Week 16 Matchups

Coming off of last week’s predictable scoring barrage, the DFS world is set to come back to Earth this week (or rather, back to earth — right down to the soil), with 11 games on the Main Slate, and with only six teams currently carrying a Vegas-implied team total north of just 24.5. Those teams are ::

30.25 — Seahawks
29.0 — Ravens
27.0 — Falcons
26.75 — Saints
26.5 — Colts
26.0 — Chargers

Among these teams :: the Colts have topped 24 points only four times this year, while the Chargers are relying on a quarterback in Philip Rivers who looks like he’s throwing sacks of flour. The Seahawks, Ravens, and Falcons are also expected to win in blowouts, while even the Saints have some Upside Dents with their game being played outdoors (note: beautiful weather is currently expected for that game, but it’s still not as nice as playing in the Superdome). Even if you had players who went off last week, you had to worry about players from plenty of other games going off as well and putting your roster at risk. This week (much like three of the four weeks that preceded Week 15), if you land on one of the players who hits, you are likelier to find yourself pulling away from the field, as there will be fewer of these players available (and will therefore be fewer rosters capturing the available big scores). And yet — as we always note in this situation — you will still need to find these players yourself, as a top-end score will still be required in order to take down a tourney.

This brings up another element worth thinking about this week :: targeting “unrepeatable scores.”

For example:

Kenyan Drake entered last week with recent touch counts of 22 // 15 // 12. We knew going into that game that the Browns are best attacked on the ground, and we knew that with the Cardinals playing at home, Drake was likelier than not to see 15+ touches. He was also priced around other backs who could typically be penciled in for 15+ touches, and it was impossible to know that the Browns would not even show up for their game against the Cardinals, and that Drake would score four touchdowns on 23 touches (a spike in touches from his previous couple games, but not some sort of monster, locked-in-production workload). This was an unrepeatable performance — a performance the field will likely chase this week, in spite of the fact that what they really needed was to be there last week when that game hit.

Or for example:

Mike Evans was out last week, and Chris Godwin got hurt in the third quarter; but these were not actually “the reasons” Breshad Perriman popped off. Perriman saw only six targets last week (marking the sixth time in eight games he had seen four to eight looks). The matchup was a good fit for Perriman’s speed and downfield skill set, but a 5-113-3 line on only six targets is miraculous production to capture.

And yet, these scores were nearly necessary last week in order to take down a tourney — which leads into a quick little discussion ::

There are two ways to target less-predictable, “necessary” scores like that:

1) Select a few offenses you want to bet on; and as you bet on key players from these offenses you “expect” to produce, be willing — as we have talked about fairly regularly over the last couple months — to embrace some uncertainty by hedging with “the players who are likeliest to hit if my guys miss.”

2) Pay attention to players with real roles and explosive skill sets, and be willing to embrace some uncertainty in that way.

If multi-entering last week, you didn’t need these guys on 100% of your teams, or even 25% of your teams. If you’d had them on just 10%, you would have doubled the field in most contests; and if you’d had them on 15%, you would have been putting a non-negligible chunk of your rosters in great position. Along the way, of course, you would also have had some hedge bets from other spots that didn’t work out, and this is why it’s so difficult for so many DFS players to shift toward this style of thinking; and yet, it’s a shift in thinking that’s necessary if you want to truly reach your ceiling.

It’s funny to say this, but “getting players like Drake and Perriman” is not actually how you win a tourney. Before those types of plays can win you a tourney, you first need rock-solid rosters around those plays that can ensure you aren’t losing all the progress that those plays make you. But in addition to those rock-solid plays that can generally be targeted through research and non-creative thinking, you often need one or two of those Perriman/Drake-type plays to truly reach the top of the leaderboards — and this is why we have spent so much time this season talking about the ways we can expose our rosters to those plays.

As you go through this ugly week, focus on identifying the sharp plays that can give you a rock-solid set of core plays across your builds. But then, make sure you also take the next step: keeping your eyes open for potential slate-breakers — even if you have to embrace a bit of uncertainty to get there.


Kickoff Saturday, Dec 21st 1:00pm Eastern

Texans (
26.75) at

Bucs (
23.75)

Over/Under 50.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Texans Run D
23rd DVOA/31st Yards allowed per carry
Buccaneers Run O
6th DVOA/19th Yards per carry
Texans Pass D
8th DVOA/22nd Yards allowed per pass
Buccaneers Pass O
9th DVOA/8th Yards per pass
Buccaneers Run D
3rd DVOA/1st Yards allowed per carry
Texans Run O
23rd DVOA/31st Yards per carry
Buccaneers Pass D
1st DVOA/9th Yards allowed per pass
Texans Pass O
8th DVOA/4th Yards per pass

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.

Quarterbacks ::

– 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.

DST ::

– Texans
– Bucs
– Bills
– Patriots
– Rams
– 49ers

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

Kickoff Saturday, Dec 21st 4:30pm Eastern

Bills (
15.5) at

Patriots (
22)

Over/Under 37.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Bills Run D
24th DVOA/21st Yards allowed per carry
Patriots Run O
3rd DVOA/4th Yards per carry
Bills Pass D
28th DVOA/15th Yards allowed per pass
Patriots Pass O
27th DVOA/28th Yards per pass
Patriots Run D
18th DVOA/27th Yards allowed per carry
Bills Run O
32nd DVOA/29th Yards per carry
Patriots Pass D
17th DVOA/11th Yards allowed per pass
Bills Pass O
4th DVOA/6th Yards per pass

The entire Saturday Main Slate writeup can be found in the Texans // Bucs game!

Xandamere’s “quick thoughts & pricing notes” for Showdown ::

  • I may just end up skipping this showdown because ewwww it just looks ugly.
  • The safest floor play is probably a coin flip between Edelman and Allen.
  • James White is overpriced for his ceiling but his floor is nice.
  • Broadly, I view the Bills skill position players as safer because the team has a narrower distribution of volume. Both matchups suck but, Edelman aside, it’s easier to project the Bills’ volume than the Patriots’.
  • Isaiah McKenzie is awfully cheap for a receiver playing half the snaps.
  • Pricing on Harry and Sanu should be flipped based on their usage (which, yes, makes Sanu a solid play despite ugly results lately).

Some groups to consider:

  • At most 1 kicker
  • At most 1 defense
  • Pair captain receivers with their QB
  • Pair captain Brady with at least 2 receivers and captain Allen with at least 1 receiver
  • At most 2 of the Pats running backs
  • At most 2 of Pats receivers not named Edelman
  • At most 1 of Singletary and Gore (but really, probably just don’t play Gore)

Kickoff Saturday, Dec 21st 8:15pm Eastern

Rams (
19.25) at

49ers (
26.25)

Over/Under 45.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Rams Run D
21st DVOA/7th Yards allowed per carry
49ers Run O
9th DVOA/8th Yards per carry
Rams Pass D
11th DVOA/5th Yards allowed per pass
49ers Pass O
17th DVOA/21st Yards per pass
49ers Run D
7th DVOA/9th Yards allowed per carry
Rams Run O
1st DVOA/7th Yards per carry
49ers Pass D
22rd DVOA/3rd Yards allowed per pass
Rams Pass O
10th DVOA/18th Yards per pass

The entire Saturday Main Slate writeup can be found in the Texans // Bucs game!

Xandamere’s “quick thoughts & pricing notes” for Showdown ::

  • The 49ers defense has actually given up a lot of points since Week 8 as they’ve been battered by injuries. They get Richard Sherman back this week but are far from fully healthy.
  • Jimmy G has had a couple of blowup games against really bad defenses but has otherwise ranged from crappy to mediocre the rest of the season. Don’t discount the chance of the 49ers getting their ears pinned back.
  • Mostert is overpriced for a guy who’s likelier to end closer to 15 than 20 touches but is probably the single most likely guy on the field to score a touchdown. Overall, though, I have a hard time wanting Mostert over Gurley, whose usage is far more secure and voluminous. 
  • Don’t forget that the 49ers backfield has been a timeshare all season and we have seen, time and again, “surprise” big scores coming from the “backup” running back. Coleman and Breida will both be involved and either could be the guy who hits in this game instead of Mostert.
  • George Kittle is my single favorite play in this game. 
  • Gerald Everett is returning from injury but I have no clue if Higbee has surpassed him on the depth chart after three 100+ yard receiving games in a row. 
  • The Rams have really switched up the way they’re using their three wideouts in the last few games. In their last three, Robert Woods has 36 targets while Cooper Kupp has 16 and Brandin Cooks has 12. Cooks has one TD on the year and has not hit double-digit DK points since Week 4 and seems to have largely been shoved to the back of the rotation with Woods becoming the clear alpha (but not being priced like it).

Some groups to consider:

  • At most 1 kicker
  • At most 1 defense
  • Pair captain receivers with their QB
  • Pair captain QBs with at least 2 receivers
  • At most 2 Rams wide receivers
  • At most 2 49ers running backs

Kickoff Sunday, Dec 22nd 1:00pm Eastern

Giants (
21.5) at

WFT (
20.5)

Over/Under 42.0

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Notes

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

Concentrated production is one of the most important elements for us to hunt out on our DFS rosters, and this is part of the reason we’ve been tracking (and exploring) Notable Stat Lines this year. Teams that allow concentrated production tend to continue to allow concentrated production, while teams that force opponents to spread out their action across a broader number of players tend to force opponents to spread out their action across a broader number of players. There can be a variety of factors behind these patterns (and if you dive into the Notable Stat Line lists whenever they’re posted in a writeup, you’ve probably noticed the trends that you can spot :: for example, teams that force action to the middle of the field tend to have given up multiple stat lines to interior receivers; or teams with one elite corner sometimes have multiple notable stat lines allowed to Number Two wide receivers; etc.), but even just the length of a list can tell us plenty about a team. So the Bucs — who, by all per-pass metrics, are more “mediocre” vs the pass than they are awful — have a lengthy list of notable stat lines allowed, which points to the elements “beyond the numbers” that we explore in that matchup each week (the elevated passing volume against the Bucs, and how we can use this to our advantage in a given setup); and a team like Washington, which is 3-11, and is presumed by the entire DFS universe to be universally awful, has allowed fewer notable stat lines than all but six other teams (among them: the Patriots, Bills, 49ers, and Steelers). The Redskins rank 28th in pace, prefer to keep the ball on the ground, and are solidly average on defense — ranking 20th in DVOA, 21st in yards, and 22nd in points — which has ultimately led to a below-average environment for stacked-up production materializing against them, with the best paths to such production being A) a team that filters large amounts of work to a single player, or B) a player who can do a lot on low volume. To sum all that up another way: the Redskins generally limit opportunity, and don’t provide a major matchup boost to the volume that remains, which means the players with the best shot at producing against them will be either guys who A) just see a big share of their team’s offensive work no matter what, or B) can break through for big plays.

On a healthy Giants team that no longer has “concentrated volume” as a locked-in guarantee (with Golden Tate and Sterling Shepard both healthy, and with Kaden Smith largely soaking up the volume that was previously going to Evan Engram (swapped out for Rhett Ellison if he’s healthy this week)), “players who can do a lot on low volume” are the best place to turn our attention.

>> Saquon Barkley has seen recent carry counts of 17 // 19 // 17 // 24 (with target totals in that stretch of 3 // 7 // 4 // 5), and has looked healthier the last couple weeks, making his signature jump-cuts in open space and shaking off tacklers in tight quarters. The overall game environment is a slight ding to expectations that have already proven to be dented this year by the poor offense in which Saquon plays, but he does still fit inside the “can do a lot with a little” box, keeping him in the tourney mix.

>> Darius Slayton has seen recent target counts of 7 // 9 // 8 // 3 — with the 8 // 3 both coming with Eli. (Daniel Jones is expected to be under center this week.) With everyone healthy, Slayton’s volume is less secure — but when we talk about “the types of players who can win you a tourney,” Slayton is squarely on the list, as proven by his eight touchdowns and his two games of 120+ yards. Washington has allowed 19+ yards per catch to both DeSean Jackson and Stefon Diggs this year, and they got hit for a 6-75-3 game by Taylor Gabriel. Slayton carries risk, but there is “reward” potential with his speed and big-play ability.

