We have an interesting collection of matchups to kick off the playoffs. One of the most striking realities upon analyzing each playoff team is a complete lack of elite defenses. We have elite defenses, but only elite from the sense that they are superior to most other defenses. While I’ll save the individual breakdown of vulnerabilities for the appropriate write-ups, I will state that every defense is vulnerable in at least one area of play. With scoring down across the board, that’s an alarming realization.
For far too many offenses, responsibility for the general failure in attacking the susceptibleness of an opposing defense falls on the shoulders of the coaching staff. One of the most glaring weaknesses in U.S. law prior to the emergence of serial killers in the 1970s, i.e., Ted Bundy, was the complete lack of communication between neighboring law enforcement entities. Keeping with the approach of the legal process, law enforcement follows the evidence toward the criminal. In the case of the inability of teams attacking vulnerabilities, the evidence points toward the offensive and defensive coaching staffs failing to marry their approaches.
Why would neighboring law enforcement offices refuse to communicate?
Two words: greed and glory.
NFL teams divide up the responsibility for coaching a team to a list of individuals that provides the appearances of filming a major motion picture. And the league is notorious for using a revolving door approach with their coaching ranks. The tediousness in establishing and maintaining the schematic understanding and trust between incumbent and incoming coaches must be overwhelming. That accountability is further encumbering between the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. One defensive coach may feel it to be inappropriate in bringing offensive approach concerns to the other side of the ball, while some younger coaches may feel the same in addressing schemes of attack with elder statesmen. It’s high time that franchises put an end to rotating coaching pieces with the same approach as building a roster through free agency.
The most alarming reality is that I’ve yet to mention the major issue related to coaches running the same schemes as their great-grandfather instructed them as children. Need some evidence? Consider the following:
Number of playoff teams using a top-10 rate of Spread and/or Air Raid personnel: 8
Number of playoff teams using a bottom-10 rate of Spread and/or Air Raid personnel: 2
Fired head coaches from teams using a top-10 rate of Spread and/or Air Raid personnel: 0
Fired head coaches from teams using a bottom-10 rate of Spread and/or Air Raid personnel: 5
Percentage of playoff teams ranking in the top-16 in deep passing attempts: 71%
Percentage of playoff teams ranking in the bottom-16 in deep passing attempts: 29%
Last three non-GOAT Super Bowl winning team utilizing an offensive scheme without significant Spread and/or Air Raid components:
Super Bowl XLVI – New York Giants (February 5, 2012)
Super Bowl XLII – New York Giants (February 3, 2008)
Super Bowl XXXVII – Tampa Bay Buccaneers (January 26, 2003)
Percentage of non-GOAT Super Bowl winning teams utilizing offensive schemes with significant Spread and/or Air Raid components since Super Bowl XXXVII: 79%
The numbers are overwhelmingly in favor of the Spread and Air Raid taking over the NFL. An offense either implements the scheme/s or faces between 70-80% odds against making the playoffs. Perhaps some of the dumpy offensive scheming will dissipate with Matt Nagy, Vic Fangio, Joe Judge, Brian Flores and Mike Zimmer sent packing. Speaking of Zimmer, his offense under Klint Kubiak was one of the unique schemes using a bottom-10 rate of Spread and/or Air Raid personnel, but calling for deep passing at a top-10 rate. Here is the updated graph showing that the Week 18 scoring increased without any significant spikes to the tracked data points:
The 25.5 points/offense in Week 18 stands as a season high. Before we get carried away, a big chunk of that scoring can be confidently swept under the rug in light of four playoff teams resting players on both sides of the ball, and the 35.5 PPG the opposing teams put on the scoreboard. As for the deep passing, in spite of the deep passing rate spiking to the third-highest rate of the season (12.6%), Kirk Cousins accounted for 201 yards and three TDs, while completing six-of-seven throws of 20-plus yards. Without Cousins, the Week 18 deep passing YPA decreases down to 10.15% (9% decline) – would be the second-lowest number of the season.
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) offer 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 18:
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
*107-96 (53%); 9-6 in Week 18
Cincinnati Bengals (-5.0) vs. Las Vegas Raiders
Buffalo Bills (-4.5) vs. New England Patriots
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-8.5) vs. Philadelphia Eagles
Dallas Cowboys (-3.0) vs. San Francisco 49ers
Kansas City Chiefs (-12.5) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Los Angeles Rams (-3.5) vs. Arizona Cardinals
*99-81 (55%); 8-7 in Week 18
Las Vegas Raiders at Cincinnati Bengals (Under 49.5)
New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills (Over 44.5)
Philadelphia Eagles at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Over 48.5)
San Francisco 49ers at Dallas Cowboys (Under 50.5)
Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs (Over 46.0)
Arizona Cardinals at Los Angeles Rams (Over 49.0)
*130-68 (66%); 9-5 in Week 18
Cincinnati Bengals (-225) vs. Las Vegas Raiders
Buffalo Bills (-200) vs. New England Patriots
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-380) vs. Philadelphia Eagles
Dallas Cowboys (-165) vs. San Francisco 49ers
Kansas City Chiefs (-630) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Los Angeles Rams (-190) vs. Arizona Cardinals
Matchups to Target
Boston Scott, PHI ($4.5K DK | $5.9K FD) vs. Buccaneers’ Cover 2 | 3
The expectation is that Miles Sanders will be active on Sunday after breaking his hand in Week 16. He will likely take on at least 50% of the RB carries. However, prior to breaking his hand, Sanders had already relinquished nearly two-thirds of the RB targets. And he will likely play with a cast over his hand this weekend. If so, Boston Scott will take on all of the receiving responsibilities, the backup carries, the up-tempo role, and be in line to head-up the backfield if anything pops up on the oft-injured Sanders.
