NFL Grind Down Week 10: Vikings vs. Cowboys

Vegas Overview

MIN @ DAL Team Spread Total Implied Moneyline
DAL -3 48 25.5 -166
MIN 3 48 22.5 144

Betting Quick Take: Vegas insinuates that these are similar teams on a neutral field, with Dallas checking in as a three point home favorite. I’ll agree with that assessment. This is a big game for both teams in the NFC playoff picture, and I expect Dallas to get the job done at home. They are playing better football right now, as they look for their third straight win. The Vikings, meanwhile, have looked more lackluster in recent weeks.

DAL -3
Confidence Level: 7 out of 10

Injury Situations

Player Team Pos Status Part Impact
Adam Thielen MIN WR D Hamstring 10

Injuries to Monitor:

Minnesota VikingsAdam Thielen is the big one here, as he re-injured his hamstring early in last week’s loss to the Chiefs. I would be very surprised if the team allows him to risk anything this week. Olabisi Johnson and Laquon Treadwell will see more snaps if Thielen is out, while the Vikings might use more double-TE sets with Irv Smith.

Dallas CowboysAmari Cooper is banged up but is expected to play this week. Monitor injury reports to see if he gets an official designation by Friday. Otherwise, the offense is relatively healthy. Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch is injured, and he has been an above average linebacker this year. Another absence from him would lead to Sean Lee getting more snaps and would be an upgrade to the Minnesota offensive outlook.

Other News and Notes: Weather is not an issue for this game, and we don’t have much for narratives, suspensions, or other news. It’s all systems go for what should be a fun Sunday night contest.

Matchup Factors, Team Identity Metrics, and Game Flow Expectations

Expected Game Pace and Tempo: Current pace through nine weeks: Minnesota 28.56 seconds per play (22nd) / Dallas 26.19 seconds per play (5th). Dallas has played with surprising tempo this year, and they are second in the league in first half tempo. That has given their games some sneaky shootout potential, and it’s part of the reason why we have a healthy Vegas total in this game.

Dallas Cowboys Projections Breakdown

Team Projections

QB Team Rank Proj ProjAtt ProjYds Pts/$ FD Pts/$ DK Pts/$ Y Pts/$ FDFT
Dak Prescott DAL 19.44 QB7 37.41 274.75 Rank 6 Rank 8 Rank 20 Rank 3
RB Team Rank Proj ProjRu% ProjTar% Pts/$ FD Pts/$ DK Pts/$ Y Pts/$ FDFT
Ezekiel Elliott DAL 21.01 RB4 77% 14% Rank 2 Rank 14 Rank 9 Rank 9
Tony Pollard DAL 4.6 RB44 10% 6% Rank 40 Rank 40 Rank 37 Rank 39
WR/TE Team Proj Rank ProjTar% ProjTar Pts/$ FD Pts/$ DK Pts/$ Y Pts/$ FDFT
Amari Cooper DAL 16.45 WR12 26% 9.54 Rank 26 Rank 39 Rank 59 Rank 40
Michael Gallup DAL 12.33 WR33 19% 7.11 Rank 41 Rank 56 Rank 56 Rank 30
Randall Cobb DAL 9.55 WR51 15% 5.61 Rank 43 Rank 36 Rank 20 Rank 47
Jason Witten DAL 7.04 TE19 11% 3.93 Rank 16 Rank 19 Rank 13 Rank 22

MIN Adj. Fpts Allowed: QB Rank 21/RB Rank 28/WR Rank 9/TE Rank 25

Rushing Opportunity Metrics of Note:

DAL Team Rush Play Percentage = 43.7% (5th)

Rushing Efficiency Metrics of Note:

DAL Team Rushing EPA = 4.8 (3rd)
Ezekiel Elliott YPC = 4.7

The case of whether or not Ezekiel Elliott is a “valuable” football player has been hotly debated on social media since his training camp holdout. Many consider him replaceable given Dallas’ strong offensive line combined with the fact that Tony Pollard has put up decent numbers when he has been given an opportunity to play. Others say you can’t replace one of the best backs in the league.

