Welcome to the Week 8 Walkthrough, outlining critical fantasy football context for this eighth, glorious (please, one time) week of football.
At the end of this article, I've included an extensive list of the stats used, what they are, why they're useful, and where they came from. As a heads up, I use some terms interchangeably below:
- Routes per dropback = route rate = route % = route participation
- Targets per route run = target rate
Byes: Chiefs, Chargers
Already Played: Ravens, Buccaneers
Broncos at Jaguars, 9:30 AM Eastern, Sunday
Broncos Implied Team Total: 18.5
After missing Week 7 against the Jets, Russell Wilson looks set to return in London against the Jaguars. Wilson being out of the lineup in Week 7 was a reminder that the entire Denver Broncos offense is cringe, not just its starting quarterback.
Brett Rypien ranked 24th in EPA per play and 26th in CPOE last week. His performance was so bad that only Trey Lance, Skylar Thompson, and Baker Mayfield have been less efficient this season; only Lance and Mayfield have been less accurate.
Wilson has been bad this season, but at least in the general proximity of starting quarterbacks. Still, it's hard to get excited about him this week. The Jaguars aren't a particularly fearsome defense, but they get pressure quickly, ranking second in quick pressure rate. Blocking against quick pressure has been a problem for the Broncos, and Wilson has been highly inefficient when pressured quickly, ranking 25th in EPA per play. And Wilson's issues with the pass rush should be amplified by his hamstring injury.
One small silver lining is that the Broncos are increasing their pace of play. The Broncos were comically slow to begin the season, repeatedly taking delay-of-game penalties. They've gotten their act together over the last three weeks and are currently 11th in situation-neutral seconds per play. Wilson will likely be inefficient again this week, but if the Broncos play faster, there could be a few more targets to go around.
Broncos targets are increasingly split between Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy. In fact, Sutton and Jeudy now have identical 21% target rates, with Jeudy leading the team in yards per route run.
Jeudy ran just one fewer route than Sutton last week, and he's making a case that he and Sutton are co-WR1s. This usage could easily be part of the Broncos' attempts to try and trade Jeudy, but the trade deadline isn't until after this week, so it's hard to bet on Sutton having a big target lead in this game.
Sutton's hold on targets is further complicated by the emergence of Greg Dulcich. Dulcich ran a route on 79% of dropbacks in his Week 6 debut; he followed that up with a 71% route rate against the Jets. Dulcich isn't running routes at an elite rate, but his usage is encouraging for a rookie tight end who is entering just his third NFL game. And Dulcich seems to be a major part of the Broncos' game plan. He was targeted on only 11% of his routes against the Chargers but jumped to 26% against the Jets. And Dulcich's increased target rate reflected an increase in pecking order within the Broncos' plays. In his first game, Dulcich saw a first-read target on just 11% of his routes; that jumped to 26% in Week 7, which led the team. It's been a rough year for the tight end position... so saying someone is a viable TE1 is a low bar. But you can't tell me this doesn't look like a startable profile.
The Broncos' running game has been terrible the season, but it's been a little better over the last three weeks. Over that span, Denver ranks 21st in EPA per rush, up from 30th through Week 4. But the improvement likely comes down to Melvin Gordon no longer fumbling in every game. The Broncos still rank 26th in rushing success rate, which is actually down from 22nd through Week 4. Gordon is holding onto the ball, and Latavius Murray has made it into the end zone, but this running game is still pretty rough.
Gordon was back to being the starter against the Jets, seeing 51% of snaps. But per PFF, he had just 9.7 expected points, the 31st most valuable workload among running backs last week. Murray actually had the more valuable workload because he saw both Broncos' carries inside the 10-yard line; he also saw all three red zone snaps. This usage indicates the possibility that Murray is the Broncos' clear goal line back, putting him in play as a desperation bye week fill-in. Playing Gordon isn't quite as desperate... but it's not far off.
Jaguars Implied Team Total: 21
Trevor Lawrence was highly inaccurate in Week 7. He ranked just 27th in CPOE of 28 qualifying quarterbacks. But Lawrence is only two weeks removed from a highly accurate Week 6 performance when he finished second in CPOE. This led me to wonder how much Lawrence bounces around in the accuracy metric.
The answer, as you can see above... is quite a lot. Lawrence seems to be on an upward trajectory, but it's been a noisy journey. And Lawrence's extreme lack of consistency is unusual. Since 2021, only Marcus Mariota, Baker Mayfield, and Justin Fields have a higher standard deviation on their weekly CPOE than Lawrence.
This isn't necessarily the end of the world. Josh Allen has also seen his accuracy bounce around over the last two seasons. But Allen adds a lot of value with his legs and has a coaching staff fully committed to running the offense through him. Lawrence is in his first season with Doug Pederson, and his inconsistent accuracy could be weighing on his coaches' minds.
The Jaguars have rolled out three pass-first game plans this season. The first was in Week 1, and the other two followed elite accuracy weeks from Lawrence. On the other hand, the Jaguars' only ultra-run-heavy performance came after two weeks of awful accuracy from Lawrence.
This could all be total noise, and matchups are likely having a much bigger effect—but it's still not ideal that Lawrence is coming off a very inaccurate week.
And Lawrence is now going up against an elite Broncos pass defense that ranks first in EPA allowed per dropback and first in dropback success rate.
Based on this matchup, the Jaguars might be tempted to lean on the run regardless of Lawrence's recent play... especially with Travis Etienne beginning to look like a star.
Etienne ranks behind only Ken Walker in NFL Next Gen's rush yards over expected / attempt and in PFF's breakaway percentage. And he ranks behind only Aaron Jones and Khalil Herbert in NFL Next Gen's success rate. He's also been solid as a pass catcher and tackle breaker. And the Jaguars appear to have fully bought into Etienne as their lead back. Etienne played 80% of snaps against the Giants; the Jaguars then traded James Robinson to the Jets.
This isn't a great matchup for Etienne, but the Broncos are more vulnerable on the ground than through the air. The Jaguars could lean on him here, making him a locked-in RB1 despite a difficult matchup for the overall offense.
Christian Kirk and Zay Jones look like riskier bets, facing a formidable Broncos pass defense. Kirk has seen decent volume this season but is well below elite levels. Kirk has a 20% target rate, leading to a middling expected yards per route run of 1.74. To his credit, Kirk is performing well when targeted, with a solid 1.80 YPRR.
But Zay Jones is seeing more target opportunity per route; he's just underperforming his volume pretty dramatically. This discrepancy might be something to target. Per-target efficiency is not sticky. The fact that Jones is running very cold in YPT points to possible positive regression.
Kirk still looks like the No. 1 wide receiver here, though. He is seeing a first-read target on 18% of his routes, which is in the 79th percentile. Jones at 15%, 61st percentile. So the offense does appear designed to get Kirk the ball on traditional routes. Still, in terms of overall target volume, Kirk doesn't actually have a lead on Jones, making him an uninspiring play in a difficult matchup.
Bears at Cowboys, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday
Bears Implied Team Total: 16.5
The Bears love to run the ball. In a league that includes the Atlanta Falcons, they have the lowest pass rate over expected of all 32 teams.
The Bears also have a mobile quarterback. With that in mind, you would expect Justin Fields to be consistently included in the designed rushing attack. Yet, somehow... he has not been.
From Weeks 4-6, Justin Fields had a total of four designed runs. He had 27 rushing attempts in those three games... but only because he scrambled 23 times. This team cannot stop running the ball, yet they completely forgot they had a mobile quarterback for three straight games. Over that span, Fields had fewer designed runs than Andy Dalton, Bailey Zappe, Cooper Rush, Kirk Cousins, and Carson Wentz. It was some Matt Nagy-level nonsense. But in Week 7, Luke Getsy remembered who he had under center, calling 12 designed runs for Fields. Fields is now tied with Kyler Murray (33) for the third most designed runs among quarterbacks; only Lamar Jackson (48) and Jalen Hurts (56) have more.
This is great news for Fields' outlook going forward. But we might need to wait a week (home for the Dolphins) or two (at the Lions) before seeing another big fantasy outing. This week, Fields gets an absolutely brutal Cowboys pass rush that ranks first in pass rush grade and first in quick pressure rate. And the Cowboys are no slouches in the secondary, ranking fourth in coverage grade.
This matchup looks tailor-made for a letdown because Fields has been absolutely terrible at inviting pressure this season. PFF has charged Fields with allowing pressure on 10.6% of his dropbacks this season. That's the highest rate in the league and significantly higher than every quarterback the Cowboys have faced. Fields' allowed pressure rate is over 1.5x higher than Daniel Jones (6.3%) and Jalen Hurts (5.9%); over four times as high as Carson Wentz (2.3%) and Jared Goff (2.6%); over 8x higher than Matthew Stafford (1.2%); and over 10x higher than Joe Burrow (1%). Tom Brady has yet to allow pressure. Fields' Week 7 was fun to watch... we might have to look away on Sunday.
Fields' penchant for sacks isn't the only issue for his receivers this week. The Bears are facing a Cowboys defense that is the fourth-biggest run funnel in the league. The Cowboys' pass rush is not a secret; teams prepare to shift to the run to keep it at bay. So the Bears, who already love to run, are a lock to be run-heavy this week. Hopefully, that will include some designed runs for Fields, but that won't help his receivers generate fantasy production.
Of course, Darnell Mooney is the only Bears receiver remotely on the fantasy radar. Mooney has seen decent per-route volume this season, with an expected YPRR of 1.97. And he has an impressive 29% target share and 44% air yard share. In fact, with a 0.74 WOPR, Mooney is seeing the seventh-biggest slice of his team's passing offense. But Mooney has a slice of Chicago pie—a casserole of sadness.
Mooney's target volume puts him in play as a FLEX, but he has a very low floor in what could be a rough outing for the offense.
Likewise, both David Montgomery and Khalil Herbert look like TD-dependent options. Matt Eberflus signaled that the Bears would be moving to more of a committee last week when he said the team would be riding the hot hand at running back. Sure enough, David Montgomery's snap share declined from 78% in Week 6 to 56%. Herbert, who had yet to see a 30%+ snap share in any game where Montgomery was healthy, jumped to 41%. Herbert also saw both targets in the backfield.
Montgomery still looks to have a leg up. He got all four red zone carries, and both carries inside the 10. But Herbert's increased involvement definitely hurt. In PFF's expected points, Montgomery ranked RB25, with Herbert at RB37. Given how poor this matchup is, Montgomery is a weak RB2 option.
Cowboys Implied Team Total: 26
Dak Prescott finished his first game of the season against the Lions, and the Cowboys operated as a slightly different team than they've been so far. For the first time all year, they did not implement a run-first game plan. The Cowboys weren't exactly pass-happy, but with a 0% PROE and a 4% PROE on 1st-and-10, they looked like a slightly pass-first team.
Of course, the Cowboys' actual pass rate was very low, just 46%. That was largely the Lions' fault for putting the Cowboys in positive game script. As a result, Prescott attempted only 25 passes, yielding just 207 passing yards and one TD. But Prescott played very efficiently, ranking third in EPA per play and sixth in CPOE.
Unfortunately, Prescott will probably be quietly efficient for another week, given that he faces a Bears run funnel defense and a Bears offense unlikely to push him to the air.
