VIKINGS // JETS OVERVIEW
This is an interesting game, between a 3-2-1 Vikings team with Super Bowl aspirations and an upstart 3-3 Jets team that is better than most seem willing to give them credit for. The Vikings are installed as early three point favorites, and the line should hover around this mark all week — with decent scoring expectations in this game, which has been awarded an Over/Under of 46.5.
Minnesota has been a pace-up team this year, ranking sixth in pace of play overall (compared to 21st for the Jets). This has led to Minnesota ranking seventh in the NFL in plays per game, while the Jets rank 25th. Minnesota allows the sixth-fewest opponent plays per game, while only five teams have allowed more plays per game than the Jets — setting up a situation that tilts nicely toward the Vikings. Only two teams have run the ball more frequently than the Jets, and only two teams have passed the ball more frequently than the Vikings. Essentially: the Vikings’ goal is to put points on the board and put pressure on their opponents to respond, while the Jets’ goal is to bleed the clock, shorten the game, keep things close, and hopefully come out with a win in the end. A bet on players in this game is a bet on the Vikings jumping out to a lead and forcing the Jets to become more aggressive in response, which will open opportunities for fantasy points on either side of the ball.
VIKINGS PASS OFFENSE
The Jets have been a bit above-average against the pass this year, allowing only 7.2 yards per pass attempt — fueled by the seventh-lowest aDOT allowed in the league. While this would be an “upside concern” for some teams, this doesn’t bother us for the Vikings’ attack that capitalizes on short-area throws, pairing volume and efficiency. Through six games, target counts for Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs look like this:
Thielen :: 12 // 13 // 19 // 12 // 10 // 15
Diggs :: 6 // 13 // 10 // 15 // 11 // 5
Thielen has 44.3% of the Vikings’ air yards on the year (second in the NFL, behind only Julio Jones), while Diggs has 33.2% of the team’s air yards (16th in the NFL). Thielen has seen the most targets in the NFL, while Diggs ranks 10th. Thielen does have nine red zone targets, to only four for Diggs.
As we have explored the last few weeks, the way to beat the Jets is with crossing routes — particularly crossing routes out of the slot that move from the left side of the field to the right. This is right in line with what Thielen is asked to do each week, and he sets up perfectly in this matchup.
This sets up more as a “Thielen game” than as a “Diggs game,” but it is reasonable to expect Diggs to bounce back up to nine or more targets this week after taking a backseat last week vs the stingy perimeter defense of the Cardinals. He’ll have some boom/bust to his game this week, but the “boom” potential is definitely there.
Behind these guys, Kyle Rudolph continues to soak up four to six catch-and-fall targets each week. Only four teams have allowed fewer tight end receptions, but there is no reason Rudolph can’t match what he has done the last four weeks (an average of 4.75 receptions and 45.75 yards), with a backseat red zone role that could add some ceiling if everything goes just right. Laquon Treadwell has seen exactly four targets in four of six games — though he is almost never being schemed looks. He should run into four to six targets once again in this one.
VIKINGS RUN OFFENSE
Last week, Dalvin Cook appeared on track to play before being a surprise inactive on Sunday morning. This week, Cook is practicing in full on Wednesday and finally appears set for a return to this offense. In his three games on the field this year, Cook has touch counts of 22 // 13 // 10 — and given how much time he has missed, the likeliest scenario is that he falls into the range of those latter two games.
The return of Cook will also limit the opportunity for Latavius Murray to rediscover the fairy dust that led to his unlikely Week 6 explosion, as this pass-heavy Vikings team has averaged only 24 rush attempts per game, and before Murray’s 6.5 YPC game last week, he had been averaging 3.5 yards per carry on the season. Look for Murray to mix in throughout the game with around eight to 14 touches, and with a share of the goal line work.
The Jets are average against the run, ranking 18th in yards allowed per carry and 17th in adjusted line yards.
JETS PASS OFFENSE
Let’s start here: Quincy Enunwa is going to miss this week with a high ankle sprain, while Robby Anderson and Terrelle Pryor both missed practice on Wednesday, leaving Jermaine Kearse as the only guaranteed piece of this passing attack. We’ll approach this writeup assuming all three guys will play, but we’ll keep an eye out and account for any changes in late-week updates.
The Vikings have continued to struggle against the pass, allowing opponents to attack on intermediate routes (only six teams have faced a deeper aDOT than the Vikings), while allowing average catch rate marks and tackling poorly after the catch (only three teams are allowing more YAC per reception).
The Quincy Enunwa role in this offense is designed to give Sam Darnold easy throws into areas of the field where the pass catcher can pick up yards after the catch (Enunwa ranks 18th in the NFL in xYAC/R), creating a valuable situation for whichever guy steps into these looks.
The easy answer, of course, is that Jermaine Kearse will soak up all of Enunwa’s targets, though the Jets like Enunwa’s big body over the middle, and they actually shifted Terrelle Pryor into the slot last week and gave him Enunwa-like looks. Pryor saw six targets on 44 snaps last week, while Kearse saw 10 targets on 59 snaps. Target projections are a bit higher on Kearse than they are on Pryor — but if the latter plays, the target distribution could be closer than most are likely to anticipate. Four of Pryor’s 22 targets this year have come in the red zone, compared to three of 27 for Kearse. Outside of Davante Adams (for whom matchup really doesn’t matter), players who have had success through the air against the Vikings this year have done so primarily in three ways :: wide receiver screens, or swing passes on jet sweep action (getting the ball into the receiver’s hands at or behind the line of scrimmage) // crossing routes over the middle of the field // seam routes. Pryor is best suited to the latter two approaches, while Kearse is primarily suited to the first two approaches. Each should be involved this week if healthy.
