Thursday Night Football Fantasy Preview Week 4: Jaguars vs. Bengals

Welcome back Phinest fans! It is with great disappointment that our two-week stretch of exciting Thursday Night Football matchups was broken with last weeks less than memorable Panthers vs. Texans game. In addition to the dud on the field, this season’s largest fantasy football injury occurred in the first half of the game as Christian McCaffrey went down with a hamstring injury that will sideline him for multiple weeks. But enough about last week! We are past that and into setting our waivers and gearing up for another week of action on the gridiron, starting with our TNF matchup featuring the past two number one overall picks under center; just the second time in NFL history such a feat has happened. So make sure to refresh yourself on the confidence rating scale and let’s break down the Jaguars and Bengals fantasy matchup!

The Quarterbacks

Joe Burrow: Joe Burrow heads into week 4 of his bounce-back sophomore campaign quietly averaging over 200 passing yards and 2 touchdowns a game. All of this after recovering from the gruesome knee injury that ended his rookie season against Chase Young and the WFT. While these are safe fantasy numbers, the real problem with Burrow is that his rushing totals bring nothing to the table after at least offering a little bit of a floor through 10 games in 2020. Now when you look at the matchup Burrow has against the Jaguars you might think that without CJ Henderson an already weak defense could be a great spot to start the former Tiger. However, it may surprise readers who do not follow the Jaguars to learn that the former 1st round pick saw their snaps cut to under 40% in week two before not playing in their matchup against Arizona in week 3.

The defense had moved on and while they are giving up a large number of points on the actual scoreboard, this team is also opportunistic and plays with good energy still considering their record when watching their film. This, mixed with their rank outside the top 12 against the position could lead to a trap game for fantasy managers. While he should offer a solid floor, Joe Burrow with hobbled weapons and a short week where we should see plenty of Joe Mixon probably will not offer the top 10 upside managers covet.

My Final Confidence Rating: Burrow: 3.5.

Trevor Lawrence: When it comes to our most recent number one overall pick and franchise savior, fantasy managers and football fans overall might be a little surprised at how the first three weeks have played out. By now, everyone has heard the stat, “Trevor Lawrence had never lost a regular-season game through high school or college”. Throw all that out of the window now though and Lawrence is 0-3 and tied for the league lead in interceptions by a wide margin. In addition, out of quarterbacks who have started all three games this season, Lawrence ranks second to last in QB rating, only in front of fellow rookie and interception leader Zach Wilson. But wait, these numbers may not exactly be what the Jaguars wanted to see through 3 games, but maybe he is still producing for fantasy right? Wrong, Lawrence ranks outside the top 25 in quarterback rankings.

These numbers take him even outside the Superflex consideration each week let alone in consideration for starting in single quarterback formats. Until Urban Meyer and that offense figures out a better balance and the defense further improves, OR, Lawrence shows more of the rushing prowess he had in college, he will be a weekly sit for me.

My Final Confidence Rating: Lawrence: 2.

The Running Backs

Joe Mixon: While the quarterbacks do not offer much in terms of fantasy excitement, Joe Mixon is the opposite and has the opportunity to finish as THE running back 1. Through 3 weeks, Mixon has DOMINATED the rushing attempts for the Bengals after all the talk out of Cincinnati hinted at it. Heading into this matchup against a bottom 5 fantasy defense, Mixon is logging nearly 92% of the rushing attempts for Cincinnati (over 22 per game) while also getting a handful of targets each time out as well. This kind of usage is what managers dream about, I mean Derrick Henry barely sees more of his teams rushing share. If Mixon can break through with a few more scores at a somewhat regular occurrence he will be a dominant force for fantasy teams and become a definitive week winner. The Jaguars are fresh off of a performance that allowed James Conner, who had been left for dead after this past season, to score multiple touchdowns. Barring injury, Mixon appears to be in line for a monster performance and this seems as it could easily be the game managers look back on fondly on his way to a top 12 finish.

My Final Confidence Rating: Mixon: 5.

James Robinson and Carlos Hyde: Anyone that has James Robinson on their fantasy team this season has been on a roller coaster of emotions. Especially if they had him as a keeper or dynasty asset; I mean with the Etienne pick, then the value plummets, and finally the Etienne injury. All that just to watch week 1 come along and Carlos Hyde appear to be a lead dog. Fast forward to week 4 and Robinson has separated himself from Hyde, making his fantasy irrelevant in the process. Throughout the season, Robinson has seen a steady rise in rushing attempts while Hyde has seen his share decrease. In addition, what every great fantasy back needs is targets and Robinson is getting more than enough with 4 per game. The Jaguars have needed to take the pressure off of their rookie quarterback and utilizing a young key piece such as Robinson is exactly the remedy. The Bengals do rank strongly against the run so it could be upwards sledding for the Jaguars backfield. Usage will be key as Robinson will most likely need to see 15-18 touches to finish close to an RB1 finish.

My Final Confidence Ratings: Robinson: 4 and Hyde: 1.

