JMToWin's NFL Edge: Week 14

Each week this NFL season, JMToWin will break down every game on the NFL slate from top to bottom, with a look at game flow, player matchups, coaching tendencies, DFS strategy, and anything else that shows up in his research that might give you an edge on the slate. Widely regarded as the most in-depth, DFS-specific article in the industry, this top-to-bottom breakdown is just what you need in order to conquer the slate and take home money each week!

Week 14 “Player Grid”

Sunday, 7:12 AM EST – no additions or changes to the grid. What a spectacular, low-stress week it is for going cash game heavy!

HOW TO BEST VIEW THIS PORTION OF THE ARTICLE:

These are the players I am currently gravitating toward in each tier. This should not be taken as a “complete list of the good plays on the slate.” This is, instead, simply a list of who I am gravitating toward, and how I see each guy.

The danger of relying too heavily on this Player Grid: Every week, there are going to be items in the research (laid out game-by-game in this article) that I will misinterpret, or will view incorrectly. If you lean on your own thoughts, and interpret the research on your own, you will never have one of those frustrating weekends in which you “lose because you relied on the thoughts of someone else,” rather than trusting yourself.

The benefit of incorporating this portion of the article into your research: I have over five years of profitable NFL DFS play under my belt. If you rely heavily on this list – building your teams around the players/thoughts below – you will definitely have those frustrating weekends in which you lose and wonder, “Why didn’t I rely on my own thoughts?” but you will also be profitable over time. I can say this with confidence, because I know that I will be profitable over time – and I lean on this list each week myself.

The best way to view this portion of the article: Ultimately, you would use this portion of the article as a balance against the thoughts you have come up with on your own!!!!

TIER 1: SAFE AND SOARING

These are all guys I feel have a safe floor and a high ceiling – with a good shot at hitting their ceiling. I am not particularly concerned about any of these guys ruining an otherwise-strong roster. These are guys I will be considering in cash games, head-to-heads, and tourneys of all sizes.

Quarterbacks

[N/A – for me…]

(It’s too easy to get 20 cheap QB points this week for me to want to pay up; but none of the cheap guys can be responsibly placed in Tier 1.)

Running Backs

Lamar Miller – with Alfred Blue out, should see 20+ touches, in a fine spot
Giovani Bernard – not a lock for more than 10 (FanDuel) to 12 (DraftKings), but he should blow past those marks, and he’s the best point-per-dollar play outside of maybe Josh Gordon (both sites)
Todd Gurley – I genuinely don’t expect more than 50 rushing yards; I also genuinely expect seven or eight catches; I like Keenan/Hopkins more, but I like all these guys plenty; Gurley is likely to be more valuable on DK this week than FD

Wide Receivers

Josh Gordon – priced too low on both sites, with too much workload/upside
Michael Crabtree – even if Amari plays, he’s likely hobbled; Crabtree rarely reaches his upside, but his floor is high
DeAndre Hopkins – the highest floor/ceiling combo among all WRs not named Antonio Brown
Sterling Shepard – slight concerns that the Giants/Cowboys both slow down this game, but likeliest scenario is 9+ targets in a great matchup
Larry Fitzgerald – locked into around 10 targets; Gabbert is completing 78% of passes to Fitz
Keenan Allen – as long as the targets continue, he will continue to smash

Tight Ends

Travis Kelce – the best TE on the slate, in a great matchup

TIER 2: LESS SAFE; STILL SOARING

These are all guys I feel have a high ceiling – with a good shot at hitting their ceiling – but these guys do carry more risk than the “Tier 1 players” of posting the sort of score that could ruin an otherwise-strong roster. Ultimately, these are still excellent, and mostly-safe plays; I will try to pull as many names from the list above as I can for cash games, but I won’t be surprised to find a couple of these guys on my cash game roster. I like these guys in tourneys of all sizes.

Quarterbacks

DeShone Kizer – could realistically be in Tier 1…but it’s still a rookie QB with big flaws in his game
Jimmy Garoppolo – looked awesome last week, and matchup is awesome; weapons are the only concern
Blaine Gabbert – as with the two above him, could be in Tier 1; but, come on – it’s still Blaine Gabbert

Running Backs

Jamaal Williams – workload is not 100% secure with Jones healthy…but is probably 90% secure
Marshawn Lynch – I expect 20+ touches in a must-win game, but that’s not a given
Frank Gore – floor is high, but chances of hitting ceiling are low; a very safe point-per-dollar play

Wide Receivers

Golden Tate – the matchup is great, and Stafford can get the ball to him underneath even if the hand is an issue
Adam Thielen – may get only eight or nine targets as CAR slows down game, but he can smash on eight or nine targets in a neutral matchup
Marquise Goodwin – should see 8 or targets, in a great matchup, with game-breaking upside
A.J. Green – should see eight to 12 targets in a good matchup; ownership will be low

Tight Ends

Cameron Brate – the coaches seem to want O.J. Howard more, but Jameis loves Brate
Stephen Anderson – point-per-dollar, he’s Tier 1; raw points, he’s Tier 2
Jason Witten – I almost certainly won’t use him, but I do expect a solid game in a great matchup; better on FanDuel
Evan Engram – really should be in Tier 1, but his inconsistency has created ‘Tier 2’ level of risk
Delanie Walker – the matchup isn’t great, but the targets will be there
Hunter Henry – the upside is enormous; the concern, of course, is the unpredictable workload

TIER 3: EVEN LESS SAFE; STILL STRONG

These are all guys I feel have a strong ceiling – with a good shot at hitting their ceiling – but there are also ways in which these guys could absolutely bomb. I will try to avoid these guys in cash games, but I like them in tourneys of all sizes.

Quarterbacks

Matthew Stafford – if we get reports his hand is good, he’s Tier 1; if not, he maintains week-winning upside, but with roster-busting floor

Running Backs

Kareem Hunt – the price is dropping to account for the low floor; the upside is still there
Andre Ellington – will run routes of the slot and spell Miller in the backfield; speculative, but could smash
Samaje Perine – if WAS keeps this game close, Perine becomes an awesome play; but there is genuine risk they fall behind again
Melvin Gordon – the upside is still there, but the floor is low for his price
Mike Davis – any SEA RB belongs in Tier 3 behind an awful line, but work should be there

Wide Receivers

Corey Coleman – has a shot to be a week-winner if the work is there; work is not guaranteed
Davante Adams – matchup & QB lower his floor, but workload and upside remain
Marvin Jones – it’s all about Stafford’s hand; if Stafford can push the ball outside, look out!
Tyreek Hill – could easily post 30 points vs OAK; could also go for five or fewer in any matchup
T.Y. Hilton – you only live once
Dez Bryant – touchdown-driven upside in a good matchup
Demaryius Thomas – saw 10 targets last week; if “Good Siemian” shows up, DT could smash

Tight Ends

Austin Seferian-Jenkins – usage has been trending downward, but Broncos filter targets to TEs

TIER 4: BIG TOURNEYS ONLY

This empty space serves as a reminder that in large-field tourneys – with top-heavy payout structures and tens of thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of entries – you often need one or two bold moves to take down first place. This can be full game stacks, or a player no one is talking about who you feel has a clear shot at a huge game. Boxing anyone in with a “list” in this section would be doing a disservice. If you’re trying to take down a large-field tourney, go out there – and be bold!

Saturday Evening Update

It’s been an interesting week, with no major line movements, no major news, and nothing much to change our perspective on the slate. As such, I’ll take a moment to reiterate what I said throughout the article:

There are a ton of affordable, high-floor, high-ceiling plays on this week’s slate! I strongly encourage you to not overthink things in cash games, and even in single-entry and small-field tourneys.

On the other hand…

There are so many “affordable, high-floor, high-ceiling plays” that some will become chalky, while others somehow go entirely overlooked – and there will also be plenty of “moderate-floor, high-ceiling” plays that go overlooked. It’s a great week to think for yourself – taking good plays across the board, while also being different from the field. For example: Is Giovani Bernard the best salary-saver? Of course! But if we played this slate a thousand times, would he (at 20ish touches in a mediocre matchup) outscore Frank Gore (at 18ish touches in a great matchup) 10 times out of 11? Because that’s what the projected ownership gap is on DraftKings. Would he outscore Gore 35 times out of 36? Because that’s the projected ownership gap on FanDuel (and on FanDuel – with half-PPR scoring and a more touchdown-heavy format – the gap between the two should be even closer!). What if Gio posts 15 points and makes those who rostered him in cash games as happy as can be…but what if everyone who spent down on Gio in tourneys to fit in Hopkins/Gurley end up with only around 45 total points from the three? That’s not a crazy scenario, you know. Gurley is facing a team that is allowing under 50 rushing yards per game to running backs, and Hopkins has Tom Savage at quarterback. As I detailed in the article and in my Player Grid, I like these guys. I don’t expect a bad game. But 15 points for these high-priced guys is not a crazy scenario. What if that happens, and instead of trying to pay up for every high-priced guy, you go mid-range across the board and manage to grab 20 points from those guys?

See what I’m saying?

Because ownership is going to congregate so heavily on one set of plays, you can mess around with different approaches in tourneys – taking slightly lesser plays, at far lower ownership.

Be creative this week if you are playing large-field tourneys. While everyone else loads up on a roster full of “the likeliest scenario,” you can take a “slightly less likely scenario” at far lower ownership, and put yourself in phenomenal shape if just one or two of the popular guys bust.

As for any game-specific updates:

There is no word on Stafford’s hand. It seems highly likely that he starts. It also seems likely we will not know whether or not he is capable of pushing the ball outside the numbers. This creates a lot of risk. But if Stafford is able to play like himself, he’ll generate monster returns (alongside Marvin Jones and Golden Tate), in a pristine matchup, at low ownership.

I’m surprised to see that Alex Smith is projected as the highest-owned QB. It won’t surprise me if he puts up 30 points. It also won’t surprise me if he puts up 13 or 14. Matchup has not been the issue for Alex Smith this season; Alex Smith has been the issue for Alex Smith this season. It’s crazy to me, sometimes, how heavily ownership is driven by recency bias. Alex Smith is the same guy he has been all season: a guy who can pop off for big games (especially if his opponent forces him to get aggressive), and a guy who can go into a shell and crater your lineup. Yes, the ceiling is there. No, there is no reason to peg his floor any differently than we have pegged it for the last two months.

Braxton Miller is officially out for the Texans, as is Alfred Blue. Will Fuller is officially in. The ripple effect: Andre Ellington should play in the slot, in addition to backing up Lamar Miller. This will lead to Miller getting a few more touches than normal. This will also lead to Ellington likely seeing five to eight targets and a couple carries. Stephen Anderson should mostly stick to tight end, with a few snaps from the slot; we can expect five to eight targets for him. Fuller should see a few deep shots, and Hopkins will be targeted relentlessly. The Over/Under on this game has risen two points late in the week – which obviously does not surprise us at all. This is my favorite game to stack, with both teams having guys who can score quickly, and with Jimmy Garoppolo providing a boost for San Fran’s fast-paced offense.

Tyrod Taylor looks unlikely to play. This should increase the workload for LeSean McCoy, and decrease the running lanes available. I’ll call “No Tyrod” a net loss for Shady, as Indy will focus on Shady and force Peterman to beat them. Even if Tyrod plays, his mobility will be hampered. I’m leaving the Bills alone – and while Shady obviously still has upside, his floor is lower than most are considering. I’m hoping he sticks at his high projected ownership and lands on the lower end of his scoring range (even if he doesn’t, I can likely find whatever score he posts in a less volatile spot).

We have no word on the hamstring injury for Sterling Shepard. I think there is slight risk there, but he’s still too cheap for his projected workload.

Zach Ertz looks on track to play against the Rams. The matchup remains an obstacle, but that matters less for Ertz than it does for mortals. As long as the workload is there (not a given, over the last couple months), he should do well.

That does it for late-week updates.

I’ll update my Player Grid again before I go to bed (at which point, some of you on the East Coast may be getting up…so I’ll post the “update time” once I make any changes).

A Quick Note, Before You Get Started

Even if you skip the “Week 13 Roster Review,” I strongly encourage you to read the section labeled “Looking Toward Week 14.” There are some important strategy notes in there for this particular week.

Let’s go!!!!

Week 13 Roster Review:

Jameis Winston
Carlos Hyde
Duke Johnson
DeAndre Hopkins
Davante Adams
Demaryius Thomas
Travis Kelce
Josh Reynolds
Chargers

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What I wrote before Kickoff:

This is a weird week – similar to three weeks ago – when I’m not really wrestling with anything leading up to kickoff. This team just makes a lot of sense to me.

Jameis has thrown the ball 38 or more times in five consecutive healthy starts – and has thrown for 300+ yards in four of those five. He’s taking on a top-eight run defense and a bottom-eight pass defense today, with his starting running back inactive, and his pass catchers healthy. He’s way too cheap for me to pass up at $5600.

Carlos Hyde is averaging 8.3 targets per game across the last month and a half – which would have him priced at about $6500 if he were a wide receiver. He also gets to add carries, and he ranks second in the NFL in carries inside the five-yard-line…and with that, he’s only $5900.

Duke Johnson might seem out of place on this squad, but he has been a lock all season for nine receiving points each week, as a floor. Carries and scoring opportunities add “ceiling” from there – vs a team that has allowed the most running back rush yards and the most running back receptions in the NFL.

DeAndre Hopkins has the highest floor of any wide receiver not named Antonio Brown. He’s going to get his targets every game, and he’s taking on a Titans squad that has allowed the third-most wide receiver catches in the NFL.

Davante Adams is reliably seeing eight to 10 targets every week from Brett Hundley, and he’s in the best matchup a wide receiver can have. I would love to make it up to Thielen here in a great matchup with Brian Poole and Desmond Trufant out – but realistically, expectations are pretty similar for these two.

Demaryius Thomas is going to go over-drafted for his actual expectation, as he was only averaging 11.5 points per game when Trevor Siemian was under center earlier in the year. But still: his floor is about 10 points, and he’s only $5300. He could easily pop off for 20 to 25 points as well. Easy to lock him in for cash games and small-field tourneys.

Kelce is just as good of a play as Gronk, on paper – even though ownership is going to swing heavily toward Gronk in this spot. I had a choice between going Alex Collins / Gronk, or going Duke Johnson / Kelce. Because of the guaranteed receiving floor, I like Duke more than Collins – so I’m rolling Kelce here, as a “somehow not chalky” option.

It’s been fairly automatic for me this season to pick a receiver against the Cardinals that Patrick Peterson is not covering. Last week, Reynolds saw six targets in the absence of Robert Woods, while Sammy Watkins saw nine. With Patrick Peterson on Watkins this week, those numbers could easily flip-flop – making Reynolds a fantastic value at only $3500.

I wanted to pay up for the Chargers or Jags this week on defense, as I fully expect at least 10 points from each team as a “floor,” with upside for 20+. Because the Chargers force targets to the outside and are taking on Deshone Kizer, they will have numerous pick-six opportunities, and hopefully they capitalize on one or two!

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What I wrote for this article on Sunday evening – after this team absolutely bombed(!):

Now that was hilarious.

Longtime readers of the NFL Edge and other articles of mine may recall that my greatest weakness in DFS is my tendency toward streakiness. When things are going well for me, I can usually keep it going for a while. When things take a turn for the worse, I sometimes find myself overthinking everything – and building rosters that cause me to say, in retrospect, “What on Earth was I thinking?”

After a month-long hot streak that culminated in a pair of $10k tourney cashes in Week 11 and a sweat for a $100k win on Thanksgiving day, I made some plain dumb decisions in Week 12 (as documented in this space). In Week 13, I didn’t make quite as many “plain dumb” decisions – but I did fail to trust myself and my research as fully as I typically do.

The biggest mistake was playing things safe with Demaryius Thomas when I liked Marqise Lee more, and the other biggest mistake was failing to use Alex Collins on my main team. I didn’t love Kenyan Drake – which I’m fine with. He was going to get 15+ carries and some pass game work, but he still plays for a team that was averaging only 79.2 yards per carry on the ground. As I made clear last week, there were also plenty of arguments for playing him – and things worked out great for those who did. But “if Aaron Jones was out,” I liked Jamaal Williams more, and either way, I liked Alex Collins more.

I didn’t play Williams with Aaron Jones active – which I also do not regret. There was no news to indicate Jones was active “in case of emergency only” (which, it seems, was the case – as Jones _did not touch the ball until overtime), and as such, I played it safe and assumed Williams’ workload would take a hit. (Williams did put up the sort of game I expected “if Jones was out” – which, in spite of Jones being active, was essentially the case.)

Somehow, however (as shown above), I went with a Kelce / Duke Johnson pairing, in my “either/or” between Kelce/Duke and Gronk/Collins. Yes, Duke Johnson had shown a reliable floor from pass game involvement alone of nine points per game, with six to 10 carries mixed in each week – against the team allowing the most catches and the most rushing yards to running backs. While it’s not a play people typically make, it looks like more of a fish play than it is; Duke came into his best matchup of the season averaging 13.3 DraftKings points per game – which is way more than anyone else in his price range averages. But he was still a split-workload back, while Collins was set to take almost all the carries in his best matchup in a while.

