Week 14 Matchups

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(Jump to Games)

OWS Fam :: Between the craziness of the holidays, the craziness of my wife and me walking through our first pregnancy, and the 16-game slates taking over for the remainder of the season, we are going to put the Roster Reviews // Recaps on hold the rest of the way, as this will allow me to free up a couple hours on Sunday each week to get a head start on the week ahead. Onward!


This is shaping up as an attractive Main Slate, with plenty of different, viable ways to go among salary-savers, and with plenty of high-priced guys to like as well. Even the mid-range offers plenty to play around with, creating a number of paths to consider this week in tourneys, and opening the door for unique builds to still carry plenty of floor and ceiling. With four weeks left in the season, we are in the sweet spot of A) lots of good teams (and even some bad teams) still carrying a clear shot at a playoff spot, and B) a number of out-of-contention teams now near enough to the end of the season that the focus has shifted to closing out strong.

There are very few games on this slate that can be completely overlooked, with some strong pieces to consider across the board. Dig in; keep strong notes; organize your thoughts heading into the weekend; and put together some high-floor/high-ceiling rosters that will give you a shot at the top of the leaderboards!

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Kickoff Thursday, Dec 6th 8:20pm Eastern

Jaguars (
16) at

Titans (
21.5)

Over/Under 37.5

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Notes

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

JAGUARS // TITANS OVERVIEW

For fans of old-school ball, this will be an exciting game between a Jags team playing for pride and a Titans team fighting to stay in the playoff hunt. These teams each rank bottom five in points per game on offense. These teams each rank top six in fewest points allowed per game on defense.

Both of these offenses go three-and-out at an above-average rate, and both teams rank bottom eight in drive success rate. With both teams also leaning run-heavy in their play-calling and emphasizing mistake-free football on offense, big plays and back-and-forth scoring are unlikely to be featured.

From a Showdown perspective, there are a few plays that stand out above the rest in this game, but otherwise things are pretty muddled. This is the type of game in which it makes sense to spread out your play across multiple rosters — betting on various scenarios for how this game could play out. When bad offenses take on good defenses, the likeliest path to fantasy production can sometimes be a crazy play or a long touchdown.

The early-week Over/Under in this game has been set at only 37.5, with the Titans installed as four-point favorites. Get your popcorn ready.

JAGUARS RUN OFFENSE

As one of the most opponent-specific defenses in the NFL — a unit that constantly shows different looks to different teams, while constantly disguising looks in an effort to confuse quarterbacks — it is unsurprising that the Titans have had occasional lapses this season. This team has held the Texans to 17 points, the Chargers to 20, and the Patriots to 10…but they have also allowed 27 points to the Dolphins, and they have allowed 30+ to the Texans (the second time around) and the Colts. Much as we saw in Vrabel’s stint as defensive coordinator with the Texans last year (and in some of Dean Pees’ final years with the Patriots), a complicated scheme can suffer when players are unable to keep track of all their assignments — an issue that has shown up from time to time with Tennessee. As we have alternately seen with Romeo Crennel’s 2018 Texans defense (and to a lesser extent, with Brian Flores’ 2018 Patriots defense), this approach can work when coaches put together a strong game plan and when players are talented and adaptable, but the Titans have had a few head-scratching defensive game plans this year, and their players have suffered from periodic lapses. Over the last couple weeks, these lapses have led to this unit allowing Texans running backs to pop off for 211 yards on 25 carries in Week 12 and Jets backs to go for a (less awful) 135 yards on 31 carries in Week 13. This is how the Jaguars will look to attack for as long as this game remains close, as they morphed into a run-first (and second…and third) team with Leonard Fournette finally healthy and with Blake Bortles under center, and this approach will be further emphasized with checkdown-master Cody Kessler under center. The Jags will aim to win this game by leaning on the run, preventing turnovers on offense, and dominating with defense.

As for the matchup: Tennessee had been playing strong run defense before those lapses against Houston and the Jets — and with Malcolm Butler getting torched weekly at the cornerback position for the Titans (on the year :: 48 catches allowed on 69 targets in his direction (69.6%), for 681 yards (14.2 yards per reception), seven touchdowns, and only two picks), teams were hardly even attempting to attack this team on the ground. In the weeks leading up to these recent run defense breakdowns, Marlon Mack rushed only 16 times for only 61 yards against the Titans // Sony Michel and Cordarrelle Patterson rushed only 15 times for only 42 yards // Ezekiel Elliott rushed only 17 times for only 61 yards // Austin Ekeler rushed only 12 times for only 42 yards.

Unless the Titans just absolutely control this game on offense (unlikely, given that the Titans rank bottom eight in drive success rate on offense, and the Jags have allowed the fourth lowest drive success rate as a defense), Fournette is going to top those 12 to 17 carries that backs had been seeing against Tennessee (he has touch counts of 29 // 30 // 21 since returning — with the 21 touches coming in only three quarters), so volume should not be a major concern. The Titans are going to be selling out to stop the run in this one — forcing Kessler to beat them — so matchup is a bit of an issue against a run defense that was shaving 10% off the league-average yards per carry before running into Lamar Miller in Week 12. Barring some long runs (which is something the Titans have been good at defending this year — allowing the sixth fewest rush plays of 20+ yards), Fournette will have a tough time topping 4.0 to 4.5 yards per carry. But 25+ touches is a genuinely fair projection.

JAGUARS PASS OFFENSE

The Jaguars’ pass offense would be written off completely on the Main Slate, but with a weak Tennessee offense taking on a stout Jaguars defense on the other side, there are going to be some opportunities for Jags pass catchers to make a small dent on this ugly slate.

The only real hope for the Jags opening up the offense with a downfield-attacking pass game is for Tennessee to jump out to a big lead. (The likeliest path to a big, early Tennessee lead? — turnovers. And since the Titans rank 29th in takeaways, and since the Jags installed Cody Kessler to do two things: 1. hand off the football, and 2. avoid turnovers, it’s an extreme outlier bet to assume the Titans will, in fact, jump out to a big lead.) As such, we need to recognize that Kessler threw 37.5% of his Week 13 targets to running backs, with only 11 looks going to wide receivers. Those looks were divided up as follows:

:: Dede Westbrook — 5
:: Donte Moncrief — 4
:: Keelan Cole — 2

Only four of Kessler’s 24 attempts last week traveled even eight or more yards downfield. He completed only one of those passes — which is not to say he is incapable of completing a few more, but it does illustrate the low ceiling on this group of pass catchers, outside of broken plays or a lucky touchdown. Westbrook runs the highest-floor routes, while Moncrief’s routes give him a lower floor but provide a higher ceiling. Cole has been phased out of the game plans, and will need to run into a downfield target on a broken play in order to matter. If D.J. Chark returns this week, he’ll play over Cole, and he adds explosive after-catch ability to a variable route tree.

One final note on the Jags’ offense :: in Week 11, Fournette played 35 snaps while Carlos Hyde played 11 and T.J. Yeldon played 23. Yeldon ran 17 pass routes. The Jags deployed similar usage in Week 10, with Fournette playing only 12 more snaps than Yeldon, and with Yeldon running 23 pass routes to Fournette’s 13. It’s not a crazy bet that Yeldon will outscore the Jags’ receivers. (Hyde is a “bet on a long play or a touchdown” on his likely four to 10 carries.)

TITANS PASS OFFENSE

As we have talked about all year: the Jags’ problem has not been their defense, but has instead been all the turnovers their offense has given up. The Jags’ defense has been called a disappointment all season, and all season I have wondered what people are looking at. Yes, the Jags’ pass rush has taken a big step back this year…but even with their offense giving the ball away the fifth most times in the league, the Jags have allowed the fifth fewest points and the third fewest yards in the NFL. The Jags rank 10th in fewest yards allowed per carry (and if we take away that “only Saquon could do it” run that the Giants’ rookie back had against them in Week 1, they would move up to seventh), they rank fourth in fewest yards allowed per pass attempt, they have allowed the second lowest catch rate in the NFL, and they have allowed the third fewest wide receiver receptions.

The Titans’ offense, meanwhile, ranks 28th in both points and yards, they rank 24th in drive success rate, and they rank 23rd in Three & Out rate. They are in an awful spot this week, with the only major bonus being the fact that this team is at home.

Same as the Jags’ passing attack, the Titans would be off the board on the Main Slate. On the Showdown, the likeliest source of production will be A) volume, or B) big plays. Volume is the higher-floor bet, but “big play” bets are likelier to win you a tourney if they pay off.

The “volume” play in the Jags’ passing attack is Corey Davis, who has averaged only five targets per game across the last three weeks, but who also had 27 targets across his previous three games. Davis will almost certainly be shadowed by Jalen Ramsey, but he’ll avoid him on the 30% of snaps he will run from the slot, and he won a similarly challenging matchup against Stephon Gilmore in Week 10.

The “big play” bets are Taywan Taylor and Cameron Batson. Taylor played 29 of 68 snaps last week, while Batson played 23. Taylor saw five targets to Batson’s two. Taylor may see his snaps rise a bit more this week, but the Titans have been hesitant all year to use him as an every-down player. Taylor saw an awesome three targets of 40+ yards last week.

This “attack” wraps up with Tajae Sharpe (a respectable aDOT this year of 11.6, with a bounce-around target share; he’s had only two games this year with real fantasy relevance, but a touchdown might get him there) and with Jonnu Smith (three or fewer targets in all but one game this year, but there is slim potential for this to be a target-spike spot for him).

TITANS RUN OFFENSE

The Jaguars have continued to play great against the run — allowing 3.76 yards per carry to running backs (3.50 when we take away that Saquon run), while allowing the sixth fewest rushing yards, the seventh fewest receiving yards, and the fewest touchdowns to running backs. The Titans’ offensive line ranks bottom eight in adjusted line yards, and they have been unable to spring long run plays all year, with the fifth fewest rush plays of 20+ yards.

This backfield continues to belong to Dion Lewis in the snap department, but Lewis has seen recent touch counts of 11 // 14 // 8, to touch counts of 9 // 10 // 12 for Derrick Henry. Henry has caught four passes across his last two games. Lewis has caught an incredible 45 of 51 targets on the year (88.2%) and should be getting more creatively-schemed looks than he is…but since he is not seeing these looks, he has become a low-floor play who depends on big plays for ceiling. The best bet on Lewis would be to believe he’ll see another usage spike in a tough spot.

JM’S INTERPRETATION

It is genuinely fairly safe to expect 25+ touches for Fournette — and while there is some risk that this leads to only 110 to 130 total yards, this still sets him up as one of the top plays on the Showdown for me. The matchup (and the certainty that the Titans will focus primarily on the run) introduces some slim concern, but it wouldn’t be enough to offset the volume for me. He is pretty clearly the highest-floor, highest-ceiling bet on this Showdown.

