Bengals Get Right, But For How Long?
NFL Week 4 - Week 3 is complete and the NFL season is almost 20% of the way to the playoffs. Before Week 4 steamrolls into view, let's take some time to go around the league visiting all 32 teams to check in with storylines, stats, and the usage rates that matter for fantasy.
The headline of Arizona's loss to the Rams will rightfully be Kliff Kingsbury finally realizing if your team trades a first-round pick for a wide receiver, then you should probably try and involve that wide receiver in the game plan. Marquise Brown saw 17 targets against L.A. and caught 14 for 140 yards. Whilst the Cardinals eventually got Brown going, they still looked like a team with problems. Running back James Conner ran poorly, which might have something to do with nagging ailments that have kept him on the injury report. Deep into the third quarter, Conner was sitting on a stat line of seven attempts for 5 yards before finishing up with 13-39. For all of Kingsbury's failings, and there are many, designing run plays isn't one of them. The Cardinals have been a good rushing team at points through the Kingsbury era, and with the team struggling it might benefit everyone if the ground game could see improvement, whether that comes from Conner, Eno Benjamin (who should be rostered in all formats), or Darrel Williams (who is a deeper-league stash).
The squeaky-wheel narrative met a perfect matchup for Kyle Pitts as the Seahawks struggles against tight ends continued. The Falcons targeted Pitts from their very first offensive snap, and on their first drive alone Pitts saw four targets. Unfortunately, as the scripted plays ran out, so did Pitts' usage, with just another four targets throughout the game. The team's focus on getting Pitts the ball came at the expense of Drake London, who saw his fewest receptions of the season (three). This Falcons team has enough talent to be frisky, and if Arthur Smith wants to select the quarterback of the future in next year's draft, he's going to have to show he can make the offense work without it coming at one of London or Pitts' expense. In the coming weeks, Atlanta faces the Browns, Buccaneers, and 49ers, three defenses that will probably provide more bad days for these young players.
The Ravens have issues, and they're a long way away from being viewed as the best team in the league, but that might not matter as long as Lamar Jackson is playing the way he is. Jackson's throwing game still seems skittish when the offensive line has replacement-level players in there, but there is no denying he can turn the game on a dime. Over the last two weeks, Jackson has run for 226 yards and two touchdowns on just 20 rushing attempts. That's a ludicrous 11.3 yards per attempt. Jackson's 102.3 fantasy points through three games are the most by any quarterback in history, and the offense and Jackson both rank first in their respective DVOA categories.
Much like the Ravens, the Bills are hurting at some key positions, and it's falling straight onto the quarterback's shoulders to keep the team alive. The Bills are a good enough team that they will figure things out going forward. Through three weeks, Devin Singletary has clearly been the lead back and the only back of Buffalo's trio worth rostering in redraft. James Cook saw plenty of work against the Titans when the game was out of hand before returning to a minimal role with just one rushing attempt in Week 3. Cook is a fine stash if you have the bench spots for it, but it's unlikely he provides much before the Week 7 bye. Also noteworthy is the fact that Isaiah McKenzie has emerged from Jamison Crowder's shadow, with the team designing more scripted plays for him and Josh Allen continuing to look towards McKenzie more often than Crowder. We can't expect Allen to throw the ball 63 times every week, as he did against the Dolphins, but if you are looking for a deep-league play, McKenzie certainly has the edge over Crowder with an 11.1% target share to Crowder's 7.8%, as well as boasting a better catch rate of 70% to Crowder's 53%.
Last week in this column, I asked the question if Matt Rhule would still have a job after the run of three home games the Panthers were about to embark on. A home win against a division rival will certainly improve those odds, but it was far from a pretty performance. The Panthers have built a nice-looking defense over the last couple of years, and they deserve a lot of the credit for Sunday's win. During the Summer, many folks, myself included, felt that Baker Mayfield had to be an upgrade on Sam Darnold, but here we are. Laviska Shenault's 67-yard touchdown didn't jump-start more production coming his way, with just a single target after that game-changing moment. DJ Moore saw heavy shadow coverage from Marshon Lattimore in a matchup that never looked favorable, but next week's game against the Cardinals might provide a better opportunity for him.
