slate Overview ::
- Pricing is once again almost a non-issue on DraftKings. This is going to lead to extremely chalky builds and heavy chalk on the top-tier players in pricing.
- I also expect the field to build heavily for the likeliest scenario from each game, meaning heavy emphasis on the pass games from Cincinnati and Kansas City, heavy emphasis on game stacks from the AFC, and low overall exposure to the NFC.
- COVID has apparently been eradicated across NFL playoff teams. All kidding aside, there shouldn’t be any pandemic concerns for any of the four Championship Round teams.
- Rotational rookie defensive end Cameron Sample was the only Bengal player to miss practice on Wednesday.
- Safety and defensive communication leader, Tyrann Mathieu, missed practice on Wednesday with the concussion he endured during the Divisional win. He faces an uphill battle to be ready for the Chiefs.
- The 49ers are a bit banged up heading into Championship weekend, with left tackle Trent Williams and running backs Elijah Mitchell and Jeff Wilson, Jr. missing practice on Wednesday.
- Wide receiver Van Jefferson, defensive linemen Greg Gaines, and fill-in offensive linemen Joe Noteboom missed the Rams walkthrough practice on Wednesday, while the league’s top-rated pass-blocking tackle, Andrew Whitworth, returned to a limited participant.
How san francisco Will Try To Win ::
Heavy rush rates, a slow pace of play, heavy pre-snap motion and misdirection, increased heavy personnel alignments (12- and 21-personnel), and a short-area-focused pass game that aims to get the ball to playmakers in space (harboring top-level YAC potential) has been the recipe for the Niners for the majority of the last three seasons. Nothing has changed in that regard. What has changed is the various unique opportunities for their primary play-makers built into the fold, which almost entirely revolves around Deebo Samuel and where he is deployed in the formation. Over the past month of play, we’ve seen everything from multiple bodies in the backfield (Deebo + Elijah Mitchell, primarily), to Deebo motioned from the slot in the backfield (similar to an end around or jet sweep motion), to Deebo throwing the football. Considering so much of this offense has been built around the dynamic abilities of one player (Deebo Samuel), any restrictions to that player could be devastating. Why is this important? Well, Deebo took a helmet to the knee late in last week’s Divisional Round win over the Packers and was noticeably distraught as he left the field. That said, he wasn’t listed on the first injury report of the week and appears set for his normal role and usage this weekend. The fact of the matter is that so much of what the Niners have attempted to do on offense to end the season has been built around one player, and there is the ever-present possibility that this offense is forced into one-dimensionality and ineffective play should that one player be limited in any fashion. Enough of the doom and gloom. San Francisco led the league in yards per completion on offense this season, primarily on the backs of unreal yards after catch through Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, and Brandon Aiyuk. Consider this: Deebo Samuel led the league in YAC per reception amongst wide receivers (10.3; of qualified receivers), George Kittle and Brandon Aiyuk posted 6.5 and 6.6 average YAC per reception, respectively (both of which were well above average at their respective positions), and even Jauan Jennings got in on the YAC fun with an above-average 4.6 average YAC per reception. Their opponent this week surrendered the third-most YAC during the regular season and blitzed at an above-average rate.
San Francisco operated almost exclusively from 12- and 21-personnel to end the season, with fullback Kyle Juszczyk and blocking tight end Charlie Woerner heavily involved down the stretch and into the postseason. Elijah Mitchell has operated as the clear lead dog of the backfield whenever healthy, while Jeff Wilson, Jr. has operated as the primary change of pace back, and JaMycal Hasty has operated as the primary pass down and hurry-up back. Although both Mitchell and Wilson missed practice on Wednesday, Mitchell’s absence appears to simply be load management while Wilson is attempting to return from an ankle injury that kept him out of last week’s contest. The reality, though, is that this “backfield” is really a two-man affair split between lead-back Elijah Mitchell and dynamic do-it-all wide receiver Deebo Samuel, as Wilson and Hasty have combined for four total touches over the last four games. Expect Mitchell to see his normal 20-30 opportunity workload (dependent on game flow) while Deebo mixes in for his standard eight to 10 carries. The pure rushing matchup is a difficult one, yielding a below-average 4.12 net-adjusted line yards metric against a Rams defense that allowed only 21.7 fantasy points per game to opposing backfields during the regular season.
