Shade will be tossed around everywhere in Week 18 with coaches calling for the potential of resting starters or playing to win. The approach I’ve used in Week 17 of previous seasons is in taking notes on all of the coach-speak, and being prepared to pivot when the inactive lists are released. I’ll be presenting all of the matchup data as per usual. Just understand that the final week of the NFL season is not on where lineups should be set and forgotten. It’s going to take a bit more work, but the profit levels are higher than in normal weeks for those who dedicated themselves to the news wire.
Another decent week of deep-passing efficiency. But nothing remotely close toward correcting the considerable issue the league has faced with scoring on the decline. You heard it here first, plan on the NFL rules committee making some adjustments to kick-start the longball for next season. And adjusting the rules to assist QBs in passing deep in general will result in the elite ball distributors posting some ridiculous numbers in response. As for Week 17, you can check out the data for yourself:
Modern NFL rules are in place to support vertical passing games. And a valid argument can be made that the current crop of WR, TE, and even RB professionals are more talented as receivers than at any point in league history. The finger can be pointed directly at two parties:
- Refusal by certain coaching staffs to spread out their detached offensive personnel, failure to implement analytics into their draft strategies and gameplans, and dragging their franchises behind in the dark ages with a preference for a run-heavy, “Pro Style” approach
- While much of this issue is carried on the shoulders of front offices for their appalling draft scouting, half of the league’s offenses are equipped with a level of QB quality that would even draw ridicule back in the 1970’s
As always, how can we use all of this information toward actionable lineup construction?
Targeting struggling qualified defenders will always be at the forefront of the process. And targeting late-week replacements in the secondary that have yet to play significant roles this season (the unqualified) is another profitable approach, in the proper situations, of course. 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 holding coverage importance through Week 17:
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
- Fantasy Shells: Cover 4
*98-90 (52%); 9-7 in Week 17
Kansas City Chiefs (-11.0) at Denver Broncos
Philadelphia Eagles (+7.0) vs. Dallas Cowboys
Pittsburgh Steelers (+5.0) at Baltimore Ravens *Assuming Lamar Jackson plays
Cincinnati Bengals (-3.0) at Cleveland Browns
Green Bay Packers (-2.5) at Detroit Lions
Houston Texans (+10.5) vs. Tennessee Titans ()
Indianapolis Colts (-15.0) at Jacksonville Jaguars
Chicago Bears (+2.5) at Minnesota Vikings *Assuming Justin Fields plays
Washington Football Team (-7.0) at New York Giants
Seattle Seahawks (+7.0) at Arizona Cardinals
New Orleans Saints (-4.0) at Atlanta Falcons
Buffalo Bills (-16.5) vs. New York Jets
San Francisco 49ers (+4.5) at Los Angeles Rams
Miami Dolphins (+6.5) vs. New England Patriots
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-7.5) vs. Carolina Panthers
Los Angeles Chargers (-3.0) at Las Vegas Raiders
*91-74 (55%); 10-6 in Week 17
Kansas City Chiefs at Denver Broncos (Under 44.5)
Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles (Over 42.5)
Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens (Under 41.5) *Assuming Lamar Jackson plays
Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns (Over 41.0)
Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions (Over 42.5)
Tennessee Titans at Houston Texans (Under 43.0)
Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville Jaguars (Under 44.0)
Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings (Under 44.0) *Assuming Justin Fields plays
Washington Football Team at New York Giants (Under 37.5)
Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals (Over 48.0)
New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons (Under 39.5)
New York Jets at Buffalo Bills (Over 43.0)
San Francisco 49ers at Los Angeles Rams (Over 44.0)
New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins (Under 40.0)
Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Over 41.5)
Los Angeles Chargers at Las Vegas Raiders (Under 49.0)
*121-63 (66%); 11-5 in Week 17
Kansas City Chiefs (-600) at Denver Broncos
Philadelphia Eagles (+250) vs. Dallas Cowboys
Baltimore Ravens (-200) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers *Assuming Lamar Jackson plays
Cincinnati Bengals (-155) at Cleveland Browns
Green Bay Packers (-135) at Detroit Lions
Tennessee Titans (-525) at Houston Texans
Indianapolis Colts (-1,000) at Jacksonville Jaguars
Chicago Bears (+120) at Minnesota Vikings *Assuming Justin Fields plays
Washington Football Team (-320) at New York Giants
Seattle Seahawks (+225) at Arizona Cardinals
New Orleans Saints (-210) at Atlanta Falcons
New York Jets (-1,375) at Buffalo Bills
San Francisco 49ers (+170) at Los Angeles Rams
Miami Dolphins (+215) vs. New England Patriots
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-365) vs. Carolina Panthers
Los Angeles Chargers (-160) at Las Vegas Raiders
Matchups to Target
Najee Harris, PIT ($7.2K DK | $8.5K FD) vs. Ravens’ Cover 1 | 6
This is a game that’s going to be much more intriguing to watch than in the DFS-implication territory. Pittsburgh’s chances of making the playoffs stand at 9%. They obviously need to defeat the Ravens, but they also need the Jaguars to take down the Colts, and the Chargers-Raiders cannot end in a tie. The first scenario is entirely possible. The third is entirely likely. The second will end up guaranteeing the Steelers will not sniff the postseason. Even with the current state of the Baltimore secondary, Ben Roethlisberger has reinvented the over-the-hill moniker. It was nothing short of exhausting watching him account for 123 yards with 46 throws last week. In all honesty, I have never seen anything like it. And the fact that Pittsburgh won the game should not sidestep the root of the issue that began with the sideline “coaching” from Mike Tomlin and Matt Canada.
Luckily for the Steelers, Najee Harris was around to grind out some first downs. And grind he did. Harris’ 188 rushing yards should not be confused with a dominating performance. It came in spurts. But he managed to avoid negative yardage on all but two of his 28 carries. The majority of his production (55%) was gained on runs of 10, 13, 14, 30, and a 37-yard TD. Harris only averaged 3.65 YPC on his remaining 23 carries. But the Browns pack a top-eight run defense. Assuming the offense entirely runs through Harris — and it will with Roethlisberger under center — the volume will continue, and we will not have very many chances to roster upwards of 30 carries in Week 18. The Ravens will also be wailing and gnashing their teeth to claim every bit of their 3% chance to earn a playoff bid. But the drum John Harbaugh uses to oil his run defense emptied when his secondary landed on IR. Baltimore is relinquishing 6.0 red zone (RZ) touches/game (fifth-most), 3.25 goal-to-go (GTG) carries/game (fourth-most), and 24.3 FPG to RBs over the last four weeks (11th-most).
Matchups to Avoid
Diontae Johnson, PIT ($7.6K DK | $7.6K FD) vs. Jimmy Smith, BAL
Sidestepping the volume is not my style. But the type of volume being soft-tossed in Diontae Johnson ’s ($7.6K/$7.6K) direction is not the kind where I want to invest. Over the last four weeks, Johnson has been targeted 39 times. He’s generated a whopping 5.02 YPT. With that level of inefficiency, if Diontae catches 15 balls this week, he’ll account for 75 yards in return for the investment. With Baltimore in must-win mode, the gloves have come off for former part-timer Jimmy Smith . It would be a mistake to assume that Smith doesn’t have enough left in his tank to limit Johnson on five-yard curls. Smith has held his coverage to 0.36 YPCS, 0.08 FP/CS, and a 45.8 TPR. Smith is around 30 coverage reps away from his numbers qualifying to be ranked. If they did qualify, he’d rank inside the top-five in each category – aka A.J. Terrell -light numbers. If the message is in any way unclear, Johnson will not be collecting 15 receptions this week. And I am not seeing a path toward Diontae covering his 22.8/19.0 floor with WR7/WR8 pricing — even if he plays (COVID).
Update: With Johnson out due to COVID, we can expect an even more massive role for Najee. Can we expect a big role for Chase Claypool? I’m not holding my breath. Instead, Ray-Ray McCloud III will likely see 20 targets. But, in all seriousness, I am expecting Pat Freiermuth to be the primary beneficiary.
Final notes on Pittsburgh
The notice calling for Justice for Chase Claypool ($5.1K/$5.8K) is as relevant as ever. Consider the following absurdity: during the last five weeks, Ray-Ray McCloud III has been targeted more times than Claypool (obviously), Amari Cooper, Tyler Boyd, Terry McLaurin, Tyler Lockett, Rashod Bateman, Mike Williams, Deebo Samuel, DeVonta Smith, Jerry Jeudy, and the same number of targets as Jaylen Waddle. On those 30 targets, he’s manufactured 99 receiving yards. I’ll leave the pleasantries to someone else, 30 devoted targets to a cool 0.66 YPRR should have already resulted in someone losing their job. When did the NFL all of a sudden become tolerant to inadequacy? From my many conversations with current and former NFL coaches, the phrase tossed around for the treatment of failure has been “chew you up and spit you out.” Pittsburgh GM Kevin Colbert should be provided with a scorching seat on a heating element. And the fact that he’s only under contract until the end of the 2022 NFL Draft, his, Tomlin, and Canada’s time may/should be coming to an end.
Paging Arthur Joseph Rooney II.
Pat Freiermuth ($4.6K/$5.2K) was unable to draw Big Ben’s attention away from McCloud last week. Should we blame Roethlisberger? I mean, he was a sobbing mess after the Cleveland victory in his last game at Heinz Field. We couldn’t possibly expect the emotionally-nostalgic veteran to actually take the time to target the ‘21 second-rounder – with a first-rounder’s skillset – with equal volume after Tomlin put the kid on the field following two traumatic brain injuries separated by 30 days. Maybe it’s just me. I have a healthy respect for the Steelers’ franchise. I genuinely want what’s best for every NFL team. With their level of personnel, I can comfortably compare the dumpster fire management in Pittsburgh with the bush-league bus rides in Houston and Jacksonville.
Keep the following safely hidden behind the Steel Curtain:
Ben Roethlisberger ($5.4K/$6.7K)
Benny Snell Jr. ($4.9K/$5.3K)
Ray-Ray McCloud III ($3.8K/$4.9K)
James Washington ($3.7K/$5.0K)
Zach Gentry ($2.9K/$4.4K)
Final notes on Baltimore
As you can see in my ATS and MoneyLine picks in favor of the Ravens… *Assuming Lamar Jackson ($7.0K/$7.8K) plays. Well, that assumption appears to have been in vain. I put way too much trust into John Harbaugh’s words from early in the week that he expected L-Jax to play in Week 18. Since I never change an ATS, game total, or MoneyLine pick after the early slate of Advanced Matchups has been published, I’ll be forced to roll with those selections with Tyler Huntley ($5.7K/$7.0K) under center, and in the results of the early wagers I locked in the moment Harbaugh opened his mouth. I can handle Najee and a healthy Pittsburgh defense if Jackson’s at QB to punish a Steelers’ run defense surrendering the second-most FPG on the ground to opposing ground games over the last four weeks. That’s not to condescend Huntley’s skills – I’ve made it known how bright I believe his future to be, but Tyler’s rushing style is all reactionary. Huntley’s current designed-run game is nowhere within a ballpark to Lamar’s.
Jackson’s return would have also been a boost to Devonta Freeman’s ($5.2K/$5.6K) numbers. And Pittsburgh’s secondary has made up for lost time with the return of Joe Haden and the emergence of Ahkello Witherspoon. With Haden (who is on the COVID list) and Witherspoon locking down the perimeter, Cameron Sutton may have claimed the nickel role, which would kick Arthur Maulet to dime packages. It blew my mind when Witherspoon was acquired from Seattle for the equivalent of a washing machine after posting top-15 metrics for San Francisco last season. Albeit on half the snaps in coverage, Witherspoon has actually been statistically-superior to Haden this season. Rashod Bateman ($4.9K/$5.7K) will have all he can handle from Ahkello’s unqualified 1.39 YPCS, 0.25 FP/CS, and 46.9 TPR. Over his last three games – 86 snaps in coverage, Witherspoon has only permitted three total receptions, 0.59 YPCS, 0.10 FP/CS, and an 8.9 TPR.
