I’d love to go game by game in this space, but the truth is I don’t have that kind of time. I mean, I’ve got to watch reruns of The Office, too. Anyway, my plan is to look at extremes.
I’d like to know which teams are the very worst against the run and the pass so far in 2020. Which teams funnel to certain positions? This will be a highly descriptive exercise, but maybe it can point someone towards something interesting for Week 5. And when I can add in any sort of nuance, I’ll do so. For example, the Browns look like a funnel and like a team we’d pick on via the air–but that’s largely due to getting obliterated by Dak Prescott and the Cowboys last week. We still aren’t dealing with a large sample size, but four weeks in I think it’s time to start seeing what trends exist, and then build on that moving forward.
The Chiefs and Rams are “run funnel” defenses
Despite ranking inside the upper third of the league in yards per play allowed at 11th (LAR) and 12th (KC), these two rank inside the bottom five of the league in Y/A allowed to enemy runners. Put differently, the Chiefs’ 5.5 NY/A is the third-best mark in the NFL, but the 5.3 Y/A given up on the ground is the second-worst mark in the NFL. I’m not sure if Josh Jacobs of the Raiders is on your radar this week due to what reads like a poor game script, but he’s the best chance the Raiders will have. For what it’s worth, defensive lineman Chris Jones will return from a groin injury this weekend, so that could be a boost to the Chiefs’ run-stopping ability.
The Rams are also stout against the pass, as their 5.6 NY/A ranks fourth (right behind the Chiefs). However, the 5.0 Y/A allowed on the ground is fifth-worst in the league. If you’re looking for a 5K running back today, I think you can take a shot on Antonio Gibson. He had a season-high 18 touches last week, and he’s found the end zone in three straight games. Maybe Kyle Allen will be a shot in the arm? Okay, maybe not. But at the cheap price, it could pay off.
As a bonus, the Panthers fit this bill, too. So far Carolina is allowing 5.1 Y/A on the ground, the fourth-worst mark in the league. The 6.1 NY/A is upper third, though, ranking 11th of 32 teams. And on a yards per play basis, the Panthers rank 18th at 5.7 Y/P. So overall it’s a middling group, but the weakness against the run is definitely pronounced. Todd Gurley has been getting slandered this year, at least my Twitter circles. But he’s firmly on my radar this week, as this CAR/ATL game will continue to pop up as we continue. Of course he’s more of a FanDuel play given his lack of involvement in the receiving game. More on that in a tick.
The Seahawks are the pass funnel to end them all…for next week’s slate
Seattle ranks third-best with only 3.4 Y/A allowed on the ground, but the 7.8 NY/A allowed via the air is the fourth-worst mark among 32 teams. Alas, the Seahawks aren’t on the main slate this week. Darn.
There are three teams worse than Seattle against the pass according to NY/A. Here they are with their corresponding marks against the run:
Dolphins (8.2 NY/A, 4.6 Y/A)
Jaguars (8.0 NY/A, 4.4 Y/A)
Vikings (8.0 NY/A, 4.1 Y/A)
The Vikings are the closest to an extreme funnel give the stout 4.1 Y/A mark allowed to enemy rushers. Alas, they are also not on the main slate this week. The Dolphins will get Jimmy Garoppolo coming off of injury, while the Jaguars will see Deshaun Watson and the Texans. Of those I’d definitely favor Watson. But I’d like to dig deeper…
ATL (7.8 NY/A, 4.2 Y/A)
NE (7.5 NY/A, 4.4 Y/A)
NYJ (7.1 NY/A, 4.2 Y/A)
The Falcons get the Panthers this week, so maybe it is wise to decide between D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson. There’s a high-scoring projection for this game, at 53.5 points. I’ll point out that this game shows up on both sides, with the Panthers getting gashed on the ground (Gurley) and the Falcons getting gashed via the air (Anderson, Moore). One final note on the Falcons passing defense–the 13 touchdowns allowed are the most in the NFL, and that’s against only two interceptions.
It feels disgusting including Gurley, but he has touchdowns in three of four games so far, including a pair of scores against Green Bay last week. However, he’s only averaging two targets per game, and that’s inflated due to a whopping five looks in Week 1. Since then he’s seen target counts of 0, 2, and 1. He also hasn’t topped 80 rushing yards in a game yet. Add it all up and perhaps he’s a better play on FanDuel. Still, it’s conceivable that he posts his highest rushing total of the year this week. The matchup is that good. Besides all the yardage allowed, the Panthers have also given up seven rushing scores to date–tied with the Dolphins for second-most in the NFL.
