Giants Run D15th DVOA/8th Yards allowed per carry
Patriots Run O3rd DVOA/2nd Yards per carry
Giants Pass D23rd DVOA/16th Yards allowed per pass
Patriots Pass O27th DVOA/25th Yards per pass
Patriots Run D18th DVOA/16th Yards allowed per carry
Giants Run O30th DVOA/30th Yards per carry
Patriots Pass D17th DVOA/9th Yards allowed per pass
Giants Pass O29th DVOA/30th Yards per pass
Showdown Slant ::
Presented by top Showdown mind Xandamere!
Week 6 starts off with one of the biggest mismatches I have ever seen, as the Giants travel to take on the Patriots. The game has an over/under of 42 points, with the Pats projected for almost 30 and the Giants for 12.75. I’m not even sure how to write this up, but here we go.
Let’s start with the Patriots. The run game is likely to be a three-headed beast in some form. James White and Sony Michel are the headliners and are both strong plays, with Rex Burkhead as the wildcard. Burkhead played in Week 3 and led the backfield in touches with James White missing the game, then “played” in Week 4 with a foot injury and only saw 18% of the snaps and one touch. He missed Week 5 entirely, so now even if he’s active we can’t really be sure what his status is actually going to be. Keep an eye on beat writers for this one and watch for reports of if he’s active or just “active.” Of course, if he misses, it’s the Michel and White show. White should lead in targets while Michel is a lock for at least 15+ carries as a massive home favorite. Michel has the lower floor, but a very feasible multi-touchdown ceiling. It’s also worth noting that after hardly ever being used in the pass game, Michel caught 3 of 3 targets last week (Note from JM: at least one of these targets was completely schemed — i.e., the Patriots designed a look to specifically get the ball to Michel through the air). We don’t really know if that’s because Burkhead was out or because the Pats actually want to get Michel more involved in the passing game…I’m likely to bet the former, but it could certainly be the latter. Any way you slice it, the run game is a whole lot more attractive without Burkhead, and a fair bit messier if he plays.
The pass game is, as always for the Pats, focused on Julian Edelman and the running backs. There just isn’t a need for Tom Brady to take a lot of deeper shots to the perimeter wideouts. That said, the matchup is completely nonthreatening against a barely-there Giants pass rush, and Josh Gordon can break a slate open on just a few catches. Opposite Gordon it looks like Philip Dorsett is at significant risk of missing this game (and of course the Patriots have no real incentive to rush either him or Burkhead back). If Dorsett is active he’s awfully cheap at just $5,600, while if he misses, Jakobi Meyers should step into his role. Meyers played 48% of the snaps last week but only drew two targets, and at $4,800 he doesn’t give much of a discount from Dorsett’s price. I’d be much more inclined to play Dorsett if active than Meyers if Dorsett misses, but any Patriot is viable in this matchup if you’re throwing darts. Finally, at tight end, Ryan Izzo got two catches and a touchdown last week while Matt LaCosse struggled with one catch on 4 targets. LaCosse, however, played 94% of the snaps with Izzo only in for 26%, so LaCosse seems like the surer bet. The overall tight end snap count for the Pats was way up in Week 5 as they went with more 12 personnel after Dorsett left with an injury, so the viability of both tight ends is tied to Dorsett’s availability.
New England’s defense and kicker are both smash plays as well and both might be better than any play on the Giants.
The Giants are looking likely to be without Saquon Barkley, Sterling Shepard, and Evan Engram, which means the only starting NFL-caliber skill position player they have is Golden Tate, who is fresh off suspension and looked, frankly, terrible last week. This is going to be a slaughter. Jon Hilliman seems likely to start at running back, though is both A) terrible and B) not a skilled receiver, so as the Giants fall behind, he’s unlikely to see much work unless New York just decides to run out the clock with run plays to put themselves out of their misery. Elijhaa Penny is probably the more skilled back and not a bad option if you’re looking for a reasonable-floor play on the Giants.
In the pass game…well, good luck picking a Giants receiver on the road against the NFL’s best secondary. Golden Tate should have the highest floor as an actual NFL caliber talent running out of the slot. Darius Slayton is a nice deep threat in more reasonable matchups and carries theoretical ceiling, though he has to beat New England’s corners to come down with anything. He should see some decent volume in this one and makes for a boom/bust option. Finally, Cody Latimer is only $800 and should be thrust back into a starting role, as will Rhett Ellison at tight end for just $200. Both are complete punt options that will at least be on the field a fair bit in a matchup in which the Giants should be throwing a lot.
The way this game is most likely to play out is a complete curb stomp with the Patriots dominating from start to finish. Brady, Edelman, White, Michel, the Pats D, and Nugent are all premium plays, with White and Michel both losing a modest bit of luster if Burkhead is active and healthy. There are no good plays on the Giants, so have fun with that.
Other ways the game could play out:
- Ownership is going to be massively skewed to the Patriots, but realistically, the Giants could still score 2 touchdowns here. All it takes is a broken play, or a New England turnover setting up a short field. Let’s say a Giants running back has a line of something like 60 yards and a touchdown on the road with two catches for 10 yards through the air — that’s 15 points. And then a receiver has three catches for 90 yards and a touchdown for 18 points. Those aren’t massive scores, but if we also envision that all of the Patriots touchdowns end up going to just one or two guys, those 15 and 18 point Giant scores could be enough to be in the optimal lineup. Last weekend when the Pats took on the Redskins in a similarly one-sided beatdown, the total ownership on ALL Redskins players was just 159%, which means the average lineup had about 1.6 Redskins and 4.4 Patriots. Having a lineup with three Giants and three Patriots is going to be highly contrarian in this contest while still having at least a non-astronomical chance of being successful.
The strongest captain choices are Patriots. The worst captain choices are Giants. I mean, why would you do that?
Some groups to consider:
- At most 1 kicker
- At most 1 defense
- At most 1 Giant (lol)
- No Giants in captain spots (this one is actually more serious — it’s just so hard to imagine a Giant being the top scorer in this game)
- At most 2 Patriots running backs
- At most 1 of LaCosse and Izzo
Cash game thoughts: play 5 Patriots. Seriously — there are a bunch of ways to do it. If you aren’t playing 5 Patriots in cash in a matchup like this, I’m pretty certain you’re doing it wrong.
— Xandamere’s Advanced Showdown Course is now available through OWS :: Marketplace! This is his tournament course for Showdowns; and given the tangible edge in this contest type, it should pay itself off pretty quickly(!).
(Note from JM :: Xandamere is currently in FIRST place through four slates in the King of the Showdown tournament. Two slates remain!)
Panthers Run D26th DVOA/18th Yards allowed per carry
Buccaneers Run O6th DVOA/20th Yards per carry
Panthers Pass D13th DVOA/7th Yards allowed per pass
Buccaneers Pass O9th DVOA/17th Yards per pass
Buccaneers Run D3rd DVOA/1st Yards allowed per carry
Panthers Run O16th DVOA/16th Yards per carry
Buccaneers Pass D1st DVOA/6th Yards allowed per pass
Panthers Pass O11th DVOA/9th Yards per pass
Showdown Slant ::
Presented by top Showdown mind Xandamere!
Set your alarms early if you’re playing this Showdown, especially if you’re a West Coaster like me. Vegas has this as a fairly close game, with the “road” Panthers installed as 2.5 point favorites in a 47.5 point total. These teams match up kind of strangely — the Bucs have an elite run D but vulnerable secondary, while the Panthers are vulnerable on the ground and but very hard to pass on. That means we have strength on strength matchups here as the Bucs’ vertical passing attack is ill-equipped to take advantage of the Panthers’ vulnerability on the ground, while Carolina’s best weapon is going to have a hard time getting much going against Tampa Bay’s defensive line.
When these teams met in Week 2, the Bucs absolutely stifled Christian McCaffrey, limiting him to 37 yards on the ground (2.7 yards per carry) and two catches on six targets. Now, that was with a Cam Newton who was visibly having significant challenges with his arm accuracy, missing Curtis Samuel on deep target after deep target in that game. I actually think Kyle Allen is more effective than a hurt Cam, which should help CMC, but there’s no getting around that the Bucs’ run defense is legitimately elite (1st in DVOA against the run by a pretty significant margin) and this is a brutal matchup. He’ll play just about every snap so if you play him you’re betting on volume and talent to triumph over matchup, but it’s hard to pay $13k for CMC when that is the most expensive running back we’ve seen in Showdown….ever (at least I’m pretty sure that’s correct, just off the top of my head).
The Panthers’ pass game has a much more attractive matchup. D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel generally feel interchangeable to me — they aren’t used in exactly the same ways, with Moore averaging about two extra yards per reception, but their volume on the season is almost identical so I’m generally going to lean in the direction of whoever’s cheaper. At a $1,600 discount, Samuel wins for me in this one, though of course both have fantastic ceilings in this matchup. Greg Olsen also popped off for a nice 20 point game the last time these teams met in Week 2 (again, though, with Cam at QB). Olsen’s usage has trickled off the last couple of weeks (just 4 and 2 targets), which gives him a scary floor, and realistically he’s probably the number four option with Kyle Allen under center, but the matchup is fantastic and he’s on the field plenty. Everyone else is ancillary: Jarius Wright plays a ton of snaps but sees sporadic volume (and very short-distance targets at that).
The Bucs have a more challenging path to success, as while the Panthers have a capable passing game to take advantage of Tampa’s defensive weakness, the Bucs’ run game is both fairly mediocre and very fantasy-unfriendly, with Ronald Jones and Peyton Barber stuck in a timeshare (every time it seems Jones might be breaking out, it swings back Barber’s way, even though Jones is averaging over a full yard per carry more…). With Dare Ogunbowale sucking away a few targets each week it’s hard to bank on any of these guys succeeding, though if you’re entering tournaments you’ll certainly want some exposure to this group.
In the pass game, the monster breakout year continues for Chris Godwin, and once again he draws an attractive matchup against a Panthers’ pass defense that is strong on the perimeter but vulnerable in the slot. The God is, by far, the best receiver option on the Bucs. Mike Evans has a much tougher matchup on the perimeter against James Bradberry and doesn’t come at enough of a discount to Godwin to account for that, though of course his ceiling is always significant and he’s worth some exposure if you’re multi-entering. Other than those two, the team seems to have forgotten O.J. Howard exists (but so have most DFS players), Cameron Brate is basically a red zone-only weapon who has turned into one of the most touchdown-or-bust plays around, while Bobo Wilson and Scotty Miller split Brashad Perriman’s WR3 role last week and got a whopping four targets between them. You’re drawing fairly thin here. Howard is still playing a massive percentage of the snaps and I keep thinking it’s just a matter of time until he starts to smash like he did last year (seriously, what the hell happened to this guy?), but I can’t in good conscience strongly recommend him given how his target volume has just dropped off the face of the earth.
Vegas thinks this game stays relatively close. I’m generally not in the business of trying to outthink Vegas, but I just have a hard time seeing it. The Panthers’ offense matches up against the Bucs D much, much better than the other way around, and I think the Panthers should be more significant favorites. Of course, the Bucs’ vertical passing attack can put up points on anyone, but the way I see the game playing out in a most likely scenario is the Panthers being able to consistently move the ball through the air while the Bucs are forced to rely on a mediocre ground game and Chris Godwin.
