Kickoff Thursday, Dec 7th 8:15pm Eastern

Patriots (
12.75) at

Steelers (
17.75)

Over/Under 30.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Patriots Run D
1st DVOA/1st Yards allowed per carry
Steelers Run O
12th DVOA/17th Yards per carry
Patriots Pass D
13th DVOA/9th Yards allowed per pass
Steelers Pass O
19th DVOA/20th Yards per pass
Steelers Run D
13th DVOA/20th Yards allowed per carry
Patriots Run O
23rd DVOA/24th Yards per carry
Steelers Pass D
7th DVOA/29th Yards allowed per pass
Patriots Pass O
29th DVOA/28th Yards per pass

XANDAMERE’S SHOWDOWN SLANT

Week 14 kicks off with the Patriots visiting the Steelers for a game with a 30-point total (one of the lowest Vegas totals we’ve seen in decades) with Pittsburgh favored by 6. Most of the time, I love my job, but when a game like this comes up to write up, ugh. But, there’s money to be won, so let’s see if we can figure out how. First, some injury stuff: Kenny Pickett is out so the Steelers will have Mitch Trubisky at quarterback. Rhamondre Stevenson is doubtful and thus probably out, which would leave the Pats with a backfield of Ezekiel Elliott and likely Ty Montgomery or JaMycal Hasty (or possibly both). The Patriots also have all of Demario Douglas, Devante Parker, and JuJu Smith-Schuster listed as questionable. My guess is Parker and JuJu play while Douglas misses another game. 

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New England

On the New England side, Zeke slides into a big role. Last week, he played 69% of the snaps and handled 17 carries and 5 targets after Rhamondre went down (and that was with Rhamondre playing about a quarter of the game). That’s a big role as normally backs with roles like that are more expensive than $9,400. Look, every play in this game is gross, but in the context of this awful game, Zeke sure looks like a strong on-paper play. The Steelers defense is no joke but they’re better against the pass, and we can feel confident that the Patriots are not going to go into this one with a pass-heavy game plan given their woes at quarterback. Behind Zeke, I really don’t know how things will split between Montgomery and Hasty, but my guess is Hasty will be the direct backup – we’ve seen Montgomery on the team all season and he only has three carries, having been primarily used as a pass catcher. I think it’s most likely that Hasty plays the RB2 role, and Montgomery will maintain some level of involvement but probably more as a receiver. I wouldn’t play these two guys together. 

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The poor Patriots are incredibly banged up at wide receiver. Assuming Douglas doesn’t play (which seems likely as he’s in concussion protocol and has not returned to practice – not much time on a short week), they’ll trot out DeVante Parker, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Tyquan Thornton as their primary WRs with Jalen Reagor and Montgomery playing supporting roles. I’m also expecting Kayshon Boutte to miss another game, but if he’s back, he’s probably in the WR4 mix. This is a tough matchup and not made any better by the Pats abysmal QB play, but at least they’re all really cheap. Parker is $5,600, JuJu is $3,800, and Thornton is $3,400. JuJu has shown zero semblance of upside with New England this year and I can quickly relegate him to the MME punt pool. Parker at least has some per-catch upside and is my favorite play here. Zappe also targeted him nine times last week on just 25 pass attempts, and while we can’t reasonably expect this kind of target share every week, his volume should be the safest on the team. Thornton is a wild card with an extremely low floor but solid ceiling – lots of per-touch upside, occasionally is schemed the ball in space to run with, and we saw him have some nice games last season so the ceiling isn’t purely theoretical. He’s volatile and thus also somewhat of a punt play, but I’d take him over JuJu in a heartbeat. 

At tight end, it’s primarily Hunter Henry and then Pharaoh Brown, with Mike Gesicki’s role shrinking of late (26% and 9% of the snaps last week while Brown has played 54% and 50% – the two lowest and highest rates of the season for these guys, respectively). Henry would be my second favorite Patriots pass catcher. Brown is more of a blocker – he hasn’t seen a target since Week 8 – but he’s viable as a punt, while Gesicki’s role has evaporated but could return if the Pats feel like they need pass catching more than blocking. ALL of these guys are pretty thin with extremely low floors. 

Pittsburgh

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Kickoff Sunday, Dec 10th 1:00pm Eastern

Bucs (
20) at

Falcons (
21.5)

Over/Under 41.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Buccaneers Run D
11th DVOA/5th Yards allowed per carry
Falcons Run O
20th DVOA/14th Yards per carry
Buccaneers Pass D
15th DVOA/24th Yards allowed per pass
Falcons Pass O
22nd DVOA/8th Yards per pass
Falcons Run D
8th DVOA/10th Yards allowed per carry
Buccaneers Run O
29th DVOA/32nd Yards per carry
Falcons Pass D
29th DVOA/16th Yards allowed per pass
Buccaneers Pass O
15th DVOA/6th Yards per pass

Game Overview ::

By hilow >>
  • The Buccaneers were forced to play with a skeleton crew on defense in Week 13, missing three of their five most talented individual players against the Panthers (LB Devin White, LV Lavonte David, and CB Jamel Dean). Dean and White were held out of practice on Wednesday while David returned as a full participant.
  • Buccaneers NT Vita Vea (toe) missed practice on Wednesday but appears likely to suit up on Sunday, considering he has participated sparingly in practices all season but continues to play through various ailments.
  • The Falcons are likely to continue banging their proverbial heads against the wall through the run game unless otherwise forced, regardless of matchup or expected efficiency. That’s just what we get from this team under current leadership.
  • Mike Evans is on an absolute tear, seeing double-digit targets in three of his last four games (and hitting nine in the other) and scoring seven touchdowns in his previous seven contests.
  • The Buccaneers have evolved, or devolved, into an offense centered around two players – Mike Evans and Rachaad White.

How tampa bay Will Try To Win ::

The Buccaneers rank right near the middle of the pack in PROE but have largely struggled to sustain drives this season, resulting in just 61.1 offensive plays run from scrimmage per game and a 23rd-ranked 19.4 points per game average. Furthermore, they are averaging just 18.75 points per game over their last four contests and have just one game since their Week 5 bye with more than 21 points scored. In other words, this team has rarely been the driving force behind the eventual game environment they find themselves in, instead adopting a more reactionary stance as far as offensive design goes. What is interesting about the recent scoring trends for the Buccaneers is a defense that is playing much better of late, likely influenced most by the transition back to the roots of head coach Todd Bowles, who has this defense paying more Cover-2, Cover-3 and quarters alignments in a zone-heavy scheme. On offense, the Buccaneers have become more concentrated of late, with the bulk of their offense running through two players – wide receiver Mike Evans and running back Rachaad White. Chris Godwin has not seen more than seven targets since Week 7, the WR3 role has been divided amongst two to three players of late, and tight end Cade Otton has not seen more than a modest five targets in a month despite playing all but six offensive snaps during that time.

As mentioned above, Rachaad White has become a borderline workhorse back for the Buccaneers of late. His season-long snap rate stands at an elite 76.7 percent, and his 72.5 percent team opportunity share ranks ninth in the league. Furthermore, he has played 80 percent or more of the team’s offensive snaps in five of the previous six games and has played 70 percent or more of the offensive snaps in every game this season. His opportunity totals during the most recent five-game stretch stand at 25, 17, 16, 23, and 24, giving us a solid idea of an expected range of outcomes in varying game environments. White is going to remain heavily involved in the weekly game plan for the Buccaneers, with ultimate opportunity counts subject to game environment on a weekly basis. The pure rushing matchup is another difficult one on paper against a Falcons defense holding opposing backs to just 3.9 yards per carry behind 1.17 yards allowed before contact this season. The Falcons have also filtered just 59 targets to running backs this season, good for the sixth-fewest in the league. Chase Edmonds has emerged as the de facto change of pace back behind White, but he has yet to see more than a modest six opportunities at any point this season while playing for the Buccaneers.

