The Core Pieces // Pairings ::
This game in Houston with a healthy Over/Under of 48.5 features a pair of Upside quarterbacks and perhaps the two best wide receivers in the NFL — so it is only fitting that we begin our exploration of this game by looking at the passing attacks.
We will begin on the Texans side, where DeAndre Hopkins (as noted in this week’s Angles email) has failed to top even eight targets in three consecutive games. (It has been over four years since Hopkins has gone more than three consecutive games with single-digit targets.) As usual, the Falcons have faced one of the lowest aDOTs in the NFL as they lean heavily on zone coverage and try to force wide receivers to catch the football facing the line of scrimmage (rather than allowing them to catch the ball on the move and/or catch the ball while moving upfield). Generally speaking, this “lowers upside” for wide receivers — though the Falcons have allowed the second most wide receiver touchdowns so far this season after allowing the second most last year as well, and this matchup sets up for Hopkins to be leaned on more heavily than he has been the last three weeks vs Jalen Ramsey, Casey Hayward, and a Panthers defense that has been dominant against wideouts so far. A monster yardage effort from Hopkins will require a broken play, but he’s a solid bet for double-digit looks, and his multi-touchdown upside keeps him very much in the tourney conversation.
We’ll circle back around to Deshaun Watson in a bit, but on the other side of this matchup, the Texans have allowed both Drew Brees and Philip Rivers to top 300 yards this year (with the other matchups for this defense coming against Gardner Minshew and Kyle Allen), with each quarterback having opportunity to take multiple shots downfield. (For that matter: Minshew and Allen took shots downfield in this matchup as well.) Matt Ryan enters this game having somewhat quietly gone for 300+ yards in all four games this season, with three touchdowns in two of those games. Atlanta leads the NFL in pass play rate, while the Texans have faced the ninth highest opponent pass play rate.
Two weeks ago against the zone defense of the Colts, the Falcons leaned on Julio Jones and Austin Hooper, whereas last week the Titans took away both Julio and the deep ball and forced Ryan to work his connection with underneath outlets Hooper and Mohamed Sanu.
There is always risk for a random low-target game from Julio, but he’s in a good spot to see double-digit looks against a defense that has currently allowed the third most receptions and the seventh most yards to the wide receiver position.
The potential for Atlanta to work downfield in this one also quietly tilts things in favor of Calvin Ridley, whose 14.7 aDOT has played poorly in each of the last two weeks. Ridley — as always — is a low-floor play, but with targets likely to be filtered away from Hooper in this one (more on this in a moment), it’s not a bad bet to take a flier on Ridley in tourneys again this week.
Part of the beauty of this matchup is that we frequently cite both of these coaches as guys who can get outsmarted and outmaneuvered by the coach on the opposite sideline. This has led to what should be an explosive Texans offense scoring 13 points vs the Jags and 10 points vs the Panthers (with both games being played at home, no less), and it has led to the Falcons stumbling to a somewhat ugly 1-3 record. But with these two coaches matching up, the play on the field can be dictated by talent — which makes it somewhat likely that an aggressive Falcons team finds a way to score points, and it makes it somewhat likely that Watson will have to work his magic in this game as well. Watson (like Julio) always comes with a somewhat randomly-produced lower floor than he should have — but the likeliest bet in this spot is for Watson to land somewhere between his median range and his ceiling vs an attackable Falcons defense at home.
Next Level Down ::
Kenny Stills is trending toward being out this week (if he plays, he’s simply a bet-on-big-play option, similar to Fuller), and Keke Coutee will be taking his place if that’s the case — at a salary cap hit of 6.7% on FantasyDraft, 6.8% on DraftKings, and 7.5% on FanDuel. Stills and Coutee are not a direct one-for-one swap, as Stills is sitting on an aDOT of 13.4 (after ranking fourth in the NFL last year at 16.4), while Coutee was rarely used on targets more than 10 yards downfield last year. But frankly, this further strengthens Coutee’s case against an Atlanta defense that tries to take away downfield throws — especially as this underneath element on the Texans offense can help open up a lot of what they would ultimately like to do with Hopkins and (to a lesser extent) Will Fuller. The Texans have had at least three wide receivers on the field for 78% of their plays, creating plenty of opportunity for Coutee to see looks this week. Outside of his first healthy game last year (a glorious affair in which O’Brien used Coutee in a number of creative ways, to the tune of 15 targets and an 11-109-0 line) and an 11-110-1 smash against the Colts’ Tampa 2 defense in the playoffs, a typical Coutee stat line has proven to be something in the range of 3-30-0 and 6-50-1, so it would take an outlier for him to post a monster score; but at his price — on a week with a lot to like at the top end and very little to like from a “savings” perspective — he stands out for the role and potential upside (especially as he has shown in two of his seven healthy games that those “outlier” games can be genuine slate-breakers).
Next Level Down ::
Fuller doesn’t set up as well in this matchup for the looks he thrives on — but you can just about guarantee that Bill O’Brien will feed some of these looks his way anyway; which means it’s not thin to chase. (Frankly, it’s never thin to chase Fuller. He’s always in play in large-field tourneys.)
Tashaun Gipson has started taking over tight end coverage on the Texans from Jahleel Addae, and he has done a solid job so far — notably making life difficult on Greg Olsen last week. Given that Hooper has seen six or more targets in every game this year (with one game of nine targets and another of 11), we should expect tight end coverage to be an emphasis this week. Hooper can still hit, but targets are likelier to flow to the wideouts on the Falcons this week.
Sanu ran into one of his random blowup games last week, but with targets less likely to be filtered his way in this one, it would be thin to chase.
Last week, with Ito Smith healthy, he played 30 snaps while Devonta Freeman played 49 — leaving each guy as nothing more than a “hope for a big play or a score” option against a still-solid Houston run defense.
The Houston run game features a pair of one-dimensional players, with Carlos Hyde soaking up the carries but picking up only eight yards on his five dump-off catches, and with Duke Johnson wondering why the Texans traded for him in the first place when he hasn’t caught more than two passes since Week 1.
JM’s Interpretation ::
This was the last game I researched, as it’s an obviously-attractive spot, but — with two coaches who are typically overmatched, and with a pair of up-and-down teams — it felt like the knottiest game to unravel.
The levels-driven breakdown for this game provides a good feel for how things are likeliest to shake out, with Julio standing out for me over Hopkins (though with both very attractive), and with both quarterbacks definitely in the mix. I also like Ridley and Coutee in tourneys (with Coutee potentially usable in cash games as an upside salary saver who won’t kill you if he disappoints); and while there are other ways production could shift in this game, those players will be my main focus — with a few shots on Fuller in large-field play for the slate-breaking upside he carries in any matchup, and with everything else left alone.
Each of these offenses has also posted duds this year (three in all between these two teams, through only eight games total), but with how aggressive these teams are and with the talent being given an opportunity to play out this week, I like the chances of this game producing multiple solid scores.