Some other ways the game could play out:
- The Bucs could realize that their run game is their best chance to win and decide to commit to Ronald Jones as their better back (wouldn’t that be nice for us DFS players…)
- While the matchup is difficult, vertical passing attacks are inherently always dangerous. Don’t be surprised if the Bucs are able to put up some points quickly, forcing the Panthers to open up, and giving us a full-fledged shootout.
The captain choices here are difficult. Christian McCaffery has the highest raw points projection in the game, despite the difficult matchup, but he’s just so painfully expensive. My favorite captains in this one are Godwin and Samuel, with a smattering of Jones in case of the run-based scenario I described above.
Some groups to consider:
- At most 1 kicker
- At most 1 defense
- Pair captain QBs with at least 2 receivers
- Pair captain receivers with their QB (you MAY want to consider avoiding this rule this time just because of CMC; if you pair Godwin with Jameis, for example, it’s awfully hard to then fit CMC in without putting you down in “complete punt” territory for the rest of your lineup)
- At most 1 of Jones and Barber
- At most 1 of Wilson and Miller
— Xandamere’s Advanced Showdown Course is now available through OWS :: Marketplace! This is his tournament course for Showdowns; and given the tangible edge in this contest type, it should pay itself off pretty quickly(!).
(Note from JM :: Xandamere is currently in FIRST place through five slates in the King of the Showdown tournament. One slate remains!)
JM’s Original Notes for those playing Thursday-to-Monday Slates ::
- This is a matchup of strengths on strengths, as the Panthers are most effective when they can punish teams on the ground, while the Buccaneers rank first in DVOA against the run and second in yards allowed per carry; while the Buccaneers are most effective when they can attack through the air, but the Panthers rank fourth in DVOA against the pass and fourth in yards allowed per pass attempt.
- On the Panthers’ side, Christian McCaffrey is always in play, and he’s good enough that we really shouldn’t be scared off him just because he had an awful game when these teams met a few weeks back; but on the 14-game, full-weekend slate, he’s a guy to chase for the upside (while being willing to embrace a lower-than-normal floor), rather than being the absolute lock-and-load option he typically is. Working in his favor is his monstrous role, which should allow him to at least outperform his last game against the Bucs even if things break the wrong way again. This is also an excellent spot for Greg Olsen, Curtis Samuel, and D.J. Moore. Olsen — with Kyle Allen under center — is not quite in the Tier 1 mix, but he’s still one of the more solid tight end bets on the weekend, and the upside is there to make him worth chasing. Moore and Samuel come with lower floors given their inconsistent production with Allen under center, but each is very much in the tourney discussion for the ceiling this matchup provides.
- On the Bucs, Ronald Jones and Peyton Barber went back to splitting touches (again!) last week, but if you’re feeling frisky, the matchup is solid against a Panthers run defense that ranks 29th in DVOA and 24th in yards allowed per carry. Jones is the guy I would target if going here in tourneys. Of course, neither guy is safe for cash.
- Naturally, the best matchup through the air for the Bucs goes to Chris Godwin against a Panthers defense that can be attacked in the slot and doesn’t give up a whole lot elsewhere. Godwin is a solid floor/ceiling bet, with only “bad Jameis” potential introducing any serious risk.
- Mike Evans is always in the tourney conversation, even in difficult matchups; but this is a difficult matchup.
Washington Run D17th DVOA/24th Yards allowed per carry
Dolphins Run O23rd DVOA/22nd Yards per carry
Washington Pass D6th DVOA/2nd Yards allowed per pass
Dolphins Pass O11th DVOA/16th Yards per pass
Dolphins Run D32nd DVOA/19th Yards allowed per carry
Washington Run O21st DVOA/32nd Yards per carry
Dolphins Pass D10th DVOA/17th Yards allowed per pass
Washington Pass O32nd DVOA/28th Yards per pass
Redskins at Dolphins shapes up as a sloppy game between two bad teams, but because these teams are as bad on defense as they are on offense (each team ranks bottom three in offensive DVOA, and each ranks bottom four in defensive DVOA), there is at least some opportunity for the offenses in this game to produce at a high enough level to matter in DFS.
If we filter out the fourth quarter of games and take only situations in which the Dolphins are within 10 points of their opponent, we end up with a fairly non-aggressive Miami team, passing on a roughly league-average 59% of plays while mixing in a two man backfield rotation that has mostly consisted of Kenyan Drake and Kalen Ballage to begin the year, though it is expected that Mark Walton will be taking over Ballage’s role this week. Miami’s gutted out offensive line has performed poorly this year, ranking 30th in adjusted line yards while helping this team to a pathetic 3.0 yards per carry – dead last in the NFL. The one thing that can be said for this rushing attack in Week 6 is that they should see more carries than they have so far this year (the Dolphins are averaging four fewer carries per game than any other team in the league, with Washington the next team in line). Washington is allowing an attackable 4.3 yards per carry to running backs, and they have also been average against running backs out of the backfield – where Drake brings most of his value (13 catches on the season, and at least five targets in three of four games).
The Dolphins passing attack is at least theoretically attractive in this soft matchup after Josh Rosen has faced off with New England, Dallas, and the Chargers, but these matchups to date are a bit deceptive as the Chargers currently ranked 25th in pass defense DVOA and the Cowboys currently ranked 17th. Washington ranks 28th, but they do have enough of an ability to get after the quarterback – and frankly, they have enough of a talent edge in the secondary over the Dolphins receivers – that this is no clear pushover.
Targets for the Dolphins passing attack have been fairly reliable, with DeVante Parker seeing target counts of 7 // 7 // 6 // 4, and with Preston Williams seeing 5 // 6 // 12 // 7. Williams is likelier to see targets from Rosen, while Parker quietly leads the NFL in average depth of target – with his mark of 19.9 a full 2.6 yards higher than any other player in the league. This passing attack is also expected to return Albert Wilson to the field this week (though given how long Wilson has been “trending in the right direction,” we should take a “wait until we see it to believe it” approach). If Wilson is out there this week, he will provide a much needed underneath target for the Miami offense, though it is anyone’s guess as to how targets will shake out. So far, the Dolphins have effectively used Drake as their underneath receiver, though there is a chance that the return of Wilson reshapes the approach of this offense as a whole. Wilson’s after-catch ability makes him at least somewhat attractive in this matchup as a low-priced piece who could theoretically pop off for a big game.
As noted above, Washington has run the ball as little as any team in the league this year, and this is one of the first things that Bill Callahan is hoping to change as the interim head coach (because, of course, it makes sense to announce this to your opponents when taking over the head coaching job). There is a case to be made that part of the reason Washington was running the ball so little was because they were likely to be thoroughly ineffective when attempting to run – with this team currently ranking 27th in adjusted line yards, and with Adrian Peterson currently carrying PFF’s number 71 rush grade this year. Given Callahan’s certainty that the lack of run game is a big part of this team’s issues, however, it does seem likely that Peterson clears 12 carries for the first time this year – and in fact, if game flow works in his favor, a push for 20 or more carries isn’t out of the question. Miami has been (unsurprisingly) attackable on the ground, ranking 31st in run defense DVOA while allowing the third most running back rushing yards in the league at 4.77 yards per carry.
When Washington takes to the air this week, it is looking likely that we will have Case Keenum under center again. Keenum is no world beater, but his gunslinger mentality played nicely in DFS through the first three weeks of the season, when he piled up passing yardage totals of 380 // 221 // 332, while going for touchdown totals of 3 // 2 // 2. The entire passing attack struggled in Week 4 with Terry McLaurin on the sidelines (leading to Keenum’s benching), but Keenum is totally capable of getting the job done in a matchup like this if given the chance. Of course, “if given the chance” is the big question mark, as Washington would clearly prefer to keep the ball on the ground and to throw only as a compliment. This creates some questions on the viability of the Washington pass game pieces, even in an ultra soft spot, as Washington has been largely playing from behind this year, and that is not guaranteed to be the case in Week 6.
The most explosive piece on this passing attack, of course, is Terry McLaurin, who has seen target counts of 7 // 9 // 8 // 7, and who has scored three touchdowns on the year while going for at least 50 yards in every game. Unfortunately, McLaurin has been priced up for the matchup on all three sites, requiring some faith to go to him this week – trusting that this bad Washington offense will continue to get the ball into his hands even after the coaching change, and even after a stated shift in philosophy that will have this team focusing more heavily on the ground. Outside of McLaurin, this passing attack gets pretty thin pretty quickly, as Trey Quinn has shown nothing this year, and Paul Richardson has shown himself to be viable “with Washington falling behind and with McLaurin on the field to draw attention,” but only one of those two factors is guaranteed to be in play this week.
JM’s Interpretation ::
There is a relative dearth of viable salary-savers on this week’s slate, which generally leads to one of two approaches in roster construction:
1) Load up on mid-priced guys in an effort to grab steady production across the board, while attempting to capture a couple of spiked weeks along the way.
2) Take the “cheapest guys who might be able to have a good game” in order to fit in some of the high-priced studs with smash potential.
The most attractive piece in this game, of course, is McLaurin, but he unfortunately falls into the first approach, as a missed week and a relative dud against the Patriots in his return have disappointingly led to his price tag rising. McLaurin’s “score from anywhere on the field” ability and his matchup against a Dolphins secondary that does boast Xavien Howard, but that is also forced to cover for far too long each play combine to make him completely viable as an upside target in tourneys this week, though the low-ish floor he comes with at his price — attached to a bad offense, in a bad game environment — is worth keeping in mind.
Behind McLaurin, the pieces in this game all fall into the second category — and while the pieces are not exactly attractive, this is a week in which you may find yourself scraping the bottom of the barrel in a few spots, and this is at least a “matchup boost” for both of these teams compared to most of the spots they have dealt with this year.
At the mid-point in the week, the most attractive pieces from this game to me, if taking this approach, are Albert Wilson and Adrian Peterson. Washington’s zone-heavy scheme is beatable over the middle, and Miami has been forced to throw almost entirely to the perimeter early in the year with no one who can effectively run routes over the soft areas of the field. If Wilson is healthy, he should step into five to eight targets right away this week, giving him a decent floor at his price, and giving him some after-catch ceiling. As for Peterson: I don’t want to play him myself (generally speaking, the running back position is just far too valuable to take on an aging, one-dimensional player on a bad offense and “hope for touchdowns”), but the state of this slate will keep him in the rotation regardless as a piece to consider.
Behind these guys, Williams // Parker // Richardson // Chris Thompson (hoping game flow tilts his direction) are the pieces I would consider for the second approach, in that order. It’s not pretty; but it’s not a pretty week.
Eagles Run D15th DVOA/21st Yards allowed per carry
Vikings Run O2nd DVOA/8th Yards per carry
Eagles Pass D29th DVOA/12th Yards allowed per pass
Vikings Pass O20th DVOA/21st Yards per pass
Vikings Run D27th DVOA/23rd Yards allowed per carry
Eagles Run O25th DVOA/13th Yards per carry
Vikings Pass D8th DVOA/30th Yards allowed per pass
Eagles Pass O29th DVOA/26th Yards per pass
Eagles at Vikings gives us a great real-life game between two teams with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations, with each team sitting at 3-2 through the first five weeks of the season. The winner of this game moves to 4-2 and feels like they are in great shape heading into the next stretch of the season, and the loser moves to 3-3 and wonders what they need to do to become a “better than .500” team.
