April 23, 2019

Pyro® Twitterfeed

2018 NFC Team Preview Review

2018 NFC Team Preview Review

Posted by Stagg Party on 10/11/18

by   The Archer


More Articals


So, you may ask what you are about to read, and it is a fair question. I have a rough outline in my head and as keys are hit it may change, it may grow, or it may shrink. But you know those team previews that everyone writes in the off-season but don’t get revisited until the next? Well this is that, but with information that is actionablefor your fantasy teams going forward this year. It will focus on what has happened so far, and what is still to come. In the offseason we talk about projection process and team outlooks based on a variety of factors, but in season things change, and change quickly. Let’s examine how some things have changed, what has stayed the same, and the surprises along the way. 


Arizona Cardinals


The Arizona Cardinals are one of the most disappointing offenses in the NFL. Sam Bradford has already been replaced with promising rookie Josh Rosen, but the fantasy producers we thought would be there just aren’t. There are a number of issues with this team but it starts with play-calling and Mike McCoy. David Johnson who recently signed to long-term deal is asked to be a battering ram up the middle when he should really be used as a knife to attack the edges. On first and ten, the Cards have run DJ up the middle on 21 of his 36 rush attempts resulting in 1.7 yards per carry. McCoy runs a shotgun heavy 11 offense, and in his career just 12% of DJ’s carries have come from shotgun. 80% of their total passes are coming from shotgun, and on first and ten, if they are in shotgun they are passing 83% of the time, talk about a tell. 


In addition to predictability this offense also has a pace problem, they are the only team in the NFL running under 50 plays a game. Their offense has seen over a 25% drop off in plays from last season, when we talk about season long projections, that is like losing three and half games worth of plays. When we couple the pace problem with the issues of what they are asking DJ to do as a runner, you can see why he is barely an RB1 rest of season. Larry Fitzgerald is also another big loser here, as he has seen his targets per game cut in half while his other stats such as catch rate and yards per catch have remained stagnant. Larry is barely worth a flex spot at this point and no other receiver or tight end has stepped up in a way to make them viable on a weekly basis. Josh Rosen has been aggressive since taking over as a starter, with over 27% of his throws being more than 16 yards down the field, which doesn’t bode well for the slot types currently on the roster but Christian Kirk has flashed recently. 


On defense, the Cardinals have been tough on opposing passers to start the season but have been gashed by runners giving up an average line of 31/132/1.4 rushing and 7.9/6.4/67.8/.4 receiving. Opposing passers haven’t had nearly as much success, totaling 5 touchdown passes combined against 4 interceptions. The Cardinals have the makings of a run funnel so far this season, something we should be looking to exploit going forward. 


Atlanta Falcons


The Atlanta Falcons are currently a 1-4 football team, despite their offense ranking in the top-10 of points scored and yards per game. Ryan is completing 68.3% of his passes for 320 yards a game and is averaging 2.2 touchdowns per game against just .4 interceptions per game. But thedefense has fallen apart due to injuries across their defense from Deion Jones to Grady Jarrett to Keanu Neal. Atlanta’s pace has remained fairly consistent with last season and are hovering just about league average in plays per game. The Falcons are a team that uses shotgun and under center nearly equally and their play calling is varied enough to give defenses some questions. Ryan is on pace for 400 pass completions on 585 attempts over 5,000 yards passing and 35 TDs and 6 interceptions, he is locked in as a QB1 weekly similar to his MVP season in 2016. 


Since Week 1, the main repair has been to the redzone offense, where Calvin Ridley has been a standout so far in his young career. On the season, the Falcons are now top-10 in converting touchdowns on 65% of their redzone drives after struggling to score their last season. Calvin Ridley’s 6 receiving touchdowns lead the NFL and while he won’t match Randy Moss’ 17 TDs as a rookie, it is tough to discount him reaching double digit touchdowns, something that only 16 NFL rookies have done in the history of the league and no one has done since the historic class of 2014. Julio is doing Julio things, currently on pace for 109 receptions on 176 targets for 1,805 yards and of course, no touchdowns. Sanu is also on pace for nearly 100 targets, 800+ yards and 6 touchdowns making the Falcons one of three or four teams with three flex worthy or more wide receivers. 


Devonta Freeman has struggled with injuries so far this season, but when “healthy” his workload has been in the 10-touch range, Freeman is a wait and see play at this point but does still have four division games remaining in a division that doesn’t play strong defense right now. Tevin Coleman has been slightly underwhelming averaging just 3.7 yards per carry, but volume saved him while Freeman was out, now with both back in the lineup they each look like flex plays moving forward especially with Ito Smith playing vulture in each of the last two games. The Falcons look like a pass first team, and their running backs are catching passes at a rate 5% below the league average to running backs as the wide receivers have been the main beneficiaries.


On defense, the Falcons are a sieve, with injuries at every level of their defense making them weekly targets in both seasonal and DFS. The Falcons one strength right now is defending the tight end position but that is a mirage as they have not faced anyone good since Week 1, when they still had most of their starters healthy. The defensive ineptitude makes for shootout potential in every game, and the Falcons are likely to be in a number of high over/under spots for the remainder of the season. 


Carolina Panthers 


The Carolina Panthers are the rare NFC South team still able to play defense this season. The Panthers stand at 3-1 after an early bye week, on the backs of their defense and running game. The Panthers are running plays at a league average rate so far in 2018, and are averaging the second most rushing plays per game so far with Christian McCaffrey and Cam Newton combining for 99 of 137 total rush attempts. The Panthers are using Newton’s strengths to their advantage under Norv Turner, running shotgun over 70% of the time, but also using their run game extensively (38% of play calls) from shotgun where they are averaging a robust 6.1 yards per carry. 


Cam’s 8 rushing attempts a game put him on pace for a career high in rushing attempts. He is also on pace for 12 rushing touchdowns, the second highest total of his career, as the team has embraced his physicality especially near the goal-line. CMC is currently on pace for over 1,300 rushing yards, oh and 108 receptions to go for 768 yards, so a quarter of the season down, and he is on pace for 2,000 yards from scrimmage. With Newton vulturing some of the touchdowns, McCaffrey will need to keep producing on the ground to maximize his scoring output, but he is just 106 yards away from passing last season’s rushing total. 


