STATS’ Favorite Fantasy Football Plays: Week 4

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I told you last week was going to be nuts! We had tons of home underdogs, and lots of “good player in bad matchup” vs. “bad player in good matchup” decisions – a recipe for chaos. If the Packers’ romp over Chicago on Thursday night – which featured four Aaron Rodgers TDs and a Ty Montgomery injury – is any indication, some normalcy will be restored this week.

That’s good news for prognosticators like us. As always, please know that I can’t touch on every player, so feel free to ask me your sit/start questions on Twitter (@cschwartz18).

High-End QB Play: Russell Wilson, SEA (vs. IND)

The Indy defense may have looked competent against the DJ-less Cardinals and the Browns, but they have a much bigger test this weekend. Seattle, meanwhile, is looking to silence doubters by making a statement on national TV at home. I think this could get ugly for Indy. If so, Wilson will provide more of the same as last week, when he threw for almost 400 yards. It helps that Indy has been competent against the run, meaning Wilson may have to make plays himself in order to get out in front. He’s a consensus elite QB play this week, especially with Rodgers having played Thursday.

Stack Partner: Paul Richardson. Doug Baldwin is a game-time decision but most likely playing. Either way, he won’t be 100 percent and is one hit or tweak away from “not returning.” Richardson is talented, a big-play threat, in a great spot, and cheap in DFS.

High-End QB Play: Trevor Siemian, DEN (vs. OAK)

People have already soured on Siemian after his first bad game of 2017. By no means is he a matchup-proof QB1 – there are maybe 8 or 10 of those guys – but he still seems like a competent QB in a decent offense, and worth using in plus matchups. That is what he has this week against an Oakland team that got shredded by Kirk Cousins last week. Denver’s team total will rarely be higher than the 24.5 they’re getting this week. Most importantly, borderline QB1s like Jameis Winston, Cousins, Matt Stafford, Marcus Mariota and Big Ben all have tough matchups this week, so Siemian slides into our top 10 by default. He’s a great DFS play, especially on DraftKings, where Russell Wilson will not be part of the main slate.

Stack Partner:  It depends – at this point you can’t project much separation between Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas. On FanDuel, they are priced the same, so I’d roll with Thomas, who has the higher floor and is due for some TD regression (very, very due). On DK, it’s a tougher call as Thomas is a bit pricier. Both are great plays. Hey, why not play both?

QB Sleeper: Eli Manning, NYG (@ TB)

Gulp – this is a GPP play only, not a guy to start in one-QB leagues or in your cash lineup. Manning seemed to get better in every second half, and also better each game, so perhaps he’s just taking a while to warm up. More logically, Odell Beckham is getting healthier, the O-Line is improving from WOAT to merely just “bad,” and Eli is getting more chemistry on quick throws to new teammates like Brandon Marshall and Evan Engram. In a week where many typical QB1s have poor matchups, I like Eli as a GPP play against a TB defense that got lit up by Case Keenum. Most of TB’s studs are banged up too (Lavonte David, Kwon Alexander, Gerald McCoy, Brent Grimes), so the defense overall isn’t as scary as usual.

QB Fade: Marcus Mariota, TEN (@ HOU)

We tend to receive push-back whenever we rank Mariota outside the top 10 or 12 QBs. The fact of the matter is he has been a high-floor/low-ceiling guy who hasn’t punished those who fade him in tough spots. He has three passing TDs in three games and is always around 200 passing yards. This week, he has a tough matchup at Houston, which has a defense looking pretty good with J.J. Watt starting to look like himself. I’d start a guy like Dak Prescott over Mariota for sure this week, and I’d strongly consider benching him for QB2s with better matchups, like Siemian or Alex Smith.

High-End RB Play: Kareem Hunt, KC (vs. WAS)

Even with some regression, Hunt’s talent, usage, volume, and team situation add up to an elite RB going forward. This week, he’s the consensus No. 1 guy and a must-play in cash games, if you happen to be playing a MNF slate.

High-End RB Play: Ezekiel Elliott, DAL (vs. LAR)

Dallas knows the only way to contain the unstoppable Jared Goff is by running the clock and keeping him off the field (kidding). In all seriousness, if you are playing the main slate (so no MNF), Zeke is the top RB and must-cash guy. The Rams allowed 84 yards and two TDs to Carlos Hyde, 78 yards to Rob Kelley, and 67 yards to Semaje Perine. Elliott is quite better at football than those guys.

Stack Partner: Cowboys Defense. Goff’s strong recent play will lower ownership here, but they’re still a sneaky play if they can create turnovers against a second-year QB. If Demarcus Lawrence keeps up his Pro Bowl play, the sacks are an added dimension as well.

RB Sleeper: Jacquizz Rodgers, TB (vs. NYG)

The Giants’ pass defense looked pretty stout last week with Janoris Jenkins back, so Philly used the run game to move the ball. Yes, they succeeded in doing so with LeGarrette Blount and Wendell Smallwood leading the way. This gives another marginal RB – like Rodgers – hope this week. The Giants’ run defense has looked less elite this year without Johnathan Hankins at DT, and they looked even worse with Olivier Vernon banged up. People may jump to declare this a bad matchup for Rodgers, but I see him as more of a RB2/Flex option this week. With Doug Martin returning next week, Tampa shouldn’t hesitate to use Rodgers a bunch this week.

RB Fade, but also High End RB Play: Le’Veon Bell, PIT (@ BAL)

We have a unique situation here that I must point out. Bell is clearly not a top 2 RB this week in a brutal matchup on the road against a top 5 run D (according to our rating system). Still priced as the overall RB1, this makes him a bad value in cash games. I’d fade him there. On the other hand, you cannot fully fade him in GPPs, as he always possesses perhaps the highest ceiling of any RB, in any matchup. It’s baked into expectations that he has a bad matchup, which should lower his ownership. This makes him a weirdly sneaky GPP play in DFS. Gotta love it.

RB Fade: Chris Thompson, WAS (@ KC)

Thompson has gotten so “good” that it’s time to fade. Last week, with Kelley out, Perine in and out of the locker room, and Washington nursing a lead most of the game, he still only received eight handoffs. He has sustained his value by producing TDs every week, but that cannot keep up without him getting goal-line looks. Nobody has ever scored 15-20 long TDs in a season. He’s still an RB2 in PPR, but this week is a good opportunity to get out in front and fade him against a KC defense projected to hold Washington to just 21 points.

High-End WR Play: Michael Thomas, NO (vs. MIA in London)

Miami just looked plain bad last week, so hopefully you took Sean’s advice and tried to buy low on Thomas. We rate Miami as the No. 6-worst defense against WRs (for fantasy purposes), so this is a plus matchup to say the least. Don’t worry too much about Will Snead’s return. Thomas was a WR1-type last year with Snead and Brandin Cooks on the field, and Snead is more likely to take targets from Colby Fleener and Coleman. With guys like Mike Evans and Tyreek Hill in poor matchups, Thomas is back into high-end WR1 territory this week.

High-End WR Play: Larry Fitzgerald, ARI (vs. SF)

If you own Fitz in season-long, you know to start him every week by now. If you play DFS, hopefully you know Fitz is money in cash games. For some reason, he’s still priced too low for such a target hog and PPR god. He should destroy a SF secondary that got lit up by Sammy Watkins last week.

WR Sleeper: Pierre Garcon, SF (@ ARI)

The other No. 1 WR in that matchup is also a good play, albeit a sneakier one. The Patrick Peterson narrative will scare people away, but the fact of the matter is that Brian Hoyer locks onto his favorite target and forces it. It probably won’t be efficient, but I can see Garcon catching five or six of his 12 targets and having a nice fantasy day, justifying starting him at WR2/3/Flex in season-long leagues. He’s a nice DFS value in GPPs as well.

WR Sleeper: Tyrell Williams, LAC (vs. PHI)

The secondary seems to be the weakness of Philly’s game, as they possess a good offense and stout front 7. Philip Rivers will have to throw, for many reasons. This appears to be baked into expectations for Rivers and Keenan Allen, both ranked in the top 10 by consensus. People are sleeping on Williams, though. Despite Allen’s return, Williams is getting six targets per game, and simply hasn’t generated any big plays yet. This is a great week to bet on a big play against a Philly D that allowed just that to Sterling Shepard last week.

WR Fade: Martavis Bryant, PIT (@ BAL)

Antonio Brown will still get his, as always, and is a tough guy to fully fade in GPPs even in a tough matchup. Bryant, on the other hand, has been big-play and TD dependent. He has only seven receptions on the season, and has put up two stinkers in three weeks – the two weeks he didn’t score a long TD. Bet against the big play this week, and bench him in season-long leagues if you have WR2 and WR3 types with better matchups (Pryor, Tyrell, Landry, Thielen).

High-End TE Play: Zach Ertz, PHI (@ LAC)

I’m just pointing out that he’s here to stay as an elite, top 3 TE. What separates the elite TE from the rest of the pack is the lack of TD dependence. Ertz is a PPR stud who puts up WR2 production in all matchups, so he has arrived at that point. He isn’t priced like it yet in DFS. He may be an even better play than Travis Kelce this week in DFS and season-long PPR formats.

High-End TE Play: Jason Witten, DAL (vs. LAR)

This is another more long-term commentary – Witten is a TE1 by default this year. Reed, Graham, Eifert are banged up, Henry has disappointed, and the list goes on. Meanwhile, 50-year-old Witten keeps chugging along, getting targets and production. He put up a stinker last week – that low floor is what keeps him from the elite. If you don’t have an elite guy, though, he’s basically the next best thing, especially in cash games and head-to-head matchups.

High-End TE Play: Evan Engram, NYG (@ TB)

One of the lone bright spots for the Giants, Engram has been remarkably consistent for a rookie TE (4/44, 4/49, 5/45). He’s been one of the few high-floor TE this year, which by default puts him in the TE1 conversation. This week, he has a suddenly attractive matchup against a TB defense that will probably be without stud LB’s Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander. With Reed banged up and guys like Cook and Ebron in tough matchups, Engram looks like a top 10 TE this week.

TE Sleeper: Julius Thomas, MIA (vs. NO in London)

It’s typically wise to target the Saints defense, but Miami may be too bad and therefore risky to go all-in on. They almost got shut out by the Jets. Because of his low expectations and low price, though, Thomas may be the least risky guy to target on Miami. Three receptions each game so far isn’t terrible for a TE2, providing somewhat of a floor in PPR and DFS, and he is a better-than-usual bet for a TD against a bad Saints D. In fact, he has about the same chance of scoring a TD this week as guys like Witten, Graham, and Walker. He’s not quite at their level in terms of yardage projection, but he’s still a sneaky TE2 this week.

TE Fade: Cameron Brate, TB (vs. NYG)

The “target TE against NYG” narrative is strong right now, and Ertz’s TD last week further fueled it. Looking closely, the Giants have played two of the better TE in the league in their three games (Witten and Ertz), and they actually did a pretty good job bottling up Ertz (just 55 yards on his 10 targets). Cameron Brate splits snaps with O.J. Howard and targets with Evans and DeSean Jackson, among others. If he doesn’t score a TD, he likely won’t provide enough volume to help you. In the TE2 / TE punt range, I like guys like Thomas, Griffin, and ASJ more this week.

Week 4 NFL Spreads: STATS vs. Las Vegas

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Using STATS X-Info metrics and roster rankings to project favorites vs. the Vegas standard odds.

The true parity of the NFL came out in all its frustrating glory last week, helping Vegas casinos walk away millions of dollars ahead. Jacksonville, Buffalo, Chicago and the New York Jets threw wrinkles in the betting process with unexpected victories. But even with all those surprises, STATS went 9-7 when it came to picking the correct favorite.

STATS uses proprietary data to project spreads for each NFL game. STATS X-Info calculates roster rankings based on injuries, statistical data and depth at each position, then compares that to an opponent and arrives at a conclusion – the projected spread.

