Game Flowbotics A-to-Z - Week 5

Thursday Night Football’s contest between the Colts and Patriots was a bit of a blowout, but still featured plenty of exciting plays and interesting personnel matchups. Hopefully the good times will continue on Sunday. Before we get to my favorite insights into the Week 5 slate, let’s start, as we always do, with a link to the Game Flowbotics matchups spreadsheet:

Week 5 Game Flowbotics

Now let’s dive in, A to Z, for Week 5 of the 2018 NFL season.

A-B is for All Backups.

That’s what the Packers might run out at wide receiver this week. Davante Adams suffered a calf injury in practice on Wednesday, joining the already missing Randall Cobb and Geronimo Allison on Green Bay’s injury report. If they can’t go to work on Sunday, Aaron Rodgers will set his sights on Marquez Valdes-Scantling, J’Mon Moore, and Equanimeous St. Brown. Maybe it’s time to move Ty Montgomery back to receiver. On the other side of the ball, Detroit’s pass defense is, in a word, enigmatic. They rank 28th in pass defense DVOA, but their defensive line ranks second in Adjusted Sack Rate. Montgomery position changes aside, the big winners (if we can call them that) in this mess are probably Jimmy Graham and Aaron Jones. Otherwise, DFS players could find some value with Green Bay’s backup wideouts. I’m most interested in Valdes-Scantling, if only because he saw the most usage (26% snap share) among the backups in the season’s first four weeks.

C is for Concentrated Cam & Christian.

The Giants rank 29th in DVOA against the run, so you better believe Carolina will attack that weakness with Cam Newton and Christian McCaffrey. Newton is my overall QB1 this week and McCaffrey is my RB7.

D-E-F is for Derek, Essentially Free.

Derek Carr is only owned in 43 percent of Yahoo leagues and 25 percent of ESPN leagues. On DraftKings, he’s the 17th-most expensive quarterback at $5200, and on FanDuel, he’s 15th at $7000. Take advantage of the cross-platform discount this week because the Raiders are effectively playing a home game in Los Angeles, and their contest features the second-highest over/under on the slate.

G-H is for Ghastly & Horrendous.

That’s what the Vikings running game has been this season, as they rank dead-last in DVOA. Injuries to Dalvin Cook and along the offensive line haven’t helped. Even if Cook is back to full health this week, you can’t use him against Philadelphia’s third-ranked run defense and top-ranked defensive line against the run.

I-J is for Idiotic Justification.

Despite facing Baltimore’s top-notch passing defense, I touted Baker Mayfield as a potential streamer on this week’s 2QBXP podcast. Did I have data to support the claim? Nope. I simply leaned on the justification that this is Mayfield’s first start at home in Cleveland, and he seems like the type of player to feed off that sort of thing. Thankfully, Sammy Reid gladly followed me down Narrative Street, so I didn’t have to feel alone in my idiocy. And c’mon, I start each of these articles with an all-data spreadsheet smorgasbord, so y’all should just give me this one. Go Browns!

K-L is for Kirk Liftoff?

In last week’s installment of A-to-Z, I speculated about a Keke Coutee breakout. It turned out much better than I ever imagined, so I’m going back to the well for another rookie wideout, Christian Kirk. The 49ers have a bottom-10 pass defense according to DVOA. Meanwhile, Kirk’s teammate Larry Fitzgerald is nicked up, so I expect the rookie to build on an already growing target share.

M is for Manny, Miscast.

On the Flowbotics spreadsheet, I have Emmanuel Sanders tabbed as Denver’s No. 1 wide receiver. Sure, Demaryius Thomas has three more targets, but Sanders leads the team in receptions and yardage. It’s a 1A-1B situation, but I’m pretty sure Football Outsiders would officially tab Sanders as Denver’s third banana in their versus-receiver classifications because he runs most of his routes from the slot. In this week’s matchup against the Jets, that means Manny matches up with cornerback Buster Skrine. According to Pro Football Focus, Skrine allows the 14th-most fantasy points per route. Don’t sweat New York’s third-ranked defense against No. 1 receivers by DVOA. Start Sanders with confidence.

N-O-P is for Nick’s Ownership Projection.

It will probably be low because, let’s be real, he wasn’t a trendy tight end sleeper, but I was all about Nick Vannett as a late-round flier in the preseason. It took an injury to Will Dissly for that call to start carrying its weight, and I’m especially lucky that Vannett has become the starter by default just in time for a matchup with Los Angeles. The Rams rank 13th in DVOA against tight ends, but they’ve allowed a lot of volume to the position—4.5 adjusted yards above the league average. We saw the Raiders attack L.A. with Jared Cook to open the season, and I made the case for Mike Williams as a defacto tight end against the Rams a couple weeks ago. There just aren’t many productive ways for teams to move the ball against Wade Phillips’ defense, so look to Vannett if you need a streaming option or budget DFS option at tight end.

Q-R is for Quarterback Roadblocks.