I decided to double-down on mistakes by sticking with Josh Reynolds in my flex spot, after Theo Riddick became available as the Lions’ “starting running back” for $100 less. With Patrick Peterson expected to be on Sammy Watkins, Reynolds’ output (two catches for six yards – on six targets, with him losing his footing at the one-yard-line on one of his catches) was about his worst-case scenario…and Riddick’s touchdown was a low-percentage expectation, as he is rarely given work close to the end zone. But his workload and targets were so locked-in, it made no sense to avoid him.

The toughest thing, I have found – if you get into one of these ruts yourself – is realizing that timid plays do not win in DFS. You have to be bold, and you have to make plays (like Alex Collins) that are contrarian “simply because no one else is seeing what you are seeing,” rather than because they are bad plays. At the same time, you have to be willing to take “the most obvious play” (such as Riddick) when it is “the most obvious” for very good reason.

With that: it is time for me to put Week 13 behind me. It’s time for all of us to treat Week 14 as a brand new week – not tied to the previous week’s wins or losses. And it’s time for us to start prepping for a hot finish to the season.

Let’s crush Week 14, and beyond!

Looking Toward Week 14

The discussion above – about “not overthinking things,” but “still making bold moves” – fits wonderfully with this week’s slate.

As we make our way through this week’s games, you will see that there are a lot of “really obvious, really great plays.” In my opinion, this is a fantastic week to go chalky in cash games (or, at least, what I expect will be “chalky”).

Consequently, it’s a great week to either A) go heavier in cash games and lighter in tourneys, or B) go heavier-than-normal in tourneys – while loading up on “the good plays no one is likely to be on.”

I’ll likely lean with Option A myself – going heavier in cash games and lighter in tourneys. This week sets up well for me to go heavy in cash, with my style of play – in which I worry less about ownership, and more about “Who I feel the best plays genuinely are.” Some weeks (the Robert Woods 40-point week, for example), “Who I feel the best plays genuinely are” also happens to be super contrarian plays. On those week, it makes sense for me to attack tourneys more heavily. But on a week such as this – in which I feel the (expected) chalk is super strong – it makes sense for me to stick with the style of play I am best at (i.e., “Picking who I feel are the best plays, regardless of ownership”) – even if that means landing on chalky guys. And as such, I expect to be fairly chalky this week – and to maybe pull back to just the $1500 and $333 tourneys on DraftKings, while throwing a ton of money into double-ups.

Alternately, if you are super “game theory driven” in your tourney approach, this is a great week to realize that there are great plays this week that will not be chalk. There are plays that are going to go overlooked, simply because there are so many truly strong plays, in truly good spots, at affordable prices. While ownership congregates on plays that are only slightly better than the others, you can shift your attention to the plays that are only slightly less good – garnering far lower ownership, at nearly the same point expectation.

Along the way in this article, I will make note of the plays I feel are the best, and the plays I feel are in the next tier. As with last week, I’ll also provide a more comprehensive look on Saturday afternoon (around 4:00 PM Eastern) of how I am viewing the slate from a “micro” perspective with my player grid.

Finally: This is not a great week to go way off the board. I’ll highlight the “off-the-board” plays – in my research, and in my Interpretation section – that are potentially viable. But with enough “great chalk” this week to cause ownership to congregate in a handful of spots, and with these spots being genuinely quality spots, and with there being other “genuinely quality spots” to which you can pivot, it’s a poor week to expect “way off the board” plays to take down tourneys. We should expect a high-scoring DFS week this week. As such, you should be gunning for a higher score than you would normally feel you need in order to take down a tourney. We should try to avoid the “cheap guys who can get us 3x (on DraftKings) or 2.5x (on FanDuel).” That likely won’t be enough this week. Instead, we’ll need the guys who can go off – who can get 15 points in a “bad game,” and can get you 25 to 30 if all goes well. If you can find a player at each position who fits that description (hint: you can this week), you’ll be in great shape heading into the weekend: racking up big money if all your guys hit, and riding a safe floor to profit even if a few of your guys miss.

Saints at Falcons

Vegas-Implied Total: Saints 26.5, Falcons 25.5

KEY MATCHUPS:

Falcons Run D – 31st DVOA / 27th Yards allowed per carry
Saints Run O – 1st DVOA / 1st Yards per carry

Falcons Pass D – 19th DVOA / 4th Yards allowed per pass attempt
Saints Pass O – 6th DVOA / 3rd Yards per pass attempt

Saints Run D – 27th DVOA / 29th Yards allowed per carry
Falcons Run O – 8th DVOA / 8th Yards per carry

Saints Pass D – 5th DVOA / 16th Yards allowed per pass attempt
Falcons Pass O – 9th DVOA / 6th Yards per pass attempt

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LEVEL I – The Research

This is an awesome game for Thursday Night Football – one of the rare times when we get a pair of good teams, in a meaningful matchup. That has little to do with DFS, but it should be a fun game to watch – and while there are some really good things these defenses do, this should also skew toward scoring, which will make it a nice DFS game as well.

Vegas agrees with this sentiment, though not to the extent that the oddsmakers thought would be the case when they set the line. While this spot sports an Over/Under of 52.0, this is down two and a half points from where it opened, at 54.5. This can be the result of any number of things – but more than likely, this drop came from sharp bettors pounding the Under when the line was first posted. Given that these two teams lean so heavily on their run games, and given that both teams are far easier to attack on the ground, it makes sense that scoring may not quite reach the lofty expectations Vegas initially set.

While both of these teams have built their reputation on a strong passing attack, the Falcons rank 19th in passing play percentage, and the Saints rank 23rd. Until forced to do otherwise, both of these teams prefer to keep the ball on the ground.

On the Atlanta side of things, this has not led to many usable fantasy outings, as Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman have split time in a value-sapping manner, while Atlanta is averaging only 59.9 plays per game – the fourth-fewest in the NFL. With Atlanta also ranking middle of the pack (14th) in red zone touchdown percentage, there are simply not enough reliable opportunities for either of these backs to be viewed as a “high-floor” play – even against a Saints team that ranks fifth in DVOA against the pass, but 27th against the run.

The “play volume” issues for the Falcons are also impacting their receiving corps, as Julio Jones is vacuuming up 42.38% of the team’s air yards (third most in the NFL), on a team that is averaging only 32.5 pass attempts per game, and has been under 30 pass attempts in four of their last six games. The Falcons also have a number of strongly-viable “number two” weapons – between the running backs, Mohamed Sanu, and Austin Hooper – which means only about 58% of the team’s air yards remain after Julio, on a low-volume passing attack, with plenty of viable weapons for these remaining air yards to be distributed to.

There is a chance the Saints take a big, early lead and force the Falcons to throw more heavily. The likeliest scenario, however, is that this game stays close, and that the Falcons attack heavily on the ground against a team that is tough on the pass and easy on the run. This “likeliest scenario” would lead to iffy pass game volume. But you can play an “alternate route” in tourneys and hope the Saints take a big lead, and that the Falcons take to the air as a result.

The chances of the Saints ‘taking a big lead’ will depend largely on Alvin Kamara, who is locked in as the top running back play of the weekend as Mark Ingram deals with a toe injury that has him genuinely questionable. Atlanta is allowing the most running back receptions in the NFL, and the sixth-most yards per carry in the NFL. Ingram is a game-time call, which means that even if he plays, there is a strong chance he does not take his normal workload.

When the Saints attack through the air (which is something they have also avoided more than normal this year – as Drew Brees is averaging 33.9 pass attempts per game, after reliably sitting around 40 attempts per game every season for years), the first place they look is Michael Thomas. As discussed a few weeks ago: Thomas’ targets actually went up as Brees’ attempts went down, which highlights the “Thomas first” nature of this passing attack. Thomas has at least eight targets in all but one game this year, and while the matchup against Desmond Trufant is a definite downgrade, Thomas’ red zone involvement (five red zone touches all year…compared to 62 combined red zone touches for Ingram and Kamara) figures to see a slight bump if Ingram is out.

The rest of the Saints’ passing attack is an afterthought behind Thomas and the running backs, but as always, Ted Ginn is the first guy to get involved when volume rises; he has games in the last four weeks of one and three targets, but he also has games of six and 11.

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LEVEL II – Pause For Self-Interpretation

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LEVEL IIIJM’s Interpretation

If Marshon Lattimore makes it onto the field, Julio Jones will have a tough matchup on the outside vs Lattimore and Ken Crawley, Mohamed Sanu will have a tough matchup in the slot vs Kenny Vaccaro, and Austin Hooper will have a tough matchup vs a team that has allowed the second-fewest tight end receptions in the NFL. This should lead to extra targets going to Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman – making each guy (Freeman first, Coleman second) viable on the smaller slates. On the larger slates, these guys are viable in tourneys, as it’s not unrealistic to expect one of them to top 20 points with “touches and targets likely filtered to them, in a likely high-scoring game.” But there are certainly safer plays on the larger slates, with similar (or better) ceiling expectations.

If Lattimore is out, Julio becomes slightly more intriguing, though the Saints will definitely have a plan in place to try to limit Julio…and the issues for Julio this year, of course, have had little to do with “talent,” and tons to do with “volume.” As I said last week when Julio squared off with Xavier Rhodes: he’s good enough to post a good DFS score against any defense if he sees 12+ targets; but Matt Ryan and Steve Sarkisian have refused to force the issue with Julio in tougher matchups. As such, I expect volume to disappoint for Julio this week (think seven or eight targets if Lattimore plays; maybe nine or 10 if Lattimore is out), but he’s always good for a tourney shot given his talent and upside “if the workload is there.” He’s not a lock even if Lattimore misses, but I would like him a bit more in that scenario.

The rest of the Falcons’ passing attack is just a “guess and hope for the best” setup: totally fine if you don’t mind hunting for upside in tourneys while taking on a low floor, but definitely nothing bordering on “priority.”

Kamara is as locked-in as can be this week, in a great matchup, with his counterpart (Ingram) either out of action or limited. Only Todd Gurley and Le’Veon Bell are scoring more fantasy points per game than Kamara among running backs…and he has not yet touched the ball more than 17 times in a game. If he sees 17 touches this week, he’s an excellent play. If he sees 25+, he could break daily fantasy sports.

The fact that this game is on the road for the Saints heightens the chances of the game staying close, or of the Saints even falling behind. That’s enough to make Thomas a strong play on the smaller slates, and to make Ginn a viable tourney dart. Thomas’ tough matchup and low touchdown expectation knocks him below some of the “main slate” guys I like, but he’s always a great “floor” option, with decent upside, in any spot. The ancillary pieces on the Saints are not appealing to me on the larger slates, with how much we have to like in other spots – but you could always “guess right” and land on 20+ points from one of these guys if you want to absorb a super low floor in search of your upside.

Packers at Browns

Vegas-Implied Total: Packers 21.75, 18.75

KEY MATCHUPS:

Browns Run D – 1st DVOA / 1st Yards allowed per carry
Packers Run O – 3rd DVOA / 5th Yards per carry

Browns Pass D – 26th DVOA / 25th Yards allowed per pass attempt
Packers Pass O – 21st DVOA / 23rd Yards per pass attempt

Packers Run D – 9th DVOA / 10th Yards allowed per carry
Browns Run O – 7th DVOA / 9th Yards per carry

Packers Pass D – 21st DVOA / 29th Yards allowed per pass attempt
Browns Pass O – 32nd DVOA / 31st Yards per pass attempt

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LEVEL I – The Research

While the narratives surrounding DeShone Kizer and the Browns as a whole have been distinctly negative this year, it is very much worth taking note of the matchups Kizer has had this year with Corey Coleman on the field:

Steelers, Ravens, Jaguars, Bengals, Chargers.

All five of those teams rank in the top 12 in “fewest wide receiver catches allowed” and “fewest fantasy points allowed per game to quarterbacks.” In fact, four of those teams rank in the top seven in “fewest fantasy points allowed per game to quarterbacks.” Basically, in games with a usable weapon on the field, Kizer has had the toughest schedule a quarterback can have. In his games without Coleman, he has has to deal with Ricardo Louis, Rashard Higgins, and a mailed-in Kenny Britt as his “go-to receivers.” We have not yet seen what Kizer can do at the NFL level in a good matchup with good weapons. While he has accuracy issues and decision-making flaws, he also has a big arm, and is almost certainly a better quarterback than, say, Tom Savage.

Why bring up Tom Savage? Because DeAndre Hopkins has had one of the highest floors in the NFL this year with Savage chucking him the ball – and last week, Josh Gordon was proactively schemed 11 targets in his first NFL game in three years. Against what is easily a top-three cornerback tandem, Gordon turned these looks into four catches for 85 yards. Gordon should be in line for a similar target load this week, against a Packers team allowing the fourth-most receptions and the fifth-most yards to wide receivers, with a completion rate to wide receivers of 65.2%.

While Corey Coleman saw his targets drop last week to only four, I’m not ready to call this a trend; Coleman is not Josh Gordon (there are few wide receivers in NFL history who are capable of the level of play Gordon is capable of), but Coleman has the tools to be a true number one receiver on half the teams in the NFL; if his targets return to the “seven or eight” range, he’ll be in a great spot as well.

Generally speaking, Kizer can be relied on to throw the ball around 30 to 32 times each game – with upside for more. Last week, the running backs saw their targets drop to a combined five looks (in the best possible matchup for running back catches), after reliably seeing seven to 10 combined looks for much of the season. I do expect this will be a trend, as Kizer showed a willingness last week to push the ball outside the numbers to Gordon in tight coverage even when the running backs were open for easy completions. Against a Packers defense that is tough to run on and easy to pass on, this lowers expectations across the board for the Browns’ backs.

David Njoku ranks 10th in the NFL in yards per pass route run, and the Browns seem to finally be getting him more involved. If that continues, he will make for a nice value – even against a Packers team allowing the fifth-fewest catches and the fourth-fewest yards to the position.

Brett Hundley took a big step back last week in a best-possible matchup, and with Aaron Rodgers set to return in Week 15, this could be the last start of Hundley’s career, considering what he has shown so far (he certainly won’t be getting phone calls for starting quarterback jobs anytime soon). The Packers have tried to lean on the run more with Hundley under center, but against a Browns team that ranks first in both DVOA against the run and yards allowed per carry, he’ll likely be asked to do a bit more.

The Browns provide stout coverage against wide receivers, but they are allowing a completion rate north of 62% to the position, and the Packers rely so heavily on the short passing game, we should see a decent number of short, easy completions for this squad. Davante Adams has been Hundley’s preferred target, with eight or more targets in four of his last five games. Randall Cobb saw zero targets last week, has not topped six with Hundley, and has four or fewer in five of his last seven games (he also has the lowest average depth of target among all NFL receivers). Jordy Nelson saw eight targets last week, but he turned these looks into a 5-17-0 line; he has not topped 35 receiving yards in almost two months.

Jamaal Williams has likely earned a large role in the Packers’ rushing attack moving forward (though we were saying the same about Ty Montgomery early in the year, before the Packers started moving away from him). Regardless of the health of Aaron Jones, we should feel fairly comfortable penciling in Williams for 20+ touches; the Browns are obviously very tough on running backs, but they are perfectly attackable through the air with the position, and Williams has 14 targets and 10 catches across his last three games.

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LEVEL II – Pause For Self-Interpretation

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LEVEL IIIJM’s Interpretation

I love Kizer this week. He’s one of my favorite tourney plays in a pass-funnel spot with one of the most explosive wide receiver duos in the NFL. He showed a willingness last week to chuck the ball up to Gordon, which raises his floor in this spot. He has underrated upside, and I won’t even be surprised to find Kizer on my cash team with how cheap he is.

Gordon is the most underpriced player on the slate. I don’t think there is an ownership percentage that would get me off him this week. Hue Jackson has appeared to be in over his head as the Browns’ head coach, but he has long had a reputation as a talent maximizer – a guy who knows how to use his best players – and the massive target share given to Gordon last week is an excellent sign. Feel free to fade Gordon from a game theory perspective, as it’s football and random things happen; but we should expect around 10 targets for Gordon, and we should expect him to go at least 6-80-0 in a “bad game.” He has the upside to be the highest-scoring wide receiver on the slate.

Coleman is a guy I love in tourneys. We are completely guessing on his workload, and he could certainly land at four or five targets again. But much like Marqise Lee last week (coming off matchups against Jason McCourty and Patrick Peterson, and going under-owned as a result), there is an excellent chance that things rebound to “normal” this week, which also gives Coleman 20-point upside. He’s a moderate-risk, monster-upside tourney option for me.

David Njoku is appealing as a deeper tourney play (though the matchup is tough). The Browns’ backfield is not catching my eye. And I’ll likely leave the Packers’ receivers alone (I’m calling for the Browns to get their first win this week – and while sacks and turnovers will remain a problem for Kizer, his willingness and ability to launch the ball downfield with Gordon in the mix will limit the opportunities for pick-sixes and/or super short fields for the Packers’ offense; as such, Hundley is likely to have to march the whole field against this underrated defense). If going to the Packers’ receivers, Davante Adams is the most appealing, given his connection with Hundley.

Jamaal Williams is a borderline play for me. Similar to Joe Mixon two weeks ago vs the Browns and Kenyan Drake last week vs the Broncos: the floor is solid between the expected workload and the pass game involvement, with a solid “floor projection” of around eight points on FanDuel and 10 points on DraftKings. That should be what a “bad game” looks like, and a couple touchdowns or broken plays could lead to a really nice day. I won’t be surprised if I land here, as Williams is “a safe guy whose salary allows me to fit in other guys I want,” but I’ll definitely be looking for a play I feel has a better shot at 20+ points. The Browns’ strong run defense puts a dent in Williams’ chances of putting up a big game.

