Chicago has been the most run-heavy team in the league through 11 weeks with a 50% situation-neutral pass rate. Their pass rate with a lead sits at a laughably low 39%, while their pass rate when trailing sits at a still-ridiculously low 59%. It is no secret that this team is (was?) built around the run. That said, the vast majority of that data came with Justin Fields as the starter (has been the starter since Week 3) and the team is coming off of a game that saw them call a pass play at a 63% rate with three-quarters of the game played with Andy Dalton at the helm. In a Week 1 trouncing at the hands of the Rams (the only full game in which Andy Dalton started and finished), the Bears passed at a 60.6% clip. The bottom line is we don’t fully know what this team will look like on Thanksgiving day as far as play selection goes, assuming Justin Fields remains out (likely). What we do know is that this defense has largely underperformed to start the year, ceding the sixth-most yards per drive and points per drive, the eighth largest time of possession per drive, and the ninth highest drive success rate against. On top of that, they have forced only ten turnovers through their first ten games. Overall, the Bears have played at the league’s slowest pace with the game within seven points and the 25th-ranked overall pace of play.
The big news to follow regarding this backfield leading up to Thursday is the status of backup running back Damien Williams, who has missed the last two games with calf and knee injuries. He popped on the estimated practice report as a DNP on Monday, indicating a high likelihood that he is unable to make it back on a short week. Should that be the case, David Montgomery will have this backfield largely to himself (snap rates of 85% and 95% in the two games in which Williams has missed) against an opponent allowing the third-most fantasy points per game to opposing backfields, including 17 total touchdowns allowed to the position (second-most in the league). The matchup yields a slightly above average 4.35 net-adjusted line yards metric and we should expect 18-22 running back opportunities from Montgomery working alone.
It’s a similar story for the pass-catchers, as WR1 Allen Robinson II missed Week 11 with a hamstring injury and was listed as a DNP on Monday’s estimated practice report. In that Week 11 game, we saw the team operate in elevated 12-personnel rates when compared to their season average, making the only near every-down wide receiver Darnell Mooney. Marquise Goodwin and Damiere Byrd played 71% and 63% of the offensive snaps, respectively, with Jakeem Grant on hand for light package snaps. Cole Kmet operated in a near every-down role, while blocking tight end Jesse James saw 32% of the offensive snaps, and money pit red zone threat Jimmy Graham saw just 20% of the offensive snaps. Expect a similar breakdown should Robinson miss. Although the DVOA numbers for the Lions against the pass appear “okay” on the top level, they have allowed the second-most yards per completion this season (12.1). Two guesses as to which team leads the league in intended air yards per pass attempt… yup, you nailed it! The Bears! All three primary wide receivers for the Bears this season (Allen Robinson II, Darnell Mooney, and Marquise Goodwin) hold aDOTs of 11.4 or higher, while Cole Kmet holds a high-for-a-tight-end aDOT of 8.4. Almost everything this Bears offense attempts to accomplish should fall into a “path of least resistance.” Finally, I can’t leave this section of the writeup without mentioning that Darnell Mooney saw 16 (!!!) targets last week in his first game played without Allen Robinson on the field. We shouldn’t expect another 16-target outburst here, but nine to 12 targets are highly likely should Robinson miss.
It currently appears as if Jared Goff has a chance to return this week following a one-game absence, but we’ll need to see further reports out of Detroit before we can reach any conclusions. What we do know is that this Lions team was rightfully cautious in their offensive approach with Tim Boyle at quarterback in Week 11, meaning “how Detroit will try to win” depends a good deal on which quarterback we see here. Jared Goff was labeled as limited in Monday’s walkthrough injury report, an upgrade from the week of missed practices he saw last week. With Goff at the helm, this Lions team is built from the run up, meaning a good deal of what they look to accomplish is based on the run game. Their 61% situation-neutral pass rate on the season is inflated due to the routinely negative game scripts they have been forced into thus far, and, as we’ve spoken to in this space before, the Lions are willing and able to increase their second-half pace of play and pass rates to the extremes should they be trailing. Injuries and ineffective play from Goff have kept their pass game to mostly short area and low upside-generating pass work. On the season, Goff’s 6.0 intended air yards per pass attempt rank 34th of 34 qualified passers. His completed air yards per pass attempt (2.5) and completed air yards per completion (3.8) also rank dead last in the league, by a large margin (like a large margin; as in, 25% less than the next-lowest ranked player in Ben Roethlisberger). We knew coming into this season that new offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn has previously designed a passing game around the power run game, but he typically liked to dial-up an aggressive downfield approach through the air. That simply can’t be the case with Goff at quarterback, and we’ve seen the rest play out exactly as expected.
Lead back D’Andre Swift has seen a 71% snap rate or higher in every single game since Week 4, and regular backup Jamaal Williams has played in all but two of those games, meaning the increase wasn’t simply due to personnel necessity. Furthermore, he has seen at least 17 running back opportunities in every game since the last time these two teams played, way back in Week 4. Further, furthermore, almost 40% of his opportunities come through the air as targets in negative game scripts, keeping his weekly floor about on par with any other back in the league. Expect Jamaal Williams to fill his standard 25-30% snap rate role with minimal room for excessive fantasy productions outside of an extreme outlier game. The matchup on the ground yields an above-average 4.435 net-adjusted line yards metric against a defense allowing below-average fantasy points per game to opposing backfields, primarily due to the low receiving numbers against. Of note, the right side of Detroit’s offensive line missed Monday’s walkthrough, so keep an eye on their expected level of involvement leading up to Thursday.
As we touched on above, this passing attack is almost entirely built around the short areas of the field, due primarily to the limitations of quarterback Jared Goff. Josh Reynolds joined this pass-catching unit before their Week 11 game and immediately stepped into a featured role, playing the most snaps of any pass-catcher (90%). Expect him to be joined by Amon-Ra St. Brown, Kalif Raymond, and every-down tight end TJ Hockenson with all three likely to see 75-90% of the offensive snaps. Chicago has allowed a poor 10.7 yards per completion and league average 65.51% completion rate against, but the big picture is this passing offense is largely limited by either a quarterback in Jared Goff incapable of attacking downfield or a quarterback in Tim Boyle that limits the overall capabilities and effectiveness of the offense.
The lowest game total (41.5) on tap for Thanksgiving comes with the lowest spread of the slate (3.5). The fantasy prospectus of this game depends largely on Detroit’s ability to return punches, as the Bears are entirely capable of generating splash plays both on the ground and through the air. The likeliest game flow sees Chicago asserting control sooner rather than later, leaving the game flow in their hands and the game environment likely reliant on the quarterback situation out of Detroit, and, thusly, their ability to turn second-half aggression into points on the scoreboard. Should Jared Goff play, we should see a boost to the overall game environment in the second half and additional offensive plays available to each team. Should Tim Boyle start for Detroit, we might be left with a second-half that could drive you to start drinking craft beer before dinner (or put you to sleep).
