Week 9 Matchups


Not much to say leading into this week’s set of games, but we are looking at a thin slate, both in terms of “games available” and “good spots available.” Most of the attention will be drawn to a handful of obvious shootout spots…and most of the non-shootout spots are pretty ugly.

I am writing this on Thursday night, after wrapping up the NFL Edge (yeah…on Thursday night, rather than on Thursday morning; it’s been a long, strange trip through the creation of this article this week), and while I don’t yet know for sure how I will attack things, I expect to cut my typical bankroll allocation in half this week, to account for how ugly this slate is. I also expect to roll with a more spread-out approach than normal.

With that said, I never have a truly clear idea of how these things will play out for me until I read through the NFL Edge myself and put together my first pass at the Player Grid. Typically, that’s what I do on Thursday afternoon…which means it’s time for me to get some sleep, in order to crush a couple back-to-back 15-hour days toward Player Grid building, roster construction, and further research.

Week 9. Let’s go!

*

UPDATES MADE:

Chris Thompson Out (Nov. 3)

Geronimo Allison Out (Nov. 3)

Stefon Diggs Trending Toward Out (Nov. 3)

Rashard Higgins Will Play (Nov. 3)

Elijah McGuire Activated (Nov. 3)

Keke Coutee Out (Nov. 3)


Kickoff Thursday, Nov 1st 8:20pm Eastern

Raiders (
22.75) at

49ers (
21.25)

Over/Under 44.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Raiders Run D
31st DVOA/15th Yards allowed per carry
49ers Run O
9th DVOA/8th Yards per carry
Raiders Pass D
26th DVOA/28th Yards allowed per pass
49ers Pass O
17th DVOA/21st Yards per pass
49ers Run D
7th DVOA/9th Yards allowed per carry
Raiders Run O
24th DVOA/17th Yards per carry
49ers Pass D
22rd DVOA/3rd Yards allowed per pass
Raiders Pass O
5th DVOA/7th Yards per pass

RAIDERS // 49ERS OVERVIEW

Ratings will plunge this week on Thursday Night Football, with only the fantasy community and the dedicated fan bases tuning in for an ugly clash between two teams with a combined record of 2-13 (and frankly, even much of the fantasy community will probably be tuned out, with very little season-long appeal in this game, and with most DFS players likely taking the night off). Each team has a below-average defense, but execution has been poor this season for each offense. Oakland ranks 27th in points per game, while San Francisco ranks 23rd. Oakland ranks 17th in yards per game, while San Francisco ranks 22nd. Oakland traded Amari Cooper last week and is without Marshawn Lynch, while San Francisco has been playing all year without Jimmy Garoppolo. This week, the 49ers may be forced to start Nick Mullens at quarterback.

Can I interest you in some Showdown action? Hmmm…

As always: just because things look ugly on the surface doesn’t necessarily mean things will be ugly across the board. Let’s dig in and see what gold (if any) we can find.

RAIDERS PASS OFFENSE

Last week in this space, we worked hard to find a viable pass-catcher to use on the Raiders — not only because Amari Cooper was gone (in fact, given how sporadic Amari’s workload/impact had been, that was the lowest-priority reason), but also because the Colts set up perfectly for Derek Carr. Carr ranks dead last in the NFL in average intended air yards — but he was taking on a Colts team that A) forces the shortest average depth of target in the league, but that B) allows the second highest catch rate in the league. This appeared to be a strong PPR-scoring setup for pass catchers if we could narrow down the likeliest target hog — though we left things with no clear standout play on the Raiders, and as such, I left that offense alone almost entirely (taking only two or three Milly Maker shots apiece on Jordy Nelson and Jared Cook, and one Milly Maker shot on Martavis Bryant). It turns out that Carr himself was actually the guy to target (crazy world that this is…), as he built up 275 passing yards and three touchdowns on an unsurprising 75% completion rate.

I bring all that up because fantasy writers and prognosticators still forget about matchup from week to week, and tend to be surprised when a player like Carr performs well in a matchup like that — which leads to heightened expectations in a matchup like this. This matchup is entirely different, however, with everything in this spot matching up with Carr’s weaknesses, rather than with his strengths.

According to Football Outsiders’ metrics, the 49ers are above-average at defending every portion of the short area of the field. As we have noted since the start of this season: the goal of the 49ers is to take away the short stuff and to force things deep — and through eight weeks, San Francisco has allowed an increase on the league-average aDOT of 4.7%, while shaving over 6% off the league-average catch rate. The way to beat San Francisco is with downfield splash plays, rather than with a dink-and-dunk approach. It will be interesting to see how Carr adjusts.

In the Raiders’ first game without Cooper, targets to non-running backs looked like this:

:: Jared Cook — 5
:: Brandon LaFell — 4
:: Seth Roberts — 4
:: Jordy Nelson — 4

LaFell played 45 out of 50 snaps, while Martavis played only seven.

Carr has not topped 33 pass attempts in three weeks — though this is not by design so much as it’s by lack of play volume as a whole, as Oakland has averaged a pathetic 50.7 plays per game across their last three contests (worst in the NFL). San Francisco boosts the league average Opponent Play Volume by a modest 2.6%, so perhaps the Raiders see a few more plays than normal here. If they run enough plays for Carr to reach 38 to 40 pass attempts, assume around 10 targets going to running backs, with the remaining targets spread to these pass catchers from there. Cook stands out as the likeliest target leader, but there has not been a true alpha all year in this offense, with targets spread fairly evenly from week to week.

RAIDERS RUN OFFENSE

It was a shame last week, on the Main Slate, that Marlon Mack, Phillip Lindsay, and even Kerryon Johnson stood out so much on the lower ends of the price range, as they overshadowed another strong value play in Jalen Richard. As expected: Richard was involved in the offense from the start, but his usage really ramped up once the Raiders fell behind, and while he only had two carries for 14 yards, he added eight receptions for 50.

Of course, that’s sort of the point with Richard: only two carries, but eight receptions (on eight looks). When the Raiders play close, Richard will be less involved; when the Raiders fall behind, Richard’s usage will spike. Even with Marshawn Lynch out, that remained the case last week. Vegas projections for this game favor a late-game role for Richard once again, but there is a greater chance in this game than in others that Oakland could take and hold a lead. Consider Richard a risk/reward play on the full-weekend slate, with a solid floor and ceiling for the ugly Showdown.

The bigger surprise last week was the quality running of Doug Martin, who came into the game averaging 3.0 yards per carry across the last three seasons but posted 72 yards on only 13 carries (5.5 YPC), while looking genuinely above-average along the way. The 49ers boast a strong run defense (eighth in yards allowed per carry), but the Colts were an above-average run defense as well. Expect Martin to see around 15 carries and one to three receptions, making him a yardage-and-touchdown back.

49ERS PASS OFFENSE

Nick Mullens seems likely to start this week at quarterback for the 49ers, with C.J. Beathard currently a game-time decision. Much will be made of the 49ers starting their “number three quarterback,” but it seems unlikely that Mullens will be much different from Beathard, who has struggled with turnovers, sacks, and downfield passing. Mullens does have familiarity with this offense, as he was on the 49ers’ practice squad last year, and he has gotten regular practice reps since Garoppolo went down. The biggest inhibitor of box score production for the 49ers is not Mullens or even the matchup, but is instead the fact that teams don’t try to throw the ball much on Oakland, and the 49ers are already a run-leaning offense. On the year, only one team in the entire NFL has faced fewer pass attempts than the Raiders. San Francisco ranks 22nd in pass play rate, in spite of being a 1-7 team that has trailed in games for much of the year. Oakland is attackable through the air; but they are even more attackable on the ground. Even the Colts (who entered last week against Oakland as one of the pass-happiest teams in football) threw the ball only 43.7% of the time in this matchup. In three of the last four weeks, the 49ers have had fewer than 30 pass attempts.

When the 49ers do throw the ball, George Kittle is the only man on the field doing anything worth talking about — and this team has taken advantage by making sure he gets his looks no matter what, with recent target counts of 7 // 8 // 7 // 6 // 8 // 8. Only one team in football has been worse in YAC allowed per reception than the Raiders (who have increased league-average YAC/R by over 16%), while Kittle ranks third in the NFL (among all players — WRs included) in xYAC/R. Oakland has been solid against the tight end, but especially on the Showdown slate, this is a minimal drawback for Kittle. Last week in this matchup, Jack Doyle and Eric Ebron combined to go 9-107-2 on only 10 targets.

Pierre Garcon is expected to return this week, which will relegate Kendrick Bourne to limited reps (no team in football runs fewer three-wide sets than the 49ers). If Garcon fails to get cleared for this game, Bourne will once again soak up his snaps. This role has yielded six to seven low-upside targets each week.

As noted last week, the best way to beat the Oakland defense is with speed. This gives Marquise Goodwin (target counts in his last four games of 4 // 5 // 5 // 4) some low-floor upside as the likeliest player to bust out for a long play.

49ERS RUN OFFENSE

Every week, it seems Matt Breida will not play. And every week, he leads the backfield. With Breida gutting out multiple GTD setups this year, expect him to play on a short week before finally having a chance to get healthy (the 49ers have a week and a half off before their next game — Monday Night Football in Week 10 — and then they go on bye). Theoretically, he matches up best in this matchup, though his burst has been diminished lately with no runs of 20+ yards in his last five games. If all goes according to plan, he should see in the range of 10 to 15 carries. He has no targets across the last three weeks.

