Kickoff Saturday, Jan 9th 1:05pm Eastern

Colts (
22.5) at

Bills (
29.5)

Over/Under 52.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Colts Run D
9th DVOA/6th Yards allowed per carry
Bills Run O
22nd DVOA/11th Yards per carry
Colts Pass D
8th DVOA/12th Yards allowed per pass
Bills Pass O
3rd DVOA/7th Yards per pass
Bills Run D
17th DVOA/11th Yards allowed per carry
Colts Run O
12th DVOA/3rd Yards per carry
Bills Pass D
12th DVOA/9th Yards allowed per pass
Colts Pass O
16th DVOA/3rd Yards per pass

Slate Overview ::

With Wild Card Weekend broken up into a PAIR of three-game slates, we'll be tackling each slate individually(!). Same as we did with the Thanksgiving slate and the Saturday slates, we'll lead off with a Slate Overview, and we'll wrap the last game of the slate with a DFS+ Interpretation segment that covers all three games. On Friday afternoon, we'll also have Larejo123's "Willing To Lose" linked throughout the NFL Edge. Let's get it!

By Hilow >>

We have an interesting slate on deck for Saturday, with only the early . . .

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Kickoff Saturday, Jan 9th 4:40pm Eastern

Rams (
19.25) at

Hawks (
23.75)

Over/Under 43.0

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Key Matchups
Rams Run D
3rd DVOA/12th Yards allowed per carry
Seahawks Run O
9th DVOA/4th Yards per carry
Rams Pass D
4th DVOA/7th Yards allowed per pass
Seahawks Pass O
6th DVOA/14th Yards per pass
Seahawks Run D
7th DVOA/13th Yards allowed per carry
Rams Run O
4th DVOA/6th Yards per carry
Seahawks Pass D
20th DVOA/3rd Yards allowed per pass
Rams Pass O
20th DVOA/12th Yards per pass

Game Overview ::

By Hilow >>

Likeliest scenario has this game playing to a divisional slugfest, but the makeup of each team can lend to a more open, back and forth affair (at likely low ownership)Both teams are likeliest to attempt to play “keep away” with the ball, with high rush rates and stifling defenseIt appears likely the Seahawks will be at full strength, while the Rams are awaiting the game day status of their starting quarterback, Jared GoffStrength versus strength matchup everywhere you look here

How Los Angeles Will Try To Win ::

The Rams’ plan of attack here . . .

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Kickoff Saturday, Jan 9th 8:15pm Eastern

Bucs (
26.75) at

WFT (
18.75)

Over/Under 45.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Buccaneers Run D
1st DVOA/4th Yards allowed per carry
Washington Run O
14th DVOA/10th Yards per carry
Buccaneers Pass D
5th DVOA/8th Yards allowed per pass
Washington Pass O
32nd DVOA/5th Yards per pass
Washington Run D
11th DVOA/10th Yards allowed per carry
Buccaneers Run O
10th DVOA/5th Yards per carry
Washington Pass D
2nd DVOA/13th Yards allowed per pass
Buccaneers Pass O
5th DVOA/6th Yards per pass

GAME OVERVIEW ::

BY HILOW >>
  • With key injuries to Terry McLaurin and Alex Smith and the NFL’s 30th-ranked offense in efficiency against the fifth most efficient defense, trouble seems to be looming for Washington here offensively
  • Very clear statistical areas of attack for each team (Washington through running backs and tight ends in the pass game, Tampa through short area passing)
  • As silly as it sounds without knowing the ins and outs of the matchup, Tampa’s success will likely depend on their ability to adjust and adapt to increased pressure on Tom Brady, which will require a higher rate of short area passes

HOW TAMPA BAY WILL TRY TO WIN ::

The Bucs have a few key players to keep an eye on for Saturday, with wide receiver Mike Evans and outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul yet to practice this week while standout cornerback Carlton Davis returned to a limited practice on Wednesday after missing the last two games of the season with a groin injury. JPP has been a force on the interior of this defense while Davis has been one of the best cover corners in the league (has allowed a low 52.6% completion rate on a massive 97 targets in coverage with four interceptions to five touchdowns allowed), so either’s absence would be felt. Davis appears likely to make it back for Saturday from his groin injury while JPP could be a true game-time decision with a knee injury. Similar story for wide receiver Mike Evans, who has also not practiced this week with a hyperextended knee suffered in their Week 17 game against Atlanta. Head coach Bruce Arians indicated earlier this week that the first time Evans would test his knee would be during Thursday’s practice, so keep an eye on how it responds. Tampa’s overall 64% pass play rate ranks third in the NFL over the full season and remains relatively consistent over the last month of play, coming in at 63%.

The matchup on the ground yields an average 4.305 net-adjusted line yards metric and represents a “by the numbers” area of least resistance. I say “by the numbers” as it really only tells part of the story for a team like the Buccaneers, who lean so heavily toward the pass. We should expect a rather neutral 60-40 snap split between Ronald Jones II and Leonard Fournette, with Jones likely to see 50% more running back opportunities (primarily on the ground). Either way, we’re betting on a multiple touchdown day from one or the other by playing them in a split backfield and average matchup. Furthermore, Washington has allowed the second fewest fantasy points per game to opposing backfields, with a strong defensive line and linebacking corps. 

Really the only area that Tom Brady has struggled this season in the pass game is when facing pressure (Washington is top five in pressure rate, quarterback hits, sacks, etc), providing at least a glimpse of hope for Washington (just kidding; Brady/Arians likely realize this fact and have altered their game plan to include a higher rate of ball-out-quick and short passing). I want to talk real quick about one of the biggest downfalls of fantasy footballers: the assumption of rational coaching. The last side note included in parentheses is exactly that, an assumption of rational coaching. The reason I included it is we’re talking about two of the smartest people in the NFL from a football-IQ standpoint in Tom Brady and Bruce Arians. I would be absolutely shocked if a 43-year-old Tom Brady and head coach/play-caller with as much experience and game smarts as Bruce Arians did not come into this game with the understanding that Brady is likely to face pressure at a heightened rate based on the opponent and adjust accordingly. The next point of discussion revolves around the health (or lack thereof) of Mike Evans. Should he play, it is likely going to be in a limited capacity on a hyperextended knee, making it more difficult for him to execute the short area routes we just spoke of, particularly considering the Buccaneers’ other two primary wide receivers, Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown, are two of the cleanest and most advanced route-runners in the NFL. Because the matchup so heavily favors the short passing game, Godwin, Brown and tight end Rob Gronkowski gain increasing intrigue as potential volume pieces, regardless of the status of Evans.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Directional-Passer-Rating-DEF-1024x868.png

Looking at Washington’s directional passer rating charts per down (above), we very clearly see a shift from a zone base on first down, inside-out man coverage base on second down and outside-in man coverage base with blitz on third down. Incidentally enough, Mike Evans plays almost 60% of his snaps on the left side of the field, while Chris Godwin is basically 50/50 in right/left alignment out of the slot and Antonio Brown is at 60% on the right side. Considering the big picture here (including price), the order of preference of Tampa pass-catchers goes Antonio Brown, Chris Godwin, Rob Gronkowski, Mike Evans (if active), Scotty Miller, Tyler Johnson, Cameron Brate.

HOW WASHINGTON WILL TRY TO WIN ::

The biggest pieces of injury news out of Washington are the questions surrounding quarterback Alex Smith and wide receiver Terry McLaurin, although the players least likely to actually play are linebackers Thomas Davis, Sr. and Kevin Pierre-Louis, likely leaving linebacking duties to Jon Bostic and Cole Holcomb (who, for all intents and purposes, have played much better than the 37 year old Davis and journeyman KPL). Reports from Washington indicate the team is considering a quarterback rotation of Alex Smith and Taylor Heinicke, which is about the worst real-world scenario I can think of for a team in the playoffs (of note, it was Heinicke who took all first team snaps at practice throughout the week). Terry McLaurin gutted through a high ankle sprain in Week 17 and appears likely to do the same here.

It’s a tough ask for the Washington ground game this week against the highest-rated defense against the run in the league (first in DVOA, first in yards allowed per carry). The matchup on the ground yields a well below average 3.975 net-adjusted line yards metric and Antonio Gibson has been fighting through a toe injury for the better part of a month now. The typical snap split between Antonio Gibson and JD McKissic depends on game flow, with a 60/40 split in favor of Gibson in close games (or positive game flows) and reversed in games the Football Team is playing from behind. That said, we’ll cover here shortly the likeliest beneficiary out of the backfield (which comes in the pass game).

