Week 13 Matchups

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Hey, fam; in the voice note above, I break down my Week 12 exposures and take a look at how I ended up on the roster that won the Wildcat. This builds off much of what we’ve been talking about over the last few weeks (and, frankly, over much of the season!). Here’s the winning roster from that contest:

Baker Mayfield
Phillip Lindsay
Leonard Fournette
Jarvis Landry
DeVante Parker
Allen Hurns
Chris Godwin
Zach Ertz
Saints

And with that: Happy Thanksgiving!!! Let’s get to it.


Kickoff Thursday, Nov 28th 12:30pm Eastern

Bears (
21.25) at

Lions (
15.75)

Over/Under 37.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Bears Run D
11th DVOA/14th Yards allowed per carry
Lions Run O
13th DVOA/15th Yards per carry
Bears Pass D
2nd DVOA/10th Yards allowed per pass
Lions Pass O
19th DVOA/22nd Yards per pass
Lions Run D
30th DVOA/29th Yards allowed per carry
Bears Run O
28th DVOA/28th Yards per carry
Lions Pass D
12th DVOA/15th Yards allowed per pass
Bears Pass O
24th DVOA/23rd Yards per pass

Welcome to the Thanksgiving slate — a DFS community favorite (and a slate I often expect to not play myself, because it’s “too few games” — and then end up playing anyway). DraftKings has gone ahead and included all three games from Thanksgiving on the “Main Slate,” while FanDuel and FantasyDraft have done the same. No time to waste, then; let’s dive in!

I toyed around with the idea of building this slate as one giant writeup, as the best way to view a three-game slate is through the lens of “all the games together,” rather than just “one game at a time.” When we have a one-game slate, of course, only that game matters; and when we get up to 10+ games, the most important thing is to have a handle on each game environment before thinking about how a game matches up against others, or how ownership will shake out, etc. But when we have three games, every decision you make should be built off the fact that there are only three games to choose from. Because having a handle on each game environment is still a vital part of all this, however, I’m going to shift things in two ways:

1) We’re going to skip the “Interpretation” section in the individual games, and hit only game environment and matchup elements first.

2) At the bottom of the third game (Saints at Falcons), we’ll have a “slate strategy” section that wraps all the thoughts together.

Finally, there is a unique aspect of slates this small in that more players are actually viable, rather than fewer. Because there are so few players to choose from, it is often the random, lower-owned player no one is rostering who ends up being the difference-maker on the slate. As such, we’ll gain a clear idea as we move through these games of which players are likeliest to hit; but we’ll also leave paths open along the way to consider some players who may be less-clearly-attractive.

Bears at Lions, Game Environment // Matchups ::

While Jeff Driskel missed “practice” on Monday and is questionable with a hamstring issue, we’ll approach this game assuming he plays. If he misses, it will be 24-year-old undrafted rookie David Blough under center against the Bears, which will leave the entire Lions offense as nothing more than a hope-and-pray option, while also increasing the likelihood of a run-heavy game from the Bears. Blough is undersized and had an issue with interceptions at Purdue, while his 1.0 yards per carry in college don’t exactly point to the same sort of freewheeling excitement Driskel has brought to the table. //

While it isn’t something that’s often talked about in the NFL (we see this a lot in baseball, where a hitter is better at hitting a particular type of pitch), quarterbacks can perform better or worse against certain types of looks and certain styles of defense. And through his first two years on the job with the Lions, Matt Patricia has not been able to come up with a look that has given Mitchell Trubisky trouble, as this man-heavy defense with a bad pass rush has allowed Mitch to go 39 of 53 (73.6%) for 528 yards and six touchdowns across two starts. Most of the yardage on that line came from last year (when Trubisky averaged 7.4 yards per pass attempt on the season, compared to a pathetic 5.5 this season), but the Lions boost the league-average aDOT by 27% (the largest boost in the league), and Mitch notched 7.4 yards per pass attempt in this matchup earlier this year. This slate is surprisingly full of viable quarterbacks; but while Trubisky’s floor remains low, he does have sneaky-viable paths to ceiling this week against a Lions defense that has allowed the fifth most passing touchdowns in the league while picking off the fewest passes.

When Trubisky takes to the air, his primary target will be Allen Robinson, who will do battle with Darius Slay — whom PFF has charted with 15.0 yards allowed per catch…but with only 2.7 catches allowed per game. After Amari Cooper faced off with Darius Slay in Week 11, he talked about how there are some routes that you simply cannot run against Slay, and so you have to beat him with a more limited route tree. A-Rob went 6-133-2 against the Lions last year in a game Slay missed, while posting 6-86-0 on nine targets against Slay earlier this year. Slay presents a difficult matchup, but Trubisky remains a bigger obstacle in A-Rob’s path toward success — and if Trubisky is on, A-Rob will have a chance to go for one of his higher-end games.

Behind A-Rob, things get a bit more muddled, as it appears likely that Taylor Gabriel will miss this game with a concussion — yet even with that, we won’t have a guaranteed full-time role for Anthony Miller, who saw target counts of 3 // 7 in the games Gabriel missed earlier this year. Miller has had to share some of his snaps with Javon Wims in two of the Bears’ last three games, but Wims was the direct fill-in for Gabriel earlier this year, which should at least lock in snaps for Miller. He has 11 // 9 targets across his last two games, but he went only 3 // 1 // 2 in the games before that, and it isn’t as if Gabriel is leaving behind a basket full of targets. Miller is likeliest to benefit in this spot if A) the Bears are forced to lean on the pass, or B) Slay slows down Robinson. The Bears will likely need Driskel to start (and play well) in order to lean on the pass. Miller does have a respectable aDOT of 10.5, which is enough to give him paths to upside if the usage is there. Wims saw 5 // 1 targets in the two games Gabriel missed earlier this year and is a “bet on a pass-heavy game from the Bears, or bet on a big play hitting” option.

For most of the season, Tarik Cohen has seen around four to six carries and four to six targets, and the likeliest scenario for this game has him sticking in that range (with some opportunity for a spike), while the biggest risk in this game — from a fantasy perspective — is that the Bears control this game pretty thoroughly and lean on David Montgomery (recent yards per carry of 2.9 // 3.5 // 2.2 // 1.7) once again as an ineffective focal point. I think Montgomery will surprise some people next year, but with how bad this offensive line has been, and with Montgomery likely hitting something of a “rookie wall” this late in the year, he has primarily been operating as little more than a drain on the clock at this point. Consider him an “embrace a low floor to bet on usage-driven ceiling” option.

When a pair of division opponents play each other the second time around, it is not unusual to see these teams take a different approach in Game Two — which is an interesting note after the last game between these teams featured the Lions throwing 46 times with Jeff Driskel in a 13-20 loss (while the Bears picked up 23 pass attempts and 24 runs). If this were two weeks ago, we could believe that the Lions would continue to go pass-heavy regardless, given that they had no run game, though with this team unearthing Bo Scarbrough, we could see a more balanced approach this week. Injuries have turned the Bears run defense into an attackable unit, and Scarbrough is an extreme yardage-and-touchdown back (16 carries per game across the last two weeks, but only one total target). He’s a low-floor, touchdown-dependent bet; but especially if Driskel misses, he has a chance to be the engine of this offense (and of course, if Driskel plays, Scarbrough has a chance to be this year’s LeGarrette Blount — who popped in two touchdowns against the Bears on Thanksgiving last year).

Even if Driskel plays, we’re still likely to see the Lions go a little less pass-heavy this time around, and on a slate with Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, Dak Prescott, and Josh Allen, Driskel at home against the Bears will rank just below Trubisky in the QB rankings. With that said: Driskel’s aDOT of 8.6 (while not in the same class as Stafford’s league-leading mark of 10.7) is providing him with enough per-pass upside to matter, and his 50.3 rushing yards per game have allowed him to average 20.7 fantasy points per game since taking over, with only one game below 19 points. The Bears rank top eight in pass defense DVOA, while only San Francisco is forcing a shallower average depth of target. Only five teams are allowing fewer fantasy points per game to quarterbacks than Chicago, with this defense giving up, on average, one passing touchdown per game. Driskel is a “bet on aggressiveness and potential volume” play.

While this concentrated, still-somewhat-vertically-minded passing attack has still been able to produce usable fantasy lines since Stafford went down, slate-breakers have been much tougher to come by. Kenny Golladay has seen target counts of 9 // 5 // 4 with Driskel, but this has turned into only eight total catches, and he caught only three of nine targets in Chicago a few weeks ago, making him a bet-on-talent play. Marvin Jones has gone 5 // 5 // 11 with Driskel, and the Lions have been using him as a shorter-area piece in this offense in this stretch. Touchdowns or broken plays are required right now for him to reach ceiling.

Behind these guys, J.D. McKissic has seen target counts of 4 // 7 // 4 // 2 the last few weeks, while Danny Amendola has gone for yardage totals of 29 // 47 // 21 with Driskel under center. Both of these guys are “betting on a touchdown” right now — while the same can be said of whoever starts at tight end this week.

Xandamere’s Bonus Showdown Notes! ::

I’ve compiled some showdown thoughts for each of the games on the Thanksgiving slate! One interesting thing to take advantage of on a short slate with a showdown for each game is to look at prices on the showdowns and on the full slate and try to find some leverage points. They aren’t directly equivalent (for example, Javon Wims is $200 in the first showdown, but the minimum price on the full slate is $3,000), but you can find some leverage points and go overweight in the spots in which you’re getting the pricing advantage. For example, if we look at the first showdown, we have Allen Robinson as the most expensive player at $10,200, then we have a cluster of the Bears running backs and the Lions receivers, all piled up between $8,000 and $8,800. On the full slate, the Bears running backs are $5,400 and $5,000 and Marvin Jones is $5,300, while Golladay is $6,100. Golladay stands out here; if you’re just trying to find leverage points based on price, you could go overweight on him in the showdown and underweight on the main slate in order to take advantage of the pricing differences. 

  • The big news to wait on here is Driskel. If he’s out, we get a starting QB at just $6,200. He’s not a good starting QB, but volume is valuable at the highest floor position. 
  • If Blough starts for the Lions, expect Bears D to be VERY chalky. They have a great matchup, of course, but keep in mind that defense is the highest variance position (by far). 
  • LaGarrette Blount won me a lot of money in this exact matchup last Thanksgiving when nobody played him and he scored 2 touchdowns at something like 10% ownership. Scarbrough is going to be higher than 10% owned, of course, but just your regular reminder that running backs with goal line roles have value on small slates. 
  • As if we needed any more value, Javon Wims should be starting for Taylor Gabriel and he’s stone minimum at $200. I’m not even sure what to do with all of this extra salary.
  • Both of these teams are likely to want to run the ball a lot (Detroit especially), and as long as the game stays close, that’s likely going to be how things go. Plan your exposure to receivers carefully; it’s hard to see either of these teams really supporting more than one receiver unless they fall way behind and throw more than expected, so build accordingly.

Kickoff Thursday, Nov 28th 4:30pm Eastern

Bills (
20) at

Cowboys (
26.5)

Over/Under 46.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Bills Run D
24th DVOA/25th Yards allowed per carry
Cowboys Run O
18th DVOA/23rd Yards per carry
Bills Pass D
28th DVOA/24th Yards allowed per pass
Cowboys Pass O
22nd DVOA/1st Yards per pass
Cowboys Run D
29th DVOA/31st Yards allowed per carry
Bills Run O
32nd DVOA/27th Yards per carry
Cowboys Pass D
21st DVOA/18th Yards allowed per pass
Bills Pass O
4th DVOA/6th Yards per pass

Bills at Cowboys, Game Environment // Matchups ::

This game presents us with an interesting setup, as the Cowboys have racked up their fair share of doubters for “not yet having beaten a team with a winning record” — but this week, they’ll be hosting an 8-3 Bills team that has lost to New England, Philly, and Cleveland, while beating up on the Jets, Giants, Bengals, Dolphins (twice), Redskins, and Broncos. Their only “signature win” came against a currently 6-5 Titans squad. Both of these defenses are top six in yards allowed and points allowed, but both rank middle of the pack in DVOA. I do still think the Bills are better than their DVOA ranking (with much of the same personnel a year ago, they ranked second in overall DVOA), but their lack of pass rush and their issues at corner away from Tre’Davious White keep them more “fringe top 10 defense” for me than truly “shy-away unit.”

The closest thing to a shy-away matchup, of course, belongs to Amari Cooper as he does battle with Tre’Davious White. Cooper has been slowed by Slay and Stephon Gilmore the last couple weeks, though it also seems likely he has been slowed by his knee issue. White has allowed zero touchdowns (per PFF) and picked off four passes, so this is definitely a “bet on talent over matchup” spot.

While Amari runs into a difficult matchup, this will swing an easier matchup into the direction of Michael Gallup, who will do battle with Levi Wallace (as we explored last week: a winnable matchup for a number two receiver). In Buffalo’s run of soft matchups, they have played over half their games against teams that rank bottom six in pass offense DVOA, and the only teams they have faced that rank above 19th were the Patriots and Eagles. When the Browns played the Bills, Odell Beckham went 5-57-0 on 12 targets, while Jarvis Landry went 9-97-1 on 10 targets. There is a solid chance Gallup is in a better spot than the overall numbers on the season for the Bills would make it appear.

Over the last three weeks, apparently no-longer-washed-up Randall Cobb has benefitted from an Oprah game against Minnesota (“You get a car! You get a car! You get a car!”) and from two games in which Amari got checked by an elite corner and allowed extra targets to flow his way, with a likeliest range that is somewhere in the middle of the two extremes he has put on display this season (41 or fewer yards in half of his games; 69+ and a touchdown in another 40% of his game, with a touchdown in three of those four contests) — but it’s worth keeping in mind that those extremes exist. With Amari dealing with White, there is obviously opportunity for the higher-end of that extreme to pop up again.

