Titans Run D16th DVOA/23rd Yards allowed per carry
Jaguars Run O17th DVOA/30th Yards per carry
Titans Pass D24th DVOA/26th Yards allowed per pass
Jaguars Pass O21st DVOA/19th Yards per pass
Jaguars Run D22nd DVOA/29th Yards allowed per carry
Titans Run O11th DVOA/5th Yards per carry
Jaguars Pass D32nd DVOA/27th Yards allowed per pass
Titans Pass O2nd DVOA/16th Yards per pass
Showdown Slant ::
Presented by top Showdown mind Xandamere!
I’m mildly annoyed that it’s 2019 and I have to write an island game writeup for the Titans against the Jags, but here we are. This game is sitting at a total of 40.0 with the Titans installed as 1.5 point short road favorites. I think what’s largely going to get lost here is that amidst a lot of team dysfunction (Jalen Ramsey requested a trade shortly before I started working on this piece), the Jaguars are still a very, very good defense (while missing one of their starting corners, they went on the road and held the Texans to just 13 points). The Titans’ offense is not as good as Houston’s. Assuming the Jags show up to play, they have a very good chance of containing Tennessee and making this a grinding type of game. Or…they might not. As I’ll dig into a bit later, “What is most likely to happen” in this game is more difficult to figure out than most games.
The Titans are a bit simpler: they want to play slow and grind it out. They’ll lean hard on Derrick Henry and the short passing game while mixing in a handful of deeper shots to A.J. Brown and, to a lesser extent, Corey Davis. A lot of guys will mix in for snaps in the Tennessee offense, but at least so far, the volume is all going to Henry, Davis, Walker, and Brown. For example, Jonnu Smith has been on the field more than Delanie Walker but only has one target and one carry through two games. Dion Lewis has a snap count just a smidge below Henry’s, but he had three carries and one target last week in a game that was close throughout. Is it possible that the Titans get another guy involved this week? It’s certainly possible, as the Titans are one of the more opponent-specific teams in how they approach each game. But you should recognize that looking at snap counts is probably a bit less predictive with Tennessee than it would be with another team. The safest bets when taking into account both usage and matchup are Derrick Henry and Delanie Walker. The Jags can occasionally get sloppy on run defense (Henry had his massive breakout game near the end of last season against the Jags, though it was at home), while the Jacksonville pass D is….let’s go with “less elite” versus the tight end position, rather than “vulnerable to.” They’re not bad against tight ends but they aren’t as likely to completely erase Delanie Walker as they are to erase Corey Davis.
On the Jags’ side, a lot of how you attack this game depends on what you think about Gardner Minshew. His stats through his first few games are pretty impressive: 77% completion rate, 112 QB rating, 3 to 1 TD to INT ratio. He even rushed for 56 yards against the Texans, and if he’s going to use his legs like that it significantly increases both his floor and ceiling. Of course, that’s a very small sample size and against some not very impressive secondaries. What we know for sure about the Jags offense is that Leonard Fournette is not going to come off the field (he’s played 92% of the team’s offensive snaps so far) and he should see at least 20 total touches with a fair bit of pass game work. Six targets in each game so far is nothing to sneeze at and makes him a very attractive play at a slight price discount from Henry. Fournette is likely to have a tough time against the Titans run D, but the pass game involvement significantly mitigates that. In the pass game, the Jags are using DJ Chark as their deeper threat (though unlike most “deep threat” receivers his volume has been solid as well with nine targets last week). Chris Conley is being schemed the ball in the short to middle areas of the field to try and get him the ball in space and let him make a big play. While Dede Westbrook has only been targeted literally at the line of scrimmage, leaving him without access to much ceiling unless his route tree changes or he ends up with massive volume. These three receivers are all priced right next to each other, which will split up ownership. Betting on Dede is a bet on overall talent and, to some extent, coachspeak from the preseason, while Conley and Chark have shown more upside this year. Finally, the receiving corps will be thrown into a bit of disarray if Marqise Lee is active, which it looks like he will be after a full practice on Tuesday. Lee “started” in Week 1 but only played 12 snaps coming off a season-ending injury last year. But while I would predict low usage this week if he’s active, he could be a bit of a wildcard in this game if he unexpectedly plays a lot. At tight end, Geoff Swaim and James O’Shaughnessy have been splitting both snaps and targets. They’re both used near the line of scrimmage, so yardage expectations are very low for each of them, but they’ll be relevant if they fall into the end zone at their cheap prices.
As far as how the game is most likely to go, this is where it gets complex. The Titans are likely to try and tilt their defense to give up short passes while protecting against big plays early on. This will force the Jags and Minshew to try to slowly march down the field playing mistake-free football while the Titans attempt to poke holes in the Jags’ defense. If the Titans can put up some early points, they’ll likely stick with this strategy and try to stop the Jags getting back into the game. But, if the Jags can get out to a lead or even keep the game tied, the Titans may switch things up and try to take away the short areas of the field and force Minshew to beat them deep, betting that he’ll be unable to do so or, even better, create some turnovers. The most likely way this game plays out is a grinding, ugly kind of game that ends with a score like 17-13 or 20-17. You could bet on the Over and something of a shootout, though with these two teams that’s a very low-percentage outcome (perhaps not as low as ownership on it will be, though). In a game like this, you’re basically looking for guys who get strong volume and can get a tourney-worthy score without getting into the end zone (the running backs, Walker, Conley), or, guys who have good red zone usage and/or big play ability and who can hit that nice score on a single play (Chark, A.J. Brown). I always say it’s important to begin each Showdown by thinking about game flow and it’s even more important in this one. You could make different lineups that play out various scenarios: Henry gets an early rushing TD and forces the Jags to chase a bit, or thinking about different defensive schemes that the Titans could adopt and how those would affect how the Jags attack. If you’re multi-entering, I would suggest smaller builds that are focused on a specific captain and/or game script so you can really home in on who the strongest plays are in each scenario.
Some other ways the game could play out:
- While a real “shootout” is unlikely, it’s not at all implausible that all of the scoring comes in the air. Both of these teams are so run-focused that you can expect Henry and Fournette to be massively owned, so lineups that don’t have them and instead focus on QBs/receivers will be highly contrarian.
- The Jags are in a bit of disarray. They’ve lost their starting QB and they’re already 0-2. Jalen Ramsay has publicly requested a trade. We saw this defense fall apart a few times last season (including against Tennessee) and it isn’t implausible to think that these off-field issues impact them here. While I am normally underweight 5-1 onslaught lineups for road teams, especially in low scoring games against elite defenses, I’ll have a few Titans onslaughts in case the Jags just show up flat.
My favorite captain hands-down is Leonard Fournette, though I think he’s likely to be the highest owned one as well. Henry ranks up there, as do the more volatile, high-ceiling receivers and Delanie Walker for his red zone usage and matchup. It’s hard to see the quarterbacks being the highest scoring players in this one absent a rushing touchdown.
Some groups to consider:
- At most 1 kicker
- At most 1 defense
- Pair captain receivers with their QB
- Pair captain QBs with at least 2 receivers
- At most 1 of the various ancillary Titans guys (the backup TEs, Sharpe, Lewis)
- At most 1 of Swaim and O’Shaughnessy
JM’s Notes :: Xandamere and I typically talk about the Island games early in the week and sort of bounce around thoughts and ideas on the matchup and how the game will likely play out. This week, I was particularly interested to see what he would come up with for the Showdown Slant, as my main takeaway after we had talked about this game was that it was a difficult one to figure out. It’s easy to find a game like this on the Main Slate and move on from it fairly quickly; but in my mind, part of the skill Xandamere has is his unique ability to work his way through the angles on an ugly game that comprises an entire slate. These uglier games are the sorts of Showdowns in which the edge increases a bit, as a lot of our competition will have a more difficult time thinking through the tributaries for this one. If all of the “likeliest to happen” things happen, it won’t matter, as everyone can figure that out; but if we start getting into tributary territory in this game, I’ll definitely like our chances.
— Xandamere’s Advanced Showdown Course is now available through OWS :: Marketplace! This is his tournament course for Showdowns. (Which probably makes this a good place to say congrats to X for grabbing his second(!) top-two tourney finish of the year in the Sunday afternoon Showdowns. Ninth top-two finish since the start of last season. Insane.)
Bengals Run D23rd DVOA/28th Yards allowed per carry
Bills Run O32nd DVOA/29th Yards per carry
Bengals Pass D16th DVOA/25th Yards allowed per pass
Bills Pass O4th DVOA/6th Yards per pass
Bills Run D24th DVOA/21st Yards allowed per carry
Bengals Run O27th DVOA/26th Yards per carry
Bills Pass D28th DVOA/15th Yards allowed per pass
Bengals Pass O26th DVOA/13th Yards per pass
:: We have reached the end of a golden era, my friends. After seven weeks of OWS targeting “cheap Josh Allen and his cheap pass catchers while everyone else is ignoring them,” it seems the tide has turned. Prices are rising. Ownership began to rise last week. And it won’t be long before we see a week in which this is the unit everyone is “scared to not play,” turning them into appropriately-priced chalk. We had a good run. A moment of silence, if you will.
Okay. So what about this week?
The first thing we should note is the matchup, against a defense that is completely attackable from a talent perspective (DK Metcalf went 4-89-0 against them in his first career game on only six targets, and Deebo Samuel went 5-87-1 in his second career game on only seven targets), but that stonewalled Tyler Lockett in Week 1 and slowed down George Kittle last week. It has been clear through two weeks that Josh Allen is going to target John Brown (and it has also been clear that Brian Daboll is going to scheme targets to Brown around what the matchup allows; last week, Brown ran a completely different route tree than he ran in Week 1) — but this also makes it clear to the Cincinnati defense that their best bet for a win is to limit what Brown can do, and force the Bills to beat them through the air with Cole Beasley and his limited downfield skill set, or with Zay Jones and his inconsistency.
What does this mean for us?