The Buccaneers are limiting offenses to the third-fewest rushing YPG (92.5), the fifth-fewest TDs/game (0.65), and the fewest FPG to RBs on the ground (8.6). That said, no other defense has surrendered a higher percentage of their FPG allowance to RBs through the air than Tampa Bay (60.8%). The Bucs are packaging 13.3 FPG through the air to RBs (second-most). To really drive home the benefits of rostering Scott, he leads all RBs this season with 19.5% of the goal-to-go (GTG) carries, and has scored a TD on 8% of his carries – seven TDs scored.
Leonard Fournette, TB ($5.6K DK | $7.3K FD) vs. Eagles’ Cover 1 | 2 | 4 | 6
Word around town is that Ronald Jones II will be listed as doubtful this week. We still have a good amount of time for all of the details to come together but, as of now, Leonard Founette appears to be heading toward a bell-cow role on Sunday. We do need to monitor his health reports and also the status of Giovani Bernard. Should Fournette suffer any type of setback, Bernard – who was designated to return from IR this week – and Ke'Shawn Vaughn would come into quite a bit of value. But all reports suggest positive vibes during Playoff Lenny’s hamstring rehabilitation.
The Eagles are transferring 25.2 FPG to RBs this season (10th-most), 27.0 over the last four weeks (second-most), and 31.3 over the last two (fourth-most). Granting 2.41 GTG carries/game (fifth-most) defines opposing teams scoring 1.06 rushing TDs/game (eighth-most). The Buccaneers’ offense has not missed a beat, averaging 33.7 PPG since losing Fournette, Chris Godwin, and Lavonte David in Week 15. That truly represents scary territory with Fournette, David, and Bernard rejoining the lineup this week. And the red zone (RZ) opportunities for Fournette are enough of a reason alone to consider him as my RB1 of the Sunday slate with RB4/RB4 pricing.
Breshad Perriman, TB ($4.6K DK | $5.2K FD) vs. Steven Nelson, PHI
As long as Breshad Perriman can clear the injury report with his sore hip, he offers a lot of upside and salary relief as a likely starter along the right sideline. It pains me to admit that the Bucs will be without Cyril Grayson this week after pulling his hamstring early in Week 18. While it most definitely helps, receiving throws from The GOAT isn’t the only major draw to Perriman. Over the last three seasons, Perriman has created 0.48 FP/Rt (18th-most), 2.54 YPRR (17th-most), 11.2 YPT (12th-most), and his TPR improves by 23% when a defense puts Cover 1 on the field (11th-highest). On only 29% of his routes, Perriman has registered 50% of his receptions, 53% of his yardage, and 40% of his TDs across from Cover 1.
With Mike Evans spending two-thirds of his time on the left side and Darius Slay likely tailing him, Perriman is going to see a ton of Steven Nelson. In the eight games where Slay shadowed the opposing WR1, Nelson has allowed three of Philly’s four receiving TDs, 75% of targets into his coverage to be completed, and a 124.1 TPR. The Eagles are putting the 10th-highest rate of Cover 2, 12th-highest of Cover 4, and 10th-highest of Cover 6 on the field this season. However, since their Week 14 bye, they have used the 10th-highest rate of Cover 1.
Rob Gronkowski, TB ($6.4K DK | $7.4K FD) vs. Eagles’ Cover 1 | 2 | 4 | 6
Cameron Brate, TB ($2.8K DK | $4.6K FD) vs. Eagles’ Cover 1 | 2 | 4 | 6
Whenever we hear an opponent will put a competitive rate of Cover 1 on the field, our attention should always converge on Rob Gronkowski. Daddy Gronk has generated the most FP/Rt (0.63), the sixth-most YPRR (2.16), the most AY/Tgt (14.4), seventh-highest TPR (119.0), and the sixth-highest target rate (26%) against Cover 1 since coming out of retirement. On 21% of his total routes, Gronkowski has generated 29% of his receptions, 31% of yardage, and 53% of TDs. But Philadelphia will need to prepare for double Gronk van-damage since they also feature the 10th-highest rate of Cover 2. During the same stretch, Gronkowski has manufactured 0.56 FP/Rt (third-most), 2.68 YPRR (second-most), 11.5 YPT (second-most), and a 139.6 TPR (the highest) when facing Cover 2.
If that success somehow leaves you underwhelmed or you simply need salary relief at TE, take a look at Cameron Brate. As you can see below, in games with Gronk active, backup TEs are gifted with 41.7% of the route share, and 33.0% of the target share – both are very high. In three games since Godwin’s knee injury, Brate has averaged 6.9 FPG. Nothing nuclear, but we would only need another reception to cover his 8.4/11.5 FPG floor with TE7/TE7 pricing. Why am I touting two TEs from Tampa Bay? The Eagles have relinquished 6.29 receptions/game (the most), 60.9 YPG (sixth-most), 0.82 TDs/game (the most), 1.29 RZ touches/game (the most), and 17.4 FPG to TEs this season (the most).