On the other sideline, Haden has struggled since returning from injury. He’s supplied his responsibilities with 0.98 YPCS, 0.42 FP/CS, three TDs, and a 121.9 TPR over the last three weeks. Unfortunately for Marquise Brown ($5.9K/$6.2K), he has been a distant third to Mark Andrews ($7.5K/$8.5K) and Bateman with Huntley leading the offense. MANdrews has more than tripled Hollywood up in yardage (413 vs. 112), TDs (three vs. zero), YPRR (2.42 vs. 1.23), and, remarkably, over 75% of the way there in TPR (125.7 vs. 55.5) during Huntley’s four starts. That said, Andrews has struggled against the Steelers in every single game of his career. The volume will likely continue, but his TE1/TE1 pricing is too risky for Cash/Single-Entry (SE). I currently only have Andrews rostered in a couple large-field (LF) GPPs.
Purple Pain will follow for rosters populated with any of the following:
Latavius Murray ($4.4K/$5.1K)
Devin Duvernay ($3.4K/$5.0K)
Tylan Wallace ($3.0K/$4.6K)
Sammy Watkins ($3.9K/$5.1K)
Nick Boyle ($2.5K/$4.0K)
We’re currently looking at a mix of rain, snow, consistent 18 MPH winds, and 41 MPH gusts on Sunday afternoon inside FirstEnergy Stadium. I devoted more hours than I care to admit last season digging into the historical weather data. I am not a meteorologist. If you have the desire to take a deep dive into the impact of weather on player performance, the information is readily available. If you want the CliffsNotes version, passing games are adversely impacted by winds of 15-or-more MPH. As you likely noticed, those 41 MPH gusts are going to be a problem.
Prior to learning about the weather forecast, Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase were selected to be headlined as the Matchups to Target. Then the news dropped that Burrow would rest his sore knee, and that Joe Mixon, Vonn Bell, Trey Hendrickson, Quinton Spain, Trey Hopkins, and Akeem Davis-Gaither were each placed on the Bengals’ COVID list on Wednesday.
On the other sideline, Nick Chubb’s rib and chest injuries do not invoke confidence for this week. Especially since Cleveland signed Dexter Williams from the Dolphins’ practice squad, promoted Artavis Pierce from their own practice squad, and D'Ernest Johnson landed on the COVID list. And don’t expect to see Kareem Hunt on the field for the first time since Week 14, either.
Did I mention that Baker Mayfield may have played his last down with the Browns? He was placed on IR with surgery set for the 19th on the off-shoulder labrum ailment he’s been using as an excuse to explain away his poor play all season. As you might have noticed, the insanity we will all need to circumvent in Week 18 is perfectly embodied in this matchup: poor weather + sudden COVID deactivations + sore boo-boo inactives + featured practice squaders. Settle down next to a warm fire with a collection of NCAA team programs from the last five seasons to familiarize yourself with half of the players set to be featured on Sunday with more than enough volume to matter.
Matchups to Target
Samaje Perine, CIN ($5.3K DK | $6.5K FD) vs. Browns’ Cover 3 | 4
Further complicating the matter, even if the weather cooperated, both of these defenses will place top-10 coverage units on the field opposite backup QBs. For Samaje Perine, the reasoning is far from rocket science. Cincinnati was already running the ball at the 10th-highest rate (39.9%). The Bengals ground game doesn’t have anything remotely close to the O-line excellence of the Browns’, but they pack a passing assault that encircles the block of Cleveland’s several times over. That’s precisely why Joe Mixon has as many GTG rushing TDs (eight) as Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, and D'Ernest Johnson combined, and nearly as many GTG carries (21 vs. 24, respectively). The Bengals drafted Chris Evans with the expectation he’d quickly become the receiving-compliment to Mixon. Perine didn’t waste time putting that narrative to rest. He’s generated 0.967 FPs/opportunity (ninth-most) and 1.20 YPRR (23rd-most – 1.05 for Mixon). However, Perine’s Week 18 upside is all about the featured opportunity, providing him with as many as 20 touches.
Final notes on Cincinnati
It will most likely be a surprise to learn, but I’d be all over some LF GPP action featuring Brandon Allen ($5.1K/$6.4K) in this matchup if not for the weather concerns. In addition to the highest rate of Cover 4, Cleveland has placed the eighth-highest rate of Cover 3 on the field this season. The sample size is limited to eight starts, but Allen has plastered Cover 3 with 0.54 FP/DB, a 107.3 passer rating, and he’s thrown 33% of his TDs on only 24% of dropbacks. I have a gut feeling that Zac Taylor will use Week 18 as a reward to Perine for being such a tremendous RB2 for his offense. For that reason, I am not expecting significant roles for either Chris Evans ($4.4K/$4.9K) or Trayveon Williams ($4.0K/$4.5K).
As for the passing game, one stat we can be guaranteed to see is at least 45 receiving yards for Ja'Marr Chase ($8.3K/$8.0K). He’s only 44 yards shy of tying Bill Groman for the most receiving yards in a rookie season in NFL history – a record that’s stood for 61 years. And, if the weather cooperates, Chase will benefit from the alignment rates. Greg Newsome II’s return from the COVID list and concussion protocol resulted in him filling the nickel role vacated by Troy Hill’s IR placement. That shift has resulted in Greedy Williams defending the right sideline, and into Chase territory. Greedy is handing out 1.31 YPCS (19th-most), 0.26 FP/CS (29th-most), 0.18 AY/CS (sixth-most), and a 74.0 TPR (13th-lowest).
All of that said, if Chase starts lighting Williams up, we may see Denzel Ward refocus his attention. Ward, at least initially, is going to defend Tee Higgins ($7.2K/$6.8K) on around half of his routes. Ward is in the midst of an All Pro-level season. With top-15 metrics across the board, the 24-year-older with 4.32-speed has only allowed one receiver to post 50 yards inside his coverage this season (2/50/0 by Davante Adams in Week 16). Life will not be any easier for Tyler Boyd ($5.6K/$6.1K) in the slot. ‘21 first-rounder Greg Newsome II has contained his coverage to 0.96 YPCS (25th-fewest among 77 outside corners), 0.20 FP/CS (12th-fewest), and an 85.2 TPR (29th-lowest).
Who Dey Fade in The Jungle:
Mike Thomas ($3.0K/$4.9K)
Stanley Morgan Jr. ($3.0K/$4.7K)
C.J. Uzomah ($3.5K/$5.1K)
Drew Sample ($2.5K/$4.3K)
Mitchell Wilcox ($2.5K/$4.0K)
Final notes on Cleveland
The last down for Cleveland comment concerning Baker Mayfield is based on rumors that the Browns could consider shopping him around. Short of Mayfield reinventing the wheel, it’ll be a depressing training camp for the Dawg Pound if they enter 2022 with Mayfield leading the offense for another season. The situation has reached the point where Case Keenum ($4.8K/$6.3K) will be an instant upgrade. It’s just unlikely to make much of a difference this week.
What’s the worst part of Cleveland without Nick Chubb ($7.9K/$8.2K), Kareem Hunt ($5.6K/$6.8K), and D'Ernest Johnson ($4.8K/$6.2K)?
Their most likely replacements, Dexter Williams ($4.0K/$4.5K) and Artavis Pierce (Unlisted on DK/$4.5K), entered the week listed as members of other teams (Miami and Chicago, respectively). So they will not be eligible this week on DK or FD – Pierce isn’t even listed on DK. I could dip into the coverage numbers for Donovan Peoples-Jones ($4.3K/$5.5K), Jarvis Landry ($5.4K/$6.0K), and David Njoku ($3.2K/$4.9K), but it’s simply not worth the time investment. To get you started, Cincinnati is mixing the eighth-highest rate of Cover 2, the 16th-highest of Cover 1, 17th-highest of Cover 3, and 16th-highest of Cover 6.
Evasive maneuvers recommended for these Legion of Vroomers:
Rashard Higgins ($3.6K/$4.9K)
Anthony Schwartz ($3.2K/$4.8K)
Demetric Felton ($4.0K/$4.7K)
Austin Hooper ($3.6K/$5.1K)
Harrison Bryant ($2.6K/$4.7K)
Matchups to Target
AJ Dillon, GB ($6.2K DK | $7.3K FD) vs. Lions’ Cover 2 | 4 | 6
At his Monday press conference, Matt LaFluer stated that he will approach Week 18 as any other game, with his starters taking the field. For reference, in the previous two seasons when Green Bay entered Week 17 with an identical 13-3 record, and a first-round bye, Aaron Rodgers played every snap. Not only that, Rodgers also averaged 24.5 FPG in those games, and attempted 55 passes in 2019 in a 23-20 victory over the Lions. No matter what happens with their passing game, the individual who should see a heavy workload regardless will be AJ Dillon.
The Packers took it easy with Aaron Jones last week, limiting him to 13 touches. If they end up sitting anyone in Week 18, Jones would make the most sense given his current recovery from an MCL strain. Dillon out-carried Jones 10-to-4 after the first quarter. Patrick Taylor Jr. finished off the fourth quarter, but AJD took both of the GTG carries. With the Lions surrendering 27.0 FPG to RBs (fourth-most), we absolutely want a piece of the GB backfield, and Dillon could post top-five RB numbers if he draws the start.
Amon-Ra St. Brown, DET ($6.8K DK | $7.5K FD) vs. Chandon Sullivan, GB
Over the last five weeks, Amon-Ra St. Brown has accumulated the third-most targets (54), second-most receptions (43), fifth-most receiving yards (451), fourth-most TDs (four), sixth-most YPRR (2.59), and fifth-most yards after the catch (189). With an average of 8.6 receptions/game during his five-game heater, if ARSB simply mirrors that average, he will become one of only six WRs to post 91 receptions in a rookie season in NFL history. If he tacks on an additional catch, he’ll join Anquan Boldin, Jaylen Waddle, and Michael Thomas as one of only four to ever catch at least 92 balls as a rookie. While the Packers are using the fourth-highest rate of Cover 4 and fifth-highest of Cover 6, both coverages – Cover 4 in particular – require a larger sample size than a rookie season in order to draw conclusions.
We definitely know Chandon Sullivan is no slouch in coverage. He’s limited his responsibilities to 0.97 YPCS (10th-fewest among 35 qualified nickelbacks), 0.20 FP/CS (ninth-fewest), 0.06 AY/CS (11th-fewest), and an 85.0 TPR (ninth-lowest). However, included in St. Brown’s historic stretch, on seven routes inside Patrick Surtain II, Byron Murphy Jr., and A.J. Terrell’s coverage, ARSB posted a 6/49/0 receiving line. Digging into that line, we have 7.00 YPRR, and 1.56 FP/Rt. Absurd production in a vacuum, otherworldly considering the opponents. The considerable factor that I am tracking is the status of Jared Goff. He had one of his best games of his season in Week 2 at Green Bay. But Tim Boyle certainly hasn’t stood in the way of big numbers for Amon-Ra the last two weeks.
Final notes on Green Bay
If Jordan Love ($5.5K/$6.7K) ends up drawing the start for Aaron Rodgers ($7.8K/$8.2K), he will certainly have a nice matchup in his hands. Detroit hass handed QBs 16.0 FPG through the air (fourth-most). That number is fueled by offering 244.0 passing YPG (eighth-most), 7.67 YPA (third-most), 15.5% completion rate on 20-plus throws (fifth-highest), and 38.5% passing first down rate (third-highest). I’ve come up short in envisioning scenarios where Aaron Jones ($7.3K/$7.3K) and Davante Adams ($9.4K/$8.8K) play enough/see enough volume to cover value. Keeping Mr. Rodgers on the field throughout just doesn’t make all that much sense while he’s dealing with the excruciating toe pain. Resting him this week would offer that fractured toe three full weeks of rest since playing in Week 17.
