You guys have a ton of articles.
This statement about Footballguys is a blessing but it can feel like a curse. Our staff delivers insights that change seasons for the better yet realistically, no fantasy owner has the time to read everything we publish in a week.
If this describes you, let me be your scout. Here are five insights from Footballguys articles that I find compelling for the weekend ahead. I'll share what should help you this week, touch on the long-term outlook, and sometimes offer a counterargument.
This week: we make sense of the running backs in the New England and Atlanta game; recommend holding Adrian Peterson another week; shop for a Purple People Eater; learn the legal ramifications for Ezekiel Elliott, and a look into a variety of DFS-related topics.
1. forget Brady and Ryan (okay, not really...), let the RBs loose in New England
It will be a massive fantasy upset if Tom Brady and Matt Ryan don't produce QB1 production on Sunday night. That said, there could be a bit of intrigue with Atlanta's passing offense versus New England's secondary.
Falcons offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian has earned criticism for not establishing an offensive identity and failing to target Julio Jones at a high volume. Although one would expect New England to do all that it can to take away Jones, I suspect Jones will have a strong outing against a Patriots squad that has been struggling all year. So does Aaron Rudnicki in his Matchups Exposed feature.
WR Julio Jones, ATL (vs Johnson Bademosi, NE)
The Patriots are expected to be without Stephon Gilmore (concussion) and Eric Rowe (groin) again this week, which could force special teamer Bademosi into a key matchup with Jones. Malcolm Butler could be asked to shadow him but he has a huge size disadvantage. Bademosi was asked to play a huge role last week against the Jets and held up reasonably well, but not sure that can prepare him for this.
The more interesting, and potentially profitable, fantasy play in this game could be the running backs. Justis Mosqueda and Matt Bitonti's feature In The Trenches list Atlanta's offensive line as one of its "Matchups To Trust." The number next to Atlanta between Bitonti's ranking of Atlanta's line and Mosqueda's ranking of the Patriots defensive front.
ATL + 28
ATLANTA @ NEW ENGLAND - Sunday 8:30 PM ET
JM: Based on NFL averages this season, the New England Patriots have 16 fewer tackles in the backfield than the average NFL team. That is by far the worst mark in the NFL. That number is almost twice as bad as the third-worst team, the Detroit Lions. Specifically, making backfield tackles in the run game has been an issue for New England for two years. Three weeks into the season, the team only has one player (defensive tackle Malcom Brown, three tackles) who has more than just two tackles at the line of scrimmage or better in 2017. The Patriots' defensive issue is as much a defensive line talent issue as anything else. I wrote about New England's loss of defensive line talent over the years for Bleacher Report earlier this month.
BIT: The Falcons' line had a rough outing last week against the Miami Dolphins. Cameron Wake victimized right tackle Ryan Schraeder for two sacks. Schraeder had been making his debut after three weeks in the league concussion protocol. Also, left tackle Jake Matthews was called for a holding penalty that negated a big gain. Last week's mistakes aside, the Falcons' line remains one of the best in football and the reason is because of the interior. Center Alex Mack is a stud and right guard Wes Schweitzer has been quietly playing at a very high level. The Falcons' offensive line have a favorable matchup this week at New England.
While In The Trenches discusses the implications of the Atlanta ground game, Ryan Hester's Trendspotting reveals a trend that I've noted repeatedly from film study about the Atlanta defense: Its athletic linebackers struggle to contain yards after the catch.
The Top 10's Fresh Fish Section displays the wares of players who notably struggle each week:
- Falcons linebackers: Deion Jones nearly earned two interceptions (one was nullified by a penalty) in the red zone, but the Dolphins routinely tested the Falcons linebackers with misdirection and getting receivers in space and Atlanta's young, athletic crew failed the exam. The well-defended skinny post to Austin Hooper may have sealed the victory, but Jay Ajayi's broken tackles and band-angle-exploiting burst paired with what I shared above won the game.
Hester's Trendspotting on the Patriots-Falcons game:
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (VS. ATLANTA FALCONS)
- Atlanta is allowing 23.1% of its total passing yards to running backs, the fifth-highest ratio in the NFL.
- New England targets its running backs on 25.8% of its passes, the seventh-highest ratio.