This season, Ezekiel Elliott has not been seeing the same usage we were used to seeing from him las year (three or fewer targets in seven games; under 20 carries in five games), but the Bills are undeniably attackable on the ground, ranking 27th in DVOA against the run and allowing 4.61 yards per carry to running backs. Although Zeke has only six carries inside the five-yard-line, this team as a whole has not produced many plays inside the 10, and Zeke has the most red zone carries in the NFL. He has no multi-touchdown games, which is statistically fluky at this point.

While it isn’t impossible for other players on this offense to hit, your options are essentially “hoping to get lucky on a big play or two from Tony Pollard” (12 snaps last week) or “maybe I’ll guess right on a Cowboys tight end touchdown on an ugly tight end slate” vs a Bills team that has faced the fewest tight end targets in the NFL across the last two seasons.

On the other side of the ball, Dallas is built toward taking away downfield passing and taking away wide receiver targets — though as noted often in this space (seventh fewest wide receiver targets allowed this year; 10th fewest last year), they are not quite as effective in this area as they would like to be, making them more of a “slightly lowers expectations if we played out this slate a hundred times” defense than a true, shy-away matchup. Vegas has the Dallas offense currently pegged 25.75 points in this spot (just a couple clicks behind the Saints on this slate), and while there is some risk, there is a solid chance that this Cowboys offense (which ranks first in DVOA — third running the ball; third passing the ball) will do well enough to eventually force the Bills to keep pace.

The base offense for the Bills (so to speak) has John Brown and Cole Beasley as the clearest bets for volume in the pass game (with Isaiah McKenzie filling a “hope for busted play to pick up yardage” role behind these two), while Dawson Knox (recent target counts of 2 // 6 // 3 // 2) continues to split some of his reps with Tyler Kroft (1 // 0 // 1 // 1). As we’re well aware, the Dallas defense filters targets to tight ends (seventh most in the league), creating an outside chance that Knox gets more involved this week.

Last week against Chris Harris, John Brown ran into his first game of the season in which he finished below 50 receiving yards (finally leaving Michael Thomas as the only player in the league with 50+ in every game), while last week was also his first game finishing below five targets. He has eight or more targets in six of 11 games and has now hauled in five touchdowns. Behind JB, Beasley returns to face his old team as a solid floor option for this concentrated Bills attack who rarely sees his targets spike, but who rarely “disappoints” as well. Beasley has four touchdowns on the year of his own.

In the Bills backfield, Devin Singletary played 70% snaps last week, giving him 66% to 72% of the snaps in every one of his fully healthy games this year (and pretty firmly locking that in as his expected range), and while his carries spike when the Bills have a lead, he’s also the passing down back on this squad, giving him some level of game flow independence. He has recent touch counts of 23 // 11 // 16 // 22 and has four to six targets as his likeliest range. Unfortunately, Frank Gore (20) has doubled Singletary’s red zone carries (10), while absolutely dominating work inside the five (10 :: 2) — creating one of those most frustrating of backfield splits, in which one guy has the most valuable role between the 20s but needs some good fortune to hit for a touchdown. As for Gore: I recall when — during his absolute prime — he was considered to be a guy with an outside shot at Hall of Fame consideration. With his staying power, he’s now the NFL’s third-all-time rushing leader — which all but makes him a lock for the Hall of Fame. (That has nothing to do with this game, but it’s still wild.) Gore has nine to 11 carries in four of Singletary’s six fully healthy games (with outliers of five carries and 15 carries — and with this game, as a road underdog, likelier to land him on the lower end than the higher). He’ll need a number of things to break his way in order to have value in this spot.

Finally — given the way this game sets up — Josh Allen and Dak Prescott both join this surprisingly robust quarterback pool on the slate. If it proves that the Buffalo defense isn’t all the surface numbers make it seem, and if their lack of pass rush hurts them in a big way in this spot, Dak could get going, and Allen could get aggressive in return. There is obviously opportunity for these two squads to turn in a more grinding affair, but there is also opportunity for this game to take off as it moves along, with Dak and the Cowboys passing attack the likeliest drivers of a back-and-forth affair.

Xandamere’s Bonus Showdown Notes! ::

  • We get some wonderful pricing leverage in this game. Dawson Knox is $4,400 while Blake Jarwin is $3,000. On the full day slate, Jarwin is more expensive than Knox. Great leverage spot. (See notes at the bottom of the Bears // Lions game for Xandamere’s thoughts on how to handle these pricing leverage spots.)
  • Zeke is objectively the best skill position play, but he’s also very expensive and the Cowboys aren’t using him in the run game like they did last year. 
  • The receivers in this game are kind of tough to pick apart as the top 5 guys are priced really close. When price is considered, I’d rank them Gallup, Brown, Amari, Cobb, Beasley. See JM’s writeup for more thoughts on the matchups here!
  • Singletary is awfully spendy for a guy who isn’t seeing 18+ touches per week. Gore is awfully cheap for a guy who is still seeing 9-13 or so touches per week and who is hogging all of the goal line work.

Kickoff Thursday, Nov 28th 8:20pm Eastern

Saints (
27.5) at

Falcons (
20.5)

Over/Under 48.0

Tweet
Notes

Key Matchups
Saints Run D
4th DVOA/6th Yards allowed per carry
Falcons Run O
26th DVOA/19th Yards per carry
Saints Pass D
15th DVOA/19th Yards allowed per pass
Falcons Pass O
16ths DVOA/2nd Yards per pass
Falcons Run D
8th DVOA/5th Yards allowed per carry
Saints Run O
12th DVOA/18th Yards per carry
Falcons Pass D
30th DVOA/31st Yards allowed per pass
Saints Pass O
14th DVOA/12th Yards per pass

Saints at Falcons, Game Environment // Matchups ::

On Thanksgiving night (while my family is, for some reason, watching the remake of Miracle on 34th Street for the 28th time), the Saints will be looking to exact revenge on the Falcons for their surprising Week 10 home loss. As a division game, this is an “anything can happen” spot; though with the Falcons generally succeeding on defense from assignment-strong play rather than from talent, it would take quite a miracle for them to hold down the precision-based Saints attack for a second time in a month. On a slate this small, there are other ways to play things, but we’ll head into this matchup expecting that Vegas is correct in pegging the Saints with an implied total of 27.75.

Note: “If Julio Misses” thoughts can be found in the Wide Receiver section at the bottom of this writeup.

While it’s a bit early in the year for this, it’s probably worth coming out and noting that the Saints are one of the few teams in football that is somewhat obvious in their interest in “records.” As if you needed a reason to consider Michael Thomas to be one of the most solid options on this slate: he needs to average “only” eight catches per game down the stretch to set the new single-season record for catches (passing Marvin Harrison’s mark of 143). While winning is obviously the primary focus for this Saints team, Thomas is the engine behind those wins, and his usage has been as locked-in as any player’s in football. In his five games with Drew Brees under center, he has topped 100 yards five times while catching 10+ passes in four (eight catches in the other) and scoring three touchdowns. What he’s doing this year isn’t flashy, as it’s just precision-based, short and intermediate throws to a guy with an incredible ability to give his quarterback space to throw — but with the volume cooperating, it is that same lack of flash that is giving him such a high floor to go with his ceiling.

Behind Mike, this passing attack (outside of tight end and running back) dries up quickly, with Ted Ginn and Tre’Quan Smith combining for eight total catches across their last four games. The Saints are getting their money’s worth out of Michael Thomas.

The Saints are also getting their money’s worth out of Jared Cook lately, with target counts of 10 // 2 // 8 since his return to the field. Cook has 74+ yards in each of those higher-target games — though given that this is an ugly tight end slate (extremely ugly if Austin Hooper misses), it’s also interesting to note that Tampa is almost as bad against tight ends as the Cardinals, and that was the matchup in which his two-target game came. There is plenty of upside on Cook, but he’s never exactly been known for locked-in floor.

On the flip side of that: Alvin Kamara has been absolutely incapable of popping off for ceiling throughout most of this season (incredibly, he has 50 or fewer receiving yards in six consecutive games, in spite of seeing catch totals in that stretch of 5 // 6 // 7 // 8 // 10 // 9). Kamara has been the ultimate floor option without providing ceiling — but while this has made him a strong fade on the Main Slate for all but one game this year, he’s a game flow independent back on a small slate with limited options at the position. Given where Kamara and Thomas are both priced, they’ll likely need a true shootout to hit together; but if the touchdowns all flow through one guy, that one guy could leave the other in the dust in terms of providing paths to first place in a tourney.

The viability of Kamara on this slate is especially enhanced by the presence of Bears // Lions earlier and the Atlanta backfield in this one. If Devonta Freeman is able to make it back for this game, he’ll be at slight risk of being eased back in, though a quick flip through his game logs shows the sort of floor he has been providing in most games this year in his multi-usage role (just over four receptions per game). He would still be running behind a bad offensive line, but his pass game role and potential for touchdowns would keep him in the mix.

It seems likelier, however, that Devonta will miss another game and the Falcons will be left with an ugly, split backfield that leaves you simply throwing up a prayer if you go here. Brian Hill is now averaging 2.8 yards per carry, while Qadree Ollison is averaging 2.6.

While this split backfield has been without value, this passing attack has become more concentrated with Mohamed Sanu traded, Austin Hooper missing in action, and Devonta Freeman no longer around to soak up outlet targets, with the biggest beneficiary so far having been Calvin Ridley, who has gone for 8 // 14 targets in his last two games after having gone for 8+ in only two other games this season. Ridley’s 14 targets came with Matt Ryan throwing 46 times, while his eight targets came with Ryan throwing 31 times — good for an impressive 28.6% target share. Touchdowns have boosted Ridley’s scores, and will thus boost attention on him, but he’s in the thick of the mix.

Russell Gage has also been in the thick of the mix lately, with target counts of 9 // 5 // 4 // 10 in his last four games — finally popping off last week for an 8-78-0 line. The best way to view Gage is through the lens of Mohamed Sanu, as he has largely taken over the role/responsibilities that Sanu left behind.

The best way to view Julio Jones, meanwhile, is as an inconsistent high-priced piece who can break any slate he’s in. Last week, DJ Moore hit New Orleans in the absence of Marshon Lattimore, but two weeks ago the Saints checked Mike Evans, and three weeks ago Julio went only 3-79-0 on nine targets against them with Lattimore MIA. Lattimore is iffy once again (and if he plays: he lowers Julio’s chances of a price-considered smash, but paths will still exist, as he has been able to at least pick up respectable yardage in this matchup in the past), but the biggest obstacle to elite production for Julio is his usage, with only three games of double-digit looks this year (only one in his last nine) and a disappointing nine targets in the red zone (which he has converted into seven catches and three touchdowns). Julio does have seven or more targets in every game this year and nine or more in all but three, so consider him what he has been all year: a guy whose general production you wouldn’t take at his price if you could look at it without the name — but whose name can never be fully separated from the production, as he’s one of the rare players in the NFL who can post a score that puts everything else out of reach.

Slate Strategy ::

More often than not this year, the Bears have still been able to find a way to put up 55+ non-Trubisky DK/FDraft points most weeks, which creates a few interesting approaches for builds on this slate. The likeliest setup here has these points being spread out in such a way that everyone on the Bears is a bit of a price-considered disappointment, but there are also scenarios in which A) Allen Robinson fails, and one or even two others post a really nice price-considered score as a result, B) Robinson soaks up all the Upside work in the pass game and smashes while everyone else on this team disappoints, or C) Trubisky comes out hot and supports both Robinson and another player, and/or supports a pass catcher before David Montgomery seals off the win. Tight ends are pure darts in this offense right now, but David Montgomery // Tarik Cohen // Anthony Miller // Javon Wims (in roughly that order) are the likeliest bets to hit behind Robinson.

On the Lions side, it’s difficult to see Golladay paying off salary even if Driskel starts, while the rest will need touchdowns to float value (with likely disappointments if you don’t land on the touchdown). The best thing to say about this spot is that it will almost certainly be low-owned.

The field is likely sharp enough to know that Tre’Davious White presents a tough matchup for an opposing alpha receiver, which could lower Amari’s ownership to a point where he’s somewhat attractive as a leverage play in tourneys; though the likeliest scenario in this spot has Gallup and/or Cobb producing. Upside leans Gallup with an aDOT 2.4 yards deeper than Cobb’s and a more explosive skill set, though Cobb’s aDOT of 9.7 is a perfectly fine mark as well, and he has shown he’s in the mix. Also, of course, Zeke is very viable on a three game slate, with a razor-thin edge on Kamara as a home favorite running back who plays nearly 90% of the snaps.

All of Josh Allen, John Brown, Cole Beasley, and Devin Singletary are viable on this slate as well. It’s interesting that pricing doesn’t separate much between the Bills receivers and the Cowboys receivers on DK. Both offenses are concentrated, and Dallas is likelier to pop, but that doesn’t take away the fact that JB and Singletary have clear paths to a top three score at their position, while Beasley and Knox have an outside shot at mattering on a slate this size.

On paper, Michael Thomas is the top play on this slate from both a floor and ceiling standpoint, while Kamara and Cook are very strong on this slate as well. The rest of this offense is just hoping to guess right on a multi-touchdown performance (Latavius) or a long play or two (Ginn // Tre’Quan — with the two splitting pass routes roughly down the middle last week).

On the Falcons side, things get diluted if Hooper plays, but that would also open up the field a bit. Gage would seemingly be the player likeliest to see his volume take a hit, though Sanu and Hooper have hit together; I actually think it might be Ridley who dips the most with a Hooper return, as he has seemingly benefitted most directly off of Hooper’s absence. Both Gage and Ridley, of course, are very much in play if Hooper misses, while Julio will be a “risk-embracing ceiling piece” as the player among the four highest-priced (minus Amari on FanDuel) with the highest likelihood of a relative dud, but with more than enough upside to break the slate if he hits.

If Multi-Entering ::

If multi-entering this slate with a single-entry mindset, my recommendation would be to pick a few key spots to fade, and to build around the various scenarios elsewhere. For example: you could fade the Lions 100% and choose one or two moderately popular players/spots to fade entirely; you could choose to bet 100% (or close to 100%) on a player like Michael Thomas; and then you could mix and match from there — positioning yourself for a monster day if your key bets (fades + core plays) hit.

