Seven Numbers Through Week 3: Garbage Time Galore

Shh. Cecil Shorts doesn't want you to know that he's barely done anything in the first half of games this year.

Oh, awesome. Blaine Gabbert is back.

After his Week 1 performance where he played at a Duquesne University football level, Gabbert’s set to take snaps in Jacksonville’s game against Indianapolis this week. If you recall from my first “numbers” article of the season, Gabbert’s Week 1 play created a 25-point swing in his opponent’s (Chiefs) favor compared to an average passer in a similar situation. He was that bad.

But in hindsight, there’s a chance – a chance - that Gabbert’s Week 1 play had just as much to do with his opponent than his honest ability to throw the pigskin. The Chiefs own the best defense in the entire league according to the numbers, so perhaps Gabbert just…nevermind. Arguing for Blaine Gabbert is like trying to beat Vince Wilfork in a pancake-eating contest. Why even try?

The real question about the Jags offense under Gabbert isn’t about Gabbert himself, but his wide receiver, Cecil Shorts. And that’s where we kick off this week’s numbers column.

Cecil Shorts leads the NFL in targets and percentage of team targets

As I like to say, garbage time fantasy points are just as valuable as normal time fantasy points. So far this season, Shorts has 19 receptions on 40 targets (yuck) for 276 yards. But 16 of those 19 receptions have come in the second half, and 12 of them have come in the fourth quarter alone. You know, when the Jaguars are down by six scores and they’re playing against 8th-string corners.

Shorts has only had 45 receiving yards in the first half of games this year, good for 15 per game. And when the game is close, Shorts is barely even noticeable, catching just two passes when the Jaguars are within 1-8 points. All 19 receptions have come when the Jaguars were trailing (which is always).

This is all to say that Shorts has made a living taking out the trash. While garbage time is great and all, just keep in mind that Chad Henne is more likely to sling the rock around and deep than Gabbert is. Perhaps this is a sell high moment for Shorts – even with a good matchup in Week 4 – especially with Blackmon returning next week.

The Raiders offense ranks 5th in adjusted net expected points per play

Terrelle Pryor has played well, guys. And his running ability has opened things up a bit for Darren McFadden. Though the team – like Shorts – saw some garbage time against Denver on Monday Night, they’re sitting 1-2 and played the Colts well in Week 1. The offense has a lot to do with that.

They currently rank better in efficiency than Detroit and Philadelphia (thanks to Michael Vick turnovers) in adjusted net expected points per play. This fancy metric lets us know how many points – adjusted for defensive strength of schedule – a team is adding above or below expectation. The Raiders, because of Pryor, are adding .13 points per play.

Tarvaris Jackson was a better Week 3 fantasy quarterback than Aaron Rodgers

Garbage time can go the other way, too. Good teams will either throw in their backup quarterback or run the clock out with their second- and third-string running backs. In the case of Seattle, T-Jackson entered the game for Russell Wilson, and was able to rack up 129 yards, a passing touchdown and a rushing touchdown. Keep this kind of information in mind when one of your fantasy players is facing off against Jacksonville.

Giovani Bernard ranks second in rushing net expected points

Like the other expected points metrics, this one looks at how effective a running back was for his team rushing the football. So far this season, Gio ranks only behind LeSean McCoy, adding 6.61 real points for the Bengals above a running back in a similar situation.

Now, much of this has to do with Bernard’s role. He’s splitting with BenJarvus Green-Ellis, and is often times catching defenses off guard. The reason he’s not more of a LeSean McCoy-type fantasy option is because he doesn’t see the volume Shady does, which isn’t going to change. He’s still a flex option through the end of the season, says our numbers.

Ben Roethlisberger has a -11.56 Passing NEP

Let’s put Roethlisberger’s play into perspective: Only Brandon Weeden, Geno Smith, Josh Freeman and Blaine Gabbert have been worse throwing the ball this year. You could probably eliminate Geno from this discussion too, as his late-game turnovers against the Patriots haven’t helped his efficiency numbers.

Big Ben has been more than a below average passer this year, and although he’s not working with much in Pittsburgh, he’s a big part of the blame for the Steelers 0-3 record. We expect him to get on the right track this week in London against a Vikings team that couldn’t even stop Brian Hoyer in Week 3.

Dwayne Bowe has the 64th-most targets at wide receiver

It’s no secret: Alex Smith doesn’t like throwing anywhere but the middle of the field. Dwayne Bowe had the perfect matchup in Week 3 against the Eagles on Thursday night, and walked away with the equivalent of the fail noise from The Price is Right. He did, however, get to pour Gatorade all over Andy Reid.

Bowe’s seen 16.8 percent of team targets (58th-best), so it’s not as though the lack of targets (17) is because Alex Smith isn’t throwing a high volume of passes. Until we see Smith growing as a sideline passer, Bowe can’t be trusted in your lineup.

Peyton Manning is the NFL’s MVP so far, and it’s not even close

After Week 3, Peyton Manning has a passing NEP of 68.11. Second on the list is the surprising Philip Rivers, whose NEP score is listed at 35.72, adding almost 36 points for the Chargers above expectation.

Let’s do some stat extrapolation (because it’s fun). If Manning keeps up this pace, he’ll finish with a passing NEP total of 363.25. The highest passing net expected points total since 2000 was Tom Brady’s 2007 season. He finished with 259.40 points above expectation.

In other words, ladies and gentlemen, Peyton Manning is on pace for the best quarterback season of all time. But you probably didn’t need me to tell you that.