Headline of the game: Jay Gruden has Jacksonville’s offense clicking through two weeks
Jacksonville has a top-five offense in the NFL in terms of EPA per play through the first two weeks of the 2020 NFL season. File that one away under unexpected developments to start the year.
It’s not as if there was no reason to believe that Gardner Minshew could run an efficient offense. He exceeded expectations in his rookie season with a 70.3 PFF grade as a sixth-round selection out of Washington State — a higher grade than any of the 10 quarterbacks to be selected before him in the 2019 NFL Draft. However, this start goes beyond even the most optimistic expectations heading into the year, and a lot of the credit has to go to new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden. He’s done a tremendous job of using misdirection and versatile offensive pieces like the rookie Laviska Shenault Jr. to keep defenses off balance.
If the Jaguars keep playing like this, Trevor Lawrence is not going to be an option on the table come April. Minshew is not going quietly into that good night.
Gardner Minshew was the quarterback headliner in my waiver wire column for a second-straight week as he has the Miami Dolphins up as his next victim. The Dolphins have allowed the second-most fantasy points and nearly 100 rushing yards over the past two weeks to the quarterback position.
We know Minshew has the rushing upside, so that is going to make him a top-12 quarterback option for Week 3. It doesn’t hurt that the Dolphins allowed 12 passing plays of 15-plus yards in Week 2, so we could see D.J. Chark Jr. play his best game of the season.
There’s a good chance Miami is without its top cornerback, Bryon Jones, who was hurt in Sunday’s action. Also, for DFS Showdown players, don’t sleep on tight end Tyler Eifert as a FLEX option that has sneaky upside. He leads the team in air yards (94) through two weeks (99% of which came just last week).
Myles Gaskin was the surprise lead back out of the Dolphins backfield in Week 1, and he followed up Week 2 being utilized the same way. He’s been an RB2 to this point even though most owners have probably left him on the bench. He only has 16 carries, but his 10 catches are the second-most for running backs.
This is one week where he definitely should be in starting lineups. Jacksonville has given up 17 of 19 targets thrown to running backs to be caught for 142 yards. Those all rank among the top four. Gaskin has been the Dolphins’ highest-graded runner, so this could be the week he sees double-digit carries, as well.
The Thursday night showdown we have all been waiting for. One of these teams was a trendy preseason sleeper while the other was in the running for the No. 1 overall pick. The roles have reversed through the first two weeks of the season, however, as Minshew has led the Jaguars to two straight covers and an upset victory. The Washington State product has quickly turned into a betting favorite, as the ability to cover is the real measure of moxie.
Some rogue threes have started to appear in certain spread markets after opening as a pick ‘em. The spread cash percentage is the highest number we have on the Week 3 slate and sides almost completely with Jacksonville. PFF Greenline offers the latest information, making this a situation worth monitoring up to game time, with value presenting itself based on certain line movement.
Sep 20, 2020; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) attempts a pass during the third quarter against the Baltimore Ravens at NRG Stadium. Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Headline of the game: The Texans’ best chance at a victory through three weeks comes against one of the better teams in the AFC
We talked about it here last week, and we’ll talk about it again — the Texans’ start to the 2020 season is about as brutal as they come. They’re off to an 0-2 start after contests with the teams that most would dub the two best teams in the NFL, and now, they’re on the receiving end of a Pittsburgh team that is near the top of that second tier in the AFC. This is a game where they need a result, lest they have the statistics of how 0-3 teams have fared historically shoved in their faces for a week.
It’s a game where they’re capable of getting a result on the road. The Steelers’ pass rush has been dominant through the first two weeks of the season, and that will be a clear concern for a team that sees Deshaun Watson with yet another top-five pressure rate (37.2%) in the league heading into Week 3.
The biggest thing going in Houston’s favor is that it’s tough to still feel 100% confident in Ben Roethlisberger being the Big Ben of old after a strong showing against a below-average Giants’ defense and just a 56.9 PFF grade against a Denver team that was missing key defensive pieces such as Von Miller and A.J. Bouye. It will be hard for Houston to feel too confident in that matchup, though, especially with a defense that ranks 31st in EPA allowed per play through two weeks.
Once again, this game will likely come down to Watson’s ability to make things happen and keep pace offensively.
You heard it here first, Diontae Johnson is the top wide receiver option to own for the Pittsburgh Steelers from here on out. He has out-targeted JuJu Smith-Schuster over the past two weeks (21 vs. 14) and his overall target rate on routes run (28.8%) ranks seventh in the league among wide receivers with at least 35 routes run.
Although we didn’t see the Baltimore receivers take advantage of the Houston secondary in Week 2 (only 24 attempts from Lamar Jackson), the Steelers are averaging just north of 35-plus passing attempts per game.
Expect him to run circles around the Texans’ outside cornerbacks Vernon Hargreaves III and Bradley Roby. Both have earned PFF coverage grades outside the top 40 among all cornerbacks with at least 75 snaps played.
The Texans and schedule-makers were not friends this year, as the Texans and Deshaun Watson had a brutal start with the Chiefs and Ravens. From the offense’s perspective, it doesn’t get any easier this week against the Steelers.
Watson has been 19th so far in fantasy points per dropback. He has just as many interceptions as touchdowns and has yet to have a 300-yard game. Pittsburgh has allowed 17.5 fantasy points per game to quarterbacks. It’s been in large part due to their pass rush, which has a league-best 86.9 grade. The Texans’ pass blocking has been eighth-worst. This might be another week to sit Watson.