If Single-Entering ::

If single-entering (or just looking for more “Player Grid”-type thoughts), here’s how I would rank players myself. This isn’t necessarily “the order in which I think they’ll score” so much as it’s a ranking of who has the best shot at topping the slate.

Quarterback ::

Dak Prescott
Drew Brees
Matt Ryan
Josh Allen
Mitchell Trubisky
Jeff Driskel

The top four could be rearranged in any order and I wouldn’t have an argument. Ryan and Allen have the lowest floors of the top four (I flipped their positions multiple times as well; Ryan is likelier to hit for a ceiling game, but the ceiling Allen can reach if he hits is higher than the ceiling Ryan can hit). Trubisky is viable as well for me. I’ll probably avoid Driskel myself, but anything is viable on a three-game slate.

Running back ::

Zeke
Kamara
Singletary
Montgomery
Latavius
Tarik
Bo
Gore

Pollard // Mckissic // Atlanta is somewhere near bottom. The top two are in their own category, followed by Singletary on his own. Then Montgomery on his own. Followed by two final tiers: Latavius // Tarik || Bo // Gore.

Tuesday night note :: Devonta Freeman now appears on track to play. If he plays his full 70% of snaps, he slots in just in front of or behind Singletary. Montgomery actually has a better shot at a multi-touchdown game, but if he misses, he’s likely to miss much harder than Freeman. Freeman will also likely take a couple targets away from wideouts, though not enough to put a major dent in expectations there. Hooper returning would be expected to create a bigger shift for Falcons pass catchers.

Wide receivers ::

There are lots of good options here, with Thomas // Dallas // Atlanta on the same slate, and with Buffalo boasting a solid, concentrated attack as well. Chicago is capable of producing tourney-winning scores, and even the Lions can have a case made, with a pair of elite receivers.

Thomas has the highest floor and ceiling on this slate, while the following players (in this order, for me) have legitimate shots at the top score on the slate :: Julio // Gallup // Ridley // A-Rob // JB // Amari. Everything after Julio could be rearranged in any order, and as we know, Julio is no pure lock to hit — even if his ceiling is the highest. Cobb comes next for me, followed by Gage // Beasley // Anthony Miller, followed by Wims and the two elite pieces on the Lions. There are dart throws behind all these.

Wednesday night note :: Julio now looks truly iffy to go. Julio is almost always playing through an injury of one sort or another, but this one sounds more legitimate than most, and there is a strong case to be made for leaving several rosters open to take advantage of the 9ish targets that will be left behind if Julio misses. If Julio is out, bump Ridley over Gallup on the list above, while Gage, Freeman, and Christian Blake would all see a boost as well. There is a chance Justin Hardy sees more run, but Blake played 37 snaps last week to 15 for Hardy with Julio in and out of the game, and at this point in a lost season, why not see what you have in a player like Blake if you’re the Falcons? Blake had only two catches last week, but he saw nine targets. He’s likely to be popular as a “sneaky play” if news comes out early that Julio will miss, and he’s certainly no lock; but he would certainly become interesting. Julio Out would also increase the chances of Ryan disappointing, while the ceiling, of course, would still remain intact (even with a few of the paths to him hitting that ceiling getting closed off).

Tight ends ::

There are very few strong options here. Cook is head and shoulders above the rest if Hooper is out (while Hooper is a tick ahead of Cook if he plays). Next up for me would be Knox for the matchup, Cowboys for crossing fingers on one hand, and all others for crossing fingers on both hands.

DST ::

Bears // Cowboys are the top plays, with the Bears as the preferred option as the more aggressive defense. Saints are a strong defense next, then the other three are speculative “hope things break your way” options on this slate.

Xandamere’s Bonus Showdown Notes! ::

  • Side note that I remember this matchup from last Thanksgiving and it disappointed massively (in New Orleans!). While the most likely outcome is a high scoring game, one game samples can be really vicious.
  • The big news here is, of course, Julio. His status is really more impactful on the full slate because you need to plan around what to do if he’s out, whereas in the showdown you’ll know, but obviously Ridley becomes the alpha receiver. Russell Gage is just $4,600 (he’s $4,500 on main slate, which means he is significantly cheaper in the showdown; yet another pricing leverage point). We would also get another super cheap starting receiver if Julio misses, as Christian Blake would probably be on the perimeter with Ridley after he out-snapped Justin Hardy 37/15 last week. (See notes at the bottom of the Bears // Lions game for Xandamere’s thoughts on how to handle these pricing leverage spots.)
  • The news on Julio as I write this is that he’s unsure how his shoulder will hold up to contact. That’s…kind of scary, because it means that he could easily start the game and not finish it (especially if the Falcons fall behind early!).
  • The Falcons really haven’t used their other tight ends much at all since Hooper got hurt. Jaeden Graham and Luke Stocker have gotten a total of 5 targets between them since Hooper’s injury.
  • In good news for Atlanta, Devonta Freeman is back and expected to resume his regular role. He’s way, way cheaper than most starting running backs we see in showdowns. He’s cheaper than Scarbrough despite having a good pass game role. He’s even cheaper than Latavius Murray! This is another pricing leverage point where Freeman is way cheaper in the showdown than he is on the main slate ($6,200 on showdown versus $5,100 on main slate; on main slate he’s priced around guys like Montgomery and Cohen, who are $8k+ in their showdown). 
  • Tre’Quan Smith has outsnapped Ted Ginn three weeks in a row. The volume has tilted Ginn’s way, and it hasn’t really been much volume for either of them. Ginn’s the better play here but not by much.

Kickoff Sunday, Dec 1st 1:00pm Eastern

Titans (
21.25) at

Colts (
20.25)

Over/Under 41.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Titans Run D
16th DVOA/26th Yards allowed per carry
Colts Run O
22nd DVOA/26th Yards per carry
Titans Pass D
24th DVOA/28th Yards allowed per pass
Colts Pass O
15th DVOA/10th Yards per pass
Colts Run D
6th DVOA/3rd Yards allowed per carry
Titans Run O
11th DVOA/5th Yards per carry
Colts Pass D
3rd DVOA/1st Yards allowed per pass
Titans Pass O
2nd DVOA/11th Yards per pass

The first week in which we featured Ryan Tannehill in the Bottom-Up Build on the Angles Pod, I had a conversation with my buddy Pat (hi, Pat!) in which I presented my theory that Tannehill (while certainly nowhere close to elite) is a much better quarterback than he ever looked like in the broken-down, talent-deficient offenses he had with the Dolphins — though even with that thought, there was no way we could have predicted this. Since taking over from draft bust Marcus Mariota (who “just needs a system built around his strengths and some stability in his coaching staff”), Tanny has posted fantasy point totals of 23.18 (20.18 FanDuel) // 19.42 // 28.04 (25.04 FanDuel) // 19.94 // 33.36 — with this offense scoring 20+ in every game with Tannehill under center, while going for 27+ in three of their last four. With Tannehill presenting an actual player to account for at quarterback, rushing lanes have also been opened up for Derrick Henry, with seven touchdowns in five games, three games of 90+ rushing yards, and yards per carry marks of 4.1 // 4.7 // 4.8 // 8.2 // 8.4 (after finishing under 4.0 yards per carry in four consecutive games heading into this stretch).

This week, the Titans will enter an important “playoff implications” clash against the Colts — with this game giving us two teams that “know how to win” (i.e., these teams have the same record as the Cowboys — and there is no one who would argue that these are more talented rosters; instead, these teams know how to scheme for wins, and are able to remain in the thick of the playoff hunt deep into the season as a result).

The Titans offense will continue to operate through the ground game first, with this team ranked 25th in pass play rate, and with Henry picking up recent carry totals of 22 // 16 // 13 // 23 // 19 (on this team that plays slow and ranks 30th in plays per game). The matchup isn’t great (the Colts rank 19th in DVOA against the run, but as noted over the last several weeks, they are a different run defense with Darius Leonard on the field — and they have been steadily climbing in DVOA ever since he returned), and Henry is the only back who has posted anything resembling a notable stat line on the ground against them (15 carries for 82 yards and a touchdown). While those elements should obviously be kept in mind, you can also keep in mind the fact that Henry typically shines around this time of year — when defenses are worn down, and when he somehow still has the strength of a grown man times two.

As we branch beyond Tannehill and Henry in this offense, the first thing we should note is that Tannehill has floated his personal fantasy value lately with rushing lines of 38 // 37 // 40, and with three touchdowns on the ground in his last three games, while his pass attempt totals as the starter in this offense have hit 29 // 33 // 39 // 19 // 18. As such, his pass catchers have generally required big plays (rather than relying on volume) in order to produce — with A.J. Brown seeing target counts of 8 // 3 // 7 // 4 // 5, Corey Davis going 7 // 6 // 5 // DNP // 3, and Jonnu Smith going 3 // 7 // 5 // 6 // 0.

As you are well aware, Indy does a solid job with their Tampa 2 defense of limiting wide receiver targets (eighth fewest in the league this year; fewest in the league last year), and players who have hit against them through the air have largely done so on volume, with the following notable stat lines allowed through the air ::

8-123-1 Keenan
8-128-1 Julio
6-103-1 Pringle
9-106-1 Hopkins
4-105-0 Stills
8-104-2 Chark
7-140-0 Fuller

13-73-0 Samuels
6-94-2 Nuk

All of this conspires to lower the chances of a top-of-slate score from Tennessee wide receivers who don’t see much volume, requiring a big YAC gain or a busted play against a disciplined Colts defense that is shaving 12% off the league-average YAC/r rate (the fifth best mark in the league).

While the Colts filter targets away from wideouts, they increase targets to tight ends, with the ninth most tight end targets allowed. If Delanie Walker misses again, Jonnu will be in the “ugly cheap TE” discussion, while Delanie will take his place in that discussion if healthy.

Last week, the Colts replaced Marlon Mack with Jonathan Williams as their yardage-and-touchdown back and didn’t miss a beat, with Williams carrying the ball 26 times for 104 yards and a touchdown (adding some dumpoff-driven pass game work to the tune of 3-17-0). There is a chance Williams will get exposed if teams are able to gather enough film on him, but we’ve liked Williams in this space going back to his days with Buffalo, as he’s a solid all-around back with an ability to get more than just what’s blocked for him. Regardless of who is in the backfield this week for the Colts, the matchup won’t be great (the Titans rank fifth in DVOA on the ground and are allowing a respectable-low 4.04 yards per carry to enemy backs), and the pass game role for the lead back in this offense isn’t big — but unless the game somehow gets out of hand, the volume should be there. The Colts’ lead back is a “bet on home favorite and hope for consistent volume or touchdowns” play.

When T.Y. Hilton has missed time for this passing attack, they have been a “serviceable, without slate-breakers” unit — which may be the position we find ourselves in this week once again after Hilton aggravated his calf injury on Sunday and played limited snaps. The matchup is not scary against the Titans (this defense ranks 23rd in DVOA against the pass and has allowed the 10th most yards to the wide receiver position), though the Colts somewhat hold themselves back (from a “compiling stats” perspective) with their short-area attack and run-leaning tendencies (29th in pass play rate). If Hilton misses, Zach Pascal // Jack Doyle (with Ebron now out for the season) are the pieces who will be leaned on first and foremost, with “hoping to hit on lower volume” the bets to make behind them. If Hilton plays, he’ll operate as the alpha, though he’ll also carry risk of playing limited snaps and/or playing at less than 100%.

JM’s Interpretation ::

This game happens to be one of only three on the slate with a game total north of 41.0 and a spread under 6.0 — though at 43.5, it’s not exactly a light-the-world-on-fire spot, and absent this likely being a tight game, there isn’t a ton to love between a pair of slow-paced, run-heavy teams that limit big plays on defense and “look for ways to keep the game close and strike late for a win” on offense.

On the Titans’ side, Henry is a yardage-and-touchdown back who is priced near the top of the slate as a road underdog against an above-average defense. Recency bias may drive his ownership higher in low-dollar tourneys — though we should see his ownership go fairly low in higher-dollar contests if you’re looking for an angle there. He’s overpriced on paper, but he can still hit. His 12 touchdowns on the year give him paths to ceiling.

Elsewhere on Tennessee, it’s easy to see one or two solid scores emerging, but it’s difficult to see slate-breakers. I’d be likeliest to bet Tanny Naked with a small percentage of my bankroll over using one of his pass catchers myself — knowing that if Henry misses and Tennessee doesn’t bomb, Tannehill’s legs and/or arm will get it done.

On the Colts’ side, it’s tough to get behind things at the front end of the week in a low-total game with some solid production likely, but with thin tributaries to slate-breakers. Same as the other side: you could bet on running back volume or Jacoby Brissett, though I expect to leave this side alone. The one possible exception for me will be the tight end position — where Doyle will likely operate as something of a low-cost alpha if Hilton misses this game, and where still-raw but athletic Mo Alie-Cox will be given a few opportunities as the Ebron replacement.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 1st 1:00pm Eastern

Jets (
23) at

Bengals (
20)

Over/Under 43.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Jets Run D
14th DVOA/20th Yards allowed per carry
Bengals Run O
27th DVOA/24th Yards per carry
Jets Pass D
31st DVOA/23rd Yards allowed per pass
Bengals Pass O
26th DVOA/18th Yards per pass
Bengals Run D
23rd DVOA/27th Yards allowed per carry
Jets Run O
29th DVOA/21st Yards per carry
Bengals Pass D
16th DVOA/22nd Yards allowed per pass
Jets Pass O
30th DVOA/32nd Yards per pass

Jets at Bengals gives us an interesting spot, with the red hot Jets against the ice cold Bengals, in the return of the Red Rifle. The Jets have scored 34 points in three straight games, and this week they catch a Bengals defense that ranks 30th in DVOA, 32nd in yards allowed per game, and 27th in points allowed per game. Darnold has topped 21 fantasy points in three straight since the Jets’ embarrassing loss to the Dolphins, and has gone for 26+ in back to back spots. Last week, the Jets started to get Le’Veon Bell more involved as a true wide receiver, and even Robby Anderson has started to emerge. It was about a month ago that we said in this space that the Jets offense was going to surprise some people down the stretch, and after their game against the Dolphins it became pretty difficult to stay on board that train (with my own exposure to this offense limited since that spot); but while this offense is not as good as it has looked the last few weeks, there were a lot of reasons for optimism heading into this season, and if not for Darnold’s bout with mono and the ultra-slow start that set up across the board for this team, there is a solid chance this would have become one of the more usable offenses throughout the year. The Jets carry a Vegas-implied total at the front end of the week of only 22.25 — so while that should be noted, it should also be noted that this mark will lower ownership, and there are certainly paths available for the Jets to move well past that mark.

