Biggest fantasy football mismatches in Week 8 | Fantasy Football News, Rankings and Projections | PFF

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Biggest fantasy football mismatches in Week 8

Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase (1) reacts after making a catch against the Minnesota Vikings in the first half at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL is a matchup-driven league. Offensive coordinators are always looking to scheme their playmakers into one-on-one situations against a defender, while defensive coordinators will attempt to do anything in their power to upset the timing and rhythm of the opposing QB.

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Despite the obvious impact that defenses have on opposing offenses, fantasy players and fans alike are often left with one-way metrics to describe offenses and defenses that they are then forced to compare against each other in an attempt to identify mismatches.

The goal here is to provide easy-to-decipher charts and notes to define each week’s key matchups and advantages on both sides of the ball in:

  • Explosive Plays
  • Pace
  • Pressure
  • Yards Before Contact
  • Passing Game
  • EPA

The following charts display matchup-specific information meant to highlight the largest mismatches in these ever-important facets of football to ultimately gain actionable betting and fantasy takeaways. And, of course, to have fun.

Note: Data is from Weeks 1-7, 2021. There are obviously plenty of limitations to this due to the small sample size at hand; key discrepancies will be highlighted in the ensuing paragraphs and the metrics will get stronger as the season continues.

Explosive Plays

Big plays make the football world go round. Matchups between explosive offenses and leaky defenses are exactly what we’re looking for when compiling game stacks in DFS, or when betting an over.

  • Explosive Pass Rate: The sum of an offense’s rate of 20-plus yard completions per pass attempt and the opposing defense’s rate of 20-plus yard completions allowed per pass attempt. A higher percentage is better for offenses (blue is good, red is bad).
  • Explosive Run Rate: The sum of an offense’s rate of 15-plus yard gains per rush attempt and the opposing defense’s rate of 15-plus yard runs allowed per rush attempt. A higher percentage is better for offenses (blue is good, red is bad).

These offenses breed explosive plays: The only five offenses with an explosive pass play rate north of 11% at the moment feature the Raiders (12.8%), Bengals (12.3%), Rams (12.2%), Patriots (11.7%) and Ravens (11.1%). There’s been some major recent improvements in this very area by the lone rookie quarterback involved.

WHO (Mac Jones): Jones has been the best rookie quarterback by default this season; the bar to clear hasn’t been high. Still, the 2021 NFL Draft’s No. 15 overall pick deserves credit for improving his ability to beat defenses downfield as the year has gone on:

  • Weeks 1-5: 4 of 19 on passes thrown 20-plus yards downfield, 97 yards, 0 TD, 2 INT
  • Weeks 6-7: 5 of 9 on passes thrown 20-plus yards downfield, 190 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT

Overall, Jones has gone from PFF’s 33rd-highest-graded quarterback on passes thrown at least 20 yards downfield over the first five weeks of the season to the fifth-ranked signal-caller during the Patriots’ last two games against the Cowboys and Jets.

The Chargers have allowed the league’s fourth-lowest explosive pass play rate this season; it’d make sense if Jones struggles against Derwin James and company. That doesn’t mean Jones’ progression during the first half of his rookie season should be seen as anything other than a massive positive.

Good offense beats good defense in today’s NFL: The Mount Rushmore of quarterbacks set up well to create explosive plays this week features Joe Burrow, Matthew Stafford, Jalen Hurts and Geno Smith. Take the latter quarterback with a bit of a grain of salt considering Russell Wilson is mostly responsible for the Seahawks’ sixth-ranked offense in explosive pass play rate, but then again only the Lions have been worse than the Jaguars in preventing big plays through the air this season. Tune into Jaguars-Seahawks this Sunday to find out who wins between the movable object and the stoppable force!

Of course, Hurts doesn’t necessarily need to be set up well through the air in order to have a big game on the ole stat sheet.

