RAVENS // CHIEFS OVERVIEW
Analysis is almost futile in a spot like this, with one of the top offenses in the NFL taking on the best defense in the league. As we saw when the Panthers played the Ravens in Week 8 (36 points for Carolina) — and as we even saw from the Bengals in Week 2 (34 points for Cincy) — a strong offense with quality pieces can post a strong game in a matchup like this. But as we also saw in Week 4 against the Steelers (14 points at home), Week 7 against the Saints (24 points at Baltimore), and Week 13 against the Falcons (16 points at home), a defense this good can pull an opposing offense down to significantly below-average results. Aiding the Chiefs in this spot is the locale of this game, as they will have an easier time producing their standard results with the crowd working in their favor. Working against the Chiefs is the absence of the explosiveness in the backfield that had been allowing them to put pressure on an opposing defense from one more angle. Patrick Mahomes has been tremendous this year, and this is one of the most adaptable and well-designed offensive units in the league — but if Sammy Watkins misses again and the Chiefs are down to just two primary weapons for the Ravens to defend, they could have a tough time reaching their lofty Vegas-implied total of 29.0. Unsurprisingly, this Vegas-implied total is much lower than it was when the week started, as this game opened with an Over/Under of 53.5 and has fallen to 51.5, while the Chiefs have dropped from -9.0 to -6.5 — falling from an original Vegas-implied total of 31.25. This is not to say that the Chiefs cannot put up yards and points; but it does speak to the difficulties this matchup presents.
CHIEFS PASS OFFENSE
We saved this writeup for last on the Main Slate, hoping that more concrete information would emerge on the availability of Watkins — but even after waiting until Thursday afternoon to write up this game, Watkins’ status remains up in the air. He is an important piece for the Chiefs this week, as he would be capable of beating single coverage often enough to put serious strain on a Ravens team that will be focused on limiting Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce first and foremost. If Watkins misses, it will be up to Chris Conley and DeMarcus Robinson to win matchups away from the Ravens’ primary emphasis of attention.
On the year, the Ravens are allowing the lowest catch rate in the league and the second lowest YAC/R rate in the league. No team has allowed fewer yards per pass attempt than the Ravens. Only the Jags and Vikings have allowed fewer passing touchdowns. Only two teams have allowed fewer receptions to wide receivers. Only one team has allowed fewer yards to wide receivers. Since A.J. Green went 5-69-3 against the Ravens in Week 2 (with Tyler Boyd chipping in 6-91-1), elite receivers against this team have put up the following stat lines:
:: Antonio Brown — 5-62-1 (11 targets)
:: JuJu Smith-Schuster — 4-60-0 (11 targets)
:: Michael Thomas — 7-69-1 (nine targets)
:: Antonio Brown — 5-42-1 (10 targets)
:: JuJu Smith-Schuster — 7-78-0 (nine targets)
:: Tyler Boyd — 4-71-0 (11 targets)
:: Julio Jones — 2-18-0 (eight targets)
From a price-considered standpoint, it is going to be difficult for Tyreek to pop off in this spot — especially as this talented, disciplined, assignment-tight defense is going to be focused first and foremost on not allowing him to beat them deep. From a pure upside perspective, Hill will still get his downfield shots, opening opportunities for a long play or a multi-score game — but it will be difficult for him to hit on these looks in this spot.
The Ravens’ greatest weakness in coverage has come against tight ends, where this team uses variable coverage looks and assignments to contain the position — none of which have produced the elite results that this team has been able to produce against other positions. On the year, the Ravens have allowed the 10th most catches and the eighth most yards to the position. There is a case to be made that the Ravens will introduce some coverage wrinkles to make sure Kelce does not beat them downfield — but Kelce should draw the Ravens’ standard tight end coverage often enough to become the Chiefs’ primary means of moving the ball successfully in this spot. The Ravens have yet to face a tight end the caliber of Kelce, and they don’t really have any players with the size/speed combo necessary to stick with him.
If Watkins misses, Conley could be in line for another steady workload. In this three game stretch with Watkins hardly playing, Conley has seen target counts of 2 // 8 // 7, contributing 11 catches on these 17 looks (64.7%) for 121 yards (a low 7.1 yards per target). He doesn’t really have the skill set to win in this matchup, but the potential work will give him another outside shot at hitting.
If Watkins returns, he’ll be tasked with beating isolated looks — with plenty of these looks likely coming from struggling superstar Jimmy Smith. Watkins would carry a low floor in his first game back, but he would have tourney appeal as a guy who has the explosiveness to win in tight spots.
CHIEFS RUN OFFENSE
The Ravens have been almost as good against the run as they have been against the pass — ranking sixth in fewest yards allowed per carry and fifth in DVOA against the run. After failing in his audition for workhorse duties last week, Spencer Ware may also see his work cut back this time around — with the Chiefs signing old pal Charcandrick West this last week, and with this team potentially set to get Damien Williams a bit more involved as well (Williams piled up 45 yards on seven touches last week — not far behind Ware’s 52 yards on 15 touches). There is also a case to be made that this highly adaptable offense will become a bit more pass-leaning without Kareem Hunt in the backfield.
