Detroit Lions (2-11-1, 9-5 ATS) at Atlanta Falcons (6-8, 6-8), 1 p.m.
Brolley’s Lions Stats and Trends
The Lions are 2-3-1 outright since their Week 9 bye, and their only ATS loss in that span came against Denver two weeks ago when they were severely undermanned because of flu and COVID issues.
Detroit is 5-1 toward unders in its last six road games.
Jared Goff landed on the COVID list on Monday and he’ll need one negative test to play on Sunday or else Tim Boyle would get another spot start. Goff is heating up with multiple TD passes in three of his last four games. He’s averaging 6.9 YPA and completing 69.5% of his passes after averaging 6.3 YPA and completing 66.1% of his passes in the first nine games. Goff completed 21/26 passes for 216 yards (8.3 YPA) and three TDs in Detroit’s stunning 18-point victory over the Cardinals in Week 15. The Falcons are giving up the second-most FPG (21.4) to QBs this season.
Amon-Ra St. Brown has 4+ catches in nine of his last 10 games, and he’s rung up 15+ FP and 11+ targets in three straight games. He finished with 8/90/1 receiving on 11 targets against the Cardinals, which gives him 26/249/2 receiving on 35 targets for 63.6 FP in Weeks 13-15. He could lose some juice if Swift returns to the lineup this week to take a few targets away. San Francisco WRs combined for 7/77/1 receiving out of the slot against the Falcons last week.
Josh Reynolds has quietly posted 5+ targets, 3+ catches, and 50+ receiving yards in four straight games after catching all six of his targets for 68 yards and a TD against the Cardinals in Week 15. Brandon Aiyuk flopped with just a 36-yard catch in this matchup last week, but the Falcons are still giving up the fourth-most FPG (38.7) to WRs this season.
Craig Reynolds has been busy in Detroit’s backfield the last two weeks with D’Andre Swift (shoulder) and Jamaal Williams (COVID) out, and he’s been an RB2 option with 12.3 FPG. He finished with 26/112 rushing and he caught his only target for five yards while playing 65% of the snaps in their shocking victory over the Cardinals in Week 15. Williams will be back this week and Swift could return at any time or they could elect to hold him out for the rest of the season. They’re both back at practice so it appears that they’re not ready to shut Swift down for the season just yet. Either way, Reynolds has earned a longer look in this backfield, and I think the current depth chart currently looks like Swift/Reynolds/Williams. If Swift returns this week, he’s unlikely to return to his 70% snap shares from earlier this season as they try to keep focused on the future with their star running back. Jeff Wilson went for 21/110/1 rushing as San Francisco’s top back against the Falcons last week.
Brolley’s Falcons Stats and Trends
Atlanta is 1-5 ATS in its last six home games.
The Falcons are 4-1 ATS in their last five games against a team with a losing record.
Atlanta is 5-1 toward unders in its last six games.
The Falcons had a miserable time trying to score from in tight against the 49ers last week, failing to find paydirt on 13 plays from inside the 10-yard, including five tries from the 1-yard line.
Matt Ryan has scored 15+ FP and he’s reached 2+ TD passes just once in his last eight games. He completed 19/32 passes for 236 yards (7.4 YPA) and one TD in their loss to the 49ers in Week 15. The Lions have allowed just one QB (Kirk Cousins) to reach 17+ FP over their last seven games.
Russell Gage has been one of the biggest WR difference-makers off of the waiver wire in the second half of the season. He’s posted 4+ catches and 60+ yards in four straight games, and he’s hung 18+ FP in three of his last four games after posting 8/91/1 receiving against the 49ers last week. Christian Kirk exploded for 9/94/1 receiving on 12 targets in this matchup last week.
Kyle Pitts is still sitting at just one touchdown through 14 games, but at least he’s caught 4+ passes with 48+ yards in three straight games. The Lions have given up 11+ FP to an individual TE in five straight games after Zach Ertz posted 6/74 receiving on 11 targets.
Cordarrelle Patterson had his worst game of the season, managing just 11/18 rushing and 2/5 receiving for 4.3 FP but at least he saw a four-week high 62% of the snaps. He’s now fallen below 14 FP in four of his last five games, but he did at least see his best snap share (62%) and his most routes (23) since Week 7. Mike Davis failed to catch a pass last week after stringing together four consecutive games with 3+ catches and 20+ receiving yards. The Lions are giving up the fourth-most FPG (28.3) to RBs this season, but they limited James Conner and Chase Edmonds to 14/92 rushing and 2/31 receiving last week.
Barfield’s Pace and Tendencies
Pace (seconds in between plays): 29 (22nd)
Plays per game: 58.9 (29th)
Pass: 58.3% (21st) | Run: 41.7% (12th)
Pace: 29.5 (26th)
Plays per game: 57.8 (30th)
Pass: 60.2% (15th) | Run: 39.8% (18th)
All pace / play data is from the last eight weeks.
