JMToWin's NFL Edge: Week 7
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!
We have a strange week this week. Fifteen games. Twelve on the DraftKings Main Slate, and 13 on the FanDuel Main Slate. Of the 12 games on the Main Slate for DraftKings, only four have an Over/Under of 44.0 or higher. (On FanDuel, we add the Falcons / Patriots game on Sunday Night Football for the biggest projected shootout on the weekend.) This will likely lead to plenty of ownership congregating around a handful of games – though with so little to like in a lot of these other spots, this could still present an opportunity where we want to be overweight on the chalk (or, at the very least, on parts of the chalk).
As always, however, we’ll be going game-by-game – searching for value even in the bad games, and figuring out which pieces of the chalk we like best.
Let’s get to it!
Chiefs at Raiders
Vegas-Implied Total: Chiefs 24.75, Raiders 21.75
Raiders Run D – 21st DVOA / 13th Yards allowed per carry
Chiefs Run O – 2nd DVOA / 1st Yards per carry
Raiders Pass D – 29th DVOA / 29th Yards allowed per pass attempt
Chiefs Pass O – 1st DVOA / 1st Yards per pass attempt
Chiefs Run D – 30th DVOA / 28th Yards allowed per carry
Raiders Run O – 12th DVOA / 11th Yards per carry
Chiefs Pass D – 17th DVOA / 26th Yards allowed per pass attempt
Raiders Pass O – 18th DVOA / 25th Yards per pass attempt
There are a lot of issues on the Raiders’ offense right now, and I’m not certain that a soft matchup against an underperforming Chiefs defense is the answer.
In 2016, the Raiders used their stout offensive line to push around opposing defensive lines – eventually forcing opponents to cheat up in the box, at which point the Raiders would burn them with play action. This is an offense built around the understanding that they have one of the best offensive lines in football, along with two excellent receivers on the outside.
This season, however, opponents are loading up in the middle of the line and forcing the Raiders to run off-tackle – which is not what this offense is designed to do. This is leading to a less effective ground game, and is leading to a less effective passing offense without the play action as the lethal weapon it was last year.
If there is a time for that to change, it’s now, as the Chiefs have been hapless against the run – ranking 30th in DVOA and 28th in yards allowed per carry – while the Chiefs’ man coverage scheme leaves them susceptible on the back end to high-quality receivers. This is not necessarily a game that sets up well for the Raiders’ offensive scheme as a whole (a team that thrives off play action would prefer to take on a less man-heavy unit), but it is a game that sets up well for individual matchups.
In spite of that ray of sunshine, the Raiders’ backfield is still only intriguing to me on smaller slates. Marshawn Lynch maintains touchdown upside but he has not topped 13 carries since Week 1, and along with a low target total on the year (10 targets through six games), he has a low catch rate (four catches), which is not going to encourage the Raiders to give him more looks through the air. Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington, meanwhile, are seeing too few touches to matter.
Jared Cook has put a dent in the usage for both Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree, as Cook is averaging 5.7 targets per game while Amari and Crabtree have combined for only two games of double-digit targets. This is a good spot for the Raiders’ wide receivers to see a few extra looks, however, as only six teams are allowing fewer completions to the tight end than the Chiefs (and quarterbacks are completing less than 50% of attempts when targeting tight ends against the Chiefs). Meanwhile, KC has allowed the most receiving touchdowns to wide receivers and the sixth most yards (in spite of ranking 16th in completions to wide receivers) – creating a great opportunity for Crabtree to post yet another solid game, and for Amari to be rostered in tourneys for his breakout potential (we still take a risk with Amari, given his slump, but he’s well worth the risk in tourneys – and at his still-lowered price, he’s one of the top tourney values on the slate).
The Chiefs have a similarly narrow distribution of offensive usage, with Tyreek Hill seeing six to eight targets every game, Travis Kelce a strong bet for seven to 10 targets, and Kareem Hunt almost certain to touch the ball 20 times. Hill is overpriced on both sites for his usage, but he remains a second-tier tourney play, as the Raiders have one of the worst secondaries in the NFL, and the size of their corners leaves them vulnerable to smaller, speedier players like Hill. Kelce is one of the top tight ends on the slate, with a guaranteed workload and a strong matchup vs a Raiders defense that ranks 25th in DVOA against the position. And Hunt joins several Sunday backs as guys who are well worth paying up for. When paying up so high at running back, I prefer a larger workload than Hunt gets (he’s far less likely to see 30 touches than Gurley, Zeke, or Bell), but he’s good enough, and the matchup is good enough, that I currently have him as my top-ranked running back among the highest tier of pricing.
The Chiefs rank 26th in plays per game and 17th in passing play percentage, so while the matchup is great for Alex Smith, he needs extreme efficiency to pay off. That’s not to imply he’s a poor play; he has quietly shown as much upside as any quarterback in football this year, his matchup is excellent, and he’s almost always low-owned. But it is to say that he’s not in play for me in cash games, as I prefer a larger workload floor than Smith gives us.
On the smaller slates (the Monday to Thursday, for example), you may have to go to Albert Wilson or Seth Roberts. But these offenses, more than just about any others in football, flow through a narrow band of players, and Wilson and Roberts are not on that band, which leaves them off the radar on the larger slate.
Ravens at Vikings
Vegas-Implied Total: Vikings 22.5, Ravens 17.0
Vikings Run D – 5th DVOA / 3rd Yards allowed per carry
Ravens Run O – 15th DVOA / 10th Yards per carry
Vikings Pass D – 16th DVOA / 15th Yards allowed per pass attempt
Ravens Pass O – 28th DVOA / 31st Yards per pass attempt
Ravens Run D – 16th DVOA / 21st Yards allowed per carry
Vikings Run O – 22nd DVOA / 18th Yards per carry
Ravens Pass D – 2nd DVOA / 13th Yards allowed per pass attempt
Vikings Pass O – 3rd DVOA / 9th Yards per pass attempt
Last week, I lost a large amount of money on the belief that Javorius Allen had one of the most locked-in workloads among the lower-priced running backs – with my contention being that Allen’s workload edge made him an even better play than McKinnon, even at a slightly higher price. Allen projected for 16 to 18 carries, five to seven targets, and (unlike McKinnon) goal line work.
Not only did McKinnon score another long touchdown and get a goal line opportunity after Latavius Murray failed, but Allen fell behind fumblin’ Alex Collins in the early-down pecking order. I would love to do the same thing with Allen this week that I recommended last week with Carlos Hyde (targeting a talented player in tourneys at near-zero ownership, on the chance he ends up rising to the top of the pecking order again), but this is probably not a week to expect quality production from Ravens backs even if Allen steps back into the lead role. The Vikings rank fifth in DVOA against the run, third in yards allowed per carry, and 22nd in targets to running backs. In a messy timeshare against a tough run D, I’ll stay away even in large-field tourneys.
Optimally, the Ravens want to run, run, run (they rank 26th in passing play percentage), but the Vikings are best attacked through the air. On the season, the Vikings have seen the 10th most pass attempts in spite of ranking 25th in opponent plays per game. Minnesota is best attacked on the outside, where they have faced the fourth most wide receiver targets on the year – with most of these targets filtered away from number one receivers.
In spite of those reasons for optimism, it’s still tough to get excited about a Ravens team quarterbacked by Joe Flacco, whose best yardage total on the season is 235 yards, and who has more games with zero touchdowns than with one. For PPR scoring, it’s worth noting that Flacco threw 49 times against Pittsburgh and 41 times against Chicago (while also posting two games already beneath 20 pass attempts), so there is a potential for enough volume to support a pass catcher or two. If Jeremy Maclin makes it onto the field, he’ll be the best bet as a tourney shot, as he has seen five to eight targets in all but one game this year, and at a 58% slot rate, he’ll avoid Xavier Rhodes most of the time. Breshad Perriman is unusable if he makes it onto the field this week, and Mike Wallace (if he plays) should match up with Xavier Rhodes, making him a long shot play. More than likely, I’ll end up on none of these guys, but there are at least reasons to bring them up – Maclin in particular.
I imagine a good 8% to 12% of the field in tourneys this week will roster Adam Thielen after he saw 13 targets last week and posted a nice game along the way. As talented as Thielen is, however, I’ll have a tough time pulling the trigger myself at his elevated price, even if Stefon Diggs is out again. Only four teams in the NFL have allowed fewer completions to wide receivers than the Ravens, with quarterbacks completing only 50 of 100 passes to wideouts this year vs Baltimore. You can bet on volume, but there are still much better plays on this slate. If Diggs plays, each guy will suffer from a tough matchup, and they will cannibalize each other’s usage.
Attacking the Ravens with Kyle Rudolph is potentially a trap. The Ravens rank near the top of the league in terms of “most fantasy points allowed” to the tight end, but they actually rank 24th in receptions allowed to tight ends. The big issue for the Ravens is that they have allowed the second most touchdowns in the NFL to the position – but in spite of allowing seven touchdowns to tight ends, the Ravens have seen only five red zone targets (and have allowed only one red zone touchdown) to the position. Because Rudolph is not a big-play threat, and because the Ravens are not allowing big PPR days to tight ends, Rudolph will likely need to score from in close in order to post the sort of game we should be targeting, and the Ravens are stingy in close (20th in Red Zone targets, 24th in Red Zone catches). It won’t surprise me if Rudolph posts a solid game, but it also won’t surprise me if he disappoints. With tons to like at tight end this week, I’ll target a higher floor and the same ceiling in other spots, and hope that Rudolph disappoints the large chunk of the field that is likely to roster him.
