BILLS // COLTS OVERVIEW
The rebuilding, 2-4 Bills will be traveling to Indianapolis this week without the only piece they (theoretically) have to build around on offense, as Josh Allen will miss several weeks with a UCL injury. It is honestly surprising that this team has been given a Vegas-implied team total of even 18.0, after scoring point totals on the year of 3 // 20 // 27 // 0 // 13 // 13. Incredibly, the Colts have a worse record than Buffalo, at only 1-5. Making this whole setup even more topsy-turvy is the fact that the 1-5 team is a 7.5 point favorite. That’s the right call, of course; but it’s still strange to see.
Colts games have been a blast for DFS this year, as they are playing at the fastest pace in the NFL, and no team is throwing the ball more frequently than Indy. While Buffalo is not a speed-up team, they do rank middle of the pack in pace, and they shouldn’t slow down this game too much for the Colts. Ultimately, we are unlikely to find anything to catch our eye in this game, as Buffalo has been a defense to avoid, and their offense is hands-off, but we’ll see if there is anything hiding beneath the surface of these plays.
BILLS PASS OFFENSE
As of this writeup, Sean McDermott has not yet announced if Nathan “Five Picks” Peterman or Derek Anderson will be under center this week, but it really doesn’t matter. (Note: Anderson will be starting.) Peterman has been an absolute disaster every time he takes the field (his pick-six in last week’s game looked like a no-pads defensive drill, and there is talk that McDermott is going to lose the locker room if he puts Peterman on the field again), while Anderson wasn’t even on the team a couple weeks ago.
The Bills prefer to lean run-heavy (they rank 28th in pass play rate, in spite of playing most of the season from behind), but they have notched a non-awful 33 pass attempts a couple times in games where they fell behind. Because Indy plays so fast, only four teams have allowed more opponent plays per game.
Kelvin Benjamin has yet to haul in more than three receptions in a game, and he has caught only 10 of 32 targets on the year — a testament to his inability to gain separation or fight for contested balls. Zay Jones is once again the “best bet,” though he has topped 38 yards only once this season. Andre Holmes has yet to top 29 yards. Charles Clay has topped 29 yards once.
BILLS RUN OFFENSE
Buffalo ranks 24th in adjusted line yards and 30th in yards per carry, making it difficult for them to win with the “defense and running game” approach they prefer. This is a daunting matchup against an Indy team that quietly ranks fourth in yards allowed per carry, and that has allowed only three rushing touchdowns through six games.
In better news for LeSean McCoy: he has touched the ball 26 and 19 times the last two weeks, as the Bills have finally realized he is the only viable weapon they have. He is also seeing work in the passing attack (target counts on the year of 3 // 4 // 6 // 3 // 5), and only three teams have allowed more receptions to running backs than the Colts. Shady played a healthy 47 out of 58 snaps last week (after 47 out of 66 the previous week), and the play volume added by the Colts should give him a couple more opportunities than normal. Touchdowns are tough to come by in this offense (they are tied with the Titans for the fewest offensive scores in the NFL, with seven in six games), so Shady could have a difficult time reaching ceiling, but his floor appears sturdy at the moment with his workload locked in.
COLTS PASS OFFENSE
Buffalo is probably still not getting enough respect for how strong their pass defense is. Through six games, only four teams are allowing a lower aDOT than the Bills, and only five teams are allowing fewer yards after the catch per reception. Only three teams have allowed fewer pass plays of 20+ yards, and only two teams have allowed fewer pass plays of 40+ yards (the Bills have allowed one such play; Baltimore and Indy have allowed zero).
As noted last week, the way to rack up receptions against Buffalo is to move horizontally across the field. Teams constantly flatten out their routes against Buffalo’s zone, looking for a place where a pass can fit in. While this is part of what leads to the low YAC per reception rate, this does lead to an average catch rate — making Colts receivers fine from a “floor” perspective, given the volume they should see. (These guys are more valuable in PPR scoring than they are in half-PPR scoring, especially as Buffalo has allowed only five receiving touchdowns to wide receivers on the season — fourth best in the league.)