Here’s a quick accounting of the 10 stingiest defenses to quarterbacks in fantasy points allowed through four weeks:

TeamPass Def.
Week 1Week 2Week 3Week 4Avg. Weekly
Finish Against
JAC611.11NYG - QB26NE - QB17TEN - QB25NYJ - QB2423.0
WAS311.36ARI - QB31IND - QB30GB - QB12Bye24.3
BAL512.44BUF - QB32CIN - QB8DEN - QB30PIT - QB2022.5
MIA812.58TEN - QB29NYJ - QB27OAK - QB21NE - QB1623.3
ARI1113.14WAS - QB11LAR - QB13CHI - QB31SEA - QB2720.5
SEA913.72DEN - QB13CHI - QB25DAL - QB28ARI - QB2322.3
CHI114.09GB - QB7SEA - QB22ARI - QB26TB - QB2620.3
DET2814.10NYJ - QB18SF - QB16NE - QB29DAL - QB1720.0
LAR714.14OAK - QB28ARI - QB32LAC - QB15MIN - QB419.8
NYJ215.19DET - QB27MIA - QB15CLE - QB22JAC - QB1018.5

The top two teams will be stress-tested this week. Jacksonville goes to Arrowhead to face Patrick Mahomes, and Washington goes to the Superdome to take on Drew Brees. Both quarterbacks have been amazing, but I have Brees ranked significantly higher this week. I regard the Jaguars’ defense a little more highly than Washington’s defense (in spite of DVOA), Denver seemed to expose some cracks in Mahomes’ armor early on during Monday Night Football, and we simply have a longer track record of Brees being a matchup-beater.

The devil’s advocate’s case against Brees revolves around Washington’s 31st-ranked run defense. The D.C.’s defenders haven’t allowed a ton of fantasy production on the ground, but they haven’t faced any rushers in the class of Alvin Kamara, let alone Mark Ingram, who is set to return. If Brees reverts to 2017 form with the return of Zoom & Boom (sorry, Mark, but Alvin gets top billing this season), and if Mahomes continues to defy the odds in a harsh matchup, I could be kicking myself over their rankings come Tuesday.

S is for Shootout? Start Sanu.

Falcons-Steelers features an over/under so high, we didn’t need a Week 5 installment of “Smoke ‘Em, Pass ‘Em” from Kenneth Griggs (kidding, of course, as he writes it over at FightingChanceFantasy in odd-numbered weeks). When opposing offenses both explode, secondary receivers tend to be the main beneficiaries. Calvin Ridley will deservedly garner hype, but don’t sleep on Mohamed Sanu, who has actually played the most snaps among Atlanta wideouts this year (yes, more than even Julio Jones).

T is for Tennessee Toss-Up: Taywan or Tajae?

Taywan Taylor and Tajae Sharpe are the direct beneficiaries of Rishard Matthews’ exodus from the Titans’ roster. Taylor soaked up more targets in Week 4, with seven compared to Sharpe’s three, but Sharpe caught a touchdown while Taylor did not. Scoring plays are fluky, though, so the smart play is to chase Taylor’s targets and snap share advantage (63 percent compared to 44 for Sharpe). The big question, though, is how much Tennessee will need to pass against Buffalo. The Bills have allowed the 11th-fewest fantasy points to wide receivers but the eighth-most to running backs. Corey Davis should continue to receive plenty of opportunity, despite his tough matchup against shadow-corner Tre’Davious White, and after accounting for touches to Dion Lewis and Derrick Henry, there might not be much meat left on the bone for Taylor in a plus matchup against slot-corner Taron Johnson.

U-V-W-X is for Unfortunately Vying With Xavien.

This week, A.J. Green has the distinct displeasure of drawing coverage from Xavien Howard, who owns DVOA’s top rank against No. 1 wide receivers. Tyler Eifert is out for the year, and John Ross hadn’t practiced as of Thursday, so it seems another Tyler Boyd week is in the works. Over the past three weeks, Boyd has 31 targets for 23 catches, 323 yards, and two scores (for an average line of 10.3-7.7-107.7-0.7). He remains a great play, despite his own tough matchup against slot-corner Minkah Fitzpatrick. Still, daily fantasy degenerates may want to a light sprinkling of Josh Malone into their lineups. He should gain the most opportunity if Ross can’t play.

Y-Z is for Yeldon Zoomin’.

The Chiefs allow the second-most fantasy points to running backs, and DVOA agrees. Kansas City ranks last in run defense and their defensive line ranks last in Adjusted Line Yards. Meanwhile, T.J. Yeldon is an accomplished pass-catcher, so he’s at little risk of being phased out based on game flow if the Chiefs offense musters a lead against the Jaguars. Add it all up, and Yeldon shakes out as a no-brainer starter.

Editor’s Note: DVOA, Adjusted Line Yards, Adjusted Sack Rate, and Versus-Receiver statistics from Fantasy Scoring and Red Zone statistics from Snap data from

Greg Smith

Greg Smith is an engineer, co-founder of, and enthusiast for the strategy and design of variance-based games.  When he started playing fantasy football in 2001, his home league's small number of teams necessitated starting two quarterbacks.  That necessity has since grown into obsession, making Greg one of the preeminent champions of 2QB and Superflex formats.

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