Chargers // Lions carries a slightly aggressive Over/Under of 47.5 — with Vegas counting on the offensive aptitude on both sides of this game to outweigh the methodical nature and slow pace of both of these teams. (Last season, the Lions ranked 23rd in pace of play while the Chargers ranked 32nd. No team allowed fewer opponent plays per game than the Lions, and only four teams ran fewer plays per game than the Chargers. The Chargers also struggled with time of possession on the road last year; though they did hit 20+ points in every road game, and at least three touchdowns is a very fair bet here.) If we played out this slate a hundred times, Vegas would probably have this number right; but the general distribution of scores would be right around this 47.5 mark, rather than being spread far and wide across a broad range of outcomes. The Chargers are very likely to score somewhere in the range of 20 and 31 points, while the Lions have the ability to keep pace with the Chargers to whatever extent they are forced to. We wouldn’t see many “65 combined points” shootouts between these two teams, but we wouldn’t see many “wow, that game completely sucked the fantasy life out of my roster” games either.
In spots such as this, then, the next question to ask is whether these teams have a broad or narrow distribution of touches. A broad distribution of touches in a game with a low likelihood of becoming a true shootout would require the players to carry somewhat lower price tags in order to be truly viable; but a narrow distribution would leave us pretty comfortable targeting the game regardless.
On the Chargers’ side, then, we have Hunter Henry (disappointingly) set to miss some time, and we currently appear likely to be without Mike Williams as well.
This points to two truths:
Firstly, we don’t typically like to pay up for wide receivers who see most of their work close to the line of scrimmage and therefore NEED volume and a touchdown in order to smash at their price (Keenan Allen, Michael Thomas, etc.). But…
Secondly, with Henry out and Williams looking iffy, this offense should center around Allen and Austin Ekeler. Allen has seven games across the last two seasons in which he has seen 12 or more targets; and while only two of those came last year, it’s nice to know that Rivers doesn’t mind letting it rip over and over again to his favorite wide receiver. The last time Allen played Detroit, he saw 17 targets and went 15-166-0. And while that was back in 2015 (a season in which four of Allen’s seven fully healthy games saw him hit 13+ targets!), it’s not crazy to bet on him getting there this week. It feels strange for me to say this, given my history over the last two years of preaching caution when it comes to Allen at his price, but he’s very much in play in all contest types this week. Anthony Lynn is not a coach (and Philip Rivers is not a quarterback) who will force the ball to ancillary pieces in the name of “keeping the defense honest.” This team will get the ball into the hands of their best players: Allen and Ekeler.
Ekeler played 48 snaps last week to 16 for Justin Jackson. The Lions are “one of the better run defenses in the NFL,” but almost all of their run-stopping juice comes up the middle, where Snacks Harrison eats. Last year the Lions were very susceptible to runs on the edge (the screenshot below — from Sharp Football Stats — gives a good visual of this), and while this Lions team tackles well and is disciplined in preventing big gains, Ekeler’s role on the ground and through the air give him a high floor, while his ceiling remains intact in just about any matchup as long as the touches are there.
Detroit also had a narrow distribution of looks last week, with targets on the Lions in Week 1 looking like this:
13 — Danny Amendola
9 — Kenny Golladay
9 — TJ Hockenson
All other players :: 4 or fewer
Matthew Stafford threw 45 passes last week, which he is unlikely to throw for this week; but the Chargers are less likely to play off the ball the way the Cardinals did and allow the underneath areas to be so wide open. This could provide a path to Hockenson seeing seven or more targets as a focal point in this “slow-paced game in which the Lions will nevertheless have to score,” while Golladay — in a tougher matchup against a Chargers team that allowed the second fewest wide receiver receptions last year — will likely push for seven or more as well. The Chargers will be without Trevor Williams this week, but this is still a tough matchup on the outside. The bigger matchup boost (of course) is the loss of Derwin James and the space this is likely to free up for Hock against Adrian Phillips. Golladay is a bet-on-talent-over-matchup play. Hockenson — after picking up the 10th deepest aDOT in the NFL in his debut — has plenty of legs as a floor/ceiling piece at his DK price, and as a ceiling piece on FanDuel.
The rest of this passing attack is less attractive. Chasing Amendola would be chasing another monster volume game or a two-touchdown week, as he has such a short-area role and offers so little after the catch, while Marvin Jones is still being used primarily downfield — which is also where Golladay and Hock are likely to be primarily used, making him speculative at best. (He’ll likely have one or two big games this year, but they’re likely to be unpredictable.)
Swinging over to the backfield :: the Chargers filter targets to running backs; but last week we saw a clear split between Blountian C.J. Anderson and ultra-talented Kerryon Johnson (thanks again, Patricia), with Ty Johnson and JD McKissic mixing in on obvious passing downs. Kerryon would be the play here; but with his price still decently high and his role not yet showing any expansion, most of his paths to week-winning upside are relatively fluky.
JM’s Interpretation ::
We’re talking a lot about tight ends in the NFL Edge this week; but while last week this discussion centered around Evan Engram, who was ultra attractive on both FanDuel and DraftKings, most of the discussion this week has mentioned the cheap guys — Waller and Hock. On FanDuel, tight end pricing is so condensed that a lot of this conversation doesn’t apply; it costs so little in additional salary to move up to Kelce (a 33% increase on Hock’s price; 48.2% on Waller’s — compared to over 200% on DK) that it just makes sense in almost all formats to do so, and to let others chase these more speculative plays. But on DraftKings, these guys are so cheap, and are such strong plays, they’re a big part of the conversation this week. I like both Hock and Waller. Hock has the bigger per-play upside, but Waller is the safer bet for floor given what should be locked-in volume as the Raiders chase points. (Waller also has upside with the ball in his hands and as a safe bet for touchdown opportunities.) Both guys are strong. Both guys can be played together.
Hock is the only piece I really love on the Lions, but Golladay could be targeted in large-field play with the expectation that the Lions have to open things up a bit in this spot, and Kerryon can be viewed as a bet-on-talent piece.
On the other side, Allen is surprisingly attractive, and Ekeler remains attractive as well (though he’s more attractive on DraftKings, where his PPR skill set fits better, and where he costs far less relative to the cap). Everything else on this team is “guess and hope in tournaments” only — which, of course, is part of what makes those first two guys appealing.