Week 17 Matchups

Welcome to Week 17!!!!

This is always a fun one for us — with more games on the Main Slate than we are used to seeing, and with a few key players always sitting out this weekend.

I’m excited about the way we’ll be approaching the NFL Edge this week — with a couple cool things added (one that is particular to Week 17, and one that we may start adding each week next year!).

As of early Tuesday morning, you can find the Week 17 “game scenarios” at the top of each game (laying out what each team has to play for, and what to expect from an effort/participation perspective), followed by a “Matchups” section that will help you get a head start on the week(!). The Matchups section lays out key stats, trends, or matchup-related elements for each game on the slate.

Late Thursday night // early Friday morning, the standard NFL Edge elements will go live: breaking down each game from a “likeliest to happen” game flow perspective, while establishing what these elements should mean for player usage and laying out my interpretations of each game.

Late Friday night, the Angles Pod will go live, and early Saturday morning the Player Grid will go up on the site!

With that :: Happy Holidays! Be safe this week. Do your best to be fully present with family/friends when you are with them. And when you are not with them, click over to Deep Focus on this slate — toward making this your best weekend of the season.

As always, keep in mind the sort of score required to win a tourney — and build only around players and game environments that can help you get there.

I’ll see you on the site this week — and I’ll see you at the top of the leaderboards this weekend!


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 29th 1:00pm Eastern

Jets (
19) at

Bills (
18)

Over/Under 37.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Jets Run D
14th DVOA/20th Yards allowed per carry
Bills Run O
32nd DVOA/29th Yards per carry
Jets Pass D
31st DVOA/24th Yards allowed per pass
Bills Pass O
4th DVOA/6th Yards per pass
Bills Run D
24th DVOA/21st Yards allowed per carry
Jets Run O
29th DVOA/23rd Yards per carry
Bills Pass D
28th DVOA/15th Yards allowed per pass
Jets Pass O
30th DVOA/32nd Yards per pass

Neither of these teams has anything to play for, with the Jets’ season long over and the Bills locked into the 5 seed regardless of what happens here. The Jets should approach this game with their typical level of interest/dedication/focus (whatever that happens to be…), while it wouldn’t be surprising if the Bills take this opportunity to get some key players a bit of rest before a road playoff game in “Week 18.” We’ll keep an eye on news this week, but even if the Bills say they’ll be playing starters all game, it’s fair to assume this may not be completely true.

The Matchup ::

  • The Buffalo defense ranks second in points allowed per game, third in yards allowed per game, fourth in DVOA, and third in opponent drive success rate
  • The Jets’ offense ranks 28th in points per game, 32nd in yards per game, 32nd in DVOA, and 32nd in drive success rate
  • The Jets somehow scored 34 points in three consecutive games in wins against the Giants, Redskins, and Raiders; outside of those three games, they have topped 18 points only three times in 12 games, and have not topped 24 points
  • The Bills have allowed only one opponent to top 24 points this year, and they have held nine of 15 opponents to 17 or fewer points
  • The Jets have been surprisingly solid on defense themselves, ranking 19th in points allowed per game, seventh in yards allowed per game, and 13th in DVOA; they rank 24th in DVOA against the pass, but second against the run, and have allowed the third fewest running back rushing yards on the season in spite of their 6-9 record, while allowing a check-for-typo 3.18 yards per carry to the running back position
  • The Bills have built their offense around the run, ranking 29th in pass play rate
  • Josh Allen’s best yardage total on the year through the air is 266, and he has finished below 190 passing yards six times already
  • Buffalo is favored by four points in spite of having nothing to play for, in a game that currently carries the lowest Over/Under of the week at 37.0
  • The Jets have gone 5-3 at home this year, but have gone only 1-6 on the road

The Game ::

Since putting together the Matchup elements above, the Over/Under on this game has dropped another point, currently putting it at 36.0 — one of the lowest game totals we have seen on the season, and positioning us in a place where the only viable reason to bet on either team is if you feel you can sneak some slate-breaking upside out of what will be a completely overlooked spot. If you want to hunt for this slate-breaking upside from the Buffalo offense, you are completely on your own, as A) this team has produced two slate-breaking stat lines all season against their Week 17 salaries (Josh Allen + John Brown against the Dolphins), and B) it will be a surprise if key starters on the Bills’ offense play the entire game.

On the Jets’ side, things remain just as thin, as no player all season has posted a slate-breaking score against the Bills, while the Jets (as laid out above) have been one of the worst offenses in the league this season. On a 15-game slate, we can do better than this spot.

If choosing to go here for some sort of “one in one hundred” shot, your best bet would be to focus on the Jets offense in the hopes that the Bills give enough key rest to enough key starters on the defense that New York can luck into a handful of big plays. As always when making such a bet, it’s preferable to lean on a player who can get things done for you in just a few big plays, rather than trying to bet on a player consistently beating a difficult matchup in an inconsistent offense. This would put Robby Anderson in your crosshairs, in the hopes that he can land one of his “100+ yards and a touchdown” games. Anderson has seen only 10 total targets across the last two weeks, and he saw only 11 total targets in Weeks 10, 11, and 12 — but in between those two stretches (Weeks 13 // 14), Anderson saw target counts of 10 // 11. And while those came against much weaker secondaries (Cincy // Miami), you’re at least not drawing dead with that play: a boom/bust option who is substantially likelier to bust than to boom, but whose boom potential is at least more than theoretical.

JM’s Interpretation ::

We have 15 games to work with on the slate, and this is one of the lowest Over/Under games we have seen all season. My goal each week is to cut down the slate to around 25 to 35 ultra-attractive plays that all have some sort of clear path toward top-of-slate production (or that open doors to top-of-slate production on other areas of my roster) — which makes this a fairly easy game for me to avoid, with a hat tip given to anyone who captures an unlikely big game from this spot (and with the assumption that I can easily get those same scores in other spots without taking on such unnecessary risk).


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 29th 1:00pm Eastern

Falcons (
23.5) at

Bucs (
24.5)

Over/Under 48.0

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Notes

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

The Falcons and Bucs “have nothing to play for,” but both teams have been playing their proverbial tails off lately. Injured superstars may be held out (i.e., Chris Godwin), but the players who play will be playing the same as any other week. The Bucs are trying to build something here, and the Falcons are trying to save their coach’s job with a 6-2 finish to the year.

The Matchup ::

  • The last time the Buccaneers allowed a quarterback to pass for 300 yards was seven games ago, on November 10; since then, they have held Drew Brees (228), Matt Ryan (271), Gardner Minshew + Nick Foles (240), Jacoby Brissett (251), David Blough (260), and Deshaun Watson (184) to 271 or fewer yards (Note :: we’re cheating a little bit here, as Matt Schaub added 55 yards on nine attempts in the game in which Ryan threw for 271 — though it also took 55 attempts for these two to combine for 326 yards)
  • In the Bucs’ last five games, they have allowed four passing touchdowns while picking off six passes
  • On the year, the Bucs are shaving 3% off the league-average catch rate and 12% off the league-average YAC/R, while ranking 15th in opponent passer rating and 14th in yards allowed per pass attempt; so much for that “embarrassing // awful // pathetic” secondary we read about seemingly everywhere else
  • As noted throughout the season :: the Bucs have not been smashed by wideouts because they are bad, but rather, because they are merely average, and their run defense is incredible (while their offense puts up points in a hurry) — forcing opponents to throw at the highest rate in the NFL
  • The Falcons rank first in the NFL in pass play rate, and since losing Calvin Ridley they have decided to pour volume into the lap of Julio Jones, feeding him 35 targets over the last two weeks
  • Julio needs 84 yards to extend his record of most consecutive 1400-yard seasons, and to tie Jerry Rice for most 1400-yard seasons in history, while the Falcons have nothing to play for beyond pride and records
  • The Falcons are 5-2 in their last seven games, including wins over the Saints and 49ers
  • The Falcons’ only losses in this stretch came at the hands of the Saints and Bucs
  • Across these seven games, the Falcons have allowed seven passing touchdowns while picking off eight passes
  • Three of those passing touchdowns were tossed by Jameis
  • Without Mike Evans and Chris Godwin in Week 16, Breshad Perriman played 70/73 snaps and saw 12 targets
  • Perriman — whose career had spiraled into disappointment before the last couple weeks due primarily to his inability to run anything but go routes — saw only four of his 12 targets on routes that required him to “break”
  • The Falcons shave 10% off the league-average aDOT (third best mark in the league) and try to capitalize on forcing receivers to “run routes” in the shorter areas of the field
  • Justin Watson also played 70 snaps last week and saw 10 targets, going 5-43-1 while operating as the primary “route runner” option
  • Behind Perriman and Watson, Ishmael Hyman played 43 snaps but saw only three targets
  • Cameron Brate saw five targets, and O.J. Howard saw seven
  • The Falcons have ranked middle-of-the-pack this year in catches, yards, and touchdowns allowed to both wide receivers and tight ends

The Game ::

The notes laid out above — regarding the improved state of each of these defenses — need to be weighed when considering expectations on individual players in this game; but the approach for each of these teams should be about as straightforward as it gets, with the Falcons ranking first in the NFL in pass play rate, the Bucs ranking seventh, and both defenses easier to attack through the air than on the ground (as we are well aware by this point in the year: the Bucs rank first in DVOA against the run, but rank 12th against the pass, while the Falcons rank 14th against the run and 26th against the pass). Atlanta also ranks sixth in pace of play while the Bucs rank seventh, and both teams also rank top 10 in opponent pace of play. We lose 1:57 from standard game expectations for these two when we combine their average time of possession, as each team does a solid job controlling the clock — but with both teams ranked top four in plays per game, we should still have plenty of opportunity for plays to pile up on both sides in this spot.

When plays pile up for the Falcons, Julio Jones is likely to be the overwhelming focal point, while Austin Hooper should function as the clear number two option in this passing attack. This group will be rounded out with Russell Gage (six targets in each of the last two games, and three carries added from there) and Devonta Freeman (target counts the last two weeks of 3 // 10), with all other wide receivers having been ignored behind this group since Calvin Ridley went down.

When plays pile up for the Bucs, it will be Breshad Perriman and Justin Watson soaking up most of the action through the air, with O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate mixed in behind these two, and with Ronald Jones (recent touch counts of 15 // 12 // 17) and Peyton Barber (13 // 12 // 5) continuing to split touches with no clear rhyme or rhythm to the weeks in which a Jones Touch Spike emerges.

On the Falcons’ side, then :: Julio is a near lock for 10+ targets and for solid production, with the big question being whether or not he can post a score that justifies his price tag. We should expect the Bucs to try to force the Falcons to win elsewhere, and given that they have risen all the way to 12th in DVOA against the pass at this point (and given that everyone thinks this is the worst pass defense in the history of the league — and that ownership on Julio is almost guaranteed to be high as a result), we have an interesting setup, as Julio needs quite a few points in order to justify his price tag, and it’s totally possible for him to have heavy volume and a solid real-life game without actually being worth a roster spot at his salary. Julio is a matchup-busting talent (and again: this is the rare setup in which we can expect the Falcons to actually feed their best weapon the volume he deserves), but the matchup/pricing elements should be weighed as well when you are making your decisions around this spot. Volume is your friend here, and is the main thing you are betting on with Julio. Hooper should be in line for eight or nine looks of his own with potential for a small rise from there, while the Bucs’ expected focus on Julio could keep the matchup fairly winnable for the Falcons’ stud tight end. Gage is a short-area piece who will need a broken play or a couple scores in order to really pop off, while Freeman will need to do his damage against a Tampa defense that is not only elite against running backs on the ground, but is also elite against them through the air.

On the Bucs’ side :: Perriman should continue to be fed volume as a fairly one-dimensional threat, which will make this a spot in which his skill set and usage will have to win against a defense that is specifically designed to slow players with his skill set and usage. This closes off some of his paths to slate-breaking upside — though the targets are still likely to be there, making him a risk/reward bet in this spot. Watson is likely to pile up volume as well in a matchup that sets up better for his role in this offense, with a touchdown likely required for him to truly make a difference on this slate, but with the risk of betting on a backup being the only major floor concern. Howard — as always — cannot be relied on for locked-in production, but he is a monster with the ball in his hands, and he is used in more of a downfield role than his tight end counterpart, giving him plenty of upside to go with the risk inherent in absorbing this play on your roster, while Brate is a hope-for-touchdown bet, with anything over that a bonus. In the backfield, of course, Barber is more of a drain on Jones’ value than he is an actual, viable option, while Jones himself is a volatile, hope-to-guess-right play. The matchup tilts away from the backfield in this spot, but that doesn’t mean that Jones can’t hit for a couple touchdowns or for solid production on heavy volume in this spot.

JM’s Interpretation ::

Given the way pricing and matchup tilt, I expect to focus more heavily on Hooper and Watson than on Julio and Perriman — and given that ownership is likelier to tilt toward the latter two, I may even increase my tourney exposure on the first two a bit more to take advantage of the gap that would show up in value between those sides in this spot if we were able to play out this slate a hundred times. Naturally, I won’t be surprised to find myself with some “hedge” exposure on Julio and Perriman if I end up heavy enough on Hooper/Watson, but if targeting first place in a tourney, the lower ownership on the guys who low-key have a better shot at providing sturdy point-per-dollar production make “group one” more appealing to me.

With the way this game sets up (fast pace; lots of passing expected; two teams with downfield mindsets and approaches), I also won’t be surprised to find myself branching out beyond that group — likely in the form of some game stacks that bet on the passing attacks (with both quarterbacks likely mixed into my rosters, and with guys like Howard, Gage, and possibly even Jones mixed in for the potential “game environment” upside). With the improvements these defenses have made throughout the second half of the season, I see more cause for caution on this game than most will likely see — but that doesn’t change the explosive components available here, and doesn’t change the fact that this game still has one of the better shots on the slate of turning into a true barn-burner. In order to account for that heightened risk, I’ll likely try to “isolate” this game (outside of Watson and possibly Hooper — both of whom I will likely find myself gravitating toward even outside of “game environment” bets on this spot) — still giving myself exposure to this game on my builds, but doing so with rosters dedicated to bets on this game, rather than doing so by spreading out my exposure to this game across a broad range of builds.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 29th 1:00pm Eastern

Saints (
29.25) at

Panthers (
15.25)

Over/Under 44.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Saints Run D
4th DVOA/4th Yards allowed per carry
Panthers Run O
16th DVOA/21st Yards per carry
Saints Pass D
15th DVOA/17th Yards allowed per pass
Panthers Pass O
11th DVOA/11th Yards per pass
Panthers Run D
26th DVOA/18th Yards allowed per carry
Saints Run O
12th DVOA/14th Yards per carry
Panthers Pass D
13th DVOA/10th Yards allowed per pass
Saints Pass O
14th DVOA/9th Yards per pass

Christian McCaffrey needs 67 receiving yards to join Marshall Faulk and Roger Craig as the only players in NFL history with 1k rushing yards and 1k receiving yards in the same season. That’s the main thing the Panthers are playing for here. The Saints, of course, need a win and a 49ers loss or a win and a Packers loss to secure a first-round bye — and given how massive home field advantage is for any team in the playoffs (and especially how important it is for this team), this is a game that the NFC’s eventual Super Bowl representative will be approaching with a “Charlie’s Angels 2” (full-throttle) approach. (Note: I’ve never seen Charlie’s Angels 2; but I did see Superbad a long time ago. “No, no. I’m gonna be there for sure. Full throttle. Charlie’s Angels 2.”)