Lions at Buccaneers

Vegas-Implied Total: N/A

KEY MATCHUPS:

Buccaneers Run D – 22nd DVOA / 24th Yards allowed per carry
Lions Run O – 29th DVOA / 31st Yards per carry

Buccaneers Pass D – 31st DVOA / 31st Yards allowed per pass attempt
Lions Pass O – 13th DVOA / 7th Yards per pass attempt

Lions Run D – 25th DVOA / 18th Yards allowed per carry
Buccaneers Run O – 26th DVOA / 29th Yards per carry

Lions Pass D – 16th DVOA / 24th Yards allowed per pass attempt
Buccaneers Pass O – 12th DVOA / 15th Yards per pass attempt

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LEVEL I – The Research

This game is missing a line at the moment, and probably will be until we get information on Matthew Stafford (which may not come until Sunday). Stafford’s right (throwing) hand was stepped on last week, and while the hand was not broken, it is damaged, which could be an issue even if Stafford makes it onto the field.

That makes this game more complicated to break down than it otherwise would be. If Stafford were 100% healthy, the best way to break down this game would be to point out that Marvin Jones has seven or more targets in seven of his last eight games, with nine or more looks in half those games, and with a downfield role that carries tons of upside. And Golden Tate – while taking his average target even closer to the line of scrimmage than Jarvis Landry – has also seen seven or more targets in seven of eight games, and is taking on a Tampa defense that has gotten destroyed by slot receivers this year. If Stafford were healthy, Jones and Tate would be two of the best plays on the slate from a floor/ceiling perspective, they would be playable on the same roster (along with Stafford), and they would be worth considering in tourneys even if they became chalk. To put that another way: if reports emerge late in the week that Stafford’s hand is completely fine, you should immediately bump up your expectations for Tate and Jones, considering them two of the best plays on the slate…

In the absence of such news, however, each guy needs to be viewed as an iffy play. The Lions rank 29th in DVOA on the ground and 31st in yards per carry, and as such, they rank fourth in the NFL in passing play percentage. Even though the Bucs are attackable on the ground, the Lions would typically be expected to go heavy through the air. But if Stafford is forced to miss, Jake Rudock will be under center – which could lead to the Lions leaning heavier on the run, and to targets for Jones/Tate being less effective than normal. In the likelier event of Stafford starting, but of his hand potentially causing issues, we can view Jones’/Tate’s ceilings the same way we would in this matchup with a healthy Stafford…but we will also need to acknowledge that the “unknowns” of Stafford’s ability to effectively deliver the ball will force us to lower “floor” expectations on these guys.

In the absence of Ameer Abdullah last week (who looks likely to miss again), Theo Riddick had nine carries while Tion Green had 11. Riddick added five catches on five targets, while Green saw zero targets through the air. If Abdullah returns, expect this backfield to return to its normal state. If Abdullah is out, a similar distribution between Riddick and Green is likely.

Jameis Winston looked rusty last week – regularly misfiring and missing throws he would usually make – and Tampa leaned on the run more than normal, throwing the ball only 52.7% of the time (compared to a 62.3% mark – good for seventh in the NFL – on the season). If Rudock is under center, or if the Lions are forced to play conservatively with Stafford, we should see the Lions lean on the run a bit more, take time off the clock between plays, and try to shorten the game. This would render Jameis and the Tampa passing attack a bit useless – especially after they showed a willingness last week to go run-heavy (the reason we roster the Bucs’ passing attack is for volume above all else, as neither Jameis Winston, Mike Evans, nor DeSean Jackson is great from an efficiency standpoint). If, on the other hand, Stafford is healthy and capable of his normal level of play (which, again, we are unlikely to know for sure until we see him on the field), we should expect the Lions to score points, which will force the Bucs to the air.

If we get news before Sunday that Stafford looks 100%, or if you want to guess in tourneys that Stafford will look 100% once we see him on the field, expect 38+ pass attempts from Jameis (as he had in five consecutive healthy games before last week), with Evans likely seeing around 10 or 11 of those looks, DeSean Jackson seeing seven to nine, and Cameron Brate seeing five to seven. Pro Football Focus has charted Darius Slay as allowing a completion rate of 57% this year, with a quarterback rating allowed of 67.5, and with more interceptions (four) than touchdowns allowed (three). He’ll likely be on Evans. But given the target share and Evans’ ability to high-point jump balls, he maintains worthwhile upside. DeSean is always a risky play, as a top-five aDOT guy (i.e., if his bevy of deep targets fall incomplete, he’s getting you very little), but his upside remains. And Brate has a great matchup vs a Detroit defense that ranks 31st in DVOA against the tight end position, and has the same number of red zone targets (13) as Mike Evans.

The Bucs rushing attack ranks 26th in DVOA and 29th in yards per carry. Last week, Peyton Barber looked better than Doug Martin has looked all season, but Doug Martin appears on track to return this week, which leaves us guessing on usage on a bad rushing attack.

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LEVEL II – Pause For Self-Interpretation

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LEVEL IIIJM’s Interpretation

On a week with plenty of affordable plays that I feel are extremely high-floor, with nice upside – and with several other affordable plays on this slate with a high floor and high upside – no one on the Bucs fits what I want to target this week (that being: a high floor and a high ceiling from every guy on my roster – which is what I optimally want every week, but it’s particularly feasible this week). Even if we get word that Stafford is healthy, Evans and Jackson have too broad a range for me to have personal interest. The same goes for Jameis. And if we don’t get word about Stafford, you’re first having to guess that Stafford will be able to play to his usual standards, and you’re second having to guess that Jameis and co. will do well in a middling matchup. To be clear: Jameis Winston, Mike Evans, and DeSean Jackson all have a reasonable chance of hitting in this spot, and – as laid out above – there are definitely paths by which one or two of these guys will get you a nice game. But on a week like this, I’ll eliminate that level of “guesswork” myself. It should go without saying that this applies to the Bucs’ backfield for me as well. The one piece on the Bucs I could lean toward regardless is Cameron Brate, who is a favorite target for Jameis, with the best matchup in the Bucs’ passing attack. He’s particularly underpriced on DraftKings this week.

The Lions are a different story. I may or may not avoid the backfield, even if Abdullah is out, as it’s still going to be a split workload – with Tion Green seeing little pass game involvement, and with Theo Riddick the less likely of the two to score a touchdown. With that said, Riddick is appealing to me as a still-underpriced guy who should touch the ball 15 times, and who may be used even more heavily through the air if Rudock is under center, or if Stafford is forced to rely on shorter passes.

As for Marvin Jones and Golden Tate: I would like to eliminate guesswork as much as possible this week, as it’s so easy to grab a high floor across the board (and most of our competition will outsmart themselves along the way – taking on too many low-floor guys that bomb on what should be an easy week to post a high score). But the upside on these guys is so high if Stafford is his healthy self, they remain appealing in tourneys. Marvin Jones, after all, is capable of posting the top score on the slate in a spot like this; and even a hand-hurt Stafford could deliver the ball enough times to Tate for him to grab eight or nine balls and top 100 yards. Without concrete word on Stafford’s health, Tate still maintains a fairly solid floor in this matchup, and there is even a chance he sees more work than normal (along with Riddick) if Stafford is forced to stick to short throws. (The same can be said – though with more risk – if Rudock is under center.) Without concrete word on Stafford’s health, Jones will take on a very low floor – but his ceiling is high enough that he would still be worth considering in tourneys this week.

Of course, Stafford could just go ahead and be fully healthy – and we could get word before Sunday that this is the case. In that scenario, Jones and Tate will be excellent plays in all formats, along with Stafford; all three could be used on a team together.

Raiders at Chiefs

Vegas-Implied Total: Chiefs 25.75, Raiders 21.75

KEY MATCHUPS:

Chiefs Run D – 30th DVOA / 19th Yards allowed per carry
Raiders Run O – 10th DVOA / 19th Yards per carry

Chiefs Pass D – 24th DVOA / 23rd Yards allowed per pass attempt
Raiders Pass O – 10th DVOA / 17th Yards per pass attempt

Raiders Run D – 19th DVOA / 13th Yards allowed per carry
Chiefs Run O – 5th DVOA / 2nd Yards per carry

Raiders Pass D – 32nd DVOA / 27th Yards allowed per pass attempt
Chiefs Pass O – 8th DVOA / 4th Yards per pass attempt

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LEVEL I – The Research

Amari Cooper has been cleared from his concussion, but as of Wednesday night, he still needs to recover from his ankle injury in order to see the field. On the front end of the week, it seems likely that Cooper will take the field, though he will obviously need to get in a practice or two late in the week in order to confirm that. Thankfully, this game kicks off early, so we’ll have word on this an hour and a half before kickoff, at latest.

This situation takes on added significance this week, given what Amari Cooper did the last time these teams faced: 11 catches for 210 yards and two touchdowns. Typically, this would be a good spot to say, “Remember that this is a division game, and common opponents rarely get burned in the same way twice in the same season. Bob Sutton will surely come up with a plan this week to try to slow down Cooper.” This would almost always be true, but the Chiefs have been without a plan for a while now…and unless the suspension gets overturned before the weekend, the Chiefs will also be without All Pro corner Marcus Peters this week. You’re probably aware that I have less respect for Peters as a cover corner than most (Peters’ reputation is built on his playmaking – but this should not be confused with him being a shutdown force as a cover corner), but there is no denying that the loss of their best player in the secondary will have an adverse effect on an already reeling Chiefs pass defense. The Chiefs rank 28th in Football Outsiders’ adjusted sack rate, and they have allowed the seventh-most catches, the second-most yards, and the second-most touchdowns to wide receivers. If Amari is healthy this week, expect him to see seven to 10 targets, as he has in each of his last three healthy games (following his 19-target game against the Chiefs); he can only be expected to catch about half of his targets (the Chiefs are allowing a completion rate to wide receivers of only 56.7%, and Cooper has caught a pathetic 49.4% of his looks this year), but this still brings upside for a 100-yard game, with additional upside if the looks spike again.

Michael Crabtree has seen seven to 11 targets in five of his last six games (excluding the game in which he got ejected). He has a lower ceiling for explosive yardage than Cooper has, but he is a better bet for a touchdown; since Week 1, Crabtree has six targets inside the 10-yard-line, while Cooper has three.

Jared Cook has the toughest matchup vs a KC defense that has allowed the third-fewest receptions in the NFL to tight ends.

Derek Carr has really failed to get in sync all season, but the Chiefs are allowing the fifth-most fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks, which makes this a good spot for him to get on track. The Chiefs are more dangerous at home, but with no pass rush and no Marcus Peters, the fans at Arrowhead shouldn’t be enough to scare you away if you like Carr this week.

The Raiders’ backfield is difficult to get a read on, for me. After keeping Marshawn Lynch to 16 or fewer touches in eight consecutive games, the Raiders gave him the ball 29 times two weeks ago, and 19 times last week. I’m hesitant to call this a trend, as it would not be surprising if he suddenly drops to 12 or 14 touches without warning. But if he does see the work again (which is likely in a “must win” game for Oakland), the Chiefs rank 30th in DVOA against the run, and they rank 19th in yards allowed per carry.

Kansas City has consistently shown an ability to keep pace with teams that score against them, as five of their six losses have been losses of seven or fewer points. But they have shown an inability to put up points until forced to do so. As such, Chiefs players would be optimally played with Raiders players on the same roster. You could capture a 20-point game from Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill, or even Kareem Hunt without the Raiders putting up points, but your chances of capturing one of these games go way up if the Raiders are scoring points as well.

This is a good matchup for Tyreek Hill, who will be taking on an Oakland secondary that struggles with speedy pass catchers. He has exactly six to eight targets in all but three games this year, so unless this turns into a shootout, you will need Hill to catch one of his deep passes or turn one of his short targets into a big play.

Travis Kelce is the safest player in this game, on either side of the ball, with seven or more targets in all but three games this year, and with 14 red zone targets (ranking 11th in the NFL). The Raiders are a bottom eight tight end defense.

Kareem Hunt has a decent matchup vs a Raiders team that ranks middle of the pack in both DVOA and yards allowed per carry. Hunt has only eight carries inside the 10-yard-line this year (for perspective: 27 running backs have more such looks), as the Chiefs have struggled to march close to the end zone. He’ll likely need a long score or an unusual “close to the end zone” carry to pay off in a big way, but he should get his usual 15 to 18 carries and four or five targets.

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LEVEL II – Pause For Self-Interpretation

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LEVEL IIIJM’s Interpretation

Because Michael Crabtree hasn’t topped 83 yards this year, and because Amari can’t be counted on for more than 10 targets, and can’t be counted on to catch more than five of those passes, I’ll likely have less interest in Crabtree and Cooper than others will have. If I approached DFS differently – for example, if I built 150 lineups each week using a lineup builder, and I tried to narrow things down to my “15 or 20 favorite wide receivers” for my player pool – I would definitely have these two in the mix. But if I’m looking to narrow things down to my four to six favorite wide receivers on the slate, for a single-lineup or limited-lineup approach (which is what I almost always do), these two probably won’t make the cut for me. I definitely like the spot, though; the floor (especially on Crabtree) is nice, and the upside (especially on Cooper) is evident. There are simply some guys I feel have a better shot at hitting their upside. The same goes for Carr – though, again: you could definitely look at this spot with a different mindset and feel perfectly happy settling on any of these three.

Marshawn Lynch shapes up as a still-strong point-per-dollar play if he sees 16 to 20 carries and two or three catches once again this week. Because we are still sort of guessing on his usage, I’m not comfortable going here in cash.

The same can be said for Kareem Hunt (not a guy I’m gravitating toward in cash), though it won’t surprise me if Hunt pops off for one more big game before this season is over. That’s just not going to be the likeliest scenario, given the Chiefs’ issues this year getting close to the end zone.

Tyreek Hill is always a boom-or-bust play, but this sets up as a potential “boom” spot if you feel like rolling the dice. He’s an especially strong piece in a game stack if you think Carr and his receivers post a big day, as that’s the sort of setup in which Hill gets used more heavily/aggressively, and is more likely to land on the high end of his range. In this scenario, Alex Smith would evolve into a strong play as well.

Travis Kelce is viable in all formats. He’s the one guy in this game I feel entirely comfortable with – and while there is great value at tight end this week, I would certainly be fine finding Kelce on my team if I can fit him.

To add another layer to all this: while none of these guys (outside of Kelce) interest me as a “core piece of a single-entry approach,” this is one of the best spots on the week for a full game stack. This is a game both teams need (the winner takes an inside track on the division crown and a home playoff game; the loser becomes unlikely to land a playoff spot at all), and as such, we could see the aggressiveness ramp up as the game moves along. Teams can live with an important loss far more easily if they feel they were aggressive in pursuit of the win – and as such, most good coaches are willing to open things up a bit in games such as this one. If that happens, we could easily see a similar setup to the first time these teams played (a 31-30 Oakland win), with Cooper and Crabtree combining for 20+ targets, and with Tyreek Hill rising to nine or 10 looks on the Kansas City side. These guys don’t top my list in cash, or in a single-entry approach. But this game is a good one to stack if you want to take on a slightly lower floor in order to chase first place in a tourney.

Vikings at Panthers

Vegas-Implied Total: Vikings 21.75, Panthers 19.25

KEY MATCHUPS:

Panthers Run D – 5th DVOA / 15th Yards allowed per carry
Vikings Run O – 19th DVOA / 21st Yards per carry

Panthers Pass D – 8th DVOA / 13th Yards allowed per pass attempt
Vikings Pass O – 2nd DVOA / 8th Yards per pass attempt

Vikings Run D – 6th DVOA / 3rd Yards allowed per carry
Panthers Run O – 18th DVOA / 11th Yards per carry

Vikings Pass D – 9th DVOA / 3rd Yards allowed per pass attempt
Panthers Pass O – 17th DVOA / 21st Yards per pass attempt

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LEVEL I – The Research

On a week in which “high floor/ceiling combos” are unusually easy to afford, there are a lot of indicators in this game that warn of it as a stay-away spot in DFS.

Firstly, we have the Vegas-implied total, with neither team projected to break the scoreboard.

Secondly, we have defenses that rank second (Minnesota) and sixth (Carolina) in yards allowed, and that rank second (Minnesota) and 10th (Carolina) in points allowed.

We can carve out ways in which the Vikings post a nice fantasy score or two. That’s tougher to do with the Panthers, who have not been an offensive juggernaut this year (18th in yards, 16th in points), and who are taking on a top two defense. The one thing the Panthers have going for them is the fact that this game is at home.

Xavier Rhodes is having another strong season, allowing a completion rate of only 54.8% and a quarterback rating of 72.7 – while allowing only two touchdowns on the year. He’ll spend most of the day on Devin Funchess. Funchess has seen six or seven targets in four of his last five games.

Minnesota is strong against tight ends, but they are not lethal; Greg Olsen may return (again) this week, though workload will obviously be a concern.