>> Sterling Shepard saw nine targets last week, but it’s premature to call that his guaranteed range with everyone healthy. Shep is a valid play, but it wouldn’t be surprising if volume were to swing somewhere else this week. If that were to happen, Tate would be a candidate to climb up the target totem pole. His role is almost exclusively short-area, but he does still have enough burst to break off a long gain or pick up yardage on a scramble play. “Giants tight end” is also an “uninspiring, but valid” option here: yet another guy on the Giants whose likeliest range is “a little below what you’d like at their price,” but who has slim paths to a not-particularly-predictable solid game.

Washington — it is fun to note — is favored in this spot (currently by 2.5 points), and they’ll be looking to control this game at home by leaning on the run and limiting pass attempts for Dwayne Haskins (recent attempt totals of 29 // 25 // 27 // 28). Volume among pass catchers on the Redskins has been drained by this conservative approach, though there have been a couple instances in this stretch of volume condensing on a single player, with Terry McLaurin seeing 12 targets against the Lions in Week 12 (4 // 7 // 5 in his next three games), and with Steven Sims seeing 11 targets last week (2 // 4 // 7 in his previous three games). Sims is a short-area piece who will need to break through on a busted play or score a touchdown to provide serious value. McLaurin, of course, can score from anywhere on the field, and he has 57+ yards in four of his last five games. He doesn’t exactly come at a discount, and his chances of producing a price-considered tourney winner are low in this sluggish offense; but most weeks when he misses, he doesn’t hurt you too badly, and his ceiling when he hits is certainly high enough to matter. His chances of reaching ceiling are elevated against a Giants defense that ranks 30th in DVOA against the pass and has allowed the sixth most yards per pass attempt and the fourth most yards to wide receivers. McLaurin is an “embrace some risk to access a solid raw ceiling” option. The Giants have allowed a lengthy list of notable stat lines to wideouts this year:

7-158-0 Gallup
6-106-1 Amari
8-190-3 Evans
7-130-2 Thielen
9-113-0 Edelman
6-123-2 Golladay
6-131-1 A-Rob
3-103-1 Lazard

8-95-0 Amendola
6-84-0 Demaryius
5-81-1 Crowder
6-64-2 Davante
4-74-2 DeVante

The Giants have been much better against the run, ranking eighth in DVOA while holding running backs to a semi-respectable 4.04 per carry. This is a no-drawback, but non-matchup-boosting spot for Adrian Peterson, who has a clear path to 16 to 22 touches with Derrius Guice sidelined. It will be surprising if Peterson falls shy of around 65 rushing yards, and it will be a surprise if he goes over 100, making him fairly dependent on touchdowns, where he will try to run his streak to four straight games with a score.

JM’s Interpretation ::

My thoughts don’t tilt too heavily toward this game, with the Giants having neither concentrated volume nor a matchup boost, and with Washington’s identity (in a game they are likeliest to control) tilting overwhelmingly conservative. With that said, I won’t be surprised if I end up with a bit of action from this game, as Saquon, Slayton, and McLaurin all have clear (if moderately slim) paths toward difference-making production. The likeliest range for all three of these guys has them falling shy of what you’re ultimately hunting for at their respective price tags; but all three are also solid bets for at least decent production, and all three have visible upside — keeping each in the fringe mix for my thoughts at this point in the week.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 22nd 1:00pm Eastern

Saints (
26) at

Titans (
23)

Over/Under 49.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Saints Run D
4th DVOA/4th Yards allowed per carry
Titans Run O
11th DVOA/5th Yards per carry
Saints Pass D
15th DVOA/17th Yards allowed per pass
Titans Pass O
2nd DVOA/16th Yards per pass
Titans Run D
16th DVOA/23rd Yards allowed per carry
Saints Run O
12th DVOA/14th Yards per carry
Titans Pass D
24th DVOA/26th Yards allowed per pass
Saints Pass O
14th DVOA/9th Yards per pass

The Titans are, pretty objectively, a solid football team. They play assignment-strong ball and boast plenty of attention-to-detail that trickles down to them from a head coach who is legendary for his abilities in this area. They have an identity — knowing how they can best win games — and they do a good job building their game plans around this identity. They are 8-6 and on the fringe of the AFC playoff discussion for a reason. But they also have only one win this year against a team with a winning record — and while that win came against the Chiefs, the Chiefs are also a fairly excellent matchup for the Titans’ preferred style of play: controlling the game on the ground and keeping things close until the end. The Titans will have a much more difficult time pulling off that strategy this week against a Saints defense that ranks ninth in DVOA against the run and has allowed the second fewest rushing yards in the league to running backs, at an excellent mark of only 3.69 yards per carry. The Saints set up well to move the ball through the air against Tennessee, and they have potential to knock the Titans off their standard approach (with no running back having topped 100 yards against them this year). The Saints are only 2.5 point favorites in this spot, which is giving an enormous amount of credit to the Titans’ recent surge. If we played out this slate a hundred times, the Titans would pick up maybe 15 or 20 wins and would play this game close plenty of additional times, but there would also be some Saints smashes, and New Orleans would win by 3+ more often than not.

The starting point for the Saints’ advantage in this spot is the passing attack, where New Orleans has one of the most concentrated bands of distribution in the league — with a very clear top tier (Michael Thomas), followed by two other core pieces (Kamara // Cook) and a hodgepodge of mix-and-match pieces behind these three. Here are target counts for the Saints over their last five games ::

>> Michael Thomas :: 10 // 11 // 8 // 15 // 12
>> Alvin Kamara :: 10 // 9 // 8 // 6 // 5
>> Jared Cook :: 2 // 8 // 6 // 2 // 4
>> Latavius // Ginn // Tre’Quan // Josh Hill combined :: 10 // 9 // 5 // 16 // 6

When we take price into the equation, it’s difficult to call Michael Thomas a “must play,” as the type of score he would have to post in order to “put him out of reach at his salary” is a once-in-a-season type of event. In other words: even if you miss out on one of Thomas’ big games, there are almost always ways to spend that salary in other ways that grab similar point-per-dollar production. And yet, this view of things goes out of the window when you’re able to pair Thomas with a cheap play that goes off for a high raw score, or when you’re able to pair Thomas with a cheap stack that hits. As we often say on OWS: once games kick off, salary doesn’t actually matter; all that matters is the production you get. As such, the way I have been handling Christian McCaffrey over the last two months is the same way I plan to approach Thomas at his sky-high price: I don’t start any rosters with these guys; but when I’m building around a lower-cost stack or some lower-cost-with-raw-upside pieces, I’m always looking for an opportunity to squeeze these guys in. Thomas sets up as well in this spot against an overmatched Titans secondary that ranks 22nd in DVOA against the pass (compared to fifth against the run). If you land some high raw scores from more affordable pieces this week, Thomas can make for an excellent addition.

Kamara, of course, hasn’t topped 14 carries since Week 5, and while he has a very real receiving role, he hasn’t topped 50 receiving yards since Week 3 (and hasn’t topped 23 receiving yards since Week 12). Cook has ceiling and could outscore Ertz this week if he hits his ceiling and Ertz hits his floor. Ginn is the best bet of the remaining pieces (with a pair of one-target games in his last four, but also with a five-target game and a six-target game) — though all of these “hodgepodge” guys merely qualify as dart throws.

The Titans’ best bet for keeping this game close will be rookie sensation A.J. Brown, who has recent target counts of 5 // 4 // 7 // 13, and who has — impossibly — produced yardage totals of 135 // 45 // 153 // 114 on this mostly-light volume, with four touchdowns in this stretch. With only two games above seven targets all season and a matchup on tap with Marshon Lattimore, A.J. is a thin bet at his suddenly-elevated price — though it is worth noting that the players who have hit for the biggest games against the Saints with Lattimore on the field have been DeAndre Hopkins, Cooper Kupp, Tyler Lockett, Chris Godwin, and Emmanuel Sanders: primarily explosive players with good route-running chops and alpha roles — keeping A.J. in the upside mix.

A.J. can hit big plays alongside Henry, but he is likeliest to spike if Henry is slowed. Henry hasn’t quite looked 100% the last couple weeks (in spite of producing 103 and 86 yards on the ground in those contests), and while the Saints lost Marcus Davenport and Sheldon Rankins, they played really well last week against the run, holding Marlon Mack to 1.7 yards per carry. This is a smart enough defense to know that stopping the run is the first priority in this matchup, so this should be considered a tough matchup that Henry has to beat. Talent is part of the equation in stopping the run, but so is technique, scheme, communication, and “emphasis” — and those last four elements all still make this a tough spot for Henry.

Behind alphas A.J. and Henry, Jonnu Smith (2 // 4 // 5) and Corey Davis (2 // 4 // 6) are the next best bets. If Corey misses this game with his ankle issue, it’s likeliest we see a bit more action pushed onto A.J. and Jonnu, but Tajae Sharpe could see a slight bump as well. Ultimately, a bet on the Titans’ passing attack is either a bet on massive efficiency (before last week, Ryan Tannehill had recent pass attempt totals of 19 // 18 // 22 // 27) or a bet on the Saints grabbing a lead and checking Henry — forcing the Titans more heavily to the air.

JM’s Interpretation ::

It’s not as if pricing cooperates here, with the most attractive on-paper pieces from this game (Thomas and A.J.) carrying lofty price tags that require them to hit for one of their highest-end games of the season in order to really be worth a roster spot. But if looking simply at raw production, these are the players (and the scenarios) I’m most interested in focusing on myself: expecting the Saints to check the Titans on the ground, and to produce at their normal level through the air when they have the ball. If the Saints are able to do this, Thomas will have a clear path to his standard, high-end game, while A.J. Brown will have an opportunity for a volume spike as the Titans chase points. With both of these teams ranked in the bottom-third of the league in pace of play, and with both teams focused on the short areas of the field (the Saints through the air; the Titans on the ground), it’s difficult to see a true shootout developing, which will make it difficult for Thomas or even Brown to post a true “must-have” score against their Week 16 price tags. But depending on how the week sets up, a “must-have” score may not be necessary (i.e., there may not be many “must-have” scores on this week as a whole — which could land a standard score from Thomas on a tourney-winning roster, and could land a ceiling score from Brown on a tourney-winning roster). Depending on how salary shakes out this week, I won’t be surprised to find some Thomas on my rosters; and if I have some Thomas, I may bring back some of that action with A.J. Brown — hoping the Saints force the Titans to the air and Brown responds in kind.

I expect to leave the backfields alone here, though if you’ve been taking high-priced, 12 to 15 point scores from Kamara all year in the hopes of finally catching touchdown regression, it would make sense to continue to give yourself a bit of exposure there — essentially considering yourself to be “pot-committed” on this play, and considering any additional risk on this play to be incremental against what you’ve risked already — in the hopes of finally landing your payoff. As I’ve been avoiding Kamara for most of the year myself, I’ll continue to do so here — and will gladly hunt for my upside in other spots even if he finally piles up a couple scores to make his price tag worth it.

The tight ends are also in the mix, though with Hollister and Ertz the clear leaders on this slate at the position, I expect to be overweight there, and I don’t know that either Jonnu or Cook will work his way into the “hedge” discussion for me this week.

