With a three-game slate on tap for Saturday, we’re going to take a bit of a different approach :: breaking down this slate by position, rather than by game. Given the makeup of this ugly slate (you’ll see what we mean here in a moment), this is — by far — the best way to get a feel for how things shape up. We’ll go through each fantasy-relevant player, taking a look at how each position stacks up from a fantasy perspective. This is not a particularly strong slate for single-entry play, but it’s an interesting slate for multi-entry (both in the form of a small block of rosters — say four or five total — and in the form of 20+ rosters, along with everything in between), as the approach for capturing “likeliest scenarios” is fairly straightforward, giving you an opportunity to pair a couple more risk-embracing bets with your “likelier to happen” bets in a hunt for ways to edge past the field.
– Deshaun Watson
– Jameis Winston
– Josh Allen
– Tom Brady
– Jared Goff
– Jimmy Garoppolo
Watson is the best bet on paper, as he and Jameis are in the only game that tilts toward a shootout, and Jameis is set to be without both Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. As we know: the Bucs are not actually “bad” against the pass (they’re boosting aDOT by 6% — a moderate boost — but are counteracting that by shaving 3% off the league-average catch rate and an awesome 12% off the league-average YAC/r rate, good for the fifth best mark in the league), and have instead looked so awful because of the massive volume opponents are forced to hit them with (both due to the Bucs’ ability to stop the run and the Bucs’ ability to quickly score points on offense). With all that, it’s certainly noteworthy that Jameis’ weaponry will be so limited. There is a reason the Bucs, at home, have a Vegas-implied team total of only 23.25 (a mark they have topped 10 times in their last 12 games — often with ease). If the Bucs get slowed, there is no guarantee the volume piles up for the Texans the way it has for other teams, and this would then become more of a middling matchup than a major boost. Those are notes of caution for this game — but this matters less on this three-game slate than it would on the Main Slate, as the other two spots carry far more question marks.
The spot in which we’re least likely to find anything resembling slate-winning upside is Buffalo at New England, where Josh Allen and Tom Brady will each be taking on an elite pass defense.
Jared Goff will be taking on an elite pass defense as well, with the 49ers set to return Richard Sherman this week; and the 49ers — as explored all year — prefer to lean on the ground when they are able to control their games. In order for one of these two quarterbacks to top the slate, one of two things would need to happen: 1) Texans at Bucs would need to disappoint, opening the door for a middling QB score from another spot to top the slate; or 2) Goff would need to pop off for a big game for the Rams (which could force Garoppolo into a big game in response).
The likeliest scenario here is that Watson tops the slate, as the Bucs should tilt the Texans to the air even if Jameis has a tougher time getting on track with his downgraded weaponry. Jameis is the next best bet to hit, with the Rams // 49ers game coming in behind him, followed by Allen and Brady.
Running Backs ::
– Carlos Hyde
– Duke Johnson
– Ronald Jones
– Peyton Barber
– Dare Ogunbowale
– Devin Singletary
– Frank Gore
– James White
– Sony Michel
– Todd Gurley
– Raheem Mostert
The Texans and Patriots have a “ground” back and an “air” back, while the Bucs have two “ground” backs and an “air” back. The Bills are a step above, with Frank Gore mixing in, but with Devin Singletary seeing 22+ touches in three of his last four games. (Unfortunately, Singletary is taking on a Patriots team that is currently allowing the seventh fewest rushing yards to running backs this year, while — unsurprisingly, yet again — allowing the fewest RB rushing touchdowns in the league, with one given up all season.) Raheem Mostert played only 34 snaps last week (to 19 for Tevin Coleman and 12 for Matt Breida), but he seems to be the lead dog at this point, with 15 touches last week compared to six for Breida and four for Coleman. Mostert has an unfortunate matchup (even after last week’s thrashing at the hands of Zeke, the Rams’ run defense ranks sixth in DVOA), and his price has been driven up by the five touchdowns he has scored in his last four games. He is priced next to Gurley on both DK and FD this week in spite of seeing recent touch counts of 7 // 21 // 12 // 15 (compared to recent touch counts of 28 // 9 // 20 // 27 // 14 for Gurley). Gurley, of course, is at risk of plunging out of the game plan if the Rams fall behind early in a game where they are 6.5 point underdogs, while the 49ers have allowed the eighth fewest rushing yards and the second fewest touchdowns to the running back position.
