NBA 🏀 Props!
NBA Props Insider:
Season = $299 || Weekly $29!!!
NFL 🏈 Props!
NFL Props Insider:
ROS = $159 || Weekly $19!!!
NBA Props Insider:
Season = $299 || Weekly $29!!!
NFL Props Insider:
ROS = $159 || Weekly $19!!!
Week 8 starts with the Ravens visiting the Bucs for a 45.5 total game with Baltimore currently favored by 1.5. This is a tricky game because Tampa has fallen way, way below expectations this year, while Baltimore has been a wildly volatile offense of late. Hopefully, this gives us some edge over the field!
On the Bucs side, we’re seeing Leonard Fournette’s role vary from week to week. Fournette has four games of 76% or more of the snaps but three games of 62% or under. On the whole, Fournette’s role is solid, with 9.4 Draftkings points in every game but one, though the Bucs tendency to pass in the red zone means he only has one rushing score on the year. His explosiveness also seems to be gone, as he’s averaging just 3.5 yards per carry behind an offensive line that ranks 28th in the league in adjusted line yards (yikes). His passing game role is robust, which gives him outs regardless of game script or rushing success. Behind Fournette, Rachaad White has seen consistent involvement in the offense with 26 carries and 19 targets on the season. He’s a bit pricey at $4,800 and is only viable in tournaments, but the whole “RB2 in Showdown” thing makes him quite viable.
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In the passing game . . . are we seeing the end of Tom Brady’s career? The Bucs have not exactly faced a murderer’s row of defenses, and yet they’ve only scored more than 21 points once and have failed to crack 20 four times, culminating with last week’s atrocious performance against a Carolina team that just traded away its best offensive player. I have continued to use the Bucs in DFS slates because I believe the upside is still there (Brady’s passing metrics still look fine on the whole), but just recognize this team does not seem to be the offensive juggernaut that we’ve seen in the past. In addition, four of their five main pass catchers (Mike Evans, Russell Gage, Julio Jones, and Cameron Brate) are all questionable, making Chris Godwin and TE2 Cade Otton the only fully healthy members of the receiving corps. For now, I’m going to assume them all in, and writing up a complete set of if/then statements for all of the possible combos is pretty daunting, so if guys are out I’ll come back around to this article with an update as we get closer to game time.
So, assuming full health, we know that Mike Evans and Chris Godwin will be full-time players while Julio Jones and Russell Gage should split reps in some fashion. But, we haven’t seen all four fully healthy this year so we don’t really know how it’s going to play out. As always, I lean Godwin for floor and Evans for ceiling. Godwin is generally going to see a bit more volume and higher catch rate passes, while Evans’ touchdown equity is greater. Gage and Julio will impact each other, and I don’t really have any indication of who’s going to play more. I would max 2 of Godwin, Gage, and Julio (Godwin running out of the slot impacts Gage as well, who can play on the perimeter, but that’s where Julio plays; you could also consider just a max 1 of Gage and Julio, but I prefer casting my net a bit wider in the large-field tourneys). Breshad Perriman and perhaps Scotty Miller will play a handful of snaps as rotational pieces. At tight end, Brate should play the lead role if he’s healthy, but Cade Otton has almost certainly earned a role as well, so I’d expect a split between the two that leans slightly in Brate’s favor. At $5,000, Otton is too expensive to be a “good play” if Brate is active, but he can certainly be left in tournament player pools, as he’ll be on the field and will earn targets, and should be very low owned. Brate at just $800 would be one of the strongest value plays on the slate, perhaps the strongest, but be aware that Baltimore Showdown slates tend to see a lot of ownership on value plays due to the price of Lamar Jackson, Mark Andrews, and of course on this one we have a bunch of expensive Bucs as well.
For the East Coast crowd (or early risers out west), we get an extra Showdown this week as the Broncos and the Jaguars travel to London. This game has just a 39.5 total with Jacksonville favored by 2.5. While the Jaguars are listed as the “home” team, this is really a neutral field so this isn’t simply “evenly matched teams and the Jags get 2-3 points because they’re at home.”
Jacksonville’s running game looks suddenly very interesting as Travis Etienne seized firm control of the backfield last week, playing 80% of the snaps and seeing 19 running back opportunities, including five targets. James Robinson was promptly traded to the Jets to replace the injured Breece Hall, leaving JaMycal Hasty and Snoop Conner as Etienne’s backups. The question of course is whether Etienne will now be treated like a bell cow going forward, or if the backups will get material workloads. Last week, Hasty saw a whopping one opportunity, but coach Doug Peterson said Hasty will get more carries to avoid overworking Etienne, so we’ll see. Etienne is priced up like a bell cow back as the most expensive player on the slate, while Hasty is priced like a guy who may not even see the field at $2,200. The pricing dynamic here gives lots of room to take stands one way or another. The matchup here is reasonable against a Broncos defense that is 3rd in overall defensive DVOA and is elite against the pass but just 18th against the run. Given their prices, potential roles, and the matchup, I’m tempted to have a Jags running back in every build here. Either Etienne is fairly priced and in a good matchup as a bell cow back, or Hasty is significantly underpriced if he’s going to get a material workload.
