We’ve been treated to some fantastic performances through the first two weeks of the NFL regular season, and Week 3 should be no less exciting, gifting us a 13-game main slate on Sunday, Sept. 23, at 1 p.m. ET.
For analysis on the smaller slates, consult Chris Raybon’s premium strategy pieces (released throughout the week).
In writing this piece, I’ve relied primarily on the FantasyLabs Models. This breakdown is less of a comprehensive analysis of each quarterback and more of an introduction to this week’s players via our large suite of analytic DFS Tools. We’ll start with three high-priced quarterbacks, follow with five passers at the top of our individual Pro Models and finish with the rest of the slate’s starting quarterbacks.
For updates on Vegas spreads and over/unders, check out The Action Network Live Odds page.
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Three quarterbacks are at the top of the salary scale this week.
- Aaron Rodgers: $7,100 DraftKings; $8,800 FanDuel
- Patrick Mahomes: $7,000 DraftKings; $8,900 FanDuel
- Kirk Cousins: $6,800 DraftKings; $8,600 FanDuel
Aaron Rodgers: Green Bay Packers (-3) at Washington Redskins, 45.5 Over/Under
Rodgers (knee) suffered a first-half injury in Week 1, but he returned after halftime to lead the Packers to a classic fourth-quarter comeback against the Bears and, after some midweek uncertainty, managed to play in Week 2 against the Vikings. While Rodgers emerged from the game without further injury, he was notably limited in his movement and scored just 16.0 DraftKings points on 281 yards and a touchdown passing.
The Vikings are a tough team, but Rodgers’ matchup this week against the Redskins certainly isn’t easy: Last year, Washington ranked No. 6 in pass defense with a -10.2% mark in Football Outsiders’ DVOA. And through two weeks the Redskins have Pro Football Focus’ top coverage grade (89.9) and third-highest overall defensive grade (85.8).
In addition to the injury and matchup, there are some other factors going against Rodgers. For one, Rodgers has significant home/road splits, which are exacerbated by his favorite/underdog splits. As a road favorite, Rodgers has averaged just 20.5 DraftKings points across 18 games with a -1.56 Plus/Minus and 33.3% Consistency Rating since 2014. Attached to the guy with the a slate-high salary, that subpar historical Plus/Minus is troubling.
Additionally, even though the spread has moved from -2.5 to -3 in the Packers’ favor, their implied total has dropped from 25 points to 24.25 because the opening game total of 47.5 has dropped two points — even with just 28% of the tickets on the under. Why? Because 75% of the money is on that side. (See live data here.) The sharp money is betting on a low-scoring Redskins-Packers contest.
On the positive side, Rodgers is likely to have an almost nonexistent ownership rate: Last week, Rodgers was owned at less than 1% in DraftKings guaranteed prize pools, and there’s little reason to expect he’ll be more popular this week, especially with his salary and Week 2 performance. As Sean Koerner mentioned on the midweek edition of The Action Network NFL Podcast, Rodgers and wide receiver Davante Adams make for an intriguing pivot stack. Rodgers is one of the best quarterbacks of his generation, and Adams leads the league with 24 touchdowns receiving since 2016. Yet last week they were rostered together in just 0.2% of Millionaire Maker lineups.
Because Rodgers is always a threat for a big performance — he has nine games of 3+ touchdowns in his past 16 starts — he warrants consideration as a Shibboleth-esque contrarian. Plus, Rodgers has been productive even when injured. If you roster Rodgers, use our Lineup Builder to stack him with Adams and maybe even wide receiver Randall Cobb. Since 2014, NFL quarterbacks on average have had 0.47 and 0.40 correlations with their two top wide receivers. With Adams and Cobb, Rodgers has 0.60 and 0.61 marks.