None of these spread projections mean you should empty your account and follow the STATS model to riches. X-Info simply takes into account factors Vegas may not, hence some differing views. And if you’re looking for fantasy advice, you’re still best suited to follow best-in-the-business Sean Koerner and his weekly tiers.

Have a look at how STATS projects the spreads in Week 4 against those coming out of Las Vegas as of Thursday afternoon.

Group 1: Occasionally, STATS and Vegas agree – for the most part – as noted in the games below:

Detroit at Minnesota

STATS: Vikings -2
Vegas: Vikings -1.5

Jacksonville at New York Jets

STATS: Jaguars -3.5
Vegas: Jaguars -3

Indianapolis at Seattle

STATS: Seahawks -13.4
Vegas: Seahawks -13

STATS thinks the Colts stink. Vegas thinks the Colts stink. Everyone thinks the Colts stink.

Cincinnati at Cleveland

STATS: Bengals -2.5
Vegas: Bengals -3

Pittsburgh at Baltimore

STATS: Steelers -1.8
Vegas: Steelers -3

Both teams are coming off losses that shouldn’t have happened, but turnovers doomed them.

Washington at Kansas City

STATS: Chiefs -5.4
Vegas: Chiefs -7

This is one of the more intriguing matchups of the week and gets the Monday Night Football spotlight. There’s some surprise that the Chiefs are such big favorites, but the home advantage is what’s helping bring the spread up.

San Francisco at Arizona

STATS: Cardinals -4.4
Vegas: Cardinals -7

Oakland at Denver

STATS: Broncos -0.8
Vegas: Broncos -3

Group 2: There are games in which STATS and Vegas at least agree on the favorite, but there is a pretty decent margin between the STATS spread and the Vegas spread:

Chicago at Green Bay

STATS: Packers -17.9
Vegas: Packers -7

No love for the Bears after their upset of the Steelers last week, but Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen hope to flip the script again while Mike Glennon watches Aaron Rodgers and tries to learn how to throw a pass beyond the line of scrimmage.

New Orleans at Miami

STATS: Saints -8.4
Vegas: Saints -3

Carolina at New England

STATS: Patriots -1.1
Vegas: Patriots -9

New England had a close call with a mediocre Texans team last week, and Vegas is more confident it’ll get back to its dominating ways.

Los Angeles Rams at Dallas

STATS: Cowboys -2.8
Vegas: Cowboys -6.5

Tennessee at Houston

STATS: Titans -8.3
Vegas: Titans -1.5

Buffalo at Atlanta

STATS: Falcons -13.9
Vegas: Falcons -8

New York Giants at Tampa Bay

STATS: Buccaneers -9.8
Vegas: Buccaneers -3

Group 3: Then there are games where STATS and Vegas don’t agree at all:

Philadelphia at Los Angeles Chargers

STATS: Eagles -6.8
Vegas: Chargers -1.5

This is the only game this week that STATS’ model and Las Vegas don’t agree on the favorite. It’s the first time this season there haven’t been multiple games in this section.

2017 STATS Fantasy Football: Week 4 Tiers

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Back at it for Week 4. Remember, things can change between now and the full Sunday slate of games, so keep up with me on Twitter (@The_Oddsmaker) and I’ll help out the best I can with any major shakeups.

Also, please note these tiers are for standard scoring. The numbers in parentheses are how many tiers a player moves up or down in PPR, where applicable.

Quarterbacks

Tier 1

Aaron Rodgers (vs CHI)
Tom Brady (vs CAR)

When it comes to two of the greatest fantasy/real-life quarterbacks we have ever seen, you will rarely have a decision to make. This week is no exception.

Tier 2

Russell Wilson (vs IND)
Matt Ryan (vs BUF)
Drew Brees (@ MIA, in London)

We finally had our Russell Wilson Blow-Up Game last week with a massive 373/4/0 and 26 rush yards chipped in. It couldn’t have come at a better time with a home matchup against the lowly Colts up next. This is certainly a somewhat risky spot considering blowout potential. Wilson typically posts stinkers in blowouts. He’s still a must-play nonetheless.

Ryan/Brees are great plays this week and have a bit of an added edge since other top 10 QBs have tough draws.

Tier 3

Matthew Stafford (@ MIN)
Trevor Siemian (vs OAK)
Carson Palmer (vs SF)
Kirk Cousins (@ KC)
Dak Prescott (vs LAR)
Jameis Winston (vs NYG)
Alex Smith (vs WAS)
Philip Rivers (vs PHI)

Stafford doesn’t have the best draw on the road against a fairly stout Vikings defense. When it comes to Stafford, though, one stat that gets overlooked is just how much of his team’s TD shares he accounts for. He never has a true goal-line vulture to contend with. As a matter of fact, he often finds himself in that role too. Last season, Stafford was involved in 78.8 percent of his team’s offensive TDs, and this year it has been all seven so far.

Tier 4

Jay Cutler (vs NO)
Marcus Mariota (@ HOU)

Jay Cutler flopped in what was supposed to be a great matchup against the Jets. If it wasn’t for a typical garbage-time 3-yard TD toss to DeVante Parker, we would have a lot more people refusing to play him this week. Despite the ideal matchup against the Saints, Cutler is still a middling QB2 option.

Tier 5

Ben Roethlisberger (@ BAL)
Cam Newton (@ NE)
Tyrod Taylor (@ ATL)
Carson Wentz (@ LAC)
Deshaun Watson (vs TEN)
Case Keenum (vs DET)
Derek Carr (@ DEN)
DeShone Kizer (vs CIN)
Andy Dalton (@ CLE)
Eli Manning (@ TB)

One of the biggest flops of Week 3 was Cam Newton’s abysmal game at home against the infamous Saints defense. Abysmal is an understatement, actually, as he failed to clear 170 passing yards while throwing no TDs with three INTs. He did manage to rush for a TD, but it was hardly enough. Some of Newton’s struggles certainly had to do with Kelvin Benjamin suffering what appeared to be a serious leg injury in the first quarter and being forced to leave the game. Not to mention, he was already without his trusty TE in Greg Olsen. His rotator cuff is not quite 100 percent as he’s still working on getting full range of motion back and trying to regain his form. He is completely off my radar for all these reasons, which hasn’t happened in quite some time.

Derek Carr has a brutal matchup at Denver. He certainly needs Michael Crabtree to be active in order to make me look bad for ranking him this low. Crabtree is shaping up to be questionable with the chest injury he suffered Sunday night.

Tier 6

Blake Bortles (@ NYJ)
Jared Goff (@ DAL)

The general public can’t seem to make up its mind on these two. We were led to believe these two flat-out stink and to never even utter their names when recommending good plays. Last week we had both QBs generate offenses that put up 40+ real-life points. I’m finding people all of a sudden trying to figure out just how “good” these QBs are.

When it comes to Bortles, I think we need to still treat him as a low-end QB2 despite the good matchup. You have to remember that the Jags are going to try their best to hide him by running the ball with Fournette/Ivory as much as they can. Bortles offers upside with his legs, but I think the four passing TDs will be his high-water mark for the season.

Goff has progressed a ton in his second season and certainly made us remember that coaching can make a huge difference in the NFL. I think we still need to pump the breaks on him just a bit, considering the two defenses he picked apart were the Colts and 49ers. This week against the Cowboys, I think we have to worry about his play volume being a bit too low to generate huge numbers.

One thing that needs to be addressed on Goff before I move on is that he does NOT run the ball – ever. In order to justify playing a guy with zero rushing stats to offer, you need to be fairly certain he at least has a shot at 300 yards and two TD in a game, something Goff has yet to accomplish in the NFL.

Tier 7

Joe Flacco (vs PIT)
Jacoby Brissett (@ SEA)
Josh McCown (vs JAX)
Mike Glennon (@ GB)
Brian Hoyer (@ ARI)

After Flacco managed to throw for a laughable 28 yards before getting pulled in the beatdown by the Jaguars, he gets to join the bottom tier this week. Congrats Joe.

Jacoby Brissett erupted in Week 3 with a 259-yard three-TD game (one passing, two rushing). Now he gets to face Seattle on the road and is not even in play in two-QB leagues. I’ve always been a fan of his rushing potential, so it should be noted that he faces the 49ers next week at home. It may be worth going out of your way to add him in advance if you have any of the QBs on BYE next week (Brees, Cousins, Siemian) and have a fairly thin waiver wire.

Running Backs

Tier 1

Kareem Hunt (vs WAS)
Ezekiel Elliott (vs LAR)

It took three weeks, but I think it’s time to seriously consider Hunt as a top-3 fantasy RB – and quite possibly the No. 1. However, he simply cannot maintain the current pace he is on, so I’m sure expectations on a week-to-week basis are going to be unreasonable for a few weeks. That said, he has a favorable draw this week against the Redskins on Monday Night Football. If you are down 17 going into MNF – with only Hunt remaining – you will have about a 50 percent chance of winning your matchup.

Tier 2

Le’Veon Bell (@ BAL)
Todd Gurley (@ DAL)

Bell has yet to really have a huge game this year, and I think we may have to wait at least another week before he does. An average game for Bell is still usually a top-10 weekly RB finish, so I’ll never rank him outside the top 5.

Gurley has certainly taken advantage of his early season schedule against poor run defenses. The Cowboys currently rank 22nd in my own personal rush DEF vs. RB rankings, so this isn’t a fantastic spot, but he is a must-play until further notice with his bankable workload. His pass-game usage has certainly boosted his value in PPR as well as standard.

Tier 3

Devonta Freeman (vs BUF)
Leonard Fournette (@ NYJ)
LeSean McCoy (@ ATL)

All three RBs in Tier 2 are volume monsters and thus unlikely to bust. McCoy’s matchup is especially good considering the Falcons have struggled against pass-catching backs so far this season, surrendering 35+ receiving yards to four different RBs in just three games.

Tier 4

Melvin Gordon (vs PHI)
Jay Ajayi (-1, vs NO)
Dalvin Cook (vs DET)
Carlos Hyde (@ ARI)

Ajayi was a huge disappointment in what should have been a great matchup against the Jets. You have to think it was due to a mixture of his injured knee and the negative game script. He now gets the Saints in the London game, and even though we’d like him to have more momentum than he does, he is a must-play this week. Just to magnify the lack of consistency Ajayi seems to have in his young career, he currently has more 200+ rushing yard games (3) than he does 100-199 yard games (2).

Tier 5

Ty Montgomery (+1, vs CHI)
C.J. Anderson (vs OAK)
Jordan Howard (@ GB)

This tier is a bit too volatile for the comfort you crave out of RB1 plays. I always treat Montgomery with caution and still wonder if he can maintain this sort of volume going forward. He is a bonafide PPR stud, and you need to roll him out with confidence every week in those formats. I’m a bit worried he’s a bit too TD dependent in standard formats, though, and would have probably tried to sell high after his Weeks 1-2 explosion.

Jordan Howard is a reminder that it’s not wise to write people off after starting the season slowly. It’s fair to think his shoulder injury is still a major concern as he seemed to be in pain on almost every play. He’s a bit risky given he’s on a short week, but I feel he’s back into the high-end RB2 mix again.

Tier 6

Chris Carson (-1, vs IND)
Christian McCaffrey (+1, @ NE)
Joe Mixon (@ CLE)

We finally have a prime opportunity to see just what Carson can do in a game the Seahawks will control enough to give him a huge workload. Wilson can keep the Colts defense honest enough to not sell out to stop Carson.

There is also just as much excitement that we will likely get to see the rookie leash removed from Joe Mixon against the Browns. Bengals offensive coordinator Bill Lazor wisely gave him 20+ touches last week against Green Bay, and we can safely say he is going to be their lead back going forward. Time to buckle up and enjoy the ride.