- Atlanta is allowing 25.1% of its total targets to running backs, the eighth-highest ratio.
- Atlanta is yielding 14.1 receiving fantasy points per game to running backs, sixth-most.
New England's offense is very good, Atlanta's defense isn't terribly difficult, and New England's defense is horrific. That's a formula that leads to anyone from New England being in play. Beyond the obvious plays of Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, and Brandin Cooks, look to James White to see seven or more targets and be a DFS value play or PPR RB2.
My Take: David Dodds' Game Predictor has Atlanta and New England throwing for a combined 613 yards and 3.9 scores but also posting 50 rushing attempts for 216 yards and 1.6 scores. I wouldn't be surprised if a healthy portion of the passing yards and scores also come from the teams' running backs.
Atlanta's running back usage is much easier to prognosticate. Devonta Freeman will earn the majority of the carries, which makes him the favorite as the leading yardage-getter for all backs in this game. Also, expect a rushing or receiving touchdown of at least 25 yards from Freeman in this contest because the Patriots are a weak run unit and Freeman often breaks an explosive play between the 45 and 25 of his opponent. Freeman remains a high candidate for RB1 production.
The Falcons love to use Tevin Coleman in the red zone as a runner on passing downs and pass-heavy alignments and a receiver on run downs and run-heavy alignments. Look for Coleman to break a big play in the passing game on a swing pass, angle route, or screen and/or score on a draw play from shotgun against a nickel defense from inside the Patriots' 10. Coleman has low-end RB1 upside, but it would be reasonable thinking of him as a low-end RB2, at best.
The Patriots' backs are murkier due to the power of three. Several of you have asked me how to assess the Patriots ground game for fantasy usage. My buddy Mark Schofield at Inside the Pylon and Fan Rag Sports breaks down the Patriots ground game in detail, and it's a good starting point for what we want to know.
Schofield identifies that the Patriots love to run "power" with Mike Gillislee. He's the team's straight-line, hard-charging "gap" back. It makes him a good close-out and red zone option because he hits creases with confidence, attitude, and determination.
Young, athletic linebackers are generally good at stuffing gap plays unless tired out because they know exactly where the back is supposed to go and they can attack that area with a reasonable amount of success. The zone game is trickier for younger defenses because they fail to maintain their gap responsibilities as the running back presses creases and cuts back. The zone game inherently has three to four options for a running back whereas the gap game tends to have two, at most.
Dion Lewis is the Patriots zone runner, and he's an excellent back when healthy like he his now. Look for Lewis to earn enough touches on the ground and in the receiving game to lead the Patriots backs in yards from scrimmage. Lewis' potential as the leading option has a boom-bust quality to it due to the presence and usage of three backs, but his recent production makes him a promising play.
New England still loves using White as its outlet receiver, which means he has a good shot of delivering as the second-most productive option. He tore up Atlanta in the Super Bowl. Gillislee could earn a red zone score or two, which means he still gives you some boom-bust upside as a viable flex play.
2. Sig Bloom's Rent-a-center has a great deal for a purple and Gold easy chair
Rent-a-Defense is a fun, helpful column from Sigmund Bloom. I can almost imagine him roaming the sales floor in a Phish shirt, cutoffs, and sandals (no khakis and button-downs at this store) closing deals. This week, Bloom has a steal of a deal for purple and gold easy chair from Minnesota that should last year a couple of games:
Minnesota (vs Baltimore)
The Vikings are a quality defense at all three levels and the Ravens offense is a poor unit in every facet of the game. This is also in Minnesota. Sign me up.
A Look Ahead: @CLE BYE @WAS - We will double-dip with Minnesota next week, possibly making them the pickup of Week 7.
How good is this deal? Jeff Haseley's Beyond The Stats is a quick-and-dirty indication of the paucity of fantasy value in the Ravens offense. Haseley listed the quarterbacks, running backs, receivers, and tight ends who have delivered strong starter production this year. Mike Wallace and Buck Allen are the only two players on the list and their combined efforts only merited four total weeks of this caliber of production.