Patrick Mahomes: Kansas City Chiefs (-6.5) vs. San Francisco 49ers, 56.5 O/U
The Chiefs have punished Vegas over the past two weeks, and now bettors will have to pay a “Mahomes Tax” if they want to take the Chiefs or the over, and that makes sense: With their second-year quarterback leading the offense, the Chiefs have dominated relative to their year-to-date Vegas expectations. On a per-game basis, they have …
- Outscored their implied totals by 16.63 points (No. 2 in league)
- Surpassed their game total by 22 points (No. 1)
- Covered their spreads by 11.25 points (No. 5)
The Chiefs lead the league with 40 points per game, and Mahomes is the first quarterback in NFL history with 10 touchdowns passing in Weeks 1-2. The Mahomes era is here.
With his unrivaled ball velocity (60 mph), Mahomes has quickly made a habit of attacking defenses deep. He’s No. 1 in the league with a 145.0 QB Rating on deep passing (20+ yards), leading the position in the category with eight completions, 240 yards, four touchdowns, a 23.6% attempt rate and 61.5% accuracy rate (PFF). He also leads the league with an average of 12.1 intended air yards per attempt (Next Gen Stats).
For a player with just three starts, he’s been incredibly poised in the pocket. He’s been pressured on a high 36.1% of his dropbacks but sacked at just a 9.1% rate. He’s No. 3 in the league with a 132.9 QB Rating under pressure. And with a clean pocket he’s No. 1 with a 146.5. Head coach Andy Reid has done a magnificent job scheming to Mahomes’ strengths, simplifying his reads and enabling him to get the ball out quickly: When holding the ball for fewer than 2.5 seconds in the pocket, Mahomes again leads the league in QB Rating, sporting a near-perfect 154.0 mark (PFF).
With 1.1 fantasy points per dropback, Mahomes has been the league’s most efficient fantasy producer through two weeks — and now he’s making his first home start. (Side note: If he eventually develops severe home/road splits, get ready for all the MaHOMEs puns.) On top of that, he’s facing a woeful 49ers pass defense that last year allowed quarterbacks to score the third-most DraftKings points per game (19.8).
Additionally, the Chiefs defense enters Week 3 dead last with a 31.7% DVOA, so Mahomes could find himself in a shootout: The Chiefs have a slate-high implied total of 31.25 points, and the game total of 56 is easily the top mark.
But there are some market-based issues with Mahomes: His ownership could be out of control after his six-touchdown performance last week. On top of that, his salary has jumped up a slate-high $1,000 on DraftKings and $2,200 on FanDuel. And in the Andy Reid era, Arrowhead Stadium has been a notoriously difficult place for visitors, who have been held to 16.9 points per game vs. 21.7 at home against the Chiefs. Under Reid, Arrowhead has a league-worst 14-26-0 over/under record: No home team since 2013 has lost over bettors more money (-31% ROI) than the Chiefs. We might expect a shootout in Kansas City, but historically it hasn’t been a points-friendly place.
Of course, almost all those games were played with another quarterback — and Mahomes is not just another quarterback. He leads the position with his median, ceiling and floor projections.
Kirk Cousins: Minnesota Vikings (-16.5) vs. Buffalo Bills, 41 O/U
For his three seasons as the full-time starting quarterback in Washington, Cousins was plagued by the most facile of criticism: He couldn’t win “the big game.” Never mind that for much of that time Cousins had to deal with an injured offensive line, poor backfield play, aging wide receivers, an offensive system that runs through the tight end, a head coach who never fully supported him and an owner who might be one of the worst in the league.
Amidst a chaos that would have destroyed lesser men, Cousins went 24-23-1 as a starter, completing 67.0% of his passes, ranking fifth with his 7.80 adjusted yards per attempt (AY/A) and finishing eighth with 18.2 fantasy points per game.
Now with the Vikings, Cousins has proven himself to open the year, placing fourth with 28.9 DraftKings points per game and an imposing +10.51 Plus/Minus. Even though his receivers have punished him with a league-high eight drops, he still has the best pass-catching unit of his career, highlighted by wide receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen and tight end Kyle Rudolph, who this year have collectively gotten an aggressive 0.65 target share and a whopping 0.91 market share of air yards. Cousins is good enough as a quarterback to know that he needs to get his best players the ball as often as possible.