The Matchup ::

  • The Panthers — who rank second in pace on offense, but 19th in drive success rate — have allowed the most opponent drives per game, at 12.14
  • The Saints — who rank 29th in pace on offense, but seventh in drive success rate — have scored the fifth most points per drive
  • After ranking fifth in rush play rate last year, the Saints rank 12th in pass play rate this year — essentially turning “passes to Michael Thomas” into their run game
  • Carolina ranks 32nd in run defense DVOA and ninth in pass defense DVOA, but they rank middle of the pack in opponent pass play rate
  • The last time these teams met, Michael Thomas saw 11 targets and went 10-101-1
  • Thomas has gone for 100+ yards in eight of his last nine games (in fact, his game against Carolina was his second lowest yardage total in that stretch)
  • The Panthers currently appear set to be without D.J. Moore (concussion), who has recent target counts of 10 // 9 // 10 // 11 // 15 // 9 // 12 // 6 // 12; last week, McCaffrey picked up most of the slack in tying his season high with 15 targets
  • Only five teams have allowed fewer receiving yards to running backs than the Saints have allowed; CMC still went 9-69-1 on nine targets the last time these teams played
  • Will Grier averaged an incredibly low 5.1 yards per pass attempt last week against the Colts’ 17th (DVOA) pass defense; the Saints rank 10th in DVOA against the pass
  • Grier managed only five completions on 15 throws to Jarius Wright, Curtis Samuel, and Greg Olsen, for 69 yards

The Game ::

From a “journals of JM” perspective, it’s fun to note that this is my 200th game writeup of the regular season (if my calculations are correct), which makes it fitting that we have two teams in this spot that boast one of my favorite DFS elements :: a concentrated distribution of touches.

We’ll start on the Panthers’ side, where this game should be less about “trying to win” and more about “trying to get CMC to at least 67 receiving yards.” Starting from a place of “raw production,” there isn’t much to dislike for McCaffrey this week, as it’s unlikely this team does anything but hammer targets his way (in spots like this, we sometimes see the player in question enter halftime with less work than you would expect; but by the end of the game, things almost always even out). The biggest obstacle on McCaffrey’s path toward the 1k/1k club is going to be the Panthers’ likely inability to sustain drives against a Saints defense that has allowed the second fewest running back rushing yards and the sixth fewest running back receiving yards this year — with Will Grier looking like a poor bet last week to make up for any holes in CMC’s production to keep drives alive. And this is where our focus should be in DFS :: can Grier do enough to keep the Panthers’ drives alive and give CMC a chance to actually smash at his price? We should head into this game expecting McCaffrey to pile up touches (25+ touches in six of his last eight games), with Grier the biggest obstacle on McCaffrey’s path toward actual slate-winning upside at his elevated price.

Grier’s chances of succeeding in this spot are further limited by the potential absence of D.J. Moore (concussion), and by the opportunity this will give Marshon Lattimore to shadow Curtis Samuel on a good 60% of plays — which could effectively leave Grier working to Chris Hogan, Jarius Wright, and Greg Olsen behind CMC. From a “likeliest to happen” scenario here :: the Panthers will do enough to get CMC into the 1k/1k club (and to allow CMC to produce at his typical elite level — not quite enough to smash at his price, but certainly enough to make him worth the price tag if you can fit him without making sacrifices elsewhere), while not getting enough done in other areas (or scoring enough points as a team) to get any other players going to a level that would make them worthwhile in DFS. If you wanted to play alternate scenarios, however, we can note that it’s not unusual for a young quarterback to look better in his second start — and if Moore misses, we’ll have a narrow distribution of touches on a group of cheap players. The Saints have allowed adequate numbers to wide receivers and tight ends, though this has been more about how tough they have been on running backs than anything else, as teams have been filtered toward these other positions (something we aren’t likely to see here on a Panthers team that should be expected to emphasize McCaffrey). But this is more of a “below-average” matchup than a truly difficult one for the Panthers; and there are ways to make a case for moving outside McCaffrey in tourneys.

The Saints, of course, remain one of the easiest teams to break down, as ceiling expectations for this unit as a whole are lowered by the fact that they are playing away from the Superdome, outdoors, while usage-driven ceiling on individual pieces remains high enough to matter. We are well aware, by now, of just how bad the Panthers have been against the run this year, and we are well aware of the fact that the Saints will still emphasize Michael Thomas enough to make him worthy of consideration. It will be more difficult in this spot for Thomas to pop off for a monster game, though it would be silly at this point to project him for under 90 yards, and if he adds a two-touchdown game to his typical 10 catches for 100+ yards, you won’t mind what you paid for him. As has been the case for weeks: he’s more “fit him if it makes sense” than “go out of your way to prioritize him”; but if it makes sense to fit him, the chances are high that you’ll be happy with his production.

The backfield on the Saints is a bit more convoluted, as Alvin Kamara drew heavy ownership in Week 12 when these teams last played because, “of course he’ll smash against the Panthers” (and because, of course, most of the DFS community cannot properly remove name value and weigh price against expectations when assessing a play). Kamara floated his value in that game with nine receptions (allowing him to produce at a non-awful level, while still landing as a pretty significant price-considered disappointment), but he saw only 11 carries in that game — unsurprising, given that his carry counts since returning from injury now sit at 4 // 13 // 11 // 11 // 13 // 14 // 11. Kamara has still not topped 50 yards through the air since Week 3 and is more of a “bet on touchdowns” play than a “bet on him smashing in the yardage department” option — with a big yardage game considered merely a bonus. Last week’s “big game” gave Kamara his first scoring output since Week 3 that even matched up with what you’re targeting at his price.

Behind Kamara, Latavius Murray (nine or more touches in four of his last six games) continues to soak up enough work to dent expectations for Kamara while not seeing enough work to actually matter. He’s a “bet on outlier output” play.

Behind these core pieces, Jared Cook has been the main player producing — though he has only 10 total targets across his last three games, while his price and ownership are rising off his four touchdowns in this stretch, making him more boom/bust than his recent production makes things appear on the surface.

JM’s Interpretation ::

While I won’t know for certain where I’ll end up on all this until the NFL Edge is completed, it currently appears that there is not enough truly solid value this week for CMC or Thomas to become heavily involved in my rosters at their price tags, while I’ll likely leave the Panthers alone altogether if D.J. Moore plays (assuming that Moore soaks up the most work outside CMC, and that this leaves all players falling shy of price-considered expectations), while I may end up with a small amount of Samuel or Olsen if Moore misses. I actually like Kamara’s chances this week — though that will probably lead more to me “not shaking my head at people who roster him” than to me actually rostering him heavily myself, while Cook’s production has been too unsupported by volume for me to feel comfortable chasing.

Given how good the Saints’ offense is — and how concentrated the touches are on the Panthers — I’ll circle back to this game a number of times on Friday and Saturday as I work through my final thoughts on this slate; but as of right now, I expect to not end up with a whole lot of exposure here; not because there are no pieces I like, but instead because it seems likely that there will just be better ways to allocate salary this week.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 29th 1:00pm Eastern

Browns (
23) at

Bengals (
20.5)

Over/Under 43.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Browns Run D
20th DVOA/5th Yards allowed per carry
Bengals Run O
27th DVOA/26th Yards per carry
Browns Pass D
19th DVOA/30th Yards allowed per pass
Bengals Pass O
26th DVOA/13th Yards per pass
Bengals Run D
23rd DVOA/28th Yards allowed per carry
Browns Run O
7th DVOA/3rd Yards per carry
Bengals Pass D
16th DVOA/25th Yards allowed per pass
Browns Pass O
23rd DVOA/27th Yards per pass

Neither of these teams has anything to play for, but neither has clicked into “evaluation mode” at any point this year either. Expect a standard approach from both sides.

The Matchup ::

  • The 1-14 Bengals have six losses on the year of more than one possession, with three of those losses coming against the 49ers, Ravens, and Patriots
  • The “Super Bowl bound,” 6-9 Browns have five losses of their own of more than one possession (though the 49ers, Ravens, and Patriots are on their list as well)
  • The Bengals have faced the lowest opponent pass play rate in the NFL
  • When these teams played in Week 14, the Browns ran only 54 plays, but 25 (46.3%) were designed run plays
  • Only 15 carries went to Nick Chubb in that spot, while nine carries flowed to Kareem Hunt
  • NFL rushing leader and yards-per-carry leader (among running backs averaging at least 10 carries per game) Nick Chubb has recent touch totals of 17 // 16 // 20 // 15
  • Kareem Hunt has recent touch totals of 12 // 11 // 12 // 7
  • On average, the Bengals are facing 29.7 running back touches per game
  • Only three teams have allowed fewer receptions to wide receivers than the Bengals have allowed
  • Only two wide receivers have topped 103 yards against the Bengals :: Cooper Kupp’s 220-yard detonation of this team (on only seven receptions), and DeVante Parker’s 5-111-1 game last week on a whopping 15 targets
  • Five pass catchers have topped 100 yards against the Browns this year, with three of those five getting there on four or fewer receptions — with the Browns’ tackling issues driving all of those lines
  • Before flipping over to comeback mode last week, the Bengals had been one of the run-heaviest teams in the NFL over the last month and a half
  • The Browns rank 28th in DVOA against the run and are facing the fifth highest opponent rush play rate in the league
  • Joe Mixon has recent touch counts of 21 // 32 // 16 // 18 // 23 // 26 // 28 // 23

The Game ::

Before we dive into the last game of the season for the Browns and Bengals, we should point out that this is the last game of the season for the Browns and the Bengals — most specifically, the Bengals, who will have the first pick of the draft next year and are all but certain to take Joe Burrow with that pick, ending the Andy Dalton era. The Bengals are playing this game in front of their home fans, and for as much grief as Dalton gets from the national media, he has been Cincinnati’s guy for almost a decade, with four playoff appearances thrown in there (which may not sound like a lot to you, depending on what team you root for; but if you’re a fan of either of these two teams, Dalton has practically been the equivalent of the Chosen One). All that to say: if you want to play an angle here in which the Bengals lean on the pass — or at least try to get Dalton a going-away present of a couple touchdowns — you can certainly make a case there. And of course, all that is said because everything in this matchup tilts the Bengals toward the ground.

Up until the last month and a half, the Bengals had been the pass-heaviest team in the NFL — but even after throwing the ball on over 70% of their plays last week in comeback mode against the Dolphins, Cincy has now dropped to third in the league, as they have run the ball at a rate higher than the league average since after their Week 9 bye, when they began emphasizing Joe Mixon. The Bengals have also run the ball at a 40% rate at home on the season compared to only 30% on the road, while the Browns face the fifth highest opponent rush play rate in the league. Volume should work in favor of Mixon in this spot, who has touch counts since the bye of 32 // 16 // 18 // 23 // 26 // 28 // 23, while Cincy’s new mix of man/power blocking (to go with their “base” zone blocking scheme) has helped to spring Mixon free for 114+ rushing yards in three of these seven games, with 79+ in five.

The Browns (while hammering the “dunce” label much more violently than the Bengals have this year, and therefore carrying potential to try to “get Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham going” in a spot where it would make a lot more sense to lean on their most effective offensive option in Nick Chubb) should be expected to lean on the run as well, with the Bengals facing the highest opponent rush play rate in the league. Only four teams have allowed more running back rushing yards than the Bengals this season, and their 4.66 yards allowed per carry to the position is a boost to Chubb as he looks to close out his 92-yard lead on CMC for the rushing yardage title (a lead that would be even greater if the Browns actually fed Chubb the way they should). With only 11 targets over his last six games, Chubb is pretty officially a yardage-and-touchdown back at this point, but his chances of yardage are good in this spot, and touchdowns have a chance to follow.

Behind Chubb, Kareem Hunt should be expected to bounce right back up to the 10 to 12 touches he had been seeing per game before last week, while Landry and Beckham will operate as “bet on them if you think Kitchens forces the issue with the pass” options (or as guys you can bet on doing a lot with a little) — with each of these guys underpriced for theoretical ceiling, but still a bit overpriced for “likeliest range” given A) what each guy has done this year and B) how little upside the Bengals have allowed to wide receivers.

JM’s Interpretation ::

If betting on the Bengals’ passing attack, Tyler Boyd // John Ross (71/90 snaps last week) // Alex Erickson will be the pieces the Bengals will most heavily focus on against a Browns team that has allowed only five pass catchers to top 81 yards against them this year. Because of the Browns’ issues with tackling, Ross’ speed would be an interesting bet to make if going here (and if I end up with heavy-ish Mixon exposure, that’s likely where I will grab most of my hedge exposure myself). Mixon would be more interesting if he were a bit cheaper, but he sets up well in this spot.

Chubb would also be more interesting if he were a bit cheaper, but he’s explosive enough (and the matchup is solid enough) that I may not mind some “ignore the low floor to target his ceiling” bets in tourneys.

Because of mistaken perceptions around what a matchup against the Bengals has meant for wide receivers this year (and the name value on Landry/Beckham), it won’t surprise me if the Browns’ receivers see a small spike in ownership this week with their prices in free-fall; but of course, a viable case can be made for that bet as well, as a “bet on Kitchens being an idiot and forcing the issue with these two” play.

Finally, you can’t say a shootout is “likely” here, given the way these two offenses have looked; but each defense has enough holes that building around a high-scoring scenario in tourneys will open you to some interesting paths to overlooked upside this week.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 29th 1:00pm Eastern

Packers (
28.5) at

Lions (
15.5)

Over/Under 44.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Packers Run D
25th DVOA/12th Yards allowed per carry
Lions Run O
13th DVOA/18th Yards per carry
Packers Pass D
25th DVOA/18th Yards allowed per pass
Lions Pass O
19th DVOA/20th Yards per pass
Lions Run D
30th DVOA/26th Yards allowed per carry
Packers Run O
10th DVOA/10th Yards per carry
Lions Pass D
12th DVOA/20th Yards allowed per pass
Packers Pass O
6th DVOA/14th Yards per pass

It’s been a while since the Lions have had anything to play for, and their roster is wrecked by injuries — but they have at least been putting in effort. The Packers, after their win over the Vikings, have everything to play for, as a win lands them a first-round bye and even keeps them in position for the Number One seed with a bit of help.

