Skip navigation
Favorites
Sign up to follow your favorites on all your devices.
Sign up
View All Scores

Walkthrough Week 11: Stefon Diggs at Home in a Dome

Stefon Diggs

Stefon Diggs

Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the Week 11 Walkthrough, outlining critical fantasy football context for this 11th, glorious 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: Jaguars, Dolphins, Seattle, Buccaneers

Already Played: Titans, Packers

Browns at Bills, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday

Browns Implied Team Total: 20

The Bills are coming off back-to-back losses. And in both cases, their opponent kept the game close and capitalized on late-game Bills errors. Additionally, the Jets and Vikings were helped out by a Bills run defense that is starting to look like a liability. The Bills remain fairly strong against the pass but are down to just 27th in PFF’s rush defense grades.

11_browns_mu.png

11_browns_mu.png

A run-heavy, keep-it-close game plan will suit the Browns just fine. The Browns are familiar with playing ball control on offense; they rank just 25th in situation-neutral seconds per play, operating with a deliberate pace. And with a -7% pass rate over expected and a -12% PROE on 1st-and-10, they are a true run-heavy team. Until and unless the Bills can push them off script, the Browns will be looking to attack on the ground.

11_browns_proe.png

11_browns_proe.png

The Browns are philosophically suited to take advantage of this matchup and have the right running back to punish the Bills’ vulnerable run defense. From a production standpoint, Nick Chubb had a disappointing week against the Dolphins, but that was driven by a lack of usage. Chubb played on just 48% of snaps, with Kareem Hunt at 36% and D’Ernest Johnson at 18%. But he was highly efficient on the work he did see, totaling 81 yards on 14 touches. That shouldn’t be a surprise since Chubb has been extremely efficient all season, ranking first in fantasy points over expected / game due to an extremely strong rushing profile. Chubb leads the NFL in elusive rating, and only Saquon Barkley has more breakaway yards per game.

11_browns_chubb.png

11_browns_chubb.png

The Bills’ offense remains fully capable of scripting Chubb out of this game... which is far more likely now that they won’t be playing in six feet of snow. But if the Browns can keep things relatively close for most of the day, the Bills’ run defense will have trouble containing them. This game needs to go a specific route for Chubb to rack up touches—but he has an elite ceiling if the game script goes his way.

At wide receiver, Amari Cooper‘s home/road splits have become a dominant fantasy talking point. But that does even matter now that this game has been moved to Detroit?

Regardless, last week’s disappointment is more likely related to the Browns’ game plan than the game’s location. Cooper saw a first-read target on just 8% of his routes, and Cooper was double-teamed at a 38% clip. With the defense scheming to take him away and the Browns not building their offensive game plan around him, it’s hard to fully blame Cooper for his down performance. This matchup doesn’t provide an ideal environment for a bounceback, but Cooper’s profile remains strong.

11_browns_amari.png

11_browns_amari.png

If the Bills push the Browns off script, Cooper will at least have a high target ceiling, given his 25% target share this year. Unfortunately, he’s been inefficient when targeted, with just 8.7 yards per target. Cooper’s per-target efficiency is holding him back from elite per-route efficiency, but he still has a very strong 1.98 yards per route run. He’s not likely to see a ton of positive regression in this difficult matchup, but Cooper still looks like a solid FLEX option.

Donovan Peoples-Jones is also in play as a bet that this game shoots out. People-Jones has a solid 88% route rate and decent per-route volume. He isn’t the most exciting option, but everything he’s doing is sustainable.

11_browns_yprr.png

11_browns_yprr.png

However, as you can see above, David Njoku‘s per-route efficiency has been unsustainable. He has a 10.2 YPT, over two yards higher than expected for his 7.4 average depth of target. Still, he’s in the mix as a starting option if he can suit up. The Bills’ defense is tough against the pass, but additional Cleveland passing attempts are a strong possibility if Buffalo’s offense is clicking.

Bills Implied Team Total: 28.5

It’s been a rough two weeks for Josh Allen, who ranks just 22nd in EPA per play over that span. But Allen has been responsible for some high-leverage mistakes, which have greatly impacted his efficiency. Allen’s success rate—the rate at which he is producing positive EPA—has remained strong, at 54%. That’s just below his 55% success rate for the season, which is second only to Tua Tagovailoa.

And Allen continues to benefit from the fact the Bills’ offense is built around the pass. Not only do the Bills have an 11% PROE, second to only the Chiefs, but the Bills also lead the league in PROE on 1st-and-10.

11_bills_proe.png

11_bills_proe.png

Buffalo’s prioritization of the pass on first down makes Allen’s success rate more sustainable because many of his passing attempts occur in optimal situations. And, of course, Allen is set up to be more productive than the average quarterback because he sees more volume than average.

But Allen isn’t just benefiting from passing volume by random chance, though... he’s earned it. His ability to deliver efficiently on high volume separates him from the pack. In terms of EPA per game, he forms a clear tier with Tagovailoa and Patrick Mahomes.

11_bills_epa_per_game.png

11_bills_epa_per_game.png

Teams have primarily been attacking the Browns on the ground this season. Their opponents are averaging a -3% PROE and are shifting 2% to the run. This makes sense, given that the Browns rank dead last in EPA allowed per rush and in PFF’s run defense grades.

11_bills_mu.png

11_bills_mu.png

But the Dolphins showed another path to beating the Browns last week, posting a 5% PROE in their 39-17 victory. Given that the Browns rank just 26th in EPA allowed per dropback, the Bills can easily justify ignoring this juicy rushing matchup and instead use it as a get-right spot for Allen.

The only reason for the Bills to shift to the run would be to protect Allen’s elbow. But after he dropped back 50 times against the Vikings, it seems unlikely that the Bills will build their game plan around limiting his attempts.

At receiver, Stefon Diggs’ target opportunity has been extremely impressive. With a 30% target share and a 37% air yard share, he has a very strong 0.71 WOPR. But he may have even more upside from here. Diggs has occasionally logged limited route participation this season. As a result, he has an 85% route rate, which is lower than normal for an elite wide receiver. But he is coming off a 98% route rate against the Vikings. That is notable, given his elite per-route opportunity.

11_bils_yprr.png

11_bils_yprr.png

Diggs has only been double-teamed on 19% of his routes this season, which is a low rate for a true No. 1 wide receiver. For context, Amari Cooper has been double-teamed on 28% of his routes, despite being far less dangerous than Diggs. This highlights that Diggs is in a bit of a sweet spot. His passing offense runs through him, yet opposing defenses can’t get overly focused on him for fear of being burned deep by Gabe Davis.

Meanwhile, Davis’s per-route opportunity is middling, but he has an elite 95% route rate and plays on a team that calls a lot of passing plays. Elite route participation, combined with a 17.1 aDOT that gives him access to game-breaking plays, makes Davis the boom/bust FLEX option you know and love.

Things are shifting a bit regarding Isaiah McKenzie and Dawson Knox in that both players are becoming more integral to the offense. McKenzie is coming off an 80% route rate, with Knox at 82%. Meanwhile, Khalil Shakir had just 8% route participation against the Vikings. As you can see above, neither McKenzie nor Knox has strong per-route opportunity this season. That makes routes all the more important for both players. With the Bills condensing playing time to fewer players, it’s easier to justify throwing darts at McKenzie and Knox. Knox, in particular, looks interesting since we saw him produce solid fantasy numbers in this exact role last year.

At running back, we’ve seen sprinklings of James Cook and Nyheim Hines, but Cook is averaging just a 20% snap share over the last two weeks, with Hines at just 8%. At this point, the Bills seem to be conducting an elaborate bit. First, they make a big show about replacing Devin Singletary. Then they bring in another back... and then they continue feeding Singletary snaps as if nothing has changed.

Singletary has a 73% snap share since the Bills traded for Nyheim Hines.

11_bills_laughing-haha.gif

11_bills_laughing-haha.gif

Singletary hasn’t been all that great this season, ranking just 42nd in NFL Next Gen’s rush yards over expected / attempt. But he ranks 16th in success rate, and the Bills have leaned on him all year. He has seen the eighth-highest snap share among running backs in the fifth-highest route participation.

11_bills_singletary.png

11_bills_singletary.png

Given how bad the Browns are against the run, this looks like a pretty strong spot for Singletary. Like always, he is at risk of losing out on a touchdown to Josh Allen or another running back. But he could just as easily record multiple scores if the Bills decide to lean more on the run game in the red zone... after Allen’s recent mistakes in that part of the field.

Bears at Falcons, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday

Bears Implied Team Total: 23.25

Justin Fields has transformed into a fantasy superstar. And obviously, Fields’ rushing ability has been the driving factor. Over the last four weeks, he is averaging 117 rushing yards per game and is averaging 163 over his last two games. As I noted last week, Fields’ rushing efficiency was off the charts entering Week 10. That remained the case against the Lions, with Fields averaging 11.3 yards per carry.

But Fields has also shown some real improvement as a passer in his last four games. From Week 1-6, Fields ranked 29th in EPA per play. And he was horrifically inaccurate, ranking 35th in completion percentage over expected. Only Baker Mayfield was more inaccurate to start the season ... although, to be fair, Mayfield was much worse.

11_bears_epa_1.png

11_bears_epa_1.png

However, Fields has been much more efficient and, crucially, more accurate over the last four weeks. Fields has been seventh in EPA per play during his fantasy breakout and 12th in CPOE. Whereas he was previously playing like a less accurate version of Mitch Trubisky, his play recently has been like a more accurate version of Lamar Jackson.

11_bears_epa_2.png

11_bears_epa_2.png

But even with Fields playing much better over the last month, Chicago remains extremely run-heavy. The Bears are dead last with a -15% pass rate over expected. Relative to game script, they are almost twice as run-heavy as the 2021 Titans (-8%), who finished last in PROE.

So, despite better quarterback play, the Bears haven’t shifted away from a ground-and-pound philosophy. In fact, they’ve leaned into a run-based approach, averaging a -17% PROE since Week 7. In other words, even with a breakout quarterback under center, they’ve been calling plays like the Malik Willis Titans.

11_bears_proe_last_4.png

11_bears_proe_last_4.png

A few weeks ago, I would have made the case that the Bears would shift to the pass for this matchup. Because a few weeks ago, the Falcons looked like one of the biggest pass funnels in the league. However, the Panthers have recently demonstrated a different approach to playing the Falcons. In Week 8, the Panthers took the Falcons to overtime with an ultra-run-heavy game plan, posting a -14% PROE. The Panthers’ takeaway was they needed to be more committed to the run. In last week’s rematch, they defeated the Falcons while implementing an even more extreme -23% PROE. The Panthers have helped illustrate an essential fact about the Falcons’ defense. The Falcons are terrible at defending... everything.

11_bears_mu.png

11_bears_mu.png

On the one hand, the Bears’ ability to pound the rock could limit play volume in this game, particularly since the Falcons can also be counted on to roll out an extremely run-heavy attack. But on the other hand, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Fields might have more upside in a matchup that would force him to the air more often, but that would also force him to produce outside of the run-heavy system in which he has been so successful over the last few weeks. Instead, this matchup allows the Bears to do precisely what they have been doing during Fields’ breakout. It also sets them up to be efficient on the ground and through the air... even if passing attempts are limited.