We’ll start this game on the Philly side of the ball, as this side is a bit less clear-and-straightforward than what the home team brings us, with Philly known for spreading the ball around as much as any team in the league, and with the Vikings presenting one of the most difficult matchups that an opposing offense can face. Through the first five games of the year, Minnesota ranks fourth in defensive DVOA (ninth against the pass, fourth against the run) and has allowed the fourth fewest yards per game and the fifth fewest points per game.
The Philly rushing attack can be taken off our boards fairly quickly outside of “hoping to guess right on a busted play or multiple touchdowns,” as the Eagles continue to split time between Jordan Howard and Miles Sanders (while continuing to mix in Darren Sproles for a small amount of work), while the Vikings have remained one of the league’s toughest matchups on the ground — allowing 3.7 yards per carry to running backs, and allowing the third fewest running back rushing touchdowns in the league. The Vikings have also allowed the third fewest receiving yards to running backs, leaving this backfield as totally “hope and pray.”
Things loosen up a little bit when we swing over to the Philly passing attack, as the absence of DeSean Jackson (currently expected to miss at least one more week) and the Eagles’ apparent decision to not involve Nelson Agholor (four targets across the last two weeks), Mack Hollins (three targets across the last two weeks), JJ Arcega-Whiteside (zero targets across the last two weeks), and Dallas Goedert (six targets across the last two weeks) has given us a fairly bankable set of targets going to Zach Ertz (15 across the last two) and Alshon Jeffery (17 across the last two).
Over the last two weeks, the Vikings have allowed only four completions that have traveled 15+ yards through the air (last week, Daniel Jones completed only two of 11 passes traveling 15+ yards), and Minnesota has an ability to force pass catchers into horizontal route trees, making this a matchup that sets up far better for Ertz than for Alshon. Although it is obviously not apples to apples, Tyrell Williams is a fair comp for Alshon in terms of strengths, weaknesses, and general usage, while Darren Waller is a fair comp for Ertz in the same. In this matchup in Week 3, Tyrell went 3-29-1 on a season-low three targets, while Waller went 13-134-0 on a season-high 14 looks.
On the other side of this game, we know that Philly is going to be one of the toughest teams to run the ball against (yet again, Philly ranks top four in fewest rushing attempts faced, and their 2.8 yards allowed per carry to running backs is just nasty), while Minnesota would prefer to run the ball, but is willing to shift to a more pass-heavy approach when the matchup and/or situation requires them to do so. With Minnesota boasting such a narrow distribution of touches and targets, then, it largely becomes a numbers game. So let’s look at some numbers.
On the season, the Vikings offense through Kirk Cousins has produced 86 total catches for 1041 yards and five touchdowns, with the notable distribution of this pass game production looking like this:
These numbers come out to the following:
Thielen // Diggs :: 41.9% of catches // 54.0% of yards // 100% of TDs
Thielen // Diggs // Cook :: 66.3% of catches // 73.2% of yards // 100% of TDs
If Minnesota were to hit for the averages of the teams above, a Thielen // Diggs pairing would yield 11.4 catches, 178.6 yards, and 2.3 touchdowns (given to-date distribution of work on this team), while a pairing of “the whole Vikings offense” would yield 18.1 catches, 242.1 yards, 2.3 touchdowns.
When comparing these numbers to salary, they come in a bit low — and the Vikings are also more like the Lions (who ran 21 times in this spot, matchup be damned) than they are like the Falcons, Redskins, or Packers, leaving a Vikings onslaught stack with fewer paths to a slate-breaking score.
This leaves the Vikings as more of a guessing game or a “bet on outlier blowup” than as a lock-and-load staple piece, though the distribution on this offense is obviously narrow enough that it’s almost certain one of Diggs // Thielen // Cook has a strong game, and each has enough “mega boom” potential to be considered a viable guessing-game piece in tourneys.
JM’s Interpretation ::
There are a few tight ends to like this week (it’s one of the only positions of clear strength on this slate), but Ertz is very much in the mix for me this week for his locked-in role and for the way the Vikings filter targets to tight ends (the third most tight end targets in the league). Of course, unlike the Bucs (second most tight end targets) and Cardinals (fourth most) — who have been smoked in the Yardage and Touchdown departments vs the tight end position — Minnesota has allowed only the 10th most yards to tight ends while giving up zero scores, as the “attack the Vikings with tight ends” approach for offenses is more out of necessity than due to any glaring weakness. Nevertheless, Ertz is good enough — and should be involved enough — that he’s very much in the mix.
On the other side (especially given how cheap Kirk Cousins is this week), I was hoping the math would work out a bit better for a full-on Vikings stack — assuming Minnesota turns to the air, and assuming that Thielen // Diggs // Cook see almost all of the pass game work. Pricing is a bit high to make this a lock-and-load option, however, and while recency bias may make it appear that Thielen is the clear-cut receiver to target, there is no reason to believe things couldn’t swing Diggs’ way this week.
It is likely that Cousins // Thielen // Diggs // Cook combine for around 65 on FanDuel and 75 on DraftKings/FantasyDraft, with obvious upside for more — creating a clear case for taking the entire block and betting on them hitting an upside game (80 FanDuel // 95 DK/FDraft), or for isolating one or two pieces and hoping you guess right. But this is not quite the lock-and-load option I had hoped it would be heading into the week.
Texans Run D23rd DVOA/32nd Yards allowed per carry
Chiefs Run O17th DVOA/6th Yards per carry
Texans Pass D8th DVOA/21st Yards allowed per pass
Chiefs Pass O1st DVOA/7th Yards per pass
Chiefs Run D28th DVOA/30th Yards allowed per carry
Texans Run O23rd DVOA/31st Yards per carry
Chiefs Pass D2nd DVOA/3rd Yards allowed per pass
Texans Pass O8th DVOA/3rd Yards per pass
It will be a surprise if Houston at Kansas City is not one of the most popular games on the slate this week, as there are only 10 games in all, this game carries the highest Over/Under, the Chiefs are always an attractive offense, and the Texans are coming off a high-owned pasting of the Falcons. This is also a good place to talk about something we talk about quite a bit on the site: you should work to become intimately familiar with your own “style of play.” Do you embrace volatile, high-upside plays even when they come with high ownership? Or are you willing to miss out on a monster game if you feel that you are putting yourself in what would be a “profitable position over time” (even if that might mean the pain of one high-owned player wrecking your weekend?). Realize: there is no “right” or “wrong” answer here; instead, there is only consistency. As long as you are consistently taking the approach that makes the most sense to you, you will consistently put yourself in position to capitalize on the types of weeks that are going to be profitable for your style of play. The one thing you cannot do, however, is bounce from style to style from one week to the next — always chasing “what worked most recently,” and always thinking yourself out of profit as a result.
The next thing to mention here: there are game-breaking players in this spot. Lots of them. And with game-breaking players, matchup sometimes simply doesn’t matter. If you are mass-multi-entering this week, you are going to want to make sure you have some exposure to this game (including some creative, lower-owned exposure), as these offenses are too explosive to not target in that style of play. If, on the other hand, you are trying to narrow things down to one or two or three rosters, there are some interesting matchup elements in play here that you can blend into whatever is your preferred style of play.
The next thing we should talk about in this space, then, is the monster game Will Fuller had last week against the Falcons — including an exploration of how that monster game came about. And the first thing to note in that regard is that only four of Fuller’s 16(!) targets came more than 10 yards downfield. On the one hand, this expanded usage is a positive (after all, no one was rostering Fuller for his short-area prowess last week), but the next question we have to ask is why Fuller saw a career-high 16 looks when in 35 other career games he had topped eight targets only four times, and had hit double-digit looks only twice.
The answer? The Falcons absolutely sold out to keep DeAndre Hopkins from beating them. This had the Falcons double-teaming Hopkins every time the Texans came close to scoring (while leaving no help on other pass catchers), and the focus was so heavily tilted toward Hopkins that things like this happened as well:
In this screenshot, three Falcons broke with Hopkins, leaving one to break (late, no less) with Fuller.
This game yielded at least twice as many targets as Fuller had seen in 31 of 36 career games, and also yielded only his seventh 100-yard game of his career, while Hopkins has now gone four consecutive games without double-digit targets for the first time in five seasons. There is a reason Fuller finds his way into Tier 3 (low floor, high ceiling) in the Player Grid every single week, but unless the Chiefs pay equal attention to Hopkins this week, we should expect the pendulum to swing back toward the Texans’ superstar in this spot.
We’ll get back to Hopkins in a moment, but the next question we need to take a look at his “how have teams been attempting to beat the Chiefs?”
So far this year, the Chiefs quietly rank eighth in pass defense DVOA (more on this in a moment) while ranking 30th in run defense DVOA. In fact, the Chiefs have been so bad against the run that — in spite of boasting an offense that would typically introduce “game flow concerns” for an enemy backfield — only four teams have faced more running back rush attempts this year, while no team has allowed more running back rushing yards. Since allowing only 81 yards on the ground to the Jaguars in Week 1, the Chiefs have allowed rushing yardage totals of 129 // 203 // 186 // 180, with four consecutive backs going for 99+ yards. Only 10 teams are facing a lower opponent pass play rate than the Chiefs, as teams are absolutely refusing to give up the run regardless of game flow.
From a “game environment” perspective (i.e., not yet looking at the DFS implications), we should keep in mind that the Texans are perfectly willing to lean on the run as a team, as they rank 19th in pass play rate this season after ranking 25th last year, and it “likelier than not” that the Texans strike a balanced approach in this spot — continuing to involve Carlos Hyde and the run game for as long as this contest remains in the balance.
Before we wrap thoughts on Nuk and Hyde (and bring in Deshaun Watson and Kenny Stills // Keke Coutee), we’ll first swing over to the Chiefs side, where a handful of injuries weigh heavy on this matchup:
1) Eric Fisher is still missing on the offensive line for the Chiefs, which has hampered this unit’s ability to protect Patrick Mahomes
2) Mahomes injured his ankle last week against the Colts after the Chiefs’ weakened offensive line allowed too much pressure to get to him, and this is likely to hinder at least some of his in-the-pocket mobility against the fierce pass rush of the Texans
3) Tyreek Hill seems likely to return this week, while Sammy Watkins appears likely to miss.
Before we go any further: if we are going to note statistical outliers (Fuller’s monster Week 5 game) and identify them as such, we should also note that in the Mahomes era, the Chiefs have been a literal lock for 26+ points. This week, they are playing against a Texans pass defense that can be attacked at all levels of the field and is allowing an increase on the league-average catch rate of 7.5%. This is a good spot for the Chiefs regardless of these injuries (as is basically any spot), but the injuries should be noted.
On the off chance Hill misses :: it will be Byron Pringle filling in the Sammy Watkins role, with Mecole Hardman and Demarcus Robinson effectively tag-teaming the Tyreek Hill role.
With the excitement that comes with the Chiefs offense, this is probably a good place to point out that this team has been spreading the ball around to three wide receivers, a tight end, and two running backs (with a few assorted complimentary pieces mixed in), to a point where in the last four games, the Chiefs have literally produced one single pass-catcher score that was not a price-considered disappointment. One. Nothing is guaranteed, even with the Chiefs putting up points. If Hill returns, however, he should be ready to step back into his typical role (with his injury being to his shoulder, his game-level conditioning should not be an issue) — a role that last year yielded 12 touchdowns, six games of 100+ yards…and seven games in which he had 70 or fewer yards and no scores. Hill is one of the most boom/bust wide receivers in the NFL, but he is affordable enough (and his “booms” are monstrous enough) that he’s very much in play this week.