The Vikings’ backfield is tough to get excited about with Brandon Williams returning this week for the Ravens and with the price for Jerick McKinnon shooting up. When a player’s price shoots up, it’s always important to identify whether or not he is still underpriced. That was how we convinced ourselves it was still okay to play Deshaun Watson last week – and it was the way about 10% of the field continued to pay for Odell Beckham as his price rose his rookie year, and was the way about 10% of the field continued to pay for Le’Veon Bell and David Johnson last year when their price tags first started skyrocketing. For me, McKinnon does not fall into that class this week, as he’s still splitting work in a tough matchup – and while the Vikings showed last week that they will give McKinnon looks at the goal line, that work is still likely to be given to Latavius Murray first. If McKinnon were priced down more, I might give him a shot, but I can’t bring myself to a split-backfield scatback at an elevated price.
Saints at Packers
Vegas-Implied Total: Saints 26.5, Packers 21.0
Packers Run D – 18th DVOA / 19th Yards allowed per carry
Saints Run O – 4th DVOA / 8th Yards per carry
Packers Pass D – 19th DVOA / 19th Yards allowed per pass attempt
Saints Pass O – 8th DVOA / 14th Yards per pass attempt
Saints Run D – 24th DVOA / 22nd Yards allowed per carry
Packers Run O – 8th DVOA / 22nd Yards per carry
Saints Pass D – 11th DVOA / 28th Yards allowed per pass attempt
Packers Pass O – 17th DVOA / 21st Yards per pass attempt
Let’s start with Hundley:
He’s a mobile quarterback with a good arm. He averaged nearly a rushing touchdown per game in college, and he has enough speed to break a big play on the ground if the field opens up. He’s also big enough to withstand a beating…which is good, because he took 125 sacks through three years of college. This last Sunday, Hundley continued to show slow progression through his reads and an inability to read coverages (his interception to Harrison Smith came against Cover 3, but Hundley seemed to think it was Man) – problems that plagued him in college. And Dennis Allen is creative enough to disguise coverages and create issues for Hundley. Between Cameron Jordan bringing the heat from the edge and the Saints’ potential to take advantage of Hundley’s weaknesses as a passer, this is actually a strong week to consider rostering the Saints’ defense.
On the other hand, Mike McCarthy is not going to hang Hundley out to dry this week. We should expect the Packers to install a creative game plan that is different from what the Saints have seen or would be able to anticipate, likely with plenty of movement, misdirection, and option-style run plays. Although Hundley showed poor accuracy in college on the run, I also expect McCarthy to move the pocket for Hundley a decent amount, in order to give him fewer reads (to less-clogged areas of the field), with more opportunities to take off. Between Hundley’s rushing upside, his weapons, the creative offensive mind on the sideline, and his price tag, I love him in tourneys this week. I’m undecided on him in cash games, but the rushing upside should raise his floor high enough that he is viable there as well.
The best way to attack the Saints right now remains on the ground, as Ken Crawley and Marshon Lattimore are playing excellent defense on the perimeter, while teams continue to have their way with the Saints on the ground (while also having their way with running backs through the air; the Saints have faced the fifth most targets, and allowed the sixth most catches, to running backs).
It’s too early to say that Aaron Jones cannot catch the football, but in his solo start in Week 5, the Packers elected to throw to him only one time after using the running back position heavily through the air – with Ty Montgomery – the first four weeks. Then last week, Jones caught only one of four targets. Jones saw 43 snaps last week while Ty Montgomery saw only 20, so while that may have just been because the Packers were easing Montgomery back in, it’s reasonable to assume that this will be the workload split moving forward. Jones maintains upside in tourneys in this matchup, though his floor is something like 13 carries for 40 yards, so be careful in cash games. Montgomery also has long-shot tourney appeal, as there is a chance he becomes the primary back if the Packers fall behind and have to catch up through the air.
No individual Packers wide receiver jumps out, with Davante Adams and Jordy Nelson so heavily reliant on touchdowns for their fantasy production this year (and each dealing with a tough matchup on the outside), while Randall Cobb has seen his usage chipped away each week – while showing nothing in the way of big-play upside. If going here, Adams is the best bang-for-your-buck option, though I also do not mind the idea of rolling Hundley naked.
The Saints give us Drew Brees on the road, on a team that has ranked in the bottom eight in passing play percentage across their last three games. While it should be noted that the Saints were playing with a big lead for much of those games, it should also be noted that the Saints are expected to be playing with a lead in this one as well. Brees has gone three straight games without topping 300 yards – a rarity for him; but even in a great matchup, it won’t surprise me if Brees falls short of 300 yards once again. I like him in tourneys for the upside against a thoroughly attackable Green Bay pass defense, but there are too many avenues by which Brees could have a low-volume, disappointing game, as the Packers will look to slow down the game on their side, while the Saints will be happy to turn to the run if they are playing with a lead. Brees is off the table for me in cash games.
On the ground, Mark Ingram jumps off the page again this week after seeing 25 carries and five targets last week. Ingram has exactly five targets in three of five games this year (seeing eight and four targets in the remaining two games), which gives him a great floor. And even if usage dips a bit this week, his absolute floor is around 15 carries (with goal line work), giving him plenty of opportunity for another big game. I like him even at his elevated price.
Alvin Kamara also soaked up 10 carries last week, while seeing only three targets (his lowest target count of the season). With Adrian Peterson gone and this offense loving to use multiple backs, Kamara’s usage is locked in – with at least five targets and five carries all but guaranteed. He has upside for more work than that, and has huge upside when he touches the ball – which makes him a decent bet in large-field tourneys, on the off chance he breaks one of his runs or catches for a long touchdown. (If Kamara sees 13+ touches – as he has the last two games – his chances of paying off rise even higher.)
I expect the Saints to get Michael Thomas involved this week after he had the quietest game of his career in Week 6. Last week represented the first time in his career Thomas has had fewer than four catches, and the first time he has had fewer than 40 yards. In PPR scoring, the worst game of Thomas’ career before last week was 8.0 points (6.0 in half-PPR), so I’m comfortable keeping his floor in that range even after he dropped lower than that in Week 6. Thomas has seen double-digit targets in 60% of his career games and is Brees’ preferred target in the red zone (he ranked third in the NFL in targets inside the 10-yard-line last year), which is enough to justify him as one of the top plays on the weekend.
The rest of the Saints’ skill position players are fighting for scraps. Willie Snead played only 21 snaps last week, while Coby Fleener has six targets in his last three games. Ted Ginn has big-play upside, but his floor is too low to pull me toward him, and Brandon Coleman is favored in the red zone, but he’s not doing enough outside that area to create much ceiling.
With the injury to Aaron Rodgers, the shootout potential for this game drops a bit – but there is still plenty to like in this spot, and this is a game we should be targeting this weekend.
Jets at Dolphins
Vegas-Implied Total: Dolphins 20.75, Jets 17.75
Dolphins Run D – 2nd DVOA / 6th Yards allowed per carry
Jets Run O – 20th DVOA / 12th Yards per carry
Dolphins Pass D – 28th DVOA / 22nd Yards allowed per pass attempt
Jets Pass O – 27th DVOA / 15th Yards per pass attempt
Jets Run D – 25th DVOA / 24th Yards allowed per carry
Dolphins Run O – 31st DVOA / 26th Yards per carry
Jets Pass D – 21st DVOA / 7th Yards allowed per pass attempt
Dolphins Pass O – 29th DVOA / 32nd Yards per pass attempt
The Miami Dolphins rank 31st in situation neutral pace of play and 30th in plays per game, while they are holding opponents to the third-fewest plays per game. The Jets, meanwhile, rank 30th in situation neutral pace of play and 29th in plays per game. This game offers us two teams with bad offenses – each of which is smart enough to slow things down and hope they can stay in games long enough to win. When a game arises with two such teams, we end up with…well, with an Over/Under of 38.5. We also end up with very little to love from a DFS perspective, as volume is almost certainly going to be lower than it will be in other spots.
The good news on the Dolphins is that their offense flows almost entirely through three guys – and if DeVante Parker misses again, it becomes just two guys getting all the work. Last week, with Parker out, Jarvis Landry saw 14 targets, while Jay Ajayi saw 26 carries.
There are two major warts with Ajayi. Firstly, he has not topped three targets in a game this year (and with zero catches last week on three targets, he did himself no favors if he wants more work through the air). Secondly – because the Dolphins are not using him in passing situations – he falls out of the game plan when the Dolphins fall behind. In Week 3 against the Jets, Ajayi saw only 11 carries in a 6-20 loss. While those issues put a dent in Ajayi’s floor, he is still worthy of tourney consideration, as he should be locked into 20+ carries if the Dolphins keep this game close or take a lead – which is the likeliest scenario. While it’s always preferable to grab a back with more pass-catching upside, Ajayi does represent an affordable way in tourneys to get exposure to a potential 20+ carries with goal line work.
Landry’s wart is that he is averaging only 7.2 yards per reception (to put that in perspective, Golden Tate is averaging 10.1 yards per reception…which ranks 100th in the NFL this season). It’s tough to crack 80 yards (let alone 100) with usage so close to the line of scrimmage, though Landry does maintain some touchdown upside with five targets in the red zone and three targets inside the 10-yard-line. If DeVante Parker returns, I probably don’t want Landry, as the dip in targets combined with the low-upside routes make him less exciting. If Parker misses again, we can genuinely pencil in Landry for 12+ targets, which is definitely worth something.
Ultimately, the Dolphins are going to slow down the game – running as much as they can, and hiding Jay Cutler as much as possible. This will limit opportunity on the other side of the ball, which makes it tough to get excited about anyone on the Jets.
Matt Forte took the lead in the backfield in Week 6, but even if Bilal Powell remains out, this is a two-man backfield with Elijah McGuire seeing work as well – taking on a Dolphins run D that ranks second in DVOA and sixth in yards allowed per carry. You could take a tourney flier on Forte on the off chance he sees heavy pass game involvement again, but the likeliest scenario is that neither back puts up a usable game in a timeshare, with a tough matchup.