Elsewhere on the Jags’ offense, it wouldn’t be crazy to prefer Yeldon over the wide receivers. The wide receivers carry a higher ceiling, but if this game stays low-scoring and the Jags hold a lead through much of it, Yeldon actually becomes the better play. Obviously, all of these plays would be high-variance bets.

Even with the more difficult matchup, “style of play” indicates that one or two pass catchers on the Titans are likely to outscore the receivers on the Jags, though it’s tough to pin down who those plays might be. Corey Davis is the safest bet, Taywan Taylor is the low-floor/high-ceiling bet, and Jonnu, Sharpe, and even Batson are all “dart throws that have a slim path to hitting.” Mariota is a dart throw as well, with a decent shot at 200 passing yards and 20 to 30 rushing yards. If he breaks a long run or passes for one or two touchdowns against this disciplined, assignment-strong defense, he could be a nice piece. None of this feels safe or even necessarily “likely,” but if you’re playing this slate, those are some potential outcomes to consider betting on.

If you want to play the Titans’ backfield, you’re betting on broken plays (unlikely) or touchdowns (unlikely…but not impossible).

The defenses could easily outscore some skill position players, though it is worth noting that these teams rank bottom 12 in both sacks and takeaways on defense. There is a decent chance this game is low-scoring but not turnover-filled. There is also, of course, a chance for plenty of stalled drives in field goal range, and for the kickers to get involved.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 9th 1:00pm Eastern

Falcons (
23.25) at

Packers (
27.25)

Over/Under 50.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Falcons Run D
8th DVOA/6th Yards allowed per carry
Packers Run O
10th DVOA/10th Yards per carry
Falcons Pass D
30th DVOA/31st Yards allowed per pass
Packers Pass O
6th DVOA/14th Yards per pass
Packers Run D
25th DVOA/12th Yards allowed per carry
Falcons Run O
26th DVOA/20th Yards per carry
Packers Pass D
25th DVOA/18th Yards allowed per pass
Falcons Pass O
16ths DVOA/3rd Yards per pass

FALCONS // PACKERS OVERVIEW

When the schedule-makers set up this late-season clash, they surely assumed it would carry heavy playoff implications. Instead, this game features a 4-8 team traveling to take on a 4-7-1 team that just fired its head coach.

There are some things to like about this game. It projects to be played in cold (but not bone-chilling cold), sunny weather, with a Falcons offense that ranks 10th in yards per game (even after their drubbing at the hands of the Ravens last week) and a Falcons defense that is allowing the seventh most yards per game in the league. Dan Quinn always finds a way to keep his team motivated, and the Packers will be playing with extra motivation this week. The season for both of these teams has been disappointing enough that “shootout” is not a foregone conclusion — but there is a good chance we see some strong DFS scores emerge from this spot. Vegas opened this game with an Over/Under of 48.0, and it was quickly bet up to 49.0. The Packers are hovering as just-under-touchdown favorites.

PACKERS PASS OFFENSE

When Jeff Driskel took over as the quarterback of the Bengals, he and Bengals OC Bill Lazor both talked about how they were already equipped to work together because they communicate so much throughout the week. One example Lazor gave was the way he asks each quarterback on the team to give him a list of the plays they like the most each week, so that he can get a feel over time for what each quarterback is most comfortable with.

Other teams set up similar communication patterns between their quarterbacks and their play-caller. Josh McDaniels and Tom Brady are known to text throughout the week with play ideas and concepts for that week. Drew Brees and Sean Payton meet each Saturday night to talk over the plays they like the most for that week — and they have a rule that the play won’t be run unless both of them feel comfortable with it.

Former Packers receiver James Jones had an interesting bit of insight this week in talking about the relationship Mike McCarthy had with Aaron Rodgers — saying, essentially, that because McCarthy was the head coach, he was not always with the offense. As such, the players would communicate with Joe Philbin what plays they liked and what plays they didn’t — but even though this information would get relayed to McCarthy, it wouldn’t always show up in the play-calling (presumably because it simply was not at the front of McCarthy’s mind; that is to say, it’s not as if McCarthy was (intentionally) sabotaging the offense — but this lack of communication presented issues).

This is likely the biggest impact of the McCarthy firing, as the Packers will still be using the same playbook, and they will still have the same players on the field. One of those “players on the field” will still be Aaron Rodgers (it’s not difficult to imagine he’ll be fired up to prove a point in this spot), so if the communication improves, it’s not crazy to think we see an improved unit on the field this week.

The matchup, as you know by now, could not be much better. Atlanta has been completely mediocre against the pass this year, allowing a 5.5% increase on the league-average catch rate and ranking 23rd in yards allowed per pass attempt.

The Falcons rank middle of the pack in yards and receptions allowed to wide receivers, but only three teams have allowed more passing touchdowns than the Falcons this year — drawing our attention to Davante Adams, who leads the NFL in red zone targets and ranks second in receiving touchdowns. Adams has seen seven or more targets in every game this year, and he has double-digit looks in half his games. This is a good matchup — against a defense that typically focuses on assignments over opponent-specific game plans, allowing alpha receivers to be schemed as many targets as the offense wants. Adams will run most of his routes at Robert Alford, who has struggled this season to the tune of a 138.6 quarterback rating allowed.

This defense is most attackable over the short middle, where Randall Cobb runs the majority of his routes. Cobb is a low-upside bet with all the underneath targets he sees (across his last five games, he has 20 catches for only 141 total yards — which is, incredibly, one fewer yard than he had in Week 1 alone). If you want to bet on an outlier scenario, his short looks can occasionally turn into big gains.

This wide receiver unit wraps up with Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who has stumbled lately to only four catches on 12 targets (across his last three games), totaling only 30 yards in this stretch. MVS does still carry sneaky upside now that he has kicked to the perimeter with Cobb back on the field. He went only 2-19-0 last week on seven targets, but the previous time he played heavy perimeter snaps was Week 9 vs the Patriots, when he went 3-101-0 on six targets. He’s a low-floor, high-ceiling play.

Jimmy Graham saw 11 targets last week, just two weeks removed from a two-week stretch of one-target games. Most weeks, Graham has been involved — though he has rarely flashed for yardage upside, making him a bet-on-touchdown play. With Davante Adams hogging the end zone work, Graham has only two touchdowns all season. Working in his favor is a matchup against a Falcons team that has been middling against tight ends.

PACKERS RUN OFFENSE

One of the most obvious coaching mistakes from Mike McCarthy was his puzzling usage of Aaron Jones, who closed out his time with McCarthy seeing 39 snaps and 15 touches in a home loss to the 2-9 Cardinals…while plodding teammate Jamaal Williams somehow played 38 snaps and touched the ball 11 times. As of this writeup, I have seen no reports to indicate that Jones will see a spike in playing time, but I’ll be viewing this as a fairly safe bet this week. Not every running back has the incredible conditioning of a guy like Christian McCaffrey (who has literally played every snap recently for the Panthers), but at least 70% of the snaps should be here for Jones, who will have a shot to push for 17+ carries while adding looks in the pass game. Jones has recent target counts of 4 // 5 // 6 // 5 // 4. The Falcons have faced the most targets and allowed the most catches to running backs, while allowing the third most receiving yards and the 11th most rushing yards. Only six teams have allowed more touchdowns to running backs. On a per-touch basis, Jones’ red zone role has been on par with guys like Todd Gurley and recent-weeks Christian McCaffrey. There is obvious guesswork on the workload for this play, but Jones has spiked-week upside in this spot.

FALCONS PASS OFFENSE

Although Green Bay invites opponents to run the ball (and has faced the fifth highest rush play rate in the NFL), the Falcons have been the third pass-heaviest offense in the league this year as they have realized that they have no hope of producing consistent yardage on the ground. Before last week’s game (in which the Falcons ran only 45 plays vs Baltimore), Matt Ryan had thrown the ball (starting from Week 4) the following number of times :: 39 // 38 // 41 // 39 // 38 // 52 // 34 // 47. A pass-leaning game plan is the likeliest approach here.

The Packers have been attackable through the air with quality receivers, allowing 70+ yards to Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, Tyler Lockett, Josh Gordon, Julian Edelman, Robert Woods, Brandin Cooks, and Kenny Golladay. Outside of their games against the Vikings (who have dominated this secondary twice), the Packers have done a good job limiting catch rate — but wideouts are piling up enough downfield receptions to make consistent box score dents against them. Coming off a 2-18-0 game in a dispiriting home loss to the Ravens, Julio Jones enters a strong bounce-back spot. He and Ryan would benefit from playing this game at home in the dome, but the opportunities will still be there for him to hit.

Behind Julio — who ranks third in the NFL in targets per game and first in the league in percentage share of team air yards — this passing attack has been a whack-a-mole unit, with Calvin Ridley topping five targets only once in his last four games, and with Mohamed Sanu going for 21 or fewer receiving yards as many times this year (three) as he has managed to go over 56 receiving yards. Austin Hooper rounds out this attack with the occasional blowup in his back pocket, but with six consecutive games of 56 or fewer receiving yards. The Packers have been solid against tight ends this year, allowing the fifth fewest receptions to the position.

FALCONS RUN OFFENSE

The Packers are middling against the run — allowing 4.6 yards per carry — though volume in this split backfield is a bigger concern than matchup. Across the last six Falcons games, Tevin Coleman has averaged 9.5 carries and 2.8 receptions per game. Coleman has seven touchdowns on the year, but outside of a blowup game in Week 9 (two touchdowns // 156 total yards vs Washington), these touchdowns have barely even made his lines serviceable. It’s not crazy to bet on Coleman seeing a heavier workload after being “accidentally” out-carried by Ito Smith last week — and if he sees 14 to 17 touches, it’s not crazy to think he could rip off a big play to go with a potential score — but these bets would come with the low floor that Coleman has shown all year.

JM’S INTERPRETATION

I’m actually somewhat excited about the Packers’ offense in this one — with acknowledgement that this is still something of a high-variance play. (It is no guarantee that this offense suddenly clicks just because a new guy is calling the same plays. The matchup does help, though; and it’s fair to assume Rodgers will be able to somewhat rally the troops.) I don’t think I would feel comfortable betting on MVS in anything but large-field tourneys, and Cobb is not really my style of play (with all the ultra-short looks), but I like Rodgers, and I really like Adams. In the backfield, Jones’ price on all three sites is a bit close to the top players on the slate — but if his usage is in line with those guys (22 to 25 touches), he’s actually not far off in projections in this spot. His price point (and his price-considered disappointment last week) will likely pull attention away from him, making him an intriguing tourney piece.