Tier 7

Mike Gillislee (-1, vs CAR)
DeMarco Murray (@ HOU)
Mark Ingram (@ MIA)
Jacquizz Rodgers (vs NYG)
Lamar Miller (vs TEN)
Tarik Cohen (+1, @ GB)
Marshawn Lynch (@ DEN)
Jonathan Stewart (@ NE)
Javorius Allen (vs PIT)
Ameer Abdullah (@ MIN)
Chris Thompson (+1, @ KC)
Tevin Coleman (vs BUF)
Isaiah Crowell (vs CIN)

Cohen had a 77-yard TD called back in Week 3 that eventually led to another Jordan Howard TD. While this did not help his cause last week, I think it allows him to be overlooked quite a bit in a matchup with the Packers that could be the perfect game flow for him to get touches. We also have to be aware that a Howard in-game aggravation of his shoulder is still possible, which would blow the lid off Cohen’s involvement. I

f I own Chris Thompson in a standard league, I am selling high. There is no way he can keep this up with his playing style. He is rarely going to see more than 10-15 touches so he pretty much has to score a TD to hit value. Even his early season TD production is surely to regress. He only had five total TDs last year in a nearly identical role. PPR is a much different story and he should continue to be started there until further notice.

Tier 8

Frank Gore (@ SEA)
Chris Johnson (vs SF)
Derrick Henry (@ HOU)

Hard to really trust any of these backs heading into Week 4, but we can at least assume they will see the majority of their team’s touches out of the backfield, and with Henry we have such a talented player he doesn’t need to see many carries to hit value.

Tier 9

LeGarrette Blount (-1, @ LAC)
Duke Johnson Jr. (+2, vs CIN)
Bilal Powell (vs JAX)
Andre Ellington (+1, vs SF)
Wendell Smallwood (@ LAC)
Jamaal Charles (vs OAK)
Theo Riddick (+3, @ MIN)
James White (+3, vs CAR)

This tier is mostly PPR heroes and Eagles RBs. Blount will always be a pesky TD vulture that is more likely to infuriate newly-minted Smallwood owners. Speaking of Smallwood, I think it’s safe to say that with Darren Sproles placed on IR, it is now time for him to see possibly 15+ touches a game. He appeared ready for the task during Week 3 and put up 71 yards on just 12 carries. It seems as if any time we think we will see him breakout he predictably flops. RB is a position that is so scarce that I would be willing to bet on him yet again. I just would set my expectations fairly low.

Wide Receivers

Tier 1

Antonio Brown (@ BAL)
Julio Jones (vs BUF)
A.J. Green (@ CLE)

Let Week 3 be a reminder that A.J. Green is one of the top WR in the league. Lazor seems to have the right idea getting the ball into the hands of his playmakers in Green/Mixon. They get the Browns this week.

Tier 2

Odell Beckham Jr. (@ TB)
Michael Thomas (@ MIA)
Mike Evans (vs NYG)
Jordy Nelson (vs CHI)

OBJ is back into the mix as an elite WR1 and so is Michael Thomas! I promised you that last week was the last time for a while that you will see Thomas ranked so low. His brutal stretch of matchups has passed and things should open up for him even more this week in London as they face the Dolphins.

Tier 3

Tyreek Hill (vs WAS)
DeAndre Hopkins (vs TEN)
Stefon Diggs (vs DET)
Demaryius Thomas (vs OAK)
Dez Bryant (vs LAR)
Larry Fitzgerald (vs SF)
Keenan Allen (vs PHI)
Emmanuel Sanders (vs OAK)
DeVante Parker (vs NO)
Doug Baldwin (vs IND)
Brandin Cooks (vs CAR)

Parker just sneaks in as a high-[end WR2 play based on the fact he gets the juicy Saints draw this week. The preseason hype seems to finally be real this year as Jay Cutler is forcing the issue with 19 total targets through 2 games.

Baldwin is considered questionable with a groin injury so you’ll want to monitor that closely this week. They don’t play until Sunday night so it would be wise have some sort of back up in place.

Tier 4

Golden Tate (+1, @ MIN)
Amari Cooper (@ DEN)
Adam Thielen (vs DET)
Alshon Jeffery (@ LAC)
Jarvis Landry (+1, vs NO)
Pierre Garcon (@ ARI)
Davante Adams (vs CHI)
Sammy Watkins (@ DAL)
Michael Crabtree (@ DEN)
T.Y. Hilton (@ SEA)
Rishard Matthews (@ HOU)
Chris Hogan (vs CAR)

Both Raiders stud WRs in Cooper/Crabtree suffer the worst draw for a WR. They are so good that they are still squarely in play as solid WR2/3 types, though. Crabtree is questionable with a chest injury so Cooper could bump up a tier if Crabtree is out.

Davante Adams will be involved in quite a few sit/start decisions ahead of Thursday night’s game. He’s currently ranked as if Cobb is active. He would likely move up to the top of this tier if Cobb ends up missing Week 4.

Tier 5

Terrelle Pryor Sr. (@ KC)
Kelvin Benjamin (@ NE)
Sterling Shepard (@ TB)
DeSean Jackson (vs NYG)
Tyrell Williams (vs PHI)

Kelvin Benjamin seems to have avoided a significant injury after having his knee buckle under him, which forced him to leave the game early. He’s now in a spot where the Panthers should be forced to throw as they attempt to outscore the Patriots. If he ends up getting in a full practice before Sunday and is active, I think you have to roll him out with confidence.

Tyrell Williams could be in an eruption spot against a leaky Eagles defense that has been getting lit up lately. I also think that may make Travis Benjamin a deep TD threat as well.

Tier 6

Allen Hurns (@ NYJ)
Jamison Crowder (@ KC)
Marqise Lee (@ NYJ)
Martavis Bryant (@ BAL)
J.J. Nelson (vs SF)
Jeremy Maclin (vs PIT)
Kenny Stills (vs NO)
Devin Funchess (@ NE)
Taylor Gabriel (-1, vs BUF)
Willie Snead (@ MIA)
Paul Richardson (vs IND)
Mohamed Sanu (vs BUF)
Eric Decker (@ HOU)

Martavis Bryant, J.J. Nelson, and Kenny Stills make for extreme high risk/reward plays this week I’m afraid. In traditional H2H season-long leagues, I tend to go with safer/high-floor plays. They are certainly still in play in DFS tournaments that actually reward such plays and in H2H matchups where you might find yourself as a fairly big underdog this week. You can use high-ceiling players to give yourself a better chance of an upset, in theory.

Tight End

Tier 1

Rob Gronkowski (vs CAR)

Tier 2

Travis Kelce (vs WAS)
Zach Ertz (@ LAC)

The time has come to seriously consider Ertz a permanent top-3 TE ever week. Guys like Jimmy Graham and Jordan Reed battling nagging injuries have seriously opened the door for Ertz. He hasn’t disappointed, with at least 90+ yards or a TD in all three of his games.

Tier 3

Jimmy Graham (vs IND)
Jason Witten (vs LAR)
Delanie Walker (@ HOU)
Kyle Rudolph (vs DET)
Charles Clay (@ ATL)
Jared Cook (@ DEN)
Evan Engram (@ TB)
Jordan Reed (@ KC)

At this point, it seems like Reed is going to have to play through his nagging foot injury for the rest of the season. I highly doubt he plays in every game the rest of the way. Whenever he in fact misses a game we should be trained enough by now to upgrade Vernon Davis to a borderline TE1.

Tier 4

Eric Ebron (@ MIN)
Jack Doyle (@ SEA)
Coby Fleener (@ MIA)
Martellus Bennett (vs CHI)
Benjamin Watson (vs PIT)

I keep reiterating that the TE positions is extremely TD dependent. This means that nearly every TE has basement level floors and could put up close to 0 any given week. We saw this with Ebron and Doyle last week, even in great matchups on paper. It also sets up for major mistakes of playing Whack-a-Mole where you tend to start a guy each week who is coming off of a good game the week before. I urged this caution with Jesse James and Austin Hooper after they exploded Week 1. This is the last tier of TE I would be comfortable rolling out in a 12-team league.

Tier 5

Jesse James (@ BAL)
Julius Thomas (vs NO)
Hunter Henry (vs PHI)
Austin Seferian-Jenkins (vs JAX)
Zach Miller (@ GB)
Ryan Griffin (vs TEN)
Cameron Brate (vs NYG)
Austin Hooper (vs BUF)
Marcedes Lewis (@ NYJ)
Antonio Gates (vs PHI)
Jermaine Gresham (vs SF)
Vernon Davis (@ KC)

This is the desperation-only, or DFS, tier. As I mentioned earlier, Vernon Davis would shoot up to Tier 3 or 4 if Reed were to miss Week 4. He is a rare TE handcuff that I think all Reed owners should keep, given the high correlation between the two that would put you in a safer position week-to-week.

Kickers

Tier 1

Matt Bryant (vs BUF)
Stephen Gostkowski (vs CAR)
Dan Bailey (vs LAR)
Blair Walsh (vs IND)

Tier 2

Wil Lutz (@ MIA)
Harrison Butker (vs WAS)
Phil Dawson (vs SF)
Brandon McManus (vs OAK)
Mason Crosby (vs CHI)

Tier 3

Jake Elliott (@ LAC)
Younghoe Koo (vs PHI)
Kai Forbath (vs DET)
Nick Folk (vs NYG)
Cody Parkey (vs NO)|
Ryan Succop (@ HOU)

Tier 4

Ka’imi Fairbairn (vs TEN)
Dustin Hopkins (@ KC)
Matt Prater (@ MIN)
Chris Boswell (@ BAL)
Jason Myers (@ NYJ)
Randy Bullock (@ CLE)
Justin Tucker (vs PIT)
Giorgio Tavecchio (@ DEN)

Tier 5

Stephen Hauschka (@ ATL)
Graham Gano (@ NE)
Aldrick Rosas (@ TB)
Robbie Gould (@ ARI)
Greg Zuerlein (@ DAL)
Chandler Catanzaro (vs JAX)
Connor Barth (@ GB)
Zane Gonzalez (vs CIN)

Tier 6

Adam Vinatieri (@ SEA)

Defenses/Special Teams

Tier 1

Cincinnati Bengals (@ CLE)
Jacksonville Jaguars (@ NYJ)
Seattle Seahawks (vs IND)

Tier 2

Green Bay Packers (vs CHI)
Arizona Cardinals (vs SF)
Atlanta Falcons (vs BUF)
Tennessee Titans (@ HOU)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (vs NYG)

Tier 3

New York Jets (vs JAX)
New England Patriots (vs CAR)
Pittsburgh Steelers (@ BAL)
Philadelphia Eagles (@ LAC)
Kansas City Chiefs (vs WAS)
Dallas Cowboys (vs LAR)
Cleveland Browns (vs CIN)
Houston Texans (vs TEN)

Tier 4

Minnesota Vikings (vs DET)
New York Giants (@ TB)
Los Angeles Chargers (vs PHI)
Denver Broncos (vs OAK)
Baltimore Ravens (vs PIT)
Detroit Lions (@ MIN)

Tier 5

New Orleans Saints (@ MIA)
San Francisco 49ers (@ ARI)
Indianapolis Colts (@ SEA)
Chicago Bears (@ GB)
Los Angeles Rams (@ DAL)
Oakland Raiders (@ DEN)
Washington Redskins (@ KC)
Miami Dolphins (vs NO)

Tier 6

Buffalo Bills (@ ATL)
Carolina Panthers (@ NE)

The Clippers Run Through It: Rivers May Be Best Option to Take CP3’s PG Reins

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Most believe the Clippers’ days of contending in the Western Conference went away the second Chris Paul headed to Houston. Adding Danilo Gallinari to the frontcourt with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan while putting Patrick Beverley at the point doesn’t come close to making up for Paul’s departure.

Not only is Paul a Rocket, but longtime starting backcourt mate J.J. Redick left for Philadelphia. No one in their right mind thinks Beverley can do what Paul did for L.A. on a nightly basis, but some intriguing advanced data shows the guy taking over Redick’s spot is vital to the Clippers’ attempt to remain relevant.

