GAME OVERVIEW ::
BY HILOW >>
- With key injuries to Terry McLaurin and Alex Smith and the NFL’s 30th-ranked offense in efficiency against the fifth most efficient defense, trouble seems to be looming for Washington here offensively
- Very clear statistical areas of attack for each team (Washington through running backs and tight ends in the pass game, Tampa through short area passing)
- As silly as it sounds without knowing the ins and outs of the matchup, Tampa’s success will likely depend on their ability to adjust and adapt to increased pressure on Tom Brady, which will require a higher rate of short area passes
HOW TAMPA BAY WILL TRY TO WIN ::
The Bucs have a few key players to keep an eye on for Saturday, with wide receiver Mike Evans and outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul yet to practice this week while standout cornerback Carlton Davis returned to a limited practice on Wednesday after missing the last two games of the season with a groin injury. JPP has been a force on the interior of this defense while Davis has been one of the best cover corners in the league (has allowed a low 52.6% completion rate on a massive 97 targets in coverage with four interceptions to five touchdowns allowed), so either’s absence would be felt. Davis appears likely to make it back for Saturday from his groin injury while JPP could be a true game-time decision with a knee injury. Similar story for wide receiver Mike Evans, who has also not practiced this week with a hyperextended knee suffered in their Week 17 game against Atlanta. Head coach Bruce Arians indicated earlier this week that the first time Evans would test his knee would be during Thursday’s practice, so keep an eye on how it responds. Tampa’s overall 64% pass play rate ranks third in the NFL over the full season and remains relatively consistent over the last month of play, coming in at 63%.
The matchup on the ground yields an average 4.305 net-adjusted line yards metric and represents a “by the numbers” area of least resistance. I say “by the numbers” as it really only tells part of the story for a team like the Buccaneers, who lean so heavily toward the pass. We should expect a rather neutral 60-40 snap split between Ronald Jones II and Leonard Fournette, with Jones likely to see 50% more running back opportunities (primarily on the ground). Either way, we’re betting on a multiple touchdown day from one or the other by playing them in a split backfield and average matchup. Furthermore, Washington has allowed the second fewest fantasy points per game to opposing backfields, with a strong defensive line and linebacking corps.
Really the only area that Tom Brady has struggled this season in the pass game is when facing pressure (Washington is top five in pressure rate, quarterback hits, sacks, etc), providing at least a glimpse of hope for Washington (just kidding; Brady/Arians likely realize this fact and have altered their game plan to include a higher rate of ball-out-quick and short passing). I want to talk real quick about one of the biggest downfalls of fantasy footballers: the assumption of rational coaching. The last side note included in parentheses is exactly that, an assumption of rational coaching. The reason I included it is we’re talking about two of the smartest people in the NFL from a football-IQ standpoint in Tom Brady and Bruce Arians. I would be absolutely shocked if a 43-year-old Tom Brady and head coach/play-caller with as much experience and game smarts as Bruce Arians did not come into this game with the understanding that Brady is likely to face pressure at a heightened rate based on the opponent and adjust accordingly. The next point of discussion revolves around the health (or lack thereof) of Mike Evans. Should he play, it is likely going to be in a limited capacity on a hyperextended knee, making it more difficult for him to execute the short area routes we just spoke of, particularly considering the Buccaneers’ other two primary wide receivers, Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown, are two of the cleanest and most advanced route-runners in the NFL. Because the matchup so heavily favors the short passing game, Godwin, Brown and tight end Rob Gronkowski gain increasing intrigue as potential volume pieces, regardless of the status of Evans.
Looking at Washington’s directional passer rating charts per down (above), we very clearly see a shift from a zone base on first down, inside-out man coverage base on second down and outside-in man coverage base with blitz on third down. Incidentally enough, Mike Evans plays almost 60% of his snaps on the left side of the field, while Chris Godwin is basically 50/50 in right/left alignment out of the slot and Antonio Brown is at 60% on the right side. Considering the big picture here (including price), the order of preference of Tampa pass-catchers goes Antonio Brown, Chris Godwin, Rob Gronkowski, Mike Evans (if active), Scotty Miller, Tyler Johnson, Cameron Brate.