Why be a king, when you can be a (fantasy) God: All Hurts has done in his 11 career starts is put forward one fantasy-friendly performance after another:

  • Week 14, 2020: 167 pass yards-1 TD-0 INT, 18 carries-106 rush yards-0 TD, fantasy QB11
  • Week 15, 2020: 338-3-0 passing, 11-63-1 rushing, fantasy QB1
  • Week 16, 2020: 342-1-2 passing, 9-69-0 rushing, fantasy QB12
  • Week 17, 2020: 72-0-1 passing, 8-34-2 rushing, fantasy QB20 (in three quarters)
  • Week 1, 2021: 264-3-0 passing, 7-62-0 rushing, fantasy QB5
  • Week 2, 2021: 190-0-0 passing, 10-82-1 rushing, fantasy QB10
  • Week 3, 2021: 326-2-2 passing, 9-35-0 rushing, fantasy QB10
  • Week 4, 2021: 387-2-0 passing, 8-47-0 rushing, fantasy QB4
  • Week 5, 2021: 198-0-1 passing, 9-30-2 rushing, fantasy QB11
  • Week 6, 2021: 115-1-1 passing, 10-44-2 rushing, fantasy QB7
  • Week 7, 2021: 236-2-0 passing, 13-61-0 rushing, fantasy QB6

Yes, Hurts has made a habit of putting up all kinds of numbers in the twilight of games. Also yes, points in the fourth quarter count the same as those in the first three in fantasy land. Overall, Hurts has just been the QB15 in fantasy points per game during the first three quarters before leaping up to QB1 status in the final 15 minutes of games. Good thing style points don’t matter in fantasy land; continue to fire up Hurts as a weekly top-five option at the position.

Offense is easier when the defense sucks: Josh Allen and Kirk Cousins also stand out as signal-callers that should have plenty of success in their quest to create some explosive passing plays. Still, the latter signal-caller better be careful with the football or else he’ll end up on the wrong end of an early contender for Defensive MVP’s highlight film.

Oct 3, 2021; Orchard Park, New York, USA; Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) runs with the ball against the Houston Texans during the second half at Highmark Stadium. Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

That Diggs family is something else, man: Trevon Diggs has seven interceptions in six games this season. That mark has been surpassed just four times over the course of an entire season since 2016. Madness.

Of course, we can’t expect Diggs to catch every target thrown his way. He’s only shadowed twice this season, squaring off against Keenan Allen (4-108-0) in Week 2 and D.J. Moore (8-113-2) in Week 4. Note that those are full-game numbers and don’t denote production purely in Diggs’ coverage.

The Cowboys will trade yards for interceptions eight days of the week; just realize this is the league’s fourth-worst defense in PPR points per game allowed to opposing receivers despite Diggs’ early-season excellence.

Competing against Justin Jefferson might just be Diggs’ toughest challenge yet. Like his former LSU teammate Ja’Marr Chase, Jefferson has already earned an invite to top-10 conversations at the position, regardless of his experience.

  • PFF receiving grade: 91.0 (No. 2 among 56 wide receivers with 100-plus targets since 2019)
  • Yards per reception: 15.2 (No. 6)
  • Yards after the catch per reception: 5.1 (No. 13)
  • Yards per route run: 2.52 (No. 4)

Both Jefferson (my WR8) and Adam Thielen (WR13) have functioned as top-tier PPR receivers on a per-game basis this season; don’t expect that to change on Sunday night. Usually the biggest obstacle for these talents is target volume, but this likely shootout should leave all parties involved with plenty of pass-game opportunities.

These passing attacks still might be like that Pink Floyd/Tom Petty/Foo Fighters Song “Learning to Fly”: The Dolphins, Texans, Lions and Bears (oh my!) shape up as the four passing games that could have the most problems creating big plays this week. At least there’s a little thing called volume to help some of the involved parties.

Then he waddled away, waddle, waddle: The Dolphins traded their No. 3 overall pick to the 49ers before the 2021 draft, but found a way to get back into the top-10 by sending the Eagles their 2021 No. 12 and No. 123 picks in addition to a 2022 first-round selection in return for Philly’s No. 6 and No. 156 picks.

The reason: Jaylen Waddle, who at his best combined electric YAC ability with field-stretching goodness at Alabama. It’s been a slow-ish start for Waddle, but having Tua Tagovailoa under center has coincided with the 2021 NFL Draft’s No. 6 overall pick having more of a traditional receiving role. Overall, Waddle has posted an average target depth of 8.8 yards with Tua compared to 2.9 yards without.

Waddle has turned in WR26, WR4 and WR16 performances in his three games with Tua. Fire him up as a low-end WR2 with this sort of volume, particularly if Will Fuller (finger, IR) and DeVante Parker (hamstring, shoulder) remain sidelined.

Try to avoid any other receivers in this offense. Only the Jets (16.25) and Texans (16.75) are implied to score fewer points than the Dolphins (18) this week. The Bills join the Jets and Chargers as the only three defenses to allow fewer than 30 PPR points per game to opposing receivers.

