Week 14 Matchups

With most of my research for this slate finished, I’m not certain I can recall an uglier 13-game slate than this. Ugly slates have been a bit of a theme over the last month (with the exception of last week’s), but this week’s offering is on a different level than what we have seen so far. There are a number of elements contributing to the ugliness of the slate — with the state of the quarterback position across the NFL certainly near the top of the list. Here are some of the quarterbacks on this slate ::

Kyle Allen
Jacoby Brissett
Ryan Fitzpatrick
David Blough
Drew Lock
Dwayne Haskins
Gardner Minshew
Devlin Hodges

Here are some more of the quarterbacks on this slate ::

Jameis Winston
Andy Dalton
Ryan Tannehill
Derek Carr

But it isn’t just the quarterbacks; and it isn’t just the injuries that we expect to have piled up at this point in the season. It’s also the arrangement of the matchups we have. The Buccaneers are playing a Colts team that does a good job limiting big plays. The Saints are playing the elite defense of the 49ers. The Vikings and Packers are in likely blowout spots at home against bad teams (the Lions and Redskins, respectively). The high-powered Texans are playing the tough defense of the Broncos, while the high-powered Ravens are on the road against the tough defense of the Bills. The team trying to take advantage of the matchup against the Cardinals is the Steelers, and the team trying to take advantage of the pass game matchup against the Raiders is the Titans. The Chiefs are playing the Patriots, in Foxboro. The list goes on and on.

With all of this, the highest Over/Under on the Main Slate is Chiefs at Patriots, which sits at only 48.5. Other “top games” include Panthers at Falcons and Titans at Raiders. It’s that kind of weekend.

And yet — as explored a couple weeks ago, on a smaller, but similarly ugly slate — a monster score will almost certainly be required in order to take down a tournament. With a stunning nine of 13 games carrying an Over/Under of 44.5 or below, where will these monster scores come from?

This is the question you should be asking yourself as you enter into this week. It might require a bit more hunting, digging, and creative thought this week to find those top scores — but they are sure to be hiding somewhere, and the goal this week is to find the best way to access those scores. Note: finding “the best way to access those scores” is different, of course, than “finding those scores.” As we talked about over the last couple weeks: on an ugly slate — rather than trying to “guess better” than the field — it can be far more profitable to acknowledge that the slate on hand is ugly, and to embrace that ugliness by A) focusing your builds more fully around individual offenses, and B) being willing to incorporate more offenses than you might on slates where you can feel more confident in your ability to target clear top scores. In other words: acknowledge and embrace the uncertainty of a slate like this one, rather than trying to fight it.

The schedule-makers didn’t do us any favors this week — but they didn’t do your competition any favors, either. So look for the edge that this creates, and hammer that edge accordingly.


Kickoff Thursday, Dec 5th 8:20pm Eastern

Cowboys (
23) at

Bears (
20)

Over/Under 43.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Cowboys Run D
29th DVOA/32nd Yards allowed per carry
Bears Run O
28th DVOA/32nd Yards per carry
Cowboys Pass D
21st DVOA/12th Yards allowed per pass
Bears Pass O
24th DVOA/25th Yards per pass
Bears Run D
11th DVOA/16th Yards allowed per carry
Cowboys Run O
18th DVOA/24th Yards per carry
Bears Pass D
2nd DVOA/8th Yards allowed per pass
Cowboys Pass O
22nd DVOA/1st Yards per pass

Showdown Slant ::

Presented by top Showdown mind Xandamere!

Week 14 kicks off in less than thrilling fashion as the Cowboys visit the Bears in a game with a whopping 43 total. The visiting Cowboys are three point favorites. It’s worth noting, though, that Mitch Trubisky has looked at least a little bit better the last couple of weeks, throwing for 278 and 338 yards after previous not throwing for more than 253 yards in a game. That comes with four touchdown passes against three interceptions, so all is not well in Bears-land, but some progress is welcome for Chicago and for DFS players who want to bet on their offense. 

We’ll start with the Cowboys. The run game is, of course, Ezekiel Elliott. Zeke is playing almost all of the snaps but he has not been quite the bellcow that we’ve seen in the last couple of years, averaging a still-healthy 22 touches per game against over 25 last season. What was really nice to see last week, though, was that when Dallas got down early to Buffalo, Zeke saw a season-high 10 targets. The pass game work has often been missing this year, so this is a great trend for Zeke’s usage going forward. The Bears run defense has been slipping in the past few weeks and they’re down to a middling 12th in DVOA; this isn’t the horrible matchup we feared to attack last year or even earlier this season. Zeke is the most expensive player on the slate but his floor and ceiling are sound and he’s going to have a multi-touchdown game at some point this season. Behind Zeke, Tony Pollard occasionally mixes in for some pass game work (four targets in two of the last three games, but then just one last week), but is too inconsistent to be viewed as anything but an MME target. 

In the pass game, Michael Gallup and Amari Cooper are the full-time wideouts, with Randall Cobb ranging from 50-80% of the snaps depending on game plan. Tavon Austin works in for a few plays per game. Everyone’s favorite dad runner Jason Witten is the clear leader at tight end, though Blake Jarwin brings more athleticism on lower target volume. Depending on game plan, Witten and Jarwin will share the field just a few times per game or several if the Cowboys run more 12 personnel. Against the strong pass rush of the Bears, I’d expect to see more 12 in this game, which (slightly) dings Cobb’s role and increases Jarwin’s. Cooper and Gallup are really the 1A and 1B of this offense, and as explored in this column in prior showdowns, the gap in usage between the two of them is really quite narrow. The gap in price, however, has shrunk as Draftkings has realized this as well, and now it’s kind of a shot in the dark. I’ll take Amari as I think he matches up better against the Bears’ secondary, but that’s frankly more of a hunch than anything else (plus it’s been a few weeks since one of his real blowup games, so he’s due, right?). Cobb has been a fairly consistent presence in the slot but he hasn’t just been used in a possession receiver role and is showing more of his old burst from his early career in Green Bay with a healthy 15.1 yards per catch this season. He’s only had a couple of ceiling games this year as he is generally a 3-5 target guy, so unless you happen to catch him on a spiked-volume week, he’s a bit overpriced for his median outcome. Jason Witten is a reasonable floor play but also somewhat overpriced at $5,600 despite not yet hitting 60 receiving yards this season; he’ll need a touchdown to really pay off. Jarwin and Austin both have shakier roles, with Austin being used very inconsistently and being nothing but an MME dart while Jarwin sees 2-4 targets per game and provides a little bit of floor at just $2,200 with some upside to go along with it. He’s a non-crazy punt even outside of massive tournaments. 

The Bears’ run offense has been extremely confusing lately as despite Mitch Trubisky’s struggles, they’ve leaned extremely pass heavy even when playing with a lead. Overall Chicago is 9th in passing play percentage at 62.2%, up to 64.4% in the last three games. In Weeks 8 and 9, David Montgomery was getting a lot of rushing work and it seemed that the Bears were committing to the run as the heart of their offense, but a combination of mediocre offensive line play and Montgomery himself looking poor has resulted in their lead back averaging 3.5 yards per carry. Chicago may want to run, but with a 27th-ranked offensive line they seem to have mostly given up on it and are content to put the ball in Mitch Trubisky’s somewhat less-than-capable hands. That leaves poor David Montgomery handling 15, 15, and 18 touches over his last 3 games with a total of eight targets in that span, turning him into basically a mediocre-volume, yardage-and-touchdown back. If the Bears get out to a healthy lead they may lean on Montgomery more, and of course running backs with goal line roles always have value in showdowns, but it’s hard to see D-Mont as a core piece here. Tarik Cohen, meanwhile, is being used very differently from last year; while last year he was often used to create defensive mismatches and get open in space for long gains, this year his pass game role is much more short yardage as he’s averaging just 5.7 yards per catch. Cohen gets pretty healthy pass game volume, though, averaging over six targets per game with a solid catch rate. He’s a high floor play who still has a strong ceiling even if it’s mostly been hypothetical this season. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him bust a 50 yard touchdown in any given game, and his lack of sexy game logs has kept his ownership modest in his last couple of showdown appearances.

The Chicago pass game starts with Allen Robinson and (mostly) ends there, too. The Bears have not really been capable of supporting more than one solid receiving performance at a time and Robinson has hogged almost all of them, with five 20+ DK point performances compared to two for every other receiver combined. That changed last week when Anthony Miller saw 13 targets and caught nine for 26 DK points in a week in which Robinson also had a big game — the first game all season with two big performances from Bears receivers — but I think that is unlikely to become a trend as it was a result of A) a great matchup against a Lions defense that has been very giving to passing attacks and B) a narrower target tree with Taylor Gabriel missing the game. As I write this on Tuesday night, Gabriel has not been cleared from the concussion protocol, and if he misses again Miller is a reasonable play once again. If Gabriel plays, you could certainly believe that Miller has passed him in Trubisky’s trust, but I would favor the significantly less expensive Gabriel (who saw 14 targets as recently as Week 11 before he got hurt). If Gabriel misses, Javon Wims should remain in basically a full-time role, which resulted in six targets last week. At just $3,200 that’s healthy volume for a cheap price and makes him one of the strongest cheap plays on the slate. The tight end situation for Chicago is a disaster, with Jesper Horsted (who?) seeing one target in each of the last two weeks and catching a touchdown last week. Ben Braunecker would be an interesting value play at $800 if he plays, as he should retake the lead role back from Horsted, but as of Tuesday he looks unlikely to suit up. I was excited when the Bears signed Cordarelle Patterson as they had gotten so much great value out of Tarik Cohen as a mismatch guy and I thought they would use him similarly, but he hasn’t seen an offensive touch since Week 9. These guys are all just MME punts. 

The most likely way for this game to play out is a relatively slow-paced slog. The most important factor here is Mitch Trubisky. If we get good Trubisky (or even decent Trubisky), we could have a game with some decent offensive fireworks on our hands, while if we get crappy Trubisky as we’ve had for most of this year, Dallas could just win in what would likely be a relatively low-scoring but one-sided affair. 

Some other ways this game could play out:

  • Dallas just stomps the Bears as bad Trubisky can’t get anything going and gives up multiple short fields. Zeke is the optimal captain in this scenario and you’re probably looking at a receiver as your single Bear.
  • Good Trubisky shows up and manages to keep the Bears in it, resulting in a game with more back and forth scoring, leading to multiple strong receiver performances.
  • Finally, while Dallas possesses the league’s overall #1 offense by DVOA, we’ve seen them be shut down by good defenses before (in each of the last two weeks, in fact). It’s not impossible to think the Bears could stifle them.

My overall favorite captain is Zeke, followed by Allen Robinson, but most of the full-time receivers are viable options here (Amari, Gallup, Cobb, Gabriel, Miller in no particular order). 

Some groups to consider:

  • At most 1 defense
  • At most 1 kicker
  • Pair captain receivers with their QB
  • Pair captain QBs with at least 1 receiver (at Trubisky’s price and with at least some rushing ability, and with Dak having solid rushing ability, I’m comfortable with just a single receiver pairing here)
  • At most 1 non-Robinson Bears receiver
  • At most 2 of Cobb, Witten, and Jarwin as their roles somewhat cannibalize each other

Kickoff Sunday, Dec 8th 1:00pm Eastern

Panthers (
22.25) at

Falcons (
25.75)

Over/Under 48.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Panthers Run D
26th DVOA/18th Yards allowed per carry
Falcons Run O
26th DVOA/20th Yards per carry
Panthers Pass D
13th DVOA/10th Yards allowed per pass
Falcons Pass O
16ths DVOA/3rd Yards per pass
Falcons Run D
8th DVOA/6th Yards allowed per carry
Panthers Run O
16th DVOA/21st Yards per carry
Falcons Pass D
30th DVOA/31st Yards allowed per pass
Panthers Pass O
11th DVOA/11th Yards per pass

Every once in a while, we see an NFL player post a single big game that DFS players keep chasing for weeks afterward, hoping to catch a repeat performance. Dan Quinn is the coaching equivalent of this phenomenon, with the Falcons continuing to keep him around in the hopes that his magical 2016 season will repeat without the help of Kyle Shanahan (not happening), even as this team continues to take steps backward. Meanwhile, the Panthers have fired Ron Rivera after nine mostly-strong seasons, as new owner David Tepper is finally ready to move in his own direction with this team.

