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Fantasy Football Matchups Breakdown: Detroit Lions vs. Arizona Cardinals | Week 3




The Cardinals host the Lions in a battle of two teams with very different starts to their 2020. Can Matthew Stafford right the ship for the 0-2 Lions? For the 2020 NFL season, Matt Savoca will be providing his weekly NFL Fantasy Football Matchups Breakdown column, going through every single game and offensive and defensive matchup, every week of the season. For your viewing convenience, we have broken up the matchups breakdown into several single columns, each one covering a single game. You can find links to every game right here. We have 13 games on tap for Week 3 NFL DFS and NFL Fantasy Football, so let’s dive in. The entire matchups article will be available in podcast form, every Friday afternoon on the Awesemo Podcast Network. Let’s get into Lions-Cardinals.

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(54.5) Detroit Lions (24.25) at Arizona Cardinals (30.25) – Sunday, 1 p.m. ET

Lions Passing Game

Matthew Stafford has been let down by his offensive line. The Lions currently rank 31st in offensive pass protection rate, but they enter Sunday’s matchup with a slight net advantage in PFF’s passing blocking grades, compared to Arizona’s pass rush grades. And Stafford could use the help, as he’s been middle of the road in most efficiency metrics so far this season despite the expected high passing volume. He ranks 15th in adjusted yards per attempt, 21st in fantasy points per dropback and just 26th in clean pocket completion percentage. He ranks at the very bottom of the league in completion percentage when pressured. Moreover, he’s not taking the typical deep shots were accustomed to seeing from Stafford and the Lions, only attempting three passes of 20 or more yards downfield per game, 16th in the NFL. If the Cardinals’ offense puts up 24-plus points, as they’re implied to do, the Lions will need to push their aggressiveness to keep pace.

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Luckily, the Lions get back the player they’ll need to do just that in Kenny Golladay. The Detroit offense was hurting without their top performer, and now their top red zone threat  (he led all receivers in touchdowns a year ago) is back on the field, allowing Marvin Jones to slide back into his traditional WR2 role, where he’s thrived for years. Golladay wasn’t just a goal line or jump-ball threat (he caught 13 of 22 contested catches) in 2019 either. He led the NFL in deep targets and was sixth in receiving yards per game. This is a no doubt top-10 receiver in the league, and his presence will change the entire feel of Detroit’s offense this coming Sunday.

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The aforementioned Jones is far from an afterthought after Golladay, but he seemed miscast as a WR1 these first two weeks. Still, he saw an extremely healthy 20% target share, good for 35th among receivers, and when factoring air yards, he ranked 44th in true weighted opportunity rating. Jones has had trouble separating from corners, however, posting a putrid 0.57 yards yards of separation at target, 104th among receivers. He’s always been prone to being thrown (and catching) contested ball, but the lack of separation is a concern for the 30-year-old receiver, and will be something to monitor moving forward.

Don’t forget about T.J. Hockenson when building lineups this weekend. The Arizona defense still struggles mightily against the tight end position (Arizona was 32nd by a country mile against tight ends a year ago), and Hockensen as been a steady contributor early on this year. He’s 18th among tight ends with 4.5 targets per game, but his underlying metrics look even stronger, as his 2.23 yards per route run is 10th among tight ends and his rating when targeted is north of 155, second in the NFL. Danny Amendola continues to see plenty of work and received the highest true weighted opportunity share on the team in Golladay’s absence. His 10.4 average depth of target is expectedly low — 50th at the position — and he’s only playing on 58% of Detroit’s snaps, but he’s been targeted on one of every five snaps he plays. After a 10-target Week 1, and quiet Week 2, we’re in wait-and-see mode with rookie Quintez Cephus. He’s no more than a dart-throw tournament option this weekend, though his 77% snap share (higher than Amendola) and 77% route participation rate (also higher than Amendola) is very encouraging for Cephus long-term.

Lions Running Game

While he’s not receiving the most snaps, the most valuable back on the Lions is D’Andre Swift because of his work in the receiving game. Swift is averaging four catches on five targets through two weeks and averaging one red zone touch as well. More exciting, he’s been on the field for 50% of the Lions’ passing plays, the 16th highest among running backs. Though it would be nice for fantasy gamers if we could guarantee more usage, particularly on the ground, Swift is an intriguing tournament option with high upside (especially when factoring the age of Adrian Peterson and the injury-plagued career of Kerryon Johnson) who can take over the backfield at any moment, including mid-game.

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Staving Swift off for now, Johnson was productive with his usage early in Week 2, scoring a touchdown. But he’s extremely tough to trust, even though the Lions come into the week with the 10th-best net run blocking advantage (via PFF). Johnson’s 7.5 attempts and zero receptions are uninspiring, but his four avoided tackles in Week 2 reminded us why he was second-round pick not so long ago. Peterson led the team in rushing yardage once again and averages the most complete workload of any of the three backs. His 12 weighted opportunities per game ranks 37th among backs, and that’s right where our Awesemo projections have him this week: RB38. Nonetheless, the well dries up fairly quickly when trying to imagine scenarios where Johnson or Peterson vastly outperform their projection. They’re both a hard fade from this article’s author.