Related content for you: NFL Week 8 Positional Fantasy Football Rankings via Nathan Jahnke

Houston, we have a problem: The one fantasy-relevant player in Houston is Brandin Cooks, and he’s not happy after the Texans traded Mark Ingram to the Saints on Wednesday night. Cooks himself has a very friendly contract to a potential acquiring team, but for the time being he’ll continue to be an absolute target hog for the Texans. He leads the league in air yard share (49%), while only Davante Adams (34%), Cooper Kupp (33%) and Deebo Samuel (33%) have a higher percentage of their team’s targets than Cooks (32%).

Don’t underestimate the impact that getting Tyrod Taylor (hamstring) back under center could have for this offense; the artist known as TyGod was largely lights out as a passer during his first six quarters in a Texans uniform:

  • PFF passing grade: 72.7 (No. 21 among 40 qualified quarterbacks)
  • Big-time throw rate: 6.8% (No. 6)
  • Turnover-worthy play rate: 2% (tied for No. 12)
  • Yards per attempt: 9.4 (No. 2)
  • Adjusted completion rate: 74.4% (No. 28)
  • QB rating: 122.9 (No. 2)

I’m more bullish on Cooks than usual with Taylor back under center; he’s my PPR WR22 this week ahead of guys like Courtland Sutton, Michael Pittman and Robert Woods due to the disparity in usage between the group.

Don’t let these run games get hot: Each of the Browns, Vikings, Patriots, Dolphins and Packers stand out as rushing attacks that could be awfully lethal this week. The former group will be getting a bit healthier.

Remember Peyton Hillis? Good times. Anyway, the Browns: Josina Anderson reports that Nick Chubb (calf) is expected to return this Sunday barring any setbacks in practice this week.

The last time Chubb worked as the Browns’ undisputed lead back was during the first eight games of 2019 with Hunt suspended. All he did was function as the PPR RB6 on an average of 22.5 touches per game. Three-down ability has never been the problem for Chubb; Hunt is just good enough in his own right to warrant split usage.

Of course, it’s not a given that Chubb gets a true workhorse role; it’d make sense if he more or less resumes his usual gig with D’Ernest Johnson subbing in for Hunt. The AAF HOF talent was nothing short of spectacular against the Broncos last Thursday night, as his 90.5 PFF rushing grade is tied for the position’s highest single-game mark this season.

The Steelers rank 24th and 17th in rushing yards before and after contact allowed per carry; this isn’t a matchup to overly fear. Obviously get back to treating Chubb as the every-week RB1 that he’s been for most of his career, but Johnson is better approached as a FLEX option as opposed to someone that needs to be in starting lineups until there’s more clarity with his role when one of Chubb or Hunt is healthy.

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These offenses might just want to pass the ball: The Panthers, Texans, Seahawks, Saints and Broncos stand out as the five teams that could be most screwed in creating big plays on the ground. Of course, the Texans’ backfield suddenly got a lot more interesting.

Don’t freak out, but maybe David Johnson will be a thing again: The Texans have scored nine, zero, 22, three and five points in five games since losing Tyrod Taylor (hamstring, IR). Thankfully it looks like the artist known as TyGod could be back under center this Sunday. Normally fantasy investors would still probably be better off staying away from this backfield considering the history of running backs with dual-threat signal-callers, but the decision to trade Mark Ingram to the Saints clears things up just a tad.

Last week the Texans utilized the following backfield usage:

  • Johnson: 55% snaps, 7 carries, 5 targets
  • Ingram: 37% snaps, 6 carries, 3 targets
  • Rex Burkhead: 8% snaps, 0 carries, 0 targets
  • Phillip Lindsay 6% snaps, 2 carries, 0 targets

Linsday picked up 4 yards on each of his two carries in the middle portion of the first quarter before not touching the ball again all game. The two touches and four snaps were both season-low marks; it’s certainly possible the Texans wanted to get Ingram some additional work before the trade deadline and plan on giving most of his work to the ex-Broncos back.

The good news is that this committee *should* be down to two backs; Burkhead has one carries and two receptions all season. It would appear Johnson has the early edge for most fantasy-relevant role: he’s already the established pass-down back and has out-performed Lindsay in yards per carry (3.9 vs. 2.5) missed tackles forced per carry (0.11 vs. 0.03), and yards after contact per carry (2.5 vs. 2.2) alike.

The Texans have only played Lindsay on four third downs all season; the only back with the chance to take over this backfield is Johnson, who to be fair is also a candidate to be traded before the Nov. 2 deadline.

