The scoring from Week 14 stands as the highest average of the season (25.4). While the deep (20-or-more yards) passing rate (11.4%) remained consistent with the previous seven weeks, the quality of the attempts were, arguably, the best we’ve seen this season. QBs combined to throw for 12 TDs vs. only two INTs – a season-best 6-to-1 TD-to-INT ratio, and the 13.0 YPA from last week is the second-highest over the last seven weeks. You can check the data out for yourself below:
Do these numbers indicate deep passing is back to its early-season form? Unfortunately, no. We have substantial historical evidence indicating that, as we go deeper into a season – sans injury-crippled units, defenses exponentially improve toward sending the production curve toward a downward slope. Proof of that statement can be found in the chart below, showing that, in spite of the big week of the long ball, the metrics for each of the qualified position groups actually improved (nearly) across the board. And air yardage/coverage snap (AY/CS) continued to decline for every qualified position group in Week 14.
How can this information be applied toward actionable lineup construction? Targeting the struggling qualified defenders will always be at the forefront of the process. However, targeting late-week replacements in the secondary that have yet to play a significant role this season (the unqualified) has been a profitable approach, in the right situations, of course. We should never eliminate a QB from orchestrating deep-passing success in a single week. But receiver target share reliability should continue to be held in very high regard – particularly in Cash/Single-Entry (SE) games. DFS success has always been dictated by the players receiving the opportunities. And those opportunity shares are even more important without the deep passing reliability to bust a particular slate.
As always, the following chart provides the full names for the acronyms and the defensive coverage performance numbers for each position group through Week 14:
To magnify their importance toward processing the matchup data, familiarity with these abbreviations are key. The full names of the data points in the headers of the data table above will not be written out in full within the specific matchups. You’ll find the following acronyms frequently used whenever referencing defensive coverage statistics:
Yards Allowed Per Coverage Snap = YPCS
Fantasy Points Allowed Per Coverage Snap = FP/CS
Air Yards Allowed Per Coverage Snap = AY/CS
Targeted Passer Rating (i.e., Passer Rating on Targets into Coverage) = TPR
Offensive abbreviations used when referring to the performance of QBs/RBs/WRs/TEs:
FPs/Dropback = FP/Db
FPs/Route = FP/Rt
FPs/Touch = FP/Tch
Yards/Route Run = YPRR
Air Yards/Attempt = AY/Att
Air Yards/Target = AY/Tgt
Yards/Target = YPT
Targeted Passer Rating (i.e., QB Passer Rating When Targeting Receiver) = TPR
If you’d like to learn more about/refresh yourself with each of the defensive coverage shells and other relevant schematic details mentioned throughout this series, utilize the following resources:
Fantasy Shells: Coverage Glossary
Fantasy Shells: Cover 1
Fantasy Shells: Cover 2
Fantasy Shells: Cover 3
*69-71 (49%); 8-6 in Week 14
Kansas City Chiefs (-3.0) vs. Los Angeles Chargers
Cleveland Browns (-3.0) vs. Las Vegas Raiders
Indianapolis Colts (-2.5) vs. New England Patriots
Dallas Cowboys (-10.5) at New York Giants
Houston Texans (+4.0) at Jacksonville Jaguars
Pittsburgh Steelers (+2.0) vs. Tennessee Titans
Arizona Cardinals (-13.5) at Detroit Lions
Miami Dolphins (-8.5) vs. New York Jets
Washington Football Team (+4.5) at Philadelphia Eagles
Buffalo Bills (-10.5) vs. Carolina Panthers
Cincinnati Bengals (+1.0) at Denver Broncos
San Francisco 49ers (-9.5) vs. Atlanta Falcons
Green Bay Packers (-5.0) at Baltimore Ravens
Los Angeles Rams (-4.5) vs. Seattle Seahawks
New Orleans Saints (+10.0) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Chicago Bears (+3.5) vs. Minnesota Vikings
*64-53 (55%); 9-5 in Week 14
Los Angeles Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs (Over 52.0)
Las Vegas Raiders at Cleveland Browns (Under 40.0)
New England Patriots at Indianapolis Colts (Over 45.0)
Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants (Over 43.5)
Houston Texans at Jacksonville Jaguars (Over 39.5)
Tennessee Titans at Pittsburgh Steelers (Over 41.5)
Arizona Cardinals at Detroit Lions (Under 47.5)
