LIONS // 49ERS OVERVIEW
Each of these teams lost in Week 1, but they lost in very different ways: with the 49ers playing a Super Bowl contender to a respectable score on the road, and with the Lions getting embarrassed by a supposedly bottom-tier team at home. Each of these teams has playoff aspirations this season, and it’s incredibly difficult to get there if you start 0-2. This is likely to nudge each team toward an aggressive style in an early must-win.
LIONS PASS OFFENSE
Last season, San Francisco finished 25th in points allowed per game, while the Lions’ offense finished seventh in points per game. San Francisco has not made significant improvements on defense, and the Lions not only returned all of their core offensive pieces from last season, but they added Kerryon Johnson in the draft and have a healthy Kenny Golladay with a full year of experience under his belt. The Lions’ mid-week implied team total of 21.0 is almost guaranteed to rise as we get closer to the weekend. This reminds me of a Lions-Bears game in 2015 that carried a low Vegas-implied total for each team until Sunday morning, when it was bet up by several points; that game ended up carrying low ownership in DFS that week, and I spent three hours that Sunday in first place in the Milly Maker (before winding up at 12th), with multiple pieces from that game. This 21.0-point total is totally reactionary after Detroit struggled on national television on Monday night. With Jim Bob Cooter still calling plays for Detroit, there is no reason to set our expectations any different than they would have been last year.
If you want to know who the number one receiver is on Detroit: it’s Kenny Golladay. He played 55 of a possible 56 pass plays in Week 1 — four more than Marvin Jones, and eight more than Golden Tate. Obviously, that’s a slim margin separating the three guys, and you could justifiably call any of them the “number one.” But that’s sort of the point. It makes just as much sense right now to call Golladay the “number one” as it does to affix that label to either of the other two.
Here were the target counts among the primary Lions pass catchers last week: Tate — 15 // Golladay — 12 // Marvin Jones — 8 // Theo Riddick 7.
Three tight ends combined for four targets, while Kerryon Johnson saw three targets of his own.
Only one team passed the ball at a higher rate last year than the Lions, and the three receivers are clearly the funnels through which this aerial attack will flow — with Riddick seeing work in the background. If this game goes according to script, Matthew Stafford should throw the ball at least 35 times (a mark he hit in half the Lions’ games last season), and around 70% of those looks should go to the three wideouts.
Last year, San Francisco forced teams to throw downfield and tackled well after the catch, while rating out substantially above-average in Football Outsiders’ metrics on passes over the middle and short middle. On passes to the outside — especially deep outside — San Francisco struggled. This game sets up nicely for around seven to 10 targets apiece for both Jones and Golladay, with big upside for each.
LIONS RUN OFFENSE
On the other hand, we have the Lions’ rushing attack, which failed to get going even before the Jets ran away with the game in Week 1 — an all-too-frequent occurrence for this team over the last few years. Kerryon Johnson played only 16 snaps, compared to 13 for LeGarrette Blount and 41 for Theo Riddick. Riddick’s role will not always be that substantial, so Johnson’s role has room to grow — but for now, this is an ugly, three-way timeshare. The best way to squeeze fantasy value out of this spot is to bet on game flow forcing Theo Riddick onto the field for another huge snap share, but you could also swing the other way in tourneys and dream up a scenario in which the Lions take a lead and are able to establish Johnson. It’s an unlikely scenario, but it can at least be considered in large-field tourneys.
49ERS PASS OFFENSE
Matt Patricia’s “free yards” defense was manhandled by the Jets on Monday night, and they won’t have things any easier against Kyle Shanahan (who also publicly shamed Patricia in the Super Bowl a couple years ago before slowing down at the end). Granted, this 49ers offense is not the unit Shanny boasted in Atlanta — and that becomes even more truthful if Marquise Goodwin (thigh) misses this game.
Last week, Darius Slay slowed down Robby Anderson, and it seems likely that the Lions will try to match up Slay on Goodwin as much as they can if he’s on the field, while shifting Slay over to Garcon otherwise. If Goodwin plays, his connection with Jimmy Garoppolo will make him a tourney-worthy option, but his floor will be lowered by the matchup. In that case, Garcon would become an intriguing option against Nevin Lawson, who allowed a 104.8 quarterback rating when targeted last season and gave up a reception every 8.8 coverage snaps (compared to marks of 55.6 and 10.1 for teammate Slay). If Goodwin misses, realize that this is a downfield passing attack, so even in Slay’s coverage Garcon will retain tourney-driven upside simply by virtue of the targets he would see, while Dante Pettis would step into a full-time role after filling in for 49 snaps last week and seeing five targets of his own.