The biggest change to the offense from the Niners this season was the change in utilization of Deebo Samuel. Before his shift to a more “do-it-all, Swiss Army Knife” weapon, Deebo averaged a robust 10.1 targets per game and no fewer than eight targets in any one game, compared to Week 10 and on, when he averaged just 4.7 targets per game, including only one game of double-digit looks. That shift has opened up additional receiving usage for Brandon Aiyuk (now the de facto “alpha” wide receiver, playing the highest snap rate and seeing the most receiving work on a standard week) and Jauan Jennings, who typically plays around half of the offensive snaps. Although George Kittle would seemingly be a beneficiary as well, his only true outlier target games have come when Deebo Samuel missed this year, as his elite run-blocking chops have been utilized at a heavier rate in conjunction with the shifting dynamics of the offense overall. That said, his elite YAC ability and dynamic role require only an increase in volume for him to become a separator. Keep that in mind when building this week. The low overall expected pass volume keeps all of Brandon Aiyuk, George Kittle, and Jauan Jennings in the touchdown-and-efficiency-reliant realm, while Deebo Samuel sees enough rushing work to offset the lower overall pass volume from the offense. As such, the most optimal way to utilize any pass-catcher not named Deebo Samuel from the Niners is to do so in a nod to potential game environments.
How los angeles Will Try To Win ::
The Rams have jumped out to early leads in both of their playoff games thus far, leading 21-0 at the half against the Cardinals and 20-3 at the half against the Buccaneers, which has allowed them to skew their playoff rush-pass rates heavily towards the run (67% playoff rush rate). That said, their Divisional Round contest against Tampa Bay should be considered a more natural representation of how this team likes to try and win games (the Rams were never threatened by the Cardinals). Digging a little deeper into that exploration, and taking us back to last week’s Rams write-up for their game against the Bucs, the biggest takeaway from a macro trend perspective has to do with matchup-adjusted personnel alignment rates. As in, the Rams run their offense almost exclusively from 11-personnel against difficult run defenses and operate more heavy sets (12-personnel) against soft run defenses. This is directly correlated to expected rush-pass rates. Against a San Francisco defense that finished the season as the league’s top-rated run defense over the second half of the season, we should expect Sean McVay and the Rams to approach this contest with an emphasis on 11-personnel and a pass-balanced offense. That said, keep an eye on the expected level of involvement for Van Jefferson, who missed Wednesday’s practice with a knee injury. The Rams finished the regular season with the league’s fourth-fastest situation-neutral pace of play, the third-fastest pace of play when trailing, and a moderate 16th-ranked pace of play when leading by seven or more points.
One of the biggest storylines to come from Los Angeles Divisional Round win was the usage from their running back stable. After being eased back into the fold to end the regular season, rookie running back Cam Akers was thrust into a borderline workhorse role against the Bucs, playing a massive 81% of the offensive snaps and handling a robust 27 running back opportunities. Of note, the heavy workload came in a game that saw the rookie put the ball on the ground twice, including a fumble at the one-yard line to end the first half and a fumble in his own territory with under three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter (the Bucs would go on to score and tie the game following the second fumble). So, while the usage was elite last week, there remains a good bit of uncertainty regarding his expected usage in the NFC Championship game after the ball security issues exhibited last week. We’ll discuss some of the theory associated with that situation below. Darrell Henderson, Jr. saw his 21-day practice window opened on Friday of last week, creating the possibility that he returns this week, and Sony Michel remains available after a six-week stretch of workhorse usage. The Rams haven’t had a single game all season with three healthy NFL caliber running backs, but we have seen them give one back the majority of the available usage in almost every game this year. As in, there were only three games all season (playoffs included) that the lead back from the Rams saw less than a 70% snap rate. Basically, this is a team that has utilized one running back as a featured contributor to the offense for the majority of the season, which is likely to remain the case (at least to start) this week. As alluded to above, the pure rushing matchup is a difficult one against the Niners, yielding a well below average 4.095 net-adjusted line yards metric against a San Francisco defense that ended the season as a top rush defense. The final piece of the backfield puzzle is the low pass game usage over the course of the season, as the Rams finished ahead of only the Titans in running back target rate.