These two teams have had opposite paths to start the season, but the betting market is siding with the 0-2 team in this matchup. The spread has dropped 2.5 points since the open and is settling in to the hook above a field-goal margin. The cash and ticket percentages have been one-sided toward the Steelers, making this early week line movement all the more perplexing. Houston is 20th in our Elo rankings despite their difficult start to the season. Our predictive models have been high on them to start the season, and they have the much better offense in this matchup. The spread and moneyline have positive expected value plays, making this a matchup to target as we head into Sunday.
Headline of the game: Carson Wentz needs to follow in Baker Mayfield’s footsteps with a bounceback performance against the Bengals
Even Wentz’s biggest fans have to be concerned with how he has begun this season. Through two weeks, he ranks last out of 32 qualifying quarterbacks in PFF passing grade, 30th in yards per attempt, 31st in passer rating and last in percentage of passes charted as accurate. He can’t hit his receivers, and he has more turnover-worthy plays than any other quarterback in the NFL. It’s a continued — and concerning — downward trend for the fifth-year quarterback after peaking in a 2017 season that saw Nick Foles finish the job and secure the Lombardi trophy.
Even in a weak NFC East, you have to think that Wentz and this offense need to turn things around against a Bengals defense that just got rolled over in Cleveland if they have any hopes of securing another division title.
Over the first two weeks of the season, DeSean Jackson ranks sixth in total air yards (259) and targets of 20 or more yards downfield (six). These are great indicators of future fantasy success — despite the Eagles’ offensive woes with the deep ball so far, Week 3 seems like a good spot for their passing game.
Over the past two weeks, the Bengals have allowed seven passing targets of 20-plus yards and a 125.0 passer rating on those throws, which ranks seventh-highest in the NFL. Part of the reason the Bengals are susceptible versus the deep ball is their lack of pressure generated up front.
They currently own the second-worst PFF pass rush grade (52.3) entering Week 3, so expect Carson Wentz and Jackson to connect on a few deep balls. After all, Jackson has been Wentz’s favorite wide receiver target over the past two weeks (15 targets) and led the team in targets last week (nine).
Tight end Drew Sample had a breakout Week 2 after C.J. Uzomah left with an injury in the fourth quarter. He saw more targets in the game than the rest of his NFL career combined. It might seem like this is a great matchup for Sample as the Eagles defense just allowed a three-touchdown game to tight end Tyler Higbee, but it’s probably best to leave Sample on the bench.
The Eagles have allowed nine catches to tight ends, which is slightly better than league average. They Bengals tight ends have the seventh-worst matchup according to our matchup chart. There could be weeks where Sample is worth starting especially late in the season, but this week is not one of them.
No Week 3 line has seen more movement from the preseason spread to the current number than this matchup. To say the Eagles have disappointed backers through two games would be an understatement. We already saw the amount of cash and ticket percentages printed for the Eagles drop between Week 1 and Week 2, but that slide has reversed on this line movement as we head into Week 3. These teams are separated by six places in our Elo rankings, with the biggest differentiator coming between the two offenses. The spread is worth monitoring given the line movement, with PFF’s predictive models finding a small edge at the current number.
Headline of the game: San Francisco hopes to come away from its second consecutive game at MetLife Stadium without any more significant injuries
The 49ers’ victory over the Jets this past Sunday didn’t really feel like a victory, given the losses they suffered in the process. Nick Bosa and Solomon Thomas are both out for the year with knee injuries, Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman both suffered injuries that are expected to keep them out for a bit and Jimmy Garoppolo’s sprained ankle — though not as serious as the other injuries — is something he’ll have to play through if he is able to play in Week 3. With players such as Richard Sherman, Dee Ford and George Kittle already sidelined with injuries, they were tough blows to deal with for San Francisco, but they weren’t blows that stopped them from rolling to a comfortable win over the Jets.
The Giants will be a slightly tougher test for Kyle Shanahan and company, but this is still a team that the 49ers should beat — short-handed and all. The expected return of PFF’s highest-graded tight end since 2018 (Kittle) should help matters on the offensive side of the ball. If priority No. 1 is getting to 2-1, priority No. 2 is getting out of MetLife Stadium without any more significant injuries.
Sterling Shepard is expected to miss time and that is going to benefit Darius Slayton tremendously. Last season, Slayton saw a 30% target share when other Giants’ players missed time. That bump in production carried over into Week 1 of the 2020 season; with Golden Tate out, Slayton saw a 21% target share while also leading the Giants in receiving yards.
Last week without Richard Sherman and other key defenders, we saw the 49ers defense allow a combined 12 receptions and 120 receiving yards to the likes of Chris Hogan and Braxton Berrios. Slayton needs to be a starter in fantasy lineups and Tate could also offer value as a WR3 after posting five catches for 47 yards on five targets in Week 2.
Without Shepard, Tate will be relegated to strict slot duties, and that has been a weakness for the 49ers. They have allowed an average of eight receptions per game to wide receivers in the slot over the past two weeks.
No team has a higher passing play percentage (75.4%) than the New York Giants over the past two weeks, so with a condensed target share between Slayton and Tate at the wide receiver position, expect them both to see plenty of production. They offer excellent value on DraftKings as well — both players being priced under $5K.
The 49ers have several injuries on offense across all skill positions. This week they’ll face a Giants defense with a top-10-graded defense. That is in part due to their run defense, which has yet to allow a rushing touchdown. The 49ers will need to have some success passing., and the opportunity is there for them. The Giants have allowed 40.3 fantasy points per game to wide receivers, which is ninth-most in the league.