HOW WASHINGTON WILL TRY TO WIN ::
The biggest pieces of injury news out of Washington are the questions surrounding quarterback Alex Smith and wide receiver Terry McLaurin, although the players least likely to actually play are linebackers Thomas Davis, Sr. and Kevin Pierre-Louis, likely leaving linebacking duties to Jon Bostic and Cole Holcomb (who, for all intents and purposes, have played much better than the 37 year old Davis and journeyman KPL). Reports from Washington indicate the team is considering a quarterback rotation of Alex Smith and Taylor Heinicke, which is about the worst real-world scenario I can think of for a team in the playoffs (of note, it was Heinicke who took all first team snaps at practice throughout the week). Terry McLaurin gutted through a high ankle sprain in Week 17 and appears likely to do the same here.
It’s a tough ask for the Washington ground game this week against the highest-rated defense against the run in the league (first in DVOA, first in yards allowed per carry). The matchup on the ground yields a well below average 3.975 net-adjusted line yards metric and Antonio Gibson has been fighting through a toe injury for the better part of a month now. The typical snap split between Antonio Gibson and JD McKissic depends on game flow, with a 60/40 split in favor of Gibson in close games (or positive game flows) and reversed in games the Football Team is playing from behind. That said, we’ll cover here shortly the likeliest beneficiary out of the backfield (which comes in the pass game).
Through the air, we have a few key pieces converging in a way that gives us a good idea of where production is likeliest to come from. First off, we have the primary weapon for the Football Team, Terry McLaurin, slowed by a high ankle sprain in a matchup with one of the top young cover corners in the league in Carlton Davis. Secondly, we have a likely quarterback carousel due to injury to Alex Smith. And finally, Jason Pierre-Paul’s likely absence removes one of the key inside-funnel members of the Buccaneer’s 3-4 defensive scheme. The inside linebackers (typically in primary coverage of running backs out of the backfield and tight ends) have allowed a staggering 84 of 116 passes to be completed for 632 yards and six touchdowns in primary coverage. Cornerback Carlton Davis should return for this game and is typically used in shadow coverage of opposing WR1s, in this case, a hobbled Terry McLaurin, leaving relative liability Sean Murphy-Bunting to cover Cam Sims. Considering all angles (likely game flow, injuries to Alex Smith and Terry McLaurin, linebacker coverage deficiencies), Washington’s best chances of moving the ball through the air are through the running backs in the pass game and the tight end (hello Mr. Logan Thomas). As we covered above, Antonio Gibson and JD McKissic are typically deployed in a 60/40 split in close games, with that split liable to flip flop (with room for more snaps for McKissic) in games Washington trails. All of this comes together to provide a likeliest scenario for McKissic to take the snap lead here, with legitimate double-digit target upside as the player with the best chance to move the ball against the Bucs. After I went mad continuing to hype Logan Thomas for over half the season, I finally gave up with the mindset that the coaching and quarterback situations were just going to make it impossible. Then Alex Smith took over at quarterback and everything changed! Thomas has played all but nine (!!!) offensive snaps since Washington’s Week 6 bye and is running a route on 92% (!!!) of pass plays. Like I’ve said before, something had to give. The matchup is a good one against a Bucs team allowing the 10th most fantasy points per game to opposing tight ends at 14.0. Consider Thomas candidate number two for double-digit looks.
LIKELIEST GAME FLOW ::
Likeliest scenario involves an adjustment from Tom Brady and Bruce Arians to the short area passing game in an attempt to keep a relatively immobile Tom Brady upright. Considering the daunting matchup for Washington’s offense, this is likely to lead to the Buccaneers controlling the game and tempo from the beginning, forcing Washington into desperation as the game moves on (another plus for McKissic and Logan Thomas). There’s really no reason to expect the Bucs to increase the involvement of their backfield; rather, it’s more likely they adjust the average intended air yards for Brady.
XANDAMERE’S SHOWDOWN SLANT
- If you think Washington wins, it’s still hard to play Antonio Gibson given the nightmare matchup. His usage will be there and we know Washington is happy to lean on the run (and would prefer to), but….ugh. It certainly makes him a contrarian option, though, and I will want some amount of captain exposure to him.