Ownership updates automatically
In the passing game, the Jags have become extremely concentrated this season. Christian Kirk, Zay Jones, and Marvin Jones Jr. are likely to see the vast bulk of the snaps at wide receiver, with one of Tim Jones or Jamal Agnew mixing in here and there. Kirk is awesome but remember that Denver has been erasing opposing WR1s all season via the coverage of Patrick Surtain. I don’t generally overweight cornerback matchups, but when a guy who is going to be extremely highly owned also has one of the toughest matchups in the NFL, that’s an opportunity to consider getting different from the field. Zay Jones is someone who I have a hard time believing is actually any good, but he’s been a reliable WR3 type for a while now so I need to get over my bias, and if Kirk is indeed shut down by Surtain that should open up volume elsewhere. MJJ is an interesting one: he looked totally washed early in the season, then had a 100-yard game against Houston, then got hurt, then had a solid game against the Giants but only played 56% of the snaps . . . what the hell? Either the Jags took it easy on MJJ in his first game back from injury, or, they’re intentionally starting to scale back his snaps a bit in favor of trying something else on offense. I think it’s likely the former since scaling back a guy who is coming off his best two games of the season feels a little strange, but just be aware that there’s some risk to MJJ’s playing time. At tight end, Evan Engram is the primary guy, and he’s averaging a reasonable 39.3 yards per game, he just doesn’t have any touchdowns yet. Engram falls into the “fine” bucket, where he can outscore the kickers he’s priced next to purely on volume but will likely need a touchdown to be a real difference-maker. The rotational wide receivers as well as backup TEs Chris Manhertz, Dan Arnold, and perhaps even Luke Farrell can be included in MME player pools.
The Panthers enter Week 8 coming off what is likely the biggest upset of the NFL season to date, a 21-3 thumping of Tom Brady and the Bucs, a game which the Panthers entered as two-touchdown underdogs. This was especially shocking given the trade of Christian McCaffrey just three days before the game which seemed to indicate a “fire sale” and waving of the white flag from the organization. Now, after one dominant performance by their defense and running game, the Panthers find themselves only a game out of first place in their division. Shockingly, if the Bucs lose to the Ravens on Thursday night (they are currently 1.5-point underdogs), and the Panthers win on Sunday, then Carolina will be tied for the division lead and hold the tiebreaker as they will have beaten every team in the division. The NFL is crazy sometimes.
Looking at this specific game, it will be interesting to see how the Panthers attack. They ran the ball on 54% of their offensive plays in their impressive Week 8 win over the Bucs, but now face a Falcons team that has devolved into one of the biggest pass funnels in the league – ranking dead last in the NFL in defensive DVOA and 31st in PFF pass rush grade. While the Falcons run defense hasn’t been anything special, it would be borderline malpractice for any team to not attack their ineptitude in pass defense. Panthers starting QB PJ Walker had what is likely the best game of his career against the Bucs, averaging just over 8.0 yards per pass attempt and throwing for two touchdowns. Walker also kept a few plays alive with his legs, took only one sack, and did not turn the ball over in a very clean performance.
Carolina ranks 12th in the NFL (about middle of the pack and near league average) in situation neutral pace of play for the season. However, they have played much slower in recent weeks than they did to start the year and they really drained the clock last week, managing only 50 total plays despite never trailing and having a decent amount of offensive success. We should expect a similar game plan this week with a methodical approach, albeit a likely shift from their 54% rush rate to play-calling split that is slightly pass-heavy due to the easy nature of the matchup in the passing game. DJ Moore is the clear alpha here and received a 48% target share in his first game without CMC and Robbie Anderson. With Atlanta’s secondary and defensive scheme struggling to stop any passing attack, we shouldn’t expect a situation where Moore is “taken away” by the Falcons. The Panthers defense has played pretty well this season, holding every opponent to 26 points or fewer and ranking 10th in the league in yards per play allowed, so we should expect a conservative offensive approach here that relies on their new 1-2 punch (D’Onta Foreman and Chuba Hubbard) in the backfield while passing slightly more than last week. The Panthers will trust their defense to keep them in it late into the game and hope to pull away late like they were able to against the Bucs.
There’s something that must be understood about the Bears before we dive into this specific game. The complete overhaul this organization underwent this offseason will take time. Everyone from the GM to the majority of the coaching staff to a new analytics department was either new or changed this offseason. It takes time to introduce an entirely new offense under those conditions, and we’ve had front-row seats to the struggles that can induce this season. That said, we saw a glimmer of hope as the nation watched Monday Night Football in Week 7. Whether or not those steps forward continue remains to be seen, but at least it’s a step in the right direction. Prior to last week, the Bears had scored 20 points or more only twice all season. They ended up scoring 20 points in the first half en route to a convincing 33-14 victory over the Patriots. That said, we know this team wants to be extremely run-biased (dead last in overall pass rate and pass rate over expectation), control the clock and tempo of the game, and stifle teams on the defensive side of the ball (seventh in points allowed per game). The biggest problem thus far has been the predictability of that game plan and the lack of dynamic play calling, which is what we saw open up a bit on Monday Night Football. The team ran the football at a 68.2% clip last week, but it was how they ran the football that gave us hope. The Bears had 29 first downs against the Patriots, only seven of which were first-down running back carries before the final two drives when the game was in hand. There were six Justin Fields designed runs, one wide receiver jet sweep, and a whopping 11 first-down pass plays (that’s big considering Fields threw only 21 passes). This team will be far more successful if they can continue the dynamic early-down play calling instead of routinely placing their team in long down and distance-to-go situations.