Miami is attackable through the air, though they have not been as bad as their reputation. They have yet to allow more than 20 points in a game, in spite of facing the Chargers, the Saints, the Titans, and the Falcons; only four teams have allowed fewer wide receiver touchdowns than the Dolphins, and while the Dolphins have allowed the fourth most tight end receptions in the NFL, they rank 20th in tight end yards allowed and 14th in tight end touchdowns. If going to the Jets’ passing attack, Austin Seferian-Jenkins is the best bet, as he has quickly become an integral part of the Jets’ aerial attack – seeing target counts of six, four, eight, and 11, and seeing four targets inside the 10-yard-line already (which ranks 11th in the NFL, even though ASJ missed two games). While the Dolphins have bottled up tight end yardage, ASJ still carries a nice receptions floor, with his red zone usage bringing elevated upside.
This is not a game to target heavily, with a minuscule total and a pair of slow-paced offense. But touches are distributed to a narrow enough group of players on the Dolphins, and ASJ has a good enough setup on the other side of the ball, that there are at least a few places to still pay attention.
Panthers at Bears
Vegas-Implied Total: Panthers 22.0, Bears 19.0
Bears Run D – 19th DVOA / 16th Yards allowed per carry
Panthers Run O – 24th DVOA / 30th Yards per carry
Bears Pass D – 14th DVOA / 8th Yards allowed per pass attempt
Panthers Pass O – 15th DVOA / 12th Yards per pass attempt
Panthers Run D – 6th DVOA / 14th Yards allowed per carry
Bears Run O – 17th DVOA / 7th Yards per carry
Panthers Pass D – 15th DVOA / 9th Yards allowed per pass attempt
Bears Pass O – 30th DVOA / 28th Yards per pass attempt
The Panthers have allowed 17 sacks this year (tied for 11th in the NFL), and they have thrown eight interceptions (tied for second in the NFL). The Bears’ defense, meanwhile, ranks seventh in sacks with 16. I’m mentioning that off the top because the Bears’ defense is cheap on both FanDuel and DraftKings, and they are worth considering in tourneys this week.
That’s not to imply that I have no interest in Cam Newton. After running the ball only 14 times the first three weeks of the season, Cam has rushed 26 times the last three weeks – which brings him back into the “massive upside” range that made him a fantasy darling for years. He is still showing iffiness with his accuracy (which is not exactly unusual for him), and the Bears do two things that have a potential to lower Cam’s effectiveness: 1) They run a defense that is designed to limit deep passes, and 2) They play a zone-heavy scheme, which means their defensive backs and linebackers will usually be facing the quarterback – making it more difficult for Cam to find huge gains on the ground. With the Bears allowing only one quarterback this year to go over 235 passing yards, Cam is unlikely to hit; but he’s in the tourney conversation for his slate-breaking upside if he does hit.
Chicago ranks 28th in situation neutral pace of play, 10th in opponent plays per game, and 30th in passing play percentage. Their game plan each week is quite clear: grind out the clock, keep the game close, and hope things break their way at the end. Even when the Bears fall far behind, they have a tendency to play slow-paced, ground-and-pound football (they rank 27th in pace of play when trailing by 7+), so we need to project the Panthers to have lower-than-normal volume this week. Against a Bears defense that ranks 20th in passing yards allowed to wide receivers, it’s tough to get too excited about Kelvin Benjamin or Devin Funchess at the places where they have been priced – especially on DraftKings. Funchess has been a touchdown-dependent receiver with zero targets inside the 10-yard-line, while Kelvin has topped eight targets only once on the year (vs Philly – who has allowed the most targets, the most receptions, and the second-most yards to wide receivers). Neither guy is a poor play, but neither is particularly likely to hit for a big game.
The Bears have allowed middling production to tight ends while ranking 11th in DVOA to the position. Ed Dickson has seen his targets rise lately, but he’s further down my list with so much to like at the tight end position. He could hit…but the floor on a career blocking tight end is low enough that I don’t want to chase this spot when I can target the same upside with a higher floor in other places.
The Bears have been most attackable on the ground with running backs – allowing the third-most rushing touchdowns in the league. Because Jonathan Stewart has to score in order to pay off, he’s a thin play. The bigger takeaway is that this is not a game that sets up great for Christian McCaffrey – especially as he has seen his biggest workloads when the Panthers are playing from behind. He’s locked into a good six or seven targets, but it’s tough to see him cracking double-digit looks in this one.
The Bears ran the ball 54 times last week, which gives us a great idea of what they would optimally like to do with Mitchell Trubisky under center. The Bears gave significant wide receiver snaps last week to Tanner Gentry and Tre McBride. This passing attack is in shambles right now.
This game should stay close enough for the Bears to stick to their run-heavy approach – and even though the Panthers are tough to attack on the ground, it is not in John Fox’s nature to deviate from the most conservative approach possible. The likelihood of the Bears taking this approach is heightened by the fact that the Bears know they are not a playoff team, and the most important thing at the moment is developing Trubisky; against a dangerous Panthers defense, it makes sense for them to stick to the ground as much as they can.
This means we should see 20+ touches for Jordan Howard again this week. Much like Jay Ajayi, Howard will likely need a touchdown in order to pay off, as his pass game involvement is limited (one total target over the last two weeks) in an already low-volume passing attack. He’s not a premier play in a tough matchup, but there is a chance he sees 25+ carries once again, which at least gives him an outside shot at being usable in tourneys.
The remaining two pieces on the Bears are Tarik Cohen and Zach Miller. If Benny Cunningham remains out this week, Cohen should continue to see time on the field. His 14 carries last week were a bit fluky (Howard saw 36 carries of his own – which is practically unheard of), while he has not topped four targets since Week 2. He’s a long-shot play. Trubisky has targeted tight ends on over 40% of his passes, though only four teams have allowed fewer completions to the tight end than the Panthers have allowed. Miller is best left alone this week.
Cardinals “at” Rams (in London)
Vegas-Implied Total: Rams 25.25, Cardinals 21.75
Rams Run D – 22nd DVOA / 29th Yards allowed per carry
Cardinals Run O – 32nd DVOA / 32nd Yards per carry
Rams Pass D – 6th DVOA / 21st Yards allowed per pass attempt
Cardinals Pass O – 22nd DVOA / 10th Yards per pass attempt
Cardinals Run D – 4th DVOA / 4th Yards allowed per carry
Rams Run O – 19th DVOA / 19th Yards per carry
Cardinals Pass D – 24th DVOA / 23rd Yards allowed per pass attempt
Rams Pass O – 5th DVOA / 4th Yards per pass attempt
The Cardinals’ defense filters action to the air (fourth in both run defense DVOA and yards allowed per carry, but 24th in pass defense DVOA and 23rd in yards allowed per pass attempt), but the Rams rank 27th in passing play percentage.
The Rams’ defense filters action to the ground (sixth in pass defense DVOA, but 22nd in run defense DVOA and 29th in yards allowed per carry – though the Rams do rank 21st in yards allowed per pass attempt as well), while the Cardinals rank first in passing play percentage.
This gives us two teams that will see more effectiveness if they choose to attack in the way they prefer to attack less often. This always creates an interesting DFS situation, as most coaches are hard-headed enough that they will continue attacking the way their offense is designed to attack, even if the matchup dictates otherwise – but if a coach is sharp enough to shift his approach, we can reap nice results in DFS. For example: Jared Goff is playing well this year, ranking fourth in yards per pass attempt and ninth in quarterback rating, while tossing eight touchdowns to only three interceptions…but his DFS price tag has not risen to a level that reflects this quality of play – largely because he has stayed under 30 pass attempts in four of six games already this year (and one of the games in which he rose above that mark was in a brutal matchup against Seattle, where Sean McVay apparently overthought things and threw 47 times in a close game while giving Gurley only 14 carries…against a team that is far more beatable on the ground). There is a chance that McVay goes the other way this week – that he “sticks to what we do” (going run-heavy) in spite of the fact that the matchup dictates the Rams should take to the air. After he took criticism for going too pass-heavy against the Seahawks, it would not be surprising if he sticks to the run in this one. But if the Rams do allow the matchup to dictate their approach, and allow Goff to throw the ball 40+ times, we could see a tremendous game from this passing attack, at an affordable price. For that reason, Goff is in play – as a risk/reward option – in tourneys.
Because Patrick Peterson has done such a great job shutting down alpha receivers, we have seen a steady barrage of Number 2 and Number 3 options post solid games against the Cardinals. Arizona ranks 10th in receptions allowed to wide receivers, fifth in yards allowed, and second in touchdowns allowed – and Mike Evans was the first alpha receiver to go for more than 50 yards against them (picking up a big gain last week when Peterson was on the sidelines). This creates a great opportunity for Robert Woods (six to eight targets in four consecutive games) to post a nice score, while Cooper Kupp should see more involvement than normal. In spite of the drop in price, it’s still tough to jump on board with Sammy Watkins. There will be brighter days ahead, but after taking on the Seahawks in Week 5 and the Jaguars in Week 6, a matchup with Patrick Peterson is not the time to expect the breakout.
Only 10 teams have allowed fewer receiving yards to running backs than the Cardinals have allowed, but this may be more a function of Justin Bethel and Tyrann Mathieu being so attackable through the air, and there being no reason to pepper running backs with targets; Arizona ranks only 20th in DVOA against the position through the air. Todd Gurley has a tough matchup on the ground, which takes him out of the cash game conversation for me, but his usage is high enough, and the Rams’ offensive line is good enough, and Gurley’s pass game involvement is enticing enough that he’s in play in tourneys. His floor is lower than normal, but the ceiling remains as high as anyone’s. Gurley ranks second in the NFL in carries inside the five-yard-line, and he has four targets in the red zone (Goff also has only seven pass attempts inside the 10-yard-line – fewer than 22 other quarterbacks – which speaks both to the faith McVay has in Gurley close to the goal line, and to the protection he is giving his young quarterback from confidence-shaking mistakes).