Also, as mentioned above, the passing game has run primarily through Mike Evans of late. Chris Godwin and Cade Otton join Evans as the three near every-down pass-catchers (as does running back Rachaad White), but it’s Evans that has run laps around the others since the team’s Week 5 bye week. In other words, if this pass offense is succeeding, the production is highly likely to be flowing through Evans (and, to a lesser extent, White). The Falcons have run man and zone at near league-average rates this season, giving Evans and his ridiculous 38.8 percent target rate against man coverages some room to run in this spot. The Falcons have allowed the seventh deepest aDOT at 8.4 yards but have really cracked down on YAC allowed, ceding the sixth-fewest yards after the catch through 13 weeks. Furthermore, the Falcons have generated pressure at an above-average/borderline elite 24.3 percent rate this season behind a moderate 24.9 percent blitz rate, meaning the Bucs are likely to see an interesting mix of man-zone coverages and increased pressure.

How atlanta Will Try To Win ::

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Kickoff Sunday, Dec 10th 1:00pm Eastern

Rams (
17.25) at

Ravens (
24.75)

Over/Under 42.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Rams Run D
20th DVOA/16th Yards allowed per carry
Ravens Run O
1st DVOA/3rd Yards per carry
Rams Pass D
22nd DVOA/27th Yards allowed per pass
Ravens Pass O
4th DVOA/4th Yards per pass
Ravens Run D
7th DVOA/27th Yards allowed per carry
Rams Run O
7th DVOA/8th Yards per carry
Ravens Pass D
1st DVOA/1st Yards allowed per pass
Rams Pass O
10th DVOA/3rd Yards per pass

Game Overview ::

By hilow >>
  • Another potential weather spot, per the current forecast.
  • TE Tyler Higbee (neck) did not practice Wednesday for the Rams while WR Puka Nacua (shoulder) was limited.
  • WR Rashod Bateman (illness) was the only Ravens player to miss practice on Wednesday, although he appears likely to play on Sunday. 
  • Baltimore averages 27.0 points per game (seventh) and has held opponents to the fewest points per game this season (15.6). They also rattled off five consecutive games of 31 points or more before faltering against the Chargers (20 points scored). In other words, the Ravens are about as elite as they come this year. They are quietly putting together an elite all-around season despite innumerable major injuries to both sides of the ball (again).

How los Angeles Will Try To Win ::

The Rams have been Steady Eddie this year, quietly going about their business while averaging 22.3 points per game (11th). Furthermore, the Rams have averaged a robust 31.75 points per game over their previous four games since their Week 9 bye, with wins over the Saints, Bears, and Chargers during that span (29-22 loss to the Packers in Week 12). Now, that is not exactly a murderer’s row of opponents, but the point remains – this team, under Sean McVay’s tutelage and Matthew Stafford’s resurgence, is currently no joke. In fact, that recent surge of three wins in four games has the Rams within striking distance of a playoff spot after sputtering out of the gates this year. They are one of four teams currently tied at 6-6 in the NFC, with those four teams the likeliest teams to secure the sixth and seventh seed. And they find themselves in that spot while fighting through numerous injuries of their own. Cooper Kupp started the season off by missing the first four games and was injured in another. Kyren Williams missed four games in the middle of the season. Matthew Stafford left one game early and missed the following game with an injury. And now Puka Nacua is dealing with an injury that held him to 63 percent of the offensive snaps a week ago while tight end Tyler Higbee started the week with a ‘DNP’ with an injury of his own. On the other side of the ball, what this team has managed to do with the level of talent they have has been nothing short of remarkable. We all scoffed at the way this defense looked on paper prior to the start of the season and all they’ve done this year is hold opponents to 21.1 points per game (14th) on 330.8 total yards per game (16th). In other words, this defense should not be performing as well as they have this year without elite coaching.

Kyren Williams has held one of the most robust roles of any back in the league when healthy, capable of playing nearly every offensive snap when called upon by his coaching staff. Williams has three games (of seven total healthy games without Cam Akers) of 94 percent or more of the offensive snaps this season, which is absolutely absurd in today’s NFL game. His 83.7 percent snap rate ranks first, his 41 red zone touches rank fifth (and that’s with the four missed games), and his route participation ranks third. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more valuable back in 2023 that is not named Christian McCaffrey. For years the Ravens were better attacked through the air due to elite linebackers and the presence of an elite nose tackle, but this season has been a little different. Baltimore currently ranks first (by a metric mile) in net yards allowed per pass attempt at 4.2 while ranking 20th in yards allowed per carry at 4.3. A routinely positive game script has made it so the Ravens face a rush on only 36.71 percent of their defensive snaps (fourth lowest in the league), but it is most definitely the clearest way to attack this defense in 2023. Just five combined touchdowns allowed to opposing backs has kept the Ravens at 11th in DK points allowed per game to the position which is more a testament to their elite red zone defense than anything else.

There are a few moving parts with the Los Angeles pass offense due to injuries to tight end Tyler Higbee and wide receiver Puka Nacua. I would expect Nacua to play through his shoulder ailment while Higbee’s status is more up in the air for Week 14. Either way, Nacua is outperforming Cooper Kupp in almost every meaningful metric this season (except target rate against man coverage, and even then, Nacua has experienced a recent surge in his marks against man). On a standard week with everyone healthy, Nacua, Kupp, and Higbee are the near every-down pass-catchers in this offense, with Tutu Atwell, Ben Skowronek, Demarcus Robinson, and Hunter Long rotating through the remaining snaps. Most notably, Robinson has played nearly 60 percent of the team’s offensive snaps in consecutive weeks. Whether that’s a trend or necessity due to the recent injuries remains to be seen. The matchup through the air is as difficult as they come considering the metrics mentioned above.

How Baltimore Will Try To Win ::

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Lions (
23.75) at

Bears (
20.75)

Over/Under 44.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Lions Run D
3rd DVOA/3rd Yards allowed per carry
Bears Run O
10th DVOA/6th Yards per carry
Lions Pass D
16th DVOA/30th Yards allowed per pass
Bears Pass O
23rd DVOA/23rd Yards per pass
Bears Run D
4th DVOA/4th Yards allowed per carry
Lions Run O
4th DVOA/5th Yards per carry
Bears Pass D
17th DVOA/11th Yards allowed per pass
Lions Pass O
9th DVOA/9th Yards per pass

Game Overview ::

By hilow >>
  • This game is being considered as weather game number three on this slate. Again, let’s get that out of our collective heads right now before continuing this exploration. You can always downgrade initial thoughts or reads on a game or pieces from a game, but it is extremely difficult to overcome negative biases invoked by worrying about the weather too early in the week.
  • Lions C Frank Ragnow (knee/back/toe) has yet to practice this week (as of Thursday).
  • Bears RB D’Onta Foreman logged a full practice in each session this week, indicating a likely return to action following one missed game with an ankle injury.
  • The Lions have given up 30.25 points per game over their previous four contests – which came against the Chargers, Bears, Packers, and Saints.
  • The Bears have held each of their previous four opponents to passing yard totals below their season-long average of 239.5 allowed, since the addition of Montez Sweat.
  • Points scored in the previous four games involving the Lions – 61, 51, 57, and 79, against the Chargers, Bears, Packers, and Saints.
  • Of the seven teams to average 27 points per game or more this season, the Lions have the second smallest delta depending on location.

