The Primer: Week 11 Edition (2020 Fantasy Football)
Stop telling yourself you “can’t” do something. Just start saying that you just don’t want to. In today’s world, you can teach yourself just about anything you want to, which is something I’ve tried explaining to my soon-to-be 18-year-old daughter.
Don’t believe me? I was raised in a sports family. Our lives revolved around practices, games, traveling teams, and whatever else came up. When we weren’t playing sports, we were going to sporting events. When we didn’t have a sporting event, my brother and I would go play some sport at the park. We dreaded rainy days that meant we had to stay in and play Nintendo. Not that we hated video games, but rather we loved sports that much. It’s something we got from our dad.
Because of a life filled with sports, I wasn’t raised around cars. My parents were the type who’d take their car into Jiffy Lube to get an oil change. Still, I remember watching movies as a kid where there was a car chase and seeing rear-wheel drive cars fishtail around a corner and thinking it was so cool. While that was probably the wrong reason to want to go out and buy a muscle car, that’s exactly what I did when I was 16 years old. I bought a 1992 Calypso Green Mustang 5.0 convertible.
At that time, YouTube wasn’t really a thing, so I had to rely on my newfound car friends to explain things to me. I didn’t have the smartest friends around that time, as one of them convinced me it’d be cool to pop holes in the back of my muffler to make it louder. Like an idiot, I did. About two months later, I paid to have Flowmaster mufflers put on it because it sounded like crap.
Over the next few years, I started learning little things here and there on my own, taking what I could by paying attention to others. I’d never pay someone to do my oil change again, as it’s really one of the simplest things you can do. I’d start installing different parts, learning by trial and error. While there were certainly plenty of learning experiences during that time, the things we have access to today make it so much easier to do it yourself.
I went from a guy who didn’t know how to do an oil change to one who’s swapped out multiple transmissions on my own. Heck, I’m swapping my five-speed Mustang I have now to a built automatic transmission this winter. I’m having a friend help me pull the engine so I can learn how to freshen up the block’s internals. I’ve installed an entire turbo system onto my car. I’ve installed superchargers on others’ cars. I had no schooling or family who taught me anything. I learned how to do those things because I wanted to do those things. Could I have done it without YouTube? Probably, but it would’ve been a lot harder to learn all the steps.
When we move to Tennessee next year, one of the things I told my wife I want to do is build a table for us from scratch. Do I know the first thing about building a table from scratch? Absolutely not. Do I know there are how-to videos on YouTube that will teach me the steps? Yep, and I’m going to watch multiple videos until I have a good understanding of it.
My advice to you is to teach yourself something this week. Want to buy a workbench but they’re too expensive? Just buy the wood and build it on your own. Want to redo the flooring in your kitchen but don’t have the money to pay someone to do it? You might want to watch a few videos because there are some flooring systems that are easier than you think. Stop telling yourself you can’t do something. Start telling yourself you’ll do whatever you want to do. You have no excuses not to.
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.
Cincinnati Bengals at Washington Football Team
Spread: Football Team -1.5
Bengals vs. Football Team Betting Matchup
Joe Burrow: If you look at NFL’s NextGenStats, you’ll see that Burrow has completed 4.1 percent more than he’s been expected to based on how tight coverage is and the depth of the throws, which ranks as the second-highest mark in the NFL, behind only Russell Wilson. Based on Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric that takes the competition they’ve played into consideration, Washington ranks as the No. 1 pass defense in the NFL. After coming out of a game against the league’s pass rush (Steelers) who generate a sack on 10.5 percent of dropbacks, Burrow gets the No. 2 pass rush, as Washington has generated a sack on 9.6 percent of dropbacks. Because of that, teams have chosen to drop back and pass just 52.8 percent of the time (fourth-lowest in NFL). If there’s a glimmer of hope for Burrow, it’s that Washington generated just a 14.7 percent pressure-rate in Week 10 against Matthew Stafford, which allowed him to throw for 276 yards and three touchdowns. There’s been just one game this year where Burrow has thrown the ball fewer than 36 times and that’s important in this game because Washington has faced just 29.2 pass attempts per game. Their opponents have thrown the ball just 52.8 percent of the time, but knowing the Bengals throw on 62.9 percent of plays, we could see more production than most expect. Breaking down their schedule a bit, Washington has crushed weak competition, while better quarterbacks have played competently.
As you can see, it’s been feast or famine. Which group do you see Burrow in? I’d lean towards the top half, though the pressure is the biggest concern, as his offensive line hasn’t done a good job protecting him. Consider him a semi-risky QB2 who does have top-12 upside and might be a candidate for tournament lineups.