Adrian Peterson bucked every bit of conventional thinking last week to post a monster game. He had not topped 100 yards since 2015, and he had joined a Cardinals team that entered last week ranked 32nd in run offense DVOA and 32nd in adjusted line yards. A 32-year-old running back (who does not catch passes) joining the pass-heaviest team in football behind a bad offensive line was not supposed to post a monster game – but then, I guess we should expect the unexpected when it comes to Adrian Peterson. The matchup is great this week – against a Rams team that has been gashed on the ground, and is solid through the air – so Peterson is in play in tourneys. While the Cardinals’ line is not good, their power-blocking scheme suits Peterson perfectly, and he’s a good bet to score against a Rams team that has allowed the most rushing touchdowns and the fourth-most rushing yards to running backs.
The Rams are also attackable through the air with running backs, as they have allowed the ninth-most receptions to the position. If the Rams take a two-score lead, Peterson is almost certainly going to come off the field in favor of Andre Ellington, which makes Ellington a sneaky tourney play this week. His floor is close to zero with the risk that Peterson takes over this game, but he also has a clear path to 16 FanDuel points and 20 DraftKings points if the Rams take a lead. A Goff/Woods/Ellington pairing is an interesting game stack that could pay off big if the Rams decide to attack aggressively through the air.
The Rams rank 18th in fantasy points allowed per game to opposing quarterbacks, though we are still feeling out this defense. While the Rams have faced Kirk Cousins, Dak Prescott, and Russell Wilson, they have also faced Scott Tolzien, Brian Hoyer, and Blake Bortles. My instincts – after watching Bruce Arians offenses for years – tell me that Arians will remain pass-heavy in this game, even though he has Peterson in a winnable matchup. Even still, I’m likelier to stay away from the Cardinals’ passing attack than to load up in this spot. The Rams have faced the most running back touches in the red zone this year, while facing the 11th fewest red zone targets to wide receivers on the year. It’s tough to find paths to big games for the Cardinals’ passing attack
If you do want to attack through the air, you can hang your hat on the 44+ attempts Carson Palmer has had in four of six games this year. Palmer’s worst game on the season was 268 yards, and the Cardinals rank third in the NFL in passing yards per game. The most reliable bet for targets is Larry Fitzgerald, who ranks fourth in the NFL in targets per game. and first in red zone targets. The matchup in the slot against Nickell Robey-Coleman is not great, but the usage should be there. Behind Fitz, it’s a mishmash of usage spread to Jaron Brown, J.J. Nelson, and John Brown, but John is the guy likeliest to see seven-plus targets, and he has played 47 or more snaps three consecutive weeks. For the first time in ages, he’s off the injury report and should be good to rock this week.
Buccaneers at Bills
Vegas-Implied Total: N/A
Bills Run D – 11th DVOA / 7th Yards allowed per carry
Buccaneers Run O – 18th DVOA / 24th Yards per carry
Bills Pass D – 3rd DVOA / 10th Yards allowed per pass attempt
Buccaneers Pass O – 9th DVOA / 6th Yards per pass attempt
Buccaneers Run D – 14th DVOA / 8th Yards allowed per carry
Bills Run O – 29th DVOA / 29th Yards per carry
Buccaneers Pass D – 31st DVOA / 30th Yards allowed per pass attempt
Bills Pass O – 19th DVOA / 22nd Yards per pass attempt
One of the more interesting discussions this week centers around whether or not the Bills’ pass defense is actually good. On the one hand, who have they played? They played Josh McCown, a struggling Cam Newton, Trevor Siemian, Matt Ryan, and Andy Dalton. Ryan is the only quarterback on that list we would expect to present a major challenge, and even the Falcons’ offense has been a bit lost of late. On the other hand, how many more games do we have to see before we believe that Sean McDermott and Leslie Frazier – two excellent defensive minds – are capable of scheming and coaching a group of solid players into a very strong defense? Especially with this game being played in Buffalo, I’m willing to side with the belief that the Bills’ pass defense is, in fact, good. And with two weeks to prepare for the Buccaneers (who McDermott knows well from his years in the NFC South), it won’t surprise me if the Bucs disappoint.
Of course, the other side of this argument is that matchup hardly matters for Mike Evans, with how heavily Jameis Winston targets him. Here are Evans’ four games against McDermott’s Carolina defense with Jameis under center (starting with the most recent):
5-65-1, on 11 targets
6-89-1, on 12 targets
4-99-0, on nine targets
3-32-0, on eight targets
The Bucs are going to pepper Evans with targets no matter what. He ranks seventh in the NFL in targets per game and third in targets inside the 10-yard-line (though he surprisingly ranks 26th in percentage share of team air yards, as the Bucs are targeting him downfield with less frequency – allowing DeSean Jackson to take over that role in the offense). And while the Bills have had two weeks to prepare for Evans, the Bengals provided a blueprint two weeks ago of how to position a number one receiver against this Bills zone, as A.J. Green dropped 189 yards and a touchdown on the Bills (on seven catches and 13 targets). I will certainly have some exposure to Evans this weekend – but I also expect Evans’ name to pick up plenty of steam after what Green did to the Bills. If ownership soars for Evans, I won’t be surprised if I’m underweight on the field. One thing that may put me on Evans anyway is something most people won’t think about: the fact that Evans is running shorter routes this year actually helps his floor against a defense designed to keep the ball in front of them.
While plenty of attention will likely flow to Evans, DeSean Jackson will go under-owned. He has seen at least six targets in every game this year, and he ranks 15th in the NFL in percentage share of team air yards, in spite of seeing 2.6 fewer targets per game than Evans. Although the Bills’ defense is supposed to keep the ball in front of them, they had a couple breakdowns against A.J. Green, and a similar situation could lead to a big game for DeSean.
While Buffalo ranks top eight in DVOA against all three wide receiver positions, they rank 16th against the tight end. Teams have not been attacking Buffalo with the tight end (only six teams have faced fewer targets), but Brate is averaging six targets per game and has eight red zone targets. He’s touchdown-dependent, but he’s nevertheless viable this week.
Doug Martin has taken over the Bucs’ backfield, but with limited pass game involvement and a tough matchup, he’s difficult to get excited about. He should get enough usage to justify a roster spot if he scores, but there are more exciting plays.
All of this on the Tampa offense hinges on Jameis Winston playing. If Jameis fails to get cleared for this game, I will almost certainly avoid the Bucs altogether – but it seems likely that Jameis is cleared for the weekend.
In spite of having already had their bye, the Bucs rank ninth in passing yards allowed and eighth in passing touchdowns allowed. After the Patriots and possibly the Browns (though ahead of the Titans), the Bucs have been the most attackable pass defense in the NFL. This creates a tough setup, as Buffalo ranks 31st in passing play percentage – and unlike the situation above (with the Rams and Cardinals), we can predict with near-100% certainty that the Bills will stick to their run-heavy approach. Zay Jones has five catches on 23 targets, Charles Clay is out, and Jordan Matthews is iffy. The Bills want to win with running and defense, and this is another game (just like four of the Bills’ first five) in which Tyrod Taylor should be held below 30 pass attempts.
If Jordan Matthews returns this week, he’s an interesting option against a Bucs defense that has been destroyed by wide receivers – allowing the second-most catches, the fourth-most yards, and the sixth-most touchdowns to the position, in spite of already having their bye. Much of this damage has come from slot receivers, which is where Matthews lines up 63% of the time. He’s not a lock for production if he plays, simply given how little the Bills want to pass the ball; but he’s appealing enough for strong consideration. (You could use all those same statistics to justify Zay Jones if Matthews is out – though Jones has been awful enough this year that he is only viable in the largest of tourneys, where you are looking for a play with tiny ownership and huge potential.)
The Bills’ offense will largely flow through LeSean McCoy (21+ touches in all but one game this year; 6+ targets in all but one game), and the Cardinals revealed last week that there are holes in the Bucs’ run defense as well. It should still be noted that neither McCoy nor the Bills’ offensive line has meshed with Rick Dennison’s zone-blocking scheme, while McCoy has only two carries inside the five-yard-line this year (compared to three for Mike Tolbert). The Bills are also “in playoff contention,” and they have been content to “keep Shady fresh” by giving Tolbert work (eight or more touches in three games this year). All of these factors lower Shady’s floor below what we can pencil in for guys like Ezekiel Elliott, Le’Veon Bell, and Leonard Fournette – but the upside is as high as any running back on the board, which keeps Shady in play in large-field tourneys.
Jaguars at Colts
Vegas-Implied Total: Jaguars 23.25, Colts 20.25
Colts Run D – 20th DVOA / 18th Yards allowed per carry
Jaguars Run O – 7th DVOA / 2nd Yards per carry
Colts Pass D – 27th DVOA / 31st Yards allowed per pass attempt
Jaguars Pass O – 24th DVOA / 27th Yards per pass attempt
Jaguars Run D – 31st DVOA / 32nd Yards allowed per carry
Colts Run O – 28th DVOA / 28th Yards per carry
Jaguars Pass D – 1st DVOA / 3rd Yards allowed per pass attempt
Colts Pass O – 31st DVOA / 11th Yards per pass attempt
I expected this to be the shortest NFL Edge of the year, given how many low-total games there are. But so far, I have written more words per game than in any week this season. Basically, when there is so little to love, there becomes a lot to “like,” which leads to some deeper digging to figure out where the best plays are. I think this is a game in which we can knock down the word count a bit, however – starting with the Colts’ passing attack.