The Matchup ::

  • The Lions have been pathetic on defense this season, ranking 26th in DVOA (with a number 29 ranking against the pass); they have allowed the fifth most yards per pass attempt and the seventh most points per game, while allowing the fourth most yards per game
  • Only one team has allowed more passing yards than the Lions, and only three teams have allowed more passing touchdowns
  • Aaron Rodgers has been held to 243 or fewer passing yards in seven consecutive games, while throwing one or fewer touchdown passes in six of those seven contests
  • Stefon Diggs is the only alpha, perimeter receiver who has topped 86 yards in this matchup — doing so twice — a 7-142-0 game in Week 7, and a 6-92-0 game in Week 14
  • Darius Slay got injured 18 plays into that 7-142-0 game — which means that no alpha perimeter receiver has topped 92 yards on the Lions this year when Slay was on the field
  • Slay has not had a great season by PFF standards (he’s been prone to pass interference penalties — hurting him in real life, but hurting us in DFS), but he’s only had two games this year in which he’s allowed more than five receptions on passes into his coverage (per PFF), and one of those was six receptions allowed on 11 targets
  • In the last five games between these two teams, Adams and Rodgers have been healthy together only once, with Adams going 9-140-1 in that game (2018)
  • Green Bay ranks eighth in time of possession but only 25th in plays per game, with a number 31 ranking in pace
  • Green Bay ranks middle of the pack in pass play rate
  • The Lions have been hit hardest this year by pass-catching running backs — especially in the screen game — with the third most receiving yards and the most receiving touchdowns allowed to the position
  • Only the Panthers have allowed more total touchdowns to running backs than the Lions
  • Aaron Jones has gone for 20+ touches in only three games that Adams has played this year; two of those have been in the Packers’ last three games
  • No player in the NFL has more touchdowns than Aaron Jones
  • No receiver in the NFL has more touchdowns than Kenny Golladay; he has been the lone bright spot over the last several weeks for the beaten-down Lions offense

The Game ::

It’s been a strange season for the Packers, as no one would watch their games and be terrified to play them — and yet, the same could have been said of the Patriots for most seasons over the last 20 years. There is a vast number of things that goes into something like this, and it’s impossible to stamp the Packers as a “winning team” (damn whatever the “dominance eye test” or the normal stats we can point to would say) without digging in deeper than anyone would have time to do during the season (unless that “someone” were able to do nothing but “dig in,” while spending no time providing content of any sort — as it wouldn’t be enough to simply dig deeply into this new Packers team, but to also have a strong feel for each team the Packers have played, and to have a strong feel for the league as a whole), but we can note that the Packers have the second fewest penalty yards in the league this year and rank third in turnover margin (with the second fewest giveaways) — which tend to be hallmarks of teams that continually find ways to win in spite of looking less dominant than their record. Or, to put that another way: the sum of the Packers may be much greater than their individual parts.

Their “individual parts,” of course, have looked less dominant almost specifically because of how few “individual parts” there are on the Packers’ offense, with Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Geronimo Allison, Jimmy Graham, and even Allen Lazard functioning as mere background noise on the stat sheet each week, with fluky outcomes required for any of these guys to provide anything close to slate-winning fantasy value. This has left this offense working through Davante Adams, Aaron Jones, and Jamaal Williams.

Adams has double-digit targets in seven of his last eight games (including games of 15 and 16 looks), and he should be leaned on in this spot. Adams has topped 65 yards in only half of those eight games, but he has topped 100 yards in the other four games, and with the Lions playing heavy man coverage that allows opponents to attack them downfield (deepest opponent aDOT in the league), Adams will have a chance to rack up yardage — with Slay a slight concern, but with the chances of the Packers grabbing control of this game and killing the clock on the ground a larger concern.

The “killing the clock on the ground” setup would be more intriguing if Green Bay could be relied on to lean more heavily on Jones — who out-snapped Williams 52 to 21 last week with Williams busting up his shoulder, but who shared snaps 35/24 just the week before. As we know: Jones has topped three targets in only three games “started and finished” by Adams, and he has topped 13 carries only four times all season, while his price has soared due to his league-leading 19 touchdowns. Per-touch expectations are solid for Jones in this spot, but he should be considered a risk/reward piece — with the “rewards” still elite a few times with Adams on the field, but with that “elite” merely matching what you would be hoping for at Jones’ price, rather than providing the sort of value those games should be able to provide at his lower workload. The one thing that could significantly boost expectations for Jones would be for Williams’ shoulder issue to be a bigger deal than currently seems to be the case. Williams missed practice Wednesday, and if reports closer to the weekend have him looking iffy or limited in this spot, Jones could work as more of a full-time back with this team seeming to have no love for third-stringer Dexter Williams. If healthy, of course, Jamaal Williams will work as the value-sucking compliment to Jones — warranting placement on a roster only with an unpredictable multi-touchdown game.

Expectations in this game have the Packers taking a lead and the Lions playing from behind — though look for the Lions to try to control this game on the ground for as long as they can against the Packers’ 22nd ranked (DVOA) run defense. It’s unlikely that this is relevant information for fantasy, as Kerryon Johnson was eased in last week with 16 snaps — and it’s likely that those snaps expand this week, without rising high enough for Kerryon to provide anything but fluky value on a bad team with a bad offensive line.

When the Lions are forced to the air, we can expect most of the work to flow to Danny Amendola (only two games north of 34 yards in his last eight; only one game north of 47) and Kenny Golladay. Strangely, after seeing target counts of 5 // 8 // 7 in games in which David Blough threw 38+ times, Golladay saw 12 targets last week with Blough throwing only 24 passes. Golladay is purely a bet-on-talent option (with this talent dragged down by his attachment to Blough), but he does lead all wide receivers with 11 touchdowns, and he has picked up over 1100 yards on the year — making him an interesting piece to consider in tourneys if betting on Packers pieces, in the hopes those pieces from Green Bay pop off and Golladay runs up some scoring in response.

JM’s Interpretation ::

With an Over/Under of 43.0 and the slow-paced, split-backfield Packers favored by 12.5, this isn’t an attractive spot on paper — but Adams remains a solid bet for 10+ targets with a decent amount of downfield work mixed in (in a tough individual matchup — but against a Lions team that cannot rush the passer, and that should allow Adams and Rodgers to work some magic when plays break down), while Jones is interesting for his explosiveness and scoring potential. Golladay is also interesting as a bring-back piece in this spot. (If going here myself, I would probably put Golladay on about half my Adams and/or Jones rosters, while otherwise leaving him alone.) Unfortunately, none of these players come at a discount against their ceiling — and since the game environment lowers the floor for Adams, and the touch uncertainty lowers the floor for Jones, and Blough lowers the floor for Golladay, all are more “risk/reward” than anything close to staple pieces for me this week.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 29th 1:00pm Eastern

Chargers (
18) at

Chiefs (
28)

Over/Under 46.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Chargers Run D
21st DVOA/14th Yards allowed per carry
Chiefs Run O
17th DVOA/9th Yards per carry
Chargers Pass D
11th DVOA/23rd Yards allowed per pass
Chiefs Pass O
1st DVOA/12th Yards per pass
Chiefs Run D
28th DVOA/30th Yards allowed per carry
Chargers Run O
31st DVOA/13th Yards per carry
Chiefs Pass D
2nd DVOA/4th Yards allowed per pass
Chargers Pass O
7th DVOA/5th Yards per pass

The Chargers’ season, of course, has been circling the drain for a while, but there is no reason to expect them to deviate from their typical allotment of snaps, while they have a players’ coach in Anthony Lynn whom they should continue playing hard for; this team has been wrecked by injuries on the offensive line and on defense, and by aging quarterback play by Philip Rivers, but they are still a “quality” opponent. The Chiefs need a win and a Patriots loss to secure a valuable first-round bye — so while the Patriots are unlikely to lose to the Dolphins, we should still expect full effort from Kansas City, with the only likely risk being players taking a seat deep into the fourth quarter if the Pats have their game in hand (which would likely require the Chiefs to have their game in hand as well).

The Matchup ::

  • The Chargers defense ranks sixth in yards per game and 12th in points per game, but only 21st in DVOA; the key? — the Chargers are allowing the second fewest plays per game, and have also allowed the fifth fewest pass plays of 20+ yards, which is forcing opponents to move up the field slowly, and has led to the Chargers facing the fewest opponent drives (9.71 per game — compared to the league’s last-place team in Carolina: 12.14 opponent drives per game)
  • The Chiefs have allowed the ninth fewest opponent drives per game, at 10.43
  • The Chargers have failed to top 20 points in 10 of 15 games this season
  • The Chiefs have held five consecutive opponents to 17 or fewer points
  • In spite of their 11-4 record (which would typically put opponents in pass-first mode), the Chiefs rank middle of the pack in opponent pass play rate — with this defense ranked sixth in DVOA against the pass, but 30th against the run
  • Melvin Gordon has rushed for only 3.8 yards per carry on the season, but he has floated his value with eight touchdowns (including seven on the ground); the Chiefs have allowed the sixth most running back rushing yards in the league (at 4.9 yards per carry), but only 11 teams have allowed fewer touchdowns on the ground to running backs
  • Only three teams have allowed more touchdowns to running backs through the air than the Chiefs have allowed
  • Austin Ekeler has been held to 13 or fewer touches in six consecutive games, but he has 50+ receiving yards in five straight
  • Only the Texans have allowed more receiving yards to running backs than the Chiefs have allowed

The Game ::

Probably about 85% of the time in this article, we kick off our game writeups on the team that is likelier to control that particular game; and as such, it feels unusual to start on the Chargers’ side in this spot. But as laid out above: the Chargers are simply playing so slowly (and are throwing enough “looks” at opponents on defense that they are facing the slowest opponent pace in the NFL, as teams take their time before the snap) that they are facing the fewest opponent drives per game and the second fewest opponent plays per game. And against a Chiefs defense that is so much easier to attack on the ground than through the air, the Chargers — to at least some extent — are likely to be the team that controls the shape of this game, even if they are simultaneously likely to lose.

The most stable source of touches in this offense (unfortunately) has been Melvin Gordon, who came out of a stretch of 20+ carries in three of four games to see only 12 // 7 // 9 carries the last three weeks — but who also saw “compensation” target counts of 5 // 7 // 7 in these lower-carry games. For better or worse, Gordon is the 1A in this backfield; and in what will likely be his final game in a Chargers uniform, he should be locked into a decent amount of valuable usage again. With his inability to rack up yardage on the ground this season (he has failed to top even 32 rushing yards in over half his games), he is a “bet on role and hope for touchdowns” option in a game in which the Chargers should eventually have to turn more fully to the air, but he has at least shown an ability to produce value a number of times this year.

The best offensive player on the Chargers this year has been Gordon’s backfield mate Austin Ekeler, who can only be relied on for around five or six carries and five or six targets, but who at least has a matchup against the Chiefs’ soft “RB receiving” defense, and who has a few paths to a slight rise in volume this week. The Chiefs have also been soft against tight ends, allowing the third most receptions and the fourth most yards to the position. Hunter Henry has recent target counts of only 3 // 4 // 2 // 7, but he did see nine targets when these teams played in Week 11, and he has a decent shot at a small target spike this week. Of course, part of the reason the Chiefs have been more generous to running backs and tight ends through the air is because they have been absolute nails against wideouts — allowing the fewest catches and the second fewest yards to the position (in spite of the fact that you can still find some fantasy analysts calling this a matchup boost — because, apparently, 2018 lasts forever). Keenan Allen and Mike Williams are merely bets on talent winning out over matchup.

The Chiefs’ side of this game is interesting, as there are really no matchups to truly fear (you could call Casey Hayward a shy-away for Tyreek Hill — but there is no player, team, or scheme that can limit Hill’s ceiling, only his chances of getting there), and yet, the Chargers have had an ability this year to limit Game Environment Upside, with only five pass catchers all season topping even 80 yards against them (and with only one player topping 92 yards). With the Chargers limiting play volume in their games across the board, betting on touchdowns or explosive players is your best bet toward arriving at some sort of useful ceiling (a bet complicated a bit by the fact that the Chiefs’ players not only have to hit, but have to hit at a high enough level to justify their price tags). When these teams met a month and a half ago, Travis Kelce put up a 7-92-1 line (tying Courtland Sutton for the second most receiving yards against the Chargers this year), while he has eight or more targets in all but one game this season. Hill and Kelce are both rock-solid bets for competent raw production, while ceiling paths remain.

The Chiefs’ backfield is a bit less straightforward (even against a Chargers team that faces the second highest opponent rush play rate in the league), as LeSean McCoy was a “load management” healthy scratch last week, while Spencer Ware is now on I.R. It seems likely that McCoy will be made active this week to once again turn this into a three-headed monster; but if McCoy is inactive on Sunday morning, we’ll have Damien Williams and Darwin Thompson, with Williams likely to carry the load after seeing 16 carries and three receptions last week (after seeing 12 || 2 and 19 || 5 in his final two full games before his missed time). The Chargers’ defense hasn’t been truly “vulnerable” to any position, but Williams would be underpriced for a potential 18+ touch back in an explosive, high-scoring offense if McCoy is on the sidelines once again this week.

JM’s Interpretation ::

Once pricing is taken into the equation, the Chiefs are almost always less attractive than the field perceives them to be — with Kelce posting only two scores this season that matched what you would really like at his price, and with Hill posting only one you would really like at his price and one more that moved past what you would really like at his price. (Note: as we often point out, this changes on FanDuel for Kelce, where tight end pricing is more condensed, and where he becomes more viable/valuable as a result.) But I’ll never try to talk anyone off Chiefs plays, as there is enough upside in this offense to chase it any time you want to make that part of your approach for the week. Be aware of the way the Chargers limit play volume; but as you know, the upside still exists. There is also really interesting upside to consider in the Chiefs’ backfield if McCoy misses — with Williams a “bet on role/offense” option if he’s in line for a somewhat-full workload once again. I may build a couple Williams rosters that I can enter on Sunday morning if McCoy is inactive.

On the Chargers’ side, I could see myself potentially mixing in Henry, Gordon, or even Ekeler — though it seems likelier that I’ll have plays I like more than these once the NFL Edge is completed. These guys all have paths to upside, though all three carry dud potential in any given week.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 29th 1:00pm Eastern

Bears (
19) at

Vikings (
16)

Over/Under 35.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Bears Run D
11th DVOA/16th Yards allowed per carry
Vikings Run O
2nd DVOA/6th Yards per carry
Bears Pass D
2nd DVOA/8th Yards allowed per pass
Vikings Pass O
20th DVOA/22nd Yards per pass
Vikings Run D
27th DVOA/22nd Yards allowed per carry
Bears Run O
28th DVOA/32nd Yards per carry
Vikings Pass D
8th DVOA/29th Yards allowed per pass
Bears Pass O
24th DVOA/25th Yards per pass

Neither of these teams has anything to play for in Week 17 — and with the Vikings locked into the 6 seed, it wouldn’t be a total surprise to see some of their key players rested. This will be a spot to keep an eye on this week; but at the very least, we can assume the Vikings will hold out Dalvin Cook in preparation for the playoffs, and it won’t be a shock if a few others get a chance to heal up before Minnesota hits the road for what is now appearing likely to be a game at the Superdome in the first round of the playoffs.

