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Week 16 begins with the Jags visiting the Jets for a 38 total game with the Jags favored by a point. We also get our first truly bad weather week of the season, and it impacts this game as well, with current forecasts showing temperatures in the 40s, rain, and a sustained wind of about 10-15 mph. Now, 15mph wind is when we start to get concerned, so this isn’t a “red alert! the passing game is now unplayable” situation, but it’s likely to have an impact and is probably the primary reason why this game has been bet down a couple of points since it opened. The upside is that both of these teams seem a lot more exciting than when the season began.
On the Jets side, the reign of Zonovan Knight came to a crashing end last week, as he saw 13 carries and no targets against a tough Lions run defense. Michael Carter actually out-snapped Knight for the second week in a row (though only by a couple of snaps both times), but saw just four carries and one target. The last two weeks are painting a picture that this is really a timeshare with Knight in the grinder role and a (significant) favorite for more carries, and Carter likely the favorite for passing game work. We might expect the weather to make this a run-heavier matchup, but it is worth noting that while the Jags are 14th in run defense DVOA, they are dead last at 32nd against opposing passing attacks, creating an interesting dynamic where the weather and the Jets quarterback hinder their ability to attack the Jags point of weakness. All that said, I like Knight at his very fair price of $7,000 in a reasonable matchup and in a game that seems likely to tilt a bit heavier to the run. Carter is harder to be interested in, seeing as how he’s not likely to get goal line work and his “passing game” role only resulted in one target last week, but he’s certainly a viable play (as are any running backs in Showdown who are going to see the field a significant amount).
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In the passing game, we saw Zach Wilson have one of the better games of his career last week, putting up a 317/2 line with just one interception. Not shabby, and though it came in a favorable matchup, this is also a good matchup (if the weather cooperates). Garrett Wilson saw nine targets on 35 dropbacks, good for a very solid 25.7% target share. He’s the guy in this offense and I’ll trust his role and the matchup over the weather concerns. Elijah Moore has worked his way back to a solid role, playing at least 68% of the snaps in the last three games, with a combined 23 targets in that time. At $4,800, he’s pretty significantly underpriced for his talent and his role, as he’s barely more than the kickers. Corey Davis looks likely to return, which throws a bit of a wrench into things, as in his last healthy game he saw a whopping 10 targets (albeit with Mike White at quarterback). I expect that the return of Davis will send Denzel Mims and Jeff Smith back to the bench (if they’re even healthy – both are questionable with new injuries), while Braxton Berrios will play some modest role as he usually does, including some gadget work. One thing to note: the Jets have had five wide receivers play snaps in every single game this season, so if Mims and Smith both miss, watch to see if they call up someone else from the practice squad; if so, that guy would be a thin punt option but could be an interesting MME play that the field might completely overlook. Wilson is reasonably priced here, with Moore and Davis both being materially underpriced. I will hope that the weather scares people off of these receivers in really strong matchups, and I want to be overweight on all of them. At tight end, Tyler Conklin has the lead role with C.J. Uzomah playing a backup role. Conklin’s targets have been volatile this year but he’s had a couple of really solid games, and at $3,200, he looks like a very strong value option, while Uzomah caught two touchdowns last week but has yet to see more than three targets in a game so he’s an MME tourney option.
Falcons rookie quarterback Desmond Ridder was asked to throw the football only 26 times last week in a game the Falcons fell behind by two scores halfway through the first quarter. Furthermore, Atlanta is one of only four teams to be at league average or below league average in pass rate over expectation (PROE) in every game, joined by Tennessee, Dallas, and Chicago. As such, it remains fairly clear how to expect the Falcons to try and win games – slow pace of play and extreme rush rates. If you caught The Slate podcast for Inner Circle members last week, we covered the fact that Ridder possesses above average pocket presence for a rookie quarterback, whose mobility is more closely tied to escapability rather than pure rushing upside as would be the case for someone like Lamar Jackson, Justin Fields, or Jalen Hurts — think more Patrick Mahomesian rather than Justin Fieldsian. Furthermore, Ridder lacks top-end arm strength, which was exhibited through his passing spray chart from Week 15 as 18 of 26 passes targeted a pass-catcher within 11 yards of the line of scrimmage and only two attempts were 20+ yards downfield. He also did not have a completion of more than 11 intended air yards.
The Falcons have operated with a true backfield committee between Cordarrelle Patterson and Tyler Allgeier over the previous six weeks since Patterson returned from injured reserve. The season-ending injury to running back Caleb Huntley shouldn’t influence the backfield dynamics considering he was only seeing a handful of offensive snaps since Week 10 (nine or fewer in each of the previous five games), meaning we should have a good idea of the expected allocation of work. Patterson has averaged 14 running back opportunities to 11.75 for Allgeier over the previous month of play, with the two combining for only 12 targets during that four-game stretch. The matchup on the ground yields an above average 4.50 net-adjusted line yards metric against a Baltimore defense holding opposing backs to just 3.85 yards per carry this season (fourth best in the league).
