Week 13 Matchups

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Hey, fam! — one more week without an opportunity to put together my roster thoughts before kickoff (my in-laws celebrated Thanksgiving on Sunday, as that was the only day when we could get the whole family together — making it difficult for me to lay out my thoughts beforehand). In the Roster Recap below, I walk through my decisions from Week 12, and I also walk through some thoughts on making changes on Sunday morning, and how to make sure you avoid mistakes when doing so.


This is a fun slate this deep into the season, with very few plays that can make a strong push for “must play” territory, but with plenty of plays that are strongly in the mix. Weeks such as this one enable us to think for ourselves and build strong top-to-bottom rosters — trusting our ability to slot in a solid-upside, low-variance play at every position, yielding stronger across-the-board expectations than most of our opponents will be able to carry. With 13 games on the Main Slate and plenty of teams still in playoff contention, there are a lot of different ways to go on this slate. There are several games with high totals, a couple potential blowouts from top offenses, and even a few lower-total games that carry some intriguing elements.

Dig in, stack together some notes, figure out your favorite floor/ceiling plays on the slate, and put together a strong roster — trusting the research, trusting your ability to piece things together in a unique / high-upside manner, and giving yourself the best shot at the top of the leaderboards this week.

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UPDATES MADE:

DeSean Jackson Out (Nov. 30)


Kickoff Thursday, Nov 29th 8:20pm Eastern

Saints (
29.25) at

Cowboys (
22.25)

Over/Under 51.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Saints Run D
4th DVOA/4th Yards allowed per carry
Cowboys Run O
18th DVOA/24th Yards per carry
Saints Pass D
15th DVOA/17th Yards allowed per pass
Cowboys Pass O
22nd DVOA/1st Yards per pass
Cowboys Run D
29th DVOA/32nd Yards allowed per carry
Saints Run O
12th DVOA/14th Yards per carry
Cowboys Pass D
21st DVOA/12th Yards allowed per pass
Saints Pass O
14th DVOA/9th Yards per pass

SAINTS // COWBOYS OVERVIEW

The first-place Saints will take their 10-game win streak on the road this Thursday night against the “first-place” Cowboys and their three-game win streak (fifth longest in the NFL at the moment) — and these teams are a lot more similar in the way they approach their games than most probably realize. The Cowboys rank 25th in pace of play, which would not surprise most — but the Saints rank even lower, at 30th (and contrary to the argument most would make: they rank 31st in situation-neutral pace of play). The Cowboys are one of the run-heaviest teams in the NFL, ranking 27th in pass play rate, while the Saints (as you surely know by now — subscriber to this site that you are) rank 30th in pass play rate. These teams both rank in the top five in run defense, introducing some interesting elements. When these teams pass, neither focuses on a downfield approach, with Drew Brees producing the eighth lowest average depth of target in the NFL, and with Dak Prescott producing the 10th lowest.

Of course, the similarities end when we get to the efficiency portion of the conversation, as Brees is completing 76.4% of his passes (compared to 65.2% for Dak), and he has 29 touchdown passes and only two interceptions (compared to 13 touchdown passes and five interceptions for his counterpart). The Saints are 100% capable of dominating games when forced to win through the air. For the Cowboys, this can be a struggle.

I tried to guess the Vegas numbers in this game before looking, and off the top of my head I came up with New Orleans -9.0 with an Over/Under of 49.0. I wasn’t far off. New Orleans is favored by 7.0 on the road, and this game opened with an Over/Under of 51.5. Each team will benefit from a full week to prepare, as each played last Thursday as well. This strongly favors the superior coaching staff of the Saints, and even with this game being on the road, they project to be the team that dictates how this game shapes up.

SAINTS PASS OFFENSE

The (incorrect) public perception of the Cowboys is that they boast a tough pass defense — but realistically, this pass defense is extremely similar to the Colts, who we have likened all season to a better version of the Bucs, with Tampa 2 concepts that aim to force shorter throws and tackle well after the catch. In fact, the Bucs and the Colts are the only teams in football that allow a higher catch rate than the Cowboys — a setup that could not play more perfectly into what the Saints aim to do: primarily working the short areas of the field with a crisp, precision-oriented attack that mixes in a few downfield throws each game with an otherwise “march the field” set of route combinations and passes.

The key piece in this attack for the Saints is Michael Thomas, whose targets have suffered as a result of the Saints taking the air out of the ball so early in games the last three weeks (three straight blowout wins). Through 11 games, Thomas already has five games with five or fewer targets. (Last year, Thomas had only one such game — with only two games all year below eight targets.) If the Cowboys fail to keep this game competitive, Thomas’ volume will likely suffer once again — and with a maximum of one downfield target most games, this would put him at high risk of price-considered disappointment. Thomas has only one game in over two months of double-digit targets, and that came in the back-and-forth affair with the Rams. That was also his only game with more than 92 receiving yards since Week 3. Bolstering Thomas’ upside is a big red zone role, as only three players have more red zone targets than Thomas, and only one player has more targets inside the 10.

The major value that Tre’Quan Smith brings to this offense is his ability to work a defense deep, which meshes poorly with a Dallas team that has allowed the third fewest pass plays in the league of 20+ yards. Matchup hardly matters for a Brees-quarterbacked offense, but the likelihood of Smith seeing a spike in downfield targets is low in this spot. He’ll likely need to do damage on shorter throws or on limited downfield looks. As he showed against Washington a few weeks back (3-111-2 on only three targets), he still carries upside if volume slips, but the floor obviously becomes low.

Making this game difficult on the Showdown is the fact that this team spreads the ball around with the best of them, as Keith Kirkwood, Austin Carr, both running backs, and all three tight ends are involved in the pass game — and as we saw on Thanksgiving, Brees can pile up four touchdown passes to four otherwise-fantasy-irrelevant players. Carr is a slot receiver who has contributed only nine catches for 97 yards all season, in spite of two touchdowns across the last two weeks. Kirkwood has played 55 out of 127 offensive snaps for the Saints the last two weeks (43.3%), running 12 and 18 pass routes. He has seen five and three targets the last two weeks and is a low-floor, bet-on-touchdown play. Josh Hill (31 snaps last week // eight pass routes // zero targets), Benjamin Watson (18 snaps last week // nine pass routes // two targets), and Dan Arnold (12 snaps last week // 11 pass routes // six targets) continue to split time. Don’t read too much into Arnold’s target spike last week, as the Saints are one of the more opponent-specific offenses in the league, and either he or Watson could see a spike in work on a given week.

There is a case to be made that Sean Payton and Drew Brees (who care about stats and records more than just about any other coach/QB tandem in the NFL) are trying to win the NFL MVP for Brees this year (an award he has, incredibly, never won before), which could continue leading to more passing touchdowns than rushing touchdowns for this team, even as passing volume remains limited. That should not be a major contributing factor in roster decisions, as it is merely conjecture, but it is at least interesting to note, with Brees tossing 11 touchdown passes across the last three weeks on only 77 attempts.

SAINTS RUN OFFENSE

The Cowboys have presented one of the most challenging run defense matchups in the NFL, but they have been extremely easy to beat through the air, with the eighth most receptions allowed to the running back position, on a completion rate of 83.5%. With the Saints deploying one of the most creative run schemes in the NFL and ranking top three in adjusted line yards, this offense should still be able to produce at least acceptable numbers on the ground, but this would also be a good spot for the Saints to pull Alvin Kamara back up to the four to five targets he had been seeing since the return of Mark Ingram (instead of the target counts of 1 // 1 that he has across the last two weeks).

Here are the updated snap numbers for Kamara // Ingram since the latter’s return:

Kamara — 31 // 39 // 38 // 41 // 34 // 44 // 37
Ingram — 36 // 35 // 23 // 34 // 31 // 30 // 27

Kamara has 94 carries and 26 targets in this stretch. Ingram has 90 carries and 15 targets. Kamara is the more explosive back, giving him more upside, but the gap is much closer than most people think (there are a lot of fantasy and NFL writers with a lot of time and energy and public outspokenness invested into the idea that Kamara was “the guy” in New Orleans this year, and that Ingram would be nothing more than a back-burner piece — and these people have had a hard time moving off this position, which is affecting the way that most of the fantasy world is perceiving this backfield). Each guy has a shot at explosive plays and touchdowns in this high-powered offense. Kamara has a higher chance of posting a big game, and with his larger pass game role, he is less likely to dud.

COWBOYS PASS OFFENSE

In four of their last five games (with only the game against the Rams left out), the Saints have recently held the Falcons to 17 points, the Eagles to seven points, the Bengals to 14 points, and the Vikings to 20 points — but this has not impacted wide receiver production as much as some might assume, with highly efficient stat lines allowed across their last five games of:

11-147-0 on 14 targets to Julio Jones
4-74-0 on four targets to Mohamed Sanu
8-93-1 on 13 targets to Calvin Ridley
3-65-0 on four targets to Tyler Boyd
6-114-1 on eight targets to Brandin Cooks
5-89-1 on six targets to Cooper Kupp
5-71-0 on nine targets to Robert Woods
7-103-1 on seven targets to Adam Thielen
10-119-1 on 11 targets to Stefon Diggs

Only the Eagles receivers have been shut down by the Saints across their last five games, and as one of the man-heaviest coverage teams in the NFL, there will be opportunities for Amari Cooper to shine in this spot as the only receiver for the Cowboys to heavily target. Outside of his five-target Week 11 dud, Amari has target counts with the Cowboys of 8 // 10 // 9. The Cowboys will likely find themselves chasing points in this spot — a good setup for another eight to 10 targets for their number one receiver.

The Saints have been repeatedly burned by slot receivers for big yards-per-reception days (see Sanu // Boyd // Kupp // Thielen above), though Cole Beasley will have to have his route tree adjusted in order to take advantage, as he sees most of his looks within three to 10 yards of the line of scrimmage and carries an aDOT of only 7.1. If the Saints take a big lead early, it won’t be crazy to see Beasley pile up six or more targets with a bit more intermediate work than normal against a Saints team that adds more than 4% to the league-average aDOT.

Behind Beasley, Michael Gallup is a dart throw — with recent target counts of 6 // 3 // 5 // 6, but with only eight receptions on these 20 targets (40%), and with yardage totals in this stretch of 51 // 34 // 10 // 19.

No tight end on the Cowboys has topped 25 yards in a game in nearly two months. The Saints boast one of the toughest tight end defenses in the NFL, making the Blake Jarwin // Dalton Schultz combo difficult to bet on. Jarwin played 35 snaps last week and Schultz played 42, though Jarwin ran 25 pass routes to Shultz’ 10. Rico Gathers (who is supposedly glued to the sidelines for his blocking deficiencies) played 15 snaps and ran only three pass routes — being asked to block the other 12 times.