The most interesting element for the Jets is that the Bengals — as explored throughout the season — are facing the lowest opponent pass play rate in the league, with teams hardly even bothering to attack through the air in this spot. Only the Dolphins and Redskins have faced more running back rush attempts than Cincy, while no team has faced fewer wide receiver targets, and only six teams have faced fewer tight end targets. Here are the only notable stat lines allowed by the Bengals to pass catchers this year:

6-103-0 Dede
7-220-1 Kupp

5-86-1 Deebo
6-77-1 Diontae
6-99-0 Andrews
3-98-1 James Wash

With that noted, it’s also fair to point out that Darnold has done his damage the last three weeks on pass attempt totals of 30 // 30 // 29 — roughly in line with the 28.6 pass attempts per game the Bengals are dealing with (the fewest in the league). Cincinnati quietly shaves 9% off the league-average aDOT, but as explored throughout the season, they have struggled to tackle after the catch (James Washington’s long touchdown last week was a perfect example of what the Bengals look like trying to tackle in the secondary, with guys literally getting pushed away and then falling down as they try to re-engage), so while it has been impossible so far this year for multiple pass catchers to hit in the same game against this defense, there should be opportunity for one player from the Jets to produce at a high enough level to matter. Because we are looking for YAC, Demaryius Thomas is the player least likely to hit (he would need multiple guys to fall down to break off a big play, or would need a multi-touchdown game to really reach upside), which leaves the steady six to nine targets that Jamison Crowder sees (with a respectable 4.5 YAC/r mark) and the speed of Robby on his likeliest range of four or five looks. Ryan Griffin has also carved out a legitimate role in the absence of Chris Herndon as an outlet target between the 20s who is schemed some looks near the end zone. The chances of Darnold having to dump off passes to Griffin are lowered in this spot, so he’s primarily a “bet on touchdown” play this week.

Meanwhile, the Bengals have been smoked on the ground, with the following notable stat lines allowed:

121-0 (12) Breida
83-0 (13) Mostert
76-1 (14) Gore
91-0 (17) DJ
68-1 (8) Edmonds
152-1 (19) Lamar
131-0 (29) Fournette
112-0 (23) Jacobs
98-0 (21) Snell

Le’Veon isn’t exactly a “get to the outside and go” runner (which is where the Bengals really struggle), and he has still not topped 70 rushing yards in a game this year, but he has a likeliest range of three to six receptions (with some upside from there), and this is a good spot for him to post his best rushing total of the season. As explored last week: the Jets aren’t getting inside the 10-yard-line much this year (and the Bengals, as we know, have been quietly solid in the red zone, ranking fourth in opponent red zone touchdown rate while allowing only three rushers on that list above to add a touchdown to their yardage), which keeps Bell separated from “lock” territory — but the matchup certainly provides a boost.

On the other side, Andy Dalton — who was benched in a lost season when he needed one more touchdown pass to set the Bengals’ all-time record (way to go, Zac) — returns for an interesting setup with the Jets. While Ryan Finley attempted 30 // 31 // 26 passes in his three starts, Dalton threw the ball 36+ times in each of his eight starts while notching 42+ in half his games. He put up fantasy point totals in his starts of 25.72 (22.72 FanDuel) // 22.64 (19.64 FanDuel) // 18.1 // 5.64 (at Pittsburgh) // 18.98 // 14.6 (at Baltimore) // 21.34 // 21.16 (18.16 FanDuel) — which is a pretty strong list of scores for a guy who is stone minimum on FanDuel (true story) and $4700 on DraftKings. The matchup isn’t great, with Bless Austin and Arthur Maulet emerging as potential long-term answers on the outside for the Jets, and with this team shaving 10% off the league-average aDOT while impressively pairing this with better-than-league-average marks in catch rate and YAC/r allowed, but if volume cooperates (in a game in which the Bengals are facing the second-ranked DVOA run defense in the league), Dalton has a strong shot to be useful at his price.

In Dalton’s last four starts, targets among his primary pass catchers have gone:

>> Tyler Boyd :: 14 // 7 // 14 // 9
>> Auden Tate :: 6 // 11 // 6 // 13
>> Alex Erickson :: 1 // 6 // 14 // 7

Boyd is the best bet for raw production after becoming the first wide receiver in the league to top 100 yards against the Steelers following his public complaints over his workload. Behind him, Tate’s likeliest yardage range is around 50 yards, but he has upside from there and quietly has the sixth most red zone targets in the NFL as a big-bodied piece in the paint. Erickson quietly has an aDOT of 10.1 and a YAC/r rate of 5.8 (both sneaky-solid marks at his price if he sees seven or more targets). In those four games above (after Ross got hurt, before Dalton was benched), Boyd posted one elite price-considered score // Erickson posted one elite price-considered scores, a very strong price-considered score, and a solid price-considered score (while not yet having a role in the offense in the other game) // Tate posted one very strong price-considered score and three solid price-considered scores.

In the backfield, Joe Mixon has been able to find breathing room at last behind the Bengals’ shifting offensive line approach — though he’ll run into one of the toughest matchups in the NFL, making him a “hope for something to break his way” option this week.

JM’s Interpretation ::

Pricing is a bit strange on the Jets this week, with all these guys (wide receivers // Bell // Griffin) priced a bit high for their likeliest score, but with paths available to one of these guys finding his way onto a winning roster. With this offense centered around five players (and with the player who the matchup tilts most heavily toward — Bell — carrying potential to soak up the largest chunk of the points on this team while still falling shy of a price-considered smash), I actually won’t be surprised if I end up with very little exposure in this spot. I do think the Jets offense will do well, however, so I may roll with a bit of Darnold Naked, while you could also try to guess right on production/touchdowns concentrating on one player from this offense and providing a true smash (not the “likeliest” outcome, but certainly still very much in the cards).

On the Bengals’ side, we should expect them to have a tough time running, and we should expect them to eventually be chasing points, which opens opportunity for yet another pass-heavy game from Dalton, and for cheap production to emerge from the concentrated downfield portions of this offense (the running backs and tight ends also soak up some pass game work, but this work is mostly dumpoff-driven). With the price so low on Dalton, I’ll have some interest here from a “Bottom-Up Build” perspective, and I wouldn’t mind spreading some Bengals wideout exposure throughout builds, as the cheaper guys have consistently provided strong value with Ross out and Dalton under center. The Jets have been playing well, and this is still the Bengals — introducing some risk — but these guys are definitely in the mix as salary savers who could be a nice complement to the higher-priced players on this slate.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 1st 1:00pm Eastern

WFT (
14.25) at

Panthers (
24.75)

Over/Under 39.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Washington Run D
17th DVOA/24th Yards allowed per carry
Panthers Run O
16th DVOA/16th Yards per carry
Washington Pass D
6th DVOA/2nd Yards allowed per pass
Panthers Pass O
11th DVOA/9th Yards per pass
Panthers Run D
26th DVOA/18th Yards allowed per carry
Washington Run O
21st DVOA/32nd Yards per carry
Panthers Pass D
13th DVOA/7th Yards allowed per pass
Washington Pass O
32nd DVOA/28th Yards per pass

On an 11 game slate (with Washington traveling to take on the solid, aggressive defense of the Panthers), we can make fairly quick work of the Redskins’ side of the ball here — with this team carrying the lowest Vegas-implied total on the slate. What we head into this game knowing about Washington is that they want to try to lean on the run, while the loss of Dontari Poe up front for the Panthers makes this matchup even softer (Carolina ranks 31st in DVOA against the run, and Poe was the only player who was contributing good work in this area). We also know, however, that Washington continues to get both Derrius Guice and Adrian Peterson involved (Guice has 27 carries and five receptions since returning; Peterson has 37 carries and four receptions), and it is unlikely that game flow does favors to Washington in their desire to control this game in that manner. Washington could continue to lean on the run on the road even if they fall behind, but with Bill Callahan finding it in his heart to generously split up this backfield work, Old Man Peterson and Guice are basically just hoping for unlikely game flow, or hoping for a couple long runs and/or in-close touchdowns.

When Washington takes to the air, their key piece (and the only piece that has provided usable production for them this year) is Terry McLaurin — though after going for 50+ yards in five straight games to begin the season (and 70+ in four of five), he has cracked 50 in only two of five games since, with high-water marks of 69 and 72. Part of this has been due to Dwayne Haskins taking over under center, but a larger part has been the less aggressive mindset of this offense with Callahan calling the shots, as McLaurin has averaged only 7.7 yards per target in these five games while seeing his aDOT drop from his early-season top-of-league mark. Those are a lot of negatives that need to be noted (and McLaurin should draw shadow coverage from James Bradberry this week — who isn’t a true shy-away matchup, but he certainly doesn’t do opposing receivers any favors), but there are a couple positives to note:

1) Sure, McLaurin saw 12 targets last week — but the bigger takeaway for me was that five of these targets came 20+ yards downfield.

2) While that came against a Detroit defense that boosts opponent aDOT by 27% against the league-average (the largest boost in the league), the Panthers boost aDOT by 9% themselves, which opens opportunities for McLaurin to see another two or three downfield looks in this one.

The Panthers are almost as easy to break down as Washington, as this team — as noted multiple times over the last several weeks — has one of the most narrow distributions of touches in the league (with this distribution concentrating even more heavily lately as DJ Moore has emerged as the featured piece in the pass game). Since the Panthers came off bye, targets among the Panthers’ primary pass catchers have gone:

>> DJ Moore :: 9 // 10 // 11 // 15 // 9
>> Curtis Samuel :: 11 // 6 // 8 // 7 // 4
>> Greg Olsen :: 2 // 6 // 10 // 5 // 7

We’ve been hammering the DJ situation since after that first game out of the bye, and he’s now up to eight targets of 30+ yards and nine targets of 20+ yards in five games since the bye. Washington ranks middle of the pack in pass plays allowed of 20+ yards, and in all they shave 7.5% off aDOT and do a good job limiting YAC (while boosting catch rate by 9% — the second worst mark in the league), and their benching of Josh Norman should ultimately solve some of the issues they have dealt with (big games against them have primarily come from speedy downfield threats — with Norman getting repeatedly torched in this area).

Samuel has not been forgotten (while he had only four targets last week, six to eight is still his likeliest range), and he continues to operate with a downfield and intermediate role that is capable of providing value. Olsen — as noted multiple times lately — is tough to get a clear handle on in terms of usage, though he is not “featured” so much as he is “used when the matchup tilts him open.” Still, he is one of only four players on this team who has a real role, which has kept him in a useful target range at an ugly position most weeks. Landon Collins is solid in coverage but doesn’t present a matchup to avoid.

The Panthers’ backfield, of course, is one of the most straightforward positions in the NFL, as Christian McCaffrey has 25+ touches in all but two games this year, with just over 20 carries and six catches per game. In a game the Panthers should control, McCaffrey — as always — carries the highest floor/ceiling combo on the slate. No team in football has faced more running back touches than the Redskins, at 33.0 per game.

JM’s Interpretation ::

The clearest reason to go to the Washington side of the ball is “the fact that no one will.” This team has the lowest Vegas-implied total on the slate, and there is nothing to love on paper in this spot. If going here, McLaurin is the player likeliest to break out for a “necessary” game — though of course, he’ll need a lot to go right in order to get there.

On the other side, CMC is the top play in a game the Panthers should control, while DJ is more “solid play with some paths to another monster game” than he is lock-and-load with his price rising off his recent production. Game flow and simple regression are bigger obstacles than matchup, so there is certainly no reason to feel down on DJ this week. Behind DJ, Samuel should see around six to eight targets, while Olsen will likely be in line for five to seven looks of his own. Either player could rise above this level as well, and each has enough of a role in the red zone to have an outside shot at a have-to-have it score. CMC will slot in as a Tier 1 play this week, while the other Panthers will be varying levels of Tier 3.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 1st 1:00pm Eastern

49ers (
19.5) at

Ravens (
25.5)

Over/Under 45.0

Tweet
Notes

Key Matchups
49ers Run D
7th DVOA/10th Yards allowed per carry
Ravens Run O
5th DVOA/3rd Yards per carry
49ers Pass D
22rd DVOA/5th Yards allowed per pass
Ravens Pass O
19th DVOA/31st Yards per pass
Ravens Run D
2nd DVOA/12th Yards allowed per carry
49ers Run O
9th DVOA/11th Yards per carry
Ravens Pass D
7th DVOA/13th Yards allowed per pass
49ers Pass O
17th DVOA/20th Yards per pass

“Potential Super Bowl previews” often turn out to not be Super Bowl previews at all, as two months is still a lot of time for a lot of things to happen — from injuries to fluky outcomes to other teams just plain improving at a faster rate and catching up to the “Super Bowl contenders” in question. But there is no disputing the appeal of this game between the current Number One seed in the NFC and the current Number Two seed (and likely best team in football at the moment) in the AFC. The 49ers have an incredible eight “two-score wins,” including four wins of three or more touchdowns, while Baltimore has six “two-score wins” and four wins of their own of three or more touchdowns (in fact, their smallest margin of victory in those four games was 36 points; sheesh!). The 49ers have a signature win against the Packers, while the Ravens have signature wins against the Seahawks, Patriots, and Texans. Somehow, this game is being buried on a packed early slate, but I guess that’s a complaint for another day. From an NFL perspective: happy to have this game.