As we uncovered last week (when it seemed Xandamere and I were the only ones off the Cincy / Vegas game), this Raiders offense is entirely broken in the absence of Dingle McNumbnuts (sorry, I still refuse to even put this dude’s name on the internet). In the three games played without their primary downfield threat, the Raiders have scored 16, 14, and 13 points. Derek Carr has failed to surpass 300 yards through the air after going over that mark in five of their first seven games. On top of that, Las Vegas still can’t run the ball effectively, with (insert Raiders running back) going over 100 yards only once all season, and that player was Peyton Barber in an overtime game way back in Week 3. In an attempt to make up for the loss of their downfield threat, the team went out and signed DeSean Jackson before their Week 9 contest, who has played 17% and 34% of the offensive snaps over the previous two games. On the season, Derek Carr ranks top ten in intended air yards per pass attempt, completed air yards per completion, and total air yards, indicating an offense that likes to attack the deep areas of the field but has largely been unable to do so with pass-catchers consisting of Bryan Edwards, Zay Jones, Hunter Renfrow, and Darren Waller.
For as broken as the passing game is, this run game is in even worse shape. The Raiders offensive line has been completely unable to generate any push up front, leading to an offense averaging only 3.7 yards per carry on the season. The team went out and signed Kenyan Drake to be their (completely overpaid) change of pace and pass down back, and have proceeded to feed him 12 or fewer running back opportunities in four of the last five games. The matchup on the ground yields a slightly below average 4.22 net-adjusted line yards metric against a defense holding opposing backfields to only 21.8 fantasy points per game.
On top of all the recent struggles from this passing offense, you might be surprised to hear that Derek Carr hasn’t thrown for more than two touchdowns in any game this year. Dallas ranks above average in opponent completion rate allowed at 63.03% but has struggled with downfield passing, primarily due to an overly aggressive secondary (11.2 yards allowed per completion). Bryan Edwards and Zay Jones both operate in the deep areas of the field, with aDOTs of 15.7 and 19.2, respectively, but don’t possess the same separation ability as Dingle did in the deep passing game. Hunter Renfrow (5.7 aDOT) and Darren Waller (9.6 aDOT) round out the primary pass-catchers, creating an offense with very defined roles and route trees. The matchup sets up best for Hunter Renfrow and Bryan Edwards (Dallas struggles over the short middle and deep right areas of the field, away from Trevon Diggs), while volume is most likely to flow through the lower upside of Renfrow and Darren Waller (Edwards has a season high of only six targets).
The Cowboys tentatively expect tackle Tyron Smith back from injury for Thanksgiving, providing a solid boost to the run game. The biggest news to follow for Dallas is the status of alpha wide receiver CeeDee Lamb, who left Week 11 with a concussion. The Cowboys are already down Amari Cooper (who will miss this game on the COVID list), so CeeDee’s ability to pass through the league’s concussion protocols in time to play is of large significance to how we can expect this offense to look this week. I won’t call it impossible for a young player to pass the concussion protocol in only three days, but the odds are certainly against Lamb making it through in time. Should CeeDee miss (again, most likely scenario), we should see an offense built around Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard in the backfield, with a primary pass-catching corps consisting of Michael Gallup and Noah Brown on the perimeter, Cedrick Wilson in the slot, and Dalton Schultz at tight end. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Michael Gallup and Dalton Schultz as the only near every-down pass-catchers, with Malik Turner also on hand to rotate through.
While we should expect to see a larger than normal emphasis placed on the run game from the Cowboys here, we’re also unlikely to see lead back Ezekiel Elliott’s workload increase significantly, with the team instead electing to work Tony Pollard in more. We’ve seen the team hesitant to give Zeke more than 18-22 opportunities, and he is now coming off a game where he picked up a knee injury. I’d expect Pollard to see as many as 18-22 opportunities of his own here, considering all factors in play. The matchup yields a well above average 4.695 net-adjusted line yards metric against a defense allowing the seventh-most fantasy points per game to opposing backfields (27.7).
As explored last week, the Raiders filter the majority of opposing pass production to the middle of the field through tight ends and running backs, elevating the fantasy prospectus of every-down tight end Dalton Schultz and the running back duo. When we then consider the state of the Cowboys’ pass-catching corps (with Amari Cooper out and CeeDee Lamb unlikely to make it through concussion protocols in time), we’re left with a situation where the wide receivers must rely on outlier production through busted coverages and/or touchdowns to provide a score worthy of consideration, even on a short slate (more on this in the DFS+ Interpretation section).
We’re likeliest to see the Cowboys control the tempo, flow, and environment through their offensive and defensive lines, creating a game that is likely to be even more lopsided than the current spread of 7.5 points implies. Dallas should have no issue grinding out the game through the run and short passing, eating up time of possession and field position along the way. Although less than likely, Dallas has shown a tendency to be overly aggressive in the secondary, which opens up a small window for the Raiders, and their downfield-oriented offense, to strike fast. Should that happen (and it’ll only take one), this game has the makings to develop into the top game environment on the short slate – I just wouldn’t call it likely.
Middle linebacker Tremaine Edmunds returned to a full practice on Monday after missing the previous two games, while run-stopping nose tackle Star Lotulelei remains on the league’s COVID list. We saw the effects of their absence against the Colts, as Jonathan Taylor erupted for five total touchdowns in Week 11. With the assumption of rational coaching in the front of our minds (come on Brian Daboll, don’t do us dirty), the likeliest plan of attack for the Bills is to revert to a more pass-heavy approach against a Saints defense that has allowed only 656 rush yards and the fewest fantasy points per game to opposing backfields.
I halfway jokingly called the Bills backfield even more convoluted last week, which they ran with in Week 11. All of Devin Singletary, Zach Moss, and Matt Breida saw 29% to 38% of the offensive snaps. Yuck! The matchup, as was previously discussed, doesn’t do this team any favors this week, meaning all three would need pass game involvement and a score or two to matter for us. There’s really not much else to say regarding this backfield, as even on a short slate there just isn’t a ton to love here. The matchup creates a gross 3.965 net-adjusted line yards metric.
With everything we’ve discussed around the Bills in mind, the passing game should be where they make their money this week. Although not atrocious against the pass, the Saints should be considered a pass-funnel defense, and one that has struggled with the deep ball in above-average man coverage alignments (third highest yards allowed per completion at 11.5). This directly benefits both Stefon Diggs (11.9 aDOT) and Emmanuel Sanders (16.0 aDOT), but leaves both with a wider range of outcomes than the field is likely to give credit for. The low overall completion rate against and deep aDOT forced make Cole Beasley less intriguing, and also leaves paths for Gabriel Davis to matter here (low snap rate but 13.3 aDOT). Dawson Knox even carries some level of intrigue with a high snap rate and above-average 7.9 aDOT. All of that said, the range of outcomes for individual pass-catchers remains fairly wide for the Bills, but the field is likely to adopt a high level of certainty.
We know how New Orleans has tried to win games this season: a slow pace of play, suffocating defense, and heavy rush rates. That said, injuries are likely to have a significant impact on how this team approaches a game against one of the top teams in the league. Alvin Kamara and two starting offensive linemen failed to practice on Monday and should currently be considered on the wrong side of questionable. Another offensive lineman in Terron Armstead missed Week 11 and was a limited participant on Monday. Starting tight end Adam Trautman is likely to miss this week. Finally, edge rusher Marcus Davenport also failed to practice on Monday and should be considered questionable. That’s a lot of starting bodies likely to be out here. The biggest problem is the matchup, as there isn’t a better path to beating the Bills than on the ground, particularly if Star Lotulelei remains out. The Saints are likely to continue to push their run agenda for as long as they can here, particularly considering Trevor Siemian is their starting quarterback. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see Taysom Hill involved more in the game plan as one of the team’s top available play-makers. Consider Taysom likely to see snaps at quarterback, running back, and tight end.
