The Matchup ::
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- 10 of 15 starting QBs have thrown for multiple TDs vs TEN
- Brady has cleared 320 yards in 4 of 6 matchups vs Pees-coordinated defenses, with a 9:4 TD:INT ratio; however, only one matchup has come since 2016: his worst of the 6, vs TEN in 2018
- TEN has allowed the 2nd-most receptions to RBs at the 3rd-highest target rate
- NE targets running backs among the highest rates in the league
- James White has been between 9.6-16.4 DK points in 12/15 games (2 below, 1 above)
- Sony Michel has 18+ attempts in 3 straight games on just 42% of the snaps
- Michel’s big ’18 playoff run of 23.7 att for 112 ypg & 6 TDs came on just 39% of the snaps
- Only 3 running backs have posted good scores vs NE (Ingram, Duke, Mixon) and only 4 have topped 100 rush yards (Gore, Chubb, Ingram, Mixon)
- NE has faced the 2nd-easiest schedule of rush offenses in NFL on its path to ranking 6th in rush efficiency defense
- In his last 6 games, Henry is averaging 23.2 att for 149.3 ypg and 10 touchdowns against the 2nd-easiest slate of run defenses during that time
- NE has faced just 3 top-10 offenses in efficiency (BAL, DAL, KC), allowing 37 pts, 9 pts, & 23 pts while losing twice
- BAL exceeded its season avg by 3, while the other two fell below by 18 and 5 points
- TEN ranks 6th in offensive efficiency, scoring 20+ points in every Tannehill start, something they failed to do in 4 of 6 Mariota starts
- Tannehill has scored multiple touchdowns in 9 of his 10 starts on his way to 6 games above 23 DK pts
- In 2 games vs NE, albeit both before AJ Brown’s arrival, Corey Davis has gone for 7 rec (10) 125yards, TD and 5 rec (8) 63yards, 2 TD
- Starting CB Jason McCourty is not expected to play for NE
The Game ::
Titans at Patriots gives us two well-coached, fundamentally sound football teams that each boast attention to detail as one of their hallmarks of success. The Patriots offense has almost no explosive components, while the Patriots defense has been one of the best in the league at preventing big plays, with the sixth fewest pass plays and the third fewest rush plays of 20+ yards allowed. The Titans, meanwhile, run what we could call a “game management” style of offense, with their big plays coming not from an aggressive mindset, but from the explosive ball-in-his-hands ability of Derrick Henry and A.J. Brown. Blend all these elements together, and we should have a game built more on “drives” than on sudden changes and big plays – likely leading to a competitive game in which moderate scoring can be approached, but in which a shootout is highly unlikely.
We’ll start on the Titans side of the ball, where their late-season offense has been built around Henry (recent carry counts of 26 // 18 // 21 // 32; recent rushing yardage totals of 149 // 103 // 86 // 211). The Patriots have been “merely above-average” against the run this year on a per-touch basis (allowing 4.06 yards per carry to running backs), though this is also where our understanding of personnel and coaching comes into play, as the Patriots have spent the last few years willing to give up yards on the ground between the 20s before tightening up near the goal line (with New England finishing this year with the fewest rushing touchdowns allowed to the position — the fourth year in a row in which they have finished in the top three in this category, and the fifth time in six years). The Patriots will know that the best way to secure a win in this game will be to force the Titans to win without Derrick Henry – and especially with this team’s confidence in Stephon Gilmore (whom they can stick on A.J. Brown for the majority of this game), we should expect the Patriots to be focused on an “all to the ball” approach when Henry is running: with responsibilities mapped out for this defense to ensure they minimize opportunities for massive gains, and with players flying to Henry the moment he gets hit. With that said, it hasn’t exactly been news to any teams over the last month and a half that stopping Henry is the key to stopping the Titans, and this is a task that is easier said than done. Consider Henry a boom/bust play, whose likeliest scoring output lands him well shy of price-considered expectations, but whose ceiling remains intact.
Through the air, the Titans will be focused first and foremost on Brown, whose price tag is not even remotely supported by his volume (recent target counts of 5 // 4 // 7 // 13 // 2 // 8), but whose explosive ability has kept him in the upside mix throughout the second half of the season. While Brown cannot be penciled in for the sort of volume DeVante Parker was seeing, it is worth noting that Brown is used in a similar manner in this offense, with an average depth of target of 13.4 (0.4 yards behind Parker), and with the Titans looking for ways to clear out space for Brown to run with the ball after the catch (Brown finished the regular season ranked first in the league in yards after catch per reception). In spite of his slip-up against Parker in Week 17, Gilmore is still the favorite for Defensive Player of the Year, and one bad game from him should not change how we perceive this matchup. But on a playoff slate with only four games, risks sometimes have to be taken in order to target upside, and Brown’s upside is high enough that he’s certainly a player to keep in mind. Behind Brown, Corey Davis (recent target counts of 3 // 2 // 4 // 6 // 4 // 5), Tajae Sharpe (1 // 0 // 4 // 2 // 6 // 2), and Jonnu Smith (0 // 2 // 4 // 5 // 4 // 0) all have difficult matchups of their own, and none come with anything approaching guaranteed volume. These guys are best reserved for dart throw status – hoping to guess right on a broken play or a touchdown.