New York Jets at Miami Dolphins (Under 42.5)
Washington Football Team at Philadelphia Eagles (Under 44.5)
Carolina Panthers at Buffalo Bills (Over 43.5)
Cincinnati Bengals at Denver Broncos (Under 44.5)
Atlanta Falcons at San Francisco 49ers (Over 46.0)
Green Bay Packers at Baltimore Ravens (Over 43.5)
Seattle Seahawks at Los Angeles Rams (Under 45.0)
New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Over 46.5)
Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears (Over 44.0)
*88-48 (65%); 9-5 in Week 14
Kansas City Chiefs (-150) vs. Los Angeles Chargers
Cleveland Browns (-165) vs. Las Vegas Raiders
Indianapolis Colts (-140) vs. New England Patriots
Dallas Cowboys (-525) at New York Giants
Houston Texans (+155) at Jacksonville Jaguars
Pittsburgh Steelers (+105) vs. Tennessee Titans
Arizona Cardinals (-760) at Detroit Lions
Miami Dolphins (-410) vs. New York Jets
Washington Football Team (+180) at Philadelphia Eagles
Buffalo Bills (-490) vs. Carolina Panthers
Cincinnati Bengals (-105) at Denver Broncos
San Francisco 49ers (-450) vs. Atlanta Falcons
Green Bay Packers (-235) at Baltimore Ravens
Los Angeles Rams (-200) vs. Seattle Seahawks
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-510) vs. New Orleans Saints
Chicago Bears (+160) vs. Minnesota Vikings
Matchups to Target
Hunter Renfrow, LV ($7.0K DK | $7.5K FD) vs. Troy Hill, CLE
The Browns are one of the few defenses able to go three-deep at outside corner without a decline in quality. Easily one of the top-five CB trios in the league, Denzel Ward has been the budding superstar of the group, 2021 first-rounder Greg Newsome II is on the fast-track toward a similar reputation, and Greedy Williams has proven himself to be fully recovered from the nerve ailment in his shoulder that kept him out for the 2020 season. The Browns’ three young defensive backs have combined to limit their coverage to only three TDs, snatching four INTs, and deflecting away 23 targeted throws on nearly 650 snaps in coverage. They have assisted Cleveland in holding opponents to the seventh-fewest passing YPG (215.0) and fourth-fewest total YPG (321.2).
It’s been four weeks since an opposing wideout found the end zone against Cleveland. They’ve held WR units to the 11th-fewest FPG this season (32.9), but the second-fewest the last four weeks (20.1). If we analyze this matchup from the Browns red-lighting the seventh-lowest rate of FPG to WRs out of the slot (52.7%), we have some compelling reasons to reconsider using Hunter Renfrow this week. However, that is an entirely misleading stat. Let’s look at the matchups where Cleveland has actually faced an opponent with a featured slot option:
Week 1: Tyreek Hill, 37.1 FPs
Week 2: Brandin Cooks, 22.8 FPs
Week 5: Keenan Allen, 13.5 FPs
Week 6: Christian Kirk, 18.5 FPs
Week 9: Tyler Boyd, 2.1 FPs
Week 10: Jakobi Meyers, 14.9 FPs
As you can see, sans limiting Boyd in Week 9, the Browns have permitted featured slots to average 21.4 FPG. And Troy Hill has been the most significant liability at defensive back. He’s handing out 1.34 YPCS (eighth-most among 36 qualified nickel CBs), 0.30 FP/CS (sixth-most), and a 125.7 TPR (the highest). However, the opportunity for Renfrow extends into the green light district with news that Hill has not only been added to the COVID list, he is considered week-to-week with a knee injury. Since it appears Newsome is likely to miss another game due to a Week 12 concussion, the Dawg Pound will be forced to rely on UDFAs A.J. Green and/or Herb Miller III in coverage over Renfrow 🤯.
Furthermore, even if we view the Browns at full strength, can we even consider fading Renfrow? Since the Raiders’ Week 8 bye, he’s averaging 9.2 targets, an 8/80/0.5 receiving line, and 18.8 FPG in DKs PPR, 100-yard receiving bonus format. He’s creating the ninth-most FP/Rt (0.485), 34% of his FPG production is coming on play action (5.6, 10th-most), and at least a 20% target share in eight of his last 10 games. Cleveland is using the fourth-highest rate of Cover 3 and the highest of Cover 4. Unfortunately for Renfrow, they are also using the lowest rate of Cover 2. But The Slot Machine will benefit from Derek Carr averaging the seventh-most FP/DB against Cover 4 the last three years. Additionally, Renfrow has been excellent against Cover 3 this season with 2.51 YPRR. Even with appropriate WR14/WR9 pricing, Renfrow exposure is an easy decision on DK.