Temperatures on Sunday in Green Bay currently call for a high of 26; and while Matt Ryan was a finalist for the Heisman while playing for Boston College, he has played most of his games across the last 10 years in the domes and warm-weather environments of the NFC South. We would prefer this team indoors, on turf, making Ryan more “speculative for upside” than central piece this week — but I cannot imagine that many people will be thinking about Ryan, and he does have some of the highest upside in football if this game turns into a shootout. He’s an interesting piece in tourneys.

Julio is an interesting piece in all formats for his locked-in targets and the consistency and upside he carries. His red zone role, as always, is a concern, but he can rip off chunk gains with the best of them, and his floor in this matchup should be respectable (something like 6-90-0 if things go even just somewhat according to plan).

With volume on the rest of this passing attack so scattershot, I likely won’t go beyond Julio, but all three of Sanu // Ridley // Hooper are theoretically viable in large-field tourneys for their upside. The backfield will almost certainly be off-limits for me. Coleman is explosive enough to rip off a big run, but he hasn’t topped 13 carries since Week 4, and he hasn’t topped 16 carries all season.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 9th 1:00pm Eastern

Ravens (
21.25) at

Chiefs (
27.75)

Over/Under 49.0

Tweet
Notes

Key Matchups
Ravens Run D
2nd DVOA/11th Yards allowed per carry
Chiefs Run O
17th DVOA/9th Yards per carry
Ravens Pass D
7th DVOA/14th Yards allowed per pass
Chiefs Pass O
1st DVOA/12th Yards per pass
Chiefs Run D
28th DVOA/30th Yards allowed per carry
Ravens Run O
5th DVOA/1st Yards per carry
Chiefs Pass D
2nd DVOA/4th Yards allowed per pass
Ravens Pass O
19th DVOA/31st Yards per pass

RAVENS // CHIEFS OVERVIEW

Analysis is almost futile in a spot like this, with one of the top offenses in the NFL taking on the best defense in the league. As we saw when the Panthers played the Ravens in Week 8 (36 points for Carolina) — and as we even saw from the Bengals in Week 2 (34 points for Cincy) — a strong offense with quality pieces can post a strong game in a matchup like this. But as we also saw in Week 4 against the Steelers (14 points at home), Week 7 against the Saints (24 points at Baltimore), and Week 13 against the Falcons (16 points at home), a defense this good can pull an opposing offense down to significantly below-average results. Aiding the Chiefs in this spot is the locale of this game, as they will have an easier time producing their standard results with the crowd working in their favor. Working against the Chiefs is the absence of the explosiveness in the backfield that had been allowing them to put pressure on an opposing defense from one more angle. Patrick Mahomes has been tremendous this year, and this is one of the most adaptable and well-designed offensive units in the league — but if Sammy Watkins misses again and the Chiefs are down to just two primary weapons for the Ravens to defend, they could have a tough time reaching their lofty Vegas-implied total of 29.0. Unsurprisingly, this Vegas-implied total is much lower than it was when the week started, as this game opened with an Over/Under of 53.5 and has fallen to 51.5, while the Chiefs have dropped from -9.0 to -6.5 — falling from an original Vegas-implied total of 31.25. This is not to say that the Chiefs cannot put up yards and points; but it does speak to the difficulties this matchup presents.

CHIEFS PASS OFFENSE

We saved this writeup for last on the Main Slate, hoping that more concrete information would emerge on the availability of Watkins — but even after waiting until Thursday afternoon to write up this game, Watkins’ status remains up in the air. He is an important piece for the Chiefs this week, as he would be capable of beating single coverage often enough to put serious strain on a Ravens team that will be focused on limiting Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce first and foremost. If Watkins misses, it will be up to Chris Conley and DeMarcus Robinson to win matchups away from the Ravens’ primary emphasis of attention.

On the year, the Ravens are allowing the lowest catch rate in the league and the second lowest YAC/R rate in the league. No team has allowed fewer yards per pass attempt than the Ravens. Only the Jags and Vikings have allowed fewer passing touchdowns. Only two teams have allowed fewer receptions to wide receivers. Only one team has allowed fewer yards to wide receivers. Since A.J. Green went 5-69-3 against the Ravens in Week 2 (with Tyler Boyd chipping in 6-91-1), elite receivers against this team have put up the following stat lines:

:: Antonio Brown — 5-62-1 (11 targets)
:: JuJu Smith-Schuster — 4-60-0 (11 targets)
:: Michael Thomas — 7-69-1 (nine targets)
:: Antonio Brown — 5-42-1 (10 targets)
:: JuJu Smith-Schuster — 7-78-0 (nine targets)
:: Tyler Boyd — 4-71-0 (11 targets)
:: Julio Jones — 2-18-0 (eight targets)

From a price-considered standpoint, it is going to be difficult for Tyreek to pop off in this spot — especially as this talented, disciplined, assignment-tight defense is going to be focused first and foremost on not allowing him to beat them deep. From a pure upside perspective, Hill will still get his downfield shots, opening opportunities for a long play or a multi-score game — but it will be difficult for him to hit on these looks in this spot.

The Ravens’ greatest weakness in coverage has come against tight ends, where this team uses variable coverage looks and assignments to contain the position — none of which have produced the elite results that this team has been able to produce against other positions. On the year, the Ravens have allowed the 10th most catches and the eighth most yards to the position. There is a case to be made that the Ravens will introduce some coverage wrinkles to make sure Kelce does not beat them downfield — but Kelce should draw the Ravens’ standard tight end coverage often enough to become the Chiefs’ primary means of moving the ball successfully in this spot. The Ravens have yet to face a tight end the caliber of Kelce, and they don’t really have any players with the size/speed combo necessary to stick with him.

If Watkins misses, Conley could be in line for another steady workload. In this three game stretch with Watkins hardly playing, Conley has seen target counts of 2 // 8 // 7, contributing 11 catches on these 17 looks (64.7%) for 121 yards (a low 7.1 yards per target). He doesn’t really have the skill set to win in this matchup, but the potential work will give him another outside shot at hitting.

If Watkins returns, he’ll be tasked with beating isolated looks — with plenty of these looks likely coming from struggling superstar Jimmy Smith. Watkins would carry a low floor in his first game back, but he would have tourney appeal as a guy who has the explosiveness to win in tight spots.

CHIEFS RUN OFFENSE

The Ravens have been almost as good against the run as they have been against the pass — ranking sixth in fewest yards allowed per carry and fifth in DVOA against the run. After failing in his audition for workhorse duties last week, Spencer Ware may also see his work cut back this time around — with the Chiefs signing old pal Charcandrick West this last week, and with this team potentially set to get Damien Williams a bit more involved as well (Williams piled up 45 yards on seven touches last week — not far behind Ware’s 52 yards on 15 touches). There is also a case to be made that this highly adaptable offense will become a bit more pass-leaning without Kareem Hunt in the backfield.

If you want to take a shot on this backfield in a difficult matchup, it is noteworthy that Ware played 49 of 71 snaps last week (69.0%), giving him the clearest shot at a difference-making workload.

RAVENS RUN OFFENSE

While the Chiefs have continued to show improvement throughout the year against the pass (more on this below), they have struggled to slow down the run — ranking 31st in yards allowed per carry and 32nd in run defense DVOA. With this team constantly playing with a lead, they rank only 14th in running back rush attempts faced, but they have allowed the eighth most rushing yards to the position, and they have also allowed the third most running back receptions. With the Ravens’ defense potentially capable of slowing down the Chiefs’ electric attack, there is a chance that this run game becomes viable again this week.

Working against DFS viability for this backfield is the way this team is splitting responsibilities, with Gus Edwards proving to be a true zero in the pass game (76 carries on the year; one reception), and with Ty Montgomery mixing in for recent target counts of 3 // 7. Last week, Kenneth Dixon came off I.R. to contribute eight carries and one reception of his own. Dixon (who was a threat during the summer to take over the lead job) is the most complete all-around back and could continue to see his role grow after playing 21.0% of the snaps last week. (Edwards played 49.4% of the snaps. Montgomery played 33.3%.)

For as long as this game stays close, the Ravens are going to run the ball (since Lamar Jackson took over under center, this team has passed the ball on only 34.39% of their plays; as a reminder :: the Seahawks have the lowest pass play rate in the NFL this year, “all the way up” at 48.86%), which should still create space for Edwards to push for 18 to 20 yardage-and-touchdown touches (assuming he remains the lead dog). Dixon has an outside shot at producing a sneaky-viable score, with potential for his touches to rise to the 10 to 14 range. Montgomery is a bet-on-efficiency option in his pass-game-only role.

RAVENS PASS OFFENSE

The Chiefs rank 15th in yards allowed per pass attempt, and they are shaving almost 3% off the league-average catch rate — continuing to allow explosive plays from time to time, but playing fairly sticky coverage on a per-play basis. The Chiefs rank 13th in DVOA against the pass. Because this team has played with a lead so often, they have faced the most pass attempts in the NFL — but the Ravens will enter this game with another run-and-defense-first game plan, and they can only be expected to go pass-heavy if they fall a couple touchdowns behind. If betting on the actual pass game pieces of this passing attack, you should build rosters that first bet on the idea that the Chiefs will be playing with a lead (i.e., attempting to isolate the pieces on the Chiefs that you believe will help them get there).

Since Jackson took over under center for the Ravens, targets among wide receivers have looked like this:

:: Willie Snead — 8 // 0 // 3
:: John Brown — 1 // 7 // 4
:: Michael Crabtree — 3 // 6 // 4

Snead has gone 6-69-0 through the air across his last three games on his 11 targets. JB has gone 2-48-0 through the air across his last three games on his 12 targets (though he has been close to a couple big plays). Crabtree has gone 7-64-1 through the air across his last three games on his 13 targets.

All four tight ends continue to see snaps (each of them played over 25% of the snaps last week), with Mark Andrews and Nick Boyle the best bets for targets, but with Hayden Hurst still in the mix.

Obviously, no pass catchers on the Ravens have been remotely viable since Jackson took over, but targets would obviously have a chance to spike if you want to bet on a game flow scenario that has the Chiefs taking a big lead and the Ravens playing from behind.

Jackson himself is best viewed as an extension of the run game, with points through the air across the last three weeks of 5.0 // 9.12 // 5.0, but with rushing totals of 119 // 71 // 75. He has added two touchdowns on the ground (and fumbled the ball five times). Last week, he threw only 84% of the team’s passes, with Robert Griffin III picking up four pass attempts of his own. Things could obviously open up in this attack if the Ravens fall behind, but the Ravens will try to prevent that scenario by continuing to keep the ball on the ground and chew up clock as often as they can.