I’d scoop up Johnson over both Lindsay and Ingram in fantasy leagues where you have a cuttable WR4/RB3 type on the bench; it’s rare to have the opportunity to scoop up a potential three-down back. Gun to my head, I do think Lindsay soaks up the majority of Ingram’s leftover early-down work and renders himself and Johnson as meh assets the rest of the way, but either way this slimmed-down committee suddenly has some semblance of upside.

Oh yea: Good luck against Aaron Donald and company! Try to find a different back to start this week until there’s more clarity in this backfield.

Pace

Fast-paced games lead to more plays, which lead to more points. Every week usually consists of at least a few games that could resemble a track meet based on their combined situation-neutral pace (Football Outsiders).

  • Combined Situation-Neutral Pace: Represents the combined situation-neutral pace between each matchup’s two offenses. A lower number indicates fewer average seconds per play (blue = fast-paced game), while a higher number indicates more average seconds per play (red = slow-paced game).

Get ready to see a track meet: This week’s “I want to go fast” matchup sponsored by Ricky Bobby features the Dolphins (No. 13 in situation neutral pace) against the Bills (No. 3). Of course, this combination hasn’t worked out too well for the former squad in recent history: Josh Allen has hung 42, 31, 37, 31, 56 and most recently 35 points on the Dolphins. Sheesh.

We’ll be moving plenty fast elsewhere too: Additional matchups that would make Cal Naughton Jr. proud include the Rams-Texans, Patriots-Chargers and Giants-Chiefs.

Unfortunately some offenses are slow and lame: It’s fun to talk about the one time that a turtle beat a hare in a race, but generally faster is better. Somebody tell that to the Bengals (No. 32) and the Jets (No. 25). I understand the Jets trying to avoid playing offense as much as possible, but let Joe Burrow cook already!

Seriously, what are you waiting for: More games that might resemble a snail emoji (or just a real life snail, man 2021 is a weird time) feature the Titans-Colts, Steelers-Browns and 49ers-Bears.

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Pressure

An overmatched offensive line can result in poor fantasy days for all skill-position players involved. Meanwhile, QBs with all day to throw can help generate points in bunches. We can determine which offensive lines might be especially better (or worse) this week with help from PFF’s offensive and defensive pressure statistics.

  • Combined Pressure Rate: The sum of the offensive line’s rate of pressures allowed per dropback and the opposing defense’s total pressures generated per dropback. A higher percentage (red) is better for defenses and indicates that quarterback could be under fire, while a lower percentage (blue) indicates that matchup’s quarterback could face reduced pressure.

Under pressure: good song, bad for fantasy football: The Dolphins, Colts and Saints stand out as the three offenses most likely to be negatively impacted by pressure this week. Can’t throw a football if you’re on your back, know what I mean? At least the middle time has received some consistent quarterback play in recent weeks.

Good things are happening under center in Indy: Carson Wentz is some Lamar Jackson heroics away from having the Colts on a four-game winning streak. Either way, the much-maligned ex-Eagles quarterback has showed up strong for the better part of the last month, particularly when asked to throw the ball downfield. Only some of the league’s truly best quarterbacks have been better at consistently giving their receivers a chance on downfield opportunities:

  • Cardinals (70% catchable deep ball rate)
  • Falcons (65%)
  • Seahawks (60%)
  • Chiefs (58%)
  • Cowboys (57%)
  • Colts (57%)

The Titans deserve all the credit in the world for holding Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs to just 3 points in Week 7; this is still a bottom-three defense in both explosive pass play rate and yards per attempt allowed on balls thrown at least 20 yards downfield. Wentz and this passing game figure to be particularly lethal if T.Y. Hilton (quad) manages to return.

Some offensive lines and quarterbacks are just more prone to pressure: The bottom-five offenses in pressure rate allowed this season include the Colts, Dolphins, Saints, Panthers and Titans. Luckily the latter team has a bit of a trump card when it comes to slowing down a pass rush.

Related content for you: Fantasy Football: Week 8 Snaps & Efficiency Report for all 32 NFL backfields via Ian Hartitz

I’m getting scared just thinking about what it’d be like to have to play linebackers against the Titans: It makes sense that play-action is extra lethal when Derrick Henry is your running back:

  • PFF passing grade on play-action: 93.6 (No. 2 among 38 qualified quarterbacks)
  • Big-time throw rate on play-action: 9.4% (No. 7)
  • Yards per attempt on play-action: 10.4 (No. 7)
  • Adjusted completion rate on play-action: 83.6% (No. 7)

Ryan Tannehill’s best two games of the season from a PFF passing grade perspective have come in Weeks 2 and 7, not so coincidentally two of the three games in which A.J. Brown and Julio Jones were available for all 60 minutes.

