Welcome to the Week 6 Walkthrough.
In this article, I'll outline critical fantasy football context for this sixth glorious week of football.
(The stats below are from PFF, NFLfastR, rbsdm.com, RotoViz, FantasyLabs, ESPN, NFL Next Gen, and Fantasy Life).
- Ravens at Titans, 9:30 AM, London
- Vikings at Bears, 1 PM
- Commanders at Falcons, 1 PM
- Panthers at Dolphins, 1 PM
- 49ers at Browns, 1 PM
- Colts at Jaguars, 1 PM
- Saints at Texans, 1 PM
- Seahawks at Bengals, 1 PM
- Patriots at Raiders, 4:05 PM
- Cardinals at Rams, 4:25 PM
- Eagles at Jets, 4:25 PM
- Lions at Buccaneers, 4:25 PM
- Giants at Bills, 8:20 PM
- Cowboys at Chargers, 8:15 PM, Monday
New Perk for LegUp Subscribers:
At the very bottom of this post, I've included a link to a spreadsheet with the pass rate over expected numbers for all 32 teams. I'll be keeping this updated throughout the year.
Ravens at Titans, 9:30 AM, London
Ravens Implied Team Total: 22.5
Lamar Jackson is coming off a rough loss to the Steelers, in which he didn’t get a ton of help from his receivers. But Jackson’s play was still concerning. He posted -12.5 EPA (QB28) and a 42% success rate (QB22).
Jackson now has to travel to London, but when he gets there he’ll be facing a Titans pass defense that offers strong bounce-back potential.
In addition to being weak against the pass in general, the Titans don’t blitz at a high rate.
Jackson has been blitzed heavily this season, and it hasn’t gone well; the Ravens rank 32nd in EPA on blitzed dropbacks. But he now moves from an aggressive Steelers defense to a more laid-back Titans squad.
Jackson is also a candidate for positive regression. He’s QB5 in success rate but only QB20 in EPA per game.
If Jackson has more time to throw this week, his EPA should positively regress—particularly if his receivers do a better job hauling in his passes after some serious drops issues last week.
Zay Flowers was one of the main drop culprits against the Steelers, but his overall profile is looking strong. Flowers has run every route for the Ravens for three straight weeks, earning 10 targets in 2-of-3 games. He’s the clear No. 1 wide receiver and his receiving profile looks even more impressive than Mark Andrews’.
With the Ravens likely to be more functional this week, Flowers is a strong FLEX play, while Rashod Bateman and Odell Beckham look like risky dart-throw options.
Mark Andrews’ receiving profile is disappointing for his standards, but it’s still very strong for a tight end. With a 24% target share and a 19% air yard share, his 0.49 WOPR is elite for the position. This week sets up well for a breakout performance.
However, the Ravens should not be considered a lock for high passing volume in this matchup. The Titans were shaping up as a pass funnel again this season, after being a huge pass funnel last year. But that was before the Colts ran all over them.
And even entering last week, the Titans were looking a bit shaky on the ground. I noted last week that the Colts were unlikely to be concerned about running the ball against a Tennessee defense that ranked just 16th in run stop win rate.
They’re now down to 23rd.
The Ravens are unlikely to fear a Titans run defense that was living on reputation early in the season… and whose reputation is suddenly tarnished.
Although the Ravens aren’t nearly as run heavy as they were for most of Greg Roman’s tenure, they are happy to run the ball from ahead. If they control this game, we could see a fairly conservative game plan.
That’s good news for Lamar Jackson’s rushing upside and also puts Ravens RBs on the radar.
Justice Hill returned to the lineup last week and operated as the secondary back to Gus Edwards. But as Dwain McFarland notes, Hill looks to have a meaningful lead in the passing game.
“Gus Edwards continued to lead the team with 55% of rushing attempts but Hill took over most of the LDD and two-minute work.”
Hill looks like a fill-in start, as a bet that the Titans can push the Ravens into a pass-heavy script.
Edwards also looks like a fill-in start with a TD-or-bust profile.