Rudnicki obviously lists Wallace-Xavier Rhodes as the unfavorable matchup, which means the most likely situation where the Ravens generate offense this weekend will be whoever earns the assignment against talented but struggling cornerback Trae Waynes. Since Jeremy Maclin and Breshad Perriman are injured, Chris Moore might be the best lottery pick for fantasy owners facing a bare cupboard of a waiver wire in larger leagues and need someone with the hope of generating a big play.
My Take: Moore is not an option I'd want to use unless your situation is truly horrific. It means, I'm endorsing the value of that Purple People Eater Bloom is selling in the Rent-A-Center.
3. don't flip that Adrian Peterson waiver wire pick just yet.
If you look closely, Rent-A-Centers tend to be in the same strip malls as pawn shops. At least in this strip mall, Bloom owns both Rent-A-Defense and Buy Low, Sell High. His one player listed with both recommendations this week is none other than Fantasy Santa Claus, Adrian Peterson.
BUY LOW AND SELL HIGH
Adrian Peterson, RB, ARI - If Peterson is your #3 back or lower in redraft, why not see if you can get a solid starter somewhere else for him? The Buccaneers seemed shellshocked by the Cardinals in every facet of the game, and a more competitive game could make him and the Cardinals running game look very mortal once again. On the other hand, if you need running back help in dynasty, or even in redraft, why not Peterson? He is rested, he is fired up, he has the role and volume he wants with a coach that appears to be instantly committed to him.
I lead off with film analysis of Peterson against the Buccaneers in The Top 10, and I'm sold on him as no worse than an RB2 the rest of the year:
These are all straight-ahead runs that exhibit downhill power or burst. Although I showed film of Peterson last year and this that illustrated that his cutting ability and burst from his cuts were still there, here's an even easier setting for those of you who need the support of a 100-yard and 2-TD box score to allow your eyes to believe what was already there. Sincerely, it can be difficult to believe compelling contrarian analysis. Adam Harstad has written a lot about the power of bias.
This bounce outside and cut inside is as good as any top young back with Peterson's size and style as a runner. Here's a cutback against nine in the box to bounce out the back side and outrun the speed LaVonte David up the right flat for 40 yards.
This series of cuts, reversal of field, and juke of four-time Pro-Bowl CB Brent Grimes on the edge is a good closing argument that Peterson is at least 90 percent of the excellent runner he was in 2015.
Peterson is healthy, quick, powerful, agile, and still has fantasy starter skills in a traditional offense that commits to him as its focus. If you missed the game, it was football's equivalent of Michael Jordan returning to the Bulls after his baseball hiatus. It was an electric atmosphere and the Cardinals looked like a team that had regained its identity after losing one big piece to its puzzle that held several pieces in place.
While I'm bullish on Peterson for the rest of the year, I understand how some fantasy owners are in a situation where they would benefit more from selling him for a profit. The safe play would be to sell him this week but if you couldn't get a deal done or you've been hesitant, many of us on staff believe that Peterson is in store for another strong game that could heighten the running back's market value.
- Top 200 ranking: 24
- Weekly ranking: 16
- Difference: +8
Peterson looked like the player of old in the game against Tampa Bay this week. Sunday, he gets the Rams in a great matchup. Los Angeles is the worst defense in the league at containing the opposing fantasy running backs. The Rams yield 32 PPR (Points Per Reception) points each week to opposing running backs. Peterson is the focal point of the Cardinals running game and could be eyeing another 100-yard outburst and multiple touchdowns once again.
Hester's Trendspotting also notes the Rams run defense is a weak link.
The L.A. Rams have definitely improved from last season, but one area where they're struggling is run defense.
- The Rams are allowing 39.8% of their total yardage via the rush, the fifth-highest ratio in the NFL.
- They are allowing 34.8% of their total points to be scored via rushing touchdowns, the second-highest ratio in the NFL.
- They are ranked 29th and 28th in rushing yards per game and rushing yards per play, respectively.
Only the Seattle backs and the Indianapolis backs - two of the most talent-lacking units in the league - have failed to exceed expectations against the Rams. And it speaks to just how bad they've been that two-thirds of their opponents have been bad enough at running the ball that they deserve such a qualifier.