1) T.Y. Hilton is always “justifiable” at home. His upside is just so high with the ball in his hands on the turf in Indy. He also runs 37% of his snaps out of the slot, where he will avoid Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye (not that Aaron Colvin is a pushover).
2) Even with that, Hilton is not a good play. The Jaguars have allowed one passing touchdown to wide receivers. One. That’s the best in the league. They’ve allowed a 50.1% completion rate to wide receivers. They’ve allowed the eighth-fewest yards to wide receivers. They’ve allowed five completions to wide receivers in the red zone all year. You can roster Hilton in tourneys at low ownership for upside. But with that, realize he’s still unlikely to hit.
I am far more likely to roster the Jaguars’ defense on the road than to roster Jacoby Brissett or any other piece of this Colts’ passing attack. The one exception may be Jack Doyle, who has seen target counts of eight, five, seven, and 11 in his games with Brissett. The Jaguars are not bad against the tight end, but they are so good against wide receivers, they filter some targets to the position. They have allowed three receiving touchdowns to tight ends, and Doyle is a decent volume-driven play.
The best way to attack the Jags is on the ground, though Indy ranks 29th in adjusted line yards, and while Frank Gore can get what’s blocked for him, he doesn’t have the burst to break a long run (which is what has really hurt the Jags). Gore is a serviceable play, but you’ll need a touchdown for him to pay off – in what projects to be a low-scoring game. You could also go to Marlon Mack in tourneys, on the extreme off chance the Colts finally get him more involved. He’s a higher-upside option than Gore, but the Colts have so far shown little willingness to make a change.
While 12 teams have allowed more rushing yards to running backs than the Colts, they have allowed eight touchdowns to the position (six on the ground, and two through the air) – the second-most in the league. There is not much clarity at the moment on the ankle injury Leonard Fournette suffered in Week 6, but if he is forced to miss this week (or if it sounds like Fournette will be active, but limited), Chris Ivory will become one of the best values on the slate. While Ivory has long had a reputation as a “poor pass-catching back,” it’s more that the Saints and Jets rarely used him in that capacity. He has caught 71% of the passes thrown to him in his career, and he will be the complete package this week if he steps into a major role.
If Fournette suits up and is expected to play his normal role, he will be one of my favorite high-priced options on the slate. Fournette has exceeded 20 carries in four of six games this year, while seeing four or more targets three times and scoring a touchdown in every game on the season. His usage keeps him near the top of the league on a weekly basis.
Blake Bortles has (surprisingly) thrown the ball 30+ times in four of six games this year, and while that has typically been driven by game flow (and I don’t expect the Colts to jump out to a big lead), we should see a floor of about 25 pass attempts here, with upside for 35. On a weekend with plenty to like among cheap quarterbacks, there is no reason to take the plunge on Bortles himself, but there will likely be enough volume to support one of Marqise Lee or Allen Hurns. Lee has seven or more targets in half of the Jags’ games (though he has four or fewer targets in the other half), while Allen Hurns has three targets inside the 10-yard-line and has a pair of games with seven or more targets. Neither guy is a lock, but the upside is high enough in this matchup that I like Hurns as a long-shot play, and I like Lee as an upside play with a decent floor.
Titans at Browns
Vegas-Implied Total: Titans 26.25, Browns 20.25
Browns Run D – 3rd DVOA / 2nd Yards allowed per carry
Titans Run O – 3rd DVOA / 3rd Yards per carry
Browns Pass D – 32nd DVOA / 27th Yards allowed per pass attempt
Titans Pass O – 14th DVOA / 19th Yards per pass attempt
Titans Run D – 17th DVOA / 11th Yards allowed per carry
Browns Run O – 9th DVOA / 15th Yards per carry
Titans Pass D – 25th DVOA / 11th Yards allowed per pass attempt
Browns Pass O – 32nd DVOA / 30th Yards per pass attempt
Let’s talk about the Cleveland Browns against wide receivers.
Jason McCourty somehow has Pro Football Focus’ highest cornerback rating in the NFL, and a Gregg Williams defense is somehow holding up on the perimeter. Only six teams in the NFL have allowed fewer receptions to the wide receiver position this year, only two teams have seen fewer targets to the wide receiver, and only 10 teams have allowed fewer yards. The Browns have allowed seven touchdowns to wide receivers (tied with the Bucs for the sixth-worst mark in the league), but this is creating a touchdown-or-bust situation. We could spend a thousand words debating whether the Browns are good against wide receivers, or are instead just so bad defending tight ends that wide receivers are not being targeted. But either way, the assessment comes out the same way this week – with a Titans team that is perfectly happy to throw to the tight end:
The Titans receivers may not be in as great of a spot this week as it appears at first glance.
This is worth noting, as early-week trends are pointing to Rishard Matthews and possibly even Eric Decker becoming the chalk…against a team that is seeing the fewest targets per game to the wide receiver position.
There is a different angle from which to look at this. Antonio Brown lit the Browns on fire in Week 1 with an 11-182-0 line, while T.Y. Hilton rinsed the Browns for a 7-153-1 line. A.J. Green caught only five passes for 63 yards, but he managed to add a touchdown, and while DeAndre Hopkins posted only a 2-19-1 line, Will Fuller notched 62 yards and a touchdown on only two catches.
I still lean Delanie Walker here – and I think he is the best point-per-dollar play among Titans pass catchers (especially on FanDuel), against a team that has allowed the most catches, the third-most yards, and the third-most touchdowns to tight ends. Decker and Rishard are not in the same class as Brown, Hilton, and Green, and the Titans have an excellent tight end to attack with.
I won’t be surprised if Rishard or Decker post a good game. But there is enough to like away from this game – and there are enough ways in which Rishard and Decker can end up with disappointing outputs – that I’ll likely fade the Titans’ wide receivers myself, in the hopes that they pull high ownership and yield disappointing scores.
Marcus Mariota is also in play, of course. The Browns have allowed the most passing touchdowns in football, in spite of facing the eighth-fewest attempts – an incredible feat. Mariota’s legs add upside if his hamstring is fully healed – but even if he’s a bit hobbled, the upside for any quarterback in this matchup is too high to ignore.
The Titans’ backfield is interesting, as the Titans run the ball at the eighth-highest rate in the NFL, with an offensive line that ranks sixth in adjusted line yards, and a rushing attack that ranks third in DVOA and yards per carry – but they are taking on a Browns defense that surprisingly ranks second in adjusted line yards, third in DVOA, and second in yards per carry. If DeMarco Murray is healthy this week, this is a timeshare in a tough matchup, which is best avoided. If Murray is out, the lack of pass game involvement for Derrick Henry (two total targets through six games) lowers his floor in a big way, but even with the tough matchup, he’d be worth a spot on a tourney roster given his workload, his talent, and the talent of his offensive line.
The Browns’ run game is a mess and probably cannot be targeted this season unless something massive shifts. With the Titans expected to jump out to a lead, it’s difficult to project Isaiah Crowell for more than the 12 (or fewer) carries he has seen four times already. He has yet to top 60 rushing yards in a game this year.
With DeShone Kizer back under center, in fact, all the Browns’ skill position players are probably not worth pursuing. Kizer has completed only 50.9% of his passes, he has three touchdowns to nine interceptions, and the Browns are shifting playing time among their wide receivers each week, with no indications beforehand as to who will be the preferred options through the air. Yes, you could “guess right” on one of these receivers – correctly pegging the guy who will see the most targets in a good matchup – but even then, you have Kizer throwing to the guys. You can find similar upside in much better spots.
The one guy I want to consider is Kizer himself. We can almost guarantee that Kizer will not be benched mid-game in this one – after Hogan performed so poorly, and with Kizer re-named the starter – and we should expect the Titans to build a lead. Outside of his dud against the Jets, Kizer struggled against two very good pass defenses in the Bengals and Ravens, while playing well against another very tough pass defense in the Steelers and posting 25.08 fantasy points in a matchup against the Colts that was similar to this one. Kizer can be relied on for two to three points with his legs (enough to offset the interceptions), with upside for a rushing touchdown. And while there is no reason we should expect it to be pretty, it will not be surprising if Kizer tops 200 yards and notches a couple scores through the air. The Titans’ defense is in play against Kizer, but keep in mind that Kizer – against a team that ranks 30th in sacks and 29th in passing touchdowns allowed – is in play as well.
Cowboys at 49ers
Vegas-Implied Total: Cowboys 26.25, 49ers 20.25
49ers Run D – 13th DVOA / 5th Yards allowed per carry
Cowboys Run O – 5th DVOA / 5th Yards per carry
49ers Pass D – 26th DVOA / 25th Yards allowed per pass attempt
Cowboys Pass O – 13th DVOA / 23rd Yards per pass attempt
Cowboys Run D – 32nd DVOA / 25th Yards allowed per carry
49ers Run O – 25th DVOA / 14th Yards per carry
Cowboys Pass D – 23rd DVOA / 14th Yards allowed per pass attempt
49ers Pass O – 26th DVOA / 29th Yards per pass attempt
This is one of the more sneaky-exciting games on the weekend, as the 49ers rank 11th in situation neutral pace of play and first in overall pace of play, while the Cowboys have picked up the tempo this year as well (and lowered their percentage of run plays – all a result of their offensive line underperforming this season). San Francisco ranks seventh in plays per game while Dallas ranks 16th. San Francisco is also allowing the most opponent plays per game in the NFL, with Dallas allowing the eighth-most opponent plays per game.
Further contributing to the potential for this game to turn into a shootout is the fact that the 49ers rank third in the NFL in passing play percentage, while the Cowboys rank a middling 16th, but are taking on a 49ers defense that has been very strong against the run while getting shredded by the pass.
The 49ers have allowed the third-most completions and the fourth-most passing yards in the NFL this year, setting up Dak for a great game. Dak has reached 36 or more pass attempts in all but one game this year, and he should hit that mark again – making him an excellent option if you want to pay up at quarterback.