Considering the above exploration of the tendencies of the Rams, we should expect heavy 11-personnel (like almost 100%) with all of Cooper Kupp, Odell Beckham, Jr., Van Jefferson (assuming health), and Tyler Higbee playing every (or close to every) offensive snap. We should also expect 35-38 pass attempts as the baseline for the Rams, which all but guarantees double-digit looks for Cooper Kupp, six to eight targets for OBJ, six to eight targets for Higbee, five to six looks for Jefferson, and a handful of looks for the running backs. OBJ has scored six touchdowns in his ten games with the Rams and has a clear red zone connection with quarterback Matthew Stafford. Finally, the combination of head coach Sean McVay and an immobile Stafford has led to a ball-out-quick percentage solution against any disruptive opponents (defenses that generate above-average pressure in the backfield) and more moderate-to-deep-aDOT work against opponents that struggle to generate much pressure. The 49ers blitzed at the fourth-lowest rate this season and generated a below-average 24.1% pressure rate, instead electing to clog the middle of the field and force opponents to beat them on the perimeter through the air. Consider the matchup a slight boost to OBJ and Van Jefferson (from an expected efficiency perspective), neutral for Cooper Kupp, and difficult for tight end Tyler Higbee.
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Likeliest Game Flow ::
I want to take a slightly different approach to this section for this game, in particular, in an attempt to highlight a few truths. We’ll start with what is known. Both of these defensive units are above average overall, pass funnel in nature, and above average in point suppression (the Rams ranked 12th during the regular season while the 49ers ranked fifth in points allowed per game). The Rams play at a blistering pace in all but positive game scripts while the 49ers were one of the slowest offenses in the league. Finally, we should expect the Rams to run their offense with a focus on the pass game (heavy 11-personnel and laterally-spread), while we should expect the Niners to largely continue their emphasis on heavy sets and smashmouth football (pre-snap motion, inflated rush rates, heavy 12- and 21-personnel usage, and a slow pace of play). All of this comes together to form a game environment that is likeliest to start rather slow and boring, with the Rams the likeliest to establish control from game flow and game environment perspectives, forcing San Francisco into increased aggression and pace as the game moves on. That said, based on the offensive and defensive tendencies exhibited from both sides, there is a very real possibility this game quickly moves to either game environment extreme. What I mean by that is this:
- The 49ers have shown that they will stick to their game plan for as long as they possibly can, which typically has meant for as long as the game remains within two scores.
- The Rams have shown a knack for fast starts and early scoring. They also are likeliest to heavily attack the relative deficiencies of the Niners defense (perimeter passing and anything Cooper Kupp). They are also well-equipped to handle the likeliest plan of attack from the Niners.
- These two truths could very well lead to a situation where the Rams get up big early and force the Niners into desperation mode far sooner than they would otherwise like, creating the potential for this game to far exceed its relatively modest game total.
- On the other side of that discussion, the Rams blew out only four opponents this year: the Bears, the Giants, the Texans, and the Jaguars. Put another way, through both poor execution with a lead and more conservative game management, the Rams simply weren’t capable of running away from good teams this year. We saw as much last week, when they allowed the Bucs to score 24 unanswered points before they escaped with a narrow, last-second victory. This could foster a game environment that plays to a relative slugfest, where the Niners are able to dictate the pace, flow, and environment.
