The bye weeks are over, and the 2018 NFL season is still on pace for a record-breaking campaign with an average of 24.2 points per game per team. The action continues with a 13-game main slate that kicks off on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET.
In this positional breakdown, I’m looking at four quarterbacks at the top of the individual Pro Models that Jonathan Bales, Peter Jennings (CSURAM88), Adam Levitan, Sean Koerner, Chris Raybon, Kevin McClelland (SportsGeek) and I have constructed.
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- Patrick Mahomes: $7,600 DraftKings; $9,500 FanDuel
- Cam Newton: $6,600 DraftKings; $8,700 FanDuel
- Russell Wilson: $6,300 DraftKings; $7,700 FanDuel
- Jameis Winston: $6,000 DraftKings; $7,500 FanDuel
Patrick Mahomes: Kansas City Chiefs (-14) at Oakland Raiders, 55.5 Over/Under
UPDATE (12/1): Running back Kareem Hunt (personal conduct) has been waived by the Chiefs and placed on the Commissioner Exempt list following the release of a disturbing TMZ video on Friday. Running back Spencer Ware will now lead the Chiefs backfield. Center Mitch Morse (concussion) will play after practicing in full this week. Wide receiver Sammy Watkins (hamstring) is out.
Raiders defensive tackle Maurice Hurst (ankle), defensive end Arden Key (knee) and cornerback Daryl Worley (shoulder) are questionable but tentatively expected to play. Cornerback Leon Hall (back) is out.
The Chiefs opened as the largest road favorites since 2007, head coach Andy Reid is 16-3 straight up coming off the bye week and Mahomes is dominating the league with a position-high 30.8 DraftKings points per game. For context: Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is second, and he trails Mahomes by five full points. Mahomes easily leads the position with an obscene +11.54 Plus/Minus, and his emergence has been THE story of the season.
Mahomes is no longer favored to win the 2018 MVP award, but he’s playing better than any other quarterback in the league. His weekly consistency is outstanding. Not once has he scored fewer than 20 DraftKings points.
- Week 1: QB4, 28.3 DraftKings points
- Week 2: QB2, 41.8 DraftKings points
- Week 3: QB7, 28.3 DraftKings points
- Week 4: QB11, 25.9 DraftKings points
- Week 5: QB14, 20.8 DraftKings points
- Week 6: QB2, 35.7 DraftKings points
- Week 7: QB1, 36.8 DraftKings points
- Week 8: QB2, 30.0 DraftKings points
- Week 9: QB4, 30.8 DraftKings points
- Week 10: QB13, 20.1 DraftKings points
- Week 11: QB1, 43.9 DraftKings points
Mahomes has thrown for either 300 yards or four touchdowns in all but one game this season.
Although they lost to the Rams in an epic Week 11 Monday Night Football matchup, the 9-2 Chiefs still lead the AFC, and on a per-game basis, they have …
- Outscored their implied total by 8.2 points (No. 1 in NFL)
- Exceeded their game total by 10.0 points (No. 1)
- Surpassed their spread by 6.5 points (No. 2)
The Chiefs rank second in scoring at 36.7 points per game, and Mahomes is foundational to their success. He is the first quarterback in NFL history with 37 passing touchdowns in his first 12 NFL starts. (Hall of Fame member Kurt Warner is second with 29, a mark he hit while leading the 1999 “Greatest Show on Turf” Super Bowl-winning Rams.) And the Chiefs have a slate-high implied Vegas total of 35.25 points.
On top of that, Mahomes has a great matchup against the Raiders, who are in full rebuild mode. This season, the Raiders have a league-low three wins against the spread, and their -8.1 spread margin is significantly worse than that of any other team (per Bet Labs). Even on the road as double-digit favorites, the Chiefs could exceed expectations.
The Raiders rank 30th against the pass with a 30.7% mark in Football Outsiders’ DVOA, and they rank dead last against tight ends (61.0% DVOA). If you roster Mahomes in guaranteed prize pools, you might want to use our Lineup Builder to stack him with tight end Travis Kelce. Since 2014, quarterbacks on average have had a 0.48 correlation with their No. 1 tight ends, but Kelce’s quarterbacks have had a 0.78 correlation with him.