Final notes on Philadelphia
Overall Backup Opportunity Level = Average
RB (Very High):
Carry Share (with Miles Sanders active): 45.0%
Route Share (with Miles Sanders active): 51.0%
Target Share (with Miles Sanders active): 60.5%
WR (Very Low):
- Route Share: 12.5%
- Target Share: 6.5%
TE (Very Low):
- Route Share (with Dallas Goedert active & post-Zach Ertz trade): 13.3%
- Target Share (with Dallas Goedert active & post-Zach Ertz trade): 7.3%
Nothing changed to close out the season on Jalen Hurts’ ($6.1K/$7.7K) bum ankle slowing down his ground game. I’ve surrendered to the decision that we will not Hurts back to being himself until 2022. I have my fingers crossed that Miles Sanders ($5.0K/$5.9K) returns this week so the situation for Scott improves. I’d actually be off Scott if Sanders is unable to play. A mid-game shift to a featured role wouldn’t concern me, but allowing the Bucs to gameplan in advance of specifically eliminating Scott would present a problem, in my view.
It appears Jamel Dean is headed toward taking the field this week. His presence would nearly push his matchup with DeVonta Smith ($5.4K/$6.2K) to one worthy of being entirely Avoided. Smith only avoids that designation due to seeing significant time on both sidelines. But he will work across from Dean the most, and that’s not a situation where I want to invest my bankroll dollars. I love me some Dallas Goedert ($4.4K/$5.9K). However, between Jordan Whitehead, Antoine Winfield Jr., and Mike Edwards, the Buccaneers have locked down the TE position over the second-half of the season.
Reconsider that brotherly love for these Accipitridae:
Gardner Minshew II ($5.1K/$6.2K)
Jordan Howard ($4.3K/$5.2K)
Kenneth Gainwell ($4.4K/$5.0K)
Jason Huntley ($4.0K/$4.6K)
Quez Watkins ($3.8K/$5.1K)
Jalen Reagor ($3.1K/$4.9K)
Greg Ward ($3.0K/$4.6K)
Jack Stoll ($2.5K/$4.1K)
Richard Rodgers ($2.5K/$4.3K)
Noah Togiai ($2.5K/$4.0K)
Final notes on Tampa Bay
Overall Backup Opportunity Level =
- Carry Share (with Leonard Fournette active): 31.4%
- Route Share (with Leonard Fournette active): 33.0%
- Target Share (with Leonard Fournette active): 29.9%
- Route Share (maneuvering around injuries): 15.6%
- Target Share (maneuvering around injuries): 10.3%
TE (Very High):
- Route Share (with Rob Gronkowski active): 41.7%
- Target Share (with Rob Gronkowski active): 33.0%
As you can see for yourself above, the opportunities for Bucs wideouts that aren’t labeled as a starter are extremely slim. And I factored in all scenarios with Godwin, Evans and Antonio Brown, only with Evans and Brown, only with Brown, only with Godwin and Evans, and only with Evans. If Perriman draws the start, he will join Mike Evans ($7.0K/$8.2K) and Tyler Johnson ($4.0K/$5.1K) as the only viable WR options from Tampa Bay. That said, Evans will be shadowed by Darius Slay, and Johnson will be pestered by Avonte Maddox’s elite coverage in nickel packages.
I’m completely off Johnson after being one of the least efficient WRs all season. But Evans does maintain enough appeal for our attention with those Cover 1 snaps on the table. Large-field (LF) GPP lineup construction for the Sunday slate is not for the faint of heart. Mixing together the precise amount of chalk and contrarian is a significant challenge. From my analysis, we have four viable QBs. And Tom Brady ($7.2K/$8.4K) is at the top of my list. As mentioned, Giovani Bernard ($4.0K/$4.7K) is a name to keep in mind if Fournette has a setback.
Roster the guava and choose to eschew these bay pollutants:
Blaine Gabbert ($4.6K/$6.0K)
Ke'Shawn Vaughn ($4.5K/$5.4K)
Le'Veon Bell ($4.7K/$5.0K)
Jaelon Darden ($3.0K/$4.6K)
Scotty Miller ($3.5K/$5.2K)
O.J. Howard ($2.5K/$4.2K)
Darren Fells ($2.5K/$4.0K)
Codey McElroy ($2.5K/$4.0K)
Matchups to Target
Jimmy Garoppolo, SF ($5.3K DK | $6.8K FD) vs. Cowboys’ Cover 1 | 2
Do I love the matchup for Jimmy Garoppolo this week? I do not. Be that as it may, he offers considerable salary relief, obviously stacks well with Deebo Samuel, and a couple other 49er receivers we’ll discuss later. He has absolutely created some breathing room ahead of Trey Lance with 0.437 FP/Db (11th-most) and 8.63 YPA (second-most) this season. In order to extract every FP out of Jimmy G, we want to see the Cowboys place a top-10 rate of Cover 3 on the field. Dallas has used a top-10 rate of Cover 3 on three occasions over the last nine games. During that time, the Cowboys have used Cover 3 at the 12th-highest rate, one-third of their defensive plays.
