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That Bill Belichick is a poorly dressed robot doesn't make him immune to suboptimal decision making.
In the waning moments of the Brady-Belichick Eternal Grudge Bowl, Belichick opted for a 56-yard Nick Folk field goal over going for it on fourth and three and, you know, trying to win the game. It didn’t matter that Belichick had for 20 years watched Tom Brady march his team down the field for game winning kick after game winning kick following gutless field goals by Patriots opponents inside two minutes. Belichick still somehow opted for Folk -- who had some sort of plant-leg issue -- to equal his career long 56-yarder in a persistent rain with a bit of wind swirling.
He put his faith in Folk, who has made 27 of his 46 career kicks (58.7 percent) of more than 50 yards. Hell, Folk hasn't even been great from 40-49 yards, making 72.1 percent of those attempts over his 14 years in the league.
NFL Next Gen Stats firmly rejected Belichick’s decision, giving the Pats a 53 percent chance of winning if Folk had made the long kick, which, of course, he did not. Converting the fourth and three would have given New England a 65 percent win probability. Opting to kick was, by every measure, the wrong call.
Mac Jones had picked apart the banged-up Bucs secondary all night, completing 31 of his 40 throws for 275 yards and two touchdowns, including 19 completions in a row against a Tampa defense giving up a horrifying 73.7 percent completion rate. Kendrick Bourne and Jakobi Meyers had eaten Richard Sherman alive, combining for eight receptions on eight targets for 99 yards against the newest, slightly washed Buc. Hunter Henry had consistently gotten open against Tampa’s linebackers. Belichick should have never considered trotting out Folk. He should have had supreme confidence that Jones could drop back and pick up three lousy yards.
“It really wasn’t much of a decision there,” Belichick said after the game, dismissing second guessing about his wrong decision as only he can do. “We converted two third downs in the game. Nick kicked well. No, there wasn’t any consideration.”
Analytics are a tool, you might say, parroting your favorite stodgy, old-school NFL coach, who sounds so very respectable when he says such things. Analytics are indeed a tool -- a tool that tells you what to do if you’d like to win. Belichick’s thousand-yard stare looked right past that tool on Sunday night.
And no, to answer your question, I have not won six Super Bowls as an NFL head coach.
Week 4 Results
Randy Bullock (TEN) at NYJ
3/4 field goals
12 fantasy points
Evan McPherson (CIN) vs. JAC
1/2 field goals
6 fantasy points
Aldrick Rosas (NO) vs. NYG
0/1 field goals
3 fantasy points
Now for some kicker notes...
-I’m a Rodrigo Blankenship truther from way back. You don’t even know. I found a site two years ago that listed Blankenship’s kicking stats, all the way back to middle school, and proceeded to pore over the numbers like my life depended on it. I tried to land an interview with Rodrigo in 2019 but was stonewalled by the University of Georgia athletic department. I spoke with his dad on the phone a couple times (long story). Hot Rod’s disarming personality, his embrace of nerd culture, his relatably uncut arms -- it all speaks to me on a visceral level. But, you say -- as incredulous as the day is long -- you’ve told us to fade Blankenship all season. It’s true, I have. Because, see, the Colts are a pretty terrible team that won’t be favored in many games. That holds true in Week 5: The horseshoes are heavy road dogs to the Ravens on Monday night. I can’t permit you to start Goatenship, despite the goggles, despite the good nature, despite everything. The Colts being 4.21 field goal tries over expectation doesn’t help matters.
-Robbie Gould tweaked his old-man groin before the Niners’ Week 4 loss to the Seahawks. The 38 year old is expected to miss “some time,” possibly a month or more. The 49ers signed Joey Slye to take Gould's spot for a while. Slye won’t fit the process this week in a contest that sees the red and gold enter as five-point road underdogs. Slye could be useful in Week 7 -- the team has a Week 6 bye -- when San Francisco is at home against the Colts.
-You’ve been champing at the god dang bit to play Younghoe Koo, everyone’s favorite 2020 kicker. You have your chance in Week 5 since the Falcons are 3.5-point home favorites against the Jets. Koo would’ve made the streamer cut if he weren’t rostered in 80 percent of leagues. You have my permission to get nostalgic and roll with Koo in Week 5. Atlanta is 1.67 field goal attempts under expectation through four weeks. That’s good for Koo.
-Brandon McManus Szn is officially over (for now) if Teddy Bridgewater is out this week with a brain injury. If Teddy can go, McManus is a borderline play. I'd prefer our main Week 5 streamer (see below) over McManus.
-Ryan Succop finally had his blow-up week. Sunday night against the Patriots, Succop converted four of five field goal tries as the Bucs offense stalled out nearly every time they breached New England’s 20. Succop, as always, is a nice process play this week against Miami. The Bucs are 10.5-point home favorites with the second highest implied total of Week 5 (29) against a Dolphins team that should consider tanking for a top-3 draft spot. Succop, for what it’s worth, is 0.34 field goal attempts under expectation even after his five-try Week 4.
Greg Zuerlein (DAL) vs. NYG: Averaging 8.4 fantasy points per game, Zuerlein has been (mostly) OK as an every-week fantasy starter. The past couple weeks have been decidedly tough action for Legatron: Dallas has piled up 76 points and Zuerlein has attempted exactly one field goal. With the Cowboys 0.78 field goal tries under expectation, we can anticipate a bounceback for Zuerlein, perhaps as early as Week 5. Dallas is at home, favored by seven points, sporting the week’s highest implied total (29.5).