Further benefitting us from a DFS perspective is the way the 49ers filter targets to wide receivers. In spite of seeing the sixth-most pass attempts in the NFL this year, the 49ers have seen the third-fewest targets to tight ends. The 49ers rank first in DVOA against the position, while ranking 23rd or worse against all three wide receiver positions. Dez Bryant ranks fifth in the NFL in percentage share of team air yards and seventh in targets per game. He also has the most targets in the NFL inside the 10-yard-line, and is due for some serious positive touchdown regression (with only one catch, and one touchdown, from inside the 10). After taking on Janoris Jenkins, Aqib Talib, and Patrick Peterson to begin the year, then being on bye last week, I expect Dez to go somewhat overlooked. He’s one of the top wide receiver plays on the slate.
I’m also a big fan of Ezekiel Elliott this week. Although the 49ers have been stout against the run, they have allowed the most targets and the most receptions in the NFL to running backs. Zeke has seen exactly five targets in three of five games this season, and he has seen 21 or more carries in four of five games. With his suspension looming and potentially set to take hold as soon as Week 8, I expect the Cowboys to feed him heavily in this game. San Francisco has allowed the 10th-most points per game in the NFL, and nearly all of the production should flow through Dak, Dez, and Zeke. I like all three guys quite a bit this week, and while the salary is tight, a three-man stack here has monster potential.
While the 49ers have allowed the 10th-most points per game in the NFL, the Cowboys have allowed the fourth-most points per game.
The Cowboys offer a good matchup for the 49ers all the way around, as they have been hit hard on the ground and through the air. The 49ers’ backfield is a little difficult to figure out, as Carlos Hyde jumped up to his highest snap rate of the season last week, one week after seeing his lowest snap rate (with rumors swirling after that game that the 49ers were shopping him). What we do know is that Hyde has the most carries in the NFL inside the five-yard-line, and while his floor has to be considered low (see: Week 5), his ceiling – between the goal line work and the six targets he has seen in four of six games this year – is as high as any running back on the slate.
Rivaling Brett Hundley this week (with both guys almost certainly standing above DeShone Kizer for me) is C.J. Beathard – a third-round rookie who had a sixth/seventh-round grade from most teams…but who Kyle Shanahan traded up to draft. Beathard played in a pro-style offense in college, and while he struggled in a number of areas in college (poor pocket awareness, poor accuracy on the deep ball, an inability to quickly progress through reads), these should not show up as big DFS deterrents in Week 7. The sacks – while a drawback – will not kill Beathard’s DFS production. The deep ball should not be a focal point against a Cowboys defense designed to filter targets underneath. And in a well-schemed system against a beatable zone defense, Beathard should be able to hit his first and second read often enough that his inability to progress won’t be a major issue. I like Beathard a lot this week – in tourneys, and possibly even in cash.
While I tend to avoid perimeter receivers against this year’s Cowboys scheme, the route tree Kyle Shanahan has Garcon running this year is a perfect pairing with the way the Cowboys play defense – with a lot of slants and short crossers. While Garcon has disappointed in four of six games this year, those came against Carolina (15th in pass defense DVOA – and “disappointing” was a still-respectable 6-81-0), Seattle (fifth in pass defense DVOA), Arizona (Patrick Peterson), and Washington (the second fewest wide receiver catches allowed in the NFL this year). Garcon is underpriced and has a high floor even if he “disappoints,” and he has upside for a huge effort in this one.
It is important to note that the Cowboys rank 29th in DVOA against the tight end after getting torched by the position last year…while George Kittle played with Beathard for four years in college. Kittle has 17 targets across the last two games – and in spite of just emerging a couple weeks ago, he already has four targets inside the 10-yard-line (tied for 11th-most in the NFL). Right above Kittle on that list is Marquise Goodwin, who quietly has five targets inside the 10 this year (it’s been so quiet, in fact, that Goodwin may not even know he’s been targeted, as he has zero catches). Goodwin is going to hit big one week. It would not surprise me if this is that week.
This is one of my favorite games on the slate for DFS production. The tourney upside in this spot is huge.
Bengals at Steelers
Vegas-Implied Total: Steelers 23.5, Bengals 18.0
Steelers Run D – 12th DVOA / 27th Yards allowed per carry
Bengals Run O – 27th DVOA / 31st Yards per carry
Steelers Pass D – 4th DVOA / 2nd Yards allowed per pass attempt
Bengals Pass O – 23rd DVOA / 7th Yards per pass attempt
Bengals Run D – 7th DVOA / 12th Yards allowed per carry
Steelers Run O – 6th DVOA / 23rd Yards per carry
Bengals Pass D – 7th DVOA / 1st Yards allowed per pass attempt
Steelers Pass O – 11th DVOA / 18th Yards per pass attempt
The Bengals’ numbers against wide receivers need to be taken with a grain of salt. On the one hand, the Bengals have faced the fewest wide receiver targets in the NFL, and have allowed only 47% of wide receiver targets to be completed. On the other hand, the Bengals have faced Joe Flacco, Tom Savage (benched midway through the game for Deshaun Watson), Aaron Rodgers, DeShone Kizer, and Tyrod Taylor. Rodgers and Watson give the Bengals a game and a half of good quarterback play against them, with everything else hanging out near the bottom of the league in terms of aerial effectiveness. The Steelers at home can have a case made for them no matter the opponent.
With that said, I’m still not the one to make that case, as I’ve been a proponent for a couple years now of fading Antonio Brown (and pretty much all perimeter receivers) against the Bengals. Here are Brown’s last five games against the Bengals (playoffs included):
It’s always scary to just cross AB off the list, and he’s the only guy in the NFL who regularly sees 15+ high-upside targets (which means you can make a case for him in even the toughest of matchups), but the Bengals’ zone defense that filters targets to the middle of the field is not the best setup for AB to reach his ceiling. The same goes for Martavis Bryant – who has a much lower floor along the way.
The wide receiver who draws my eye the most on the Steelers is actually JuJu Smith-Schuster. There is no guarantee that JuJu sees more than four targets, but the best place to attack Cincy is from the slot. Last year – with similar personnel and this same scheme – the Bengals ranked 28th in wide receiver slot DVOA, but sixth in perimeter DVOA. There is a chance the Steelers move AB into the slot more often than the 13% rate he has seen, but the likeliest scenario is that JuJu continues to see over 75% of his snaps in the slot, and that he benefits with a few extra targets in this spot.
The Bengals have also been stout against the run this year, but their strong perimeter pass defense always leads to targets being filtered to the running back. This year, the Bengals have faced the sixth-most targets to running backs. Le’Veon Bell has missed three of the Steelers’ last five games against the Bengals, so it’s tough to get a read on how this defense will aim to defend him. But while the matchup knocks Bell down a bit, his usage floor and talent are still high enough to justify his price tag. He’s not a priority play this week (i.e., he’s not a guy I’m locking in right away and “figuring things out from there”), but I’ll be perfectly happy if I find him on my roster.
It makes sense to look at past numbers for AB against the Bengals, as this is largely the same Bengals defense it has been in the past.
This may not be the same Steelers defense it has been in the past.
While A.J. Green has had some big games against the Steelers in recent years, this unit ranks forth in DVOA, second in yards allowed per pass attempt, first in wide receiver yards allowed, third in wide receiver catches allowed, and fifth in wide receiver touchdowns allowed.
I do think the Steelers’ pass defense is very good (possibly even elite), and their pass rush (second in Football Outsiders’ adjusted sack rate) should give fits to a Bengals’ offensive line that ranks 28th in adjusted sack rate. This takes all pass catchers on the Bengals out of cash game and single-entry tourney consideration for me. But I also expect ownership to be low on a player in A.J. Green who ranks fifth in the NFL in targets per game and second in percentage share of team air yards. Green has disappointed in his last two outings vs Pittsburgh, but in 2015 he went 11-118-0 and 6-132-1. He’s one of the most talented wide receivers in the NFL, so even in a tough matchup, he’s worth a shot in tourneys if ownership projects to be as low as I think it will be. The matchup puts a huge dent in Green’s floor, but the ceiling remains intact.
The most speculative, but most appealing play on the Bengals is in the backfield – in Joe Mixon. Mixon played 54% of the team’s snaps over the last three weeks before the bye, and that’s probably where he’ll remain – with Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill still hanging around. But the Steelers have been far more beatable on the ground than through the air, and Mixon has seen 15 to 21 touches in each game since he emerged as the lead back. Only six teams have allowed more receptions to the running back than the Steelers, and Mixon brings enormous upside into the open field.
I won’t be too high on the ancillary pieces on the Bengals, as these teams tend to play hard-fought, low-scoring games, and the Bengals’ offense is built around the backs and A.J. Green. But focusing on the core pieces on each team will expose you to huge usage – and huge upside.
Seahawks at Giants
Vegas-Implied Total: Seahawks 22.75, Giants 17.25
Giants Run D – 27th DVOA / 23rd Yards allowed per carry
Seahawks Run O – 13th DVOA / 20th Yards per carry
Giants Pass D – 20th DVOA / 12th Yards allowed per pass attempt
Seahawks Pass O – 21st DVOA / 20th Yards per pass attempt
Seahawks Run D – 26th DVOA / 30th Yards allowed per carry
Giants Run O – 23rd DVOA / 17th Yards per carry
Seahawks Pass D – 5th DVOA / 4th Yards allowed per pass attempt
Giants Pass O – 16th DVOA / 24th Yards per pass attempt
While the Giants’ defense has fallen apart this year – presenting a good matchup for Russell Wilson – Wilson himself has turned into a bit of a mystery, with five high-quality matchups already this year (Green Bay, San Francisco, Tennessee, Indianapolis, and L.A. Rams), and with three of those matchups yielding disappointing results. The tough part is, there is really no pattern to usage or effectiveness for Russ, which leaves us calling him what he is: a high-upside dual-threat quarterback who carries a shaky-low floor. With the Seahawks coming off a bye and having extra time to prepare for this game, I want to lean toward a belief that “good Russ” shows up, and that he posts a huge tourney game (at likely low ownership). This idea is further supported by the fact that the Giants rank 24th in adjusted sack rate – which should allow Russ more time to operate behind his broken-down offensive line. Russ is not a guy I want to target in cash games, but in a good matchup, at likely low ownership, with tourney-winning upside, Russ is worth considering.