Behind Breida, it has been Alfred Morris most weeks (Morris has topped 30 rushing yards only once since Week 3, and he has not caught a pass since Week 5), though there is hope-and-pray potential that Raheem Mostert will see his role expand in a game in which his speed will play well. It should be noted that Mostert (ankle) is also banged up.

Through eight games, the 49ers have produced two total games of 15+ carries for a single running back, as at least two guys continue to be part of the rotation each week.

JM’S INTERPRETATION

The only player in this game with genuinely respectable floor is Kittle — and even he is attached to a bad offense, in a below-average matchup. Outside of Kittle, everything is a true and genuine mess, with low-volume, low-upside roles across the board.

If playing the Showdown, I would roll with a multi-entry strategy, mixing and matching the “surest points” (Kittle, Richard, the quarterbacks, and the kickers) with the “next-likeliest points” (Breida, Doug Martin, Jared Cook, Jordy Nelson, Pierre Garcon, Brandon LaFell, Seth Roberts), while also factoring in that each of Mostert and Goodwin has a low floor, but each has a chance to produce the highest score on the slate (Goodwin, of course, at least has a guaranteed role; Mostert is a total dice-roll in the hopes that he is featured). DST is always in play on the Showdown (SF is the better unit, but Mullens will likely take a couple sacks and turn the ball over once or twice). If digging deep, Martavis can be tossed onto rosters as well. His role has dried up, but crazy things can happen in a game as ugly as this.


Kickoff Sunday, Nov 4th 1:00pm Eastern

Bears (
24) at

Bills (
14)

Over/Under 38.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Bears Run D
11th DVOA/16th Yards allowed per carry
Bills Run O
32nd DVOA/29th Yards per carry
Bears Pass D
2nd DVOA/8th Yards allowed per pass
Bills Pass O
4th DVOA/6th Yards per pass
Bills Run D
24th DVOA/21st Yards allowed per carry
Bears Run O
28th DVOA/32nd Yards per carry
Bills Pass D
28th DVOA/15th Yards allowed per pass
Bears Pass O
24th DVOA/25th Yards per pass

BEARS // BILLS OVERVIEW

The 4-3 Bears will travel east to take on a 2-6 Bills team that hasn’t scored an offensive touchdown in their last two games. On Monday Night Football this last week, ESPN produced an incredible statistic: the Bills have not scored a touchdown in their last 50+ possessions that started from their side of the field. (On average, a team gets about 12 possessions per game.) Unless the Bills’ defense produces a splash play, this team has almost no hope of scoreboard production. No team has fewer points per game than Buffalo (an incredibly low 10.9), and only one team has produced fewer yards per game. Chicago has allowed the eighth fewest points and the seventh fewest yards per game this year.

Last week, the Patriots appeared to go out of their way to account for the fact that the Bills cannot drive the entire field — regularly playing a more conservative brand of offensive football than we are used to seeing from them, while being perfectly willing to play the field position battle and wait for things to break their way. If the Bears are paying attention (they likely are), we can expect a similar approach against this strong-defense, destitute-offense setup of the Bills.

Each of these teams ranks bottom 10 in pace of play, while the Bears rank third in time of possession and fifth in fewest opponent plays per game. The Bills, unsurprisingly, rank 25th in time of possession and 28th in plays per game.

BEARS OFFENSE

In attacking Buffalo with offensive pieces, it is important to keep in mind that points in DFS come from more than just touchdowns. (Because Buffalo’s offense provides so many short fields for opponents, this team has allowed 25.0 points per game — a slightly below-average mark.) Points also come from yards, and only five teams in the league have allowed fewer yards per game than the Bills.

The Bills are tough to run the ball on (ninth in fewest yards allowed per carry), and they are tough to pass the ball on (third in fewest yards allowed per pass attempt). On full slates, it is difficult to find impact games against this defense. We should expect the Bears to play somewhat conservatively on offense — waiting for the Bills to mess up when they have the ball, and for points to pile up in a low-risk manner.

Only six teams have allowed fewer pass plays of 20+ yards than the Bills (and the Bills have not yet had their bye), with this team forcing the fourth lowest aDOT in the NFL and tackling extremely well after the catch (the Bills are shaving almost 9% off the league average YAC/R rate).

Marlon Mack is the only running back who has cracked 80 yards against this defense, while Jordan Howard has yet to top 82 rushing yards in a game. Howard has exactly one target in four consecutive games, making him a touchdown-and-yardage guy.

The easiest way to gain yards against the Bills has been with pass-catching running backs, as they have allowed the sixth most receptions and the 10th most yards to the position. Optimally, we would target Tarik Cohen in shootouts (especially with his price skyrocketing — 12.0% on FanDuel // 12.4% on DraftKings // 12.6% on FantasyDraft), as non-shootouts expose us to low-volume games (see his three targets last week against the Jets).

Only three teams have allowed fewer fantasy points per game to quarterbacks than the Bills, and Mitchell Trubisky and company should be able to attack in a conservative manner, knowing that the Bills’ offense is unlikely to do much. If the Bills do jump out to an unexpected lead, Cohen should be the first man up for targets, followed by a spread-the-wealth approach among Taylor Gabriel, Anthony Miller, Allen Robinson, and Trey Burton. If A-Rob plays, he is likeliest to draw coverage from Tre’Davious White; if he misses again, Kevin White (29 snaps last week) will see added time on the field. The only receivers to top 80 yards against the Bills this year have been Adam Thielen (105 yards on 19 targets), Davante Adams (81 yards on 14 targets), and Julian Edelman (104 yards on 10 targets). Miller will have the best shot at yardage — running 70% of his snaps from the slot, where he will avoid White.

BILLS OFFENSE

Nathan Peterman will be starting this week for the Bills — a worst-case setup, given his nine career interceptions on only 81 pass attempts, with a 45.7% completion rate and an extraordinarily bad 4.4 yards per pass attempt. Peterman has run into a bit of misfortune with a “first career start” last year against the stout 2017 Chargers’ secondary and a Week 1 start this year against the Ravens, but even with a drop in pass rush efficiency lately for the Bears, this is a negative matchup for Peterman, on the worst offense in the NFL.

If you feel compelled to go to this passing attack, here are the top three yardage games for each of the primary pass catchers on the Bills:

:: Kelvin Benjamin — 71 // 45 // 43
:: Zay Jones — 63 // 55 // 38
:: Andre Holmes — 45 // 29 // 20
:: Charles Clay — 40 // 36 // 29

If Peterman is still under center at the end of this game, it will be the first time he has accomplished this feat through four career starts.

An optimal approach for the Bills’ offense calls for them to stick to the ground (in spite of their 2-6 record, the Bills rank 24th in pass play rate — as they are almost forced to bleed the clock when they have the ball in the hopes that they can shorten the game and their defense can come up with points), but this will be a challenge this week against a Bears defense that ranks fourth in fewest yards allowed per carry, and that is the only defense in the NFL that has not yet allowed a running back to score a touchdown on the ground. The player on the Bills likeliest to produce points is LeSean McCoy, who has 90+ yards from scrimmage in three consecutive games with an expanded role in the pass game. Even after their clash with James White a couple weeks back, however, only six teams in the league have allowed fewer receptions to running backs than the Bears, and only four teams have allowed fewer receiving yards to the position.

JM’S INTERPRETATION

I’ll be surprised if I find myself rostering any players from the Bills, and I don’t have much interest in the Bears, either. Avoiding players on the Bills’ offense and avoiding players against the Bills’ defense has been a good way to make money this year.

If going off the board (perhaps taking a large-field tourney shot on someone from this game), I like Cohen as the best bet to produce. An interesting large-field stack would be Bills DST // Cohen, as a big Cohen game would likely come as a result of the Bills’ defense providing a couple short fields for their offense and/or scoring some points themselves. This would force the Bears to get a little more aggressive — and Cohen would be the likeliest beneficiary of such an approach.

Of course, the standout play from this game is the Bears’ DST. They are massively expensive, but they set up well as the rare “difficult for them to fail” DST play, with upside for splash plays against Five-Picks-Peterman. Chicago costs 9.0% of the cap on FanDuel and 8.2% on DraftKings, but they come at a decent discount on FantasyDraft at 7.3%.


Kickoff Sunday, Nov 4th 1:00pm Eastern

Steelers (
22.5) at

Ravens (
23.5)

Over/Under 46.0

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Notes

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

STEELERS // RAVENS OVERVIEW

With the AFC South and the AFC East unlikely to produce more than one playoff team apiece (and with the AFC West likely to send the Chiefs and Chargers to the postseason), there should be room for two of the top three teams from the AFC North (Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and Cincy) to play into January. Pittsburgh lost the Week 4 clash between these teams on their home turf, but these clubs have been trending in opposite directions since then, with the Steelers riding a three-game win streak, and with the Ravens trying to buck back-to-back losses. Vegas has the early-week Over/Under set at 47.0, with the Ravens installed as three-point favorites. The last seven meetings between these teams (starting with the most recent) have produced point totals of 40 // 77 // 35 // 58 // 35 // 37 // 43. Baltimore has allowed the fewest yards per game and the fewest points per game in the NFL, while Pittsburgh has stepped up their defensive game lately, allowing 18 points to Cleveland, 21 points to Cincy, and 17 points to Atlanta.