Man, this Saints run game is on the injury pain train currently. The three questionable linemen and injury to All-World running back Alvin Kamara significantly dent the overall effectiveness of the offense, as well as the fantasy utility of all players involved. That said, the ground game remains the likeliest plan of attack for the Saints regardless of their offensive injuries, and should be the likeliest path to volume. Assuming Alvin Kamara misses this contest, expect Mark Ingram II to see the lion’s share of snaps and running back opportunities (85% and 72% snap rates over the previous two games). The matchup is less than ideal, resulting in a below-average 4.025 net-adjusted line yards metric. Also, each side appears headed in different directions as far as run game health goes, with the Saints likely to be without at least two (and maybe three) offensive linemen, and the Bills likely to get at least one (and maybe two) of their best run-stoppers back. Expect Ingram to see 20-24 running back opportunities against a defense allowing just 22.1 fantasy points per game to the position (and that includes the five touchdowns they just allowed to Jonathan Taylor). Finally, I would expect heightened involvement from Taysom Hill after being active last week but seeing zero offensive snaps.
Tre’Quan Smith has worked his way back into the featured wide receiver role on this offense, playing 91% and 95% of the offensive snaps over the previous two games. Considering the offensive injuries the Saints have sustained this season, and their top-ranked defense, it makes sense why most of their games are being played close over the second half. With that in mind, Trevor Siemian has attempted 41, 34, and 40 passes over the previous three games against the Falcons, Titans, and Eagles (all losses). That gives us a good idea of what to expect against the Bills, even though the Saints would like to run the football for as long as they can. With Adam Trautman out, expect the primary pass-catchers to be Smith (19 targets over the previous three games), Ingram (20 targets over the previous three games), Marquez Callaway (14 targets over the previous three games), Deonte Harris (17 targets over the previous three games), and a three-way timeshare at tight end. Outside of Ingram, no single player stands out as likely to see overwhelming volume. The matchup through the air is as tough as it gets for the Saints against the team allowing the second-fewest pass yards per game.
We’re likeliest to see either the Bills assert dominance on each side of the ball early, or each team struggle to get much going here. Considering how each team is likeliest to attack, that doesn’t leave many paths for this game environment to open up, creating a scenario where each team is mostly concerned with winning the field position battle and limiting turnovers. It should be almost entirely up to the Bills to push the game environment in either direction, as the injuries and offensive makeup of the Saints are simply unlikely to generate that pressure. The one path to flip that narrative on its head is if the Saints can generate early turnovers or an early defensive touchdown, which not many players will even consider as a valid path for this game. That one simple act would completely change the dynamics of the slate, as it would simultaneously vault the Saints defense into the optimal lineup as well as generate a boost to the expected pass volume for the Bills (which boosts their pass-catchers and creates more opportunities for defensive points to pile up for the Saints). These are the things we want to be thinking through on this slate, as one simple act can completely eliminate a vast majority of the field (because we shouldn’t expect the Saints defense to garner much ownership).
Contrary to the pure matchup for the Colts, the matchup for the Buccaneers should be considered entirely a strength on weakness matchup. The Bucs lead the league in overall pass rate, situation-neutral pass rate, pass rate when leading, and pass rate when trailing. The Colts should be considered a pass-funnel defense, ranking second in DVOA against the run and 20th in DVOA against the pass. All of this comes together to create a situation where “how Tampa Bay will try to win” and “how Tampa Bay is likeliest to approach this game” line up well from a predictability standpoint. The biggest influence to “how Tampa Bay will try to win” comes through injury, as Antonio Brown and Mike Evans have yet to practice this week. Brown should be considered doubtful, while Evans is fighting an uphill battle after suffering a back injury late in Tampa Bay’s Week 11 victory on Monday Night Football, giving him one less day to get right.
After coming into the season with legitimate questions surrounding the division of usage in this backfield, Leonard Fournette has emerged as a true lead back, playing between 53% and 82% of the offensive snaps in every game since Week 4. Fournette is an interesting study, however, as his mental lapses and incorrect alignments and routes have left a mark on both head coach Bruce Arians and quarterback Tom Brady. Even late in the season (last week), Brady can be heard directing Fournette on the field, voicing clear frustration towards Fournette and his mental lapses. All of that isn’t meant to dissuade any interest in Fournette, it’s simply to highlight the fact that Fournette’s biggest knock largely hasn’t been remedied. Expect Ronald Jones to act as the pure change of pace back, while Giovani Bernard fills the “obvious pass down” role in standard game environments. The matchup on the ground yields a borderline elite 4.58 net-adjusted line yards metric on the backs of Tampa Bay’s second-ranked standing in the metric.
This is very much still Tom Brady’s team, and when we see this team take on opponents that tilt their opposition to the pass, we can be fairly certain that the offense will flow primarily through the air. The Buccaneers lead the league in pass attempts per game at 43.2, while the Colts face an inflated 59.59% pass rate against this season. Should both Mike Evans and Antonio Brown miss, we’re likely to see a primary pass-catching corps consisting of Chris Godwin, Rob Gronkowski, Tyler Johnson, and recently reactivated Scotty Miller. Expect inflated 11-personnel rates and elevated slot snap rates for Chris Godwin, with Johnson and Miller primarily playing on the perimeter. Indianapolis has forced a moderate 7.9 DADOT (defensive aDOT at time of target) but has faced the fourth most air yards in the league. They also blitz at the fourth lowest rate, instead electing to drop an additional body into a heavy zone coverage scheme. If the Colts fail to direct additional attention to Chris Godwin and Rob Gronkowski, it could spell trouble over the interior of this defense. Behind those four, expect Breshad Perriman, Cameron Brate, and OJ Howard to filter through in various packages through situational roles. Should Evans make it back for this game, expect Scotty Miller to see the biggest hit to individual snap rate and production, with Evans sliding back into his standard role in a difficult individual matchup on the perimeter.
This is one of the more interesting studies this week, as the Colts would much prefer to lean on their ground game but face the number one run defense in the league. As we’ve been reminded as recently as last week, a strength-on-strength matchup carries a wide range of potential outcomes. Frank Reich and the Colts bring a 54% situation-neutral pass rate and 63% pass rate when trailing into a matchup that clearly tilts the opposition to the air, but the Colts have shown a propensity to ride the run game for as long as it is working this season. What we do know is that Tampa Bay will likely look to push the pace while Indianapolis looks to slow this game down (seventh fastest situation-neutral pace of play vs. the slowest in the league).
It’s hard to reach sweeping conclusions regarding the split in running back work for this Colts offense, as the team hasn’t found themselves in largely negative game scripts since the first three weeks of the season (which is incredibly impressive). Along the same line, Jonathan Taylor has seen his snap rates, workload, and pass game involvement steadily increase as the season has moved on, starting the year hovering around 50% of the offensive snaps and working all the way up to almost 85% over the previous two games. There are two possible outcomes here – either the Colts continue to ride Taylor and he sees one of his higher target games or Nyheim Hines is worked into the fold at a greater frequency. I would view the expected workload split as a wide range of outcomes in the same way we view how the matchup interacts with expected efficiency.