In his four fully healthy games prior to last week, David Montgomery saw snap rates of 66%, 80%, 72%, and 78%, with running back opportunity counts of 21, 17, 16, and 16 in those contests. Last week, his snap rate fell to 56%, and he saw 15 running-back opportunities. This is also a team that runs “heavy” personnel alignments (21- and 12-personnel) at about a 20% clip each, meaning a below-average percentage of plays come from the standard 11-personnel alignment. Whether or not the dip in Montgomery’s snap rate and running back opportunity share is a signal of a new trend or was simply due to the game environment remains to be seen, but there is no questioning the fact that backup Khalil Herbert has looked like the more explosive back this season. Herbert’s 5.5 true yards per carry ranks fourth in the league, while his 6.5 yards per touch ranks third, whereas Montgomery currently sits at 3.9 true yards per carry (47th) and 4.8 yards per touch (27th). I would tentatively expect that we see a bit more Herbert moving forward, bringing this backfield closer to a true timeshare than a lead back/change of pace back situation. The pure rushing matchup yields an above-average 4.51 net-adjusted line yards metric against a Dallas defense allowing 4.34 running back yards per carry. The biggest boost to the overall offense came through the legs of Justin Fields, who finally saw designed runs to utilize his rushing acumen. That said, it wasn’t all roses and rainbows for Fields, who put the ball on the ground four total times last week, luckily losing none of the fumbles.
The Chicago passing game has been a veritable disaster this season – there’s no getting around that fact. The team has ranked dead last in pass rate over expectation (PROE) and overall pass rate for the entirety of the season to this point. The only pass-catchers to play near every-down roles are wide receiver Darnell Mooney and tight end Cole Kmet, but the overall low pass volume of the offense has meant Mooney has only one game all season with more than six targets (12), while Kmet has only one game all season with more than a modest three targets (4). Neither player has found the end zone. Things got even messier this past week with the return of N’Keal Harry to the lineup, who mixed in primarily for blocking duties at the direct detriment of Dante Pettis’ snaps. Equanimeous St. Brown typically plays about 60% of the offensive snaps primarily as a blocker as well, which, when combined with Harry’s 42% snap rate last week, who also played primarily as a blocker, left only a 31% snap rate for Pettis – his lowest of the season. Blocking tight ends Trevon Wesco and Ryan Griffin typically puts the team in 12-personnel about 20% of the time, as previously mentioned. Basically, it’s Mooney or Kmet as legitimate pass-catchers on this offense, then everyone else – and even then, the low overall volume leaves a lot to be desired here.
Gauging the intent of the Miami offense has been difficult, considering the vast turnover at the quarterback position. Consider this – the Dolphins have finished only three games with the same starting quarterback that started the game this season. They are 3-0 in those games. Tua Tagovailoa was forced from Week 3’s contest with his back/neck injury. He was forced from Week 4’s contest with a concussion. Teddy Bridgewater then started Week 5 before leaving after just one snap with a concussion. Skyler Thompson then started Week 6 before leaving in the second quarter, passing the baton back to Bridgewater. On the one hand, we have a Dolphins offense that has been at or above league average in pass rate over expectation in all three of Tua’s full games played (barely in Week 7). On the other hand, we have coach speak indicating they want to operate a run-balanced offense. Either way, it’s difficult to make sweeping statements regarding the intent of this team with only three games of normal operating procedures. As such, it’s probably a good idea to view the Dolphins similarly to the way we were projecting other teams in Week 4, with a wider range of potential outcomes with respect to team intent. Their overall 63.92% pass rate ranks fifth in the league through seven weeks, carrying the obvious caveats previously mentioned. That said, we should get a good glimpse at their true intentions this week against a Lions defense that can basically be beaten any way the Dolphins choose. Finally, the Dolphins rank near the middle of the pack in first-half pace of play, overall pace of play, and situation-neutral pace of play.
Head coach Mike McDaniel has a relative embarrassment of riches when it comes to dynamic skill position players, with each of Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle, and Raheem Mostert all amongst the fastest players in the league. Mostert emerged as the unquestioned lead back in Week 4, averaging a 68.5% snap rate and 19 running back opportunities per game over the last four contests. Of note here, Mostert has run the ninth most routes at the running back position this year yet averages just under three targets per game (3.25 per game over the last four). Expect Chase Edmonds to serve as the clear change of pace back, seemingly miles behind Mostert. The pure rushing matchup yields an above-average 4.535 net-adjusted line yards metric against a Lions defense allowing a robust 5.41 running back yards per carry. Finally, the Lions have allowed ten rushing scores on the season – most in the league.
Tyreek Hill leads the league in targets per route run rate (35.5%) and ranks second in team target market share (32.4%), while Jaylen Waddle checks in at 24.7% and 22.0%, respectively. The duo leads the league in total receiving between a team’s top two options with 1,394 receiving yards. That said, Waddle has just two games with double-digit targets, while Tyreek Hill has hit double-digit looks in all but two games. Notably, four of the five combined touchdowns between the two have come in the one blowup game against the Ravens, likely indicating there is meat yet left on the bone for these two once touchdown variance swings in their favor. The $22-million wide receiver Cedrick Wilson has been beaten out by Trent Sherfield for the WR3 role, while Mike Gesicki has been relegated to a standard range of snaps of 40-60% due to his shortcomings as a blocker. Gesicki could see an uptick in snaps this week should blocking tight end Durham Smythe miss with a hamstring injury (DNP on Wednesday). The Dolphins have run above average 21-personnel rates through the utilization of fullback Alec Ingold this season, playing primarily from 11- and 21-personnel. Finally, Tyreek Hill grades as the top wide receiver (per PFF) against man coverage this season, and the Lions run man coverage more than any team in the league. Hill should have no problem shaking Jeff Okudah and Amani Oruwariye on first-read passes.