This week the Vikings are at home against the Bills, who opened as historically large September underdogs. While this ostensibly is a good situation for Cousins — opposing quarterbacks have scored 24.6 DraftKings points per game against the Bills this year — it’s possible that the Vikings could have a run-heavy game script by the second quarter, limiting Cousins’ potential for a big game.
Although he seems extremely likely not to have a poor game, Cousins is in something of a mixed DFS spot: The Bills are the most underrated team of Week 3, but even so, Cousins’ upside might be too constricted for GPPs, and his salary might be too elevated for cash games.
There are five quarterbacks atop the individual Pro Models that Jonathan Bales, Peter Jennings (CSURAM88), Adam Levitan, Sean Koerner, Chris Raybon, Kevin McClelland (SportsGeek) and I have constructed.
- Jimmy Garoppolo: $6,500 DraftKings; $7,400 FanDuel
- Carson Wentz: $6,200 DraftKings; $7,400 FanDuel
- Deshaun Watson: $6,100 DraftKings; $7,700 FanDuel
- Cam Newton: $6,000 DraftKings; $8,300 FanDuel
- Matt Ryan: $5,700 DraftKings; $7,700 FanDuel
Jimmy Garoppolo: San Francisco 49ers (+6.5) at Kansas City Chiefs, 56.5 O/U
Garoppolo isn’t in a great spot as a road dog, and he’s disappointed this year with just 14.3 DraftKings points per game for a -2.55 Plus/Minus and 0% Consistency Rating. He’s been PFF’s most inaccurate passer to date with a 61.8% accuracy rate overall and an alarming 66.7 accuracy rate when kept clean. What’s perhaps most telling is that on passes with no play action Garoppolo has a league-low 51.9 QB Rating. In 2018, he’s been less Jimmy GQ and more Jimmy Geez.
But Week 3 could be good to him: The Chiefs have allowed a league-high 37.5 DraftKings points per game to quarterbacks…
- Week 1 to Philip Rivers: 33.0 DraftKings points, 424 yards passing, three touchdowns total
- Week 2 to Ben Roethlisberger: 42.0 DraftKings points, 452 yards passing, four touchdowns total
…and Kansas City has a PFF-worst 42.0 coverage grade through two weeks. All-Pro strong safety Eric Berry (heel) is still out. Without him, the Chiefs have not one defensive back or linebacker with a PFF coverage grade of even 65.
On top of that, it’s possible that this week Garoppolo could get back No. 1 wide receiver Marquise Goodwin (quad). A potential pivot play on Mahomes, Garoppolo has a position-high 70% Bargain Rating on FanDuel, where he’s the top quarterback in the Freedman Model.
Carson Wentz: Philadelphia Eagles (-6.5) vs. Indianapolis Colts, 47.5 O/U
Last year (including playoffs), no team outperformed its implied total more than the Eagles did with their +5.12 Vegas Plus/Minus, and now they get back their starting quarterback. But we should be cautious.
Despite what the team says, Wentz (knee) is unlikely to be 100% till November — maybe even later — so we should expect him to have limitations running and maybe maneuvering in the pocket (per Dr. David Chao). Additionally, left tackle Jason Peters (quad) is not 100%, and top running backs Jay Ajayi (back) and Darren Sproles (hamstring) and starting wide receivers Alshon Jeffery (shoulder) and Mike Wallace (fibula, injured reserve) are all almost certain to be out.
But at the time of his Week 14 injury last year, Wentz was the league’s presumptive Most Valuable Player, and among quarterbacks with at least 10 starts, he was the No. 1 fantasy quarterback with 23.4 DraftKings points per game. The recent return of longtime Eagles slot receiver Jordan Matthews — who had 800 yards receiving in three career-opening seasons with the team — should bolster a unit desperately in need of experience. And, most importantly, Wentz is facing a Colts pass defense that finished 2017 with a league-worst 28.5% DVOA.
