NFL Prime Time Games – Week 5
Thursday Night Football: New England Patriots at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Thursday night’s cross-conference tilt between New England and Tampa Bay boasts the highest over-under on the week (55). The only downside to this should-be barnburner is it won’t be available on the main slate for week five. The Patriots (30 TT) and Buccaneers (25 TT) should pile up the points inside Raymond James Stadium, and both quarterbacks can be expected to produce.
Tom Brady has been forced to throw with increased frequency during a year where New England’s defense is allowing a league-high 324 passing yards and second most points per game (32). Naturally, Brady becomes even more valuable when his defense can’t be relied upon to keep opponents out of the end zone, but it also doesn’t hurt to know Tampa Bay ranks right behind them in per-game passing yards allowed (316) this season.
The Bucs rank 27th in pass defense DVOA (FootballOutsiders) and have already coughed up six passing touchdown despite playing only three games. Moreover, Tampa has served as somewhat of a funnel defense thus far, allowing only 78.7 yards per game on the ground with the league’s third best run defense DVOA in 2017. The only logical reason to fade Brady, aside from cost, is his opponent…
Jameis Winston heads into Thursday with a prime opportunity to post his third consecutive 300-yard passing game this season. The third-year signal caller draws a mouthwatering matchup against a Patriots defense that ranks 32nd in pass defense DVOA and has allowed a league-worst 11 touchdown passes through the air.
Bill Belichick’s perennially formidable defense hasn’t just been disappointing this season — they’ve been dreadful. Winston offers a heavily discounted price point considering the matchup, and is one of only a few appealing quarterback options on the week five slate. He should be expected to throw early and often with the Bucs being a 5-point home dog, and shouldn’t face much resistance if the Patriots continue to implode.
Belichick has always been skilled at game-planning to eliminate opposing teams’ top offensive options, but that appears to be less of a concern in 2017. The Patriots have been an absolute sieve in all facets of the defensive game, so it’s hard to envision Mike Evans struggling on Thursday.
New England ranks 29th in DVOA against no.1 wide receivers, and Evans will likely see the majority of his snaps against Stephon Gilmore, who’s in the midst of a career-worst season at cornerback. Even if Belichick does scheme to neutralize Evans, Winston won’t hesitate to force him the ball on a night where the Bucs’ offense will need to keep pace.
DeSean Jackson has yet to develop any chemistry with his young quarterback, but his splash play ability will keep him in play each week. Dirk Koetter will likely try to line Evans up with Malcolm Butler–who he makes for a great mismatch against–and if he does, it’ll placed Jackson in a more favorable position. Nevertheless, Jackson remains a boom-or-bust wideout play until he begins to gel with Winston.
Adam Humphries actually seems like the safer bet among Tampa’s secondary receivers. Over his last two games, Humphries has converted 17 targets into 12 receptions and 138 yards, while Jackson has amassed six receptions on 13 targets for 104 yards in that span. Humphries shouldn’t be expected to break off any big receptions (7.2 ADOT), and won’t do much in terms of RAC, but he’s near minimum salary across the industry in what’s projected to be a shootout at home.
New England has faced only one quality tight end this season (Travis Kelce), so it’s nearly impossible to gauge their true skill against the position. Having said that, it’s been equally difficult to predict which one of Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard will be producing the fantasy points from week to week.
Tight end is a relatively shallow position, though, so we can certainly look here for value. Brate has played fewer snaps than Howard in all three games this year, but he’s out-targeted his rookie counterpart 13 to eight, and has commanded three red zone targets to Howard’s zero. Brate makes for the preferred tight end play in Tampa if you plan on taking this route.
Brady has distributed his passes rather evenly this season, with target shares looking like this: Rob Gronkowski (19.4%), Chris Hogan (16.8%), James White (16.8%), Brandin Cooks (15.5%) and Danny Amendola (12.3%). No other Patriots pass catcher owns a target share north of five percent, as Brady’s looks have been concentrated primarily on the above-mentioned five players.