The pass offense is very much “Drake London or bust,” whose targets per route run rate jumped to 31.5% (fourth in the league) and target market share jumped to 29.3% (seventh in the league) after commanding 11 targets on 26 Ridder pass attempts last week – not to mention his absolutely insane 37.5% red zone target share this year. Expect Olamide Zaccheaus to operate in a near every-down role, while Damiere Byrd and Khadarel Hodge split the remaining snaps at wide receiver, and Parker Hesse, MyCole Pruitt, and Anthony Firkser to share the 130-140% tight end snap rate (30-40% 12-personnel with no tight end playing more than 50-60% of the offensive snaps). Yeah, it gets ugly real fast for pass-catchers not named Drake London here. The path of least resistance is very clearly through the air for the Falcons this week but we have to doubt both their willingness to allow their rookie quarterback to open it up in his second NFL start and the coaching staff’s willingness to move away from the run.
The Lions have fundamentally altered the way they are trying to win games over the previous month of play, with quarterback Jared Goff averaging 38.75 pass attempts per game over that span (compared to a season average of 34.5). The big difference in this team is that they are now operating from a sense of urgency and desperation, not waiting for the opponent to push them to be more aggressive through the air and instead pushing the tempo and aggression from start to finish, putting teams away in the process and attempting to leave nothing to chance. Another clear shift in the identity of this offense has been a move to a three-headed backfield including D’Andre Swift, Jamaal Williams, and Justin Jackson, which has remained steady ever since Swift returned from three missed games in Week 8. Detroit continues to operate from 11-personnel as their base personnel alignment but has moved to a three-way timeshare at tight end after the mid-season departure of T.J. Hockenson. The addition of rookie wide receiver Jameson Williams, combined with the emergence of Josh Reynolds and Kalif Raymond, has meant that all three have filtered through for the WR3 role behind Amon-Ra St. Brown and D.J. Chark. Basically, expect St. Brown and Chark to operate as the only near every-down skill position players moving forward, until or unless further injuries reemerge.
As mentioned above, the shift to a three-headed backfield has kept the workloads in check for Swift and Williams, with just one instance of 20 or more running back opportunities between the two over the previous five weeks. The likeliest scenario lands Williams in the 16-18 running back opportunity range and Swift in the 15-17 range, with a clear slight boost to the expected receiving work for D’Andre Swift against a Panthers defense that runs zone coverage at a top three rate this season. For further context, 76% of Swift’s targets this season have come against zone whilst the Lions have faced the third highest rate of man coverage on offense this year. Furthermore, the three games with the highest target totals for Swift have come against the Jets, Bills, and Jaguars, three teams that run zone at elevated rates, are top eight in adjusted line yards against the run on defense, and force teams primarily to the short-to-intermediate areas of the field (like the Panthers). The pure rushing matchup yields a slightly above average 4.44 net-adjusted line yards metric against a Carolina defense ceding 23.9 DK points per game to opposing backfields.
Amon-Ra St. Brown has seen eight or more targets in every game in which he has played more than 80% of the offensive snaps dating back to Week 12 of the 2021 season. That is absurd consistency. That said, his laughably low 6.0 average depth of target and modest 23.8% air yards share has meant he required both efficiency and touchdowns in order to return a GPP-viable score, particularly considering his now-elevated salary (he has returned a 4x salary multiplier on his Week 16 salary just twice in 15 games this season). D.J. Chark has a weekly range of targets in the five to seven realm, with zero double-digit target games this year while playing alongside target hog St. Brown. The transition to an offense utilizing three wide receivers to fill the WR3 spot, a three-back rotation, and a three-tight end rotation has left volume difficult to predict on a weekly basis behind those top two pass-catchers, with the caveat that this particular matchup favors a slight boost to the target expectation of D’Andre Swift.
The biggest nugget I pulled from the entire week of research involved the Chicago defense and the looks they showed the Eagles last week. In an interview on Tuesday, Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni, who is one of the most dynamic play callers in the league, stated that the reason the Eagles threw the ball so heavily against the Bears (and the reason why Miles Sanders was utilized so sparsely) was that the Bears overloaded the box and left their corners in man coverage for the majority of the game – basically daring the Eagles to beat them through the air. As in, not only are the Bears growing their offensive identity, but they are also messing around with what works on defense in a lost year – important information for both the Bears and their weekly opponents (more so for their opponents, to be completely honest). All of that to say, the biggest strength of this Bills offense is its adaptability and multifaceted approach to offense, capable of both designing and executing against what an opposition is showing them. The biggest on-paper and on-tape strength of this Bills offense is the passing game, which leads me to believe we just might see increased rates of zone coverage and a slight bump to blitz rates against the Bills this week (the Bears have blitzed at the eighth lowest rate in the league this season, but Josh Allen has struggled when under pressure). The Bears have already shown a willingness to change their man-zone coverage rates based on the opponent, with man coverage rates ranging all the way from 8.3% (Week 11 against the Falcons) to 54.3% (Week 3 against the Texans). That’s an important thought experiment this week because of the implications for fantasy expectations from a normally spread-out offense.
