. Last year, he averaged just 14.3 routes per game, so we’re seeing a slight improvement. Combining that with his rushing totals, and you have yourself a high-end RB2 with RB1 upside if those routes start netting targets. Knowing the Falcons allowed 11 running back performances of 18.9-plus PPR points last year (the average performance of an RB1), Mack may just be that RB1 this week. Hines ran 21.6 pass routes per game last year but has averaged just 9.5 in the two games this year, meaning he’s not to be used in fantasy, even in a game against a team that’s allowed tons of production in his area of expertise. He’s droppable at this point. *Update* Mack popped up on the injury report with a calf injury. He participated in what was called a “modified practice” on Wednesday, but then missed practice on Thursday, and was limited in practice on Friday. He’s listed as questionable, so if you’re looking to snag his handcuff, it’d be Jordan Wilkins, though they would mix Hines in a bit more, too. 

Julio Jones:
First, it’s difficult to defend Jones when your team is 100 percent healthy, but knowing the Colts are without their top cornerback Pierre Desir certainly won’t help them contain Jones. It means Jones will see a lot of Rock Ya-Sin and Quincy Wilson in this game, a duo that shouldn’t scare anyone. Ya-Sin is a rookie who’s been torched for four catches, 66 yards, and a touchdown on just four targets in coverage. Wilson is the more experienced of the two, though the Colts didn’t seem to think he was the better option, as they had Ya-Sin playing over him to start the year. They’ll now be forced to play both of them. Wilson is not a world-class athlete, as he ran just a 4.54-second 40-yard dash. We saw what Jones can do with his speed last week when he took a screen pass to the house, outrunning everyone on the Eagles roster. Knowing that Ridley isn’t as good versus zone coverage, this could be a big Julio week. Play him as a WR1 and expect results.

Calvin Ridley: Despite playing across from maybe the best receiver in football, Ridley is the No. 10 wide receiver in fantasy after two weeks. They can clearly support two top-tier fantasy options, though this is a week where Julio Jones is likely to play the bigger role. Ridley flat-out dominates man-coverage but has been just a bit over average against zone, which is what the Colts run more than any other team in the league. They played man coverage just 23 percent of the time in 2018. The duo of Quincy Wilson and Rock Ya-Sin will be tasked with covering Ridley and Jones, as Pierre Desir will miss this game with a knee injury. Knowing the Colts allowed just eight wide receivers to hit 14.9 PPR points last year (the average WR2 performance), it seems unlikely there’d be two studs to come out of the Falcons receiver group. Because of that, Ridley is more of a WR3 this week who’s likely to take a backseat to Jones.

Mohamed Sanu: Given the matchups for Jones and Ridley, it’s tough to see Sanu being much of a safety valve for Ryan in this matchup. He has what’s likely the toughest matchup of the trio, as Kenny Moore‘s been a stable presence over the middle of the field for Frank Reich. But here’s the catch – the Colts play a lot of zone, so Moore isn’t always directly covering the slot receiver and there will be times where Sanu gets matched-up with linebackers. It’s the reason we saw more than a few slot-heavy receivers do well against the Colts last year. He could be an interesting guy to play in a tournament, but is his upside really going to win you anything? It’s unlikely, making Sanu just a sneaky WR5-type filler in redraft leagues who doesn’t have a high enough floor to start.

T.Y. Hilton: He’s now seen 15 of the 29 targets directed at Colts wide receivers, so it’s fair to say he’s a favorite of Brissett. It’s not just the targets, either, as he’s seen 50.4 percent of the team’s air yards. By comparison, the league leader in 2018 was Julio Jones with 45.6 percent. There were just two receivers who totaled more than 38 percent of their team’s air yards. So, it’s either Hilton regresses a bit or he’s going to continue performing like a WR1. His 8.7 yards per target is the lowest mark since 2015, so he’s relying on the touchdowns a bit too much at this point. The Falcons have allowed just two receiving touchdowns through two weeks, with both going to slot receivers. Some remember Hilton as slot-heavy, though his role has changed a bit in Reich’s offense, as he’s been in the slot just 28 percent of the time.  He’ll see a lot of Desmond Trufant, who didn’t play against Hilton last year, but he did play against Reich’s offense in the playoffs in 2017 when he allowed 4-of-4 passing for just 39 yards in his coverage. Trufant is also coming off a game with two interceptions, so Brissett may choose to be a bit risk-averse. Still, Hilton moves to the other side of the field and into the slot the other 55 percent of the time, so they can choose other matchups. In eight games at home under Reich, Hilton has averaged 95.8 yards per game, so you’re starting him. While I still think there’s a lower floor than most realize, Hilton should be plugged in as a WR2 this week.

Parris Campbell, Deon Cain, Zach Pascal, and Chester Rogers: In the first game without Devin Funchess, we saw a messy timeshare with the Colts receivers behind Hilton. The snap counts were Cain 32, Pascal 31, Rogers 28, and Campbell 18. While none of them were complete standouts, Campbell showcased his electrifying speed as he simply outran veteran Logan Ryan in man coverage for an easy touchdown. He needs more playing time. Both he and Rogers are playing 70-plus percent of their snaps in the slot, though it hasn’t led to many targets. Knowing the Falcons have allowed touchdowns to slot receivers in back-to-back weeks, it makes us wonder which one could be the play here. While it seems like Rogers, there’s too much uncertainty. If you want to take a shot in tournaments, it’d be Campbell, as he has game-breaking speed and can rip off a long touchdown from anywhere on the field, but with him running just 20 routes over the first two weeks isn’t ideal. Let’s take a wait-and-see approach to the Colts receivers behind Hilton.

Austin Hooper:
You were warned about the matchup last week, as the Eagles are one of the best units when it comes to defending tight ends. The good news is that Hooper’s 15 targets through two weeks ranks sixth at the tight end position. The Colts have had two tough matchups to open the year, but have performed rather well in them, holding Hunter Henry to 4/60/0 on five targets, and then Delanie Walker to 4/39/0 on six targets. It’s a small sample size, though they appear a bit improved from last year when they allowed 14 tight ends to finish as top-16 options against them, including 10 of them to finish top-10. The one area you have to like for Hooper is how zone-heavy they are, as it allows for tight ends to just sit and post up in a zone. We saw him targeted much more versus zone coverages last year, though three of his four touchdowns came against man coverage. Still, he should be able to provide a stable floor against a Colts defense that allowed a league-high 79.8 percent completion-rate to tight ends last year (sits at 75.0 percent this year). Hooper should be in the TE1 conversation and is one of the safer options to play.

Eric Ebron and Jack Doyle: Yes, it’s still a timeshare, as Ebron has run 35 routes while Doyle has run 32 routes. Still, the duo has combined for just 74 yards through two weeks, which isn’t great. Ebron is apparently the one they still look to in the red zone, as he should have two touchdowns already, but he dropped one. The Falcons were the 10th-best team against tight ends last year and they were above average across the board. That’s continued with a healthy defense in 2019, as they held Zach Ertz to just eight catches for 72 yards on 16 targets in Week 2. Some may see that as a big performance, but on 16 targets, it’s really not. In fact, the 0.89 PPR points per target the Falcons are allowing to tight ends ranks third-lowest in the NFL through two weeks. Ebron is just a touchdown-dependent TE2 while Doyle should be on waiver wires.

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