Week 17 Matchups

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Welcome to Week 17, fam. Nothing extra up here this week (Happy Holidays and all!). Let’s close out the regular season strong!!!


Week 17 is a strange slate every year (there is a reason, after all, why season-long leagues play their championship in Week 16), but it also usually ends up being one of the more unique and enjoyable DFS experiences. As you prepare throughout the week, keep an eye on news regarding playing time expectations across the league (we’ll be doing the same on this end, of course); but also, realize that when it comes down to it, this is still just another weekend of NFL DFS. Oftentimes, we see people veer far away from their typical NFL DFS approach in this spot, which tends to hurt their bottom line. Wherever we can, we still want to play good players seeing quality volume in good spots. Do that, and you’ll put yourself in great shape for a strong finish to the regular season.

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Kickoff Sunday, Dec 30th 1:00pm Eastern

Falcons (
27) at

Bucs (
24.5)

Over/Under 51.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Falcons Run D
8th DVOA/5th Yards allowed per carry
Buccaneers Run O
6th DVOA/20th Yards per carry
Falcons Pass D
30th DVOA/31st Yards allowed per pass
Buccaneers Pass O
9th DVOA/17th Yards per pass
Buccaneers Run D
3rd DVOA/1st Yards allowed per carry
Falcons Run O
26th DVOA/19th Yards per carry
Buccaneers Pass D
1st DVOA/6th Yards allowed per pass
Falcons Pass O
16ths DVOA/2nd Yards per pass

FALCONS // BUCCANEERS OVERVIEW

This game will cap a disappointing season for two of the three NFC South squads that will miss the playoffs this year, with the 5-10 Buccaneers hosting the 6-9 Falcons. The Bucs opened the season with a win over the Saints (remember that?) and went 2-0 to begin the year before losing 10 of their next 13 games. The Falcons’ season has been marred by injuries, bad offensive decision-making, and four losses through the first 11 weeks of six or fewer points. Neither team has anything to play for, but we shouldn’t expect any major personnel adjustments outside of fringe-injured players potentially being given the week off. Keep in mind that both of these teams have been out of serious playoff contention for weeks now, and no major shifts should be expected to take place. With both of these teams ranked top eight in yards per game and bottom nine in yards allowed, there is opportunity for us to see something of a back-and-forth affair (their game earlier in the year was a 34-29 shootout in Atlanta). Vegas got behind this game with an Over/Under of 49.5, which was quickly bet up to 51.5. The Falcons opened as slim 1.0 point favorites and now clock in as 1.0 point underdogs.

FALCONS PASS OFFENSE

The Bucs fired defensive coordinator Mike Smith after their loss to the Falcons earlier in the year, and since that time they have shown improvements on defense — playing more man coverage (rather than sticking to their vanilla, ineffective zone far too often), paying closer attention to assignment-based details, and doing the main thing this particular coverage scheme requires: tackling well after the catch. On the year, the Bucs now rank top five in fewest yards allowed after the catch on a per-reception basis, and since Mark Duffner took over, they’ve been better than 10 other squads in yards allowed per pass attempt. The Bucs still allow the highest completion rate in the NFL, but since Smith was fired, teams have been attacking downfield far less often, with only 12 teams seeing fewer deep ball attempts in this span than the Bucs. As we have been hammering home across the last several weeks of action: this is still an above-average matchup, but not to such an extent that it significantly boosts expectations for opposing passing attacks.

Of course: any matchup but the most difficult is still “a good spot” for Julio Jones, who ranks top three in the NFL in targets, air yards, percentage share of team air yards, and receiving yards — with the only concern in this spot being hip and rib injuries that held him to 25 of 48 offensive snaps last week. It should be noted that the Falcons leaned heavily on two tight end sets last week and scaled back snaps for all of their wideouts, with Calvin Ridley playing only 29 snaps and Mohamed Sanu playing only 32. Keep an eye on reports this week on Julio’s health and playing-time expectations — but if he’s out there, he’s an obvious Upside option. Regardless of reports regarding his health, he’ll be at risk of seeing some limitations, which leaves him viable in tourneys only. The only true motivation for Julio in this game (beyond pride) is his league lead in receiving yards — but with a 114-yard edge on DeAndre Hopkins, his lead is likely safe without a wire-to-wire performance, introducing some risk to this spot.

Behind Julio, Ridley and Sanu have remained dart throws all season, with Ridley topping five targets only twice in his last seven games, and with Sanu working a route tree that typically leaves him on low-upside routes that require a broken play for him to hit. It’s not outside the realm of possibilities that one of these guys posts a big game, making them viable add-on pieces to an otherwise-sturdy tourney build; but each guy is best saved for mass-multi-entry play, or for game stacks that aim to capture a back-and-forth shootout in this spot. Even in a good matchup, Austin Hooper (who has seen his target counts fluctuate wildly, with quality matchups providing no volume guarantees) remains simply a bet-on-non-awful-floor // hope-for-a-big-game option.

FALCONS RUN OFFENSE

Tampa remains one of the better run defenses to attack — with a number 22 ranking in yards allowed per carry, and with the most running back touchdowns allowed in the NFL this year — but the Falcons’ backfield remains one of the more difficult to target, with this squad ranking third in pass play rate and remaining absolutely insistent on splitting work between two backs. Last week, it was Tevin Coleman and fourth-stringer Brian Hill, with Coleman touching the ball 10 times and Hill touching it eight. Four of Hill’s touches came after Coleman was knocked out of the game, but he mixed in from the very first drive (which was one of the only sustained drives the Falcons had all game), and if Coleman is cleared to play this week (which he currently appears on track for), we should once again expect a maddening backfield split. If Coleman misses, Jeremy Langford will step into the Number Two role while Hill will cover the One. This is a situation to avoid outside of hoping for a long play or an unpredictable volume spike.

BUCCANEERS PASS OFFENSE

On a per-pass basis, Atlanta has played fairly average pass defense all year, ranking 14th in yards allowed per pass attempt, while allowing the eighth fewest pass plays of 20+ yards. This defense continues to allow a high catch rate, but they force passes into the short areas — forcing opponents to march the length of the field rather than giving up chunk gains. This approach (as we all know quite well by this point in the season) filters plenty of targets to running backs (most RB targets faced in the league) while keeping volume to wide receivers and tight ends in the middle of the pack. Only 10 teams have allowed fewer yards to wide receivers this year than the Falcons — though with Atlanta ranked bottom three in drive success rate allowed, they have given up the third most wide receiver touchdowns.

All of this sets up poorly for targeting individual Tampa pass catchers with confidence, as the Bucs A) prefer to attack downfield (only Josh Allen has a deeper average intended air yards than Jameis this year), and B) spread around targets in the red zone (Chris Godwin has 15 red zone targets // Adam Humphries has 14 // Mike Evans has 12). This situation is further complicated by the expected health of DeSean Jackson (foot), who should be able to play this week in spite of missing a handful of snaps last week after he picked up the injury. If the Bucs hold out DJax in anticipation of cutting him loose in the offseason, it will become easier to take a shot on Godwin for his locked-in role and his upside at his still-depressed price; but if DJax plays, all bets are off.

While it is difficult to isolate a single wide receiver on the Bucs to target with confidence, there is a chance that this game turns into a shootout if both teams come to play, which introduces optimism for Jameis Winston (who can produce a high-end score without carrying a single one of his pass catchers into elite territory with him in this spread-it-out attack), and it also introduces optimism for large-field “take a shot” tourney stacks.

(NOTE: There are now whispers that Ryan Griffin could get some snaps at quarterback this week for the Bucs. This doesn’t change expectations on the Bucs’ pass catchers, as Griffin has been with the team for three years and knows the offense well, and the Bucs’ coaches like him quite a bit; but these whispers do heighten the risk on Jameis this week.)

Behind the wide receivers, Cameron Brate (no games above 36 receiving yards all season) remains a touchdown-or-bust option.

If you want to turn to narratives: Evans will have a shot to chase down the receiving yardage title with a big game if Julio misses this contest on the other side of the ball.

BUCCANEERS RUN OFFENSE

Attacking the Falcons with pass-catching running backs has been a profitable strategy all season (with this team allowing the most targets, catches, and receiving yards in the league), but this team also ranks 28th in yards allowed per carry, making them a quality matchup all the way around.

When these teams last met, Peyton Barber caught a season-high four catches (24 yards), while posting his fourth best yardage game on the ground (82 yards). Of course, those low numbers tell you a lot about his ceiling, but with 16 or more carries in five of his last six games and the eighth most red zone carries in the NFL (not a typo), he quietly carries a better price-considered floor/ceiling combo than most will notice. As a yardage-and-touchdown back, he always carries some risk of posting a dud, but he stands out as an interesting way to save salary this week.

There is also an outside chance that Jacquizz Rodgers gets involved through the air again this week (32 out of 81 snaps last week // seven targets), making him a thinner, but still-viable long-shot tourney play.

JM’S INTERPRETATION

This week, I plan to build my typical one or two Main Rosters, but I also see enough paths to upside on this slate that I am toying around with the idea of a mass-multi-entry week myself — perhaps taking a rare, roster-heavy shot in the Milly Maker and other large-field tourneys. I don’t expect to find any pieces from this game on my Main Builds, as there are simply higher-floor spots than this — but this is the type of game that could yield multiple high-end scores if game flow plays out the right way, making this an interesting spot to stack in large-field builds. There are also some pieces here (Matt Ryan to Julio // Julio solo // Jameis solo // Jameis stacked one or two ways // Peyton Barber as a salary saver with 15- to 20-point upside // etc.) that are attractive for the upside outside of game stacks. If I end up with some multi-entry play, I’ll likely have a piece of this game. If both teams show up to play, it could turn into a sneaky-fun shootout in the early games on Sunday.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 30th 1:00pm Eastern

Panthers (
17) at

Saints (
25)

Over/Under 42.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Panthers Run D
26th DVOA/18th Yards allowed per carry
Saints Run O
12th DVOA/18th Yards per carry
Panthers Pass D
13th DVOA/7th Yards allowed per pass
Saints Pass O
14th DVOA/12th Yards per pass
Saints Run D
4th DVOA/6th Yards allowed per carry
Panthers Run O
16th DVOA/16th Yards per carry
Saints Pass D
15th DVOA/19th Yards allowed per pass
Panthers Pass O
11th DVOA/9th Yards per pass

PANTHERS // SAINTS OVERVIEW

Stunningly, the Panthers have lost seven games in a row, and they now sit at 6-9 before traveling to New Orleans to take on the 13-2 Saints (13-1 in their last 14 games). The Panthers went 5-3 in Charlotte this year, but they have won only one game on the road — and this week, they are giving the ball to third-string, undrafted rookie quarterback Kyle Allen. On the other side of this game, the Saints have nothing to play for with the 1 seed already locked up for the NFC playoffs — putting this team in position to play starters for a couple series before allowing them to rest the remainder of the game. The Panthers have also intimated that they will “be smart” with Christian McCaffrey this week — who unsurprisingly played 83 of a possible 92 snaps last week, but whom the Panthers have no real cause to give a nearly-100% workload to this week. This game won’t quite have the look of a preseason game at the end (with only 45 active players on Sunday, it’s impossible for all starters to really be given rest), but Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara, Michael Thomas, and Mark Ingram will almost certainly see limited snaps, while CMC could see less than his usual workload on the other side of the ball. There are still some elements to consider in this game — but with the Saints likely to give limited reps to their core players and the Panthers playing with a third-string rookie (with their primary piece in McCaffrey in a difficult matchup and unlikely to see a full workload), this game does not come close to competing with the more clear-and-obvious spots on the slate.