If you want to take a shot on this backfield in a difficult matchup, it is noteworthy that Ware played 49 of 71 snaps last week (69.0%), giving him the clearest shot at a difference-making workload.
RAVENS RUN OFFENSE
While the Chiefs have continued to show improvement throughout the year against the pass (more on this below), they have struggled to slow down the run — ranking 31st in yards allowed per carry and 32nd in run defense DVOA. With this team constantly playing with a lead, they rank only 14th in running back rush attempts faced, but they have allowed the eighth most rushing yards to the position, and they have also allowed the third most running back receptions. With the Ravens’ defense potentially capable of slowing down the Chiefs’ electric attack, there is a chance that this run game becomes viable again this week.
Working against DFS viability for this backfield is the way this team is splitting responsibilities, with Gus Edwards proving to be a true zero in the pass game (76 carries on the year; one reception), and with Ty Montgomery mixing in for recent target counts of 3 // 7. Last week, Kenneth Dixon came off I.R. to contribute eight carries and one reception of his own. Dixon (who was a threat during the summer to take over the lead job) is the most complete all-around back and could continue to see his role grow after playing 21.0% of the snaps last week. (Edwards played 49.4% of the snaps. Montgomery played 33.3%.)
For as long as this game stays close, the Ravens are going to run the ball (since Lamar Jackson took over under center, this team has passed the ball on only 34.39% of their plays; as a reminder :: the Seahawks have the lowest pass play rate in the NFL this year, “all the way up” at 48.86%), which should still create space for Edwards to push for 18 to 20 yardage-and-touchdown touches (assuming he remains the lead dog). Dixon has an outside shot at producing a sneaky-viable score, with potential for his touches to rise to the 10 to 14 range. Montgomery is a bet-on-efficiency option in his pass-game-only role.
RAVENS PASS OFFENSE
The Chiefs rank 15th in yards allowed per pass attempt, and they are shaving almost 3% off the league-average catch rate — continuing to allow explosive plays from time to time, but playing fairly sticky coverage on a per-play basis. The Chiefs rank 13th in DVOA against the pass. Because this team has played with a lead so often, they have faced the most pass attempts in the NFL — but the Ravens will enter this game with another run-and-defense-first game plan, and they can only be expected to go pass-heavy if they fall a couple touchdowns behind. If betting on the actual pass game pieces of this passing attack, you should build rosters that first bet on the idea that the Chiefs will be playing with a lead (i.e., attempting to isolate the pieces on the Chiefs that you believe will help them get there).
Since Jackson took over under center for the Ravens, targets among wide receivers have looked like this:
:: Willie Snead — 8 // 0 // 3
:: John Brown — 1 // 7 // 4
:: Michael Crabtree — 3 // 6 // 4
Snead has gone 6-69-0 through the air across his last three games on his 11 targets. JB has gone 2-48-0 through the air across his last three games on his 12 targets (though he has been close to a couple big plays). Crabtree has gone 7-64-1 through the air across his last three games on his 13 targets.
All four tight ends continue to see snaps (each of them played over 25% of the snaps last week), with Mark Andrews and Nick Boyle the best bets for targets, but with Hayden Hurst still in the mix.
Obviously, no pass catchers on the Ravens have been remotely viable since Jackson took over, but targets would obviously have a chance to spike if you want to bet on a game flow scenario that has the Chiefs taking a big lead and the Ravens playing from behind.
Jackson himself is best viewed as an extension of the run game, with points through the air across the last three weeks of 5.0 // 9.12 // 5.0, but with rushing totals of 119 // 71 // 75. He has added two touchdowns on the ground (and fumbled the ball five times). Last week, he threw only 84% of the team’s passes, with Robert Griffin III picking up four pass attempts of his own. Things could obviously open up in this attack if the Ravens fall behind, but the Ravens will try to prevent that scenario by continuing to keep the ball on the ground and chew up clock as often as they can.
While the Chiefs’ offense is legitimately always in play in tourneys for the monster upside they can produce, the only play on this offense who stands out as a solid floor/ceiling option is Kelce (and even he carries some slim concerns, given that the Ravens will surely have some coverages in place to make life difficult on him). With prices still fairly high on this offense across the board (and with plenty of high floor/ceiling spots available on this slate), this unit won’t be a primary focus for me. If multi-entering large-field tourneys, however, it certainly still makes sense to fire off a few Chiefs stacks on the off chance they hit big once again. There is also a case to be made for firing away on Hill or Mahomes in tourneys in the hopes that talent wins out over matchup.
I expect the Ravens to keep this game close, so I won’t be taking outlier shots on this passing attack; and while I expect the Ravens to find success on the ground, the distribution of usage will likely chase me off this team altogether. If I do decide to go here, the guys who stand out the most are Jackson for his legs and Edwards for his 100-yard, two-touchdown potential. Dixon or even Montgomery could surprise with a strong game in this spot as well.
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