The Matchup ::

  • Only two games on the Main Slate carry a lower Over/Under than the opening line for Bears at Vikings of 41.5; both of these defenses rank top eight in opponent points per game; when these teams played earlier in the year, the Bears won 16-6
  • The Vikings have only five games this year in which they have scored 20 or fewer points; they also have five games this year in which they have scored 30+
  • The Bears have, incredibly, managed to score 20 or fewer points in 10 of 15 games, including back-to-back games following a two-game stretch in which they looked competent; the Bears have scored 16 or fewer points in more than half their games
  • The Broncos are the only team that has allowed a lower red zone touchdown rate than the Vikings
  • The Bears rank 22nd in red zone touchdown rate on offense
  • Minnesota has allowed the eighth most catches and the sixth most touchdowns to wide receivers, though they rank middle of the pack in yards
  • Allen Robinson has double-digit targets in four of his last five games, after seeing double-digits in only two of the first 10; only eight players have more targets in the red zone than Robinson, and only two have more targets inside the 10
  • In his last eight games, Anthony Miller has target counts of 9 // 11 // 13 // 15, and also has target counts of 1 // 2 // 2 // 4
  • In his last eight games, Mitchell Trubisky has yardage totals of 244 // 278 // 334 // 338, and also has yardage totals of 125 // 157 // 173 // 190
  • Trubisky played only two pass defenses in that stretch that rank top 11 in DVOA against the pass, going for 190 (LAR :: 11) and 157 (KC :: 6) yards
  • The Vikings rank eighth in DVOA against the pass

The Game ::

Since writing up the bullet points above, the Over/Under on this game has plunged to 37.0, with the Vikings having zero reason to risk the health of Dalvin Cook // Alexander Mattison in a meaningless game one week before they will have to lean on them in the playoffs (and with bettors assuming the obvious: that Kirk Cousins, Stefon Diggs, and Adam Thielen will not play the entire game when a week of “getting healthy” would do a whole lot more for this team). On a 15-game slate, it’s unlikely any player from the Vikings provides the sort of score you will need for a winning Week 17 roster — with uncertain playing time on the Vikings’ stars (in what would be a matchup downgrade even if we knew we were getting a full complement of fully-engaged snaps), and with a backfield that looks messy after Mike Boone bombed on Monday night and ended up playing only 18 of 54 snaps before handing over the reins to long-since-failed second round pick Ameer Abdullah.

This game should have a “get it over with” feel on the Vikings’ side, with Cousins // Diggs // Thielen carrying risk and functioning as a bet you should only make if you believe you can capture slate-winning upside at rock-bottom ownership. (Note: the rock-bottom ownership component is highly likely to be in place, so it’s basically about chasing here only if you want to make a bet that the Vikings play this game to win and are able to break through a challenging matchup against the Bears.) The backfield requires a little more attention, as pricing was set before Abdullah ascended to what might be the lead role on this offense — though that pricing still has him up to “backup” status, instead of fourth-string (minimum-priced) status, as FanDuel/DraftKings were both out in front of this situation at the beginning of the week. Assuming Mattison misses and we get no further news here, Abdullah “could” be in line for 15 to 20 carries and three or four catches (Abdullah had six catches in comeback mode Monday night, but Cook himself has only five games north of four catches this year), against a Bears defense that appears likely to still be without Akiem Hicks, making this a middling running back matchup (albeit in a game with low scoring expectations). If we get news that Abdullah will remain in a dominant role, we can switch from pencil to pen in marking him down for those 15 to 20 carries and three to four catches — with his talent limitations and the game environment still giving him a moderate raw score projection, but making him a viable salary saver for role-driven production.

The Bears have been wildly ineffective running the ball over the last two months, which has led to them leaning more heavily on Mitchell Trubisky than they would probably prefer — with Mitch throwing the ball 38+ times in four of his last six games. It’s almost impossible to predict which version of this offense will show up on a given week, but Mitch has shown an ability to play “point guard” in this offense when faith is shown in him; and while higher-scoring contests are generally required for him to post a slate-winning score, it’s not outside the realm of reasonable possibilities that he could put together a nice effort against a Vikings team that may already have its attention turned toward the playoffs — perhaps even using this practice week to focus more on self-scouting (the way smart teams use a first-round bye in the playoffs) than on preparing specifically for a Week 17 opponent they already know decently well. If going here, you’ll capture low ownership, as the Over/Under should chase away the field — and you’ll have a clear stacking partner with Allen Robinson seeing double-digit looks in four of his last five games. Anthony Miller also has a shot at seeing his targets bounce back up in this spot if you wanted to go even further off the board.

JM’s Interpretation ::

I don’t like raw expectations on Abdullah (even Cook himself has posted only a middling raw score in five of his last six games), and I could see him turning into chalk this week if news emerges to support him as the lead back. With that said, I’ll be keeping him in consideration until I have a complete feel for how pricing shakes out on this slate, as a lead back at a low price is always a good way to make other pieces fit. Outside of Abdullah, of course, I’ll be planning to leave the Vikings alone.

I’ll probably end up leaving the Bears’ side alone as well — though this has less to do with the setup and more to do with the inexplicable pricing, with Robinson getting no discount for the offense he’s attached to, and with Miller priced up for his hot stretch of production. I do like Mitch’s chances of a strong game compared to what would be expected from this Over/Under, however, and I certainly wouldn’t be averse to the idea of chasing a few Bears stacks in large-field play — knowing that ownership here will be ultra-low, and that it’s not impossible for Mitch/A-Rob or Mitch/Miller to provide genuine upside to close out the year.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 29th 1:00pm Eastern

Dolphins (
14) at

Patriots (
31)

Over/Under 45.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Dolphins Run D
32nd DVOA/19th Yards allowed per carry
Patriots Run O
3rd DVOA/4th Yards per carry
Dolphins Pass D
10th DVOA/16th Yards allowed per pass
Patriots Pass O
27th DVOA/28th Yards per pass
Patriots Run D
18th DVOA/27th Yards allowed per carry
Dolphins Run O
23rd DVOA/22nd Yards per carry
Patriots Pass D
17th DVOA/11th Yards allowed per pass
Dolphins Pass O
11th DVOA/17th Yards per pass

The Patriots need a win in order to ensure a first-round bye, while the Dolphins should continue playing their “starters.” Expectations are for no notable playing time shifts.

The Matchup ::

  • The Dolphins offense ranks 29th in DVOA and will be taking on the number 1 DVOA defense, on the road
  • Miami passes the ball at the second highest rate in the league
  • New England is shaving 12.2% off the league-average catch rate (the best mark in the league)
  • New England ranks first in DVOA against the pass, second in yards allowed per pass attempt, and first in lowest opponent passer rating (by, like, a mile), while allowing the fewest fantasy points per game to quarterbacks
  • The Patriots have allowed only 11 touchdowns through the air to quarterbacks
  • The Dolphins have allowed 37 passing touchdowns to quarterbacks — the most in the league
  • The Dolphins have also allowed the second most RB rushing yards and the fifth most running back touchdowns
  • The Patriots have run the ball on over 50% of their plays in back-to-back weeks (only Baltimore has run the ball on more than 50% of plays this season)
  • The Patriots played the Bengals and Bills in those games (Cincy faces the highest opponent rush play rate in the league — and while the Bills rank 26th in opponent rush play rate, they are weaker on the ground than through the air); the Dolphins face the second highest opponent rush play rate in the league
  • The Dolphins have allowed only the 13th most receptions to wide receivers, but they have allowed the most touchdowns and the fifth most yards
  • With Edelman banged up (and missing some time as he got checked for a concussion), the Patriots gave him only 52 out of 73 snaps last week, while the rest of the Pats’ receivers looked like this :: Mohamed Sanu — 70 // N’Keal Harry — 37 // Jakobi Meyers 14 // Phillip Dorsett 5
  • The Dolphins have allowed 14 pass catchers (13 wide receivers) to go for 80+ yards and a touchdown (with nine of those players going for 100+ and a touchdown)
  • The Patriots // Bengals // Ravens // Steelers // Chargers // 49ers // Chiefs have combined to allow only nine WRs to go for 100+ yards and a touchdown
  • The Patriots rank fourth in time of possession
  • The Dolphins rank 30th in time of possession

The Game ::

One of the reasons why the focus in the fantasy community on “measurables” (height // weight // speed // etc.) in assessing matchups (and the viability of fantasy plays) is so funny is because the overwhelming majority of success (or lack thereof) in football is built around the mental aspect of the game. And one of the more important “mental aspects” is not only understanding an opponent’s tendencies, but is also self-scouting to understand your own tendencies, strengths, weaknesses, etc., in order to understand how an opposing coach is likeliest to attack you (this goes not only for coaches, but for players as well). This is part of the reason we see coaches like Sean Payton, John Harbaugh, Andy Reid, and Bill Belichick (among others) continue to have success over time — with various personnel — while other coaches flame out; and this is also one of the reasons why we should never assume we 100% know what the Patriots are going to do, as they are A) one of the most opponent-specific teams, and are B) one of the great “tendency breakers” in the NFL: doing something different from what their opponents expect. That needs to be said up front in this spot, because the way the Patriots appear likeliest to attack in this spot is overwhelmingly straightforward.

As laid out in the Matchup section above, the Patriots have been run-heavy the last couple weeks; and as we have known throughout the season: there are no bad matchups against the Dolphins, only the potential for bad volume. No matter how hard this team plays and how competitive they have remained “for their talent level” (this is, intentionally, the worst roster in football, and it’s literally not close — and yet, they have more wins than three other teams), New England should be able to succeed in whatever way they choose to attack. And given that the Patriots need a win in this spot and need to continue sharpening the area of their game that is likeliest to be their best path to a win in both of their likely games on the AFC side of the bracket (home against the Chiefs; on the road against the Ravens — both of whom are much better to attack on the ground than through the air), it would not only make quite a bit of sense for the Patriots to continue leaning this direction, but it would also make sense that this would not be the spot where the Pats would feel the need to “break tendencies” in order to throw off Miami.

In these two run-heavy games, Sony Michel has carry counts of 19 and 21; and while he has still not topped 100 yards in a game this year, both he and the Patriots rushing attack have looked better in recent weeks, while the Dolphins have allowed seven different running backs to top 100 yards against them. (While I’m on record as not quite believing in PFF grades as much as some others do, it’s also worth noting that Michel notched the second highest PFF grade on the Patriots’ offense last week.) Behind Michel, Rex Burkhead mixed in for 19 snaps last week and saw nine touches (after touch counts of 7 // 9 the previous two weeks), while James White has seen his role dry up a bit in this run-heavy stretch, with 13 total touches across the last two weeks after seeing 33 combined touches across the previous two weeks.

As noted last week before Tyler Boyd added to the list (and as laid out in the Matchup section above) :: the Dolphins have allowed 14 pass catchers (13 wide receivers) to go for 80+ yards and a touchdown (with nine of those players going for 100+ and a touchdown), which keeps pass catchers in the mix against the Dolphins even when teams are going run-heavy in this spot (no team has faced more running back rush attempts than Miami this year), with Julian Edelman the player who is likeliest to take advantage. There is a thought, however, that one of the reasons the Patriots have gone so run-heavy the last couple weeks is because of how banged-up Edelman is — and this thought is supported by the fact that he has seen 11 total targets the last two weeks, after a stretch of eight consecutive games with double-digit looks. With Edelman also missing 46 snaps over the last two weeks, it’s not crazy to bump up his risk factor a bit in this spot — making him more boom/bust than lock-and-load.

Working behind Edelman (with snap counts laid out above) have been Mohamed Sanu // N’Keal Harry // Jakobi Meyers — with Sanu hauling in only five of 13 targets the last two weeks (for 37 yards, no less), and with Harry seeing only seven total looks (but looking more and more comfortable when they use him). The Patriots are making it a point to involve Harry in the offense of late (he also has four carries for 40 yards the last two weeks), and he’s the player likelier to reach some sort of notable ceiling here behind Edelman with his more explosive skill set.

On the Dolphins’ side, of course, you’re looking at a team that is likely to be chasing points against a defense that has allowed zero slate-breaking stat lines this year, putting you in a position where the sub-1% ownership is the only clear reason for scraping around here on a 15-game slate. If choosing to go to one of these Dolphins players in tourneys for some reason, of course, your best bet is to A) make sure you are targeting what might turn into slate-breaking upside, and B) make sure you stabilize the rest of your roster by taking fairly rock-solid plays, so that on the off chance you hit on your long-shot bet, it doesn’t go to waste.

JM’s Interpretation ::

On the Patriots’ side, I’m intrigued by Michel (on DraftKings in particular, his price is a bit absurd — and while I don’t typically lean toward yardage-and-touchdown backs, the upside is high enough that I’ll expect to mix him in as a sort of second-level piece :: not a core guy, but likely a guy I’ll more than just “sprinkle in”), while I’m also intrigued by the passing attack. As I note seemingly every week in this matchup: the Dolphins just allow too many wide receivers to pop off against them for me to not consider these plays. The trouble is, Edelman comes with some risk at his price as a guy who typically needs volume and has some question marks there, while the others on this squad are a bit more thin. If I go here, I may take a shot on Harry for the upside — especially as he’s cheap enough to not kill you if he misses.

As for the Dolphins: it probably goes without saying, but I won’t be going here myself. There are 30 teams playing on this slate, and I’ll expect I can find higher scores (with fewer duds) in other spots.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 29th 4:25pm Eastern

Steelers (
17.75) at

Ravens (
16.75)

Over/Under 34.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Steelers Run D
1st DVOA/2nd Yards allowed per carry
Ravens Run O
5th DVOA/1st Yards per carry
Steelers Pass D
8th DVOA/6th Yards allowed per pass
Ravens Pass O
19th DVOA/31st Yards per pass
Ravens Run D
2nd DVOA/11th Yards allowed per carry
Steelers Run O
14th DVOA/11th Yards per carry
Ravens Pass D
7th DVOA/14th Yards allowed per pass
Steelers Pass O
12th DVOA/23rd Yards per pass

The Steelers have everything to play for in this spot, as a win and a Titans loss will get them into the playoffs, while the Ravens have nothing to play for and have already made it known they plan to rest key starters. When starters are resting, there is always some level of attention we need to give to those spots to decide if the cheaper prices on the backups-turned-starters make them worthwhile plays. This setup will aim to make things easy on us with the Ravens taking on the top five defense of the Steelers.