Through the air, we have a few key pieces converging in a way that gives us a good idea of where production is likeliest to come from. First off, we have the primary weapon for the Football Team, Terry McLaurin, slowed by a high ankle sprain in a matchup with one of the top young cover corners in the league in Carlton Davis. Secondly, we have a likely quarterback carousel due to injury to Alex Smith. And finally, Jason Pierre-Paul’s likely absence removes one of the key inside-funnel members of the Buccaneer’s 3-4 defensive scheme. The inside linebackers (typically in primary coverage of running backs out of the backfield and tight ends) have allowed a staggering 84 of 116 passes to be completed for 632 yards and six touchdowns in primary coverage. Cornerback Carlton Davis should return for this game and is typically used in shadow coverage of opposing WR1s, in this case, a hobbled Terry McLaurin, leaving relative liability Sean Murphy-Bunting to cover Cam Sims. Considering all angles (likely game flow, injuries to Alex Smith and Terry McLaurin, linebacker coverage deficiencies), Washington’s best chances of moving the ball through the air are through the running backs in the pass game and the tight end (hello Mr. Logan Thomas). As we covered above, Antonio Gibson and JD McKissic are typically deployed in a 60/40 split in close games, with that split liable to flip flop (with room for more snaps for McKissic) in games Washington trails. All of this comes together to provide a likeliest scenario for McKissic to take the snap lead here, with legitimate double-digit target upside as the player with the best chance to move the ball against the Bucs. After I went mad continuing to hype Logan Thomas for over half the season, I finally gave up with the mindset that the coaching and quarterback situations were just going to make it impossible. Then Alex Smith took over at quarterback and everything changed! Thomas has played all but nine (!!!) offensive snaps since Washington’s Week 6 bye and is running a route on 92% (!!!) of pass plays. Like I’ve said before, something had to give. The matchup is a good one against a Bucs team allowing the 10th most fantasy points per game to opposing tight ends at 14.0. Consider Thomas candidate number two for double-digit looks.

LIKELIEST GAME FLOW ::

Likeliest scenario involves an adjustment from Tom Brady and Bruce Arians to the short area passing game in an attempt to keep a relatively immobile Tom Brady upright. Considering the daunting matchup for Washington’s offense, this is likely to lead to the Buccaneers controlling the game and tempo from the beginning, forcing Washington into desperation as the game moves on (another plus for McKissic and Logan Thomas). There’s really no reason to expect the Bucs to increase the involvement of their backfield; rather, it’s more likely they adjust the average intended air yards for Brady. 

XANDAMERE’S SHOWDOWN SLANT

  • If you think Washington wins, it’s still hard to play Antonio Gibson given the nightmare matchup. His usage will be there and we know Washington is happy to lean on the run (and would prefer to), but….ugh. It certainly makes him a contrarian option, though, and I will want some amount of captain exposure to him.
  • Much like with Indianapolis, I’m more interested in Brady at captain than I usually am with QBs – the Bucs spread the ball out to the extent that Brady could easily be the highest scoring player in the game. I’d pair him with 2-3 of his pass catchers.
  • The Bucs should be focused on short areas of the field here to keep pressure off of Brady (which has been his only real weakness this season) – if Mike Evans plays, this lowers his expectation. Godwin and Antonio Brown would be the beneficiaries of this, as well as Gronk, who, after a few quiet games, has seen his price dip back down to an attractive level. While Godwin and Brown are fully priced (perhaps even overpriced), Gronk looks like a bargain.
  • If Evans misses, Scotty Miller will fill in for him. Miller will be an incredibly popular value play at $2,400 – but he’s also a deep threat receiver in an offense that likely won’t be throwing deep much here. If Miller looks likely to be the most popular value play, even though he’s a strong value, I’d look to be underweight on tournaments and hope the chalk value fails.
  • If Evans is out we would also see some Tyler Johnson and likely increased snaps for Cameron Brate. The increased roles of these two will likely go overlooked by the field and I think they’re interesting ownership leverage points over a chalky Miller.
  • The Bucs’ run game is a hard sell for me here. If you expect the Bucs to win the game, Leonard Fournette’s role is likely not very voluminous, so you’d absolutely need a touchdown. Ronald Jones could potentially get there despite a difficult matchup if the Bucs get a lead early and work to keep the pass rush pressure off of Brady by adopting a run-heavier plan as the game goes along. Jones is relatively cheap for a running back with this high of a team total, while Fournette is potentially useful on “Washington wins, or at least plays from ahead most of the game” rosters.
  • The Washington QB situation is a giant question mark as, even if Alex Smith plays…Washington might rotate him and Heinicke? Who the hell would do that in the playoff game? Smith seems likely to play (but if he doesn’t, Heinicke is a great value at just $6k) – but given his existing limitations and this injury it’s hard to feel a high degree of confidence here.
  • Terry McLaurin is going to be the focal point of the defense and is playing somewhat hobbled. I have some of just about every skill player in MME runs, but he’s not a focal point for me in this one – the odds of a blowup game just seem too low (if Tampa cornerback Davis misses, I would like McLaurin more, however).
  • My primary points of interest are in the ancillary Washington receiving pieces. Logan Thomas is on the field for almost every single snap and has been peppered with targets by Alex Smith and is just $6,600. JD McKissis has 5 10+ target games in the second half of the season and is, inexplicably to me, $5,400. These are the two best ways for Washington to move the ball and we’ve seen Smith fixate on both of them in prior games. They’re my favorite plays on Washington.
  • Cam Sims is my next favorite play at $4,400 for a WR2 who’s on the field for every snap with an injured WR1 in a difficult matchup. He’s a more volatile play than Thomas or McKissic because he’ll need to get there on lower volume but bigger plays, but he’s a strong option.
  • The rest of the rotational Washington pieces like the other Sims (Steven), Wright, maybe Inman if he’s active, and Sprinkle can be Sprinkled in to MME builds. Sims is the only one I’d want more than a couple percent of. 

DFS+ INTERPRETATION ::

  • Arians is 2-4 vs Rivera: 22-6 // 16-27 // 15-49 // 20-30 // 20-14 // 26-37
  • Tom Brady went 0-2 vs Rivera’s Panthers, losing 20-24 (‘13) & 30-33 (‘17) with a combined 3 TDs to 1 INT & 5 sacks
  • WAS finished with the 4th highest pressure percentage, tied with NOR as the best pass rush TB will have faced all year
  • WAS ranked 2nd is pass eff def
  • Brady vs top-10 pass eff def: 239:2:2 (NOR) // 253:1:0 (CHI) // 209:0:3 (NOR) // 216:2:2 (LAR)
  • WAS’s 16 INT were the 5th-most
  • Only QBs to score 20+ DK pts vs WAS: Kyler (33.1) // Lamar (26) // Goff (28.4) // Stafford (23)
  • Stafford is the only one of that group to not score on the ground
  • Brady has scored 2+ TDs in 13/16 games, and has seven games over 340 pass yds
  • Brady has scored 20+ DK pts in 9/16 games: 22.5, 23.9, 36.5, 39.9, 34.8, 26.7, 26.4, 32.9, 34.3
  • Top receiver score in those Brady games: 13.9 (CG) // 17.4 (CG) // 28.2 (ME) // 25.9 (SM) // 19.7 (ME) // 20 (ME) // 20.3 (AB) // 43.1 (ME) // 39.8 (AB), 33.3 (CG)
  • WAS allowed the 2nd fewest passing yds on the season
  • WAS allowed the 5th fewest WR yds & 3rd fewest WR DK pts
  • WAS has allowed the lowest success rate & 5th lowest yds/att to WRs
  • TB targets since AB joined lineup::
  • Evans (6, 11, 9, 9, 5, 7, 12, 4) // Godwin (6, 6, 10, 9, 3, 5, 9, 7) // Brown (5, 8, 13, 3, 5, 7, 6, 14)
  • Gronk (6, 3, 6, 7, 2, 7, 2, 4) // Brate (0, 3, 4, 6, 4, 2, 2) // RBs (10, 5, 5, 5, 3, 9, 6, 2)
  • Production since AB joined lineup::
  • Evans: 4:64 // 6:77:1 // 5:49:1 // 3:50:2 // 3:56 // 6:110 // 10:181:2 // 3:46
  • Godwin: 3:41 // 6:92 // 7:53:1 // 8:97 // 2:25 // 4:36:1 // 5:84:1 // 5:133:2
  • Brown: 3:31 // 7:69 // 8:57 // 2:11 // 5:49 // 5:93:1 // 4:35:1 // 11:138:2
  • Gronk: 1:2 // 2:51:1 // 2:25 // 6:106 // 1:2:1 // 3:29 // 2:58:2 // 2:29
  • Brate: 0:0 // 3:31:1 // 3:23 // 4:34 // 1:9 // 4:54 // 2:27 // 1:11
  • WAS has allowed the 6th lowest success rate to TEs
  • WAS has allowed the 2nd fewest RB DK pts/g: 9th fewest RB rush yds & 4th fewest RB rec yds
  • Since the near-shutout vs NOR, RoJo leads Fournette in rush att 72 to 46 despite missing two games
  • RoJo ranks above average in success rate in every rushing direction
  • WAS ranks 13th in rush eff def and 6th in explosive rush def
  • Alex Smith’s first game with more than one TD this year came last week against PHI’s depleted defense
  • Smith’s calf injury is affecting his mobility to the point that Taylor Heinecke is being considered to play at some point vs TB (Heinecke has been with OC Scott Turner for multiple years)
  • Bowles’s TB defense has had a weakness to QBs able to pass over the top in the last two years, which is certainly not what Alex Smith likes to do: lowest average intended air yds of any QB
  • TB has allowed the 10th highest success rate to TEs on the 11th most TE targets faced
  • Logan Thomas last five games: 4:20:1 // 9:98:1 // 6:43 // 13:101 // 7:63 // 3:37:1
  • Thomas targets in those games: 4, 9, 7, 15, 12, 6
  • Best WR games vs TB: Moore (8:120), Robby (9:109) // Guyton/Johnson (2:125:2) // ARob (10:90) // Agholor (5:107:1) // Shep (8:74) // Moore (4:96:1) // Kupp (11:145), Woods (12:130:1) // Hill (13:269:3) // Ridley (10:163:1) // Gage (9:91:1)
  • TB CB Carlton Davis returned to limited practice (missed last two games)
  • WAS WRs with Smith::
  • McLaurin: 7:115:1 // 7:95 // 5:84 // 7:92 // 2:14 // 7:40:1
  • Sims:          3:110 // 4:54 // 2:20 // 0:0 // 5:92 // 5:43
  • TB ranks 1st in rush eff def and has allowed the fewest rushing yds in the NFL over the last two years with Bowles
  • Gibson vs other top-10 rush eff def this year::
  • Rushing: 13:46:1 // 11:27 // 2:14 // DNP // DNP
  • Receiving: 4:82 // 5:24 // 0:0 // DNP // DNP
  • McKissic in the Gibson DNP games: 11:68, 2:18 // 13:51, 9:56:1
  • TB has allowed the 6th lowest success rate on the 2nd most RB targets