Each team ranks top seven in plays per game — and while each has done so by notching above-average time of possession (i.e., this setup effectively takes away some minutes from what these teams typically expect), each team has also gotten there by playing at an above-average pace. The Steelers rank 11th in pace of play, while Baltimore ranks all the way up at second, behind only the Colts. The likeliest scenario here is a game that finishes below that Over/Under — though with pace and play volume high on both sides, there are extra opportunities created for offensive mistakes, which can lead to quick scores, and can lead to game flow changing unexpectedly. This creates some large-field tourney “stack appeal,” as backed up by the 77-point game these teams combined for last year and the 58-point game they combined for in 2016. More than likely we see low yardage and a low score, but there is a chance you could capture an unexpected shootout between a pair of offenses with plenty of play volume and with big-play threats.

STEELERS PASS OFFENSE

No team in football has allowed a lower catch rate than the Ravens, and only two teams have allowed a lower YAC per reception rate (with Baltimore shaving over 15% off the league average YAC/R). Last time these teams met (in Pittsburgh, where Ben Roethlisberger typically plays better), this led to Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster combining for a 9-122-1 line, on 22 targets. Baltimore has allowed only seven touchdowns to wide receivers on the year (eighth best in the league), and only five teams have allowed fewer yards to the position. Unsurprisingly, only six teams have allowed fewer pass plays of 20+ yards.

While that’s the bad news for the Steelers, the good news is that AB and JuJu are going to get their looks, with each guy seeing double-digit targets in all but three games this year. When these teams last met, the Steelers tried to get the ball into Brown’s hands with short passes, and they tried to get JuJu going downfield, though it won’t be surprising if they mix things up with a different approach this time around. Regardless, the setup here remains fairly straightforward: the Ravens have yet to allow a 100-yard receiving game this year (incredibly, they have allowed only two games north of 70 yards — a 91-yard game to Tyler Boyd and a 90-yard game to D.J. Moore), and they don’t allow many touchdowns through the air either; but we know that JuJu and AB will see their targets, and we know that each guy has the talent to pop off in difficult matchups. Brown is the likelier of the two to hit, but either guy could theoretically go for a solid game. A week-winning game is not out of the question (A.J. Green posted three touchdowns in this matchup in Week 2 — good for 29.9 DraftKings/FantasyDraft points and 27.4 FanDuel points), but that is obviously not the likeliest scenario.

The weakest link for the Ravens is their tight end defense, with notable lines against them this year of 5-62-0 on five targets for Vance McDonald, 6-69-0 on 11 targets for David Njoku, 6-43-1 on six targets for Ben Watson, and 4-56-1 on four targets for Greg Olsen. McDonald’s snaps have been inconsistent from week to week, but he played 39 out of 62 snaps the last time these teams played (compared to only 27 snaps for Jesse James) — and given that the Ravens are best attacked with athletic tight ends, he shapes up as the likelier snap leader between these two.

STEELERS RUN OFFENSE

Baltimore has also been solid on the ground, ranking seventh in yards allowed per carry and 11th in rushing yards allowed per game, while only four teams have allowed fewer rushing yards to running backs per game. Through eight games, running backs have racked up only 70.25 yards per game on the ground against the Ravens, at an incredibly low 3.51 yards per carry. The Ravens have allowed only three touchdowns on the ground, and even with the Ravens not yet having enjoyed a bye, they have allowed the fewest receiving yards in the league to the running back position — at an average of 18.0 receiving yards allowed per game. In all, Baltimore has allowed a league-low 1.9 touchdowns per game. This is a tough spot for James Conner, coming off three of the best matchups a multi-use running back can have against the Falcons, the Bengals, and the Browns.

With all that said: as long as this game stays close, Conner should touch the ball north of 20 times. He has 15 or more carries in all but two games this year, and he has six or more targets in all but two games as well. Todd Gurley is the only running back with more carries than Conner inside the five.

RAVENS PASS OFFENSE

Teams don’t like to run the ball against Pittsburgh — and for good reason, as the Steelers are just about in line with the Ravens on the ground, allowing 3.52 yards per carry to running backs, while allowing only 66.4 yards per game to the position (they are one of only four teams that has been better than the Ravens in this category this year). The Ravens are the only team in the NFL that has allowed fewer receiving yards to running backs, and only three teams are facing a higher pass play rate than Pittsburgh. This is a very difficult matchup for yardage-and-touchdown dependent Alex Collins (1.75 receptions per game; no games this year north of 70 rushing yards), as well as for pass-catching back Javorius Allen and newly-acquired Ty Montgomery. Expect the Ravens to lean pass-heavy this week, and to focus on tight ends and receivers.

Pittsburgh has been less solid against the pass — ranking second in the NFL in lowest YAC/R rate allowed, but ranking dead last in the NFL in aDOT. Only three teams have allowed more passing touchdowns than Pittsburgh, and only four teams are allowing more fantasy points per game to quarterbacks.

Frustratingly, the Ravens do not give us a great setup from a DFS perspective for taking advantage of this matchup, as Joe Flacco has only topped 300 yards two times this year (one of these games was his last meeting against Pittsburgh), and he has not topped two touchdown passes since Week 1. With Lamar Jackson vulturing a touchdown each of the last two weeks, it is becoming more and more difficult to lock in Flacco for guaranteed points. Consider him a high-ceiling play with an uncertain floor.

Furthermore, the best way to move the ball through the air against Pittsburgh is with tight ends, as they entered last week (before the Njoku usage dud) facing the most targets and allowing the most receptions to the position. The Ravens have cut down their tight end rotation to three guys…but these three (Hayden Hurst, Nick Boyle, and Mark Andrews) are all seeing roughly equal time on the field. Rookie Hurst has the highest upside, but he has yet to top three targets in a game, while Andrews has four games this year of four to five targets, and Boyle has four games this year of four to six targets. Any of these three will need a multi-touchdown game or an unexpected spike in usage to be a truly viable play on this slate.

While the tight ends are soaking up a good eight or nine targets per game (and should see a small boost in this one), Flacco is averaging over 42 pass attempts per game, and teams tend to see a bump in passing volume against the Steelers. Pittsburgh has held wide receivers to an impressively low 59.3% catch rate, but they have faced 23.86 wide receiver targets per game — the sixth highest mark in the league.

In his last seven games, John Brown has seen seven or more targets six times — producing boom/bust stat lines ranging from 3-28-0 (last week) to 7-134-1 (the week before). The last time these teams met, Brown hit for a 71-yard catch and run on a deep ball over the middle, en route to a 3-116-1 line on seven targets. He’s a boom/bust play this week with what should be locked-in volume in a downfield role.

Willie Snead runs the routes over the middle of the field that are likeliest to lead to floor points against Pittsburgh (he went 6-56-0 on seven targets against Pittsburgh in Week 4 — right in line with his standard stat lines this season), though his red zone role has been practically nonexistent, with only three targets inside the 20, and with no targets inside the 10. Michael Crabtree, on the other hand, has seen a recent rise in red zone looks as his six targets inside the 20 are only two fewer than Brown, while each guy has three targets inside the 10. Crabtree has only two games all year below eight targets, and eight to 10 looks is a fair projection for him in this spot. He has topped 66 yards only once, and his route tree and skill set are not conducive to per-play upside against one of the best YAC prevention teams in the league; but if he find the end zone, he’ll provide nice value to go with what should be in the range of four to six catches for 45 to 65 yards.

JM’S INTERPRETATION

While there may be opportunities for Pittsburgh to create short fields and punch in touchdowns, it’s difficult to see a path to them piling up a big yardage game (or even a big game in the “receptions” department), making it difficult for any of these players to post a week-winning score. As always: the time to take a good player in a difficult matchup is when that player can break the slate wide open, which is unlikely in this spot. With that said: Conner sees enough volume to theoretically produce as a contrarian play, while AB has posted big games in difficult matchups before. Even JuJu carries sneaky upside, as a low-floor, moderate-ceiling bet. Naturally, I’ll be staying away from the main pieces on the Steelers myself on my Main Roster. I doubt I’ll have exposure to them in any multi-entry play, either.

The player on the Steelers likeliest to hit for a strong point-per-dollar day is Vance, though he obviously carries some question marks with his spotty and unpredictable usage. He’s an upside tourney consideration.

I expect the Ravens’ tight ends as a collective group to post a solid game, and if Baltimore notches multiple scores through the air, it is likely that at least one touchdown goes to the tight ends. With such a messy rotation, however, it is difficult to get behind any of these plays.

The rest of the Baltimore passing attack is interesting, but not standout, with Snead and Crabtree both carrying strong floor but thin ceiling, and with Brown carrying a strong ceiling by way of a thin floor. Obviously, a tourney shot on JB is in play. Depending on how value shapes up on this slate, Snead and Crabtree at least belong in consideration as safe point-per-dollar plays in cash games as well.

Flacco is an interesting tourney play, given that A) No one wants to play Flacco, and B) the Steelers force teams to the air and allow plenty of QB points. Flacco’s poor play recently and the risk of Lamar Jackson stealing red zone looks combine to pull him away from smaller-field stuff, but some large-field shots on Flacco with a multi-entry approach is not a poor idea.

