Week 14 is here! It feels weird that we’re coming down to the last few weeks of the season already (but that’s just 2020 me, enjoying having DFS to get my mind off the rest of the hell that this year has been). On Thursday we have the Patriots visiting the Rams in a low-total 44.5 point game with the Rams favored by 5.5 points. The Rams are the significantly better team here. Bill Belichick outcoached noted moron Anthony Lynn last week, but he’s going to have a tougher time pulling off the same feat against Sean McVay.
On the Patriots’ side, we have that lovely split backfield situation that they always give us. Last week Damien Harris’ snaps dipped to 49% while Sony Michel returned and saw 33% of the snaps, with James White picking up 28%. Harris saw 17 touches, Michel 11, and White just four targets with no carries. Of course, it’s hard to take much from this as the Patriots won in an absolute romp, with their defense delivering a shutout of the Chargers. The Patriots are one of the more adaptable offenses in the league at adjusting to both opponent and, of course, game situations. Of Michel’s 11 touches, 7 came in the 4th quarter when the game was completely put away. The Patriots generally don’t employ a bell cow running back, so I don’t think that means Michel is “just a backup who will only see a touch or two,” but Harris has clearly played his way into the lead role here; as long as the game is close, he should out-touch Michel materially. With Rex Burkhead out, James White is the only passing down back left on the roster, which makes him a strong play if the Patriots find themselves chasing (he has seen eight, nine, and nine targets in three of the Pats’ “chase games” this season, though with just one and four targets in the other two Patriots losses in which he was active). The obvious play here is to prioritize Harris in rosters that are built around the Patriots winning and White in rosters built around the Rams winning, with both being viable in “close game” builds. Of course, Cam Newton gets you “Patriots running game” exposure as well, as he’s averaging just shy of 10 carries per game and has a whopping 11 rushing touchdowns (concerns about Cam’s abdominal injury last week were clearly overblown as he carried the ball 14 times for two scores). The matchup here is, of course, tough; the Rams rank ninth in overall run defense DVOA and fifth against the pass.
In the passing game, we have Jakobi Meyers as the alpha WR1. Meyers has turned in a few box score disappointments but he’s still carrying a massive target share of the passing game (6 of Cam’s 18 pass attempts in Week 12, 6 of 19 last week). In a low-volume attack though, that likely won’t push him to box-score success unless Cam is forced to drop back more. As one of the most game script-sensitive passing offenses in the NFL that will happily hold their QB under 20 attempts if they can, Meyers will either need to get into the end zone or be given a more favorable game script in order to generate real volume. He has also seen his price plummet to just $6,800, which is more than fair for a capable WR1 despite a tough matchup. Damiere Byrd is just $800, which is silly for a receiver playing a full-time role; but in a low-volume offense, he’s basically Devin Duvernay from the Tuesday game; cheap for the role, but with a very low target floor. He’s a value option, but like Meyers, he’ll need either a touchdown or a more favorable game script in order to pay off. N’Keal Harry is a similar play to Byrd, he’s $1,800, but while Byrd was on the field for most of the snaps, Harry only played 54%. Harry has shown no real ability to separate this year, he’s basically a worse version of Byrd who can serve as a leverage pivot in tournaments. Recent signee Donte Moncrief saw his snaps climb to 22% and should serve as the WR4 (I would not be tempted by Gunner Olszewski’s long touchdown last week, that came in garbage time with Jarrett Stidham at QB; Olszewski is a special teams player). Tight end Ryan Izzo is a blocker whose season-high is three targets, while rookie Dalton Keene has returned from injury and could be viewed as an (extremely thin) MME punt as he only has one target on the season so far.
On the Rams’ side, talented rookie Cam Akers at long last took control of the backfield last week, playing 63% of the snaps and handling 22 touches. He also managed just 3.4 yards per carry. The expectation all along was that Akers would take over this backfield at some point in the season, but a combination of injuries and the early effectiveness of Darrell Henderson has delayed it (at the least). Sean McVay is always hard to trust (remember when he said he was going to get Akers more touches before the 49ers game in Week 6 and then he didn’t get a single touch?). Akers is currently questionable but expected to play, and if he does, he’s a reasonable play as a home favorite running back in a good matchup (even after last week, New England is just 25th in overall defensive DVOA and 28th against the run), but he comes with usage risk; multiple times this season we’ve thought we knew who the lead back was going to be and then been surprised by McVay. Darrell Henderson is way overpriced for his role at $7,400 as he’s seen 9, 8, 10, 10, and 5 touches in his last five games; you would need a changing of the guard and Henderson resuming the lead role in order for him to pay off here (which is not outside the realm of possibility with McVay! Just know that he’s a highly risky play). Malcolm Brown is the main passing down back but his role has diminished as the season has gone on as the last time he has seen more than two targets was all the way back in Week 6.