As injuries have mounted on the Panthers, they have countered by leaning on their defense. The Panthers rank dead last in pace of play and 28th in passing play percentage – running at the fifth-highest rate in the NFL in spite of struggling on the ground with their running backs. The Panthers are less interested in aggressively chasing points, and are more interested in avoiding mistakes and letting their defense win for them. Jonathan Stewart has topped 68 rushing yards only once all year. He has topped 48 rushing yards in one of his last eight games.

Christian McCaffrey has five to seven targets in all but three games this year, while being held below 20 rushing yards in eight of 12 games on the season; only six teams have allowed fewer receiving yards to running backs than the Vikings have allowed.

In addition to playing above-average defense on a per-play basis, Carolina is facing the fewest opponent plays per game (aided by their slow-paced, run-heavy approach on offense – similar to the Cowboys a couple years ago). On a per-play basis, the Panthers aren’t too much better than average – and they are poor in the red zone, ranking 27th in opponent red zone touchdown percentage; but they allow so few opponent plays, it’s tough for teams to really put up big yardage or point totals against them.

With Minnesota also ranking 31st in passing play percentage, we should see a dent in volume this week for Case Keenum – which will be passed onto his pass catchers. With that said: Adam Thielen had seen eight or more targets in nine consecutive games before last week – which is usage we should see return this week. There is nothing for Thielen to fear in this spot from a “matchup” perspective.

While Thielen has reliably seen at least eight targets, Stefon Diggs has reliably failed to get eight targets; Diggs has four to seven targets in seven consecutive games. The matchup is not daunting, but there is no reason to expect targets to spike in this spot, either.

If volume through the air goes down for the Vikings, Kyle Rudolph may be the first to see usage taper off. No team has allowed fewer tight end targets, catches, or yards than the Panthers.

The Vikings continue to split work in the backfield between Jerick McKinnon and Latavius Murray, with McKinnon a reliable bet for 10 to 14 carries and four or five targets, and with Murray seeing 16 to 20 carries, limited pass game involvement, and the first crack at goal line work. The Panthers are tougher on running backs than they are on wide receivers, but they are not a massive downgrade to the position – outside of volume concerns for the Vikings’ offense as a whole.

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LEVEL II – Pause For Self-Interpretation

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LEVEL IIIJM’s Interpretation

I won’t be on the Panthers’ offense at all. In an “anything can happen” sense, you can definitely make a case for Cam Newton, and by extension, you could even take a shot on Devin Funchess or Christian McCaffrey. It won’t be shock if one of these guys posts a strong game, but there are much better spots on the slate.

There are better spots than the Vikings as well, though Thielen is always intriguing when we can pair his talent with low ownership. This matchup does not give him a boost in per-target expectations, and he is likelier to land on the low end (eight) of his general target range than the high end (12). But this matchup is also not a downgrade, which means it won’t be surprising if Thielen pops off. This is not the best week for chasing lower-expectation spots, but Thielen’s upside is high enough that you can definitely justify the chase.

Diggs is not justifiable for me on this slate. To be clear: probably once per season, it’s reasonable to expect Diggs to post a huge game on only seven or eight targets; and if he sees one of his random 11-target games, he could smash. But in a neutral matchup, with low volume expectations for the Vikings, it is not particularly likely that this is the spot in which Diggs reminds us of his ceiling. I’m also comfortable leaving Kyle Rudolph and the Vikings’ backfield alone.

49ers at Texans

Vegas-Implied Total: Texans 23.25, 49ers 20.25

KEY MATCHUPS:

Texans Run D – 10th DVOA / 16th Yards allowed per carry
49ers Run O – 14th DVOA / 14th Yards per carry

Texans Pass D – 15th DVOA / 30th Yards allowed per pass attempt
49ers Pass O – 26th DVOA / 25th Yards per pass attempt

49ers Run D – 20th DVOA / 8th Yards allowed per carry
Texans Run O – 21st DVOA / 17th Yards per carry

49ers Pass D – 30th DVOA / 26th Yards allowed per pass attempt
Texans Pass O – 16th DVOA / 20th Yards per pass attempt

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LEVEL I – The Research

Bad offenses?

Check.

Bad defenses?

Check.

Fast pace of play?

Check.

The 49ers rank 21st in yards per game and 29th in points per game, while the Texans have struggled to generate points since losing Deshaun Watson. Both teams rank in the bottom eight in points allowed per game. And San Francisco ranks first in pace of play, while Houston ranks fourth in situation neutral pace of play.

This is a classic “bad teams in a good spot” setup – and as we have been able to do a few times already this year, the best way to take advantage of a spot like this is by playing the “volume” game. Of course, when it comes to “volume,” one of the first players who comes to mind is DeAndre Hopkins.

Hopkins ranks second in the NFL in targets per game and fourth in the NFL in percentage share of team air yards. He ranks seventh in the NFL in red zone targets. He has 14 or more targets in three of his last five games. He has only three games all year below double-digit looks, and only one game below eight looks. He is as locked into his workload as any player in football, and San Francisco should provide extra volume for the Texans this week.

Because San Francisco has trailed so often this year, their fast pace of play – and all the resulting opponent plays (only three teams allow more opponent plays per game than San Fran) – is helping opposing running backs more than opposing pass catchers. No team in football has faced more running back rush attempts than San Francisco, and only four teams have allowed more rushing yards. The 49ers have also allowed the fifth-most completions to running backs. In spots like this, the Texans have been likelier to increase the workload for their number two back than to allow Lamar Miller to top 20 carries, so this should likely be viewed as a fairly neutral setup for Miller (an above-average, but not hugely advantageous matchup, with volume likely to remain in the same general range as normal), while Andre Ellington may see a little more time on the field. If Alfred Blue fails to get cleared from his concussion, however, I think it’s “more likely than normal” that Miller himself tops 20 carries.

With injuries to Bruce Ellington and Braxton Miller last week, Andre Ellington and Stephen Anderson also filled in with slot receiver duties. If Will Fuller returns this week, we will likely see Anderson and Ellington continuing to take snaps in the slot, though their actual target expectations will be iffy, as DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller will likely get the first crack at work. If Fuller remains out, Ellington and Anderson will see a big bump in expected workload, and can essentially be viewed as cheap “co-number-two receivers” in a high-volume spot vs a bad secondary.

Jimmy Garoppolo got the 49ers their second win of the season last week, and he did a good job considering the opponent (an above-average Chicago pass defense) and the lack of weapons – posting 293 (scoreless) yards on 26 of 37 passing (70.3%).

Garoppolo continued what he had shown us with the Patriots – relying on underneath options fairly heavily, as he gave six targets to previously-underutilized slot man Trent Taylor, five targets to Carlos Hyde, and seven targets to tight ends (Garrett Celek and George Kittle). He also made preseason sleeper Marquise Goodwin look like more than just a deep threat last week – hitting him eight times on eight targets (at various levels of the field) for 99 yards. Even Louis Murphy got in on the action, with six targets (though he turned these looks into only one catch for 16 yards). Houston ranks 30th in yards allowed per pass attempt and has allowed the most pass plays of 40+ yards. Only six teams have allowed more yards to wide receivers.

The guy who took the biggest workload hit was Hyde, whose five targets were nice…until you realize he was averaging 8.3 targets per game over the previous couple months. Garoppolo seems more interested in making the “safe downfield throw” than in “throwing a dump-off” (hence his affinity last season for James White – whose routes get downfield more than the routes Hyde runs – and Julian Edelman and Martellus Bennett), so I’m going to adjust target expectations for Hyde moving forward, and expect him to remain in the “four to six” range, rather than in the “eight to 10 range.” This is a guess, and it could be wrong – but the early evidence supports this guess, which would leave Hyde as a 15-carry back with three to five short-yardage catches per game, and with goal line work. The matchup against Houston is not great, but it’s not bad, either.

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LEVEL II – Pause For Self-Interpretation

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LEVEL IIIJM’s Interpretation

DeAndre Hopkins is my favorite high-priced player this week on the main slate. You can make a case for Todd Gurley, though there are concerns in his matchup; and even with the Steelers in a tough matchup vs the Ravens, you can definitely make a case on the FanDuel main slate for Le’Veon Bell or Antonio Brown (especially Brown, with Jimmy Smith out). But with most of my action on DraftKings (where the Sunday Night game is off the board), Hopkins will be the priority for me over Gurley. Unlike the typical “fast-paced 49ers game,” this matchup should remain fairly close – which should lead to extra passing volume for the Texans, in addition to extra rush attempts (as opposed to the “extra rush attempts” most teams simply pile up against the 49ers with a lead). Everything points to another 14-target game from Nuk.

If Fuller is back, I may play things safer with Stephen Anderson than the field (there is a lot of early-week excitement surrounding Anderson after his 12-target game last week, and he’ll likely draw massive ownership). In Week 9, C.J. Fiedorowicz and Ryan Griffin were both out, and Anderson saw six targets. In Weeks 10, 11, and 12, Anderson and Fiedorowicz combined for nine, five, and eight targets. I think six to seven (primarily short-yardage) targets is a reasonable expectation if Fuller plays, which makes Anderson a solid play, but not a lock. There are other tight ends I like as well, so I’ll “make a decision” while others auto-lock Anderson (to be clear: “making a decision” may still lead me to Anderson – but I’m not ready to auto-play him if Fuller is on the field, as salary is not a major obstacle this week, and guys like Cameron Brate, Jason Witten, and Travis Kelce are also calling my name). If Fuller is out, Ellington and Anderson should be counted on for similar targets to what they saw last week. If Fuller plays, he’s a thin option with Tom Savage trying to get him deep balls, but there is obvious upside.

I like Jimmy Garoppolo as an option this week, though the lack of quality weapons combined with the lack of rushing upside has me leaning toward DeShone Kizer and Blaine Gabbert over Jimmy G. at the low end of the price range.

Trent Taylor is an unnecessary salary-saver, but he would be bordering on gold in a normal week on DraftKings, as a super cheap guy likely to see six or seven targets, and likely a safe bet for eight to 10 points as a floor, with upside for 15 or more; he’s still a solid play in a vacuum, but with how weird this week sets up, there is higher-upside value. Goodwin has been proactively schemed the ball ever since Pierre Garcon went down, and this is a great spot for him to hit. It’s tough to adjust our perceptions of a player this rapidly, but I really think we can view Goodwin as a fairly safe “number one receiver,” with a target expectation of seven to nine, and with a floor of around 5-50-0 and a ceiling of 8-100-1. The tight ends split work fairly evenly for the 49ers last week, and Louis Murphy is likely going to prove to be the third option among wide receivers, so those guys don’t catch my eye on a week like this. Carlos Hyde remains intriguing from a “lead back, locked-in workload” perspective, but he’s not particularly likely to go for 20+ this week.

Colts at Bills

Vegas-Implied Total: N/A

KEY MATCHUPS:

Bills Run D – 29th DVOA / 20th Yards allowed per carry
Colts Run O – 23rd DVOA / 28th Yards per carry

Bills Pass D – 10th DVOA / 14th Yards allowed per pass attempt
Colts Pass O – 29th DVOA / 18th Yards per pass attempt

Colts Run D – 13th DVOA / 11th Yards allowed per carry
Bills Run O – 20th DVOA / 13th Yards per carry

Colts Pass D – 29th DVOA / 32nd Yards allowed per pass attempt
Bills Pass O – 28th DVOA / 28th Yards per pass attempt

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LEVEL I – The Research

The Bills, incredibly, still have a shot at the playoffs – but they need every win they can get. This week, in a home game against a Colts team that is tied for the second-worst record in the AFC, the Bills are likely to try to slow the game down and control things on defense in this spot – choosing to open up and get aggressive only if the Colts somehow jump out to a big lead. This should be even more true if Tyrod Taylor misses (which seems likely, at this point). We don’t even know, right now, if Nathan Peterman or Joe Webb will start in the event of Tyrod missing – but either way, it will be tough to trust the Bills’ passing attack. Even with Tyrod under center for much of the year, Buffalo ranks 30th in the NFL in passing yards per game, and they have produced only three games of more than 68 receiving yards. Two of those came from Deonte Thompson (who has also managed to turn 23 targets into only seven catches for 73 yards across his last four games), and the other came from Charles Clay in a fluky game with a couple broken plays.

Part of the drop-off for the Bills’ offense has been their sudden “phasing out” of LeSean McCoy in the pass game. While starting 5-2, the Bills gave LeSean McCoy target counts of:

6 / 7 / 7 / 3 / 9 / 7 / 7

In going 1-4 since then, Shady has seen target counts of:

1 / 5 / 1 / 4 / 5

This is really poor coaching, with a broken passing attack and an underutilization of a great pass-catching back. It makes sense for the Bills to lean on Shady this week in a must-win spot, against a team they can beat. It would also have made sense for them to give Shady more than 14 carries and 3.2 targets per game during a five-game stretch that has resulted in a 1-4 record. It makes sense to expect the Bills to ride their best player this week regardless of who is under center. It also makes sense to be afraid the Bills are unaware that this makes the most sense.

Since the Bills traded Marcell Dareus, teams have attacked them mercilessly on the ground, and that should continue this week. Frank Gore – who never gets rostered by anyone in DFS – has touched the ball (starting with his most recent game) 13, 19, 18, 20, and 20 times across his last five games. There is no reason for this Colts team to continue giving 18+ touches to a 34-year-old running back…but there is also no reason for us to expect the Colts to stop (Gore’s 13-touch outing last week came in a blowout loss, and was not a result of Marlon Mack seeing more work). During this five-game stretch in which Gore has averaged 18 touches per game, Mack has averaged nine touches per game. This could increase this week if the Colts lean even more heavily on the ground game – and the likelihood of the Colts controlling the game on the ground go up if Tyrod Taylor misses.

When the Colts pass, Jacoby Brissett may actually have time against a Buffalo defense that ranks 28th in adjusted sack rate, after facing the top two “adjusted sack rate” teams (Jacksonville and Pittsburgh) in his last three games. And with the concussion Tre’Davious White is dealing with (after Rob Gronkowski dove at White on the ground to cheap-shot him), the matchup for this passing attack is further improved.

With that said: even with White and E.J. Gaines playing well this year (PFF has them rated fifth and 28th at the cornerback position, respectively), the Bills’ defense has not been one to shy away from through the air, as their inability to generate a consistent pass rush is leaving their corners in coverage too long. The issue for T.Y. Hilton should be less about coverage and more about whether or not Brissett can consistently deliver the ball to him. I’m comfortable calling this a middling spot for Hilton. What that means for his production is completely up in the air.

This is also a solid spot for Jack Doyle, against a Buffalo defense that has allowed the fourth-most receptions and the fourth-most yards to the position (for what it’s worth: the Bills do rank 12th in DVOA against tight ends, and their two touchdowns allowed to the position ranks second-best in the NFL).

Everything else on the Colts can be viewed as “ancillary pieces on a really bad offense that is playing on the road” (only five teams have fewer yards this year than the Colts; only four teams have scored fewer points).

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LEVEL II – Pause For Self-Interpretation

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LEVEL IIIJM’s Interpretation

Even in a great spot vs a torchable Indianapolis secondary, I would have a hard time rostering the pieces of the Bills’ passing attack. Obviously, these guys become incredibly low-percentage plays if Tyrod Taylor misses. If Tyrod plays, I could see a scenario in which Deonte Thompson hits for a couple of his long plays, or in which Kelvin Benjamin returns to the field for a nice game. These are not dumb plays, in the least. But I also don’t see them as particularly necessary this week – with so much affordably-priced floor and ceiling available.

LeSean McCoy is the most appealing piece of this game, and while I expect the Colts to sell out to stop the run (especially if Tyrod is out), Shady is good enough to post a really nice game against this defense if the workload is there. Naturally, however, “if the workload is there” is a bigger caveat for Shady than it should be. If you roster him this week, you are banking on the Bills’ coaches taking their heads out of a dark and smelly place and finally giving their best player the usage they should be giving him.

The Colts provide “a guy who genuinely should be chalky on a normal week in this spot, but will always be super low-owned” in Frank Gore, and a guy “who genuinely could post 30+ points, but also genuinely could post five or fewer points” in T.Y. Hilton.

Gore’s floor and ceiling is enough to make him an attractive play in this spot for me, as he should see 18 to 20 touches (likely with two or three catches) in a great matchup. He’s incredibly affordable for a guy who consistently posts solid games. With that said: he’s not likely to notch 20 points, and he’s not “necessary” value on this week. If this were a normal week, Gore would probably be a staple for me on DraftKings, as value is usually tough to find there, and taking a range of eight to 15 points at $3900 (in a matchup that makes the higher end of that scoring range likely) would be tremendous. This week, there are probably better plays than this. It is crazy, though, that Gore is averaging 18 touches per game across his last five, while LeSean McCoy is averaging 16 touches per game, and will see way more attention, at a much higher price. Shady is clearly the more talented back at this point in their respective careers, but Gore has the better matchup.

Marlon Mack could easily see 12 to 15 touches, and could easily post a nice game with that sort of workload – though obviously he’s unnecessarily risky this week, for what would really just be “chasing 12 to 20 points.”

Doyle is always a strong, workload-aided tight end option, and is in a “middling, at worst” matchup.

Hilton is the same thing he has been for basically the entire season: a “play at your own risk” guy who can win you the weekend if you use him at the right time…but who can also ruin your weekend if he hits one of his all-too-frequent bad games.

