Hitting on three out of five in Week 3 was fitting. (Though Dalvin Cook‘s fourth-quarter exit after rushing for 96 still stings. Soooo close!)
Let’s build on that momentum and go for 4+ in Week 4! Utilizing ESPN’s metrics database and some assistance from stats ace Kyle Soppe, I’m here to help you win in fantasy and at the books.
Minnesota Vikings (-3, 41.5) at New Orleans Saints
Sunday, 9:30 a.m. ET, Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, London
Pick: Kirk Cousins longest completion UNDER 37.5 yards
The NFL is rarely predictable. Across the pond the variables only increase. A lone constant, however, has been the dominance of favorites. Since 2005, favorites have been 25-14-1 ATS in international games. The under also tends to do well, going 10-5 since 2017. I don’t normally like to adjust for British Summer Time, but taking the under on a Cousins prop when the Vikings are giving three makes for a fun exercise.
Cousins rebounded from his prime-time meltdown last Sunday, finishing as the QB9 in Week 4. The Lions defense, obviously, helped facilitate the bounce-back. But Cousins didn’t exactly air it out, averaging 6.3 yards per attempt. His YPA for the year is down from 2021. Even then, though, he wasn’t exactly slinging the ball. In fact, Cousins has recorded just eight completions over 38 yards since the beginning of last year (19-game sample size).
This week’s draw is also much tougher. The Saints are top five in limiting deep completion percentage, a feat they additionally accomplished last season. Furthermore, Cousins’ best deep threat — Justin Jefferson — figures to be closely covered by Marshon Lattimore. Over three games, Lattimore has allowed just four catches for 54 yards (18 YPG).
That’s concerning for Cousins and Jefferson, especially given the wideouts recent struggles versus high-end corner talent. Not to mention the fact that six of Cousins’ 11 completions over 38 yards have been corralled by Jefferson. And in case you were wondering, the last time Adam Thielen caught a bomb was four days before Thanksgiving 2020.
The process shows up in my rankings. I’ve got Cousins outside of my top 15. I’m lower than the ESPN consensus on Jefferson (WR8), and Thielen is outside of WR4 range. I’d brace for a low-scoring slog.
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Cleveland Browns (-1, 47) at Atlanta Falcons
Sunday, 1 p.m. ET Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta
Pick: Amari Cooper OVER 56.5 receiving yards
Cooper currently has more fantasy points than CeeDee Lamb. That irony is peak “Jagged Little Pill.” It also highlights the sway a narrative has over potential investors. It was clear Cooper was going to draw over 100 looks on the season. Yet, fantasy managers were reluctant to draft the former Cowboy, largely because of the QB situation. But volume is volume and Cooper is converting.
Garnering a target share of 36.2% (WR4), Cooper has caught 16 of 21 balls (76%) over the past two weeks. The impressive conversion rate is largely due to a massive dip in aDOT, which is down 13% from last year. That’s not entirely surprising given the quarterback change. Jacoby Brissett ranks fifth in accuracy on balls thrown under 20 yards. Since each catch is worth a point in ESPN standard scoring, it makes sense that Cooper has finished inside the top-10 fantasy wideouts for two straight weeks.
But he has also gone over 100 yards in back-to-back weeks. And in a matchup against the Falcons — a defense that ranks 30th in balls thrown under 20 yards — I’m willing to bet he flirts with at least 60 total receiving yards. Given a projected point total of 49.5 and a per-week target average of 9, Cooper should clear at least seven looks. Assuming he doesn’t dip below eight yards per target (8.1 is his season average thus far), he easily hits the over. I’m bullish enough to rank him well inside of my top 24 for the week.
Chicago Bears at New York Giants (-3, 39.5)
Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.
Darnell Mooney OVER 34.5 receiving yards
Mooney has yet to lift off. I warned fantasy managers about his bust potential throughout the summer and into the top of the season. Lots of folks hated that take (I’ve got the receipts). As bearish as I am on Mooney’s ability to ROI at his August ADP, I’m bullish on his role growing and clearing this modest line.