Of course, each defense is in play as well. Baltimore ranks first in sacks, while Pittsburgh ranks second — though each team ranks near the bottom of the league in sacks taken, and each team also ranks near the bottom of the league in turnovers forced. I like these units for tourneys, but not as cornerstone plays.


Kickoff Sunday, Nov 4th 1:00pm Eastern

Falcons (
22.5) at

WFT (
24.5)

Over/Under 47.0

Tweet
Notes

Key Matchups
Falcons Run D
8th DVOA/6th Yards allowed per carry
Washington Run O
21st DVOA/25th Yards per carry
Falcons Pass D
30th DVOA/31st Yards allowed per pass
Washington Pass O
32nd DVOA/29th Yards per pass
Washington Run D
17th DVOA/17th Yards allowed per carry
Falcons Run O
26th DVOA/20th Yards per carry
Washington Pass D
6th DVOA/1st Yards allowed per pass
Falcons Pass O
16ths DVOA/3rd Yards per pass

FALCONS // REDSKINS OVERVIEW

From time to time, we talk in this space about the ways in which DFS/fantasy influence the public perception of “which teams are good” and “which teams are bad,” and I got a kick a few weeks ago out of seeing how many fantasy writers were referring to the Washington Redskins as “bad” or even “pathetic.” This week, the 5-2 Redskins are early 1.5 point favorites against the high-powered, 3-4 Falcons. With the Saints running away with the NFC South and plenty of competition for the two Wild Card spots in the NFC, this is a must-win game for the Falcons, who have had two weeks to prepare. Outside of their blowout loss to the Steelers, they have lost by six points to the Eagles, by six points (in overtime) to the Saints, and by one point to the Bengals. They should be able to give Washington a run for their money this week, and it will be interesting to see how this game of contrasting styles plays out.

While Atlanta is not a pace-up team (they rank 14th in pace of play), they do try to put strain and pressure on opponents, with the sixth highest pass play rate in the league, and with an aDOT of 9.2 (only 0.1 yards behind Patrick Mahomes, and only 0.3 yards behind Deshaun Watson).

Washington, on the other hand, ranks 28th in pace and 29th in pass play rate. Only the Eagles have notched a higher time of possession than the Redskins this year, and only six teams have allowed fewer opponent plays per game.

REDSKINS RUN OFFENSE

We are going to shake things up in this spot by kicking things off with the run offense for the home team, as this will be the piece that is likeliest to dictate how this game plays out. Early in this game, the goal of Jay Gruden and the Redskins will be to A) run the ball, and B) bleed time off the clock with long, sustained drives. We know this will be their goal, as this is their goal every week — and this focus will be enhanced against the high-powered Atlanta offense.

While Washington was ill-equipped to execute this strategy in their last loss (a blowout at the hands of the Saints, who boast the best run defense in football), they’ll be in strong shape against a banged-up Atlanta defense that ranks 26th in yards allowed per carry and dead last in the NFL in drive success rate allowed.

This creates an interesting scenario, as Adrian Peterson is obviously going to be the focal point early in this game — though it is Chris Thompson who has the pristine matchup as “a pass-catching back against Atlanta.” Expect Thompson to only see the field on third downs and obvious passing situations for as long as this game remains close — lowering his floor if this game stays out of shootout mode.

On the other hand, expect the Redskins to feed a heavy workload to Peterson as they try to pile up six- to seven-minute drives. Peterson has only nine receptions all year, making him the definition of a yardage-and-touchdown back, but Washington should be able to build some sustained drives by riding him, and only three teams have been worse at red zone touchdown rate allowed than the Falcons.

REDSKINS PASS OFFENSE

With everyone looking the other way, Washington has quietly become more willing to attack downfield, with Alex Smith attempting 10 passes of 25+ yards across his last four games. That’s not going to set the DFS world ablaze, but it does open opportunities for pass catcher upside — if the Redskins are forced to open things up through the air. In Washington wins, Smith has piled up pass attempt numbers of only 30 // 20 // 36 // 25 // 32. In losses, he has thrown the ball 46 and 39 times.

Of course, one reason people have not noticed that Smith is attacking downfield more often is because his primary downfield target has been Josh Doctson, who has hauled in only 16 of 29 targets this year (even after going five-for-five last week), and who has yet to reach even 50 receiving yards in a game. Joining Doctson on the perimeter is Paul Richardson, who has been a bit less embarrassing, with 18 catches on 29 targets, and with two games of 50+ yards. Neither player has posted an impact game this year, and these two will be dealing with the lone remaining strengths on this defense in Robert Alford and Desmond Trufant. Realistically, Richardson will be in line for a strong game if he sees eight or more targets, but he has not topped six targets in a game this year, and he has not topped five targets since Week 2. If Atlanta grabs an early, multi-score lead to force Washington to the air, this team is likelier to attack with Chris Thompson and the tight ends.

While no wide receiver on this team has seen more than seven targets in a game (Jamison Crowder has gotten there once; Doctson has gotten there once), Jordan Reed has target counts on the year of 5 // 8 // 7 // 2 // 9 // 4 // 12. Incredibly, he has not topped 50 yards in his last four games, and he has not scored since Week 1; but against an Atlanta team that allows the third highest catch rate in the league, he’ll have a shot at producing a respectable line regardless, with upside for a strong showing if Washington falls behind.

If Jamison Crowder returns this week, he should see four to five targets, with slim upside for more. His looks are primarily coming within five yards of the line of scrimmage, but he’ll get a couple looks downfield if this game opens up. If Crowder misses, Maurice Harris will fill in once again.

FALCONS PASS OFFENSE

Washington has been strong against the pass this season — forcing the fifth lowest aDOT in the NFL, while holding opponents to an average catch rate and a slightly below-average YAC/R rate. Add it together, and only four teams have allowed fewer yards per pass attempt than the Redskins.

The good news for Atlanta’s passing attack is that teams have tended to avoid Washington’s run defense (no team has faced fewer rush attempts on the year), making a matchup against them non-lethal from a “floor” perspective. Tre’Quan Smith and Odell Beckham are the only receivers to top 100 yards against Washington so far, but the list of guys who have gone for at least 70 yards is lengthy (Larry Fitzgerald // T.Y. Hilton // Geronimo Allison // Michael Thomas // Devin Funchess // Michael Gallup // Allen Hurns), and the pass-leaning Falcons (sixth in pass play rate on the year) should be able to add one or two receivers to that list. Even with Washington doing such a great job limiting opponent plays, the high pass play rate they are forcing (second highest opponent pass play rate in the NFL) has led to them facing 37.1 pass attempts per game, which largely removes volume concerns for the Falcons’ aerial attack.

Ryan has thrown 35 to 41 pass attempts in each of his last five games, leading to the following target counts among primary Falcons pass catchers:

:: Julio Jones — 6 // 12 // 9 // 14 // 12
:: Calvin Ridley — 8 // 6 // 5 // 3 // 6
:: Mohamed Sanu — 7 // 9 // 7 // 2 // 2
:: Austin Hooper — 4 // 2 // 12 // 10 // 4

As always, it is maddeningly futile to try to discern what Steve Sarkisian is thinking — in terms of when (and why) usage will flow in certain directions — but Julio’s only target dud in that stretch came in the shadow coverage of Marshon Lattimore, and it is reasonable to project him for nine to 12 targets this week. Naturally, it should be noted that Julio has an embarrassing three red zone targets (zero red zone catches) seven games into the season. Last year, it was around this time when Julio went from “almost no red zone work” to “an abundance of red zone work,” so perhaps a similar shift is in store this year.

Ridley is priced like a guy who sees more targets than he does, but his red zone role (five red zone targets; four red zone touchdowns) gives him some ceiling in this offense.

Sanu was dealing with a hip injury in the games in which his targets dipped, though more uncertain is his role, as he has been used this year as a short-yardage guy at times and as a downfield threat at other times. He has topped 50 receiving yards only twice this season, but the chance always exists that he will see more downfield work than normal. For what it’s worth, this matchup sets up much better for him to be used in a short-area role — but as always, it’s dangerous to assume we can too accurately predict what Sarkisian is thinking.

Hooper has seen his targets spike and drop dramatically, based on no discernible matchup-based pattern. Consider him a low-floor play with a solid, price-considered ceiling if usage, for whatever reason, flows his way.

FALCONS RUN OFFENSE

In spite of Washington ranking near the bottom of the league in adjusted line yards, teams continue to shy away from them on the ground. No team has faced fewer rush attempts than the Redskins, while the Falcons run the ball at the sixth lowest rate in the league.

When Atlanta does run the ball, they will continue to split touches between Tevin Coleman (recent touch counts of 17 // 10 // 11 // 13) and Ito Smith (recent touch counts of 10 // 4 // 13 // 9). Each guy is seeing two to three targets per game lately, but obviously a touchdown will be necessary for one of these two to pay dividends. The Falcons provide scoring opportunities to these two based on “whichever guy happens to be on the field at the moment.”

JM’S INTERPRETATION

The two times Washington struggled to “ground and pound” were in matchups against strong run defenses in the Saints and the Colts. Because Atlanta is so soft on the ground and so bad at preventing long drives, I expect Washington to have success with their slow-paced, run-and-short-passes approach — which would not only limit upside on Washington pass catchers, but would also limit play volume for the Falcons’ offense. As such, I don’t expect to target any pass game pieces on Washington, and I don’t expect to lean too heavily on Atlanta. If I go here in large-field tourneys, I’ll almost certainly take pieces on both sides, as a big game from Thompson or Reed (or any other pass catcher on the Redskins) will almost certainly mean that the Falcons popped off for some big plays of their own.