When Marquez Valdes-Scantling ($4.5K/$5.7K) and Allen Lazard ($4.6K/$5.5K) worked with Love in Week 9, they assembled a 3/29/1 combined line. In their defense, Kansas City’s defense has several levels of superiority over Detroit’s. So, perhaps the vanilla opponent will prove to be the cure. Even if I pass along that the Lions are using the seventh-highest rate of Cover 2 and top-15 rates of Cover 4 and 6, we are half a season away from anything of substance on Love. As for the wideouts, Lazard has created 0.43 FP/Rt (17th-most), 2.58 YPRR (seventh-most), 19.9 YPT (second-most), and a 138.2 TPR (seventh-highest) across from Cover 4 the last three seasons. And Valdes-Scantling has generated 0.44 FP/Rt (14th-most), 2.29 YPRR (13th-most), 20.0 YPT (second-most), and a 116.5 TPR (18th-most) against Cover 6 the last three campaigns. However, it’s really a coin flip that Green Bay doesn’t end up putting depth wideouts on the field if they end up sitting their elite starters.
Careful which Packer you Backer from the following:
Patrick Taylor Jr. ($4.0K/$5.6K)
Equanimeous St. Brown ($3.0K/$4.9K)
Juwann Winfree ($3.0K/$4.7K)
Randall Cobb ($3.2K/$5.4K)
Josiah Deguara ($2.9K/$4.6K)
Tyler Davis ($2.5K/$4.2K)
Dominique Dafney ($2.5K/$4.1K)
Marcedes Lewis ($2.8K/$4.4K)
Final notes on Detroit
If Jared Goff ($5.4K/$6.8K) does take the field, I will stack him with St. Brown in a few LF GPP lineups. He actually left some FPs on the field in Week 2 when he posted 20.4 FPs on Lambeau Field. I would need to see some big names from the Packers’ defense sitting in order for the Detroit backfield rotation of D'Andre Swift ($5.9K/$7.0K), Jamaal Williams ($4.8K/$6.0K), and Craig Reynolds ($4.3K/$5.0K) to get me out of bed.
Silver Rush to Fade:
- Tim Boyle ($4.9K/$6.8K)
- KhaDarel Hodge ($3.2K/$4.9K)
- Trinity Benson ($3.0K/$4.5K)
- Tom Kennedy ($3.0K/$4.7K)
- Brock Wright ($2.5K/$4.5K)
- Jared Pinkney ($2.5K/$4.5K)
- Ross Travis ($2.5K/$4.0K)
Matchups to Target
D’Onta Foreman, TEN ($5.7K DK | $6.9K FD) vs. Texans’ Cover 1 | 2
Even though a win over Houston this week would result in a first round bye and home-field advantage as the No. 1 seed, it’s unlikely that the passing game for Tennessee will be featured. The Texans are supplying the most rushing YPG (143.4), the third-most YPC (4.7), second-most TDs/game (1.56), the second-highest missed tackle rate, and second-most FPG on the ground to RBs (18.4).
The ground game for the Titans appeared to have its A-game using a two-back rotation in Week 17, leaving Jeremy McNichols out in the cold. D’Onta Foreman’s carry share shot up to a season-high of 65%. And he posted a 26/132/1 line for 22.2 FPs in response for volume investment. With Derrick Henry potentially ready to go for the playoffs, Foreman will have one final chance to be featured in the backfield, and with significant reasons to punish the opposition.
Brandin Cooks, HOU ($6.3K DK | $7.1K FD) vs. Elijah Molden, TEN
I’ll hit on the issues faced by Davis Mills in Week 17 later but, considering the circumstances, Brandin Cooks did not disappoint against San Francisco. The ’9ers feature the sixth-highest rate of Cover 4. And the Titans are pushing the eighth-highest rate of Cover 4. In addition, over the last five weeks, Tennessee has greatly reduced their Cover 1 rate in favor of weekly top-15 rates of Cover 2. When The Archer has has faced Cover 4 during his last three seasons, he’s generated 0.53 FP/RT (fourth-most), 2.56 YPRR (eighth-most), a 113.7 TPR (22nd-highest), and collecting 26% of the targets (ninth-highest). When going against Cover 2 during the same stretch of time, Cooks has created 0.33 FP/Rt (35th-most), 1.73 YPRR (35th-most), 11.2 YPT (19th-most), and a 125.5 TPR (13th-highest).
The efficiency is there from Cooks vs. Cover 2, he’s only lacked in target share (15% – 56th-highest). However, in games started by Mills, Cooks has collected 43% of the WR target share, and 26% overall. Elijah Molden will defend the interior of the field in nickel packages. But it’s a mistake to evaluate Cooks’ matchups based on the slot corner on the schedule. Cooks has run well over 70% of his routes from the outside. More importantly, Tennessee has tolerated 14.5 receptions/game (the most), 185.4 receiving YPG (third-most), 1.06 TDs/game (11th-most), 1.88 RZ touches/game (eighth-most), and 39.9 FPG to WRs (second-most).
Final notes on Tennessee
How in the world did A.J. Brown ($7.0K/$7.4K) fail to hit last week with the Dolphins putting competitive rates of Cover 1 and Cover 3 on the field? One of the answers is found in Miami using Cover Free (a blitz without deep safety help) on 17 occasions. To put that ridiculous number into perspective, it’s as many as the combined number from the next two teams on the list. Sending the house on over a third of defensive snaps resulted in a 40/198/2 rushing line for the Titans and forced Ryan Tannehill ($6.0K/$7.3K) to abandon anything deep, or even intermediate, and focus on the hitting hot reads to his RBs and TEs.
Worst of all (for Miami), Tannehill accurately diagnosed three-fourths of those Cover Free looks, handing the ball off for 41% of the rushing yardage on only 33% of the attempts, and capped off on a 39-yard scoring run by Dontrell Hilliard ($5.2K/$5.6K) in the final minutes of their 34-3 victory. It’s unfortunate since it was a perfect setup for one of AJBs big days – perhaps a portion of the reasoning for the strategy from Miami. And this matchup with Houston doesn’t provide a comparable schematic match or optimal mode of attack as offered from the ‘Phins.
It should be noted, when the Titans lost 22-13 to the Texans in Week 11, Tennessee was still very unsettled in their post-King Henry RB rotation, and it was the game where AJB injured his chest. The Titans will put a massively different team on the field Sunday. If he actually manages to take the field, it’s the same deal for Julio Jones ($5.0K/$5.7K) as in previous weeks. He’s simply been a different player since being dealt from Atlanta. The Falcons clearly put one on Arthur Smith’s former employer in that exchange. Geoff Swaim ($3.3K/$4.7K) and Anthony Firkser ($3.1K/$4.8K) both reaped the benefits of Miami’s overly aggressive approach, collecting both of the scoring strikes from Tannethrill. And losing MyCole Pruitt to a nasty ankle injury will open up the position to a 50:50 split. From an efficiency standpoint, Swaim (0.384 FP/Rt – ninth-most) has run circles around Firkser (0.259 FP/Rt – 34th-most). As you’ll learn later, my view of TE exposure in Week 18 is in the search for salary relief. And Swaim just so happens to be one of my prime targets.
Flameheads en route to Fadeville:
Jeremy McNichols ($4.2K/$4.9K)
Nick Westbrook-Ikhine ($4.1K/$5.1K)
Chester Rogers ($3.3K/$4.9K)
Racey McMath ($3.0K/$4.5K)
Dez Fitzpatrick ($3.0K/$4.6K)
Final notes on Houston
It’s lonely in Final Notes for Davis Mills ($5.3K/$6.4K). The entirety of the Houston offense is distributed between a pitch-and-catch from Mills-to-Cooks and on the ground with Rex Burkhead. As you can see, Burkhead falls south of the cut line since Tennessee has emerged with a legitimately top-three ground defense. In Week 17, Mills actually played the 49ers’ Cover 4 quite well. He also punished SF whenever they put a Cover 1 or Cover 3 on the field.
Mills and Mac Jones may not have anything close to the athletic skill sets of Justin Fields or Trey Lance, but they are ahead of Fields, Lance, Trevor Lawrence, and Zach Wilson in already identifying (pre- and post-snap) three major schemes, and understanding how to properly attack each shell. For Jones, the considerable issue has been against Cover 3.
Mills, on the other hand, has been completely lost against Cover 6. He’s still generating a negative FP/Rt number (-0.02), a -106% decline in his overall average, and a passer rating that’s only a hair above simply spiking the ball into the ground (43.6). The decisive factor against Mills this week isn’t in the schemes he’ll face, but from the Titans’ completely ghosting opposing QBs to the second-fewest FPG the last four weeks (6.0).
Fade on Parade:
Rex Burkhead ($5.2K/$5.6K)
Royce Freeman ($4.0K/$4.9K)
Jaylen Samuels ($4.0K/$4.7K)
David Johnson ($4.3K/$5.1K)
Chris Conley ($3.5K/$4.9K)
Nico Collins ($3.9K/$5.1K)
Jalen Camp ($3.0K/$4.5K)
Jordan Veasy ($3.0K/$4.5K)
Chris Moore ($3.0K/$4.9K)
Brevin Jordan ($2.7K/$4.6K)
Pharaoh Brown ($2.5K/$4.3K)
Jordan Akins ($2.5K/$4.2K)
Matchups to Target
Jonathan Taylor, IND ($9.3K DK | $10.2K FD) vs. Jaguars’ Cover 2 | 3
Why has my evaluation of TEs in Week 18 resulted in a search for bottom-barrel pricing? Look no further than Jonathan Taylor’s RB1/RB1 pricing. For those indoctrinated, Taylor put up some nice numbers in the four games leading up to facing Jacksonville in Week 17 last season. But it was the 30/253/2 rushing extravaganza he threw down that returned a cool 38.4 FPs in the final game of the season. At least for me, I was left mildly disappointed when JT “only” managed 27.6 FPs in Week 10 against the Jags. But he followed that up with 56.4 FPs in Orchard Park the following week.
Fast forward to Week 18, Taylor will have another opportunity to shred the Jaguars’ defense. And he’ll have plenty on the line for motivation, since the Colts need a victory over Jacksonville this week to secure their playoff ticket. With Christian McCaffrey-esque pricing, we need a good amount of assurances of success in order to confidently make any type of significant investment. Those assurances have been provided by the Jags. Over the last four weeks, Jacksonville has extended invitations to the second-most RZ touches/game (6.5), the most GTG carries/game (3.5), and second-most FPG on the ground to RBs (19.3).
Final notes on Indianapolis
After a strong start to the season when Carson Wentz ($5.8K/$7.2K) averaged 19.2 FPG over his first nine games, it was against the Jags in Week 10 when his production fell off a cliff. Over his last seven games, that average fell to 12.8 FPG (33% decline). Nevermind the fact that Indianapolis has won five of those seven games, including victories over the Bills, Patriots, and Cardinals. Wentz pulled Michael Pittman Jr.’s ($5.9K/$6.6K) scoring consistency right down the drain with him. MPJ has only covered his floor twice in the last seven games. Pittman is likely to draw a shadow from Shaquill Griffin this week. But I am more concerned for Pittman’s sake that the Colts will simply feed JT play-after-play than I do in Griffin shutting Pittman down.
On the season, Griffin is supplementing his responsibilities with 1.01 YPCS (31st-fewest), 0.23 FP/CS (29th-fewest), and a 111.8 TPR (12th-highest). I find it extremely frustrating that T.Y. Hilton ($4.7K/$5.4K) has absolutely zero value in 97% of his games, but has vultured three receiving TDs on only nine receptions over the last five weeks. He single-handedly sunk Pittman’s chances of covering his floor in Weeks 12 and 17. And siphoning off three of Wentz’s eight passing TDs the last five weeks has also capped the upside of Indy’s TEs. All set up for a featured role in a matchup with actual upside for Mo Alie-Cox ($3.0K/$4.6K), Jack Doyle ($2.7K/$4.6K) did just enough in practice to pull the rug from underneath MACs feet against the Raiders. It’s a situation to completely avoid.