Mahomes has the potential to put up points quickly in this game. With his unrivaled ball velocity (60 mph), Mahomes has made a habit of attacking defenses deep. He’s No. 1 in the league with 65 deep pass attempts (20-plus yards), 33 deep completions, 1,093 deep-passing yards and 12 deep-passing touchdowns. Mahomes likes to air it out.
For a player with only 12 career starts, he’s been incredibly poised in the pocket. Mahomes has been pressured on 34.0% of his dropbacks, but his 13.6% sack rate on such plays is the league’s fourth-lowest mark. And with a clean pocket, he’s No. 1 with a 142.4 QB Rating (Pro Football Focus).
Reid has done a magnificent job of scheming to Mahomes’ strengths, streamlining his reads and enabling him to get the ball out quickly. When Mahomes can simply take the snap, focus immediately on his receivers and throw the ball, he’s maybe the best quarterback in the league. On passes with no play action, he’s No. 1 with a 122.1 QB Rating. When holding the ball for fewer than 2.5 seconds in the pocket, he’s again No. 1 with a 137.8 QB Rating (PFF).
Although center Mitch Morse (concussion) and wide receiver Sammy Watkins (foot) are uncertain to play, the Chiefs should be relatively healthy coming off the bye. Mahomes should have close to his full arsenal of weapons.
The Raiders have held opposing quarterbacks to a middling 20.1 DraftKings points per game, but that’s primarily because passers haven’t need to throw the ball frequently to beat the Raiders. Even so, on Sunday morning I will probably look to bet the over on Mahomes’ touchdown prop. He’s gone over 1.5 in nine games this season, and the Raiders have allowed every quarterback they’ve faced to throw multiple touchdowns except for the unimpressive Case Keenum and the run-focused Lamar Jackson.
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 196-91-9, good for a 66% win rate.
Without question, you should supplement your DFS action with player props.
Mahomes has position-high median and ceiling projections on DraftKings, where he’s the No. 1 quarterback in the Freedman Model.
Cam Newton: Carolina Panthers (-3) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 53.5 O/U
UPDATE (12/1): Wide receivers Devin Funchess (back) and Curtis Samuel (hamstring) are fully expected to play after practicing this week.
Bucs linebacker Lavonte David (knee) is questionable but expected to play after practicing in full on Friday. Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (knee) will play after a full practice on Friday. Cornerback Brent Grimes (knee) is questionable but seems unlikely to play after a midweek downgrade. Cornerbacks M.J. Stewart (foot) and Carlton Davis (knee) are out.
On the Wednesday edition of The Action Network NFL Podcast, there was a lot of enthusiasm for Newton, and it’s easy to see why.
While there were worries at the start of the season about how well offensive coordinator Norv Turner would be able to adapt his Air Coryell system to Newton, the 2015 MVP has career-best numbers with his 69.6% completion rate, 1.9% interception rate and 5.3% sack rate.
Even though he doesn’t have a true No. 1 alpha receiver, Newton does have:
- An elite pass-catching running back in Christian McCaffrey
- A reliable and longtime middle-of-the-field option in tight end Greg Olsen
- An emerging first-round rookie in wide receiver D.J. Moore
- A contested-catch playmaker in wide receiver Devin Funchess
- A veteran field-stretcher in wide receiver Torrey Smith
- A versatile Percy Harvin clone in wide receiver Curtis Samuel
Newton has the players around him to succeed. In his five healthy seasons, he’s been a top-four fantasy quarterback, and he’s looking to accomplish that feat again with his average of 24.1 DraftKings points per game. Newton has had fewer than 18 DraftKings points in a game this season only once.
What’s perhaps most amazing about Newton’s performance is how he’s been able to overcome the roster issues around him. Continuity is crucial along the offensive line, and three of last season’s starters are not on the field: Left tackle Matt Kalil (knee, injured reserve) was sidelined before the regular season, right tackle Daryl Williams (knee, IR) has missed every game but one and 2017 All-Pro left guard Andrew Norwell is on the Jaguars. Even so, Newton is having one of the best campaigns of his career.
Unsurprisingly, a large portion of Newton’s value comes from his rushing production. On a per-game basis, he’s top-three at the position with 4.7 expected fantasy points as a runner (per the RotoViz Screener). Second on the team with 85 carries, 417 yards on the ground and four rushing touchdowns, Newton is basically his own short-yardage back. He’s first among all quarterbacks in league history with 58 rushing touchdowns and second to only Michael Vick with 39.5 yards rushing per game. Newton is viable in almost any game environment because of his running ability.