The likeliest piece for a big game on Washington’s side is Peterson, though his price tag is difficult to swallow on DraftKings (12.0% of the salary cap) for a yardage-and-touchdown back, while he’s priced just a tick below Christian McCaffrey, Alvin Kamara, and Melvin Gordon (among others) on FanDuel. Peterson’s cheapest price is featured on FantasyDraft, where he is a much more palatable 11.3% of the cap. There are higher-floor plays, but this game does line up well for Peterson to avoid his floor and approach his ceiling.

On the Atlanta side, I like Julio for a strong game, with a monster game being “unlikely, but not out of the question.” For me, he’s not a guy worth “moving around salary to fit,” but he is a piece to consider in tourneys. Shots could also be taken on Sanu, Ridley, or Hooper — but those are truly just “shots,” rather than high-floor/high-ceiling plays backed up by research.

It also stands out to me that Matt Ryan has been priced down at 11.4% of the salary cap on DraftKings and 11.2% on FantasyDraft, for a matchup that is more “middling” than “shy-away.” While play volume should suffer for the Falcons as a whole, they should still be able to land in their typical range for passing volume, and this will give Ryan a shot at a 300-yard, multi-touchdown game. He’s a lower-floor play than Cam Newton and others (as of this writing, I haven’t yet researched the games after this one in the NFL Edge, but Cam in particular stands out at first glance, and I’m sure there are other QBs on this slate who also carry more guaranteed points), but it won’t be a shock if Ryan pops off for a big game in this spot. A great tourney setup would be a couple quick, early scores for the Falcons (maybe Julio finally gets those red zone looks?), followed by Chris Thompson and the Redskins going into attack mode moving forward.

SATURDAY EVENING UPDATE // Full “Updates” List

Chris Thompson is out, which slightly solidifies the workload for Adrian Peterson. Ultimately, Peterson still falls out of the game plan if the Redskins fall far behind — but the likeliest scenario here is that this game stays close, which should lead to plenty of work for Peterson


Kickoff Sunday, Nov 4th 1:00pm Eastern

Lions (
21.5) at

Vikings (
26)

Over/Under 47.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Lions Run D
30th DVOA/26th Yards allowed per carry
Vikings Run O
2nd DVOA/6th Yards per carry
Lions Pass D
12th DVOA/20th Yards allowed per pass
Vikings Pass O
20th DVOA/22nd Yards per pass
Vikings Run D
27th DVOA/22nd Yards allowed per carry
Lions Run O
13th DVOA/18th Yards per carry
Vikings Pass D
8th DVOA/29th Yards allowed per pass
Lions Pass O
19th DVOA/20th Yards per pass

LIONS // VIKINGS OVERVIEW

The NFC North is wide open, with only one game separating the first place Bears (4-3) and the last place Lions (3-4). The Vikings sit somewhere in between, at 4-3-1, making this an important game for each squad.

This game provides us with an interesting setup for a number of reasons. Firstly, Minnesota has allowed the second fewest opponent plays per game in the NFL, and the Lions have allowed the third fewest — which will lead to at least one of these teams finishing below their typical volume. Secondly, Minnesota is one of the pass-heaviest teams in football, ranking third in pass play rate — but teams have all but avoided the pass against Detroit, as only three teams have faced a lower pass play rate on the year. Thirdly, the Vikings rank fifth in the NFL in fewest yards allowed per carry, but the Lions have become one of the league’s more run-heavy teams, with only “outlier game scripts” (like the Lions falling behind quickly to the Seahawks last week) leading to this unit turning to a pass-heavy approach.

These elements blend to create plenty of variance, as the Vikings may skew more pass-heavy than other teams have against the Lions (or: they may not), while the Lions may skew more pass-heavy against the Vikings’ stout run defense than they would in other matchups (again: they may not) — and along the way, play volume on one side or the other (or possibly even on both sides) will take a slight hit against what has been the norm throughout the season.

LIONS PASS OFFENSE

Uncertainty is further enhanced with the departure of Golden Tate, as the obvious setup calls for T.J. Jones to step into the slot receiver snaps in this offense, but there are whispers floating around that Brandon Powell will actually take over Tate’s role. Powell was referred to by Tate earlier in the year as, essentially, a ‘better version of his young self,’ and he was active for the first time last week while Jones was a healthy scratch for the first time. For now, we’ll assume Jones is the slot receiver moving forward — and if we get clarity as the week moves along, I’ll add an update to the bottom of this writeup.

With Tate seeing recent target counts of 8 // 8 // 7 // 6 // 12, we should also see a solidifying effect on the volume of Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay. Jones has followed his 2017 pattern of bounce-around target counts, with four games this year of four to six targets, and with three games of eight to 10 looks. Jones is likeliest to draw Xavier Rhodes, though it would also make sense for Golladay to see a dose of Rhodes as well. Last week was the first time all season Jones has topped four catches in a game, but as noted weekly in this space: he does have one of the bigger red zone roles in football (10 targets inside the 20; six targets inside the 10), which provides him with upside to go with his low floor.

Golladay has seen his targets plunge recently, with 4 // 9 // 2 // 1 looks in his last four games. We can’t pin too many of Tate’s departed targets to these two, as Tate’s role (aDOT of 5.8, as a premier catch-and-YAC guy) was totally different from what these two do. Golladay is the likeliest bet to see some added looks over the middle, however, boosting his likelihood of an increased workload.

Ultimately, we may find that none of this matters in Week 9, and that this week simply serves as a great opportunity to get a feel for how the Lions will manage their wide receiver group moving forward. Outside of the reputation-wrecking game the Vikings endured against the Rams earlier this year (in which all three of Cooks, Woods, and Kupp went for 100+ yards), this team has not allowed a single wide receiver to top 81 yards — with that mark coming last week against Michael Thomas. The game against the Rams was due primarily to communication breakdowns on the back end — something that is a consistent issue against the heavy movement and misdirection of the Rams, and is far less of a concern against a team like the Lions.

The area where Minnesota continues to get trucked is against the tight end, as they have allowed notable lines of 5-90-0 to George Kittle, 6-95-0 to Jimmy Graham, 10-110-1 to Zach Ertz, 5-69-0 to Ricky Seals-Jones, and 4-42-1 to Chris Herndon. Disappointingly, Luke Willson is the primary tight end on the Lions, and he has yet to top four targets or 21 receiving yards in a game. Michael Roberts scored two touchdowns on three targets in Week 7, but he has only five targets all year.

LIONS RUN OFFENSE

The Vikings have allowed only one running back to top 63 rushing yards against them this year. That running back was Todd Gurley — who ran for 83 yards on 17 carries. This is an extremely difficult spot for Kerryon Johnson, who played 48 out of 59 snaps last week in a negative game script setup, but who will continue to share a good 30% to 35% of the running back workload with LeGarrette Blount for as long as this game stays close.

If Theo Riddick misses again, Kerryon will soak up work on passing downs against a Minnesota defense that has been merely average against pass-catching backs. There is a chance that Kerryon could see a couple added targets with Tate no longer available on underneath routes — perhaps bumping his target floor from three to four or five.

If Riddick returns, he will step back into his usual third down and “obvious passing situation” role, and will see a small boost in locked-in workload with Tate no longer with the team.

Ultimately, of course, Gurley and Alvin Kamara are the only running backs who have posted noteworthy box scores against the Vikings this season, providing an idea of where to set expectations on the Lions’ backfield.

VIKINGS PASS OFFENSE

The Lions rank eighth in the NFL in lowest YAC/R rate allowed, but otherwise they have been unimposing against the pass — allowing an average catch rate, and entering this week tied with Pittsburgh for the deepest aDOT allowed. Only three teams are allowing more yards per pass attempt than the Lions — but much like the Raiders (who have faced the second fewest pass attempts in the NFL, as their run defense is even worse than their pass defense), teams are avoiding the pass against Detroit and attacking on the ground. No team in the NFL has faced fewer pass attempts than the Lions.

The last time the Vikings faced a similar setup was against the Cardinals — and in that game, Kirk Cousins threw only 34 pass attempts, while Latavius Murray ran the ball 24 times. There are a couple additional factors to consider in that game, however. Firstly, the Vikings had a lead for almost all of that game. Secondly, the Cardinals not only have a beatable run defense, but they also have one of the tougher pass defenses in the league. By contrast: the Lions are beatable both on the ground and through the air. We should enter this game assuming the Vikings will lean more toward the run than normal, but it’s not as if their passing volume will dry up entirely — and there is at least some chance they remain pass-heavy throughout.

Only three wide receivers this year have seen double-digit targets against the Lions. Those three were Quincy Enunwa (6-63-1 on 10 targets), Marquez Valdes-Scantling (7-68-1 on 10 targets), and Davante Adams (9-140-1 on 12 targets). Adam Thielen should have no trouble dominating once again as long as the looks are there. Last week was the first game this season in which Thielen fell shy of double-digit looks. He still managed to post 100+ yards for the eighth time in eight tries. As long as Cousins throws the ball 30+ times (which should be the case), Thielen will have a great shot at topping 100 yards once again.