JM’S INTERPRETATION

While the Chiefs’ offense is legitimately always in play in tourneys for the monster upside they can produce, the only play on this offense who stands out as a solid floor/ceiling option is Kelce (and even he carries some slim concerns, given that the Ravens will surely have some coverages in place to make life difficult on him). With prices still fairly high on this offense across the board (and with plenty of high floor/ceiling spots available on this slate), this unit won’t be a primary focus for me. If multi-entering large-field tourneys, however, it certainly still makes sense to fire off a few Chiefs stacks on the off chance they hit big once again. There is also a case to be made for firing away on Hill or Mahomes in tourneys in the hopes that talent wins out over matchup.

I expect the Ravens to keep this game close, so I won’t be taking outlier shots on this passing attack; and while I expect the Ravens to find success on the ground, the distribution of usage will likely chase me off this team altogether. If I do decide to go here, the guys who stand out the most are Jackson for his legs and Edwards for his 100-yard, two-touchdown potential. Dixon or even Montgomery could surprise with a strong game in this spot as well.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 9th 1:00pm Eastern

Panthers (
24.5) at

Browns (
23.5)

Over/Under 48.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Panthers Run D
26th DVOA/18th Yards allowed per carry
Browns Run O
7th DVOA/3rd Yards per carry
Panthers Pass D
13th DVOA/10th Yards allowed per pass
Browns Pass O
23rd DVOA/27th Yards per pass
Browns Run D
20th DVOA/5th Yards allowed per carry
Panthers Run O
16th DVOA/21st Yards per carry
Browns Pass D
19th DVOA/30th Yards allowed per pass
Panthers Pass O
11th DVOA/11th Yards per pass

PANTHERS // BROWNS OVERVIEW

The Panthers have tumbled to a 6-6 record with four consecutive losses, and they are now traveling to take on an improving, 4-7-1 Browns team that is 1-5 on the road but 3-2-1 at home. This game pairs contrasting styles, with a slow-paced Panthers offense taking on an aggressive Browns defense, and with a fast-paced Browns offense taking on a play-it-back Panthers defense that ranks 15th in takeaways and 20th in sacks, and that aims to keep the ball in front of them and take away big plays. The Panthers need a win and the Browns are continuing to play hard, which should create a solid start-to-finish setup. Both offenses are above-average with solid pieces, leading to a quietly attractive Over/Under of 47.0. The Panthers have been installed as early-week 2.0 point favorites on the road.

PANTHERS PASS OFFENSE

Gregg Williams’ aggressive Browns defense has continued to improve throughout the year, and they have currently allowed the seventh fewest yards per pass attempt, on the strength of a below-average aDOT, a below-average YAC/R rate allowed, and the third lowest catch rate allowed in the league. With the Browns playing at the sixth fastest pace in the league and allowing the most opponent plays per game, however, they have faced the third most wide receiver targets — allowing the fifth most catches and the sixth most yards.

The toughest matchup will likely go to D.J. Moore, who is expected to draw shadow coverage from impressive rookie Denzel Ward. Ward has allowed a completion rate on throws into his coverage of only 53.2%, with a quarterback rating allowed of only 70.0. He is also allowing an impressively low YAC/R of 3.3 — making life difficult on a player in Moore who draws a lot of his upside from the 5.1 YAC/R that he has paired with his below-average aDOT of 9.1. Moore is a strong route-runner, and he has truly exciting after-catch ability, keeping his upside visible; but this is a tough draw.

Moore’s matchup against Ward should filter one or two extra targets elsewhere — with another four to six targets missing from the loss of Greg Olsen (foot). Snap counts on this team last week among wide receivers looked like this:

:: Moore — 66
:: Curtis Samuel — 58
:: Jarius Wright — 39
:: Devin Funchess — 32
:: Torrey Smith — 9

Smith appears to be healthy and “phased out of the offense” at the moment. Funchess’ limited snaps were expected last week as the Panthers looked to ease him back in — though there is a decent chance that this was simply Carolina’s excuse to limit his snaps in favor of Moore and Samuel. At this point, Moore is very clearly locked in as the top option. Samuel may drop to a smaller snap share this week, but after he was fed 11 targets last week, he’s clearly going to maintain a role. With Ian Thomas soaking up five targets last week at tight end, there is danger that this team spreads the ball around too much behind McCaffrey for anyone to matter. Wright is the lowest-upside play as the Panthers’ possession-only receiver — requiring a broken play or a touchdown to matter. Funchess is touchdown-dependent with an iffy workload. Samuel is risky, but high-upside; he has a chance to pop a couple more times down the stretch if the targets remain in the six-and-above range. Thomas is a wildcard after failing to top three targets when Olsen missed earlier in the year, in spite of constantly running pass routes in that stretch. The safest bet is to consider last week’s five-target game to have been fluky…but with the Browns facing (by far) the most tight end targets in the NFL, Thomas is going to be a cheap name to consider this week.

PANTHERS RUN OFFENSE

After having almost no red zone role through the first eight weeks of the season, Christian McCaffrey has exploded over the Panthers’ last five games — soaring up to fifth in the NFL in red zone carries (ahead of Zeke, and just barely behind Conner, Saquon, and Kamara), while getting involved in the pass game near the goal line as well. The play-calling on this team saw a sharp and sudden shift in Week 9 against the Bucs, and they haven’t looked back since. CMC has incredibly scored 10 of his 11 touchdowns from Week 8 on. He has still topped 19 touches in only four of 12 games, but his pass game role makes him one of the safest plays on the slate, and his rise in red zone usage has locked him in as one of the highest-ceiling plays as well. Matchup has hardly mattered for CMC, but it doesn’t hurt that the Browns have allowed the fifth most rushing yards and the ninth most receiving yards to enemy backs. If the Browns do give the Panthers more plays than normal, CMC will likely see a boost in the volume department, as he is playing a full 100% of the Panthers’ snaps at the moment.

BROWNS PASS OFFENSE

The Browns are spreading out the field and taking full advantage of the unique skills of Baker Mayfield — but they are also being run by a defensive coach, and in two of their last three games we have seen them shut down the passing attack in favor of the run as soon as they gained a lead. In wins over Atlanta and Cincinnati, Baker threw the ball only 20 and 26 times. In order for this passing attack to maximize its potential, the Panthers will likely have to grab an early lead — which is worth keeping in mind if trying to figure out how to optimize your exposure to this game.

This is a good matchup for Baker and a passing attack that has not relied too heavily on YAC for their production, as YAC prevention is the only thing this Panthers unit really does well. Carolina has allowed the fourth lowest YAC/R rate in the league, but they have allowed a 4.9% increase on the league-average aDOT and a 2.4% increase on the league-average catch rate. Baker has an awesome 71.8% completion rate over his last four games in this ball-out-quick spread attack, and he’ll have a shot to pile up another solid game here.

While it is easy to see production from the Browns’ quarterback, it is more difficult to pinpoint pass catchers to bet on in this spread-the-wealth attack. It is always most favorable to bet on attacks with a narrow target distribution and a downfield style. This offense has continually spread the ball to eight or more pass catchers over the last four weeks, with a decent chunk of these passes coming short (and with very few coming more than 20 yards downfield).

If you are set on betting on Mayfield: a high-volume game from him should lead to another seven to nine looks for Jarvis Landry, who was used extremely well last week — seeing targets on: a deep crossing route, a drag route, a corner route, and a wheel route — all in addition to a few other quick-out looks. This was the first “upside” usage for Landry in recent weeks — giving him more hope than he had on the type of usage he was seeing earlier in the season. Antonio Callaway and David Njoku would be the next most appealing options, as they are locked into a joint share of number two duties behind Landry. Callaway has been steadily improving, and it won’t be surprising if he has one or two more nice games down the stretch. Rashard Higgins wraps up this group of viable Browns as the lowest-usage piece. Higgins quietly has seven games this year with a 20+ yard reception (in nine games played), and his trustworthy hands have earned him three touchdowns, so he’s not a total loss — though he is a dud on weeks when he catches only one or two balls.

BROWNS RUN OFFENSE

The Panthers rank eight in yards allowed per carry and eighth in run defense DVOA. Only six teams have allowed fewer yards to running backs this year.

Nick Chubb should see his 18+ carries as long as the Browns are able to keep this game close. He has added exactly three receptions in three consecutive games. A bet on Chubb this week is a bet on A) the Browns playing this game close, and B) Chubb beating a tough matchup. He’ll have to do a lot of the work on his own, as his offensive line ranks 21st in adjusted line yards, while the Panthers’ defense ranks second.

JM’S INTERPRETATION

With the Panthers likelier than normal to run 70 plays, I’ll have some interest in this side of the ball, though it’s difficult to fall in love with much away from the backfield. With Ward on Moore, he’s a tourney-only play for me; and the rest of the pass catchers are a bit thin from a “certainty” perspective. Thomas is an interesting salary saver, though we have yet to see any upside from him. Samuel is a favorite play of mine — and with six touchdowns on the year, one carry in four of his last five games, and 20 targets across his last three games, I may mix him into large-field play and hope that the Panthers view him as too valuable to remove from the field. The clearest plays on this side of the ball, of course, are Christian McCaffrey (one of the safest, highest-upside plays on the slate) and Cam Newton, who is a good bet to bounce back in a must-win game.

I like the idea of betting on Baker this week in large-field tourneys. He comes with the risk of a rookie and he is not exactly being offered at a big discount compared to the safer names this week, but it’s not crazy to think he could top some of those more popular names in a home game against a below-average pass defense. In order for Mayfield to truly shine, the Panthers will likely have to grab a lead — so rosters with Baker at quarterback would optimally pair him with a piece or two on the Panthers. He can also be paired with Landry, Callaway, Njoku, or Higgins — though he does spread the ball around enough that it is possible for him become a strong tourney play on his own.