We shouldn’t notice many changes on Carolina, especially on offense, where Norv Turner will move to an assistant head coach role, but where his son Scott Turner will take on a four-week audition running the show (with plenty of help likely coming his way from Norv). With nothing to lose, and with this attack already perfectly willing to be aggressive, we shouldn’t see much over the last four weeks that looks different from what this team has given us so far. The Panthers should still lean on Christian McCaffrey as the engine of this offense, and they should still focus on DJ Moore as the central piece of the passing attack (recent target counts of 10 // 9 // 10 // 11 // 15 // 9 // 12 — with his new downfield role in this offense well documented in this space). Curtis Samuel will still be mixed in (6 // 11 // 6 // 8 // 6 // 4 // 7), while this team will still get the ball to “tight end” (likely Ian Thomas this week, with Greg Olsen dealing with a concussion) when open. With all of this, the Panthers offense will continue to be held back by Kyle Allen.

The matchup for the Panthers — as explored multiple times over the last few weeks — is tougher at the moment than what the Falcons offered earlier in the year, with this team improving their communication and their assignment-based play over the last month. As explored all season: Atlanta is going to shorten up an opponent’s aDOT (they are shaving almost 9% off the league-average mark — the seventh best showing in the league), while allowing a catch rate boost and attempting to tackle well after the catch. While the Falcons have been hit for a handful of deep completions, most of their issues this year have come in that final category (YAC), where they are boosting the league-average rate by 7.6%. Production against the Falcons tends to come from A) volume, and B) busted YAC plays — making Moore the player with the clearest path to production in this pass catching group. Here are the notable stat lines allowed to pass catchers by the Falcons this year:

8-107-1 Agholor
14-217-3 Fuller
6-100-0 Lockett
13-152-0 Mike Thomas
11-121-0 CMC
7-184-2 Godwin

8-72-0 Ertz
8-65-1 T.Y.
3-94-2 A.J. Brown
5-91-1 Corey Davis
7-88-0 Nuk
3-72-0 Keke
8-95-0 DJ (15 targets)
3-85-0 Jared Cook

Last week, CMC finished with under 25 touches for only the third time this season, and he can be penciled in for his typical range of work this week. The Falcons are allowing under 4.0 yards per carry to running backs and have actually been a top 10 team at preventing receiving yards to the position — slotting this in as an average matchup for McCaffrey, and making him a “bet on talent and volume” play. Moore will be in good shape for double-digit looks, while Samuel’s likeliest range is six or seven targets. Assuming Olsen misses, Thomas should step right into the five to seven looks that typically flow Olsen’s way.

On the Atlanta side, Julio Jones is set to return, while Austin Hooper has a shot to return as well — both of whom would join Devonta Freeman, who returned last week.

It’s been a strange season for Devonta, as he has only three games this season with more than 13 carries — and with Atlanta throwing the ball at the highest rate in football and ranking bottom five in adjusted line yards on offense, there is no reason to expect this to suddenly change down the stretch. Freeman continued to play around 65% of the Falcons snaps last week (with Brian Hill soaking up most of the remaining work), and he enters a great matchup this week against a Carolina team that ranks dead last in DVOA against the run and has allowed five separate running backs to top 90 yards and score a touchdown on the ground. It is worth noting that in his 10 healthy games, Freeman has had six matchups against teams that rank top nine in run defense DVOA. The floor isn’t particularly high, but there are paths to upside in his softest matchup of the year.

Julio has had a quietly disappointing campaign, with only two games of 100+ yards in his last eight outings (and with zero touchdowns in this stretch), and with only two games of double-digit targets in his last eight games as well. Julio draws a winnable, but tough matchup against James Bradberry this week. In his last five games in this matchup, he has posted stat lines of 4-28-1 // 5-64-0 // 5-80-0 // 6-118-0 // 8-91-0. Imagine having Julio Jones at your disposal and using him the way the Falcons use him…

As we have taken a look at over the last few weeks, Calvin Ridley is likely to see his usage affected more by the absence or return of Hooper than by any other element, as he has seen three of his five highest target totals on the year (including his two highest) since Hooper went down. If Hooper returns, Ridley still has a shot at pushing for eight or more targets, but he would be more of a “bet on big play” option than a “bank on volume” piece. If Hooper misses again, there is a much better chance for Ridley to enter the eight to ten target range once again.

Elsewhere on the Falcons, Russell Gage has seen his price/profile climb off games without Hooper and (last week) Julio, making him fundamentally overpriced for his actual role if those two are on the field. With that said: this doesn’t mean Gage can’t hit, and his nine target game in Week 8 with everyone healthy provides some hope for upside in this spot. Gage doesn’t have much yardage juice outside of busted plays, but he provides a useful route tree near the end zone and has potential to add a touchdown to mid-range yardage production — with his chances of this production enhanced if injuries break in his favor, but with paths available to useful production regardless.

Hooper has the toughest matchup against a Panthers team that has faced the fewest tight end targets in the league, though his connection with Matt Ryan still leaves open some paths to him hitting.

JM’s Interpretation ::

Given the strange state of this week — with very few truly great spots — both of these teams are in the mix in what is, disappointingly, one of the highest-total games on the weekend; though most of the players in this game are a bit overpriced for their expected range of production.

I’m likely to make this game more of a “game stack” spot than an “isolate individual players” spot; but if looking toward individual plays, CMC sits at the top of the pile, while Julio and Moore slot in behind him for the upside they offer (albeit with an iffy price-considered floor on each). I also like Samuel a bit with his price/profile dropping, and Devonta is genuinely interesting in what is a far better matchup than most he has faced this year. We’ll run into plenty of this in Week 14: spots that are “interesting,” without anything really standing out; which means that some of these merely “interesting” spots will wind up providing slate-winners — keeping spots such as this one very much in the mix at the front end of the week.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 8th 1:00pm Eastern

Colts (
22) at

Bucs (
25)

Over/Under 47.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Colts Run D
6th DVOA/3rd Yards allowed per carry
Buccaneers Run O
6th DVOA/19th Yards per carry
Colts Pass D
3rd DVOA/2nd Yards allowed per pass
Buccaneers Pass O
9th DVOA/8th Yards per pass
Buccaneers Run D
3rd DVOA/1st Yards allowed per carry
Colts Run O
22nd DVOA/28th Yards per carry
Buccaneers Pass D
1st DVOA/9th Yards allowed per pass
Colts Pass O
15th DVOA/10th Yards per pass

After starting the season 5-2 (including an overtime loss to the Chargers in Week 1 and a one-score loss to the Raiders, alongside wins over the Titans, Chiefs, and Texans), the Colts have tumbled in the opposite direction, and they now enter their Week 14 game against the Buccaneers on life support with a 6-6 record. They will be taking on an aggressive Buccaneers team that has found its way to 5-7 (with wins in three of four) in spite of myriad flaws on defense and at the quarterback position.

The setup in this game is interesting, as the Colts (while dealing with the retirement of Andrew Luck and a seemingly endless string of injuries to skill position players — and in spite of a .500 record) are the fifth run-heaviest team in football, trailing only the Ravens, 49ers, Vikings, and Seahawks, and slotting in ahead of Buffalo // Oakland // Tennessee // Houston. The Buccaneers, meanwhile, rank first in DVOA against the run and are facing the highest opponent pass play rate in the league, with opponents averaging a whopping 41.7 pass attempts per game in this matchup. Furthermore, the Colts run one of the shortest-area passing attacks in the league, while the great benefit of the matchup against the Bucs is 1) volume, and 2) the fact that the Bucs have allowed opponents to attack them a bit deeper down the field.

We should expect the Colts to enter this game looking to slow things down with a slower-paced, control-oriented approach (only three teams play at a slower pace in neutral situations), while looking to account for injuries by keeping this game manageable — i.e., keeping the Bucs’ explosive offense off the field as much as possible, and shortening this game as much as they can. Of course, there is only so long this approach can typically hold up against Tampa, and we should eventually expect Indy to turn their attention to the air.

As we have explored throughout the season (as unpopular an opinion as this is…), the Bucs are not atrocious against the pass, but are instead “average to slightly below-average,” and are allowing teams to hammer them on volume. Tampa now ranks 19th in DVOA against the pass, and they are beating the league-average catch rate by a couple ticks while shaving an impressive 8% off the league-average YAC/r rate. Their 7.2 yards allowed per pass attempt ranks 18th, and is within 0.1 yards per attempt of a number of teams, including the Ravens, Panthers, Chiefs, and Seahawks. To put all that another way: if the Bucs were not so tremendous against the run, the DFS public would be viewing this as a neutral matchup for pass catchers. But instead, the Bucs have allowed one of the longest lists of notable stat lines to pass catchers in the league:

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

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

With T.Y. Hilton expected to miss another game and Parris Campbell on track to return, three-wide sets for the Colts this week should feature Marlon Mack in the backfield (assuming he returns), Jack Doyle at tight end, and Zach Pascal // Campbell // Marcus Johnson at wideout — with the action through the air primarily funneled through Doyle // Pascal // Campbell.

We’ll take a look at Campbell first, as he has a shot to become one of the more popular plays on the slate at the bottom of the price barrel. Campbell will be the fastest player on the field, and as he’s coming back from a hand injury, his conditioning shouldn’t be a major issue. He has had only two opportunities this year to be featured as a healthy piece with Hilton out — drawing eight targets on 51 snaps in Week 4 and five targets on 48 snaps in Week 9. The Colts threw 46 and 31 times, respectively, in those games, but the Colts also featured Chester Rogers (six and five targets) in those spots. Campbell’s 13 targets in those two games tied Pascal for the team lead, though his 88 yards through the air fell shy of Pascal’s mark of 148.

Pascal has only one game this year of double-digit targets (Hilton has only two such games himself), so he’ll likely need game flow help to really post big numbers here at his “higher” price tag; but he should be considered the 1A in this attack.

The best matchup goes to Doyle, who will take on a Bucs team that has faced the fifth most tight end targets while allowing the fourth most yards and the third most touchdowns. With Brissett throwing 40 times last week, Pascal had 10 targets and Doyle had 11. We should never “expect” 40 attempts from these Colts, but that’s certainly within range; Nyheim Hines and Marcus Johnson will soak up a few of those looks, but Pascal // Doyle // Campbell should be the focal points.

While Marlon Mack (again: assuming he returns) will be a featured yardage-and-touchdown back in an awful matchup, the Bucs give us a murkier setup, with Ronald Jones “still the starter,” according to Bruce Arians, but with Peyton Barber taking over last week after RoJo missed a blitz pickup. Derrick Henry (twice) is the only running back who has posted a particularly usable stat line on the ground against the Colts, making this backfield a pure hope-and-pray option this week.

The Bucs’ passing attack is much less of a guessing game, with Chris Godwin and Mike Evans climbing back over 50% of this team’s targets over the last two weeks (which is where they had been for much of the season before a two-week blip) — though this has come with the Bucs limiting passing attempts to protect a lead in back-to-back games, leading to Jameis Winston throwing only 28 and 33 times in those spots. Indy shaves 4% off the league-average aDOT and 12% off the league-average YAC/r, though their Tampa 2 defense comfortably allows underneath completions, leading to an 8% catch rate boost. Wideouts are also able to find open spaces in the zone at times for bigger gains, with the Colts allowing the following notable stat lines on the season:

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

6-94-2 Nuk

With the Colts ranked top 10 in preventing pass plays of 20+ yards and designing their defense to take away downfield throws (particularly to the perimeter), Godwin sets up better in this spot — though both Godwin and Evans are capable of hitting; and both will likely need the Colts to keep pace in order for volume to really pile up.

As we are well aware by now, the Colts also filter action to tight ends; and as we are also aware, O.J. Howard is one of the least reliable tight end plays in the league. Howard saw six targets last week — his second most on the season. Behind Howard, Cameron Brate has seen one target apiece in each of his last two games, while Breshad Perriman wraps up this attack as the speed threat — a job he now has sole possession of with Scotty Miller currently on track to miss once again. Perriman is averaging 14.1 yards per catch, but only 5.9 yards per target, as only 42.1% of his targets have been converted on the year.

