Game Flowbotics A-to-Z – Week 9
Procrastination is one of my worst habits, and it doubles as a blessing and a curse in fantasy football. On one hand, there’s typically value in waiting for more information. On the other, waiting often leads to missing out, or sometimes paralysis by analysis. In the case of this article, due for publication on Friday morning, procrastination has afforded me the opportunity to follow Thursday night’s Bills-Jets game before writing the intro you’re reading now.
This particular matchup is prime evidence of the importance of game script. It was 10-7 Jets at halftime, but New York pulled away in the third quarter and into the fourth, eventually maxing out their lead at 34-7. As a result, and partially because the Jets are sneaky-decent against the run (18th in DVOA, but 10th in Adjusted Line Yards), LeSean McCoy never got anything going on the ground. It was Shady’s biggest dud of the season so far.
Tyrod Taylor, on the other hand, finished strong for his fantasy owners. After Chandler Catanzaro made it 34-7 with a 32-yard boot, Taylor didn’t hand off for the rest of the game. Every offensive play for Buffalo was a drop-back or a Tyrod run. All that volume against a soft and disinterested defense translated directly to fantasy points. On those two garbage time drives, Taylor racked up 102 passing yards, 9 rushing yards, a passing touchdown, and a rushing touchdown to account for 14.98 of his 26.90 fantasy points. In other words, about 56% of his production came in the final 12% of game clock.
Because game flow matters so much, we must attempt to predict it. Could we have predicted the Jets’ dominance in this tilt? Probably not, but things tend to get a little screwy in these short-rest island games, and underdogs playing at home traditionally have more monkey wrenches in their toolboxes than road dogs. So in addition to forecasting game flow, we must also consider ranges of outcomes. Understanding isolated matchups of specific players vs. specific defensive units can clue us in to the likelihood of small individual outcomes impacting the overall outcome.
For example, because the Jets are more stout against the run than the pass, I had confidence in Tyrod Taylor to have value in this game, regardless of game script, because I felt the Bills had incentive to pass. I ranked him as my QB5 for the week, five spots above the consensus at FantasyPros. That ranking wasn’t looking good at 34-7, but he still had about 12 fantasy point at that stage, a decent enough floor considering how poorly the game had gone. If the outcome had been closer to expectation, Tyrod would have missed out on garbage time, but likely would have performed better in the first place. The point is we can try to build out from isolated matchups to find value within the unknown of the overall matchup.
Let’s isolate this week’s matchups, as we always do, with the Game Flowbotics spreadsheet:
Now let’s dive in, A to Z, for Week 9 of the 2017 NFL season.
A is for Aerial Assault.
That’s Seattle’s go-to plan of attack these days, and it makes sense because their running backs have proven nearly worthless. I recently bumped Russell Wilson up to QB1 in my rest-of-season rankings, and he’s my QB1 for the week, regardless of his matchup against Washington’s 16th-ranked pass defense and ninth-ranked pass rush.
B is for By Default.
That’s how Alex Smith might finish the season as the overall QB1 if other top passers continue to get hurt like Deshaun Watson. It would be a shame for most football fans and fantasy players, but it would be great for the TwoQBs brand.
C is for Committee.
That’s what Denver’s backfield has become. After taking 70% of the offensive snaps before their Week 5 bye, C.J. Anderson has regressed into a more limited role with Devontae Booker now healthy. Anderson’s competition for touches combined with a tough matchup at Philadelphia makes him a risky play this week. I have him ranked as a low-end RB2.
D is for DeDe.
I’m not brave enough to run out a rookie in his first action coming off injured reserve, but the matchup is right for DeDe Westbrook this week. The Bengals rank last in DVOA against #3 wide receivers, allowing about 10 yards per game more than average to those players on 1.4 targets fewer than average. That’s efficiency.
E is for Even More Efficient.
The Colts go easy on third receivers, as well. While Cincinnati allows 11.4 yards per pass to #3 wideouts, Indianapolis allows 11.5, worst in the league. Bruce Ellington could perform well in this context, but based on Tom Savage’s presence under center, I lean toward Ryan Griffin as the more likely matchup beneficiary behind DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller. File this matchup away for use in future weeks with more relevant tertiary wideouts.
F is for Free Kaepernick.
C’mon, Houston. Bring him in. You’re not going anywhere with Tom Savage or Matt McGloin.
G is for Garcon the Goner.
In Pierre Garcon’s absence, Marquise Goodwin, Trent Taylor, and Aldrick Robinson all slide up the 49ers depth chart, but George Kittle might be the player who gets the biggest uptick in value. According to airyards.com, Kittle ranks second in air yards and snap share of SF’s remaining receivers since Week 5. He faces a Cardinals defense that’s allowed three touchdowns to tight ends over their past three games.
H is for How to Handle Hundley.
I really have no idea at this point, but I’m holding out hope that the Packers’ bye week gave Brett Hundley enough of a boost to make him startable against Detroit. I need him in a league where I lost Deshaun Watson.
I is for Ingram.
Mark Ingram was my most-drafted running back this season, so I’m biased, and you can believe what you want to believe, but I choose believe Ingram is on a mission this week to post better stats against Tampa Bay than Adrian Peterson put up against them back in Week 6.
J is for Janoris Jenkins.
He won’t suit up for the Giants on Sunday, which opens the door for Sammy Watkins to take back some target share from Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp.
K is for Kenny Stills.
Even though DeVante Parker is set to return this week, I still like Stills against Oakland’s 26th-ranked defense vs. #2 wideouts. Since Week 5, Stills has nearly as many air yards as Parker on 22 fewer targets.
