The Quarterback Breakdown offers data-driven analysis for each week’s main NFL slate. For more of our weekly football content, visit the NFL homepage.
Week 3 was one to remember. On Thursday the Rams and 49ers kicked off the proceedings with an 80.0-pointer, and by the end of the Cowboys-Cardinals game on Monday night 21 of 32 teams had hit or surpassed their implied Vegas totals. Add in the political drama of the President of the United States taking on the NFL for the second time in his life — remember the United States Football League? — and Week 3 had a little of everything. After that, Week 4 might feel like a letdown: Missing from the main slate are Aaron Rodgers (Thursday game), Drew Brees (London game), Russell Wilson (Sunday night, DraftKings), and Kirk Cousins and Alex Smith (Monday night). It’s not a bye week, but it feels like one.
For analysis of the Thursday, Sunday, and Monday night games, see Justin Bailey’s Thursday night breakdown and Joe Holka’s prime time breakdown (out later this week). For analysis of the Saints-Dolphins game at Wembley, see my London game Vegas Report. Although it has wider applicability, this breakdown is explicitly for the DraftKings and FanDuel main slates.
The Big Two
In a thinned-out slate, only two of the big four quarterbacks remain atop the salary scale:
- Tom Brady ($8,000 DraftKings, $9,500 FanDuel)
- Matt Ryan ($7,400 DraftKings, $8,000 FanDuel)
“Fear is the Path to the Dark Side: Fear Leads to Anger, Anger Leads to Hate, Hate Leads to Victories”
The Patriots are still pacing for their second 18-1 campaign in a decade. After completing just 44.4 percent of his passes in New England’s season-opening home loss, Brady has seemed like a man fueled by more than just his electrolyte-infused water. In Weeks 2-3, Angry Tom has had perhaps the best two-game stretch of his career, throwing for 825 yards and eight touchdowns on 55-of-74 passing. Three weeks into the season, Brady looks like the Most Valuable Player frontrunner, as he leads the NFL with 1,092 yards and eight touchdowns passing as well as an elite 11.4 adjusted yards per attempt (AY/A). Despite having the league’s highest average implied total at 29.0 points per game (PPG), the Patriots are seventh with their +4.0 Vegas Plus/Minus. Even with the highest expectations, the Pats are outperforming.
So far this year every Patriots game has hit the over — it ‘helps’ that their defense is dead last with 95 points and 1,383 yards allowed — and we’ll likely see another (relatively) high-scoring game this week. In a slate without a true banger of a game, the Panthers-Patriots contest has the second-highest over/under at 48.0 points, and they lead the slate with an implied total of 28.5 points as -9.0 home favorites. Although Carolina’s defense has looked good this year, holding quarterbacks to the fourth-fewest fantasy points with 12.2 DraftKings and 11.8 FanDuel PPG, Brees smashed the Panthers last week with an efficient 220 yards and three scores on 22-of-29 passing. Brady has the potential to crush them at home, where he’s averaged 24.40 DraftKings and 22.72 FanDuel PPG when comparably favored (-7 to -11) with +3.95 and +2.78 Plus/Minus values and 72.7 percent Consistency Ratings since 2014. Brady has the highest median, ceiling, and floor projections in our Models. He will be the chalky choice for people who want to pay up at the position.
With 17.49 DraftKings and 16.49 FanDuel PPG and -2.87 and -2.93 Plus/Minus values, Ryan has disappointed this season as a fantasy quarterback — and we knew he would regress — but he hasn’t been bad in actuality. In fact, 2017 Ryan looks a lot like the 2016 version:
- Completion rate (percent): 68.8 vs. 69.9
- Yards per attempt: 9.3 vs. 9.3
Of course, the seasons are different in two (massively important) stats:
- Touchdown rate (percent): 4.3 vs. 7.1
- Attempts per game: 31.0 vs. 33.4
The problem with Ryan is that this year he’s throwing fewer touchdowns per attempt and attempting fewer passes overall — but the Falcons are 3-0 and averaging 29.0 PPG (+1.5 Vegas Plus/Minus), so Ryan’s regression is more of a problem for fantasy than reality. This week we’re likely to get more of the same. Since 2015, when Devonta Freeman emerged as a top-six running back, Ryan has had negative favorite/underdog splits at home:
- Favorite: 18.53 DraftKings PPG, -0.62 Plus/Minus, 38.5 percent Consistency Rating, 9.0 percent ownership rate
- Underdog: 25.49 DraftKings PPG, +7.46 Plus/Minus, 66.7 percent Consistency Rating, 4.2 percent ownership rate
The Bills-Falcons game has a slate-high 48.5-point over/under, and the Falcons trail only the Pats with their 28.25-point implied total as -8.0 home favorites. While the situation looks good for the Falcons, it’s probable that a run-heavy game script will limit Ryan’s upside.
