Start and Sit: Week 4
by Scott Spratt
Autumn has ushered in some cooler weather for the Week 4 NFL games, which start tonight with a 60-degree Fahrenheit matchup of the Eagles and Packers at Lambeau and continue with the forecasted 63-degree Patriots at Bills game on Sunday. Don't read too much into those declining temperatures. My research shows that cold weather does not begin to impact teams' fantasy production until it drops below 40 degrees. That leaves the dome games in Atlanta, Indianapolis, Detroit, Arizona, and New Orleans as the prominent venue- and weather-related contextual factors for this week and once again makes opposing defenses the primary levers for your start and sit decisions.
The following tables feature the players with the best and worst matchups of the week. Each listed player shows a true-talent (TT) ranking that represents how I would rank him within a perfectly neutral game context. Then, that ranking is adjusted by adding the context of the venue (Ven) -- home and road and dome and outside -- the forecasted weather (Wea), and the defensive tendencies of the opponent (Def). The line beneath those rankings shows how much those contextual factors move projected PPR fantasy points. That total (Tot) number gives you a comprehensive estimate of how many fantasy points the player will score this week more or less than his typical total.
Jacoby Brissett took advantage of a favorable home matchup against the Falcons in Week 3 with 310 passing yards and two touchdowns. He has now thrown for fewer than 200 yards in two road starts and more than 300 in one home start this season. That likely overstates his true home/road splits, but he also showed the more extreme splits one would expect from a dome quarterback when he started in place of an injured Andrew Luck in 2017. I'm growing confident that he's a solid play in his home starts, and that should be especially true this week at home against a Raiders team that is the No. 30 DVOA pass defense so far this season. They tend to cut pass plays by 13%, but that is more than counterbalanced by their 20% and 70% boosts to passing yards and touchdowns per attempt, both the most in football. A normal mid-tier QB2, Brissett is back in my top 10 at the position this week.
Jared Goff has enjoyed a more consistent path of playing time in his career, and that makes it easy to see that he has massive home/road splits, especially for an outdoor quarterback. When he plays in Los Angeles, Goff completes 3.3% more passes for 75 more yards, 0.4 more touchdowns, and 0.3 fewer interceptions per game, all of which adds up to a 5.9-fantasy point advantage at home.
On its own, that makes Goff a top-10 quarterback option at home. But this week, he jumps further into my top five against the Buccaneers. The Bucs have been a bit of a pleasant surprise on defense, but despite pass-rusher Shaquil Barrett's league-leading total of 8.0 sacks, that success has skewed more to run than pass defense. The Bucs are the No. 2 DVOA run defense and just the No. 13 DVOA pass defense, and they increase completion percentage, yards per attempt, and touchdowns per attempt by 12%, 15%, and 47% respectively.
Mason Rudolph did not exactly impress in his debut as a starter last week in San Francisco, but the 49ers truly have been the biggest defensive surprise in football with the No. 2 pass and No. 2 overall DVOA defense. This week, Rudolph will return to Pittsburgh, where Ben Roethlisberger at least has shown massive career home/road splits. Meanwhile, Rudolph draws the favorable defensive matchup against the Bengals, who are bottom-10 in DVOA pass defense. Unlike many bad teams that cut pass attempts in favor of run attempts, the Bengals are neutral for pass attempts. Meanwhile, they increase passing yards and touchdowns per attempt by 15% and 51%. That only improves Rudolph to the back end of my QB2 range given the success of so many other emergency quarterback starters, but a solid performance here will restore the optimism I had for him before the 49ers loss.
Speaking of stellar new-starting quarterback play, Daniel Jones lit up the Buccaneers last week. I already expressed my opinion of the ease of that matchup, but Jones should have a similarly favorable draw at home against the Redskins this week. Like the Bengals, Washington is a bottom-10 DVOA pass defense this season, and while they do cut pass attempts by 5%, they more than offset that by increasing completion percentage by 10%, passing yards per attempt by 10%, and passing touchdowns per attempt by 42%.
Kirk Cousins has played efficiently in both of his home starts, but 10 and 21 pass attempts are not going to get it done from a fantasy perspective. That has dropped the prolific passer all the way to No. 19 in my true-talent quarterback rankings, and Cousins will likely have a worse time than that this weekend in Chicago. The Bears do typically increase pass attempts by 13%, and Cousins will almost certainly be forced to pass 30 or more times given the Bears' exemplary run defense. But the dynamic Bears also cut passing yards and touchdowns per attempt by 16% and 28% and increase interceptions and passer fumbles per attempt by 114% and 17%. I wouldn't be surprised to see more Cousins turnovers than touchdowns this week, so avoid him in pretty much every format.
