The Primer: Week 8 Edition (2020 Fantasy Football)
Thoughts are things.
I found out earlier this week that my mom had to go into the hospital with some severe chest pain. As a son who’s already lost his father, that’s the last thing you want to hear. As I sat at my computer trying to write-up football games yesterday, I was struggling to stay focused, so I just put on my headphones and took a walk around my neighborhood. On that walk, I heard some lyrics that reminded me of something I really wanted to share. This is a clip from NF, song titled “The Search.”
“The point I’m makin’ is the mind is a powerful place. And what you feed it can affect you in a powerful way.
It’s pretty cool, right? Yeah, but it’s not always safe. Just hang with me, this’ll only take a moment, okay?
Just think about it for a second, if you look at your face every day when you get up and think you’ll never be great,
you’ll never be great, not because you’re not, but the hate will always find a way to cut you up and murder your faith.”
Why did that hit home with me on this particular day? Well, there’s a backstory to my mom and why she’s in the hospital. You know those moms who your friends stop by to chat with, even when you’re not home? You know the ones who are always there for you when you need them most? The ones who’ll literally switch around everything in their life to make it work for you? Yeah, my mom is that person and I love her for that. It’s also been one of the hardest things in my life to watch her go through what she has over the last 12 years.
She helped my dad fight a multi-year battle with cancer, and we (Mom, brother, sister) were all there bedside with him when he passed. I’ve forgotten a lot of things in life, but I’ll never forget that moment. It’s hard on a person. Just a few years later, she lost her mom to numerous health issues. My mom was there by her bedside as she passed. Fast forward another couple years and she lost her childhood best friend that she talked to every day to cancer. My mom was there by her bedside when she passed. And last, just recently, she lost her dad to numerous health issues. She’d moved him into her house so that she could be by his bedside.
Not one person should have to go through that much heartache over a 12-year period, but she has, and it’s caused her to start worrying about her own health in the long run. She’ll call me in the middle of the day stressing out and just start asking me about things, and I’ll say, “Mom, stop worrying about it. Seriously, you’re worrying about something that hasn’t happened, and isn’t going to happen. You’re not going anywhere.” She’s constantly thinking that something is going to be wrong and that she won’t be prepared. Thoughts are things.
She walked into the hospital with massive chest pain and is going to need surgery to fix it. Was it because of her thoughts? Maybe not completely, but what I do know is that the stress she puts herself under worrying about things that’ve never happened did not help.
Think about it. If you wake up in the morning and look at yourself in the mirror after being on a diet and think, “Ugh, I don’t look good at all.” You’re going to be in the kitchen and think, “Oh, what’s the point. I’ve been working at it and I’m not going anywhere,” so you grab the junk food that’ll only lead to further disappointment in the mirror. If you look in the mirror and say, “Look body, you’re going to get there whether you like it or not, because I’m in control of our fate,” you’re going to have different results.
Do you play golf? They call it a mental game, right? Why do you think that is? One of the most important thing someone told me about golf is to envision your shot when taking your practice swings and your body will do the rest. If you walk up to the ball thinking you’re going to chunk it, you’re going to take a massive chunk out of the earth. Believe me, I’ve been there.
I love my mom and have been hoping and praying that everything turns out okay. But if you’ve heard anything I’ve said here, do yourself a favor and think positively today. The next time you go in front of the mirror, look at yourself and say something positive. Push away those negative thoughts because they are, in fact, things.
So, what does The Primer offer? Anything you could ever want. Seriously, it’ll have wide receiver/cornerback matchups, recent history against each team, comparable player performances, unique stats, and most importantly, how they should be played that particular week. The idea here is to give you as much information and confidence as possible when you hit that ‘Submit Lineup’ button each week.
On top of all that, I’ll come back by Saturday morning to update once practice participation reports are posted. Still want more? We’ll be doing a livestream on our YouTube channel every Sunday morning from 11-12 EST, breaking down the inactives and letting you know which players benefit the most from them.
New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills
Line: BUF by 3.5
Cam Newton: It was another game to forget for Newton last week, as he was actually benched for poor play. Over the last three games, Newton has completed 43-of-68 passes for 417 yards (6.1 yards per attempt) with just one touchdown and six interceptions. His rushing totals can certainly bail him out, but the matchup against the 49ers proved to be more than he could handle. Outside of Sam Darnold, every quarterback who’s played the Bills has finished with at least 20 fantasy points. The question is: Does Newton belong in the conversation with Darnold at this point? Bills opponents have thrown the ball just 56.5 percent of the time while the Patriots have thrown the ball just 50.8 percent of the time, so this matchup should bring production on the ground. Does it come from Newton or the running backs? He has accounted for five of the eight rushing touchdowns that the Patriots have, and the Bills have allowed two rushing touchdowns to quarterbacks this year. The downside is that the Bills have not allowed a quarterback to rush for more than 42 yards over their last 23 games. If Newton comes out cold again, they could decide to bench him in a quicker fashion before the game gets out of hand. There’s a lot of risk with him playing the way he is, and though this matchup has been good for quarterbacks, it’s been through the air where 5-of-7 quarterbacks have thrown for two-plus touchdowns. Newton is still someone you should feel comfortable playing as a QB2 in Superflex leagues, but he’s a relatively weak streaming choice in standard formats, though his floor should be higher than most in the middling QB2 area, though the loss of Edelman hurts his passing projection.