The Colts are so ravaged by injuries on offense right now that it actually tilts the needle that they lost Marcus Johnson to I.R. With Jack Doyle seemingly out indefinitely, T.Y. Hilton still on the mend, and Ryan Grant leaving last week’s game early, the Colts have signed Dontrelle Inman off the streets. (Inman is not in the player pool on sites this week, and realistically he will not be ready for anything resembling an impact role.)
If Hilton plays this week, he could genuinely see as many as 15 targets (in his healthy games this year, he had target counts of 11 // 11 // 10, and the Colts boast fewer weapons now), and his price has been lowered across all three sites. As always, a difficult matchup impacts floor and “chances of hitting ceiling,” but it does not eliminate ceiling altogether. Hilton’s chances of hitting will be lower than normal in this matchup — but if he’s on the field for his full complement of snaps, his target share gives him respectable floor, and he still has the ability to post an upside game.
If Hilton misses:
The target parade continued last week for Chester Rogers, who has target counts in Hilton’s absence of 11 // 11 // 10. Rogers had an off day on Sunday, dealing with multiple soft drops (and bailing out those of us who trusted him with a late touchdown), but he played much better the previous two weeks — hauling in eight catches each week, and making some tight-window grabs. As noted in last week’s Player Grid: Rogers’ low aDOT is not much of a concern, as this low aDOT has come from a mix of targets behind the line of scrimmage and targets downfield. We don’t like low aDOT marks when the receiver is only seeing slants and quick outs; but targets behind the line of scrimmage are guaranteed points (typically with blockers out in front), while downfield targets keep upside intact. This is still a tough matchup for upside, so Rogers is no slam dunk if Hilton misses; but he should once again see close to double-digit targets — and with the Bills allowing an average catch rate, the floor should remain solid.
Alongside Rogers, it continues to be the Eric Ebron show, and Ebron will retain his heavy role even if Hilton returns. The Bills have been tough on tight ends this year, ranking eighth in DVOA and allowing the eighth-fewest receptions to the position, with a catch rate below 60% (a strong feat vs the tight end position). From a macro perspective, Ebron remains one of the top raw plays on the slate at the position, but the difficult matchup makes it a little more difficult to settle down with his elevated price tag.
Behind these two (either Hilton/Ebron or Rogers/Ebron), it will be a slew of low-upside guys and backups in a tough matchup. The Colts have been spreading the ball around, but you’ll need to get lucky with a touchdown if trying to guess among guys like Grant (assuming he plays), Erik Swoope, and Zach Pascal.
COLTS RUN OFFENSE
Last week in this space, we guessed that the Colts might phase out Jordan Wilkins altogether if Marlon Mack proved to be fully healthy — and that was exactly what they did, limiting Wilkins to zero snaps. Frustratingly, however, Indy layered in Robert Turbin, who played 13 snaps and touched the ball five times before getting injured. If Turbin is out, I expect we see the Colts roll with only Mack and Nyheim Hines this week — leaving Wilkins on the bench. If Turbin plays, all three guys will project to see time on the field (with Turbin seeing the fewest touches, but carrying the highest chance of goal line work — effectively making it difficult for any of these three to approach significant ceiling).
Hines ran 22 pass routes last week to only 10 for Mack, while Hines saw only three carries to 12 for Mack. This game sets up better for Mack, as the Colts are likely to be playing with a lead — but each guy will have a role. Mack looked good last week, but Buffalo does rank sixth in yards allowed per carry.
I obviously won’t be on the Bills’ passing attack or the Colts’ run offense, but LeSean McCoy and a couple Colts pass catchers will almost certainly make my initial list. This is only the second game I have written up on the Main Slate, so I don’t yet have a feel for how the whole slate shapes up. Hopefully better plays show up than these, but these at least deserve to be set aside and examined against plays from other games during the latter half of the week.
Obviously, a bet on the Colts’ defense is also a strong bet. Indy ranks 11th in adjusted sack rate and ninth in turnovers forced, and they can certainly get the job done against Peterman or Anderson on Sunday.