Kickoff Sunday, Jan 10th 1:05pm Eastern

Ravens (
29.25) at

Titans (
25.75)

Over/Under 55.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Ravens Run D
12th DVOA/1st Yards allowed per carry
Titans Run O
2nd DVOA/13th Yards per carry
Ravens Pass D
10th DVOA/4th Yards allowed per pass
Titans Pass O
4th DVOA/13th Yards per pass
Titans Run D
16th DVOA/14th Yards allowed per carry
Ravens Run O
3rd DVOA/1st Yards per carry
Titans Pass D
30th DVOA/2nd Yards allowed per pass
Ravens Pass O
17th DVOA/11th Yards per pass

Slate Overview ::

With Wild Card Weekend broken up into a PAIR of three-game slates, we’ll be tackling each slate individually(!). Same as we did with the Thanksgiving slate and the Saturday slates, we’ll lead off with a Slate Overview, and we’ll wrap the last game of the slate with a DFS+ Interpretation segment that covers all three games. Let’s get it!

By Hilow >>

In stark contrast to the Saturday slate, Sunday sees four teams with Vegas implied team totals over 25 points, with only the Bears (19.25) and Browns (21.25) checking in below that mark. Speaking of the Browns, the COVID outbreak (and headache) continues in Cleveland, with head coach/offensive play-caller Kevin Stefanski now set to miss this game due to a positive test (will be unable to be in contact with the team on game day), leaving Mike Priefer to handle acting head coach duties and offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt to handle offensive play-calling duties. *This is fine.emoji* Interestingly enough, the Browns, a team whose identity is to run the football, playing the top-ranked defense in DVOA against the run, without their head coach and play-caller, also without their top overall wide receiver (OBJ), on the road in Pittsburgh are still expected to score over three touchdowns. Player pricing is also much more aggressive on the Sunday slate, leaving us with a key question: to Henry, or not to Henry? The three underdogs (Titans, Bears, Browns) are all in difficult situations offensively, but should all come in with low expected ownership (outside of Henry, of course). From an analytical standpoint, the Saints’, Browns’ and Titans’ Vegas implied team totals feel high, something to keep in mind as we navigate this slate (UPDATE: Vegas tends to agree, with the Saints’ implied total dropping a point overnight and the Browns’ implied team total dropping two and half points (!!!) overnight; the Titans’ implied team total has remained higher than I would have it.)

Wild Card Special!

Willing To Lose
by Larejo123

Game Overview ::

  • Baltimore and Tennessee combine to average 126.5 offensive plays per game on the backs of the two highest rush rates in the league (these two teams are also two of the top three teams in rush play rate when playing from behind at 52% and 44% for Baltimore and Tennessee, respectively)
  • Baltimore also runs their offense at the third slowest situation-neutral pace of play, while Tennessee operates at the third fastest situation-neutral pace of play
  • Ravens are first in yards per carry on offense while Titans are second

How Baltimore Will Try To Win ::

The Ravens are a bit dinged up on the defensive side of the ball, with all of cornerback Marlon Humphrey, defensive end Calais Campbell, cornerback Jimmy Smith and nose tackle Brandon Williams on the injury report for various ailments. It appears likely Humphrey, Williams and Campbell will be ready to go, while Jimmy Smith appears legitimately questionable after missing the last three games with a shoulder injury. The Ravens pair a top three overall defense (second in points allowed per game) with the highest rush rate in the league and third slowest pace of play, looking to grind out victories by keeping the ball away from opponents. We shouldn’t expect anything to change here against an opponent yielding the third worst drive success rate on defense.

Mark Ingram II returned in Week 17 to leach 23% of the offensive snaps from standout rookie JK Dobbins and above average change of pace back Gus Edwards, returning this backfield to a maddening three way split. Dobbins has operated as the lead of that committee since the Ravens’ Week 7 bye, scoring seven touchdowns over the final six games of the season. Averaging only 13.5 running back opportunities per game over the last six games, he’ll need to continue scoring to provide fantasy utility. The good news is he carries the third highest touchdown equity amongst running backs on the Sunday slate (behind only Derrick Henry and Alvin Kamara), per current betting lines. The matchup on the ground yields an above average 4.455 net-adjusted line yards metric, with yards per carry against the Titans inflated by poor second level and open field yards allowed, areas that Dobbins has dominated as a rookie (second highest rate of carries for 20+ yards of running backs with more than 100 carries, behind only Nick Chubb).

The Ravens average the fewest pass attempts per game at only 25.4, five fewer per game than their opponent (Titans rank 30th at 30.3). When Lamar Jackson does throw, it is typically of the deep variety (seventh deepest average intended air yards at 8.6), with Marquise Brown (13.3 aDOT), Myles Boykin (11.2 aDOT), and Mark Andrews (10.0 aDOT) all carrying elevated average depths of target (only Willie Snead, the primary slot wide receiver, carries a below average aDOT). The Titans have ceded the sixth most average air yards at completion (distance the ball traveled through the air at time of reception), increasing the chances of the Ravens connecting on a few deep shots here.

How Tennessee Will Try To Win ::

The biggest pieces of injury news to follow out of Tennessee ahead of their Wild Card matchup with the Ravens are the statuses of guard Rodger Saffold, who has been a top five run-blocking guard over the last three years, and tackle Dennis Kelly, who has served as the team’s top pass-protector and second-best run-blocker on the season. Coincidentally, Saffold actually missed the Titans’ Week 11 game against these same Ravens. He has yet to practice after aggravating an ankle injury in Week 17 but has stated publicly that he’s “definitely playing.” Kelly has regularly sat out the first two practices of the week this season as the Titans allow him extra time to tend to an ailing knee that has plagued him over the second half of the year. The absence of either would be a sizable hit to Derrick Henry but would be arguably a bigger hit to the expected pass protection against a blitz-heavy Ravens defense. With only four games all season of more than 31 pass attempts, it is very clear how the Titans will approach this game, particularly opposite a defense in the Ravens that boasts arguably three of the top ten cornerbacks over the last three years (Jimmy Smith, Marlon Humphrey, and Marcus Peters, in no particular order).

The matchup on the ground yields a low-for-the-Titans 4.565 net-adjusted line yards metric against a Ravens defense that has allowed only 22.6 fantasy points per game to opposing backfields and the fewest rushing scores in the league (tied with Kansas City). Many will see Henry’s yardage total from the Week 11 meeting between these two teams (133 yards) and figure this matchup to be a neutral one, but realize Ravens nose tackle Brandon Williams, widely regarded as the best run-stopper in the league, missed that game due to injury. Things are further complicated for The King due to the injuries to Saffold and Kelly, who are both likely to be playing through ailments if they are even active. With a season high of only three targets (happened only once, all the way back in Week 1), the yardage and touchdowns are going to be harder to come by for the league’s ultimate yardage and touchdown back. Behind Henry, expect Jeremey McNichols to perform primary mop up duties.