JM’s Interpretation ::

Given the way the Colts play defense, and the way they should approach this game on offense, there is a solid chance the Bucs (with a Vegas-implied total of 25.0) fall shy of the 28+ points they have hit in four of their last five games. This is still an aggressive offense, however — with a pass-funnel defense on the other side — keeping Godwin // Evans // Jameis very much in the mix, with deeper-down interest in Howard and “other pieces on this offense.”

On the Colts’ side, Campbell // Pascal // Doyle should all draw somewhat heavy ownership attention — but given the state of this slate, all three warrant that attention at their affordable prices. Brissett is viable in tourneys as well, as there is a good chance he has to throw the ball 35+ times as the Colts look to keep pace with the explosive offense of the Bucs.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 8th 1:00pm Eastern

Dolphins (
21) at

Jets (
26)

Over/Under 47.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Dolphins Run D
32nd DVOA/19th Yards allowed per carry
Jets Run O
29th DVOA/23rd Yards per carry
Dolphins Pass D
10th DVOA/16th Yards allowed per pass
Jets Pass O
30th DVOA/32nd Yards per pass
Jets Run D
14th DVOA/20th Yards allowed per carry
Dolphins Run O
23rd DVOA/22nd Yards per carry
Jets Pass D
31st DVOA/24th Yards allowed per pass
Dolphins Pass O
11th DVOA/17th Yards per pass

One of the things we have talked about on the site this year is the way that good teams tend to improve throughout the season, so that where they might have been only 2% or 3% better than their competition around Week 3 or 4, they might be 10% or 20% better than their competition around Week 13 or 14. And actually, I’ve always felt that this idea relates somewhat closely to NFL DFS as well. I’ve seen it said that the best time to make money in NFL DFS is early in the season, before everyone has a feel for the teams; but I’ve always felt (and the results have borne this out) that the edge actually grows throughout the season as we continue to focus on getting incrementally better, and understanding the NFL incrementally better, than our competition. As we have talked about before in this regard: teams tend to evolve, change, improve, regress, etc. throughout the course of the season, and when our competition allows their perception of teams to ossify, we can continue getting incrementally better than them as a result.

All of which brings us to the New York Jets. Typically by this point in the season, our feel for a team should be strong, and we should be digging deeper and deeper into the nuances of what that team is doing in order to expand our edge (rather than finding ourselves in a position where we are just trying to “get to know a team”). But this Jets team has defied conventional DFS analysis — with maddening and unpredictable ups and downs that often have little to do with factors we can account for heading into the week.

Here’s what we do know about the Jets: their offense is primarily centered around five weapons ::

Le’Veon Bell will play most of the snaps in the backfield, and he will be involved in the run game and the pass game each week — with recent touch counts of 25 // 22 // 20 // 17 // 14, and with reception totals in that stretch of 8 // 4 // 2 // 5 // 4. He has also been one of the least explosive players in the NFL this year, averaging only 3.2 yards per carry and (even more damning) 4.17 yards per touch. Twelve games into the season, Bell has zero rushes (and only two receptions) of 20+ yards. Touchdowns have been his best source of “upside.” He has four touchdowns on the year.

Jamison Crowder is the featured weapon in the pass game, with recent target counts of 9 // 6 // 8 // 4 // 9. Crowder primarily works the short and intermediate areas of the field, requiring him to see somewhat heavy volume (or a busted play) in order to produce upside. He has fallen shy of 30 receiving yards in four of his last seven games, but he has also topped 75 yards in each of his other three.

Demaryius Thomas works the intermediate areas of the field (with some short-area looks mixed in); and while he is seeing consistent usage (recent target counts of 3 // 9 // 5 // 3 // 5), his lack of explosiveness at this point in his career is making it difficult for him to produce big games. He requires multiple touchdowns (or something really breaking his way) for upside to materialize.

Two weeks ago, the Jets decided to “stop forcing the ball to Robby Anderson,” and since then he has gone 4-86-1 and 7-101-0. Last week marked the first time in six games that Robby had topped six targets, and his downfield role (aDOT of 16.0 — the sixth deepest mark in the league) takes away any semblance of floor. This downfield role also gives him a clear shot at upside, however, making him a classic boom/bust play. Robby has finished under 25 receiving yards in half his games this year, but he has also gone for 80+ four times, and has scored in two of those four games.

Finally, Ryan Griffin is an outlet between the 20s and is often schemed looks close to the end zone — with only three games this season north of 30 yards, but with five touchdowns on the year (on a team-leading four targets inside the 10).

This is also a team that put up big games against Dallas, the Giants, Washington, and Oakland, while crumbling against the Dolphins and Bengals. Again: this squad defies conventional analysis. What we can go into this game knowing, however, is that the matchup is good on all levels, with the Dolphins ranking bottom six in DVOA against the run, DVOA against the pass, yards allowed per carry, yards allowed per pass attempt, opponent drive success rate, opponent third down conversion rate, yards allowed per game, and points allowed per game. This team — as explored throughout the season — is disciplined and assignment-strong, but they are also severely lacking in talent. They have allowed 27+ points in five of their last seven games. If the Jets show up to play, another 34 point game (which would be their fourth in their last five) will be very much within reach — though of course, the same could have been said for their games against the Bengals and Dolphins. Miami doesn’t have the pass rushing pieces with which the Bengals were able to wreak havoc, and this is a home game for the Jets, tilting the “likeliest scenario” toward a solid showing for this squad — though of course, this all comes with the inexplicable risk the up-and-down Jets have introduced.

On the Dolphins side of the ball, the offense can be broken down into three usage tiers:

In the first tier is DeVante Parker, who has recent target counts of 10 // 10 // 11 // 10, and who has topped 50 yards in all but two games this season (while topping 90 yards in three straight). Parker has only one target inside the 10, but he has a useful nine targets inside the 20 and has posted six touchdowns on the year.

In the second tier is Mike Gesicki, Albert Wilson, and Allen Hurns. Gesicki has recent target counts of 6 // 6 // 7 // 7, and while his role is primarily short-area, he has seen this usage extended enough times to provide paths to upside. Jamal Adams appears likely to miss this week, which would make this matchup significantly softer for Gesicki. Wilson has 6 // 7 // 5 targets the last three weeks and has added three carries. With the shallowest aDOT in the entire NFL, he needs to really bust through in the YAC department to provide upside, but he has the speed to conceivably get there. Hurns is working the intermediate areas (with some short-area looks and some downfield looks), mixing in for recent target counts of 4 // 6 // 7 // 4. He has yet to top 53 yards this year, but he is given enough work to have paths to passing that mark.

In the third tier is the backfield, where the Dolphins are now without Kalen Ballage after already losing Mark Walton and trading Kenyan Drake. Patrick Laird played 42 snaps last week to only 16 for Myles Gaskin and should be in line to lead the charge. As we know: the Dolphins are worse than pathetic at running the ball, and the Jets boast the second best run defense in football; but as explored a couple weeks ago, Laird does have some juice as a pass catcher, having now hauled in 12 of 14 targets across his last five games for 109 yards. Laird will need to trip into a couple touchdowns (or see a major spike in pass catching work) to become a standout piece, but he does have clear paths to “floor” production.

JM’s Interpretation ::

Outside of Le’Veon, the Jets are just really affordable for a home matchup against the Dolphins. With 13 teams on this slate (and the sort of score this means you’ll likely need for first place in a tourney), Demaryius is not really on my list; but Robby // Crowder // Darnold (and even Griffin) all will warrant at least some consideration this week. These are the types of plays I like to set aside at this point in the week before comparing them to what else is available once the NFL Edge is finished. Given the inconsistency of this offense, these pieces may not approach the center of my builds; but I’m sure I’ll have at least some level of exposure this week across what I expect to once again be 19 rosters — taking a shot at first place in the Wildcat. (Side note: shoutout once again to CubsFan, who nailed down seven squads in the top 36 of the Wildcat last week — with the two of us hanging out together in 36th place with two very different rosters that somehow managed to produce the exact same score.)

After their game last week, the Dolphins are priced up — making it tough to get too excited about Parker or even Ryan Fitzpatrick on the road. In a vacuum, these guys are solid volume-driven pieces, though it’s tougher to justify them in the price ranges in which you have to move. With that said: given how much the Dolphins are passing (second highest pass play rate in the league), some level of production is almost guaranteed. This certainly leaves room open to chase Parker (who is also more attractive on FanDuel than on DK) — but also highlights the fact that the rest of this attack is a bit underpriced for the pass-heavy nature of this offense. There are no guarantees on this offense, but with Adams likely out for the Jets and making the matchup softer for Gesicki, and with Wilson and Hurns sure to see some looks (alongside Laird’s contributions in the pass game), it’s worth poking around and seeing if anything from this group can make sense from a salary-saver standpoint compared to what else we find on this slate.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 8th 1:00pm Eastern

49ers (
21.75) at

Saints (
23.25)

Over/Under 45.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
49ers Run D
7th DVOA/9th Yards allowed per carry
Saints Run O
12th DVOA/14th Yards per carry
49ers Pass D
22rd DVOA/3rd Yards allowed per pass
Saints Pass O
14th DVOA/9th Yards per pass
Saints Run D
4th DVOA/4th Yards allowed per carry
49ers Run O
9th DVOA/8th Yards per carry
Saints Pass D
15th DVOA/17th Yards allowed per pass
49ers Pass O
17th DVOA/21st Yards per pass

Much like last week’s game between the 49ers and the Ravens, this clash between the 10-2 49ers and the 10-2 Saints has potential to be much more exciting from a “game-watching” perspective than it is for fantasy production. (Side note: when I was going through the games on Monday, it was almost impossible to find a game to “want to watch” after watching 49ers/Ravens. Football just doesn’t get much better than that. Not to say I don’t enjoy offensive explosions; but rather to say: I don’t really care what the score of a game is, as long as good football is being played — and there is surprisingly little good football going on at this time of year, with the quarterback position and even the state of coaching being what they are right now.)

We’ll start on the 49ers side, where this team that ranks 31st in pass play rate — with a split backfield and a spread-the-wealth passing attack — has been one of the least targetable teams in DFS all season.

In the backfield, Raheem Mostert has been a revelation this season, ripping off 5.9 yards per carry while showing serious burst at the second level. Before we get to the matchup, however: the setup here…

The 49ers have held onto Tevin Coleman as the lead back all season in spite of their “name” free agent addition getting outperformed by both Mostert and Matt Breida. Last week, the 49ers all but benched Coleman, giving Mostert 40 snaps (10 for Coleman // five for Jeff Wilson) and 21 touches as the engine of their offense; but Kyle Shanahan has long favored split backfields, and if Breida returns this week, it becomes far more likely than not that this returns to some sort of split. Even if Breida misses, there is no guarantee Coleman remains in such a backseat role. Mostert and Breida also — due to reasons only Shanahan knows — have four combined carries inside the 10, while Coleman and Wilson have combined for 23 such looks. As for the matchup: the Saints rank sixth in DVOA on the ground and have allowed the second fewest running back rushing yards in the league. Backs are averaging only 3.51 yards per carry in this spot.

As a team, the 49ers have produced only three games of double-digit targets, with one of these belonging to George Kittle (Week 1), and with the other two belonging to Deebo Samuel when Kittle missed. The spread-the-wealth nature of this attack is partly to blame for this, though the low volume for this passing attack as a whole has been the bigger issue. Jimmy Garoppolo has thrown 22 or fewer pass attempts in four of his last seven games. Similar to the 49ers’ setup last week: the Saints rank top four in time of possession, so the chances of a play volume spike are low — requiring either a game flow that tilts the 49ers heavily toward the pass or a “bet on big plays” approach for targeting this passing attack. If betting on big plays, Kittle is your best bet, while Deebo // Sanders slot in behind him. Outside of “Kittle for the explosiveness,” none of these plays are particularly sharp on paper, but all have paths to upside and should go largely overlooked.