PANTHERS PASS OFFENSE

Last week, we were able to dig into the things we knew about Taylor Heinicke (which was quite a bit for a 25-year-old non-prospect making his first career start), but this week, we are at just as much of a loss on Kyle Allen as the coaches for the Saints (and likely even the coaches for the Panthers) are. Allen was a top recruit coming out of high school, when he chose Texas A&M over Alabama, Ohio State, and several other top programs, but after two years at A&M, he transferred to Houston; and after sitting out a year, he bombed in Houston (four touchdowns // four interceptions) and then decided to enter the NFL Draft in April, where he went undrafted. He has spent portions of this season on the Panthers’ practice squad and portions of the season not playing at all. Now, he’ll take over as the starting quarterback for the final game of the season. Unlike Heinicke last week (who is now on I.R. with the left elbow injury that knocked him out of last week’s game for a couple series and had him playing in pain all day), Allen has had no time practicing with the first-team offense until this week, and he does not have years in Norv Turner’s system. We should expect a somewhat simplified playbook this week, with Allen likely asked to simply deliver short passes to his playmakers and hope they can generate action after the catch.

The best bet in this spot is to assume that even if Allen plays well, he will be unable to produce the sort of scores for any of these pass catchers that you “have to have” — creating a situation where it makes the most sense to simply find your pass catcher production in other spots rather than trying to figure out this one; but if you feel compelled to chase the Panthers’ pass catchers, it is worth noting that Curtis Samuel and D.J. Moore should continue to play heavy snaps this week, as they are “the young guys” that the Panthers would theoretically want to get a look at in a meaningless game, with Devin Funchess and Torrey Smith long-ago relegated to backseat status. This is likely Funchess’ final game with the Panthers, while Moore and Samuel are locked in as the wide receivers of the future.

Last week played out exactly the way we expected, with Curtis Samuel being relied on for “short-area looks, with a couple downfield targets mixed in” — seeing a monstrous 13 targets, with 10 coming within about eight yards of the line of scrimmage, plus a 15-yard out route coming from the slot and a pair of 9 routes on which he was targeted 30 yards downfield (Samuel’s box score would have looked a lot different last week had he and Heinicke connected on one of those downfield shots). We know a lot less about Allen and how comfortable the Panthers feel with him (and we also know less about how effectively he will be able to deliver the ball), but Samuel should again be leaned on in the short areas of the field, with a couple downfield looks potentially mixed in.

Moore’s connection with Heinicke last week was a lot less sharp, with the two connecting on only two of seven targets, for 19 total yards. Samuel has seen more targets than Moore in three of the Panthers’ last four games (with the two matching target counts in the other game in that stretch), but Moore’s excellent YAC ability still gives him a chance to hit if the targets are there.

Jarius Wright saw eight targets last week and went 7-69-0, though he and Heinicke had been together since Minnesota a few years back and had obvious rapport. It will be tougher this week for Wright to generate useful production, though you could obviously make a case that perhaps Allen will lean on his slot weapon — especially as his other primary outlet (tight end Ian Thomas) will have a difficult matchup against a Saints defense that has allowed the fifth fewest catches and the third fewest yards to the tight end position.

PANTHERS RUN OFFENSE

The starting point here is the matchup, as it should be noted — even if you want to take the approach I took last week (i.e., saying that there is no real reason to believe the Panthers will lighten the workload on CMC) — that the Saints have allowed the fewest rushing yards in the NFL, and no team in football has allowed fewer yards from scrimmage to running backs than the Saints. The Saints have given up the third fewest yards per carry in the NFL. Their 11 touchdowns allowed to running backs are the sixth fewest in the league. Furthermore — quite unlike last week (when nothing was said by anyone in the Panthers’ organization to imply that they planned to lighten the workload for CMC) — Ron Rivera said this week that the Panthers need to be smart with their star running back in Week 17. Expect McCaffrey to play in this difficult matchup, but be aware that there is a decent chance he does not play a full complement of snaps.

SAINTS OFFENSE

More than just about any other elite coach/quarterback combo, Sean Payton and Drew Brees care about stats and records. And while the Saints obviously have their sights set on a second Super Bowl championship, their first step along that path is 24 more receiving yards for Michael Thomas to break the Saints’ single-season receiving record, eight passing yards for Drew Brees to notch his 13th consecutive 4000-yard passing season, and one touchdown for Alvin Kamara to set the Saints’ all-time single-season touchdown record. The Saints will likely try to get these numbers out of the way in the first drive or two, and will then look to rest these primary pieces — though with the Saints saying nothing about how long their primary pieces will play, this is simply an educated guess. Brees has said we will definitely see Teddy Bridgewater playing this week (which means we will definitely see the Saints’ four core offensive pieces — and almost certainly Ted Ginn as well, whom the Saints place a high value on — moving to the sidelines as a unit), but there is no telling whether or not we will see these centerpieces play one series, two series, a little over a quarter, or the full first half. It seems highly unlikely that any of these players play into the second half, and “two or three series” seems like the likeliest bet; but barring more concrete, late-week news, the playing time expectations behind this unit remain a bit of a guessing game.

One thing we do know: the Saints will still be preparing and playing to win, even with some key pieces resting (speaking of records: the Saints have never won 14 games in a regular season in franchise history — something Payton has talked about this week). It’s difficult to bet on a quarterback who will not be playing a full complement of snaps, but we do know that Bridgewater was a borderline franchise quarterback as recently as 2016 before shredding his knee, and we know he will be fully capable of moving the Saints’ well-designed offense against a Panthers defense that ranks 26th in yards allowed per pass attempt. Carolina has been especially poor across the second half of the season, allowing the most passing touchdowns in the NFL since the start of Week 9, while giving up the sixth most passing yards and the fifth most yards per pass attempt. Carolina has allowed the league’s highest completion rate and the most yards on downfield passes in this span, and the only area where they have continued to excel has been in preventing yards after the catch.

Ultimately, the Saints focus almost exclusively on a short-area passing attack, which will make it difficult for any individual Saints pass catcher to take advantage with a slate-breaking score in an abbreviated appearance — but there is a decent chance we see Keith Kirkwood take over the Michael Thomas role for more than two quarters, while Tre’Quan Smith will almost certainly handle the Ginn role (which he handled for weeks while Ginn was out — largely to no avail — but which he certainly has the speed to make a difference in if things click in place). Kirkwood is the most intriguing play of the bunch, with a consistent role in this offense already in recent weeks (target counts since his first appearance in Week 10 of 2 // 5 // 3 // 3 // 2 // 2 // 4), and with 13 catches and two touchdowns in this stretch (with an impressive 10 of his receptions going for a first down). Kirkwood has the sort of big body that the Saints like to develop, and this could be a chance for him to see six to eight targets if Thomas and the rest of the Saints’ offensive centerpieces duck out early enough this week.

The tight ends have a good matchup against the Panthers, but this unit has been a guessing game even when we knew which other players would be playing; this group is truly just a dart throw this week.

In the backfield, it will likely be Kamara/Ingram early with Dwayne Washington and fullback Zach Line filling in down the stretch. There is a chance the Saints bring up another back before Sunday. If not, Washington could push for 12 to 15 touches if he gets onto the field early enough.

JM’S INTERPRETATION

I had heavy interest in the Panthers’ offense last week, and I ended up going heavy in my ownership of a low-priced Heinicke/Samuel combo, while making a tight (and ultimately disappointing) call to lean Zeke over CMC as my high-priced back. This week, I’ll be looking to this offense again if I do indeed go with some mass-multi-entry play — but my focus will be more narrowed (with Samuel and possibly Moore the only pieces standing out), and none of these guys will be on my short list for my core teams. There were reasons last week to feel comfortable that we could get genuine, starting-caliber scores out of Heinicke, Samuel, and CMC. This week, the bets on this offense come with far less certainty — making them viable for large-field tourneys only.

I also won’t have interest in the Saints’ starters or in Teddy Bridgewater, Dwayne Washington, or Tre’Quan Smith outside of possibly taking one or two shots in large-field tourneys with a backups-heavy Saints stack in hopes of capturing some lightning — but I do think Kirkwood is an interesting building block this week in large-field tourneys, as he is locked into a few targets each game in this offense, and there is an outside chance he sees more like six to eight targets (instead of the two to three for which he can usually be penciled in). As with Thomas: these will be short-area looks that will require him to pick up YAC or score a touchdown in order to become truly valuable — but it’s not a crazy bet that the latter will happen, and the former is never outside the realm of reasonable possibilities.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 30th 1:00pm Eastern

Cowboys (
15.75) at

Giants (
22.75)

Over/Under 38.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Cowboys Run D
29th DVOA/31st Yards allowed per carry
Giants Run O
30th DVOA/30th Yards per carry
Cowboys Pass D
21st DVOA/18th Yards allowed per pass
Giants Pass O
29th DVOA/30th Yards per pass
Giants Run D
15th DVOA/8th Yards allowed per carry
Cowboys Run O
18th DVOA/23rd Yards per carry
Giants Pass D
23rd DVOA/16th Yards allowed per pass
Cowboys Pass O
22nd DVOA/1st Yards per pass

COWBOYS // GIANTS OVERVIEW

This game could have told a very different story than it does. The Cowboys — after their painfully slow start to the season — looked dead in the water, with Jason Garrett appearing likely to be out the door at the end of the season, while the Giants (as explored several times in this space over the last month) have lost a ridiculous number of close games this year that could have sent their record the other direction had things broken differently toward the ends of games. On the year, the Cowboys rank 14th in the NFL in point differential, while the Giants rank 21st — but the Cowboys are 9-6, winners of the NFC East, and locked into the 4 seed in the NFC playoffs, while the Giants are 5-10 and set for another offseason of question marks surrounding their quarterback situation.

With the Cowboys having nothing to play for (and being gifted a perfect opportunity to rest key players before diving into the grueling, final stretch of the season), no one is buying the proclamation from Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett that healthy players will play in this game, with Vegas installing the Giants as 6.0 point favorites in a game with an Over/Under of 41.5. An optimal setup would call for us to know, definitively, that Ezekiel Elliott will be resting (which would open the door for Rod Smith to be a locked-in viable play under a full workload), but it appears likely that the Cowboys’ starters will play at least a few series before taking a backseat — creating a split-workload scenario that could make it more difficult for Smith to play a full compliment of snaps. It is worth noting that the last time the Cowboys were in this situation, Zeke dressed but did not play, while Dak Prescott and Dez Bryant played a couple series before resting. It is also worth noting that there is a non-zero chance that Jones and Garrett are telling the truth, and that the Cowboys’ starters will surprise with a full workload at minimal ownership. Obviously (barring further clarification throughout the week), this game is best left to tourneys, but there are still one or two viable plays on the Cowboys’ side of the ball, while the Giants enter a slightly softer matchup with the Cowboys’ defense likely looking forward to next week. Dallas has a -5.4 point differential on the road this year, and the Giants are playing well enough to take advantage — especially if the Cowboys rest starters in this game down the stretch.

COWBOYS PASS OFFENSE

As noted several times across the last few weeks, the Giants’ pass defense is a stronger unit than most in the DFS world give them credit for, with the fifth fewest passing touchdowns allowed in the NFL, and with the fifth most interceptions. Given the inconsistency of this Dallas passing attack and the high likelihood that this unit will be resting starters for a large chunk of this game, this is a nearly-impossible group to bet on this week.

If you feel compelled to go here, your best bet is to either A) bet on Dak and Amari Cooper and hope they play a full compliment of snaps, or B) hope that Dak and Amari sit after a couple series and Michael Gallup sees big run (and manages to produce) with his time on the field. All of these are thin options this week best reserved for large-field tourneys. These plays carry risk, and in order to justify the risk, you need to feel confident that the player(s) in this passing attack you roster are capable of posting a score that is higher than anyone else priced around them. If making one of these bets, Gallup — with his low price tag and his potential for a spike in workload — would be the most reasonable place to go.