A Pack of Colts to Sack:
Nyheim Hines ($5.5K/$5.1K)
Deon Jackson ($4.0K/$4.5K)
Zach Pascal ($3.3K/$5.2K)
Dezmon Patmon ($3.0K/$4.5K)
Ashton Dulin ($3.2K/$4.7K)
Kylen Granson ($2.5K/$4.2K)
Final notes on Jacksonville
Nobody in the Jaguars’ offense is a serious threat to do anything outside of just barely hitting their floor. Trevor Lawrence ($5.1K/$6.5K) only manages to remain above the cut line due to his significant talent that’s been entirely wasted this season. Let’s hope the new coaching staff Jacksonville eventually hires will devote considerable resources toward helping him find the correct path toward optimal development. Marvin Jones Jr. ($4.3K/$5.4K) will have more than a handful from Rock Ya-Sin and, now that his pricing has exceeded his impressive, out-of-nowhere production, we can comfortably sidestep Laquon Treadwell ($4.4K/$5.3K) with Xavier Rhodes giving him company.
Dare Ogunbowale ($5.2K/$5.6K)
Ryquell Armstead ($4.0K/$4.7K)
Laviska Shenault Jr. ($3.7K/$5.2K)
Tavon Austin ($3.5K/$4.9K)
Jeff Cotton ($3.0K/$4.5K)
Dan Arnold ($2.5K/$5.0K)
Luke Farrell ($2.5K/$4.3K)
Chris Manhertz ($2.6K/$4.2K)
Matchups to Target
Justin Fields, CHI ($5.4K DK | $7.1K FD) vs. Vikings’ Cover 4 | 6
Don’t be misled by the absence of any Vikings in the Matchups to Target . Minnesota’s skill positions are so top-heavy that the pricing is very difficult to stomach when dealing with the potential for defensive struggles. And a defensive struggle this game will be. It took these teams over 39 minutes of gameplay in Week 15 to finally score it’s 14th combined point, and the very last second to land on the game’s total of 26 points. In spite of the Vikings taking the 17-9 victory, Chicago very nearly doubled-up Minnesota in total yardage (370 vs. 193). The Bears held Kirk Cousins to 3.6 YPA, Dalvin Cook to 3.2 YPC, and Justin Jefferson to his second-lowest yardage total of the season (47). With 285 yards passing and 35 on the ground, a single TD thrown on the final second of regulation may not get anyone very excited about the rematch for Justin Fields . Would the knowledge that Jimmy Graham dropped a third-down, scramble drill TD that Soldier Fields laid right into his hands on Chicago’s first drive of the fourth quarter change your mind? Or that, on fourth down of the same drive, Darnell Mooney leaped unnecessarily for what should’ve been an easy TD, but momentum carried him out-of-bounds? How about the fact that Damiere Byrd dropped a perfectly placed throw on fourth down of the very next drive from the 18-yard-line. A total of five routine throws directly into the receiver's breadbaskets hit the ground, and Fields was deprived of at least 17 additional FPs on top of the 17.9 he scored.. Considering four occurred in the fourth quarter, it might not even be a stretch to state that Fields should have led Da Bears to the victory. The Vikings are fielding the sixth-highest rates of both Cover 2 and Cover 6. They use that Cover 2 to mask their usage of Cover 6, when they drop four defenders deep, and with split-field responsibilities. Considering Minnesota, Green Bay, and Detroit each field top-10 rates of Cover 6, six annual matchups across from the tricky coverage should instantly highlight Field’s potential in the division with the knowledge that he already ranks inside the top-five NFL QBs at reading, reacting, and attacking Cover 6. Fields’ FP/Db improves by 52% ( the highest such improvement), his YPA spikes by 86% ( the highest ), his AY/Att soars up 37% ( the highest ), and his passer rating jumps by 21% ( second -highest).
Update: If Fields is out due to COVID. I want nothing to do with either Nick Foles or Andy Dalton.
Final notes on Chicago
Should I even attempt to bolster Fields’ claim to the top spot among my Week 18 QB targets? Why the hell not? In spite of one of the poorest O-lines in the game, David Montgomery ($6.8K/$7.6K) has put his most impressive play on tape over the last five weeks. Fields already had Darnell Mooney ($5.9K/$6.3K) at his disposal, set to face-off with Patrick Peterson, but he will have a healthy Allen Robinson II ($4.0K/$5.5K) on the field since, at least, Week 9. Say what you will about AR12 – much of it entirely deserved, but Robinson’s 0.47 FP/Rt across from Cover 6 the last three seasons still ranks as the ninth-best mark.
Just keep in mind that I am not recommending that you expose your lineups to Robinson. We just want him on the field to provide Fields with another weapon. In addition, it’s very likely that the Viks will be without stud corner Cameron Dantzler again due to a calf injury. That’ll place Kris Boyd in coverage over Robinson on around half of his routes. In limited time, Boyd is gift-wrapping video game allowances of 3.06 YPRR, 0.53 AY/CS, and a 145.2 TPR. But Fields is best either as a naked headliner, stacked with Mooney, or alongside Cole Kmet ($3.4K/$4.9K). Nobody will be more thankful than Kmet to get his QB back on the field. In his last four games with a healthy Fields leading the offense, Kmet led all Chicago receivers with 18 receptions and 199 receiving yards.
Update: Short of re-writing the notes, I’ll just add that Mooney’s upside only slightly declines, but the rest of the Chicago receivers are not as fortunate – especially Kmet. It’s recommended to look elsewhere for options this week. With the Bears’ defense playing so well as of late, this is the least appealing game from a DFS perspective on the main slate.
Monsters of Fadeway:
Khalil Herbert ($5.1K/$5.0K)
Damien Williams ($4.3K/$4.7K)
Damiere Byrd ($3.4K/$4.8K)
Marquise Goodwin ($3.5K/$4.9K)
Jakeem Grant Sr. ($3.6K/$4.7K)
Jesse James ($2.5K/$4.2K)
Jimmy Graham ($2.8K/$4.5K)
Final notes on Minnesota
Kirk Cousins ($6.1K/$7.2K) opened the last game against the Bears completing six-of-seven attempts, for 40 yards, a 130.1 passer rating, and culminating in a 13-yard TD to Justin Jefferson ($8.1K/$8.5K). Sean Desai made a second-quarter pivot from his beloved Cover 6 to feature high rates of Cover 2 and Cover 3. Examining those specific coverages in play, the Cover 3 forced the Vikings to target the two underneath zones, and limited the big-play potential of Jefferson. And the high rate of Cover 2 must have done a number on Captain Kirk’s recognition, possibly confusing it with the league’s second-highest rate of Cover 6 they have utilized all season.
In any case, the results were sparkling. Over the final three quarters, Cousins only completed six-of-17 throws (35%), posted 2.8 YPA, and a sub-deficient 39.1 passer rating. The lone blemish was a seven-yard TD to Ihmir Smith-Marsette on a busted assignment. It might be assumed that, with the passing game stalling, Dalvin Cook ($7.8K/$8.7K) would step in to lead the offense. Far from the truth. Let’s examine:
First Quarter for Cook: 8/45/0 rushing line, 5.6 YPC
Final Three Quarters: 20/44/0 rushing line, 2.2 YPC
One of the most impressive aspects for Chicago is found in the fact that Jaylon Johnson, their top cover corner, wasn’t even available in Week 15. As long as the Minnesota staff carries some of the lessons they learned in Week 15 over to Sunday, the reality that completely shutting down K.J. Osborn ($5.5K/$6.4K) and Tyler Conklin ($4.2K/$5.3K) forced the entire responsibility for moving the chains on the shoulders of Jefferson and Cook could present an ominous result for the struggling franchise.
Purple People Faders:
Alexander Mattison ($6.9K/$7.5K)
Dede Westbrook ($3.2K/$4.8K)
Ihmir Smith-Marsette ($3.0K/$5.0K)
Luke Stocker ($2.5K/$4.1K)
Chris Herndon ($2.5K/$4.4K)
Matchups to Target
John Bates, WAS ($3.0K DK | $4.6K FD) vs. Giants’ Cover 3 | 4
Allow me an opportunity of transparency: the only real, cultivated allure toward Bates is his TE24/TE27 pricing, and somewhere in the neighborhood of running 90% of his team’s routes with Ricky Seals-Jones leaving Week 17 after a nasty collision with a camera that left him in the fencing position.
Outside of permitting the most RZ touches/game to opposing TEs (1.13), the Giants haven’t been particularly bad against TEs at any point this season. The singular focus is identifying maximum volume at minimum TE pricing in order to load up elsewhere. As you can see for yourself in the list below, I will have zero hesitation exposing my LF GPP lineups to each of the TEs listed below Zach Ertz, independent of whatever the ownership percentages might be.
My Top-Five TE Targets for Week 15:
Brevin Jordan ⬳ Very late addition to the list
Matchups to Avoid
Terry McLaurin, WAS ($6.2K DK | $6.7K FD) vs. Adoree' Jackson, NYG
As with the recommendation to Avoid last week inside the coverage of Darius Slay, when provided with the proper level of quarterbacking, nobody is going to ghost my boy Terry McLaurin. In actual fact, stick F1 McLaurin on the perimeter of an offense directed by an elite, top-five QB, and, I would expose my lineups to Terry McScorin, with complete confidence at his current pricing, against any corner in the NFL – yes, even Jalen Ramsey. That’s the level of amazing this kid could be if he can finally work with reciprocal talent at QB.
That’s not to say that I am completely dismissing the potential development of Taylor Heinicke. But he just hasn’t displayed anything close to the consistency-and-prowess balance this offense desperately needs. For Week 18, the Giants are either going to shadow Run-TMc with Adoree' Jackson, James Bradberry, or a combination of the two. Since Washington is unable to field anything game-ready and comparable to McLaurin, the alignment percentages dictate it’ll be Jackson. And Adoree’ is locking his coverage down with 0.67 YPCS (fourth-fewest), 0.17 FP/CS (sixth-fewest), a 74.6 TPR (14th-lowest), and the 14th-lowest completion rate on deep targets.
Final notes on Washington
All we can ask of Taylor Heinicke ($5.4K/$6.9K) is that he devotes the time to this late-blossoming, developmental stage of his career. We’ll be able to judge the level of devotion he submits, obviously in addition to film, and by using his coverage profile. I truly want to get excited about Antonio Gibson ($5.8K/$6.8K) against a New York defense tossing all sorts of goodies at opposing RBs. But, for the second-straight season, Gibson has seen his explosion sapped from a turf toe collected against the Dallas defense. If Gibson is ruled out, I will add me some Jaret Patterson ($5.3K/$6.6K), but be fully prepared to do so with your Cash/SE lineup since Mighty Mouse will be quite popular among the community.
The Fadeville Team:
Wendell Smallwood ($4.0K/$4.9K)
Jonathan Williams ($4.2K/$4.7K)
Cam Sims ($3.8K/$5.2K)
Adam Humphries ($3.7K/$5.0K)
DeAndre Carter ($3.4K/$4.9K)
Dyami Brown ($3.0K/$4.7K)
Dax Milne ($3.0K/$4.6K)
Sammis Reyes ($2.5K/$4.0K)
Final notes on New York
If only Joe Judge had at least hinted at the potential for a Saquon Barkley ($6.1K/$6.4K) and Devontae Booker ($5.0K/$5.4K) timeshare prior to the season. One has to wonder how Barkley is handling the usage after already missing a significant portion of his career due to injury. Nobody should measure themselves based upon the opinions of anyone other than their superiors, peers, and colleagues. But that’s much easier said than done. And we can all empathize with the difficult situation Saquon is currently dealing with as his reputation takes a massive hit. Anyone other than Booker.