COWBOYS RUN OFFENSE

The Saints rank top five in fewest yards allowed per carry, in DVOA against the run, and in adjusted line yards on defense, creating a difficult spot for a Cowboys team that likes to win with Ezekiel Elliott at the forefront. Through 11 games, no running back has reached even 70 yards against the Saints — though the only two quality running backs this team has faced (Todd Gurley and Saquon Barkley) both failed to top 13 carries — with Gurley going 13-68-1 on the ground, and with Saquon going 10-44-1. The last time a running back topped even 13 carries against the Saints was all the way back in Week 3. Volume should be viewed as a bigger concern than matchup for Zeke and this typically dominant run game. Zeke has added a strong receiving floor across the last month, and he has not finished below 15 carries all year. He should be fine for a solid score in this spot, with potential for volume to keep him from an elite game, but with his upside certainly still intact if the Cowboys keep this game close enough for the volume to be there.

JM’S INTERPRETATION

The Saints lead the NFL right now in points per game, ahead of both the Chiefs and the Rams, which should create plenty of touchdown opportunities in this spot — with the best bets being (in order) Michael Thomas // Alvin Kamara // Mark Ingram // the rest of the team. Drew Brees could have a difficult time piling up yardage if the Cowboys fail to hang tough in this spot, but he has a strong shot at being involved in most of the touchdowns that are scored.

Amari and Zeke both have a shot at the top score on the slate, putting them very much in play. Amari is attached to Dak, and Zeke is at risk of game flow lowering his volume, but with floor concerns on all of Thomas, Kamara, and Ingram as well, these two are very much in the Showdown conversation. Game flow is likeliest to go in Amari’s favor, but the Cowboys depend on Zeke enough that he should continue seeing touches throughout the game no matter what happens, giving him plenty of opportunities for touchdowns and/or his signature big plays.

Behind these guys, Dak has potential for a solid game while chasing points, and it would not be crazy for Beasley to become viable (even if his raw projections fall behind all the other skill position players mentioned above). The Saints are an attacking defense against a team that has taken the most sacks in the NFL. There is opportunity for that unit to matter in this game. The kickers, as always, are in play on the Showdown slate as well.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 2nd 1:00pm Eastern

Cards (
13.75) at

Packers (
27.25)

Over/Under 41.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Cardinals Run D
10th DVOA/25th Yards allowed per carry
Packers Run O
10th DVOA/10th Yards per carry
Cardinals Pass D
10th DVOA/19th Yards allowed per pass
Packers Pass O
6th DVOA/14th Yards per pass
Packers Run D
25th DVOA/12th Yards allowed per carry
Cardinals Run O
2nd DVOA/2nd Yards per carry
Packers Pass D
25th DVOA/18th Yards allowed per pass
Cardinals Pass O
18th DVOA/15th Yards per pass

CARDINALS // PACKERS OVERVIEW

Incredibly, the Packers — with one of the better on-paper teams in the NFL — have only two more wins right now than the absolutely hapless Arizona Cardinals, who are averaging only 232.5 yards per game and only 14.1 points per game, each of which (unsurprisingly) ranks at the bottom of the league. While the Packers are only 4-6-1, their average scoring margin is -0.3 points. The average scoring margin for the 2-9 Cardinals is an incredible -12.5. To put that number in perspective: the Raiders, Titans, and Bills all have average scoring differentials in the negative double digits…while the next worst team is the Bengals, at -6.5. Arizona ranks bottom of the league in time of possession and plays per game, and only three teams are allowing more opponent plays per game. With the Cardinals failing to sustain drives (31st in drive success rate) and constantly playing from behind, they have faced the most rush attempts in the NFL, while facing the fifth fewest pass attempts.

Everything in this game favors the home team — whose remaining schedule includes three games against doormats, a game against a disappointing Falcons team, and an important tilt against the Bears. It is not crazy for the Packers to think they still have something to play for here, and Vegas has taken notice, installing Green Bay as monster 14.5 point favorites.

CARDINALS PASS OFFENSE

Between the Packers inviting teams to run on them and limiting opponent catch rate, they have allowed the seventh fewest completions in the NFL this year — a poor setup for offensive production from a Cardinals team that has the second fewest completions in the NFL. Josh Rosen has the third lowest completion percentage and the lowest expected completion percentage in the league, with almost nothing going right for him in his rookie year. This Cardinals team is, incredibly, averaging only 155 passing yards per game.

Larry Fitzgerald has topped 50 receiving yards only once with Rosen at the helm. The biggest issue for Fitz this year has been the Cardinals’ inability to hold onto the ball for sustained periods (31st in drive success rate // 32nd in time of possession // 32nd in plays per game). Fitz has also been hurt by the Cardinals’ recent insistence on avoiding the pass even when trailing. Last week in a 45-10 blowout loss, Rosen threw the ball only 19 times in 47 plays. Fitz has five touchdowns across his last five games, but he has six total targets across the last two weeks, and “the Packers taking a big lead” would not guarantee a pass-heavy game from the Cardinals, as they are more worried about developing Rosen than in winning games. A bet on Fitz is a bet on the Cardinals opening the offense back up this week against a defense that can be beat over the middle, where Fitz works most of his routes.

Green Bay has been tougher on the perimeter, where Christian Kirk typically works, though it is worth noting that Kirk — another piece of this “develop for the future” equation — has seen exactly six or seven targets in five of his last six games, topping 40 yards five times in this stretch and scoring a couple touchdowns. He and Rosen have connected on only 15 of 29 targets (51.7%) across their last five games, but the work has been consistent.

This passing attack rounds out with Ricky Seals-Jones, who has connected on only 50% of his targets on the season, with only one game this year north of 52 receiving yards. RSJ has gone for 12 or fewer yards in four of his last five games. Green Bay ranks top 10 in fewest receptions allowed to tight ends, and they have allowed only one tight end touchdown on the year.

CARDINALS RUN OFFENSE

The Packers have defined the league-average in yards allowed per carry, but with their pass-leaning focus in defensive scheme/personnel, they have faced the seventh most carries in the NFL this year, and they have faced the eighth highest opponent rush play rate. Unfortunately, the “multiple” skill set that makes David Johnson so tremendously valuable is also being dented by the low passing volume on this offense, with four or fewer targets in four of his last five games. When DJ is confined to the 2-20 // 3-30 range through the air, it is difficult for him to post elite stat lines, as he is running behind an offensive line that ranks 24th in adjusted line yards, and he is averaging only 3.7 yards per carry. He has topped 63 rushing yards only two times this season. The best bet on DJ is on his red zone role, where he has 12 carries inside the 10 (13th most in the league) and seven carries inside the five (also 13th most in the league).

PACKERS PASS OFFENSE

The Cardinals’ pass defense is attackable in the same way that the Colts’ pass defense is attackable, as this unit is tied with the Colts for the lowest opponent aDOT in the NFL (this team has shaved an incredible 21% off the league-average aDOT), but they allow a 5.3% boost on the league-average catch rate, and they have been below-average after the catch, leading to them ranking middle of the pack in yards allowed per pass attempt. This is a perfectly fine setup for a Packers passing attack that primarily focuses on attacking the short areas of the field.

With superstar corner Patrick Peterson almost never trailing number one receivers this season, look for the Packers to move around Davante Adams to take advantage of what is ultimately an above-average matchup against any other corner. Since the Packers got healthier at wide receiver, Adams has seen target counts of 7 // 9 // 7 // 12 // 8, and he has topped 70 receiving yards only two times in this stretch. His biggest boost in value comes from his monstrous red zone role (first in the NFL in red zone targets with 23; first in the NFL in red zone touchdowns with nine), but he does have the ability in this offense to pop for a big yardage game as well. Bet on the touchdowns from Adams and view a big yardage game as a bonus — in a matchup the Packers should largely control.

Behind Adams, the Packers’ passing attack has been a bit of an unpredictable mess, with Aaron Rodgers failing to top even 200 passing yards in two of his last three games (and failing to crack 300 yards in four of his last five), and with only two games all season of more than two touchdown passes. The Packers have lost four of their last five, and Rodgers has somehow managed to top 30 pass attempts only once in this stretch. The likeliest scenario here has Green Bay controlling this game, with Rodgers pushing for only 32 to 35 pass attempts as a result; but another way to approach this would be to assume the Packers control this game and decide to get Rodgers and this passing attack heated up by throwing the ball deep into the game — which would likely lead to double-digit targets for Adams, and to a rise in reliable work for all other pass catchers on this team. Considering that McCarthy is the coach of this team, this should not be considered a safe bet, but it’s an interesting bet to consider in tourneys. One data point in favor of this approach: the Packers have topped 57 plays only once in their last five games (which, of course, became the only game in which Rodgers’ volume rose). The Cardinals are allowing 67.5 plays per game — the fourth most in the league. All bets are off in usage behind Adams after the Packers moved Equanimeous St. Brown into the slot on 24 of his 36 snaps last week, allowing him to see the targets that had previously been going to Marquez Valdes-Scantling (17 slot snaps last week; 27 outside).

If Randall Cobb returns this week, he will soak up his typical “handful of low-upside targets from the slot,” requiring a broken play in order to provide strong value. In that instance, MVS would likely play the most snaps, and would bump to the outside where he would see plenty of Peterson — becoming a “bet on splash play” option. If Cobb sits again, it will be MVS and St. Brown on the field together, though it’s anyone’s guess as to how these two will be deployed.

Jimmy Graham played with support on his broken thumb last week and turned four targets into two catches for 34 scoreless yards. Only six teams have given up fewer receptions to the tight end position than Arizona, giving him a difficult path to upside.

PACKERS RUN OFFENSE

The Cardinals’ run defense has defined the league average this year, ranking 20th in yards allowed per carry and allowing an increase on the league-average YPC of only 1.7%; but with this team unable to hold onto the ball and unable to play with a lead, they have faced the most rush attempts in the NFL, which has led to them allowing the third most yards on the ground, while giving up 16 total touchdowns to running backs — the third most in the league.

This is an interesting setup for Aaron Jones, to whom the Packers have awarded more than 17 carries only once in his 21-game career (while never once giving him 20 carries). Similar to what we had when other “coach-limited volume” backs faced this team (Kareem Hunt // Melvin Gordon), this should be viewed as only a slightly above-average matchup from a yardage perspective, and the Mike McCarthy dunderhead experience will likely prevent Jones from taking advantage of the big bonus this matchup provides: a big spike in volume. We should go in expecting around 17 to 18 carries and another five or six targets. The elevated touchdown upside is a nice bonus for a player who has converted five of his 16 red zone carries into touchdowns already.

JM’S INTERPRETATION

When the Cardinals have the ball in this game, there is risk that they will lean on the run even when trailing after so vehemently taking this approach in Week 12 — putting all of the upside pieces on this offense at low-volume risk. Even with a higher-volume passing attack, DJ would be off the board for me at his price (the only week we really had much interest in DJ in this space since Week 1 was the game against the Chiefs that just set up so well for him), though one thing I would not mind in large-field tourneys is a bet on Fitz in the hopes that the Cardinals do dial up 30+ pass attempts (which would likely pull Fitz up to the six to eight target range — giving him a couple opportunities for a big play or a touchdown). Outside of this large-field dart throw, I would not be drawn toward anything on this offense, which continues to rank among the bottom three in the NFL in nearly every category.