Speaking of Arthur Juan: AJB looked as good as ever in Week 7 on his way to turning the week’s fourth-highest scoring performance at the position. Let’s take a moment to remember just how absurdly good the third-year receiver has been since entering the NFL in 2019:

  • PFF receiving grade: 91.0 (tied for No. 5 among 88 wide receivers with 100 targets since 2019)
  • Yards per reception: 16.9 (No. 5)
  • Yards after the catch per reception: 6.7 (No. 3)
  • Yards per route run: 2.59 (No. 3)

Healthy and Chipotle free: AJB WR1 szn is alive and well. Treat him as the top-12 option he was born to be against the league’s ninth-worst defense in PPR points per game allowed to wide receivers.

Sundial joke about having a ton of time to throw: Quarterbacks set up to have all kinds of time in the pocket include Matthew Stafford, Tom Brady and Justin Herbert. Has anyone else noticed just how easy offense seems to be in Los Angeles this year?

I know Minitron is Edelman’s nickname but it kinda works here too: Cooper Kupp is on pace to catch 136 passes for 1,965 yards and score 22 touchdowns. Madness.

There’s no doubt that Kupp deserves to be mentioned among the league’s very best players at his position, but it’s oddly curious just how easy his nine trips to the end zone have been this season. Credit to coach Sean McVay for consistently scheming his No. 1 receiver into success; that doesn’t make the ease with which fantasy’s top-scoring wide receiver has gone about putting up numbers any less startling.

The Rams are 14.5-point favorites over the Texans at the time of this writing. Stafford might not be afforded all that many pass attempts due to the potential for an extremely positive game script, but it seems inevitable that at least one of his throws will be to an open Kupp waiting in the end zone.

Could Bill Belichick solve the Herbert puzzle again?: Herbert was rather brutal the last time we saw him in Week 6, leading the Chargers to just six points during their blowout loss to the Ravens.

And yet, it wasn’t the worst performance we’ve seen from the 23-year-old talent. That occurred last year in Week 13 against Bill Belichick, as Herbert totaled just 209 yards with a pair of interceptions during the Chargers’ 45-0 loss to the Patriots.

What was interesting about the Patriots strategy was the fact they only blitzed Herbert on five of his 56 dropbacks (9%). They sent additional rushers at opposing quarterbacks on 23.8% of dropbacks the rest of the season; this seemed to be a concerted, matchup-focused effort.

Of course, it’s legal for young quarterbacks to improve with time. Herbert stands as PFF’s 13th-highest graded passer when not blitzed this season, while he drops to just 14th when opposing defenses have decided to bring extra rushers. This reflects the reality of the Chargers’ second-year quarterback largely being dominant regardless of who he’s facing; my money is on Herbert getting the better of the Patriots this time around.

Pass rushes that haunt the dreams of your favorite quarterback: Just five defenses have posted a pressure rate over 35%: Browns, Vikings, Dolphins Chargers and Raiders. Bad year to be an AFC West quarterback amiright, Patrick Mahomes (I guess he has other worries as well).

The league’s finest individual rushers of the passer: 10 defenders have racked up more than 30 pressures through seven weeks: Maxx Crosby (47), Myles Garrett (40), Harold Landry (39), Trey Hendrickson (36), Rashan Gary (35), Shaquil Barrett (35), Aaron Donald (34), Yannick Ngakoue (32), Danielle Hunter (31) and Jadeveon Clowney. Good luck dealing with the Browns’ front-seven; Big Ben literally already has a spot in Garrett’s absolutely spectacular quarterback graveyard.

PFF’s Fantasy Football Rankings include ranks from our experts, projections and our Strength of Schedule metric. Subscribe today for access…

Trench Battles

RBs receive most of the praise for an offense’s rushing output, but an overmatched offensive line can thwart a team’s run game before it even has a chance to get started. We can determine the offensive lines that might be especially better (or worse) off this week by looking at yards before contact.

  • Combined Yards Before Contact Per Rush: The sum of an offensive line’s adjusted line yards per rush and the opposing defense’s adjusted line yards allowed per rush. A higher number (blue) is good for running backs, while a lower number (red) indicates that matchup’s offense could have some trouble consistently running the ball.

