PFF previews the 14 NFL games in Week 8, highlighting storylines to watch while also taking a fantasy football and betting approach to offer insight for every NFL fan.
Atlanta Falcons @ Carolina Panthers
Headline of the game: What does the Panthers’ offense look like if Christian McCaffrey returns?
With McCaffrey sidelined since Week 3, the Panthers have fielded the sixth-most efficient offense in the NFL, according to EPA per play, over the past five weeks. The man who was more involved in their offense than any non-quarterback in the NFL was replaced seamlessly by Mike Davis, whose 284 rushing yards are already the second-highest total of his six-year NFL career.
That isn’t to say that Davis is a better player than McCaffrey — he’s not — but there is something to be said for the idea that the Panthers are more dangerous on offense because they’ve become less predictable. Last season, McCaffrey was charted as being the first read on 73 of his targets — 20 more than any other running back in the league.
According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, McCaffrey is a longshot to play, but the door is open. If he does, it will be interesting to see whether his return simply means plugging in a more talented player at the running back position or the offense reverting to revolving around the running back position. Let’s hope it’s the former.
This game is a rematch from Week 5 when the Carolina Panthers emerged victorious over the Atlanta Falcons on the road. Teddy Bridgewater threw for over 300 yards and two touchdowns.
Robby Anderson and D.J. Moore both surpassed 90 receiving yards. This is a great spot for the Panthers’ passing attack to continue cooking, making Bridgewater a top QB streaming option this week.
Anderson should still be the highest-ranked Carolina WR — when this game played out in Week 5, Moore only saw five targets versus Anderson’s 13.
Moore had a target resurgence in Week 6 (11 targets), but Curtis Samuel was inactive. With Samuel back in the lineup in Week 7, Moore’s targets fell back to five because Samuel reclaimed his role as a receiver seeing targets near the line of scrimmage. Samuel’s presence limits Moore’s floor. If he can’t deliver on a big play or two, his fantasy stock will plummet. Now, that’s not to say he can’t produce in the solid matchup, but he might be the sharp fade in single-game DFS formats.
Over the past three weeks, Moore ranks third in fantasy points scored over expectation, which is a telltale sign that regression is coming.
Samuel could provide a nice bye-week replacement considering he is averaging over eight touches per game in his last two healthy matchups and arguably owns the best advantage among Carolina wideouts operating from the slot.
The Falcons have allowed the fourth-highest yards per target (9.3) to players targeted from the slot, and their primary slot CB Isaiah Oliver has allowed the most yards in coverage this season.
The team also released Seth Roberts, who had been working in tandem with Samuel as a slot receiver, so expect Samuel’s snap share to rise dramatically from the 47% he played in Week 7.
This game is sure to provide a high-scoring environment because the Panthers won’t have the luxury of just focusing on Calvin Ridley. Julio Jones missed the first game between the two teams when the Falcons offense scored just 16 points.
Lucky for Carolina, they will have top cornerback Donte Jackson to combat the return of Jones. They missed Jackson dearly in the Week 5 matchup when he left the game in the first quarter, and Ridley went for 136 receiving yards.
PFF’s WR/CB matchup chart projects Jackson to match up with Jones, but that won’t be the case if shadow CB Rasul Douglas — Carolina’s highest-graded CB this season (75.6) — is active. He missed Week 7 after being placed on the COVID-19/reserve list. If he isn’t cleared, rookie Troy Pride Jr./Eli Apple would be tasked with taking on Ridley because they will not shadow a team’s opposing No. 1.
Pride ranks 123rd out of 126 qualifying CBs in PFF coverage grades this season (38.3). Apple saw his first game action of the season in Week 7 and allowed a 100% completion percentage in his debut.
Matt Ryan will be in starting lineups this week but only as a low-end QB1. The Panthers defense has been one of the best against the pass all season, allowing a league-low 6.3 yards per attempt.
The line movement continues to move toward Carolina despite cash and ticket percentages leaning toward Atlanta. The preseason evaluations for both teams missed the mark, with the Falcons as 3.5-point favorites. Our predictive models saw the -1.5 open close to the correct number, with the move out to 3 slightly overcorrecting. Our ELO rankings have the Falcons five places behind Carolina, which will make the addition of a hook an enticing proposition.
The expectation for points has dropped off, with the opening 51.5 free-falling to 49. And 6.8% of games have landed on 51 or 50, which reinforces the adjustment. Our predictive models require a further drop to open up betting values.
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Baltimore Ravens
Headline of the game: Can Pittsburgh knock off a third straight AFC contender?
Several weeks ago, we didn’t know much about the Steelers after four wins against bad teams. However, they’ve shown over the past two weeks that they deserve to be talked about as one of the best teams in the NFL with wins over the then 4-1 Browns and 5-0 Titans, both of whom are firmly in the AFC playoff picture.
Pittsburgh’s ability to control the pressure rate of a game has been arguably its biggest strength through seven weeks. Only Tom Brady is being pressured on a lower percentage of his dropbacks than Ben Roethlisberger (21.7%), while the Steelers’ defense remains on pace for the highest team pressure rate in the PFF era (47.3%).
Giving Roethlisberger clean pockets with quick releases and strong protection and making opposing quarterbacks uncomfortable is a winning formula. The Steelers will hope that is the case again this week against their stiffest AFC North competition in Baltimore off a bye week.
This is a spot where a Lamar Jackson–Marquise Brown stack could do some serious damage. We all know that the Steelers can bring insane amounts of pressure to opposing quarterbacks, but oftentimes this year, that has left their secondary exposed.