They won't face Leonard Fournette or Ezekiel Elliott every week, but they won't get to face the weak Seattle and Indianapolis committees either. The truth for the Rams run defense is somewhere in the middle, probably something like the Rob Kelley-Semaje Perine committee. That average-at-best duo combined for 33 carries and 145 yards. Adrian Peterson found the fountain of youth last week to the point that he's a sell-high in many trade articles this week. But if you think Arizona can keep this week's game script neutral or positive, Peterson could have another starter-worthy week in him.
My Take: If you're going to sell Peterson, take the risk of doing it after the weekend. Yeah, he could get hurt or underwhelm, but I bet he has enough week of 80-100 yards and a touchdown. Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers are excellent defensive tackles against the run, which means you'll see them earn penetration and stuff Peterson multiple times this weekend.
However, the true weakness of the Rams are the defensive ends and linebackers who don't maintain their responsibilities long enough. Expect Peterson's play-by-play gains to look a lot like what I characterized about him the week before he broke out.
Committing to the run is an ugly process for football fans who think good football is highlight-worthy outcomes on every touch. It's also nonsensical to those who don't look at statistics in the correct context. What they see is a highly inefficient process where Peterson and his teammates generate as many (if not more) negative outcomes than positive outcomes.
What they must understand is the macro effect of physical plays that often aren't individually impactful at least 50 percent of the game. The more an offensive line can attack a defense (and the running game is the form of offensive football where linemen are on the attack), the more energy it costs the defense to thwart it. As the defense tires physically, it gets pushed around easier.
This cumulative effect doesn't just happen in the fourth quarter. It can also happen at the end of a physical series or even a couple of plays—snaps that force the defensive front to expend maximum explosion in an unexpected fashion that robs them of their stamina short-term and then eventually long-term.
So when you look at Adrian Peterson in 2016-17, it's short-sighted to judge him solely by box score stats that are 6-18-0, 8-26-0, 9,-33-0, and 4-4-0. You have to examine his decision-making, the line play, his fit with an offense, and his athletic ability...
Speaking of Johnson, let's look at some of his carries on a per-play basis last year:
- 2,-2,3,1,7,6,8,3,3,0,3,5,3,1,45,1 (5 positive/11 negative)
- 0,10,8,5,1,0,1,0,4,10,2,4 (6 positive/6 negative)
- 2,2,-3,5,5,1,11,6,4,3,6,1,4,3,-1,13,4,0,0,22 (10 positive/10 negative)
- -2,3,10,8,6,3,2,6, 31,-3,0,6,3,11,3,1,1,1 (7 positive/11 negative)
- 17,1,7,6,4,6,12,1,4,3,1,4,2,4,-2,1,7,4,5,23,11,2, 18,5,-2,9,6,3,2 (18 positive/11 negative)
- 3,58,2,1,1,0,1,4,2,2,-5,-1,14,0,6,5,1,2,4,7,2,2 (7 positive/15 negative)
Other than one week, Johnson's individual strings of carries from his 293-1239-16 campiang last year look similar to Peterson's 2015 season.
Here are the play-by-play yardage outcomes of Johnson's carries for those games from 2016 (fantasy points from rushing yards in parenthesis). In fact, you could take a six-carry string from the series of touches from the games listed above and generate similar box scores for Johnson as Peterson's 2017 opener (see bold and italicized figures): :
- Week 1 vs. New England: 16 carries, 89 yards, 1 touchdown (14.9 fantasy points) (6 carries, 17 yards)
- Week 2 vs. Tampa Bay: 12 carries, 45 yards (4.5 fantasy points) (6 carries, 24 yards)
- Week 3. vs. Buffalo: 19 carries, 83 yards, 2 touchdowns (20.3 fantasy points) (6 carries, 12 yards)
- Week 4 vs. LA Rams: 17 carries, 83 yards (8.3 fantasy points) (6 carries, 28 yards)
- Week 5 vs. San Francisco: 27 carries, 157 yards, 2 touchdowns (27.7 fantasy points) (6 carries, 15 yards)
- Week 6 vs. New York Jets: 22 carries, 111 yards, 3 touchdowns (29.1 fantasy points) (6 carries, 9 yards)Several of these six-carry samples came within his first 10-12 touches. Again, I did not pick the smallest gains from different points in the game and add them together; I simply choose six consecutive touches to arrive at the samples.