From a DFS perspective: the identities of both teams are run-heavy, with the Ravens ranked 32nd in pass play rate and the 49ers ranked 31st. Baltimore leads the NFL in time of possession with an incredible 34:44 mark, while the 49ers rank second at 32:50 — leaving over 7.5 minutes of lost play time compared to what these two teams usually average (good for about 13 lost plays in all). While this is slightly off-topic: the fantasy/analytics movement toward “LOLz” at teams that are built around running the ball is funny to me. As noted previously: there is lots of gold in the data that is uncovered along the way to these LOLz, but there are a lot of misconceptions as well. I guess that’s also a story for another day.

In any case, the overall “big picture” of this game is two teams that want to win with the run game and defense, while chewing up clock and leaving the opponent with little to work. Each team is also built to take away the pass, which quickly boxes in opponents as they fall behind and have limited play volume and fewer clear paths to keeping pace. The Ravens have not allowed a pass catcher to top 100 yards since Week 4, while the 49ers are forcing the shallowest aDOT in the league AND allowing the second lowest catch rate in the league — a nearly impossible combination to pull off.

Meanwhile, the 49ers have been attackable on the ground — ranking 16th in DVOA and allowing 4.33 yards per carry to enemy running backs (a category in which Lamar Jackson can also be placed). Without a doubt, San Francisco has the minds to try to slow down the Ravens’ powerful rushing attack, but even with OWS favorite Fred Warner balling out in place of the injured Kwon Alexander, it’s fair to assume the 49ers don’t have the personnel to truly give the Ravens fits if we played out this slate a hundred times. We should look for the 49ers to tighten up downfield and try to force Lamar to work short in the pass game, while hoping to maintain assignment discipline that will allow multiple players to have a shot at taking down the Ravens’ QB instead of leaving him in one-on-one situations. Of course, this is easier said than done, and even two-on-one situations have been wins for Lamar fairly often this year. San Francisco has been most attackable to the edges, where Lamar does most of his damage. Lamar has posted six slate-winning games and three additional elite games in 11 total contests — with only one game this year that would qualify as a true disappointment. He has done this in spite of finishing with 24 or fewer pass attempts in over half his games.

The Ravens’ run game is also built off Mark Ingram (recent touch counts of 13 // 17 // 9 // 16 // 16) and Gus Edwards (8 // 7 // 4 // 8 // 14). While Ingram has been limited in touches, he does have the ninth most red zone carries and the fourth most carries inside the five, and his 12 touchdowns have provided him with four spiked weeks to go with the lower price-considered floor he carries. The passing attack for Baltimore, of course, is typically built off low volume and explosive plays, so betting on this area of the Ravens attack in this spot is betting on broken plays in a tough matchup. The 49ers have allowed the fewest pass plays of 20+ yards (most teams aren’t even close).

The Ravens have been more attackable on the ground than through the air of late, but they haven’t been much fun to pick on regardless, with point totals allowed in their last six games of 17 // 16 // 20 // 13 // 7 // 6. The 49ers, of course, continue to provide us with one of the broadest (and most Upside-Sapping) divisions of backfield labor in the NFL, so the biggest impact the 49ers strong rush offense is likely to have against the “moderately attackable” Baltimore run defense is the clock-bleeding they may be able to do in this spot, which would impact the opportunities for smash scores from Lamar and company on the other side. Tevin Coleman shapes up as the leader in this backfield, with recent touch totals of 13 // 14 // 13 // 15 // 13. Behind Coleman, it will be Matt Breida in the lead and a bit of Raheem Mostert sprinkled in if Breida is ready to return, while Mostert will take the majority of the Number Two duties if Breida is inactive. This backfield is “betting on touchdowns” in this spot, with touchdown expectations for the 49ers not especially high on paper.

The 49ers passing attack has been more exciting lately, with George Kittle going 6-129-1 in his return last week, and with Deebo Samuel going 8-112-0 and 8-134-0 in the two games Kittle missed. (Emmanuel Sanders is also still in the mix — albeit as a not-quite-fully-healthy piece at the moment as he continues to gut out his rib injury.) With Baltimore allowing the fifth fewest points and the lowest opponent time of possession in the league, they haven’t really allowed stats to pile up to any position, but the softest individual matchup belongs to Kittle, who will do battle with Chuck Clark. Clark has filled in admirably for Tony Jefferson, but he hasn’t really been tested by a player close to Kittle’s caliber — and while the offensive environment as a whole is a dent in expectations for all 49ers, Kittle is the player likeliest to tilt the offensive environment in a different direction with his play.

JM’s Interpretation ::

At the front end of the week, I feel like I’m likely to enjoy this game as a fan rather than with a heavy DFS investment. Lamar, of course, is the player in which I’ll have the most potential interest, as he is one of the most lock-and-load players in the NFL. Much like tougher spots we’ve run into for CMC or Michael Thomas: Lamar’s chances of hitting his ceiling are lower than normal in this spot, but there’s still a strong chance he gets there.

I’ve also avoided the Baltimore backfield for the most part this year, as I prefer to bet on volume and a bigger pass catching role when targeting this position (essentially allowing me to take the win when the yardage-and-touchdown backs miss, and still giving me plenty of paths to making up what I missed when the yardage-and-touchdown guys hit), and I’ve generally been getting my Baltimore pass-catcher exposure through Lamar — though of course, you can always make a tourney case for grabbing some additional exposure to the Ravens offense if you want to go here yourself. If I were branching out beyond Lamar, Ingram (as a risk-embracing play in search of a multi-touchdown ceiling) is the player I would be likeliest to land on.

With the 49ers entering a tough matchup as road underdogs on something of a spread-the-wealth offense, I’ll likely avoid this unit myself — though I’ll never argue against a bet on Kittle if you’re feeling aggressive, and there are other ways to approach this game if you want to bet on it playing out in a different manner than the likeliest setup. It is highly likely that no “have to have it” scores emerge from this offense — but when two great teams get together, crazy things can happen.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 1st 1:00pm Eastern

Bucs (
24.75) at

Jaguars (
21.75)

Over/Under 46.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Buccaneers Run D
3rd DVOA/1st Yards allowed per carry
Jaguars Run O
17th DVOA/29th Yards per carry
Buccaneers Pass D
1st DVOA/6th Yards allowed per pass
Jaguars Pass O
21st DVOA/13th Yards per pass
Jaguars Run D
22nd DVOA/28th Yards allowed per carry
Buccaneers Run O
6th DVOA/20th Yards per carry
Jaguars Pass D
32nd DVOA/26th Yards allowed per pass
Buccaneers Pass O
9th DVOA/17th Yards per pass

The Over/Under in this game (47.5) and the opening spread in this spot (Jaguars by 3.5 — which had moved to Jaguars by 1.0 by the time I sketched out my thoughts on this game, and now sits at Buccaneers by 1.0; I mean: really, Vegas?) was a classic case of Vegas being trapped by needing to favor the home team in a close matchup, but being unable — in good conscience — to give the Jags a mega total to account for the likelihood of Tampa scoring points. As explored in this week’s Angles email, the Bucs’ nine most recent games have combined for 63 // 95 // 55 // 63 // 50 // 74 // 57 // 51 // 57 points, while the Jags have allowed 26 // 33 // 42 in their last three contests and have produced game totals of 44+ in six of their last eight games. When Jacksonville was still favored, my sketched-out thoughts noted that if we played out this slate a hundred times, we would expect Tampa to win more often than not, and for the total to go over 47.5 more often than not. Obviously, this is starting to be accounted for in the Vegas line as well, with the Bucs now favored. Tampa has scored 30+ in five of their last nine games, with point totals of 24 // 26 // 23 // 17 (vs Saints) in their others.

We’ll start on the Tampa side, where Tampa’s low play volume last week (62, compared to their season-long average of 68.1 — the second highest mark in the league) and run-leaning approach with a lead generated only 28 pass attempts for Jameis Winston, well shy of the 43+ he had gone for in five consecutive games. In any case, Jameis still topped 300 yards — marking the sixth consecutive game in which he had accomplished that feat (and the eighth time in his last nine). The matchup against the Jaguars is not what it once was, as this team ranks a middling 13th in DVOA against the pass and ranks in the bottom half of the league in fantasy points allowed per game to quarterbacks. The Jags have been slightly better than the league average at both catch rate allowed and aDOT, though the same tackling issues that have led to them getting blasted at times on the ground have led to this team allowing the second highest YAC/r rate in the league. The Jags have allowed only nine touchdowns to wideouts so far (the ninth best mark in the league), but they rank middle of the pack in receptions and yards allowed to the position, and their list of elite passing attacks faced is fairly thin :: Kansas City // Houston // New Orleans // Houston. The Jags have allowed the following notable stat lines through the air ::

9-198-3 Watkins
5-104-0 Manny
8-137-0 Erickson
4-135-1 A.J. Brown

3-88-0 Kelce
6-93-0 Humphries
7-64-0 Delanie
6-91-0 D.J. Moore
8-89-0 Mike Thomas

Tampa’s passing attack has been a bit less concentrated in recent weeks, with targets during this stretch looking like this:

>> Mike Evans :: 6 // 8 // 8
>> Chris Godwin :: 12 // 6 // 8
>> Scotty Miller :: 3 // 6 // 1
>> Breshad Perriman :: 4 // 3 // 1
>> Running backs :: 12 // 10 // 5
>> Tight ends :: 7 // 15 // 3

After a long stretch in which they combined for over 50% of the available targets on the Bucs, Godwin and Evans have combined for only 37.8% across the last three weeks — though this has seemed to be due more to matchup and game flow than to philosophical shift, and while Jameis threw the ball only 28 times last week, 16 went to these two. Jacksonville has faced the fourth fewest tight end targets and the sixth fewest running back targets, so it’s a good spot for Godwin/Evans to maintain target dominance in this offense.

Of course, the bigger concern for the Bucs is the fact that the Jaguars rank dead last in DVOA against the run, with a check-for-typo 5.6 yards allowed per carry to running backs and the third most rushing yards allowed to the position. Only two teams have allowed more rushing touchdowns to enemy backs, and while the Bucs are fundamentally a pass-leaning team, they have shown a willingness to attack an opponent where they are weakest. If this game stays close, Jameis will still have a clear shot at 40+ pass attempts — but if the Bucs jump out to an early lead, this could be another lower-volume game for the Bucs’ passing attack.

On the ground, Peyton Barber has soaked up recent carry counts of 10 // 4 // 11 // 0 // 11, while Ronald Jones has led this unit with 11 // 18 // 11 // 4 // 12. With receiving work added, Jones has seen touch counts of 12 // 20 // 19 // 6 // 15 — with the six-touch game coming against the Saints. Barber, Dare Ogunbowale, and even T.J. Logan are all taking snaps in this offense, but Jones played 50% of this team’s snaps last week and has a pretty clear shot at 16+ touches in this spot.

Behind Godwin // Evans // running backs, this offense is short-area work to Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard and occasional screens and downfield shots to Miller/Perriman. With the tight ends, you’re betting on a touchdown. With the speedsters, you’re betting on a big play hitting (though there is at least potential for this big play to come from a downfield shot or a big YAC play on a screen).

While volume has been a bit spread out lately on the Bucs, the Jaguars have been concentrated around Leonard Fournette // D.J. Chark // Chris Conley // Dede Westbrook. Tampa’s defense ranks bottom 12 in yards allowed and 31st in points allowed, and concentrated offenses against them tend to produce really nice games. Here is the (remarkably long) list of notable stat lines allowed by this Bucs team that has an aggressive offense and an elite run defense to constantly stir up shootouts:

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

5-91-0 Samuel
9-89-0 Moore
3-82-0 Slayton
6-78-1 Jonnu
6-85-1 Ridley (14 targets)

Fournette has target totals of 6+ in all but two games this year and has gone 7 // 12 in his two full games with Foles, so while the matchup is brutal (the Bucs rank first in DVOA against the run, are allowing only 3.29 yards per carry to enemy backs, and are allowing the fourth fewest receiving yards to the position), there is at least a chance that the usage could lead to him making some noise. The bigger edge, however (of course), belongs to the Jags’ passing attack.

D.J. Chark started the season so cheap (and was such a non-factor last year as a raw rookie) that he doesn’t draw nearly the ownership his production on the year would typically lead to — and as the field generally missed out on his higher-scoring cheap games, they have treated him as a player they “missed out on when he was underpriced” rather than turning him into a DFS Darling. Add in his attachment to “Jags offense,” and he rarely draws the ownership attention his production would typically warrant (21st in catches // 12th in yards // second in touchdowns // seventh in percentage share of team air yards).

Behind Chark, Conley has the seventh deepest aDOT in the NFL and has recent target counts of 7 // 7 // 7 // 8 // 9. With this downfield role, he has connected on only 52.4% of his looks, and he has only one red zone target on the year, but he has produced a pair of elite price-considered scores — creating some tourney juice behind this play in this spot.

Dede has seen shifting aDOT marks and target shares depending on how things shake out in the rest of this offense on a given week, but overall he has eight or more targets in five of his last eight (and six or more targets in seven of his last eight) — and while he has only cracked 70 yards twice this year (and has only topped 82 yards once), the Bucs are facing the most pass attempts in the NFL (and it’s not particularly close) at 41.7, and with the Jags primarily focusing on these three pass catchers, Dede is a high-probability bet for eight or more looks in this one. Most paths for this game give him a solid floor, with volume, broken plays, a downfield shot on a scramble drill, or a touchdown all opening viable paths to ceiling.

