Let’s preview this week’s NFL action by first focusing on the games that are expected to produce the most real and fantasy points before I go around the league to highlight the key players we should be watching and why.
Chargers at Raiders (O/U: 50): It looks like the same teams are going to dominate these best games so I will again say that Amari Cooper ($27) is a DeSean Jackson-like No. 3 fantasy wide receiver who just doesn’t get enough volume or enough high-leverage goal-line looks to produce in line with his obvious ability. Michael Crabtree ($27) over Cooper for me. But it’s too late to get him off the three-TD outburst. Derek Carr ($38) is sixth in TD percentage while being 19th in overall efficiency (yards per attempt). The model says he’s a sell given the strong likelihood of TD percentage regression. Yes, his YPA could be the fluke/too low, but that’s a very bad bet given the relative sizes of the two samples.
Philip Rivers ($38) is sixth in YPA. Sell Melvin Gordon ($33) and his 3.2 yards per carry; those six touchdowns are a major fluke. Yes, he’s a goal-line back but getting six chances inside the three already when you converted five is 100 percent random. The Chargers have eight plays inside the opponent’s three. NFL average is about five. Bottom line: way too much of Gordon’s current value is tied to goal-line runs.
Jets at Steelers (O/U: 48): The Jets are last in the league in yards allowed per pass play, which is crazy given they are eighth in sack rate and the YPP stat factors that in. So this is just a horrible secondary. Ryan Fitzpatrick ($26) is the first quarterback since 1986 (Steve DeBerg) to throw nine picks over consecutive games so, yeah, play the Steelers defense.
Bilal Powell ($10) being the exclusive third-down back is killing ($28) Matt Forte’s floor because Forte getting the third-down/passing downs would make him game-script proof. At this point, when the Jets are losing it only boosts Powell. Forte is one of the greatest receiving backs in NFL history so I find this perplexing.
Giants at Packers (O/U: 48): Odell Beckham Jr. ($37) is a huge question mark now mostly for reasons relating more to sports psychology, which he insists he doesn’t need, but also owing to the Giants seeming inability to get him involved in games early and often. Coach Ben McAdoo seems to think their passing game is sufficiently diversified now but that’s a myth. For a playmaker like OBJ to have no TDs through four games is crazy.
One game against an injury-ravaged Detroit defense doesn’t erase over a year’s worth of anemic Packers passing. Randall Cobb ($20) should be benched and, if he is invisible again, dropped. He’s been mostly useless in fantasy since 2014.
Week 5 Notebook
—The bromance between Brock Osweiler ($23) and Will Fuller ($18) is a real problem for DeAndre Hopkins ($31), who is tied with Kyle Rudolph ($18) and actually behind Fuller in 25th place in targets. Hopkins is not a buy low. Similar to Cooper, he’s a sell to someone who THINKS he’s buying low.
—Jerrick McKinnon ($22) is averaging 3.7 per carry and is not the goal-line back yet everyone loves him. So, a “sell.” Whenever you can sell the hype that’s so far ahead of actual stats, do so.
—I got a lot of heat on Twitter for saying Isiah Crowell ($18) over McKinnon but Crowell is explosive (meaning not that game-script dependent) plus a goal-line back on an offense that seems serviceable.
—Matt Jones ($17) has really run a lot better in recent weeks and is a RB2 in what’s a good offense. He’s one of the zeroRB winners. Can he stay healthy though? Probably not since he had only 297 carries in three years at Florida.
—Golden Tate ($17) isn’t likely to work out given he’s averaging a pathetic 2.43 air yards per completion (that’s distance the pass travels from scrimmage) and only catching 53.8 percent of targets. Marvin Jones’s ($28) numbers are 13.2 and 63.9 percent, respectively. So Jones is for real, if healthy. But his foot issue is all that prevents me from advocating a trade Hopkins or Cooper for him.
—You can say I’m anti-Andrew Luck ($35) given his hype has outpaced his actual stats. And now the armor of winning games has been removed, as he’s 3-8 since 2014. But this supporting cast is a joke. Luck leads the league in getting hit (sacks plus knockdowns), with 35. And he’s been pressured on 35.9 percent of pass plays, second most behind the Seahawks (39.1 percent). Yet Wilson is fifth in YPA and 10th in passer rating while Luck is 20th and 17th, respectively. But Luck is burdened by a poor defense that forces him to pass more obviously.
—Here’s the acid test for Matt Ryan ($28) and Julio Jones ($32). Denver is the rare defense that actually dictates outcomes like a great offense usually does. (The top numbers guys have said that offenses generally control about 60 percent of offense vs. defense outcomes.) You have to play Jones, but avoid all other Falcons.
—Todd Gurley ($32) is 41st in yards per carry (2.6) among 42 qualifiers. Only Adrian Peterson has been worse. I don’t know what to do with him. So I’d hold, I guess. But if I could get Allen Robinson (on a bye), I would. The Rams continue use him often with a fullback (20 percent of all snaps) and, surprisingly, last year, teams (and especially the Rams) ran much WORSE on plays from scrimmage with a fullback between the five yard lines, according to Stats, LLC.
—I’m suddenly bullish on Dez Bryant ($26) after reading the expert injury analysis here by Dr. David Chao of the NationalFootballPost. But not this week, unless he practices fully on Friday. Dez is a buy though.
—Jameis Winston ($32) is a big problem right now. He’s fallen way back after consecutive tough matchups but this is not a third. The Panthers are 30th in yards per pass play and have allowed eight passing touchdowns. Seems like they could use Josh Norman after all. I like Winston and Mike Evans ($31) as a contrarian play this week.