Nick Chubb, CLE ($7.7K DK | $8.0K FD) vs. Raiders’ Cover 3
Guess what? The backfield stud with RB6/RB7 pricing is an outstanding play this week. Earth shattering stuff. However, like Jonathan Taylor in the matchup with New England, The Browns’ path toward victory is going to be built upon Nick Chubb shredding Las Vegas’ run defense. The most significant obstacle for Chubb will be the state of the O-line in front of him. 90 NFL players are currently listed on the COVID list. And the Browns have been the hardest hit. Baker Mayfield, Jarvis Landry, Austin Hooper, David Njoku, Harrison Bryant, Stephen Carlson, Wyatt Teller, Jedrick Wills, Drew Forbes, John Hohnson III, Malik McDowell, Takkarist McKinley, Ifeadi Odenigbo, Anthony Walker, and even punter Jamie Gillan all need to submit two negative tests in order to take the field on Saturday. Not to mention Kareem Hunt (ankle).
We’re looking at ‘21 fourth-rounder James Hudson, 2019 UDFA Blake Hance, and 2018 UDFA Casey Dunn joining J.C. Tretter, and Joe Bitonio in a patchwork O-line if Teller, Wills, and Forbes are unable to clear the protocol. Even with the litany of potential absences, the Raiders have been a trainwreck on defense the last five weeks when opponents are averaging 34.2 PPG. And those issues point directly at its run defense. Let’s take a look:
125.3 rushing YPG (seventh-most)
2.93% 20-yard rush rate (sixth-highest)
1.08 TDs/game (eighth-most)
29.0 FPG (third-most)
16.0 pure rushing FPG (sixth-most)
13.0 pure receiving FPG (sixth-most)
Opposing backfields have generated 15-plus FP performances in 10-of-13 weeks. Two of the teams that failed to do so were the RB-deficient Miami and Philadelphia. If Cleveland is without Mayfield, Landry, and their entire TE core, we can count on Chubb taking upwards of 30 carries. Yeah, his upside will be on the nuclear side.
Final notes on Las Vegas
Remember when the Raiders appeared to be headed to the playoffs with a 5-2 record heading into their bye week? Jon Gruden and Henry Ruggs III off-field disasters later, Las Vegas will be lucky to finish the season with an even record. With Darren Waller ($6.3K/$7.0K) sidelined, Derek Carr ($6.0K/$7.5K) has averaged 11.4 FPG the last two weeks. No surprise considering Waller’s breakout stodd as the catalyst for Carr’s late-’20, early-’21 revival. Waller is headed for a third-straight absence.
Josh Jacobs ($6.3K/$7.2K) was stripped on his very first carry last week, resulting in a house-call for the Chiefs. Take away Jacobs’ seven TDs and he’s been an unmitigated disaster while taking 70% of team carries since Week 4 (fourth-highest) and returning the 20th-most FP/opportunity (0.879). And he’s only averaging 3.73 YPC on the season (9th-fewest among 43 qualified RBs). For my cap dollars, I want far greater than one-TD upside in return for RB16/RB14 pricing. Without Kenyan Drake, interim HC Rich Bisaccia and OC Greg Olson have resorted to searching for production from Peyton Barber ($4.0K/$5.0K) and Trey Ragas ($4.0K/$4.6K). While I do think Ragas offers some future intrigue, it’s a dreadful situation. One that’s unlikely to be resolved anytime soon since the franchise devoted first round capital on Jacobs.
If you’re a Raiders fan looking for an expedited path down depression road, consider that Zay Jones ($3.6K/$5.1K) will draw Denzel Ward, and be on the field for 80-85% of team passing plays. Jones (0.207 FP/Rt – 95th among 113 qualified WRs) has been even less efficient than Bryan Edwards ($3.5K/$5.4K) (0.208 – 93rd) with his reps. And don’t expect DeSean Jackson ($3.7K/$5.2K) to save the day. He’s good for a long TD here-and-there, but he’s simply splitting perimeter reps at left wideout with Edwards at this late stage in his career. It’s also been a disappointing two-game stretch for Foster Moreau ($3.7K/$5.5K) in place of Waller. Moreau had scored one TD for every four career receptions prior to this opportunity. But that potential still exists after his pair of quiet performances.
Final notes on Cleveland
Even if Baker Mayfield ($5.9K/$7.2K) clears the COVID list, he’s thrown three TDs vs. 12 INTs and the seventh-lowest FP/Db (0.28) against Cover 3 the last three seasons. And Las Vegas has utilized the highest rate of Cover 3 this season. Jarvis Landry ($5.6K/$6.5K) has easily been Mayfield’s top Cover-3 target, but will he play? Even if he does, Landry will work across from Nate Hobbs. The Raiders’ nickel CB has limited his coverage to 0.73 YPCS (fourth-fewest), 0.16 FP/CS (fourth-fewest), 0.03 AY/CS (the fewest), and an 86.7 TPR (11th-fewest). If Hobbs contains him – provided Landry and Mayfield even take the field, Donovan Peoples-Jones ($4.3K/$5.8K) and Rashard Higgins ($3.0K/$4.7K) have provided replacement-level production against Cover 3.