- Much like with Indianapolis, I’m more interested in Brady at captain than I usually am with QBs – the Bucs spread the ball out to the extent that Brady could easily be the highest scoring player in the game. I’d pair him with 2-3 of his pass catchers.
- The Bucs should be focused on short areas of the field here to keep pressure off of Brady (which has been his only real weakness this season) – if Mike Evans plays, this lowers his expectation. Godwin and Antonio Brown would be the beneficiaries of this, as well as Gronk, who, after a few quiet games, has seen his price dip back down to an attractive level. While Godwin and Brown are fully priced (perhaps even overpriced), Gronk looks like a bargain.
- If Evans misses, Scotty Miller will fill in for him. Miller will be an incredibly popular value play at $2,400 – but he’s also a deep threat receiver in an offense that likely won’t be throwing deep much here. If Miller looks likely to be the most popular value play, even though he’s a strong value, I’d look to be underweight on tournaments and hope the chalk value fails.
- If Evans is out we would also see some Tyler Johnson and likely increased snaps for Cameron Brate. The increased roles of these two will likely go overlooked by the field and I think they’re interesting ownership leverage points over a chalky Miller.
- The Bucs’ run game is a hard sell for me here. If you expect the Bucs to win the game, Leonard Fournette’s role is likely not very voluminous, so you’d absolutely need a touchdown. Ronald Jones could potentially get there despite a difficult matchup if the Bucs get a lead early and work to keep the pass rush pressure off of Brady by adopting a run-heavier plan as the game goes along. Jones is relatively cheap for a running back with this high of a team total, while Fournette is potentially useful on “Washington wins, or at least plays from ahead most of the game” rosters.
- The Washington QB situation is a giant question mark as, even if Alex Smith plays…Washington might rotate him and Heinicke? Who the hell would do that in the playoff game? Smith seems likely to play (but if he doesn’t, Heinicke is a great value at just $6k) – but given his existing limitations and this injury it’s hard to feel a high degree of confidence here.
- Terry McLaurin is going to be the focal point of the defense and is playing somewhat hobbled. I have some of just about every skill player in MME runs, but he’s not a focal point for me in this one – the odds of a blowup game just seem too low (if Tampa cornerback Davis misses, I would like McLaurin more, however).
- My primary points of interest are in the ancillary Washington receiving pieces. Logan Thomas is on the field for almost every single snap and has been peppered with targets by Alex Smith and is just $6,600. JD McKissis has 5 10+ target games in the second half of the season and is, inexplicably to me, $5,400. These are the two best ways for Washington to move the ball and we’ve seen Smith fixate on both of them in prior games. They’re my favorite plays on Washington.
- Cam Sims is my next favorite play at $4,400 for a WR2 who’s on the field for every snap with an injured WR1 in a difficult matchup. He’s a more volatile play than Thomas or McKissic because he’ll need to get there on lower volume but bigger plays, but he’s a strong option.
- The rest of the rotational Washington pieces like the other Sims (Steven), Wright, maybe Inman if he’s active, and Sprinkle can be Sprinkled in to MME builds. Sims is the only one I’d want more than a couple percent of.
DFS+ INTERPRETATION ::
- Arians is 2-4 vs Rivera: 22-6 // 16-27 // 15-49 // 20-30 // 20-14 // 26-37
- Tom Brady went 0-2 vs Rivera’s Panthers, losing 20-24 (‘13) & 30-33 (‘17) with a combined 3 TDs to 1 INT & 5 sacks
- WAS finished with the 4th highest pressure percentage, tied with NOR as the best pass rush TB will have faced all year
- WAS ranked 2nd is pass eff def
- Brady vs top-10 pass eff def: 239:2:2 (NOR) // 253:1:0 (CHI) // 209:0:3 (NOR) // 216:2:2 (LAR)
- WAS’s 16 INT were the 5th-most
- Only QBs to score 20+ DK pts vs WAS: Kyler (33.1) // Lamar (26) // Goff (28.4) // Stafford (23)
- Stafford is the only one of that group to not score on the ground
- Brady has scored 2+ TDs in 13/16 games, and has seven games over 340 pass yds
- Brady has scored 20+ DK pts in 9/16 games: 22.5, 23.9, 36.5, 39.9, 34.8, 26.7, 26.4, 32.9, 34.3
- Top receiver score in those Brady games: 13.9 (CG) // 17.4 (CG) // 28.2 (ME) // 25.9 (SM) // 19.7 (ME) // 20 (ME) // 20.3 (AB) // 43.1 (ME) // 39.8 (AB), 33.3 (CG)
- WAS allowed the 2nd fewest passing yds on the season
- WAS allowed the 5th fewest WR yds & 3rd fewest WR DK pts
- WAS has allowed the lowest success rate & 5th lowest yds/att to WRs
- TB targets since AB joined lineup::
- Evans (6, 11, 9, 9, 5, 7, 12, 4) // Godwin (6, 6, 10, 9, 3, 5, 9, 7) // Brown (5, 8, 13, 3, 5, 7, 6, 14)
- Gronk (6, 3, 6, 7, 2, 7, 2, 4) // Brate (0, 3, 4, 6, 4, 2, 2) // RBs (10, 5, 5, 5, 3, 9, 6, 2)
- Production since AB joined lineup::
- Evans: 4:64 // 6:77:1 // 5:49:1 // 3:50:2 // 3:56 // 6:110 // 10:181:2 // 3:46
- Godwin: 3:41 // 6:92 // 7:53:1 // 8:97 // 2:25 // 4:36:1 // 5:84:1 // 5:133:2
- Brown: 3:31 // 7:69 // 8:57 // 2:11 // 5:49 // 5:93:1 // 4:35:1 // 11:138:2
- Gronk: 1:2 // 2:51:1 // 2:25 // 6:106 // 1:2:1 // 3:29 // 2:58:2 // 2:29
- Brate: 0:0 // 3:31:1 // 3:23 // 4:34 // 1:9 // 4:54 // 2:27 // 1:11
- WAS has allowed the 6th lowest success rate to TEs
- WAS has allowed the 2nd fewest RB DK pts/g: 9th fewest RB rush yds & 4th fewest RB rec yds
- Since the near-shutout vs NOR, RoJo leads Fournette in rush att 72 to 46 despite missing two games
- RoJo ranks above average in success rate in every rushing direction
- WAS ranks 13th in rush eff def and 6th in explosive rush def
- Alex Smith’s first game with more than one TD this year came last week against PHI’s depleted defense
- Smith’s calf injury is affecting his mobility to the point that Taylor Heinecke is being considered to play at some point vs TB (Heinecke has been with OC Scott Turner for multiple years)
- Bowles’s TB defense has had a weakness to QBs able to pass over the top in the last two years, which is certainly not what Alex Smith likes to do: lowest average intended air yds of any QB
- TB has allowed the 10th highest success rate to TEs on the 11th most TE targets faced
- Logan Thomas last five games: 4:20:1 // 9:98:1 // 6:43 // 13:101 // 7:63 // 3:37:1
- Thomas targets in those games: 4, 9, 7, 15, 12, 6
- Best WR games vs TB: Moore (8:120), Robby (9:109) // Guyton/Johnson (2:125:2) // ARob (10:90) // Agholor (5:107:1) // Shep (8:74) // Moore (4:96:1) // Kupp (11:145), Woods (12:130:1) // Hill (13:269:3) // Ridley (10:163:1) // Gage (9:91:1)
- TB CB Carlton Davis returned to limited practice (missed last two games)
- WAS WRs with Smith::
- McLaurin: 7:115:1 // 7:95 // 5:84 // 7:92 // 2:14 // 7:40:1
- Sims: 3:110 // 4:54 // 2:20 // 0:0 // 5:92 // 5:43
- TB ranks 1st in rush eff def and has allowed the fewest rushing yds in the NFL over the last two years with Bowles
- Gibson vs other top-10 rush eff def this year::
- Rushing: 13:46:1 // 11:27 // 2:14 // DNP // DNP
- Receiving: 4:82 // 5:24 // 0:0 // DNP // DNP
- McKissic in the Gibson DNP games: 11:68, 2:18 // 13:51, 9:56:1
- TB has allowed the 6th lowest success rate on the 2nd most RB targets