The Steelers have allowed the fourth-highest explosive pass play percentage (27.3%) to wide receivers and faced the highest average depth of throw (10.3) among all 32 teams.
Brown owns a 34% target share when Jackson has been under duress this season.
Diontae Johnson made his faithful return to the lineup in Week 7 and re-established his dominance as the alpha WR1 on the Steelers’ offense. If he’s healthy for Week 8, he has to be started — even in a tough matchup, his 13 targets per game (when healthy) is too much volume to ignore.
That being said, starting Chase Claypool and JuJu Smith-Schuster is more difficult to figure out. Claypool’s an auto-start without Diontae in the lineup, but Smith-Schuster might be better left on the pine regardless.
The Ravens have allowed the ninth-fewest fantasy points to WRs this season and zero touchdowns to slot wide receivers. JuJu’s targets from a week ago were nice to see, but Claypool is going to see his share of targets, and it took Ben Roethlisberger a season-high 49 passing attempts to get Smith-Schuster over 15 fantasy points for the first time since Week 1. Including Week 7, the Steelers have only attempted 34 passes per game.
The preseason number did not predict Pittsburgh’s impressive rise to the third-best team in the AFC. They lead the AFC North division but must win as +160 road dogs to maintain that distinction. The -7 opening week number quickly dropped to -3.5, with rogue -3 and juice starting to show. Also, -7 to -3 is quite the trip — not one a line usually takes in under a week. The cash and ticket percentages are heavily on the Steelers, with Ravens backers leaning toward the moneyline. At -3.5, our predictive models find no playable value but lean toward the Steelers.
The total has dropped 2.5 points to 46.5, as both defenses rank in the top 10 in our opponent-adjusted grades. Twenty-four places separate these two offenses, but points could prove to be a difficult occurrence.
Los Angeles Rams @ Miami Dolphins
Headline of the game: Tua Tagovailoa will be welcomed to the NFL by a defense led by Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey
The decision to start Tagovailoa generated a lot of discussion through Miami’s bye week. Tagovailoa clearly isn’t lacking talent — notching consecutive 90.0 PFF passing grades in each of the past two years in the SEC — but the move comes after two consecutive wins and strong play overall from Ryan Fitzpatrick this season.
The biggest concern for Tagovailoa’s prospects is a Dolphins offensive line that is still figuring things out despite improvement over last season. Fitzpatrick’s time to throw of 2.4 seconds was a bottom-five mark in the NFL, and that did a lot to mitigate an offensive line that ranks 25th in PFF pass-blocking grade heading into Week 8.
Tagovailoa’s first test will come against Donald (league-high 96.1 pass-rushing grade since 2014) and one of the league’s best cornerbacks in Ramsey. Ramsey has been charged with allowing just 16 receptions and 160 receiving yards on nearly 300 coverage snaps this season. We’ll see what the rookie signal-caller is made of early, it appears.
The Los Angeles Rams present an extremely tall task for rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who is making his NFL debut in Week 8. It’s going to be tough to trust any Miami Dolphins skill players outside Myles Gaskin — he sees enough volume to start regardless.
The Rams over the past four weeks rank second against wide receivers, sixth against running backs and third against quarterbacks in terms of fantasy points allowed. But the one chink in their armor is versus tight ends.
They have allowed the 10th-most fantasy points to TEs over the past four weeks. When you break it down by tight ends in the slot, all signs point to a Mike Gesicki spike week. The Rams have faced the second-most targets to tight ends lined up in the slot, so Gesicki should see ample opportunity to post solid numbers in this spot.
Gesicki has been up-and-down all season, but he has produced 22 fantasy points per game when he has seen at least six targets so far this season.
We aren’t sure who Tagovailoa will lean on the most among his pass-catchers, but based on his college pedigree, it could be Gesicki who emerges with the southpaw under center.
The former Alabama product led the NCAA in passer rating (140.2) and ranked sixth in PFF passing grade (90.3) among college quarterbacks with at least 100 dropbacks when targeting the slot in 2019. Tagovailoa also had the third-highest yards per attempt (11.1) and seventh-highest completion percentage (68.9%).
In last week’s article evaluating players seeing high-opportunity touches, Robert Woods was a player who stood out as a “sell candidate” because of his lack of end-zone targets, downfield targets, and Josh Reynolds’ quiet emergence in the offense.
Those three factors came to fruition in Week 7, when Reynolds ran more routes and saw more targets than Woods (five to eight). Over the past two weeks, Reynolds leads the team in targets 20 or more yards downfield (six) and end-zone targets (four).
Woods (one) and Cooper Kupp (two) have combined for only three end-zone targets all season. They have also combined for just eight downfield targets with four apiece. Reynolds has eight on the year despite not playing a significant snap share until Week 4.
Woods can’t be viewed as more than a WR3 due to his lack of upside and matchup against the Miami Dolphins, who have allowed the ninth-fewest fantasy points per game to wide receivers over the past four weeks.
Tua time initially brought a slight correction to the preseason number, but the line movement this week has moved back toward the preseason offering. It has been one-sided in the cash and ticket percentages for both the moneyline and spread after the Rams’ impressive performance Monday night. Little value is opening up on the spread or total, but movement can always bring opportunity.
The Rams are fourth overall in our opponent-adjusted defensive rankings, with the Dolphins in stark contrast at 32nd. The total has dropped three points since the open, but a higher percentage of cash and tickets are on the over. Almost every opening total saw a move down in what looks more like an overall market correction. Any further movement will see value on the over. Patience can sometimes be rewarded.