Alex Smith: It’s a shame he didn’t throw a touchdown because it could’ve been a solid fantasy game for him. Smith still looks a bit rattled when under pressure but throwing for 390 yards in your first start is not a bad thing, even if it was against the Lions. However, according to NFL’s NextGenStats, Smith has completed 4.7 percent fewer passes than he should’ve this season based on how tight the coverage was and when you factor in the average depth of throw. His average depth of throw has been a minuscule 4.8 yards down the field, which is the lowest in the league. Washington is still averaging 37.4 pass attempts per game, so it is possible we have enough volume to play Smith in a pinch. It’s also a good thing when you combine his volume with the fact that the Bengals have allowed a 6.46 percent touchdown-rate (second-highest in the NFL). The Bengals have allowed 6-of-9 quarterbacks to finish as top-14 options against them, while two of those who didn’t finished with 30 or less pass attempts. The only quarterback who hasn’t accounted for multiple touchdowns against them was Tyrod Taylor way back in Week 1. It should help Smith’s issues with pressure knowing the Bengals average just a 25.8 percent pressure-rate, which ranks as the second-worst mark in the league. He’s perfectly fine to play in 2QB formats and can even be a last-minute desperation starter in a pinch for those in standard formats.
Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard: After Mixon got in one limited practice last week, the Bengals shut him down and then announced him inactive before gameday which means he’s no lock to return this week, so stay tuned for updates. Bernard struggled to get things going against the Steelers, which was expected, but what wasn’t expected was him splitting the workload with Samaje Perine and Trayveon Williams. Bernard saw 15 opportunities while Perine had eight, and Williams had five. Gamescript likely had something to do with that, though it’s an added risk to his projection as the perceived workhorse with Mixon out. Outside of a game where they allowed Nick Chubb 108 yards and two touchdowns, Washington hasn’t allowed a running back more than 86 yards on the ground and have allowed just three rushing touchdowns in the other eight games. The Bengals have run the ball just 37.1 percent of their plays, and Washington’s opponents have averaged just 61.4 plays per game, which doesn’t lead to a lot of run plays. When running backs have been targeted in the passing game, they’ve averaged 1.75 PPR points per target, which ranks as the third-highest number in football, but the odd part is that running backs haven’t been targeted much against them, which is why there’s been just one running back who’s totaled more than three receptions and 30 yards (D’Andre Swift last week). Bernard has seen 16 targets over the last three weeks, so he’s clearly a big part of their gameplan in that department. If Mixon misses another game, Bernard should be plugged in as a middling RB2 who isn’t likely to win weeks, but he should total 14-plus touches. *Update* Mixon has been ruled OUT for this game.
Antonio Gibson and J.D. McKissic: Did Washington realize the potential that this offense has by going to Gibson more than McKissic last week? Sure, McKissic is a fine third-down back who can mix in more when needed, but Gibson can be a game-changer. The great news is that they used Gibson while in a two-touchdown deficit and that decision helped bring them back to tie the game. If we don’t have to worry about gamescript with Gibson, he’d be worth a lot more in fantasy. McKissic still got 15 touches, so we’re not in the clear just yet, but this could’ve been a turning point. Against the Bengals, running backs have been targeted just 14.2 percent of the time, which is the second-lowest number in the league, so it’ll be interesting to see if Smith turns into a check-down machine again. There have been seven running backs who’ve totaled at least 75 yards on the ground against them, and that’s despite just six running backs totaling more than 13 carries. Every running back who reached 14-plus carries totaled 75-plus yards on the ground alone, which is where Gibson needs to make his mark. Unfortunately, Gibson has topped 13 carries just once this season, when he rushed for 128 yards and a touchdown against the Cowboys. Despite his lack of carries, Gibson has recorded seven rushing touchdowns in his last eight games, including four of them over his last three games. He’s also broke the ninth-most tackles on the ground, so we’ll continue to root for more work. Knowing the Bengals allow a massive 27.8 points per game to their opponents, we’ll bet on Gibson finding his way into the end zone again. Play him as a mid-to-high-end RB2 who’s ascending. The Bengals have allowed the fourth-fewest points through the air to running backs, so it’s not as enticing to play McKissic, though considering Smith’s check-down tendencies, he can be considered an RB3, especially in PPR formats.
Tyler Boyd: It was clear that the Bengals game-planned around getting Higgins the ball in Week 10, which left Boyd a bit on the short end, though he did finish with eight targets, six receptions, and 41 yards, so it wasn’t a complete bust. He’s seen at least eight targets in six games this year, making him one of just 10 players who’ve seen eight-plus targets in at least 66 percent of their games. Washington has been among the best defenses in the NFL this year, allowing the fifth-fewest fantasy points per game to running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends combined. Even worse, they’ve allowed just 43.8 percent of that production go to wide receviers, which is right there with the Bears for the best in the NFL. Because of that, they’ve allowed just two receivers to finish higher than the WR22 against them. They’ve been very good against slot-heavy receivers (what Boyd is), as the best game they’ve allowed to one is Larry Fitzgerald‘s seven catches for 50 yards against them. Those 12.0 PPR points were more than they allowed to Cooper Kupp, Sterling Shepard, Jarvis Landry, CeeDee Lamb, and Danny Amendola, so they’ve played some decent competition. It’s not to say Jimmy Moreland isn’t beatable, but he’s been solid, allowing just 136 scoreless yards on 25 slot targets. Boyd’s targets are good enough to keep him there in the WR3 conversation, but he’s not an obvious star this week.
