NFL Advanced Matchup Plays: Week 12
I smashed again in DFS last week, 10Xing on FanDuel with another top-three tournament finish. The players written in this article were mostly strong as well, and especially so if we include the Sunday morning update. This was the first time I’ve done that in the history of this article, but I’ll try to continue this trend moving forward.
Last week we shortened this article due to a few commenters preferring that approach, but after reading last week’s comments it’s clear those first few detractors were in the minority. For the rest of the season I’ll try to keep this article as easily-readable and as comprehensive as possible.
Here are some of my favorite tournament plays from the main slate this week:
Note 1: All references to expected fantasy points can be explained here.
Note 2: All references to team fantasy points allowed over expectation are based on this chart.
Note 3: All numbers in parentheses refer to a player’s salary rank on each site.
Russell Wilson [DK: QB4, FD: QB5] – The concerns with Wilson in this spot are that:
1) He disappointed the last time these two teams faced, scoring only 15.3 fantasy points in a narrow victory. I don’t have a compelling counter-argument here, instead just chalking this up to variance. We have enough of a sample size to suggest Wilson is one of the top quarterbacks in fantasy – he leads all quarterbacks in fantasy points per game (26.6, +4.3 more than next-closest) since Week 3 – and that San Francisco is a plus matchup for any opposing quarterback. The 49ers rank fourth worst in fantasy points allowed per dropback and fourth-worst in fantasy points per game over expectation over their last five games.
2) The 49ers are the worst run defense in the league (allowing the most fantasy points per game to opposing running backs in three straight seasons) and Seattle’s offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell has been the league’s most run-heavy play-caller of the past decade. While this is true, Seattle is the league’s 10th-most pass-heavy offense this season (60.5 percent) and rank fourth in offensive plays per game (66.6), both easily career highs for Bevell. With Mike Davis out for Week 12, Eddie Lacy and Thomas Rawls ranking worst and second-worst (of 60 qualifying running backs) in yards per carry average, and the only other active running back being J.D. McKissic, who played wide receiver all four years in college and has seen only four more carries than targets this year, it’s likely Seattle has little choice but to lean more pass-heavy yet again.
3) This game is likely to be a blowout. Still, the Seahawks are throwing the ball 50 percent of the time when leading by more than a field goal, which ranks as the sixth-highest rate in the league. Wilson has also scored at least 29 fantasy points in each of the team’s only two two-score victories.
As it stands, Wilson is currently my top quarterback of the slate.
Stacking Options: McKissic is one of my favorite salary savers at the running back position this week, for many of the reasons outlined above, but also because he saw a season-high 67.6 percent of the snaps last week and because San Francisco is allowing the most receiving fantasy points per game to opposing running backs (14.6). I’m hoping Wilson targets him heavily through the air as an extension of the running game, soaking up easy cheat-code fantasy points that way…. Doug Baldwin is an obvious top stacking option with Wilson, in a dream matchup against slot cornerback K’Waun Williams. Williams ranks bottom-ten (among 118 qualifying cornerbacks) in PFF grade and fantasy points allowed per route in coverage…. Jimmy Graham might be my favorite stacking option of the three, as I can see DFS players falsely thinking this is a tough matchup given San Francisco’s impressive season-long numbers against tight ends this year. Since losing safety Jaquiski Tartt who primarily covered the tight end and ranked top-10 in PFF coverage grade, the 49ers have surrendered a touchdown to a tight end in three straight weeks. Graham ranks second among tight ends and 17th among all receivers in expected fantasy points per game (13.7, -0.02 behind Baldwin). He ranks first among all players in targets inside the 5, 10, and 20 yard lines and second in end zone targets. He’s one of the strongest bets of any receiver to score a touchdown this week.