New York Jets @ Kansas City Chiefs
Headline of the game: You don’t often see point spreads this big
At the time of writing this, the point spread on this game sits at 20 points, and I’m fairly certain anyone reading this can guess which team is favored. There’s a strong argument to be made — an argument that PFF’s power rankings confirm — that says the Chiefs are the best team in the NFL and the Jets are the worst team in the NFL.
We’ve seen Kansas City win on multiple occasions this year with subpar play from Patrick Mahomes, including the Chiefs’ past three wins over the Patriots (44.5 passing grade), Bills (68.6 passing grade) and Broncos (71.0 passing grade). That’s a testament to talent, coaching and Mahomes’ ability to avoid big, game-changing mistakes — even when he’s not carrying the team with absurd throws.
The Jets, meanwhile, played arguably their best game of the season last week and still lost by eight points. They are owners of the league’s worst expected points added per play mark on offense. Vegas doesn’t see this game staying within two scores, and it’s hard to disagree.
The Jets offense in general has been one to avoid this season. There is one intriguing option this week. La’Mical Perine has taken over the Jets backfield, playing a good majority of the snaps on all three downs. In seven games, the Chiefs have allowed eight different running backs to run for at least 60 yards. As long as New York can stay at least a little committed to the run game, Perine should join the 60-yard rushing club. He should also see at least a few targets.
Jamison Crowder has been the clear star of the Jets offense, but he has missed a few games with injuries already. He’s been WR3 in the weeks he has started. The problem is that he probably won’t be 100% if he does play, and the Bills have yet to allow more than 50 receiving yards to a wide receiver lined up in the slot. Crowder should see plenty of targets if he does play, but the Chiefs would also focus on slowing him down.
The Jets as a defense have been pretty average in most areas. Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce are always must-starts and should all have their usual good games. The interesting part is what to do at running back.
The Chiefs split the playing time between Clyde Edwards-Helaire and former Jet Le’Veon Bell last week. They rotated by drive rather than by situation, making future running back usage a little less predictable. Because last week was Bell’s first game with the team, it wouldn’t be surprising if Bell saw an increase in playing time going forward. This is also Bell’s opportunity to play his former team just weeks after leaving them. The revenge game narrative might not necessarily mean Bell will play better, but the Chiefs should have a clear victory in this one leading to plenty of running in the second half. Kansas City might be willing to give Bell the garbage time carries to rack up bigger numbers against his former team. Both running backs can be started based on how much running the Chiefs will do, but both are a little risky.
This is the only matchup in Week 8 that has had the total market move up since the open. The 48.5 appears to be a better price, with 48 offering value on the over. Cash and ticket percentages are more evenly distributed than usual on both sides of the total. The clear question becomes, how many points can the worst-ranked offense put up against the 21st-ranked defense.
The spread of 21.5 is close to historic, but bettors have stepped in to push through 21 down to 19.5. More tickets than cash can be found on the Chiefs, but they lead both spread and moneyline backing percentages. The Jets will be the sharp side for the rest of 2020, but that doesn’t make betting on them feel any better.
Minnesota Vikings @ Green Bay Packers
Headline of the game: This game could be the catalyst for the rebuild in Minnesota
This season has not gone according to plan for the Vikings. Sitting at 1-5, it may be time for Minnesota to blow it up and look to the future. The opening shot in that salvo may have been fired with the decision to cut their losses with Yannick Ngakoue after just five games. As PFF’s Brad Spielberger speculated last week, Riley Reiff, one of Anthony Harris or Harrison Smith and even head coach Mike Zimmer could be moved. A disappointing performance in this game against divisional rival Green Bay may just be the push before the trade deadline for some of those moves to occur.
That performance could certainly be in the cards, as well. In Week 1, the Packers and Aaron Rodgers had little trouble carving through a young Minnesota cornerback group. Rodgers turned in a season-high 96.0 overall grade in the game behind a league-high five completions on passes 20-plus yards downfield. With Davante Adams back from injury and as dangerous as ever — fresh off of 196 receiving yards in Week 7 — there’s little reason to believe the story will have a different ending here.
The Aaron Rodgers “me against the world” tour will continue in Week 8 as the Packers welcome a hapless Minnesota Vikings squad that is already looking to 2021. They traded away their highest-graded pass-rusher, Yannick Ngakoue (74.3), and that means it’s going to be shredsville for Rodgers against this defense.
Rodgers has a 16:2 TD:INT ratio from a clean pocket and the league’s second-best quarterback rating (128.3). In Week 1, when the Packers last faced Minnesota, he was pressured on just 15.9% of his dropbacks.
It’s a situation where you play all Green Bay Packers, including fringe pieces like tight end Robert Tonyan and Marquez Valdes-Scantling as an upside flier. The touchdown equity on the Green Bay side is high enough that ancillary pieces should produce. MVS should be a low-owned DFS play coming off a donut performance in Week 7.
Adam Thielen might not finish as the Vikings’ top wideout on Sunday, considering he will have an extremely tough matchup against Jaire Alexander. Six of Thielen’s eight targets back in Week 1 came in Alexander’s coverage. Had it not been four a touchdown, it would have just been an average day for the Vikings’ No. 1 wide receiver.
Justin Jefferson should continue his streak of domination with Alexander preoccupied with Thielen in his first real action against the Packers — he was a non-starter the first time these teams met.
It also wouldn’t be surprising to see more of Irv Smith Jr. after the second-year tight end’s uptick in usage in the team’s past two games. Ten targets, eight catches and 119 receiving yards is enough to make him a viable TE streamer.