On the Packers’ side of the ball, I like both Jones and Adams as “bet on touchdowns and hope for a spike in volume” plays. It’s not crazy to think that the Packers run more plays this week than they have over the last month-plus; and if they do, it’s not crazy to think that either A) Rodgers throws more, giving Adams a chance to rise back to double-digit looks, or B) McCarthy finally unleashes Jones and allows him to go for 22+ carries. The latter is the less likely scenario, but both guys are respectable plays for the price, and there is potential for game flow to provide an upside boost.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 2nd 1:00pm Eastern

Ravens (
22.25) at

Falcons (
24.75)

Over/Under 47.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Ravens Run D
2nd DVOA/11th Yards allowed per carry
Falcons Run O
26th DVOA/20th Yards per carry
Ravens Pass D
7th DVOA/14th Yards allowed per pass
Falcons Pass O
16ths DVOA/3rd Yards per pass
Falcons Run D
8th DVOA/6th Yards allowed per carry
Ravens Run O
5th DVOA/1st Yards per carry
Falcons Pass D
30th DVOA/31st Yards allowed per pass
Ravens Pass O
19th DVOA/31st Yards per pass

RAVENS // FALCONS OVERVIEW

If the season ended today, the Ravens — winners of two straight — would be in the playoffs with their 6-5 record, while the floundering Falcons have lost four straight and sit at 4-7 toward the tail end of a disappointing season. Injuries have made their mark on the Falcons’ season, but this year has also been marred by head-scratching coaching decisions and player deployment. The Falcons are playing for nothing but pride and 2019 at this point.

The two stories of this game are 1) Lamar Jackson on the road against a beat-up Falcons defense that ranks 31st in drive success rate allowed and 30th in opponent red zone touchdown rate, and 2) the high-powered Falcons offense (seventh in yards per game // 11th in points per game) against a Ravens defense that has been the best unit in the NFL, allowing the fewest yards per game and the fewest points per game in the league. Vegas opened this game with an aggressive Over/Under of 49.0, with the Ravens installed as three point favorites. The total was quickly bet down to 48.0, and the home team saw a big swing in their direction over the first couple days of action — moving from three point underdogs to one point favorites.

RAVENS PASS OFFENSE

The Falcons’ scheme has long capitalized on forcing short throws and tackling well after the catch — but with all the injuries to the Falcons’ defense this year, they have allowed opponent aDOT to rise to a league-average level, and this squad is allowing the third highest catch rate in the NFL. Add it up, and the Falcons rank 24th in yards allowed per pass attempt, and they have allowed the eighth most passing yards and the second most passing touchdowns in the league.

This matchup boost will be necessary for Lamar Jackson to find success this week if the Ravens again insist on forcing him to play like a more traditional quarterback, as he does not yet have the ability to pick apart an NFL defense or make the consistent tight-window throws that a quarterback at this level has to make. For all the fantasy world hype surrounding Jackson, he has completed only 61.4% of his passes in his two starts, with a yards per pass attempt mark of only 7.45. These games came against Cincinnati and Oakland — two of the only defenses in the NFL that are easier to attack than the Falcons. After the Ravens hammered the Bengals with zone reads in Week 11, they asked Jackson to drop back more regularly in Week 12, with 25 pass attempts (compared to 19 the week before), and with most of his 11 rush attempts coming on scrambles rather than on designed quarterback keepers. On a team that has not passed for 300 yards since Week 4 (and that has not topped 206 yards since Week 7), Jackson will likely need touchdowns and rushing yardage to have a shot at posting one of the top scores on the slate.

Jackson’s limited passing volume and low completion rate are affecting all of the pass catchers on this team — especially as 14 of his 27 completions the last two weeks have gone to tight ends and running backs. In two games since Jackson took over, John Brown has two catches on eight targets for 48 yards; Michael Crabtree has four catches on nine targets for 28 yards; Willie Snead has five catches on eight targets for 51 yards.

As for the tight ends: Nick Boyle, Maxx Williams, Hayden Hurst, and Mark Andrews all saw snaps last week, with Boyle running 16 pass routes, Andrews running nine, and Hurst running eight. (Williams run blocked on all eight of his snaps.)

Every pass catcher on this spread-the-wealth, low-volume attack would take a leap of faith to roster this week. Your best bet for useful production is a broken play or a multi-touchdown game.

RAVENS RUN OFFENSE

The Falcons have been one of the easiest teams in the NFL to attack on the ground this year — boosting the league-average yards per carry by over 17%, ranking 30th in yards allowed per carry, and allowing (as is the case every year) the most running back receptions in the league. The Falcons’ 14 touchdowns allowed to running backs are the seventh most in the NFL.

While the matchup is of very little concern for rookie Gus Edwards, his lack of pass game involvement (zero targets through two snap-heavy games) could lead to trouble as he chases upside in this spot. Edwards has run a non-awful 21 pass routes across the last two weeks, but he is out there for checkdown purposes only, and it is unlikely that he racks up more than one or two receptions even in this plus receiving draw. There also remains slim concern that Alex Collins could siphon some work on the ground if he returns to the field this week, but this is a back-burner worry, and the likeliest scenario is another 17+ carries for Gus Gus. Consider him a yardage-and-touchdown back in a plus draw for both items — introducing some floor concerns, but giving him a good chance of making those floor concerns disappear.

Behind Gus Gus, Ty Montgomery played 28 of 70 snaps last week (40%), seeing eight carries and three targets. There is a chance he rises to around five targets this week, but his carries will remain limited, requiring him to hit for a big play or a touchdown in order to post a healthy box score.

FALCONS PASS OFFENSE

The Ravens have one of the most aggressive coverage units in the NFL — playing tight to receivers, getting after the quarterback (ninth in the NFL in adjusted sack rate), and allowing the lowest catch rate in the league. This defense communicates well, rarely plays out of position, and tackles well after the catch (second lowest YAC/R rate allowed in the league) — leading to the lowest yards allowed per pass attempt in football. Only the Vikings have allowed fewer passing touchdowns than the Ravens. Only the Jaguars and Bills have allowed fewer yards.

The one thing the Falcons should have on their side is volume, as they are currently the pass-heaviest offense in the NFL. Matt Ryan has thrown 38 or more pass attempts in seven of his last eight games, and he has topped 300 passing yards in seven of his last nine games. None of those games came against a unit like this one, and Ryan has also scuffled in the scoring department lately, with two or fewer touchdown passes in four of his last five games; but in a home game with high-powered weapons, he will have an outside shot at producing elite numbers in this difficult draw.

Ryan’s primary target this year has been Julio Jones, who has only one game all season below nine targets, and who has incredibly topped 100 yards receiving in six consecutive games. Julio leads the NFL in air yards, percentage share of team air yards, and targets per game. The Ravens have not allowed a single receiver to top 91 yards against them, and only two players (Tyler Boyd in Week 2 and D.J. Moore in Week 8) have topped 80 yards. The Ravens have held Tyler Boyd (the second time around), JuJu Smith-Schuster (twice), Antonio Brown (twice), Michael Thomas, and A.J. Green under 80 receiving yards. This is a tough test for Julio — who retains his upside, but whose chances of getting there are lower than normal. The Ravens have allowed the sixth fewest pass plays of 20+ yards and the second fewest pass plays of 40+ yards.

Behind Julio, recent target counts on the Falcons look like this:

:: Calvin Ridley — 6 // 9 // 5 // 4 // 13
:: Mohamed Sanu — 2 // 5 // 8 // 6 // 4
:: Austin Hooper — 4 // 3 // 11 // 8 // 5

A bet on Ridley is a bet on a big play or another end zone visit. He has topped 71 receiving yards only two times this year.

A bet on Sanu is a bet on a broken play or a touchdown.

Rather quietly, the best matchup (such as it is) goes to Hooper, as the Ravens have given up the 12th most receptions and the 10th most yards to the tight end position. He’s always a low-floor bet, but he could turn into an important piece for the Falcons’ offense this week as they search for ways to move the ball.

FALCONS RUN OFFENSE

Baltimore has also been dominant on the ground this year, with only five teams allowing fewer yards per carry, and with only three teams allowing fewer touchdowns to the running back position. The Saints and Bears are the only teams that have allowed fewer rushing yards to running backs. Only five teams have allowed fewer receptions to running backs, and no team has allowed fewer receiving yards.

Tevin Coleman continues to split time with Ito Smith, with recent touch counts of 14 // 11 // 11. He’ll need an unpredictable big play or a multi-touchdown game to be relevant on this week’s slate.

JM’S INTERPRETATION

I won’t have any interest in the Ravens’ pass catchers beyond possibly taking a large-field tourney shot on a broken play or a deep ball going to John Brown. I’ll probably look elsewhere at quarterback as well, simply because Jackson’s chances of a big yardage game through the air — and/or of three or more touchdowns — are slimmer than other available options, and if we project him for 50 to 80 rushing yards, this isn’t quite enough to make up for the lower ceiling in other areas. I like Jackson and will certainly add him to my early-week list, but I expect to find quarterbacks I like more this week.

I’m hopeful that I will not end up on Gus Edwards in the Ravens’ backfield, as his price is creeping up for a guy with zero to minimal pass game work; but he is certainly in play this week for his “100 yards and a touchdown” potential. As long as the work is there, he will carry a non-awful floor in this matchup, as 17 or 18 carries should lead to at least 70 or 80 yards in this matchup.

On the Falcons’ side of the ball, I don’t hate the idea of taking a tourney shot on Ryan, Julio, or even Hooper, though none stand out as top plays in one of the most challenging matchups in football. Ryan and Julio are “bet on talent over matchup” plays. Hooper is a “bet on matchup filtering targets his way” play this week.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 2nd 1:00pm Eastern

Bills (
18.25) at

Dolphins (
21.75)

Over/Under 40.0

Tweet
Notes

Key Matchups
Bills Run D
24th DVOA/21st Yards allowed per carry
Dolphins Run O
23rd DVOA/22nd Yards per carry
Bills Pass D
28th DVOA/15th Yards allowed per pass
Dolphins Pass O
11th DVOA/17th Yards per pass
Dolphins Run D
32nd DVOA/19th Yards allowed per carry
Bills Run O
32nd DVOA/29th Yards per carry
Dolphins Pass D
10th DVOA/16th Yards allowed per pass
Bills Pass O
4th DVOA/6th Yards per pass

BILLS // DOLPHINS OVERVIEW

While the Dolphins are still technically in the thick of the AFC playoff picture at 5-6, no one is taking them seriously right now — and their average scoring margin of -5.5 (28th in the league) is a good indication of the smoke-and-mirrors approach this team has taken to notch that respectable record. This week, they will host a 4-7 Bills team that is, unsurprisingly, playing hard for Sean McDermott — who continues to get the most out of a weak group of players, one year after taking a below-average unit to the playoffs.

This game pairs two of the most offensively inept teams in the NFL, with the Bills ranked 31st in points per game and the Dolphins ranked 25th, and with each team ranked bottom five in yards per game. These teams also rank bottom five in drive success rate on offense. This games projects to tilt toward a slow-paced, run-leaning approach on both sides (Buffalo in particular should lean on the run, as they rank fifth in rush play rate even with all the losses, and the Dolphins face the third highest rush play rate in the league), with yardage and scoring somewhat thin for both sides. This is the first meeting between these teams this year, and it opened with an Over/Under of 38.5, with Miami installed as surprising 6.5 point favorites. Since opening there, this line has settled in place at Miami -5.0, with the Over/Under trickling up to 40.0.