That player also happens to be the coach’s son. Seeing Austin Rivers take over as Los Angeles’ starting shooting guard may appear to be nepotism, but Doc Rivers may ultimately be doing what’s best to alleviate the huge void Paul has left. Additionally, the coach needs to make sure Gallinari and Griffin play the right way offensively – not just hold the ball and shoot long jumpers – for the Clippers to have any hope.

Still, there’s no making up for everything CP3 brought. He was among the league’s top five in assists and steals in all six seasons he played for the Clippers besides being in the top 10 in plus-minus, finishing only behind the Warriors’ four All-Stars last season. His 13.5 adjusted assists per 36 minutes were second-best in the league behind James Harden, while Beverley and Rivers didn’t average 11 combined.

Though Beverley takes over at the point after being acquired in the Paul deal, the offense could more frequently run through the younger Rivers, and some stats bear out why that should often be the case.

Paul played a huge role in DeAndre Jordan contributing anything offensively considering his shooting range hardly spreads beyond the rim. Last season, that duo combined for 753 screens and produced 1.23 team points per play, third-best in the league among the 66 combos with at least 300 screens. When Rivers was the ball-handler on screens with Jordan, the production didn’t drop off. It actually increased slightly to 1.25 team PPP on 311 screens. Rivers was in some pretty heady company among the ball-handlers in the top 10 in that category – Paul, Kyle Lowry, Stephen Curry, James Harden, Isaiah Thomas and LeBron James.

One of Paul’s biggest strengths is driving the lane and finding the open man. Among 119 players who had at least 200 drives last season, Paul ranked sixth with 1.36 team points per play. Individually, Paul rarely looked to finish himself, producing 0.48 points per drive – 107th of that group and nine spots ahead of Beverley (0.43). Rivers was much more effective scoring in such situations at 0.79 points per drive to rank 20th in the league.

Player Individual PPD Team PPD Individual FG% Assist-to-turnover rate
Chris Paul 0.48 1.36 53.3 2.80
Austin Rivers 0.79 1.21 49.5 0.93
Patrick Beverley 0.43 1.12 43.9 2.84

One player who strangely enough was better than any of them – Gallinari. He produced 0.95 points per drive last season – only Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis were better – and his 1.49 team PPP on drives was second-best to Durant. Griffin was also proficient in that category at 1.35, ranking one spot behind Paul.

Both Griffin and Gallinari were also very effective when playing on an island. Both averaged 1.15 team points per isolation to rank among the league’s top 15, but that’s because they were creating good shots for teammates or getting good ones for themselves. When one of those things doesn’t happen, both big men all too often fail to produce anything positive – and so will the Clippers this season if those two are taking misguided outside shots.

Gallinari hit just 28.6 percent of his contested jump shots last season, which ranked 113th of 120 players to attempt at least 100. On pull-up jumpers, he ranked 142nd in effective field goal percentage while Griffin was 125th – both were under 40 percent.

So when Beverley or Rivers finds one of those big men and they don’t have an open look, Griffin and Gallinari are much better off driving the lane or passing back to a guard. Sure, that’s the case with most frontcourt players, but the stats show this to be especially true of the Clippers’ best bigs. As for the smalls, the Clippers might want to let Rivers have more control of the offense than Beverley – even if neither option can fill CP3’s enormous shoes.

Baby Bombers: How Rookies Helped Smash MLB’s Home Run Record

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STATS’ data and research delve into the historical rise of rookie home runs and the unlikely shattering of a 17-year-old mark

Alex Presley strode to the left-handed batters’ box Sept. 19th at Comerica Park having hit fewer home runs this season than five major league pitchers. Imagine the surprise when the Detroit Tigers’ journeyman then lifted a ball over the right-field fence to break a tie with 16 other hurlers and force another with history.

The unlikeliness of Presley’s homer marking MLB’s 5,693rd of 2017 wasn’t the only odd event concerning power hitting that evening. Not long after Presley’s shot cleared the fence, Kansas City Royals outfielder Alex Gordon slugged No. 5,694 to break the single-season all-time record previously set in 2000.

Gordon possesses the worst slugging percentage of any of baseball’s 148 qualifying players.

Presley nor Gordon certainly won’t be mistaken for No. 1 on this year’s slugging and home run lists – Giancarlo Stanton, who is attempting to become the sixth player in MLB history to hit at least 60 homers. Stanton stands at 57 entering play Tuesday, 20 more than his previous career high and the most since Ryan Howard’s 58 in 2006.

But even with Stanton’s power surge, we won’t match the steroid-assisted 2000 barrage when 47 players hit at least 30 homers and 16 smashed at least 40. It’s quite unlikely there will be many more than the 34 players who have gone deep at least 30 times, and we’re certainly going to fall short of 16 power hitters cranking 40.

So how does home run No. 5,694 come to happen then? Look no further than the Baby Bombers, and start with two in particular.

New York Yankees phenom Aaron Judge hit Nos. 49 and 50 on Monday to break Mark McGwire’s rookie home run record set in 1987. Judge is homering an average of every 10.54 at-bats, which also would break McGwire’s rookie record of 11.37.

Third on that list? Los Angeles Dodgers 22-year-old rookie Cody Bellinger, who set the NL rookie record with his 39th homer Sept. 22 to pass Wally Berger in 1930 and Frank Robinson in 1956. Entering play Tuesday, Bellinger is clearing the fences every 11.90 at-bats. The only other rookie in the last 15 years to come even somewhat close to Judge’s and Bellinger’s averages is Jose Abreu with a homer in every 15.44 at-bats in 2014.

But Judge and Bellinger aren’t the only youngsters crushing baseballs. Rookies are homering more this season than any other in baseball history. The previous rookie mark was set in 2015 and last year’s total trailed right behind, but neither compare to the number of baseballs rookies have unloaded on in 2017.

Rookie Home Run Totals

(Through Sept. 25)
SEASONHOME RUNS
2017763
2015691
2016579
1999556
2006546

Amount of Rookies to Homer

(Through Sept. 25)
SEASONROOKIES
2017117
2015114
2016109
1999109
2008104
1998104

Entering Tuesday’s action, 10 rookies have at least 20 home runs – four more than in any other season – with a strong possibility a couple more names get added to the list. This is the first time ever multiple rookies have hit at least 35, and not since 2007 when Ryan Braun (34) and Chris Young (32) burst onto the scene have two rookies cracked 30.

Rookie Home Run Leaders - 2017

(Through Sept. 25)
RANKPLAYERTEAMHOME RUNS
1Aaron JudgeNYY50
2Cody BellingerLAD39
3Matt DavidsonCWS26
T4Josh BellPIT24
T4Paul DeJongSTL24
T4Trey ManciniBAL24
T4Matt OlsonOAK24
T4Hunter RenfroeSD24
9Ian HappCHC22
10Andrew BenintendiBOS20

In 2000, with a host of veterans leading the home run charge, only Mark Quinn of the Kansas City Royals – who was out of the league for good after 2002 – and Lance Berkman hit the 20-homer mark with 20 and 21, respectively. And maybe the profound difference in rookie homers from the top two home run years in MLB history can be traced to a difference in approach.

STATS noted back in April the theory that hitters are being coached now more than ever to hit the ball in the air. Even in 2000, the overall hits that went for home runs was at just 12.58 percent. That’s less than last year and far lower than 2017’s all-time high percentage entering Monday’s action.

Percentage of Hits as Home Runs

(Through Sept. 25)
SEASON (since 1900)% of HOME RUNS
201714.50
201613.26
200012.58
200112.43
200412.24
200611.94
200311.81
201211.73
200211.69
200911.58

No matter how Judge was being coached to swing, he couldn’t make contact during his cup of coffee with the Yankees in 2016, striking out 42 times in the 83 official plate appearances after homering in the first at-bat of his career.

The strikeouts are there this season, too, but he’s connecting and has a 38.2 fly-ball percentage that ranks second among rookies behind Bellinger (42.0). Judge’s batting WAR is 5.1, which is the highest for a rookie since 1915, and his overall WAR of 7.6 is tied for fifth all-time among rookies with Shoeless Joe Jackson.

And when Judge connects, boy does he connect. He owns the four highest exit velocities on home runs in all of baseball and five of the top six when any type of hit is included. His average exit velocity on all hits of 95.6 tops every player with at least 30 hits, and his 1.026 OPS is a rookie’s best since Ted Williams in 1939.

Presley and Gordon tying and breaking MLB’s all-time home run record might’ve been anti-climactic, but the lead up to those moments was anything but. Judge added some flare to the record Monday, and the rest of his rookie brethren also can take pride in helping make history – however unlikely it seems.

Styles of Their Own: How Deep Data Differentiates the Best of Europe’s Best

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Assessing the Leaders of La Liga, Bundesliga, Serie A, Premier League and Ligue 1 with STATS Playing Styles, Expected Goals and Saves, and Ball Movement Points

The tables will tell you the five leaders of Europe’s top leagues all have goal differences between plus-17 and 19 through six or seven matches, but the brand of dominance with which they’ve arrived there varies. With Champions League fixtures occupying midweek, let’s look into the tendencies of Barcelona, Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain, Borussia Dortmund and Napoli in league play using STATS’ advanced metrics.

We’ve talked about playing styles and expected goals and saves plenty. Ball Movement Points less so. BMP is a nifty metric that rewards creativity. It considers ball movement made by an individual player from a start zone to an end zone and assigns value based on past results from massive amounts of league data. These scores accumulate during a match or across a season to indicate the value of a player’s ball distribution. BMP considers every involvement a player has to credit or discredit decisions with the ball. It’s what football minds could always see but never calculate. It goes beyond expected assists by looking at the full chain of passes, weighing the probability of that pass leading to a shot later in the play. Passing points generate expected shot points, so if a player generates one BMP, he has generated passes to lead to or defend one shot. It expresses the level of threat or wastefulness that can be attributed to a player. It’s broken down into categories of offensive and defensive as well as positive and negative (oBMP+, oBMP-, dBMP+, dBMP-) with net values telling the more conclusive story.

Unsurprisingly, a few of those players suit up at Camp Nou, though Europe’s most dangerous creatives so far this season operate elsewhere. Read on for the details.

La Liga – Barcelona

Barcelona’s 2017-18 playing styles through six La Liga matches measured against league averages (0%).

A matter of weeks ago, the departure of Neymar and a 5-1 aggregate loss to Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup sent the Catalans – or at least their supporters – into something of a panic. Take into account they didn’t land Philippe Coutinho and their summer splash Ousmane Dembele will be shelved for at least three months, and on the surface it seems it should be Barca and not Real Madrid seven points back in La Liga. Instead, the Blaugrana rolled Juventus in the Champions League and have a plus-18 La Liga goal difference.

Yes, Messi has nine league goals in six matches. Yes, he’s outscored 14 of the 20 La Liga clubs. Yes, his 22 shots on goal are nearly half of the team’s 45, and his total either matches or betters the team total of seven La Liga clubs. But Barcelona didn’t need him to net in a 3-0 win at Girona over the weekend. The success might have something to do with a relatively healthy Andrés Iniesta and impressive play out of fellow midfielder Ivan Rakitić, who leads La Liga in offensive ball movement points (oBMP) with a 1.10 rating. Messi ranks second (1.05) ahead of Real Madrid’s Toni Kroos (0.98).

Make no mistake that this isn’t the Barcelona midfield of 2009, but they are operating with impressive tempo to complement their typical sustained possession. It’s only six matches, but they’re so far playing faster this year than they did with Neymar. Their fast tempo playing style is up from 154 percent above league average last season to +212 so far this term. In typical Barca fashion, they played directly less than any La Liga club last season (-40 percent). That’s barely changed (-34). Anyone they replace Neymar with won’t match his on-pitch value, but it’s becoming clearer that he wasn’t Barcelona’s engine. We’ll see if that changes with more demanding matches on the horizon, which is the case for all five clubs discussed here.