Through both injury and ineffective play, the pass-catching corps has been one of the most predictable facets of this offense from an expected snap rate perspective (but that’s about where the predictability ends). The Colts operate from league-average 21-personnel rates and above-average 11-personnel rates, meaning we rarely see this offense utilizing two running backs on the field at the same time. The trio of Jack Doyle, Mo Alie-Cox, and Kylen Granson typically have game flow to thank for their split in usage, with Doyle and Cox the most well-rounded tight ends of the bunch (which typically means they see the most snaps) and Granson primarily a “pass-catching tight end.” Michael Pittman, Jr. and Zach Pascal are the “starting” wide receivers, each typically playing 80%+ of the offensive snaps, while Ashton Dulin and TY Hilton split the “WR3” role. The biggest thing we need to understand about this offense is that Reich typically mixes and matches offensive personnel within his alignments, which creates interesting alignment percentages amongst the pass-catchers. So while Pittman and Pascal are considered the “starting wide receivers,” they play heavy slot snaps and are moved all around the formation. This makes projecting individual matchups extremely difficult. Consider the fantasy prospectus of all pass-catchers another wide range of outcomes ordeal.
We have an interesting case in this one where the likeliest game flow is likely to be driven by the Buccaneers but the game environment is likely to be driven by the Colts. This is the case due to the dynamics of the matchup, how these teams like to operate, and the strength on strength matchup for the Colts. Because that is the case, the actual game flow holds an extremely wide range of outcomes, which makes it difficult to project for fantasy purposes. As in, we can’t confidently project overall team volume as much as we’d normally like here, but individual volume should be rather bankable within those constraints due to the makeup of the Colts offense and injuries to the Buccaneers. From a macro perspective, we can be fairly certain the Bucs will lean on their pass game, while the Colts are largely dependent on game flow to decide how their end-of-game volume numbers shake out.
The carousel of quarterbacks continues this week for the Jets as Zach Wilson makes his return to the lineup. The biggest thing we need to understand with this offense is that they attempt to be a balanced unit if allowed the opportunity to do so (middle of the pack 56% situation-neutral pass rate over the first five weeks of the season with a healthy Zach Wilson at quarterback). So, while their overall pass rates lead the league, it has largely been a function of routine negative game scripts. Against the fellow 2-8 Texans, it is likeliest the Jets approach the game plan with a balanced approach in mind, not reverting to excessive pass volume unless forced to do so. With all of that in mind, Zach Wilson attempted between 32 and 38 passes in each of his five fully healthy games to start the year, failing to crack 300 pass yards in every game. Big picture, the Jets have a ton of moving parts for this game, as the team gets Zach Wilson back, loses Michael Carter to a sprained ankle, and have seen “alpha” wide receiver Corey Davis downgraded as the week has progressed due to an injury suffered during individual drills on Wednesday. Through injury and ineffective play, the Jets have seen their 11-personnel usage rates increase through the latter portion of the season (this will be important when we discuss the pass game below).
As previously mentioned, Michael Carter will miss this contest due to an ankle sprain sustained in the team’s Week 11 game, leaving Ty Johnson and Tevin Coleman to handle the backfield. I’d expect Johnson to lead the team in snap rate and opportunities this week, likely thrust into a 60-65% opportunity share. La’Mical Perine should find himself active once more but I wouldn’t expect anything more than emergency status as a player that has seemingly fallen out of favor with this coaching staff. The matchup yields a “high for the Jets” 4.2 net-adjusted line yards metric against an opponent that can be beaten on the ground. Houston has allowed 25.9 fantasy points per game to opposing backfields, and the Jets should remain balanced for as long as this game remains close, giving increased relevance to a backfield not typically thought to carry fantasy utility.
Similar to the quarterback position, there are a lot of moving parts with respect to expected snap rates, utilization, and alignments for this pass-catching corps. Ryan Griffin maintains his role as lead tight end, which hasn’t led to more than 77% of the offensive snaps since Week 5 with Tyler Kroft likely done for the year with a lung laceration (uhh, what?). Corey Davis, the typical lead wide receiver on this offense, was downgraded on Thursday to DNP from a limited showing on Wednesday, apparently for an injury sustained during individual drills. We’ll need more clarity on Friday, but consider him legitimately questionable due to the in-week groin injury. Should Davis miss, we’re likely to see the Elijah Moore coming out party continue this week, as he would be the player likeliest to see a further increase to snap rate and usage. The biggest positive to come from camp Moore last week was his utilization. After playing from the slot for a majority of his snaps to start his young career, we saw the Jets move him all over the formation in Week 11, increasing his perimeter snap rate along the way. Jamison Crowder plays almost primarily from the slot, meaning perimeter snaps for Elijah Moore is a substantial boost to his fantasy prospectus. Denzel Mims remains on the league’s COVID list and is questionable to make it back in time for Week 12’s contest, meaning we’re likely to see Keelan Cole and Jeff Smith mix in for the remainder of the perimeter wide receiver snaps should both Corey Davis and Mims miss here.
The Texans, man. You’d be hard pressed to find an organization that is run worse than the Texans across all major professional sports. The Texans spent significant monies this offseason bringing in three running backs in Mark Ingram II, Phillip Lindsay, and Rex Burkhead to join David Johnson (that’s another story altogether, as he came over in the fabled DeAndre Hopkins deal). Mark Ingram and Phillip Lindsay are no longer with the team, leaving Rex Burkhead as the primary early-down grinder (which is laughable in and of itself, as Burkhead has largely been utilized as a pass game piece throughout his career), and David Johnson as the primary third-down and passing down “specialist.” Woof. Similar to the Jets, Houston would prefer to run the football for as long as they are allowed to (56% situation-neutral pass rate on the season), showing an increased propensity to turn to the air as the season has progressed (up to a 69% pass rate when trailing this season). Tyrod Taylor, Rex Burkhead, David Johnson, Chris Conley, Chris Moore, and Danny Amendola are expected to be large contributing members of this offense. Lolz.
As previously discussed, we should expect Rex Burkhead to operate as the primary early-down grinder while David Johnson acts at the change of pace and primary pass-down back. What a world to be alive in. The matchup on the ground yields a laughable 3.79 net-adjusted line yards metric largely due to Houston’s run-blocking ineptitude. Expect Johnson to lead the backfield in snap rate but Burkhead to lead the backfield in rush attempts in what shapes up to a low floor, low ceiling backfield overall. Finally, Tyrod Taylor has simply taken over the rushing upside near the goal line, plunging for two additional scores last week.
Fresh off an upset victory over the injury-riddled Titans, the Tyrod Taylor-led Texans come into Week 12 with pass attempts of 24, 33, and 43 in Taylor’s three fully healthy games. Talk about a wide range of outcomes, eh? That simply goes to emphasize the wide range of outcomes from each of these teams this week, as far as volume is concerned. What we know is this: Brandin Cooks is the only pass-catcher in a near every-down role, with Nico Collins, Chris Conley, Chris Moore, Danny Amendola, and a tight end room consisting of Pharoah Brown, Jordan Akins, Antony Auclair, and Brevin Jordan all splitting snaps and work. As such, no single pass-catcher can be considered to carry any semblance of floor. Cooks has six games of seven or fewer targets, and four games of 11 or more – wide range of outcomes alert.
What happens when you pit two stoppable forces against two movable objects? Who knows? And that’s exactly what we have with this game. Enter the “wide range of outcomes” talk. What we do know is each of these offenses should largely be considered conservative units, meaning it would likely require one jumping out to a two-score lead to force the other into increased aggression. This also means that individual play-maker volume is extremely hard to predict, with Elijah Moore and Brandin Cooks the likeliest to carry at least some semblance of locked-in volume. The likeliest scenario yields a game environment where each team adopts a conservative approach, similar to what we saw out of the Texans/Dolphins game a few weeks back. When trying to visualize alternate game flows, it becomes rather difficult to picture what outside force would alter this approach from either team. Just a whole bunch of “meh” here.
