This week, we'll discuss the following topics:
Pick any game on the slate and discuss how you think it will go. Which player(s) will benefit most from this game script?
Phil Alexander: At first glance, there are two games that have my attention: Jacksonville at Indianapolis and Cleveland at San Diego.
I'd suggest loading up on players from the home teams in each of those games, but no team is in a better spot than the Colts. Andrew Luck hasn't had one of his trademark “nuclear” games yet this season, but the table is set for him this week. Vegas has Indianapolis as a nine point home favorite, with a 28 point team total. When these teams last met in Week 15 last season, Luck lit up the Jaguars for 370 yards and four touchdowns.
This year's version of the Jaguars pass defense hasn't fared much better than last year's through three weeks. Jacksonville ranks in the bottom third (or worse) in just about every pertinent pass defense category, most notably opponent completion percentage, passing yards per game, yards per pass attempt, and red zone scoring attempts allowed. T.Y. Hilton has been fairly quiet to open the season and is still priced ahead of early season studs like DeAndre Hopkins and Larry Fitzgerald. He makes for an intriguing, low-owned GPP play. Donte Moncrief didn't quite deliver last week, but he remains super-talented, heavily targeted, and reasonably priced. Philip Dorsett and Coby Fleener (if Dwayne Allen sits again) are worthy GPP fliers given the game script Vegas is predicting. And of course, any time a home team is heavily favored in a high scoring game, you have to consider their running back. Frank Gore is only $4,700 and he carries the same multi-touchdown upside he delivered on last week.
John Lee: Having just finished the Vegas Value Chart, there are actually quite a few heavy favorites this week; over half of the games feature a team that is a touchdown favorite or more. When a team is a heavy favorite, I look to the running game because those teams tend to try to run clock in the second half if they are indeed winning. This weekend, I think everything appears to set up favorably for Chargers runners Melvin Gordon and Danny Woodhead against the Cleveland Browns.
After Week 3, it appears that there is a full-blown running back by committee in San Diego. Gordon is the between-the-tackles runner, while Woodhead is getting the passing downs and all of the red zone carries (9-0 thus far). Both should benefit from facing the Browns, who are the league's worst rushing defense through three games, allowing 158.3 yards per game and a lofty 4.9 yards per carry. Gordon is slightly more expensive on FantasyAces this week at $4,800, but he has decent upside as the running back that will likely see the most work if the game script plays out according to Vegas' prediction. Woodhead, however, should not be ignored at $4,550 because he will get the red zone looks and could easily score multiple touchdowns in this game. Despite the plus matchups for both guys, I think they are still GPP plays because we cannot rely on either one of them seeing all of the carries, which is somewhat disappointing.
Will Grant: The Packers handled the Chiefs pretty well at home, and they did it without Davante Adams. On a short week, they travel to San Francisco, where they are favored by over 8 points in a game that is expected to score almost 50. That puts them in the four touchdown range, making their offense an excellent place to pile up points.
Aaron Rodgers is expensive at $7,400, but he has 10 passing touchdowns against zero 0 interceptions. Look for another three or four touchdown performance from him this week against the 49ers. Randall Cobb is getting double digit targets now, and he's an expensive stack with a $5,650 pricetag. He'll do fine this week, but you'll have to really pick well to stack them both. James Jones provides a little more salary cap relief, and his $4,500 pricetag is easy pickings for a guy that has scored a receiving touchdown in every game this year. Eddie Lacy did better than we expected on Monday night, but I'm not sold that he's worth paying $5,450 for him this week. Unless he's really 100%, he's going to split carries with James Starks, who was pretty pedestrian last week against the Chiefs. I don't see either of them being a pick this week, and I think they will cut into each other's time. Richard Rodgers is more of a lottery ticket pick at this point. He will get two or three catches a game for minimal yards, and you just hope that one of them is a red zone target. At $4,200, I don't see him reaching value either.
John Mamula: Oakland has wins over Baltimore and Cleveland over the past two weeks. They are traveling to Chicago, and Vegas has them as an early 2.5 favorite on the road. These are not your father’s Oakland Raiders! Oakland has young playmakers on offense in Latavius Murray and Amari Cooper. Murray is one of a few workhorse running backs in the league. Last week in Cleveland, Oakland stuck with the running game, and it paid off in the second half. Murray finished with a stat line of 26 rushing attempts for 139 yards and one touchdown. Chicago is ranked as the fourth worst rushing defense allowing 407 yards and 4.7 average per carry through three games. Even more alarming is that the Bears have allowed a league-worst 105 points. Murray will post another 100-yard rushing performance and has a good chance to find the end zone at least once.