James White should see plenty of work against a Bucs team that ranks 30th in DVOA against pass-catching running backs, and has already allowed some big games through the air to the position (Tarik Cohen (8/55/0, Dalvin Cook 5/72/0, Wayne Gallman 2/8/1). Brandin Cooks is always liable to explode, but his high-end price tag and lack of WR-1 targets should limit him to tournament-only consideration.
Rob Gronkowski and Chris Hogan have combined for 14 of Brady’s targets in the red zone this season, so it’s hard not to like both of them against a Bucs squad that’s allowing two touchdown passes per game. With New England owning a slate-high 30-point team total, you can’t go wrong by targeting two of Brady’s most reliable options. Gronk and Hogan are the two top options in the Patriots’ passing game, while White also retains value in this high-powered offense. NOTE: Gronkowski was limited in Wednesday’s practice with a thigh injury, so his status is worth monitoring as we draw closer to kickoff.
Doug Martin would’ve been a strong running back play against a surprisingly weak Patriots run defense (22nd DVOA, 26th RuYd/G), but his level of involvement in Thursday’s game remains unclear. Dirk Koetter announced that Martin would be returning to action in week five, but did not specify the veteran back’s anticipated workload in his return. Taking a flier on Martin in GPPs makes sense, though, as New England is allowing more yards per carry (5.1) than every team not named the Jaguars, and ranks 28th in DVOA against pass-catching running backs this year.
Sunday Night Football: Kansas City Chiefs at Houston Texans
This game likely won’t garner much attention outside of primetime slates, as both the Chiefs and Texans boast quality defensive units. Houston ranks top-10 in both pass and run defense DVOA this season, while Kansas City sits at eighth and 25th, respectively. The problem with picking on Kansas City’s run defense, however, is Lamar Miller hasn’t exactly been a beacon of consistency with the Texans. He is discounted across the board, though, and should see plenty of work on a night where Houston is a mere 1-point dog at home. Miller makes sense as a value back on the two-game primetime slate, and it doesn’t hurt to know that Kansas City is ceding 111.5 rushing yards with a rushing touchdown per game to opposing running backs this season.
Outside of Carson Wentz, who racked up 333 yards and two touchdowns on 25-46 passing against the Chiefs in week 2, Kansas City has limited opposing quarterbacks to rather underwhelming totals. Philip Rivers completed only 50 percent of his passes (20-40) for zero touchdowns and three interceptions en route to a 6.48-DKPT performance two weeks backs, while Tom Brady struggled mightily (44% COM, 0 TD, 0 INT, 10.68 DKPT) in week 1 and Kirk Cousins was relatively quiet on Monday night.
Deshaun Watson has been brilliant over his last two starts, but Sunday night’s tilt with Kansas City could pose some problems. Unfortunately, we’ll be forced to target him on a slate where our alternative options are Alex Smith, Case Keenum (possibly Sam Bradford) and Mitchell Trubisky. Watson is the preferred option over Smith due to his rushing prowess, and the Texans don’t have a running back like Kareem Hunt, who’s capable of taking pressure off his quarterback with consistently positive gains. Hunt has racked up 100-plus scrimmage yards in all four games this season, and should easily be considered the top running back option on this week 5 primetime slate.
DeAndre Hopkins has been far too consistent to avoid at this point — especially on a two-game slate. Matchups are almost irrelevant for the fifth-year wideout, but the return of Will Fuller will also open things up for Hopkins on Sunday. Hopkins leads all NFL pass catchers in both targets and receptions, making him a legitimate WR-1 play for the fourth straight week.
Fuller caught two touchdowns in his return to action against the Titans, but I’d be willing to bet that was the exception to the rule. It’s hard not to love his upside in GPPs, but Fuller should still be considered a boom-or-bust tournament play against a stout Kansas City secondary.
Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce are in play by default, but only one of them draws an appealing matchup. Hill creates matchup problems for any team he faces, and offers a similar skill set to Brandin Cooks, who recently lit the Texans up for 7/131/2 in week 3. He’ll suffer some underwhelming outings as a result of Kansas City’s low-volume passing attack, but remains a solid play in week 5 against the Texans. Kelce, however, could struggle against a Houston team that stifles opposing tight ends on a regular basis. Rob Gronkowski is the only tight end to post respectable fantasy totals against the Texans this season.
Albert Wilson ranks dead last in football with a 3.3 ADOT, and isn’t worth considering even on an abbreviated slate. Chris Conley ranks 19th in ADOT (15.6), though, and has recorded a 20-plus-yard reception with four targets in three of four games played this year. If you plan on punting one of Kansas City’s receivers, Conley is the easy decision at a near min-sal price point.
Monday Night Football: Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears
Sam Bradford’s status remains murky for Monday night, so it’s difficult to gauge value with this Vikings offense. Assuming he’s healthy, Bradford would become a viable low-end quarterback play against the Bears, and could comfortably be paired with one or both of Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen.
If Case Keenum is under center, however, all of Minnesota’s passing options should be downgraded. Chicago’s middle of the road pass defense shouldn’t be feared this week, especially considering Minnesota will likely be forced to throw more now than Dalvin Cook is sidelined. The Bears rank 31st in DVOA against no. 1 receivers, and 24th against no. 2 receivers through four weeks, while sitting 22nd in overall pass defense thus far. Diggs and Thielen have combined for 46 of Keenum’s 97 targets since Week 2 (47.4%), while they recorded eight and 10 looks, respectively, with Bradford under center in Week 1.
Kyle Rudolph has been highly ineffective without Bradford, and shouldn’t be expected to improve much if Minnesota’s starting quarterback remains shelved.
Mitchell Trubisky faces a stiff test in his NFL debut, and considering his lack of weapons in the passing game, the rookie signal caller should be expected to struggle. Neither Trubisky or any of Chicago’s pass-catching options are strong plays against Minnesota, even though Mike Glennon is no longer at the helm.
John Fox will likely look to lean on Jordan Howard for the third straight week, as this game should remain close enough for Chicago not to abandon the run game. Moreover, Fox will want to take as much pressure off of Trubisky as possible, which should result in a heavy workload for Howard at home. Howard appears to have solidified himself as the lead back ahead of Tarik Cohen over the last couple weeks, making the latter a far more volatile play than he would’ve been if the workload was split. Chicago should emphasize the run early and often, making Howard the clear top option in the backfield at least for week 5. Minnesota has stuffed the run quite well this season, but this is one of those situations where volume trumps efficiency.
Jerick McKinnon is questionable for Monday’s game with an ailing ankle, but assuming he’s healthy enough to play, the fourth-year back isn’t likely to see a significant uptick in touches. McKinnon has failed to produce in previous years when filling in for an injured Adrian Peterson, and shouldn’t be expected to shoulder the load with Latavius Murray in the mix. Murray should see the early down work and goal line touches while McKinnon takes the passing down snaps against Chicago.
Unfortunately, McKinnon’s status remains unclear and Murray claims that he is still dealing with pain in his surgically repaired ankle, so neither back seems especially safe against the Bears. Murray does seem like the safe-ish play, though, while McKinnon offers more upside in the passing game but less opportunity for red zone work. This is a toss-up as to who is going to produce on Monday night.
Minnesota Vikings defense will likely be popular on the primetime slate, as the Texans will have a tough time forcing turnovers against the disciplined Smith, Kansas City could struggle to keep Houston off the scoreboard, and Chicago will likely loss the time of possession battle by a wide margin on Monday. Despite playing on the road, Minnesota should have no trouble racking up defensive points against a greenhorn quarterback and a dismal group of Chicago pass-catchers.