LIONS // PACKERS OVERVIEW
The 2018 season comes to a close for these two rundown NFC North teams in a forgotten game in Wisconsin on Sunday afternoon, with Matt Patricia’s ill-fated run-and-defense approach taking a 5-10 record on the road against the 6-8-1 Packers. The Packers won their first road game of the year last week — taking the 4-11 Jets to overtime to finish 1-7 away from Lambeau — and they will return home where they are 5-1-1 on the year. Unsurprisingly, the Packers have been installed as 8.0 point favorites. This game carries an Over/Under of 44.5, with the Lions (five consecutive games of 17 or fewer points) being given a living-in-the-past Vegas-implied team total of 18.0.
LIONS PASS OFFENSE
Beginning with Week 9, here are the recent passing yardage totals for Matthew Stafford and the Lions’ embarrassing “attack”: 199 // 274 // 220 // 236 // 245 // 101 // 208 // 116. This week, they will take the show on the road against a Packers defense that has faced the 10th lowest opponent pass play rate in the NFL as they continue to invite teams to attack them on the ground. As noted in this space throughout the season: the Packers do not actually present a difficult pass game matchup — ranking 22nd in yards allowed per pass attempt, while giving up the 11th most passing yards in the league. Green Bay ranks middle of the pack in passing touchdowns allowed, bottom four in interceptions, and middle of the pack in receiving yards allowed to wide receivers. Only two teams have allowed more receiving touchdowns to wide receivers. Detroit’s broken passing attack is a bigger roadblock in this spot than the matchup.
On the plus side for this passing attack — which has recent attempt totals of only 33 // 23 // 29 // 32 — is the fact that it has locked onto Kenny Golladay lately for sturdy volume (recent target counts of 8 // 4 // 8 // 15 — good for a strong 29.9% target share), giving him at least some opportunity to matter in this spot. Golladay’s usage has been extremely encouraging across the last two weeks, with five of his 23 targets coming more than 30 yards downfield, and with plenty of short-area routes raising his reception floor. He has been deployed from all areas of the formation, with out-breaking routes, in-breaking routes, deep crossing routes, fade routes, and pre-snap movement that carries him across the formation to confuse the defense. With no weapons left on this team, they have been focusing on Golladay — which creates some iffy-floor, high-upside appeal in this confidence-shattered offense.
Last week, Stafford attempted seven passes that traveled more than 11 yards downfield. Six of these passes went to Golladay — illustrating the low upside available on every other player in this offense outside of broken plays and/or multi-touchdown games. T.J. Jones, Andy Jones, and Brandon Powell are merely hope-for-magic dart throws. On the off chance Golladay misses this week after failing to practice on Wednesday with the same chest injury that sidelined him for some practice reps last week, you’re on your own trying to find upside in this offense.
LIONS RUN OFFENSE
I’m still with my family in New England as I write up this game, and I’ll likely read this section to my dad when I finish writing it. I’ll have to ask Abby to close her ears, because she loves Matt Patricia and his huggable look…
Because Matt Patricia exists in a different reality than the rest of us, he continues to insist on his team involving a career-dead LeGarrette Blount in the run game — with the Lions giving him recent carry counts of 12 // 7 //11, while Zach Zenner has seen carry counts in this stretch of 12 // 10 // 8. Zenner has gone for 45 or more yards in each of these games, while Blount has failed to top 33 yards in this stretch. On the season, Blount ranks dead last in the NFL among 48 qualified running backs with a 2.8 yards per carry mark that would have gotten him benched by any other team in any other era in NFL history. Zenner has averaged 5.1 yards per carry on his limited looks and is a plus in the pass game. Theo Riddick also continues to see his value evaporate, as he has been given recent touch counts of 10 // 10 // 7, requiring him to break off a big play or score multiple touchdowns in order to matter. Unless Patricia phones a friend this week to get some help running his team, we should expect Blount to once again light valuable snaps on fire for the Lions, rendering this backfield as a whole unusable.
PACKERS PASS OFFENSE
I was about to write that this is a sneaky-strong spot for the Packers’ passing attack — with the thought being, “Everyone knows that the Lions face low passing volume, but there are reasons to believe that this will be a pass-heavy spot for the Packers.” Then, I realized I’m one of the only people elbows-deep in stats each week to a point where the volume concerns would even stand out; most people with more exciting lives during football season just simply know that the Lions have a bad pass defense. So…there you go. Scratch “sneaky” off the list — but this is a strong spot for the Packers, with the Lions allowing the most yards per pass attempt in the NFL this year, and with this team allowing the second most passing touchdowns while intercepting the second fewest passes in the league. From the “volume concern” department (if anyone besides me cares about this), it should very much be noted that only the Raiders have faced fewer pass attempts this year than Detroit, as the Lions tilt defensive alignments to force teams to the ground — though with the Packers ranked second in the NFL in pass play rate (and carrying a league-leading 68.93% pass play rate since ditching Mike McCarthy and letting do-it-all-on-his-own Aaron Rodgers effectively take over the offense), we should expect a pass-heavy game from Green Bay anyway.