How detroit Will Try To Win ::

The Lions have given up 30.25 points per game over their previous four contests, which came against the Chargers, Bears, Packers, and Saints. In those four games, their defense has managed just four sacks and generated just four turnovers. In fact, they now have just 14 takeaways on the season, which has them tied for 22nd in the league. All of that is important for how it influences this team’s path to winning football games, which has turned into an all-out shootout mentality of late. The combined points scored in their previous four games, against the opponents listed above, are as follows: 61, 51, 57, and 79. Long gone are the days when the Lions were holding the Chiefs to 20 points scored. This team is now a breeding ground for offensive production. They have done this while ranking below average in pass rate over expectation (PROE) while averaging the third most plays per game at 67.5. Even so, they have returned exactly three GPP-worthy fantasy scores during that most recent four-game stretch of elite game environments, one each for Jahmyr Gibbs, Sam LaPorta, and Amon-Ra St. Brown. In other words, the Lions are harboring extremely fantasy friendly game environments while simultaneously not raising the likelihood that their players are players you need on a given week. But you all already knew all that because we’ve been harping on it for the past three weeks on The Slate podcast.

I used the previous four weeks for this discussion for a very specific reason – that was when David Montgomery returned from his most recent injury, giving us the best snapshot of the current state of this team. Montgomery returned to immediately eat into a large chunk of the volume that made Jahmyr Gibbs so valuable in Week 7 and Week 8, most notably outsnapping Gibbs for the first time since returning in Week 13 against the Saints. The Lions rank seventh in the league in rush attempts per game at 29.8 and have fed their running backs 76 total targets through 12 games played, good for 6.33 per game. That works out to a total expectation of over 36 running back opportunities per game, which is now most likely to be split about 60-40 between Montgomery and Gibbs, with Gibbs likely to see the bulk of the available targets. That baseline in passing work likely receives a slight bump against a Bears team filtering the third most targets to the position this season at 7.5 per game. Basically, expect Montgomery to have the upside for 18-22 carries while Gibbs is likeliest to land in the 10-12 carry and five to seven target range in this spot. The matchup on the ground is brutal on paper against a Bears defense holding opponents to 3.4 yards per carry behind a diminutive 1.09 yards allowed before contact. The saving grace here is one of the top red zone rush rates in the league, which benefits both backs in this spot.

The Lions offense has settled into about 20 percent 12-personnel rates with LaPorta seeing between 80 and 90 percent of the offensive snaps. St. Brown is the only wide receiver that can be counted on to see more than 90 percent of the offensive snaps while Josh Reynolds should be expected to land in the 70 to 80 percent range and downfield threat Jameson Williams held right around 60 percent of the offensive snaps. Kalif Raymond and Donovan Peoples-Jones round out the wide receiver corps, likely to combine for 25-30 offensive snaps between the two. The Bears play around league-average rates of man and zone coverages, with St. Brown seeing a nearly identical target rate against each primary shell at right around 27.5 percent. The biggest issue for the Bears is that they have largely been unable to generate pressure in the backfield and have been below average in coverage from both man and zone, two things that the recent addition of Montez Sweat has helped to address. Furthermore, and take this under the context of the Bears haven’t exactly played teams that light up the scoreboard through the air recently (games against the Saints, Panthers, Lions, and Vikings with Joshua Dobbs), the Bears have allowed no more than 236 pass yards in their last four games played, which coincides with the arrival of Sweat along the defensive line. That high mark over the previous four weeks just so happened to be this Lions team. In other words, the Bears have held each of their previous four opponents to passing yards below their season-long average of 239.5 since the addition of Sweat. That’s at least interesting in this spot.

How chicago Will Try To Win ::

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Kickoff Sunday, Dec 10th 1:00pm Eastern

Colts (
20.75) at

Bengals (
23.75)

Over/Under 44.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Colts Run D
24th DVOA/15th Yards allowed per carry
Bengals Run O
22nd DVOA/27th Yards per carry
Colts Pass D
14th DVOA/19th Yards allowed per pass
Bengals Pass O
14th DVOA/26th Yards per pass
Bengals Run D
28th DVOA/31st Yards allowed per carry
Colts Run O
9th DVOA/16th Yards per carry
Bengals Pass D
21st DVOA/32nd Yards allowed per pass
Colts Pass O
17th DVOA/15th Yards per pass

Game Overview ::

By HILOW >>
  • Colts RB Jonathan Taylor remained out of practice (through Thursday) and appears likely to miss his second consecutive contest against the Bengals in Week 14.
  • The Bengals have a clean injury report, meaning we have a clear picture of who will play this week.
  • Colts RB Zack Moss handled an insane 94 percent snap rate in the absence of Taylor in Week 13. This feels like it could be setting up for a nice flop-lag spot for the veteran running back in what is now a solid on-paper matchup.

How INDIANAPOLIS Will Try To Win ::

The Colts remain exactly neutral in season-long pass rate over expectation (PROE) but have seen some of the heaviest swings in either direction, most commonly quick to make in-game adjustments based on the first couple of series. That has led to some of the highest PROE games and some of the lowest PROE in the league this season, which is an interesting dynamic to break down when we’re looking to narrow down the offensive tendencies from the Colts this year. The combination of those fluid tendencies with an uptempo design has led to some elite game environments, which is something we’re always looking to identify and attack. Based on the micro matchups present against the Bengals, I would expect the team to begin the game with a run-balanced approach, with ever present probability of adjustments from there.

Moss played a massive 94 percent of the team’s offensive snaps in the absence of Taylor in Week 13, which is both ridiculous and beautiful. That might seem foreign at first glance but is in line with what we saw out of Moss earlier in the season with Taylor out. Furthermore, the state of this roster is likely to have that trend continue into the future, with only Trey Sermon on the active roster behind the top two backs and Tyler Goodson likely to get another game-day elevation from the practice squad. That means another solid chance at 22-25 running back opportunities for Moss, assuming the game environment cooperates – and even then, Moss has proven to be capable through the air. The matchup against the Bengals is a solid one on paper, as Cincinnati has allowed a robust 4.8 yards per carry behind 1.56 yards allowed before contact (31st). That has led to opposing backfields averaging 22.3 DK points per game against the Bengals while scoring 11 total times through 12 games played.

The Colts came out of their Week 11 bye as a more concentrated pass offense, shedding Isaiah McKenzie from their game plans in favor of rookie Josh Downs. That leaves the primary pass catchers as a tight unit consisting of Michael Pittman and Alec Pierce in every-down roles, with Downs in a “standard-for-a-slot-man” 65-70 percent snap-rate role. The tight ends are a nasty conglomeration of four bodies, all of whom mix in for non-negligible snap rates on a weekly basis, leaving all of Kylen Granson, Mo Alie-Cox, Drew Ogletree, and Will Mallory off the weekly fantasy radar. As for the matchup, the Bengals are typically tight against perimeter wide receivers that don’t work the middle of the field due to their zone-heavy, prevent-style defensive shell. That has left them most susceptible to pass-catching running backs, inline tight ends, and wide receivers that work the middle of the field through crossing routes, inward-breaking routes, and screens. That, sadly, is a tough ask for the one-dimensional style of Pierce after his breakout game, leaving Pittman, Moss and Downs as the likeliest contributors through the air. 