The Patriots offense has been their undoing this season, with this unit uncharacteristically getting worse as the season has progressed. Part of these troubles have been centered around Julian Edelman, who is not only incredibly banged up, but who has also been seeing plenty of double teams in recent weeks, leading to recent target counts of 5 // 6 // 7 after a stretch of eight consecutive games with double-digit looks. Much of the Patriots offense is built around the pass catchers seeing the defense the same way that Tom Brady is seeing it, and adjusting their route accordingly, and with N’Keal Harry still too green to do anything but run the called route, and with Mohamed Sanu still miles away from meshing with this offense, we have seen this unit completely stall out as Edelman has been taken away. The Patriots have tried going run heavy, but as admirable a job as linebacker Elandon Roberts has done as a fullback, he is no James Develin, and this offensive line (especially without an elite blocking tight end to help them) is just not opening holes the way they want. All of this creates a tough setup against a Titans team that ranks 10th in DVOA against the run and is best attacked through the air.
As always with this opponent-specific Patriots team, there is some guesswork involved in assessing where volume will flow, and your best bet if wanting to build around some Patriots pieces (or if wanting to build around this game environment as a whole) is to build around some different ways in which this game could develop and this offense could end up tilting as a result. The likeliest setup here has the Patriots leveraging the defensive attention paid to Edelman in order to open up some other areas of the field – with James White (recent target counts of 11 // 7 // 4 // 5 // 3, combined with recent carry accounts of 14 // 6 // 3 // 3// 2) the player likeliest today to take advantage in a manner that will matter in the box score. Alternate ways to play this include :: Edelman looking healthier than he has the last few weeks and busting out for a big game || Edelman getting slowed over the middle, Harry getting checked by Adoree Jackson, and Sanu finally emerging as a useful piece for this offense || Harry beating a tough matchup on the outside and seeing heavier volume than he has seen to date (or simply breaking off a big play or two – with his red zone prowess a plus here) || or finally, betting on the run game finding a way to control this matchup. If betting on the run game, you could bet on Sony Michel and hope he punches in a couple touchdowns (which is all but required in order for him to post a big game), or you could bet on Rex Burkhead – who has looked really good lately with seven to nine touches per game – being more heavily featured in this spot, and becoming the engine of a Patriots win. Ultimately, we have spent much of this season with Edelman and “hope for touchdown regression on White” as the only viable options on this middling, spread-the-wealth offense, and given the way Edelman has looked the last few weeks, it certainly wouldn’t be a surprise if no players from this offense find their way onto first place tournament rosters this weekend. But with only four games to choose from, there is certainly a case to be made for trying a few different things, and there are a few different ways to try these things through the Patriots’ attack.
JM’s Interpretation ::
The “Interpretation” section this week blends all four games, and can be found here. It is recommended that you read all four game writeups before reading the “Interpretation” section, as this will allow you to develop your own thoughts on this slate before comparing them against my own.
Playoff Contest Game Theory Breakdown ::
Xandamere’s Showdown Notes ::
- I’m clearly biased here but I think Tennessee wins this game. I just don’t have faith in the Pats’ offense, though clearly they’ve proven doubters wrong before!
- If the Titans win it’s not likely to be because they scored 30 points and the Pats scored 27; it’s likely to be because the New England offense floundered. You can build for an unlikely high-scoring game as a contrarian play, of course, but I would strongly consider a lot of exposure to Titans D in game scenarios that have the Titans winning.
- If the Titans win it’s highly likely to come on the back of Derrick Henry. It’s less likely to come through the pass game, though with A.J. Brown’s big play ability it is not impossible.
- I think Tom Brady is the safest all-around play, followed by James White.
- The Pats’ receivers beyond Edelman and White are, as always, tough to figure out. Sanu is playing the snaps but Harry seems to be getting more overall usage and is even getting a carry or two per game, boosting his floor. I’d rank Harry above Sanu personally, and I’m not super interested in the tight ends except for as very small percentage MME plays.
- Derrick Henry is incredibly expensive for a 2-down road underdog back. Normally I like running backs in cash but his floor is awfully low for the price.
- The Pats are such an opponent-specific offense that you can build in a lot of different ways, from Michel being heavily utilized and punching in a couple of touchdowns to Rex Burkhead’s role expanding in the playoffs and him taking over as a more versatile back.
- Corey Davis feels like the strongest value play as he’s seen 4-6 targets per game in a WR2 role, which is normally priced $1k – $2k higher in showdowns.
Some groups to consider:
- At most 1 kicker
- At most 1 defense (if you want to be aggressive/risky, you could even consider a rule of “exactly 1 defense” and bet on a low scoring game)
- Pair captain receivers with their QB (could consider not doing this for Edelman as we’ve seen him get there purely through volume without scoring)
- Pair captain QBs with at least 2 receivers
- At most 2 Patriots running backs
- At most 1 of Sanu and Harry
- At most 1 of Henry and Lewis