Josh Allen: He was in the running for league MVP through three weeks. Just three weeks later, his fantasy managers are pulling their hair out. Last week was the first one Allen didn’t throw at least two touchdowns, so it’s not full-blown panic mode, but we’re starting to see shades of the quarterback we saw in 2019. Can he get back on track against a Patriots defense that hasn’t been nearly as good as many expected? Did you know the Patriots have allowed 8.58 yards per attempt, which is the second-highest mark in football, behind only the Falcons? The reason we haven’t seen massive numbers against them is due to lack of volume, as their opponents have averaged just 59.2 plays per game and have chosen to run the ball 50.1 percent of the time, which is the second-highest rate in football. The only quarterback who averaged less than 7.88 yards per attempt was Ryan Fitzpatrick way back in Week 1. So, it’s clearly a different team than the one Allen struggled with last year when he threw for just 361 yards, two touchdowns, and three interceptions in the two games combined. He did rush for 69 yards and a touchdown in those games, which certainly helps. It’s also good to see Allen rush 19 times over the last two weeks (for 103 yards), as he’d rushed just 15 times in the previous four games combined. We also can’t pretend that his floor is that low considering he’s played poorly the last three weeks but has still scored 15.1 or more points in every game. This seems to be a slow-paced game, which concerns me, but Allen remains in the mid-to-low-end QB1 territory. *Update* It does help that Patriots top cornerback Stephon Gilmore may not play in this game.
Sony Michel, Damien Harris, James White, and Rex Burkhead: This backfield is a mess, we already knew that. It’s only going to get worse if Michel is activated off the IR/COVID list this week, though I’d suspect one of him or Harris would be inactive. But one touch for White last week? What are they doing? Here is the weighted opportunity chart per week among these running backs:
In case you didn’t know, this is not good for fantasy purposes. White has had a semi-consistent role in the offense, which is why Week 7 was such a surprise. The Bills opponents have run the ball 43.5 percent of the time, which ranks as the 12th-highest mark, but we know Newton will steal some of those carries. The 113.9 fantasy points they’ve allowed on the ground ranks as the fifth-most in the league, while the 49.1 PPR points they’ve allowed through the air ranks as the sixth-fewest in the league. Expect the Patriots to try and run the ball quite a bit in this game, as three of the last four opponents the Bills have totaled at least 97 yards on the ground against them with running backs alone. For now, we’ll assume that Michel remains out and play Harris as a low-end RB3 option who should net at least a dozen carries. We have to shake off White’s big fat zero last week, as he’s had a stable role in this offense for a while, but the matchup is not ideal. Consider him an RB3/flex option this week now that Edelman was ruled out. As for Burkhead, he’s had a bigger role than most realize, totaling at least 47 yards in 4-of-6 games, but he’s still not someone you should trust more than an emergency RB4 with everyone healthy.
Devin Singletary and Zack Moss: It’s no secret that the Bills are struggling to run the ball. Because of that, we’ve watched them pass the ball on 61.1 percent of their plays, but will that change against the Patriots who’ve faced a run-play on 50.1 percent of snaps, which is the second-highest number in the league? And if they do, who’ll get more touches? Both Singletary and Moss finished with 10 touches last week, though it was Moss who was more efficient, totaling 72 yards to Singletary’s 47 yards. The Patriots have allowed a stable 4.59 yards per carry and 6.55 yards per target to running backs, but they’ve only faced the fourth-lowest weighted opportunity, which has limited production. How is that possible if teams are running the ball on 50.1 percent of snaps? Well, their opponents have averaged just 59.2 plays per game, which is the second-lowest number in the league. Knowing the Bills running backs have averaged 20.7 touches per game despite running 64.0 plays per game is not ideal. Even if we put them at a 50/50 timeshare, we have no guaranteed that either of them finishes with 10 touches. Singletary has been trending in the wrong direction, as his snaps have gone 55, 54, 45, 41, 40 over the last five games. He’s slowly losing the grip on the primary back, as Moss played 35 snaps last week. Both of these running backs are in the low-end RB3/flex conversation, but it might be wise to predict the switch before it happens, so I’ll say I prefer Moss.