The Matchup ::

  • Mark Ingram and Lamar Jackson will not be playing in this game for the Ravens (alongside a few other starters on the Ravens’ offense, presumably); Robert Griffin III, Gus Edwards, and company will take on a Steelers defense that ranks third in defensive DVOA (fifth against the pass, third against the run), and that needs a win and a Titans loss in order to sneak into the playoffs (where they would likely have the pleasure of getting decked in the first round at Arrowhead)
  • The Steelers have allowed the fourth fewest yards per game and the fourth fewest points per game
  • Baltimore has allowed the fifth fewest yards and the third fewest points
  • With only 53 men on an NFL roster (including specialists), it’s impossible for an NFL team to come close to resting all of its players — especially given that most teams still use almost all 45 active players (besides the backup quarterback) on game-day, with rotations and various packages and responsibilities; the Ravens’ defense should still be “related to” their typical elite selves
  • Devlin Hodges will start this week after getting benched last week and being forced to return to the field once Mason Rudolph was injured
  • Hodges’ best game came against Cleveland, when he threw for 212 yards, one touchdown, and one interception
  • Only the Jets and Redskins have fewer yards per game than the Steelers
  • Only six teams have fewer points per game than the Steelers
  • The Steelers rank 30th in drive success rate on offense, while their offensive line ranks 28th in adjusted line yards
  • Only three teams are averaging fewer yards per play than Pittsburgh this year

The Game ::

One of the more interesting moves made in the NFL last year was the Ravens’ decision to carry three quarterbacks on their roster — with Robert Griffin III joining Lamar Jackson as the backups for Joe Flacco. Now that we have seen just how fully the Ravens have built their offense around the unique strengths of Lamar Jackson, however, that move makes quite a bit more sense, as RGIII should be able to step in and run a lot of the same concepts and elements that this team has built for their star sophomore QB. Obviously, there is some guesswork involved here, but it’s likely we see “more of the same” — with the Ravens leaning as run-heavy as any team in the league, and with this run scheme built around RGIII and Gus Edwards in place of Lamar and Ingram. As we saw last year during the stretch run, the Ravens don’t go out of their way to involve Gus Gus in the pass game (or, rather: the Ravens go out of their way to not involve Gus Gus in the pass game), which should make him a yardage-and-touchdown complement to Justice Hill. Unfortunately, all of these pieces will be taking on a Steelers defense that ranks top five in DVOA against both the run and the pass, and that has allowed the fewest notable stat lines in the NFL this year, with a grand total of one moderately usable DFS score produced against them this season (a 5-101-1 line by Tyler Boyd that included a downfield jump ball to boost his yardage total). Lamar had his worst game of the season in this matchup, producing only 161 passing yards and a touchdown (with three interceptions) while adding 70 yards and no scores on the ground (“good for” a fantasy score of 14.4). A bet on this offense in this spot is a bet on the Ravens’ second-level options breaking through in a tough spot.

The Over/Under in this game currently sits at only 37.5, with the Steelers’ depressingly inept offense stuck taking on what should still be a fairly strong (and aggressive) Baltimore defense that would love to prevent their division rival from making the playoffs. On a 15-game slate, you can do a whole lot better than this spot on paper, making a bet on this offense a bet on slate-breaking production emerging from an unlikely spot. As always in this sort of setup: the focus should tilt toward players who can “do it all on one play” — though unfortunately (as noted throughout the last couple months), this doesn’t really narrow things down much further for us, as JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington, and Diontae Johnson all have an ability to take a short pass to the house (while the Steelers are likely to lean on their ineffective run game for as long s they can). Pittsburgh produced strong fantasy scores for Diontae against both Arizona and the Jets (obviously softer pass game matchups than they have in this spot), while his recent target counts of 8 // 7 // 9 point to him as the likeliest player to hit if you’re wanting to chase in this spot.

JM’s Interpretation ::

Both defenses are obviously viable in this spot, though outside of that, I expect to be leaving this game alone myself, with so many other games available in so many other spots with higher scoring expectations, better offenses, and worse defenses. If you’re wanting to build around this game, however, building for the Steelers to break through against a not-fully-stocked Ravens defense is your likeliest path to success, with a second-tier bet available on the Ravens racking up some production in response.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 29th 4:25pm Eastern

Eagles (
24) at

Giants (
20.5)

Over/Under 44.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Eagles Run D
15th DVOA/24th Yards allowed per carry
Giants Run O
30th DVOA/27th Yards per carry
Eagles Pass D
29th DVOA/7th Yards allowed per pass
Giants Pass O
29th DVOA/30th Yards per pass
Giants Run D
15th DVOA/8th Yards allowed per carry
Eagles Run O
25th DVOA/15th Yards per carry
Giants Pass D
23rd DVOA/21st Yards allowed per pass
Eagles Pass O
29th DVOA/24th Yards per pass

The Eagles simply need to win this game in order to lock up an unlikely playoff berth, while the Giants have been playing hard and will be looking to close this season strong. There is no reason to expect anything but “normal play” from both sides here.

The Matchup ::

  • The Giants quietly rank eighth in DVOA against the run on defense, while ranking 30th against the pass; New York boosts aDOT by 7.7%, catch rate by 5.5%, and YAC/r by 3.2%; the Giants have allowed eight wide receivers to top 100 yards against them this season (while six scored one or more touchdowns to go with their 100-yard effort)
  • The Giants have allowed another four pass catchers to go for 64+ yards and two touchdowns
  • Zach Ertz was one of these players, going 9-91-2 when these teams met in Week 14
  • Before missing a large chunk of the first half with a rib injury last week and then playing through obvious pain the rest of the way, Ertz had seen 10 or more targets in five of six games, while topping 90 yards four times in that stretch and hitting at least nine receptions four times
  • With Ertz banged up last week, Dallas Goedert saw 12 targets and went 9-91-1
  • Greg Ward, Dallas Goedert, and Zach Ertz have combined for 76 targets across the Eagles’ last three games; Josh Perkins, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, and Robert Davis have combined for 15 targets in this stretch
  • Darius Slayton played only 20 of 70 snaps last week for the Giants, and because the fantasy news community is somewhat lazy, most outlets seem confused by this and are treating it as though Slayton is simply losing his role now that Golden Tate and Sterling Shepard are both healthy (because that would explain Cody Latimer playing 41 snaps last week)
  • Darius Slayton sustained a knee injury last Sunday and spent much of the game on the sidelines due to that issue; before that, Slayton had played all but 33 snaps across his previous three games, seeing target counts of 9 // 8 // 3
  • Philly has knocked 4.4% off the league-average catch rate this season, but has boosted aDOT by 7.7%
  • Tate and Shepard have interchangeable aDOTs of 9.4 and 9.5, respectively
  • Slayton has the 13th deepest aDOT in the league at 14.2
  • Daniel Jones had his third career game last week of 4+ touchdown passes, one week after notching his sixth career game of one touchdown pass
  • Jones has only two games that have finished in between those two marks
  • Saquon Barkley has 26+ touches in back-to-back games after failing to go for 26+ in all but one other game this year
  • The Eagles have faced the fourth fewest rush attempts in the league this year
  • In two games against the Eagles last year, Saquon was held to only 13 carries each time
  • He topped 100 yards on the ground in each of those games

The Game ::

The Eagles need to win this game in order to secure a playoff spot, but with this game on the road (and with this injury-wrecked version of the Eagles not separated from the Giants by all that much on the field), it wouldn’t be a surprise if this game stays close — same as the Week 14 game in which the Giants held a 17-3 lead at halftime and the Eagles needed overtime in order to conquer Eli Manning. With Daniel Jones under center for New York, this matchup gets even “tougher.”

More than likely, this game will open somewhat slowly, as the Eagles poke and prod to see where they can best exploit their division rival — but given how much better the Giants have been this year at stopping the run than the pass, volume should eventually begin tilting that direction for Philly, and we should once again see volume pile up on the remaining Philly pass catchers.

This group of “remaining Philly pass catchers” took a further hit last week when Zach Ertz missed a chunk of the first half with a rib injury before appearing to be in pain the rest of the way (while turning in a crushingly ineffective outing). Ertz has missed practice so far this week, but given the magnitude of this game (and the fact that rib injuries are generally an issue of pain management), we should expect him to be on the field on Sunday, while his effectiveness/usage will be a serious question mark. While the ceiling is still there any time Ertz is on the field, he should be considered more risky this week than his name and typical role would suggest.

Philly continued to ignore J.J. Arcega-Whiteside and Robert Davis last week while pouring volume into the laps of Dallas Goedert (12 targets), Miles Sanders (20 carries, six targets), Boston Scott (three carries, six targets), and Greg Ward (five targets). If hoping to target these guys this week, it would be optimal for Ertz to play, as an inactive Ertz would raise ownership across the board here, while expectations may not be too different on these guys even if Ertz is out there.

Goedert and Ward should be the “downfield” focal points for this group (with Goedert primarily working the short areas of the field and Ward working the short/intermediate) — and while Ward saw only five looks a week ago, we should keep in mind A) his nine targets in Week 15, and B) his Week 16 opponent, the Dallas Cowboys, who have faced the seventh fewest wide receiver targets in the league. The Giants rank middle of the pack in wide receiver targets faced and are boosting catch rate, aDOT, and YAC/r, while allowing the fourth most yards per pass attempt in the league, the third most wide receiver yards, and the second most wide receiver touchdowns.

The backfield is a bit more convoluted, as Jordan Howard is set to return this week — and while Doug Pederson has said he plans to continue riding the hot hand with Miles Sanders (and has said that Scott has earned the right to remain involved), prices have risen for these two based off their roles over the last few weeks, while Howard is all but guaranteed to see at least a handful of touches. Pederson’s comments also leave the door open for Howard’s role to expand if he happens to prove to have the “hot hand” this week. Sanders’ risk factor should be bumped up a bit as a “bet on talent-driven ceiling (and hope for role to remain the same)” piece, while Scott is merely a dart throw if Howard gets cleared.

The Giants will likely allow the Eagles to dictate the way this game plays out — with some level of contentment to run Saquon into the brick wall of the Eagles’ front until scoring takes off — and once scoring does begin to track upward, there is the added complication of the short-area roles carried by Sterling Shepard, Golden Tate, and Kaden Smith — roles that require either heavy volume or busted plays for true, slate-breaking upside. Shepard has reached that level once this year, against the early-season Bucs. Tate has come close to that level twice this year: on a long play against the Patriots, and on a long play against the Jets. Smith has approached that level once, on only 35 yards last week in a two-touchdown game. None of these guys (from Saquon down) can be completely wiped off the list, but all are somewhat speculative and are best used as part of Game Environment bets instead of as one-off pieces; one-off bets on these guys is little more than hoping to get lucky.

The one place where a non-game-environment bet makes sense on paper for the Giants is Darius Slayton (who not only can score from anywhere on the field, but who also has three multi-touchdown games — to go with two games of 120+ yards), against a Philly defense that knocks nearly 5% off the league-average catch rate and is right around the league average in YAC/r allowed, but that boosts aDOT by over 7%. Unfortunately, the knee issue that sidelined Slayton for a large chunk of last week’s game has limited him in practice this week, making him even more boom/bust than his skill set already causes him to be.

It’s likeliest that the value provided by the Eagles this week comes more in the form of “volume on cheap pieces” than in the form of actual elite production — which could make it difficult for the underdog, higher-priced, more spread-the-wealth Giants to provide much beyond Floor Value themselves (again: making this team better suited to game stacks than to one-off plays), but if going here, your best bet is to choose a player on whom you expect volume to concentrate the most, or to choose a player you think can hit a couple big plays, and to see what happens from there.

JM’s Interpretation ::

The Eagles have been a somewhat central focus across my builds over the last few weeks, as they have been one of the few underpriced offenses available at this point in the year, and fairly elite price-considered production has been here for the taking in one spot or another week in and week out. In a game the Eagles need to win, against the weak defense of the Giants, I expect to once again have interest — with Goedert and Ward my likeliest focal points, and with a bit of hedge exposure potentially thrown around from there. So far, it’s been my hedge exposure on the Eagles that has paid off the most handsomely (which obviously nudges me to continue expanding beyond the guys who stand out the most on paper), but Ward and Goedert definitely stand out the most this week.

On the other side of this game, I don’t expect to have dedicated exposure to the Giants, but I won’t be surprised to end up with some Game Environment bets here. One thing I was kicking myself over last week was the fact that I mentioned (about five or six times) that the best way to gain an edge through the Giants/Redskins game was by betting on explosive pieces — with Saquon, Slayton, and McLaurin highlighted each time; and yet, it wasn’t until Saturday night that I even started considering Daniel Jones as part of that “explosive pieces” group, and I didn’t end up pulling the trigger on Jones on any rosters. Jones has shown all year that he has a wide range of outcomes, but part of that range has been three games already of four or more touchdowns; and if you end up building a roster or two around this Game Environment, he’s also a guy to keep in mind.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 29th 4:25pm Eastern

WFT (
17) at

Cowboys (
30)

Over/Under 47.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Washington Run D
17th DVOA/17th Yards allowed per carry
Cowboys Run O
18th DVOA/24th Yards per carry
Washington Pass D
6th DVOA/1st Yards allowed per pass
Cowboys Pass O
22nd DVOA/1st Yards per pass
Cowboys Run D
29th DVOA/32nd Yards allowed per carry
Washington Run O
21st DVOA/25th Yards per carry
Cowboys Pass D
21st DVOA/12th Yards allowed per pass
Washington Pass O
32nd DVOA/29th Yards per pass

The Redskins have nothing to play for (and haven’t for a long time), while the Cowboys need a win and a Philly loss to miraculously right the ship on what will otherwise go down as an embarrassing and miserable season. We should see max effort from both teams in this game.

The Matchup ::

  • Dak Prescott’s shoulder appeared to be an issue after all last week, as his downfield throws often died on him, and he managed to connect with Amari Cooper only four times (for 24 yards) in spite of feeding him 12 targets — with each of Amari’s catches going for exactly six yards
  • Amari has averaged 14.6 yards per catch on the season, including 16.2 yards per catch at home
  • The Cowboys have averaged 21 points per game on the road this year, compared to 30 points per game at home
  • No team in the NFL has picked up more yards per game than the Cowboys, but seven teams have picked up more points per game
  • Washington ranks bottom nine in both yards allowed per game and points allowed per game, while also ranking bottom nine in opponent red zone touchdown rate
  • Only two teams have allowed more rushing yards to running backs than the Redskins, and only three teams have allowed more receiving yards to running backs, while six different running backs have gone for 95+ rushing yards and at least one touchdown in this matchup
  • Dallas has thrown the ball on 60.69% of plays on the road, but this has dipped to 56.24% at home
  • Case Keenum struggled this year against Minnesota and San Francisco, while hitting Philadelphia for 380 yards and three touchdowns, Chicago for 332 yards and two touchdowns, and the Cowboys and Dolphins for two touchdowns apiece
  • In the games against Philly, Dallas, Chicago, and Miami (the first four games Keenum and Terry McLaurin played together), MClaurin went 5-125-1 // 5-62-1 // 6-70-1 // 4-100-2
  • McLaurin is only 81 yards shy of notching 1000 receiving yards in his rookie year
  • McLaurin entered the concussion protocol at the front end of this week and will be in a race against time to get cleared for this game
  • Steven Sims has 28 targets and three touchdowns across the last three weeks
  • Sims has turned these 28 targets into only 149 yards
  • The Cowboys have allowed only two wide receivers to top 100 yards against them this year

The Game ::

In this game that the Cowboys need to win in order to keep their last-gasp hopes of a playoff appearance alive (and that the Washington players and coaches will be trying to win, while the Washington organization will be crossing its fingers and hoping for a loss that will keep them in prime draft position), the complexion will be heavily dictated by injuries.

We’ll start on the Washington side of the ball, where gunslinger Case Keenum will try to wrestle with Bill Callahan’s tendencies toward conservative play — but where he will only have a truly realistic shot at pulling off fireworks if Terry McLaurin is cleared from his concussion in time for this contest. As of Thursday, McLaurin is looking unlikely to play, which would leave Keenum with top weapons of Adrian Peterson and a short-area target in Steven Sims — likely leading to a “conservative until absolutely forced out of it” approach.