With a focus on the run game, the pass game has played second fiddle. Cam is averaging 32.5 pass attempts per game and completing them at a rate of nearly 4% higher than his previous career high all while staying in line with his three-year average in yards per attempt. Devin Funchess is demanding a 21.5% target share so far this season and is on pace for just under 1,000 yards this season, but will need to go on a hot streak to match last season’s 8 touchdown receptions but is playing 85+ percent of the snaps. Rookie DJ Moore has made big plays but is playing about 40% of the teams snaps behind Jarius Wright and Torrey Smith who aren’t fantasy relevant at this time. Moore should see his snaps increase as time goes by, but could need an injury to signal insertion into your lineup. Curtis Samuel made his return in Week 5, but needs more looks to become fantasy relevant especially with a Greg Olsen return looming in the next few weeks. Going forward Funchess is a WR3 or flex play, and Greg Olsen should be added as speculation with the dearth of consistent tight ends league wide. McCaffrey is an RB1 in both standard and PPR and is averaging over 26 routes a game so far.


The Panthers defense is middle of the pack in terms of fantasy points allowed across the board. They have been able to create turnovers though, with 7 interceptions against 6 passing touchdowns. Carolina has gotten to the quarterback 2.25 times per game, but are allowing nearly 300 passing yards a game but just 95 rushing yards and get Thomas Davis back from a PED suspension. Wide receivers can safely be started against the Panthers at this time, but running backs and tight ends should proceed with some caution. 


Chicago Bears


The Chicago Bears have been Jekyll and Hyde on offense this season, starting off the season hot on the first few drives against Green Bay then fizzling down the stretch until an explosion in Week 4 in which Mitch Trubisky threw 6 touchdown passes. Those 6 touchdowns currently account for 40% of the touchdown passes in Trubisky’s career. Mitch has now played 16 games in his career, here is how his numbers look: 287 of 460 (62.4%) for 3,138 yards 15 touchdowns to ten interceptions. His saving grace would be the 58 for 365 rushing yards with 3 touchdowns, Alex Smith like numbers on ground. Should have drafted Patrick Mahomes, but I digress. A 16-Game pace for Trubisky in Matt Nagy’s offense currently looks like 364 completions on 520 pass attempts for 3,780 yards and 32 touchdowns against 12 interceptions and a 68/468/4 rushing line which passes for 300 fantasy points, but that seems unlikely to continue. Chicago is hovering around league average in terms of pace of play, and have been run heavy in run/pass splits, but they have a defense that allows them some comfort. The Bears are also one of the shotgun heavier teams in the league, helping to make Trubisky more comfortable behind center as he is still a work in progress. 


The Bears run game, previously their greatest strength has looked anything but, with Jordan Howard averaging just 16 rushes a game and 3.2 yards per carry so far this season, despite seeing stacked boxes on a lower percentage of his runs than last season. Howard has rushed 27 times from shotgun this season resulting in 105 yards but has 37 carries under center for just 98 yards. Look for the Bears to mix up their run plays from shotgun and under center as the season progresses. Howard has improved as a pass catcher in the Bears system however, catching ten of his 12 targets for 78 yards after previously leading the position in drops over the last two years. Tarik Cohen was used more in Trubisky’s six touchdown game, leaving us to wonder if that is a trend that continues out of the bye week. Cohen is on pace for over 1,200 yards from scrimmage and 56 receptions this season, but may be a sneaky trade target if the Bears decide to go with a more conventional spread approach moving forward.


Allen Robinson currently has a 24.6% target share to lead the team, but his yards per reception are down from his career numbers in Jacksonville and he has found the endzone just once. Robinson is being used as a slot (30.8% of the time) and possession receiver which allows him to catch more passes, but takes away the big play upside he had in Jacksonville as he is not being asked to stretch the field as much. Taylor Gabriel is the defacto field stretcher, but is also targeted often on designed screen plays while being moved all over the formation including into the slot on 35% of his routes. Anthony Miller has made a few splash plays, but a dislocated shoulder will hamper his range of motion for the remainder of the season if asked to play earlier than needed. Trey Burton has underwhelmed all of the sleeper calls, having just a 14.7% target share, but is on pace for 8 touchdowns which puts him in the backend TE1 talks every week. 


On defense, and already having their bye, the Bears are every week starters as long as Khalil Mack is healthy and in the lineup. Mack has recorded a sack and a forced fumble in every game this season. The Bears currently lead the league in fantasy points despite playing 1 fewer game than the rest of the NFL. The Bears are second in the league in sacks, tied for tenth in fumble recoveries, tied for third in interceptions, and tied for second with two defensive touchdowns. As for opposing offenses, the Bears are allowing the fewest fantasy points per game to opposing running backs and are top 5 against quarterbacks. Their defense will allow some big plays to opposing wide receivers however, so this is not a no-fly zone. 


Dallas Cowboys


The Dallas Cowboys and the Los Angeles Rams offenses are not exactly the same, no matter how many times Jerry Jones tries to tell you so. The Cowboys are running 6 less plays a game than the average NFL team coupling with a near 45% run rate this offensive passing game leaves a lot to be desired. Dak is averaging under 200 passing yards per game on the season and his rushing numbers aren’t good enough right now to keep him in the streamer discussion. Dallas has begun to work in more shotgun runs for Zeke and it is helping with the run threat of Dak, but there is still a lot of improvements that can be made to this offense that is one of the most stagnant pre-snap as any in the NFL. 


Ezekiel Elliott has been the lone bright spot in the Dallas offense, currently leading the league in rushing yards and on pace to rush for 1,536 on the season. Zeke is also on pace to catch 70 passes this season which is a big boost to his value in PPR after a previous career high of 32 set in his rookie year. Zeke’s uptick in routes run seemed like a good indicator of future targets, and he is now running nearly 22 a game. Zeke is a locked in RB1 rest of season and should see some short yardage touchdowns go his way, as he has just six rushing attempts inside the 10 so far this year. 