Andy Dalton [DK: QB14, FD: QB19] – The Browns are the league’s most-glaring pass-funnel defense, ranking second-best in yards per carry allowed (3.14) and third-worst in opposing passer rating (102.3). The Bengals are also something of a pass-funnel offense, or at least should be, ranking second-worst in yards per carry (3.05). Cleveland also ranks third-worst in fantasy points allowed per dropback and fantasy points per game allowed over expectation. Dalton quietly ranks sixth in fantasy points per dropback since Week 4 and has thrown for multiple touchdowns in four of his last five games. In his last five games against Cleveland, he averages 22.7 fantasy points per game and an absurd 136.2 passer rating. Though, he’s a better play on FanDuel, hitting DraftKings’ 300-yard-bonus only once this year.
Stacking Options – A.J. Green has a tough matchup this week in shadow coverage against our second-highest-graded cornerback in Jason McCourty. He also hasn’t topped seven targets in any game since Week 6, and has just one more target and five more fantasy points than Brandon LaFell over this stretch… I’ll take some shots at LaFell, but prefer to stack Dalton with Tyler Kroft. Kroft, somewhat surprisingly, ranks seventh among tight ends in fantasy points per game since Week 4. Cleveland is allowing the most fantasy points per game to opposing tight ends over the past two seasons. In Cincinnati’s last game against Cleveland, Kroft totaled six receptions (on seven targets) for 68 yards and two scores. In the matchup before that, Tyler Eifert totaled five receptions (on six targets) for 48 yards and two scores.
Other – Tom Brady draws a Miami defense ranking second-worst in opposing passer rating, after just dropping 25.6 fantasy points on the defense ranking last in opposing passer rating. Miami also ranks worst in fantasy points per game over expectation to opposing quarterbacks over their last five games. Brady also has the added benefit of being, well, Tom Brady … Paxton Lynch will draw near-zero ownership at a near-minimum pricetag, up against what’s become one of the worst pass defenses of all time … Jared Goff could face New Orleans without their three starting cornerbacks… Tyrod Taylor ranked 12th in fantasy points per game prior to the Saints game that earned him a benching and still grades as our No. 9 quarterback for the year. He’ll draw low ownership in an exploitable matchup against the Chiefs, with a higher rushing floor than typical, considering Kansas City runs man-coverage at the highest rate in the league…
Kareem Hunt [DK: RB7, FD: RB8] – Le’Veon Bell is on pace for the sixth-most touches by any player in any season all-time and should get heavy usage again this week, favored by 14-points at home against the Packers. Despite this obscene usage, Todd Gurley actually leads the league in fantasy points per game (22.1, +2.5 more than Bell) and draws a beatable matchup himself against the Saints. Since trading away Adrian Peterson, Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara rank first and second-best, respectively, in fantasy points per game, and draw a run funnel defense in the Rams, who rank third-worst in fantasy points per game to running backs. I’ll have exposure to all of these players, and near-zero exposure to other running backs in this price-range, but my (admittedly close) favorite of the group is still Hunt, who is the cheapest of the bunch and could draw the lowest ownership after disappointing last week.
Contrary to public opinion, there has been little dropoff in efficiency, ranking second in PFF Elusive Rating across Weeks 1-5 and ranking first across Weeks 6-11. The offensive line has underperformed and dealt with injuries, but all are back and practicing in full for Week 12. Volume is the concern, ranking just 12th among running backs in expected fantasy points per game, but gamescript should be on his side this week, at home, favored by 10.0 against the Bills. The matchup is excellent as well. The Bills are allowing the second-most fantasy points per game (and the second-most over expectation) to opposing running backs this season. Since trading away Marcell Dareus in Week 8, they’re allowing a league-worst 42.7 fantasy points per game to the position (42.7, +7.3 more than next-closest). They went from ranking fifth-best to second-worst in yards per carry, seventh-best to worst in rushing yards per game, and have allowed 10 rushing touchdowns over this stretch (five more than the next-closest defense). Through the air, they’re also giving up the fourth-most receptions and the sixth-most receiving yards over this span.