Robby Anderson profiles for a backseat in this matchup, if he plays, as he’ll likely draw shadow coverage from Xavier Rhodes, and his responsibilities in this Jets offense match up against the relative strength of this once-proud pass defense. It only takes one play for Anderson to hit, but his floor is low this week.
The Jets will also have a chance to hit the Vikings up the seam with Chris Herndon or Neal Sterling, but Herndon has been used primarily as a run blocker, while Sterling has only five targets on the year. Ultimately, Pryor is the best bet for “tight end” targets in this spot.
JETS RUN OFFENSE
Minnesota has been consistently stout against the run this year — not only allowing the seventh-lowest yards per carry in the league, but also standing out as one of only two teams in the league that has yet to allow a run of 20+ yards. As noted a couple weeks ago: the Vikings’ defensive issues early in the year have largely come down to communication in pass coverage — which does not impact the ability of this talented unit to stop the run. This is a tough spot for Isaiah Crowell and Bilal Powell. Minnesota has also allowed only one rushing touchdown to running backs, and their 20 receptions allowed to running backs is the third-fewest in the league.
Touch counts this year for Crow and Powell have gone as follows:
Crow :: 10 // 14 // 18 // 5 // 16 // 15
Powell :: 13 // 10 // 14 // 12 // 20 // 17
Crow has eight catches, to 10 for Powell. Crow has six carries inside the 10, to three for Powell. The Eagles are the only team in football that has allowed a lower red zone touchdown rate than the Vikings.
I began poking around at roster construction on Tuesday night, and on the FanDuel/DraftKings main slate (where the Chiefs/Bengals game is not included), there were only three players who stood out to me as high-priced “priority plays.” Those three were Thielen, Gurley, and Zeke, and it is unsurprising that the research backs up this sentiment on Thielen. These three combine to cost 53% of the salary cap on DraftKings, while FanDuel has stepped up their pricing game this week as well, bundling these three at 49% of the salary cap. (With “bargain bin” options costing a larger percentage of the salary cap on FanDuel, it is probably going to be even more difficult to fit all three together on there.) It appears that the only way to fit all three together this week is to take sub-optimal plays in several other spots on your roster (rarely a profitable approach), but barring any unexpected discoveries later in the research, I’ll likely be looking to fit at least two of these guys onto my main team this week. Thielen stands out as one of the safest, highest-upside plays on the slate.
Behind Thielen, Diggs is also a solid tourney option for his upside — though his floor is obviously less sturdy, given the drop in targets he sees from time to time. I’m also not averse to tossing Rudolph onto a team, though he’s an inferior play this week to guys like Njoku and Ertz, in terms of raw projections. On a week with no clear shootouts, Kirk Cousins is also strongly in play. Cousins (12 passing touchdowns, one rushing touchdown) has accounted for 13 of the Vikings’ 14 offensive touchdowns on the year.
I’m not interested in the Vikings’ backfield, and the Jets’ backfield doesn’t draw my eye either. One of these guys could hit for a solid game, but even that’s not a guarantee — and picking among these options would be nothing but guesswork.
The Enunwa injury will probably pull DFS attention toward the Jets’ passing attack, as targets are likely to rise for both Kearse and Pryor. Pryor’s season-long usage makes him look like a poor bet in this spot, but he quietly has opportunity to soak up more of Enunwa’s role than most will anticipate. People have been lazily calling Enunwa the “slot receiver,” and are sure to assess this spot as though “slot receiver” Kearse will step into Enunwa’s role. Realistically, Enunwa has played 94 snaps out wide over the last four weeks, to 74 slot snaps, and last week Pryor stepped into 28 snaps out wide and 15 slot snaps (after seeing only 17 total slot snaps on the year heading into the game). Pryor is the true “replacement” for Enunwa, while Kearse (74.5% slot rate on the year) will retain his normal role, with a couple extra looks ticketed to go his way. Kearse has the higher floor, but Pryor has similar upside and is worth a look as well. Neither is a lock for production (rookie QB // talented defense // run-heavy offense // guesswork involved on targets and usage), but each sets up respectably for his price this week.
FRIDAY NIGHT UPDATE // Full “Updates” List
Dalvin Cook is out again. It will be Latavius Murray in the lead, splitting minor time with Roc Thomas and Mike Boone. Latavius showed his ceiling in this role last week, and he showed his floor in this role two weeks ago.
In this same game, Terrelle Pryor is doubtful. It will be Jermaine Kearse soaking up most of the valuable looks in the middle of the field for this offense. It is worth noting that Darnold has thrown for under 200 yards (and for 17 or fewer completions) in four of his six games, in an offense that prefers to lean run-heavy. It is also worth noting that Minnesota is strong against the run and can be hammered on interior routes. Kearse doesn’t appear to be a true lock for production, but his chances of hitting are strong for the price, and there is upside in this position.