Finally — with this game projected to remain close — you could build around this game developing into a back-and-forth affair, and could roster one of the quarterbacks and as many as three additional pieces from this game in the hopes that you can capture magic. The prices are high enough on the core pieces of this game that you would optimally want to look for a low-cost stack to pair with this spot in order to offset some of the lower point-per-dollar production you may be locking yourself into — but if you can find such a setup, the raw scores from this spot combined with the raw scores from a cheaper stack could be enough to shoot you to the top this week.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 22nd 1:00pm Eastern

Steelers (
19.75) at

Jets (
16.75)

Over/Under 36.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Steelers Run D
1st DVOA/2nd Yards allowed per carry
Jets Run O
29th DVOA/23rd Yards per carry
Steelers Pass D
8th DVOA/6th Yards allowed per pass
Jets Pass O
30th DVOA/32nd Yards per pass
Jets Run D
14th DVOA/20th Yards allowed per carry
Steelers Run O
14th DVOA/11th Yards per carry
Jets Pass D
31st DVOA/24th Yards allowed per pass
Steelers Pass O
12th DVOA/23rd Yards per pass

In this age of offense, the Pittsburgh Steelers are a strange team to boast an inside track on a playoff spot, with an elite defense that ranks third in DVOA, fourth in yards, and seventh in points (while ranking first in sacks and second in turnovers forced) — paired with an offense whose purpose is “to not lose games.” As long as the Steelers are in control of their games (i.e., unless their opponent jumps out to a big lead — which has been extremely difficult to do in this matchup), we can expect them to work the short areas of the field in the pass game while mixing in a few downfield shots. Ultimately, the Steelers want to hit a splash play or two of some sort, and then protect the lead — and if those splash plays happen to come on defense, opportunities for this offense immediately become even thinner.

Even with this game being played on the road, then, that should be the starting point for assessing this game, as the Steelers just have a much better defense than the offense they will be facing this week, with the Jets ranked 32nd in DVOA on offense, 31st in yards, and 28th in points. The Jets also rank 30th in adjusted sack rate on offense and have the ninth most giveaways in the league. Even on a smaller slate, you’re just hoping to capture magic if going to the Jets’ side of the ball. Only the Lions have a lower Vegas-implied team total on this slate.

As is always the case in a “hoping to capture magic” spot, your best bet is for work to concentrate on one player (allowing him to beat the tough matchup through sheer volume) or for big plays to strike. With that said, of course, the Steelers have allowed only two players at any position to top 100 yards against them (while no player has topped 101 yards) and have given up the fewest notable stat lines in the league. If “hoping to capture magic” through big plays, Robby Anderson is your best bet — with the third-deepest aDOT in the NFL, and with 66+ yards in four straight games (86+ in three of four). Naturally, only five teams have allowed fewer pass plays of 20+ yards than Pittsburgh.

The Steelers’ side isn’t much more exciting in this game with the lowest total on the slate (with the Steelers projected for only 20 points of their own). The Steelers rank 30th in DVOA on offense, 30th in yards, and 25th in points, while the Jets quietly rank 13th in DVOA on defense, 10th in yards, and 20th in points (with the points as much about the offense turning the ball over and giving short fields to opponents as anything else). As noted above: the Steelers will be content to win with splash plays on defense if they can — but if they need to win on offense, the air will be their best bet against this Jets team that ranks second in DVOA against the run (24th against the pass) while allowing a ludicrously low 3.16 yards per carry to opposing running backs.

Through the air, JuJu Smith-Schuster appears set to return and throw a wrench into usage, with James Washington coming off recent target counts of 7 // 4 // 4 // 11 and Diontae Johnson seeing 6 // 5 // 8 // 7 in that stretch. While target spikes can happen, expectations heading into this game should be for each of these three guys to max out at around six or seven targets, leaving “big plays” as your friend if going here. All three of J-Wash, JuJu, and Diontae have big-play ability — which lends some small level of relevance to these plays, but also makes it impossible to isolate one player “likeliest” to produce (if any production emerges at all). If you want to chase, the Jets have been above-average this year in all of aDOT, catch rate, and YAC/r, while ranking middle of the pack in pass plays allowed of 20+ yards. It’s really just “picking a guy you like for whatever reason and taking a blind swing there.”

JM’s Interpretation ::

The best thing to say about this game is that it’s unlikely to draw much ownership attention. The Jets have a matchup against an upside-killing Steelers team, and the Steelers aren’t trying to win games with offense so much as they are looking to avoid mistakes and capitalize when they can. This is not typically a recipe for DFS goodness, so consider this a spot to either avoid or bet on for big-play upside — with the three Steelers wideouts the best bets to produce in this manner.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 22nd 1:00pm Eastern

Jaguars (
20.25) at

Falcons (
27.75)

Over/Under 48.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Jaguars Run D
22nd DVOA/29th Yards allowed per carry
Falcons Run O
26th DVOA/20th Yards per carry
Jaguars Pass D
32nd DVOA/27th Yards allowed per pass
Falcons Pass O
16ths DVOA/3rd Yards per pass
Falcons Run D
8th DVOA/6th Yards allowed per carry
Jaguars Run O
17th DVOA/30th Yards per carry
Falcons Pass D
30th DVOA/31st Yards allowed per pass
Jaguars Pass O
21st DVOA/19th Yards per pass

Both of these teams are coming off their version of a “big win” — with the 5-9 Jaguars ending their ugly five-game losing streak (each loss coming by 17+ points) with a comeback win over the formerly-good Raiders, and with the 5-9 Falcons continuing their late-season resurgence with a comeback win over a 49ers team that still has the inside track on the Number One seed, needing only to win their last two games (including what might be the game of the season: 49ers at Seahawks in Week 17) to clinch the top spot in the tournament. The Falcons are the better team and are, unsurprisingly 7.5 point favorites at home against this Jaguars team that ranks 29th in DVOA on defense and has shown serious effort concerns down the stretch outside of last week’s surprising win. As we hypothesized two weeks ago might be the case: the return of Gardner Minshew has reenergized this team at least a bit, and we’ll start our exploration of this game on that side of the ball.

In last week’s NFL Edge and Player Grid, we noted that ‘barring a Minshew Meltdown,’ the Jaguars should be able to produce at least adequate production against the Raiders, and that even just adequate production would be extremely valuable with D.J. Chark on the sidelines and all other players underpriced. Minshew proceeded to completely face-plant for the first three quarters, and if not for an on-fire fourth quarter for Minshew-to-Conley, Keelan Cole’s acceptable price-considered production would have been all we got out of that spot. This week, Minshew will enter a slightly tougher matchup against a Falcons defense that shaves 10% off the league-average aDOT (the third best mark in the league) — though the Falcons do this while boosting catch rate by the fifth highest margin in the league. Given that only five teams have produced a lower average intended air yards this year than Minshew has produced, the “aDOT shaving” the Falcons do shouldn’t make a major difference for the ability of the Jags’ passing attack to hit their typical usage and range of production (i.e., the Falcons force teams to throw short, but the Jags like to throw short anyway).

Chark is currently on track to return after logging a limited practice on Wednesday, and we’ll approach this writeup assuming he makes it back in time; if he happens to miss, however, we shouldn’t see a whole lot change from Week 15, as things played out as expected last week: with Conley (eight targets) and Westbrook (four targets) finishing in their typical range of usage (Conley’s eight targets marked the sixth time in eight games he had finished with seven to nine looks; and while Dede’s four targets were low, they weren’t far off his typical floor of six targets, and Minshew played so poorly — and lost so much volume as a result — that someone had to suffer), while Cole stepped right in for six targets, picking up 3-76-0 that included a 55-yarder on the Jags’ first drive (decidedly not a harbinger of things to come). A Chark absence once again solidifies roles on the first two while opening opportunities for Cole; Dede would be the player likelier to see a boost over Conley this week, as the Raiders invite downfield passing while the Falcons do the opposite.

If Chark does, indeed, return to the field, he’ll step back into a role that has brought him five or fewer targets in four games, but that has also yielded six games of nine or more targets, six games of 75+ yards (including two of 140+ yards), and eight touchdowns. Chark has been treated as a true alpha in this offense, having his usage adjusted to fit the matchup — and while volume has been required for almost every big game against the Falcons, Chark is at least the best bet for volume on this team.

Dede is the next best bet for volume through the air if Chark plays, and while he has only two touchdowns on the year, he does have a modest nine red zone targets, and he has an outside shot at seeing enough volume to post a notable stat line against this defense. Conley is a thinner bet as the downfield threat against a Falcons team that’s more “hit with short catches and grab big gains after the catch” (9.7% YAC/r boost) than “hit with downfield throws.” With that said: a speedy player with a top-15 aDOT and a general range of seven to nine targets always has a space in the tourney conversation. It’s likely that none of these Jags receivers will stand out as strong, isolated plays against what else emerges on the slate, but they all carry some value, and they all become particularly interesting if betting on the Falcons’ passing attack.

The Jags’ offense, for all intents and purposes, wraps up with Leonard Fournette (which is also where the Jags’ offense starts). This team hasn’t quite been able to get the volume to Fournette lately that they really want to get him (18 and 20 touches the last two weeks), but the fact that 18 and 20 touches are low marks for Fournette says a lot about his role in this offense, where he has also picked up six games of 26+ touches, with six or more targets in all but two games this year. Atlanta is a perfectly middling matchup, with a number 13 DVOA ranking vs the run and middling production allowed across the board to the position. Fournette is priced somewhere between his role (elite) and his typical production (middling), making him a disappointment most weeks, but making him a really nice bargain on the weeks when his role pays off with a touchdown, a big yardage day on the ground, or an elevated pass game role.

The Falcons are a bit difficult to get comfortable breaking down this week, as Julio Jones saw 20 targets last week — which not only doesn’t happen, but it especially doesn’t happen to a player who entered that game with nine or fewer targets in eight of his previous 10 games. A player does tremendously well to see 25% of his team’s available targets. Julio saw over 50% last week. Perhaps the most telling (and easiest-to-overlook) stat from Julio’s Week 15 masterpiece was the 134 yards on 13 catches — a below-average mark, especially for Julio, and a clear indicator of what the Falcons saw that led to them feeding such heavy volume Julio’s way :: essentially: ‘Hey, we’re going to have a tough time moving the ball no matter where we go, so let’s just lean on our best player and see what happens.’ It’s likely that Julio drops closer to his standard range of looks this week — though the absence of Calvin Ridley and the effectiveness of last week’s “lean on Julio” plan could at least lead to a small rise from his typical “nine to 10 target” range. The matchup is middling against a Jags defense that ranks 21st in DVOA against the pass and has allowed the ninth fewest catches and fifth fewest touchdowns to wide receivers, with most of this “limited production” due to the Jags facing the seventh highest rush play rate; if the Falcons pass enough in this spot and prove smart enough to lean on Julio, he should be able to produce at a solid clip.

With Julio soaking up so much work last week, Austin Hooper saw six targets — nailing the floor of his typical “six to nine” range. If the Falcons break ranks with the rest of the Jags’ opponents and attack through the air, Hooper has a shot to get in on the Ridley-absence-boost himself in this spot. The Falcons do have the highest pass play rate in the league; so while the Jags will likely nudge them toward the run more often than is their norm, they are likely to still throw enough for some production to emerge. Behind these two, Russell Gage (six targets last week; four targets two weeks ago) is the only player among remaining wideouts who has seen more than two targets in a game over the last two weeks. Gage is a short-area piece who will need a busted play or a touchdown to matter.

The last time we saw the Falcons take on a team that tilts opponents toward the ground (two weeks ago vs Carolina), the Falcons threw “only” 34 times (Ryan’s third-lowest mark of the season), while Devonta Freeman grabbed 17 carries and 21 touches (both of which tied for his second-highest marks on the season). If Atlanta controls this game as expected, Freeman should have some opportunities to hit against this Jags unit that has allowed the third most rushing yards, the ninth most receiving yards, and the third most touchdowns to the running back position. Running backs are averaging an incredible 5.3 yards per carry in this matchup. Freeman played a surprising 79% of the Falcons’ snaps last week, so while he’s still running behind a bottom-tier offensive line, his role and matchup point in the right direction.

JM’s Interpretation ::

I expect this game to be something of a “fringe focal point” across my nine to 12 builds this week, as the Falcons seem likely to point Ridley’s missing production toward Freeman // Julio // Hooper (as this coaching staff works overtime to save their jobs), rather than using this opportunity to “evaluate the young guys.” If this proves to be the case once again, the Falcons will yield concentrated touches in a good matchup, with one of the highest Vegas-implied totals on the slate. With price considered, Hooper stands out the most (DK/FDraft only), as he should be able to bring in around six to nine targets in a good matchup, with upside for even a few more looks from there, while Freeman is next in line for the likelihood that the Falcons tilt their offense more heavily toward the run. Julio, of course, isn’t far behind either of these two — with his elevated price making his frequent misses hurt a whole lot more, but with enough upside for those misses to be worth the risk. Because I expect Julio to be one of the highest-owned plays on the slate (as the field is likely to automatically assume another monster-target game), and because teams have tilted so heavily toward the run in this matchup, I’ll likely be underweight the field on him — using him as my hedge bet off my Devonta/Hooper exposure; but I’ll likely have a moderate amount of Devonta/Hooper, with a small amount of Julio blended in.