Julian Edelman: Along with Cam Newton‘s struggles, Edelman appears to be a prime drop candidate for fantasy managers, as he’s now failed to top three catches or 35 yards in each of his last four games. Week 7 was the first time he didn’t see at least six targets, but even with his high target floor, production has been hard to come by. It’s tough to start him with any confidence, even if the Bills have struggled with slot-heavy receivers over the last two years. It’s pretty crazy to think about the fact that the Bills have allowed 20-plus fantasy points to quarterbacks in 5-of-7 games, but they’ve allowed the seventh-fewest fantasy points to wide receivers. Still, they do get beaten over the middle of the field, as we’ve seen Jamison Crowder and Cooper Kupp both post 100-plus yards, and we’ve also seen them allow three tight ends to hit 65-plus yards. Edelman is running 75 percent of his routes from the slot, and the Patriots don’t use a tight end, so is this a week where Edelman surprises and pops back up on the fantasy radar? I’d consider him a WR4 who should do better than that ranking, though his recent performances drag his ranking down. *Update* He’s been ruled out for this game after having surgery on his knee.
Stefon Diggs: Well, he got the targets we thought he would against the Jets last week. Unfortunately, the results of those targets weren’t what we’d hoped against the Jets weak secondary. This is one of those situations where you say process over results, as I’d play Diggs as a WR1 all over again if I knew he’d be getting 11 targets against that defense. We do have to start baking the risk of Josh Allen‘s inconsistency into Diggs’ ranking, but despite the recent struggles, Diggs has still caught at least six passes and scored 14.9 PPR points in 6-of-7 games. The Patriots are surely going to have Stephon Gilmore cover Diggs, though that hasn’t been a matchup that’s a must-avoid this year. He’s allowed 15-of-24 passing for 209 yards and two touchdowns in his coverage, which is good for a 100.9 QB Rating. As crazy as it sounds, the Patriots have allowed the third-most yards per target to wide receivers as a whole. Diggs should remain in lineups as a solid WR2. *Update* Diggs’ matchup might get a bump this week, as Gilmore has been ruled as questionable.
John Brown: It seemed like a wise move to hold Brown out against the Jets, as it seems like he’s been trying to play through injuries, and it’s clearly affected his productivity, as he hasn’t topped 42 yards since back in Week 2. He didn’t practice at all last week, so there’s no guarantee he makes it back for this week. The Patriots have allowed just the 11th fewest fantasy points to wide receivers, but it’s not because they’ve been great. They’ve faced the second-fewest targets in the league (101) through their six games. So, from an efficiency standpoint, they’re actually one of the worst secondaries in the league. We’ve already watched nine wide receivers total 11.5 or more PPR points against them, a mark that just 13 receivers hit against them through 16 games last year. The one Brown would see the most of is J.C. Jackson, who has actually been their best cornerback, allowing just 7.63 yards per target and a 64.5 QB Rating in his coverage. Given the limited volume against the Patriots, it might just be best to ensure Brown is healthy before sticking him in lineups, especially with Allen struggling a bit over the last three weeks. *Update* Brown practiced all week and was removed from the injury report. It also seems the Patriots may be shorthanded in the secondary, as Stephon Gilmore has been listed as questionable. Brown should be considered a risk/reward WR4.
Cole Beasley: The Beasley tracker continues. We’ve made this a thing. He’s now totaled at least 9.0 PPR points in 19-of-22 games since the start of the 2019 season. He’s seen at least six targets in 6-of-7 games this year, including 12 targets in Week 7, which was the third-highest total of his career. The Patriots have struggled a bit with slot receivers, as we’ve watched Tyler Lockett post 7/67/1, Tyreek Hill 4/64/1, and Hunter Renfrow 6/84/1 against them. In two matchups against them last year, when they were a much better defense, Beasley posted 7/75/0 in the first game, and then 7/108/0 in the second game. Knowing there have been nine receivers who’ve already posted 11.5 PPR points against the Patriots, it makes you feel even better about his floor. The Patriots slot cornerback Jonathan Jones has been targeted once every 4.2 snaps, which ranks as the third-highest mark in the league. Beasley should be considered a high-floor, high-end WR4.
Ryan Izzo: If there’s a game where you can simply ignore all tight ends, it’s this one. The Patriots have played six games, and despite having a lack of receiving threats, no Patriots tight end has seen more than three targets in a game, and no tight end has recorded more than 38 yards or scored a touchdown. Avoid.
Tyler Kroft and Dawson Knox: There is not a Bills tight end you can play with any confidence. We’re almost halfway through the season, and no Bills tight end has topped five targets in a game. In fact, there have been just two occasions where a tight end has seen more than three targets. Nevermind the fact that the Patriots are one of the best in the league at stopping tight ends.