On the other side, the Saints’ short-area attack has been mostly lethal since Drew Brees returned — scoring 26+ in four of five games (after they scored 30 in Week 1) — though they haven’t yet been tested by a defense in the same stratosphere as the 49ers. San Francisco is forcing the shallowest aDOT in the NFL (it’s not even close), and only the Patriots are allowing a lower catch rate — a nearly impossible combination to pull off. Somewhat quietly, only eight teams have produced fewer pass plays of 20+ yards than the Saints (the list directly behind them includes Washington, Miami, Chicago, Pittsburgh, the Giants, and the Jets), while the 49ers have allowed the fewest pass plays of 20+ yards. New Orleans will need to sustain drives with heavy volume in order to produce notable stat lines here — and even with their prices adjusted down for the matchup, they still need to produce among the higher scores on the slate. San Francisco ranks second in drive success rate allowed.

We know that volume on this offense will flow through Michael Thomas (recent target counts of 11 // 11 // 14 // 10 // 11 // 8), Alvin Kamara (recent touch counts of 18 // 12 // 23 // 20 // 15, with reception totals in that stretch of 7 // 8 // 10 // 9 // 4), and Jared Cook (target totals of 3 // 10 // 2 // 8 // 6 in his five games with Brees). The player who sets up best for effective production on their volume is Kamara, as the 49ers rank a middling 14th in DVOA against the run. Naturally, the 49ers have allowed the fewest receiving yards in the league to running backs, and only one team has allowed fewer touchdowns to the position.

JM’s Interpretation ::

Even on an ugly slate, I don’t expect this game to be a central focus for me. I’ve been avoiding the 49ers for most of the season, and I wouldn’t expect that to shift too heavily here. On the Saints’ side: I always like a narrow distribution of touches, and the lowered prices (even in a tough matchup) make these guys stand out a bit. It’s still unlikely that one of these three (Thomas // Kamara // Cook) posts a monster game, but one or two should produce a solid raw score, with an outside shot for a nice game. This week is ugly enough that Kamara may actually make my player pool. (Kamara’s smoother, more wait-and-go running style means that spots that seem “clear for running backs” — like the Panthers, for example — won’t necessarily translate for him; but this style also increases the chances of him popping off in a spot that others might not be able to crack.) I don’t see a major reason to expect Kamara to move off his recent production — and while that’s not enough to win you a tourney, it could be enough to provide some stability alongside a cheaper game stack, with some paths to ceiling available.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 8th 1:00pm Eastern

Lions (
15.75) at

Vikings (
28.25)

Over/Under 44.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Lions Run D
30th DVOA/26th Yards allowed per carry
Vikings Run O
2nd DVOA/6th Yards per carry
Lions Pass D
12th DVOA/20th Yards allowed per pass
Vikings Pass O
20th DVOA/22nd Yards per pass
Vikings Run D
27th DVOA/22nd Yards allowed per carry
Lions Run O
13th DVOA/18th Yards per carry
Vikings Pass D
8th DVOA/29th Yards allowed per pass
Lions Pass O
19th DVOA/20th Yards per pass

Fun trivia for you :: the Lions — who have played a schedule that includes the Chiefs, Packers, Vikings, Raiders, and Cowboys, and who have a record of 3-8-1 — have played only one game in which they have been separated from their opponent by more than one score at the end. Bonus point on that trivia: that only “non-one-score” game came in a 12 point loss to the Vikings. The Lions have been able to remain competitive against the Bears (twice), Cowboys, and Redskins with Jeff Driskel and David Blough under center — but this will be put to the test on the road against an 8-4 Vikings team that is pretty clearly in the top eight or nine units in the league.

We will get to the Vikings offense in a moment, but the starting point for the Lions is an expectation that the Vikings will be able to score points. With this assumption in place (backed up by Vegas giving the Vikings the highest implied team total on the slate and pairing them with the Packers as the largest favorites on the slate), we should expect a game plan for the Lions that eventually tilts toward the pass — where the Vikings have struggled this year to defend both wide receivers and tight ends. Only six teams have allowed more wide receiver yards than the Vikings, and only three teams have allowed more wide receiver touchdowns. Only six teams have allowed more yards to tight ends, and only three teams have allowed more receptions. The quarterback play of Blough will be a much bigger obstacle for Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones than the matchup.

The Lions passing attack is down T.J. Hockenson (I.R.), and while Logan Thomas (19 snaps last week) and Jesse James (25 snaps last week) will step in as touchdown-or-bust replacements, this should ultimately concentrate the passing attack even more fully on Golladay and Jones (with Danny Amendola working underneath) — making these two an interesting point of discussion on this ugly slate.

Golladay has seen his targets drop to 5 // 4 // 5 across his last three games, but he is maintaining the downfield role that has led to a breakout season. He is massively volatile at the higher ends of the price range with so few targets guaranteed to go his way, but he does have a legitimate shot at a big game if things fall in place. Jones has recent target counts of 5 // 11 // 6 and has been shifted into more of an intermediate role with the changing quarterback setup. His big role in the red zone (ninth most red zone targets in the league) has helped him find his way to nine touchdowns this season — and while he is somewhat touchdown-dependent for his ceiling right now, he has shown a fairly solid floor for his now-lower price. If the Vikings score the way they are expected to, there will be at least some targets going toward these two.

The final “core piece” on the Lions is Bo Scarbrough, who will be involved in the run game for as long as the Lions are able to lean on him (recent carry counts of 14 // 18 // 21). The Vikings are allowing 4.3 yards per carry to enemy backs — but as a true yardage-and-touchdown back (Scarbrough has only one target across three games), he’ll need this game to stay close (or he’ll need some touchdown luck) in order to prove a useful piece this week.

The Vikings, as we know, provide us with one of the more concentrated offenses in the league, focusing primarily on Dalvin Cook, Stefon Diggs, and Adam Thielen when healthy — with much of the Thielen focus shifting to the tight ends when he is off the field. There are really no difficult matchups for this run-leaning Vikings team (30th in pass play rate), so the big question here is “floor and ceiling compared to the price.” Looking at things through this lens, we find a group of Vikings players who are fairly unattractive in more stable contests (double-ups, head-to-heads, ultra-small-field tourneys), but who nevertheless carry some flash potential in tournaments.

It would be preferable for us, from a DFS perspective, if the Vikings were to choose to give Cook and his ailing chest/shoulder a week to recuperate, as this would open opportunity for Alexander Mattison to take over a valuable lead role. At the front end of the week, however, it appears likely that Cook will play, making him a risk/reward option at the higher ends of the price range. If things go according to plan against a Lions team that faces among the most running back touches in the NFL and has given up the second most touchdowns to the position (10 on the ground; a league-high eight through the air), then Cook — who has five games of 25+ touches — would have a clear shot at one of the top raw scores on the slate. But there is also clear potential for Cook to see a bit less work than normal (or to be less effective than normal, given that he’s dealing with a “pain tolerance” issue). Perhaps the biggest risk here is a Vikings blowout that could open a path for Mattison to get all of the late-game work.

In the pass game, Diggs has seen recent target counts of only 6 // 5 // 9 in three games without Thielen, putting him in a position where he requires big plays in order to come close to paying off his gaudy salary. And yet, the Lions boost aDOT by over 25% (by far the largest boost in the league) and have allowed the third most pass plays of 20+ yards, while allowing the fourth most wide receiver yards in the league. The Lions have given up notable pass catcher stat lines that have been littered with big plays:

8-113-1 Fitz
7-142-0 Diggs
9-148-0 Gallup
4-115-1 Cobb
9-140-0 A-Miller

8-98-0 Keenan (15 targets)
7-85-0 Kelce
8-79-1 Saquon
8-86-1 A-Rob

Diggs is a scary-low-floor option on his uncertain target share, but he has elite ceiling.

If Thielen returns, he’ll step back into the role that yielded recent target counts of 6 // 8 // 8 // 2, with the biggest risk factor being the potential for low targets in a game the Vikings control. If Thielen misses, it will again be Kyle Rudolph (recent target counts of 5 // 5 // 5 // 6), Irv Smith (6 // 6 // 3 // 3), and Olabisi Johnson (2 // 4 // 9 // 3) pitching in. Thielen would be a slightly less volatile play than Diggs, though he still comes with floor concerns — especially in his first game back from injury. Rudolph has seen his price rise on DK off his touchdown binge (five in his last four games); and as touchdowns are the least predictable element in DFS, this makes him fundamentally a bit overpriced. Nevertheless — as with the rest of this offense — this overpriced status is in relation to floor // certainty, while paths to ceiling remain.

JM’s Interpretation ::

The prices on the Vikings and the quarterback situation for the Lions create a DFS situation that is not exactly stable; but there are some spots to consider here.

I’ll likely avoid Scarbrough myself, as I prefer backs with pass-catching roles; but he’s interesting for savings as a touchdown-dependent play. Golladay and Jones are also in the mix for big-play- and/or touchdown-driven ceiling, while each carries a scary-low floor with Blough at the reins.

On the Vikings’ side, Cook — with his injury concerns — is a lesser on-paper play than McCaffrey; but his ceiling in this spot certainly still makes him a player to keep in mind. The pass catchers are boom/bust options, with enough upside on those “booms” to still be kept in mind.

I may reserve this game primarily for game stacks — particularly if I can pair this spot with either some value I really like, or with a cheaper second game stack that can raise the point-per-dollar ceiling of this roster as a whole. To put that another way :: there are not a lot of individual pieces to just absolutely love this week; so if I can find a way to end up on two games that produce strong, steady production, I won’t really care what I paid for the individual pieces, so long as the combination of two correct stacks opens paths to the top of the leaderboard.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 8th 1:00pm Eastern

Broncos (
17.25) at

Texans (
25.25)

Over/Under 42.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Broncos Run D
5th DVOA/10th Yards allowed per carry
Texans Run O
23rd DVOA/31st Yards per carry
Broncos Pass D
9th DVOA/13th Yards allowed per pass
Texans Pass O
8th DVOA/4th Yards per pass
Texans Run D
23rd DVOA/31st Yards allowed per carry
Broncos Run O
20th DVOA/16th Yards per carry
Texans Pass D
8th DVOA/22nd Yards allowed per pass
Broncos Pass O
31st DVOA/26th Yards per pass

After scoring 28 points against the vaunted defense of the Patriots, the Texans have been installed as 9.0 point favorites against the visiting Broncos, with a somewhat aggressive Vegas-implied team total of 25.75, against a Broncos team that has allowed the ninth fewest points per game, and that ranks sixth in opponent drive success rate and first in opponent red zone touchdown rate. Only four teams have allowed fewer fantasy points per game to quarterbacks, and only four teams have allowed fewer receptions to wide receivers. Only two running backs have topped 100 rushing yards in this matchup (and neither scored a touchdown), while only three pass catchers have topped 100 against the Broncos (with only two of these adding a touchdown). Through 12 games, only 10 really usable skill position stat lines have been produced against the Broncos. Honestly, this Vegas-implied total feels about right — but if we played out this slate a hundred times, those 26-point performances from the Texans (who have produced only three games this year of 300+ passing yards, with only eight total games of 100+ yards from an individual player) would come more from short fields and turnovers than from consistently dominant play. This doesn’t mean that production cannot show up for the Texans — who carry the fourth highest Vegas-implied team total on the slate — but it does mean that this production will be a bit bumpier than a 26-point total would typically give us, with touchdowns, broken plays, and “all at once” shots a better source for upside than smooth, consistent, volume-based production.

The good news, of course — if embracing some uncertainty to target the Texans — is that “bumpier” production has plenty of opportunity to show up for this squad that boasts Deshaun Watson, DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, and Kenny Stills.

Hopkins has disappointed this year, but he does have eight or more targets in all but one game, and he has double-digit looks in five of his last seven outings. With a shortened-up aDOT (10.2) this year, Hopkins has topped 100 yards only three times, but he still has seven touchdowns, and only Darren Fells has more red zone targets on the team.

Fuller has gone for recent healthy target counts in “non New England” games of 7 // 6 // 16 // 9 // 11; and while he carries plenty of risk (his hamstrings are always a concern, and his downfield role leads to volatile production), he carries plenty of upside as well. He’s an ultra-low-floor, high-ceiling option.

Stills has zero red zone targets on the season and only two games north of five targets. He’s a “bet on big play” option who has proven to have ceiling, but who has no real floor.

