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This is one of the ugliest games of the week from a fantasy perspective, featuring a game total of just 39.5, nearly the lowest of the week. According to Football Outsiders, Buffalo and Cincinnati feature strong defenses (ranked second and ninth in DVOA respectively) but poor offenses (23rd and 25th respectively).
Unsurprisingly, both Tyrod Taylor (BUF) and Andy Dalton (CIN) are among the 10 worst fantasy QB options on the week.
Taylor's upside is stymied by a few factors working against him. The Bills have been much less efficient on the offensive side of the ball, both rushing and passing, than last season. However, they're still run heavy. Through four games they have the highest rush percentage in the league (54.7 percent) and have attempted three fewer passes per game than the next closest team. Throw in a lackluster receiving core and an elite defense that has kept the Bills at least within one score the entire season, and there is just not much to get excited about from a fantasy perspective.
On DraftKings, Taylor is so cheap ($5,000) that you can consider him in tournaments, but this is a situation you'd rather avoid altogether.
Dalton at least has AJ Green at his disposal, but he faces a more difficult matchup and can't rack up fantasy points on the ground like Taylor. According to 4for4.com, the Bills defense has allowed just 9 adjusted fantasy points per game to the QB position, third lowest in the NFL. Dalton was a late-round QB target in the offseason in the hopes that his TD percentage normalized after an unlucky year, but there is no reason to hold onto him any single-QB leagues given his struggles.
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LeSean McCoy (BUF) didn't have the success we had hoped for last week. His usage and talent keep him as an RB1 in seasonal leagues weekly, but he's on the lower end of that range, making him unattractive at high price tags in DFS leagues.
In the offseason, we were concerned that McCoy wouldn't be able to repeat his somewhat historic season from an efficiency standpoint, and the regression has hit. What we didn't anticipate was how careful the team would be with his touches, often resting McCoy after big plays. It's also been frustrating to see Mike Tolbert's total red zone opportunities (8) challenge McCoy's total (11). The floor here is fine, but the upside has taken a hit from a year ago.
As an aside, the Bills' decision to let Jonathan Williams go in the offseason is rather baffling given how much usage Mike Tolbert has received between the 20's. The coaching staff and front office deserve a lot of leeway, but the team pretty clearly could use a between the 20's upgrade at backup RB if they're intent on spelling McCoy as often as they have been through four weeks.
Joe Mixon (CIN) is a buy-low candidate in dynasty formats. Mixon has the athletic profile to succeed at the NFL level. According to PlayerProfiler.com, Mixon has a 91st percentile height-adjusted speed score and rated well in College YPC and College Target Share, comparing most favorably to Ezekiel Elliott.
There are two issues from a current fantasy perspective: opportunity and quality. Mixon has emerged as the lead back in CIN, but he's still only playing around 50% of his team's snaps, according to DailyRoto:
Inefficiency has also plagued Mixon; he's averaging just 2.62 YPC. A lot of this has to do with the context around Mixon. Dalton's dreadful start to the season isn't softening up defenses, and the offensive line has been one of the worst in the league, something Graham Barfield of Fantasy Guru Tweeted about:
Per PFF, no offensive line has opened up fewer yards before contact per rush than #Bengals have for Joe Mixon (0.30). League average: 1.40.
— Graham Barfield (@GrahamBarfield) October 3, 2017
The increase in carries the last two weeks (35 combined) keeps Mixon as an RB2 in seasonal leagues, but the floor is shaky. In DFS, Mixon is a sit in all formats, and his teammates, Hill and Bernard, should not be played anywhere.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
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AJ Green (CIN) is in a tier of his own in this game. Similar to LeSean McCoy, though, Green's an obvious WR1 in seasonal formats, but overpriced in DFS based on opportunity cost (high-priced RBs in demand this week), actual cost (rise in salary from the beginning of the season), and matchup. Pro Football Focus has the Bills pass coverage rated as the third-best unit in the NFL.
If this game turns into a shootout, Green's hefty 33 percent MS of targets gives him a high ceiling on total targets; the issue is that a shootout or pass-heavy Cincinnati attack is unlikely to occur in a game that projects as close and low scoring.
Green is the only CIN WR we're interested in this week, but backup TE Tyler Kroft (CIN), who is filling in for the injured Tyler Eifert, has emerged as fantasy relevant at the position the last two weeks. Kroft has played 98 percent and 83 percent of team snaps the past two weeks, turning 11 targets over that span into 9 catches for 96 yards and 2 TDs. He's a low-end TE option in deep seasonal leagues, and a cheap target on DraftKings, where it makes sense to save money at the TE position this week.
On the Bills' side. Charles Clay (BUF) is the lone bright spot among the receiving corps. Clay has overcome the Bills' run-heavy ways by posting a hefty 26 percent MS of targets, averaging 9.08 yards per target (second best on the team among those with at least 5 targets), and receiving 38 percent of the team's targets in the red zone. Clay is turning into an every week TE1 (Top-12) position in season-long leagues. The issue in DFS this week is a large rise in the price tag for Clay. He's a recommended fade in DFS leagues, but if you were going to use him, the price tag is friendlier on FanDuel.
Now we can take a look at the Bills' WR corps. It's, um, not pretty. Zay Jones leads the Bills with a 17 percent MS of targets, which is low for a team's leading targeted WR, but it spells fantasy death on the run-heaviest team in the league. Oh, and Jones has caught just 4 of his 17 targets. That gives him the second lowest catch rate in the NFL among players with at least 10 targets:
With Jordan Matthews injured, the rest of the Bills' WRs have combined for 12 targets. No one here is startable in season-long leagues. If you wanted to make a longshot play here on DraftKings, Zay Jones (BUF) (strong bet to lead WRs in targets) and Andre Holmes (BUF) (adding some in between the 20's targets to his RZ usage) are tournament dart throws, simply because of how cheap they are on a full PPR DFS site with tight pricing and some upside in opportunity.
Both defenses rank as middle of the pack defenses. Both have a high floor from a points allowed perspective. The Bengals have a slightly better context as small favorites at home, but the Bills defense possesses more upside given their early-season dominance and Dalton's woes (conversely, Taylor typically does not turn the ball over).
Ultimately, the Bill defense makes for the better fantasy option. They can be streamed in season-long leagues, but keep in mind you'll have to drop them next week (Bye week). In DFS, particularly on DraftKings, the Bills' low price tag brings them into play in all formats. Even if they rank outside the Top-10 projected defenses on the week, they represent the best fantasy defense priced below $3,000 on a week where you will want the salary cap relief.