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 Dallas Will Try To Win ::
The Cowboys rank towards the top of the league in situation-neutral pass rate over the previous month of play (eighth) and overall pass rate over the previous month of play (10th-ranked 60%). The biggest change to how we should expect the Cowboys to approach the coming games is the season-ending injury to Michael Gallup, who suffered a torn ACL in the first half of Week 17. That’s a relatively massive change for the expected alignments of the primary pass-catchers because of Cedrick Wilson and his hefty slot snap rate (82%). Since Wilson has been the primary fill-in for Gallup this season, and because he plays such a heavy slot snap rate, we should expect CeeDee Lamb to be bumped to the perimeter at a higher rate. What has been most interesting about the shift back to a more pass-balanced approach on offense over the second half of the season is the fact that it appears to have been a dedicated effort to change the identity of this team back to a pass-heavy emphasis, as Dak Prescott comes into this game with seven straight weeks of 37 or more pass attempts (and that includes 37, 39, and 40 pass attempts in convincing wins over the Giants, Washington, and the Saints during that stretch). The final note for the Cowboys involves their playoff situation, with every single playoff scenario except two precise outcomes leaving them with the four-seed in the NFC. This could influence their personnel decisions to some extent.
The run game for the Cowboys continues to be a “1A/1B” situation, with last week serving as the first game in six weeks that lead back Ezekiel Elliott saw more than a 64% snap rate (70%). During that time, he has not eclipsed a modest 20 running back opportunities (in fact, he hasn’t gone over 20 running back opportunities since Week 8), with the team instead electing to involve Tony Pollard at a greater frequency in games they are able to run the football more. This also appears to be a concerted effort and would be unlikely to change this week. So, while we can be fairly certain Zeke won’t see more than 20 running back opportunities here, there are legitimate paths to Tony Pollard being more involved (a couple of different “outs” there, as both positive game flow and the team’s personnel decisions likely influencing Pollard’s snap rate and opportunity share). The matchup on the ground yields a borderline elite 4.525 net-adjusted line yards metric against an Eagles defense allowing 25.2 fantasy points per game to opposing backfields.
As covered above, the biggest story for the Cowboys passing offense this week will be the absence of Michael Gallup. We’re likely to see CeeDee Lamb shifted to a heavier perimeter snap rate, leaving the slot mostly to Cedrick Wilson. We also have the curious case of Amari Cooper and his interview antics, who has recently stated he has all the tools and talent to lead the league in major receiving categories as long as his team supported him with heavier targets. In the two games since his first spout off, Amari has commanded 18 total targets, his heaviest two-game stretch of targets since Week 6 and 8. The last time Gallup missed time (Week 2 to Week 9), Lamb and Cooper each had only one game of double-digit targets, so there isn’t a ton on paper separating the two here (for comparison’s sake, Lamb and tight end Dalton Schultz each saw four games of seven or more targets during that stretch, while Cooper saw seven or more targets only twice during that same span). Finally, tight end Blake Jarwin saw his 21-day practice window opened in his bid to return from IR. The Eagles have forced the shallowest aDOT in the league, have allowed the third-highest completion rate against, and rank in the middle of the pack in YAC per reception allowed. That theoretically plays into the games of Cedrick Wilson and the tight ends more than the more downfield roles of Cooper and Lamb.
How PhilaDelphia Will Try to win ::
A large piece of the “how Philadelphia will try to win” puzzle depends on who they have available come game day, as they are dealing with a dangerous combination of little left to play for, a COVID outbreak, and multiple injury issues. Two members of their offensive line have yet to practice this week, Miles Sanders has yet to practice this week, and 12 players currently reside on the league’s COVID list. Additionally, the Eagles have locked up a playoff berth and will finish the season in either the sixth or seventh spot in the NFC. Knowing they will be playing on the road in the Wildcard Round regardless of the outcome of all games this weekend could influence their decision-making process amidst no less than 15 players currently either injured or dealing with COVID. Reports from beat writers urge that the team is likely to rest “key guys” on Saturday. What shouldn’t change is the team’s identity, which has grown into one of the heaviest rush rate teams in the league (first in overall rush rate on the season at 52%, second in overall rush rate over the previous month of play at 55%, and 10th in situation-neutral rush rate over the previous four weeks at 56%. We know this team would like to run the football, but the multiple COVID cases and injuries in the backfield could force their hand here.
The backfield is a veritable mess currently, with Miles Sanders ruled out with his hand injury and Boston Scott and Jordan Howard on the COVID list (placed there on Monday, meaning they have a chance to suit up this weekend assuming they clear the updated protocols). As things currently stand, rookie Kenneth Gainwell, recently-signed practice squad member Kerryon Johnson, and practice squad member Jason Huntley are the only healthy running backs in the organization. Should both Howard and Scott miss, I would tentatively expect both practice squad backs to be elevated to the active roster for Saturday, with Gainwell likely stepping into the lion’s share of the backfield work for the Eagles. Should both Howard and Scott make it back, it is likely this backfield will look much more familiar. Last week, Scott led the way with a 52% snap rate, followed by Howard at 34%, and Gainwell at 13%. The matchup on the ground yields a healthy 4.475 net-adjusted line yards metric against a Dallas defense allowing only 20.2 fantasy points per game to opposing backfields (third-fewest in the league).
The Eagles pass game has been a case of “haves and have-nots” for the better part of the season, with only rookie DeVonta Smith and tight end Dallas Goedert operating in near every-down roles. Quez Watkins was typically amongst that group but has played 51% of the offensive snaps or fewer in two of the previous three weeks since Philadelphia’s Week 14 bye. Further complicating things is the presence of both Goedert and backup tight end Jack Stoll on the COVID list, which is a big deal for an offense that has increased their 12-personnel usage rates over the last three games. Both Goedert and Stoll were placed on the list on Monday, meaning they have a chance to return in time for Saturday’s game. And all that doesn’t even take potential personnel decisions into account. The other wide receivers in play are Jalen Reagor, Greg Ward, and JJ Arcega-Whiteside, each of whom has maintained modest, situational roles in the offense. Basically, there is no shortage of unknowns surrounding the Eagles passing game this week.
Likeliest Game flow ::
Because of all the variance associated with the unknowns surrounding the Eagles this weekend, we have to view this game through the lens of weighted potential outcomes as opposed to the likeliest outcomes. The phrase “weighted potential outcomes” is used to describe the process of leveraging expected ownership versus individual outcome probabilities to generate organic leverage where possible. This means the most optimal way to approach this spot is to build players into lineups that tell very distinct stories with respect to possible game flows, how each coaching staff is likeliest to react to those individual game flows (personnel snap rates, rush-pass rates, game flow decisions, game management decisions, etc), and who would benefit the most from those in-game decisions. We’ll cover a few of the most likely situations and the likeliest beneficiaries in the combined DFS+ section below.
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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