If what I implied above comes to fruition, I think we will see a bit heavier reliance on the run game from the Bills this week. While that doesn’t mean what it would mean for other teams around the league, it could provide an appreciable collective increase to the workload of the backfield. The biggest problem for fantasy expectations is that the Bills have mixed and matched their running back utilizations over the previous month of play, ranging from a true three-headed timeshare to a 1A/1B situation. After experimenting with 21-personnel alignments in the red zone for two consecutive weeks, the Bills relinquished newcomer Nyheim Hines back to a special teams ace, feeding him only three offensive snaps in total. That saw “lead back” Devin Singletary regain a larger share of the backfield snaps and utilization, clawing his way back up to a 60% snap rate and 17 running back opportunities. Furthermore, after starting the season with nine consecutive games of a pass rate over expectation above league average, the Bills have been hovering right around league average over the previous five games – further indication that we might see a higher reliance on the run here. 18-20 running back opportunities for Devin Singletary, in one of the top on-paper matchups in the league, is a viable outcome here, particularly when you consider the potential for wind to be a factor. Based on recent trends, I tentatively expect James Cook to serve in a traditional change of pace role, capable as both a runner and through the air. That is likeliest to lead to 10-12 running back opportunities. The pure rushing matchup yields a slightly above-average 4.405 net-adjusted line yards metric against a Chicago defense allowing 4.73 yards per carry to opposing backfields.
The other area that the recent trends from Chicago’s defense are likely to influence is with the Bills pass game, which consists of a primary deep threat (Gabe Davis), the prototypical “X” wide receiver (Stefon Diggs), an all-around tight end (Dawson Knox), and multiple situational/role players (Isaiah McKenzie, Cole Beasley, John Brown, Nyhiem Hines, and Quintin Morris). Based on our discussion above, with the expectation that the Bears run heavier rates of zone coverage but also increase their blitz rates, it is reasonable to expect a slight uptick in the schemed involvement of Isaiah McKenzie, who is the Bills’ top situational piece against both the blitz and heavy zone coverages (although it’s likely a significant boost to the expectation for Stefon Diggs as well). Furthermore, there is legitimate potential for Justin Fields to keep the Bears within striking distance for the duration of the game, similar to our discussion on Jalen Hurts and the Philadelphia pass-catchers last week (if you missed that one, we discussed it in-depth on The Slate podcast available to Inner Circle members – sign up at the discounted rate for the remainder of the season!). Basically, Stefon Diggs, Isaiah McKenzie, and even Devin Singletary and James Cook see an appreciable theoretical boost under the assumptions we’ve arrived at via the expected alignments from the Bears.
The Saints have been at or below league average in pass rate over expectation (PROE) in all but two games this season – a Week 11 positive game script win against the Rams and a Week 12 shutout at the hands of the 49ers, where San Francisco only managed 13 points themselves. Furthermore, Andy Dalton has not attempted more than 30 passes since Week 7, averaging 26.4 pass attempts per game over the previous seven games. Even furthermore, the Saints have averaged just 55.7 offensive snaps per game during that time, about eight offensive snaps per game lower than the league average this season. That equates to anywhere from one to two possessions of missing offensive plays over the sample size of almost two months’ worth of games. That is a statistically significant sample size. Now consider the expected weather and the uncertainty of their top pass-catcher in Chris Olave, and I think it’s pretty clear how the Saints are likeliest to attack this game – slow pace of play and heavy bias towards the ground, most probably with increased Taysom Hill involvement as a way to generate unique looks in a game the weather is likely to take away much of the dynamism through the air.
Eno Benjamin was added to the practice squad after he was released from his second team this season (Arizona and Houston) while David Johnson was called up from the practice squad for the second time last week. Even with Mark Ingram on injured reserve, the team kept lead back Alvin Kamara to a modest-for-him 62% snap rate after holding him to 59% of the offensive snaps in Week 13. Even so, Kamara saw more than 20 carries for only the second time last week, turning 21 carries into 91 scoreless yards and catching both targets for an additional 13 yards. We know the drill by now with the Cleveland defense – they give up a massive yards per carry value and are towards the bottom of the league in explosive runs against this season. The biggest issue for projecting this backfield isn’t the path of least resistance, the weather, or the lack of depth, it’s quite simply the seemingly bipolar coaching staff that will nuke Kamara’s utilization out of nowhere. Look no further than the “Mark Ingram with an injury play” from Week 13 against the Buccaneers, with the team electing to throw a pass to an injured Ingram instead of Kamara, the former of whom promptly ran out of bounds short of the first down marker late in the game and ultimately cost the team a win. The pure rushing matchup yields a borderline elite 4.73 net-adjusted line yards metric against a Cleveland defense allowing a robust 5.42 yards per carry to opposing backfields this season.