Along the same lines as the first question, pick a matchup you’re looking to exploit based on what you’ve seen through the first three weeks. Oakland has been dreadful vs. tight ends, New Orleans vs. quarterbacks, etc. Which poor defense presents an opportunity in Week 4?
BJ VanderWoude: I am targeting Carlos Hyde this week against Green Bay. The Packers are on a short week on the road, and Aaron Rodgers is 0-4 vs Colin Kaepernick. The 49ers have given Dom Capers fits, and while I think Green Bay will figure out a way to win this game, I don't think they will be successful containing Carlos Hyde.
Green Bay is allowing 5.0 yards per carry and is second-worst in the league with four rushing touchdowns allowed. They've also yielded 20+ fantasy points to both Matt Forte and Jamaal Charles, purely through the run game. The 49ers best chance at winning this game is feeding Hyde the ball 25+ times, something Hyde is more than capable of doing. Hyde is third in the league in both yards per carry (4.9) and rushing yards (262). He is a patient runner who accumulates yards through consistent gains, while continuing to get stronger as the game goes on.
Devonta Freeman and Joseph Randle both had banner days last Sunday, allowing Hyde to fly under the radar in his match up against Green Bay this week. I am projecting Hyde at 130 yards rushing, one touchdown and four catches for 40 yards.
Phil Alexander: No team has allowed more rushing yards than Cleveland's 464 through three weeks. The Browns have let up the third-most rushing attempts and second-highest yards per attempt average – the perfect storm for opposing running back fantasy production. Cleveland travels to San Diego this week as a 7.5 point underdog, which would suggest a run-heavy game plan for the Chargers. Melvin Gordon has been posting yawn-inducing stat lines, but his big-play ability is apparent if you've been watching Chargers games. Given his usual 15 touches (and perhaps more), Gordon should have plenty of opportunity to post his best fantasy performance of the season. The Browns have also surrendered the third-most red zone scoring attempts this year. Even on a half-PPR site like FantasyAces, Danny Woodhead is a strong play due to his role as San Diego's primary red zone back, and he comes $250 cheaper than Gordon.
Will Grant: The Giants are the league’s worst passing defense. They have given up over 1,000 yards in their first three games but only allowed five touchdowns through the air. This week, they face the Bills, who are are coming off a big win against the Dolphins. They don't have a “lights out” passing attack, but against the Giants defense, they have a good chance to put up big numbers. I'm going to look at a Tyrod Taylor ($6,450) stack this week, and his pass catchers – Percy Harvin ($4,500) and Charles Clay ($4,500) –are all potential stacks because of their reasonable pricing.
John Mamula: Through three weeks, the Chiefs pass defense has struggled. Per Football Outsiders, the Chiefs are last in the league in yards allowed to number one wide receivers with 117.7/yards per game. They don't fare much better against number two wide receivers allowing 109.7/yards per game. The Chiefs defense has allowed 10 passing touchdowns through the first three weeks. Last week, Randall Cobb had a career day with seven receptions for 91 yards and three touchdowns. In Week 2, Demaryius Thomas finished with eight receptions for 116 yards. In Week 1, DeAndre Hopkins registered nine receptions for 98 yards and two touchdowns. The Chiefs are getting their top cornerback Sean Smith back from suspension this week. He will help on the right side. Just as Smith returns, the Chiefs have lost slot cornerback Philip Gaines to a torn ACL. On the offensive side, the Bengals have one of the most balanced passing games in the league. The addition of a healthy Tyler Eifert and Marvin Jones complement number one receiver A.J. Green and pass catching running back Gio Bernard. Andy Dalton is great value at $6,400 as the 13th-highest priced Fantasy Aces QB this week.
John Lee: Like Phil, I have the San Diego running backs squarely on my radar this weekend against that Cleveland Browns defensive front that was dead-last in defending the run last year and are in the same spot through three weeks this season. Both Melvin Gordon and Danny Woodhead represent solid GPP plays – Gordon because he will see the most action and Woodhead because he is the primary red zone running back.
I'm also on board with Will's take on the Bills this Sunday. Their opponent (the Giants) have a dichotomous defense, in that they have been stout against the rush, allowing only 74.7 rushing yards per game and a paltry 3.4 yards per carry but have struggled when defending the pass, allowing a league-worst 335.7 passing yards per game (including a 300-yard game to Kirk Cousins). This game, therefore, sets up nicely for Tyrod Taylor and his receiving corps. The trick will be finding the correct stack, if one exists; Taylor's lead receiver, Sammy Watkins, left last week's game with a quad injury and has not yet practiced this week, setting up a less prominent receiver for a lot of opportunity against the Giants. I am currently leaning towards Charles Clay at the tight end position, but Percy Harvin is another option. That said, Taylor is a mobile quarterback who does not lock onto a given receiver, so you might just consider running a "naked" (no stack) Taylor in your lineups to capitalize on his upside without guessing who his primary receiver will be.