COWBOYS RUN OFFENSE

The Giants have been moderately attackable with running backs this year — ranking a respectable 14th in yards allowed per carry, but tightening up in the pass game so well in the red zone that they have ended up giving up the sixth most running back touchdowns in the NFL this year. While yardage can certainly pile up in this spot, touchdowns are the statistic to hope for if rostering a Dallas back — with a strong chance that we see Rod Smith for at least two and a half to three quarters of action this week.

This presents an interesting DFS situation, as Smith has remained minimum-priced on FanDuel while seeing his price spike close to the mid-range running backs on DraftKings.

From past situations like this one (including the last time Jerry Jones told the world that his starters would be playing in a meaningless game), we know that most of the DFS community will trust the most obvious path to usage anyway — leading to a likely high-ownership (or at least moderately high-ownership) game for Smith. If this ends up being the case, he will remain strongly viable on FanDuel even at an expectation of two and a half to three quarters of playing time, as a minimum-priced running back seeing 15 to 20 touches is a strong option regardless; but on DraftKings, the conversation becomes a bit more interesting, as $5.5k puts him more in the “appropriately-priced” to “slightly overpriced” range unless he sees 22 or more touches, creating an interesting case for pivoting to other running backs and hoping you can match or pass Smith’s score this week.

GIANTS RUN OFFENSE

Last week, Saquon Barkley took on a Colts run defense that ranks sixth in yards allowed per carry, and that has allowed 1260 rushing yards and only 11 total touchdowns to running backs this year — while filtering targets to running backs with a Tampa 2 base defense, leading to 106 catches (second most in the league) and 797 receiving yards to the position. This week, Saquon will take on a Cowboys run defense that ranks second in yards allowed per carry, and that has allowed 1082 rushing yards and only 11 total touchdowns to running backs this year — while filtering targets to running backs with a Tampa 2 base defense, leading to 95 catches (fourth most in the league) and 701 receiving yards to the position. The last time Saquon played the Cowboys, he picked up only 28 yards on the ground on 11 carries, but he went a ridiculous 14-80-0 through the air on 16 targets. Working against him in this spot is the continued poor play of the Giants’ offensive line and the Giants’ inability to adjust player deployment to matchups as well as they need to. Working in Saquon’s favor is this game’s home environment and the fact that the Cowboys will likely rest key defensive pieces (including stud linebackers Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch) as the game moves along. Saquon’s locked-in usage and once-in-a-generation talent make him a solid floor/ceiling piece in any matchup. This matchup lowers floor to an extent, but he remains a strong piece from a raw-points perspective, and he has a solid shot once again this week at more than paying off his price.

GIANTS PASS OFFENSE

Even if the Cowboys rest starters this week as the game moves along, we should not expect to see a major impact on the matchup this defense presents to the Giants’ passing attack, as the Cowboys’ scheme is built around taking away wide receivers and downfield routes, while the Giants — especially without Odell Beckham — have been focused on the short areas of the field. Only three teams have allowed fewer touchdowns to wide receivers than the Cowboys. Only eight teams have allowed fewer catches. Only seven teams have allowed fewer yards.

Working in our favor is the fact that this matchup is so similar to the one the Giants faced last week — giving us a blueprint of how the Giants will look to attack the Cowboys’ zone (while the Cowboys’ defense should be more focused on sharpening assignment-based play in preparation for the playoffs than on scheming away certain elements the Giants will be looking to — essentially using this week of practice the way teams with a first-round bye will use next week: toward self-scouting and internal improvements, over opponent-based concerns).

Last week, the Giants leaned on Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram once again, with Shep finally working beyond the short areas of the field (he saw two shallow post routes from the perimeter and also hauled in a 45-yard bomb), and with Engram adding one route up the seam (and a pair of carries) to his otherwise short-area role.

Of course, it should be noted that Shep hauled in a not-necessarily-repeatable six of the seven targets he saw, and that his day would have looked very different if not for that 45-yard bomb (which he turned into a 55-yard gain), and it should be further noted that Engram hauled in six of six targets, and the Cowboys have tightened up significantly in recent weeks against the tight end position. Neither of these guys are lock-and-load options, but both are part of the conversation.

If OBJ surprises with a return to the field this week, he should reemerge as the alpha in this passing attack — creating a tougher situation to bet on. Barkley would retain his role, his floor, and his upside. Engram, Shep, and OBJ would become hope-to-guess-right plays.

JM’S INTERPRETATION

With the NFL shifting most of the relevant games this week to the 4.25 PM time slot, it is unsurprising that a lot of the early games are offering very little, and this game is no different — with the Cowboys looking likely to play starters to open the game, but seeming unlikely to play them for more than a few series, which would leave all players with a less-than-full workload on a 15-game slate with plenty of other players in other games going wire-to-wire. Rod Smith is the most attractive play on this side of the ball, but his ownership will likely outstrip his playing time expectations, making him an interesting fade from a game theory perspective. (As of Wednesday, of course, I have no idea where I’ll go on this one myself, but if Smith sees only 15 to 17 touches, he’ll have a clear and obvious shot at disappointing. He is, obviously, a much stronger play on FanDuel — where he costs 7.5% of the salary cap, compared to on DraftKings where he costs 11.0%.)

On the Giants, I like Saquon as a solid play, as always. He’s more appropriately-priced than underpriced, but he should see his typical volume this week as the Giants continue to do what they can to close out the season strong.

I have not yet been drawn toward Shepard since OBJ has been missing in action, and that won’t change for me this week — though he did show last week what he can do in this setup from time to time. I have been drawn to Engram the last couple weeks, but he’ll be tougher for me to bet on this week with the Cowboys tightening up their tight end defense of late, and with Engram’s price rising and his downfield role remaining thin. If Beckham plays, of course, all bets are off on this offense for me — though you could obviously make a case for chasing his upside in the final game of the year.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 30th 1:00pm Eastern

Lions (
18.5) at

Packers (
26)

Over/Under 44.5

Tweet
Notes

Key Matchups
Lions Run D
30th DVOA/29th Yards allowed per carry
Packers Run O
10th DVOA/7th Yards per carry
Lions Pass D
12th DVOA/15th Yards allowed per pass
Packers Pass O
6th DVOA/14th Yards per pass
Packers Run D
25th DVOA/15th Yards allowed per carry
Lions Run O
13th DVOA/15th Yards per carry
Packers Pass D
25th DVOA/14th Yards allowed per pass
Lions Pass O
19th DVOA/22nd Yards per pass

LIONS // PACKERS OVERVIEW

The 2018 season comes to a close for these two rundown NFC North teams in a forgotten game in Wisconsin on Sunday afternoon, with Matt Patricia’s ill-fated run-and-defense approach taking a 5-10 record on the road against the 6-8-1 Packers. The Packers won their first road game of the year last week — taking the 4-11 Jets to overtime to finish 1-7 away from Lambeau — and they will return home where they are 5-1-1 on the year. Unsurprisingly, the Packers have been installed as 8.0 point favorites. This game carries an Over/Under of 44.5, with the Lions (five consecutive games of 17 or fewer points) being given a living-in-the-past Vegas-implied team total of 18.0.

LIONS PASS OFFENSE

Beginning with Week 9, here are the recent passing yardage totals for Matthew Stafford and the Lions’ embarrassing “attack”: 199 // 274 // 220 // 236 // 245 // 101 // 208 // 116. This week, they will take the show on the road against a Packers defense that has faced the 10th lowest opponent pass play rate in the NFL as they continue to invite teams to attack them on the ground. As noted in this space throughout the season: the Packers do not actually present a difficult pass game matchup — ranking 22nd in yards allowed per pass attempt, while giving up the 11th most passing yards in the league. Green Bay ranks middle of the pack in passing touchdowns allowed, bottom four in interceptions, and middle of the pack in receiving yards allowed to wide receivers. Only two teams have allowed more receiving touchdowns to wide receivers. Detroit’s broken passing attack is a bigger roadblock in this spot than the matchup.

On the plus side for this passing attack — which has recent attempt totals of only 33 // 23 // 29 // 32 — is the fact that it has locked onto Kenny Golladay lately for sturdy volume (recent target counts of 8 // 4 // 8 // 15 — good for a strong 29.9% target share), giving him at least some opportunity to matter in this spot. Golladay’s usage has been extremely encouraging across the last two weeks, with five of his 23 targets coming more than 30 yards downfield, and with plenty of short-area routes raising his reception floor. He has been deployed from all areas of the formation, with out-breaking routes, in-breaking routes, deep crossing routes, fade routes, and pre-snap movement that carries him across the formation to confuse the defense. With no weapons left on this team, they have been focusing on Golladay — which creates some iffy-floor, high-upside appeal in this confidence-shattered offense.

Last week, Stafford attempted seven passes that traveled more than 11 yards downfield. Six of these passes went to Golladay — illustrating the low upside available on every other player in this offense outside of broken plays and/or multi-touchdown games. T.J. Jones, Andy Jones, and Brandon Powell are merely hope-for-magic dart throws. On the off chance Golladay misses this week after failing to practice on Wednesday with the same chest injury that sidelined him for some practice reps last week, you’re on your own trying to find upside in this offense.

LIONS RUN OFFENSE

I’m still with my family in New England as I write up this game, and I’ll likely read this section to my dad when I finish writing it. I’ll have to ask Abby to close her ears, because she loves Matt Patricia and his huggable look…

Because Matt Patricia exists in a different reality than the rest of us, he continues to insist on his team involving a career-dead LeGarrette Blount in the run game — with the Lions giving him recent carry counts of 12 // 7 //11, while Zach Zenner has seen carry counts in this stretch of 12 // 10 // 8. Zenner has gone for 45 or more yards in each of these games, while Blount has failed to top 33 yards in this stretch. On the season, Blount ranks dead last in the NFL among 48 qualified running backs with a 2.8 yards per carry mark that would have gotten him benched by any other team in any other era in NFL history. Zenner has averaged 5.1 yards per carry on his limited looks and is a plus in the pass game. Theo Riddick also continues to see his value evaporate, as he has been given recent touch counts of 10 // 10 // 7, requiring him to break off a big play or score multiple touchdowns in order to matter. Unless Patricia phones a friend this week to get some help running his team, we should expect Blount to once again light valuable snaps on fire for the Lions, rendering this backfield as a whole unusable.

PACKERS PASS OFFENSE

I was about to write that this is a sneaky-strong spot for the Packers’ passing attack — with the thought being, “Everyone knows that the Lions face low passing volume, but there are reasons to believe that this will be a pass-heavy spot for the Packers.” Then, I realized I’m one of the only people elbows-deep in stats each week to a point where the volume concerns would even stand out; most people with more exciting lives during football season just simply know that the Lions have a bad pass defense. So…there you go. Scratch “sneaky” off the list — but this is a strong spot for the Packers, with the Lions allowing the most yards per pass attempt in the NFL this year, and with this team allowing the second most passing touchdowns while intercepting the second fewest passes in the league. From the “volume concern” department (if anyone besides me cares about this), it should very much be noted that only the Raiders have faced fewer pass attempts this year than Detroit, as the Lions tilt defensive alignments to force teams to the ground — though with the Packers ranked second in the NFL in pass play rate (and carrying a league-leading 68.93% pass play rate since ditching Mike McCarthy and letting do-it-all-on-his-own Aaron Rodgers effectively take over the offense), we should expect a pass-heavy game from Green Bay anyway.

Working further in our favor is the fact that Randall Cobb and Equanimeous St. Brown are both still in the concussion protocol (neither practiced Wednesday) — which eliminates playing time concerns on a team that entered last week with an uncertain workload distribution among Marquez Valdes-Scantling, ESB, and ‘Rodgers favorite’ Jake Kumerow. The Packers ended up starting Adams, ESB, and Kumerow, with MVS stepping into the slot once ESB went down. Davante Adams (unsurprisingly) saw an incredible 18 targets with Rodgers throwing 55 times, while MVS saw nine targets in the slot-happy matchup against the Jets and Kumerow saw three targets on the outside. (ESB saw five targets before going down. Jimmy Graham continued his disappointing season with only four targets in a 55-pass game.)

