Fantasy Football Start, Sit, Stream, or Fade: Week 8
2020 has been a year of chaos and discombobulation -- whatever the norm was, it's long been thrown out the window. However, despite all the pandemonium, the one thing that's bound to be a constant is the need to make fantasy football lineup decisions.
Imagine spending months searching for a vacation destination, finally finding one, and having absolutely no plan for when you arrive -- that would be all of us after weeks and months of researching for drafts and then not having a plan of action for when the season actually arrives.
If you had a good draft, you should have some tough lineup decisions to make on a weekly basis. If you don't have any tough lineup decisions, there's a good chance that your bench is thinner than LeBron James' hairline. The goal of this piece is to assist with some of those decisions.
Of course, leagues come in all shapes and sizes, so it's near impossible to tackle every start-or-sit scenario. A must-start for one team could be a bench option in another league.
With all that being said, we're here to help at numberFire! This column will try to highlight some of those tough lineup decisions you have to make every week, and will, hopefully, be able to sway you in one direction or another.
Week 8 Funnel Report
In order to have a better idea of what matchups to target, we can take a look at which Week 8 defenses have been funneling toward either the run or pass in 2020. This might be stating the obvious, but running backs should be upgraded if they're facing a run-funnel defense, while quarterbacks and receivers deserve a bump if they're going up against a pass-funnel squad.
Kansas City Chiefs - The Chiefs are the ultimate run-funnel team so far this season. To date, they rank second-best in Adjusted Defensive Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per play, and they rank dead last in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play. Now, despite the fact that opponents have trailed for 62.4% of their plays against Kansas City, the Chiefs have faced the sixth-lowest pass-to-run ratio. It's pretty evident that opponents realize that the best way to move the ball against this juggernaut is by running it.
Miami Dolphins - I can't say I expected the Dolphins to pop up as one of the teams that funnel to the run the most, but alas, here we are. Miami ranks fifth in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play, and they have surrendered the 11th-fewest fantasy points to opposing passers. At the same time, the Dolphins rank 11th-worst in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play and have ceded the 9th-most fantasy points to opposing backfields. Miami has faced the 10th-highest pass-to-run ratio, so teams haven't been shy about passing against them, but stopping the run is still their bigger weakness.
Chicago Bears - Passing on the Bears has been no fun chore this season -- Chicago ranks third in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play, and they've surrendered the fewest fantasy points to opposing signal-callers. Meanwhile, running on this defense hasn't proved to be quite as difficult as they rank 16th in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play. Chicago has allowed at least 11.7 half-PPR points to a back in all but one game this season, and they've held all but one quarterback to fewer than 17.0 fantasy points.
Carolina Panthers - More so than nearly any other team, you want to attack the backfields going up against Carolina and fade the passing games. The Panthers rank as the 10th-best team in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play, but they've actually surrendered the sixth-fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks. Comparatively, Carolina ranks eighth-worst in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play, and they've given up the fourth-most half-PPR points to running backs.
Atlanta Falcons - The funneliest of all funnel teams resides in Atlanta, Georgia. The Falcons currently rank fourth-best in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play, and they find themselves dead last in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play. It's quite glaring in the fantasy points they've allowed -- the Falcons have surrendered the most fantasy points to quarterbacks and tight ends, the fourth-most to receivers, and they've allowed the most receiving points to opposing running backs. Unsurprisingly, Atlanta's faced the sixth-highest pass-to-run ratio to date. Basically, anyone who either throws or catches a pass gets upgraded against the Falcons.
Seattle Seahawks - Seattle has been quite funnelsome in their own right. Through Week 7, Seattle ranks sixth-best in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play and seventh-worst in the passing counterpart of that metric. Seattle has allowed the second-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks and the most half-PPR points to the opposition's wideouts. Teams facing the Seahawks have the second-highest pass-to-run ratio in the league.
