OWS Fam! — I dropped some early-week Macro Thoughts on each game into my Collective this week!
Steelers Run D1st DVOA/2nd Yards allowed per carry
Browns Run O7th DVOA/3rd Yards per carry
Steelers Pass D8th DVOA/6th Yards allowed per pass
Browns Pass O23rd DVOA/27th Yards per pass
Browns Run D20th DVOA/5th Yards allowed per carry
Steelers Run O14th DVOA/11th Yards per carry
Browns Pass D19th DVOA/30th Yards allowed per pass
Steelers Pass O12th DVOA/23rd Yards per pass
Showdown Slant ::
Presented by top Showdown mind Xandamere!
Well, after a week full of exciting island game showdowns we’re back to boredom, with a whopping 40.0 total game as the Steelers visit the Browns. Cleveland is a modest home favorite in this low total snoozefest, and given how both teams have been playing, we can expect a lot of running unless something gets out of hand.
We’ll start picking this apart with the Browns run game. The big news here, of course, is that Kareem Hunt returned from suspension, which should eat into the workload for Nick Chubb….right? As it turns out, Chubb played 81% of the snaps, against a season average of 73.6%. Obviously it being a close game throughout helps, but Chubb was on the field more. Hunt played 54% of the snaps, which for those math wizards at home tells us that the two running backs were on the field together quite a bit. Hunt saw 11 touches with seven of them being receptions, while Chubb saw two receptions on four targets. Chubb had been averaging four targets per game up until this point, so at least based on our one game sample, it looks like not much has changed. Hunt has a large role but at least in a one-game sample that came at the expense of the ancillary wide receivers and tight ends. Both seem viable here (especially with Hunt priced at just $5,800!), and by DVOA, Cleveland’s rushing attack against the Steelers’ D is the biggest mismatch (3rd vs 16th).
The Cleveland pass game last week was the aforementioned Hunt, Odell Beckham, and Jarvis Landry. Chubb got four targets and nobody else outside those names got more than two…and this in a game in which Baker Mayfield dropped back 38 times. The trio of ODB, Landry, and Hunt combined for a whopping 31 of 38 pass attempts. While I doubt the offense will remain THAT concentrated (and the Browns offense has been very spread out since the second half of last season), concentration is what we like to target in DFS. ODB has the squeaky wheel narrative and saw 12 targets, and though he was largely shut down, I’d expect him to see healthy volume here in a bounce back spot. Landry has actually outscored ODB on the season, shockingly, though I still have a hard time paying $8k for him when ODB is just $9.2k (maybe that’s a hole in my game?). Rashard Higgins only saw one target last week but played about half the snaps and is the next best receiving option, though he’s not really a bargain at $4,400 (and there is a chance Antonio Callaway eats into his snaps once again this week). Demetrius Harris is only getting a couple of targets per game and is a touchdown-or-bust play. Both Higgins and Harris have to outscore the kickers to be viable, which on very low volume means they need a touchdown or a broken play.
The Steelers are getting James Conner back just in time to get an advantageous matchup against a Browns run defense that has been exploitable this year. Conner should resume his bellcow role with Jaylen Samuels mixing in. Conner is an elite play in this game, while Samuels is still massively priced up in case Conner misses the game and is absolutely not a good play (though at $8,800, nobody, and I mean nobody is going to be on him, and if you happen to catch a weird game like the wildcat game a couple of weeks ago…I won’t be playing Samuels, but let’s just say weirder things have happened than him having a big game here).
The Steelers’ aerial attack is actually really interesting to me in this game. JuJu Smith-Schuster has seen his price declining all year (justifiably so) but he still has gamebreaking ability with the ball in his hands and he gets a fantastic matchup against a Cleveland slot defense that has been exploited all season long. I think a lot of people will just say “Mason Rudolph is bad and the Browns’ overall pass D is pretty good” and thus JuJu’s ownership will be lower than it should be. Diontae Johnson and James Washington have much tougher matchups on the perimeter, though it was encouraging to see Washington finally pay off last week after everyone expected Rudolph to focus on him due to their preseason connection. Albeit in a challenging matchup, Washington has averaged just under six targets per game in his last few matches, and with 16 yards per reception on the season he has plenty of big play ability. Diontae Johnson is more expensive and with a lower ceiling, though I’d argue also a higher floor. Vance McDonald has seen seven targets in back to back games and, much like Washington, also has great big play ability. Washington and McDonald are both interesting tournament plays, while Nick Vannett and Johnny Holton are tourney dart throws who have been playing a decent number of snaps but have seen almost zero actual involvement in the offense.
Finally, I want to mention the defenses. I normally don’t write up defenses in showdown because I always feel the same way about them: it’s an incredibly high-variance position. “Defense” has shown up in optimals at a larger percentage this season than last season, but that’s largely been due to the Patriots being part of so many island games this year. My general rule of defense in showdown tournaments is “be underweight chalk defenses and overweight defenses nobody is on,” since it’s just so hard to predict defensive scoring. I am also never someone who plays double defenses. Double defense is owned at a much higher rate than it “hits” (though we did see a double defense optimal in this Monday’s game….which also just tends to drive up double defense ownership for the next week or two!). You can chase it if you want, but I’m a “trust the data” person and I will happily never play double defense and just recognize that even if it costs me a chance at one or two tournaments per year, overall it’s a net positive move. In this particular game, we have two very aggressive defenses and two mediocre and mistake-prone quarterbacks. While I normally avoid chalky defenses, the one metric I look for is pressure, and both of these defenses get pressure at above-average rates and are up against weaker offensive lines. I like both of them here.
The most likely way for this game to play out is for the run games to be the focus, but one or two strong receiving scores to emerge as well. Between them, Landry and ODB have had five games this year that would likely make them part of the optimal lineup if they scored that many points in this matchup, while on the Pittsburgh side we’ve had three from Juju, two from Johnson, one from Washington, and one more (maybe two) from Vance McDonald. While the running backs are the premium plays in this game, it’s more likely than not that at least one receiver ends up being in the optimal lineup as well.
Some other ways the game could play out:
- Despite having dubious quarterbacking situations, both of these offenses have been throwing the ball quite a bit, and that isn’t just due to falling way behind in games. Mason Rudolph has thrown 36, 35, and 38 times in his last three, while Baker Mayfield has 38, 41, and 31 dropbacks. Both of these offenses are inefficient, but they can get there on volume, and in a game in which I feel people are going to (reasonably) gravitate toward the running backs, taking stands on the passing attacks is an interesting angle.
- Given how both offenses are, on the whole, fairly mediocre and both defenses are stout, it’s pretty reasonable to see either one of these teams just failing completely and not putting up much of a fight. As is almost always the case, 5-1 onslaughts are likely to be lower owned than their chance of hitting.
My favorite captains in this one are the three running backs, with JuJu and ODB not that far behind. I’m not sure there is one obvious smash captain for tournaments, as any of the receivers could realistically put up 20 points and in a relatively low-scoring game be the top scorer on the slate, so pick your favorites and take your stands.
Some groups to consider:
- At most 1 kicker
- At most 1 defense
- Pair captain receivers with their QB
- Pair captain QBs with at least 2 receivers
- At most 2 of ODB, Landry, Hunt, and Higgins except in Cleveland onslaughts (this is a tough rule as it’s not impossible to imagine 3 of these guys succeeding — but, overall, this is not a prolific passing attack and the odds of 3 of them ending up in the optimal lineup feels very low, at least to me)
- Similarly, at most 2 of Juju, Johnson, Washington, and Vance.
— Xandamere’s Advanced Showdown Course is now available through OWS :: Marketplace! This is his tournament course for Showdowns; and given the tangible edge in this contest type, it should pay itself off pretty quickly(!).
Falcons Run D8th DVOA/6th Yards allowed per carry
Panthers Run O16th DVOA/21st Yards per carry
Falcons Pass D30th DVOA/31st Yards allowed per pass
Panthers Pass O11th DVOA/11th Yards per pass
Panthers Run D26th DVOA/18th Yards allowed per carry
Falcons Run O26th DVOA/20th Yards per carry
Panthers Pass D13th DVOA/10th Yards allowed per pass
Falcons Pass O16ths DVOA/3rd Yards per pass
Last week, the Dolphins were coming off their first win of the season, and the Colts (a team that was 5-3, but would have been 7-1 with just a couple “missed kicks” turned into “made kicks”) were coming off a heartbreaking loss. We said in this space that we should expect the Colts to show up fully focused and ready to play as a result of these circumstances — and the Colts proceeded to remind us that anything can happen in the NFL, as Brian Hoyer played like Brock Osweiler and the undermanned Colts gave the Dolphins their second win of the year. All of which has nothing to do with this game, of course; but with the Falcons coming off an unexpected win on the road against one of the best teams in football and the Panthers coming off a heartbreaking loss at Lambeau, we should still keep in mind that anything is on the table. And while the Falcons have not been improving throughout the year the way the Dolphins have, they do have a group of players that genuinely love their coach (there was speculation a few weeks ago that Dan Quinn had lost the locker room — but that never made a ton of sense given the kind of coach he is and the admiration so many of these players have professed to have for him as a man // coach // “leader” // rah-rah-brotherhood-cheerleader // etc.); and although their season is obviously over, they will be looking to post another upset against another division rival.
One of the issues that plagued the Saints last week was their dependence on “drives” in order to score. The only player in the NFL with a shorter average intended air yards than Drew Brees is Teddy Bridgewater — and in spite of Michael Thomas hauling in 13 catches last week, not a single one of his targets came more than 17 yards downfield (with most of his looks coming much closer to the line of scrimmage than that). With the Saints unable to get much of anything going with Alvin Kamara (and unwilling to throw to anyone but Thomas // Kamara // Jared Cook), the Falcons were able to stop New Orleans drives before they reached the end zone — forcing four punts and three field goal attempts.
No matter how we break things down, of course, the Saints are a better all-around offense than the Panthers, and “if the Falcons could do that to New Orleans, they can certainly do the same thing to Carolina.” But given the larger sample size (the Falcons rank 31st in drive success rate allowed and have forced the second fewest punts per game), it is overwhelmingly the “likeliest scenario” that last week’s game will prove to be a one-week blip, and that the Falcons will go back to being one of the more attackable teams in football. This defense ranks 30th in DVOA (10th against the run; 31st against the pass), and only three teams (Giants // Dolphins // Bucs) are allowing more points per game.
The matchup is “worst” for Christian McCaffrey, with the Falcons (as noted above) ranked 10th in DVOA against the run and allowing only 3.92 yards per carry to running backs. Notable stat lines against them on the ground have been there, but only one has been smash-level, with carry/yardage/touchdown marks allowed of 21-111-2 to Dalvin Cook // 16-74-1 to Marlon Mack // 27-100-0 to Derrick Henry // 20-90-1 to Chris Carson. The Falcons have also, surprisingly, allowed the fourth fewest receiving yards to running backs (though this is more a function of wide receivers having an easy time against them than it is of any great prowess at stopping pass-catching backs; from both a personnel and scheme standpoint, this is still largely the same defense that has ranked bottom 10 in receiving yards allowed to running backs for five consecutive seasons). On a per-touch basis, the matchup isn’t “tremendous” for McCaffrey; but we can also keep in mind that CMC has 25+ touches in all but two games this season (one vs the Bucs; one vs the 49ers), and while the yardage has been fantastic, CMC’s biggest value is coming from his 14 touchdowns — an area where he should still have opportunities this week.
In the pass game, the Panthers have a leg up on the Saints in that they are willing to attack downfield (since their bye in Week 7, Curtis Samuel has six targets of 20+ yards and D.J. Moore has six targets of 30+ yards; Kyle Allen’s average intended air yards of 9.1 is also nearly three yards higher than Brees’ mark of 6.3), with this offense looking more and more like the all-levels attack that Norv Turner built around the strengths of Cam Newton.
Moore now has recent target counts of 8 // 10 // 9 // 10 // 11, and while the field thinks of him as the shorter-aDOT guy in this offense, that has changed coming out of the bye. He paid off last week as one of our favorite plays with a 9-120-0 line at low ownership; and while he’s still (remarkably) sitting on zero targets inside the 10, he sets up well for catches and yardage in this spot.
Samuel has recent target counts of 6 // 11 // 6 // 8, and his edge in aDOT is fading with Moore now being used downfield as well, leaving him as the lower-target compliment in this attack. Samuel does have four targets inside the 10 (and five touchdowns on the year, to only one for Moore), and his speed will have a chance to play in this spot. As we all surely recall by this point: the Falcons aim to force shorter-area throws (they’re shaving 7.5% off the league-average aDOT), and most of their big games allowed have come from a high catch rate and YAC; but any way you slice it, the matchup is favorable, and both guys will have a shot at taking advantage.
This brings us to the final piece of this passing attack: Greg Olsen, whose targets have been annoyingly unpredictable this year (2 // 7 // 2 // 6 // 10 across his last five games). Olsen’s targets have tended to spike in favorable matchups, and while the Falcons rank middle of the pack in production allowed to tight ends this year, they are non-threatening from a matchup perspective.
On the other side of the ball, the Falcons have an interesting setup in that they rank first in pass play rate (as noted throughout the year: this has been more about the Falcons choosing to not run behind their 26th-ranked offensive line (adjusted line yards) than it has been about them playing from behind), but they enter a matchup against a Panthers team that ranks 32nd in DVOA against the run compared to third against the pass. With Devonta Freeman set to miss and Ito Smith on I.R., there is no guarantee that Atlanta attacks heavily on the ground with Brian Hill (nor is there any guarantee that game flow will tilt toward a run-heavy approach), but Hill should be able to see at least 14 carries, with clear upside for 18 to 20 if he’s able to hold off timeshare threats Qadree Ollison and Kenjon Barner. Hill is averaging only 3.6 yards per carry this year, but he also ran 10 pass routes last week (two targets) and he carries a solid touch floor in this spot.
When the Falcons take to the air, the matchup shifts quite a bit depending on whether or not James Bradberry plays; but since he was a game-time decision last week, it’s fair at the front end of this week to assume he’ll make it back in time for this game. D.J. Chark and Chris Godwin (twice) are the only wide receivers who have topped 100 yards against the Panthers with Bradberry on the field — but even more importantly, the Panthers have allowed only five touchdowns to wide receivers (fifth fewest in the league). Touchdowns continue to be an issue for Julio in this offense (he is averaging 0.38 per game over the last three and a half seasons — which does not compare favorably to other top wideouts, with Hopkins averaging 0.57, Michael Thomas averaging 0.48, and Davante averaging 0.69, just to name a few), which should be kept in mind against Julio’s salary. Julio can literally win in any matchup, but he’ll almost certainly need scores in order to truly pop off for a monster game. His last four stat lines against the Panthers have been 4-28-1 // 5-64-0 // 5-80-0 // 6-118-0.