During his previous three seasons, Garoppolo has constructed 0.45 FP/Db (fifth-most), and a 101.1 passer rating (seventh-highest) against Cover 3. When working against Cover 4 those last three campaigns, Jimmy G has created 0.38 FP/Db (seventh-most) and a 98.8 passer rating (12th-highest). If we just get the average Cover 3 and Cover 4 rate – another of Garoppolo’s specialties, the ‘Boys will be expected to use them on just under 40% of defensive snaps. We know they’ll put a ton of Cover 1 in play – they used it at the highest rate this season – but 40% is enough of a window to construct some LF GPP lineups around Jimmy G’s QB5/QB5 pricing.
Deebo Samuel, SF ($7.9K DK | $8.7K FD) vs. Anthony Brown, DAL
It begs the question, where would the current portrait of Jimmy G sit without Deebo Samuel? In addition to leading all players in YPC and YPR, Samuel has generated 6.44 FPG on play action (second-most). The Cowboys have authorized the 10th-most receptions and 11th-highest rate of deep completions when defending play action. It’s always possible that Dan Quinn sticks Trevon Diggs over Samuel. However, the alignment numbers inform us that Anthony Brown will draw the brunt of the task and Diggs hasn’t been utilized much as a devoted shadow. Considering that the majority of Diggs’ allowances have come on deep, splash receptions, attaching him to Samuel might be a worst case scenario.
Among 79 qualified outside CBs, Brown is coming off of 0.29 FP/CS (18th-most), 1.32 YPCS (21st-most), 0.15 AY/CS (14th-most), and an 84.0 TPR (29th-lowest) as the fifth-most targeted corner. From my scouting, only Tyreek Hill surpasses Samuel in the difficulty level they present due to the pre-snap motion. Even if an opponent attempted to shadow Samuel, his frequent movement all across the offensive formation is impossible to track on some plays – check out his routes across from Jalen Ramsey last week for some evidence. And the last thing a DC wants to see is his top cover corner consistently ending up between the tackles when Samuel aligns as a RB.
As is the case for Garoppolo, we want to see as high of a Cover 3 rate as possible from Dallas. During his career, Deebo has generated 0.62 FP/Rt (second-most), 3.33 YPRR (third-most), 12.2 YPT (sixth-most), a 27% target rate (fifth-highest), and a 123.0 TPR (eighth-highest) when facing Cover 3. On 32% of his routes, Samuel has collected 42% of his receptions, 43% of his yardage and 40% of his career TDs across from Cover 3. I’ll close the recommendation to splurge on Samuel with this: over the last three games, Deebo has averaged 68.7 receiving yards after the catch, and 31 receiving yards after contact – simply jaw-dropping.
Dak Prescott, DAL ($6.7K DK | $8.0K FD) vs. 49ers’ Cover 3 | 4
While the 49ers’ offense begs Dallas to use three-high, San Francisco will showcase the fifth-highest rate of Cover 3, and sixth-highest of Cover 4. What could only be described as a theme park trip if Jimmy G had the pleasure of facing his own defense. Those high rates will not be wasted, Dak Prescott will enjoy every bit of the pleasure of spending a day at the office against those shells. During the last three seasons, the Raynemaker has created 0.47 FP/Db (fourth-most), a 100.8 passer rating (eighth-highest), and with an 11% spike in YPA and 12% in AY/Att.
Across from Cover 4 over the same stretch of time, Prescott has generated 0.37 FP/Db (sixth-most) and a 98.1 passer rating (eighth-highest). I am mildly surprised the ‘9ers have managed to maintain their limitation of only 12.6 FPG through the air to QBs (fifth-fewest) with the skeleton crew of CBs they’ve been forced to rotate this season. But Prescott will enter this matchup with a massive advantage since SF hasn’t faced Prescott since October 22 of 2017. In two career matchups with the 49ers, Prescott has compiled five TDs, zero INTs, a 120.8 passer rating, and 24.7 FPG.
Amari Cooper, DAL ($5.9K DK | $7.1K FD) vs. Ambry Thomas, SF
When Emmanuel Moseley returned from IR in Week 18, he took to the right sideline in order to allow ‘21 third-rounder Ambry Thomas to remain on the left side where he’s done all of his work this season. It certainly paid immediate dividends when Thomas collected the walk-off interception against the Rams to send the ‘9ers to the playoffs. Keeping Thomas on the left also sent the youngster down a path that will lead him to Amari Cooper. While I attempted to convince myself that Thomas has done enough with his 198 coverage snaps to earn hard ranks, the ultimate decision was made not to do so since he falls around 40 snaps short of qualifying.
While the SF faithful are extremely thankful to Thomas for that INT, if his metrics did qualify, his 0.39 FP/CS, 1.70 YPCS, 0.29 AY/CS, and 133.5 TPR would each rank dead last among 79 qualified CBs. The two schemes the 49ers employ actually slightly favor CeeDee Lamb. But Cooper has scored four TDs vs. one for Lamb against Cover 3 and Cover 4, combined. And, hopefully an obvious takeaway, the individual matchup is significant enough to push Coop ahead of Lamb since he’ll be dealing with Moseley – San Francisco’s top (healthy) cover corner.