Tee Higgins: Can I ask you a question? Would you have started Chris Godwin in every game last season? The answer is obviously yes, but I’m sure you’re asking, “Mike, what does that have to do with Higgins? Follow me here. Since joining the starting lineup in Week 3, Higgins has totaled 37 receptions, 568 yards, and four touchdowns. Over a 16-game season, that would be 85 receptions, 1,298 yards, and nine touchdowns. Godwin finished with 86 receptions, 1,333 yards, and nine touchdowns in 2019. Crazy, right? Higgins is an every-week starter. The matchup this week is one of the tougher ones in football. Even though they allowed two top-30 wide receivers last week, Washington ranks as the second-toughest matchup for wide receivers this season, allowing just 27.8 PPR points per game to them. They’re one of just three teams who’ve held opposing receivers under 31.1 points per game (the others are the Rams and Bears). It certainly helps that they’ve only had to face 145 targets on the season, which amounts to just 16.1 targets per game. Meanwhile, the Bengals have targeted receivers a massive 27.9 times per game, so there’s certainly a clash of trends. The 8.40 yards per target they’ve allowed to receivers ranks as the 14th-most in football, so it’s not a must avoid matchup like some might think. Still, they’ve allowed just two receivers finish better than the WR22 this year, which means he may not have the highest ceiling. He should still be in lineups as a low-end WR2 at least.
A.J. Green: He’s averaging a league-low 1.7 yards of separation at target this season, which is the lowest mark in the NFL. That number was at 2.5 in 2016, 2.4 in 2017, then 2.0 in 2018, so there’s a clear trend here. There seemed to be a flash during Weeks 6 and 7 when he tallied 178 yards over those two games, but he’s totaled just two catches for 19 yards on 10 targets over his last two games, knocking him off the fantasy radar. It’s pretty crazy to think that Green is one of just 21 wide receivers who’ve seen five-plus targets in eight different games. We have to wait to see him produce for a few weeks before trusting him, especially when they’re playing the defense who’s allowed the second-fewest fantasy points to the wide receiver position.
Terry McLaurin: I told you last week not to worry about McLaurin with Smith under center, so it wasn’t a shock to see him rack up seven receptions and 122 total yards against the Lions. He’s now scored at least 19.2 PPR points in each of his last three games and has scored at least 11.1 PPR points in 8-of-9 games. He’s also seeing a league-high 41.6 percent of his team’s air yards. He’s a legitimate low-end WR1 practically every week. The only reason he’s a low-end WR1 is due to the lack of scoring in his offense, as all Washington receivers have combined for just six touchdowns. There hasn’t been a single game this year where he’s seen fewer than seven targets. Going against a Bengals team that’s allowed 1.93 PPR points per target (8th-most in NFL) to wide receivers. There have been 12 wide receivers who’ve totaled 69-plus yards against the Bengals, including 11 of them who finished with 15-plus PPR points which should allow for a rock-solid floor if you’d like to use him in cash lineups. They’ve done a good job moving him around the formation, so there’s not one cornerback he’ll see more than the others, unless the Bengals choose to have William Jackson shadow him. Even if he does, Jackson has been just mediocre in coverage, allowing 25-of-44 passing for 332 yards and three touchdowns this year. Keep him out there as high-floor, low-end WR1.
Drew Sample: I mentioned last week that Sample was far off the radar against the tough Steelers defense, but I also mentioned that Sample has done well in three games. Those games were against the Browns (twice) and Jaguars, two teams that ranks as bottom-10 teams at stopping tight ends. The matchup this week is against Washington, who ranks as the No. 31 ranked defense against tight ends in Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric that factors in level of competition. Despite T.J. Hockenson‘s poor performance last week, 22.7 percent of the production that Washington has allowed to skill-position players has gone to tight ends, which is the highest mark in football. It surely helps that teams have targeted their tight ends a league-high 25.5 percent of the time, but there’s likely a reason for that. There have been five different tight ends who’ve finished with 10.3-plus PPR points against them, and two of them did that with less than five targets. Sample is nothing more than a hail-mary TE2 but if you’re desperate, the matchup is about as good as it gets.
Logan Thomas: It was a tough matchup for Thomas last week, so to see him walk away with a career-high 66 yards was a surprise. It wasn’t all great, though. He saw six targets, which isn’t really all that much when you consider Smith threw the ball 50 times, as it amounts to just a 12 percent target share. Still, he hasn’t seen fewer than four targets in a game this season, which keeps his streaming appeal alive and well. On top of that, he has a matchup with the Bengals this week, a defense that’s already allowed seven different tight ends have double-digit PPR days. Tight ends are averaging a massive 8.4 targets per game against the Bengals, which ranks as the second-most in the league. The 63.2 percent completion-rate is slightly below average, but everything else they’ve allowed to tight ends is above average, including the 12.15 yards per reception, touchdown every 12.7 targets, and 1.87 PPR points per target. Thomas should be viewed as a solid high-floor TE2 who can be streamed.
Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints
Spread: Saints -4.5
Falcons vs. Saints Betting Matchup
Matt Ryan: It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster with Ryan this year, particularly when it comes to touchdowns, as he’s thrown three or more touchdowns in three games but has also thrown 0-1 touchdowns in five of his last seven games. It doesn’t help that he’s been without Julio Jones or Calvin Ridley in three of those games. Both should be back and healthy for this divisional showdown against the Saints. They’ve not been the defense we expected this year, allowing a robust 6.31 percent touchdown-rate, which ranks as the fourth-highest mark in the league. It doesn’t necessarily align with the yardage they’ve allowed, as the 7.12 yards per attempt ranks 16th. We consider the Falcons a pass-heavy offense, right? Well, they’ve thrown the ball on 58.8 percent of their plays this season, while the Saints opponents have thrown the ball on 62.1 percent of their plays, the fourth-highest mark in the league. Over the last four weeks, the Saints defense has started to look like the one we thought they’d be, holding four straight quarterbacks to fewer than 20 fantasy points, including Tom Brady. Over the last two years, Ryan has played them four times and here are the outcomes:
|W3 – 2018||26||35||374||5||0|
|W12 – 2018||35||47||377||2||1|
|W10 – 2019||20||35||182||2||1|
|W13 – 2019||35||50||312||2||2|
That’s not too shabby, as he’s completed 70-plus percent of passes in 3-of-4 games, while throwing at least two touchdowns in each game. With how well the Saints stop the run, we should expect 40-plus attempts out of Ryan in this game. Ryan should offer a safe high-end QB2 floor, while his ceiling has top-six potential if Winston can put points on the board.
Taysom Hill and
Jameis Winston: The change to Winston would be quite the change, as Brees is a risk averse quarterback who’s thrown into tight coverage just 11.1 percent of the time this year. Meanwhile, Winston was a bit more aggressive than that in his time with the Bucs, forcing the ball into tight coverage nearly 17 percent of the time. Based on the opponents they’ve played; quarterbacks are averaging 0.14 more points per pass play than their average against the Falcons. That may not seem like much, but when you factor in there are typically 40-plus pass plays in a game, that adds up. No other team is above 0.10 points per play. Quarterbacks are scoring 6.7 more fantasy points than they do on average versus the Falcons. It’s not just quarterbacks, either; it’s the whole offense. On average, teams are scoring 1.71 fantasy points per play against the Falcons, which is tops in the league, while no other team has allowed more than 1.59 points per play. That’s a full 7.2 percent higher than the closest team (Lions). Teams have averaged a mediocre 63.6 plays per game against them, but that hasn’t stopped them from scoring 109.67 fantasy points per game. The Seahawks are the only other team who’ve allowed more than 104.83 points per game. They’re allowing 8.29 yards per attempt (3rd-most), a 6.29 percent touchdown-rate (5th-highest), and a 68.0 percent completion-rate (9th-highest). There is no team (including the Seahawks) that has allowed more fantasy points through the air than the Falcons. If there’s a week to trust Winston, this is it, as 8-of-9 quarterback(s) have posted 18.4-plus fantasy points against the Falcons, including four top-five performances. *Update* Hill wound up taking all the first-team reps at practice this week and will likely start for the Saints. He moves into low-end QB1 consideration and should provide a stable floor with his mobility. For those who play in ESPN leagues, he’s able to be used as a tight end, and should be played as the TE1. Also, if you play FanDuel, Hill can be used in the TE slot, which is a must for those playing cash games, provided he starts.
Todd Gurley: He’s averaging just 3.67 yards per carry and has caught just 15 balls for 79 yards though nine weeks but went into his bye week as the No. 6 running back. That’s because he ranked second in the NFL with nine rushing touchdowns. Running backs have averaged 5.4 fewer fantasy points against the Saints than they do versus their season average, which is the biggest gap in the league. When you look at the fantasy points the Saints have allowed to running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends, the running backs have only accounted for 26.1 percent of that production, which ranks as the second-lowest mark in the league. So, when you see they’ve allowed just 18.5 PPR points per game to running backs, it makes sense. That’s the second-lowest number in the league, behind only the Steelers. They’ve allowed just three rushing touchdowns on the season, or one every 59.3 carries, which is the highest number in the league. The 8.37 points per game they allow on the ground ranks as the second-lowest mark in the NFL behind only the Falcons. That’s big because Gurley has caught more than two passes just twice all season and hasn’t topped 29 receiving yards. Even when you factor in the weighted expectation of fantasy points from targets, the Saints are the No. 1 run defense in the league from a points per opportunity standpoint. Gurley is looking like a touchdown-or-bust option in a matchup that has only generated a touchdown in 33 percent of the Saints games, including none in their last five games. He’s a high-variance RB2 this week with a low ceiling who shouldn’t be considered in cash games.
Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray: And the beat goes on… We’re now headed into Week 11 and Kamara has yet to finish worse than the RB13 in half-PPR formats. He’s played the Bucs twice, Bears, and 49ers. The guy is just playing on a different level right now. Everyone sees the Falcons on the schedule and thinks, “Jackpot!” though that’s not really the case. Of the fantasy points the Falcons have allowed to skill-position players, just 24.9 percent of them have gone to running backs, which is the lowest percentage in the league. Did you know that teams of running backs typically outscore the quarterback in fantasy points per game? Well, if you didn’t, you do now. Running backs typically average 5.0 more PPR points per game than quarterbacks, but against the Falcons, quarterbacks average 5.2 more PPR points per game than the running backs. Teams have seemingly realized it’s more profitable to move the ball through the air against them, as the Falcons have faced a league-low 17.7 carries per game. They’re also one of three teams who’ve allowed less than four rushing touchdowns. Because of that, they’ve allowed the fewest fantasy points on the ground to running backs. Read that again because you may have missed it. The Falcons have allowed the fewest fantasy points on the ground to running backs at just 8.4 points per game. Fortunately, for Kamara, they’ve allowed tons of production through the air. The 12.7 PPR points per game they’ve allowed to running backs through the air alone ranks as the fifth most in the league. All in all, the Falcons have allowed just 23.6 touches per game to running backs (second-fewest) and have held them to the sixth-fewest fantasy points per game. We know by now that you don’t ever consider fading Kamara, no matter the matchup. Start him as an elite RB1 every week. Murray, on the other hand, he’s someone whose skill-set does not match up in this game at all, making him a weak touchdown-dependent RB4.
Julio Jones: It’s always a good thing to get an aging wide receiver a week off, especially when he’s been dealing with hamstring injuries throughout the year. Jones was hot going into his bye week, totaling 36 targets, 28 receptions, 425 yards, and three touchdowns over the last four games. When targeting Jones, Matt Ryan has a 134.4 QB Rating, which ranks as the highest among any QB/WR duo with more than 35 targets. Now coming off his bye week, Jones should be ready to rock the second half of the season. The Saints have seen just a 52.1 percent target share to the wide receiver position, which ranks as the third lowest in football. Despite seeing the fifth-fewest targets to wide receivers on the year, they’ve still allowed the 16th-most fantasy points per game, which tells you a lot about the efficiency wide receivers have had. The 9.05 yards per target they’ve allowed is the fifth-most in the league, which obviously bodes well for the yardage-heavy Jones. He’s always in your lineup as a WR1 no matter the matchup and considering Marshon Lattimore (who he’ll see most) hasn’t been close to a shutdown presence this year, you’re not shying away from him. *Update* Lattimore is questionable for this game. If he’s held out, Jones’ matchup shoots up rather significantly.
Calvin Ridley: The good thing about Ridley’s injury coming when it that it came at a time he was able to get extra rest during their bye week. He’s expected to return, though we need to pay attention to his practice participation throughout the week. Prior to leaving that Week 8 game early with his foot injury, Ridley had totaled at least 16.7 PPR points in 6-of-7 games. Now time to go against the Saints, a team who’s only faced 18.3 wide receiver targets per game, which is quite different than 24.9 targets per game that the Falcons receivers get. On a per-target basis, the Saints have allowed 2.01 PPR points per target, which ranks as the sixth-highest number in the league. Ridley’s primary matchup will be against Janoris Jenkins, who’s been the better of the two Saints perimeter cornerbacks, allowing 23-of-38 passing for 267 yards and one touchdown in his coverage. The biggest thing to know is that Ridley has seen seven-plus targets in 6-of-7 full games he’s played, and the Saints have allowed at least 74 yards and/or a touchdown to every receiver who’s seen seven-plus targets against them. As long as Ridley practices in full, he should be inserted back into lineups as a mid-to-low-end WR1. *Update* Ridley was limited in practice all week but has no designation on game status, so he’s good to go.
Russell Gage: Ever since his first two weeks where he racked up 15 catches for 160 yards and a touchdown, Gage has failed to record more than two receptions in five of his next seven games, and has failed to top 65 yards in any game. The Saints have Chauncey Gardner-Johnson covering the slot, and he’s done a much better job than expected when you see the Saints overall numbers allowed to receivers this year. He has allowed 37 receptions for just 309 yards and one touchdown on 46 targets in coverage. The catch-rate is high, sure, but just 8.35 yards per reception? That’s not going to be enough to start Gage with any upside, and we haven’t seen a floor as of late, so feel free to find another streamer.
Michael Thomas: This is me waving a yellow caution flag, as I’m befuddled at the lack of targets for Thomas last week. While watching that game, it was like Brees didn’t even realize Thomas was on the field. Winston targeted him a bit more, though the targets that came from Winston weren’t close to catchable. I still see him as the same receiver who broke records last year, but maybe the team doesn’t. If there’s a week where he can remind you of the player you wanted to draft as a top-five pick, it’s this one. Wide receivers outscore running backs by a massive 24.0 PPR points per game against the Falcons, which is the second-largest gap in the league. The Falcons have allowed a league-leading 14.89 yards per reception to wide receivers. There have already been 10 wide receivers who’ve totaled 92-plus yards against them, including three of them who’ve cracked the 120-yard barrier. They’ve also allowed 12 different wide receivers to rack up five-plus receptions, highlighting a rock solid-floor for Thomas. The move to Winston would’ve probably been a bad thing, but knowing how little Brees was looking Thomas’ way, it might be a good thing. If you have him, play him. *Update* Taysom Hill will be the starting quarterback, which likely leads to a more run-heavy approach, though the way to beat the Falcons is through the air, so Thomas is still someone I’d play as a low-end WR1 who has upside if Hill looks as good as he did the last time he played in the preseason.
