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.
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.