Chubb has the ability to beat a tough matchup, but it is easy enough to pin down high-floor/high-ceiling plays at the running back position that I am likelier to search for my differentiation in higher-variance spots.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 9th 1:00pm Eastern

Colts (
22.5) at

Texans (
26.5)

Over/Under 49.0

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Notes

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

COLTS // TEXANS OVERVIEW

Colts // Texans brings us an exciting matchup between two of the hottest teams in football. The Colts are coming off a tough 0-6 loss on the road at Jacksonville, but they had won five in a row before that. The Texans have won an NFL-best nine consecutive games — riding their defense, a strong run game, and just the right amount of Deshaun Watson to DeAndre Hopkins (“just the right amount” in real life, that is; certainly not just the right amount for fantasy). Indy plays at the fastest pace in the NFL and is willing to open things up through the air against tough run defenses, while the Texans rank middle of the pack in pace of play and have preferred to win games on the ground, ranking behind only Seattle in rush play rate. The Colts’ defense capitalizes on speed and forcing opponents to march the whole field. The Texans’ defense relies on their unblockable defensive line to create issues for opposing run games and passing attacks, while trying to confuse quarterbacks with variable looks and coverage schemes. This will be a fun game to watch, with the winner gaining important position in the playoff race (Houston is still chasing the number one seed, and Indy is chasing the final Wild Card spot). The Texans have been installed as 4.5 point favorites in a game with a healthy Over/Under of 49.0

COLTS PASS OFFENSE

The Colts have been one of the most adaptable offensive units in the NFL — going pass-heavy when Marlon Mack was missing in action earlier in the year, turning into a run-heavy team after Mack returned, then throwing the ball 52 times last week at Jacksonville (adopting the Patriots’ and Steelers’ occasional mindset of, “this defense is tough no matter what, so we may as well trust our star quarterback”). With Houston boasting a top five run defense and facing the eighth highest opponent pass play rate in the NFL, it would make sense for Indy to take this approach again — perhaps starting out with efforts at a balanced approach, but eventually putting the ball into Luck’s hands and giving him a chance to take over the game.

In the first game with Jack Doyle (once again) off the field for the Colts, 28 of the 52 pass attempts thrown by Andrew Luck went to T.Y. Hilton and Eric Ebron — good for a massive 53.8% target share. Luck, of course, had not topped 37 pass attempts in his five previous games (with 31 or fewer passes in four of those), so a high-volume game is not guaranteed for either guy (even on such a massive target share) — but with this game lining up nicely for a pass-heavy approach from the Colts, and with Hilton and Ebron providing solid target floors even without a pass-heavy game script, each guy draws the eye this week.

Ebron pulls the best matchup against a Houston team that has been torched by tight ends this year, consistently allowing above-expectation production while giving up the seventh most receptions and the sixth most yards to the position.

As for Hilton: he has a history of production against the Texans, with over 1200 receiving yards and nine touchdowns in 13 career games against his division rival. He has topped 100 yards in six of those 12 games, and he has regularly given Johnathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson fits. Joseph may miss this week with a neck injury, potentially setting up Hilton for some snaps against liability Shareece Wright. This is a very good Texans defense — and with the second fewest touchdowns allowed to wide receivers, upside has been tough to come by against them. But Hilton will be given opportunities to hit, giving him his typical range of iffy price-considered floor and excellent price-considered upside.

With Luck throwing 52 times last week, the final heavy-usage piece was running back Nyheim Hines, who saw nine targets with the Colts in pass-first mode. He averaged only 5.6 yards per catch on these looks, but he should at least be involved again.

Behind these three, Dontrelle Inman went 2-14-0 on six targets. Volume was otherwise spread thin across a handful of players.

COLTS RUN OFFENSE

Houston has been atmospheric against the run this year, ranking sixth in adjusted line yards, fourth in yards allowed per carry, and second in run defense DVOA. Only the Saints and the Ravens have allowed fewer rushing yards than the Texans this year, creating a tough spot for Marlon Mack, who has performed well in easy matchups but mostly struggled in tough matchups. The last time Houston allowed a running back to top 60 yards against them was Week 6. The best rushing games against this team were 82 yards from Saquon Barkley and 73 yards from LeSean McCoy. Mack is going to need a busted play or a multi-touchdown game for anyone to notice he was playing on this slate.

TEXANS RUN OFFENSE

The Texans’ run offense has been awesome lately — with Lamar Miller topping 100 yards in four of his last six games — but this squad will run into a tough matchup in this spot against an Indy team that ranks seventh in fewest yards allowed per carry, seventh in adjusted line yards, and fourth in run defense DVOA. No running back has cracked 100 yards against the Colts this year, and no running back has cracked even 81 yards since Week 5. Miller should get his volume once again in this spot — though with such a limited pass game role, he’ll need a multi-touchdown game or a long run in order to notch relevant production. Behind Miller, Alfred Blue has continued to see heavy usage in this run-heavy offense — though he has not topped 54 rushing yards in a game all season.

TEXANS PASS OFFENSE

The Colts have been less daunting against the pass — forcing the shallowest aDOT in the league, but now allowing the highest catch rate in the league to go with it. This has led to the Colts ranking a middling 19th in yards allowed per pass attempt. While a huge chunk of their receptions have been allowed to running backs (the second most running back receptions in the league — paired with the third fewest receiving yards allowed to wide receivers), the Texans are not shy about throwing to wide receivers in any matchup when they choose to go to the air. Ultimately, the matchup itself here is above-average, as the Colts are allowing a 68.75% completion rate on passes to wide receivers. When these teams met in Week 4, DeAndre Hopkins hit the Colts for a 10-169-1 receiving line on only 12 targets, in a still-pass-heavy Texans attack.

Digging a bit deeper, it is noteworthy that the Texans’ run-heavy stretch has come against Buffalo, Jacksonville, Miami, Denver, Washington, Tennessee, and Cleveland — none of whom had a quarterback capable of pushing the Texans on the scoreboard and forcing them to click into attack mode. It’s no guarantee, but the clearest path to upside on the Texans’ side of the ball is to bet on the Colts scoring through the air and forcing the Texans to respond. If the Texans are unable to lean run-heavy in a tough matchup on the ground, it is worth noting that Hopkins now ranks third in the NFL in percentage share of team air yards, behind only Julio and OBJ. With Will Fuller out, Keke Coutee unable to get healthy, and Demaryius Thomas showing little, Hopkins has once again taken over as the king of this offense. He saw 12 looks last week when Deshaun Watson was finally forced to throw more than 24 times (31 pass attempts — giving Hopkins an unreal 38.7% of the team’s targets). Hopkins also saw 10 targets in a Week 9 game in which Watson threw only 24 times. Hopkins’ sheer talent has still given him a decent floor in his low-target games; but if this turns into a high-target game for him, he can win in a big way in this matchup.

If the Colts are able to do damage on the scoreboard (and/or if the Colts are able to continue their strong run defense), Watson will also have a shot at a big day as this offense opens up. Behind Watson and Hopkins, you’re hoping that Demaryius trips into another couple touchdowns, or — if he plays — you’re hoping that Coutee lasts through the game. This team’s three-way timeshare at tight end has also made it impossible to reliably bet on any of these guys.

JM’S INTERPRETATION

While the Colts have a top offense, there are only a couple pieces that really stand out, as Mack is facing a tough matchup, and “upside” volume in this passing attack is thin behind Ebron and Hilton.

Even at his price hike, Ebron stands out. He’ll be at risk of a 4-40-0 game if the Colts lean on the run (that’s the basic line he posted in all three games earlier in the year that Doyle missed and that Hilton played), but with Indy likely to lean on the pass this week, the chances of a double-digit target game for Ebron in this soft matchup make him appealing.

Hilton joins Ebron as an appealing play. He has a weak floor for his price, but his upside is among the highest on the slate at the wide receiver position, and the likely pass-heavy nature of this game should give him a solid shot at hitting.

Luck is also in play for me in tourneys for the monster upside he has shown through much of the year.

With the Texans’ running backs providing little in the pass game beyond “hoping for a broken play,” and with this offense belonging primarily to the run game over the last two months, it’s difficult to bet on this unit with absolute confidence. The running backs carry low floors, and volume in this passing attack has been a bit thin for trying to capture the slate-breaking scores we would optimally be targeting at quarterback and high-priced wide receiver. This offense is best reserved for tourneys — in a bet that the Colts do well through the air, and that the Texans respond by opening up on their side of the ball. From a volume perspective, it would technically make the most sense to only bet on Watson and Hopkins in large-field tourneys — but realistically, it won’t be surprising if this game turns into a shootout; and if it does, Watson/Hopkins would carry as much upside as any players on the slate. I like them as iffy-floor, monster-ceiling bets in tourneys of all shapes and sizes.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 9th 1:00pm Eastern

Patriots (
29.25) at

Dolphins (
20.25)

Over/Under 49.5

Tweet
Notes

Key Matchups
Patriots Run D
18th DVOA/27th Yards allowed per carry
Dolphins Run O
23rd DVOA/22nd Yards per carry
Patriots Pass D
17th DVOA/11th Yards allowed per pass
Dolphins Pass O
11th DVOA/17th Yards per pass
Dolphins Run D
32nd DVOA/19th Yards allowed per carry
Patriots Run O
3rd DVOA/4th Yards per carry
Dolphins Pass D
10th DVOA/16th Yards allowed per pass
Patriots Pass O
27th DVOA/28th Yards per pass

PATRIOTS // DOLPHINS OVERVIEW

It may not seem like it at first glance — given that the Dolphins rank bottom five in most major offensive categories and bottom half of the league in most major defensive categories — but this is actually an important game for the playoff race. The 9-3 Patriots are chasing the 10-2 Chiefs for the number one seed (while trying to hold off the 9-3 Texans, over whom they have the head-to-head tiebreaker), while the 6-6 Dolphins are still in contention for the final Wild Card spot. Miami has gone 1-4 without Ryan Tannehill and 5-2 with Tannehill (which has little to do with Tannehill himself, and more to do with the way they are able to play when Tannehill is under center). The Dolphins are also 1-5 on the road but 5-1 at home. Vegas opened this game with an Over/Under of 48.0 — with the visiting Patriots installed as 10.0 point favorites. This game was quickly bet down to 47.0 and Patriots -7.5.

PATRIOTS PASS OFFENSE

Miami has been a house of horrors for the Patriots in recent years, with this team going 1-4 in Miami across their last five games, and with Tom Brady posting the following stat lines (beginning with the most recent):

24 of 43 (55.8%) // 233 yards // one touchdown // two interceptions
25 of 33 (75.8%) // 276 yards // three touchdowns // zero interceptions (win)
12 of 21 (57.1%) // 134 yards // zero touchdowns // zero interceptions
29 of 56 (51.8%) // 249 yards // one touchdown // zero interceptions
34 of 55 (61.8%) // 364 yards // two touchdowns // zero interceptions

Late-season trips to Miami have especially given the Patriots fits — and the current forecast for Sunday in Miami is 81 degrees with 80% humidity. (Current weather in Foxborough :: 34 degrees // 37% humidity.)