We know the Saints don’t operate from standard NFL alignments, instead utilizing quarterback/tight end/fullback hybrid Taysom Hill all over the formation and rotating through wide receivers like a vagrant changes locales. Consider this – only punt return specialist turned wide receiver Rashid Shaheed saw more than 49% of the offensive snaps last week, and that includes up-and-coming rookie WR1 Chris Olave. Whether that dip in snap rate from Olave was due to a hamstring injury that he apparently picked up during the game remains unknown (likely, in my opinion), but the fact of the matter is this team has rotated wide receivers all season. With the expected wind and sprawling rotation at wide receiver, short area specialists Juwan Johnson and Jarvis Landry gain increased relevance, albeit with the caveat that we can’t confidently project the Saints to throw the football more than 25-28 times in this spot.
The Seahawks have dropped four of their last five games to fall from the top of the NFC West to a fight for their playoff lives. They will finish off the season with very winnable home games against the Jets and Rams, but this daunting matchup with the Chiefs stands in their way and threatens their playoff hopes. They will still be alive if they lose but a surprise victory here would have them in a prime position to lock up a playoff spot in what has been a surprisingly successful season after Russell Wilson’s departure. The Seahawks have extra rest on their side for this critical matchup after falling to the 49ers (and effectively losing any chance to win the NFC West) last Thursday night at home.
Seattle has turned over the keys to the car to Geno Smith, who has rewarded them with the highest completion percentage and second-highest QB rating in the NFL through 15 weeks. The Seahawks have opened things up, as they operate at the 11th fastest pace in the league and throw the ball at the 6th highest rate. This week against Patrick Mahomes and the high-powered Chiefs offense, much of the Seahawks approach will depend on the health of rookie running back Kenneth Walker. The Chiefs rank 18th against the run and 25th against the pass but playing in Kansas City, the Seahawks would likely prefer to keep the ball out of the hands of Mahomes as much as possible and slow the game down for their overmatched defense. However, that approach is complicated by the fact that Walker is still dealing with an ankle injury that held him out of practice on Tuesday and threatens his availability. In the last game without Walker, the Seahawks turned to Travis Homer for a 90% snap share. Homer is a pass-catching specialist and this scenario would likely force Seattle to be more focused on the short-area passing game as a way of moving the ball. Other issues are creeping in as well with Tyler Lockett set to miss this game with a finger injury and tight end Noah Fant dealing with a knee injury. DK Metcalf will be the clear focal point of this offense if Walker is indeed out, although the Chiefs will likely know that as well and dedicate a lot of attention Metcalf’s way. The Seahawks offense will likely try to win this game by slowing things down early but should be forced to pick up their tempo and aggressiveness due to their offensive personnel and defensive efficiency issues.
We’ve talked about this ad nauseam this season, but the Giants are doing everything in their power to not lose games before the fourth quarter. The variance associated with that game plan worked out astonishingly well over the first half of the season but has smacked them across the face over the past seven weeks, where New York has gone 2-4-1 after starting the season 6-1. They prefer to operate with a moderate pace and elevated rush rates, hitting the short to intermediate areas of the field through the air when they do pass. The Giants have only 21 pass plays of 20 or more yards this season, which is about a third as many as the league leading Chiefs (and dead last this season). This has meant they have had to sustain drives in order to put points on the board, which helps to explain a 20th-ranked 20.5 points per game considering a 24th-ranked drive success rate. What has largely allowed them to stick to this game design has been a Wink Martindale defense holding opponents to 22.3 points per game on the backs of a 50.0% red zone touchdown rate allowed (a staple of a Wink Martindale defense has been top marks in the red zone, dating back to his tenure in Baltimore).
Saquon Barkley is still eating big-dog-level snaps, playing 80% or more of the offensive snaps in six of his last nine games. He holds the highest snap rate of any running back this season and third highest opportunity share, but not without issue. His 4.6 yards per touch value ranks 34th amongst running backs, he has the third highest stuffed run rate of all running backs, and the Giants hold the league’s seventh worst game script rating this season. Furthermore, he has returned 4x his Week 15 salary exactly once all season – way back in Week 1. The matchup on the ground yields a sneakily putrid 4.17 net-adjusted line yards metric against a Minnesota defense ceding just 3.90 yards per carry to opposing backfields this season. Matt Breida should continue in a strict change of pace role.
We touched on the inability of this offense to find success attacking downfield above, but the rest is about as gnarly as well. Darius Slayton, the WR5 on the depth chart coming into the season, Richie James, the practice squad player that made the roster to begin the year as the WR6, Isaiah Hodgins, the journeyman that was signed after being released by the Bills at the halfway point in the season, and rookie tight end Daniel Bellinger are the top four pass-catchers on the roster. That said, those four have become the only players to see legitimate snaps, making their pass offense comparable to the Jaguars, at least from a snap rate perspective. Basically, all four of those dudes, plus Saquon Barkley, are on the field almost every offensive snap, but the pass offense has struggled with any semblance of consistency or explosiveness. The matchup with the Vikings very clearly funnels expected production through the air, but we have a situation developing where we can’t be completely sure the Giants will look to exploit that weakness until very late in the game, and only under specific game conditions.