Cam Newton ($5,900 DraftKings, $7,300 FanDuel): After disappointing with his 167-yard, zero-touchdown, three-interception ‘performance’ last week as a home favorite against the Saints, Newton seems like an unlikely option: The Panthers have massively underperformed expectations with a -10.25 Vegas Plus/Minus. Still, Newton is facing a Patriots defense that to date has allowed league-high marks of 28.1 DraftKings and 25.1 FanDuel PPG to quarterbacks. In the history of our database, he has never been as cheap as he is now — and Newton’s ownership will likely be low.
Dak Prescott ($6,200 DraftKings, $7,600 FanDuel): Last year the Cowboys were first in the NFL with a 48.7 percent rushing rate. This year they’re 20th at 39.0 percent. The team is transitioning to a Dak-centric offense, and even when he has limited passing attempts, as he did in Week 3 with 18, he still has multi-touchdown upside as a passer and runner. The Cowboys are -6.0 home favorites against the Rams, who just last week allowed Brian Hoyer to pass for 332 yards and two touchdowns and rush for another score. Throughout his short career, Dak has been at his best as a home favorite with 21.59 DraftKings and 21.22 FanDuel PPG with +4.43 and +4.95 Plus/Minus values. At the same time, it’s possible the Rams defense (in a #RevengeGame for @SonOfBum) could neutralize the Cowboys offense. If there’s anyone who has a solid idea of how to approach head coach Jason Garrett’s offense, it’s former Cowboys HC Wade Phillips.
Derek Carr ($5,800 DraftKings, $7,900 FanDuel): This week’s YOLO option is Carr, who as a +3.0 road dog faces a Denver defense that last year was first against the pass in Football Outsiders’ Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA). Dak and Dez Bryant were stacked in just 0.2 percent of Week 2 DraftKings Millionaire Maker lineups in Denver — and the Cowboys were -2.5 favorites. Carr stacked with Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree, or even Jared Cook will likely have an ownership rate approaching 0.1 percent (and maybe lower). That’s too low.
Eli Manning ($5,700 DraftKings, $7,000 FanDuel): Eli looked bad in Weeks 1-2, but he didn’t have a healthy Odell Beckham Jr. In Week 3, OBJ was closer to full health (he played on 79.7 percent of the snaps), and Manning completed 74.5 percent of his passes for 366 yards and three touchdowns. It’s not great that he’s an OBJ-dependent player, but that’s what he is, so we should give Manning a pass for Weeks 1-2. At 0-3, the Giants are +3.0 road dogs and should be playing with urgency against the Buccaneers, who this year have allowed top-five fantasy marks of 23.8 DraftKings PPG and 20.3 FanDuel PPG to opposing quarterbacks.
Andy Dalton ($5,800 DraftKings, $7,100 FanDuel): Last week Dalton was a competent quarterback with his 77.8 percent completion rate and 9.3 AY/A, and this week he’s a -3.5 road favorite against a Browns defense that last year was 29th in pass DVOA and this year is allowing a top-eight mark of 20.0 fantasy PPG to quarterbacks. Dalton is targeting A.J. Green at a ridiculous 36.1 percent rate.
Blake Bortles ($5,300 DraftKings, $7,700 FanDuel): Bortles is one of three DraftKings quarterbacks with a 99 percent Bargain Rating. He erupts occasionally (as he did last week in London with a four-touchdown outing), and this week the Jaguars are -3.5 road favorites against the Jets, whose funnel defense last year was 31st in pass DVOA.