After missing Week 1, Brandon Aiyuk had the second-most pass routes for a 49ers receiver in Week 2. He only saw three targets but brought two of them in for 21 yards. Chances are it’s best to avoid this matchup altogether, but if anyone can have a breakout game it’s Aiyuk.
Two injury-ravaged teams have seen this spread drop in favor of the home dog. The total has also moved down 1.5 points and now sits at the lowest number of Week 3. Both teams feel unplayable at this point, with the big question being how significant of a loss is Jimmy Garoppolo to our fourth-ranked offense. The majority of cash on the spread has been for the Giants, but a high percentage of the moneyline has gone toward the 49ers. The market doesn’t seem scared off by Nick Mullens drawing the start, but Greenline views this game as a pass, with better options available elsewhere.
Sep 13, 2020; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton (1) runs the ball for a touch down against the Miami Dolphins during the third quarter at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports
Headline of the game: The Patriots are fun with Cam Newton at quarterback
Last week’s Sunday nightcap was a lot of fun, and Newton was a big reason why. The Patriots didn’t use him as often in the designed run game as they had in the previous week against the Dolphins, but he still factored into the run game in a big way. That was particularly true at the goal line, where the Patriots ran several different concepts featuring Newton before ultimately getting stuffed on the game’s final play.
More impressive, though, was just how effective Newton was when pushing the ball downfield. Seattle wasn’t able to generate a pass rush, which allowed him to sit back in the pocket and pick the Seahawks’ defense apart. Newton went 15-for-19 for 295 yards on passes 10 or more yards downfield last week. That’s something he should be able to exploit against the Raiders, as well.
Even though the Patriots lost the game, Newton’s performance gives reason for optimism. The NFL is more fun when he is healthy and playing at this level.
You won’t feel great about it, but with all the injuries across fantasy football this week, you could do worse than starting either James White (pending his availability), Rex Burkhead (if White it out) or Sony Michel in Week 3 against the Las Vegas Raiders.
The Raiders have allowed the second-most fantasy points to the running back position, with much of that production stemming from receiving – they have allowed the most receiving yards and fourth-most receptions to running backs in 2020.
There should also be a positive game script for Michel to see carries with the Patriots touchdown favorites at home.
The Patriots have seen success running Cam Newton inside the 5-yard line (five carries for three touchdowns), but adding another wrinkle with Michel also involved near the end zone could prove effective against their opponents. Only the Carolina Panthers have allowed more rushing touchdowns to running backs in 2020 than the Raiders (four).
Josh Jacobs should put up big numbers against the Patriots like he does every game. New England has allowed just four catches to 39 yards to tight ends, and the cornerbacks should get the best of the Raiders wide receivers. The one place they’ve been average for fantasy purposes is stopping running backs.
The Patriots have allowed 25.0 fantasy points per game to running backs, which is around league average. They haven’t faced a back like Jacobs yet. His 0.48 fantasy points per snap is eighth-best among all running backs.
The Raiders have to travel across the country on a shortened week after a signature win on Monday night. This spread dropped off the key number 7 after Monday night, but an influx of cash has found its way to New England at the reduced number. These teams are closer than many expect, with only six Elo places separating them. Our predictive models have a slight lean on this spread and moneyline. The defenses have vastly different opponent-adjusted rankings, with the betting market buying into the idea that the Patriots were exposed on Sunday night. Any more movement from the total could open up betting value.
Headline of the game: Ryan Tannehill and the Titans’ offense should be in for a big day in Minnesota
Some expected the Vikings to regress this year, but through the first two weeks of the season, they have gone beyond simply regressing — they look like one of the worst teams in the NFL. Defensively, they have allowed the second-highest EPA per pass play in the league behind a young, inexperienced cornerback group, while Kirk Cousins hasn’t come close to being able to carry this team on offense. Cousins’ 53.2 passing grade through the first three quarters ranks 29th out of 32 qualifying quarterbacks, and his overall passer rating of 61.9 ranks last among the same group.
Meanwhile, Tannehill has carried over his efficient play from the 2019 season in Arthur Smith’s offense. The Titans trail only the Bills in EPA per pass play through the first two weeks of the season, and this is a spot where they should be able to tee off on a secondary that has had its fair share of struggles early in the year.
Kirk Cousins scored negative fantasy points in Week 2 but should be able to give us a bounce-back performance in Week 3 to at least support Dalvin Cook and Adam Thielen in terms of fantasy production.
The Tennessee Titans won’t bring nearly the same type of pass rush (56.2 PFF grade, 28th) that the Colts brought in Week 2, so with less havoc around Cousins his performance should be more like Week 1.
Tennessee also showed last week that they are more than capable of being beaten in the secondary with average quarterback play and can be overpowered against a solid ground attack. Their defense allowed the eighth-most fantasy points to running backs and seventh-most fantasy points to wide receivers in Week 2.
The Vikings defense has given up the second-most fantasy points to wide receivers this year. That is great news for the Titans wide receivers. While Eric Kendricks and Harrison Smith have both been fine in coverage, their outside cornerbacks have not. A.J. Brown’s health will determine which wide receiver or wide receivers to start.
Corey Davis should be a safe bet regardless. He’s been WR20 over the first two weeks. In the first game he had 100 yards receiving and in the second scored a touchdown. His 80.4 overall season grade is good for 10th-best among all receivers. Brown missed Week 2 with an injury and was ruled out two days before the game. If he seems good to go without limitations, he should also have a big game. The only thing that would hold them back is if Tennessee runs 30 times to victory.