On the Jags’ side: this offense has been something of a “mix into my tourney builds” staple for me over the last month and a half, as pricing has gotten fairly tight across the board this deep into the season, while this inconsistent-but-concentrated offense has remained underpriced for ceiling. Most weeks, two of these players (Fournette // Chark // Dede // Conley) post a nice price-considered score; and if there’s a week in which two players don’t, it’s likely because one guy (Fournette or Chark) pitched in with a monster score. In other words: this hasn’t been an offense to isolate and target; but it has been an offense to mix in — embracing a few “misses” in order to capture paths to slate-breakers. No one on this offense is likely to be a staple for me, but depending on how the week shapes up, I may mix in a bit of Chark and Fournette for the upside available — with these plays likeliest to be placed on rosters that also bet on Falcons.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 22nd 1:00pm Eastern

Ravens (
29.5) at

Browns (
19.5)

Over/Under 49.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Ravens Run D
2nd DVOA/11th Yards allowed per carry
Browns Run O
7th DVOA/3rd Yards per carry
Ravens Pass D
7th DVOA/14th Yards allowed per pass
Browns Pass O
23rd DVOA/27th Yards per pass
Browns Run D
20th DVOA/5th Yards allowed per carry
Ravens Run O
5th DVOA/1st Yards per carry
Browns Pass D
19th DVOA/30th Yards allowed per pass
Ravens Pass O
19th DVOA/31st Yards per pass

Xandamere and I recently had a conversation about how the Ravens are one of the most interesting teams to break down. In Showdown play — where all the action has to come from one game — Baltimore presents one of the most challenging setups, because volume on the Ravens is spread so thin, and the Ravens’ defense makes life so difficult on opponents. On the Main Slate, however, these same elements make the Ravens one of the easiest teams to break down, as Lamar Jackson is almost always a lock, and there are never any guarantees for players to emerge behind Lamar on full-sized slates. When a player from the Ravens does emerge behind Lamar, Mark Ingram and Mark Andrews are the bets; and on the opposing team — in the rare instances where something hits — the run is likeliest to be your ally.

Lamar will likely be capping his MVP season here (it won’t be surprising if he is the exceedingly rare Unanimous MVP), as the Ravens will have nothing to play for in Week 17 if they get a win this week, with a first-round bye and the Number One seed already locked up. The Browns are middling against the pass — ranking 13th in DVOA and 15th in yards allowed per pass attempt — though they are so attackable on the ground (28th in DVOA // 4.8 yards allowed per carry to enemy running backs) that teams have been content to hit the Browns with the sixth highest rush play rate in the league. Given that Baltimore, of course, ranks far ahead of every other team in the league in rush play rate, it will likely take an unexpected game flow shift for Lamar to break out of this stretch that has seen him fail to crack even 25 pass attempts in eight consecutive games.

With so few pass attempts showing up for the Ravens and volume spread out on this group, this is always a difficult unit to bet on — especially as Lamar’s 33 passing touchdowns have elevated prices (while touchdowns are the least predictable element in DFS). Going purely off of production-to-date, Andrews is the best bet from this group. He has gone north of 53 receiving yards in only two of his last 12 games, and he has only one game all year north of eight targets; but he has eight touchdowns on the season, which has given him access to ceiling more often than not. Behind Andrews, it’s “hoping to guess right on a couple big plays,” or “hoping that more than one touchdown ends up on a single player.”

Joining Lamar in the backfield will be Ingram, who has topped 15 carries only two times (and 17 total touches only three times), but whose 14 touchdowns on the year have made him ceiling-playable a number of times. With only four games north of 76 rushing yards this year, Ingram is a risk/reward option — though the matchup is a bonus against the Browns. Ingram has also shown an ability to hit ceiling alongside Lamar, keeping each guy playable on the same roster.

The Browns, meanwhile, are coming off an ugly loss against the Cardinals that says a lot about this group of players (i.e., as opposed to “team”) that all think the solution to the problem is more work flowing their way. In reality, the one guy who doesn’t speak up (Chubb) should be the central piece of this offense, but the Browns have been so focused on “getting the pass game going,” they have consistently (and illogically) failed to get Chubb involved until they fall behind.

When this team takes to the air this week, they’ll be dealing with a Ravens defense that ranks fourth in DVOA against the pass in spite of their early-season struggles (prior to Jimmy Smith getting healthy and Marcus Peters joining the team), and that hasn’t allowed a receiver to touch 100 yards since Peters arrived (with garbage time required for any wideout to get above even 91 yards in the Ravens’ last 10 games). This is a very different defense from the one the Browns smashed in Week 4, and it won’t be surprising if this defense is looking to make a statement here. A bet on Odell Beckham (who remains hobbled with his hernia injury) or Jarvis Landry is a bet on volume and talent winning out over matchup in a game the Browns will likely be trailing. This isn’t a pitiful bet when you’re talking about players as talented as these two, but it’s still a long-shot bet best reserved for upside shots in large-field play.

In the Browns’ backfield (where they have a softer matchup vs a Ravens defense that ranks 21st in DVOA against the run — with the Ravens holding running backs to the ninth fewest rushing yards in the league, but with per-touch production a positive in this spot at 4.51 yards per carry), Nick Chubb is the best bet for a slate-breaker, with Kitchens’ inability to lean on him as a focal point (recent carry counts of 16 // 15 // 17) his biggest obstacle. Even in the four blowout losses the Browns have had, Chubb has seen 16+ carries (albeit without Hunt on the field for the first three of them), making him an interesting “bet on talent” play in a spot that is tougher for the low volume typically afforded than for the actual matchup. A repeat of Chubb’s Week 4 game (165 yards and three touchdowns vs the Ravens) is obviously unlikely, but a solid game is in the cards. Behind Chubb, Hunt (who has 10 to 12 touches in all six games played) is a long-shot play at his price unless his volume spikes, but he does have enough per-touch upside that it wouldn’t be a crazy play in large-field action.

JM’s Interpretation ::

Lamar is always squarely in the mix — and while it’s difficult to get a true feel for how he stacks up on the slate at his price until I’ve finished writing the NFL Edge and given my mind a few hours of rest before going back and reading everything myself, his raw ceiling is as high as any quarterback, and his chances of approaching that ceiling are high in this spot, likely landing him as a Tier 1 + Priority play for me yet again.

Behind Lamar, Ingram is always interesting as a mix-in piece for his ceiling as part of a multi-entry block, and he’s always a bit difficult to put in one’s core given his low floor at his price (and the unpredictable nature of touchdown scoring). I’ve been mixing in a few “Ingram hedge bets” on my Lamar-heavy weeks (often with one or two rosters on which they overlap, and with each carrying rosters solo elsewhere), and I imagine I’ll end up there again this week: acknowledging that it’s impossible to predict Ingram’s touchdown spikes, but that I want to make sure I have exposure to those when they hit.

Behind Ingram, I don’t usually take the risk on Baltimore pass catchers — but if you want to go there yourself, Andrews has been the player who has hit with the most regularity, and he’s in the mix for ceiling.

Finally, the drop in price for Chubb on DK makes him interesting to me as a fringe play in tourneys, as it’s honestly not a stretch to say that Chubb is the best per-carry back in the league (first in the NFL in rushing yards; first in yards per carry among backs averaging at least 10 carries per game), and this matchup isn’t all that daunting on the ground. The likeliest scenario has Chubb seeing too few carries to justify even his lowered price, but if he can pick up just a few extra looks (or can hit on just one or two early runs), he could prove to be a really nice Upside piece on this slate.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 22nd 1:00pm Eastern

Panthers (
20) at

Colts (
27)

Over/Under 47.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Panthers Run D
26th DVOA/18th Yards allowed per carry
Colts Run O
22nd DVOA/28th Yards per carry
Panthers Pass D
13th DVOA/10th Yards allowed per pass
Colts Pass O
15th DVOA/10th Yards per pass
Colts Run D
6th DVOA/3rd Yards allowed per carry
Panthers Run O
16th DVOA/21st Yards per carry
Colts Pass D
3rd DVOA/2nd Yards allowed per pass
Panthers Pass O
11th DVOA/11th Yards per pass

A summary scouting report of new Panthers starting quarterback Will Grier :: he’s a smart quarterback with good accuracy in the short areas of the field, but he has an inability to drive the ball downfield or create when a play breaks down. Which makes him an interesting fit here, as the way to beat Indy is with short-area precision. Grier’s limitations reading NFL defenses are unlikely to be a major problem against the fairly “get what you see” Indy defense — but his limitations may be felt more heavily by D.J. Moore (now up to 70+ yards in nine of 10 games, including seven straight — just an incredible streak, and one we’ve been fortunate enough to have been on since nearly the beginning). Allen is getting benched for his turnovers, but part of the reason he’s turned the ball over so often has been his aggressiveness — which has allowed Moore to eat up production in the intermediate and deep areas of the field. We should consider Moore’s downfield role to be a guessing game this week, while he’s also less likely to be quite as effective given the structure of the matchup and the quarterback change. With that said: Moore also has nine or more targets in eight of his last nine games, and it’s impossible to fully remove him from consideration (especially as the field is likely to completely overlook this play given the uncertainty at quarterback). Bump up risk expectations on Moore (and he’s priced high enough that a score you “have to have had” is almost out of the question), but it won’t be surprising if he finds a way to produce again.

While the passing attack among wide receivers and tight ends is highly likely to continue flowing through Moore, everything else on this offense will flow through Christian McCaffrey (who has a ludicrous 9+ targets and 7+ receptions in five consecutive games). The matchup is not a boost for CMC against Darius Leonard and the Colts, but it has not proven to be a major obstacle, either, with the Colts ranking “slightly above-average” to “slightly below-average” in pretty much every category against running backs. In any case, matchup matters less for CMC than does the moderate potential for the quarterback shift to lower scoring for this offense. As always, CMC’s raw production expectations sit at the top of the slate — though his chances of wrecking this slate at his price are lowered by the neutral matchup and the uncertainty brought on by the quarterback switch.

Behind alphas CMC and Moore, Curtis Samuel has produced 31 or fewer receiving yards in five of his last six games — leaving him as a “bet on touchdowns or busted plays” option against an Indy defense that has faced the seventh fewest wide receiver targets on the whole, but that does have soft coverage underneath. At tight end, Greg Olsen appears on track to play against an Indy defense that should filter a couple extra targets his way. Olsen has potential to be moderately valuable in this spot if things go his way (though he would need quite a few things to go right in order to capture a must-have score).

On the other side of the ball, the Colts’ offense isn’t built to win games themselves, with this group instead aiming to slow down games (28th in situation neutral pace), keep the ball on the ground (27th in pass play rate), and keep games close enough for good things to hopefully happen at the end. Against a Carolina defense that ranks 32nd in DVOA against the run and has allowed the second most running back rushing yards and (by far) the most running back touchdowns (on a ridiculous 5.32 yards allowed per carry), it’s reasonable to expect the Colts to lean on the run — especially with Grier under center on the other side.

When the Colts do pass, T.Y. Hilton (nine targets last week) is by far the best bet for production — especially price-considered, as the other pass catchers on this team saw their prices rise when T.Y. was out. Hilton spent time on the sidelines last week and didn’t look fully 100% — and in this short-area offense, he has yet to top 87 yards in a game in spite of seeing nine or more looks in half of his eight games played. He’s a bit of a dart throw here (albeit a dart throw with talent, speed, and an emphasized role), keeping him on the fringe of the tourney conversation. Behind Hilton, this passing attack is just crossing your fingers — with Hilton back on the field, and with Jacoby Brissett topping 29 pass attempts only six times all year.