Cardinals Passing Game

Kyler Murray isn’t even playing up to his full potential, and he’s already a complete stud in fantasy football. Now armed with the necessary passing weapons and finding his stride as a runner, the sky’s the limit for this potent pass offense that ranks seventh in total team pass attempts per game. Murray is taking his shots as well. He’s eighth among quarterbacks in deep attempts through the first two weeks. And he’s making the most of that high volume. He’s 10th in fantasy points per dropback and fifth in total QBR. And this is all being accomplished without significant pass volume closer to the goal line. He ranks 25th in red zone pass attempts and 19th in passing touchdowns, so there’s even room to grow. In the efficiency metrics highlighted in my weekly data deep dive, he ranks eighth. We’re watching one of the elite passers in our game come into their own in year 2, and that’s incredibly exciting.

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We haven’t even talked about Murray the rusher yet. His 21 carries through two games rank third in the NFL, and his four carries inside the red zone ranks fourth among quarterbacks. He’s already added three touchdowns with his legs through Week 2. His 79 rush yards per game (No. 1 in the NFL) is like having an extra running back’s worth of rushing fantasy points on your roster, an added boost to projecting both Murray’s floor and ceiling.

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Arizona ranks third this week in net rushing advantage (offense’s PFF rush grade vs. opponent’s rush defense grade), and they are favored by 5 points. So in spite of a high Vegas total, we may see Arizona try to attack Detroit consistently on the ground. That will of course mean plenty of touches for Kenyan Drake, but Murray will see usage as a designed rusher and will be given the green light to create as a scrambler.

Your NFL leader in targets, DeAndre Hopkins, is also tearing it up in multiple efficiency metrics. His 2.52 yards per route run is 18th among wide receivers. Even in the Cardinals’ pass-centric offense, he’s second in the NFL in target share and top 30 in air yards share, leading to seventh overall true weighted opportunity rating, my proprietary volume metric highlighted in the weekly data deep dive. The usage is certainly there, and the touchdown upside is sky high for Hopkins as well, as he’s fifth among receivers in red zone targets. You could do much worse this week than betting on another monster game from Hopkins.

Christian Kirk is the team’s leader in deep targets with five. He didn’t practice in the middle of this week, so that’s something to keep an eye on (we’d see more looks for Andy Isabella and for Larry Fitzgerald if Kirk can’t go). We’re expecting him to suit up on Sunday and receive his typical 35% air yard share, which is good enough for 16th at the position. We’d love to see a little bit more usage (his nine total targets through two weeks is 59th among wideouts), but there should be opportunities in a game where plenty of points should be scored by both teams.

Fitzgerald is still getting six low air yard targets per game. His 17% target share is top 50 in the NFL, but his 8.4% of team air yards is 84th among wideouts. Still, we know that Arizona will continue to lean on Fitzgerald as a chain mover (nearly an extension of the run game) and red zone threat, and due to the low average air yards per target, his catch rate is sky high. His 11 catches through Week 2 is 15th among all wide receivers. Tight end Dan Arnold will see increased run with Maxx Williams headed to IR. An undrafted player out of University of Wisconsin-Platteville, the 6-foot-5 222-pound flex tight end is absolutely a threat in the receiving game, possessing upper percentile speed, burst and agility. His three targets per game already put him at 27th among tight ends, and 12% air yard share is 18th at his position. The Awesemo projections this week are quite rosy for Arnold compared to his salary.

Cardinals Running Game

Drake is the workhorse here, averaging 20 touches a game as we head into the third weekend of the year. His 18 attempts per game rank fifth, but his target numbers are a bit disappointing early on, as he’s only seen four total looks in the passing game and participated in only 56% of the Cardinals’ routes. He is seeing solid work in opponent territory, however. Drake’s 2.5 red zone touches per game are 22nd among all backs, hinting at some solid touchdown upside on Sunday. We’d still like to see more elusiveness from Drake, as he ranks 40th among running backs in avoided tackles per touch and 32nd in true yards per carry (factors out runs beyond 10 yards). Nonetheless, he’ll be boosted by an expected positive game script against a Lions rush defense the Cardinals should overpower. In short, he’ll receive the requisite workload to be fantasy relevant in a solid matchup.

Spelling Drake is Chase Edmonds, who has a defined role in the receiving game more than the rushing game. His 4.5 carries per game is nothing special, but his 4.5 targets per game (from which he’s averaged three catches per game) is top 10 at the position. He’s only received two red zone touches, and he’s converted one into a score. As a receiver, he’s also seen an 18% slot snap rate, 17th among backs, and he is top 12 in raw routes run. He’s yet to evade a tackle this year.


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A middling athlete who was offered his first sports analytics position at age 14, I've been working on NFL and fantasy football data science since 2017. With a particular passion for data visualization and dashboard building, I love to make data accessible by using graphs and charts to communicate ideas that are difficult to explain with words alone. You can contact me by e-mailing [email protected]

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