The toughest bets on this slate are Hyde, Barber, and Gore, as Hyde is a yardage-and-touchdown back (nine catches all year) with a matchup against a Bucs team that has allowed an unbelievably low 56.36 rushing yards per game to enemy backfields; Barber has averaged only 3.1 yards per carry this season and has only 14 catches (making him a thin bet to soak up tons of extra work with the wideouts missing in action); and Gore is on hand purely to grind out tough yards for the Bills.
In the next tier up from the bottom, we can comfortably group Duke Johnson and Dare Ogunbowale. Before we dive into these guys, it’s worth pointing out that salary is not a major issue on this slate, so you’ll need to make sure you are asking yourself, with each player you roster, whether or not you believe there are paths to that player posting the highest score at his position. Duke is usually a solid bet for five to six carries and two to five targets. Unfortunately, the Bucs are also elite against pass-catching backs, having allowed the fourth fewest receiving yards to the position. Dare has topped three catches only two times, and he’s topped 33 receiving yards only once, while he’s been asked to chip in only 10 carries on the year. He jumps above the Hyde // Barber // Gore tier due to the absence of Evans and Godwin (and the chance that he sees a bit more work as a result), but he has no games this year that would be useful on this slate, and the likeliest scenario doesn’t have this changing in this spot. Duke has two games this year that would play on this slate, and one of those games came against the tough defense of the Patriots, giving him some semblance of life here.
Michel and Ronald Jones barely escape the tier directly above, but they both have clear paths to upside. Michel has 19 or more carries in six games this season; and while he hasn’t topped 100 yards a single time, he has topped 80 yards on five occasions, and he has the eighth most carries in the NFL inside the 10-yard-line. The Bills, of course, rank third in DVOA against the pass but only 19th against the run; and while their stout overall defense has still kept them “middle of the pack” against running backs, “middle of the pack” isn’t bad on this slate. Michel is a boom/bust option here. Jones, meanwhile, has recent touch counts of 15 // 6 // 15 // 12; and while he has only three games this year north of 15 touches, he does have 26 receptions and a solid shot at around 15 touches this week as the Bucs look for new ways to move the ball. He’s a risk/reward option.
This leaves us with James White, Devin Singletary, Raheem Mostert, and Todd Gurley.
In spite of seeing only six touches last week, White has the highest floor of the group, as he has five or more receptions in over half his games to go with almost five carries per game and the fourth most red zone targets in the NFL. The Patriots have given White recent target counts against Buffalo (going back to 2017) of 6 // 13 // 4 // 10. The first-glance assumption in this matchup is that the Patriots would attack more heavily with Michel (and they could very well do that), but they have often shown a willingness to lean on White in this spot instead. White’s chances of posting a true slate-breaker are not high in this spot, but there is also a chance no running back posts a slate-breaker.
Hunting for a slate-breaker through Gurley is, firstly, a bet on the Rams keeping this game close (i.e., Gurley rosters should be built accordingly), as it’s tough to rely on him scoring two touchdowns on only 14 touches again. With three or more catches in four of his last five games and 19+ touches in three of his last five, he can see enough volume to bust through if this game stays competitive. Otherwise, he’s just crossing your fingers and hoping for touchdowns.
Hunting for a slate-breaker through Mostert is primarily a bet on efficiency. Mostert has topped 12 touches only three times this year, and he has only 13 receptions on the season. He’s unlikely to go over 15 touches, but he has seen his red zone role begin to rise, and if the 49ers control this game, he can score near the top of this slate. Of course, it should also be noted that three of Mostert’s last four games would have been disappointments (two would have been roster-cratering disappointments) without the touchdowns — ultimately making him a “bet on touchdown” play. Working in his favor is the fact that San Francisco has produced a whopping 22 touchdowns through the backfield this year, and Mostert is the player likeliest to capture those at the moment. Large-field bets could also be placed on a surprise blowup from Breida or (slightly less likely) Coleman. Neither is a strong bet, of course, but both should be involved to at least some extent.