The Bears aren't just any run funnel; they qualify as the biggest run funnel in the league. Teams are shifting 7% to the run against them, which leads the NFL. And opponents are averaging a -8% PROE, which is the lowest PROE against in the league. It isn't hard to figure out why this is. The Bears are desperate to run the ball, which puts opposing offenses at ease. Knowing that they will not be pushed to throw unless things get really out of hand, it's easy to justify attacking a weak Bears run defense.
Of course, the Cowboys will be without their starting running back this week as Ezekiel Elliott recovers from a sprained MCL. But... that will make the Cowboys rushing attack more dangerous.
Tony Pollard ranks RB5 in RYOE / attempt, just behind Nick Chubb and just ahead of Breece Hall and Saquon Barkley. And he also ranks RB5 in breakaway percentage. However, Pollard ranks only RB17 in success rate, so it could take him a few attempts to rip off a long run.
But in this matchup, that's perfectly fine. Pollard should get plenty of work as a 9.5-point home favorite facing a massive run funnel. That's not to say he won't be spelled throughout the game. Pollard is a smaller back who is listed at only 209 pounds; it's unlikely that the Cowboys are willing to lean on him the way they have relied on Zeke (225) at times. But that shouldn't be a problem in this matchup.
And in the unlikely event that the Cowboys play from behind, that would actually be good for Pollard. He leads the Cowboys with a 9% target share in ranks RB12 in YPRR. So Pollard has multiple paths to a top-12 workload this week. And if he delivers anywhere close to his typical efficiency against a bad Bears run defense, he'll provide elite value.
In the passing game, volume will be an issue. This makes Michael Gallup a hazardous play because he ran a route on just 79% of dropbacks last week. Dalton Schultz also looks like a risky play after re-aggravating his PCL injury last week. As a result, CeeDee Lamb looks like the only viable play among Cowboys receivers.
Lamb has 98% route participation this season with an elite 32% target share and 39% air yard share—he is tied with Davante Adams (0.75) For the fourth-highest WOPR in the league. Lamb has been decently efficient this season with a 2.17 YPRR. But that elite mark actually understates his target volume.
Lamb's route volume could be pretty disappointing this week, but he can still get there by delivering more efficiently on his targets than he was with Cooper Rush. That shouldn't be hard with Prescott back and playing well and with Lamb facing a defense that ranks only 19th in dropback success rate.
Panthers at Falcons, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday
Panthers Implied Team Total: 18.5
The Panthers' stunning win over the Buccaneers was primarily driven by the fact that they held Tom Brady to just three points. But P.J. Walker also played far better than usual. Walker is miles away from fantasy relevant, but his Week 7 performance provides a glimmer of hope for this offense.
Then again, the minute Walker's efficiency falls off, Carolina could once again turn into a true fantasy wasteland. Because... since Steve Wilks has taken over as head coach, the Panthers have leaned heavily into the run. Over the last two weeks, only the Falcons and Titans have been more run-heavy.
This matchup will test Wilks' commitment to the run, though. The Falcons are shaping up as a massive pass funnel. Over the last three weeks, the Buccaneers posted an 18% PROE, with the 49ers at 6% and the Bengals at 23%. Those were season-highs for all three teams.
Now, what counts as pass-heavy for a Joe Burrow is very different than what counts for P.J. Walker. In other words, the Panthers are still likely to be run-first this week, but they may at least stay above a Bears-level pass rate.
The Falcons aren't a pass funnel by accident; they are extremely vulnerable through the air. Atlanta ranks last in dropback success rate and is getting zero pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
Even in this extremely easy matchup, D.J. Moore remains a low-floor option. He remains on the Panthers, after all. But Moore came to life against the Bucs, with a 48% target share and a 55% air yard share. The Panthers are so bad that he needed half the offense to post a usable fantasy day. But few receivers can generate that kind of target share.
With Chuba Hubbard's status up in the air, D'Onta Foreman has the chance to be a semi-appealing option. Foreman saw 10.1 expected points last week, with Hubbard at 7.6. If Foreman can take on enough of Hubbard's work to get to about 12 expected points, he would approach a top-20 running back workload.
Of course, that workload will still be on the Panthers... and so will likely result in inefficient production. And there's also the chance that Raheem Blackshear will take on enough work to keep Foreman's opportunities in check. Still, Foreman looks like a solid fill-in option if Hubbard can't go.
Falcons Implied Team Total: 22.5
Last week, I expressed some optimism for the Falcons' passing game. I felt comfortable betting on the Bengals to maintain an aggressive pass-heavy approach against a highly exploitable secondary and thought that would force the Falcons into comeback mode. The crazy thing is... I was right about the Bengals side of things. They scored their first touchdown two minutes into the game and were up 21-0 five minutes into the second quarter. And the Falcons never got within 10 points for the rest of the game.
But I underestimated Arthur Smith's commitment to the bit. Despite the game environment, the Falcons passed just 36% of the time in Week 7—the second-lowest rate of the week. And their pass rate over expected was -19%, tying Baltimore for the lowest of Week 7. And when you look at their 1st down pass rate, it gets even crazier.
The Falcons posted a -37% PROE on 1st-and-10. That's the season's lowest rate so far and tied for the second-lowest since 2021. Running at this level on 1st down is something you do when you really want to hide your quarterback.
In Week 12 of 2021, the Patriots posted a -42% PROE on 1st-and-10 while dealing with gusts of wind up to 30 mph. Mac Jones attempted just three passes as the Patriots ground out a 14-10 win against a restricted Bills passing game. The Patriots were hiding Jones, but it's hard to argue with the strategy given the conditions and opponent.
In Week 17, the Giants refused to let Mike Glennon pass the ball, as they fell 29-3 to the Andy Dalton-led Bears. This wasn't a strategy so much as an attempt to finish a lost season as quickly as possible; it was pure capitulation.
So was this three-dimensional chess, or a coward calling it quits? Well... it's hard to find anything strategic about what the Falcons did last week. Instead, they only seem interested in playing competitive football for as long as they can be competitive without passing. That could be a problem when they face the Chargers next week, but it shouldn't be a problem this week or in Week 10 when they get the Panthers again.
The wild thing about Smith's approach is that Marcus Mariota hasn't been that bad. He ranks 10th in EPA per play in 23rd in CPOE.
Keep in mind that Mariota's offense is centered around the run; he's not being set up with a ton of optimal passing situations. He could be even better if the offense was set up to help him, but it is very much not. And Smith couldn't be more clear about his intentions here—we will see very few passing attempts from Mariota this week.
This is a gutting situation for Drake London and Kyle Pitts, with both seeing elite target volume... when scaled by route or market share. London has been targeted on 28% of his routes, with a 30% target share in a 31% air yard share. He has an elite 2.03 YPRR for a rookie wide receiver. But none of that matters... because his team doesn't call passing plays.
Pitts is in a very similar position, seeing elite target volume for a tight end. But Pitts has struggled to connect with Mariota, producing just a 6.1 YPT. Normally, I'd extol the virtues of betting on YPT to regress to the mean... but not this week. Pitts could see minuscule route volume, making efficiency absolutely essential for him to deliver a productive day. Odds are, you don't have a more talented tight end on your roster... but you probably have a better fantasy option.
Last week, I was optimistic about Tyler Allgeier, who has played 68% of the Falcons' third down snaps over the last three weeks. But in his 13 pass attempts, Mariota targeted the running back just once. That running back was Avery Williams. Fortunately, Allgeier turned out to be a decent play. He saw 100% of the Falcons' red zone snaps and all three carries inside the 10. As a result, Allgeier had 12.1 expected points, the RB24 workload on the week. Over the last three weeks, however, Allgeier ranks RB35 with just 8.8 expected points per game. Allgeier has yet to show that he can dominate Atlanta's rushing attempts, despite his lead in snaps. He profiles as a weak RB2.
Dolphins at Lions, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday
Dolphins Implied Team Total: 27.5
In the four games that Tua Tagovailoa has finished this season, the Dolphins have been pass-first in every outing. Granted, their 1% PROE against the Steelers was their lowest PROE of those four games. But they have a 6% PROE across the four-game sample, which qualifies as pass-heavy.
But even if the Dolphins are transitioning to a more balanced offense, they are set up for a highly efficient game this week. You can play however you want against the Lions' defense. They can't stop the run or the pass.
Tagovailoa struggled with accuracy against the Steelers, ranking 24th in CPOE. But he was still fairly efficient, ranking 12th in EPA per play. And Tagovailoa is having a strong season; he ranks third in EPA per play and 13th in CPOE.
Tagovailoa's volume could depend a bit on the Lions' ability to put up points this week. But he shouldn't have any trouble playing efficiently, especially if his passes are more on target this week.
It's easy to play efficiently when you have the most efficient wide receiver in the league. Tyreek Hills leads the NFL in YPRR with a ridiculous 3.38, and he's getting there primarily on expected volume. As I noted last week, Jaylen Waddle is actually over-performing his target volume to a large degree. That remains the case entering Week 8.
The analysis here is pretty simple. Hill and Waddle remain elite plays, and all other Dolphins receivers can be left on the waiver wire—other than Mike Gesicki, who can be started in a pinch. Durham Smythe was back in the lineup last week and logged 24% route participation. This directly impacted Gesicki, whose route participation declined from 76% to 68%. Gesicki isn't a terrible desperation option, but he's tough to rely on in a part-time role.
Raheem Mostert continues to operate as the clear lead back in Miami. He has a 68% snap share over his last four games and logged his second-highest snap share of the year against the Steelers. Mostert could be running better; he ranks RB40 in RYOE / attempt and RB36 in success rate. But he's maintaining a clear lead over Chase Edmonds, making him a viable RB2.
Lions Implied Team Total: 22
Through the first four weeks of the season, the Lions had the highest-scoring offense in football; they've scored just six points since. It's been a brutal stretch for Jared Goff. During his hot streak, I noted he was playing more efficiently than his accuracy suggested was sustainable... but his sharp downturn has still been surprising.
In his first four games, Goff ranked eighth in EPA per play and 28th in CPOE. In his two games since, Goff ranks 37th—dead last—in EPA per play... but 10th in CPOE. In other words, to start the season, he was playing unsustainably efficiently, but that has now flipped to where he is playing unsustainably poorly.
For the season, Goff ranks 22nd in EPA per play and 26th in CPOE, which looks like a fairly sustainable combo. Going forward, we'll probably see him deliver more consistently below-average results instead of swinging dramatically from impressive to horrible play.
Goff's inefficiency has been partly driven by three lost fumbles over his last two games. And Goff could struggle with pressure again this week. The Dolphins get to the passer quickly, ranking eighth in quick pressure rate. And the Lions have struggled to protect Goff, ranking 28th in pass block grade. Goff shouldn't be as disastrous as he's been over his last two games, but he's a good bet for a mistake or two this week.
However, Goff's mistakes over the last two games could have lasting consequences. The Lions slowed their pace down dramatically against the Cowboys, which could have been matchup related, but could also be a response to Goff's play.
Still, even if the Lions aren't willing to return to their early season form, volume could be up for this passing game if they play from behind. And Goff should be able to lean on a healthy Amon-Ra St. Brown, which hasn't been the case in either of his last two games.
St. Brown remains a target monster on a per-route basis. He's been targeted on 33% of his routes (99th percentile) and has seen a first-read target on 25% (98th percentile).