By LexMiraglia10 >>
The Eagles come into this game riding a two-game winning streak against the Broncos and Saints. Still sitting at 5-6, this Eagles team feels a year or two away from being good. Nick Sirianni has his offense coming out fast (3rd in situational neutral pace) but is willing to slow way down (22nd in pace when ahead) if protecting a lead. His approach has caused Eagles games to have a wide variance in outcomes. Games that stay close play out like track meets (especially against other fast-paced teams), and games where the Eagles take a lead grind to a halt (especially against other slow-paced teams).
This week they draw a Giants squad that has been better against the pass than most people realize (11th in DVOA) while getting smashed on the ground (30th in DVOA). The Giants set up as a run funnel defense which lines up perfectly for the Eagles, who decided to change their offensive philosophy in Week 8. Since then, they’ve limited Jalen Hurts passing attempts to 14/17/23/24. Those games have resulted in three comfortable wins and one close loss, so there is no reason to think the Eagles are going to depart from their newfound formula. Expect the Eagles to come out using an up-tempo running game and to stick with the run while declining in pace as they build a lead.
Oh, Jason Garrett. How do you keep getting work? Let’s hope this firing is your last, and you ride off into the sunset, taking your place among a pack of clowns (John Fox/Jeff Fisher/Adam Gase/Jason Garrett) that have made millions of dollars being worse at calling a football game than a decent 12-year-old Madden player. Is the joke on them or us? Dez Bryant delivered this gem after finding out Garrett had been fired: “Kadarius Toney, you will get to experience the love and joy for football throughout your career.”
The Giants have disappointed relative to their talent (most Garrett-led teams do) and have posted a 3-7 record. Joe Judge hasn’t been publicly named play-caller, and the best information to work with is Judge saying that play calling will be a collaborative in-house effort. What does that mean exactly? No one knows, but it’s provocative. Will the Giants have a war council where three guys vote on the play? Will they appoint a chairman of the play calling committee and assign subcommittees to conduct studies on offense and defense? Will we finally smell what Freddie Kitchens (rumored to be involved) is cooking? It’s hard to know, but the Giants have at least been playing fast (10th in situational neutral pace), and since it’s hard to change your entire offense midweek, their pace will likely stay in a similar range. The Eagles are slightly below average against the run and pass (18th/20th in DVOA). With no clear path of least resistance and no idea who will be calling the plays, figuring out exactly what this offense will look like requires a ton of guesswork. Expect the Giants to come out playing quickly to show aggression and convince their fan base they still have fight left in them.
This game has a middling 45.5 total that feels like a hedge based on not knowing how the Giants will play offensively. The one thing that is certain is that the Eagles are the better side of the ball and are likely to control this game. In games the Eagles control, we can expect Hurts to stay under 25 attempts and the pace of play to slow down in the second half. The most likely game flow has the Eagles pulling ahead on the ground with time-crunching drives. No one really knows how the Giants will respond. There is a wide range of outcomes based on who ends up calling the plays.
The up and down Panthers come into Week 12 with a 5-6 record, having just brought back their former franchise QB, Cam Newton. Matt Rhule pump-faked the fantasy community by acting as if he wasn’t going to play Cam exclusively at QB before giving him 100% of the snaps. This was likely Rhule’s way of feeling like he gained a “competitive advantage” by keeping the Football Team guessing about which similar style running QB they were going to face. I digress. With Cam returning midseason, and the reintroduction of Christian McCaffrey, the Panthers offense feels more like they are in Week 2 than Week 12.
The Panthers have played on the slower side (20th in situation neutral pace), and while it feels likely they stick with this approach, things could change quickly with Cam getting more comfortable under center. The Dolphins have been easier to pass on (22nd in DOVA) than run on (13th in DVOA), but that difference shouldn’t tilt the Panthers away from trying to figure out their new-look offense. Expect Rhule to try to use Cam’s legs, while incorporating CMC as much as possible without overworking him into another injury. The Panthers are going to try and figure out what works, rather than keep playing in a way they’ve established throughout the season.
The Dolphins are riding high coming in on a three-game win streak! Unfortunately, they are still only 4-7, and two of those three wins came against the Texans/Jets, two teams that can do wonders for any team’s confidence (just ask the Panthers). Still, the fish must feel like they’ve turned a corner, with their franchise QB back under center and finally experiencing success after an ugly 1-7 start.
Brain Flores has looked lost at times this year, but he’s been coming out aggressively as the Dolphins play fast out of the gate (2nd in situational neutral pace in the 1st half), before slowing down (21st in situational neutral pace in the second half) later in the game. The Panthers defense is strong against the pass (5th in DVOA), and weak against the run (20th in DVOA), creating one of the clearer run funnel defenses in the league. Flores should be able to figure out the best way to win is on the ground. Flores should force the Panthers to prove they can stop the run before attacking them through the air. Expect the Dolphins to come in with an up-tempo run-heavy game plan, hoping to pull ahead before slowing things down in the second half.
This game has a tiny 42-point total and it’s difficult to project either team to put up a lot of passing yards. That leaves us with two teams whose best way to move the ball will be with time-crunching drives, resulting in fewer plays and points for both sides. The game is expected to be competitive, with under a three-point spread, but the most likely outcome is a grind-it-out affair. The Panthers are the better side, but there are no assurances that they confidently take the lead and cruise to victory. The most likely game flow has this one staying within a score for most of the game, with the Panthers being able to pull away late.
By LexMiraglia10 >>
The Titans come into this game sporting an 8-3 record, tops in the AFC. Unfortunately, they lost their best player (Derrick Henry) and are struggling to figure out their offensive identity without being able to hand Henry the ball 30 times a game. The Titans play slow (23rd in situational neutral pace) and grind to a halt (29th in pace) when winning. They speed things up (11th in pace) if they are behind, which makes the speed of Titans games very game flow dependent. They would prefer to win by playing slow and falling on the ball but will pick up their tempo to catch up if necessary. Mike Vrabel has been a “we do our thing” coach, rather than the type of coach who adapts his offense to fit an opponent. Vrabel has been able to get away with his approach because “his thing” has been handing the ball to the man child called Derrick Henry. The Titans are finding that playing 90s football is a lot harder without Henry and currently rock one of the lowest team totals (19) you’ll ever see from a contender, in clear first place in their conference. The Patriots defense has been strong against both the run and the pass (2nd in overall DVOA) and there is nothing to suggest the Titans will deviate from their normal approach. Expect a heavy dose of trying to establish the run before eventually cutting bait and chasing points in the second half.
The Patriots coaching staff deserves a lot of credit for turning their season around. After starting the year 1-3 and looking like they were about to post a second straight disappointing year without Tom Brady, the Pats roared back to life going 6-1 in their last seven games, as their collection of off-season talent started to come together around their rookie QB. The Pats lone loss in their last seven games came in OT against the Cowboys. This Patriots team looks legitimately good as they are rounding into form at the right time. This game has playoff implications as the Patriots are only half a game back from the Titans for the best record in the AFC.