No team has had a more disappointing start to the season than the Minnesota Vikings. They kicked off as favorites in the NFC North, but most now project them to challenge for a high-end draft pick by the end of the season. Their roster is filled with question marks, none bigger than the one at quarterback, after Kirk Cousins started the season by posting a 53.2 passing grade in the first three quarters.
The Titans have taken the opposite approach after being priced as the second- or third-best team in the AFC South — they have moved to the odds-on favorites with a 50% implied probability of winning the division. Fourteen places separate these two teams in our Elo rankings. The market has moved heavily away from the Vikings, but only Greenline can identify if this is an overreaction based on two weeks of performance.
Sep 13, 2020; Landover, Maryland, USA; Washington Football Team quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr. (7) throws the ball against the Philadelphia Eagles during the first half quarter at FedExField. Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
Headline of the game: Dwayne Haskins’ inaccuracy is costing Washington
Even in Washington’s win over Philadelphia to open the year, Haskins did not look like the guy that you want leading your offense. On the season, he is one of just two quarterbacks — joining Carson Wentz — who has seen at least 30% of his passes get charted as uncatchable. His PFF passing grade of 47.8 through Week 2 ranks 31st out of 32 qualifying quarterbacks. No matter what way you cut it, he has struggled.
You can certainly make the case that he doesn’t have a lot to work with on offense outside of Terry McLaurin, but at some point, the lack of big plays and accuracy out of Haskins has to become a concern. The Football Team finds themselves atop the NFC East through two weeks, but Haskins is going to need to step up his game if there’s any shot of that continuing deep into the season.
Over the first two weeks of the season, the Washington Football Team has allowed the second-highest deep pass attempt percentage (30.8%) to wide receivers lined up outside. Odell Beckham Jr. ranks 13th in the NFL in total air yards and has a total of five deep passing targets (when you account for plays negated by penalties), which is more than all other Browns’ players combined.
Washington’s defense also ranks eighth in play-action percentage faced (30.1%). On play-action throws, OBJ has been the highest targeted Browns’ wide receiver and has averaged 20 yards per reception. Only Josh Allen has a higher aDOT (17.6) than Baker Mayfield (15.2) on play-action throws to wide receivers in 2020 among quarterbacks with at least 10 attempts.
Get ready for Beckham to cash in all those expected fantasy points with some chunk yardage downfield in Week 3.
Logan Thomas might be the most surprising player in fantasy football after leading Washington in targets the first week and tying for the lead in Week 2. If there is any week to start Thomas, it’s this one. He’s facing a Cleveland defense that has allowed a league-high average of 25.4 points per game to tight ends.
It’s worth noting that despite having the third-most targets for a tight end, Thomas hasn’t been especially effective with them. This is in part because the two teams he faced had their best players in coverage either at linebacker or safety. Cleveland’s best coverage comes from their cornerbacks, leaving the middle of the defense open for Washington to attack.
After an opening print of -5.5, this line has drifted to the key number 7 to more closely align with the preseason look-ahead line. Washington came out of Week 1 with everyone buying into a quick turn around before they fell flat in Week 2. Cleveland took the opposite approach by getting blown out by the best team in the NFL in Week 1 before dominating their division matchup on Thursday Night Football in Week 2.
This is a tough situation to understand from a betting perspective, with both teams playing like Jekyll and Hyde to start the season. The market has sided with the Browns on the spread, but a vast majority of the moneyline action has been on the underdog. Greenline sees value on all three bets in this matchup.
Headline of the game: Both offenses need to show they can maintain their early-season success
The Bills and Rams have fielded two of the most efficient offenses in the league through two weeks of the 2020 season — that’s a big part of what makes this Week 3 matchup so intriguing. The question for both teams is whether or not they can maintain that early offensive success with quarterbacks who finished the 2019 season ranked 27th and 19th, respectively, in PFF grade.
Josh Allen has certainly taken a big step in the right direction to start the season. An accurate-pass rate of 65.8% (10th among qualifying quarterbacks) is night and day from the first two years in his career. And a strong offensive gameplan from Brian Daboll and a well-rounded group of wide receivers has helped shape that progress. This Rams’ defense will be a step up from what he has seen so far against the Jets and Dolphins, making it a good measuring block early in the season for Allen and the rest of Buffalo’s offense.
As for Jared Goff, it’s been all about getting back to the things that he thrived off when he was playing his best football during the 2017 and 2018 seasons. Play action and getting Goff out of the pocket to make easy reads and throws has been a driver in the Rams’ success offensively. He has been lights out from a clean pocket, with 11.9 yards per attempt and a passer rating of 131.9, and continuing to give him those clean pockets to throw from needs to be Los Angeles’ biggest priority.
Josh Allen ranks No. 1 in the league in deep ball completions (seven), second in deep ball yards and fourth in deep-ball passer rating (155.8) through the first two weeks of the season. The Rams’ defense has allowed just one deep ball completion since the start of the season.
Brown has caught two touchdowns in just as many weeks and the Rams are one of four teams yet to allow a touchdown to the wide receiver position. Cornerback Jalen Ramsey also is not likely to travel into the slot — where Diggs has seen half of his targets — so Brown is going to see a lot of coverage from the All-Pro cornerback in Week 3.
The Rams injury report will be an important one to watch, specifically at running back because whoever sees the majority of carries should be in for a big game. The Bills’ defense grades out as top-four overall but bottom-four against the run.
Malcom Brown had the third-down and goal-line snaps in Week 1, splitting time with Cam Akers as Darrell Henderson was eased back in due to injury. Last week, Akers left early and Henderson saw extended work, basically assuming Akers’ Week 1 role. With all three backs expected to suit up, Brown is the one most likely to have the big game since he’s consistently seeing touches near the goal line.