Tennessee Titans at Cincinnati Bengals
Line: TEN by 5.5
Ryan Tannehill: Despite being in a very tough matchup against the Steelers, Tannehill did what he’s done ever since he took over the Titans starting job and gave fantasy managers a rock-solid floor. He’s now scored at least 17.3 fantasy points in 14-of-16 starts with the Titans. Keep in mind that he’s done all this while Derrick Henry has led the league in rushing. Is Henry going to crush the Bengals defense this week? He sure is. But does that mean Tannehill can’t do damage? No, it doesn’t. Here are their fantasy points side-by-side since Tannehill took over as the starter:
There’s room for both of them to produce, especially when they have a team-implied total of 30.0 points like they do in Week 8. The Bengals have allowed the combination of Baker Mayfield and Philip Rivers to throw for 668 yards and eight touchdowns over the last two weeks, and it only took them 72 pass attempts to get there. The only quarterback who didn’t account for at least two touchdowns against the Bengals was Tyrod Taylor back in Week 1. It also helps matters that both of these teams (Titans and Bengals) rank inside the top-eight in total plays per game. Tannehill should be in fantasy lineups as a QB1 almost every week, and this one is no exception.
Joe Burrow: It’s pretty remarkable what Burrow’s been able to do as a rookie who had no preseason action. He’s thrown for at least 300 yards in 5-of-7 games, with the two games he didn’t coming against the Chargers and Ravens, two top-tier defenses. He’s been a top-12 quarterback through seven weeks, and knowing that A.J. Green has started to come around, we may continue to see his performances get better, like last week when he racked up a career-high 406 yards against the Browns. The Titans are a team that should be a good matchup for Burrow considering where much of their production goes. Wide receivers have seen a 63.7 percent target share against the Titans, which ranks third-highest in the league, and it’s where Burrow directs 66.6 percent of his targets. Not just that, but the Bengals pass 63.5 percent of the time (fifth-highest in NFL) while the Titans opponents have run 67.5 plays per game, so we should see 40-plus attempts in this game. It also helps to know that Burrow might have more time than normal, as the Titans haven’t recorded more than two sacks in any game and have the third-lowest sack-rate (2.86 percent) in the NFL. The only quarterback who didn’t finish with at least two passing touchdowns against them was Drew Lock back in Week 1. When you’re getting 40-plus attempts, and some potential for rushing upside (has rushed for 121 yards and three touchdowns), you have what I’d consider a strong streamer. *Update* Burrow will be without three starting offensive linemen this week, including his left tackle. This isn’t ideal, but their blocking has been an issue all season.
Derrick Henry: Despite already getting his bye out of the way, Henry is tied for the league lead in broken tackles on the ground (27). His 3.47 yards after contact is flat-out ridiculous. He’s now going into a matchup with a defense that’s allowed 5.06 yards per carry, the second-highest mark in the league, behind only the Texans (who allowed Henry 212 rushing yards a few weeks ago). Teams have only run the ball against the Bengals 42.4 percent of the time, which is pretty low, and is the reason they’ve faced just 22.4 carries per game. The Titans run the ball 46.7 percent of the time and Henry has totaled at least 19 carries in every game this year. There have already been eight running backs who’ve posted at least 60 yards on the ground, including 124 yards and two touchdowns to Nick Chubb back in Week 2. Going back to last year, they allowed seven different running backs to finish as top-12 options and have already allowed four such running backs in 2020. They haven’t allowed much production through the air to running backs, but we know not to expect that out of Henry by now. Start him as a rock-solid RB1 who should post a top-10 performance.
Giovani Bernard: I could be wrong assuming Joe Mixon will be held out for this week, but knowing they have their bye week after this game, it seems to make too much sense considering they called him “week-to-week” with his foot injury. Bernard filled in well, taking over the workhorse role and accounting for 18 of the 20 running back touches available. He also turned them into 96 total yards and a touchdown, which was more than Mixon was able to do against the same defense back in Week 2. This is why we play running backs who are locked into 15-plus touches. The Titans have allowed a healthy 4.83 yards per carry to running backs this year, which is the seventh-highest number in the league, though that’s not where Bernard gets a ton of his value, as the Bengals running backs have averaged a combined 3.51 yards per carry behind their poor offensive line. The area where Bernard offered a lot of value last week was through the air, which is where the Titans have done a good job, as they’ve allowed just 4.75 yards per target, which is the seventh-lowest mark in the league. Still, volume matters, and every running back who’s totaled more than 12 touches against them (there’s been five of them) have totaled 13.9 or more PPR points. Bernard should be considered a stable RB2 as long as Mixon is ruled out, though he’s not in what I’d call a “smash spot.” *Update* Mixon has been ruled OUT.