While we shouldn’t expect the Bengals to erase Brown (Brown can actually do a lot more than Lockett can do — as counterintuitive as that seems, given public perception of these two players), we should mark this as a less likely spot for him to pop for slate-breaking upside. (Of note: while the Bengals are not a talent-rich defense on the back end, they’re not as bad as they looked last week, when busted assignments and poor tackling really boosted the 49ers’ output.)
We should also expect Daboll to counter somewhat by doing things with Isaiah McKenzie and possibly even Robert Foster that the Bengals cannot have prepared for. (McKenzie played 16 snaps last week and has picked back up the gadget role he had late last year; Foster played a quiet 24 snaps last week.)
The Bills may also attack more heavily on the ground this week — both because of matchup and because of the potential for Brown to be slowed, and for this to slow the Bills’ passing attack. If Daboll were fully adaptable, it would be worth noting that the Bengals match up far better against Frank Gore than they do against the speed to the second level of Devin Singletary; but after Gore nearly doubled Singletary’s snaps last week (43 : 23), this play would be purely speculative, and would be best saved for large-field tourneys only.
JM’s First Interpretation ::
Between Beasley’s lowered usefulness outside of the player block (he was great when paired with cheap Brown/Allen, as he provided floor while also giving you insurance against a touchdown or two going his way; but as a solo piece, he’s tougher to fall in love with) and Zay’s inconsistency, it’s tough to get too excited about pieces beyond Brown. (Though I will note that in ultra-large-field play, it only takes three targets for Robert Foster to go 3-100-2.) And if you think the Bengals sell out to keep Brown from having a big game, you should lower his chances of hitting upside. With that said: Brown is still in play in tourneys for me, as A) he is so heavily emphasized in this passing attack, B) he’s less likely than Lockett was to get completely stonewalled, and C) it only takes one play for him to post a nice day. Naturally, Allen is in play with him. These guys aren’t the lock-and-load plays they were at their previous prices, but the ceiling remains high. I’ll also likely grab some Singletary in large-field tourneys for the sneaky upside he offers if the Bills give him more work.
The Bengals will follow up a trip to Seattle and a home game against the revamped 49ers defense with a visit to the tough environment of New Era Field.
The Bills are most attackable on the ground, where they have allowed 4.6 yards per carry to running backs in the early going while ranking 27th in run defense DVOA (compared to seventh in pass defense DVOA). The early results for the Bengals run game have been beyond disappointing (32nd in DVOA — with Joe Mixon picking up only 27 yards through two games, on 17 carries), but if you want to bet on the fact that good players don’t stay bad, and that below-average offensive lines can still produce big games for really good running backs, then it’s worth noting that Mixon was 0.48% owned in the DraftKings Milly Maker last week. He was dealing with the ankle sprain heading into that game, which contributed to the low ownership, but it’s unlikely that his performance through two weeks is going to send people flocking back to him in this spot.
The Bengals have been much more impressive through the air (with Dalton posting a 99.3 quarterback rating while piling up 729 yards through two games); and while the Bills present a daunting matchup, there are three reasons for optimism here:
1) The Bills’ biggest weakness on their defense is their pass rush. (Last year, only six teams had fewer sacks than Buffalo.) And Andy Dalton is a much better quarterback when he isn’t pressured. The Bills have improved in this area, but they are not yet a unit to fear.
2) Tyler Boyd will primarily match up in the slot with Siran Neal and Kevin Johnson — neither of whom can hang with him all game.
3) Tre’Davious White has had a rough start to the year, allowing 10 catches on 11 targets; and in joint practices with the Panthers during training camp, White got burned for long touchdowns on back-to-back days by Curtis Samuel — who is a much better route runner than John Ross, but whose speedy skill set is similar. Micah Hyde will be able to help with deep coverage, but he is also prone to missed tackles — which could lead to another long play or two for Ross in his new, legitimate, tailored-to-his-strengths role in this offense.
JM’s Second Interpretation ::
Zac Taylor mentioned this week that there will be games in which Mixon sees more touches — and given that this coaching staff has proven to be extremely adaptable, and that the best way to beat the Bills is on the ground, Mixon is a much stronger on-paper play than just about anyone will realize. The issues with the offensive line drop him pretty quickly from Tier 1, as his floor (you might have noticed?) has proven to be extremely low. But in any tourneys with a steep payout structure and/or tens of thousands of entries (i.e., tourneys in which you basically need to grab one of the top few spots or it really doesn’t matter — so who cares if you have a couple lower-floor pieces), Mixon is the type of play that would make you a lot of money over time: an excellent player with a likely 18- to 22-touch role this week against an attackable run defense, at a discounted price and low ownership. None of this guarantees that Mixon hits (or that he even has a solid game); but he’s more than 0.48% likely to. I’ll have some Mixon exposure. And while I may find that I don’t trust the Bengals’ offensive line quite enough to put Mixon on a tighter build, I at least won’t cross that idea off my list at the front end of the week.
Beyond Mixon, I may build a small number of large-field rosters that center around the Bengals passing attack. But ultimately, there are a lot of strong offenses in better spots that I’ll be likelier to target on tighter builds this week.
Lions Run D30th DVOA/26th Yards allowed per carry
Eagles Run O25th DVOA/15th Yards per carry
Lions Pass D12th DVOA/20th Yards allowed per pass
Eagles Pass O29th DVOA/24th Yards per pass
Eagles Run D15th DVOA/24th Yards allowed per carry
Lions Run O13th DVOA/18th Yards per carry
Eagles Pass D29th DVOA/7th Yards allowed per pass
Lions Pass O19th DVOA/20th Yards per pass
Let’s deal with the Philly run game first ::
As expected last week, Austin Ekeler struggled against the Lions when running up the gut, but he was able to produce more efficient results when running to the edge. This week, the Philadelphia run matchup will set up far better for Miles Sanders than for Jordan Howard; while Sanders can be used both up the middle and to the edge, Howard has been used almost exclusively between the tackles so far this season. It is fair to assume that this ultra-adaptable Philadelphia coaching staff will feature Sanders a little more heavily this week — to a point where, if not for the presence of Darren Sproles, Sanders would even shape up as a sneaky Tier 1 play, especially with all the injuries to the Philadelphia receivers. With Sproles still in the mix, however, we should still see Sanders limited to around 13 to 16 touches in a “likeliest scenario.” Typically, a DraftKings running back with a Sanders-level pass catching role should be expected to register at least one point per touch, so Sanders’ early-season scores of 3.7 and 6.7 should be considered low (Sanders is less attractive on FanDuel), but keep in mind that the matchup against Detroit is no cakewalk even to the edge, leaving this as more of a speculative, large-field tournament play then as a roster staple.
Now, onto the passing attack ::
We could effectively say that the Eagles’ base offense features Dallas Goedert, Zach Ertz, Alshon Jeffery, and DeSean Jackson, and as of right now, it appears that three of these four players will be missing in action. Given that Vegas still has the Eagles projected for nearly four touchdowns (perhaps a bit aggressive, but no one should be surprised if Philly pushes for 24 or 27 points, and they could easily fall in for an extra touchdown from there), we are left with an interesting spot to consider. Last week when the Lions were facing a Chargers team in a similar situation, Matt Patricia chose to allow Darius Slay to follow Keenan Allen and match up with him in man coverage for a huge chunk of the game – electing to stick to something akin to his standard approach, rather than adjusting to account for the fact that Rivers and the Chargers would want to lean heavily on Allen. The first thought this brings up is that Ertz – a target that Carson Wentz likes so much, the Eagles had to basically force him to spread the ball around to his other weapons – is likely to see a nice spike in work, especially as the Lions have thus far shown that they are willing to allow a matchup to play out, rather than adjusting preemptively with exotic locks designed to take away one option.
The number two option in the passing attack is likely to be Nelson Agholor once again, after he pulled in eight of 11 targets for 107 yards and a touchdown last week. Agholor has an extensive route tree and can be used all over the field; and while he is not in the same class of route-runners as Keenan Allen, he can do many of the same things that Allen can do. With the secondary weapons likely to be more involved this week (more on this in a moment), likeliest-scenario target projections for Agholor should land in the “six to nine” range; but this still makes him an attractive target at only 8% of the salary cap on FanDuel and 7.2% on DraftKings.
In spite of the disparity in targets (eight to four) and production (5-50-0 vs 1-4-0) between Mack Hollins and JJ Arcega-Whiteside, JJAW should be considered the number two option here, as Hollins seemed to be pushing toward “roster bubble” status at points in training camp, while JJAW was talked up late in the summer by Doug Pederson as having a legitimate role in the offense (something we didn’t see in Week 1, but this is enough of a game-plan-specific team, it’s not crazy to think the Eagles have plans to use him in some spots).
This will all be updated if we get news later in the week that one of Alshon // DJax // Goedert plays; but with all three expected to miss, Hollins will also have a legitimate every-down role (he played 69 snaps last week, while JJAW played 75). Week 2 should be thrown out of the window a little bit (keep in mind that Mecole Hardman and Demarcus Robinson were entirely uninvolved in Week 1 against the Jaguars after Tyreek Hill left early, and were heavily involved in Week 2; a week to game-plan around the pieces you’ll have on the field can make a big difference in schemed usage), but anywhere from four to nine targets would not be a surprise for Hollins. (This same target range applies to JJAW, who is only about 60/40 to outscore Hollins in spite of being the “number two.”)
Finally, we should note that Wentz + Philly pass catchers have combined for 90.73 DraftKings points per game so far, and a full five-man stack of Wentz // Ertz // Agholor // JJAW // Hollins costs only $21.6k in salary on DraftKings, and should expose you to somewhere in the range of 30 total targets. (It’s less +EV to play a block this large on FanDuel.) While 86.4 points from this group would technically be enough for them to keep you on pace for 200 points from a salary-based perspective (and while they’ll likely get there), you would realistically need these guys to combine for more like 110 to 120 points for them to be tourney-winners in large-field play while taking up five spots on your roster (this is primarily because it’s tougher to get 4x from more expensive players; so you often need a 5x pace from your cheaper guys in order to really reach the top of the leaderboard). But by cutting this down to a three- or four-man block in larger-field play, or by taking the savings and hammering upside in other spots with a four- or even five-man block in smaller-field play, you could have a unique roster construction that picks up some really nice leverage on the field.