David Montgomery suffered an ankle injury during Sunday's matchup with the Texans and second-year man Khalil Herbert stepped into the lead back shoes in style, going 20-157-2 as the Bears rushed their way to a second victory of the season. Herbert has now played four games across two seasons where he has seen 50% or more of the snaps, and in those games has scored an average of 19.3 PPR points. Last season's stretch included games against the Packers, Buccaneers, and 49ers, all of whom graded out as formidable defenses against the run. The Bears coaching staff has no affiliation with Montgomery, and if he should miss time whilst Herbert continues to impress, then it's very possible the Running Back Dead Zone might claim another victim.
The Bengals found the right opponent at the right time in the New York Jets. Writing in my DFS column last week, I mentioned that the Jets rarely play Cover-2, a system that Joe Burrow has struggled against so far this season. On Sunday, the Jets stuck to their blitz-heavy schemes and were carved up by the Bengals offense. Burrow threw for a 66.7% completion rate for the second week running, but the notable difference was his average depth of target jumped from 6.1 yards in Week 2 to 9.3 against the Jets, along with taking only two sacks after totaling 13 in the previous two games. Despite staying upright, Burrow was unable to involve Ja'Maar Chase in the game in a valuable way. Chase had 10 targets and caught seven of them, including a touchdown, but his yards per target dropped to a career-low of 2.9. In 2021, Chase averaged a whopping 16.4 yards per target, but with the Bengals out of rhythm so far this season he has yet to have a single game in the double-digits. The Bengals face a much more creative defense in the Dolphins on Thursday Night Football before trips to the Ravens and Saints. It's entirely possible the Bengals passing game might not be out of the woods just yet.
The Browns might not be a team that neutrals want to watch anytime soon, but they have plenty of talented players and have shown that they might stick around long enough that when Deshaun Watson returns, he could take them up a notch at the right time of year. Amari Cooper has averaged a 30.8% team target share across three games and had back-to-back outings with over 100 yards and a touchdown. For win-now teams in dynasty leagues, Cooper might be worth gauging value before the bye weeks start to hit.
Some wins matter more than others, and for the Cowboys beating the Giants is always important. Through two games as a starter Cooper Rush has gone 40-for-62 with 450 yards and two touchdowns. These numbers aren't going to help CeeDee Lamb have a breakout season, but Lamb has at least shown he's startable during the last two games with back-to-back games with 11 or more targets. Tony Pollard continues to look like the more explosive back, with 13-105 on the ground compared to Ezekiel Elliott's 15-73. Pollard is a fringe starter for Week 4's home game against the Commanders.
This isn't the Broncos we were built up to believe we were getting, but luckily for the Broncos the whole of the AFC West is not playing up to expectations either. Broncos fans seem displeased with the team's lack of step forward and there is much we could focus on that would be negative, but instead let us take a moment to be thankful for Courtland Sutton, who ranks second in DYAR at receiver, and whilst the touchdowns haven't come yet, they no doubt will in time. Sutton is a player to keep an eye on with upcoming games against the Raiders and Colts, who both rank bottom-10 in pass defense DVOA and bottom six against No. 1 receivers.
Running back injuries often create scenarios that make or break fantasy teams, and it's possible we might witness such an occasion unfurl in Detroit. Jamaal Williams was a priority signing in free agency of 2021, but an injury-marred season stopped him from being used in the way the team envisioned. So far this season it has been D'Andre Swift who has struggled with injuries, and now Swift could miss several weeks after suffering a shoulder sprain. Williams has been solid so far this season, ranking 13th in running back success rate and 15th in DYAR. Williams isn't as elusive as Swift, getting hit at the line of scrimmage more often, but he's capable in the passing game and trusted with goal-line work. For a running back that's often enough. Hard Knocks favorite Craig Reynolds will be the clear backup to Williams and should see meaningful snaps that make him worthy of a bench spot in dynasty leagues.
