PACKERS // SEAHAWKS OVERVIEW
Sometimes, schedule matters more than talent. Right now, a Seahawks team and a Packers team that both have the pieces to make noise in the playoffs are sitting at 4-5 and 4-4-1, respectively. The loser of this game will have six games left and basically no margin for error. The winner will be one step closer to righting the ship and sneaking into the postseason, where anything can happen.
Each of these teams ranks top 10 in time of possession, with the Seahawks slowing down the game enough (bottom 10 in pace of play, dead last in pass play rate) to shave almost 6% off the league average opponent plays per game. Only four teams are allowing fewer opponent plays per game than Seattle, and they should be able to continue shortening games in this spot against a Packers defense that is far easier to run on (26th in run defense DVOA) than they are to pass on (ninth in pass defense DVOA). As explored through much of the year: this is by design for the Packers, as they play lighter personnel packages and focus on the pass over the run. Because of the threat of Russell Wilson, opponents are essentially forced to stick to their standard approach against this Seahawks team, rather than selling out to stop the run, so expect this to be a slight “volume down” spot for this game as a whole.
While the Packers probably have the slightly better team, this game being played in Seattle creates a nice blend that should allow the contest to remain close throughout. Vegas has installed the Seahawks as early 2.5 point favorites, in a game with a healthy Over/Under of 49.0. The pressure will be on the Packers to push this game total to that level, as they have hit 49.0 or higher in three of their last five games (with their game against the Patriots falling just one point short), while the Seahawks have played in a totally different scoring environment this year. If we take away their games against the Rams, their last six games have finished with totals of 41 // 37 // 37 // 30 // 42 // 42. With the Seahawks focused on the run and the Packers primarily focused on short passing, it seems likely we see this total trickle down as we move closer to Thursday.
PACKERS PASS OFFENSE
Seattle’s defense has eliminated downfield passing this year, shaving almost 10% off the league-average aDOT and ranking top 12 in fewest pass plays allowed of 20+ yards and top four in fewest pass plays allowed of 40+ yards. With Seattle shortening games so thoroughly, they have faced the ninth fewest pass attempts in the league, which makes their pass defense numbers look better than they are. While the Seahawks force short throws, they allow a league-average catch rate and have been below-average after the catch, leading to a middling yards allowed per pass attempt.
Volume should be more of a concern than matchup for a Packers passing attack that is an outlier in today’s aggressive, movement-and-misdirection offensive environment — as the Packers essentially send their receivers out to beat their man, and then allow Aaron Rodgers to work his connection. While Rodgers can certainly attack downfield, the core of this passing attack is their shorter-area, move-the-sticks passes — and a matchup against a team that forces a lower aDOT but still allows an average catch rate should not impact this offense too negatively.
Over his last three games, Rodgers has averaged an uncharacteristically low 33.67 pass attempts per game — right in line with the 33.56 attempts per game the Seahawks have allowed on the year. Rodgers could push for 35 to 36 attempts (and there are “off the rails” scenarios in which his volume spikes higher), but this gives us a good baseline for looking at what targets have been like on this offense over this lower-volume stretch:
:: Davante Adams — 7.67 targets per game
:: Jimmy Graham — 3.67 targets per game
:: Marquez Valdes-Scantling — 6.0 targets per game
:: Randall Cobb — 5.5 targets per game (two games)
:: Equanimeous St. Brown — 3.0 targets per game
We should highlight the fact that Adams has had matchups with Stephon Gilmore and Xavien Howard in this stretch, and he carries the most room for target growth in this spot as the clear preferred option for Rodgers. Rodgers and Adams connect most frequently along the left sideline — particularly on out-breaking routes and double moves that play off the short connection these two have to shake Adams free deep. This is how both Brandin Cooks and Marvin Jones found success against Seattle in the last three weeks, setting up Adams for a big game if the usage is there.
Only two teams have allowed fewer receptions to tight ends than the Seahawks, and it seems likely that they try to ensure that Graham, of all people, doesn’t beat them. The Seahawks (as noted for years in this space) are more “scheme and talent” than play-calling and opponent-specific approaches on defense, so even if they don’t prioritize taking away Graham in his first year away from the team, he’ll have the toughest matchup of the bunch. If you want to bet on him, perhaps Rodgers tries to get him going after last week’s season-low one target.
MVS will benefit from playing in the slot if Cobb misses again. His seven targets last week came with Rodgers throwing only 28 times. When MVS plays on the outside, it is tougher for him to be the second read on plays designed to go to Adams, as the two are typically playing on opposite sides of the formation; but when MVS moves into the slot, he is often running routes that allow him to be the second read behind Adams — enhancing his opportunity for looks.
Rodgers has a long track record of throwing to guys he trusts and ignoring those he doesn’t, and St. Brown has not yet made his way into that first category. He’ll be on the field plenty if Cobb misses, but he’ll rarely (if ever) be the first read, leaving his volume fairly scarce.
If Cobb plays, he’ll step back into his safe, low-upside role — requiring a broken play in order to hit.
