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Fantasy Football Matchups Breakdown: Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Cincinnati Bengals

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The Jaguars were toppled easily by the Dolphins in Week 2, dipping their record below .500 for the first time this season, while Joe Burrow and the Bengals neither won nor lost last week, playing Philadelphia to a draw in overtime. Which team can get back on track when they meet in Cincinnati this weekend? 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 12 games on tap for Week 4 NFL DFS and NFL Fantasy Football, so let’s dive into the NFL DFS picks. The entire matchups article will be available in podcast form, every Friday afternoon on the Awesemo Podcast Network. Let’s get into the Jaguars-Bengals fantasy football matchup for your NFL DFS lineups.

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Jacksonville Jaguars (22.25) at Cincinnati Bengals (25.25)– 1 p.m. ET

Jacksonville Passing Game

The 1-2 Jaguars certainly aren’t in danger of blowing out anyone offensively. This is in large part due to their deceptively conservative offense, disguised by Gardner Minshew’s top-five dropback totals since the start of Week 2. Jacksonville ranks dead last in early-down air yards per second in neutral game scripts and below the league average in true early-down pass rate. He also dealt with heavy pressure in Week 3 against Miami, as the Jaguars’ line allowed the fourth-highest quarterback hit total (nine) and third-highest sack total (four) of any team last week. For a moment, it appeared that Minshew was trending toward playing at an elite level as a passer, but his effectiveness has regressed precipitously. He now ranks 12th in true drive success rate and a surprising sixth in expected points added per play, good enough for 10th in quarterback composite efficiency rating (highlighted every week in the Awesemo data deep dive). Despite the relatively low Vegas total, comparative to many other games on the main slate, Minshew will likely be asked to keep pace with a Bengals team intent on pushing the ball downfield at an unprecedented rate (see the Bengals passing game notes below), which could lead to a pass-happy game environment and production for Minshew and his pass catchers. It won’t be easy this week, as the Bengals (in spite of their own losing record) have vastly overperformed as a defensive unit, particularly in the secondary. They rank third in PFF’s coverage rating and 11th overall as a defense, representing the highest-graded defense Minshew has faced this young season.

No player in the Jaguars receiving corps ranks inside the top 40 in targets, and none rank inside the top 50 receivers in target share. In short, this offense spreads things out, especially when their star receiver D.J. Chark is forced to miss time, as he did in week 3. Chark should be back for this game and presents intriguing upside as the 18th-highest-priced receiver. But he’ll likely need an extremely efficient performance to be valuable at that price, as he ranks 93rd among receivers in true target share (not including week 3) and 88th in true weighted opportunity share. His median projection on Awesemo.com sees him as a fade this week. Other options to consider for tournaments include Chris Conley, who led the team in air yard share in Chark’s absence in week 3, or Keelan Cole, who leads the team in total receiving expected points added thus far. Running back James Robinson (more below) led the team in receiving yards a week ago with 83. Tyler Eifert and Chris Thompson are touchdown-dependent, tournament-only options. Laviska Shenault, though, continues to present extreme upside for his salary of WR58. Shenault’s median projection slots him in nearly 20 spots higher than his DraftKings salary would suggest.

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Jacksonville Running Game

Robinson remains the surprise workhorse of the 2020 season. He’s received 30 more backfield opportunities than any other player on the team (54 to Shenault’s 22) and ranks 10th in opportunity share, surrounded by names like Aaron Jones, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, David Johnson, and Alvin KamaraNot bad for the undrafted rookie out of Illinois State. He’s also been efficient on his touches, avoiding tackles at a clip well beyond the historical trendline for running backs (according to PFF). Even as the ninth-highest running back on the slate, he should absolutely be considered as a volume play with significant touchdown upside. His passing workload (top 30 among backs in true target share) is a significant boost to his floor as well, as he should get looks even if the Jaguars get down early.


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Cincinnati Passing Game

The Bengals aren’t a spectacular team, but Burrow and company are undoubtedly making the league better, if for no other reasons than quarterback Burrow got a fan from this article’s author, proving himself to be tough as nails and staying in the game after taking a brutal hit in the first half against the Eagles. From a fantasy football perspective, we should also be thrilled that the Bengals, with Burrow, have emerged as arguably the most aggressive offense in the NFL. They lead the league in true early-down pass rate in neutral situations (within a touchdown) and rank in the top three in early-down air yards per second. They’re passing early, they’re passing often, they’re passing deep and they’re playing fast. This means that the passing game options project to have plenty of total opportunities from Burrow, even if the accuracy of those passes isn’t always perfect. Burrow is 27th in true completion percentage but ninth in clean pocket completion percentage, an indicator he’s struggled with pressure more than accuracy issues. The Jacksonville defensive unit, according to PFF grades, rates a significantly better rush defense than pass unit. They’re 17th in team coverage grade, compared to a seventh-ranked rush defense grade, and that indicated that the best chance the Bengals might have to be productive is the same way they prefer to play: With a pass-first approach.

From an opportunity standpoint, it’s still up in the air who the Bengals’ No. 1 receiver is through three games. From a production standpoint, however, it’s more than clear that that the answer is Tyler Boyd. Boyd has significantly outproduced former superstar A.J. Green, who ranks an abysmal 144th among wideouts in receiver air conversion ration (RACR) on the 14th-highest true air yard share in the league. Boyd’s overall opportunity has been slightly lower (28th in true target share compared to Green’s 24th highest ranking), but Boyd has turned increased usage into massive production over the last two weeks. His 125 yards receiving was eighth overall in Week 3, and his 31% target share was 10th. He now leads the team in targets since Week 1. At WR17 on DraftKings, he’ll need about 18 points to be a value this weekend, so he’s anything but a sure thing, but he presents interesting upside for his price. The aforementioned Green can still be considered in play but cannot under any circumstances be considered trustable. Despite a continued peppering of targets (seventh-highest target total in the NFL), Green hasn’t scored a touchdown and has crested 50 yards once, when he had 51 receiving yards Week 1.

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Tee Higgins had a standout Week 3, catching two touchdowns on 40 yards receiving against the Eagles. It’s hard to rely on touchdowns week in and week out like we’ll need to do with Higgins (he ranks 49th in true weighted opportunity share), but he’s not the worst option at his $4,500 DraftKings salary outside the top 45. Giovani Bernard actually outgained Higgins through the air in both Weeks 2 and 3. No other player on the roster averages more than 10% target share for the Bengals.

Cincinnati Running Game

Joe Mixon returned to a more substantial share of team opportunities in Week 3 against Philadelphia after getting just 25% of the Bengals’ opportunities in week 2. He now ranks 14th among all players in that metric but just 52nd in total yards. He hasn’t earned a higher target share than Bernard in any of the Bengals’ first three games and has yet to record a touchdown this season. He’s turning into a volume-based play only despite a significantly above-average avoided tackle per touch rate (12 avoided tackles on his 59 touches). Especially considering Jacksonville’s top-10 rush defense PFF grade, Mixon’s 15th-highest salary at the running back position, compared to his likely top-10 usage, is his only encouraging sign this week.

Score Prediction: Bengals 24, Jaguars 17.

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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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