BUCCANEERS // GIANTS OVERVIEW
And this is why the NFL quietly loves fantasy football. Who besides fans of these teams would have interest in this game without fantasy? This game pairs a 2-7 Giants team with a 3-6 Bucs team — with the Bucs on a 1-6 stretch after incredibly starting the season with wins over the Saints and Eagles, and with the Giants coming off their first win in nearly two months. The Giants have been quietly competitive all year — losing by five points to the Jags, by seven points to the Cowboys, by two points to the Panthers, by three points to the Falcons, and by seven points to the Redskins — but their offense has not done them many favors, as they have failed to top even 15 points in four of their nine games, and they have topped 20 points only three times all year.
Of course, this will be an opportunity for the Giants to break out of this funk against a Tampa team that has allowed the most points per game and the fifth most yards per game in the NFL, while giving the ball away more times than any other team in football and taking the ball away the second fewest times in the league.
In spite of their parade of mistakes, Tampa continues to produce on offense — ranking first in the NFL in yards per game, while ranking 12th in points per game. The offensive environment as a whole in this game is ripe for production, as the Giants rank first in the league in pass play rate and the Bucs rank fifth, which should lead to plenty of clock stoppages, and to volume piling up on both sides of this game. Each team has battled issues in the red zone on offense (Tampa ranks 21st in red zone touchdown rate; the Giants rank 30th), but the Giants should have an easier path than normal when they crack the 20, as the Bucs have had the worst red zone defense in the NFL this year. The Giants surprisingly boast the third stingiest red zone defense, which could create a few additional issues for Tampa. The Bucs may continue to pile up yards while remaining less spectacular at actually scoring points.
Vegas has put plenty of faith into the Bucs’ strong offense and their awful defense, pegging this game with an early-week Over/Under of 52.0 — second highest on the Main Slate. Six of the Bucs’ nine games have exceeded this total, while only one of the Giants’ nine games has risen above this mark.
BUCCANEERS PASS OFFENSE
The Giants have been a middling defense this year, ranking 22nd in yards allowed per game and 20th in points allowed per game, while holding opposing passing attacks to the 12th lowest yards per pass attempt and the second fewest passing touchdowns, but notching the second fewest sacks and the ninth fewest interceptions along the way. Only one team has allowed fewer red zone receptions to wideouts than the Giants have allowed, and the best way to strike against this team through the air is with guys who can hit bigger plays.
The fun continued last week for “Tampa QB,” with Ryan Fitzpatrick going for 406 yards…with zero touchdowns, two picks, and one fumble lost. Helping to somewhat protect Fitz from in-game benchings is the fact that Jameis Winston’s 2019 salary is guaranteed for injury only — meaning that the Bucs can move on from him without any cap hit if they can keep him healthy through the remainder of the year. Fitz has incredibly thrown for 400+ yards in four of his five start-to-finish games, and “Tampa QB” has topped 365 yards in seven of nine games. While Fitz threw zero touchdowns last week, he notched three or more touchdown passes in each of his other four start-to-finish games.
As always, the biggest issue in targeting Tampa pass catchers is the number of weapons to whom they spread the ball, with all of Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Chris Godwin, Adam Humphries, and O.J. Howard commanding targets each week.
Evans has been a massive disappointment the last two weeks, hauling in four of 16 targets for 67 yards. He has double-digit targets in five of nine games this year, with four games of 100+ yards (including three games of 137 or more), and with four touchdowns in all. He also has four games under 60 yards and three games with three or fewer receptions. He has smashed in some difficult matchups and fallen apart in some good matchups. Consider him a volatile play in a matchup that yields low touchdown upside on paper for wide receivers…but with plenty of upside stored in this play as well.
Speaking of volatile plays: DJax has five games this year with four or five targets…and another four games with eight or nine looks. He has failed to crack even 80 receiving yards in five straight games (with only one touchdown in this stretch), but he also showed the high end of his range early in the year, with three touchdowns and three 100-yard games in his first four contests. His floor/ceiling remains in the same range it has been in all year.
Godwin has six or more targets in four of his last five games, but his primary function in this offense is to take shorter-area targets while Evans and DJax work deep. Last week was only the second time all year Godwin cracked 60 yards. As noted all season: his red zone role (nine targets inside the 10 — third most in the league) does give him upside. Naturally, the Giants’ stout red zone defense will make it more difficult to hit that upside.
Humphries will need another unpredictable multi-touchdown game to return more than floor value.
Howard continues to be underutilized (two targets last week — his sixth game already with four or fewer looks), but he carries big upside on his limited looks. The Giants are a middling tight end matchup.
BUCCANEERS RUN OFFENSE
While the Giants have allowed only seven total touchdowns to tight ends and wide receivers, they have given up 13 total touchdowns to running backs — the third most in the league. Otherwise, the Giants have been simply middling against backs — creating an interesting setup for a Bucs team that features the running back position less than any other team in football. Positive running back matchups this year have really done nothing for the box score results of the Bucs’ backs.
Last week, with Ronald Jones on the sidelines, the Bucs gave 33 running back snaps to Peyton Barber, 26 to Jacquizz Rodgers, and 10 to Shaun Wilson. Barber has yet to top 85 rushing yards in a game this year, and he has only one game with more than nine receiving yards. Wilson was a non-factor, with three touches and three yards. The biggest factor was Quizz, who saw only one carry, but who turned eight targets into an 8-103-0 line through the air. This was a fluky output, with Quizz failing to top even 25 receiving yards in any other game this year.
GIANTS PASS OFFENSE
As noted recently: the closest comp for the Tampa pass defense is the Atlanta pass D, as each team attempts to force shorter passes and tackle well after the catch, but each team is getting burned by their high catch rate allowed. Entering this week, Tampa ranks 32nd in completion percentage allowed (Atlanta ranks 30th), and Tampa ranks 29th in yards allowed per pass attempt (Atlanta ranks 27th). Tampa is especially suffering from their lack of pass rush (23rd in sacks; Atlanta ranks 28th), and they are a great setup for Eli Manning, who is working with the best completion rate of his career, but is failing to get anything going downfield. As we noted when the Giants played Atlanta in Week 7: this type of matchup is perfect for the 2018 version of Eli. In that spot, he threw for 399 yards — though he disappointingly notched only one touchdown. Even against a Tampa defense that ranks 32nd in opponent red zone touchdown rate (Atlanta ranks 30th), there will be at least slight concerns that this passing attack will struggle to push the ball into the end zone.
With all the jokes that can be made about the Giants this year, one thing to their credit is their usage of Odell Beckham, who has seen at least nine targets in every game this year, and who has double-digit looks in seven consecutive games. Beckham has 100+ yards in each of the five games in which he has caught eight or more passes — and in a pace-up spot against a pass-heavy (volume-producing) opponent that allows the highest catch rate in the NFL, eight or more catches is a fairly safe bet. Beckham quietly ranks fifth in the NFL in red zone targets. The Giants rank 30th in red zone touchdown rate, but they get a boost against the worst red zone defense in football.
Beckham is the clear alpha among wide receivers and tight ends on this team, with 45.33% of the team’s air yards (the second highest mark in the NFL), and with eight games of double-digit targets compared to one such game for the rest of this pass catching corps. The best bet behind him is Sterling Shepard, who has seven or more targets in all but two games this season — and whose aDOT of 9.3 is only a couple clicks behind Beckham’s mark of 10.9. Shepard lacks the YAC upside of Beckham, which has left him shy of 50 yards in five of nine games, but he sees enough opportunities for some big plays to click in place. He has three touchdowns on the year (with only three fewer red zone targets than Beckham), three games of 75 to 80 yards, and one game (vs Atlanta) of 167 yards. He’s a modest-floor, solid-ceiling play.
Wrapping up this passing attack is Evan Engram, who has at least four targets in all five of the games he has played from start to finish, and who has scored a pair of touchdowns. He’s behind Beckham, Barkley, and Shepard for targets — but on the pass-heaviest offense in football, against one of the worst pass defenses in football, there will be some opportunities for him to hit.
GIANTS RUN OFFENSE
Tampa has faced the ninth fewest rush attempts on the year, as teams tend to attack this unit through the air — though this shouldn’t be much of a stumbling block to the value of Saquon Barkley, as the Giants already pass more frequently than any team in football, which has led to Saquon seeing target counts on the year of 6 // 16 // 5 // 8 // 4 // 12 // 10 // 10 // 5. Between the carries and the catches, Saquon has at least 22 touches in six of nine games this season (with only one game below 19 touches). The Bucs have, unsurprisingly, been below-average against pass-catching backs, and the Chiefs are the only team in football that has allowed more total touchdowns to running backs. Expect Saquon to pile up 22+ touches again, with plenty of yardage and touchdown upside along the way.
While the Bucs’ passing attack always stands out to me in tourneys, Fitz is the only guy I would feel safe with in cash games this week — and there are probably quarterbacks I like more. The Giants have been strong enough in the red zone — particularly against the pass — that I don’t want to try to guess on individual pass catchers here, especially as this has already been a difficult group to nail down all season. With that said: there is always something to be said for building a few stacks around the Tampa passing attack in tourneys, as this group continues to find ways to produce upside most weeks. While this matchup sets up better for scoring upside in the backfield, of course, I’ll be leaving that component of the Bucs alone myself, as this backfield has been unrosterable all season.
On the Giants’ side, I like Eli, though there are quarterbacks with higher upside — and I like Shepard and Engram as decent point-per-dollar floor plays with strong upside for the price. The crown pieces on this side of the ball, however, are OBJ and Saquon. Each guy pops off the page to me early in the week as a strong play, with plenty of floor and ceiling in this matchup. With all the passing that the Giants do — and with all the passing that Tampa forces opponents to do — there will be lots of opportunities for these two to pile up receptions, and to pile up yards after the catch along the way.