How CINCINNATI Will Try To Win ::

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Jaguars (
17.5) at

Browns (
20)

Over/Under 37.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Jaguars Run D
6th DVOA/9th Yards allowed per carry
Browns Run O
21st DVOA/25th Yards per carry
Jaguars Pass D
12th DVOA/17th Yards allowed per pass
Browns Pass O
26th DVOA/13th Yards per pass
Browns Run D
5th DVOA/14th Yards allowed per carry
Jaguars Run O
26th DVOA/30th Yards per carry
Browns Pass D
2nd DVOA/6th Yards allowed per pass
Jaguars Pass O
13th DVOA/18th Yards per pass

Game Overview ::

By mike johnson >>
  • If you like backup quarterbacks, this is the game for you!
  • Jacksonville is playing on a short week after an ugly loss to the Bengals on Monday night and dealing with the shock of an ugly Trevor Lawrence injury.
  • The Jaguars also lost their leading wide receiver, Christian Kirk, to a groin injury.
  • Jacksonville faces the third-highest opponent pass rate in the league, and the Browns had their highest pass rate of the season in Joe Flacco’s first start in Week 13.
  • This is a critical game for both of these teams, as the Browns fight to hold onto their wild card spot and the Jaguars have two teams nipping at their heels in the AFC South.

How jacksonville Will Try To Win ::

The Jaguars seemed like they would have things on cruise control to a repeat AFC South title after their Week 12 road win in Houston gave them a two-game lead in the division. Fast forward a week, and they have lost their starting quarterback and leading wide receiver and gave up nearly 500 yards of total offense on national TV to a team quarterbacked by a 27-year-old undrafted journeyman in his second career start. Life comes at you fast in the NFL.

This week, Jacksonville faces a Browns team that is already very familiar with the challenges of trying to win in the NFL with a backup quarterback. The Browns rank top-3 in the NFL against both the run and the pass while they have feasted on some of the inferior opponents they have faced this year. No one in the NFL plays man coverage at a higher rate than the Browns, and Jacksonville just lost their “man-beater” in primary slot receiver Christian Kirk. Put simply, the Browns defense is very aggressive and dares their opponents to beat them in 1-on-1 matchups before their elite pass rush (#3 graded by PFF) gets home. Zay Jones is not a “separator”, and Calvin Ridley is more effective against zone coverage and when he has time to create separation on more complex routes. A backup quarterback under duress is going to need quick reads and hot routes to have any sort of success, meaning Jacksonville is likely to focus heavily on their running game, screens, and perhaps an increased role for tight end Evan Engram – who scored his first touchdown of the season in Week 13. 

There really isn’t much more to say on the Jaguars side of things. Their best chance of victory is going to be hiding quarterback CJ Beathard and winning the turnover and field position battles. Jacksonville’s defense has been very good this season, outside of a couple of ugly performances. However, those ugly performances have primarily come at the hands of offenses with elite offensive talent (Ja’Marr Chase and company last week, the 49ers juggernaut, CJ Stroud before we knew how good he really was). The Browns offense is likely to throw a lot, but they are not loaded with elite playmakers, especially with Amari Cooper likely to miss. Because of that, Jacksonville should enter this game with a very conservative mindset and hope to keep the game close and let the Browns shoot themselves in the foot at some point with turnovers of their own.

How cleveland Will Try To Win ::

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Panthers (
16.5) at

Saints (
22)

Over/Under 38.5

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Key Matchups
Panthers Run D
32nd DVOA/13th Yards allowed per carry
Saints Run O
13th DVOA/31st Yards per carry
Panthers Pass D
20th DVOA/11th Yards allowed per pass
Saints Pass O
20th DVOA/22nd Yards per pass
Saints Run D
25th DVOA/22nd Yards allowed per carry
Panthers Run O
25th DVOA/23rd Yards per carry
Saints Pass D
11th DVOA/23rd Yards allowed per pass
Panthers Pass O
32nd DVOA/32nd Yards per pass

Game Overview ::

By papy324 >>
  • The Panthers have the worst record in football (1-11) and were just the first team to be mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. 
  • Chuba Hubbard played 65% of the snaps the past two weeks and has taken over as the lead back. 
  • Jonathan Mingo saw the most targets of his career last week (10) and looks to be more involved under interim head coach Chris Tabor. 
  • The Saints have a losing record (5-7) but are still just one game out of first place in the NFC South. 
  • Alvin Kamara has a premiere matchup on the ground, but the Panthers are above average against running backs in the passing game.
  • Derek Carr is in concussion protocol for the second time this season, opening the door for Jameis Winston to start and for Taysom Hill to see more snaps at QB.

How carolina Will Try To Win ::

The 1-11 Panthers limp into Week 14 fresh off having been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. They are the first team to earn that distinction and there isn’t much to be happy about in Carolina. If looking for a silver lining, six of the Panthers’ 11 losses have come by one score, but even that stat is a bit misleading because that “one score” was often a touchdown. The Panthers tend to lose by a touchdown to mediocre teams and get killed by good teams. Tabor took over as the interim head coach from the fired Frank Reich last week. Tabor has been in the NFL since 2008, but he’s never been more than a special-teams coordinator. The Panthers didn’t change much under Tabor. They kept playing at a moderate speed (16th overall pace) and OC Thomas Brown kept calling the plays. It doesn’t matter how fast you move, or who is running the scheme when you have poor quarterback play. Bryce Young continued to look like he doesn’t belong in the NFL. A subpar athlete with raw decision-making skills, Young has a long way to go before he’s a threat to NFL defenses. The Panthers might as well let him try, but they’ve limited him to under 31 attempts in three straight games. They seem to know what they have, and what they have is a QB who you don’t want racking up pass attempts. Young hasn’t been good, but it doesn’t help that he’s playing behind a horrific (32nd ranked by PFF) and injured offensive line. The Saints have been awful at generating pressure (31st in sack percentage), but they can still win up front in this weakness-on-weakness matchup.  

The Saints have been solid through the air (11th in DVOA) and hurt on the ground (22nd in DVOA) setting them up as a mini run funnel. That’s just what the doctor ordered for the Panthers which are 20th in Pass Rate Over Expectation (PROE). The Panthers throw a lot (seventh in pass rate) because they’re always losing, but they’d rather run, and this matchup sets up well for them to lean into their preferred method of attack. Even though the Panthers want to run, they aren’t very good at it (28th in DVOA), but technically, it’s the strength of their offense since they stink (30th in DVOA) through the air. Tabor seems to realize that he is a lame duck who is keeping the head coaching chair warm for a new face next season. He isn’t going to change much, and Thomas Brown seems to have figured out the Panthers play closer games when he limits Young’s opportunities to make mistakes. Expect another run-oriented game plan from the Panthers that is designed to hide Young.  

How NEW ORLEANS Will Try To Win ::

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Kickoff Sunday, Dec 10th 1:00pm Eastern

Texans (
18.25) at

Jets (
15.25)

Over/Under 33.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Texans Run D
2nd DVOA/2nd Yards allowed per carry
Jets Run O
32nd DVOA/13th Yards per carry
Texans Pass D
23rd DVOA/22nd Yards allowed per pass
Jets Pass O
31st DVOA/31st Yards per pass
Jets Run D
14th DVOA/11th Yards allowed per carry
Texans Run O
30th DVOA/26th Yards per carry
Jets Pass D
3rd DVOA/7th Yards allowed per pass
Texans Pass O
12th DVOA/5th Yards per pass

Game Overview ::

By hilow >>
  • The Texans have some major names on their injury report to begin the week.
  • WR Tank Dell is done for the season after his gnarly leg injury suffered in Week 13.
  • OT Laremy Tunsil (knee), OT George Fant (hip), and S Jimmy Ward (shoulder) all missed practice on Wednesday with various ailments. All three are primary contributors on this team.
  • TE Dalton Schultz (hamstring) got in a limited session Wednesday after missing Week 13.
  • WR Noah Brown (knee) also got in a limited session Wednesday, which is important because he is now expected to enter the starting lineup on the perimeter for the Texans.
  • Jets RB Breece Hall (ankle) and WR Jason Brownlee (ankle) did not practice Wednesday. This is the first we’ve heard about either injury.
  • This game opened with a game total of 36.5 points, which has been bet down to just 33.0 over growing concerns regarding the weather at MetLife Stadium.
  • This is a weather game in what is being dubbed a weather week – we know the drill by now, the field is highly likely to overreact to weather on this slate. I’ll pass along weather updates as the weekend draws near.