This matchup sets up similarly to last week, with the Dolphins' pass rush being the strength of their pass defense. However, the Dolphins have a much worse pass rush than the elite Cowboys unit that Goff just faced. And the Dolphins are also much more vulnerable and banged up in the secondary. It's the type of matchup that might lead a fantasy analyst to wish he had waited a week before making St. Brown the cover boy of his weekly preview column...
T.J Hockenson is also set up well this week. I've noted that his aDOT makes him direct competition with St. Brown for targets. But his shallow aDOT could also make him a good fit for this matchup. And Hockenson's profile looks pretty bulletproof if the Lions can start playing competently on offense again.
D'Andre Swift was a disappointing inactive last week but is now practicing in full. As I covered last week... when I thought he would play... Swift has been incredibly efficient this season. That efficiency will regress to some extent, making it critical for the Lions to feed him more than they did to start the year. But Swift is still an explosive rusher and talented receiver, which makes his matchup against a difficult Dolphins defense less concerning. It's not an ideal defense for him to return against, but he still has a path to a huge day if the Lions involve him in the quick passing game.
Cardinals at Vikings, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday
Cardinals Implied Team Total: 22.75
This season, five teams have yet to turn in a positive PROE. These teams aren't shocking, considering that Dak Prescott has played just one healthy game—they are the Cowboys, Browns, Titans, Falcons, and Bears. But two other teams have been pass-first just once. The Saints are one of them, in line with their recent brand. But the other team... is a bit of a surprise. (Not really, since we're covering the Cardinals, but humor me).
The only time the Cardinals have been pass-first this season was in their Week 3 loss to the Rams. Even with DeAndre Hopkins back in the lineup last week, this "air raid" offense posted a 0% PROE. For the season, the Cardinals rank just 21st in PROE. Perhaps more tellingly, they also rank 25th in PROE on 1st-and-10. The Cardinals signed Kyler Murray to $160 million guaranteed this offseason for the apparent purpose of hiding him like the Giants are hiding Daniel Jones.
This offensive approach hasn't yielded great results for the 3-4 Cardinals, with Arizona ranking 18th in EPA per play. But the run-heavy approach on first down was still in effect last week, with the Cardinals posting a -10% PROE on 1st-and-10.
If you're as frustrated by Kliff Kingsbury's offensive approach as I am, this could be a tough week. The Cardinals are facing a middling Vikings pass defense that notably ranks 31st in PFF's coverage grades. But the Vikings have been good at pressuring the quarterback, ranking eighth in pass rush grade and 11th in quick pressure rate.
Unfortunately, Murray has floundered when pressured this year. From a clean pocket, he ranks fifth in EPA per play and 12th in PFF's quarterback grades. But under pressure, his grade drops to 34th. And when pressured quickly, he ranks just 24th in EPA per play. And while the Cardinals have generally pass-protected well, they are below average at preventing quick pressure.
When an offense is concerned about protecting its quarterback, it will often lean on the run game. This is an especially obvious pivot for the Cardinals, a run-first team running the ball well.
The Vikings rank just 21st in success rate against the run, but they rank third in PFF's run defense grades, so they should be able to hold their own if Arizona establishes it.
Overall, the Cardinals' offense doesn't look inspiring. Kyler Murray should hit some big plays but could kill drives by taking sacks. And the rushing offense should be somewhat successful but isn't a great bet to add an explosive element. In other words, the Cardinals' offense could be a bit of a grind.
But at least we know where the targets are going. In his Week 7 return, DeAndre Hopkins broke all the receiving metrics.
With literally half of Murray's attempts going to Hopkins against the Saints, we can feel extremely confident that Hopkins will be heavily targeted in this game. The question at this point is if there will be any volume left over for anyone else.
Against the Saints, Rondale Moore wasn't just dealing with Hopkins' target dominance; he was also playing out of position, running just 18% of his routes from the slot.
This type of usage has driven me nuts in the past... but I kind of get it here... sort of. Kliff Kingsbury is completely done with A.J. Green. Green didn't run a route against the Saints. Instead, Greg Dortch mixed in for 50% route participation, and the newly acquired Robbie Anderson mixed in for 22%. However, as pointed out to me by Peter Overzet, Kingsbury could have easily played Dortch out of position instead of Moore. I have no counter.
Hopkins' return was impressive, but it's easy to imagine how his target rate could drop considerably once Anderson is on the field and Moore is back in the slot. Moore requires a leap of faith this week. If Anderson isn't ready for a near full-time role, he'll be out of position again. But the second-year wide receiver had a 94% route rate last week, so we know he'll be out there, at least.
Zach Ertz could be in trouble if Hopkins' target rate is anywhere near where it was last week. But Ertz has logged 87% route participation, which is in the 95th percentile for tight ends. Ertz definitely isn't good... but he's still a pretty good fantasy tight end. His volume is elite, even if he doesn't do much with it.
At running back, things could get messy this week. James Conner and Darrel Williams are practicing, indicating strong potential for a committee backfield—because it's hard to see Eno Benjamin going away. Benjamin's explosion is only middling; he ranks RB21 in RYOE / attempt and RB15 in breakaway percentage. But he's been consistently churning out yards and breaking tackles, ranking RB16 in success rate and RB5 in elusive rating.
But Benjamin hasn't been great as a receiver, ranking RB31 in YPRR. That could be the area where Conner sees the most work this week. Conner has been slightly more efficient, ranking RB24 in YPRR. More importantly, as far as playing time goes, Conner ranks RB19 in PFF's pass-blocking grades, with Benjamin down at RB80. If Conner and Benjamin form a committee this week. Conner is more likely to have the receiving work and is also a favorite for the goal-line carries. In the three games where Conner managed 60%+ snaps, he handled all seven of the Cardinals carries inside the 10. Benjamin is likely to steal enough work to hurt but profiles as a between-the-20s grinder, even if he has carved out a meaningful share of the backfield. Conner profiles as a TD-dependent RB2.
Vikings Implied Team Total: 26.25
Before heading into their bye week, the Vikings vindicated my characterization of them as a pass-first team. Against the Dolphins in Week 6, they posted an 11% PROE, bringing their season total to 3%—the sixth highest this year.
The Vikings have yet to post PROE below -1%. They're more of a balanced team with a pass-happy gear than a true pass-heavy team, but this matchup sets them up well to lean into the pass.
The Cardinals can get pressure on the quarterback fairly quickly but are otherwise a terrible pass defense. But the Vikings have been good at preventing quick pressure, which should allow Kirk Cousins to pick apart this vulnerable secondary.
Cousins has actually played fairly similarly to Kyler Murray this season. He ranks 19th in EPA per play, with Murray at 20th. And he ranks 17th in CPOE, with Murray at 24th.
But Kevin O'Connell hasn't been afraid to let his quarterback drop back, in no small part because Cousins has Justin Jefferson to throw to.
Of course, Cousins hasn't had much else going in the passing game beyond Jefferson. But that still hasn't been an issue because Jefferson has been able to deliver an ultra-elite 2.78 YPRR while also completely dominating target volume.
Jefferson isn't dominating targets through manufactured volume, either. He's seen just 7% of his targets on screens, which is well below other elite wide receivers like Deebo Samuel (25%), Cooper Kupp (14%), Tyreek Hill (14%), Stefon Diggs (13%), Ja'Marr Chase (10%), and A.J. Brown (10%). But Jefferson is still being schemed targets in a broader sense—the Vikings' offense is designed to run through him. Jefferson has seen a first-read target on 23% of his routes, which ranks WR7. As a result, Jefferson has been hyper-efficient on non-screen routes with 2.95 YPRR. Among WRs with 100+ routes, only Tyreek Hill has been more efficient. This week he gets a defense that ranks 28th in EPA allowed per dropback and 31st in dropback success rate; Jefferson is set up for an explosive week.
Normally, I view this as a one-man passing attack. But in this matchup, Adam Thielen could make some noise. Thielen's 6.9 YPT is below expectations for his 9.9 aDOT, so he could be in for some positive regression. Thielen also has a 97% route rate this year, so if the Vikings aggressively attack this weak secondary, Thielen should be in on the fun.
Speaking of players in decline, Dalvin Cook has fallen off a bit in his age-27 season. He ranks RB30 in RYOE / attempt, RB35 in success rate, and RB37 in breakaway percentage. Cook is still breaking tackles fairly well, ranking RB18 in elusive rating. But he's been shockingly inefficient as a receiver, ranking RB46 in YPRR.
But there's no need to worry about Cook's workload decreasing this week. Even while dealing with a shoulder injury, Cook logged a season-high 88% snap share against the Dolphins.
Cook ranks just RB20 in expected points per game, but that kind of snap share gives them access to a high-end ceiling. If the Vikings are in positive game script as 3.5-point home favorites, Cook could have a strong outing, despite his efficiency red flags.
Raiders at Saints, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday
Raiders Implied Team Total: 25.25
The Raiders have been a balanced team this season, with a -1% PROE that ranks 15th in the NFL. But their season average obscures that they've had a clear trend toward the run since the season began. This is true of their overall pass rate over expected and their approach to 1st-and-10.
The Raiders' approach to 1st down clearly indicates that they are building their offense around the ability to run the ball. Their -6% PROE on 1st-and-10 ranks just 26th this season.
The Raiders have also slowed down as the season has progressed. They began the season fairly fast-paced, ranking 10th in situation-neutral seconds per play through two weeks. However, they have slowed down significantly over the last three weeks; they are currently down to 26th in situation-neutral pace.
When a team is both slow and run-first, it can really suck volume out of a game, creating a lower-than-ideal floor for this passing game. Fortunately, though, we could see the Raiders shift back toward the pass this week.
Two weeks ago, the Bengals posted a 21% PROE against the Saints, en route to a 30-26 victory. The Cardinals posted a 0% PROE against them last week, failing to play aggressively, as usual. But that was still a shift to the pass for the run-first Cardinals. The Saints aren't a pass funnel per se, but it's not hard to understand why the Bengals were so focused on airing it out against them.
Derek Carr has played well this season, ranking eighth in EPA per play and 12th in CPOE. The Raiders haven't been leaning on him, but he looks more than capable of attacking an exploitable Saints secondary. Carr has thrown for just 300+ yards one time this season, so it's hard to get excited about his fantasy ceiling. Still, if his volume increases, he's playing efficiently enough to deliver a solid fantasy performance. And at a minimum, his play can support an elite week from Davante Adams.
Adams has an elite 31% target share and 41% air yard share. He ranks behind only Mark Andrews, Tyreek Hill, and A.J. Brown in WOPR. His target dominance isn't an accident. Adams has 98% route participation and has seen a first-read target on 25% of his routes, which leads the league. Adams is dealing with an offense that is both run-heavy and slowing down, but his target dominance still sets him up for massive upside.
Beyond Adams, things get tough. Even with Darren Waller out of the lineup last week, Hunter Renfrow ran a route on just 71% of dropbacks. He produced a strong 2.75 YPRR... which is great, except he only saw three targets because he wasn't a full-time player. Renfrow is a dart throw FLEX option as a bet that the Raiders pass more this week or that Adams isn't 100% because of an illness that kept him out of practice. But Renfrow is a risky bet as a part-time slot receiver in a run-first offense with a target dominant No. 1 option.