On the other side ::
>> Kenny Golladay :: Golladay doesn’t have the speed of Terry McLaurin or Julio Jones, who hit the Eagles downfield with very little nuance required for those deep shots to work; but while Golladay’s dominance is built more on contested catch brilliance than on big plays and yards after the catch, this is still a plus matchup for him, and he’s an especially interesting piece if you wanted to build a tourney roster that grabs three or four pass game pieces from the Eagles and hopes that A) they are forced by the Lions’ run defense to take to the air, and B) they have success in this area and force the Lions to try to catch up. With the Eagles also one of the strongest teams in the NFL vs the run (consistently ranking top three in fewest rushing attempts faced), it’s not crazy to see this game turning into a back-and-forth affair.
>> Marvin Jones :: Jones has seen 10 targets this year to Golladay’s 19, and this is about what we should expect on the whole this year. But in the small sample size of a single game, there are scenarios in which Jones could out-target Golladay — which makes him a worthy “small percentage of large field” dart if you are targeting this game. Jones is less likely to hit a big game, but if he does pop off, no one will be on him.
>> T.J. Hockenson :: Hock has the worst matchup of the bunch in dealing with Malcolm Jenkins, but the upside is still there, and the ownership is sure to be low after his dud in Week 2. As noted last week: the Lions are willing to attack downfield to Hock, so it only takes one or two plays for him to post a big day. He’s not an off-the-wall play in large-field contests this week.
>> The Lions backfield :: This is the least attractive spot, as a blanket “don’t play running backs against the Eagles” approach has been a solid path for years. (It’s not that it’s impossible for a running back to put up a week-winning score against them; it’s just far less likely than the field has realized throughout these years.) You would need a broken play or a couple touchdowns to really get you there, but if you wanted to chase, you could envision Kerryon Johnson or even Ty Johnson grabbing some points through the air. Ty played 12 snaps last week, as did C.J. Anderson; and with Anderson sent packing, there’s a chance Ty picks up a few breather carries to go with his pass game role.
JM’s Interpretation ::
At the mid-point in the week, I don’t imagine I’ll have a ton of exposure to the Eagles’ backfield (there are some fun things that Miles Sanders allows you to do if you want to bet on his efficiency catching up with his touches, and in large-field tourneys you could play around with game environment approaches that say, “The Eagles will be passing, and that means Sproles will be on the field; and that means he’ll have a shot at a big game”), but the Eagles’ passing attack remains attractive for the fact that Wentz is still the quarterback, Pederson is still the play-caller, and the prices are just unbelievably low. Agholor and Ertz are firmly viable in cash and tourneys of all sizes, while Wentz is viable in tourneys of all sizes, and JJAW // Hollins are extremely viable upside pieces in large-field tourneys, with a clear case that can be made for them as upside pieces in smaller-field play
I like Golladay this week as well, and though I’ll be primarily leaning on him as a piece to play on the other side of the Eagles’ passing attack — playing this game in a bundle — I’ll also have some exposure to him on other rosters where I am focusing my action around other games.
I won’t have much Jones outside of mixing a few shots onto bundles from this game, as his floor is not attractive; but I do like his ceiling enough in this spot to have some exposure.
I’ll likely play the matchup percentages against Jenkins and avoid Hock for the most part, but he’s obviously full of upside if you want to chase. I’ll also likely leave the backfield of the Lions alone, and there are quarterbacks with a much better shot at hitting upside than Matthew Stafford, but I wouldn’t necessarily argue if you were wanting to play this game a few other ways yourself.
Jets Run D14th DVOA/20th Yards allowed per carry
Patriots Run O3rd DVOA/4th Yards per carry
Jets Pass D31st DVOA/24th Yards allowed per pass
Patriots Pass O27th DVOA/28th Yards per pass
Patriots Run D18th DVOA/27th Yards allowed per carry
Jets Run O29th DVOA/23rd Yards per carry
Patriots Pass D17th DVOA/11th Yards allowed per pass
Jets Pass O30th DVOA/32nd Yards per pass
The 2-0 Patriots have been seemingly looking to put their stamp on the league this year — continuing to attack deep into games with a lead, and committing to a more aggressive approach on defense than we have seen from them in ages. This week, the Patriots will be playing a home game against Luke Falk and the nemesis New York Jets, in a game in which the Patriots have climbed from 21.5 point favorites to 23.0 (a sentence I never thought I would have opportunity to write). While a typical team could be expected to take the foot off the gas by the fourth quarter of a blowout, the Patriots have still had Tom Brady on the field, passing the ball, deep into each of their blowout wins so far, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see that happen once again if the Pats are able to produce in this game the way Vegas is expecting.
The Patriots are extremely banged up on the offensive line — and while Dante Scarnecchia is perhaps the best offensive line coach in the league, the strength of the Jets’ defense is their front seven, to a point where this can be marked down as a mismatch for the Patriots this week. With the Patriots as adaptable as any team in the league (and with this matchup setting up better for the pass than for the run, but setting up better for short passes than for deep balls), we can expect the Patriots to focus primarily on a ball-out-quick approach that protects Brady while getting the ball into the hands of his playmakers.
Obvious beneficiaries of this approach include Julian Edelman and James White — though the Patriots also went out of their way last week to force looks to Antonio Brown, giving him eight targets and one carry on only 24 snaps. Once again, the Patriots should use this spot as something akin to “live practice reps,” which should enable you to bank on another eight or more schemed looks going his way in a matchup that sets up well. It’s not crazy to think that Brown could double his snap count from last week; and if he does, double-digit targets wouldn’t be out of the range of possibilities.
The player least likely to benefit from the Pats’ setup in this game is Josh Gordon — and perpetual Josh Gordon FOMO leads to his ownership being higher than his production in this offense has warranted to date. With that said: the FOMO is there because Gordon does have the ability to pop for a big game — creating at least some defense for those who want to chase.
The Patriots’ backfield sets up “less well” in this spot — as you have the always-DFS-hyped “large home favorite” for Sony Michel as the lead running back, but you also have the smallest pass game role of any lead back in the league, and you have a matchup that doesn’t quite tilt in his favor. Michel will get his 20ish touches and provide upside if he scores (which he absolutely can do, more than once), but you’re banking on the touchdown(s) if you want to scoop him up, as the floor outside of those scores remains low.
The Jets, meanwhile, carry a Vegas-implied team total of 10.5, which is absolutely absurd. While touchdowns are the “least predictable element” in NFL DFS, they are also typically required in order to reach slate-breaking upside. A spot like this is obviously poor for cash games, and a team that might score only one touchdown (or no touchdowns) is tough to mine for slate-winning upside in tourneys.
If you want to take your chances on the Jets, Le’Veon Bell is going to play all the snaps, and the Jets are going to lean on him heavily once again. With Stephon Gilmore on Robby Anderson and Falk under center, Bell and Jamison Crowder both have elevated target projections — and Bell is the best bet for a big play or a touchdown, while also carrying legitimate paths to another 30-touch game.
JM’s Interpretation ::
While the Patriots are going to score points in this game, they have a tendency to spread the ball thinly enough that — at their price tags — you end up diluting your opportunities for upside by trying to guess right. This generally leaves me light on the Pats in spite of their scoring potential, but Edelman and White are both solid floor plays this week, while Brown and Brady both might genuinely have enough of a floor/ceiling combo to be considered viable in all formats (i.e., Tier 1). Michel is a ceiling play with a low floor. Gordon is the same, and all Jets are technically the same, though their paths to ceiling are thin at the “Bell level” and even thinner below that. If we played out this slate a hundred times, there might honestly be 10 times in which the Patriots defense outscores everyone on the Jets.
Raiders Run D31st DVOA/15th Yards allowed per carry
Vikings Run O2nd DVOA/6th Yards per carry
Raiders Pass D26th DVOA/28th Yards allowed per pass
Vikings Pass O20th DVOA/22nd Yards per pass
Vikings Run D27th DVOA/22nd Yards allowed per carry
Raiders Run O24th DVOA/17th Yards per carry
Vikings Pass D8th DVOA/29th Yards allowed per pass
Raiders Pass O5th DVOA/7th Yards per pass
The starting point for this matchup between the low-wattage Raiders and the run-centric Vikings is this:
It is unlikely the Raiders can move the ball well against the Vikings’ top-end defense; and the Vikings are not going to get aggressive these days unless they are forced into this approach. This doesn’t preclude any individual pieces in this game from being able to post a good score; but this is unlikely to develop into a good game environment.
The next stopping point on our journey through this game is to point out that Dalvin Cook is being treated like a borderline-workhorse at the moment, with a 70.3% snap share on the season, and with the offense largely centered around what he provides. More important to us than the snap count should be Cook’s touches, which have hit 23 in each game on the young season. While a blowout, in most cases, wouldn’t mean that Cook suddenly spikes to 27+ touches (the Vikings are perfectly happy to give Alexander Mattison and Ameer Abdullah their share of snaps, and they would, wisely, be perfectly happy to let these two grind out the end of a blowout rather than add strain to Cook’s body), but we have seen already this year what he can do on 23 touches.
With that said…
The Raiders run defense — led by Johnathan Hankins, PJ Hall, Tahir Whitehead, and Vontaze Burfict — has been a solid unit so far this year, ranking fourth in early-season DVOA and allowing only 3.12 yards per carry to the typically-strong run games of the Broncos and Chiefs. Can the Raiders still prove to be a fluke? Or could Cook still bust a big play (or two)? Absolutely. But we should enter this game considering the matchup to be tougher-than-usual.