Behind Julio, Austin Hooper (sprained MCL) is likely to leave behind 7.4 targets per game, without a capable pass-catching tight end to fill in for him. These things are never apples-to-apples (the Falcons could run the ball a bit more, and the targets could be spread out so much that there isn’t a notable bump on any individual player), but the Panthers play at a top five pace and are allowing the fourth most opponent plays per game; and if Bradberry plays and is able to keep Julio from one of his monster-target games, this primarily leaves Calvin Ridley, Russell Gage, and the running backs to soak up the extra looks. The Falcons ended up going run-heavy with a lead in both of their games against Carolina last year, so it’s tough to get a feel for how Ridley might be used if Bradberry slows Julio and Hooper is out; but a rise on his 6.2 targets per game is likely. Gage should also see a rise in short-area looks (nine and five targets the last two weeks) if Hooper leaves behind his outlet role. Kenjon Barner should play on obvious passing downs to steal some work (Hill has only eight targets in his career, compared to 59 carries — so while this doesn’t mean he won’t see pass game involvement, it does indicate he’s unlikely to be schemed many aerial looks), but on first and second down in particular, Gage and Ridley could see a bit of a boost.
JM’s Interpretation ::
There is plenty to like on the Panthers’ side (unsurprising, given the matchup and the 27.5 Vegas-implied team total), with a narrow distribution of touches on an offense that should score points. CMC enters this week with the highest raw projection on the slate, and on a fairly weak RB week (from a price-considered standpoint, especially), he’s very much in play. The matchup is slightly below-average if we isolate it from game environment; but with two fast-paced teams (the Falcons also rank top eight in pace) and scoring opportunities sure to be there, he maintains the same high floor/ceiling he always has. Moore is a solid play yet again — and while he’ll need some touchdown luck to pay off in a big way, his locked-in targets and new downfield role still give him plenty of paths to upside. Samuel is also a threat for a big play and/or a score, and can be kept in mind in this spot. (The same goes for Olsen — though I’ll hope to hunt for less guesswork-driven tight end plays than this. Olsen has ceiling in tourneys, but is an iffy piece from a floor perspective. Of course…I imagine some sharper large-field tourney players will add Olsen to their tourney list for exactly that reason.)
On the Falcons’ side, Hill is interesting from a “role” perspective even if the likeliest scenario has him falling shy of a standout game, while Julio is a “can hit in any matchup” piece if you want to chase in tourneys. Gage is worth keeping in mind for the short-area role and the savings he provides (with a broken play or an unpredictable touchdown providing paths to price-considered ceiling), while Ridley is an interesting tourney piece as well. Nothing on this side of the ball pops off the page (there’s a reason the Falcons have a Vegas-implied total of 22.0), but there are a number of guys who are certainly in the mix.
Cowboys Run D29th DVOA/32nd Yards allowed per carry
Lions Run O13th DVOA/18th Yards per carry
Cowboys Pass D21st DVOA/12th Yards allowed per pass
Lions Pass O19th DVOA/20th Yards per pass
Lions Run D30th DVOA/26th Yards allowed per carry
Cowboys Run O18th DVOA/24th Yards per carry
Lions Pass D12th DVOA/20th Yards allowed per pass
Cowboys Pass O22nd DVOA/1st Yards per pass
A few years ago, Luke Louison (AKA the great and always entertaining GiantBallofOil) mentioned to me that it’s crazy to him that I’m able to have all the games written up by Wednesday night // Thursday morning with how much injury news we don’t really have settled most weeks until later in the week. This is not the first time I’ve thought back to him saying that to me — though oftentimes, we’re able to work around injury news easily enough, as the impact on a game environment is somewhat minor, even if the individual player’s impact in the box score can (obviously) change dramatically between “playing” and “not playing.” Every once in a while, however, we run into a situation like Matthew Stafford for the Lions this week — wherein the entire game literally shifts depending on whether or not that player plays.
The Matchup Against The Cowboys ::
Regardless of who is under center for the Lions, the matchup is not great for Detroit this week. The Lions were unable to run the ball with Kerryon Johnson, and they were downright awful on the ground with Ty Johnson. Now, Ty Johnson is set to miss with a concussion, which is going to leave Giants castoff Paul Perkins (recently on the Lions practice squad) and pass-catching back J.D. McKissic handling the bulk of the backfield work. The Lions have thrown the ball more and more as the season has moved along, and even with Stafford out last week in a close game, they called on Jeff Driskel to throw the ball 46 times compared to 22 designed run plays. In other words: regardless of who is under center, we can expect a somewhat pass-leaning approach — in a tough spot against a Dallas defense that has faced the fifth fewest wide receiver targets while allowing the second fewest wide receiver yards and the second fewest wide receiver touchdowns. As we note seemingly every week: the Cowboys and Colts run very similar coverage schemes, and both teams aim to take away wide receiver targets (which effectively forces looks to running backs and tight ends). Only two pass catchers have topped 100 yards against the Cowboys this year. There has not been a single other pass catcher who has posted even a strong price-considered score in this matchup.
If Stafford Plays This Week ::
As we know by now, the Lions are one of the more aggressive (and effective) passing attacks in football when everything is clicking; and while they have enjoyed a fairly steady stream of soft wide receiver matchups in Stafford’s recent hot streak (Raiders // Giants // Vikings // Packers have been his last four opponents — all four of whom rank bottom eight in yards allowed to wide receivers), this team is aggressive enough and talented enough (while piling up enough volume) to be considered tourney-viable in any spot. This offense is designed to strain a defense vertically — so while the floor is lower in this spot than normal if Stafford plays, there are paths to ceiling that remain intact.
If Stafford Misses This Week ::
Only 6.5% of Driskel’s attempts last week traveled 20+ yards downfield (compared to 19.2% of Stafford’s throws in his last two starts), while 11 of his 46 passes (23.9%) and 11 of his 27 completions (40.7%) came at or behind the line of scrimmage (compared to 11.0% and 13.7% for Stafford in his last two contests). Driskel fed nine targets to Kenny Golladay and six to Marvin Jones, but this came on 46 pass attempts. He fed eight targets to Danny Amendola and six to T.J. Hockenson, while nine targets were sent to running backs (with McKissic accounting for seven of these).
On the one hand, this all came against the Bears — but on the other hand, the Bears (while a better overall defense than the Cowboys) are actually a slightly softer wide receiver matchup than what Dallas presents. It’s always a bit foolhardy to take a one-game sample and apply it to all games moving forward — but Driskel’s Week 10 tendencies line up with what we would expect from a backup entering a tougher matchup for his wide receivers; and given that the Cowboys do such a great job filtering targets away from wide receivers, it seems likely we see a similar setup here.
How To Handle This Side Of The Ball ::
If Stafford plays, we should expect the Lions to go pass-heavy, and to stay somewhat aggressive with their downfield attack. In this setup, Detroit will likely have to poke and prod multiple angles and ideas to find something that will work, and efficiency is unlikely to be in the cards, but they should eventually hit for a few big plays and find a few ways to pile up points — and while slate-breakers will remain unlikely to emerge in this spot, there will at least be a case to be made for “a talented and aggressive offense” potentially finding a way to break through for a big stat line or two.
If Stafford misses, we should still expect the Lions to go pass-heavy — but these passes should be a bit more focused on the shorter areas of the field, where Driskel’s comfort level will be higher, and where the Cowboys look to filter opponent action. Only three teams have faced more running back targets than the Cowboys (one of these teams is the Bears), and only five teams have faced more targets to tight ends, with only three teams allowing more catches to the position. (Again: the Bears are right next to the Cowboys in this category as well.) In this setup, six or more short-area to intermediate looks should be in play for Hockenson again, while six or more targets will be a distinct possibility for McKissic. (Ty Johnson lasted only 12 snaps last week — after which McKissic played 57 snaps compared to only 15 for Perkins. We’ve already seen the fantasy community get “Patricia’d” once this year, and it could happen again; but McKissic — as a pass-catching back — is less interchangeable with Perkins than Ty Johnson was. In other words: it’s likelier than not that McKissic sticks to the role he had last week.)
On The Cowboys’ Side ::
The matchup obviously doesn’t change one way or another with Stafford playing or missing — but if Stafford plays, we’ll have opportunities for a back-and-forth affair, while Driskel under center would open opportunities for Dallas to control this game throughout.
Detroit has been a middling matchup for wide receivers this year, with a man-heavy coverage scheme that shaves over 5% off the league-average catch rate and ranks top five in preventing yards after the catch — but that allows teams to attack downfield, with a 24.7% boost to the league-average aDOT (the largest boost in the league). With Detroit struggling to generate pressure this year and presenting fewer zone looks to force opponents to throw the ball short, this team has allowed the fourth most pass plays of 20+ yards, at over four per game.
The Cowboys’ receivers have been maddeningly inconsistent this year, with Amari Cooper seeing recent target counts of 14 // 2 // 5 // 7 // 14, and with Michael Gallup going 14 // 7 // 4 // 6 // 10 in that same stretch, as Dallas has gone run-heavy in games they have controlled (and also randomly produced target duds for these two — 2 // 7 — in a loss against the soft secondary of the Jets). Once again, of course, this points back to Stafford, as the Cowboys should be able to lean on the run if Stafford misses, and are likelier to have to put the ball in the hands of Dak Prescott if Stafford plays.
In the lower-target games for Amari and Gallup, Ezekiel Elliott saw touch counts of 33 // 28 // 23, while he went for 14 and 22 touches in the target-spike games for the Cowboys’ star receivers — which obviously means that it has been difficult this year for Zeke and one of the Cowboys’ wideouts to pop off for a big game in the same spot, but also means that Zeke becomes more valuable if Stafford misses for the Lions. As explored last week, the Lions are allowing a ton of opponent plays per game (now the second most in the league) and are filtering carries // targets to running backs at one of the highest rates in the NFL. Zeke played 70 of a possible 71 snaps last week and should soak up all the available running back touches in this spot — giving him a clear shot at 26+ touches if game flow cooperates. The Panthers are the only team allowing more running back touchdowns than the Lions, while Zeke leads the NFL in red zone carries.
JM’s Interpretation ::
Likeliest scenarios in this spot have the passing attacks mattering most if Stafford plays and the running backs mattering most if Stafford misses. Obviously — with the talent boasted on these teams — you could play things other ways (if Stafford plays, Zeke should still clear 20 touches, and paths will remain open for 26+ total looks, while McKissic will still be set to operate as the lead back and should be in line for a workload similar to what he saw last week — 10 carries, seven targets, with targets less likely to spike with Stafford, but with some looks still there || while if Stafford misses, Driskel could still hit Golladay or Jones for a long play or for a multi-touchdown game, and the Lions could keep this close enough for targets to remain high on Amari and Gallup), but understanding “likeliest scenarios” is obviously the first (and most important) way to get a feel for how you want to build around a game.
If Stafford plays, Amari and Gallup will be really strong Tier 3 options for me (along with Dak), while the Lions’ pass game pieces will be a little further down the list in a difficult matchup, but will still be very much in play for the upside in larger-field builds. I’ll still have interest in Zeke and McKissic, though they’ll likely be less of a priority for me.
If Stafford misses, Zeke and McKissic (price-considered) will both flirt with Tier 1 placement (with Zeke likely landing there and McKissic likely landing on the higher ends of Tier 3), while Hockenson will be in play as a Tier 3 option as well. Amari and Gallup will likely fall to deeper Tier 3 for me if Driskel is starting for the Lions, while Golladay and Jones will become more dart-throws than pieces to build around in some large-field tourney play.
Bills Run D24th DVOA/21st Yards allowed per carry
Dolphins Run O23rd DVOA/22nd Yards per carry
Bills Pass D28th DVOA/15th Yards allowed per pass
Dolphins Pass O11th DVOA/17th Yards per pass
Dolphins Run D32nd DVOA/19th Yards allowed per carry
Bills Run O32nd DVOA/29th Yards per carry
Dolphins Pass D10th DVOA/16th Yards allowed per pass
Bills Pass O4th DVOA/6th Yards per pass
We had a love bordering on obsession down the stretch last year for the Bills’ Great Backyard Offense — though in light of a number of things, it’s worth revisiting exactly why we loved that offense so much. Three main reasons stand out:
1. That late-season Bills offense was sloppy as could be, but they piled up motion and misdirection and mixed in easy completions for Josh Allen with downfield shots, while also allowing Allen to take off at the first sign of someone being covered (leading to Allen rushing for 99+ yards in three straight games at one point in that glorious stretch).
2. They were cheap.
3. No one knew they existed (which was part of the reason they remained so cheap — good for a double-dip of low ownership + low prices). As we talked about last week (if I recall correctly, this was actually in regards to DJ Moore’s expanded downfield usage — which showed up again last week), people tend to solidify their thoughts on NFL teams and players by this point in the season, but most teams feel it takes them anywhere from four to eight weeks to even figure out exactly who they are, and there is plenty of development and change that happens from there. With the Bills never on national television down the stretch last year and certainly not a team people were going out of their way to watch, most of the field (and most content providers) had no idea that the Bills had come out of the bye (and Allen had come back from injury) with a different approach on that side of the ball. It was truly a beautiful thing.
Notice, however, that “high-scoring affairs” were not part of the reasons we loved that offense. They piled up yardage in a concentrated manner, but in those six weeks after the Bills’ bye, they scored 24 // 17 // 23 // 14 // 12 // 42.
This year, the Bills — in trying to build Allen into a playmaking game manager, rather than building their offense around his (limited) strengths — have not had the “one read, then take off and run” setup, nor have they had the “work relentlessly to set up deep passing” setup. This has been a more conservative offense, with a lower statistical ceiling.
This year, the Bills are also not the ultra-cheap pieces they were (and remained) last year.
And this year, everyone entered the season knowing they exist.
Meanwhile, the Bills have scored point totals on the year of 17 // 28 // 21 // 10 // 14 // 31 // 13 // 24 // 16.
The 31 came against the Dolphins — though this was a home game and included a special teams touchdown. In that home game, Josh Allen passed for 202 yards on 26 pass attempts in a game the Dolphins largely controlled by running 30 times. The Bills surprisingly tilted toward the pass in the early going, as if trying to get things going off the bye in a softer matchup, but they shifted back toward the run as the pass game failed to generate big results. This has been a theme for the Bills offense so far this year, with John Brown still standing alongside Michael Thomas as the only receivers in football with 50+ receiving yards in every game…but with only one game (Week 1) above 83 receiving yards. Allen’s best game through the air so far has been 266 yards (last week, on 41 attempts), and stunningly, JB’s Week 1 game (123 yards vs the Jets) still stands as the only game all year in which any Bills pass catcher has topped 83 yards. This has been a moderately-aggressive, moderate-volume, moderate-upside passing attack all year.
Last week in this space, we highlighted the fact that Devin Singletary’s 23-touch game in Week 9 had represented a usage change rather than a role change, as his snap share of 68% had been directly in line with what he had seen in his other fully-healthy games (66% // 68%). He played 68% of the snaps yet again last week and saw his touches dip back down to 11 (though this comes with a caveat, and a caveat to that caveat: the caveat is that he had only three catches, but saw seven targets; the caveat to that caveat is that the Bills passed the ball a season-high 41 times trying to catch up to the Browns’ modest lead). Singletary also played only 33% of the snaps in his last game against the Dolphins — and while the assumption is that the Bills wanted to ease him in (it was his first game back from injury), we should also keep in mind that this is one of the most opponent-specific offenses in the NFL, and there is at least some chance the Bills entered that game with a plan to lean on Frank Gore instead. The likeliest scenario here has Gore seeing nine to 11 carries (he’s been in exactly that range in all but one of Singletary’s healthy games — that one being his five-carry game last week as the Bills went pass-heavy), with Singletary playing around 68% of the snaps and having his usage tied to game flow. If the Bills grab a big, early lead, Singletary will have a shot at 20+ touches again (his last such game came in a 24-9 win over Washington). If this game instead stays close, Singletary’s maddening usage has a chance to continue.