Stefon Diggs will see a lot more of Darius Slay, while running routes primarily on the outside, though it should be noted that Slay is having a down year with 22 receptions allowed on 32 targets (68.8%), and with four touchdowns allowed to only one interception — good for a QB rating allowed of 117.4. Between the matchup and the potential for a more run-leaning approach from Minnesota, Diggs may land on the lower end of his target range, but he’ll still carry monster upside in tourneys on his looks.

As always, these two receivers dominate looks in the Vikings’ passing attack, with Laquon Treadwell running into three or four receptions per game, and with Kyle Rudolph picking up four to five catches per game. Detroit is not a scary matchup for tight ends, so Rudolph’s general range (around four for 40) remains intact. He has eight targets inside the 20 and a strong five looks inside the 10, giving him a bit of touchdown upside in his touchdown-or-bust role.

VIKINGS RUN OFFENSE

Dalvin Cook appears set to miss yet another game (if he returns, it will be in a limited role before the Vikings go on bye), which will leave the backfield work to Latavius Murray in a premium spot. No team in the NFL is allowing more yards per carry to running backs than the Lions (5.53), and even with new addition Damon Harrison drawing top marks from PFF in Week 8, the Lions allowed Chris Carson to go for 105 yards, with Mike Davis adding 33 yards of his own.

Murray has topped 70 rushing yards only once this year (155 yards against Arizona), and he has topped 15 carries only once (also against Arizona). There is also a chance that the addition of Snacks Harrison to the Lions’ defensive front will push the Vikings to lean pass-heavy, as they already prefer to do. But if Latavius sees 20 touches in this one, he’ll have a clear shot at a big game. Of course, it should be noted that Cousins has 17 pass attempts (and five touchdown passes) inside the 10-yard-line this season, while Murray has been given only three carries inside the 10 (and only one carry inside the five).

JM’S INTERPRETATION

With the Vikings doing such a great job against the run and limiting wide receiver upside so thoroughly this year, I will almost certainly leave the Lions alone — though I do like Kerryon in tourneys from a “bet on talent” standpoint, and both of Marvin Jones and Golladay are always in the large-field tourney conversation for their big-play and touchdown upside.

It is likeliest that T.J. Jones fills in for Tate in the slot, and he is a candidate to be overhyped this week, as Tate’s role generally calls for around seven or eight targets, with a low aDOT and low upside outside of Tate’s unique YAC ability. With that said: Jones (or Powell, if he takes over this role) should post a strong point-per-dollar game, if you’re into that sort of thing. I am tackling this week’s slate in chronological order (according to how the games are listed on the site), so I have not yet researched the more exciting games on the slate (it’s a strange week, with a few clear standout spots, and with “some to like, little to love” seemingly everywhere else), but I am hoping there is better value available than this, and that the masses overreact to this shiny new toy. T.J. has been in the league four years, and he has topped 50 yards twice and scored only two touchdowns. Something like a 4-45-0 line would be his median expectation, with a touchdown being a low-likelihood event. If I take a shot on any Lions receiver in tourneys, it will likely be Golladay for me, as he is the guy best-suited to take advantage of what the Vikings present on defense. I could also see taking a large-field tourney shot on Luke Willson, given how consistently the Vikings have been hammered by tight ends. (Obviously: rostering Willson would call for going in with low expectations while hoping for things to work out for the best.)

On the Vikings’ side, I like Thielen quite a bit, as the addition of Snacks Harrison should at least push the Vikings toward the air enough for Thielen to get his double-digit looks (which should be enough for him to top 100 yards yet again), and I see Diggs as an interesting guy to take a shot on in tourneys. As always, I like the idea of playing both of these guys together, along with Cousins, in the hopes of capturing nearly all of the passing points on this offense at once.

I also like Latavius, though I don’t love him the way I expected to. His range is fairly broad this week, as a hundred yard, multi-touchdown game is not out of the question, but it’s also not out of the question that he goes for something like 15 carries and 75 yards, with no touchdowns and only a couple receptions.

SATURDAY EVENING UPDATE // Full “Updates” List

Stefon Diggs is trending toward missing this game. There isn’t much room for Thielen’s role to grow, and it seems unlikely that Laquon Treadwell or Aldrick Robinson see a huge bump in schemed usage, so realistically this should lead to a couple extra targets for Kyle Rudolph and a couple extra carries for Latavius Murray. Essentially: each of these three guys becomes a bit safer if Diggs misses. Ceiling remains about the same.


Kickoff Sunday, Nov 4th 1:00pm Eastern

Chiefs (
29.5) at

Browns (
22)

Over/Under 51.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Chiefs Run D
28th DVOA/30th Yards allowed per carry
Browns Run O
7th DVOA/3rd Yards per carry
Chiefs Pass D
2nd DVOA/4th Yards allowed per pass
Browns Pass O
23rd DVOA/27th Yards per pass
Browns Run D
20th DVOA/5th Yards allowed per carry
Chiefs Run O
17th DVOA/9th Yards per carry
Browns Pass D
19th DVOA/30th Yards allowed per pass
Chiefs Pass O
1st DVOA/12th Yards per pass

CHIEFS // BROWNS OVERVIEW

The world-beating 7-1 Chiefs will travel to Cleveland this week to take on a backward-moving Cleveland team that is fresh off of firing the incomparably bad Hue Jackson / Todd Haley combo. While there is not a ton that a team can change in a single week, one thing that defensive-minded interim head coach Gregg Williams and new offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens can change is their pace of play. (To be clear: no reports have come out to this effect, and I have no clue if they will change this. But given that the Browns rank third in pace of play and have been a great pace-up spot for opponents, it is worth noting that there is no guarantee that this will continue to be the case.) One justification for Cleveland slowing down the pace: on defense this year, they rank fourth in fewest yards allowed per drive, sixth in fewest points allowed per drive, and first in fewest plays allowed per drive — and yet, they rank 24th in fewest points allowed per game, and they rank 28th in fewest yards allowed per game. The Browns’ best shot at a win will be to slow down the game, keep the ball on the ground, and play keepaway for as long as possible. Who knows if this new coaching staff will be intelligent enough to take this approach.

Of course, it’s not as if we need a pace-up spot in order to like the prospects of Patrick Mahomes and the high-powered Chiefs offense (first in the NFL in points per game, at an otherworldly 36.3). Cleveland has been solid against the pass (sixth in yards allowed per pass attempt) — but Jacksonville ranks second in this category, New England ranks eighth, and Pittsburgh ranks ninth. Mahomes had no trouble in any of those spots.

As for the Browns and their dysfunctional offense: it will be interesting this week to watch how Kitchens adjusts. He coached under Bruce Arians for years in Arizona and should have some strong vertical concepts he can layer into what has already been a downfield-oriented passing attack — but the clearest things he can fix in the short term are: 1) get Duke Johnson more involved, 2) get David Njoku rolling, and 3) start using Jarvis Landry on the sorts of routes that actually fit his skill set. I have no idea if Kitchens will effectively make these changes, but this will be a good week to keep an eye on things and see how they play out.

CHIEFS PASS OFFENSE

Gregg Williams and the Browns like to blitz. Sometimes, this can rattle good quarterbacks.

Can this rattle Patrick Mahomes?

Incredibly, Mahomes has a 63% completion rate when blitzed this year (barely down from his 66.5% rate when not blitzed), with 9.1 yards per pass attempts (higher than his 8.8 mark when not blitzed), and with a 6 :: 1 TD/INT ratio (compared to 20 :: 5 when not blitzed). His quarterback rating when blitzed is 114.2. His quarterback rating when not blitzed is 115.7. Unreal.

As noted weekly in the space, Cleveland’s goal is not to take away any particular area of the field or any particular routes, but is instead to A) prevent the deep ball, and B) play sticky, aggressive coverage that makes it extremely difficult for passes to be completed. Halfway through the year, no team has allowed a lower catch rate than the Browns, with this team shaving almost 10% off the league average rate.

The interesting thing about the Browns’ style of defense is that there is really no “type of receiver” or “type of route tree” that works best against them, as this unit has stymied John Brown while getting torched by Tyrell Williams; they forced Michael Thomas to pile up 12 catches just to reach 89 yards, but they let Mike Evans go 7-107-0 on 11 looks; they gave up 119 yards to JuJu Smith-Schuster in Week 1 and held him to 33 yards in Week 8; and they let Amari Cooper, of all players, go 8-128-1. When it comes down to it, this is a defense that is going to make life difficult on a per-play basis, but that is also going to get overaggressive a few times per contest, allowing one or two guys to pick up chunk gains. Of course, it should be noted that while the Browns have allowed the fifth most wide receiver yards in the league this year, their nine touchdowns allowed to wide receivers (through eight games) is a respectable middle-of-the-pack mark.

The starting point on the Chiefs’ passing attack is Tyreek Hill, who had seen double-digit targets in three of four games before his four-target dud in Week 8 against a Broncos team that sold out to stop him. Almost every week, we single out Hill as a guy with “a much lower floor than other receivers in his price range, but with the upside to post the highest score on the slate.” That sentiment is enhanced against a Browns unit that aims to limit deep passing, but that has an aggressive streak that can lead to big plays from a guy like Hill.

The most locked-in workload on this team belongs to Travis Kelce, who has only two games all year below eight targets. The Browns have limited tight end yardage and touchdowns, but only four teams have allowed more receptions. It would take an especially difficult matchup for Kelce to be considered anything but an elite play — with his only weekly cause for concern being his periodic usage duds (a hazard of this hyper-efficient, many-mouthed offense).