The Vikings off their bye have garnered the interest of the betting market. The touchdown spread to open quickly moved to -6.5, but some pullback has occurred at certain books. The cash and ticket percentages highlight the even split. Line shopping can pay, with our predictive models seeing some value depending on the spread and moneyline price.
This total saw the initial drop like most other matchups, with both defenses sitting in the top half of the NFL by our opponent-adjusted defensive rankings. Totals are difficult to navigate in Week 8 — with the market struggling to get an accurate picture based on the movement of the opening price.
Indianapolis Colts @ Detroit Lions
Headline of the game: Are the Lions a playoff contender in the NFC after all?
The Lions were one of the more popular sleeper picks in the league coming into this season and the most plausible worst-to-first team in the NFL in an NFC North division that looked likely to be hit by regression. A 1-3 start to the campaign with several one-score losses made it appear as if this team wouldn’t be all that different from the 2019 iteration, but an improbable win over the Falcons last week has the Lions sitting at 3-3 with matchups against Indianapolis, Minnesota, Washington, Carolina and Houston in the next five weeks. That has them back in the hunt in the NFC.
The biggest reason to believe in Detroit’s chances at a playoff run is the fact that its passing offense has been the league’s best since Kenny Golladay returned from injury in Week 3. That isn’t an exaggeration, either. Detroit’s expected points added per pass play mark of 0.35 over its past four games is higher than every other team in the NFL. As for Golladay himself, we saw the kind of impact he can have with six impressive contested catches in Week 7. That passing attack headed by Matthew Stafford and Golladay gives them a chance to go on a run, starting with their game here against the Colts.
It’s been a disappointing start to the season for Marvin Jones Jr., but he finally posted a solid game against the Atlanta Falcons, catching five passes for 80 yards on six targets. He continues to run the most routes on the team, and the matchup is not as bad on paper as most would think.
The Colts defense has been hyped up this season, but they haven’t exactly played a juggernaut of opposing offenses. Their opponents have gotten tougher recently, and that has translated into fantasy points — over the past four weeks, they have allowed the 10th-most fantasy points to the WR position.
Jones also projects to matchup with Rock Ya-Sin and has the advantage. Should he see stud Xavier Rhodes, well let’s just say that Jones has had Rhodes’ number throughout his career.
Most famously, Jones roasted Rhodes three Thanksgiving ago when the cornerback was playing at the peak of his powers. In that game, Jones caught six of his nine targets for 109 yards and two touchdowns in Rhodes’ coverage.
More recently, during the 2019 season, Jones saw two targets in the team’s Week 7 contest against Rhodes’ Vikings. Both targets were caught for touchdowns.
This game should be a coming-out party for rookie running back Jonathan Taylor against a Lions defense that has allowed the third-most fantasy points to the running back position over the past four weeks.
The Lions have allowed just 2.6 yards per attempt since returning from their bye week, albeit while facing the Falcons and Jaguars. The Colts’ run-blocking unit is vastly superior to the latter, so Taylor should be a player rostered with high exposure.
The Colts own PFF’s second-best OL/DL matchup with a 62% advantage over the Lions defensive line.
This spread appears to be locked in since the preseason, with a drop from 3 to 2.5 being the only movement over the long time frame. Our ELO rankings have the Colts nine places ahead of the Lions, with the one discrepancy between the teams based on their defenses. The market could be overvaluing the Lions’ start to the season, with Rivers slightly edging Stafford in PFF passing grade.
The total has seen a small drop from the open, but 58% of the cash and 65% of the tickets are on the over. If the total takes direction from other matchups, we could see value open up on the over. This is a situation where it pays to monitor PFF Greenline throughout the week.
Las Vegas Raiders @ Cleveland Browns
Headline of the game: This is a matchup where the good Browns’ offense should show up
Coming into this week, the Raiders rank sixth in expected points added per play while the Browns sit at 18th. But that number for Cleveland is heavily weighed down by two disastrous performances against the Steelers and Ravens. Outside of those outings, Kevin Stefanski’s offense has impressed in his first year with the Browns.
This Raiders’ defense is not that of the Steelers or Ravens. Las Vegas is generating pressure on just 24% of its pass-rushing snaps (27th in the league) and allowing 6.3 yards per play (30th, ahead of only Jacksonville and Atlanta).
Baker Mayfield rebounded nicely from the Pittsburgh game with a season-high 91.2 PFF grade against the Bengals last week — his only incompletion on his final 23 passes was a spike. Like the Bengals, the Raiders won’t offer much resistance. It’s a chance for Mayfield to string together strong performances and generate some momentum. He’ll need to because it’s likely that the Raiders will put up points on the other side.
The Cleveland Browns have been one of the worst teams at defending the slot so far this season, allowing the second-most passing yards, the second-most deep-ball attempts and the fourth-highest yards per attempt (9.8).
This absolutely screams, “this is a Henry Ruggs III game,” considering the rookie speedster ranks second in the NFL in aDOT (23.3) on targets from the slot this season.
Marquise Brown ranks fourth on that list. When he faced the Browns earlier this season, he went for over 100 yards. Expect to see similar production from Ruggs in this Week 8 matchup considering the Browns have allowed the second-most fantasy points to wide receivers this season.
The Browns aren’t the only team that has given up a ton of fantasy points to wide receivers. Las Vegas has struggled to contain wide receiver fantasy production over the past four weeks, as they have allowed the third-most fantasy points to the position.
They have allowed the second-highest explosive pass percentage (30.9%) to opposing wide receivers, making Jarvis Landry and Rashard Higgins WR3 options this week. Higgins had four catches of 15-plus yards and led the team in air yards in Week 7.