Darren Waller should be back in fantasy lineup if he returns from injury this week. He seems like a more natural replacement for some of Adams' downfield targets if the wide receiver is ailing. Waller has an 11.6 aDOT this season and could deliver some big plays regardless of Adams' status. With a 15% target share, Waller has been disappointing this season... but so has the tight position as a whole.
Josh Jacobs has been a fantasy juggernaut, delivering three straight 30+ point performances. However, while Jacobs' workload has been very strong this season, it's important to realize that he has run ridiculously hot in efficiency over his last three games. Jacobs has produced 11.8 Fantasy points over expected since Week 4, which leads the league. And remember, this is a stretch that includes Ken Walker ripping off long TD runs at will and Austin Ekeler scoring TDs from anywhere but inside the 5. PFF's expected points model gives Jacobs 2.5 expected TDs in his last three games; he's scored six.
And while Jacobs has been extremely efficient as a fantasy running back, he's not off the charts in key efficiency metrics. That's not to say Jacobs hasn't been good; Jacobs has been very good. He just hasn't been an elite running back this season, making it much harder to buy into him sustaining his hotter-than-the-sun fantasy production.
Jacobs ranks RB11 in RYOE / attempt, RB10 in success rate, and RB6 in elusive rating. So there's no denying he's having a great season. But Jacobs ranks just RB33 in breakaway percentage and RB20 in YPRR. Jacobs is running very well, but he's still not a great bet for long runs and remains a middling receiver. Jacobs is definitely a true RB1, but I would be cashing out if someone is buying him as an elite RB1 moving forward.
But that doesn't change the fact that you can feel great about starting him this week. Jacobs has an 80%+ snap share in each of his last three games, which is up significantly from where he started the season.
With 21.9 expected points over his last three, Jacobs has consolidated value in a Raiders backfield that should be able to deliver points again this week. I'm not expecting 30 fantasy points again... but Jacobs is a high-end RB1.
Saints Implied Team Total: 24.25
Andy Dalton will get the start against the Raiders and potentially beyond, with Dennis Allen calling it an "offensive decision." Even after throwing double pick-sixes against the Cardinals, Dalton is outplaying Jameis Winston this year; Dalton ranks 13th in EPA per play to Winston's 27th. However, Dalton has been less accurate than Winston, ranking 20th in CPOE to Winston's seventh. Winston probably gives the offense a little more upside, but the Saints know what they are getting in Dalton.
And this week, Dalton is going up against a Raiders defense that is extremely vulnerable through the air. Dalton probably makes slightly more sense for this matchup; he and Winston have the same aDOT, but Dalton has the faster time to throw. You can beat the Raiders downfield if you can withstand their pass rush. They rank just 31st in EPA allowed per dropback.
The Saints have a -7% PROE this season, so we probably won't see a ton of passing attempts in this game, especially if the Raiders are content to build their offensive game plan around Josh Jacobs. But with Michael Thomas and Jarvis Landry not practicing again this week, we can at least expect targets to continue to funnel to Chris Olave.
Olave continues to have an absolutely elite fantasy profile, not just for a rookie but for any wide receiver. His 2.46 YPRR is a rare mark... and the crazy thing is, he's underperforming on a per-target basis. Olave has a 9.3 YPT this season, which is usually fine, but it's actually below expectations for his ultra-deep 17.4 aDOT. Of course, Olave is a rookie playing with subpar quarterbacks, so he might never perform efficiently this year, but that's not really the point. The point is that Olave's elite profile has been driven by incredible target volume—making it more sustainable.
Perhaps his target dominance will change when Thomas and Landry return. But we're not worried about that right now. Against a defense that is giving up big plays, Olave looks like a WR1 this week.
Juwan Johnson is also a viable fill-in option with Adam Trautman dealing with an ankle injury. Johnson logged 79% route participation against the Cardinals, scoring 2 TDs. Johnson has only been targeted on 14% of his routes this season... but he totaled Kyle Pitts' career TDs in one game, so let's not give him too hard of a time about that.
While Dalton might not be a huge boost for the offense, he appears to be a massive boost for Alvin Kamara specifically. In his three games with Dalton, Kamara leads the NFL with 22.8 expected points per game. And his elite workload has been driven by a 24% target share over that span. Like with Olave, things may change a bit for Kamara once Thomas and Landry are back. But that won't be this week. Even against a solid Raiders run defense, Kamara looks like an elite play.
Patriots at Jets, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday
Patriots Implied Team Total: 21.5
After his quarterback-by-committee Shenanigans against the Bears, Bill Belichick looks like he's committing to Mac Jones as his starter against the Jets. Although the way he did it was very strange, it's not crazy that Belichick wanted to get a more extended look at Bailey Zappe. Zappe has been good this season, ranking 17th in EPA per play, with Jones at 23rd. And Zappe's accuracy has been highly intriguing. He ranks second in CPOE, with Jones at 19th. If this was all the information we had on the two quarterbacks, Zappe would look like the better bet.
But Jones was impressive in 2021, ranking 11th in EPA per play and eighth in CPOE. That, combined with his first-round pedigree, makes it a fairly clear-cut decision to move ahead with him as the starter, at least for the time being.
Jones has a fairly difficult test this week against the Jets defense that ranks second in coverage grade and third in pass rush grade.
The Patriots have protected pretty well this year, but Jones has been brutal under pressure, ranking 38th—dead last—in PFF's quarterback grades. Zappe has been far better, ranking 15th. I wouldn't rule out another appearance by Zappe this week.
Regardless of who is at quarterback, the Patriots can be expected to go run-first this week. With Zach Wilson on the other side, it's hard to believe that Belichick will feel pressured to put up a ton of points. And the Patriots have been a run-first team this season with a -3% PROE and a -6% PROE on 1st-and-10.
With a passing game that is likely to be somewhat inefficient and low-volume, Patriots receivers don't hold much interest—but Jakobi Meyers is still in play, given his target dominance. Meyers ran a route on 100% of dropbacks against the Bears and leads the Patriots with 2.38 YPRR. He also leads the team with a 24% target share, a 32% air yard share, and a 0.58 WOPR. His receiving profile is pretty unassailable, making him a solid FLEX despite the unideal game environment.
With all the attention on Belichick's indecision at quarterback, it may have escaped your attention that Rhamondre Stevenson logged a 77% snap share in Week 7. Given that Damien Harris was active, this was a potentially massive development. Stevenson wasn't playing nearly every snap like he was while Harris was out, but he still finished RB7 in snap share on the week. Stevenson has now out-snapped Harris in every game from Week 2 on. So he's arguable been the Patriots' starter for six weeks now. But there's a big difference between being the 1A in a backfield and having access to a 75%+ snap share.
Against the Bears, PFF measured Stevenson's workload at 19.8 points. He played efficiently, delivering 23.8 fantasy points. And in Weeks 2, 3, 4, and 7 (the four weeks he has outsnapped an active Harris), Stevenson ranks RB13 with 14.8 expected points per game. He's no longer a great bet for the 21+ point workload he saw when Harris was out, but he can easily see a top-10 workload again this week against a middling Jets run defense. Stevenson is a locked-in RB1.
Jets Implied Team Total: 19
Here's a good way to determine if you're a run funnel. If the Bears shift to the run against you... you are a run funnel. Well... the Bears shifted to the run against the Patriots defense. That's welcome news for the Jets, who are doing everything possible to hide Zach Wilson. Over the last four weeks, the Jets have a -6% PROE.
That ranks 23rd since Week 4 and would be tied with Dallas at 27th over the course of the full season. With the Jets hiding Wilson the way the Cowboys were hiding Cooper Rush, they'll be happy to see this Patriots run defense on tap.
Of course, brutally, the NFL will be deprived of watching Breece Hall's continued emergence into stardom after he tore his ACL against the Broncos. Instead, Michael Carter should lead a committee with the newly acquired James Robinson.
Unfortunately, both Carter and Robinson have been unimpressive this year. Carter ranks RB44 in RYOE / attempt, with Robinson at RB31. And Carter ranks RB41 in success rate, with Robinson at RB38.
Both backs have ripped off some long runs, with Carter ranking RB21 in breakaway percentage and Robinson at RB13. But Robinson's runs, in particular, have been hard to buy into.
The biggest difference between the two is how they have performed as receivers. Robinson ranks RB49 in YPRR, ahead of only Darrell Henderson, Ken Walker, and Miles Sanders. On the other hand, Carter has actually been pretty solid as a receiver, ranking RB15.
The two will probably form an inefficient rushing combo, with Carter operating as the receiving back. Zach Wilson's passing down specialist is not an enticing fantasy start, but Carter looks like a fill-in RB2 option.
The Jets' general focus on the run has been devastating for Garrett Wilson's fantasy value. The rookie struggled to produce even with Elijah Moore out of the lineup last week, and Corey Davis banged up. He saw a target on just 14% of his routes, and two of his four targets came on screens. Zach Wilson seems to have no ability to get him the ball unless the play is literally designed to do so. As a result of his screen-heavy target mix, Wilson had just a 1.8 aDOT last week, giving him minimal upside.
Wilson did at least run a route on 88% of dropbacks against the Broncos, which matched his season high. But with Elijah Moore back in the lineup this week, Wilson's routes can't be taken for granted. Unfortunately, this entire passing game should be avoided for the time being. Wilson, who leads the Jets with a 23% target rate, looks like the best of the bunch, but per-route target volume looks poor across the board, and there might not be many routes this week.
Steelers at Eagles, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday
Steelers Implied Team Total: 16.5
We have good news and bad news on Kenny Pickett. In the two games that Pickett has started and finished, the Steelers have been pass-first with a 4% PROE. They are not trying to hide the rookie. The bad news... is that the Steelers have combined for just 13 points in those two games. Putting up three points against the Bills is understandable, but it was a tough look to only put up 10 points against a Dolphins' defense that ranks just 27th in EPA allowed per dropback.
Pickett now has a decent sample size of NFL play, and his efficiency is a genuine red flag. The rookie ranks just 30th in EPA per play. However, his accuracy creates at least some hope; he ranks third in CPOE.
Pickett's accuracy gives him the potential for some positive regression. And more efficient play would be very beneficial this week against a formidable and well-rounded Eagles pass defense.
As you can see, the Eagles are vulnerable on the ground. But they're probably not vulnerable enough for Najee Harris to get going.
In fairness to Harris, he no longer ranks last NFL Next Gen's RYOE / attempt, having done enough to pass Cam Akers last week. So... that's something. But Harris still ranks last in success rate, RB43 in breakaway percentage, and RB42 in YPRR. The one thing I'll say for Harris is that he's up to RB31 in elusive rating and looked to be moving a bit better against the Dolphins. If his early season play was affected by his preseason Lisfranc sprain, we could see improved play from Harris going forward. Based on what he's shown through two seasons, Harris looks like he has a low ceiling in terms of talent. But he ranked 12th in elusive rating last year, and it wouldn't be crazy for him to have a Josh Jacobs-like emergence as a chunk play runner at some point down the line. That's not a good bet this week (at all), but his tackle-breaking ability is something to keep an eye on. Harris' snap share was back up to 77% last week. As a workhorse runner against an exploitable run defense, he profiles as an RB2.