Singletary has disappeared inside the 10-yard-line (three carries all year), and the Patriots are annually the toughest team for running backs to score touchdowns against, so any scoring should be considered a major bonus — slotting Singletary in for his rushing yardage and his pass game role (recent target counts of 6 // 1 // 2 // 4 // 8 // 3). His chances of breaking off a huge game are low, but this could be a “first player to 18 points gets the job done” slate on DK (first player to 15 points on FD), which keeps Singletary near the top of the mix.
Wide Receivers ::
– DeAndre Hopkins
– Will Fuller
– Kenny Stills
– Breshad Perriman
– Justin Watson
– Ishmael Hyman
– John Brown
– Cole Beasley
– Julian Edelman
– Mohamed Sanu
– N’Keal Harry
– Robert Woods
– Cooper Kupp
– Brandin Cooks
– Emmanuel Sanders
– Deebo Samuel
Eye levels need to be adjusted on this slate, as a “slate-winning score” in this spot is likely to be lower than a “slate-winning score” on the Main Slate, with so little to choose from here — and with the available spots fairly spread-out and largely running into tough matchups. This slate features the Numbers One (New England), Two (San Francisco), and Three (Buffalo) DVOA defenses against the pass. The Patriots and Bills (in that order) have allowed the fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks and (in that order) the fewest passing touchdowns. The Rams also rank 11th in DVOA vs the pass, while the Bucs rank 15th. The only truly poor pass defense — in terms of per-pass expectations — is the Texans, who will be facing a group of backup wide receivers. We’ll go team-by-team in this section to get a better feel for what each spot offers.
As the only truly attractive option to pay up for on this slate (especially with misconceptions of the Bucs’ pass defense driving interest even higher), Hopkins is likely to be the highest-owned player. He dropped down to eight targets yet again last week with Fuller returning to the field, and unless the Bucs keep pace and force extra volume from the Texans, that’s his likeliest range yet again. Eight targets for an elite receiver should actually be enough to get the job done on this slate. In all but three games this season, Hopkins has posted a score that would likely land him on the optimal roster for this set of games, keeping him very squarely in the mix. If fading Hopkins, realize you need to make bets on players who can outscore his floor, as he’s likeliest to at least get there. (His floor has been around 15 DraftKings points; 12 FanDuel points.) Fuller, meanwhile, has seen seven or more targets in six of eight healthy games this year (with exactly seven targets in four of those games). If this game were on the Main Slate, he would be a candidate to go over-owned, as the field’s perception of this matchup would surely lead to a spike in interest. On this particular slate, however, Fuller’s typical floor (eight points on DraftKings; seven points on FanDuel) may not kill you, and rostering him gives you access to his ceiling. Stills, of course, is a low-floor option with “bet on touchdown” upside.