The chatter about Justin Fields‘ modest number of pass attempts has been a source of constant chatter. Mooney himself mentioned the team’s singular run-based focus when speaking to the media earlier this week. Via ESPN’s Courtney Cronin on Twitter, Mooney said he was “frustrated” that he wasn’t more of a “playmaker” when referring to the passing game. I hear a squeaky wheel about to get some grease.
It won’t take much either. Mooney, who excels as a deep threat (23 deep targets in 2021, WR15), could hit the over on one play. The Bears’ No. 1 WR has drawn a deep look in every game so far this season. That’s 6% of Fields’ passes. Certainly not ideal for a modern NFL offense, but it illustrates Mooney’s one-and-done boom play potential.
Further increasing this likelihood is the Giant’s sloppiness when blitzing. Don Martindale loves to blitz (third-highest rate), but his squad struggles to execute. New York has, thus far, recorded a bottom-three pressure rate when blitzing. That’s a blessing the Bear’ O-line will gladly receive. It also creates an environment ripe for a big play. Or, more accurately, a moon shot.
A 3-43-0 stat line is well within Mooney’s range of possible outcomes (just ask Peyton Hendershot). Mooney is also just as capable of five catches for 70 yards and a score in this one. A prudent fantasy player in a standard 10- or 12-person league won’t want to bother with that sort of variance. However, this week is a good litmus test for managers who have held on to No. 11. If your record and bench allow … keep holding. If not, cut ties and quell the sting with a little lettuce.
New England Patriots at Green Bay Packers (-9.5, 40)
Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, Lambeau Field, Green Bay, Wis.
Pick: Allen Lazard TD (+190)
I stumped hard for Romeo Doubs in this week’s Fantasy Improv article. Right now, however, Lazard is the team’s No. 1 WR. Perhaps more importantly, he’s the receiver whom Aaron Rodgers trusts the most in scoring situations.
Lazard scored eight TDs (WR13) in 2021. Over a 15 game sample — with Rodgers under center — Lazard drew 14 end zone targets in 2021. That’s not surprising given the eight TDs he scored last year. But what is eye-popping is the fact that over the same 15 games Davante Adams recorded 10 end zone looks. That probably has something to do with coverage and YAC ability, but it also illustrates how the 26-year-old figures to be used this year.
Lazard is the only Packer to have drawn an end zone target in 2022. That’s even more impressive when noting his Week 1 absence. He figures to see more high-value opportunities versus the Patriots. Opponents facing New England have connected on 80% of passes thrown inside the 20 and have yet to miss when throwing to the end zone.
As exciting as that last stat might sound, this game figures to be boring. The over/under is set at 40, and the Packers are 9.5-point favorites. Lazard isn’t someone managers need to jam into their lineups. His scoring potential puts him in flex range, but his involvement is way more interesting from a props angle than a redraft perspective.
Denver Broncos at Las Vegas Raiders (-2.5, 45)
Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, Allegiant Stadium, Las Vegas
Pick: Josh Jacobs OVER 63.5 rushing yards
Balance is important in real football, fake football and football wagering. Part of achieving balance is securing a solid floor. Jacobs has regularly rewarded investors, recording top-15 FF numbers since entering the league in 2019. He may not have buzzy upside, but he is reliable. And that’s not easy to come by, given the position.
Jacobs already appears more explosive in 2022 than he was in 2021 (a year in which he averaged 64 rushing yards per game). The 24-year-old has managed at least a 13-yard run in every game so far this season, and his yards per carry after contact are up over 38% from last season. Furthermore, Josh McDaniels seems committed to keeping his RB1 involved, as Jacobs has recorded 18+ touches in back-to-back efforts.
That combination of volume and efficiency figures to work in Jacobs’ favor versus Denver. The Broncos are fire versus the pass, but they have underwhelmed when defending the run. Per the Loza Blocking Metric (working title), Denver ranks 25th in effective run-stopping and, additionally, has allowed a YPC of 5.2 to opposing rushers.
Jacobs has the talent and the opportunity to put up top-20 fantasy numbers as well as 70 rushing yards this weekend. He may be a boring bet, but winning is always thrilling.
Follow Liz on Twitter @LizLoza_FF