If the plan all along was to place Barkley side-by-side with Booker in the offense, Saquon should put some considerable thought into whether signing an extension with G-Men is in the best interests of his career. That’s especially true if Judge manages to stick around in East Rutherford beyond the ‘22 season. There is zero point in even mentioning the name Judge will place under center this week. All that needs to be conveyed is that Kenny Golladay ($5.1K/$5.3K), Kadarius Toney ($4.5K/$5.2K), and Darius Slayton ($3.8K/$5.0K) carry perhaps the lowest upside of any starting WR trio in Week 18. The Giants are right beside the Steelers as the two teams that have squandered the most talent during the ‘21 season.
Jake Fromm ($4.8K/$6.2K)
David Sills V ($3.0K/$4.7K)
Pharoh Cooper ($3.0K/$4.6K)
Alex Bachman ($3.0K/$4.5K)
John Ross III ($3.0K/$4.7K)
Evan Engram ($3.3K/$4.9K)
Kyle Rudolph ($2.6K/$4.3K)
Matchups to Target
Russell Wilson, SEA ($6.3K DK | $7.5K FD) vs. Cardinals’ Cover 1 | 3 | 4 | 6
Here it is, the happy hunting ground of the entire Week 18 slate. I have my blinders and earmuffs in place to shield my consciousness from anything Vegas attempts in their arsenal of tricks to dissuade my belief that this is THE matchup to target. And it all begins with Russell Wilson. Over the last five weeks, Seattle is averaging 29.6 PPG. Consuming a completely-acceptable defeat at the hands of the Rams in Week 15 – Wilson’s continual Kryptonite in the Jalen Ramsey-involved world, and the Seahawks should really have won four of their last five. I am choosing to avoid a discussion of the 15-yard TD scored by Jimmy Graham to upset the ‘Hawks in Week 16.
In a dreamworld of NFL equality, Arizona’s defense would present a considerable challenge to Seattle this week. We don’t live in that dreamworld. The Cards are dealing with some overwhelming challenges in the secondary. Both Robert Alford and Marco Wilson are very likely to miss Week 18, especially Alford. Arizona featured Antonio Hamilton and Kevin Peterson on the perimeter in Week 17. With Michael Gallup suffering a significant injury, Hamilton’s numbers offer little in the way of reliability. But Peterson did not step up to the challenge.
The Cardinals and Vance Joseph dedicate themselves to the craft of coverage scheme masking. In addition to the top-15 rates of Cover 1, 3, 4, and 6, Joseph added the sixth-highest rate of Cover 2 to the rotation last week. It’s a maddening venture spent attempting to decipher the reasoning behind each face of the rotation. However, one chink in the armor did emerge, it seems Joseph is unwilling to throw his backup corners into the one-on-one situations Cover 1 demands. And the only other QBs on The Professor's level of excellence when attacking each of the major zone coverages are Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes II, and Matthew Stafford. Breaking down the reasoning in opposition to each scheme would be an article all to itself. Trust me when I say that this is a perfect schematic matchup for Wilson to attack vulnerable corners.
DK Metcalf, SEA ($6.9K DK | $7.2K FD) vs. Kevin Peterson, ARI
And it just so happens that the weakest link in the chain will be responsible for the most explosive wideout smack in the middle of a heater revival that is the Wolverine man-child known to the world as DK Metcalf. While the typical heat-streak may not be represented best by 18.1 FPG over the last three games, and where he only averaged 52 YPG, considering Metcalf’s struggles in the five weeks prior, that production plus four TDs should absolutely be considered consequential. It should be noted that Tyler Lockett was unavailable in Week 15, but that takes nothing away from the significance of Metcalf collecting 33% of Wilson’s target the last three weeks. And it’s the situational quality of those targets that places the emphatic stamp of approval.
In Week 16, Peterson was responsible for Amari Cooper and Gallup’s TDs. As can easily be ascertained, the coverage metrics for Peterson are not currently on the up-and-up. One final note: it is possible that the Cards insert a wildcard into the formula. They recently added Bashaud Breeland – formerly of the Vikings – to their practice squad, so they could always decide to feature the veteran presence if they are unsatisfied with Peterson’s progress in practice this week. Either way, Metcalf will hold a massive advantage over both options, and he can be found as one of my prime targets on the main slate.
Rashaad Penny, SEA ($6.5K DK | $7.8K FD) vs. Cardinals’ Cover 1 | 3 | 4 | 6
Care to venture a guess at who might have catalyzed the five-game explosion for the Seahawks? If you said Rashaad Penny, pat yourself on the back. The Seattle offense languished under the work of Alex Collins in the featured role for far too long. When the Adrian Peterson experiment flamed out before it reacted, Penny was finally installed in the lead role during the second half of Week 13.
Over the last four weeks, including an entirely anticipated flop against the Rams in Week 15, Penny has averaged 120.3 rushing YPG, and 23.6 FPG. And we have a wonderful factor in favor of Penny possibly registering ownership low enough for GPP consideration – SF GPPs, if nothing else: the sheer volume of excellent RB options emerging all over the map. And many of those are listed below Penny’s RB12/RB8 pricing. Look, I’ll have plenty of exposure to all of the same RBs the field will be tripping over themselves to roster. But don’t be among those who sleep on Penny this week. It’s his last live-game opportunity to stake his claim onto a share of the ‘22 backfield.
James Conner, ARI ($6.3K DK | $7.0K FD) vs. Seahawks’ Cover 2 | 3 | 6
Chase Edmonds, ARI ($5.8K DK | $6.6K FD) vs. Seahawks’ Cover 2 | 3 | 6
This is a unique listing in this article. And it’s very simple. If James Conner is cleared and Chase Edmonds is not, we want to invest shares in Conner. If Edmonds is cleared and Conner is ruled out, we want a piece of Edmonds. If both are cleared, center the attention on Conner. Fueled by an insane number of GTG carries, Conner has created a ludicrous 1.050 FPs/opportunity (third-most among all RBs).
However, The Terminator is also showcasing receiving efficiency on a level never hinted at during his time in Pittsburgh. He’s returned 1.61 YPRR (eighth-most) and 10.3 YPT (second-most) in return for the trust the Cardinals have invested into him. And, as should already be a household mention among the DFS professionals of the world, the Seahawks are distributing 3.19 GTG carries/game (the most), 5.56 RZ touches/game (third-most), and 29.3 FPG to RBs this season (second-most). Just temper the investment slightly if it lands in Edmonds’ corner. Concerns with Chase’s compact frame does seem to be taking on some legs recently after packing on the featured volume.
Final notes on Seattle
Another lonely Final Notes contestant, a tout to invest in Wilson would not be competent without the potential for Tyler Lockett ($6.4K/$6.9K) to hit crude. Antonio Hamilton was clearly ahead of Peterson on the depth chart, and his unqualified metrics are far superior to his sideline counterpart. That said, The Rockett has a considerable history of shredding the Cards, information that is readily available to the entire field.
The Blue Wane:
Travis Homer ($4.0K/$4.8K)
DeeJay Dallas ($4.0K/$4.7K)
Freddie Swain ($3.6K/$4.8K)
D'Wayne Eskridge ($3.3K/$4.6K)
Penny Hart ($3.0K/$4.6K)
Gerald Everett ($3.7K/$4.9K)
Will Dissly ($2.5K/$4.3K)
Colby Parkinson ($2.5K/$4.1K)
Final notes on Arizona
Some interesting tidbits on Kyler Murray ($7.4K/$8.4K) are coming into focus now that he’s put cleats-to-turf at a complete three-year interval. That said, the relevant information to Week 18 is that Seattle won’t be putting nearly enough of the right type of split-safety looks (Cover 4 and 6) on the field that Murray has shredded since entering the NFL. Instead, the ‘Hawks will attack the Cards with the third-highest rate of Cover 3 – is anyone surprised? – and the fifth-highest rate of Cover 2. The factor that has shaded the single-high and Cover 2 vulnerabilities of Murray has been the excellence of DeAndre Hopkins. With Nuk only devoting his skills to Murray’s cause in eight healthy games, those deficiencies have been provided with an avenue of release. With QB4/QB2 pricing, the featured Arizona RB is my direct leverage play to Murray in Week 18.
In the past, Christian Kirk ($6.0K/$6.2K) was only a bankable target when approached by Cover 4 and 6 defenses. But the absence of Hopkins has forced Murray’s attention elsewhere, and Kirk has been the beneficiary against most schemes. The one exception – and it's a considerable one – is Antoine Wesley ($4.1K/$5.4K) drawing Kyler’s favoritism when a Cover 1 is on the field. Right alongside K.J. Osborn, Laquon Treadwell, and Cyril Grayson as out-of-nowhere, late-season breakouts, Wesley offers significant upside… in the proper matchups. With the second-lowest Cover 1 rate from Seattle and D.J. Reed Jr.’s capable coverage on tap, we’ll need to satisfy our Wesley fix during the playoffs.
One factor is entirely clear, as much as I want to see the nostalgia of his Hall of Fame-caliber career overrule the day, we are no longer looking at the same A.J. Green ($5.4K/$5.7K). If AJG manages to stick around with Arizona next season, he will have a hell of a fight on his hands from Wesley for a featured role on the perimeter. Nobody is going to challenge for Zach Ertz’s ($5.3K/$5.6K) featured role anytime soon. He has quickly ascended toward reclaiming his spot among the top-seven TEs in the game. And consistent 85+% route and 25+% target rates will be go-to’s for as long as they exist. Those priced ahead of Ertz this week are fully deserving of the honors but, by my count, only one – which I’ll discuss later – is entering a comparable spot to Ertz’s.
Not in the Cards:
Eno Benjamin ($4.0K/$4.7K)
Jonathan Ward ($4.0K/$4.6K)
Rondale Moore ($3.9K/$5.1K)
Greg Dortch ($3.0K/$4.7K)
Andy Isabella ($3.0K/$4.6K)
Ross Travis ($2.5K/$4.0K)
Darrell Daniels ($2.5K/$4.2K)
Matchups to Target
Taysom Hill, NO ($6.2K DK | $7.7K FD) vs. Falcons’ Cover 1 | 2
I’ve recommended Taysom Hill in three-of-four of his starting spots. And, though he fell 4% under value last week, each of his resulting performances stand as total victories in my eyes. While I could detail a list of reasons in support of that claim, and toward the factors that will aid the Thor-terback’s tenure as the starting QB in New Orleans, I will save those explanations for a future article or livestream. For utility in Week 18, prepare yourself for another Taysom recommendation with the Saints traveling to Atlanta. In three matchups across from dual-threat QBs, the Falcons have rewarded them with 113 rushing yards and four TDs.
Since his time featured under center has been spaced out in a pair of stents over two seasons, we actually only have enough snaps from Hill against one coverage to properly evaluate future matchups. And the Dirty Birds are not in the business of defending from a Cover 3. The Falcons are featuring the highest rate of Cover 2 and the 10th-highest of Cover 1. In order to evaluate the small handful of reps we have against those schemes with expectations of any sort of reliability, it would require the watchful eye of coaching experience beyond my nearly 10 years of study. That said, Hill offers a sexy set of leg-gage that we can rely upon to assault Atlanta by both land and air. With QB9/QB7 pricing and the guarantee of N’Orleans pushing the envelope with a 32% chance remaining to claim a playoff bid, it was an easy decision to Hill populate my top-five QB target list with Hill included, once again.