A low-volume passing game shouldn’t be an issue for Fields’ fantasy value, and it might not be an issue for the Bears’ ability to put up points... but it is very much unideal for Bears receivers.

One problem facing Darnell Mooney is that Chase Claypool appears to have a package of plays designed for him. Claypool was targeted on 38% of his routes in Week 9 and 23% in Week 10. He has also seen a first-read target on 22% of his routes with the Bears. Meanwhile, Mooney has seen a first-read target on just 11% of his routes. To be clear, Claypool remains completely unplayable; he ran a route on just 27% of dropbacks against the Lions. But his involvement makes it much harder to trust Mooney, even though Mooney has an elite 94% route rate this season. This matchup is juicy enough to make Mooney a worthwhile FLEX gamble, but he is unlikely to see a ton of targets.

Cole Kmet has been the biggest beneficiary of Fields’ recent improvement, totaling four TDs over the last two weeks. But Kmet’s profile still leaves a lot to be desired. His 82% route participation is an elite mark for a tight end, but he is not drawing targets at a high rate, with a 13% target per route run. And with a first-read target on just 8% of his routes, the offense is not really designed to go through him. As a result, Kmet remains more of a low-end TE1, even with his recent production. Although, he does get a boost in this matchup.

11_bears_kmet.png

11_bears_kmet.png

The Bears’ backfield is pretty clear-cut, at least. With Khalil Herbert on injured reserve with a hip injury, the Bears should be willing to lean on David Montgomery as a workhorse. Montgomery has had a decent snap share this season of 63%. But his share of team attempts is at just 40%. This is because the Bears have tended to bring in Herbert specifically for running plays. Herbert has only played on 37% of snaps, yet has 35% of the Bears’ rushing attempts. In other words, Herbert’s absence will open up a lot of opportunity for Montgomery, even if Montgomery’s snap share doesn’t spike a ton from here.

11_bears_montgomery.png

11_bears_montgomery.png

One issue for Montgomery is that he has not been efficient as a rusher this season. But while that is definitely a concern, it might not matter much this week against a Falcons defense that ranks 26th in EPA allowed per rush and 28th in rushing success rate allowed.

More importantly, given his path to increased rushing volume, Montgomery may not need to be all that efficient to produce a strong fantasy outing. Montgomery has been decently involved as a receiver this season and now has a path to dominate rushing attempts. Unless Trestan Ebner plays more than expected, Montgomery’s role this week should be similar to Josh Jacobs'. Montgomery would normally profile as a volume-dependent RB2... but in this matchup, he has an RB1 ceiling.

Falcons Implied Team Total: 26.25

The Bears are the most run-heavy team in football... but the Falcons aren’t far behind. With a -12% PROE, they would easily have been the most run-heavy team in the league in 2021. And, arguably, they are emphasizing the run even more than the Bears. The Falcons are extremely run-heavy on 1st-and-10, an indication they are prioritizing rushing efficiency over passing efficiency. With a -18% PROE on first down, no team is run heavier.

11_falcons_proe.png

11_falcons_proe.png

Unfortunately, the Falcons don’t have a fun rushing quarterback, averaging 75 yards per game, like the Bears. Instead, they have Marcus Mariota. Mariota isn’t a total zero as a rusher; he’s averaging 35 rushing yards per game. Mariota has also been solid as a passer, ranking 15th in EPA per play and 16th in CPOE.

11_falcons_epa.png

11_falcons_epa.png

Still, the Falcons’ play-calling makes him a shaky fantasy option, and his weapons extremely unreliable—especially because Mariota’s accuracy seems to fall off dramatically when targeting Kyle Pitts and Drake London. Per PFF, Pitts has seen 16 incomplete targets due to Mariota errors; London has seen 14. Only D.J. Moore (20) has seen more QB-error incompletions than Pitts. And only Moore and Davante Adams (15) have seen more than London.

But as frustrating as this season has been for Pitts, his recent usage in the offense is highly encouraging. Pitts ran a route on 89% of dropbacks in Week 10, his second-highest route participation of the season. And for the fourth straight week, Pitts saw a first-read target on 20%+ of his routes. Pitts now ranks 10th among all receivers in first-read targets per route. And only Mark Andrews (24%) has a higher rate among tight ends. Remarkably, the preseason bull case for Pitts as a No. 1 wide receiver with tight end eligibility is hitting exactly as promised... it’s just that it’s hitting in an offense that cannot support a No. 1 receiver.

11_falcons_pitts.png

11_falcons_pitts.png

But this week, maybe the Falcons can actually deliver some value through the air. The Bears ranked 30th in EPA allowed per dropback. They have a terrible secondary, ranking 27th in PFF’s coverage grades, and aren’t getting to the quarterback, ranking 32nd in PFF’s pass rush grades.

11_falcons_mu.png

11_falcons_mu.png

We know the Falcons will do what they can to limit passing volume. But even within that context, Pitts could have one of his better games of the year with improved passing efficiency against this brutal Bears defense.

Drake London could also benefit from this matchup in a big way. But the offense appears to be moving away from London and toward Pitts. Over the last four weeks, London has seen 14 first-read targets to Pitts’ 22. London has run 10 more routes than Pitts over that span, but even with that advantage, he has seen eight fewer first-read targets. That is not a good sign for his ability to command target volume, as it indicates that the offense has shifted toward utilizing Pitts as the No. 1 option. To that point, London has just an 18% target rate over the last four weeks, with Pitts at 25%. Pitts is a much more compelling fantasy option than London, not just because he has tight end eligibility, but because he appears to be a more critical component of the Falcons’ passing game plan.

With Cordarrelle Patterson back in the lineup over the last two weeks, the backfield has become a guessing game. Patterson had a very impressive return in Week 9, scoring two touchdowns against the Chargers. But he was absolutely useless in fantasy lineups in Week 10, totaling 20 scoreless yards on six touches. Patterson played 39% of snaps in Week 9 and 38% in Week 10... so it wasn’t an issue of decreased playing time. Instead, it’s just that things will be unpredictable with Patterson splitting time with Tyler Allgeier and Caleb Huntley. This matchup is easy enough that Patterson is in play as a TD-dependent RB2, and Allgeier is a desperation option. But both have low floors.

Panthers at Ravens, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday

Panthers Implied Team Total: 14.25

Since Steve Wilks became interim head coach, we’ve only seen Baker Mayfield in a fill-in role against the Bengals in Week 9. But Mayfield will start for the Panthers this week, with P.J. Walker dealing with a high ankle sprain. Even with Mayfield back under center, the Panthers’ offense should look very different from how it looked with Matt Rhule.

The Rhule Panthers were surprisingly willing to pass, given how poor their passing game was performing. But Wilks has changed things considerably. Since Week 6, the Panthers have a -14% PROE, putting them among the most run-heavy teams in the league.

11_panthers_proe.png

11_panthers_proe.png

Mayfield was much more efficient in Week 9 than he was to start the season, but that’s probably not worth much. All 20 of Mayfield’s dropbacks came in garbage time against the Bengals... so his performance probably has very little predictive power. And even with that sample included, Mayfield’s efficiency this season has been the worst in the NFL. He’s also delivered league-low accuracy.

11_panthers_epa.png

11_panthers_epa.png

Mayfield does at least get a Ravens defense that is not imposing. The Ravens rank just 26th in dropback success rate. And Baltimore can be run on as well, which should help the Panthers move the chains and prevent them from relying on Mayfield as the engine of their offense.

11_panthers_mu.png

11_panthers_mu.png

I noted a few weeks ago that D.J. Moore’s first read targets have jumped considerably since Steve Wilks and P.J. Walker took over for the Panthers. But the question is whether Wilks has put more emphasis on getting Moore the ball or if Walker is more willing to pull the trigger on first-read looks than Mayfield was. Helpfully, Mayfield played an entire half in Week 9. What we saw was actually encouraging. Moore saw five first-read targets on 20 second-half routes, a 25% rate. That is an elite mark and only slightly lower than the 27% rate he has with Walker. As a Moore fantasy manager myself, I would definitely prefer Walker to be quarterbacking this team. But things should be better than they were to begin the season.

The Panthers backfield also inspires some cautious optimism this week. Even with Chuba Hubbard back in the lineup against the Falcons, D’Onta Foreman saw a 68% snap share, matching his highest of the season. Foreman has run well, ranking impressive 11th in success rate and 16th in NFL Next Gen’s rush yards over expected / attempt. He remains a solid RB2 play, even with Mayfield under center.

11_panthers_foreman.png

11_panthers_foreman.png

Ravens Implied Team Total: 27.25

The Ravens’ game plan largely depends on whether Mark Andrews can suit up this week. With Andrews out of the lineup in Week 9, Baltimore posted a -6% PROE, looking like the vintage run-heavy Ravens. However, the Ravens have been pass-first in 6-of-9 games this season and profile as a balanced team under normal conditions. If Andrews is in the lineup, they should be willing to drop back at a decent rate.

11_ravens_proe.png

11_ravens_proe.png

The Panthers have been getting to opposing quarterbacks quickly, but the Ravens lead the NFL in pass block grade and are fourth in preventing quick pressure, so they should be able to hold up against Carolina’s defensive line.

11_ravens_mu.png

11_ravens_mu.png

After getting in limited practices on Wednesday and Thursday, Andrews looks more likely than not to play, which sets the Ravens up to attack a Carolina secondary that ranks just 26th in PFF’s coverage grades.

Andrews has a 30% target share this season and a 35% air yard share. He’s performing like a true No. 1 wide receiver, despite playing tight end. He’s also seen a first-read target on 24% of his routes, which is an elite rate that indicates the Ravens are calling plays as if Andrews is a No. 1 wide receiver.

11_ravens_andrews.png

11_ravens_andrews.png

But as good as Andrews has been this season, Lamar Jackson proved in Week 9 that he isn’t dependent on him for passing efficiency, finishing sixth in EPA per play.

Jackson has played very well this season, ranking eighth in EPA per play. With or without Andrews, he’s a great bet to succeed against this weak secondary, given how good his pass protection has been.

11_ravens_lamar.png

11_ravens_lamar.png

Unfortunately, the rest of the Ravens’ passing game is difficult to trust in lineups. Outside of Andrews, routes have been very spread out... which is a problem, given the low target rates for the Ravens’ active wide receivers.

11_ravens_rr.png

11_ravens_rr.png

The Ravens backfield is also difficult to trust, with Gud Edwards potentially back in the mix. In Week 7, Edwards played 31% of snaps, with Kenyan Drake and Justice Hill both at 27%. We could see a similar split this week, rendering all three backs useless for fantasy. Edwards would have the most TD upside, but Drake is coming off a 68% snap share and looks like the best bet for playing time, given Edwards’ uncertain health. It’s a situation to stay away from if you can afford to. Although, if Edwards is ruled out, Drake looks like a decent enough RB2 play.