We know exactly what Kliff Kingsbury’s “air raid” offense is at this point – the Cardinals utilize an elevated pace of play (fourth overall pace of play and fifth in first half pace of play) and spread the field horizontally, hoping to open up downfield passing from there. The problem is they haven’t opened up downfield passing at all this season, with the team electing to utilize Marquise Brown in a more possession-style role when DeAndre Hopkins was out of the lineup due to suspension and then electing to utilize Rondale Moore as a perimeter wide receiver with Hopkins back and Brown out due to injury. Make it make sense! That is a very clear indication that Kingsbury is attempting to fit square pegs into round holes as he attempts to force various players into his scheme, as opposed to maximizing the talent he has on the field through unique game plans. Hence the “fake sharp” moniker tattooed to his face by the fantasy community (to be fair, it is accurate). The good news for the Cardinals is they expect starting running back James Conner back from a rib injury that forced him to miss the last two games. The bad news is the entire left side of their offensive line missed practice on Wednesday for various ailments, including left tackle D.J. Humphries, left guard Max Garcia, and center Rodney Hudson. Interestingly enough, the Cardinals have been at or below league average in pass rate over expectation in all but one game this season (15th-ranked 61.18% overall pass rate), which makes little sense considering the offensive composition of this team. The logical next thought would be to look to their defensive metrics as a potential signal, but their unit currently ranks 27th in the league in points allowed per game at 25.1. One positive of their defensive scheme is the relative erasure of opposing WR1s this season, with Chris Olave the first to break 100 yards receiving against them this season, and it came through 14 targets on a season-high 71 offensive plays run from scrimmage for the Saints last week.
Cardinals backs have averaged only 19.4 fantasy points per game through seven games on an average of 32.4 running back opportunities per game (25.1 carries per game and 7.3 targets per game). That’s astoundingly poor. James Conner’s 3.7 true yards per carry ranks 56th in the league and his 4.5 yards per touch value ranks 34th in the league, and the backfield is likely going to have to contend with three members of their offensive line being out. Not great, Bob. I think we can safely assume Conner will return to a 60-65% snap rate player this week, backed up by Eno Benjamin as a strict change of pace and clear passing down back. The pure rushing matchup on the ground yields an average 4.32 net-adjusted line yards metric against a Minnesota defense holding opposing backs to just 3.95 yards per carry this season.
There are so many confusing moving parts in this pass offense, primarily due to Kliff’s insistence on forcing his pass-catchers into roles they aren’t best suited for (see above). One positive development was the absolute feeding of DeAndre Hopkins in his first game back. Nuk saw an unsustainable yet beautiful 52.8% targets per route run rate and 48.3% of the team’s available targets last week, even playing 22.8% of his snaps from the slot. That said, his modest 9.4 aDOT and weak 1.1 yards after the catch per reception highlight the low upside routes he continues to be asked to run, meaning he will need volume and touchdowns to return a GPP-worthy score in a standard week. Rondale Moore was confusingly thrust into a perimeter role in Week 7 in the absence of Marquise Brown, playing 86% of his snaps out wide. That is likely to change once newcomer Robbie Anderson gets up to speed in the offense, but it remains to be seen when that will be. As in, once Anderson gets the playbook down, it is likely he operates in the “Z” role, shifting Moore back to his more natural slot role. Sorry, it just made little sense to me that the obvious perimeter wide receiver in A.J. Green wouldn’t play perimeter snaps (even though he’s old, slow, and sucks) while Moore would be left to his natural role last week. I digress. Either way, Green’s days appear numbered in Arizona, with the team clearly shopping him before Tuesday’s trade deadline. Against a Vikings defense that is amongst the league leaders in zone coverage rate this season, it stands to reason that Moore could see an uptick in targets out of the slot this week (assuming he returns to that role). Cardinals running backs have accounted for 51 total targets this season, which ranks 11th in the league. Finally, Zach Ertz’s splits with and without DeAndre Hopkins are stark, a trend that continued last week as he saw just four looks after seeing double-digit targets in four of six contests without Nuk to start the season.
The Raiders lead the league in yards created by their offensive line, blocking to a 5.69 adjusted line yards metric (first), 73% power success rate (seventh), 11% stuffed rate (second), and 1.78 second level yards (first). It makes sense that they have done what they can to slow games down considering the dominance of their offensive line, checking in with 22nd overall pace of play and 27th-ranked first half pace of play. They started the season with a pass rate over expectation (PROE) above the NFL average in Week 1 but have been at or below league average in each subsequent week. Even with that, their 61.31% overall pass rate ranks in the middle of the league at 14th. That said, their pass rate over the previous three weeks falls all the way down to 51.89% but their pass rate on the road stands at a lofty 68.36%, which would rank as the top overall value this season (ahead of the Bucs). It seems some bug is running through the team this week as four players missed Wednesday’s practice with an illness, including wide receiver Davante Adams. Also notable was the return to a limited practice for tight end Darren Waller after being held out of action through the team’s Week 6 bye and into Week 7 after injuring his hamstring in Week 5. In all, I’d expect the team to continue riding the run game for as long as it is working moving forward, which helps to hide a defense getting run over (30th in defensive DSR).