New York Giants - If you were looking just at fantasy points allowed, it might appear that the Giants are a run-funnel defense -- they've allowed the 9th-fewest points to opposing quarterbacks and 11th-most to running backs -- but the advanced metrics tell a different story. So far in 2020, the Giants rank ninth-best in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play and are tied for fourth-worst in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play. The fact that New York has faced Mitchell Trubisky, Nick Mullens, only one half of Dak Prescott, and Kyle Allen disguises the stench of their pass defense. The Giants still have matchups with Tom Brady, Carson Wentz, Joe Burrow, Russell Wilson, Kyler Murray, and Lamar Jackson -- all of whom are likely to feast.
Pittsburgh Steelers - Finally, we have the team that has faced the highest pass-to-run ratio in the league. Teams are barely bothering to even attempt to establish a running game against Pittsburgh, as they've faced the fewest rushes in the league. It makes sense -- the Steelers do rank second-best in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play and have ceded the second-fewest fantasy points to the position. While Pittsburgh's pass defense isn't anything to scoff at, it is still the route that most choose. The Steelers are tied for the 11th-best mark in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play, but they have allowed the ninth-most fantasy points to wideouts, if not simply because of volume.
Without further ado, let's get onto the best and worst plays of the week. We'll break down players into four categories:
Start: These players are good starts in any format unless you have one of the elites.
Stream: These will be players with either good matchups or higher-than-usual projected volume that can be streaming options in many formats.
Fade: This category will be reserved for higher-end fantasy studs who find themselves in a bad spot on that given week. Fade these players in DFS or if you have a loaded roster, but don't get too cute.
Sit: This category will feature players that should ride the pine unless you truly have no better options.
Let's get to it!
(When I reference fantasy points allowed, it is Yahoo settings for quarterbacks and half-PPR for the other positions.)
Ryan Tannehill (at Cincinnati) - At this point, Tannethrill is essentially a must-start every week, and that's certainly the case this week. Four passers have totaled at least 21.9 fantasy points against the Cincinnati Bengals this season, including Philip Rivers and Baker Mayfield, who were averaging 12.0 and 13.6 points per game, respectively, heading into their matchups with Cincy. Tannehill has recorded at least 26.8 fantasy points in three of his six games this season, and he has scored fewer than 17.3 just once. In a matchup where the Tennessee Titans have the second-highest implied total on the slate, Tannehill is a top-five option at the position.
Joe Burrow (vs. Tennessee) - In that same matchup, Burrow is in an excellent spot, as well. Since Week 1, every quarterback to face the Titans has dropped at least 18.6 fantasy points, and three have topped 23.0. Tennessee currently ranks 14th-worst in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play, and they've faced the 10th-highest pass-to-run ratio. Meanwhile, Burrow has topped 17.0 fantasy points in five of his seven games this season and is fresh off a 34.6-point performance against the Cleveland Browns. This game has the highest-projected total on the slate, which means there should be plenty of chances for Burrow to rack up numbers.
Baker Mayfield (vs. Las Vegas) - Coming into last week's matchup with the Bengals, Baker was averaging a mere 13.6 fantasy points per game. However, after Odell Beckham tore his ACL on a Mayfield interception, Baker completed 22 of his next 27 passes for 297 yards and 5 touchdowns. For a quarterback like Mayfield, perhaps constantly trying to force the ball to one guy, regardless of that guy's talent, is counterproductive. Improved production from Baker should not come as a surprise. In Week 8, Mayfield gets a salivating matchup with a Las Vegas Raiders team that's allowed an average of 30.3 fantasy points per game to the last three quarterbacks they've faced. Vegas ranks sixth-worst in Adjusted Defensive Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per play, and with this game having the third-highest total over at NFL odds, Mayfield should be able to take advantage.
Derek Carr (at Cleveland) - Carr has quietly been a really good fantasy option in 2020. Through six games, he has recorded at least 20.4 fantasy points in four of them, topping out at 25.0. This week, he'll get to face a Browns defense that was just lit up by Burrow and has surrendered at least 24.5 fantasy points to a quarterback four times already this season. Cleveland has faced the third-highest pass-to-run ratio in the league, which means we could be looking at a ceiling game from Carr.
Josh Allen (vs. New England) - After starting the season as the QB3 through four weeks (and fewer than 5.0 points behind the QB1), Allen has cooled off considerably. Over his last three games, Allen has averaged just 16.9 fantasy points per contest while totaling only four touchdowns. For reference, Allen recorded 15 scores through his first four outings of the season. A matchup with the New England Patriots doesn't exactly scream "get right." New England has allowed the fourth-fewest fantasy points to the position, and they rank sixth in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play. In two matchups with the Pats last season, Allen averaged just 16.2 fantasy points per game.