Bears at Bengals

Vegas-Implied Total: Bengals 22.25, Bears 16.25

KEY MATCHUPS:

Bengals Run D – 15th DVOA / 14th Yards allowed per carry
Bears Run O – 16th DVOA / 10th Yards per carry

Bengals Pass D – 17th DVOA / 5th Yards allowed per pass attempt
Bears Pass O – 30th DVOA / 26th Yards per pass attempt

Bears Run D – 12th DVOA / 12th Yards allowed per carry
Bengals Run O – 17th DVOA / 30th Yards per carry

Bears Pass D – 14th DVOA / 19th Yards allowed per pass attempt
Bengals Pass O – 18th DVOA / 16th Yards per pass attempt

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LEVEL I – The Research

While the Bengals and Bears (31st and 32nd, respectively, in yards per game) would not typically be a key spot for us to target in DFS, the concussion for Joe Mixon throws a curveball onto this slate. I’ll conduct this writeup assuming Mixon misses, and that Giovani Bernard is the most popular play on the slate (if Mixon makes a speedy recovery, I’ll update this section). The question, then:

Is Gio worth playing, or is there a case to be made for fading him?

I think it’s fair to say that I tend to “look for reasons to fade the massively chalky _auto-plays_” more than others do (or, that is to say: I tend to challenge the auto-plays more than most – which sometimes leads to me moving off these “public auto-plays,” and sometimes leads to massive profits…and sometimes leads to massively frustrating weekends). But outside of game theory (i.e., saying, “Sure, Gio will likely get 20+ touches, but it’s football, and anything can happen”), it’s tough to make a case for not playing Gio. Although the Bengals rank 30th in yards per carry, Gio himself has averaged 1.13 DraftKings points per touch this year, and has averaged 0.98 FanDuel points per touch. That’s in spite of only two touchdowns on the year. After Mixon went down last week, Gio played every running back snap and touched the ball 15 times. Given the high “floor” expectation for Gio and the flexibility he provides for the rest of your roster, he shapes up as an excellent piece in cash games on both sites, and he makes for a tourney staple as well. There is definitely a chance that Gio posts “only” 12 to 15 points – in which case, going a different direction in tourneys (one that truly yields 20 points at every position) could set you apart from the field. But from a salary/expectations standpoint, Gio is one of the sharpest plays on the slate.

When the Bengals take to the air, 43.27% of their air yards go to A.J. Green (this ranks second in the NFL, behind only Antonio Brown), while Green averages a respectable 8.9 targets per game and ranks 11th in the NFL in red zone looks. The Bears have an average to above-average coverage unit, but they have struggled lately against number one receivers, getting hit by Marquise Goodwin (8-99-0 on eight targets), Alshon Jeffery (5-52-1 on nine targets), Marvin Jones (4-85-1 on seven targets), Davante Adams (5-90-1 on eight targets), and Michael Thomas (7-77-0 on eight targets) in their last five contests. Green will get his eight to 10 looks almost every week.

The rest of the Bengals are an afterthought in this offense, and in a slowed-down game against a Bears team that cares more about “losing close” than about “trying to win,” volume for ancillary pieces should be a slight concern. Tyler Kroft (three targets per game across his last three) and Brandon LaFell (six targets per game across his last three – but with short-area usage that has yielded only 41.7 yards per game in that stretch) will pick up the scraps.

The Bears should be able to do, in this spot, what they supposedly want to do: run the ball. The Bears rank 29th in passing play percentage – and with how strong the Bengals’ pass defense is, they have faced the second-most running back rush attempts in the NFL. They have also faced the fifth-most receptions from running backs. Jordan Howard should theoretically get to 20 carries this week in a game that should stay close. Of course, after the 49ers last week – with no particularly dangerous weapons and a subpar defense – managed to hold the Bears to only 36 plays, nothing in terms of “workload on the Bears” can be considered a given.

If the Bengals take a big enough lead for the Bears to turn pass-heavy, it’s worth noting – but not actually caring too much about the fact that – Adam Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick both look likely to miss this game for Cincy. Typically, a team losing two of its corners would be cause for us to jump on board with the opposing passing offense, but Chicago ranks dead last in passing yards per game, and the Bengals run a strong enough (and disciplined enough) scheme that they have played well through cornerback losses in the past – against much better passing attacks.

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LEVEL II – Pause For Self-Interpretation

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LEVEL IIIJM’s Interpretation

I love Gio this week, and I’m viewing A.J. Green the way I typically view Michael Thomas (as a guy not particularly likely to pop off for 25 or more points – but with the ability to do so, and with a really high floor). That’s really all I am drawn toward on the Bengals’ side of the ball, however, as the rest of the Bengals’ attack is likely to see low volume and produce scores lower than we will need this week.

On the Bears…yeah. I have had a few weeks on which I liked Dontrelle Inman (particularly on DraftKings, where the savings to Inman have mattered in a big way a couple times), but that level of risk is not remotely necessary this week, and the ceiling on Inman is not high enough for a week like this. The same can be said for the rest of the Bears’ attack. This is a low-upside spot, on a week in which we’ll likely need high scores across the board on our roster(s). Outside of maybe taking an “upside” shot on Jordan Howard, I cannot see much of a case to be made for rostering Bears players this week.

Cowboys at Giants

Vegas-Implied Total: Cowboys 23.0, Giants 18.5

KEY MATCHUPS:

Giants Run D – 24th DVOA / 26th Yards allowed per carry
Cowboys Run O – 2nd DVOA / 3rd Yards per carry

Giants Pass D – 23rd DVOA / 28th Yards allowed per pass attempt
Cowboys Pass O – 20th DVOA / 24th Yards per pass attempt

Cowboys Run D – 26th DVOA / 21st Yards allowed per carry
Giants Run O – 27th DVOA / 23rd Yards per carry

Cowboys Pass D – 22nd DVOA / 22nd Yards allowed per pass attempt
Giants Pass O – 23rd DVOA / 30th Yards per pass attempt

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LEVEL I – The Research

With the return of Eli Manning comes a return to relevance for the Giants’ passing attack – though as with all spots this week, we should keep in mind the way the week sets up (i.e., “The likely popularity of guys like Giovani Bernard and Stephen Anderson, and the underpriced nature of guys like Josh Gordon, will make it easy for people to build rosters with an extraordinarily high point expectation; as such, some plays that might be “good value” in other weeks might not provide quite enough upside this week). In case there is any confusion: that parenthetical statement applies to things like “chasing potential scoring from guys like Tavarres King and Roger Lewis – neither of whom was doing much with Eli under center before.” In his last three games with Eli, Lewis averaged three catches for 38 yards. King averaged 2.3 catches for 35.3 yards across his last three games with Eli.

While King and Lewis are afterthoughts, Sterling Shepard saw target counts of nine and 13 in his two games as the “number one receiver” with Eli under center. The Cowboys have allowed the most touchdowns in the NFL to wide receivers, while allowing the second-most catches.

Evan Engram has been less reliably awesome with Odell Beckham (and Brandon Marshall) hurt and Eli Manning under center – though, strangely, he has performed better with Shepard on the field. I’m not convinced that this is anything more than coincidence, but in two games with Shepard as the number one receiver and Eli under center, Engram averaged five catches for 50.5 yards and a touchdown; in his three games as the “number one option” himself, he has averaged three catches for 36 yards, with one touchdown in three games. Engram has a good matchup against a Cowboys defense that ranks 25th in DVOA against the tight end – and while the Cowboys should return Sean Lee to the field this week, they were the worst tight end defense in the NFL last year with Lee on the field. The matchup is less of a concern for Engram than his inconsistency – which, again, has especially arisen when Shepard has missed (which is possible this week, after he failed to practice on Wednesday with a hamstring injury).

This is also a good matchup for the Giants’ backfield against a Cowboys squad that ranks 26th in DVOA against the run, and 21st in yards allowed per rush attempt. Over the last two weeks, Orleans Darkwa has touched the ball only 27 times, while Wayne Gallman has touched the ball 15 times. If Gallman misses this week with his hip injury, Darkwa would seemingly be set up for 20+ touches on the cheap (with low ownership along the way) – though with a new coaching staff in place, nothing in this backfield should be considered a given.

As we explored last week, the Cowboys are not actually able to run their normal offense without Ezekiel Elliott, as Alfred Morris basically telegraphs to the defense that it’s a run play (or that Alf will be staying in to pass block, or will be hardly-used if he runs a route – making it easier to cover when the Cowboys do pass with Alf on the field), while the presence of Rod Smith basically telegraphs the opposite. Last week, the Cowboys finally adjusted the way I thought they would the week before: just simply sticking to the run, and allowing their offensive line (third in Football Outsiders’ adjusted line yards) and their downhill back to wear down their opponent. A similar game plan seems likely in this spot, against a Giants run D that ranks 24th in DVOA and 26th in yards allowed per carry, and against a Giants offense that has struggled to score points all year (and is unlikely to put Dallas in a deep hole that forces them away from the run).

With Alf taking the ball 27 times last week, Dak Prescott threw only 22 passes. In fact, Dak has been held to 27 or fewer attempts in four of his last seven games, and he has not topped 36 pass attempts since Week 2. As the Cowboys cling to the last vestiges of their playoff hopes, they are treating Dak as a game manager until Zeke returns – a pattern that seems unlikely to break this week, with the Giants unlikely to take a big lead.

When Dak does throw, his first looks are going to Dez Bryant – though Bryant’s volume has taken a hit with this new, conservative approach; while he has a pair of games with double-digit targets in his last six outings, his other four games have gone for seven, five, eight, and six targets. The matchup is not a concern for Dez with Janoris Jenkins out, but volume will be a question mark.

It’s tough to support a second piece in the passing attack when volume is this low, but here are the last five lines Jason Witten has posted vs the Giants, starting with the most recent:

7-59-1 on nine targets
4-26-0 on seven targets
9-66-0 on 14 targets
6-73-0 on eight targets
8-60-2 on nine targets

Witten should see around six or seven targets this week.

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LEVEL II – Pause For Self-Interpretation

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LEVEL IIIJM’s Interpretation

If Sterling Shepard gets cleared to play this week, he’s a massive value – as a guy in the same situation he was in Weeks 9 and 10 when we were viewing him as “the most underpriced guy on the slate.” With Josh Gordon priced right above Shepard on both sites, I think we could see lower ownership here than the situation warrants. Shepard climbed over 50% in cash games and – if memory serves correct – over 30% in tourneys in Week 10 against San Francisco, at the same basic price. This week – as I expect people to lean toward Gordon, and fail to realize it makes a ton of sense to roster both guys – I won’t be surprised if that ownership for Shepard gets cut in half. If he’s healthy, he’s a strong play.

The sample size is small enough that I don’t want to rely too heavily on the “Engram is a bad play if Shepard is out” narrative, but he will come off the board for me in cash games if Shepard is out, simply because of the drop in production we have seen in that setup this year – though honestly, his price and his inconsistency probably pull me off him in cash games no matter what. Engram has a high ceiling in tourneys, regardless of whether Shepard plays or not.

I like the Giants’ backfield if Gallman misses this week, as Darkwa will go overlooked as a 20-touch back. His expectations would be lower than the expectations for Giovani Bernard – but not significantly lower, making him a strong tourney pivot if you want to grab savings in a different way than the field and hope you land on higher production. If Gallman plays, this backfield takes a back seat – with very little clarity on how it will play out.

The one concern for rostering any Giants players (Shepard included) is that the Cowboys could conceivably return to their 2015 style of play: slowing down the pace drastically, and simply trying to keep their opponent off the field. Alfred Morris has a low floor due to nonexistent pass game involvement, but I fully expect him to see 20+ carries again this week, making him a solid option.

Dak’s volume will be too low for me to have interest in him unless the Giants take an unexpected “big lead.”

Dez cannot be relied on for more than six targets – but there is a chance he sees nine or 10 looks, and the matchup is good.

Jason Witten is priced higher than better plays on DraftKings, but he’s intriguing on FanDuel where he’s affordable for his likely five to seven targets in an excellent matchup.

Titans at Cardinals

Vegas-Implied Total: Titans 23.5, Cardinals 20.5

KEY MATCHUPS:

Cardinals Run D – 4th DVOA / 6th Yards allowed per carry
Titans Run O – 4th DVOA / 7th Yards per carry

Cardinals Pass D – 11th DVOA / 10th Yards allowed per pass attempt
Titans Pass O – 24th DVOA / 20th Yards per pass attempt

Titans Run D – 14th DVOA / 4th Yards allowed per carry
Cardinals Run O – 32nd DVOA / 32nd Yards per carry

Titans Pass D – 25th DVOA / 8th Yards allowed per pass attempt
Cardinals Pass O – 22nd DVOA / 19th Yards per pass attempt

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LEVEL I – The Research

This is a strong setup for a Cardinals passing attack that has performed fairly well under Blaine Gabbert, against a Tennessee team that has allowed the third-fewest yards to running backs, but has allowed the eighth-most catches and the third-most touchdowns to wide receivers. The Cardinals rank 32nd in run offense DVOA and 32nd in yards per carry; they rank second in the NFL in passing play percentage. They have maintained a pass-heavy approach with Gabbert under center – throwing on 60.75% of their plays (compared to their season-long average of 63.39%).

Right now, it looks unlikely that Adrian Peterson will take the field this week – though if he does, this matchup sets up poorly for him as a between-the-tackles guy against a defense that is designed specifically to take away between-the-tackles rushing. While we discussed, in last week’s NFL Edge, the increased pass game involvement AP saw the last time he took the field, this may also dry up with D.J. Foster showing well in the pass game the last couple weeks and Kerwynn Williams also capable in that area. If AP misses again, Williams (if healthy himself) should again lead the backfield in carries, with a target or two sprinkled in; Foster will man most of the designed pass game involvement.

Gabbert has shown an ability over the last few years to successfully target short-area receivers, while struggling outside the numbers. Through three weeks, this has led to Gabbert completing 22 of 28 passes (78.6%) to Fitz, in spite of facing the top-ranked pass defenses of the Jaguars and Rams in two of those games. Along the way, Gabbert has completed only nine of 25 passes (36.0%) to J.J. Nelson, John Brown, and Jaron Brown. We should see Gabbert focus heavily on Fitz (9.3 targets per game with Gabbert) once again, with limited exposure given to the other wide receivers.

Gabbert’s struggles outside the numbers also help explain the usage for Ricky Seals-Jones, who is basically seeing a target on half of the pass routes he runs (a wildly unsustainable rate, from a macro perspective – though I’m less concerned about this than other sharp minds seem to be, as the Cardinals are proactively scheming the ball to Seals-Jones when he is out there). RSJ remains a risk with how little he is actually seeing the field, but target counts of five, six, and five with Gabbert is not a fluke; I expect the usage to continue – even if we see one game along the way in which the usage dips.

Arizona has been excellent vs the run this year – ranking fourth in DVOA, sixth in yards allowed per carry, and sixth in rushing yards allowed to running backs. This creates a slim path for a Cardinals upset – especially with this game being played in Arizona – as the Titans (24th in passing play percentage) will have a tougher time than normal playing their ground-and-pound game. DeMarco Murray (10.8 carries per game, 3.2 catches per game across his last five) and Derrick Henry (10.0 carries per game, 0.6 catches per game across his last five) should continue to split work.

Rishard Matthews is set to return this week, which will put Corey Davis in the “non Patrick Peterson” matchup. Since the Cardinals benched Justin Bethel, however, this matchup has been far less fruitful for wide receivers, as Tramon Williams has continued what, at first, appeared to be simply a fluky hot streak – now allowing a quarterback rating of only 68.0 and a completion rate of only 52.6% on passes in his direction, while ranking in the top 20 in most cornerback efficiency metrics. This leaves Davis in what needs to now be seriously treated as a below-average spot (though a spike in targets for Davis is likely, with the Titans eventually pushed away from the run and Mariota forced away from the coverage of Patrick Peterson).

Eric Decker will retain his low-upside role in the slot.

Delanie Walker will take on a Cardinals defense that has been strong vs tight ends for years, and that currently ranks ninth in DVOA against the position. Only six teams have allowed fewer yards to tight ends than Arizona has allowed.

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LEVEL II – Pause For Self-Interpretation

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LEVEL IIIJM’s Interpretation

Larry Fitzgerald carries a great floor and a high ceiling, as the Cardinals will likely lean on the pass (as this is their standard approach, and it is the approach adopted by most teams vs Tennessee), and Gabbert has been far more successful when targeting Fitz than his other pass catchers. I also like Gabbert – alongside Kizer, and ahead of Garoppolo – as a salary-saver at quarterback. He can easily top 20 points in this spot – and while there is talent-driven risk, the upside at the price makes for a nice setup.

Seals-Jones is a solid pivot off Stephen Anderson. Anderson is the better play, but if Fuller plays for the Texans, it’s reasonable to peg Anderson at five to seven targets. It’s reasonable to peg RSJ at five to six targets – even with how little he is seeing the field – and he has shown a strong connection with Gabbert. The rest of the Cardinals are not standing out to me; a case can be made for Kerwynn Williams if he starts again, but there are other cheap backs with similar or better workload projections, in better matchups.