Titans Implied Team Total: 18.5
Consistency has been a major problem for Ryan Tannehill this season. He’s an unimpressive QB22 in EPA per game, but a highly concerning QB32 in success rate. Only Zach Wilson and Kenny Pickett have been less reliable.
Tannehill now faces a Ravens defense that is beginning to look elite against the pass.
The Ravens are second in EPA allowed per dropback, second in dropback success rate, first in PFF's coverage grades, and 13th in pass rush win rate. They are well-rounded and formidable.
Sure, the Ravens’ pass defense is inflated from having faced Dorian Thompson-Robinson in Week 4. But while their pass rush isn't elite, it at least looks to be for real.
ESPN’s pass rush win rate metric uses player tracking data to track win rate within 2.5 seconds; the Ravens rank 13th in that metric and 14th in quick pressure rate. So regardless of the opposing QB, the Ravens have shown the potential to generate quick pressure that matches their actual results.
The Ravens also maintained their No. 1 ranking in coverage grade last week, and look legitimately stifling in the secondary.
The Ravens create major downside risk for Tannehill, who cratered against the Saints in Week 1 and the Browns in Week 3.
With Tannehill’s efficiency in serious question, DeAndre Hopkins looks like the only appealing option in the passing game.
Chig Okonkwo saw eight targets against the Colts, but with 65% route participation he continues to be a part-time player, and this game could be low volume if the Ravens play things run-heavy on the other side. And Okonkwo doesn’t have the type of profile you want to target in an uncertain environment.
But Hopkins is getting peppered with targets. He has an elite 23% first-read target rate and a 29% TPRR. Even if this game ends up being a dud, Hopkins should get plenty of opportunities. He profiles as solid FLEX option.
And the Titans could be forced to attack through the air because the ground game could be a slog. The Ravens are strong against the run across the board.
This makes Derrick Henry a legitimately risky play, coming off a game where he saw less than 70% of team attempts for the first time this season.
Henry has been a good runner this season. His 45% success rate is especially promising and indicates he’s still capable of carrying the load if the Titans build their game plan around him.
However, the issue is that Tyaje Spears has been very strong as well. He ranks RB3 in RYOE per attempt and his 50% success rate is even stronger than Henry’s.
Spears looks like a solid favorite to see a 50% snap share for the fourth consecutive week. Henry looks like a low-end RB2 in this matchup, with Spears looking like a viable fill-in.
Vikings at Bears, 1 PM
Vikings Implied Team Total: 23.25
With Justin Jefferson headed to injured reserve, we could see a very different Vikings offense this week.
It sounds like K.J. Osborn may take over some of Jefferson’s routes. But, obviously, he can’t come close to filling Jefferson’s shoes. And the offense will likely shift playcalling to feature T.J. Hockenson and Jordan Addison more prominently.
But the Vikings are also likely to pass less frequently when they can get away with it.
Minnesota has a 72% pass rate, the second-highest in the NFL, but they’re largely passing in scripts that demand it.
As I noted heading into Week 4, the Vikings were more conservative when playing weaker opponents in 2022. And against the Panthers they took their foot off the gas, running just 52% of the time in a script that allowed for a run-first game plan.
The Bears have had a strong two weeks, but they’re still far from a powerhouse offense. Minnesota will likely want to test Chicago's run defense, with the engine of the Vikings passing attack on injured reserve.
The Bears aren’t as disastrous against the run as they were last year, but they’re still beatable on the ground. And the Vikings have been run blocking very well this season.
The issue is that the Vikings’ backfield continues to underperform. Alexander Mattison ranks just RB31 in RYOE per attempt and RB34 in success rate.
And Mattison has been far more impressive than Cam Akers.
But Akers is still stealing valuable work from Mattison, which is work Mattison can’t really afford to give up.
Against the Chiefs, Akers handled 29% of attempts, which helps explain why Mattison saw just eight carries. Akers has also tied Mattison with four targets over the past two weeks.