The running game is unlikely to take advantage of a good matchup, but Harris could still see a few more carries than usual if the Steelers can keep the game competitive. That sets up the Steelers passing weapons with a low floor because volume and efficiency could be issues this week.
Efficiency is already a massive problem for Pittsburgh's receivers, who are underperforming their per-route target volume.
The issue seems to worsen every week for Diontae Johnson, who posted just a 4.2 YPT against the Dolphins. "Regression! Regression!" the fantasy analyst screamed with his dying breath.
Unfortunately, given the matchup, Johnson doesn't have a great chance for strong efficiency this week. Sure, his efficiency could improve... but he's set a very low bar for improvement. Still, Johnson has seen 10+ targets in 5-of-7 games this season, including last week. His efficiency is unbelievably bad. But he's getting enough volume to remain a FLEX play.
George Pickens is also in FLEX consideration. His 14.6 aDOT gives him big play upside. He can make his week with a TD, as he did against the Dolphins.
Pat Freiermuth's return further complicates the target distribution, but the tight end is the one Steelers who has been efficient on his targets. His 7.8 YPT is just barely below expectations for his 7.9 aDOT. He ran a route on 76% of dropbacks and Week 7 and looks like a solid TE1 play, even in a difficult matchup.
Eagles Implied Team Total: 27
The Eagles are one of the most fun teams in the NFL because they appear to have multiple offensive modes that they can implement. Their standard offense looks to be pass-first. We saw this version of the Eagles in Week 1-3 and in Week 5.
The Eagles have a 5% PROE in these games with a 7% PROE on 1st-and-10. But the Eagles have also shifted hard to the run on two occasions. The first was in bad weather against Jacksonville, and the second was against the Cowboys' run funnel defense in Week 6. In those two games, the Eagles have a -6% PROE and a -4% PROE on 1st-and-10.
Over the whole season, the Eagles look like a balanced team, with a -1% PROE and a 3% PROE on 1st-and-10. But their passing game has a lot more weekly upside than the typical balanced team. They may be balanced on average, but they've tended to mix things up based on matchup and conditions.
Hurts had his worst fantasy performance of the season against the Cowboys but was still efficient, ranking 12th in EPA per play. And for the season, Hurts ranks seventh in EPA per play and 15th in CPOE. He's putting together an extremely impressive campaign for a dual threat quarterback.
This week Hurts gets a Steelers defense that is quite poor against the pass, particularly at quickly getting to the quarterback; Pittsburgh ranks just 26th in quick pressure rate. This is important because allowing quick pressure is the biggest weakness of the Eagles' passing attack. But if the Steelers aren't able to get to Hurts quickly, they could be in trouble against him, given that they rank 23rd in dropback success rate.
If Hurts has more time to throw, it could mean a big day for A.J. Brown. Brown's 10.4 aDOT isn't much higher than DeVonta Smith's 9.5, but he has been less involved in the screen game. Brown has seen 10% of his targets on screens, with Smith at 17%. And on non-screen routes, Brown has been absolutely dominant with a 2.86 YPRR. Among wide receivers with 100+ routes, only Tyreek Hill, Justin Jefferson, and Stefon Diggs have been more efficient.
The Eagles appear to have multiple gears to their offense. But the primary method of attack, when they can protect Hurts and lean into the downfield passing game, runs through Brown. They are very well-positioned to roll out a Brown-centric game plan this week, making him one of the best plays at any position.
While I fully expect the Eagles to be able to protect Hurts here and, therefore, to implement a pass-first game plan, it's entirely possible that they pivot hard to the run at some point. If Hurts struggles or the Eagles get up big, they could easily turn the game over to Miles Sanders.
In the Eagles' four pass-first games, Sanders has just 12.7 expected points per game, a borderline top-20 workload. But in the two games where the Eagles have gone run-heavy, Sanders is averaging 16.3 expected points per game, a top-10 workload. So Sanders is likely to provide perfectly fine RB2 production, but he has low-end RB1 upside if the game breaks his way.
Titans at Texans, 4:05 PM Eastern, Sunday
Titans Implied Team Total: 21.5
Ryan Tannehill got in a limited practice on Thursday and looks likely to start. The Titans are run-heavy in the best of times. There's no way they don't establish it with their starting quarterback less than 100%.
The Titans have -7% PROE this season, but that arguably understates how run-heavy they've been. With a -14% PROE on 1st-and-10, only the Falcons have prioritized the run at a higher rate on 1st down.
This type of approach is going to limit both volume and efficiency in the passing game. The Titans not only prioritize running plays in their overall play mix but also run heavily on a down when the defense doesn't know what to expect. This means that a higher percentage of their passes occur in suboptimal situations. This helps explain how the Titans don't really have anyone startable in the passing game.
Sure, you could start Robert Woods if you're desperate. Woods is seeing decent per-route volume and playing efficiently with an 8.2 YPT. But Woods has an 83% route rate this season. So he's about as close to a part-time player as he is to elite route participation. And, of course, he's on the Titans, where routes are limited overall.
Instead, Derrick Henry remains the only comfortable start on this offense. And starting Henry isn't just comfortable; it's exciting—especially because Henry is picking up some of the slack in the receiving game. Since Week 3, Henry has a 17% target share. Over the course of the full season, that would tie him with Saquon Barkley for RB5. Henry wasn't used in the passing game in Weeks 1-2 and has not traditionally been used as a receiver. But his recent usage is still very exciting.
Since Week 3, Henry is averaging 20.9 expected points per game. That puts him behind only Alvin Kamara over that stretch, and no running back has topped that mark over the course of the full season. Facing off with a defense that ranks 32nd in PFF's run grades, it's truly hard to imagine how Henry doesn't see a ton of work this week.
Henry profiles as an elite option as the engine of the Titans' offense in a great matchup.
Texans Implied Team Total: 19
Davis Mills is coming off his best performance of the season. But, unfortunately, even with season-best efficiency, he ranked just eighth in EPA per play.
Mills continues to be quite poor this season, ranking 35th in EPA per play, ahead of only Baker Mayfield. He also ranks just 31st in CPOE. Mills now gets a Titans defense that is only middling against the pass but that should be able to contain the Texans' run game.
Dameon Pierce has been a key factor for the Texans this season. In the Texans' Week 5 win over the Jaguars, he had just 41 fewer rushing yards (99) than Mills had passing yards (140). But he could struggle with efficiency this week against a Titans defense than leads the NFL in rushing success rate.
Still, Pierce's workload has been very impressive the season. Excluding Week 1, when he had just a 29% snap share, Pierce is averaging 17.7 expected points per game. And Pierce is playing well; he ranks RB13 in RYOE / attempt, RB23 in success rate, RB18 in breakaway percentage, and RB2 in elusive rating. Pierce has even been competent as a receiver, ranking RB27 in YPRR. He's still coming off the field on third downs, seeing just 22% of third-down snaps since Week 2. But Pierce has an 11% target share over that span, so he's hardly locked out of receiving work. This is a difficult spot for the rookie, but Pierce still profiles as a high-end RB2.
If Pierce can't get going, that will put more pressure on Mills to make plays, setting the Titans' defense up for a potentially big day. But the Texans should be able to at least admit defeat if they can't get the run game going. They have a 1% PROE and a 4% PROE on 1st-and-10. They've shifted to the run recently but are still a balanced team this year.
If the Texans are willing to pivot if the run game isn't working, there could be some passing volume this week.
With Nico Collins out of the lineup, this passing game can be expected to run through Brandin Cooks. Cooks has an unimpressive 1.39 YPRR, but he has remained the focal point of the Texans' attack, with a 23% target share and a 28% air yard share. Cooks has also seen a first-read target on 20% of his routes. The issue is that his 6.2 YPT is two full yards lower than expected for his 8.6 aDOT.
Inefficiency is likely to be a fact of life with Cooks in this offense, but this matchup gives him a shot at an efficient week, and his volume looks locked in now that Collins is injured.
Commanders at Colts, 4:25 Eastern, Sunday
Commanders Implied Team Total: 18.25
We're one week into the 2022 Taylor Heinicke experience, and so far, it's going as expected. Heinicke didn't play horribly against the Packers, ranking 14th in EPA per play. Although, to begin the game, he frankly looked lost and threw a pick-six on his seventh attempt. That makes sense, given that he ranked just 20th in CPOE. But Heinicke had his moments as the game went on and kept the Washington offense moving as part of a run-heavy overall attack.
The Commanders posted a -7% PROE in Week 8. This was even lower than their -6% PROE over the last eight weeks of 2021. This worked out well against a very poor Packers run defense. But if the Commanders plan to remain run-heavy regardless of the matchup, that could catch up with them a bit here. The Colts' defense is quite vulnerable through the air but has played well against the run the season.
Week 7 profiled as an important week for Brian Robinson. In his Week 5 debut, Robinson played 29% of snaps. He then jumped to 48% in Week 6. So it was reasonable to hope that Robinson would again see his snaps increase as the Commanders installed him as their clear-cut starter. But that is not what happened.
Robinson has still had a strong workload over the last two weeks, seeing 13.7 expected points per game. But Antonio Gibson's continued involvement has siphoned away a valuable slice of the Washington backfield. Gibson has averaged 11.3 expected points over the last two weeks, which ranks RB26. If you're looking to play one of them, it makes sense to go with Robinson, who has out-touched Gibson 4-to-1 inside the 10-yard line. But Robinson looks like a TD-dependent RB2 in a matchup where there might not be many points scored.
If Washington is going to put up points here, Terry McLaurin may have to put the Commanders on his back again, as he did in Week 7. Against the Packers, McLaurin scored a critical TD and converted multiple first downs on the Commanders' clock-killing final drive. With 2.15 YPRR and a 13.3 aDOT, it was a vintage performance from the talented deep threat.
Curtis Samuel also acquitted himself well in his first game with Taylor Heinicke this season. He tied McLaurin with a 26% target share and an impressive 1.89 YPRR. Samuel's volume-based receiving profile looks like a bad fit for a Washington offense moving toward the run. But it was nice to see him flash a decent connection with Heinicke.
Still, the Commanders' offense could struggle here as a result of not being able to get their run game going. If that is the case, only McLaurin looks like a decent bet to survive a low-volume inefficient outing, given his downfield ability.
Colts Implied Team Total: 21.25
The Colts are moving to Sam Ehlinger at quarterback, but only because of Matt Ryan's shoulder injury. And I'm sure Ryan will get another shot at some point. Sorry, hang on; I'm getting a call.
Ok, So... Matt Ryan was straight-up benched for the rest of the season.
This makes sense when you consider that Ryan ranks just 29th in EPA per play this season. However, the move seems premature, considering that Ryan has been decently accurate this season, ranking 10th in CPOE.
Ryan has also been playing behind a terrible offensive line. The Colts rank 27th in pass block grade and 30th in run blocking grade. And they allow pressure within 2.5 seconds or less at the ninth-highest rate.
Ryan is a 37-year-old statue, so he's not going to handle pressure well, but that doesn't mean he's inviting it. PFF charts Ryan as responsible for 11% of the Colts' allowed pressures. That ranks just QB24. He has also allowed pressure on just 3.1% of his dropbacks, which ranks QB23. He hasn't been elite at not allowing pressure. Pocket passers like Tua Tagovailoa, Kirk Cousins, Matthew Stafford, Joe Burrow, Mac Jones, and Tom Brady have been much better. But Ryan hasn't been a liability; his offensive line has.