This offense wraps up with two tight ends (Fells // Jordan Akins) and two running backs (Carlos Hyde // Duke Johnson) who join the “low floor, some ceiling” parade. Akins and Fells have almost no yardage upside in their roles, but Fells has been the featured red zone piece for this offense and has scored seven touchdowns on the year. Hyde is a better bet for touchdowns than for yardage, with his three strongest yardage games coming in soft matchups vs the Jags (twice) and the Chiefs; he’ll need a broken play to mix in for yardage. Duke Johnson has matched or out-snapped Hyde in all three games since the Texans’ bye, but has touch counts of only 8 // 6 // 14 in this stretch. He’s a “bet on big plays // touchdowns” option.

The Broncos come into this game with the fourth lowest Vegas-implied total on the slate, after Drew Lock averaged under five yards per pass attempt in his NFL debut last week, at home against the Chargers. We should expect the Broncos to enter this game trying to lean on the run while primarily attacking the short areas of the field through the air; though if the Texans are able to jump out to a two-score lead early, there is a chance that this offense could open up enough for quality production to emerge.

The best bet for quality production — by far — is Courtland Sutton, who has recent target counts of 8 // 6 // 8 // 9 // 8 // 5, with yardage totals in that stretch of 87 // 72 // 56 // 113 // 27 // 74. Sutton has been the central, schemed focus of this passing attack since before the Broncos shipped Emmanuel Sanders out of town, and he will do battle with a Houston pass defense that ranks 25th in DVOA and has allowed the following, lengthy list of notable pass catcher stat lines:

10-123-0 Michael Thomas
7-101-0 Ted Ginn
13-183-2 Keenan Allen
6-106-2 Pascal
6-106-1 Edelman

5-88-1 Ridley
7-55-1 Chark
5-80-2 Tyreek
6-74-1 T.Y.
4-70-1 Ebron
3-91-1 Tyrell
4-88-1 Renfrow
4-75-1 Andrews
8-98-2 James White

Behind Sutton, we are getting unpredictable target volume spread around to Noah Fant (recent target counts of 4 // 10 // 5 // 3), Tim Patrick (DNP // 8 // 3 // 2), DaeSean Hamilton (0 // 0 // 1 // 3), and Jeff Heuerman (DNP // DNP // 0 // 5) — on an offense that is having a difficult time sustaining drives. Any of these players have a shot at producing some value at their low, low price tags; but they are also all priced low for a reason.

This low-scoring offense wraps up in the backfield, where Phillip Lindsay played fewer snaps than Royce Freeman last week but still maintained a significant edge in usage — with recent touch counts of 18 // 14 // 20, compared to 9 // 4 // 9 for his counterpart. Freeman is simply a “hope to trip into hidden upside” play. Lindsay is a “talent bet” on moderate volume, playing in a bad offense on the road against a mid-tier run defense.

JM’s Interpretation ::

It’s difficult to see any price-considered smashes coming out of the Texans in this spot — which, it should be noted, is the same thing I said in my Thanksgiving writeup of Kenny Golladay, with David Blough, against the Bears. Golladay proceeded to go 4-158-1 on only five targets — which is a perfect example of what you are likely looking to capture here: not something that’s necessarily bankable or predictable, but that can show up if some lower-percentage elements click correctly into place. To put that another way: the Texans at their prices carry a decent amount of “hoping for good things to happen,” but there is enough of a chance of these things happening that you aren’t drawing dead if you choose to go here in tournaments on an ugly slate like this.

The Broncos carry a low-scoring likelihood as an offense, making it tough to target truly slate-breaking scores from this squad. With that said, Sutton and Lindsay are both focal points for this team, which is enough to keep each in the discussion on an ugly week such. Sutton is the player I would gravitate toward with the Broncos likely chasing points (and with the Texans easier to attack through the air); but if Lindsay were to somehow pop in a couple touchdowns, he would emerge as a really nice piece as well.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 8th 1:00pm Eastern

Ravens (
25) at

Bills (
19)

Over/Under 44.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Ravens Run D
2nd DVOA/11th Yards allowed per carry
Bills Run O
32nd DVOA/29th Yards per carry
Ravens Pass D
7th DVOA/14th Yards allowed per pass
Bills Pass O
4th DVOA/6th Yards per pass
Bills Run D
24th DVOA/21st Yards allowed per carry
Ravens Run O
5th DVOA/1st Yards per carry
Bills Pass D
28th DVOA/15th Yards allowed per pass
Ravens Pass O
19th DVOA/31st Yards per pass

Fresh off their win against the 10-2 49ers, the Ravens have now defeated the Seahawks, Patriots, Texans, Rams, and 49ers in five of their last six games — with four of these wins coming by two or more scores, and with a 36-point victory over the Bengals mixed in. They will travel to Buffalo this week to take on a 9-3 Bills team that still has only one victory over an opponent with a winning record — a 14-7 triumph over the Titans. Nevertheless, the Bills proved once again last week that they are a solid all-around team, and with their elite pass defense (third fewest fantasy points allowed per game to quarterbacks; second fewest wide receiver touchdowns allowed; second fewest tight end targets faced across the last two years), they are able to at least eliminate one of the two things that their opponent wants to do.

Of course, the other thing an opponent wants to do (and the thing the Ravens want to do more than any team in football) is run the ball. In this area, the Bills rank 22nd in DVOA and are allowing a robust 4.65 yards per carry to enemy backs, and the Ravens should be able to hammer them both up the middle with Mark Ingram and to the edges with Lamar Jackson. Ingram has recent carry counts of 15 // 9 // 13 // 15 // 15, while ceding carry counts of 7 // 4 // 8 // 14 // 6 to “1B” Gus Edwards. As always, Ingram is a yardage-and-touchdown dependent back (with only six catches across his last four games), while Gus Gus is just a “hope and pray” flier.

Of course, the key piece of the Ravens rushing attack is not the running backs, but is instead Lamar Jackson, who has posted recent carry counts of 16 // 7 // 10 // 8 // 16. As we noted last week: his chances of posting a truly “have to have it” score are lowered by the difficult pass game matchup; but his chances of a dud are also low, given his central role to everything that happens in this offense. Lamar has posted only two non-excellent scores on the season (with only one score you would really have been disappointed in), keeping him very much in the mix in a matchup that still sets up well for the most explosive element of his skill set.

Lamar’s pass catchers, of course, are far more speculative — with all of these guys lining up as varying levels of “bet on a touchdown or broken play” options. Mark Andrews — with his raw upside and consistent involvement — is the best bet to get you there, though his recent target counts of 3 // 8 // 4 // 3 // 6 are a reminder of the sort of volatility he carries.

The Bills offense has been rounding into form and solidifying their identity lately as an 11-personnel-leaning team that features Devin Singletary in the backfield (77.6% of the snaps last week, with recent touch counts of 16 // 22 // 17), while focusing on John Brown and Cole Beasley through the air (Brown has recent target counts of 7 // 11 // 14 // 4 // 4, while Beasley sits at 2 // 6 // 4 // 9 // 7). The Ravens have been difficult to attack through the air this year — particularly over the last month and a half, with only Robert Woods in garbage time topping even 90 yards through the air against them in their last six games — and they are also generally solid against the run, having allowed only Nick Chubb and Raheem Mostert to top 100 yards against them. This isn’t exactly a fully concentrated attack for the Bills, either, as this team bleeds out some production to Robert Foster, Isaiah McKenzie, Dawson Knox, and Frank Gore; but if wanting to pick on the Ravens, you can bet on the Bills as a home offense with most of their plays bankably flowing through Singletary, Brown, and Beasley. Josh Allen is also a “bet on role” piece, with recent carry counts of 8 // 8 // 6 // 7 // 9 // 10 and recent yardage totals of 45 // 12 // 28 // 56 // 56 // 43. Unlike his counterpart in this game, Allen’s runs are primarily coming on scrambles; but he does have a few designed runs thrown in there, and the scrambles are a consistent enough part of his game that they can be considered somewhat reliable. Not one of these guys is a lock-and-load play, but all have some paths to upside in this difficult draw against the Ravens.

JM’s Interpretation ::

In keeping with the seeming theme of this week, there are some elements to like in this game (or at least to “not hate”), but it’s difficult to get overwhelmingly excited about any one play in this game.

Unsurprisingly, Lamar stands out as the best floor/ceiling piece in this spot, as he should be part of whatever offense we get from the Ravens. Ingram is a low-floor, solid-ceiling bet, while pass catchers on the Ravens carry upside but are fairly speculative this week.

Bills players are more speculative than they typically are as well, in this tough matchup against the Ravens, though given how ugly this week is as a whole, I won’t be surprised if A) I take a similar approach to the one I took two and three weeks ago on ugly slates (spreading my exposure a bit more thin to essentially “bet on the fact that an ugly week means slate-winning scores emerging from lower-owned spots), and B) I include at least a small amount of Bills exposure along with that approach. In other words: none of these are plays I want to isolate and build around; but there are enough paths to a solid game from Singletary, JB, or Beasley that I may end up with a bit if these guys — with Singletary and JB, of course, the stronger bets here, and with Josh Allen in the fringe quarterback conversation as well.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 8th 1:00pm Eastern

Bengals (
18.5) at

Browns (
25)

Over/Under 43.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Bengals Run D
23rd DVOA/28th Yards allowed per carry
Browns Run O
7th DVOA/3rd Yards per carry
Bengals Pass D
16th DVOA/25th Yards allowed per pass
Browns Pass O
23rd DVOA/27th Yards per pass
Browns Run D
20th DVOA/5th Yards allowed per carry
Bengals Run O
27th DVOA/26th Yards per carry
Browns Pass D
19th DVOA/30th Yards allowed per pass
Bengals Pass O
26th DVOA/13th Yards per pass

The “Super Bowl bound Browns” will be looking to keep their slim playoff hopes alive this week when they take on the now 1-11 Bengals at home. This game for the Browns and their concentrated offense tilts heavily in their favor against a Bengals team that ranks 30th in DVOA, 31st in yards allowed per game, 24th in points allowed per game, and 22nd in opponent drive success rate, with the one bright spot for this defense being their work in the red zone, where they are allowing the third lowest opponent touchdown rate in the league (behind only the Broncos and 49ers). Unfortunately — as has been the case in most spots against the Bengals this year — things are not exactly what they seem on the surface, as the Bengals face the lowest opponent pass play rate in the league and have allowed only the following notable stat lines through the air:

6-103-0 Dede
7-220-1 Kupp
7-101-0 Robby

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

And while the Bengals have been far more attackable on the ground, this has not been the true smash spot that the Bengals’ reputation seems to lead some to believe — with the list of notable stat lines against the Bengals on the ground lengthy, but with production on this list more “strong” than “slate-winning” given the difficulty teams are having in the red zone in this matchup:

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

If simply looking at raw production, this matchup sets up fairly well for a Browns offense that concentrates most of its touches on four key players, with usage broken down as follows ::

>> Nick Chubb :: recent touch counts of 24 // 28 // 24 // 17
>> Kareem Hunt :: 11 // 12 // 10 // 12
>> Odell Beckham :: 5-57-0 // 4-60-0 // 6-84-1 // 3-29-0
>> Jarvis Landry :: 9-97-1 // 4-43-1 // 10-148-2 // 6-76-0

Once price is taken into the equation, however, this spot falls more into the “worth considering” category than the “lock and load” discussion. Chubb is the best bet for a big game, with his locked-in carries and his red zone role (third most carries inside the 10; fifth most carries inside the five) giving him clear paths to an elite score. As a largely yardage-and-touchdown back (only six catches in four games since Hunt returned), he has a clearer shot at producing in spots where the Browns are expected to be playing with a lead — which should be the case here. Given the way that opponents are tilting their offense against the Bengals, Hunt is the player next most likely to produce a price-considered gem, with a role that has had him on the field for 60.1% of the Browns’ snaps the last two weeks, and that should allow him to hit the Bengals on the edges of the defense where they are easiest to attack. Landry has, incredibly, emerged as the alpha in this passing attack, leading this team in both targets (108, to 103 for Beckham) and red zone targets (a massive 16 to seven edge over OBJ) on the year, while out-producing Beckham in every important category. Beckham also, of course, has slate-breaking upside — though he has been more of a “hope it shows up” play than anything resembling a reliable bet. The matchup is not a concern for any of these guys, though volume has been difficult for wide receivers to come by in this matchup (with the Bengals facing the fourth fewest wide receiver targets in football), while Chubb and Hunt have their work cut out for them against their Week 14 prices.