The Las Vegas backfield has turned into a Jacobs workhorse situation as the unquestioned lead back has surged to account for an average of 83.33% of the offensive snaps and 28 running back opportunities over the previous three weeks. Brandon Bolden remained active in Week 7 but didn’t see an offensive snap, with the team instead utilizing Ameer Abdullah and Zamir White sparingly behind Jacobs. Fullback Jakob Johnson typically sees between 30-40% of the offensive snaps for a team utilizing 21-personnel at one of the highest rates in the league. The pure rushing matchup yields an absolutely absurd 5.11 net-adjusted line yards metric against a Saints defense surrendering a robust 4.75 yards per running back carry this season.
Davante Adams has been in a route on 100% of the passing plays for the Raiders this year, tied with Justin Jefferson for the league lead (duh). His 32.0% team target market share ranks fourth in the league, while his 41.9% red zone target market share leads the league by a wide margin. Darren Waller returned to a limited session on Wednesday but has seen his snap rate and involvements scaled back this season (poor 73.0% route participation rate, 14.0% team target market share, and 17.8% targets per route run rate). Hunter Renfrow is sadly in the same bucket, with a 20.5% targets per route run rate and an 18.4% team target market share. Basically, this pass game has transformed into “Davante Adams and then everyone else,” on top of the newfound focus on the run game. That leaves very little meat on the bone for all of Waller, Renfrow, and WR3 Mack Hollins. The matchup against the Lattimore-less Saints is a good one as the Saints haven’t largely altered their defensive game plan, sticking right above league average in man coverage rates through Lattimore’s absence.
The 3-4 Patriots come into Week 8 in sole possession of last place in the AFC East, fresh off getting stomped by the previously unable to score Bears on Monday night. After two decades of dominance, the Pats watched the Bills take over the division, and this year they have slipped behind both the Jets and Dolphins. As someone who has spent most of his life assuming the Patriots would get a first-round playoff bye, it’s hard to remove the “idea” of the Patriots from the current team, but that is what must be done to accurately assess them. The past three seasons have shown that the Patriots on-field success, while contributed to by Bill Belichick, was not because of Bill Belichick, as quarterback performance simply impacts the outcome more than anything a coach can do from the sidelines. As Willie McGinest recently said in a documentary about the Patriots, “We weren’t winning because Troy Brown was playing nickel cornerback.”
Belichick has always been adaptable on offense, which last week meant changing QBs after Mac Jones looked bad, at home, against a Bears team the Patriots were expected to beat. Although Belichick was non-committal about who is going to start this week after the game, Mac Jones has received 90% of the first-team reps and appears likely to start against the Jets. Matt Patricia, Joe Judge, and presumably Belichick himself, have been running the offense. The Pats have played slow (31st in total pace), want to play slow (27th in situational neutral pace), and stay slow in all situations, playing the fastest when ahead (21st in pace when leading). None of Patricia, Belichick, or Judge are great offensive minds and this team is suffering greatly from the loss of Josh McDaniels. While some of their woes can be chalked up to losing Mac Jones the past month, their offense hasn’t looked explosive at any point during the season and is likely to maintain their “run the damn ball” mentality.
The Jets defense has really come on, holding the Steelers/Dolphins/Packers/Broncos all to 20 points or less. While that isn’t a list of offensive juggernauts, neither are the Patriots. The Jets rank well against the pass (10th in DVOA) and above average against the run (14th in DVOA). The Patriots tend to adapt to their opponents, but when there is no obvious area to attack, they’ll default to what they do best which is running the ball. The Patriots O-line has been excellent (3rd ranked by PFF) to start the season, with right tackle being the only real weak spot. Marcus Cannon replaced Isaiah Wynn, but Cannon allowed three pressures against a bad Bears pass rush on Monday night. The Jets prefer to play cover-3 and get pressure with their front four, which they’ve been excellent at this season, ranking sixth in pressure rate and 31st in blitz rate. The Patriots would be wise to try and “run them out of it” and force the Jets to abandon their shell zone coverages. That strategy fits perfectly with how the Pats want to play and they are likely to attack on the ground unless forced to the air by the scoreboard.
The Steelers run a below average pace of play in both situation neutral pace of play and first-half pace of play but jump all the way up to seventh in the league in second-half pace of play. Their ninth-ranked pass rate over expectation (PROE) feigns aerial aggression, but the fact of the matter is the team would prefer to utilize a more run-balanced offense. The problem is twofold thus far – their offensive line has performed much better while pass blocking compared to run blocking, and they have found themselves in routinely negative game scripts. This has led to the team attempting 52 and 44 passes in rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett’s two full games. The likeliest scenario yields a similar setup against the undefeated Eagles, who should control the game from both sides of the ball early, likely leading to increased pass attempts from Pickett as the game moves on.