The win over the Chiefs feels like a distant memory for the Raiders, who spurred on MVP chants for Tom Brady in Week 7. The betting market appears to be undeterred, with the opening -3 quickly dropping half a point. Some 87% of the tickets and 67% of the cash are on the Raiders’ spread. Even more action leans Raiders on the moneyline, which continues as a preferred preference in Vegas.
The Browns could be getting overlooked, as they sit three places ahead of LAs vegas in our ELO rankings. The Browns’ offense ranks in the top 10 of our opponent-adjusted offensive rankings, with the Raiders at 17th. The top-end totals in Week 8 had two points immediately shaved off the open. This matchup dropped to 53.5 but remains the fourth-highest total this week. More movement on any market could open up value in our PFF Greenline predictions.
Tennessee Titans @ Cincinnati Bengals
Headline of the game: The Titans’ defense has underwhelmed early in the 2020 season
The Titans offense has carried over its 2019 success after making the switch to Ryan Tannehill at quarterback, but their defense is one of just four in the NFL to allow successful plays — or plays generating positive EPA — on over 50% of their defensive snaps (50.1%). You have to factor in the loss of a player like Adoree’ Jackson, who hasn’t played yet this season after earning a career-high 82.5 coverage grade last year, but it’s still been a disappointing start to the season from the unit. Given how the Titans want to be able to run the ball with Derrick Henry out in front, you have to imagine getting the defense back on track and playing complementary football is a top priority.
One area where Tennessee does have the upper hand defensively in this matchup is in the interior. Only the Vikings have a worse collective pass-blocking grade than the Bengals do this season at the guard position, and Jeffery Simmons has 14 quarterback pressures in his last three games. He and Jadeveon Clowney should be able to get to Joe Burrow — something the rookie quarterback isn’t unfamiliar with after seven games.
The Tennessee Titans are struggling mightily to stop opposing wide receivers. They’ve allowed the fourth-most completions and targets to WRs this season despite playing in one fewer game than most of the teams ahead of them.
This is great news for all the Bengals pass-catchers and quarterback Joe Burrow, who ranks second in the NFL in passing attempts per game (42.0). The Titans have faced an average of 40 passing attempts per game in 2020.
The majority of the passing volume the Titans have faced has been in the short-to-intermediate level (0-19 yards), and that is where Burrow has absolutely thrived in his rookie season. His PFF passing grade (91.5) ranks No. 1 this season on those throws, which bodes well for both Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins, who rank second and third in PFF receiving grade since Week 3 on targets from 0-19 yards.
Consider this a recommendation to stack Burrow ($6,200) with Boyd ($6,500) and Higgins ($5,600) on DraftKings. Even throw A.J. Green ($4,500) into the mix in cash games. It’s too difficult to ignore his 4.5K price tag coming off 24 targets the past two weeks.
Tight end Jonnu Smith was a non-factor in Week 7, but to the Steelers’ credit, they did not present the best matchup for tight ends. This is not the case with the Bengals, who have allowed the third-most fantasy points to the TE position this season.
Part of that is because of the pure passing volume they have allowed to tight ends. No team has allowed more targets to TEs this season because teams throw from 12 personnel at the highest rate when they face the Bengals (67.1%). The Titans rank fifth in the NFL in 12 personnel usage this season.
The Titans have caught the eye of bettors, despite this impending matchup against Joey Covers. The Forecast duo picked up valuable line movement on the early week number, providing opportunities for this matchup. This market needs more movement to become overcorrected, but given the one-sided backing, a playable number back could come to fruition.
This total has moved down half a point since the open, which now makes it the highest number on the weekend. It is tough to play on either side, but this will make for a popular fantasy target in daily contests. Our model leans slightly toward the under, which gives some direction on fantasy-point accumulation.
New England Patriots @ Buffalo Bills
Headline of the game: Can Cam Newton and this supporting cast turn things around for New England’s offense?
Early in the season, it looked like Newton may be exactly what this offense needed. His unique ability as a runner — highlighted by 15 rushing attempts in Week 1 against the Dolphins — and a promising start as a passer gave the Patriots offense some life. In the three games Newton has played since Week 3, however, he has just a 48.8 passing grade. Whatever promise New England had early in the season has vanished in a 2-4 start. It doesn’t all fall on Newton, however. The lack of talent at the skill positions outside of Julian Edelman was the team’s biggest problem in 2019 with Tom Brady at the helm, and not much has changed since that point.
With a regressing defense that ranks just 18th in EPA allowed per play, Josh McDaniels is going to have to get creative on offense for the Patriots to win this important AFC East matchup, but it’s going to be an uphill battle.
It would be difficult to start anyone from the Patriots in this matchup. New England doesn’t have a running back in the top 30 backs in fantasy points and no wide receiver in the top 50. The Bills have been above average at stopping both backs and receivers, making it even more difficult to trust any of them.
The one area the Bills have given up plenty of fantasy points is to tight ends. Ryan Izzo is the closest thing the Patriots have to a receiving tight end. He is averaging just over one catch per game and has yet to score a touchdown. This just leaves quarterback Cam Newton. Over the last two weeks, he hasn’t even been among the top 24 fantasy quarterbacks, with plenty of quarterbacks who have had a bye week in that time ahead of him. He was benched last week and could be again.
The Bills offense isn’t expected to fare much better. Josh Allen hasn’t played as well as he did early in the season, and he’s also outside the top 12 fantasy quarterbacks over the last two weeks. New England has yet to allow a 300-yard passing game. They haven’t allowed a touchdown in the last two weeks while nabbing four interceptions. This even makes Stefon Diggs a risky play. In three of the last five games, Diggs has been held between 45 and 50 receiving yards. With how many targets he’s consistently getting, he should be OK for that again, but it’s unlikely that this will be one of his 100-plus yard games.