The Dolphins have been below-average defending the pass this year (28th in yards allowed per pass attempt // a league-average catch rate // the fifth deepest aDOT and third highest YAC/R rate allowed), but with this team’s ball-hawking style (second in the NFL in interceptions) and their difficulties stopping the run, most opponents have gone extremely run-heavy in this matchup. Only two teams have faced a higher rush play rate than Miami, and with the Patriots now carrying three healthy backs, a fair expectation in this spot is a hurry-up approach (the Patriots already rank third in the league in pace of play) that tries to rotate backs and tire out the Miami defense. Passing should build off play-action; and if Brady throws 30 to 35 times, a good eight to 12 of these passes will likely go to running backs.

Julian Edelman is in a bounce-back spot against a Miami defense that has been hammered over the short middle this year, drawing a bottom eight DVOA grade from Football Outsiders in this area of the field. Edelman has target counts this year with Gronk on the field of 9 // 7 // 10 // 5 // 8. Another eight to 10 looks in this spot is a fair bet.

Josh Gordon has seen his matchup on the outside improve with stud Dolphins corner Xavien Howard week to week with a knee issue. Gordon has seen only five and three targets the last two weeks with Gronk returning (he had target counts of 4 // 9 // 6 earlier in the year when sharing the field with Edelman and Gronk), making him more boom/bust at his price tag than high-floor/high-ceiling. Two of his three targets last week came more than 15 yards downfield, and three of his five targets the week before came at 15+ yards, so he does still carry some upside on his limited looks.

Rob Gronkowski enters a middling tight end matchup with target counts in his games with Edelman and Gordon of 7 // 4 // 8 // 7 // 4. He is very clearly not moving with the same quickness that he had earlier in his career, but he is still a big body in the end zone, and the Dolphins have allowed the third most tight end touchdowns in the NFL.

PATRIOTS RUN OFFENSE

Miami has been one of the weakest run defenses in the NFL this year, ranking 27th in yards allowed per carry and inviting teams to run on them on film, with too many big holes at the point of attack and with an inability to get off blocks on the second level. The Dolphins rank 23rd in Football Outsiders’ second level metrics and 29th in open field metrics. It is unsurprising that the Dolphins have faced the third most rush attempts in the NFL. When these teams played in Week 4, the Patriots ran the ball 37 times and threw the ball 35 times. Sony Michel accounted for 112 yards and a touchdown on the ground. James White accounted for 44 yards and a touchdown on the ground and added 8-68-1 through the air.

This backfield is complicated by the healthy return of Rex Burkhead. Burkhead played only 17 of 74 snaps last week; but as noted heading into last week: any back adding a third body to a rotation is going to have an impact. Burkhead took seven carries and saw two targets. White saw six carries and nine targets. Michel saw 17 carries and one target.

The Patriots are highly likely to lean on the run in this spot, as this is the best way to beat the Dolphins, and this is the best way to offset the issues Brady has had over the years in Miami. It is fairly safe to pencil in Michel for 16+ carries even with Burkhead active, and it is fairly safe to give White four to six carries and six to eight targets. Either guy can hit on these less-than-elite workloads, especially in this matchup (and there is certainly opportunity for game flow to boost the workload of one of these guys). But price-considered floor needs to be bumped down for the uncertainty presented by the timeshare nature of this backfield.

DOLPHINS PASS OFFENSE

Given the Patriots’ history in Miami, and given that the best way to attack the Dolphins is on the ground, it seems unlikely that New England will play into the Dolphins’ hands and open things up with a downfield-attacking game plan. (This approach can bury the Dolphins quickly if it works; but the Dolphins’ ability to force turnovers when teams take to the air has allowed them to swing a number of games in their favor and scrape together a 6-6 record with a clearly below-average team.) Barring a defensive touchdown for the Patriots or a couple fluky-quick scores, this game should remain close enough for Miami to lean on the run, sticking with the approach that has allowed them to (incredibly) go 5-2 with Ryan Tannehill under center (after going 10-6 and reaching the playoffs under Tannehill in 2016 with this approach). Through seven starts, Tannehill has topped 25 pass attempts only twice, and he has topped 28 pass attempts only once. A full 20% of his passes this year have gone to running back Kenyan Drake — further limiting the opportunities for his wide receivers.

If you are set on using a Dolphins receiver, we should see DeVante Parker shadowed by Stephon Gilmore, with Kenny Stills taking on plenty of Jason McCourty. While cornerback matchups can often be overblown (1. there are not many true shutdown corners in the NFL // 2. most teams mix up coverages enough that a particular wide receiver will only see a particular corner a portion of the time), the Patriots match up their corners on individual receivers as much as any team in the league, and both Gilmore and McCourty have been legitimately challenging matchups for wide receivers all year. Gilmore — while typically trailing an opponent’s top receiver — has allowed a completion rate of only 47.0% on passes thrown into his coverage. McCourty has allowed a completion rate of 55.6%. Gilmore has earned PFF’s number two coverage grade on the year among qualified corners. McCourty sits at number seven — in between Denzel Ward and Patrick Peterson. Both Parker and Stills are long-shot plays in this low-volume passing attack, in a difficult matchup.

If Danny Amendola returns this week, he’ll soak up some looks over the middle against his old team. He would likely need a multi-touchdown game in order to really move the needle.

DOLPHINS RUN OFFENSE

It has been difficult to rack up fantasy points on the ground against the Patriots this year, as this team ranks only middle of the pack in yards allowed per carry…but for the third consecutive year, they have refused to let teams score on the ground, instead forcing them to win through the air when they get close to the end zone. In both 2016 and 2017, no team in football allowed fewer rushing touchdowns to running backs than the Patriots. Twelve games into 2018, only the Jags rank ahead of the Pats in this category. This is a tough setup for Frank Gore, who has only 11 catches all year and only two games over 67 rushing yards. As a “yardage and touchdown” back, Gore has failed badly in the touchdown department, scoring only once on the year.

The better matchup in this spot goes to Kenyan Drake, who the Dolphins have refused to feature all year, but who has at least remained involved in the pass game, with recent target counts of 6 // 8 // 2 // 6 // 2 // 6 // 4. He adds around six to eight carries most games and has scored eight touchdowns on the year (with four of them coming through the air). With stellar play in the secondary, New England has faced the third most running back targets and allowed the fourth most running back receptions in the league, creating a path to upside for Drake (along with his obviously low floor).

JM’S INTERPRETATION

The Patriots’ passing attack is “bet on talent in tourneys” more than anything else. In a tough road game, against a team that the Patriots will likely attack on the ground, locked-in floor is thin outside of Edelman, and Edelman’s non-outlier ceiling is low compared to the guys priced around him. His price is most palatable on FanDuel, but his game is not as valuable in half-PPR scoring. Everyone in this passing attack would be reserved for tourneys only for me; and while this well-designed offense with multiple upside pieces could easily produce a viable tourney score or two, none of these guys will be a priority for me on a 13-game slate.

The backfield for the Pats is quite a bit more intriguing, and if Burkhead had not returned I would likely have had strong interest in White and Michel. All three guys will see touches this week, and it is likely that the Patriots run the ball plenty in this spot. Michel is a yardage-and-touchdown back, but his days of 24+ carries may be over now that Burkhead is back, requiring him to post strong efficiency on whatever touches he sees. White will remain a vital piece in the pass game and will take a few carries of his own. Burkhead will spell both guys and could actually become viable himself — at his low price — with a broken play or a touchdown (though either of those would be tremendously difficult to bet on).

With the Dolphins ranked 25th in points per game, 29th in yards per game, 29th in drive success rate, and 30th in three-and-out rate, nothing stands out on their side of the ball. In much the same way Corey Davis beat this matchup in a broken offense, it’s not crazy to think that Parker could see eight or nine looks and post a solid game, or that Stills could do damage on his five to six looks. Obviously, however, this is an outlier bet. I won’t be making it myself.

The same goes for shots on the Dolphins’ backfield. Drake is at least interesting in this spot, but there are safer, higher-upside plays on the slate.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 9th 1:00pm Eastern

Saints (
31.75) at

Bucs (
22.25)

Over/Under 54.0

Tweet
Notes

Key Matchups
Saints Run D
4th DVOA/4th Yards allowed per carry
Buccaneers Run O
6th DVOA/19th Yards per carry
Saints Pass D
15th DVOA/17th Yards allowed per pass
Buccaneers Pass O
9th DVOA/8th Yards per pass
Buccaneers Run D
3rd DVOA/1st Yards allowed per carry
Saints Run O
12th DVOA/14th Yards per carry
Buccaneers Pass D
1st DVOA/9th Yards allowed per pass
Saints Pass O
14th DVOA/9th Yards per pass

SAINTS // BUCS OVERVIEW

Saints // Bucs gives us a rematch of the Saints’ first loss on the year — a Week 1, 40-48 shocker at home against Tampa. These teams have gone in opposite directions since then, with the Saints sitting at 10-2 atop the NFC South, and with the Bucs playing for pride right now at 5-7. The Bucs are one of the rare “losing record teams” that continues to show obvious improvement every week. They opened this game as 10 point underdogs, but this mark was quickly bet down to eight. This game opened with an Over/Under of 57.5, which has since dropped to 55.5. Each of these teams has improved on defense throughout the year, and each offense has shifted since the start of the season to a more conservative style (the Saints going run-heavy, the Bucs taking away some of the aggressive downfield throws they were so focused on for most of the year). This should still be a fairly high-scoring affair, but a back-and-forth slug-fest like that 88-point shootout in Week 1 is unlikely to be in the cards.

SAINTS PASS OFFENSE

The Buccaneers’ pass defense has been steadily improving under Mark Duffner, who has called more aggressive coverage packages from time to time (no longer allowing teams to catch everything thrown their way and simply aiming to tackle after the catch) — and who has also, more importantly, placed a heavy emphasis on technique, execution, and fundamentals for this Bucs squad, which has led to far fewer breakdowns and to fewer big plays. In the Bucs’ last five games, no wide receiver has topped 90 yards against them. This drop in spiked wide receiver weeks against the Bucs has coincided with a recent slide in their run defense — which has led to teams attacking them more heavily on the ground. In four of the Bucs’ last five games, the opposing quarterback has thrown the ball 32 or fewer times.

The Saints (as noted ad nauseum in this space) are a run-heavy team, with Drew Brees failing to top even 30 pass attempts in all but one of the eight games in which Mark Ingram has played. (That one game came in the epic, 80-point shootout against the Rams. Brees threw only 36 times in that one.) Brees’ incredible accuracy and the explosive nature of this offense has still allowed him to top 300 yards in three of these eight games, but he also has four games in this stretch of 212 or fewer passing yards.