L is for Lean on Lacy.
That’s what the Seahawks reportedly plan to do this weekend, but I wouldn’t use Fat Eddie versus Washington. The Redskins rank 11th in DVOA against the run, and they’ve only allowed 11-plus fantasy points to four running backs this season: Todd Gurley, Kareem Hunt, Carlos Hyde, and Ezekiel Elliott. Eddie Lacy isn’t in the same class as that fearsome foursome, or even the same school.
M is for Mack Attack.
The Houston Texans rate well against the run and against backs as receivers, but the Colts can afford to be more conservative by design this week with Deshaun Watson out of commission. Marlon Mack has been on the field more than Frank Gore for two straight weeks, and facing a good defense against rushers, Indianapolis will need Mack’s athleticism more than ever. He should be a fine PPR flex option every week going forward.
N is for Nine.
That’s how many red zone targets Bennie Fowler has this season, compared to six for Emmanuel Sanders and only four for Demaryius Thomas. I imagine that’s one of the reasons Trevor Siemian has been benched for Brock Osweiler.
O is for Overwhelming.
That’s what the red zone target shares for Cooper Kupp and Keenan Allen have been this season. Kupp’s been targeted 13 times inside the 20, and no other Rams wideout has more than three. Allen has 10 red zone looks, and no other Chargers wideout has more than one.
P is for Precedent.
I think the Minnesota Vikings set a good one for what to expect with the running back outlooks in Dallas and Miami. Since Dalvin Cook went down for the season, Jerick McKinnon and Latavius Murray have split the Vikings’ rushing load pretty evenly. McKinnon took on more work in the passing game, while Murray handles between-the-tackles running on early downs. A similar split should befall Darren McFadden and Alfred Morris. Miami is a little trickier because Damien Williams and Kenyan Drake have more overlapping skills, but I expect a nearly even split in snaps between them. How to value these pairs will depend a lot of game script and matchup relative to their receiving/rushing roles. Dallas faces Kansas City this week, and the Chiefs are DVOA’s top defense against rushers as receivers, so this matchup lines up better for Alfred Morris than Darren McFadden. Miami’s opponent Oakland ranks 23rd in both rushing defense and DVOA against backs as receivers. Because we don’t have much clarity on how Adam Gase will use Williams relative to Drake, they both feel like stay-aways this week.
Q is for ‘Quizz.
Remember earlier in the season when some folks though Jacquizz Rodgers might be able to hold off Doug Martin? That was cute. Rodgers has only played 7% of the Bucs’ offensive snaps since Week 6. Charles Sims, on the other hand, has been ever-so-slightly relevant with a 33% snap share and 15 targets since Week 5. Those targets have admittedly been trending down, but look for Sims to bounce back against a Saints team allowing 8.9 passes and 60.4 yards per game to opposing running backs.
R is for Ryan Grant.
He ranks third for Washington in targets and receptions since their Week 5 bye, trailing Jamison Crowder and Jordan Reed. I don’t think we need to take him seriously for fantasy, though, especially this week against Seattle’s second-ranked defense against #3 wide receivers.
S is for Saints Go Marching In.
Another week, another promising matchup for the Saints both on the ground and through the air. I touched on Mark Ingram above, but I want to be in that number with all their key offensive pieces, including Drew Brees, Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara, and Ted Ginn Jr.
T is for True Story.
This week I’m starting Jacoby Brissett and Brock Osweiler in the Scott Fish Bowl. Thank goodness that format doesn’t penalize for turnovers.
U is for Useless.
That’s what tight ends have been against the Rams this year. They rank 4th in DVOA and allow only 39.2 yards per game to the position, but I don’t care when it comes to Evan Engram this week. He’s more of a wide receiver than a tight end anyway and should continue to soak up the majority of targets from Eli Manning.
V is for Vacated Targets.
Kelvin Benjamin is vacating a ton of them in Carolina. My favorite fantasy play to pick up the slack is Ed Dickson. Since Week 3, he’s played 100% of the Panthers’ offensive snaps. With Benjamin out of the picture, Dickson should start see a lot more than the 6 targets per game he’s averaged over the past three weeks, and Atlanta ranks 24th in DVOA against tight ends.
W is for Watson vs. Walker.
Believe it or not, Ben Watson has outscored Delanie Walker over their past three games each. They face off against each other this week, and Walker has the better matchup on paper. The Ravens rank last in DVOA against tight ends, giving up 6.3 passes and 52 yards per game. The Titans rank worse in DVOA (23rd), but they allow 7.8 passes and 58.4 yards per game. Watson has less competition for targets, but Walker does more with his targets (8.5 aDOT vs. 4.6 for Watson) and has the better quarterback.
X is for X Marks the Spot.
The 49ers on your team’s schedule is like the mark for buried treasure on a map. You’ll sail stormy seas and brave dangerous terrain to get there. This week, that means streaming Drew Stanton and buying back into an aging Adrian Peterson. We wants the redhead, but sorry mateys, dead men like Carson Palmer tell no tales.
Y is for You Better Believe I’m Dropping More Alex Smith Propaganda at the End.
May the spirit of Alex guide you in Week 9, friends.
Z is for Zero.
That’s how many interceptions Alex Smith has thrown this year. I wouldn’t expect that to change this week against a Dallas team with only three picks this season, tied for fourth-fewest in the league.
Editor’s Note: DVOA, Adjusted Line Yards, Adjusted Sack Rate, and Versus-Receiver statistics from FootballOutsiders.com. Fantasy Scoring and Red Zone statistics from FantasyData.com. Snap data from airyards.com.
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