This week, we should expect Adams to be trailed by Darius Slay, but he posted a 9-140-1 line in this game earlier in the year and is a strong candidate for another big game in this spot. Adams enters Week 17 tied with Antonio Brown for the league lead in targets per game, while ranking first in red zone targets, second in receiving touchdowns, and fifth in receiving yards. Rodgers and Adams will be looking to wreck this game in an effort to close out this season strong, making Adams his typical safe, high-upside play. (If you care about the narrative: Rodgers and Adams are also both record-oriented players, and Adams is 134 yards shy of breaking the Packers’ single-season receiving yardage record.)

MVS will dominate snaps in the slot as long as neither Cobb nor ESB returns. As noted a few times throughout the year, this slot role in the Packers’ offense ultimately ends up generating more value than the second perimeter role most weeks, as Rodgers is so locked onto Adams as his first read on most plays, it is rare for the second perimeter option (lined up on the other side of the field) to be more than a third read — while the slot receiver in this unit is typically schemed to be the second option. While the two saw some overlap in snaps last week, ESB and MVS mostly played at the exclusion of one another — making it notable that they combined for a 10-169-0 line on 14 targets. We should expect somewhere in the range of 33 to 36 pass attempts for Rodgers this week in a likeliest-case scenario, so those target numbers can be bumped down a decent amount, but MVS will still be a viable and potentially valuable piece this week if he’s the last man standing.

As for Kumerow: He was one of Rodgers’ preseason favorites (Rodgers lobbied publicly for Kumerow to make the team), and his big body and decent speed make him a solid compliment to Adams (in the role Adams used to play when Jordy Nelson was this team’s number one). Kumerow’s low target count (three) on a healthy 57 snaps in a 55-pass-attempt game creates some concern — but he should be on the field for much of this game once again, and Rodgers is sure to look his way at least a few times. The likely presence of Slay on Adams could lead to a few extra balls heading his way, making him a decent Upside play at a low price at what is certain to be low ownership this week.

PACKERS RUN OFFENSE

Since the Lions traded for Snacks Harrison, they have allowed only 3.4 yards per carry on runs up the middle, while allowing 1.9 yards per carry on runs behind the left guard and 3.1 yards per carry on runs behind the right guard (according to Sharp Football Stats). The only place where the Lions have been susceptible since trading for Snacks has been runs off-tackle, which is the area of the field where slow/plodding Jamaal Williams is least effective — setting this up as a poor matchup all the way around for the Packers’ one-man rushing attack. Working in Williams’ favor is the Packers’ depleted depth chart, which left Williams playing 85 of a possible 90 snaps last week — leading to 15 carries and nine targets. Further working against Williams is the fact that it took 90 snaps for Williams to see 21 touches, while the Lions allow the fewest opponent plays per game in the NFL (59.1). Williams should see all the running back work once again, though there are more red flags in this spot than we had last week.

JM’S INTERPRETATION

I expect a solid showing from the Packers this week — in their final game at home, where they have quietly scored 27.1 points per game (compared to 23.2 points per game on the road), against a bad Lions defense that the Packers should pass on more than most teams choose to. With Graham largely eliminated from the offense and Cobb/ESB looking unlikely to play, we could have a situation with a narrow distribution of work and a couple low-priced players, creating an attractive Upside bet in tourneys. Davante Adams is the only guy in this attack who adds floor to his ceiling, but MVS and Kumerow are definitely in the conversation this week, while Rodgers should be able to produce points alongside his receivers.

If the Packers do put up points, it could force the Lions to pass — and when they pass, that means looks going to Golladay. Obviously, this is no lock-and-load option in this embarrassing offense, but Golladay will be given opportunities to hit, giving him a clear path to upside.

I won’t have interest in either backfield myself, but you could make a case for Williams once again this week as well. In all, this is one of the more attractive DFS games on a largely-unattractive early portion of this Week 17 slate — with most of the top games of the weekend saved for the late slot on the schedule.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 30th 1:00pm Eastern

Jaguars (
16.25) at

Texans (
23.25)

Over/Under 39.5

Tweet
Notes

Key Matchups
Jaguars Run D
22nd DVOA/28th Yards allowed per carry
Texans Run O
23rd DVOA/31st Yards per carry
Jaguars Pass D
32nd DVOA/26th Yards allowed per pass
Texans Pass O
8th DVOA/3rd Yards per pass
Texans Run D
23rd DVOA/32nd Yards allowed per carry
Jaguars Run O
17th DVOA/29th Yards per carry
Texans Pass D
8th DVOA/21st Yards allowed per pass
Jaguars Pass O
21st DVOA/13th Yards per pass

JAGUARS // TEXANS OVERVIEW

One year has made quite a difference in the AFC South. Less than 12 months after the Jaguars should have won the AFC Championship game, they carry a 5-10 record into their Week 17 showdown with the Texans — a game the schedule-makers surely hoped would determine the fate of the division. Instead, the Jags are the one team in the South playing for nothing, while the Texans have everything to play for this weekend. A win this week for Houston secures the division title and at least one home game in the playoffs — with opportunity to move up to the 2 seed (and a first-round bye) if they pair a win with a Patriots loss. If the Texans lose, however, the winner of the Colts vs Titans game will take down the division, and the Texans will plunge to the 6 seed and will have to take their show on the road in the first week of the playoffs. The Jags have been a low-effort team for much of the last two months, but they should be able to get up for the final game of the season — creating an unattractive DFS spot outside of guess-and-hope shots, with the Jags’ poor offense and the Jags’ strong defense both dragging down expectations for this game environment as a whole. This game carries a dull Over/Under of 40.5, with the Texans installed as touchdown favorites.

JAGUARS PASS OFFENSE

The Texans have been a middling pass defense throughout the year — ranking right in the thick of the pack in yards allowed per pass attempt, aDOT, catch rate, and YAC/R rate — though they have been closer to “attackable” than “middling” through the second half of the season, with only the Panthers allowing more yards on downfield passes through the second half of the year than the Texans have allowed, and with only three teams allowing a higher completion rate on such attempts. Expectations in this matchup are somewhat dimmed by the quarterback who will be attacking it, however, as Blake Bortles and his second-lowest average depth of target in the league will be under center this week, for what may be his last hurrah in a Jaguars uniform.

If choosing to attack in this spot, your best bet is to target this offense in large-field tourneys only, as this unit is low on quality scheming, low on quality quarterback play, and low on bankable effectiveness. You should also recognize that the Jaguars are likeliest to remain conservative — hoping to win with runs, short passes, turnover-free football, and solid defense — which means that Upside will likely require the Texans to jump out to a lead (i.e., large-field tourney rosters that bet on the Jags would also, optimally, bet on the Texans putting up points as well).

The one receiver who can have a case made for him regardless of scoring expectations in this game is Dede Westbrook, who has continued to play hard and to establish himself as a building block for this talent-rich, effort-low franchise. Dede plays 90% of his snaps in the slot and has a low aDOT of 8.1, requiring him to hit for a touchdown or a busted play to really reach upside; but he has at least remained useful and non-roster-wrecking most weeks.

The primary downfield roles on this offense belong to Donte Moncrief and D.J. Chark (if he returns this week after finally practicing on Wednesday), while Keelan Cole has remained an afterthought. All of these guys are nothing more than dart throws. The same goes for the tight end rotation of James O’Shaughnessy and Blake Bell (with Ben Koyack continuing to mix in for blocking duties as well).

JAGUARS RUN OFFENSE

Last week, we hypothesized — both in this space and in the Player Grid — that Leonard Fournette, as the clear and obvious franchise back for this organization, would bounce back up to a normal workload in Week 16, and that was exactly what happened, with his 49 snaps marking his second most of the season. Unfortunately, Fournette still looks something less than fully explosive, and he is running behind an injury-wrecked offensive line in a broken-down offense. The Texans have allowed the fewest yard per carry in the NFL, and only five teams have allowed fewer rushing touchdowns to enemy backs. If you want to go off the board, you could hang your hat on the Texans’ middling receiving production allowed to running backs, but Fournette remains a touchdown-dependent play for upside. If Fournette misses this game after not practicing on Wednesday, expectations for Carlos Hyde will be a bit lower than they would be for Fournette, with only his price making him a borderline-viable play in a bad offense, in a bad matchup, and with T.J. Yeldon sure to be active in that scenario to siphon pass game work.

TEXANS PASS OFFENSE

Jacksonville has continued to play tremendous pass defense, with only one team in football allowing a lower catch rate than the Jags, and with only three teams allowing fewer yards per pass attempt. No team in football has allowed fewer receptions to wide receivers; only one team has allowed fewer yards; no team has allowed fewer touchdowns. Jacksonville has not been much easier on quarterbacks, allowing the second fewest completions and the second fewest passing yards in the NFL. Only the Vikings have allowed fewer passing touchdowns. The only positive in this matchup for Deshaun Watson is that the Jaguars have been so stout against the pass, they have ended up giving away the most quarterback rushing yards in the NFL. The only positive in this matchup for DeAndre Hopkins is that he sees his targets regardless, with the second highest percentage share of team air yards in the league, and with the ninth most targets per game in the league. The last time these teams met, the Texans established a lead and then slowed down the clock and leaned on the ground game — with Watson completing only 12 of 24 passes for 139 yards (adding seven rushes for only 13 yards). In that game, Hopkins caught three of eight targets for 50 yards and a touchdown. The best bet for these players producing at a level commensurate with their price tags is for this game to somehow turn into a back-and-forth affair.

With Demaryius Thomas out, the Texans will hope to finally return Keke Coutee to the field, where he will step into a short-area role to compliment the downfield looks that Hopkins sees. His speed makes him a theoretically attractive Upside option, though he is still contending with the challenging matchup (and low projected volume) that the rest of this passing attack is dealing with.

If Coutee misses, it will be DeAndre Carter filling in underneath. Last week, Carter played 49 of a possible 65 snaps, running 40 pass routes and hauling in six of seven targets for 61 yards. As with Coutee: he’ll be an afterthought behind Hopkins, but he will see some looks in this game if Coutee misses — in a difficult matchup, and in a role that primarily offers underneath work.

This passing attack primarily flows through Hopkins first and the “WR2” second, leaving the three-man tight end rotation as dart-throw afterthoughts.

TEXANS RUN OFFENSE

Lamar Miller has not been a sexy play all season, but starting in Week 7 (the week the Texans beat the Jags in Jacksonville), Miller’s carry counts in games that were not shortened by injury have looked like this: 22 // 18 // 12 // 20 // 12 // 19 // 14. With receptions added in, his touch counts in this stretch go: 23 // 18 // 14 // 23 // 13 // 20 // 19.

Barring off-the-rails game flow or a continuation of Miller’s ankle injury, another 18 to 23 touches should be expected in this spot. The matchup — as noted all year — is not great against a Jaguars run defense that has been a top eight unit outside of occasional lapses in effort, but with the matchup “not great” across the board for this run-leaning offense, there is a solid chance for Miller to turn into a useful yardage-and-touchdown piece at the lower ends of the price range. When these teams last played, Miller picked up 100 yards and a touchdown on the ground, while “adding” minus one yard on one reception.

If Miller misses again this week, it will be Alfred Blue and D’Onta Foreman carrying the load once again, though neither would be a particularly safe or attractive option outside of simply guessing and hoping.