The Wide Receivers

Tee Higgins, Ja’Marr Chase, and Tyler Boyd: For this breakdown, Tee Higgins appears to be trending towards out so I will spare you the trouble of reading. Should he be active, I would suggest waiting to see how Higgins performs or what his snap count would be on a short week coming off an injury. So enough about that, let’s examine the matchup and other options. Remember when the Bengals’ number one pick Ja’Marr Chase was having drop issues in the preseason? Well, those seem to have been remedied as he has the second-most targets and receptions this season while being tied for second in receiving touchdowns to boot. Simply put, Chase has been a force and all the talk about there being a connection with Burrow and the benefit he would get from that turned out to be spot on. Enter week 4 and Chase will be continuing that success against a Jaguars team giving up close to 26 fantasy points per game to the wide receiver position over three weeks. This has included a Texans group that has one real NFL caliber receiver and a Broncos team minus Jerry Jeudy. Not the most intimidating groups to get beaten by and not nearly the same raw talent that they will face in Chase. While he currently is an under-the-radar fourth in wide receiver rankings, this could be Chase’s coming out party on national television ladies and gentlemen. Get him in your lineups. His running mate in the slot for this one, Tyler Boyd, is the other beneficiary of a porous Jaguars passing defense and Higgins absence. Boyd has been the model of consistency over the past couple of seasons as the PPR machine in Cincinnati and safety net for Burrow before the injury. That has not necessarily been the case in this second season. Boyd does lead the Bengals in targets and finally found the end-zone last week, however, his usage has not been enough to buoy his low ADOT of 6.8. Boyd will have a plus matchup with a floor that will not completely sink your fantasy week, but the safe money would be on Chase and Mixon to post big-time performances which might leave Boyd with a very touchdown-dependent stat line. Something that has never been his calling card and continuous not to be with a new alpha in town. My Final Confidence Ratings: Chase: 5 and Boyd: 3.5.

DJ Chark, Marvin Jones, and Laviska Shenault: For this one, I had a tough time ranking who I would rather play between Chark and Jones. So let’s start with Shenault first and get that out of the way. One of the more hyped players through all of the draft season was Shenault as we watched his ADP continue to rise as a potential gadget and slot threat for the new and improved Lawrence offense. Up to this point, that seems like it has been a misfire on fantasy manager’s parts. Through 3 weeks, Shenault has respectable reception and target totals, 13 and 21 respectively, but pairing that with only 95 receiving yards, including a negative outing in week 2, and you find yourself with a player that can not be trusted. Similar to Boyd, the ADOT is just so low it leaves no margin for error, which, based on play so far seems to be the Jags calling card. The fantasy deep shots for this group though are their outside receiving duo in Chark and Jones. Both have had surprisingly good fantasy performances so far mostly due to the passing attempts Lawrence has been asked to attempt. Through 3 weeks, Chark and Jones have been responsible for 22 and 28 targets apiece. In case you were wondering, Jones 28 ranks him tied for the seventh-most in the NFL; not too shabby for an older veteran free agent signing. While Jones is averaging the lowest ADOT he has seen in some time, he is more than making up for it with the sheer volume he is getting. Pair this with a strong catch rate and a pair of touchdowns and you have a consistent WR2 on your hands. On the opposite side of Jones, you have DJ Chark who watched his fantasy value plummet during Shenault’s rise to fame. For the most part, I think that analysis was soundly based on his play. If it was not for a long garbage-time touchdown against the Texans in week 1, Chark would be almost irrelevant for your fantasy teams. Since that week, Chark has only received 9 targets and taken a back seat to Jones all while adding a few porous drops along the way. Chark was never a favorite of this regime and it could quickly turn into a situation that sees the young receiver phased out before heading to free agency this offseason.

My Final Confidence Ratings: Jones: 3.5, Chark: 2 and Shenault: 1.

The Tight Ends

Bengals and Jaguars Options: In order to save you time I have decided to combine these two groups as it is probably a 50/50 chance that the average football fan could not name the starter for each team at the tight end position. For the record, it is CJ Uzomah for Cincinnati and James O’Shaughnessy for Jacksonville. To show you how irrelevant these groups are, if you combined the entire tight end rooms for both teams, you would have a stat line of 16 receptions, 153 yards, and 1 touchdown. For reference, if you took this stat line and compared it to the tight-end landscape, you would only have the TE6 on the season. The point being, do not play any of these tight ends.

My Final Confidence Ratings: Everyone involved: 1.

The Defenses

The Bengals and Jaguars: To wrap up our TNF breakdown, let’s talk some D/ST to finish our lineups. Even though they had a fluke field goal return for a touchdown and the Bengals are a top 10 offense in giving up points to opposing defenses, I am still not ready to trust this Jaguars unit to provide enough value in a regular redraft format. Now for DFS, I think this could be a sneaky upside play as Burrow has thrown a handful of picks and this defense gave Kyler Murray and the Cardinals plenty to handle through a good piece of that matchup.

Their counterparts on the other hand are much more interesting than a play. Remember that stat about Lawrence leading the league in interceptions? Well, that usually bodes well for fantasy defenses. Then you factor in that the Jaguars are giving up the second-most points per game to the position and you have yourself a strong start on your hands. My only cause for concern with this group is the injury to star safety Jessie Bates III. Should he not be able to go, the defense will have lost arguably their top playmaker and be slightly more susceptible to a few more deep shots as the offense tries to keep pace with Burrow and company. Overall you could still do much worse than starting Cincinnati at home on a short week of rest for both teams.

My Final Confidence Ratings: Jaguars: 2 and Bengals: 4.

So that will do it, everyone! Here is to hoping that this TNF matchup gets us back on track to exciting games to start the week and we see the same fireworks we saw when Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray squared off in 2019 and we watched Kenyan Drake of all people score 4 touchdowns. Just imagine what Peyton Barber could have done…

Finally, in closing, I would be remiss if I did not pay my respects to Mike “Tags” Tagliere following his recent passing after battling Covid-19. Tags was always a pleasure to listen to and the amount of passion he brought to his craft was incredible. But it was his personality that truly made him unique. I will not pretend to have known him at all but even in brief interactions in the twitter-verse, you could tell how good of a person he was. From taking the time to reply to a start/sit question or even going out of his way to read and provide feedback on an article from someone he had never spoken to before, Tags was always the man. He will certainly be missed and my thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends.

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