JM’s Interpretation ::

I like this game quite a bit at the front end of the week. The Bucs should be able to lean a bit more on the run than they typically do, but as long as this game remains competitive they should attack through the air enough for this aggressive unit to matter (and if this game is no longer competitive, it’s likely that the Bucs passing attack already hit). With YAC being the primary driver behind big stat lines against the Jags and this defense ranking 10th in adjusted sack rate and boasting one of the better pressure rates on the slate, Godwin sets up as the player likelier to hit — though with Evans coming off three straight lower-target games, it shouldn’t surprise us if they try to get him going. This is almost a Tier 1 “either/or” (i.e., it’s likely that one or the other hits for a really strong game here, with a slate-breaker in the mix), though as always, it’s rare that each guy hits in the same spot, which will make these two strong Tier 3 plays individually. Jameis is also in the mix (even with Mahomes taking on Oakland and Lamar available on this slate), and I don’t mind getting exposure to this offense in other ways as well — with RoJo the guy who stands out the most for his likely 16+ touches and potential for touchdowns on an offense that should score points.

On the Jags’ side, I’ll likely avoid Fournette, as the likeliest concentration of valuable touches on this team will come through the air. Chark // Conley // Dede are all attractive at their prices, with Chark the sharpest play from a slate-breaker standpoint, but with a clear case to be made for some hedge bets with the other two if multi-entering, as a “Chark miss” will likely mean a Dede or Conley hit. It’s also possible for two of these guys to hit together, and it’s “close to probable” that one of these guys hits and one of them produces a solid price-considered score. Chark will likely end up high Tier 3 while Conley will be deeper down the Tier 3 list. Dede has fewer paths to a slate-breaker, but he’ll also be hard-pressed to completely dud — likely moving him into the Tier 2 mix.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 1st 1:00pm Eastern

Packers (
25) at

Giants (
18.5)

Over/Under 43.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Packers Run D
25th DVOA/15th Yards allowed per carry
Giants Run O
30th DVOA/30th Yards per carry
Packers Pass D
25th DVOA/14th Yards allowed per pass
Giants Pass O
29th DVOA/30th Yards per pass
Giants Run D
15th DVOA/8th Yards allowed per carry
Packers Run O
10th DVOA/7th Yards per carry
Giants Pass D
23rd DVOA/16th Yards allowed per pass
Packers Pass O
6th DVOA/14th Yards per pass

The 8-3 Green Bay Packers head on the road to take on the 2-9 Giants with a healthy skill position group — which brings up an interesting statistic: in games with everyone healthy, the Packers have scored 18.3 points per game, while they scored 32.5 points per game in the weeks Davante Adams missed. Of course, this is almost certainly just a statistical anomaly — but given that Aaron Jones saw 6.75 targets per game when Adams was out (and was ultra effective in that pass-catching role) and has seen only 2.7 targets per game with Adams on the field, this is at least worth noting. No offense gets “better” by eliminating an elite wide receiver — but the way this offense is being run is different with Adams on the field, and this has taken away some of the opportunities for Jones to do some of the things at which he is most special.

Either way, of course, that’s likely just a side note and back-burner thought to keep in mind, as the matchup against the Giants is sweet — with this team ranked 27th in DVOA on defense while ranking 27th in yards allowed, 29th in points allowed, and 22nd in drive success rate. The Giants have been solid on third downs and stout in the red zone (seventh in red zone touchdown rate), but teams are able to hit so many big plays (the sixth most pass plays allowed of 20+ yards; the fourth most rush plays allowed of 20+ yards) that this has hardly mattered, as offenses are frequently able to pick up first downs on early downs, and are frequently able to score from outside the red zone. The Giants are not only boosting opponent aDOT by 13.6%, but are also allowing the third highest catch rate boost in the league and are adding nearly 7% to the league-average YAC/r rate. Only eight teams have allowed more fantasy points per game to quarterbacks. Only one team has allowed more yards to wide receivers. Only two teams have allowed more touchdowns to wide receivers. Here are the notable stat lines allowed by this defense:

80-0 (14) Ronald Jones
126-3 (27) Edmonds
139-0 (23) Zeke

7-158-0 Gallup
6-106-1 Amari
8-190-3 Evans
7-130-2 Thielen
9-113-0 Edelman
6-123-2 Golladay
6-131-1 A-Rob

8-95-0 Amendola
6-84-0 Demaryius
5-81-1 Crowder

The list above is especially interesting in the games for Amari // Evans // Thielen // Golladay // A-Rob, as Davante has a little bit of all those guys in his game. In his last four games, Adams has target counts of 15 // 11 // 10 // 12, and while he has connected on only two of these looks, he has eight targets of 20+ yards in his last three contests. Last season, Adams scored 12 red zone touchdowns on 23 looks, while he has only one red zone touchdown on nine looks this year. Positive regression could hit hard when it hits.

Behind Adams, this passing attack has been “spread the wealth, and don’t expect too much” — with Allen Lazard seeing recent target counts of 5 // 4 // 6 // 2 but failing to top 44 yards since his Week 6 breakout (65 yards, with Adams out), and with Jimmy Graham going 5 // 4 // 3 // 2 and topping 20 yards only once in this stretch. Marquez Valdes-Scantling has fallen out of favor (two catches for 11 yards across his last four) and Geronimo Allison is picking up scraps (no games north of 21 yards in his last four).

In the backfield, Jones is still priced up (and “owned up”) for the role he had when Adams was out — with 26 total touches across his last two games, and with one reception in his last three. Jamaal Williams, somewhat unbelievably, has 31 touches across his last two (five more than Jones), and he has 13 catches to Jones’ one across the Packers’ last three games. These two continue to split snaps roughly down the middle — making Jones a high-priced “bet on touchdown (or changing role)” play, while making Williams a frequently-viable salary saver as a player with the same role as Jones (with a bigger role in the pass game, apparently), minus the explosiveness.

The other side of this game is interesting, as the Packers rank 22nd in defensive DVOA, while ranking middle of the pack in points allowed and bottom five in yards allowed — and this week, they’ll be taking on a Giants team that (as noted in this week’s Angles email) has been able to beat up on three of the six “mediocre” defenses they have faced with Daniel Jones at quarterback. (Incidentally, all three of those big games from Daniel Jones came on the road — though that’s almost certainly a pure statistical anomaly that will correct itself over time.) The Packers have allowed 22+ points in six of their last seven games.

Injuries, of course, will play a major role in our ability to comfortably target the Giants offense, as this team has a chance to consist of anywhere from three to five “heavily involved pieces.” Golden Tate is likely to be out with a concussion, as he’ll be hard-pressed to be cleared in time for this game, making Evan Engram the big question mark. If Engram plays, there will be a chance for one of the Giants’ four pieces to hit a strong price-considered score (though there will also be a chance for volume to be spread too thin for any of these guys to really matter); but if Engram misses, this offense will be focused on Saquon Barkley, Sterling Shepard, and Darius Slayton — creating solid potential even if the Giants simply hit expectations in this spot, and creating potential for “have to have it” scores if the Giants land on their fourth high-end game of the season.

The best matchup on the Giants belongs to Saquon, as the Packers rank 28th in DVOA on the ground and have allowed the following notable stat lines to enemy backs:

154-1 (20) Dalvin
81-2 (21) Lindsay
87-2 (15) Howard
124-0 (21) Jacobs
80-2 (20) MG3
108-1 (20) CMC

Saquon has not looked quite like himself since returning inhumanly quickly from a high-ankle sprain, and game flow is a potential concern as well; but he’s still Saquon Barkley, and that very much keeps him in the mix.

The Packers have been hit hard by tight ends this year, allowing the sixth most catches and the third most yards — so while Engram has been glued to the shorter areas of the field of late, he’ll have an outside shot at topping the slate in this spot, and he should effectively make the wide receivers difficult to bet on beyond “hoping for a big play or a touchdown.” But if Engram misses, the Giants (who have already lost Russell Shepard to I.R. and just cut Bennie Fowler) will be down to Cody Latimer and Cody Core as depth options, and will be focusing all their attention on Shepard (nine targets in four straight starts — almost all of which have come with pieces missing from this offense) and Slayton (recent target counts of 5 // 4 // 15 // 7). The 15 targets for Slayton came with Engram and Shepard out, while “Engram and Tate out” would have the same effect on role/usage. Obviously, 15 targets is always an outlier, but eight or more looks would be highly likely in this spot for Slayton, and the Giants have proved unexpectedly willing to expand his route tree beyond downfield work when other pieces are missing from this attack.

JM’s Interpretation ::

With Engram and Rhett Ellison missing last week, Kaden Smith saw six targets (which he turned into five catches…for 17 yards), which would also keep him in the mix in this matchup — but the pieces that would really stand out to me would be Slayton and Shepard. Shepard will have a solid floor with a touchdown-driven ceiling if injuries lead to a condensed distribution of targets, while Slayton will be a “bet on role and explosive upside” tourney piece. Saquon is also very much in the mix — and while he is not truly “Saquon” at the moment, he’s still an extremely talented back in a really good matchup.

On the Packers’ side, you could bet on touchdowns and/or big plays with Jones, and you could bet on role for Williams, but the play that really stands out is Adams, who carries a high floor and has big upside in this spot. Adams has said that the toe issue is no longer bothering him, and this is a true get-right spot. After facing Hayward // Bradberry // 49ers since his return, he has a clear path to a top-of-slate score this week against the Giants.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 1st 1:00pm Eastern

Eagles (
27.5) at

Dolphins (
17.5)

Over/Under 45.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Eagles Run D
15th DVOA/21st Yards allowed per carry
Dolphins Run O
23rd DVOA/22nd Yards per carry
Eagles Pass D
29th DVOA/12th Yards allowed per pass
Dolphins Pass O
11th DVOA/16th Yards per pass
Dolphins Run D
32nd DVOA/19th Yards allowed per carry
Eagles Run O
25th DVOA/13th Yards per carry
Dolphins Pass D
10th DVOA/17th Yards allowed per pass
Eagles Pass O
29th DVOA/26th Yards per pass

This week, the struggling Eagles (who are the only 5-6 team in the NFC still in the playoff hunt, as the Cowboys cannot figure out how to turn their talent into wins) will have an opportunity to visit the “usually elixir” Miami Dolphins — with this team allowing the third most yards per game and the most points per game in the league. Miami ranks 32nd in DVOA on defense and has allowed a list of notable stat lines this year that is almost too long to fit on this page. Before we dive in, however, one quick thing to note:

A couple times this year, the Dolphins defense has played well above their talent level — thriving off discipline and attention to detail. And while there is more that went into each of those spots than simply this, it is interesting to note that the Dolphins have had their biggest struggles against aggressive offenses with explosive elements (since the bye, they’ve given up 31 to Buffalo, 37 to Buffalo, and 41 to Cleveland), while they have played well this year against more precision-oriented approaches — with the Redskins scoring 17, the Steelers scoring 27, the Jets scoring 18, and the Colts scoring 12. For whatever it’s worth, then, the Eagles (who have topped 260 passing yards only once since losing DeSean Jackson in Week 1, and have thrown for three touchdowns only once since then as well) are a very precision-oriented approach right now, and they are very low on aggressiveness/explosiveness. The likeliest scenario in this spot has this team finishing right around their Vegas-implied total (with this squad likelier to land below than above if we played out this slate a hundred times), while games in which the Eagles soar past their Vegas-implied mark of 27.5 would likely prove to be outliers.

Injuries are once again the story for the Eagles, as Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor returned to practice on Wednesday and are fully expected to play this week, but Jordan Howard has still not been cleared for contact from his shoulder issue, and Zach Ertz missed practice with a hamstring issue. If Ertz misses, Dallas Goedert would ascend to “focal point” status, and while he would become one of the more popular plays on the slate, there would be a strong case for simply taking the talented, affordable player at the weak position and gaining differentiation elsewhere. Since the Eagles have said that Ertz played through this same hamstring issue last week, however, we will go ahead and approach this writeup assuming he plays.

A report came out on Wednesday that the Eagles plan to get J.J. Arcega-Whiteside involved this week — though this report hardly makes sense after JJAW took a back seat to Greg Ward last week with both Alshon and Agholor out. JJAW flashed in preseason and seems likely to be on the field in three-wide sets (and potentially even two-wide sets — with Agholor relegated to slot duties and leaving the field when Ertz and Goedert are on the field together), but he’ll remain a speculative option as a player with iffy volume. Agholor also joins the “speculative only” category, as he has failed to top even 42 yards in games in which Alshon has played this season. For all intents and purposes, this passing attack should be expected to be “running backs, tight ends, and Alshon,” with all other pieces simply hoping to guess right on a broken play or a touchdown.

Although the Dolphins are facing the second lowest pass play rate in the league (and as a result rank middle of the pack in catches allowed to tight ends and top 10 in fewest catches allowed to wide receivers), they have allowed a stunning 11 players (in 11 games) to go for 80+ yards and a touchdown — with the full list below:

4-147-2 Marquise
8-108-1 Andrews
4-100-2 McLaurin
5-103-1 JuJu
9-137-2 JB
10-148-2 Landry

6-88-2 Amari
5-83-1 JB
5-84-1 Diontae
8-83-1 Crowder
6-84-1 OBJ

Alshon — as has been well documented — has never quite shown the connection with Wentz that he showed with Foles, and in his last 16 games with the Eagles’ franchise quarterback he has topped 82 yards only once, while finishing with 50 or fewer yards 10 times. Alshon does have eight touchdown receptions from Wentz in this stretch, and he has recent target counts of 9 // 8 // 12 // 5 // 6 // 8 — making him a “bet on role and matchup, fade connection” play in this spot. The matchup is, of course, as good as it gets, so there should be no reason for concern if the work is there and these two are able to connect for one of their (rare) higher-end games.

Part of the reason Alshon and Wentz have never quite gotten going is Wentz’ love affair with Ertz, who has 11+ targets in three consecutive games after hitting double digits only once in his first eight games on the year. Coming off last year, the Eagles felt that Wentz had focused too heavily on Ertz (double digit looks in nine of 16 games), and they tried to build their offense in a different direction this time around — though it’s fair to expect Ertz’ higher usage to continue most weeks moving forward, as the Eagles have their backs against the wall and need to stick with whatever works best. If Ertz returns to full practice later this week (or if reports emerge that he’ll be 100% this weekend), the only thing likely to keep him from a strong game in this spot is lower usage in a blowout. If Ertz fails to practice this week (or only practices in a limited fashion) and is active on Sunday, of course, he’ll be a risk/reward option at the higher ends of the tight end price range.