Through the air, the Titans face a defense forcing (forcing as opposed to allowing) the fourth highest pass play rate against at 62.44%, not because they are easier to attack through the air but because they have so handily controlled games this season. Baltimore ranks top four in yards allowed per pass attempt (5.9) and yards allowed per completion (9.3), and ranks ninth in completion rate allowed at 63.76%. The saving grace for the fantasy prospectus of the Titans’ pass game is how insanely concentrated it is, with AJ Brown and Corey Davis accounting for a combined 54% of Ryan Tannehill’s pass yards this season (2,059 of 3,819). As we alluded to earlier, the cornerback trio of Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Peters and Jimmy Smith is rivaled by that of only the Rams, as these three have played absolutely lights out defensively this season. The total quarterback rating allowed by the Ravens is 71.6, third best in the league, and they blitz at an unreal 44.1% clip, which could spell further troubles with the two hobbled offensive linemen for the Titans. Yeah, this is not a simple task for these Titans. Baltimore’s shallow 7.9 average depth of target faced and heavy blitz rate lead to a scenario of increased ball-out-quick responsibilities for the Titans to be successful, which both AJ Brown and Corey Davis have proved more than capable of this season. It will be up the coaching staff to recognize this early in order to keep Tennessee in the game, before desperation creates long down and distance and a scoreboard deficit that will be tough to overcome.

Likeliest Game Flow ::

It is quite clear on paper that the Ravens are the superior team here, and they should have no issues moving the ball consistently against a defense ranked 30th in the league in drive success rate allowed. Assuming nose tackle Brandon Williams plays without restriction, their defense also matches up well with how the Titans are likeliest to attack (throw that completely out the window should Williams miss, as he is the key cog to their dominance against the run this year), both at the beginning of the game (heavily on the ground) and as the game progresses (through the air with emphasis on deep passing). One of the Ravens’ biggest keys to success here will be their ability to bring down Titans’ running back Derrick Henry, who leads the league in broken tackles amongst running backs with 34 (Ravens have missed the second most tackles this season). 

It will be up to the Titans to adapt to the opponent and start working the short-intermediate areas of the field at a higher rate if they want to stay in this game, particularly with the injuries to their offensive line against an opponent that blitzes at the highest rate in the NFL. Expect a lower-than-average total number of offensive plays run from scrimmage with the slow pace, high rush rates, and lockdown defense of the Ravens likely controlling the game. The Titans are largely incapable of slowing down how the Ravens are likeliest to attack here, with the third worst drive success rate allowed on defense and large open field yards and second level yards allowed on defense.

XANDAMERE’S SHOWDOWN SLANT

  • Lamar Jackson is the strongest play in this game (duh).
  • Henry is overpriced – much like Taylor on Saturday, I’m kind of interested in Henry in a “captain or not at all” way. 
  • The Titans’ skill player corps provides far more predictable volume than the Ravens’ side. Assuming the game goes as expected, with Baltimore winning, AJ Brown and Corey Davis should see significant enough volume to be relevant through PPR. Jonnu Smith and the rest of the Tennessee receivers are thinner but viable plays. 
  • On the Baltimore receiving side, Brown and Andrews are priced too close to the other, better Brown and Davis to be objectively good plays – they’re going to see significantly less volume – but the matchup brings plenty of ceiling to them both. 
  • The Baltimore backfield is likely to continue to be a headache. Some teams narrow their volume in the playoffs, but it isn’t like Dobbins has significantly outplayed Gus Edwards this year – they’ve both been highly effective. On a point-per-dollar basis Edwards is actually the stronger play at less than half the price of Dobbins. 
  • The “smart” way to play this Showdown is to use Lamar captain and multiple Tennessee pieces, with predictable volume, and then try to guess right on the 1 or 2 Ravens skill position players who will get lucky and put up a relevant score. 
  • However…if Tennessee gets out to a significant enough lead early, Baltimore can be made to look a bit ugly if they have to get too one-dimensional. The odds of this outcome are low, but we saw a couple of games this year where the Ravens offense really struggled. That relied on a good defense as well as a high-powered offense that put them in a hole early – the Titans are definitely a high-powered offense, and if a couple of early turnovers go their way, this scenario could potentially play out (and would likely be underowned by the field). 
  • The “best” value play in this one is clearly Anthony Firkser. Expect him to be very highly owned. You can get sneakier by playing one of the other Titans’ tight ends instead.
  • I hate Ravens showdowns.
  • BAL has lost both games to Vrabel & Tanny’s Titans with Lamar: 12-28 & 24-30
  • This TEN defense barely resembles the Dean Pees defense that shut down Lamar in the playoffs last year, as TEN has been hemorrhaging production this year (half of TEN’s opponents have scored 30+ pts)
  • QBs with 2+ TDs vs TEN: Minshew (339:3:2) // Cousins (251:3:2) // Allen (263:2:2) // Watson (335:4) // Ben (268:2:3) // Burrow (249:2) // Foles (335:2) // Rivers (295:2:1) // Mayfield (334:4) // Rodgers (231:4:1) // Watson (365:3:1)
  • Six QBs have scored 24+ DK pts vs TEN and only 4 teams have allowed more QB DK pts/g
  • Lamar DK pts since returning from Covid list: 26.7 // 37.9 // 30.2 // 22.3 // 25.2
  • Lamar has scored 10 pass TDs & 4 rush TDs in the last five games
  • Lamar rushing since LT Stanley went down: 13:58:1 // 11:55 // 13:51 // 13:94:1 // 9:124:2 // 10:35:1 // 11:97
  • His only game under 10 rush att in that span is the game he left with cramps
  • TEN has allowed the 4th highest success rate to WRs
  • 12 of 15 WRs to clear 80+ rec yds vs TEN did so on 6+ rec
  • Marquise Brown has 6+ targets in 12/16 games
  • Brown reach 80 yds just four times all year
  • TEN has allowed the 4th highest success rate & yds/att to TEs
  • Notable TE games vs TEN: Fant (5:81:1) // JAC (7:76:1) // Rudolph (2:11:1) // Fells (6:85:1) // Ebron (6:50) // Graham (6:55:1) // Andrews (5:96:1) // Burton (3:42:1) // Brown (5:48:1)
  • Mark Andrews since BAL lost Nick Boyle: 5:96:1 // 5:78 // 5:66:1 // 6:76 // 4:27
  • TEN ranks a middle-of-the-pack 15th in rush eff def
  • Nine backfields have rushed for 90+ yds vs TEN: 102 // 109 // 208 // 95 // 94 // 110 // 113 // 90 // 218
  • Dobbins (15, 11, 13, 14, 11, 13) had led Edwards (3, 7, 7, 9, 15, 12) in carries in 5 of his last 6 starts
  • BAL RB rushing in those games::
  • Dobbins: 70:1 // 71:1 // 53:1 // 64:1 // 77:1 // 160:2
  • Edwards: 6:0 // 101:0 // 49:2 // 42:0 // 85:0 // 60:0
  • BAL’s other top scorers in Lamar’s 20+ pt games::
  • Andrews (22.8) // Brown (18.1) // Snead (16.4) // Dobbins (14.2)
  • Andrews (20.7) // Brown (12.6) // Ingram (10.1)
  • Boyle (12.3) // Brown (9.7) // Edwards (8.6)
  • Snead (23.4) // Andrews (13.1) // Edwards (8.3)
  • Brown (14.9) // Dobbins (13.2) // Edwards (13.1) // Boykin (10.8)
  • Edwards (18.3) // Dobbins (13.3) // Brown (13) // Andrews (12.8)
  • Andrews (17.6) // Brown (15.8) // Dobbins (15.1)
  • Edwards (14.2) // Dobbins (13.7) // Andrews (13.6) // Brown (12.5)
  • Dobbins (31.0) // Brown (21.1) // Boykin (11.3)
  • Lamar has brought a 20+ pt scorer with him in 4 of the 9 games
  • The only QBs to throw for 300 yds vs BAL are Mahomes & Haskins way back in weeks 3 & 4, and Mayfield in the recent shootout
  • Tannehill has between just 21-31 pass att in 12/16 games, and since Week 9 his pass att read: 21, 27, 31, 22, 45, 24, 27, 24, 27
  • In the four games he went over 31, he threw for yds of 249, 321, 366, 389 as TEN’s opponent scored 14, 30, 36, 41 pts
  • Tanny vs BAL in Week 11: 22/31 for 259 yds, 2 TD, INT; 4 att 35yds
  • BAL has allowed the 14th lowest success rate & 2nd lowest yds/att to WRs
  • TEN leading WR yds: 101 // 48 // 118 // 82 // 64 // 153 // 128 // 101 // 67 // 113 // 98 // 182 // 112 // 110 // 43 // 151
  • That’s ten 100 yd games on the season
  • In Brown’s 13 games since return from injury, he’s scored in 10 of them, and dropped an open bomb TD in another
  • Davis has six sub-40yd games, five 100-yd games, three 60-70yd games
  • Only WRs to score 20+ DK pts vs BAL in the 26 games since the Peters trade: Sanu (24.1) // Crowder (27) // Shepard (22.7) // Hill (21.2) // McLaurin (24.8) // Gallup (21.6)
  • TEN receivers in two BAL matchups since last year::
  • Brown: 1:9 // 4:62:1
  • Davis: 1:3:1 // 5:113
  • Jonnu: 2:12:1 // 4:20:1
  • Henry’s rush att by week: 31 // 25 // 26 // 19 // 22 // 20 // 19 // 21 // 19 // 27 // 15 // 26 // 24 // 23 // 34 (6 games of 25+ rush att)
  • Henry has 100+ rush yds in 10/16 games
  • Henry in December/January since 2018: 12.5 // 50.8 // 33.2 // 16.2 // 27.6 // 26.9 // 8.6 // 42.1 // 30.4 // 29.3 // 14.1 // 6.9 // 39.2 // 28.2 // 9.8 // 39
  • 10/16 games finished with 26+ DK pts, 6 with 30+
  • BAL ranks 8th in rush eff def on the season
  • Henry vs top-10 rush eff def this year: 20:75:1 (PIT) // 21:68 (CHI) // 28:133:1 (BAL)
  • BAL was missing Brandon Williams & Calais Campbell up front in the first TEN matchup
  • Top TEN score: 20.1 (CD) // 24.4 (JS) // 30 (DH) // 21.2 (AB), 21 (JS) // 43.4 (DH), 28.3 (AF) // 30.3 (AB) // 29.8 (CD) // 23.1 (AB) // 14.9 (DH) // 23.2 (DH) // 41.5 (DH) // 38.6 (CD) // 39.2 (DH), 27.2 (AB) // 28.2 (DH), 24 (CD) // 12 (JS) // 39 (DH), 34.1 (AB)
  • A TEN player has scored 20+ DK pts in 14/16 games