I expect the Titans to battle some yards together, and to battle some points onto the board. I do not expect any blowup games from the Titans, and I do expect some disappointing outings. On a team that spreads the ball among a number of weapons, this likely leaves me off this team altogether. The one exception may be Delanie Walker, who will likely prove to be the Titans’ best means of moving the ball – even in a below-average matchup.

Jets at Broncos

Vegas-Implied Total: Jets 21.25, Broncos 20.25

KEY MATCHUPS:

Broncos Run D – 12th DVOA / 2nd Yards allowed per carry
Jets Run O – 28th DVOA / 20th Yards per carry

Broncos Pass D – 14th DVOA / 15th Yards allowed per pass attempt
Jets Pass O – 15th DVOA / 11th Yards per pass attempt

Jets Run D – 18th DVOA / 23rd Yards allowed per carry
Broncos Run O – 24th DVOA / 15th Yards per carry

Jets Pass D – 27th DVOA / 17th Yards allowed per pass attempt
Broncos Pass O – 31st DVOA / 27th Yards per pass attempt

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LEVEL I – The Research

On a week with a lot to like, in a lot of spots, this game is unlikely to stand out to many of us – for good reason. But there are a few things in this game that are at least worth paying attention to…

The biggest thing worth pointing out is the fact that Demaryius Thomas and (to a lesser extent) Emmanuel Sanders were massive chalk last week. They were cheap guys who were all but guaranteed to combine for 17 to 20 targets, in a good matchup. And while we all knew Trevor Siemian was unlikely to look like a savior, we also knew he had been the best quarterback for the Broncos this year, and he had been able to provide strong fantasy games for these two from time to time. Last week in this space, I preached a bit of caution (too bad I didn’t listen to myself on that one…), pointing out that Sanders was averaging just five catches for 53 yards with Siemian under center, while DT was averaging only five catches for 65 yards with Siemian. There was no guarantee that they were going to post a 20-point game: but the thinking (among the massive number of DFSers who rostered one of these guys last week or strongly considered rostering one of these guys) was that even if they didn’t hit their ceiling, they were cheap, and the floor from targets alone was high.

Well. What? Siemian had an awful game last week. We already know that can happen for him from time to time. But that awful game does not change the good things that can come from “Siemian under center” for Sanders and DT. DT has eight or more targets in six of eight games with Siemian, and Sanders can be relied on for six to eight targets when Siemian is under center. The Jets rank 27th in DVOA vs the pass and have allowed the fifth-most touchdowns to wide receivers.

The Broncos backfield, on the other hand, is the mess it has looked like for ages. Last week, C.J. Anderson took a borderline-lead-back role, but just two weeks earlier, Devontae Booker out-snapped and out-touched Anderson.

Only four teams have allowed fewer yards than the Broncos, which always makes “players against the Broncos” an iffy proposition from a DFS perspective – even with the Broncos allowing the second-most points per game (again: a function of all the short fields the Broncos gift to their opponents, with the second-most giveaways in the NFL). This does not mean that Jets players are unusable – just that expectations should be lowered.

The Jets continue to divvy up work in the backfield three ways.

The Jets’ passing attack has exploded the last couple weeks, with Jermaine Kearse getting in on the act alongside Robby Anderson – but both guys have worst-case matchups this week, vs a Denver team allowing the second-fewest catches in the NFL to wide receivers.

The one guy on the Jets with a good matchup is Austin Seferian-Jenkins, vs a Broncos team that has allowed the seventh-most catches, the second-most yards, and the third-most touchdowns to tight ends. ASJ’s usage has been sporadic lately (recent target counts of three, seven, nine, and two), but in this matchup that forces targets to the tight end, it’s reasonable to expect ASJ to land at the higher end of his target range.

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LEVEL II – Pause For Self-Interpretation

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LEVEL IIIJM’s Interpretation

The likeliest scenario for the Broncos offense is that neither Emmanuel Sanders nor Demaryius Thomas kills the lineups of those who roster them, but neither “goes above and beyond” for those who roster them, either (i.e., we’ll likely see each guy land somewhere in the range of eight to 15 points). This is not enough to make either guy a priority for me, on a week in which much higher ranges are readily available, but while we saw last week that there are also scenarios in which these guys can crater a lineup, we have also seen Sanders post a 6-62-2 line this year from Siemian (on only eight targets), and we have seen DT post a 10-133-0 line from Siemian. DT has the higher floor, and the ceiling is similar, so I would lean his direction – but with how low ownership is likely to be after his chalky Week 13 dud, I’m leaning hard in that direction as a large-field tourney option. Again: “the likeliest scenario” is not a big game from DT – but it’s definitely in the cards, and ownership is going to be extremely low.

The rest of the Broncos are off the table for me.

The Jets will also be off the table for me, outside of maybe ASJ. I will, however, say this:

Before the Josh Reynolds bomb on the late slate last week, I had a genuine shot in the Milly Maker (sitting in the top 60 as the early games wound down) with a Jets/Chiefs stack (hoping for overtime that did not come). I really like game stacks with the Jets, as they are a team that can put up big points when forced to do so – with Robby Anderson providing a big-strike option necessary for back-and-forth shootouts to materialize. It seems unlikely that the Broncos “force the Jets to put up big points,” so I likely won’t stack this spot even if I break from my current plan and build 50 or 60 extra teams for the Milly Maker. But I do think there is a case for throwing in a Jets player or two if you expect the Broncos to put up points.

Redskins at Chargers

Vegas-Implied Total: Chargers 26.0, Redskins 20.0

KEY MATCHUPS:

Chargers Run D – 28th DVOA / 31st Yards allowed per carry
Redskins Run O – 25th DVOA / 24th Yards per carry

Chargers Pass D – 7th DVOA / 6th Yards allowed per pass attempt
Redskins Pass O – 14th DVOA / 5th Yards per pass attempt

Redskins Run D – 16th DVOA / 22nd Yards allowed per carry
Chargers Run O – 30th DVOA / 26th Yards per carry

Redskins Pass D – 12th DVOA / 21st Yards allowed per pass attempt
Chargers Pass O – 3rd DVOA / 9th Yards per pass attempt

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LEVEL I – The Research

Samaje Perine has had a strange journey. My wife’s family is a big OU family, so I heard of Perine years ago, when he was the next big thing for Oklahoma. A few weeks after my wife’s family talked him up to me, he set the record for most rushing yards in a single game in college football history (breaking the record Melvin Gordon had set one week earlier). Then, Joe Mixon finished his suspension, and he buried Perine behind him.

Perine landed in a good spot in Washington, where Jay Gruden was still looking to recapture the Alfred Morris “early-down thumper” magic from a few years ago. He flashed a few times in preseason, but his “bad” outweighed his “good,” and the last few times we saw him before he lucked into the starting gig, he looked like a potential bust.

Then, injuries led to Perine taking the starting gig in Week 10 – and across his last three games, he has averaged a respectable 4.3 yards per carry, while notching a pair of 100-yard games and hauling in seven of nine targets for 70 yards. That’s the journey that has led us here.

The journey that leads us forward, however, is more muddied than we would optimally like. While Perine was given 23 and 24 carries in Weeks 10 and 11, he saw only 12 carries last week when Washington fell behind Dallas. Washington passed the ball on 68.3% of their plays (up from a season-long rate of 58.7% – ranking 14th in the NFL). That risk remains present, against a very good Chargers offense that is looking to take control of the AFC West. On the other side? – the Chargers have allowed the third-most rushing yards and the fifth-most receptions to running backs. If Perine does get the 20+ touches we would love to see here, he has a tremendous matchup to take advantage of.

Washington will have a tougher time through the air, as the Chargers boast the number one (Casey Hayward), number eight (Trevor Williams), and number 11 (Desmond King) cornerbacks in the NFL according to PFF’s ratings. There are really no weak links in the Chargers’ coverage vs wide receivers. Only three teams are allowing fewer fantasy points per game to quarterbacks as well, as Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa create constant pressure behind the line of scrimmage. It does appear that both Trent Williams and Morgan Moses will play this week, which will help Washington’s hopes of slowing down the Chargers’ stud pass rushers – but both missed practice on Wednesday, so keep an eye on this as well. If either of Washington’s tackles miss, this spot becomes even better for the Chargers’ defense, and becomes borderline impossible for Cousins.

While we think of Keenan Allen primarily as a slot receiver, he has only played 51% of his snaps there. This will leave him against Josh Norman and Bashaud Breeland about half the time – each of which is a matchup Allen, as one of the best route-runners in football, can win; but we should consider “half of this game” a downgrade for Keenan. In an odd setup, however, “the other half of this game” is a boost for Keenan. This is the matchup that allowed Adam Thielen to go 8-166-1 in Week 10 (12 targets), and that allowed Doug Baldwin to go 7-108-1 the week prior (12 targets). Thielen is probably the closest comp in the NFL for Keenan – in terms of “usage in their offense,” and in terms of “what makes them great players” (Thielen also lines up in the slot only 54% of the time – though his slot rate was higher when he took on Washington). As long as Keenan sees the usage he has seen in his last three games, this matchup as a whole sets up for him to succeed.

Hunter Henry is the only other pass catcher on the Chargers (outside of their backfield) seeing enough work to matter in DFS. We have to view his Week 13 spike in targets as a function of the matchup (the Browns are the worst tight end defense in the NFL), so there is still risk that Henry’s targets could fall back to the “two to five” range they were in for five games before Week 13, but this is a winnable matchup vs a Washington team that ranks 20th in DVOA against the tight end position.

The biggest thing standing in the way of the Chargers’ run offense in this spot will be themselves. Washington ranks 22nd in yards allowed per carry, but the Chargers rank 26th in this same category. Washington is strong against running backs out of the backfield, but not prohibitively so. Melvin Gordon should have his normal range of usage (16 to 20 carries; three or four targets), with opportunities near the goal line. Austin Ekeler should soak up a few carries and a few targets of his own as well.

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LEVEL II – Pause For Self-Interpretation

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LEVEL IIIJM’s Interpretation

Perine is a guy I am eyeing heavily this week, as I love his matchup if the usage holds up. I do have slight concerns that the usage will dry up if Washington falls too far behind – similar to last week.

The rest of the Washington attack is of no interest to me – on a week with lots of high-floor, high-ceiling plays available (including plenty that will go low-owned because of recency bias, or because of people not digging deep enough into the numbers, or just because only so many guys can be the chalk on a given week), in a very tough matchup. There is obviously a chance that Vernon Davis or Jamison Crowder could spike with the usage they see, but I’ll target higher floors myself.

Keenan Allen is one of the top plays on the slate. It is still concerning to me that Keenan went through a four-game stretch in which he saw single-digit targets, but he has double-digit looks in seven of his other eight games; as long as he sees his 12+ targets again, this matchup will not be an obstacle.

Hunter Henry is in a great spot; usage is obviously the only concern. I’ll peg my expectations for Henry at five targets; that’s a reasonable expectation, but it’s not a poor idea in tourneys to roster him and hope he instead sees eight or nine looks, as he can post a top score with that level of usage.

Melvin Gordon is overpriced for his touches and production. With that said: the goal line work always gives him a shot at a multi-score game, on a very good offense. You have to overpay to go here, but there is still enough upside to justify the play.

Seahawks at Jaguars

Vegas-Implied Total: Jaguars 21.25, Seahawks 18.75

KEY MATCHUPS:

Jaguars Run D – 23rd DVOA / 28th Yards allowed per carry
Seahawks Run O – 22nd DVOA / 22nd Yards per carry

Jaguars Pass D – 1st DVOA / 1st Yards allowed per pass attempt
Seahawks Pass O – 11th DVOA / 14th Yards per pass attempt

Seahawks Run D – 7th DVOA / 7th Yards allowed per carry
Jaguars Run O – 13th DVOA / 6th Yards per carry

Seahawks Pass D – 13th DVOA / 7th Yards allowed per pass attempt
Jaguars Pass O – 19th DVOA / 22nd Yards per pass attempt

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LEVEL I – The Research

Jacksonville has allowed the fewest yards per game. They have allowed the fewest points per game. They rank first in the NFL in sacks. They rank second in the NFL in takeaways. In Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye, the Jags have the numbers two and six corners in the NFL (PFF). Expectations are extremely low on any team facing the Jags.

Mike Davis saw 16 carries and four targets last week against a Philly team that has faced the fewest rush attempts in the NFL and allowed the fewest rushing yards in the NFL. He turned in a respectable 4.0 yards per carry, and he has caught six of six targets on the year. The Jags have tightened up against the run lately, but they are still not a “stay away” matchup. Jacksonville is also middling at preventing running backs catching passes out of the backfield. Davis will still have to contend with a Seattle line that ranks 30th in adjusted line yards, but the usage provides a clear path to nice production if things don’t go off the rails.

Doug Baldwin has the “best” matchup among Seattle wide receivers – against Aaron Colvin in the slot – though nothing against the Jags through the air is “high-probability.” This includes Russell Wilson – though while it’s necessary to acknowledge that there is not a worse QB matchup in football, I’ll also concede that if there is anyone who can post a tourney-winning score against them, it’s Russ. This is – by far – not the likeliest scenario, and the only reason to roster someone in a spot this poor is because you think they genuinely can post the highest score on the slate. So I’ll reiterate: if anyone can do that, it’s Russ. But the likeliest scenario is that he has a rough time in this spot, and that you can get a better score from other quarterbacks on the slate. On the season, Jacksonville is allowing an average of 8.5 points per game to the quarterback position. (If you’re set on using something here: the Jags are non-lethal vs tight ends, and Jimmy Graham leads the NFL in red zone targets. Of course, Graham’s yardage expectations are minimal, so he is at risk of posting a dud if he fails to score.)

Seattle has also continued to play well on defense this year, in spite of dealing with significant injuries – ranking ninth in yards allowed per game, and seventh in points allowed per game. This is a tough setup for a Jacksonville offense that plays best when they are able to simply grab a lead, play stout defense, and take strategic shots on offense in an effort to extend the lead. If the Seahawks manage to jump out in front in this game, Jacksonville could have a tough time equalizing.

The Jags’ primary means of moving the ball will be Leonard Fournette and the ground game, as the Jags rank dead last in the NFL in passing play percentage. Fournette can only be relied on for two to three catches per game and around 20 carries – though his carries do spike from time to time. This is a difficult matchup vs a Seattle squad that is allowing the fourth-fewest rushing yards and the fifth-fewest receptions to running backs.

Last week, Marqise Lee reminded us that he is the number one weapon on this Jags attack. After ceding number one duties to Dede Westbrook in Week 12 while locked down with Patrick Peterson, Lee spiked back to 10 targets. He has nine or more looks in each of his last four games that did not come against Peterson. Only seven teams are allowing more opponent plays per game than Seattle, so Blake Bortles should get to his 30 to 33 pass attempts again, and Lee should push close to double-digit looks again. Seattle has not allowed many passing touchdowns this year, but they have (quietly!) allowed the 10th-most receptions and the sixth-most yards to wide receivers. With Richard Sherman out, Lee has a genuinely solid expectation in this spot. Dede Westbrook has seen 19 targets the last two weeks, and he is also in a sneaky-strong spot if Allen Hurns misses again.

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LEVEL II – Pause For Self-Interpretation

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LEVEL IIIJM’s Interpretation

I’m more “in love” with other spots on the slate, and I won’t be going to the “bad matchup” guys (Russell Wilson, Doug Baldwin, Leonard Fournette) on a week in which it seems entirely unnecessary to roster guys in a bad matchup. But Mike Davis is in a middling (possibly even “slightly better than average”) matchup, and he should touch the ball 20 times on the cheap – making him a viable option. And Marqise Lee and Dede Westbrook are genuinely in a good spot; each guy should see at least eight targets, against a team allowing the 10th-most catches and the sixth-most yards to the position. Because scoring expectations have to be pegged fairly low, there are better plays than these two; but there is a strong case to be made for trusting the numbers and taking a shot here in tourneys. If one of these guys hits the higher end of his range, you could grab a monster point-per-dollar output at near-zero ownership.

Obviously, this game is not a priority for me, with how many good plays (including likely-to-go-overlooked good plays) there are on the slate. But Mike Davis is yet another solid salary-saver this week, while Lee and Westbrook are in a much better spot than most will realize – making them quality tourney options from a game theory perspective.

Eagles at Rams

Vegas-Implied Total: Rams 25.25, Eagles 22.75

KEY MATCHUPS:

Rams Run D – 21st DVOA / 30th Yards allowed per carry
Eagles Run O – 9th DVOA / 4th Yards per carry

Rams Pass D – 3rd DVOA / 11th Yards allowed per pass attempt
Eagles Pass O – 5th DVOA / 10th Yards per pass attempt

Eagles Run D – 3rd DVOA / 5th Yards allowed per carry
Rams Run O – 15th DVOA / 16th Yards per carry

Eagles Pass D – 4th DVOA / 2nd Yards allowed per pass attempt
Rams Pass O – 4th DVOA / 2nd Yards per pass attempt

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LEVEL I – The Research

When this game first appeared on the schedule, I doubt many people were thinking of it as a potential NFC Championship Game preview – but here we are, with the Eagles fighting for the number one seed, and with the Rams one game back in the race for the number one seed, and one game ahead of the Seahawks for their division. After Seattle took down the Eagles last week, the Rams will look to do the same.