With his great matchup as a home favorite, Wentz is the highest-rated FanDuel quarterback in the Koerner Model.
Deshaun Watson: Houston Texans (-6) vs. New York Giants, 42 O/U
Watson has not picked up where he left off last year, opening the season with just 19.9 DraftKings points per game. But at least Watson seems to have recovered satisfactorily from his season-ending knee injury. With 40+ rushing yards in both games this year, he seems to have retained his dual-threat ability. Plus he was significantly better in Week 2 than he was in Week 1.
- Week 2: 26.8 DraftKings points, 68.9% completion rate, 310 yards passing, two touchdowns, one turnover, 44 yards rushing
- Week 1: 13.0 DraftKings points, 50% completion rate, 176 yards passing, one touchdown, two turnovers, 40 yards rushing
It’s possible that Watson’s Week 2 improvement was tied to the return of playmaking No. 2 wide receiver Will Fuller, who missed Week 1 with a hamstring injury. In Watson’s five career starts with both Fuller and No. 1 wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, he’s basically been the Michael Jordan of fantasy football with 32.0 DraftKings points, a +14.4 Plus/Minus and 100% Consistency Rating.
Watson has certainly regressed in 2018, but that was expected. And with his receivers, Watson still has a top-tier ceiling/floor combination. Facing a mediocre Giants defense as a significant home favorite, Watson has a position-high two Pro Trends on FanDuel, where he leads all quarterbacks in the Bales, CSURAM88, Levitan, Raybon and SportsGeek Models.
Cam Newton: Carolina Panthers (-3) vs. Cincinnati Bengals, 43.5 O/U
Newton was as dominant in Week 2 (31.6 DraftKings points) as he was mediocre in Week 1 (18.2). On the road against the divisional rival Falcons, he completed 71.1% of his passes for 335 yards and three touchdowns (to one interception), adding 42 yards on five carries. For the season, he’s completing a nice career-high 69.0% of his passes in offensive coordinator Norv Turner’s system, and in typical fashion, he leads the Panthers with 18 carries and 100 yards rushing. With 24.9 DraftKings points per game and a +5.73 Plus/Minus, Newton in 2018 has pretty much been the guy we’ve seen since 2011.
What’s perhaps most amazing about Newton’s recent performance is how he’s been able to overcome the roster issues around him.
His offensive line is in disarray: Left tackle Matt Kalil (knee) and right tackle Daryl Williams (knee) are both on injured reserve. Right guard Trai Turner (concussion) missed Week 2 and is questionable for Week 3. 2017 All-Pro left guard Andrew Norwell is now on the Jaguars. Center Ryan Kalil hasn’t had a PFF pass-blocking grade above 60 since 2016. And of course, longtime tight end and No. 1 receiver Greg Olsen (foot) missed Week 2 and might miss the rest of the season.
And yet, since last season, Newton has actually been more productive without Olsen than with the tight end.
- Newton without Olsen (10 games): 25.4 fantasy points, 234.3 yards and 1.7 touchdowns passing, 1.1 interceptions, 49.9 yards and 0.4 touchdowns rushing
- Newton with Olsen (8 games): 19.2 fantasy points, 180.9 yards and one touchdown passing, 0.75 interceptions, 44.4 yards and 0.38 touchdowns rushing
Regardless of his circumstances, Newton just seems to produce. He’s volatile week to week, but in his five healthy seasons he’s been a top-four fantasy quarterback each year. It helps that he has a dynamic pass-catcher in running back Christian McCaffrey, who has a position- and team-high 0.34 market share of targets. It’s probably suboptimal to have a passing game that runs through the backfield, but at least Newton’s throws to McCaffrey are are high-percentage targets, and McCaffrey has the skill to turn his targets into quarterback-enhancing production: He leads all backs with 142 yards after the catch.
Newton has a workable matchup against the Bengals, who have have allowed 24.0 DraftKings points per game to quarterbacks this year.