Kickoff Sunday, Jan 10th 4:40pm Eastern

Bears (
19.25) at

Saints (
28.75)

Over/Under 48.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Bears Run D
4th DVOA/8th Yards allowed per carry
Saints Run O
1st DVOA/9th Yards per carry
Bears Pass D
13th DVOA/10th Yards allowed per pass
Saints Pass O
12th DVOA/9th Yards per pass
Saints Run D
2nd DVOA/3rd Yards allowed per carry
Bears Run O
25th DVOA/14th Yards per carry
Saints Pass D
3rd DVOA/5th Yards allowed per pass
Bears Pass O
23rd DVOA/10th Yards per pass


GAME OVERVIEW ::

BY HILOW >>
  • Big hit to the Chicago defense in the way of the likely absence of inside linebacker Roquon Smith
  • Alvin Kamara, Latavius Murray, Michael Thomas, Marcus Williams, and CJ Gardner-Johnson are all due back for the Saints
  • With Marshon Lattimore covering Allen Robinson, David Montgomery in an extremely difficult matchup, and Darnell Mooney appearing likely to be out, the Bears may be relying on a Mitchell Trubisky to Anthony Miller and Javon Wims connection

HOW CHICAGO WILL TRY TO WIN ::

The big pieces of news out of Chicago regarding injuries are the likely absences of rookie wide receiver Darnell Mooney (ankle), the Bears’ primary downfield threat, and inside linebacker Roquan Smith (elbow), a top three-graded coverage linebacker. Smith is a large reason for the Bears’ success against opposing running backs in the pass game, as veteran right inside linebacker Danny Trevathan has been a coverage liability this season. Backup inside linebackers Josh Woods and Joel Iyiegbuniwe have combined for only 94 defensive snaps in their careers. Chicago’s 62% pass play rate has remained rather sticky throughout the season, dipping only slightly to 57% in the first half when playing with a lead. The largest undoing for this Bears team has been offensive turnovers and poor ability to sustain drives (23rd-ranked drive success rate), placing regular increased pressure on their defense. This has led to a low situation-neutral pace of play (27th-ranked 31.50 seconds per play) but fast second half pace of play (12th-ranked 26.60 seconds per play in the second half) and high 64% second half pass play rate.

Backup running back/special teams ace Cordarrelle Patterson missed practice Wednesday and Thursday for personal reasons and his game day status is in question. Starting running back David Montgomery has averaged a staggering 81.7% of the offensive snaps in the eleven fully healthy games without Tarik Cohen, which ranks tops in the NFL by a wide margin. The matchup on the ground is a poor one for the Bears, yielding a well below average 3.95 net-adjusted line yards metric against an opponent allowing the fewest fantasy points per game to opposing backfields (18.0) and ranked second in DVOA against the run. Montgomery’s torrid stretch to end the season (averaged 27.23 fantasy points per game over the final six games of the year, scoring seven touchdowns) came against opponents ranked in the bottom ten against the run (GBx2, DET, HOU, MIN, JAX).

Number one wide receiver Allen Robinson II joined rookie wide receiver Darnell Mooney on the sidelines of practice on Thursday, but it was likely just for maintenance on his injured hamstring. Mooney has a much lower chance of making it back from an ankle injury sustained late in a Week 17 loss to the Packers. Out of a total of 584 offensive snaps, Bears’ third wide receiver Anthony Miller has played 87.15% out of the slot, indicating it would likely be Javon Wims that benefits the most from a snap rate perspective should Mooney miss; an important aspect to understand, however, is that it is likely the biggest boost to Allen Robinson from a pure expected target perspective. After starting the year slow, lockdown corner Marshon Lattimore has played lights out over the second half of the season, bringing down his completion rate allowed in coverage to 49.4% on the year. Furthermore, Robinson profiles as the type of wide receiver Lattimore has historically had the easiest time erasing (tall, possession-style, low 40-time, body wide receivers). The Saints are also expecting safeties Marcus Williams and CJ Gardner-Johnson back from injury, who combine with safety Malcolm Jenkins and cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore and Janoris Jenkins to form the second-highest rated secondary in the league (Saints safeties as a unit have allowed a ridiculously low 55.1 QBR against in coverage on the year). The combination of high blitz rate (31.8%) and a defense forcing the third deepest average intended air yards (9.1) spells trouble for Mitchell Trubisky, who has eight interceptions and six fumbles (two lost) over his nine starts. Rookie tight end Cole Kmet continues to operate as the lead tight end for the Bears, playing no fewer than 78% of the offensive snap in any game since their Week 11 bye, and is a candidate to see a bump in targets should Mooney miss. Jimmy Graham’s red zone acumen keeps him in the discussion, but the combination of a low snap rate and low targets means he is very much touchdown or bust.

HOW NEW ORLEANS WILL TRY TO WIN ::

The Saints are expecting a slew of personnel back just in time for the playoffs, with all of running back Alvin Kamara, running back Latavius Murray, wide receiver Michael Thomas, and safeties Marcus Williams and CJ Gardner-Johnson expected back, but will be without recent addition linebacker Kwon Alexander for the entirety of the postseason run after a torn achilles sustained in Week 16. New Orleans would like to leverage their defensive prowess through slow pace of play (28th-ranked 31.54 situation-neutral pace of play), high rush rates (fifth highest rush rate over the full season at 47%), and a pass offense designed to maximize the strengths of the aging Drew Brees (while his arm strength is no longer what it used to be, his timing, ability to read a defense, and NFL IQ remain elite; ranks 34 out of 35 qualified quarterbacks in average intended air yards at 6.0).

The matchup on the ground should be considered a neutral one, yielding an above average 4.52 net-adjusted line yards against a Bears defense allowing middle of the pack numbers against the run. The New Orleans backfield typically operates in a 65/35 split between Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray, with Murray getting more run in games the Saints control throughout. Considering the matchup, seasonal tendencies and pace up nature for the Saints, expect likeliest scenario to land the Saints around 70 total offensive plays run from scrimmage (about five more than their season average), which should translate to roughly 32-34 total rush attempts and 34-36 total pass attempts, leaving 18-20 running back opportunities for Kamara and eight to 12 for Murray as the likeliest scenario. The biggest boost to the Saints backfield comes in the form of the likely absence of Chicago inside linebacker Roquon Smith, who has been the key component of the linebacker coverage for the Bears. The linebacking unit for the Bears has been the weakest in coverage of the three levels (linebackers, corners, safeties) this season, and without Smith there are nothing but coverage liabilities remaining. Consider his absence a substantial boost to Kamara’s pass game ceiling.

The top three wide receivers for the Saints this week should be Michael Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, and Marquez Callaway. On a team that runs 11-personnel at a below average 54% rate, and with Michael Thomas returning from an ankle injury, it shouldn’t be a surprise to see all three end the game in the 70-75% snap rate range. The cornerback unit for the Bears has basically been Kyle Fuller and then everyone else, with every member outside of Fuller allowing a 96.6 QBR in coverage or greater, which is #notgood. Because of the coverage lapses and difficulty in one-on-one coverage, the Bears blitz at the fourth lowest rate in the league and are top ten in zone-base coverage, instead relying on the strength of their defense (the front seven) to create pressure on the quarterback. With the NFL’s fifth-ranked pass-blocking offensive line, it is highly likely the Saints are able to hold off the vaunted Chicago pass rush, particularly with Drew Brees’ low time to throw. Expect tight end Jared Cook to play 50-55% of the offensive snaps, with rookie Adam Trautman mixing in for 35-40% himself.

