Fantasy Football Thursday Night Football Primer: Bills vs. Rams (Week 1)

Every week, I’ll be writing a comprehensive primer on every NFL matchup and all of the relevant players, matchups, pace and playcalling notes, and injuries. It covers everything you need to know when setting your lineups. But since that article is massive and requires a full pot of coffee, we’re also going to offer these more focused matchup overviews. If you’re looking for the complete primer, here’s a link to it:

If you want to dive deeper into fantasy football, be sure to check out our award-winning slate of Fantasy Football Tools as you navigate your season. From our Start/Sit Assistant – which provides your optimal lineup, based on accurate consensus projections – to our Waiver Wire Assistant – which allows you to quickly see which available players will improve your team, and by how much – we’ve got you covered this fantasy football season.

Buffalo Bills vs. Los Angeles Rams

Pace and playcalling notes

  • Last season Buffalo (second, 65%) and Los Angeles (seventh, 61%) ranked top-eight in neutral passing rate, so expect them to chuck the ball.
  • The Bills ranked second in neutral pace, followed by the Rams at 16th. The play volume should be healthy, but don’t expect top-five status for this week’s slate.

Injuries



Quarterbacks

Josh Allen: The Rams’ pass defense was stout last season, but they weren’t impervious. Despite ranking sixth in pass defense DVOA and third against the deep ball, they were susceptible to being eaten up underneath. Los Angeles ranked 21st in DVOA against short passing. They allowed the ninth-most passing yards and the second-most YAC in the NFL. Their pristine 16:19 passing touchdown to interception ratio (third-most interceptions in the NFL) helped to mask some of their secondary issues. Los Angeles also allowed the ninth-most missed tackles in the NFL, so if Allen is willing to take what the Rams are giving him, he can cut them to pieces underneath. Last season, Allen was seventh in short passing attempts (0-9 yards). He’s still a top three fantasy option despite the seemingly difficult on-paper matchup.

Matthew Stafford: This is without a doubt a wretched matchup for Matthew Stafford. The strength of the Buffalo Bills’ defense lies in their secondary. Last season they allowed the fewest passing yards and passing touchdowns in the NFL while also finishing with the third-most interceptions. The Bills’ pass defense was first in defensive DVOA, proving they are legit. Last year only Patrick Mahomes and Tom Brady finished with 270 or more passing yards in a game, and only three quarterbacks (Mahomes, Brady, and Taylor Heinicke) threw for multiple touchdowns in a game. Buffalo will bring the heat against Stafford after ranking first in pressure rate last year, but Stafford should be up to the task. He was seventh in big-time throw rate and sixth in passer rating last season against pressure (minimum 50 pressured dropbacks). Stafford is best viewed as a high-end QB2 this week with top 12 upside if (or when) this game shoots out.

Running Backs

Devin Singletary: Last year, from Weeks 14-18, Devin Singletary was the Bills’ unquestioned lead back. He played at least 68% of the snaps in each game, averaging 18.8 touches and 97 total yards per game. In that stretch, he ran a route on 65.3% of Allen’s dropbacks, drawing a 7.8% target share. While the early down work, especially early on, can still shade toward Singletary, his passing down snaps could be cut to nothing in short order with the arrival of James Cook. Singletary has been objectively terrible in the passing game over the last two seasons, ranking 65th and 50th in yards per route run (minimum 20 targets) and 22nd and 43rd in PFF pass-blocking grades.

If we’re mostly looking at Singletary for his early down volume and upside, he’s in for an uphill battle. The Rams were top 12 last season in adjusted line yards, second-level yards, and open field yards allowed while also holding opposing backs to the seventh-lowest explosive run rate. If Singletary pays off this week, it will likely be because of touchdowns, as the Rams were also 26th in red zone rushing defense. This isn’t easy to count on, as Josh Allen could easily soak up these attempts. Singletary is a low-ceiling flex play this week.

James Cook: James Cook could be a substantial part of the game plan from the word go. Cook’s role as the “sub back” is the one to target if you’re looking to flex a running back from this backfield. Cook arrives in Buffalo after ranking ninth and 28th in yards per route run among running backs during his final two seasons at Georgia (minimum 20 targets). Cook played 26.2% of his collegiate snaps in the slot or out wide. With a tight spread and an offense that ranked second in neutral passing rate and sixth in red zone passing rate, Cook should see a substantial workload. I bring up Cook’s slot usage from college because the Bills could deploy him in this manner against a defense that allowed the seventh-most slot receiving yards and tenth-most slot receptions last year. The Rams ranked 24th in DVOA against receiving backs last season.

