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Each week in The Oracle, OWS team members will take on the key strategy questions from that week’s slate :: sharing their thoughts on how they plan to approach these critical elements from a roster-construction, game theory, and leverage perspective.
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Football is a grueling, physical, demanding sport. Every game takes a huge physical and mental toll and we just finished the longest regular season in NFL history. Due to these dynamics, coaches often play the “long game” in their decision making and game planning by rotating players, limiting touches/usage, and trying to stay within certain bounds of what they ask of their players. A lot of teams also take the approach of trying to keep things at least somewhat balanced for the purpose of not being too predictable for future opponents to game plan for.
We are now in the playoffs where every team is fighting for their lives. At this point in the season, teams can lay it all on the line knowing they are one bad week away from everyone being off for the next seven months. We don’t have to look far for an example of this mindset coming to fruition, as last week we saw the Chargers play the Raiders in a “must win” game that had two of these situations:
With all of that in mind, are there any spots you are seeing on this slate where you think the coach/team takes a “last game of the year, can’t hold anything back” mindset and leans more heavily on a specific player than they have throughout the regular season? Likewise, is there a team on this slate that you think will tilt more heavily towards the run or pass than they did this year, with the need to “stay balanced” being drastically outweighed by the need for survival?
I expect the Bengals to lean very heavily on Joe Mixon here and wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him get to 25+ touches. The Bengals pass game has been ridiculous lately, and so I expect ownership will congregate around them on the Saturday slate (especially because it’s hard to find good Bills/Patriots receiving options, which will cause ownership to flow to Cincinnati). But, the matchup here really tilts toward the run, as the Raiders have been effective against perimeter wideouts but vulnerable to the middle of the field and the run.
The Patriots seem likely to try to repeat their “only throw the ball 3 times, just run run run” strategy that led them to a victory over the Bills earlier in the season. The question is if the Bills offense will let that happen, or if they can jump out to a lead and force New England to get more aggressive.
While there are some very clear “top answers” to this questions (the Bucs possibly leaning into the run game with an injury-riddled pass-catching corps, the Patriots leaning into the run game because, well, they’ve done as much against this same opponent, the Bengals leaning into the run game based on matchup), I want to focus on a couple that could be going under the radar.
The first of which is the Kansas City run game against Pittsburgh, where CEH has been ruled out, the Steelers have been one of the most giving run defenses in the league over the second half of the season, and Tyreek Hill and Travi Kelce have battled through injuries over the previous three weeks. Darrel Williams could challenge Joe Mixon and Leonard Fournette for the most touches on the weekend at lower-than-should-be ownership.
The second is the Philadelphia pass game. The field is privy to the fact that the Eagles are the league’s most run-heavy team this season, but we have no idea how they will handle a game against a top run defense, one that they should also trail throughout. The last game in which Jalen Hurts started and the Eagles played a team with a top run defense was back in Week 11 with a trip to New Orleans, which was also the last game Hurts had more than just eight rush attempts. He attempted 24 passes that game, but what if the Eagles are forced to the air more if Hurts gets bottled up on the ground with the elite linebacking corps of the Bucs. Just a thought.
The final spot is the San Francisco pass game. Not much else needs to be said about my love for that spot this week.
AAAAAANNNNNNNDDDDD I just realized this is Saturday-only, cool cool cool. I’ll leave these up here because I’m stubborn, and tackle the question through the lens of Saturday now.
Again, I’ll look to flip the narrative on its head. What if the Patriots lean into the pass game through Hunter Henry, Jakobi Meyers, and company, or what if the Raiders are able to once again lean on their run game and the Bengals attack through the air to keep Burrow cooking heading into the Divisional Round? The point here is that we can’t sit here and pretend we know how teams are going to attack these spots with any level of certainty. Leverage is paramount this weekend, and I’ll be looking to “challenge the narratives.”
My strongest lean here is on Buffalo to “stay balanced”. Yes, they threw for over 300 yards in this same Week 16 matchup with New England in a game they won handily. But they’ve also rushed for more than 100 yards in their last five games. Many of the quotes from the coaching staff over the past month has been around the importance of establishing a running game and remaining balanced on offense. This makes sense, especially considering one of the reasons why the Buffalo Bills lost in last year’s AFC Championship game to Kansas City was due to an ineffective running game. I won’t think for a second that McDermott and Daboll didn’t reflect on that game and realize they don’t want their offense to be “all Josh Allen” in the playoffs this season. Game script could dictate that approach, but I’d rather trust the Bills to continue following the approach the Bills have laid out the last four weeks of running the ball with Singletary and working Allen in short-yardage situations, as this seems like an unpopular opinion.
I would not be shocked if the Patriots take another extreme approach with their running game, as they did in Week 13 against the Bills. They have the personnel and scheme to do this and it has worked before. With multiple running backs who have shown the ability to grind out yards against defenses while also having big play potential, the Patriots could easily run the ball at a 60% or higher rate if they are able to take a lead or keep the game within one score throughout.
The Bengals have raised their pass rate so much down the stretch and had such great success in doing so when they needed it most that it would not surprise me to see them really cut Joe Burrow loose here. He is clearly full strength after being eased in to start this year in his return from his torn ACL and this team has built its weapons around him, an extremely aggressive approach would not be surprising at all to me
NOTE: I clearly missed the “Saturday” part in the header and had my answers typed out including the full slate. I will leave those for anyone playing the full 6 games (Sat-Mon.)
With the injuries Tampa has at WR and then looking at the weaknesses of the Eagles defense it would make sense for them to lean heavily into Playoff Lenny and Brady’s most reliable receiver left – Gronk. The Eagles corners will be able to handle Evans and the outside WRs more easily than stopping Fourenette and Gronk.
With the game expected to be cold in Buffalo, I can see both of those teams leaning into the run. We already expect it from the Patriots but Buffalo seems to have been trying to get Singletary ready for a heavy workload this post season by adding to his touches coming down the stretch. Singletary and Allen running the ball will play a big factor in whether or not they advance.
Pittsburgh has been the most vulnerable on the ground of all the playoff teams, so Darrel Williams, Derrick Gore, and Jerick McKinnon should all see plenty of touches there. Edward-Helaire hasn’t practiced yet this week, but he would obviously be involved if he’s able to go.
Adding this for the Saturday only slate: My expectation in the Raiders/Bengals game is we see Cincy try to win by throwing but may not have the easiest time against the Raiders secondary. Ultimately, they will have to use Mixon a bit more in the run and passing game and then maybe the outside pieces will find success. For Vegas, I see them trying to win through the short passing game with Renfrow, Waller, and Jacobs all playing key roles.
* morning, 1/15/22
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This is a two-game slate that presents far fewer options than the main slates that most of us are used to playing after a long 18 week season. These small slates obviously prevent far fewer options of ways to attack and angles to see, which makes finding ways to “be unique” much more difficult without “being dumb”. With that in mind, what are some ways that you are seeing on this slate to differentiate your lineups from the herd?
Going a step further, do you do anything different with your contest selection on these smaller slates to account for how much more difficult it is to be unique?
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