Premier League – Manchester City

Manchester City’s 2017-18 playing styles through six Premier League matches measured against league averages (0%).

No surprise here. Pep Guardiola assures us that this hasn’t already turned into a two-team race with his Manchester rivals, but that might just be coach speak. It may have been between those two all along, as we wrote before the season started. That argument was based largely on expected goals and saves, and a lot of that is playing out as the numbers implied it might. Take note of Ederson, who’s made more saves than expected. His plus-1.5 expected save differential – calculated by subtracting expected saves from actual saves – ranks just ahead of Gianluigi Buffon.

Assess City’s playing styles through six matches, and you’ll see plenty of evidence of the kind of big-money dominance they’re going to be capable of in Guardiola’s second season. Their offensiveness has increased from 45 percent above league average to +81, while maintenance – possession in one’s own half – has slightly decreased (+42 percent to +39). Attacking possession styles of build up (+69 to +102), sustained threat (+48 to +77) and fast tempo (+64 to +172) have all jumped along with crossing (+18 to +50). It’s a dangerous team that’s made up of dangerous individuals.

The same case can be made using ball movement points, but the most noteworthy players in that category aren’t Man City newcomers. Kevin De Bruyne might not be scoring, but his oBMP (2.03) is considerably higher than any player in the top-five European leagues with teammate and fellow playmaker David Silva (1.53) ranking second. The only other duo anywhere near that level isn’t the previously mentioned Barca duo, though one of the players famously moved from Catalonia this summer.

Ligue 1 – Paris Saint-Germain

Paris Saint-Germain’s 2017-18 playing styles through seven Ligue 1 matches measured against league averages (0%).

Since he’s already come up in the sections above covering two teams he doesn’t play for, let’s get to Neymar. Heads would soon roll if any other club were listed here after the summer PSG had. Any Neymar-Edinson Cavani penalty rift – perceived or otherwise – isn’t impacting their dominance. But the oBMP duo teased above wasn’t them. It’s Thiago Motta (fifth: 1.35) and Neymar (seventh: 1.27) among the leaders of Europe’s top-five leagues. Kylian Mbappe is settling in and staying out of the goal-scoring diva antics, but let’s focus on playing style because Paris have, essentially overnight, started challenging Barcelona as Europe’s most ball-dominant attacking club.

Their build up (+86 percent in 2016-17 up to +165), sustained threat (+48 to +111) and fast tempo (+115 to +238) have all spiked this season, while their direct play (-46 to -62) has fallen off even more. The same goes for maintenance, which has fallen from +89 of the average to +59. That all points toward that front three and the accompanying midfield having the ball in attacking circumstances. They’re making dangerous decisions when they do: Motta, Neymar, Adrien Rabiot (1.15) and Marco Verratti (1.05) make up four of Ligue 1’s top six in oBMP.

This version of PSG dropped points for the first time over the weekend with a goalless draw at Montpellier. Neymar, of course, didn’t play. Assuming he’s quickly back and healthy for the months to come, it’s hard to imagine any scenario other than this dominant of a Paris side taking back the title from depleted holders Monaco.

Onto another potential changing of the guard.

Bundesliga – Borussia Dortmund

Borussia Dortmund’s 2017-18 playing styles through six Bundesliga matches measured against league averages (0%).

It’d be easy here to argue that Bayern Munich are leaving the door open for Dortmund to capture their first title since 2011-12, but that might be taking due credit away from the challengers. Of the five clubs discussed here, Roman Burki has provided the most valuable goalkeeping, ranking 12th among the top-five European league keepers in expected save differential at +2.8 between Inter Milan’s Samir Handanović (+2.8) and Manchester United’s David De Gea (+2.5).

Surprisingly, Sokratis Papastathopoulos’ 1.29 oBMP is the highest any defender in the top-five leagues and leads Bundesliga players of all positions. They’ve also had some efficient finishing. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s +2.1 expected goal differential is third in the Bundesliga, while Maximilian Philipp’s +1.8 is fifth. It’s of course a slippery slope to lean on such individual efficiencies, but these cases aren’t anomalies. PEA posted a Bundesliga-best +6.1 xGD last season, while Philipp’s nine goals with Freiburg came in a relatively impressive +2.6 above his expected mark of 6.4.

In terms of playing style, Dortmund have gone away from the high press some (down from +26 percent last season to +7), while increasing significantly in build up (+58 to +125) and fast tempo (+67 to +174). Their counter attacking has also increased from +19 to +41, which puts their playing styles web almost eerily in line with this week’s Champions League opponents Real Madrid.

Give Dortmund credit for their start, but another dark-horse club has gathered even more hype across Europe.

Serie A – Napoli

Napoli’s 2017-18 playing styles through six Serie A matches measured against league averages (0%).

We’ve saved the most intriguing – and possibly most exciting relative to their league – for last. Napoli may be the outliers on this list because they haven’t won a title since a guy named Maradona was around 1989-90 and Juventus have won the Serie A every season dating to 2011-12. And unlike other clubs on this list, they haven’t compromised their style or spent untold millions to jump in front of Juve on goal difference through six matches. That comes as a relief to plenty of the football world that sees manager Maurizio Sarri as one of the key names in pushing the modern game forward. As was pointed out in a recent ESPN FC piece, Fabio Capello boasted Sarri as an innovator on the level of 1970s Ajax, 1980s AC Milan and 2000s Barcelona. Pep Guardiola had a hand in the last of those and called Napoli one of the three best clubs in Europe back in August when Man City drew them in the Champions League group stage.

Napoli are highlighted by a rather un-Italian attack that’s scored more league goals than any club in Europe’s top-five leagues, including that explosive PSG side that’s played an additional match. How, specifically, are they doing it with a player payroll that ranks fifth in Serie A? Pace and press are key parts. In fact, Napoli might play as fast as any club on the planet. They don’t sustain threat like other clubs on this list (+13 percent of Serie A average last season and +10 this season), but their fast tempo (+265 up from +231) and high press (+78 up from +44) are increasing from already head-turning numbers last season.

On an individual level, Sarri is well aware of Lorenzo Insigne’s value, and that’s supported by a 1.19 oBMP that trails only Juve’s Miralem Pjanić in Serie A. What’s scary – or enthralling – is Napoli have only recently found the No. 9 to head this monster up. Dries Mertens has six goals with a +2.3 xGD, and that’s not a matter of the Belgian finding a streak of luck to start the campaign. He scored 28 goals in 35 matches last season with Serie A’s second best xGD of +6.9. It has, with little doubt, something to do with the system.

STATS’ Favorite Fantasy Football Plays: Week 3

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Week 3 of the NFL season already is nuts. The Rams and 49ers already hung up a combined 80 points, and the Sunday/Monday games feature maybe the most questionable players and game-time decisions that I can remember.

Who plays and who doesn’t could render some of the following picks obsolete, so please check all player news before penciling any player into your lineups. And also be sure to check out Sean Koerner’s Week 3 Tiers while you’re at it.

Some GTDs that particularly could have an impact include Sam Bradford, Demarco Murray and Randall Cobb. Also, since I can’t touch on every player of course, feel free to ask me your sit/start questions on Twitter.

High-End QB Play: Aaron Rodgers, GB (vs. CIN)

Everybody agrees Rodgers is the No. 1 QB option this week. I’d just like to point out that we project him for quite a few points above No. 2 Tom Brady, who may not need to throw much at all in order to beat the Deshaun Watson-led Texans. Rodgers also won’t need to throw for 400 yards to beat the Bengals, but that game should still be a bit closer. He’s my cash-game recommendation this week.

Stack Partner: TBD. You have to check the news before deciding on this one, with both Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson questionable. Lately, Nelson practiced and Cobb didn’t. If Nelson plays and Cobb sits, Nelson is an elite WR play. If they both sit, Davante Adams is a must-start, must-cash guy. This would also make Martellus Bennett one of the top TE options.

High-End QB Play: Cam Newton, CAR (vs. NO)

Newton is obviously recovering from a shoulder injury, and is therefore too risky to use in cash games. Against the New Orleans “defense,” though, he has immense upside in GPPs, where many people will refuse to roster him because he is “bad.” Somehow or some way, Carolina will score points in this matchup, and Greg Olsen’s injury (and lack of great replacement options) may just force Cam to rush one or two extra times. He is a top-5 most likely option to contribute 4+ TDs this week.

Stack Partner: Ed Dickson. He’s a mediocre, blocking TE, but that didn’t stop Newton from targeting him three times after Olsen’s injury last week. Now, Carolina beat writers are pumping him up as a potential focal point of the offense (somehow). He’s basically minimum price and only needs three catches or so to provide value, but he’s also a solid bet to score a TD. I also like Devin Funchess here, who is basically built like a TE and is a sneaky natural replacement for Olsen.

High-End QB Play: Carson Wentz, PHI (vs. NYG)

First of all, the Giants defense doesn’t quite look as dominant as last season. Their starting secondary contains great individual players, but star corner Janoris Jenkins is already banged up, which forces an aging DRC into a bigger role, and big play-yielding Eli Apple into a starting spot. Second, Wentz looks like a high-floor, high-ceiling guy, since Philly has all but abandoned their usage of RBs. He could lead them in rushing, while also throwing for 300 yards. While many other borderline QB1 types like Philip Rivers and Dak Prescott have tough matchups, Wentz is a QB1 by default in season-long leagues.

Stack Partner: Zach Ertz. Ertz is a great option against any team, but especially against a Giants D that funnels to TEs. Also, Wentz/Sproles is a sneaky contrarian stack, as most will avoid the QB/RB duo.

QB Sleeper: Deshone Kizer, CLE (@ IND)

Kizer ran five times last week despite missing much of the game with migraines. He runs so much that he is approaching a Tyrod Taylor-like floor, where 5-10 points are all but assured as long as he suits up. This week, in addition to the floor, he has a higher-than-usual ceiling, with Cleveland expected to score – gasp – 21 points! Indy’s run defense looks good enough to limit Isaiah Crowell, but their pass defense is still not good and Kizer could make some plays. He’s a solid QB2 option in two-QB leagues, and a better GPP play than typical QB2 types like Joe Flacco and Eli Manning this week.

Stack Partner: Rashard Higgins. Kenny Britt is sneaky because everybody has written him off, but Higgins is a great cheap option this week with Corey Coleman out. Hopefully he is “listed” as the No. 3 guy on the depth chart, which lowers his ownership, because he’s still the best bet to lead Cleveland in receiving.

QB Fade: Drew Brees, NO (@ CAR)

This matchup is just bad for old man Drew. First of all, he’s on the road, which is an obvious negative split. Second, he faces a good defense. Third, Carolina’s offense is probably not good enough to make this a blowout or shootout like last week vs. New England, so he probably won’t salvage with garbage-time points. Brees is priced like a super-elite QB on DFS sites (he’s $100 less than Rodgers and $100 more than Matt Ryan on DraftKings), but he’s more of a back-end QB1. Heck, if you have Kirk Cousins or Matt Stafford as his backup in season-long, you may want to start them over him.

High-End RB Play: LeSean McCoy, BUF (vs. DEN)

Ezekiel Elliott put up a real-life stinker against Denver last week (8 rushing yards), but in a strange way, he foreshadowed a high floor for Shady by getting four receptions on five targets. McCoy is a better receiving back, and Denver’s corners are so much better than Buffalo’s wide receivers that he very well may lead the Bills in receptions. Also, as long as Buffalo does a better job on defense at home than Dallas did last weekend in Denver, the game won’t be a blowout, meaning Buffalo won’t abandon the run after nine attempts like Dallas did last week. Shady’s potential volume (even if he averages 3.5 instead of 4.5 YPC) keeps him as a top 5 or 6 RB, and he’s priced like a borderline RB1 only. He’s a valuable DFS play this week as a result.