Great day to be a great running back: Three rushing attacks appear to be set up exceptionally well this week: Cowboys, Chiefs and Giants. If only injuries didn’t exist.

We miss you, Saquon: Devontae Booker might not resemble Saquon Barkley (ankle) on the field, but the usage at hand is pretty close. Overall, Booker has handled 20, 16 and 17 combined carries and targets over the past three weeks with Barkley sidelined for all but six touches. This usage leaves Booker as one of just 10 running backs with more than 50 expected fantasy points since Week 5.

Chase volume, not necessarily talent, in fantasy football land. Ideally managers can find players that boast a high-end combination of both; at least Booker has the former variable. He’s again a volume-based RB2 ahead of this week’s matchup against the Chiefs, who boast the league’s fifth-worst defense in average depth of tackle through seven weeks.

How bout dem Cowboys: Ezekiel Elliott has ripped off the following weekly fantasy football finishes since Week 1 of last season with a healthy Dak Prescott:

  • PPR RB3
  • RB6
  • RB13
  • RB11
  • RB4
  • RB8
  • RB46 (Buccaneers game)
  • RB10
  • RB3
  • RB11
  • RB8
  • RB14

Both Zeke and Tony Pollard ranked among the league’s top five backs in highest percentage of carries with at least three yards after contact before Week 7; it’s legal in 2021 for one offense to have two great running backs.

The Cowboys have the week’s fourth-highest implied total ahead of their Sunday night matchup with the Vikings; fire up Zeke as the RB1 he’s consistently been with a healthy Prescott. Pollard is good enough to warrant low-end RB3 consideration regardless of the matchup thanks to the fantasy-friendly environment afforded by the league’s top-ranked scoring offense; just realize he’ll usually finish closer to 10 than 20 touches in weeks that don’t feature extremely positive game script.

PFF’s Fantasy Football Rankings include ranks from our experts, projections and our Strength of Schedule metric.

Personal note: Check out my Week 8 Backfield Report for more specific information on the league's ever-evolving running back stables.

More running backs expected to have a little thing called success: Additional run games that should have plenty of gaping holes this week include the Patriots, Bills, Browns and Lions. The former and latter squads demonstrate how two completely different running backs can both be excellent fantasy options.

The Chargers don’t “do” run defense: It’d make sense if the Patriots attempt to take advantage of a Chargers defense that simply doesn’t care if their opponent runs the ball on them:

  • Rush yards per attempt: 5.5 (No. 32)
  • Rush yards before contact per attempt: 2.1 (No. 32)
  • Rush yards after contact per attempt: 3.1 (tied for No. 27)
  • Explosive run play rate allowed: 15.3% (No. 30)
  • Average depth of tackle: 5.09 (No. 32)

The Chargers are 5.5-point home favorites against the Patriots; this matchup doesn’t project to feature much positive game script for Harris to work with. Still, the proven reality that the Chargers won’t adjust to run-first offenses like the Browns and Ravens makes Damien Harris again worthy of upside RB2 treatment with his potential to make the most out of 15-plus touches.

Related content for you: Fantasy Football Utilization Report: Week 8 waivers, trades and drops via Dwain McFarland

Receiving running backs are a fantasy cheat code: D’Andre Swift is basically the Spiderman meme Jalen Hurts of running backs:

  • 1st quarter: 29.3 PPR points
  • 2nd quarter: 19.5
  • 3rd quarter: 31.5
  • 4th quarter: 57

The latter category would be even higher had Swift and Jared Goff been on the same page during a Week 7 incompletion which would have resulted in a walk-in 15-yard score with a better ball.

Swift probably should be losing plenty of early-down work to Jamaal Williams; the former back is PFF’s single-lowest-graded rusher among 46 qualified players at the position. Good thing in fantasy football targets are historically worth roughly 2.7 rush attempts; only Derrick Henry and Najee Harris have more expected fantasy points than Swift this season.

The Eagles have given up the fifth-most receptions to opposing running backs this season; treat Swift as the top-12 PPR back that he’s been all year. Williams is more of a touchdown dependent RB3 who would be a lot more viable in a different offense. He basically has the same role as James Conner; the difference is the Cardinals rank fourth in scoring offense, while the Lions come in at 28th.

Gotta love a good run game scheme: Only the Chiefs (2.19), Eagles (2), Ravens (1.97), Bills (1.96) and Cowboys (1.76) have averaged over 1.75 yards before contact per carry. It’s almost like having a dual-threat quarterback helps the offense’s overall run game.