Alexander: I still like the set-up for the Chargers running backs this week, but I'm limiting my exposure to Gordon in particular after reading this report on the state of their offensive line. We might see complete patchwork up front for San Diego Sunday with three offensive linemen potentially out and a fourth banged up. The Browns might be so bad at defending the run that it may not matter, but I think it gives Woodhead another edge over Gordon. If Philip Rivers is forced to get the ball out quickly behind the back-up linemen, I'd guess Woodhead sees more targets than usual.
Generally, it’s safer to use defenses playing at home. But in a GPP situation where some uniqueness is needed, perhaps going with a road defense would offer some contrarian value. Which road defense are you most likely to use this week?
Phil Alexander: I don't usually target a road defense, but I don't hate the idea of using Carolina at Tampa Bay this week. Jameis Winston has been inaccurate (league-low 52.2% completion rate) and is getting sacked frequently (2.33 per game). The Panthers can get after the quarterback (2.3 sacks per game) and are letting up 5.3 yards per pass attempt, the best average in the league. The ingredients are there for a multi-turnover game for Winston, making Carolina a solid GPP play. Their ownership percentage should remain on the low side considering they're the second-highest priced defense on FantasyAces this week.
Will Grant: I second what Phil said about the Panthers. Tampa Bay is terrible on offense, and the Panthers have really been turning it on this season. They are a little pricey at $3,000, but they should do pretty well this week.
I also like the Jets against Miami this week in London. They are allowing only 190 yards per game through the air and less than 300 yards of total offense. Consider a long road trip to London for both teams and Miami with the 19th-ranked offense, and the Jets are in a great position to put up some solid points. At $2,850, they are also a reasonable price compared to Seahawks and Panthers at $3,000.
John Mamula: Green Bay's defense is a solid differentiation target for GPP's. Green Bay is an early 8.5 point road favorite. Vegas projects San Francisco for a team total of 20 points. It is not difficult to envision a scenario where Green Bay gets out to an early lead in the game. Colin Kaepernick's decision making was awful last week in Arizona. Two of Kaepernick's first four passes were intercepted and returned for touchdowns. He registered a stat line of nine completions on 19 attempts for 67 passing yards with four interceptions. If San Francisco is forced to play from behind again this week, Green Bay will have an opportunity to put some defensive points on the board.
BJ VanderWoude: I will have to third the recommendation for Carolina. As much as you want to have a unique lineup, Team Defense is an area where I want to pick the best available option, regardless of projected ownership percentages.
John Lee: Add me to the list who thinks Carolina is a decent play this week, but the fact that we all agree on the Panthers as a GPP selection probably means that they are really not a good GPP play after all. My guess is that some people will be looking to be contrarian to get away from Seattle's defense (the best rated play on the board) and will pivot to Carolina at the same price; if too many people are doing that, you really do not stand to gain much from the decision to go towards a less safe defense.
For that reason alone, I will echo John's suggestion and recommend Green Bay against Colin Kaeparnick. If we look past the game he played against the Steelers' poor secondary, Kaeparnick has been very ineffective, if not terrible, this season. He has thrown twice as many interceptions (4) as touchdowns (2) and has also fumbled twice in those games; and look at the results of his drives just last week (versus the Cardinals), despite a very promising gamescript:
- Interception returned for a touchdown
- Interception returned for a touchdown
If I had told you before the game that Colin Kaeparnick would be trailing 31-7 at halftime and that he would lead 12 separate drives, you likely would have gone all-in on him, thinking that he would put up solid fantasy numbers. Instead, the Niners ran only 51 plays and mustered an embarrassing 156 total yards of offense in a game where garbage time should have generated far better numbers. The intent of that recap is to say that Kaeparnick should see a very similar game script this Sunday and Green Bay could very well put him on his heels again for a repeat performance; meanwhile, I will guarantee that Green Bay will be lower-owned than Carolina, making them the better selection for GPPs at a $50 discount.
Cash Game RBs
Which of the following home running backs whose teams are favorites do you like best for cash games this week?
- Frank Gore ($4,700)
- Devonta Freeman ($4,800)
- LeSean McCoy ($4,750)
- Karlos Williams ($4,450) if LeSean McCoy doesn’t play
- Melvin Gordon ($4,800)
- Danny Woodhead ($4,550)
- C.J. Anderson ($4,550)
- Ronnie Hillman ($4,450)
- Any Arizona Running Back (choose which – if any – you prefer)
Phil Alexander: The early speculation is that LeSean McCoy will sit this one out, which would make Karlos Williams a must-play in cash games. Williams has been a revelation for Buffalo this season, racking up a hyper-efficient 186 yards and three touchdowns on just 24 attempts (7.8 yards per attempt). By contrast, McCoy has run for fewer yards (146) on nearly twice as many attempts (43). Game script should be on Williams' side this week. The Bills play host to the Giants as six point favorites, and Vegas has their team total projected at a healthy 26.5 points. New York hasn't exactly been easy to run on (3.4 YPA), but they have let up the eighth-most fantasy points to opposing running backs this season.