Stack Partner: Bills Defense. Denver is “good” and Buffalo is “bad,” right? Yet Vegas gives Buffalo roughly a 40% chance of pulling off the upset at home. If that happens, it’ll probably be with ball control and defense, and perhaps Trevor Siemian will turn into a pumpkin. If so, both McCoy and the Bills D will benefit simultaneously, making this a sneaky contrarian stack.

High-End RB Play: Kareem Hunt, KC (vs. LAC)

I just want to point out that regardless of your opinion on Hunt as a sustainable elite talent, he has earned himself an elite RB1 workhorse role seemingly. He was the only Kansas City RB to run the ball last week, and we have seen him do things in the passing game that most seasoned RBs can’t imagine. In a game where KC is both favored and expected to score 25 points, he’s the No. 2 option behind Le’Veon Bell in DFS, and his price makes him a better cash game value.

RB Sleeper: Darren Sproles, PHI (vs. NYG)

I already mentioned how Philly abandoned the RBs last week, but that was mainly LeGarrette Blount and Wendell Smallwood as Sproles touched the ball 12 times. Sproles can make enough happen with that amount of volume, especially with receptions, to be a back-end RB2 this week against a Giants D that tends to stop WRs while funneling to RB and TE. He’s the best punt play at RB this week, in cash games and GPPs alike.

RB Fade: Ty Montgomery, GB (vs. CIN)

This isn’t a total fade as much as a warning to proceed with caution. Montgomery leads NFL RB in snaps through week 2, which is problematic since he suffers from sickle cell syndrome and also isn’t used to being a running back. Green Bay will definitely look to lighten his load when given the opportunity, and there may be no better opportunity than if the Packers go up big against the Bengals. Montgomery might very well be needed with the WR corps banged up, but this is a good opportunity to fade a hyped-up player and have the percentages on your side.

RB Fade: Frank Gore, IND (vs. CLE)

Opposing RBs are typically no-brainer, must-start plays against Cleveland as their teams typically get and keep the lead, but Frank Gore is as risky as they come. First of all, the Colts are bad, so that lead won’t come as easily as it would for other teams. Second, because they’re bad, they have reduced Gore’s role in favor of younger RBs, meaning he’s only on the field for 30-40 percent of the snaps. That could continue to trend down as they totally give up on the season. Gore needs a TD in order to provide anything, meaning he’s more of a dart-throw flex than a shoe-in RB2.

High-End WR Play: DeAndre Hopkins, HOU (@ NE)

Hopkins is being ranked as a WR2. I get it, their offense is bad and Bill Belichick likes to “take other teams’ best players out of the game.” He can do that, and severely limit Hopkins’ efficiency, but the fact of the matter is that Watson doesn’t even look at other receivers and force-feeds the ball to Hopkins. He is pretty much the only Houston WR that has seen any targets, and Bruce Ellington’s return won’t take more than 3 or 4 of those targets away. In a game Houston will surely be losing most of the way, I expect Hopkins to put up something like eight receptions for 80 yards, making him a sure-fire WR1 while guys like Michael Thomas and Dez Bryant have bad matchups. Priced like a WR2, he’s a great DFS play.

WR Sleeper: Eric Decker, TEN (vs. SEA)

Decker is very, very sneaky this week. Marcus Mariota made an effort to get him involved early last week with a few targets, and the rest of the way the Titans were winning by 20 and hardly needed to throw. If it were a close game, Decker could’ve compiled targets/receptions. Tennessee facing Seattle may weirdly be a better matchup for Decker – they surely won’t blow them out, so they’ll keep throwing, and Decker operates largely out of the slot, meaning he’ll largely avoid Sherman. Throw in the fact that Corey Davis is out, freeing up more looks, and you have a potential breakout game for Decker. He’s my favorite contrarian punt play at WR in DFS and a solid emergency flex in season-long leagues.

WR Fade: Michael Thomas, NO (@ CAR)

I already mentioned Brees as a fade, and there’s not much more to say about Thomas. The matchup and abnormally low expected output from the Saints makes him a back-end WR1, and not the elite guy I expect him to be nearly each week going forward. I like Hopkins more than him this week, but try to use this as an opportunity to buy low in season-long.

WR Fade: Brandin Cooks, NE (vs. HOU)

Cooks looks like more of a deep threat rather than a volume guy in New England. He didn’t compile stats last week when Brady threw for 447 yards in a shootout against the Saints, and I don’t expect him to compile stats in a lower-scoring laugher against Houston. He may get a deep ball or two as New England has the opportunity to basically toy with the Texans, but the fact of the matter is that he’s more of a DeSean Jackson style hit-or-miss WR2 this week. With his expectations and at his price, no thank you.

High-End TE Play: Jared Cook, OAK (@ WAS)

I touted him as a TE sleeper last week, saying he was so cheap that he just needed three or four receptions to hit value. Does it count as a win for me that he got four receptions on six targets for but for a measly 25 yards? Either way, the volume was encouraging and he looks like Derek Carr’s bona fide third option. He has the talent and role of a top 10 TE the rest of the way and makes for a nice Greg Olsen replacement if he’s still on your wire. If you want to acquire him, you should do it now, as the game in Washington could be a shootout. I’d also like to take this opportunity to say I’d fade Gronk in cash this week – he’s still the #1 TE but it’s a good week for him to take snaps off. I prefer Cook and Ertz in cash games. That being said, with Gronk obviously banged up, he’s an interesting contrarian GPP play, and if his few catches do come in the end zone, he’ll break the slate.

TE Sleeper: Charles Clay, BUF (vs. DEN)

Denver shut down Hunter Henry but then got torn up by Jason Witten. So are they death to TEs or the worst at defending them in the league? The answer probably lies somewhere in the middle, which is good enough for Clay, who looks like Buffalo’s most (only?) dependable receiver. Much like Witten, he’s slow and old, yet is often his QB’s No. 1 target option by default. With Aqib Talib and Chris Harris overmatching Buffalo’s WRs, Clay could have a nice PPR game.

TE Fade: Eric Ebron, DET (vs. ATL)

I had some good calls last week (Chris Carson as a long-term RB sleeper, Gurley as a high end play, etc.), but one I got totally wrong was Jason Witten as a TE to fade. The logic there was that the Giants always give up big games to TE, and the matchup against Denver would be much tougher. Jason Witten is a hall of famer who still has enough talent in the tank to prove me wrong. Eric Ebron is a guy who has eight career TD in 42 games. With TE being such a TD-dependent position week-to-week, and since I think Golden Tate will go back to hogging PPR targets this week, Ebron is an easy guy to bench in season long. He may be over-owned in DFS, as point chasers look to stack him with Stafford in a potentially high-scoring matchup, so I’d rather fade him.

Week 3 NFL Spreads: STATS vs. Las Vegas

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Using STATS X-Info metrics and roster rankings to project favorites vs. the Vegas standard odds.

Any projection models forecasting Ezekiel Elliott running for eight yards on nine carries against Denver’s defense and Trevor Siemian tossing four touchdowns in last week’s blowout of Dallas only could’ve been found in the minds of irrationally positive Broncos fans.

It’s true STATS didn’t necessarily expect either of those crazy statistical lines to become reality, but X-Info knew Denver’s chances of winning exceeded those of Dallas and correctly projected the favorite – unlike the consensus in Las Vegas.

STATS uses proprietary data to project spreads for each NFL game. STATS X-Info calculates roster rankings based on injuries, statistical data and depth at each position, then compares that to an opponent and arrives at a conclusion – the projected spread.

None of these spread projections mean you should empty your account and follow the STATS model to riches. X-Info simply takes into account factors Vegas may not, hence some differing views. And if you’re looking for fantasy advice, you’re still best suited to follow best-in-the-business Sean Koerner and his weekly tiers.

Have a look at how STATS projects the spreads in Week 3 against those coming out of Las Vegas as of Thursday afternoon. Note that the Tampa Bay-Minnesota game is absent from this list, as Vegas hasn’t yet released a line while waiting to find out more on Sam Bradford’s status.

Group 1: Occasionally, STATS and Vegas agree – for the most part – as noted in the games below:

Los Angeles Rams at San Francisco

STATS: Rams -4.3
Vegas: Rams -2.5

The 49ers have scored 12 points in the first two weeks. Wouldn’t be surprised if the Rams cover the spread with only a field goal.

Atlanta at Detroit

STATS: Falcons -4.4
Vegas: Falcons -3

This battle of 2-0 teams in Detroit could be a high-scoring affair and one of the best – and most unpredictable – games of the week.

Baltimore at Jacksonville

STATS: Ravens -3.3
Vegas: Ravens -3.5

New Orleans at Carolina

STATS: Panthers -4
Vegas: Panthers -5.5

Miami at New York Jets

STATS: Dolphins -5.5
Vegas: Dolphins -6

Group 2: There are games in which STATS and Vegas at least agree on the favorite, but there is a pretty decent margin between the STATS spread and the Vegas spread:

Houston at New England

STATS: Patriots -19.9
Vegas: Patriots -13.5

Neither STATS or Vegas has much confidence in the Texans’ defense against Tom Brady and Co.

Denver at Buffalo

STATS: Broncos -13.4
Vegas: Broncos -3

New York Giants at Philadelphia

STATS: Eagles -18.2
Vegas: Eagles -6

Eli Manning has completed 72.9 percent of his passes. Unfortunately, only one of his 51 completions have resulted in a touchdown.

Cincinnati at Green Bay

STATS: Packers -13.3
Vegas: Packers -9

Choosing Aaron Rodgers over Andy Dalton isn’t rocket science.

Pittsburgh at Chicago

STATS: Steelers -3.1
Vegas: Steelers -7.5

Dallas at Arizona

STATS: Cowboys -6.5
Vegas: Cowboys -3

Group 3: Then there are games where STATS and Vegas don’t agree at all:

Cleveland at Indianapolis

STATS: Colts -7
Vegas: Browns -1.5

The Browns being a road favorite for the first time in what seems like decades is fun and all, but the STATS model isn’t believing any of the hype. After all, the Colts took Arizona to overtime last week at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Seattle at Tennessee

STATS: Seahawks -9.8
Vegas: Titans -2.5

Kansas City at Los Angeles Chargers

STATS: Chargers -2.2
Vegas: Chiefs -3

Kareem Hunt vs. Melvin Gordon could be very exciting. Or this could be a defensive slog.

Oakland at Washington

STATS: Redskins -2.3
Vegas: Raiders -3

This is a rare matchup between two teams with quarterbacks ready to air it out. A Derek Carr vs. Kirk Cousins showdown could result in some exciting Sunday Night Football.

2017 STATS Fantasy Football: Week 3 Tiers

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Week 3 is one of the most intriguing Weeks I’ve ever seen. We have a perfect storm of odd matchups and an incredible amount of home underdogs. I cannot stress enough that this week’s rankings will seem a bit funky due to this. This also means that these ranking are very likely to change a lot from now until Sunday, simply because everything is so close and volatile.

We are always working on providing more and more fantasy content for our fans and customers. In the meantime, feel free to engage with us on Twitter, and we’ll help you out the best we can.

Also, please note these are for standard scoring. The numbers in parentheses are how many tiers a player moves up or down in PPR, where applicable.

Quarterbacks

Tier 1

Aaron Rodgers (vs CIN)

Rodgers has gone over 300 yards in each of the first two weeks, yet it somehow feels like he’s off to a bit of a slow start. Expect his TD numbers to experience positive regression going forward, along with a bit of a spike in rushing stats. He might not be required to throw much and could be missing Jordy Nelson and/or Randall Cobb. There isn’t an elite QB with a good enough matchup to join him in the top tier this week, though.

Tier 2

Cam Newton (vs NO)
Tom Brady (vs HOU)
Derek Carr (@ WAS)
Matt Ryan (@ DET)

It’s been awhile since I’ve had Newton in my top 5, but that’s what the Saints defense can do to a QB’s projection. Despite missing his go-to TE in Greg Olsen this week, I like Newton to shake off some of the rust and put up solid numbers.