Best Steven Tyler voice: Run away, run away from the pain yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah: Seven backfields truly stand out as groups that figure to have problems establishing the ole running game this week: Falcons, Jets, Steelers, Texans, Bears, Chargers and Saints. Luckily, the likes of Cordarrelle Patterson, Najee Harris, Khalil Herbert and Alvin Kamara have the sort of pass-game friendly roles to still make the most out of these tough matchups. The same is true to a lesser extent for Michael Carter and David Johnson. How about that. Great day to be great.

Passing Game

Some pass offenses are obviously more efficient than others, while certain secondaries are seemingly capable of shutting down any aerial attack. We can determine the week’s biggest mismatches in the passing game using each offense and defense’s pass yards per dropback.

  • Combined Passing Yards Per Dropback: The sum of an offense’s passing yards per dropback and the opposing defense’s passing yards allowed per dropback. A higher number (blue) is good for quarterbacks and receivers, while a lower number (red) indicates that matchup’s pass offense could be in trouble.

Sleep is the cousin of death: Matthew Stafford and Joe Burrow headline this week’s quarterbacks most likely to have all kinds of efficient success through the air. Perhaps at least the latter quarterback can enable more than one high-end fantasy receiver moving forward.

Seriously what in the hell does LSU put in their gatorade: Nobody has averaged more yards per route run than Ja’Marr Chase through seven weeks. The rookie hasn’t just been great for a first-year player; he’s already in the conversation as one of the game’s top-10 talents at the position regardless of experience.

The overall PPR WR3, Chase is the definition of a matchup-proof receiver who carries weekly game-breaking upside.

Perhaps the larger question is whether or not Tee Higgins can join the party. His 15 targets during the Bengals’ blowout win over the Ravens were easily his most of the season, and only Marquise Brown had more unrealized air yards on the week. Joe Burrow’s passing volume has progressively increased throughout the season; there’s no reason why this passing game shouldn’t enable multiple high-end receivers per game. Stop what you’re doing and attempt to buy low on Higgins across the fantasy industry; he’s an upside WR3 this week and someone that figures to (again) be a staple inside the position’s top-24 players sooner rather than later.

The government calls it a passing league for a reason: The likes of Jalen Hurts, Dak Prescott, Kirk Cousins and Patrick Mahomes also stand out as passers that should have plenty of success through the air this week.

60% of the time, this Chiefs offense works every time against the Giants: Mahomes and company are at their best when big plays seem inevitable nearly every single time a pass play is called. Obviously the going has been tough in recent weeks, but Monday night’s matchup against the Giants could yield the sort of bounce-back spot they need if this defense remains unable to limit the deep passing game.

  • Yards per attempt allowed on balls thrown 20-plus yards downfield: 14.9 (No. 22)
  • Explosive pass-play rate allowed: 48.3% (No. 26)
  • Pass touchdown rate allowed: 13.8% (tied for No. 25)
  • QB rating allowed: 119.6 (No. 27)

Despite struggling through seven weeks (for him), Mahomes still grades out as PFF’s fifth-best passer when chucking the rock at least 20 yards downfield. Obviously the 2021 season hasn’t exactly gone as planned for the 3-4 Chiefs; be careful about counting out Mahomes and the league’s eighth-ranked scoring offense ahead of this primetime get-right spot.

Tyreek Hill is fantasy’s second-highest-scoring receiver despite this offense’s relative struggles; treat him as such in this natural bounce-back spot.

PFF’s WR/CB Matchup Chart is a fantasy football tool you can use to help set the best lineups. You can toggle between showing the Matchup Advantage column against all projected coverage, or the individual defenders.

These passing games might be a bit rough n’ rowdy: The Bears and Dolphins are easily the bottom two passing games this week in combined passing yards per dropback.

*Defensive coordinator walks in the room:* “That’s what I love about young quarterbacks. I get older, they stay the same age.”

To be fair, it’s not all Tua’s fault: Tua Tagovailoa has the sixth-quickest release and 13th-lowest average target depth among 40 qualified quarterbacks this season. And yet, the Dolphins have allowed the eighth-highest pressure rate through seven weeks. Sometimes pressure is more indicative of a quarterback simply holding the ball too long, but this group actually falls to 30th in pressure rate allowed on passes thrown in 2.5 or fewer seconds.