And he’s more than viable this week: He’s outright desirable.
Newton is on the road as a short-ish favorite playing the second game of the season against a divisional opponent, but he has been a splits-agnostic player throughout his career.
- Home/Away (60/60 games): 24.2 fantasy points vs. 24.4
- Favorite/Underdog (66/54 games): 24.4 fantasy points vs. 24.1
- Division/Non-Division (41/79): 24.2 fantasy points vs. 24.3
And the Bucs are horrible. They are dead last in the league in pass defense with a 32.9% DVOA and have allowed quarterbacks to average a top-four mark of 23.8 DraftKings points per game.
And to make matters worse, Tampa Bay’s entire defense is the walking wounded.
In the front seven, middle linebacker Kwon Alexander (knee, IR) is out, as is backup middle linebacker Jack Cichy (ankle, IR). Weak side linebacker Lavonte David (knee) has sat out the past two games. And defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (knee) exited last week early after attempting to play through a questionable tag.
The secondary might be even worse off than the front seven. Strong safety Chris Conte (knee, IR) and cornerback Vernon Hargreaves (shoulder, IR) are out. Slot corner M.J. Stewart (foot) has been out since Week 9. Free safety Justin Evans (toe) has missed the past two games. And outside cornerback Carlton Davis (knee) exited last week early and is uncertain for this week.
It’s notable that, while the Bucs have had one of the league’s worst defenses since 2016 (under head coach Dirk Koetter), Newton has surprisingly struggled against them over that span:
- Against Bucs (four games): 15.6 DraftKings points, -3.16 Plus/Minus, 199.5 yards and one touchdown passing, 1.25 interceptions, 33.8 yards and 0.25 touchdowns rushing
- Against all other teams (38 games): 21.2 DraftKings points, +1.54 Plus/Minus, 228.9 yards and 1.55 touchdowns passing, 0.84 interceptions, 36.7 yards and 0.37 touchdowns rushing
Still, I don’t want to put too much weight on a four-game sample, especially since the Bucs are the worst they’ve ever been this season and Newton didn’t have Turner for the 2016-17 seasons. When Newton faced the Bucs in Week 9, he had an acceptable 21.1 DraftKings points in a 42-28 victory.
Thanks to their magnificent combination of high-scoring offense (26.7 points per game) and basement-level defense (30.7 points per game allowed), the Bucs have an 8-3 over/under record this season, which is the best mark in the league for over bettors (per Bet Labs). I’m betting this game makes it nine.
Newton could be without Funchess (back) and Samuel (hamstring) this week, but with the emergence of Moore, steadiness of Olsen and explosiveness of McCaffrey, there should still be plenty of fantasy potential for Newton.
Newton and McCaffrey in particular make for a strong stacking option, given that McCaffrey leads the team with 82 targets, 71 receptions, 608 yards receiving and five receiving touchdowns.
Newton has a position-high ceiling projection on FanDuel, where he’s the No. 1 quarterback in the SportsGeek Model. He’s also the top option on DraftKings in each Pro Model except for one (Freedman).
Russell Wilson: Seattle Seahawks (-10) vs. San Francisco 49ers, 45.5 O/U
Seattle leads the league with a 50.6% rush rate, and Wilson has a career-low 3.7 rushes per game, so he’s clearly not in an offense meant to maximize his talents, but he’s nevertheless having a good season. He’s yet to attempt even 40 passes in any game, but in only one week this season has DangeRuss thrown fewer than two touchdown passes.
Wilson is a notoriously slow starter, and he did have an underwhelming first month of the season, but since then he’s been dynamic on just 26.9 throws and 4.3 carries per game.
- 21.7 FanDuel points per game
- +5.40 Plus/Minus
- 100% Consistency Rating
- 234.7 yards passing
- 2.57 touchdowns
- 0.29 interceptions
- 27 yards rushing
- 10.2 adjusted yards per attempt (AY/A)
For context: Saints quarterback and MVP frontrunner Drew Brees leads the league with an identical 10.2 AY/A for the season.
It’s probably not happenstance that Wilson’s turnaround has coincided with the emergence of second-year wide receiver David Moore, who has impressed over the past two months as the team’s big-bodied presence (6-foot-1, 219 pounds).