Commanders at Texans, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday

Commanders Implied Team Total: 21.75

Through Week 6, the Commanders were a balanced team. They had a 0% PROE and a 2% PROE on 1st-and-10. But in Taylor Heinicke‘s four starts, the Commanders have shifted to a run-heavy philosophy, dropping to a -8% PROE.

11_commanders_proe_7-10.png

11_commanders_proe_7-10.png

Given that Heinicke’s signature skill is the game-winning flop, it makes sense that the Commanders are looking to hide him. But to their credit, the Commanders are still looking to stay balanced on first down, with only a -1% PROE on 1st-and-10. This has allowed them to set Heinicke up for success while limiting his attempts. That plan should be effective against a Texans defense that cannot stop the run and is also extremely vulnerable to the pass.

11_commanders_mu.png

11_commanders_mu.png

The Commanders seem highly focused on getting Brian Robinson going. He was clearly someone that they repeatedly mentioned in their Monday Night Football briefings. Or at least, that’s the only explanation I can come up with for why Troy Aikman kept gushing about how much juice Robinson adds to their rushing attack. Because... only Ken Walker, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Cam Akers, and Najee Harris have a lower success rate this season. To be fair, that inconsistency wouldn’t be a big deal if Robinson added a big play element—like Walker. But Robinson ranks RB37 in rush yards over expected / attempt and RB37 breakaway yards per game. By comparison, Walker ranks 12th and fifth.

11_commanders_brian_robinson_.png

11_commanders_brian_robinson_.png

But the Commanders haven’t been put off by Robinson’s inefficiency; he saw 52% of snaps against the Eagles. And with the Commanders looking to establish the run, they will likely lean on Robinson again. Given how soft this run defense is, he might even be fairly efficient.

But although we should expect Antonio Gibson to operate as the 1B to Robinson’s 1A, he still looks like the better fantasy bet. Gibson offers a very similar rushing profile to Robinson but with better consistency. And Gibson has been a far more impressive receiver with an elite 1.72 YPRR.

11_commanders_gibson.png

11_commanders_gibson.png

Robinson isn’t the only inefficient rookie that the Commanders are looking to get more involved. Jahan Dotson returned against the Eagles and ran a route on 45% of dropbacks. However, he was targeted on just 7% of his routes and produced a 0.93 YPRR. This continues an unfortunate trend for Dotson, who has a very poor 0.92 YPRR this season. In part, Dotson’s inefficiency stems from an unsustainably poor 7.9 YPT.

Dotson’s per-target efficiency is unsustainably poor because he has operated as a true deep threat, with a 16.0 aDOT. With that level of downfield usage, he should be hitting big plays at a higher rate. The fact that he hasn’t may say more about his quarterback play than his talent level... and a fair amount of it is likely just bad luck.

But crucially, Dotson’s ability to draw targets remains an open question. He has just a 12% target rate this season, which is very low even for a deep threat. If we knew he was going to run a full slate of routes this week, Dotson would be a viable FLEX fill-in. But with his routes still well below a full-time level, his per-route opportunity keeps him off the fantasy radar for this week.

11_commanders_yprr.png

11_commanders_yprr.png

Instead, Terry McLaurin and Curtis Samuel look like much safer bets. McLaurin has been the engine of the Commanders passing attack with Heinicke under center, and there’s no reason to expect that to change this week in a great matchup for the offense overall. And Samuel’s 19% target rate keeps him in PPR FLEX mix.

Texans Implied Team Total: 18.75

Jerry Jones has taken wish casting to another level this season with his constant refrain of “we go as Zeke goes.” But within the state of Texas, there is an offense that is actually powered by its running back.

Dameon Pierce isn’t a perfect back. For one, Pierce ranks just 23rd in NFL Next Gen’s success rate, showing less than ideal consistency. And his top speed is sub-elite. For example, on his 75-yard TD run, NFL Next Gen measured Pierce’s speed at 20.66 mph. That’s definitely fast, but it was only the seventh fastest speed of Week 4, significantly below the 22.09 mph Ken Walker hit on his 74-yard TD run or the 21.87 mph Breece Hall hit on his 62-yard TD run.

However, when you watch Pierce, it’s hard not to feel that he has elite acceleration. And the tracking data backs that up. In Week 8, he hit over 20 mph on only a 16-yard rush. And Pierce pairs that acceleration with elite tackle-shedding ability; he ranks second in elusive rating. The combination of these skills has allowed him to rack up big plays. Even without elite long speed, Pierce ranks ninth in breakaway yards per game.

11_texans_pierce.png

11_texans_pierce.png

Unfortunately, Pierce is going against a highly capable Commanders defense, which is particularly good against the run. The Commanders rank fourth in EPA allowed per rush and fifth in rushing success rate.

11_texans_mu.png

11_texans_mu.png

Pierce has handled 82% of the Texans’ rushing attempts this season, second to only Josh Jacobs. So I’m not suggesting you consider benching him. But I am suggesting that the Texans are more dependent on their running back than a team should be. Pierce will get his carries but could be less efficient than usual, creating issues for the offense overall.

And if Pierce cannot get going, it could mean very bad things for Davis Mills. Mills already ranks 36th in EPA per play. If you’re a quarterback who doesn’t play for the Carolina Panthers... you have been more efficient than Mills this season.

11_texans_epa.png

11_texans_epa.png

Mills isn’t just dealing with a potentially inefficient running game; he has a difficult matchup of his own against a Washington defense that ranks fifth in dropback success rate. These factors alone would make Brandin Cooks a risky start this week. But we also have to consider the possibility that Cooks is no longer the Texans’ No. 1 receiver. Cooks was quite public about his desire to no longer be in Houston, to the point that it caused him to miss Week 9. His return against the Eagles coincided with Nico Collins’ return to the lineup.

And interestingly, Cooks logged just 63% route participation, making him a part-time player. Collins’ 80% route participation was much stronger, and Collins saw a first-read target on a team-leading 27% of his routes. I don’t want to overstate Cooks’ lack of involvement—he still saw first-read targets at a very strong 23% rate. However, target competition from Collins has been an ongoing issue; his per-route volume has matched Cooks’ this season.

11_texans_yprr.png

11_texans_yprr.png

We want to treat whichever of these players is running more routes as the Texans’ No. 1 receiver. And based on last week’s usage and the context surrounding it, Collins seems like a slight favorite to lead the team in targets. Given the matchup, Collins’ involvement could be more of a reason not to play Cooks than a reason to get excited about the second-year receiver this week. Still, Collins looks like a viable dart throw.

Eagles at Colts, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday

Eagles Implied Team Total: 26

As impressive as the Eagles have been this season, they have had a clear Achilles’ heel on offense. Philadelphia ranks fifth in pass blocking grade and seventh in run blocking grade, so their offensive line has played well overall. But the Eagles rank 31st in quick pressures allowed per dropback. These pressures, measured within 2.5 seconds or less by PFF, can completely disrupt an offense. For example, Jalen Hurts is averaging 2.54 seconds per passing attempt. So if a defense can get to him before 2.5 seconds, there’s a high likelihood that they will be generating pressure in time to disrupt the play. And the Eagles are allowing those disruptions at a high rate.

11_eagles_mu.png

11_eagles_mu.png

Last week, the Commanders ranked ninth in quick pressure rate, which played a role in their ability to upset the Eagles. But quick pressure is not a strength of the Colts’ defense. In fact, pressure, in general, is not a strong suit. The Colts rank 20th in pressure rate and even lower in quick pressure rate, at 24th. This should help the Eagles’ offense get back on track this week.

However, it’s still not an ideal matchup for Jalen Hurts. Hurts ranks fifth in EPA per play this season. But he’s more of a big-play threat than a consistent passer; he ranks just 12th in success rate. Hurts’ success rate isn’t bad, but he ranks below Andy Dalton, so... it could be better.

11_eagles_hurts.png

11_eagles_hurts.png

Hurts’ ability to consistently move the chains could be negatively impacted by the loss of Dallas Goedert. Goedert was a reliable intermediate target. On non-screen routes, Goedert was producing a solid 1.71 YPRR while operating at an 8.1 aDOT. But Goedert was also a big contributor to the screen game. 27% of his targets have come from on screens. With that in mind, Quez Watkins could see the biggest boost in target opportunity with Goedert out of the lineup. Watkins has seen 40% of his targets on screens this season. Watkins has also played 78% of his snaps from the slot and could pick up some slack over the middle.

Jack Stoll looks to be the next man up at tight end, but he’ll likely form a committee with Grant Calcaterra and Tyree Jackson. His receiving profile doesn’t offer much promise.

11_eagles_stoll.png

11_eagles_stoll.png

Outside of Watkins, the best bet for additional targets is DeVonta Smith. Smith has seen 19% of his targets on screens, nearly tripling A.J. Brown‘s 7% rate. And if Smith sees a small boost in target share, it could be meaningful. Smith has a 24% target share, so he’s already not far behind Brown, who is at 28%. The big difference between the two is that Brown has a 12.0 aDOT, allowing him to rack up 44% of Philadelphia’s air yards, while Smith is at just 26% due to a much shallower 8.3 aDOT. But as more of an intermediate receiver, Smith looks like a stronger bet to see a few extra targets that might have otherwise gone to Goedert.

However, it’s worth considering that Goedert’s absence could hurt the Eagles’ offense rather than boost the value of the remaining receivers. Part of the magic of the Eagles’ offense was that Goedert wasn’t actually seeing all that much target opportunity. His 1.34 expected YPRR is not actually all that strong. But Goedert was crushing it on a per-target basis and therefore delivering an excellent 1.99 YPRR. Removing him from the offense will remove more efficiency than opportunity... which could lead to more punts and fewer points; that doesn’t help anyone.

11_eagles_yprr.png

11_eagles_yprr.png

Still, don’t sweat A.J. Brown‘s Week 10 dud. As you can see above, he is dominating per route volume, and he also has an elite 0.73 WOPR—in other words, he is seeing a huge slice of the Eagles’ passing offense. Defenses could boost the attention they are giving Brown, as he has only been double-teamed on 23% of his routes. But even if defenses key on him more with Goedert out of the lineup, they will likely struggle to take him away. Among receivers being double-teamed on at least 10% of their routes, Brown leads the NFL with a ridiculous 4.60 YPRR. His ability to get open is truly special. ESPN recently debuted open score, which uses player tracking data to measure the rate receivers get open per route. A.J. Brown led the metric in 2021... and he leads it again this year.

Colts Implied Team Total: 19.5

We’re one game into the Jeff Saturday era, and... at least it closed the book on the Sam Ehlinger era. With Matt Ryan back under center and Jonathan Taylor looking close to full health, the Colts were able to move the ball efficiently against the Raiders. Heading into the game, the Colts ranked 29th in EPA per dropback and 31st in EPA per rush. Against the Raiders, they ranked seventh in EPA per dropback and second in EPA per rush. It was a very strong outing for an offense that has struggled all season.