A McLaurin absence, of course, would play in favor of the Cowboys’ injury situation, where Dak Prescott has not thrown a football in practice in two weeks, with the Cowboys tentatively expecting him to pick up the ball and toss it around a bit on Friday for the first time. Last week, Dak had no zip on his downfield throws — looking clearly hampered; and if Washington is playing this game with their typical, conservative approach, it will open a clear path for the Cowboys to turn Ezekiel Elliott into the focal point of their offense (barring a complete coaching bomb) against a Washington team that has ranked bottom four this year in yards allowed to running backs both on the ground and through the air. Add it all up, and if McLaurin misses this game, Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup become quite a bit more speculative (while even making Peterson slightly viable as a yardage-and-touchdown back with an outside shot at relevance), as it would be difficult for Washington to play anything but Callahan Ball, and this would make it much easier for the Cowboys to hide Dak’s injury and ride Zeke to victory.

On the flip side of all this :: if McLaurin does get cleared for this game, it could set up a situation in which the Cowboys try to tilt toward the run, but McLaurin hits on a downfield play or two that forces Dallas to get more aggressive. Realistically, the likeliest scenario even in this situation is that Dallas controls the game enough to lean on the run regardless, but there is an interesting setup to consider here in which McLaurin and the Dallas passing attack could be bet on as complementing components. In this scenario, Amari/Gallup would still come with the risk associated with Dak, but both would be more viable, while Zeke would still be the likeliest bet on the Cowboys to hit, but with a slim chance that his usage wouldn’t be there to the level it should be.

JM’s Interpretation ::

Kellen Moore is an excellent play designer, but he still hasn’t learned how to “win” — designing a game plan and calling the plays that will best equip his team to triumph in a particular game environment; and as such, there is at least some level of risk here that Dallas idiotically tries to win through Dak/Amari/Gallup even without game flow forcing them to do so. That’s really the biggest risk factor for Zeke, while the likeliest scenario here still has the Cowboys’ star back picking up 24+ touches and having clear paths to a strong game. Zeke’s price is high enough that he’s unlikely to be a “must have” piece even if he hits, but he’s a solid play this week if salary works to fit him.

The Dallas passing attack comes with all sorts of risk with Dak’s injury; and the matchup is more difficult than the one the Cowboys have on the ground; and game flow will likely tilt toward the run. But there is plenty of upside on these individual pieces if you want to go off the board, or if you load up heavily enough on Zeke that you end up wanting to hedge.

Washington is tougher to bet on, as elite scores so rarely emerge from this team; but McLaurin is obviously viable if he plays, while Peterson will have an outside shot at closing out the season strong as the Cowboys lean on the run and the game stays close enough for Callahan to do the same.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 29th 4:25pm Eastern

Titans (
26.5) at

Texans (
16.5)

Over/Under 43.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Titans Run D
16th DVOA/23rd Yards allowed per carry
Texans Run O
23rd DVOA/31st Yards per carry
Titans Pass D
24th DVOA/26th Yards allowed per pass
Texans Pass O
8th DVOA/4th Yards per pass
Texans Run D
23rd DVOA/31st Yards allowed per carry
Titans Run O
11th DVOA/5th Yards per carry
Texans Pass D
8th DVOA/22nd Yards allowed per pass
Titans Pass O
2nd DVOA/16th Yards per pass

The Titans have everything to play for, as they are in a “win and in” setup in this spot, while the Texans have very little to play for (they could move from the 4 seed to the 3 seed with a win and an unlikely Chiefs loss — though the edge there is negligible compared to the value of resting up a player in Deshaun Watson who injured his ankle last week and needs to be healthy for the Texans to have a chance in the tournament). Unfortunately, the Texans have said they plan to play starters in this one and try to win — creating a risk/reward setup against the beatable defense of the Titans. For what it’s worth, Vegas isn’t buying, with the Titans installed as 3.5 point favorites on the road.

The Matchup ::

  • Ryan Tannehill has played nine games as the Titans’ starter; in those nine games, he has topped 27 pass attempts only three times
  • One of those games was the Titans’ Week 15 loss to the Texans, in which Tanny threw the ball 36 times — his second most pass attempts of the season
  • Only six teams have run the ball at a higher rate than Tennessee
  • Only six teams have faced a higher pass play rate than Houston
  • Houston has allowed a stunning 13 pass catchers to go for at least 70 yards and a touchdown — with five going for 100+ and at least one touchdown
  • A.J. Brown went 8-114-1 in this matchup in Week 15
  • Houston is boosting aDOT by 5% and catch rate by 2%, but their biggest boost has come in the YAC department, where they are boosting the league-average YAC/r by nearly 14%
  • A.J. Brown ranks second in the NFL in YAC/r, at 8.5
  • Brown’s 13 targets against Houston were not only a season high, but they also marked the only time Brown has seen more than eight targets in a game; Brown has topped five targets only four times all year
  • I would dive into the Houston side, but you know what’s going on here: Will Fuller is going to miss, which means you could pencil in DeAndre Hopkins for a deeper aDOT and a nearly rock-solid projection of double-digit targets if you wanted to believe that the Texans will actually play their starters for the entirety of a meaningless Week 17 game
  • Because Bill O’Brien is the coach of the Texans (i.e., because Bill O’Brien is a bit of a dunce at times), it wouldn’t be a total shock if he holds true to his word here, if you want to build a few tourney rosters around this belief — though the edge gained would be minimal unless Hopkins/Watson put up monster games, as they are priced up for their name value and season-long production

The Game ::

With this game being played in the late slot on Sunday and Bill O’Brien holding his pocket threes close to the vest, the complexion of this game is nearly invisible at the moment — with even Deshaun Watson saying he has no idea if he is playing this week. Here’s what we know: if the Chiefs win early in the day against the Chargers (likely), the Texans cannot improve their seeding at all; while if the Chiefs somehow lose early in the day, the Texans can move from the four seed to the three seed with a win…which would actually put them at risk of having to play the Titans for the third time in four weeks should the Steelers also lose in the late slot against the Ravens (as the Texans would improve to the three seed, but the Titans would still land in the playoffs as the six seed and would stay in Houston to hit this same matchup in “Week 18” — barring an alternate scenario in which Oakland sneaks in instead). The interesting thing, however, is that you wouldn’t typically force your most important players to prepare for a Week 17 game and then let them know a half hour before kickoff, “Hey, the Chiefs are about to win, so we’re going to sit you” — which means that unless O’Brien is even more of a stranger to logic and clear-headed thought processes than we already know him to be, he’ll likely decide in advance of Sunday whether or not Watson // DeAndre Hopkins // etc. will play (and how much they will play), and there is a chance this information will leak out to the public. If none of that ends up being the case :: the Titans — as we are well aware by now — are best attacked through the air; and with Will Fuller set to miss this game regardless, Hopkins would see a larger target share and more downfield work if he were to play the entire game. It would also be smartest to assume that even if Watson and Hopkins start this game, they will not finish it, so both of these players should be considered “high-risk plays, with some outside potential for high reward.” (And honestly, this is how these plays are best viewed even if word comes out before Sunday that these guys are expected to be a full-go, as there will still be risk that this is simply the word being leaked to the public/Titans, and that neither guy will actually play this game in its entirety.) To put all that another way: the Texans will either be an offense of backups-mixed-with-starters against a strong Tennessee team fighting for their playoff lives (which would make anyone on the field little more than a dart throw), or they will be starters who will be at serious risk of not playing the entire game (which would also make anyone on the field little more than a dart throw).

The area that is actually impacted more heavily by all this is the Titans’ side of the ball, where Derrick Henry will be back this week against a Houston team that is facing the seventh highest opponent pass play rate in the league, but that is more “average” than “elite” against the run — allowing 4.4 yards per carry to running backs while ranking 13th in DVOA against the run. If Watson and Hopkins start this game and are “expected” to play for the entirety of this contest, the risk factor on Henry needs to be bumped up a small amount as well (while A.J. Brown will become more viable), while a situation in which the Texans’ stars appear more likely to be rested would open the door for Henry to bulldoze his team into the final spot in the playoffs (and would give us the best bracket of six teams we could hope for on this side of the NFL tourney).

Regardless of the way in which all these elements turn out, Henry should be considered an ultra-expensive yardage-and-touchdown back (a shame, given that Houston has also allowed the most receiving yards to running backs) — and while his status as such gives him fewer paths to a slate-breaking score (while keeping his floor lower than we would love), he would also qualify as one of the best bets for yards and touchdowns among backs with one-dimensional roles.

Behind Henry, the Titans are trying to limit passing volume — which leaves a pair of setups to chase if you are wanting to go to this side of the ball:

A) You could chase a similar setup to the one the Titans had the last time these teams played, in whichRyan Tannehill ended up throwing the ball 36 times (as laid out above) and volume is available on Tennessee pass catchers.

B) You could chase a setup in which the Titans limit pass attempts (as they prefer to do), in which case you would be betting on explosiveness over volume in the Tennessee passing attack.

Given the Titans’ preference for a run-leaning approach and the uncertainty on playing time on the Texans’ side of the ball, that second track is the one likelier to hit — though the players who will see a volume boost here if the first approach ends up landing in our laps are the same players who are the better “explosiveness” bets, with Brown and (to a lesser extent) Jonnu Smith the players on the Titans who are best equipped to score from anywhere on the field. If rostering these players, it’s best to assume only four to seven targets for Brown and four to five targets for Jonnu (requiring each to do a lot with a little) — with anything over that a bonus. If wanting to expand into that first scenario (volume piling up), you should also consider bringing back any Brown and/or Jonnu rosters with a Houston pass catching piece as well, as we would likely need to see Houston put up points in order for volume to pile up on the Titans’ pass catching pieces. (Behind these two, things get pretty thin. I made a couple Corey Davis bets last week in the hopes A.J. would get checked by Lattimore, and we saw Tajae Sharpe hit instead — but the Sharpe production was more tied to Lattimore trailing A.J. than to any big change in role. It’s just dart throws behind the main pieces on this offense this week.)

JM’s Interpretation ::

I honestly won’t be surprised if I end up with no pieces from this game, as I won’t be taking the plunge on Houston players myself, while Henry (as a player uninvolved in the pass game) needs to do so much just to post the sort of score we really should be targeting at his price, and Brown and Jonnu just have so little guaranteed volume (with Brown priced up like a double-digit lock). With that said: we’ve probably all benefitted by this point from taking some pieces from this offense over the last month and a half, and I certainly don’t mind the idea of chasing here for one more week. For me, the best way to chase would be with a game stack that assumes idiocy on O’Brien’s part and bets on at least one Houston piece and at least two Tennessee pieces in the hopes of this game turning into a competitive, fairly high-scoring affair.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 29th 4:25pm Eastern

Colts (
23.5) at

Jaguars (
18)

Over/Under 41.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Colts Run D
6th DVOA/3rd Yards allowed per carry
Jaguars Run O
17th DVOA/30th Yards per carry
Colts Pass D
3rd DVOA/2nd Yards allowed per pass
Jaguars Pass O
21st DVOA/19th Yards per pass
Jaguars Run D
22nd DVOA/29th Yards allowed per carry
Colts Run O
22nd DVOA/28th Yards per carry
Jaguars Pass D
32nd DVOA/27th Yards allowed per pass
Colts Pass O
15th DVOA/10th Yards per pass

The Colts and Jaguars have nothing to play for. The Colts have shown no effort concerns, while the Jags have looked checked out for large stretches of the last month and a half.

The Matchup ::

  • Two weeks ago, the Jaguars went on the road and upset a Raiders team that would otherwise be on the verge of edging into the playoffs; their other six games in their last seven have led to losses of 23 // 20 // 22 // 17 // 35 // 12
  • The Colts were part of that string of big wins over the Jags, beating them by 20 in Week 11
  • Since that win, the Colts have been on a roller coaster, with point differentials in their next five games of -3 // -14 // -3 // -27 // +32
  • The Colts’ 38 points last week were aided by two punt return touchdowns, with Jacoby Brissett chipping in only 119 passing yards and no passing touchdowns (while adding a touchdown on the ground)
  • The Colts’ run-leaning tendencies (sixth highest rush play rate in the league) have made the Indy passing attack nearly impossible to bet on in DFS lately, with Brissett producing recent yardage totals through the air of 148 // 129 // 319 // 251 // 165 // 119
  • The Jags rank 31st in DVOA against the run and are allowing 5.33 yards per carry to enemy backs
  • Marlon Mack has played 56 snaps the last two weeks to 46 for Jordan Wilkins; the Colts are likely to be without All World guard Quenton Nelson (concussion) this week (which doesn’t change the fact that this is a tremendous matchup and that the Colts are a run-heavy team, but it is worth noting)
  • Gardner Minshew hasn’t been much better through the air lately than Brissett has been, with recent yardage totals of 162 // 201 // 181 since taking over the starting gig again; he does at least have four touchdowns and no interceptions in his last three games
  • Brissett has four passing touchdowns and three picks in his last six games combined

The Game ::

For the second year in a row, the Jaguars have defied analysis during the back half of the year, with this team (which still has a solid amount of talent) appearing to have completely mailed things in down the stretch. After opening the season with point totals of 26 // 12 // 20 // 26 // 27 // 6 // 27 // 29, the Jaguars have failed to top 20 points in a pathetic seven game stretch, with point totals of 3 // 13 // 20 // 11 // 10 // 20 // 12. The Jags have had a middling schedule — facing few bottom feeders, but also facing few elite teams — and yet, they have gotten run out of the building in almost all of their games over the last two months. The most frustrating component here is that the Jags have talent on offense, and they have a narrow distribution of touches (on largely-underpriced players) that has yielded quality fantasy production even with the ugliness — but because of how poorly they have played on the whole, duds have also been common where the elite scores don’t hit. Since this awful stretch began in Week 9 (with a 3-26 loss at the hands of the Texans that led to Gardner Minshew’s benching), we have one slate-winning score from Leonard Fournette, but no other quality scores from him; we have one slate-winning score from D.J. Chark, but only one other usable game from him; we have two really strong price-considered scores form Dede Westbrook, but four complete bombs in his remaining games; and we have one elite price-considered score from Chris Conley and a couple other solid price-considered outputs, but this has led to his price rising higher than his role really supports anymore. The raw ceiling on Fournette and Chark is elite enough (and the price-considered ceiling on Dede and Conley has proved elite enough) that this Jags team can help you win a tourney (I wouldn’t have picked up that Wildcat win in Week 12 without a willingness to expose myself to some of the Jaguars duds to end up with Fournette, and I’ve had a number of high finishes that have been aided by Conley), but in order to find these high scores, you basically guarantee that you are exposing yourself to some heavy dud potential as well, as these guys don’t land on “meh, it’s okay, they still produced solidly” scores when they miss, but instead land on total bombs. And with Doug Marrone all but certain to be fired before Sunday is even concluded, it’s not as if we should head into this game expecting these guys to suddenly turn it around. (A note to NFL teams :: if Bill Belichick is vouching for a coach and trying to get you to hire him, maybe assume that he has an ulterior motive. Harbaugh worked out for Baltimore, but at this point we should just consider this to have been a subversive strategy that backfired on the Hoodie, as guys like Greg Schiano and Doug Marrone have completely sunk their franchises.)