The likeliest scenario if Hill returns (and Watkins misses) has Robinson remaining on the field while Pringle steps into Watkins’ role — a role that last year yielded five or more targets in seven of 10 games, with five games of seven or more looks as the intermediate compliment to Kelce and Hill. Every player on the field in a Mahomes offense has tournament value, but with Hill offering a lot of what Hardman/Robinson offered the last few weeks, it could be Pringle who shows up with the most targets behind the big names on this team.
This passing attack wraps up (well…sort of) with Kelce, who has scored only one touchdown all year but has target counts of 8 // 9 // 8 // 8 // 10 and has gone for at least 70 yards in every game. The Texans have been lights-out in tight end coverage with Tashaun Gipson anchoring the Texans’ defense in this area; but Kelce is always a focal point of the defense and has continued to produce yardage, while it is only a matter of time before the touchdowns follow. He’s (obviously) in the mix this week.
The Chiefs’ passing attack only “sort of” wraps up with Kelce because Andy Reid is going to continue to involve the running backs as well. The matchup on the ground is not great (the Chiefs are good enough on offense that you could bet on things breaking their way, but the Texans rank sixth in DVOA against the run while the Chiefs rank 21st on the ground on offense), and after LeSean McCoy was benched last week for “pass protection issues” (which the veteran should have no problem cleaning up), it is likely we see a timeshare again. But Damien Williams (and to a lesser extent, McCoy) boast obvious offense-driven upside to go with their low floors, keeping them in the mix as well.
Ultimately, we should expect the Chiefs to put up points one way or another in this game (and you can target individuals on this offense hoping you can make strong, educated guesses on where that production will come from, or you can fade altogether and hope this offense continues to produce disappointing price-considered scores at high ownership while spreading the ball around), and the Texans are good enough that — even with the Chiefs boasting a solid pass defense to date — the Texans should be able to keep pace throughout the majority of this game.
Perhaps the biggest question is how the Chiefs will handle pressure, as Steve Spagnuolo has been far less blitz-embracing than Bob Sutton was last year with this defense (enabling the Chiefs to keep the ball in front of them on the back end and force opponents to methodically drive the field), but last week against Jacoby Brissett the Chiefs decided to unleash more blitzes than normal. Watson’s best games this year came against teams in the Chargers and Falcons that opted to not blitz him — and if Watson’s jersey stays clean, the Texans are going to post some big numbers on offense. On the flip side: if the Chiefs decide to get after Watson, they could create just enough trouble for this game to be “high scoring, but not a true shootout,” which could cause a number of players to fall shy of price-based expectations.
JM’s Interpretation ::
Regardless of how the Chiefs decide to attack Watson, they are unlikely to “sell out to stop Hopkins” the way the Falcons did last week — especially after what Fuller did as a result of that approach, which makes Hopkins stand out this week as a solid bet for double-digit looks, and for his typical range of elite production. It’s early in the week still, but Hopkins looks like a solid Tier 1 bet.
I don’t yet have a strong enough handle on the week’s quarterback layout to know where Watson will land (obviously, his monster ceiling keeps him in play in tourneys — but as noted in last week’s Player Grid, when Watson was Tier 1, his floor is low enough behind this offensive line in this sometimes-dysfunctional offense that he’s more of a “make an appearance in Tier 1” guy than he is a Tier 1 staple), but any game with Watson in a potential shootout keeps him in the thick of the conversation.
The other pass catchers on the Texans (Fuller + Stills // Coutee — depending on Stills’ health) maintain upside with a low floor, while the Texans’ minor league rushing attack will be worth keeping in mind after Hyde saw 20 carries in Week 2 and 21 carries last week, though with Hyde catching passes in only two games this year and averaging 4.2 yards per carry, the floor is not in lock-and-load territory. (Duke Johnson is also an interesting piece in this spot, as he has six to nine carries in four of five games. The Texans rarely involve running backs in the pass game, but he could break off a long play and become a viable tourney piece in large-field play.)
Even with the ankle concern, Mahomes is one of the highest floor/ceiling plays on the slate (and it’s viable to roster Mahomes naked and hope he spreads the ball around so much that none of his pass catchers pay off their salary — as has been the case in three of the last four weeks), while Hill is a monster-upside tourney play, Kelce is a solid bet to finally pay off salary (if for no reason other than the fact that he’s too good to be kept out of the end zone much longer), and Pringle becomes interesting if Watkins misses (especially if we get some quiet clarity on his spot in the starting lineup — not enough that the field jumps on board at high ownership, but enough for us to feel certain he’ll be out there most plays). Behind these guys, Robinson (or even Hardman, if we don’t have clarity on Pringle’s role and you want to guess in large-field play on Hardman seeing the work instead) and the running backs are viable large-field darts for the upside.
And with that, the lengthiest and knottiest writeup of the season is in the books. Go us!
Saints Run D4th DVOA/6th Yards allowed per carry
Jaguars Run O17th DVOA/29th Yards per carry
Saints Pass D15th DVOA/19th Yards allowed per pass
Jaguars Pass O21st DVOA/13th Yards per pass
Jaguars Run D22nd DVOA/28th Yards allowed per carry
Saints Run O12th DVOA/18th Yards per carry
Jaguars Pass D32nd DVOA/26th Yards allowed per pass
Saints Pass O14th DVOA/12th Yards per pass
Vegas has had a difficult time trying to figure out what to make of this game between the Saints and the Jaguars, as the Jags opened as 2.5 point favorites before the line was bet to Saints -1.0; but the line has since swung back the other way with the Jags installed as favorites again — this time by 1.0 points. Along the way, the Over/Under has held fairly steady (rising from 43.5 to 45.0 before settling in at 44.0), with the bettors leaning on the home team in this spot — both in terms of who is favored and who will dictate the way this game plays out. In the three games in which the Saints were able to prepare knowing Teddy Bridgewater would be under center, they have gone 3-0 with wins by six points, two points, and seven points, but scoring in those games has been all over the map, with their game at Seattle generating 60 combined points and their game at home against the Bucs producing 55.0, sandwiched around a 22.0 point home affair vs the Cowboys. The Jaguars, on the other side of this matchup, have played four games knowing Gardner Minshew would be under center, and those games have produced totals of 25.0, 27.0, 50.0, and 61.0. The key to those two higher-scoring games for the Jags came in the matchup on the ground, as the Broncos and Panthers were both favorable spots for Leonard Fournette, while the same cannot be said for the Saints. More on this in a moment, of course; but taking a look at those point distributions for Bridgewater and Minshew reminds us that a Vegas Over/Under is not a vote from Vegas on what the score in a game will be, but is instead an indication of what they feel an appropriate midpoint would be if we played out this game over and over again. Both of these teams are capable of producing at a level higher than 44.0 — so while it wouldn’t be surprising to see this game fall into the low-scoring bucket, it also wouldn’t be surprising if it instead turned into a back-and-forth affair (especially by the second half, when both of these teams could look to unleash their offenses a bit more).
We’ll start with Minshew’s Jaguars — a team that has allowed their young quarterback to throw 33 // 30 // 33 // 44 times through his four starts, producing yardage totals of 213 // 204 // 213 // 374. The first three games give us a feel for what the Jaguars would fundamentally like to do (lean on the run game, lean on defense, and allow Minshew to pick and choose his spots) — though that fourth game is a reminder that the Jaguars don’t mind putting the ball in Minshew’s hands if they fall behind (something they have also done late in games multiple times already). Again: this team would prefer to lean on the run (something they do fairly heavily even when Fournette’s carries are going for only two and three yards at a time — knowing that the odds are in their favor that their big back will eventually break a long one), while asking Minshew to work the underneath areas to Fournette, the underneath/intermediate areas to Dede Westbrook, the intermediate/deep areas to D.J. Chark, and the deep areas to Chris Conley (who has settled in with a downfield role that has him averaging only 3.3 targets per game across the last three weeks, but that also has him ranked second in the NFL in aDOT). The Over/Under in this spot tells us that we should expect Minshew to end up in the “30 to 33 pass attempt” range once again — though it isn’t an off-the-wall tournament bet to say that the Saints put up points in this spot, and that the Jaguars are forced to throw a bit more often in order to keep pace.
The most obvious player to look to in this passing attack is Chark, who has become a legitimate force this season — seeing target counts over his last four games of 9 // 5 // 8 // 11, while ranking third in the NFL in PFF’s receiving grades and making difficult catches appear routine. Speaking of PFF: they do not currently project Chark to be shadowed by Marshon Lattimore, though this seems unlikely given that Lattimore has shadowed DeAndre Hopkins, Amari Cooper, and Mike Evans. Lattimore has been up-and-down this season, but Chark’s route tree is variable enough that he has a solid shot at succeeding in this spot regardless of who is covering him. Of course, if PFF is right (and Chark sees as much of Eli Apple as he sees of Lattimore), he’ll have potential to really light things up once again.
Westbrook has also seen an expanded role in recent weeks, finally building off the hype that followed him into the season — with recent target counts of 9 // 6 // 11, and with yardage totals of 46 // 66 // 82. Westbrook (87% slot rate) will pick up the matchup in the slot against P.J. Williams that is one of the top matchups to target in DFS; and while Westbrook has not been used on the downfield looks that allowed Chris Godwin to generate another big game last week in this spot, his route tree has expanded beyond the “at the line of scrimmage” looks he was seeing at the beginning of the year. The Jags are also down James O’Shaughnessy (torn ACL), who had been seeing around four targets per game; and while Geoff Swaim will be around to pick up the slack, this could lead to a couple more looks flowing Westbrook’s way.
The matchup is not so great for Fournette, as the Saints have shown an ability to tighten up against running backs who pose a threat (allowing 1.9 yards per carry to Ezekiel Elliott, 3.9 yards per carry to Todd Gurley, and 3.5 yards per carry to Chris Carson), and they have especially dominated on runs between the tackles (with any issues this year coming on runs to the edge — where Fournette has had his least success). Fournette is going to be on the field nearly 100% of snaps, and he will be involved in the pass game (six or more targets in four games already), keeping him in the conversation; but the matchup lowers his floor this week.
On the other side, Alvin Kamara will be taking on a Jaguars team that has been walloped on the ground this year, ranking 32nd in DVOA and 25th in yards allowed per carry, while especially struggling with shiftier backs — allowing over 5.0 yards per carry to Christian McCaffrey, LeSean McCoy, Phillip Lindsay, and Duke Johnson (while performing well against Derek Henry and Royce Freeman). Kamara has had a disappointing year thus far, and he is priced like a workhorse back when he is only seeing about 75% of the running back touches on this team, and he has (unsurprisingly) had his most success on runs to the edge — the only area where the Jaguars have not had trouble — so there are a few red flags in this spot. Last week, the Jaguars also got completely manhandled by the Panthers’ backfield misdirection, which is not something the Saints bring into play nearly as often. But Kamara also has touch counts across the last three weeks of 25 // 20 // 22, and it’s only a matter of time before he turns these touches into multiple touchdowns or multiple big plays, keeping him in the thick of the Week 6 mix.