Marquez Callaway, NO ($5.0K DK | $5.9K FD) vs. Kendall Sheffield, ATL
Fabian Moreau has returned to practice this week after missing Week 17 with a rib injury, but he presence may actually be prefered over Kendall Sheffield drawing another start in his place. None of Sheffield’s responsibilities accomplished anything more than the minimum during his 25 snaps in coverage last week. When Moreau has been on the field, he’s granted his coverage with 0.91 YPCS (19th-fewest), 0.25 FP/CS (37th-fewest), and a 112.5 TPR (10th-highest). It took Hill’s third start of the season for the relationship to take root, but Marquez Callaway has emerged as Taysom’s No. 1 and a good amount of the field hasn’t noticed since:
- No TDs have been scored
- The evidence is split between Week 15 and Week 17 – Hill missed Week 16
- The Saints’ offense has only averaged 10 PPG the last three weeks
Regardless, do not make the mistake of looking past averages of 9.5 targets, six receptions, 104.5 receiving yards, and 18.0 FPs during the last two weeks working with Hill. Try as you might, find me another example of a WR1 with similar WR34/WR30 pricing, and also garnering similar target shares to the 36% and 43% Callaway collected during his last two games with Hill.
Final notes on New Orleans
I’ve been a massive fan of Alvin Kamara’s ($8.3K/$9.0K) dating back to his matriculation at Alabama – yes, pre-dating his Tennessee days. But the receiving volume is simply not approaching the floor numbers required to cover RB2/RB2 since that production through the air is also required to offset YPC averages that have failed to exceed 4.6 all season. Callaway is the current WR1 for the Saints, no question. However, Kamara’s numbers have been capped without the presence of Michael Thomas forcing secondaries to burn their candles at both ends to scheme around his explosive presence. Callaway would become a much greater threat with a true No. 1 occupying the attention of deep safeties. If the Saints are offered even the slightest hint that CantGuardMike will be unable to take the field in Week 1 next year, they simply must devote quality draft capital on one of the several instant impact wideouts that will be available on Day 1 of the ‘22 draft, or by signing one of the top WR free agents on the market. New Orleans’ defense is far too good to be held back by an offense only missing one or two pieces.
During my time as the Director of Special Teams at PFF, one of my prized analysts played college football for the New Hampshire Wildcats of the Division I FCS. And he also happened to play his high school ball within the district of Archbishop Curley in Baltimore, Maryland. Between the emerging FCS phenoms that crossed his path while playing against his New Hampshire team and the considerable talent that is born-and-bred out of the Baltimore area, one individual stood out above all others and, from the way it was described to me, the bar had been set so high that the only comparable talents could be found competing on Sundays. That individual is Deonte Harris ($3.2K/$5.2K) – soon to be known as Deonte Harty when the NFL recognizes his name change following the ‘21 season.
Keep in mind, this description of Harris/Harty was passed along by my buddy long before Deonte earned a guaranteed roster spot with the Saints. The legend of Harris/Harty involved running criss-crossing patterns throughout opposing defenses with Bo Jackson-like precision from classic Tecmo Bowl fame as a RB, WR, returner, and even QB when he felt the need to take his handoffs directly from under center. A simple search of Harris/Harty informs us that, during his senior season of HS ball, he posted 2,030 total yards and 25 touchdowns in 10 games. At only 5-foot-6 and 165-pounds, Harris amassed a 130/1,450/20 rushing line while leading his school to multiple state championships.
Harris/Harty currently holds the NCAA All-Division Record with 14 career return TDs. Why pass all of that information along? With hopes that others will understand the level of playmaker simply waiting for the New Orleans offense to kick into another gear. Oddly enough, with 6-foot-4, 225-pounder Lil'Jordan Humphrey ($3.5K/$4.9K) working primarily out of the slot, Harris/Harty returned from his DUI suspension last week to being featured on the right perimeter. And that alignment will place him under the watch of A.J. Terrell in Week 18. In light of that fact, the only actionable receiving option from the Saints this week is Callaway.
Who Dat Neglect:
Tony Jones Jr. ($4.4K/$4.9K)
Mark Ingram II ($5.4K/$5.5K)
Kenny Stills ($3.0K/$4.6K)
Ty Montgomery ($3.0K/$4.7K)
Tre'Quan Smith ($4.4K/$5.3K)
Juwan Johnson ($2.8K/$4.2K)
Adam Trautman ($2.5K/$4.3K)
Final notes on Atlanta
The Falcons will want nothing more than to see Matt Ryan ($5.2K/$6.4K) finish off the ‘21 season with an explosive performance. In what seems like a lifetime ago, Matty Ice exploded against New Orleans in Week 9 with 343 passing yards, two TDs, a 135.8 passer rating, another TD scored on the ground, and 31.5 FPs. It was the last time Ryan would be a fantasy factor, posting less than 15 FPs in each of his last eight games.
Coincidentally, sans a big rushing output against Jacksonville in Week 12, Ryan’s free dive directly coincides with Cordarrelle Patterson’s ($6.4K/$6.2K) own fantasy demise. Enough has changed on the defensive side of the ball for the Saints that expecting this Atlanta offense to sniff anything close to their Week 9 production would be quite the mistake. Marshon Lattimore has reemerged as a top cover corner and the Saints closed out the season with a pass defense approaching the quality of their ground mitigation. We can reasonably count on Russell Gage ($5.6K/$5.7K) to post a quality line approaching 80+% of his floor. With Kyle Pitts ($5.7K/$5.8K) and Hayden Hurst returning to practice, my deepest dive into TE punt territory, Parker Hesse ($2.5K/$4.3K), was eliminated from consideration. 😤
Mike Davis ($5.0K/$5.6K)
Qadree Ollison ($4.0K/$4.6K)
Olamide Zaccheaus ($3.6K/$5.0K)
Christian Blake ($3.0K/$4.6K)
Frank Darby ($3.0K/$4.5K)
Lee Smith ($2.5K/$4.4K)
Hayden Hurst ($3.2K/$4.8K)
Parker Hesse ($2.5K/$4.3K)
Matchups to Target
Gabriel Davis, BUF ($4.9K DK | $5.2K FD) vs. Brandin Echols, NYJ
It should be noted that I view Gabriel Davis as an eventual WR1.5 for Buffalo. Short of aligning across from elite corners, whenever he is provided with a featured role, expect to see him featured in Advanced Matchups. Just know that the same analysis used to ID all top performers has been dedicated to discovering the potential of Davis. The Jets have tinkered with their schematic rotation all season, heavily featuring both Cover 1 and Cover 3 during different stretches. However, they have settled on Cover 4 as their base package, rolling it out at the highest rate in the league over the last eight weeks. In fact, they have used it 19% more than any other defense over that stretch.
If the entire DFS population dedicated itself toward studying the coverage numbers, Davis’ name would become synonymous with sheer Cover 4 dominance. During his career, Davis has generated 0.53 FP/Rt (fifth-most), 3.18 YPRR (second-most), 21.8 YPT (the most), a 144.3 TPR (third-highest), and his AY/Tgt spikes by 25% against Cover 4. At this point in the season, the need to pass along the team allowances from the Jets is gratuitous. As for the individual matchup, Davis will work across from ‘21 sixth-rounder Brandin Echols. The rookie has provided his coverage with 1.38 YPCS (ninth-most), 0.26 FP/CS (29th-most), 0.15 AY/CS (19th-most), and the 18th-highest completion rate on deep targets.
My Top-Five WR Targets for Week 18:
- Amon-Ra St. Brown
- DK Metcalf
- Jaylen Waddle
- Gabriel Davis
- Marquez Callaway
Devin Singletary, BUF ($6.0K DK | $6.7K FD) vs. Jets’ Cover 1 | 4
The polarizing personal response from featuring Devin Singletary with a write-up is real. When he put together monster seasons in college for Florida Atlantic, I had dedicated shares of Singletary all across CFB fantasy (aka CFF). And he most definitely put more money into my pockets than I invested in CFB DFS. That said, his diminutive size (5-foot-7) and previously appalling lack of efficiency has, if I remember correctly, only resulted in a single instance of recommending Singletary the last two seasons. And, wouldn’t you know it, he slapped me across the mouth for taking that leap of faith in a quality matchup. This is a matchup where Singletary simply cannot fail.
As has been reverberated within this series week-after-week, NYJ puts one of the poorest examples of run defense on the field that can easily be considered as one of the worst from the last decade. Again, the Jets’ defense surrenders a boatload of numbers. With Matt Breida disrespected as a healthy scratch on a weekly basis and Zack Moss holding Devin’s backup jockstrap, Singletary has fabricated 19.1 FPG over his last four games. With three of those performances against the Bucs, Panthers, and Pats’ very capable defenses, we should be counting on no less than 30 FPs from Singletary, no? In all seriousness, I am expecting top-three RB production from Devin in Week 18.
Final notes on New York
The outlook for every member of the Jets’ offense can be summed up in one sentence-or-less. Zach Wilson ($5.2K/$6.5K) didn’t face Buffalo the first time around and will be fortunate to walk away from the matchup with 10 FPs. I’ll invest in some Michael Carter ($5.0K/$5.8K) shares if he manages to clear the concussion protocol. If Carter is ruled out, my investment in the New York backfield consisting of some perverted rotation of Tevin Coleman ($4.4K/$5.0K), Austin Walter ($4.0K/$5.2K), and Ty Johnson ($4.9K/$5.4K) will follow. Even with my pre-draft WR3 set to work against Levi Wallace if he manages to gain clearance (he isn’t expected to), Elijah Moore ($4.7K/$6.0K) will be the only Jet receiver to draw my attention. Too much Taron Johnson to consider Jamison Crowder ($4.6K/$5.5K). If Crowder sits, too much Johnson and not enough Cover 3 for Braxton Berrios ($4.9K/$5.9K) exposure, if he even plays with his quadricep contusion.
Gang give the go-by to these Green:
Keelan Cole Sr. ($3.4K/$5.1K)
Jeff Smith ($3.1K/$4.7K) R
D.J. Montgomery ($3.0K/$4.6K)
Tyler Kroft ($2.5K/$4.4K)
Kenny Yeboah ($2.5K/$4.2K)
Final notes on Buffalo
Let’s set a two-sentence limit for these notes on the Bills. If we could just get an eyeball on Orchard Park around 3:00pm ET on Sunday, learning of the extent of Buffalo’s lead over New York could result in skyrocketing Josh Allen ($8.1K/$8.8K) to overall QB1 status if the Bills’ passing offense is still active. Allen may be the premiere Cover 4 QB in the game – no exaggeration implied. Unfortunately for Stefon Diggs ($7.8K/$7.7K), Allen’s Cover 1 numbers are a distant whisper in a sold out playoff game in Highmark Stadium to the elite representation he worked with Diggsy to achieve last season. Diggs is still a major player on the offense, but Allen has forced him to scrap his production together all year.
After Diggs and Davis put a monopoly on the quality targets from Allen in Week 10 against the Jets, my hesitation to provide Cole Beasley ($4.8K/$5.5K) with the attention he deserves from a Cover 4-heavy matchup may prove to be a mistake. He has devoured Cover 4 at a nearly identical rate as Davis the last three seasons. If I’m hesitant to focus attention on Beasley, I’m sending Dawson Knox ($5.4K/$6.0K) to his room without supper. The matchup is certainly great, but opposing offenses have seemed to forget about their inline brethren over each of the other skill positions against NYJ this season.
Update: With Justin Fields eliminated from consideration, the tentative conditions that I set to potentially include Allen over Matthew Stafford in my QB top-five for Week 18 are now moot.