This low-volume approach has had a negative impact on the upside of Michael Thomas, who has seen target counts since Ingram’s return of 5 // 9 // 6 // 15 // 8 // 4 // 6 // 8. That 15-target game came against the Rams, which was also his only game in this stretch above 92 receiving yards. In six of the eight games since Ingram returned, Thomas has failed to post a score that would justify his still-elevated price. It seems that people are still writing off Thomas’ “down” games as the fluky ones, as his ownership continues to outpace his production. From a raw-projections standpoint, of course: Thomas’ red zone role (fourth in the NFL in red zone targets // second in targets inside the 10) gives him a clear shot every week at a solid game, with potential for a multi-score game or a broken play to make him useful at his price tag. The price-considered floor is lower than most want to acknowledge, but there are still paths to ceiling.

The rest of this passing attack has been maddeningly difficult to target, as Tre’Quan Smith unsurprisingly bookended his 13-target game with games of zero targets and one target — while guys like Keith Kirkwood (two catches, two touchdowns across the last two weeks), Austin Carr (two catches, two touchdowns across the last three weeks), and Tommylee Lewis (one catch, one touchdown across the last two weeks) continue to provide little in the yardage department while taking away scores from the more valuable fantasy plays on this team. From a real-life perspective, this is one of the most enjoyable offenses to watch; but it is difficult to comfortably bet on it in fantasy. Wrapping up this unit is the Saints’ three-way timeshare at tight end, in which Dan Arnold ran nine routes in Week 13, while Benjamin Watson and Josh Hill each ran 10 routes. The best bet on this passing attack — away from Thomas — is likely on the upside of Tre’Quan (whose zero-point floor also remains in place) or on the efficiency of Brees.

SAINTS RUN OFFENSE

While the Bucs’ pass defense has improved in recent weeks, their run defense has shown major cracks. Starting in Week 8, the Bucs have recently given up rushing lines of 21-123-2 to Joe Mixon (who added 3-15-0 through the air), 17-79-2 to Christian McCaffrey (who added 5-78-0 through the air), 19-68-0 to Adrian Peterson, 27-142-2 to Saquon Barkley (who added 2-10-1 through the air), 14-106-0 to Matt Breida (who added 3-34-0 through the air), and last week’s 10-106-0 line to Christian McCaffrey (who added another 9-55-1 through the air). As a team, the Saints rank fourth in rushing attempts and ninth in rushing yards, and they should lean heavily on Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram this week.

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

Kamara — 31 // 39 // 38 // 41 // 34 // 44 // 37 // 36
Ingram — 36 // 35 // 23 // 34 // 31 // 30 // 27 // 21

Kamara has 105 carries and 37 targets in this stretch. Ingram has 97 carries and 18 targets.

Ingram has seen his snaps scaled back in recent weeks, though his touches only dipped in the tough matchup against the Cowboys’ stout run defense last week. While Ingram is sensitive to game flow, he can typically be penciled in for 12 to 14 carries and two to three targets, giving him floor concerns but some upside in this offense. He’ll likely disappoint if he fails to find the end zone. He’ll be a nice piece with a multi-score game.

Since Ingram returned, Kamara has posted a price-considered dud in five of eight games — and FOMO ownership has kept his price high. In last week’s game against the Cowboys, Kamara saw a massive 11 targets, but in six of his previous seven games, he had five or fewer targets. Four or five targets is a comfortable projection for Kamara, to go with his comfortable range of 12 to 14 carries. Given his outsized talent, this is enough work for him to post a top score — but the price-considered floor remains a concern.

BUCS PASS OFFENSE

With the Saints ranking first in the NFL in drive success rate on offense and sticking heavily to the run, they have been able to shorten games in a big way this year — ranking third in time of possession and allowing the second fewest opponent plays per game. Even with teams taking to the air against the Saints at the third highest rate in football, this team has faced fewer pass attempts than 19 others.

The Bucs counteract this somewhat by running the second most plays per game in the league (a byproduct of their leaky defense and their pass-heavy offense). It could prove difficult for Jameis Winston to pop off for 40+ pass attempts, but somewhere in the range of 33 to 38 pass attempts is a comfortable starting point in projecting him and his wide receivers — against a Saints defense that has allowed a 7% increase on the league-average catch rate, and that ranks 29th in yards allowed per pass attempt.

It is worth noting that Jameis threw zero passes last week that traveled more than 20 yards downfield — which has been a theme for this team since they returned Jameis to the starting job, taking away some of the downfield throws that made this attack so exciting earlier in the year. If DeSean Jackson misses again (as he currently appears set to do), it will once again be Evans // Godwin // Humphries.

Mike Evans should be trailed by Marshon Lattimore — who has been strong this year, but not impossible, allowing 9.8 yards per pass attempt into his coverage. This is a matchup Evans can win if the targets are there — though this caveat has become a concern lately, with recent target counts of 6 // 7 // 8 // 6. As noted last week: Evans is averaging over 17 yards per reception, and he has topped 100 yards in six of the eight games this year in which he has cracked just six catches. With uncertain targets and an up-and-down connection with Jameis, he’s a high-variance play, but the upside is there.

The 5-101-1 line that Chris Godwin posted last week looks a bit better than it was, as he saw only six targets, and almost 40 of his yards came on a long YAC play — which is obviously less repeatable than a long downfield reception. Godwin’s route tree was actually not changed much last week in the absence of DJax, as he was used primarily as an intermediate weapon, further highlighting the subtle shifts this offense has made. On a more positive note: Godwin played 80% of the Bucs’ snaps last week and ran only one fewer pass route than Evans. If this team climbs back up to the 35 to 38 pass attempt range (after throwing only 30 times last week), Godwin should be able to notch seven to nine targets, giving him a clear shot at something like a 6-70-0 line, with yardage and scoring upside from there.

Adam Humphries continues to soak up underneath looks as a favorite outlet for Jameis, and he now has eight or more targets in four of his last seven games in this offense. With a touchdown in three straight games, Humphries’ price has climbed a bit high for his floor on all sites — but his role in this offense is legitimate enough that he is not going to bust (three to five catches for 40 to 60 yards still won’t kill you at his price), and his touchdown-driven ceiling still gives him enough upside to matter.

This passing attack wraps up with touchdown-or-bust tight end Cameron Brate. Brate scored two weeks ago and failed to connect on an end zone target last week, so you’re not drawing dead here — but his best yardage game on the year is 36, making it important for him to score.

BUCS RUN OFFENSE

One of the biggest mismatches on the slate comes between a Saints run defense that has shut down all but the best units in the NFL, and that ranks first in the league in yards allowed per carry, going up against a Buccaneers unit that ranks 30th in yards per carry and 26th in running back rushing yards per game. The Saints face the third highest pass play rate in the NFL, and the Bucs throw the ball at the eighth highest rate. Peyton Barber has only 13 catches on the season, and he has not yet topped 24 receiving yards. He’ll need multiple broken plays or a multi-touchdown game to matter on this slate.

JM’S INTERPRETATION

The Saints’ offense is surprisingly difficult to bet on at this point, with Ingram and Kamara killing off each other’s upside (but both priced higher than their workloads warrant), and with Michael Thomas relying heavily on touchdowns for his production. All three of these guys have strong, raw upside — but all three are ultimately overpriced for A) their respective floors, and B) their chances of reaching their ceiling. To frame that another way: it’s never a surprise when one of these guys has a big game; but given the way this offense is being called, a big, price-considered game is not the likeliest scenario — and with these guys still carrying solid ownership, I’d much rather bet on a higher floor/ceiling play in these price ranges myself.

I don’t have interest in the Bucs’ backfield, and I’ll likely look for my upside away from Mike Evans this week (he can match or pass the guys priced around him, but his floor if he misses is much lower than what most of those other options carry), but I will still have interest in Godwin, whose price has not yet risen to where it should be. He has a solid floor for the price, and if he sees eight or nine targets this week he could be a really nice upside piece. Humphries is in play behind Godwin as a solid floor piece with decent upside — though his price is starting to rise a bit high for his likeliest range. Jameis — as has been the case all year for “Tampa QB” — is in play for his upside as well.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 9th 1:00pm Eastern

Giants (
21.75) at

WFT (
18.75)

Over/Under 40.5

Tweet
Notes

Key Matchups
Giants Run D
15th DVOA/8th Yards allowed per carry
Washington Run O
21st DVOA/25th Yards per carry
Giants Pass D
23rd DVOA/21st Yards allowed per pass
Washington Pass O
32nd DVOA/29th Yards per pass
Washington Run D
17th DVOA/17th Yards allowed per carry
Giants Run O
30th DVOA/27th Yards per carry
Washington Pass D
6th DVOA/1st Yards allowed per pass
Giants Pass O
29th DVOA/30th Yards per pass

GIANTS // REDSKINS OVERVIEW

The attention in the NFC East has shifted hard away from the Redskins, with all eyes now on the Eagles // Cowboys game taking place later in the day. Washington is still 6-6 — but much like the Bengals in the AFC, it has felt for weeks like the Redskins’ season is over. An injury to number two quarterback Colt McCoy enhances this feeling.

Neither of these teams has been good on offense this year. Both rank in the bottom half of the league in drive success rate, yards per game, points per game, and red zone touchdown percentage. Each team is unable to attack downfield in the passing game, and neither team has a quarterback who can engineer quick, fluid drives. This game should be slow-moving, with the Giants’ playmakers the only hope for this game to turn into something intriguing. Giants // Redskins carries an early-week Over/Under of only 41.0, with the Giants installed as 3.5 point favorites.

GIANTS PASS OFFENSE

Washington’s pass defense has been weak against wide receivers this year — particularly struggling since Quinton Dunbar began dealing with injuries (missing some games and playing hurt in others). The Redskins have compensated somewhat by having Josh Norman travel with top receivers from time to time, but he still plays his side over 70% of the time — and he has always been more notable for his well-timed aggressiveness than for his sticky coverage and shutdown ability. Since Odell Beckham went 8-136-0 vs the Redskins in Week 8, this secondary has allowed :: Julio Jones to go 7-121-1 // Chris Godwin to go 7-103-0 // Amari Cooper to go 8-180-2 // Golden Tate to go 7-85-1. These four receivers have combined to catch 29 of 33 targets (87.9%). (Mixed in there was a low-volume pass game from the Texans, in which DeAndre Hopkins went only 5-56-1, but saw only six targets.)

Playing to the Giants’ favor is the style of the Redskins’ defense, which has forced the third shallowest average depth of target in the league, but has allowed an above-average catch rate and the third worst YAC per reception rate in the NFL. Washington has allowed the eighth most receptions to wide receivers, the 10th most touchdowns, and the third most yards.

Working against the Giants is Eli Manning, who has attempted only 12 total passes in his last four games that have traveled 20+ yards downfield. Eli has completed only four of these passes, with one interception.