While Goedert obviously emerges as a high-end play with an Ertz absence, he remains an integral piece of this offense regardless, with five or more targets in five of his last six games. There are only three qualified pass catchers in football with a lower aDOT than Goedert, so touchdowns have been fairly necessary to float his value — giving him a moderate floor when he fails to pop in a touchdown. But it’s rare that he completely whiffs, and his four touchdowns on the season are a reminder that there is definitely price-considered upside here.

The Philly backfield has been surprisingly ineffective with Jordan Howard out, with Miles Sanders producing yardage totals of 47 and 86 in two games in the lead role (13 and 15 touches), after A) seeing 11+ touches in six of the nine games he shared with Howard, and B) topping 90 yards three times when operating as the 1B in this offense. With that said, Sanders has been locked into over 80% of the snaps the last two weeks, and his lower usage has likely been a result of this team playing from behind, against two teams that face among the six highest opponent pass play rates in the league. Miami presents a clear bounce-back spot if Howard misses, with a number 29 DVOA ranking and 4.68 yards per carry allowed to enemy backs. No team has faced more running back rush attempts than the Dolphins. Six different running backs have topped 100 yards against Miami, and four of those backs added at least one touchdown.

The Dolphins backfield, apparently, continues to belong to Kalen Ballage (and why not — with Ballage averaging 1.9 yards per carry on the year) — but against a Philly team that tilts opponents toward the air, and with the Dolphins all but abandoning the run lately (second in the league in pass play rate), the backfield is not the place to look for anything resembling bankable production.

On the other hand — with the Dolphins leaning so heavily on the pass lately — Ryan Fitzpatrick has recent pass attempt totals of 35 // 34 // 36 // 33 // 45 // 39 — and while the matchup against the Eagles is not as soft with Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby back on the field, we do still have an opportunity to target a concentrated attack with Jakeem Grant now on injured reserve and Albert Wilson looking iffy for this week. There is potential for the Dolphins to get trounced and for no one to produce as a result — but we at least know that volume will be there for the Miami passing attack.

The clearest place for this volume to concentrate is on DeVante Parker, who has recent target counts of 10 // 8 // 6 // 10 // 10 // 11. Only 55.4% of Parker’s targets this season have been converted into catches, but he has topped 50 yards in six consecutive games (and in nine of 11 on the year), and he’s the best bet for a touchdown on this offense.

Behind Parker, the Dolphins will spread the ball around to Wilson // Allen Hurns // Mike Gesicki if all three play — though if Wilson misses, Gesicki will see the underneath work while Hurns will work the intermediate and downfield areas. Philly has been really strong against tight ends this year, but Gesicki has six or more targets in four straight — and while he’s topped 51 yards only once (and 41 only twice; and 31 only three times), heavy volume at the tight end position is always worth noting.

Wilson seems likely to get back on the field after practicing in a limited fashion on Wednesday (in which case, he will resume the lowest-aDOT role in the NFL), but if he’s out, he’ll free up an average of 6.5 targets over the last two games, and Hurns will be an extremely strong bet to go for six or more targets for the third consecutive game.

JM’s Interpretation ::

With this slate less ugly than what we dealt with the last two weeks, the idea of “betting on volume on the Dolphins and knowing we’ll get some locked-in points” is less appealing than it has been, as there are a lot more potential slate-breakers available (and thus, simply targeting solid point-per-dollar scores is less likely to win you a tourney) — but Parker remains in the conversation for his role, while Hurns will be a really interesting piece to consider if Wilson fails to return.

On the Philly side: this is likeliest to be a solid game rather than a true smash for the Eagles offense, but Notable Stat Lines are far too common against the Dolphins for this offense to be overlooked, with 17 such lines emerging vs Miami in only 11 games. Given the price and uncertainty on Ertz’ health, I’ll likely move away from him myself — but he’s obviously very interesting if healthy, while Goedert and Alshon can have a solid case made for them as well. Sanders is a really strong play on paper if Howard misses again (while Howard will be an intriguing yardage-and-touchdown option if he plays), and even guys like Jay Ajayi and JJAW can be kept in mind deeper down the list as players who could conceivably take advantage of this softer matchup if the usage unexpectedly cooperates.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 1st 1:00pm Eastern

Browns (
20.75) at

Steelers (
19.25)

Over/Under 40.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Browns Run D
20th DVOA/4th Yards allowed per carry
Steelers Run O
14th DVOA/9th Yards per carry
Browns Pass D
19th DVOA/27th Yards allowed per pass
Steelers Pass O
12th DVOA/24th Yards per pass
Steelers Run D
1st DVOA/2nd Yards allowed per carry
Browns Run O
7th DVOA/1st Yards per carry
Steelers Pass D
8th DVOA/8th Yards allowed per pass
Browns Pass O
23rd DVOA/29th Yards per pass

The great franchise of the Pittsburgh Steelers — who are, incredibly, still in the playoff hunt on the strength of their defense — will be turning to “Duck” Hodges this week under center, because that’s the state of the quarterback position in the NFL this year; and they will be turning to Duck against a 5-6 Browns team that is also now in the playoff hunt. Entering this week, the Steelers (6-5) are tied with the Raiders, Colts, and Titans for the sixth seed in the AFC — and with the Raiders playing the Chiefs this week and the Colts and Titans playing each other, the Steelers could potentially slide into a two-way tie with a win, while a Browns win could move them one step closer to their season telling a totally different story than it was telling a month ago. Thankfully, Myles Garrett and Mason Rudolph will both miss this contest, and these two teams will hopefully be able to focus on football.

We’ll start on the Steelers’ side of the ball, where they will have a matchup against a Browns team that ranks ninth in DVOA against the pass but only 22nd against the run — good news for Pittsburgh, as this team would very much prefer to win with a “run-leaning + defense” approach. If James Conner returns (which currently appears unlikely), he’ll be the likely engine of the offense in what is likely to be a low-scoring game — while another Conner absence would open opportunity for a backfield split that was much messier last week than the final numbers made it appear. While Benny Snell handled 22 touches last week, he played only 35 of 72 snaps, with Kerrith Whyte playing seven snaps (six carries), Trey Edmunds playing 12 snaps (two carries), and Jaylen Samuels playing 21. Samuels practically disappeared with only two carries and three receptions, but he’s locked into the pass-catching work on this offense, while Snell appears set to operate as the clear leader of a committee on the ground.

The Steelers passing attack has been largely unattractive all season long, and that isn’t likely to change in this spot with Devlin Hodges throwing passes against a Browns team that has allowed only three wide receivers to top 81 yards (with only one of those players scoring a touchdown to go with his yardage, and with no wide receiver topping 112 in this matchup), making a bet on the Steelers passing attack merely a “bet on outlier game flow” or “bet on a broken play” option. JuJu Smith-Schuster has apparently been cleared from his concussion, but he still missed practice Wednesday with a knee issue. JuJu has only topped seven targets once since Week 2 (and he’s topped five targets only once since Week 6), but he would operate as the alpha if he returns. If JuJu misses, Diontae Johnson (recent target totals of 6 // 4 // 6) and James Washington (7 // 5 // 7) would take the lead. Vance McDonald will continue to operate as an outlet in this offense that has led to him producing the second lowest aDOT in the NFL. This passing attack has produced only one game of 100+ yards this season, and only three games of 85+ yards. Washington — who has two of those three games (each coming in the last three weeks) — is the player in this group with the best shot of hitting. We’ve gotten used to young players developing quickly, and it’s easy to write off guys who struggle in their rookie season, but Washington has taken big strides in Year 2 and is likely to emerge as a legitimate difference-maker over the next couple years if the Steelers get their quarterback play back on track.

The Browns, meanwhile, will be going on the road with a Vegas-implied team total of only 20.75 against a Steelers defense that ranks third in DVOA (sixth against the run, fourth against the pass) while allowing the eighth fewest points and the seventh fewest yards in the league. Two weeks ago in this matchup, the Browns scored 21 points at home, and now they’ll have to face Pittsburgh on the road. Assuming the Browns come out of this spot with a win, they are likelier to get there through a hard-fought battle than through a stomp — pushing this concentrated but higher-priced attack into the tourney-only category. These are the only notable stat lines allowed by the Steelers defense all season:

8-100-0 Hunter Henry
5-101-1 Boyd

4-95-2 Dorsett
7-95-0 Woods

While that doesn’t provide much incentive to chase Cleveland at their prices, Nick Chubb did have 27 touches last time vs the Steelers in a clock-killing role — and while he produced only 92 yards (3.2 yards per carry), he does have 20+ carries in six straight games (and eight of nine), and he is one of the more explosive players in the NFL, requiring only one play in order to hit. Kareem Hunt has touch counts of 11 // 12 // 10 since returning from suspension and is likely to hit that range again, with slim paths to more.

Through the air, Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham will do battle with a Pittsburgh pass defense that just became the last unit in the NFL to give up a 100-yard game to a wideout — which required a jump ball to Tyler Boyd to get there. Volume is secure on these wideouts, with Beckham seeing 11 // 7 // 6 // 12 // 10 // 8 looks in his last six games, and with Landry going 5 // 10 // 13 // 10 // 7 // 13 in that stretch. As noted last week: in all but one game lately, one has seen his targets rise at the expense of the other, making it difficult for both to hit together. Landry (somewhat quietly) has 16 red zone targets on the year, while Beckham has six. Each player is a “bet on usage and talent over matchup” play in this spot.

JM’s Interpretation ::

While it honestly won’t surprise me if one player from this concentrated/talented Cleveland attack hits in this spot, there are just too many strong spots on this slate for me to be interested in an expensive guessing game, or in a low-wattage Steelers attack. Multiple price-considered duds should emerge from this game as well, making it a stay-away spot for me.

If going here — as noted above — the play I would actually be most interested in on the Steelers is Washington; while on the Browns side (with all pieces priced about equal to one another against their roles), it would be “picking the one you like the most for whatever reason” and hoping that the production on this team concentrates in that spot rather than being spread around.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 1st 4:05pm Eastern

Rams (
25) at

Cards (
22.5)

Over/Under 47.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Rams Run D
21st DVOA/11th Yards allowed per carry
Cardinals Run O
2nd DVOA/4th Yards per carry
Rams Pass D
11th DVOA/4th Yards allowed per pass
Cardinals Pass O
18th DVOA/19th Yards per pass
Cardinals Run D
10th DVOA/17th Yards allowed per carry
Rams Run O
1st DVOA/10th Yards per carry
Cardinals Pass D
10th DVOA/11th Yards allowed per pass
Rams Pass O
10th DVOA/15th Yards per pass

Somewhat lost in the excitement of what has been a pretty fun NFL Season (Lamar || Raiders competitive || Saints // Packers // Vikings // 49ers // Seahawks all 8-3 or better) has been the fact that last year’s seemingly unstoppable Rams offense has devolved into this. At 6-5, it’s not as if the Rams are the bottom feeders they’ve been made out to be, but they need to catch the 9-2 Seahawks or the 8-3 Vikings at the moment to sneak into the playoffs, and they are coming off a stretch in which they scored 12 points against the Steelers, 17 against the Bears, and six against the Ravens. Those are all elite defenses, but last season, “elite defenses” wouldn’t be nearly the concern they are for L.A. this year.

The Rams offensive line has continued to struggle this year — particularly from a “working as a unit” perspective — which is a big deal for an offense that is built to run the ball effectively and then use play action off of that for the passing attack to work. Todd Gurley has zero games of 100+ rushing yards after posting six such games last season, and he has only 114 receiving yards after posting 580 a year ago. Gurley’s snaps have been somewhat stable, with right around 50 in every game, but the line has not been able to get him going, and everything else is suffering as a result.

The good news for the Rams, however, is that the Cardinals are not the Steelers, Bears, or Ravens. This Arizona defense ranks 29th in DVOA, 30th in points allowed, and 31st in yards allowed. The Cardinals have given up one of the longest lists of notable stat lines in the league:

153-1 (24) CMC
104-0 (22) Carson
93-0 (19) Mixon
102-1 (21) Latavius

6-131-1 Hock
7-104-1 Amendola
8-112-1 Andrews
10-123-1 Boyd
8-117-1 Hooper
8-108-0 Julio
11-112-1 Michael Thomas
7-112-1 Manny
8-134-0 Deebo

8-86-0 Marquise
6-75-0 Olsen
7-57-1 Dissly
6-79-1 Kittle

These two teams, by the way, rank first and second in pace of play…and bottom four in time of possession, with the Cardinals holding the ball for only 26:59 per game, and with the Rams sitting at 27:45. Over five minutes of play time will be added in this spot compared to what these teams average, while these two teams rank 31st and 32nd in opponent plays per game. This all comes against the backdrop of the Cardinals sticking to the short areas of the field, the Rams having a good defense, and the Rams offense looking unpredictable of late — but at the very least, volume will get a notable boost in this spot, with quite a few more offensive plays available for at least one of these two teams than is usually the case.

We should look for the Rams to build from the inside out in this spot — working from the ground to the short areas of the field, and only moving deep from there if the other two aspects of the offense are clicking. While this should be enough to push Gurley to 18+ touches for what would be only the fifth time this year, perhaps the bigger impact here would be the return to relevance of Cooper Kupp, who — it’s easy to forget, after the Rams’ last month — was right next to Mike Thomas and the Bucs in the top four in yards per game before going a stunning-low 9-88-0 across his last three contests. Heading into his stretch against the Steelers, Bears, and Ravens, Kupp had gone for 100+ in five of seven and scored five touchdowns. It’s not particularly likely that the Cardinals have the antidote for Kupp — and if the targets are there, there’s a strong chance for the production to follow for the first time in a month.