BILLS PASS OFFENSE

Miami’s pass defense ranks top eight in fewest opponent air yards — which is more a function of teams choosing to attack them on the ground than it is of any major strength in the Dolphins’ coverage. This team is allowing a league-average aDOT and a league-average catch rate — and with YAC issues continuing to pop up for the Dolphins, they rank 28th in yards allowed per pass attempt. There are 24 teams that have faced more pass attempts than Miami, but only 11 teams have allowed more passing yards. Volume, scheme, and talent will be bigger concerns for the Bills’ passing attack than matchup. Miami does not have much of a pass rush, ranking 29th in sacks on the year, but with this team intercepting the second most passes in the NFL and giving away chunk gains on the ground, the Bills (28th in pass play rate in spite of constantly playing from behind) should lean run-heavy in this spot.

Josh Allen has topped 22 pass attempts only two times this season, and he has topped 10 completions only three times. He has an unbelievably poor 52.5% completion rate, and he has cracked 200 yards through the air only once all year — back in his first NFL start in Week 2. On the season, he has three touchdowns and five interceptions.

Volume will obviously be an issue for this team that has only produced viable wide receiver stat lines with Matt Barkley under center. The “best bet” (such as it is) for floor in this passing attack is Zay Jones, who can typically be counted on for four to six targets (in spite of his one-target dud last week). The best bet for ceiling is rookie speedster Robert Foster, who has five catches on seven targets across the last two weeks, for 199 yards. Foster has a legitimate floor of zero, but the Bills want to take the top off the defense a few times each week with downfield shots that take advantage of Foster’s speed and Allen’s arm. Three of Foster’s five catches have gone for 40+ yards.

BILLS RUN OFFENSE

The Dolphins have been one of the most attackable teams in the league on the ground, ranking 26th in yards allowed per carry while facing the fifth most rush attempts in the NFL. The only teams that have faced a higher opponent rush play rate this year are the Raiders and the Cardinals. Only two teams have allowed more run plays of 20+ yards than the Dolphins, and only two teams have allowed more run plays of 40+ yards. This team ranks 31st in Football Outsiders’ open field yards allowed.

All of this lines up nicely for LeSean McCoy, who has recent touch counts (starting from Week 12 and moving backward) of 18 // 27 // 14 // 18. Marring McCoy’s floor is his attachment to an offensive line that ranks 26th in adjusted line yards and an offense that ranks bottom three in yards per game, points per game, and drive success rate. He has only one game all year with more than 100 rushing yards, and only three games all year with more than 50 rushing yards. His floor concerns do not disappear in this spot, but his ceiling is boosted by the matchup.

DOLPHINS PASS OFFENSE

The Bills have presented one of the most challenging pass game matchups in the NFL this year — ranking top five in both shallowest aDOT allowed and lowest YAC per reception rate allowed, creating a difficult spot for a run-first offense that is loath to take shots downfield. Across his six starts, Ryan Tannehill has topped 25 pass attempts only once, he has topped 230 passing yards only once, and he has an average depth of target of 7.5 — 10th lowest in the league. Upside has been difficult to find against the Bills’ pass defense this season, and upside has been almost impossible to find in the Dolphins’ pass “attack.” Wide receiver opportunities on this low-volume attack are further dented by 20.1% of Tannehill’s passes going to Kenyan Drake this year.

The toughest matchup on the Dolphins will go to DeVante Parker, who should square off with shutdown corner Tre’Davious White for much of this game. Quarterbacks have largely avoided receivers against White this season, with only 32 targets thrown in his direction through the first 11 games (per Pro Football Focus). He has allowed 16 catches and one touchdown on the year.

Kenny Stills saw a boost in usage with Tannehill back under center last week, but his four targets produced only one receptions and six yards. As noted last week: Tannehill connected with Stills on two deep targets through the first three weeks of the season. Stills will need one of those plays in order to sniff relevance this week. No team has allowed fewer pass plays of 20+ yards than the Bills, and no team has allowed fewer pass plays of 40+ yards, making this a challenging spot for Stills to hit.

Danny Amendola struggled to stay on the field last week with a knee issue (14 snaps), opening 22 snaps for Brice Butler and 22 snaps for Leonte Caroo. Butler saw one target. Caroo saw two. If Amendola plays this week, he’ll have the best shot at floor, working this defense over the middle, though even if we take away his one target game last week on limited snaps, he has averaged 4.0 targets per game in Tannehill’s starts, compared to 8.2 targets per game with Osweiler under center.

DOLPHINS RUN OFFENSE

Because the Bills have allowed 15 touchdowns to running backs (tied with the Giants and Chiefs for the fourth most in the league), they have built a reputation as an attackable unit on the ground — but as we have explored the last few weeks, this team is solid on a per-play basis, ranking 11th in yards allowed per carry and ranking middle of the pack in receiving yards allowed to the position. Turnovers have been the big story of the Bills’ season, as they have given the ball away the third most times in the league — leading to short fields and easy scoring opportunities for opponents (with these opponents often taking advantage on the ground as they play with a big lead). As such, it is worth noting that the Dolphins’ defense ranks third in the league in turnovers forced — which may open a few scoring opportunities for their backfield. These scoring opportunities will be necessary, as Frank Gore (29 of 54 snaps last week) and Kenyan Drake (24 of 54 snaps last week) continue to split time on an offense that ranks 30th in time of possession and 31st in plays per game. Gore has cracked 70 rushing yards only twice this year, and he has added 10 total catches and one touchdown through 11 games. Drake has topped eight carries only once in his last five games. He boasts the most upside in this backfield with explosive ball-in-his-hands ability and six or more targets in five of his last seven games. He’s a low floor play, but his point-per-dollar ceiling is higher than most realize. The Bills have faced the sixth most running back targets and allowed the eighth most running back receptions, while Drake quietly has seven touchdowns on the season.

JM’S INTERPRETATION

I imagine Allen will see at least 2% or 3% ownership in tourneys for his low price and his rushing upside — though volume will be a concern in this spot, and the floor is about as low as any quarterback on the slate. He’s not the type of play I like to target (I’m looking for a much higher floor than this), but he does retain a thin shot at upside. Obviously, I also do not expect to have any interest in his pass catchers — though if building multiple rosters for large-field tourneys, there is a legitimate case to be made for taking a shot on Foster. Think of him the way you would have thought of Eric Ebron when Doyle was active: as a guy who could truly get you zero points, but who is going to be given a couple opportunities for strong point-per-dollar upside each game.

Shady McCoy will slide somewhere onto my early-week Player Grid, though it’s too early in my research to know if he’ll still be there by the time the Player Grid is posted. My hunch is that he will be there (in Tier 3, of course), simply because a solid-volume running back against this Dolphins defense just carries too much upside to ignore; but attached to this offense and this offensive line, he still has a dud floor, making him more appealing in tourneys than in cash games.

I have rarely attacked the Bills’ pass defense this season, and a 13-game slate is not the place where I will look to change that with a poor, low-volume Dolphins attack. There is nothing in the Dolphins’ pass game that stands out as anything more than a complete and total dart throw.

In the Dolphins’ backfield, Drake is actually interesting in tourneys as a guy who should see five or six targets and six to eight carries — with big-play upside and a decent shot at a touchdown against a Bills team that has been generous to enemy backs in and around the red zone. The floor here is low, but as Drake has shown a couple times this year: the price-considered ceiling is much higher than most have noticed, and he can be a difference-maker in his price range on weeks when he hits.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 2nd 1:00pm Eastern

Panthers (
27.75) at

Bucs (
24.25)

Over/Under 52.0

Tweet
Notes

Key Matchups
Panthers Run D
26th DVOA/18th Yards allowed per carry
Buccaneers Run O
6th DVOA/19th Yards per carry
Panthers Pass D
13th DVOA/10th Yards allowed per pass
Buccaneers Pass O
9th DVOA/8th Yards per pass
Buccaneers Run D
3rd DVOA/1st Yards allowed per carry
Panthers Run O
16th DVOA/21st Yards per carry
Buccaneers Pass D
1st DVOA/9th Yards allowed per pass
Panthers Pass O
11th DVOA/11th Yards per pass

PANTHERS // BUCCANEERS OVERVIEW

The Buccaneers will keep the shootout circus at home this week, welcoming a Panthers team that ranks 10th in the NFL in points per game on offense (one spot behind the Bucs). Eleven games into the season, no team in the NFL has more passing yards per game than the 4-7 Bucs, while only the Rams and Chiefs are averaging more yards per pass attempt. On the other side of the ball, only five teams have allowed more passing yards per game than Tampa, while no team has allowed a higher red zone touchdown rate. Incidentally, the team that ranks 31st in red zone touchdown rate is the Panthers. The Panthers rank seventh in red zone touchdown rate on offense. The Bucs rank 16th. Each of these teams also ranks bottom eight in drive success rate allowed and top eight in drive success rate on offense. When these teams met in Carolina in Week 9, the Panthers won 42-28.

This game opened with a timid Over/Under of 55.5 and was quickly bet up to 56.5. Currently, this stands as the highest mark on the slate, so “timid” is not the word that would typically come to mind first — but four of the Panthers’ last five games have gone over 55.5, while seven of the Bucs’ 11 games on the year have passed that mark. This should be a strong game for offense, with several players to consider on either side of the ball.

PANTHERS PASS OFFENSE

The Buccaneers’ pass defense has been slowly improving, as they have held steady at a league-average aDOT allowed — and while they have still allowed the highest catch rate in the NFL, this number has been trickling down over the last few weeks. The Bucs continue to do a good job after the catch, shaving an impressive 5.6% off the league-average YAC/R rate. This is still a very attackable defense (allowing the highest catch rate in the NFL will do that), and this is still a team that ranks 28th in drive success rate allowed and 32nd in red zone touchdown rate allowed — but they have not been getting blasted out of the water the way they were early in the season.

Volume is unlikely to work heavily in favor of the Panthers’ primary pass catchers, as the Buccaneers are allowing the eighth fewest opponent plays per game, and the Panthers run the seventh fewest plays per game while ranking 11th in rush play rate. Cam Newton has gone north of 30 pass attempts only once in his last five games — and 36 of his 150 passes in this stretch (24%) have gone to Christian McCaffrey, leaving an average of only 22.8 targets to go around behind him.

The most locked-in player behind CMC has been D.J. Moore, who has recent target counts of 6 // 2 // 5 // 8 // 9. His two targets came against the Bucs in Week 9, but that was an outlier, and Moore should bounce back to the five to eight target range in this one. This is the case regardless of whether or not Devin Funchess plays, though these targets become even more solidified if Funchess misses. With a possession-like aDOT of only 8.1, Moore could have a tough time reaching the higher end of his production range against a team that tackles well after the catch — but the floor should be solid, and the upside obviously remains.