JM’S INTERPRETATION

Even with some potential mass-multi-entry play on my plate this week, I won’t have much interest in this game myself. I don’t expect much from the Jaguars’ offense — and while some respectable scores could be captured, slate-winning games are extremely unlikely. As for the Texans: Watson and Hopkins are almost never “bad” plays, but at elevated price tags, their chances of blowing past the guys priced around them are more slim than the percentage at which they will likely be owned (I don’t expect either guy to be high-owned, but their name value still draws some level of ownership their way every week). It won’t be surprising if these two find a way to post a solid game, but a slate-winning score will be tough for them to come by, which will leave me hunting for upside in other spots. The offensive player who may be the most attractive is Miller, as he has a chance to provide strong price-considered value in this spot; though of course, he comes with his own risks — as there is no guarantee his ankle is 100% even if he is back on the field this week, and as the matchup is very clearly below-average.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 30th 1:00pm Eastern

Dolphins (
17) at

Bills (
22.5)

Over/Under 39.5

Tweet
Notes

Key Matchups
Dolphins Run D
32nd DVOA/19th Yards allowed per carry
Bills Run O
32nd DVOA/27th Yards per carry
Dolphins Pass D
10th DVOA/17th Yards allowed per pass
Bills Pass O
4th DVOA/6th Yards per pass
Bills Run D
24th DVOA/25th Yards allowed per carry
Dolphins Run O
23rd DVOA/22nd Yards per carry
Bills Pass D
28th DVOA/24th Yards allowed per pass
Dolphins Pass O
11th DVOA/16th Yards per pass

DOLPHINS // BILLS OVERVIEW

Each of these teams has a playoff appearance across the last two years, but neither team has been able to build on that success, and they are right back where they started a few years ago, with the 7-8 Dolphins traveling to close out their season against the 5-10 Bills in a completely meaningless game. This will likely be the end of an era in Miami (it seems unlikely that Adam Gase retains his job, and Ryan Tannehill has probably reached the end of the line as well), with a retool, or rebuild, or whatever you want to call it on the horizon, while Buffalo will get ready for Year Two of the Josh Allen experiment (an experiment that is unlikely to go the way the Bills want — but that will continue to be plenty of fun to watch, with plenty of sporadic DFS upside along the way). These teams played in Miami just four weeks back, with the Dolphins pulling out a 21-17 win. This week in Buffalo, this game has been awarded a low Over/Under of 38.5, with the Bills installed as 3.5 point favorites.

DOLPHINS PASS OFFENSE

The Bills have been one of the toughest defenses to attack through the air this year, with the second fewest yards allowed per pass attempt in the NFL. Through 16 games, the Dolphins have (incredibly) produced only six starting-caliber scores from pass catchers (with two of these coming on massive YAC days from Albert Wilson, and with another coming from DeVante Parker in the game against Houston in which the ball bounced off hands and helmets into his waiting arms for the huge play that made his day). No team in the league has allowed fewer yards to wide receivers than the Bills, making this one of the longest-shot spots we have seen all season. The Dolphins rank 31st in pace of play, 31st in time of possession, 32nd in plays per game, 21st in pass play rate, and 29th in completed passes.

If you feel compelled to attack in this spot, recent target counts among primary pass catchers on the Dolphins look like this:

:: Danny Amendola — 1 // 1 // 8 // 3
:: Kenny Stills — 6 // 9 // 3 // 2
:: DeVante Parker — 7 // 4 // 1 // 3

The Dolphins’ three tight ends have combined for nine targets across their last four games.

Your best bet here would be to hope that Stills sees one of his volume-spike games and manages to translate these looks into a big outing.

DOLPHINS RUN OFFENSE

The Bills have not been attackable on the ground, either (10th fewest yards allowed per carry // middle of the pack in rushing yards allowed to running backs), but with this team failing to tighten up on the ground in the red zone, they have found a way to rank 29th in red zone touchdown rate while now finding themselves tied with the Buccaneers for the most running back touchdowns allowed in the league.

Making this spot less concretely attackable is the Dolphins’ affinity for timeshare backfields, with Kenyan Drake touching the ball 10 times last week, Kalen Ballage touching the ball six times, and Brandon Bolden touching the ball five times. This has been somewhat stunning all season (the rumor mill is spinning out whispers that this lack of player optimization is a big part of the reason why Gase — who has consistently found a way to win games in spite of a less-than-stellar roster — is likely to be on his way out after the year, with the backfield being a prime example of this deficiency of his). Bolden is a career special teamer who played last week at the expense of a rookie in Ballage who broke off 123 yards on 12 carries the week before — with this late-week stretch providing a prime opportunity (currently being wasted) for the team to see what they have in their young back. If you want to swing for the fences (understanding that you could miss big), there is a case to be made that the Dolphins ride Ballage in a run-heavy game script — hoping to send him into the offseason on a high note — but obviously, there is no guarantee that Gase is aware enough to make this move. Ultimately, this backfield is a bet-on-touchdown (and hope for two) play, with Ballage making the most sense, but being by no means guaranteed.

BILLS PASS OFFENSE

With the Dolphins allowing worse-than-average marks in both aDOT and catch rate while allowing the fourth highest YAC/R rate in the league, they enter Week 17 ranked 30th in yards allowed per pass attempt. But while this team has been underwhelming on short and intermediate passes and yards after the catch, no team in the league has more interceptions on downfield passes than Miami, creating an interesting setup for a quarterback in Josh Allen who — as we know by now — loves to scramble around and fire the ball downfield in The Great Backyard Offense. With the Dolphins picking off so many passes (second most interceptions in the league, behind only the Bears) and being so attackable on the ground, they are facing the third lowest opponent pass play rate on the year — which has led to them facing the sixth fewest passes in the league, in spite of allowing the second highest opponent time of possession. Ultimately, this is a middling spot for Allen and his erratic passing, with potential for volume concerns in a Bills offense that prefers to lean on the run when they can, and with an even higher-than-normal potential for his scattershot downfield throws to turn into drive-ending picks. With one week left in the season and only 10 starts under his belt, Allen already has 536 rushing yards, a slate-breaking performance, and three other games that made him one of the top plays on the slate. But he has also completed only 51.7% of his passes on the year, and he has seven touchdown passes and 11 picks through 10+ games of play. The risk in this spot of an Allen dud is lower than it was last week on the road against New England and their tight man coverage, but the risk is higher than it was in Weeks 14 and 15 in home matchups that set up better for his skill set. Allen blasted the Dolphins in Miami in Week 13, but his success in that game is by no means guaranteed to repeat.

If targeting Bills pass catchers, the positive is that this aggressive, downfield-attacking team has given us a narrow target distribution since Kelvin Benjamin was sent packing, with target counts among the Bills’ three primary wide receivers looking like this:

:: Robert Foster — 8 // 5 // 7
:: Zay Jones — 9 // 6 // 9
:: Isaiah McKenzie — 7 // 7 // 8

The bad news is that Allen’s inaccurate arm has prevented production from being a foregone conclusion from any of these guys.

The most exciting play is Foster, who has recent yardage totals of 105 // 94 // 27 // 104 // 108 // 52 — with his 52-yard game last week a lost-ball-in-the-sun shy of becoming a 134-yard performance. We’ve spent plenty of time on the site the last few weeks talking about Foster’s exciting measurables and pedigree, and he has a genuine shot to emerge over the next couple years as an actual, NFL-alpha receiver. His risk is heightened by the downfield nature of his targets and by his attachment to Josh Allen, but his ceiling is slate-breaking.

Zay continues to dominate targets on this team, though he has hauled in only nine of 24 targets since Benjamin was cut — struggling in the perimeter role that this move pushed him into. Zay is prone to mental errors, drops, and laziness in contested situations, but the targets continue to make him a viable tourney option.

McKenzie’s dud last week was unexpected, given the short-area role he occupies in this offense that provides him with lower-ceiling, but higher-floor targets. In spite of the one-week dip in production, he remains an intriguing salary saver with locked-in targets and enough speed to break one of his short/intermediate targets for a big gain against this Miami secondary that has struggled in the YAC department this year.

Part of the beauty of this offense — in spite of its inconsistency and its guaranteed-low completion rate — is that it rarely targets tight ends and running backs. While Jason Croom saw six targets last week, tight ends on this team had combined for six total targets across the previous two games (3.0 per game), while running backs have seen only 11 targets (3.67 per game) across the last three weeks.

BILLS RUN OFFENSE

This is a good matchup for running backs — against a Miami defense that ranks 24th in yards allowed per carry and has allowed the third most rushing yards in the league to enemy backs — but complicating this spot a bit is the way the Bills managed their backfield a week ago, with LeSean McCoy playing 31 snaps and touching the ball nine times, while Keith Ford played 30 snaps and touched the ball nine times as well. Your best bet here would be to bet on McCoy and hope he sees the bulk of the work in a quality spot, but there are no guarantees — and there is certainly no guarantee that the Bills spend enough time close to the end zone for either of these guys to score even if the yards pile up. Recognize that this is a good spot for the Bills’ backfield in general, but also recognize the uncertainty-driven risk.

JM’S INTERPRETATION

While I won’t have any interest in the Dolphins’ side of the ball myself, I once again like the idea of targeting the upside of the Bills’ passing attack. As noted above: this spot is less risky than last week’s, but it’s more risky than the setup the Bills had in Weeks 14 and 15, when we targeted them and they provided strong value at low ownership. Allen // Foster // McKenzie (and to a lesser extent, Zay) all remain in the tourney conversation this week for the somewhat risky, monster upside they provide. As you could have guessed three weeks ago, when I said I would give myself exposure to this offense every week down the stretch: I’m sure I’ll take some shots on this offense this week.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 30th 1:00pm Eastern

Jets (
16.25) at

Patriots (
30.25)

Over/Under 46.5

Tweet
Notes

Key Matchups
Jets Run D
14th DVOA/20th Yards allowed per carry
Patriots Run O
3rd DVOA/2nd Yards per carry
Jets Pass D
31st DVOA/23rd Yards allowed per pass
Patriots Pass O
27th DVOA/25th Yards per pass
Patriots Run D
18th DVOA/16th Yards allowed per carry
Jets Run O
29th DVOA/21st Yards per carry
Patriots Pass D
17th DVOA/9th Yards allowed per pass
Jets Pass O
30th DVOA/32nd Yards per pass

JETS // PATRIOTS OVERVIEW

While the Patriots do not quite look like the sharp, well-oiled units of the last few years, this team is still a fluky, last-second miracle touchdown by the Dolphins shy of playing for home field advantage throughout the playoffs this weekend, and they have gotten enough help that they are closing in on yet another first-round bye — needing only a win this week. While the Pats have been installed as 13.5 point favorites this week, however, the road is not guaranteed to be easy against a Jets team that has played well the last couple weeks behind a fast-improving Sam Darnold. Surprisingly, the Jets (who have scored 38 points at home against Green Bay, 22 point at home against Houston, and 27 points on the road against Buffalo across the last three weeks) carry the second-lowest Vegas-implied team total on the slate right now, at only 15.5. It will be interesting to see how this game shapes up, as the Patriots have allowed the 10th fewest points per game this year, but they have allowed the 12th most yards. Working in the Patriots’ favor is their strong play at home this year, where they are 7-0 with an average of 32.1 points scored and 18.6 allowed (compared to a 3-5 record on the road, with an average of 21.6 points scored and 24.0 allowed).

JETS PASS OFFENSE

Since coming back from the foot injury that cost him Weeks 10-13 (with the Jets seemingly milking the injury a bit to create some extra time off), exciting rookie Sam Darnold has returned with a much better grasp and command of the Jets’ offense, and with a lot more confidence in his ability to execute the throws he needs to execute. Along the way, offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates has taken the training wheels off a bit, allowing Darnold to attempt 14 passes of 20+ yards across the last three weeks. In this stretch, Darnold has completed 64 of 97 passes (66.0%), with six touchdowns and only one interception. His 7.9 yards per pass attempt in this stretch would rank ninth in the NFL among all NFL passing attacks if it had held across the entire season.

