JETS // LIONS OVERVIEW
The Jets enter this game as the rare team to earn a Vegas-implied total under 20.0, as they travel to Detroit to take on a defensive mind in Matt Patricia who is very familiar with them from his time on the Patriots. Detroit and the Jets both played at a below-average pace last year — and while analytics-minded coaches such as Patricia are likelier to play up-tempo, Jim Bob Cooter remains the offensive play caller for the Lions, so we will head into this game assuming that the Lions will continue to play at a below-average pace. Last year, the Lions ran no-huddle over 30% of the time (a rate nearly double the next-highest team), but they rarely snapped the ball quickly, allowing Stafford to diagnose the defense with Cooter in his ear, and to pick apart teams from there.
JETS RUN OFFENSE
The Jets have a new-look backfield with Isaiah Crowell (supposedly) handling early-down work, but their offensive line ranked 29th last year in Football Outsiders’ adjusted line yards, and Pro Football Focus has them rated as the number 31 offensive line entering this season. Detroit was slightly below-average against the run last year, and Patricia was always comfortable on the Patriots inviting teams to run the ball between the 20s, so the matchup is not a concern; but workload is.
Crowell shapes up on paper as a two-down back — similar to many others mentioned in this article, including some like Carlos Hyde, Alex Collins, and Peyton Barber who have plenty about them to like this week — but throughout the preseason, he saw a lot less time with the first-team offense than Bilal Powell saw, and we will need a couple games before the playing time is made clear. It should be noted that Bilal Powell — by the eye test, by statistics, and by analytics — is a better running back than Crow, and while the Jets have always seemed to like Powell less than they should, they have a new play caller in Jeremy Bates, who is taking over from noted dunce John Morton. This is not data-driven — more of a putting-the-pieces together thing — but it will not surprise me if Powell sees twice as many snaps as Crowell, and if this shapes up as a 65/35 split throughout the early portions of the year, in favor of Powell. As uncertain as this is, I would feel very comfortable betting on this thought in Showdown slates and other small slates, as Powell could have week-winning upside on such a small slate if he indeed sees 15+ touches.
JETS PASS OFFENSE
All signs point to Sam Darnold being under center in Week 1 against a Detroit team that ranked fourth in the NFL last year in interceptions. As noted earlier in this article, Teryl Auston ran a more aggressive scheme on the Lions, and that has never been Patricia’s M.O.; though with Patriots defensive bosses, it can be difficult to separate their personal philosophies from Belichick’s philosophies until we have truly seen them out on their own. With a rookie under center, we at least know that Patricia will have elements in place that attempt to create confusion, and on the small slates, this becomes a defense to consider in tourneys.
With that said, Darnold did not diagnose defenses like a rookie in the preseason, and while there were times when he failed to read things or when he held onto the ball too long, I was more impressed with him as a whole than I was with Josh Allen or Baker Mayfield (Mayfield’s accuracy and athleticism are sick, but he telegraphed throws too often and turned plays hectic too often when his first read was covered; these are fixable issues, and his upside is great, but he definitely has some kinks to work out). We know very little about new play-caller Bates, but from the interviews I have read with him and the articles written about him, he seems like a potentially rising star, so I’m excited to see how this Bates/Darnold pairing develops.
Three-wide sets in Week 1 for the Jets should feature Robby Anderson, Jermaine Kearse, and Quincy Enunwa — and given the extent to which all three of these guys were undervalued all offseason in Best Ball drafts, I expect the public to be fairly low on them in this game. It’s tough to take advantage of that sentiment since this game is not on the main slate, but with no viable tight end weapon available on this team, all three guys should top five targets, and Anderson should work as the clear number one. Last year, Anderson finished sixth in the NFL in percentage share of team air yards, and eight in the NFL in average yards of separation. Anderson does not have the best hands, but he is a really good all-around player with sick big-play potential. The one big drawback for Anderson is that he may be shadowed by Darius Slay, who allowed a quarterback rating last year of only 55.6 (the sixth-best mark in the NFL), while incredibly snagging eight interceptions against only three touchdowns allowed.
LIONS RUN OFFENSE
The Jets were a middling run defense unit last year, and this Lions backfield is shaping up as an ugly timeshare, with Kerryon Johnson taking the early-down carries, LeGarrette Blount handling short-yardage and goal line work, and Theo Riddick handling third downs and pass-game work. In the same way we were able to wrap the entire 49ers’ offense into one writeup in their game against the Vikings, that’s really all that needs to be said here. The matchup is non-threatening, but volume-driven floor is a mess for all these guys. They are only viable as tourney stabs in the smallest slates.