Tevin Coleman [DK: RB12, FD: RB20] – Among all 32 running backs to see at least 300 carries over the past three seasons, Coleman ranks seventh in yards per carry (4.40) and second in yards per target (8.47). Coleman averaged just 2.15 yards per carry last week, but it was in a brutal matchup against the Seahawks, who are allowing a league-best 2.66 yards per carry average since Week 4. Coleman has seen 40 carries and three targets the last two weeks with Devonta Freeman playing on just two snaps due to a concussion. If Freeman is out again (likely), Coleman is a borderline RB1 this week (well above his FanDuel salary ranking of 20th) in a neutral matchup against the Buccaneers. While the matchup is only neutral, Coleman has scored in back-to-back weeks and Atlanta has the second-highest implied point total of the week.
Other – I like Jamaal Williams for similar reasons to Coleman if Ty Montgomery is again out. He saw 18 carries, six targets, and ran the third-most routes at the position last week, though Williams’ matchup is much tougher than Coleman’s… If I didn’t quite sell you on McKissic earlier in this article, Devontae Booker is the same price on DraftKings. He saw a season-high in snap share (58.5 percent), carries (14), targets (six), and expected fantasy points (15.7) in Week 11, and could see even more work moving forward following the costly fourth-quarter fumble of C.J. Anderson. Booker has led Denver’s running backs in targets in five of their last six games. Meanwhile, Oakland ranks 19th in rushing fantasy points per game allowed to opposing running backs (12.5), while allowing the second-most receiving fantasy points per game (14.1) to opposing running backs… The Eagles have the third-highest implied point total of the slate, but Zach Ertz seems less than 100-percent healthy and Alshon Jeffery is quietly in a tough matchup, with the Bears allowing the fourth-fewest fantasy points per game to wide receivers running routes from his side of the field. If we think the Eagles hit their total, we can blindly take shots on their tertiary wide receivers, or pray they finally give Jay Ajayi a larger workload after he totaled 166 yards on just 15 carries (11.7 yards per carry) in his first two games with the team…
Kenny Stills [DK: WR44, FD: WR49] – Assuming Matt Moore draws the start, Stills is going to be one of my highest-owned players of the slate. Over the last two seasons, in the seven games Matt Moore has made an appearance, Stills has averaged 18.5 fantasy points per game. In all other 19 games, he’s averaged just 8.8 fantasy points per game. While 18.5 fantasy points per game would be tied with Odell Beckham Jr. for third-best among wide receivers this season, and a near 10-point swing is crazy, this doesn’t even tell the whole story. Over the past two seasons, among all 208 receivers to run at least 200 routes with a specific quarterback, the Matt Moore to Kenny Stills connection ranks eighth-best in yards per route run, fourth-best in fantasy points per route run, and first-best in fantasy points per target. New England has been much better lately, but still rank fourth-worst in fantasy points per game to opposing receivers on deep targets, while Stills ranks eighth in the league in deep targets, despite ranking just 39th in total targets. Finally, one of the reasons I was so high on Keenan Allen last week was due to a new statistical model I had just developed, that singled him out as having the best matchup on any wide receiver that week. This week, it likes Stills even more than it liked Allen.
Julio Jones [DK: WR3, FD: WR6] – Jones will have a slate-busting game at some point this season, and I like the chances of it being this week with the second-highest Over/Under of the slate up against the team ranking fourth-worst over expectation to opposing WR1s. Across six games over the last three seasons, Jones has averaged 27.1 fantasy points per game against Tampa Bay, never scoring below 16.5. Jones has been labeled as a bust this year, but he’s been just as efficient as he always has, ranking first in yards per route run for the third consecutive season. Volume has also been better than most might imagine, ranking eighth in targets, seventh in end zone targets, and fifth in deep targets. The italicized metric indicated Jones is due for some serious touchdown regression, hauling in just one touchdown pass for the year. The bolded statistic indicates a strong matchup for Jones, considering Tampa Bay is allowing the fifth-most fantasy points per game to opposing receivers on deep targets. Tampa Bay also is allowing the fifth-most fantasy points per game to opposing left wide receivers, which is where Jones runs the plurality (40 percent of his routes). This means he’ll mostly draw Robert McClain, who grades out 116th of 119 qualifying cornerbacks. Tampa Bay is also allowing the most fantasy points per game to opposing slot wide receivers, which is where Mohamed Sanu runs 65 percent of his routes (and 24 percent for Jones). I do like Sanu as well, but this is more of a reason to play Matt Ryan than it is to avoid Jones.