As Russ has risen and fallen this year, so have his pass catchers. Doug Baldwin has seen two games this year of four or fewer targets, but he also has target counts of eight, nine, and 15. Jimmy Graham has seen his targets range from two to 11 – though he has seen six or more targets in all but one game.
Graham is cash game viable in this spot, vs a Giants team that has allowed the most touchdowns and yards to tight ends. Only the Browns have allowed more tight end receptions. And Baldwin has a tough, but winnable matchup against Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who is returning from his team-imposed suspension; Baldwin is a low-floor, but high-upside tourney option.
With Paul Richardson and Tyler Lockett splitting looks behind Baldwin, Graham, and the running backs, you need an unpredictable, long touchdown for one of these guys to pay off. And with the Seahawks’ backfield devolving into one of the uglier messes in football (Eddie Lacy and Thomas Rawls splitting early work; C.J. Prosise returning to split passing work with J.D. McKissic), I’ll stay away completely.
The Giants are still down Brandon Marshall and Odell Beckham, though they should get back Sterling Shepard this week. Last week against a Broncos team that still ranks first in run defense DVOA and yards allowed per carry, the Giants threw only 19 times and ran Orleans Darkwa and Wayne Gallman 30 times. Already this year, the Giants have had to shift to a quick-out passing offense because of their poor offensive line, and now they seem to be shifting to a slow-paced, ground-and-pound attack with all their wide receivers injured. As such, we should not expect high overall volume for the Giants’ passing attack (unless the Seahawks jump out to a big lead themselves), so Shepard and Evan Engram still may not see more than six to eight targets. But each guy is rosterable in tourneys – even in a tough matchup – for the upside for double-digit targets if the Giants are forced to turn to the air (and if rostering those guys in tourneys, realize that you are essentially saying you expect the Seahawks’ offense to do well – so you will want to bring it back with a Seahawks piece or two).
That is as far as I want to go in the passing game for the Giants.
I would love to go to the ground game, but I am hoping we get more clarity before the weekend. Maybe I’m a bit gun-shy after using Carlos Hyde on my main team two weeks ago and Javorius Allen on my main team last week, but these backs in seemingly-certain, suddenly-uncertain timeshares can crush a roster. I feel comfortable assuming that even if Paul Perkins returns this week, Orleans Darkwa has earned the lion’s share of the work, and Wayne Gallman will mix in on early downs with Shane Vereen taking obvious passing downs. But that could change without warning – and even if that’s the way things shake out, that’s no guarantee for production with three backs splitting work. I’d love to be able to go here, but without more clarity, I imagine I will end up staying away completely.
Broncos at Chargers
Vegas-Implied Total: Chargers 21.5, Broncos 20.0
Chargers Run D – 28th DVOA / 31st Yards allowed per carry
Broncos Run O – 14th DVOA / 13th Yards per carry
Chargers Pass D – 12th DVOA / 16th Yards allowed per pass attempt
Broncos Pass O – 20th DVOA / 16th Yards per pass attempt
Broncos Run D – 1st DVOA / 1st Yards allowed per carry
Chargers Run O – 30th DVOA / 25th Yards per carry
Broncos Pass D – 18th DVOA / 6th Yards allowed per pass attempt
Chargers Pass O – 10th DVOA / 17th Yards per pass attempt
The Denver Broncos have been all over the place this season in their offensive approach. They rank 19th in the NFL in passing play percentage, but they rank fifth over their last three games. C.J. Anderson has seen as many as 28 touches and as few as nine touches. And Trevor Siemian has thrown as many as 50 passes and as few as 26.
The common thread among the high-volume C.J. games is that they came in Broncos wins. The common thread between the high-volume Siemian games is that they came in losses. Okay – that’s the easy part. The hard part is that there has not been any rhyme or reason to the teams that have handed the Broncos their losses. They beat this Chargers team in Week 1 (by a missed Chargers field goal). They beat 2016 playoff teams in Dallas and Oakland. But they lost to the Bills and to an 0-5, injury-decimated Giants team.
If we want to just talk “smart coaching,” the Broncos will do what they did in Week 1 against the Chargers: throw the ball around 30 times, while keeping the ball on the ground the rest of the time. But the Broncos have been more reactive than proactive this season – allowing the score to dictate their style of play – so while I like C.J. as one of the higher-upside plays on the weekend in a great matchup if volume flows his way, I do still have to leave that “if” in place.
Siemian’s volume is not a point of interest for me insofar as the viability of rostering Siemian himself, but his passing attack is of particular interest this week with Emmanuel Sanders out, and with Bennie Fowler stepping in as a super-cheap wide receiver who could see anywhere from six to 10 targets.
Ultimately, I expect the Broncos to throw the ball around 30 to 35 times. That’s still enough for Fowler and Demaryius Thomas to each see eight or more looks (with the likeliest setup being Fowler at seven or eight targets and Demaryius around 10, with 15 to 18 additional targets left over for Jordan Taylor, A.J. Derby, running backs, and anyone else the Broncos want to pull out of their back pocket). While Demaryius will be trailed by Casey Hayward and Fowler will square off with Trevor Williams (who rates out even higher than Hayward at the moment at PFF), the Chargers have still allowed the 11th-most receptions to wide receivers and the second-most touchdowns. Quarterbacks are also completing a respectable 64% of targets to wide receivers, so as long as the volume is there for Demaryius and Fowler, the production should be there. I’m comfortable penciling in Fowler for a floor of 5-40-0 and Demaryius for a floor of 6-60-0. Each guy has upside to crack a hundred yards and score.
With the Broncos’ run defense dominating this season and the pass defense boasting as much talent as any unit in the NFL, there is not much reason to go to the Chargers’ offense. We could come up with a lot of different arguments for the Chargers being able to post a good game, but there are a lot of spots on the slate where we can get a good game. We take on a really low floor to target a “merely good” game in this spot.
The exception for me is Hunter Henry, who has seen seven and eight targets in his last two games, while seeing snap counts of 59 and 54. The Broncos rank 30th in DVOA against the tight end, they have allowed the seventh-most catches to the position, and only nine teams have allowed more yards to the tight end. With the Broncos shutting down wide receivers yet again this year (fifth-fewest wide receiver targets faced; third-fewest receptions) and shutting down running backs through the air (fourth-fewest running back targets; fifth-fewest running back receptions), Philip Rivers will have his passes funneled to Henry all throughout the game.
Falcons at Patriots
Vegas-Implied Total: Patriots 29.25, Falcons 25.75
Patriots Run D – 23rd DVOA / 26th Yards allowed per carry
Falcons Run O – 1st DVOA / 4th Yards per carry
Patriots Pass D – 30th DVOA / 32nd Yards allowed per pass attempt
Falcons Pass O – 12th DVOA / 5th Yards per pass attempt
Falcons Run D – 29th DVOA / 20th Yards allowed per carry
Patriots Run O – 10th DVOA / 21st Yards per carry
Falcons Pass D – 22nd DVOA / 5th Yards allowed per pass attempt
Patriots Pass O – 2nd DVOA / 3rd Yards per pass attempt
This is the sort of game in which you could roster four or five guys and still average 20 points per player. It’s too bad this game is not on the DraftKings Main Slate. On FanDuel, this is definitely a game you want to save space to target.
On a separate note: as much as I have expressed my lack of enthusiasm for the two-game slates, the Prime Time Slate on Sunday to Monday is an excellent one for DFS – with two likely shootouts, and with plenty of strategy that can come into play.
The Patriots rank ninth in the NFL in passing play percentage and third in pace of play, which is leading to plenty of quick-scoring offensive production – and is leading to shootouts with every opponent. Even in games in which the Patriots’ defense plays well, the threat of the Patriots’ offense is keeping opponents aggressive – and this has led to six consecutive 300-yard games against the Patriots to begin the season (an incredibly embarrassing distinction).
The Falcons’ pass defense ranks 22nd in DVOA to begin the year, and while they rank fifth in yards allowed per pass attempt, they have faced Mike Glennon, Tyrod Taylor, and Jay Cutler – as well as Matthew Stafford and Aaron Rodgers, who rank 22nd (Stafford) and 30th (Rodgers) in average intended air yards. Tom Brady ranks third in average intended air yards, creating the first opportunity all season for the Falcons to see what they have against a quarterback who pushes the ball downfield (all five quarterbacks the Falcons have faced rank below 20th in average intended air yards). Expect a big game from Brady.
This is not the same passing attack that the Falcons faced in the Super Bowl, as Brady ranked 28th last year in average intended air yards, running an offense similar to the Lions and Packers’ 2017 units. This year, the Patriots are aggressively pushing the ball downfield – putting pressure on opponents and basically manufacturing shootouts. The one issue is that the Patriots have so many weapons, it is still difficult to single out the plays we should target.
Chris Hogan saw his targets drop last week, but he and Rob Gronkowski still have five targets apiece inside the 10-yard-line (tied with a few other pass catchers for third-most in the NFL). “Targets dropping” are part of life when targeting Patriots pass catchers, but there is every reason to expect a Hogan bounce-back.
Brandin Cooks has been hanging in the six-to-nine-target range lately, and he offers enormous upside on that level of looks. As with any Patriots player, usage can change in a hurry, but Cooks should remain a primary option more weeks than not.