The one area the Bills could have success is the run game. Over the last two weeks, Phillip Lindsay and Jeff Wilson Jr. each had 100-yard rushing games against the Patriots. The only complicating factor is that Zack Moss is back and should see at least 40% of the snaps, including in the red zone. If the Bills offense can have a few big plays to get them to the red zone, Moss could have a big touchdown day. Devin Singletary has averaged three yards per carry over his last four games with one rushing touchdown, so it’s hard to get excited about Singletary despite the matchup.
If there is anyone who would be good to start in this matchup, it’s both defenses.
It has been a quick fall from grace for both teams atop the AFC East. The betting markets initially leaned toward the Bills, adding the hook to the opening line, though the cash and ticket percentage for both the spread and moneyline are backing the Patriots. Only four places separate these two teams in our Elo rankings, but it is surprising to see New England four places ahead of the Bills in our opponent-adjusted offensive rankings after the Patriots’ most recent offensive performance.
The Patriots are a difficult team to project, with our models siding in their direction. Without an understanding of other elements potentially being at play, the Patriots offer value in our predictive models.
The total is the lowest number on the weekend but still looks unplayable. The market seems to agree, with 94% of the current cash on the under. This might be an appropriate place to pass on, with information to be gleaned for future weeks.
Los Angeles Chargers @ Denver Broncos
Headline of the game: Drew Lock looks to gain ground on Justin Herbert in the young quarterback power rankings
Lock’s traditional passing numbers — headlined by a 49.2 passer rating — since returning from his shoulder injury the past two weeks have been ugly. His performance against the Patriots in Week 6 was much better than the box score would suggest, given that he earned a passing grade of 72.7, but the same can’t be said for the game last week against the Chiefs when he mustered just a 44.3 passing grade in inclement weather. With the Broncos currently sitting at 2-4, Lock is playing for his job as the Broncos’ starting quarterback in 2021 heading into an offseason where Denver could be well-positioned to replace him with another talented option.
Herbert, meanwhile, has outperformed expectations early in his time with the Chargers. Outside of the game against Kansas City in Week 2, he has earned PFF passing grades of 70.0 or higher in every start this year while flashing some athleticism on the ground, as well. Herbert’s ability to produce big plays — even under less-than-ideal circumstances — has been big for the Chargers’ offense. Los Angeles will look to continue riding that wave here against Denver.
Justin Herbert is QB9 over the past two weeks, which is pretty impressive considering one of those weeks was his bye week. Early in the season, Denver was allowing plenty of fantasy points to quarterbacks. In the first three weeks, they allowed seven touchdowns and over 240 passing yards each game. They’ve played much better in the least three, allowing 230 passing yards or less each game and only one touchdown. Because of how well Denver has played recently, Herbert and his receivers are a little risky. The decision to start Herbert or not probably depends a lot on other quarterback options. Keenan Allen and Hunter Henry have been dependable enough to start despite the matchup.
The Chargers’ running back situation has been in flux. Joshua Kelley and Justin Jackson have split the playing time, with Kelley seeing the goal-line work and Jackson getting more of the third-down snaps. Over the last three games since Denver’s defense improved, they haven’t allowed a back to gain over 50 rushing yards. The only back to top 25 receiving yards was James White, and it took White eight catches to reach 65 yards. Rather than trying to figure out which of these backs will have a better game, it might be best to avoid both of them.
The Broncos running backs are probably also good to avoid. The Chargers defense has allowed only three running backs to see over 50 yards, and it took them all at least 19 carries to get there. If Phillip Lindsay is able to play after suffering a concussion this past week, it’s unlikely either back sees that many carries.
The Chargers have allowed plenty of fantasy points to quarterbacks and receivers, but those have typically come in games featuring future Hall of Fame quarterbacks. In the half of games where Los Angeles faced less-proven quarterbacks, no receiver had more than 65 receiving yards. Eleven different receivers have caught a touchdown against the Chargers, with four of those touchdowns coming from tight ends. Noah Fant has at least five targets in every game he’s played and two touchdowns in the first two weeks of the season. He has a decent chance of scoring a touchdown.
Only three places separate these two teams in our Elo rankings, with the higher-ranked team getting points at home. The opening pick-em line disappeared quickly, as the move to a field goal highlights market sentiment for both teams. Justin Herbert is playing lights out and has graded almost 28 points better than Lock. Denver has failed to generate a positive EPA on either rush or pass attempts, with our opponent-adjusted grades ranking them as the second-worst offensive unit in the NFL.
The total is tied for the second-lowest in Week 8, with the betting market no longer buying into the previous offensive explosion. The total looks like the only opportunity in the current market, with the snowy confines of Denver a distant memory for now.
San Francisco 49ers @ Seattle Seahawks
Headline of the game: Two impressive offensive showings give the 49ers momentum heading into an important NFC West matchup
The natural reaction after watching the 49ers get waxed by the Dolphins amidst a dreadful performance from Jimmy Garoppolo was to be concerned. However, San Francisco has rebounded well the past two weeks, with victories over the Rams and Patriots in back-to-back games. That modest winning streak has come as a result of the 49ers getting back to what they do well. Garoppolo has an aDot of just 5.2 yards over the last two weeks (lowest in the NFL), but his 9.4 yards per attempt over that same stretch lead all qualifying quarterbacks with at least two games played. Kyle Shanahan will scheme receivers open, and the 49ers’ roster is full of guys who will make you pay after the catch and in open space.