A.J. Brown: He’s really made his mark since returning to the lineup, racking up 293 yards and four touchdowns in three games. He’s averaging 8.0 targets per game since his return, which isn’t what we’d consider ELITE volume, but it’s plenty given the fact that he and Tannehill break all efficiency models. The Bengals don’t have a shadow cornerback, so the matchup will be against a combination of William Jackson (if he returns from his concussion) and Darius Phillips in coverage. Their unit as a whole has allowed the 17th-most fantasy points to wide receivers, including 1.90 PPR points per target, the 10th-highest mark in the league. Through seven games, they’ve already allowed seven different wide receivers to post 15.4-plus PPR points and finish as top-20 options against them, so the floor should be intact. There’s no reason to ever consider benching Brown in redraft leagues, and though this matchup is solid, it’s possible that Derrick Henry steals the show. For DFS purposes, I’d reserve Brown for a tournament play with his lack of truly elite targets in a matchup that Henry should run for a while.
Corey Davis: He saw a team-high 10 targets last week, though they only led to six catches for 35 yards. Fortunately, he caught a touchdown, which salvaged his fantasy day. The 10 targets were his highest total since Week 10 of 2018. He hasn’t been a sexy start, but Davis has now seen at least five targets in each of his four games and has topped 11.9 PPR points in every one. With Tannehill playing at such a high level, it gives him fantasy value. The Bengals have allowed 1.90 PPR points per target to wide receivers, and that’s led to 10 different receivers finishing with at least 10.9 PPR points and as a top-40 option. He’ll see Darius Phillips in coverage most of the game, a third year cornerback who’s allowed 16-of-28 passing for 253 yards and two touchdowns this year. He’s only seen 70 targets in coverage over the course of his career but has allowed six touchdowns on them (one every 11.7 targets), so Davis might find a touchdown once again this week. He should be considered a mediocre WR4 option who’s presented a higher floor than most realize.
Adam Humphries: After seeing at least six targets in each of his first five games, Humphries disappeared in Week 7 and caught just 1-of-3 targets for 19 yards. It’s just one game, but we have to understand that with everyone healthy, his target floor was always going to dip. That’s a problem, as we were never going to play him as a ceiling option. The Bengals have faced an average of 18.7 targets per game to wide receivers, which doesn’t feel like enough to find more than a handful of targets for Humphries. Mackensie Alexander has struggled a bit in coverage, but there’s no way we can start Humphries as anything more than a WR5/6-type option.
Tyler Boyd: I hope you took my advice and bought low on Boyd, who I view as the No. 1 receiver in this offense. His current 16-game pace is 139 targets, 110 receptions, 1,182 yards, and five touchdowns. That would’ve been enough to be the No. 7 wide receiver in PPR formats last year. This matchup against the Titans is great for the Bengals wide receiver trio, as 63.7 percent of the passes their opponents have thrown have been directed at wide receivers, which is the third-highest mark in the league. It also helps to know that they’ve allowed the second-fewest yards per reception to wide receivers, as that seems to highlight Boyd’s role over the middle of the field, while both Green and Higgins have been targeted further down the field (both have average depth of targets of 13.5-plus yards) while Boyd has averaged just 8.8 air yards per target. The Titans have used a combination of Chris Jackson and Kristian Fulton (who was injured in Week 7) to defend the slot, and they’ve combined to allow 24-of-30 passing for 238 yards and two touchdowns. Keep Boyd in lineups as a stable WR2.
Tee Higgins: Despite seeing 15 fewer targets than A.J. Green on the season, Higgins has totaled 113 more yards and three more touchdowns than him. Higgins has also scored at least 10.2 PPR points in each of his last five games (since he joined the starting lineup). Despite seeing no targets in Week 1 and playing a limited role in Week 2, Higgins is the No. 24 receiver in PPR formats. Now going into a game against the Titans, who’ve faced the fourth-most wide receiver targets in football. Higgins lines up at RWR most of the time, which means he’ll see veteran Johnathan Joseph in coverage more than anyone else. He’s a 36-year-old cornerback who is certainly on the downturn of his career, allowing 14.7 yards per reception and three touchdowns on 23 targets in coverage through seven games. There have already been 13 wide receivers who’ve totaled at least 10.7 PPR points against them this year, so when you combine that with Higgins’ floor since joining the starting lineup, you have yourself a strong WR3 this week.
A.J. Green: If we started the season in Week 6, we’d be looking at Green like the player he’s always been. He’s racked up 24 targets and turned them into 15 receptions for 178 yards over the last two weeks. He’s still not found the endzone this season on 58 targets, which is the highest target total without a touchdown. The closest players are Julian Edelman and Jarvis Landry who’ve both seen 39 targets. With Burrow playing the way he is, it’s only a matter of time. Is this the week where Green finds his first touchdown? The Titans have allowed nine touchdowns to wide receivers, which is the sixth-most in the league. It also doesn’t hurt that Green’s primary matchup this week will be with Malcolm Butler, who’s seen a league-high 48 targets in coverage. He’s allowed just one touchdown in his coverage, but he’s allowed 376 yards in his coverage, which is the eighth-most in football, so teams do believe he’s the one to target. Knowing the Titans have faced an average of 25.2 targets per game to wide receivers alone, Green should have no issues getting up there in the targets again. It’s fair to say he’s back on the WR3 radar this week, and the arrow is pointing up.