Bill Belichick has long been one of the more adaptable coaches in the NFL and is willing to relentlessly go after the relative weakness of a defense. The Titans are middling against the pass (13th in DVOA) and against the run (18th in DVOA) which doesn’t present a clear path of least resistance. Belichick is smart enough to know that this game profiles as one that he can win mostly on defense, while allowing his offense to run the ball, and do just enough through the air. Expect the Patriots to come in pounding the rock and allowing their defense to control the game as they pull away into the 4th quarter.
This game has a lowish 44.5-point total, but that is largely because the Titans offense isn’t expected to do much without King Henry against a strong Patriots defense. The Titans 19-point team total drags down the game environment since the Pats will likely be content to win this game mostly on the defensive side of the ball. The most likely game flow has the Titans struggling to generate offense, as the Patriots grind them down with their running game, mixing in just enough passing to build a lead.
By LexMiraglia10 >>
Atlanta has played four games since Calvin Ridley left the team. In those four games, they have faced four of the top six defenses in the league by DVOA. You never want to lose a star player, but the timing could not have been worse for a team trying desperately to hang around the NFC playoff race. Atlanta has played three games this year against bottom-12 defenses (Miami, NY Jets, and Washington), and in those three games, they scored an average of 29 points. Jacksonville ranks 29th in defensive DVOA.
How Atlanta tries to win should be pretty straightforward as their running game is very poor (32nd out of 32 teams in DVOA) and Jacksonville’s defense presents “pass funnel” tendencies as they are top-5 against the run and 31st against the pass. Atlanta’s choices are to use their weakness against their opponent’s strength or use their strength against their opponent’s weakness. As explored above, Atlanta has actually been pretty good offensively against lower-level competition. Matt Ryan took a lot of heat after the Falcons were terrible in prime time against the Patriots in Week 11, but that was a tough matchup on a short week and without their top playmaker in Cordarrelle Patterson. Ryan has quietly been very good this year, ranking as PFF’s 8th graded passer on the season. Atlanta should lean on their passing game in this matchup, and they are likely to have much greater success than the field will likely anticipate, especially if Patterson is active.
Jacksonville surprisingly throws at the 9th highest rate in the league and plays at the fastest pace (seconds per snap). Those numbers are surprising for a 2-8 team that has struggled to score points throughout the year and has faced a brutal schedule of defenses this year. This week against Atlanta is by far the best matchup the Jaguars offense has seen all season. Jamal Agnew had provided a spark for the offense in recent weeks but was lost for the season last week, leaving Jacksonville even thinner in their skill positions. Laviska Shenault feels like the player best suited to take on heavier volume, especially for a team like Jacksonville at this point in the season, but it’s probably just as likely that Urban Meyer gives Tavon Austin 12 touches.
Jacksonville will likely have an aggressive, but balanced, approach to the start of this game. A healthy dose of James Robinson is likely in line and he will be used in both the run and pass game against a team that was run through, over, and around by the Patriots and Cowboys running backs over the last couple of weeks. The Jaguars haven’t shown the ability to *effectively* attack through the air on a consistent basis, but it would make sense for them to give Trevor Lawrence a chance to air it out in his first really good matchup he’s seen this year.
Sam Darnold, Zach Wilson, and Daniel Jones are the only quarterbacks whose teams have failed to score 25 points against the Falcons this year. You could argue that Lawrence is similar to that group at this point, but considering the Jaguars have not scored over 23 points in a game this season it is important to consider the context in which they could put up an outlier game. This is certainly not a matchup of offensive juggernauts, but it is a matchup of the league’s fastest-paced offense against a team that will likely lean extremely pass-heavy. Those factors combine to give a high likelihood of a game with a lot of plays. These offenses are not very efficient so that could be a lot of empty plays, but the secondaries of these teams are bad enough that things could quickly take off. Rookie quarterbacks often come on strong to end the season and this would seem to be a good spot for Lawrence to kick things into gear. A lot of plays, teams with nothing to lose, poor secondaries, and aggressive play-calling is a good recipe for a productive fantasy environment.
Side note: I also think we are at the point in the season where it is important to consider macro trends and team mindsets in our evaluations. The Falcons have been embarrassed in back-to-back weeks, first against “America’s Team” and then on national TV against the Patriots. The playoffs are fading fast for Atlanta and defensive injuries tend to add up over the course of a season, resulting in higher chances of breakdowns, with an already poor group losing some of the little talent they had to begin with. Again, there is nothing concrete here, but there is definitely a lot of fragility from the Vegas total here, where this game could unexpectedly go far over its total.
By LexMiraglia10 >>
The Steelers offense has shown some signs of life lately as they have improved their scoring output and efficiency. The total points scored in Steelers games had a season high of 46 points through Week 8, with games that totaled 56 and 78 points in Ben Roethlisberger’s last two starts (there was also the 16-16 tie with the Lions when Mason Rudolph started at QB). This could be a fluke, the offense could be getting in a groove, or it could be driven by the defense not playing at the same elite level we’ve come to expect from Pittsburgh. In any regard, it is important to consider all options when making lineups this week because the game’s relatively low total will not reflect the somewhat larger range of outcomes that are here.
There were a lot of concerns about the Pittsburgh offensive line entering the season, and those concerns have mostly been validated by a unit that ranks 30th by PFF in run blocking through 11 weeks. Cincinnati boasts a top-10 DVOA run defense as well, so this is not a matchup where that area of weakness will be easily covered up. Najee Harris will still see a heavy workload and they won’t completely abandon the run (they can’t at this point in Ben’s career), but we should have limited expectations on what the production will look like. The Bengals worst defensive games of the season were back-to-back weeks against the Jets and Browns where they were exploited by weaker armed QBs who dink and dunked their way down the field by attacking the short areas of the field. This should be the recipe for success for the Steelers this week due to the difficult matchup in the running game and the fact that they are unlikely to have success deep down the field (Roethlisberger ranks 28th out of 36 qualifying QBs in PFF grade on throws 20+ yards downfield).
Cincinnati enters Week 12 on the heels of a convincing win over the Raiders that featured a whopping 30 carries for Joe Mixon. However, the box score for that game does not tell the whole story of how things played out, or the approach the Bengals took throughout the game. Cincinnati actually called pass plays on over 60% of their plays prior to opening up a multi-score lead in the second half and coasting to a big win. As has been noted many times over the last few weeks, Cincinnati has become a more aggressive team as they get deeper into the year and has settled in right around the league average in situation-neutral pass rate recently.
Enter a matchup with the Steelers and some clear signals that the Bengals may be encouraged to lean on the pass game. PFF grades Pittsburgh’s rush defense as the 4th best unit against the run while giving their secondary the 4th worst grade in coverage. Joe Burrow had a highly efficient game in the first matchup between these teams, and with the run defense stacking things up so well, and a coverage unit that has been bleeding production lately, it is likely that the Bengals look to leverage their talented receiving corps in this matchup. It would also benefit Cincinnati to come out with an aggressive offensive mindset in this game, as an early lead would put pressure on Ben Roethlisberger to keep up. As noted above, Roethlisberger has really struggled to push the ball downfield. He has also been the 3rd worst QB in the league against pressure, ranking above only Jimmy Garoppolo and Justin Fields in PFF grade when under pressure. Cincinnati will be aggressive early on so that they can get Pittsburgh in predictable passing situations where they can pin their ears back and apply pressure.
This game is likely to flow in a similar fashion to last week’s Bengals game against the Raiders. The Bengals defense is solid (especially against middling competition) and will likely keep Pittsburgh from having a fast start. Meanwhile, the Bengals offense will likely have some early success but the familiarity of these teams and the talent the Steelers possess on defense should keep things from getting out of hand in the first half of the game. It is worth noting that even in the two high-scoring games the Steelers have had recently, the halftime scores were only 14-3 and 17-10.