The Browns defense has been middling on the year, ranking 17th in DVOA (23rd against the run; 11th against the pass), while ranking 15th in yards allowed per game, 18th in points allowed per game, and 10th in opponent drive success rate. The Bengals still have an atrocious offensive line, but they are set to return John Ross this week, and they have gotten their run game going in recent weeks as well (with Joe Mixon posting yardage totals on the ground in his last four games of 114 // 86 // 79 // 44), making this a more interesting spot than it might appear on the surface. Mixon has recent carry counts of 17 // 30 // 15 // 18 // 19 and should be in line for 15 to 20 carries in this spot with two or three receptions likely mixed in. He has only slim paths to scoring upside, but he’s an above-average bet for yardage against his salary in this no-longer-awful Bengals rushing attack. The passing attack should focus on Tyler Boyd (target counts in games with Ross of 12 // 10 // 11 // 6), Ross (12 // 8 // 6 // 6), and Auden Tate (10 // 6 in his two games with a featured role alongside Ross). The Browns have been a completely middling pass defense on the year, neither raising nor lowering expectations on a per-attempt basis. They have allowed the following notable stat lines to wide receivers (with breakdowns // big plays a frequent culprit behind these) ::

3-100-0 A.J. Brown
8-112-0 Cooks
11-101-2 Kupp
3-115-1 Fant
4-111-1 J-Wash

4-81-0 Robby (Falk)
6-70-1 Kittle
8-78-2 Edelman

None of the Bengals pass catchers are “likely” to hit — especially with this team carrying the third lowest Vegas-implied team total on the slate; but “none of these players are likely to hit” can be said in most spots on this ugly slate, keeping the Bengals at least in the conversation against a Browns team that lacks discipline and is prone to the occasional breakdown on the back end.

JM’s Interpretation ::

As noted in a couple other spots: on an ugly week like this, it can make sense to embrace uncertainty a bit more fully — allowing others to make “high-confidence guesses,” while acknowledging yourself that there are more guesses than normal on a slate like this, and that by spreading out your guesses you give yourself a better shot at getting things right. As we have talked about all season in spots like this: this doesn’t mean guessing blindly; but if you can find concentrated offenses with potential for a large chunk of the work to flow through one or two players, it can be worth taking some shots. With that in mind, I’m guessing I will have a little bit of Chubb and Hunt exposure in this spot, and I may even branch out into a couple rosters with one of the Browns pass catchers. It also won’t surprise me if I have a bit of Mixon, Ross, or Boyd. Nothing in this game is ultra-attractive on paper — especially when compared to the prices at which these players are available (with the Browns, obviously, the more attractive offense between these two, but with the Browns players carrying price tags far higher than their likeliest range of production). But with this being the case for most spots on this slate, it’s worth keeping an eye on this game and considering sprinkling in a few pieces from this spot throughout your builds this week.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 8th 1:00pm Eastern

WFT (
14.5) at

Packers (
27.5)

Over/Under 42.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Washington Run D
17th DVOA/17th Yards allowed per carry
Packers Run O
10th DVOA/10th Yards per carry
Washington Pass D
6th DVOA/1st Yards allowed per pass
Packers Pass O
6th DVOA/14th Yards per pass
Packers Run D
25th DVOA/12th Yards allowed per carry
Washington Run O
21st DVOA/25th Yards per carry
Packers Pass D
25th DVOA/18th Yards allowed per pass
Washington Pass O
32nd DVOA/29th Yards per pass

Dwayne Haskins and the 3-9 Washington Redskins will travel to Lambeau Field this week to take on Aaron Rodgers and the 9-3 Packers in a game that will likely have a “get it over with” feel — with Washington leaning on the run until they fall multiple scores behind, and with the Packers unlikely to remain in aggressive attack mode once they have this game in hand. There are other ways this game could play out, of course (perhaps Washington scores one or two early touchdowns on the ground and is able to more fully control this game; perhaps Washington forces an early turnover and puts the Packers in a hole they have to dig out of; etc.), and on a week with so many ugly games and so little to like, it isn’t outlandish to play some of these alternate scenarios. As always, however, we will approach this game taking a look at what is likeliest to happen — and what is likeliest to happen allows us to make fairly clean work of this spot.

Since taking over under center, Haskins has pass attempt totals of 22 // 35 // 29 // 25, with a top yardage game on the season of 214 (and with 156 or fewer yards in every other outing). The Packers defense ranks 28th in DVOA against the run and 18th against the pass — allowing 4.92 yards per carry to running backs, while also allowing 9.7 yards per target to wide receivers. The matchup obviously tilts opponents toward the ground, but there is more to fear in the Redskins’ conservative, run-leaning tendencies than there is to fear in any aspect of this matchup.

For as long as the Redskins are able to justify doing so, we should expect them to lean on the run — roughly splitting work between Derrius Guice and Adrian Peterson (with each player seeing roughly 1/3 of the Redskins’ snaps across the last two weeks, and with Guice posting touch totals since returning of 13 // 8 // 11 // 12, against touch totals for Peterson of 19 // 11 // 11 // 13). Each of these guys is a “bet on broken play or touchdown” option — or a “bet on outlier game flow” bet.

The Washington passing attack, meanwhile, has been a dead end for the last month and a half, with the best game from this group since Week 6 belonging to Terry McLaurin :: 5-72-0 on 12 targets against the Lions. If going here, you are obviously just chasing an unpredictable best-case scenario. The player “likeliest” to take advantage of such a scenario, of course, is McLaurin, who has recent target counts of 6 // 6 // 4 // 12 // 4. His likeliest range does not make him attractive, but he is talented enough that it won’t be “surprising” if we see at least one more strong game from him throughout the last quarter of the season.

As explored last week, the Redskins record has made them seem far more attackable as a defense than they really are, with this team ranked 19th in DVOA, 19th in yards allowed per game, and 21st in points allowed per game. Washington ranks 25th in opponent drive success rate, but 16th in opponent red zone touchdown rate, and they have allowed only three wide receivers to top 100 yards against them through the air (while Zeke is the only running back who has cracked the century mark on the ground). The Redskins are shaving 5% off the league-average aDOT and 5% off the league-average YAC/r, with the big bonus against them being a catch rate boost allowed in the shorter areas of the field (and previously, with additional paths to upside provided by the frequency with which Josh Norman was getting flamed deep before getting benched — a benching that carried over to Week 13, when he played only four snaps on defense).

While the matchup is not a boost for the Packers, it’s also not a major obstacle, with “blowout” a bigger concern than the matchup itself. This offense has become wonderfully compact of late, with targets among wide receivers since Davante Adams returned that look like this ::

>> Davante Adams :: 11 // 10 // 12 // 10
>> Allen Lazard :: 4 // 6 // 2 // 3
>> Geronimo Allison :: 2 // 3 // 4 // 3
>> Marquez Valdes-Scantling :: 2 // 1 // 3 // 2

Davante can win in any matchup, and this is — at worst — a middling matchup. He doesn’t pop off the page the way he did last week against the Giants, but his role and talent still give him value in this spot. Lazard is a “hope for broken play” option, while Allison and MVS are merely long-shot bets. Jimmy Graham also remains on the fringe of the offensive mix, with recent target counts of 4 // 3 // 2 // 1. If he happens to miss this week after failing to practice Wednesday, Marcedes Lewis and Robert Tonyan will form a committee, with Jace Sternberger mixing in for a few snaps of his own.

The other pieces that truly matter on the Packers behind Davante, of course, are in the backfield — though unfortunately, this continues to be an upside-sapping split, with Aaron Jones seeing recent touch counts of 9 // 13 // 13 // 15 (reception totals of 1 // 0 // 0 // 4), and with Jamaal Williams going 8 // 13 // 18 // 14 (with reception totals of 6 // 0 // 7 // 4). Williams has had the more valuable role between the 20s, while Jones has tripled Williams in carries in the red zone and inside the 10. Each player is likeliest to see around 12 to 15 touches, with some chance for these to trickle upward in a blowout win, and with some outside potential for one or the other to see the usage tilt more heavily his direction in the small sample size of a single game.

JM’s Interpretation ::

This matchup would be a lot more attractive if Jay Gruden were still the head coach and Case Keenum were still under center for Washington, as that setup had the Redskins willing to allow Keenum to be an erratic gunslinger in their quest to keep pace with opponents — potentially opening an opportunity in this spot for an exciting, higher-scoring affair. With Callahan and Haskins, however, we are likeliest to see the Packers slowly pull away in this game, and then lean on a more conservative approach to close it out as Washington does the same until it is too late for them to actually catch up. With Washington carrying the lowest Vegas-implied total on the slate, this leaves all players on the visiting offense as nothing more than speculative, “hope for the best” plays.

The Packers, of course, should be expected to do well in this spot, though whether or not they are able to do well enough at their prices will at least somewhat depend on Washington’s ability to keep pace. Adams, Jones, and Williams all have a pretty solid shot at a pretty solid raw score, though some things will need to go right for real upside hit, while the prices on Jones and Adams turn them into less exciting pieces to get behind. All three of these guys are in the mix this week, though none jump off the page as plays that you can fire up and forget about from there.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 8th 4:05pm Eastern

Chargers (
22.5) at

Jaguars (
19.5)

Over/Under 42.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Chargers Run D
21st DVOA/14th Yards allowed per carry
Jaguars Run O
17th DVOA/30th Yards per carry
Chargers Pass D
11th DVOA/23rd Yards allowed per pass
Jaguars Pass O
21st DVOA/19th Yards per pass
Jaguars Run D
22nd DVOA/29th Yards allowed per carry
Chargers Run O
31st DVOA/13th Yards per carry
Jaguars Pass D
32nd DVOA/27th Yards allowed per pass
Chargers Pass O
7th DVOA/5th Yards per pass

This ugly Week 14 slate slogs on with Chargers at Jaguars – giving us a sleepy 43.0 point Over/Under, with the visiting Chargers favored by three points. With the Jaguars coming off four consecutive ugly losses (23 points to Houston // 20 points to Indy // 22 points to Tennessee // 17 points to Tampa) Doug Marrone seems all but certain to be on the way out this offseason, while there is an outside chance that Anthony Lynn’s fall from the top will send him packing as well. Both of these offenses have underperformed this year, with the Chargers ranked 12th in yards, but 22nd in points, and with the Jags ranked 15th in yards, but 26th in points. Both defenses, meanwhile, have been solidly middle of the pack.

We’ll start on the Jags side, where Nick Foles looked absolutely atrocious last week in unraveling against the Buccaneers, leading to his benching and to Gardner Minshew taking back over under center. Minshew is not a particularly polished passer, but his ability to keep plays alive and his gunslinger tendencies make this offense more interesting than it was capable of being with Foles, while giving us a narrow distribution of touches to work with.

The central focus of this narrow distribution, of course, has been Leonard Fournette, who has recent touch counts of 26 // 31 // 26 // 16 // 15 // 33 // 23, while largely operating independent of game flow (seven or more receptions in four of his last five games). The Chargers are attackable on the ground, ranking 24th in DVOA while quietly allowing the eighth most receptions and the fifth most touchdowns to the running back position. Only two running backs (Marlon Mack and David Montgomery) have topped 100 yards against the Chargers, and both required volume to get there (25 carries // 27 carries), but solid all-around production is on the table for Fournette, and there are paths to upside available.

The Chargers have been tougher through the air, with Casey Hayward matching up with an opponent’s top threat, and with enough pass rushing juice and secondary talent to close off paths to upside elsewhere on the field. Last week, the Chargers returned both Derwin James and Adrian Phillips, and on the season they have allowed only the following notable stat lines to pass catchers:

8-117-1 Golladay

8-87-2 T.Y.
4-89-0 Stills
4-70-1 Parker
4-92-1 Sutton
6-80-1 Corey
7-92-1 Kelce
4-74-2 Sutton

The toughest matchup will fall to D.J. Chark, who can certainly win against a corner of Hayward’s caliber, but whose chances of posting a usable score (let alone a slate-breaker) are slimmer in this spot than in others. The matchup for Chark, of course, should open some extra opportunities for Dede Westbrook (recent healthy target counts of 8 // 9 // 6 // 9 // 8) and Chris Conley (seven or more targets in five of his last six games). Dede is the best bet for floor with his shorter-area role (aDOT of 7.3), while Conley (with an aDOT of 14.8 — 10th deepest in the league) is the player likelier to make his day on a single play. All of these pass catchers are a bit thin in this spot, though given the state of this slate, that obviously does not remove them fully from consideration.