The Bucs wideouts are likely to be the keys to this slate, as wide receiver production could end up very thin in other games, and the Bucs will still be aggressive when they take to the air. On the off chance Godwin plays, he obviously ascends to alpha status (while the game environment as a whole takes on a more steady-attractive appearance), but if he misses, as expected, we should see a few things from Tampa. 1) We should see this team run the ball a little bit more (they currently rank eighth in pass play rate). 2) We should see more 12 personnel from the Bucs once again (they opted to go with two tight ends on 27% of their plays last week, up from their season-long average of 16%). 3) We should see enough wide receiver targets for a couple of these guys to matter, as Evans and Godwin are leaving behind over 17.5 targets per game in contests they have played. Perhaps even more notably: Perriman was used last week in basically the same way he’s been used for much of the year — seeing six targets, with very little nuance to this usage (four of his targets came at least 15 yards downfield). With Godwin on the sidelines, seven to nine targets for Perriman wouldn’t be a shock. He’s not a true “wide receiver” — and is instead a fairly one-trick pony. But that one trick can be very valuable; and while his price has jumped higher than his actual, guaranteed role supports, most paths have him posting one of the stronger scores on this slate. There is opportunity, however, for another seven to nine targets to be handed out to another wideout (Perriman seeing seven to nine would be only a small bump up from his recent usage, still leaving plenty of work available) — and in Week 14, that wideout was Justin Watson, who saw eight targets, going 5-59-0. Watson played 42 snaps last week; and while he saw only two targets, the expected absence of Godwin gives him a higher expectation here, keeping him squarely in the mix. “Betting on less likely outcomes” is sometimes required to actually take down a tourney (especially a tourney on a slate this size); but if betting purely on likeliest outcomes, you could grab all your wide receiver exposure from this game and feel pretty good about the position you’re putting yourself in. Hyman, of course, is the wildcard — with 13 snaps and one target last week. Hyman has decent speed, but he’s purely a “bet on time on the field in a quality offense” play. On paper, he’s, at best, the fourth option in this passing attack — but if multi-entering, he makes for an interesting hedge on some rosters off heavier exposure to the other guys on this team. He could luck into a touchdown or a big play.
The Patriots have allowed one wide receiver to post a useful score against them (when Golden Tate caught a perfectly-thrown ball and raced to the house for a somewhat fluky splash play), putting Brown and Beasley in the “fade matchup, try to capture a useful score at low ownership” discussion. A bet here is less likely to pay off through JB or Beasley breaking through this matchup, and is more likely to pay off through other spots failing and this spot mattering as a result. JB saw 11 targets the last time these teams matched up, and while he caught only five balls, he did pick up 69 yards. That isn’t quite a “best case scenario” line, but it’s not far off. Beasley, meanwhile, went 7-75-0 last time these teams met (on 13 targets), and he’s actually interesting on this small slate for his locked-in underneath role (six or more targets in all but four games this year). A “ceiling score” is unlikely, but there is a chance that a “floor score” will get the job done on this slate.
The Patriots are absolute dart throws outside of Edelman — who saw only five targets himself last week, after eight consecutive games of double-digit looks. Edelman went 9-104-0 and 6-70-1 in two games vs the Bills last year (10 targets in each), and as long as reports have him healthy, his projection in this spot brings him in below Hopkins, but ahead of everyone else. Perriman is close (with a slightly higher ceiling), and there are obviously paths to Edelman disappointing; but if he’s healthy, the looks should be there. Sanu and Harry are next up for this offense, but both guys are cross-your-fingers options (which, again, can sometimes be required on a slate like this — in order to grab some differentiation and hope it’s in the right spot; but neither is a guy we can point to on paper as anything remotely resembling a strong play this week). Sanu played 57 out of 66 snaps last week and Harry played 39, while Phillip Dorsett played only nine and Jakobi Meyers played only seven.
The last time the Rams and 49ers played (in Los Angeles, no less) Cooper Kupp went 4-17-0, Robert Woods went 0-0-0 (four targets — with two carries for 16 yards and a touchdown added on the ground), and Brandin Cooks went 3-18-0. Better production than that can be expected (with the Rams playing a bit better these days, and with it simply being difficult for three wideouts to combine for only 35 receiving yards on 13 combined targets), but there is no way to break down this matchup in such a way that these guys stand out. The likeliest way for the Rams to stay in this game is by slowing down the 49ers’ offense and staying in this with a run-leaning approach — but there are two ways to bet on the Rams’ passing attack: 1) hope to guess right on a big play, or 2) hope that volume can lead to a strong enough score to matter on this slate. If going here, other spots on your roster should be more “stable” (i.e., this should be considered a big risk-embracing play, and you should lean toward more sturdy plays in other spots to help you capitalize if this play pays off). Woods and Kupp, in that order, are the players likeliest to land solid scores.