- Week 1 to Andrew Luck: 23.5 DraftKings points, 319 yards passing, two touchdowns
- Week 2 to Joe Flacco: 23.8 DraftKings points, 376 yards passing, two touchdowns
A home favorite, Newton has a position-high 98% Bargain Rating on DraftKings, where he’s the No. 1 quarterback in the Bales, CSURAM88, Levitan and Raybon Models.
Matt Ryan: Atlanta Falcons (-3) vs. New Orleans Saints, 53 O/U
Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian has limited Ryan to one 300-yard, multi-touchdown game in 20 starts (including playoffs) after he had eight such games in 2016 with Kyle Shanahan. But at least Ryan came alive in Week 2, completing 82.1% of his passes and scoring four touchdowns total — two on the ground! — on his way to 31.7 DraftKings points.
On top of that, the Falcons converted all four of their red-zone trips last week into touchdowns. If Sark can improve as a high-leverage play caller, Ryan has a chance of approaching his 2016 form this year.
To his credit, Sark has enabled Ryan to be much more aggressive this year in targeting wide receiver Julio Jones and throwing downfield. Jones leads the league with a 0.39 target share and 0.71 market share of air yards. His 17.0-yard average depth of target and 477 total air yards speak to how relentless Ryan has been in taking shots at Jones, and that assertiveness has benefited Ryan, who trails just Mahomes with his six completions, 181 yards and 60% accuracy rate on deep passes.
Although the Saints entered the season with a secondary that seemed formidable, they have allowed quarterbacks to score the third-most DraftKings points per game (30.4) through two weeks. In the Shanny/Sark era, Ryan has disappointed as a home favorite — 17.63 DraftKings points per game, -2.05 Plus/Minus, 38.1% Consistency Rating — but he has averaged 314.1 yards passing against the Saints in 13 games with Julio. In a game with the slate’s second-highest over/under, Ryan has a position-high nine Pro Trends on DraftKings, where he’s the No. 1 quarterback in the Koerner, SportsGeek and Freedman Models.
On Sunday morning, I will probably look for action on Ryan’s yardage prop. To find the best bets in the props market, use our Player Props Tool, which is powered by our industry-leading projections. Since Week 1, the props with a bet quality of 10 have gone 40-23, good for a 63% win rate.
Rundown of the Rest
Drew Brees: New Orleans Saints (+3) at Atlanta Falcons, 53 O/U
- $6,400 DraftKings; $8,500 FanDuel
- Brees since 2013 has averaged just 22.1 fantasy points vs. 28.5 when he’s not at the Coors Field of fantasy football.
Russell Wilson: Seattle Seahawks (-1) vs. Dallas Cowboys, 41.5 O/U
- $6,000 DraftKings; $7,800 FanDuel
- Wilson has a 58.3% DraftKings Consistency Rating at CenturyLink Field vs. a 40.7% on the road.
Jared Goff: Los Angeles Rams (-7) vs. Los Angeles Chargers, 48 O/U
- $5,900 DraftKings; $7,600 FanDuel
- The Rams are now favorites to win Super Bowl 53 and have jumped over the Patriots to become the No. 1 team in The Action Network NFL Power Rankings.
Philip Rivers: Los Angeles Chargers (+7) at Los Angeles Rams, 48 O/U
- $5,800 DraftKings; $7,400 FanDuel
- The Rams have held opposing quarterbacks to an NFL-low 7.4 DraftKings points per game.
Alex Smith: Washington Redskins (+3) vs. Green Bay Packers, 45.5 O/U
- $5,800 DraftKings; $7,100 FanDuel
- Smith is coming off a 6.35 AY/A performance after just two games that poor last year.
Andy Dalton: Cincinnati Bengals (+3) at Carolina Panthers, 44 O/U
- $5,700 DraftKings; $7,200 FanDuel
- Dalton as a dog has been significantly better away from Paul Brown Stadium (57.1% DraftKings Consistency Rating) than at home (33.3%).
