TITANS // COWBOYS OVERVIEW
The NFL has buried one of the least appealing games on the slate on Monday Night Football this week, with two teams that are technically in the playoff hunt, but that are hardly worth paying attention to (both from an “entertainment” perspective and a “likely to be relevant deep into the playoffs” perspective). The 3-4 Titans have lost three straight games since their big wins over the Texans, Jaguars, and Eagles, while the Cowboys have started the season like this:
Road Loss // Home Win // Road Loss // Home Win // Road Loss // Home Win // Road Loss. Hey, what do you know? — the Cowboys are at home…
This game has been awarded a low early-week Over/Under of 41.0. These teams have played 14 combined games this year, and only four of those games have reached 41 or more points. Both of these teams rank bottom four in pace of play, bottom five in pass play rate, and bottom seven in plays per game. Tennessee ranks 30th in points per game and Dallas ranks 26th. Tennessee ranks 30th in yards per game and Dallas ranks 28th. Dallas has also allowed the third fewest yards per game, while Tennessee has allowed the 11th fewest. The Ravens are the only team in football allowing fewer points per game than these two squads.
In a game like this, looking for steady, consistent production is likely futile. Your best bet is obviously to just avoid this game altogether (taking the night away from DFS, or turning your attention to NBA) — but if you do play the Showdown, the likeliest path to winnings is to roll with a multi-entry strategy that mixes and matches various “upside” elements, hoping you capture a big play or two that sends your team to the top. Yards and points will be thin, and splash plays will matter.
The Rams and Seahawks are the only teams running the ball more frequently than the Titans, though the matchup this week is difficult against a Cowboys team that ranks second in yards allowed per carry. What would you do if you were the Titans’ coaches, though? Test your luck with Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis against a difficult run defense, or lean on Marcus Mariota, who has three touchdowns to five interceptions this year, and has topped 129 passing yards only twice? The matchup is not a whole lot better through the air, as Dallas has allowed the fewest passing touchdowns in the NFL and the second fewest passing yards. Anywhere the Titans turn, this is a poor setup for their low-powered offense.
Henry had something of a “breakout” the last time the Titans were on the field (Week 7), with his first touchdown of the season, and with his first game of more than seven receiving yards. He has yet to reach 60 rushing yards in a game, in spite of two games already of 18 carries. On the year, he is averaging only 3.3 yards per carry.
Lewis has been the far more effective back, and he’ll likely pull the second highest ownership rate on the Showdown slate, behind only Ezekiel Elliott. Although Lewis has yet to rush for 100 yards, he has gone for 75+ yards twice, while averaging a still-not-great (but better-than-Henry) YPC of 3.8. More importantly in this spot, he has three games on the year of six or more targets, which will play nicely against a Dallas defense that has allowed a middling 46 receptions to enemy backs.
If we take away the outlier 300-yard passing game this Titans team had against the Eagles, Taywan Taylor has not topped 32 yards in a game, and Corey Davis has not topped 62 yards in a game. Tajae Sharpe went for 101 yards out of nowhere in the Titans’ Week 7 tilt, but he had previously not topped 33 yards in a game.
The best bet on this squad is clear-alpha Davis, who has seven or more targets in four out of seven games. There is obviously a case to be made that “perhaps the Titans ironed out some things during their bye week,” but this is still a poor spot for them to hit. The Bills are the only team with fewer passing touchdowns on the year than Tennessee, so a matchup against the defense that has allowed the fewest passing touchdowns is a tough place to be.
The Eagles are the only team that has played with multiple tight ends more frequently than the Titans, and the tight ends are not involved in this passing attack. Lewis // Davis // Sharpe // Taylor (in that order) are the guys likeliest to have an impact through the air on this team.
The Cowboys have also had two weeks to prepare for this matchup, though it sets up better for them than it does for the Titans, with Tennessee ranked a less-imposing 11th in yards allowed per carry, and with Zeke (4.7 yards per carry) having been far more effective than Henry or Lewis on the year. Zeke also has four or more targets in all but one game this year, giving him a solid production floor, with 20+ carries in three of his last four games. To simplify this spot: in a game this ugly, it will be incredibly unlikely that Zeke fails to post one of the highest scores on the night — and the likeliest scenario has him putting together the top overall score. He’s unlikely to hang with the best plays on the Sunday-to-Monday slate, but he’ll be tough to move away from on the Showdown.
The Cowboys have been more effective through the air than the Titans have been, with Dak Prescott topping 200 yards in three of his last four games. The Titans are also a less imposing matchup. While they have only allowed nine passing touchdowns on the year (the Cowboys are the only team that has allowed fewer), they have at least allowed 7.4 yards per pass attempt, which ranks a middling 14th in the league. Expect the Cowboys to lean run-heavy for most of this game — but they should be able to pile up at least a couple hundred passing yards in this spot.
There is really no telling how new toy Amari Cooper will be used in this offense, though it is obviously worth noting that he will effectively be taking on what we could call the Dez Bryant role — and Dez failed to top 100 yards in any game last season. Since the start of last year, Amari has topped 100 yards four times…and he has failed to notch even 70 yards in any other game. The likeliest scenario calls for Amari to lead the Cowboys’ wide receivers in targets — though it also calls for the Cowboys to win this game by leaning on the run. It will be a surprise if any receiver tops 70 yards in this spot, but Amari is the likeliest skill position player to finish behind Zeke and Lewis in fantasy points.
Cole Beasley draws the toughest matchup for the Cowboys against Logan Ryan, who has been one of the bright spots for this Tennessee defense. With the Cowboys likely to force the issue with Amari this week when turning to the air, Beasley should see a slight ding to his recent target counts of 11 // 8. He failed to top five targets in four consecutive games leading up to that two-week spike, and he will likely trickle back down to that range again.
This is one of the uglier Showdown slates on the season (for that matter: this is one of the uglier games on the season), and outside of Zeke and Lewis, there are no players I would feel comfortable relying on for anything resembling “guaranteed points.” I would probably play Dak next on the Showdown — and while Amari is the “next likeliest guy to produce,” he is by no means “truly likely to produce.” His ownership will probably be high in this spot, creating a game theory case for leaning on the guys in this game who are not far behind him in projections/expectations. That list is long and convoluted — including all three Titans receivers, Derrick Henry, and Cole Beasley, while even stretching to Gallup, Hurns, and (groan…) Mariota. Obviously, the defenses and kickers are heavily in play in this spot. It won’t be surprising if one of these defenses tops everyone but Zeke and Lewis.