On the Colts’ side, of course, we have one of the best coaches in the NFL (who, as it turns out, also wouldn’t have his job without the help of the Hoodie — though in a totally different, much more roundabout way) who will be looking to close out a once-promising, now-lost season with a win over his checked-out division rival. The Colts should control this game — and barring a Jacksonville blowup, they should control this game on the ground: slowing down the pace, proactively limiting passing attempts, and apparently sharing the carry load between 1A Marlon Mack and 1B (more like 1C…) Jordan Wilkins (with Nyheim Hines soaking up work in the pass game).

If you want to bet on the likeliest way for this game to play out (the Jags failing to truly show up on offense, and the Colts winning this game), you should consider all Colts pass catchers to be merely moderately appealing floor plays with only thin paths available to ceiling, while the Colts’ backfield should also be considered somewhat thin — with the matchup boosting ceiling expectations for this unit across the board, but with Mack needing to do quite a bit on limited guaranteed volume (and little to no pass game work) in order to pay off his elevated price tag, and with the options behind Mack merely low-volume dart throws. (I imagine Mack will pick up traction this week in the industry due to the matchup, and he certainly can hit against the Jags; but also realize that he has three total catches in his last six games and hasn’t topped 16 carries in over a month, requiring some faith at his price tag given the sort of score he needs.) On the other side of this game in a likeliest scenario, the Jags will be able to somewhat ineffectively lean on Fournette against a Darius Leonard-led Colts defense that has allowed only middling production to the running back position while giving up the second fewest running back touchdowns in the league, while the Jags’ pass catchers will need to hit on uncertain volume with uncertain quarterback play.

If wanting to bet on an alternate scenario, you would want to bet on the Jags’ offense driving this game in a different direction — which would be likeliest to happen through Chark or Conley hitting on some big plays, which would lead to the Colts having to get more aggressive in response. In this scenario, T.Y. Hilton might finally post his second elite score of the year, and this game could become more of a fantasy-useful spot than the likeliest scenario sets it up to be.

JM’s Interpretation ::

I don’t expect to chase either of the backfields in this spot, as elite production has been really tough to come by against the Colts (and Fournette needs elite production at his price), while Mack is likelier than not to see his touches limited once again — and while his ceiling is high if things tilt the other way, I expect the field to be heavier on him than they should be for the likeliest outcome, which nudges me toward taking the lower-owned/likelier path. Furthermore, the sort of ceiling Mack has (barring an outlier game) is easy enough to find elsewhere (with less risk), making him a guy I’ll feel I can easily catch up to even if he hits. Obviously, that’s a personal strategy that I feel very comfortable with and don’t want to force you onto if you like Mack this week — but it is a +EV approach (i.e., “expect Mack to fall shy of what he needs to post at his price; and expect that you can easily catch him with less risk even if he hits”). (Side note here: Mack is more appealing — or at least “less unappealing” — on FanDuel, where yards and touchdowns are weighed more heavily, and where his likely-solid production can play well.)

I’ll leave the Colts alone through the air as well, as they should control this game, and when they control their games, they lean on the run; while I’ll expect to limit exposure to the Jags’ passing attack…while still grabbing at least a little bit of Chark for his ungodly upside, and perhaps hedging with some Conley as well — with the understanding that if Chark misses but the Jags get something notable through the air anyway, it will likely be through Conley. The Colts have been perfectly middling against wideouts all year, and “perfectly middling” is enough for me to take at least a couple home run swings on talented, underpriced big-play threats.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 29th 4:25pm Eastern

Raiders (
18.5) at

Broncos (
22.5)

Over/Under 41.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Raiders Run D
31st DVOA/15th Yards allowed per carry
Broncos Run O
20th DVOA/16th Yards per carry
Raiders Pass D
26th DVOA/28th Yards allowed per pass
Broncos Pass O
31st DVOA/26th Yards per pass
Broncos Run D
5th DVOA/10th Yards allowed per carry
Raiders Run O
24th DVOA/17th Yards per carry
Broncos Pass D
9th DVOA/13th Yards allowed per pass
Raiders Pass O
5th DVOA/7th Yards per pass

I’ve seen it said that the Raiders need “a win and a ton of help” in order to reach the playoffs, but they actually don’t need that many things to go right in order to sneak in. The first step, of course, is that they need to win. The next step is that the Titans and Steelers need to lose. The third step is that the Colts need to win. (There is also a fourth step, but it’s massively likely, as the Raiders just need one win to emerge from a group of several other teams that are likely to win.) The Colts are likely to handle business against the Jags; and while Vegas isn’t buying the Texans’ talk about playing their starters and trying to win (the Titans have been installed as 3.5 point favorites on the road), the Raiders have every reason to believe Houston can pull off that one. That leaves the poor Pittsburgh offense taking on a half-starters squad from Baltimore in what should be a close game. Point being: if you’re a Raiders player, you feel you have a legitimate shot. The Broncos have continued to play hard themselves, and we should see a fairly standard setup here.

The Matchup ::

  • Jon Gruden believes that a quality offense is built from the ground up — with his scheme based around a physical run game and pass plays that branch off of that; in following this belief, the Raiders have run the ball at the eighth highest rate in the league, while playing at the third slowest pace and calling on Derek Carr to top 31 pass attempts in only five of 15 games
  • Derek Carr has not thrown for 300 yards in a game this season, and he has topped two touchdown passes only once, while throwing one or zero touchdown passes nine times
  • Vic Fangio’s Broncos have allowed the seventh fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks, while giving up the sixth fewest passing yards and the fifth fewest wide receiver receptions
  • The Broncos have allowed only two running backs to top 100 yards against them, and neither of those backs managed to score a touchdown
  • The only way to consistently move the ball against the Broncos has been through tight ends, where they have allowed the sixth most receptions and the eighth most yards
  • Darren Waller owns 26.93% of the air yards on the Raiders this year, and has seen seven or more targets in over half his games
  • The Raiders’ pass defense is boosting aDOT by 13.9%, and no team has allowed more yards per pass attempt
  • Courtland Sutton leads the NFL in percentage share of team air yards at 42.57% (just in front of Stefon Diggs and Michael Thomas), and he has only two games all season under seven targets (while seeing double-digit looks for the first two times all year in his last two games)
  • Sutton’s still-developing connection with Drew Lock has led to only nine catches for 120 yards and no touchdowns on these 20 looks the last two weeks
  • When the Raiders and Broncos met in Week 1, Sutton went 7-120-0 on eight looks
  • Only Derek Carr, the Saints’ quarterbacks, Jimmy Garoppolo, and Joe Flacco have a shorter average intended air yards than Drew Lock this year

The Game ::

The Raiders have been a difficult team to pull elite fantasy production from this year, with a high-priced lead back in Josh Jacobs who has only a small role in the pass game, and with a low-volume passing attack that continues to lean on the run in the red zone. Fifteen games into the season, Oakland has produced only three games in which a pass catcher has topped 100 yards and scored a touchdown (with Tyrell Williams grabbing the first of these games — way back in Week 1 against this same Broncos team — followed by a mid-season smash by Darren Waller and last week’s game from Hunter Renfrow), and this week they will take on a Broncos team that has allowed only four pass catchers to top even 80 yards and score a touchdown.

On the other side of this game, we’ll have a Broncos team that has produced some nice fantasy games this year (almost entirely through Phillip Lindsay and Courtland Sutton — though Noah Fant has chipped in a couple times with yards after the catch, and Emmanuel Sanders was pitching in some high-end efforts early in the year), but that has been inconsistent due to conservative play-calling (and poor play sequencing) and inconsistent quarterback play.

We’ll start on the Raiders’ side here, where Jon Gruden’s squad will open this game looking to control things on the ground — with Jacobs tentatively expected to return, and with DeAndre Washington (touch counts of 20 // 25 in the games Jacobs has missed) set to fill in again if Jacobs is out. This is not a great matchup for the Raiders’ run game, with the Broncos allowing only 3.96 yards per carry to running backs, and more importantly allowing only 2.6 yards per carry on runs to the outside (both to the left and the right) when we remove the random blowup game that Leonard Fournette had against them earlier in the year. The Raiders’ run scheme (in fact, their entire offense) is built off of runs to the outside, where Jacobs has been most dominant — averaging 5.3 yards per carry to the left and 5.9 yards per carry to the right.

This creates an interesting setup, as neither of these teams are trying to “score points” so much as they are trying to “find a way to win” — and if the Raiders are unable to exert their will on the ground and the Broncos remain inconsistent on offense themselves, this game could land…well, right about where Vegas expects it to land — with an Over/Under of 41.0, and with the Broncos projected to win by 3.5. The Raiders’ rushing attack (regardless of who finds himself starting) would be more of a “bet on volume” play than anything else (with only a few thin paths available to a big game), while the Raiders’ passing attack would remain fairly low-volume, requiring something to go really right in order for useful fantasy production to emerge.

The Broncos’ side is a bit more clear in this likeliest scenario, as things really don’t change much for them in any scenario: Lindsay (recent touch counts of 18 // 14 // 20 // 18 // 7 // 21) would be the main engine for this team on the ground against an above-average Raiders run defense (3.91 yards per carry allowed to running backs; the ninth fewest running back rushing yards allowed), while Courtland Sutton (recent target counts of 8 // 9 // 8 // 5 // 7 // 10 // 10 — but yardage totals in this stretch of only 56 // 113 // 27 // 74 // 34 // 79 // 41) would be the engine of this passing attack in one of the better spots in the league for wide receiver production. Behind these guys, Noah Fant (four straight games of four or fewer targets), Tim Patrick (only one game over 50 yards), DaeSean Hamilton (only two games over 36 yards), and Royce Freeman (11 or fewer touches in seven consecutive games) would be merely dart throws.

If wanting to bet on the Raiders in this spot (with a Vegas-implied team total of only 18.75), your best paths to capturing a score that could set you apart in tourneys are to A) bet on Oakland dominating this game and pouring production onto the scoreboard and into the stat sheet through the run game, or B) bet on Denver jumping out to a lead through Lindsay or Sutton, with the Raiders picking up something through the air in response. The matchup (as noted in the Matchup section above) would point us to the tight end position in this second setup — though things do get further complicated here by the return of our boy Hunter Renfrow, who has put a dent into Waller’s targets whenever healthy and handling the slot. Waller should be considered a “thin, but viable” bet if chasing this second setup, while Tyrell and Renfrow should be considered merely “thin, and hoping for the best” against a Denver defense that has given up the fifth fewest receptions and the seventh fewest yards to wideouts.

Regardless of the scenarios being chased on the Oakland side, Lindsay (sporting a shiny price bump off his strong game last week) is always a low-floor bet in this offense, while his ceiling remains decent; Sutton is a “bet on talent and matchup, and hope quarterback play cooperates” option.

JM’s Interpretation ::

I don’t expect to go to the Oakland side myself this week — even if Jacobs is out — as this Raiders offense is just not all that explosive, and the matchup in Denver is not all that easy. There are some setups in which a Raiders piece could hit, but I’ll gladly take my chips off the table after grabbing 67% Washington and 33% Renfrow last week, and will let others chase those scores this week. There are just likelier spots to bet on than this.

I also won’t be heavy on the Denver side, though I could see taking a couple swings on Sutton, as his upside is high enough, the matchup is good enough, and the role is big enough that I may decide I want some exposure even if his “likeliest outcome” in this offense isn’t a huge game. Sutton is usually able to produce at least an acceptable score even when he misses, and his chances of landing on a ceiling game are high enough that he could become a mix-in piece on my builds.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 29th 4:25pm Eastern

Cards (
19.25) at

Rams (
26.25)

Over/Under 45.5

Tweet
Notes

Key Matchups
Cardinals Run D
10th DVOA/25th Yards allowed per carry
Rams Run O
1st DVOA/7th Yards per carry
Cardinals Pass D
10th DVOA/19th Yards allowed per pass
Rams Pass O
10th DVOA/18th Yards per pass
Rams Run D
21st DVOA/7th Yards allowed per carry
Cardinals Run O
2nd DVOA/2nd Yards per carry
Rams Pass D
11th DVOA/5th Yards allowed per pass
Cardinals Pass O
18th DVOA/15th Yards per pass

The Cardinals and Rams both have nothing to play for, but both teams are relatively healthy (with the sole — possibly major — exception being Kyler Murray), and we should see these teams come out firing in an effort to win this game.

The Matchup ::

  • Arizona ranks 28th in DVOA on defense (16th against the run; 28th against the pass), and ranks 31st in opponent drive success rate, 28th in opponent yards per play, 30th in opponent points per drive, and 30th in opponent plays per game; Arizona ranks third in pace of play, and 31st in time of possession
  • The Rams rank fourth in pace of play and 28th in time of possession; between the Rams’ average time of possession and the Cardinals’ time of possession, there are almost four minutes missing from a 60-minute game — enough for roughly eight plays added compared to what is typically available for these teams
  • When these teams met in Week 13, the Cardinals saw 63 plays (barely above their average of 62.6 per game), while the Rams saw 79 plays (nearly 14 above their average of 65.1 per game)
  • The Dolphins are the only team that has allowed more yards per game than Arizona, while only four teams have allowed more points per game
  • Since scoring six points against Baltimore, the Rams have point totals of 34 // 28 // 21 // 34
  • Jared Goff has thrown for 284+ yards and two touchdowns in all four of those games
  • Todd Gurley has averaged only 3.56 yards per carry in this stretch, but has scored six touchdowns
  • Over the last five weeks, Robert Woods has 56 targets and Tyler Higbee has 50; Cooper Kupp has 30 targets, and Brandin Cooks has 22
  • Higbee played 62/70 snaps last week, while Gerald Everett played only four snaps; the Cardinals (in case you haven’t heard) have allowed 1087 yards and 15 touchdowns to tight ends this season; Travis Kelce is the only NFL tight end with more than 1087 yards, while Darren Waller is the closest to 15 touchdowns with 10

The Game ::

I have put off writing this game until the last possible minute, as most sports books in Vegas have not even bothered to put up a line for this one as they await confirmation on the status of Kyler Murray — but it is now 8:00 in the morning in the Central time zone (where I find myself this week — in a Starbucks in Branson, Missouri, of all places, surrounded by Chiefs sweatshirts, hats, and jerseys; where, I would like to point out, I saw no such universal fandom displays four and five years ago, with Royals sweatshirts, hats, and jerseys dominating this part of the country four years ago after the Royals’ World Series win…and with no such universal Royals fandom displayed the year before that, when the Royals lost the World Series; hmmm…), and by this point, research is starting for most of you on this slate, and it’s time to get this writeup out there even without firm news. We’ll approach this game assuming that Kyler plays — while a Kyler absence would put a major dent in the Cardinals’ offense, but may not change expectations all that much on the Rams, as it would actually be very fair to expect the Rams to try to close the season strong on offense regardless of what their opponent does (i.e., the Rams are probably not just closing out the game with a strictly run-based approach if they grab a lead against a Brett Hundley led team, but would instead, likely, continue to pour points on the scoreboard if they can).

