CHARGERS // RAVENS OVERVIEW
In spite of the Chargers finishing the regular season tied with the Chiefs for the top record in the AFC, the mechanics of the NFL playoff structure have them playing a first-round game on the road while division rival Kansas City enjoys a first-round bye and home field advantage throughout the playoffs. This is a very good Chargers team, and in most seasons this team would be able to pull the “road favorite” tag in a spot like this. But this year, the Chargers are stuck taking on a run-dominant, defense-dominant Ravens team that has gone 6-1 across their last seven games — including a road win against the Chargers, and a three-point loss at Arrowhead to the Chiefs. If the Ravens had won a couple more games early in the year and were entering the playoffs with a first-round bye, they would be a trendy pick to go to the Super Bowl from this side of the bracket. This is just about as elite as a matchup can get in the first round of the playoffs, with a pair of true contenders matching up in a win-or-go-home battle. This game carries a defense-leaning Over/Under of 41.5, with the Ravens installed as slim 2.5 point favorites.
CHARGERS PASS OFFENSE
Throughout the season, anyone who has consistently avoided offensive players against the Ravens has profited from this decision. On the year, Baltimore has allowed the fewest yards per game and the second fewest points per game in the league. But this four-game slate being what it is — with three of the four games carrying an Over/Under of 43.0 or lower — the Chargers’ offense enters the fringes of the DFS conversation. Yards and touchdowns may be difficult to come by, but the same can likely be said about several other spots on this slate.
The Ravens have been stellar against the pass this year, allowing the lowest catch rate in the NFL and allowing the third lowest yards per pass attempt. The Ravens’ combination of stout pass rush and sticky, aggressive coverage has led to them allowing the fifth fewest passing yards and the third fewest passing touchdowns in the NFL. The Ravens have been especially dominant against wide receivers — allowing only 12 more receptions than the league leading Raiders, while giving up the sixth fewest yards and the third fewest touchdowns to the position.
For much of the year, the Chargers were one of the more run-heavy teams in football, though they did show an ability to shape-shift down the stretch as dictated by matchup or personnel, with Philip Rivers throwing the ball 36 or more times in four of the Chargers’ last seven games (after failing to top even 27 pass attempts in his previous five contests). Volume would work in favor of the Chargers’ receivers if this team can get there — though it should also be noted that the Ravens’ recent run-heavy approach has allowed them to absolutely dominate in time of possession, averaging an astonishing 35:41 per game across their last three contests.
When these teams met in L.A. in Week 16, Rivers fired off 37 pass attempts (his fifth highest total of the year), though this volume led to only 181 yards, zero touchdowns, and two interceptions. Volume is no guarantee — and even if volume is there, this is no guarantee of success.
Rivers’ primary target in the pass game this year has been Keenan Allen, with recent target counts in his healthy games of 7 // 19 // 8 // 8 // 7. With his typically short-area role in this offense, Allen has topped 100 yards only three times all season, but he’s the safest bet for reliable usage in this group of pass catchers, and his respectable 16 red zone targets (six red zone touchdowns) give him a path to upside even without yardage piling up.
Behind Keenan, Mike Williams has been more consistently involved lately, with recent lines (excluding the game against Kansas City that Keenan largely missed) of 4-25-2 // 3-52-0 // 3-45-0 // 1-7-0 // 5-65-1. Of course, that 1-7-0 game came against the Ravens — just one more indication of the challenges this matchup presents.
As Mike Williams has seen his role grow, Tyrell Williams has seen his role shrink, with target counts in these higher-production Mike Williams games of 0 // 2 // 4 // 2 // 3. Outside of the game Keenan missed, Tyrell has not topped 23 receiving yards in nearly two months. He has not scored since Week 9.
If you want to dig real deep, Travis Benjamin is seeing one to three touches most weeks, and he does have the ability to score from anywhere on the field. Antonio Gates has recent dead-legged target counts of 1 // 2 // 5 // 5 // 2. One of those five-target games came against this Baltimore team that is moderately attackable with tight ends.
CHARGERS RUN OFFENSE
The Ravens have one of the best run defenses in the NFL — with the third fewest yards allowed per carry in the league, and with the fifth fewest rushing touchdowns allowed to running backs. Only the Bears, Saints, and Texans allowed fewer rushing yards per game than Baltimore. With the Ravens also allowing the third fewest receiving yards to running backs, no team in football allowed fewer total yards to the position. Only three teams allowed fewer total touchdowns.
While the matchup is legitimately as challenging as a running back matchup can get, the Chargers do have one of the more well-schemed rushing offenses in the NFL, creating a slim path for optimism that Melvin Gordon will be able to generate enough production to matter in this spot. While Gordon touched the ball only 13 times last week, he did play 32 of a possible 49 snaps. If this game were on a typical Main Slate, he would be nothing more than a deep fringe option; but with so little to love on this slate, he can be considered for his locked-in role and touchdown upside — even if the matchup lowers his floor quite a bit.
RAVENS PASS OFFENSE
Lamar Jackson has now completed exactly 12 to 14 passes in each of his seven career starts, with passing yardage totals in this stretch of 150 // 178 // 125 // 147 // 131 // 204 // 179. Jackson has thrown five touchdown passes in his seven games as a starter — with all of these numbers adding up to make it difficult for his pass-catchers to achieve relevance across the last two months. Since Jackson took over under center, here are the target totals among the Ravens’ three wide receivers:
:: John Brown — 1 // 7 // 4 // 6 // 3 // 6 // 3
:: Michael Crabtree — 3 // 6 // 4 // 4 // 1 // 4 // 2
:: Willie Snead — 8 // 0 // 3 // 7 // 6 // 0 // 2
Brown has yet to top two catches or 30 yards with Jackson under center. Crabtree has yet to top three catches or 36 yards with Jackson under center. Snead has finished with 51 to 61 yards three times, but he has also finished below 10 yards three times. Against a Chargers pass defense that has forced the fourth shallowest aDOT in the NFL and has allowed the second fewest wide receiver catches in the league, none of these three are any more than close-your-eyes-and-hope plays. All three should come with low ownership, making them theoretically tourney-worthy on a slate this small, though production expectations should obviously be kept in check.
Behind these three, Hayden Hurst, Maxx Williams, Mark Andrews, and Nick Boyle all continue to take reps at tight end. Derwin James has been stout in tight end coverage, but with the Ravens running so many two tight end sets (and using their run game to creatively spring tight ends free), the matchup should not be viewed as a major concern. Of greater concern is the low target floor carried by primary pass-catching tight ends Andrews (recent target counts of 2 // 4 // 2 // 5) and Hurst (recent target counts of 0 // 3 // 2 // 4). It won’t be a shock if one of these guys hits for a big play, though each carries a scary-low floor.
RAVENS RUN OFFENSE
While the Seahawks closed out 2018 with the lowest pass play rate the NFL has seen in years, the Ravens have been blowing the Seahawks out of the water in the “run-heavy” department since Jackson took over under center — with the Ravens recently piling up rushing yardage totals of 267 // 242 // 207 // 194 // 242 // 159 // 296. While we can enter this game with a fairly clear idea of how the Ravens will attack in this spot, however, this does not necessarily provide us with a clear path to targeting individual players. Across the last three weeks, rushing yardage among the three primary pieces of this backfield has looked like this:
:: Lamar Jackson — 95 // 39 // 90
:: Gus Edwards — 104 // 92 // 76
:: Kenneth Dixon — 48 // 28 // 117
With Edwards adding only two receptions all season, he is at risk of becoming a drain on your roster on weeks in which he fails to score, making him an iffy-floor, solid-ceiling bet this week at his price.
Dixon has four catches across the last three weeks, and he has played only two fewer snaps than Edwards across the last three weeks, though he has yet to see more carries than his backfield mate. His usage is more locked-in than most probably realize (recent touch counts of 12 // 10 // 13), allowing him to join Edwards as an iffy-floor, solid-ceiling bet this week at his price.
Jackson should not be counted on for more than five to 10 points passing (anything over that is a bonus), but his opportunity to add 60 to 70 rushing yards and one or two touchdowns on the ground keeps him in the quarterback conversation.
It is worth noting — in considering all these guys — that the Chargers held the Ravens to their lowest rushing total as a team since Jackson took over (159 total yards), and they certainly have the pieces to slow down the Ravens again. But with how creative and “multiple” this Ravens rushing attack is, “slowing it down” is about the best a team can hope to do — which still leaves these pieces in the conversation on this small, ugly slate.
I certainly would not be targeting this game on a typical Main Slate — but given the slate we have to work with this weekend, there is a case to be made for betting on locked-in usage with Keenan Allen and Melvin Gordon on the Chargers, while there is a case to be made for betting on the backfield with Lamar Jackson, Gus Edwards, or Kenneth Dixon on the Ravens. All of these guys see enough locked-in usage that their price-considered floor is acceptable on this slate, while all carry at least some path to ceiling this week. Behind these guys, there are broad cases to be made for “targeting upside” on Mike Williams or even Austin Ekeler, for “hoping for something to click” on the Ravens’ wideouts or on Tyrell/Benjamin, or for “hoping to guess right” on tight end usage for Hurst or Andrews. None of these are safe plays, but all of them can have a thin case made for them on this four-game slate.