Drew Brees (at Chicago) - Remember the bit about the Bears being a run-funnel defense? Well, that's about to come into play with Drew Brees in Week 8. Chicago has allowed the fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks this season, and just one passer has managed to total 20.0 or more fantasy points against them in their last 33 games. Brees has had fewer than 17.0 fantasy points three times this season, and Week 8 could make it a fourth. It doesn't help that this game owns the third-lowest total on the slate.
Matthew Stafford (vs. Indianapolis) - In his last three games, Stafford has faced three of the four teams that have allowed the most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks -- he underwhelmingly finished as the QB9, QB21, and QB15 in those games. Those tasty matchups are now in the rearview mirror. In Week 8, Stafford goes up against an Indianapolis Colts defense that's surrendered the second-fewest fantasy points to the position. Indy ranks top-12 in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play, and right now, Stafford just doesn't have the volume to overcome that.
Todd Gurley (at Carolina) - Todd Gurley can rack up touchdowns with the best of 'em, even if it costs his team a win. Since 2018, Gurley has scored at least twice in more than 30% of his games, and he's scored at least once in more than three-fourths of his contests -- that's pretty damn impressive no matter which way you slice it. This week, Gurley will face the run-funneling Panthers, a team that's allowed the second-most rushing scores to opposing backs. Five backs have scored at least 18.8 half-PPR points against Carolina through seven games.
Boston Scott (vs. Dallas) - Miles Sanders missed practice on Wednesday, which is not a great sign for his status on Sunday. If Sanders can't go, Scott is an elite play. To date, the Dallas Cowboys have allowed the second-most rushing yards and (tied for) the second-most rushing touchdowns to opposing backs. Dallas has allowed at least 70 total yards and a score to a back in four consecutive games. They've also ceded at least 70 total yards to seven different backs this season. Scott saw a nice 69% snap share last week to go with 15 touches -- that kind of workload should be enough for a productive performance in Week 8.
Darrell Henderson (at Miami) - Henderson has seen a minimum of 14 touches and a snap share of at least 42% in five of his last six games. In a matchup against a run-funnel defense like Miami's, Henderson is an excellent start. The Dolphins have allowed at least 70 total yards to a back in each game since Week 1, and they had surrendered the RB3, RB4, and RB21 performances in their three games prior to facing the New York Jets in Week 6. With the Los Angeles Rams favored by 4.0 in this contest, look for Henderson to get plenty of work.
Le'Veon Bell (vs. NYJ) - I don't usually recommend players based on narratives, but I am absolutely advocating that you start Bell in a "revenge game" against the New York Jets. We're all well aware of the long list of players who have upped their game significantly after being released from the Adam Gase "where talent goes to die" penitentiary, and Lev is about to join that list. As ESPN's Mike Clay noted, Bell was even with Clyde Edwards-Helaire in carries through three quarters of Sunday's blowout win, and he ran only four fewer routes than the rookie did. A bigger workload could be coming against a Jets team that has surrendered the seventh-most fantasy points to the position.
James Conner (at Baltimore) - It's weird to have Conner outside the top 10 in a week when the running back position is this thin, but here we are. No team ranks better than the Baltimore Ravens in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play. Baltimore has also surrendered the sixth-fewest fantasy points to the position per contest. Conner has posted 11.5 half-PPR points or fewer in two of his last three games against the Ravens, and the fact that he has ceded more than half of the team's carries inside the five to Benny Snell Jr. and Chase Claypool is not encouraging. Don't sit Conner unless you're truly stacked at the position, but temper expectations.
All Baltimore Ravens Running Backs (vs. Pittsburgh) - While Baltimore ranks first in the league with a -0.08 Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play, the Steelers' D doesn't rank far behind at -0.07, good for second-best. I've already mentioned how Pittsburgh is a pass-funnel team, and this week should be no different. Additionally, even if the matchup wasn't this bad, we'd still have a hard time figuring out who to start, as both Gus Edwards and J.K. Dobbins played between 41% and 44% of the snaps in Mark Ingram's stead last week. This is a backfield to avoid in Week 8.