But moving to Sam Ehlinger could still invigorate this offense. Ehlinger ranked first in PFF's quarterback grades under pressure in the preseason. Not just this preseason, by the way, but in the 2021 preseason as well. Yes, I know... it's the preseason. But Ehlinger was playing well in the exact area he'll need to excel in to produce this week. It comes with a big ol' grain of salt, but his preseason play is still a good sign.
Ehlinger also offers the Colts some legitimate mobility at the quarterback position. At Texas, Ehlinger rushed for at least 34 yards per game in all four of his years as a starter and averaged 41.4 rushing yards per game. With just a 4.82 40, Ehlinger is unlikely to be a genuine dual threat at the NFL level, but he could still scramble to keep the chains moving and deliver the occasional highlight reel run.
However, Ehlinger is not a great bet to execute the quick throw game the Colts have been leaning on over the last two weeks. As a result, it could change which Colts receivers look fantasy relevant this week.
Parris Campbell has seen 20 targets over the last two weeks, with 18 coming on first reads. But in his first five games, Campbell saw just nine first-read targets—so he's been a huge beneficiary of the Ryan quick game offense. The offense that Ehlinger runs could be quite different.
But even with the recent emphasis on Campbell, Alec Pierce continues to lead the Colts in first-read targets per route. He is also seeing very similar per-route target opportunity to Michael Pittman.
Per-route target opportunity has sometimes been misleading for Pittman because he runs routes at such a high rate, even for a No. 1 receiver. Pittman has 98% route participation this season, making his ability to draw a target on any given route slightly less important. However, Pierce is now giving him a run for his money; the rookie ran a route on 96% of dropbacks last week. If Pierce clicks with Ehlinger, he has a real shot at emerging as the top target in this offense.
That might seem like a wild claim. But consider that:
- Pierce could run as many routes at Pittman this week.
- The rookie has seen equivalent per-route volume to Pittman.
- Pierce been targeted as the first read at a higher rate than Pittman.
The rookie is a viable FLEX play this week and needs to be rostered in every league.
Even if you think I've lost my mind on Pierce, the Colts' passing game could be surprisingly viable under Ehlinger if the Colts continue to play fast. Through two weeks, the Colts ranked just 28th in situation-neutral pace, but they've gotten much faster since and are now up to fifth.
The pace they've shown recently makes betting on Colts receivers a little less stressful. And the matchup isn't overly difficult this week.
Unfortunately, the Commanders' defense is solid against the run, ranking third in rushing success rate. If the Colts lean in the run game to take pressure off Ehlinger, it could actually put pressure on by putting the Colts behind the chains. Unless... Jonathan Taylor can get back to his 2021 form.
Taylor was absolutely electric in 2021, finishing RB3 in RYOE / attempt and RB4 in success rate. But he's fallen off dramatically this season to RB28 in RYOE / attempt and RB27 in success rate. But given that Taylor is running behind an offensive line that ranks 30th in run-blocking grade, I find his efficiency mildly impressive.
And Taylor looks like a sleeping giant from a fantasy perspective. In his return to action in Week 7, Taylor played just 55% of the Colts' snaps.
As you can see above, this was down considerably from his snap share at the start of the season. The reduced role was very likely related to his ankle injury. With Taylor now off the injury report, we can expect an increase in snaps this week. But Taylor's Week 7 role was encouraging regarding how he was used when on the field. Taylor saw eight targets against the Titans, which tied his career-high.
Taylor's raw target volume was somewhat inflated by 44 Matt Ryan attempts, but he still saw a 20% target share, tied for the second-highest of his career. Of course, this offense could look radically different now that Ehlinger is under center. Ryan had a league-low 6.3 aDOT this season as the Colts attempted to use the quick passing game to mitigate their crumbling offensive line. With Ehlinger, they may rely on his mobility instead.
But Ehlinger still has to execute the plays as designed. And three of Taylor's targets came on first reads last week, giving him a first-read target on 14% of his routes. That is a strong mark for a running back and doubled Taylor's season-high. Even assuming Taylor is less of a priority in the passing game this week, the combination of more snaps and routes with the upside for an increased emphasis on getting him targets gives him elite upside. This season has been a borderline worst-case scenario for Taylor... yet he still ranks RB8 in expected points per game. He remains a locked-in RB1 with overall RB1 upside.
49ers at Rams, 4:25 Eastern, Sunday
49ers Implied Team Total: 22
I've noted for a few weeks now that the 49ers haven't been quite as committed to the run as they were last year.
And maybe Kyle Shanahan is ok with more passing than last year. Otherwise, why send the equivalent of a first-round pick for Christian McCaffrey.
McCaffrey saw 10 touches in his first game, which is over three touches per day he was officially on the 49ers roster. The 49ers seem very likely to return to a backfield-centric approach this week. However, backfield-centric doesn't have to mean run-first now that they have McCaffrey. That could be particularly helpful this week; the 49ers face a very difficult rushing matchup. The Rams rank first in EPA allowed per rush, first in PFF's run grades, and second in rushing success rate.
As you can see above, the Rams also defend the pass well and are getting to the passer quickly. But if Shanahan is trying to counter the Rams' pass rush, it would make a lot more sense to hit McCaffrey with short passes rather than run into the teeth of this defense.
That's true in part because Jimmy Garoppolo's accuracy has improved after a rough start to the season.
Garoppolo is still at risk of major negative regression. Despite ranking sixth in EPA per play, he ranks just 29th in CPOE and 24th in PFF's quarterback grades. His efficiency does not look sustainable based on his current level of play.
However, Garoppolo ranked a much more respectable 18th in CPOE last season, so Shanahan may be willing to lean on him again this week rather than testing a stout run defense.
The passing game will take a hit this week if Deebo Samuel is less than 100% with a hamstring injury. But so far this season... Brandon Aiyuk looks like the 49ers' No. 1 receiver. He has seen a first-read target on 17% of his routes, with Samuel at 14%. And Aiyuk leads the 49ers with 1.83 YPRR on non-screen routes. Presumably, Samuel will be more of a focal point of the passing game plan now that he's less needed in the backfield. But Aiyuk has played well this season and is getting a sizable chunk of passing volume. He looks like a very strong play if Samuel misses the game. If Samuel plays, both receivers will be highly volatile options.
George Kittle knows what I'm talking about. He has seen first-read targets at the same rate as Samuel (14%). But doesn't get schemed touches at anywhere near Samuel's rate. Kittle has had a couple nice games in a row. But like the rest of the 49ers, his per-route target volume hasn't been that valuable.
With Samuel, Aiyuk, and Kittle serving as major target competition for one another, the addition of Christian McCaffrey could make this offense extremely unpredictable... but McCaffrey himself should be fine, especially if the 49ers plan to utilize him heavily as a receiver.
When McCaffrey was at his best, he was an excellent rusher. In 2018, he ranked RB9 in RYOE / attempt, and he was RB5 in 2019. But McCaffrey hasn't been that runner in some time. In 2021 he was down to RB29 in RYOE / attempt, and he ranks RB26 this season. McCaffrey hasn't been bad, but the 49ers already had Jeff Wilson, who ranks RB8 in RYOE / attempt and is besting McCaffrey in success rate and breakaway percentage. Kyle Shanahan does some weird stuff sometimes, so who knows, but the only logical reason to trade for McCaffrey is to get more receiving production out of the backfield.
McCaffrey is still performing very well as a receiver, ranking RB5 in YPRR, just behind Breece Hall and Austin Ekeler; Wilson is down at RB44. In his 22 snaps against the Chiefs, McCaffrey saw two targets... so far, so good. McCaffrey could have a hard time getting back to the ultra-elite fantasy producer he was at his peak. But he still has a much higher ceiling as a 49er than he did as an accumulator on the 2022 Panthers.
Rams Implied Team Total: 20.5
At the end of last season, the Rams showed a clear trend to the run. They remained a pass-first team in terms of their season-long average but essentially had two identities. They started the season a pass-heavy team and were a balanced team following their Week 11 bye.
The Rams could ultimately have a similar look to their pass rate trend this season. They have twice gone pass-heavy with a 7% PROE in both Week 2 and Week 4 but coming off their only run-first game of the season, they posted a -1% PROE against the Panthers. The Rams now have the same -3% PROE that they did last season and are down from 2% to a 1% PROE on 1st-and-10.
The Rams are also slowing down. This was a feature of their 2021 shift to the run, and this trend makes me more confident that they are genuinely interested in changing up their offensive approach again.
If the Rams had a reliable run game or a running back they felt good about, I could see them shifting hard to the run here. Unfortunately, they seem likely to be relying on the same group they were before their bye week.
This is a problem, given how inefficient their running backs have been this season.
Ostensibly a passing down back, Darrell Henderson ranks RB50 in YPRR. And he's also been terrible as a rusher, ranking RB41 in RYOE / attempt. If you're wondering why Kyren Williams is rostered in virtually every competitive deep league... this is why.
The Rams have actually been decent at opening up holes for their running backs, ranking 18th in run block grade. But Henderson and Akers (who ranks dead last in RYOE / attempt) haven't gotten the job done. Henderson should lead the way again and have a high enough snap share to put him in RB2 consideration. But it's hard to see him paying off unless he gets in the end zone.
While the Rams' offensive line has been decent in the run game, they have definitely been a detriment in the passing game. And they could be in for a tough day against a strong 49ers pass defense.
Stafford has struggled with pressure this year. But he's struggled... period. He ranks just 25th in EPA per play from a clean pocket. Fortunately, Stafford could be in store for some positive regression based on his accuracy. Stafford ranks just 28th in EPA per play but ninth in CPOE. The Rams' running game isn't going to come to the rescue this week, but Stafford has a chance to put the offense on his back, particularly if his weapons can help him out.
We know that Cooper Kupp has Stafford's back. He has a 33% target share and a 37% air yard share and ranks sixth in WOPR. I wrote after Week 4 that Kupp would not be able to maintain his absolutely ridiculous target share, and he has, in fact, fallen off. He's posted more normal target shares of 24% and 26% over the last two weeks. Kupp's target volume remains elite, but he would benefit greatly if the Rams could return to being a powerhouse passing offense, even if that means a smaller share of the pie.
That's probably not going to happen, but hey, at least Van Jefferson is back. Jefferson managed just 1.30 YPRR last season, so he's hardly explosive... but Jefferson had a 14.6 aDOT. He wasn't highly targeted, but he did serve as a competent field stretcher. The Rams haven't had that this season; Allen Robinson has the deepest aDOT on the team at just 10.4.
And as bad as the Rams' offensive line has been at times, they actually rank 10th at preventing quick pressures. So Stafford could hit some downfield throws if Jefferson can get open more quickly than Ben Skowronek has. The 49ers' pass rush makes both Jefferson and Robinson unappealing options, but it will be worth keeping an eye on Stafford's aDOT this week.
Besides Kupp, Tyler Higbee looks like the only solid play among Rams receivers. Higbee is still seeing significantly more target volume than Robinson. Being Tyler Higbee, he has only a 6.2 YPT. But the Rams are drawing up screens for him at a high rate, which should continue against this pass rush.