LIKELIEST GAME FLOW ::

The Saints’ offense, and their ability to stretch the field (and opposing defense) sideways, is likely to face little resistance from a Bears defense that derives so much of its effectiveness from pressure created without having to blitz. The absence of Roquon Smith would leave a substantial void in the short-middle of the field. It is unlikely Kyle Fuller is used in a shadow role (typically plays the right side), the New Orleans wide receivers are moved around enough in their offensive alignments, and we shouldn’t expect more than 75% snap rates for all three Saints’ wide receivers, meaning there is a good deal of variance associated with the individual pass-catchers, but that shouldn’t affect the overall efficiency of the offense. In all, the Saints are very likely to assert control over this game sooner rather than later and, with an offense ranked fifth in the league in efficiency, should continue to do so throughout the game. This would increase the desperation from the Bears, providing additional opportunities for mistakes to be made from a quarterback who has historically been extremely mistake-prone.

XANDAMERE’S SHOWDOWN SLANT

  • Chicago is in trouble in this one. I have very little faith in Mitch Trubisky’s ability to captain this offense to success in a game in which they won’t be able to lean on their run game. 
  • David Montgomery has a great workload but ugh, the matchup is a nightmare. He’s the Chicago player least likely to absolutely fail just based on his volume, but the ceiling is hard to see here.
  • Allen Robinson is the highest ceiling play on Chicago. His matchup is awful, making his floor pretty scary, but the odds of 10+ targets going his way in this game are extremely high. Priced right next to Kamara and Thomas he’s a hard sell but his ownership should also be a fair bit lower than the two Saints.
  • Darnell Mooney looks like he’s going to miss this game. That should open up opportunity for Anthony Miller (at just $3,800) and Javon Wims ($200!!!). Both are strong value options.
  • Newly emerged TE1 Cole Kmet has seen 7, 2, 6, and 10 targets in the last 4 games. He has not been wildly efficient but the Bears should be throwing a lot here and the volume is solid. Jimmy Graham’s volume has disappeared along with his snap count but he’s still scored 3 touchdowns in the last 4 games, giving him a “touchdown or bust” role that is still somewhat real.
  • I will always dream on (and often lose money on) the big play ability of Cordarelle Patterson. The Bears might well need it in order to make something happen in this matchup.
  • The Saints look likely to get both Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas back just in time for the playoffs. They immediately become the clear alpha options on this offense and should hog a massive share of the work. 
  • Latavius Murray is, as always, highly viable in “Saints control the game” builds (which, of course, is the likeliest outcome of this game). His floor is low if the game ends up being highly competitive, but at $4k his odds of outscoring the kickers he’s priced around are good. I like Miller better than him, though, at a similar price range.
  • Manny Sanders is really overpriced for his role with Thomas back, but Marquez Callaway is enticing at just $2k. Beyond Callaway, there are always the other Saints rotational pieces like Cook, Trautman, and perhaps one of Johnson or Jordan who are in play for MME.
  • If this game doesn’t land around the Vegas totals, I think the next likeliest outcome is the Saints just stomping Chicago. The Bears have been a good story this year but they are the clearly inferior team and while Vegas pegs their total at 19.25 points I would be shocked if they hit it. I will be building a lot of New Orleans onslaughts for this one (note, however, that due to his voluminous role, Montgomery is viable as the one Chicago bring-back in a Saints onslaught lineup).
  • Trubisky is 0-2 vs NOR (12-20 & 25-36), and Foles also lost to NOR this year (23-26)
  • NOR won the last two games vs CHI despite notably missing Brees, Kamara, Cook, Tre’Quan in the first and Thomas, Sanders, Callaway in the second
  • Trubisky since he returned: 242:3:2 // 267:1 // 267:3 // 202:1:1 // 265:2:1 // 252:0:1
  • Pass eff def ranks of those teams: 14 // 32 // 29 // 13 // 31 // 14
  • NOR ranks 4th in pass eff def and should be returning safeties Marcus Williams & CJ Gardner-Johnson
  • Trubisky has thrown 8 INT in 8.5 games this year
  • NOR is tied for first with 18 INT on defense (5 INT in Week 17 alone jumped them up)
  • NOR has allowed the 8th lowest success rate to WRs
  • Top WR scores vs NOR: Williams (30.9) // Lazard (29.4) // Moore (25.3) // Thielen (23.7) // Samuel (22.1) // ARob (20.7) // Aiyuk (19.7) // Ridley (18.8) // Moore (18.1) // Mooney (17.9) // Hill (17.4) // Golladay (16.2) // Julio (15.4) // Miller (15.3)
  • ^CHI’s trio from that group (with Foles): ARob (20.7), Mooney (17.9), Miller (15.3)
  • ARob with Trubisky: 5:74 // 3:33 // 6:69 (half) // 8:74:2 // 6:75 // 9:123:1 // 4:83 // 10:103 // 2:37
  • ARob vs Lattimore Saints: 10:87:1 // 6:87:1
  • ARob missed Thursday’s practice with a hamstring designation
  • Raybon’s injury study for WR’s with hamstring injuries: 3% drop in PPR production for probable (109 games) and 13.8% drop in PPR production for questionable (95 games)
  • Mooney since Trubisky’s return: 3:34 // 4:43 // 2:21:1 // 4:49:1 // 4:39 // 11:93
  • Mooney may miss the game, leaving Anthony Miller as the WR2
  • Monty with Trubisky::
  • Rushing: 13:64 // 16:82 // 14:45 // 11:103 // 17:72:2 // 11:113:1 // 32:146:2 // 23:95:1 // 22:69:1
  • Receiving: 1:10 // 3:45:1 // 2:9 // 5:40:1 // 4:39 // 3:42 // 1:16 // 2:26 // 9:63
  • DK pts: 8.4 // 21.7 // 7.4 // 28.3 // 27.1 // 27.5 // 32.2 // 20.1 // 28.2
  • CHI’s recent stretch of rush eff def opponents (ranks): 19 // 26 // 30 // 27 // 22 // 19
  • NOR ranks 2nd in rush eff def
  • Monty vs top-10 rush eff def::
  • Rushing: 14:45 // 10:29:1 // 14:48 // 21:89 (NOR)
  • Receiving: 2:9 // 7:30 // 5:21 // 2:16 (NOR)
  • 38 of Monty’s 89 rush yds came on one play vs NOR
  • NOR has allowed the 3rd lowest rate of explosive runs to RBs
  • NOR has scored 36 & 26 vs Pagano’s Bears despite the aforementioned missing offensive players in those matchups (both games in CHI)
  • Brees since NOR returned to the playoffs in 2017::
  • 376:2:1 // 294:3:2 // 301:2:1 // 249:2:1 // 208:1:1
  • Brees & Thomas will enter this game having played just 10 quarters together all year, with 8 coming against TB in two blowouts
  • Brees’s best game of the year came in the last full game with Thomas when he threw for 222 yds, 4 TD in a 38-3 win (initially broke some ribs in this game)
  • Brees is still recovering from his major rib injury, but the time off also gave a nagging shoulder injury some time to get right
  • Brees & Payton have actually been more aggressive in play-calling since he returned, calling for some throws that Brees hasn’t been asked to make since 2016
  • Brees finished with 280 yds, 2 TD in Chicago earlier this year despite missing his top 3 WRs
  • 9 of last 10 QBs vs CHI have thrown 2+ TDs
  • Starting RG Nick Easton was placed on IR, so rookie Cesar Ruiz, who has started several games himself, will be up against stud DT Akiem Hicks up front
  • NOR flopped in the playoffs last year when Zimmer attacked the interior of NOR’s offensive line and made it extremely difficult for Brees in the pocket
  • Top perimeter WR vs CHI: MJJ (4:55) // Slayton (3:33) // Ridley (5:110) // Hilton (3:29) // Evans (5:41:1) // Moore (5:93) // Reynolds (4:52:1) // Tre’Quan (5:43) // Brown (4:101:1) // Jefferson (8:135), Thielen (4:43:2) // Adams (6:61:1) // MJJ (8:116:1) // Hansen (7:56) // Jefferson (8:104) // Chark (4:62:1) // Adams (6:46:1)
  • Michael Thomas vs CHI: 7:77 (2017) // 9:131 (2019)
  • Thomas in the playoffs: 8:131 // 7:85:2 // 12:171:1 // 4:36 // 7:70
  • Sanders with Brees since Week 3 vs GB: 4:56:1 // 6:93 // 12:122 // 4:38:1 // 4:76 // 4:83 // 9:63:1 (only the 4:38:1 vs TB came with Thomas too)
  • Non-#1 WRs to finish with more yds than the #1 WR vs CHI::
  • Amendola (5:81) // Pascal (3:58) // Ty Johnson (4:61) // Reynolds (4:52:1) // Hansen (7:56) // MVS (2:87:1); Jefferson & Chark also outproduced Thielen & Viska (Kyle Fuller spent more time on them)
  • CHI has faced the 5th most TE targets
  • Cook with Brees in 2020: 5:80 // 2:13:1 // 2:52:1 // 3:32:1 // 5:51:1 (CHI) // 2:30 // 2:29 // 3:82 // 4:43:1
  • CHI allowed rec TDs to Cook & Taysom in the first matchup
  • Leading NOR receiver yds with Brees: 80 // 86 // 56 // 93 // 122 // 75 // 51 // 51 // 76 // 83 // 63
  • Kamara receiving yds in those games: 51 // 95 // 139 // 36 // 74 // 65 // 96 // 9 // 40 // 17 // DNP
  • CHI has allowed the lowest success rate to RBs through the air
  • Kamara still finished with 9:96 in the first matchup with NOR down their WRs
  • Star LB Roquan Smith is expected to miss the game after being concussed early vs GB
  • CHI ranks 4th in rush eff def, but has allowed the 3rd highest rate of explosive runs to RBs
  • NOR rushing vs CHI: AK (12:67) // Lat (8:17) // Taysom (5:35)
  • Kamara in the playoffs::
  • Rushing: 10:23:1 // 11:43 // 16:71 // 8:15 // 7:21:1
  • Receiving: 1:10 // 4:62:1 // 4:35 // 11:96 // 8:34
  • Kamara will be playing without having been at the facility for 10 days, as he tested positive for the virus (virus affects people differently, but regardless tough to be fully in game shape after 10 days of quarantine)
  • Kamara is regarded as one of the smartest players on the team, and he is still able to communicate with the team thanks to modern technology, so he is still present with gameplanning even if not physically present
  • Murray will be playing after his one game absence as a close contact to AK
  • Murray’s only games over 10 DK pts this year: (14:64:2, 1:19) // (12:49, 2:36) // (19:124:2, 1:2) // (4:3, 2:26:1) // (12:72, 3:24)
  • Scores of those games: 35-29 // 24-9 // 31-3 // 29-32 // 52-33
  • Lat’s best game as a Saint came when he filled in for AK vs CHI last year and ran for 119 yds, 2 TDs
  • TyMont has been activated for the previous two games, dropping his only target in the first and then rushing for 105 yds on 18 carries as the only available RB
  • TyMont started the year with just two touches/g before quickly going on IR
  • CHI allowed the 5th lowest TD% in the RZ

