As we know, Frank Reich is one of the more adaptable coaches in the NFL (you aren’t playing Matt Ryan and Julio Jones with a backup quarterback and finding yourself as the favored team all that often, even with the game at home; this is a credit to Reich’s brilliance at controlling a game environment), and Dan Quinn is one of the least adaptable coaches (“Rah, rah! Brotherhood! Let’s get ’em, boys!”), which should create an environment in which the Colts dictate the way this game plays out. And what the Colts will hope to do in this spot is avoid a back-and-forth shootout, as this is a less likely path to victory for them than a slower-paced, technician-like affair. Vegas backs up this thought, with each team carrying a Vegas-implied team total under 25 (and with the total having dropped a point since it opened — as you can see on the Advanced Odds tool by clicking on the Line History option). The Colts are well-equipped to play this type of game, as they are able to largely take away deep passing, and are able to force receivers to move laterally across the field (where their catches require them to still turn upfield before picking up yards) rather than allowing them to catch vertical targets. If the Colts can pull off this approach against Julio and Calvin Ridley while disrupting the run game (more on this in a moment), they could keep this game low-scoring enough to win with mistake-free football from an offense that is able to eventually take advantage of the sometimes-over-aggressive nature of the Falcons defense. In tournaments of all sizes, you can play alternate scenarios in this game that include a Ryan/Julio pairing (these two are talented enough to pop for a big game in any matchup), and you could stretch your scenarios in large-field play to include Ridley landing some big punches, simply because he is always capable of doing so. But we should expect a “likeliest scenario” to turn Julio into more of a 7-90-0 guy than the 9-170-1 guy we can target in matchups that unleash him downfield, with this game playing out in more of a “game-management” mode from there.
One player from this game whose price requires us to dig in deep even with that scenario in place (i.e., this player has a chance to fall into the “significantly underpriced” category — making it important that we understand as much as we can) is Devonta Freeman, who is a talented “lead back in a timeshare on a good offense.” He’s not a 100% player (he played 40 out of 63 snaps last week — 63.5%), but he’s also unlikely to be the 50% player he looked like in Week 1. We should keep in mind that Week 1 was Freeman’s first game back after missing a year of football; and while he might not quite climb to the 70% or 75% snaps we would have liked (roughly the range of a guy like Austin Ekeler), 65% of the snaps is still enough for Freeman to see 17 touches (he has seen 11 and 14 thus far, against two of the most challenging run defense matchups in the NFL, while facing poor game script). The Colts are no pushover (last year, they allowed the ninth fewest rushing yards to running backs and kept backs to only 3.84 yards per carry), and the Falcons’ offensive line has looked miserable thus far (which is bad news against a Colts front that is intentionally undersized in order for their game to be built upon disruption; we should see a few plays get blown up in the backfield in this one). And even though the Colts filter targets to the running back position (only the Eagles and Falcons allowed more RB catches last year), it’s often foolish to rely on the Falcons to bump up RB pass game involvement (against the aforementioned Eagles, with his snap count on the rise, Freeman still saw just four targets). All of this combines to make him less than a lock-and-load play, as there are a number of viable paths that could lead to him repeating his disappointing production from the first two weeks; and yet, the upside is there in this spot for you to keep an eye on him in larger-field contests, as he could hit for a big game probably 15% of the time in this spot, and ownership should in no way reflect that.
Even with Gardner Minshew, Luke Falk, Teddy Bridgewater, etc. all having thrown passes this year, Jacoby Brissett has the lowest average intended air yards in the entire NFL so far, with his average pass traveling only 5.2 yards downfield. (Again, adaptability ::) The Colts have also played at the league’s fifth slowest situation-neutral pace this year (after ranking second last year with Andrew Luck under center) — and with the public sure to be more enamored with a matchup against “Falcons defense” than they would be if they understood how this offense is now being run, there is a case to be made that it’s +EV to just leave the Colts alone altogether. In the likeliest scenario for this game, you’ll come away with a solid price-considered score if you guess correctly on where the touchdowns on this offense will come from, and you’ll come away with a disappointing score if you guess wrong (with a less-likely game environment or a multi-touchdown game required from one of these guys for a slate-breaking score to emerge). If you want to chase on this side of the ball, however, Marlon Mack will be the lead ball-carrier for as long as this game stays close, while Nyheim Hines will be featured in the pass game if the Colts fall into a hole (he’s a moderately interesting option in a bundle with Ryan/Julio in ultra-large-field play). The matchup for Mack is favorable, but so far this year it does not appear to be a major boost; you’d be banking on him topping a hundred yards and scoring a couple times — which he can do, but the floor is low to get you there. In the pass game: T.Y. Hilton is still being featured as the alpha receiver in this offense and is getting quality, schemed targets — though he’ll need a busted coverage or a couple missed tackles to have one of his long plays, as this Colts offense is just not built with an attack-level mentality at the moment. (Parris Campbell, Deon Cain, Chester Rogers, Zach Pascal — all of whom played under 35 snaps apiece last week — and the tight ends are nothing more than dart throws.)
JM’s Interpretation ::
I won’t have this game near my core builds this week, as there are just much surer ways to target upside (in plenty of spots that may also go overlooked by the field), and I expect to have negligible exposure in tourneys. (Honestly, the Colts defense is a viable low-owned piece, as they could really throw a wrench in the Falcons’ offense if the issues on the offensive line continue. Though with Mason Rudolph, Luke Falk, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Teddy Bridgewater, etc. all on the Main Slate, this one is more of an upside-chaser than it is an Optimal play.) There are paths by which you could grab a nice score from this game (and I may end up with more Julio exposure than I’m expecting, simply because he can break loose in any matchup, and he’s unlikely to dud), but with plenty to like elsewhere on this slate, I’ll be hunting for most of my floor and ceiling somewhere else.