Will Grant: Frank Gore had his best game so far last week, putting up over 90 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns . He's showing week over week improvement, and this week he gets the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jaguars were eaten alive by the Patriots last week, and while the Colts won't put up quite the same numbers this week, you can expect Gore to have another good game. What really works for Gore is the lack of competition for touches. The Patriots split numbers between LaGarrette Blount and Dion Lewis. Gore will be the primary workhorse against the Jaguars this week and despite being one of the higher-priced backs on your list, Gore should really have an opportunity to put up good numbers.
John Mamula: I agree with Phil. Most current reports project LeSean McCoy and Sammy Watkins to be out this Sunday. If McCoy is inactive, Karlos Williams is a must play for the block in cash games. Williams will be very popular in 50/50s and you don't want to be left out if he posts a huge stat line. If Williams runs for 120+ yards and two touchdowns and is owned by over 30%+ of the field, then it really puts you at a disadvantage to cash. Without McCoy or Watkins in the lineup, Rex Ryan will go with a conservative game script. Buffalo will try to win the game with solid defense and an emphasis on the running game. Williams registered 6 rushing attempts in each of the first two weeks. In Week 3, Williams’ stat line increased to 12 rushing attempts for 110 yards and 1 touchdown. This was due to Buffalo gaining an early lead of Miami. If you take McCoy's usual 10-15 rushing attempts out of the mix and add them to Williams’ workload, he projects to have a floor of 20 rushing attempts. A workhorse running back at a low relative price is a must play for cash games.
BJ VanderWoude: I am leaning towards Karlos Williams and Devonta Freeman, both of which are their teams’ second running backs. Freeman scored three touchdowns in his first game as a starter last week, while Williams has scored three touchdowns in his first three games in the league.
Freeman benefits from a high powered offense than can move the ball in chunks, resulting in ample red zone opportunities. Neither Freeman nor Williams have competition for carries, a great recipe for running backs that offer both salary relief and a high ceiling.
John Lee: There is actually reason to be skeptical of every running back on this list, including the consensus pick, Karlos Williams. Williams is in line to receive all the carries in Buffalo this weekend, which makes him an attractive option at $4,450 on a team who are slated to win by nearly a touchdown. That said, their opponents (the Giants) are the league's second-best team in defending the run, allowing 74.7 rushing yards per game and an impressive 3.4 yards per carry. The way to beat the Giants is through the passing game, where they are the league's worst (335.7 passing yards per game) through three games. For his part, Williams has looked good in limited action and is a solid value at his FantasyAces salary, but these are a few reasons to be cautious before rostering in your cash games.
Frank Gore also looks attractive on paper, as he is reasonably-priced at $4,700 for an eight-point favorite against the Jaguars. The problem is that not many people recognize the Jaguars are a stout rush defense when Paul Posluszny is playing. Before Posluszny's season-ending injury in Week 7 of 2014, the Jaguars were allowing only 3.7 yards per carry and 0.8 rushing touchdowns per game; after his injury, those numbers jumped to 4.3 yards per carry and 1.0 rushing touchdowns per game. This season, Posluszny is back and the Jags are only allowing 3.3 yards per carry once again, so there is at least some reason to proceed with caution when considering Gore for your cash games despite the positive game script.
The best matchup of the bunch is the San Diego running game facing off against the Browns atrocious rush defense. After finishing last against the run last season, the same unit is once again the league’s worst, allowing over 150 rushing yards per game this season. The beneficiaries this weekend are Melvin Gordon and Danny Woodhead, both of whom have 20-fantasy point potential against this defensive unit. The risk with rostering either Woodhead or Gordon is that they cannibalize one another's fantasy points; Gordon should eat up chunks of yardage, but will lose red zone opportunities to Woodhead, whose upside is limited by the number of touches he loses to Gordon. Both backs are intriguing, but neither come without risk.
Regarding C.J. Anderson and/or Ronnie Hillman, neither is an attractive option because we simply cannot predict which back will be on the field. Thus far, Anderson is leading the offensive snap distribution, but Hillman is closing the gap and looking like the better football player over the past few weeks. To roster either individual is extremely risky, as neither one will likely touch the ball more than 12-15 times.
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