Final notes on San Francisco
Overall Backup Opportunity Level = Very Low
RB (Very Low):
- Carry Share (with Elijah Mitchell active): 13.0%
- Route Share (with Elijah Mitchell active): 40.3%
- Target Share (with Elijah Mitchell active): 51.2% (only 1.9 targets/game)
WR (Very Low):
- Route Share (with Deebo Samuel active): 8.6%
- Target Share (with Deebo Samuel active): 7.5%
TE (Very Low):
- Route Share (with George Kittle active): 11.6%
- Target Share (with George Kittle active): 2.1%
My first instinct was to feature Elijah Mitchell ($5.7K/$7.4K) as being in a Matchup to Target. I’ll admit that I am not used to considering the Dallas run defense as being stout. Yes, they’ve permitted the eighth-most YPC (4.5) and second-highest rate of carries resulting in 20-plus gains (3.26%). But, while those metrics offer obvious appeal, the Cowboys have actually only permitted the fourth-fewest FPG to RBs (20.3). Part of the reason is the high-ish percentage of the rushing production from QBs. In the end, the decision to push Mitchell down to final notes was the fact that the only matchup this season where he created a final line in excess of statistical expectation was way back in Week 7 with an 18/107/1 rushing line (22.7 FPs) against the Colts.
No idea what’s going on with George Kittle ($5.8K/$6.5K), but I’ve burned through enough bankroll dollars the last four weeks to be left in doubt. I have one LF GPP lineup invested in him this week. Even though Brandon Aiyuk ($5.2K/$6.1K) will have one of the fastest rising corner phenoms in the game in tow, Trevon Diggs, do not sleep on him this week in GPPs. In the last three weeks, Aiyuk only trails nine examples of the very best WRs in the game with his 231 receiving yards, and he’s tied for 12th with two TDs. I also have several investments in Jauan Jennings ($3.7K/$5.2K) this week. His 10/138/2 receiving line from the last three weeks may not elicit Samuel excitement, but those numbers are quite appealing when you take his WR17/WR14 pricing into account.
Not something that I like doing since I feel leaving the specific lineup construction to the individual is important but, just this once, here is a nearly complete DK lineup for everyone to play around with:
Since I never look at the ownership projections until after I finish Advanced Matchups, this GPP-centric lineup will need some tweaking around those percentages if you intend to submit it in a LF contest.
Cut through the fog to see the fools gold in these Francisqueños:
Trey Lance ($5.0K/$6.3K)
Jeff Wilson Jr. ($4.5K/$4.7K)
JaMycal Hasty ($4.0K/$4.8K)
Trey Sermon ($4.0K/$4.5K)
Mohamed Sanu ($3.0K/$4.6K)
Trent Sherfield ($3.0K/$4.6K)
Travis Benjamin ($3.0K/$4.5K)
Charlie Woerner ($2.5K/$4.2K)
Ross Dwelley ($2.5K/$4.1K)
Final notes on Dallas
Overall Backup Opportunity Level = Low
RB (Very Low):
- Carry Share (with Tony Pollard active): 3.7%
- Route Share (with Tony Pollard active): 1.1%
- Target Share (with Tony Pollard active): 1.0%
- Route Share (maneuvering around injuries): 10.2%
- Target Share (maneuvering around injuries): 11.7%
- Route Share: 24.7%
- Target Share: 19.8%
I was very impressed with the 49ers’ run defense last week against the Rams. They boasted one of the hottest RBs and O-lines from the last five-or-so weeks. And SF held Michel to 2.0 YPC on 21 attempts and, if you take away his long of 14 yards, make that 29 rushing yards on 21 carries. Am I expecting San Francisco holding Ezekiel Elliott ($6.1K/$7.7K) and Tony Pollard ($5.3K/$5.7K) to 1.38 YPC? No sir. But I am having a very difficult time trusting either back with RB2/RB2 and RB7/RB9 pricing, respectively. I’m 99% certain I do not have any stocks devoted to Zeke this week. It’s been nearly two full months since he’s covered his floor. But I know I did add Pollard to a LF GPP lineup-or-three.
CeeDee Lamb ($6.3K/$7.3K) just hasn’t been the same since being briefly benched in Week 15 for multiple dropped passes. I just don’t get it. Removing that game, Lamb has only dropped five-of-107 targets this season. I would much rather view it from a vacuum. Two bad games (Weeks 15 and 17) and two complete blowouts where the vertical volume was unnecessary (Weeks 16 and 18). That said, I am very concerned about Lamb facing Emmanuel Moseley’s coverage. He has limited his responsibilities to 0.20 FP/CS (17th-fewest among 79 qualified perimeter corners), 0.93 YPCS (22nd-fewest), 0.19 AY/CS (fourth-most), and a 72.1 TPR (13th-lowest). That high AY/CS number is more than offset by allowing the 23rd-lowest completion rate on deep targets.
One of my other favorite cheap wideouts this week is Cedrick Wilson Jr. ($4.3K/$6.0K). However, he will likely be a popular name after scoring three TDs and posting 25.3 FPG the last two weeks. And we definitely shouldn’t get too crazy excited since K'Waun Williams is expected to return this week. K1 has held his coverage to 0.20 FP/CS (seventh-fewest among 39 qualified nickelbacks), 0.89 YPCS (eighth-fewest), 0.05 AY/CS (seventh-fewest), and an 86.5 TPR (11th-lowest).