Kickoff Sunday, Jan 10th 8:15pm Eastern

Browns (
21.25) at

Steelers (
25.25)

Over/Under 46.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Browns Run D
18th DVOA/2nd Yards allowed per carry
Steelers Run O
30th DVOA/12th Yards per carry
Browns Pass D
25th DVOA/14th Yards allowed per pass
Steelers Pass O
21st DVOA/1st Yards per pass
Steelers Run D
5th DVOA/9th Yards allowed per carry
Browns Run O
9th DVOA/8th Yards per carry
Steelers Pass D
1st DVOA/11th Yards allowed per pass
Browns Pass O
12th DVOA/8th Yards per pass

Game Overview ::

By Hilow >>
  • Head coach/offensive play-caller Kevin Stefanski will be unable to coach in this game due to a positive COVID test; Browns have yet to practice as of Friday morning (hope is their facility will open later in the day)
  • Mike Priefer will handle acting head coach duties and offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt will handle offensive play-calling duties
  • Very interesting matchup between a Steelers team leading the league in sacks and pressure rate and a Browns offensive line ranked as the top pass-protection unit in 2020 by PFF (86.4 team rating, lightyears ahead of the second-ranked Packers’ rating of 79.9)
  • Browns also boast PFF’s top-rated run-blocking offensive line, and the Steelers have been far less daunting against the run in the absence of Bud Dupree
  • I was blown away coming away from this write-up feeling like Cleveland has a chance here, considering everything working against them

How Cleveland Will Try To Win ::

Obviously, the big news out of Cleveland is the once again widespread outbreak of COVID amongst the team, this time extending to the coaching staff as well. Head coach and offensive play-caller Kevin Stefanski will not be allowed to coach on Sunday after he was diagnosed with COVID early in the week, with left guard Joel Bitonio and wide receiver KhaDarel Hodge set to miss as well, both on the COVID list. Lockdown corner Denzel Ward is tentatively expected to make his return from the COVID list in time for Sunday’s game, but pay close attention on Saturday for how his situation is ultimately handled, as his services will most definitely be needed. Filling in for Bitonio is likely to be Michael Dunn, who was one of the highest graded pass-blocking offensive linemen when he left the AAF for the NFL. Still, the absence of Bitonio, particularly considering the Browns have not yet been able to practice this week, is significant. Many will automatically assume the Browns will simply attempt to lean on the run game for as long as possible here, but over the last four weeks of the season they upped their pass play rate from 52% to 61% in games against the Ravens, Giants, Jets, and these same Steelers. With the team facilities closed up until Friday afternoon (21 minutes ago as of this writing), we have little in the way of beat writer expectations. Bottom line, there is a wide range of possibilities for how the Browns open this game looking to attack. 

The absence of Bitonio is likely to be felt most in the run game as Dunn is a capable fill-in for the pass protection he brings. The matchup yields a below average 4.23 net-adjusted line yards metric, but the damage done to the Steelers on the ground over the last five weeks has mostly come through splash plays via the second level, an area the Browns excel at (first in the league in second level yards, fourth in the league in open field yards). Cleveland running back snaps typically range from the 40-60% snap rate range, split between Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt and largely dependent on game flow. With a split backfield, a matchup that should lead to majority of running back value coming via splash plays (high variance), and unknowns surrounding expected run/pass rates, both Chubb and Hunt should be treated as high variance, low floor/high ceiling options.

Expect Jarvis Landry and Rashard Higgins to operate at the top two wide receivers, with Donovan Peoples-Jones expected back from a concussion in time to fill the WR3 role in the absence of Khaderal Hodge. The Browns have operated out of 11-personnel on only 38% of their offensive snaps over the last four weeks, with a whopping 47% of snaps over that time with at least two tight ends on the field (37% 12-personnel, 10% 13-personnel). This is likely to lead to a 75-80% snap rate for both Landry and Higgins and a 50-60% snap rate for DPJ. With Harrison Bryant set to miss on the COVID list, tight ends Austin Hooper, David Njoku, and Stephen Carlson should all see significant snap rates in an extremely difficult matchup for tight ends. Hooper and Njoku run routes on 82% of pass plays, with Carlson checking in at 77%. The matchup through the air is difficult all around, as the Steelers finished the season ranked first in completion rate allowed (56.65%), third in pass yards allowed per game (194.4), and third in yards allowed per pass attempt (5.9). One interesting piece of information I came across in digging into this matchup: the Steelers have forced/faced the deepest average depth of target in the league at 9.5, which is interesting to an almost counterintuitive level considering their high blitz rate. Since Odell Beckham, Jr. was lost for the season in Week 7, Jarvis Landry has commanded 7.75 targets per game (21.18% team target market share). When we remove the two “Cleveland wind games,” his targets per game jump to 9.17 without OBJ. With all the unknowns surrounding how the Browns are likeliest to attack here, consider the Landry the highest floor option from this side of the game.

How Pittsburgh Will Try To Win ::

The Pittsburgh linebacker corps has been absolutely decimated by injury, with all of Bud Dupree, Devin Bush and Robert Spillane done for the season. The biggest impact has been felt by the loss of Dupree prior to Week 13, after which the Steelers have gone 1-4 overall, surrendering no fewer than 23 points in any game over that span. This is still a top five defensive unit, but the thinned-out linebacker group has clearly been less effective overall. The strength of the Pittsburgh defense has without question been pressure on the quarterback, leading the league with an unreal 32.3% pressure rate over the course of the season (and leading the league with 56 sacks). Their 40.3% blitz rate has generated the second highest hurry rate and most quarterback knockdowns in the league. We know by now how the Steelers will approach games offensively. With one of the worst run-blocking offensive lines in the league and a quarterback whose arm strength is not what it used to be, the Steelers have built an offense designed around short throws and high percentage completions. Assuming Denzel Ward makes it back in time for this game, we should treat the overall makeup as a “strength” on “strength” matchup, reasoning being the Browns rank ninth in the league in opponent completion percentage allowed at 63.42% but have struggled with deep passing (ranked all the way down at 21st in the league in yards allowed per completion, but carry a respectable 6.8 yards allowed per pass attempt), and the Steelers have largely shown an unwillingness to attack the deep areas of the field. Basically, the Browns are good in the areas the Steelers are good in, and vice versa.

The Steelers’ run game is about as laughable is they come, generating only 3.78 adjusted line yards, 3.82 yards per carry, a 30th-ranked power success rate of 56%, 28th-ranked stuff rate at 18.9% and 31st-ranked second level yards value. Now we understand why the Steelers only use the run game to keep opponents at least somewhat honest defensively. This backfield can be summed up by saying “play James Conner as a low-cost variance piece that could fall into the end zone twice and return value at only $5,000.”