At receiver, this is where I usually interject that they aren’t worth talking about during a podcast, as the team is running a wide receiver by committee. In Week 5, three wide receivers played between 58% and 61% of the snaps. On the season, the Cowboys have four wide receivers who have been on the field for 45+% of their snaps this season, led by Cole Beasley and Allen Hurns. No matter if you use standard or PPR scoring, no Dallas receiver appears in the top-50 among wide receivers and therefore a guy like Beasley or Hurns is no more than a desperation flex, on a bye week, when you only have 1% battery life left on your phone. Hell, the Dallas Cowboys thought it would be a good idea to have multiple players from last years Bills wide receiver corps on the team in Brice Butler and Deonte Thompson Tight end Geoff Swaim has been ascending with 11 catches over the last three weeks, but is more of a desperation TE2 that is TD dependent. 


On defense, Dallas’ ball control offensive system does save their defense from allowing gaudy numbers, although on a per play basis they can be susceptible. It remains true that their defense is also prone to giving up more yardage and points when Sean Lee is not on the field like the previous few weeks. Over the last three weeks, Wilson, Stafford, and Watson have combined for a 73% completion percentage 874 yards and 5 touchdowns against just 1 interception. The Dallas D has also shown a penchant for allowing receptions to running backs on 30% of their completions allowed. 


Detroit Lions 


The Detroit Lions have gone from a team that hates their head coach to one that has beaten the New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers over the last three weeks. The team has had their first 100-yard rusher since Reggie Bush and Matthew Stafford has thrown 9 touchdowns to just one interception since their opening weekend blunder. The Lions are an offense that likes to hurry up and slow down over the course of a game, leading to a pace of play just under the league average on the season. The Lions remain pass-heavy despite the emergence of Kerryon Johnson, with a pass play percentage over 64 percent. With the emergence of Kenny Golladay that team has also eschewed the tight end position and using a lot of 3 wide receiver sets, in fact the team uses more four wide receiver sets then any team in the entire league. Stafford is on pace for 403 completions 611 attempts for 4,432 passing yards and a 32 to 15 touchdown to interception ratio, numbers that would normally have him solidly in the top-12 QBs but the offensive explosion currently has him stacking in at QB17. 


The run game, while improved still has much room for growth, and it is one of those addition by subtraction dealios, in that if you subtract LeGarrette Blount (minus a subset of things he does very well, short-yardage and goal-line work) and reallocate those touches to Kerryon Johnson and Theo Riddick, you would like see an increase in the efficiency of the offense. Blount is averaging an astronomically bad 2.5 yards per carry, and really should only be used in those situations I noted above. Kerryon Johnson is just a much more versatile player, he has 25 carries from both shotgun and under center and is averaging 6.0 yards per carry and 5.4 respectively, while also not being a tell in the pass game having caught 13 of the fifteen passes thrown his way. Riddick is on pace for another 70+ receptions and can mix in as a draw runner, but he is basically another wide receiver on the field giving Stafford the ability to throw the ball anywhere. 


In the passing game, Detroit is heavy to their wide receivers, with 61% of their completed passes by wide receivers and nearly 80% of their passing yardage going to the wide receiver position. On the season, Marvin Jones lead the way in terms of snap counts playing 95% of the team’s offensive snaps, Golladay sits at 90%, and surprisingly Golden Tate brings up the rear at just under 80% of the team’s snaps. In terms of target share, Tate leads the way at 26%, Golladay at a hair under 21%, and Jones is bringing up the rear at just under 17%. Each of the receivers has found the endzone 3 times so far, and they are responsible for 90% of Stafford’s touchdown passes to date. At tight end, Luke Willson and Levine Toilolo are combining to play 83% of the snaps, but their overall contribution is lacking. 


On defense, the Lions have allowed the seventh most points in the league. They have also allowed the most rushing yards per game in the NFL, making them an attractive target for opposing running backs. Because teams are able to run so well against them, the passing numbers don’t look great as they are allowing under 250 passing yards per game, but Detroit shouldn’t be avoided. Wide receivers may be a slightly different story however, as teams are completing under 10 passes a game to their wide receivers against the Lions, and Darius Slay is playing at a high level so proceed with caution there. 


Green Bay Packers 


The Green Bay Packers are a team that has been forced to adjust on the fly due to Aaron Rodgers’ knee injury suffered in Week 1. Due to the injury, the Packers have been the shotgun heaviest team in the NFL, allowing Aaron to put less stress on his knee than he would with under center drop backs. Over 85% of the Packers total plays this season have come the shotgun, making it a little more difficult to run from under center as teams seem to be aware of this split, as Rodgers was handing the ball of nearly every time when under center the first few weeks of the season. The Packers have picked up their pace of play, and are running 4 more plays per game than an average NFL team and are 67.8% pass which is great for their pass catching options and Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers is on a 16-game pace of a stoners special 420 completions on 665 attempts for 5,030 yards and 32 touchdowns against just 3 interceptions. 


In the run game, 74% of all the Packers runs have come from shotgun formation, and the team’s commitment to use a three back approach is going to have me losing my hair at a rate that I will be looking like Pat Thorman by Week 17. The contention has always been that they love Jamaal Williams for his ability to do the dirty work, move the chains, and protect Aaron Rodgers, but at some point, enough is enough. Any measure of pass blocking efficiency will tell you that Ty Montgomery and Aaron Jones are both adequate enough as pass blockers to remain on the field especially when on the aggregate teams use their running backs as pass blockers at a much lower rate the average football fans suspect. Since we know the Packers are primarily a shotgun team right now, let’s look at each back’s splits in the run game in their careers.


Jamaal Williams – Shotgun: 110 rushes for 422 yards (3.8 YPC) two touchdowns and 26 first downs. U/C: 96 rushes for 329 yards (4.3 YPC) two touchdowns and 19 first downs. 

Aaron Jones - Shotgun: 36 rushes for 208 yards (5.8 YPC) one touchdown and 11 first downs. U/C: 68 rushes for 386 yards (5.7 YPC) four touchdowns and 21 first downs.

Ty Montgomery - Shotgun: 92 rushes for 546 yards (5.9 YPC) five touchdowns and 25 first downs. U/C: 79 rushes for 285 yards (3.6 YPC) one touchdown and 12 first downs.


