Week 15 Matchups

This week’s slate is about as different from last week’s as could be ::

Out of 13 games on the Main Slate this week, there are six with an Over/ Under of 47.0 or higher, and there are nine with an Over/Under of 45.5 or higher. Furthermore, there is only one game above 48.0 at this point in the week (Texans at Titans; 50.0), which gives us an extremely dense group of quality games to work with — creating an opportunity to target plenty of upside without necessarily having to follow the crowd. Finally, there are multiple injuries this week that have potential to tighten up the distribution of touches in key spots — leaving the remaining players on those teams fundamentally underpriced. Add it all together, and it’s a fun slate to play around with, with upside available in lots of different ways.

While this makes for a fun slate, it also makes for a slate in which the score required to win a tourney is likely to be even higher than what we have seen in this stretch of mostly-ugly slates over the last month. Players who “can post a decent score for the price” are unlikely to help much in a quest to win tourneys, while finding the right game or the right set of Upside plays will go a long way toward determining how this weekend shakes out.

As you build this week, keep First Place in mind, and be sure to ask yourself what type of players are likely to actually take you there this week.


Kickoff Thursday, Dec 12th 8:20pm Eastern

Jets (
13.5) at

Ravens (
30.5)

Over/Under 44.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Jets Run D
14th DVOA/20th Yards allowed per carry
Ravens Run O
5th DVOA/1st Yards per carry
Jets Pass D
31st DVOA/24th Yards allowed per pass
Ravens Pass O
19th DVOA/31st Yards per pass
Ravens Run D
2nd DVOA/11th Yards allowed per carry
Jets Run O
29th DVOA/23rd Yards per carry
Ravens Pass D
7th DVOA/14th Yards allowed per pass
Jets Pass O
30th DVOA/32nd Yards per pass

Showdown Slant ::

Presented by top Showdown mind Xandamere!

Week 15 starts with the Jets visiting Baltimore in a game with a decent overall total of 45 points…but over two-thirds of those projected points are on the Baltimore side. The Ravens are over two touchdown favorites, which is kind of bonkers, but doesn’t seem unreasonable when you think about how good the Ravens offense is and how good their defense has become in the past several weeks. Let’s dig in.

We’ll start with the Ravens overall offense, because separating the run and pass offense on this team is just starting to seem a bit silly. I kind of hate Ravens showdowns because I can go back through my old writeups of this team and they’re always the same: Lamar Jackson is a fantastic play. The Ravens defense is a strong play. All of the Ravens skill players are in timeshares and their values are propped up by touchdowns. Mark Ingram is $10,400, bellcow price, for a guy averaging under 16 touches per game. Mark Andrews and Marquise Brown are the leading receivers on the team and they’re averaging just over and just under six targets per game, respectively. This is a ridiculously spread-out offense and that makes it hard to play cash games in Ravens showdowns. Now, Mark Andrews is listed as questionable, and things change if he misses; Hayden Hurst becomes a whole lot more attractive, and at just $4,200 would become a core play. But, Andrews is probably playing. The Jets have been elite in tight end coverage thanks to Jamal Adams, so I’m leaning towards the Ravens receivers over their tight ends when building my exposures in this one (though keep an eye on Adams’ status, as he may miss this game). Brown is attractive, of course, and of the rest of the pile, Willie Snead is on the field the most (the only wideout playing over 60% of the snaps on the year), while Miles Boykin has some big play ability and doesn’t need much volume in order to go off. Mark Ingram has the safest overall volume but the toughest matchup against the pass-funnel Jets who rank second in run defense DVOA but 22nd against the pass. At the end of the day, all of the Ravens skill players are pretty dart-throwy, which is generally how it shakes out in most Baltimore games. It’s tough picking plays here and calling anything safe. 

On the New York side, Le’Veon Bell returns from his illness/bowling holiday to resume lead back duties with Bilal Powell ruled out and Ty Montgomery nursing a pair of injuries. With Demaryius Thomas also doubtful and all relevant Jets tight ends also deceased, Bell should see all the work he can handle in this one. He is, by a fairly wide margin, the safest Jet. Montgomery should play and back up Bell, though his injuries might result in him playing fewer snaps. If Montgomery should miss, it’s probably Josh Adams as the primary backup to Bell if you’re looking for a place to go way off the board. 

The Jets’ pass game is likely to struggle against a Ravens secondary that started the season poorly but has rounded into form and is now third in pass defense DVOA. Down Thomas and Griffin, the Jets are really just rolling out Jamison Crowder, Robby Anderson, and a pile of scrubs. Crowder has the safest role as the primary slot receiver, while Anderson, as always, has gamebreaking speed and only needs a couple of catches to smash. As a general rule I love speed guys in tournaments because long bombs are worth a lot of points and because speed is awfully tough to defend against; I’d rather play the guy who only needs one or two breaks to go his way in order to deliver a great performance than the guy who needs to consistently beat an elite secondary eight or 10 times in order to have a big game. Assuming that Demaryius misses, Vyncint Smith and Braxton Berrios should be the beneficiaries, with Smith likely to be the primary one. We’re still talking about the likely fourth option on a bad offense in a tough matchup, but at just $600 he’s a highly viable value punt. If you want to chase the Jets’ tight end situation, some guy named Daniel Brown has been playing most of the snaps since Ryan Griffin went down. Brown only saw two targets last week against the Dolphins after Griffin got hurt early, so even though he’s going to be on the field, expectations should be tempered for his involvement in the passing game (i.e., I’d take Smith over Brown if looking for punt plays). 

The most likely way for this game to play out is for the Ravens to curb-stomp the Jets. There’s a reason that Vegas thinks New York only scores 14.5 points, after all (one of the lowest Vegas totals I’ve seen). Some other ways this game could play out:

  • It’s awfully hard to imagine this really turning into a shootout, but what isn’t hard to imagine is the Ravens offense scoring points in such a way that only two or three of their players have strong salary-considered scores, while the Jets play from behind and several of their players rack up PPR points without the team really scoring. Imagine, for example, if Lamar Jackson and Mark Ingram score all of the Ravens’ touchdowns between them, while Bell, Crowder, and Anderson each get something like 5 for 50 or better. That could mean that the optimal lineup has three Jets even though New York gets crushed.

My favorite overall captain is Lamar Jackson, which is incredibly obvious but also, I believe, correct. After Lamar, I want to be overweight the speed guys (Brown and Anderson) and Bell as a volume play.

Some groups to consider:

  • At most 1 kicker
  • At most 1 defense
  • Pair captain receivers with their QB
  • Pair captain Darnold with at least 2 receivers (better yet, don’t play captain Darnold) and pair captain Lamar with at least 1 receiver
  • At most 2 Ravens skill players not named Ingram, Andrews, and Brown

Kickoff Sunday, Dec 15th 1:00pm Eastern

Hawks (
27.25) at

Panthers (
21.25)

Over/Under 48.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Seahawks Run D
9th DVOA/13th Yards allowed per carry
Panthers Run O
16th DVOA/21st Yards per carry
Seahawks Pass D
29th DVOA/32nd Yards allowed per pass
Panthers Pass O
11th DVOA/11th Yards per pass
Panthers Run D
26th DVOA/18th Yards allowed per carry
Seahawks Run O
8th DVOA/12th Yards per carry
Panthers Pass D
13th DVOA/10th Yards allowed per pass
Seahawks Pass O
3rd DVOA/2nd Yards per pass

The crumbling Panthers will host the Seattle Seahawks this week in a game the Seahawks need to win in order to hold up their end of the bargain for a do-or-die Week 17 showdown with the 49ers (the winner of that game – if each wins this week and next – would not only grab the division, but would also likely grab a first-round bye, while the loser would have to play one week later on the road). The Seahawks are unsurprisingly six point road favorites in a game that sets up well for their desired approach: exerting their will with a physical run game, and using this run game to set up a few shots downfield.

Early in this game, we should see the Seahawks focus on the ground game – leaning on Chris Carson (eight games this year of 20+ touches, including six games of 24 or more touches) in an effort to chew up clock and race toward a fourth-quarter lead in a matchup they should be able to close out fairly easily down the stretch. On the other side of the ball, however, will be a fairly aggressive Panthers offense that ranks second in pace of play and is perfectly willing to take shots downfield. This creates an interesting setup, in that there is a very clear scenario in which the first few Panthers drives stall out, while the Seahawks comfortably eat up clock with multiple long, run-focused drives that end in points and put the Panthers in a hole. From there, the Seahawks would be able to continue chewing up clock while the Panthers struggle to come back with a one-dimensional offense. There is also a scenario, however, in which the Panthers are able to find holes in the Seattle zone defense, and are able to keep pace as a result. The Seahawks rank 17th in DVOA on defense and have allowed the seventh most yards per game and 11th most points per game, while their tendency to push opponents to the air (third highest opponent pass play rate in the league) has led to above-average production piling up against them in the pass game. Seattle has allowed the following notable stat lines to pass catchers on the year ::

7-158-2 Ross
7-136-0 Everett
9-117-1 Kupp
6-101-0 OBJ
10-152-0 Julio
12-180-1 Evans
8-112-0 Deebo
7-116-0 Higbee

5-84-0 JuJu
9-92-1 Kamara
8-99-0 DJ
12-91-1 Ertz
7-98-1 Woods

No matter how this game plays out, Chris Carson is one of the more interesting options on the slate: a fairly yardage and touchdown dependent running back, but in a tremendous matchup with what should be a locked in role. Carson isn’t quite game flow independent, but most scenarios for this game have him heavily involved, especially with Rashaad Penny now on I.R. (it would likely take the Panthers grabbing a commanding early lead for Carson to not get his touches).

On the Panthers side, Christian McCaffrey is entirely game flow independent, as he will be heavily involved in the pass game against a Seattle defense that is middling against running backs both on the ground and through the air. Even if the Panthers fall behind, CMC will be the engine of the offense, keeping him (as always) in the floor/ceiling mix. D.J. Moore is in the same boat as Chris Carson, in that there are game flow scenarios in which he would be mothballed and fail to see his recent levels of volume (recent target counts of 9 // 10 // 11 // 15 // 9 // 12 // 6), but most setups for this game have Moore heavily involved once again. Moore has posted at least 70 yards in eight of his last nine games, and his new downfield role in this offense (as explored in the space for weeks on end) has given him plenty of upside. The price has finally caught up with the usage, but in terms of raw expectations he has clear paths to production in this game. Ian Thomas (61 out of 71 snaps last week) saw 10 targets a week ago, and while that level of volume shouldn’t be expected here (Greg Olsen only reached 10 targets in a game once all season), the matchup is solid against a Seattle defense that has allowed the second most catches and the most yards to tight ends. Curtis Samuel has become the forgotten man, and it is interesting to at least keep in mind that the Panthers had a new play caller last week in Scott Turner, when Samuel saw only four targets (tied for his fewest on the year). Before last week, Samuel had seen recent target counts of 6 // 8 // 6 // 4 // 7, and he is certainly still in the “big play for upside” conversation.

The rest of the Seattle attack is far more heavily dependent on game flow – requiring the Panthers to keep pace, and otherwise leaving you to simply bet on big plays or hope to guess right on touchdowns. Russell Wilson has been fairly dependent on shootouts to get his receivers enough points to justify their price tags (Tyler Lockett’s only truly useful games against his Week 15 price tag came in a 40-34 game vs the Bucs and a 27-33 game against the Saints, while DK Metcalf’s only useful price-considered game also came in that game against Tampa), so if betting on the Seattle passing attack, you should also bet on how you think the Panthers will jump out to that big lead. Russ, on the other hand, has shown an ability to produce at a high level in a few spots without pulling his receivers up with him, so while he is likeliest to only end up on a tournament winning roster with a shootout developing around him, the Seahawks tendency to turn to the air near the end zone (as well as the Seahawks tendency to lean on the deep ball) do open paths to Russ producing a big game himself without an elite game environment around him (and without any of his pass catchers rising up the ranks with him). If choosing to bet on Russ and wanting to pair him with a pass catcher while not paying the elite price tags of Metcalf and Lockett, Jacob Hollister is also in play, even in a tough matchup (no team has allowed fewer receptions to the tight end position than Carolina) – with recent target counts of 6 // 10 // 4 // 8 // 6.

JM’s Interpretation ::

It’s not as if Chris Carson is underpriced for his role and for the matchup, as both of these factors have been weighed into the pricing already; however, he does stand out in this spot as a solid floor, high ceiling guy – a player who has a shot to rank among the more important plays on the slate. I doubt he will quite be a staple piece for me, but I will certainly have some Carson mixed in, and depending on where the field ends up on this play, I wouldn’t be surprised to find myself a bit overweight against the field myself. The rest of the Seahawks are less likely to be in the rotation for me, though I will always be willing to compare Russ against whatever else is available at the quarterback position.

On the Panthers side, I like McCaffrey and Moore in the same way I have liked them for the last month and a half: as strong plays for the upside, though not exactly necessary when compared against their price tags. There are enough other high-end, high-priced receivers available this week that Moore is unlikely to be a priority for me, but I don’t yet have as good of a feel for running back, and McCaffrey is always in the mix. I’m also up for keeping Ian Thomas in mind if Olsen misses (with Olsen attractive as well if he plays), while Curtis Samuel seems to go on my list every week, though he also seems to be drawing less and less actual attention from me when I go through my builds.

