LIONS // BILLS OVERVIEW
The boring, horizontal-oriented Lions will travel to Buffalo this week to take on the exciting, vertical-oriented Bills. Neither of these teams has been particularly good this year, but both teams have continued to play hard, and each team has continued to improve as the season has moved along. With the Bills sitting at 4-9 and the Lions sitting at 5-8, this is the sort of game we would be ignoring at this point in the year if not for fantasy — and with an Over/Under of 39.5, there is a good chance that many DFSers will be ignoring it as well. It seems I am not the only one who has been watching this Bills team lately, however, as this line opened at 38.0 with the game set as a pick ’em before rising to 39.5 and Bills -2.5. This early-week movement has pushed the Bills’ Vegas-implied total from 19.0 to 21.0, while the Lions have dropped from 19.0 to 18.5.
The Bills have boasted one of the top pass defenses in the NFL this year, knocking 8.6% off the league-average aDOT and another 2.1% off the league-average catch rate. They have been especially tough on wide receivers, allowing the fewest yards in the NFL to the position. No team has allowed fewer passing yards than the Bills (it’s not particularly close). Only six teams have allowed fewer passing touchdowns.
Since the Lions traded Golden Tate and lost Marvin Jones, this passing attack has struggled to get anything going downfield, with Matthew Stafford notching recent yardage totals of 220 // 236 // 245 // 101. With stud corner Tre’Davious White sure to trail Kenny Golladay this week, Stafford will be left leaning on Bruce Ellington — with some shabby collection of T.J. Jones, Andy Jones, and perhaps Brandon Powell filling in if Ellington (hamstring) can’t go. Before Ellington took over the slot role, Theo Riddick also filled in for a large chunk of slot duties, which we will likely see again. This slot role has yielded almost no yardage upside, of course, leaving whichever guy plays as little more than a hope-to-get-lucky option.
With Kerryon Johnson looking set to miss yet another game, the early-down work on this offense will go to LeGarrette Blount and Zach Zenner. Incredibly, Blount saw 14 touches on only 19 snaps last week, while Zenner saw 12 touches on only 16 snaps (because, you know, defenses can’t figure out stuff like that). The Bills have allowed the eighth fewest yards per carry in the NFL, making both of these guys low-floor, modest-ceiling plays.
BILLS PASS OFFENSE
If you have not been watching this Bills offense the last few weeks, you have been missing out on one of the most ridiculously fun units in the league (last week, Zay Jones and Josh Allen just missed hooking up on a touchdown pass…with Zay throwing the ball — in the first half, of a regular season game). If you have NFL Game Pass, I encourage you to queue up the condensed games from the last two weeks to get a feel for this thing of beauty. If you don’t have NFL Game Pass, at least go watch the highlights from the last two weeks. This offense is aggressive and tremendously well-designed — and even with a raw rookie quarterback and a group of young pass catchers that dropped six passes last week, the Bills have been able to produce consistently high point-per-dollar scores since Allen returned from his multi-week absence. This week, the Bills’ passing attack catches a date with a Detroit unit that ranks 31st in DVOA and has stuffed the run repeatedly since acquiring Snacks Harrison partway through the season — leading teams to prefer attacking through the air. Recent quarterback stat lines against the Lions look like this:
:: Jared Goff — 17 of 33 // 207 yards // one touchdown and one interception
:: Chase Daniel — 27 of 37 // 230 yards // two touchdowns
:: Cam Newton — 25 of 37 // 357 yards // three touchdowns and one interception
:: Mitchell Trubisky — 23 of 30 // 355 yards // three touchdowns
The Lions also allowed Josh Rosen to notch his second highest completion rate and his second highest yardage total of the season last week. The Lions have allowed the deepest aDOT in the NFL this year, which sets up well for Allen and his incredible, league-leading average intended air yards of 11.1. The Lions also allow a 2.5% increase on the league-average catch rate. Only three teams are allowing more yards per pass attempt.