Baker Mayfield shows up even lower than Cousins in my rankings this week, but that is motivated more by his true-talent fantasy ranking than his matchup adjustments. After an incredibly promising rookie season, Mayfield has just three touchdowns and has taken 11 sacks in three games this season. The Ravens defense is likely worse than last year's version given the talent they lost there in the offseason, but I think their No. 20 DVOA pass defense understates their true talent. The Jaguars were similarly dismantled by the Chiefs and have a similarly mediocre No. 16 ranked pass defense. My defense factors that put some weight on last season's tendencies believe the Ravens will cut their opponents' pass yards and touchdowns per attempt by 9% and 24%. That passes the eye test for me, and it makes this another tough spot for Mayfield.
After facing three bottom-five DVOA teams in the first three weeks, the Patriots will have their first test in Week 4 in Buffalo. That could make for a tough fantasy day for Tom Brady. The Bills are neutral for passing touchdowns, but they cut pass attempts by 10% and passing yards per attempt by 13%. So far this season, the Bills have looked more susceptible to the run -- they are the No. 4 DVOA pass defense and just the No. 21 run defense -- so the Patriots may opt to rely more on their stable of backs than Brady's arm this week. Normally a borderline QB1 for me, Brady is a back-end QB2 this week and a clear avoid in DraftKings, where he is the third-most expensive player at the position.
Gardner Minshew has really impressed me this season, especially with his accuracy. He has completed 2.1% more of his passes than expected per Next Gen Stats, and he has done that despite four Dede Westbrook drops. As such, Minshew has moved into a similar true-talent QB2 range as Brissett. But unlike Brissett, you will want to avoid Minshew this week in Denver. The Broncos have seemed a shell of themselves defensively so far this season, with a bottom-10 DVOA pass defense and no sacks (no other team has fewer than two sacks). But the Broncos defense remains in the top 10 with a 28.9% pressure rate according to Sports Info Solutions. I trust the pressure, and I therefore trust my estimate that the Broncos cut passing touchdowns by 11% per attempt. Meanwhile, Denver is forecasted to see moderate winds into the mid-teens that could make it even harder for Minshew to complete deep passes. Expect a heavy Leonard Fournette game and avoid the Jaguars passing players in fantasy this week.
It sounds like Melvin Gordon's holdout is finally coming to an end, but fortunately for Austin Ekeler owners, Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn won't play Gordon in Week 4. That should provide Ekeler with an incredible fantasy swansong against the Dolphins. The Dolphins are dreadful defensively against both the pass (No. 32 DVOA) and the run (No. 31 DVOA), but their tendency to hemorrhage points boosts their opponents' run plays by 16% as they kill clock in second halves of games. Last week, that led to 128 total yards and a touchdown for Cowboys' backup running back Tony Pollard, but there have still been plenty of fantasy points for teams' No. 1 backs. Mark Ingram, Sony Michel, and Ezekiel Elliott have averaged 18 carries, 105 yards, and one touchdown against the Dolphins this season on 5.8 yards per carry.
Ekeler and Justin Jackson should both have nice days, but I have Ekeler as my No. 1 back this week. Forecasted winds in Miami should further increase the Chargers' reliance on their running and short passing games, and while Ingram and Michel did not catch a pass against the Dolphins, that isn't a huge part of their games. Ekeler is one of the best receiving backs in football, and the Dolphins have allowed a 118.2% DVOA to receiving backs. That's a small sample, but it's also far and away the biggest total in football.
Chris Carson is a safe RB2 in typical circumstances, but last week with heavily used backup Rashaad Penny out with a hamstring injury, Carson took 15 of the Seahawks' 19 running back carries. Meanwhile, Penny still isn't practicing. The only plausible concern for Carson as a top-10 option this week is that he has fumbled in three straight games. Luckily for him, his Week 4 opponent, the Cardinals, cut runner fumbles by 84%, the most in football. I would bet a lot that Carson won't fumble this week, and since the Cardinals increase run plays by 21% and rushing yards and touchdowns per attempt by 19% and 62%, and allow a 39.1% DVOA to running backs on their targets, I feel great about his overall fantasy chances.
Kerryon Johnson is just one spot behind Carson in my rankings this week, but I don't feel nearly as good about it. I think it's clear that the Chiefs still have a bad run defense -- their rushing yards and touchdowns per attempt factors have increased from 18% to 22% and 71% to 84% from Week 1 to now. But the Chiefs have also seen their run plays factor decrease from 3% to 6%, which is pretty substantial over three games. I think a bet on Johnson's fantasy success is a bet that the Lions can stay within shouting distance of the Chiefs in terms of score. I think the Jaguars and Ravens are good, and they couldn't do that. But despite what I assume are your expectations, I could see the Lions doing that at home. They were a Football Outsiders sleeper team at the start of the year, and they have been solid as the No. 11 DVOA team through three weeks.