How HOUSTON Will Try To Win ::

Texans offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik has more or less run the gamut when you look at his play-calling tendencies this season, notably starting the year with a forward-leaning, layered aerial attack before spending the next four weeks with the highest first-down rush rate in the league, before then returning to a more unpredictable design until now. Knowing the path he has taken this season, it becomes a little more difficult to ascertain how he is likeliest to approach this spot against one of the better all-around defenses in the league, in expected inclement weather, without a primary contributor on offense (rookie wide receiver Tank Dell), in the potential absence of both of his elite starting offensive tackles. We spent a lot of time diagnosing what Tunsil and Fant meant to this offense when Tunsil returned to the lineup in the middle of the season. Slowik has been able to stay ahead of the sticks recently through unpredictable tendencies, solid efficiency on first down behind a dynamic run-blocking scheme, and unreal efficiency from his rookie quarterback. Not that those things can’t happen in this spot, they just become a lot more difficult given the circumstances. All of that to say, there is a bit more uncertainty with this Houston offense than we have seen in some time. There is also something to say of the fact that the Jets face the highest rush rate of any team in the league this season (49.63 percent).

As we’ve explored previously, Devin Singletary is the back most suited for the zone-gap run-blocking scheme recently employed by Slowik. He handily outpaced one-read grinder Dameon Pierce in the latter’s first game back from injury in Week 12, but the two ran in a near-even timeshare the following week, with Pierce seeing 38 percent of the offensive snaps and handling 15 carries and zero targets to the 46 percent snap rate, eight carries, and one target of Singletary. It was also Pierce that had his number called in the green zone, scoring from three yards out in the first quarter. It appears as if this backfield has reverted to the messy timeshare we saw during the first eight weeks of the season, leaving a lot to be desired from either back. The fact that the Jets have faced the highest rush rate this season adds a bit to the workload expectation for Pierce, who has struggled to just 3.0 yards per carry and has just two breakaway runs through nine games played. The pure rushing matchup is middling, at best, against a Jets defense holding opponents to 4.1 yards per carry behind 1.24 yards allowed before contact.

The pure magic of this offense has been, and should continue to be, the aerial attack. The problem is that the Jets defense has held opponents to just 5.2 net yards per pass attempt and 176.6 total pass yards per game this season. That almost certainly does not mean the Texans are precluded from finding success in this spot, it just makes it that much more difficult. Furthermore, Nico Collins enters the bonkers-elite discussion on snaps played in the absence of Dell this season, and he should be considered the primary option through the air for the remainder of the season. Brown is expected to enter the starting lineup opposite Collins and has produced when called upon this season, most notably rattling off consecutive games of more than 150 receiving yards while either Collins or Robert Woods were sidelined earlier this season. Both Brown and Schultz are currently on the team’s injury report, but both should join Collins as the top options through the air should they work their way into active status by the weekend. Woods and John Metchie are likely to round out the pass-catching corps, both likely to be held to under 60 percent of the offensive snaps. The Jets lead the league in DK points allowed per game to wide receivers this season at just 24.3 points, notably allowing the most receiving touchdowns to tight ends through 13 weeks (seven). Finally, the fact that they have allowed just three receiving scores all season to opposing wide receivers is troubling.

How NEW york Will Try To Win ::

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Vikings (
21.75) at

Raiders (
18.75)

Over/Under 40.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Vikings Run D
12th DVOA/6th Yards allowed per carry
Raiders Run O
24th DVOA/29th Yards per carry
Vikings Pass D
10th DVOA/4th Yards allowed per pass
Raiders Pass O
28th DVOA/24th Yards per pass
Raiders Run D
17th DVOA/19th Yards allowed per carry
Vikings Run O
27th DVOA/22nd Yards per carry
Raiders Pass D
8th DVOA/8th Yards allowed per pass
Vikings Pass O
21st DVOA/17th Yards per pass

Game Overview ::

By MIKE JOHNSON >>
  • Both teams are coming off a Week 13 bye and should be fully rested and very healthy.
  • The Vikings look to bounce back from a couple tough losses they had heading into their bye week as they fight for a playoff spot in the NFC.
  • Justin Jefferson is practicing in full as he is on pace to return from a lengthy absence due to a hamstring injury.
  • Joshua Dobbs will remain the Vikings’ starting quarterback despite a four-interception performance in Minnesota’s last game.
  • Las Vegas is theoretically still alive for the playoffs and Minnesota would be the No. 6 seed in the NFC if the playoffs started today.
  • Both teams have had a run-heavy approach in recent weeks, with the Raiders relying on Josh Jacobs since their head coaching change and the Vikings scaling back their pass rate since Kirk Cousins was injured.

How MINNESOTA Will Try To Win ::

The Vikings have had a wild season this year as they started out horribly and many people were wondering if they would tank the year for a high draft pick after a 1-3 start. They turned things around, however, as Cousins was having a fantastic season and their defense ironed things out under first-year defensive coordinator Brian Flores. Even a torn Achilles for Cousins didn’t derail them at first, as they responded with wins over the Falcons and Saints in their first two games with Dobbs at quarterback. Things fell apart quickly, however, as they lost their last two games against the Broncos and Bears prior to last week’s bye. The big issue in those losses, which came by a combined three points, was that they had seven total turnovers compared to only two for their opponents. There was talk prior to their Week 13 bye that Dobbs could be benched, but he has been confirmed as the starter for this week – albeit likely with a shorter leash. When you think about it, sticking with Dobbs makes sense. As maddening as those losses are, the fact that they were such narrow losses despite the massive negative turnover differential points to the fact that the Vikings are on the right track and just need to take better care of the ball.

As for what that means for Week 14 against the Raiders, the return of Jefferson will certainly play a role as well. The Vikings are likely to be a bit more conservative this week in terms of giving Dobbs easier reads and emphasizing his need to take care of the ball. That being said, the mere presence of Jefferson should open things up across the field and make his reads easier, and, when all else fails, give him one of the best playmakers in the league to rely on. The Raiders defense looked great in the first two games of the Antonio Pierce era, but that likely had more to do with facing the Jets and Giants than any massive swing in their level of play. They seemed to fall back to earth in their Week 12 loss to the Chiefs, whose offense has looked very pedestrian for most of the season but went off against the Raiders. Minnesota has the fourth-highest pass rate over expectation (PROE) in the NFL this season, and while we should expect them to be more conservative this week than they were early in the season with Cousins, they are unlikely to turn into a “run-based” offense now that their elite receiving corps is back intact. We should expect a healthy dose of easy first read targets for Jefferson and TJ Hockenson, with the coaching staff encouraging Dobbs to either use his legs to run for yards or check down to the running backs if those initial looks aren’t there, rather than taking the chance of him giving this game away with multiple avoidable turnovers again.

How LAS VEGAS Will Try To Win ::

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Hawks (
15) at

49ers (
29.5)

Over/Under 44.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Seahawks Run D
23rd DVOA/25th Yards allowed per carry
49ers Run O
2nd DVOA/4th Yards per carry
Seahawks Pass D
25th DVOA/15th Yards allowed per pass
49ers Pass O
1st DVOA/1st Yards per pass
49ers Run D
15th DVOA/18th Yards allowed per carry
Seahawks Run O
19th DVOA/20th Yards per carry
49ers Pass D
4th DVOA/3rd Yards allowed per pass
Seahawks Pass O
8th DVOA/12th Yards per pass

Game Overview ::

By Mike Johnson >>
  • This is a rematch of a game from two weeks ago when the 49ers dominated the Seahawks and won 31-13 on the road.
  • The 49ers are 9-0 and are averaging 33.4 points per game in games that Deebo Samuel and Trent Williams both play and have scored at least 27 points in every game that qualifies.
  • In games that Samuel and Williams missed all or part of, the 49ers are 0-3, averaging 17 points per game.
  • Seattle’s defense looked solid early in the year but has given up 26 or more points in four of their last five games.
  • Dating back to the start of 2022, the 49ers have won the last four matchups between these teams by an average score of 30-14.