Curtis Samuel played the exact same number of snaps as Moore last week (54 out of 59) and ran the exact same number of pass routes as Moore and McCaffrey (31), causing his two targets to stand out as an outlier after he saw target counts of 4 // 4 // 7 heading into last week’s game (while playing well under 50% of the team’s snaps). Across his previous four games, Samuel had seen 18 targets to Moore’s 21, and his 69.6% catch rate across his last five games is not far behind the incredible 83.3% catch rate Moore has posted in this stretch. Samuel is a strong bet for four to six targets in this spot.

Torrey Smith started last week but ended up playing only 13 snaps. He should see his role increase this week, but he’s nothing more than a dart throw until we see him get involved above his younger teammates.

Greg Olsen has been locked into four to six targets per game since returning from his foot injury, and he has a quality matchup against a Bucs squad that he pasted for a 6-76-1 line on six targets in Week 9. The Bucs have allowed the seventh most catches, the most yards, and the eighth most touchdowns to the tight end position.

PANTHERS RUN OFFENSE

The Buccaneers’ train-wreck of a defensive season has carried over to their once-stout run defense, with this injury-ruined unit ranking 22nd in yards allowed per carry and giving up more running back touchdowns than any team in the NFL. With Tampa’s attacking style on offense and their poor pass defense, they are facing a below-average number of rush attempts each week, but rush attempts are only part of the package for Christian McCaffrey, who has topped 17 carries only one time all season, but who has added recent reception marks of 6 // 4 // 5 // 5 // 6 // 11. In five of CMC’s last six games, he has produced a floor of at least 6-50-0 through the air — giving him one of the highest floors on the slate, in spite of only two games all season north of 80 rushing yards. Volume in this slow-it-down attack for the Panthers is the only concern for CMC, as he has only two games in his last seven with more than 19 touches — making it tough for him to produce elite scores at the same rate as the players priced around him; but as he has shown a few times this year, he has the ability to post monster games, and his elite floor makes him a strong player to bet on in any matchup, with the strength of this bet increased in an above-average spot such as this.

BUCCANEERS PASS OFFENSE

The Panthers’ defense has been extremely strong after the catch this season, allowing the second lowest YAC/R rate in the NFL — but they have paired this strong tackling with an aDOT that is 6% deeper than the league average, and they have allowed a tidy 2.3% increase on the league-average catch rate. This has led to the Panthers ranking 19th in yards allowed per pass attempt, and their inability to stop opponents in the red zone (31st in red zone touchdown rate allowed) has led to them allowing the second most passing touchdowns in the NFL.

“Tampa QB” remains one of the most attractive weekly options on the slate, with the attached pass catchers benefitting as well from an attack that ranks second in the NFL in pass attempts, first in passing yards, third in yards per pass attempt, and fourth in passing touchdowns.

The most dominant source of upside in this passing attack has been Mike Evans, though his recent target counts of 6 // 7 // 8 introduce floor concerns for a player who already carries a high-variance style of play in this offense, with an up-and-down connection with his quarterbacks. On a more positive note: Evans ranks eighth in the NFL in yards per reception, at 17.3, and he has topped 100 yards in six of the eight games this year in which he has hauled in at least six receptions. Evans posted a back-breaking 1-16-0 dud against the Panthers in Week 9 on 10 targets — due partly to solid coverage from James Bradberry, but due more to poor quarterback play from Ryan Fitzpatrick. Evans is a good bet to push for five to seven receptions in this spot.

Joining Evans in the top eight in the league in yards per reception is DeSean Jackson, who ranks first in the NFL in average depth of target and has the ability to score from anywhere on the field. DJax has disappointed lately — failing to crack even 40 yards in four of his last six games, and failing to crack 70 yards in any of his last six games — but he does have recent target counts of 8 // 4 // 8 // 7 // 8, opening the door for him to pop off at low ownership. The risk on this play is heightened a bit by the poor connection that Jameis Winston has shown with DJax over the last two seasons.

Connection is not a concern for Jameis and security blanket Adam Humphries, who has seen target counts in Jameis’ starts of 4 // 9 // 10 // 6. Humphries’ targets rarely result in big gains (only one of his targets last week came more than six yards downfield), but on an offense that consistently sends Evans and DJax downfield, Humphries’ role underneath provides him with locked-in looks.

Chris Godwin unexpectedly saw more snaps last week than Humphries and DJax after playing behind the former all season and playing behind both guys the last several weeks. It appears that this was largely for his run-blocking abilities, as he ran the same number of pass routes as DJax and ran only one more than Humphries. Godwin sees four to six intermediate targets most weeks and has a shot to become relevant when he scores, though his red zone role has grown much smaller with Jameis under center.

This passing attack wraps up with Cameron Brate, who trailed only Evans in routes run last week, but who saw only four targets — right in line with what he saw last year when O.J. Howard missed time. Brate should continue to see four to five targets down the stretch, though it won’t be surprising if he spikes higher than that in one game along the way. He’s a bet-on-touchdown play in an above-average matchup.

BUCCANEERS RUN OFFENSE

The Panthers have been solid on the ground this year, with only eight teams allowing fewer yards per carry to enemy backs, and with only eight teams facing a lower opponent rush play rate. Tampa, of course, has the seventh lowest rush play rate on offense, as this team prefers to open up the field when they have the ball — relentlessly attacking downfield. Tampa ranks bottom five in adjusted line yards on offense. Carolina ranks top five on defense.

On a more positive note for upside hunters: Peyton Barber has 18 carries in back-to-back games, and against the Giants in Week 11 he topped 85 rushing yards for the first time all season. With only one game all year of more than two catches or more than 16 receiving yards (4-24-0 against the Falcons defense that filters passes to running backs), Barber is a true yardage-and-touchdown back. He does rank 11th in the NFL in red zone carries (10th in carries inside the 10), and the Panthers continue to struggle in the red zone, opening an outside-shot opportunity for Barber to matter from a point-per-dollar perspective this week.

JM’S INTERPRETATION

Cam has thrown for 300+ passing yards only two times all season, and he has topped 256 yards only once in his last five games — limiting his chances of popping off for a truly big game through the air. Of course, Cam’s floor is aided by his rushing upside (29 or more rushing yards in nine of 11 games this year; four touchdowns on the ground) and by his streak of 10 consecutive games with multiple touchdown passes. This matchup throws little in his way, and game flow could lead to him scoring toward the higher end of his range, making him a safe, high-upside play. Alongside Cam, I like all of Moore, Samuel, and Olsen. With targets being spread around in this offense and none of these guys bankable for a spiked-target week, none of these three pop off the page, but at least two of them (and possibly even all three) should post a respectable game. All three carry nice upside as well.

With CMC’s price creeping up into Gurley territory, it’s not typically my style to bet on his likely 19 or fewer touches — but as is the case almost every single week, he is very much in play. He carries one of the highest raw floors on the slate, and it’s certainly not outside the realm of possibilities for him to pile up elite yardage and multiple touchdowns along the way.

As always: I like Jameis, with fringe interest in Evans. Both guys will make my early-week list, to be weighed and balanced against the other players available around them. DJax is a “bet on big play” option — with his chances of hitting dented a bit by his poor connection with his quarterback, but with his recent target counts certainly giving him a shot at production. Humphries has been one of the best ways lately to gain affordable exposure to the upside of this offense, and he remains underpriced on DraftKings and FantasyDraft (while carrying an appropriate price tag on FanDuel). Godwin and Brate are also viable as “bet on touchdown” plays, though neither should be counted on for floor.

In the Bucs’ backfield, I’ll probably set aside Barber as a viable tourney option, though I doubt I’ll actually use him. As a yardage-and-touchdown back whose usage evaporates when the Bucs fall behind, he’s a risky play in a game the Panthers should ultimately control.

FRIDAY MORNING UPDATE // Full “Updates” List

DeSean Jackson will miss this week’s game for the Bucs, opening a full complement of snaps for Chris Godwin and Adam Humphries.

Last year, DeSean (and O.J. Howard) missed Weeks 16 and 17. In Week 16 against the Panthers, Jameis threw the ball only 27 times, with targets breaking down as follows :: Evans — 8 // Godwin — 6 // Humphries — 3 // Brate — 4.

Here were the stat lines in that game:

:: Evans — 6-107-0
:: Godwin — 3-98-0
:: Humphries — 3-51-0
:: Brate — 3-13-0

In Week 17 against the Saints, Jameis threw 51 passes, with targets breaking down as follows :: Evans — 13 // Godwin — 12 // Humphries — 11 // Brate — 5

:: Evans — 5-55-0
:: Godwin — 7-111-1
:: Humphries — 7-102-0
:: Brate — 3-37-0

Something in the range of 35 to 40 pass attempts for Jameis is a reasonable bet, putting him in between those two games last year. This should give you a good feel for how targets are likeliest to be distributed, with room for small shifts from there.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 2nd 1:00pm Eastern

Bears (
23.75) at

Giants (
19.75)

Over/Under 43.5

Tweet
Notes

Key Matchups
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
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 // GIANTS OVERVIEW

This game pairs two teams that each hired a new head coach last offseason to recover from a disappointing 2017 season. The Bears are 8-3 at the moment. The Giants are 3-8.

The Bears — who seem to still somehow be carrying a reputation as a fluky 8-3 team — have gotten to this point with a top five scoring offense and a top five scoring defense, while racking up the 13th most yards and allowing the sixth fewest. The Bears have the most takeaways in the NFL and rank middle of the pack in giveaways — good for the best turnover differential in the league. This is in sharp contrast to a Giants team that has been average to below-average in yards, points, yards allowed, and points allowed, and that is better than only six other teams in turnover differential. The Giants have had a tough time sustaining drives this season, ranking bottom 10 in drive success rate on offense, while the Bears’ defense has allowed the lowest drive success rate in the league. Only the Titans have taken more sacks than the Giants, while Chicago has the sixth most sacks in the league.

The Bears rank 26th in pace of play and seventh in rush play rate, while the Giants face the sixth highest rush play rate in the league. The Bears also rank ninth in time of possession, while the Giants rank 28th. With the Giants unable to get after the quarterback or force turnovers against a team like the Bears that largely eliminates self-inflicted wounds, New York is primarily going to have to drive the entire field to stay in this game and put up points — something they will likely have a difficult time doing.

Most sportsbooks in Vegas have kept this game off the board on the front end of the week as they await clarity on the Mitchell Trubisky situation, but where this game has been posted, it carries a game total of 45.0, with the Bears installed as four point favorites.

BEARS PASS OFFENSE

The Giants’ defense ranks middle of the pack in yards allowed per pass attempt, with a roughly league-average aDOT and catch rate allowed. Coverage has not been a major liability for the Giants, but with the worst adjusted sack rate in the NFL, receivers have time to get open. As we have noted the last few weeks: the Giants have been tough in the red zone, ranking eighth in opponent red zone touchdown rate, and only the Vikings have allowed fewer passing touchdowns this season. But the biggest drawback to the matchup for Mitchell Trubisky and company will be volume, as teams typically prefer to attack the Giants on the ground. Only one quarterback all year has tossed more than two touchdown passes against the Giants, while only three teams have allowed more touchdowns to running backs.