Last week (against the Bucs’ secondary, with his price at a massive discount) was the week to target Michael Thomas, who has topped 100 yards in only four of his last 18 games (with the Saints’ opponents in those four games scoring 35 // 28 // 28 // 24) — but Jacksonville has been average in most categories against the pass this year and has allowed an increase of 18% on the league-average YAC per reception rate (the fourth worst mark in the league). With target counts over his last four games of 13 // 7 // 9 // 13 and his unbelievable efficiency continuing, it’s not a crazy bet to hope for another 100-yard game or a multi-touchdown game from the Saints’ unguardable receiver, especially if Jalen Ramsey misses action once again. If Ramsey misses, the Jags will have a difficult time finding ways to slow down Mike.
JM’s Interpretation ::
With these teams both ranking bottom eight in situation neutral pace of play and middle of the pack in pass play rate with backup quarterbacks under center (high-end backups, sure; but the coaching staffs are still calling games as if these guys are backups), there is a chance this game lands on the low end that some of these Jags and Saints affairs have hit already — and even if these teams clear those low-water marks, there’s at least a 50% chance this game stays around the game total set by Vegas. But we should also realize that these teams — with weapons like Chark // Fournette // Thomas // Kamara — have the potential to break clear through that mark of 44.0, and to turn this into a spot with multiple usable pieces. Firstly, this makes this a worthwhile game to keep in mind for stacks in large-field play; but it also makes the pieces mentioned above (Chark // Fournette // Thomas // Kamara) viable in tourneys, with a case to be made for any of those guys in cash games as well. (Cash game rankings — with pricing taken into account — would go Kamara // Chark // Thomas // Fournette.)
Behind those four pieces, Westbrook is a solid floor piece with potential for the matchup or a score to shoot him toward ceiling, while either quarterback could be leaned on in tournaments at the low end of the price range if you want to bet on this game environment turning positive across the board.
If expanding tourney play, Jared Cook has maintained his steady role (low floor; decent ceiling), and if Ramsey plays we can expect a few extra targets on the Saints to flow to “someone not named Mike Thomas” — with the likeliest bet being a few extra looks for Kamara, but with potential for Ted Ginn to emerge with six or seven targets as well after seeing 5 // 5 // 2 across his last three games.
Seahawks Run D9th DVOA/7th Yards allowed per carry
Browns Run O7th DVOA/1st Yards per carry
Seahawks Pass D29th DVOA/32nd Yards allowed per pass
Browns Pass O23rd DVOA/29th Yards per pass
Browns Run D20th DVOA/4th Yards allowed per carry
Seahawks Run O8th DVOA/17th Yards per carry
Browns Pass D19th DVOA/27th Yards allowed per pass
Seahawks Pass O3rd DVOA/4th Yards per pass
While all the hype this offseason surrounded the talent-rich Browns, the “still rebuilding” Seahawks were continuing to do what they always do: build a team that communicates well, plays assignment-strong football, and continues to get better as the season moves along. Five weeks into the year, there are only two teams with a better record than the 4-1 Seahawks, while the Browns sit at a disappointing 2-3 while failing to get their superstar offseason acquisition involved, failing to keep drives alive (26th in drive success rate), failing to convert in the red zone (20th in red zone touchdown rate), and failing to stop teams from scoring when they reach the red zone (30th in opponent red zone touchdown rate). The Seahawks, meanwhile, enter this game ranked first in the league in red zone touchdown rate, having pushed the ball into the end zone on 76.5% of their trips inside the 20.
The major bright spot for the Browns this season has been their pass defense (seventh in yards allowed per pass attempt; 11th in DVOA), which this team has been able to maintain in spite of missing top cornerbacks Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams for the last several weeks. Williams and Ward returned to limited practice this week and appear on track to make it back onto the field for Sunday’s tilt with Seattle — but before we get to the pass game matchup, we first need to explore the flip side of “the Browns doing a good job against the pass,” and that is the fact that they have been atrocious against the run so far, ranking 29th in yards allowed per carry and 23rd in run defense DVOA, while facing the seventh highest opponent rush play rate in the league and giving up the sixth most running back rushing yards (at 5.01 yards per carry). Cleveland has been clipped by bigger backs in Derek Henry (4.4 YPC), Mark Ingram (5.9 YPC) and Gus Edwards (4.7 YPC), while allowing consistent production up the gut where Chris Carson does most of his damage. Seattle unsurprisingly ranks fifth in rush play rate through the first five games of the year, and we should expect them to come out with their typical run-heavy approach in this spot. Last week, with Rashaad Penny back on the field for Seattle, Carson handled 62 of a possible 73 snaps and took the rock 27 times on the ground; and while there is no reason to believe the backfield split will remain quite so heavily tilted in Carson’s favor, that serves as a reminder that he is the lead dog, and he’s the guy this team wants to lean on when the game is up for grabs. (Carson has also had a mini-bye to rest up from that big workload after the Seahawks played last Thursday night.)
As expected coming into this year, Russell Wilson (who has been absolutely brilliant, with a quarterback rating of 126.3 and 12 touchdowns to no interceptions) has required true shootout conditions in order to be allowed to throw, with passing attempt totals of 20 // 35 // 50 // 28 // 23, in spite of three of the Seahawks wins coming by a combined total of only four points. (His 50-attempt game came with the Saints and their solid run defense jumping out to a 27-7 lead heading into the fourth quarter.) As always: if you bet on Russ, you should also bet on pieces from the opposing team (Cooper Kupp and Alvin Kamara had slate-breaking games opposite Russ’ two biggest performances, while Vance McDonald went for two touchdowns opposite Russ’ other usable game) — though none of this is to imply that Russ can’t get there for you, as he has paths to the highest score on the slate if the Browns can force Seattle to open up through the air.
With Russ being given more freedom with his legs this year and getting a large chunk of his production from touchdowns, it is worth noting that — even if we take into account full-PPR scoring on DraftKings and FantasyDraft — there has been only one instance this season of a Seattle pass catcher outscoring Russ (and that was Will Dissly against the Cardinals and their weak tight end defense). Seattle pass catchers should really only be rostered if you are also rostering Russ (i.e., if rostering a Seattle pass catcher, you are saying you expect them to have one of the better scores on the slate at their position; which would almost certainly mean Russ has one of the stronger games at quarterback). Over the last few weeks, the Browns have gotten by without Ward/Williams by playing back and forcing passing attacks to focus on the short areas of the field, which is not a recipe for “big upside” games — on top of which, we have passing volume concerns for this offense as a whole. But if you do decide to bet on a pass catcher here (which likely means you’re betting on Russ as well; which likely means you’re betting on a player from the Browns as well), Lockett is going to be your best bet for all-levels usage, while Dissly should continue to be featured both downfield and as an outlet after seeing target counts across the last four weeks of 5 // 7 // 8 // 4. Dissly has caught 23 of 26 targets on the year, while Lockett has caught 30 of 36. If the passing volume is there, the production will likely be there as well.
If choosing to bet on the Seattle passing attack, one element working in your favor is the fact that the Seahawks run defense has been stout this year, allowing the fourth fewest yards per carry on the season, while holding running backs specifically to the fourth fewest yards per game at only 3.84 yards per carry. With Seattle buckling down so tightly against the run, they are facing the third highest opponent pass play rate in the league (behind only New England and Philly); and while Seattle has also been solid against wide receivers (59.5% completion rate // 7.1 yards per target // an aDOT over 15% below the league average // only four touchdowns allowed), volume alone can create opportunities for production to emerge.
Of course, “volume” has been an issue for Odell Beckham, who has seen descending target counts on the year of 11 // 10 // 9 // 7 // 6, while managing to bring in only two catches in each of his last two games. If looking for positives with Beckham: last week, the Browns elected to receive the ball when they won the toss (which no one does anymore, because: analytics) and opened the game with a pair of plays designed to get Beckham immediately involved. Kitchens is looking for ways to get Beckham going, and Baker Mayfield has been talking about it as well, so expect Beckham to be an emphasis this week against a team that has faced the fourth most pass attempts in the league.
With Beckham scuffling the last couple weeks in tough spots vs Marlon Humphrey (Week 4) and the 49ers (Week 5), Jarvis Landry has stepped up to go 8-167-0 and 4-75-0. Kitchens seems to not quite know what the roles are for Landry and Beckham, as Landry has seen his usage bounce between short-area looks and downfield work, while Beckham (who…you know, can take a slant to the house on any play) has been used primarily on go routes and out-breaking routes while being given precious few opportunities for the YAC-master plays that make him one of the most lethal weapons in football. As noted last week: it’s as if Kitchens is having a difficult time figuring out how to run a team and still run the offense. Maybe this is the week he gets it figured out.
The other core piece on this offense is Nick Chubb, who is a “bet on talent and workload” option in this spot behind a bad offensive line against a stout Seattle front seven. Chubb can score even in a bad yardage game, and he can break off one long run to make up for a day full of “stuffs,” but the matchup leaves floor a thin proposition in this spot.
JM’s Interpretation ::
The clear play to focus on in this game is Carson — who may not see 27 carries again (and may not have the locked-in pass game role to be a truly high-floor piece), but who nevertheless sets up well in this matchup, on a team that wants to run, vs a team that invites the run. All other plays in this spot essentially hinge on whether or not you believe the Browns offensive line (26th in adjusted sack rate) can hold up against Seattle enough times for Beckham (or possibly Landry) to post a big game and give the Browns a big lead — which would force Seattle to get more aggressive with Russ, and would immediately make pieces on the Seattle passing attack viable. If hoping to make this bet, it is worth noting that Seattle rarely blitzes; and while the 49ers are one of the only teams that blitz less often than Seattle (those extra bodies in coverage sure made life difficult against the Browns last week), the 49ers rank third in adjusted sack rate, while the Seahawks have had a tough time getting to the quarterback without bringing extra pressure, ranking 25th. With this, the Seahawks have allowed the following, notable yardage totals through the air:
158 to John Ross // 84 to JuJu (with Mason Rudolph) // 92 to Kamara // 99 to David Johnson // 117 to Cooper Kupp // 136 to Gerald Everett
Beckham (and as an outlier bet, even Landry) can be considered very much in play in tourneys, with Beckham a borderline option in cash if you feel comfortable fading the Browns’ early-season ineptitude. If betting on Beckham (or Landry — or even Chubb), you also open the door for a potential back-and-forth affair, in which Russ naked or Russ + Lockett and/or Dissly becomes viable. (As an outlier to this outlier, you could also bet on DK Metcalf connecting on one of his go routes, or on Antonio Callaway having a much better game after the coaching staff literally put him on the field for a full complement of snaps coming off a suspension in which he was not allowed to practice with the team, and did not know the playbook. Cleveland Browns: the more things change, the more they stay the same.)