There have been a few ugly interceptions over the past two weeks; just realize Tagovailoa hasn’t exactly gotten much help this season. No offensive line has a lower pass-blocking grade than the Dolphins (49.4), while their team receiving grade (68.0, 25th), drop rate (7.7%, 25th) and rushing grade (69.2, 24th) also leave plenty to be desired.

Tagovailoa has yet to play with Will Fuller (finger, IR), while DeVante Parker (shoulder, hamstring) has been in and (mostly) out of the lineup. Don’t expect a road trip against the Bills’ well-rested, second-ranked scoring defense to bring out the best from this passing game, but maybe chill on writing off the 23-year-old quarterback until there’s a bit larger sample size of him playing with, you know, an actually decent supporting cast.

Not so fast my friend: More quarterbacks not expected to find a little thing called success through the air include Jared Goff, Jameis WInston, Tyrod Taylor and Matt Ryan. However, the latter quarterback might be just fine if his recent hot streak continues and coincides with his No. 1 receiver getting back on track.

Oct 3, 2021; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley (18) runs after a catch against the Washington Football Team in the second quarter at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Sneaky bounce-back spot szn: Only Robby Anderson has more fantasy points below expectation than Calvin Ridley this season. The Falcons’ No. 1 receiver is the WR2 in expected PPR points per game, but just the WR27 on a per-game basis in reality.

Perhaps a shadow matchup against Donte Jackson will help lift Ridley back to 2020 heights. He’s traveled with the opponent’s No. 1 receiver on four occasions this season:

Continue to stick with Ridley as an upside WR1; he remains one of the best buy-low candidates in all of fantasy, particularly with Matt Ryan playing far better ball as of late:

  • Week 1: 59.7 PFF passing grade, Falcons scored 6 points
  • Week 2: 66.4 PFF passing grade, 25 points
  • Week 3: 51.8 PFF passing grade, 17 points
  • Week 4: 89.8 PFF passing grade, 30 points
  • Week 5: 88.7 PFF passing grade, 27 points
  • Week 6: Bye
  • Week 7: 89.5 PFF passing grade, 30 points

Dope secondaries always have the best nicknames: Credit to the Bills, Raiders, Cardinals, Bengals, Packers, Panthers and Chargers for functioning as the league’s only seven defenses to allow fewer than 6.0 passing yards per dropback this season.

EPA

Points are ultimately what wins football games. We can measure the expected points of every play on offense and defense by considering the down, distance and field position before factoring in the result. Estimated points added (EPA) is thus the value of a play that takes context into account and thereby better measures efficiency at the play level.

  • Combined EPA: The sum of an offense’s EPA/play and their opposing defense’s EPA/play allowed. A higher number (blue) is good for offenses, while a lower number (red) indicates that offense could be in trouble.

Blowout alert: The Bills, Bengals and Rams stand out as offenses with the biggest matchup advantage on that side of the ball compared to their opponent. Naturally, the Rams (-14.5), Bills (-14) and Bengals (-10.5) feature the three largest favorites of the week. Funny how that works out.

Over alert: Only Jaguars-Seahawks and Giants-Chiefs have a positive combined sum, and the former matchup is being skewed a bit by Russell Wilson’s (finger, IR) absence. The Giants-Chiefs game total of 52 points is only topped by Cowboys-Vikings (55) this week.

Under alert: Bengals-Jets, 49ers-Bears and Panthers-Falcons stand out as the three matchups with the worst potential sum of offense. This is mostly due to the quarterback performance of everyone other than Joe Burrow and Matt Ryan. Yes, I’m grouping in Jimmy Garoppolo alongside those other atrocities. He’s the league’s third-worst quarterback in both big-time throw rate and turnover-worthy play rate. Basically, Jimmy G has been one of the league’s worst signal-callers in making “elite” throws while simultaneously making turnover-worthy plays more than just about anyone.

Upset alert: The Panthers (+3) are the only team boasting the superior offensive advantage while still being an underdogs. They’ll need Sam Darnold to get back to looking like the guy we saw in September in order to pull off the upset:

The clock seems to have struck midnight on his fairytale comeback story; he’s been nothing short of bad over the last four weeks after a solid enough start to the year:

  • Week 1: 79.5 PFF passing grade (No. 10 among qualified QBs)
  • Week 2: 71.1 (No. 16)
  • Week 3: 76.3 (No. 13)
  • Week 4: 54.7 (No. 27)
  • Week 5: 44.8 (No. 33)
  • Week 6: 56.2 (No. 24)
  • Week 7: 44.3 (No. 28)
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