Danny Amendola showed his floor last week; he has also probably shown his ceiling this year. He’s a decent bet, but I’d prefer more upside.
Rob Gronkowski is a mismatch for every team; if the targets are there, the production will be there as well. He’s at less risk than other Patriots pass catchers of his targets disappearing, but we have seen it happen a couple times this year already.
The Falcons rank eighth in targets to running backs this year and 11th in catches, but this is no longer a “major problem area” for the Falcons like it was last year. James White should be involved (he has five or more targets in all but one game this year), and he comes with upside – but this is not as good of a matchup as he had in the Super Bowl.
Finally, Mike Gillislee should get 10 or more carries and any goal line work that shows up. With zero pass game involvement, he has to score in order to be worthwhile – but it’s safe to project some scoring opportunities in this one.
The Falcons are (thankfully) less convoluted.
They have settled in as an average-paced, balanced offense – ranking 18th in pace of play and 13th in passing play percentage. For all the hand-wringing over the Falcons’ offense, they rank sixth in red zone touchdown scoring rate, and they are averaging a respectable 24.2 points per game. This is apparently not the same offense it was last year, but the talent is still in place.
The Patriots have allowed the second-most receptions and the most receiving yards in the NFL to running backs; they also rank middle of the pack in yards allowed on the ground. Tevin Coleman has touched the ball eight to 13 times in every game this year, and is a sneaky bet for a big outing if he lands in the higher end of that range. Devonta Freeman is also one of my favorite plays on the weekend, as he should see close to 20 carries and a handful of targets, while handling most of the goal line work (seven carries inside the five, compared to one for Coleman).
This seems like a “get right” spot for Julio Jones. I mean…so did Julio against Miami. And against Buffalo. And against Green Bay. But regardless of the talent on the Patriots’ defense, this unit has played as the worst in the NFL – which is enough to bring one of the NFL’s best wide receivers into play.
If you want to fade Julio, this might help you feel good about it; here are the stat lines for “number one weapons” against the Patriots this year:
It’s not as if the Patriots have turned out the lights on these guys, but those are a lot of non-elite games from elite players, especially given how atrocious the Patriots’ defense has been.
If you do fade Julio, realize that the Patriots have been containing number one weapons and still giving up more yards and points than anyone, so other weapons should be succeeding if Julio falls short. Coleman and Freeman are the likeliest benefactors, but Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel enter the picture as well. The spike in targets for Austin Hooper was largely tied to the absence of Mohamed Sanu, but the matchup is good enough that Hooper can also be considered.
This should be one of the most fun games to watch this weekend.
It should also be one of the best games for DFS.
Redskins at Eagles
Vegas-Implied Total: Eagles 26.5, Redskins 22.0
Eagles Run D – 9th DVOA / 10th Yards allowed per carry
Redskins Run O – 21st DVOA / 16th Yards per carry
Eagles Pass D – 13th DVOA / 18th Yards allowed per pass attempt
Redskins Pass O – 4th DVOA / 2nd Yards per pass attempt
Redskins Run D – 15th DVOA / 15th Yards allowed per carry
Eagles Run O – 11th DVOA / 9th Yards per carry
Redskins Pass D – 10th DVOA / 17th Yards allowed per pass attempt
Eagles Pass O – 6th DVOA / 8th Yards per pass attempt
For DFS purposes, the Redskins’ side of the ball is about as easy to break down as is possible. While the Redskins have run the ball at the fifth-highest rate in the NFL, the Eagles have faced the fewest rush attempts in football – as they present a difficult matchup for opposing running backs, and they are easy to attack through the air. Regardless of who starts between Rob Kelley and Samaje Perine, I will have no interest. These guys are one-dimensional backs in one of the worst matchups for DFS.
While the Eagles are facing the fewest rush attempts in football, they have faced 24 more wide receiver targets than the next-highest team, and they have allowed five more catches than the next-highest team. Only the Patriots have allowed more yards to wide receivers than the Eagles.
We should expect Kirk Cousins to post similar volume to what he put up in Week 1 against the Eagles – 40 attempts – though we should expect higher efficiency, as he has looked much better since the first two weeks of the season.
While it’s easy to like Cousins, it’s tougher to figure out who to like among his pass catchers. Terrelle Pryor has not seen more than five targets since Week 1, and there has been no indication that we should expect a shift there. Jordan Reed draws the toughest matchup, and he still does not look quite right. Jamison Crowder was forgotten last week the moment Jay Gruden remembered him (his five targets were right in line with what he’d been seeing all season). Josh Doctson is ascending, but he has still not seen more than three targets in a game. And Chris Thompson has seen five or more targets in all but one game this year.
On the 16-game slate, there is nothing here that I feel you will “have to have” (and I would be fine going Cousins in the nude), but on the smaller slates, Chris Thompson is my favorite “pass catcher,” as he continues to show the coaches that he should be getting more work, and his increased usage may continue this week. The rest of the guys, you’re just guessing; there are no trends to suggest we will see a huge spike in usage for any of them, so you may be stuck targeting guys in the six-to-eight target range.
The Eagles’ backfield is another I have no interest in, though I’m sure there are exceptions in the smaller slates. LeGarrette Blount is a one-dimensional back in a so-so matchup; Corey Clement has ranged from two touches to 10, all without pass game involvement; Kenjon Barner or (if he plays) Wendell Smallwood are limited-carry, passing-down-only backs. If I had to go here on the small slate, it would be Blount, but I would prefer to hunt for more upside than that.
The Redskins have been attackable through the air, but not with the wide receiver position, as they have allowed the second-fewest wide receiver catches in the league, and they are allowing a completion rate to wide receivers of only 51.7%. Even without Josh Norman, the Redskins have been stout against the position. Considering talent and role, there is a chance Alshon Jeffery could pop off for a big game – but given that most people will automatically assume Alshon is in great shape with no Josh Norman, I expect ownership to be high on the small slates, and as such, I would rather side with the numbers and stay away.
Of course, as the Redskins slow down wide receivers, they are getting torched by tight ends. Zach Ertz returns to the scene of the crime this week, and he should be able to repeat his success from Week 1. Ertz has fewer than eight targets only once this year, and this is another game in which targets will be filtered his way.
Finally, Carson Wentz. The Eagles now rank 23rd in passing play percentage, and they rank 30th over their last three games. They are clearly trying to strike a balance that both protects Wentz and helps him grow as the Eagles continue their march to the playoffs. This is a very different approach than the Eagles were taking in Weeks 1 and 2, when they threw 39 and 46 times. In four wins since then, Wentz has exactly 30 or 31 attempts each time – and that is likelier to be the case this week. Wentz’ incredible efficiency continues to help him produce a high ceiling, so he remains in play – but realize that the floor is a bit lower now than it was in Week 1.
This game provides you with a lot of fun plays to consider against the Sunday night game – and it gives you a game to load up on if you are playing the Monday-to-Thursday with the Dolphins and Ravens.
Saturday Evening Update
Eight of the 13 games on Sunday (eight of 12 on the DraftKings main slate) have seen their Totals drop since Vegas opened shop at the beginning of the week – further emphasizing the likely low-scoring nature of many games this weekend.
The games that have seen a rise in Total since the week opened:
Tampa Bay at Buffalo: +1
Dallas at San Francisco: +1.5
Seattle at NY Giants: +0.5
Falcons at Patriots: +2.5
New Orleans and Green Bay have held steady at 47.5.
All other games have dropped.
Make sure you are fluid with your approach come Sunday morning, as there will be a lot of injury news that will impact situations.
Luke Kuechly is out for the Panthers, which improves the matchup for Jordan Howard. With that said, David Mayo played well in Kuechly’s absence last week. This is still not an easy spot for Howard – though it did improve with this news, and volume should be there, keeping him in play in tourneys.
We are still waiting on news regarding Jordan Matthews. If he plays – and if reports indicate he will be more than a decoy (i.e., if he is capable of catching passes with his thumb), he’s an excellent play. If he misses, I’m likely off this passing attack completely, even in a pristine matchup, but Nick O’Leary should see six to eight targets.
We are also waiting for news on Leonard Fournette. My guess is he suits up, but watch for any news that indicates he’ll be limited, or used sparingly; Chris Ivory remains a top play if this projects to be the case.
I’m hearing that DeMarco Murray will play. I hope he’s out, as I don’t love Derrick Henry this week and would be grateful if Henry turns into chalk – but I know I’m on a lonely limb in not loving Henry. If you want cases to be made for Henry as a top play, you can find those cases in plenty of other articles. For me, the tough matchup and the lack of pass game involvement make him a guy I see as unlikely to hit 20 points – though he is a better play on Fanduel, where he’s cheaper relative to salary cap, and where receptions matter less. (Of course, all of this is moot if DeMarco suits up.) I have no read on Delanie Walker and his calf injury – but if he misses, Jonnu Smith becomes one of the top value plays on the weekend.
My favorite game right now remains the 49ers and Cowboys game. One note to consider in the “Hundley vs Beathard” conversation: Hundley is starting because of an Aaron Rodgers injury, which increases the likelihood of the Packers running a stripped-down attack and being less predictably aggressive than they’ve been this season; Beathard is starting because of a coach’s decision, which increases the likelihood that the 49ers continue to run the offense they have been running all year (fast-paced, pass-heavy).
It seems Keenan Allen will play this week. If he misses, it should mean a couple more targets for Hunter Henry, and possibly a few more targets for Melvin Gordon. As stated in the comments below (after I skipped over Melvin Gordon above), I’m still not particularly interested in Gordon, as the matchup is just so difficult, but you can make a case for him as a volume play if you want.
That covers all late-week thoughts.
Hold onto your hats. It’s going to be a wild Sunday morning…