Interestingly, this game pairs two teams that rank first and second in points per game, and sixth and seventh in points allowed per game. This gave Vegas a few paths down which they could have projected this game – with one path being as a shootout, and with the other being as a defensive affair.

This is a good place to remember that the goal of Vegas is not to get the line correct on that particular week. Optimally, Vegas wants to set a line that they feel would hit the Over half the time, and that they feel would hit the Under half the time. In other words: if the same game were played a thousand times, half the games would finish over the listed total, and half would finish under. But some of the games that finish over can finish way over, and some of the games that finish under can finish way under.

As such, in a game like this – with multiple ways for it to realistically be expected to play out – we should not view the Vegas line as “what is likeliest to happen,” but rather, as something of a marker of “the middle ground of the likeliest outcomes.” In other words: just because Vegas has this pegged with a middling total does not mean it is “likeliest to be” a moderate game in scoring. Honestly, the likeliest scenario here is that this game would either be low-scoring or high-scoring. If we played this game a thousand times, I bet a lot of the “Overs” would go way over, and I bet a lot of the “Unders” would go way under.

From a macro perspective, this creates a poor game to target in cash games, as it won’t be surprising if this game combines for 60 points, but it also won’t be surprising if this game combines for 40 points. With two offenses this good, however, we do have a good situation for game stacking in tourneys – especially as the middling Vegas total is unlikely to draw heavy tourney ownership.

After exploring all those thoughts, the first thing we run into when breaking down the game itself is a realization that these are poor teams to game stack with – especially when they play one another. Here’s why:

Philadelphia ranks 26th in passing play percentage (in other words: they run the ball at the seventh-highest rate in football). And the Rams rank third in DVOA against the pass, but 21st against the run. This sets up well for the Eagles, but it sets up poorly for DFS, as the Eagles’ backfield spreads work fairly sporadically and unpredictably among three guys. On a week with lots of spots in which we don’t have to guess, you’re stuck guessing on which running back will even get the work – and that’s before even worrying about the guy actually performing.

Editor’s Note: Ertz was cleared to practice but remains in the concussion protocol.

When the Eagles try to pass, they’ll have a tougher time; only two teams (the Ravens and Jaguars) are allowing fewer fantasy points per game to the quarterback position than the Rams are allowing. The Rams are allowing a 56.6% completion rate to wide receivers, and they have allowed the third-fewest touchdowns to the position (which does not bode well for a Philly attack that relies on scoring efficiency over volume). With Zach Ertz dealing with a concussion, it also looks likely that Trey Burton will draw another start – and while Burton is a talented young player, he’s still the number two tight end, against a team allowing the fifth-fewest receptions to the position.

The Rams, meanwhile, run the ball at the eighth-highest rate in the NFL, but Philly has, absurdly, allowed only 549 rushing yards to running backs this season – through 12 games (45.75 yards per game). That’s 273 fewer yards than the next-best team. This is going to leave the Rams either A) continuing to lean run-heavy, and having a really difficult time along the way, or B) turning to the air more than they typically like to, vs a pass defense that ranks fourth in DVOA and second in yards allowed per pass attempt.

Based on sheer volume, the Eagles are allowing the fourth-most wide receiver receptions in the NFL…though this has come with the third-fewest touchdowns allowed to the position (an incredible feat when allowing so many receptions). Jared Goff has been given plenty of responsibility in the red zone (fourth in red zone attempts; fifth in attempts inside the 10-yard-line), and he has played well near the goal line – with 16 red zone touchdowns and zero red zone picks. But that does not negate the fact that this is a difficult draw.

When the Rams do throw (which, again, will likely occur more frequently than it has at their season-long clip – with Goff likely in line for 37 or more pass attempts, vs the team facing the second-most pass attempts in the NFL), he will be short Robert Woods for one more week, which means targets will likely go to Cooper Kupp (23% of targets the last two weeks), Josh Reynolds (16% of targets the last two weeks), and Sammy Watkins (17.6% of targets the last two weeks, with Patrick Peterson on him for much of last week). Kupp is the most-used target in the red zone, though from an “upside” perspective, he should be viewed the way you would view Julian Edelman, as that’s the clearest way to understand the way the Rams use him; Reynolds has been schemed multiple red zone looks the last two weeks to take advantage of his big frame, so while the floor is obviously low, the ceiling is there; and Watkins is incredibly inconsistent – being used as a deep threat, and failing to establish any sort of consistency this year – but he’s a dark horse to pop off for eight to 10 targets.

Of course, it should not go overlooked that Gurley – in addition to his work on the ground – has seen 18.9% of Goff’s targets the last two weeks. The Eagles are mediocre against backs out of the backfield, and Gurley is a safe bet for around seven targets once again.

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LEVEL II – Pause For Self-Interpretation

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LEVEL IIIJM’s Interpretation

Todd Gurley is the obvious exception to the thought of this game “not being great for cash games,” as he is locked into his heavy usage no matter what. It is definitely noteworthy that “paying up for Gurley” is likely to be a popular move this week…against a team allowing under 50 rushing yards per game to running backs. You should go into this game viewing anything Gurley gets on the ground as a bonus. But you should also go in expecting four to six catches and a couple shots at a touchdown. Gurley won’t be a priority for me this week, but he’s a strong play, in the likely scenario that something breaks his way.

Alshon Jeffery – as discussed a few times recently – doesn’t actually see enough targets to justify his price (which has risen due to incredible touchdown efficiency), and the matchup is tough. He doesn’t stand out as a strong individual play, but he can be used in a game stack here, as he’s likely to be a big part of things if this game turns into a shootout. The same goes for Nelson Agholor, whose floor is too low to ever take him seriously as a priority play, but who has shown this year that he can flash serious upside. The matchup is brutal for Burton as well, but he’ll likely see five or six targets on the cheap.

While the Eagles are likely to lean on the run – as this is their preference to begin with, and this is the best way to attack the Rams – the Rams will likely have to turn to the air a bit more vs an Eagles team that simply does not get tested on the ground. The Eagles combine a strong pass rush with tight, disciplined secondary play in a well-schemed defense, which doesn’t open many opportunities for big plays, but Kupp should see eight to 12 targets, which gives him a high floor; his ceiling is also intact as a red zone favorite. Reynolds is a dart throw. Watkins is a boom-or-bust play, but he does have genuine “boom” upside, and he’s a great piece in a game stack, as he’s the guy likeliest to post the sort of quick score that can turn the second half of a game like this into a back-and-forth affair.

Ravens at Steelers

Vegas-Implied Total: Steelers 24.5, Ravens 19.0

KEY MATCHUPS:

Steelers Run D – 11th DVOA / 17th Yards allowed per carry
Ravens Run O – 12th DVOA / 18th Yards per carry

Steelers Pass D – 6th DVOA / 12th Yards allowed per pass attempt
Ravens Pass O – 27th DVOA / 32nd Yards per pass attempt

Ravens Run D – 8th DVOA / 9th Yards allowed per carry
Steelers Run O – 11th DVOA / 27th Yards per carry

Ravens Pass D – 2nd DVOA / 9th Yards allowed per pass attempt
Steelers Pass O – 7th DVOA / 12th Yards per pass attempt

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LEVEL I – The Research

The idea of the Ravens scoring 19 points here seems absurd. I’m not saying it won’t happen, or that it can’t happen. We frequently see teams pegged at 16/17/18 points in spots where it seems like a shutout is not an outlandish expectation – and sure enough, those teams find a way to put up those 16/17/18 points. But that’s the sort of spot this is for the Ravens.

The Steelers rank fifth in total defensive DVOA. The Ravens rank 23rd in total offensive DVOA (and they ranked dead last just a couple weeks ago). Only three teams are allowing fewer yards than Pittsburgh, and only four teams are allowing fewer points. The Ravens, meanwhile, rank 30th in yards – and the only reason they rank 13th in points is because their defense has forced more takeaways than any unit in the NFL

And really, that last part is probably the key. Ben Roethlisberger has never been particularly careful with the ball, and maybe the Ravens notch a couple takeaways that lead to short fields, and to offensive scores (or…you know, just to Justin Tucker field goals) from there.

In terms of expecting the Ravens to actually move the ball: they should give 16 to 20 carries and a couple catches to Alex Collins; the Steelers’ greatest weakness is on the ground, and Collins has the explosiveness to break off a long run or two. His limited pass game involvement gives him a lower floor than some other workhorse backs, but he’ll be the best means of moving the ball for the Ravens.

The Chicago Bears are the only team notching fewer passing yards per game than the Ravens, and Pittsburgh has allowed the second-fewest passing yards per game. Joe Flacco has failed to top 200 yards in seven games already this year.

On the brighter side for Baltimore, Mike Wallace has averaged 9.5 targets per game across the last two weeks, and the last month has brought a reminder of the sort of upside Wallace can carry. Jeremy Maclin has continued to see steady work as well, with recent target counts of eight, five, five, and nine – and while he is used on lower-upside routes than Wallace, he does carry a decent floor, and has as good of a chance of scoring as any other pass catcher on the Ravens.

The final “primary piece” of the Ravens’ passing attack is Danny Woodhead, who has been somewhat shelved the last couple weeks with the Ravens playing with a lead; this is a reasonable spot in which to expect the Ravens to fall behind – which could lead to six or seven targets for Woodhead.

On slates that include this game (the main slate on FanDuel, and the larger and smaller slates on DraftKings), Antonio Brown should be viewed as a priority. While Jimmy Smith was not the only thing that made this Ravens pass defense great, he does rank 13th in the NFL in receptions allowed per coverage snap, and he has made Antonio Brown look mortal from time to time in the past. Now, instead, AB gets to take on Brandon Carr and rookie Marlon Humphrey, with Juju Smith-Schuster suspended. AB already leads the NFL in targets per game and percentage share of team air yards, and he should soak up a massive number of looks once again.

We should not expect a huge shift in role for Martavis Bryant, as the Steelers are not using him like a normal complementary receiver, but are instead “making sure to get five or six throws to him each game.” He may see an extra designed shot or two in this spot, but he won’t be “taking over Smith-Schuster’s role.” He is best viewed as exactly what he has been lately: a guy likely to see five to seven targets – with monster talent-driven upside on those looks, but also with a fairly low floor. Eli Rogers will also be involved this week, though the likeliest setup calls for AB and Le’Veon Bell to simply take on a bit more responsibility than they already do.

Bell has touched the ball more than 30 times in half his games this year. This is the sort of workload that crotchety old men talk about when they bring up how “men aren’t men anymore, and football players aren’t football players.” Bell is like those old-school pitchers who used to throw a complete game every time they stepped on the mound. People don’t touch the ball 30+ times in today’s NFL, but Bell does. And in his non-30-touch games, he has touch counts of 23, 21, 27, 25, 21, and (in the first game of the season) 13. He has double-digit targets three times this year. He has the most red zone carries in the NFL.

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LEVEL II – Pause For Self-Interpretation

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LEVEL IIIJM’s Interpretation

Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell carry the highest raw-point projection at their position every time they play. That remains the case this week. The Ravens are a tough draw, but the loss of Jimmy Smith helps AB quite a bit, and the volume on both guys provides a monster floor/ceiling combo.

On the Ravens, Alex Collins, Mike Wallace, and even Danny Woodhead all can have a case made for them as “guys who could post 15 to 20 points.” None of them represent a particularly high floor, however, and none of them have shown anything resembling “slate-breaking ceiling.” I’ll stay away myself.

We could branch out in this game and talk about guys like Ben Roethlisberger in a still-tough matchup or Ben Watson for three to five targets, but there are better uses of roster spots for me – with these guys representing lower-percentage plays, when high-percentage plays are perfectly easy to find and fit this week.

Patriots at Dolphins

Vegas-Implied Total: Patriots 29.0, Dolphins 18.0

KEY MATCHUPS:

Dolphins Run D – 17th DVOA / 25th Yards allowed per carry
Patriots Run O – 6th DVOA / 12th Yards per carry

Dolphins Pass D – 28th DVOA / 18th Yards allowed per pass attempt
Patriots Pass O – 1st DVOA / 1st Yards per pass attempt

Patriots Run D – 32nd DVOA / 32nd Yards allowed per carry
Dolphins Run O – 31st DVOA / 25th Yards per carry

Patriots Pass D – 20th DVOA / 20th Yards allowed per pass attempt
Dolphins Pass O – 25th DVOA / 29th Yards per pass attempt

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LEVEL I – The Research

The Patriots were handed a weird schedule this year, in which they have five division games in the last six weeks of the season. This setup will lead to them playing the Dolphins twice in three weeks, and to them playing the Bills twice in four weeks (with the Steelers sandwiched in there: Dolphins, Bills, Dolphins, Steelers, Bills; what?). As such, the reeling Dolphins get to take on the red hot Patriots for the second time in a three-game span.

When two teams play each other this close together, you are less likely to see one team completely change their game plan, and are more likely to see each team build off of what they did in the previous matchup. For example: the Patriots ran some plays against the Dolphins in Week 12 that could have about four or five plays built off of them; this week, the Patriots will likely use the same formation, pre-snap movement, and basic route combinations they used two weeks ago – but with an entirely different play called from this setup. In other words: the blueprint from two weeks ago is a fairly strong expectation for this week’s game.

In that Week 12 matchup, Tom Brady threw the ball only 28 times as the Patriots jumped out to a big, early lead, while giving 15 carries to Dion Lewis and 13 carries to Rex Burkhead. Early in the game, however, the Patriots leaned in a more balanced direction – which is likely how we will see them start this week as well (turning to a run-heavy approach only if and when a big lead is established).

When Brady does pass, 9.6 passes per game (across the Patriots’ last five contests) are going to running backs. This is no longer going to a single pass-catching back, but is instead being spread among Rex Burkhead (4.4 targets per game in this stretch), Dion Lewis, and James White. With White seeing the least work on the ground and the Patriots unlikely to fall behind, he should remain the odd man out this week from a workload perspective.

Two weeks ago, Brandin Cooks was chalk in this same matchup with Chris Hogan on the sidelines, and I imagine that last week’s dud (three targets, two catches, as the Pats went “ground game and Gronk” against the Bills) will scare away ownership, while Rob Gronkowski will be on the sidelines serving a one-game suspension. With Martellus Bennett on I.R. and Dwayne Allen seeing only 13 targets all season, Cooks should be heavily involved early on.

The same can be said for Hogan, who projects to return this week after missing the Patriots’ last three games. Hogan had seen six or seven targets in four of his previous seven outings (with four, 11, and nine targets in the other three games in that stretch). Nothing is guaranteed with how tight-lipped the Patriots are with injuries, but it should be safe to peg Hogan for six to eight targets in this spot.

The Patriots have now held eight straight opponents to 17 or fewer points – which is a particularly impressive feat given the point totals the Patriots post, and the tendency this generally as to lead to garbage-time scoring for an opponent. The Dolphins, meanwhile, rank 26th in points per game – with 17.4 points per game on the season. Since Week 5, these are the stat lines for notable perimeter receivers who have faced the Patriots:

Mike Evans: 5-49-0
Julio Jones: 9-99-1
Demaryius Thomas: 5-44-1
Emmanuel Sanders: 6-137-0
Amari Cooper: 3-28-1
Michael Crabtree: 6-51-0
Kenny Stills: 3-47-0
DeVante Parker: 1-5-0

I think the big thing we see here is that there is a broad range in what the Patriots can allow. From a “talent” perspective, they match up well with any team; but the Patriots put so much pressure on opponents to get aggressive through the air, big scores can end up popping up.

Last week, Kenny Stills saw 13 targets from Jay Cutler, while DeVante Parker saw only four looks, though it’s too early to call this a trend; Stills has been the better wide receiver this year, but Cutler has shown a fondness for Parker, and the coverage of Denver was focused on taking away Parker first last week. Either guy could pop off for nine or more targets – and while even that is not a guarantee for a strong game, it’s enough to make both guys viable as upside plays on the smaller slates.

Even on the larger slates, you can feel comfortable targeting Jarvis Landry, who has seen double-digit targets in all but four games this year. While Landry’s usage generally caps his ceiling, a big lead by the Patriots would open some softer coverages underneath for Landry – thereby increasing his chances of picking up nice yards after the catch.

Of course, the shiniest piece on the Dolphins is Kenyan Drake, who looks set to run things in the Dolphins’ backfield again. He should be locked into 20 touches, as he will get pass game involvement even if the Dolphins fall behind. The Patriots rank 32nd in yards allowed per carry, and they are non-lethal against running backs in the pass game as well.

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LEVEL II – Pause For Self-Interpretation

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LEVEL IIIJM’s Interpretation

Tom Brady is always a strong play, though there is a chance – once again – that the Patriots take their foot off the gas early. Brady ranks in the top five in the NFL in attempts, completions, and touchdowns from inside the 10-yard-line, but with Rob Gronkowski out (seven targets inside the 10 – tied with Hogan for the team lead), we could see the Pats give extra opportunities to Burkhead and Lewis; these two have already combined for 18 carries inside the 10. We should see around six to eight targets for Hogan and around eight to 10 targets for Brandin Cooks – with upside for more looks if the Dolphins manage to keep this game close. Danny Amendola has topped four targets only once in his last four games, but you could make a case for chasing him at low ownership on the smaller slates, in hopes of him grabbing more work with Gronk on the sidelines. No one in the Pats’ passing attack is a priority play on the 16-game slate, but Hogan, Cooks, and Brady are all viable in tourneys for their upside, while Burkhead and Lewis once again carry solid expectations. All these guys are in play in tourneys on the smaller slates.