Emmanuel Sanders: Despite Tre’Quan Smith missing a lot of the game, Smith played just 34-of-59 snaps against the 49ers. Don’t forget he played just 22 snaps the prior week. It’s tough to see Smith able to play in this game considering the hit he took, so we should prepare for a bigger role with Sanders this week. The Falcons are the perfect team for him to get more opportunities against, as they’ve allowed 16 different receivers to finish with 12-plus PPR points and finish as the WR37 or better. Sanders moves all over the formation, so he won’t have one matchup in particular, but it’s not like there’s a matchup against the Falcons cornerback trio that isn’t exploitable. Knowing the Falcons have allowed just 63.7 rushing yards per game to running backs, this should be a game the Saints go to the air, even if that is a bit risky with Winston under center. There have been just two games all season where Sanders has totaled more than five targets, so he’s far from a lock for production, but he’s a WR4 in a plus-matchup this week.
Hayden Hurst: He was the No. 5 tight end in fantasy as he went into his bye week, which says a lot about the issues many have had with the position throughout the year. There have been a lot of “do I drop Hurst” questions in my mentions all year. He’s now totaled at least 51 yards in six of his last eight games, so even though he’s scored just once in his last six games, his floor has been fantastic as he continues to develop chemistry and learn the ins and outs of the offense. Many look at the Saints and think, “Oh, they’ve allowed the sixth-most fantasy points to tight ends. It’s a great matchup.” That’s not the case. If you were to take away the one game to Darren Waller where he saw 16 targets and played receiver, racking up 12/103/1 out of the sample size, they’ve yet to allow a tight end more than five catches or 62 yards. Prior to Jordan Reed last week, they’d held five straight tight ends to 23 yards or less. Malcolm Jenkins has been coming around in his new defense and playing like the safety he was in Philadelphia. It’s not to say you can’t play Hurst, but it’s more saying that the matchup isn’t as good as it looks on paper. Hurst has seen at least six targets in five of his last six games, so you’re not thinking of benching him, but it also may not be a week to pay up for him in DFS.
Jared Cook: He’s now seen fewer than five targets in five of his last six games, including a season-low two targets last week that netted exactly zero yards. It doesn’t feel good to place him in your lineup, though that’s a feeling that we’re getting with a lot of tight ends this year. If you’re looking for a bright spot with Cook, it’s his matchup this week. Tight ends have averaged 5.6 more half-PPR points per game against the Falcons than they have on average, which is quite massive, as no other team has allowed more than 3.4 fantasy points above average. You can also look at Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric that ranks defenses based on the competition they’ve played, and you’ll see they rank as the No. 31 defense against tight ends, so it doesn’t even matter what metric you want to use; the Falcons are bad at defending tight ends. We know the Falcons allow tons of fantasy points per game to opponents, which is great, but it’s even better when we see they’ve allowed 21.6 percent of the production to skill-position players go to tight ends, which ranks as the third-highest mark in the league. The 83.3 percent completion-rate is the highest in the league, so there’s no downside if Cook actually gets targeted. Maybe the move to Taysom Hill will get him targeted more? The matchup is so good, you may want to take that chance as a low-end TE1.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Jacksonville Jaguars
Spread: Steelers -10
Steelers vs. Jaguars Betting Matchup
Ben Roethlisberger: Over the last two weeks, we’ve watched the Steelers play in matchups where they could’ve attacked their opponent in any way they wanted, yet the Steelers have chosen to go with the pass-happy route and there’s been no reason to stop considering Roethlisberger has thrown for 639 yards and seven touchdowns with no interceptions. The Jaguars are another one of those teams. When you factor in the quarterbacks they’ve played and what they average, the Jaguars allowed 0.10 more fantasy points per play to opposing quarterbacks. That ranks as the second-highest mark in the league behind only the Falcons. The Jaguars are one of three teams in the league who’ve allowed more than 1.56 fantasy points per offensive play to opponents (others are Falcons and Seahawks). Even in a high-wind game, the Jaguars allowed Aaron Rodgers to have his way with them, throwing for 325 yards and two touchdowns. On the year, the Jaguars are allowing a league-high 8.61 yards per attempt. We know Roethlisberger isn’t going to offer anything on the ground, right? Well, fortunately, he doesn’t need it against the Jaguars, who’ve allowed a league-high 0.573 fantasy points per actual pass attempt (no rushing included). Teams have been able to pick how to attack the Jaguars defense this year, but knowing they’re allowing a 70.2 percent completion-rate and generate a sack on just 2.89 percent of dropbacks (2nd-fewest), how do we fade Roethlisberger and his trio of wide receivers? Teams have chosen to throw the ball just 53.3 percent of the time against the Jaguars, which ranks as the fifth fewest, but do you know one of the teams who’s in the top four? The Cowboys, a team Roethlisberger threw plenty against. There’s risk of them running the ball a lot, but that risk has been there the last two weeks. Roethlisberger should be considered a high-floor low-end QB1.