Bengals Run D23rd DVOA/27th Yards allowed per carry
Ravens Run O5th DVOA/3rd Yards per carry
Bengals Pass D16th DVOA/22nd Yards allowed per pass
Ravens Pass O19th DVOA/31st Yards per pass
Ravens Run D2nd DVOA/12th Yards allowed per carry
Bengals Run O27th DVOA/24th Yards per carry
Ravens Pass D7th DVOA/13th Yards allowed per pass
Bengals Pass O26th DVOA/18th Yards per pass
The Baltimore Ravens defense is not the Baltimore Ravens defense. I’ll go on record as saying I don’t really get the Ravens’ DVOA ranking against the run (24th — when this team ranks 10th in yards allowed per carry and has allowed only 3.8 yards per carry to running backs if we filter out the game in which Nick Chubb busted some long runs, while allowing basically nothing if we also take out a couple big edge runs by Damien Williams and LeSean McCoy) — but in the pass game, this defense is pretty much “Marlon Humphrey, and then nothing else.” The Ravens rank 26th in points allowed per drive and 23rd in yards allowed per drive, with a middling drive success rate ranking of 14th. Only six teams are worse than the blitz-heavy Ravens in adjusted sack rate, and this team ranks 23rd in DVOA against the pass and 29th in yards allowed per pass attempt. Only three teams have allowed more passing yards than Baltimore in spite of 18 teams facing more pass attempts, and only the Giants have allowed more pass plays of 40+ yards. And while the Ravens have kept wide receivers out of the end zone (only four touchdowns allowed to wideouts — the seventh best mark in the league), only the Buccaneers and Giants have allowed more yards to the position.
That’s the good news for the Bengals in this spot.
The bad news, however, comes in multiple waves as well.
The Bengals rank 26th in drive success rate on defense, while the Ravens rank first on offense. Cincinnati, unsurprisingly, ranks 19th in time of possession, while the Ravens rank first. And when the Bengals do have the ball, their offensive line ranks 25th in adjusted sack rate, while their offense as a whole ranks 31st in DVOA. Cincinnati has been unable to sustain drives themselves (27th in drive success rate), and they rank 31st in red zone touchdown rate, while Baltimore is a non-awful 18th on defense. Furthermore, this game is on the road (bad for Andy Dalton) at a division opponent (bad for Andy Dalton). And perhaps most importantly: the Bengals really have only one weapon in the pass game in Tyler Boyd — and if the Ravens choose to put Humphrey on Boyd, it’s basically game-over for Cincy, as even a depleted secondary for the Ravens is a matchup advantage over the likes of Auden Tate and Damion Willis.
Boyd runs 66% of his routes from the slot (where Humphrey does not, by nature, line up), but with Humphrey deployed in shadow coverage for much of the season so far, he has spent 18% of his snaps in the slot — and while PFF does not have this projected as a shadow situation, it seems unlikely that Baltimore decides to let Boyd roam free all game (and at the very least, we should see Humphrey shift over to Boyd if this proves to be a trouble spot for Baltimore early in the game).
The natural shift in this matchup, then, would be for the Bengals to more heavily involve Joe Mixon (especially in the pass game) — though this offensive coaching staff has shown less adaptability than this defensive coaching staff, and there is no reason to expect the Bengals to turn Mixon into the five-catch-per-game back he really ought to be. (Through five games, Mixon has target counts of 3 // 5 // 2 // 5 // 1 — and most of this work has been dumpoff-driven, rather than schemed.)
The Bengals seem to have settled on an “identity” as an 11-personnel team, as they continued to lean heavily on this formation even with John Ross out last week (and Alex Erickson — concussion — joining him after 15 plays), and even with A) the excess of tight ends this team boasts and B) a great tight end matchup last week. Assuming this approach holds (and assuming Erickson misses — which he is currently trending toward), the base offense for the Bengals will have Boyd in the slot and Triple-A players Tate and Willis primarily manning the outside. This creates an interesting setup in that Willis and Tate move around enough to each avoid Humphrey a decent amount if he remains stationary, making each a viable low-cost option in a plus matchup. Willis saw four targets last week to Tate’s six, and is “stone minimum” (as old pal Adam Levitan would say) on all three sites. Each would also be in for a boost in targets if Humphrey travels with Boyd.
On the Ravens’ side, perhaps the biggest question mark is how Baltimore will choose to attack this run defense — which has allowed the second most rushing yards and the second most rushing touchdowns to running backs this year; but (as explored in this space since Week 1, when they slowed down Chris Carson) this production on the ground has come primarily with teams attacking this defense on the edges, rather than up the gut, as “up the gut” is one of the few positions of strength for this squad, while “to the edges” allows rushing attacks to take advantage of the Bengals’ limitations at linebacker. So far this season, 66.2% of runs from Mark Ingram have come to the areas of the field where the Bengals are strongest (and his runs that attack areas of weakness for the Bengals have been generally less successful). Instead, it has actually been Lamar Jackson himself who has taken the carries that match up best with this defense.
There are a couple ways the Ravens could play things in this spot. Firstly, they could choose to adjust Ingram’s usage to account for the matchup. Secondly, they could increase the rushing workload for Lamar to match strength on weakness against the Bengals to the edges. How you expect the Ravens to play this matchup should dictate whether your focus leans toward Ingram or Lamar.
Through the air, the Bengals rank 31st in DVOA, though they rank middle of the pack in passing yards allowed and passing touchdowns allowed, while shaving almost 16% off the league-average aDOT and filtering targets away from wide receivers and tight ends (fifth fewest WR receptions allowed // fourth fewest tight end receptions allowed) and toward running backs (second most running back receptions allowed). I’ll go ahead and borrow this from Lex Miraglia’s research in his OWS Collective. In this matchup so far, the following players have seen:
– Lockett: 2 targets
– Kittle: 3 targets
– J Brown: 5 targets
– Juju: 4 targets
– Fitz: 8 targets
Also from Lex ::
These 5 averaged 44 yds/g vs. CIN
Targets in other games:
– Lockett: 12 – 14 – 4 – 4
– Kittle: 10 – 8 – 8
– Brown: 10 – 8 – 11 – 5
– Juju: 8 – 8 – 7 – 7
– Fitz: 13 – 11 – 7 – 5 – 8
One of these days, some pass catcher is going to post a big game against the Bengals; but as long as the field keeps seeing “vs Bengals” and lean heavily on that “soft matchup,” it will remain +EV to understand the reality of the situation and to take our shots in other spots.
JM’s Interpretation ::
I’ll likely be cautious on Boyd myself this week, as it seems likely that even if the Ravens leave Humphrey off him initially, they’ll change tracks if Boyd begins to wreck this defense. Boyd is the only truly NFL-caliber pass catcher on this Bengals squad, and he should be able to have his way with this weakened Baltimore secondary if Humphrey stays off him (a scenario well worth chasing if you’re looking at things differently), but any matchup vs Humphrey is shy-away if you expect that to be the way things fall.
I do — unexpectedly — have eyes on Willis at this point, as he would stand to benefit from extra targets if Humphrey does end up on Boyd, and he’s cheap enough that even a two-catch game wouldn’t kill you on a week in which quality salary relief is difficult to find. He’s in the mix for me at the mid-point in the week (as is Tate, to a lesser extent, with his price having jumped pretty aggressively). I also like the idea of tourney shots on Mixon, as he’s just such a good player, and the touches will be there — and while Baltimore has not been attackable from a yardage standpoint, they have allowed the third most running back touchdowns in the league…with only the Dolphins and Bengals allowing more.
As Ian Douglas has noted in his Collective, Mark Ingram has 13(!) “green zone” touches (touches inside the 10) this year; so while I have some concerns about his potential up-the-middle usage, his touchdown upside against a Bengals defense that gifts touchdowns to running backs and his non-zero pass catching role against a team that filters targets to running backs are definitely enough to keep him in the mix. I also like Lamar quite a bit for the likelihood that he carries the Ravens this week and is part of most of the scoring that takes place for this team.
In tourneys, Marquise Brown and Mark Andrews retain explosive upside and locked-in roles on a team expected to score plenty of points (as of right now, no team on the Main Slate has a higher Vegas-implied total than Baltimore), though the design of the Bengals defense (and what they’ve been able to do so far vs WRs/TEs and vs “top weapons”) is enough to keep me off these guys in tighter Week 6 builds.
49ers Run D7th DVOA/10th Yards allowed per carry
Rams Run O1st DVOA/10th Yards per carry
49ers Pass D22rd DVOA/5th Yards allowed per pass
Rams Pass O10th DVOA/15th Yards per pass
Rams Run D21st DVOA/11th Yards allowed per carry
49ers Run O9th DVOA/11th Yards per carry
Rams Pass D11th DVOA/4th Yards allowed per pass
49ers Pass O17th DVOA/20th Yards per pass
The Over/Under for this divisional clash between the 4-0 49ers and the 3-2 Rams is surprisingly elevated at 50.5 (up from an opening line of 48.5!), with what has been a tremendous 49ers defense, and with a few other elements that could lead to this game falling shy of a true shootout. (Note: not that the game can’t hit that mark of 50.5! But the chances of it turning into a barn-burner are somewhat slim. On the season, three of the 49ers’ four games have fallen below this mark; and while three of the Rams’ five games have topped this mark, two of those came against vertical passing attacks in the Buccaneers and Seahawks, with vertical passing opening opportunities for quick scores — something not nearly as central to the approach of the 49ers.)
Through the early stages of the season, the 49ers have been absolutely elite on defense through the air, with their vicious pass rush combining with a disciplined secondary to make life difficult on opponents (on the year, the 49ers are shaving almost 10% off the league-average aDOT and are also shaving almost 20% off the league-average catch rate — a nearly impossible combination, as defenses that force short throws typically do so in order to “give up short completions and tackle well after the catch,” leading to an above-average catch rate; while teams that invite downfield passing are the ones we typically expect to knock big chunks off the league-average catch rate). But while all of this was at least somewhat expected heading into the season, the bigger surprise is that the 49ers have also been elite on the ground, allowing under 4.0 yards per carry to enemy running backs, while allowing zero rushing touchdowns to date and allowing only 4.5 yard per reception to running backs.
Meanwhile, the 49ers have also been elite so far on the ground when they have the ball (ranking fifth in rush offense DVOA and first in yards per rush attempt) — though in looking at this game through the lens of “point-scoring expectations,” it is very much worth noting that San Francisco will be without offensive centerpiece Kyle Juszczyk (who is not only a valuable piece for the attention he can attract in the pass game, but is also a huge catalyst for this run game as the team’s lead blocker), and injuries also continue to pile up on the 49ers offensive line, as this team is now down to their number four and five offensive tackles. For a team whose offensive identity is built on the run, these are non-negligible losses. The Rams, meanwhile (who made a concerted effort in the offseason to get better against the run) come into this game ranking 15th in yards allowed per carry and ninth in DVOA — not a stay-away matchup by any means, but certainly not the pushover this unit was last year.
We’ll get to the Rams’ offense in a moment, but the best matchup in this game actually belongs to the 49ers passing attack. The Rams have been above-average against the pass as well, though this “above-average” mark has been nothing to scare away opposing passing attacks, with this squad shaving 3% off the league-average aDOT and 5% off the league-average catch rate. The Rams have been up and down vs pass catchers on the whole this year, but they have had the most trouble with “route runners” (Michael Thomas, Chris Godwin, etc.). From this standpoint, the player who stands out the most on the 49ers is Kittle — and when we go a layer deeper to the target distribution on the 49ers this year, we see Kittle stand out even more ::
>> Marquise Goodwin :: 3 // 3 // 2 // 4
>> Deebo Samuel :: 3 // 7 // 4 // 3
>> Dante Pettis :: 1 // 0 // 5 // 3
>> Kendrick Bourne :: 3 // 2 // 2 // 2
>> Richie James Jr. :: 2 // 4 // 2 // 0
>> George Kittle :: 10 // 3 // 8 // 8
There are whispers that Kittle may take on some of the fullback work while Juszczyk is out, and (as one of the best blocking tight ends in football) there is at least some chance he is called upon to help the 49ers shore up the edge against the Rams pass rush; but when it comes down to it, Kittle is just far too valuable to this offense to not be featured in the pass game — and especially if the Rams manage to put up the sort of points Vegas is expecting, Kittle should be instrumental in keeping the 49ers in the thick of this game.