The good news is that we don’t need to debate that for DFS purposes. The fact remains that Elliott is one of the most productive backs in the league thanks to some combination of his talent and the talent around him, and the Dallas rush offense metrics support that production. Just look at the “home rush” matchup chart above. Dallas ranks 3rd in rush offense EPA, 2nd in DVOA, 5th in rush play percentage, 1st in rush success rate, and 2nd in explosive rush percentage. That’s a slew of top five rankings. Elliott plays nearly an every down role and ranks fourth in the NFL in rushing yards per game.

Essentially, Elliott has a solid floor every time he takes the field thanks to his role. He has six touchdowns on the year in eight games, as well. This isn’t the most ideal matchup against a Minnesota rush defense that does a good job of limiting big plays — but they also haven’t faced rush offenses as good as Dallas every week.

What many decisions will come down to this week are Elliott vs. Cook at the running back position, particularly in single game slates. Since I like Dallas to win the game, Elliott feels like a lock for 22-25 touches, and I like him a little bit more. I’ll discuss it more in the Minnesota section.

Passing Game Opportunity Metrics of Note:

DAL Team Pass Play Percentage = 56.3% (28th)

Passing Game Efficiency Metrics of Note:

DAL Team Passing EPA = 67.6 (4th)
Dak Prescott YPA = 8.7

The Cowboys always operate as a run-first team, and that is not going to change in the near term. However, their commitment to the run opens up the passing game, and that’s why you see the efficient metrics that you do above. Dallas ranks fourth in the league in EPA via the pass, and Dak Prescott is averaging a healthy 8.7 yards per attempt on the season. That mark ranks second in the NFL.

Dallas has placed so much talent around Dak Prescott that it is making it easy for Prescott to post good numbers. The Cowboys are allowing a 3.4% sack rate this year, fourth lowest in the league. They lead the league in pass success rate. This is a reasonable matchup against a pass defense that grades out as merely average this year — and Minnesota is allowing the highest percentage of passing touchdowns in the NFL. Xavier Rhodes is a shadow of his former self and is no longer a shut down corner.

Amari Cooper is clearly the top target here, and all signs point to him being good to go for this game. He leads the team in targets and has 250 more receiving yards than anyone else on the team. However, Michael Gallup is averaging more targets per game — he has missed two games due to injury. Gallup is a really interesting GPP pivot away from what is likely to be a very chalky Cooper in this spot, particularly in single game formats. Gallup has a similar yards per catch as Cooper; he’s just not as efficient with his routes. The big games are definitely there at times.

I am not a fan of taking veteran tight ends that have come out of retirement, but Jason Witten continues to defy the odds. He had another solid game against the Giants on Monday, but I would not bank on him as anything more than a secondary option. Randall Cobb is an afterthought at times, but the snaps are there; he’s worth a look as a low-end play on single game slates.

Team Quick Summary: This is a run first team that sets up the pass very well. I like Ezekiel Elliott as an elite option here because of his secure snap share and the fact that I expect Dallas to win this game. As usual, Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper make for a fine combination as well, particularly on single game slates. Michael Gallup is one of my favorite GPP pivots, and I even like him on full week slates where you can get access to this game.

Minnesota Vikings Projections Breakdown

Team Projections

QB Team Proj Rank ProjAtt ProjYds Pts/$ FD Pts/$ DK Pts/$ Y Pts/$ FDFT
Kirk Cousins MIN 17.79 QB13 32.44 245.65 Rank 14 Rank 15 Rank 13 Rank 10
RB Team Proj Rank ProjRu% ProjTar% Pts/$ FD Pts/$ DK Pts/$ Y Pts/$ FDFT
Dalvin Cook MIN 20.86 RB5 68% 16% Rank 6 Rank 18 Rank 22 Rank 11
Alexander Mattison MIN 3.86 RB49 18% 2% Rank 41 Rank 44 Rank 46 Rank 42
WR/TE Team Proj Rank ProjTar% ProjTar Pts/$ FD Pts/$ DK Pts/$ Y Pts/$ FDFT
Stefon Diggs MIN 18.09 WR6 26% 9.19 Rank 4 Rank 22 Rank 27 Rank 8
Olabisi Johnson MIN 10.06 WR47 20% 7.10 Rank 35 Rank 14 Rank 2 Rank 32
Laquon Treadwell MIN 4.76 WR76 9% 3.11 Rank 65 Rank 63 Rank 63 Rank 62
Kyle Rudolph MIN 4.91 TE27 8% 2.88 Rank 22 Rank 27 Rank 22 Rank 26
Irv Smith MIN 6.7 TE20 11% 3.96 Rank 15 Rank 8 Rank 16 Rank 9