Giants at Seahawks, 4:25 Eastern, Sunday
Giants Implied Team Total: 20.75
Brian Daboll was beloved by football nerds in 2021 as the architect of a Bills offense that aggressively passed the ball with Josh Allen, finishing with an elite high 15% PROE on 1st-and-10. But as I laid out entering Week 1, Daboll hasn't always been pass-heavy... and he was joining a Giants team that went pass-heavy with Daniel Jones in 2021 but produced poor results. Daboll has shifted away from his 2021 Bill approach and the 2021 Giants approach. He has transformed the Giants into a run-heavy team.
But run-heavy can be done well, as Daboll is proving. Despite attempting to hide Daniel Jones as much as possible, he still sets him up for success. Jason Garrett did a decent job of calling designed runs and play action for Jones, but Daboll has taken it to another level this year.
Daboll's approach has been working wonders for Jones. In 2021, Jones finished 26th in EPA per play and 24th in CPOE. This season he's up to 12th efficiency and eighth in accuracy. In a sense, this offense is operating like the 2020 Titans. Tannehill tied Lamar Jackson for the NFL lead in play action rate that season and played very efficiently, even as the Titans built their offense around their superstar running back.
Jones isn't playing as efficiently as Tannehill was at his peak. But he also runs more, making him a viable fantasy option. And Jones looks especially fantasy viable this week going against a Seahawks defense that is letting up big passing plays and doesn't get pressure on the quarterback.
The Seahawks have been a run funnel this season, and their middling defense won't look like a deterrent to a Saquon Barkley rushing attack. So passing volume could be kept in check this week. But with the potential for an efficient passing performance for Jones, it's worth talking through Wan'Dale Robinson—who could finally give us a fantasy viable Giants wide receiver.
Robinson posted a 78% route rate against the Jaguars, up from just 34% in his debut against the Ravens. He's completely displaced Richie James, who dropped to just 16% route participation in Week 7. And Robinson looks to be the clear focal point of the Giants' passing attack. He has an elite 27% target rate, with a first-read target on an elite 23% of his routes. Robinson needs that volume to maintain because he's getting targeted extremely shallowly, with a 4.6 aDOT. But we have yet to be able to play a Giants receiver all season, and that is no longer the case. Robinson profiles as a solid FLEX option.
But, of course, Saquon Barkley remains the only premium play in this offense. Barkley has at least 82% of snaps in 6-of-7 games this season. The only time he's falling below that mark was when he exited briefly against the Packers in Week 5. And Barkley has a 17% target share this season, the highest since his breakout rookie year (21%). If the Giants can get going through the air against a below-average defense, Barkley should be a big part of that success.
And Barkley is running as well as ever. He ranks RB7 in RYOE / attempt, RB14 in success rate, and RB8 in breakaway percentage. He hasn't been hyper-efficient from a fantasy perspective, but that could change if he continues running well. Averaging 18.8 expected points per game, Barkley has the fourth most valuable workload this season. He remains an elite option.
Seahawks Implied Team Total: 23.75
Geno Smith was coming off a down week entering Week 7, but he delivered yet another strong performance against the Chargers in the Seahawks' 37-23 win. Smith now ranks fifth in EPA per play, and his efficiency is backed up by very impressive accuracy; Smith ranks first in CPOE.
Smith has been at his best when the Seahawks have the option to run or pass. This makes sense, given that they are a balanced team. He's set up very well again this week, facing a Giants defense that ranks 29th in coverage grade, 24th in pass rush grade, and 30th in run defense grade.
This week, a good matchup is critical for Smith because he will be without his top wide receiver. Pete Carroll has made noises this week about DK Metcalf suiting up, but that is extremely unlikely. Instead, Tyler Lockett should serve as the clear No. 1 option this week. Lockett has an elite 2.15 YPRR, which leads the team. And he's performing exactly as expected based on his per-route volume.
Noah Fant is far below Lockett and Metcalf's per-route volume, but his role has still been the third most valuable on the team. If Metcalf misses the game, one would like to think that Fant will see a bigger role. But my money would be on Marquise Goodwin playing a near full-time role, with Fant and Will Dissly continuing to split tight end routes. Fant hasn't had higher than a 60% route rate all season; the odds of him being anywhere close to a full-time player are still very low.
Ken Walker has been a welcome bright spot in a season that is handing out injuries to the running back position left and right. After Rashaad Penny was injured against the Saints, the Seahawks have leaned on Walker, and he's coming off a season-high in snap share.
Walker has proven to be incredibly explosive, Ranking RB1 in RYOE / attempt and RB1 in breakaway percentage. Walker has also been very effective at dealing with defenders, ranking RB3 in elusive rating. But I would caution that Walker has a bit of a boom/bust profile. Fortunately, it's been all boom so far, but Walker ranks just RB30 in success rate. As a result, it's relatively easy to imagine him turning in a disappointing rushing performance if he cannot deliver long runs in a given game. And Walker doesn't have a receiving floor to fall back on. He ranks RB51 in YPRR, ahead of only Miles Sanders. And even while playing 73% of snaps against the Chargers, he ran a route on just 39% of dropbacks. But this isn't the week to get cold feet. Facing a Giants defense that ranks 25th in EPA allowed per rush, Walker profiles as a high-end RB2.
Packers at Bills, 8:20 Eastern, Sunday
Packers Implied Team Total: 18.5
After losing to Daniel Jones, Zach Wilson, and Taylor Heinicke in consecutive weeks, Aaron Rodgers now has to find a way to defeat Josh Allen at home. But in a sense, the Bills aren't the worst matchup for the Packers. The Packers have a very solid pass defense but a very poor run defense. This has allowed weaker opponents to grind out run-heavy wins against them. And the Packers don't help matters by playing slow and run-heavy themselves. At least against the Bills, we should see the Packers play more aggressively.
And the Packers are coming off their highest PROE of the season, at 7%. They also delivered their highest PROE on 1st-and-10 with an ultra-pass-heavy 15%.
Some of this "pass-heavy" approach was really an extension of the run game. Aaron Jones saw a 30% target share against the Commanders, and Aaron Rodgers has an extremely shallow 5.5 aDOT. But the Packers have been a run-first team this season, so... at least they were willing to throw it.
Unfortunately, this approach might not lead to a ton of points against the Bills. Rodgers ranked just 20th in EPA per play in Week 7 and 21st in CPOE. It was a continuation of a disappointing season, in which he ranks 24th in EPA per play and 18th in CPOE.
From a fantasy perspective, there could be more passing volume here than normal, which could be nice. But it's hard to believe that Rodgers has any real chance of bouncing back against this defense.
Two weeks ago, the Jets decided to take away Romeo Doubs, double-teaming him on 16 of his 47 routes. Last week, the Commanders weren't nearly as worried about the rookie, double-teaming him just twice. The lack of attention made no difference. Doubs was targeted on just 13% of his routes. Through three-quarters of the game, Allen Lazard was the only Packer wide receiver with a target. With Lazard spotted in a sling after the game and not practicing on Wednesday, Doubs looks like the No. 1 receiver this week. But not if Rodgers isn't interested in throwing to him. Doubs has a brutal 0.99 YPRR on non-screen routes and doesn't have a lead on Sammy Watkins in per-route volume.
If the veteran sees the field at a similar rate, he could easily emerge as the top receiver this week. Christian Watson could also be back this week and cut into Doubs' role in the screen game. That's a problem since it's sort of all that Doubs has right now. If I was going to start any Packers wide receiver this week, I wouldn't.
Because, like last week, the top receiver here should once again be Aaron Jones. Jones ran a route on 74% of dropbacks against the Commanders, a season-high. Only Saquon Barkley, Leonard Fournette, Darrell Henderson, Christian McCaffrey, Devin Singletary, and Eno Benjamin have posted higher rates this season. Jones also saw a 30% target share. Only Christian McCaffrey (40%), Saquon Barkley (37%), Alvin Kamara (32%), and Rhamondre Stevenson (32%) have topped that mar. Over the last couple of weeks, I've noted that Jones' involvement has tended to bounce around. But given the state of the Packers' receiving corps, his receiving usage last week seems like a genuine signal that the Packers plan to emphasize him going forward. With Lazard unlikely to play, Jones could see enough volume to deliver RB1 value.
Bills Implied Team Total: 29
There has been one clear way to attack the Packers all season: the run game. 5-of-7 Green Bay opponents have shifted to the run against them, and they currently rate as the second biggest run funnel in the league, behind only the Bears. This one isn't too hard to figure out. The Packers are very good against the pass and can't stop the run even when they know full well that their opponent is about to run against them.
Of course, the issue for the Bills is that they don't run the ball very well, so they don't do it very often. The strength of this offense is very clearly its passing game. It's hard to see the Bills pivoting away from a Josh Allen-led attack, regardless of the matchup.
Allen currently ranks second in EPA per play and sixth in CPOE. He's continuing to have an even stronger season than in 2021 and is in a clear elite tier with Patrick Mahomes.
And the Bills aren't messing around. They trail only the Chiefs with a 12% PROE and lead the league with a 14% PROE on 1st-and-10. Their 1st down PROE is twice as high as the Chiefs and Bengals, who are tied for second.
The Bills are also speeding up their offense. Buffalo ranked ninth in situation-neutral pace in 2021. It took them a few weeks to get into a rhythm this year, but they are now third in situation-neutral pace
Under Ken Dorsey, the Bills have proven to be more committed to the pass and to a fast-paced approach. We love to see it.
Dorsey's aggressiveness has been incredible for Stefon Diggs. Diggs (2.85) is second only to Tyreek Hill (3.38) in YPRR. And Diggs is running a ton of routes. He has 230 routes this season, one more than Hill, despite being on bye last week.
Gabriel Davis has also been a huge beneficiary of the voluminous Bills passing game—because Davis leads the team with a 95% route rate, well above Diggs at 82%. With a 17.2 aDOT, Davis is going to be hit or miss. But the Bills' offense gives him a much bigger weekly sample than the typical deep threat.
Davis's target volume has been pretty uninspiring this season. He's been targeted on just 11% of his routes, which is extremely low even for a downfield specialist. But Davis seems to have been a pure decoy in Weeks 3-4 when he was battling an ankle injury. In those two games, Davis saw a first-read target on just 5% of his routes. In his other three games, Davis has seen a first-read target on 12% of his routes. He's not exactly a go-to option. But because he's targeted so far downfield, he doesn't need to be.
With Jameson Crowder out of the lineup, it was unclear how big Isaiah McKenzie's role in the offense would be. For now, things look very similar to how they did when Crowder was available. McKenzie ran a route on 58% of dropbacks, which is in line with this 54% route participation this season.
But Khalil Shakir didn't pick up much of the slack. Instead, he was back to the part-time role he played with Crowder healthy, running a route on just 20% of dropbacks. In Week 6, at least, Dawson Knox was the player who benefited from Crowder's absence.
Entering Week 6, Knox had topped out at 69% route participation; he jumped to 80% against the Chiefs. Knox's role is a bit tough to trust. McKenzie's role may grow this week, with Knox dropping off. But Knox had an 82% route rate in 2021, so it would make sense if he returned to a full-time role. He's back in play as a TE1, even with concerns about his role sustaining.