And of course, the reason Brissett is likeliest to finish with 29 or fewer attempts once again :: Mack — who is a pure yardage-and-touchdown back, and who has only two games this year above 21 carries…but who enters the best matchup a running back can have. When Mack misses, he can miss fairly hard (seven games already below 10 points) — and even with the bonuses and full-PPR scoring on DraftKings/FantasyDraft, he has only one game this year north of 21 points. And yet, in this matchup, on a run-heavy team, he remains in the mix.

JM’s Interpretation ::

The Colts’ Vegas-implied total of 26.5 feels at least a bit aggressive after they’ve topped 24 points only four times all year, with their team built around keeping the ball on the ground and slowing down the game. And yet, there is at least a scenario in which Grier comes out hot, and the Panthers continue producing at the same fairly valuable level (while continuing to push the pace) before allowing the Colts to rack up points as well. I might build one roster around that scenario — though that’s also likely to be the extent of my pass game exposure in this spot, as I’ll otherwise expect that the scores you could get (at risk) in this spot will be scores you could also get (with less risk) in other spots. A game stack accounts for a scenario in which that ends up not being the case, while otherwise leaving me without that unnecessary risk on other builds.

The backfields are a different story — with CMC always sitting near the top of the slate, and with Mack carrying clear risk, but carrying clear potential as well. Because Mack needs more things to go right for a big game than, say, Mixon needs, I won’t be surprised if Mack is something shy of a staple on my builds. But the upside is enticing, and he needs to at least be considered across tourney builds this week.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 22nd 1:00pm Eastern

Bengals (
23) at

Dolphins (
22)

Over/Under 45.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Bengals Run D
23rd DVOA/28th Yards allowed per carry
Dolphins Run O
23rd DVOA/22nd Yards per carry
Bengals Pass D
16th DVOA/25th Yards allowed per pass
Dolphins Pass O
11th DVOA/17th Yards per pass
Dolphins Run D
32nd DVOA/19th Yards allowed per carry
Bengals Run O
27th DVOA/26th Yards per carry
Dolphins Pass D
10th DVOA/16th Yards allowed per pass
Bengals Pass O
26th DVOA/13th Yards per pass

If we broke down all the games in podcast form instead of written form (which is sometimes something I wish would make more sense on your end, as typing the Edge and collecting the stats takes about 12 to 15 hours out of the week; though of course, a podcast format would demand a lot more of your time (probably about 5 hours of listening), and would make it impossible for you to really track your thoughts the way you should be able to track them for something as mammoth as “digesting an entire slate of NFL games”), one of the things I would do with my freed-up time and mental energy is dive a lot more deeply into all-22 study. It takes at least four or five hours per game to really get the most out of all-22 study, however, so I end up saving a lot of that specific style of study for the offseason. I mention all that because it’s tougher to say exactly what opponents are seeing here, but teams are just absolutely refusing to lean pass-heavy against the Bengals this season — with even the Patriots dropping under 50% in this matchup last week. On the season, the Bengals are the only team that has been attacked more often on the ground than through the air (nearly turning their average opponent into the Ravens, in terms of rushing frequency); and while we’re 15 weeks into the season and you can still find blurbs each week from national outlets calling the Bengals a smash spot for opposing passing attacks, this team has allowed the 11th fewest passing yards and the seventh fewest passing touchdowns, while leaving wide receivers with the second fewest catches in the league. Only four wide receivers have topped even 86 yards in this matchup this year.

All of which makes this is an interesting setup for Miami, as this team can’t run the ball (32nd in DVOA; 31st in yards per carry), and they rank second in the league (behind only the Falcons) in pass play rate. The Dolphins’ offense is further built around an aggressive downfield mindset, while the Bengals shave an impressive 8.4% off the league-average aDOT (while also holding opponents to a below-average catch rate — with YAC representing the biggest area where the Bengals have struggled, allowing a 29.9% boost in this area).

When the Dolphins run, they’ll lean primarily on Patrick Laird, who has recent touch counts of 14 // 19 // 14, and who has quietly faced three tough run game matchups in these spots: the Eagles, the Jets, and the Giants. I was surprised last week when Laird was one of the higher-owned players on the slate (as a not-exactly-salary-saver on an offense that can’t run, vs a decent Giants run defense), but he actually lines up better this week, as the Bengals rank 27th in DVOA against the run and have allowed the fourth most rushing yards to the position (at 4.81 yards per carry). The Bengals’ zone has also pushed action toward running backs through the air, where Laird has target counts of 5 // 5 // 5. As we know, touchdowns are tougher to come by against the Bengals (third in opponent red zone touchdown rate), and the Dolphins still can’t run block (32nd in adjusted line yards), but the workload should be fairly locked-in, and there is some risk/reward to consider here with ownership likely dropping as the spot improves.

When the Dolphins do take to the air, they have been breaking down targets in recent weeks as follows:

>> DeVante Parker :: 11 // 10 // 2 (concussion) // 7
>> Allen Hurns :: 7 // 4 // 8 // 1
>> Mike Gesicki :: 7 // 7 // 5 // 8
>> Albert Wilson :: 7 // 5 // 2 (concussion) // 8

Parker is less likely to see double-digits in this spot as the Dolphins’ passing volume should trickle down at least a little, but his targets should remain locked in, and his downfield role and red zone role keep him in the mix. Behind Parker, it’s possible for a broken play or a touchdown to provide value on Hurns or Gesicki, but given that the Bengals have primarily struggled through big plays after the catch, Wilson stands out the most here. If you took every qualifying wide receiver in the NFL and put them in a line according to aDOT, Wilson would be the last guy walking into the room — giving him a fairly modest floor if one of these big plays doesn’t materialize; but the potential is real enough here for Wilson to be kept in the mix.

On the other side of this game (as we know by now), there are no bad matchups, only the potential for bad volume — and even since Andy Dalton has returned to the field, volume on the Bengals has continued to flow through Mixon, who has recent touch counts of 21 // 32 // 16 // 18 // 23 // 26 // 28 (after not having topped 20 touches a single time in his first seven games). Dalton has thrown the ball 37, 38, and 31 times since returning, with Cincy throwing the ball on only 55.6% of their pass plays (compared to their season-long average — third-highest in the NFL — of 64.2%). With the Bengals focused heavily on the run lately and the Dolphins facing the second highest rush play rate in the league, touches should be locked in for Mixon, who is a solid bet to be the piece that drives this game forward. Production isn’t guaranteed behind a line ranked 26th in adjusted line yards, and Mixon is likely to be popular this week; but this line has looked better (as explored multiple times over the last month-plus) since shifting up some of their blocking schemes, and the Dolphins rank 32nd in adjusted line yards on defense. Mixon is firmly in the mix.

It’s tougher to get a feel for the Bengals’ passing attack, as this is the softest matchup Cincy could hope for (with the Dolphins’ weak pass rush especially boosting per-pass expectations for Dalton), but volume is a relative question mark, and effectiveness can always be considered a question when looking at this group. This is a risk/reward unit this week. The best bets for the reward to be worth the risk are John Ross on explosion and Tyler Boyd on volume.

Boyd has recent target counts of 10 // 6 // 7, and if you take away the game against New England, he has recent production of 5-59-0 // 5-79-0. Five catches for 50 yards should be a reasonable “bad game” projection for Boyd here (i.e., he could dip below that, but his 80% range would keep him at least at this level), and he could very reasonably grab a couple big gains or a touchdown to become an Upside piece. Ross is less projectable, and he has only three targets in each of his last two games; but he was working in the six to eight target range earlier in the year and has obvious big-play upside. Behind these two, you’re hoping for broken plays, spiked volume, or multiple touchdowns from Alex Erickson or the tight ends. This offense is essentially Mixon/Boyd at the moment.

JM’s Interpretation ::

Mixon carries at least some level of risk, but especially on DraftKings (where his price does not match his role), he’ll be looking to force his way into the Tier 1 discussion. The likeliest scenario this week probably doesn’t quite have Mixon on a true ceiling game in this inconsistent offense; but his chances of whiffing are low (he has 17+ DK/FDraft points in six of his last seven games; 15+ FanDuel points), and if he hits he can be among the highest point-per-dollar plays on the slate. Behind Mixon, Boyd is interesting as a guy with clear paths to upside and a non-awful floor, while Ross is a guy I might potentially mix in lightly — as he’s unlikely to hit, but he’s very valuable on the off chance he does.

The way to attack Cincy is on the ground, and the way to target Miami is through the air. Laird and Parker are both in the mix (and the same could be said for Hurns and Gesicki), while Wilson actually stands out a bit as a player who still has a low floor, but who has the clearest paths to a big game through the air for this offense if he can turn his speed into a couple big gains on short catches against the Bengals. I’ll likely mix in a bit of Laird and Wilson myself, alongside a chunk of Mixon and a bit of Boyd.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 22nd 4:05pm Eastern

Lions (
16) at

Broncos (
24)

Over/Under 40.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Lions Run D
30th DVOA/26th Yards allowed per carry
Broncos Run O
20th DVOA/16th Yards per carry
Lions Pass D
12th DVOA/20th Yards allowed per pass
Broncos Pass O
31st DVOA/26th Yards per pass
Broncos Run D
5th DVOA/10th Yards allowed per carry
Lions Run O
13th DVOA/18th Yards per carry
Broncos Pass D
9th DVOA/13th Yards allowed per pass
Lions Pass O
19th DVOA/20th Yards per pass

The state of the Detroit Lions is such that they are seven point underdogs against a 5-9 Broncos team — and there is really no way to have any reasonable qualms with this line. The Lions are expected to return Kerryon Johnson this week, but their offensive line still can’t block and David Blough is still under center, at Denver, against a Vic Fangio defense that has been above-average this year, ranking 12th in DVOA, 13th in yards allowed, and 10th in points allowed, while ranking a solid ninth in opponent drive success rate. Furthermore, the Broncos looked comfortable on offense against the Chargers and Texans before predictably failing at Arrowhead, and this week they will be taking on a fully crumbled Lions defense that ranks 26th in DVOA, 31st in yards, 26th in points, and 26th in drive success rate. The Lions have faced the seventh most running back touches — and while they’ve allowed only 3.98 yards per carry to backs, they have also given up the third most receiving yards to the position. The Lions have also boosted aDOT by 25% — the largest boost in the league — while allowing the fifth most yards per pass attempt.

The Broncos moved away from the run as they fell behind the Chiefs last week, calling on Drew Lock to throw the ball 40 times after he had posted only 28 and 27 pass attempts in his first two starts — while dropping Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman to 12 combined carries after giving them 22 and 24 in their previous two games. Barring outlier game scenarios, we should expect the Broncos to return to the run in a game they should control.

Lindsay is likeliest to be the main beneficiary of this approach, with 20 and 18 touches in Lock’s first two starts. Lindsay’s pass game role has not been particularly valuable in this offense (only one game above 11 receiving yards in his last nine games), so even though he has a legitimate pass game role on paper, he is best viewed as a yardage-and-touchdown back (with any pass game production a bonus — a shame, as Detroit is especially susceptible in the screen game). Lindsay’s floor has proven to be low on this uninspiring offense, but his ceiling remains high, and the matchup — while not exactly a boost — is at least non-threatening. Behind Lindsay, Royce will need a spike in usage/role in order to produce — though given the Broncos’ run-leaning tendencies, there is at least a greater-than-0% chance that this bet could pay off.

Through the air, the key piece for this offense has been Courtland Sutton, with recent target counts of 9 // 8 // 5 // 7 // 10. Sutton will match up with Slay in this spot — though with the Lions unable to get their pass rush on track this season (and too willing to lean on man-heavy coverage schemes behind that poor pass rush), we should expect volume to be a bigger concern for Sutton than matchup. He’s a decent bet to connect on a couple of downfield plays (70+ yards in seven of his last 10 games), and he’s a poor bet for a slate-breaking score in this non-aggressive offense. Ultimately, Sutton will need a multi-touchdown game or for the Lions to keep this game close in order to really pay off — so while these are possible outcomes, he’s better rostered for his steady production than in the hopes of rising to the tops of tourneys through this play.