Green Bay Packers
It hasn't been pretty for the Packers so far this season, but after a painful Week 1 loss to the Vikings they have bounced back well with back-to-back wins, including on Sunday against Tampa Bay, whose defense ranks first in DVOA. Much has been said about the impressive one-two punch of Aaron Jones and A.J Dillon, but it's worth pivoting slightly to the impressive rookie Romeo Doubs. Through three games Doubs has caught 14 of his 16 targets, including all eight on Sunday, resulting in 73 yards and a touchdown. Doubs 88% catch rate ranks second-best at receiver, and he seems to be firmly in Aaron Rodgers' circle of trust, which can be a valuable place to be, from a fantasy perspective at least. Doubs is rostered in just 25% of Yahoo redraft leagues, but that will change this week on the back of 20.3-point PPR performance. If you have been lacking at wide receiver, don't be afraid to bid 20% of your waiver budget if you feel your league requires it.
The Texans were a feel-good story of 2021, when Davis Mills rallied the team to be feisty upon occasions. Heading into 2022, many people, myself included, thought that this team had surrounded Mills with enough talent to make them even feistier this year. Unfortunately, through three games, the team ranks 30th in team offense DVOA and Mills has thrown for one single touchdown in the last two games. Since Week 1, when Brandin Cooks saw seven targets, no pass-catcher has managed to see more than four targets per game. Nico Collins was expected to take a leap after reuniting with former Michigan coach Pep Hamilton as the Texans offensive coordinator, but so far he is averaging 5.3 targets for 41 yards per game. Even Brandin Cooks, who is annually declared QB-proof as he outplays his ADP, is struggling to provide fantasy relevance, with just one double-digit PPR performance to date.
The surprise of the weekend came in Indianapolis, where the Colts beat the Chiefs despite not looking particularly good. Jonathan Taylor has been the heart and soul of the Colts offense over the last two seasons, but he has not looked worthy of the 1.01 spot where many fantasy managers drafted him. Through three weeks Taylor has averaged 15.6 PPR points, with that heavily propped up by his Week 1 total of 27.5. Since then, Taylor has put up totals of 7.3 and 12.1. In 2021, Taylor had only three games below 12.5 PPR points in the entire season. Taylor ranks 17th in success rate, and while the win should be seen as a step forward for the Colts, if they can't get Taylor running better then it may mean nothing.
The Chargers rank top-12 in run defense DVOA, but it didn't matter to James Robinson, who ran 17 times for 100 yards and a touchdown. Neither did it matter to Robinson what has been said about the poor success rate of recovery for running backs who suffer an Achilles tear, as he continued his return looking as if nothing had happened to him in the last year. Particularly noteworthy was the 50-yard touchdown run where he exploded through the line of scrimmage. In the next two games, Robinson will face two bottom-seven teams in run defense DVOA, the Eagles and the Texans. He might just be getting started.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs continue to work their way into this new era of their offense with mixed results. Strangely on Sunday, it seemed like the Chiefs could have done with getting up-and-down receiver Mecole Hardman more involved. Hardman saw a season-high in snaps (68.3%) but a season-low in involvement with just one target. Through the opening few weeks, there have been times when the Chiefs have turned to Hardman when in need of a play, and his chemistry with Mahomes and familiarity with the system have produced. If Marquez Valdes-Scantling isn't going to be targeted deep, then the Chiefs should be using Hardman in that role instead of giving him one target for -3 air yards on a day when they needed a jump-start.
Los Angeles Chargers
There are many things that could be written about the bad luck the Chargers seem to be experiencing, but all of that simply won't matter if Justin Herbert can't get back to 100% in the near future. The Chargers believed they were ready for a deep playoff push, and at the moment that's very hard to imagine. The AFC as a whole is underperforming compared to expectations, but the Chargers are 1-2 and could get left behind very quickly; a win against the Texans in Week 4 is essential. With Jalen Guyton the latest Chargers player to get seriously injured, Josh Palmer's route to consistent playing time seems fine even with Keenan Allen returning to practice this week.