How seattle Will Try To Win ::

The Seahawks got off to a hot start this season and had a 5-2 record through Week 8 before dropping four of their last five games to fall into a battle with several other teams for a wild card spot in the NFC. A big part of the Seahawks early season success had to do with a defense that looked very good, but the biggest factor likely was the opponents they were facing. Put simply, the Seahawks have won several games against teams with poor records and/or backup QB’s. While they did put up quite a fight against the Cowboys last Thursday night, the Seahawks downfall in 2023 has coincided with a significant increase in the degree of difficulty of their opponents – which should not be surprising.

As we enter Week 13 and try to project how this Seahawks team will approach the game, we have to look first at the struggles of their defense and the potency of the 49ers offense. In the last meeting between these teams, they played on a short week and Geno Smith was dealing with an elbow injury. After a huge performance against the Cowboys in Week 13, it is safe to say that Smith’s elbow is now healthy, and Seattle has had extra time to prepare for this game. The Seahawks have given up 26 or more points in four of their last five games, the only exception being a 17-16 loss to the Rams in a game in which Kyren Williams did not play and Cooper Kupp exited in the first quarter with an ankle injury. On the flip side, the 49ers at full strength this season have been a cheat code to score 30 points, reaching that total in eight of nine games in which both Deebo Samuel and Trent Williams were healthy. Combining those factors, we can safely say that Seattle should enter this game expecting to score many points if they want to pull off an upset. Head coach Pete Carroll prefers to grind teams out, and they do know the 49ers well, but this San Francisco offense has been a freight train, and the Seahawks defense is not one of their vintage units that can shut anyone down. Regardless of Carroll’s preferences, Seattle will enter the game with an aggressive mindset or be pushed to it quickly. 

Adding to the Seahawks offensive issues are the injuries in their backfield. Kenneth Walker has missed the last two games with an oblique injury and missed practice to start this week. Zach Charbonnet has assumed the lead role in Walker’s absence but is dealing with a knee injury now and missed Wednesday’s practice as well. Deejay Dallas is the next man up and is primarily a receiving back, further pushing the narrative that Seattle will have to throw the ball a lot in this spot. San Francisco faces the highest opponent’s pass rate in the league and their opponents throw the ball, on average, 38.7 times per game. Seattle will have to throw the ball early and often in this one, with their trio of wide receivers involved at different levels. Their level of success is still in question, however, against a San Francisco defense that ranks 3rd in pass defense DVOA, 1st in PFF pass-rush grade, and 3rd in PFF coverage grade.

How san francisco Will Try To Win ::

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Kickoff Sunday, Dec 10th 4:25pm Eastern

Bills (
23.5) at

Chiefs (
25.5)

Over/Under 49.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Bills Run D
18th DVOA/28th Yards allowed per carry
Chiefs Run O
11th DVOA/11th Yards per carry
Bills Pass D
9th DVOA/5th Yards allowed per pass
Chiefs Pass O
6th DVOA/19th Yards per pass
Chiefs Run D
27th DVOA/24th Yards allowed per carry
Bills Run O
5th DVOA/9th Yards per carry
Chiefs Pass D
5th DVOA/2nd Yards allowed per pass
Bills Pass O
3rd DVOA/7th Yards per pass

Game Overview ::

By mike johnson >>
  • The NFL is once again gracing us with an outstanding “game of the week” in the late afternoon window between two of the NFL’s top teams.
  • A loss will likely knock the Bills out of the AFC playoffs.
  • Kansas City’s offense continues to struggle to find a rhythm as we get into the late stages of the season.
  • Buffalo’s offense has appeared to be very potent once again since changing their offensive coordinator – scoring 66 points in the two games since the change.
  • We should expect both teams to enter this game with an aggressive offensive mindset due to their respect for each other’s quarterback.

How buffalo Will Try To Win ::

The Bills rank 5th in the NFL in cumulative point differential, having outscored their opponents by 101 points throughout 12 games. Despite that elite performance, they enter Week 14 with a 6-6 record and likely need to win out or, at worst, lose only one more game to have a chance at making the playoffs. All six of Buffalo’s losses have been by one score, with two coming in overtime and two others happening in the last 12 seconds of regulation. It has indeed been a season of near-misses as Buffalo has struggled to put it all together and seemingly continues to find new ways to lose games. While three of those losses have been relatively understandable against the Eagles, Bengals, and Jaguars, the close losses to the Broncos, Jets, and Patriots have really put their season in jeopardy.

This week, the rubber meets the road for Buffalo as they head into Kansas City for a showdown with their biggest rival of the last few years. The Bills offense ranks 3rd in the NFL in DVOA while being top-6 in efficiency both in the passing game and on the ground. They are averaging 33 points per game in the two games since firing Ken Dorsey as their offensive coordinator. They appear to be intent on riding Josh Allen, which is probably a wise decision and should have happened a while ago. Allen set season highs in pass attempts, rush attempts, and rushing yards in their Week 12 loss to the Eagles. This week against the Patrick Mahomes-led Chiefs, the Bills will undoubtedly lean heavily on Allen again. The history between these teams and their respect for Mahomes will ensure that Buffalo enters this game with a “point acquisition” mindset, knowing that no lead is safe until the clock hits 0:00. Kansas City’s defense has been terrific this year. It ranks 3rd in the NFL in pass-defense DVOA. Still, they are not an insurmountable unit by any means. Just last week, Jordan Love and the Packers diced them up for 267 passing yards and three passing touchdowns. The Chiefs also rank in the bottom half of the league in PFF pass rush and coverage grades, indicating they may be more vulnerable than their on-paper metrics.

While Allen will be the backbone of the Buffalo attack, the running game against Kansas City’s bottom-5 run defense won’t be entirely ignored. The increased use of Josh Allen’s legs should only create even bigger running lanes for James Cook and the other running backs when Buffalo decides to run it. The Chiefs play a high rate of man coverage and have historically and this year been very good against perimeter wide receivers. Their physical secondary can give some teams fits, but we should expect the route-running proficiency of Stefon Diggs and the mismatch versatility of Dalton Kincaid to be the focal points of the Bills passing attack this week. Likewise, we should expect Buffalo to look to involve their running backs out of the backfield in the passing game and try to get Cook and Ty Johnson isolated against the Chiefs linebackers in coverage. In Week 11 against the Jets, who play a similar man-heavy coverage style and have very good perimeter cornerbacks, Buffalo’s running backs combined for six receptions, 76 receiving yards, and two touchdown receptions. Gabe Davis has had better games this season against weaker secondaries and/or teams that play more zone coverage. That, along with all of the other matchup factors this week, would seem to point to this game being one where he runs a lot of wind sprints while Diggs, Kincaid, and the running backs are Allen’s primary targets. Regardless of the Chiefs 2023 offensive struggles, this Bills team will enter Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday, remembering their epic collapse in the playoffs two years ago, and approach every possession intending to accumulate points.