On the Rams’ side of the ball, we’ll be keeping an eye on Brandin Cooks this week to see if he is cleared in time for this game, as his absence would have a significant impact on how the Rams attack in this spot. Last week — after playing 12 personnel on only 5% of their snaps through the first four games — the Rams went with this look on 36% of their snaps, with much of this action coming after Cooks left the field. If Cooks is out, we’ll get some Josh Reynolds; but there is a strong chance (especially against the 49ers pass rush) that it’s Gerald Everett and Tyler Higbee on the field for a large chunk of this game, and if that’s the case, there is a strong chance Everett (who ran 38 pass routes to 14 for Higbee last week) is heavily involved in the passing attack once again.
When the Rams do take to the air, they will have a tough matchup against a 49ers defense that has allowed only two completions this year on 18 passes that have traveled 20+ yards downfield against them (pairing these two completions with two interceptions) — and given that the Rams have been far more focused on the short areas of the field this year than they were the last couple years, it’s reasonable to expect them to lean that direction in this spot as well.
Production expectations on this team, then, should go Cooper Kupp // Gerald Everett // Robert Woods if Cooks misses (crossing routes — which is Woods’ specialty in this offense — have not been hitting against the 49ers; though Woods has seen his route tree expanded a bit in the Rams offense this year, and he could have his usage tailored a bit to fit the matchup). If Cooks plays, it becomes Kupp // Woods // Cooks (though after his game last week, Everett should not be discounted entirely, even with Cooks on the field). Reynolds will also be in the mix, though production from him is just hoping and praying.
On the ground, it’s tough to say what’s going wrong for the Rams, as this offense ranks eighth in adjusted line yards through the first five weeks of the year but has managed to get almost nothing done, ranking 22nd in yards per carry. The matchup “on paper” isn’t great, but the 49ers have played the Bengals (31st in DVOA on the ground), Steelers (26th), Bucs (20th), and Browns (15th) — and Ronald Jones (13-75) and Nick Chubb (16-87) were able to pick up yards in this spot. Although Todd Gurley has not carried his typically-high PFF grades this year, he did quietly play 65 out of 70 snaps last week(!) — on a short week. He’s currently questionable with a thigh issue, but if that gets cleared up, there is a chance that Gurley will truly be out there this week; and if he is truly out there, there remains the possibility for him to post a big game in this spot.
JM’s Interpretation ::
Kittle is a clear Tier 1 in this game, while everything else on the 49ers (running back rotation // wide receiver rotation // Jimmy Garoppolo) is just hoping to guess right.
On the Rams’ side: the price-rise for Kupp is a bit silly for a slot receiver with an aDOT of 7.4; but he is such a great route runner and is such a big part of this offense, he remains in play even in a difficult matchup.
Everett is squarely in play as well if Cooks misses — with risk of his usage suddenly dropping off the map and proving to have been a one-week blip, but with plenty of floor and ceiling if the usage instead remains in place.
Gurley also stands out to me as an interesting piece in this spot if he’s out there this week; perhaps not a lock-and-load option — but any running back in the high-middle tier of pricing who is seeing close to 100% of snaps is in the conversation, regardless of matchup; and if that usage holds (and if Gurley proves to be healthy), there is potential for him to contribute a really nice game in this spot.
Falcons Run D8th DVOA/5th Yards allowed per carry
Cardinals Run O2nd DVOA/4th Yards per carry
Falcons Pass D30th DVOA/31st Yards allowed per pass
Cardinals Pass O18th DVOA/19th Yards per pass
Cardinals Run D10th DVOA/17th Yards allowed per carry
Falcons Run O26th DVOA/19th Yards per carry
Cardinals Pass D10th DVOA/11th Yards allowed per pass
Falcons Pass O16ths DVOA/2nd Yards per pass
The Arizona Cardinals have shown great (and somewhat surprising) adaptability over the last couple weeks, with one example coming in Week 5 against the poor run defense of the Bengals, when Kliff Kingsbury eschewed his pass-dominant approach and instead called on David Johnson for 17 carries, Chase Edmonds for eight carries, and Kyler Murray for 10 carries (some designed, some not); and while coaching adaptability is always worth paying attention to in order to gain an edge, this particular shift by the Cardinals is noteworthy in a matchup sense as well, as opponents have been looking for ways to keep the ball out of the hands of the Atlanta offense so far this year — with the Falcons facing the third highest opponent rush play rate in spite of ranking seventh in DVOA against the run.
This is a good starting point for our exploration of the Arizona offense, as the action on this team has been flowing largely through the backfield of late (Kyler and the running backs), with Larry Fitzgerald seeing his targets drop from 24 across the first two games to only 20 across the last three — while Kyler has traded in back-to-back 300-yard passing efforts at the start of the year for rushing totals of 69 // 27 // 93. Across the last three weeks (with Fitz seeing his dip in action), DJ has touch counts of 17 // 19 // 20, while Edmonds has chipped in with 4 // 6 // 11.
While Atlanta ranks seventh in DVOA against the run, they rank 19th in yards allowed per carry (and while they rank 30th in DVOA against the pass, they rank 20th in yards allowed per pass attempt), with this run defense holding strong up the middle so far but getting brutalized on runs to the edges. One area in which Kingsbury has still not adjusted as much as we would like is in his deployment of DJ, as he is still using his star back on too many shotgun runs up the gut — and when you combine DJ’s Week 6 price with these “up the gut” runs and the “locked up back” that shuttled him on and off the field last week, he becomes more of a “bet on upside” play than a lock-and-load option. If DJ happens to miss this week, however, Edmonds (who is not a major talent drop-off from DJ) would step into a roughly 20-touch role including pass game involvement, and would immediately become one of the more attractive plays on the slate.
Kyler is also in a great spot this week, as the Atlanta defense is allowing the 12th most passing yards and the second most passing touchdowns in the league to date — with this second statistic being particularly important, as the Cardinals (third worst red zone touchdown rate in football) need all the help they can get right now in order to turn all their production into actual points. Only eight teams are allowing a higher red zone touchdown rate than Atlanta, and only one team is allowing a higher opponent drive success rate — which, in essence, means that the Falcons often aren’t able to get off the field on defense until an opponent finds the end zone.
Through the air, things remain simple for the Cardinals, as this passing attack has remained heavily concentrated on Fitz and (if he returns this week) Christian Kirk. There is no need for Atlanta to over-focus on one player the way they did last week with Hopkins; and while the Falcons are still shaving over 10% off the league-average aDOT, they are also allowing a nearly-10% boost to the league-average catch rate (lining up nicely with what Fitz and Kirk provide). If Kirk misses this week, it’s a good spot for Fitz to see a few more looks, while both Kirk and Fitz are in a good spot if the former plays. Atlanta has allowed 10 touchdowns to wide receivers (the most in the league), so there is at least a chance the Cardinals finally figure out how to make their way into the end zone.
On the other side of this game, Atlanta has faced a rough slate of opposing run defenses, but they haven’t done much to help themselves, ranking 28th in adjusted line yards and largely leaving the ground game alone to focus on their aerial attack — with the highest pass play rate in the league, and with Matt Ryan topping 300 yards in every single game. The Falcons rank fifth in drive success rate while the Cardinals defense ranks 25th, and Atlanta has the most passing yards in the league and will be taking on an Arizona team that has allowed the second most passing touchdowns (12) and is the only team with zero interceptions.
Unsurprisingly, the Cardinals enter this game having faced the fourth most tight end targets, while allowing the third most catches, the most yards, and the most touchdowns to the position. Through five games, Austin Hooper has target counts of 9 // 6 // 7 // 11 // 9 — with only Kelce (one), Ertz (three), and Engram (six) having seen more targets on the year.
The Cardinals have been middling against wide receivers — essentially non-threatening, but with nothing that explicitly boosts matchups — but between the Cardinals’ inability to get offenses off the field and the game environment boost this spot should provide, there is a good reason to expect Julio Jones to bounce back from back-to-back disappointments.
Behind Hooper and Julio, Calvin Ridley is obviously in play for his tournament upside (though unlike last week, there is nothing in the matchup that points to elevated expectations), while Mohamed Sanu should maintain his typical underneath role while providing value if he scores.
The final piece in this passing attack (more valuable for his pass game role than his run game role right now) is Devonta Freeman — who continues to play only about 60% of the snaps, but who has been soaking up pass game work of late and has at least some case that can be made for him in tourneys as a piece that will go overlooked by the field and could provide a solid game with a score.
JM’s Interpretation ::
This is a straightforward game, but that doesn’t take away from the attractiveness of this game, where both quarterbacks are very firmly in play, and where Hooper // Julio // DJ // Fitz // Kirk (in that order — with Fitz // Kirk fine to flip-flop) are all in the thick of the conversation as well. If DJ misses, Edmonds immediately becomes one of the more attractive plays on the slate for his low price and his locked-in role; and even beyond these names, there are assorted pieces that could end up producing at a respectable level in this spot.
Cowboys Run D29th DVOA/31st Yards allowed per carry
Jets Run O29th DVOA/21st Yards per carry
Cowboys Pass D21st DVOA/18th Yards allowed per pass
Jets Pass O30th DVOA/32nd Yards per pass
Jets Run D14th DVOA/20th Yards allowed per carry
Cowboys Run O18th DVOA/23rd Yards per carry
Jets Pass D31st DVOA/23rd Yards allowed per pass
Cowboys Pass O22nd DVOA/1st Yards per pass
This week, Sam Darnold will return to the field for a matchup against a Cowboys pass defense that has been doing its thing so far this year — shaving over 13% off the league-average aDOT and almost 8% off the league-average YAC per reception rate, while allowing the ninth fewest pass plays of 20+ yards: playing disciplined but unaggressive zone defense, keeping the ball in front of them, and forcing opponents to march the field. And given the state of the Jets’ offense to date (and given that Darnold has been dealing with a strength-sapping illness that has kept him off the practice field and will surely have him something shy of “fully sharp” in this spot), there is certainly a case to be made for sitting back this week and watching the Jets to see what we can expect from this passing attack in the weeks ahead. (Furthermore, the aggressive, no-huddle offense the Jets planned to enter the season with seems unlikely to show up in Darnold’s first game back.) With all that said: the prices on this Jets offense are cheap enough (and the Cowboys are willing enough to allow teams to eat up underneath completions), that it’s still worth taking a look at Robby Anderson, Jamison Crowder, and Demaryius Thomas in this spot.
The last time we saw Crowder working with Darnold, he saw 17 targets in a similar setup in Week 1 (“similar” in that the Bills defense takes away downfield passing and filters targets inside; though the Bills are a tougher all-around defense than Dallas) — and when we add in Darnold’s first game back and the poor state of the Jets offensive line (32nd in adjusted sack rate), a ball-out-quick approach certainly makes sense for this team. Almost all wide receiver production against the Cowboys this year has come on slants and shallow crossing routes, and this is where Crowder is going to be most heavily used.