Other – Cooper Kupp is probably the top value play on both sites if Marshon Lattimore plays, and is still a very strong play even if he’s out, though this would bump up Sammy Watkins considerably (and even more so if Ken Crawley is also out)… Corey Davis is averaging eight targets per game across all games he started and finished. He runs 53 percent of his routes from the left, where Indianapolis is allowing the third-most fantasy points per game. The Colts are also allowing the second-most fantasy points per game on deep passes, while Davis leads the team in deep targets per game. (Update: And he is now an even more-glaring play with Rishard Matthews out)… Over his last five games, Zay Jones has seen equivalent but slightly better (expected fantasy point) volume and more deep targets per game than Davis’ full-game average. His matchup is even better, with Kelvin Benjamin likely out and Jordan Matthews banged up, running 49 percent of his routes from the left (where Kansas City is allowing the most fantasy points per game) and 20 percent from the slot (where Kansas City is allowing fifth-most fantasy points per game). The Chiefs are also allowing the sixth-most fantasy points per game on deep passes… Corey Coleman has a 34 percent target market share across three full games, which would rank second-most among all receivers, despite all three teams he’s faced ranking top-10 in fewest targets and fantasy points per game allowed to opposing outside wide receivers. Cincinnati also ranks highly in each of these metrics, but are dealing with some injuries to their secondary. If you agreed with the Dalton-call, it might be worth running a few lineups back with Coleman… On a small sample size, Paxton Lynch has shown a clear preference to Emmanuel Sanders, though he is likely not 100-percent healthy. Still, he’s been used as the team’s deep threat for two straight seasons, and Oakland is allowing the third-most fantasy points per game to receivers on deep targets…
Jared Cook [DK: TE10, FD: TE16] – Cook is egregiously priced on FanDuel, ranking as only the 16th-highest-priced tight end of the week, despite ranking top-10 in expected and actual fantasy points per game. Cook has seen between five and nine targets in every game but one, and has two 100-yard games across his last four. While Cook only has one touchdown this season, he’s likely due for some positive regression in that department, ranking second on the team in end-zone targets with five. Denver ranks third-best in fantasy points per game over expectation to opposing wide receivers, fifth-best to opposing running backs, but third-worst to opposing tight ends. In each of the past two seasons, they’ve led the league in percentage of receiving fantasy points allowed to tight ends, solidifying their place alongside the Browns and Giants as one of the top “tight end funnel” defenses in the league. Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree have failed to reach 60 receiving yards and have combined for just one touchdown in five games against the Broncos over the past three years. The last time these two teams met, Cook led the team in targets (eight), and led the team and saw season-highs in air yards (134), end zone targets (two), and deep targets (three).
Greg Olsen [DK: TE9, FD: TE6] – Olsen comes with significant risk in his first game back from a broken foot suffered in Week 2, but is still mispriced on DraftKings. Olsen averaged 12.9 fantasy points per game the past three seasons, which would rank fourth-best among all tight ends this year. He also has significant tournament-upside, finishing as a top-six tight end in 44 percent of his games over the prior three seasons, with only Rob Gronkowski ranking higher (53 percent). The matchup is strong as well, considering the Jets rank eighth-worst in fantasy points per game over expectation to opposing tight ends. Devin Funchess has the far tougher matchup, likely drawing shadow coverage from Morris Claiborne who ranks top-15 among 86 qualifying cornerbacks in fantasy points allowed per target and fantasy point allowed per route in coverage. With Kelvin Benjamin in Buffalo and Curtis Samuel on I.R., I wouldn’t be surprised if Olsen sees heavy usage in his first game back.
Other – I’m also on Delanie Walker and Jack Doyle, but probably won’t have as much exposure to them as the other tight ends already referenced. The only two other tight ends I’m looking at this week are Rob Gronkowski and Travis Kelce, but they don’t really require an in-depth analysis on why they’re great plays.