The Dolphins rank 30th in adjusted line yards on offense and are averaging a league-worst 3.1 yards per carry, which is noteworthy, as the Bills are a top three pass defense by just about every metric, and they are the only team in the NFL that has not yet allowed a pass catcher to top 100 yards. (Only the Patriots have allowed fewer touchdowns to wide receivers, and it likely goes without saying that if good passing attacks are nothing more than “close your eyes and hope you get lucky” in this spot, this goes double for the Dolphins.) The area in which the Bills have been attackable is on the ground, where Saquon, Adrian Peterson, and Chubb all topped 100 yards, and where Jordan Howard and Miles Sanders combined for 170 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The Bills rank 27th in DVOA against the run…but the player trying to take advantage will be Kalen Ballage, who has averaged 3.3 yards per carry in his young career and is underwhelming enough that Mark Walton passed him on the depth chart earlier in the year.
JM’s Interpretation ::
I’ll be surprised if I have much interest in this game myself, as the Bills have been priced up for the matchup and the Dolphins continue to improve on defense — while also, of course, improving as a team (having now won back-to-back games while leading at halftime in four straight). With that said: John Brown and Devin Singletary both have the talent to win in most matchups; and they shouldn’t struggle in an overall soft matchup here, while a boost in volume or a broken play could easily lead to upside. The likeliest scenario has both guys producing solid but unspectacular price-considered scores, but there are some outlier paths in which they could connect for something bigger. Singletary is most likely to produce in an easy Bills win, while Brown is most likely to produce in a game in which the Bills are trailing (i.e., you can consider building accordingly), though both have enough “big play” to their game that they could conceivably trip into a big score along a different tributary.
As for the Dolphins: they’re a “no one will be on them, and anything can happen” play — but you’d obviously need quite an outlier in order to capture slate-winning upside in this spot.
Texans Run D23rd DVOA/31st Yards allowed per carry
Ravens Run O5th DVOA/1st Yards per carry
Texans Pass D8th DVOA/22nd Yards allowed per pass
Ravens Pass O19th DVOA/31st Yards per pass
Ravens Run D2nd DVOA/11th Yards allowed per carry
Texans Run O23rd DVOA/31st Yards per carry
Ravens Pass D7th DVOA/14th Yards allowed per pass
Texans Pass O8th DVOA/4th Yards per pass
The Houston Texans have been below-average against the pass this year — ranking 20th in DVOA while ranking in the lower-middle of the pack in both opponent aDOT and catch rate. Only two players have topped 106 yards against them through the air (with those two games coming on heavy volume to Keenan Allen and Michael Thomas), but the list of players who have gone for 70+ yards and a touchdown in this matchup is long :: Hunter Renfrow // Tyrell Williams // Eric Ebron // T.Y. Hilton // Tyreek Hill (two touchdowns) // Calvin Ridley // Zach Pascal (two touchdowns). With J.J. Watt no longer putting pressure on quarterbacks for this defense, the pass game matchup is even softer.
The loss of J.J. Watt is also a ding against the Texans’ run defense, though his absence doesn’t create nearly the same level of impact here, as the Texans still have D.J. Reader and Zach Cunningham up the middle and have a solid unit all the way around — ranking sixth in DVOA and allowing the sixth fewest rushing yards to running backs (with zero notable stat lines allowed on the year). All of which is an interesting place to begin our exploration of this game, as the Ravens offense flows through Lamar Jackson; and while he can certainly produce through the air, the main reason he draws the eye for us in DFS is his role on the ground — with a historic 78 rushing yards per game and six rushing touchdowns, at 6.6 yards per carry.
Before we go a layer deeper in the matchup, it’s worth pointing out that Lamar is a different beast than most, with a unique skill set that players constantly say they couldn’t really appreciate until they tried to stop him. As such, even difficult matchups for Lamar should be considered winnable matchups (with the tributary toward a slate-winning score getting narrower, but certainly never drying up). But the next layer here is the question: is this a difficult matchup for Lamar, specifically? And when we go a layer deeper, it’s interesting to note that the Texans have allowed an explosive run (10+ yards) on 8.1% of carries over center, guard, and tackle; but they have allowed an explosive run on 25% of carries to the edges — where Lamar does a large chunk of his damage. Granted: the sample size to the edge is smaller (with nearly four times as many carries to the other areas), but especially without Watt available to set the edge on his side of the field (where teams were mostly avoiding running when he was out there), Lamar has some paths to another big day on the ground.
Lamar has also generally produced better overall fantasy numbers in spots where he can attack effectively through the air — which should certainly be the case here, with the biggest question being whether or not any individual pass catcher can benefit enough to matter in DFS. While the quick-and-easy answer is, “Yes, Marquise Brown has speed for days and only needs one catch to post a strong game, and Mark Andrews has five touchdowns on the year and an ability to break off 30+ yard gains,” the real question is whether or not enough volume will pile up for these guys to maximize their chances of hitting.
Lamar has averaged only 20 pass attempts per game across his last three contests, with the Ravens dominating the Seahawks, Patriots, and Bengals and leaving no reason to lean on the pass when their philosophy for winning games is built around playing slow (32nd in pace), keeping the ball on the ground (31st in pass play rate), and controlling the clock (first in time of possession) before blitzing opponents on the other side of the ball and trying to create short opponent possessions to start the cycle again. To reiterate: the Ravens dominated both the Seahawks (in Seattle) and the Patriots behind Lamar and their rapidly improving defense — so just because we have Deshaun Watson on the other side of this game does not guarantee a close contest and a game in which Lamar is called on to throw the ball enough for volume to pile up for Brown/Andrews (though the chances of such a game are obviously heightened compared to lesser competition). We’ll get to the Texans’ offense in a moment, but the biggest takeaway here is that if you want to roster Brown/Andrews for more than just “hoping for a big play or a touchdown,” you should include pieces from the Texans’ passing attack as well, as the clearest path to volume for those guys is the Texans keeping this game competitive throughout. Lamar has four games this year of 33+ pass attempts, and Brown was healthy in three of them. In those games, he saw target counts of 13 // 9 // 7 (compared to five or fewer in his other four games). Andrews has been less dependent on Lamar’s volume for his own (incredibly seeing seven to nine targets in all but one game, in spite of so many low-volume games from this passing attack as a whole), though the risk of volume dipping increases if Lamar throws less often — especially as Andrews already has a tough matchup against Tashaun Gipson, who is set to return this week where he’ll look to keep up his stellar tight end coverage on the year. The rest of this passing attack, of course, is scraps (which is what happens when Andrews has an ungodly 43% target share in his recent games that came “not against New England”), but if going elsewhere on this squad, Nick Boyle (who generally sees three to five targets) is the next most likely player to connect for multiple receptions and a touchdown.
On the other side of the ball, the Ravens defense has been rapidly improving against the pass, with a number eight ranking in DVOA in spite of their rough start to the year, and with the fifth fewest passing touchdowns allowed. Only three receivers have topped 100 yards against them (and two of those came in the same game in Week 2); and with only six touchdowns allowed to wide receivers all year, it has been difficult for slate-winning production to pile up against them. Tom Brady averaged only 6.2 yards per pass attempt in this matchup; and even more impressively for the Ravens, Russell Wilson averaged only 5.9 yards per attempt in the vertical-minded Seattle offense. This squad has been playing as one of the best units in the league of late, and it will take a special effort from Watson and his pass catchers for these guys to matter at their Week 11 salaries.
Working in Watson’s favor is the fact that PFF has him charted this year with no drop-off when facing the blitz vs not facing the blitz — a valuable setup against Wink Martindale’s blitz-happy unit. Further working in Watson’s favor is an offensive line that has taken strides forward this year with the development of Tytus Howard and the acquisition of Laremy Tunsil. None of this makes the matchup any easier, but it does prevent the matchup from becoming worse than it is.
With a Vegas-implied team total of only 22.5 in a tough road environment (with prices not adjusted to account for all this), we obviously don’t have the best spot for the Texans’ pass catchers — though with the talent this unit boasts, there are always tributaries open to a big game.
On the season, DeAndre Hopkins is averaging the same 10.2 targets per game that he was averaging last year — though his drop in overall upside this year is attributable to an adjusted role that has him sitting on an average depth of target of 9.4 this year compared to 11.9 a year ago (good for a difference of over 25 air yards per game). Hopkins also — somewhat inexplicably — has only nine red zone targets and four targets inside the 10 over halfway through the season, after seeing 24 and 15, respectively, last year (with his 24 ranked fifth, and his 15 ranked first), in spite of Watson already over halfway to his 2018 red zone attempt totals. Hopkins has lost nothing in the “ability” category and can realistically win in any matchup, but a readjustment in his role would certainly go a long way toward getting him back to the level we are accustomed to seeing.
Working alongside Hopkins should be Will Fuller, who is expected to return from his hamstring issue this week (though when it comes to Fuller and hamstring issues, nothing can be taken for granted). Fuller has target counts in his healthy games this year of 3 // 7 // 7 // 6 // 16 // 9 — with a role that is mixing in some intermediate and even short-area looks to go with his downfield action.
Behind these two, Darren Fells has recent target counts of 1 // 2 // 7 // 2 // 6 // 3, while Jordan Akins has gone 4 // 1 // 3 // 2 // 5 // 3 in this stretch. Both of these players are seeing their targets close to the line of scrimmage, creating very little upside for yardage — though Fells has (maddeningly) tied Hopkins in red zone targets this year, and has six red zone scores (tied for the most in the NFL). Keke Coutee has tumbled off the depth chart lately, so expect to see Kenny Stills soaking up snaps in three-wide sets as well, with three to five looks likely set to flow his way.
In spite of a number 28 DVOA ranking for the Ravens against the run, the matchup really doesn’t get much easier for the Texans’ backfield, as the Ravens are allowing a respectable 4.2 yards per carry to running backs and (more importantly) have allowed the seventh fewest running back rushing yards in the league. Here’s a look at directional rushing production against the Ravens this year if we filter out the game from Nick Chubb (courtesy of Sharp Football Stats).
Carlos Hyde has seen 19 or more carries in four of his last five games and is likely to push for looks around this level if the Texans can spend enough time with the ball. Duke Johnson, of course, will mix in for a few carries (recent carry counts of 5 // 7 // 3 // 7) and targets (4 // 5 // 5 // 5) of his own. The Ravens have faced the second fewest running back targets in the league.
JM’s Interpretation ::
Lamar Jackson still has the highest raw projection among quarterbacks on the Main Slate this weekend — so while it’s obviously necessary to balance his expected production against his price, he sets up well for production. Given the way the matchup sets up, Mark Ingram is less attractive, of course; but he’s always a threat for touchdowns, and he has the crowd-pleasing “home favorite running back” label working in his favor. In the passing attack, Andrews’ targets have been secure all year so far; some risk still remains for a target dip in lower-volume games, and the matchup is a negative, but the touchdown upside remains. Brown, of course, can hit in any matchup, but his best bet for volume is for the Texans to keep things close (or optimally play from in front) — and as such, Brown rosters that bring back a piece from the other side of this game open the most paths to capturing a “likeliest scenario” for a blowup.
I’m not all that interested in Houston players myself (which likely means I won’t be all that interested in Brown), though this is part of the reason I’m still a bit torn on the existence of “JM’s Interpretation” in the first place, as there are certainly other ways besides the “likeliest paths” for this game to play out; and when you’re talking about an offense with as much upside as the Texans, I don’t think the middle of the week is the point where you have to make that decision yourself. For my style of play, high prices in a tough road matchup aren’t going to catch my eye — but there are certainly ways for the Texans to hit with Watson under center.
Broncos Run D5th DVOA/10th Yards allowed per carry
Vikings Run O2nd DVOA/6th Yards per carry
Broncos Pass D9th DVOA/13th Yards allowed per pass
Vikings Pass O20th DVOA/22nd Yards per pass
Vikings Run D27th DVOA/22nd Yards allowed per carry
Broncos Run O20th DVOA/16th Yards per carry
Vikings Pass D8th DVOA/29th Yards allowed per pass
Broncos Pass O31st DVOA/26th Yards per pass
As noted in the Macro Thoughts I dropped in my Collective this week, this is a pretty straightforward game to break down, as we have a Broncos team that is likely to have a difficult time moving the ball in this spot, and we have a Vikings team that prefers to lean on the run whenever they are able to do so (30th in passing play rate).
We’ll start on the Broncos’ side, where the DVOA gap between the Minnesota defense (eighth) and the Denver offense (23rd) is pretty broad, and where the setup becomes even more bleak for Denver when we compare their strengths to the strengths of the Vikings. Denver is built around running the football (even with their 3-6 record, they rank 22nd in pass play rate), and they rank 11th in DVOA on the ground. The Vikings, however, rank fifth in DVOA against the run, and they have allowed only two running backs (Aaron Jones on 23 carries; Damien Williams on 12) to go over 100 yards against them, while holding running backs to 4.15 yards per carry and allowing the seventh fewest RB receiving yards in the league. We should expect Denver to work to control this game on the ground from the outset — but given the matchup and the fact that this game is being played on the road, the likeliest scenario has them having a difficult time keeping this up. Realistically, if the Broncos leaned on one running back, there would still be some viable paths to this guy hitting (especially if that “one running back” were Phillip Lindsay, who is an absolute alien at times with the ball in his hands — and who has averaged 5.9 or more yards per carry in three of his last six games), but with Lindsay averaging 14.3 touches per game across his last six contests, it’s tough to bet on him in a tough matchup as more than a “hope he hits for a big play, or hope game flow somehow tilts toward him seeing a larger workload” option. The same goes double for Royce Freeman, who is not nearly the runner Lindsay is, and who has gone for 3.5 or fewer yards per carry in five of his last six games. (Side note here: why do NFL coaches insist on running a timeshare when one of the two backs is far less effective? I get that Lindsay isn’t the biggest back and they want to keep him healthy, but this isn’t like the 49ers or the 2017/2018 Saints, where the second guy through the rotation is still effective with his touches. Freeman touches are generally wasted touches, and yet he continues to see 15+ looks most games.)
The Broncos were fortunate in their home win over the Browns in that they were able to keep Brandon Allen to only 20 pass attempts, but it’s likely that the only way Allen lands on such low volume this week is for the Vikings to dominate so thoroughly that the Broncos hardly have the ball (i.e., we’re not likely to see the Broncos sitting on a lead and hardly throwing in that way). And while the air is the best way to move the ball vs Minnesota (14th in DVOA vs the pass; the fourth most yards and the most touchdowns allowed to wide receivers — with six players topping 100 yards in this matchup and 10 notable stat lines allowed to pass catchers in all), this is the area where the Broncos are least equipped to succeed. Vegas has Denver pegged with an implied total of only 15.0, and the likeliest scenario has no strong stat lines emerging from this offense — though we will take a moment to hit on a viable alternate scenario that should go overlooked and is not outlandish to build around.