LIONS PASS OFFENSE
Todd Bowles has proven to be a strong defensive coach when he has a top corner who can trail and shut down an opponent’s top receiver, and he has proven to be attackable when he doesn’t boast a top corner. Heading into the season, this appears to be “at other times” for the Jets, after they allowed middling marks last year in yards per pass attempt and DVOA, but allowed the second-most passing touchdowns in the league. Detroit threw the ball at the second-highest rate in the NFL last year, and with Eric Ebron out of the picture (and Luke Willson projecting to take on a very small slice of the pass game pie most weeks), we also have a narrow distribution of targets among Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, and Kenny Golladay. Golden Tate averaged 8.1 targets per game last year and was remarkably consistent, with only three games under six targets; Marvin Jones averaged 6.4 targets per game last year, and had at least five targets in all but two games. Production is more consistent from Tate than it is from Jones, but upside is higher on Jones; deep targets are likelier to turn into incompletions (and a five-target game for a deep target is thus likelier to turn into a dud than a six-target game from a short-area guy like Tate), but it is noteworthy that only the Chiefs faced a deeper average depth of target than the Jets last year — and both teams were way above all other teams in the league in this category. This is a +EV spot for Jones (i.e., if we played this slate a hundred times, he would post some duds in this matchup; but he would also post a higher percentage of monster games than he would in other spots).
Golladay should work into the mix this season with an average of around four to five targets per game, but we’ll likely see big rises and dips, with some two-target weeks and some eight-target weeks. Unless usage shakes out different from what we should expect heading into the season, Golladay will always be too high-risk to bet on with a large chunk of bankroll, but he will also be high-reward enough to warrant consideration on lower-dollar (or “lower-bankroll”) tourney rosters every single week.
As of this writing, pricing has not yet come out for this game, but if Bilal Powell is priced at $4.5k or under on DraftKings and $9k or under on FantasyDraft, I’ll have interest in him even on the bigger slates that include this game (or, I should say: “If there are bigger slates that include this game”; the popularity of the Showdown slates may mean that the sites will scrap the 16-game, full-weekend slates altogether — so we’ll have to see on that over the days leading up to the weekend). (On FanDuel, where we have only half-PPR scoring, Powell is less attractive.) Powell has a low floor, but there is roughly a 50/50 chance that he’ll see the bulk of the workload — and if that happens, he has the upside to be a difference-maker, even outscoring the other low-priced backs. He’s worth a tourney spot in smaller slates if you can stomach the uncertainty that goes with this play.
Robby Anderson is downgraded by his likely matchup with Slay, and as such he would not be a priority for me on larger slates, but his talent and role put him in play on small slates. Enunwa and Kearse should each be involved — and one of them will benefit if Anderson has a slow game Both will likely go overlooked by many.
Stafford is strongly in play against a Jets squad that boosted quarterback expectations last year by 20% on DraftKings/FantasyDraft and 16% on FanDuel compared to the league average. Tate is a safe play; Jones is riskier but has monster upside and plays nicely in this matchup; and Golladay plays nicely in this matchup and has monster upside, but will enter most games this year with an unpredictable workload.
*UPDATE: SEPTEMBER 2 // Full “Updates” List
Jermaine Kearse is out for the Jets after having abdominal surgery. The starting wide receivers should now be Robby Anderson, Quincy Enunwa, and Terrelle Pryor (who had very little practice time this summer with Sam Darnold and a new playbook). While the facts above about this being a potentially-difficult wide receiver matchup did not change, volume focuses even more heavily on a small pool of guys. This also brings Trenton Cannon to mind. This is a long-shot play, but Cannon has a chance to be this year’s Week 1 Tarik Cohen play — a guy no one is thinking of who catches several passes out of the backfield and smashes. Cannon has sick speed (the Jets started calling him their Ferrari in training camp), and he’ll likely see two or three designed touches in this one. If the Jets get Ferrari even more involved in the pass game among their shallow pool of available weapons, we’ll almost certainly see the OWS pennant littered across the leaderboards. He’s worth a risk/reward shot with a small portion of your bankroll for the Monday night slate.