Matt Gay (LAR) at SEA: Even in horrendous game script, Gay gutted out nine fantasy points with two field goals -- on three attempts -- against the Cardinals in Week 4. He remains a set-it-and-forget-it starter in Week 5. The Rams are two-point road favorites with an implied total of 28, the week’s fifth highest. There’s good reason to believe this game will be a close one after Seattle rearranged its secondary and stopped the defensive bleeding in Week 4 against the 49ers. Gay will be fine in neutral game script.
Tyler Bass (BUF) at KC: I looked and could not find a convincing case to ditch fantasy’s top scoring kicker this week. The Bills entering as 2.5-point road underdogs doesn’t mean this AFC clash won’t be an ultra-competitive back-and-forth affair. Bass -- who has multiple field goal tries in 16 of his 23 games as a pro -- drilled all four of his field goal attempts against Kansas City in last year’s AFC title game. Fret not.
Matt Prater (ARI) vs. SF: My faith in Prater wavered in Week 4 and I paid the price. Prater -- who most certainly did not fit the process as a road underdog -- made all three of his field goals against the Rams. He took full advantage of an entire game of positive script. This week the Cardinals are five-point home favorites against the Niners, who have allowed multiple field goal tries in three of their four games. Prater, who has the eighth most field goal tries, is 0.2 field goal attempts under expectation. That’s the good stuff. As long as Kyler Murray is under center, Prater is a solid option.
Justin Tucker (BAL) vs. IND: Baltimore is a seven-point home favorite against a Colts team that has exceedingly little chance of stopping the Lamar Jackson Machine. Don’t overthink it. You’re playing Tucker over the streamers.
Daniel Carlson (LV) vs. CHI: I politely suggested last week that you consider fading Carlson in Week 4 against the Chargers. In no way did he satisfy the process, and he consequently was the victim of bad game script throughout. No matter. He’s once again locked in as a starting option against the Bears. The Raiders are 5.5-point home favorites and Chicago has allowed six field goal attempts in their two losses this year. The son of Carl is back in play.
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Week 5 Streamers
Greg Joseph (MIN) vs. DET (10 percent rostered)
Joseph is a natural fit for our precious process. The Vikings are at home, favored by 7.5 points, with an implied total of 28.25. Only one team, as of this writing, has a higher Week 5 total.
Joseph’s one-point Week 4 outing shouldn’t -- nay, cannot! -- dissuade us from streaming him against the Lions in Week 5. In neutral and positive game script over Minnesota’s first three games, Joseph had seven field goals in an offense averaging 383 yards per game, despite the clunker from hell that was the Vikings’ Week 4 loss to Cleveland.
Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer has taken an uncharacteristically zen approach to Joseph’s disastrous extra point miss in Week 2 against Arizona, inspiring some confidence that Joseph isn’t playing for his NFL life every time he lines up a kick. That, of course, has nothing to do with the process. It’s a nice little narrative though. And the Vikings being 0.98 field goal tries over expectation isn’t too worrisome.
The Lions have allowed the seventh most field goal tries (9) through the first month of the season. Detroit, if not for a Week 1 miss from Robbie Gould and a Week 3 miss from Justin Tucker, would appear to be a far better kicker matchup. I trust the Vikings to generate lots of the good stuff (game script) in Week 5 against a Lions defense that just lost its best EDGE rusher for the year.
Randy Bullock (TEN) at JAC (1 percent rostered)
Our high-scoring Week 4 streamer -- nailing three of four kicks against the Jets -- Bullock is in line to pull a Goofy and do it again in Week 5. The Titans are four-point road favorites against the Jaguars. Their implied total of 26 points is hardly hateful.
Bullock has a ludicrous ten field goal attempts in his three games with Tennessee, making nine of them along with all six of his extra points. It’s been good for the Big Boy, who’s outscored all but six kickers since Week 2. He now gets a Jacksonville defense that’s given up multiple field goal tries in all four of their games; only four teams are allowing more fantasy points per game to enemy kickers.
There’s no compelling case for dumping Bullock this week if you snagged him off the wire in Week 4. Let’s hope the Titans -- having managed a TD on half of the red zone possessions -- continue to struggle inside the 20.
Nick Folk (NE) at HOU (11 percent rostered)
Last we saw Folk, he was on bended knee agonizing in a steady drizzle near midfield at Foxboro, having just clanked one off the left upright in a last-ditch try to vanquish New England’s favorite hated son. Nevertheless.
Folk has been decent for fantasy purposes. He’s attempted multiple field goals in each of the Pats’ four games; only five kickers have more fantasy points than Folk through Week 4.
I’m of two minds about Folk’s Week 5 prospects: He’s a perfect process play on a Patriots team favored by 8.5 points on the road against the Texans, but he’s way (way) over expected field goal attempts. Folk is tied for the league lead with 11 field goal tries, or 4.48 attempts over expectation. No team is further over expectation through four weeks. Folk’s consistent opportunity is a direct result of the Patriots being abysmal in the red zone. Only the Giants have scored touchdowns in the red zone at a lower rate than New England.
Field goal expectation is still relatively new. I’m not sure how far a kicker can go over expectation before his opportunity collapses For this week, at least, Folk should be OK -- barring a post-Brady Bowl letdown from the Patriots.