The Bills are unlikely to build their game plan around attacking the Packers' run defense, but they probably can't completely ignore the fact that the Packers rank just 30th in EPA allowed per rush, 29th in rushing success rate, and 26th in PFF's run grade. Even if you strongly prefer to pass—and the Bills do—you have at least consider shifting somewhat to the run here.
With that in mind, Devin Singletary looks like a strong RB2 play. In Week 3, Singletary took over the Bills' backfield, posting a 74% snap share. Outside of a blowout win over the Steelers, he's been a workhorse since.
In those three workhorse games, Singletary has seen 19 expected points per game. If the Packers can keep this game competitive, but the Bills still play from ahead, Singletary will be set up for a huge week.
Bengals at Browns, 8:15 PM Eastern, Monday
Bengals Implied Team Total: 24.25
Last week, I put my faith in Zac Taylor, which made me extremely uncomfortable. But Taylor came through in a big way. Cincinnati aggressively attacked a weak Atlanta secondary and made short work of the overmatched Falcons. After posting a 21% PROE in Week 6—the highest of the season to that point—the Bengals moved the bar higher, delivering a 23% PROE against the Falcons. The Falcons "responded" with a -19% PROE, creating an absurd pass rate gap.
(PROE numbers are slightly different due to the exclusion of penalties)
As much fun as the last two weeks have been, I was skeptical that we would get a third ultra-pass-heavy performance from the Bengals here. And that was before I knew that Chase was headed to injured reserve with a hip injury. My skepticism stemmed from the idea that the Bengals ultra pass-heavy approach may have been matchup driven.
In Week 6, they lit up a Saints defense that ranks 29th in EPA allowed per dropback and 32nd in quick pressure rate. Their pass-heavy game plan also avoided a solid Saints run defense. Last week they attacked a Falcons defense that ranks 30th in EPA allowed per dropback in 31st in quick pressure rate. It's easy to call passing plays if you think you get explosive receptions without any risk of the defense quickly disrupting the play.
But the Bengals now get a Cleveland defense that ranks 13th in quick pressure rate. This could give Taylor second thoughts about calling pass plays, given that the Bengals rank 26th in pass block grade and 21st in quick pressures allowed per dropback. Moreover, the Browns are very vulnerable on the ground. Even though the Bengals are terrible at running the ball, the ground game could look appealing if the passing game is struggling without Chase or the Browns are getting to Burrow. Honestly, given that the Browns rate as the third biggest run funnel this season, I can't really fault Taylor if he calls a balanced game against this run defense.
Still, I'd like to believe that Taylor won't steer too far off course here. It's understandable if the Bengals dial things back from where they've been the last two weeks. But it would be a real shame if Burrow wasn't given plenty of opportunities to put up points. Burrow ranks fourth in EPA per play and fifth in CPOE. He's been more efficient than Jalen Hurts and more accurate than Josh Allen.
But Tee Higgins will need to step up in a big way this week to keep the passing game success going because he's about to see a big increase in defensive attention. After Week 4, I noted that Ja'Marr Chase had seen 55 double teams, the second most behind Cooper Kupp to that point. The extra attention hasn't stopped; Chase was doubled 36 times over the last three weeks, the third most in the league. And Chase leads the NFL with 25 double teams over the last two weeks.
But Chase was extremely productive over his last two games, despite league-high defensive attention, averaging 9.5 targets for 7.5-131-2 receiving with 3.04 YPRR. You can try and take Chase away... that doesn't mean you're going to. Tee Higgins has yet to prove he can handle that level of attention.
But Higgins should see a lot of targets if he can get open this week. If you were looking only at YPRR, Tee Higgins would already look like the Bengals top wide receiver (which is why we don't only look at YPRR). He leads the team with 2.13 YPRR, supported by strong target volume.
Higgins is probably hurt by Chase being out this week (defensive attention; fewer passing attempts) more than he's helped. But if the Bengals are aggressive even without their No. 1 receiver, there are certainly some high upside outcomes for Burrow's new No. 1.
Despite his blowup in Week 7, Tyler Boyd remains very clearly behind Chase and Higgins in the pecking order. The first read targets have gone in the order you'd expect—Chase (18%), Higgins (16%), Boyd (13%), then Hayden Hurst (10%). And not only has he seen less per-route volume, he's run fewer routes. Boyd's routes might not be impacted much by Chase's absence, given that he plays 84% of his snaps in the slot. But Burrow should look to him more often, making him a solid FLEX.
Hayden Hurst has run a route on 73% of dropbacks, which puts him on the TE1 borderline, purely because he's on the Bengals. His 0.97 YPRR is very poor; as you can see above, his expected YPRR isn't much better. But he runs a lot of routes on a Joe Burrow offense with targets opening up.
A lot of raw opportunity in a Joe Burrow offense is also what Joe Mixon has going for him. Granted, that opportunity has declined dramatically. From Week 1-5, Mixon averaged 21.8 expected points per game, giving him the most valuable workload among running backs. But Mixon was leaving a ridiculous eight points per game on the field. Mixon's workload was setting him up to score 109 fantasy points, which would have made him the RB3 behind Austin Ekeler and Nick Chubb. Instead, he was the RB15 behind Jamaal Williams.
However, Mixon's workload has fallen to 17.4 points per game in the two games since. But that significant drop in value has been offset by Mixon performing to expectations. Mixon has delivered exactly 17.4 fantasy points per game over the last two weeks, making him the RB8 over that span. This matchup actually creates risk that the Bengals will lean too much on Mixon for his own good. But if the Bengals stay somewhat aggressive through the air, Mixon can still see a valuable workload against a weak run defense without having to be the offensive focal point. He's a locked-in RB1 with high-end upside this week.
Browns Implied Team Total: 21.25
For as run-heavy as the Bears and Falcons have been this season, the Browns are their equal in one regard: consistency. Like Atlanta and Chicago, Cleveland has had a PROE of at least -2% in every game this season. Sure, Chicago's -14% PROE is twice as low as Cleveland's -7%, but you can't question the Browns' commitment to run-first game plans.
And it would be genuinely shocking if the Browns got away from their run-first approach this week. The Browns are facing a Bengals run defense that ranks just 23rd in EPA allowed per rush... the Browns rank first in EPA per rush.
For as long as this game is competitive, Nick Chubb should be the centerpiece of the Browns' offense. Chubb ranks fourth in RYOE / attempt and fifth in success rate. He's also 10th in breakaway percentage and leads the league in elusive rating. With the Bengals less likely to push the Browns off script, now that Chase will miss the game, this sets up as a decent game environment for the star rusher.
Jacoby Brissett has not been bad this season, ranking 15th in EPA per play and 14th in CPOE. But he's facing a Bengals defense that ranks third in dropback success rate and sixth in EPA allowed per dropback.
But the Bengals generally struggle to get to the quarterback and will certainly struggle to do so here against a Browns offensive line that ranks second in pass block grade. We won't get much passing volume if the Browns can execute their game plan. But it's possible that the Bengals continue to pass aggressively, ignoring the Browns' run funnel defense. If so, we could see additional passing attempts from Brissett. And he could be fairly successful at generating fantasy production for his receivers.
I talk a lot about YPT regression in this column... so I would like to acknowledge that we finally got some on a player I predicted it for. Shocking but true.
Last week I wrote: "Given that per-target efficiency is volatile week-to-week, betting on Cooper for an efficiency spike makes a lot of sense in what should be a bounceback week for the offense overall." And then Cooper turned in a ridiculous 18.5 YPT. Of course, there was the small issue that the Browns' passing offense didn't have any passing volume, with Brissett matching his season-low of 27 attempts. Still, Cooper's overall profile now looks a bit better, with his YPRR up to 1.81.
This is a boom/bust situation for Cooper in terms of target volume. The Bengals can't be fully counted on to play aggressively against the run funnel Browns' defense. But if they do, the Browns could be pushed far more than last week, when the Ravens rolled out a deliberate run-heavy attack against them.
At tight end, Harrison Bryant was a popular pickup this week in tight end premium leagues. That makes sense because his per-route volume wasn't far behind David Njoku's.
Bryant hasn't been nearly as efficient as Njoku, leading to a brutal 0.98 YPRR, with Njoku delivering an elite 2.14. But Bryant should see 65%+ route participation this week, making him a viable fill-in tight end.
To write this article I relied on the following stats, metrics and grades.
- Expected Points Added per Play (EPA/Play).
- Efficiency metric based on how much a play improved a team's likelihood of scoring.
- I use this metric primarily for QB efficiency, but also for defensive efficiency.
- Data from Ben Baldwin's rbsdm.com
- For quarterback EPA I reference Adjusted EPA, which discounts penalties for turnovers.
- Completion Percentage Over Expected
- QB accuracy metric
- Pass Rate over Expected
- Measures passing decisions against what would be expected given the game situation.
- Situation Neutral Pass Rate
- Measures pass rate on downs and in situations when a team truly has the choice to pass or run.
- Situation Neutral Seconds per Play
- Seconds between plays in neutral game script.
- Faster play generally means more plays, which provides more opportunity for fantasy scoring.
- Adjusted Line Yards
- Run blocking stat that has been correlated with elite fantasy running back seasons.
- Snaps and Snap Share
- Probably the single most important stat for running back opportunity.
- Teams check in and out of runs with only one back on the field. Being on the field is critical.
- Data from Pro Football Focus, AddMoreFunds and RotoViz
- Third down and Red Zone Snaps from Sam Hoppen's Player Stat Explorer at 4for4.com
- Probably the single most important stat for running back opportunity.
- Target Share and Air Yard share
- The combination of these is called WOPR. Created by Josh Hermsmeyer, this metric scales from 0-1.
- Data from Pro Football Focus and RotoViz
- The combination of these is called WOPR. Created by Josh Hermsmeyer, this metric scales from 0-1.
- Routes run per dropback
- Snap share for receivers... since I'm not concerned with who is playing run-blocking snaps.
- Data from Pro Football Focus
- Snap share for receivers... since I'm not concerned with who is playing run-blocking snaps.
- Yards Per Route Run
- A YPRR of 1.8+ is good and anything 2+ is very good.
- This metric is particularly useful for young wide receivers whose role could grow as a result of strong play.
- It can also help identify truly elite wide receivers.
- It filters out in-game injuries and blowouts much better than target share does.
- Data from PFF
- Expected YPRR
- Derived from Ben Gretch's Weighted Targets per Route Run calculation
- Scaled to 0 - 3.5, in line with YPRR instead of 0 - 1 scale.
- Derived from Ben Gretch's Weighted Targets per Route Run calculation
- Target per Route Run
- TPRR and Yards per Target combine to make up YPRR.
- TPRR is especially useful for tight ends.
- Some offenses and quarterbacks prioritize throwing to the tight end much more than others.
- Some tight ends are far better at getting open than others.
- TPRR is much more stable than YPT, so in small samples especially, I'd rather know who is drawing targets than what happened afterward.
- Expected Fantasy Points.
- Both RotoViz and PFF have similar Expected Points metrics that adjust opportunity based on the context of each play.
- I am referencing PFF's metric unless otherwise stated.
- Both RotoViz and PFF have similar Expected Points metrics that adjust opportunity based on the context of each play.
- A number of other PFF stats including Time to Throw, Play Action Rate, Pressure Rate, Screen Passes and Defensive Grades.