This spot is improved for Allen and co. by the Lions’ blend of defensive looks — as they mix and match a soft man coverage that will leave them susceptible to the Bills’ speed, a soft zone coverage that will leave them susceptible to both the speed and the misdirection of this team, and a tight man coverage that will leave them susceptible to Allen’s rushing ability (99 or more rushing yards in an incredible three consecutive games). On the year, the Lions have allowed the fewest rushing yards to quarterbacks — in spite of matchups so far against Dak Prescott, Russell Wilson, Mitchell Trubisky, and Cam Newton — while only one team has faced fewer quarterback rush attempts. Only three of Allen’s nine rush attempts last week came on designed runs, as he dropped back to pass a whopping 50 times. After LeSean McCoy went down last week, the Bills limited their running back rush attempts — moving to more empty sets instead of telegraphing intentions with Chris Ivory and his limited pass game role. All of this is important, as the Lions allow the fewest plays per game in the NFL, and the Bills are likely to run at least 10 fewer plays than the 76 they ran last week. Somewhere in the range of 30 to 35 pass attempts and five to eight runs should still be a strong bet for Allen this week.
In the Bills’ first game without Kelvin Benjamin, Robert Foster played 73 out of 76 snaps (four more than Zay Jones), running 48 pass routes (to 46 for Zay) and seeing eight targets (to nine for Zay). Zay dropped three more passes (including an end zone look) while Foster caught seven of the eight balls that came his way. As a downfield threat with 4.34 speed, Foster carries plenty of upside in this offense. He’s a do-the-little-things-right wide receiver who followed O.C. Brian Daboll to Buffalo from Alabama as an undrafted free agent. He carries the volatility attached to this truly raw offense, but his ceiling remains exciting.
Zay has recent target counts of 11 // 1 // 9 // 9 (with the one-target game coming against Jalen Ramsey and the Jags). He has hauled in 50% of these passes and should continue seeing looks, with a low floor and a high ceiling. Zay is likeliest to be shadowed by Darius Slay, though he should be able to work away from this matchup from time to time. Slay has been merely average this year, while the rest of the Lions’ corners have been bad.
This passing attack wraps up with Isaiah McKenzie, who ran only three fewer pass routes than Zay last week and only five fewer than Foster. McKenzie has operated in the short and intermediate areas of the field so far, and he has added nine carries across his last four games (including four last week with McCoy sidelined). This disciplined (and unaggressive) Lions defense has unsurprisingly allowed the fifth fewest wide receiver rushing yards in the league, so McKenzie will likely need a touchdown or a broken play in order to add some ceiling to the modest floor that his four to seven targets will provide.
BILLS RUN OFFENSE
The Bills’ run offense, of course, is far less exciting than their passing attack, with McCoy looking unlikely to suit up this week. Run-first back Chris Ivory will take on the stout Lions run defense, while pass-first back Marcus Murphy will likely see limited looks in this downfield attack. Allen turns the ball over often enough and makes enough WTF decisions that the Lions should be able to stay in this game — and as long as it remains a one- or two-score contest, the Bills will likely lean toward the pass. This limits volume projections in the Bills’ backfield, requiring these guys to post outlier production in order to matter.
Josh Allen is like one of those poker players who goes all-in far too often — unleashing downfield throws into the waiting arms of defenders whenever he’s gone a few plays without a big strike — and his ball security while running is an issue as well (as is his health, for that matter). But Allen’s backyard mentality is also leading to lots of opportunities for big plays, making this entire attack a risk/reward unit. This offense will likely post at least one more dud down the stretch, but it will also likely post one more solid game and one absolute gem. This will continue to be one of my favorite tourney offenses for the upside this team carries.
If for some reason you are set on going to the Lions on the other side of this matchup, your best bet for upside is Golladay — hoping he wins in this difficult matchup for a big play or a couple of touchdowns.