11_colts_team_epa.png

11_colts_team_epa.png

But the Colts now move from a league-worst Raiders pass defense to a much stronger Eagles pass defense. And the Eagles are a complete pass defense. They get to the quarterback, ranking third in pass rush grade and ninth in quick pressure rate. And they cover well on the backend, ranking third in coverage grade.

Matt Ryan finished sixth in EPA per play against the Raiders, but that kind of efficiency is very unlikely this week. And although he’s new to coaching, Jeff Saturday has watched plenty of football this season. It won’t be lost on him that the Eagles’ defense is much stronger against the pass than the Raiders are. With that in mind, I believe we’ll see the Colts shift toward the run in a meaningful way this week. Part of the reason I feel that way is that the Colts were already surprisingly run-heavy against the Raiders.

I wasn’t being hyperbolic in calling the Raiders the worse pass defense in the league. They literally rank 32nd in EPA allowed per dropback and are 31st in success rate. With a below-average pass rush, there really isn’t much downside to passing on the Raiders, and dropbacks have come with a ton of upside.

But last week, Saturday—and new play caller Parks Frazier—implemented a run-heavy game plan. Their -7% PROE wasn’t anything extreme, but given the context of the matchup, I view it as a clear indication that Saturday plans to lean on the running game.

11_colts_proe_w.png

11_colts_proe_w.png

If that is, in fact, Saturday’s plan, he gets an almost perfect matchup this week to further implement a run-heavy approach. The Eagles have graded well against the run, per PFF, but they are currently dead last in rushing success rate and are 31st in EPA allowed per rush. Given how poorly the Colts have blocked this season, they may not take full advantage of this matchup... but I expect them to try.

As I’ve mentioned a few times in previous iterations of this article, as rough as Jonathan Taylor‘s fantasy season has been... he really hasn’t been that bad. Taylor ranks 21st in RYOE / attempt. He was elite in that metric last year, so his performance this year is definitely disappointing. Still, it’s not like he’s fallen completely off a cliff; he’s remained average in the metric. Taylor’s success rate is concerningly low. But on the other hand, he’s been above average in both breakaway yards per game and elusive rating.

11_colts_taylor.png

11_colts_taylor.png

A healthy Jonathan Taylor is still someone we want to bet on. And Taylor looked pretty healthy last week, outrunning the Raiders’ defense. However, he’s probably still not quite at full speed... literally.

Taylor hit 22+ mph on two occasions last season. In doing so, he led NFL Next Gen’s fastest ball carrier rankings last season. But Taylor has yet to hit even 21 mph this year, including on last week’s 66-yard TD. But even if still slightly hampered, Taylor should be healthy enough to make noise in this matchup—especially if the Colts lean on him as much as I expect.

Saturday and Frazier also seem very intent on calling plays that involve Michael Pittman. Pittman ran a route on 100% of dropbacks last week and saw a first-read target on 33% of his routes. Pittman is now one of just 10 receivers to see 10+ first-read targets in a game this season. If Pittman can repeat the feat, he’ll join Davante Adams, DeAndre Hopkins, and Justin Jefferson as the only receivers to see 10+ first-read targets on multiple occasions. It looks highly possible that Saturday believes the previous coaching staff was not making enough of an effort to get Pittman the ball. As a result, our perception of him could shift quickly... in a very positive way.

While Pittman looks like a sneaky high-ceiling play, Parris Campbell is a viable FLEX option. He was targeted on 33% of his routes against the Raiders and clearly still has a connection with Matt Ryan.

However, Alec Pierce‘s mini ascension looks to be over. The rookie was targeted on only 11% of his routes, with 63% route participation against the Raiders. Under Saturday, this offense could condense to just Taylor and Pittman, with Campbell as the only viable ancillary piece.

Jets at Patriots, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday

Jets Implied Team Total: 17.25

Welcome back, Jets fans. I hope you enjoyed the bye week because you’re not gonna enjoy this.

Even in his upset defeat of the Bills, Zach Wilson was not impressive, ranking 13th in EPA per play. This is what a Zach Wilson spike week looks like:

11_jets_epa_w.png

11_jets_epa_w.png

For the season, Wilson still ranks 31st in EPA per play and 32nd in CPOE. In terms of accuracy and efficiency, he looks like a cross between Mitch Trubisky and Carson Wentz.

11_jets_epa.png

11_jets_epa.png

And Wilson now gets a Patriots pass defense that ranks first in EPA allowed per dropback and first in dropback success rate. This defense also made Wilson look utterly ridiculous at times in Week 8.

11_jets_mu.png

11_jets_mu.png

As you can see above, the Patriots are more vulnerable on the ground. That suits the Jets just fine; since Wilson reentered the lineup in Week 4, the Jets have a -5% PROE with a -9% PROE on 1st-and-10. Even without Breece Hall, they’ve been run-first and are coming off a -7% PROE in their win over the Bills. So they’re a very good bet to go run-first this week. Even still, Garrett Wilson is a solid FLEX option, as he looks to be fully installed as the Jets’ No. 1 receiver. Wilson ran a route on 98% of dropbacks in Week 8 and was at 97% in Week 9. More importantly, he showed a nice connection with Wilson against the Bills, drawing a target on 32% of his routes. Although, the connection might instead be with offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur. Wilson saw a first-read target on an elite 29% of his routes. The Wilson-to-Wilson connection definitely improved in their last game, but the rookie could be a bit play-call-dependent. Still, given his elite route participation over the previous two games, the Jets are a safe bet to get him involved again.

Tyler Conklin also looks like a viable dart throw in tight end premium leagues. Conklin saw just two targets against the Bills, going just 1-for-7. But he ran a route on 79% dropbacks, with C.J. Uzomah at just 34%. Conklin is a TD-dependent option in a bad matchup, but he’ll be out there running routes... which counts for more than I’d like it to this season.

11_jets_rr.png

11_jets_rr.png

In the backfield, it will be interesting to see if Michael Carter maintains a clear lead on James Robinson. Robinson played on 22% of snaps in his Week 8 Jets debut. He then jumped to 39% of snaps against the Bills. Robinson’s increase in playing time didn’t have much effect on Carter, who saw a 56% snap share in Week 8 and a 51% snap share in Week 9. But if Robinson sees another increase in playing time, it will have to come at Carter’s expense. There’s definitely a risk of that happening, but Carter is the back I would rather bet on this week.

Carter hasn’t been a great rusher but has been better than Robinson, ranking 17th in elusive rating and 24th in breakaway yards per game. He’s also ahead of Robinson in every efficiency metric below.

11_jets_carter.png

11_jets_carter.png

Carter’s also a safe bet to have a role because of his involvement in the passing game. With a 1.29 YPRR, he ranks RB9. Carter is an unexciting play, but he’s a viable fill-in RB2.

Patriots Implied Team Total: 20.75

After a promising rookie year, Mac Jones is having a rough season. And I have to say, under any other head coach... we would be absolutely losing our minds that Jones is regressing under offensive coordinator Matt Patricia. The Patriots’ decision to let Patricia run their offense was always inexplicable. It’s impossible to defend now that their 2021 first-round pick has been less efficient than Taylor Heinicke.

11_pats_epa.png

11_pats_epa.png

Jones ranks 30th in EPA per play, just ahead of Zach Wilson. But Jones doesn’t offer the theoretical ceiling that Wilson does. Say what you want about Wilson, but he can make some incredible throws. Jones functions more as an accurate game manager. Last season, Jones’ efficiency and accuracy were very similar to Derek Carr‘s. And although he was less efficient than Jimmy Garoppolo, he was also significantly more accurate. But Jones’ accuracy has fallen off this season. He ranks 19th in CPOE after ranking eighth as a rookie.

11_pats_2021.png

11_pats_2021.png

And unfortunately, this Jets’ defense will make it difficult for Jones to rebound. When the Patriots played the Jets in Week 8, Jones finished 23rd in EPA per play. And Jones was inefficient as part of a run-first game plan that limited his attempts. The Patriots could have a similar strategy on tap against a Jets defense that is far stronger against the pass than the run.

11_pats_mu.png

11_pats_mu.png

With both passing volume and efficiency in question, the only viable fantasy play looks like Jakobi Meyers. Meyers has a 25% target share and a 32% air yard share, making him a reliable FLEX option. With an expected YPRR of 1.92, Meyers isn’t seeing elite per-route volume... but he’s pretty close. And Meyers has a big lead on his teammates in per-route opportunity, which is a big deal because Meyers is also the only Patriots receiver running a full slate of routes.

11_pats_rr.png

11_pats_rr.png

While the Patriots passing game could struggle, their rushing attack should get a boost from the return of Damien Harris. Like he did in Week 8, Harris will likely play behind Rhamondre Stevenson. But Harris should still have a significant role; he played 42% of snaps against the Jets, with Stevenson at 62%. At the very least, Harris should be a more effective change of pace than J.J. Taylor, which can help the Patriots move the chains.

But Stevenson remains a far more interesting fantasy option. As a rusher, Stevenson isn’t perfect. He ranks just 29th in NFL Next Gen’s success rate and 20th in RYOE / attempt. But Stevenson provides tackle-breaking and breakaway ability, ranking top 15 in both breakaway yards per game and elusive rating.

11_pats_stevenson.png

11_pats_stevenson.png

More importantly, Stevenson has been excellent as a receiver, which should keep him involved regardless of game script, and makes him a high-end RB2 even in a 1A role. If he plays well ahead of Harris, as he did in Week 7, he can turn in an RB1 performance.

Rams at Saints, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday

Rams Implied Team Total: 18

The NFL is an unpredictable league; it’s hard to count on anything with 100% confidence. But one thing I’ve come to believe strongly about this sport is that things can always get worse. Matthew Stafford has had an appalling follow-up to his 2021 Super Bowl season, ranking just 28th in EPA per play. As bad as Russell Wilson has been, Stafford has been worse. But... things can always get worse. And with John Wolford under center in Week 10, that’s exactly what happened.

11_rams_wolford.png

11_rams_wolford.png

Wolford was about as accurate as Stafford has been the season, but he was significantly less efficient. And in a crushing blow, Cooper Kupp sustained a significant ankle injury trying to haul in one of Wolford’s passes along the sideline. As a result, even if Stafford is cleared for this game, the Rams’ passing offense could once again be in disarray.

It’s hard to overstate Kupp’s importance to the Rams’ offense. His 31% target share is tied with Davante Adams and trails only DeAndre Hopkins (34%), CeeDee Lamb (33%), and Tyreek Hill (32%).

And Kupp wasn’t just drawing targets; he was drawing defensive attention. Kupp has been double-teamed on 30% of his routes—tied with Ja’Marr Chase and Davante Adams for the highest rate in the league. And Kupp was highly efficient against double teams, drawing targets at a 27% rate and delivering a 2.15 YPRR. Kupp’s absence will open up targets for the rest of the Rams’ receivers, but the offense is likely to become even less efficient as defenses are free to devote less attention to the Rams’ No. 1 receiver.