The likeliest scenario in this spot has the Seahawks taking a lead and then shortening up this game from there — but there are enough paths to production for the fast-paced, concentrated Panthers at home that I’ll mix these guys through my late-week thought process to see how they stack up against the other available pieces on the slate.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 15th 1:00pm Eastern

Eagles (
22.5) at

WFT (
16)

Over/Under 38.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Eagles Run D
15th DVOA/24th Yards allowed per carry
Washington Run O
21st DVOA/25th Yards per carry
Eagles Pass D
29th DVOA/7th Yards allowed per pass
Washington Pass O
32nd DVOA/29th Yards per pass
Washington Run D
17th DVOA/17th Yards allowed per carry
Eagles Run O
25th DVOA/15th Yards per carry
Washington Pass D
6th DVOA/1st Yards allowed per pass
Eagles Pass O
29th DVOA/24th Yards per pass

The “pathetic Redskins” have a more adequate defense than anyone seems to give them credit for, ranking 19th in DVOA, 18th in yards allowed per game, 21st in points allowed per game, and 18th in opponent red zone touchdown rate. And this could be a bit of a problem for the banged-up-beyond-belief Eagles, who have now lost Alshon Jeffery for the season — leaving them impossibly thin at wide receiver. The loss of Lane Johnson won’t make it any easier for the Eagles to get their stagnant run game going, and the Eagles’ Vegas-implied total of 22.25 tells the same story as the research this week :: Philly has a fairly concentrated distribution of touches right now and has some quality offensive players, which opens paths to production; but blowup games are not “likely,” and this doesn’t stand out on paper as one of the top offenses to target. On the other side of the ball, Washington (with a Vegas-implied total of only 17.75 — the second lowest mark on the slate) will take on a Philly defense that, as we know, is easier to attack through the air than on the ground; and yet, we also know that the Redskins are not going to move away from their “run first, short pass second” approach on offense unless they fall so far behind that they are forced to change tactics (and even then, this team has shown a willingness to simply kill off games they are losing rather than trying to get too aggressive in a comeback bid).

With Derrius Guice out for the rest of the season, touches on the Redskins will be primarily filtered through Adrian Peterson, Chris Thompson, and Terry McLaurin. Peterson saw 20 carries last week with Guice going down early, and he saw carry counts of 23 // 20 // 14 // 18 (with a negligible five catches mixed in during that stretch) in his last four games before Guice returned to the field. Philly ranks eighth in DVOA against the run and is allowing only 3.62 yards per carry to running backs on the season, leaving Peterson as a “bet on volume” yardage-and-touchdown back. Philly is middling against pass catching running backs, while Thompson saw eight targets last week (his sixth time in seven healthy games with five or more looks through the air), making him a usage-driven floor play with some paths to upside. Thompson should see increased usage if the Eagles jump out to a big lead, and could be considered a correlation piece to Philly pass catchers. McLaurin is a faith-based play, with the talent to bust through in a good matchup, but with Washington’s poor quarterback play and conservative mindset holding him back over the last couple months. It’s worth noting that McLaurin is a legitimately good NFL receiver, and he would be an elite piece in this spot if he were working in a better situation; so while the situation keeps the floor low, the ceiling does remain.

The Eagles offense is “the Eagles offense” in name only at the moment, with this team ranked middle of the pack in yards per game, points per game, and DVOA, while having posted recent scoring totals of 20 // 10 // 31 // 22 // 10 // 9 // 31 // 23. Since losing Jordan Howard, this offense has morphed into a pass-heavy unit, with Carson Wentz throwing the ball 40 // 45 // 46 // 50 times in his last four games.

If Howard plays in this game, he will take over the early-down role in this offense, while Miles Sanders will change the pace and gather work in the pass game. The Eagles will also likely become a more run-centric team once again. If Howard misses another game, however, the Eagles are likeliest to tilt toward the pass once again — opening volume-based bets on this concentrated, banged-up offense across the board.

The biggest “eye level adjustment” in this regard after last week, then, is the emergence of Boston Scott (which now marks two running backs — Jonathan Williams being the other — who we loved last year on the Saints before they got cut, and who have shown up with strong performances for different teams this year). Scott played 38 snaps last week to 50 for Miles Sanders and handled 16 highly effective touches (10 carries, six receptions; 128 total yards and a touchdown) while Sanders disappointed once again on his 19 looks. This is likely to remain a split backfield if Howard misses, with Scott having a good shot at another 12+ touches this week.

Through the air, Nelson Agholor will be a clear candidate for double digit targets if he’s healthy enough to play (Agholor has 32 targets in the three games he has played this year with Jeffery fully or mostly missing), while Greg Ward (another nine targets last week with Alshon going down) will likely lead the wideouts in targets if Agholor is out. Ertz has double-digit targets in four of his last five games (with the only exception being a hobbled game vs Miami), and he has gone for 90+ yards in each of those four games, with four touchdowns in that stretch. He’ll be the alpha in this spot regardless of which wideouts are healthy. Dallas Goedert has recent target counts of 6 // 8 // 7 // 6 and can be viewed as a “possession-type WR2” in this offense on that general level of looks. Joshua Perkins also stepped up out of nowhere last week to see five targets on 29 snaps, and he has a clear shot at getting involved once again as a fourth or fifth option in the pass game this week.

JM’s Interpretation ::

This “game” is not likely to be a heavy focus for me (I’ll likely leave the Washington side alone altogether, and the Eagles will be more about “betting on concentrated volume” than “expecting big things to happen for this offense”), but depending on how things look for me on Thursday after research is finished and I can see the slate and all that it offers more clearly, the volume bets on Philly could look fairly attractive.

Ertz is in play no matter who is healthy, as he has a clear shot at double-digit looks in a matchup he can win against Landon Collins. If Howard returns, I’ll still have interest in Goedert and Greg Ward for the volume, though I’ll also be a bit more cautious given the heightened chances of the Eagles returning to a more run-heavy approach. If Howard misses, however, Ward will be a viable low-cost wide receiver option if Agholor misses (and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside — who saw three targets on 79 snaps last week — will be a fringe option as well if Agholor is out), while Agholor will become an interesting “floor with upside” piece if he plays. Perkins is also a deep salary saver if Howard misses (especially if Agholor is out), while Goedert has generally held onto his typical range of expectations regardless of everything else going on around him. Howard being out would also keep Miles Sanders on the fringe of the RB mix, while Boston Scott would become a really interesting player to consider — especially if we get clarity later in the week on his expected role in this spot. None of this is anywhere close to locked-in until we see how injury news shakes out; but depending on how things break, I could end up with a few pieces from this spot in my player pool, as we could have a team set to throw the ball around 40 times with a narrow range of cheap players for that volume to flow through.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 15th 1:00pm Eastern

Texans (
23.5) at

Titans (
26.5)

Over/Under 50.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Texans Run D
23rd DVOA/31st Yards allowed per carry
Titans Run O
11th DVOA/5th Yards per carry
Texans Pass D
8th DVOA/22nd Yards allowed per pass
Titans Pass O
2nd DVOA/16th Yards per pass
Titans Run D
16th DVOA/23rd Yards allowed per carry
Texans Run O
23rd DVOA/31st Yards per carry
Titans Pass D
24th DVOA/26th Yards allowed per pass
Texans Pass O
8th DVOA/4th Yards per pass

Texans at Titans carries the highest Over/Under on the slate — which would already have been a surprise about a month and a half ago, but it’s even more of a surprise when you take into account the fact that this is a fairly attractive slate as a whole. When we talk about teams evolving throughout the season, this is a perfect example of what we mean, as the Titans — since installing Ryan Tannehill as their starting quarterback — have reeled off six wins in seven games, while scoring team point totals of 23 // 27 // 20 // 35 // 42 // 31 // 42 and notching wins against Kansas City, Indianapolis, and Oakland in this stretch.

Each of these teams likes to keep the ball on the ground (both rank top nine in rush play rate), while each defense tends to tilt opponents toward the air (both rank top nine in highest opponent pass play rate), though our first stop in this matchup is to note that the Houston run defense is not particularly terrifying, with a number 14 DVOA ranking and a non-threatening 4.41 yards allowed per carry to enemy running backs. (The Texans also rank 27th in DVOA against the pass; more on this in a moment.) With the Titans building their offense off of the threat of Derrick Henry (Tannehill has topped 29 pass attempts only twice in seven starts, and he has three games already of 22 or fewer attempts), it is unlikely that we see them tilt too far away from this approach in what is very nearly a must-win game at home. The Texans, on the other hand, are likely to be tilted toward the pass in this one, as the Titans rank fifth in DVOA against the run and are allowing only 3.97 yards per carry to backs, while Christian McCaffrey is the only running back who has topped 100 yards on the ground in this matchup. Tennessee ranks 23rd in DVOA against the pass and has been rocked hard by injuries in the secondary, making it easier for the Texans to move the ball through the air. Both teams should be able to move the ball in this game, and both should be able to score. (Worth noting :: the Titans and Texans defenses are both bottom three in opponent red zone touchdown rate. Both teams are top five in red zone touchdown rate on offense.)

Volume on the Titans is likely to tilt first and foremost toward Henry, who has recent touch counts of 25 // 20 // 29 // 19, and who has nine touchdowns in his last five games. The touchdowns are driving his price higher than his actual role (7-42-0 through the air across his last four games combined), but the touchdown opportunities are a consistent part of his role, and he does look unstoppable at times by this point in the year. The Texans may be able to bottle him up on a chunk of his runs, but he’s likely to break off at least a couple of his longer runs once again here.

In the pass game, volume is spread out in Tennessee; and with the Titans limiting passing volume as much as they can, volume becomes fairly thin on individual players. The clear alpha has become A.J. Brown, though Brown has target counts with Tannehill of only 8 // 3 // 7 // 4 // 5 // 4 // 7. The matchup and the nature of this game (with the Titans unlikely to shut down the Texans) should lead Brown to the higher end of that target range. He isn’t as attractive as he was last week, but Houston has had issues after the catch at times this year, making him a “bet on big play” option with paths available for those big plays to show up. Behind Brown, of course, it’s hoping to guess right across a range of generally low-volume options.

On the Texans’ side, Will Fuller has missed or mostly-missed five games this year, and in those games DeAndre Hopkins has target counts of 12 // 13 // 11 // 12 // 13, while Hopkins has seen eight or fewer targets in six of the eight games he has played alongside Fuller. If Fuller returns to the field this week, he’ll resume his boom/bust role as an “ignore floor, hope to capture upside” option, while Hopkins will be a “bet on talent and hope volume follows” play. If Fuller misses, however, Hopkins should function as the engine of this offense in a matchup he should be able to crack. (Behind Hopkins, Kenny Stills retains an ultra low floor with his one-dimensional usage, though there is try-to-catch-lightning ceiling. Keke Coutee emerged from the doghouse last week to see eight short-area targets, and it’s likely he fills that role again if Fuller is out of action. Of course, there’s also a chance the Texans roll with more 12 personnel against the exotic pressure looks of the Titans. The tight ends, of course, are simply closing your eyes and hoping for touchdowns, while the running backs are “hoping these guys break the matchup for touchdowns in what could be a high-scoring game.”)

JM’s Interpretation ::

Henry // Tannehill // Watson // Nuk are all varying levels of attractive to me in this spot, with Watson and Nuk potentially pushing toward Tier 1 this week (with Nuk of course dropping to Tier 3 if Fuller is healthy enough to play).

Behind these guys, A.J. Brown should see higher ownership at his higher price, in a less attractive matchup than what he had last week; but he does still maintain the explosiveness that has made him so valuable in tourneys a few times this year, and he’s a solid bet for six to eight targets here. I’ll likely leave the rest of this game alone outside of game stacks — though this game is intriguing enough that game stacks are, of course, very much in play.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 15th 1:00pm Eastern

Dolphins (
21) at

Giants (
24.5)

Over/Under 45.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Dolphins Run D
32nd DVOA/19th Yards allowed per carry
Giants Run O
30th DVOA/27th Yards per carry
Dolphins Pass D
10th DVOA/16th Yards allowed per pass
Giants Pass O
29th DVOA/30th Yards per pass
Giants Run D
15th DVOA/8th Yards allowed per carry
Dolphins Run O
23rd DVOA/22nd Yards per carry
Giants Pass D
23rd DVOA/21st Yards allowed per pass
Dolphins Pass O
11th DVOA/17th Yards per pass

Welcome to Week 15, where we have two of the worst offenses in the NFL squaring off against two of the worst defenses in the NFL.

Offensive ranks :: yards per game || points per game || drive success rate ::
>> Dolphins :: 30 || 30 || 27
>> Giants :: 26 || 25 || 24

Defensive ranks :: yards per game || points per game || drive success rate ::
>> Dolphins :: 30 || 32 || 30
>> Giants :: 27 || 28 || 24

The Giants are clearly downgraded with Eli Manning looking likely to take on one more start before Daniel Jones returns (what would be a going-away start in front of the home crowd, it should be noted — in this soft matchup against the Dolphins); and if DeVante Parker misses for the Dolphins, their offense will be significantly downgraded.