The issues for the Chargers on offense this year have mostly started on the offensive line, with Philip Rivers dealing with constant pressure, and with the run game having a tough time getting going. Although the Jaguars have been awful against the run this year (31st in DVOA, with an incredible 5.29 yards allowed per carry to the running back position), they have been strong once again in getting after the quarterback, ranking 10th in adjusted sack rate and regularly getting pressure. This has led to the Jags allowing only middling yardage production to wide receivers, while allowing the fifth fewest touchdowns to the position. The Jags haven’t been impossible to attack through the air, but the lack of touchdowns on their notable stat lines list stands out ::

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

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

The Chargers have attempted to lean run-heavy lately, allowing only the Chiefs to push them out of this mode — leading to Rivers posting pass attempt totals in recent non-Chiefs games of 29 // 28 // 31 // 29 — which has made it difficult for the ever-volume-dependent Keenan Allen to come anywhere close to his early-season production, with 71 or fewer receiving yards in nine consecutive games. Hunter Henry has also suffered a bit in the volume department, with recent bounce-around target totals of 6 // 10 // 7 // 9 // 3. His highest-target games this year have come against Pittsburgh, Tennessee, Green Bay, and Kansas City — all teams that explicitly struggle against the position. The Jags have allowed the fourth fewest catches and the sixth fewest yards to tight ends. Meanwhile — with Allen disappointing and Henry up-and-down — Mike Williams is coming off his second career 100-yard game, each of which has come in the Chargers’ last four games. Williams ranks first in the league in average depth of target and has recent target counts of 6 // 6 // 3 // 3 // 5 // 7. He has posted 45 or more yards in 10 consecutive games, and while he still has no touchdowns on the year, he is coming off an 11-touchdown 2018 (10 through the air; one on the ground). There is ceiling to go with Williams’ somewhat stable floor — even in a matchup against a Jags team that has not allowed many touchdowns to the position.

While the Jags have been tough in scoring position against wideouts, they have (unsurprisingly) struggled against backs, with only the Panthers and Lions having allowed more scores to the running back position. The Chargers rushing attack has been powered by Melvin Gordon in recent weeks with touch totals of 23 // 23 // 17 // 22, and with 90 to 133 total yards in each of those games. Gordon is seeing somewhat thin usage in the pass game (only two games in his last six of more than three targets), making him fairly yardage-and-touchdown dependent; though he is, at least, dependent on these elements in a matchup that lines up well for yardage and touchdowns. Joining Gordon in the backfield, of course, is Austin Ekeler, who has overlapped with Gordon on the field at times to notch a snap share of right around 50% over his last three games — a stretch during which he has touch counts of 8 // 13 // 13, with reception totals of 2 // 8 // 4. Ekeler, of course, is dependent on big plays against his lower touch counts, but is at least capable of producing such plays in a spot like this.

JM’s Interpretation ::

The Player Grid will be interesting this weekend, with so few attractive spots available on this slate. Against a normal slate, this might be a game to leave alone altogether; but given the state of this slate, there are a few plays from this game that could emerge as more useful options.

The backfields stand out the most in this spot, with Fournette likely to see 24+ touches, giving him a solid floor to go with the matchup- and workload-driven ceiling. Gordon is also interesting on the other side for his matchup with the Jags, while Ekeler (in spite of requiring some major faith at his DraftKings price) has an outside shot at posting one of the more usable running back lines.

I’ll likely leave Keenan Allen alone, and I’m not currently leaning toward Jags receivers either; but I could see taking some shots on Mike Williams for the upside — especially at his affordable price — while Hunter Henry has enough talent (and enough of a role) to have a case made for him as well. It’s not the prettiest setup; but frankly, neither is anything else this week.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 8th 4:25pm Eastern

Steelers (
23) at

Cards (
20.5)

Over/Under 43.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Steelers Run D
1st DVOA/2nd Yards allowed per carry
Cardinals Run O
2nd DVOA/2nd Yards per carry
Steelers Pass D
8th DVOA/6th Yards allowed per pass
Cardinals Pass O
18th DVOA/15th Yards per pass
Cardinals Run D
10th DVOA/25th Yards allowed per carry
Steelers Run O
14th DVOA/11th Yards per carry
Cardinals Pass D
10th DVOA/19th Yards allowed per pass
Steelers Pass O
12th DVOA/23rd Yards per pass

What makes a slate ugly? There are a lot of things that go into play here :: the Bucs playing a team that is less likely to help them produce a shootout; the Packers and Vikings playing at home in blowout spots; a number of teams matching up poorly with their opponent, and a number of recently hot players (i.e., currently overpriced players) entering tougher matchups than they have had of late; but one of the more clear and obvious factors is this particular game. The Steelers typically give us a defense that will shut down or at least slow down whatever opponent they face, while giving us an offense that largely kills any opportunity to feel good about loading up on an individual player. This week, the Steelers take on a Cardinals team that sometimes gives us useful pieces on offense, and that almost always gives us useful stat lines against them. The Steelers in this spot make the Cardinals offense less attractive, while the Steelers offense doesn’t give us nearly the same setup we can typically target against the Cardinals defense. What would typically be one of the sharper spots on the slate to target now becomes a much more iffy proposition.

We will begin our exploration of this game on the Cardinals side, where we can typically make pretty clean work of things, as this spread-the-wealth, short-area passing attack of the Cardinals has miraculously managed to produce only four remotely usable stat lines from pass catchers across their last nine games: three “I can live with that” scores (one from Christian Kirk, one from Larry Fitzgerald, and one — on one reception — from Andy Isabella), and Kirk’s blowup game against the Bucs. This week, the Cardinals passing attack will take on a Steelers defense that ranks fourth in DVOA against the pass, third in sacks, first in turnovers forced, and sixth in points allowed. The Steelers have allowed only the following notable stat lines to pass catchers ::

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

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

Avoiding pass catchers against the Steelers has been one of the more profitable things to do this season, while the Cardinals passing attack has rarely produced stat lines worth pursuing. Your best bet if going to the Cardinals, of course, is Christian Kirk, who has recent target accounts of 11 // 5 // 10 // 9 // 7 and recent yardage totals of 79 // 8 // 138 // 41 // 23 — though any pieces on this Cardinals attack are low floor bets, just hoping for things to break your way.

The Cardinals backfield has not been much more usable of late, with Kenyan Drake leading the way in recent weeks at touch counts of 19 // 16 // 22 // 15. Drake played 79.4% of the snaps last week, compared to just over 20% for David Johnson (and 0% for Chase Edmonds) – and considering that Arizona was coming out of the bye (which means both extra time to adjust roles and a higher likelihood of everyone being healthy), it’s fairly safe to expect this distribution to continue. The Steelers rank fifth in drive success rate allowed and fifth in points allowed per drive, making it difficult for any big stat lines to emerge against them; but with recent target counts of 4 // 7 // 7 // 5, Drake does maintain pathways to production.

On the other side of the ball, the Cardinals defense has been attackable both on the ground (16th in DVOA) and through the air (29th), with this team – as explored last week – ranked first in pace but dead last in time of possession, leaving their defense to face the most opponent plays per game. The Steelers are not a particularly exciting offense, ranking 28th in DVOA, 28th in yards per game, and 24th in points per game, while managing a 30th place ranking in drive success rate and generally allowing their defense to do the heavy lifting. This game does, however, boost median expectations for this unit.

If the Steelers are able to control this game as expected, we should see them leaning toward the run and slowing down the pace, while primarily sticking to the short areas of the field in the pass game and mixing in a couple well-placed downfield shots. If James Conner returns, he’s a solid bet to take over the lead role in this backfield, with recent touch counts of 14 // 23 // 26, and with receiving lines in that stretch of 0-0-0 // 7-78-1 // 3-5-0. If Conner misses, it will again be Benny Snell handling the work on the ground (21 and 16 carries the last two weeks), while Jaylen Samuels will function as the major player in the pass game (only five targets the last two weeks, but with a 41.4% share of the snaps leaving opportunity for more work to show up if things click in place).

The matchup through the air couldn’t be much better for Pittsburgh, as the Cardinals have allowed the third most catches and the third most yards to wide receivers, while allowing the following, lengthy list of notable stat lines ::

6-131-1 Hock
7-104-1 Amendola
8-112-1 Andrews
10-123-1 Boyd
8-117-1 Hooper
8-108-0 Julio
11-112-1 Michael Thomas
7-112-1 Manny
8-134-0 Deebo
13-172-0 Woods
7-107-1 Higbee

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

We’ll start with the matchup that has stood out more than perhaps any other in the NFL this year: tight ends against the Cardinals. Vance McDonald has recent target counts of 7 // 7 // 7 // 1 // 3, but he has produced yardage marks of only 30 // 11 // 33 // 1 // 21 in this stretch, while not topping 40 yards in a single game this year. His average depth of target of 4.7 is the second lowest mark in the league. He does have five targets inside the 10 (three touchdowns), while the Cardinals have not only allowed the most tight end touchdowns, but have allowed five more than any other team, and have allowed more tight end touchdowns than all but nine teams have allowed to wide receivers. This is an upside-producing matchup, though Vance will need a bit of a change to his role in order to really produce at the level other tight ends have produced at in this spot.

Among wide receivers, James Washington continued his hot play last week, hauling in four of four targets for 111 yards and a touchdown — marking only the fourth time this year a Steelers wide receiver has gone for 90 or more yards…while marking the third time in four games that Washington had done so. With recent target counts of only 7 // 5 // 7 // 4 and passes being thrown to him by Devlin Hodges, Washington is a low floor option; but the big-play ceiling is there. Diontae Johnson has recent target counts of 6 // 4 // 6 // 5 and is primarily occupying the short areas of the field, requiring a broken play or an unpredictable downfield connection in order to produce upside. If JuJu Smith-Schuster returns this week, he will throw a wrench into all of this – likely reestablishing himself as the top target through the air, and making all of this even less stable than is already the case.

JM’s Interpretation ::

This week is ugly enough that I probably won’t cross Cardinals off my list right away — and yet, I’ll be surprised if I end up with any of these guys, as picking on the Steelers has just been so unprofitable this year. If going anywhere on the Cardinals — per usual — the starting point for me would be Kyler Murray, as he is typically the first player from this offense to produce when the Cardinals have a good game. I would be likeliest to roll Kyler naked, as he has produced plenty of strong stat lines without bringing any of his teammates with him.

It says a lot about the state of the slate that this year’s Steelers offense can be considered moderately attractive, but that is the position in which we find ourselves this week. With that said: the prices on these players have been bumped up so outlandishly high on DraftKings that it’s tough to get too excited about them there, while none of these guys quite fit the “hunt for All-Star Team” approach that is favored on FanDuel. If going here, the player who is likeliest to draw my eye — once again — is Washington; though given the offense in which he plays, the likely low target total, and the rising price, he is thinner than what I typically prefer to target. I also think Conner has an outside shot at being viable if he plays, while McDonald is a “hope for a role change to take advantage of this matchup” option. Yeah. It’s that kind of slate.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 8th 4:25pm Eastern

Titans (
25) at

Raiders (
22)

Over/Under 47.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Titans Run D
16th DVOA/23rd Yards allowed per carry
Raiders Run O
24th DVOA/17th Yards per carry
Titans Pass D
24th DVOA/26th Yards allowed per pass
Raiders Pass O
5th DVOA/7th Yards per pass
Raiders Run D
31st DVOA/15th Yards allowed per carry
Titans Run O
11th DVOA/5th Yards per carry
Raiders Pass D
26th DVOA/28th Yards allowed per pass
Titans Pass O
2nd DVOA/16th Yards per pass

After going 5-2 across a seven-game stretch and moving to 6-4 on the season, the Raiders are now coming off back-to-back losses — with the first an ugly loss at the Jets in which the run-based Raiders were unable to get their offense off the ground against the top two run defense of New York, and with the other an embarrassment at Arrowhead in which the Chiefs cleaned the floor with Oakland in a 40-9 win. Now, the Raiders — at 6-6 — will return home where they are, somewhat surprisingly, three point underdogs against the red-hot Titans. This game carries a somewhat surprising Over/Under of 47.5, with both teams leaning on the ground game in order to rack up production (the Titans rank 25th in pass play rate while the Raiders rank 26th; each team would love to rank even lower than that).