One Play for Sunday Night
Davante Adams [DK: WR23, FD: WR29] – Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown are clear smash plays in equally fantastic matchups, and don’t really require an “advanced matchup” analysis either. One player I do like, and above Juju Smith-Schuster when factoring price and projected ownership, is Adams. While the entire Green Bay offense has taken a nose-dive following the departure of Aaron Rodgers, Adams is the one player that hasn’t been the case for, instead, seeing an uptick in usage and firmly supplanting himself as the team’s WR1 under Brett Hundley. The matchup should push down ownership, but it’s not as bad as it appears on paper. The Steelers are allowing the eighth-fewest fantasy points per game to opposing outside wide receivers, but Adams had an even tougher matchup last week against the Ravens (third-fewest fantasy points per game to outside wide receivers) and still totaled 126 yards – the only 100-yard game Baltimore has surrendered all year. Pittsburgh will also likely again be without their highest-graded cornerback in Joe Haden. He played just 10 snaps in Week 10 and missed all of Week 11. In that span, Chester Rogers and Rishard Matthews totaled over 100 yards and a score against the Steelers (the two highest-scoring games they’ve allowed to a wide receiver all season).
Notes: Check back on Sunday morning, where I’ll go deeper into how I’m weighting the various players mentioned in this article, discuss who I’m moving up or down, and potentially adding another name or two.
— I loved Julio Jones to start the week, but am now pivoting due to what’s allegedly going to be near 35 percent ownership. The matchup is definitely amazing, but he’s not really playing a full-time role this season. Just 73% of snaps the last three weeks. He ranks 77th in routes run per week since Week 6. I didn’t write up Brandin Cooks, but that’s not because he isn’t a great play. He’s in essentially the same spot as he was last week (when I called him my most-glaring value on DK), though Miami isn’t as bad deep as Oakland was. He’ll run 55 percent of his routes against Xavien Howard (4.58 forty-yard-dash), so he has the slow-CB narrative working in his favor. I’ll pivot some to him and Baldwin, but really I think I’m just going to go heavier on the expensive running backs.
— I just realized I didn’t mention Jarvis Landry (for no reason in particular), who ranks third(!) among all wide receivers in expected fantasy points per game. If you look at the linked chart in the Stills section you’ll notice he also draws a bump Matt Moore, and it looks even better if I would have included Moore’s lone postseason start. He’s gone over 70 yards against New England in five straight games. New England is allowing the second-most fantasy points per game. The biggest hole in my game is projecting ownership, and I really have no idea how this shakes out, but if Stills is looking extra chalky he’s just as strong of a play.
— New Orleans’ starting outside cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore (PFF’s No. 4 CB of 117) and Ken Crawley (No. 17) are both out. Their safety Kenny Vaccaro who covers the slot will play. Cooper Kupp immediately stood out to be as the top value play on both sites. However, this was before these injuries and the injury to Rishard Matthews. Watkins has more upside and is the better talent, and should theoretically assume Woods’ role (the No. 7 scoring WR in fantasy since Week 2). I think I prefer Watkins, but ownership might be closer to even on FanDuel.
— Duke Johnson averages 6.25 carries and 6.0 targets over Cleveland’s last four games. Browns run game coordinator Kirby Wilson came out on Friday and said “[we want Johnson on the field] as much as possible because we believe so strongly in him as a play-maker.” He deserves a larger role as well. This pushes him right up there with Booker and McKissic as the top running back value plays of the week.
— William Jackson playing means Corey Coleman’s matchup just got tougher. This probably pushes Corey Davis over him, though I wonder how much better of a play Davis is than Delanie Walker. I bet the difference between the two is far closer than wherever ownership falls.
— Greg Olsen will reportedly only play 50% of the team’s snaps. That’s enough for me to come off of him completely.
— I keep being asked about the wind in New England. Theoretically this hurts Brandin Cooks, Kenny Stills, and even Rob Gronkowski, while helping Jarvis Landry, Danny Amendola, and Dion Lewis. Unfortunately, I haven’t done enough studies on wind to know how serious it is. I’m not going to let it effect my lineups too much. I like Lewis a lot as 16.5-point favorites at home and Mike Gillislee inactive, but won’t be too heavily exposed.