So, if someone could talk some sense into Mike McCarthy that would be great. As for the pass game, Davante Adams has taken a predictable step forward with the release of Jordy Nelson, averaging 11 targets a game, 7.4 receptions for 85 yards and .8 touchdowns a game. The rest of the receiving corps behind Adams has been a work in progress as both Randall Cobb and Geronimo Allison have missed at least one game in the early portion of the season. Marquez Valdes-Scantling has been the receiver to step in first in their stead and his impact is noticeable as he brings a speed element the other top three receivers do not have. Equanimeous St. Brown is another vertical stretch receiver who has made some plays in limited snaps, but each of these guys offers a vertical stretch element that this offense has been lacking over the last two seasons. 

Flipping to the other side of the ball, the Packers look improved. In terms of passing yards the Minnesota Vikings accrued 425, but here are the totals of their other four opponents in descending order: 220, 183, 171, and 151. Outside of a shutout against Buffalo though, the defense has allowed at least 23 points in every game and have two over 30. Besides the Clay Matthews roughing the passer issues this defense has been having, the Packers look above average in terms of fantasy points allowed to skill positions, but this seems more like a mirage of early season scheduling rather than actual improvement. 


Los Angeles Rams


The Los Angeles Rams have been the most exciting offense in the NFL this season, and seemingly since the greatest show on turf. Sean McVay has been a wizard this season, putting his array of skill players in positions to succeed and no quarterback has been better at executing what is laid out in front of him on a given play than Jared Goff (Mahomes is better when a play breaks down however). So how is Sean McVay doing this? Well many will tell you it all starts with Gurley, and I’d have to say those people are wrong. It all starts with personnel, LA is using 3 wide receivers on the field on an incredible 95% of their offense plays. Why does this matter, well you are getting defenses off of base defense and into nickel almost immediately, and when you try to stack the box against Gurley you aren’t doing it with linebackers, rather safeties or corners. This allows McVay and Gurley to run against even or light fronts on a majority of his carries. 


McVay is also counterintuitive in his use of shotgun to the rest of the league, using shotgun on just 35% of all plays this season. He is also using jet sweep action on a number of plays and giving it to his receivers often enough to stretch defensive ends horizontally giving Gurley even more room to work. How has this all worked so far? Well despite running plays at a rate just below the league average, the Rams are currently second in the NFL in scoring averaging over 34 points a game and checking in over 30 in every game this season. The Rams are also one of the few teams who average more yards per carry from under center than shotgun, leveraging Gurley’s skillset to the maximum as just 9% of the Rams runs have come from shotgun this season. This offense is functioning at such a high level that Goff is on pace for 384 completions on just 531 attempts for 5,526 yards and 38 touchdowns to 13 interceptions, not bad for a guy that looked like a bust after having to deal with Jeff Fisher for a year. 


The receiving weapons for the Rams are varied and deep, but the wide receivers are the show stoppers. Considered by many to be a corps of number two receivers, the three of them are working better as a collective than any unit in the NFL. So far Rams wide receivers are responsible for 73% of their completions and 78% of the teams receiving yards. While their receivers may each have a week where they are slightly quieter they are impossible to sit in fantasy as they are each playing over 85% of the team’s snaps, and that would be higher if not for dual concussions suffered by Brandin Cooks and Cooper Kupp in Week 5. Kupp and Woods are each sporting a target share of just under 25% while Cooks’ stands at just under 20, but he missed a majority of Week 5 and didn’t get credited with a single target. Gurley’s impact as a wide receiver can also not be understated as his receiving numbers alone would have him stacked up against Keelan Cole and Chris Godwin in standard leagues. 


On defense, the Rams are also a dominant unit, but one that has to contend with garbage time stat padding because of how quickly their offense can strike. The Rams are allowing the 6thfewest points per game this season despite only sacking the quarterback twice a game so far. The Rams are allowing 247 passing yards per game, but have had Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters hobbled over the last few weeks. The Rams are a defense we should not be targeting in fantasy and fading when possible, but garbage time can cure a lot of ills. The Rams defense has allowed 8 touchdowns to opposing wide receivers this season and have been prone to allowing the big play, which can come from their desire for turnovers. 


Minnesota Vikings 


The Minnesota Vikings have been forced to be much more pass heavy than many expected, mostly due to the injury to Dalvin Cook, but they have also suffered from more negative game scripts than many expected heading into the season. The offensive line also hasn’t blocked as well as they did in their “dream” season with Case Keenum at the helm. Last year under Pat Shurmur, the Vikings were the run heaviest team in the NFL, this season they are the pass heaviest team in the NFL dialing up a passing play on 71.4% of the time. They are also calling pass on 67% of plays when the game is within one score, so this isn’t complete garbage time splits throwing this off. The Vikings are running just under three more plays per game than the average team and are running shotgun 6% more than the league average. In shotgun, this team is running the ball just 15% of the time so teams can focus on rushing the passer rather than being strictly dedicated to their run fits. From under center, the Vikings are more balanced than most teams and Kirk has responded with 39 completions on 50 attempts for 381 yards and 2 touchdowns with no interceptions. Minnesota is running 3 wide receiver sets at a league average rate, but is also mixing in plenty of two tight ends sets (22% of plays).


The run game has been the main issue for this team, and a big portion of its failure can be drawn back to the offensive line that has produced the second fewest yards before contact this season, allowing just 2 yards before contact. Latavius Murray is currently leading the team in snaps at over 46%, Cook is at 36%, while Roc Thomas and Mike Boone have played just 5% of the snaps each. Minnesota is averaging just 4.0 yards per carry on shotgun rushes so far this well below the league average of 4.83 but are averaging just 3.13 yards per carry from under center. The Viking running backs are also catching passes at a lower rate than the average NFL team, 6% less in fact. Until Dalvin Cook gets back this offense is likely to continue operating as it is, because the wide receivers are making plays for Kirk Cousins. 


‘Kurt’ is on pace for a crazy 515 completions on 723 attempts for 5,401 yards and 35 touchdowns against just 6 interceptions. Who is profiting most off this crazy pacing pace? Well that has to be the tag team champions of the world, Adam Thielen and Stefan Diggs. Thielen has a 29% target share and is on pace for 150 receptions 1885 yards and 9.6 TDs, pretty damn good. Not to be outdone (even though he is) Diggs has a 24% target share on the season and is on pace for 118 receptions for 1,286 yards and 9.6 touchdowns. Beyond the top-two Aldrick Robinson had a two-touchdown day earlier this season and Laquon Treadwell has been making a few plays to keep from getting cut all while being a very good downfield blocker. At tight end, Kyle Rudolph is handling just a 12% target share, but has converted his 27 targets into 23 receptions for 229 yards and two touchdowns. 