Reports on Wednesday have Trubisky set up as a game-time decision, which will be interesting to track throughout the week. As expected: Chase Daniel showed a firm grasp of this offense in his Week 12 start, after playing with Andy Reid, Matt Nagy, and Doug Pederson over the last several years (with a second stint with the Saints mixed in last year) — essentially functioning as a less-attacking version of Trubisky, focusing on the short areas of the field instead of taking things deep. Against a Giants defense that is extremely difficult to score on through the air, a Trubisky return would be preferable from an “upside” perspective for pass catchers on this team.

Target counts for Bears pass catchers across their last three games look like this:

:: Allen Robinson — 8 // 7 // 4
:: Anthony Miller — 6 // 3 // 4
:: Taylor Gabriel — 3 // 9 // 8
:: Trey Burton — 4 // 1 // 7

With no clear alpha in this attack, it is difficult to bet on any of these guys from a floor perspective. In turning our attention to ceiling: these four players have combined for only five total games this year of 100+ yards receiving — with Gabriel notching two such games, and with the other three grabbing one apiece. Outside of Gabriel’s 100-yard games, he has not topped 52 yards; outside of Miller’s 100-yard game, he has not topped 49 yards; outside Robinson’s 100-yard game, he has topped 64 yards only once; outside of Burton’s 100-yard game, he has topped 55 yards only once. As explored last week: Robinson, Miller, and Gabriel carry almost identical aDOTs, with none of these three separating from a role or usage perspective. Burton appeared to be a preferred target for Daniel, which is worth noting if Trubisky sits again this week — though it is also worth recognizing that Zach Ertz is the only tight end who has managed to score against the Giants this year, as they have played strong coverage in the red zone across the board.

BEARS RUN OFFENSE

The Giants have ranked middle of the pack in yards allowed per carry on the year, but only five teams have faced a higher rush play rate, and only three teams have allowed more touchdowns than the Giants have allowed to the running back position. Disappointingly, this production has not extended much to pass-catching backs, as the Giants have allowed the eighth fewest receptions and the seventh fewest receiving yards to the position.

Across the Bears’ last three games, Jordan Howard has played 113 snaps while Tarik Cohen has played 83, with Howard seeing carry counts in this stretch of 11 // 18 // 7, and with Cohen going 7 // 7 // 3 on the ground while adding target counts of 7 // 5 // 8. Howard, of course, has been entirely ineffective this year, failing to top 82 yards in any games this year while adding only four catches across his last eight contests. He’s a “hope for touchdown” play. Cohen does not quite see the touches to justify his price, but on DraftKings and FantasyDraft he can typically be counted on for at least five to eight points through the air, with upside for big plays or scores from there — keeping him in the large-field tourney conversation.

GIANTS PASS OFFENSE

One of the biggest mismatches on the slate will come between a Bears pass rush that ranks sixth in the NFL in sacks and has been absolutely dominant in the pass rush department when Khalil Mack has been healthy — taking on a Giants team that has allowed the second most sacks in the league. With Chicago getting after the quarterback so well, they are shaving 6.3% off the league-average aDOT — and with a below-average catch rate allowed and a below-average YAC/R rate allowed, the Bears have allowed the third lowest yards per pass attempt in the NFL. This talented, disciplined unit creates a tough matchup for a passing attack that primarily relies on yards after the catch for its upside.

The best bet on this passing attack, of course, is Odell Beckham, who has seen nine or more targets in all but one game this season. Beckham does not come without some “bust” to his game — with three consecutive games of five or fewer receptions, and with no games in this stretch above 85 receiving yards — but before this recent lackluster stretch, Beckham had topped 130 yards three times in a four game stretch. In spite of the Bears’ strong defensive play as a whole, they have faced the fifth most pass attempts in the NFL, leading to the fourth most wide receiver receptions in the league. Matchup should worry us less than Beckham’s attachment to this low-scoring offense and a quarterback who will be under duress all day, and will be largely unable to push the ball downfield.

Behind Beckham, Saquon has become the clear number two receiver, leaving volume thin for other players on this team. Across his last three games, Sterling Shepard has seen target counts of only 3 // 2 // 6, and he has topped 37 receiving yards only once in his last five games (a 167-yard explosion against the Falcons being the one exception).

Evan Engram injured his hamstring in pregame warmups last week and failed to play (in spite of not being announced with the injury), and he is looking iffy for this week — which would primarily serve to further lock in targets for Saquon and OBJ while providing a slight target boost for Shepard. If Engram plays, he should step into his typical four to five targets, against a Bears defense that has allowed the fifth fewest receptions to the position this season.

GIANTS RUN OFFENSE

The Bears have been awesome against running backs this season, shaving 21% off the league-average yards per carry mark (with the fewest yards allowed per carry in the league), while also allowing only three touchdowns on the ground to backs (the fewest in the league). The Bears have allowed the eighth most receptions to backs, but only nine teams have allowed fewer receiving yards to the position.

This is a tough spot for Saquon Barkley, but the biggest dent to his upside is simply the bleak scoring outlook for this Giants team as a whole against a Bears team that has allowed the second fewest points per game. Boosting Saquon’s floor is an enormous pass game role that has yielded recent target counts of 12 // 10 // 10 // 5 // 3 // 8. In this stretch, Saquon has touch counts of 22 // 23 // 22 // 25 // 30 // 21 — with those 25 and 30 touch games coming in the contests in which his pass work dipped, further solidifying his status as one of the most game flow independent backs in football. If any running back can beat this matchup on his own, it’s Saquon (to frame Saquon’s unique, individual awesomeness: the Giants’ offensive line ranks 26th in adjusted line yards…yet he has consistently matched the production of Gurley // Kamara // Gordon // Zeke // McCaffrey, who all boast offensive lines that rank top nine in adjusted line yards), and the usage should be in place for floor concerns to be somewhat mitigated. Upside, of course, becomes more thin than normal, with this poor Giants offense taking on this dangerous Chicago defense.

JM’S INTERPRETATION

If Trubisky starts this game, he and all of his pass catchers will become viable in large-field tourneys, with potential to stack this offense a variety of ways in the hopes of capturing the upside this squad is capable of producing — though it would be difficult to isolate a single pass catcher in this group to feel comfortable with from a floor perspective, and the difficult matchup in the red zone means that ceiling is not guaranteed. If Trubisky sits, this offense will become even more difficult to bet on. It is likely that one or two guys in this passing attack will produce a useful price-considered score, but big games will be difficult to come by.

I won’t have much interest in the Bears’ rushing attack, but it won’t be surprising for Cohen to post a solid game here, while he does have enough long-shot upside to be worth considering in large-field tourneys. Howard could theoretically be rostered in hopes of catching a multi-score game, but it’s a thin play given his usage in this offense and his production to date.

The Giants’ offense is not attractive from a “scoring upside” perspective, which will make it difficult for any individual player to post a monster score — but the locked-in usage for Saquon and OBJ gives each of these guys a nice floor, and each guy has enough “on his own” talent to be considered as a floor/ceiling option, even on the higher end of the price range. Both guys will be in consideration for me this week. Behind these two, usage and upside on this offense grows thin — and in this matchup, I will almost certainly leave things alone.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 2nd 1:00pm Eastern

Browns (
21.25) at

Texans (
26.75)

Over/Under 48.0

Tweet
Notes

Key Matchups
Browns Run D
20th DVOA/5th Yards allowed per carry
Texans Run O
23rd DVOA/31st Yards per carry
Browns Pass D
19th DVOA/30th Yards allowed per pass
Texans Pass O
8th DVOA/4th Yards per pass
Texans Run D
23rd DVOA/31st Yards allowed per carry
Browns Run O
7th DVOA/3rd Yards per carry
Texans Pass D
8th DVOA/22nd Yards allowed per pass
Browns Pass O
23rd DVOA/27th Yards per pass

BROWNS // TEXANS OVERVIEW

Browns vs Texans is an exciting real-life game between an 8-3 Houston squad that is riding an incredible eight game win streak as a defense-and-run-first team, vs a 4-6-1 Cleveland team that has won back-to-back games with a spread-the-opponent, ball-out-quick offensive game plan and an attacking defense that ranks second in the NFL in takeaways. In spite of their losing record, the Browns are still on the fringes of the playoff discussion.

Each of these teams plays at a fairly fast pace — enabling them to run an above-average number of plays per game while also allowing an above-average number of opponent plays, a setup that will open opportunities for volume to rise a bit on either side of the ball. Each team ranks in the bottom 10 in the NFL in drive success rate on offense, while the Texans rank behind only the Bears in lowest drive success rate allowed (the Browns rank middle of the pack on defense themselves). Both the Texans and the Browns play hard, aggressive football, and this game will likely come down to a few defensive gems or a few tight-window throws.

On a 13-game Main Slate that opened with six games carrying an Over/Under of 48.0 or higher, this game opened at 45.0, with the Texans installed as 4.5 point favorites. Houston boasts the more explosive offense and the superior defense — and they also have the benefit of playing this game at home — but the Browns have enough going for them to compete from start to finish.

BROWNS PASS OFFENSE

Houston has not shown many weaknesses against the pass this season, ranking eighth in yards allowed per pass attempt while picking up the sixth most sacks in the NFL and allowing the sixth fewest pass plays of 20+ yards. (Interestingly: the Texans have given up the fourth most pass plays of 40+ yards, as this team’s aggressive style leads to big breakdowns when something happens; this is more bookkeeping than actionable information, as only two teams have fewer pass plays of 40+ yards than this Browns offense that has morphed into a spread-style, quick-out attack.) Houston has allowed only 17 passing touchdowns to quarterbacks (just three more than league-leader Minnesota), and they have allowed the ninth fewest yards and the fewest touchdowns to wide receivers. This team also mixes and matches coverages constantly — regularly changing up their looks at the line of scrimmage in an effort to confuse quarterbacks. Baker Mayfield has shown a strong handle on the NFL game already, but this will be a difficult test for him. Working in his favor is five consecutive games with multiple touchdown passes. Working against him is a short-area passing attack that has yielded only one game in the Browns’ last five with more than 258 passing yards. In fact, Baker has thrown for 216 or fewer yards in three of his last five games.

This team has scaled back passing volume in back-to-back double-digit wins, but they should be able to push back into the “34 or more” pass attempt range in a game that should remain tight throughout — with the Texans the likelier team to be playing with a lead. Volume will be necessary if you want to bet on any of these pass catchers, as Mayfield has spread the ball around to eight to 10 pass catchers in each of his last five games. Jarvis Landry, Antonio Callaway, and David Njoku are the only players with multiple games in this stretch of five or more targets. Landry has gone 7 // 5 // 5. Callaway has gone 5 // 2 // 5. Njoku has gone 5 // 1 // 5. A bet on Landry or Callaway is a bet on a broken play or a touchdown, with upside otherwise limited in this spot. A bet on Njoku is a bet on him seeing the five or more targets he should see in this spot, against a defense that has been far more attackable with tight ends than they have been with wide receivers, allowing the seventh most receptions, the sixth most yards, and the sixth most touchdowns to the position.