San Francisco will need to put up points to keep pace with Russell Wilson and the Seahawks, and that is an achievable task against this Seahawks’ defense. This should be one of the games of the week.
Seattle’s pass defense has constantly given up yards, particularly to wide receivers. They’ve allowed the most fantasy points per game to wide receivers and second-most to quarterbacks. Jimmy Garoppolo is at least worth considering for a starting spot. This could also be a big game for rookie Brandon Aiyuk — he has been an every-down starter since stepping on the field. Two weeks ago, he had his first receiving touchdown of the season, and last week he had 115 yards on six catches against the Patriots defense. He should again be in starting lineups this week.
The 49ers running back situation might be one to avoid. If Tevin Coleman returns from his injury, they could ease him in, give him the vast majority of first- and second-down snaps, or anywhere in between. The only sure thing is that Jerick McKinnon will have his third-down role like he’s had all season. The 49ers gave him an every-down role early in the season due to injuries, but they’ve gone to other backups more recently. JaMycal Hasty will likely see at least some snaps, but he could also be the early-down back in the majority of situations. The only running backs to have over 60 yards against Seattle so far were Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison.
The 49ers have been top-seven in limiting fantasy points per game to quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers. Their worst position is tight end, where they are ninth. Due to Seattle’s rotation at tight end, they don’t have one in the top 25 in fantasy points.
Despite how good the 49ers defense has been, it would be hard not to start Russell Wilson or D.K. Metcalf. Tyler Lockett is the one player who has the most potential for a big game. He’s coming off of the best game of his career with 15 catches for 200 yards and three touchdowns. He will face Jamar Taylor in the slot for much of the game. Taylor is coming off a two-interception game, but he’s still allowed eight of 12 passes thrown his way to be caught for 129 yards. He has a 49.4 coverage grade when lined up in the slot.
The Seahawks will likely be without Chris Carson, which puts Carlos Hyde as the lead back. Unless you’re desperate for a running back or love the revenge game narrative, Hyde should probably be avoided against the 49ers run defense.
This is the second spread on the weekend that has spanned an opening of -7 down to -3. These two teams are evenly matched, according to our metrics, with the Seattle defense the one unit to fall outside the top 10 in league ranking.
The 49ers don’t need Garoppolo to outduel Wilson, as Kyle Shanahan continues to put together an offense greater than the sum of its parts. Their eighth-ranked offense, paired with the third-ranked defense, is an enticing combination, especially at plus money on the moneyline. The total also offers some value, according to Greenline.
New Orleans Saints @ Chicago Bears
Headline of the game: The Bears offense does not look like that of a playoff team
The Bears may have been 5-1 heading into Monday Night Football this past week, but that game displayed the fact that this offense is going to make it difficult for them to be real contenders in the NFC this season. They ranked among the bottom-six teams in the NFL last week in both yards per pass play (5.1) and yards per run play (2.8). Nick Foles was under pressure often against the Rams, but more concerning was that he averaged just 4.3 yards per pass attempt from a clean pocket.
The Bears have a lot of talent on the defensive side of the ball, but offense remains king in today’s NFL. Without a good one, Chicago may start to skid with this game against the Saints and upcoming games against Tennessee, Minnesota and Green Bay.
Drew Brees has been fairly average for fantasy purposes this year — he’s currently at QB19. Part of that is because the Saints have had their bye week, but his 0.53 fantasy points per dropback only bumps him up to QB16. It’s probably best to sit Brees against the Bears’ excellent pass defense. This extends to most of the Saints receivers. If Michael Thomas plays, it would be hard not to start him. The Bears have allowed a lot of receiving yards to star receivers like Calvin Ridley and D.J. Moore, but they are great at preventing wide receivers from catching touchdown passes.
Alvin Kamara is a must-start as usual. Chicago hasn’t allowed many receiving yards to running backs but also hasn’t faced a back like Kamara. Plenty of backs who have faced the Bears have averaged over 5.5 yards per carry. If the Saints handoff to Kamara a lot, he should have a huge rushing performance.
David Montgomery hasn’t been able to top 3.4 yards per carry in the last five games. Nine running backs have five or more carries against the Saints, and six of them were held to 3.3 yards per carry or fewer.
In the passing game, Allen Robinson II could very well see Marshon Lattimore most of the game. Lattimore’s PFF grade has seen a significant decrease every season. His 1.5 yards per coverage snap put him in the bottom quarter of the league for cornerbacks. While the Saints in general have been good at stopping wide receivers, Robinson could still have a good game.
There is also an opportunity for a Bears tight end to have a good game. New Orleans has allowed six different tight ends to score touchdowns. This should mean good things for Jimmy Graham, but the Bears frequently play four different tight ends. There’s a chance any of them, or even multiple TEs, could benefit from a goal-line pass.
After the Bears’ abysmal performance on Monday night, this spread crossed 3 on 91% of the cash. The 4-point spread for the Saints offers no value in our predictive models, with further movement expected.
The Saints have the third-best offense in the NFL but face a difficult test against the fifth-ranked Bears defense. The Bears’ reliance on their defense hasn’t been effective in recent weeks, so their 28th-ranked offense will need to score more than three points if they want to keep pace in Week 8. They are a difficult unit to project right now, which is why avoiding this game from a betting perspective appears prudent.