Behind Sutton, the highest target mark any Broncos pass catcher had reached in three games before Lock’s 40-attempt showing last week was five — done twice: when Noah Fant went 3-14-0 vs Buffalo, and when Jeff Heuerman went 3-15-0 against the Chargers. Unless you are just hoping to capture a fluky output on a busted play, ancillary pass catchers on the Broncos are best saved for rosters that bet on Detroit keeping this game close and forcing heavier-than-expected volume.

The Lions are a crapshoot across the board with Blough failing to crack even a 60% completion rate so far, with five interceptions to go with his three touchdowns. His preferred target so far has been Danny Amendola (8 // 8 // 13), though Amendola’s 102 yards last week marked the first time in seven games he had topped 50 yards (and only the second time in that stretch he had topped 35). He’s volume-and-fortune-dependent for his upside.

Alpha Kenny Golladay, meanwhile, is merely fortune-dependent, as he has lines with Blough of 4-158-1, 6-58-1, and 3-44-0 on target counts of only 5 // 8 // 7. This is a really tough spot against a Broncos team that has allowed the fifth fewest catches to wideouts — though Blough has gone for 38+ pass attempts in all three starts this year, creating at least some potential for Golladay see a bit more work in this spot. (Chris Lacy saw only two targets last week. The focus, if going here, should be on Amendola and Golladay.)

Among running backs, Kerryon may be eased in and has topped 50 yards on the ground only once this year (against Kansas City) behind this poor offensive line, making him merely a bet-on-broken-plays-or-touchdowns dart.

Among tight ends, Logan Thomas, Jesse James, and Isaac Nauta combined for 11 targets last week but turned this into a line of just 4-41-0. These guys are just a guessing game requiring a multi-touchdown spike in order to provide serious value.

JM’s Interpretation ::

Even on a small slate, I don’t expect to have heavy interest in this game — with a low total, and with the Broncos likely to control this game without generating any slate-breakers. If I do go here, the first place I’ll be interested in is Lindsay, while Sutton could also be worthy of “small percentage” exposure for his talent and alpha status in a great matchup. Of course, the best bet for Sutton to hit an actual slate-breaker is for the Lions to keep pace — so if you really want to target “the top of the slate” with a Sutton build (rather than just taking him for his typically steady production), you should strongly consider bringing that roster back with some Lions exposure. I won’t be surprised if Sutton goes for another solid game, but the prospect of bringing him back with a Lions piece might be enough to keep me off this play, as it’s tough to see a scenario in which Sutton really hits big without the Lions keeping pace…and it’s tough to see the Lions keeping pace unless it’s simply through a low-scoring affair.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 22nd 4:05pm Eastern

Raiders (
18.75) at

Chargers (
26.25)

Over/Under 45.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Raiders Run D
31st DVOA/15th Yards allowed per carry
Chargers Run O
31st DVOA/13th Yards per carry
Raiders Pass D
26th DVOA/28th Yards allowed per pass
Chargers Pass O
7th DVOA/5th Yards per pass
Chargers Run D
21st DVOA/14th Yards allowed per carry
Raiders Run O
24th DVOA/17th Yards per carry
Chargers Pass D
11th DVOA/23rd Yards allowed per pass
Raiders Pass O
5th DVOA/7th Yards per pass

DFS sites (DraftKings in particular) have been extremely aggressive the last few years in pricing up players who are filling in for injuries — with the thinking seemingly being: “If we’re going to give our users tight pricing, we need to make sure we don’t leave gaping, obvious holes that lead to ridiculously concentrated ownership.” It seems that most of the DFS community is in pretty universal agreement that a middle ground here would be preferred (with tight pricing, but not so tight that it leaves variance-embracing as the only true path to slate-breaking upside), but this is what we have, so it is what it is.

This week, however, we have a rare instance of a lead back emerging at the bottom of the price range, as Josh Jacobs was ruled out on Wednesday with his fractured shoulder, well after pricing was set. Two weeks ago when Jacobs missed, DeAndre Washington played 39 of 62 snaps (62.9%) and saw 20 touches (14 carries; six receptions), while Jalen Richard saw nine touches of his own (7 // 2). The macro matchup against the Chargers is not great, as this team has faced the fewest opponent plays per game, which has led to them allowing the fifth fewest yards and the 13th fewest points. Only four teams have allowed fewer pass plays of 20+ yards than the Chargers; only one wide receiver has topped 100 yards against the Chargers; and only two running backs have topped 100 yards in this spot (both of whom required 25+ carries to get there). The Raiders are without Trent Brown and can’t get anything going through the air outside of Darren Waller (who has a tough draw this week with the Chargers’ secondary healthy), and Derek Carr tends to struggle when facing pressure (which he’ll likely be facing this week). But Washington provides cheap access to what should be 16 to 22 touches (with a few targets mixed in), and there’s plenty of value in that.

Waller is priced next to Ertz this week (recent target counts for Ertz of 11 // 14 // 6 // 13 // 10, compared to recent target counts for Waller of 7 // 6 // 9 // 6 // 10), and he has the tougher matchup, so he should be considered a risk/reward play that needs to bust through in a tougher spot and top Ertz in order to provide value. The rest of this passing attack has been nothing but prayers behind Waller, with little upside to show for your efforts. Hunter Renfrow is set to return this week to soak away volume from both Tyrell Williams and Waller. Tyrell is a ceiling play with thin paths to get there. Renfrow is a floor play with some thin paths to price-considered usefulness.

The Chargers are expected to control this game as seven point favorites (with a Vegas-implied team total of 26.0), and in games the Chargers have controlled, they have run the ball nearly as often as they have passed — opening a “likeliest scenario” in which Melvin Gordon sees around 16 to 20 carries (19 to 23 touches) while Austin Ekeler sees six to nine carries (10 to 14 touches). The matchup for these two is attractive against a crumbling Raiders team that ranks 25th in DVOA against the run — with game flow likely working in favor of the Chargers’ backfield as well.

The matchup is also a bonus through the air for the Chargers, where the Raiders rank 31st in DVOA against the pass and are allowing the most yards per pass attempt in the league — with a 13.8% boost added against the league-average aDOT, and with an 11.4% boost against the league-average YAC/r. The aDOT element is especially noteworthy here, as volume is only likely to pile up for the Chargers’ passing attack through an unlikely game flow scenario. You could bet on those outlier scenarios by stacking this game with one or two Raiders pieces that you think can turn the Chargers more pass-heavy with some early scoring (opening the door for volume-based production from L.A.), but your likeliest path to notable production here is through big plays.

This points to Mike Williams as the best bet here — with target counts of only 5 // 7 // 3 // 9 in his last four games, but with 45+ yards in 12 straight, 69+ in seven of those games, his first two touchdowns of the year in his last two games, and the first two 100-yard games of his career in his last six. While he has not yet shown this: his largely-limited targets give him a somewhat low floor; but Williams also hasn’t shown his true slate-breaking ceiling. He’s an intriguing tourney option.

As we are well aware, Keenan Allen is best deployed as a “bet on volume” piece, though he could conceivably work a bit deeper this week, giving him an outside shot at hitting on sub-10 looks. Hunter Henry, meanwhile, has somehow managed to rack up only nine total targets in his last three games combined (after having picked up nine targets in a single game before this stretch). He’s a thin play against the tight ends he has to outscore this week, but the matchup does provide upside paths if you want to chase them on a small number of builds.

JM’s Interpretation ::

Philip Rivers has looked about ready to retire over the last couple months, but he has still been doing enough to provide value to his pass catchers. I doubt any player from this offense will find his way toward the center of my builds, but both running backs and Mike Williams are in the mix for me. Depending on how everything looks once I read through the Edge, I could even see Keenan approaching one or two builds as well.

On the Raiders’ side, the only interest I’ll have is in the backfield — though I will have a decent level of interest, given the price and role on Washington. The Raiders are built so heavily around the run that 14+ touches is highly likely for Washington, and that’s enough to make him valuable for his expected floor/ceiling at his price. He isn’t a must-play as part of a split backfield on a road underdog, but most paths have him producing above his price level, and there is certainly visible ceiling in this run-centric offense.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 22nd 4:25pm Eastern

Cards (
21.75) at

Hawks (
29.75)

Over/Under 51.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Cardinals Run D
10th DVOA/25th Yards allowed per carry
Seahawks Run O
8th DVOA/12th Yards per carry
Cardinals Pass D
10th DVOA/19th Yards allowed per pass
Seahawks Pass O
3rd DVOA/2nd Yards per pass
Seahawks Run D
9th DVOA/13th Yards allowed per carry
Cardinals Run O
2nd DVOA/2nd Yards per carry
Seahawks Pass D
29th DVOA/32nd Yards allowed per pass
Cardinals Pass O
18th DVOA/15th Yards per pass

In spite of their 11-3 record, the Seahawks (who — as we have explored this year — have built their team philosophy around making sure they always have a shot to win in the fourth quarter) have picked up only one win of “more than one possession” this year — a win that just so happened to come against these same Arizona Cardinals, when Seattle won 27-10 on the road in Week 4. In that spot, the Seahawks were able to successfully turn the Cardinals into a depressingly horizontal unit (I specifically remember watching that game and wondering when the Cardinals were going to attempt anything remotely downfield), and were able to control the game on the ground — calling on Russell Wilson to throw only 28 times, while handing the ball off 22 times to Chris Carson (and adding another three carries to C.J. Prosise). Vegas has installed the Seahawks as 9.5 point favorites — lending a vote of confidence to the idea of this game playing out in a similar manner this week. If that winds up being the case, Christian Kirk will be a floor play with some paths to ceiling (and with these paths, of course, broadening if the Cardinals give him a couple looks downfield), while the rest of this Arizona passing attack will become a set of “maybe one of them posts a non-awful score, but a tourney-winner will be incredibly difficult to come by” plays. Russ (who notched only 14.3 fantasy points the last time these teams met — because, as we know, the Seahawks are not going to open up their offense if they are playing with a lead) would be a “squint to see ceiling” play in this “likeliest scenario” of the Seahawks controlling this game and winning somewhat comfortably once again, while Carson would have a heavy workload and a clear shot at a higher-end day. The only other player with a bankable path to production would be Jacob Hollister, who has been filling the solid-usage tight end role in this offense that led to Will Dissly going 7-57-1 the last time these teams met. Carson and Hollister would be fairly high-confidence plays in this likeliest scenario, with clear paths to higher-end production for both, while everyone else in this game would be fairly speculative.

There is another way to see this game playing out, however, in which the Cardinals keep pace (or even take a lead) and force Russ and the Seahawks to the air. Before we dive into how this scenario might play out (and how you could build around it if looking to capture an alternate path to upside), let’s first note that A) Russ has fallen shy of 20 fantasy points in five straight games (and seven of eight), and has fallen shy of even 18 fantasy points in six of eight, while B) Kyler Murray has failed to top even 241 passing yards in seven of eight, and has failed to top even 219 passing yards in six of eight. The likeliest scenario in this spot (as laid out above) is not only very straightforward, but it is also on the higher end of the “likely to happen” scale. We’ll likely see the Seahawks control this game, and we’ll likely see only a couple players really emerging from this game environment to provide value.

But if the Cardinals make some things happen through the air or are able to get their backfield going (as they did last week with Kenyan Drake, and as they managed to do in Week 4 in this matchup, with David Johnson going 8-99-0 through the air), they could keep this game close enough that Seattle makes things happen through the air. Even then (as we’ve noted all season), there are no guarantees, as DK Metcalf has produced only one game all year you would want at his price (in that 40-34 shootout vs the Bucs), while Tyler Lockett has now produced three games you would want at his price :: with one coming in a 27-33 loss to the Saints, one coming in that game vs the Bucs, and one coming last week in a 30-24 win over the Panthers. With his 71% slot rate, Lockett should largely avoid Patrick Peterson (and he’s a better fit than Metcalf for this matchup against a Cardinals team that largely forces opponents toward the shorter areas of the field, with 10% knocked off the league-average aDOT — the fourth-best mark in the league), making him the better bet for a big game if the Seahawks are forced to the air. Of course, even then, Hollister is likely to get first dibs on touchdowns (the Cardinals are now up to a “how is this possible?” 15 touchdowns allowed to tight ends, alongside 1023 yards — with the Cardinals essentially turning the average tight end they face into 2011 Gronk, who posted a tight end record 17 touchdowns, alongside 1327 yards), but Lockett still makes sense if choosing to build around this alternate scenario in which the Cardinals push the levels on this game.