BROWNS RUN OFFENSE

The Texans have lived in opposing backfields this year, ranking fifth in adjusted line yards and fifth in yards allowed per carry. The Texans also excel on the second level (fourth in Football Outsiders’ second level ratings) and in the open field (second in FO’s open field ratings). Only two teams have allowed fewer rush plays of 20+ yards than the three the Texans have allowed. Houston has allowed zero run plays of 40+ yards. The Texans rank middle of the pack in receptions allowed to running backs, but only eight teams have allowed fewer receiving yards to the position.

Since Carlos Hyde was traded, Nick Chubb has at least 18 carries in every game, and he has seen target counts of 2 // 3 // 1 // 3 // 3. His workload and explosiveness will provide a slim path to upside, but his floor is obviously much lower this week than it was in three straight games against bottom-tier run defenses.

Behind Chubb, Duke Johnson has seen recent carry counts of 1 // 2 // 1 // 3 // 2, with target counts in this stretch of 4 // 3 // 9 // 4 // 2. He’ll need a spike in workload, a broken play, or one or two touchdowns to prove useful this week.

TEXANS PASS OFFENSE

The Browns have been one of the tougher teams in the league against the pass this year, ranking third in interceptions and allowing the seventh fewest yards per pass attempt — on the strength of a below-average aDOT, a below-average catch rate, and a below-average YAC/R rate allowed. With this team’s fast pace of play, they have faced the most opponent plays in the NFL — which has led to them facing the second most pass attempts in the NFL; but against a Houston team that ranks 30th in pass play rate and has not topped 25 pass attempts in nearly two months, the Browns’ per-play stoutness should matter more than their volume-based production allowance. Perhaps we see Deshaun Watson climb to 28 to 30 attempts in an elevated volume spot for the Texans as a whole, but barring a big, early lead from the Browns or a sudden change in offensive philosophy, a big volume game is a poor bet in a below-average matchup.

During this stretch of low-volume games for Watson, DeAndre Hopkins has seen target counts of only 6 // 8 // 7 // 12 // 6 // 6 — a disappointing setup for one of the highest-priced wide receivers on the slate. Hopkins will also see plenty of coverage from Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate Denzel Ward — though volume is more of a concern than matchup for a player as good as Nuk. If he does not see a spike in volume in this spot, he’ll need an incredibly efficient game in order to pay off his price tag.

Volume is also hurting the prospects of Demaryius Thomas (target counts with the Texans of 3 // 1 // 5) and Keke Coutee (3 // 9 // 2 looks in his last three), creating a situation where you are left hoping for a volume spike or a busted coverage if you want to take a shot on one of these guys.

TEXANS RUN OFFENSE

The Browns have been one of the easiest teams in the NFL to run on, allowing an increase of 8.5% on the league-average YPC mark, while allowing 12 rushing touchdowns to running backs — the third most in the league. This is good news for a Houston attack that has become one of the run-heaviest units in the NFL, ranking third in rush play rate and holding Watson to 25 or fewer pass attempts in an incredible six consecutive games.

During this stretch of run-leaning play, Lamar Miller has seen carry counts of 15 // 22 // 18 // 12 // 20 // 12, with last week’s 12-carry game coming with Miller getting plenty of late rest in a blowout win. Miller has quietly gone for 86 or more rushing yards in four of his last five games (topping 100 yards in three of those games). He’s adding two to three targets most weeks, and he ranks 10th in red zone carries, giving him a decent all-around profile as a salary-saver back.

Behind Miller, Alfred Blue has double-digit carries in five of his last eight games, but he still has zero games all season with 50 or more yards on the ground.

JM’S INTERPRETATION

Mayfield has been a person of interest for me in his last couple games, but not quite enough for me to actually pull the trigger while concentrating on a narrow core for a limited number of rosters. This week, he would be even tougher for me to pull the trigger on, as I expect volume to rise, but I also expect efficiency to dip in this difficult matchup. Mayfield still carries respectable upside, but his chances of getting there are slimmer than they were in pristine spots against the Falcons and the Bengals. I would also have a difficult time betting on his pass catchers in this difficult matchup, in a spread-the-wealth offense — though Njoku does carry enough upside to be considered as a tourney pivot off of the more popular Ebron. Njoku is probably only 30/70 to outscore Ebron — and even if he gets there, chances are he doesn’t separate from Ebron much. But Njoku is the best bet for yardage and touchdowns through the air for this squad, keeping him very much in the conversation.

There are better spots on the slate than the Browns’ backfield, and I’ll be looking to stay away from this unit myself. If you want to make a case for going here in tourneys: Chubb and Duke both have outside shots at upside, though this is obviously not the likeliest scenario, and each back carries dud potential into this game.

Even with this shift to a low-volume passing attack, Watson has a game with five passing touchdowns in this stretch, and another game with two passing touchdowns, 70 rushing yards, and a rushing touchdown — illustrating his ability to still pop for ceiling. He has also posted three absolute duds in this six game stretch, however, making him a truly boom/bust play at the moment. This shift in offensive identity has also turned Hopkins into a price-considered boom/bust option — making him a risk/reward play who falls shy on paper of those priced around him.

Lamar Miller is worth considering as a lower-priced back who can help you pay up in other spots while giving you a shot at 15 to 20 points. With a minimal pass game role and only four touchdowns on the year, the floor here is not exactly secure, but he should see close to 20 touches in a quality matchup, keeping him in the price-considered ceiling conversation.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 2nd 1:00pm Eastern

Broncos (
24.5) at

Bengals (
20.5)

Over/Under 45.0

Tweet
Notes

Key Matchups
Broncos Run D
5th DVOA/10th Yards allowed per carry
Bengals Run O
27th DVOA/26th Yards per carry
Broncos Pass D
9th DVOA/13th Yards allowed per pass
Bengals Pass O
26th DVOA/13th Yards per pass
Bengals Run D
23rd DVOA/28th Yards allowed per carry
Broncos Run O
20th DVOA/16th Yards per carry
Bengals Pass D
16th DVOA/25th Yards allowed per pass
Broncos Pass O
31st DVOA/26th Yards per pass

BRONCOS // BENGALS OVERVIEW

While both of these teams sit at 5-6 at the moment, they have gotten there in very different ways, with the Broncos winning each of their last two games and carrying an average scoring margin of 0.0, and with the Bengals losing three straight and entering this week with an average scoring margin of -6.5 — fourth worst in the league. The Bengals have placed Andy Dalton on I.R., and it feels very much like their season has been finished for a while in spite of their record saying otherwise. The Broncos, on the other hand, are trying to climb back into the AFC playoff picture, and with games across the next four weeks against the Bengals, 49ers, Browns, and Raiders, it would not be crazy to see them enter their Week 17 tilt against the Chargers with a shot to finish 10-6 and sneak into the final Wild Card spot.

Both of these teams rank top eight in pace of play, and neither team has been good at controlling games, with Denver ranked 29th in time of possession and Cincinnati ranked 31st. The combined time of possession for these two teams falls shy of 57 minutes, which should create opportunities for a few extra plays on either side of the ball. Things could be especially tough for a Bengals team that — even with Dalton — has posted the fourth worst three-and-out rate in the NFL. Denver ranks fifth in three-and-out rate forced on defense.

In spite of the Bengals ranking 31st in drive success rate allowed and 28th in red zone touchdown defense (leading to the most points per game allowed in the NFL), this game opened with an Over/Under of only 42.0 — the third lowest mark on the Main Slate. The Broncos have played five road games this season, and the only game among those five that fell shy of 42.0 came against the Ravens. All 11 Bengals games this year have topped 42.0, creating some sneaky opportunity for one or two players to matter more than the Vegas total suggests.

BRONCOS PASS OFFENSE

Only five teams are allowing a deeper average depth of target than the Bengals, and they rank middle of the pack in catch rate and YAC/R rate allowed — leading to a number 26 ranking in yards allowed per pass attempt, and providing Case Keenum with a quality matchup. Only four teams have allowed more completions to quarterbacks than the Bengals. Only one team has allowed more touchdowns. Only two teams have allowed more yards.

Keenum could use all the help he can get, as he has failed to top even 205 passing yards in three of his last five games, and he has been held to pass attempt numbers in this stretch of 21 // 34 // 42 // 32 // 28. His best bet for production is for the Bengals to take a lead and to force this offense to open things up through the air. With only 7.2 yards per pass attempt on the year, he could have a tough time piling up yardage if the pass attempts remain in the low 30s.

The “most reliable” piece in the Broncos’ passing attack has been Emmanuel Sanders — who has not been truly reliable compared to other name-value wide receivers, with recent bounce-around target counts of 7 // 4 // 9 // 6 // 12, but who does have six touchdowns on the season and five games of 86 or more yards (to go with five games under 60 yards). Quarterback play and his unpredictable target share are greater concerns than the matchup.

Behind Sanders, Courtland Sutton continues to see four to six targets each game. Sutton has exactly three catches and 58 or more yards in four of his last six games, which is a fair range for him in this spot. With a disappointing four red zone targets all season, he is having a difficult time scraping upside — but if he finally pairs an end zone visit with one of these 3-58+ games, he’ll become a useful piece at his price.

DaeSean Hamilton and Tim Patrick have yet to make an impact this season, and neither has seen enough usage for much optimism to exist. Jeff Heuerman has gone to I.R., taking his five targets per game with him. Matt LaCosse stepped in for 27 snaps, 14 pass routes, and four targets last week after Heuerman went down, turning these targets into three catches for 34 yards and a touchdown. Tight ends in this offense do not typically see “upside” looks, but LaCosse did pick up a pair of targets that came 15 yards downfield in last week’s tight end positive matchup against the Steelers. This is another quality tight end matchup against a Bengals team that has allowed the third most touchdowns, the third most receptions, and the fifth most yards to the position. Keenum has been a fan of his tight end this year, making LaCosse stand out as a guesswork-driven but likely-safe salary saver who should pick up three or four receptions on five or six targets.

BRONCOS RUN OFFENSE

It took the rest of the DFS universe some time to catch on, but by now the world is fully aware of the fact that the Bengals are one of the best teams in the NFL to attack with running backs. This team ranks 24th in yards allowed per carry, but more importantly, they rank 31st in drive success rate allowed and 28th in red zone touchdown defense — allowing opponents to put together long drives against them, and to finish these drives in the end zone. This is a perfect setup for spiked production from running backs — and through 11 games, no team in the NFL has allowed more touchdowns to the position. The Bengals rank 31st in time of possession and allow the second most opponent plays per game. With the fifth highest opponent rush play rate allowed, the Bengals have faced the fifth most running back rush attempts in the NFL.

This potential volume spike for the Broncos’ backfield is noteworthy, as this team has no grasp on the idea of the “sunk cost fallacy” — i.e., they continue to force-feed Royce Freeman eight or more touches week in and week out for seemingly no reason other than the fact that he was their higher 2018 draft pick. Freeman is averaging a respectable but unspectacular 4.2 yards per carry. The electric bundle of running back energy known as Phillip Lindsay is averaging 5.8 yards per carry, and he has at least one run of 20+ yards in four of his last five games. In his last three games sharing the field with Freeman, Lindsay has carry counts of 14 // 11 // 14, with target counts of 1 // 5 // 0. His worst yardage game in this stretch was 79 yards, and he has seven touchdowns on the season, giving him plenty of upside on his 14 to 18 looks. He played 63.2% of the Broncos’ snaps last week — a reasonable expectation again in this spot.