Dallas Cowboys @ Philadelphia Eagles
Headline of the game: Both teams are heavily injured, but at least the Eagles have an improving Carson Wentz
Wentz looked like the worst quarterback in the NFL through the first three weeks of the season. The only quarterback with a worse PFF grade than him was Dwayne Haskins, who was promptly benched for his play. Wentz has really turned things around in the four subsequent weeks, however. His PFF grade rank has improved to eighth over that stretch, but the Eagles’ passing offense as a whole still ranks just 27th in yards per play (5.4) across the last four weeks because of the sacks that Wentz is taking and the untimely drops from a receiving corps decimated by injuries.
Both teams have been hit hard by injury, particularly along the offensive line. The edge for Philadelphia comes from the fact that they still have their quarterback, and he’s improving. Dallas, on the other hand, will either get a returning Andy Dalton or rookie quarterback out of James Madison, Ben DiNucci. Neither option is overly appealing, and Dallas has ranked dead last in yards per play (3.4) over the last two weeks without Dak Prescott. There’s nothing quite like a 2020 NFC East battle for supremacy.
Ezekiel Elliott has been far from the sure thing he’s been in recent years. He’s been held to less than 55 rushing yards in four of his last five games and didn’t score a rushing touchdown in three of the last four. To make matters worse, his targets have been inconsistent as well. Elliott has seen two targets in two of the last three games, but that’s a far cry from the two instances this season when he saw double-digit targets. The Eagles aren’t the most likely defense to offer a rebound performance. Of the four players to amass 60 rushing yards against Philadelphia, two were quarterbacks and one was a wide receiver.
The Cowboys’ pass game outlook will depend on whether Andy Dalton can clear the concussion protocol. Amari Cooper is the safest bet at wide receiver, as he’s been able to maintain a high target share. Last week, he had 80 of the Cowboys 114 receiving yards. CeeDee Lamb had five targets last week but didn’t catch any of them. His catch rate should regress to the mean against Philadelphia’s defense, so I would still highly consider starting him.
The Cowboys are in the top 10 in fantasy points per game allowed to all four fantasy positions. This is great news for several players on Philadelphia’s offense. Miles Sanders has at least 80 rushing yards in four of his five games this season, and that streak should continue as Philadelphia could have a lead or at least keep things close. Travis Fulgham has at least 70 receiving yards in three of his last four games and at least a touchdown in three of his last four. They both are must-starts against the Dallas defense.
Zach Ertz remains the biggest question mark. Ertz’s 43 targets are fourth-most for all tight ends, but he is TE22 on the season due to a ridiculously low 4.1 yards per target and only one touchdown. Ertz will see the vast majority of snaps and plenty of targets as usual. It’s only a matter of time before he rebounds, and this could be the week he does it.
The 7.5-point spread is not widely available at most books. This could make for a quick adjustment once the betting market is more sure of the quarterback participants. This availability will decide which side of the spread provides value.
Cowboys’ game totals have quickly adjusted, with this matchup the second-lowest number in Week 8. Both the cash and ticket percentages are on the over, but a higher percentage of tickets signals public backing. This could be the right approach, as poor quarterback play can also lead to quick scoring opportunities.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ New York Giants
Headline of the game: The Buccaneers are looking like frontrunners in the NFC
Tampa Bay is arguably the most complete team in the NFL. There is reason to believe that their offense will continue to improve as Tom Brady continues to get more comfortable in Bruce Arians’ scheme, their receiving corps gets healthy and introduces a player as talented as Antonio Brown. It’s already an offense that looks pretty good. Brady is PFF’s third-highest graded passer through seven weeks behind only Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers, and his old pal Rob Gronkowski has hauled in seven of his nine contested targets this season, including two in each of the past two weeks. Paired with one of the league’s best defenses, it’s hard to say there is a better team in the NFC than Tampa Bay right now.
Of course, that means they’ll go out on Monday night and lose to the Giants — the worst team in the NFC, according to PFF’s power rankings.
The biggest question for the Buccaneers offense is what to do with the running backs. Ronald Jones lost several of his first- and second-down snaps to Leonard Fournette. Fournette also took over the third-down role for the Buccaneers. Fournette should see more snaps than Jones, but Jones could end up with more carries. As long as the Buccaneers can maintain a lead, both players should have solid games. Fournette was getting more goal-line work.
The Giants have been using James Bradberry to track opposing top wide receivers. This is bad news for Mike Evans. Bradberry has allowed under 50 receiving yards and no touchdowns in each of his last six games. The rest of the Buccaneers skill players can be trusted against the Giants defense.
The Buccaneers have been great at stopping pretty much everyone from a fantasy perspective. Devonta Freeman should be started if he is healthy, and there aren’t better options on your roster. He will see enough touches to rack up some fantasy points, but he doesn’t have much upside in this matchup.
Darius Slayton is also worth starting. Tampa Bay has given up 100 yards or more to three different wide receivers this season. Almost all of the wide receivers to have a big game against Tampa Bay did it as an outside wide receiver, which is where Slayton plays the vast majority of the time. He should be able to put up big numbers while seeing plenty of targets.
The Buccaneers are the third-best team in our Elo rankings, and both their offensive and defensive units rank in the top quarter of the NFL in opponent-adjusted grades. The Giants, in contrast, rank in the bottom quartile for both — 27 places separate these teams’ Elo rankings.
The betting market immediately pushed this spread through 10, with all of the cash and ticket percentage on the Bucs. Our predictive models still have a small lean toward Tampa Bay, but our cover probability isn’t high enough to cover the juice at the corrected spread.
There is a small lean toward the over on 46, which aligns with both the cash and ticket percentages. Brady is the third-best passer in terms of PFF grade in 2020, and Jones is coming off of three of his best four games. The Giants’ high pass rate could alleviate this over the modest total.