Brady might not be asked to throw much in what should be a blowout. With his depleted receiving corps, this might be a game they let Mike Gillislee/Rex Burkhead kill the clock in the second half verses airing it out like last week.

Carr and Ryan are in great spots and are elite QB1 plays.

Tier 3

Kirk Cousins (vs OAK)
Matthew Stafford (vs ATL)
Ben Roethlisberger (@ CHI)
Russell Wilson (@ TEN)
Drew Brees (@ CAR)
Dak Prescott (@ ARI)
Carson Wentz (vs NYG)
Philip Rivers (vs KC)
Alex Smith (@ LAC)

This is the Tier that will generate the most sit/start questions this week. Cousins is off to a slow start, but that was to be expected after losing his top two WR from a year ago. There aren’t many potential high-scoring matchups this week, but OAK/WSH just might be most fruitful. Look for him to get his season back on track.

Wentz is almost a QB1 by default this week. The Giants are never a great matchup for a QB, but Wentz will likely attack their defense through TE Zach Ertz. It’s also increasingly apparent that the Eagles have almost completely abandoned the idea of running the ball with their five-man RB committee. Wentz’s rushing stats have risen considerably in his second season, which could make him a borderline QB1 most weeks going forward if it keeps up.

Big Ben and Drew Brees both have less-than-ideal road matchups, which means we must decide whether to start them or not. Either way, if you roll them out there they should be able to give you solid enough numbers to win your matchup, but don’t expect a massive game from either.

Rivers and Smith are more high-end QB2 plays this week against each other in a matchup that could be more of a defensive struggle rather than a shootout.

Tier 4

Marcus Mariota (vs SEA)
Trevor Siemian (@ BUF)
DeShone Kizer (@ IND)

Mariota draws the dreaded Seattle matchup this week. Due to his rushing stats, he is a bit matchup-proof, though, and I would certainly roll him out there if you don’t have a better option this week.

Siemian is getting a ton of buzz right now. While I do believe some is warranted (simply because of how well the Mike McCoy offense feeds off the strength of their personnel), I’m more optimistic about the sustainable success of individual players such as CJ Anderson, Emmanuel Sanders, and Demaryius Thomas in this offense. Siemian is probably good enough to prop up the value of those players compared to last year, but still not good enough to be a fantasy star himself.

The Browns are a road favorite for what might be the first time in 20 years in a laughable matchup against the Colts. With a bunch of odd matchups this week, this is actually a game that could generate some fantasy gold. If there were any week to roll Kizer out in two-QB leagues, this would be it.

Tier 5

Jameis Winston (@ MIN)
Jay Cutler (@ NYJ)
Carson Palmer (vs DAL)
Sam Bradford (vs TB)

I’m not expecting great numbers from Winston in a tough road matchup against the Vikings. Next week would be an ideal time to try to buy low on him if he puts up poor numbers. I still think he’s a rock-solid QB1 the rest of the season, and his schedule is about to open up over the next several weeks. He’s had his bye week already, too.

Tier 6

Tyrod Taylor (vs DEN)
Jacoby Brissett (vs CLE)
Andy Dalton (@ GB)
Joe Flacco (@ JAX)
Eli Manning (@ PHI)
Jared Goff (@ SF)
Blake Bortles (vs BAL)
Josh McCown (vs MIA)
Deshaun Watson (@ NE)

This uninspiring tier consists of low-end QB2 options in two-QB leagues. Taylor has a brutal matchup against the Broncos. However, despite the high probability of him failing to throw for 200 yards, we have to remember that most of his value comes on the ground. He could pop up in the top 15 this week if he breaks off a couple big gains with his legs or scores a rushing TD, making him the best dart throw in this Tier.

Tier 7

Mike Glennon (vs PIT)
Brian Hoyer (vs LAR)

Neither QB is worth talking about.

Running Backs

Tier 1

Le’Veon Bell (@ CHI)
Ezekiel Elliott (@ ARI)
Kareem Hunt (@ LAC)
Jay Ajayi (@ NYJ, -1) 

For maybe the first time ever, we have four RBs in Tier 1. This is obviously due to David Johnson being on the shelf, but also due to the fact that Bell/Zeke are off to a bit of a rough start. On top of that, we now have to truly consider Kareem Hunt as a top 3 RB going forward. Jay Ajayi just squeaks into Tier 1 due to his matchup against the potentially 0-16 Jets, in what could provide him with a massive workload this week.

Tier 2

Todd Gurley (@ SF)

In a very odd week, Gurley gets Tier 2 all to himself. He seems to have drawn one of the most favorable opening schedules we have ever seen for a RB. After a cupcake matchup against the 49ers this week, however, he’s set up for what should be a brutal several-week stretch. Next week would be the time to sell high on him.

Tier 3

LeSean McCoy (vs DEN)
Melvin Gordon (vs KC)
Carlos Hyde (vs LAR)
Ty Montgomery (vs CIN)
Devonta Freeman (@ DET)

McCoy and Gordon are volume workhorses who are essentially matchup-proof due to their involvement in both the run and pass games. Hyde has been impressive so far this season and remains an RB1 play in a home matchup against the Rams.

I’m a bit worried Montgomery may not be needed as much this week if the Packers take an early lead, as they may save his somewhat-fragile body for other weeks. Having said that, you really have no choice but to roll him out there.

Tier 4

Dalvin Cook (vs TB)
Leonard Fournette (vs BAL)
C.J. Anderson (@ BUF)
Marshawn Lynch (@ WAS)

This is the last of the RB1 class, and all four have decent matchups. Anderson seems to start off hot every season and then get hurt. I am not a fan of trying to predict injuries, but this might be the highest his stock gets all season. I wouldn’t necessarily sell high considering his playoff matchup schedule at the end of the year is quite favorable.

Tier 5

Christian McCaffrey (vs NO, +2)
Mike Gillislee (vs HOU, -2)
Jonathan Stewart (vs NO, -1)

We have an entire RBBC in this three-man tier. I think investing in the Panthers running game this week is a smart bet against the Saints. With Olsen out and Newton still shaking off the rust of his shoulder surgery, look for Carolina to lean on both RBs hard this week.

As I mentioned before, this is a week in which the Patriots will likely use Gillislee a ton in the second half to preserve a big lead. He is the No.1  safest bet for a rushing TD in Week 3.

Tier 6

Javorius Allen (@ JAX, +2)
Tarik Cohen (vs PIT, +3)
Isaiah Crowell (@ IND)
Ameer Abdullah (vs ATL)
Lamar Miller (@ NE)
Samaje Perine (vs OAK)
Jacquizz Rodgers (@ MIN)
Jordan Howard (vs PIT)

This is the most interesting tier of the week. All of these guys have seen their stock rise/fall the most this season. Terrence West missed practice on Wednesday and could be looking at a game-time decision. If he were to miss, Allen would move up a tier. I’m a bit too cautious rather than bullish on his stock, considering the Ravens just lost Marshal Yanda for the season. No offensive lineman in the league is more important than Yanda, since he’s that much better than the rest of his teammates. They now become a below-average line with his loss.

Cohen/Howard may be the quickest RBBC to develop in the past few seasons. I always felt Howard was being drafted way too high heading into the season because of this possibility. A lot of it could be due to the shoulder injury he’s been dealing with. Who knows if he is playing through a multi-week injury simply to keep Cohen from running away with the job. You have to start him if you don’t have any better options, but this isn’t a straight forward black/white situation. We are going to have to handle it week to week until we see how it starts to unfold.

Tier 7

DeMarco Murray (vs SEA)
Chris Carson (@ TEN)
Tevin Coleman (@ DET, +1)
Mark Ingram (@ CAR, +1)
Darren Sproles (vs NYG, +1)
Matt Forte (vs MIA)
Chris Thompson (vs OAK, +1)
Frank Gore (vs CLE)

Similar to the Bears RBBC, the Titans RB situation is a bit murky. It’s hard to tell how much of it is due to the hamstring injury Murray is dealing with, but a lot of it simply has to do with Derrick Henry being extremely good, too. This is why I urged people to take someone like Henry over a Frank Gore later in their drafts. We know exactly what we are going to get from Gore. Most weeks Henry will be a borderline flex play or a bye-week depth player. However, if Murray misses time, Henry is a rock solid RB2 and potentially a RB1 in great matchups.

I’m buying Chris Carson and selling Chris Thompson this week. Carson is clearly the best RB on Seattle’s roster. Despite playing behind one of the league’s worst offensive lines, he has the talent and expected volume to be a RB2/RB3 depending on matchups. Thompson is not going to rush for multiple TDs possibly ever again. We have a large enough sample size to expect 5-10 touches most weeks from him, mostly in the passing game, and his role wouldn’t expand that much even if Rob Kelley misses much time. He’s only a PPR option going forward.

Tier 8

Terrance West (@ JAX)
Bilal Powell (vs MIA, +1)
Derrick Henry (vs SEA)
Joe Mixon (@ GB)
James White (vs HOU, +1)
Paul Perkins (@ PHI)

This tier is pretty much all talented RBs (and Paul Perkins) stuck in a RBBC, and they’d shoot up the ranks if any of their teammates were to miss time. It certainly seems like Henry could be the first one to get called up if Murray’s hamstring injury costs him time. I’m also monitoring how the new Bengals offensive coordinator handles their carry distribution this week. They may start to go away from two-down plodder Jeremy Hill and third-down specialist Gio Bernard, and increasing Mixon’s workload. This would give them a chance to see if Mixon can be a true workhorse back considering this is shaping up to be a lost season for them.

Tier 9

Kerwynn Williams (vs DAL)
Chris Johnson (vs DAL, -1)
Giovani Bernard (@ GB, +1)
Duke Johnson Jr. (@ IND, +1)
Theo Riddick (vs ATL, +2)
Alvin Kamara (@ CAR, +1)
Shane Vereen (@ PHI, +1)

I do not think it’s wise to try to figure out which Cardinals RB to play this week. Williams certainly flopped in a dream matchup last week where he could have run away with the starting role. Instead, we saw Johnson have a solid game as they turned to him more in the second half. This could flip entirely back again this week, or we could even see Andre Ellington play a larger role. I’m also very worried that if they manage to get into a goal-line situation, we might see 234-pound Elijhaa Penny come in to vulture a 1-yard TD. This is a perfect example of a time to not start a RB just because he is the nominal “starter” on paper.

Wide Receivers

Tier 1

Antonio Brown (@ CHI)

I’ve been getting a lot of questions on how/why I had Mike Evans in the top 5 last week considering the Bears have done a good job shutting down WR1’s dating back to last season. I just want to caution that something like that could be a false correlation, and I tend to overlook such factors. You have to remember the Bears were awful last year and teams likely didn’t have to air it out in order to win. They are no match for the greatest WR of this era, so he’s in Tier 1 all alone again this week.

Tier 2

Julio Jones (@ DET)

Jones is also matchup-proof. It is starting to be very apparent, however, that new OC Steve Sarkisian was simply blowing smoke when he said they were going to go out of their way to get Jones the ball in the red zone. It certainly seems as if we are destined to get something like a 110-reception, 1,600-yard and … three-TD season from him. I still think going forward that some of these ticky-tack Freeman touchdowns near the goal line may go to Jones every once in awhile, but it’s getting harder and harder to assume.

Tier 3

A.J. Green (@ GB)
Mike Evans (@ MIN)

It may seem a bit odd having Green in the elite tier given his team’s offensive struggles, but I think we see the Bengals make it a point to give him the ball this week. They will likely have to air it out against the Packers in order to keep it competitive.

Evans is matchup-proof and is still an elite WR1 despite the brutal matchup.