Jake Luton: It’s hard to hold much against Luton in what was a windy day in Green Bay, though he missed a few throws that he should’ve made. It’s not like you’re considering streaming him in single quarterback leagues, but for those in 2QB leagues, should you this week? The Steelers rank as the fifth-best defense when it comes to fantasy points per offensive snap, as they’ve allowed a minuscule 1.27 PPR points per play to their opponents. They’ve also allowed a league-low 56.4 percent completion-rate while no other team has allowed less than 60.2 percent. The average completion does go for quite a bit of yards against them, but Luton hasn’t showcased the ability to get the ball down the field consistently. Will he have the time against a defense that’s sacked the quarterback on a league-high 10.5 percent of dropbacks? Probably not. You’d actually have to go all the way back to Week 11 of last year (a full season ago) to find the last time a quarterback finished as a top-12 option against the Steelers. No, thank you.
James Conner: After seeing 18 touches in six straight games from Week 2 through Week 8, the Steelers have seemingly turned into a pass-first team and cut off Conner’s heavy workload. In two great matchups the last two weeks, Conner has totaled just 68 total yards on 26 touches… in the two games combined. So, when you see the Jaguars on the schedule, you want to get excited but it’s hard after what we’ve seen the last two weeks, and it’s hard to make an argument for them to change considering they’ve thrown 60 points on the scoreboard. Does that mean we should ignore him against a defense that’s allowed 11 different running backs finish as the RB26 or better? No. There have been six running backs who’ve racked up 15-plus carries against them, which is more than enough to do damage. All in all, they’ve faced 23.6 carries per game. Conner has received 71 percent of the carries over the last two weeks, so if that carry mark were to hold true, he’d finish with 16-17 carries. Running backs have also been targeted 23.2 percent of the time against the Jaguars, which is the third-highest percentage in the league. That’s led to seven running backs finishing with five or more receptions. Roethlisberger has only targeted his running backs 41 times this year, which amounts to a 12.1 percent target share, so we know better than to rely on a lot of receiving production out of Conner. The 4.01 yards per carry they’ve allowed isn’t all that bad, but volume has been enough to carry running backs through to big performances, and it’s why the Jaguars have allowed the sixth-most points to the position. Conner is more of a high-end RB2 at this point, but you need to keep playing him in favorable matchups like this one.
James Robinson: Every time I look at the Jaguars backfield split, I’m amazed. Remember when we played Leonard Fournette as an RB1 every week last year because he had such an incredible floor? Well, take a look at Robinson’s 16-game projections right now compared to Fournette’s 2019 season:
Does this show you just how valuable he’s been? Getting 87.8 percent of the backfield touches no matter the offense is going to give you top-10 upside. His projected stat line is awfully close (slightly better) to Chris Carson‘s 2019 where he had 1,230 rushing yards, 266 receiving yards, and nine touchdowns. The next issue is the Steelers run defense, which ranks as the best in the NFL. Running backs have averaged 17.4 percent fewer fantasy points than their seasonal average against the Steelers. Running backs have seen just a 14.3 percent target share against the Steelers, which ranks as the third-lowest mark in the league. That’s led to them allowing a league-low 27 receptions on the season to running backs. Doing the math, that’s just three receptions per game for running backs. All in all, the Steelers have allowed a piddly 17.7 PPR points per game to running backs, which is the lowest number in the league. It really helps that Robinson has totaled 87.8 percent of the touches in this backfield because the Steelers opponents have averaged a league-low 23.4 running back touches per game. The only running back who’s finished better than RB14 since the start of the 2019 season (span of 25 games) was Miles Sanders, who broke a long 70-plus yard touchdown run. Robinson needs to remain in lineups as a stable presence who has at least 16 touches in every game this year, but lower expectations into the RB2 range.
Diontae Johnson: It’s like clockwork. If Johnson plays a full game, he’s seen 10-plus targets. That type of volume is reserved for No. 1 wide receivers. He’s caught at least six passes for 57 yards in each of the five full games he’s played, including a career-high 116 yards and a touchdown last week. His average depth of target is minimal (8.8 yards), which has led to just 6.6 yards per target, one of the lower marks among highly-targeted receivers. It should help knowing the Jaguars have allowed a massive 9.82 yards per target to wide receivers, which is easily the most in the NFL. They’ve only played against three wide receivers who’ve seen 10-plus targets, and each of them finished with 20-plus PPR points. All of them were great route runners like Johnson, too. Brandin Cooks, Keenan Allen, and Davante Adams. He’ll be seeing a lot of both Sidney Jones and C.J. Henderson in coverage, who’ve combined to allow 44-of-75 passing for 711 yards and six touchdowns. That’s a massive 16.16 yards per reception, so look for the big play to be exposed a bit. Johnson has seen 11 deep targets this year, though him and Roethlisberger have only connected on two of them for 74 yards and a touchdown. Johnson should be considered an every-week WR2 with his incredible target share. *Update* Henderson was placed on IR with a groin injury, and Jones was downgraded to a DNP on Friday, which is never good for their status. The Jaguars could be starting two backup cornerbacks against the Steelers pass-catchers.