The Patriots also aren’t on the main slate. Argh. As for the Jets, they draw the Cardinals at home. Kyler Murray hasn’t been great as a passer in 2020, but perhaps this can be his best week yet? He’s finally got a healthy enough receiving group. Hopkins (7-41) didn’t look like himself after dealing with an ankle injury heading into Week 4, but with another week to return to health it would be no surprise if he picked on this secondary. As for Christian Kirk, he draws a great individual matchup against Pierre Desir. Kirk missed Week 3 due to an ankle injury, but returned to post a 3-19-1 line on five targets last week. Volume is a concern, but the matchup is solid if he’s cheap on the DFS site of your choosing. Kirk also has the benefit of an additional week’s health.
A final team to note on this slate are the Browns, who have allowed 12 passing scores against four picks in 2020, and are easier to pass on (6.4 NY/A) than to run against (3.9 Y/A). That said, I’m not sure who you’re banking on within that Colts offense. A dart on T.Y. Hilton to see if he can finally get it going? Other than that it’s tough to get excited given the plethora of “meh” options at Philip Rivers’ disposal. Lastly (as mentioned previously) these numbers are a bit skewed due to the drubbing that Dallas put on Cleveland last week. Over the first three weeks this defense showed better. I wouldn’t go crazy with any Colt today.
RB rush and target volume
The Texans (121) and Cowboys (120) allow the most rushing attempts on the ground so far, but both of those offenses are projected to be leading, which makes James Robinson and any Giants running back a bit of a roll of the dice. That is, at least if you’re only considering rushing attempts (Robinson is still a dual-threat studmuffin).
The next three teams–Bears, Vikings, Lions–aren’t on the main slate this week. But the Bengals, Jaguars, and Jets are. Of those three, the Bengals (106 attempts) draw the roughest matchup against the superb rushing attack of the Baltimore Ravens. The only issue here is the three-headed nature of that running attack. However, with Lamar Jackson nursing a sore knee, maybe the likes of Ingram/Dobbins/Edwards will get a bit more work than usual.
The Jaguars (David Johnson of the Texans) and Jets (Kenyan Drake of ARZ) don’t have matchups that make you get all hot and bothered, though I will confess to having some affinity for the Drake/Arizona correlation play against Joe Flacco. How can you not? Now let’s move into running back targets…
The Panthers (43) and Falcons (40) rank second and third highest in the NFL for running back targets, the highest on today’s slate (Tampa Bay is tops in the league with the game in hand already).
I know Todd Gurley hasn’t been used much in that capacity, but the numbers really keep pointing back to that game. It also follows that it could be Hayden Hurst or Russell Gage soaking up more targets inside if the Falcons don’t use Gurley in that regard, especially if Julio Jones (hamstring) misses again. I still like Gurley on FanDuel given his ability to score in a high octane offense. On DraftKings I’d lean more towards Mike Davis given his usage in the receiving game and this matchup against the Falcons. I don’t play in so-called “cash” games but if I did they’d be littered with Mike Davis this week.
Next-worst on this slate are the Raiders (39). They’ve allowed a 31-276-1 receiving line to enemy backs, or the third-most yardage so far. Stopping Clyde Edwards-Helaire will be a tall order, and CEH seems primed for a huge effort in a game where there Chiefs are projected for 33 points as 11-point home favorites.
Rounding out the top five for RB targets allowed on this slate are the Ravens (36) and the Jaguars (30). The Jags rank 10th-most overall, though. I don’t think we can call that an outlier. There are just multiple teams ahead of them that aren’t on the main slate this week. As for the Ravens, they should be leading the Bengals by a country mile today–so perhaps we see a strong receiving game from Joe Mixon. I faded Mixon LIKE A MORON last week due to his chest injury, at which point he promptly erupted for 31 total touches, 181 total yards, and three freaking touchdowns. I’m not sure if he’ll be popular or not given the matchup against the Ravens, but he was without a doubt the main runner/receiver for Cincinnati last week.
Boy, the Seahawks (136) lead this category by two forevers. Hate not seeing them on the slate. Next up on this slate are the Browns (108) and Eagles (87). Then it’s the Ravens (86), Falcons (84), and 49ers (82). Any lower than that and we are outside of the top 10 worst in terms of WR target volume. So here we are again with a Colts offense sighting, given the volume allowed to WRs and the staunch nature of the Browns run defense so far. If you figure out who Rivers is throwing to this week, be sure to let me know.
There’s also another Falcons defense indictment. I suppose it’s no surprise the Falcons rank so highly in volume of targets to wideouts since we already know they’ve allowed the most passing scores in the league (13). Teddy Bridgewater and company sure are looking nice.
As for the Niners passing defense…maybe you can take a dart throw on DeVante Parker? Preston Williams has been a disappointment all year, and Mike Gesicki is the definition of volatile. That, and the Niners are death to tight ends. It’s Parker or bust if I’m looking at that one…and I’m not looking at that one.