BENGALS PASS OFFENSE

The pass game matchup for the Bengals is nonthreatening this week against a Broncos team that ranks 25th in yards allowed per pass attempt, with a league-average aDOT and a league-average catch rate allowed. The Broncos have allowed middling production to the quarterback position (14th most touchdowns, 13th most completions, seventh most yards), and they have allowed wide receivers to pile up the seventh most catches in the league.

Of greater concern for the Bengals is the switch from Andy Dalton to Jeff Driskel — a plus athlete with a backup-caliber profile at the NFL level. Last week, Driskel completed a remarkable 16 of 18 passes between the numbers…while going a remarkably poor seven for 17 on passes outside the numbers. He especially struggled on passes to the right side of the field outside the numbers, going two for eight. In spite of the presence of Chris Harris in the slot, the Broncos have graded out as the number 23 pass defense over the middle by Football Outsiders’ metrics, while ranking fourth on the left side of the field and sixth on the right side. Harris himself has allowed an awesome-low 5.7 yards per pass attempt into his coverage, but he has allowed a 62.5% completion percentage, which will at least give Tyler Boyd opportunities to pick up receptions if the targets are there. Last week, JuJu Smith-Schuster picked up only two catches for nine yards in Harris’ coverage, but the Steelers were able to get him matched up on Bradley Roby for a 7-144-1 line in his coverage. (The Steelers accomplished this by kicking JuJu to the outside on a season-high 47 snaps, playing him in the slot a season-low 19 times — a perfect example of good coaching to out-scheme a matchup disadvantage.) Two weeks ago, Keenan Allen went 6-69-1 against Harris. Of course, Ben to JuJu and Rivers to Keenan is a better setup than Driskel to Boyd, but there will be opportunity for positive production if the targets pile up.

This passing attack has been dead weight behind Boyd, with John Ross catching only seven of 20 targets with A.J. Green on the sidelines, without topping 39 yards in any of these games, and with C.J. Uzomah somehow managing only 103 yards on 22 targets (4.7 yards per target) in this stretch.

The best case for this passing attack would be for Green to return this week and to match up with Roby for most of the game. Roby has given up 672 yards and five touchdowns already this year, and Green will be used on a few downfield routes over the middle of the field if he is out there in Week 13. He’ll carry obvious floor concerns attached to uncertain quarterback play, but he’ll have a shot at notching upside if everything falls into place in this spot.

BENGALS RUN OFFENSE

As explored in this space last week: the Broncos have a reputation this year as an attackable run defense — a reputation built when Isaiah Crowell and Todd Gurley blasted this team for 200+ rushing yards in back-to-back weeks on only 43 total carries. If we remove those two performances from the Broncos’ season, however, they have allowed only 3.75 yards per carry to running backs, and they have recently allowed 53 yards on 13 carries to James Conner, 69 yards on 18 carries to Melvin Gordon, and 50 yards on 16 carries to Kareem Hunt.

In better news for Joe Mixon: after nearly splitting snaps with Giovani Bernard in Week 11 (34 snaps for Mixon // 26 for Gio), Mixon took command in a Week 12 blowout loss, seeing 53 of a possible 74 snaps (71.6%) and touching the ball 21 times. Gio played only 31.1% of the snaps and touched the ball two times. The Bengals average under 60 plays per game (only the Cardinals and Dolphins run fewer plays), and the matchup is difficult, creating floor concerns for Mixon; but if he can touch the ball 20 times again, his chances of reaching upside will be non-awful in this spot.

JM’S INTERPRETATION

The Broncos’ passing attack doesn’t pop off the page with Keenum under center, but it won’t be surprising if Keenum posts a solid quarterback score, and there is certainly opportunity for Manny Sanders or even our boy Sutton to become a difference-maker on the slate. Each guy carries decent floor for his price on this team that has a narrow distribution of targets, and each carries strong point-per-dollar ceiling — likely creating room for Tier 3 placement this week. Behind these guys, LaCosse is no Ebron (he’s even no Njoku), but a solid game at a bottom-barrel price is not a poor bet. LaCosse could matter on this slate if he punches in another touchdown.

The Broncos’ backfield is not a standout spot, but Lindsay is intriguing for the pure per-play upside he carries in any week — with this per-play upside enhanced in a matchup like this. There is also an outside shot that Freeman punches in multiple touchdowns on his eight to 12 touches.

The Bengals’ passing attack is difficult to get excited about, but it is likely that we see the Bengals lean on the run early…only to fail, and to be forced to the air. It won’t be crazy for Driskel to pile up around 250 passing yards and a couple touchdowns, making him a risky but viable salary saver at quarterback.

The Bengals have not given Boyd more than 16 perimeter snaps in any game this year, and they have shown little ability to adjust based on matchup — opening risk that Boyd is stuck on Harris most of the day and goes for low yardage (or low efficiency) on his looks. But if Green is out again, Boyd will certainly be locked into targets — creating slim opportunity for him to hit.

If Green returns, he will also be a risky play given the reality that most of his targets will come outside the numbers — where Driskel struggled last week, and where the Broncos have been strongest; but Green does get some run over the deep middle, giving him opportunity to hit for a big play or two. He’ll carry steady touchdown upside in this spot as well.

I’ll have no significant interest in the Bengals’ backfield, as the Broncos have been tough on the ground, and Mixon’s workload is still a bit insecure. If you want to go here, realize that it’s not impossible for the Bengals’ lead back to crack a hundred yards and/or score a couple touchdowns, but the matchup is a challenge, and Mixon mixes in some risk of a dud in this spot as well.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 2nd 1:00pm Eastern

Colts (
24.75) at

Jaguars (
20.75)

Over/Under 45.5

Tweet
Notes

Key Matchups
Colts Run D
6th DVOA/3rd Yards allowed per carry
Jaguars Run O
17th DVOA/30th Yards per carry
Colts Pass D
3rd DVOA/2nd Yards allowed per pass
Jaguars Pass O
21st DVOA/19th Yards per pass
Jaguars Run D
22nd DVOA/29th Yards allowed per carry
Colts Run O
22nd DVOA/28th Yards per carry
Jaguars Pass D
32nd DVOA/27th Yards allowed per pass
Colts Pass O
15th DVOA/10th Yards per pass

COLTS // JAGUARS OVERVIEW

This Sunday, the 6-5 Colts will carry their five game win streak to Jacksonville, where they will take on a reeling, 3-8 Jaguars team that is riding seven consecutive losses and is fresh off firing offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, who was handcuffed all year by the irresponsible play of Blake Bortles. Bortles is also on the outs in Jacksonville, as he has been benched for Cody Kessler, who is better equipped than Bortles to do the one thing the Jags have been asking him to do all year: not make mistakes. While the Colts have been on fire this year on offense — racking up the fourth most points per game in the league (behind only the Saints, Chiefs, and Rams) — the Jaguars have tumbled to 28th in points per game. The Colts play at the fastest pace in the NFL and rank sixth in plays per game, while the Jags have been playing at the eighth fastest pace and come into this game ranked seventh in plays per game.

This will not be the easiest game for scoring, as the Vikings are the only team in football that has allowed fewer passing touchdowns than the Jags, and the Jags’ offense has shown an inability all season to produce big point totals when they have the ball. Vegas opened this game with an aggressive Over/Under of 48.5, with Indy installed as slim three point favorites. The Over/Under was quickly bet down to 47.5, and the Colts were quickly bet up to -4.5.

COLTS PASS OFFENSE

In spite of the colossal disappointment that their season has been, the Jaguars have continued to hang tight against the pass — allowing the second lowest catch rate in the NFL, while shaving almost 4% off the league-average YAC/R rate. Only one team has allowed fewer receptions to wide receivers. No team has allowed fewer touchdowns to wide receivers. Only five teams have allowed fewer yards.

When these teams met a few weeks ago, Andrew Luck was called on to throw only 29 times (even with an incredible streak of eight consecutive games with three or more touchdown passes — the best streak since Tom Brady’s historic 2007 season — Luck has recent pass attempt numbers of 23 // 31 // 29 // 29 // 37; three of these games were blowout wins, and another came against the Jags with the Colts running only 55 plays, so these numbers should be taken with a grain of salt), and seven of these targets went to T.Y. Hilton — a solid 24.1% target rate that falls right in line with the 24.6% rate that Hilton has across his last four games. If the Colts run more plays in this spot than they did last time around, Luck could fire off 35 or more pass attempts and Hilton could be in line for eight to 10 looks. He went 3-77-0 on his seven looks in Week 10. The matchup lowers the floor here, but Hilton still carries week-winning upside for his ability to score from anywhere on the field. Optimally, the Colts would move Hilton into the slot a bit more in this matchup to get him away from Jalen Ramsey, but he played only 12 snaps from the slot last time around (28.6% — right in line with his 31% rate on the season).

Behind Hilton, Dontrelle Inman has surprisingly notched recent target counts of 7 // 4 // 6 // 4, going for 34 to 52 yards in each of these games. He continues to play only a portion of this team’s snaps, but he is being fed respectable target counts regardless. Upside, of course, is a long shot in this spot.

Ryan Grant, Chester Rogers, and Zach Pascal are all seeing time on the field, but none of them are seeing enough consistent work to matter.

The man who stands out the most, of course, is our old pal Eric Ebron, who will step into the number one tight end role with Jack Doyle headed to I.R. When Doyle missed time earlier in the year, Ebron’s target counts looked like this:

11 // 10 // 15 // 7 // 7

Only eight teams have allowed fewer catches to tight ends than the Jags this year, and only 11 teams have allowed fewer yards, but this is the most attackable position against the elite Jacksonville defense. Ebron projects to be a big part of whatever passing the Colts do, so volume is not a concern. The matchup introduces some opportunity for Ebron to fail, if you want to bet against the field in this spot; but the likeliest scenario in this offense, at his volume, has him posting an average game at worst, with obvious upside for difference-making production.

If you want to dig deep in this spot, Mo Alie-Cox should step into two to five targets with Doyle out. When these teams last played, 10 of Luck’s 29 passes went to tight ends, with Alie-Cox seeing a season-high four looks. Ebron will soak up the bulk of the tight end work, but the number two on this team will see at least a couple looks, creating thin opportunity for upside.

COLTS RUN OFFENSE

The Jaguars continue to play top-end run defense, allowing only 3.54 yards per carry to running backs on the season when we take away the “only Saquon could do it” run that Saquon Barkley had against them in Week 1. The Jaguars have also allowed only five touchdowns to running backs (the fewest in the NFL), and only two teams have allowed fewer running back receptions than the 44 the Jaguars have given up.

When these teams met in Week 10, Marlon Mack carried the ball 12 times for 29 yards — mixing in two receptions for nine yards. If he is cleared from his concussion in time to play this week, a fair projection for him is 16 to 18 touches, giving him a low floor to go with the thin upside his talent and workload will provide a shot for. If Mack misses, it will likely be Jordan Wilkins handling work on early downs with