The focal point of this passing attack has been Beckham, who trails only Julio in percentage share of team air yards. In spite of his recent lackluster stat lines (four straight games of 85 or fewer yards), OBJ has seen recent target counts of 11 // 11 // 11 // 4 // 9 // 9. He has nine or more targets in all but one game this year, and he should see similar usage in this spot. Beckham’s floor is being lowered by his attachment to Eli, but his ceiling is supported by his role and by his explosive after-catch ability. Betting on YAC introduces some variance, as it essentially requires a broken play in order to really pay off — but betting on YAC along with a big guaranteed workload is never a poor idea.

Behind Beckham (and Barkley), this offense has been unable to support any ancillary options, with Sterling Shepard failing to top even 40 yards in five straight games, and with the tight end position rarely yielding upside. A bet on Shepard is a bet on a broken play or an unexpected spike in usage. A bet on the tight end is a bet on four to seven targets in a middling matchup. There are definitely worse plays than Evan Engram or Rhett Ellison, but either guy would need a touchdown in order to prove worthwhile as the third or fourth option in this passing attack most plays.

GIANTS RUN OFFENSE

Washington continues to play non-elite, but slightly above-average run defense this year, allowing 4.37 yards per carry to running backs while allowing the ninth most receptions and the 14th most receiving yards to the position. Ultimately, this is about as middle-of-the-road as a matchup can get, which opens the door for a strong game from a player in Saquon Barkley who has recent touch counts of 22 // 24 // 29 // 20 // 27. In spite of being held back by an offense that ranks bottom 10 in touchdowns and an offensive line that ranks bottom 10 in adjusted line yards, Barkley has 12 touchdowns on the season and has gone for 140 or more all-purpose yards in three consecutive games. His floor is theoretically lowered by the bad offense he is attached to, but 12 games into the season this has only shown up in the box score once (in Week 10 against San Francisco). That game (20-67-0 on the ground, 4-33-0 through the air) should be held in consideration — but Saquon’s ceiling is unaffected, and his chances of reaching his ceiling in this spot are higher than his chances of falling to his floor.

REDSKINS PASS OFFENSE

The Giants’ pass defense has been one of the most middling units in the league — ranking 17th in yards allowed per pass attempt, while neither raising nor lowering expectations on any position through the air. As noted throughout the last month: this team is good in the red zone (eighth lowest opponent red zone touchdown rate // third fewest passing touchdowns allowed), but they are otherwise perfectly attackable. Any difficulties in the pass game for Washington are less likely to arise from the Giants than they are to arise from within. The Redskins are down to third-string signal-caller Mark Sanchez, who barely belongs on an NFL sideline, let alone on an NFL field. The last time Sanchez saw any significant time was in 2015 with the Eagles, when he notched only 6.77 yards per pass attempt across three games. In relief of Colt McCoy on Monday night, Sanchez managed only 100 yards on 21 pass attempts — looking visibly terrified of attacking downfield, and settling for short passes and checkdowns at a rate that would make even Alex Smith embarrassed. Sanchez will need a shift in play style to support any viable pass catchers moving forward (in an offense that has not produced viable pass catchers all year).

If you are set on going here: Jamison Crowder saw four targets (4-36-0) in his first game since Week 5 and is likely to become one of Sanchez’ favorite targets, given his underneath role in this offense. Jordan Reed saw his “upside” looks disappear once Sanchez took the field last week, gaining only 21 yards on four receptions, but he should find himself in the five to eight target range if the Redskins are forced to pass the ball this week. Josh Doctson or Vernon Davis would need a big play or a multi-touchdown game in order to become viable on the Main Slate.

REDSKINS RUN OFFENSE

Washington is going to continue trying to win games on the ground — and while the matchup is middling against a Giants run defense that has allowed 4.38 yards per carry and the sixth most running back touchdowns in the NFL, there will be concern moving forward that Adrian Peterson will face primarily eight-man boxes with Sanchez under center. Peterson’s lack of pass game involvement (and poor pass protection) further telegraphs to defenses that Washington is likely to run when he is on the field — and the Giants will surely feel comfortable betting on their ability to stop Sanchez with one-on-one coverage throughout most of this game in order to ensure the Redskins’ ageless back does not beat them. Peterson profiles as a yardage-and-touchdown back who may struggle for per-play efficiency. He’ll likely need one of his long touchdown runs in order to achieve relevance on this slate.

If New York takes a big lead in this one, Chris Thompson (five targets last week) could see a spike to six to eight targets, giving him an outside chance at hitting — though there are obviously far less speculative plays on the slate.

JM’S INTERPRETATION

The Giants’ offense is inherently risky — but this team does boast two elite players (OBJ and Saquon) who see elite usage, and who are able to make things happen on their own. Each of these guys stands out to me this week for upside, and while the price-considered floor is a bit iffy in this offense, the usage, talent, and middling-at-worst matchup make it likely that each guy blows past his floor. I’m less likely to pay up for OBJ, simply because explosive, multi-use backs are so much more consistently valuable than wide receivers, but each guy will definitely be in consideration for me this week.

On a 13-game slate, the only real justification for picking and choosing pieces on a Mark Sanchez offense (an offense that was not even viable with Alex Smith under center) would be something like this :: “It’s the NFL, crazy things can happen, and no one will be looking here.” These are all bad plays on paper, but perhaps one out of every 10 games in this spot, a player on Washington would post a big enough score to be useful on this Main Slate. There is no telling who that player might be.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 9th 1:00pm Eastern

Jets (
16.25) at

Bills (
20.75)

Over/Under 37.0

Tweet
Notes

Key Matchups
Jets Run D
14th DVOA/20th Yards allowed per carry
Bills Run O
32nd DVOA/29th Yards per carry
Jets Pass D
31st DVOA/24th Yards allowed per pass
Bills Pass O
4th DVOA/6th Yards per pass
Bills Run D
24th DVOA/21st Yards allowed per carry
Jets Run O
29th DVOA/23rd Yards per carry
Bills Pass D
28th DVOA/15th Yards allowed per pass
Jets Pass O
30th DVOA/32nd Yards per pass

JETS // BILLS OVERVIEW

This game in Buffalo will likely go overlooked by the masses (as tends to be the case with games played in Buffalo — or in any corners of the AFC East that do not belong to New England), but there are actually a few interesting pieces, especially in tourneys, in this game between the 3-9 Jets and the 4-8 (but consistently improving) Bills. When these teams met a few weeks ago in New York, the Bills walloped the Jets 41-10 with Matt Barkley under center. Since then, the Bills defeated the Jaguars 24-21 and were a dropped Charles Clay touchdown shy of beating the Dolphins in Miami. If Sam Darnold returns this week (as is currently expected), the story of this game will be the two rookie quarterbacks. But the bigger story is the Bills’ offense and what they are trying to do at the moment.

This game has opened with a 38.0 point Over/Under that will make it invisible to most. The Bills have been installed as slim 3.0 point favorites to kick off the week.

JETS PASS OFFENSE

This is a tough spot for Sam Darnold in his expected return, on the road against a Buffalo pass defense that has forced the sixth shallowest aDOT in the NFL, while allowing a below-average catch rate and shaving over 10% off the league-average YAC/R rate. The Ravens are the only team in football allowing fewer yards per pass attempt than the Bills. The last time we saw Darnold was in Week 9 against Miami — when Darnold went 0 for 7 on passes that traveled more than 15 yards downfield, with three interceptions on those throws. The Jets are not forcing Darnold to keep everything short — but for the most part, they have been one of the most horizontal offenses in the NFL, and Darnold’s downfield shots have mostly been lost causes. Part of this is a playbook that has gotten less and less creative throughout the season. A larger part of this has been one of the worst supporting casts in the NFL. Darnold has topped 229 passing yards only once since Week 2. If Darnold misses another week, McCown will (surprisingly) carry one of the the lowest aDOTs in the entire NFL into this difficult road matchup. McCown managed to pile up 276 yards while chasing points against New England, but he has otherwise gone for 135 yards and 128 yards in his starts.

The best way to attack the Bills has been on passes of 15+ yards, where this team has had occasional lapses. This further complicates things for this short-area passing attack.

If you are set on going to this offense, your best bet for upside is to hope that McCown plays, and to then bet on the downfield looks that Robby Anderson is seeing. Last week, Anderson went only 4-48-0, but he saw seven targets, including two that traveled more than 30 yards downfield. The downfield connections have simply not been there for Anderson in an offense that is not doing enough to get pass catchers open, but he always has outside potential to hit for a long play or two.

Tre’Davious White is likeliest to shadow Quincy Enunwa (if the Bills bother having him shadow at all). Enunwa continues to play limited snaps in the slot with Jermaine Kearse on the field (82 perimeter snaps the last two weeks // 37 slot snaps, per PFF), which has limited his efficiency in this offense. A bet on Enunwa is a bet on a broken play, or on this offense putting together the pieces in a tough road environment.

Kearse has been maddeningly ineffective in the slot, hauling in 14 of 38 targets (36.8%) across his last six games.

This passing attack wraps up with Chris Herndon, who is finally seeing heavy playing time, with 51 and 48 offensive snaps across his last two games. Herndon has quietly seen four or more targets in four consecutive games. He runs into a tough matchup here against a Bills team that has allowed the second fewest tight end receptions in the league.

JETS RUN OFFENSE

The Bills have also been tough to run on, allowing the ninth fewest yards per carry — though from a “path of least resistance” standpoint, the way to attack this team is on the ground, and with this game likely to remain somewhat close, we should expect the Jets to play run-heavy football. Even with a 3-9 record and consistent negative game scripts, the Jets rank 18th in pass play rate.

In Jets wins and one-score games this year, Isaiah Crowell has touch counts of 10 // 14 // 18 // 16 // 15 // 14 // 25. His 25 touches last week obviously pop off the page as an outlier, but another 14 to 16 touches is a fair bet if you want to take a shot on Crow notching one of his random blowup games in this spot. He has topped 40 rushing yards only three times all season — but those three times, he went for 102 // 219 // 98.

Behind Crowell, Elijah McGuire and Trenton Cannon have been splitting scraps, giving each a back-breaking floor with very narrow paths to upside.

BILLS PASS OFFENSE

The Jets have very quietly allowed the third lowest catch rate in the league this year, and they rank a respectable 11th in yards allowed per pass attempt. With the Jets playing plenty of man coverage, however, teams are attacking relentlessly with wide receivers. On the year, the Jets have faced the third most wide receiver targets and allowed the third most wide receiver catches and the fourth most wide receiver yards.

All of a sudden, the Bills have become an exciting (albeit high-variance and low-floor) passing offense, as this team is allowing Josh Allen to hammer downfield passes, and they cut Kelvin Benjamin this week — further signaling their commitment to