Jonnu Smith: In the two games where every wide receiver was healthy, Smith has seen 11 of the team’s 73 targets for a relatively weak 15.1 percent target share. That’s not ideal, even if Smith has been hyper efficient with his targets. The good news about a potential bounce-back is that teams have targeted their tight ends 25.7 percent of the time against the Bengals this year (3rd-most in NFL), which bodes extremely well for his floor. They’ve played seven games and have allowed seven top-15 tight end performances, including two of them last week to the Browns tight ends, as Harrison Bryant and David Njoku combined for six catches, 76 yards, and three touchdowns. They’ve allowed 480 yards to the tight end position, which ranks as the third-most in the NFL. Smith should be back in lineups as a rock-solid TE1 this week who should get back on track.
Drew Sample: It’s been a bumpy ride for Sample whose target totals have gone 1, 9, 1, 5, 2, 1, 6. There’s nothing predictable about that except for a low floor. He’s reached 45 yards in three different games, though two of them were against the Browns and one was against the Jaguars; so, teams that have struggled against tight ends. The next question is: Do the Titans struggle with tight ends? Well, they’ve allowed at least 50 yards and/or a touchdown to 5-of-6 tight ends they played with the only exception being Dawson Knox who saw just three targets. They’ve allowed the seventh-most fantasy points per game to the tight end position, including 2.05 PPR points per target, which is the 10th-most. It’s a plus-matchup, though the receivers have great matchups, too. Sample should be considered a middling TE2 who might not be the worst solution to bye week issues but understand that his floor is lower than most.
Las Vegas Raiders at Cleveland Browns
Line: CLE by 2.5
Derek Carr: He continued his hot start to the season against the Bucs last week, as he’s currently sitting as the No. 14 quarterback in points per game. He’s now totaled at least 19.3 fantasy points in three straight games, and he was being consistent even before then. Fun fact: Week 7 was the first time this season where Carr completed fewer than 71 percent of his passes. He’s hit at least 7.1 yards per attempt in every game, so despite the lack of rushing upside, he’s delivering fantasy relevant performances. The Browns have allowed 107.5 fantasy points per game through seven games, which ranks as the fourth-highest number in football. Almost all the production they’ve allowed to quarterbacks has been through the air, too, as they’ve allowed the second-most fantasy points through the air alone. The volume helps, as they’ve faced the second-most pass attempts on the season. Their opponents have averaged a robust 40.7 pass attempts per game, so volume has been carrying what’s been slightly above average efficiency for their opponents (Browns are 11th in points per actual pass attempt). 64.1 percent of plays against the Browns have been pass plays, which ranks as the third-highest mark in the game. So, if Carr gets the volume that most quarterback have against the Browns and continues his efficient ways, he should be throwing for close to 300 yards this week, and he’s thrown multiple touchdowns in five straight games. Carr is a better streamer than you might think.
Baker Mayfield: Who would’ve thought that Mayfield would play better after losing Odell Beckham for the year? He only threw 28 passes against the Bengals last week, but he made them count, completing a season-high 22 passes for 297 yards and five touchdowns. I do believe he was forcing the issue with Beckham at times, so maybe it’s best if he just lets the game come to him. The downside, however, is that he’s thrown more than 30 pass attempts just twice all year. Is the matchup good enough to overcome the lack of volume? You know how everyone looks forward to the fantasy matchup with the Falcons? Well, the Raiders are right behind them allowing their opponents 1.67 fantasy points per offensive play, which ranks as the second-highest mark in the NFL. They’ve allowed the fourth-most points per game to quarterbacks, which seems great, right? Well, not so fast. Through the air alone, they’ve allowed the 16th-most fantasy points. The 82 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns they’ve allowed to quarterbacks bumps them up quite a bit in the rankings. You know the 22 completions that Mayfield had last week? Well, the Raiders have allowed at least 22 completions to 5-of-6 quarterbacks and have allowed 270-plus yards in 5-of-6 games. Who’s the only quarterback who failed to hit those marks? Cam Newton. They have had a pretty tough schedule to this point, because outside of Newton, they went against Teddy Bridgewater, Drew Brees, Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes, and Tom Brady. All of them totaled at least 34 pass attempts, a mark that Mayfield rarely reaches. We can’t simply trust Mayfield after one good game, as that was the first game all year he’d totaled more than 15.6 fantasy points. Knowing how bad the Raiders have been against the run, it’s natural to assume Mayfield’s ceiling might be limited, but it does help that his team-implied total is 28.5 points, even if I think that’s too high. I’d say he’s a low-end QB2 this week who should be forced to show some consistency before being trusted.