Because of how strong Minnesota is against the run (and how attackable they have been through the air), they are facing the fourth highest opponent pass play rate in the league. Now, part of this is “looks at the line of scrimmage” — as in, a team facing a pass play rate this high isn’t simply a function of an offensive coordinator calling a lot of passes, but is also a function of a quarterback seeing a poor look to run against and checking into a pass. This is not something we should “expect” Allen to be able to execute like a veteran — but with the Vikings facing 37.2 pass attempts per game, there is certainly a clear path to Allen pushing over 30 attempts.
In Allen’s first game under center, eight of his 20 passes went to Courtland Sutton (40%) — and while no player sticks at a 40% target share, Sutton could easily top 30% down the stretch, and 30+ passes from Allen has a chance to lead to nine or more targets for Sutton. (Sutton has not seen 10 targets a single time this season; but he has only fallen shy of seven targets once — so at worst, eight targets is a very comfortable projection.) In Allen’s first start, 15% of his limited attempts traveled 20+ yards (with two of those going to Sutton), so while the price on Sutton is truly absurd (sort of a theme on a lot of players this week) with a practice squad quarterback under center on the road vs a good defense, there are some non-ludicrous paths to him landing on another solid game. Furthermore, Noah Fant (four targets on 20 Allen pass attempts) has a good matchup against a Minnesota squad that has allowed the third most catches and the seventh most yards to the tight end position, while facing the second most tight end targets. Fant is the player on the Broncos likeliest to draw some ownership, as his 115-yard effort in his last game catches the eye (in spite of the fact that 75 of those yards came on a non-repeatable busted play that had several Browns players bouncing off him in an embarrassing clinic of what not to do when attempting to tackle); but he’s a talented player in a good matchup with five or more targets likely to flow his way.
The Broncos have been one of the toughest defenses in the league this year, ranking sixth in DVOA while allowing the fourth fewest yards and the seventh fewest points per game. Only one pass catcher has topped 100 yards against them (when Tyrell Williams went for 105 yards way back in Week 1), and only one running back has topped 100 yards in this spot (Fournette’s 225-yard smash).
The Broncos have allowed the fourth fewest yards and the fifth fewest touchdowns to wideouts, creating a tough spot for a player in Stefon Diggs who has topped eight targets only once this year, and who has lived off of big plays (and now enters a matchup against a Denver team allowing the fifth fewest pass plays of 20+ yards). Adam Thielen appears set to miss one more game before returning after the Vikings’ bye, so this is at least the “Diggs show” on paper — but this has led to only 6.5 targets per game so far in the four contests Thielen has either fully or mostly missed.
The player who has actually picked up the most slack from Thielen missing action has been Dalvin Cook, who was averaging 21.25 touches per game in his four games before Thielen got hurt, and who has averaged 28.0 touches per game in the four games without Thielen. Denver has — incredibly — allowed only 3.2 yards per carry to running backs outside of that game against Fournette, and they have been dominant on runs to the edge (where Cook does almost all of his major damage), while also holding up well against running backs through the air. As an elite running back on a large home favorite (vs a run defense that the field still somehow perceives to be attackable), Cook should draw some steady ownership — and given how talented he is, a solid game is likely in the cards; but this sets up as a difficult spot for him to post a price-considered smash.
The likeliest scenario in this spot has the Vikings finding ways to put up points on short fields and a few successful drives — but without yardage piling up — making this a spot where we’ll likely see some solid scores, but nothing you “have to have” at the prices; but given that Minnesota should be able to put up points, there is also always a tourney case to be made for cheaper guys who can “make their day” on a single play (whether on a touchdown, a busted play, or a combination of the two). If chasing such a scenario, Olabisi Johnson has target counts of 2 // 2 // 4 in his last three games without Thielen, while Irv Smith has stepped up for target counts of 3 // 6 // 6 in that stretch, and Kyle Rudolph has gone 3 // 5 // 5. Rudolph has topped 36 yards only once this year and is a touchdown-or-bust option (vs a Denver defense that is middle of the pack in yards allowed to tight ends, but is tied for the second fewest touchdowns allowed to the position). Smith has topped 34 yards only twice, but he does have some YAC upside to his game that Rudolph does not possess.
JM’s Interpretation ::
You could obviously make a case for Dalvin Cook as a central piece in just about any spot (and the large chunk of DFS players // content providers whose entire research consists of “looking at the Vegas lines and building accordingly” will surely land some decent ownership on Cook in this spot as a large home favorite RB), but there are no pieces in this game I expect to go out of my way to build around. If I do end up on some pieces here, it’ll likely be tourney shots on Sutton (I don’t like the price, but I do like the chances of him slipping in a strong score at really low ownership) or Fant, with Dalvin Cook obviously in the mix and some deep-tourney interest in Lindsay as a talented player who has big per-touch upside even in a difficult spot.
Jets Run D14th DVOA/20th Yards allowed per carry
Washington Run O21st DVOA/25th Yards per carry
Jets Pass D31st DVOA/24th Yards allowed per pass
Washington Pass O32nd DVOA/29th Yards per pass
Washington Run D17th DVOA/17th Yards allowed per carry
Jets Run O29th DVOA/23rd Yards per carry
Washington Pass D6th DVOA/1st Yards allowed per pass
Jets Pass O30th DVOA/32nd Yards per pass
More than just about any other team in the NFL this year, the New York Jets have defied analysis. Sure, they have a poor offensive line — but plenty of teams with a poor offensive line find a way to get their offense on a better track than the one the Jets have found so far; and with a quarterback who appeared to be on the fast track to success last year and a number of quality offensive pieces around him, it was fair to enter the season with higher expectations than the results this team has yielded. In games Sam Darnold has started this year, the Jets have produced point totals of 16 // 24 // 0 // 15 // 18 // 34 — and the Jets enter a road date with the 1-8 Redskins as 1.5 point underdogs with a Vegas-implied team total of 18.5.
Probably the biggest dent in potential production for the Jets is the fact that Washington is likely to have a difficult time putting up points on offense — and in spite of the lip service Adam Gase gave us this offseason, he has not built an aggressive offense this year, but has instead been looking to shorten games and hope for a way to win at the end. If Washington isn’t able to get much going (more on that offense in a moment), there is a chance the Jets continue to disappoint. The Vegas line tells you much of what you need to know from a “likeliest scenario” standpoint in this spot — but rather than digging into the reasons why the Jets might have a bad game (which has little to do with matchup and mostly to do with the Jets themselves), we can use our time more effectively in this spot by looking at the ways in which New York might be able to climb above their Vegas-implied expectations and become a sneaky-valuable piece on this slate.
The matchup actually sets up fairly well for a Jets offense that ranks sixth in pass play rate — with a number of things working in their favor.
The first thing to note here is that Darnold (like most young quarterbacks) plays much better when he is not pressured compared to when he is pressured. So far in his career, he has produced 18 touchdown passes against 11 interceptions when not pressured, while throwing six touchdowns and 13 interceptions when pressured. Washington ranks 15th in adjusted sack rate, but they come into this game with one of the lowest pressure rates in the league.
The second thing to note here is that turnovers have been a big issue for the Jets, with the fifth most giveaways in the league. Only 10 teams have forced fewer turnovers than Washington, however — and while a mistake or two is almost certain to pop up for the Jets, their own ineptitude will be a bigger hurdle than the Washington defense in this area.
The third thing to note here is that while Quinton Dunbar has had a stellar season in coverage for Washington, Josh Norman has been one of the most attackable corners in football this year, and Fabian Moreau hasn’t been much better in the slot.
Darnold has thrown 99 passes across his last three games, and primary target shares on this team in that stretch have gone as follows:
The last time we had a revenge narrative for the Jets, it was Gase facing a Dolphins team that he hates — in a game in which it was fair to expect the Jets to do well in a good matchup, and to stay aggressive throughout (which, of course, worked out poorly…); and as noted above, there are no guarantees with the Jets at this point. But Crowder has been the central piece of this passing attack of late (going for 81+ yards in four of six games with Darnold, and leading the Jets in receiving yards in two those six games), and he sets up well for another six to eight “short intermediate” targets here against a Washington defense that shaves an elite 12.5% off the league-average aDOT, but that does so while allowing a league-high 13% boost to the league-average catch rate.
Demaryius has been a steady presence with Darnold — also leading the Jets in receiving yards twice, and topping 60 yards in three of five games with his young QB. He has only three red zone targets (and none inside the 10), though this is more a function of the offense he’s in than it is of his role, as Crowder leads this team with only eight red zone looks. Demaryius’ burst is gone (making big plays tough to come by), and scoring opportunities are always in short supply on this team, but he’s been a solid, low-cost floor piece of late, and he could post some moderate price-considered ceiling by lucking into a touchdown.
Chris Herndon’s 2019 “breakout” season lasted a handful of snaps and led to one catch on two targets, with Ryan Griffin set to take over now that Herndon is headed to I.R. Griffin is a castoff-level option, but his three targets inside the 10 are (pathetically) more than Crowder // Robby // Demaryius // Le’Veon have combined to produce, keeping him in the touchdown-or-bust “cheap tight end” conversation.
Robby, of course, is the biggest disappointment on this team — though an optimist might note that he had topped 50 yards only once last year through his first 10 games before going 76 // 96 // 140 // 24 down the stretch (with three touchdowns in that span). Because of his downfield role, Robby’s touchdowns tend to come alongside his heavy-yardage games (he had six scores last year, and five of them came in the four games in which he topped 75 yards, while his only touchdown this year came in his 125-yard game). Washington has struggled with speedy receivers, opening realistic paths to a “boom” game for Robby (albeit with “bust” still his likeliest outcome).
Le’Veon, meanwhile, continues to (hilariously) find himself priced near the top of the running back position in spite of having posted a total of zero games that have justified his price tag. He has zero games over 70 yards on the ground and only three touchdowns in this inconsistent offense.
Another interesting layer to this game is that these teams rank 31st (New York) and 32nd (Washington) in plays per game, while ranking 28th (New York) and 32nd (Washington) in time of possession. These two teams have combined for an unbelievably low 54:05 in average time of possession — and as there are still going to be 60 minutes in this game, this opens opportunities for about 12 additional plays compared to the ultra-low 109 these teams have combined to average on the year. These won’t necessarily be effective plays, but extra plays are obviously well worth noting.
When Washington has the ball, the breakdown is quite a bit more straightforward, as this team has thrown the ball on only 50.4% of their plays across their last three games. Now — this team is coming off a bye, and is taking on a team that ranks second in DVOA against the run and 24th against the pass, which creates some alternate scenarios in which Washington leans a bit more heavily on their aerial attack. But the last time we saw this team, they were throwing the ball 22 times (and running 20 times) in a game they lost 9 to 24. Bill Callahan is not exactly the type of coach to back down from a challenging run game matchup, and it’s likely that Vegas has expectations for this game pegged appropriately — with Washington banging their running backs against the stout Jets front and only throwing on occasion.
The backfield this week should be some split of Adrian Peterson and Derrius Guice (who is returning from I.R. this week and will likely be eased in), while the aerial attack for Washington will consist primarily of Terry McLaurin, Paul Richardson, and Trey Quinn. Richardson has topped 42 yards only once this season, while Quinn has not topped 36 yards this year, making each a “close your eyes and hope for the best” type of play, even in a winnable matchup — but McLaurin deserves at least a moment of discussion.
The Jets rank 24th in DVOA against the pass and have allowed four different wide receivers (John Brown // Odell Beckham // Chris Conley // Darius Slayton) to post season-best games against them. JB picked up 123 yards on only seven catches (with a touchdown), OBJ picked up 161 yards on only six catches (with a touchdown), and Conley picked up 103 yards on only four catches (with a touchdown). (It took Slayton 10 catches in a shootout to get to 121 yards — but he picked up two touchdowns along the way.) McLaurin is not seeing his targets as far downfield as he was seeing them earlier in the year (his aDOT sits at an upside-driving, but no longer top-of-the-league mark of 13.7), but he ranks fourth in the NFL in percentage share of team air yards and is averaging 15.5 yards per catch. He has six targets inside the 10 (only nine players have more), and he saw six targets on 22 Haskins pass attempts in Week 9. (Haskins, of course, was McLaurin’s college QB — where McLaurin picked up 11 touchdowns and 20.0 yards per reception on 35 catches last year.) Downfield passing has been all but eliminated under Callahan (with only one pass attempt more than 20 yards downfield in their last three games), and Haskins has looked very raw so far and could have trouble with Gregg Williams’ pressure looks even if the Jets don’t have the secondary pieces to hold up in coverage. But while the floor is low, the upside on McLaurin certainly remains intact.
JM’s Interpretation ::
Realistically, that was a lot of digging to find out things we probably could have guessed from simply glancing at this game: the likeliest scenario has neither team doing a whole lot, with maybe one or two solid scores emerging, but with no “have to have it” production coming out of this spot. But there are at least a few pieces to keep in mind, and there are a few paths to the Jets producing at a higher level than Vegas is expecting.
Crowder and Demaryius are interesting price-considered floor pieces (with Crowder having clear paths to a price-considered “ceiling” game as the central piece in this passing attack), while Robby remains a low-floor bet with thin (but realistic) paths to slate-winning upside. Bell remains a near-every-down piece with a central role in this offense — and while he is priced much higher than his production has warranted to date, this role (as noted every week) at least keeps some of his upside paths intact.
On the Washington side of the ball, McLaurin is the player with the best shot at hitting — though some of his paths to a big game are closed off by Haskins’ raw play and by the unaggressive nature of this new Washington offense.
Everything else in this game is guessing-and-hoping — with a 38.5 game total…but with at least a handful of slim paths to this turning into a more exciting game than that.
Saints Run D4th DVOA/4th Yards allowed per carry
Buccaneers Run O6th DVOA/19th Yards per carry
Saints Pass D15th DVOA/17th Yards allowed per pass
Buccaneers Pass O9th DVOA/8th Yards per pass
Buccaneers Run D3rd DVOA/1st Yards allowed per carry
Saints Run O12th DVOA/14th Yards per carry
Buccaneers Pass D1st DVOA/9th Yards allowed per pass
Saints Pass O14th DVOA/9th Yards per pass
The smartest and most successful teams in the NFL are often able to build around the strengths of their division opponents — finding ways in the draft (and to a lesser extent, in free agency) to take away what their division opponents do best in order to maximize their chances of winning their six most important games of the year. In 2017, the Saints had all the pieces to be a top team, but their defense was consistently letting them down in their most important games, and this had led to three consecutive 7-9 season (with four such seasons in a five year span — something that really should be impossible with Sean Payton and Drew Brees running the show). So with the 11th pick of the first round that year, the Saints drafted 20-year-old cornerback Marshon Lattimore, in the hopes that he could help them shut down Julio Jones, Mike Evans, and (at the time) Devin Funchess // Kelvin Benjamin. The results of this move, of course, have been largely positive, with Lattimore winning defensive rookie of the year that season, and with Julio and Evans posting the following stat lines in this matchup since that point:
We talked in the Lions // Cowboys game about the complexion of that game changing dramatically based on whether or not Stafford plays — and while the “complexion of the game” doesn’t quite change based on whether or not Lattimore plays, the complexion of the fantasy matchup certainly does.