Against the secondary of the Falcons last week, with all their chips on the table, the 49ers threw only four passes to Emmanuel Sanders and three to Deebo Samuel, while feeding 17 looks to George Kittle. Sanders (nine targets) and Samuel (eight targets) were more involved in Week 14, and if Jimmy G has to ramp up volume again, each guy has a shot to return to that range — but the bigger issue is the fact that Jimmy G has thrown the ball 25 or fewer times in six games already this year, and if the 49ers control this game, they will limit passing volume once again. You can take isolated shots on San Francisco wideouts hoping to guess right on a big play or touchdowns (Jalen Ramsey is expected to shadow Emmanuel Sanders, making Deebo the likelier bet — though when making longer-shot bets, it’s easy to make a case for simply going all-out and taking the guy with the toughest matchup of the bunch), but the best way to bet on this passing attack is with a “game environment” bet that A) bets on how you expect the Rams to take a lead (or at least keep this game close), and B) bets on a 49ers pass catcher who might benefit as a result.
Tight Ends ::
– Texans tight ends
– OJ Howard
– Cameron Brate
– Patriots tight ends
– Dawson Knox
– Tyler Higbee // Gerald Everett
– George Kittle
The Patriots tight ends barely register as options, while Dawson Knox (recent lines of 2-11-0 // 3-17-0 // 1-37-0 // 1-11-0) and the Texans (Darren Fells :: 1-24-0 // 2-23-1 // 2-2-0 // 1-2-0 || Jordan Akins :: 3-26-0 // 1-19-0 // 4-49-0 // 2-7-0) are not far ahead. Any of these guys are just “hoping for a touchdown (or two),” or “hoping for an unpredictable volume spike.”
Cameron Brate sneaks out of that group with four and seven targets the last two weeks. He played only 41.3% of the Bucs’ snaps last week, but he tends to get a few looks when he’s on the field, and he and Jameis have long had a solid connection in the red zone. He’s unlikely to outscore Kittle, but if he hits his ceiling and Kittle hits his floor, he could provide strong value on this slate.
The 49ers have been lights-out against tight ends this year, allowing the fewest yards in the league (and it’s not particularly close). Everett also practiced in full on Wednesday, which could create a messy and unpredictable timeshare. If Everett plays, both guys fall into the “guessing and hoping” category in this tough matchup (though this offense, of course, has shown that it can produce upside through the tight end position, if you want to use this as a less-stable piece in some large-field play), while Higbee becomes a risk/reward option if playing. It’s not a given that any pass catcher on the Rams produces useful numbers in this spot, but Higbee is as strong a bet as any to get there if L.A. is able to break through here.
Howard is the best bet outside of Kittle, with recent target counts of 6 // 5 // 8, and with 46+ yards in each of those games. Howard is a playmaker after the catch, and his downfield role (13.3 yards per catch — a tremendous mark for a tight end) gives him value with all the injuries to the Bucs’ wide receivers. He’s Flex-playable on this ugly slate if going to a different tight end, as his likeliest range of usage/production matches up well with other players priced around him.
Kittle had seen target counts of 5 // 7 // 8 // 6 // 4 // 8 before his 17-target outburst last week, and as Tyreek Hill demonstrated for us earlier this year (target counts in his healthy games of 10 // 5 // 9 // 9 // 19 // 8 // 8 // 7), a monster spike in usage doesn’t guarantee that such monstrous usage will continue. Kittle should slip back into his typical range of looks here — but he has the talent to post the best tight end score on this ugly slate with seven or eight looks, and there is a chance he rises above that level again if the Rams keep this game competitive throughout. Expect the Rams to prioritize Kittle in their defensive plans — but that’s nothing new for him; and even if he doesn’t hit ceiling, his floor has generally been rock solid this year.
The Bucs are the one defense that doesn’t have clear paths to a big game here, while the Texans and Rams are the least likely of the rest to fulfill their potential. The Texans will almost certainly get a few sacks and turnovers off Jameis, but their pass rush has been a weakness since losing Watt, and their secondary is also a weakness — and while the Bucs are set to be without their top two weapons, they still have Bruce Arians designing an attack-minded approach. The Rams, meanwhile, will need to keep their game close on offense in order to force enough pass attempts from the 49ers to create sacks and turnovers. Consider the Rams to carry upside, but to be fairly boom/bust in this spot.