As a result, it’s hard to have much optimism for Allen Robinson, the most obvious replacement for Kupp as the top option in the passing game. Even in Week 10, with Kupp limited to 60% route participation, Robinson saw a first-read target on just 11% of his routes, which matches his season-long rate.

Instead, if I had to bet on a Ram to see his value increase, it would be Tyler Higbee. The issue for Higbee is that he has been used as a blocker on passing plays at a much higher rate over the last several weeks.

But the Rams may need to adjust that plan going forward as they look to fill Kupp’s role in the intermediate area of the field. If Higbee sees his route participation increase to the 80%+ rates he was posting to start the season, he could emerge as a big beneficiary of Kupp’s absence. On a per-route basis, Higbee remains the top non-Kupp option in Los Angeles.

11_rams_yprr.png

11_rams_yprr.png

Although I’m generally pessimistic about the Rams’ offense moving forward, they have at least a chance at success—because the Saints have trouble getting to opposing quarterbacks.

The Rams’ issues on offense to this point have been related to the fact that their offensive line has played far below expectations. The Rams rank 30th in pass block grade and 32nd in run block grade. But they now face a Saints defense that ranks just 25th in pass rush grade and 32nd in quick pressure rate.

11_rams_mu.png

11_rams_mu.png

Stafford won’t constantly be under pressure... but I still think the Rams will struggle to move the ball because the Saints are strong against the run. Los Angeles has been somewhat similar to Denver this season in that they continue to grind out a running game, despite having an extremely inefficient rushing attack.

11_rams_off_epa.png

11_rams_off_epa.png

For context, the Bills rank 29th in EPA per rush, one spot lower than the Rams. But they have the second-highest PROE in the league (11%) and lead the NFL with a 13% PROE on 1st-and-10. Buffalo can’t run the ball, so they aren’t trying to run it. But the Rams have been a balanced team this season, with 1% PROE both overall and on 1st-and-10.

11_ravens_proe.png

11_ravens_proe.png

The Rams have a low chance of getting things going on the ground this week, but they’re still a good bet to waste downs trying to establish it.

And for fantasy, this backfield is a wasteland. Darrell Henderson is the only running back playing significant snaps; he saw a 49% snap share in Week 9 and a 57% snap share last week. But Henderson has been extremely inefficient this season as both a rusher and receiver. He’s also getting very little work on his snaps, ranking just RB41 in expected points per game. He’s a strong bet to lead the Rams in backfield snaps again this week but also a very poor bet to do anything with that playing time.

11_rams_henderson.png

11_rams_henderson.png

Saints Implied Team Total: 21

With Jameis Winston still dealing with a back injury, the Saints are sticking with Andy Dalton. Dalton has been surprisingly solid this season, ranking 17th in EPA per play and ninth in success rate. However, the wheels have started to come off over the last two weeks. Over that span, Dalton ranks 30th in EPA per play and 28th in success rate.

11_saints_epa.png

11_saints_epa.png

Dalton’s accuracy has remained fairly mediocre; he’s simply been far less efficient. His drop-off in play has been especially worrisome because he’s been struggling against unimposing pass defenses, the Ravens and Steelers. This matchup theoretically sets Dalton up for success. He gets another below-average pass defense that ranks 20th in EPA allowed per dropback and 21st in success rate.

11_saints_mu.png

11_saints_mu.png

However, the Saints are a run-first team facing one of the best run defenses in football. Dalton has had his moments when he can operate as a facilitator and counterpuncher. But if the Saints have to lean on him to move the ball, things could get ugly.

11_saints_proe.png

11_saints_proe.png

Fortunately, Dalton will at least have a more complete receiver corps to work with. Jarvis Landry returned to action against the Steelers and ran a route on 81% of dropbacks. He should be able to play a true full-time role this week. And Dalton was looking to get Landry involved, targeting him on 24% of his routes. He was also dialed in on Juwan Johnson, who saw a 35% target rate. But while Landry and Johnson can help move the chains for the Saints, Chris Olave can move fantasy matchups. Olave’s per-route target opportunity continues to be off the charts... which is pretty exciting, considering that he leads the Saints in route participation.

11_saints_yprr.png

11_saints_yprr.png

In a better situation, Olave would be a clear fantasy WR1. But unless Dalton recovers, this could be another frustrating game. Still, Olave’s ability to earn targets has been exceptional, and he should remain in lineups this week.

Alvin Kamara should also be just fine, despite the difficult matchup. With a 20% target share and an elite 1.85 YPRR, Kamara is better off if the Saints struggle to run the ball. And even if the Saints are inefficient overall, Kamara’s fantasy managers will be more than happy if he can rack up check-down volume. He profiles as a solid RB1 play.

11_saints_alvin_kamara.png

11_saints_alvin_kamara.png

Lions at Giants, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday

Lions Implied Team Total: 21

The Lions are coming off a big win against the Bears. And sure, it took Justin Fields throwing a pick-six for them to win, but Jared Goff still had a highly efficient game. Goff ranked fifth in EPA per play in Week 10 and showed strong accuracy, ranking 12th in CPOE.

11_lions_proe_w.png

11_lions_proe_w.png

And to be honest, I was happy to see the Lions get the win because I’m a fan of this coaching staff. The Lions are a run-first team but are intelligent about how they implement that approach.

Last week was a perfect example of how the Lions often limit Goff’s passing attempts while still setting him up for success. The Lions posted a -5% PROE against the Bears, which is a genuinely run-heavy mark. But at the same time, they posted an 8% PROE on 1st-and-10, which is genuinely pass-heavy. Last week’s game plan was a dramatic example of what has been a pretty standard practice for the Lions. For the season, the Lions have a -3% PROE, but they are pass-first on first down, with a 1% PROE. Their play-calling approach is very similar to the Commanders, whose coaching staff I’ve also been sticking up for over the last two seasons.

11_lions_proe.png

11_lions_proe.png

The Lions need specific conditions to implement this game plan successfully. They have to be able to run the ball efficiently enough to move the chains, and they also need Jared Goff to deliver effectively when called upon, which is far from a given.

The Giants’ defense is far more capable than the Bears’, but this matchup still sets up fairly well for the Lions. The Giants rank just 24th in EPA allowed per rush, so the Lions should be able to move the ball on the ground fairly well. And the Giants are not well-positioned to take advantage of a Lions offensive line that ranks just 26th in pass blocking grade.

11_lions_mu.png

11_lions_mu.png

The Lions will actively limit Goff’s passing attempts as much as possible. But he should have time to throw when he does drop back. That creates the potential for a large percentage of Goff’s attempts to occur in desirable passing situations with solid pass protection. In other words, while Goff may not drop back a ton this week, he has a good chance of being efficient when he does.

This is all great news for Amon-Ra St. Brown. St. Brown has dealt with some injuries this season and, as a result, has just 75% route participation. But the second-year star ran a route on 97% of dropbacks against the Bears; he’s fully healthy.

And on a per-route basis, St. Brown has been outstanding this season, with an elite 2.42 YPRR, which is fully supported by his target volume. In other words, St. Brown’s elite per-route efficiency is sustainable.

And St. Brown will keep getting targeted at a high rate... because the Lions are calling plays intending to get St. Brown involved. He has seen a first-read target on 23% of his routes which trails only Tyreek Hill (26%), DeAndre Hopkins (26%), Davante Adams (25%), CeeDee Lamb (24%), DK Metcalf (24%), and Mark Andrews (24%). Although he hasn’t gotten in the end zone since Week 2, St. Brown remains a fantasy WR1.

11_lions_st_brown.png

11_lions_st_brown.png

Unfortunately, St. Brown looks like the only strong fantasy option on the Lions, even though they could be in for an efficient outing. I’ll note that Khalif Raymond looks like a viable DFS dart throw. His per-route efficiency has been solid this season, and he ran a route on 93% dropbacks last week.

11_lions_yprr.png

11_lions_yprr.png

But the Lions are running a three-man committee at tight end. Brock Wright and Shane Zylstra each had 33% route participation against the Bears, with James Mitchell at 20%. All three are completely unusable.

The Lions’ committee approach in the backfield is also creating headaches for fantasy managers. Jamaal Williams has led the Lions backfield in snap share for two straight weeks. But he played just 40% of snaps against the Bears. Had he not scored a late TD, he would have been absolutely useless for fantasy. Williams has not been targeted since Week 8, making him an entirely TD-dependent RB2 dart throw. You can do better.

But at the same time, D’Andre Swift also looks like an extremely uninspiring option. He played just 31% of snaps against the Bears, barely ahead of Justin Jackson at 27%. Swift prevented a horrific fantasy performance against the Bears with a TD... but he totaled just 12 yards on nine opportunities. Like Williams, he profiles as a dart throw bet on a TD.

Giants Implied Team Total: 24

Like the Lions, the Giants are not interested in featuring their quarterback. That was made extremely clear against the Texans when the Giants rolled out an extraordinarily run-heavy game plan, posting a -20% PROE. In the process, they fed Saquon Barkley a career-high 35 rushing attempts.

11_giants_proe_w.png

11_giants_proe_w.png

Crucially, teams do not have to run the ball against the Texans. They certainly can run the ball against the Texans; Houston ranks just 27th in EPA allowed per rush. But since Houston also ranks 28th in EPA allowed per dropback, the matchup does not dictate a run-heavy approach. The fact the Giants were so eager to run the ball last week is a strong indication that they will be leaning into favorable rushing matchups, even if it means forgoing passing attempts in favorable situations.

This is highly relevant... because the Lions are even worse against the run than the Texans, ranking 29th in EPA allowed per rush. They also rank 30th in EPA allowed per dropback, but the Giants can be counted on to use their passing game as a counterpunch to their rushing attack rather than leaning into this favorable passing matchup.

11_giants_mu.png

11_giants_mu.png

That sets up Saquon Barkley for another strong outing. Barkley was the cover of Week 10’s Walkthrough, and I was expecting a big day for him. Still, I didn’t think 35 rushing attempts was in the range of outcomes. That level of usage is hugely encouraging for a back who leads the NFL in breakaway yards per game. Barkley isn’t a grinder. Sure he handled a grinding workload last week, but each carry is another opportunity for game-changing plays. He’s easily one of the strongest plays of the week.

11_giants_barkley.png

11_giants_barkley.png

Last week, I called Darius Slayton “the best of the bunch” among Giants receivers. His DraftKings salary prevented me from doing anything profitable with that lean, but he further consolidated his position as the Giants’ top receiver against the Texans. Slayton saw a first-read target on 24% of his routes. Given that Kenny Golladay was back in the lineup, this was a very bullish sign for Slayton and indicates that he remains the No. 1 option in the passing game in the minds of the Giants coaches.

Wan’Dale Robinson ran two more routes than Slayton and looks like the clear secondary option in the passing game. But he once again had an extremely shallow aDOT of 4.0. His usage profile requires an extremely high target rate to generate usable fantasy value. But with just an 18% target rate this season, he is falling well short.