Goff is the third-highest-graded quarterback through two weeks but has the second shortest aDot among quarterbacks with at least 25 dropbacks, and Josh Allen is leading the best passing offense from an EPA perspective. This spread has held to the preseason look-ahead line with both teams slightly exceeding expectations to start the season.
This is one of the more intriguing matchups in Week 3 from a betting perspective. A higher percentage of cash has found its way onto the Bills — with the majority of Rams backers taking the plus-money odds on the moneyline. Our opponent-adjusted defensive rankings have both teams in the top 10. Despite the stellar defenses, this total has moved up 2.5 points since the open. Greenline has a small lean on the total, but no value play on the spread or total.
Sep 20, 2020; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Chicago Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky (10) looks to throw a pass during the first quarter against the New York Giants at Soldier Field. Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
Headline of the game: Mitchell Trubisky gets another soft matchup to start the season
With a 2-0 start and a respectable 74.4 PFF grade under his belt through the first two weeks of the season, Trubisky is making the decision to name him the starter appear like a smart one. The big disclaimer is that those two games have come against a Lions defense that was short-handed in the secondary and a Giants’ defense that projects as one of the worst in the NFL this season. Luckily for Trubisky, things don’t necessarily get any more difficult this week in Atlanta.
The Falcons have allowed a 129.9 passer rating as a team on targeted passes through two weeks of the 2020 season, a number that ranks ahead of only the Dolphins. A.J. Terrell leads the cornerback group with a 63.4 coverage grade, but he, Isaiah Oliver and Darqueze Dennard have all been picked on at times. It’s another opportunity for Trubisky to turn in a strong performance and continue building confidence as he attempts to turn his career around.
The Chicago Bears have allowed only one passing touchdown this season despite facing the fifth-most passing attempts. With all the passing volume their defense is seeing, they’re going to give up more touchdowns sooner rather than later, especially considering the Falcons rank second in the NFL in passing touchdowns.
Russell Gage has been a popular waiver wire addition after seeing 20 targets over the past two weeks and averaging 80 yards while playing 79% of his snaps out of the slot. The last slot receivers the Bears faced (Danny Amendola, Golden Tate) each had five receptions. Gage is a safe WR3 option for Week 3.
And speaking of WRs, I fully expect a bounce-back effort from Julio Jones after an atrocious Week 2. In his career, following games when Jones has had two or fewer receptions, his stat lines are as follows:
The Bears have also allowed the second-most targets to outside receivers this season, so the volume should be there for Jones to exceed expectations in Week 3.
David Montgomery saw his fantasy value take a hit before the season due to injury, but he’s started out well and has been RB16 through two weeks. His 3.5 yards after contact per carry is eighth-best for all running backs.
This might not be the best week to start Montgomery. The Falcons’ run defense team grade is sixth-best in the league, and their offense has ranked among the best in passing, receiving and pass blocking. If the Falcons continue putting points on the board, the Bears could lean on Tarik Cohen in a shootout.
The Falcons continue to invent new ways to lose football games. The flipside of this matchup is that the Bears are 2-0 and Mitchell Trubisky has an above-average passing grade through the first two weeks. Bettors seem as perplexed by this game, as does the general public. The spread has held to the opening number, despite the Falcons receiving over 80% of the cash and ticket percentages. Our Elo rankings have bought into the Bears’ start to the season, placing them 14th overall. There is some value on the spread and moneyline, given our current evaluation of these two teams.
Headline of the game: Whoever starts at quarterback for the Chargers has an ideal platform to show they should be the starter
The reaction to Anthony Lynn sticking with Tyrod Taylor as the starter if healthy was something to behold. After all, Taylor struggled to move the ball and put up points against a Bengals defense that just got rolled by a Browns offense that looked all kinds of dysfunctional in Week 1, whereas rookie Justin Herbert took the Chiefs to overtime. You have to imagine that Taylor will do everything in his power to be ready for this Week 3 matchup because he may not get his job back if he isn’t.
That’s because Carolina’s defense is arguably the worst in the NFL. Through two weeks, they rank 28th in expected points added allowed per play, and there aren’t many individual performances that they can hang their hats on. Rasul Douglas and Brian Burns are the only two players to have a PFF grade over 70.0 thus far, while rookies such as Jeremy Chinn (43.1 overall grade), Troy Pride Jr. (30.0) and Derrick Brown (29.9) have all had rough starts to their NFL careers. Whoever draws the start at quarterback for the Chargers is in a good spot to show that they should keep the job.
The Carolina Panthers’ defense has allowed the sixth-most rushing yards and the most rushing touchdowns to running backs this season. When you factor in that Kelley has also seen six carries inside the 10-yard line versus Ekeler’s one, it’s not outlandish to project the rookie to hit paydirt on Sunday.
And even though Kelley has been working as an early-down back, he showed receiving chops Week 2, running 11 routes with two catches on two targets and converting his opportunities into 49 receiving yards. His work as receiver could resurface in Week 2, because the Panthers are almost just as bad at stopping running backs in the passing game as they are in the run game. No team has allowed more receptions to running backs than Carolina since the start of 2020.
Mike Davis will likely be one of the most popular waiver wire pickups, and he should go straight into starting lineups once he’s added. The Chargers haven’t allowed many fantasy points to running backs yet, but they’ve only faced 34 carries by running backs to this point (third-fewest).
The Chargers have also allowed 12 catches to running backs (tied for seventh-most). While Los Angeles has some potential Hall of Fame cornerbacks, their linebackers and safeties haven’t graded as well in coverage. Davis should see plenty of opportunities on the ground and through the air against the Chargers’ defense.