A window of opportunity may also exist for Dalton Schultz ($5.0K/$6.2K) to succeed against a 49ers’ defense that has been nearly airtight against TEs this season. Similar to Tyler Higbee laying a 6/55/2 line out of nowhere on San Fran, the Cowboys field a similar trio of WR threats to occupy the attention of their safeties. After being activated from IR last week, Blake Jarwin ($2.5K/$4.3K) is my favorite TE punt on the Sunday slate.
The D isn’t Big enough for these Tarrant County contestants:
Cooper Rush ($4.7K/$6.1K)
Corey Clement ($4.0K/$4.9K)
JaQuan Hardy ($4.0K/$4.6K)
Ito Smith ($4.0K/$4.6K)
Noah Brown ($3.0K/$4.7K)
Malik Turner ($3.0K/$4.6K)
Sean McKeon ($2.5K/$4.1K)
Jeremy Sprinkle ($2.5K/$4.2K)
Matchups to Target
Pat Freiermuth, PIT ($4.2K DK | $5.4K FD) vs. Chiefs’ Cover 2
I am not looking forward to this game. With all due respect to the Pittsburgh faithful, the last three games from the Steelers have been some of the least appealing games I’ve watched all season. During that time, it took Ben Roethlisberger 125 passing attempts to assemble 526 yards (4.2 YPA). Falling backwards into the playoffs on the heels of back-to-back wins over franchises with injured QBs only makes a front office and/or coaching cleanse unlikely. Please understand, I genuinely want what’s best for the Steelers. The low quality of the offense they are putting on the field cannot be excused away.
Someone other than Diontae Johnson must step forward to catch the ball since the route stems from Chase Claypool are too intricate for Roethlisberger’s snap-and-instant release game. When Pittsburgh lost 36-10 to Kansas City in Week 16, Pat Freiermuth was absent while recovering from his second concussion in less than a month. It may be a tad too late to target TEs facing KC since Ben Niemann has been light’s out coverage the last five weeks, but Baby Gronk has drawn 75% of his targets at a depth of nine yards-or-less. Not blown away? That’s the best I can do from this offense after Najee Harris appeared to dislocate his elbow last week. The video is below but heed my warning, it’s quite graphic:
Travis Kelce, KC ($6.7K DK | $7.5K FD) vs. Steelers’ Cover 3
Another guy missing from the Week 16 game between these teams was Travis Kelce. It was the only game during Patrick Mahomes or Tyreek Hill’s careers where Zeus wasn’t on the field. The Steelers had presented quite a challenge to opposing TEs until recently. Over the last four weeks, Pittsburgh has offered the position 13.0 FPG (10th-most). Keith Butler has relied upon the second-highest rate of Cover 3 this season.
Over his last three seasons, Kelce has spawned 0.53 FP/Rt (second-most), 2.56 YPRR (third-most), and a 27% target rate when facing Cover 3. And, in eight playoff appearances the last three years, Kelce has averaged 7.5 receptions, 87.3 YPG, one TD and 22.2 FPG on 9.5 targets/game. The biggest risk we’ll face will be from the pathetic Pitt offense providing the Chiefs with no reason to air the ball out.
Final notes on Pittsburgh
Overall Backup Opportunity Level = Low
RB (Very Low):
- Carry Share: 11.1%
- Route Share: 17.1%
- Target Share: 11.4% (only 2.2 targets/game)
- Route Share (maneuvering around injuries): 15.6%
- Target Share (maneuvering around injuries): 10.0%
- Route Share (with Pat Freiermuth active & without Eric Ebron): 30.0%
- Target Share (with Pat Freiermuth active & without Eric Ebron): 30.0%
Fun fact: it took the Pittsburgh Professional Football Club, Inc. ten seasons to breach better than a .500 winning percentage, only produced winning seasons seven times during their first 38 years in the NFL, and, prior to claiming the title as the team of the decade from 1972-1979, had generated a 38.6 winning percentage (176-270-10).
For those who have ever dislocated a joint for the first time, the resulting soreness is significant, many times bordering on debilitating when attempting to mobilize that area. I’m not all that surprised that Najee Harris ($6.6K/$8.0K) was able to rejoin last week’s game during the fourth quarter and overtime. Mark it down, he received a pain-relieving injection in order to do so. It’s widely known that Aaron Rodgers receives a similar injection in his broken toe prior to each game. But it’s also widely known from the game footage that any time that toe is touched, the pain appears to be palpable as it shoots up his body. All of that to state that Harris’ doctor can inject him whatever he wants, Najee is going to be in considerable pain if he is able to gain clearance, and, knowing the doctors employed by the Steelers, he will. I’m just not going to devote my precious bankroll (or) cap dollars to his RB1/RB1 pricing. Prove me wrong.
Keep in mind, exactly 50% of Diontae Johnson’s ($6.7K/$7.2K) 17.1 FPs from Week 16 against Kansas City was earned on the final, desperation throw from Big Ben. And that game was played by KC with their top cover corner, Rashad Fenton. We already know Roethlisberger is physically incapable of putting enough air on the ball to properly utilize Chase Claypool ($4.7K/$5.9K) in the offense. Putting Fenton and Charvarius Ward on the field is a complete overkill of epic proportions. Doing everything in my power to hold the upchuck back as I type it out, Ray-Ray McCloud III ($3.6K/$4.9K) may actually be peppered with enough volume to provide utility. Just be prepared to ingest a bunch of targets between the numbers at an average depth of five yards. However, if JuJu Smith-Schuster ($3.0K/$4.5K) manages to gain clearance from shoulder surgery, he’d obviously bump McCloud to the pine. And, with bottom-barrel pricing on both platforms, JJSS would be a very popular target. Zach Gentry ($2.7K/$4.5K) is another sneaky guy running routes in the all short-yardage, Roethlisberger comfort zone.