At some point, it is likely that Cincinnati’s passing game will make a couple of big plays and Pittsburgh turnovers could also contribute to an earlier than expected lead for the Bengals. In their Week 3 matchup, two Pittsburgh turnovers left Cincinnati with short fields that they converted for touchdowns, and Ja’Marr Chase had a 54-yard touchdown on a three-play drive. It will be interesting to see how this game plays out if there aren’t any fluky plays which alter the game script for both teams. In Week 3, Cincinnati became very conservative and run-heavy once they built the lead, and Ben ended up throwing 58 times. This game has a huge range of outcomes. It is very possible the game plays out close to its over/under of 45 points, but there are also very clear scenarios for this to turn into a classic AFC North slug-it-out game, or it could get out of hand with a back and forth scoring affair.
By Alex88 >>
PIT Passing Attack
CIN Passing Attack
Los Angeles is a very aggressive team that plays at the 5th fastest situation-neutral pace of play and has a top-5 situation-neutral pass rate. With an elite young QB and a slew of top-tier playmakers at the skill positions, it is not surprising that the Chargers would approach games so aggressively.
We should expect more of the same in this matchup as Los Angeles keeps the same macro offensive approach against every opponent. However, they do an excellent job of changing the areas of the field that they attack depending on the matchup. Denver has been disappointing defensively this season, in large part due to injuries, since their hot start to the year against very poor competition. Denver’s run defense has been especially poor, with their linebacker corps decimated by injuries over the season. While the Chargers are unlikely to turn into a run-heavy team in this matchup, it is likely that they will look to exploit the relative weakness of the Broncos in the middle of the field by getting their tight ends and running backs in space, as well as a healthy dose of Keenan Allen who is particularly effective against man coverage and finding openings in Cover-2 schemes like the one that Denver plays at a high rate. Downfield passing may be tough sledding early on for the Chargers, but may open up throughout the game if they are able to attack effectively in the short and intermediate areas of the field.
Denver plays at a slow pace and throws the ball at a league-average rate. They are a team with a defensive head coach who likes to control the tempo and “keep the game in front of him” by trying to win by winning the turnover battle and field position game, only occasionally turning aggressive on both sides of the ball. Their defensive pass rush is not what it was expected to be coming into the year (Denver’s pass rush is graded 29th by PFF), which has led them to play more conservatively on the back end with a bend but don’t break mentality — Denver’s red zone defense is 8th in the league in red-zone TD rate allowed.
This week, the Broncos face the worst run defense in the league by almost any metric. Denver’s running game has not been elite by any measure this season, but the mentality of their head coach fits perfectly in this spot to attack the glaring weakness of their opponent. Javonte Williams is third in the league in missed tackles forced and feels like he is primed for a breakout down the stretch, while Melvin Gordon has also been very solid with his opportunities this year. The Broncos have a deep pass-catching corps, so when they do throw the ball, they have a lot of options of how to attack. The Chargers are very tough on the perimeter and have some stud pass rushers, making it likely that Noah Fant and/or Jerry Jeudy see a relatively high percentage of targets this week, along with some pass-game usage for the running backs.
The Broncos are likely to run the ball at a high volume and, with the 30th situation-neutral pace of play in the league, will bleed the clock as they are highly likely to be able to sustain drives in this manner. Their likely success on the ground and ability to shorten the game will also have an effect on the other side of the ball, as Denver’s ability to put some points on the board in the first half will allow them to play conservatively on defense and force the Chargers to take a more methodical offensive approach.
This game has some potential to become higher scoring, as the Broncos have a higher chance of offensive success this week than they do most weeks and the Chargers have so many explosive offensive pieces. That being said, it will likely take some big plays and/or back and forth scoring in the second half to make that happen. Normally, I would say that if the Chargers are able to take the lead, Denver would likely struggle to get back in the game against such a good pass rush and secondary. Teddy Bridgewater has been more aggressive this year than we’ve seen in the past, but the Chargers’ scheme is designed to force mistakes from teams when they are in predictable situations. However, the Chargers’ secondary is currently battling a slew of injuries with four of their defensive backs not practicing yet this week, making it more likely that in a pass-heavy game script, the Broncos would be able to move the ball and keep it close, as the Steelers were able to do last week.
By Alex88 >>
LAC Passing Attack
DEN Passing Attack
The Rams are a team that, after being very predictable for the first few weeks of the year, has struggled with efficiency and game script over their last two games. Coming out of the bye week, I would expect the Rams to have addressed some of the issues they had heading into the bye. Generally speaking, bye weeks tend to be “direction changers” for a lot of teams. Those teams who go into the bye on a high note will often struggle to continue that success in their first game back (see the Bucs and Seahawks earlier this year) as the bye gets them out of their routine and it is hard to continue that momentum. Meanwhile, those teams who are having issues are able to address them and find answers to get back on track — along with the tactical advantage of time to install new concepts and wrinkles that their next opponent won’t be preparing for. The Rams’ bye came at the perfect time for them as they reconfigure their plans after the loss of Robert Woods and find creative ways to make teams pay for the things they are doing to take away the Rams’ strengths.
The Packers’ defense has performed very well in specific matchups, but those matchups tend to have a “type”: poor offenses and/or teams with very concentrated attacks that are easy to know what to “take away” are the spots that the Packers have had a lot of success. The Packers have only given up 20+ points in four of seven games this year, with those games coming against the 49ers, Vikings, Cardinals, and Bengals. All of those teams have a very broad distribution of touches and/or a depth of playmakers at the skill positions. Those teams also have very clear structures and philosophies to their offenses, something that makes it difficult for the Packers to scheme things away or just focus on taking away personnel. Many will point to the Packers’ defensive success against the Seahawks and Chiefs as reasons to be wary of this matchup, but the Seahawks were coming off a bye and Russell Wilson was still recovering from his gruesome finger injury and the Chiefs’ offensive struggles have mostly been due to their lack of structure and undisciplined offensive approach that relies on Patrick Mahomes’ ad-lib style. Both teams are also highly concentrated towards their top two pass catchers and have poor rushing attacks. The Rams, on the other hand, have a trio of capable wide receivers, an above-average every-down tight end, and a solid running scheme and personnel. The Rams also have one of the better-structured offenses in the league and will find ways to exploit the weaknesses of Green Bay’s defense.
That was a lot of information without getting to the point of “how the Rams will try to win”, but I think it is all extremely relevant information to make an informed decision on addressing that question. The surface stats and circumstances around the Packers’ defense do not do justice to what the reality of this matchup is. Many people will look at the Packers’ box scores and defensive points per game and look back at the high-profile games where they played well as reasons to avoid this spot. However, the Rams’ scheme and depth of personnel allow them to attack opponents in a variety of different ways which becomes a problem for Green Bay’s overachieving defense. At the end of the day, the only sure thing is that Cooper Kupp will get a healthy dose of usage but the Rams’ scheme allows the creativity to move him around and get him the ball in creative ways, making it nearly impossible for the Packers to key on him to the point where they can neutralize him — doing so would require selling out to the point that they would almost certainly be burned repeatedly elsewhere. Green Bay has a poor run defense that the Rams will certainly attack, likely with both running backs mixing in and they should also play with their usual league-leading tempo.