So while we can expect the Vikings to dial up their backfield volume, Mattison still looks like a low-end RB2 play.
With the backfield really struggling, the Vikings could be better off if the Bears push them into a more aggressive script—even without Jefferson.
The Bears rank just 31st in EPA allowed per dropback, and they are struggling with their pass rush and in coverage.
Kirk Cousins won’t be the same without Jefferson, but he should be able to play fairly efficiently in this matchup.
Cousins has been solid this season, ranking QB13 in EPA per play and QB15 in success rate. If he can stay in that ballpark in a great matchup, there should be production in this passing offense.
With passing volume potentially ticking down a notch, T.J. Hockenson’s usual role in the offense is less appealing. But Hockenson’s role in the offense could shift. The tight end has been soaking up underneath coverage on largely shallow routes. But, to his credit, Hockenson has still earned a 17% first-read target rate and a 22% TPPR.
This role likely reflects how Hockenson fits best in a Justin Jefferson offense rather than what his role would look like if Kevin O’Connell was starting from scratch. Before 2023, Hockenson had never had an aDOT below 7.5. He’s likely to start attacking downfield more often and has the potential to turn in an elite TE week as the Vikings search for a new top target.
Jordan Addison leads Osborn 13% to 9% in first-read target rate and 16% to 12% in TPRR. Osborn is likely to see more targets without Jefferson, but Addison was already a higher priority when on the field and is now set to be on the field nearly as often.
Bears Implied Team Total: 20.75
Justin Fields is coming off a very strong 17.5 EPA performance against the Commanders. It was the second-highest total of his career, topped only in Week 9 of 2022 when he threw for three TDs and rushed for 178 yards and a TD.
Fields has strung together two very strong performances, recovering from a very concerning start.
However, Fields' success rate wasn’t great last week. In fact, it matched his Week 1 consistency. His Week 5 performance doesn’t look particularly sustainable, and given that it was driven by a massive D.J. Moore blow-up game, that checks out intuitively. But, when looking at Fields' two-week stretch, it doesn’t jump out as being unsustainable. Sure, he’s due for a little negative regression. But if he keeps playing like this, it’s going to lead to more good things.
But which version of Justin Fields is the real deal? Is he the decisive big play passer from Weeks 4-5 or closer to the guy we've seen over the course of the season?
Against the Vikings, Fields is going to have to contend with the blitz… which he hasn’t had to deal with much in his two-game resurgence.
Over the last two weeks, Fields has been blitzed on 32% of his dropbacks, which is a middle-of-the-road rate. But he now gets a Vikings defense that is blitzing on an NFL-leading 61% of dropbacks.
Brian Flores just blitzed Patrick Mahomes on 57% of dropbacks… he’s going to bring the heat against Justin Fields.
This creates serious downside risk for the Bears, given that Fields has been very poor against the blitz this season.
And if the Bears attempt to pivot to the run here to cool off the Vikings' defense, it’s unlikely to generate a lot of efficiency. The Vikings have been strong against the run and rank fifth in run stop win rate. They appear legitimately good at shutting down the ground game.
The Bears will also be without Khalil Herbert, who is expected to miss multiple weeks with a high-ankle sprain. Provided he clears the concussion protocol, Roschon Johnson now looks set to take over the Bears backfield.
But Johnson looks more like a touch consolidator than a real-life playmaker at the moment. He’s shown a little juice in the passing game, but he’s unlikely to be efficient enough for the Bears to rely on him to hide a struggling QB.
To move the ball effectively, the Bears need Fields to continue playing at a high level against a defense that looks well positioned to foil him. Given Fields’ rushing ability, he remains a QB1, but this looks like a shaky spot for Bears pass catchers.
Fortunately, D.J. Moore and Cole Kmet have consolidated targets over the last two weeks.
Against the Commanders, Moore was robbed of a long TD by a phantom out-of-bounds step and still posted an 8/230/3 receiving line on 10 targets. He’s emerged as a true No. 1 WR.
