TEXANS // BRONCOS OVERVIEW
I know — Courtland Sutton, right? We’ll get to that…
But first: it’s the first-place, 5-3 Texans (Demaryius Thomas’ Texans, that is) traveling to take on Demaryius’ old team in the 3-5 Broncos. Houston is riding a five-game win streak, and while they will be without Will Fuller for the remainder of the year, they still have Keke Coutee, DeAndre Hopkins, and Deshaun Watson — along with a solid defense that has allowed the ninth fewest points and the ninth fewest yards per game. Each team plays at an above-average pace (Denver: 9th // Houston: 7th), and each team also comes in a bit below-average in time of possession, which should create a few extra plays to go around. Each team is also run-leaning, with Denver ranked 15th in pass play rate (but leaning run-heavy any time they have a lead), and with Houston quietly ranked 27th in pass play rate.
This game has been awarded a middling Over/Under of 46.0, with the home Broncos being installed as one point favorites. If we played this game a hundred times, we would probably find about half of the games landing on the Under and the other half landing on the Over — but some of the “Over” games would have a chance to be real barn-burners, with explosive players taking the field on either side.
TEXANS PASS OFFENSE
The Broncos have been one of the most non-notable passing matchups on the year, ranking only slightly worse than the league average in aDOT and YAC/R allowed, while ranking just a bit better than the league average in catch rate allowed. Add it all up, and Denver ranks 19th in yards allowed per pass attempt and 19th in passing touchdowns allowed. The only things that are helping the Broncos to limit QB fantasy production are A) how bad they are on the ground (Denver has faced the 10th lowest opponent pass play rate), and B) their pass rush (third in adjusted sack rate — a notable mismatch against a Houston offense that ranks 29th in adjusted sack rate allowed). Only five teams have run the ball at a higher rate than the Texans, and Watson has not topped 25 pass attempts in the last three weeks. The Texans have been willing to open things up through the air when trailing — but look for them to start this game with a run-leaning approach once again.
When Watson takes to the air, his main target remains DeAndre Hopkins, who has dropped to single-digit targets in three consecutive weeks with Houston leaning so run-heavy, but who has made up for this drop in workload with four touchdowns in this stretch. The breakdown for Hopkins in this spot is fairly simple: If the Broncos force Houston to air things out (either by miraculously shutting down the run for once, or by jumping out to a lead), Hopkins will spike to double-digit looks once again — and as always, matchup will not matter for him. Because this sets up well for another run-heavy game script for Houston, however, Hopkins’ floor clocks in lower than it otherwise would.
Much has been made this week about the Texans adding Demaryius Thomas, as if he is still an elite weapon who can make a major impact on the field. Obviously, quarterback play has been an issue for him, but this is a guy who has cracked 100 yards only four times in the last three seasons. He lacks the explosiveness to truly make up for the loss of Will Fuller. With that said: DT is stepping into a clear role in this offense; and while there will be plenty of playbook-learning left to do after this week, Bill O’Brien should be able to simplify DT’s responsibilities enough for him to have a clear role right away. If this becomes an unexpectedly pass-heavy game for the Texans, a fair projection for Demaryius will be five to eight targets.
The bigger impact of the arrival of Demaryius will be to the role of our beloved Keke Coutee (whose status for this week is still up in the air; naturally, another absence for Coutee would further enhance the likelihood of the Texans leaning on the run). Not much changes for Coutee from his expectations when Fuller was on the field, though the arrival of Demaryius does eliminate the opportunity for him to see a guaranteed spike in usage. Unless the Texans return Coutee to the constant jet sweep action they were showing in his first game on the field, he will also have the toughest matchup of this group against Chris Harris in the slot. All of this (the volume concerns on this passing attack as a whole, the arrival of Demaryius, and the matchup against Harris) lowers Coutee’s floor, but his speed still gives him a chance to spike for upside.
With Coutee out of action last week, the Texans also leaned on their two tight end sets, giving 34 snaps to Jordan Akins and 54 snaps to Jordan Thomas. Thomas saw an entirely unpredictable four targets and two touchdowns, though with Demaryius in the fold and Ryan Griffin expected to return this week, it will be difficult to look beyond the wide receivers in this passing attack.
TEXANS RUN OFFENSE
Last year, Lamar Miller did not crack 75 rushing yards a single time, in spite of playing every game and seeing 17+ carries seven times. But right now, Miller is suddenly sitting on back-to-back 100-yard games.
Obviously, this is difficult to trust — especially behind an offensive line that ranks 23rd in adjusted line yards. Miller also has a limited role in the pass game on this team, with only one game all year north of three targets.
With that said: the Cardinals are the only team in football that has allowed more rushing yards to running backs than the Broncos, with this team allowing opposing backs to pile up yards at a massive 5.3 yards per carry. Alfred Blue has remained involved (seven, eight, and 15 carries across the last three weeks, compared to 15 // 22 // 18 for Miller), so we cannot expect Miller to pop off for a monster-usage game. But while it is statistically improbable that Miller would hit for 100-plus yards in three straight contests, this is as good a spot as any for him, and he boosts his upside with a respectable 19 red zone carries (seventh in the NFL), including 10 carries inside the 10.
BRONCOS PASS OFFENSE
On paper, Houston has quietly been one of the more difficult passing matchups in the league — allowing the seventh fewest fantasy points per game to quarterbacks, while ranking 10th in yards allowed per pass attempt. Houston is holding opponents to a slightly below-average aDOT, and they have been one of the better teams in the league at preventing YAC on a per-reception basis.
