Much like this last week’s game between the Packers and the Chiefs, the NFL is not exactly set to get their money’s worth in this clash between the 5-3 Chiefs and the 6-2 Vikings, as it appears likely that we will be without Patrick Mahomes for at least one more week (Vegas is holding off on posting a line for this game just in case, but Mahomes was practicing with the second team on Wednesday and will need a bit of a miracle recovery in order to be ready by Sunday). This creates an interesting setup, as we’ll have “competent but unspectacular” backup Matt Moore trying to beat the tough pass defense of the Vikings, and we’ll have the Vikings happy to hammer the Chiefs on the ground if the Chiefs fail to put up points in this spot.
We’ll start on the Vikings’ side of the ball, where the expectation heading into this game should be for Andy Reid to find ways to keep this game close (especially at home), but for the contest to play out with either the two teams battling neck-and-neck or the Vikings playing with a lead.
Last year’s Seahawks team was the first team in five seasons to finish with a pass play rate below 48% — and this year, the Vikings (46.65%) and 49ers (42.49%) are on track to both blow past that mark themselves. The Vikings catch a matchup this week against a Chiefs team that is so much easier to attack on the ground than through the air (30th in DVOA against the run; fourth against the pass) that they have faced the ninth lowest opponent pass play rate this year in spite of typically playing with a lead. Teams are going out of their way to hammer the Chiefs on the ground, which has led to the Chiefs giving up the third most rushing yards (and the second most receiving yards) to running backs this season, while having given up the ninth fewest yards to wide receivers. Dalvin Cook has been unleashed of late as well, with recent touch counts of 27 // 18 // 26 // 28 — giving him a strong shot at 25+ touches in one of the best matchups he will catch all year. The Chiefs have also allowed the fifth most touchdowns to running backs. Crazy things happen every week in the NFL, but this spot sets up tremendously for Cook.
Through the air, the Vikings have called on Kirk Cousins to top 29 pass attempts only three times (and he has yet to top 36 attempts) — which is the range in which expectations should land once again this week barring some crazy, outlier game flow scenario. With Adam Thielen expected back, we should expect most of the passing offense for the Vikings to focus on Thielen and Stefon Diggs (outside of screen passes to Cook, of course) — with seven to eight targets the likeliest range for each player (Thielen has not topped eight targets in a game this year; Diggs has topped eight targets only once). This sort of workload requires significant efficiency at the prices where you will find these two — though each player does have “efficiency” as part of their arsenal. Thielen has topped 75 yards only once (and has topped 57 yards only twice), but he has seven touchdowns in seven games. Diggs has topped 100 yards four times in eight games in spite of seeing target counts in those spots of 7 // 11 // 8 // 7. Both players have low floors for their prices in a spot that likely won’t call for a volume spike, but both are capable of posting the sort of high-end score you would need at their salaries. Diggs, of course, is the better bet for yardage, while Thielen is the better bet for scores.
With value thin on DraftKings and FantasyDraft this week, it’s also worth noting that the Chiefs have faced the second most tight end targets and allowed the fifth most tight end yards, while the Vikings have played with three or more wide receivers on the field less often than any team in football — typically focusing instead on 12 personnel (one back, two tight ends) and 21 personnel (two backs, one tight end). Last week, Irv Smith ran 60% of available pass routes for the Vikings and Kyle Rudolph ran 80%, and across the last three weeks these two have combined to average 7.7 targets and 16.4 DraftKings/FantasyDraft points per game. Their best combo game in this stretch was 27.8 points against the Lions, and their worst combo game was 9.8 points. At $6k in combined salary and the DK equivalent of $5.85k on FantasyDraft, they’re an interesting player block for savings — with a bit of a lower floor than we would like, but with realistic paths to ceiling as well. These two become more attractive if Mahomes plays, as that will increase the chances of their usage spiking in a back-and-forth matchup.
As we know by now, the best thing the Vikings do in pass defense is tackle after the catch, with this team shaving over 20% off the league-average YAC/r rate — helping them to allow the ninth fewest pass plays of 20+ yards in spite of not yet having had their bye. We should keep in mind, then, that DFS sites have had to hedge their pricing a bit on Chiefs skill position players — pricing them high enough for the chance that Mahomes might return, and making them all a bit overpriced (especially in the matchup) if Matt Moore is under center. For example: based on to-date production alone, Travis Kelce should be priced at around $5k on DraftKings and $10k on FantasyDraft (on FanDuel, he’s priced about right — especially as FanDuel condenses tight end pricing so much). But instead, Kelce is priced as a guy who needs about 25 to 28 points in order to justify the spot on your roster — a mark he has come close to only once this year. If Mahomes plays, this pricing is justified by how high Kelce’s ceiling remains, especially as Minnesota (while not yet allowing a tight end touchdown) has given up the second most catches to the position as teams look for a way to move the ball against this tough unit; but if Mahomes misses, this remains a bit like all those Gronk years when it was like, “Wait, why is everyone spending so much for a guy who typically gets 15 points and only occasionally pays off his salary?” There are just better ways to spend salary than this, outside of hoping something clicks (a generally -EV bet to make with ownership never really dipping too much on Kelce, anyway). If Mahomes happens to play, Kelce is viable for the ceiling; if Mahomes misses, Kelce is a “play for the upside in spite of the floor” option, with the added caveat that ownership on him is rarely low. (On FanDuel, Kelce can still be considered — though that’s largely because there isn’t a ton to love at tight end this week and pricing is so condensed on there that you can fully justify just taking the most talented player and hoping for the best).
The same can be said for Tyreek Hill, who has the speed to hit in any matchup, but who is priced as a guy who needs one of the top three or four wide receiver scores on the slate to be worth the spot on your roster (across all sites). In what should remain a spread-the-wealth offense — especially with Mahomes likely sidelined — Hill is just a bet-on-talent option.
Spread-the-wealth is the name of the game behind these two, of course, with Sammy Watkins likely in line for five to eight targets and DeMarcus Robinson, Mecole Hardman, LeSean McCoy, Damien Williams, and Darrel Williams all splitting up remaining touches. Watkins provides affordable exposure to volume on a well-schemed passing attack if you want to hope for a broken play or a touchdown. McCoy is the best bet for volume in the backfield — but no player in this backfield has topped even 14 touches since Week 1, making all these guys more “hope for a big play or multiple scores” than players you can roster for bankable production.
JM’s Interpretation ::
There are obviously ways you can build around this game that have it turning into a shootout (with two well-schemed offenses both capable of putting up points — and with players in Cooks // Diggs // Tyreek // Kelce // Hardman // Robinson // the-list-goes-on who can score from anywhere on the field), but outside of those builds (which would optimally sell out for this scenario — picking up three or four guys from this game instead of just trying to guess right on one), this game pretty quickly appears to boil down to “Dalvin Cook, and the rest is fairly thin.” Kelce breaks out of that when we bring FanDuel pricing into the discussion, and the Vikings tight end player block is worth considering on a thin week for value on DK and FDraft; but Cook is the only player who lines up well for a slate-wrecking score. (In fact, Cook is the only player who lines up well for a score that can pay off his salary, given where players from this game are generally priced.) Everything else is just trying to isolate a busted play or a multi-touchdown game, or building around this contest turning lively with a shootout.
:: Compete against the OWS fam in the One Week Season Survivor contest!