Nothing is guaranteed in a spot like this, and this should be approached as a fairly messy setup; but we can bring some semblance of form here, and can gain a better idea of how best to take advantage. As you might expect, both teams rank bottom five in time of possession (with roughly four minutes added to this game against the combined season-long averages of these two teams), and even with the Giants carrying a non-aggressive offensive identity and the Dolphins likely to tilt “non-aggressive” as well if Parker misses, both defenses are bad enough that good things can happen.

The area where the Dolphins are likeliest to have trouble is on the ground, where they have failed to get anything going all season — producing a league-worst 67.3 rushing yards per game, on a league-worst 3.3 yards per carry — and where they will be taking on a Giants team that ranks 28th in DVOA against the pass but 12th against the run. The Dolphins are the second pass-heaviest team in the NFL, and they’ll likely continue tilting in that direction.

If Parker is cleared from his concussion in time for this game, he will step right back into an alpha role that has yielded eight or more targets in six of his last seven games (with double-digit looks in five of those contests, and with 50+ yards in every one of those games), while volume behind Parker will be spread fairly evenly among Mike Gesicki (recent target counts of 6 // 6 // 7 // 7 // 5) // Allen Hurns (4 // 6 // 7 // 4 // 8) // Patrick Laird (five targets in back-to-back games as the starting running back) // Isaiah Ford (nine targets last week after Parker went down). If Parker misses, volume likely expands across this group, but Ford // Huns would carry the clearest shots at upside, with Ford particularly interesting for the way he filled Parker’s more downfield-oriented role last week.

On the other side of this game, the Giants will have their best shot of the season at success on the ground, where Saquon Barkley has seen consistent (though disappointing) volume of late :: carry counts of 13 // 17 // 19 // 17, and target totals of 5 // 3 // 7 // 4. He has looked healthier on the field lately, and this is an interesting spot against a Miami team that has allowed six running backs to top 100 yards on the ground, with five touchdowns emerging from that group.

The Giants are throwing the ball at the fourth highest rate this year, while the Dolphins are facing the second lowest opponent pass play rate as teams choose to take the easy matchup on the ground. We’ll likely see the Giants split the difference here, though with the added play volume available in this game, we may not notice any drop-off for pass catcher volume — with the bigger concern in this spot being the quickly expanding distribution range for this team, with Golden Tate (recent target counts of 6 // 8 // 7 // 5), Sterling Shepard (9 // 9 // 6 // 7), and Darius Slayton (15 // 7 // 9 // 8) all healthy, and with Evan Engram appearing set to finally return and join the party. With volume spread out, your clearest path to upside is to target big plays — with this approach further solidified by the fact that of the seven wide receivers to top 100 yards already in this matchup (with each of those seven players scoring at least one touchdown), four of those players were speed threats (Hollywood // McLaurin // John Brown // Robby), and a fifth piece (JuJu) hit in this spot through a big play. Slayton is still attached to the popgun arm of Eli Manning, but it’s not point-chasey to consider a guy who has seen the above-listed targets (15 // 7 // 9 // 8) over the last month, and who has score-from-anywhere ability against a team that gives him a near-perfect matchup.

JM’s Interpretation ::

I’ll be sure to have at least some level of respect this week for the fact that neither of these offenses are good; but given that the prices already account for this — and that the matchup boosts expectations on both sides, from all angles — I’ll also likely end up with some non-negligible level of exposure here.

On the Dolphins side, Parker is the guy I’ll be targeting if he’s healthy (with some hedge bets spread out behind him if I end up going heavy), while Hurns and Ford will be my likely targets if Parker misses (with perhaps a dash of Gesicki and/or Laird mixed in).

On the Giants side, Saquon and Slayton are the plays with the best shot of ending up on a tourney winner, and it’s a good spot for each guy. Saquon’s floor should be solid here, and the ceiling is visible. Slayton is priced really low on all sites for a guy seeing the sort of work he’s been seeing, so while a big game is obviously not a guarantee, it would be tough for him to hurt a roster too badly if he misses, and he has clear and obvious slate-breaking ceiling. I’ll likely end up with a chunk of Slayton exposure this week — and if I end up with enough of these two guys to want to hedge a bit behind them, Shepard would be my next likeliest target, with Engram also in the mix.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 15th 1:00pm Eastern

Broncos (
16.75) at

Chiefs (
26.25)

Over/Under 43.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Broncos Run D
5th DVOA/10th Yards allowed per carry
Chiefs Run O
17th DVOA/9th Yards per carry
Broncos Pass D
9th DVOA/13th Yards allowed per pass
Chiefs Pass O
1st DVOA/12th Yards per pass
Chiefs Run D
28th DVOA/30th Yards allowed per carry
Broncos Run O
20th DVOA/16th Yards per carry
Chiefs Pass D
2nd DVOA/4th Yards allowed per pass
Broncos Pass O
31st DVOA/26th Yards per pass

The first thing to note in this spot — with the Broncos traveling to Arrowhead to take on the Chiefs — is that the Broncos have a solid all-around defense, ranking 12th in yards allowed, 10th in points allowed, and eighth in opponent drive success rate. Denver has allowed the ninth fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks and the sixth fewest receptions to wide receivers while holding running backs to middle-of-the-pack production. Put simply, this is not a matchup that boosts expectations.

The second thing to note in this spot, of course, is that the Chiefs often don’t require “a matchup that boosts expectations” in order to produce at their typical, elite level. Patrick Mahomes has started 11 games this season, and the Chiefs have scored 23 or more in 10 of those games, while scoring 28+ in seven. One of those higher-scoring games (30 points) took place at Denver with Mahomes getting hurt (after starting 10 of 11 for 76 yards and a touchdown) before Matt Moore kept the train running on schedule the rest of the way. In a spot like this one — where the Chiefs don’t have a matchup boost, but also don’t have a matchup that is likely to send them to the poorhouse — we should expect this offense to put up points; and we should also expect the only “have to have it” scores to come from a volume tilt and/or from big plays.

There is nothing in this matchup that points to an expected “volume tilt” toward an individual weapon, so while it’s possible that one player sees a volume spike against his season-long usage, we’re left guessing there. There will, however, be opportunity for strong to elite production to emerge through big plays — making Tyreek Hill // Travis Kelce // Mecole Hardman your best bets for breakthrough production.

Unsurprisingly, Denver has allowed the sixth fewest pass plays of 20+ yards on the year, and they are shaving over 11% off the league-average aDOT while doing a good job checking pass catchers after the catch — though all of this should be viewed as “more data points that remind us this isn’t a soft matchup,” rather than being viewed as “a reason to avoid Hill,” who has recent healthy target counts of 9 // 9 // 19 // 8 // 8. Hill’s chances of hitting in this spot are lower, but he still has the ability to get there as one of the only players in the NFL who has enough speed to regularly run comeback routes 20+ yards downfield, making him a perfect “big play” candidate any time a play breaks down. On Kelce :: personnel and coaching has come and gone between these two teams, but it’s at least worth noting that his 6-44-0 game against Denver earlier this year (his worst yardage total of the season) snapped a streak of four consecutive games against the Broncos with 75+ yards and a touchdown. He has fallen shy of eight targets only twice this year and is a role-secure player with upside. Hardman is a complete dart throw, but if trying to capture a big game away from Kelce or Hill, his speed is your best bet for getting there. The Kansas City rushing attack, of course, is a messy timeshare (especially with Damien Williams appearing on track to return) on a team that throws the ball at the sixth highest rate in the league. You’re simply guessing here.

On offense, the Broncos try to control their games on the ground, and the matchup in this spot obviously tilts in that direction, with the Chiefs ranked sixth in DVOA against the pass but 30th against the run, and with teams attacking Kansas City on the ground at an above-average rate in spite of frequently playing from behind in this matchup. The Chiefs have allowed seven different running backs to go for 99+ yards on the ground against them, and have allowed more running backs (two) to go for 100 yards through the air than wide receivers (one) — which is just a really impressive feat (both in terms of how strong the Chiefs have been against wideouts…and how weak they have been against backs). As noted last week, it’s fair to completely ignore the actual split in snap share between Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman, as the Broncos are making a point of getting the ball into Lindsay’s hands — with Lindsay boasting recent touch counts of 18 // 14 // 20 // 18, compared to 9 // 4 // 9 // 10 for Freeman. Consider Lindsay to be capped at around 20 touches, but also consider him a solid bet to approach 17 or 18 looks in this plus spot.

This passing attack flows through Courtland Sutton, with low volume available on this group as a whole (Drew Lock has thrown the ball 28 and 27 times in his first two starts), and with that low volume spread across a broad range of players. Sutton (with seven or more targets in all but two games this year) is a “bet on alpha in a tough spot” play (with a trip to Arrowhead adding to the difficulty already presented by the matchup), while Noah Fant stands out the most behind Sutton as a “bet on matchup and big play” option. Fant has topped five targets only once in his last five games, but the Chiefs’ struggles against tight ends have been well documented in this space, and Fant’s catch-and-run ability has led to three big plays (two monster plays) in his last five games.

JM’s Interpretation ::

It is perfectly fine to go to the Chiefs this week — with Mahomes // Kelce // Hill the most attractive to me, in that order, followed by other explosive bets on this group — though I may be a bit light here myself, as the likeliest scenario here has us betting on “good to strong” scores instead of elite scores (barring an unpredictable volume tilt or big plays clicking into place in a tight matchup). As always: it’s very viable to bet on the Chiefs, though I’ll probably look for more certainty with my higher-salary pieces. If going here, the most interesting bet would be building for a game environment in which the Broncos show up in a manner similar to last week.

The chances of the Broncos “showing up similar to last week” are lowered by the matchup and the tough road environment. It’s also been impossible to ignore the fact that Drew Lock wants to hit home runs too often — which is leading to him holding onto the ball too long even as pressure is closing in, and is leading to him trying to squeeze in tight-window throws while failing to notice lurking defenders. Steve Spagnuolo should be able to bait Lock into some mistakes here — and while Lindsay is almost always on my list for his explosive upside and affordable price, I’m likelier to lean on the Chiefs D than I am to spread around additional ownership behind that play.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 15th 1:00pm Eastern

Patriots (
26.25) at

Bengals (
15.75)

Over/Under 42.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Patriots Run D
18th DVOA/27th Yards allowed per carry
Bengals Run O
27th DVOA/26th Yards per carry
Patriots Pass D
17th DVOA/11th Yards allowed per pass
Bengals Pass O
26th DVOA/13th Yards per pass
Bengals Run D
23rd DVOA/28th Yards allowed per carry
Patriots Run O
3rd DVOA/4th Yards per carry
Bengals Pass D
16th DVOA/25th Yards allowed per pass
Patriots Pass O
27th DVOA/28th Yards per pass

This sets up as a get-right spot for the beleaguered Patriots offense, and it’s an especially interesting spot in that the Patriots are one of the few teams in the league that can be expected to run their “normal offense” in this matchup, as this team tends to be more focused (in “anything goes” spots like this) on continuing to develop their offense than they are in “just securing a win.” In other words: the Patriots will look to come out and dominate, rather than just looking to “keep the ball on the ground and kill off this game against the Bengals” — and while the Patriots’ offense has not shown anything that would lead us to believe a true “domination” is in store (barring short fields created by the Pats defense), this does at least mean that we can expect this team to attack, rather than just sitting back.

As for the matchup the Patriots run into :: the Bengals — as explored numerous times in recent weeks — have been improving and continuing to play hard as this season has progressed, and if not for their struggles in the YAC department, this would actually be a pretty solid all-around pass defense, as Cincy is shaving almost 9% off the league-average aDOT while holding opposing pass catchers right around the league-average catch rate. Cincy is allowing over 4.7 yards per carry to running backs still, but with the third best red zone touchdown defense in the league, they are making it tough for running backs to truly roll up slate-breaking lines against them. And outside of games against Baltimore and San Francisco, no team has topped 27 points against the Bengals, while they’ve held three of their last four opponents to 17 or fewer points.

With the Patriots struggling to move the ball on the ground, they have continued to lean on the pass game to pick up yards, and with this approach has come a fairly remarkable eight straight games of double-digit targets for Julian Edelman. Edelman doesn’t boast the big-play upside that would be optimal in a matchup against a team like the Bengals (which struggles most heavily in the big-play-through-YAC department), but most paths for this game have him seeing double-digit targets yet again, which locks in a fairly high floor (78+ yards in five of his last six games) alongside touchdown-driven ceiling.

Behind Edelman, the backfield is the place where the Patriots are next likeliest to focus their action — with James White the most likely to succeed here, given how poorly Sony Michel has played this year (3.5 yards per carry; zero games north of 91 yards). White played 40 snaps last week against the poor run defense of the Chiefs, while Michel played only nine snaps and Rex Burkhead mixed in for 18. White soaked up only six carries and seven targets, but he’s only one week removed from a 14-carry, 11-target game, and he has shown a fairly high floor this year on PPR sites.