Just to clarify Higgins’ avoidable situation, he’ll draw coverage from Casey Hayward Jr. – a top-five outside corner this season. If Landry is ruled out, Demetric Felton ($4.0K/$4.7K) would be worth a large-field GPP dart. David Njoku ($2.9K/$5.0K) seems likely to be activated from the COVID list and Harrison Bryant ($2.5K/$4.5K) looks poised to return from injury. But if neither happens and if Austin Hooper ($4.1K/$5.4K) is unable to produce his two negative tests, ‘21 UDFA Miller Forristall ($2.5K/$4.1K) will draw the start. It’s extremely tough to trust a rookie TE, even with a potential promise of featured reps. On the positive side, the Browns could conceivably run the ball enough to provide D’Ernest Johnson ($4.6K/$5.7K) with enough opportunities to approach floor value without Hunt available. Shhh 🙊.
Matchups to Target
Jakobi Meyers, NE ($5.0K DK | $5.9K FD) vs. Kenny Moore II, IND
Three individuals from this game stand out. Two are New England wideouts. The first, Kendrick Bourne ($5.1K/$6.0K), will work across from Rock Ya-Sin. On just under 150 snaps in coverage the last four weeks, Ya-Sin has permitted all of a 3/21/1 combined receiving line on 10 targets – two of those matchups were against Buffalo and Tampa Bay. On the season, he’s only conceding 0.64 YPCS (third-fewest) and 0.19 FP/CS (12th-fewest). Needless to say, the luster on Bourne’s Week 15 shine is rendered nonexistent. That brings us to Jakobi Meyers. One of the factors that I love about Meyers is that he essentially never leaves the field. For an offense utilizing a high rate of Ace (12) personnel, that’s significant. When working from the slot isn’t an option, Meyers kicks out to the right perimeter.
The Colts are holding opposing WRs to 34.6 FPG this season (18th-most), but only 17.5 over the last four weeks (the fewest). Before complaints are submitted on this tout, consider that this is going to be a game pitting two of the top-six defenses of ‘21. Indianapolis is featuring the seventh-highest rate of Cover 2 and eighth-highest of Cover 6. None of the Pats’ wideouts have done well against Cover 6, but Mac Jones has only seen the coverage on 6% of his rookie dropbacks. As with all average rates, we cannot be guaranteed of anything. But DC Matt Eberflus does offer a solid guarantee of his beloved Cover 2 rate. On some weeks, he doesn’t hesitate to put it on the field at the highest rate in the league.
During his career, Meyers is generating 0.45 FP/Rt (ninth-most), 2.22 YPRR (11th-most), and he’s being targeted on 26% of routes when defenses put a Cover 2 on the field (fifth-highest). As passed along in the past, most of the issue with Meyers has been the game script. In the eight games where he finished under floor value since Week 2, New England outscored their opponent by an average of 25.75 PPG in four. And we can completely disregard last week’s 0/0/0 since the Patriots attempted all of three passes. That leaves the following:
Week 5 against Houston – shut down by Tavierre Thomas, the most dominant slot CB this season
Week 6 against Dallas – only used Cover 2 on five plays
Week 8 against the Chargers – used Cover 2 on zero plays the entire game
Kenny Moore II will work against Meyers on the highest number of reps. He’s provided his coverage responsibilities with 1.28 YPCS (12th-most) and 0.30 FP/CS (sixth-most). The last result I want is the product of forcing pieces together that simply do not fit. On the main slate, superior options are in play elsewhere. But, in the Thursday-to-Saturday offering, Meyers will hold quite a bit of value.
Matchups to Avoid
Michael Pittman Jr., IND ($5.6K DK | $6.8K FD) vs. J.C. Jackson, NE
On the one hand, the Patriots are using the eighth-highest rate of Cover 3. Michael Pittman Jr. has crafted 0.44 FP/Rt (15th-most), a 29% increase in his overall FP/Rt average (sixth-highest), 11.7 YPT (seventh-most), and 2.31 YPRR (16th-most). On the other hand, Pittman running 55% of his outside routes from the right side will place him within the coverage of J.C. Jackson. Carson Wentz targeted the coverage of Jalen Ramsey, Xavien Howard, Marlon Humphrey, and Tre'Davious White 4.5 times/game this season – 15% of his total attempts.