Najee Harris has two games this season with a snap rate below 69% (59% in Week 1 and 49% in a Week 5 trouncing at the hands of the Bills (38-3). His 78.2% backfield opportunity share ranks sixth at the position. The problem is his true yards per carry value ranks 65th, his yards per touch value ranks 56th, and his breakaway run rate ranks 44th at the position. Efficiency has never been the name of the game for Najee, but he’s pushing it to new levels in his second year in the league. Now consider the routine negative game script and only 22 targets on the season, and we’re left with a back averaging just 10.8 fantasy points per game (27th). Things will not get any easier for Najee against the stout 4-3 front of the Eagles. The pure rushing matchup yields a non-terrible 4.48 net-adjusted line yards metric behind an offensive line blocking to only 3.5 running back yards per carry this season. Expect undrafted free agent Jaylen Warren to continue serving as the change of pace back behind Najee, typically only good for a handful of running back opportunities in a standard week.
Diontae Johnson is very much still the WR1 on this team, despite what any hype train would have you believe. The problem is that Mitchell Trubisky’s 9.9 (third in the league) average intended air yards did not mesh well with the areas of the field Johnson has been utilized in. Pickett has a more natural 7.1 average intended air yards, but the problem with him is he has had very few repetitions with Johnson as the team prepared for a complete season with Trubisky as their starting quarterback. Overall, Diontae has seen the fourth most targets at the position this season (67), is in a route on virtually every passing play (99.6%), and has seen an “okay” 10.5 aDOT this season. Again, the biggest problem is with efficiency, as he sports a ghastly 0.5 average yards after the catch per target, poor 8.9 yards per reception (90th), and horrendous 1.33 yards per route run (70th). Interestingly enough, fullback Derek Watt was re-signed to a three-year deal to remain with the team and the team has elected to forgo 21-personnel almost entirely this season, instead electing to run 11-personnel at an above average rate. That has meant that rookie George Pickens is on the field about 80% of the time, while perimeter-turned-slot wide receiver Chase Claypool has seen snap rates typically landing in the 85-95% range. Second-year tight end Pat Freiermuth is the unquestioned pass-catching tight end, while Zach Gentry typically sees 30-40% of the offensive snaps as the blocking tight end. The Eagles mix and match coverage concepts, playing about league average man coverages via their elite cornerback trio of Darius Slay, James Bradberry, and Avonte Maddox. Safeties Marcus Epps and C.J. Gardner-Johnson are athletic safeties that are capable performers in every defensive alignment they are asked to play. Expect moderate blitz rates to start that are likely to get more aggressive as the game goes on, likely making life extremely difficult for Pickett on the Steelers offensive line.
The Titans rank 30th in the NFL in pass rate over expectation and 29th in the NFL in situation neutral pace of play. This is an “old school” NFL team that is built to win behind their defense and running game. While this approach will likely not allow them to make any deep playoff runs, they have the personnel and scheme to make it extremely viable for controlling their talent deficient division. After a sloppy 0-2 start to the season, the Titans have rallied off four straight victories and stand alone at the top of the division, having also won both matchups with their toughest competition – the Colts. Not coincidentally, this run of success has correlated with a heavy dose of the “Big Dog,” Derrick Henry. Henry has opportunity counts of 33, 30, 27, and 26 in his last four games, an average of 29 chances to touch the ball per game. The Titans have also been trying to get Henry the ball in the passing game more this year due to their lack of playmakers in the receiving corps, as Henry has averaged four targets per game during this recent stretch after only receiving two targets per game over the past three seasons.
The Texans run defense has been laughably bad, ranking bottom-5 in the league in DVOA, yards per carry allowed, PFF run defense grade, and PFF tackling grade. This is not the type of defense that is built to slow down the most physically dominant running back in the game. We know how the Titans want to control the game and nothing about this matchup would sway them from sticking with their approach. Some play-action passes are likely on intermediate throws against a Texans defense that generally keeps things in front of them but will likely bite hard on play-action due to the focus on containing Derrick Henry. Given the Texans struggles against the run and the fact that they know how the Titans will approach this game, it would stand to reason that they will load the box with extra defenders to stop the run. However, the Texans have struggled with tackling this season meaning that all it will take is one or two broken tackles and Henry will be in the open field with no defenders in sight.
Taylor Heinicke’s return to the starting QB job in Washington was a triumphant one, with a 23-21 home victory over the Packers. The Commanders won and Heinicke made some nice plays to take the lead and ice the game, but also made some big errors including a first half pick-six and another sack/fumble that the Packers returned for a touchdown but was called back due to an extremely questionable defensive holding penalty that had no impact on the play. The Colts defense has been very solid this season and ranks 11th in the NFL in DVOA making this a very tough matchup for an offense that ranks 30th in the league in yards per play, which is one of the most predictive stats we have for offensive success/efficiency.
The Commanders rank second to last in tempo during neutral game scripts, showing a clear reluctance to turn up the pace. This should not be surprising with “old school” head coach Ron Rivera wanting to win ugly games and rely on his defense to keep things manageable. With Indianapolis breaking in a new quarterback, we should expect more of the same from Washington as they want to keep things close or build a lead slowly and force Ehlinger to play in a tight game or from behind. Washington also pivoted to a very run-heavy approach last week, running the ball on 53% of their offensive plays, a rate that would be second highest in the NFL over the course of this season. Antonio Gibson and Brian Robinson each played a lot and were even on the field together at times, with Gibson catching a touchdown after being split out at wide receiver in the formation. We should expect a similar approach this week with a methodical, run-heavy game plan although the Colts run defense has been very good this season, which should force Heinicke into some tough 3rd down situations. Terry McLaurin had perhaps his best game of the season and returned to a 25% target share, which he had last year as well with Heinicke under center, after seeing only 16% of the targets from Carson Wentz.