Los Angeles Rams
The Rams victory over the Cardinals was the first game Matthew Stafford had won without throwing a touchdown since 2018, when the Lions also beat the Cardinals. Despite the Cardinals enjoying some success against the beaten-up Rams secondary, they didn't have enough to win, and that should please Sean McVay no end. This Rams team isn't dominant right now, but it doesn't have to be. With just four, Cooper Kupp saw his fewest receptions in a game since Week 12 of the 2020 season. The Week 4 matchup is with the 49ers, who typically turn into a difficult fixture for the Rams but in 2021 Kupp totaled 240 yards and a touchdown over two meetings with them.
Las Vegas Raiders
Heading into Monday Night Football, the Raiders have the PPR WR2 of the week on their team, and no it isn't Davante Adams. Mack Hollins scored the 10th-most PPR points by a wide receiver over the opening three games, and the 29-year-old journeyman deserves plenty of praise for keeping the Raiders alive against the Ttians as long as he did. The Raiders are the only 0-3 team in the NFL, and ranking 19th in passing offense DVOA simply isn't good enough for a team that invested as much as they have in the offseason, with contract extensions for Hunter Renfrow, Darren Waller, and Davante Adams. The Broncos come into town for Week 4, and their stout pass defense will be looking to continue spoiling the Raiders party
Once upon a time, it was a much-spoken fact that Chase Edmonds virtually never got goal-line opportunities for the Cardinals. In Week 3 against the Bills, the Dolphins gave Edmonds two goal-to-go situations and he obliged with two touchdowns, including one with a particularly nice jump-cut. If Edmonds is the designated goal-line back on this new-look Dolphins team, then his fantasy value might be viable going forward, despite the fact that he managed just 21 rushing yards on six attempts this week.
Since Justin Jefferson's Week 1 explosion, he has totaled 18 targets in two games that have resulted in nine catches for 62 yards and zero touchdowns, which would make him the WR57 over those two weeks. Jefferson has seen plenty of defensive plans to try and keep him contained, but if he really is capable of the Cooper Kupp-type season he kept telling us was going to happen, he needs to overcome those situations. Next up, it's a date with the Saints and Marshon Lattimore, who spent Week 3 shadowing DJ Moore.
New England Patriots
With the news that Mac Jones has a significant high ankle sprain, what little hope the Patriots had this year is now gone. At best we might see a healthy Jones return after the Week 10 bye, which could be far too late for the 1-2 Patriots. Backup quarterback Brian Hoyer hasn't played a full game since Week 10 of 2019, when he went 18-of-39 for 204 yards against the Dolphins. Given the large-scale turnover that has occurred in New England since then, it would be very difficult to make any case involving optimism, but this probably slightly increases the expected returns of the Patriots running backs, whilst reducing everyone else's outlook.
New Orleans Saints
On a day when Michael Thomas and Jarvis Landry both got banged up, it was rookie receiver Chris Olave who stole the headlines with nine catches for 147 yards. Olave now is only second to Thomas in total PPR points for the season with 43.8 to Thomas's 51.1. Whilst Olave takes steps forward, Alvin Kamara continues to take steps backward, with another disappointing fantasy performance where Mark Ingram got the only rushing touchdown. Through three weeks, Kamara has barely combined for 20 PPR points but if he is healthy enough to handle a larger workload in Week 4 he'll match up with a Vikings rush defense that ranks 31st in DVOA.
New York Giants
Through three weeks of the season, Saquon Barkley sits at the top of the fantasy running back rankings with 67.8 PPR points. Unlike some of the other top-tier talent, Barkley has been consistent with over 70 yards and four targets in every game, and importantly touchdowns in two of three appearances. Next up Barkley faces the Chicago Bears who have been very weak against the run. Expect Barkley to be a popular play in DFS lineups for Week 4.