The Vikings passing attack has disappointed from all angles thus far; but Kirk Cousins was really only given one chance to play, and that was on the road against the stout defense of the Packers. There aren’t many viable scenarios in this game in which the Vikings would go pass-heavy; but there is a chance that the Raiders can slow down the run enough to push the Vikings to a more balanced approach. Adam Thielen (as we have repeated ad nauseum since the middle of last year) needs volume in order to support his price tag; and ever since this offense changed (and pricing and ownership failed to change with it), it has been -EV to try to guess on a random big game from him. But if you wanted to hope for the Vikings to go “balanced,” Stefon Diggs does still have the talent to pop off for a big game on only six to eight targets; and as he enters this game with only three receptions on the year, you can make a safe bet that no one will be on him.
On the other side of this game, there is really just nothing for Minnesota to be too scared about through the air. Tyrell Williams doesn’t have the route-running nuance to be a comfortable play against Xavier Rhodes, and the Vikings are perennially a tougher matchup for tight ends. Furthermore, this is a test for the Raiders’ revamped offensive line against a Vikings squad that finished tied with the Bears last year for third in the league in sacks. A bet on the Raiders passing attack is a bet on some unpredictable coverage breakdowns on a week in which the field will likely move off this team.
This quiet, largely-unattractive game wraps up with Josh Jacobs, who has a difficult-but-not-impossible matchup against a Vikings team that allowed 4.03 yards per carry to backs last year; though Jacobs is proving to be touchdown dependent, and the Raiders don’t project for many touchdowns in this spot. If Jacobs plays this week, he’s a closed-eyes, dart-throw play. If he misses, an unattractive timeshare will develop behind him on a week in which there is plenty of high-quality value to like in other spots on the slate.
JM’s Interpretation ::
It’s easy to see why the Over/Under in this game is only 43.5, and it’s tough to get too excited about anything, even with the Vikings earning a Vegas-implied team total of 25.75. The factors in this game all line up for Cook to be the engine of the Vikings’ offense, and he’s a strong, by-the-book play if you want to fade the Raiders’ early-season success against the run. (Alternately, you could say that at his now-higher price, he doesn’t really become a “must have” unless he posts the sort of game Christian McCaffrey posted in Week 1; and as such, you could trust that the Raiders are better at this than people think they are, and recognize that you’re probably not taking on too much risk even if you’re wrong, as you can still make up for another strong game from Cook by allocating that salary in other ways.)
Outside of all that, this game is pretty thin. I like the idea of a few Diggs shots in MME play, but outside of some looks at the Vikings defense, this is a spot I’ll largely stay away from myself.
Ravens Run D2nd DVOA/11th Yards allowed per carry
Chiefs Run O17th DVOA/9th Yards per carry
Ravens Pass D7th DVOA/14th Yards allowed per pass
Chiefs Pass O1st DVOA/12th Yards per pass
Chiefs Run D28th DVOA/30th Yards allowed per carry
Ravens Run O5th DVOA/1st Yards per carry
Chiefs Pass D2nd DVOA/4th Yards allowed per pass
Ravens Pass O19th DVOA/31st Yards per pass
So far, Vegas doesn’t really know what to do with this game — and frankly, I don’t blame them.
This game opened at an Over/Under of 51.5 before jumping all the way up to 55.5. Since then, things have swung back the other way, with this game dropping back down to 52.5. (As you surely know by now, you can find all of this on the Advanced Odds tool by clicking on the “line history” option for this game.) And as noted in the Angles email this week, both of these teams will have their hands full on every side of this game (Chiefs O vs Ravens D // Chiefs D vs Ravens O || Ravens O vs Chiefs D // Ravens D vs Chiefs O). This introduces plenty of chaos, and plenty of ways in which this game could play out.
Given the extreme levels of recency bias we see driving ownership and assessments in the DFS community, we should expect this game to be approached by DFS players with only one potential game flow in mind. We’ll run through that game flow first; but then we’ll also hit on a few of the alternative ways in which this game could viably play out this week.
Likeliest Course ::
The Chiefs have five players who can legitimately score from anywhere on the field (Travis Kelce, all three wide receivers, and “whoever ends up playing running back this week”), while the Ravens have four such players (Marquise Brown, Mark Andrews, and — while lesser-used — Miles Boykin and Justice Hill); all of which doesn’t even consider the “on his own” upside each of these quarterbacks has. In eight home games last year, the Chiefs scored 38 // 30 // 45 // 30 // 26 // 27 // 28 // 35 — and while that 27-point game came against the Ravens, they weren’t exactly these Ravens, as Baltimore had a bit of non-negligible turnover in the offseason on this side of the ball and is still dealing with injuries in the secondary to their starting slot corner and their “former number one, now number two” corner in Jimmy Smith. Marlon Humphrey is a force as the remaining starting corner, and Earl Thomas provides stability on the back end (while even Brandon Carr — thrust into a starting role — could be a starter on plenty of other teams), but this is a more attackable unit than the one against which the Chiefs still scored 27. You could say, “No need to overthink the matchup at home; trust Andy Reid, and trust Patrick Mahomes.” With this thinking, it’s also easy to say, “And if the Chiefs score, the Ravens will find a way to keep up.
Second Most Likely ::
Last year at home, the Chiefs allowed 27 // 14 // 10 // 23 // 14 // 24 // 29 // 3 points, with a much worse defense than they have now. The Chiefs haven’t had the toughest schedule of opposing offenses; but before we crown the Ravens, we should note that they haven’t faced the toughest schedule either: a Dolphins team that may be the least talented roster we have seen in over a decade, and a Cardinals defense without its top two corners (and with no secondary depth behind those two) that plays a zone defense with lots of holes in it. In that second game — at home against the Cardinals defense — the Ravens scored 23 points. The Chiefs have a better defense than the Cardinals right now, and this game is being played at Arrowhead. The clearest alternate scenario is that the Chiefs score their 27 to 31 points, and the Chiefs force Lamar Jackson to work underneath — refusing to give up the big downfield play. If the Chiefs can get the Ravens moving laterally, they win this game, and Spags will know that. (It was a lesser offense they faced last week, but they effectively pulled off that strategy against the Raiders.)
A Third, Less-Likely ::
There is a scenario in which the Chiefs just blow the doors off the Ravens — scoring five or more touchdowns while the Ravens fail to get much of anything going.
JM’s Interpretation ::
The Chiefs are going to put up points; it’s a given almost every week — so the bigger question (as we explored last week) is whether the high-priced guys (Sammy Watkins, Travis Kelce) can be predictably relied on to produce (Tier 1), or if they’re instead “upside with a lower floor” (Tier 3). Kelce has the best matchup, as Tony Jefferson isn’t a “liability,” but he also isn’t really a match for Kelce. Especially with the matchup and the health issues on the Chiefs tilting this game toward the air, Kelce (even with so much to like in other, more affordable spots at tight end this week) has a clear shot at sneaking into Tier 1. Watkins disappointed last week against Paul Guenther’s Raiders, but he still saw 13 targets (after seeing 11 the week before). And while this is about his realistic ceiling for targets, it’s a fairly safe bet that he’ll approach this range once again. His floor comes in a bit too low for Tier 1, but he shapes up as a strong Tier 3. Mecole Hardman and Demarcus Robinson move around enough that they’ll all catch good matchups at times, and both will be involved. It’s fair to hammer either of these guys in tourneys for the upside as well.
The Chiefs backfield looks like an ugly timeshare no matter what (keep in mind that Darrel Williams will prevent Darwin Thompson from seeing a full share of snaps, even if LeSean McCoy and Damien Williams each miss), but these guys are cheap enough that an upside shot can be taken. And of course, Mahomes is always Tier 1, with the highest floor/ceiling combination of any quarterback in football.
Lamar will also likely push for Tier 1 again, as there are just so many ways he can pick up points, and the Ravens will have to stay aggressive in this one. Given what he’s done the first two weeks of the season, he’ll feel like a disappointment if he “only” scores 25; but when you have a guy who has established those types of expectations, you can feel solid entering a game against the Chiefs.
Marquise Brown jumped to 50 out of 77 snaps last week and ran a route on 38 of Lamar’s 46 drop-backs (by far leading the team). Brown doesn’t need to be on the field every play; he just needs to be out there when they’re passing — and after the snap jump and the 13 targets, we should consider him to be for real right now. Another eight or more targets should be in play for him this week.
Mark Andrews is also about as integrated as can be, with 29 pass routes run last week (second on the team), and with another nine targets. Andrews is being used downfield with consistent, schemed looks and should be able to find openings in the Chiefs defense. Both he and Brown are on either the low end of Tier 1 or the very high end of Tier 3.
It should be noted that Miles Boykin ran the third most pass routes, at 26. He saw only three targets, so he is still a thin play; but four or five targets could be enough for a slate-breaking game from him.
We’ll close with an interesting spot: the Ravens’ backfield — where Mark Ingram took a commanding lead in snaps last week (45, to 31 combined for Gus Edwards and Justice Hill). Game flow tilts away from Ingram here, and the matchup on the young season has not looked good; but the Ravens still want to be a run-heavy team, and it’s not crazy in tournaments to bet that the Ravens keep this game close enough for Ingram to rack up 18+ touches and a touchdown or two. This is a less likely scenario, but it’s viable enough to keep Ingram settled in as a deeper Tier 3 play.