The Chargers let a winnable game against the reigning Super Bowl champions slip through their fingers, but the betting market appreciated the cover enough to buy into them in Week 3. This line has crossed the key number 7 before moving back down to the initial opening line. There are value options available from PFF Greenline’s perspective, depending on what side of 7 this number ends up on. A heavy percentage of cash and ticket percentages have sided with the road favorite, which caused the initial line movement to recorrect back to the original number.
Headline of the game: Philip Rivers has quietly had a strong start to the season, and there is no reason that can’t continue against New York
A glance at Rivers’ stat line does not fight the notion that his career is on the decline. He has thrown more interceptions (three) than he has touchdowns (two), and yet, his 78.3 PFF passing grade ranks eighth among 32 qualifying quarterbacks through the first two weeks of the season. Declining arm strength hasn’t stopped him from dropping dimes downfield with touch — something that is reflected in his five big-time throws, which ranks tied for fourth among all quarterbacks this season.
The Jacksonville and Minnesota secondaries aren’t the toughest that he will face this season, but neither is New York’s. It’s a good opportunity for Rivers to get his stats closer in line with how he has actually performed this year.
Over the past two weeks, the New York Jets have allowed the second-most receptions to slot wide receivers (16). This would have been a smash spot for Parris Campbell had he not gotten hurt. Zach Pascal immediately filled the slot role after Campbell’s departure in Week 2 and saw an 80% snap share. But T.Y. Hilton has also seen five targets, a 40% target rate on routes run and an aDOT of 15.8 from the slot. Considering Hilton leads the team in air yards by a large margin, we could finally see him and quarterback Philip Rivers connect on some deep shots.
Tight end Jordan Reed caught both of his two touchdowns lining up in the slot, which bodes well for Mo Alie-Cox, should the big tight end get the starting nod if Jack Doyle is inactive for a second-straight week. Alie-Cox just played one snap in the slot in Week 2, but in Week 1 Doyle saw a 70% snap share from the slot. It would not be a surprise to see Alie-Cox’s usage there rise.
The Jets’ offense was already expected to be below average, but the injuries to Le’Veon Bell and all of their wide receivers hasn’t helped. This is a team to avoid, as the Colts’ defense has earned a 68.4 overall grade — second-best in the league.
Chris Herndon was a much-hyped player in August, but he’s been asked to pass block significantly with the Jets’ owning PFF’s second-worst pass-blocking grade. His 16 pass blocks lead all tight ends. Even if he does get an opportunity to run more routes, the Colts have allowed three of seven passes to tight ends to be caught for 11 yards.
This game has moved to an untouchable spread despite the Jets being the worst team by far in the NFL through two weeks. The Colts haven’t been all that impressive, either, but they appear capable of reaching greater heights. Both the spread and moneyline are heavily skewed toward the Colts. The sharp side is definitely looking like the Jets, with no one else able to stomach backing them. PFF Greenline sees some value in this approach but understands the desire to stay away from this game entirely.
Sep 20, 2020; Arlington, Texas, USA; Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) runs the ball for a third quarter touchdown against the Atlanta Falcons at AT&T Stadium. Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Headline of the game: Dallas has problems along its offensive line, but it may not matter against Seattle
The Cowboys are coming off quite the comeback win in Week 2 against Atlanta. It was a much-needed victory after losing their opener to the Rams and having Seattle on the slate this week.
Dallas is hopeful that Tyron Smith can return to play in Week 3 after missing this past week, but even if Smith is able to go, this offensive line can still be exploited by a dangerous pass rush with some of the injuries they have up front. However, Dak Prescott got rid of the ball quickly in Week 2, averaging 2.44 seconds before throwing, and Atlanta wasn’t able to generate much of a pass rush (24.5% pressure rate).
It’s hard to imagine the Seahawks are going to fare much better. Jamal Adams’ seven pressures are three more than any other Seattle defender through the first two weeks of this season, and Bruce Irvin — who ranks second on the team in pressures — is done for the year with a knee injury. Even behind a banged-up offensive line, Prescott should have time to find his receivers. He’s going to have to do just that with Russell Wilson firing on all cylinders on the other side.
Both D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett should be locked into lineups this week, but there’s a chance we see modest passing volume from the Seahawks even with a high-powered offense on the other side of the field.
Over the past two weeks, teams that have faced the Cowboys have passed at the sixth-lowest clip (52.8%), which means we could see a heavy workload for running back Chris Carson. But even if Carson doesn’t see a ton of carries, he is sure to be involved in the passing game — he ranks third on the team in targets (nine) and fourth in total routes run (39) through two weeks.
Cowboys wide receivers have a combined 529 receiving yards this season while the Seahawks’ corners have allowed 731 yards. Dallas should put up a lot of passing yards as they will need to keep up with Seattle’s offense. It’s possible all three of them can put up big numbers.
CeeDee Lamb has the potential to have the best game of the WR group. No player has lined up in the slot this season more than Lamb at 112 snaps. Seahawks defenders lining up in the slot have allowed 264 receiving yards, which leads the league. Marquise Blair was the Seahawks slot cornerback in Week 1 but suffered a knee injury that is expected to end his season. In comes Ugo Amadi, who has earned a 61.6 overall grade so far this season after a 54.4 mark on 161 snaps as a rookie. Lamb likely will have the best matchup of the group all game long.
