Only the Vikings // Bears has a lower game total than this game in Denver between the Jaguars and the Broncos — but while that NFC North game is about the defenses (i.e., the offenses in that game are still explosive enough that big outlier games could happen), the low total in this game is as much about the offenses as it is about the defenses. On a slate this size, it is +EV in general to just ignore a game like this — and you could get away with doing that and call your research complete. But just because games like this are +EV to just ignore, that doesn’t mean all the plays in this game are guaranteed to be -EV. This is a game to avoid in tighter builds (it’s just really tough for slate-breaking upside to occur), but because this game is so obviously easy to avoid, ownership should drop, and that means that if a play does go big, ownership will be low. This creates an interesting setup: where the only reason to target anything from this game would be to try to find sneaky, slate-breaking upside; and so, we’ll focus our exploration here on plays that could provide sneaky, slate-breaking upside.
Among full-time starters in the NFL this year, only Jacoby Brissett has a shorter average intended air yards than Joe Flacco — which means that your best bet for finding “slate-breaking upside” on this side of the ball is a player who can do it all on his own.
As of this writeup, we don’t know if Jalen Ramsey will play this week (it seems he will be on the team — but, you know: baby being born; back pain; flu-like symptoms; just all sorts of reasons why Ramsey can’t be out there with the team he doesn’t want to play for), but we do know that the Broncos move Sanders around enough that — if taking on a player in a bad matchup in the hopes of catching slate-breaking upside — he’ll be given some opportunities to hit. Sanders has target counts on the year of 7 // 13 // 4, and if he runs into one of his 10-target games here, he’ll have an outside shot at a solid game, with an outlier shot at a big game.
The other main piece in the Broncos passing attack has been Courtland Sutton, who has target counts on the year of 8 // 7 // 8, with more of a downfield role than Sanders (Sutton has an aDOT of 11.7, to 9.3 for Sanders). Sutton doesn’t match up all that well with the technique-savvy play of the Jags’ perimeter corners, but the work is there, the big-play upside is there, and ownership should be low.
If Royce Freeman misses this week or is hobbled, Phillip Lindsay would become interesting again even in a tough matchup — though even then, he may not become as interesting as he was last week while sharing time with Freeman, as Jacksonville just doesn’t allow much production of any kind. They are “weakest” against running backs, and Lindsay only needs one play to make his day. If Freeman plays, it seems likely that last week’s big game from Lindsay will still lead to higher ownership than he had at a lower price last week — in which case, it’s unlikely he would prove to be +EV in this spot. But on this ugly running back slate, it at least wouldn’t be crazy to pull the trigger and hope you run into one of his bigger games.
On the Jaguars’ side, there are two main players who have a shot at popping off.
The first is Leonard Fournette, because he is going to get almost every running back touch against a Broncos team that has allowed the most running back rushing touchdowns in the league this year. Jacksonville’s run game has looked one-dimensional and unexciting so far, and the Broncos have the personnel to be good against the run. But in spite of “having the personnel,” Denver has been mediocre to begin this year, and they were attackable last season as well. On this ugly running back weekend — and with four or more receptions in every game so far (target counts of 6 // 6 // 8) — Fournette is a more attractive play than we would really like, given how ugly this game is, and how easily things could go wrong. While Fournette is not underpriced for his production to date, he is underpriced for his role (touch counts of 17 // 19 // 21), making him a name to keep in mind.
The other player with a noteworthy shot at popping off for a big game is D.J. Chark — who is likely to see plenty of Chris Harris…but who is also the Jacksonville wide receiver likeliest to post a big enough game for anyone to notice they didn’t have him. With Gardner Minshew focusing on the short areas of the field and a matchup against a sure-to-improve Broncos defense on hand, I likely won’t have any pieces from this Jaguars passing attack; but Chark would be the odds-on favorite to post the sort of score you would have to have from this team.
JM’s Interpretation ::
Outside of possibly closing my eyes and leaning on Fournette’s volume in tighter builds, everything in this game is in the “deeper tourney only” conversation for me — and even with that, this game won’t be a heavy focus for me. But Manny Sanders and — to a lesser extent — Sutton and Lindsay could be in the conversation this week for large-field play, with Chark a long-shot dart with deep-outside shot at a big game as well.