11_giants_yprr.png

11_giants_yprr.png

Raiders at Broncos, 4:05 PM Eastern, Sunday

Raiders Implied Team Total: 19.5

The Raiders are in the midst of an embarrassing three-game losing streak. They were shut out by the Saints in Week 8, managed just 20 points against a terrible Jaguars defense, and just lost at home to Jeff Saturday. While Mark Davis claims that he still has full faith in Josh McDaniels, McDaniels has clearly lost faith in Derek Carr. After opening the season with a 7% PROE, the Raiders quickly transitioned to a run-first offense. They haven’t had a positive PROE since Week 3.

11_raiders_proe_trend.png

11_raiders_proe_trend.png

McDaniels hesitancy pass has been a little hard to understand. Carr hasn’t been elite this season by any means, but that is to be expected... he is not an elite quarterback. And Carr’s EPA per play is remarkably similar to last season. He’s been slightly less efficient, but because this is a down year for quarterback play, Carr ranks 11th in EPA per play this year compared to 14th last season.

11_raiders_epa.png

11_raiders_epa.png

Last year, the Raiders built their offense around maximizing Carr. They had a 2% PROE and a 5% PROE on 1st-and-10. Only the Bills, Chiefs, and Buccaneers prioritized the pass more on first down. But this season, the Raiders have been extremely run-heavy on first down, giving Carr fewer passing opportunities when the defense has to play both the pass and the run.

11_raiders_proe.png

11_raiders_proe.png

McDaniels offensive design makes it hard to bet on Carr for passing efficiency or volume. And this week, efficiency is very unlikely because the Raiders are taking on an elite Broncos pass defense.

11_raiders_mu.png

11_raiders_mu.png

The Broncos aren’t bad against the run, but they are far less imposing on the ground than through the air. Given that the Raiders are already inclined to prioritize the run game, we should see plenty of Josh Jacobs this week.

Jacobs leads the NFL with an 84% share of team rushing attempts. He’s also RB5 with a 73% snap share. And Jacobs’ 12% target share keeps him involved regardless of the game script. Even in a tough matchup for the offense, Jacobs remains a low-end RB1 this week.

11_raiders_jacobs.png

11_raiders_jacobs.png

But while Jacobs has been extremely valuable to fantasy managers this season, it’s important to realize that he is not actually providing all that much value to the Raiders’ offense. This isn’t to say that Jacobs is a bad running back. As you can see above, he has been an excellent tackle-breaker and a solid receiver, and he isn’t a zero in terms of big-play potential. But fundamentally, running the ball is less efficient than passing it. And Jacobs is not a game-changing rushing talent. The Raiders’ commitment to him is amazing for fantasy, but they are committing to an inefficient rushing attack at the expense of a solidly efficient passing game.

11_raiders_off_epa.png

11_raiders_off_epa.png

Fortunately, the Raiders’ passing game is extremely concentrated to Davante Adams. Adams’ receiving profile is nearly spotless. With a 31% target share and a 41% air yard share, Adams has a 0.75 WOPR, which trails only DeAndre Hopkins (0.82), CeeDee Lamb (0.78), and Tyreek Hill (0.76). And Adams trails only Hopkins (26%) and Hill (26%) with a first-read target on 25% of his routes. Adams is the engine of the Raiders’ passing game, and that is very much by design.

11_raiders_adams.png

11_raiders_adams.png

Adams receiving profile is so strong that he can produce a massive fantasy outing in any week. But this matchup is still far from ideal. The Raiders are likely to limit passing volume and should struggle with efficiency as well. Per-target efficiency has been the only wart on an otherwise stellar profile for Adams. He’s a layup bet for an elite target share this week, but he still profiles as more of a low-end WR1 in a rough matchup.

Broncos Implied Team Total: 22

Russell Wilson looks like a shell of the fantasy star he once was. Theoretically, this matchup should set him up for a vintage performance—but it’s hard to bet on him to rebound in a meaningful way here.

Before explaining my skepticism, I want to emphasize just how vulnerable the Raiders’ secondary has been this season. Las Vegas ranks dead last-in EPA allowed per dropback and 31st in dropbacks success rate; they are getting absolutely torched. But the crazy thing is... the Raiders have had a fairly easy schedule this season. By dropback success rate, they have faced the eighth-easiest schedule. The Raiders are easily the worst pass defense in the league.

11_broncos_mu.png

11_broncos_mu.png

But the issue for the Broncos is that the Raiders are decent at one thing... getting to the quarterback quickly. And unfortunately, protecting against quick pressure is arguably the Broncos’ biggest weakness in the passing game. Another major weakness for the Broncos is how Wilson is performing when facing quick pressure. In fact, Wilson has been terrible under pressure in general, ranking QB33 in PFF’s grades when pressured. Wilson definitely has a chance to redeem himself a bit this week, but he could also cement his season as an absolute disaster.

Wilson will also be disadvantaged by his coaching staff, who continue to roll out balanced game plans despite a complete inability to move the ball on the ground. Of the top five offenses in EPA per play, only the Eagles have an efficient rushing game this season. The Chiefs, Dolphins, Bills, and Bengals all have negative EPA per rush. So... clearly, an inefficient run game isn’t a problem as long as two other conditions are met. First, you need an efficient passing game. And second, you need a coaching staff smart enough not to repeatedly run headfirst into a brick wall. It’s no coincidence that the Chiefs, Bills, and Bengals also rank first, second, and third in pass rate over expected.

But the Broncos are almost impressively deluded about their ability to run the ball. Sure, Wilson has not been good this season. He ranks just 20th in EPA per play. In fairness to Nathaniel Hackett, he doesn’t exactly have Patrick Mahomes under center. But... Wilson remains slightly positive in EPA. Essentially, the Broncos are breaking even on every Wilson dropback. Given what they gave to acquire him, breakeven efficiency is crazy disappointing. But Wilson has still been far better than the Broncos’ running game, which is losing nearly 0.2 expected points per attempt. Only the Colts and Buccaneers have been worse.

11_broncos_off_epa.png

11_broncos_off_epa.png

To add insult to injury, the Broncos’ rushing game isn’t even concentrated. In a situation reminiscent of the Rams, Melvin Gordon is leading a three-way committee but is doing very little with his snaps. Gordon is down to RB49 in RYOE / attempt; only Cam Akers has been less efficient this season.

11_broncos_gordon.png

11_broncos_gordon.png

As a result, Gordon’s primary role will be to waste downs that could have otherwise resulted in Wilson dropbacks. But because the Raiders should be able to get to Wilson in the passing game, I have very little confidence the Broncos will alter their strategy here and lean on their passing attack.

Still, the passing game should at least be concentrated to Courtland Sutton and Greg Dulcich. With Jerry Jeudy suffering an injury on the Broncos’ first play of the game last week, targets funneled to Sutton, who led the team with 10. On a per route basis, Jeudy has actually surpassed Sutton, producing a 1.76 YPRR to Sutton’s 1.52, while seeing more target opportunity per route.

11_broncos_yprr.png

11_broncos_yprr.png

But even if Jeudy suits up this week, his missed practice time is a good sign that his routes will be limited. So while I don’t have much faith in a spike week for Wilson, the excellent matchup could at least allow Sutton to turn in one of his better weeks of the season.

Greg Dulcich also has a good chance for an impressive week. The rookie is running routes at an elite rate, with 82% route participation last week and 80% on the season. And he continues to be used as a true deep threat. With an aDOT of 13.7, only Kyle Pitts (14.4) is more of a downfield threat at the position. As a deep threat in a highly frustrating Broncos offense, Dulcich is a boom/bust option. Last week he busted in a big way. But he still has more than enough ceiling to be started with confidence as a TE1.

Chiefs at Chargers, 4:25 Eastern, Sunday

Chiefs Implied Team Total: 23.5

Predicting the Chiefs’ game plans is pretty easy... they are going to pass a lot. The Chiefs lead the league with a 14% PROE and have yet to fall below 11% in any game this season. When the Chiefs played the Chargers in Week 2, they posted a 16% PROE. Only the Chiefs, Bills, Bengals, and Buccaneers have hit that ultra-pass-heavy mark this season... and the Chiefs have done so on four total occasions.

11_chiefs_proe_trend.png

11_chiefs_proe_trend.png

With that in mind, we can feel confident that the Chiefs will not be lured by a Chargers run defense that ranks 30th in EPA allowed per rush. Because while the Chargers are weaker against the run than the pass... they are also vulnerable through the air, ranking 20th in coverage grade and 23rd in pass rush grade.

11_chiefs_mu.png

11_chiefs_mu.png

And as you can see above, the Chiefs are very clearly playing to their own strengths here. They lead the league in EPA per dropback and in dropback success rate. As long as they can protect Patrick Mahomes, he is by far their best chance of moving the football. And they should be able to protect him fairly well here, given the Chargers’ lack of a pass rush.

While Mahomes has been extremely efficient this season, EPA per play understates how good he has been. As good as Tua Tagovailoa has been this season, he is averaging just 35 plays per game; Mahomes is averaging 49. As a result, Mahomes leads the NFL in EPA per game.

11_chiefs_epa_per_game.png

11_chiefs_epa_per_game.png

Granted, on an average play, Tagovailoa has been more efficient than Mahomes. But any offense in the league should be willing to trade a small drop in efficiency for the ability to dropback with elite efficiency on high volume. And we’re set up for another efficient and high-volume Mahomes performance this week.

But although we can confidently project passing efficiency and volume for Mahomes, it is very difficult to predict who Mahomes will be targeting. Certainly, Travis Kelce will lead the way. Kelce leads the Chiefs with an elite 2.16 YPRR and a very strong 19% first-read target rate. His profile remains absolutely elite for a tight end.

11_chiefs_kelce.png

11_chiefs_kelce.png

But with JuJu Smith-Schuster likely to miss this game with a concussion, the target pecking order gets even more confusing. With Smith-Schuster limited to 40% route participation against the Jaguars, Justin Watson was the main beneficiary, posting a season-high 73% route rate. For fantasy purposes, this was a worst-case scenario because Watson does not reliably earn targets. He saw a target on just 3% of his routes and is at just 15% for the season.

The best-case scenario would have been good for Kadarius Toney to take on a much larger role. Toney did see his route participation jump from 8% to 43%, but that is still in ancillary receiver territory and makes him hard to fully trust this week. But... the Chiefs are calling plays for Toney when he’s out there. He’s seen a first-read target on 22% of his routes with the Chiefs, which is a very strong rate.

I would bet we see more routes from Watson than Toney this week. But Toney doesn’t need to run more routes than Watson to have a much bigger effect on the game... because he is targeted at a high rate whenever he is on the field. Even if he can jump to ~65% route participation, Toney has a chance to be an impact fantasy player. Given that we can rely on the Chiefs to pass this week, playing Toney in the FLEX looks very viable.

Remarkably, Toney has seen seven targets over the last two weeks while Marquez Valdes-Scantling has seen just five—even though Valdes-Scantling has run 90 routes to Toney’s 23. Valdes-Scantling looks like a similar boom/bust bet. He’s a much better bet to actually be on the field, but his ability to earn targets is highly questionable.