Josh Jacobs: He has just one run of 15-plus yards on a massive 116 carries, which is tied with Ezekiel Elliott and David Montgomery for the second-fewest among running backs with 75-plus carries. The only person who’s failed to generate a 15-plus yard run is… Frank Gore. This is the company Jacobs has found himself in. No one is going to blame him for struggling against the Bucs, but this is hardly the first game he hasn’t lived up to his draft cost. In fact, he’s failed to top 3.7 yards per carry in 5-of-6 games this year, and he’s failed to score a touchdown in 4-of-6 games. Now onto the Browns, who’ve been what we’d describe as an above-average run defense, though not one to run from like the Bucs. They’ve allowed just 3.71 yards per carry and have held all but one running back to 57 yards or less on the ground. Knowing that Jacobs hasn’t topped three receptions or 25 receiving yards since Week 1, this is somewhat of a problem. Teams have only chosen to run the ball 35.9 percent of the time, which is the third-lowest percentage in the league. It’s amounted to just 18.6 carries per game against them, so even though Jalen Richard and Devontae Booker are only stealing 5.3 carries per game away from him, that could be a big deal in this game if the averages hold true. Jacobs has run 96 routes through six games, which is just four behind Kareem Hunt (who’s played seven games), so he’s out there on the field. The 7.07 yards per target the Browns are allowing to running backs ranks as the third-highest mark in the NFL. And keep in mind last week was the first time Jacobs finished a game with fewer than 18 touches, so continue to trot him out there as a high-end RB2.
Kareem Hunt: It was good to see Hunt find the endzone last week, as he’s still yet to top 86 yards on the ground or 26 yards through the air this season. Crazy, right? His season-high is 102 total yards. Will that change this week? The Raiders are allowing their opponents 1.67 fantasy points per offensive play, which ranks as the second-highest mark in the NFL. Even better, running backs are scoring 9.2 more fantasy points than quarterbacks against them, which is the ninth-largest gap in football. They’ve allowed a rushing touchdown every 15.0 carries, which is more often than any other team, and it’s allowed three running backs to walk away with multiple rushing touchdowns. Despite facing just 20.0 carries per game, they’ve allowed the second-most fantasy points to running backs, including more than the Panthers, a team we all love to attack. Not only are running backs getting it done on the ground against the Raiders, but they’re also gathering a 27.0 percent target share, which is easily the highest number in the NFL, as no other has faced more than a 24.8 percent target share to running backs. It’s led to 62.3 yards per game through the air to running backs. All in all, they’ve allowed 159.7 yards per game to running backs, and Hunt has received 36 of the 45 touches available to Browns running backs over the last two weeks. He should be locked in as a rock-solid RB1 who has No. 1 upside this week.
Henry Ruggs: The Raiders No. 1 receiver, who they selected at No. 12 overall, over Jerry Jeudy and CeeDee Lamb, has 14 targets through four games. He’s totaled exactly three targets in each of the last three games he’s played, which is not nearly enough to be considered a reliable fantasy option. Does this matchup help matters? Well, receivers have totaled 114 receptions against the Browns, which is the second-highest number in the league through seven weeks. That adds up to a massive 16.3 receptions per game. There are teams who don’t allow that many targets per game to opposing receivers. They have allowed 327.2 PPR points to receivers, which is second to only the Seahawks. That’s allowed a ridiculous 13 wide receivers to finish with 12.3 or more PPR points against them, which is second to… the Seahawks. That’s 13 receivers who’ve been WR3s at minimum through seven games, which is essentially two per game. Five of those receivers saw six or less targets, too, so it doesn’t even require tons of volume. Ruggs moves all over the formation but should see the most of Denzel Ward, who’s struggled to this point, allowing four touchdowns in his coverage this year. Ruggs is far from a sure thing, but as a boom-or-bust WR4 who could pay off in a big way? Yeah.
Nelson Agholor: It’s kind of crazy what past relationships with players can do with our perception. Remember when we all didn’t want to buy into Robby Anderson because he broke our hearts over and over while in New York? Well, we might be there with Agholor now, too. He’s now scored in 4-of-6 games this season despite seeing more than four targets just once. His nine targets against the Bucs last week was more than Tyrell Williams saw in any one game last year, yet everyone viewed him as a WR3/4 option most weeks. It was just one week, but we need to pay attention to him moving forward. He has earned the role he has with the Raiders. Could he find the end zone again? Wide receivers have been targeted 33 times in the red zone against the Browns, which is easily the highest number in the league, as no other team has faced more than 22 red zone targets to wide receivers. The Browns have allowed 13 wide receivers to finish as the WR37 or better, which is kind of remarkable considering we’re just seven weeks into the season. Agholor leads the Raiders’ wide receivers in routes run over their last two games. He’s far from a lock for production, but given the matchup, he’s in the WR4 conversation.