With the nonstandard wide receiver alignments utilized by the Steelers, I don’t expect Denzel Ward to shadow (assuming he makes it back for this game). The high rate at which the Browns are in zone coverage would tend to back that up, but there is at least a possibility he follows one of the perimeter receivers, likeliest Chase Claypool while he is on the field. Diontae Johnson and Juju Smith-Schuster have the most secure roles in this passing offense, but the game-to-game targets have largely flowed toward the path of least resistance. With Claypool/James Washington likely to see the most of Denzel Ward coverage, it also makes the most sense that Juju and Diontae are the likely paths of least resistance here. With eight games over and seven games under 40 pass attempts on the season for Ben Roethlisberger (and two games over 50 (!!!) pass attempts), the volume-boosted floor and ceiling for the top two pass-catchers for the Steelers in a given game are going to rival that of any wide receiver on a given slate, even more so on a small slate like this one. Likeliest scenario for Sunday is that those two wide receivers are Diontae and Juju (but remember, embrace the variance!). Tight end Eric Ebron was activated from the COVID list and is expected back. Likeliest scenario lands him in the seven to eight target range in a plus matchup. On a slate with not many true tight end options, he should be in consideration.

Likeliest Game Flow ::

IF the Steelers weren’t currently playing so poorly (lost four of their last five games), or IF the Browns didn’t have so much working against them this week, this game would be a lot more straightforward. But alas, 2020 had a hangover into 2021 and here we are. The bottom line is there are so many unknowns and variables surrounding this game that anyone saying they know how it is going to play out is full of it. With that said, this is the last game on the Sunday slate and should be used to create the most leverage. What I mean by that is this: late swap becomes increasingly important on small slates as a means of generating leverage. Although Jarvis Landry and Diontae Johnson carry the highest raw floor, there are many different ways this game could play out considering the vast number of variables in play here. By building our rosters in a way that gives us maximum flexibility, we can leverage the field from an ownership perspective and leverage the variance associated with this game, as opposed to shying way from it. Remember, the smaller the slate, the more variance we should be looking to embrace, and this game is the perfect example of that. (NOTE: apologies for leaving this section open ended like that, but I felt it was much more useful to discuss Game Theory here than it was to repeatedly say that this game is high variance.)

XANDAMERE’S SHOWDOWN SLANT ::

  • The poor Browns have another Covid outbreak and haven’t even been able to practice this week. I’m not a “football guy” and I can’t quantify the impact of a week’s practice to prepare for and game plan around playing a specific opponent – but I have to imagine it’s meaningful. While the Browns actually match up reasonably well against the Steelers on paper (Hilow notes that their ridiculously good O-line offsets the Steelers’ elite pass rush), the lack of practice seems to me like it ups the odds of Cleveland significantly underperforming here.
  • I’ve seen some pondering if the Steelers have been “saving” James Conner for the playoffs by intentionally going light on him over the past several weeks. I guess that isn’t impossible, but what I think is more likely is that the Steelers have recognized their run-blocking is absolutely awful and have skewed their play-calling to be much more pass-heavy intentionally (after all, it’s not like we’ve been seeing the backup RBs getting a ton of work – Pittsburgh has just barely been running the ball). 
  • This has, however, led James Conner to be awfully cheap for a home favorite running back with pass game involvement – and we’ve seen that pass game involvement increase in the past two games with 5 and 8 targets. Maybe I’m a sucker for Conner, maybe I’m a sucker for the “Steelers running back” situation that has been such a profitable place to attack in DFS over the years, but at his discounted price I like Conner. I don’t view him as a safe play but it’s a place I want to be overweight in tournaments.
  • Outside of games in which he was hurt, one mid-game benching, and a week 17 game in which the Steelers rested some of their key guys, Diontae Johnson has seen 10+ targets every single week. They’re mostly shorter-area targets (as are almost all of the Steelers passes these days), which means a high catch rate. He’s the highest floor skill position player in this game and his ceiling is right up there with anyone’s. 
  • Juju is what he always is, an extremely short-area receiver who needs a ton of volume or (maybe AND) a touchdown to be relevant. 
  • Claypool is still priced as if he were playing a nearly full-time role, but he hasn’t been. And, he’ll have the toughest matchup of the Pittsburgh WRs. I’m mostly off of him. James Washington has a similarly tough matchup but is just $1,400 vs. Claypool’s $8,600, which is much more enticing to me.
  • My old pal Eric Ebron is absolutely in play against a Cleveland defensive scheme that has been worse than average against tight ends for years. 
  • On the Browns’ side it’s really the wide receivers I want. Landry is the highest floor option but he’s priced pretty closely to Diontae, who I think is the superior option. Higgins is priced a just $5k which feels inexplicable to me and he stands out as a very strong play at that price, while Peoples-Jones is just $2k – he’s a high-variance option who could easily score under 5 points but could also get you 15-20. 
  • The Cleveland tight end situation is hard for me to be interested in when they’re in a 3-way timeshare and playing a Pittsburgh defense that is hard to attack that way. I’ll have exposure in MME but I will mostly want to mix and match “Browns TE” around a core I’m more comfortable with.
  • Nick Chubb falls in the “probably only in the captain spot” bucket for me – he’s too expensive for his timeshare role and can probably only get there if the Browns win the game by controlling it start to finish, and in that case he’s probably the highest-scoring player. 
  • Hunt is more interesting at just $6,400 as we’ve seen his role become significant when Cleveland is in catch-up mode. Assuming they fall into that mode here, and with the Pittsburgh pass defense being so strong, he could find his way into quite a few targets.

DFS+ Interpretation ::

Wild Card Special!

Willing To Lose
by Larejo123

  • CLE will be without head-coach and play-caller Kevin Stefanski (this didn’t go so well for DET vs TB a couple of weeks ago)
  • No QB has thrown for 300+ yds vs PIT this year
  • Only the Rams have allowed fewer DK pts/g to QBs than PIT
  • Baker only scored 20+ DK pts four times all year
  • 8 WRs have finished with 80 or more rec yds vs PIT: Slayton (102) // Cobb (95) // Fulgham (152) // AJ Brown (153) // Snead (106) // Higgins (115) // Brown (85) // Sims (92) // Diggs (130)
  • PIT has allowed the 2nd lowest success rate to WRs
  • CLE receivers since emerging from the stretch of heavy wind games::
  • Landry: 8:143:1 // 8:62:1 // 6:52 // 7:61:1 // DNP // 5:51
  • Higgins: 1:15 // 6:95:1 // 6:68:1 // 4:76 // DNP // 2:55
  • Hooper: 2:31:1 // 2:24 // — // 5:41:1 // 7:71 // 4:37:1
  • PIT has allowed the lowest success rate to TEs
  • Only NOR has allowed fewer DK pts/g to RBs than PIT’s 5th ranked rush eff def
  • Chubb career vs PIT: 18:65 // 27:92 // 16:58 // 14:108:1
  • Chubb has scored 20+ DK pts five times this year, and needed 2 TDs in three of them
  • Hunt has just one double-digit score since Chubb returned (29 in shootout with BAL)
  • PIT has allowed the fewest RB rec yds
  • This will be Ben’s first playoff game in 3 years
  • After a rough few weeks, Ben had his best game in a while with 341 yds, 3 TD in a second-half comeback vs IND (plus got to rest in Week 17)
  • CLE has allowed the 8th most QB DK pts/g (22.0)
  • Ben threw for just 162 yds, TD in first CLE matchup, but PIT won 38-7
  • CLE has allowed the 9th lowest success rate to WRs and should get back CB Denzel Ward this week
  • Top scoring PIT WRs in games with Diontae::
  • 24.9 (JS) // 23.1 (DJ) // 29 (DJ) // 13.7 (JS) // 21.3 (JS) // 26.6 (DJ), 22.7 (JS), 21.6 (CC) // 26.1 (DJ) // 17.7 (JS) // 21.1 (DJ) // 17.5 (JS) // 19.9 (DJ) // 24.6 (JS) // 24.1 (CC)
  • Top scorer count: Diontae (6) // Juju (6) // Claypool (1)
  • The only games Diontae has played until the end in which he didn’t receive at least 10 targets were the first matchup vs BAL when he was banged up early, the BUF game when he was benched early, and the CLE game that Ben didn’t play
  • PIT WRs vs CLE::
  • Diontae: DNP // 3:96
  • Juju: 2:6 // 6:65:1
  • Claypool: 4:74 // 5:101:1
  • Washington: 4:68:1 // 0:0
  • CLE has allowed 10 TE rec TDs
  • Ebron’s only games below 5 targets all year were his first game, the Week 6 blowout of CLE, and his 15% snaps game vs CIN when he left hurt early
  • CLE has allowed the 8th fewest RB DK pts/g
  • PIT has been one of the worst run-blocking teams in the NFL
  • Conner vs CLE: 20:101:1, 1:1 // 9:37, 5:25
  • Conner has one game over 40 rush yds in the last 9 weeks