Zack Moss: I would be shocked if Zack Moss played meaningful snaps in this game. Over his final nine games last season, he never played more than 41% of the snaps and was inactive in four games. Even in the most desperate of situations, Moss isn’t flex-worthy.

Cam Akers: The last time we saw Cam Akers, he was making a miraculous recovery from his Achilles injury in his return for the Rams’ playoff run. In the postseason, Akers averaged 18.7 touches and 62 total yards per game (58% snaps). Much has been made of his inefficiency, but we need to put this into context as the offensive line was getting blown apart. His blockers did him no favors as 156 of his 172 rushing yards (2.6 yards per carry) came after contact. Sony Michel received 26 carries in the postseason and couldn’t even muster Akers’ 2.33 yards after contact per attempt (Michel, 1.73).

If Darrell Henderson is involved this week, the split could be similar to the Super Bowl when Akers played 57% of snaps with 16 touches while running routes on 44.1% of Stafford’s dropbacks. In between the 20s, Akers should be the lead, but the red zone work could be a coin flip. Against the Bengals, Henderson saw three opportunities inside the 20 while Akers only logged two.

The matchup on the ground is exploitable for Akers. Last season the Bills were gashed by opposing running backs allowing the fifth-highest yards after contact per attempt while also ranking 23rd in explosive run rate allowed and 31st in open field yards. Buffalo was tied for the seventh-most rushing touchdowns allowed to backs. Losing Star Lotulelei and replacing him with DaQuan Jones and Tim Settle at defensive tackle won’t help matters. Jones and Settle ranked 48th and 57th in run defense grades per PFF last season (minimum 50 run defense snaps). Akers could get sniped at the goal line, but considering his lead status and the plus matchup, he’s a low-end RB2.

Darrell Henderson: The only sample we have last year with Akers and Henderson together after Akers’ return was the Super Bowl. In that game, Henderson was the clear backup. He played 32% of the snaps totaling eight touches (five targets, three receptions) with 50 total yards. He ran a route on 34.8% of Stafford’s dropbacks. The only area where he had the upper hand over Akers was near the goal line, as I previously mentioned. The matchup is a plus one on the ground, especially considering the strength of Buffalo’s defense is their secondary. Henderson’s volume could surprise, but a median projection on his volume and role leaves him as nothing more than a desperation flex play.

Wide Receivers

Stefon Diggs: Stefon Diggs led the Buffalo Bills in nearly every receiving category last season. He saw a 26% target share and 34% of the team’s air yards while also leading the Bills with 23 endzone targets. Diggs will run about 78% of his routes on the perimeter, matching up against Jalen Ramsey and David Long Jr. for most of the game. It’s possible the Rams could stick Ramsey on Diggs. Last year Ramsey shadowed five times, following Davante Adams, D.K. Metcalf, Justin Jefferson, Deebo Samuel, and Mike Evans on 54-70% of their routes. Shadowing Ramsey allowed only 55.6 receiving yards per game and one score. Overall, Ramsey gave up a 61.% catch rate and 84.5 passer rating in coverage last year. Long allowed a 65.1% catch rate and 79.7 passer rating.

Gabriel Davis: Gabriel Davis steps into a full-time role opposite Stefon Diggs from the jump this year. We didn’t see him get expanded starter’s reps until Week 14 last year. Over his final six games played, he was on the field for at least 71% of the snaps in each game. Over that span, while he only eclipsed 50 receiving yards twice, one of which was his drumming of Kansas City, he still drew a 20.3% target share (7.5 targets per game). While he played a limited role until that final stretch, he still finished second on the team in end zone target share and red zone target share. Last year Davis ran about 68% of his routes on the perimeter, which means, like Diggs, he’ll tangle with Ramsey and Long for most of the game. If Ramsey does indeed follow Diggs, then it’ll be more Long.

Isaiah McKenzie: Every report this offseason has mentioned Isaiah McKenzie as the Buffalo starting slot wide receiver, so currently, that’s how I’m approaching it. Arguably McKenzie has a fantastic matchup this week and is a player I’ll be ranking aggressively. McKenzie has been electric when he’s been given time to shine. Over the last two seasons, he has logged only two games with at least 70% of the offensive snaps. In those contests, he has averaged 10.5 targets, 8.5 receptions, 95 receiving yards, and three total touchdowns. He logged a stout 25.9% target per route run rate with individual 1.71 and 2.91 yards per route game totals.