And here we may have our answer for the Indy passing offense. Well, sort of. The top two teams in terms of target volume to TEs aren’t on this slate, in the Saints (44) and Bears (44). But the Browns (41) rank third-worst and face a quarterback in Rivers who has a known affinity for targeting big men. Trouble is, this is a three-headed monster in the form of Jack Doyle, Mo Alie-Cox, and Trey Burton. Doyle had one target last week and his strongest effort in Week 1 was still a dud (3-49). Alie-Cox has scores in back-to-back weeks, but he’s not seeing volume either. He had only two targets Week 4, securing only one for the touchdown. In weeks two and three Alie-Cox did see volume, but that coincided with an injury to Doyle. Now Doyle is healthy, as is Trey Burton. Burton saw five looks last week, but only secured two of them for a measly 16 yards. Volume-wise the numbers say Burton here, if that becomes more of a trend. Given the recent return from injury, I’d say that’s a 1% owned play for your Milly Maker lineups.
The Rams (37) are next up, but I’ve been so burned on Logan Thomas this year I just don’t know if I can take the plunge again. Perhaps Kyle Allen at quarterback will be an upgrade, but sheesh. I sure do wish Alex Smith were healthy.
The Bengals (37) are here too, as if you needed more reason to consider Mark Andrews. Andrews (thigh) is expected to play in this divisional showdown, and is coming off of a two-score game in Week 4–the second time he’s accomplished that feat in 2020.
Next up are the Cowboys (35), who will face Evan Engram and the Giants. Engram saw 10 targets last week, one of only three tight ends to see double-digit looks in Week 4. In a game where Daniel Jones and company should be chasing, I can get behind Engram if the price is right. He’s a fine stacking partner with Jones and Darius Slayton if you’re into that game (you should be).
Next are the Cardinals (34), who face the Jets and Joe Flacco. We can just stop there, right? Any lower than this and we are out of the “extreme” range, anyway. If Chris Herndon IV finally pops off this week with Joe Flacco as his quarterback, I may hang it up for good.
For giggles, let’s see who pops. Seattle and Chicago allow the most QB targets, but those two aren’t on the slate. Third-worst are the Browns (182). Again with that Colts offense. Next up are the Falcons (167) and Ravens (162). So we’re back to considering the Panthers offense and perhaps the Bengals–and we’ve already had a Joe Mixon sighting.
Rounding out the upper third in QB targets are the Rams (151), Eagles (147), and the Panthers (145). So we’ve considered Logan Thomas at TE against the Rams, not yet sure who for the Steelers, and Todd Gurley against the Panthers. JuJu Smith-Schuster and Diontae Johnson are both back at practice this week, and make fine one-offs given that Ben Roethlisberger has been hot to begin his season. He’ll need to evade that Philly pass rush, though. I do have a few builds with one of JuJu or Diontae.
Summary for Week 5
That Panthers/Falcons tilt is exciting, man. I don’t love Gurley but given how popular Atlanta wideouts tend to be that feels a little bit sneaky. Figuring out who the WR1 is for Carolina doesn’t matter if you use both of them alongside Teddy Bridgewater…just sayin’. I’ll remind you once again that the Falcons lead the NFL with 13 passing scores allowed, while the Panthers nearly lead the league with seven rushing scores allowed (second-worst). I’m all over this game. I’m adding in Calvin Ridley if Julio Jones doesn’t go. The Panthers have been better than expected against the pass in 2020, but if you aren’t going to pressure Matt Ryan he’ll find a way to carve you up. I like Ridley coming off of last week’s dud. I also just read in The Primer that the Falcons are likely down a pair of safeties this week, too. Just yikes, Atlanta.
Figuring out how healthy DeAndre Hopkins is will be important. I’m inclined to pay up for him given the matchup and another week’s worth of healing. As for paying up, doing so for Clyde Edwards-Helaire in PPR formats seems prudent, too. If not CEH, Joe Mixon looks like another strong PPR play to pay up for.
Figuring out which Colts wideout or tight end to play seems wise given Cleveland’s passing woes thus far. I really like Trey Burton as a stupid low-owned play. If last week’s volume is the beginning of a trend, that could be something amazing if it pops off. Evan Engram also makes a lot of sense to me. Sooner or later that volume has to pay off. I know we said that about Logan Thomas last week, but he’s got a QB carousel in Washington, while we at least saw plenty of flashes from Daniel Jones in last year’s rookie season. I’ll weave Engram into my lineups for another week.
So that’s my descriptive take on Week 5. Now to prowl the airwaves and see how owned some of these guys will be…