We’ll start on the Rams’ side, then, where this offense got going too late in the year, but where they have certainly gotten going — with recent point totals of 34 // 28 // 21 // 31. After running 11 personnel on over 95% of plays last year, Sean McVay has been willing to shake things up more often this year — especially over the last month, with the Rams running 11 personnel on 77% of their plays, while mixing in 19% two-tight-end sets and 4% four-wide sets. The success of the Rams’ offense last year was built around their ability to dominate on the ground with an effective zone blocking scheme, off of which they built their play-action game that gave Jared Goff “levels” to work (with multiple options available in the same line of sight on a given play, at various levels of the field); but with the blueprint that Fangio and Belichick laid last year for slowing this scheme and the troubles the Rams have had on the offensive line this year, McVay has had to prove that he can be more than just a “system” coach. While he may have adapted a bit too late, he has started finding new ways to maneuver the field — and this week, he catches a Cardinals team that ranks 24th in DVOA on defense, while ranking 27th against the pass, 31st in yards allowed, 28th in points allowed, and 31st in opponent drive success rate. The Cardinals have allowed the third most plays per game, the most fantasy points per game to quarterbacks, the fourth most wide receiver receptions, the ninth most wide receiver yards, and (in case you haven’t heard) the most tight end yards and touchdowns (with almost twice as many touchdowns allowed to the position as any other team).

The Rams’ offensive evolution has included an increased emphasis on the tight end position, where Gerald Everett actually kicked things off way back in Weeks 4 and 5 against what are probably the second and third worst tight end defenses (the Bucs and Seahawks), when he saw eight and 11 targets and began to provide an idea of what this offense could look like. Everett proceeded to go for target counts of 5 // 10 // 3 // 12, after which he saw a dip against Chicago and got hurt against Baltimore, opening the door for Tyler Higbee to see six targets against the Ravens before going 8 // 11 // 14 with Everett on the sidelines, with 11 targets added last week in Everett’s return. After Everett topped 68 yards only once, Higbee has topped 100 in four consecutive games, while Everett played only four snaps in his return to the field last week (with blocking tight end Johnny Mundt also an underrated contributor to the resurgence of this offense, as he can be kept in to block even on passing downs to help tighten up this offensive line — essentially leaving McVay with an “either/or” option on Higbee and Everett).

This shift in offensive approach has also included a renewed emphasis on Robert Woods, who entered the Week 9 bye with target counts of 4 // 7 // 2, and who came out of the bye with target counts of 11 // 9 // 18 // 9 // 9 // 11. Woods has only eight red zone targets and four targets inside the 10 (exactly half as many as Cooper Kupp has in each area), but he does have 95+ yards in all but one game during this six game stretch. Kupp has been deemphasized since the bye, with only one game north of six targets, and with four or fewer targets in four of seven games. Brandin Cooks has also seen his role diminish as the Rams focus on the shorter areas of the field, with target counts in his last five games of 4 // 2 // 2 // 8 // 6.

The Rams have also leaned on Todd Gurley in games in which they are playing with a lead — giving him 28 touches in a 10-point win over Chicago, 20 touches in a 27-point win over Arizona, and 27 touches in a 16-point win over Seattle, while giving him touch counts of 12 // 9 // 14 // 15 in four losing efforts since the bye. Gurley has still not topped 97 yards in a game on the ground this year and is at some minor risk of being given a smaller workload to protect his health in a meaningless game, but the flip side of that second concern is that the Rams could try to send him out on a high note here, and L.A. sets up well to control this contest. Gurley is a risk/reward piece in this spot — with his 14 touchdowns on the year providing a big boost to his upside.

In spite of how many weapons the Cardinals have (or rather: because of how many weapons the Cardinals have, and how thin they spread volume across these weapons, and how unwilling they are to push the ball downfield), Arizona has been one of the easiest offenses in the league to break down this year, as betting on wide receivers on this team is merely “betting on outlier outcomes,” while Kyler — given his dual-threat ability and the general statistical effectiveness of this passing attack as a whole — is generally able to produce at a solid-to-elite level in nearly any matchup. The one area that has evolved on this offense throughout the season has been the backfield, where Kenyan Drake established himself a couple weeks ago as the clear, undisputed lead back, and where he has taken advantage of back-to-back quality setups to produce rushing totals of 137 and 168 on 22 and 24 carries. The Cardinals have adapted to Drake’s effectiveness (and to the lack of development and growth from their rookie wide receivers) by using multiple tight ends on 25% of their snaps over the last two weeks to pave the way on the ground.

The matchup for the Cardinals is interesting — and somewhat impossible to break down — as the talent on the Rams is largely high-end, while this defense not only ranks eighth in DVOA, but has also had some dominant stretches this year, including a seven game stretch in which the Ravens were the only team to top 17 points against them, with five of seven opponents (including the Cardinals, at home) held to 12 or fewer points; and yet, the Rams have also allowed 27 points to Carolina, 55 points to Tampa, 30 points to Seattle (while holding Seattle to 12 points the second time around), 45 points to Baltimore, 44 points to Dallas, and 34 points to San Francisco. From a DFS perspective, this has created a situation in which offenses either enter this matchup to die, or instead enter this matchup to send rosters to the top of the leaderboards. If multi-entering, then, the best way to approach matchups against the Rams has been to isolate your exposure if you want to attack (i.e., betting on the offense against the Rams, but only on dedicated rosters, rather than across your builds), while the best way to approach if single-entering has been to take a stand one way or the other on how you expect the game environment against the Rams to play out that week.

JM’s Interpretation ::

With the Rams playing at home, the Cardinals banged up, and the price (and maybe even ownership) on Drake rising, I expect to leave the Cardinals’ side of this game alone — not quite “pulling my chips off the table” the way I expect to with the Raiders this week (as I’ve had only a small amount of Drake exposure the last two weeks — above the field, but not nearly as much as I would have liked after the fact), but nevertheless deciding that I likely “got while the getting was good” on Drake, while feeling that there will be better spots than a hobbled Kyler on the road against a sometimes-elite defense.

On the Rams’ side, I’ll have interest (potentially heavy interest) in Higbee — whose price (especially on DraftKings) doesn’t make a whole lot of sense given the matchup and his recent usage — while I’ll also probably cycle some Woods, Goff, and Gurley through my builds. While there are not nearly as many reasons to like Kupp and Cooks on paper, I may also have enough Rams exposure in other spots that I’ll have a dash of hedge bets on these two, while I’ll also be sure to leave at least a few of my (likely) 19 builds without any Rams at all, for the slim risk that Everett plays more this week and cuts Higbee’s value in half, and that the ball is spread around enough on this offense that they end up scoring 30+ without a single elite score emerging on this side of the ball. It’s going to take an outlier scenario for the Rams to fail on the scoreboard here, but with three viable wideouts, two viable tight ends, and a high-usage running back, that doesn’t “guarantee” that slate-breakers are emerging on individual pieces in this spot.


Kickoff Sunday, Dec 29th 8:20pm Eastern

49ers (
25) at

Hawks (
21.5)

Over/Under 46.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
49ers Run D
7th DVOA/9th Yards allowed per carry
Seahawks Run O
8th DVOA/12th Yards per carry
49ers Pass D
22rd DVOA/3rd Yards allowed per pass
Seahawks Pass O
3rd DVOA/2nd Yards per pass
Seahawks Run D
9th DVOA/13th Yards allowed per carry
49ers Run O
9th DVOA/8th Yards per carry
Seahawks Pass D
29th DVOA/32nd Yards allowed per pass
49ers Pass O
17th DVOA/21st Yards per pass

Showdown Slant ::

Presented by top Showdown mind Xandamere!

Just one island Showdown in Week 17 but it’s a doozy as the 49ers travel to Seattle to take on the Seahawks. Normally in Week 17 we have to think critically about motivation and the potential for teams to rest players, but we shouldn’t have that in this game as both teams are plenty motivated: if the 49ers win, they win the NFC West and are the Number 1 seed, while if they lose they’re a Wild Card team. The Seahawks, of course, win the NFC West with a win but can be seeded anywhere from 1, 2, 3, and 5. Both teams should be going all-out here in a 45.5 total game with the visitors favored by 3.5 points.

We’ll start with Seattle and their run game, because there’s some real weirdness happening here: in the last couple of weeks, the Seahawks have lost all three of their starting running backs and are currently down to rookie Travis Homer (who?), Marshawn Lynch, and Robert Turbin. Turbin is a career backup who maxed out at 80 carries in his rookie year and is unlikely to have a major role, while Homer is a 6th round rookie who has 8 carries and 8 targets in his career. It’s worth noting here that all 8 of Homer’s targets came last week and he caught 6 of them for 26 yards, which tells us that he’s at least a competent pass catcher, though more likely to be used for dump-offs rather than schemed plays. Marshawn Lynch is getting most of the attention as in his career he has been A) a bellcow and B) good. In the Showdown he’s also just $4,200 compared to $7,400 for Homer. It’s hard to have a lot of confidence in how this situation is going to play out, as it’s likely going to be something of a hot hand situation. Lynch is currently listed as the RB1 and should start the game, and if he runs effectively, he probably ends up with the lion’s share of the carries. But if Lynch doesn’t start well and Homer does, the situation could be reversed. In a must-win game, it could even be Turbin who comes out of the gate hot and ends up leading the timeshare, though that’s the least likely of these three scenarios. It’s also entirely possible that the Seahawks dial up a pass-heavier game plan in order to avoid leaning too heavily on guys who haven’t played much or any football in a year or more (keep in mind the Seahawks are definitely in the playoffs and would probably like to use these same running backs throughout the postseason rather than scrambling each week to find new ones). My overall take here is that Lynch is too cheap for his likeliest range of touches, though that range comes with exceptional volatility, while Homer is too expensive for his projected workload and Turbin is most likely to remain a backup and lightly used.

The Seahawks’ pass game has been frustrating to me in Showdowns all year (on Main Slate, I just never play them, but obviously that isn’t an option in a Showdown). DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett are the two guys who are on the field the entire game, but both come with highly unreliable volume (Metcalf has a total of 5 targets in the last 2 weeks, Lockett has 16 but went through a 3-week span with 9 total targets in Weeks 10-13). I would not go anywhere near these guys in cash, especially against a 49ers secondary that is ranked 2nd in pass defense DVOA and is getting healthier as the postseason approaches. In tournaments Lockett is the more likely play to hit, with 3 games of 20+ DK points versus just 1 for Metcalf. It’s worth pointing out here, as JM has done multiple times, that Metcalf and Lockett combined have only outscored Russ Wilson twice the entire year (and once was Lockett winning by about 1 DK point). This offense is so spread out that even if one of these guys pops off, it’s likely that Russ is putting up a higher score. I mention this because I normally am not fond of using QB captain in Showdown tournaments, but the Seahawks are one of the few teams that are an exception to that rule. Behind those two the wide receiver situation has given us a bit more clarity as Josh Gordon is suspended (again) and Malik Turner has been ruled out with a concussion. Turner was the favorite to lead the WR3 role with Gordon out, so his injury throws things into a bit of chaos. David Moore and Jaron Brown have had a very close split in snaps for the past several weeks and are both cheap dart throws; personally, I’d just bet more volume goes to Lockett, Metcalf, and Jacob Hollister, but if you want to play one of these guys, it wouldn’t be surprising to see either pull down a touchdown (Moore in particular is a bet for a long one as his yards per catch is over 18). Speaking of Hollister, he still played 75% of the snaps despite Luke Willson coming back from injury, and he also out-targeted Willson 6 to 0. Hollister hasn’t popped off in a few weeks, but the tight end role has been highly productive this year in Seattle’s offense and at $5,000 Hollister is in that dead zone of pricing that tends to lead to lower ownership. He’s a fine play.

The San Francisco run game has been about as unpredictable as Seattle’s passing game. Raheem Mostert has a hold on the lead back role now with 54% of the snaps last week compared to 42% for Tevin Coleman, with touches at 11 to 5. Matt Breida seems to have vanished from the offense through no fault of his own (he did play special teams snaps last week, so he seems healthy), which is weird for a guy who has averaged 5.1 yards per carry this year. While Mostert and Coleman are the safe bets, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Breida make an appearance in a game that the 49ers view as must-win. Keep in mind that the way this backfield operates, nobody is likely to even threaten 20 touches or have very much pass game involvement; a 49ers running back has hit 20 touches a whopping three times this year and none of them have ever seen more than 4 targets in a game. Mostert is priced up to where you absolutely need a touchdown or a broken play that leads to the 100 yard bonus, while Coleman probably needs a touchdown (or several unexpected and unlikely receptions) in order to pay off even at his cheap price.

The pass game for the 49ers is much easier to dissect. It’s George Kittle, Deebo Samuel, Emmanuel Sanders, and Kendrick Bourne, in that order (yes, Richie James and Ross Dwelley will play a couple of snaps and might get a target or two if you want to chase a low-owned touchdown in MME). Bourne is the easiest to evaluate: he’s $3,200, which means he needs to outscore the kickers. He doesn’t see much volume and has no real big play ability but he does have a solid red zone role with 4 touchdowns on the year, and he’ll need one to pay off. Kittle is the safest bet for volume, has a great matchup, and is probably going to be the highest owned player on the slate. He deserves to be and is a very strong option (I view him as a safer play than Mostert for cash lineups). Sanders is mostly a tournament play, with 6 of his last 7 games in single-digit DK points, but the 7th at 37.1 (including a passing touchdown!). Deebo has surprisingly shown a higher floor than Sanders lately, in part bolstered by getting a couple of carries per game. Deebo and Sanders are pretty equivalent plays overall (and are at very similar prices), so pick your favorite. In MME I’ll want slightly more exposure to Deebo, but both options have tournament-worthy ceilings.

The most likely way for this game to play out is for both teams to try to keep the ball on the ground initially, as they prefer to do, but despite that being the best way to attack the 49ers there’s a good chance that Seattle will have to turn to the air eventually if the game plays out as Vegas thinks it will (both because they’re expected to fall behind and because their ramshackle run game might well fail completely here).

Some other ways the game could play out:

  • We could get the “bad Jimmy G” we’ve seen so many times this year. Seattle is a tough place to go into, especially with so much on the line, and while we’ve seen Jimmy G put up some ceiling games this year, we’ve also seen him really struggle, including the last time these teams met in week 10.
  • Conversely, though the 49ers pass defense is elite, so is Russ Wilson, and it’s hard to discount him in any matchup. If the Seahawks come out with a pass-heavier game plan due to their running back situation, and if they are able to find some early success by doing so, this could turn into more of a shootout than Vegas is expecting.

My favorite overall captain in this one is George Kittle, who I expect to be everyone’s favorite captain and the highest owned player. I want to be overweight on him. I also want captain exposure to Lockett, Metcalf, Deebo, Sanders, and Lynch.

Some groups to consider:

  • At most 1 kicker
  • At most 1 defense
  • Pair captain receivers with their QB
  • Pair captain Jimmy G with at least 2 receivers and captain Russ with at least 1 receiver
  • At most 1 49ers running back
  • At most 1 Seattle running back
  • At most 1 of Moore and Brown

Bonus Content from JM’s 5-year-old niece Vivy and 7-year-old niece Addy…