My No. 35 true-talent ranking for Frank Gore is predicated on Devin Singletary playing this week, which is far from a certainty given that he still isn't practicing. But even if Singletary misses another week, Gore seems unlikely to draw more than the two targets he saw without Singletary last week. Meanwhile, the Patriots cut run plays by 21%, most in football, and cut rushing touchdowns per attempt by 27%, fourth-most in football. Most credit the Patriots defense's streak of three games without a touchdown to their No. 1 DVOA pass defense, but they also have the No. 1 DVOA run defense this year. Maybe Josh Allen can score some fantasy points with his legs, but I wouldn't count on Gore to do the same.
Given their relative effectiveness so far this season, Ronald Jones seems like a good bet to take over as the lead back for the Buccaneers sooner than later. But I don't think it's wise to predict that will happen before seeing it, and that leaves him with a poor fantasy outlook in Week 4 at the Rams. The Rams' major weakness is against receiving backs, who have a 29.4% DVOA so far this season. But Jones has just two targets so far this season. To produce in fantasy this week, Jones will likely need to succeed on the ground, and the Rams have a top-10 DVOA run defense and cut rushing plays by 8% and rushing touchdowns per attempt by 20%.
Even in a bad matchup, Nick Chubb is a solid RB2. At least until Kareem Hunt returns from his suspension, you aren't going to bench Chubb in any season-long leagues. But Chubb is not a great choice as one of the 10 most expensive healthy backs in DraftKings this week facing the Ravens in Baltimore. Perhaps the Chiefs did expose a weakness in the Ravens pass defense, but Baltimore's run defense has been fine, No. 12 in DVOA. They are neutral for rushing touchdowns, but they cut run plays by 12% and rushing yards per attempt by 17%. It may be another tough day for the Browns offense all around.
I'm not sure how to handle the Chiefs' backfield right now. The table shows that I have Darrel Williams as the No. 70 true-talent back this week, but that assumes that both Damien Williams and LeSean McCoy will play, and it assumes Damien Williams is the starter. That may not be a great assumption. You will want to follow the news leading into the weekend before you decide which Chiefs backs to start and sit, but whichever ones are on top will likely have relatively down weeks. The Lions are better against the run than the pass, cutting rushing touchdowns per attempt by 13% and increasing passing touchdowns per attempt by 19%. Patrick Mahomes will throw three or more touchdowns, I'm sure, but you may need one of those to go to a running back for that player to crack the top 20 at the position.
You may be hesitant to consider Davante Adams as the No. 1 fantasy receiver and Marquez Valdes-Scantling in the top 15 given that Aaron Rodgers has thrown for 216 yards per game this season, but the Packers have faced three strong pass defenses in the Bears, Broncos, and Vikings. The Eagles are weaker against the pass (No. 22 DVOA) than the run (No. 4 DVOA), and they increase pass plays by 17%, the most in football. Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley each had 100 yards and at least one touchdown against the Eagles two weeks ago, and Marvin Jones had 100 and one last week. This could be the breakout week for the Packers' passing game.
Cooper Kupp is a surprising No. 2 in my receiver rankings this week, and while he has a favorable matchup at home against the Buccaneers, that ranking is partially about his target share. Kupp has been the clear No. 1 option for Goff so far this season, drawing 32.3% of the team's wide receiver and tight end targets compared to 24.0% for Robert Woods and 22.9% for Brandin Cooks. The Bucs were a bottom-five DVOA defense versus slot receivers in 2018, so Kupp should be an excellent play this week. Of course, the Bucs also increase passing yards and touchdowns per attempt by 15% and 47%, so all three of the Rams primary receivers are attractive fantasy plays.
JuJu Smith-Schuster had a slow start to his fantasy season, and aside from his 75-yard touchdown reception last week, things presumably got worse for him with Mason Rudolph at quarterback. I've dropped him to the high-end flex range in my true-talent rankings, but he returns to the WR2 discussion for me this week at home against the Bengals. The Bengals are a neutral matchup for passing plays, and they increase passing yards and touchdowns per attempt by 15% and 51%. Meanwhile, the Steelers seemed to have tightened up their workload splits with Rudolph under center last week, playing Smith-Schuster 100%, James Washington 92%, and Diontae Johnson 79% of their snaps while not playing Ryan Switzer on offense and declaring the healthy Donte Moncrief inactive before the game. Even if Rudolph is a step down from Roethlisberger, a smaller pie can produce fantasy success for fewer mouths. I think the Steelers offense could surprise on Monday night, which makes them intriguing DFS tournament options.