The 10-4 Bengals come into Week 16 red hot. They’re riding a six-game win streak (the longest in the league) and they are firmly in the mix for a coveted playoff bye, sitting only a game behind the Chiefs but holding the tiebreaker, and a game behind the Bills who they play next week. So, any loss from KC (plays SEA // DEN // LV), plus winning out, would give the Bengals the top seed in the AFC. However, if the Bengals were to drop this game, they would be in danger of being caught in their division by the 9-5 Ravens as Baltimore holds the tiebreaker and finishes with ATL // PIT // CIN. Those scenarios mean the Bengals can easily get the top seed or they can lose their division.
The Bengals play slowly (24th total pace) but that number is somewhat misleading as they start out games moderately (14th situational neutral pace) but crank it way down in the second half (25th in second half pace). Interestingly, they also crawl if they’re losing (31st in pace when trailing), but that is likely to be small sample size noise. The Bengals profile as a team that will play with a moderate pace if the game is close but are more than happy to take their foot off the gas in the second half with a lead. Maybe the greatest comeback in NFL history will teach coaches a lesson about kicking short field goals and trying to run out the clock, but probably not. One thing that is worth noting about the Bengals offense versus others in the league is that while the Bengals slow down considerably with a lead, they don’t change their offense (becoming run, run, run/pass, punt), which is what allows teams to come back. The Bengals might slow down, but they’ll keep trying to get first downs. The Patriots have been stout against the pass (3rd in DVOA) and tough on the ground (9th in DVOA). Technically, they present as a mini run-funnel, but the entire unit can be considered strong (2nd overall DVOA). They also generate a fierce rush (3rd in the league in pressure rate) and the Bengals have the 28th ranked O-line in pass blocking grade per PFF. The Bengals tend to struggle with elite pass rushers, and this must be viewed as a matchup downgrade. They set up about as well as any team can from a scheme perspective against a Bill Belichick defense since they are remarkably balanced and not relying on any one tactic or player to score points. Joe Burrow’s pass attempts have ranged between 31-39 in 13 of his 15 games this year, finishing another game with 42 pass attempts. The lone outlier (52 pass attempts) came all the way back in Week 1 against the Steelers who jumped out to a big lead. Burrow has had an incredibly narrow range of passing attempts this year and it demonstrates how balanced the Bengals offense wants to play.
Houston has gone full NCAA on us over the previous two weeks, utilizing two quarterbacks in a very Sean Paytonian “pocket passer plus gadgety-runner-thrower-tight end hybrid” breakdown between Davis Mills and Jeff Driskel. Driskel played a massive 50% of the offensive snaps in Week 14 before seeing a 29% snap rate in Week 15, leaving it clearly evident that the Texans are trying out some funky stuff in a lost season. The Texans, as a team, attempted 26 and 27 passes over the previous two games, with most attempted by the pocket passer presence in the quarterback equation in Davis Mills. In reality, this offense is a rag-tag bunch of misfits in its current state, with the team clearly building its identity around their defense. Expect the offense to utilize a high rate of personnel turnover, with no pass-catcher a lock to see more than 80% of the offensive snaps. The Texans also have a “game in hand” on the Bears for the race for the 1.01 in the coming NFL draft, meaning we should expect them to continue experimenting with things on offense to find something that could stick moving into next year, not having to worry about “accidentally winning games.”
Royce Freeman was called up from the practice squad for his first game action of 2022 in Week 15 and ended up leading the backfield in rush attempts and yardage, taking 11 carries for 51 yards and catching his only target for six yards. Dare Ogunbowale mixed in for eight carries for a putrid 14 yards, while Rex Burkhead was held without a carry and caught two of four targets. Stop me when you find something fantasy relevant (hint, there isn’t). The matchup yields the lowest net-adjusted line yards metric we have seen all season at 3.76 against one of the most pass-funnel defenses in the league.
Assuming Brandin Cooks returns, I tentatively expect Cooks and Phillip Dorsett to operate as the primary perimeter receivers with Chris Moore as the primary slot guy. Amari Rodgers is likely to still have a role at the expense of both perimeter receivers, likely keeping all wide receivers confined to sub-80% snap rates. Teagan Quitoriano has emerged as the flavor of the second half of the season at tight end for the Texans, who have varied the snap rates of their tight ends all year — expect Quitoriano, Jordan Akins, and Brevin Jordan to all see snaps at tight end (and none of them have seen more than six targets in a game this season). Outside of the likeliest split in snaps, I really have no clue what to expect from a Texans team that typically hovers around league average in pass rate over expectation (PROE) in negative environments and falls to the extreme lows in PROE when they are able to hang around, but one that has also now added additional members to their rotation at every meaningful position – including quarterback.