While the production has been pretty for Darnold, however — and while the downfield passing is certainly a nice touch (and has freed up space on some of the underneath looks that the Jets were too heavily focused on for much of the season) — one element that is likely to go overlooked is the actual effectiveness of Darnold’s downfield passing in this stretch. Darnold has completed only four of his 14 passes of 20+ yards since returning — with one touchdown and one interception. This is a quietly difficult spot for Darnold’s still-raw downfield ball, as the Bears are the only team in football that has allowed a lower completion rate on downfield passes this year than the Patriots, while the Bears and Bills are the only teams that have allowed a lower passer rating. Only the Dolphins have more interceptions on downfield passes than the Patriots. With the Patriots playing a man-heavy coverage scheme and ranking an embarrassing 30th in sacks and 31st in Football Outsiders’ adjusted sack rate, they have faced more downfield passes than any team in football, so there is opportunity for the Jets to win downfield through a war of attrition (last week, Robert Foster lost a ball in the sun that would have gone for an 82-yard touchdown, and he nearly beat Stephon Gilmore for another downfield attempt that would have gone for a touchdown), but as with last week when we preached caution in this space on The Great Backyard Offense of the Bills, it should be noted that this is ultimately a difficult spot for Darnold and top (only) weapon Robby Anderson.

In good news for Anderson: he is literally all the Jets have at this point, with Quincy Enunwa once again looking doubtful to play. Anderson has recent target counts of 7 // 11 // 13 — with the latter two games coming with Enunwa on the sidelines. Anderson’s 32.0% target share across the last three weeks is nearly enough to put him into matchup-proof territory, with his floor looking nearly as good as his ceiling. It will be tougher than normal for him to reach his ceiling; but as long as the targets remain in the double-digits, he should post a high enough floor that he won’t wreck your roster even if he fails.

Working as the de facto number two behind Anderson has been Chris Herndon, who has target counts of 4 // 7 across the last two weeks, and who went 7-57-0 when these teams met in Week 12 with Josh McCown under center for the Jets. Patrick Chung has been solid in tight end coverage this year, but he is still a “weakest link” with Gilmore and Jason McCourty both playing at an elite level and trailing opponents’ top two wideouts most weeks. Herndon is a tough sell on FanDuel, where it is inexcusably easy to get up to George Kittle for only $900 more; but on DraftKings, a case can be made for him as a solid salary-saver, with a likely range of six to 12 points, and with a slim path to upside for more.

With Jermaine Kearse failing to produce all season and questionable this week with an achilles injury, there is nothing to target behind Anderson and Kearse beyond guessing and hoping.

JETS RUN OFFENSE

After operating with a two-man backfield all season, the Jets surprisingly turned Elijah McGuire-heavy last week, allowing him to take the field for 51 of a possible 60 snaps and giving him 17 touches to only three for Trenton Cannon. With McGuire playing in the lead since Isaiah Crowell went down and now potentially set to be a near every-down player this week, he retains some appeal in spite of a matchup against a Patriots team that has allowed the second fewest rushing touchdowns in the NFL. Working against McGuire is the fact that he has not topped 60 rushing yards in a game this season — even with recent rush attempt totals of 17 // 18 // 14 — with his four touchdowns across the last three weeks floating his value (and raising his price). Working in McGuire’s favor is a Patriots defense that is content to give up rushing yards between the 20s, with the fourth most yards allowed per carry in the league. McGuire will likely need to beat this matchup for a touchdown in order to truly come alive, but with three catches in three consecutive games and a locked-in role in this offense, he carries a decent floor even without the touchdowns, and he remains inexpensive enough that he can still be considered as a bet-on-usage, hope-for-touchdown play.

PATRIOTS PASS OFFENSE

The Jets’ blitz-heavy defense enters this game ranked 16th in yards allowed per pass attempt, with a middling 25 passing touchdowns allowed on the year. The Jets have allowed the seventh fewest running back targets in the league, and no team in football has allowed fewer targets to tight ends (with stud safety Jamal Adams keying a unit that has incredibly faced only 71 tight end targets through 15 games — for an astonishingly low average of only 4.7 tight end targets per game), but this has left the Jets facing the most wide receiver targets in the NFL. Only the Saints have allowed more catches to wideouts than the Jets have allowed. This defense has allowed the second most yards and the 12th most touchdowns to the position.

To further isolate things: the Jets have been most susceptible (by far) to slot receivers — as explored in this space since the start of the season — particularly getting burned by interior route-runners who can work the intermediate areas of the field and can work from one side of the field to the other. While the Patriots have scaled back passing volume the last few weeks (and will almost certainly look to do the same once again this week in a game they should ultimately control), this all sets up well for Julian Edelman, who is the last man standing in this wideout corps. Edelman has target counts of 12 // 11 // 10 across the last three weeks, and he is a strong bet for double-digit looks once again in this spot. Edelman doesn’t carry the big yardage upside of other high-priced wideouts (he has maxed out this year at 104 yards), but he did pick up 84 yards on only four receptions (five targets) the last time these teams met, and he has stepped up for three touchdowns across his last five games. It’s not crazy to think he could crack 100 yards and score a touchdown in this spot — giving him some ceiling to go with his high floor.

Behind Edelman, the likeliest bet is low-volume games to Phillip Dorsett, Chris Hogan, Cordarrelle Patterson, and the ghost of Rob Gronkowski. These guys are simply guess-and-hope options this week.

PATRIOTS RUN OFFENSE

When these teams last met, Tom Brady threw the ball only 31 times, while Sony Michel took 21 carries and James White added nine carries of his own. The Patriots have now dropped all the way down to 25th in pass play rate on the season, and their 52.94% pass play rate across the last three weeks would rank higher than only Seattle, Tennessee, and Baltimore on the year. Last week against Buffalo, Michel carried the ball 18 times, Rex Burkhead touched the ball 17 times (13 carries), and White touched the ball 10 times (eight carries). With Gronk continuing to hobble around and Josh Gordon gone, we should continue to see the Patriots lean run-heavy — mixing in all three of these guys throughout the game.

The Jets rank 21st in yards allowed per carry and have given up the ninth most touchdowns on the ground to enemy backs — while limiting running back production and scoring through the air. While White is good enough to beat even the most difficult RB receiving matchups, his role in this offense has shrunk since Burkhead returned, and this matchup sets up best for Michel first and Burkhead second. Frustratingly, volume is capped on all these guys — making all three difficult to bet on with confidence — while Michel continues to see no involvement in the pass game (seven catches all season). But with White playing 29 snaps last week, Burkhead playing 25, and Michel playing 23, all three should be given opportunities to hit, while Michel’s red zone role (sixth most red zone carries in the NFL this year) gives him enough touchdown upside to be considered in tourneys.

JM’S INTERPRETATION

Nothing in this game jumps off the page, with Darnold // Anderson // Herndon // McGuire all entering a tough road environment against a team that limits scoring at home, and with the Patriots failing to produce anything resembling slate-breaking upside on their adaptable, spread-the-wealth offense, but there is still enough to like here from an overall environment for these pieces to be considered. I’ll likely leave Darnold alone, as his big Week 16 game will probably draw ownership attention his way, and this is a much tougher spot than he faced last week (Darnold was my big miss on the Player Grid last week, as I didn’t really get onto him myself until late Saturday night when I built my eighth and final Wildcat roster around him; this week, he should stand out quite a bit more to the field). Anderson should again draw high ownership, and while this is a tougher spot than he faced last week, the volume is locked-in enough for him to be considered anyway. He’s unlikely to fail (the one concern is that a successful, run-heavy game from the Patriots could limit volume for the Jets) — though his chances of another slate-breaking score are more slim as well. Herndon and McGuire are solid, but unspectacular. The same goes for Edelman, Michel, Burkhead, and White on the other side of this game. Edelman carries a high floor and has a path to ceiling (though others priced around him are likelier to find a slate-breaking score than Edelman is). Michel has a good shot at a score or two — but he’ll need to get there in order to truly matter. Burkhead and White will spend enough time on the field to be given opportunities to hit, but neither is guaranteed to produce, making each a play-the-volume and hope-things-work-out option this week.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 30th 4:25pm Eastern

Bears (
17) at

Vikings (
23)

Over/Under 40.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Bears Run D
11th DVOA/14th Yards allowed per carry
Vikings Run O
2nd DVOA/8th Yards per carry
Bears Pass D
2nd DVOA/10th Yards allowed per pass
Vikings Pass O
20th DVOA/21st Yards per pass
Vikings Run D
27th DVOA/23rd Yards allowed per carry
Bears Run O
28th DVOA/28th Yards per carry
Vikings Pass D
8th DVOA/30th Yards allowed per pass
Bears Pass O
24th DVOA/23rd Yards per pass

BEARS // VIKINGS OVERVIEW

While the early games on the slate give us a few spots with playoff implications (and a handful of additional spots with intriguing Week 17 plays), the eight games in the late slot give us the juiciest games to consider — with all eight games carrying moderate-to-strong playoff implications, including a few “win and in” or “win and earn a bye” scenarios. This three-hour stretch is annually one of the most exciting of the NFL season, and it is always a fun stretch of games to target in DFS, with all the teams involved either playing with their season on the line or playing with an opportunity to end on a high note by spoiling a strong opponent’s season in part or whole.

The first game we’ll explore in this section of the slate is the upstart, 11-4 Bears traveling to take on an 8-6-1 Vikings team that lost in the NFC Championship last year. The Bears have already locked down at least the 3 seed on the NFC side of the bracket, but they can grab a first-round bye if they win this game and the 49ers find a way to upset the Rams. The home Vikings, on the other hand, have nothing guaranteed at this point, with a win-and-in setup in this spot, and with a loss putting them at the mercy of the Eagles (who will be taking on the Redskins on the road in the same time slot). This game pairs two defenses that rank top eight in fewest points allowed, and has been awarded a low Over/Under of 40.5, with the Vikings installed as 4.0 point favorites.

Let the fun begin.

BEARS PASS OFFENSE

Minnesota has been one of the tougher pass defenses in the NFL this year, with the second lowest catch rate allowed, the eighth fewest yards per pass attempt allowed, and the fewest passing touchdowns allowed in the league. With a disciplined, assignment-strong defense across the board, the Vikings have allowed the sixth fewest receptions to tight ends and the fifth fewest receptions to wide receivers. There is also at least some risk (seemingly accounted for by Vegas, with the Bears installed as underdogs in this spot) that the Bears approach this game with a more vanilla game plan and/or take their foot off the gas down the stretch — resting players late in this game if the Rams grab a big lead in their home game against the 49ers. Ultimately, this is a challenging spot for an inconsistent Bears offense that is not guaranteed to play all-out from wire to wire.

If you feel compelled to attack this matchup anyway, the best way to gain upside from the Bears this year has been to roll with Mitchell Trubisky naked — hoping to capture the upside he can create with his arm and his legs in this well-schemed, spread-the-wealth offense. On the year, only the Bears and Bills have allowed fewer fantasy points per game to quarterbacks than the Vikings have allowed, and when these teams played earlier in the year, Trubisky threw for only 165 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions, but this does not preclude him from finding a way to produce in this spot. A bet on Trubisky is a bet on him winning this difficult draw, but he does carry enough on-his-own upside to not leave you drawing dead if you choose to make that bet.

The primary weapon for Trubisky lately has remained Allen Robinson, with target counts of 8 // 7 // 8 since Trubisky returned from injury. Robinson missed practice on Wednesday with a rib issue and could conceivably be held out this week in a game that is ultimately unlikely to matter for the Bears, but if he is out there, he should have locked-in involvement once again. While this offense has become almost strictly short-area lately, Robinson is also still seeing one or two targets per game of 15+ yards. He remains slightly overpriced for his actual floor/ceiling expectations, but it’s not impossible for him to justify his salary.