DFS+ Interpretation ::
By Dwprix >>
WKs 10 & 18 Matchups:
- WK10: SF 31 LAR 10
- SF built a 31-7 lead by the 4th qtr & won 31-10
- SF rush: (31:135:1TD) // SF pass (23:32:316:1TD)
- LAR rush: (27:64) // Rec: (21:32:238:3TDs:2INTs)
- WK18: SF 27 LAR 24 OT
- LAR led 17-0 before SF scored 17 unanswered
- LAR scored and w/ 1:27 left, SF drove the length of the field after a big throw & catch to Deebo (this was a season saving throw my Garoppolo & one of the best throws I saw him make all season)
- SF made a FG & picked off Stafford to end the game in OT
- Sean McVay was 43-0 when leading at half prior to the WK18 matchup
- Trent Williams (Q) missed WK18’s matchup (PFF’s highest graded run blocker)
- 46.5 total, LAR -3.5
- SF has won 6 straight vs LAR: 2021 (27-24, 31-10) // 2020 (23-20, 24-16) // 2019 (34-31, 20-7)
- They haven’t played in the playoffs since 1989
- SF is 8-3 on the road this season
- LAR’s are 6-3 at home
- Including the postseason, the Rams are PFFs highest overall graded team
- 49ers are 2nd
- SF is 6-5 vs playoff teams after its two playoff wins
- LAR’s are 5-5 vs playoff teams
- SF avgs 24.4 pts/g (14th) // LAR’s allow 21.6 (T-12th least)
- LAR’s avg 27.6 pts/g (6th) // SF allows 20.6 (5th least)
- SF led the league in RZ TD scoring % in the reg season (66.7%)
- Over the past 3, they’ve scored a TD on 37.5% of RZ trips
- Last week they went 0-3
- It took them 5 series before they got into the RZ last week
- LAR’s were T-15th in RZ TD scoring % (60.0%)
- They’ve scored a TD 61.5% of the time over their last 3
- 1st Matchup: (26:41:243:1TD:2INTs, 11.8 DK pts) (2nd lowest DK pt total of season)
- 2nd Matchup: (21:32:238:3TDs:2INTs, 19.5 DK pts) (5th lowest DK total)
- Stafford scored 5.19x last week but that was only the 3rd highest QB (Mahomes-5.89x, Allen-5.40x)
- He’s thrown for 300+ twice in the past 4: (366, 202, 238, 309)
- $6.3k is the 3rd highest priced QB this week (Mahomes-$7.4k, Burrow-$6.6k)
- Last week was the third time he’s scored 30+ DK pts & was the 2nd time vs TB (WK3 @ TB-32.5, WK7 vs DET-30.2)
- LAR’s were PFF’s #2 graded pass blocking team this season
- They allow 1.8 sacks/g (T-4th least)
- SF avgs 3.1/g (2nd most)
- They have 3 games in a row with 5 sacks (WK18 was vs LAR)
- Andrew Whitworth (missed last week, Q this week) had his highest & 4th highest PFF graded games of the season vs SF
- He’s PFF’s highest graded pass blocking tackle
- SF allows 18.6 DK pts/g to QBs (T-13th least)
- WK 10: (11:122, 26.2 DK pts)
- WK18: (7:118:1TD, 29.6 DK pts)
- Kupp has 7 games w/ 30+ DK pts (35.3, 37.7, 34.3, 40.6, 37.0, 30.6, 39.8)
- His tgts have been down (11, 7, 7, 7) but he’s scored 1TD in 4 straight
- $8.8k is $1.6k more than the 2nd highest priced WR (Deebo-$7.2k)
- Kupp has 14 RZ tgts over the past 6 (9 rec, 5 TDs)
- Tgts last 4: OBJ (6, 4, 5, 7) // Jefferson (3, 1, 3, 5) // Higbee (7, 4, 8, 9)
- HIgbee scored 23.5 DK pts WK18 (6:55:2TDs)
- This was the 2nd highest DK score by a TE vs SF all season (Hockenson, WK1, 25.7 DK pts)
- WK10 he had 11.0 DK pts w/ a TD (3:20:1TD, 5 tgts)
- OBJ has 6 TDs in 10 games with LAR
- DK pts w/ LAR (no 20+ pt games): (12.9, 17.0, 3.8, 14.9, 13.7, 1.7, 19.7, 10.8, 19.1, 3.8)
- Van Jefferson hasn’t scored in 6 games