The Commanders have played two games in the last three weeks due to their Week 14 bye, and both of those games were against the same opponent – the New York Giants. Washington emerged from that stretch with a 0-1-1 record and now holds on to the final NFC playoff spot with a half-game lead. After this week’s difficult road matchup with the 49ers, the Commanders have home games with the 6-8 Browns and a Cowboys team that will likely have nothing to play for in the last week of the season. Taylor Heinicke will remain the Commanders starting quarterback for at least this week, but head coach Ron Rivera left the door open to inserting Carson Wentz back into the lineup at any given time.
Washington started the season with a 1-4 record before righting the ship and going on quite the run in October and November to establish themselves as a potential playoff team. Their turnaround has been built around slowing games down and relying on their defense and running game to control the game. The Commanders rank 25th in the league in pass rate over expectation (PROE) and 30th in situation neutral tempo, while boasting the NFL’s 4th ranked run defense and PFF’s 8th graded pass rush. Taylor Heinicke has attempted 30 or more passes only once in his last six games while the offense flows primarily through running backs Antonio Gibson and Brian Robinson, with some Curtis Samuel rushes mixed in as well. This week, the Commanders face the 49ers top ranked run defense, which often pushes opposing teams away from the run as they search for easier means of moving the ball. However, Washington’s commitment to their identity and growing distrust of their quarterback play will likely mean they continue to lean heavily on their running game and short area passing in this matchup, hoping to win a low-scoring and ugly game by winning the turnover and field position battles.
The Eagles have put themselves in prime position for the 1-seed in the NFC, needing only one win in their last three games to lock things up. Jalen Hurts will not play this week due to a right shoulder injury, leaving Gardner Minshew under center to lead what has been a prolific scoring offense this year, leading the NFL in points per game through 15 weeks. The Eagles will also be getting back star tight end Dallas Goedert this week from his own shoulder injury, bolstering the already loaded weaponry of the Eagles. While shutting down Hurts for this week may have been a conservative approach due to their comfortable lead in the NFC, there is too much football left to play to expect anything but the Eagles best shot in this game, and being able to knock off their division rival Cowboys is always an important thing for this team.
The transition from Hurts to Minshew should have some effect on play calling and scheme for the Eagles. Minshew will not have the ability to create with his legs at the level that Hurts did, and they will certainly not be calling the designed runs or short yardage plays for Minshew that have made them so hard to defend with Hurts. We should expect a slightly more traditional offense this week, with the running backs being featured more in the running game and the passing concepts focusing more on short area and quick strikes against a ferocious Dallas pass rush. Minshew is more of a sitting duck than Hurts was, so long developing plays could be an issue if Dallas is able to collapse the pocket. The Eagles have been throwing the ball at a high rate this season, especially in the last couple of weeks against the Titans and Bears, but the methods of their passing game this week will likely be altered due to the matchup and personnel. In Minshew’s last start as an Eagle, Dallas Goedert had a career best game. Although AJ Brown was not on the team at that time, Minshew is best suited for those quick passes in the short areas of the field and down the seams, something that suits Goedert’s skill set well. The Eagles handed the ball to their running backs 36 times compared to 25 Minshew pass attempts, a ratio that they would likely be very pleased if they can replicate this week, although that will ultimately likely depend on game flow.
Saturday Night Football has the Raiders visiting the Steelers for a 38 total game in which Pittsburgh is favored by 2.5. This feels like a weird total as it has the Raiders implied for just 18 points, a total they have beaten in all but three games this season. Is it the Steelers elite defense? Well, they’re 13th in overall DVOA, so not terrible but not great, more middle of the pack (though in fairness, they have been playing better of late, especially against the run). Is it the weather? The current forecast has it being awfully cold (low teens) but with relatively mild winds so unless that changes, the weather shouldn’t have much impact. I don’t really bet lines/totals but this one feels weird to me (especially the Raiders side). Let’s see if we can figure it out.
On the Steelers side, Najee Harris is no longer in a bell cow role and hasn’t really been in one all season, averaging mid-70s snap percentages while sharing time with Jaylen Warren. Najee can still get a lot of work, as he’s had 20+ running back opportunities five times this year, but getting to that workload is not the lock that it was last season. In particular, his passing game role has largely dried up; after averaging 5.5 targets per game last year, he’s dropped down to just 2.9 per game this year. The matchup here is awesome against a Raiders defense that is dead last in DVOA, and if the Vegas line holds up and Pittsburgh wins, there’s a good chance Najee played a solid role in that victory. But, at $9,600, his floor is lower than I would like to see. He has a place in builds but he’s not someone I personally want to anchor the slate on. Warren has gotten somewhat priced up to $4,600, where he needs to beat out the kickers, and his highest score on the year is 11.9 Draftkings points. You can certainly bet on a lucky touchdown from Warren to go along with a few catches to push him up into the mid-teens, or of course, if something happens to Najee he’d be the primary beneficiary, but at his price, he’s more of a “hope for good variance” play than a strong value option.
