TITANS // GIANTS OVERVIEW
Outside of one or two star players in this game, this is not a matchup that pops off the page — though from a real-life perspective, this game is a bit more interesting than most will probably give it credit for, as the 7-6 Titans are still in the thick of the playoff hunt, and the 5-8 Giants have been better than their record indicates, with a 4-1 record across their last five games, and with six of their eight losses coming by a combined deficit of only 27 points (good for an average deficit in those games of only 4.5). This game should be hard-fought and somewhat entertaining from start to finish, with the home Giants installed as 2.5 point favorites over the visiting Titans, in a game with an Over/Under of only 43.5.
TITANS PASS OFFENSE
The Giants’ pass defense has defined the league average this year, ranking middle of the pack in aDOT, catch rate, and YAC/R allowed — leading to a number 17 ranking in yards allowed per pass attempt. The Giants have faced more pass attempts this year than exactly half the league. The only areas where they separate from the pack are in touchdowns allowed (fifth fewest) and interceptions (third most). Tennessee prefers to lean on the run (31st in pass play rate), but the matchup when they do pass should neither raise nor lower expectations.
Of course, “expectations” on the Titans’ passing attack have been unpredictable and mostly poor this year, with this team ranked 28th in passing yards and 28th in passing touchdowns. Marcus Mariota has topped 300 yards twice this year. He has failed to crack 200 passing yards six times. With Tennessee struggling to push the ball across the goal line through the air and the Giants playing great red zone defense all year (sixth lowest opponent red zone touchdown rate), Mariota and this attack as a whole will need some lucky breaks to make a big dent in the slate.
The surest path to production on the Titans would be for the Giants to take a lead and force Tennessee to the air — so if building rosters that bet on the Titans’ passing attack, the best approach is to start by betting on the Giants on the other side. Mariota has topped 25 pass attempts only once in his last five games, and he has topped 30 pass attempts only three times all year.
Corey Davis continues to suffer from the low volume this attack has generated, with recent target counts of 4 // 4 // 7 // 3. He and Mariota have connected on only 57.4% of their attempts this year, while Davis continues to see most of his work within 10 to 15 yards of the line of scrimmage. He will need a spike in volume or a monster-efficiency day in order to matter. In large-field tourneys, it is worth noting that Davis has the talent to pop from time to time — especially when the workload spikes.
Behind Davis, this low-volume attack has been unusable for much of the year, though speed demon Taywan Taylor has quietly ascended to a more regular role since returning from injury — playing 41 of 60 snaps last week and seeing seven targets on only 24 Mariota pass attempts. This spike in looks corresponded with Jalen Ramsey covering Corey Davis, but Taylor also saw five targets the week before, giving him a slim shot at posting upside. Most of his targets are coming within five yards of the line of scrimmage, but he was targeted on a deep bomb last week as well.
With Jonnu Smith out, Anthony Firsker is the next man up at tight end. He’s a fairly safe bet for three to five low-upside looks in this spot, and he’ll have a shot at providing value if he punches in a score.
TITANS RUN OFFENSE
I managed to push 13 rosters to the elimination rounds of the Best Ball Championship this year — with a couple rosters in that group that had the pieces to make some serious noise down the stretch. Week 13 went poorly, however, and only two of my 13 teams advanced to Week 14…with both of these squads packed with injured players and disappointing early-round picks. One of these disappointing early-round picks on both teams was Derrick Henry. Considering that he was almost unowned on Thursday-start contests last week and was obviously not started by most people in season-long fantasy playoffs, I was fortunate enough to be one of the only people for whom that big game mattered. (Hilariously, one of my two teams with Henry still managed to get knocked out in Week 14.) After a season full of disappointment (zero games all season above 60 rushing yards), it’s fair to call Henry’s Week 14 output an outlier — especially as it came against a defense that had been one of the top units against the run throughout the season, and had allowed the second fewest running back rushing touchdowns in the league before getting lit on fire on national TV. Before looking at the matchup this week for Henry, it is important to note that he still saw only 17 touches last week. He has not topped 18 touches all season, and he has only 12 catches on the year — making him a touchdown-and-yardage-dependent back.
Working in Henry’s favor is a matchup against a Giants run defense that has allowed 10 touchdowns on the ground to running backs (the ninth most in the league), while giving up a middling 4.4 yards per carry. Henry will need another monster-efficiency day in order to really matter on this slate, making him a thin bet with the likely spike in ownership he is sure to carry. With that said: he has shown us more than once what he can do if given enough touches on the ground. Perhaps the Titans ride him a bit more this week.