Behind Robinson, target counts across the last three weeks for primary Chicago pass catchers have looked like this:

:: Taylor Gabriel — 7 // 3 // 3
:: Anthony Miller — 1 // 0 // 3
:: Trey Burton — 5 // 7 // 5
:: Tarik Cohen — 4 // 6 // 1

Cohen continues to function as an Upside option in tourneys, with five to eight carries on the ground most weeks to go with his involvement in the pass game — though as he showed last week, his floor remains low.

Burton has not topped even 40 yards since Week 7, though he theoretically has the upside to pop off with the usage he is seeing.

Miller and Gabriel are mere dart throws at the moment, with neither seeing anything approaching locked-in involvement.

BEARS RUN OFFENSE

With Trubisky struggling with consistency and the Bears’ defense playing at such a high level, this has turned into a run-heavy team of late — with the Bears throwing the ball on only 50% of their plays since Trubisky returned (which would rank 31st in the league across the full season). This has allowed Jordan Howard to notch recent carry counts of 19 // 19 // 13 — and while he has topped 82 yards only once all year (with only 19 receptions all season), he does have seven touchdowns, allowing him to produce decent point-per-dollar production from time to time. The matchup is not great against a Minnesota defense that ranks eighth in yards allowed per carry, with only four teams allowing fewer rushing touchdowns to the running back position, but as with Trubisky: you’re at least not drawing dead with Howard, if for some reason you feel compelled to go here.

VIKINGS PASS OFFENSE

The Vikings don’t have things much easier on offense this week (there is a reason, after all, why this game carries the third lowest Over/Under on the slate), with the Bears tied with the Vikings for the second lowest catch rate allowed on the year, while they have also allowed the third lowest yards per pass attempt and the ninth fewest passing touchdowns. Chicago is one of only two teams allowing fewer fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks than Minnesota. The Bears have gone nine consecutive games without allowing their opponent to produce even 340 yards of total offense. They have also gone nine consecutive games without allowing even 250 passing yards. Expectations are further lowered in this spot by the Vikings’ newfound insistence on leaning on the run, with Kirk Cousins notching only 21 and 28 pass attempts across the last two weeks (a far cry from the seven games he has this year with 40+ pass attempts — including two games of 50+). The Vikings want to win right now with defense, a strong run game, and a play-action passing game that produces a high completion rate and avoids mistakes. This has enabled Cousins to pick up five passing touchdowns and a stellar 9.55 yards per pass attempt mark across the last two weeks, but he has thrown for only 215 and 253 yards along the way. With pricing on his primary weapons in Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen still artificially inflated by this team’s season-long pass-heavy binge, it’s tough to get excited about these pieces. Thielen has target counts across the last two weeks of 2 // 6. Diggs has gone 7 // 6.

If for some reason you feel compelled to go here, recognize that the Bears — with their stout run defense (more on this in a moment) and their ability to slow down both running backs and tight ends through the air — have faced the fifth most wide receiver targets in the NFL this year. With the fifth fewest wide receiver touchdowns allowed in the league, it is still difficult to come across spiked-week games against this squad, but there is at least a chance that the Vikings are forced to go more pass-heavy than they want to in this spot, and that Thielen/Diggs could push for eight to 10 targets apiece. While each guy is a tremendous wide receiver with strong hands and top-of-the-league route-running skills, Diggs continues to offer a clearer path to upside with volume uncertain on this team, as Thielen’s short-area role forces him to pick up heavy volume or run into a broken play in order to justify his price tag, while Diggs is used downfield often enough to hit for upside from time to time without heavy volume.

VIKINGS RUN OFFENSE

The Bears have been especially difficult on running backs this year, allowing the fourth fewest yards per carry in the league while giving up the fewest rushing touchdowns to the running back position (and the second fewest touchdowns overall to the position). Only six teams rank better than the Bears in adjusted line yards on defense, while only 10 teams have been worse than the Vikings’ offensive line in this category. Outside of a Week 12 breakdown against LeGarrette Blount, of all players — who gashed the Bears on runs to the left side, where Dalvin Cook has had the most success across the last few weeks — the Bears have been stout defending the run across all areas of the field. Working in Cook’s favor is his recent workload, with touch counts across the last three weeks of 18 // 20 // 19. Working against Cook is everything else.

JM’S INTERPRETATION

While the late portion of the Sunday slate as a whole offers plenty of fun from both a DFS perspective and an NFL perspective, this game fills only the second category, with very little to comfortably bet on in DFS. While there are a few pieces you could target in this spot for upside (Trubisky // Cohen // Robinson // Thielen // Diggs // Cook), all of these guys come with more price-considered risk than I personally want to take on myself — and there is enough to like on this slate in other spots that I don’t expect to roster pieces from this game. If choosing to go here yourself, I would reserve this game for mass-multi-entry play in large-field tourneys, and I would bet on crazy game flow scenarios that might lead to some bursts of unexpected production. It’s certainly not impossible for a few strong scores to emerge from this spot, but the floor to get to those scores is low enough (and the certainty on those pieces is low enough) that I’ll be content to simply attack other spots myself, where there is a lot more to like.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 30th 4:25pm Eastern

Bengals (
15.5) at

Steelers (
29.5)

Over/Under 45.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Bengals Run D
23rd DVOA/27th Yards allowed per carry
Steelers Run O
14th DVOA/9th Yards per carry
Bengals Pass D
16th DVOA/22nd Yards allowed per pass
Steelers Pass O
12th DVOA/24th Yards per pass
Steelers Run D
1st DVOA/2nd Yards allowed per carry
Bengals Run O
27th DVOA/24th Yards per carry
Steelers Pass D
8th DVOA/8th Yards allowed per pass
Bengals Pass O
26th DVOA/18th Yards per pass

BENGALS // STEELERS OVERVIEW

The Steelers may very well head into the offseason after Week 17 having to pick up the pieces and figure out what happened — having to answer questions about how a team that ranks fourth in points per game and 15th in points allowed per game (a team that could legitimately make a Super Bowl run if they make the postseason) ended up missing the playoffs. One simple answer is that the Steelers may in fact be the seventh best team in the AFC (in terms of average scoring margin, the Chiefs, Ravens, Chargers, Patriots, Colts, and Texans all rank ahead of the Steelers — and the smart money has those six teams making the postseason this year), while another answer is that the Steelers have simply had a difficult schedule, with close losses to the Chiefs, Chargers, and Saints. You could also talk about the refs in that game against the Saints, or the Boswell banana peel slip in Oakland…but when it comes down to it, this is a team that most people expected to be in the playoffs, and now they need a win and a Ravens loss to make it. The Steelers should be able to take care of business in this spot, where they have been installed as 14.5 point favorites at home against this hapless Bengals squad. Because the NFL — in spite of its flaws — remains an awesome product: the Ravens will be taking on Cleveland in the same time slot, and the Steelers will have to hope that Baker Mayfield and the upstart Browns are able to pull off the upset to flip the script when it’s all said and done.

BENGALS OFFENSE

On last week’s 12-game Main Slate, the Bengals — minus Andy Dalton, A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd, and Tyler Eifert — shaped up as one of the worst offensive units to target in DFS, on the road against a solid, aggressive Browns defense. They lived down to expectations in that spot — managing only 18 points and only 209 yards (not a typo) of total offense. This week, the Bengals enter an even tougher spot, carrying the second lowest Vegas-implied team total on this 15-game slate into Pittsburgh, where they will face a defense that ranks third in sacks per game and has everything in the world to play for. While the Steelers are non-elite on defense (they rank 21st in pass defense DVOA, 26th in takeaways, and a middling 14th in drive success rate allowed), they do enough to make life consistently difficult on opponents — with a creative, blitz-heavy scheme that aims to get after the quarterback and make life uncomfortable — and the Bengals boast very little in the way of viable weapons at the moment, lowering expectations across the board. Last week, the Bengals trotted out a three-wide set of John Ross, Cody Core, and Alex Erickson. Ross has continued to play poor, unpolished, low-effort football — with two catches on 10 targets across the last two weeks, and with only 20 catches on 53 targets all year (37.7%). Core is not an NFL-caliber player, with 13 catches on 27 targets this year (48.1%), and with no games all season above 36 receiving yards. Erickson profiles as a slot-only player, and he has yet to top 35 receiving yards this year. If you want to bet on a wide receiver in this Jeff Driskel-led attack, Erickson has the best matchup against a Steelers defense that has struggled to defend the slot across the last month and a half. He will look to top his career-high in yardage (62) this week. The other “best matchup” in this passing attack belongs to C.J. Uzomah, who has recent target counts of 6 // 3 // 5 // 5, with recent yardage totals of 33 // 37 // 27 // 49. Yardage upside is slim for Uzomah, requiring him to score in order to produce strong value — though the Bengals should at least be chasing points in this spot, creating some opportunity once again for Uzomah to be more than a disappointment. His offensive environment as a whole is toxic, but he has an outside shot at coming through this week.

Of course, if the Bengals had their way, none of these players would matter, and this team would be able to control the game on the ground — leaning heavily on Joe Mixon and allowing him to carry them to victory (or at least to a competitive start-to-finish contest). In the same way that we expected the typically-attackable Browns run defense to collapse on the run last week and force Driskel to beat them, however, we should expect the strong Steelers run defense (seventh fewest yards allowed per carry // seventh fewest rushing yards allowed to running backs) to focus on taking away Mixon. If you want to go here, you can take heart in the fact that Mixon had 19 touches last week even in a blowout loss (after seeing 29 touches in a blowout win the week before and 31 touches in a close loss to the Chargers the week before that) — but with Boyd now off the field for this squad, it has become nearly impossible for them to sustain drives, making it tough for any player on this offense to truly gain the sort of slate-breaking score that we optimally want to be able to find on any player we roster.

STEELERS OFFENSE

The Steelers should be fully expected to play their core offensive pieces from start to finish in this spot — with everything in the world to play for when the game kicks off, and with no reason for the Steelers to “rest players” if it turns out in the late third quarter or early fourth quarter that the Ravens have pulled away from the Browns. Furthermore: the Steelers are not a “take the foot off the gas” kind of team, and we should expect them to play hard from start-to-finish here, looking to make a statement even if it turns out that they will not be playing beyond this week. On the year, the Steelers have point totals at home of 37 // 14 // 41 // 33 // 52 // 30 // 17 — with the 14-point game coming against the Ravens and the 17-point game coming against the Patriots. Both of those teams have extremely strong cornerback play that was able to slow down the elite wide receiver duo of the Steelers. The Bengals’ defense does not boast any such assets.

While all of this speaks to the upside of the Steelers’ offense as a whole, it is worth noting that Pittsburgh has two blowout wins at home this year — a 41-17 takedown of the Falcons, and a 52-21 thrashing of the Panthers. In those games, the Steelers pulled in the reins on Ben Roethlisberger — calling on him to throw only 29 times against the Falcons (19 completions // 250 yards // three touchdowns), and holding him to only 25 attempts against the Panthers (22 completions // 328 yards // five touchdowns). Either of those games would be strong from a raw-points perspective (we’ll get to the wideouts in a moment), but with pricing elevated across the board on this offense, it is worth noting that the first game (which produced 22.6 fantasy points on both DraftKings and FanDuel) would be a price-considered disappointment this week. There is very little risk that Big Ben and the Steelers’ passing attack will have a bad game in this spot, as this is the pass-heaviest team in football, taking on a Bengals pass defense that ranks 28th in DVOA and 27th in yards allowed per pass attempt, with the second most passing touchdowns allowed this year (i.e., if the Steelers somehow struggle early, they will keep passing until they find success); but with a low likelihood that the Bengals are able to keep pace in this game, there is risk that volume gets cut off early for Big Ben — requiring him to get in his haymakers while he can.