Justin Jackson and Joshua Kelley (at Denver) - Similar to the Ravens' situation, Jackson and Kelley are splitting the work for the Los Angeles Chargers in a bad matchup. The Denver Broncos rank eighth-best in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play, and they've actually allowed the third-fewest fantasy points to the position. Only two backs have managed more than 12.8 fantasy points against Denver, and both of those came in the first two weeks of the season. Both of those backs, Derrick Henry and Conner, saw at least 18 touches. The chances of either of these backs seeing enough volume to be a decent play are slim.
Brandon Aiyuk (at Seattle) - A rookie wideout as the start of the week? Damn right. That's how delicious this matchup is. To date, the Seattle Seahawks have surrendered 8.8 more fantasy points per game to opposing receivers than any other team. Eleven different wideouts have dropped at least 13.1 half-PPR points on Seattle, while 14 have managed to score double-digits. This would be a good time to mention that the Seahawks have played only six games. Meanwhile, Aiyuk has seen at least a 72% snap share in every game he's been active this season, and with Deebo Samuel expected to "miss a couple of games" due to a hamstring injury, Aiyuk should be a rock-solid start. In the two games this season where the rookie has seen at least six touches, he's totaled 18.6 and 14.5 half-PPR points. Aiyuk is a top-20 option this week.
Travis Fulgham (vs. Dallas) - Playing time? Check. Huge target share? Check. Delicious matchup? Check. Fulgham checks all the boxes in Week 8. Fulgham has seen at least a 78% snap share in three straight and has garnered at least 10 targets in each of those games. Nine of the 10 wideouts who have seen at least 8 targets against the Cowboys have totaled a minimum of 13.6 fantasy points -- seven have managed at least 16.9. Fulgham is a WR1 this week.
Tee Higgins (vs. Tennessee) - Higgins is dangerously close to losing eligibility for the "stream" section of this piece, as he's a borderline must-start every week. While Higgins does not have the best matchup of the Cincy wideouts in Week 8 (that honor belongs to Boyd), he is certainly worth trotting out there. Higgins has seen at least 57% of the snaps and 5 targets in each of his last six games, and those numbers have jumped to 79% and 7 in four of his last five. Additionally, since Week 3 only five receivers have seen more air yards than Higgins since. Meanwhile, the Titans have allowed double-digit half-PPR points to multiple wideouts in four of their last five games, and in the lone game in which they didn't, they surrendered at least 8.3 points to four different receivers. Seven receivers have scored at least 13.0 half-PPR points against the Titans since Week 2, and a number of them play on the boundary. Higgins is a full-go for your lineups this week.
Scotty Miller (at NYG) - Six receptions for 69 yards and 2 scores to JuJu Smith-Schuster, 5 receptions for 69 yard and a touchdown to Cooper Kupp, 8 receptions for 124 yards to CeeDee Lamb, and 5 receptions for 42 yards and a tuddy to Greg Ward -- those are receiving lines the Giants have surrendered to wideouts. And if you don't see the trend, allow me to help -- each of those guys play at least 60% of their snaps in the slot. Now, Miller has run only about a fourth of his snaps from the slot this season, but with Chris Godwin out and Justin Watson seeing under 20% of the snaps in consecutive games, Miller should see an uptick in that category.
Mike Evans (at NYG) - This is a fade that could completely backfire, given that Evans should see a sizable bump in targets with Godwin out, but the matchup is concerning. Take a look.
Mike Evans vs. James Bradberry in six shadow matchups since 2017:
Week 8, 2017: 5 receptions-60 yards-0 TD (10 targets)
Week 16, 2017: 6-107-0 (8)
Week 9, 2018: 1-16-0 (10)
Week 13, 2018: 4-48-0 (6)
Week 2, 2019: 4-61-0 (8)
Week 6, 2019: 9-96-0 (17)
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) October 28, 2020
That alone is reason enough for hesitancy, and it doesn't help that James Bradberry is playing the best football of his career right now. Evans has scored a combined 6.2 half-PPR points in his last two, so we know just how low his floor is. Brady has plenty of other targets at his disposal, and with the Bucs being 10.5-point favorites, this game could get out of hand quickly.