Behind these guys, Sammy Watkins has recent target counts of 8 // 4 // 7 // 9, and while he has taken over what is essentially a “possession receiver” role in this offense (rarely seeing targets more than eight or nine yards downfield), he is locked into his role, with only one game in his last six (taking away his injury game vs Denver) below seven targets.

Mahomes has thrown for 300+ yards in seven consecutive games, so there should be enough yards to go around for at least two of these three to produce solid stat lines this week.

CHIEFS RUN OFFENSE

Cleveland has been most attackable on the ground, ranking 24th in yards allowed per carry while allowing the most running back rushing touchdowns in the league. Only eight teams have been worse than the Browns at preventing touchdowns in the red zone, and Kareem Hunt ranks third in the NFL in carries inside the 10 and fourth in carries inside the five. Marshawn Lynch (20 carries), Melvin Gordon (18 carries), and James Conner (24 carries) have each topped 100 yards in this matchup this year, and Hunt will have a chance to approach that range. While Hunt has topped 20 carries only once all season, he has hauled in five catches in each of his last three games (with four receiving touchdowns peppered in along the way). He is a primary piece on this Chiefs offense and should be locked into a solid touch-floor (and solid production) no matter how this game plays out.

BROWNS PASS OFFENSE

If the Browns are smart (and given how little we know about Kitchens, we have no idea yet if this will prove to be the case), they will lean on the run as much as they can this week against a Kansas City team that ranks dead last in adjusted line yards, but that ranks seventh in adjusted sack rate. No team has taken more sacks than the Browns on the year.

The Browns have also been a team in “identity crisis” mode over the last few weeks, as they have shifted from being one of the most aggressive-minded, downfield-attacking units in the NFL to being one of the most conservative, dink-and-dunk passing attacks — trying to find anything that will help the efficiency of this offense spike. This has allowed the completion rate to rise for Baker Mayfield, but the ultimate end result is turning out the same: only the Bills and Cardinals are notching fewer yards per pass attempt on the year.

When the Browns do pass the ball, they will be attacking a man-heavy coverage scheme that aims to get after the quarterback and force downfield throws. As noted earlier in the year, when this pass rush was still a mess: this doesn’t work when the pass rush fails, but it makes life tough on an offense when the pass rush is getting to the quarterback, which should be the case this week. Against man-heavy coverage units, the players likeliest to have success are polished route runners — which makes raw rookies Antonio Callaway and Damion Ratley longer-shot plays.

No matter how much the Browns choose to focus on the run this week, it is almost certain that they will eventually have to turn to the air, which should allow Jarvis Landry to reach double-digit targets for the seventh consecutive game. Of Landry’s 12 targets last week, only five came more than five yards downfield — and as has been an issue for this connection all season, only one of these passes was completed. During a Week 3 – 6 stretch in which Landry was being featured downfield more frequently, he and Mayfield managed to connect on only 19 of 45 pass attempts (42.2%).

The Chiefs are weakest against the tight end, as only six teams have allowed more receptions to the position, and only the Bengals have allowed more yards. Naturally, it should be noted that the Steelers have allowed the second most tight end receptions in the league, and Njoku dropped from recent target counts of 7 // 10 // 12 // 6 to zero looks in that matchup last week. Dysfunctional offenses always carry some risk, but he should return to his six-plus target range this week, which will give him a strong opportunity to hit.

BROWNS RUN OFFENSE

The Chiefs have been incredibly generous to running backs this season, facing just under 21 rush attempts per game (ranking in the bottom half of the league), but allowing the seventh most rushing yards to the position, on 5.31 yards per carry. The Chiefs’ seven rushing touchdowns allowed to running backs ranks fourth worst in the league, and they have also allowed the third most receptions and the most receiving yards to enemy backs.

Disappointingly, of course, the Nick Chubb role in this offense yields only one to three targets per game (and these are typically of the “desperation dump-off” variety, rather than being schemed looks — leaving little room for upside), while Duke — if he indeed gets more involved this week — will likely see limited work on the ground (he has topped three carries on only two occasions this season). Chubb is a yardage-and-touchdown back with a decent shot at both — but with a low floor if he fails to score, and with fear that the Chiefs jump out to a quick lead and his role disappears. Duke is an upside play with a very thin floor, but with some hope that this team feeds him seven or eight targets this week to help jumpstart the offense

JM’S INTERPRETATION

Mahomes is always in play — in any matchup, and in any format — and that remains the case this week. Any concerns that the Browns will come out on fire this week with “something to prove” can likely be eliminated by watching or reading player interviews from this team this week, as these guys seem more bemused than anything. A group of grown men with nothing to play for beyond pride and “future” are unlikely to be pulled together by an old-school, fire-and-brimstone coach with a lengthy track record of losing football.

I like Kelce as a high-floor, high-ceiling tight end play (as is almost always the case), and I like Hill as a guy to avoid in cash games and consider in tourneys. I rarely take on Hill’s floor myself, but as noted each week: he carries legitimate week-winning upside every time he steps on the field.

One of my regrets last week was that I failed to give more serious thought to Watkins on DraftKings, where his seven-plus targets in this offense are more valuable than the five to eight looks being seen by guys like Christian Kirk and Chris Godwin (who were both priced right next to him last week). On DK and FantasyDraft, Watkins is once again an intriguing salary saver, with a solid point-per-dollar floor and a stronger ceiling than most guys in his price range. On FanDuel, pricing at wide receiver is a lot more condensed, making Watkins a tougher sell.

On the other side of the ball: nothing jumps off the page, but I expect a solid game from Njoku and will not be surprised if Chubb or Duke posts a respectable score. Landry and even Callaway are not awful plays, but there are better plays elsewhere.

Finally, I like the Chiefs’ defense as a road-traveling unit that should rack up sacks and a turnover or two. This game carries some question marks with the coaching changes on the Browns, but the issues with sacks and turnovers will not disappear overnight.

SATURDAY EVENING UPDATE // Full “Updates” List

Rashard Higgins will play this week for the Browns, which will send Damion Ratley to the bench most of the game, and could lead to a solid role for Higgins as the Browns click into “catch up mode.” He’s an interesting tourney pivot off the more popular cheap receivers.


Kickoff Sunday, Nov 4th 1:00pm Eastern

Jets (
20.25) at

Dolphins (
23.25)

Over/Under 43.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Jets Run D
14th DVOA/20th Yards allowed per carry
Dolphins Run O
23rd DVOA/22nd Yards per carry
Jets Pass D
31st DVOA/24th Yards allowed per pass
Dolphins Pass O
11th DVOA/17th Yards per pass
Dolphins Run D
32nd DVOA/19th Yards allowed per carry
Jets Run O
29th DVOA/23rd Yards per carry
Dolphins Pass D
10th DVOA/16th Yards allowed per pass
Jets Pass O
30th DVOA/32nd Yards per pass

JETS // DOLPHINS OVERVIEW

As is typically the case at this time of year, the Jets and Dolphins are hanging out together far below the Patriots in the AFC East standings, with New York sitting at 3-5 and Miami sitting at 4-4. Neither team is “bad,” but neither team has the pieces to be good — and this is especially true at this point, with injuries hitting each team at wide receiver over the last few weeks, and with neither quarterback able to do much through the air.

While neither offense is good, however, each defense has taken steps backward as the season has moved along — with the Dolphins ranked 27th in yards allowed per game and the Jets ranked 24th, and with Miami ranked 27th in points allowed as well (the Jets rank 19th). With each offense ranked bottom six in yards per game (and bottom half of the league in points per game), this is no guarantee of offensive success — but it will be interesting to dig into this game and see what we turn up. Vegas has hedged a bit in this spot, pegging this game with an Over/Under of 45.0, while awarding implied point totals of 21.0 to the Jets and 24.0 to the Dolphins. Miami has reached 24.0 in only one of their last five games, while the Jets have failed to reach 21.0 in five of their last seven. When these teams played in Week 2, the Dolphins pulled out a scintillating 20-12 victory.

JETS PASS OFFENSE

Only seven teams this year have allowed fewer receptions to wide receivers than the Dolphins — but only eight teams have allowed more yards, as the Dolphins continue to have coverage and tackling breakdowns that are leading to big plays. Only nine teams have allowed more pass plays of 20+ yards than the Dolphins, and only one team has allowed more pass plays of 40+ yards. No team in the league has allowed a higher YAC/R rate than the Dolphins.

This matchup is somewhat wasted on a passing attack that is still missing its only big-play threat in Robby Anderson, with “leading receiver” Jermaine Kearse sitting at an embarrassing xYAC/R of only 3.4. Last week, the Jets were forced to play Andre Roberts on 32 snaps, Deontay Burnett on 41 snaps, and Charone Peake on 16 snaps. Rishard Matthews played 19 snaps and may see his role grow further this week. Kearse led the team in targets after his zero-target dud in Week 7 — but unlike Week 6 (9-93-0 on 10 targets), he hauled in only three of his 10 looks, for 30 total yards. Burnett led the team in receiving last week, going 4-61-0 on four looks. He is miscast as an outside receiver, but he should see four or five looks once again. The Jets have produced only one 100-yard receiver this season, when Anderson popped off for a 3-123-2 line against the Broncos. Sam Darnold has topped 206 passing yards only twice on the year.