On defense, the Vikings are currently 22ndin total fantasy points allowed after finishing last season in the top five last season. The Vikings have been getting gashed on play action so far, and Anthony Barr has been exposed in coverage so far this season after excelling there in the past. The Vikings are allowing over 300 passing yards a game, fifth worst in the NFL and have also allowed the ninth most points. The Vikings defense has also fallen back in the pack at creating turnovers, an area that they previous excelled in. In order to make a return to the NFC Title game, the Vikings defense needs to keep up their end of the bargain. 


New Orleans Saints 


The New Orleans Saints thrived in their first four weeks without Mark Ingram, but took it to another level when Ingram returned, much to the dismay of Alvin Kamara owners. In the process, Drew Brees has broken the all-time completions records and the passing yardage records. Now that those milestones are behind them, does this offense return to its run game ways of yesteryear, as it seemed to work in a major way Monday Night against Washington. Even though there is no empirical evidence that the run game helps the defense, the Saints played with an entirely different swagger against the Redskins, and an improvement there could make the Saints even more dangerous than their 4-1 record indicates. The Saints have also seen their plays per game to above league average, but it is still far off the pace of play the Saints played with for most of Drew Brees’ career. New Orleans has seen their passing game uptick without Ingram, as the Saints are averaging 40 pass attempts per game after seeing Brees’ numbers plummet last season. Drew has been nothing short of spectacular this season, and if you need more proof check out his completion percentage. 


The Saints run game is now a two-headed monster yet again after the return of Mark Ingram. Alvin Kamara served as a workhorse playing over 80% of the snaps over the first four weeks, but fell to just 47% of the snaps in Ingram’s returns. The backfield is likely to be a fifty/fifty split going forward, but there will be situations when the two backs are on the field at the same time. While Kamara may not have had a big impact on stat sheet that showed up in your fantasy lineups, the Redskins knew when he was on the field, go back and watch those two touchdowns to Tre’Quan Smith and tell me how many eyes were on Alvin and not on the chipmunks. Mark Ingram returns to a very valuable role in an offense currently averaging a league high 36 points a game. Ingram returned to getting goal-line work taking three carries inside the five and scoring two touchdowns. Kamara is still on a massive pace, especially in the receiving department where he is on pace for 122 receptions and 1,123 yards and three scores in addition to his work as a runner where he is still averaging 4.8 yards per carry. There is plenty of room for both backs to succeed in the redzone however, as the Saints are averaging a league leading 17.2 plays per game inside the opponents twenty. Surprisingly in his career Kamara has just 27 carries from shotgun formation resulting in just 4.3 yards per carry while his under center is a massive 5.9 on 154 attempts with 11 touchdowns. 


In the passing game, through the first four weeks of the season this offense was the most concentrated in the NFL between their top two weapons in Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas. Thomas currently has a target share of over 25% and Drew Brees is on pace to throw for over 5,000 yards yet again. Ted Ginn has had moments when healthy, providing the vertical shot plays that Drew Brees has always loved. Ginn may be in trouble of losing work to rookie Tre’Quan Smith who shined on MNF. Tre’Quan is a long speedy receiver who can run vertical routes, Smith is currently averaging 32 yards per catch on his four receptions, but has done that on just seven targets for nearly as many fantasy points as Ginn on third of the targets. Cameron Meredith is also an interesting depth piece who has caught nine of his ten targets over the last three weeks for 117 yards. Benjamin Watson has been three for 35, a small help for an NFL offense but no help for your fantasy teams. 


On the defensive side of the ball, the Saints have seen a major falloff from what looked like a major turning point last season. The Saints are allowing the fifth most points per game to opposing offenses so far this season, but have held three of their five opponents to under 19 points. New Orleans has allowed a number of big pass plays this season and are allowing 313 passing yards per game, but are allowing the third fewest rushing yards per game, making them an attractive pass funnel when they return from bye. 63% of all the Saints receptions allowed have been by the wide receiver position, seven percent higher than the league average. The defense is also allowing the most fantasy points to opposing wide receivers. Continue to target the Saints defense until they prove otherwise. 


New York Giants 


The New York Giants are a team in a tenuous situation so far this season, as their yearlong apology to Eli Manning for benching him last season continues. As part of the apology the team signed Nate Solder to protect Eli’s blindside and drafted Saquon Barkley and Will Hernandez to solidify the running back position and guard position. One issue was they kept former top-10 pick Ereck Flowers around until this week to play right tackle before finally eating the money and releasing him, and a replacement surely can’t be any worse at this point, hell a tackling dummy can’t be any worse at this point. The Giants have been without Evan Engram for most of the season, so they haven’t had their full complement of weapons on the field for an extended period, but the offense still needs to play better. The Giants are playing at a pace 8% slower than last season and 6% below league average so far this season but are passing the ball on 67.5% of their plays so far. 


The Giants are one of the more predictable teams in the NFL in how they use shotgun and under center, in shotgun they are 20% run and 80% pass, while under center they are 61% run and 39% pass. Saquon Barkley has been a great fantasy play so far, but his impact on the team overall hasn’t been as expected as they site at 1-4 on the season. Barkley is a well-rounded prospect, who has put up over 100 yards from scrimmage in each of his first five games. The offensive line for the Giants has provided little room for running backs, at just 1.6 yards before contact per carry so far this season. Barkley has continued his boom bust ways from Penn State, either picking up one or two yards on a carry or breaking off a big one, Barkley has had four carries go for 150 yards, while his 67 others have gone for just 158. Saquon has broken 27 tackles on his touches so far this season according to PFF, second in the league to only James Conner. The Giants are doing a good job of giving Saquon carries from shotgun, and he has rewarded them with 4.9 yards per carry and all three of his touchdowns on 32 attempts. 


