Week 4 Rankings & Game Flowbotics
After a couple down weeks to start the 2017 NFL season, quarterback scoring really bounced back in Week 3. Passers combined to post 584.84 fantasy points in Week 3, compared to only 422.14 in Week 1 and 465.36 in Week 2. Last season, QBs scored an average of 493.23 combined points per week, so this season’s Week 3 total was a significant overcorrection. But this is one instance where I buy into the narrative that “we were due.” Early weeks in the regular season are now an extension of the preseason. It takes most teams time to gel, and we’re starting to see the results. Moving ahead, we should see a more consistent brand of football from the teams that maintain some level of continuity.
In addition to teams getting their acts together, we fantasy footballers get to compile more and more data to inform our analysis. In theory, we should improve our understanding of the league with each completed slate of games. Unfortunately, though, the early-season sample is small and often too noisy or contradictory to draw clear conclusions. I usually don’t find my feel until after Week 4 or 5, and this year is no different. For evidence, check out my 97th-place finish in Week 3 accuracy at FantasyPros — a rough beating to take after a decent start through the first couple weeks.
The best way to post a personal bounce-back with my Week 4 rankings is to stick to the process that previously brought me success. Let the stats pile up and come into focus, identify trends and aberrations, confirm as much as possible by watching games, and act on the analysis. If the process was good last week, and it’s good again this week, then perhaps my rankings accuracy can experience an overcorrection just like QB scoring did between Weeks 2 and 3. Let’s kick off the process as we always do, with the Game Flowbotics spreadsheet:
The Week 4 rankings are a few mouse scrolls away, but for the space between, here are a couple of rankings situations of particular interest on the upcoming slate.
The Cincinnati Offense
Forecasting the Bengals’ offensive performance against the Browns feels like a key inflection point for getting this week’s evaluations right. We heard Tony Romo tear apart Andy Dalton’s performance during his broadcast of the Bengals-Packers game on Sunday, but the Red Rifle’s fantasy owners were surely satisfied with his 16-point performance if they started him. Now he faces Cleveland, a team that has allowed a QB16 finish or better to all of their opponents so far, including a QB4 stampede by Jacoby Brissett for over 27 fantasy points in Week 3.
Meanwhile, the Browns have really struggled to defend #1 wide receivers. Per Football Outsiders, they rank second-worst in DVOA and allow 139 receiving yards per game to top targets like A.J. Green (league average against WR1s is 67.4 yards per game). Cleveland’s pass defense as a whole ranks 26th in DVOA. A good day for Dalton and Green seems to be in store, so why does this game make me uneasy?
Primarily, I’m concerned about a game script potentially so pro-Bengals that they simply won’t have to pass very much to win. JJ Zachariason made a compelling and intuitive case for Cincinnati’s defense against DeShone Kizer this week in his 15 Transactions article. If the Browns can’t keep their offense on the field, or if they turn the ball over too much, this game could turn into a breakout party for Joe Mixon.
After promoting Bill Lazor to offensive cooridinator prior to Week 3, Mixon took over the lion’s share (tiger’s share?) of the team’s rushing workload against Green Bay. It makes branding sense for Cincinnati to want to show off their shiny new rookie, and it makes strategic sense for them to run as often as possible to protect Dalton from the horrors of his patchwork offensive line. Against a bad team like Cleveland, Dalton could easily revert to a game manager role while Mixon does the heavy lifting on offense.
If you’re a Dalton owner searching for more optimism, however, you can turn back to Football Outsiders’ efficiency numbers in the Game Flowbotics spreadsheet. The Browns rank sixth in rushing defense DVOA and their defensive front ranks fourth in Adjusted Line Yards. On the other side of the ball, Cincinnati’s run blockers rank 27th in Adjusted Line Yards. Even if the Bengals want to lean on Mixon, he may not have much room to run. Cleveland’s defensive setup creates incentive for opponents to pass, which gives hope for Dalton’s fantasy prospects in Week 4.
Roethlisberger & Carr - How Low Can They Go?
The Week 4 schedule lines up favorably for a lot of mid-level fantasy quarterbacks, but Ben Roethlisberger and Derek Carr drew the short straws in terms of opponents. Talent and supporting cast also factor prominently into our evaluations of fantasy passers, though, making it challenging to resolve the rankings of these two QBs versus lower-tier guys with easier competition in Week 4.
By DVOA, the Ravens rank first in overall defense, first in pass defense, and first in defense against #1 wide receivers. Big Ben will travel to face them in Baltimore. Roethlisberger’s struggles on the road are well publicized, but Rich Hribar has noted in recent weeks that the splits are even more dreadful for Roethlisberger in early-start road games. Does this weekend’s Steelers game have an early start? Yes, it does. I don’t feel great about ranking him outside my top-20 at quarterback, but there are too many viable streaming options this week to look past all of Big Ben’s red flags.
Despite their reputation, the Broncos don’t rate quite as highly as the Ravens on defense. Against fantasy quarterbacks in particular, Denver hasn’t fared especially well this season, allowing an average weekly finish of QB13 and over 17 fantasy points per game. By DVOA, their overall defense ranks ninth, but their pass defense is surprisingly middling at 16th. So why does Derek Carr rank only one spot higher than Ben Roethlisberger as I type this? History, for the most part. Carr has always struggled against Denver. Per the Rotoviz Game Splits App, he averages under 14 fantasy points per game and under 200 passing yards per game against the Broncos in his career.
Furthermore, Carr typically depends on quality running game to open things up for him in the passing game. His Week 3 stinkbomb against Washington was not necessarily a fluke. Oakland running backs only toted the rock nine times in that game. Here’s another pull from the Rotoviz Game Splits App, showing what happened to Carr’s production over the past few years in games when Latavius Murray didn’t get 15 or more carries:
To be fair, I may be putting the cart before the horse here to some extent. Depending on how you look at these numbers, either Derek Carr played better when Latavius Murray received more carries, or Latavius Murray received more carries when Derek Carr played well. Regardless, the point is that Derek Carr’s production is tied to the running game, and Denver currently sports DVOA’s top-ranked defense against the run (plus the top defensive front in terms of Adjusted Line Yards). Marshawn Lynch should flounder for the second week in a row, and that does not bode well for Carr, even though Denver’s pass defense hasn’t been as imposing as advertised.