Hunter Renfrow: He’s coming onto the field in three wide receiver sets, but that’s about it. Because of that, he’s run 39 routes over the last two weeks combined, which ranks outside the top-60 wide receivers. He has been targeted at least six times in three of the last four games, so he hasn’t been completely forgotten. It doesn’t hurt that they’re about to play the Browns, a team that’s faced 25.0 targets per game to wide receivers alone. The gamescript is important to Renfrow, though, because the Raiders don’t run 3WR base sets, so they need to fall behind in order for him to see a big increase in snaps. There are just too many variables in Renfrow’s projection to play him with confidence, even though the Browns have been a great matchup for wide receivers, especially those who play heavy slot snaps. If the Raiders fall behind quickly in this game, I wouldn’t be surprised if Renfrow has a solid game.
Rashard Higgins: With Odell Beckham now out for the season, Higgins walks into the starting lineup. He saw six targets in relief of Beckham, catching all of them for 110 yards against a Bengals team that has struggled against wide receivers, but were also without their top cornerback in that game. The concern with Higgins moving forward is the lack of volume out of this offense, as Mayfield has averaged just 28.3 pass attempts per game, and the wide receivers have seen just a 50 percent target share, which amounts to just over 14 targets per game available to them. The good news is that the Raiders are another plus matchup, though there may not be many pass attempts. They’ve seen just 18.7 targets per game against wide receivers, which is why they’ve given up the 11th-most fantasy points to receivers. From an efficiency standpoint, they’ve allowed 2.02 PPR points per target, which ranks as the sixth-highest mark in the league. The Raiders perimeter duo of Trayvon Mullen and Nevin Lawson have combined to allow 39-of-56 passing for 450 yards and five touchdowns in their coverage, so the perimeter is where most of the damage has been done. Higgins may not be an ultra-consistent receiver, but he should offer WR4 value in a pinch this week.
Jarvis Landry: He’s now up to 39 targets without a touchdown, which ranks as the second-most in the league without a touchdown. He’s quietly averaging 9.4 yards per target, which is actually the highest number of his career. If he starts scoring touchdowns at a reasonable rate, he’ll be viewed much differently in fantasy. With Beckham out for the year, we should expect him to get a solid bump in targets, too. He’s averaged just 5.6 targets per game to this point, which is typically reserved for those in the WR4/5 range. The Raiders have faced 18.7 targets per game to wide receivers, so given how top-heavy the Browns have been, we should expect Landry to see at least six targets in this game. The Raiders slot cornerback is Lamarcus Joyner, who’s been mediocre in coverage, allowing 25-for-34 passing for 256 yards and… no touchdowns. But still, it’s not like he won’t get out of Joyner’s coverage at times. We saw both Chris Godwin and Cole Beasley score against the Raiders, so it’s not out of the question. Landry is moving up the rankings moving forward and should be considered a low-end WR3/high-end WR4 who comes with a solid floor.
Darren Waller: Through six games, Waller is averaging 9.2 targets per game, which leads all tight ends. Yes, more than Kittle’s 9.0 per game and Kelce’s 8.0 per game. Waller has delivered for his fantasy managers, too, as he’s totaled double-digit PPR points in 5-of-6 games. In fact, going back to last year (span of 22 games), he has just one game with less than 8.0 PPR points. A matchup with the Browns is definitely not a bad thing, either, as they’ve allowed five different tight ends to score 10.2 or more PPR points against them this year and have allowed at least four receptions to seven different tight ends. When you see the list of tight ends they’ve played, you’ll be even more excited about Waller’s prospects this week. Mark Andrews (who went for 5/58/2), Dalton Schultz, C.J. Uzomah, Drew Sample, Trey Burton, Logan Thomas, and Eric Ebron are the tight ends they’ve played, so hardly a tough schedule. Despite that, they’ve allowed the 11th-most fantasy points to the tight end position. Knowing their opponents have averaged over 40 pass attempts per game, Waller should be locked and loaded as an elite TE1.
Harrison Bryant and David Njoku: We all thought Njoku would be the starter with Austin Hooper out, but the Browns seem dead set on avoiding Njoku as a full-time player. Still, neither of them played massive roles compared to other tight ends in the league. Bryant ran 17 routes (ranked 26th in Week 7) while Njoku ran 12 routes. Let me be clear: If that remains the case, neither will be a reliable streamer. The Raiders have not been a matchup to avoid with tight ends, as we’ve seen Travis Kelce, Rob Gronkowski, and Jared Cook all score against them, though Kelce and Gronkowski were the only tight ends who topped 16 yards. Nothing about the matchup screams “must start” against the Raiders, as the 6.90 yards per target ranks 20th, the 61.9 percent completion-rate ranks 25th, and the 1.74 PPR points per target ranks 17th. Bryant would be the preferred option of the two but he’s just a middling TE2 while Njoku is a touchdown-or-bust low-end TE2.