There may not be many down weeks of the Patriots passing offense this year, but the stars have aligned for this to be one. Julian Edelman may outright miss this game entirely after leaving last week's game with a chest injury. Jakobi Meyers should be his slot handcuff, but neither player would have an enticing matchup against a Bills defense that was top-10 in football against slot receivers in 2018. Meanwhile, Josh Gordon figures to draw shutdown cornerback Tre'Davious White in shadow coverage. White was top-15 among cornerbacks with a 58% coverage success rate in 2018, and he limited the Jets' Robby Anderson to three catches, 23 yards, and no touchdowns on seven targets in Week 1 and John Ross to two catches, 22 yards, and no touchdowns on six targets in Week 3. Perhaps Gordon can overachieve that expectation given his height and weight advantage over White, but I'd still prefer to stick to the Patriots running backs in DFS this week.
Odell Beckham's 37.0% wide receiver and tight end target share this season is 8.6% higher than his teammate Jarvis Landry's, and that makes Beckham a top-10 fantasy receiver no matter the matchup. But I think he's on the lower end of that scale this week in Baltimore. As discussed, the Ravens pass defense may not be what it was last season, but I expect it will still cut passing yards and touchdowns per attempt. Meanwhile, rookie Redskins receiver Terry McLaurin has a much better-sounding matchup at home against the Giants' porous secondary that just gave up three touchdowns to Mike Evans. But the sneaky part of a Giants matchup is that they increase rushing touchdowns by 41%, much more than they increase passing touchdowns (4%). Maybe Daniel Jones will tip that scale, but for now, I will consider McLaurin a WR2 and not the borderline WR1 I think he may be becoming.
If Jones is as good as he looked in Week 3, then Evan Engram may become a permanent resident in what had been a triumvirate of top tight end options in Travis Kelce, George Kittle, and Zach Ertz. Engram is up to the No. 2 tight end in my true-talent rankings given the more than 30% wide receiver and tight end target share I'm expecting from him this week. Engram should also see a boost from playing at home against a Redskins team that is allowing a 21.8% DVOA to tight ends so far this season.
The Steelers are an interesting case at tight end this week. They have an even better matchup than the Giants, facing a Bengals defense that has allowed a 41.9% DVOA to tight ends this season. But primary tight end option Vance McDonald hurt his shoulder last week, and I assumed he would be out long-term given the team's subsequent trade for former Seahawks tight end Nick Vannett. That's why I have Vannett ranked 26th in my true-talent tight end rankings, which boosts to 22nd this week with the matchup. But I'm not even sure Vannett is going to play after being traded mid-week, and now it sounds like McDonald could actually play. It may be too risky to try to take advantage of the plus matchup there unless you are going with a Steelers DFS tournament stack. But keep an eye on the news leading up to the game. If one tight end is active and the other isn't, I'd be inclined to roll the dice in deeper formats.
As a member of that aforementioned tight end triumvirate, Zach Ertz is generally immune to matchups. Even with a bad one this week, I have him ranked seventh at the position. But that said, I'm pretty sure the road game in Green Bay is a bad matchup. The Packers have allowed a -39.0% DVOA to tight ends so far in 2019, the best in football. And they've held opposing tight ends to just 1.7 fantasy points per game, lowest in football. Ertz isn't Adam Shaheen, Kyle Rudolph, or Noah Fant, so I'm not overly scared for his fantasy potential. But I wouldn't spend on him as the second-most expensive DraftKings tight end, even with DeSean Jackson slated to miss tonight's game.
Without another prominent fantasy tight end with a really bad matchup, I'll mention Will Dissly, who I've moved into my true-talent top 10 at the position following his fifth career touchdown in six healthy starts. Dissly draws a semi-bad matchup this week, but that is as much because it is away from Seattle as it is because of his defensive opponent. In fact, the Cardinals have allowed a 69.9% DVOA and 21.6 average fantasy points per game to tight ends this year, both the most in football. But I tend to think those numbers are inflated by the opponents they've faced, in particular in the Ravens and Panthers, who each have a tight end as the No. 1 receiving option in general. The reason I list Dissly with a slightly down defensive rating is because the Cardinals induce their opponents to run, and without Patrick Peterson, they are susceptible to outside wide receivers. Don't bench Dissly for a worse receiver with a relatively better matchup this week like Dawson Knox or whichever Steelers tight end plays.