But the thing about Moore is that he’s dominating as a deep threat. His 15.1 aDOT is very deep and has helped lead to a wildly spicy 15.6 YPT. Moore should have more big games in his future, but starting him still comes with a low floor. I’d be looking to get Moore into lineups, but with the understanding that he’s a boom/bust play. The boom is just too good to miss out on.
Cole Kmet is actually seeing targets at a higher rate, with a 22% TPRR to Moore’s 19%. The TE runs fewer routes than the WR, but the end result is a target share that only slightly trails Moore’s.
This looks like a bit of a letdown spot for the Bears’ offense, but Kmet’s 6.9 aDOT could make him an outlet option if the Vikings are able to pressure Fields with the blitz. Kmet profiles as a low-end TE1.
Panthers at Dolphins, 1 PM
Panthers Implied Team Total: 17.5
The Panthers are telling anyone who will listen that they are all in on Bryce Young. But in fantasyland, we’ve already started to face the reality that Young does not look like a difference-maker, for this season at least.
Still, it was nice to see Young post some efficiency against the Lions, finishing QB15 in EPA and QB11 in success rate. To be clear, I am fully aware that these numbers inflate how good of a game Young had. He was able to redeem his statistical day in garbage time.
But hey… we play a statistical game. On one hand, understanding Young’s real-world skill level is critical to gauging the fantasy outlook for him and his weapons. And that skill level remains in question. But on the other, it’s nice to see that he can generate some efficiency by using garbage time to pose as a competent NFL QB.
Even better, Young was dialed in on a clear No. 1 option. Adam Thielen posted a 39% target share against the Lions, going 11/107/1 on 13 targets. It was his fourth straight game with a 25%+ target share.
Thielen is looking like one of my bigger misses this offseason.
But to zoom out for a minute, Thielen is the type of fantasy draft L that I’m striving to take. Every situation in the NFL is unique. But we’re never going to be 100% correct when analyzing each of them. We don’t have perfect information on each situation, and we’d still get things wrong even if we did. To some extent, we have to lean on broader archetypes and make bets that reflect a range of outcomes approach.
In other words… we’re going to miss. So it really comes down to how we’d like that to go. I want my big misses to look like Thielen. The process that kept me off Thielen also led to hard fades on players like Najee Harris, Dalvin Cook, Alan Lazard, and JuJu Smith-Schuster—reasonably expensive volume-based plays whose ADPs were indefensible from a forward-looking, talent-based perspective.
Thielen is also a desirable early-season L because his production looks pretty shaky from a long-term 2023 perspective. I can’t put it better than Ben Gretch did:
“Pretty much all game, Adam Thielen (13-11-107-1) just sat underneath the zone and picked up short targets, eventually totaling just 86 air yards on his 13 looks. He scored within two minutes remaining in the game, to cut a 25-point deficit to 18, so in garbage time. Four of his catches came on that final drive. He’s a really easy sell high if you have him. With any sell high, there’s an element where it’s possible what he’s doing continues in the short term. But his production is the product of a nonfunctional part of their offense, where on a longer timeline they have to get Bryce Young doing more to get the ball downfield. They’ve already publicly announced they are in the market for a legit No. 1 WR who can help with that, so it’s not just dumpoffs to Thielen all year. Holding Thielen and hoping for this production to continue is betting into a role that the team has openly discussed wanting to replace."
I might have to choke down another serving of crow this week, though.
Miami’s pass defense is built to force offenses to matriculate the ball downfield with underneath throws while limiting explosive plays. The Dolphins know they aren’t going to stop every pass. Sometimes they’re going to miss. And they’re built for those misses to look like Adam Thielen.
Combating an intense Dolphins pass rush, Bryce Young will be looking to get the ball out quickly. Quick passes to Thielen aren’t likely to lead to a lot of overall scoring for the Panthers offense, but they should lead to another strong PPR day for the slot receiver.
