The Colts and Jaguars have nothing to play for. The Colts have shown no effort concerns, while the Jags have looked checked out for large stretches of the last month and a half.
The Matchup ::
- Two weeks ago, the Jaguars went on the road and upset a Raiders team that would otherwise be on the verge of edging into the playoffs; their other six games in their last seven have led to losses of 23 // 20 // 22 // 17 // 35 // 12
- The Colts were part of that string of big wins over the Jags, beating them by 20 in Week 11
- Since that win, the Colts have been on a roller coaster, with point differentials in their next five games of -3 // -14 // -3 // -27 // +32
- The Colts’ 38 points last week were aided by two punt return touchdowns, with Jacoby Brissett chipping in only 119 passing yards and no passing touchdowns (while adding a touchdown on the ground)
- The Colts’ run-leaning tendencies (sixth highest rush play rate in the league) have made the Indy passing attack nearly impossible to bet on in DFS lately, with Brissett producing recent yardage totals through the air of 148 // 129 // 319 // 251 // 165 // 119
- The Jags rank 31st in DVOA against the run and are allowing 5.33 yards per carry to enemy backs
- Marlon Mack has played 56 snaps the last two weeks to 46 for Jordan Wilkins; the Colts are likely to be without All World guard Quenton Nelson (concussion) this week (which doesn’t change the fact that this is a tremendous matchup and that the Colts are a run-heavy team, but it is worth noting)
- Gardner Minshew hasn’t been much better through the air lately than Brissett has been, with recent yardage totals of 162 // 201 // 181 since taking over the starting gig again; he does at least have four touchdowns and no interceptions in his last three games
- Brissett has four passing touchdowns and three picks in his last six games combined
The Game ::
For the second year in a row, the Jaguars have defied analysis during the back half of the year, with this team (which still has a solid amount of talent) appearing to have completely mailed things in down the stretch. After opening the season with point totals of 26 // 12 // 20 // 26 // 27 // 6 // 27 // 29, the Jaguars have failed to top 20 points in a pathetic seven game stretch, with point totals of 3 // 13 // 20 // 11 // 10 // 20 // 12. The Jags have had a middling schedule — facing few bottom feeders, but also facing few elite teams — and yet, they have gotten run out of the building in almost all of their games over the last two months. The most frustrating component here is that the Jags have talent on offense, and they have a narrow distribution of touches (on largely-underpriced players) that has yielded quality fantasy production even with the ugliness — but because of how poorly they have played on the whole, duds have also been common where the elite scores don’t hit. Since this awful stretch began in Week 9 (with a 3-26 loss at the hands of the Texans that led to Gardner Minshew’s benching), we have one slate-winning score from Leonard Fournette, but no other quality scores from him; we have one slate-winning score from D.J. Chark, but only one other usable game from him; we have two really strong price-considered scores form Dede Westbrook, but four complete bombs in his remaining games; and we have one elite price-considered score from Chris Conley and a couple other solid price-considered outputs, but this has led to his price rising higher than his role really supports anymore. The raw ceiling on Fournette and Chark is elite enough (and the price-considered ceiling on Dede and Conley has proved elite enough) that this Jags team can help you win a tourney (I wouldn’t have picked up that Wildcat win in Week 12 without a willingness to expose myself to some of the Jaguars duds to end up with Fournette, and I’ve had a number of high finishes that have been aided by Conley), but in order to find these high scores, you basically guarantee that you are exposing yourself to some heavy dud potential as well, as these guys don’t land on “meh, it’s okay, they still produced solidly” scores when they miss, but instead land on total bombs. And with Doug Marrone all but certain to be fired before Sunday is even concluded, it’s not as if we should head into this game expecting these guys to suddenly turn it around. (A note to NFL teams :: if Bill Belichick is vouching for a coach and trying to get you to hire him, maybe assume that he has an ulterior motive. Harbaugh worked out for Baltimore, but at this point we should just consider this to have been a subversive strategy that backfired on the Hoodie, as guys like Greg Schiano and Doug Marrone have completely sunk their franchises.)
On the Colts’ side, of course, we have one of the best coaches in the NFL (who, as it turns out, also wouldn’t have his job without the help of the Hoodie — though in a totally different, much more roundabout way) who will be looking to close out a once-promising, now-lost season with a win over his checked-out division rival. The Colts should control this game — and barring a Jacksonville blowup, they should control this game on the ground: slowing down the pace, proactively limiting passing attempts, and apparently sharing the carry load between 1A Marlon Mack and 1B (more like 1C…) Jordan Wilkins (with Nyheim Hines soaking up work in the pass game).
If you want to bet on the likeliest way for this game to play out (the Jags failing to truly show up on offense, and the Colts winning this game), you should consider all Colts pass catchers to be merely moderately appealing floor plays with only thin paths available to ceiling, while the Colts’ backfield should also be considered somewhat thin — with the matchup boosting ceiling expectations for this unit across the board, but with Mack needing to do quite a bit on limited guaranteed volume (and little to no pass game work) in order to pay off his elevated price tag, and with the options behind Mack merely low-volume dart throws. (I imagine Mack will pick up traction this week in the industry due to the matchup, and he certainly can hit against the Jags; but also realize that he has three total catches in his last six games and hasn’t topped 16 carries in over a month, requiring some faith at his price tag given the sort of score he needs.) On the other side of this game in a likeliest scenario, the Jags will be able to somewhat ineffectively lean on Fournette against a Darius Leonard-led Colts defense that has allowed only middling production to the running back position while giving up the second fewest running back touchdowns in the league, while the Jags’ pass catchers will need to hit on uncertain volume with uncertain quarterback play.
If wanting to bet on an alternate scenario, you would want to bet on the Jags’ offense driving this game in a different direction — which would be likeliest to happen through Chark or Conley hitting on some big plays, which would lead to the Colts having to get more aggressive in response. In this scenario, T.Y. Hilton might finally post his second elite score of the year, and this game could become more of a fantasy-useful spot than the likeliest scenario sets it up to be.
JM’s Interpretation ::
I don’t expect to chase either of the backfields in this spot, as elite production has been really tough to come by against the Colts (and Fournette needs elite production at his price), while Mack is likelier than not to see his touches limited once again — and while his ceiling is high if things tilt the other way, I expect the field to be heavier on him than they should be for the likeliest outcome, which nudges me toward taking the lower-owned/likelier path. Furthermore, the sort of ceiling Mack has (barring an outlier game) is easy enough to find elsewhere (with less risk), making him a guy I’ll feel I can easily catch up to even if he hits. Obviously, that’s a personal strategy that I feel very comfortable with and don’t want to force you onto if you like Mack this week — but it is a +EV approach (i.e., “expect Mack to fall shy of what he needs to post at his price; and expect that you can easily catch him with less risk even if he hits”). (Side note here: Mack is more appealing — or at least “less unappealing” — on FanDuel, where yards and touchdowns are weighed more heavily, and where his likely-solid production can play well.)
I’ll leave the Colts alone through the air as well, as they should control this game, and when they control their games, they lean on the run; while I’ll expect to limit exposure to the Jags’ passing attack…while still grabbing at least a little bit of Chark for his ungodly upside, and perhaps hedging with some Conley as well — with the understanding that if Chark misses but the Jags get something notable through the air anyway, it will likely be through Conley. The Colts have been perfectly middling against wideouts all year, and “perfectly middling” is enough for me to take at least a couple home run swings on talented, underpriced big-play threats.