With that said, the Texans’ quarterback schedule this season (starting from Week 1) has looked like this:
Tom Brady // Blaine Gabbert // Eli Manning // Andrew Luck // Dak Prescott // Josh Allen (and Nathan Peterman) // Blake Bortles (and Cody Kessler) // Brock Osweiler
Case Keenum fits nicely in that group, of course; but this should be viewed as a middling matchup, rather than one that “lowers expectations.”
Expectations have been difficult to nail down for Keenum, as he has mixed in a pair of sub-200-yard games with three games of 300+ yards through the air.
The best way to attack Houston has been with wide receivers, as this team has allowed the ninth most receptions to the position, while ranking a middling 15th in yards allowed. For upside-hunting, it is worth noting that in spite of the Texans not yet having had their bye, there are only three teams in football that have allowed fewer touchdowns to wide receivers than the Texans have allowed.
Demaryius is leaving behind 5.8 targets per game, which should be divided between Emmanuel Sanders and Courtland Sutton — with DaeSean Hamilton expected to miss this week’s game. Sanders has seen two games this year with as few as four targets, while notching double-digit looks in three of eight games. If I knew the rhyme and reason behind Sanders’ rises and dips, I would not have had him on my main team last week in his four-target disappointment against the Chiefs — though it seems likely in this spot that he sees at least seven looks (a mark he has hit six times this year). Given the up-and-down nature of Sanders’ usage, he is going overlooked in the DFS community most weeks right now, so it is worth pointing out that he has three 100-yard games and five total touchdowns on the year. His floor is uncertain in this spot, but his ceiling remains appealing.
And now, of course — our boy, Courtland Sutton.
It’s funny to me when teams trade a player because they “want to get this other guy more involved” (the Browns did this just a couple weeks ago with Carlos Hyde), as if the presence of one player makes it impossible to carve out work for the supposedly superior guy. In any case: after the Broncos experimented with getting Sutton more involved earlier in the year (to put that another way: “After the Broncos experimented with trying to win”) — feeding him early-season target counts of 5 // 6 // 3 // 6 // 6 — they scaled back his work over the last three weeks, giving him target counts of 4 // 3 // 4. Naturally, Sutton piled up seven catches for 164 yards on those looks — good for an eye-popping 23.4 yards per reception. I always hate to get caught up in hyped plays, so it is worth pointing out that Sutton is by no means a lock for a big game (it won’t be unexpected if he sees only six or seven targets, as Demaryius himself hasn’t topped seven targets since Week 2 — and there are plenty of paths for him to disappoint on these looks; if he directly takes over the Demaryius role, this role has yielded 63 or fewer receiving yards in all but one game this year, and if he remains in the downfield role he ought to carry, inefficiency with a below-average quarterback could be an issue). But Sutton also produced 78 yards last week and 58 yards in Week 6 with Demaryius on the field, while reaching the end zone in Weeks 5 and 7. By this point in the season, you know how much I love Sutton as a player, and he should post a strong point-per-dollar score. Though by no means is a blowup game guaranteed, as this remains a bad passing attack with a poor to-date connection between Sutton and his quarterback.
BRONCOS RUN OFFENSE
The Texans have been nails against the run this year, allowing the third fewest yards per carry while giving up only two running back touchdowns on the ground (only the Bears have allowed fewer). That’s the bad news for Phillip Lindsay in what is shaping up as a second straight Royce-free week, though the good news is that Houston — while taking away wide receivers and “running back rushes” near the end zone — has allowed the most receiving touchdowns to running backs in the league. Even last week with Devontae Booker playing 43.8% of the Broncos’ snaps, Lindsay saw three targets, and he has a four-target game and a seven-target game in his last four contests.
Booker handled nine carries of his own and hauled in three receptions — filling in as more than just a “third down and obvious passing situation” back, instead soaking up a Royce-lite role that he should have again this week. A reasonable expectation in this spot is around 14 carries and three or four catches for Lindsay, with another eight to 10 carries and three to five catches going to Booker. Touchdown opportunities will come down to “whoever happens to be on the field at the time.”
With so many question marks on the Texans’ preferred method of attack (do they go run-heavy yet again? — it would make sense against a Broncos defense that is best attacked on the ground), it will be difficult to trust any players on this team in cash games, though for upside-hunting, Hopkins and Watson always remain in the mix, while Coutee will carry big “ball in his hands” upside in a difficult draw if he is on the field. Miller is also in play — as scary as it is to pull the trigger on him. He’ll need yards and touchdowns in order to produce, but he lines up nicely for yards and touchdowns this week
On the Broncos, I obviously have interest in Sutton — though he’s more “in consideration” for me than he is “lock button,” as there is still a clear path to something like a 3-55-0 game. The trade of DT does open up a clearer path to a 5-90-1 game, and if I end up not using Sutton on my main team this week, I will definitely have some action going with him on any multi-entry play I undertake.
I also like the idea of using Sanders in tourneys, as it seems likely that he will go overlooked after his disappointing showing last week — especially with the hype train visiting Sutton. Sanders and Keenum have looked good together whenever Sanders is featured, and this is as good a spot as any for him to see heavy looks. The Demaryius trade locks in a couple extra looks for Sutton, but it should do the same for Sanders.
Finally: it’s always worth considering a defense against the Texans, as Watson has taken the fifth most sacks in the league. Expect the Texans to put up points this week; but also expect a few mistakes along the way.
SATURDAY EVENING UPDATE // Full “Updates” List
Keke Coutee will miss this game, which will leave the Texans in plenty of two tight end sets again, and will further solidify the workloads for DeAndre Hopkins and Lamar Miller. Nobody on this team rises to anything approaching “must play,” but these guys do become slightly more intriguing.