To put it mildly: There have been better games this season than this one.
The Lions have scored on just 29% of their drives (seventh-lowest rate) over the last eight weeks and obviously take a huge hit if Jared Goff can’t make it back in time to play. Meanwhile, the Falcons are even worse offensively and have scored on 26% of their possessions (fourth-lowest rate) over the last eight weeks. Both the Lions and Falcons’ play volume has cratered and both teams play incredibly slow. This all adds up to this being the worst game, by a mile, in the Week 16 pace / plays model.
Huber’s Key Matchup Notes
To contain red-hot Lions rookie WR Amon-Ra St. Brown, Atlanta will be forced to pick their poison between Darren Hall and Richie Grant. Arizona attempted to contain St. Brown with seven different defenders. They failed. ARSB pieced together an 8/90/1 line and 23.5 FPs to carry Detroit to their 30-12 victory over the team with the highest odds to reach the playoffs. Consider that St. Brown managed a 5/41/0 line the last two weeks on six targets and on only six total routes inside the coverage of Patrick Surtain II and Byron Murphy Jr. Amon-Ra is simply one of the hottest WRs in the NFL over the last three weeks. His game has been on fleek to the extent that I’ll still be all over him this week with Tim Boyle drawing the start while Jared Goff sits on the COVID list.
Has it been a magical season for the Falcons? Far from it. But the front office must have expected significant struggles when they devoted six of their first eight picks to the defensive side of the ball. Some of those selections will have a chance to pay off down the road, but the offense really required some love in addition to bringing in Kyle Pitts and Jalen Mayfield. When Calvin Ridley announced that he would step away from the team to address his mental health, the decision not to add WR and RB talent in the draft really presented itself. However, if nothing else, Russell Gage’s development has taken a step forward over the second half of this season. The ability to create his own offense without the support of an elite WR presence keeping the high safety occupied is unique for Gage to the ‘21 season.
Dolan’s Vantage Points
The Lions’ offense has a big question this week with QB Jared Goff on the COVID-19 list and looking unlikely to play. If he doesn’t play, it would drag this entire offense down, with Tim Boyle starting.
“Amon-Ra St. Brown has basically been the entirety of the Lions’ offense without T.J. Hockenson and D’Andre Swift. Over his last 3 games, St. Brown has averaged 11.7 targets per game, 83.0 YPG, and 21.2 FPG. Compared to his first 11 games, that’s a 149% increase in targets per game, a 160% increase in YPG, and a 207% increase in FPG. Among slate-eligible WRs this season, St. Browns’ numbers over the last 3 weeks rank 1st, 5th, and 2nd.
If St. Brown’s usage continues like this in any capacity, he’s an obvious value.
The matchup with Atlanta sets up great for St. Brown, as the Falcons have given up the 3rd-most schedule-adjusted FPG to opposing WRs this season (+4.7), and the 12th-most FPG (14.4) to opposing slots.
With that said, D’Andre Swift is expected to return to practice this week, and if he plays, that’s an obvious ding to St. Brown as Swift averaged 6.4 targets per game and was 2nd on the team in target share before getting injured. But even a 20% reduction in St. Brown’s recent volume would still be 9.4 targets per game, so Swift’s return is likely the difference between St. Brown being the best mid-priced WR value on the slate and just being underpriced in a strong matchup.”
Indeed, as Jake mentioned, D’Andre Swift (shoulder) and Jamaal Williams (COVID) returned to practice this week. I don’t think Williams has been effective enough to take Craig Reynolds out of the RB rotation, but if Goff can’t play, the Lions are likely to run the hell out of the ball. It’s a good matchup, too.
How would you have felt in August if we told you that by the fantasy playoffs, the only Falcon you’d have any confidence in starting against the Lions would be… Russell Gage? Well, that’s the case. Here’s Graham from Start/Sit on a very good fantasy WR:
“Gage just continues to get it done as the Falcons top receiver. He posted another strong performance with 8/91/1 against the 49ers and is now averaging 17.1 PPR points per game across his last five contests after going 0/0 against Dallas back in Week 10. In fact, since Week 10, Gage leads the team in targets (47) while Kyle Pitts (38) is second. And more good news: Gage gets a pristine matchup this week against a Lions secondary that is allowing the ninth-most fantasy points per target to WRs this season. We have Gage firmly ranked as a top-20 WR this week.”
Everybody else on the Falcons is TD dependent — including breakout star RB/WR Cordarrelle Patterson. Mike Davis has run more routes (77) than C-Patt (68) over the last four games, while Patterson has turned in 4 catches for 6 yards over the last two weeks. Patterson is in RB2 territory while Davis is a desperation FLEX. At least the matchup is good.