In the backfield, we’ve had a full changing of the guard from Clyde Edwards-Helaire to Isiah Pacheco. The rookie played on 56% of snaps against the Jaguars, with CEH at just 6%. Pacheco’s increased opportunity makes sense; he’s flashed in both NFL Next Gen’s RYOE / attempt and success rate, ranking 11th and 17th, respectively. But Pacheco offers nothing in the passing game, greatly limiting his fantasy value. As a result, he profiles as a TD-dependent RB2—but one who at least gets a matchup boost.

11_chiefs_pacheco.png

11_chiefs_pacheco.png

However, if the Chargers can push back in this game, we’ll likely see Jerick McKinnon lead the backfield in snaps, as he did in Week 9 with a 62% snap share. McKinnon is also in play as a fill-in RB2.

Chargers Implied Team Total: 23.5

It’s been a brutal season for Justin Herbert, who has dealt with a ribs injury and long-term injuries to both of his top wide receivers. Herbert’s play has been particularly inefficient over his last four games.

11_chargers_epa_trend.png

11_chargers_epa_trend.png

Over that span, Herbert ranks just 29th in EPA per play and 27th in CPOE. He’s been shockingly similar to Zach Wilson over that period... and less efficient than Russell Wilson.

11_chargers_epa.png

11_chargers_epa.png

But the Chargers are continuing to run their offense through their quarterback. Since Week 6, the Chargers have a 5% PROE, the sixth highest over that span.

11_chargers_proe_trend.png

11_chargers_proe_trend.png

So we can count on volume this week. The Chiefs’ offense is a strong bet to push the Chargers throughout this game. And we can also depend on the Chargers to lean into this game script. And by the way, the Chargers aren’t just committed to the pass; they are committed to playing fast, ranking second in situation-neutral pace. The Chiefs will also help out in terms of pace, ranking sixth.

A commitment to passing and pace is excellent news for Austin Ekeler. The Chargers ranked 32nd in run block grade in 27th in EPA per rush... the less they run, the better—which is true even for their running back. Ekeler ranks just RB40 in success rate this season, but he’s continued to be a fantasy force in the receiving game, ranking RB2 in target share and RB6 in YPRR.

11_chargers_ekeler.png

11_chargers_ekeler.png

The Chiefs have a solid defense across the board, but Ekeler doesn’t really need Herbert to have a great game. He just needs Herbert to pass a lot, which looks like a very strong bet this week. Ekeler is tied with Joe Mixon for RB1 in expected points per game and has an elite ceiling again this week.

Ekeler is locked in, but the Chargers’ other weapons are health-dependent. Both Mike Williams and Keenan Allen are practicing this week and could return to action. Both would be a huge boost for this offense.

Josh Palmer ran a route on 100% of dropbacks last week but was targeted on just 14% of his routes; he can only be started if Williams or Allen is out. DeAndre Carter ran just one fewer route than Palmer but had just a 10% target rate. Allen would be a massive upgrade on Carter... which is a pretty strong clue as to why Herbert has struggled so badly in recent weeks. Reports on Allen and Williams will need to be monitored this weekend, but both look like strong starting options if expected to play full-time roles.

11_chargers_yprr.png

11_chargers_yprr.png

Cowboys at Vikings, 4:25 Eastern, Sunday

Cowboys Implied Team Total: 24.5

As I mentioned last week, Dak Prescott was very impressive in his first two games back from injury. But given that those games were against the Lions and Bears, there was a chance that he would take a step back against a much stronger Packers pass defense. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened, with Prescott finishing 23rd in EPA per play and 23rd in CPOE last week.

11_cowboys_epa_w.png

11_cowboys_epa_w.png

Prescott now gets another solid pass defense, but one that he could have more consistent success against than he did against Green Bay. The Packers rank ninth in success rate, while the Vikings rank just 25th.

11_cowboys_mu.png

11_cowboys_mu.png

Fortunately, CeeDee Lamb can deliver big-time fantasy production, even if Prescott doesn’t have a strong day. To that point, Lamb went 11-150-2 last week on 15 targets. His 38% target share and 51% air yard share was good for a ridiculously high 0.93 WOPR. Lamb now ranks second only to DeAndre Hopkins (0.82) in WOPR.

11_cowboys_lamb.png

11_cowboys_lamb.png

Prescott’s efficiency is a bigger concern for the rest of the Cowboys receivers, who run fewer routes than Lamb and are seeing far less valuable per-route opportunity.

11_cowboys_yprr.png

11_cowboys_yprr.png

Dalton Schultz looks like the most reliable fantasy option. Schultz, Michael Gallup, and Noah Brown are all seeing first-read targets on 15% of their routes. So the offensive design looks pretty split after Lamb (24%). But Schultz’s tight end eligibility makes all the difference. With a solid 73% route rate and a 21% target rate, he profiles as a low-end TE1.

In the backfield, Ezekiel Elliott could return this week, limiting Tony Pollard‘s value. Pollard will be an easy start if Elliott sits, even against a much better run defense than he faced last week. But if Elliott returns, we’ll likely see the two in a split role. Pollard has been so hyper-efficient that he is still a solid RB2 option, even if Elliott returns. It might be lost on Jerry Jones that Pollard is far better than Elliott, but the Cowboys coaches must have noticed that Pollard is producing league-best rushing efficiency.

11_cowboys_pollard.png

11_cowboys_pollard.png

Vikings Implied Team Total: 23

Despite the Vikings’ dramatic and improbable victory over the Bills last week, Kirk Cousins did not have a strong game. He ranked just 21st in EPA per play and 21st in CPOE. His play was actually extremely similar to Dak Prescott‘s in the Cowboys’ unexpected loss to the Packers.

11_vikings_epa_w.png

11_vikings_epa_w.png

Cousins was sneaky inefficient last week, but he was helped by a Vikings game plan that was legitimately pass-heavy. Against the Bills, the Vikings posted a 6% PROE, their third-highest of the season. As I’ve previously noted, I view the Vikings is a pass-first team under normal circumstances. And the data backs that up; the Vikings ranking sixth in PROE this season.

11_vikings_proe.png

11_vikings_proe.png

However, this week’s matchup qualifies as a slightly abnormal situation. The Cowboys are tied with the Texans as the biggest run funnel in the NFL. Cowboys opponents are averaging a -9% PROE and are shifting 6% to the run. These are both extreme numbers, indicating that this defense has a material effect on opposing game plans.

The Cowboys being run funnel makes a ton of sense. Early in the season, it appeared that teams were running heavily against Dallas simply to avoid an extremely talented pass rush. However, in recent weeks it’s become evident that teams are also attacking a weakness by running heavily against the Cowboys. Dallas ranks just 21st in EPA allowed per rush, and they are now 26th in PFF’s run grades.

11_vikings_mu.png

11_vikings_mu.png

With that in mind, we are likely to see the Vikings roll out a balanced game plan, if not a run-first one. As a result, the Vikings’ passing game looks fairly fragile this week, and Cousins is a poor bet for both efficiency and volume.

Of course, I’m not worried about Justin Jefferson. Although the mainstream media refuses to acknowledge it, Jefferson made one of the catches of the year against the Bills.

And Jefferson has, of course, been unstoppable all season. With a 30% target share and a 43% air yard share, Jefferson has a 0.74 WOPR. Only DeAndre Hopkins (0.82), CeeDee Lamb (0.78), Tyreek Hill (0.76), and Davante Adams (0.75) have a bigger slice of their respective offenses.

And honestly, T.J. Hockenson is looking pretty locked in as well, even in what could be a difficult outing for the Vikings. Hockenson ran a route on 84% of dropbacks in his Vikings debut and was up to 88% last week. With a first-read target on 19% of his Vikings routes, Hockenson is seeing elite usage for a tight end. While I don’t love this game environment, he’s an easy TE1 start.

Dalvin Cook is an even easier bet this week. Cook logged an 84% snap share against the Bills, an elite mark. And it was the third time in his last four games that he has hit 84% or higher.

Cook doesn’t rate well in NFL Next Gen’s rushing metrics, ranking RB26 in RYOE / attempt and RB41 in success rate. But last week was a reminder that he still rips off long runs, which is backed up by his RB13 ranking in breakaway yards per game.

11_vikings_cook.png

11_vikings_cook.png

Cook ranks RB11 in expected points per game, so he has yet to be the elite RB1 he was drafted to be. Still, the Vikings should lean on him more than usual, and he should be able to pair volume with efficiency against a vulnerable Cowboys run defense, making him an excellent play.

Bengals at Steelers, 8:20 Eastern, Sunday

Bengals Implied Team Total: 22.25

In Week 1, the Bengals surprisingly lost their home opener to the Steelers in overtime. That loss, and the subsequent loss to the Cowboys the following week, kicked off a discussion about Burrow’s inability to avoid sacks. In the intervening weeks, the Bengals have shown an ability to light up defenses that do not have a strong pass rush. And on paper, they get another weak pass rush in this matchup; the Steelers rank just 26th in PFF’s pass rush grades.

11_bengals_mu.png

11_bengals_mu.png

But T.J. Watt returned to the Steelers lineup in Week 10. And although he wasn’t at elite form in his first game back, he could be this week. PFF graded Watt sixth-highest in pass rush grade among EDGE players in 2021... his return is not good news for the Bengals.

Well, it’s not good news for most Bengals. It could be very good news for Joe Mixon. In Week 9, the Bengals played a Panthers defense that ranks fourth in quick pressure rate. The ability for Carolina to get to Burrow appeared to drastically alter the Bengals’ game plan. After three consecutive weeks of ultra-past heavy performances, the Bengals switched things up in a big way.

11_bengals_proe_trend.png

11_bengals_proe_trend.png

And when the Bengals did pass, they heavily involved Mixon, who was targeted on a team-leading 29% of his routes. The Bengals rank just 25th in pass block grade and are not likely to hold up well if Watt is in peak form. With Ja’Marr Chase out again, the offense could run through Joe Mixon.

Even after his Week 9 explosion against the Panthers, Mixon ranks just RB49 in fantasy points over expected / game. He’s left almost two fantasy points per game on the field. This speaks to just how much opportunity Mixon has been given this season; he’s tied with Austin Ekeler for a league-leading 20.9 expected points per game.

11_bengals_mixon.png

11_bengals_mixon.png

Mixon has not been an efficient rusher. He ranks RB21 in success rate, and that is the metric he is performing the best in. However, Mixon has been impressive in the passing game, with a 1.27 YPRR that ranks RB10. The Bengals have been emphasizing Mixon as a receiver and will likely do so again to help avoid the Steelers’ pass rush. He profiles as an elite play.

And if the Bengals can keep the Steelers’ pass rush honest, there’s plenty of downfield opportunity this week against a Steelers defense that ranks 24th in EPA allowed per dropback. It’s been a bumpy ride, but Burrow ranks sixth in EPA per play this season and fourth in CPOE. Even without Chase, he can hit some big plays against this secondary.