Only three teams are running more multiple-tight-end sets this year than the Jets, which continues to lead to Jordan Leggett, Eric Tomlinson, Neal Sterling, and Chris Herndon all seeing time on the field, with none of these guys seeing more than 50% of the team’s snaps. While all of these guys are running pass routes, Herndon has been the standout pass catcher, hauling in seven of 11 targets across the last three weeks, for 114 yards and three touchdowns. Of course, with a pair of two-target games across the last three weeks, his floor is bone bare.

JETS RUN OFFENSE

The bad news for Isaiah Crowell :: 1. He is still dealing with a foot/ankle injury that appears to be sapping him of burst // 2. His offensive line ranks 30th in adjusted line yards // 3. He has not topped 16 carries in a game this season, and he has topped 13 carries only twice // 4. He has not topped two receptions in a game this year // 5. The Jets are averaging 2.5 touchdowns per game (22nd in the NFL), with only two touchdowns per game across the last three weeks // 6. Outside his two blowup games, Crow has totaled 163 yards on 69 carries — for an impossibly bad 2.36 YPC mark.

The good news for Crow :: 1. Bilal Powell is not here to take away work from him, and the Jets don’t seem to trust Trenton Cannon on the ground (eight total carries the last two weeks) // 2. Miami has allowed the third most rushing yards to running backs and the fourth most rushing touchdowns to running backs in the league.

When these teams met in Week 2, Crow had 12 carries for 35 yards. He’s boom/bust, but a “boom” week is not impossible.

The Dolphins have also been beatable with pass-catching backs — ranking bottom 10 in both receptions and yards allowed to the position. Cannon played over half of the Jets’ snaps last week and ran 18 pass routes, though he saw only four targets — going 3-12-0. His floor is low in this offense that is terrified of taking the training wheels off Darnold, but he does carry some YAC ceiling against this poor-tackling unit. An unfailing optimist might believe the Jets will watch film of the way Chicago used Tarik Cohen in this matchup and aim to use Cannon in the same way.

DOLPHINS PASS OFFENSE

Well, well, well. Last week, DeVante Parker came alive on Thursday Night Football — playing 66 of a possible 66 snaps, running a pass route on 40 of a possible 41 opportunities, and turning nine targets into a 6-134-0 line. Parker had a catch zero yards downfield, a catch five yards downfield, a catch 10 yards downfield, a catch 15 yards downfield, a catch 20 yards downfield, and a catch 40 yards downfield (the 40-yard catch was the helmet-bounce catch that was not actually thrown to him, but he also failed to connect on a pair of 20-yard targets and a 35-yard target) — no-joke usage that should carry over to this week, against a Jets defense that has allowed the most wide receiver catches and the fourth most wide receiver yards in the league. The Jets allow an increase of 10.8% above the league-average aDOT and are also below-average in preventing yards after the catch. Only four teams allow more plays per game than the Jets (a needed boost for Miami, which ranks 31st in plays per game), and opponents tend to lean on the pass in this matchup, with the Jets ranking in the top half of the league in opponent pass play rate. The Dolphins’ offense has shifted with Brock Osweiler under center — ramping up their pass play rate, and attacking downfield more often than they did with Tannehill. This is still a bad offense with a bad quarterback (introducing some question marks and variance), but Parker should be in line for solid usage once again.

Danny Amendola will continue to operate in the slot, where he has recent target counts of 11 // 7 // 6 from Osweiler. Amendola has hauled in 19 of these 24 looks (79.2%), for 186 yards. Consider him a possession-role player with a respectable floor and a bit of touchdown upside.

With Osweiler throwing 37 passes last week as Houston jumped out to a big, early lead, Jakeem Grant also saw eight looks — turning in a 4-36-0 line. As with last week: Grant will carry a low floor, but a high ceiling, as he’ll see a number of looks close to the line of scrimmage, giving him a chance for some YAC upside with his explosive speed.

Kenny Stills returned to the practice field on Wednesday, but he was listed as DNP and was only seen working with trainers. If he returns this week, it will put a wrench into the predictability of this group, as Stills should take some downfield work away from Parker, and Grant will see his snaps step backward. But if Stills remains on the sidelines, it should be Parker, Amendola, and Grant leading the charge once again.

DOLPHINS RUN OFFENSE

The Jets are allowing a middling 4.24 yards per carry to running backs, and they have given up seven rushing touchdowns and two receiving touchdowns to the position — each of which creates a positive spot for the Dolphins’ backfield as a unit, with things breaking down once we look at these guys as individual plays. Eight games into the year, Frank Gore has only six receptions and only one game with more than 63 rushing yards, while scoring zero touchdowns on the ground (almost impossibly: this running back group as a whole has only two combined carries inside the 10 — with Miami ranking 30th in red zone scoring attempts per game). Drake, on the other hand, has yet to top 14 carries (with single-digit carries in half his games), while he has topped four catches in a game only once. Gore will need a multi-touchdown game in order to pay off. Drake will need some splash plays on his limited touches.

JM’S INTERPRETATION

The more we add to this week’s bank of “games already written,” the more it seems like this will be a weekend of heavily-concentrated ownership, as very few spots jump off the page (and the spots that do jump off the page happen to really, really pop).

I probably won’t have any action on the Jets, as this team is just producing too little offensive upside this year to be worthy of strong attention. If that changes for me, the guy likeliest to rise to the top is Crowell, with Cannon a secondary consideration behind him.

I do expect to take a close look at the Dolphins’ passing attack, with Parker standing out for his upside, and with Amendola standing out for his floor. Even Grant can be considered (as a low-floor, strong-ceiling play), given what he can do with the ball in his hands. At the very least, Parker and Amendola will at least be added to my early-week list as “top plays on a bad offense,” to be compared against the “background plays on good offenses” that find themselves in the same general price range this week.

I’ll also take a look at Drake if value proves thin this week, as his explosiveness will give him an opportunity to pop off in this game. His limited touches, of course, give him a lower-than-optimal floor.

SATURDAY EVENING UPDATE // Full “Updates” List

Elijah McGuire will take over the Bilal Powell role on the Jets this week — and with Crowell looking poor lately as he battles through a foot injury, it’s not outside the realm of possibilities that McGuire sees as many as 15 touches. I have him pegged for about 10 carries and two receptions, but even that’s enough to make him an interesting salary-saver, given what he opens up elsewhere on your roster. If he rises to 15+ touches, he could become a true difference-maker on the slate. Obviously, there is a ton of guesswork to this play, so consider it risky; but the price-considered upside is there.


Kickoff Sunday, Nov 4th 1:00pm Eastern

Bucs (
24.5) at

Panthers (
30.5)

Over/Under 55.0

Tweet
Notes

Key Matchups
Buccaneers Run D
3rd DVOA/1st Yards allowed per carry
Panthers Run O
16th DVOA/21st Yards per carry
Buccaneers Pass D
1st DVOA/9th Yards allowed per pass
Panthers Pass O
11th DVOA/11th Yards per pass
Panthers Run D
26th DVOA/18th Yards allowed per carry
Buccaneers Run O
6th DVOA/19th Yards per carry
Panthers Pass D
13th DVOA/10th Yards allowed per pass
Buccaneers Pass O
9th DVOA/8th Yards per pass

BUCCANEERS // PANTHERS OVERVIEW

The impressive 5-2 Panthers will host the always-entertaining, but never-very-good 3-4 Buccaneers this week, in a game that should draw plenty of DFS attention as a strong consolation prize to the guaranteed shootout in New Orleans. Most of the games we have looked at so far this week have not had much to love from an offensive perspective. This is one of the few spots on the slate that breaks away from that trend.

Sustained drives should be the name of the game in this spot, as Carolina ranks sixth in the NFL in drive success rate on offense, while Tampa ranks fifth. On the other side of the ball, Carolina’s defense ranks 24th in drive success rate allowed, while Tampa’s defense ranks 28th.

This inability to slow down drives stretches all the way to the goal line, as the Panthers rank 31st in red zone touchdown rate allowed, and the Bucs rank 32nd. Each team is also above-average in the red zone on offense, with the Panthers ranked seventh in red zone touchdown rate and the Bucs ranked 13th.

This is not quite the beautiful shootout environment we spotted last week in Cincinnati (where the game turned into a 37-34 masterpiece with 978 combined yards…no thanks to Jameis), as Carolina does a good job limiting opponent plays — leading to them ranking 11th in fewest points allowed per game. But with an Over/Under of 55.0, there will be plenty of opportunities for DFS goodness.

BUCCANEERS PASS OFFENSE

The Buccaneers are the most downfield-oriented passing attack in the league, and they match up perfectly against a Carolina team that has allowed the fifth deepest aDOT in the NFL, with an average catch rate allowed, and with their sole strength being their ability to limit YAC — with no defense in the league allowing a lower YAC/R rate on the year. This “low YAC allowed” shouldn’t bother us much in our exploration of the Tampa passing attack, as Mike Evans and Chris Godwin are not big YAC guys to begin with, and even DeSean Jackson has provided minimal value this year as a YAC-upside guy.

As always in this offense, the biggest issue is that there are so many mouths to feed. We can effectively remove Cameron Brate from the “so many weapons” discussion, as he has not topped four targets on the year, and he has only seven total targets across his last three games; but recent target counts in other spots on this roster have looked like this:

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