It took a heroic effort — and quite a bit of luck — for the Cowboys to stay relevant in the NFC after two weeks. They now head to Seattle, where things won’t be any easier for them. This look-ahead line in the preseason was -1.5 and opened at -3.5 before running out to -5 when it was posted. There isn’t a more contrasted matchup between two teams in Week 3, with everyone hopping onto the Seahawks’ side. Almost 90% of the tickets have been placed on the Seahawks, but a high percentage of the cash is on the Cowboys. PFF Greenline finds some value given the spread movement, with playable options available on both the spread and moneyline.
Headline of the game: Key injuries leave Denver outmatched against Tampa Bay
There’s certainly a case that no team has been hit harder by the injury bug than Denver thus far. The Broncos lost their best defender — Von Miller — to a major injury before the season started, and starting right tackle Ja’Wuan James opted out of the season. Courtland Sutton dealt with a shoulder injury before suffering a season-ending knee injury in Week 2. Drew Lock is set to miss about a month with a shoulder injury suffered in the same game. Phillip Lindsay is out for multiple weeks with a toe injury, and free-agent acquisition A.J. Bouye is also set to miss multiple weeks with a shoulder injury. So many major injuries to key players would put any team behind the eight-ball.
That means that this is a good spot for Tampa Bay to carry over momentum from a Week 2 victory over the Panthers. The stats don’t do Tom Brady justice for how well he has performed through the first two weeks of the season. He has had more passes — key passes, at that — dropped by his receivers (eight) than any other quarterback through the first two weeks and has recorded three big-time throws that didn’t turn into completions because of penalties. If he keeps performing like that, the stats will start to come around in his first season with the Buccaneers.
It’s going to be tough sledding for the Denver Broncos offense with so many major injuries across the board, but at least it will create more opportunities for rookie wide receivers Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler.
Both Jeudy (72%) and Hamler (47%) saw playing time out of the slot in Week 2, but that’s where the Buccaneers have been at their strongest when defending wideouts. The last two opposing slot receivers they’ve faced (Emmanuel Sanders, Curtis Samuel) combined for just four catches.
Meanwhile, we saw outside wide receivers feast on the Bucs last week. Their defense allowed the fourth-most receiving yards (180) to boundary receivers.
Under a new quarterback and tough matchup, it’s going to be tough to trust Jeudy even with him operating as the presumed No. 1 wide receiver in place of Courtland Sutton.
Leonard Fournette was the clear third running back for the Buccaneers in Week 1, but in Week 2 he led the team in snaps in each of the last three quarters. This led to a two-touchdown and 100-yard performance. He’s expected to be the primary ball carrier for the Buccaneers this week and going forward.
Despite his success this past weekend, the Broncos are not a team you want to start Fournette against. The Broncos have held opposing running backs to just 19.1 fantasy points per game, which is seventh-lowest. Denver held Derrick Henry to 3.7 yards per carry and would have kept James Conner to around 3 yards per carry had it not been for one 59-yard run late in the game.
The 3-point preseason spread started at 3.5 points after Week 2 before the severity of injuries to Drew Lock and Cortland Sutton caused it to jump out to +6. These teams are separated by nine spots in our Elo rankings, but this doesn’t accurately reflect the current state of the Broncos’ offense. This unit currently ranks 28th in our opponent-adjusted grades. There is some value on the total, which has dropped a full point since the open.
Headline of the game: The Lions’ inability to finish games has cost them early in the season
The Lions jumped out to a lead against the Bears before giving it away in Week 1, seeing their chances at a win evaporate as the ball passed through D’Andre Swift’s arms on the goal line. Then, they got out to a quick 14-3 lead against the Packers in the first quarter last week before proceeding to let Green Bay go on a 42-7 run to close the game.
Their passing offense hasn’t been quite as aggressive as it was early last season with Matthew Stafford, nor have they been as effective when looking deep. Stafford has completed just two passes 20-plus yards downfield after completing eight such passes through the first two weeks of the 2019 season. The injury to Kenny Golladay — one of the league’s premier downfield threats — is playing a factor.
Their defense has been the real issue, though. Only the Texans and Dolphins have allowed more expected points added per play thus far in 2020, and a secondary that is introducing a lot of new pieces has had to contend with early injuries. Kyler Murray and this Cardinals offense are not going to give them any respite in Week 3.
Wide receiver Christian Kirk saw more involvement in Week 2, converting four of his targets into two receptions for 57 yards. The third-year receiver now ranks third in the NFL in total targets of 20 or more yards downfield and gets the juiciest of all matchups in Week 3.
The Lions have faced the most deep pass attempts this season (16) and Kirk ranks No.1 on the Arizona Cardinals in total air yards. He is a great buy-low candidate and should be a staple in DFS GPP lineups.
T.J. Hockenson came into the season as one of several breakout tight end candidates. While others have had bigger games, Hockenson is still TE9. He’s caught all nine passes thrown his way for 118 yards and a touchdown. Some fantasy owners might have been hesitant to start him so far, but this week he should definitely be in lineups.
Last season, the Cardinals averaged 14.4 points to tight ends which was fifth-most. George Kittle left mid-game but was off to a solid start Week 1, and Logan Thomas didn’t make the most of his many opportunities last week. Hockenson will be a good test for the Cardinals defense and vice versa.
After opening at 51.5, the total quickly pushed out to 54.5 on 77% of cash. The spread has also taken a ride due to the preseason bandwagon for Detroit losing passengers quickly. The Cardinals have quickly become a popular team by covering their first two games. They now sit at 16th in our Elo rankings, with the Lions settling in at 28th. The majority of the spread percentages are on the Cardinals, with most bettors backing the Lions on the moneyline market. The total has become unplayable, with only one bet offering value in this matchup.