When we move beyond Edelman and White, we hit the rough patches that have turned this Patriots offense into the disappointing unit it has been this year, with a rotation of “guys Tom Brady doesn’t trust” that consists of two tight ends (Ben Watson // Matt LaCosse) and four wide receivers (Mohamed Sanu // Phillip Dorsett // Jakobi Meyers // N’Keal Harry). Watson and LaCosse are non-threats who need a broken play or a touchdown to do anything of note. Dorsett seems completely unable to run the route Brady wants him to run at the moment. Meyers is struggling to make plays outside of balls that hit him directly in his hands (and even those haven’t been guarantees). And Harry played only two snaps last week. Sanu played 39 // 66 snaps last week but saw only one target. This group behind Edelman and White is just throwing up a prayer.

You’re praying even harder if you swing over to the Bengals this week, and you’re on your own if you choose to scoop up players from this squad in this spot. As in: you’ll fairly literally be on your own in tourneys — which is the only real case to be made for going to this team against a Patriots defense that ranks first in points allowed, first in yards allowed, first in drive success rate, and first in DVOA. If going here, of course, you’re likeliest to luck into a slate-breaker through upside-hunting rather than through volume, as it’s likelier that one player hits a big play than it is that one player repeatedly wins in this matchup. I won’t be going here myself, but if I were choosing to attack with Bengals in large-field play, I would focus on John Ross for my exposure.

JM’s Interpretation ::

I’ll avoid the Bengals in this spot, and I’ll wait for volume on the Patriots to shake out behind Edelman and White before I start to play a guessing game with the large number of remaining, volume-insecure players on this offense. I do like Edelman for the rock-solid scores he has been producing over the last two and a half months (in his last nine games, his worst DK/FDraft score has been 13.7, and he’s gone for 17+ in seven of nine and 23+ in five of nine). Edelman is unlikely to post a true top-of-the-slate score, but there is also something to be said for fairly locked-in points. I also like White as a potential mix-in piece for my builds — and while we don’t typically get to defense until later in the week, we should also point out that the Patriots rank sixth in sacks and second in turnovers forced, while the Bengals have the fifth most giveaways and the seventh most sacks taken. The Pats stand out as a strong option on this slate.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 15th 1:00pm Eastern

Bucs (
26) at

Lions (
20)

Over/Under 46.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Buccaneers Run D
3rd DVOA/1st Yards allowed per carry
Lions Run O
13th DVOA/18th Yards per carry
Buccaneers Pass D
1st DVOA/9th Yards allowed per pass
Lions Pass O
19th DVOA/20th Yards per pass
Lions Run D
30th DVOA/26th Yards allowed per carry
Buccaneers Run O
6th DVOA/19th Yards per carry
Lions Pass D
12th DVOA/20th Yards allowed per pass
Buccaneers Pass O
9th DVOA/8th Yards per pass

If both of these teams were healthy, this would be one of the most exciting games of the year for DFS players, as the Bucs are natural shootout-producers — with an aggressive mindset on offense, a quarterback who doesn’t mind taking chances, two elite wide receivers, and a run defense that smothers opponents and forces them to the air vs a mediocre pass defense. The Lions, meanwhile, are one of the more vertical-minded offenses in the league, with a unit that is built around “running the ball (ineffectively) to set up the deep passing game” — a deep passing game that boasts a pair of borderline-elite wideouts in Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones. But while the seeds of these elements are all still in place, the Lions are down Kerryon Johnson, Marvin Jones, T.J. Hockenson, and Matthew Stafford, while the Bucs are down Mike Evans (and they have showed us multiple times over the last month that they are willing to slow down and lean on the run if they have a lead to protect). And that’s really the big question here: can the Lions keep pace with the Bucs.

We’ll begin, then, with a reality check :: David Blough is not an NFL starter. The Lions have a bad offensive line and only one high end wide receiver. They have a one-dimensional backfield, and the Bucs have shown an ability to get after the quarterback, while also working to confuse quarterbacks before the snap with disguised looks designed to mask their lower-end cornerback play. The likeliest scenario in this spot has Blough making a handful of plays but mostly having a difficult time out there, with the Bucs breaking through on offense by the end of the first half against the Lions weak defense so that by the second or third drive of the second half they can start to really throttle down and salt away this game. This “likeliest scenario” would be enough to make Jameis Winston a solid play and Chris Godwin a strong play (with upside for Godwin to turn into an elite play even if this game slows down early, vs a secondary that has boosted aDOT by 26% (the highest mark in the league) while giving up the sixth most catches and the fifth most yards to the wide receiver position), and there would also be opportunity for one or another of the tight ends or remaining wideouts to contribute a solid price-considered score in this likeliest scenario as well. None of these ancillary players would jump out as “must haves” in this scenario, but these guys would certainly be in the mix, while the Lions would follow up as lower-percentage bets with garbage time or multi-touchdown games the likeliest path to ceiling.

Alternately :: David Blough — who has shown a willingness to be aggressive, and who had a tougher test the last two weeks against the Bears and Vikings — could keep the Lions in this with passes to Golladay (recent target counts of 9 // 5 // 4 // 5 // 8), and could trigger continued aggressiveness from Tampa Bay as a result. This is a less likely scenario, but it’s nevertheless enticing to consider in large-field play for the sort of upside it could provide.

If moving beyond Golladay // Blough on the Lions side, Bo Scarbrough is a yardage-and-touchdown bet in a tremendously difficult run game matchup, while Danny Amendola has solid recent target counts of 9 // 5 // 3 // 8 // 8 — though these short-area looks with poor quarterback play have led to only one game north of 34 yards (a tepid 4-47-0 line agains the Cowboys). Chris Lacy was promoted to fill the void left by Marvin Hall, and he’s likely to now step in for Marvin Jones. The Lions will likely run more 12 personnel after featuring this alignment on a handful of snaps last week, though they haven’t shown much inclination to throw to tight ends with Hockenson out. If Detroit keeps pace enough to turn this into a typical “vs Tampa” game (rather than allowing Tampa to grab a lead and kill the clock), Golladay and Amendola could be in line for notable target bumps. Lacy would be dart-throwy behind them, but he would at least be interesting if building for this scenario as well.

Behind Godwin, the Bucs have shown a willingness to really spread out volume lately, and Scotty Miller now appears on track to return, which would likely lead to a rotation of Breshad Perriman // Justin Watson // Scotty Miller alongside a heavier dose of 12 personnel that gets Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard on the field together. If not building for a scenario in which the Lions keep pace, these guys are simply “bet on big play or touchdown” options; but if betting on the Lions keeping up in this game, one or two of these players would be in line for a nice volume boost. Watson was the most direct replacement for Evans (albeit with a far less explosive role), while Perriman and Miller were splitting snaps before the latter went down, introducing further guesswork here. (If Miller misses, Perriman will have a near-full-time role, and he’ll be a solid bet for five to eight targets, depending on game flow.) Howard was the clear tight end leader last week (68 snaps to 24 for Brate) and is also an interesting option if trying to capture the missing volume from Evans.

JM’s Interpretation ::

Both of these backfields are hands-off for me, as the Bucs’ side is a guessing game while the Lions’ side is just hoping for touchdowns. If Jameis happens to miss this game with his thumb issue, all bets are off in this spot and I’ll almost certainly skip this game altogether; but assuming Jameis plays, he and Godwin will be interesting Tier 3 options — with most outcomes for this game giving them a high floor; and with some paths available to these two posting slate-breakers.

If betting heavily on these two Bucs pieces this week, I’ll almost certainly bring back those bets with some pieces from the Lions, as the likeliest path to a slate-winning game from Godwin and/or Jameis is for the Lions to keep pace. This bet will not be a staple for me, but the ceiling is high enough in this spot that I won’t be surprised if I mix in a few shots on Golladay here, and I’ll likely expand at least a bit into cheaper pieces behind Godwin — essentially placing some bets on this game tilting the right way, and in a back-and-forth affair emerging as a result.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 15th 1:00pm Eastern

Bears (
18.25) at

Packers (
22.75)

Over/Under 41.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Bears Run D
11th DVOA/16th Yards allowed per carry
Packers Run O
10th DVOA/10th Yards per carry
Bears Pass D
2nd DVOA/8th Yards allowed per pass
Packers Pass O
6th DVOA/14th Yards per pass
Packers Run D
25th DVOA/12th Yards allowed per carry
Bears Run O
28th DVOA/32nd Yards per carry
Packers Pass D
25th DVOA/18th Yards allowed per pass
Bears Pass O
24th DVOA/25th Yards per pass

There are two very clear ways this clash between the Bears and Packers could play out — with the first of these being a game we have already seen this year, way back in Week 1. In that matchup, the Packers won a somewhat ugly, 10-3 game that offered very little in the way of offensive fireworks; and while it’s tough to see another game coming in at quite such a low score, there are a number of elements that could tilt this game in a similar direction this week. The Bears — while not the same world-beating unit as last year — have a strong defense, ranking seventh in DVOA, 10th in yards allowed, and fourth in points allowed, while allowing the seventh lowest drive success rate and the seventh lowest third down conversion rate. The Packers, meanwhile, are an inconsistent offense — with only one pass game weapon of note and a hit-or-miss run game — while their middling-but-aggressive defense will have opportunities to make life difficult on Mitchell Trubisky at Lambeau Field. If we played out this game a hundred times, there would be at least 25 games that would go in this lower-scoring direction (again: not as low-scoring as Week 1 — but low-scoring enough that this game could be largely avoided), and this cannot be discounted when building rosters.

The other side of the game environment spectrum, however, is much more interesting. Aaron Jones is explosive enough and Davante Adams is good enough that the Packers could get going in this game. (The Packers scored only 10 points against the Bears in Week 1 and have games of 11 against the Chargers, eight against the 49ers, and 20 against Washington; but they have also scored 27+ in six games this year.) If the Packers get going in this spot, there is still a chance the Bears fail to respond (in which case, this Packers team will be perfectly willing to kill this game down the stretch — sitting on their lead and taking the win); but if the Bears are able to keep up their strong recent play, this could develop into a really nice game environment. The Packers rank a respectable 13th in points allowed, but they rank 20th in DVOA and 22nd in points allowed, while Trubisky has looked more like the raw game-manager-with-upside from last year than like the bench fodder from earlier this year.

Last week, we saw that this Matt LaFleur offense is willing to not feature Davante as the central piece of their offense if they are able to control this game on the ground (Davante saw six targets last week, after having seen double-digit looks in five straight) — though while the Bears rank 21st in DVOA against the run and have been generally attackable in this area, they are returning Akiem Hicks to the field this week. Hicks is not going to solve all their problems, but it was when he went down that the Bears’ run defense began to fall apart, and his return will certainly help in that regard. The matchup still isn’t great for Davante, but he does have a solid shot at returning to high volume this week.

Aaron Jones followed up touch counts of 9 // 13 // 14 // 17 with a 22-touch showing last week (including six receptions — more than he had posted in his previous four games combined), though it should be noted that his role didn’t change so much as the usage changed, with Jones seeing 35 snaps and Jamaal Williams seeing 25 (roughly their standard split). Explosiveness is the best bet for production here vs a Bears defense that is tough to churn out steady production against, making Jones a “low floor with big-play and Touchdown upside.” Jamaal is a back-burner option given his less explosive skill set, with pass game work and/or touchdowns providing his best shot at upside. Williams has only five carries inside the 10 and two carries inside the five this year (compared to 18 // 12 for Jones).

The Bears’ occasional ineptitude on offense should be a bigger obstacle this week than the matchup, as Chicago can put up points in this spot if their players show up to play. The Bears have been making a concerted effort over the last month and a half to lean on the ground, and given that the Packers rank 26th in DVOA against the run and have allowed three running backs to top 100 yards against them (while another three have gone for 80+ and two touchdowns), it’s safe to assume the Bears will try to remain balanced for as long as they can keep this game close. Unfortunately, the Bears’ offensive line has been ineffective all season, and David Montgomery seems to have hit a rookie wall — with a poor 3.43 yards per carry across his last five games. It’s difficult to see an elite score from Montgomery without the help of multiple touchdowns (i.e., he’s unlikely to blow up for a big yardage game), though the workload (15+ touches in seven straight, with 17+ in five of those) keeps him in the conversation.

The central focus of the Bears passing attack, of course, is Allen Robinson, who has seven or more targets in all but two games this year, and who has recently seen target counts of 9 // 6 // 10 // 12 // 8. Only six players have seen more targets in the red zone than Robinson, and only three players have seen more targets inside the 10. Robinson went 7-102-0 in this spot in Week 1, and while a monster (“have to have it”) game isn’t likely in this offense, a strong game is very much in the mix. Behind Robinson, it will be “mix and match” if Taylor Gabriel gets cleared in time for this game; though if Gabriel is out once again, Anthony Miller will stand out as a player to also consider, as he has 11 and 9 targets in his last two games played with Gabriel, and 13 // 4 targets in these two recent games without. Miller has gone for 50+ yards in six of his last nine games; and while he requires broken plays for big gains, his aDOT of 10.1 is perfectly respectable if the volume is there.