The 49ers made waves around the NFL last week by trading for all world running back Christian McCaffrey. The 49ers were already loaded with playmakers and now add another dynamic weapon to spread defenses thin. From a fantasy perspective, this may make things more difficult to project, but from a real life perspective, defensive game planning against the 49ers is going to be extremely difficult going forward. On the defensive side, the 49ers were exposed by Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs last week in a 44-23 loss. The Chiefs were able to protect Mahomes very well and he diced up the 49ers scheme with relative ease, throwing for 430 yards and three TDs (which could’ve been even more as there were multiple TD’s called back by penalty). However, the 49ers defense has been stout outside of that one outlier, and this year’s Rams passing attack is nowhere near as efficient as what the Chiefs brought to town.
San Francisco runs the ball at the 10th highest rate in the NFL and plays at the fifth slowest pace. The addition of CMC will help to make their offense less predictable and more dynamic. Basically, they now have the threat they used to give defenses by moving Deebo Samuel into the backfield while still being able to have all of Deebo, Brandon Aiyuk, and George Kittle spread out and running routes. The 49ers play calling will be far less telegraphed and head coach Kyle Shanahan should have a field day drawing up plays to take advantage of defenses that shade any certain direction, while also being freed up to attack individual matchups that defenses will struggle with across the board. Basically in every game and on every play there will be someone in the 49ers skill corps who is in an advantageous position and Shanahan is a master at exploiting those spots, while also being great at play designs that counteract defenses overplaying things. The one concern for this is the status of Deebo Samuel, who missed practice on Wednesday and Thursday, putting his status in question.
We should expect a similar play calling split from the 49ers this week to what we’ve seen in the past and when they do pass, it will likely be manageable concepts for Jimmy Garoppolo to get the ball out of his hands quickly and let his playmakers do their thing. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the 49ers up the tempo going forward, as they should have to substitute and change personnel packages less, and when the defense’s personnel is something they like there is a huge advantage to going no huddle and not letting them sub. All of it will be very interesting to see unfold, but one thing is certain and that is that the 49ers offense will be more dynamic than ever with CMC playing a full game.
The Giants are one of the more surprising teams in the NFL through seven weeks and keep finding ways to win. While this New York offense doesn’t look like the offense we saw from head coach Brian Daboll during his time with the Bills, that makes sense as any good coach builds their offense around the strengths of the players. At the center of the Giants offense is Saquon Barkley, who is having a resurgent season with his health holding up. He has been the engine for an offense that has been consistent despite mediocre offensive line play and a receiving corps made up largely of replacement-level or lower talents. Additionally, Daniel Jones is having a career year and is currently setting career highs in completion percentage, QB rating, and wins (his six wins this season are more than the Giants have had in any full season since Jones was drafted). Most of the offense revolves around those two players, with Barkley being used as a workhorse on the ground while also leading the team in targets through seven games. Jones has also been a huge threat on the ground, averaging nearly 50 rushing yards per game and quickly approaching his career high in rushing yards for a season.
Looking at how the Giants will approach this game, it is likely to be more of the same with a game plan built around Barkley that also gives Jones some quick, easy reads and opportunities to use his legs to extend plays and/or pick up yards. The Giants run the ball at the 6th highest rate in the NFL and play at a middle of the pack tempo. The Giants have been very conservative when they do throw the ball, as Jones has a very pedestrian 3.6 average intended air yards which reflects the Giants focus on passes to Barkley out of the backfield and in the short areas of the field to their plethora of non-elite athletes in the receiving corps. This week, the Giants face a Seattle defense that has shown drastic improvement the last two weeks after some awful performances against Detroit and New Orleans. Seattle’s defense has performed much better at home than on the road this year, which should be no surprise considering the raucous crowd that they always have on their side. The Giants will certainly look to keep the crowd at bay and lean heavily on Barkley and short area passing to stay out of 3rd and long situations where the crowd noise will really become an issue. Another interesting angle to consider is how Seattle’s defense will handle the rushing ability of Daniel Jones. The Seahawks have shifted to playing significantly more man coverage in the last few weeks and that resulted in them giving up a 100-yard rushing game to Kyler Murray just two weeks ago. A few extra designed runs for Jones in this spot would not be surprising.
Sunday Night Football should hopefully be exciting as the Packers visit the Bills for a 47 total game with Buffalo favored by 10.5 . . . oh wait, that means the Packers are only implied for about 17 points. Maybe less exciting than I thought.