Enjoy the Peterson London Tour, folks.
4. What to make of the NFL-Elliot battle
Knowing that Footballguys is making this column free to the general public this week, I'm using my editorial privilege to post work from Ari Ingel, who is our legal expert on matters that impact fantasy football. Ingel is a knowledgeable fantasy player and football writer who delivers a lot more than legal takes, but having his expertise in this arena is valuable for Footballguys subscribers.
Ingel's piece, Ezekiel Elliot: Wil Elliot Serve His Suspension This Season? Is an in-depth look at where things stand with Elliot going forward. It includes background history, how political appointments shape the labor views of the judges, and of course the bottom line about Elliot playing this year.
Here's an excerpt:
SO IS ELLIOTT PLAYING OR NOT THIS YEAR?
If Judge Failla grants the injunction, Elliott plays all year, if she denies the injunction Elliott will miss six games since he doesn’t have any realistic options left to pursue.
As things stand now, my gut feeling is that the lower court will get this wrong; Elliott will get the injunction, play all year and we will be talking about this all over again during the off-season until her decision is eventually overturned on appeal. Judge Crotty is somewhat more conservative than Judge Failla, so I can see Failla weighing the likelihood of irreparable harm to Elliott’s career missing these games over the likelihood of success at trial, and allow for the trial to take place.
As I just mentioned, I expect the NFL to eventually win this case, since the CBA really does grant broad powers for Goodell to set the process of arbitration and discipline as he pleases. This is not a court of law and he doesn't have to allow Elliott to cross-examine his accuser, doesn’t have to share with Elliott’s team the notes of the accuser's interview or take into account some investigators opinion for process and the decision to be fair. The players got something in the CBA for the NFL to get this authority. Courts, in general, are loath to re-write and interfere with an arm's length negotiations. So if this clause of the CBA is essentially re-written in the player's favor, does NFL now get to share less money with the players? Does the NFL now get to add an 18th game? Like any negotiation, it is a give-and-take and the players gave this and took something for it, because the reality is, the overwhelming majority of players never face any sort of discipline under the conduct code...
For those of you that don’t care about the details and just want to know if Elliott will be playing this year, here you go:
- 75% chance Elliott gets an injunction allowing him to play all year.
- If this goes to trial in the lower court, I think there is greater than 50% chance Elliott wins in the lower court. This case will take months to finish not endangering his availability for the 2017 season
- 90%+ chance the lower court decision is overturned on appeal and Elliott is suspended for 6 games during the 2018 season.
- If the settlement talks are true and serious, a possible deal is certainly viable, in which case a 2 or 3 game suspension makes sense.
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My Take: I have none; Ingel is the expert here.
5. DFS Cornucopia
From data analysis to strategy to a combination of data and film, Footballguys has you covered on the daily fantasy tip. Let's finish off this week's column with a number of notable recommendations from our excellent staff.
In this week's DFS Roundtable: Stacking the Deck, Devin Knotts recommends going back to the well on a stack that burned fantasy owners last week:
Devin Knotts: The safest stack this week for me is Drew Brees/Michael Thomas. Yes, everyone who was burned last week will be off of it, but the fact of the matter is that the Packers have failed to get a pass rush this season. They did not record a sack last week and are 27th in the NFL this season. Brees' price is deflated due to the lack of touchdowns and lack of big games that we have seen from him, but ultimately the Saints are fifth in passing yards and eighth in passing touchdowns. Green Bay's secondary is banged up, with Kevin King and Davon House questionable for this game, and while they're likely to play they will be less than 100%. The Packers also lost backup cornerback Quentin Rollins for the season. King will likely matchup against Thomas if he plays, and although the rookie has played well, he did struggle against the two best receivers he has faced. Julio Jones went for 108 yards against him, and A.J. Green went for 111 and 1 touchdown.
Another fun and informative roundtable discussion is B.J. VanderWoude's Finding The Shootout Among Games With Low Projected Totals. Here is one recommendation from this week's discussion that I agree with.
BJ VanderWoude: Currently, there are six games with projected totals of less than 42 points (Jaguars vs Colts, Bengals vs Steelers, Ravens vs Vikings, Jets vs Dolphins, Panthers vs Bears, Seahawks vs Giants). Which of these games do you see going over the projected total? Which players benefit from a more up-tempo game script?