Joining Kupp in the short and intermediate areas is Robert Woods, who has gone for 80+ yards in each of the last three “down games” for Kupp in which both were on the field, while going for under 50 yards in four of Kupp’s last five big games. Play volume could turn high enough for that to be only a footnote, but it is worth keeping in mind if thinking through how you’d like to build around this game. Kupp has the edge in red zone usage (11 targets vs three) and touchdowns (five vs one), but Woods does have eight or more targets in over half his games, and Arizona is facing 38 pass attempts per game — the fourth most in the league. Woods should be able to get looks.

The most disappointing player in this group has been Brandin Cooks, with only one game over 74 yards this year and only one game over four targets in his last five. The Rams have somewhat ditched the deep passing game lately, while the Rams should be able to move the ball effectively with Kupp // Gurley // Woods, so the biggest case for going to Cooks would be the pure volume available in this game. Either way you break it down (simply adding about 10 plays due to five minutes being available, or calculating percentage boost in “opponent plays per game” against the league average for the Cardinals and Rams), you end up with about 10 plays available to split between these two teams against the league-average 63ish each averages per game. If these 10 plays go half-and-half, or if one team jumps out to a big lead and slows down with a run-leaning approach, we won’t really notice the availability of these plays — but if this game remains close and most of the play boost ends up on one side, that boost in volume will make a notable difference.

The transition for this offense to a shorter-area attack has been eased by the emergence of Gerald Everett, who has eight or more looks in four of his last eight games. Everett, however, is dealing with a knee issue that limited him to 17 snaps on Monday and had him missing practice Wednesday. There is still time for him to get cleared (in which case, he would have a bit of a muddy snap share setup at an elevated price), but if he misses, Tyler Higbee saw six looks last week with Everett missing most of the game; and while he has topped 25 yards only twice and 50 yards zero times, he would catch the tight end matchup that has six notable stat lines from the position on that list above (which doesn’t even include the two-touchdown game Dwelley on 14 total yards).

The Cardinals come off the bye to face a Rams defense that has been playing better than the offense, with a number 11 DVOA ranking (third vs the run, 20th vs the pass) — though the Rams’ recent run of strong play (prior to their run-in with Lamar) came against the Bears, Steelers, Bengals and inconsistent Falcons. Outside of those games, the Rams held the 49ers to 20 and the Saints to nine in the Drew Brees injury game, but they also allowed Cam’s Panthers to score 27, the Bucs to score 55, and the Seahawks to score 30. This is not an “attackable” defense, but Arizona has 25+ points in six of their last seven games — and while four came against soft defenses (and they do have a bad game in this stretch vs the tough defense of the Saints), they also have two strong games against the 49ers.

The Arizona backfield has a below-average matchup against a Rams team that has been solid against running backs both on the ground and through the air, and this group is a bit of a mess with Kenyan Drake in the mix, Chase Edmonds expected back, and David Johnson likely to be more healthy off the bye. Kliff Kingsbury has talked about ‘finding how these pieces fit,’ so consider this spot to be merely “trying to guess on a play that might see the most usage and might hit from there.”

The Cardinals also spread the ball around among pass catchers, such that Kyler Murray has produced strong to elite fantasy scores in five of his last seven games, while only two usable stat lines (one from Christian Kirk, and another from Andy Isabella on only one catch) have emerged from this receiving group in that stretch. Kirk, of course, is the best bet in this offense with the most consistent usage and the best bet for downfield volume. The biggest threat to Kirk is Ramsey’s potential shadow (with Wade Phillips comfortable allowing Ramsey to travel into the slot even if the Cardinals counter by increasing slot snaps for Kirk). The other most interesting piece — in terms of potentially winning a tourney for you — is Isabella, who could conceivably come out of the bye with his snap counts and targets set to rise after seeing 17 // 26 // 20 snaps in his last three games. (To be clear here: Isabella has been developing slowly, and the Cardinals have not made an effort to emphasize him. This would be merely a speculative play.) Larry Fitzgerald also carries a decent floor, and if you squint real hard you can see ceiling.

JM’s Interpretation ::

While I don’t expect this game to turn into a slate-bending shootout, this is a solid spot, with Arizona having allowed 27+ points in eight of 11 (and 21+ in every game), and with the Rams coming off a brutal stretch that may take away some ownership. This is not last year’s Rams, but there is potential to build pieces from this game closer to your core.

For me, it’s Kupp, then Gurley, then Woods on the Rams — with Goff not especially likely to post a true top score, but not running blind toward that mark either. I’m not sure yet what I’m playing this week (I’m likeliest to settle on around 19 Wildcat entries again, but I want to poke around first before I settle on that), but if I go with a tighter set of entries (with this an especially attractive slate for three- to five-entry max; more on this on the Chat Pod this week), there is a chance Kupp finds his way into my core. And if I go broader, I’ll likely end up with some Gurley and Woods to hedge against that bet. Cooks is the least likely of the bunch to hit, but his ceiling (while less likely) is still outstanding if it shows up. I’ll also consider Everett as a risky higher-priced play if he comes back in time from this knee issue, while Higbee will be a really interesting salary saver on DK/Fdraft (where tight end pricing is less condensed than on FanDuel) if Everett is out for this matchup.

With Cards exposure, I’ll likely focus on Kyler — though there may be enough other spots with paths to 30 points for a quarterback and a strong stacking partner available that I won’t actually end up with that. But Kyler has been consistent; and while there’s some concern that Wade Phillips // Donald // Ramsey // etc. could slow the Cards, I’m fine betting on Kyler off the bye against the Rams on a short week. If moving beyond Kyler, Kirk is interesting for the upside (with risk) — and there are other pieces you could mess around with in game stack scenarios from there.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 1st 4:25pm Eastern

Raiders (
19) at

Chiefs (
30)

Over/Under 49.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Raiders Run D
31st DVOA/22nd Yards allowed per carry
Chiefs Run O
17th DVOA/6th Yards per carry
Raiders Pass D
26th DVOA/25th Yards allowed per pass
Chiefs Pass O
1st DVOA/7th Yards per pass
Chiefs Run D
28th DVOA/30th Yards allowed per carry
Raiders Run O
24th DVOA/14th Yards per carry
Chiefs Pass D
2nd DVOA/3rd Yards allowed per pass
Raiders Pass O
5th DVOA/5th Yards per pass

The Kansas City Chiefs (big surprise) have scored 24+ points in eight of their last nine games with Patrick Mahomes under center, and they have scored 24+ in all six of the games in which Tyreek Hill has been healthy. This week, Andy Reid has had an extra week to prepare for the poor pass defense of the Raiders, and the Chiefs are as healthy through the air as they have been all year. The Raiders, meanwhile, are coming off a beating at the hands of Sam Darnold.

A quick “game environment” note before we dive in: the Raiders fell apart last week on offense because they are built around running the ball and expanding into the passing attack from there, and they hit a wall against the top-two run defense of the Jets. This is not likely to be a problem against this Chiefs defense that ranks 30th in DVOA against the run, which should be able to stimulate something closer to a back-and-forth affair than the ugly showing from this team last week.

Running backs are averaging 5.05 yards per carry against the Chiefs this season (which means the Chiefs are turning the average running back they face into Nick Chubb // Christian McCaffrey on a per-carry basis), with the potential for a blowout win for the Chiefs the biggest dent in this spot for Josh Jacobs, who has not topped three receptions or 30 receiving yards in a game (and who has only three games north of 20 receiving yards this year). The Chiefs are allowing 24 running back carries per game on the whole — though this includes some losses and some tighter games, and this didn’t all come with Mahomes // Kelce // Hill playing together at home against the secondary of the Raiders. When these teams met earlier in the year, Jacobs saw 12 carries. That’s an extreme example of what can happen if things go wrong, but if betting on Jacobs at the higher ends of the price range, you’re betting on an unpredictable multi-touchdown game, or you’re betting on a game flow in which the Raiders get to lean more run-heavy.

The Chiefs have been much tougher through the air this year, with a DVOA ranking of six and the second fewest catches allowed to the wide receiver position. The Raiders seem to have lost Hunter Renfrow for the rest of the year, which leaves you throwing up a game flow prayer at wideout for this team.

It’s a different story for tight ends, of course, as the Chiefs have faced the second most targets, allowed the second most catches, and allowed the fifth most yards to the position. Darren Waller has seven or more targets in all but four games this year (five or more targets in all but one) and is a solid bet for seven to nine looks in this one. Waller has gone for 60+ yards in five contests (with three coming in soft tight end matchups — including the first time through against the Chiefs, when Waller went 6-63-0), so while he needs some atypical downfield work or a touchdown to really hit at his higher-end price tag, the matchup and game flow should put him in somewhat solid position.

On the other side of this game, the Chiefs have essentially zero matchup concerns, with the highest total on the slate and a big game the likeliest outcome (with the only major questions being workload // concentration of touches // ceiling hitting high enough for the prices). The Raiders rank 31st in defensive DVOA while allowing the fifth most fantasy points per game to quarterbacks and the fifth most yards per game to wide receivers. This defense also ranks 31st in red zone touchdown rate allowed and 31st in opponent drive success rate. In Week 2, with Hill not playing, Mahomes threw for 443 yards and four touchdowns on the road against the Raiders in a blowout win.

The Raiders are going to look to control the clock in this game as much as they can, and with teams running against the Chiefs and their offense able to score quickly, they rank 24th in time of possession and 25th in plays per game. As such, it’s preferred to bet on “players who are likeliest to hit big plays” over betting on volume with this offense — which leaves the Chiefs as a question mark in the backfield. This team has been giving us a fairly unprofitable timeshare with often-unexplained role shuffling and not a single have-to-have it score emerging from this group (and only a handful of really useful scores). If Damien Williams is out with his rib issue, LeSean McCoy will be the likely touch leader in this backfield, with Darrel Williams grabbing some pass game work and a few carries. If Damien is active, he’s the likeliest touch leader, but there will be room for a shakeup from there.

The passing attack for the Chiefs is clear at the top, where Travis Kelce has eight or more targets in all but two games this season (with six and seven targets in those two), and where Hill has quietly seen nine or more targets in four of his five healthy games (going 3-74-1 on five looks against Chris Harris in the other). There is nothing to concern us in the matchup here, as Oakland simply doesn’t have the personnel to scheme away whatever the Chiefs want to do.

Behind these two, Sammy Watkins has eight or more targets in six of his eight healthy games, but he hasn’t topped 64 yards or scored a touchdown since his Week 1 blowup — with a shorter-area role and only six red zone targets on the year. Mecole Hardman, meanwhile, has five touchdowns and seemingly hits one big play every game, though he hasn’t topped four looks since Tyreek returned. Demarcus Robinson is also still seeing snaps — so while he needs a lot to go right for ceiling, he’s able to effectively dent the floor of Hardman along the way.

JM’s Interpretation ::

On the Raiders side, I have fringe interest in Waller — but most of my interest in this spot will be on the Chiefs. Kelce (who ranks second in targets inside the 10 with 10, but who has only two touchdowns to show for these looks — with his fellow leaders Landry // Godwin // Evans // Golladay all grabbing four or more touchdowns on their looks) is a clear Tier 1 play on FanDuel where tight end pricing is condensed; and while he’s a bit overpriced on DraftKings for his likeliest range, he’s an elite tourney option for the ceiling, with an outside shot for a true have-to-have-it score against a Raiders defense that has allowed the second most touchdowns to the tight end position. Hill carries a lower floor than I would love at his elevated price, but only CMC has a higher raw ceiling on this slate. Hill is attractive in this spot with nine or more targets established as his likeliest range, and with the matchup doing him plenty of favors. Mahomes also approaches the top of the quarterback pile; and while Necessary scores rarely emerge on this offense behind a healthy Kelce/Hill, it’s likely enough that one or two other solid scores emerge from the backfield or passing attack that I’d definitely be fine with mixing and matching a few additional pieces if building heavily around this offense in tourneys this week.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 1st 4:25pm Eastern

Chargers (
21) at

Broncos (
17)

Over/Under 38.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Chargers Run D
21st DVOA/9th Yards allowed per carry
Broncos Run O
20th DVOA/25th Yards per carry
Chargers Pass D
11th DVOA/29th Yards allowed per pass
Broncos Pass O
31st DVOA/27th Yards per pass
Broncos Run D
5th DVOA/13th Yards allowed per carry
Chargers Run O
31st DVOA/12th Yards per carry
Broncos Pass D
9th DVOA/20th Yards allowed per pass
Chargers Pass O
7th DVOA/8th Yards per pass

At 40.5, Chargers at Broncos gives us one of the lowest totals on the slate — and with a spread of only 2.5, we don’t even have one team expected to pull away heavily. This is a spot where slate-breakers become less likely, and more duds may show up — but it’s not impossible for solid scores to emerge.

We’ll start on the Chargers side, where the bad offensive line on this team has led to Philip Rivers looking like he’s on the 18th hole of his career (or maybe already sitting at some bar called The 19th Hole and wondering why he still has his clubs in his hands). This week, he’ll be working against a Broncos defense that held him to only 211 passing yards on 48 attempts (how is that even possible?) at home — after which Keenan Allen threw shade on the Broncos, claiming what he has claimed before about this team that he apparently hates: that they suck. In that game, Allen went 4-16-0.

Allen will likely avoid Chris Harris, as Harris (somewhat inexplicably, after playing literally his entire career in the slot) has not only been moved to the outside to shadow top weapons this year…but has also been treated like the handful of shadow corners who don’t travel into the slot, with only a 6% slot rate on the year. Keenan has a “streak” going of eight straight games of 71 or fewer yards (with only one touchdown in that stretch), and he’ll still be taking on a Broncos defense that has allowed the fourth fewest yards to wide receivers, but he’s at least likely to get a decent chunk of his snaps in this game away from Harris’ shadow.

The next man up for the Chargers passing attack is Hunter Henry, who has target counts of 9 // 8 // 6 // 10 // 7 // 9 since returning to the field in Week 6. The Broncos have been more attackable with tight ends than with wideouts, ranking middle of the pack in yards allowed while giving up the ninth most catches to the position. It’s worth noting that Henry has beat up on one of the softest tight end schedules imaginable (and the Broncos are still tough on the whole), so add a dash of