Send these blue-collars down the way of the Big Steel industry:
- Ben Roethlisberger ($5.2K/$6.4K)
- Mason Rudolph ($4.5K/$6.1K)
- Benny Snell Jr. ($4.2K/$4.9K)
- Kalen Ballage ($4.0K/$4.6K)
- Anthony McFarland Jr. ($4.0K/$4.6K)
- James Washington ($3.2K/$4.8K)
- Cody White ($3.0K/$4.5K)
- Kevin Rader ($2.5K/$4.0K)
Final notes on Kansas City
Overall Backup Opportunity Level = High
RB (Very High):
- Carry Share (with Clyde-Edwards-Helaire active): 44.6%
- Route Share (with Clyde-Edwards-Helaire active): 55.2%
- Target Share (with Clyde-Edwards-Helaire active): 63.0%
- Route Share: 24.1%
- Target Share: 21.5%
- Route Share: 26.6%
- Target Share: 14.9%
If the situation calls for it, Patrick Mahomes II ($7.3K/$8.7K) could absolutely go nuclear on the Steelers. But the chances of Pittsburgh's offense completely faceplanting stand at around 80-90%, if not even higher. This Sunday’s game will represent the first Wildcard appearance of Mahomes’ career. And the Steelers are merely a stepping stone toward advancement. Keep that exposure completely limited to LF GPPs. Clyde Edwards-Helaire ($5.5K/$6.6K) didn’t practice on Thursday. Not a good look.
If CEH is unable to take the field, Darrel Williams ($5.2K/$6.6K) will go from already being one of my top-three RBs to absolute MUST-ROSTER status in Cash/SE, and also as a guy holding plenty LF GPP appeal on the three-game slate. The Steelers are gift-wrapping 25.8 FPG to RBs the last four weeks (fourth-most). If CEH is out, McKinnon could confidently be pulled back from the sewage heap below. You can either have Deebo Samuel or Tyreek Hill ($7.3K/$8.0K), you can’t have both. Give me Samuel in what’s universally expected to be a competitive game.
Byron Pringle ($3.9K/$5.4K) managed to score a pair of TDs against Pittsburgh in Week 16. Running at least 70% of team routes in five of the last six games, and only falling behind Tyreek in target share, Pringle is another cheap source at wideout. Just be prepared for minimal production if the Steelers stall and the KC ground game blows up early. And both scenarios are extremely probable. Pretty much the same deal for Mecole Hardman ($4.1K/$5.7K), just from the perspective as the WR3 and as the fourth-or-fifth target in the pecking order.
Tear down the Troost Avenue Line/Wall, but keep these Kansas Citians off the Latitude 36 Bermuda Grass:
- Jerick McKinnon ($4.1K/$5.2K)
- Derrick Gore ($4.0K/$5.4K)
- Demarcus Robinson ($3.3K/$5.0K) L
- Josh Gordon ($3.0K/$4.6K)
- Marcus Kemp ($3.0K/$4.5K)
- Blake Bell ($2.6K/$4.3K)
- Noah Gray ($2.5K/$4.4K)
- Matt Bushman ($2.5K/$4.0K)
Quick Note: The pricing for MNF was pulled from the primetime slate.
Matchups to Target
James Conner, ARI ($6.2K DK | $8.0K FD) vs. Rams’ Cover 3 | 4 | 6
Perhaps the leading offensive candidate for the Comeback Player of the Year Award, James Conner flipped the narrative from washed-up prospect status in Pittsburgh, toward his current placement as one of the top power backs in the league this season. To think that the Cards managed to scoop Conner up with a backup-investment of a one-year, $1.75 million contract. A whopping 21 TDs later, Conner has melded perfectly with Kyler Murray’s ground game.
The Rams have held opposing offenses to 103.2 rushing YPG (sixth-fewest), 4.0 YPC (seventh-fewest), and 21.3 FPG to RBs (seventh-fewest). Yes, Conner has only averaged 2.6 YPC against LAR, but he’s scored four rushing TDs (22% of what the Rams have permitted), and he’s added an 11/110/0 receiving line on 11 targets toward 27.1 FPG. If Chase Edmonds manages to clear the injury report, his change-of-pace running style should only open the rushing lanes up for Conner to find better efficiency. The Terminator is going to be owned in upwards of 80% of primetime lineups. He is a Cash/SE staple and more than deserving of LF GPP attention.
Matthew Stafford, LAR ($6.2K DK | $7.6K FD) vs. Cardinals’ Cover 1 | 3 | 4 | 6
It hasn’t been pretty, it’s actually been quite painful to watch. An incredible 41.2% of Matthew Stafford’s INTs (seven-of-17) have been collected over the last three games. Fortunately for Stafford and the Rams, Arizona’s secondary will travel to Los Angeles this week. They field a defense without both of their starting perimeter CBs, Robert Alford and Marco Wilson. They do utilize Byron Murphy Jr. on the outside when opposing offenses play from 12-or-equally heavy personnel, but those snaps will be few and far between against the Rams.
