CHARGERS // BRONCOS OVERVIEW
While it is obviously unlikely that the Raiders will find a way to defeat the Chiefs at Arrowhead, the Chargers still have a shot at a division title and a first round bye if Oakland pulls off the miracle and the Chargers take care of business in Denver this weekend — setting up the visiting team to prepare for this game the way they would prepare for any other game, and to attack throughout in the hopes of taking down a win. Unless the Chargers completely fail to show up, they should be able to take care of business in this spot — even in a tough road environment — as the Broncos have now lost Phillip Lindsay, to go with their losses in the secondary and at wide receiver that have piled up throughout the year. Even playing on the road at Mile High, the Chargers have been installed as 6.5 point favorites. This game carries an Over/Under of only 41.5.
CHARGERS PASS OFFENSE
Across the last month, we have been waiting for the Broncos’ injuries and issues in the secondary to catch up to them, and for wide receivers to start popping off for big-yardage games in this spot — but since the start of Week 11 (when the Broncos traveled to L.A. and upset the Chargers), Denver has continued to play tough against wideouts, allowing below-average production in receptions, yards, yards per reception, and touchdowns, while allowing the eighth lowest opponent passer rating on passes thrown to the position. Especially with this game being played in Denver, this should be viewed as a middling to slightly below-average spot for the Chargers’ passing attack. (There is also at least some risk that the Chargers take the foot off the gas partway through the second half in this one if the Chiefs jump out to a big lead on the Raiders at home.)
Starting with the game between these two teams in Week 11, recent target counts among the Chargers’ wide receivers have looked like this (subtracting the Week 15 game in which Allen left in the first quarter):
Allen should be in line once again for eight or more targets, giving him a solid floor even with this spot best considered “slightly below average.” With Allen posting an aDOT of only 8.9, he needs volume to pile up (or he needs to hit on one of his rare downfield looks) to justify his price tag, but he is the best bet on this offense for production, keeping him in the conversation.
The rest of this Chargers attack, of course, remains what it has been all year: dart throws with low floors and solid upside. There is nothing in the matchup that raises expectations for any of Mike, Tyrell, or Benjamin, but all three will be given a few opportunities to hit in this spot.
CHARGERS RUN OFFENSE
The Broncos have been solid against the run throughout the second half of the year, allowing only 4.1 yards per carry (a mark that drops to 3.8 if we take away the 12-82 line that Mixon posted against them) — though if any run offense is equipped to defeat this matchup, it’s the well-schemed Chargers attack, which has consistently produced solid stat lines regardless of running back or opponent. On the year, the Chargers rank seventh in run offense DVOA and sixth in yards per carry. The Chargers have also found extraordinary success this year on the off-tackle runs that have given the Broncos some problems even during this strong stretch of play. Further improving this matchup is the involvement the Chargers’ backs have in the pass game, paired with the fact that the Broncos have given up the seventh most receiving yards and the third most yards per pass attempt to running backs since Week 11, when these teams first met.
While these factors point to this as a sneaky-decent spot for the Chargers’ backfield, the positives begin to fizzle when we get to the expected workload distribution. Last week, an apparently-not-fully-healthy Melvin Gordon played 66.7% of the Chargers’ snaps and touched the ball only 15 times, while Justin Jackson mixed in behind him for 33.3% of the snaps and eight touches of his own. This week, Austin Ekeler is expected to return to the field after missing time with his neck issue, and there is no guarantee that Gordon sees more than 15 to 17 touches, while there is also no guarantee that the Chargers are comfortable giving Ekeler his full complement of work with the playoffs just around the corner, and with this game likely to mean nothing in the standings. We should expect the Chargers to come out firing in this spot, but there is risk that they ease the workload on these offensive centerpieces if the Chiefs are handling business a few hours to the east. Consider Gordon an iffy-floor, high-upside play. Consider the rest of this backfield hands-off beyond guessing and hoping.
BRONCOS PASS OFFENSE
This Broncos passing attack is most effective when Case Keenum is able to get his deep ball working, as this allows him to take advantage of his gunslinger mentality, and it opens up more space on the underneath areas of the field where the Broncos prefer to work. As such, it is worth noting that the Chargers are forcing the fourth shallowest aDOT in the NFL this year, and only two teams in football have faced fewer downfield pass attempts. With this defense getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks and playing stout, assignment-strong coverage, it is difficult for quarterbacks to pile up pass attempts of 15+ yards — and as long as the Chargers are able to hold steady with this approach, they are absolutely lethal, with the second lowest passer rating allowed on short throws, and with the fifth lowest yards per pass attempt in the league. This is a tough spot for Keenum and the Broncos’ makeshift attack this week.
On the plus side for efforts to target this Broncos attack: they have been ludicrously pass-heavy the last three weeks, with a 65.02% pass play rate that would rank fourth in the NFL if it held across the entire season, and with recent pass attempt numbers for Keenum of 42 // 48 // 37. This has allowed the Broncos to pile up the following target numbers among primary receivers:
:: Courtland Sutton — 6 // 6 // 10
:: Tim Patrick — 10 // 5 // 8
:: DaeSean Hamilton — 9 // 12 // 9
:: Matt LaCosse — 1 // 6 // DNP
Sutton will draw a difficult matchup against Casey Hayward, and he is running nearly 60% of his routes along the left sideline, where Keenum has struggled enormously this year. His downfield role will also make it difficult for him to hit this week — though it should be noted that the Chargers have been poor at defending downfield passes when plays break down and/or when quarterbacks are able to find enough time for things to develop. Sutton is a low-floor, modest-ceiling bet this week.
Patrick has benefitted from running most of his routes along the right sideline, where Keenum is most comfortable throwing. Floor is an obvious concern, but he has a slim edge on Sutton this week for “upside likelihood,” as he should mostly avoid Hayward, and he’s a better bet to take advantage of any potential broken plays that emerge in this spot.
Hamilton has been the highest-floor piece in this attack, though with his role keeping him almost exclusively in the short areas of the field, he’ll also have the toughest time reaching upside. Consider him a modest-floor option who needs a broken play or a couple touchdowns to really pop on this slate.
LaCosse will do battle with rookie superstar Derwin James, who has keyed a tight end defense for the Chargers that has allowed an incredibly low 61.1% completion rate to the position (only the Bills and Saints have allowed a lower completion rate to tight ends). If LaCosse misses again, it will be Brian Parker stepping into this difficult draw.
BRONCOS RUN OFFENSE
Royce Freeman will be taking over the Broncos’ backfield this week, and he is likely to be fairly popular in DFS this weekend, with the field seeing this as an opportunity to target “a cheap, 20-carry back.” As such, there are a few things we should dig into before pulling the trigger on this play in Week 17.
Firstly, we should recognize that Freeman is a yardage-and-touchdown back, with only six receptions on the entire season. He is going to need to pile up yardage and touchdowns in this spot in order to matter on this slate. The Broncos still have Devontae Booker to play on passing downs; Booker will also see some carries of his own in this spot. (Twelve of Booker’s 29 carries on the year came in the two games that Freeman missed partway through the season.)
Secondly, we should recognize that the Broncos have nothing for the Chargers to fear in the passing attack — and in the same way the Browns were able to collapse on this rushing attack in Week 15 (holding Lindsay and Freeman to a combined 31 yards on 18 carries), the Chargers will be able collapse on this rushing attack in Week 17.
Thirdly, Freeman has not been particularly good this year — averaging 4.1 yards per carry and ripping off only 13 carries all year of 10+ yards on 113 carries in all, for an 11.5% rate. (To put that in perspective: Lindsay has 29 such carries on 192 totes behind the same offensive line, good for a 15.1% rate.)
Fourthly, Freeman has been miserable running both up the middle and to the left side of the line — averaging 2.73 yards per carry on 62 such touches. This is where the Chargers have been most susceptible on defense, while they are strongest to the right side of the line where Freeman has had his most success.
Freeman is still a cheap back in line for anywhere from 14 to 20 carries, but all of these elements should also be considered. He will need a few long runs or a multi-touchdown game in order to post a price-considered score you “have to have” in order to win, making him a less-scary fade than he appears on the surface, if you want to go that direction.
The Chargers play at the slowest pace in the NFL on offense, and only six teams are allowing fewer opponent plays per game on the year — making this a difficult spot for a non-explosive Broncos offense that ultimately needs volume in order for yards to pile up, with this team averaging only 4.2 yards per play across the last three weeks. (To put that number in perspective: the Cardinals rank dead last in yards per play on the year…at 4.4.) With the Broncos playing so poorly and the Chargers playing so well, I almost certainly won’t chase this side of the ball myself. Obviously, there are players who could hit (Freeman // Booker // Sutton // Hamilton // Patrick // etc.), and there are cases to be made for going here if you want to take a different stance than I’ll be taking; but with the field likely to lean on this spot more heavily than they should, I’ll play the percentages and look for my upside elsewhere. If I do take some shots here, the place I am likeliest to look is actually Booker, as the Chargers are allowing the third most receiving yards in the league to enemy backs — and especially on PPR scoring sites, it’s not crazy to think that Booker may end up outscoring a more popular Freeman this week.
The deeper we get into the Main Slate research, the more I am beginning to wonder if I will, in fact, open things up in my play this week with a mass-multi-entry approach, as part of the original thinking was that there would be enough to like on this slate that I would want to build a broad range of teams. The more spots we hit in which I “don’t really love things” (even for large-field tourneys), the more I realize I may end up taking the plays that are standing out to me more strongly this week and sticking to something much closer to my standard approach. I like the Chargers’ offense in this spot, and I think Keenan Allen, Melvin Gordon, and Philip Rivers can all have a case made for them as solid plays; but from a price-considered standpoint, none of these three stand out as guys I want to go out of my way to roster, and it won’t surprise me if I end up avoiding this offense altogether. If you want to go here yourself, the three superstars on this team are obviously the top bets, while Mike and Tyrell Williams are each non-poor dart throws for their upside in large-field tourneys.