JM’s Interpretation ::

This game is an interesting addition to this slate, as it has a “stay away” Over/Under of only 40.5, on a slate with plenty to like in other spots. The chances of this game going higher-scoring are higher than that Over/Under indicates, however, which turns this into a game that should be kept in mind in tournaments for the alternate ways this spot could play out — with potential for explosive plays from Davante or Aaron Jones to shoot the Packers out to a lead, and with potential for “Good Mitch” to keep the Bears in this game from there. There is obvious risk in this spot, but there is enough potential reward available that I won’t be chopping this game off my list just yet.

On the Packers side, Davante is a “usage and talent over matchup” piece, with a long history of hitting in difficult spots. If I roll out 19 builds this week, I won’t be surprised to find a bit of Davante mixed in. I’ll likely have fringe interest in Aaron Rodgers and maybe even in Aaron Jones as well.

Montgomery is also a fringe option — and while the Bears passing attack is certainly not a central piece, I imagine this group will push its way onto a small number of my builds, with at least one Mitch, and with a small amount of A-Rob and Anthony Miller as well. If I end up unexpectedly focusing on this game as a more central piece of my builds, I may branch out to Tarik Cohen for untapped upside (while almost certainly leaving the rest of the Packers alone, as they are just “hoping for big plays or unpredictable spikes off low volume”) — though I imagine I’ll keep my exposure to this game fairly tight: taking some shots on the potential for this game to tilt differently than Vegas expects, while not opening myself to too much carnage if both defensive units show up instead.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 15th 4:05pm Eastern

Jaguars (
20) at

Raiders (
26.5)

Over/Under 46.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Jaguars Run D
22nd DVOA/29th Yards allowed per carry
Raiders Run O
24th DVOA/17th Yards per carry
Jaguars Pass D
32nd DVOA/27th Yards allowed per pass
Raiders Pass O
5th DVOA/7th Yards per pass
Raiders Run D
31st DVOA/15th Yards allowed per carry
Jaguars Run O
17th DVOA/30th Yards per carry
Raiders Pass D
26th DVOA/28th Yards allowed per pass
Jaguars Pass O
21st DVOA/19th Yards per pass

The Jaguars and Raiders will match up this week for a “no bad matchups, only bad offense” game that carries an Over/Under of 45.5, with the Raiders installed as 6.5 point favorites.

We’ll start on the Jaguars side here, where this offense will be taking on a Raiders defense that ranks 31st in DVOA, 28th in yards allowed, 29th in points allowed, and 32nd in opponent drive success rate, and that has allowed seven wide receivers to top 100 yards (with seven touchdowns emerging from this group), while allowing 15 total touchdowns to running backs (the fourth most in the league). If everyone on the Jaguars is healthy this week, the setup is simple: all players are priced appropriately for both their expected range of production and their risk against their ceiling. (More on this in a moment.) But the more interesting setup shows up if D.J. Chark (whom Doug Marrone called ‘day to day or week to week’) ends up missing in this spot. On the season, Chark has eight or more targets in seven games, 75+ yards in six games, and eight touchdown receptions — which would leave behind quite a bit of potential production for the rest of this Jaguars offense.

The first player the absence of Chark would draw my attention toward would be Leonard Fournette — who has recent carry counts of 19 // 11 // 8 // 24 // 14 // 15, but who (more importantly) also has target counts in this stretch of 7 // 6 // 7 // 12 // 11 // 6. He won’t necessarily be “leaned on more heavily” if Chark misses this game, but his touches will be even more securely locked in place, and he will be a candidate for a small bump in the pass game as well.

The second player the absence of Chark would draw my attention toward would be Keelan Cole, who would step into a near full-time role if Chark is out. Cole doesn’t have anywhere close to the speed that makes Chark such a valuable downfield piece, but he does boast at least some of the body control that also contributes to Chark’s upside, and he has shown really attractive ceiling on numerous occasions when given opportunity in his young career — most notably going for yardage totals of 99 // 186 // 108 // 33 // 54 // 116 across a six game stretch between the end of 2017 and the beginning of 2018. He has averaged 14.8 yards per reception in his career, and while he can’t be penciled in for more than five looks, he would certainly have paths to a bigger role than that.

Alongside Cole, Chris Conley (recent target counts of 7 // 7 // 8 // 9 // 5 // 3) and Dede Westbrook (9 // 1 // 6 // 9 // 8 // 7) wouldn’t see their roles change if Chark were to sit, but they would see their usage more fully locked in. Conley, as we’ve explored throughout the year, would be the bet-on-big-play option in this spot (against an Oakland team that boosts aDOT by over 12% and allows the most yards per pass attempt in the league), while Dede would be the bet-on-volume-for-floor // hope-for-touchdown-for-ceiling play.

Injuries are also the story on the Raiders side of the ball, as this team’s entire philosophy on offense is built around running the football, and that won’t change if Josh Jacobs misses another game. If Jacobs plays (which currently appears likely), he’s an expensive yardage-and-touchdown back in a tremendous matchup as a home favorite against a Jaguars team that ranks 31st in DVOA against the run and has looked disinterested for about a month at this point (for the second straight year). He would be a risk/reward option at the higher ends of the price range (with the “risk,” of course, being the role: if he fails to find the end zone, he won’t have locked-in pass game work to raise his output, requiring him to either score once or twice or hit a massive yardage total to prop up his price tag; but with the “reward” being the fact that yards are likely to show up, while touchdowns will be a solid bet). If Jacobs misses, on the other hand, it should once again be DeAndre Washington (39 out of 62 snaps last week; 14 carries and seven targets) holding down the lead role, with Jalen Richard mixing in for light usage of his own (seven carries, three targets last week). Rather stunningly, the Jags have allowed six running backs to top 100 yards this year, and not one of them required even 20 carries to get there.

The pass game roles for the Raiders running backs last week were partly due to the Raiders chasing points, but Derek Carr still threw only 34 times (higher than his typical, low level, but not some sort of call-off-the-dogs affair), and the bigger reason for the pile of targets to running backs seems to have been the fact that the Raiders really don’t have anyone else for Carr to throw to, with Tyrell Williams continuing to prove to be a poor fit for his risk-averse quarterback, and with no other legitimate NFL wide receivers on this roster. Darren Waller is your best bet away from the backfield, with recent target counts of 5 // 7 // 6 // 9 // 6, while Tyrell is just a hope-and-pray play.

JM’s Interpretation ::

With the Jaguars likely able to run a balanced offense here — due to both matchup and the chances that this game remains somewhat close — I’ll probably have only fringe interest in this group if Chark plays. With a healthy Chark, this offense will certainly carry upside, but the likeliest scenario will have “fine but not elite” scores pouring out of this spot. If Chark misses, however, this offense becomes objectively underpriced — and barring a Minshew meltdown, at least one of the wideouts should prove to be a very nice price-considered piece. I’ll likely lean a bit more heavily on Fournette if Chark is out, and I’ll likely mix in some Jacksonville pass catchers behind him.

On the Raiders’ side, Waller is always in the conversation at the ugly tight end position, but all eyes will be on the backfield for me. If Jacobs plays, I’ll likely just stay away myself (I don’t love paying up for yardage and touchdown backs, and if he hits, I’ll feel I can make up those points somewhere else), but if Jacobs misses, the downgrade in talent from Jacobs to Washington is more than made up for by A) the drop in price, and B) the Raiders’ apparent willingness to use Washington in the pass game. Finally, I should note that while my style of play typically pulls me away from yardage-and-touchdown backs, there are very clear paths to a ceiling game for Jacobs if he’s active this week, and if you want to load up on this play yourself, my own tendency to move away from this type of play shouldn’t sway you away from your preferred approach.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 15th 4:05pm Eastern

Browns (
26) at

Cards (
23)

Over/Under 49.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Browns Run D
20th DVOA/5th Yards allowed per carry
Cardinals Run O
2nd DVOA/2nd Yards per carry
Browns Pass D
19th DVOA/30th Yards allowed per pass
Cardinals Pass O
18th DVOA/15th Yards per pass
Cardinals Run D
10th DVOA/25th Yards allowed per carry
Browns Run O
7th DVOA/3rd Yards per carry
Cardinals Pass D
10th DVOA/19th Yards allowed per pass
Browns Pass O
23rd DVOA/27th Yards per pass

While this, for all practical purposes, has nothing to do with DFS, one thing that makes this slate attractive is the fact that nine of the 13 games have genuine playoff implications. This, of course, is not one of those games, as the “Super Bowl bound” Browns will be traveling to Arizona to take on the rebuilding Cardinals.

The Cardinals, as we are well aware by now, have been one of the more attackable defenses in the NFL this year, ranking 32nd in yards allowed per game, 30th in points allowed per game, and 28th in DVOA. The Cardinals rank third in pace of play and 18th in plays per game, and they are allowing opponents to dominate time of possession and to run the most plays per game in the league. The Cardinals have been stronger against running backs than wide receivers and tight ends, allowing a respectable 4.13 yards per carry to the running back position (and allowing only three running backs to top 100 yards in this matchup, with each of them requiring 21+ carries to get there), while getting blasted by wideouts and tight ends for the following, lengthy list of notable outings ::

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

Cleveland continues to run a timeshare in the backfield, though this offense is getting Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt on the field together enough that each has remained relevant in recent weeks (last week, each player played over 60% of the snaps, with Hunt playing only four fewer snaps than Chubb). While it may yet prove to be somewhat random, Hunt has shown a very locked-in level of touches, going 11 // 12 // 10 // 12 // 11 through five games, while Chubb has been more dependent on game flow and matchup, with bounce-around touch counts in this stretch of 22 // 27 // 24 // 17 // 16.

If Chubb’s usage has been a kiddie ride lately, usage for Odell Beckham has been a roller coaster, as he has gone 7 // 6 // 12 // 10 // 8 // 6 // 5 across his last seven contests while routinely taking a backseat to Jarvis Landry. Landry has seen recent target edges on Beckham of +3 // +7 // -2 // -3 // +5 // +5 // +2, while out-targeting him in the red zone this season 16 to seven. Perhaps it’s the hernia issue, or perhaps it’s Beckham’s purported desire to get out of Cleveland, or perhaps he’s just sick of all the hospital balls Baker Mayfield has been throwing up to him, but he is simply not producing anywhere close to level we have become accustomed to, and if you take his name off of the role and production, he’s more “bet on big play and hope for the best” than consistent, reliable piece. David Njoku played only 20 snaps last week and is now dealing with a knee issue, so it’s anyone’s guess as to whether or not he will be able to take advantage of the soft tight end matchup (and it’s a guess as to whether or not anyone else will step up if he misses — with a clogged-up tight end room that has produced very little all year). Landry, of course, generally sees his targets fairly locked in, having gone for double-digit looks in five of his last seven games. The Cardinals represent a winnable test for Landry, keeping him in the mix this week.

Since Week 2, the Cardinals have produced only a small handful of moderately useful stat lines through the air, with only one score that you could not have lived without (the monster game Christian Kirk posted against the Buccaneers). This offense is simply too horizontal, and too willing to turn receivers’ backs to the end zone, leaving little room after the catch for big plays to develop. The offensive line isn’t good, and the weapons outside of Kirk aren’t great – with Larry Fitzgerald doing his annual late-season slowdown, and with no other weapons representing a serious threat to the defense. All of this has led to Kyler Murray often producing his solid games without bringing any pass catchers with him.

The matchup itself is middling for Kyler, with the Browns ranking middle of the pack in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks this year and also running into discipline and tackling problems that can open opportunities for Kyler to hit big gains on the ground. If looking to pair Kyler with a receiver, Kirk is your best bet – and while the Browns’ pass defense has been solid outside of broken plays this year, the usage should be locked in enough for him to at least post a useful floor line even if he misses, while the Browns allow enough broken plays that you have some paths to upside if you chase. Behind Kirk, this passing attack is just hoping for a miracle at this point in the year.

The Cardinals backfield is not quite as bleak as “hoping for a miracle,” but it is certainly far from being reliable – with Kenyan Drake (38 snaps) and David Johnson (21 snaps) splitting work last week, and with neither player producing in this fairly nonexplosive offense. The matchup on the ground tilts in favor of this backfield, as the Browns rank 25th in DVOA against the run and are allowing 4.71 yards per carry to enemy backs, with Joe Mixon the latest running back to hit in this spot. Drake is the best bet to take advantage here, though he’s far from a sure thing with recent touch counts of 16 // 22 // 15 // 14.

JM’s Interpretation ::

I’m always a fan of the Browns backfield, though they are pretty clearly somewhere between “a bit over priced” and “appropriately priced” when their touch expectations are compared to the backs around them. If going here myself, Chubb is the player I would be likeliest to lock onto, as he has a chance to benefit from the fast pace of the Cardinals and the opportunity the Browns may have in this spot to be playing with a lead. I’m also a fan of concentrated passing attacks against the Cardinals, and this makes Landry and Beckham interesting guys to keep in the mix. Landry is the player I’m likelier to focus on, while Mayfield and Beckham may slip into the mix on my builds behind him if I end up going overweight. (To put that another way: Beckham and Mayfield don’t stand out in isolation; but it’s easy enough for big stat lines to hit against the Cardinals that I may want some action here; and if I end up with enough action on Landry, I’ll hedge with a bit of action pointed in other directions as well.)

