The fantasy quarterback leaderboard doesn’t look quite like anyone would have expected back in the summer. The top-five quarterbacks by points per game in standard-scoring leagues are Dak Prescott, Deshaun Watson, Alex Smith, Carson Wentz and Kirk Cousins. The latter was the only one drafted regularly as a starter in fantasy leagues. Prescott was a borderline starter. Wentz was safely ensconced in the QB2 tier. Watson and Smith weren’t drafted in most leagues. And yet, all five are carrying fantasy teams, outscoring the likes of Tom Brady and Drew Brees, who are having fine seasons in their own right, on a per-game basis.
Three quarterbacks are noticeably absent from the above paragraph. They’re at the center of the question we asked the SI.com fantasy experts to kick off the Week 8 Cheat Sheet.
Marcus Mariota was supposed to break out this season, Matt Ryan was supposed to build on his MVP campaign, and Ben Roethlisberger was supposed to have one great year left in him. None of those has come to pass. Which quarterback do you most believe will bounce back in the second half of the season, and why?
Michael Beller: Roethlisberger is out. Has he had a good game all season? Even with him playing poorly, the Steelers find a way by feeding Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown, so they can get by with him at this level. The same can’t be said of the Titans and Falcons. I loved Mariota coming into the season, and still do, but it has to be, Ryan, right? The Falcons aren’t really that far off what they did last season by most measures. They led the NFL at 6.7 yards per play last year. This year, they’re second at 6.2 yards per play. They converted 42.1% of third downs last year. They’re converting 42.2% of them this year. They rank first in yards per drive, according to Football Outsiders. In other words, either Steve Sarkisian has designed the least efficient offensive scheme when it comes to turning yards into points in NFL history, or the Falcons are about to break through. I’ll bet on the latter.
The major issue for the Falcons seems to be a lack of big plays, as I laid out in the Week 7 Target and Snap Report. If Ryan can start hooking up with his pass-catchers, specifically Julio Jones, deep down the field at the same rate he did last year, this offense will explode.
T.J. Hernandez: Based on 4for4's Hot Spots Reports, only three teams have an easier quarterback schedule for the rest of the season than the Falcons. Over their final 10 games, Atlanta faces six teams that rank in the bottom half of the league in schedule-adjusted fantasy points allowed to opposing quarterbacks. While an easier schedule is nice, where Matt Ryan will separate himself from Ben Roethlisberger and Marcus Mariota is in the touchdown column. The Falcons throw 56% of the time in the red zone, but the Steelers and Titans both rank in the bottom three in the league in passing rate inside the 20. Ryan also gets the advantage of playing half of his home games indoors down the stretch—Pittsburgh and Tennessee both only have two games in a dome for the rest of the season.
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John Paulsen: This is a tough call since I think all three players are bound to have several good games down the stretch. Mariota has three tough matchups coming out of his bye, but then has pretty smooth sailing until Week 16. Roethlisberger’s drastic home/away splits have been well-documented; he’s much better in Pittsburgh. After his Week 9 bye, he has four home matchups in his final seven games (through Week 16) and one of his road games is against the Colts. But I think Matt Ryan is poised to have the best second half of the season. I think the Falcons’ offensive struggles have been overblown. Sure, they’re having trouble scoring, but the Falcons are still third in yards per play and seventh in yards per pass attempt. Ryan has a couple of tough matchups in the next month, but he’ll face the Cowboys, the Buccaneers (twice) and the Saints (twice) down the stretch. Owners should plan to stream in Week 11 (at Seattle) and possibly Week 13 (vs. Minnesota) to maximize points at the position.
Jennifer Eakins: Can I say other? I’m going to say other. I’ll veer a tad off the beaten path and go with Eli Manning. He’s had a rough go in the first half of the season, to put it mildly. In Week 5, ankle and foot injuries took down four members of the Giants receiving corps, most notably Odell Beckham, who will miss the rest of the season. Manning’s offensive line isn’t doing him any favors, either, as he has taken 17 sacks through seven games. Despite the setbacks, the Giants signal caller is 15th among quarterbacks in fantasy points in standard-scoring leagues (103.1). I see an improvement on the horizon, as Manning gets de facto No. 1 receiver Sterling Shepard after their Week 8 bye, plus a favorable schedule for the remainder of the season. Six of the Giants seven remaining opponents are ranked 20th or worse against the pass.
Chris Raybon: As much as I want to say Marcus Mariota, because I believe mobility has increasingly become a real-life and fantasy x-factor for quarterbacks, I go Matt Ryan here, for two reasons. The first is Ryan has the easiest remaining schedule of the three. Matty Ice has seven remaining matchups where he could conceivably put up big numbers (Jets, Cowboys, Panthers, Saints twice, Bucs twice) and only two truly difficult ones (Seahawks, Vikings). Via my DFS research, I learned that there's a significant in-game correlation between the success of opposing passing games (think the shootout effect), and the Falcons simply face more good quarterbacks down the stretch than Roethlisberger or Mariota, both of whom have remaining schedules that aren't quite as easy as Ryan’s on the defensive side, either. The second reason is the Titans, and now the Steelers, have taken on extremely run-heavy identities, and I'm not sure their respective coaching staffs have any plans to change what's generally been working for them on offense.