Tier 4

DeAndre Hopkins (@ NE)
Amari Cooper (@ WAS)
Demaryius Thomas (@ BUF)
Michael Crabtree (@ WAS)
Odell Beckham Jr. (@ PHI)
Kelvin Benjamin (vs NO, -1)
Michael Thomas (@ CAR)
Keenan Allen (vs KC)
Tyreek Hill (@ LAC, -1)
Stefon Diggs (vs TB)
Davante Adams (vs CIN)
DeVante Parker (@ NYJ)
Golden Tate (vs ATL)

This is the insane tier. With all of the road favorites and odd matchups this week, we have a pretty unconventional set of rankings. Cooper/Crabtree are rock-solid WR1 plays, and I don’t care who is claimed to be “shadowed” by Josh Norman this week. I really do believe that whole narrative is a bit overblown, to be honest. It seems to me that we now have about 25 or so teams with “shutdown” corners, so there needs to come a point when we either just have to ignore most of them altogether or remember that there are in fact elite WRs in the league as well. Cooper and Crabtree are both elite WRs whom I don’t mind betting on against a good CB like Norman.

This may be the only week Kelvin Benjamin is ranked near Michael Thomas, but their matchups alone are enough in order to close the gap enough to make them a coin flip.

Tier 5

Brandin Cooks (vs HOU)
Dez Bryant (@ ARI)
Jarvis Landry (@ NYJ, +1)
Emmanuel Sanders (@ BUF)
Terrelle Pryor Sr. (vs OAK)
Doug Baldwin (@ TEN)
Larry Fitzgerald (vs DAL, +1)
Alshon Jeffery (vs NYG)
Pierre Garcon (vs LAR)
Adam Thielen (vs TB)

Cooks scares me a bit this week considering they won’t need to throw too much or design too many deep balls to him. I was known for having Pryor way down on my WR draft board this season compared to most experts. Therefore, I’m not too surprised that he is off to a bit of a shaky start. However, I do think at some point he and Cousins will start clicking, and it could come as early as this week. I think he is a great play in what could be the top-scoring matchup in a lower-scoring week. Fire him up if you have him.

Tier 6

Randall Cobb (vs CIN)
Allen Hurns (vs BAL)
J.J. Nelson (vs DAL)
T.Y. Hilton (vs CLE)
Martavis Bryant (@ CHI)
Marqise Lee (vs BAL)
Tyrell Williams (vs KC)
Sammy Watkins (@ SF)
Jeremy Maclin (@ JAX)
Jamison Crowder (vs OAK)
Chris Hogan (vs HOU)
Rashard Higgins (@ IND)
DeSean Jackson (@ MIN)
Jermaine Kearse (vs MIA)
Rishard Matthews (vs SEA)
Mohamed Sanu (@ DET)

The Packers WR situation is a bit of a mess to forecast right now. You have to realize I’m writing this up while Cobb and Nelson are both highly questionable. If either of them miss this week then someone like Davante Adams is instantly a WR2 (and possibly even higher if BOTH miss). You then have Geronimo Allison enter the discussion in that event. If either Cobb or Jordy are active you have to play them, though. It’s that simple.

J.J. Nelson can now be penciled in as a low end WR2/3 anytime John Brown misses a game. The surprise WR this week in Tier 6 is Rashard Higgins. You have to remember that talent alone is half the formula in fantasy football, with the other half being volume. With Corey Coleman on IR now and Kenny Britt looking like a lost cause, Higgins could very well be the Browns’ No. 1. Normally this isn’t much of an endorsement. This week it is, however, considering they are facing the Colts. I’m viewing him as a low-end WR3.

Tier 7

Tyler Lockett (@ TEN)
Devin Funchess (vs NO)
Donte Moncrief (vs CLE)
Marvin Jones Jr. (vs ATL)
Kenny Golladay (vs ATL)
Jordy Nelson (vs CIN)
Ted Ginn Jr. (@ CAR)
Marquise Goodwin (vs LAR)
Cooper Kupp (@ SF)
Jaron Brown (vs DAL)

Ignore Nelson’s rank here. Like I mentioned, if he is active, you start him. Him missing this week gives such a boost to the rest of the WRs I had to give him a half-game of projections just to keep his teammates’ rankings at a reasonable level. The dart-throw WR3/Flex pick this week is Devin Funchess. He may not get the volume to be relevant most weeks, but anyone facing the Saints is in play. He could be a sneaky bet for a TD or even two as the most overlooked natural replacement for Greg Olsen.

Tight Ends

Week 1

Rob Gronkowski (vs HOU)

There really isn’t much to say about Gronk other than if you have him, you play him this week (if he’s active). If you are holding on to some droppable TE2 like Jesse James on the bench, I would say an advanced move would be to drop him for Dwayne Allen. If you are only going to be starting your backup TE if Gronk misses time, you may as well have your backup be the guy that would be a TE1 in that scenario.

Tier 2

Travis Kelce (@ LAC)

Kelce is certainly closing the gap on Gronk, and now with Greg Olsen on IR, his stock goes up even more in theory. TE has been a bit of a disaster so far this year, and people that took Kelce earlier in their drafts are sitting pretty right now.

Tier 3

Zach Ertz (vs NYG)
Jordan Reed (vs OAK)

Ertz is certainly looking like the best bang-for-your-buck TE so far this season. Usually you were able to get him much later on in drafts. The loss of Jordan Matthews certainly has opened up more targets for him over the middle, at least initially. I look for them to use him heavily against the Giants, who sort of force teams to move the ball via their TE.

People love making excuses for why they shouldn’t play Reed week-to-week. If he’s active, play him. You have to remember that the TE position is the most TD-dependent position in fantasy, and there are not many TEs more likely to get a TD than Jordan Reed.

Tier 4

Jason Witten (@ ARI)
Delanie Walker (vs SEA)
Kyle Rudolph (vs TB)
Martellus Bennett (vs CIN)
Jared Cook (@ WAS)
Coby Fleener (@ CAR)

I am loving the Jason Witten hype after two weeks. We have enough of a sample size to know that our beloved dad runner has only so much upside, but he still appears matchup-proof given how the Cowboys use him. He also benefits by default from most TEs in this range having poor matchups this week. Bennett would also rise a bit if any of the Green Bay WRs were to sit out this week.

Tier 5

Jack Doyle (vs CLE)
Charles Clay (vs DEN)
Hunter Henry (vs KC)
Jesse James (@ CHI)
Evan Engram (@ PHI)
Eric Ebron (vs ATL)
Benjamin Watson (@ JAX)
Jimmy Graham (@ TEN)

You can make a case for starting any one of these TEs, as I think they are all decent bets to score. Pay attention to Jimmy Graham’s status. If he is active and near 100 percent, his rank will obviously shoot up. I am urging caution with him, though, if he tries to play through what could be a multi-week ankle injury. It seems like the TE pool is deep enough to find a Week 3 fill-in for Graham if needed.

Tier 5

Ed Dickson (vs NO)
Zach Miller (vs PIT)
Austin Hooper (@ DET)
Julius Thomas (@ NYJ)
Austin Seferian-Jenkins (vs MIA)
Cameron Brate (@ MIN)
Tyler Eifert (@ GB)

Ed Dickson is a typically a blocking TE but will be asked to run more routes with Greg Olsen on the shelf. He is my dark-horse pick to put up TE1 numbers this week (this is NOT an endorsement to play him over anyone above). His range of outcomes also makes it very likely he puts up a dud as well.

ASJ returns from his two-game suspension. Although I typically avoid Jets TEs, they really don’t have many options in the passing game, so he could vault up to their second-most targeted player as soon as this week. He may be worth a stash on your bench just to see this week how much they plan on using him.

Kickers

Tier 1

Stephen Gostkowski (vs HOU)
Giorgio Tavecchio (@ WAS)
Matt Bryant (@ DET)

Tier 2

Dustin Hopkins (vs OAK)
Dan Bailey (@ ARI)
Graham Gano (vs NO)
Cairo Santos (@ LAC)

Tier 3

Mason Crosby (vs CIN)
Justin Tucker (@ JAX)
Matt Prater (vs ATL)
Jake Elliott (vs NYG)
Kai Forbath (vs TB)

Tier 4

Phil Dawson (vs DAL)
Brandon McManus (@ BUF)
Younghoe Koo (vs KC)
Adam Vinatieri (vs CLE)
Cody Parkey (@ NYJ)
Ryan Succop (vs SEA)
Chris Boswell (@ CHI)
Wil Lutz (@ CAR)
Zane Gonzalez (@ IND)

Tier 5

Greg Zuerlein (@ SF)
Robbie Gould (vs LAR)
Blair Walsh (@ TEN)
Nick Folk (@ MIN)

Tier 6

Chandler Catanzaro (vs MIA)
Randy Bullock (@ GB)
Connor Barth (vs PIT)
Jason Myers (vs BAL)
Stephen Hauschka (vs DEN)
Aldrick Rosas (@ PHI)
Ka’imi Fairbairn (@ NE)

Defense

Tier 1

Baltimore Ravens (@ JAX)
New England Patriots (vs HOU)
Indianapolis Colts (vs CLE)
Green Bay Packers (vs CIN)

Tier 2

Tennessee Titans (vs SEA)
Kansas City Chiefs (@ LAC)
Philadelphia Eagles (vs NYG)
Pittsburgh Steelers (@ CHI)
Denver Broncos (@ BUF)
Los Angeles Rams (@ SF)
Jacksonville Jaguars (vs BAL)

Tier 3

Cleveland Browns (@ IND)
Dallas Cowboys (@ ARI)
Miami Dolphins (@ NYJ)
Minnesota Vikings (vs TB)
Buffalo Bills (vs DEN)
Carolina Panthers (vs NO)
Atlanta Falcons (@ DET)
San Francisco 49ers (vs LAR)
Seattle Seahawks (@ TEN)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@ MIN)

Tier 4

Arizona Cardinals (vs DAL)
Los Angeles Chargers (vs KC)
Chicago Bears (vs PIT)
New York Giants (@ PHI)
New York Jets (vs MIA)
Oakland Raiders (@ WAS)
Cincinnati Bengals (@ GB)

Tier 5

Detroit Lions (vs ATL)
New Orleans Saints (@ CAR)
Washington Redskins (vs OAK)
Houston Texans (@ NE)

The Rugby Championship Round 4 Roundup

By:

New Zealand vs. South Africa – North Harbour Stadium, 16 September 2017

Masterclass – that’s probably the best way to describe the rugby lesson New Zealand handed their rivals South Africa.

The All Blacks pitched up with a few question marks over the 2017 season having been beaten by the British and Irish Lions. Australia showed fighting spirit against them in the two opening rounds of the Rugby Championship, and New Zealand were level against a struggling Los Pumas side after 60 minutes merely a week ago.

Then came the Boks on Saturday, and New Zealand outplayed, outskilled, and to no surprise, outscored the South Africans by a record 57-0.

Scoring eight tries to none, this All Blacks team played a near-perfect match much to the despair of the Springboks. In fact, the All Blacks probably left two points on the pitch when Beauden Barrett missed one conversion. Impressively, the Boks only had one real opportunity to get on the board, which was a missed penalty shot in the first 10 minutes of the match.

For South Africa, it’s time to get home and back to the drawing board before meeting Australia in two weeks’ time. For the mighty All Blacks, it seems all but another Rugby Championship in the bag.

Australia vs. Argentina – Canberra Stadium, 16 September 2017

Australia produced some magic in the second half of their match against Argentina to record their first victory in the 2017 Rugby Championship. Being in control for much of the contest, they eventually flexed their muscles to record a bonus-point victory over their counterparts.

For Argentina, it’s four losses in as many tries. It seems they struggle to play their best rugby week in and week out in the second and third years after a World Cup, and 2017 hasn’t been an exception. Much was expected after the display against the All Blacks a week ago, but in the end they couldn’t match the defensive effort this week.

With the Wallabies cranking up the attack in the second half, the Argentines kept missing tackles and had to play catch up for most of the second half. With New Zealand coming off of a record-breaking score against South Africa, Argentina will have to find their World Cup magic and passion from their home crowd to stand a chance against the world’s best.

For Australia, it will be a much easier trip full of confidence heading to South Africa, but even they will know the danger of a wounded Springbok side.