Sep 13, 2020; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) throws against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first quarter at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Headline of the game: Drew Brees is becoming a major concern for the Saints
Brees’ 60.8 PFF grade ranks 28th among 32 qualifying quarterbacks through the first two weeks of the 2020 season. Brees isn’t accustomed to being anywhere near such a ranking, and it’s hard not to look at his arm strength as a concern at this point. Just 25% of his passes 10 or more yards downfield have been accurate this season, and his 47.5 passing grade on such throws ranks second-worst among 34 quarterbacks with 10 or more attempts. The Raiders provided a good chance for Brees to show he still had it on Monday Night Football. He didn’t take that opportunity.
This is a roster built to contend for a Super Bowl, but unless Brees is able to right the ship and get the ball downfield accurately, the Saints are going to have trouble contending.
On Monday night, Tre’Quan Smith emerged as the primary benefactor in the New Orleans Saints’ offense without wide receiver Michael Thomas. He led the team in routes run (34) and finished second behind only Alvin Kamara in targets (seven) and receiving yards (86).
He also looked great with the ball in his hands – four missed tackles forced and an average of 7.0 yards after the catch per catch, which ranked fourth-highest in Week 2 among wide receivers with at least seven targets.
Smith’s usage was eerily similar to that of Thomas — almost identical aDOT (9.6 vs 9.0), same amount of slot snaps (11) — which gives me confidence moving forward that as long as Thomas is out Smith is the wide receiver you want in this offense.
The Green Bay Packers have allowed the second-highest touchdown percentage to wide receivers and, specifically, the fourth-highest touchdown percentage to slot wide receivers. Since Smith joined the Saints in 2018, only Thomas has more receiving touchdowns (18) than Smith (10).
The Saints defense just went up against arguably the best running back in the league in Josh Jacobs and held him to under 3.3 yards per carry on a 27-carry sample. This is after allowing just 14.3 fantasy points to all of the Buccaneers running backs combined in Week 1 and being among the top eight teams in fantasy points allowed to backs in 2019.
Aaron Jones is the current leader in fantasy points for running backs, so he’s going to be in every starting lineup regardless, but there is reason to be concerned about this matchup. His 0.82 fantasy points per snap is second-best for running backs, but that’s an unsustainable rate. No back had higher than 0.52 over all of 2019. Jamaal Williams is in the top 30 in running back snaps on the season while Tyler Ervin is in the top 50. With the limited playing time, Jones is bound to have some down weeks, and this could be one of them.
The Saints’ performance on Monday night has caused bettors to flock toward the Packers. It helps that the Packers look like one of the best two teams in the NFC to start the season. The line has moved three full points since the open, with the Saints now just a field goal favorite at home on Sunday night. Given the high percentage of cash and tickets, we may see this line move through the most important number from a spread perspective. It comes down to if you want to buy high on the Packers — while selling low on the Saints — or go against the market. PFF Greenline can help guide your decision, but this is still a tough situation to project.
Headline of the game: The two best teams in the NFL look to assert their dominance over the AFC
Matchups don’t get much better than this one. These two teams have established themselves atop nearly every power ranking heading into Week 3, and the Lamar Jackson versus Patrick Mahomes matchup at quarterback is one of the best that we’ll get this season.
Jackson is showing no signs of regression after taking a major leap as a passer in 2019. He currently ranks second, behind only Russell Wilson, in completion percentage, yards per attempt and passer rating through the first two weeks of the season. Mahomes, meanwhile, has shown a more conservative approach, generating an average depth of target less than 7 yards downfield. But he showed again late last week that there is no quarterback you’d rather have with the game on the line. Mahomes earned a 90.9 overall grade with over 200 combined passing and rushing yards in the fourth quarter and overtime of the Chiefs’ victory over the Chargers.
This may be a precursor to a meeting with more on the line in several months.
Marquise Brown was quiet in Week 2, but this is a blow-up spot in what should be a high-scoring affair versus the Chiefs.
The Kansas City Chiefs have faced the most deep ball attempts to opposing wide receivers since the start of the 2020 season, and four of Lamar Jackson’s five deep passing attempts have been targeted to Brown.
Expect the Baltimore Ravens to leverage J.K. Dobbins more as a pass-catcher in this spot. Despite having just one target on the season, Dobbins leads the Baltimore running back crew in routes run (29). Should the Ravens face a negative game script, look for the offense to fully exploit the Chiefs’ weakness against running backs in the passing game. The last time these two teams played, Mark Ingram II had a season-high in receptions (four).
Despite playing against the Ravens defense, everyone should be starting their usual star players. One area of particular interest will be the Chiefs wide receivers against the Ravens cornerbacks. Sammy Watkins suffered from a bad helmet hit last week and could miss time.
If he does, Mecole Hardman would see a significant increase in playing time, though he probably shouldn’t be started in fantasy lineups if he gets the nod this week. Hardman has seen over two thirds of his snaps in the slot and could be lined up against Marlon Humphrey, which is not a matchup that’s favorable for Hardman.
This game has heightened importance with the new playoff rules in 2020 — as the winner will have a clear path to the No. 1 seed in the AFC. The spread has continued to move toward the Ravens, who have taken over the top spot in our Elo rankings. The Chiefs are getting a majority of the cash and ticket percentages in both the spread and moneyline markets. The line movement is significant, given that it appears both the public and sharp bettors have flocked to the Chiefs at the inflated price. This could be the game of the year in the regular season, and PFF Greenline can help guide your betting decision making.