McKenzie should blow the doors off Week 1 expectations against the Rams. As previously discussed, the Rams struggled last year against the slot, and it doesn’t look any brighter this season. Troy Hill is back in town, taking over the slot duties. Hill was a turnstile in the slot last year, allowing a 77.2% catch rate and 130.1 passer rating. McKenzie is an upside flex that could put up top 24 receiver numbers this week.

Cooper Kupp: It’s Cooper Kupp. Yes, the on-paper matchup is disgusting. Does that matter for Cooper Kupp? Not really. I don’t need to add to the word count of the Primer to convince you to start Kupp despite the matchup. The undisputed WR1 last year in target share, YAC, receiving yards, and red zone targets needs no justification. Kupp lined up in the slot on 66% of snaps last year, so he’ll see Taron Johnson for most of the game. Johnson allowed a 56.8% catch rate and 81.1 passer rating in coverage last season.

Allen Robinson: Which version of Allen Robinson will we get this season? From all of the glowing preseason reports on Robinson, I expect it’ll be the former premier version that was one of the game’s best and most underrated pass catchers. Before his production cratered in 2021, Robinson finished 15th and 31st in yards per route run and fifth and 15th in PFF, receiving grades in the two previous seasons.

Robinson operated on the perimeter on 63% of his routes last year. This means he’ll see Tre’Davious White if he’s active and Dane Jackson or Kaiir Elam. White is coming off a major injury (ACL), but he’s trending toward suiting up here. Last year he allowed a 53.4% catch rate and 61.4 passer rating. Even at less than 100%, White is still an above-average corner. Jackson could start opposite White. Jackson allowed a 58.5% catch rate and 81.1 passer rating last season. If White can’t go, Jackson and Elam could be the perimeter corners, or Elam could earn the start over Jackson. Elam is a talented rookie who is illustrated by his first-round pick status but rarely do rookie corners hit the NFL without struggling in the early going. If Elam draws the start, bump Robinson up a tad. Expect Robinson and Kupp to be the pillars of this passing game.

Van Jefferson: It’s sounding doubtful that Van Jefferson suits up this week. Even if Jefferson is active, he’s a low-end flex play best left on your bench this week. Last year Jefferson ranked 64th in target share (14.8%), 66th in yards per route run, and was the WR41 in fantasy points per game. He served as the team’s deep threat (30th in deep targets) in the early going, likely the role he’ll reprise this season. Buffalo isn’t the team to uncork deep shots against. They were the best team in the NFL last year at defending the deep ball allowing a 17.1% deep completion rate (32nd) and 9.3 passer rating (32nd) on deep targets.

Tight Ends

Dawson Knox: The matchup is brutal for Dawson Knox, but he does have better hopes in PPR leagues than 0.5 PPR or standard formats this week. Last season Knox was the TE9 because of his role near the goal line and his touchdown production. Knox was fourth in red zone targets and second in total touchdowns among tight ends. His volume was pitiful, though, as he was 20th in targets and 22nd in target share at the position. The silver lining for Knox here, though, is the corner matchups for receiving options outside of McKenzie are tough. This could push extra volume in his direction. The Rams were fourth in DVOA against tight ends last year, and they allowed the sixth-lowest receiving touchdown count, but they were 11th in receptions allowed. Opposing tight ends soaked up meaningless volume with teams looking to avoid the Rams’ corners. While this isn’t a ringing endorsement to start Knox, his volume could surprise and carry him to a solid day in PPR leagues. His chances at touchdown spiking this week are low, though.

Tyler Higbee: Tyler Higbee‘s best trait these days is availability. Last year he was the TE13 in fantasy points per game, fueled by routes and not efficiency. Higbee ranked 14th in target share and 25th in yards per route run last year. He was second in snap share, and sixth in routes run. Higbee doesn’t even enter streamer territory this week, though. Buffalo was 13th in DVOA against the position last year, allowing the second-fewest receptions and the sixth-fewest receiving yards to tight ends.

My DFS Plays

*All data utilized in this article courtesy of FantasyPros, PFF, SharpFootball Stats, Football Outsiders, FTN, Rotoviz, and Playerprofiler.com unless otherwise specified.*

If you want to dive deeper into fantasy football, check out our award-winning slate of Fantasy Football Tools as you navigate your season. From our Start/Sit Assistant – which provides your optimal lineup based on accurate consensus projections – to our Waiver Wire Assistant, which allows you to quickly see which available players will improve your team and how much – we’ve got you covered this fantasy football season.

This content was originally published here.

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