DeVante Parker (vs. LAR) - Banged-up? Check. A rookie quarterback making his first start? Check. A nightmarish shadow matchup? Check. Parker checks all the boxes that we don't want a receiver to check. Going up against Jalen Ramsey is never easy -- doing so with a rookie quarterback will be damn near impossible. Parker has succeeded in a number of tough matchups since last season, but he could have trouble producing against the league's second-stingiest defense versus wide receivers.
JuJu Smith-Schuster (at Baltimore) - The Ravens are a bad matchup for receivers, and they're especially tough on those who line up in the slot. Baltimore slot corner Marlon Humphrey is Pro Football Focus' fifth-ranked cornerback so far this season, and he's held each of Tyler Boyd, Greg Ward, Randall Cobb, and Jarvis Landry to fewer than 9.0 half-PPR points. As a whole, Baltimore has surrendered the seventh-fewest fantasy points to the position, and they are tied for third-best in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play. Avoid JuJu in this one.
Jonnu Smith (at Cincinnati) - According to Jared Smola, Jonnu ran a route on just 44% of Tannehill's drop backs last week -- that is definitely concerning, but not concerning enough to prevent us from firing him up in a delicious Week 8 matchup. The Bengals have allowed the second-most fantasy points to opposing tight ends -- that includes allowing an eye-popping six touchdowns to the position in just their last three games. Scoring touchdowns has been Jonnu's forte this year, as he had five scores through his first four contests. Smith's five red zone touchdowns are tied for the second-most in the league. Fire him up as a top-five option this week.
Noah Fant (vs. LAC) - Fant has seen at least five targets in every game this season, and he's played at least 70% of the snaps in all but one outing. So far this campaign, the Chargers have surrendered at least 50 yards and a touchdown to three different tight ends. Fant ranks eighth in target share at the position, which is a good sign heading into a plus matchup.
Harrison Bryant (vs. Las Vegas) - The Raiders currently rank as the 13th-stingiest team against tight ends, but don't let that dissuade you from streaming Bryant. If you exclude the games where they faced the Panthers, Patriots, and Bills (three teams with no viable tight ends), the Raiders have surrendered 17.0 half-PPR points per game to the position -- that would be second-most in the league. Bryant saw a 77% snap share and 5 targets in Week 7, including 2 looks inside the money zone. With Austin Hooper expected to miss another game and OBJ out for the year, Bryant is a solid streamer this week.
Richard Rodgers (vs. Dallas) - With both Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert out for the Eagles last week, Rodgers played a season-high 85% of the snaps and recorded 8 targets. He turned those looks into 6 receptions for 85 yards, which is all you can ask for from a tight end these days. If Goedert is out again in Week 8, Rodgers becomes a top-10 play. The Cowboys have surrendered the 10th-most fantasy points to opposing tight ends, and three tight ends have scored at least 11.9 half-PPR points against them this season. For reference, 11.9 half-PPR points would have been enough to finish as the TE6 last week.
T.J. Hockenson (vs. Indianapolis) - The Colts have allowed 21.9 half-PPR points to tight ends...on the season. Granted, their competition hasn't been anything to write home about, but it's still noteworthy. Prior to Week 7's matchup with the Falcons, Hockenson had been underwhelming in some tasty spots. He totaled just 26 yards against the Saints and Jacksonville Jaguars, two of the five worst teams at defending the position. This matchup features two teams that are both in the bottom-five in plays run this year, which means the opportunities might not be plentiful for Hockenson.
Gerald Everett and Tyler Higbee (at Miami) - The Dolphins have actually faced some good competition at tight end, and yet they've come out unscathed. To date, Miami has surrendered the fourth-fewest points to the position, and that includes limiting George Kittle to 6.4 half-PPR points in Week 5. Everett saw season-highs in targets and snap percentage in Week 7 with Higbee out, and Higbee did manage to get in a limited practice session on Wednesday. Both are certainly worth sitting if Higbee is active, but I'd fade Everett even if Higbee is out.