Falcons Run D8th DVOA/6th Yards allowed per carry
Colts Run O22nd DVOA/28th Yards per carry
Falcons Pass D30th DVOA/31st Yards allowed per pass
Colts Pass O15th DVOA/10th Yards per pass
Colts Run D6th DVOA/3rd Yards allowed per carry
Falcons Run O26th DVOA/20th Yards per carry
Colts Pass D3rd DVOA/2nd Yards allowed per pass
Falcons Pass O16ths DVOA/3rd Yards per pass
As we know, Frank Reich is one of the more adaptable coaches in the NFL (you aren’t playing Matt Ryan and Julio Jones with a backup quarterback and finding yourself as the favored team all that often, even with the game at home; this is a credit to Reich’s brilliance at controlling a game environment), and Dan Quinn is one of the least adaptable coaches (“Rah, rah! Brotherhood! Let’s get ’em, boys!”), which should create an environment in which the Colts dictate the way this game plays out. And what the Colts will hope to do in this spot is avoid a back-and-forth shootout, as this is a less likely path to victory for them than a slower-paced, technician-like affair. Vegas backs up this thought, with each team carrying a Vegas-implied team total under 25 (and with the total having dropped a point since it opened — as you can see on the Advanced Odds tool by clicking on the Line History option). The Colts are well-equipped to play this type of game, as they are able to largely take away deep passing, and are able to force receivers to move laterally across the field (where their catches require them to still turn upfield before picking up yards) rather than allowing them to catch vertical targets. If the Colts can pull off this approach against Julio and Calvin Ridley while disrupting the run game (more on this in a moment), they could keep this game low-scoring enough to win with mistake-free football from an offense that is able to eventually take advantage of the sometimes-over-aggressive nature of the Falcons defense. In tournaments of all sizes, you can play alternate scenarios in this game that include a Ryan/Julio pairing (these two are talented enough to pop for a big game in any matchup), and you could stretch your scenarios in large-field play to include Ridley landing some big punches, simply because he is always capable of doing so. But we should expect a “likeliest scenario” to turn Julio into more of a 7-90-0 guy than the 9-170-1 guy we can target in matchups that unleash him downfield, with this game playing out in more of a “game-management” mode from there.
One player from this game whose price requires us to dig in deep even with that scenario in place (i.e., this player has a chance to fall into the “significantly underpriced” category — making it important that we understand as much as we can) is Devonta Freeman, who is a talented “lead back in a timeshare on a good offense.” He’s not a 100% player (he played 40 out of 63 snaps last week — 63.5%), but he’s also unlikely to be the 50% player he looked like in Week 1. We should keep in mind that Week 1 was Freeman’s first game back after missing a year of football; and while he might not quite climb to the 70% or 75% snaps we would have liked (roughly the range of a guy like Austin Ekeler), 65% of the snaps is still enough for Freeman to see 17 touches (he has seen 11 and 14 thus far, against two of the most challenging run defense matchups in the NFL, while facing poor game script). The Colts are no pushover (last year, they allowed the ninth fewest rushing yards to running backs and kept backs to only 3.84 yards per carry), and the Falcons’ offensive line has looked miserable thus far (which is bad news against a Colts front that is intentionally undersized in order for their game to be built upon disruption; we should see a few plays get blown up in the backfield in this one). And even though the Colts filter targets to the running back position (only the Eagles and Falcons allowed more RB catches last year), it’s often foolish to rely on the Falcons to bump up RB pass game involvement (against the aforementioned Eagles, with his snap count on the rise, Freeman still saw just four targets). All of this combines to make him less than a lock-and-load play, as there are a number of viable paths that could lead to him repeating his disappointing production from the first two weeks; and yet, the upside is there in this spot for you to keep an eye on him in larger-field contests, as he could hit for a big game probably 15% of the time in this spot, and ownership should in no way reflect that.
Even with Gardner Minshew, Luke Falk, Teddy Bridgewater, etc. all having thrown passes this year, Jacoby Brissett has the lowest average intended air yards in the entire NFL so far, with his average pass traveling only 5.2 yards downfield. (Again, adaptability ::) The Colts have also played at the league’s fifth slowest situation-neutral pace this year (after ranking second last year with Andrew Luck under center) — and with the public sure to be more enamored with a matchup against “Falcons defense” than they would be if they understood how this offense is now being run, there is a case to be made that it’s +EV to just leave the Colts alone altogether. In the likeliest scenario for this game, you’ll come away with a solid price-considered score if you guess correctly on where the touchdowns on this offense will come from, and you’ll come away with a disappointing score if you guess wrong (with a less-likely game environment or a multi-touchdown game required from one of these guys for a slate-breaking score to emerge). If you want to chase on this side of the ball, however, Marlon Mack will be the lead ball-carrier for as long as this game stays close, while Nyheim Hines will be featured in the pass game if the Colts fall into a hole (he’s a moderately interesting option in a bundle with Ryan/Julio in ultra-large-field play). The matchup for Mack is favorable, but so far this year it does not appear to be a major boost; you’d be banking on him topping a hundred yards and scoring a couple times — which he can do, but the floor is low to get you there. In the pass game: T.Y. Hilton is still being featured as the alpha receiver in this offense and is getting quality, schemed targets — though he’ll need a busted coverage or a couple missed tackles to have one of his long plays, as this Colts offense is just not built with an attack-level mentality at the moment. (Parris Campbell, Deon Cain, Chester Rogers, Zach Pascal — all of whom played under 35 snaps apiece last week — and the tight ends are nothing more than dart throws.)
JM’s Interpretation ::
I won’t have this game near my core builds this week, as there are just much surer ways to target upside (in plenty of spots that may also go overlooked by the field), and I expect to have negligible exposure in tourneys. (Honestly, the Colts defense is a viable low-owned piece, as they could really throw a wrench in the Falcons’ offense if the issues on the offensive line continue. Though with Mason Rudolph, Luke Falk, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Teddy Bridgewater, etc. all on the Main Slate, this one is more of an upside-chaser than it is an Optimal play.) There are paths by which you could grab a nice score from this game (and I may end up with more Julio exposure than I’m expecting, simply because he can break loose in any matchup, and he’s unlikely to dud), but with plenty to like elsewhere on this slate, I’ll be hunting for most of my floor and ceiling somewhere else.
Broncos Run D5th DVOA/10th Yards allowed per carry
Packers Run O10th DVOA/10th Yards per carry
Broncos Pass D9th DVOA/13th Yards allowed per pass
Packers Pass O6th DVOA/14th Yards per pass
Packers Run D25th DVOA/12th Yards allowed per carry
Broncos Run O20th DVOA/16th Yards per carry
Packers Pass D25th DVOA/18th Yards allowed per pass
Broncos Pass O31st DVOA/26th Yards per pass
Matchup for the Packers ::
Given how solid the Packers defense has looked so far this year and how conservative the Broncos offense has looked (with their passing attack focused largely on the short areas of the field), it’s fair to assume that most of the DFS interest in this game lands on the home team that has Aaron Rodgers at quarterback. And while the matchup for the Packers is difficult against a still-talented Broncos defense coached by Vic Fangio, it isn’t as difficult as what this team faced the first two weeks of the season against the Bears and the Vikings.
The Broncos have had issues so far this season allowing wide receivers to get vertical on them — with too much trust being given to their boundary corners — and this setup could open opportunities for big plays from Davante Adams and (to a lesser extent) Marquez Valdes-Scantling, each of whom will be used downfield. (There are some concerning elements in this Matt LaFleur offense that we’ll get to in a moment, but he has been more variable in his usage of Adams than Mike McCarthy was, and he should be looking to get the most out of the matchup this week with a couple downfield looks.)
On the ground, the matchup is tougher for the Packers against a Broncos defense that is all about stopping the run first, and the Packers seem to be trending toward the dreaded “Yeah, Aaron Jones is good, but we want to get Jamaal Williams touches, too” setup that we thought we had finally escaped. Jones saw 42 snaps last week and Williams saw 32, and LaFleur seemed to express this week that he would like things to be even closer than that.
Potential issues for the Packers ::
The good (not too terribly unexpected) news is that so far this season, Adams has more targets than MVS and Geronimo Allison combined. The bad news, however, is that the Packers currently rank 21st in pass play rate at 56.35% (after ranking first in the NFL last year at 67.54%). This was somewhat expected with the switch to LaFleur (and given that the Packers have faced the tough run defenses of the Bears and Vikings so far, it seems this will remain the case regardless of matchup this year), but there was hope that the balance of Rodgers on the other side of LaFleur would keep the Packers from dropping quite so low. This dip in passing volume has had an impact on Adams, who has averaged 8.5 targets per game through two weeks after ranking third in the league last year at 11.3. Adams has room to grow, but we should expect him to finish below double-digit targets per game on the whole this season — making him a bit overpriced for his likeliest range in a still-challenging matchup.
On the Broncos side ::
While the Broncos are not a good offense, they do have a narrow concentration of touches, with Emmanuel Sanders seeing 20 targets so far this year, Courtland Sutton seeing 15, DaeSean Hamilton seeing 10, and Noah Fant seeing eight.
Jaire Alexander made it clear this week that he thinks he and Kevin King are the best cornerback duo in the NFL (they’re not — but they are good, and they did really well against the Vikings dangerous pair of Thielen/Diggs), and this week they will take on Sutton and Sanders, who have each been seeing most of their snaps on the perimeter. These corners match up better against Sutton than they do against Sanders — though Diggs is a good comp for Sanders, and they basically erased him a week ago. There would be more reasons to like this matchup for Sanders if he were playing more than 21.5% of his snaps out of the slot, and he will need a broken play or a touchdown to really pop; but he is cheap enough — and the targets have been consistent enough — that he belongs on any list at the front end of the week in spite of the below-average matchup (especially after he hit the Bears for 11-98-1, on 13 looks).
Sutton and DaeSean are more speculative in this short-area attack, but the Broncos are likely to be chasing points if you wanted to chase yourself. Sutton has the biggest downfield role, and is therefore likeliest to hit without needing volume. (He’s also helped by the fact that the volume should be somewhat bankable.)
While game flow will likely tilt the Broncos toward the pass eventually, this is a team that wants to be built on the run, and the Packers enter this game third in early-season DVOA against the pass but 14th against the run.
So far on the season, Royce Freeman has played 72 snaps, and Phillip Lindsay has played 71. Royce has run 42 pass routes to 41 for Lindsay. Royce has 21 carries and eight targets; Lindsay has 24 carries and eight targets. The biggest mismatch for this pair goes to Lindsay in the pass game, where the Packers linebackers have potential to struggle against quicker backs; and while this has come against the Bears trio and Dalvin Cook, it’s at least worth noting that the Packers have allowed the most running back receptions so far this year.
