The late portion of the Main Slate gives us only two games this week (really — what’s wrong with the schedule-makers?), but this game gives us a marquee matchup between a strong, 6-4 Cowboys team that challenges the old Parcells adage of ‘you are what your record says you are’ vs the 9-1 Patriots; and as with any matchup this year that includes the Patriots, the place to kick things off is with the Patriots defense, as this unit ranks first in DVOA (13th vs the run // first vs the pass), first in drive success rate allowed, first in plays allowed per drive, first in turnovers forced per drive, first in yards allowed per drive, and first in points allowed per drive. The Patriots have given up one touchdown to the running back position, two touchdowns to the wide receiver position (only one of which came through the air), and three touchdowns to the tight end position. Through 10 games, quarterbacks have thrown four touchdowns in this matchup. Here are the notable stat lines allowed by this team, 10 games in ::
109-0 (17) Gore
131-0 (20) Chubb
115-0 (15) Ingram
6-102-1 Golden Tate
You could look at those “notable” outputs and simply ask if there is any Cowboys player on whom the price tag is likely to be smashed by the output (i.e., even the notable stat lines allowed to running backs would not be enough to make Zeke a particularly tourney-worthy play at his price, and the stat line allowed to Ertz is unlikely to show up through a far less athletic tight end in Jason Witten — leaving only the game in which Tate hit for a big play that pushed him into “notable” territory: a feat only one wideout has pulled off in 10 games, in order to produce a stat line that you’d just barely be happy with in tourneys at the price tags on Gallup and Amari), but there are always cases to be made for considering alternate outcomes.
If considering alternate outcomes, you could try to bet on Dak and one of his pass catchers breaking through in the toughest matchup in football — but the player with the “best shot” (such as it is) at a big price-considered game is Ezekiel Elliott. While the elite all-around nature of the Pats defense has made it nearly impossible for running backs to truly compile stats against them, the Patriots are allowing 4.32 yards per carry to running backs. And while the Pats are on track to finish at the top of the league in RB-touchdown-prevention yet again, we saw LeGarrette Blount score three touchdowns on Thanksgiving against the Bears last year. As Xandamere often points out in the Showdown Slant: it just takes a penalty for a running back to be set up at the one-yard-line — and if we played out this slate a hundred times, there would be at least a small handful of two-touchdown games from Zeke.
On the other side of the ball, the Patriots offense ranks only 11th in DVOA, and they actually rank lower than that in each offensive category: 18th on the ground // 14th through the air. Only two teams have scored more points per game than the Patriots, but a lot of this has had to do with short fields against bad opponents as the Patriots defense dominates. Fifteen teams have picked up more yards per game than the Pats, and as a result, the spread-it-around Pats have produced only the following salary-usable stat lines all year:
Rex Burkhead :: 11-47-1 on the ground // 6-22-0 through the air (with James White out)
Sony Michel :: 16-91-1 on the ground // 3-32-0 through the air || 19-42-3 on the ground // 2-(minus 8)-0 through the air
Mohamed Sanu :: 10-81-1
Phillip Dorsett :: 4-95-2 || 6-53-1 (plus 12 yards rushing)
Julian Edelman :: 8-110-1 || 8-78-2
That’s only eight salary-usable stat lines from the Patriots across 10 games (from five different players), and this week they take on a solid Cowboys defense that has allowed both the seventh fewest yards and the seventh fewest points per game in the league. Only two pass catchers have topped 100 yards against the Cowboys this year. Only six teams have allowed fewer passing touchdowns than the Cowboys. Only Aaron Jones has scored multiple touchdowns in this matchup.
JM’s Interpretation ::
For anyone wondering about Tony Pollard :: he played only 12 of 73 snaps last week (Zeke played 65), and he hasn’t topped eight touches in a game since Miami in Week 3. He’s also, for some reason, priced almost like a true timeshare back on DK/FDraft (while the game on FanDuel is “yardage and touchdowns,” making him a tough sell there as well). To put all that another way: he’s a bad play on paper, and you probably knew that already; and since he scored a lot of points on limited volume last week, he’ll likely draw a small amount of ownership.
For anyone wondering about Zeke :: hmmmm. I don’t have interest in him on FanDuel, where he’s still priced right up with the top backs; but on DK/FDraft, he does come at an interesting discount. The likeliest scenario has Zeke putting up just a tick below or above 100 yards on the ground (i.e., either just grabbing or just missing out on that bonus), with around two catches for 20 or 30 yards and no scores. That won’t get the job done at his price, but at the discount, it doesn’t kill you; and if he pops in a score or two behind the Cowboys’ elite line, he’ll be a really nice piece. I’ll almost certainly lean toward that “likeliest scenario” on my core build(s), but I probably do like the idea of having at least a small amount of Zeke exposure in tourneys, especially if the field is “sharp enough” to fade him in this spot.
On the Patriots side: it’s likely we ultimately see one usable stat line emerge, though it’s unlikely we see more than that — making this a spot where you could simply avoid guessing (especially as touchdowns will almost certainly be a vital part of any usable Patriots stat line, and touchdowns are the least predictable element in DFS), or in which you could try to land on the one player who hits. On a week like this, I honestly might not mind that second approach, as the best path toward a solid Patriots score is volume, and we have a pretty solid idea of where the volume will flow.
Last week, Mohamed Sanu injured his ankle and was subsequently on and off the field while looking limited by the injury during his time out there. He missed practice on Wednesday, and even if he ends up making it back in time for Sunday, he’ll be an iffy bet for the volume we would need (making him more “bet on fluky play” in this spot). Dorsett is dealing with a concussion and is unlikely to play, which will open snaps in this lower-volume role for both N’Keal Harry (32 snaps // four targets last week) and Jakobi Meyers (19 snaps // two targets last week). Harry would actually have some deep-tourney legs if Dorsett is out simply because the Patriots were developing him during the summer as a back-shoulder/high-point-fade end zone threat, which could pay off with an unpredictable multi-score game — but what all of this really points to is a strong spot for volume to remain rock-solid for Edelman (recent target counts of 9 // 15 // 12 // 11 // 11 // 10), and as a spot for James White to stay on the higher end of his target range (seven or more looks in six of nine games). Each of these players also has a big red zone role, with Edelman leading the NFL with 18 red zone targets, and with White not far behind him with 13.
Finally, Michel has not topped 91 yards this year, and his pass game role lacks value; but only two players have more carries inside the five-yard-line, and he popped in three touchdowns against the top-three run defense of the Jets — reminding us, once again, that touchdowns are fluky, and that Michel always belongs in the deeper tourney discussion when his price and ownership both drop.