Carson Palmer ($6,100 DraftKings, $7,400 FanDuel): Palmer is the pivot passer for this slate. He hasn’t been great — his 56.8 percent completion rate and 6.3 AY/A are among the lowest marks of his career — but he’s second in the NFL with 132 pass attempts and third with 925 yards. Without David Johnson, the Cardinals have shifted to a pass-heavy offense — they’re third in the league with a 69.1 percent pass rate — and this week they’re -7.0 home favorites against the 49ers, who last year were 28th in pass DVOA. In his 20 games as a home favorite since 2014, he has averaged 20.29 DraftKings and 18.34 FanDuel PPG with +2.70 and +1.29 Plus/Minus values.
The Model Quarterbacks
There are currently four quarterbacks atop the Pro Models built by Jonathan Bales, Peter Jennings (CSURAM88), Adam Levitan, and Kevin McClelland (SportsGeek):
- Russell Wilson ($7,300 DraftKings, $7,900 FanDuel)
- Tyrod Taylor ($5,300 DraftKings, $7,100 FanDuel)
- Trevor Siemian ($5,200 DraftKings, $7,500 FanDuel)
- Deshaun Watson ($5,100 DraftKings, $7,300 FanDuel)
Available on the FanDuel (but not DraftKings) main slate, Wilson in Week 3 returned to form, throwing for 373 yards and four touchdowns on 29-of-49 passing. The Seahawks had only 22 rush attempts, and seven of those were his. In the early years of his career, Wilson quarterbacked teams ranked with high run/pass ratios (2012, first; 2013, first; 2014, second; 2015, fourth), but this year the Seahawks are 12th in passing rate at 61.3 percent. At home as a -13.0 favorite against a Colts defense that last year was 26th in pass DVOA, Wilson is the consensus highest-rated quarterback on FanDuel, where he leads the position with a 73 percent Bargain Rating.
Since 2015, Tyrod has been the go-to cash game play for people who want to pay down at the position, especially on DraftKings, where he’s seemingly always underpriced. Given the thinness of the slate, we’re projecting Taylor to be among the most popular quarterbacks this week on DraftKings, where he has an elite 71.9 percent Consistency Rating with the Bills. In Week 4 the Bills are +8.0 road dogs in what’s expected to be a shootout with the Falcons. Tyrod should have lots of opportunities to throw and scramble for chunk yardage. A Konami Code specialist, Tyrod leads all quarterbacks with 1,254 yards rushing since 2015 and is the highest-rated DraftKings quarterback in the Bales Model. On the Week 4 Daily Fantasy Flex, Tyrod got some love as a top option in cash games.
Siemian was good in Weeks 1-2, leading the league with six touchdowns passing and looking like a legitimate NFL quarterback with a 65.0 percent completion rate. In Week 3, though, he imploded on the road, throwing 259 yards and no touchdowns (with two soul-squeezing interceptions) on 40 pass attempts. So what should we make of him this week? He’s a -3.0 home favorite against a Raiders defense that last year was 25th in pass DVOA and this year is allowing top-five fantasy marks of 21.8 DraftKings and 20.5 FanDuel PPG to quarterbacks. As a home favorite, Siemian has a respectable +1.69 Plus/Minus on DraftKings, where he’s tied for the position lead with a 99 percent Bargain Rating as the highest-rated quarterback in the SportsGeek Model.
Although Watson was unsteady as the reliever in Week 1 and almost unwatchable as the starter in Week 2, in Week 3 he impressed as a road rookie in Foxborough, completing 66.7 percent of his passes for 301 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for 41 yards as the Texans scored 33 points. Watson leads the position this year with 41.3 rushing yards per game, and he’s seemingly improving each game as a passer. With superior pedigree, arm talent, and wide receivers, Watson is on the verge of becoming (or he may already be) the #überTyrod. In Week 4, Watson gets his first home start and should benefit from facing a Titans defense that last year was 27th in pass DVOA and this year is allowing top-four fantasy marks of 22.7 DraftKings and 21.3 FanDuel PPG to quarterbacks. Watson leads the position with six Pro Trends and a 99 percent Bargain Rating on DraftKings, where he’s the highest-rated quarterback in the CSURAM88 and Levitan Models.
Positional Breakdowns & Tools
Be sure to research the quarterbacks for yourself with our tools and read the other Week 4 positional breakdowns:
Good luck this week!
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