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In the passing game, the Steelers are leaning primarily on Diontae Johnson and George Pickens at wide receiver, with Steven Sims, Gunner Olszewski, and Miles Boykin rotating through the WR3/WR4 roles. Diontae has been one of the worst receivers in the NFL this season with zero touchdowns and a high of 20 Draftkings points despite regularly seeing double-digit targets (and he only hit that 20 mark once, last week). The volume keeps him involved in the conversation and his floor is rock solid. His ceiling is somewhat questionable, but on a single game slate, he’s competing against a much smaller subset of other plays, and I’m totally comfortable with him as a viable option. Pickens has been more boom/bust as he’s had two games of just shy of 20 DK points (good, especially at $6,800), but also four games of under 5 DK points (Diontae only has one such game). He’s a tough one to evaluate as his ceiling has really been more theoretical than real this season, but I believe he’s going to show it at some point (and after as much as I’ve played him on main slates, it would be fitting for it to show up on an island game Showdown). The other three wideouts are all thin punt options – despite somewhat reasonable snap counts, they do not have a single game of five or more targets between them (Sims seems like the highest floor option between them, but whichever one you play is almost certainly going to need a touchdown in order to be relevant). At tight end, Pat Freiermuth was a major part of the passing offense for much of the season but has somewhat inexplicably fallen off the radar a bit in the last four weeks. Up until week 11, Muth had 7+ targets in 7/9 games, but since then, he’s had target counts of 4, 5, 6, and 0. He’s also seen his snaps fall from in the 70% range to down in the 50s in the last few games, so there appears to be something more than just variance in play here but I don’t know what it is. Maybe he’s nursing a nagging injury, maybe there’s something else, I don’t really know. What I do know is he’s down near the cheapest he’s been in Showdown play this season, and I’m generally one to bet on underlying talent over shorter-term variations, so he’s a pretty easy overweight position for me in this elite matchup. TE2 Zach Gentry is primarily a blocker though he’s on the field plenty, and at $600, seems like a reasonable punt option, while Connor Heyward can be included as an MME option as his snaps have crept up in the 20% range in most recent games.
The Packers have rejuvenated playoff hopes after a couple of HUGE wins over the Bears and Rams. I hope you can catch my sarcasm there, as it has been kind of funny to listen to Aaron Rodgers talk so highly about things based on a couple of wins over bottom of the NFL teams. This week is where the rubber meets the road, as the Packers travel to face a very good Dolphins team who has been on a slide recently and needs a win to put themselves in good position to make the playoffs.
The Green Bay offense now relies mostly on their dual-headed backfield of Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon to be the engine of the offense. Aaron Rodgers is more of a “game manager with benefits” at this point in his career, who excels at taking advantage of teams who load up too much on taking away the Packers running game. This week we should expect a similar run-heavy approach as Green Bay will likely try to control tempo in this game and slowly build a lead. Jones and Dillon combined for 36 touches on Monday night against the Rams, and somewhere in the 35-40 touch range has to be the target for Green Bay once again this week. The Packers will likely take some passing shots as well, and rookie Christian Watson will be given chances to make plays as he has done during a recent hot stretch. The Dolphins do have a top-10 run defense and bottom-10 pass defense, but the Packers identity being based in their backfield will keep them from being funneled away from what they do best for as long as the game is close. The Dolphins pass defense deficiencies do increase the chances that the Packers can bust a couple of big plays and score enough to keep this game close into the second half, while also leaving open the possibility of a Packers comeback if the Dolphins build a lead.
The Broncos welcome Russell Wilson back to the lineup after a one game absence due to a concussion. Prior to the concussion, Wilson was having (by far) his best game of the season to date against the Chiefs. This week Wilson will likely be called upon often to lead the offense as well against the top-5 run defense of the Rams. The Broncos are down to old timers Latavius Murray and Marlon Mack in their backfield, and while both have played reasonably well recently, this difficult matchup will likely keep them from having sustained success on the ground.
The Broncos play at the 13th fastest pace in the league and should have their usual tempo for this game with no huge offensive threats on the other side and no weather concerns in Los Angeles. The Rams run defense is stout and their pass defense plays primarily zone coverage that focuses on keeping things underneath against them. This actually matches up relatively well with Wilson’s current playing style, and I’d expect him to pepper the short areas of the field and take what the defense gives him while slowly moving the ball down the field. The Broncos offensive issues have been more about scoring and sustaining long drives this season, rather than just the complete dysfunction that most people think of from them. They often have drives where they get one or two first downs and then stall out around midfield, due to a lack of explosive plays and leaving themselves with a lot of third downs that they eventually fail to convert. Along with that, Wilson’s propensity to take sacks and Nathaniel Hackett’s love for early down runs for short gains often leave Denver in long 3rd down situations that are tough to convert. This matchup with the Rams is good from a “they should be able to move the ball through the air” standpoint, but poor from a “can we actually score points” standpoint.