On the other side, Kyler is underpriced for his production to date, and with the Browns missing Myles Garrett and just playing out the string on the season (and with some of the Cardinals players getting to take on their old head coach, for whatever that’s worth — as Steve Wilks is now the defensive coordinator of the Browns), it wouldn’t be surprising to see this offense get enough going for Kyler to be a useful piece this week. He’ll certainly be in the mix for me as I begin building my player pool, and I’ll see how he stacks up for me against the other quarterbacks on the slate.

I’d be likely to play Kyler without Kirk, as there are just clearer paths to upside; though I could see using Kirk as a viable piece if game stacking, while the running backs would be the pieces next likeliest to hit if expanding from there.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 15th 4:05pm Eastern

Vikings (
23) at

Chargers (
22)

Over/Under 45.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Vikings Run D
27th DVOA/22nd Yards allowed per carry
Chargers Run O
31st DVOA/13th Yards per carry
Vikings Pass D
8th DVOA/29th Yards allowed per pass
Chargers Pass O
7th DVOA/5th Yards per pass
Chargers Run D
21st DVOA/14th Yards allowed per carry
Vikings Run O
2nd DVOA/6th Yards per carry
Chargers Pass D
11th DVOA/23rd Yards allowed per pass
Vikings Pass O
20th DVOA/22nd Yards per pass

The Chargers have been fairly opponent-neutral on offense over the last month and a half, producing pass attempt totals in this stretch of 28 // 31 // 52 // 29 // 22, compared to rush attempt totals between Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler of 32 // 28 // 19 // 29 // 20. Game flow is more of a determining factor than matchup in how the Chargers will attack on offense, and given that this game is being played at home against a Vikings team that is content to build their leads gradually, we should expect the Chargers (who rank 26th in pace and 21st in plays per game) to execute a fairly balanced approach — leading to each of their key pieces remaining in roughly their recent range of touches and targets, with those numbers breaking down as follows ::

Running Backs (carries : targets)
>> Gordon :: 22 : 1 || 14 : 5 || 20 : 3 || 12 : 5
>> Ekeler :: 6 : 2 || 5 : 12 || 9 : 5 || 8 : 5

Pass Catchers (targets)
>> Keenan Allen :: 4 // 11 // 12 // 6 // 6
>> Mike Williams :: 3 // 3 // 5 // 7 // 3
>> Hunter Henry :: 10 // 7 // 9 // 3 // 4

While volume is unlikely to be swayed too heavily by this matchup, production is likeliest to take a hit on the ground, where the Vikings rank seventh in DVOA and have allowed only three running backs to top 100 yards in this spot (with two of them requiring 23 carries to get there). With the workload split capping the touch ceiling on these guys, Gordon and Ekeler are “bet on big play or touchdown” options in this spot.

The matchup is softer through the air, where the Vikings – as explored throughout the season – have struggled to contain both wide receivers (fourth most catches allowed to the position) and tight ends (fifth most catches allowed to the position). As we have touched on a few times this year, this disciplined Vikings defense does a great job limiting yards after the catch (they are currently shaving over 20% off the league-average mark in this area — by far the best in the league), while they are below average in both catch rate and aDOT. “Volume” and “downfield looks” are the two ways a pass catcher can capitalize on this matchup; and while the Chargers don’t have a player who fills both those shoes at once, there is at least potential for one of these guys to hop to upside on one foot. The best bet for an Upside game from this group is Hunter Henry, as he has an intermediate role locked into place in this offense and is the likeliest candidate to see a volume boost. Allen is always a candidate around this point in the season for one of his random spiked-target games as well, though with Henry and Williams both healthy there is nothing that points to this coming down the pipe. Williams, of course, is always interesting for his big play upside and his touchdown scoring ability (hey! – he finally got one last week), though his role (deepest average depth of target in the NFL) obviously pairs risk with the slim paths to slate-breaking upside he offers.

The Chargers defense hasn’t been tested all that much this year, which has led to a yards allowed ranking of fourth and a points allowed ranking of eighth, but to DVOA marks of only 23rd on the ground and 20th through the air. Only one wide receiver has topped 100 yards against the Chargers this year (no other pass catcher has topped 92 yards in this spot), and the only two running backs who have topped 90 yards in this matchup required 25 and 27 carries to get there (though it should be noted that the 25-carry game led to 174 yards and a touchdown for Marlon Mack). If making an assessment here, I lean the same way I leaned in a similar setup with the Bills on Thanksgiving day — when they entered their road matchup against the Cowboys with much lower DVOA marks than their other numbers indicated. In that spot, we highlighted the players on the Bills defense and assessed them as a better unit than those DVOA marks suggested, and especially with Derwin James and Adrian Phillips now healthy and joining Casey Hayward, Joey Bosa, and Melvin Ingram, it seems fair to say this unit shouldn’t be considered pushovers.

With that said, the Vikings do line up well in this spot to be able to gradually build a lead and control this game in their preferred manner: keeping the ball on the ground at one of the highest rates in the league, and using the run game to set up play action and bootlegs that open opportunities for big plays (but that require the Vikings’ pass catchers to hit on fairly limited volume). The matchup, of course, is toughest for Stefon Diggs, who should be largely trailed by Hayward; though if betting on big plays, also recognize that big plays can still pop up in a tougher matchup. If Adam Thielen returns, he should be in line for his standard six to eight targets and is a “bet on big play or touchdowns” option. If Thielen misses, Kyle Rudolph (recent target counts of 5 // 5 // 5 // 6 // 2) and Irv Smith (6 // 6 // 3 // 3 // 4) will both retain roles as big-play/touchdown bets as well.

The most stable piece on this offense, of course, is Dalvin Cook – though there is some guesswork required here in terms of role and usage. Last season, the Vikings showed extreme caution with Cook’s workloads throughout the season in his return from his ACL tear, and given the way the Vikings handled his shoulder issue last week (with Cook seeing 20 touches and Alexander Mattison seeing 16 — notable even in a blowout, as Mattison mixed in for about a third of the touches in the first half as well), there needs to be at least some consideration given to the idea that the Vikings may mix in Mattison once again this week if they take control of this game early, in order to ensure Cook’s health for the stretch run of the season. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Cook capped at around 21 or 22 touches, though it should also be noted that he had a stretch earlier in the year with touch counts of 27 // 18 // 26 // 28 // 25 // 33 (followed by this recent stretch of 16 // 12 // 20). If Cook gets to that higher range, the matchup is favorable, as the Chargers are much better equipped to stop the pass than they are to stop the run.

JM’s Interpretation ::

I imagine that this game will not push particularly close to the center of my player pool this week, as there are just game environments I like more than this one; but I do like the matchup for Hunter Henry, and I always like the idea of affordable bets on Mike Williams — while the Vikings side certainly has enough upside to be considered. I won’t be surprised if I end up with a small amount of action from this game, but I will be surprised if I end up with much more than that. I see a number of solid scores emerging from this spot, but it’s going to be tough to come by slate-breakers in this game, and there will be some duds splashed throughout this game that you would have to account for on the way to targeting those “solid scores.” If chasing in this spot, bet on concentrated volume landing on one player, or bet on the players who can score from anywhere on the field.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 15th 4:25pm Eastern

Falcons (
19.5) at

49ers (
29.5)

Over/Under 49.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Falcons Run D
8th DVOA/6th Yards allowed per carry
49ers Run O
9th DVOA/8th Yards per carry
Falcons Pass D
30th DVOA/31st Yards allowed per pass
49ers Pass O
17th DVOA/21st Yards per pass
49ers Run D
7th DVOA/9th Yards allowed per carry
Falcons Run O
26th DVOA/20th Yards per carry
49ers Pass D
22rd DVOA/3rd Yards allowed per pass
Falcons Pass O
16ths DVOA/3rd Yards per pass

Remember when the Falcons went to the Super Bowl…with Kyle Shanahan as their offensive coordinator? Those were good times.

This week, Kyle Shanahan’s 49ers will be playing a game they need to win in order to keep the inside track on the Number One seed in the NFC, while the Falcons will be playing a game they need to win in a last-ditch effort to save their coach from getting fired as soon as the season ends. The 49ers – in spite of what happened last week – boast one of the most dominant defensive units in the NFL (ranking second in DVOA, second in yards allowed, and third in points allowed even after the Saints broke through against them), while the 49ers offense – which is one of the run heaviest in the league, and had not had many opportunities before last week to open things up much beyond their standard approach – proved that they can score points with the best, putting up 48 points against a Saints team that had been mostly dominant over the previous couple of months. We mentioned about a month and a half ago that Kyle Shanahan had talked about this being the first time he really had a great defense opposite the offense he was calling plays for, and how his calls throughout a game had been taking into account the fact that they had that defense holding down the fort. That’s worth noting here, as there is a tendency in the DFS community to overreact to a one-game sample, and to assume that a team has suddenly shifted its entire philosophy and approach. More than likely, we will only see the 49ers open up in a manner similar to last week if forced to do so by the Atlanta offense. Otherwise, the 49ers are likely to stick to the approach that has largely been responsible for their 11-2 record – running the ball at one of the highest rates in the NFL, while generally looking to limit passing volume (Jimmy Garoppolo has finished under 30 pass attempts in more than half his games, including four games of 22 or fewer attempts), and spreading the ball out when they do throw (only three games of double digit targets for this team as a whole this year: Kittle in Week 1, and Deebo Samuel in the two games Kittle missed). With work split in the backfield as well (last week, Raheem Mostert played 59.4% of the snaps and saw 12 touches; Matt Breida played 18.8% of the snaps and saw seven touches; Tevin Coleman played 15.6% of the snaps and saw three touches), betting on this offense is mostly hoping to capture a big play or a multi-touchdown game. Big plays can come from anywhere on this offense, while multi-touchdown games are a bit tougher to come by. Much like the team the 49ers played last week (the Saints), San Francisco often gives scoring position volume to different guys than the ones who got them into the red zone, with Coleman (and Jeff Wilson, who was inactive last week) dominating red zone looks on the year on the ground, and with Kendrick Bourne now boasting five touchdowns on only 27 receptions. If looking to capitalize on the points that this offense can score :: Kittle is the most locked-in target in the pass game (recent target counts of 7 // 8 // 6 // 4 // 8), while Deebo Samuel (3 // 7 // 2 // 4 // 8 in his last five games played with Kittle) and Emmanuel Sanders (5 // 9 // 1 // 6 // 9 in those same games) have spiked-target and spiked-production upside that is likeliest to show up if the Falcons keep pace. Mostert is the best bet for touches in the backfield, and while his role kills his floor, his per-touch upside can keep him in the mix.

Atlanta enters a buzzsaw of a matchup, with tightened-up volume the only real case to be made for going here. With Calvin Ridley sent to IR, Julio Jones (target counts in his last five games of 12 // 9 // 8 // 10 // 8) and Austin Hooper (target counts in his last five games of 8 // 5 // 7 // 5 // 6), should be the one and two options through the air here, while Russell Gage (35 of 69 snaps last week), Christian Blake (12 // 69), Justin Hardy (12 // 69), and Olamide Zaccheaus (21 // 69) round out a workload split behind these two. The Falcons shifted to more two tight end sets last week — partly due to the matchup vs the Panthers, but also partly due to Ridley leaving early. With Ridley out and another matchup that is better to attack on the ground (with a strong pass rushing front), more 12 personnel makes sense in this spot. Any of these players are betting on broken plays or hoping to capture an unpredictable multi-touchdown game. You could also conceivably imagine a scenario in which Atlanta is able to emulate some of the things the Saints did well last week, though the speed and precision of some of the things the Saints were doing are unlikely to make an appearance with this Falcons squad.

The best matchup, of course, belongs to Devonta Freeman, though the 49ers are allowing the 10th fewest running back rushing yards and the second fewest running back touchdowns, as it is simply too difficult to sustain drives in this matchup, leaving running backs as little more than “hope for things to go right” options.

JM’s Interpretation ::

Devonta Freeman has a few paths to a solid game in this spot, though I will be entering this week assuming a monster score will be required in order to win a tournament, and it’s more difficult to see Freeman reaching the sort of score you would have to have in order to win – which will likely take him off my list. The rest of the Falcons will be off my list as well in what has been a brutal matchup for almost every team this season, and since I don’t expect the Falcons to get a whole lot going, I’ll probably leave the 49ers offense alone as well. Solid scores have emerged from this offense throughout the year, but very few “have to have it” scores have emerged, and a shootout will likely be required in order to capture such a score on this spread-the-wealth attack.

With that said: I am always interested in the idea of game stacks in a spot where both teams have explosive pieces. Given how good the 49ers defense has been this year, I don’t imagine I’ll try to access these slim paths to upside in my tighter builds, but if I were throwing a bunch of entries into the Slant or focusing on the Milly Maker, I would probably grab a few game stacks from this spot, built around the more explosive pieces that these offenses offer.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 15th 4:25pm Eastern

Rams (
24) at

Cowboys (
24)

Over/Under 48.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Rams Run D
21st DVOA/7th Yards allowed per carry
Cowboys Run O
18th DVOA/24th Yards per carry
Rams Pass D
11th DVOA/5th Yards allowed per pass
Cowboys Pass O
22nd DVOA/1st Yards per pass
Cowboys Run D
29th DVOA/32nd Yards allowed per carry
Rams Run O
1st DVOA/7th Yards per carry
Cowboys Pass D
21st DVOA/12th Yards allowed per pass
Rams Pass O
10th DVOA/18th Yards per pass

The Rams have had the benefit of playing five of their last eight games at home, and that can certainly not be discounted. After starting the season 3-3, this team has gone 5-2, and outside of getting embarrassed by the Ravens, they have looked solid on defense in this stretch – with no other team topping 17 points against them, and with five of their last seven opponents scoring 12 or fewer points (in order: Falcons, Bengals, Bears, Cardinals, Seahawks). And after a tough stretch against the defenses of the Steelers, Bears, and Ravens in which they scored only 35 total points, the Rams have started to look like the Rams again, largely moving away from the deep passing game (as we explored a couple weeks ago would likely be the case), and instead focusing on Robert Woods (recent target counts of 9 // 18 // 9), Tyler Higbee (6 // 8 // 11), and Todd Gurley (recent carry counts of 25 // 6 // 19 // 23; recent reception totals of 3 // 3 // 1 // 4).

Gurley has not been a full-time player (79% last week), sharing snaps with Malcolm Brown; but the Rams have made a point over the last few weeks of getting Gurley more involved, with the 28-touch game against the Bears in Week 11 and the 27-touch game last week especially standing out. The Cowboys have been solid against running backs on the ground this year, allowing 4.09 yards per carry; though they are allowing the sixth most running back receptions, keeping paths open for another solid Gurley game.

The bigger story on the Rams after last week, however, was the limited snap counts for Cooper Kupp (19 // 68 snaps last week) and Brandin Cooks 26 snaps). Sean McVay’s explanation for all of this makes quite a bit of sense :: partly matchup-dependent (the Rams leaned on the run with heavy usage of 12 personnel), and partly the fact that the Rams’ rushing attack puts a lot of intense blocking responsibilities on the shoulders of receivers, so — essentially — if you go into a game knowing you plan to lean on the run, and you can also throw off the defense by showing them a different look than they were expecting, why not get those guys a bit of rest one week. The takeaways here are two-fold :: firstly, Kupp will have an opportunity to step back into a big role if the Rams have different ideas about how to attack this matchup, and secondly, Robert Woods seems to have emerged as the least expendable piece on this attack, with nine or more targets in four consecutive games, and with 95+ yards in each game in this stretch.

Similar to last year, the Cowboys’ zone-heavy coverage scheme has limited targets to wide receivers while pushing targets toward running backs and tight ends…while doing none of these things quite as effectively as they would actually like. Especially given the way Woods and Kupp operate in this offense (as horizontal-moving, zone-beating pieces), this should be considered a neutral matchup for the core pieces of the Rams passing attack; and while the zone scheme the Cowboys run is different from what Arizona and Seattle typically show, this defense does have a similar “bend but don’t break” mindset and approach to those two – choosing to try to clog areas of the field, rather than trying to keep a body on a body (which is also in contrast to the 49ers zone, which is a much tighter and more aggressive look). It’s foolish to try to pretend to know where volume will flow in this passing attack, especially as the Rams tend to allow the game to develop around their offense, and to find ways to beat the matchup as the game unfolds. But the Rams have been focused on the short to intermediate throws, locking Woods, “healthy tight end” (likely Higbee again), and Kupp in as solid bets for volume through the air. Woods and Higbee both blasted off in the games against Arizona and Seattle.

The Cowboys offense, of course, has been solid this year, carrying a number two DVOA ranking while posting the most yards and the eighth most points in the league. This offense has hit a rough patch of late, however (with most of their recent “production” coming in garbage time), and one of the primary causes of this rough patch seems to be the knee issue that Amari Cooper has been dealing with – an issue that has made this unit look closer to the one that struggled last year before they traded for Amari than to the one they had looked like since. Added to the knee issue for Amari will be a challenging matchup against Jalen Ramsey, which leaves three clear ways to play this passing attack:

1) You can play that Ramsey shuts down Amari, and the extra volume flows to Michael Gallup as a result. In this scenario, Gallup will soak up intermediate looks with a couple downfield shots mixed in, and he’ll help keep the Cowboys in this game with a big outing. (There is also an alternate path to this scenario in which Randall Cobb takes a couple short passes all the way, or picks up a chunk gain on a broken play to be the piece that excels as Amari gets slowed.)

2) You could play a scenario in which Amari gets slowed down, but not quite so much that they ignore him in the pass game. In this scenario, Amari is still getting his fair share of looks, but these looks are not as effective as you would need them to be. If Amari is seeing these looks, it’s also likely that this is partly because Gallup and Cobb are not being able to dominate their matchups, leaving opportunity for a solid game to emerge from one player in this group, but leaving none of these players with a tourney-winning score.

3) In this scenario, Amari is healthier than he has looked of late, and he is able to win in this difficult matchup, carrying the Cowboys on his own.

Given what we have seen from the Cowboys offense of late (and from the Rams defense of late), that middle scenario is the likeliest, though the Cowboys offense has been explosive enough that the other two angles are at least worth considering.

“Cause for consideration” in the Cowboys passing attack is at least somewhat heightened by the difficult matchup Ezekiel Elliott has against a Rams defense that ranks third in DVOA against the run and has allowed only one running back to crack 100 yards and score a touchdown this year. Zeke has not cracked 100 yards since Week 9, and his pass-catching role has been remarkably inconsistent, with recent target counts of 0 // 3 // 3 // 4 // 10 // 5. He gets his touches almost regardless, with recent carry counts of 23 // 20 // 16 // 21 // 12 (10 targets) // 19, and he is heavily involved in the red zone, giving him plenty of outs in this difficult draw – though the likeliest scenario here has any touchdowns or even big plays more making up for the slower production the rest of this game than shooting him to the top of the leaderboards.

JM’s Interpretation ::

I’m not quite as excited about the Rams offense as I was the last two weeks, as the Cowboys still have a solid all-around team, and have the talent on defense to slow down the Rams enough that this is certainly no slam dunk. But the Rams looked good against similar style competition lately, and each of Woods, Kupp, Gurley, and “healthy tight end” are likely to be in the mix for me this week. On the tight end front, the best case for DFS would be Gerald Everett sitting out another week and Higbee retaining the lead role, though if Everett returns it is at least a decent bet that he reclaims the larger share of the target pie as before. Woods seems to be a staple piece in this offense at the moment, making him a staple piece to consider. Gurley’s touch ceiling isn’t secure, but the possibility of another 25+ touch game makes him attractive. Kupp carries risk, but he also carries upside if the Rams’ game plan has them featuring their stud slot receiver more heavily this week.

On the Cowboys side, my inclination at the front end of the week is to largely avoid this team out of respect for the way the Rams defense has been playing the last couple months, though if going here, Gallup is the player I would be likeliest to lean on as a talented wideout in a sometimes very good offense with Amari likely to be clamped down by Ramsey. A slate-winner isn’t likely here, but it’s certainly in the cards, and depending on how I see this game stacking up against everything else, a small percentage of builds dedicated to that shot might end up making sense.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 15th 8:20pm Eastern

Bills (
18) at

Steelers (
19)

Over/Under 37.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Bills Run D
24th DVOA/21st Yards allowed per carry
Steelers Run O
14th DVOA/11th Yards per carry
Bills Pass D
28th DVOA/15th Yards allowed per pass
Steelers Pass O
12th DVOA/23rd Yards per pass
Steelers Run D
1st DVOA/2nd Yards allowed per carry
Bills Run O
32nd DVOA/29th Yards per carry
Steelers Pass D
8th DVOA/6th Yards allowed per pass
Bills Pass O
4th DVOA/6th Yards per pass

Showdown Slant ::

Presented by top Showdown mind Xandamere!

Sunday night brings us a showdown of two playoff contenders with modest offenses, elite defenses, and a game total of just 37 points with the home Steelers favored by a point. If I were a line-betting guy (to be clear here, I am not), I would take Buffalo, as while both defenses are legit, the Bills offense strikes me as a whole lot more capable than Pittsburgh’s. 

We’ll start picking this one apart with Pittsburgh and the run game, where James Conner is expected to return from a multi-week absence. Conner has been practicing in full and it would make no sense for the Steelers, as a playoff contender, to bring him back this late in the season if they weren’t confident that he’s healthy. NFL teams do weird things, but I’d expect Conner to step back into his regular workload here, which makes him one of the strongest plays on the slate as a 3-down back with a solid pass game role. Buffalo is a bit of a run funnel, ranking 5th in DVOA against the pass but just 17th against the run, so if this one remains close enough for the Steelers to lean on the run (which it should) then they should be able to find success on the ground. If you want to bet that Conner doesn’t resume his full workload right away, Benny Snell has handled 16+ touches in his last 3 games (almost all carries), while Jaylen Samuels has 2+ targets in every game from Week 4 onward. Both are cheap and, barring news indicating Conner is to be eased back in, both should be low owned.

The Pittsburgh passing game is awfully hard to bet on here. JuJu Smith-Schuster is out again, which leaves guys like Diontae Johnson and James Washington being quarterbacked by Duck Hodges against one of the top secondaries in the NFL. Football is weird and anything can happen, but this is a rough matchup any way you look at it. That said: Washington has finally been flashing some of his preseason promise with 90+ yards in three of his last five games, and he has plenty of big play potential. Personally, when picking guys against elite secondaries, I prefer the big play guy who can get it done off of one broken play over the shorter-distance receiver who needs to beat said elite secondary over and over again in order to have a big game. I’ll take Washington over Diontae Johnson, who is a tougher sell with just 11.5 yards per catch and a similar price point. Past those two, you’re looking at really thin dart throws. Nick Vannett steps into a full-time role with Vance McDonald out, so he’s my favorite of the thin receiving options because he’ll at least be on the field a lot. Past that, you’re looking at Tevin Jones and Deon Cain, whose realistic target expectations are something like 1 or 2. That said, if this game really ends with neither team getting to 20 points, it’s entirely possible that the optimal lineup could include a guy who has one catch for a touchdown. 

On the Buffalo side, Devin Singletary is at long last taking over a larger share of the running back work from Frank Gore. Up until Week 10, Singletary had been a 65-70% of the snaps guy at the very most, while from Week 11 onwards he hasn’t dropped below 70% and was at 81% last week. Gore is, unsurprisingly, looking less effective as the season goes on, while Singletary is averaging a whopping 5.6 yards per carry and showing solid aptitude in the passing game as well. Singletary versus Conner is an interesting decision point in this showdown. Conner is more expensive and is coming off of an injury but is a very modest home favorite and has an easier matchup against a middling Buffalo run defense. Singletary is healthier with a more certain workload but is on the road and going up against a Steelers defense that is ranked 4th in DVOA against the run. The final component here is that the Pittsburgh offensive line is one of the worst in the league at 26th in offensive line yards, while Buffalo ranks 9th here. So, basically, the difference in run defense DVOA is just about equivalent to the difference in offensive line ranking. Given that, I’ll lean Singletary over Conner as the slightly stronger play. Frank Gore is, as always, a touchdown or bust option.

The Bills’ passing offense is a whole lot more attractive to me than Pittsburgh’s. The matchup is just as bad, but I’ll take Josh Allen, John Brown, and Cole Beasley as the more talented trio compared to Hodges, Washington, and Johnson. The Steelers secondary has been lights out this season, so expectations should be tempered, but John Brown has been one of the most consistent receivers in the league this year and seems like a safe bet to at least not fail while also possessing one of the highest ceilings in this game. Beasley is more of a floor than ceiling play with just four games under 10 DK points this year, but at $9,800 he’s priced more for his ceiling and is at least $1,000 too expensive, if not $2,000. Isaiah McKenzie is playing a very healthy snap share for a $3k receiver, while Robert Foster has James’ Washington’s ceiling to go along with a floor of 0 DK points and makes a somewhat interesting tournament dart if you think he can match the 4 targets he saw last week (of course, since he didn’t catch any of those 4, maybe he gets his work scaled back again). Tight end Dawson Knox seems to have taken over Tyler Kroft’s job with the lion’s share of the snaps and 4 targets in each of his last two games (to go along with some truly fantastic hair), making him a highly viable punt play at $3,200. Kroft has been reduced to a touchdown or bust dart throw. 

The way this game is likeliest to play out is a slow grindfest with both teams focused on the ground. It would not surprise me to see one or even zero wide receivers in the optimal lineup when all is said and done here. Both defenses are viable, as are both kickers. 

Some other ways the game could play out:

  • Is it possible we could see the game go over, and not just over, but way over? Anything’s possible, I suppose.
  • More likely is that one of these elite defenses is able to just clamp down on the opposing offense. It wouldn’t surprise me to see either team really struggle here, with the Steelers seeming to me to be the team more likely to do so.

