As explored at the top of this week’s NFL Edge, the shape of this slate is lower-scoring on the whole, with a lot of lower-end quarterbacks (and/or higher-end quarterbacks in below-average spots), and with only one game on the slate carrying an Over/Under above 47.0.
The slate can further be broken down into “Buccaneers at Falcons” (51.0) // “the five games with an Over/Under of 44.5 to 47.0” // and “the five games with an Over/Under of 42.0 or below.
Broncos at Bills not only falls into that final category, but is in fact the king of that final category, with the lowest Over/Under on the slate, at 37.0. As we mention occasionally when exploring a low Over/Under: while yards can still pile up in a game with a low total, we are ultimately on the lookout for slate-breaking upside in our builds, and touchdowns tend to be a part of that. The Bills are allowing the third fewest points per game, and the Broncos are allowing the eighth fewest. Furthermore, the Broncos are scoring the sixth fewest points per game, while the Bills are scoring the 13th fewest. As for “DFS production from yards” :: a bleak picture is painted here as well, with the Bills and Broncos both ranking among the four toughest teams in the league to pile up yardage against, and with each offense in the bottom half of the league in yards gained. Ultimately, in a spot like this, you would be looking for one of two things:
1) Fluky plays
2) A concentrated distribution of touches
While “fluky plays” are obviously not something we can predict, we do find our interest piqued slightly by that second element: a concentrated distribution of touches.
We’ll start on the Broncos’ side, where the Broncos came out of the bye with something of a new-look offense — with this coaching staff following through on late-Sunday-morning reports that they planned to start featuring Phillip Lindsay more heavily, as they gave him 51 snaps to 23 for Royce Freeman, while feeding him 18 touches compared to nine for Royce. (As explored as recently as last week: this has been a near-exactly 50/50 timeshare this season — so a 65/35 split would make Lindsay fundamentally underpriced for his new role, should it hold.) Lindsay/Freeman have combined for 29 touches per game on the season, so Lindsay has a shot to push for 20 touches in this spot if game flow cooperates. It is likely that this game remains close enough for Lindsay to see work, so the big question is play volume, where Buffalo is allowing the ninth fewest opponent plays per game.
When the Broncos pass, they are also tightening up the band of players through whom they are filtering volume, with Courtland Sutton accounting for 28.8% of the Broncos’ available targets across his last two games, and with Noah Fant accounting for 26.3%. (It should be noted, of course, that the bulk of Fant’s looks game against a Vikings defense that has faced the most tight end targets in the league — more than the Chiefs; more than the Cardinals; more than the Bucs.) The Bills have faced the fewest tight end targets and allowed the second fewest tight end yards, and they haven’t been much easier against wide receivers, holding the position to the 10th fewest yards and the second fewest touchdowns. Last week’s 100-yard showing against the Bills (by DeVante Parker, of all players) was the first time a pass catcher has topped 100 yards against the Bills this year. Sutton will do battle primarily with Tre’Davious White, whom PFF has charted with another strong season, as he is allowing only 41.8 yards per game on passes thrown into his coverage, with zero touchdowns allowed and three interceptions.
All of this does potentially create an interesting setup for Tim Patrick, who costs 9% of the salary cap on FanDuel, but is only 6% (stone minimum) on DraftKings and FantasyDraft after seeing eight targets (20.5%) last week in his first game back on the field. Patrick will primarily do battle with Levi Wallace, who has been credited with four touchdowns allowed this year on a 110.5 quarterback rating. With the Bills giving up so little yardage as a whole, Wallace has allowed only 49.7 yards per game, and for as long as this game remains close, the Broncos (11th highest rush play rate) will surely look to lean on the run vs the Bills (10th in DVOA vs the pass; 23rd vs the run). But another five to eight targets won’t be a surprise here.
There are no advantageous matchups for the Bills, as the Broncos rank sixth in DVOA against the run and 15th in DVOA against the pass — while having allowed the fewest catches and the third fewest yards to the wide receiver position. Only three teams have allowed fewer passing yards than the Broncos. Only four teams have allowed fewer passing touchdowns.
The core piece in the Bills’ passing attack, of course, is John Brown, who is still one of only two players in football (Michael Thomas being the other) who has gone for 50+ receiving yards in every game this year — though along with that consistency, Brown’s upside has been somewhat limited, as he has only four receiving touchdowns (two of which came last week at the Dolphins) and only two games of 100+ yards (one of which came last week at the Dolphins). Brown should draw shadow coverage from Chris Harris, who has had another elite season, having allowed only 35.6 receiving yards per game, with only 22 receptions allowed on the year in spite of regularly sticking with an opponent’s top threat.
Behind JB, it will be Cole Beasley and Isaiah McKenzie (recent target counts of 3 // 3 // 4 // 6; recent yardage totals of 11 // 12 // 19 // 21) soaking up underneath looks.
The best matchup for the Bills goes to Dawson Knox, who continues to operate as the leader in this tight end timeshare, with 51 snaps and 24 routes run last week compared to 23 // 10 for Tyler Kroft. The Broncos are not “attackable” with tight ends, but they have allowed the eighth most receptions to the position as teams avoid throwing to wideouts. Knox has recent target counts of only 1 // 2 // 6 // 3, so plenty will still need to break his way in order for him to hit.
JM’s Interpretation ::
I’m hoping this week isn’t ugly enough for me to end up with heavy exposure to this game, but there are at least some pieces to keep in mind, with Lindsay a solid volume-at-his-price play who has a good matchup for yardage (the Bills are allowing 4.58 yards per carry to backs), even if “sustaining drives” and “scoring touchdowns” will be difficult for the Broncos to do. I also think Patrick is interesting as a value play on this side of the ball: a guy who’s unlikely to pop for a big game, but who is affordable enough on DK/FDraft to allow access to other players who can pop.
On the Bills’ side, we saw JB’s price rise last week for his matchup with the Dolphins — and after he hit for his second big game of the year, it apparently felt necessary to bump up his price further. It would be an aggressive move to bet on his third “big game” of the year showing up in this tough spot at an elevated price, though you can at least point to the role as a reason for some optimism.
While I have been religiously avoiding the “running backs vs Broncos” matchup outside of the Fournette game, I might have had some interest in Devin Singletary on an ugly week like this if he weren’t sharing the backfield with Frank Gore (with that interest coming simply because Singletary is always a threat to score when he has the ball in his hands), but while Singletary was up to 73% of the snaps last week (after being at 66% to 68% in his other four fully healthy games), he still yielded his standard 12 touches to Gore — and with this game coming against the Broncos instead of the Dolphins, it is less likely that we’ll have another 28 touches to go around. Singletary is a “no one will play him, and he’s really talented” tourney option, but he’s nothing more than that.
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