Even with Jackson in coverage of Pittman, count on seeing Wentz looking his way. At a certain level of targeting, all coverage will fail to prevent a receiver from exceeding his floor. Assuming no more than 4.5 targets into Jackson’s coverage, Pittman will still be difficult to trust. With one TD allowed vs. seven INTs and eight pass defenses, Jackson leads all outside CBs with a 39.2 TPR. You guessed it, a QB receives a higher passer rating when spiking the football (39.6) than Jackson’s coverage. Even with Jackson – for whatever insane reason – being the ninth-most targeted perimeter corner, he’s still only permitting 0.23 FP/CS (29th-fewest).
Final notes on New England
This is going to be the most difficult challenge of the season for Mac Jones ($5.2K/$7.0K). The Pats have played the fifth-easiest schedule. He played extremely well against Cleveland in Week 10, but they did not put anything close to the type of coverages he’ll see this week. When facing Cover 2 and 6 this season, Jones has thrown one TD vs. one INT. I’m not as satisfied as some that Damien Harris ($6.0K/$6.8K)is managing limited practices after the bye. He departed from an airtight 14-10 victory over Buffalo after his first carry of the third quarter with a hamstring injury. He’s not going to be cleared to play until he manages to run-and-cut at full speed. And there's zero guarantee he’ll keep that hamstring clean if he takes the field. Rhamondre Stevenson ($4.9K/$6.8K) is well worth some GPP dart throws. Harris played his high school ball near my home, so I personally want to see him succeed. But we’ve yet to see the extent of Stevenson’s ceiling. He possesses all of the traits necessary to become a top-five RB the moment he’s given the keys to the backfield.
How is Nelson Agholor ($3.5K/$5.5K) maintaining his starting role? He’s unable to create offense for himself after the catch and has returned 0.254 FP/Rt (88th-most) in return for running the 27th-highest rate of team routes. The only outside sources of non-statistical information I consume each week are interviews with coaches and players, and searching for the latest injury information. However, I do end up reading a lot of player headlines during the process. Allow me to set the record straight, Hunter Henry ($4.2K/$6.0K) wasn’t just ghosted out of the Week 14 box score due to the weather. Jonnu Smith ($2.9K/$4.8K) drew the start and nearly tripled Henry in playing time. Even against an Indianapolis defense with an open would pouring FPG to TEs, both are a fade for me in Week 15.
Final notes on Indianapolis
It’s been 45 days since an opponent scored more than a single TD against the New England defense. And it’s been 59 days since the Patriots were last defeated. But I am expecting both of those distinctions to come to an end this week. After some early-season concerns, Jonathan Taylor ($9.0K/$10.2K) has emerged as the RB1 this season. During his last 10 games, JT is averaging 30.2 FPG. This Colts team is not going to back down from the Patriots – something New England has seen far too often while playing their vanilla schedule. I didn’t list Taylor as a Target, but only since I am assuming everyone is fully aware he is a top-three RB option independent of the matchup.
Carson Wentz ($5.7K/$7.8K) will have a couple routes toward success against the Pats. They use Cover 2 at the 13th-highest rate. Wentz ranks sixth-best with 0.38 FP/Db vs. Cover 2 during the last three campaigns. New England is surrendering the 15th-most FP/CS on play action. WEntz is using play action at the eighth-highest rate. I’m not going to have any shares of Wentz this week – especially not on FD with QB6 pricing!?! Just highlighting the paths to victory that will not be available to the Patriots. Is Nyheim Hines ($4.0K/$5.2K) still on the roster? This could be a sneaky spot for T.Y. Hilton ($4.1K/$5.6K) to put his best game of the season on tape as the Colts’ most accomplished Cover 1 wideout. And Jalen Mills’ metrics have tailed off in recent weeks, allowing six TDs in his last eight games, and a 116.9 overall TPR (fifth-highest).
Zach Pascal ($3.4K/$5.3K) does still play football, just look for the guy on the field for 80-90% of passing plays that doesn’t create enough separation to get the football. It’s time for a change in the slot, perhaps with Hilton in the slot, and Dezmon Patmon ($3.0K/$4.5K) on the outside. I’ve been working on writing a blues song with Mo Alie-Cox ($2.4K/$5.7K) as the subject. He desperately needs a change of scenery. Jack Doyle ($2.9K/$5.1K) is now cemented as the featured inline option. And ‘21 fourth-rounder Kylen Granson ($2.5K/$4.3K) appears to have overtaken Alie-Cox in the rotation. Just avoid Indy TEs at all costs this week. No defense has defended the position as well as the Patriots this season.