We’ll kick things off on the Raiders side, where Derek Carr has failed to top 300 passing yards in every game this season, while finishing under 225 yards in three of his last four outings. Carr has been held to 31 or fewer pass attempts in seven consecutive games, and he has topped 32 pass attempts only two times this year.

The major piece for the Raiders through the air, of course, is Darren Waller, who has recent target totals of 5 // 7 // 6 // 9 (and has finished below five targets only once this year). Waller draws a winnable matchup against a Titans unit that has allowed the ninth most yards to the position, while allowing the following notable stat lines to high-usage tight ends:

9-130-0 Hooper
6-97-0 Henry
6-73-1 Doyle

The matchup is also attractive elsewhere for the Raiders passing attack against a Titans defense that was already down Malcolm Butler, and that now appears on track to be without Adoree Jackson. The Titans have picked up burn victim Tramaine Brock off waivers — though it’s fair to question how effectively the Raiders will be able to take advantage of all this with wideouts. Tyrell Williams posted a few useful lines during his five-game touchdown binge to begin the year (including an actual notable stat line in Week 1), but he has topped 50 yards only three times, and he has topped three catches only once since Week 2. Hunter Renfrow was posting useful floor lines, but he remains out. This leaves Zay Jones, who has yet to top 30 yards with Oakland.

Part of the reason wide receivers have been so ineffective for this offense is the fact that the true alpha of this unit is Josh Jacobs, who has touched the ball 17+ times in eight of his last nine games, with four games in that stretch of 24+ touches. Jacobs draws a tough matchup as a yardage-and-touchdown back against a Tennessee defense that ranks fourth in DVOA against the run and has allowed only Christian McCaffrey to top 100 yards on the ground.

While Jacobs has been a really solid backfield addition for the Raiders this season, Derrick Henry has been an absolute man among boys over the last month for the Titans, producing rushing totals of 188 // 159 // 149 across his last three games, while producing five touchdowns in this stretch and 13 touchdowns on the year. In spite of this game taking place on the road, the Titans are in position to control this game enough to continue riding Henry, who has recent touch totals of 25 // 20 // 29. Henry played 74.6% of the snaps last week and was schemed a couple passes on screens, giving him at least some semblance of all-around juice. Fundamentally, Henry is a yardage-and-touchdown back who is priced up near the top of the slate, making him an inherently volatile player to bet on; but he has been consistent enough, and is difficult enough to deal with at this time of year, that he can certainly have a case made for him as one of the stronger options on the slate.

With so much of the Titans offense flowing through Henry (and with this team playing slow and regularly finishing on the lower ends of the play volume scale), pass catchers on this team are having to get the job done on explosive plays rather than on volume. While this is a ding to floor expectations for these players, the matchup is a ceiling booster, with the Raiders ranked 28th in DVOA against the pass and allowing almost 10 yards per target to wide receivers, while giving up the following notable stat lines (with explosive plays littering the higher yardage totals on this list) ::

7-120-0 Sutton
6-172-2 Demarcus Robinson
7-107-1 Kelce
2-133-1 MVS
11-109-0 Hopkins
4-132-1 Golladay
8-126-1 Marvin

5-86-1 Manny
4-72-0 Pascal
7-97-2 Allen Robinson
6-58-2 Fells
5-90-0 Kelce

The Titans are involving all of A.J. Brown (recent target counts of 7 // 4 // 5 // 4), Corey Davis (6 // 5 // 3 // 2), Adam Humphries (4 // 1 // 3 // 2), and Jonnu Smith (5 // 6 // 0 // 2). With volume so low in this group, this is (again) primarily a “bet on big play” offense, making Brown the likeliest play of the bunch to hit. In the absence of big plays, touchdowns could also get the job done — providing some less predictable paths to one of these other players posting a solid game of his own.

JM’s Interpretation ::

it’s quite a slate when Titans at Raiders has potential to be among the more useful games. On the Raiders side, nothing stands out, but Jacobs, Waller, and even Tyrell Williams all have an outside shot at mattering on this slate. On the Titans side, the Derrick Henry train has potential to run off the tracks on any given week, but his upside is enough to make him a play on this slate that is actually worth considering. Behind Henry, there are matchup-based bets to make on Ryan Tannehill, Brown, and to a lesser extent, Davis and Jonnu. There have certainly been better options than this throughout the season, but it won’t exactly be a shock if one or two Titans pieces become part of the winning roster mix.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 8th 4:25pm Eastern

Chiefs (
23) at

Patriots (
26)

Over/Under 49.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Chiefs Run D
28th DVOA/30th Yards allowed per carry
Patriots Run O
3rd DVOA/4th Yards per carry
Chiefs Pass D
2nd DVOA/4th Yards allowed per pass
Patriots Pass O
27th DVOA/28th Yards per pass
Patriots Run D
18th DVOA/27th Yards allowed per carry
Chiefs Run O
17th DVOA/9th Yards per carry
Patriots Pass D
17th DVOA/11th Yards allowed per pass
Chiefs Pass O
1st DVOA/12th Yards per pass

Chiefs at Patriots is an odd spot, as the elite offense of the Chiefs has to travel to Foxboro to take on the elite defense of the Patriots. The Chiefs are too good to be given a Vegas-implied team total much lower than the 23.0 at which they currently sit, and the 10-2 Patriots, as a franchise, are too good to not be favored at home. And yet, the Patriots — as has been well documented in this space — have been a disappointing offense this year, with their point-per-game production built much more on their defense forcing turnovers (and scoring themselves) than on any great offensive dominance. The Patriots rank 14th in yards per game and 17th in drive success rate, while ranking 10th in offensive DVOA.

As most teams have done this year against the Chiefs (who have faced the 12th lowest opponent pass play rate, in spite of regularly playing with a lead), we should expect the Patriots to try to control this game to some extent on the ground. Of course, this will be easier said than done, with the Patriots respectably ranking middle of the pack in rush offense DVOA and adjusted line yards, but averaging only 3.5 yards per carry on the year, and now set to be without backup-turned-starting center Ted Karras. Working in the Patriots’ favor, of course, is a matchup with a Chiefs defense that ranks 30th in DVOA against the run and is allowing a whopping 5.08 yards per carry to enemy backs. The Chiefs have allowed the following notable stat lines to running backs ::

99-0 (12) Jacobs
103-3 (16) Ingram
125-0 (26) Kerryon
132-0 (29) Mack
116-1 (26) Hyde
188-2 (23) Henry
104-0 (17) Jacobs

This backfield should start with Sony Michel, who has recent bounce-around carry counts of 19 // 21 // 4 // 10 // 20 // 10. The gameplan-specific Patriots hardly played Michel against the Eagles, Ravens, and Texans, but this sets up as a spot in which he should get an early crack at breaking through this matchup. Joining Michel in the backfield will be James White, who seems like a clear candidate to go over-owned this week after his monster game in primetime in Week 13 — and yet, his price remains in the range where it has been all season, when he has been one of the safer PPR pieces at his price. The Chiefs are also allowing the second most receiving yards to backs; and while it’s often dangerous to try to predict the Patriots backfield, this is a spot where it would make sense for White to be featured when the Pats take to the air — especially as the Pats continue to try to search for some sort of offensive identity that can carry them forward.

Part of the “offensive identity” crisis for the Pats is the fact that Julian Edelman has been their alpha receiver — not only the guy the Texans chose to focus their defense around last week, but a guy who, when slowed for chunks of that game, turned the Patriots into a faltering unit. The Chiefs have been excellent against wide receivers this year, allowing the fewest catches (9.3 per game) and the third fewest yards to the position, while ranking sixth in DVOA against the pass.

Behind Edelman, Tom Brady has a cast of castoffs (Mohamed Sanu // Phillip Dorsett) and not-ready-for-primetime pieces (Jakobi Meyers // N’Keal Harry), who are causing the offense to stutter — with so much of this attack built around a pass catcher’s ability to communicate with Brady pre-snap, and to read the defense the same way Brady is reading it. This passing attack has been discombobulated, and this sets up as a tough spot for them to get on track. Sanu is the likeliest target leader behind Edelman (last week, Sanu played only 19 snaps, but he should be back up to a full complement this week), with Dorsett and Jakobi up next and Harry (22 snaps last week; one target) bringing up the rear.

On the other side, there isn’t much left to say about the Chiefs that hasn’t been said already; but there isn’t much left to say about the Patriots defense, either, which has allowed only the following notable stat lines all season ::

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

6-102-1 Golden Tate

9-94-0 Ertz

The Chiefs offense exists in three tiers, with the first tier consisting of Tyreek Hill (recent healthy target counts of 10 // 5 // 9 // 9 // 19 // 8) and Travis Kelce (8 // 8 // 9 // 7 // 10 // 9). This is the tier the Patriots will focus most heavily on stopping, though both are weapons that can be near impossible to shut down at times. Given the pieces in the Patriots secondary and the minds on the sidelines, Hill is the piece who is likeliest to need a busted play to hit — though of course, it’s never a fool’s errand to bank on a busted play for Hill. Kelce, meanwhile, struggled in a big way in two contests with New England last year — going 5-61-0 in a game in which the Chiefs scored 40, and going 3-23-1 in a playoff game in which the Chiefs scored 31. In the first of those games, Hill picked up the slack with a 7-142-3 torching of the Pats. In the second of those games, the Patriots checked Hill as well, and Sammy Watkins went 4-114-0 to keep the offense moving.

Watkins anchors the second tier, with recent target counts of 8 // 10 // 9 // 3 // 3. He has not topped 64 yards since Week 1, but he is the “next man up” if Hill and Kelce get slowed. He’s loosely joined in this tier by Mecole Hardman and Demarcus Robinson — each of whom needs plenty to go right in order to produce anything useful with everyone healthy, but either of whom has an outside shot at seeing things come together as they roughly split time on the field.

The third tier for the Chiefs is the backfield, where last week this team split work among LeSean McCoy (24 snaps), Darwin Thompson (23 snaps), and Darrel Williams (17 snaps). As we’ve explored throughout the season, the Patriots have been the toughest team to score on the ground against over the last half-decade; but with Darrel Williams on I.R. and Andy Reid hesitant to give McCoy a large workload, there is a chance we at least see this as a two-man split between McCoy and Darwin. Of course, if Damien Williams returns, that goes out of the window; and even if Damien misses, there is a chance for newly-signed Spencer Ware to step right into the Darrel “third wheel” role. You’re mostly hoping for busted plays for yardage, or for unpredictable touchdowns.

JM’s Interpretation ::

This game should be competitive enough for some solid production to emerge, and on an ugly slate, I wouldn’t mind grabbing some action here based primarily on that thought.

On the Patriots’ side, my focus would be on Edelman and the backfield. Edelman is thinner on paper in this matchup, but he’s highly likely to be featured once again, with double-digit targets in seven consecutive games. White is a solid floor play on PPR sites, with clear paths to upside. Michel is a pure yardage-and-touchdown back, but this is a solid spot for yardage and touchdowns to emerge.

On the Chiefs side, Kelce and Hill are both low-floor plays against the Patriots, but upside is very much in place. Behind these guys, Watkins and (to a lesser extent) Hardman are interesting for the low-floor-with-ceiling setup they offer, while the backfield is a “hope to guess right on a big play or a touchdown” spot.

It’s tough to individually target much more than this — but stacks are in play on this ugly slate for the scoring potential this game carries.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 8th 8:20pm Eastern

Hawks (
23.25) at

Rams (
24.25)

Over/Under 47.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Seahawks Run D
9th DVOA/13th Yards allowed per carry
Rams Run O
1st DVOA/7th Yards per carry
Seahawks Pass D
29th DVOA/32nd Yards allowed per pass
Rams Pass O
10th DVOA/18th Yards per pass
Rams Run D
21st DVOA/7th Yards allowed per carry
Seahawks Run O
8th DVOA/12th Yards per carry
Rams Pass D
11th DVOA/5th Yards allowed per pass
Seahawks Pass O
3rd DVOA/2nd Yards per pass