Last year, Lindsay had 1.02 DraftKings points per touch and 0.90 FanDuel points per touch. This year, he’s sitting at 0.66 // 0.54. Any running back who is moderately involved in the pass game should approach at least 0.9 on DK and 0.8 on FD in a worst-case scenario over time; so while it’s no guarantee that he hits this week, Lindsay is pretty fundamentally underpriced on DK. (This is less the case on FanDuel, but he can be kept on the low-owned tourney radar everywhere.)
The same could be said for Royce as well. Big-picture, we should trust Lindsay a little more as a pass catcher than Royce (tilting the upside 60/40 in Lindsay’s favor), but it’s not crazy to bet on either of these guys in tourneys this week.
JM’s Interpretation ::
You could leave this game alone altogether and probably not notice at the end of Sunday (i.e., it’s likely that no “scores you have to have” emerge from this game). But if hunting for one such score, there are plenty of viable options:
- Davante could get nine or more targets and go for 100 yards and a touchdown or two
- Manny Sanders (and to a lesser extent Sutton) could be chased for the targets that are locked in, in a spot where the Broncos offense may be forced to keep up
- Lindsay (and to a slightly lesser extent, Royce) can be chased in tourneys for the low-cost upside in a locked-in 13+ touch role
You could obviously stretch into less-likely scenarios from there (not necessary on a week with so much to like elsewhere, but at least not crazy, either), but at the very least the plays above can be considered in tourneys, as some level of Tier 3 plays.
Dolphins Run D32nd DVOA/19th Yards allowed per carry
Cowboys Run O18th DVOA/24th Yards per carry
Dolphins Pass D10th DVOA/16th Yards allowed per pass
Cowboys Pass O22nd DVOA/1st Yards per pass
Cowboys Run D29th DVOA/32nd Yards allowed per carry
Dolphins Run O23rd DVOA/22nd Yards per carry
Cowboys Pass D21st DVOA/12th Yards allowed per pass
Dolphins Pass O11th DVOA/17th Yards per pass
I cannot recall another time in the last five years in which an NFL team was favored by three or more touchdowns — and here this week, we have two such contests at once (incidentally, with a team from the AFC East the underdog in both of those games). The Cowboys opened as 17.0 point favorites (which is already unheard of) and have (as of this writeup) been bet up to 23.0. And the craziest thing is that this isn’t all that crazy. The Dolphins are an NFL team; and that’s about all you can come up with for reasons why the Cowboys won’t overwhelm them this week. NFL teams sometimes find a way to get unexpected things done; but the likeliest scenario in this game (obviously) has Dallas winning big.
This leads to two important questions ::
The first question is how likely is it that the Dolphins can keep up — either by slowing down the Cowboys, or by keeping pace on offense? And if we side with Vegas and the sharp money and say that this is a low-likelihood scenario, and that the Cowboys will probably pull away in this game, then the next question we need to ask is how willing the Cowboys will be to A) continue throwing the ball deep into this game with a big lead, and B) keep Ezekiel Elliott on the field as this game gets out of hand.
Given the new, aggressive identity of this Cowboys offense, it seems safe to bet that the Cowboys keep the full offense on the field and remain at least moderately aggressive through at least the first 50 minutes of the game; and if this is the case — i.e., if the Cowboys’ trio of offensive stars (Zeke, Dak Prescott, and Amari Cooper) come off the field in the fourth quarter because they already have a four or five touchdown lead — then all three remain relevant, as Zeke/Amari could each top 100 yards and score a touchdown in that scenario, while Dak could hit for 300-3. The respective prices on these guys (especially the passing game components) would typically cause us to prefer them in a shootout-type environment; but the Dolphins have been so poor this year that a shootout-type environment may not be necessary for the Cowboys to be one of the higher-scoring teams on the weekend.
In the pass game — with Michael Gallup out of action and a little more focus flowing to Amari — the biggest concern would be the matchup with Xavien Howard. With no pass rush for Miami, Amari will win his fair share; but his paths to a slate-winning score get dimmed just a bit — making him a guy to consider in tourneys but avoid in cash.
A Zeke-smash is very likely, with him probably needing to get unlucky in order to fall shy of 100 yards and a touchdown (with a bit of pass game work still mixed in) — making him fine in all formats.
Devin Smith seems likely to go over-owned compared to some of the other value plays this week because he plays for the Cowboys, and is playing against Miami; but he should be on the field for a large chunk of this game and will likely get one or two deep shots, along with a bit of underneath work. And Randall Cobb may see a slight boost with Gallup out (he has 11 targets thus far on the year) — though he’ll need a broken play or a multi-touchdown game to really matter with his short-area role.
The Cowboys tight ends are just “hoping to guess right on a touchdown.”
And as to the Dolphins ::
We know all about the Cowboys defense by now, and we know how bad the Dolphins have been. Volume is nice; but as noted in our writeup of the Jets: we typically need touchdowns to reach slate-breaking upside, and this Dolphins team won’t score many touchdowns this year. It’s +EV to just leave the Dolphins alone altogether, rather than trying to guess and “hope you get one spot on your roster right with a long-shot play.”
JM’s Interpretation ::
This game is pretty simple (especially compared to a few others on this slate), as Zeke shapes up as a solid all-around, high-floor/high-ceiling play (Tier 1), while Amari and Dak have some question marks on floor, but have plenty of clear paths to ceiling (strong Tier 3). Everything else on the Cowboys is more speculative. And while I wait until later in the week to really get a feel for defense, this is another squad — like the Patriots this week against the Jets — that could outscore every player on the Dolphins a good 10 times if we played out this slate a hundred times, making them an attractive option even at the high end of the price range, especially with how much we can like this week for savings in other spots.
Giants Run D15th DVOA/8th Yards allowed per carry
Buccaneers Run O6th DVOA/19th Yards per carry
Giants Pass D23rd DVOA/21st Yards allowed per pass
Buccaneers Pass O9th DVOA/8th Yards per pass
Buccaneers Run D3rd DVOA/1st Yards allowed per carry
Giants Run O30th DVOA/27th Yards per carry
Buccaneers Pass D1st DVOA/9th Yards allowed per pass
Giants Pass O29th DVOA/30th Yards per pass
This game features a Buccaneers team that has a bottom-four pass rush grade from Pro Football Focus and a bottom-half coverage grade, against a Giants team that has the worst coverage grade and the worst pass rush grade in the league.
This game also features the installation of Daniel Jones under center for the Giants(!), after he looked excellent in the preseason, dominating in the short areas of the field (especially the short middle), and also working downfield with success. There are sure to be growing pains for the number six overall pick, but Jones is an upgrade to expectations for all players in this offense.
We’ll start with Shepard, who has been used in more of a Stefon Diggs role in this offense than in the “strict possession role” most seem to picture him having — with plenty of short throws to get the ball into his hands, but also with plenty of downfield looks. If Shepard does indeed return to the field this week, he should be a focal point, with eight or more targets a fair bet to make (and with a few of these targets coming 15+ yards downfield). (Note: If Shep misses, Cody Latimer is also expected to miss — leaving Bennie Fowler as a legitimate threat for seven or more targets, and making him intriguing in large-field tourneys, especially as the Giants showed last week that they are willing to attack downfield with him, giving him three targets of 20+ yards that all went incomplete, as part of 10 targets in all.)
In the early going this season, the Bucs defense has been hit by both Gorge Kittle and Greg Olsen, and Engram should be heavily involved once again this week after seeing 14 and eight targets through his first two games. Although Engram is used primarily in the shorter areas of the field, there were a few spots last year in which Pat Shurmur chose to unleash him downfield, and the chances of that happening are heightened with the switch under center.
Saquon has the toughest matchup against a Bucs D that has sold out to stop the run so far this season (ranking seventh in Pro Football Focus’ run defense ratings, and ranking first in DVOA) — though it is still early enough for the Bucs’ run defense magic to prove fluky, and Saquon is a matchup-buster who may see a drop in ownership after the Christian McCaffrey dud last week in this matchup. This is the rare week in which Saquon’s floor is a bit shy of Tier 1 at his price; but his ceiling doesn’t go away.
This game is a celebration of concentrated offensive distribution, as the Bucs have only two guys they are throwing to often enough to matter (Mike Evans has 13 targets through two games; Chris Godwin has 15; Breshad Perriman has also seen nine looks, though as this has led to two catches for 10 yards so far, it seems likely his role starts to dwindle). Volume for Evans and Godwin has been lower than we expected heading into the year, but if you want to bet on Daniel Jones having a strong start to his career, it stands to reason that the Bucs will attack with these two at some point — with seven to nine targets a comfortable projection for each guy in this pristine matchup, and with room for those targets to grow from there.
Behind Evans and Godwin, it isn’t crazy to bet on some squeaky wheel treatment for O.J. Howard, who has played 110 snaps to 46 for Cameron Brate, but who has only one more official target than his less-heralded teammate. With how ultra-talented Howard is, he’s a solid upside bet in tourneys, as he has slate-breaking potential in this spot if things come together for him. His usage has been a topic of conversation around the team this week.
This pulls us into the least attractive spot in this game: the Bucs backfield — where Peyton Barber seemed to take over as the lead back once again last week after being outperformed by Ronald Jones in Week 1. The Giants have been less of a weak link against the run, and it’s generally a profitable approach to just avoid the Tampa backfield altogether; but you could touchdown-chase in this spot and hope Barber pushes in a couple scores for a bit of cheap, large-field upside.
JM’s Interpretation ::
With so much to like on this slate, my early-week practice builds and large-field builds largely ignored this game outside of Engram. But as I move through the second half of the week, I’ll be incorporating some more looks from this game to see how these guys stack up against the rest of the slate for me. Right now, it’s looking like Shep // Engram will make a push for Tier 1, while Godwin // Evans will be borderline-1. The quarterbacks look viable in tourneys (though with floors unnecessarily low for cash), while Saquon is viable in tourneys for the upside (duh), and Howard looks like an intriguing Tier 3 option — with his apparently low floor taken into account, but with his slate-breaking ceiling taken into account as well. There’s plenty to like in this game in all; and while both offenses are inconsistent, and both carry some question marks, it’s looking +EV to have a bit of focus placed on this game.