How kansas city Will Try To Win ::

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Kickoff Sunday, Dec 10th 4:25pm Eastern

Broncos (
21) at

Chargers (
24)

Over/Under 45.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Broncos Run D
30th DVOA/32nd Yards allowed per carry
Chargers Run O
28th DVOA/28th Yards per carry
Broncos Pass D
26th DVOA/20th Yards allowed per pass
Chargers Pass O
16th DVOA/21st Yards per pass
Chargers Run D
22nd DVOA/12th Yards allowed per carry
Broncos Run O
14th DVOA/18th Yards per carry
Chargers Pass D
30th DVOA/28th Yards allowed per pass
Broncos Pass O
18th DVOA/25th Yards per pass

Game Overview ::

By mike johnson >>
  • Both of these teams are theoretically still alive for the playoffs but have extremely little margin for error.
  • The Chargers have managed to score 16 combined points in their last two games.
  • The Broncos have held seven consecutive opponents to 22 points or less.
  • Denver’s offense continues to attack in a conservative manner and use Russell Wilson in a “game manager” role.
  • Los Angeles hopes to get wide receiver Joshua Palmer back from injury, which would be a big boost for an offense that is struggling to make plays.

How denver Will Try To Win ::

The Broncos have had a bit of a roller coaster season but they are in the thick of the AFC playoff hunt with a 6-6 record and all three of the current Wild Card teams being only one game ahead of them and also playing with a backup QB. While many wrote off the Broncos early in the season (and it was hard not to after they gave up 70 points to the Dolphins), Sean Payton has done a nice job making this a consistently competitive squad that is far from an easy out on a weekly basis. This transformation has been largely due to a defense that has significantly improved after a sluggish, injury-riddled start to the year and an offense that has taken Russell Wilson back to his early career “game manager” role that he had success with in Seattle.

Denver’s offense ranks 29th in pace of play and 32nd (aka, dead last) in plays per game as their approach has been very methodical all year. There were a couple of games where they played faster, but those games were generally very inefficient showings thus the resulting poor rankings in those two categories. As we have explored in prior weeks, the Broncos offense is generally very conservative and dedicates a huge portion of their offensive usage to their backfield. They rank 27th in pass rate over expectation (PROE) and 22nd in overall pass rate through 13 weeks, while Russell Wilson ranks near the bottom of the league in average intended air yards on pass attempts. Denver is a team that runs the ball often and likes to target the short area on check- downs and designed screens or swing passes often as an “extension of the running game.” They do take some calculated shots, as both of their Week 13 touchdowns came from shot plays downfield that were set up by play-action. Again, this is reminiscent of what we saw from Russell Wilson in his Seattle days as they tried to win behind their defense and running game, then leveraged that to give Wilson clean pockets to cut loose downfield.

This week Denver faces a Chargers defense that has had its share of issues this season but has been very good against conservative and lower scoring units. After a rough start to the year, Los Angeles has allowed over 23 points only twice (31 to the Chiefs and 41 to the Lions) in their last nine games. Those teams obviously have much more aggressive and explosive offenses than the Broncos, who have a pretty clear approach to winning games right now and there is no reason to expect a drastic change this week. Denver is relying on their defense to create turnovers and short fields and letting their opponents beat themselves, a strategy that seems to be perfect for an opponent like the Chargers who have found exciting new ways to lose games on several occasions this year.

How los Angeles Will Try To Win ::

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Kickoff Sunday, Dec 10th 8:20pm Eastern

Eagles (
24.5) at

Cowboys (
28)

Over/Under 52.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Eagles Run D
19th DVOA/21st Yards allowed per carry
Cowboys Run O
15th DVOA/19th Yards per carry
Eagles Pass D
28th DVOA/13th Yards allowed per pass
Cowboys Pass O
11th DVOA/14th Yards per pass
Cowboys Run D
9th DVOA/17th Yards allowed per carry
Eagles Run O
6th DVOA/12th Yards per carry
Cowboys Pass D
6th DVOA/25th Yards allowed per pass
Eagles Pass O
7th DVOA/11th Yards per pass

XANDAMERE’S SHOWDOWN SLANT

Oh boy, Sunday night brings a super interesting game as the Eagles visit the Cowboys for a 51.5-point total game with Dallas favored by 3.5 points. After having to write up NE/PIT for Thursday I feel like I was owed a fun one, and here we go. Two of the best teams in the league, with Dak pushing for an MVP (and really needing to beat a legitimately good team in order to bolster his case), while the Eagles have won three straight against good teams (DAL, KC, BUF) before getting absolutely curb-stomped by the NFL’s best team, the 49ers. 

Dallas

Tony Pollard’s role in the Dallas backfield is really strong as he’s playing 65%+ of the snaps almost every week and seeing the vast bulk of the RB touches. But the way that Dallas has been using Pollard is borderline criminal, consistently just running him between the tackles instead of focusing on getting him the ball in space like they did last year, leading to a suboptimal 4.1 yards per carry. Pollard is averaging 15 carries per game and just over four targets but has just one game over 100 rushing yards (and just one with over 100 total scrimmage yards). Against one of the league’s top run defenses, ranked 4th in DVOA, running with Pollard just isn’t the likeliest path to success for the Cowboys here. The passing game role and a massive goal line role (second in the league in RB carries inside the 20, the 10, and the 5)  on a high-scoring team keeps him in consideration, especially since Draftkings was kind enough to price him at just $8,000, but it’s much easier to see Pollard having a “solid” game than a “smash” game here. I’m going to let ownership dictate my position. If people flock to Pollard based on him being at his lowest price of the season, I’m happy to be underweight. If people avoid him because, “oh no, bad matchup,” I’m always willing to play RBs with strong roles in Showdown. I’ll probably want to have something like 30-40% of him, no matter what the field does. Behind Pollard is Rico Dowdle, who isn’t likely to see enough work to matter unless the game blows out (Dowdle caught a touchdown in Week 12 and still only landed at 9.6 DK points – fine, but not exactly an elite separator score). 

Showdown Ownership Projections!

Ownership updates automatically

The passing game is where things get fun for the Cowboys because while the Eagles are elite against the run, they are just 21st in DVOA against opposing passing attacks while also facing the second highest opposing passing play rate at a whopping 66.7% (average is around 56-58%). Dallas has also been passing at extreme rates since their Week 7 bye, clearly indicating a shift in offensive philosophy. We should expect them to come out aggressively through the air and remain so throughout the game. It should not surprise anyone to hear me say that CeeDee Lamb is the top skill position play in this game. Lamb is averaging 10 targets per game and his role has expanded as he’s not just running shorter routes like he used to. Lamb’s aDOT is 10.5 yards, 61st in the league (but up significantly from a couple of seasons ago). He’s also fifth in the league in deep targets, first in the league in red zone targets, and 16th in the league in total share of air yards. Everything about his role is elite. He’s a smash play and he’ll be owned like one. The only other full-time receiver on the Cowboys is Brandin Cooks who, after a slow start to the season, is up to five receiving touchdowns and appears to have found his footing on this team. $7k is a little on the expensive side on a slate with so many premium plays, but I expect that will serve to keep his ownership down. As the clearest pivot to the best play on the slate, I want lots and lots of Cooks. After those two, Michael Gallup and Jalen Tolbert are splitting the WR3 role. I really have no preference here as they’re priced about the same (I suppose I have a very slight lean to Gallup, but it’s kind of splitting hairs). KaVontae Turpin is also in play as a gadget guy who gets decent red zone usage – the floor here is extremely low but he’s capable of paying off his salary on a single touch; he has six red zone targets to go along with two more rush attempts (i.e. he has more total red zone touches than Cooks, and more than Gallup and Tolbert combined). 