Working further in our favor is the fact that Randall Cobb and Equanimeous St. Brown are both still in the concussion protocol (neither practiced Wednesday) — which eliminates playing time concerns on a team that entered last week with an uncertain workload distribution among Marquez Valdes-Scantling, ESB, and ‘Rodgers favorite’ Jake Kumerow. The Packers ended up starting Adams, ESB, and Kumerow, with MVS stepping into the slot once ESB went down. Davante Adams (unsurprisingly) saw an incredible 18 targets with Rodgers throwing 55 times, while MVS saw nine targets in the slot-happy matchup against the Jets and Kumerow saw three targets on the outside. (ESB saw five targets before going down. Jimmy Graham continued his disappointing season with only four targets in a 55-pass game.)
This week, we should expect Adams to be trailed by Darius Slay, but he posted a 9-140-1 line in this game earlier in the year and is a strong candidate for another big game in this spot. Adams enters Week 17 tied with Antonio Brown for the league lead in targets per game, while ranking first in red zone targets, second in receiving touchdowns, and fifth in receiving yards. Rodgers and Adams will be looking to wreck this game in an effort to close out this season strong, making Adams his typical safe, high-upside play. (If you care about the narrative: Rodgers and Adams are also both record-oriented players, and Adams is 134 yards shy of breaking the Packers’ single-season receiving yardage record.)
MVS will dominate snaps in the slot as long as neither Cobb nor ESB returns. As noted a few times throughout the year, this slot role in the Packers’ offense ultimately ends up generating more value than the second perimeter role most weeks, as Rodgers is so locked onto Adams as his first read on most plays, it is rare for the second perimeter option (lined up on the other side of the field) to be more than a third read — while the slot receiver in this unit is typically schemed to be the second option. While the two saw some overlap in snaps last week, ESB and MVS mostly played at the exclusion of one another — making it notable that they combined for a 10-169-0 line on 14 targets. We should expect somewhere in the range of 33 to 36 pass attempts for Rodgers this week in a likeliest-case scenario, so those target numbers can be bumped down a decent amount, but MVS will still be a viable and potentially valuable piece this week if he’s the last man standing.
As for Kumerow: He was one of Rodgers’ preseason favorites (Rodgers lobbied publicly for Kumerow to make the team), and his big body and decent speed make him a solid compliment to Adams (in the role Adams used to play when Jordy Nelson was this team’s number one). Kumerow’s low target count (three) on a healthy 57 snaps in a 55-pass-attempt game creates some concern — but he should be on the field for much of this game once again, and Rodgers is sure to look his way at least a few times. The likely presence of Slay on Adams could lead to a few extra balls heading his way, making him a decent Upside play at a low price at what is certain to be low ownership this week.
PACKERS RUN OFFENSE
Since the Lions traded for Snacks Harrison, they have allowed only 3.4 yards per carry on runs up the middle, while allowing 1.9 yards per carry on runs behind the left guard and 3.1 yards per carry on runs behind the right guard (according to Sharp Football Stats). The only place where the Lions have been susceptible since trading for Snacks has been runs off-tackle, which is the area of the field where slow/plodding Jamaal Williams is least effective — setting this up as a poor matchup all the way around for the Packers’ one-man rushing attack. Working in Williams’ favor is the Packers’ depleted depth chart, which left Williams playing 85 of a possible 90 snaps last week — leading to 15 carries and nine targets. Further working against Williams is the fact that it took 90 snaps for Williams to see 21 touches, while the Lions allow the fewest opponent plays per game in the NFL (59.1). Williams should see all the running back work once again, though there are more red flags in this spot than we had last week.
I expect a solid showing from the Packers this week — in their final game at home, where they have quietly scored 27.1 points per game (compared to 23.2 points per game on the road), against a bad Lions defense that the Packers should pass on more than most teams choose to. With Graham largely eliminated from the offense and Cobb/ESB looking unlikely to play, we could have a situation with a narrow distribution of work and a couple low-priced players, creating an attractive Upside bet in tourneys. Davante Adams is the only guy in this attack who adds floor to his ceiling, but MVS and Kumerow are definitely in the conversation this week, while Rodgers should be able to produce points alongside his receivers.
If the Packers do put up points, it could force the Lions to pass — and when they pass, that means looks going to Golladay. Obviously, this is no lock-and-load option in this embarrassing offense, but Golladay will be given opportunities to hit, giving him a clear path to upside.
I won’t have interest in either backfield myself, but you could make a case for Williams once again this week as well. In all, this is one of the more attractive DFS games on a largely-unattractive early portion of this Week 17 slate — with most of the top games of the weekend saved for the late slot on the schedule.