Panthers Run D26th DVOA/18th Yards allowed per carry
Cardinals Run O2nd DVOA/2nd Yards per carry
Panthers Pass D13th DVOA/10th Yards allowed per pass
Cardinals Pass O18th DVOA/15th Yards per pass
Cardinals Run D10th DVOA/25th Yards allowed per carry
Panthers Run O16th DVOA/21st Yards per carry
Cardinals Pass D10th DVOA/19th Yards allowed per pass
Panthers Pass O11th DVOA/11th Yards per pass
The Cardinals return home in Week 3 for a matchup I have had circled since early August. Is this the best matchup the Cardinals will have this season? Absolutely not. (In fact, the Cardinals schedule is about to lighten up considerably over the next several weeks.) But after the Cardinals opened the season against a disciplined Matt Patricia defense that had all offseason to prepare for them and then traveled to take on Baltimore, they now get to play at home against a Carolina secondary that doesn’t have the pieces to hang with them (more on this in a bit).
So far this year, the Cardinals rank second in pace of play, fifth in plays per game, first in most opponent plays allowed per game, and second in passing play rate. Their goal on offense is to spread out the defense, attack with a ball-out-quick offense that pokes holes all game before eventually springing a big play downfield, and make the opposing defense tired so that they can increase their edge as the game moves along.
Carolina enters this game ranking 19th in pass defense DVOA after ranking 24th last year, and while James Bradberry is a solid corner, he’s too passive to be a threat against a shorter-area attack like this, and the secondary behind him is full of question marks, with guys like Donte Jackson and Javien Elliott really no match for what the Cardinals are looking to do.
Through two weeks, targets on the Cardinals have looked like this:
>> Larry Fitzgerald :: 13 // 11
>> Christian Kirk :: 12 // 8
>> KeeSean Johnson :: 10 // 2
>> Damiere Byrd :: 7 // 7
(Michael Crabtree was also involved with three targets last week, though he’s more in place to steal targets than to provide targetable upside.)
Fitz and Kirk both carry the highest combination of floor/ceiling, as each has been used on a variety of precision-oriented short-area routes and downfield looks intended to strain the defense; though Byrd is also intriguing, as he has a legitimate role (and a revenge game narrative) in which the Cardinals are looking to get the ball into his hands in the shorter-areas of the field in the hopes that his speed can lead to a big play. Even KeeSean is viable (in spite of the two-target showing last week), as he leads this team in average depth of target at a strong 13.6 mark and is a big body to target in the red zone.
The Cardinals passing attack is going to be heavy on volume, and the targets will be largely concentrated around the guys listed above, creating a situation in which all of them need to be considered this week.
On the other side of this matchup, the Cardinals defense appears to be deploying a quietly brilliant strategy: focusing a large chunk of their defensive attention on the run in order to effectively force opponents to attack through the air (if the Cardinals feel that one of their biggest edges is their ability to tire out a defense, then they know an opponent will look to counter by slowing down the game on the ground; as such, Arizona has been sticking to a largely zone-based defense that keeps eyes on the backfield and maintains strong gap discipline to prevent teams grinding out games this way). The Cardinals rank middle of the pack so far in opponent pass play rate, but this has come after facing a pair of run-dominant teams — with the Cardinals allowing the ninth fewest rushing yards to enemy backs so far, at only 3.38 yards per carry.
None of this is any guarantee that the Cardinals find a way to slow down Christian McCaffrey, who is sure to be a focal point for the Panthers with Cam Newton expected to miss this game; but especially with Kyle Allen taking over for the Panthers (in his home state! against a quarterback who was once his teammate and beat him out of a job at Texas A&M! narratives!), we can expect the Cardinals to double-down on this strategy in Week 3, trying to force Carolina to the air.
As noted above, the Cardinals have faced the most opponent plays per game this season. They also saw Danny Amendola, T.J. Hockenson, and Kenny Golladay combine for 31 targets in Week 1, while Marquise Brown and Mark Andrews combined for 22 targets in Week 2.
Tight end coverage has been a weakness early on for the Cardinals, with holes opening up in the zone that seam-stretchers can exploit. Kyle Allen leaned heavily on Ian Thomas in his Week 17 start last year — and while this is no guarantee that he does the same with Greg Olsen this week (Thomas was used primarily on short slants in that game, while Olsen will likely be used in more of a downfield role), this is a great matchup, and Allen should be nearly as capable as Cam of playing pitch-and-catch here.
The Panthers should also make life easy on Allen with D.J. Moore giving him an easy target in the short areas of the field, with YAC upside from there. Moore has shown out so far with 10 and 14 targets; and while it’s dangerous to ever project double-digit looks, this is another clear spot for volume to stay high.
The wildcard on this side of the ball is Curtis Samuel, who has 4.31 speed and is a tremendous route-runner; and while he was force-fed downfield looks last week (that Cam was, sadly, incapable of hitting), his 13 targets remind us that the Panthers want to keep him involved. Samuel has an extensive route tree and can be used short if the Panthers don’t feel comfortable attacking deep with Allen, so the volume — while a little less secure than Moore’s and Olsen’s — should be there again this week. (It’s also worth keeping in mind that if Samuel had hit on just one more of his many deep balls from Cam, he could have left last week with something like a 5-130-1 line; and with literally nothing different in his usage from that line to the reality, people would have been somewhat scared to not play him this week.)
JM’s Interpretation ::
On the Cardinals’ side, the only player I’m not highly interested in is David Johnson — and that’s only because the price is still a bit high for his inconsistent pass game role on a team that doesn’t care all that much about running the ball. (I will have some DJ in large-field tourneys as I gather up pieces of this offense, but the floor is too low for me to be interested too far beyond that.) But Kyler, Fitz, Kirk, and (on DK, where he costs 6.0% of the salary cap after seeing seven targets per game) even Byrd could all be viable as Tier 1 plays, and are attractive in a block as well. (The first three guys from that block nearly went 4x their Week 3 DK salary last week at Baltimore.) Much like the Bills down the stretch last year: even if you load up on this group and it misses, this simply lowers the price and ownership for the week when they hit.
On the Panthers’ side — vs this Cardinals defense that wants to stop the run and is attackable through the air — I don’t see Kyle Allen as much of a downgrade from Cam right now, given how the latter has played so far this year, and this makes Olsen, Moore, and (to a lesser extent — simply because we know less about Allen’s willingness to push the ball downfield) Samuel all completely viable plays as well, while CMC is going to be on the field for right around 100% of the snaps in this pace-up game against an opponent that allows a ton of plays to be run, giving him a clear shot at ceiling in spite of the run-focused nature of the Cardinals defense.
It’s early enough in the week that I’m not quite sure where all these players will land in the Player Grid; but I expect the Player Grid to be littered with options from this game.
Steelers Run D1st DVOA/2nd Yards allowed per carry
49ers Run O9th DVOA/8th Yards per carry
Steelers Pass D8th DVOA/6th Yards allowed per pass
49ers Pass O17th DVOA/21st Yards per pass
49ers Run D7th DVOA/9th Yards allowed per carry
Steelers Run O14th DVOA/11th Yards per carry
49ers Pass D22rd DVOA/3rd Yards allowed per pass
Steelers Pass O12th DVOA/23rd Yards per pass
The 49ers // Steelers game will turn on defense this week, as the 49ers’ much-improved defense will be playing at home against Mason Rudolph, while Pittsburgh’s typically-much-better-than-this defense (more on this in a moment) will be taking on Jimmy Garoppolo and a 49ers offense that looked good last week against a Bengals team that had multiple assignment breakdowns and tackling issues, but that looked much less polished the previous week in Tampa.
We’ll start on the side of the visitors, where pricing for Week 3 was released before it was announced that Ben Roethlisberger would officially be out of action for this game. Because DFS pricing matters in our decision-making, there are very few defensible statistical reasons this week for playing Pittsburgh offensive pieces in a tough spot on the road with Rudolph under center and pricing set for Roethlisberger. Rather than paying up for JuJu Smith-Schuster in an effort to be sneaky, you could instead keep an eye on ownership projections for DeAndre Hopkins and Julio Jones, who are each projected at the mid-point in the week to be far lower-owned than they ever should be. And instead of trying to get sneaky with Donte Moncrief or James Washington at the low end of the price range, you could realize that someone like Damiere Byrd or JJ Arcega-Whiteside will also go overlooked, with a legitimate role in a good offense. Point being: it’s not that it’s impossible for one of these Steelers to have a really strong game; but there are spots that are far likelier to hit, and that will be equally overlooked. (I won’t be building around the Steelers myself; but if you did want to go here, the way to do it would be to bet on this Pittsburgh offense really clicking, and this turning into something of a shootout. By playing this less-likely scenario, you would need one unlikely thing to go right in order to cover three or four spots on your roster, instead of needing one unlikely thing to go right in order to cover only one.)
This game doesn’t get much more exciting from a DFS perspective on the other side, where the 49ers backfield has turned into a three-man show, with Raheem Mostert taking on the biggest pass-catching role, Matt Breida likeliest to lead in carries, and Jeff Wilson suddenly appearing to have the primary red zone role. (All this against a Steelers team that has been better against the run than against the pass.)
As for the 49ers matchup against the pass ::
It’s no secret that the Steelers pass defense has looked bad this year; but they have the pieces in the secondary to be better than they have been, and they have the pass rushing juice necessary to move Garoppolo off his mark. While not exactly guaranteed, it is “more likely than not” this week that Keith Butler takes out some of the more complicated concepts in his defense and focuses a bit more heavily on fundamentals before adding pieces back down the road, as most of the Steelers’ issues have been centered around communication and coverage breakdowns, rather than around lack of talent. If this happens, this matchup could become more difficult for Jimmy G than the Steelers have shown the first two weeks, making it difficult to find much floor on this spread-the-wealth attack, and making it impossible to do more than “guess and hope” for ceiling outside of the one, always-obvious piece.