At tight end, Jake Ferguson is another premium play. He doesn’t generally have a lot of yardage upside (though he does have three games of 70+ receiving yards), but he has a whopping 22 red zone targets, which leads the NFL at the tight end position by a wide margin (second is David Njoku with 15). The red zone usage here is extremely condensed with Lamb and Pollard having 45 targets out of 86 Dak pass attempts, and so in what should be a high-scoring game in which Dallas will have an easier time scoring through the air, Ferguson is a high-priority play for me. TE2 Luke Schoonmaker is a touchdown-or-bust option. He does have five red zone targets, but just 14 total targets on the year. Priced near Turpin, I prefer the gadget guy, as while their number of opportunities per game is pretty similar (slightly favoring Turpin), KaVontae has more per-touch upside as he can break plays while Schoonmaker is more of a “catch and fall down” type. 

Philadelphia

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Kickoff Monday, Dec 11th 8:15pm Eastern

Titans (
15.75) at

Dolphins (
29.25)

Over/Under 45.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Titans Run D
10th DVOA/7th Yards allowed per carry
Dolphins Run O
3rd DVOA/1st Yards per carry
Titans Pass D
24th DVOA/14th Yards allowed per pass
Dolphins Pass O
2nd DVOA/2nd Yards per pass
Dolphins Run D
21st DVOA/8th Yards allowed per carry
Titans Run O
18th DVOA/21st Yards per carry
Dolphins Pass D
18th DVOA/12th Yards allowed per pass
Titans Pass O
24th DVOA/16th Yards per pass

XANDAMERE’S SHOWDOWN SLANT

Week 14 has not one but two Monday night Showdowns! Rejoice! This one has the Titans visiting the Dolphins for a 46 total game with the Dolphins favored by 13 (wow). The Dolphins are implied for 29.5 points while the Titans are at just 16.5 so Vegas is clearly predicting a blowout but we’ll see. 

Miami

The Dolphins have an absolutely explosive offense but this matchup is a nightmare for their run game as the Titans are 1st in run defense DVOA (while being 30th in pass defense DVOA). This is a classic pass funnel matchup, and while that doesn’t mean the Dolphins backfield can’t hit, it’s a tough spot for them with De’Von Achane priced all the way at $10,200, and Raheem Mostert at $8,800. Split backfield with very expensive backs in one of the worst possible matchups is a tough sell for me. Running backs in Showdown always have paths to ceiling, and both Achane and Mostert are explosive players who can break one at any time, but they’re much riskier than normal in this game.

Showdown Ownership Projections!

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In a pass funnel matchup it’s really, really tough to come up with a case to avoid Tyreek Hill beyond “football is weird.” The dude has been dismantling defenses every single week and only has three games under 20 DK points. It’s a perfect matchup for the NFL’s best wide receiver (or at least the NFL’s most productive wide receiver) and he’ll be massively owned but he deserves to be. The only case I can think of to not play him is just game theory and that football IS weird and unexpected things happen in every game. On paper, he’s an absolute smash play. Behind him is Jaylen Waddle, who is overpriced for what he’s done this season at $9,200 but if you believe the run game has less success, that boosts Waddle’s upside. It’s fair to think that the odds of at least one of Tyreek and Waddle hitting are extremely high, and I’m likely to have a rule of at least one of them on every roster. Every other pass catcher on the Dolphins is getting into thin territory: all of Braxton Berrios, Cedrick Wilson, and River Cracraft will see the field at wide receiver while we’ll see Durham Smythe, Julian Hill, and maybe a bit of Tanner Conner at tight end. The Miami offense is one of the most concentrated in the NFL. There are a couple of ways this could play out: 1) we could see a bit more involvement than usual from the ancillary pass catchers given the difficult run matchup, or, 2) we could just see the Dolphins increase their passing volume to the RBs (both of whom are capable pass catchers), while the other rando pass catchers continue to barely do anything. Of this group, Wilson is my favorite as he’s the most talented, but these guys are all thin. I’ll discuss group thoughts for this bunch at the end.

Tennessee

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Kickoff Monday, Dec 11th 8:15pm Eastern

Packers (
21.25) at

Giants (
15.75)

Over/Under 37.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Packers Run D
26th DVOA/26th Yards allowed per carry
Giants Run O
31st DVOA/15th Yards per carry
Packers Pass D
27th DVOA/18th Yards allowed per pass
Giants Pass O
30th DVOA/30th Yards per pass
Giants Run D
29th DVOA/30th Yards allowed per carry
Packers Run O
17th DVOA/10th Yards per carry
Giants Pass D
19th DVOA/26th Yards allowed per pass
Packers Pass O
5th DVOA/10th Yards per pass

XANDAMERE’S SHOWDOWN SLANT

Our second Monday night game has the Packers visiting the Giants for something Vegas thinks will be closer with a 37 point total with Green Bay favored by 6.5. The Packers have been playing much better of late, beating the Chargers, Lions, and Chiefs in the last three weeks as Jordan Love has once again looked like a capable NFL quarterback. Meanwhile, the Giants have gone 2-1 over that span, getting crushed by Dallas but convincingly beating Washington and squeaking out a 10-7 stinker against the Pats.

New York

The Giants offense starts with Saquon Barkley (and kind of ends with him, too). Saquon’s role is as strong as ever, and while his touch counts look low lately (13, 14, 12 carries in the last three games), that’s due to extremely low overall play volume for the Giants in those three games. The Giants aren’t good, but they’re at 53 plays per game in their last three games while over the course of the season, the lowest team is Denver with 58. So there’s room for some regression here, which helps all the Giants but really benefits Saquon’s ability to get back to the kind of workloads we’re used to seeing from him. Behind Saquon is Matt Breida, who is likely to play 20% or fewer of the snaps and is just a punt play who doesn’t have much upside unless Saquon gets hurt.

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In the passing game, the Giants are becoming the new Chiefs, trotting out six different wide receivers most weeks. Good lord. In the last few weeks, all of Wan’dale Robinson, Darius Slayton, Jalin Hyatt, Isaiah Hodgins, Sterling Shepard, and Parris Campbell have seen the field (listed in orders of snaps played). This is a mess on a low-scoring passing offense, but at least almost all of them are really cheap. Let’s start with Hyatt because for some wild reason, he is $7k which is the most expensive Giants pass catcher by a wide margin. I like Hyatt, he’s a talented rookie, and he just had his first big game of the season. At $7k, it’s pretty wild to chase that unless you’re just hoping to pay up to be contrarian. Wan’dale has a solid floor due to his short area, high catch rate role, but he has very minimal ceiling because of that same role. Slayton is the best play of this bunch and $3,800 is cheap for him as he gets some deep work. He’s up there with Wan’dale in the lead for target share with Tommy DeVito at quarterback, and he’s pretty clearly too cheap for his role and upside. Everyone else is a punt option as the rest of those guys are all playing under half the snaps. Campbell in particular has been disappearing lately, and if you’re looking for a guy to X out entirely to condense your player pool, he’s the best bet. 

At tight end, Daniel Bellinger is playing almost all of the snaps with Lawrence Cager in a very small role. Bellinger is questionable with an illness so it’s hard to predict if he’ll be on the field or not. If he is, he’s mostly a blocker but given the overall crappy Giants pass catcher situation, he’s fine to include in player pools. These guys are basically ALL dart throws anyhow. If Bellinger misses, Cager will play almost every snap and is fine. The only good thing about Cager is that he saw two red zone targets from DeVito a couple of weeks ago so I guess there is some touchdown upside here (if you’re feeling like I don’t have a strong sense of any of these guys . . . you’re right). Slayton’s a solid play, everyone else is a “good luck figuring this out” situation.

Here’s something to be aware of: because of how cheap these guys are, a lot of the field is likely to have two or even three of the cheap Giants pass catchers. Simply NOT doing that is a pretty solid way to consider differentiating your rosters.

Green Bay

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