Green Bay is a team that plays at a snail’s pace and throws at a rate right around the league average. However, there are some interesting things at play in this matchup that can give us a glimpse into what to expect from the Packers::
The Packers will, at worst, play at their “normal” rates of average pass rate with above-average efficiency but slow pace. At best, they will lean on their MVP quarterback who is coming off a monster performance and be forced to raise their tempo due to their opponent. The Rams’ stout run defense and Packers’ offensive line injuries make it highly unlikely they would increase their run rate and they really can’t go any slower than their usual rate, making their offense a decent bet in this spot.
The Rams play at a breakneck pace and the Packers are likely to raise their pass rate, be fairly efficient doing so, and play at a faster than normal pace against a formidable opponent. The offensive firepower involved in this matchup of two top-5 offenses in the league makes for a potentially juicy offensive environment on the smallest main slate of the year which is lacking several of the top offenses in the league. Green Bay likes to play with a methodical, balanced approach which often makes them frustrating from a fantasy perspective. However, this game has multiple paths to bringing them out of their shell and making this quickly become the most exciting game on the slate.
Both teams are good enough on both sides of the ball while also being very well coached. That makes it difficult to peg a specific game script that is most likely. That may sound like a cop out to what this section is supposed to be about, but it’s a reality here. While I don’t know exactly how it will get there, my feeling is that there are a lot more game flows that result in a high-scoring game than most people will realize. For a game that has this much offensive talent and on a slate that is missing a lot of the top end players in the league, it is noteworthy that there are currently only three players projecting for double-digit ownership — with none over 20%.
By Alex88 >>
LAR Passing Attack
GB Passing Attack
Following a three-point victory over the Packers in Week 11, the Vikings have now played nine of ten games to a one-score game. That’s almost unheard of in today’s NFL landscape. I’ll say that again: nine of the Vikings ten games this year have been decided by seven points or less. What’s even more interesting is the way they have gone about doing this, seemingly mirroring the offensive approach of each opponent. As in, they are unlikely to push the envelope on their own and have largely played to their opponent. Since Vikings games remain close throughout, it typically harbors a game environment where production is much easier to project and game environments land in Xandamere’s “barbell” of potential outcomes. Said another way, Vikings games often either completely fail or surpass expectations. One thing that really stands out here is the pace of play splits for the Vikings offense, as they increase their pace of play to the extreme when trailing (second-ranked 22.20 seconds per play when trailing by seven or more points).
Running back Dalvin Cook leads the league in snap rate played when healthy, checking in with 71% of the offensive snaps played or more in every healthy game. We’ve spoken to the expected positive regression as far as touchdowns go, as he has scored only four total touchdowns a year after scoring 17. Minnesota ranks fifth in the league in red-zone touchdown rate on offense, meaning a lot of the low touchdowns numbers from Dalvin this year can be attributed to variance and noise. I’d expect that trend to reverse to finish out the year. The matchup on the ground yields a disgusting 3.775 net-adjusted line yards metric, as the Niners rank top five in the league against the run and the Vikings rank bottom five. Dalvin is unlikely to see a significant boost in efficiency here, thusly relying on pass game involvement and touchdowns to return value on his steep price tag. Behind Dalvin, expect Alexander Mattison to mix in for a modest backup role.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins has attempted between 34 and 38 passes in seven of the Vikings ten games, with one game of 28 pass attempts, one game of 48 pass attempts, and one game of 49 pass attempts. That gives us a solid baseline when projecting expected pass volume for this team moving forward. Now consider the fact that the primary pass-catchers are a condensed group consisting of Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, KJ Osborn (kind of?), tight end Ty Conklin, and the running backs, and we’re left with one of the more bankable and predictable offenses in the league. The matchup with the Niners tilts expected volume and production towards the short and intermediate middle of the field, providing a slight boost to Adam Thielen and Ty Conklin, although the 49ers have largely limited opposing tight end production against this season.
The 49ers would like to control games through their own run game and an efficiency-driven pass game, which typically relies on splash plays and red-zone efficiency (number one ranked red zone touchdown rate) for their value. That said, this team has scored four touchdowns or more in half of their games this season, and their opponent this week is one that should force them into increased aggression. The Vikings also run the fifth most offensive plays per game and increase their pace of play to extreme levels when trailing, which is a significant boost to the expected volume for San Francisco here.
The run game is the one spot where we’re left with a good deal of unknowns in this game, as JaMycal Hasty is highly likely to miss this game, and Elijah Mitchell appears ready to return from a one-game absence after having surgery to repair ligaments in his finger. We should tentatively expect Mitchell to regain his lead-back role if he is able to return, while Jeff Wilson, Jr. acts as the primary change of pace back, and Trey Sermon is available for emergency duties. Although this backfield lacks floor due primarily to low usage through the passing game, the touchdown equity and splash play potential keep the ceiling very high considering price. The matchup on the ground yields an above-average 4.425 net-adjusted line yards metric, held down by the 49ers low marks in metric (again, George Kittle is this team’s best run-blocker, and he missed a good chunk of the season).
The standard range of outcomes as far as pass attempts go for Jimmy Garoppolo is 27-30, but we’ve seen extreme outlier games on either side of that range on multiple occasions this season (four games of 25 pass attempts or fewer and two games of 40 pass attempts). The big picture with this offense is they are much more reliant on their ability to generate splash plays than they are on volume. The three primary playmakers through the passing game (George Kittle, Deebo Samuel, and Brandon Aiyuk) are all amongst the league leaders in splash plays generated over the previous two seasons. The matchup shouldn’t hinder this offense’s chances at generating those same splash plays, which is simultaneously a hinder to expected volume but a boost to expected efficiency.
Because we can be fairly certain that the Vikings will play to the level of their opponents, game flow and game environment are often driven by whoever they are playing. The big picture is that the percentage solution for Vikings games is that we see a close game throughout, with this team equipped to shootout with the best of them but largely unwilling to be the aggressor on their own. Enter a 49ers team that lives off of splash play creation, with George Kittle, Deebo Samuel, and Brandon Aiyuk amongst the top “splash play potential” players at their respective positions. All of that to say, this game has as high a likelihood as any other this weekend to turn into the top game environment on the slate and falls on a week where there is only one game with a Vegas total over 50 points (TB @ IND). We’re likeliest to see the 49ers dictate the game flow and the Vikings dictate the game environment, which is a positive to the game overall as the 49ers are set up in such a positive matchup.
By Dwprix >>
Deebo Samuel/Brandon Aiyuk:
Justin Jefferson/Adam Thielen:
XANDAMERE’S SHOWDOWN SLANT
Sunday night football has the Browns visiting the Ravens in a game with a decent 47 point total and Baltimore favored by 3.5. I’d actually be somewhat surprised if the Browns hit their team total here, as they’ve been held to under 20 points in five of their last six games, but hey, football is weird.
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On the Baltimore side, the running back situation is actually somewhat clear, which is odd to say for a Ravens game this year. Devonta Freeman is their main guy and . . .
XANDAMERE’S SHOWDOWN SLANT
Week 12 wraps up with the Seahawks visiting Washington for a matchup with . . . the Football Team (yes, seriously, it’s been a year and that’s still their name). This brings us two-thirds of the way through the regular season, and it’s flying by. This matchup has a 46.5 total with an exactly even split, which is one of the only times I’ve ever seen that (in fact, I cannot actually remember seeing it before, but I’m sure I must have somewhere). Let’s explore.
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