The most exciting option on this passing attack — regardless of whether or not Goodwin plays (though he’s even more exciting if Goodwin misses) is tight end George Kittle, who ran 33 pass routes in Week 1 and saw nine targets in a tough matchup against the Vikings. Detroit ranked 26th in DVOA against the tight end last season, and they allowed the 12th-most yards to the position in spite of allowing the fifth-fewest receptions. Kittle is especially appealing on DraftKings (7.6% of the salary cap) and FantasyDraft (8.0%), where he costs so little; but even on FanDuel at 9.3% of the cap, he’s in play. Another nine targets is not at all out of the question.
49ERS RUN OFFENSE
Last season, only one team allowed more rushing touchdowns than Detroit, and they finished the season ranked 28th in DVOA against the run. Their game against the Jets on Monday night did nothing to change our assessment of them as an attackable defense on the ground, and with the 49ers likely to be playing with a lead as the game moves along, Alfred Morris will have an opportunity to build on the 35 snaps he played last week. Although Alf saw zero targets (and is rarely going to see more than two or three in a game), he did run 19 pass routes, so he won’t be a total zero in that department this season. On a week with very little value, Morris is a potential 15- to 18-touch back in this spot.
The counterpoint, of course, is that Breida — as we talked about in this space last week, and as he showed on the field on Sunday — is the more talented back between these two. Breida played 30 snaps and handled 11 carries and one catch to Morris’ 12 carries and zero catches. This backfield could remain a timeshare, or could even tilt in Breida’s favor. The matchup is great for either guy. The only concern is the division of labor — with either guy seemingly as likely as the other to come out on top in touches this week.
Naturally, I cannot carry out a writeup like the one directly above without some people thinking of the old Cheat Code idea from last season: playing two cheap running backs from the same backfield in order to capture guaranteed floor while making room in the budget for high-priced guys. If we project San Francisco for around 65 plays, this should work out to around 26 rush attempts (with a few more added to that number if the 49ers can hold a lead deep into the game). We can probably tack on four catches to that mark, so you would essentially be rostering 26 carries and four catches by taking both guys. I think it’s viable in this matchup (particularly on DraftKings and FantasyDraft, where pricing is tight this week). A few concerns, though:
1) This would prevent you from being able to roster both Kamara and Conner. Or Conner and Gurley. Or Cook and Conner. Or some combination of all three. (And that’s not even to mention Melvin Gordon and Christian McCaffrey.) There is a lot of upside at the running back position this week, and it would be nice to grab some of it.
2) In the case of Crowell and Duke Johnson last season, they’d proven that they were both capable of scoring 15+ points on the same week. I feel that with Breida and Morris, on the other hand, one will tend to have a good game at the cost of the other.
I like each guy on his own — Morris with the lower floor but higher touchdown equity; Breida with more pass game work, but with a smaller goal line role — but I think there’s enough value in other spots to not have to play these guys together.
I love Kittle this week, and he joins Jonnu Smith and Jack Doyle as too-cheap-for-their-roles tight ends. You could also toss Ian Thomas into that pile, though he requires a little more faith and guesswork. In tourneys, I will also have interest in the 49ers’ number two receiver.
On Detroit’s side, I like Stafford, and I love Golladay and Jones. Because each guy sees his targets primarily downfield, the chances of a dud are higher than they are on someone like Tate; but the upside is silly in this spot. Golladay is especially attractive at under 10% of the salary cap on all three sites. I also like the idea of stacking this game in tourneys. Similar to the way the Bengals stood out last week as a team with an early-week implied total that was just too low, the Lions pop off the page in this one.
SATURDAY MORNING UPDATE // Full “Updates” List
Marquise Goodwin is going to miss this game. Dante Pettis will start, and he projects for somewhere in the range of five to eight targets. We don’t know much about Pettis as an NFL player, so this is less of a slam-dunk than most are making it out to be; but it is always a good move in DFS to #TrustShanahan. I’m good with Pettis as a top value option this week.
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