The Bucs put on a clinic of “how to blow a lead in the NFL” last week, as they committed four turnovers and seven penalties to blow a two touchdown halftime lead and lose by double digits. Tom Brady continues to ride good fortune, as after nearly two decades dominating the AFC East, a division with no other serious contenders during that time, he has now moved on to the NFC South, just as all the teams in the division fall apart. At 6-8, the Bucs are still leading the division and in a prime position to make the playoffs. This week, the Bucs draw a Cardinals team that will be down to their third-string quarterback and has been eliminated from the playoffs, while the Bucs finish with divisional games against the 5-9 Panthers and Falcons.
The Bucs continue to pass the ball at a high rate, mainly due to the ineffectiveness of their running game. Most of those passes are of the short area variety, with Chris Godwin, Russell Gage, and their running backs accumulating a healthy dose of targets. Mike Evans, and to a lesser extent when he is healthy, Julio Jones, are the main targets in the short to intermediate areas of the field, although that is an area that the Bucs seldom target and are inefficient in when they do. This week, the Bucs face a poor Cardinals run defense and a pass defense that for most of the year has kept teams from attacking them downfield, so we should expect a similar approach from the Bucs as they look to slowly work their way down the field. I would expect a slightly more run-centric approach from the Bucs early in this game than we are used to, as they are likely to be conservative and want to avoid costly mistakes that let the Cardinals off the hook by letting them play with a lead without having to move the ball very much. Another conservative, high volume approach for the Bucs is in order as they flood our primetime screens on Christmas Day.
Week 16 and the holidays close out with the Chargers visiting the Colts for a 45.5 total game with Los Angeles favored by 4.5. The Colts are missing their best player with Jonathan Taylor out for the rest of the season leaving some confusion as to the state of their run game, while the Chargers are fully healthy with all of their primary offensive pieces active. It’s an interesting one to explore, so let’s dig in.
In previous games where Jonathan Taylor missed, Deon Jackson was the main guy and performed pretty well, but last week when Taylor left early, it was Zack Moss who stepped into a big role. Moss logged 67% of the snaps vs. 32% for Jackson, and a whopping 25 running back opportunities (though only one target and a putrid 3.4 yards per carry), while Jackson handled 14 opportunities of his own and ran better at 4.2 yards per carry, but also just one target (which he caught for a touchdown) while losing a fumble. So, what happens this week? Good lord, I don’t know, but given the matchup against a Chargers defense that is 25th in run defense DVOA, there’s a solid chance of a Colts running back landing in the winning lineup. The safe (and probably correct) answer is leaning towards Moss here: he played almost 2x Jackson’s snaps last week, handled almost 2x the opportunities, and is $600 cheaper to boot. That’s probably the right way to lean, but it’s worth noting that Moss played poorly and Jackson acquitted himself fairly well in previous JT absences so don’t be surprised if things swing back Jackson’s way. Given their prices, I’m considering a set of rules to limit (but not completely block) exposure to rosters that pair both of them (see the suggested groups below for more on how I’m thinking about this).
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In the passing game, the Colts are using a four-man rotation at wide receiver, with Michael Pittman, Parris Campbell, and Alec Pierce out there as full-time players while Ashton Dulin mixes in occasionally. Dulin can be used as an MME punt option, while Pittman is the clear alpha with seven games of 9+ targets on the season. At $8,200, that’s an extremely reasonable price for his talent and role (it’s also the cheapest he’s been in Showdown all season). The Parris Campbell career resurgence train has derailed a bit. After a mid-season surge with several games of 9+ targets and good results, Campbell has just 11 targets in the last three games. The recent low volume could be variance, it could be due to a renewed focus on the run game, or it could be intentional decision-making if the Colts are trying to focus their passing game elsewhere. I don’t think we can really know the answer here. At $5,400, it’s a risk I’m willing to embrace because we’ve seen target spikes and strong results multiple times this season (he’s put up three scores this year that would almost certainly land him in the winning lineup). At $2,800, Pierce is more boom/bust given his deep threat role, but that price is way too cheap for someone who’s going to be out there almost every passing down. The floor is scary (three games of zero points in his last five), but he has four games on the season that would likely have him in the winning lineup. At tight end, the Colts are a bit of a mess with all of Mo Alie-Cox, Kylen Granson (update: Granson has been ruled out), Jelani Woods, and Nikola Kalinic seeing snaps. Kalinic does not have a target on the season so can be relegated to the deepest of MME pools. Alie-Cox has one game of over 5 Draftkings points and can be similarly tossed into the MME punt pool, though given that he at least sees targets somewhat regularly and is on the field a lot, he’s a better punt than Kalinic. Granson has one game over 10 DK points, while Woods appears to be the guy whose role is ascending (he has more points per game than any other Colts tight end despite barely playing to start the year). Complicating this further is that Granson is questionable and has not practiced as of Saturday morning. If he misses, I think that benefits Woods the most and makes him a strong value option, while Alie-Cox at minimum salary would move up from “total MME punt” to “well, his floor should no longer be zero here.” If Granson is in, I’d rank them Woods, Granson, Alie-Cox, and Kalinic. If Granson misses I’d keep the same rankings but would just feel much stronger about Woods overall.
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