Since Week 5, Moore in seven games is tied for the team lead with 34 targets and five touchdowns and is first outright with 578 air yards and nine end-zone targets. His pace of 1.29 end-zone targets over that sample is utterly elite and comparable to Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham’s season-long mark of 1.36 — and Beckham is top-three in the league with 15 end-zone targets.
When Wilson targets Moore, fantasy points appear.
In fact, a key to Wilson’s success is his proclivity for distributing end-zone targets to all his receivers (not just Moore). Wilson is 25th in the league with 309 pass attempts. Of all the quarterbacks to start every game for their teams this season, he by far has the fewest throws. And yet he’s second in the league with 35 end-zone attempts and 19 touchdowns on throws into the end zone. No quarterback has thrown a higher percentage of his passes into the end zone than Wilson has at 11%.
Coming off his first 300-yard passing game of the season, Wilson is in fine form. He has an NFL-high 127.5 QB Rating and 16 touchdowns passing when afforded the opportunity to hold the ball for more than 2.6 seconds in the pocket, and the 49ers have a middling PFF pass-rush grade of 66.3 (19th).
What’s more, the 49ers are dead last in the league with a PFF coverage grade of 40.5. Even with cornerback Richard Sherman — who is cementing his Hall-of-Fame case with an epic age-30 shutdown campaign just one year after rupturing his Achilles — the 49ers are unspeakably bad in pass defense.
Sherman has held quarterbacks to 266 scoreless yards and a completion rate of just 55.2% on 29 targets and 360 coverage snaps. Playing almost exclusively at left corner, Sherman is locking down his side of the field. As a result, quarterbacks have wisely avoided his coverage and instead pivoted to his teammates, who are imminently exploitable.
- Cornerbacks Ahkello Witherspoon and K’Waun Williams have allowed a 62.7% completion rate.
- Safeties Jimmie Ward, Jaquiski Tartt, Adrian Colbert, Antone Exum, D.J. Reed and Tyvis Powell have allowed a 72.5% completion rate.
- Linebackers Fred Warner and Elijah Lee have allowed a 70.4% completion rate.
On top of that, the 49ers will be without linebacker Reuben Foster, who was released on Sunday after his arrest for domestic abused on Saturday night.
Aside from Sherman, nothing with this defense is going well.
A big home favorite facing a defense in ruin, Wilson is the No. 1 quarterback in the CSURAM88, Levitan, Koerner and Freedman Models.
Jameis Winston: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+3) vs. Carolina Panthers, 53.5 O/U
UPDATE (12/1): Wide receiver DeSean Jackson (thumb) is out. Running back Peyton Barber (ankle, shoulder) will play after a full practice on Friday.
Last week, Winston managed to get through a game without throwing an interception for the first time this season, which is actually quite a feat for a guy who trails only Blake Bortles with his 55 interceptions since entering the league in 2015. Thanks to his newfound ball security, Winston will get another start this week.
He has probably the league’s best collection of pass-catching talent in wide receivers Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Chris Godwin and Adam Humphries and tight end Cameron Brate. As a team, the Bucs are first with 4,997 scrimmage yards, 3,914 net passing yards and 289 first downs, second with 449 pass attempts and fourth with 27 passing touchdowns and 6.6 yards per play.
Of course, they’re also dead last in the league with 23 interceptions, 29 turnovers and a 22.3% turnover rate on a per-drive basis. A large part of that is because of Winston, who has 11 interceptions and five fumbles in just six games, only four of which have been starts.
It’s hard to trust Winston because of head coach Dirk Koetter’s mid-game propensity to switch quarterbacks, but for this game at least, Winston seems like a good play. The Panthers are 27th in pass defense (21.6% DVOA) and have allowed the sixth-most fantasy points per game (21.0) to opposing quarterbacks. Winston has an average of 22.6 FanDuel points per game in his four starts even though he was benched late in Week 8. He has plenty of upside in what should be a back-and-forth game with lots of explosive plays.
Winston is the No. 1 FanDuel quarterback in the Bales and Raybon Models.
Positional Breakdowns & News
Be sure to read the other Week 13 positional breakdowns.
For more in-depth NFL analysis information, check out The Action Network.
Pictured above: Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1)
Photo credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports