Slate Overview ::
By Hilow >>
- Running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire and backup (but currently starting) right tackle Lucas Niang has yet to practice this week (as of Wednesday), while there are currently no Kansas City players on the league’s COVID list. (UPDATE: Clyde Edwards-Helaire has been ruled OUT)
- The Broncos will start Drew Lock at quarterback to end their season, as Teddy Bridgewater was placed on IR with his concussion. Joining Teddy B as OUT for the Broncos will be guard Dalton Risner and safety Kareem Jackson. Punter Sam Martin, kicker Brandon McManus, and tackle Calvin Anderson are on the league’s COVID list.
- The Cowboys enter Week 18 relatively healthy, but they will be without starting perimeter wide receiver Michael Gallup after he suffered a season-ending torn ACL last week. Additionally, linebacker Micah Parsons hit the league’s COVID list on Wednesday and will miss this game. (UPDATE: tackle Tyron Smith and cornerback Anthony Brown were added to the COVID list on Thursday)
- The Eagles have 12 players currently on the league’s COVID list, most notably running backs Jordan Howard and Boston Scott, tight ends Dallas Goedert and Jack Stoll, center Jason Kelce, defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, and cornerback Avonte Maddox. Additionally, guard Landon Dickerson, tackle Lane Johnson, and running back Miles Sanders have yet to practice this week with various ailments.
How Kansas City Will Try To Win ::
The Chiefs have been fairly consistent this season as far as offensive play calling goes, ranking towards the top of the league in overall pass rate (fourth), situation-neutral pass rate (fourth), overall pass rate over the previous month of play (18th), and situation-neutral pass rate over the previous month of play (first). They also continue to be the most efficient offense in the league, ranking first in drive success rate, first in plays per drive, first in yards per drive, first in points per drive, and second in time of possession per drive. Because their offense hasn’t hit the deep areas of the field at the same high success rate as we’ve grown accustomed to, they have resorted to more short area early-down passing and zone run-blocking concepts designed to generate second-and-third-and-manageable situations. This offensive scheme change has led to increased time of possession (30:45 per game, on average) and an elite third-down conversion rate (first in the league). The main knock against the Chiefs offense this season has been turnovers, as the team comes into Week 18 with the second most fumbles per drive and 13th most interceptions per drive. Finally, the COVID issues that plagued the Chiefs over the previous three weeks are seemingly in the rearview mirror, as Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce both returned to their standard snap rate roles in Week 17.
The run game has a few variables at play this week, with Clyde Edwards-Helaire still not practicing and fill-in starting right tackle Lucas Niang also yet to practice this week after sustaining a knee injury in his start in Week 17 (UPDATE: Clyde Edwards-Helaire has been ruled OUT). Left tackle Orlando Brown returned to a full practice on Wednesday and should be good to go this weekend. With CEH out of the lineup last week, Darrel Williams commanded a hefty 80% snap rate en route to 17 running back opportunities, 107 total yards, and two touchdowns. I would expect more of the same this week should CEH miss again (appears likely at this point). Derrick Gore and Jerick McKinnon backed Williams up last week in extremely modest roles (13% snap rate for Gore and 8% snap rate for McKinnon). The matchup on the ground yields a borderline elite 4.54 net-adjusted line yards metric against a Broncos defense allowing 22.0 fantasy points per game to opposing backfields (10th-fewest in the league).
The Chiefs have continued to utilize Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce in near every-down roles while rotating all of Demarcus Robinson, Mecole Hardman, Byron Pringle, and Josh Gordon through as situational pass-catchers. Tight ends Blake Bell and Noah Gray operate in modest roles as either situational tight ends or primary blockers. The Broncos have been extremely effective at slowing down their opposition through the air this season, allowing the seventh-fewest fantasy points per game to opposing wide receivers and the third-fewest fantasy points per game to opposing tight ends. Although there isn’t a true “weakness” of Denver’s pass defense, they are most vulnerable to deep passing, having forced the fourth-deepest aDOT in the league. That has also come with the fourth-lowest completion rate allowed (60.62%), meaning the deeper aDOT faced is by design in an attempt to force teams into lower probability passing.
How Denver Will Try to win ::
The Broncos rank towards the bottom of the pack in overall pass rates this season at 56%, a rate value that hardly changed over the past two weeks. Why is that important? Well, Weeks 15 and 16 were two games without Teddy Bridgewater, one in which the Broncos played tightly with the Raiders and one where they were blown out by the Chargers. In those two games, Drew Lock attempted just 22 and 25 pass attempts, while the combination of Melvin Gordon III and Javonte Williams combined for 14 and 24 rush attempts (only 42 and 57 offensive plays). Because of the way this Broncos team is built, with an extremely slow pace of play, high rush rates, and a defense that ranks third in the league in points allowed per game, Denver has seen a wild range of offensive plays run throughout the season, and there have been very few instances where their low pass rates have increased, meaning total pass volume is frequently a reflection of the total number of offensive plays run and not a change in game calling. This is important to understand in a game against the Chiefs, one in which they do not have anything to play for.
Here is the split in snap rates between Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon III, respectively, over the previous four games: 49%/50%, 59%/41%, 52%/55%, 50%/50%. Williams has seen running back opportunity counts of 17, 19, nine, and 15 over that time, while Gordon has seen running back opportunity counts of 24, 16, eight, and 14 over the same timeframe. This backfield should very much continue to be regarded as a true timeshare outside of the variance associated with us not knowing how the team will handle personnel decisions in a game with no meaning. As in, there is a possibility that the team gives Gordon increased run because his contract expires at the end of the season, there is a possibility we see Williams see increased run as the running back of the future for the Broncos, and there is a possibility we see the two continue to split work evenly in Week 18. The matchup on the ground yields a borderline elite 4.465 net-adjusted line yards metric against a Chiefs defense allowing 24.1 fantasy points per game to opposing backfields.
Both Tim Patrick and Jerry Jeudy missed last week’s game on the COVID list and both have been activated and should be good to go this week. In last week’s game, tight end Noah Fant took advantage of the thinned-out pass-catching corps, putting up his second-most fantasy points and yardage of the season. With Jeudy and Patrick both back, expect a return to a spread passing offense amongst all of Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, Tim Patrick, Noah Fant, Albert Okwuegbunam, and the running backs. The Chiefs have really come on over the second half of the season on defense, having allowed 10 points or fewer in five of their previous eight contests. Of note, all five of those games were played at home. But the bigger picture here is that the communication issues, coverage issues, and in-game lapses that we were seeing from the Chiefs early in the season have all but dried up, and we should return to regarding the Chiefs as one of the better “prevent” defenses in the league. The Chiefs have forced the seventh-shallowest defensive aDOT this season, but have really struggled with tackling after the catch, surrendering the third-most yards after the catch.
Likeliest Game flow ::
It is likeliest we see the Chiefs jump out to an early lead, but what happens after that carries a wide range of potential outcomes. We’ve seen the Chiefs take their foot off the proverbial gas in the second half of games this season, a trend that has not been fully realized by the field. This should allow the Broncos the opportunity to continue a ground-heavy approach for deeper into the game, putting a relative cap on the fantasy utility from each side (I say “relatively” because this is only a two-game slate). I would expect this game to land short of each respective team’s combined offensive plays per game number (66.3 for the Chiefs and 61.4 for the Broncos) and there is a legitimate concern that the heavy zone defense from the Broncos mutes the overall fantasy upside of this game as a whole. Furthering the overall “meh” feeling from this game environment is the very clear run-filtering biases exhibited by both defenses.
Slate Scenarios ::
- The Chiefs need a win and a loss by Tennessee (at Houston) to secure the one-seed in the AFC; they could also fall as far as the five-seed should they lose and the Bengals (head-to-head record), Bills (head-to-head record), and Patriots (better conference record) win. Anything from the one to five-seed is on the table. Playing in the first game of Week 18, we can expect maximum effort from the Chiefs here.
- The Broncos have been eliminated from the playoffs and currently occupy the 13-seed in the AFC with a record of 7-9, womp womp.
- The Cowboys can finish anywhere from the two-seed to the four-seed, with most scenarios leaving them in the four-seed. They would require a win plus a loss from the Rams (home versus the 49ers) in order to jump into the two or three-seed. It remains to be seen what their level of effort will be, but we have to think they come out all systems go considering the 49ers need a win to secure their own playoff berth and the Cowboys play on Saturday.
- The Eagles are locked into either the six-seed or seven-seed in the NFC, with either a win at home versus Dallas or a Saints win in Atlanta securing the six-seed. Either way, we know (and they know) they’ll either be traveling to Los Angeles, Tampa Bay, Dallas, or Arizona in the Wildcard Round. Furthermore, the multitude of injuries and COVID issues place the Eagles in a possible short-handed situation.
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