Zack Moss ($5.0K/$5.3K)
Emmanuel Sanders ($4.1K/$5.4K) N/L
Isaiah McKenzie ($3.9K/$5.0K)
Jake Kumerow ($3.0K/$4.5K)
Kahale Warring ($2.5K/$4.1K)
Matchups to Target
Jimmy Garoppolo, SF ($5.5K DK | $7.0K FD) vs. Rams’ 3 | 4 | 6
Kyle Shanahan is the NFC version of Bill Belichick in injury report manipulation. He lists his QB/s and RB/s as questionable after every single game. And he always tosses out the same I expect him to be ready and/or I’m not particularly concerned-type updates on the regular. I’ve already come to grips with the fact that I simply cannot feature Elijah Mitchell in this series since his status is always determined long after this weekly article is published. But I’ll be damned if I’m going to allow Shanahan to bully me from promoting his QB. And the obvious reaction would be in the ballpark of wondering why I would even want to have any Jimmy Garoppolo exposure against the Aaron Donald- and Ramsey-led LAR defense.
In two matchups across from the Rams the last two seasons, Jimmy G has completed 73% of his attempts, posted a 131.1 passer rating, five TDs vs. zero INTs, and 19.5 FPG. With QB15/QB14 pricing, those 19.5 FPs would provide a 15%/10% profit over value. Why has Garoppolo pwned Los Angeles? The Rams utilize the fifth-highest rates of Cover 3, ninth-highest of Cover 4, and fourth-highest of Cover 6. And it’s in the first two rates that we have our answer. During his last 36 starts for the ‘9ers over the last three seasons, Garoppolo has created 0.45 FP/Db (fifth-most) and a 101.7 passer rating (seventh-highest). Across from Cover 4, he’s constructed 0.36 FP/Db (seventh-most) and a 96.1 passer rating (11th-highest).
My Top-Five QB Targets for Week 18:
Justin FieldsRussell Wilson
- Taysom Hill
- Josh Allen
- Matthew Stafford
- Jimmy Garoppolo
Matthew Stafford, LAR ($6.7K DK | $7.4K FD) vs. 49ers’ Cover 3 | 4
Perhaps it’s just my interpretation, but it certainly seems as though San Francisco is entirely confident that they will not only succeed in having K’Waun Williams, Ambry Thomas, Dontae Johnson, and Jimmie Ward test off of the COVID list in time to face the Rams, it also sounds as though they will get Emmanuel Moseley and Tavon Wilson back from IR. One of the most decimated secondaries in the NFL could instantly become one of the healthiest in a mere matter of hours. It’s a perfect example of Shanahan’s complete mastery/manipulation of the injury report.
With the NFC West still up for grabs and the 49ers must defeat the Rams to punch their ticket to the playoffs. For Matthew Stafford, in spite of throwing six INTs vs. five TDs over the last three weeks, none of the defenses he faced in those games feature the two-pronged schematic rotation of San Francisco. DeMeco Ryans is flipping his secondary between the seventh-highest rate of Cover 3 and sixth-highest of Cover 4. And Stafford has fashioned 0.43 FP/Db across from Cover 3 (seventh-most) and 0.38 FP/Db when working against Cover 4 (fifth-most) during the last three campaigns.
Admittedly, I have the least confidence in Stafford among my top-five QBs this week. And I have very nearly pivoted from Stafford to Josh Allen on multiple occasions. I’ve settled on the playing status of three defenders as dictating my direction. If Emmanuel Moseley gains clearance on the ankle injury that landed him on IR and both K’Waun Williams and Jimmie Ward test off of the COVID list in time to face the Rams, I will definitely pivot from Stafford to Allen.
Final notes on San Francisco
I will abandon all investment in the 49ers this week if Trey Lance ($5.5K/$7.0K) draws the start. That’s far from a shot at Lance, as my only intention is avoiding a matchup he is absolutely unprepared to face at this stage of his career. I literally have no idea what’s going on with Elijah Mitchell ($6.0K/$8.0K) as of early Thursday evening (ET). The latest report suggests he only managed to work on the side with trainers at Thursday’s practice, yet my boys over at RotoWire – impressive track record of thoroughness I should add – currently list him without an injury designation.
Whether intentionally, personally, or a coaching decision, Jalen Ramsey has avoided potential Deebo Samuel ($8.5K/$8.8K) shadows in each of their matchups. From some comments I read somewhere last season, Deebo actually attempted to instigate a shadow from Ramsey. If these two magnificent Ferrari’s go head-to-head on Sunday, it will be the finest example of demigod-like football excellence that we will have the complete pleasure of witnessing from the entire ‘21 season. We are talking photos from the encounter someday being enshrined on a plaque inside the walls of the NFL Hall of Fame.
George Kittle ($6.7K/$6.9K) doing little with Lance under center against the Texans doesn’t concern me. Watching him somehow forgotten in the Week 16 loss to Tennessee was concerning. Kittle flamed out as quickly as he emerged as an unstoppable force. However, Kittle posted an even 20.0 FPG in those last two games against LAR with Jimmy G under center. As alluded to above, Kittle is the only TE priced ahead of Ertz that I have any amount of confidence on Sunday. Just not enough to devote more than – I believe – the two GPPs where I have him added.
Home of the Fadeville:
Brandon Aiyuk ($5.6K/$6.0K)
Jauan Jennings ($3.6K/$5.0K)
Trent Sherfield ($3.0K/$4.6K)
Travis Benjamin ($3.0K/$4.5K)
Charlie Woerner ($2.5K/$4.3K)
Final notes on Los Angeles
With Cam Akers appearing to be a lock to return during Los Angeles’ first playoff game – not to mention potentially forcing a reevaluation of all medical time-frame expectations on a successful return to football following a ruptured Achilles, the Rams appear perfectly content riding Sony Michel ($6.0K/$7.7K) as their bell-cow in Week 18. And I am far from scared off Michel after garnering 95% of the carries, running 81% of the routes, and drawing a 14% target share against Baltimore in Week 17. In fact, I consider the Ravens’ run defense to be superior to that of the 49ers’. Why is he not included among my top-five backs this week? Just too many outstanding options at RB to find room. However, he lands at No. 6 on the list.
I wouldn’t refer to K'Waun Williams as playing at quite an All Pro level this season, but close enough to make his potential clash with Cooper Kupp ($9.7K/$10.0K) as one of the can’t-miss of Week 18. Since we’ll already have our eyes locked on the potential of a Deebo-Ramsey face-off, we won’t need to go very far to keep the attention of our feeble minds. I will admit that I am quite concerned with the matchup for the Rams’ passing game if SF reloads their secondary with everyone – sans Jason Verrett – that made this unit one commanding respect coming into the season.
It does still appear as though Odell Beckham Jr. ($5.8K/$6.5K) will cruise into this game with vanilla coverage from Josh Norman. While Norman’s numbers have been on a slight rebound in recent weeks, that is entirely due to the opposition attacking Ambry Thomas without conscience on the other side of the field. Norman is still distributing 1.26 YPCS (23rd-most), 0.30 FP/CS (10th-most), 0.13 AY/CS (29th-most), a 125.0 TPR (third-highest), and allowing the 15th-highest completion rate on deep targets. Originally listed as having a Matchup to Target, the availability of Emmanuel Moseley will determine if Van Jefferson Jr. ($5.1K/$5.8K) is dealing with the 49ers’ top cover corner or with ‘21 third-rounder Ambry Thomas. Keep that ear to the floor.
Cam Akers ($4.7K/$5.5K)
Jake Funk ($4.0K/$4.6K)
Bennett Skowronek ($3.0K/$4.7K)
Tyler Higbee ($4.0K/$5.5K)
Kendall Blanton ($2.5K/$4.2K)
Matchups to Target
Tua Tagovailoa, MIA ($5.3K DK | $6.5K FD) vs. Patriots’ Cover 1 | 2 | 3
It’s very likely that this tout will fall on deaf ears for a large percentage of the audience. And I completely understand the complete denial in trusting Tua Tagovailoa against one of the elite defenses in the AFC. That said, during his two career games against Bill Belichick’s defense, Tagovailoa has averaged 17.9 FPG, and has led Miami to consecutive victories. New England is featuring the third-highest rate of Cover 1, 14th-highest of Cover 2, and the ninth-highest of Cover 3. And it’s that high Cover 3 rate that is of particular importance.
During his career against Cover 3, Tua has generated 0.42 FP/Db (ninth-most), the most significant such improvement to an overall average among qualified QBs (23%). He’s added a 101.6 TPR (fifth-highest) and his YPA improves by 12% (ninth-highest). Even with J.C. Jackson in coverage, DeVante Parker is one of the most dangerous Cover 3 threats in the game due to his unselfish willingness to present as a consistent chain-mover for Tagovailoa. And, during those two games against the Pats, Tua has connected on 81% of his attempts and a 103.9 passer rating across from their Cover 3. The last path toward a recommendation that I want to follow is one where components are forced together that never fit together to begin with. That is not the trail that led me to Tagovailoa.
Jaylen Waddle, MIA ($6.3K DK | $6.8K FD) vs. Myles Bryant, NE
In Miami’s Week 1 victory over the Patriots, Jaylen Waddle created a 4/61/1 receiving line on five targets. He connected with Tua from three yards out to account for the TD. He also added a 17-yard hook-up inside the coverage of J.C. Jackson. It was an impressive debut for a rookie destined to overtake Anquan Boldin for the most receptions in NFL history from a rookie WR. Waddle only needs two to tie and three receptions to break the record set by Boldin 18 seasons ago. If he manages to collect at least 12 receiving yards, Waddle will be the 24th rookie WR in history to post 1,000 receiving yards.
New England will be dealing with a considerable issue in their attempt to prevent Waddle from rewriting the record books. Myles Bryant, their starter in nickel sets, tested positive for COVID as an unvaccinated player. With Jonathan Jones already out for the season, Belichick will either be forced to put Joejuan Williams on the field – something he has avoided doing on anything other than a couple reps since Week 12 — or his options will be down to getting creative in shifting a defensive back inside from another group or adding an untested practice squadder to the fold. In addition, the Pats may also be without breakout strong safety Kyle Dugger. It’s a lot to process, especially for New England. All told, the setup for Waddle’s attempts at history – as well as in our investment in his output – could not be playing out any better.
Final notes on New England
If the Dolphins intend to throw Cover Free after Cover Free at Mac Jones ($5.4K/$7.0K) like they did with Ryan Tannehill last week, this game will get out of hand before it even begins. However, it’s extremely unlikely they use the same approach since it was like a direct attempt to attack a porous Tennessee O-line, and Brian Flores is fully aware of the elite O-line his former team is blessed to roster. And the reality of D'Onta Foreman and Dontrell Hilliard decimating the Dolphins’ for 177 combined rushing yards – many of which were collected against those Cover Free looks, the number Damien Harris ($6.7K/$7.4K) and Rhamondre Stevenson ($5.9K/$6.5K) would post would boggle the mind.
Assuming Miami devotes more attention toward slowing down the Patriots’ dangerous RB group, the pressure will be on Jones, Jakobi Meyers ($5.2K/$6.0K), Kendrick Bourne ($5.0K/$5.6K), and Week 17 breakout star Kristian Wilkerson ($3.3K/$5.3K) to propel the offense. Of the three, Wilkerson would actually have a quality opportunity for an encore performance across Byron Jones. However, signs appear to be pointing to a potential return from Nelson Agholor. If he returns to the rotation with a full reinstatement of his previous role, it would be a massive plus to the matchup for the Dolphins.
However, if Wilkerson is featured again, I fully plan to take advantage of his WR91/WR54 pricing in some of my LF GPP lineups. Another potential area of attack for New England will be with Hunter Henry ($4.0K/$5.6K). Miami has been okay/not great in defense of the inliners this season. On the other side of the coin, Henry has been extremely TD-dependent, and a considerable boom-or-buster. All told, the clear DFS options to target are Harris, Stevenson, and Wilkerson.