Macro Look, Bucs ::
We’ll start with a macro look at this matchup before moving onto how it shapes up for individual pieces, as the Saints have been one of the stronger defenses in football this year, ranking seventh in DVOA and eighth in adjusted sack rate, while allowing the fifth fewest yards per game (behind only New England, San Francisco, Buffalo, and Denver) and the 11th fewest points per game. The Saints also rank sixth in opponent drive success rate — though it is worth pointing out that this has come as a result of New Orleans ranking fifth in opponent third down conversion rate, rather than as a result of turnovers forced. The Saints are able to get opponents off the field on third down, but only five teams have forced fewer turnovers. This is at least somewhat noteworthy, as the biggest obstacle for success with Jameis Winston under center is turnovers; and while a turnover or two is likely to show up, there is a good chance this does not become a full-on turnover festival.
The Saints have been really strong against running backs this year, allowing the fourth fewest rushing touchdowns to the position and the third fewest rushing yards. Only five teams are allowing fewer receiving yards to enemy backs, and at four total touchdowns allowed to the position, the Saints rank third best in the league after ranking eighth best last year.
Through the air, the Saints (with a willingness to lean on man coverage) are allowing a 5% boost to the league-average aDOT, but they are shaving 5.5% off the league-average catch rate and almost 13% off the league-average YAC/r rate. Only six teams are allowing fewer opponent plays per game than the Saints — so while most of the action through the air against them is flowing to wideouts (in addition to posting solid numbers against pass-catching running backs, New Orleans is facing the fourth fewest tight end targets in the league, one year after facing the eighth fewest), they still rank middle of the pack in all production categories to the position.
Since Week 4, the Saints have allowed 10 points to Dallas, 24 points to Tampa, 6 points to Jacksonville, 25 points to Chicago (with a special teams touchdown), 9 points to Arizona, and 26 points to Atlanta. The Falcons are the only team on that list that has topped their season average in this matchup.
Micro Look, Bucs ::
The Bucs’ backfield has a brutal matchup — and while Ronald Jones saw a surprising eight targets last week, his 11 carries matched what Peyton Barber saw, and his 38 snaps were not even half of the Buccaneers’ team total (83). All indications have this spot still set up as a timeshare (against a team allowing only 60.2 plays per game).
The matchup is also not “great” for the Bucs’ passing attack — though given scoring expectations for the Saints and the oft-explored aggressiveness of the Bucs’ passing offense, there are certainly clear opportunities for this unit to hit. Jameis ranks behind only Matthew Stafford in average intended air yards, and he ranks top 10 in aggressiveness percentage. He has topped 300 yards in six of his last seven games and is tied with Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers for the seventh most passing touchdowns in the league.
Of course, it’s also worth noting two separate things here:
1) The one game in which Jameis failed to top 300 yards in the last two months came against the Saints. That game was at New Orleans, with Lattimore on the field, so things have a chance to set up far better in this spot — but it’s still worth noting. The Saints picked up six sacks in that game and completely controlled the clock, allowing Jameis to throw only 27 times (compared to 54 // 43 // 44 // 48 in four games since). “Controlling the clock” is not something opponents can typically do against the Bucs, and this would typically require teams to run the ball — which has been fairly impossible in this spot. But Michael Thomas has hauled in an otherworldly 83.5% of his targets this season, and with these short-area targets continually connecting, the Saints are able to take their time between plays (29th in pace for the second straight year), put together sustained drives (sixth most plays per drive in the league), and make it difficult for opposing offenses to really get things going. The biggest impediment to the success of the Bucs’ passing attack is not the Saints’ defense. It’s the Saints’ offense.
2) This is a lesser note, but Mike Evans and Chris Godwin combined for only 37.5% of the Bucs’ available targets last week, after combining for 51.2% across their previous five games. I say “lesser note” because it’s highly unlikely that the Bucs suddenly become a spread-the-ball-around team. Christian McCaffrey put up 7 DK points in a game this year. Dalvin Cook disappointed against the Chiefs. Michael Thomas costs $9900 on DK this week and has four games this year under 20 points. Kenny Golladay had his worst games of the season against Minnesota and Philly, and Amari Cooper // Michael Gallup combined for 10.1 DK points against a Jets defense that has allowed four different wideouts to post their best game of the season. Crazy things happen in the NFL (as we often say, there are truly no “sure things”), but there are “surer things than just about everything else,” and the Bucs’ elite wide receiver pair remains in that category in just about any matchup.
If Lattimore plays — as noted the last time these teams came together — Evans can still hit in spite of the tough matchup, but everything will point toward Godwin (especially as the Saints are so solid against tight ends, and O.J. Howard is unlikely to see the seven targets he saw last week). Godwin soaked up 125 of the 204 available receiving yards on the Bucs the last time these teams played and will line up well for solid production again. Godwin also scored six touchdowns through the first five weeks and has not scored in four games since then. Evans has 14 red zone targets (second in the league) to Godwin’s nine, but his edge inside the 10 is only eight to six, and both guys can produce in the paint.
If Lattimore misses, both wideouts are on the table — though there will be very real potential for Jameis to finish around 35 pass attempts (27 earlier this year in this matchup // 38 last year // 28 for Fitzpatrick last year), which would set out expectations for around 16 to 18 combined looks for Evans/Godwin if we played out this slate a hundred times — removing some of the certainty these guys typically have.
When The Saints Have The Ball ::
Given the deeper elements we needed to dig into on the Tampa side of the ball, that individual team writeup is as long as most of the full-game writeups in the NFL Edge. Fortunately for those of you short on breath, the Saints’ side of this game is one of the easiest spots to break down on the slate.
Only nine teams are allowing more opponent plays per game than the Bucs, and only one team is facing a higher opponent pass play rate, as it has proven to be fairly futile to try to run on this team. This has led to no team in football facing more pass attempts per game than the 41(!) the Bucs are facing. The vast majority of NFL teams are not even close.
As noted last week (…as much as you might get pushback from most of the fantasy community for saying this — as I’m sure you can travel all over the place this week and hear how horrendous the Tampa secondary is), this team has been slightly below-average on a per-pass basis. They’re allowing an aDOT increase of 11%, but by barely beating the league-average catch rate and shaving almost 7% off the league-average YAC/r rate, they rank just below the middle of the pack in yards allowed per pass attempt. And yet(!), 41 pass attempts per game against a below-average unit tends to pile up production, with the Bucs allowing the fourth most wide receiver catches, the second most wide receiver yards, the most wide receiver touchdowns, the fourth most tight end catches, the second most tight end yards, and the third most tight end touchdowns. (Whew.) The Bucs are allowing 210.4 wide receiver yards per game and 77.2 tight end yards per game (while tightening things up even further by allowing the third fewest receiving yards to running backs, at 28.4 per game).
Recent wide receiver targets for the Saints ::
>> Ted Ginn :: 5 // 3 // 3
>> Tre’Quan Smith :: DNP // DNP // 2
>> Austin Carr :: 2 // 2 // DNP
>> Deonte Harris :: 0 // 2 // 0
>> Michael Thomas :: 11 // 11 // 14
I certainly didn’t think I would say this when I looked at pricing this week, but good on DK for pricing him up to such outlandish levels.
Jared Cook also has target counts in his last three healthy games of 6 (vs Bucs) // 3 // 10. He’s not the focal point that Thomas is, but he’s also in an excellent spot.
JM’s Interpretation ::
It feels appropriately weird to move past Alvin Kamara in a “backfield overview” manner (something that’s usually reserved only for obvious backfield fades), but it probably goes without saying that the likeliest scenario doesn’t have Kamara (or Latavius Murray) coming close to paying off the price tag in Week 11. Kamara is a talent-over-matchup play in the most difficult matchup in the league.
Thomas costs the DK equivalent of $8.45k on FantasyDraft and $7.5k on FanDuel, so while he plays an inherently volatile position, the rules of wide receiver volatility don’t really apply to his never-seen-before role (double-digits in all but two games this year). Thomas can be best viewed as a running back for the way he is used, with 89+ yards in all but one game (that game being the contest against Seattle in which the Seahawks had no answers for Alvin Kamara and the Saints leaned on him instead of Thomas), and although he has only four touchdowns, there are only five players with more red zone targets. The biggest risk for Thomas is the Bucs deciding to sell out to force the Saints to win with “anyone else” — but even in that scenario, this no-name secondary is unlikely to be able to hang with him all game. I have no idea what I’ll do with Thomas at his DK price (no player at that price is a “must play,” as they need 40+ points for it to truly hurt that you missed out — and no matter how good a player is, 40 is never “likely”), but he should land as a rock-solid Tier 2 play this week (the same tier out of which Christian Kirk emerged last week), and if the savings show up to make him a strong piece from an overall roster construction standpoint, he’ll obviously be very much in play.
Cook is sure to wind up in Tier 3, while Drew Brees (always a strange Tier 1 piece given how much volume he needs in this short-area attack to hit for yardage) should see enough volume to battle for Tier 1 position even after his dud last week.
On the Bucs’ side, the matchup tilts toward the air, and the aerial attack tilts toward the wideouts — with the biggest concern being that the Saints could control this game and limit Jameis’ pass attempts. Godwin can climb toward priority placement if Lattimore plays, while both guys will be very much on the table if Lattimore misses — albeit with volume concerns for this offense as a whole likely making this the rare scenario in which these guys would be more “high-Tier-3” than “true Tier 1.”
Jaguars Run D22nd DVOA/29th Yards allowed per carry
Colts Run O22nd DVOA/28th Yards per carry
Jaguars Pass D32nd DVOA/27th Yards allowed per pass
Colts Pass O15th DVOA/10th Yards per pass
Colts Run D6th DVOA/3rd Yards allowed per carry
Jaguars Run O17th DVOA/30th Yards per carry
Colts Pass D3rd DVOA/2nd Yards allowed per pass
Jaguars Pass O21st DVOA/19th Yards per pass
The Jags are scoring the ninth fewest points per game.
The Colts are scoring the 15th fewest.
The Colts are allowing the 10th fewest yards per game.
The Jags are allowing the 16th fewest.
The Jags are allowing the 13th fewest points per game.
The Colts are allowing the 17th fewest.
The Colts are allowing the 12th fewest yards per pass attempt.
The Jags are allowing the 17th fewest.
It’s that kind of game — a couple mid-level teams that win games more because they know how to win games than because they are capable of dominating an opponent. And with this game adding a layer of being a division rivalry between two teams that know one another fairly well, it’s likeliest that this game plays out about the way Vegas expects (an Over/Under of 43.5 — with the Colts implied at 23.0 and the Jags at 20.5).
We’ll start on the Jags’ side of the ball, where this team prefers to win with a slow-paced, “run game and defense” strategy — ranking 13th in rush play rate (a mark they’d love to see crack the top 10) and 29th in situation neutral pace of play.
With this run-focused approach, of course, has come a heavy workload for Leonard Fournette, who has played 83.7% of the Jags’ snaps across his last three games, while seeing recent touch counts of 27 // 26 // 31 // 26 // 16. Fournette (incredibly) has only one touchdown all season, but he has the third most red zone carries and the seventh most carries inside the 10. The matchup isn’t great against a Colts team allowing 4.07 yards per carry, with only three rushing touchdowns and five total touchdowns allowed to enemy backs (fourth best and seventh best, respectively), but the locked-in volume Fournette sees whenever Jags games remain close still gives him opportunities to hit. (Note: his 16-touch game came in a 26-3 loss.)
While Fournette has been “all engine and no gloss” this year, the passing attack for the Jags has had its share of spiked weeks — with D.J. Chark picking up six touchdowns and a pair of games north of 140 receiving yards, and with Dede Westbrook and Chris Conley combining for three additional games of 100+ yards. This week, the Jags offense will return Nick Foles under center — though they will also be running into a matchup against a disciplined Colts secondary that is shaving 13.5% off the league-average aDOT and 10% off the league-average YAC/r. Only one team has faced fewer wide receiver targets than the Colts (after they faced the fewest in the league in this same Tampa 2 scheme a year ago), and while four wideouts have topped 100 yards and scored a touchdown in this matchup, all of them required volume to get there.
On defense, the Jaguars have had a few breakdowns this year that have led to big YAC plays (they’re boosting the league-average YAC/r by 14%), but they have otherwise been difficult to deal with, shaving 5% off the league-average aDOT and 4% off the league-average catch rate, and allowing only two pass catchers all season to post a DFS score you would have noticed you didn’t have (Alex Erickson’s ultra-cheap 8-137-0 day, and Sammy Watkins’ fluky 9-198-3 Week 1). Outside of these games, the most notable stat line against the Jags was 5-104-0 from Emmanuel Sanders — with Kelce // Humphries // DJ Moore // Michael Thomas all topping 80 yards in this spot, but with none of them scoring a touchdown. Jacoby Brissett is expected to be back under center, but T.Y. Hilton is still not ready to return — leaving this run-leaning offense to spread the ball around amongst Zach Pascal (recent target counts of 7 // 2 // 6 // 7), Chester Rogers (2 // 2 // 5 // 4), Marcus Johnson (three targets last week), Jack Doyle (5 // 5 // 4 // 4), and Eric Ebron (5 // 4 // 2 // 12 — this last one driven by “squeaky wheel” syndrome after Ebron initiated a meeting last week with Frank Reich about his role).
Perhaps the biggest impediment to some sort of notable stat line emerging from the Colts this week is not even the matchup they have against the Jaguars’ secondary, however, but is instead the matchup the Colts’ offense has on the ground. The Colts have played to the fourth highest rush play rate in the NFL this season, and the Jaguars (24th in DVOA on the ground; 4.99 yards allowed per carry to enemy backs) should have a difficult time stopping this rushing attack. Last week, the Dolphins sold out to stop the run in order to force Hoyer to beat them; but with Brissett back on the field this week, Marlon Mack will have some opportunities to break off chunk gains on moderate-to-heavy volume. Mack has 20 or more touches in five consecutive games — and while his red zone role (as explored last week) is not what it was a year ago, he still has paths to upside.
JM’s Interpretation ::
I’m not in the habit of rostering wideouts against the Colts (three of the four players who have gone for 100 yards and a touchdown in this matchup were Keenan, Julio, and Hopkins — while Byron Pringle attached to Mahomes was the other), but Chark has recent target counts of 7 // 5 // 12 // 9 and is talented enough to pile up production if he lands on the higher end of his target range. Westbrook is also set to return this week, and he quietly has recent target counts of 6 // 11 // 8 // 9, with 50+ yards in all four of those games. Neither player has a big game as their “likeliest scenario,” but I am a bit intrigued by a tourney scenario in which Foles comes out and plays really well off the bye, and one of these guys hits. Conley is less attractive against a team that has allowed the eighth fewest pass plays of 20+ yards (again: volume is typically required in order to hit against the Colts’ disciplined defense), but it does take only one play for him to pay off.
I love Fournette’s workload, but given his price and the good fortune he would need in this spot in order to post a score you’d regret missing out on, I’ll likely be off him myself.
I’ll also likely be off the Colts’ passing attack, as most of the game flow setups in this spot have this being a lower-volume game for Indy through the air, as a spread-the-ball-around offense that focuses on hammering the short areas of the field. There are plays that could hit, but slate-breakers would be rare in this spot if we played out this slate a hundred times.
The most interesting piece on this side of the ball is Mack, who always comes with risk as a near-zero in the pass game (five games this year with one or zero receptions), but who certainly has paths to hitting in this matchup. I doubt that Mack is a player who will end up on one of my tighter builds, but I can certainly see him making appearances on some larger-field rosters — and he’s a risk-embrace away from becoming tighter-build material.
Cardinals Run D10th DVOA/25th Yards allowed per carry
49ers Run O9th DVOA/8th Yards per carry
Cardinals Pass D10th DVOA/19th Yards allowed per pass
49ers Pass O17th DVOA/21st Yards per pass
49ers Run D7th DVOA/9th Yards allowed per carry
Cardinals Run O2nd DVOA/2nd Yards per carry
49ers Pass D22rd DVOA/3rd Yards allowed per pass
Cardinals Pass O18th DVOA/15th Yards per pass
For the most part, the Arizona Cardinals have been the team we expected them to be this year. They rank first in the league in pace of play (and 11th in pass play rate — a ranking that would be even higher if not for all the Kyler Murray runs), and they rank 31st in time of possession while allowing the most opponent plays per game.
The 49ers, meanwhile, have been an even better version of what we expected — with an ultra-stout defense allowing them to rank 25th in pace of play and first in rush play rate, while ranking second in time of possession and allowing the fewest opponent plays per game. When these teams met two weeks ago (I will never understand why the schedule-makers do this…), the Cardinals were able to ride Kenyan Drake and a big play from Andy Isabella to give the 49ers a run for their money. Vegas isn’t buying, as the 49ers enter as 10.5 point favorites at home.
The big news on the 49ers’ side of the ball is the absence of George Kittle and the potential absence of Emmanuel Sanders, as Kittle has recent target counts of 8 // 5 // 7 // 8, while Sanders has gone 5 // 9 // 4 (injury) since joining the team. These two combined for 17 targets in the last game against the Cardinals, with Manny popping off for 112 yards and a touchdown while Kittle went 6-79-1. The Cardinals have allowed a whopping 12 notable stat lines to pass catchers this year (1.33 per game) with an additional four allowed to running backs.
The clearest setup for the 49ers is at tight end, where Ross Dwelley played 76 of a possible 83 snaps last week (compared to 12 and 10 for veteran blocking complements Levine Toilolo and Garrett Celek) — and while he hauled in only three catches for 24 yards, he saw seven targets. Dwelley has been a developmental project for the 49ers (signed as an undrafted free agent last year; time on the practice squad; etc.), but the knock against him coming out of college was that he’s a strong pass catcher but can’t block. This is enough to keep him off the field for a regular role right now — but with Kittle out, he’s soaking up snaps, and his lack of blocking ability doesn’t bother us.
The next piece that jumps off the page here, of course, is Deebo Samuel, who (as everyone in the DFS community is surely aware) saw 11 targets on Monday night against Seattle (turning these looks into 8-112-0). Samuel played 70 snaps last week, and he saw seven targets against Arizona in Week 9 with Kittle and Sanders on the field. He’s also a favorite of Coach Shanahan’s — which especially stands out against Dante Pettis, who has been in Shanny’s doghouse all year, and Kendrick Bourne, who has made some costly mental errors.
Speaking of Bourne: he saw eight targets last week and is a quiet bet for steady involvement if Sanders misses. At the very least, Bourne will spend almost the entire game on the field if Sanders misses, after playing 71.1% of the snaps last week.
Now that we have explored all that, it’s also worth exploring the other side of the coin: the fact that Jimmy Garoppolo threw the ball 46 times last week (and threw it 37 times in the close game vs Arizona in Week 9), after failing to crack even 30 pass attempts in five of his first seven games (and failing to top 33 pass attempts in any of those first seven games). Jimmy’s lowest-attempt games are fairly easy to account for (27 throws in a two-touchdown win at Tampa in Week 1, with this team desperately trying to get the “road win” monkey off their back and allowing Jameis to walk into mistakes all game rather than asking Jimmy G to get aggressive || 25 attempts in a 41-17 blowout win over the Bengals || 29 attempts in a 31-3 blowout win over the Browns || 21 attempts in the bad weather “mud game” at Washington || 22 attempts in a 51-13 blowout win over the Panthers). The Cardinals don’t make a habit of being blown out (six of their nine games this year have finished with six or fewer points separating the two teams), but they have lost by 17+ three separate times, and “at San Francisco” is not an easy spot. The likeliest scenario in this spot has Jimmy G throwing 30 to 33 times — but the risk of a 25-or-fewer attempt game should not be entirely discounted; and with how hot the field should be for this cheap passing attack, that risk is obviously very much worth thinking about as you work your way through the ways you want to handle this game.
It never made sense to me that everyone got hyped up to play Tevin Coleman after he topped 100 yards and scored three touchdowns…on 11 carries — and he has followed up that game with 12 and nine carries (14 and 13 touches). With that said: a matchup against the Cardinals almost implores you to roster at least one player, as it has just been too easy for offenses to pile up production in this spot. Before this stretch of lower-target games, Coleman had seen touch counts of 16 // 20 // 22. Matt Breida is looking likely to miss (current reports have him missing a couple weeks — though if Breida ends up playing, it wouldn’t be the first time…or the second time…or even the third time that he’s been expected to miss, only to show up active on Sunday), and if this proves to be the case, it should be Coleman seeing about 60% of the snaps // RB touches, with Raheem Mostert seeing the rest. The 49ers have been hesitant to use Mostert or Breida near the goal line, so Coleman (15th in the league in red zone carries in spite of missing several weeks) will be the best bet for both production and touchdowns, while Mostert will have to hit on efficiency or longer plays (or will need one of his rare red zone touches to pay off). The pass game role for both of these players is merely dumpoff-driven, so you’re building primarily around yardage and touchdowns if grabbing one of these two. A lower-volume game from the 49ers’ passing attack would almost certainly mean a higher-volume game from Coleman and Mostert.
Arizona has a fairly impossible matchup in the air against a San Francisco team that is allowing the second fewest fantasy points per game to quarterbacks and is one of only three teams with more interceptions than passing touchdowns allowed. San Francisco is shaving 16% off the league-average aDOT and 10% off the league-average catch rate — each of which ranks second in the league (a nearly impossible combination to pull off, as most teams force a shorter aDOT by “giving up underneath throws and taking away the downfield portions of the field,” thereby boosting catch rate). They have allowed the fewest wide receiver receptions and the third fewest wide receiver yards, and outside of John Ross and Tyler Boyd both topping 100 yards in this matchup deep into a blowout, the highest yardage total through the air against them came from Andy Isabella, on his one-catch performance a couple weeks back. No team has allowed fewer pass plays of 20+ yards than the 49ers. It’s just throwing darts to try to pick on this pass defense.
On the flip side: we entered this season exploring the reasons why we should expect the 49ers to be much better against the pass than most were expecting, but to struggle against the run — and they proceeded to shut down both the pass and the run for the first several weeks. But this has all finally begun to come around, as the 49ers rank first in DVOA against the pass, but 17th against the run, while allowing 4.47 yards per carry to enemy backs. Unfortunately, that pretty much ends the “good news,” as San Francisco has allowed the second fewest receiving yards to running backs and the second fewest touchdowns; and given how thoroughly they control their games, only six teams have faced fewer running back rush attempts. The Cardinals are also splitting looks between Drake (43 snaps last week) and David Johnson (29 snaps last week), with Kliff Kingsbury talking this week about how they are trying to figure out how these pieces fit together moving forward. As Drake showed in Week 9: it’s not impossible for a running back to hit in this spot — but if we played out this slate a hundred times, his Week 9 outing would obviously prove to be the outlier, rather than the norm.
JM’s Interpretation ::
The Cardinals’ side of the ball is fairly easy to figure out, as the likeliest scenarios don’t have any player on this average- to below-average team posting a “have to have it” score on the road against one of the three or four toughest defenses in football (and a “have to have it” score would be pretty necessary to justify the low floor a play from the Cardinals exposes you to). There are ways in which a player from this squad could hit for those who want to chase, but most tributaries for this game don’t make the Cardinals particularly useful.
Unfortunately, the fact that the Cardinals are in such a tough spot here makes the 49ers’ side a bit more difficult to figure out, as our best path to volume on this passing attack is the Cardinals keeping this game competitive — with a blowout opening potential for another “25 or fewer” pass attempt game from Garoppolo. If Sanders plays, it will be Sanders // Deebo // Dwelley as the primary targets, and if Sanders misses, it will be Deebo // Bourne // Dwelley. In the first scenario, Sanders and Deebo are both tourney options in this great spot — with a strong chance for each to see at least six targets, and with some obvious paths to more — and Dwelley will be an intriguing salary saver in all contest types (primarily on DK/FDraft, of course — where tight end pricing is less condensed). If Sanders misses, Deebo is almost certainly too cheap to not play in cash, where his big game on national television (after pricing was set) will draw massive ownership his way — and he should pay off his cheap price with six to eight targets in a likeliest scenario, making him a player to keep in mind in tourneys in spite of his status as sure-to-be-chalk. If choosing to fade Deebo (who went 4-40-0 on seven targets when these teams met two weeks ago), your best bet is to not do so in a vacuum, but to instead pivot over to a different player from the 49ers, as one or two strong stat lines are likely to emerge from this team, and these players are far too cheap for the matchup. Dwelley // Bourne // Coleman are all solid bets to post the top score on the 49ers, with Mostert having an outside shot as well. Deebo will have a good shot at hitting if Sanders misses; but given how high his ownership is likely to climb in that scenario, his actual chance of hitting for a “have to have it” score will be lower than the percentage at which he is owned.
Bengals Run D23rd DVOA/28th Yards allowed per carry
Raiders Run O24th DVOA/17th Yards per carry
Bengals Pass D16th DVOA/25th Yards allowed per pass
Raiders Pass O5th DVOA/7th Yards per pass
Raiders Run D31st DVOA/15th Yards allowed per carry
Bengals Run O27th DVOA/26th Yards per carry
Raiders Pass D26th DVOA/28th Yards allowed per pass
Bengals Pass O26th DVOA/13th Yards per pass
A year ago (when the whole world was laughing at Jon Gruden), it would have been inconceivable that “a higher-priced Raiders running back” would shape up as potentially one of the chalkiest plays on the weekend — but here we are. The 5-4(!) Raiders are set to take on the 0-9(!) Bengals — a team that has given up more notable stat lines on the ground than any other team in the league while allowing 4.79 yards per carry to backs and ranking 29th in DVOA against the run. This Bengals team is in such rough shape, they handed the ball off 30 times to Joe Mixon last week in a 36-point loss, and talked openly afterward about how they were working on some things in their run game and didn’t see any reason to make things more difficult on Ryan Finley than they already were by asking him to throw relentlessly against an ears-pinned-back defense facing obvious passing situations. From a logical standpoint, that actually all makes sense (as I’ve said before: as unpopular as this take is, I actually like this coaching staff) — but it’s also a very clear and obvious answer (as if we didn’t have one already by this point) to the question we asked in our preseason preview of this team: are the Bengals using this year to try to win games (i.e., calling games around their personnel in an effort to win ugly in whatever way possible), or are they instead using this year to try to build the foundations of their system? It would be nice to see this team improving throughout the season more than they have (not all coaches can be Brian Flores — who, in addition to being demanding of his players, would be a really easy coach to get behind and play for), but the main takeaway here is that this team is more interested in running things the way they run things and “using games as practice” than they are in creating some sort of unexpected approach to sneak away with a victory.
We’ll start on the Raiders’ side of the ball, then, where there is really nothing the Bengals can do with the personnel on hand to become better against the run than they are — and as noted all season (starting in Week 1 against Chris Carson) :: the Bengals are an above-average run defense up the gut; but there is just nothing they can do to stop runs to the edges. The Raiders’ rushing attack — as we all know by now — is built around getting to the edges, with 67% of Josh Jacobs’ explosive runs this year coming off-tackle or off the edge. The Bengals are facing 24.3 running back rush attempts (and 29.2 running back touches) per game, while Jacobs has 75% of the Raiders’ running back carries this year. The Bengals’ 24.3 running back rush attempts faced per game also fails to account for the fact that this defense has faced Russell Wilson, Josh Allen, Kyler Murray, Gardner Minshew, and Lamar Jackson (twice), with these quarterbacks combining for 58 rush attempts. There aren’t many game flow scenarios in which Jacobs falls shy of 20 touches.
The Bengals are facing the lowest opponent pass play rate in the league (while the Raiders are the fifth run-heaviest team in football — trailing only the 49ers, Ravens, Vikings, and Colts, while just topping the Seahawks and Cowboys), and with the limited pass attempts this team is facing, they have incredibly faced the fewest wide receiver targets in the NFL. The matchup is non-threatening for opposing passing attacks, as Cincy is boosting league-average YAC/r by an incredible 41% — but between the low aDOT this team forces (7.3% shaved off the league-average aDOT) and the roughly league-average catch rate allowed, only two pass-catchers all year have topped 100 yards in this spot, with Dede Westbrook going 6-103-0 and Cooper Kupp going 7-220-1. The Raiders have not yet had a wide receiver top eight targets, so you’re looking for efficiency (likely in the form of a busted play and a big YAC gain) if going here this week.
The Bengals have been less “stingy” to tight ends, ranking middle of the pack in most categories to the position — and it seems likely, with Gruden calling the shots, that the Raiders stick to their general approach throughout most of this game, which should net five to eight targets for Darren Waller (recent target counts of 8 // 5 // 8 // 8 // 2 // 5). Waller has failed to top 53 yards in five of his last six games (as noted throughout the season, his role doesn’t typically carry him downfield), but he should be able to post efficient production on whatever targets are there this week.
The Bengals’ side is interesting largely in that it cannot help but be noticed that Mixon had 30 carries in a blowout loss, and it seems likely that most content providers (and thus, a large chunk of the field) will simply apply that as a trend moving forward. The Bengals’ coaching staff, however, has seemed to specifically pin that decision to the opponent they were facing (i.e., ‘We know we don’t have a good offensive line, so why allow the Ravens to blitz our young QB all day when there’s literally no way we’re coming back in this game anyway?’). It’s still Ryan Finley under center (with A.J. Green still out and John Ross still joining him), but against an Oakland team that ranks 29th in DVOA against the pass, this spot is interesting in that it’s a good matchup that no one will be on. The Raiders have allowed the seventh most passing yards and the second most passing touchdowns. Only five teams have allowed more yards to wideouts and only six teams have allowed more touchdowns. The Raiders have also allowed the second most touchdowns to tight ends, the third most yards per pass attempt, and the fifth most fantasy points per game to quarterbacks. Perhaps most importantly for the Bengals’ young QB (behind their awful offensive line), the Raiders rank near the bottom of the league in pressure rate — and they’re now down Arden Key, who ranks seventh on the team in pressures. Finley threw only two passes 20+ yards downfield last week and otherwise primarily stayed within 15 yards of the line of scrimmage, but the same was the case for Andy Dalton against the Ravens, while Cincy was comfortable allowing Dalton to open things up more against the Jags and Rams in the weeks that followed. Again: it’s Ryan Finley. But the Ravens are allowing 14.73 fantasy points per game to QBs (Finley scored 10.88), while the Raiders are allowing 22.34.
The target distribution for the Bengals was roughly the same with Finley under center as it had been with Dalton, with Tyler Boyd seeing eight out of 30 looks (recent target counts of 14 // 7 // 14 // 9 // 8) and Auden Tate seeing six out of 30 looks (recent target counts of 6 // 11 // 6 // 13 // 6). Alex Erickson checked out early with a back issue and is currently looking questionable for this week, while Stanley Morgan filled in for Erickson and saw four looks of his own. Tyler Eifert (four targets), Joe Mixon (three targets), and Giovani Bernard (one target) soaked up the scraps.
The matchup is less helpful on the ground, where the Raiders have allowed only one running back (Dalvin Cook) to top 100 yards against them this season. Mixon finally had his first 100-yard game of the year last week — though again, this came on 30 carries (with Gio getting hurt, then ruled out, then eventually returning), and as explored above: there is certainly no guarantee that this type of usage shows up again in this spot.
JM’s Interpretation ::
As always when guesswork is introduced, you could side with what the field is likely thinking here and assume another large workload for Mixon (which would make him a solid mid-priced option — as would be the case for almost any running back seeing 30+ touches!), and the Bengals are starting to incorporate more man/gap run blocking looks in place of the zone scheme that has been failing so miserably for them (a zone-blocking scheme should allow a lesser line to still block effectively, but this unit has simply not come together the way they needed to), which could make this a more effective rushing attack down the stretch.
While I’ll likely avoid Mixon myself (or have minimal exposure if I do go to him), the Bengals’ pass catchers stand out to me a bit in tourneys — as “a big game” is not the likeliest scenario for any of these guys, but it’s a far likelier scenario than the field will assume. If going here, Boyd will be my first choice, but Tate and (if he is healthy) Erickson will also be viable options.
On the Raiders’ side, the pass catchers will likely land as deeper Tier 3 plays — with their best path to production being a game in which the Bengals do a good job through the air and keep this game close enough for some volume to show up; though the golden play over here, of course, is Jacobs, who should clear 20 touches fairly easily, and who has plenty of upside in this spot. Jacobs’ pass game role still leaves something to be desired (he saw a season-high five looks last week, but he’s had three or fewer targets in every other game this year, and he has yet to top 30 yards through the air), but his touches and his red zone role (third in red zone carries; sixth in carries inside the 10) create plenty of clear opportunities for good things to happen.
Patriots Run D18th DVOA/27th Yards allowed per carry
Eagles Run O25th DVOA/15th Yards per carry
Patriots Pass D17th DVOA/11th Yards allowed per pass
Eagles Pass O29th DVOA/24th Yards per pass
Eagles Run D15th DVOA/24th Yards allowed per carry
Patriots Run O3rd DVOA/4th Yards per carry
Eagles Pass D29th DVOA/7th Yards allowed per pass
Patriots Pass O27th DVOA/28th Yards per pass
For back-to-back years, “picking on the Eagles with passing attacks” has been a DFS staple, as this team A) has forced one of the lowest opponent rush play rates for several years running, as opponents avoid their stout front, and B) has dealt with an apocalyptic stream of injuries in the secondary — with Jalen Mills playing only 11 games since the start of 2018 and Ronald Darby playing only 14. Over the Eagles’ last three games, however (seemingly unnoticed by the field), the Eagles began to get healthy in the secondary and were dealing with injuries up front that led to them facing a pass play rate of only 55.4% (a mark that would be the seventh lowest in the league if it had been in place across the season). As we talk about regularly around this time of year: teams continue to develop, and matchups continue to change.
Coming off the bye, however, the Eagles are as healthy up front as they will be at any point moving forward — and while they are also healthy in the secondary, it isn’t as if Mills and Darby have presented shy-away matchups over the last couple seasons. The Patriots enter this game ranking middle of the pack in pass play rate — but given how poor they have been on the ground (30th in yards per carry), it is a fairly comfortable assumption that they will come off the bye putting the ball in the hands of Tom Brady, who has recent pass attempt totals of 42 // 39 // 42 // 41 // 45 // 36 // 46.
As we are well aware: not all pass attempts are created equal — and with the Patriots notching the fifth shallowest average intended air yards in the league, these high-attempt games have led to yardage totals of 306 // 150 // 348 // 334 // 249 // 259 // 285. Brady has two games in this stretch with zero touchdowns, two games with one touchdown, two games with two touchdowns, and one game with three.
Generally speaking, we think of the Patriots as a difficult-to-predict offense (for good reason — as they aim to be difficult to predict for their opponents), but with limited aerial weapons this year, they have been a more straightforward unit than in the past, with recent target counts looking like this ::
The Eagles are actually shaving a solid 4% off the league-average catch rate and are sitting on the league average in YAC/r — and while they provide a slight aDOT boost, their ability to control the clock this season (fifth in time of possession) has led to them ranking middle of the pack in pass attempts faced, while quietly allowing the 11th fewest catches to wide receivers and ranking middle of the pack in yards allowed to the position. The Eagles have allowed the seventh most touchdowns to wide receivers, but otherwise they have been better at preventing WR production than the perception of this team would have you believe — posting middle-of-the-pack numbers pretty much across the board.
To frame all that another way: there is no reason to be concerned about the matchup — though in order for this to be a true “matchup boost,” the Patriots will need to control the clock more than most teams have been able to against the Eagles. New England ranks fourth in time of possession themselves (in all, the Eagles and Patriots lose over five minutes off their combined time of possession — enough for about 10 total plays to be lost from what these two teams average on offense), so one of these two teams is not going to see the sort of volume they are typically able to see.
“Controlling the clock” could prove somewhat difficult for the Patriots if the Eagles come out of the bye looking to hammer this matchup on the ground. Philly already has the eighth highest rush play rate in the league, and Alshon Jeffery missed practice on Wednesday and appears truly questionable for the week. For as long as this game stays close, it makes sense for Philly to focus on the ground game against a Patriots team that ranks 14th in DVOA against the run (compared to second against the pass) and has allowed 4.41 yards per carry to enemy backs. This still isn’t a “great matchup” (Belichick is going to have spent time during the bye trying to fix this unit’s run game issues, and we’re fully aware of how difficult it has been for years to score touchdowns on the ground against this team), but it’s the best matchup available to an Eagles team that wants to run the ball anyway.
Although Jordan Howard was limited in practice on Wednesday, we’ll head into this portion of our writeup assuming he plays (especially as Miles Sanders — one of the most explosive young players in football, in an expanded role at a depressed price in a matchup he can win — would be a clear and obvious top play if Howard were to miss).
Howard has been operating in a timeshare this year (he played exactly 50% of the Eagles’ snaps in Week 9), but he has been the main piece on the ground for this team, with double-digit carries in seven consecutive games, and with 23 // 19 carries in his last two. The setup beyond those touches points to only outlier paths for a big game, however, as Howard has yet to top 100 yards on the year, he has only 10 receptions all season, and most of his value has come from his seven touchdowns (with touchdowns — again — being difficult to come by against this defense, especially on the ground).
Sanders — in a rare twist for a rookie — actually opened the season with a bigger role than he has seen in recent weeks, with touch counts of 12 // 13 // 15 // 11 // 13 through his first five games, followed by touch counts of 6 // 9 // 6 // 13. As with the Patriots: it’s often difficult to get a feel for the “what” and “why” behind the Eagles’ weekly approach on offense (with this difficulty coming by design), but it is at least worth noting that the Patriots don’t really have the bodies to keep up with Sanders in coverage (or on the second level) if he sees an expanded workload. The Patriots rank near the top of the league in preventing receiving yards to running backs this year, but they have faced hardly any strong pass-catching backs, and they’ve been one of the more attackable units in the league in this area over the last several years.
Nothing else through the air is likely to come easy for the Eagles, as their passing offense ranks 15th in DVOA while (incredibly) producing only two games all year of 80 or more receiving yards (9-103-1 for Zach Ertz in Week 9; 8-107-1 for Nelson Agholor in Week 2). While the Patriots have not dealt with the most difficult slate of opponent passing attacks, this was an elite unit last year as well, and 19 interceptions against three touchdowns allowed is no trivial matter.
JM’s Interpretation ::
With this game carrying an Over/Under of only 44.5 (and both teams priced for higher volume than is available, as these two combine for over 65 minutes in time of possession), there are not any “must have” plays in this spot on paper — though there are a few pieces that can certainly be considered.
Edelman is part of a large group of players carrying “Are you kidding?” price tags on DraftKings (he’s only topped 20 points three times, and he has yet to crack 30 — which is the score you’d ultimately be targeting at his price), and he’s less valuable on FanDuel, where his PPR skill set doesn’t play as well. (Even on FantasyDraft — where players are almost always a bit cheaper than they are on DK, Edelman needs to hit for about 28 points; which — again — has not been his norm.) But if we take pricing out of the equation, he’s a strong all-around play here, with floor and ceiling. Sanu is priced at an “Are you kidding?” level as well on DK, though his is a question of why they made him so cheap. Sanu was a central piece of the Patriots passing attack two weeks ago (14 targets, including two that came 35+ yards downfield) and he has had the bye week to further integrate. It obviously wouldn’t be unexpected for him to see seven or eight looks and go something like 5-50-0 (though…the same could be said for Edelman, who has three games already of 51 or fewer yards), but the Patriots (a team that values draft picks highly) traded a second round pick for Sanu in order to integrate him into this offense for this year’s Super Bowl run.
White has 46+ receiving yards in every game this year, and his 12 red zone targets rank eighth in the league. The Eagles rank middle of the pack in receiving yards allowed to running backs this year, but they allowed the sixth most a year ago. White typically sees higher schemed usage in run-tough matchups, so there are paths to a strong game here. (There are also paths to a multi-touchdown game for Sony Michel — because that’s always the case. But that will likely be necessary in order for him to hit.)
On the Eagles’ side, you could try to capture lightning by picking on the Patriots’ pass coverage (if going there, Dallas Goedert would be the strategic play, as more eyes will flow to Ertz after his big game two weeks ago, and Goedert had been averaging only 1.5 fewer targets per game than Ertz across the four contests leading up to that), but the place to really look is the backfield. If Howard plays (which seems likely, as the Eagles haven’t made a big deal about the shoulder issue), he’ll need some good fortune near the end zone to hit, while Sanders will be only a deeper-tourney option for the upside he can have on limited touches; but if Howard misses, Sanders will immediately step up as one of the more attractive plays on the slate as a talented, all-purpose lead back stepping into a lead role and priced for the shorter end of a timeshare.
Bears Run D11th DVOA/16th Yards allowed per carry
Rams Run O1st DVOA/7th Yards per carry
Bears Pass D2nd DVOA/8th Yards allowed per pass
Rams Pass O10th DVOA/18th Yards per pass
Rams Run D21st DVOA/7th Yards allowed per carry
Bears Run O28th DVOA/32nd Yards per carry
Rams Pass D11th DVOA/5th Yards allowed per pass
Bears Pass O24th DVOA/25th Yards per pass
Showdown Slant ::
Presented by top Showdown mind Xandamere!
The good island games had to come to an end sometime and they came to a screeching halt this week with Thursday night and now this game. A game total of 40, Mitch Trubisky, and two strong defenses is not a recipe for excitement, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still go after a profitable slate. The Rams are 6 point home favorites as Vegas clearly isn’t buying Trubisky’s improved performance last week (three touchdown passes, albeit with short fields gifted by the defense and just 23 total pass attempts).
The Chicago offense is kind of a disaster. They want to run the ball a lot with David Montgomery, but their rushing offense is 27th by DVOA and their O-line ranks in the bottom quarter of the NFL in adjusted line yards. The Rams, of course, boast an elite run defense. Backs with goal-line roles always have value in showdown because they can always grab short-field scores, especially on what is likely to be a low-scoring game when even 10 or 12 points could land a guy in the optimal lineup, but that’s basically what you’re hoping for here with David Montgomery. It’s going to be awfully hard for him to be relevant purely based on volume. Montgomery is questionable, as well, though what I’ve seen is that he’s more likely to play than not. If Montgomery misses, Ryan Nall probably steps into most of his role, and at just $200 it would be hard for him to “fail.” He’ll probably still need a touchdown to smash, but at $200, if five other expensive guys have good games, even 6 or 8 points could be enough to make Nall work. Finally, Tarik Cohen brings interesting mismatch and big play potential and might go overlooked a bit since he hasn’t really “boomed” this season. He’s being used more around the line of scrimmage, as he’s only exceeded 10 yards per catch in two games, but the upside is still there. I like him as one of the Bears’ best ways to move the ball in this game, though I should also note here that his role likely doesn’t really change if Montgomery misses (the guy weighs like 190, they aren’t going to suddenly start banging him between the tackles for 20 carries).
The Bears’ pass game is equally dubious. The full-time receivers here are Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel. Robinson is, of course, an elite receiver stuck on a terrible offense, and in most games he’s the guy you want from the Bears, but he’s likely to be locked up with Jalen Ramsey for most of this game. Robinson can beat that matchup, but it isn’t the most likely outcome, and in a showdown slate it’s not like he’s going to come low owned to give you an ownership discount for the risk you’re taking by rostering him. He’s not a terrible play but I’ll be shooting to be underweight the field on him in tournaments. Taylor Gabriel is my favorite play on the Bears (well, unless we get Nall as a play), because he’s the only other guy who is on the field for every play, he won’t be on Ramsey, and he’s just $6,600. He’s a strong option and the Chicago player who I would argue is least likely to fail. Behind Gabriel we have rotational and part-time players. Anthony Miller isn’t a bad option at just $2,000. He’s kind of disappeared in the last two games, but prior to that he had three games of 50+ yards as he appears to have put his early-season health issues behind him. Cordarelle Patterson has big play ability that we haven’t seen actually pan out this season but it could show up in any game, and can of course be paired with the Bears D if you’re hoping for some Goff turnovers and then a kick return for a touchdown. The tight end situation in Chicago is a mess, as Trey Burton and Adam Shaheen are both out, leaving J.P. Holtz and Ben Braunecker as the active TEs. These two guys, who are primarily blockers, have seen a whopping seven targets between them all season long. Braunecker caught a touchdown last week, so maybe that bought him some trust if you really feel like you need to go here.
The Rams, fresh off of a humiliating defeat in which they couldn’t find the end zone a single time against Pittsburgh, have to be glad to be coming home where Jared Goff has been materially better. The Bears’ defense has been more good than great this year, and the run game has been kind of a disaster with Todd Gurley, for whatever reason, not carrying the same kind of workload he had in years past. Gurley has only averaged 13 carries and 3.5 targets per game this season, and while he has upside here as a home favorite, at $8,800 he’s priced like a back who gets more work than he’s been seeing. He isn’t a bad play, but he’s just a bit too expensive for the workload. Malcolm Brown and Darrell Henderson have both been mixing in to back up Gurley but neither is seeing enough work to be anything but a dart throw.
The Los Angeles passing attack has centered on Cooper Kupp all season until a rather surprising failure last week with Kupp not catching a single ball on just four targets. I’m still going back to the well here as one of the safest plays in the game, though, as despite last week Kupp is averaging just over 10 targets per game and 88 receiving yards. I think he’s the highest overall floor play on the slate and a rare example of a receiver who I feel confident enough to use in cash games. Robert Woods has been a massive disappointment this season but saw 11 targets last week, though it’s hard to know if that will continue due to Brandin Cooks being out or if that was more due to Kupp being unable to get open. He’s a bit on the pricey side given the low floor he’s shown this year, but there is a path to double-digit targets here. Gerald Everett is an $8,000 tight end, a showdown price point normally only seen by guys like Kelce, Ertz, Kittle, and (this year) Hooper. He’s become a bigger part of the Rams’ offense this season, but he’s still had two games of 15 receiving yards or fewer in his last four. We’ve seen some ceiling from Everett but I would not view him as a safe play in any way. Josh Reynolds feels like he should step in and have a big role with Cooks out, but while he’ll be on the field for every snap, that resulted in just five targets last week. At $4,800 he’s a solid value who is unlikely to post a dud, but I think it’s a mistake to view Reynolds in the same way that we viewed him last year when Kupp got hurt; this is a different Rams offense that is both A) less competent overall and B) involves tight ends more and so doesn’t have the same concentration of targets that it used to. Behind these primary receivers, Tyler Higbee will get a couple of targets (and will need a touchdown to pay off), and that’s about it.
The way this game is likely to play out is….slow. And boring. It’s hard to get excited about watching this one unless you’re a fan of one of the teams involved. The Rams should find their way into the end zone a couple of times, more likely through the air than the ground, while the Bears are likely to struggle to get there (but it’s awfully hard to predict that an NFL team just doesn’t score; they’ll probably get there at least once). Kickers are exceptionally relevant in this one as we’re likely to see both stalled out drives but also some short fields as a result of early stalls and/or turnovers.
Some other ways the game could play out:
- I guess we could have an actual shootout? I mean, weirder things have happened, and not many rosters will be built around that possibility.
- I do want to reiterate that running backs with goal line roles have value in showdowns — even in bad matchups, even on the road, even in low total games. All it takes is a defensive pass interference in the end zone to set up a short score. If Montgomery misses, Nall is going to be very chalky due to his price, but if Montgomery plays, he’s actually an interesting tourney piece at what will likely be very low ownership.
My favorite captain in this one is Cooper Kupp. I also like Gurley, and then Gabriel and Cohen on the Bears.
Some groups to consider:
- At most 1 kicker
- At most 1 defense
- Pair captain receivers with their quarterback (you could consider not doing this for Kupp, who could conceivably get there on volume alone while not necessarily dragging Goff along with him into an optimal lineup)
- Pair captain quarterbacks with at least 2 receivers
- At most 1 Bears tight end
- At most 1 of Henderson and Brown
— Xandamere’s Advanced Showdown Course is now available through OWS :: Marketplace! This is his tournament course for Showdowns; and given the tangible edge in this contest type, it should pay itself off pretty quickly(!).
JM’s Notes for Thursday-to-Monday Players ::
- One thing I worry too much about (given that it’s probably pretty obvious I put a good chunk of time, effort, and “care” into my research and work for the site) is that it will look like I’m slacking off if I take the clearest path to breaking down a game in which there is little to like (which is even more silly when you consider that time is a finite resource; and if I put in less time on an ugly game, that frees up more time to focus on a more attractive game). But given how poorly the Bears offense has been playing and how solid the Rams defense is, this side of the ball is easy to knock off our list pretty quickly on the large, 14-game slate that stretches from Thursday to Monday. David Montgomery is literally guaranteed to have at least a couple more strong games this year (he’s seeing a ridiculous share of the Bears’ available offensive touches), but a matchup against the number three run defense (DVOA) behind this bad offensive line is nothing more than a “hope and pray” spot. Allen Robinson will see coverage from Jalen Ramsey and is just a dart. Taylor Gabriel is the best bet for production, but is still just a deep tourney play.
- The Rams aren’t in much better shape against the number five overall DVOA defense (with a 21st-place DVOA ranking on offense). Because this team still has explosive elements and is playing at home, some solid scores are likely to emerge; but price-considered slate-winners are going to be difficult to come by. If this were a 14-game Main Slate that included this game, I wouldn’t have a single piece from it on my tighter builds.
- If wanting to chase in this spot, your best bet would be to build around a specific game flow scenario that has one particular player getting huge production (i.e., there isn’t likely to be a ton of overall production in this game; but if all the action/scoring ends up concentrating on one player, that one player could post a strong score).
Chiefs Run D28th DVOA/30th Yards allowed per carry
Chargers Run O31st DVOA/13th Yards per carry
Chiefs Pass D2nd DVOA/4th Yards allowed per pass
Chargers Pass O7th DVOA/5th Yards per pass
Chargers Run D21st DVOA/14th Yards allowed per carry
Chiefs Run O17th DVOA/9th Yards per carry
Chargers Pass D11th DVOA/23rd Yards allowed per pass
Chiefs Pass O1st DVOA/12th Yards per pass
Showdown Slant ::
Presented by top Showdown mind Xandamere!
A wild week 11 wraps up with the Chiefs “visiting” the Chargers down in Mexico City to play the highest total game of the week (too bad it wasn’t on the main slate). The Chiefs are currently 5 point favorites with a total of 53, so there’s some potential for fireworks here.
The Chargers’ run game is the best place to look for production on the LA side as the Chiefs have been legitimately horrible against the run (31st in DVOA, in front of just the Panthers). Melvin Gordon has gotten his mojo back the last two weeks with 24 and 23 touches, averaging over 4 yards per carry after a slow start. However, in those two games he’s only played 62% and 63% of the snaps, compared to 45% and 34% for Austin Ekeler. Gordon’s getting the touches, but Ekeler isn’t going away, getting 16 and 8 touches of his own (including 6 targets against 5 for MG3). My concern here is less about the rushing work, as Gordon should dominate the workload there, but the pass game work that is so valuable on Draftkings could skew more Ekeler’s way for the rest of the season. Both MG3 and Ekeler feel like they’re priced about 10% above where I would really like to see them, but they are both priced for timeshare roles, and both can hit in the same matchup. Given the exploitability of this particular matchup, both are very strong plays here.
The pass game for the Chargers gets much dicier. I feel like people still attack the Chiefs with receivers, and that can still sort of work just because of volume if the Chiefs offense gets out big early on and the other team has to throw. But what’s been lost in that volume story is that the Chiefs pass defense is good. Like, really good. Borderline elite, even, at 5th in the NFL in pass defense DVOA, ahead of teams like the Bears, Ravens, and Bills. Chargers’ receivers can succeed here, of course, but the matchup is a lot harder than the field tends to give it credit for, and LA pass catchers are likely to go heavily owned here. Keenan Allen, as always, needs a ton of volume to smash because he doesn’t have much big play ability or a big red zone role. Mike Williams will have his hands full on the perimeter, and neither Williams nor Allen are priced down for the matchup. Where things get interesting is with Andre Patton, who has played over 80% of the snaps for the last 3 weeks but has done literally nothing. He did see 4 targets last week, including 2 deep balls that were overthrown by Rivers, so there could be some opportunity here and at just $200, he really only needs to connect on one deep ball to be someone you might have to have in order to win a tournament. He’s worth some exposure, though he’s a legit risk to post a 0. Finally, the Chargers’ pass game wraps up with Hunter Henry. Henry is the one receiver who has a strong matchup as the Chiefs have struggled against tight ends this year, and as he’s averaging 8 targets per game, Henry isn’t nearly as touchdown reliant as most tight ends (though he’s getting just shy of 2 red zone looks per game as well). Henry is a really strong play here.
In the Chiefs’ run game, Damien Williams took command of the backfield last week with a 73% snap share and 24 total touches, including 5 targets. LeSean McCoy was a surprise healthy scratch, while Darrel Williams backed up Damien and saw 3 touches. Preseason and best ball darling Darwin Thompson even got in on the fun with 2 touches of his own (and beat reporter info was that one of the reasons for Shady being inactive was that they wanted to start working in Darwin — though that seems to have been a bit of wishful thinking). It’s hard to say what’s going to happen with Shady here. Andy Reid had some coachspeak about keeping him rested for the stretch run, but McCoy also only played 6 snaps the week before and lost a critical fumble the week prior to that, so maybe he’s in the doghouse (though to be fair to Shady he’s played very well this year, averaging 5.2 yards per carry and catching 20 of 22 targets). Watch for beat reporter news here. It seems likely that Damien has taken over as the lead back, and at $7,400 he’s not priced for lead back-type workload. If Shady is active, he could be Damien’s backup, or he could just be an emergency active…it’s hard to really parse this situation, but at the end of the day I think Damien Williams is a strong play regardless of Shady’s status unless we get some news indicating that McCoy will not only be active but also starting.
The Kansas City pass game is, of course, the more lethal part of the Chiefs’ offense. Tyreek Hill has the speed to dust anybody in the game, and while he will be shadowed by Casey Hayward, this is a matchup that Hill crushed in Week 1 of last year for a massive game. It’s a tough matchup and I view Hill as a tourney play (as I almost always view him) but don’t ever sleep on his ceiling. Travis Kelce has had a bit of a letdown season with only 1 game over 100 yards and just 3 touchdowns on the year, but the volume is still there and I expect that he’s going to have a couple of big ones down the stretch. This particular matchup is tough, but Kelce is as matchup-proof as they come. He’s a strong all-around play. Sammy Watkins is priced in that awkward 6k range that always tends to lead to lower ownership and while he’s only really had 1 blowup game this season, if Hayward gets the best of Hill and Kelce struggles against the Chargers’ tough tight end defense, the Chiefs could turn to Watkins more frequently to keep moving the chains. Sammy is still averaging a very healthy 9 targets per game in his last 3, and he’s just not priced for that kind of volume (especially when the volume is coming from Patrick Mahomes). Denard Robinson is a tough option at just $4,400; he’s not meaningfully cheaper than Watkins, and he hasn’t consistently outscored the kickers who he’s priced around. If he gets a fluky touchdown he’ll smash, otherwise he’s likely to disappoint as he just isnt’ getting the kind of volume he needs to do well on yardage and catches alone. Finally, Mecole Hardman is the bane of my showdown existence, as he’s only been playing around 20% of the snaps the last few weeks and only getting 1-3 targets (and thus I haven’t been playing him) but he’s caught a long touchdown in 3 of his last 4 games. Players like that aren’t really my thing unless they’re exceptionally cheap, which Hardman isn’t, but feel free to chase the long touchdown again in this one (he’ll probably score another one just to spite me).
The way this game is likeliest to play out is the Chargers trying to keep the ball on the ground and control time of possession. They’re unlikely to be successful at that for very long, though, against the Chiefs’ high-powered offense. As long as the game is within a score, Los Angeles will be able to feed its running back duo, but if Kansas City starts racking up points, we’ll see more Rivers dropbacks.
Some other ways the game could play out:
- I really don’t ever bet against the Chiefs scoring points, but I suppose it could happen. Maybe they all get Montezuma’s Revenge at the hotel?
- I feel like I write this up whenever I write about the Chargers: they’re a good team and a good offense, but they have a tendency to just fail sometimes in spots that should be relatively good. The odds are they hit here, but with the Chargers, would it ever be that surprising to see them fall flat?
My overall favorite captains in this one are the running backs: Gordon, Williams, and a splash of Ekeler. Hill, of course, has a massive ceiling and is always viable.
Some groups to consider:
- At most 1 kicker
- At most 1 defense
- Pair captain receivers with their QB
- Pair captain QBs with at least 2 receivers
- At most 1 of Hardman and Robinson
- At most 1 Chargers wideout (perhaps overly bold but given the matchup it’s just hard for me to see more than 1 wide receiver really smashing)
— Xandamere’s Advanced Showdown Course is now available through OWS :: Marketplace! This is his tournament course for Showdowns; and given the tangible edge in this contest type, it should pay itself off pretty quickly(!).
JM’s Notes for Thursday-to-Monday Players ::
- This is the rare game that can completely shift the places where we focus if playing the Thursday-to-Monday slate, as the Chiefs introduce Patrick Mahomes // Travis Kelce // Tyreek Hill // Damien Williams (and dart throws behind those guys), while the Chargers introduce Melvin Gordon // Austin Ekeler // Hunter Henry.
- Notably, I didn’t include Keenan Allen on that list; which should require no explanation, but since there is still so much bad information out there about the Chiefs’ defense, it feels worthwhile to drop a quick reminder that the Chiefs have faced the seventh fewest wide receiver targets in the NFL this year and have allowed only one wideout to top 100 yards. Keenan can always hit if the volume piles up, but that’s what you would be betting on here, which makes him more “tourney dart” than “staple piece.”
- Mahomes is always Tier 1, and that doesn’t change vs a Chargers defense that ranks 21st in DVOA vs the pass. He stacks up nicely against the other top QBs on the slate.
- As noted last week, Kelce has been seeing scoring-position work all year and simply hasn’t been hitting. He scored a touchdown last week on a creative play designed to get him into the end zone and had another touchdown called back. Peg him for his typical range of expectations here.
- Hill has a difficult matchup against Casey Hayward, which broadens his range of outcomes, but the ceiling remains. (Last year in this spot, he went 4-46-0 in one game and 7-169-2 in another.) Hill’s three highest-target games last year (playoffs included) were followed by target counts of 7 // 6 // 7 // 3, so keep in mind that his massive target spike last week doesn’t necessarily guarantee we see the same thing again. But the upside obviously remains.
- There is still significant risk that LeSean McCoy returns on Monday night without warning, and takes back some of the role from Damien Williams, so keep that risk in mind when building; but if Damien sees the bulk of the work again, he’ll be in great position to produce.
- We know how bad the Chiefs run defense is, and Gordon has 20 and 22 carries (23 touches in each game) in his last two contests. He’s a floor/ceiling piece here.
- Barring a shift in organizational philosophy/approach, Ekeler is not going to usurp Gordon as the lead back, but he’ll still get a few carries and a handful of targets, keeping his floor low but his upside intact.
- The Chiefs have allowed the sixth most yards to tight ends while facing the most tight end targets in the league. This game sets up well for Hunter Henry involvement, making him one of the stronger tight end plays on the slate.