On the Cardinals’ side, do-it-all Kyler would be the player likeliest to prove useful (and given his four rushing touchdowns and 10 games of 27+ rushing yards, he has a shot to also work in a mini-stack that simply bets on the likeliest scenario for this game — leaning Kyler, Carson, and Hollister), while the Seahawks have also allowed the fourth most receiving yards to running backs — putting Drake in the mix. Drake played 75.4% of the snaps last week, and while he’s likelier to end up with 16 to 18 touches than another 23, he’ll have an outside shot at another big game if the Cardinals can keep this one close.

The rest of the Cardinals remain thin bets for ceiling no matter how we slice up this game, with Kirk topping 41 yards only five times this season (and only once in his last four games), and with Larry Fitzgerald failing to top even 71 yards since Week 2, with eight games in that stretch under 50, and with only three touchdowns on the year. Behind these two, no other wide receiver played more than 21 snaps last week, as the Cardinals continue to split work among Damiere Byrd, Pharoh Cooper, Trent Sherfield, and Andy Isabella. The Cardinals also went uncharacteristically two-tight-end-heavy last week as they looked to control their game on the ground — an approach that was successful enough that it wouldn’t be a shock if we see them try to implement that again.

JM’s Interpretation ::

I actually built one Lockett roster last week (purely because I had so much Carson and wanted at least one hedge bet there), but I have mostly avoided the Seattle pass game pieces this season, and — especially given that Lockett and Metcalf typically draw at least some moderate ownership — this has typically been a profitable approach, given that they have so rarely come anywhere close to paying off their price tags (and the main spot where they did pay off their price tags — vs Tampa — was easy enough to see coming). Given the Seahawks’ Vegas-implied total and the reputation the Cardinals’ defense has, I actually expect Lockett and Metcalf to be fairly popular — and since I don’t actually expect the Cardinals to keep this game competitive enough for volume to show up in spades for these two, I’ll likely try to gain an edge on the field by fading. I’ll also feel that this “fade” is strengthened by the fact that volume is likelier to flow to Hollister, and I’ll plan to strengthen that “fade” even further by grabbing some Hollister exposure. Carson (while overpriced — especially on DK) will be in the mix for me as well. To put all that another way: Lockett and Metcalf can hit, but A) the chances of them hitting are lower than the field is likely to assume, which will probably push ownership higher than “likeliest expectations” would warrant; and B) if you choose to attack with Lockett or Metcalf, you can look to gain an edge on the field by understanding that these guys are only likely to hit if at least one piece from their opponent hits as well (Alvin Kamara landed a monster game in Lockett’s big Week 4; Mike Evans landed a monster game in Lockett/Metcalf’s big Week 9; CMC landed a monster game and Moore hit a strong game in Lockett’s Week 15) — nudging you to complete your “Seattle pass catcher” roster by bringing it back with one or two pieces from the Cardinals. It should also be noted the Russ is highly likely to hit if one of his pass catchers hits, putting him in the mix for that type of roster as well. I may grab one such build myself — depending on how everything looks to me once I get a chance to read through the completed NFL Edge myself and further gather my thoughts — but my likeliest focus in this spot will be on “the likeliest scenario,” betting on Hollister with a dash of Carson, while largely leaving the rest of this game alone.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 22nd 4:25pm Eastern

Cowboys (
24.5) at

Eagles (
22)

Over/Under 46.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Cowboys Run D
29th DVOA/32nd Yards allowed per carry
Eagles Run O
25th DVOA/15th Yards per carry
Cowboys Pass D
21st DVOA/12th Yards allowed per pass
Eagles Pass O
29th DVOA/24th Yards per pass
Eagles Run D
15th DVOA/24th Yards allowed per carry
Cowboys Run O
18th DVOA/24th Yards per carry
Eagles Pass D
29th DVOA/7th Yards allowed per pass
Cowboys Pass O
22nd DVOA/1st Yards per pass

The Cowboys and Eagles head up the NFL’s most disappointing division — with this game between two 7-7 teams effectively serving as a division championship game, and with things so ugly that should the Cowboys win, they’ll actually be able to rest players in Week 17 with an 8-7 record, as there will be no way for any other team in this division to catch them. The Eagles have not played up to the standards expected of them, but the biggest culprit for them has been the hammer that has been taken to their roster through injuries. As for the Cowboys: this team has been too focused on establishing the pass (and too unwilling to run play-action when they fall behind), while playing below expectations on defense and failing to make crucial plays at key junctures in games. Dallas is a collection of talent that doesn’t know how to win, which has landed them in this precarious late-season position.

It will be interesting to see how this game shakes out on both sides, as Dak Prescott is dealing with a shoulder issue that is reportedly keeping him from throwing the ball in practice this week as he rests up for Sunday. The last time these teams met, the Eagles were dealing with injuries up front that softened the matchup on the ground, and the Cowboys were playing from in front as well — allowing them to give 22 carries (and another six catches) to Ezekiel Elliott while directing only five targets to Amari Cooper and four targets to Michael Gallup.

This brings us to the question that gives us one of our biggest and most consistent edges over the field: not “is this defense attackable?” but rather, “how/why is this defense attackable?”

The Eagles are shaving 4.4% off the league-average catch rate and are limiting opponents to league-average marks in YAC/r, with their big issue on the year coming through A) an aDOT boost of 7.7%, and B) to a lesser extent, volume, with the Eagles facing the sixth highest opponent pass play rate in the league (and with that “to a lesser extent” accounting for the fact that the Eagles allow the fifth fewest opponent plays per game, which has led to them sitting only middle of the pack in pass attempts faced). It’s worth asking yourself, then, if A) you think the Cowboys will lean on Zeke a bit more heavily this week with Dak banged up (which would limit the volume boost in this matchup), and if B) you think the Cowboys will be able to attack downfield with Dak’s ailing shoulder, or will instead focus on the shorter areas of the field.

Between those two concerns, volume is the one to worry less about, as the notable stat lines allowed by the Eagles have been littered with big plays — with eight of the 10 players on the list below going for 18+ yards per catch in this spot:

5-125-1 McLaurin
5-106-2 Julio
8-105-1 Ridley
6-101-1 Marvin
10-180-0 Davante
7-167-3 Diggs
5-106-0 Amari
7-159-2 DeVante
5-154-2 Slayton
5-130-1 McLaurin

Your best bet with the Dallas passing attack, then, is to track news late into the week around Dak’s shoulder. If he’s sounding healthy, Amari and Gallup both become viable for their big-play upside (with Amari likelier to hit, but with both in the mix), while each should be considered a purely risk/reward option if we enter the weekend with no additional news on Dak, or with news that puts him at less than 100%.

Zeke is a strong bet for around 20 to 22 touches in this spot regardless of how things play out elsewhere for this offense, with anything over that range a bonus. His likeliest output in a tough matchup is a solid score that doesn’t quite match up with his price — but if the Cowboys control this game the way they did last time around (28 touches for Zeke in a 37-10 win), there will be upside for more value to emerge from this play. (Behind Zeke, of course, the Cowboys are just a hodgepodge of “trying to guess right on a touchdown or a busted play.”)

On the Eagles’ side, they seem set to make things fairly easy on us if Nelson Agholor and Jordan Howard both miss again (which appears likely to be the case), as this offense focused their action last week on only five players.

The leader among these five through the air is likeliest to be Zach Ertz, who has target counts in his last five games of 11 // 14 // 6 // 13 // 10. The Cowboys, as we know, have faced the seventh most tight end targets and allowed the third most tight end receptions (tied with the Cardinals), while giving up the eighth most tight end yards. Ertz sets up as a rock-solid floor/ceiling bet who will require an outlier to whiff.

The next man up through the air this week is likely to be Dallas Goedert, who has recent target counts of 6 // 8 // 7 // 6 // 6. As noted throughout the year, Goedert’s upside is limited by his short-area role (only four games this year above 41 receiving yards — with marks in those games of 48 // 55 // 66 // 69), but his 10 targets in the red zone are only five fewer than Ertz, and his four touchdowns have given him value this year.

Greg Ward, meanwhile, saw nine targets last week and went 7-61-1, keeping him very much in the mix in spite of a matchup against a Cowboys team that has allowed the seventh fewest yards to wideouts this year. Because the Cowboys’ defense actively filters targets away from wideouts and toward tight ends, Ward sees a slight dip in expectations while the tight ends see a slight rise — but this passing attack is concentrated enough at the moment (zero WR/TE receptions behind these three last week) that Ward remains in the mix.

As I continue to develop/improve this “multi-entry play with a single-entry mindset” approach I’ve been studying and developing for myself over the last several months, one thing I need to do a better job of is “following my own rules.” Somehow, last week was the first week during this stretch of “no Jordan Howard” in which I had no Miles Sanders (in spite of heavy Ertz exposure and dashes of hedge bets on Goedert and Scott), and he finally showed the ceiling we’ve been forecasting for weeks. It’s worth noting, of course, that Sanders’ 25 touches weren’t far off from the 19 and 22 he had seen in his previous two games, while two touchdowns and a 56-yard run are not exactly “locked-in” elements this week. With that said, Sanders should see 18 to 22 touches again this week — against a Cowboys team that has allowed the sixth fewest rushing yards to running backs (at only 3.99 yards per carry), but that has allowed the eighth most receptions to the position, where Sanders has recent target counts of 5 // 5 // 5 // 6. Sanders is a volume-driven floor play with some paths to ceiling.

The final piece of this offense right now is Boston Scott, who played 35 snaps last week — including 11 at wide receiver that allowed him to get on the field alongside Sanders. Scott saw six carries and seven catches, one week after seeing 10 carries and six catches — non-accidental usage that has a strong shot at repeating in this spot. Five or six carries and four or five receptions is a fair projection here, with a bit of upside from there. This is, of course, one of the most adaptable coaching staffs in the league, and they have adapted to center their offense around the five players on this list.

JM’s Interpretation ::

It will be interesting this week to read through the NFL Edge and see how things stack up, as there are not many spots to fall in love with on this slate.

Ertz obviously stands out to me from this game, as he’s the Eagles’ best means of consistently moving the ball, while all four of the other Eagles (likely in order of Sanders // Goedert // Ward // Scott — though I could see rearranging them in literally any order, especially once price is taken into consideration) may make my “hedge” list if I go heavy Ertz once again. This exposure would be more about available production at respective price tags than about “expectations of a smash for this team,” but if Ertz doesn’t blast off, it’s highly likely that one or two of these guys end up mattering at their price tags.

The Cowboys, meanwhile, are a bit of a “wait until later in the week” option for me. It’s likely that we get no further news on Dak beyond him not throwing this week and Jerry saying he’ll be in top form this week (sure), which would leave Gallup and Amari as speculative options (though with enough upside to be considered as mix-in tourney pieces). If Dak is reported to be healthy, however, these two become more interesting: certainly not Tier 1, but very much in the mix.

Zeke will be on the edge of the mix regardless for me, as a “bet on workload, hope for touchdowns” play in a below-average matchup, as a centerpiece for his offense.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 22nd 8:20pm Eastern

Chiefs (
26) at

Bears (
19)

Over/Under 45.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Chiefs Run D
28th DVOA/30th Yards allowed per carry
Bears Run O
28th DVOA/32nd Yards per carry
Chiefs Pass D
2nd DVOA/4th Yards allowed per pass
Bears Pass O
24th DVOA/25th Yards per pass
Bears Run D
11th DVOA/16th Yards allowed per carry
Chiefs Run O
17th DVOA/9th Yards per carry
Bears Pass D
2nd DVOA/8th Yards allowed per pass
Chiefs Pass O
1st DVOA/12th Yards per pass

Showdown Slant ::

Presented by top Showdown mind Xandamere!