On the Buffalo side, the run game appears to have been taken over by Devin Singletary (remember how that happened last year, too?), who has played 88%, 54%, and 87% of the snaps in the past three weeks. Zack Moss was a healthy scratch last week (and while he played 29% of the snaps in Week 5, he saw just one carry), while James Cook appears to be grabbing hold of a small RB2 role with a handful of snaps and touches in the past couple of weeks. The question that I always come back to with the Bills is, first off, can we believe this, and second, how much does it matter? We’ve seen Singletary’s workload spike up and down for a couple of seasons now, and while he operated like a bell cow towards the end of last season, the fact that Buffalo didn’t stick him back into that role from the get-go this year makes me suspicious. I also suspect there’s a reasonable chance that Singletary’s workload last week (22 opportunities including 17 carries; he only has one other game of double-digit carries this year and that was just 11) was driven by an opponent-specific game plan designed around holding a lead and keeping Patrick Mahomes off the field. This is a long way of saying I don’t feel great about Singletary’s role here, or at least I don’t feel it’s something that I have a high degree of confidence in. But that’s okay, because, at $7,200, we don’t need him to be a bell cow back. If he gets 20+ touches, he’s (enormously) underpriced for a massive home favorite who also gets solid passing game work. If he gets his “normal” workload, he’s pretty fairly priced. So, when price is considered, he’s one of the strongest on-paper plays on the slate but we should also expect him to be owned accordingly, especially going up against a Packers defense that ranks 11th in pass defense DVOA but just 31st against the run (only the Texans are worse).
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In the passing game, we know that Stef Diggs and Gabe Davis are the two primary guys here. Both are awesome, Diggs is the better play but also significantly more expensive, while Davis’ role is less volume-driven; he’s a 5-7 target per game kind of guy most of the time and he needs touchdowns (preferably of the long variety) to pay off. Behind them, things start to get a little muddy. Isaiah McKenzie is operating as the WR3 but has yet to exceed 51% of the snaps in a game. He was splitting work with Jamison Crowder earlier in the year and now it’s Khalil Shakir who is playing the WR4 role. McKenzie is fine, we’ve certainly seen him flash upside, and anyone being thrown to by one of the league’s best QBs in the league’s best offense is worth playing, but I’m actually quite interested in Shakir here as a tournament piece. Shakir is going to play under 50% of the snaps but priced below the kickers, he makes an interesting tournament punt play; he’s safer than a lot of tourney punts (like, say, fullbacks), and he’s shown an ability to be successful when given work. Making things more complicated is that Jake Kumerow, who opened the year in a WR4/WR5 role, is back from injury. I don’t know if Kumerow will slot back into the pecking order ahead of Shakir or behind him, but I would only play one of the two, and watch the inactives to see if both are even active in the first place. At tight end, Dawson Knox will play almost every snap with a tiny bit of work going to Quintin Morris and Tommy Sweeney. Knox is really a touchdown-or-bust player who has only exceeded 10 Draftkings points in one game (when he scored a TD, duh), but his touchdown equity is solid. Knox is the kind of play who I want something like 20% of in tournaments and will just call it a day. I don’t have a strong feeling about him one way or another, he could grab a TD and be necessary to win, or (more likely) he could fail to get into the end zone. Morris, Sweeney, and fullback Reggie Gilliam can be included as tourney punt options.
Week 8 comes to a close with the Bengals visiting the Browns for a 45 total game with our Cincy friends favored by a field goal. These two teams are heading in different directions, as Cleveland opened the season 2-1 before dropping four straight though four of their five losses have been by three points or less (they are generally “in” games), while the Bengals started the season with an embarrassing loss to the Steelers and then lost to Dallas to go 0-2, but have gone 4-1 since and their offense appears to have rediscovered their pass-happy ways of the end of last season . . . except now Ja’Marr Chase has been lost to injury for several weeks, so we’ll see how that changes things for them.
On the Bengals side, Joe Mixon has one of the most secure roles of any running back in the NFL, playing 66% or more of the snaps in every game (and over 70% in every game but one). The problem for Mixon has been efficiency, as he’s run for just 3.3 yards per carry this year and has scored just three total touchdowns. Yikes. The role is great, the matchup is great, the workload is great, and he’s had 3+ receptions in every game (which could increase further with no Chase). He just needs to get into the end zone and perhaps at least threaten the 100-yard rushing bonus. Maybe this is the game for it against a Cleveland team that is 28th in defensive DVOA. Behind Mixon, Samaje Perine will mix in, but his price likely means he will need either a touchdown or a Mixon injury to have a shot at being optimal.
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In the passing game, it now looks like Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd, and Mike Thomas will be the primary wideouts for the Bengals. The news about Chase didn’t come out until after prices were set for this one, and so Higgins is just $8,000, Boyd is a somewhat fairer $6,400, and Mike Thomas is a ludicrous $1,200. Thomas played 69% and 70% of the snaps in the two games this year in which Higgins left early so we should expect at least that here. All are underpriced and will be extremely popular. Boyd is the least underpriced and so his ownership might be somewhat kept in check, but Higgins and Thomas are both going to be massive chalk (I’d expect north of 50% for Higgins, at least 40% for Thomas, though that’s just off the top of my head; check back Monday morning for ownership projections!). The matchup scares nobody, so you’re basically just playing with game theory here. Any of these guys could hit, the prices are favorable, but they’re all going to be highly owned. We’ll also see one or both of Trent Taylor and Stanley Morgan Jr. mix in for a handful of receiver snaps. At tight end, Hayden Hurst will get the most run and Mitchell Wilcox will back him up. Wilcox is a blocker with five targets on the season, and while he can certainly be played, it’s only as an MME punt option. Hurst, though, is much more attractive, with four games of 7+ targets and now missing Chase. Boyd is a stronger option at a very close price point but Hurst is also eminently viable (less yardage than Boyd, probably, but also a solid red zone role).
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