11_bengals_epa.png

11_bengals_epa.png

With Chase out of the lineup over the last two weeks, the Bengals have tried a couple different approaches to replacing his routes. Against the Browns, Mike Thomas logged 48% route participation, with Trenton Irwin at 43%. Both players combined for a 9% target share, operating almost exclusively on the outside. Meanwhile, Tyler Boyd remained in his typical role, playing 83% of his snaps in the slot.

But against the Panthers, Boyd saw more time outside, playing only 63% of his snaps in the slot, a season-low. Irwin saw a corresponding increase in playing time, with his slot rate jumping from 11% to 41%. The good news is that Irwin and Thomas still combined for just a 4% target share.

So... there are two takeaways here for how the Bengals are operating without Chase. First, they’re experimenting with moving Boyd around the formation. And second, targets are condensing to Boyd, Tee Higgins, and Hayden Hurst.

Although Boyd should have a bit more upside with additional routes on the outside, he still looks to be a distant second in the target pecking order. Over the last two weeks, Higgins has seen a first-read target on 20% of his routes, with Boyd at just 12%. Boyd is moving around more, but the Bengals don’t otherwise appear to be adjusting their game plan to get him the ball.

In fact, Hayden Hurst has seen a first-read target on 18% of his routes over the last two weeks. His increased involvement has gone a bit under the radar, partly because he had just a 64% route rate in the Bengals blowout win over the Panthers. But Hurst could easily out-target Boyd this week. Arguably, Hurst is the biggest beneficiary of Boyd’s additional outside routes—because he now has weaker target competition over middle of the field. Hurst isn’t exactly a superstar, but showdown sickos should still be aware of his recent uptick in involvement. And he’s a viable TE1 fill-in this week.

Steelers Implied Team Total: 18.75

Kenny Pickett led the Steelers to a 20-10 win over the Saints last week... although he threw for just 199 yards in the process. Still, Pickett didn’t play terribly, ranking 12th in EPA per play and 12th in CPOE.

Pickett’s efficiency has been a real concern this season; he ranks 33rd in EPA per play, one spot behind Mitch Trubisky. However, his accuracy has been a bright spot all season. Only Geno Smith and Tua Tagovailoa rank higher in CPOE.

11_steelers_epa.png

11_steelers_epa.png

His accuracy should lead to improved efficiency, especially against weaker secondaries. But unfortunately, Pickett faces a strong Bengals pass defense this week. And the Bengals aren’t just effective in coverage; they look especially well-suited to shut down Pickett.

Pickett has been impressive under pressure this season, ranking QB16 in PFF’s grades. The issue is what happens when Pickett can sit back in a clean pocket—because the answer so far has been... not much. Pickett ranks just QB35 in PFF’s grades when kept clean.

The Bengals rank 17th in pass rush grade in 25th in quick pressure rate. Getting to the quarterback is not a strength of their defense. Instead, they win with consistency, ranking fourth in dropback success rate. Pickett has shown some ability to scramble around, but to beat the Bengals, he’ll need to be far better within structure than he’s been so far this season.

11_steelers_mu.png

11_steelers_mu.png

And frankly, Pickett’s play might be even worse than his efficiency numbers suggest. Sure, his completion percentage over expected has been good. But he often has a wide-open receiver on the field. Per ESPN’s open score, Diontae Johnson has been getting open at the second-highest rate this season, behind only A.J. Brown. And Johnson is up from fourth in the metric last season. If Johnson is playing even better than he did last season... he is being dramatically held back by his quarterback play, as Sam Hoppen illustrates below.

For weeks, I’ve been harping on Johnson’s stellar receiving profile... until the moment he is targeted. Johnson has a 1.95 expected YPRR, which ranks 83rd percentile. But he has a dreadful 5.4 YPT, which ranks in just the 11th percentile. Johnson has his fair share of drops, but per Sam’s work above, you can see that he also is dealing with more than his fair share of off-target throws. There’s not much you can do with Johnson other than stay the course. He’s seeing a first-read target on 21% of his routes, which ranks 93rd percentile. The Steelers have designed their offense to run through Johnson, which should keep him in your fantasy lineup.

11_steelers_johnson.png

11_steelers_johnson.png

However, Pickett’s play makes me very wary of George Pickens. In his first game without Chase Claypool, Pickens was targeted on just 11% of his routes. And he saw a first-read target on just 8% of his routes, which is a very poor mark for a starting wide receiver. Pickens essentially has the opposite profile of Johnson. He has made some spectacular catches this season... but he doesn’t get open. He ranks 64th in ESPN’s open score; only Corey Davis, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and Robbie Anderson have been worse. With Johnson, the bet is simply that Pickett’s play improves. But in betting on Pickens, you need two rookies to show improved play in the same week. Feels thin.

Pat Freiermuth looks like a more interesting play. Last week, I wrote that Freiermuth could be the big beneficiary of Claypool’s departure, given that Claypool was running most of his routes from the slot. Through one week at least, that has been the case. Freiermuth saw a target on 19% of his routes, which besTed Johnson and Pickens. More importantly, he logged 90% route participation, which is elite for a tight end. Freiermuth has a 70% route rate this season; if he’s at 80%+ going forward, it will significantly impact his fantasy value. Freiermuth’s per-route volume has been impressive the season... so he should make good use of additional routes.

11_steelers_yprr.png

11_steelers_yprr.png

Jaylen Warren also saw increased playing time in Week 10; his 43% snap share was his second-highest of the season. Najee Harris was slightly banged up against the Saints, providing some additional opportunities. But the Steelers have also made noise about getting Warren more involved. Harris remains the starter and has the advantage of going against a Bengals defense that ranks just 25th in EPA allowed per rush. However, he’s no longer a good bet for workhorse volume, making the inefficient back a middling RB2.

11_steelers_najee.png

11_steelers_najee.png

49ers at Cardinals, 8:15 PM Eastern, Monday

49ers Implied Team Total: 25.75

Last week the 49ers got a choose-your-own-adventure Chargers defense. Because the Chargers are bad at stopping both the pass and the run, they are vulnerable to both pass heavy and run-heavy game plans. The 49ers being the 49ers, they pivoted hard to the run, posting a -14% PROE.

11_49ers_proe_w.png

11_49ers_proe_w.png

But the Cardinals present a different matchup. They have been somewhat successful against the pass, but that has been driven partly by big plays like the two pick-sixes they recorded against the Saints. They rank dead last in success rate and profile as highly vulnerable to 49ers-style passing offense. Jimmy Garoppolo has been highly efficient this season, ranking fourth in EPA per play. But he has also been highly consistent, ranking sixth in success rate.

11_49ers_jimmy.png

11_49ers_jimmy.png

The Cardinals can also be run on, but not to the same extent as the Chargers. They rank just 28th in PFF’s run defense grades and 17th in rushing success rate. As long as the Cardinals’ offense can make this a bit of a fight, the 49ers should be less inclined to go ultra run-heavy. But they should find success with a balanced attack.

11_49ers_mu.png

11_49ers_mu.png

Efficiency will be key for the 49ers because this offense is as crowded as it’s ever been. Elijah Mitchell’s Week 10 return had a meaningful impact on Christian McCaffrey‘s playing time—he saw his snap share drop from 81% to 65%. Unfortunately, Mitchell looks like a dangerous play, having seen only 35% of snaps against the Chargers. He profiles as a potential thorn in McCaffrey’s side but doesn’t look all that fantasy relevant on his own.

But there’s no need to panic on McCaffrey. He saw a 21% target share against the Chargers and ran a route on 73% dropbacks, both elite numbers for a running back. Assuming the 49ers pass more frequently this week, McCaffrey should have no trouble putting up RB1 production. Counterintuitively, he could be disadvantaged if the 49ers roll the Cardinals in this game—which is definitely possible, given that they may be facing Colt McCoy.

The receiver situation looks... difficult. As I noted last week, Brandon Aiyuk has been operating as the 49ers’ No. 1 receiver this year. And even with Deebo Samuel back in the lineup last week, that didn’t change. Aiyuk ran a route on 100% of dropbacks for the second straight week and led the team with a 29% target share and 44% air yard share. Aiyuk has a team-leading 95% route rate this season, with Samuel and George Kittle at 88%. And Aiyuk is also seeing the most target opportunity on a per-route basis.

11_49ers_yprr.png

11_49ers_yprr.png

Don’t get me wrong, I still view Deebo Samuel as the 49ers’ most talented receiver. But Aiyuk is performing well as their No. 1 outside receiver and may be entrenched in that role for now. With a first-read target on a team-leading 17% of his routes, Aiyuk is not going to simply go away. That makes life difficult for both Samuel and Kittle. Both players have talent-based weekly upside but are essentially boom/bust options in this crowded offense.

Cardinals Implied Team Total: 17.75

Colt McCoy filled in impressively for Kyler Murray in Week 10, finishing 13th in EPA per play and 13th in CPOE. If you’re wondering if McCoy was more efficient and accurate than Murray... the answer is a resounding yes.

11_cardinals_epa.png

11_cardinals_epa.png

We have a very small sample on McCoy this season, but this is still not a good look for Murray. And although Murray has a lot more fantasy value than McCoy, it’s hard to feel strongly that a gimpy Murray will be better for the offense than McCoy.

And regardless of who will be at quarterback, the Cardinals’ offense is not likely to be all that efficient against a 49ers defense that ranks eighth in EPA allowed per dropback and seventh in dropback success rate.

11_cardinals_mu.png

11_cardinals_mu.png

But the Cardinals’ offense at least has the advantage of being highly concentrated... assuming Marquise Brown isn’t activated from injured reserve.

With Zach Ertz limited to just 23% route participation by a season-ending injury, DeAndre Hopkins saw a 35% target rate, with Rondale Moore at 34%. Of course, high-end usage for Hopkins wasn’t anything new; he has an elite 28% target rate this season. But it was a very bullish sign for Moore, who only has middling per-route volume.

11_cardinals_yprr.png

11_cardinals_yprr.png

However, as you can see, Marquise Brown has also seen significant target volume. If he returns, it will likely have a big impact on Moore, bumping him down to third in the target pecking order. Even on non-screen routes, Moore has a shallow 8.1 aDOT. Volume is key to his fantasy value and could be in short supply if Brown is in the mix.

For now, at least, Trey McBride doesn’t seem all that likely to see many targets. He ran a route on 80% of dropbacks against the Rams but was targeted just once for a 3% target rate. His routes make him a viable desperation start, but given that he’ll likely be in a Colt McCoy offense in a bad matchup, it’s best to keep him on benches if possible.

In the backfield, we can feel very confident that James Conner will see workhorse usage. Conner played on an absurd 96% of snaps in Week 10. And with Eno Benjamin now in Houston, he is likely to maintain a very strong role in the offense. Of course, 90%+ snaps is unlikely again... but even with an 80%+ snap share, Conner profiles as a high-end RB2.

Sources

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.
  • Completion Percentage Over Expected
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • A number of other PFF stats including Time to Throw, Play Action Rate, Pressure Rate, Screen Passes and Defensive Grades.