Andrew Luck: Indianapolis Colts (+6.5) at Philadelphia Eagles, 47.5 O/U
- $5,600 DraftKings; $7,400 FanDuel
- The man with no shoulder is last in the league with a 5.0 aDOT.
Blake Bortles: Jacksonville Jaguars (no spread) vs. Tennessee Titans, no O/U
UPDATE (9/22): The Jags are favored by 10 points and the over/under is 40.
- $5,600 DraftKings; $6,700 FanDuel
- Empires rise and fall, mountains crumble to the sea and still Bortles is a low-end QB1 with 22.9 fantasy points per game.
Mitchell Trubisky: Chicago Bears (-6) at Arizona Cardinals, 37.5 O/U
- $5,500 DraftKings; $6,500 FanDuel
- Trubisky is a 100% scripted quarterback with a 9.9 AY/A in the first quarter and 2.8 AY/A after.
Derek Carr: Oakland Raiders (+3) at Miami Dolphins, 43.5 O/U
- $5,400 DraftKings; $6,800 FanDuel
- Carr’s excellence (80.6% completion rate, 8.2 yards per attempt) has been masked by his high-leverage incompetence (1.4% touchdown rate, 4.2% interception rate).
Joe Flacco: Baltimore Ravens (-5.5) vs. Denver Broncos, 43.5 O/U
- $5,400 DraftKings; $6,700 FanDuel
- Flacco has 20+ DraftKings points in back-to-back games after hitting that mark just once last year.
Ryan Tannehill: Miami Dolphins (-3) vs. Oakland Raiders, 43.5 O/U
- $5,300 DraftKings; $6,600 FanDuel
- Tannehill has a league-low 51 pass attempts among all quarterbacks to start two games.
Case Keenum: Denver Broncos (+5.5) at Baltimore Ravens, 43.5 O/U
- $5,200 DraftKings; $6,700 FanDuel
- Keenum ranks second with 16 deep passes but has a league-worst 29.2 QB Rating on such attempts among qualified passers.
Eli Manning: New York Giants (+6) at Houston Texans, 42 O/U
- $5,200 DraftKings; $6,500 FanDuel
- Eli’s offense hasn’t scored 30+ points since Week 17 of the 2015 season.
Dak Prescott: Dallas Cowboys (+1) at Seattle Seahawks, 41.5 O/U
- $5,100 DraftKings; $6,800 FanDuel
- Prescott has averaged just 15.3 fantasy points per game as a dog vs. 22.9 as a favorite.
Marcus Mariota & Blaine Gabbert: Tennessee Titans (no spread) at Jacksonville Jaguars, no O/U
UPDATE (9/22): Mariota (elbow, questionable) is a theoretical game-time decision but expected not to start. The Jags are favored by 10 points and the over/under is 40.
- Mariota: $4,900 DraftKings; $6,500 FanDuel
- Gabbert: $4,400 DraftKings; $6,100 FanDuel
- The Jags last year held quarterbacks to an NFL-low 12.4 DraftKings points per game.
Sam Bradford: Arizona Cardinals (+6) vs. Chicago Bears, 37.5 O/U
- $4,500 DraftKings; $6,300 FanDuel
- The former No. 1 pick has 3.6 net yards per pass while his running backs lap him with 4.1 yards per carry.
Josh Allen: Buffalo Bills (+16.5) at Minnesota Vikings, 41 O/U
- $4,500 DraftKings; $6,100 FanDuel
- The Jake Locker impersonator has an NFL-high 3.57-second time to throw to go along with his league-worst 50% completion rate among qualified passers.
Positional Breakdowns & News
Be sure to read the other Week 3 positional breakdowns.
For more in-depth NFL analysis information, check out The Action Network.
After this piece is published, FantasyLabs is likely to provide news updates on a number of players. Be sure to stay ahead of your competition with our industry-leading DFS-focused news blurbs.
Pictured above: Patrick Mahomes
Photo credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports