CARDINALS // FALCONS OVERVIEW
The birds of Arizona and the birds of Georgia are each wrapping up a disappointing season, with Arizona stumbling to a 3-10 record behind a season full of poor offensive play, and with Atlanta surprising themselves and the rest of the league with a 4-9 record and a five-game losing streak behind a season full of injuries, bad defense, and poor offensive play. This game offers quite a bit of name value, but guaranteed production remains thin in this spot. Atlanta opened as 10.0 point favorites at home before dropping to -8.5 early in the week. This game carries a “Week 15 standard” Over/Under of 44.0.
CARDINALS PASS OFFENSE
Matchup is not an issue for the Cardinals this week, against an Atlanta team that has allowed a 5.6% increase on the league-average catch rate while ranking 21st in yards allowed per pass attempt. With the Falcons also ranked 27th in the NFL in sacks, Josh Rosen should be able to operate with a mostly-clean pocket, perhaps enhancing his ability to make the throws he needs to make. Of greater concern for this offense is its lack of weapons and its season-long struggles. Last week against a Detroit defense that is one of the few units more inept than the Falcons, it took Rosen 41 pass attempts to secure 240 yards through the air. He threw zero touchdown passes and gifted a pick-six to Darius Slay. Heading into that game, Rosen had thrown the ball 26 or fewer times in three straight games — and with this matchup setting up well for the Cardinals’ ground game, we should expect this team to limit passing volume for as long as they can.
The last man standing among NFL-caliber weapons in this passing attack is Larry Fitzgerald, who saw target counts in the Cardinals’ lower-volume games of 4 // 2 // 6 before spiking to nine targets last week. Fitz and Rosen have connected on only 60.5% of their looks this year, with Fitz averaging only 10.8 yards per catch — leaving him as a “bet on broken play or touchdown” option. While scoring expectations for this team as a whole are low, Fitz is the best bet to find the end zone among the Cardinals’ wide receivers, leaving him as a non-exciting, but non-awful play.
Chad Williams is expected to return to the field this week on the perimeter, where he will likely eat into the snaps of both J.J. Nelson and Trent Sherfield, with all three guys seeing time on the field. Last week, Nelson played 48 snaps and saw seven targets, while Sherfield played 65 snaps and saw seven targets. All three of these guys would be guess-and-hope plays in a broken, low-volume attack — with a quarterback who has averaged only 6.1 yards per pass attempt on the year.
This “attack” wraps up with Ricky Seals-Jones, who has turned his 13 targets across the last four weeks into six catches for 51 yards. Ouch.
CARDINALS RUN OFFENSE
Atlanta has been one of the easiest teams in the NFL to run on, ranking 31st in run defense DVOA and 30th in yards allowed per carry. Only 10 teams have allowed more rushing yards to running backs. Only two teams have allowed more receiving yards. No team has allowed more receptions.
This is a good spot for David Johnson, who is playing through a lost season behind an offensive line that ranks 20th in adjusted line yards, on an offense that ranks dead last in time of possession. Across his last three games, DJ has touched the ball 26 // 19 // 21 // 23 times. His 12 catches across his last four games have led to only 48 total receiving yards, which tells you a lot of what you need to know about the low-upside nature of touches in this offense, while DJ’s multi-touchdown upside is held in check by this team’s inability to sustain drives or put points on the board. He remains a high-variance play at his price tag, but his chances of hitting in this matchup are higher than normal.
It should also be noted that DJ missed practice on Wednesday. As of this writeup, Steve Wilks expects him to play — though if he were to miss, Chase Edmonds would provide cheap exposure to an every-down role in a really good matchup. He would obviously become extremely popular, but he would also provide strong point-per-dollar production while opening up salary for other spots on the slate.
FALCONS PASS OFFENSE
The Cardinals have been one of the tougher teams in the league against the pass, forcing the shallowest aDOT in the NFL and allowing the second fewest pass plays of 20+ yards. This team allows a 4% increase on the league-average catch rate — which allows wide receivers to rack up PPR points at times on short-area throws — but upside has been tough to come by in this spot, with Arizona ranked fifth in yards allowed per pass attempt while allowing the third fewest passing touchdowns in the league.
This spot is further complicated by the recent deployment of Patrick Peterson, with Arizona moving him around the formation in shadow coverage on the perimeter, creating a tough spot for Julio Jones on the 79% of snaps he runs on the outside. As one of the premier athletes and route-runners at the wide receiver position, Julio has a chance to win in any matchup, but Peterson continues to be one of the most lockdown forces in the NFL, with only 46 passes thrown into his coverage all season, and with a 54.3% completion rate and a 69.0 quarterback rating allowed on the year. Peterson has yet to allow more than 55 receiving yards in a game this year on passes thrown into his coverage. Julio will have to win a tough matchup here or take advantage of his opportunities away from Peterson. Working in his favor is this game’s domed environment and the highest percentage share of team air yards in the league. Julio will almost certainly see his nine-plus targets — keeping his ceiling intact, in spite of the lower-than-normal floor.
This passing attack has failed to get anything going behind Julio for weeks now, with Calvin Ridley cracking 50 yards only twice in his last nine games, and with Mohamed Sanu cracking 60 yards only twice all season. Barring an unlikely back-and-forth game, both of these guys remain “bet on a broken play or touchdown” options. Ridley has produced five useful games on the year and is the best bet for production, while either guy could see a small bump in usage if Peterson slows down Julio. In this broken attack, against a solid-across-the-board defense, each guy still carries a low floor.
At the back end of this passing attack is Austin Hooper, who sat out practice Wednesday with a knee issue and has topped 60 yards only two times all season. The Cardinals have allowed the eighth fewest yards to the tight end position, creating a tough spot for Hooper. He remains what he has been for most of the year: a modest floor option at tight end, with ceiling merely a guessing game.
FALCONS RUN OFFENSE
The Falcons have been atrocious on the ground this season, ranking 29th in run offense DVOA and 31st in yards per carry. Tevin Coleman has not topped 11 touches in four consecutive games, while Ito Smith has recent touch counts of 8 // 6 // 8 // 14. Smith has posted zero usable DFS scores this season. Coleman has posted three usable scores through the first 13 games of the year. Last week, these two split snaps almost exactly down the middle, with Smith playing 32 and Coleman playing 33.
Of course, the matchup introduces some slim appeal, as Arizona has faced the most running back rush attempts in the NFL, and as a result has allowed the most rushing yards and the most rushing touchdowns to the position. The Falcons prefer to lean pass-heavy (Coleman has not topped 13 carries since Week 4; Smith has not topped 11 carries all year), and this unit as a whole is downright bad; but either of these guys could be considered as low-floor options, with slim yardage-and-touchdown upside giving them an outside shot at mattering on this slate.
From a “certainty” perspective, there is not a lot to like in this game (beyond the “certainty” that this is one of the last three games Steve Sarkisian will be coaching for the Falcons). The passing attack for the Falcons is in a tough spot, while their run offense has been too poor to depend on for guaranteed points. And the Cardinals’ entire offense has been too self-sabotaging for us to a assume that a good matchup will automatically yield good production (see: the Cardinals’ games in the last four weeks against the Lions and the Raiders).
From an “upside” perspective, however (i.e., if you are willing to leave floor alone), Matt Ryan to Julio is always theoretically in play — even in a tough matchup — while one of the Falcons’ backs could post a solid game in a matchup that tilts their way. The ancillary pieces on the Falcons’ passing attack could also be considered for low-floor upside.
On the Cardinals’ side, DJ has a better-than-normal shot at a strong game (which doesn’t guarantee production in this offense, but it does keep him in the conversation this week), while Fitz could be considered as a “solid floor, with touchdown upside” option at the lower ends of the price range. I’ll be leaving the rest of the Cardinals’ offense alone, but it’s not exactly crazy to think you could take a shot on one of the other wide receivers here and come away with points. If taking plays like that, it is obviously recommended that you fill out the rest of your roster with “Certainty” pieces, but there is a non-zero chance that one of these guys hits.