Rather quietly, Henry played only 24 snaps last week — continuing to cede lead back duties to Dion Lewis, who played 38 snaps, took 10 carries, and hauled in five passes. Since his three-game usage spike from Weeks 7 through 10, Lewis has touch counts of 11 // 14 // 8 // 15, making him a bet-on-efficiency play as well. His pass game role (50 catches on the year) floats some floor his way, though he will need a spike in work or a couple of long plays to matter in this spot.
GIANTS PASS OFFENSE
The Titans have been quietly above-average against the pass this year, ranking sixth in yards allowed per pass attempt while allowing the third fewest passing touchdowns in the league — especially shining in YAC prevention, with only one team in football allowing a lower YAC/R rate than the Titans. This is a poor setup for a Giants passing attack that primarily relies on YAC in order to produce points. Eli Manning has failed to top even 200 passing yards in three of his last five games, while the Titans have allowed the seventh fewest fantasy points per game to the quarterback position.
As of this Thursday writeup, Odell Beckham is still looking iffy for this game. If he misses, it will again be Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram working as the numbers two and three options behind Saquon, with Russell Shepard and Corey Coleman picking up the scraps from there. Sterling Shepard has seen exactly six targets in three consecutive games, though his target upside was dented last week by Eli Manning throwing the ball only 22 times in the Giants’ blowout win. Without Beckham on the field last week, Manning threw only three passes that traveled more than eight yards downfield, which puts Shep in a position where he will almost certainly have to pile up volume in order to matter — though he has something like a 6-70-1 game in his range (with slim upside for more), keeping him in the conversation at his price if Beckham misses. Engram will have a tough matchup against a Tennessee defense that has allowed the sixth fewest receptions to the tight end position, but he’ll have a shot at five to eight targets if Beckham misses again.
If Beckham plays, he should immediately step back into his typical nine or more targets, giving him a decent floor and a strong ceiling at his price. In this up-and-down offense, OBJ has four games this year with 60 or fewer receiving yards, so nothing is guaranteed in this spot — but he should be able to win his matchups against Malcolm Butler and Adoree Jackson, opening the door for a potential 100-yard-and-a-touchdown game. Consider him a risk/reward option if he plays.
GIANTS RUN OFFENSE
Saquon Barkley will have a difficult matchup this week against a Tennessee defense that ranks 12th in yards allowed per carry — and whose numbers looked a whole lot better before they got upended by Lamar Miller a couple weeks ago. Heading into that game, the Titans were shaving 10% off the league-average yards allowed per carry. More importantly: no team in the NFL has allowed fewer touchdowns to running backs than the Titans have allowed. Of course, tough matchups are won by good running backs all the time (and even sometimes by middling running backs — such as Miller’s big game against the Titans a couple weeks back, and Henry’s big game against the Jags last week), but the matchup is at least worth noting. Tennessee is one of the most disciplined tackling units in the league, with the fifth fewest rush plays of 20+ yards allowed, and with the second-lowest YAC/R mark allowed.
With all of that cleared out of the way: there is literally no running back in the NFL like Saquon, who can create something out of nothing on every play, and who can take any touch to the house. He has recent touch counts of 22 // 23 // 22 // 24 // 29 // 20 // 27 // 18 (with the 18 touches coming in the Giants’ blowout win last week in which Saquon took a seat down the stretch), and he has seen five or more targets in six of his last eight games (with three games of double-digit targets in this stretch). On paper, he ranks slightly behind Zeke this week, but he can still be considered one of the highest-floor, highest-ceiling players on the slate.
Even on this strange and somewhat ugly slate, there is nothing on the Titans that I plan to target myself this week, as this team has simply produced too little in the way of useful stat lines, while the low-scoring nature of this game leaves these guys as “guess and hope” plays. It won’t be surprising if one or two useful fantasy scores emerge from this spot — but I’ll be looking for more predictable spots myself.
On the Giants, it’s all about Saquon, as there are viable paths this week to getting both Saquon and Zeke on a roster together, and there is always plenty to like about the floor and ceiling captured by securing two of the top running back plays. The line between Zeke and Saquon is also thin enough that you could easily make a case for playing Saquon first. The matchup is below-average, but Saquon has literally had the toughest running back schedule in the league (including Jacksonville // Dallas // Houston // New Orleans // Carolina // Chicago // San Francisco — with Dallas, Houston, New Orleans, and Chicago the top four teams in both yards allowed per carry and DVOA, and with the other three squads posting strong numbers against the run all year as well), and he has had only one disappointing output all year, while continuing to break the slate open on a regular basis. His chances of reaching his ceiling are a bit lower than normal in this spot, but it obviously will not surprise anyone if he pops once again. You could also make a case for Beckham if he plays, and for Shepard/Engram if Beckham misses. None of these three join the Tier 1 discussion for me, but Beckham carries slate-winning ceiling, while Shepard/Engram should provide decent floor (with a non-awful path to price-considered ceiling) if Beckham misses again.