Sunday night football has the Chiefs traveling to Chicago in what looks like a low scoring game (by Kansas City’s standards, at least), with a total of “just” 44.5 and the Chiefs favored by 6.0. This is kind of an ugly Showdown in that both of these teams have broad distributions of touches and targets (with Kansas City in particular ruining multiple Showdowns for me with a single catch by Mecole Hardman for a long touchdown, that jerk). While both have fairly narrow cores, in this Showdown it’s more likely than most to have a random cheap guy end up in the optimal lineup at very low ownership. Plan your MME exposures accordingly.

We’ll start with the Bears, since they’re a bit more straightforward. Kansas City is the biggest run funnel defense in the NFL, ranking 6th in DVOA against the pass and 30th against the run, but the problem is that David Montgomery has seen extremely inconsistent volume (and has also been pretty inconsistent with his performance, to boot). As long as the game stays close, it makes sense for the Bears to lean on the run here, but if the Chiefs get out in front, Montgomery is likely to disappear (he played fewer than 50% of the snaps and saw just 15 touches last week against the Packers). Tarik Cohen, by contrast, saw 10 targets last week as the Bears played from behind for most of the game. The workloads on these two are pretty predictable and tied closely to game flow, so you can plan your exposures to each of them based on the story that the rest of your roster is telling. 

In the pass game, Anthony Miller finally looks healthy and has been crushing since Taylor Gabriel has been hurt. In his last five games he has target counts of 11, 9, 13, 4, and 15, good for just over 10 per game on average. The matchup isn’t great against an underrated Chiefs pass defense, but the volume and talent are there and the price is reasonable. Allen Robinson is still the WR1 in this offense, but in that five-game stretch he’s only seen one more target than Miller. Robinson is clearly the better receiver, but he’s also $1,600 more expensive and more likely to have coverage tilted his way, so to my mind they’re pretty equivalent plays. At tight end, Jesper Horsted is seeing more volume than JP Holtz, but both are pretty dart-throwy plays; I’d take them over the WR3 in the Bears’ offense, as that has been rotating between Riley Ridley, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Javon Wims. All are pretty thin plays, but Patterson at least possesses theoretical gamebreaking upside with the ball in his hands, while Wims seemed to have a lock on the role until getting hurt in Week 14 and barely playing in Week 15. It’s possible that this remains a rotation, but it’s also possible that Wims steps back into a nearly full-time role which, while not likely to result in massive volume as the WR3, would still leave him very underpriced at $400. (I told you this game was filled with a whole bunch of dart throws…)

The Chiefs’ run game has been pretty haphazard since Damien Williams went down. LeSean McCoy started last week but only saw six carries despite the Chiefs leading the entire game, while Darwin Thompson and Spencer Ware both saw more snaps and more touches but not enough to really matter. Well, Damien is back now, but we don’t know if he’s going to resume his “lead” role (which was still pretty timesharey) or if this could remain a three or even four way split. As of this moment I’d guess that Damien gets the most touches with Darwin second, but that’s largely guesswork. I’d watch for any beat writer info on this, and of course it’s possible that one of these backs is inactive for Sunday night which would give us additional clarity. All in all it’s an ugly situation that’s hard to count on. 

In the air, the Chiefs’ offense really begins and ends with Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. Kelce has a solid matchup against a Bears defense that has struggled against tight ends, while Hill is one of the most matchup-proof receivers in the NFL. Kelce has the edge on volume, while Hill doesn’t need as much volume since he can score from anywhere. Both are solid plays with massive ceilings, but I’ll give the edge to Kelce here for a more robust floor. Beyond them it gets sketchy. Sammy Watkins is the ostensible WR2, but he hasn’t scored a touchdown or put up over 13.3 DK points since Week 1. Demarcus Robinson is next in line in snaps and routes and is just $2,000, but that role has only resulted in more than three targets once since Week 8. Mecole Hardman seems to score a long touchdown almost every week but generally only gets one or two targets per game. The running backs are all used in the passing game. Beyond Kelce and Hill this is a tough group to pick apart. Personally I’ll take Watkins just because he’s on the field a ton, and if I have to bet on any of the other receivers it would be Hardman. 

The way this game is most likely to play out is with the Chiefs’ offense being able to put up points, though not necessarily in the same at-will manner they do against most opponents. As long as the game stays close the Bears should be trying to focus on the ground game, but it’s unlikely that the game stays close deep into the second half. 

Some other ways the game could play out:

  • The Bears D shows up and puts the clamps down. I don’t think the Chiefs get wrecked here, but a strong showing from the Chicago defense could keep the Chiefs from getting out to a lead (or at least a multi-score lead), which would make Montgomery a very attractive play.
  • Alternatively, we’ve seen “good Trubisky” show up lately, but this is a really tough pass game matchup. I’m pretty sure no Bears fans would be surprised to see Trubisky really struggle here.

My favorite overall captain in this one is Kelce, followed by Cohen, but man is this a tricky showdown. I don’t really go for the thin plays like Wims or Hardman as my captains, but if there was a matchup in which it made sense to take more shots on plays like that, it’s this one.

Some groups to consider:

  • At most 1 kicker
  • At most 1 defense
  • Pair captain receivers with their QB
  • Pair captain QBs with at least 2 receivers
  • At most 2 Chiefs running backs
  • At most 1 of Patterson, Wims, and Ridley
  • At most 1 of Horsted and Holtz
  • At most 1 of Robinson and Hardman
  • I’m not sure if I want a rule to have at most 1 of Montgomery and Cohen. They benefit from opposite game scripts, but Cohen still sees fairly solid volume regardless. I might do something like no Montgomery in Cohen-captained lineups.

Kickoff Monday, Dec 23rd 8:15pm Eastern

Packers (
21.25) at

Vikings (
25.25)

Over/Under 46.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Packers Run D
25th DVOA/12th Yards allowed per carry
Vikings Run O
2nd DVOA/6th Yards per carry
Packers Pass D
25th DVOA/18th Yards allowed per pass
Vikings Pass O
20th DVOA/22nd Yards per pass
Vikings Run D
27th DVOA/22nd Yards allowed per carry
Packers Run O
10th DVOA/10th Yards per carry
Vikings Pass D
8th DVOA/29th Yards allowed per pass
Packers Pass O
6th DVOA/14th Yards per pass

Showdown Slant ::

Presented by top Showdown mind Xandamere!

The Packers travel to Minnesota to take on the Vikings in what looks to be a great Monday Night Football matchup. The game total is 47 with the Vikings a healthy 5 point favorite. The Packers are somewhat surprisingly 11-3 and are probably amongst the worst 11-3 teams I’ve ever seen, with a mediocre overall offense (sorry, A-Rod fans, but he hasn’t been great this year) and a below average defense, but they somehow find ways to keep winning games. I’m not really buying it here as they’ve mostly taken advantage of bad to average defenses but have struggled against good ones, and the Vikings are, on the whole, a good defense.

Let’s start the Packers and their run game. Aaron Jones is the “lead” back and he’s priced like a bellcow at $10,800 but he’s really more of a 13-18 touch back with a pass game role that is sometimes elite and sometimes nonexistent (7 games of 6+ targets, 5 games of 0 or 1 targets, and only 2 games in between). His value has been propped up by a ridiculous 17 touchdowns but that is about the least “safe” stat you can find in the NFL. As a tourney play, he definitely has ceiling, but at this price, on the road and against a top run defense, this is a position I want to be underweight on. Jamaal Williams, on the other hand, has maintained roughly the same role all year but his price has plummeted in the last couple of weeks. Williams has only had 1 target the last couple of games but he’s usually good for 4-6 with a few carries as his overall volume and snap projections are barely below Jones. The matchup is difficult and Williams is not really a good running back (though he is a good receiver), but on a Packers team that has struggled to find consistent receivers behind Davante Adams, odds are good he sees enough volume to give him a shot at paying off his salary.

The Packers’ pass game begins with Davante Adams, and at least this season it’s largely ended there. Adams is one of the best bets in the NFL to see 10+ targets in a game, especially with the Packers installed as road underdogs and thus Rodgers projecting to throw more than normal. Against a Vikings secondary that has struggled this year and as the focal point of the aerial attack, Adams is a top tier play in this showdown. Beyond Adams things immediately get thin, with Geronimo Allison and Allen Lazard the other receivers playing over half the snaps, but neither generating a whole lot of volume or success. Marquez Valdes-Scantling has disappeared entirely, and there are coachspeak rumors about Jake Kumerow’s role expanding this week (I have no idea if this is true, and I don’t think anybody else knows either; it’s all speculation at this point, but it’s interesting speculation as Kumerow has looked awfully good in preseason and comes at both low ownership and low price). At tight end Jimmy Graham has looked awfully dusty and is being usurped by Mercedes Lewis and Robert Tonyan, with Lewis outsnapping Graham last week. Graham has only been running around 20 routes per game in his last 3 games and is hard to count on here even though the matchup is positive, but at least he’s about as cheap as he’s ever been. For my perspective, I’m always going to bet more on the guys who are on the field the most, so even though his performance hasn’t been there this year, Allison is my favorite of the ancillary receivers (and it doesn’t hurt that he’s just $2,800). Lazard is next, unless we get any news about Kumerow, while everyone else (including all 3 tight ends) are just dart throws to me. 

On the Vikings’ side, Dalvin Cook has already been ruled out and Alexander Mattison is likely to miss as well, leaving Mike Boone to serve as the lead back. Unfortunately (or fortunately if you prefer dodging 80%+ owned uberchalk plays), Boone has already been priced up to $9k. He’s a competent passing game back, and while the matchup is great and Boone could certainly smash here if he gets 20+ touches, it’s a bit hard for me to stomach $9k for a guy who’s never really seen an NFL field since we just don’t know how the Vikings are going to use him; will they immediately insert him into the bellcow role? Will they go more pass-heavy than normal? Or will they have him split reps with Ameer Abdullah and/or fullback C.J. Ham? I think Boone being the #1 back is the most likely option as the Vikings aren’t really a timeshare RB kind of organization, but there’s some risk here and we would be foolish not to acknowledge it. Abdullah and Ham are both interesting MME pivots as they’re both super cheap and could see some increased workload (especially Abdullah). 

In the passing game, Adam Thielen is back, though Minnesota still ran a ton of 2 TE sets last week as Thielen only played half the snaps (and Diggs just 71%). I expect that Thielen’s snap count will increase this week, but I’m not sure if that will come at the expense of the 12 personnel sets that the Vikings seem to really like using now or if it’ll come at the expense of the ancillary receivers like Olabisi Johnson and Laquon Treadwell. Thielen is a bit hard to trust here coming off of a very lengthy absence and only seeing 3 targets last week. At comparable prices, I like Diggs far, far more, but Thielen is of course highly viable as a tournament play. The tight ends are both relatively inexpensive in a plus matchup against a Packers defense that is near the top of the league in points given up to the position, while the aforementioned ancillary receivers are just dart throws. 

The most likely way for this game to play out is for the Vikings to take a lead early and hold it. The Packers, outside of Adams, should have difficulty moving the ball here. I’m not certain if the Vikings lean heavily on the run game here or if they pass a bit more; I’m inclined to think the latter, which bumps up Cousins’ projection for me, but the guys I most want in this game are Cousins, Diggs, Boone, and Adams.

Some other ways the game could play out:

  • The Packers’ offense has been really subpar overall and Aaron Rodgers is not playing at the level we’re used to seeing from him. Would it be that surprising if Green Bay really struggled to get anything at all going here?
  • On the other hand, despite overall mediocrity this year, Rodgers does have 4 games of 28 or more DK points. Maybe he pulls another one out here in a tough matchup against a tough opponent and reminds us all why he’s considered one of the greatest to play the game. Maybe we see a shootout?

My overall favorite captains in this one are, hands down, Diggs and Adams. They’re the strongest choices and everyone else feels like a dart throw compared to them. 

Some groups to consider:

  • At most 1 kicker
  • At most 1 defense
  • Pair captain receivers with their QB
  • Pair captain QBs with at least 2 receivers
  • At most 2 Green Bay receivers/tight ends not named Adams
  • At most 2 of Rudolph, Smith, Bisi, and Treadwell
  • At most 1 Vikings running back