- He has 4 RZ tgts in those 6
- OBJ has 7 RZ tgts in the same 6: (5 rec, 3 TDs)
- Tgts last 4: OBJ (6, 4, 5, 7) // Jefferson (3, 1, 3, 5) // Higbee (7, 4, 8, 9)
- SF allows 36.9 DK pts/g to WRs (10th most) & 9.4 DK pts/g to TEs (7th least)
Cam Akers/Sony Michel:
- SF held LAR to their 2nd & 3rd lowest rushing totals on the season (52 & 64 yds)
- Snaps last week (of 72): Akers (55) // Michel (14)
- LAR rushed 30 times for 73 yds last week vs TB (2.43 avg)
- Snaps in WC (of 60): Akers (32) // Michel (24)
- TB ranked 12th in rush DVOA
- LAR rushed 38 times for 140 yds, 1TD in WC vs ARZ
- ARZ ranked 6th in rush DVOA
- SF ranks 2nd in rush DVOA
- SF allows 21.8 DK pts to RBs (10th least)
- $3.2k is the most expensive D on the slate
- They haven’t allowed 30+ pts since WK 12 vs GB
- They have 3 INTs & 1 DFR in the playoffs
- DK pts last 4: (7.0, 16.0, 7.0, 13.0)
- WK 18 vs SF: 7.0 DK pts (27 pts allowed, 2 sacks, 2 INTs)
- WK10 @ SF: 1.0 DK pt (31 pts allowed, 1 sack, 0TOs)
- WK 10: (15:19:182:2TDs, 15.4 DK pts)
- WK 18: (23:32:316:1TD:2INTs, 17.7 DK pts)
- TD:INT ratio in playoffs: (0TDs:2INTs)
- $5.4k is the cheapest starting QB on the slate by $900
- Garoppolo hasn’t broke 200+ pass yds the last 2 games (131, 172)
- WKs 17 & 18 he broke 300 (316, 322)
- Tom Compton had his worst game of the season last week giving up 2 sacks & 4 pressures (starting & playing RT due to injury, normally a guard)
- Von Miller has 7 sacks the past 6 games
- LAR avgs 2.9 sacks/g (T-4th most)
- SF allows 1.9 (T-9th fewest)
- SF sacks given up last 4: (4, 0, 2, 0)
- LAR’s allow 17.5 DK pts to QBs (8th fewest)
- WK10: (Rush 5:36:1TD Rec 5:97:1TD, 30.3 DK pts )
- WK18: (Rush 8:45:1TD, Rec 4:95, Pass 1:1:24:1TD 29.0 DK pts)
- Deebo has 15 total TDs (9 rush, 6 rec)
- Rush atts last 4: (10, 10, 8, 7)
- These were Samuel’s 3rd & 4th highest scoring DK pt games
- Samuel rushing last 4: DIV @GB (10:39) // WC @DAL: (10:72:1TD) // WK18 @LAR (8:451TD) // WK17 vs HOU (7:19)
- Deebo has seen double digit tgts 2 times in the past 13 games: (6, 6, 11, 5, 1, DNP, 4, 2, 5, 9, 9, 11, 9)
- Juan Jennings & Brandon Aiyuk saw 7 tgts WK18 vs LAR: Aiyuk (6:107) // Jennings (6:94:2TDs)
- Kittle also saw 7: (5:10)
- Tgts last 4: Samuel (4, 3, 6, 6) // Kittle (6, 3, 7, 2) // Aiyuk (1, 6, 7, 6) // Jennings (2, 5, 7, 2)
- $3.2k is the cheapest Jennings has been since WK13
- He had a 2 TD game WK18 vs LAR
- Aiyuk saw only 1 tgt last week on 19 Garoppolo attempts
- The previous 3 he saw 6, 7, & 6
- WK18 he went 6:107 vs LAR, his highest rec yds game of the season
- $5k is the cheapest Kittle has been all season
- LAR’s allow 38.4 DK pts/g to WRs (5th most) & 12.1 to TEs (12th fewest)
- 49ers scored & built a 31-7 lead early in the 4th qtr WK10 vs LAR
- This led to 44 SF rush atts
- Mitchell WK10: (27:91, 9.1 DK pts)
- WK18: (21:85, 8.5 DK pts)
- Mitchell had his lowest rush attempts last week (17) since WK9
- Previous 6: (27, 21, 21, 22, 27, 27)
- LAR’s allow 21.7 DK pts/g to RBs (T-7th fewest)
- SF last 3 weeks (pts allowed:opponent offensive DVOA:DK pts): @GB (10:2nd:21.0) // @DAL (17:6th:8.0) // @LAR (24:8th:9.0)
- 5 sacks in 3 straight
- Haven’t allowed over 28 pts since WK 13 @ SEA
- 5 TOs in last 5 (4 INTs, 1 DFR)