JM’s Interpretation ::
For me, this game is simple: it’s George Kittle in Tier 3, because he always has enough upside to be considered — and then leave everyone else alone. A big score or two could emerge from this game, but the salary-based risk you take on to target that game from Pittsburgh is just unnecessary this week, with more +EV plays available; and the guess-on-volume risk on the 49ers is completely unnecessary as well, on a slate with so many great spots available to choose from.
Saints Run D4th DVOA/4th Yards allowed per carry
Seahawks Run O8th DVOA/12th Yards per carry
Saints Pass D15th DVOA/17th Yards allowed per pass
Seahawks Pass O3rd DVOA/2nd Yards per pass
Seahawks Run D9th DVOA/13th Yards allowed per carry
Saints Run O12th DVOA/14th Yards per carry
Seahawks Pass D29th DVOA/32nd Yards allowed per pass
Saints Pass O14th DVOA/9th Yards per pass
If Brees were under center ::
The best way to begin our look at this game is to break down how we would be viewing it if Drew Brees were set to be under center:
If this were the case, the most attractive piece on the Saints would have been Alvin Kamara. We would have been noting that the matchup was tough against a stout Seattle front seven, and that the tough matchup combined with the game environment left his floor lower than normal; but we would have also noted that his ceiling remained attractive.
We would have noted that Michael Thomas carried a high floor given his heavy usage and his connection with Brees, but that his ceiling remained dependent on touchdowns — especially as this game would be unlikely to turn into the sort of spot where the Saints would be pressed into unleashing him downfield.
We would also have set aside Jared Cook and Ted Ginn as guys with some ceiling attractiveness, but with too little floor to be considered beyond larger tourneys.
With Teddy Bridgewater now set to be under center, one easy way to handle this game is to take all those “with Brees” assessments down a couple notches; and with pricing still set for Brees, the Saints (similar to the Steelers) can be comfortably marked as plays with a lower expected value than a number of other options on this slate.
We’ll circle back around to this side of the ball in a moment, but on the Seattle side, we prefer to target this offense in games in which there is a chance they will need to get aggressive. In these games, the Seahawks’ vertical passing attack has an opportunity to shine, and touchdown opportunities are raised for a running back in Chris Carson who — even with his new dump-off-centric pass game role — typically requires touchdowns in order to become a really strong play. With the Saints likely to find themselves less effective on offense without their Hall of Fame quarterback, the Seahawks have a clear path to running the ball more times than they pass it this week (which will surely make the entire coaching staff giddy).
In this likeliest scenario, Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf will each see enough targets to have a shot at a solid game, but a big game will be a thin bet to make. And Carson will be a fairly one-dimensional producer (and with David Onyemata back from suspension last week, the Saints looked a lot more like the unit that finished third in DVOA last year), but he should maintain his 20-touch role even with his recent fumbling issues, and as a home favorite, he’s a decent bet for production.
There is a less likely scenario, however — in which Sean Payton comes up with some wizardry that allows the Saints to move the field and put up points in this tough spot even without Drew Brees. In this scenario, the Saints would have some trick plays designed to spring Tre’Quan Smith or Ted Ginn loose, and they would then use these plays to set up opportunities to get Kamara into space for big plays of his own. For all we know, Payton could even come out with Taysom Hill under center on Sunday instead of Teddy Bridgewater, and the entire game plan could be centered around his skill set — with the Saints running option plays and RPOs and attacking the Seahawks in myriad ways they could not have prepared for. If this were successful enough, it could even lead to the Seahawks having to get aggressive in response, and to Metcalf and/or Lockett popping off for a big game.
Some blend of that “less likely” scenario is certain to find its way into this game (Payton is not going to just come out and run the Brees offense and hope it leads to a win) — with some plays that feature Hill, and some trickery designed to hit a big play — but it’s highly unlikely that the game tilts all the way in that direction. Nevertheless, there are paths to consider if you really want to chase.
JM’s Interpretation ::
As with the other “late game with a Hall of Fame quarterback missing in action and his weapons still priced like he’s playing,” I’m expecting to just avoid the Saints offense — with none of these guys making their way near my tighter builds, and with only maybe one or two ultra-large-field rosters (if that) that bet on some scenario in which things swing a different way.
Because of this lack of interest in the Saints (and the fact that the Seahawks would be perfectly content to ground-and-pound if they can take a lead), I’m not leaning toward much interest in the Seahawks, either.
As always, there are some alternate ways you could view this game, or some other ways to handle it; but for me — with what else is available on this slate — I’m fine missing out on whatever sort of crazy, outlier scenario might happen to show up here.
Texans Run D23rd DVOA/31st Yards allowed per carry
Chargers Run O31st DVOA/13th Yards per carry
Texans Pass D8th DVOA/22nd Yards allowed per pass
Chargers Pass O7th DVOA/5th Yards per pass
Chargers Run D21st DVOA/14th Yards allowed per carry
Texans Run O23rd DVOA/31st Yards per carry
Chargers Pass D11th DVOA/23rd Yards allowed per pass
Texans Pass O8th DVOA/4th Yards per pass
>> Deshaun Watson. DeAndre Hopkins. Will Fuller. Philip Rivers. Austin Ekeler. Keenan Allen. The pace is slower on these teams, and the prices are fairly high; but there are big names involved on the offenses, and there should be some production to be found in this spot.
Before we dive into the passing attack of the visiting team, we’ll start with the Texans run game (or, I should say, “we’ll get the Texans run game out of the way”). The matchup for the Texans is not anything to shy away from after the Chargers were one of the more attackable run defenses in the league last year — and after he saw 20 carries last week in a tight win against the Jaguars while operating as the lead back, it is fair to expect Carlos Hyde to see the bulk of the carries in this one for as long as this game remains close. While the touches are nice, however, Hyde has slipped into something of an Adrian Peterson role with the Texans, with only one catch for two yards (on one target) through his first two games, against 30 carries on the ground. Hyde isn’t blocked from paths to a big game, but he is a two-down back with a bare-minimum pass game role on a team that is a slight underdog on the road.
Away from Hyde, things get a bit more interesting for the Texans, as we have Watson and his group of explosive pass catchers.
Targets on this offense are going to be spread around in this order:
>> DeAndre Hopkins (who has more targets than Fuller, Stills, and Coutee combined)
>> Will Fuller (who has more targets than Stills and Coutee combined)
>> Stills // Coutee
While you could always chase an outlier, big-play-based shot on Stills or Coutee, the guy to whom attention should shift in this spot is Hopkins, who should push for double-digit targets (as he almost always does). Hopkins should match up largely on Casey Hayward — and while the NFL Edge has been preaching the gospel of Casey Hayward since he was with the Packers, he is not on the same level as Nuk. Generally speaking, I don’t make a habit of paying up for wide receivers in tougher matchups, but Hopkins is just so consistent, and he has the feel of someone who will go a bit overlooked this week, making him an interesting name to keep in mind in tourneys.
Away from Casey Hayward, the Chargers’ secondary has been hit hard by injury, as starting corner Trevor Williams is now out, and Derwin James’ replacement Adrian Phillips has joined him on the sidelines. Although the Texans don’t have a tight end who can take advantage of the hole at strong safety for the Chargers, Phillips had also taken over as the communication leader in the absence of James. The drop in talent and communication in the Chargers’ secondary could be felt against the speed of a player like Fuller, who still carries his typically-low floor, but who also has legitimate slate-breaking upside. It would take just a couple things to go right for that upside to hit.
Of course, with prices higher on all the pieces in this game, you would ultimately want this game to turn into a true shootout, rather than just developing into a quality back-and-forth affair. So if targeting Deshaun Watson and/or loading up on multiple pieces from the Texans, recognize that a big play or two from the Chargers will go a long way toward helping you get the most out of these plays.
The best bet for a shootout to develop is Mike Williams, who could hit on a couple of his downfield routes; though if you like Watson this week and don’t feel comfortable taking on the low floor of Williams, Ekeler is also a threat for a big play against this Texans team that still has the pieces to be near the top of the league against the run, but that does not have the pieces it would need to consistently hang with Ekeler through the air. Ekeler should be in line for 18 to 22 touches as the leader of this backfield, with a scoring-position role and some of the best per-touch potential in the league.
While Williams and Ekeler are the pieces likelier to help turn this game into a shootout, Keenan Allen is the guy who should once again be in line for a heavy target share after seeing 15(!) looks last week. A 20th percentile usage game for Allen still probably gets him eight targets in this spot, and he has obvious upside for more. As always: the targets have to be there to justify the price tag on Allen, as he’s just not used downfield enough to be a comfortable play otherwise; but if he is able to rack up another eight or nine receptions and haul in a touchdown, he could be a nice piece on the slate once again.
JM’s Interpretation ::
Due to the typical pricing on these offenses and their respective styles of play, I find my eyes drawn toward other teams most weeks. But both of these teams are always solid bets for production, and this game between them yields a few noteworthy plays.
Ekeler will flirt with Tier 1 again, as he can just do so much on a per-touch basis, and is a mismatch against the Texans in the pass game.
Hopkins is one of the better wide receivers to consider paying up for this week (especially if early-week ownership projections hold anywhere close to true).
Fuller is a potential game-breaker; and while he hasn’t shown much to get excited about so far this year, we know what Mike Williams can do as well.
And then there’s Allen as a safe option with upside, and both quarterbacks can be considered as upside plays also.
I’m guessing that no one outside of Ekeler will flirt with Main Build territory for me (though if paying up at wide receiver were more my style, Hopkins would be on my list); but with all the value in other spots likely to pull attention off this game, I do like some of these other pieces in tourneys, and I’ll be looking to take a few shots on this game turning into a shootout in case the pieces fall in place.