New York Jets
The Joe Flacco era will likely end at least a week too late, with all the misery of Week 3's four-turnover game sapping away the memories of a jubilant Flacco bouncing into the dressing room as the Jets celebrated beating the Browns. It's probably best for the Jets that Flacco threw the game away against Bengals; now at least they can avoid the controversy that might ensue if they had a decision to make regarding Zach Wilson. Questions will remain over whose fantasy value can be sustained with the second-year quarterback set to take over, but it's worth noting that through three games Tyler Conklin is the TE3 with more total fantasy points than all tight ends but Mark Andrews and Travis Kelce. Conklin is worth a stash in tight end premium formats and anywhere with deep benches on the off-chance it continues.
The Eagles look like the most complete team in football right now, and according to team DVOA rankings, they face the second easiest schedule. Until we see otherwise, they should be considered the favorite in the NFC. Start all pass-catchers with confidence, but Miles Sanders showed us that even in the friendliest game script, he's not worthy of a starting roster spot.
The Steelers look like a team struggling for answers and despite the long week after Thursday Night Football, no change seems to be coming at quarterback. Before Week 3, Pat Freiermuth seemed reliable, but then he turned in a disappointing 2-41. In Week 4, the Jets travel to Pittsburgh and whilst they have dealt well with opposing No. 1 receivers, they have struggled with others. The Steelers should bounce back as far as they're able to against one of the league's very worst teams.
San Francisco 49ers
So much for the 49ers having an experienced quarterback who wouldn't make rookie-like mistakes. Jimmy Garoppolo has always been a quarterback who requires things around him to go well in order to succeed. With star left tackle Trent Williams suffering a high ankle sprain, this offensive line will be a far cry from the best ones Garoppolo has played behind. With a trip to the L.A. Rams and specifically Aaron Donald, next, it's tough to have confidence in anyone on this team, but the Rams are banged up in the secondary, and Kyle Shanahan has coached around Garoppolo's hindrances plenty of times before.
The Seahawks must be feeling pretty pleased with their upgrade at quarterback. Last year Russell Wilson had a 54.7 QBR and ranked 12th in DVOA. Geno Smith currently ranks 10th in DVOA and has a 62.3 QBR. Only the sickest of sickos would truly believe Smith was an upgrade, but Pete Carroll is a man with certain tastes, and it's hard to believe he misses Wilson when Geno plays the way he wants him to. The Seahawks' biggest problem has been their ability to stay in games, and in Week 4 they face the Lions who play quicker than any team in situation-neutral plays. If the Seahawks pass-catchers are going to have a big game, this might be the week.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Where have all the touchdowns gone for Leonard Fournette? With the Bucs struggling at receiver and tight end, it's a little surprising that Fournette hasn't been more fantasy-worthy of late. With the offensive line struggling and a shadow of its 2021 self, the Buccaneers rank 26th in rushing DVOA, but Fournette still hasn't been a bad running back for fantasy, averaging over 75.6 yards on the groun. But without touchdowns, it's very hard to pay off the ADP of a late-second, early-third, where Lenny went in drafts. Week 4 sees Tampa Bay take on the Chiefs, but after that Fournette faces a very friendly matchup with the Falcons. If an owner in your league is feeling twitchy because of Lenny's lack of touchdowns, try and pry the running back away before that Atlanta matchup.
This analyst has plenty of egg on his face after declaring Derrick Henry the Fade of The Week in DFS for Week 3. Henry looked like the better version of himself again, rushing for over 4 yards per carry for the first time this year, with a statline of 20-85 on the ground and 5-58 through the air. If Henry can keep up that kind of performance, he'll start to make a large impact in fantasy football once again. In Week 4 the Titans travel to the Colts, who rank second in run defense DVOA.
The Carson Wentz collapse felt inevitable coming into Week 3 against the Eagles, who are just a far better team than the Commanders, something that is reinforced by Washington's place in the bottom five in both defensive and offensive DVOA. Curtis Samuel again led the team in targets with 10, and whilst Terry McLaurin scored a touchdown in garbage time, Samuel will feel like a safer play for many weeks.