My favorite overall captain here is Devin Singletary, followed by Washington and Allen. I also want a bit of Snell exposure in case Conner isn’t fully ready. 

Some groups to consider:

  • At most 1 kicker
  • At most 1 defense
  • Pair captain receivers with their QB
  • Pair captain Hodges with at least 2 receivers and captain Allen with at least 1 receiver
  • Given the nature of these offenses I would seriously consider some very broad rules of at most 2 wide receivers or tight ends from either team.

JM’s Notes for Thursday-to-Monday Players ::

  • The addition of Showdown slates has been great for DFS fun and profitability, but one of the issues presented with the introduction of Showdown (and the subsequent removal of the Sunday night game from the main slate) has been late season flex scheduling removing some of the more attractive games from the slate each weekend. This week’s matchup between the Bills and the Steelers, then, is a real treat for us, as this is a great game for NBC to feature on Sunday night between two legitimate playoff contenders who are both some levels of enjoyable to watch, while not removing one of the more attractive games from the main slate. In fact, Bills at Steelers gives us the lowest-total game on the entire weekend – and given that this weekend offers quite a few attractive spots (not to even mention the handful of less attractive Over/Unders that still have a shot at producing viable fantasy scores), it’s fair to say that this game would very clearly fall into the “hope and pray” category if it were featured on the main slate; a sentiment enhanced further when looking at the 16-game, Thursday-to-Monday slate.
  • If “guessing and hoping” on the Bills against a Steelers team that has allowed zero running backs, one wide receiver, and one tight end to crack 100 yards (and no players to crack 102 yards), your best bet would be Devin Singletary in his locked-in role as the timeshare leader on Buffalo. Behind Singletary, the highest-usage players are John Brown and Cole Beasley. None of these guys are sharp options on the 16-game slate, but these would be the places to chase if hoping to catch lightning with a slate-winning game.
  • The Steelers are equally unattractive as a team that aims to win with defense and a slowed-down, mistake-free offense – in a matchup that sets up well for this approach. James Conner appears on track to return, making him a “bet on volume” option, while James Washington and Diontae Johnson remain “hope for a big play” options, with JuJu Smith-Schuster joining them under this label if he returns to the field this week.
  • As always in a spot like this, it really only makes sense to take on the risk of these low floors if you feel like you can target slate-winning ceiling in this spot. Absent that, this spot – with the lowest total on a massive slate – instead makes sense to leave alone.

Kickoff Monday, Dec 16th 8:15pm Eastern

Colts (
20) at

Saints (
28.5)

Over/Under 48.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Colts Run D
6th DVOA/3rd Yards allowed per carry
Saints Run O
12th DVOA/14th Yards per carry
Colts Pass D
3rd DVOA/2nd Yards allowed per pass
Saints Pass O
14th DVOA/9th Yards per pass
Saints Run D
4th DVOA/4th Yards allowed per carry
Colts Run O
22nd DVOA/28th Yards per carry
Saints Pass D
15th DVOA/17th Yards allowed per pass
Colts Pass O
15th DVOA/10th Yards per pass

Showdown Slant ::

Presented by top Showdown mind Xandamere!

Week 15 comes to a close with the Colts visiting the Saints. The game has a reasonably healthy total of 46.5, but the Saints are 9 point home favorites, so this one is expected to be something of a beatdown. Injuries are going to play a significant part of this one, as T.Y. Hilton may or may not return (word is he’s only going to be active if he’s 100%), and the Saints have some injuries to defensive linemen that make the Colts’ rushing attack a bit more attractive than it would normally be in this spot. 

Let’s start there: the Colts want to run, as they have all year, ranking 29th in the NFL in passing play percentage. The Saints are 10th in DVOA against the run, but missing Davenport and Rankins (the two injured linemen) turn this into a neutral at worst matchup, which means the Colts should be able to find at least some success on the ground as long as the game remains close (that, of course, being the real trick here, as the Saints are likely to be able to score effectively). If you believe the game stays close, Mack is an attractive tournament play, albeit one with a very low floor. Nyheim Hines should see a bit more usage if the Colts fall behind early, though unlike many passing down backs, Hines’ work doesn’t swing dramatically based on game script. He almost always lands in the 3-5 target range no matter what happens in the game, and that has been the case even with the Colts’ receiving corps being completely depleted by injuries. Still, at just $3,800, there’s a strong case for Hines being able to outscore the kickers he’s priced next to.

The Colts’ passing attack obviously changes significantly if Hilton returns. I’m going to assume here that he’s out, and just note that if he’s in, everyone else bumps down a peg (Pascal goes from the WR1 to WR2, Johnson from WR2 to WR3, etc.). Pascal is currently the WR1 in this offense and while at $8k he isn’t priced like a WR1, he’s priced pretty appropriately when you consider he also isn’t as talented as most WR1s. He’s a fair play who can run reasonably effective routes but isn’t really a match for a cornerback like Marshon Lattimore, so there’s some risk here if Lattimore just sticks to him all game. Behind Pascal, Marcus Johnson has been highly effective in the last 2 games and at $5,200 is not priced for his talent, role, or volume. With Parris Campbell on IR, if Hilton is out, it’s hard to even figure out who else sees the field. Ashton Dulin and Chad Williams are next up on the depth chart and are basically minimum salary, though it’s not inconceivable that Dontrelle Inman, despite being signed this week, could see the field for a decent percentage of the snaps since he played with the Colts previously. I’ll be watching the beat reporters for news on this one, as if we get clarity on these three guys, one could emerge as a reasonable value play. In the absence of news I’d take Dulin over Williams, as he played twice the snaps last week when Campbell went down. Next up, at tight end Jack Doyle is now in a full-time role with Ebron on IR, and while he has significant athletic limitations (read: he’s slow as hell), his volume and role are secure at a reasonable price. Mo Alie-Cox is a dart throw who won’t be on the field a ton and has only seen more than one target in a game once this year. 

The New Orleans run game has been borderline unplayable for most of the year. Alvin Kamara somehow only has two touchdowns on the year and has been significantly worse since coming back from his injury, while Latavius Murray is leeching enough work to subtract meaningfully from Kamara without having enough to stand on his own as a solid play. This is kind of an aggressive take, so let’s dig in a bit. Since Kamara returned to the field in Week 10, the most carries he’s seen in a game is 13, and while he’s averaging just over 8 targets per game in that span, his passing game role has become “right at the line of scrimmage” as he’s averaged just over 5 yards per reception since Week 10. Since his injury, Kamara’s longest reception is 17 yards and his longest run is 30. I’m not a doctor nor am I an NFL scout, but it looks like some of his burst is gone, as he just hasn’t been the kind of big play threat that we’re used to seeing in the past. Kamara’s floor is extremely solid due to all the pass game work and it’s certainly fair to think he’s due for positive touchdown regression, but all I can say here is I’ve been fading him all year and it has been highly profitable to do so. Poor Latavius Murray just doesn’t get enough work to be relevant and even if he scores a touchdown he’s still unlikely to end up in the optimal lineup at $5,600. He would need multiple touchdowns or some other very unlikely outcome in order to be relevant.

The Saints’ pass game is basically Michael Thomas, Jared Cook, and a pile of other random dudes who only really get involved much if the Saints get in a shootout. Thomas, of course, is perhaps the best receiver in the NFL this year, and is used as an extension of the run game with a ridiculous catch rate (albeit on mostly short passes). His volume is incredibly safe, as is his red zone role, and the Colts zone scheme just doesn’t have a way to stop him unless they try to change their entire plan to double him up (which seems highly unlikely). He’s the most expensive player on the slate and you’re paying for safety here, kind of like with Christian McCaffery. He’s a very solid play, but at $12,600 he is, at least as far as I can remember, the most expensive guy we’ve seen in showdown besides CMC. As for Cook, he has somewhat quietly put together a stretch of seven straight games with double-digit DK points. The Indianapolis scheme is weak in the middle of the field and presents a positive matchup, and at $6,800 I think Cook is a solid value. As the season has gone on, Tre’Quan Smith has been outsnapping Ted Ginn in the last several weeks, though Ginn is still drawing more target volume. Both are low volume boom/bust options with big play upside and floors of around 0. Behind those guys, Krishawn Hogan keeps seeing the field about 20% of the time or so but has yet to draw a target this year. At $200, you could bet on that changing this week as a very, very low owned MME play (good luck and godspeed to you if you go that route). Josh and Taysom Hill, the Hill twins (they’re not really twins), are the banes of my DFS existence as they always seem to score random touchdowns that suck points away from the Saints who I’m actually playing. Both are a threat to do that at any time and I’m not going to pretend that I can predict it happening (it’s worth noting that Taysom is 4th on the team in touches inside the 10 yard line, so there is a real role here with some upside). Finally, I want to note that while Drew Brees is obviously a strong play, at $12,000 he’s one of the most expensive quarterbacks we’ve ever seen in a showdown, and this is for a guy with no rushing ability who has only scored over 30 DK points once this season. He’s a solid play but he’s at least $1k too expensive. 

The way this game is most likely to play out is for the Colts to try to keep the game on the ground for as long as possible, but the Saints should be able to carve up their defense as the short-area New Orleans passing attack matches up perfectly with the Colts’ zone D. At some point the Saints should pull ahead by more than one score and we’ll see the Colts have to open things up in response, and whether or not their undermanned receiving corps can keep up will determine how the game goes from there.

Some other ways the game could play out:

  • Especially if Hilton misses, it’s not impossible to think that the Saints’ competent defense could just clamp down on Indy. I don’t want to make a habit of betting against really good coaches, but a Saints onslaught is certainly in the cards here.
  • On the flip side, even if Hilton isn’t active (but this scenario is more likely if he is), we could always see a good old-fashioned Superdome shootout. We got one last week that almost nobody was on (on a week when I was on vacation and put my single entry as a stack on that game….sigh) and we could see one again here. There’s going to be a ton of ownership on Kamara, I expect, and a fair bit on Mack and Murray, so just betting entirely on QBs and receivers is an interesting take.

My overall favorite captain in this one is Hilton if he plays, as $8,200 is just too cheap for him in the Superdome. If Hilton misses, I’ll take Marcus Johnson as my favorite captain play. To be clear, I also love Michael Thomas, but it’s just hard to make him work as a captain and I’m also trying to avoid just picking the most obvious guy on the board.

Some groups to consider:

  • At most 1 kicker
  • At most 1 defense
  • Pair captain receivers with their QB (consider waiving this rule for Michael Thomas, partly because he can get there more on volume than TDs and partly because it just leaves you with no salary to spend elsewhere)
  • Pair captain QBs with at least 2 receivers
  • At most 1 of Ginn and Smith
  • At most 1 of the various Saints pipsqueak squad (the Hills, Hogan, Harris, Line)

JM’s Notes for Thursday-to-Monday Players ::

  • The big pieces of news here for the run-leaning Colts are injuries to Marcus Davenport and Sheldon Rankins on the Saints defensive line, as these injuries will have potential to open up pathways to production from Marlon Mack. Of course, Mack’s improved matchup also needs to be considered against this game environment as a whole, where the Saints shouldn’t have too much trouble moving the ball against the Colts’ zone-heavy defense, and where the Colts’ banged-up, short-area passing attack will have a difficult time keeping pace.
  • The Saints side of the ball also has to take into account the injuries and recent ineffectiveness of the Colts offense, as the Saints can score points in any spot, but they are only likely to get ultra-aggressive – and are only likely to heavily involve ancillary pieces – if the Colts are able to keep pace. The likeliest scenario in this spot, then, has Michael Thomas landing in roughly his typical range of usage and production, while Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray round out the heavy usage pieces. These plays should be able to reach their typical range of production regardless of game flow (making Thomas a Tier 1 option and the running backs deeper Tier 3 plays), with the unlikely development of a more competitive game environment boosting ceiling from there. Behind these pieces, Ted Ginn and Tre’Quan Smith remain merely hope and pray options, while Jared Cook will remain a clear upside piece at the tight end position if he gets cleared in time for this game, and where Cook’s usage will largely flow to the main pieces of this offense if Cook remains sidelined.
  • Mack remains a thin play for the Colts with the Saints likely to control this game and limit rushing volume for Indy, though his big play upside, locked in role, and improved matchup at least keep him on the fringes of the large slate conversation.
  • The Saints have been hit for a few big games through the air this year, but for the most part they have been a lockdown unit, while the Colts at this point are a fairly vanilla, short-area-focused offense that needs things to really go right in tougher matchups in order for production to emerge. No one on this side of the ball stands out on the large slate, but if choosing to go here, Zach Pascal is a fair bet for around seven or eight targets, while Jack Doyle has potential to see heavy involvement as well. With Parris Campbell now on injured reserve (R.I.P.), Marcus Johnson is left behind as the Colts’ primary big play threat. He is not a piece that the Colts are actively scheming work to, but they may need him to step up in this game, and they may take a couple more downfield shots to him as plays break down, keeping him on the outer edges of the large-slate, Week 15 discussion.