The Dolphins also allow opposing offenses to run on them with decent success, but Miles Sanders isn’t getting enough of the workload to trust him in lineups. After seeing just a 46% carry share in Week 4, Sanders dropped to 33% against the Lions.
Chuba Hubbard isn’t taking over the backfield right now. Sanders isn’t fully healthy and the Panthers are managing his reps in negative game scripts. But with the Panthers as 13.5-point road underdogs, we can expect plenty of negative game script again this week. And Sanders does not look like a good efficiency bet. He’s a fill-in pray-for-a-TD bet.
With Sanders now out, Hubbard looks set to consolidate the backfield. Hubbard's been a better rusher than Sanders this season... but still hasn't been all that impressive. However, Hubbard has some receiving upside. Sanders has a 20% TPRR and Hubbard is at 17%, so the Panthers are looking to get their RBs involved in the passing game. And they should have lots of check down opportunities here. Hubbard is a volume-based RB2 play.
Dolphins Implied Team Total: 31
Mike McDaniel is doing the impossible. He’s making nerds fall in love with the run game.
This article covers 12-16 games every week, so I fall back on some broad frameworks, one of which is that passing is more efficient than running. But I do acknowledge that running the ball has its place. And if you have to mix in the run game as a part of a 1-2 punch, you might as well make it an extremely explosive wallop.
The Dolphins have hit an unreal 50 15+ yard passes… the next highest total is just 36 (Vikings). But the Dolphins also have an NFL-leading 13 15+ yard runs.
Of course, De’Von Achane has been a big part of this success. The star rookie has contributed seven of these gains on just 38 attempts but is now on IR until after Miami’s Week 10 bye. So the Miami run game will be less explosive this week at baseline.
But as thrilling as Achane has been, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that Mostert has had an impressive and explosive season as well. Mostert has hit five 15+ yard runs, tied for RB5 with Christian McCaffrey and Derrick Henry. Mostert also ranks RB7 in RYOE per game and RB7 in breakaway yards per game. And he’s been impressively consistent, ranking RB9 in success rate.
And Mostert now gets an extremely favorable matchup against a Panthers defense whose only answer for David Montgomery was to play poorly enough to get Craig Reynolds in the game.
Mostert isn’t a classic workhorse. He’ll be spelled by Jeff Wilson, if active, or another back. But even on a 1A workload, he looks like an RB1 against this defense.
While the Panthers' defense is more competent against the pass, they’re far from a shutdown unit. Specifically, they’ve shown a weakness for giving up big plays. And they’re going against the most explosive passing offense in the league. Miami should move the ball very efficiently again this week.
Tua Tagovailoa struggled against the Bills and turned the ball over against the Giants, hurting his efficiency. But he still profiles as an elite QB, ranking QB3 in EPA per game and QB2 in success rate.
The biggest issue for the Dolphins’ passing game this week is likely to be a lack of pushback from the Panthers.
But Tyreek Hill can still crush on limited volume. He’s dominating target share, and his targets are extremely valuable.
Last year, Hill was seeing a ton of targets down the middle of the field. These targets, traveling 10+ air yards and to the middle part of the field, set Hill up for huge YAC gains.
The NFL caught on to McDaniel’s plan of attack last year, so he innovated with new motion concepts and play designs. But the end result is the same. Among WRs with 75+ routes, only Brandon Aiyuk is seeing a higher rate of downfield-middle targets. Totally coincidently, among WRs with 75+ routes, only Hill (4.72 YPRR) and Aiyuk (4.02 YPRR) have hit a 3.5+ YPRR this season.
Tyreek Hill is untouchable, but Jaylen Waddle is still a strong play. His 2.08 YPRR is less than half of Hill’s. But that says more about Hill’s absurd efficiency than Waddle’s. Still, Hill’s 24% to 13% lead in first-read target rate and Hill’s 8% to 2.5% lead in downfield-middle targets shows that the offense is prioritizing getting Hill the ball with space to create. Waddle is talented enough to still have a big ceiling in this elite offense, but the gap between him and Hill looks like part of McDaniel’s current plans for the offense.