The passing game is still flowing through Odell Beckham, especially since he made a stink about the team not attacking the field vertically. Odell has an air yardage share of just under 46%, good for third in the league and has been targeted eight times in the redzone through 5 weeks. Odell is on pace for a career high 189 targets, for 125 receptions, for 1,478 yards but the three touchdowns have owners in a stink, but if you bought low on Odell before his game last week you were instantly rewarded. Sterling Shepard has been excellent to start the season averaging 7.2 targets 5.6 receptions for 61 yards and .4 touchdowns, but may be the player affected the most as he has seen his PPR points per game shoot up by five without Engram in the lineup. The return of Engram in the near future will add another weapon in the short area of the field and hopefully cure some redzone ills for a team that is average at best at converting redzone possessions into touchdowns. Formation wide, the Giants have been more varied than their 11 heavy sets under McAdoo mixing in more two tight end looks, but this team could take a page out of the Rams book and use that set to their advantage going forward. 


On defense, the Giants defense has been tasked this season, as they currently have the worst trail rate in the NFL at 73%. The Giants defense is expected to get Oliver Vernon back soon, and it is needed for a team with just 6 sacks on the season. the Giants do look like a run funnel as they are allowing the fifth fewest yards per game through the air, and have only allowed one passer over 300 yards against them this season (Deshaun Watson, 385). The 124.4 rushing yards per game is the sixth highest in the NFL this season, but as discussed with their trail rate this could be artificially inflated due to trying to opposing offenses trying to hold their lead. The G-Men are also not creating turnovers at a high enough rate, with just 5 turnovers through 5 weeks. 


Philadelphia Eagles 


The Philadelphia Eagles are a team suffering from some close loses and tight games to start the season, but the NFC East as a whole has struggled to keep them within striking range. On the season the eagles have a -1-point differential and each of their five games so far have been decided by six points or less. The return of Carson Wentz has injected life into what was a lifeless offense under Nick Foles, but the team has struggled with some things they excelled at last season on both sides of the ball. Predictably, this is an offense that is converting their third and longs at a much lower rate than last season. On third and five or more in 2017, the Eagles converted for a first down on 32% of their run plays and 41% of their pass plays, this season the Eagles have converted on 33% of their runs (3 tries) but just 28% of their pass plays. Another area in which they have fallen back to earth so far is Carson Wentz’s touchdown rate which stood at 7.5% at the time of injury and now is down at 4.1%. This offense has struggled to keep their wide receivers healthy so far this season, but the return of Alshon Jeffery should provide a stabilizing force. The Eagles have been trailing in games on 69% of their plays so far this season, so catch up has been a major part of their game plan. 


In terms of pace of play, the Eagles run 5 more plays a game than the average NFL team, and have an above average 64% pass rate which is good for Wentz’s fantasy owners down the stretch. Now sans Jay Ajayi who has been lost for the season with a torn ACL, and not in his bone on bone knee, this team could look to spread things out even further. Corey Clement, Wendell Smallwood, Darren Sproles, ad Josh Adams should all get chances to replace Ajayi but it will likely remain a community of backs working as one. The Eagles are a shotgun-based team right now with 82.5% of their plays coming from shotgun and 71% of all their runs coming from shotgun. In shotgun, Smallwood averages 4.7 yards per carry in his career from shotgun, Clement has averaged 5.0, and Sproles 4.8, so each has proven effective in that area when called up making the situation fairly murky. Clement has proven to be the most reliable of he and Smallwood in the passing game, but Smallwood is adequate in that area and Sproles when healthy will likely be the leader in the clubhouse for those duties anyways. The only real indicator we have is that in Week 3 when Jay Ajayi missed, Clement received 55% of the snaps to Smallwood’s 35%, and the touches went Clements way as well. 


In the passing game, the Eagles are using their tight ends more than any team in the league, in fact they are using two tight ends sets on 37% of their plays. 42.7% of all the Eagles receptions this season have been by their tight ends, nearly 14% more than the next closest team and 44.7% of their receiving yards have gone to the tight end position, 12% more than the next closest team, the Chiefs. Zach Ertz leads all tight ends in targets (by 12), receptions (by 11), and yards (by 30). Dallas Goedert has caught 12 of the 14 passes thrown his way this season for 106 yards and a score. Alshon Jeffery’s return will help open up for this offense as he is a vertical threat who can win in contested catch situations. Since his return Alshon has seen 17 targets good for a 20% target share. Nelson Agholor is on pace for a career high 93 receptions but is averaging just 7.3 yards per reception. The rest of the receivers are just depth right now and not fantasy relevant without a real prospect to look forward to. 


On defense, the defensive line that the Eagles assembled looked stout on paper, but the play of the field has been less than spectacular. The Eagles are allowing scoring drives 8% more than last season but the defense is allowing a solid 20.8 points per game slightly up from last year’s team. The Eagles are still stout against opposing run games allowing just 66.4 rushing yards per game, opposed to just under 300 per game in the passing game. The Eagles are allowing 29.2 fantasy points a game to opposing wide receivers, so look to target them with your passers and pass catchers as opposed to your running backs, although the Eagles are allowing 6 receptions a game to opposing RBs. Look for opposing teams to continue to attach the Eagles through the air, particularly with their wide receivers as the season rolls on. 


San Francisco 49ers


The San Francisco 49ers are a team without an identity since Jimmy Garoppolo tore his ACL in a Week 3 game. Now the 49ers have to lean on the run game with C.J. Beathard under center, but a preseason injury to Jerick McKinnon and in season injury to Matt Breida has them a little thinner than they would like at the RB spot. The 49ers are running 2.5 more plays per game than the average NFL team, but have a trail rate of over 70% of the time, second worst in the league. While many would think this team is always throwing because they are trailing, they actually have the third lowest passing rate when behind and are below league average in passing rate in all situations throwing the ball just over 59% of the time. The 49ers use shotgun on the second lowest percent of their snaps, a key tenant of the Kyle Shanahan system. When in shotgun, this team throws the ball 83% of the time, but under center they are 61% run and 39% pass which is key to their success in the play action game. 