Kenyan Drake is one of the most underpriced plays on the large slate, and is a great option if you are playing a slate that includes this game; even with how bad the Dolphins have been on the ground this year, Drake is too heavily involved to consider him anything but a good play – especially as his PPR and half-PPR value will rise as the Dolphins fall behind.

The rest of the Dolphins leave us upside-hunting with Parker and Stills (while taking on a low floor), or taking on a high floor with Landry (while limiting your exposure to “ceiling”).

Week 14 “Player Grid”

Sunday, 7:12 AM EST – no additions or changes to the grid. What a spectacular, low-stress week it is for going cash game heavy!

HOW TO BEST VIEW THIS PORTION OF THE ARTICLE:

These are the players I am currently gravitating toward in each tier. This should not be taken as a “complete list of the good plays on the slate.” This is, instead, simply a list of who I am gravitating toward, and how I see each guy.

The danger of relying too heavily on this Player Grid: Every week, there are going to be items in the research (laid out game-by-game in this article) that I will misinterpret, or will view incorrectly. If you lean on your own thoughts, and interpret the research on your own, you will never have one of those frustrating weekends in which you “lose because you relied on the thoughts of someone else,” rather than trusting yourself.

The benefit of incorporating this portion of the article into your research: I have over five years of profitable NFL DFS play under my belt. If you rely heavily on this list – building your teams around the players/thoughts below – you will definitely have those frustrating weekends in which you lose and wonder, “Why didn’t I rely on my own thoughts?” but you will also be profitable over time. I can say this with confidence, because I know that I will be profitable over time – and I lean on this list each week myself.

The best way to view this portion of the article: Ultimately, you would use this portion of the article as a balance against the thoughts you have come up with on your own!!!!

TIER 1: SAFE AND SOARING

These are all guys I feel have a safe floor and a high ceiling – with a good shot at hitting their ceiling. I am not particularly concerned about any of these guys ruining an otherwise-strong roster. These are guys I will be considering in cash games, head-to-heads, and tourneys of all sizes.

Quarterbacks

[N/A – for me…]

(It’s too easy to get 20 cheap QB points this week for me to want to pay up; but none of the cheap guys can be responsibly placed in Tier 1.)

Running Backs

Lamar Miller – with Alfred Blue out, should see 20+ touches, in a fine spot
Giovani Bernard – not a lock for more than 10 (FanDuel) to 12 (DraftKings), but he should blow past those marks, and he’s the best point-per-dollar play outside of maybe Josh Gordon (both sites)
Todd Gurley – I genuinely don’t expect more than 50 rushing yards; I also genuinely expect seven or eight catches; I like Keenan/Hopkins more, but I like all these guys plenty; Gurley is likely to be more valuable on DK this week than FD

Wide Receivers

Josh Gordon – priced too low on both sites, with too much workload/upside
Michael Crabtree – even if Amari plays, he’s likely hobbled; Crabtree rarely reaches his upside, but his floor is high
DeAndre Hopkins – the highest floor/ceiling combo among all WRs not named Antonio Brown
Sterling Shepard – slight concerns that the Giants/Cowboys both slow down this game, but likeliest scenario is 9+ targets in a great matchup
Larry Fitzgerald – locked into around 10 targets; Gabbert is completing 78% of passes to Fitz
Keenan Allen – as long as the targets continue, he will continue to smash

Tight Ends

Travis Kelce – the best TE on the slate, in a great matchup

TIER 2: LESS SAFE; STILL SOARING

These are all guys I feel have a high ceiling – with a good shot at hitting their ceiling – but these guys do carry more risk than the “Tier 1 players” of posting the sort of score that could ruin an otherwise-strong roster. Ultimately, these are still excellent, and mostly-safe plays; I will try to pull as many names from the list above as I can for cash games, but I won’t be surprised to find a couple of these guys on my cash game roster. I like these guys in tourneys of all sizes.

Quarterbacks

DeShone Kizer – could realistically be in Tier 1…but it’s still a rookie QB with big flaws in his game
Jimmy Garoppolo – looked awesome last week, and matchup is awesome; weapons are the only concern
Blaine Gabbert – as with the two above him, could be in Tier 1; but, come on – it’s still Blaine Gabbert

Running Backs

Jamaal Williams – workload is not 100% secure with Jones healthy…but is probably 90% secure
Marshawn Lynch – I expect 20+ touches in a must-win game, but that’s not a given
Frank Gore – floor is high, but chances of hitting ceiling are low; a very safe point-per-dollar play

Wide Receivers

Golden Tate – the matchup is great, and Stafford can get the ball to him underneath even if the hand is an issue
Adam Thielen – may get only eight or nine targets as CAR slows down game, but he can smash on eight or nine targets in a neutral matchup
Marquise Goodwin – should see 8 or targets, in a great matchup, with game-breaking upside
A.J. Green – should see eight to 12 targets in a good matchup; ownership will be low

Tight Ends

Cameron Brate – the coaches seem to want O.J. Howard more, but Jameis loves Brate
Stephen Anderson – point-per-dollar, he’s Tier 1; raw points, he’s Tier 2
Jason Witten – I almost certainly won’t use him, but I do expect a solid game in a great matchup; better on FanDuel
Evan Engram – really should be in Tier 1, but his inconsistency has created ‘Tier 2’ level of risk
Delanie Walker – the matchup isn’t great, but the targets will be there
Hunter Henry – the upside is enormous; the concern, of course, is the unpredictable workload

TIER 3: EVEN LESS SAFE; STILL STRONG

These are all guys I feel have a strong ceiling – with a good shot at hitting their ceiling – but there are also ways in which these guys could absolutely bomb. I will try to avoid these guys in cash games, but I like them in tourneys of all sizes.

Quarterbacks

Matthew Stafford – if we get reports his hand is good, he’s Tier 1; if not, he maintains week-winning upside, but with roster-busting floor

Running Backs

Kareem Hunt – the price is dropping to account for the low floor; the upside is still there
Andre Ellington – will run routes of the slot and spell Miller in the backfield; speculative, but could smash
Samaje Perine – if WAS keeps this game close, Perine becomes an awesome play; but there is genuine risk they fall behind again
Melvin Gordon – the upside is still there, but the floor is low for his price
Mike Davis – any SEA RB belongs in Tier 3 behind an awful line, but work should be there

Wide Receivers

Corey Coleman – has a shot to be a week-winner if the work is there; work is not guaranteed
Davante Adams – matchup & QB lower his floor, but workload and upside remain
Marvin Jones – it’s all about Stafford’s hand; if Stafford can push the ball outside, look out!
Tyreek Hill – could easily post 30 points vs OAK; could also go for five or fewer in any matchup
T.Y. Hilton – you only live once
Dez Bryant – touchdown-driven upside in a good matchup
Demaryius Thomas – saw 10 targets last week; if “Good Siemian” shows up, DT could smash

Tight Ends

Austin Seferian-Jenkins – usage has been trending downward, but Broncos filter targets to TEs

TIER 4: BIG TOURNEYS ONLY

This empty space serves as a reminder that in large-field tourneys – with top-heavy payout structures and tens of thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of entries – you often need one or two bold moves to take down first place. This can be full game stacks, or a player no one is talking about who you feel has a clear shot at a huge game. Boxing anyone in with a “list” in this section would be doing a disservice. If you’re trying to take down a large-field tourney, go out there – and be bold!

Saturday Evening Update

It’s been an interesting week, with no major line movements, no major news, and nothing much to change our perspective on the slate. As such, I’ll take a moment to reiterate what I said throughout the article:

There are a ton of affordable, high-floor, high-ceiling plays on this week’s slate! I strongly encourage you to not overthink things in cash games, and even in single-entry and small-field tourneys.

On the other hand…

There are so many “affordable, high-floor, high-ceiling plays” that some will become chalky, while others somehow go entirely overlooked – and there will also be plenty of “moderate-floor, high-ceiling” plays that go overlooked. It’s a great week to think for yourself – taking good plays across the board, while also being different from the field. For example: Is Giovani Bernard the best salary-saver? Of course! But if we played this slate a thousand times, would he (at 20ish touches in a mediocre matchup) outscore Frank Gore (at 18ish touches in a great matchup) 10 times out of 11? Because that’s what the projected ownership gap is on DraftKings. Would he outscore Gore 35 times out of 36? Because that’s the projected ownership gap on FanDuel (and on FanDuel – with half-PPR scoring and a more touchdown-heavy format – the gap between the two should be even closer!). What if Gio posts 15 points and makes those who rostered him in cash games as happy as can be…but what if everyone who spent down on Gio in tourneys to fit in Hopkins/Gurley end up with only around 45 total points from the three? That’s not a crazy scenario, you know. Gurley is facing a team that is allowing under 50 rushing yards per game to running backs, and Hopkins has Tom Savage at quarterback. As I detailed in the article and in my Player Grid, I like these guys. I don’t expect a bad game. But 15 points for these high-priced guys is not a crazy scenario. What if that happens, and instead of trying to pay up for every high-priced guy, you go mid-range across the board and manage to grab 20 points from those guys?

See what I’m saying?

Because ownership is going to congregate so heavily on one set of plays, you can mess around with different approaches in tourneys – taking slightly lesser plays, at far lower ownership.

Be creative this week if you are playing large-field tourneys. While everyone else loads up on a roster full of “the likeliest scenario,” you can take a “slightly less likely scenario” at far lower ownership, and put yourself in phenomenal shape if just one or two of the popular guys bust.

As for any game-specific updates:

There is no word on Stafford’s hand. It seems highly likely that he starts. It also seems likely we will not know whether or not he is capable of pushing the ball outside the numbers. This creates a lot of risk. But if Stafford is able to play like himself, he’ll generate monster returns (alongside Marvin Jones and Golden Tate), in a pristine matchup, at low ownership.

I’m surprised to see that Alex Smith is projected as the highest-owned QB. It won’t surprise me if he puts up 30 points. It also won’t surprise me if he puts up 13 or 14. Matchup has not been the issue for Alex Smith this season; Alex Smith has been the issue for Alex Smith this season. It’s crazy to me, sometimes, how heavily ownership is driven by recency bias. Alex Smith is the same guy he has been all season: a guy who can pop off for big games (especially if his opponent forces him to get aggressive), and a guy who can go into a shell and crater your lineup. Yes, the ceiling is there. No, there is no reason to peg his floor any differently than we have pegged it for the last two months.

Braxton Miller is officially out for the Texans, as is Alfred Blue. Will Fuller is officially in. The ripple effect: Andre Ellington should play in the slot, in addition to backing up Lamar Miller. This will lead to Miller getting a few more touches than normal. This will also lead to Ellington likely seeing five to eight targets and a couple carries. Stephen Anderson should mostly stick to tight end, with a few snaps from the slot; we can expect five to eight targets for him. Fuller should see a few deep shots, and Hopkins will be targeted relentlessly. The Over/Under on this game has risen two points late in the week – which obviously does not surprise us at all. This is my favorite game to stack, with both teams having guys who can score quickly, and with Jimmy Garoppolo providing a boost for San Fran’s fast-paced offense.

Tyrod Taylor looks unlikely to play. This should increase the workload for LeSean McCoy, and decrease the running lanes available. I’ll call “No Tyrod” a net loss for Shady, as Indy will focus on Shady and force Peterman to beat them. Even if Tyrod plays, his mobility will be hampered. I’m leaving the Bills alone – and while Shady obviously still has upside, his floor is lower than most are considering. I’m hoping he sticks at his high projected ownership and lands on the lower end of his scoring range (even if he doesn’t, I can likely find whatever score he posts in a less volatile spot).

We have no word on the hamstring injury for Sterling Shepard. I think there is slight risk there, but he’s still too cheap for his projected workload.

Zach Ertz looks on track to play against the Rams. The matchup remains an obstacle, but that matters less for Ertz than it does for mortals. As long as the workload is there (not a given, over the last couple months), he should do well.

That does it for late-week updates.

I’ll update my Player Grid again before I go to bed (at which point, some of you on the East Coast may be getting up…so I’ll post the “update time” once I make any changes).

And of course, I’ll see you at the top of the leaderboards this weekend!

About the Author

  • JM Tohline (JMToWin)

  • JM Tohline (Tuh-lean) – DFS alias JMToWin – is a novelist and a DFS player who specializes in high-stakes MLB and NFL tourneys, with a strategy geared toward single-entry play in multi-entry tourneys. He joined the DFS scene at the beginning of the 2014 MLB season, and has since won five DFS championship seats and two separate trips to the Bahamas. His tendency to type a lot of words leads to a corresponding tendency to divulge all his DFS thoughts, strategies, and secrets…which is exactly what he does in his RotoGrinders articles and RotoAcademy courses. You can find JM on Twitter at JMToWin.

Comments

  • rayboy212

    Great article!!! Brand new to this, at the end of the article when it mentions “That’s enough to make Thomas a strong play on the “smaller slates”, what exactly is that referring to (what is a “smaller slate” and a “main slate”? Thanks in advance anyone for the help!

  • rlub

    @rayboy212 said...

    Great article!!! Brand new to this, at the end of the article when it mentions “That’s enough to make Thomas a strong play on the “smaller slates”, what exactly is that referring to (what is a “smaller slate” and a “main slate”? Thanks in advance anyone for the help!

    A smaller slate usually refers to a contest grouping of only 2-4 games to choose players from where a larger slate includes contests with 9+ games from which to choose.

  • rayboy212

    Very much appreciated, thank you!!!

  • mike42

    So last week I figured you may use Duke based on the rankings and I wish I could have able to discuss my thesis as to why he was a bad play and will remain a bad play moving forward. Prior to Coleman getting healthy and Gordon getting sober, Duke was essentially the number one receiver. Now with those two in the LU, not to mention Njoku’s increased involvement, his role is less secure moving forward and his value is diminished. I keep telling people that Cleveland went from having scrubs at WR to athletic freaks. Between WR and TE they now have the best 3 athletes any team has ever put on the field at the same time, increasing Kizers value but making Duke an afterthought. I think the Cleveland offense will be fun to watch moving forward . Thanks and good luck this week.

  • GordonsGecko

    The Steelers-Ravens game is not on the FD main slate this week.

  • illinibob1977

    I was dismissive of Alex Smith when I began looking at this slate, as I have been of KC for a few weeks. But when Adam L came out with Smith as his “start of the week”, I was curious to see your take. Then you never (directly) mention his name! Maybe in Sat. update you could throw us a bone re: Smith? Thks JM.

  • Tank_91

    • 2017 DraftKings FHWC Finalist

    Like your thoughts on Gore this week, and Mack for that matter. I was tinkering with them on Thursday slates already. Your right that it may not be worth the risk of their low upside on this slate, but I think one of them will end up on a team or two for me. This is a strange week, I’ve found a couple of really nice value plays (Gore, T. Taylor, Westbrook) then I realize I don’t really have to go that deep. Should be a fun week, thanks as always for your hard work.

  • Ncreighton91

    • 611

      RG Overall Ranking

    • Ranked #99

      RG Tiered Ranking

    They changed it because they wanted the championship to reflect the main slate.

  • Fetty7132

    Note that peters was suspended by the team so there is nothing to overturn

  • Horseplayer1975

    JM, with Blue out, I have been considering Cheat Coding the HOU RB’s for cash, Miller/Ellington in a pace up game, the total is on the way up still (45.5 now up 3 since open). Could we project 30+ touches between the 2 maybe more if Ellington plays some slot? NOt bad for $9.4K. Add in Gio and $12.5K buys you 50-60 touches with all 3 capable receivers? After that, playing a low priced QB gives you the ability to play basically any WR/TE/DST you want. It also gives a unique LU constructions which I find extremely useful in H2H.

  • Canimal31

    JM, is not Miller in a similar spot as to Howard last week? I just don’t get the love for Miller. But, now I am afraid I am missing something. SF has actually held opposing RB’s -1.8 points below their average over the past 5 games. All year, the points they have given up have been more about volume than efficiency. Now, with Jimmy G, the Texans aren’t likely to be playing with a lead, which could hurt Miller’s rushing even more. Not to mention he is just a guy. I guess we are hoping that Miller makes up for it with catches. But, with Fuller back, those could go to Ellington instead. Seems risky to me.

  • Canimal31

    Re: Shepard, with Sean Lee back, the Cowboys run defense gets a big boost and they played much better last week by switching to Kavon Frazier over Byron Jones on run downs. Dallas will likely have success on the ground and play for a lead. But, the Giants will likely only have success throwing the ball. This should keep Shepard’s floor where it was the previous two games played with Manning.

  • oqwin1

    Any concern with possible bad weather for the Cleveland games with Kizer and Gordon being the chalk?

  • Austin_Stone

    Anyone got some late advice for me. TY Hilton or Demariyus Thomas??

  • Austin_Stone

    Anyone got some late advice for me. TY Hilton or Demariyus Thomas??

  • Horseplayer1975

    Weather report for Buffalo is terrible…

  • Horseplayer1975

    Weather report for Buffalo is terrible…

  • Fetty7132

    You muffed hard on rudolph

  • mtjroto79

    “ Outside of maybe taking an “upside” shot on Jordan Howard

    good call

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