Phil Alexander: At first blush, I agree with Vegas on those games being low scoring. If forced to choose one, I'll go with the game featuring the best offensive players - Cincinnati at Pittsburgh. While this game has all the makings of a low-scoring AFC North defensive battle, we've seen the Steelers defense look vulnerable this season, while the Bengals offense has awoken since Bill Lazor took over play-calling duties three games ago (25 points per game). Cincinnati had an extra week to prepare for this game and no doubt recognizes the way to beat the Steelers is on the ground. Pittsburgh ranks 23rd with 118.5 rush yards per game allowed and have ceded 4.97 yards per attempt to opposing running backs. If Joe Mixon can take advantage of the matchup, it should keep the Steelers off balance, freeing up A.J. Green and the downfield passing game.
On the other side of the ball, the Bengals enter the week with the second-ranked overall defense (DVOA), but Le'Veon Bell(down $500 on DraftKings despite last week's 31.1 fantasy points) has never needed a plus matchup to excel due to his 30+ touch workload. The one stud I'd be wary of, however, is Antonio Brown. Brown was held below 60 receiving yards in each of the regular season meetings between these teams in 2016 and has just one total touchdown in their last five meetings.
Daily Fantasy Sports grew up during the period when running backs were on the decline. However, we're in a phase (at least short-term) where we have some notable old-school bell cow backs who are, at least temporarily, creating a price hike in the DFS markets. How our crew is handling this development makes for informative reading.
This is the setup for Justin Howe's Roundtable on Going Stubborn at Running Back:
Chris Feery: I’m a big fan of value plays in good spots as a general rule, but there just aren’t many to be found at running back in Week 7. I’ll be paying up at the position for the majority of my lineups, and it’s made all the more easy by the fact that there seems to be a lot of value at quarterback this week. We’ve covered this in previous roundtables, but the point is worth making again: each week is its own puzzle, and it should be treated as such.
That pearl of wisdom leads me to the conclusion that pricey running backs may be the way to go while I balance out my lineups with affordable quarterback choices. The two names that stand out the most for me are Le'Veon Bell and LeSean McCoy. The former is hitting his groove, while the latter is coming in off a bye to face off against a team that made Adrian Peterson look a lot younger than he is. Bell and McCoy will be anchoring many lineups for me, and I’ll take my calculated risks at other positions for this week.
Danny Tuccitto: To me, this question is particularly important in tournaments this week, as not a single running back in the DraftKings main slate has a value probability of 25% or higher (i.e., none are projected as likely to achieve 4x). In situations like this, I tend to go with higher-priced players at the position because, if there isn't value to be found, you might as well just bank the points you're likely to get from the best players. As such, LeSean McCoy and Le'Veon Bell are the 2 running backs above $7,000 that I'll be rostering heavily.
Dan Hindery: Looking at salaries this week, I think I will most likely end up with one expensive running back and one mid-priced running back. In the middle range, Carlos Hyde stands out and will probably end up in my cash lineups. He is $5,900 on DraftKings and $6,700 on FanDuel with a good matchup at home against a Cowboys defense that has allowed an opposing running back to run for at least 118 yards in 3 of 5 games. In the two games in which Dallas didn’t get gashed on the ground, they still gave up 18 receptions (9.0 per game) to the opposing backs.
Justin Howe: I loved this crop of guys earlier in the week – even with the elevated price tags. But my research has uncovered so many value plays that I doubt I’ll be cramming 2 that use up 15-18% of my salary. (There are times it’s appropriate and even wise to do that, though.) I feel better pairing an Ingram, Gurley, Bell, or Melvin Gordon III with a cheap-ish option like Adrian Peterson or Alvin Kamara.
Still, there’s something to be said for shoving two of them in. As Chris pointed out, that’s made possible this week by some great value available elsewhere. A DraftKings lineup that uses, say, Russell Wilson at quarterback, Robert Woods at wideout, and Jack Doyle at tight end can conceivably fit both Gurley and Ingram. The finished product looks a lot sexier here than it does most weeks.
That's it for this week. Good luck out there.