We’ll move over to Anderson next, as he saw seven looks in an impossible Week 1 spot against Tre’Davious White and the Bills (note: Darnold did throw the ball 41 times, which should not be our expectation going into this spot), and he also showed tremendous downfield chemistry with Darnold down the stretch last year. Anderson is easy to cross off the “tighter builds” list, as the matchup very clearly works against him this week; but he is cheap enough to remain in the “only takes one play for him to hit” discussion in large-field play.
And finally, we have Demaryius — who is, of course, the toughest piece to get a handle on. Last week, Demaryius saw nine targets from Luke Falk, and while he’ll see most of his snaps on the perimeter, he does have enough of a short-area skill set to his game to have a target expectation of around five or six, with potential for more looks to flow his way from there. If any of these guys were more expensive than they are this week, they wouldn’t be in the conversation against a Dallas defense we rarely target with wide receivers; but given the lack of enticing salary savers this week and the prices and available targets in this spot, all three are at least worth keeping in the back of your mind.
Of course, the one piece on the Jets that is not quite so ugly (the piece that can be considered more than just a “back of the mind” option) is Le’Veon Bell, who has played 91.9% of the Jets snaps across the last three weeks while piling up reception totals on the year of 6 // 10 // 4 // 7 and touch totals of 23 // 31 // 22 // 22. The Jets offensive line has been brutal this season, ranking 32nd in adjusted line yards; but Dallas has unsurprisingly allowed the second most running back receptions in the league, while also allowing 4.59 yards per carry to enemy backs. With Darnold back, this offense is going to get much better throughout the remainder of the season; and while there is no guarantee that it happens in this spot (Darnold’s first game back, vs a solid all-around Dallas team), Bell is going to have some big games along the way, and he will absolutely be higher-priced than this by the end of the year.
On the other side of the ball, the matchup is deceptively difficult for the visiting team, as the Jets currently rank 11th in DVOA against the run and 13th against the pass. Only six teams have allowed a lower opponent drive success rate than Gregg Williams’ Jets, and only six teams have allowed fewer passing touchdowns. Only four teams have allowed fewer running back rushing yards as well — and while these latter two numbers are obviously boosted by the early bye week, they are still surprisingly impressive. Running backs on the whole are averaging only 3.58 yards per carry against this team, with notable numbers including 1.2 YPC to Sony Michel, 1.7 YPC to Miles Sanders, 1.8 YPC to Frank Gore, and 3.4 YPC to Nick Chubb.
The clearest place to attack the Jets (especially from a personnel standpoint) is with wideouts, as this squad has been average against the position and has potential to show worse than that — especially if the Jets offense can keep this game close enough for the Cowboys to have to pass. Attention on this spot can be further elevated by the narrow distribution of targets on the Cowboys passing attack, with the three games of Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup on the field together looking like this:
>> Amari :: 9 // 5 // 14
>> Gallup :: 7 // 8 // 14
>> Amari :: 106 // 44 // 226
>> Gallup :: 158 // 68 // 113
Although these guys will likely need the Jets to keep pace in order to smash, both are very much in play regardless for their locked-in roles, and for the fact that “through the air” will be the easiest way for Dallas to move the ball. Gallup’s aDOT sits at 11.6 and Amari’s sits at 12.7 (a fairly negligible gap), and their route trees and target shares are similar as well, making them more “1A” and “1B” at this point than clear “number 1 // number 2.” The upside would be boosted for these two if the Jets were allowing more touchdowns through the air, but this remains a strong, solid spot for each.
JM’s Interpretation ::
With this game carrying an Over/Under of only 43.0, there is obviously a chance you could get away with just ignoring it altogether; but on the Jets side, I like Le’Veon Bell in all formats — with his role keeping his floor high for cash and giving him plenty of paths to ceiling at a relative discount. I’ll also be keeping an eye on Crowder on this side the ball and (likely deeper down) Demaryius and Anderson, as this may quickly develop into the sort of offense I want to “bet on with at least a small percentage of my bankroll every week” in order to make sure I’m in place on the weeks when it hits.
On the Cowboys, Ezekiel Elliott is a “bet on volume/talent” play with touchdown upside, though the matchup is below-average and should be kept in mind given the type of score needed at his price. Dak Prescott is also in play in tourneys (though again: the matchup doesn’t point to him), with Amari and Gallup both in the conversation for their locked-in roles in a high-quality offense with the best matchup on this side of the ball. At least one of these two is likely to post a strong score this week, and I won’t be surprised to find at least one of these guys circling my late-week builds.
Titans Run D16th DVOA/26th Yards allowed per carry
Broncos Run O20th DVOA/25th Yards per carry
Titans Pass D24th DVOA/28th Yards allowed per pass
Broncos Pass O31st DVOA/27th Yards per pass
Broncos Run D5th DVOA/13th Yards allowed per carry
Titans Run O11th DVOA/5th Yards per carry
Broncos Pass D9th DVOA/20th Yards allowed per pass
Titans Pass O2nd DVOA/11th Yards per pass
As with most games that involve the Titans and Broncos, “Titans at Broncos” carries one of the lowest Over/Unders of the week. (In fact, this particular game carries the lowest Over/Under of the week, at only 39.0.) And unlike, for example, Washington at Miami – which has a low total in a game with bad defenses, opening opportunities for big plays to happen and for pieces from that game to become more viable than the Over/Under suggests – Broncos vs Titans combines a pair of solid defenses (Tennessee ranks 14th in DVOA and Denver ranks 16th, while only five teams have allowed fewer points per game than the Titans, and the Broncos rank top 10 in this category as well). Additionally, the identity of each offense is overwhelmingly conservative, with the Broncos ranking 21st in situation neutral pace of play and with the Titans ranking 22nd, while the Titans have the sixth lowest pass play rate in the league and the Broncos are doing what they can to reach that point as well – having thrown the ball only 52.8% of the time across their last three games (which would just nudge out Tennessee for sixth lowest in the league if it held all season). The best time to target the Broncos passing attack is when they can be expected to fall behind (and as we saw last week against the Chargers on the road, even this can fall apart if the Broncos unexpectedly jump out to a lead themselves), and the time to load up on the Tennessee passing attack is…well, frankly, never, as you are always just guessing and hoping with this inefficient, low-volume squad – but this team is likelier to post a slate winning score in a game in which they fall behind and are forced to play catch up. With a pair of defense-solid, slower paced, run heavy teams, you might be able to target a solid score in the passing game, but your chances of hitting a week winning score become slimmer.
On the ground, the Broncos run into an above-average Tennessee run defense that ranks fifth in adjusted line yards and 13th in run defense DVOA; and while this team has allowed over 4.5 yards per carry to running backs, this has been more a result of explosive plays than any major “consistency” issues for the Tennessee run defense, with Sharp Football Stats having the Titans ranked top five in rushing success rate on defense (i.e., the percentage of plays on which they allow a successful run). Obviously, touchdowns are the great NFL DFS equalizer, and it’s not impossible for Royce Freeman to outscore Phillip Lindsay with a multi-touchdown game (especially as Freeman has out-snapped Lindsay in back-to-back weeks (on the season, Lindsay has 69 carries and 17 catches; Freeman has 55 carries and 16 catches)) — but given the way this matchup sets up, we should expect the Broncos backs to run into plenty of short gains, with a couple of bigger plays mixed in. The Titans are tied with five other teams for the “most” rush plays of 40+ yards allowed (two), though those are the only rushes of even 20+ yards the Titans have allowed (with only six teams allowing fewer). This should be viewed as a “bet on talent and hope for the best” spot rather than a spot you can bankably isolate for a big individual game.
Flipping over to the other side of the matchup, we have a spot that the field is likely to view as high-quality for Derrick Henry after what Leonard Fournette did to the Broncos a couple weeks ago, though as noted in this week’s Angles email: Vic Fangio made several changes on the Broncos defense this last week to the starters, the alignments, and the positions being played by key players, in order to shore up what had been one of the more attackable run defense units to date. These changes yielded big results last week, with the Broncos holding Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler to only 38 yards on 15 carries; and while this came against a Chargers line that ranks 16th in adjusted line yards this year, Tennessee is behind them at 21st. With a smart defense and smart coaches on the sidelines, the Broncos will be looking to take away Henry and force Marcus Mariota to beat them — leaving Henry as a guy who will need big plays or a touchdown in order to come through for DFS rosters this week.
JM’s Interpretation ::
In tournaments this week — especially given how thin this slate is as a whole — I’m not completely ready to strike the Broncos pass-catching duo of Emmanuel Sanders and Courtland Sutton off my list, as these two have dominated snaps and targets for this team, with 43.5% of passes from Joe Flacco going to these two players, and with 56.3% of passing yards flowing to these two players as well. While the Broncos are unlikely to be “forced into a pass-heavy game plan,” they should run into enough issues on the ground in this spot that they throw the ball quite a bit more than the 20 pass attempts they were able to get away with last week with a big, early lead against a Chargers team that was unable to stop them on the ground. Tennessee does take away downfield passing and force teams to work underneath (limiting the potential for explosive plays), but at their prices (10% or less of the salary cap on all three sites), Sutton and Sanders have combined for six “smash” games from a point-per-dollar sense, with three coming from Sanders, three coming from Sutton, and only one game (vs the Packers) in which neither guy produced. I don’t love these guys this week, and this is more a product of the slate than of the matchup itself, but both are viable in tourneys.
Outside of those two, I’ll likely be looking to avoid this game myself. The running backs could produce, but the Broncos backs are not in a great spot and Henry has fewer paths to a monster game than most will likely realize; while the Titans passing attack has a tough matchup against a Broncos defense that is top 10 in passing success rate and top six in preventing explosive pass plays this year.
Steelers Run D1st DVOA/2nd Yards allowed per carry
Chargers Run O31st DVOA/12th Yards per carry
Steelers Pass D8th DVOA/8th Yards allowed per pass
Chargers Pass O7th DVOA/8th Yards per pass
Chargers Run D21st DVOA/9th Yards allowed per carry
Steelers Run O14th DVOA/9th Yards per carry
Chargers Pass D11th DVOA/29th Yards allowed per pass
Steelers Pass O12th DVOA/24th Yards per pass
Showdown Slant ::
Presented by top Showdown mind Xandamere!
The poor Steelers are on their third quarterback of the year with Devlin Hodges taking over as they travel to meet the Chargers. The game has a modest 41.5 Over/Under, with the Chargers checking in at a not-terrible 24 point total and the Steelers at 17.5. The Chargers’ defense is, of course, pretty banged up, but this could still be awfully ugly…
Let’s start with the Steelers. The realistic strategy is to try and lean heavily on the run game (the Chargers are 25th in run defense DVOA), while James Conner is now absolutely locked into a bellcow role with Jaylen Samuels hurt and just Benny Snell behind him. As long as the game remains close (and perhaps even after it no longer is), Conner should get the work. While I don’t generally lean heavily towards road underdog RBs, Conner’s matchup, pass game involvement, and locked-in role make him a very strong piece.
The Steelers’ pass game is going to be severely limited with Hodges at QB. Hodges racked up great stats in college, but then wasn’t even drafted, and managed just five yards per attempt in the preseason. JuJu Smith-Schuster is almost certainly going to be shadowed by Casey Hayward, which combined with bad QB play really hampers his outlook. Diontae Johnson has a stronger matchup, while