Mat Breida is currently the NFL leader in yards per carry, averaging a wild 7.5 yards per tote, and seeing a hair under 10 carries a week. Breida’s low game is 4.2 YPC in Minnesota in Week 1. It Bears to question if Breida should be getting something in the area of 15 carries a game, but the former Georgia Southern product has left games multiple times this season seemingly banged up, so maybe this is a case where he is at optimal usage due to the wear and tear of the game. Breida is also averaging just 2 catches a game, a number that was expected to skyrocket with Beathard under center. Breida suffered an injury in Week 5 that could keep him out a week or 2, but when he returns he should be seen as a low end RB2 or flex. Alfred Morris was a late signing during training camp but is providing veteran depth for a team now thin at the position. Morris is averaging 13 touches a game and while he is picking up just 3.7 yards per carry, his role seems fairly safe at this time as the team lacks another explosive option at the position. 


In the passing game, this team is in shambles after the loss of Jimmy Garoppolo, he was the engine elevating everyone around him. With Beathard at quarterback the team is forced to play much more conservatively, as he is sporting an aDot of just 5 compared to Jimmy’s 9.2 in 2018. The issue is Beathard is also less accurate underneath, making the job tougher on his receiving options. Marquise Goodwin has missed most of the season deal with lower body injuries and the speedster’s style doesn’t mesh well with the Iowa products in the long run. Pierre Garcon has seen 19 targets over the last two weeks but has turned in just 9 receptions for 99 yards. Rookie Dante Pettis has also been battling through injuries and Trent Taylor looks like a low upside option, but did post his best game of the season in Week 5 hauling in 7 of his 8 targets for 61 yards and a score. The breakout star of the 49ers this season is undoubtedly George Kittle who is leading the league in yards per route run by a tight end. Kittle also might be the best run blocking tight end in football meaning his future is bright to stay on the field on nearly all snaps. Kittle is averaging 7 targets a game and nearly 80 receiving yards, he should be treated as a solid tight end 1 going forward. 


On defense, the 49ers go back to a less than ideal situation, with Jimmy G under center they were getting plenty of rest to keep their counting stats down, but without him the flood gates are open. The 49ers have no defensive identity, they are averaging under 2 sacks a game, have three turnovers over give games, have allowed the fourth most points per game in the NFL, and yet they are somehow above average in terms of passing and rushing yards per game. When things happen like this that means their offense is leaving with short fields, which is not ideal. In terms of fantasy points per game, the 49ers are below average to all four of the skill positions, so we can clearly target them on a weekly basis in fantasy.  


Seattle Seahawks 


The Seattle Seahawks have begun to form an identity on offense over the last three weeks, whether it is the most efficient way to go about it or not. The Seahawks are now completely dedicated to the run game, and while we know it isn’t the most efficient way to score points, a team with an identity is better than a team searching for one. The Seahawks are running the ball on 47.2% of their plays, the second highest percentage in the league behind the Titans and this is with Russell Wilson getting next to nothing in that department. The Seahawks are also running about four less plays than the average NFL team, limiting Russell Wilson’s pass attempts in a major way. Russell Wilson’s 16-game pace will make you sad: 284 completions (lowest since 2014) on 454 attempts (2014) for 3,475 yards (2014) with 32 touchdowns (2016) and 10 interceptions (2017) but the main issue is the 35 carry for 134 yards and 0 touchdown rushing pace. 


Seattle is using the shotgun as a main staple in their run game, with 61.5% of all their runs coming from shotgun and when in shotgun they are running the ball 41.7% of the time, the highest percentage in the league. Over the last three weeks the Seahawks have had 97 running back carries for 443 yards and 4 touchdowns. Their 97 carries are 18 more than the next closest team over that span. Chris Carson has had two straight 100 yard games rushing (in which he was active). In his career in shotgun, Carson has rushed 41 times for 231 yards (5.6 YPC) with a touchdown and from under center he has rushed 72 times for 270 yards (3.8 YPC). Mike David has come back into the fold and usurped rookie first rounder Rashaad Penny scoring three touchdowns and accumulating 169 rushing yards on 33 attempts. Expect each back to remain involved, especially if more positive game scripts come for the Seahawks. 


In the passing game, Wilson’s pass attempts are making it hard to have many sustainable options, as his attempts per game have fallen from 34.5 in 2017 down to 28.4 in 2018. Tyler Lockett has been the most consistent pass catcher, but has a target share of 19.7% which makes him more of a WR3 than the mid-range WR2 he shows as so far. Lockett looks like his explosiveness has returned since injury, averaging a career high 17.4 yards per catch this season. Doug Baldwin on the other hand, since mentioning he would likely be playing at less than 100% this season, looks affected by the injury and is a wait and see fantasy play. With just one game with 7 targets resulting in just 41 yards it may be worth it to try and get out if you can still get value back. David Moore stepped in for Brandon Marshall in Week 5, and scored two touchdowns but has an intriguing athletic profile of size and speed. At tight end, Nick Vannett is the preferred option, but will be more of a three catch for forty yards type of play who doesn’t bring value unless finding the endzone. 


On defense, the Legion of Boom is now the Legion of None after losing Earl Thomas for the year. On the season, 67% of all the yardage given up by the Seahawks in the passing game have been to wide receivers, a dramatic shift from the ‘Hawks of the past few years. On the surface, the Seahawks have allowed the sixth fewest passing yards this season but three of the five teams they have faced have quarterbacks named Mitch Trubisky, Dak Prescott, and Josh Rosen meanwhile teams lead by Jared Goff and Case Keenum (remember those guys under Jeff Fisher? Insert puke face emoji) have averaged 325 yards passing and 2 touchdowns. Seattle has been getting beat up by opposing run games though, as the opposition is averaging 129 yards per game against the d. Seattle looks like a pig covered in makeup, but when the good offenses come around don’t be afraid to #startemall. 


Tampa Bay Buccaneers


The Tampa Bay Buccaneers endured the suspension of Jameis Winston pretty well, going through the full stages of Fitzmagic. Todd Monken was handed play calling duties this season and it has been a big boost for this team as they are pushing the ball vertically down the field, which meshes well with both Fitzpatrick and Winston and their deep corps of pass catchers. Tampa has decreased their pace of play since last season by over 5% and are running two fewer plays than an average NFL team. The Bucs have realized their weaknesses and are going full on air raid, something that should continue with Winston under center. Monken is calling 63.5% pass but that number jumps to 72% when they are trailing, and this defense is bad enough we can expect the other team to be ahead on the scoreboard often this season. The Bucs run just under the league average 63% of the time and run the ball 61% of the time from under center letting the team design some shot plays from under center. 