At wide receiver we have, as always, Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods as the primaries in this offense. Woods has been outperforming Kupp this year and is still priced cheaper; both are good plays against a struggling pass defense, but I prefer Woods here (the last Rams showdown I wrote up, I initially preferred Woods, then switched to Kupp….they both had huge games, but Woods outscored Kupp, so, whoops). Of interest last week is that Josh Reynolds, who was playing almost every offensive snap, played just 46% of the snaps and seeing one target. This came after several games of Reynolds’ role ascending in the offense. I don’t think this was a game situation call, while the Rams won by 10 points, they trailed for a decent chunk of the game. Jefferson played well in his 48% of snaps (his highest of the season), catching four of five targets. So, there are two possibilities here: the first is the Rams just wanted to give Jefferson some reps after he caught a touchdown in Week 12 (after all, he started off the first two games playing a decent amount, then basically disappeared from the offense). The second is that the Rams view Van Jefferson as their future WR3, as Reynolds is in the last year of his contract. Both of these could also be true. The way I’m viewing this situation is as a volatile one; both are viable tournament plays while neither seem safe for cash to me. In tournaments I will probably want more exposure to Jefferson than Reynolds, as he’s far cheaper and might still come in with lower ownership. At tight end, the Rams are running 2 TE sets at an incredibly high rate; as I said at the very start of the year, this is a timeshare, Tyler Higbee is not the alpha. Higbee does generally play more snaps than Gerald Everett, but Everett has 44 targets on the season to Higbee’s 43, though Higbee has four touchdowns to Everett’s one. They both only have four red-zone targets on the season. This is not an offense that targets its tight ends extremely heavily in the zone (Woods has 14 and Kupp has 11, by comparison). As is generally the case for me, I prefer Everett to Higbee as their roles are very similar and Everett comes at a $1,600 discount.
Overall this Showdown feels similar to the Tuesday Dallas/Ravens one. We have the Patriots at the time with a wider distribution of volume but also some very clear mispricings on receivers, while the Rams have a narrower distribution but are more fairly priced. The difference is that while on Tuesday it was the home favorite who had the mispricing, in this one it’s the underdog team. I expect this will lead to a lot of chalky lineup constructions built around the expensive Rams with the best roles (Goff, Woods, and Kupp) and using the Patriots’ value plays to make the rosters work. This construction paid off on Tuesday, of course (albeit with a massive split for 1st place). Consider, as always, how you want to approach a Showdown: do you want to give yourself the best chance to win, or are you willing to have a lower chance to win in order to boost your chances of having a unique or low duped win?
The most likely way for this game to play out is for the Rams to run somewhat roughshod over a mediocre New England defense. The Patriots will try to play their run-heavy style for as long as they can. Cam only has four games all year over 28 passing attempts, but if the Rams build a significant lead, he has 35, 40, and 44 passing attempts in those games. Unless you’re building a complete Rams onslaught, I would want to have at least one Patriots receiver in any lineup that has four Rams (if the Rams do well enough that four of their players end up in the optimal lineup, that also likely means a higher-volume game for Cam, which means at least one Pats’ receiver should be able to pay off their cheap price tag). Some other ways the game could play out:
- Despite being a fairly mediocre team overall, the Patriots have managed to play tough against some good opponents; barely losing to Seattle in Week 2, beating the Raiders in Week 3, keeping the Chiefs game close until the second half in Week 4 (without Cam), barely losing to Buffalo, beating Baltimore). Those games were generally driven by defensive outperformance, and despite their mediocre DVOA, the Patriots have only given up 30+ points twice this year. It’s not at all outside the realm of possibility for the Pats to do the same here to the Rams.
In cash, my player pool consists of the quarterbacks, Kupp, Woods, Meyers, Byrd, and the kickers. I’m uncertain if I want to include Akers here; as an $8k home favorite RB coming off a 20+ touch game and in a good matchup, all signs point to “yes, use him,” but the Sean McVay factor has me a little bit nervous. I think he’s a fine cash play, I’m just not sure if I want to take that risk myself.
In tournaments my favorite captains are Woods, Kupp, Akers, Meyers, Harris, Cam, and Byrd in that order.
SOME GROUPS TO CONSIDER:
At most 1 kicker and at most 1 defense as (almost) always
Pair captain pass catchers with their QBs (or consider boosting the QB if using a captain receiver if you don’t want 100% exposure to this pairing – discussed in further detail in the 2020 update to my Advanced Showdowns course)
If using an RB captain, apply a negative correlation to the opposing defense and kicker (you can see how to do so in my FantasyLabs tutorial video)
At most 1 of Higbee and Everett
At most 1 of Reynolds and Jefferson
At most 1 of Akers and Henderson (you could consider including Brown in here as well - but Brown’s price is so cheap that it’s not impossible for both he and one of Akers/Henderson to pay off)
At most 2 of Meyers, Byrd, Harry, and Izzo (in a low volume passing offense, it’s hard to see them supporting more than 2 receivers in a tough road matchup - I may also include White here as well)
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