The Bills are in a middle tier of their own, as an extremely strong but non-aggressive, road-traveling defense taking on a below-average, but mistake-averse Patriots team. In spite of all their offensive woes, the Pats have taken the 10th fewest sacks and turned the ball over the third-fewest times. The Bills have the defensive firepower to make things happen, but they’ll need things to click in place in order to outscore the Patriots and 49ers.
The Patriots rank ninth in sacks and first in turnovers forced. The Bills, impressively, have the eighth fewest giveaways as they have pulled in the reins on Josh Allen this year, and they rank middle of the pack in sacks taken.
The 49ers rank third in sacks and fifth in turnovers forced. The Rams have the ninth most giveaways in the league, but they have taken the second fewest sacks as they have focused on getting the ball out quickly to mask their deficiencies on the offensive line.
Given the volatility of the DST position, you could honestly go to any of these six teams, but the Pats and 49ers are in the top tier, while the Bills land behind them and the other three slot in after that.
JM’s Interpretation ::
There is a bit of salary maneuvering that has to be done on this slate (i.e., you cannot simply take all the highest-priced starters and call it a day), but salary is more flexible on this slate than it is on any Main Slate we run into, as there are just not many guys priced at the true high end of the price range. As such, 1) you can generally think “score first, price second” on this slate, and 2) you should at least keep in mind — if targeting tourney play — that a lot of lineups will be similar this week. I almost certainly won’t be able to play this slate myself, as I’ll be traveling on Saturday and am always in a time-crunch at that point in the week for the Main Slate anyway; but if I were playing (or if I end up being able to play), I would build around Texans and Bucs pass game pieces first and foremost, and I would blend in a mix of “higher confidence” plays and “risk-embracing” plays from there. If I were rolling 20 rosters in this spot (which I would want to do in order to capitalize on the variance inherent in a slate this small), I would probably roll with around four or five rosters that just play things extremely straight-up — trying to capture rosters that fit in the best plays according to what is likeliest to happen (as laid out above). With the remaining 75% to 80% of my builds, I would mix in some “likeliest to happen” pieces with longer-shot, upside-hunting bets centered around various game flow scenarios (again: as laid out above — or branching out into “supposition” territory, such as: “Suppose the adaptable Bills offense chooses to attack the Patriots with a bunch of pistol-formation option runs, which would be both similar to what the Ravens do and a good fit for Josh Allen’s skill set; if the Bills have been working on this and decide to bust it out now, rather than waiting for a potential matchup against the Patriots in the playoffs, they could give the Patriots fits, and Allen and Singletary would become interesting together”). With this approach, I would maintain a core or four or five “likeliest to happen” plays that could provide stability to the remaining spots on my roster if my longer-shot bets hit, and I would give myself access to some upside paths that could shoot me past the field if something less likely occurs.
On a slate this size, it almost always ends up being more about “strategy” than about “knowing who the good plays are” — so use these strategy thoughts to get you started, and ask yourself as you build: “What would it take for this play to help me toward the top of the leaderboards this week?”
Xandamere’s “quick thoughts & pricing notes” for Showdown ::
- I’d prioritize Watson and Jameis before Hopkins at roughly equivalent prices.
- It’s hard for me to want Perriman over Fuller given the latter’s gamebreaking ability, even with Perriman stepping into the WR1 role — I’m just not certain that means he’s going to Evans/Godwin level of volume.
- The Tampa tight ends are both significantly underpriced. Like, by a lot.
- Akins and Ogunbowale are also both underpriced relative to their floors, but their ceilings are very modest. They’re fine as a last guy in but don’t expect a ton.
- Ronald Jones has a very wide range of outcomes but also a very high ceiling at just $6k.
Some groups to consider:
- At most 1 kicker
- At most 1 defense
- Pair captain receivers with their QB
- Pair captain Jameis with at least 2 receivers and captain Watson with at least 1 receiver
- At most 1 of Hyde and Duke
- At most 1 of Jones and Barber
- At most 2 of Stills, Fells, and Akins