DAL Adj. Fpts Allowed: QB Rank 28/RB Rank 10/WR Rank 24/TE Rank 4

Rushing Opportunity Metrics of Note:

MIN Team Rush Play Percentage = 50.3% (2nd)

Rushing Efficiency Metrics of Note:

MIN Team Rushing EPA = -8.5 (9th)
Dalvin Cook YPC = 5.1

The Minnesota rush offense isn’t quite as efficient as Dallas, but they have still been rock solid with top ten rankings in EPA, DVOA, explosive rush percent, and early down success rate. That is balanced out by the fact that the Dallas rush defense isn’t quite as sturdy as Minnesota. Cook grades out just ahead of Elliott at almost 100 rushing yards per game (third in the league). Cook has also had the edge in touchdowns, with eleven total (nine rushing) on the year, though the Vikings have not had their bye week yet.

As I stated in the Dallas section, this largely comes down to the debate of Cook vs. Elliott. Both players are top-end backs int his league. Both teams will look to run the ball, and both teams will likely have some success.

There are two factors that allow me to give an edge to Elliott:

1) Elliott has a snap share around 80% for the year. Cook is at 70%.
2) I expect Dallas to win this game.

If you think Minnesota will get a lead in the game, you can certainly pivot to Cook > Elliott. However, in an attempt to make a stand, I will give Zeke the edge. Just note, though, that this is largely splitting hairs.

Passing Game Opportunity Metrics of Note:

MIN Team Pass Play Percentage = 49.7% (31st)

Passing Game Efficiency Metrics of Note:

MIN Team Passing EPA = 59.0 (8th)
Kirk Cousins YPA = 8.8

I mentioned earlier that Dallas ranks second in the league in pass yards per attempt in 2019. They are second to… none other than Kirk Cousins and the Minnesota Vikings. It’s amazing how a solid run game can help set up the pass. Even in this day and age of analytics and a pass-heavy league, there is still something to be said for a team that can set up the pass with an effective run game. It always helps when the defense doesn’t know what to expect.

In a sense, these teams are remarkable mirror images of one another. Both have decent defenses, strong running games, an elite wide receiver, and a quarterback that will often limit mistakes. We do have opportunity in the Minnesota passing game here thanks to the fact that Adam Thielen is likely going to be sidelined. Stefon Diggs leads the team with a 21% target share and 710 receiving yards this year. He also has 13 catches of 20+ yards, which is very solid for this stage of the season. He is an elite play as the clear #1 in this passing game.

From there, it’s all about finding value. I’m not enamored with the veteran, touchdown dependent tight end in Kyle Rudolph. I’d rather take a shot on some upside from backup tight end Irv Smith or #3 wide receiver Olabisi Johnson, who should be thrust into an every down role in this game. Both carry risk, but they are much needed salary savers on a single game slate in order for us to jam in some studs.

Team Quick Summary: This is a run first team that sets up the pass very well. Boy, that sounds familiar. Dalvin Cook is a step below Elliott for me, but there’s nothing wrong with playing him, especially if you like the Vikings to win this game. Stefon Diggs is the most secure play given the injury to Adam Thielen, and his target share could approach 25-30% in this game. Olabisi Johnson and Irv Smith provide potential value.

DFS Recommendations (Single Game Slates)

Optimal DFS Plays: Ezekiel Elliott, Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, Stefon Diggs

Leverage Plays: Michael Gallup, Dallas D/ST

Secondary Plays: Randall Cobb, Jason Witten, Dalvin Cook, Kirk Cousins, Olabisi Johnson, Irv Smith

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