As Ben goes, so go his wide receivers — and from a raw-points perspective, there is a ton to like about Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster, who each (incredibly) rank top three in the NFL in targets per game. But AB had only six catches in each of those blowout wins (going 6-101-2 in one, and going 6-96-1 in the other), while JuJu produced his lowest reception totals of the season in those two games (4-34-1 // 3-90-1). Personally, I don’t read much into the fact that AB produced at a higher level in each of those games than JuJu, as production has fluctuated between these two all season — but the main takeaway is that a blowout win would not necessarily guarantee elite production for these guys, and it could even lead to a disappointing price-considered game for one of them.

With all that said: this is the NFL — which means there is no guarantee that the Steelers pull away as quickly (or as completely) as they should, opening opportunities for a high-volume game from Ben (and for a wall-to-wall smash for AB and JuJu). When we get to this high end of the price range, there are obvious risks inherent in targeting a wide receiver in a potential blowout win — but from a raw-points perspective, both of these guys have solid projections this week.

Swinging over to the backfield: James Conner practiced in full on Wednesday and is trending toward a return to the field. Across the last three seasons, the Steelers have not been a “split backfield” type of team, creating a likeliest scenario in which Conner steps back into his snap-heavy role against a Bengals defense that ranks 28th in DVOA against the run, 26th in yards allowed per carry, and dead last in the NFL in touchdowns allowed to the running back position. The last time these teams played, Conner pasted the Bengals for 111 rushing yards and two touchdowns on the ground, adding a 4-18-0 line through the air. In the Steelers’ two blowout home wins, Conner went 21-110-2 on the ground and 4-75-0 through the air against Atlanta, while disappointing against the Panthers for a 13-65-1 line on the ground and a 1-8-0 day through the air. The matchup is of no concern in this spot; the only thing to worry about is the nature of Conner’s injury (ankle) and the effect it likely had on his conditioning over the last few weeks. With Jaylen Samuels playing well in Conner’s absence, there is a chance we see Conner play more like 65% to 70% of the snaps, instead of the 90% we are used to. Consider Conner a safe, high-upside play — though consider his chances of reaching his true ceiling (those monster games he has popped off for throughout the year) to be a bit lower than the matchup itself implies. With that said: the Steelers will likely be grinding out clock down the stretch, and that’s where Conner will be particularly useful. As long as Samuels doesn’t siphon away touchdowns, Conner should be able to push for a high-end score this week.

Outside of these three pieces, Vance McDonald, Jesse James, and the ancillary wide receivers are afterthoughts, and all of them should see slim volume in a game the Steelers should be able to control with their stars. These guys are hope-and-pray options behind the big names on this team.

JM’S INTERPRETATION

It probably goes without saying that I will not be on any Bengals players myself, but there is certainly a case to be made for looking toward the Steelers, who currently carry the second highest Vegas-implied team total on the Main Slate and are in prime position against the downtrodden Bengals to post a strong offensive game. I’ll likely have heavy interest in Conner myself, as he should post a strong game even if he fails to pop for a monster score — and as long as he’s truly healthy this week, his chances of a monster score (say 100+ yards and multiple touchdowns) are as high as any player on the slate. I’ll also gravitate toward Big Ben and his elite wide receivers on at least a chunk of my large-field builds in the hopes that this is a blowout in which the action flows through them — though I’ll ignore these guys on my Main Builds (for smaller-field and single-entry tourneys), as the likeliest scenario is strong, but non-elite scores from these guys once pricing is factored in.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 30th 4:25pm Eastern

Browns (
16.75) at

Ravens (
23.75)

Over/Under 40.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Browns Run D
20th DVOA/4th Yards allowed per carry
Ravens Run O
5th DVOA/3rd Yards per carry
Browns Pass D
19th DVOA/27th Yards allowed per pass
Ravens Pass O
19th DVOA/31st Yards per pass
Ravens Run D
2nd DVOA/12th Yards allowed per carry
Browns Run O
7th DVOA/1st Yards per carry
Ravens Pass D
7th DVOA/13th Yards allowed per pass
Browns Pass O
23rd DVOA/29th Yards per pass

BROWNS // RAVENS OVERVIEW

While the second-place Steelers take on the broken-down Bengals in the late time slot, the first-place Ravens will do battle at home with a red hot Cleveland Browns team — with both of these squads boasting a 5-1 record across the last six weeks of the season. The scenario here is simple for the Ravens: win, and they take down the AFC North and move into January where they will host a home game in the first round of the playoffs; lose, and they will need to hope the Steelers somehow fail to take care of business against the Bengals. This is a great test for the young Browns, and it is great entertainment for us (even if this game will ultimately provide very little to target in DFS). This game carries one of the lowest Over/Unders on the slate, at 41.0, with the Ravens installed as 6.0 point favorites.

BROWNS PASS OFFENSE

The Ravens play a tight, aggressive style of defense that forces quarterbacks to make tight throws under constant pressure in order to move the field — with the stated goal of this team being to hit opponents in the mouth over and over again to a point where they “no longer want to keep playing” by the fourth quarter. With Baker Mayfield having a similar mindset on offense, this will be a fun matchup for years to come. The last time these teams met, Baker got the better of the Ravens, passing for 342 yards and a touchdown in a 12-9 home win. It will be a challenge for Baker to repeat this success in this spot, with the Ravens recently holding the following quarterbacks to the following yardage/touchdown totals:

:: Phillip Rivers — 181 / 0
:: Jameis Winston — 157 / 0
:: Matt Ryan — 131 / 1
:: Derek Carr — 194 / 1

Patrick Mahomes posted 377 yards and two touchdowns at Arrowhead against the Ravens, but he has proven to be the exception this year rather than the rule. Only four teams have allowed fewer receptions to wide receivers than the Ravens. Only four teams have allowed fewer yards to wideouts. Only one team has allowed fewer touchdowns.

Further complicating this spot — from a DFS perspective — is the fact that the Browns have become one of the most spread-the-wealth offenses in the NFL since Freddie Kitchens took over as offensive coordinator, with this team tapping into Baker’s ability to read the field quickly and fire the ball to “the most open man,” rather than forcing him to throw the ball to a particular player on a particular play. If for some reason you feel compelled to go here, your “best bet” (such as it is) would be Jarvis Landry, who has recent target counts of 9 // 4 // 8 // 8. Perhaps a vindictive/petty Baker also tries to get a touchdown to Breshad Perriman (after which, Baker will stare down the front office that finally cut ties with Perriman after years of sub-mediocre play).

The Ravens’ weakest link on defense has been their tight end coverage, with this team allowing the ninth most yards to the position. David Njoku has recent target counts of 5 // 6 // 4 // 5 // 4, and he carries a low floor in this spot, but there is a non-zero chance he breaks through for some production this week.

BROWNS RUN OFFENSE

The Ravens’ defense has been free of cracks across the board, with this unit allowing the fourth fewest yards per carry in the league and clocking in as one of only three teams in the NFL that has not yet allowed 1000 total yards to the running back position. Between rushing and receiving production, the Saints are the only team that has given up fewer yards to the position. While Nick Chubb has been a force this year — averaging 5.3 yards per carry and topping 100 yards in three of his last six games — he will need to break free for a busted play or a multi-touchdown game in this spot in order to make a difference on this slate.

RAVENS PASS OFFENSE

The Ravens’ passing attack has been nonexistent since Lamar Jackson took over under center, with this team completing 12 to 14 passes in all six games in this stretch, while ranging between 19 and 25 pass attempts. Jackson has yardage totals since taking over under center of 150 // 178 // 125 // 147 // 131 // 204, and he has spread the ball around enough that none of his pass catchers have been worth targeting. John Brown has yet to top 30 receiving yards with Jackson; Michael Crabtree has yet to top 40 receiving yards; Willie Snead has posted three non-awful games (5-51-0 // 5-61-0 // 5-58-0), but he has also pitched in yardage totals of 0 // 8 // 0 in games with Jackson under center. Barring a total change in offensive philosophy, the only way to target wide receivers on the Ravens is to close your eyes and hope for a multi-touchdown game.

The best production from the Ravens through the air has come from rookie tight end Mark Andrews, with yardage totals since Jackson took over of 19 // 74 // 47 // 0 // 31 // 83 — though he continues to play limited snaps (only 20 snaps last week) as he rotates with fellow receiving-first tight end Hayden Hurst and with block-first tight ends Nick Boyle and Maxx Williams. Andrews has yet to top four targets with Jackson, making him simply a zero-floor, decent-ceiling dart throw.

RAVENS RUN OFFENSE

As noted last week when we stayed far away from Joe Mixon in his matchup against the Browns: Cleveland’s season-long numbers against the run are misleading, as this defense is ultra aggressive in getting after the quarterback, which opens up run lanes for backs to shoot through. In back-to-back games against run-heavy offenses that were missing their top wide receivers, Cleveland shifted their defensive approach and focused their attention on the run — holding Phillip Lindsay to 24 yards on 14 carries, and then holding Mixon to 68 yards on 17 carries. This should not be considered a pushover matchup for the Ravens’ awesome run offense, as the Browns have the pieces to at least make life difficult on the ground for this creative, well-schemed attack.

Since Jackson took over under center, the Ravens have piled up rushing yardage totals of 267 // 242 // 207 // 194 // 242 // 159 — though targeting this offense in DFS has continued to be an iffy proposition, as lead back Gus Edwards has one total reception in this stretch, making him a dud on weeks in which he doesn’t score, while Kenneth Dixon (touch counts of 9 // 9 // 12 // 10 since returning) and Ty Montgomery (touch counts of 8 // 3 // 0 since Dixon returned) are seeing too little volume to provide bankable value.

The best bet on this offense, of course, is the root through which all of this action flows: Lamar Jackson. Jackson’s limited passing production is making it difficult for him to produce elite scores (since taking over, he has yet to post a single score that would make you regret not having rostered him), but it is not outside the realm of possibilities that he could break off a 100-yard rushing game and score a couple touchdowns in a must-win spot. Beyond Jackson, targeting this offense is simply hoping to guess right on the touchdowns that will be scored.

JM’S INTERPRETATION

Targeting offenses against the Ravens has been a losing strategy all season — and while there is a non-zero chance that the Browns produce one or two starting-caliber DFS scores, the chances of them producing the sort of score you “have to have in order to win” are slim enough that I’ll be staying away myself.

I have also stayed away from the Ravens’ offense since Jackson took over, as this team is simply not piling up DFS-useful statistics with their ground-and-pound approach. This won’t change for me this week. If you want to go here yourself, Jackson is the safest, highest-upside piece, while Gus Gus, Andrews, and (to a lesser extent) Snead all have an outside shot at posting useful scores as well.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 30th 4:25pm Eastern

Raiders (
19.5) at

Chiefs (
33.5)

Over/Under 53.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Raiders Run D
31st DVOA/22nd Yards allowed per carry
Chiefs Run O
17th DVOA/6th Yards per carry
Raiders Pass D
26th DVOA/25th Yards allowed per pass
Chiefs Pass O
1st DVOA/7th Yards per pass
Chiefs Run D
28th DVOA/30th Yards allowed per carry
Raiders Run O
24th DVOA/14th Yards per carry
Chiefs Pass D
2nd DVOA/3rd Yards allowed per pass
Raiders Pass O
5th DVOA/5th Yards per pass

Hey, fam: apologies for getting this game up late! We posted it on Thursday, but apparently it didn’t take. All set now.

RAIDERS // CHIEFS OVERVIEW

Like every other game in the last time slot, Raiders at Chiefs is important for the playoffs — as the Chiefs need to win this game in order to maintain their grasp on home field advantage throughout the playoffs (assuming the Patriots win their home game against the Jets earlier in the day). But even with the Raiders playing well lately and the Chiefs looking less-than-invincible without Kareem Hunt and