Chase Claypool: When Ben Roethlisberger has targeted Claypool, he has a 134.3 QB Rating, which ranks behind only the Matt Ryan/Julio Jones duo. There’s clearly a relationship developing with him and Roethlisberger, as he’s now seen 32 targets over the last three games. It’s kind of crazy to think that he hasn’t topped 74 yards since Week 5, but his touchdowns have kept fantasy managers satisfied. The Jaguars allow a league-leading 9.82 yards per target to receivers, but maybe even more important to Claypool is the fact that they’ve allowed 14.34 yards per reception to them (ranks third-highest), as he’s the field-stretcher in this offense. As stated in the Johnson notes above, the Jaguars perimeter duo of cornerbacks have combined to allow 16.16 yards per reception. Despite not being a starter right out of the gate, Claypool leads the team in deep targets (16), receptions (4), yards (183), and touchdowns (2). This defense has also allowed a touchdown every 16.8 targets to wide receivers, which is the ninth-most often. You want to keep rolling Claypool out there this week as a WR2.
JuJu Smith-Schuster: Suddenly, Smith-Schuster is the No. 19 wide receiver in fantasy football. He’s totaled a massive 42 targets over the last four weeks, which ranks fourth behind only Davante Adams, Keenan Allen, and Stefon Diggs, players who are viewed as every-week WR1s. He’s delivered, too. Take a look at this:
These are their numbers over the last four weeks. Crazy considering where everyone was on him just a month ago. Now on to play the Jaguars who’ve allowed the sixth-most fantasy points to wide receivers. They have Tre Herndon covering the slot, where he’s allowed 10-of-16 passing for 119 yards and a touchdown since taking over for D.J. Hayden, who still hasn’t returned off the IR. Even if Hayden does return, it wouldn’t be a bad thing for Smith-Schuster, as Hayden has allowed a ridiculous 83.3 percent completion-rate and 11.7 yards per target. We talked about Keenan Allen earlier. Just four weeks ago, he totaled 10/125/0 against this defense. You have to play all the Steelers wide receviers right now and deal with the ups and downs, as it’s unlikely they all deliver top-30 value every week, but in this matchup, it’s possible. Just like Johnson and Claypool, Smith-Schuster is in the WR2 conversation.
D.J. Chark: Through two games with Luton under center, Chark hasn’t been too affected, racking up 17 targets, 11 receptions, 202 yards, and a touchdown. It doesn’t hurt that he played against a Bradley Roby-less Texans team and a Jaire Alexander-less Packers team. The Steelers don’t allow a whole lot of fantasy points to their opponents, but of the production they do allow to skill-position players, 60.4 percent of it goes to wide receivers, which ranks as the second-highest percentage in the league. According to Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric, the Steelers rank as the No. 31 defense against No. 1 receivers. That might seem aggressive until you see that Travis Fulgham, Darius Slayton, A.J. Brown, and Tee Higgins have all cranked out 24-plus PPR points against them, all finishing as top-10 receivers. They don’t shadow, so Chark will see a mix of the cornerbacks. The biggest question mark here is Luton against that Steelers fierce pass rush. The matchup against the Steelers isn’t nearly as bad as some make it out to be for wide receivers, which leaves Chark in the high-end WR3 conversation.
Keelan Cole: Despite a tough matchup with the Packers, Cole bounced back in Week 10 catching 5-of-7 targets for 47 yards and a touchdown, while also chipping in a punt return touchdown. He’s still topped 58 yards just once this year, so it’s not like you’re able to play him with much confidence. The Steelers have been a team to allow production to slot-heavy receivers, as Randall Cobb, CeeDee Lamb, Willie Snead, Greg Ward, Jerry Jeudy, and Tyler Boyd all finished with 10-plus PPR points against them, though none of them finished better than the WR18. Four of them saw seven-plus targets, so volume was fairly important. The seven targets last week were nice, but we can’t forget about the back-to-back two-target games in the prior two weeks where he finished with two catches for 18 yards. Cole is just a WR5 who’s a bit too shaky and his ceiling isn’t high enough to play him over others in that territory.
Eric Ebron: When you have all the receiving options the Steelers do, you’re going to get some letdown performances. Fortunately, it was a horrendous week at tight end, so his two catches for 38 yards didn’t kill your lineup. He’s averaging 5.9 targets per game since the start of Week 2, which is all we can ask for out of a tight end in 2020, especially when his quarterback is playing well. He also gets another great matchup in Week 11. Despite seeing the ninth-fewest targets to the tight end position, the Jaguars have allowed the eighth-most fantasy points per game to them. The 2.34 PPR points per target they allow ranks second to only the Falcons. It’s kind of crazy looking at the game logs against them, as no tight end has caught more than four passes, while just one has been targeted more than five times. It’s one of those matchups where you have plus-matchups all over the field, and teams have simply chosen to target others. When actually targeted, tight ends average 0.34 more half-PPR points per target than their seasonal average against the Jaguars, which is the fourth-highest mark in the league. He comes with risk, but what tight end doesn’t? In a game the Steelers have a 28.8-point team-implied total, he deserves low-end TE1 consideration.
Tyler Eifert: When you compare a tight end’s season average versus the points they’ve scored against the Steelers, you get negative 5.5 half-PPR points per game, which is the biggest gap in the NFL. This is quite possibly the worst matchup for a tight end to have, so no thanks.