The run game for the Buccaneers has been atrocious this season, their running backs this season have rushed for a combined 2.9 yards per carry and are just one of two teams to not have a touchdown by a running back. Peyton Barber is averaging just under 3 yards a carry and has converted just two of his six targets into receptions. Besides struggling on all runs, Barber has also struggled to get anything going from shotgun with just 34 yards on 13 carries. The Bucs have compiled a below average 4.13 yards per carry on shotgun runs as a team, but that still trumps the 2.5 YPC from under center that is the worst mark in the league. Unless a trade for Le’Veon Bell comes through, the only shot the Bucs have is to give Ronald Jones a shot, but his ten carries so far have resulted in little. The offensive line is the main issue here however and that should not be overstated as they have allowed the fewest yards before contact of any team in the NFL. 


In the passing game, this paragraph won’t be nearly as painful to write as the previous one, Jameis will have an array of weapons to throw to upon his return, and that list will only grow once OJ Howard returns from injury. Mike Evans has a target share of over 26% and is averaging nearly 10 targets a game on the season all while scoring a touchdown in each of the first three weeks. Evans has also seen a noticeable spike in his catch percentage so far, hauling in nearly 75% of the passes thrown his way, it will be interesting to see if this is a trend that will continue with Winston at the helm. DeSean Jackson has a target share near 15% but is averaging an insane 19.27 yards per target on the season with three 100-yard games. Chris Godwin has the same number of targets as D-Jax but is becoming a weapon in the redzone with three touchdowns on six targets inside the ten already this season. Adam Humphries is still playing snaps, but these other guys are the stars of the show. Cameron Brate has scored touchdowns in back to back weeks and if called upon in the stead of Howard is a back end TE1 for his touchdown prowess. Once Howard returns however, the Bucs will add another vertical threat in their offense as Howard has averaged an insane 17.7 yards per catch over his first 18 career games, and is also a threat with the ball in his hands. No matter how you slice it the Bucs offer one of the deepest and most diverse group of pass catchers in the NFL, now Winston just needs to prove he was worthy of the number one selection. 


On defense, the Bucs spent the offseason trying to put together a dominant defensive line that could get pressure from all front four positions. That has resulted in two sacks a game so far, but the real issue still lies on the back-end, as I have no idea how this team didn’t run to the podium with Derwin James’ name in their hands during the draft. The Bucs are allowing a league high 34.7 points per game on offense and are in the bottom-7 to all skill positions in terms of fantasy points. I’d write more about the Bucs defense, but the lack of words should tell you all you need to know, they are a weekly target for your fantasy teams and when searching for streaming options. 


Washington Redskins


The Washington Redskins have been a mixed bag this season, we saw the team go into the bye at 2-1 holding their opponents to under 15 points a game on offense to getting branded by the Saints on Monday Night for 43 points. Their offense had been a similar mixed bag, with nice performances in Week 1 against Arizona and Week 3 against the Packers before absolutely being demolished by the Saints. Alex Smith has turned back into a pumpkin, so it must have been the carriage (Travis Kelce), the dress (Tyreek Hill), and the shoes (Kareem Hunt) propping him up, not to mention Andy Reid who was like the fairy godmother or something, but I may be mixing up my childhood a bit here. The Redskins are running plays just above the league average and are 55.2% pass, but they had a low trail rate in the first three games of the season, before trailing wire to wire Monday Night. When trailing, the team does become more pass heavy, just above league average at 69% (nice). 


In the run game, Adrian Peterson has looked like a revelation for much of the season behind a good offensive line. Peterson is averaging 15 carries for 60 yards and .75 touchdowns a game, not bad for a guy that was found on the scrap heap just before the season began. In addition, Peterson has also added value as a receiver, catching 7 of his 9 targets for 136 yards for a healthy 19.4 yards per carry. Chris Thompson has returned to health and had an awesome two game stretch to open the season in which he caught 19 of 21 targets but has slowed down since with 7 catches over his last two games. As a runner, Thompson has also struggled over last three games gaining 35 yards on 18 carries. Alex Smith did throw two get killed balls to these guys so they may not even be able to play in Week 6. 


In the passing game, Alex Smith has had more of his receptions go to his running backs than anyone else in the league as Redskins backs have 37% of all completed passes and 32% of all receiving yards. At wide receiver, no Redskins wide receiver is top-50 in fantasy scoring and none of Jamison Crowder, Paul Richardson, and Josh Doctson have a target share of over 15%, 200 receiving yards, or more than one touchdown. Jordan Reed does have a target share over 16% and is averaging 47 yards per game, despite a near zero against the Saints on Monday Night. Right now, this team has no wide receivers that should be in lineups until there is some sort of shift, and Josh Doctson not active is not a shift. 


On defense, the Redskins are still allowing just 240 yards passing through the air per game, fourth best in the NFL, despite a 363-yard performance by the Saints. The 21.8 points allowed per game by the Redskins is still a top-10 number and nine sacks through four games is just below the league average of 2.5. The Redskins also allow the six fewest rushing yards per game on defense and are average or above against the 4 main fantasy positions. While the Redskins may not be the best defense in the league, they are closer to it than the worst, and if the offense can get anything going, this team could be better than most realize in what looks like a wide-open NFC East. 


In season, I rarely have time to write, but I am always thinking about words that I would put on the page if I had this little thing called time. So why did I take time to write for once? Maybe it is because time is fleeting, no matter how you look at it. It is there one second and gone the next, so pen to paper or finger taping on keys just feels right when someone’s time runs out. Losing someone close to you can put things in perspective, and while it may not be the greatest of circumstances you can draw back on what they told you and move forward. So, while there are a million things I should be thinking about at this time, the one thing I can’t get out of my head is the want to write this, and maybe it is because my grandfather always pushed me to do more, to go back to school, to keep chasing dreams so I will, that I promise. 





Stagg Party in a tux


By: Stagg Party


Subscribe to the Pyro Podcast:

Like us on Facebook: 

Follow us on Twitter:

Follow Staggs on Twitter:

Become a Pyro Pro: