Week 12 Matchups

There are 11 games on the Main Slate this weekend (22 quarterbacks in all). Here are some of the quarterbacks who are expected to be starting on this slate:

Mason Rudolph
Jeff Driskel
Ryan Tannehill
Mitchell Trubisky
Ryan Fitzpatrick
Dwayne Haskins
Ryan Finley
Brandon Allen
Kyle Allen

And that’s before we get to the “next tier” ::

Nick Foles
Daniel Jones
Sam Darnold
Derek Carr

That accounts for 13 of our 22 quarterbacks, leaving nine remaining.

Josh Allen is facing the Broncos.
Dak Prescott is facing the Patriots.

Tom Brady has a tough matchup in the Cowboys, and his short-area passing attack makes it difficult for him to produce slate-breaking, price-considered upside (for himself or his pass-catchers).

Carson Wentz is in a soft matchup at home against Seattle, but he has a depleted stable of weapons and has cracked 240 passing yards only three times this season.

Russell Wilson is playing opposite Wentz on a team that plays to their opponent more than any other in football, with a philosophy built around keeping games close into the fourth quarter in order to be able to win that one quarter each week.

Baker Mayfield catches Miami, but he has thrown more than one touchdown pass in a game only twice this year, and the Browns will get things going with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt as well.

Drew Brees plays in the shortest-area passing attack in football and therefore needs busted plays or heavy volume to post big yardage. He’s at home against a middling quarterback who has to take on a New Orleans defense that has held six of its last seven opponents below their per-game scoring average.

Jameis Winston is Jameis Winston.

Matt Ryan is playing the Bucs at home — which actually makes him the only quarterback without some sort of minor or major red flag. Though…he’ll ultimately need Jameis to keep pace against the Falcons’ zombied defense in order to truly get his.

This is the state of the slate — and similar to last week, this should lead to a lower scoring threshold for cashing in contests. On DraftKings last week, the cash line for most tourneys was around 140 points. And yet…

The winner of last week’s 52k-entry Slant (as well as the Milly Maker) scored 221.64.

The winner of last week’s 3.7k-entry Wildcat scored 208.86.

The winner of last week’s 300-entry Luxury Box scored 191.94.

Point being: even on a week like last week (this week), points are required to win a tourney! And as such: we should be hunting this week for the players and game environments that have potential to produce top-flight scores, rather than simply targeting “scores good enough to work on a week like this.”


Kickoff Thursday, Nov 21st 8:20pm Eastern

Colts (
21.5) at

Texans (
25)

Over/Under 46.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Colts Run D
6th DVOA/3rd Yards allowed per carry
Texans Run O
23rd DVOA/31st Yards per carry
Colts Pass D
3rd DVOA/2nd Yards allowed per pass
Texans Pass O
8th DVOA/4th Yards per pass
Texans Run D
23rd DVOA/31st Yards allowed per carry
Colts Run O
22nd DVOA/28th Yards per carry
Texans Pass D
8th DVOA/22nd Yards allowed per pass
Colts Pass O
15th DVOA/10th Yards per pass

Showdown Slant ::

Presented by top Showdown mind Xandamere!

Is it already Week 12? Yeesh. Week 12 begins with the Colts visiting the Texans for a decent matchup: 45.5 total with the Texans just over field goal favorites. The Colts are somewhat surprisingly playoff contenders despite losing Andrew Luck, and they’re only a couple of field goals away from an even stronger record. Their defense has successfully shut down the Chiefs and has outschemed the Texans in the past as well, showing that even a talented offense can be outthought by a fantastic coach. 

We’ll start with the Colts. Marlon Mack is out, but I’m not sure we get a cheap punt out of it. As Dustin the Intern called out, after Mack left in Week 1, Jonathan Williams played 29 snaps while Nyheim Hines played 24, but Jordan Wilkins is off the injury report and in all likelihood this will be a three-way timeshare with Wilkins and Williams sharing two-down work and Hines mixing in on passing downs. At $6,600 and $5,600, respectively, Wilkins and Williams are spendy for timeshare roles as road underdog two-down backs against a fairly tough run defense. As I always say, backs with goal line roles are valuable in showdown, because it just takes a penalty to set up a short touchdown, but it’s tough to get excited about these guys here. Hines is in play if you’re building for game scripts that have the Texans winning by a lot and the Colts playing from well behind for most of the game, but even there you’re paying $6,200 for a back who has maxed out at seven targets this year (and fairly short, low value targets at that). 

The Colts’ pass game is expected to get T.Y. Hilton back this week, just in time for a date with one of the weaker pass defenses in the NFL. Hilton has crushed the Texans over the course of his career, though that doesn’t really mean much other than “small sample, good receivers can hit in good matchups.” Hilton is a strong play here as he should resume his role as the center of the Colts’ aerial attack. Zach Pascal looks awfully overpriced as the other perimeter receiver with Hilton back, while Chester Rogers should resume his low-volume slot receiver role in an offense that runs a lot of two tight end sets instead of heavily utilizing its slot wideout. Marcus Johnson caught four of four targets last week on the perimeter and is just $4,200, but is likely to go back to a reserve role with Hilton back. Johnson may have earned himself a part-time role, but that’s purely speculative. You can consider him as an MME dart. Finally, Jack Doyle and Eric Ebron (assuming Ebron plays here despite being questionable) should soak up much of the short field and red zone work. The Colts’ aerial offense is hard to rely on outside of Hilton, as it has been all year, but both tight ends bring reasonable touchdown upside at cheap prices.

On the other side, the Texans’ run offense goes up against a Colts run D that is 23rd in DVOA. As a home favorite who has seen 19 or more carries in five games this year, Carlos Hyde should see reliable volume here unless the Colts surprisingly get out to a lead; but he’s a near-zero in the pass game and will need to hit the 100 yard bonus or score a touchdown in order to be useful. After a couple of wonderful games in Weeks 8 and 9, Duke Johnson’s usage faded away again last week, showing that despite giving up a valuable pick for him the Texans don’t seem to have any better of an idea how to use him than the Browns did. Johnson will get a handful of touches and he has the talent to explode in any matchup, but he’s going to have to do it on minimal volume.

In the air, the Colts have contained perimeter wideouts all year, and their defensive scheme is well-suited to limit deep shots by forcing everything into the short areas of the field. This actually benefits DeAndre Hopkins as Houston has been somewhat inexplicably using him in a shorter area role this year, but while Hopkins has a tremendous floor, you’re basically paying last year’s elite WR1 price for a guy who’s being used more like Keenan Allen. Will Fuller is apparently a game-time decision for this one. If he plays, he’s even riskier than normal (and he is, of course, always a high-risk play) given the Colts’ scheme. If Fuller sits, Kenny Stills should fill in for him, but the Texans haven’t been using Stills in the same kind of deep routes that Fuller runs (or at least not solely on those types of routes). Stills would be a higher floor, lower ceiling version of Fuller in this instance. Fuller sitting would also bring Keke Coutee into play. After being benched for a couple of games, Keke showed back up last week following some positive coachspeak and caught three of three targets. Last year, against this same defense, Coutee blew up in the postseason for 110 yards; his skillset is very well suited to take on the Colts scheme and he has plenty of upside here. He does come with more risk this time around, though, as the Texans weren’t really using their tight ends in the passing game last year and they’ve done so more regularly this year, with Darren Fells in the lead receiving role and seeing three to six short-area targets per game, but Jordan Akins not far behind him volume-wise. Fells has the much stronger red zone role and has scored six touchdowns on the year compared to two for Akins, so while yardage expectations are similar, Fells possesses the overall higher ceiling. His price has also come down from the last time we saw a Texans showdown, and the discount by going to Akins is no longer as material. 

The most likely way for this game to play out is a closely fought match with the Texans able to lean on the run, as they like to do when they’re ahead. Carlos Hyde is a strong play in this scenario if you believe he gets in the end zone, but while the Texans do like to lean on the run, Hyde has only scored four rushing touchdowns all year, as Houston tends to score in the air (much like Seattle). Hopkins and Fells are the biggest red zone targets here. The Colts have tended to play conservatively, but will likely have to open it up a bit more in this one, and with Hilton back, they’re well equipped to take advantage of the favorable matchup. Overall the aerial games for both offenses are the preferred targets. Note that there are a lot of viable options priced down near the kickers, which lowers the attractiveness of kickers compared to skill players. 

Some other ways the game could play out:

  • As we always say, touchdowns are unpredictable. The passing games are attractive plays here, but it’s certainly possible that all of the scores could come on the ground.
  • Especially on short weeks, road teams can flounder on offense, and the Colts’ offense has not exactly been lighting the world on fire most weeks. While the matchup is favorable it’s not inconceivable that the Colts come out flat here.

My favorite overall captain is DeAndre Hopkins, with Hilton a fairly close second. I normally don’t love QB captains, but Watson’s rushing ability puts him more firmly in the conversation. Finally, since his huge playoff game won me a lot of money last year, I’ll definitely have some Keke Coutee captain lineups in the hopes that the Texans approach this game similarly.

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 (consider 1 for Watson if you think he runs one in)
  • There are a few group options to consider around the Colts’ backfield. I’m not sure which one I’ve settled on yet, so I’ll throw them all out there:
    • At most 2 of Brissett, Williams, Wilkins
    • At most 2 of Williams, Wilkins, Hines
    • At most 1 of Williams and Wilkins
  • At most 1 of Coutee and Carter
  • At most 2 of the Colts receivers not named Hilton

Kickoff Sunday, Nov 24th 1:00pm Eastern

Broncos (
16.75) at

Bills (
20.25)

Over/Under 37.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Broncos Run D
5th DVOA/10th Yards allowed per carry
Bills Run O
32nd DVOA/29th Yards per carry
Broncos Pass D
9th DVOA/13th Yards allowed per pass
Bills Pass O
4th DVOA/6th Yards per pass
Bills Run D
24th DVOA/21st Yards allowed per carry
Broncos Run O
20th DVOA/16th Yards per carry
Bills Pass D
28th DVOA/15th Yards allowed per pass
Broncos Pass O
31st DVOA/26th Yards per pass

As explored at the top of this week’s NFL Edge, the shape of this slate is lower-scoring on the whole, with a lot of lower-end quarterbacks (and/or higher-end quarterbacks in below-average spots), and with only one game on the slate carrying an Over/Under above 47.0.

The slate can further be broken down into “Buccaneers at Falcons” (51.0) // “the five games with an Over/Under of 44.5 to 47.0” // and “the five games with an Over/Under of 42.0 or below.

Broncos at Bills not only falls into that final category, but is in fact the king of that final category, with the lowest Over/Under on the slate, at 37.0. As we mention occasionally when exploring a low Over/Under: while yards can still pile up in a game with a low total, we are ultimately on the lookout for slate-breaking upside in our builds, and touchdowns tend to be a part of that. The Bills are allowing the third fewest points per game, and the Broncos are allowing the eighth fewest. Furthermore, the Broncos are scoring the sixth fewest points per game, while the Bills are scoring the 13th fewest. As for “DFS production from yards” :: a bleak picture is painted here as well, with the Bills and Broncos both ranking among the four toughest teams in the league to pile up yardage against, and with each offense in the bottom half of the league in yards gained. Ultimately, in a spot like this, you would be looking for one of two things:

1) Fluky plays

2) A concentrated distribution of touches

While “fluky plays” are obviously not something we can predict, we do find our interest piqued slightly by that second element: a concentrated distribution of touches.

We’ll start on the Broncos’ side, where the Broncos came out of the bye with something of a new-look offense — with this coaching staff following through on late-Sunday-morning reports that they planned to start featuring Phillip Lindsay more heavily, as they gave him 51 snaps to 23 for Royce Freeman, while feeding him 18 touches compared to nine for Royce. (As explored as recently as last week: this has been a near-exactly 50/50 timeshare this season — so a 65/35 split would make Lindsay fundamentally underpriced for his new role, should it hold.) Lindsay/Freeman have combined for 29 touches per game on the season, so Lindsay has a shot to push for 20 touches in this spot if game flow cooperates. It is likely that this game remains close enough for Lindsay to see work, so the big question is play volume, where Buffalo is allowing the ninth fewest opponent plays per game.

When the Broncos pass, they are also tightening up the band of players through whom they are filtering volume, with Courtland Sutton accounting for 28.8% of the Broncos’ available targets across his last two games, and with Noah Fant accounting for 26.3%. (It should be noted, of course, that the bulk of Fant’s looks game against a Vikings defense that has faced the most tight end targets in the league — more than the Chiefs; more than the Cardinals; more than the Bucs.) The Bills have faced the fewest tight end targets and allowed the second fewest tight end yards, and they haven’t been much easier against wide receivers, holding the position to the 10th fewest yards and the second fewest touchdowns. Last week’s 100-yard showing against the Bills (by DeVante Parker, of all players) was the first time a pass catcher has topped 100 yards against the Bills this year. Sutton will do battle primarily with Tre’Davious White, whom PFF has charted with another strong season, as he is allowing only 41.8 yards per game on passes thrown into his coverage, with zero touchdowns allowed and three interceptions.

All of this does potentially create an interesting setup for Tim Patrick, who costs 9% of the salary cap on FanDuel, but is only 6% (stone minimum) on DraftKings and FantasyDraft after seeing eight targets (20.5%) last week in his first game back on the field. Patrick will primarily do battle with Levi Wallace, who has been credited with four touchdowns allowed this year on a 110.5 quarterback rating. With the Bills giving up so little yardage as a whole, Wallace has allowed only 49.7 yards per game, and for as long as this game remains close, the Broncos (11th highest rush play rate) will surely look to lean on the run vs the Bills (10th in DVOA vs the pass; 23rd vs the run). But another five to eight targets won’t be a surprise here.

There are no advantageous matchups for the Bills, as the Broncos rank sixth in DVOA against the run and 15th in DVOA against the pass — while having allowed the fewest catches and the third fewest yards to the wide receiver position. Only three teams have allowed fewer passing yards than the Broncos. Only four teams have allowed fewer passing touchdowns.

The core piece in the Bills’ passing attack, of course, is John Brown, who is still one of only two players in football (Michael Thomas being the other) who has gone for 50+ receiving yards in every game this year — though along with that consistency, Brown’s upside has been somewhat limited, as he has only four receiving touchdowns (two of which came last week at the Dolphins) and only two games of 100+ yards (one of which came last week at the Dolphins). Brown should draw shadow coverage from Chris Harris, who has had another elite season, having allowed only 35.6 receiving yards per game, with only 22 receptions allowed on the year in spite of regularly sticking with an opponent’s top threat.

Behind JB, it will be Cole Beasley and Isaiah McKenzie (recent target counts of 3 // 3 // 4 // 6; recent yardage totals of 11 // 12 // 19 // 21) soaking up underneath looks.

The best matchup for the Bills goes to Dawson Knox, who continues to operate as the leader in this tight end timeshare, with 51 snaps and 24 routes run last week compared to 23 // 10 for Tyler Kroft. The Broncos are not “attackable” with tight ends, but they have allowed the eighth most receptions to the position as teams avoid throwing to wideouts. Knox has recent target counts of only 1 // 2 // 6 // 3, so plenty will still need to break his way in order for him to hit.

JM’s Interpretation ::

I’m hoping this week isn’t ugly enough for me to end up with heavy exposure to this game, but there are at least some pieces to keep in mind, with Lindsay a solid volume-at-his-price play who has a good matchup for yardage (the Bills are allowing 4.58 yards per carry to backs), even if “sustaining drives” and “scoring touchdowns” will be difficult for the Broncos to do. I also think Patrick is interesting as a value play on this side of the ball: a guy who’s unlikely to pop for a big game, but who is affordable enough on DK/FDraft to allow access to other players who can pop.

On the Bills’ side, we saw JB’s price rise last week for his matchup with the Dolphins — and after he hit for his second big game of the year, it apparently felt necessary to bump up his price further. It would be an aggressive move to bet on his third “big game” of the year showing up in this tough spot at an elevated price, though you can at least point to the role as a reason for some optimism.

While I have been religiously avoiding the “running backs vs Broncos” matchup outside of the Fournette game, I might have had some interest in Devin Singletary on an ugly week like this if he weren’t sharing the backfield with Frank Gore (with that interest coming simply because Singletary is always a threat to score when he has the ball in his hands), but while Singletary was up to 73% of the snaps last week (after being at 66% to 68% in his other four fully healthy games), he still yielded his standard 12 touches to Gore — and with this game coming against the Broncos instead of the Dolphins, it is less likely that we’ll have another 28 touches to go around. Singletary is a “no one will play him, and he’s really talented” tourney option, but he’s nothing more than that.


Kickoff Sunday, Nov 24th 1:00pm Eastern

Giants (
17.25) at

Bears (
23.25)

Over/Under 40.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Giants Run D
15th DVOA/8th Yards allowed per carry
Bears Run O
28th DVOA/32nd Yards per carry
Giants Pass D
23rd DVOA/21st Yards allowed per pass
Bears Pass O
24th DVOA/25th Yards per pass
Bears Run D
11th DVOA/16th Yards allowed per carry
Giants Run O
30th DVOA/27th Yards per carry
Bears Pass D
2nd DVOA/8th Yards allowed per pass
Giants Pass O
29th DVOA/30th Yards per pass

The Bears have not quite been the dominant unit they were last year on defense, when they allowed the third fewest yards and the fewest points while posting the most takeaways in the league — but they have still allowed the eighth fewest yards and the fourth fewest points per game (in fact, their 17.4 points allowed per game is even better than their 2018 mark), and in games at Soldier Field this year they have given up point totals of 10 (Green Bay) // 6 (Minnesota) // 26 (New Orleans) // 17 (L.A. Chargers) // 13 (Lions — with Driskel). This week, they will be taking on a Giants offense that ranks bottom 10 in yards per game and points per game, in spite of Daniel Jones beating up on the soft defenses of the Bucs (32 points), Redskins (24 points), Cardinals (21) points, Lions (26 points), and Jets (27 points) to boost his overall production. In games against quality defenses with Jones under center, the Giants have scored 10 (Minnesota) // 14 (New England) // 18 (Dallas). This is a tough test for the Giants offense.

The Bears, meanwhile, have fallen off the edges of the map on offense this year, notching the third fewest yards and the fifth fewest points per game — in the company of names like “Washington,” “Miami,” and “Cincinnati.” On average, the Bears start with the 13th best field position in football, and yet they rank 28th in points per drive. Mitchell Trubisky has completed only nine touchdown passes this year, on an impossibly low 5.6 yards per pass attempt. He also has only 58 rushing yards all year — a far cry from last season, when he rushed for 421 yards and three touchdowns. Chicago is bottom five in adjusted line yards on offense and bottom five in yards per carry. Very little is going well for this offense right now.

With all of this added together, the Over/Under on this game sits at only 40.5 — the third lowest on the Main Slate. (The Giants — at 17.0 — also carry the second lowest Vegas-implied team total, ahead of only the Broncos at 16.5.)

The Giants’ side of the ball will require some small miracles for big games to show up, as the Bears shave 17% off the league-average aDOT (the second best mark in the league — behind only the 49ers, and far ahead of nearly every other team), while this Giants offense is designed to work the short areas of the field outside of occasional downfield shots to Darius Slayton. This short-area approach requires busted plays or volume in order for a player to be useful — and with Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram tentatively expected back this week for the Giants, even “volume” will be difficult to predict. If Engram and Shep both miss another contest, it will concentrate touches more heavily on Golden Tate (recent target counts of 11 // 10 // 6 // 8) and Slayton (2 // 5 // 4 // 14) — against a Bears defense that has allowed the third fewest passing touchdowns in the league. If one of Shep or Engram returns, it will be tougher for volume to pile up in one specific spot.

The Bears have been slightly easier to attack on the ground — ranking 12th in DVOA (compared to sixth vs the pass) — but they are giving up only 3.62 yards per carry to the running back position. They have also given up the third most receptions to running backs…but only the 10th most yards. And while they have quietly given up the third most running back rushing touchdowns in the league, Saquon Barkley has only four carries inside the five-yard-line (nine fewer than the league leader), 10 carries inside the 10 (19 fewer than the league leader), and 18 carries in the red zone in all (25 fewer than the league leader). In this broken-down offense, Saquon has touch counts on the year of 15 // 21 // 12 (injury) // 21 // 27 // 20 // 18.

While the Giants’ players would be “talent over matchup” plays, the Bears’ players would be “matchup over talent” plays — and we’ll begin where the Bears would like to focus if they’re able to play with a lead or keep this game close: the backfield.

Since their commitment to the run heading into Week 8, the Bears have given touch counts to David Montgomery of 31 // 17 // 17 // 15, while also involving Tarik Cohen for touch counts of 7 // 4 // 7 // 14. Before tilting to the air in negative game script last week, the Bears had called on Trubisky to throw 35 // 21 // 23 pass attempts in those games — which adds up to 1.3 more RB-directed plays per game in that stretch than Trubisky passes per game. With game flow likely to tilt in favor of the Bears, another 17+ touches is likely for Montgomery (with Cohen likely to see another rise in touches if the Giants somehow find a way to jump out to a two-score lead). Pros for Montgomery are the workload and the fact that only Nick Chubb and Dalvin Cook have more carries inside the five than he has. Cons for Montgomery are his horrible offensive line, his somewhat limited pass game role (recent target counts of 5 // 4 // 0 // 3 — but only 22.3 receiving yards per game in this four-game stretch), and a matchup against a Giants team that has been better against the run (14th in DVOA) than against the pass (28th). Ultimately, this is an average “isolated” matchup for the Bears’ lead back, while the game environment is a ceiling boost. The floor, of course, remains somewhat rickety.

While the Giants have been average against the run, they have been Santa’s little helpers against wide receivers — allowing the fourth most receiving yards and the fifth most receiving touchdowns to the position. Six wide receivers have topped 100 yards in this matchup (only the Eagles and Bucs have allowed more such games), while the Giants have allowed nine notable stat lines in all to the position. Trubisky has not topped 253 passing yards in a game this year, so concentrated targets (or a big play) are typically necessary for a Bears wideout to hit. Allen Robinson has recent target counts of 7 // 5 // 9 // 6, but these lower lines have been a function of circumstance, as he squared off with Jalen Ramsey last week (six targets), while Trubisky threw the ball only 26.3 times per game in those other three contests (good for a 26.6% target share for Robinson). Of course, the Bears don’t want to have to pass a ton, so volume remains a concern — but if Chicago does take to the air, this would be a good spot for A-Rob to return to his standard “seven to nine” target range, with some upside for more. Behind A-Rob, Taylor Gabriel (recent target counts of 6 // 3 // 6 // 14) and Anthony Miller (3 // 1 // 2 // 11) benefitted last week from game flow and “Ramsey on A-Rob.” Each player is likelier to hit from a big play (Gabriel) or a busted play (Miller) than from volume this week.

JM’s Interpretation ::

In my hunt this week for players who can help me win the slate, I’ll be primarily focusing on A) games that have a shot at producing a lot of points, or B) players in other games who have a fairly clear path toward a big game. Neither of those fit this game — though there are a few players worth singling out before moving on ::

Barkley is too good to be ignored — and while his usage has been maddening this season, he is the kind of player who can pop off for a monster “all on his own” game on just a handful of highlight-reel plays. It’s likely that Saquon’s ankle is still bothering him a bit, and now he’s dealing with a shoulder issue, but I’ll at least wait until late in the week to cross him off my list if multi-entering, as some level of exposure on low-owned Saquon can certainly (always) have a case made.

On the Bears’ side, the offense has been ugly enough that it’s tempting to stay away altogether — but the slate as a whole is ugly enough that Allen Robinson and David Montgomery will at least be players I keep in mind. Montgomery in particular — with his locked-in touches and his big scoring-position role — stands out as an “embrace risk to try for upside” play on this fairly ugly-across-the-board slate.


Kickoff Sunday, Nov 24th 1:00pm Eastern

Steelers (
21.75) at

Bengals (
15.25)

Over/Under 37.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Steelers Run D
1st DVOA/2nd Yards allowed per carry
Bengals Run O
27th DVOA/26th Yards per carry
Steelers Pass D
8th DVOA/6th Yards allowed per pass
Bengals Pass O
26th DVOA/13th Yards per pass
Bengals Run D
23rd DVOA/28th Yards allowed per carry
Steelers Run O
14th DVOA/11th Yards per carry
Bengals Pass D
16th DVOA/25th Yards allowed per pass
Steelers Pass O
12th DVOA/23rd Yards per pass

Last week was pretty ugly from a “value quarterback” perspective — and as such, we ended up with Ryan Finley on our Bottom-Up Build in the Angles Pod (breaking our month-long streak of on-fire cheap QBs in that spot). In that space (as well as in the NFL Edge), we detailed the reasons why we couldn’t be certain Finley was even a major downgrade from Andy Dalton, and why he had some paths to a strong game against the poor defense of the Raiders. And while we made it clear that Finley was obviously not the same (in a Bottom-Up Build sense) as the recent Ryan Tannehill // Ryan Fitzpatrick // Jacoby Brissett weeks in that podcast, I did still use Finley on a small percentage of my tourney teams last week — hoping that the matchup could overcome the marginal talent this team had to work with. Obviously, that did not prove to be the case (and instead, we saw Jeff Driskel — whom we fortunately got onto a bit more heavily on Saturday night in the Run To Daylight podcast, at the top of the Player Grid — post a strong score in a tougher matchup with much better weapons to lean on), and now we have Finley, potentially without Auden Tate, taking on the ferocious defense of the Steelers. The Steelers rank third in overall defensive DVOA (behind only New England and San Francisco), with an eighth place ranking vs the run and a fifth place ranking vs the pass. The Steelers have the fourth most sacks in the league (after having posted the most each of the last two years), and they have forced the second most turnovers. After DeVante Parker’s 100-yard game against the Bills last week, the Steelers are now also the only team in the NFL that has not allowed a wide receiver to crack 100 yards against them.

Of course, the fact that DeVante Parker was the player who topped 100 yards against the Bills is a reminder that anything can happen — and in fact, you will occasionally see really sharp DFS players include affordable, heavy-volume wide receivers on a team likely to be chasing points as part of their MME (and even tighter) builds (Awesomeo and ChipotleAddict, in particular, come to mind here; if memory serves correct, each featured Parker last week — including ChipotleAddict on tighter builds — while each has also recently featured cheap exposure to Tyler Boyd and Alex Erickson). But this approach is more valuable when a team should be chasing points — and given the state of the Steelers offense (more on this in a moment), it’s not even a guarantee that the Bengals will be airing it out here. “Potential volume at low ownership” are the bets you would be making in this spot if chasing Bengals pass catchers in large-field play.

The Bengals run game warrants a little more attention, as Joe Mixon has recent touch counts of 21 // 32 // 16, while producing rush + receiving yardage totals of 77 // 151 // 103. As explored last week: the Bengals have shifted up their run-blocking scheme in recent weeks, and they have been producing better efficiency as a result (Mixon has 4.3 yards per carry across his last three games, against 3.6 yards per carry on the season as a whole). This game is also unlikely to get too far away from the Bengals. Of course: all of this is said against the backdrop of A) this being a tough matchup, and B) Mixon not yet having posted a remotely tourney-winning price-considered score this season (on an offense that is not set up to score many points). But if you’re wanting to dig deep in this game, Mixon is at least a name that warrants a half-second of attention.

The Steelers, meanwhile, are set to be playing without JuJu Smith-Schuster and currently appear likely to be without James Conner as well. Diontae Johnson (who was bleeding from the ear after the hit on which he sustained a concussion last week) seems to be doing better after logging a full participation in practice on Wednesday — and while he has not yet been fully cleared, he is on track to play.

The game plan for the Steelers should be straightforward in this spot against an 0-10 Bengals team that has faced the lowest opponent pass play rate in the league (while ranking 24th in DVOA against the run and allowing 4.7 yards per carry) — especially with Mason Rudolph under center and a defense that should be able to win this game for them. Expect the Steelers to be “balanced toward the run” in this spot (i.e., still mixing in passes early on, of course — but with short passes and the ground game being the primary focus), with the Steelers optimally hoping that the Bengals crumble as this game moves along, allowing them to pick up an easy win without taking too many risks or being too aggressive.

In Week 8 against the Dolphins, JuJu (24.3 DK/FDraft points; 18.8 FD points) posted the only game of the season from a Steelers wide receiver that would be worth using at the matchup-adjusted prices where we find Diontae and Washington this week. There should be more work available for these two than normal with JuJu out, but in this offense, each player will need more than just “more work” to resemble an ultra-strong play. Diontae and Washington are both “solid plays that will need something to go right in order to hit for some sort of ceiling.”

“Bull with the ball in his hands” Vance McDonald has disappointed this year — with seven targets in three consecutive games (and seven targets in four games this season in all), but with zero games north of 40 yards. NextGen Stats has Vance tracked with the lowest aDOT in the entire NFL among qualified players, so you’re betting on an unpredictable multi-touchdown game or a big YAC day if going here. (If you want to chase that second scenario: the Bengals do boost YAC by 36.5% — by far the highest mark in football. Vance is not likely to hit, but this is a better spot than others.)

Of course, the focus for the Steelers should be the ground game — which creates an interesting setup if Conner does indeed miss, as Jaylen Samuels has 26 targets but only 27 carries across his last three games, and Benny Snell returned to practice this week and will likely take over ground game duties from Trey Edmunds. If Snell and Conner both miss, it’s worth noting that Edmunds has zero rushes to the edge this season (which — as we have talked about all season — is the place to attack the Bengals, as they are much tougher up the gut), while Snell is at risk of being eased back in if he’s the lead guy. Unless we end up with Conner back on the field here, there will be a lot of uncertainty in this spot — on a bad offense playing on the road. The matchup will be great, but that’s about what you’ll be left betting on in this spot.

JM’s Interpretation ::

I honestly might not end up with anything in this game outside of the Steelers defense, as the Bengals are just unattractive across the board for me in this spot, while the Steelers have been priced up a bit high for the actual offense they give us. (Jaylen Samuels at $7200 on DraftKings? Give me a break! He needs about 22 or 23 points just to be worth having on your roster, and he needs 28+ to really contribute toward a tourney win. Not that he can’t get there, but the matchup will draw some ownership, and his chances of hitting such a score will be lower than the percentage at which he’ll be owned.) With that said: pricing as a whole is a bit ugly this week, and while that leads me to be extra judicious in the ways I spend salary myself (making sure that any high-priced guys I grab have a solid shot at true slate-breakers), Samuels will certainly not be a “bad play” if Conner is out. And while Conner will carry re-injury risk if he plays, he’ll come with a high ceiling as well. I also think Diontae and Washington are interesting, as each will get work, and one should post a nice game — though the likeliest scenario here doesn’t have slate-winning upside coming out of this spot, and one of these two is also likeliest to fall short of the sort of score you need. Again: not bad plays, but I’m hoping to find better. (Goodness — what a slate.)

Finally: we don’t usually get into DST until Friday/Saturday, but the Steelers obviously stand out on this slate. Even on the road, they’re in a great spot for a high-end game against Ryan Finley and the Bengals.


Kickoff Sunday, Nov 24th 1:00pm Eastern

Dolphins (
17.5) at

Browns (
28.5)

Over/Under 46.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Dolphins Run D
32nd DVOA/19th Yards allowed per carry
Browns Run O
7th DVOA/3rd Yards per carry
Dolphins Pass D
10th DVOA/16th Yards allowed per pass
Browns Pass O
23rd DVOA/27th Yards per pass
Browns Run D
20th DVOA/5th Yards allowed per carry
Dolphins Run O
23rd DVOA/22nd Yards per carry
Browns Pass D
19th DVOA/30th Yards allowed per pass
Dolphins Pass O
11th DVOA/17th Yards per pass

The way to beat the Browns (or…at least, to pick up yards against the Browns) is the same way teams pick up yards against the Bills: running the ball. The Bills rank ninth in DVOA against the pass and 27th against the run, while the Browns rank 13th // 20th — with this team having allowed the sixth fewest passing yards, but the 12th most running back rushing yards. And yet, the Dolphins have gotten absolutely no production out of their backfield (Kalen Ballage is averaging a check-for-typo 1.9 yards per carry on the year), and when they fell behind against the Bills last week, they called on Ryan Fitzpatrick to throw the ball 45 times while handing the ball off to Ballage (nine carries), Patrick Laird (one carry), and Myles Gaskin (one carry) only 11 total times. There has not yet been a usable state line to emerge from the Dolphins’ backfield — but with Fitzpatrick under center (and with the Browns favored by 10.5 points at home), we do have opportunity to at least explore the Miami passing attack.

The Browns have been solid, but not overly terrifying against the pass this year, allowing a middling 7.2 yards per pass attempt and a middling 17 passing touchdowns. And while only eight teams have allowed fewer yards to wideouts than the Browns, only seven teams have faced fewer opponent pass attempts, with the Browns playing a number of their games from behind, and with teams preferring to attack this team on the ground (the seventh lowest opponent pass play rate in the league). The Browns have allowed an above-average number of notable stat lines this year (eight), with six coming from wideouts and two from tight ends.

In a fairly random (but interesting) statistical sequence, the Dolphins had five different players last week who saw exactly six targets against the Bills (Allen Hurns // Albert Wilson // Mike Gesicki // Kalen Ballage // Patrick Laird — who played only 16 snaps as Ballage’s backup, but who picked up seven touches on those snaps), but the player who has been emphasized week in and week out ahead of those names is, of course, DeVante Parker. Over his last five games, Parker has target counts of 10 // 8 // 6 // 10 // 10, and outside of his game against New England (zero catches on seven looks), Parker has picked up 50+ yards in seven of eight games while scoring four touchdowns on the year. While Parker has not shown much raw ceiling in this offense, his floor has been pretty matchup-proof as the central piece of this Dolphins passing attack.

The spread-around nature of this passing attack behind Parker has made it difficult for any other pass catchers to really get much going, as Fitzpatrick entered last week with recent pass attempt totals of 35 // 34 // 36 // 33 (a significant dip from the 45 he posted last week). No currently active pass catcher on the Dolphins saw more than five targets in a game during that stretch with the exception of Gesicki (recent target counts of 4 // 3 // 6 // 6 // 6), making this group a “bet on game flow and hope for good things to happen” block of players. Gesicki has topped 51 yards only once this year, but he’s the player next likeliest to post the sort of score you might notice — in spite of a matchup against a Browns team that is better against tight ends than they are against wide receivers.

The biggest concern on the Browns’ side, of course, is related more to volume than to matchup. The Dolphins have not suddenly given back the progress they had made over a month of quality play (a one point loss to Washington, followed by four consecutive games in which they led at halftime — the last two of which they won), and even “good teams” have bad games. (As explored the last few weeks: the Dolphins are remarkably untalented, but they are still a “good team,” in terms of being able to play their assignments and play from start to finish each week.) In other words: it won’t be surprising if the Dolphins give the Browns a tougher test than they gave to Buffalo last week — but this is still a winnable game across the board for Cleveland, given their massive edge in talent.

The pass catcher likeliest to see locked-in usage is Odell Beckham, as Cleveland has made a point of emphasizing him in their last two games — feeding him 12 and 10 targets in spite of contests against the Bills and the Steelers. These were Beckham’s fourth and fifth double-digit target games of the year (incredibly, he has topped six receptions only once, and he has topped 60 receiving yards only four times — with only three games above 71 yards), and there is obviously no guarantee he posts a blowup game in a contest the Browns are likely to control; but his 6-161-1 game against the Jets back in Week 2 is a reminder of the sort of upside he carries, and this is a good spot for him if the targets cooperate and the passes from Baker Mayfield are on point. This is the sort of spot in which we’ll likely see the Browns emphasize Beckham early, and we’ll see what happens from there.

Without David Njoku (potentially set to return this week — though it’s unlikely he would be a heavy point of emphasis in the passing attack right away), and with Antonio Callaway now off the team and Rashard Higgins simply a solid role player, the Browns have been something that they were not a year ago: a concentrated offense. With Beckham seeing recent target counts of 11 // 7 // 6 // 12 // 10, Jarvis Landry has countered with target counts of 5 // 10 // 13 // 10 // 7 — giving these two combined target counts of 16 // 17 // 19 // 22 // 17 during this stretch. Landry has topped 100 yards only once this year and has topped 75 yards only twice, but he is used all over the formation, and his aDOT of 9.1 has some upside-producing elements. He is dependent on “touchdowns or broken plays” for ceiling, but there are opportunities for one or the other of those to show up against the Dolphins.

The biggest potential dent for OBJ/Landry is the possibility that the Browns hammer the Dolphins on the ground — especially if they build an early lead. The Dolphins have faced the ninth fewest wide receiver targets in the league (and this is not because of their coverage!), and of the nine notable stat lines allowed to opposing pass catchers, five came on five or fewer receptions. Only the Bengals are facing a lower opponent pass play rate than the Dolphins, and only Washington has faced more running back rush attempts.

The Browns are regularly employing Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb on the field together (they had 70 snaps last week, with Chubb playing 51 and Hunt playing 38), with Chubb featured more as a runner (47 carries // 5 targets since Hunt returned) and Hunt being featured more as a receiver (10 carries // 17 targets). The Dolphins, on average, are giving up 168 total yards (rushing plus receiving), 4.5 receptions, and a touchdown to running backs — so it’s certainly not a given that both guys produce at their now-elevated prices (that comes out to 30.3 total backfield points per game on DraftKings/FantasyDraft // 25.05 on FanDuel). But the Browns as a team are in good shape to beat those average marks, and there is certainly upside from there.

JM’s Interpretation ::

Touchdown expectations are low for the Dolphins as a whole this week, so even with this offense willing to be aggressive and somewhat concentrating its volume, this side of the ball is more “crossing your fingers and hoping for the best” than anything else. I do think there is some viability to playing Parker in tourneys for his locked-in targets on a team that should be chasing points. I also want to single out Laird as an interesting large-field play. A team like the Dolphins should be in “evaluation mode” — and Ballage has shown them nothing all year, while Laird (an undrafted rookie who was called up from the practice squad after Mark Walton’s suspension) has looked solid in hauling in eight of eight targets the last two weeks for 61 yards. If he plays only 16 snaps again, he’ll likely disappoint; but it wouldn’t be entirely unexpected for the Dolphins to “unexpectedly” feature Laird a bit more this week. He’s a sub-0.5% owned play that has a greater than 0.5% chance of having a real role this week — which means he likely turns into nothing; but if he turns into something, that “something” would have slate-winning potential at his non-ownership and his price.

On the Browns’ side, the offense is highly concentrated on OBJ // Landry // Chubb // Hunt right now, and it is highly likely that one or two of these players posts a strong score this week. With the inconsistency and potential volume concerns of the passing attack, and with the split nature of the backfield, it’s tough to isolate any of these guys as Tier 1 options — but in the same way it made sense last week to cycle some Singletary and John Brown through any multi-entry blocks, it makes sense to feature Browns on a chunk of multi-entry play. (This is something we’ll talk about on the Angles Pod this week as well — not necessarily specific to the Browns, but of what this type of thinking/building looks like; super profitable stuff if you can nail down this approach.) Consider these four (as well as Mayfield) to be Tier 3 individually, but also consider “Browns offense” to be a sharp block this week.


Kickoff Sunday, Nov 24th 1:00pm Eastern

Bucs (
24) at

Falcons (
27.5)

Over/Under 51.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Buccaneers Run D
3rd DVOA/1st Yards allowed per carry
Falcons Run O
26th DVOA/20th Yards per carry
Buccaneers Pass D
1st DVOA/9th Yards allowed per pass
Falcons Pass O
16ths DVOA/3rd Yards per pass
Falcons Run D
8th DVOA/6th Yards allowed per carry
Buccaneers Run O
6th DVOA/19th Yards per carry
Falcons Pass D
30th DVOA/31st Yards allowed per pass
Buccaneers Pass O
9th DVOA/8th Yards per pass

One thing we talk about somewhat often in the NFL Edge is the fact that communication and assignment-strong play on defense matter more than talent (and in fact, matter far, far more than most of our competition — both in terms of DFS players, and in terms of DFS content providers — give it credit for, which is one of our sharper edges each season). And for a defense like the Falcons (more on the structure of this defense in a moment), the “do your job” mentality is especially valuable. It sounds simple, but this is the mentality on which Bill Belichick has built his dynasty: you have a responsibility on defense, and sometimes that responsibility is to NOT make a play, but to instead play your assignment in such a way that allows multiple other players to have a shot at making a play (i.e., if that one player plays out of assignment and misses the play he’s trying to make, it opens opportunities for a big play; but if that player instead sticks to his assignment, he can increase the chances of a play being made, as multiple other players will have a shot). And for the Falcons defense, assignment-sound play is everything, as that’s what this defense is built around.

Much like Dan Quinn’s old defenses with the Seahawks, the Falcons are designed to A) stop the run, B) keep everything in front of them with short throws, and C) prevent yards after the catch. When the Falcons are able to do this effectively, they can force opponents to march the entire field, and they can create second- and third-and-long situations that can allow them to bring pressure with a four-man rush while clogging up passing lanes on the back end. The entire idea behind the Falcons defense (very unlike the Patriots) is that they do not adjust from opponent to opponent, but instead practice the same thing every week — getting better and better at it so that the opposing team is forced to beat a sharp, disciplined, communication-strong defense.

And so, the story of this defense goes back to halftime of their 27-20 loss to the Seahawks, when they were losing 27-0 and Ricardo Allen (and a few other players) stepped up and basically said to the rest of the defense: no matter what, play your assignment. Just play your assignment. There have been a few other adjustments from there, but that has been the biggest thing for the Falcons over their last two and a half games, when they have allowed 12 points in 10 quarters to the Seahawks, Saints, and Panthers (with these last eight quarters coming on the road). This is how Takk McKinley (for example) — who entered last week ranked third in the NFL in pass rush win rate (behind only T.J. Watt and Robert Quinn — who have 19 combined sacks) — finally picked up his first solo sack on the year, as the secondary finally held long enough for his pressures to turn into a sack. It’s how the Falcons have notched 11 sacks and picked off four passes in the last two weeks. And it’s the biggest storyline for this game…

As we have explored all year, the Buccaneers are below-average in the secondary, but they are not nearly as bad as their “production allowed” would make it seem, as much of their “production allowed” has been due to volume, with this team facing over 40 pass attempts per game (most in the NFL — and far ahead of most other teams). The Bucs are elite at stopping the run, and they are decidedly below-average against the pass, and so teams have hammered them in this area. In their last two games, however, the Falcons (with combined road wins of 55-12) have called on Matt Ryan for two of his three lowest-volume (healthy) games on the year — and even with how good the Bucs’ run D is, it’s tough to see the Falcons throwing 40+ times in a blowout win. Atlanta should have a really nice game through the air regardless; but volume would have potential to boost the Falcons’ passing attack to the top of the slate (and the chances of volume showing up will be helped if the Bucs can get something going on their side of the ball).

Before we get to the Bucs’ side: we were accurate in our assumptions about the Falcons’ passing attack last week, as backup tight ends Jaeden Graham and Luke Stocker combined for only two targets in the absence of Austin Hooper, while Brian Hill (three targets) was used sparingly in the pass game. Russell Gage saw four targets as a short-area outlet (with a touchdown disappointingly overturned on review), while Julio Jones (eight looks while seeing a dose of double-teams) and Calvin Ridley (eight looks in single coverage) paced the pass catchers.

While Gage will again be the player likeliest to soak up short-area looks out of the slot (while also giving up a handful of snaps to Christian Blake and Olamide Zaccheaus), the Bucs are boosting opponent aDOT by 7.6% and rank 31st in adjusted sack rate, which should allow Matt Ryan to attack downfield to his more explosive targets. Julio has recent target counts of 9 // 9 // 12 // 9 // 8, and while he has not scored since Week 3 (the Falcons — amirite?), he has topped 79 yards in five consecutive games. Ridley has recent target counts of 6 // 6 // 7 // 5 // 8 and has topped 48 yards only twice in that stretch, but he has a good shot to end up on the higher end of that target range in this spot.

We’ve talked a lot over the last few weeks about teams still growing and adjusting as the season moves along, and that now makes it worth noting that the Bucs (after giving over 50% of their targets to Mike Evans and Chris Godwin over their previous five games) have now fed these two only 32.3% of their available targets over the last two. It’s difficult to say for certain whether this is due to a philosophical shift or (more likely) opponents finding ways to force Jameis Winston to look other places, but if these two are averaging 16 combined targets per game, they become quite a bit less valuable than when they were averaging 22 combined targets per game. The Falcons were able to hold Evans // Godwin to 40.8% of the Bucs’ targets across two games last season (and in their first meeting — before injuries destroyed their secondary — the Falcons held these two to a combined 10-114-1 line). The Bucs have thrown the most interceptions and taken the fourth most sacks in the league.

While those are some bleak notes for the Bucs, it is also worth pointing out that this team has thrown the ball 99 times the last two weeks, producing 60 completed passes and 671 passing yards, and this team is aggressive enough that it’s almost certain some sort of usable production piles up in this spot. Given the roles that Godwin/Evans have in this offense (and the way the Falcons aim to play defense), Godwin is the player likelier to see volume, while Evans is the better bet for a big play — though volume is also, obviously, in Evans’ repertoire, while Godwin can post his share of big plays. Michael Thomas still managed to go 13-152-0 in this matchup two weeks ago, and D.J. Moore (15 targets) went 8-95-0.

If both Evans and Godwin “miss” again: it was Ronald Jones two weeks ago hauling in eight of eight targets for 77 yards (while O.J. Howard contributed 4-47-1 of his own), and last week — after Howard bobbled an easy catch and popped it up in the air for an interception and found his way to the bench as a result — it was Cameron Brate who went 10-73-0 on an incredible 14 looks.

JM’s Interpretation ::

I’ll have a difficult time getting excited about either backfield in this spot, as the Falcons — regardless of whether or not Devonta Freeman is healthy this week — have the toughest running back matchup in football, while the Bucs remain a split backfield against a Falcons team that ranks 11th in DVOA against the run. If chasing in this spot, Ronald Jones would be the play — but he would likely need this game to remain close in order to produce, as he played only 20 snaps last week (12 for Peyton Barber) with the Bucs falling behind early and Dare Ogunbowale soaking up 29 snaps of his own.

In the pass game for the Bucs, I expect Jameis to make some mistakes throughout — continuing his crusade toward a backup job in 2020 with a few more sacks and turnovers — though given how willing this team is to attack, I’ll also continue to have deeper tourney interest in him, as he’ll continue to have a strong shot at a solid score as long as he doesn’t get benched.

There are also three pass catchers on the Bucs that I’ll have interest in — and while I’ll be surprised if any end up in Tier 1, all will at least be kept in mind for me as I move deeper into the week, and I won’t be surprised if I end up with moderately heavy “Bucs offense” exposure on this ugly week:

Godwin is a good bet for double-digit targets after falling below eight looks last week for the first time in nearly two months. Unless I dig up something unexpected deeper in the week, he’ll be a tough sell for me as a core piece — but I always like the upside on this offense, and he’s the likeliest player to hit.

Evans has gone 6-78-0 // 5-79-1 // 4-58-0 // 6-106-2 (injury-wrecked Falcons secondary) in his last four games vs Atlanta and is a “bet on big play” piece in this spot. With that said: big plays are always on the table for him, and it’s not impossible for volume to pop as well.

Finally, O.J. Howard is an ultra-risky play; but the Bucs refused to trade him at the deadline when several teams were calling, and it seems unlikely that they will permanently bench him just a few weeks later. As such, I’m expecting Howard to be back on the field for his normal role this week — which makes him a sneaky bet for a “get him going” game in which the Bucs try to send a few targets his way at the front end of this game. This is a higher-risk play, but the upside on Howard makes it attractive as a deeper tourney play.

On the Falcons’ side: Julio has gone 12-253-2 // 3-54-0 // 10-144-0 // 9-138-1 in his last four games in this spot, with 13+ looks in all three of those higher-production games. He likely needs the Bucs to keep this game close in order to post a ceiling game, but he carries one of the more attractive ceilings on the slate.

Ridley is a candidate to go over-owned after his big game last week and could suffer from a Julio-focused game plan in a matchup that will make it easy for the Falcons to emphasize their alpha receiver, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that he can win this matchup if the volume is there. If we take ownership out of the equation, Ridley carries a solid raw projection and is another solid way to gain exposure to this likely-high-scoring offense. Here is a look at the (long list of) notable stat lines the Bucs have allowed to pass catchers this year:

6-110-0 Greg Olsen
6-113-1 Engram
7-100-1 Shep
13-164-0 Woods
9-121-1 Kupp
11-182-2 Mike Thomas
6-123-1 Metcalf
13-152-2 Lockett
6-138-3 Kirk
8-114-1 Mike Thomas

5-91-0 Samuel
9-89-0 DJ
3-82-0 Slayton
6-78-1 Jonnu

Matt Ryan also stands out as one of the sharper quarterback plays on the slate — and while he’ll likely need the Bucs to keep pace in order to be a truly standout play, his floor and ceiling are among the highest at the position this week.


Kickoff Sunday, Nov 24th 1:00pm Eastern

Panthers (
18.25) at

Saints (
28.25)

Over/Under 46.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Panthers Run D
26th DVOA/18th Yards allowed per carry
Saints Run O
12th DVOA/14th Yards per carry
Panthers Pass D
13th DVOA/10th Yards allowed per pass
Saints Pass O
14th DVOA/9th Yards per pass
Saints Run D
4th DVOA/4th Yards allowed per carry
Panthers Run O
16th DVOA/21st Yards per carry
Saints Pass D
15th DVOA/17th Yards allowed per pass
Panthers Pass O
11th DVOA/11th Yards per pass

While it seems that there is still at least a small amount of confusion on this point in the greater DFS community, we are well aware, by now, of the fact that the Saints defense is genuinely good — with this team entering this week ranked fifth in overall defensive DVOA (ninth against the run, eighth against the pass), sixth in yards allowed per game, and 12th in points allowed per game (with “12th” a bit misleading, as they’re only 0.3 points per game behind the sixth place team). No team in football has allowed fewer rushing yards to running backs than the Saints, and only three teams have allowed fewer receiving yards to the position. The Saints have held six of their last seven opponents below their at-the-time scoring average. They have not yet allowed a notable stat line to a running back, and the players who have posted a notable stat line in this matchup through the air have all been elite:

8-111-2 Nuk
5-120-0 Kupp
11-154-1 Lockett
7-125-2 Godwin

10-87-1 A-Rob

The first place we should start is the place where the attention goes right away when we think about the Carolina offense: the backfield — where Christian McCaffrey runs into what has quietly been one of the most challenging running back matchups in the NFL, and where his price has not been adjusted for just how difficult this matchup is. CMC has recent touch counts — as the absolute engine of this offense — of 37 // 25 // 26 // 18 // 27 // 26 // 25, and his big role in the pass game and league-leading touchdown upside keep him in the mix in any spot. This will, however, be one of the tougher spots on the year for the Panthers’ star back.

Through the air, DJ Moore has recent target counts of 8 // 10 // 9 // 10 // 11 // 15, and he is now up to seven targets of 30+ yards (eight targets of 20+ yards) in four games since the Panthers returned from bye. With all these targets and all this downfield work, Moore has gone for 95+ in three straight games, and he has gone for 73+ in each of his last five games that did not come against the 49ers. Unfortunately — as highlighted each of the last two weeks — his red zone role remains almost nonexistent, with no targets inside the 10-yard-line and no red zone scores all year.

On the other hand, Curtis Samuel has four targets inside the 10 and four red zone scores this year, but he has not earned nearly the recent emphasis that Moore has earned, seeing target counts in his last six of 6 // 6 // 11 // 6 // 8 // 7 — incredibly topping 46 yards only twice in that stretch (while failing to crack 70 yards in any of those games). Samuel has the speed (and red zone usage) to hit, but his best bet of doing so would be for Marshon Lattimore to return and give Moore a tougher matchup than he otherwise will have.

Meanwhile, Greg Olsen (as explored numerous times in recent weeks) has generally seen his volume this year dictated by matchup. He runs into a slightly below-average matchup this week.

On the other side of the ball, the Panthers had been somewhat cruising on defense before their last two games (where Davante Adams hit them for a strong game through the air in the absence of James Bradberry, and where Calvin Ridley smoked them the next week with Bradberry covering Julio), with only the Bucs and Jaguars really doing much against them to that point. The Panthers have also allowed only six wide receiver touchdowns this year (the fourth fewest in the league), and Chark and Ridley are the only players who have topped 80 yards and scored a touchdown in this spot. With that said: worrying about matchup with Michael Thomas has been something of a wasted mission this year, as his monster usage (11+ targets in all but two games) and otherworldly talent keep him in great shape no matter what. Only touchdowns have been missing from Thomas this season (five on the year) — and again, this isn’t the best spot for wide receiver touchdowns. But he should once again be viewed as a high-end running back, and his paths to floor and ceiling remain.

One of the more interesting spots on the slate is the Saints’ actual backfield, where Alvin Kamara has a 94 // 43 edge in snaps over Latavius Murray since returning from injury/bye — though this has come with only 17 carries against his 18 receptions. Pass game roles can be extremely valuable, of course, and Kamara has picked up six or more catches in all but two games (seven or more in all but three), but this has come with only two games north of 50 receiving yards (while the Panthers — for all their struggles stopping the run — have allowed the fewest RB receiving yards in the league, at only 24.9 per game). Furthermore — after seeing 34 carries inside the 10-yard-line last season — Kamara has only seven carries inside the 10 so far this year. Kamara’s likeliest range has him seeing 13 to 14 carries and six to seven receptions — and as such, it’s worth pointing out that Todd Gurley went for 97 yards on 14 carries in this matchup, Tevin Coleman went for 105 on 11, and Aaron Jones went for 93 on 13. The Panthers have also given up the most running back rushing touchdowns in the league (with Coleman and Jones each adding three of their own).

Behind Kamara and Thomas, this offense quickly devolves into dart throws, with Latavius barely worth talking about at his price (with 10 or fewer touches his likeliest volume), and with wideouts not named Thomas combining for a 3-27-0 line across the last two weeks. The closest thing to a usable piece outside of Kamara/Thomas is Jared Cook, though he has topped 41 yards only once this season and has a below-average matchup vs the tight-end-tough Panthers.

JM’s Interpretation ::

This game gives us two of the narrowest distributions of touches in any offense in football, with the Panthers producing only four catches for 48 yards across the last two weeks(!) behind CMC // Moore // Samuel // Olsen, and with the Saints — as explored above — filtering almost everything through Thomas and Kamara.

With the touches so narrow on the Panthers, this group of players is worth considering in spite of the fact that this matchup is rarely conducive to blowup outings — with a fair shot at one or two solid stat lines emerging here, and with an outside shot at a tourney winner.

McCaffrey always has ceiling, but he is in place more for floor than for ceiling this week in a tough spot against the Saints (with his price not adjusted for the spot), while Moore is getting a bit pricey on DK given his minimal red zone role to date, making him more tourney-viable than “staple piece” this week. (Moore is much more affordable on FanDuel — though touchdowns are also more important on FanDuel.) If Lattimore misses, this spot is improved for Moore, while if Lattimore plays, the spot will be improved for Samuel. Samuel is involved enough to be interesting either way, but he would push toward higher standing in Tier 3 if Lattimore returns. Even Olsen is interesting in tourneys — though all these guys stand out more in that way (“interesting in tourneys”) than as lock-and-load plays in this tough matchup on the road.

Michael Thomas obviously comes with floor, and he carries some price-considered ceiling in this spot, even at his elevated price tag. As has been the case for most of the season: he’s one of the more secure plays on the slate.

Kamara, meanwhile, is interesting for the upside, though he is anything but a lock-and-load option given his strange scoring-position usage this year (with ownership keeping his price ultra high). He would need his second best game of the season to come close to keeping you on a tourney-winning pace. And in fact — using DraftKings — Kamara has produced (against his Week 12 salary) at a pace below 150 points in all but one game this year. (In other words: in all but one week this year, rostering Kamara would have left you with a near-0% chance of a tourney win, given the score he produced at his price.)

All of which makes this a strange spot: with ultra-concentrated volume on each side, but with pricing against likeliest expectations keeping all of these guys more “varying degrees of tourney-viable” than rock-solid plays.


Kickoff Sunday, Nov 24th 1:00pm Eastern

Lions (
22) at

WFT (
18)

Over/Under 40.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Lions Run D
30th DVOA/26th Yards allowed per carry
Washington Run O
21st DVOA/25th Yards per carry
Lions Pass D
12th DVOA/20th Yards allowed per pass
Washington Pass O
32nd DVOA/29th Yards per pass
Washington Run D
17th DVOA/17th Yards allowed per carry
Lions Run O
13th DVOA/18th Yards per carry
Washington Pass D
6th DVOA/1st Yards allowed per pass
Lions Pass O
19th DVOA/20th Yards per pass

Lions at Redskins gives us the golden matchup of Jeff Driskel against Dwayne Haskins — every NFL ticket-holder’s dream! (But wait! — that’s not all. You also get Matt Patricia and Bill Callahan on the sidelines. Welcome to the land of milk and honey.)

Since Matthew Stafford went down (and somehow went from back-to-back game-time decisions to “probably out at least a couple more weeks”), the Lions have tried to make ends meet by allowing Driskel to throw the ball 72 times (with 13 attempts added on the ground) while calling on the scintillating backfield timeshare of Paul Perkins (since released), Ty Johnson, J.D. McKissic, and the great Bo Scarbrough to run the ball 41 times. These 41 carries have led to 135 yards (3.29 yards per carry).

While Driskel has been passing more, he has (as explored last week) been leaning on downfield throws less often than Stafford. And yet — Driskel is still throwing downfield more than the field might expect, with eight passes of 20+ yards across the last two weeks. Driskel is still not in the “19.2%” range for 20+ yard attempts that Stafford (first in the NFL in aDOT) left behind, but this offense — coming off tough matchups vs the Bears and the Cowboys — is certainly not left for dead.

Since Driskel took over, Kenny Golladay has seen 14 targets (19.4%), Danny Amendola has seen 13 targets (18.1%), Marvin Jones and McKissic have each seen 11 targets (15.3%), and T.J. Hockenson has seen eight targets (11.1%). With Driskel under center and pass-catcher pricing still hedged in case Stafford returns, and with the Lions no longer set to be chasing points as they were the last two weeks, nothing in this spot really pops off the page; but Washington is allowing over nine yards per target to wide receivers, and they have allowed 1.3 receiving touchdowns per game to the position. It isn’t a bad spot for the Detroit passing attack to potentially click once again.

On the Washington side, there is potential that this game remains close enough that they can get back to leaning on the run after the Jets forced them away from this approach a week ago. Unfortunately, Washington ran a three-man timeshare last week, with Wendell Smallwood seeing 28 snaps, Adrian Peterson seeing 17, and Derrius Guice seeing 20. If Chris Thompson returns this week, he’ll take over the Smallwood role, while Peterson and Guice will likely continue splitting snaps/touches — with Guice seeing his share of the work grow, but with Peterson almost certainly not going away. Guice carries interesting per-touch upside in a matchup that tilts in his favor, though he’ll almost certainly need to do his damage on 15 or fewer touches.

In the pass game, Terry McLaurin did see a downfield target last week (hooray) — yet somehow, he managed to be fed only four looks, while Trey Quinn, Kelvin Harmon, and Steven Sims all matched or passed that number and Jeremy Sprinkle // Smallwood each finished only one behind that mark. McLaurin will do battle with sometimes-really-good corner Darius Slay, though the bigger obstacle to production is Haskins (and the bigger obstacle for both of them is Callahan). Ultimately, Washington’s offense is a layer of conservative thinking/strategizing/play-calling added on top of another layer of conservative thinking/strategizing/play-calling. Before the fourth quarter last week, Washington had gone 16 consecutive quarters without producing a touchdown. In all, they have produced five offensive touchdowns in their last seven games.

JM’s Interpretation ::

Last week, we highlighted the Lions in the Player Grid as one of a small number of offenses worth considering in game stacks (and hit them up again on the Run To Daylight podcast — always linked at the top of the Player Grid), but while the matchup this week is softer, the need to be aggressive will be lessened against the poor offense of the Redskins. I had 10% Driskel exposure last week, with 15% Marvin Jones (and, disappointingly, 15% T.J. Hockenson), and at the mid-point of this week, I imagine I’ll call that enough Lions exposure for a two-week span. With that said: if we took price out of the equation on the Lions pass catchers and just talked about chances of a couple big plays hitting, I certainly wouldn’t be against playing them — and as such, I certainly think they are viable in tourneys this week.

“Viable in tourneys” is more than I’m likely to be feeling for the Redskins, as McLaurin and Guice are “bet on talent beating coaching and a bad overall offense” options. While both certainly carry some upside, I’ll hope to be looking for plays with a bit more certainty behind them for my rosters. (I should also note that it’s the last week of the “regular season” for the Best Ball Championship, and I’m on track to pass through 50% more teams than the standard pass-through rate — with several other teams positioned to push that number even higher. Guice was one of my higher-owned mid-round running backs, and McLaurin is one of my highest-owned players, as I soaked him up in the final rounds every chance I had. As such, I’m considering that to be my “Guice and McLaurin exposure” at the moment, as I’ll be thrilled if one or the other somehow falls into a monster weekend (and helps make up for my enormous exposure to O.J. Howard…). Take that for whatever you feel it’s worth — though I still don’t imagine I’d be wanting to roster one of these guys even if that were not the case.)

There is an alternate scenario to all this in which you expect the Lions to remain aggressive with downfield throws even without Washington necessarily keeping pace — in which case, the Lions pieces could end up producing at a level commensurate with salary. (A likely lack of aggressive-style volume is a much bigger obstacle here than matchup.)

There is also an “alternate alternate” scenario in which Washington successfully responds to an aggressive attack by the Lions. A lot of imagination is required to see this one; but on a slate like this, it’s at least not as crazy as it would be in most other weeks.


Kickoff Sunday, Nov 24th 1:00pm Eastern

Raiders (
23.75) at

Jets (
20.75)

Over/Under 44.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Raiders Run D
31st DVOA/15th Yards allowed per carry
Jets Run O
29th DVOA/23rd Yards per carry
Raiders Pass D
26th DVOA/28th Yards allowed per pass
Jets Pass O
30th DVOA/32nd Yards per pass
Jets Run D
14th DVOA/20th Yards allowed per carry
Raiders Run O
24th DVOA/17th Yards per carry
Jets Pass D
31st DVOA/24th Yards allowed per pass
Raiders Pass O
5th DVOA/7th Yards per pass

The list of notable stat lines allowed by the Jets this season tells much of the story we need to know about the matchup that the Raiders will be facing ::

105-1 (28) Zeke

7-123-1 JB
6-161-1 OBJ
4-103-1 Conley
10-121-2 Slayton

6-79-1 Chark
6-95-0 Gesicki
5-72-2 Preston Williams
4-95-2 Tate

We’ll start in the Raiders’ backfield, where Josh Jacobs has become a bit of a DFS darling this season (typically, DFS darlings emerge from a monster game that a lot of people benefitted from at a low price — think DJ Moore last year — which attaches both fond memories and a DFS confidence boost to that player across a broad range of the DFS community and keeps that player’s price higher than it really needs to be for a long time to come; but Jacobs seems to have drawn the love of the DFS community more for his fairly consistent production the last couple months when consistent production has been difficult to come by this year), and where this Darling status could lead to higher-than-it-should-be ownership against a Jets run defense that a large chunk of the field apparently still believes to be attackable because it’s the Jets. This run defense, of course, ranks second in DVOA and has allowed the fourth fewest RB rushing yards in the league, at only 3.01 yards per carry. The only somewhat notable stat line came when Zeke required 28 carries to reach 105 yards (with a case to be made for Sony Michel’s 42-yard, three-touchdown game to count for this list as well — though given how variance-driven touchdown opportunities are, I tend to leave “touchdown-only” games off my notable stat lines list), and this should be considered a significantly below-average spot for Jacobs. The work will almost certainly still be there, but he’ll need some things to really click for the production to match the price.

Oakland has played only one game this year that presented a similar setup (strong run D; bad pass D; fairly neutral game script), in Week 8 vs Houston (10th in DVOA against the run; 25th against the pass). In that spot, Jacobs saw only 15 carries in a 24-27 loss (his fewest carries in his last seven games — in a game the Raiders led 21-13 heading into the fourth quarter), but the Raiders’ pass play rate of 56.6% was only marginally higher than their season-long rate of 53.7%. A one-game sample wouldn’t tell us a whole lot regardless, but the biggest takeaway is what we would expect: the Raiders are still likely to emphasize the run regardless of matchup — requiring Carr to put in efficient work in order to produce. (He’s topped 32 pass attempts only two times this year.)

The Jets pass defense has not been as bad on a per-pass basis as their reputation, with a number 21 DVOA ranking against the pass, and with better-than-league-average marks in all of aDOT, catch rate, and YAC/r allowed. But the Jets have still allowed the third most touchdowns to wideouts in the league, and they have allowed five different wideouts to post a season-best DFS score against them (which was six wideouts until JB finally bested his Week 1 mark vs the Jets in his game against the Dolphins). The Jets are also elite against tight ends, with no team in football facing fewer targets to the position the last two years (a credit to the coverage of Jamal Adams). This creates an interesting spot in that the matchup tilts toward the pass, and the pass tilts toward the wideouts. Tyrell Williams has recent target counts of 6 // 4 // 5 // 4; Hunter Renfrow has recent target counts of 4 // 7 // 5 // 6; Zay Jones has recent target counts of 2 // 4 // 3 // 3. It’s difficult to see any of these guys busting out for a massive spike from here. But it won’t be surprising if one of these guys lands a strong price-considered score.

In spite of what the Raiders did to Ryan Finley last week, this is still a nice matchup for the Jets passing attack, as the Raiders rank 23rd in DVOA against the pass and 29th in yards allowed per pass attempt, with the 11th most yards and the ninth most touchdowns allowed to wide receivers. Seven different pass catchers have topped 100 yards in this matchup, while another two have gone for 80+ yards and a touchdown. As long as Good Sam Darnold shows up — and especially if the Raiders are able to take advantage of this matchup on the other side — the Jets will be in position for another solid showing.

The Jets have been led by Jamison Crowder lately (recent target counts of 5 // 9 // 6 // 8), followed by Demaryius Thomas (5 // 3 // 9 // 5), Ryan Griffin (4 // 8 // 1 // 5), and Robby Anderson (6 // 4 // 3 // 3). Crowder has seen a price-spike due to a recent touchdown binge, making him a bit overpriced for his likeliest range, while Demaryius (as noted weekly) has a strong price-considered floor but needs a touchdown for ceiling, as he doesn’t have much burst left to his game. This leaves only the ever-unreliable Robby and the “What is happening?” Griffin (re: Griffin — the volume does not match the production, but the production seems to keep coming if you want to chase), so it’s not as if this offense would provide some lock-and-load piece even if it were more consistent; but some production is likely to emerge here, and while a true shootout is highly unlikely, this could easily turn into one of the higher-scoring games on this particular slate.

Finally, we have the Jets backfield, where Le’Veon Bell (3.2 yards per carry; no games above 70 rushing yards; only three games above 34 receiving yards) will continue to handle 20+ touches per game. The usage is there for Bell, but the Jets have eight pass attempts inside the 10 (for reference: Tom Brady leads the NFL with 32), and Bell has seven carries inside the 10 (Dalvin Cook has 29). This offense just hasn’t been able to get into scoring range often enough to produce useful stat lines at Le’Veon’s price. That price is finally dropping, but he has still produced zero DraftKings scores and one FanDuel score that you would truly like to see at his Week 12 price to feel it could move you toward first place in a tourney.

JM’s Interpretation ::

This is not the best and brightest the slate has to offer, but there are pass game pieces to consider on either side, with pretty solid floor in several spots, and with potential for one or two plays to hit for ceiling. Renfrow and Crowder provide the best combination of floor and potential ceiling, but there are ways to get a bit more aggressive from there.

I’ll likely leave the backfields alone myself, but I do like this game for a few game stacks, as the slate is ugly enough that this could turn into one of the more useful spots to choose from.


Kickoff Sunday, Nov 24th 1:00pm Eastern

Hawks (
23.75) at

Eagles (
21.75)

Over/Under 45.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Seahawks Run D
9th DVOA/13th Yards allowed per carry
Eagles Run O
25th DVOA/15th Yards per carry
Seahawks Pass D
29th DVOA/32nd Yards allowed per pass
Eagles Pass O
29th DVOA/24th Yards per pass
Eagles Run D
15th DVOA/24th Yards allowed per carry
Seahawks Run O
8th DVOA/12th Yards per carry
Eagles Pass D
29th DVOA/7th Yards allowed per pass
Seahawks Pass O
3rd DVOA/2nd Yards per pass

I really love the line on the Seattle // Philly game this week (Over/Under of 48.0, with only one point separating these two teams), as it’s an excellent depiction of what we would expect to happen in this game if we played out this slate a hundred times. Both of these teams want to lean on the run (top eight in rush play rate), and both teams also rank in the bottom half of the league in pace of play, while the Seahawks — as we’re well aware — tend to play to the level of their opponent, with a philosophy built around keeping games close in order to win the fourth quarter each week. I originally guessed that this game would have an Over/Under of 44.0, but both teams are too capable of scoring down the stretch for this to truly turn into a low-scoring affair (though it won’t be surprising if this game starts out slowly).

Injury news is going to have major implications in this spot on the Eagles’ side, as the Seahawks have rather quietly allowed among the highest number of notable stat lines in the league (with seven pass catchers topping 100 yards against them, and with two “running backs” (in quotes because Lamar Jackson was one of these “running backs”) cracking 100 yards on the ground and another two cracking 90 yards through the air).

Through the air, yards after catch has been the main driver for success against Seattle — with this team looking to force short-area throws, and with shorter-area route runners likeliest to pile up production. “Shorter-area route runners” is a good description of Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert — but it’s also a good description of Nelson Agholor, who has seen 32 targets in the three games in which Alshon Jeffery has either completely or mostly missed. Agholor, of course, popped off in both of his “without Alshon” games earlier this year before posting a predictable dud against the Patriots last week, and it seems likely that his Week 11 dud will somewhat draw eyes away from him if Alshon misses again. (Naturally, Agholor will return to shot-in-the-dark status if Alshon returns, while if Alshon ends up trending toward playing — which doesn’t currently appear to be the case — we’ll revisit him in the Angles Pod and the Player Grid, as he’s priced quite a bit below where we are used to seeing him.)

Ertz is the main piece of this passing attack regardless of injury news, with recent target counts of 8 // 7 // 9 // 6 // 4 // 11 // 11, as Philly gets back to emphasizing him a bit more heavily, the way they did last year, while Goedert will continue to see heavy snaps (leading to recent target counts of 8 // 4 // 5 // 5 // 6). While Ertz generally has a fairly sizable edge in targets, he has only one target inside the 10-yard-line, compared to four for Goedert — a function of teams trying to take Ertz away in the red zone, and the Eagles looking to use this to spring their second tight end open. The matchup is not a concern for either of these guys, keeping each in his typical range of expected production.

The “wait on injury news” setup extends to the Eagles’ backfield, where Miles Sanders — at massive ownership — got his first start last week and played 61 of 72 snaps, and proceeded to post one of his worst games of the season. The Eagles surprisingly ditched the run last week (turning to the air on 68% of their plays, compared to 56% on the season) — though there is no way to know if this was because the Eagles felt they could move the ball better in this way against what the Patriots were showing them, or if they adjusted based on the fact that Sanders was in the backfield over Jordan Howard. If Howard plays this week, he and Sanders will go back to their standard backfield split (leaving each as simply a “bet on big plays or touchdowns” option), and if Howard misses, it is likely that Jay Ajayi will see more than the zero snaps he saw last week; but 14+ touches (with upside for more) will still be a solid projection for Sanders in this spot if Howard is out again — and while his expected workload wouldn’t quite match his price, his per-touch upside will still keep him in the mix.

Another reason I had this Vegas line a bit wrong in my initial guess was this :: on the year, the Seahawks have produced point totals of 21 // 28 // 27 // 27 // 30 // 32 // 16 // 27 // 40 // 27. Outside of a fluky Week 1 game against the Bengals and their run-in with the Ravens, Seattle has scored 27 or more in every game this year — having done so across a broad range of matchups (including the Steelers, the Saints, the Rams, and the 49ers), and pointing to a high likelihood that this offense finds a way to produce at that level again. The starting point, then, is the main drivers behind this scoring :: Russell Wilson and Chris Carson. Through 10 games this year, here is the per-game DK/FDraft production for Russ // Carson (with these numbers getting a slight value boost on FD as well, as these two have not been heavily dependent on bonuses or PPR production for their points) ::

Wilson :: 16.6 // 28.2 // 44.3 // 14.3 // 29.9 // 28.9 // 15.3 // 15.7 // 42.2 // 17.6
Carson :: 25.0 // 10.7 // 5.0 // 21.5 // 22.3 // 28.9 // 10.4 // 15.0 // 17.3 // 19.1

Rather than just glancing at those numbers, I encourage you to take a moment to think through what those numbers mean (including in conjunction with one another). There have been only two games in which these two combined for joint-usable production at their salaries, but Russ has posted five tourney-winning price-considered scores while Carson has posted two, with one or the other of them doing so in 60% of the Seahawks’ games this year. If Seattle is able to produce on the middle-higher end of their general range, one of these two is likely to have a nice game in this spot.

More on this offense in a moment…

JM’s Interpretation ::

I like this game more than I expected to. Assuming Alshon misses, I’ll have interest on the Philly side in Agholor // Ertz // Sanders // Goedert (in that order), with Carson Wentz also tourney-interesting at his Week 12 price. Wentz has only three games this year of 240+ passing yards, but he adds around 20 yards on the ground most games and has upside for more, and his price has dropped based on recent matchups vs New England // Chicago // Buffalo // Dallas. Wentz is less likely than other quarterbacks to post a blowup game — but especially if Howard misses (increasing the chances of the Eagles leaning on the pass again), he’ll have a good shot at production.

On the Seattle side: there has been a better-than-50% shot this year that one of Russ/Carson will post the sort of score you would need at their price to keep you on a tourney-winning pace (which is noteworthy with pricing getting so out of hand lately, as there are plenty of players who have not hit that sort of pace a single time this year), and there is a solid chance on a week like this that one of these two ends up on some Leaderboard rosters — especially on a week that’s tough for points.

Russ can produce without carrying one of his wideouts with him — and because the Seahawks prefer to lean run-heavy regardless of matchup (with only game flow typically springing them out of this look), it has been difficult for Seattle pass catchers to compile complete stat lines. As such, Tyler Lockett has two elite games this year, but he has pretty seriously disappointed against his Week 12 salary in every other game, while DK Metcalf has posted one elite game, but has pretty seriously disappointed against his Week 12 salary in every other game. As a general rule, Lockett and Metcalf should never be played without playing Russ on that roster (to illustrate that point: Lockett has hit vs New Orleans and Tampa, and Metcalf has hit against Tampa; in those two games, Russ posted 44.34 and 42.22 DK/Fdraft points || 41.34 // 39.22 FD points), and that rule obviously does not work the other way around (i.e., Russ can be on a tourney-winning roster without Lockett or Metcalf joining him). This is a good week to “cycle Lockett/Metcalf through some Russ builds,” while also rolling Russ Naked in some spots. (If single-entering this week: my personal approach in a spot like this is to “get my Lockett/Metcalf exposure through Russ” — though these guys are obviously worth taking the plunge on in this spot if you feel they can outscore the other similarly-priced wideouts this week.) If going to these two: Metcalf is more touchdown-reliant, and is therefore the higher-risk option. Lockett is the more complete route-runner, and is therefore the better bet here. Deeper down, you could also consider Josh Gordon or Jacob Hollister (recent target counts of 6 // 2 // 6 // 10), though keep in mind that this is not early-decade Gordon, while Hollister has been heavily reliant on touchdowns for his recent production.


Kickoff Sunday, Nov 24th 4:05pm Eastern

Jaguars (
19.25) at

Titans (
23.25)

Over/Under 42.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Jaguars Run D
22nd DVOA/29th Yards allowed per carry
Titans Run O
11th DVOA/5th Yards per carry
Jaguars Pass D
32nd DVOA/27th Yards allowed per pass
Titans Pass O
2nd DVOA/16th Yards per pass
Titans Run D
16th DVOA/23rd Yards allowed per carry
Jaguars Run O
17th DVOA/30th Yards per carry
Titans Pass D
24th DVOA/26th Yards allowed per pass
Jaguars Pass O
21st DVOA/19th Yards per pass

After the way the Jaguars’ Week 11 game played out (with Nick Foles throwing the ball 47 times), we should kick off this writeup by reminding that the Jaguars, fundamentally, would like to be built from the run game up. After last week’s game, Doug Marrone talked about how the Jags need to get the ball to Leonard Fournette more, and it’s pretty clear that the reason the Jags threw the ball so many times last week was because of the early hole in which they found themselves. As such, we should throw last week’s lofty pass attempt // target counts out — especially as this team will now be taking on the low-scoring, slow-paced Titans. The biggest takeaway from last week’s game was the fact that D.J. Chark was still the featured weapon with Foles under center (posting a score I tried to capture myself after rereading last week’s NFL Edge and coming across the part about “a tourney scenario in which Foles comes back firing and one of the Jags’ wideouts hit” — though unfortunately, I rolled out Westbrook on my handful of “Jags wideout” rosters instead of landing on Chark).

The Titans are not an elite defense, but they do rank fourth in DVOA against the run (22nd against the pass), fifth in drive success rate allowed, and seventh in points allowed per drive. On the season, Tennessee has allowed opponent point totals of 13 // 19 // 20 // 10 // 14 // 16 // 20 // 23 // 30 (Carolina) // 32 (Kansas City).

When the Jags throw the ball, the action will be centered on Chark (recent target counts of 7 // 5 // 12 // 9 // 15), Dede Westbrook (11 // 8 // 9 // 1 // 6), and Chris Conley (3 // 7 // 7 // 7 // 8). Tennessee ranks middle of the pack in pass plays allowed of 20+ yards, and while they have been strong at checking yards after the catch, they are boosting aDOT by 6.4% and are only slightly above-average in catch rate prevention.

When the Jags run, of course, it will be almost all Fournette, who has recent touch counts of 26 // 31 // 26 // 16 // 15. Fournette has seen his snaps/touches dip in back-to-back blowout losses, but he shapes up well to get back to his standard range in this spot. While this is good news for Fournette, the bad news is the matchup, as Christian McCaffrey is the only running back who has topped 100 yards in this spot, with the Titans holding opposing backfields to a respectable-low 4.04 yards per carry. Incredibly, Fournette has still scored only one touchdown this year.

When the Titans run (and they likely will quite a bit — as they rank top 10 in rush play rate, and the Jags rank 11th in DVOA against the pass but 30th against the run), they will lean on Derrick Henry, who has recent touch counts of 23 // 17 // 16 // 25. Henry, incredibly, has five games already against bottom-seven run defenses (DVOA), and not all of them have been gems (especially against his Week 12 price tag) :: 17-44-1 vs this Jacksonville defense || 20-78-1 vs the Bills || 22-90-1 vs the Chargers || 13-63-1 vs the Panthers (though he did add 36 yards and a second touchdown through the air in this one); but his 23-188-2 line against the Chiefs a couple weeks back is a reminder of the sort of upside he has in a soft spot like this.

The Titans should have a tougher time throwing with Ryan Tannehill under center and a matchup against a Jags defense that is “unspectacular, but solid” against the pass. The Titans have produced only one game all year of 100+ yards (belonging to A.J. Brown — way back in Week 1), and they are averaging only 1.5 passing touchdowns per game. Betting on this passing attack in this spot is essentially betting on outlier game flow in which the Titans are chasing points, or it’s betting on a fluky busted play or multi-touchdown outing. Only three pass catchers have topped 100 yards vs the Jags this year, and Sammy Watkins is the only player who has topped 80 yards and scored a touchdown in this spot.

JM’s Interpretation ::

While I don’t expect the Jags to come into this game with a pass-heavy game plan (and while the Titans are unlikely to light fire to the scoreboard and force the Jags to open things up in that way), the matchup should eventually tilt the Jags toward the pass, and there are enough holes in the Titans secondary that this concentrated Jaguars attack is interesting. Dede occupies the short-area role in this offense (aDOT of 7.3), so he’s more a “bet on volume and hope for a touchdown” play (with volume not particularly likely to pile up), while Chark (13.4) and Conley (14.8) will work downfield. I like both of these guys in tourneys — and Conley (seven or more targets in four straight — with only five fewer targets than Chark over the Jags’ three previous games heading into last week) seems especially likely to go overlooked.

I’ll likely stay away from Fournette myself, and Henry is a clear candidate to go over-owned compared to his likeliest output — especially given that when he misses, his yardage-and-touchdown role can lead to him missing hard. Though with that said: Fournette’s workload potential keeps him in the “always in tourneys” discussion (it’s only a matter of time before sheer volume leads to a multi-score game to go with his locked-in receptions and acceptable yardage totals), while Henry has plenty of upside if all the elements come together for him in this spot. I rarely pay up for yardage-and-touchdown backs myself, but Henry does at least have enough elements in place to tempt me this week.


Kickoff Sunday, Nov 24th 4:25pm Eastern

Cowboys (
19.5) at

Patriots (
25)

Over/Under 44.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Cowboys Run D
29th DVOA/32nd Yards allowed per carry
Patriots Run O
3rd DVOA/4th Yards per carry
Cowboys Pass D
21st DVOA/12th Yards allowed per pass
Patriots Pass O
27th DVOA/28th Yards per pass
Patriots Run D
18th DVOA/27th Yards allowed per carry
Cowboys Run O
18th DVOA/24th Yards per carry
Patriots Pass D
17th DVOA/11th Yards allowed per pass
Cowboys Pass O
22nd DVOA/1st Yards per pass

The late portion of the Main Slate gives us only two games this week (really — what’s wrong with the schedule-makers?), but this game gives us a marquee matchup between a strong, 6-4 Cowboys team that challenges the old Parcells adage of ‘you are what your record says you are’ vs the 9-1 Patriots; and as with any matchup this year that includes the Patriots, the place to kick things off is with the Patriots defense, as this unit ranks first in DVOA (13th vs the run // first vs the pass), first in drive success rate allowed, first in plays allowed per drive, first in turnovers forced per drive, first in yards allowed per drive, and first in points allowed per drive. The Patriots have given up one touchdown to the running back position, two touchdowns to the wide receiver position (only one of which came through the air), and three touchdowns to the tight end position. Through 10 games, quarterbacks have thrown four touchdowns in this matchup. Here are the notable stat lines allowed by this team, 10 games in ::

109-0 (17) Gore
131-0 (20) Chubb
115-0 (15) Ingram

6-102-1 Golden Tate

9-94-0 Ertz

You could look at those “notable” outputs and simply ask if there is any Cowboys player on whom the price tag is likely to be smashed by the output (i.e., even the notable stat lines allowed to running backs would not be enough to make Zeke a particularly tourney-worthy play at his price, and the stat line allowed to Ertz is unlikely to show up through a far less athletic tight end in Jason Witten — leaving only the game in which Tate hit for a big play that pushed him into “notable” territory: a feat only one wideout has pulled off in 10 games, in order to produce a stat line that you’d just barely be happy with in tourneys at the price tags on Gallup and Amari), but there are always cases to be made for considering alternate outcomes.

If considering alternate outcomes, you could try to bet on Dak and one of his pass catchers breaking through in the toughest matchup in football — but the player with the “best shot” (such as it is) at a big price-considered game is Ezekiel Elliott. While the elite all-around nature of the Pats defense has made it nearly impossible for running backs to truly compile stats against them, the Patriots are allowing 4.32 yards per carry to running backs. And while the Pats are on track to finish at the top of the league in RB-touchdown-prevention yet again, we saw LeGarrette Blount score three touchdowns on Thanksgiving against the Bears last year. As Xandamere often points out in the Showdown Slant: it just takes a penalty for a running back to be set up at the one-yard-line — and if we played out this slate a hundred times, there would be at least a small handful of two-touchdown games from Zeke.

On the other side of the ball, the Patriots offense ranks only 11th in DVOA, and they actually rank lower than that in each offensive category: 18th on the ground // 14th through the air. Only two teams have scored more points per game than the Patriots, but a lot of this has had to do with short fields against bad opponents as the Patriots defense dominates. Fifteen teams have picked up more yards per game than the Pats, and as a result, the spread-it-around Pats have produced only the following salary-usable stat lines all year:

Rex Burkhead :: 11-47-1 on the ground // 6-22-0 through the air (with James White out)

Sony Michel :: 16-91-1 on the ground // 3-32-0 through the air || 19-42-3 on the ground // 2-(minus 8)-0 through the air

Mohamed Sanu :: 10-81-1

Phillip Dorsett :: 4-95-2 || 6-53-1 (plus 12 yards rushing)

Julian Edelman :: 8-110-1 || 8-78-2

That’s only eight salary-usable stat lines from the Patriots across 10 games (from five different players), and this week they take on a solid Cowboys defense that has allowed both the seventh fewest yards and the seventh fewest points per game in the league. Only two pass catchers have topped 100 yards against the Cowboys this year. Only six teams have allowed fewer passing touchdowns than the Cowboys. Only Aaron Jones has scored multiple touchdowns in this matchup.

JM’s Interpretation ::

For anyone wondering about Tony Pollard :: he played only 12 of 73 snaps last week (Zeke played 65), and he hasn’t topped eight touches in a game since Miami in Week 3. He’s also, for some reason, priced almost like a true timeshare back on DK/FDraft (while the game on FanDuel is “yardage and touchdowns,” making him a tough sell there as well). To put all that another way: he’s a bad play on paper, and you probably knew that already; and since he scored a lot of points on limited volume last week, he’ll likely draw a small amount of ownership.

For anyone wondering about Zeke :: hmmmm. I don’t have interest in him on FanDuel, where he’s still priced right up with the top backs; but on DK/FDraft, he does come at an interesting discount. The likeliest scenario has Zeke putting up just a tick below or above 100 yards on the ground (i.e., either just grabbing or just missing out on that bonus), with around two catches for 20 or 30 yards and no scores. That won’t get the job done at his price, but at the discount, it doesn’t kill you; and if he pops in a score or two behind the Cowboys’ elite line, he’ll be a really nice piece. I’ll almost certainly lean toward that “likeliest scenario” on my core build(s), but I probably do like the idea of having at least a small amount of Zeke exposure in tourneys, especially if the field is “sharp enough” to fade him in this spot.

On the Patriots side: it’s likely we ultimately see one usable stat line emerge, though it’s unlikely we see more than that — making this a spot where you could simply avoid guessing (especially as touchdowns will almost certainly be a vital part of any usable Patriots stat line, and touchdowns are the least predictable element in DFS), or in which you could try to land on the one player who hits. On a week like this, I honestly might not mind that second approach, as the best path toward a solid Patriots score is volume, and we have a pretty solid idea of where the volume will flow.

Last week, Mohamed Sanu injured his ankle and was subsequently on and off the field while looking limited by the injury during his time out there. He missed practice on Wednesday, and even if he ends up making it back in time for Sunday, he’ll be an iffy bet for the volume we would need (making him more “bet on fluky play” in this spot). Dorsett is dealing with a concussion and is unlikely to play, which will open snaps in this lower-volume role for both N’Keal Harry (32 snaps // four targets last week) and Jakobi Meyers (19 snaps // two targets last week). Harry would actually have some deep-tourney legs if Dorsett is out simply because the Patriots were developing him during the summer as a back-shoulder/high-point-fade end zone threat, which could pay off with an unpredictable multi-score game — but what all of this really points to is a strong spot for volume to remain rock-solid for Edelman (recent target counts of 9 // 15 // 12 // 11 // 11 // 10), and as a spot for James White to stay on the higher end of his target range (seven or more looks in six of nine games). Each of these players also has a big red zone role, with Edelman leading the NFL with 18 red zone targets, and with White not far behind him with 13.

Finally, Michel has not topped 91 yards this year, and his pass game role lacks value; but only two players have more carries inside the five-yard-line, and he popped in three touchdowns against the top-three run defense of the Jets — reminding us, once again, that touchdowns are fluky, and that Michel always belongs in the deeper tourney discussion when his price and ownership both drop.


Kickoff Sunday, Nov 24th 8:20pm Eastern

Packers (
22.5) at

49ers (
25.5)

Over/Under 48.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Packers Run D
25th DVOA/12th Yards allowed per carry
49ers Run O
9th DVOA/8th Yards per carry
Packers Pass D
25th DVOA/18th Yards allowed per pass
49ers Pass O
17th DVOA/21st Yards per pass
49ers Run D
7th DVOA/9th Yards allowed per carry
Packers Run O
10th DVOA/10th Yards per carry
49ers Pass D
22rd DVOA/3rd Yards allowed per pass
Packers Pass O
6th DVOA/14th Yards per pass

Showdown Slant ::

Presented by top Showdown mind Xandamere!

Sunday football wraps up with the Packers visiting the 49ers (fun fact: I’m a 49ers fan; my boss is a Packers fan, so there’s some friction here) in a 47.5 total game with the 49ers currently field goal favorites. As JM notes, most of the 49ers offense is a game-time decision, so it’s somewhat hard to evaluate here, but I’ll try to talk through different permutations of activity and inactivity.

The 49ers run game is a timeshare — let’s get that out of the way right now. Matt Breida was out last week and Tevin Coleman played 49% of the snaps, exactly split with Raheem Mostert. Coleman led in touches, and he’ll lead in red zone work and (probably) targets, but Matt Breida’s status doesn’t really impact Coleman at all. Breida is currently listed as doubtful, but we’ve seen him play through dubious injury tags before. If he plays, he has big play upside but also comes with fairly significant re-injury risk. His red zone role is minute, so he’ll need big plays in order to really smash. If Breida is out, as is likely, Mostert is a pretty reasonable value play at just $4,200. The matchup is fantastic and he should see at worst 8 or 9 touches but possibly up to 15 or so as a home favorite with some pass game work. Jeff Wilson played one offensive snap last week, got one target, and caught it for a 25 yard touchdown, so if you want to chase that, have fun. The overall assessment here is the 49ers run game is likely to produce at least one solid score and possibly two if the 49ers win, but if the Packers get out to a lead, none of these backs have major pass game roles. 

The 49ers pass game has all three primary weapons (Kittle, Sanders, and Samuel) listed questionable but trending positively. Deebo had a massive game last week with Kittle out and Sanders playing (but limited to under half of the offensive snaps as he battled through pain). If Sanders plays this week, I would expect him to be close to if not back at his full-time role, which makes Deebo seem overpriced for a WR2 role behind Kittle in a run-first offense. These three guys are all priced closely together, and if all three play, I would rank them as Kittle, then Sanders, then Samuel. The matchup is fine (the Packers started off rated strongly against the pass but have been fading as the season goes on), but this is fundamentally a run-first offense so I wouldn’t want more than one 49ers receiver unless I’m building for a scenario in which the Packers put up a decent fight. If all three primary guys are healthy, the other receivers on the team all fade back into ancillary roles, with Kendrick Bourne likely having earned the most trust with his added opportunities (touchdowns in three games in a row). Bourne will likely still have some kind of role, but it’s also likely a role that will require another score in order to really pay off. 

All right, now the what-ifs. If Sanders misses, Deebo becomes the WR1 and we saw him perform in that role last week, while Bourne steps into a more full-time snap percentage and we’ll see little bits of Marquise Goodwin, Richie James, and maybe even 2018 darling Dante Pettis. Goodwin is the most attractive of those guys as he has real big-play ability and can force his way into optimal lineups with just one catch. If Kittle misses, Ross Dwelley caught four of five targets for two touchdowns last week but just 14 yards; he’s a red zone and short area threat, but without much yardage upside he’s going to need a score to pay off. Also, two weeks ago when Kittle was first out I noted that Kyle Juszczyk could be used in Kittle’s role and get some decent target volume…well, it didn’t happen that week, but it showed up last week with the fullback seeing seven targets and catching all of them. Sigh. Could happen again here, of course, but it won’t be as sneaky this time. It’s also worth noting that Kittle is a highly effective run blocker and the 49ers run game is likely to be a little bit less effective without him — not enough to make it unplayable, of course, but I’d probably ding 5% off of projections for the 49ers running backs if Kittle is out. Deebo missing is largely the same impact as Sanders missing, of course, and if multiple receivers miss it can start to get really hairy. Of the 49ers ancillary receivers, Bourne should be the first to step into additional work. San Francisco is pretty adamantly keeping Goodwin as a part-time player to keep him healthy, so I doubt he’ll become full-time no matter what happens. Multiple guys being out likely just opens up more for Richie James and Dante Pettis, and perhaps more 12 personnel sets with Juszczyk playing as the second tight end. Whew.

The Packers are, fortunately, somewhat easier to decipher. Aaron Jones is the lead back but in a frustrating timeshare with the much less talented Jamaal Williams, and while the split can on occasion tilt Jones’ way, overall this is really very close to a 50/50 backfield. Jones, of course, is the one more likely to break the slate with a huge game, but Jamaal is an eminently viable play at $6,600 who will remain heavily involved no matter what. The matchup here is sneakily good: while the 49ers are 2nd in DVOA against the pass (by a very, very large margin over the #3 Ravens), they’re just 19th against the run. As long as this game remains close, the best way for the Packers to move the ball will be on the ground, and we’ve also seen the Cardinals show that the way to score against the San Francisco defense is to creatively use running backs, both on the ground and through the air, to create other openings and opportunities. 

It feels weird to have a slate with the Packers in which Davante Adams is not the primary weapon, but his matchup is much tougher. Volume and talent can certainly overcome that and, as always in tough matchups, Davante’s ceiling is absolutely intact (and huge), but it’s his floor that takes a hit. The wildcard in the Green Bay passing attack is Marquez Valdes-Scantling. In Week 9 MVS played 69% of the snaps but had zero catches on two targets, and then in Week 11 he only played 11% of the snaps. It’s not clear if that was due to injury or the ascension of Allen Lazard, who has a steadier target volume but a declining snap share. It’s hard for me to figure out what’s happening here, but I’ll be watching beat reporters to see if there’s anything we can glean about who is likely to be the primary perimeter receiver opposite Davante. If one of MVS or Lazard seems likely to have a full-time role, both are very significantly underpriced at just $4,000 and $3,200, respectively. In the slot the Packers have Geronimo Allison, who is just $2,800 but only has two games all year over 10 Draftkings points. Allison is on the field but just not getting the work, averaging 3.7 targets per game as the running backs soak up the short area work for the Packers. Jimmy Graham will soak up three to five targets and likely do very little with them. Both Allison and Graham are going to need touchdowns to be relevant here and I’d sooner chase them with Graham, who has a healthy red zone role, than with Allison, who does not. 

The way this game is most likely to play out is with the 49ers defense controlling things while their run game gradually builds a lead. It’s hard to ever discount Aaron Rodgers, of course, but the Green Bay offense has been somewhat uncreative this year and hasn’t really impressed outside of Davante Adams being fantastic and Aaron Jones having a few big blowup games. Of course, betting against Rodgers has not historically been a profitable endeavor, so let’s look at some other ways this game could play out:

  • The 49ers defense, despite scoring a ton of fantasy points via turnovers and touchdowns, has given up 25, 27, and 26 points in its last three games. Two of those games came against the Arizona Cardinals, who have not exactly been lighting the world on fire. San Francisco’s defense is really, really good, but they’re not unbeatable, and with a pair of running back-led offenses showing a path to success against them in the last three weeks, it’s not implausible to think that Green Bay, which uses its backs heavily in the passing game, could similarly find success here.
  • Or, maybe not. San Francisco’s defense can clamp down anyone, having held several good offenses to 20 or fewer points this year. Onslaughts are certainly viable.

Overall my favorite captain in this one is Aaron Jones, with secondary preferences for Tevin Coleman, the 49ers second running back, and 49ers receivers depending on who’s healthy.

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 Garoppolo, Coleman, and Breida or Mostert (depending on who’s healthy)
  • At most 2 of the Packers non-Adams receivers (Allison, MVS, Lazard, Kumerow, Graham, Lewis)

JM’s Notes for Thursday-to-Monday Players ::

  • As of the middle of the week (and this is obviously unlikely to change before the end of the week), pretty much the entire 49ers offense is a game-time decision. When talking about a Thursday-to-Monday slate, then, there are a few ways to handle this.
  • Firstly, the most obvious and straightforward way is to avoid the 49ers offense altogether. With so much uncertainty (on a team that spreads the ball around quite a bit anyway), it’s not a bad idea — particularly if only building a small number of rosters — to avoid this team and hope no “have to have it” scores emerge from this side of the ball.
  • Secondly, we have the “try to win a tourney by thinking differently from the field” approach, in which the Packers have allowed 15 notable stat lines in all (six to running backs, nine to pass catchers, each of which ranks near the top of the league), while having allowed 22 or more points in six of their last seven games. It’s likely that the 49ers produce one or two really nice stat lines here, and it’s also likely that ownership will be low on these players. As such, you could play the “game time decision” game by leaving a couple roster spots open for players from this game, and simply pivoting over to options from the Monday Night game if the player(s) you want to roster are inactive. Especially if multi-entering, saving some of your rosters for this approach has its merits.
  • The Packers, of course, are more “bet on talent and hope it beats the matchup” than anything else. If we take away the blowout-driven “notable stat lines” from both John Ross and Tyler Boyd, San Francisco has allowed only two notable stat lines all year: one to Christian McCaffrey; one to Kenyan Drake. Aaron Jones is the player with the best shot at breaking this matchup, but it should go without saying that no player on the road at San Francisco this year is a standout play. Packers options are simply “betting on talent and hoping to sneak by the field with a lucky-strong game.”

Kickoff Monday, Nov 25th 8:15pm Eastern

Ravens (
25.25) at

Rams (
21.75)

Over/Under 47.0

Tweet
Notes

Key Matchups
Ravens Run D
2nd DVOA/11th Yards allowed per carry
Rams Run O
1st DVOA/7th Yards per carry
Ravens Pass D
7th DVOA/14th Yards allowed per pass
Rams Pass O
10th DVOA/18th Yards per pass
Rams Run D
21st DVOA/7th Yards allowed per carry
Ravens Run O
5th DVOA/1st Yards per carry
Rams Pass D
11th DVOA/5th Yards allowed per pass
Ravens Pass O
19th DVOA/31st Yards per pass

BAL @ LAR

Week 12 wraps up with the Ravens visiting the Rams. Baltimore is a 3 point favorite in a game with a 47 total, and I don’t mind saying that this is one of the toughest showdowns I have ever tried to pick apart. Both of these offenses have been tough to rely on this year, for wildly different reasons, but regardless of cause it’s pretty tough to point out plays in this one that can be made with a high degree of confidence.

Let’s start with the Ravens. First, let’s note that the matchup here is brutal: the Rams rank 3rd in DVOA against the run and are much more vulnerable in the air. That said, the Ravens unique run offense has been able to pick apart other strong defenses by virtue of being able to show so many different looks, so matchup matters at least a little bit less for Baltimore than it does for other rushing offenses. Mark Ingram is the “lead back,” such as that role is for BAltimore, but that only means around half the snaps (just under 50%, somewhat shockingly) and a workload that averages 13.6 carries and 1.9 targets per game. Ingram’s value has been propped up by a whopping 10 touchdowns. He’s priced up in elite back range in this showdown, and his usage just doesn’t justify that price tag, though of course if he scores another couple of touchdowns you’re in trouble if you don’t have him. Behind Ingram, Gus Edwards has been seeing a fairly equivalent share of snaps, though he’s only averaging about 7 carries per game and essentially zero pass game work. Justice Hill pops up every couple of games for a few touches as well, but his volume appears and disappears with little predictability. Overall here, Ingram has the strongest role but is fairly significantly overpriced for the volume and matchup. Edwards is priced around the kickers and could feasibly outscore them if he happens to land in the end zone. Finally, let’s note that Lamar Jackson is averaging 11.6 carries per game by himself (along with a ridiculous 6.7 yards per carry), which means he’s getting almost as much work on the ground as Ingram. Lamar has 22 red zone carries to Ingram’s 26, though Ingram leads more significantly in goal line carries at 11 to 3. All of this is just a lot of data to show what we already know: Lamar Jackson is the engine of this offense (of course, he’s also a rather staggering $13,600, so you’re paying to use that engine).

The Baltimore passing game is basically Mark Andrews, Marquise Brown, and then a pile of rotational guys who are all kind of coin flippy. Andrews always makes me nervous personally because he perpetually plays 30-50% of the snaps, which is shockingly low for someone who is putting up the points per game that he has been. He’s getting a lot of usage while on the field, with just 2 games below 7 targets all year, but at $9,200 he’s a bit pricey for a 7-8 target guy. Marquise Brown hasn’t seen more than 5 targets since all the way back in week 4, but a combination of blowouts and injury could explain that. Perhaps oddly, the guy I feel the safest with next in the Ravens’ receiving corps is Nick Boyle, because he at least is playing 75%+ of the snaps and is the only guy who regularly does so. Boyle is a solid blocker, but just being on the field so much means that he has some extra opportunity to be the guy who’s left open or just get a dump off. At just $3,000 he’s a reasonably safe play. Seth Roberts, Willie Snead, Miles Boykin, Hayden Hurst….all of them are dart throws. Snead is the safest of all of them, while Boykin has the best chance of hitting 10 DK points on a single play with his deep threat speed, but all of these plays are pretty thin. Welcome to the Ravens receiving corps.

On the Rams’ side, we do have some hope for their rushing attack as Todd Gurley has played 74% and 75% of the snaps coming out of their bye week. He only saw 12 carries against Pittsburgh in week 10 (in a game in which the entire offense floundered), but he got 25 carries and 3 targets last week against the Bears, and looked pretty good doing it. It’s hard to take too much away from one game, but it could be the case that Gurley is “back,” or at least back to more like his 2018 usage. The Rams’ passing offense isn’t really working well but they’re still a playoff contender, so they could just be looking for whatever works. Baltimore is also something of a run funnel, ranked 3rd in DVOA against the pass but 25th against the run. It makes sense for the Rams to lean on Gurley as much as they can in this one, making him a strong play and underpriced if he really has returned to a 20+ touch role with pass game work. Malcolm Brown and Darrell Henderson are only really usable if Gurley’s snaps drop again, unless you’re just hoping to catch a random touchdown.

In the pass game, Cooper Kupp should be one of the safest plays on the board, except he has a grand total of 7 targets in the last 2 games. I’m still confident rolling out Kupp in this one, but I’m not sure he’s the 100% lock play that he was earlier in the year. Plus, Kupp gets to square off with Marlon Humphrey, who has been one of the stronger corners in the NFL this year. Woods and Cooks will be on the perimeter tangling with Jimmy Smith and Marcus Peters, who are also highly rated corners. Normally I would say that in a situation like this I would lean towards Cooks, because he can do his damage on fewer catches, but coming back from yet another concussion makes me feel awfully nervous about him. This is probably just a personal bias, but poor Cooks has been so banged up so frequently that it’s hard for me not to view him as a larger than average in-game injury risk. The price on both Woods and Cooks is fantastic, though; at $7,000 and $6,600 they’re as cheap as I can remember them being since the showdown format debuted. Behind the wideouts, George Everett’s price has come down to just $4,800 after he saw just 1 target last week. Everett has been so heavily involved, though, that I’m not reading too much into that. The Rams have been using the tight end position more in the pass game this year and that’s a longer-term trend that has spanned the whole season. Finally, Tyler Higbee and Josh Reynolds are dart throws who are unlikely to have any impact without an injury in front of them.

The way this game is likeliest to play out is for Baltimore to do its thing, which is its weird multi-faceted rushing attack mixed in with passes to all depths and parts of the field. The Rams should try to keep things on the ground as much as they can, with Gurley likely staying heavily involved as long as the score doesn’t get out of hand. With one of the league’s best run defenses, the Rams have a better chance than most teams of hanging tough with the Ravens.

Some other ways the game could play out:

  • If the Ravens can spring things loose and get out to a decent lead, the Rams will need to get away from their ground game and go airborne.

  • Teams have had a hell of a time trying to stop the Ravens’ unusual but effective offense, but the Rams are one of the better defenses that Baltimore has faced, and they’re on the road…while I don’t think a blowout is likely, I do think it’s entirely plausible that the Rams win handily and no Raven outside of Lamar puts up a score that’s worth having given how they spread the ball around.

My overall favorite captain in this one is Lamar (duh), followed by Todd Gurley. Trying to pick a Ravens receiver as a captain is really just a shot in the dark, and it’s not much easier to pick one on the Rams, so I’ll likely have the vast majority of my captain exposure on those two.

Some groups to consider:

  • At most 1 kicker

  • At most 1 defense

  • Pair captain receivers with their QB

  • Pair captain Goff lineups with at least 2 receivers (captain Lamar can be run naked)

  • At most 2 Baltimore receivers not named Andrews or Brown

  • At most 2 of the 4 Rams trio of wideouts+Everett in Gurley-captained lineups

JM’s Notes for Thursday-to-Monday Players ::

  • If Barry Sanders could throw the ball, he would be Lamar Jackson. As such, it’s a bit silly to talk about “matchup” with Lamar; but since we have price to consider and can only roster one quarterback per week, it is worth noting that this is a very difficult matchup for Lamar. The Rams rank third in DVOA against the run and are elite at stopping the run to all areas of the field. And while they rank 17th in DVOA against the pass, they are a better unit in this regard than they were earlier in the year.
  • The spread-around nature of the Ravens passing attack typically makes Marquise Brown and Mark Andrews tourney-viable for the upside, and makes everyone else a dart throw. That doesn’t change in this spot, though neither of the “core” pass game pieces for the Ravens would be priorities for me on the 14-game slate.
  • The backfield for the Ravens obviously has a tough spot and is simply throwing up a touchdown-driven prayer.
  • Lamar is such a do-it-all piece for the Ravens, he might still have had a Tier 1 spot if this game were on the Main Slate, but this would be one of the rare weeks this year in which I would not be going out of my way to make sure I had him. His ceiling remains intact, but his paths to reaching that ceiling are slimmer than they are in other weeks.
  • The Rams seem likely to return Brandin Cooks and be without Robert Woods, and last week they returned to their ground-game roots by leaning on Todd Gurley as if it was 2018. It’s rare that I target this offense at the corresponding price tags (going back to last year), as it’s rare that a slate-winner emerges from this offense outside of Gurley (last year) and Kupp (this year) — and you have to pay handsomely for access to those potential points. There are simply other offenses I have preferred to target in DFS the last couple seasons (for the most part).
  • With that said: we see slate-breakers come out of this offense on occasion; and while a matchup against the Ravens is not the best spot, this is a home game on Monday Night Football, and you could certainly make a case for carving out space on your roster for one of these guys. None of the Rams players would be in my core player pool if this were a 14-game Main Slate, but there are always options to consider.