PACKERS RUN OFFENSE
Only three teams are allowing more yards per carry than the Seahawks and their up-and-down run D. Because of the low play volume the Seahawks allow, they rank only middle of the pack in yards allowed to running backs, but their 4.55 YPC allowed to running backs is clearly attackable.
If the world is a good place, you can expect the Packers to attack with Aaron Jones, who finally — mercifully — played 42 out of 57 snaps last week (73.7%), while Jamaal Williams played only 14. Jones ran 22 pass routes, saw five targets, and carried the ball 15 times. We are rarely (if ever) going to see a Packers running back become a true volume horse, as this team will always mix backs to some extent, and Rodgers will always look to throw in close games (and will always look to throw close to the goal line). But somewhere in the range of 16 to 20 touches should be a solid expectation again in this spot, and Jones has the skills to take advantage of this matchup.
SEAHAWKS PASS OFFENSE
Only eight teams have faced a lower pass play rate than the Packers, as teams prefer to run against Green Bay’s lighter fronts. Only four teams have faced fewer pass attempts than the Packers, and their 182 completions allowed is fourth lowest in the league.
From a DFS perspective, this meshes poorly with the passing attack of the Seahawks, as this team is happy to run the ball all day if an opponent will allow it. Across his last seven games, Russ has pass attempt numbers of 26 // 26 // 21 // 23 // 17 // 39 // 26 — absurdly low totals for an elite quarterback. He has not passed for 300 yards a single time this year, and he has topped 235 passing yards only once since Week 1.
If we take away the 39 attempt outlier in Week 9, targets on this squad across the last four games have looked like this:
Lockett and Baldwin each have four red zone targets on the season while Moore has five. It’s incredibly scary to try to bet on a wide receiver in a passing attack with so little volume, but efficiency has been impressive for this squad, with Russ throwing for 21 touchdowns on the year — with multiple touchdowns in all but one game, and with five games already this year with three touchdown passes. Ultimately, a bet on these receivers is a bet on the idea that you can guess where the touchdowns will come. If searching for lower-owned upside, it is worth noting that Lockett has an aDOT of 12.0 while Baldwin is not far behind him at 10.8. With a similar red zone role between these two and a similar aDOT, Lockett (seven touchdowns) is a candidate for regression, while Baldwin (zero touchdowns) sets up for positive regression. Each guy has a higher yardage projection than Moore or Vannett.
SEAHAWKS RUN OFFENSE
Green Bay is only allowing an increase on the league-average YPC mark of 2.5%, in spite of their invitation to opponents to focus on the ground game — but Green Bay has allowed an above-average number of rushing touchdowns on the season, and volume should be in favor of the Seattle backs.
If Chris Carson misses this week, we will likely see Seattle deploy a fairly even workload split between Mike Davis and Rashaad Penny. Last week, Davis played 39 snaps while Penny played 27. Davis saw 11 carries and six targets, compared to 12 carries and no targets for his teammate. Penny has caught nine of his 12 targets on the year, and he ran 14 pass routes last week to 23 for Davis, so he projects as more than a stone zero in the pass game — though Seattle does view Davis as their primary pass-catching weapon out of the backfield right now. Somewhere around 12 to 16 carries with three or four catches is a safe projection for Davis, while 10 to 14 carries and one or two catches is a comfortable projection for Penny. That comes with the obvious caveat that this Seahawks team has a track record of sudden and unpredictable change. As long as only two backs are healthy, however, we should be able to bank on plenty of work going to those two. If Carson returns, the safest guess would be Carson remaining in the lead with Davis playing behind him, but at that point all bets would be off.
Rodgers stands out as a solid play, while Adams is the clear top option in the passing attack. If Cobb misses, I like MVS as an underpriced piece with a safe floor and strong upside for the cost, while MVS will take a step back for me if Cobb is on the field (his floor will take a hit, though his upside will remain intact). Graham is a “hope for touchdown” play, as he appears unlikely to see more than four or five looks in this spot. St. Brown and/or Cobb would be “hope for a broken play” options on the Showdown. Cobb obviously carries the higher floor. In the backfield, Jones is a strong piece yet again — with what finally appears to be a locked-in workload, in a good matchup against a beatable Seahawks run D.
I like Rodgers more than Russ, I like Adams and MVS more than the Seattle pass catchers (though it becomes closer between MVS and Baldwin/Lockett if Cobb plays), and I like Jones more than I like the Seattle backfield. Quite simply: a team that runs the ball a lot and passes little is worse for DFS. With that said: at least a couple guys on the Seahawks should prove to be useful, with Russ obviously a candidate to post a strong score (his 92 rushing yards last week came vs a Rams team that refused to spy him, so consider that an unlikely event — but another 30 to 50 yards on the ground is a fair projection, and his touchdown efficiency has been spectacular), and with Baldwin and Lockett at least interesting for their per-play upside on the Showdown. Because the Packers are not a “strike fast and deep” team, this is not going to turn into a track meet in which Seattle opens things up and hits these two for a bushel of big plays, but each guy has a clear shot at a starting-caliber score. Behind these guys, Moore and Vannett (and even Dickson, who played over 30% of the snaps last week) are dart throws. The running backs are solid, but unspectacular.