The Boogeymen Brush Aside:
Brandon Bolden ($4.0K/$4.9K)
Gunner Olszewski ($3.0K/$4.6K)
Nelson Agholor ($3.4K/$4.8K)
N'Keal Harry ($3.0K/$4.7K)
Jonnu Smith ($2.5K/$4.5K)
Final notes on Miami
Mark my words for right or wrong, DeVante Parker ($4.9K/$5.6K) is going to surprise a lot of people when he exceeds five-to-seven receptions and 75 yards inside the coverage of MVP candidate J.C. Jackson. It’s truly an impressive sight to behold when defenses dare place a Cover 3 on the field against Parker at a high rate. If Dugger is unable to take the field, Mike Gesicki ($5.1K/$5.7K) will be the direct beneficiary. That said, Gesicki’s TE7/TE7 pricing is not even approachable with the vast majority of the volume set to be delivered to Waddle and Parker.
Miami Flounder Machiners:
Duke Johnson Jr. ($5.0K/$5.6K)
Myles Gaskin ($4.8K/$5.4K)
Phillip Lindsay ($4.5K/$4.9K)
Isaiah Ford ($3.0K/$4.9K)
Mack Hollins ($3.0K/$4.8K)
Albert Wilson ($3.2K/$4.7K)
Preston Williams ($3.0K/$4.6K)
Kirk Merritt ($3.0K/$4.5K)
Durham Smythe ($2.9K/$4.5K)
Adam Shaheen ($2.5K/$4.2K)
Matchups to Target
Cyril Grayson, TB ($4.4K DK | $5.6K FD) vs. Rashaan Melvin, CAR
I scratched my head upon seeing Cyril Grayson on the field at the expense of a proven commodity like Scotty Miller or the upside play of Jaelon Darden. I fully expected one of those two or Breshad Perriman (when he cleared COVID) – a proven Cover 1 assassin – to send Grayson back to the bench. I knew Grayson had outstanding speed after being a track star at LSU, and we could definitely see that speed for ourselves. But to go from playing zero football in college to starting for the defending Super Bowl champions just didn’t mesh. I was wrong. Grayson is the guy that should benefit from Antonio Brown’s career-defining temper tantrum. Put it this way, on the 11 targets to Grayson the last two weeks – as well as the 50-yard TD he caught in Week 8, he’s returned a perfect 158.3 TPR.
With 162 receiving yards the last two weeks, his 3.12 YPRR, 17.7 YPT, 15.7 AY/Tgt, and 6.7 yards after the catch average have all of the hallmarks of the Bucs already having Brown’s long-term replacement on the roster. As we get more data, we’ll be able to identify his coverage strengths. Until then, we do need to go in blind. But his world-class speed has already allowed to burn right past Cover 4 and Cover 6 – schemes designed to eliminate deep passing – for receptions of 33, 50 and 62 yards. Just don’t assume Grayson is being limited to situational packages. During the second half after Brown left the field, Grayson was one the field for more snaps than any other TB wideout. And he also led the Bucs' WRs in snaps in Week 16… against the Panthers. So, we already have a 3/81/0 receiving line and 14-yard run to account for his ability to punish Carolina.
Ke’Shawn Vaughn, TB ($5.3K DK | $5.9K FD) vs. Panthers’ Cover 1 | 3
The Buccaneers saw two offensive weapons other than Brown leave the field. On his second carry of the third quarter, Ronald Jones II left the game for good with an ankle injury. He will not play in Week 18. It’s unknown exactly when Ke’Shawn Vaughn injured his ribs since he played through the pain. But Le’Veon Bell ended the second half with a 23-to-14 lead in offensive snaps over Vaughn. Vaughn put all doubts as to his Week 18 availability by participating in full during Tampa Bay’s first full practice of the week. It simply didn’t happen last week.
It was the Jets. The script called for Vaughn to blow up. But the rib injury wasn’t the only issue. NYJ built an out-of-nowhere, 24-10 lead over the Buccaneers at the 6:56 mark of the third quarter. The expectation was for a positive script providing the backfield with all of the touches they could handle. Instead, the Bucs passed 29 times vs. 11 carries in the second half. Last week was last week. Looking ahead, RoJo is out of the rotation. Vaughn just put together a 7/70/1 rushing line against Carolina in Week 16. In addition to the featured carries, Vaughn will also play a much heavier role in the passing game. The downside of Jones being out is that Vaughn will likely draw a lot of attention. That makes it impossible for us to ignore Vaughn this week. And I think he will do well behind Tampa Bay’s mauling O-line, landing just outside of my top-five RBs at No. 7.
My Top-Five RB Targets for Week 18:
- Jonathan Taylor
- Devin Singletary
- AJ Dillon
- Samaje Perine
- D'Onta Foreman
Final notes on Carolina
We can sum up the entire Carolina offense in one long sentence. With 273 total yards against TB in Week 16, Sam Darnold ($5.0K/$6.6K) completed less than 50% of his attempts without a TD, Chuba Hubbard ($5.1K/$5.7K) averaged 1.5 YPC, Sideshow Bob Anderson ($4.5K/$5.5K) actually topped 10 FPs (10.8 with nearly two-thirds of his yardage inside LB coverage), and D.J. Moore ($5.8K/$6.1K) put his 11th example of scoring under his floor in the last 12 games.
Imminent Coronary Cats:
Cam Newton ($4.7K/$6.3K)
Ameer Abdullah ($4.7K/$5.1K)
Terrace Marshall Jr. ($3.0K/$4.7K)
Shi Smith ($3.3K/$4.7K)
Brandon Zylstra ($3.0K/$4.8K)
Ian Thomas ($2.7K/$4.4K)
Tommy Tremble ($2.5K/$4.5K)
Final notes on Tampa Bay
Nobody could have predicted Tampa Bay would need to rely on Cyril Grayson scoring on a 33-yard reception with 15 seconds left on the clock to defeat the Jets 28-24 last week. For everyone who predicted the Bucs would blow NYJ out of the water – myself included, none of us expected Tom Brady ($7.5K/$8.1K) to throw 50 times for 410 yards and to collect 30.1 FPs.
I’ve stuck by Antonio Brown (the football player) through his off-the-field issues. That time is over. Watching him act like a fool on the sideline in Week 17 with my own eyes put everything into perspective. Worst-case-scenario: the mental health of Brown is in a very bad place. Best-case-scenario: he simply lacks the filter to be a productive member of society, or at least an NFL player. Either way, I really hope he has some level of family-friend support network so he can move on from the NFL without any type of tragic ending leading headlines the next time we hear his name.
The silver-lining of the situation is that a star emerged in Grayson. Tampa Bay and The GOAT should be able to seamlessly transition to playoff life. Of course, that is with the expectation that Mike Evans ($7.1K/$7.8K) is able to remain healthy throughout. The Bucs need a victory over the Panthers and for the Rams to lose to the 49ers to claim a first round bye. And it’s outstanding that both games will be played simultaneously. Nobody will be taking an early seat until this victory is 100% secured.
Tyler Johnson ($4.2K/$5.5K) will again hold down the inside fort and Rob Gronkowski ($6.3K/$7.4K) will be the primary inline target. However, my expectation is for the passing-game volume from the Buccaneers to dry up in the second half. That’s precisely why I feel investing in the longball potential of Evans and/or Grayson as being the optimal approach. Johnson and Gronk are too TD-dependent and, without that second-half volume, TB12 is also further down on my target list.
Le'Veon Bell ($5.0K/$5.2K)
Breshad Perriman ($5.0K/$4.9K)
Scotty Miller ($4.0K/$5.2K)
Jaelon Darden ($3.0K/$4.6K)
Cameron Brate ($3.1K/$4.9K)
O.J. Howard ($2.8K/$4.3K)
Matchups to Target
Jared Cook, LAC ($3.8K DK | $5.0K FD) vs. Raiders’ Cover 3
The Raiders have done a nice job cleaning up the cracks in their massively-heavy Cover 3 scheme. But the one vulnerability that remains is in defending TEs. They will throw a few Cover 3-Seam formations on the field in an attempt to limit that inside production, but that is a scheme that can free Keenan Allen up from Nate Hobbs’ coverage – not a good thing. That all explains why I am all over Jared Cook this week. In addition to Las Vegas handing out 15.3 FPG to opposing TEs (sixth-most), Cook has been a Cover 3 beast. During the last three seasons, Cook has generated 0.46 FP/Rt (fifth-most), 2.07 YPRR (eighth-most), 11.3 YPT (second-most), 9.1 AY/Tgt (fifth-most), and a 137.6 TPR (the highest) when working against Cover 3.
Hunter Renfrow, LV ($6.6K DK | $7.0K FD) vs. Chris Harris, LAC
If we had definitive word that Darren Waller would be active, he’d be listed in this spot. This is a playoff play-in game. We are going to see both teams pulling every trick out of their hats to secure the victory. Hunter Renfrow hasn’t made a playoff appearance yet during his career. And he will enter this game with far more power to eliminate that statement from his resume. Let’s not forget that Renfrow caught the game-winning TD from Deshaun Watson in the final seconds to win the National Championship for Clemson during his redshirt-sophomore season. The Slot Machine is no stranger to the added pressure of a big game.
The Chargers are mixing the sixth-highest rate of Cover 6 with top-15 rates of Cover 1 and Cover 4. When going up against Cover 6 during his career, Renfrow has accounted for the 17th-most FP/Rt (0.41), 19th-highest TPR (114.0), and a 23% increase in YPT to bring it up to 11.4 (19th-most). Now that his role has expanded to featured volume, we are also seeing his Cover 1 and Cover 4 numbers swiftly rising. Chris Harris Jr. will attempt to contain Renfrow the most among LAC defenders. Harris is limiting his coverage to 0.91 YPCS (eighth-fewest among 35 qualified slot CBs), 0.20 FP/CS (eighth-fewest), and an 89.8 TPR (16th-lowest). But Renfrow secured a 6/45/1 line on six targets in Harris’ coverage back in Week 4 – prior to Renfrow becoming the Raiders’ WR1.
Final notes on Los Angeles
I do like the potential for Justin Herbert ($7.1K/$8.0K) to put up some good numbers in the matchup. But the QB6/QB5 pricing will require 21.3/20.0 FPs. Just too steep of a price to account for the potential limitations of output from Mike Williams ($6.1K/$6.7K), Keenan Allen ($7.5K/$7.3K), and Jalen Guyton ($3.4K/$5.0K). Williams’ matchup with Casey Hayward Jr. and Allen across Hobbs are daunting in-and-of-themselves, but, overall, Las Vegas has held opposing WRs to third-lowest output all season (29.0 FPG). Outside of Cook, Austin Ekeler ($8.4K/$8.8K) is the guy most deserving of our attention. And he is the offensive player that will likely hold the keys to victory for the Chargers. That’s quite obvious for a back with RB2/RB3 pricing.
Justin Jackson ($5.6K/$5.5K)
Joshua Kelley ($4.5K/$4.8K)
Josh Palmer ($3.5K/$5.1K)
Stephen Anderson ($2.7K/$4.3K)
Tre' McKitty ($2.5K/$4.2K)
Final notes on Las Vegas
I would say that 300 passing yards for Derek Carr ($5.6K/$6.8K) is an absolute lock. Especially if Darren Waller ($6.1K/$6.5K) is cleared for action. The Raiders have put themselves into some odd defensive struggles in recent weeks. But that is an unlikely scenario here. If Waller is in play, he would be my TE1 of the All Day Sunday slate. And we do have the luxury of waiting for news since we have Cook and Foster Moreau ($3.4K/$5.0K) on standby.
Finally, we have Josh Jacobs ($6.5K/$6.9K). He hasn’t killed it the last two weeks, but he did average 16.7 FPG against the Broncos and Colts’ stout run defenses. Los Angeles is permitting the sixth-most FPG to RBs (26.1), third-most on the ground (18.3), third-most GTG carries/game (3.06), and second-most RZ touches/game (6.06).
Peyton Barber ($4.9K/$5.2K)
Jalen Richard ($4.6K/$4.6K)
Zay Jones ($4.5K/$5.4K)
Bryan Edwards ($3.1K/$5.1K)
DeSean Jackson ($3.2K/$4.9K)