With Antonio Hamilton and, likely, Breon Borders defending outside receivers, Vance Joseph is using a scheme rotation using top-15 rates of all sans Cover 2 of the most common shells. However, without his two starting CBs, Joseph has traded in that Cover 1 rate for Cover 2 the last three weeks in order to keep his replacement corners out of man-to-man situations.
If you read last week’s entry, you might remember me mentioning Russell Wilson as a member of some elite company across from Zone-heavy rotations. One of the other QBs on that exclusive list just happens to be Stafford. While his Cover 3 number has dipped this season, coming into the year, he ranked within the top-five QBs in FP/Db against Cover 2, 3, 4 and 6. Just remember that all we care about is the final line providing profit over floor, and this is a matchup that should allow Stafford to go for 25-plus for the sixth time this season.
Odell Beckham, LAR ($5.1K DK | $6.2K FD) vs. Antonio Hamilton, ARI
Baker Mayfield really did a number on Odell Beckham Jr.’s metrics in Cleveland. It was a terrible fit from the beginning since Mayfield is a Cover 1 QB and OBJ is a zone guy. Beckham will have his work cut out for him to mend his coverage profile, but we do have evidence of excellence against Cover 2. That will come in handy this week with Arizona utilizing a top-seven rate of Cover 2 the last two weeks.
Over the last three years, Odell has kindled 0.39 FP/Rt (19th-most), 1.95 YPRR (23rd-most), 11.2 YPT (19th-most), and a 128.6 TPR (12th-highest). Don’t be underwhelmed by those ranks, achieving that success under Mayfield is significant. Beckham will square off against Antonio Hamilton. The 2016 UDFA is delivering 0.29 FP/CS, 1.39 YPCS, 0.18 AY/CS, and a 96.7 TPR. The former three numbers would each rank in the bottom-15, if qualified.
Final notes on Arizona
Overall Backup Opportunity Level = Low
RB (Very Low):
- Carry Share (with both James Conner & Chase Edmonds active): 3.9%
- Route Share (with both James Conner & Chase Edmonds active): 0.0%
- Target Share (with both James Conner & Chase Edmonds active): 0.0%
- Route Share (with A.J. Green active & without DeAndre Hopkins): 12.2%
- Target Share (with A.J. Green active & without DeAndre Hopkins): 17.5%
- Route Share (with Zach Ertz): 16.2%
- Target Share (with Zach Ertz): 7.4%
One of few QBs who have managed to consistently cover against the Rams is Kyler Murray ($7.0K/$8.2K). Just keep those expectations to being a floor play, with a finite ceiling. I’m not feeling much upside from Chase Edmonds ($5.0K/$6.4K) this week, either. Conner is absorbing serious receiving volume from a role Edmonds had filled earlier in the season. The two compelling receiving options for the Cards this week are Christian Kirk ($5.3K/$6.1K) and A.J. Green ($4.9K/$5.6K).
Kirk is a registered Cover 4 and 6 killer. And Los Angeles just so happens to depend on the ninth-highest rate of Cover 4 and fourth-highest of Cover 6. AJG has averaged 20.0 FPs in two games against LAR this season. However, he benefited from DeAndre Hopkins presence both weeks. With Nuk out of the picture, Jalen Ramsey is going to be well aware of Green’s previous success.
Antoine Wesley ($3.1K/$5.2K) would be in consideration in a decent face-off with Darious Williams, but he is well on his way toward establishing himself as a Cover 1-only wideout. Since the Rams have nearly been without flaw in their coverage of TEs this season, Zach Ertz ($4.5K/$5.8K) is really only a consideration if you doubt Freiermuth and don’t have the cap dollars to invest in Kelce. That leaves Kirk as the superior option at receiver for the Cardinals.
The following Hoozdo Hahoodzo can be left out of your Gadsden Purchase:
- Colt McCoy ($5.0K/$6.1K)
- Eno Benjamin ($4.0K/$5.3K)
- Jonathan Ward ($4.0K/$4.6K)
- Rondale Moore ($3.7K/$5.0K)
- Greg Dortch ($3.0K/$4.8K)
- Andy Isabella ($3.0K/$4.6K)
- Demetrius Harris ($2.5K/$4.1K)
- Darrell Daniels ($2.5K/$4.2K)
Final notes on Los Angeles
Overall Backup Opportunity Level = Very Low
RB (Very Low):
- Carry Share (with Sony Michel as the lead back): 10.4%
- Route Share (with Sony Michel as the lead back): 11.2%
- Target Share (with Sony Michel as the lead back): 21.7% (only 0.8 targets/game)
WR (Very Low):
- Route Share (with Odell Beckham Jr.): 7.2%
- Target Share (with Odell Beckham Jr.): 7.3% (All to Bennett Skowronek)
TE (Very Low):
- Route Share (with Tyler Higbee active): 10.3%
- Target Share (with Tyler Higbee active): 4.7%
Fun fact: don’t set your heart on finding very many physical rams (male sheep) wildly roaming the Los Angeles countryside; LAR co-founder, former Ohio State fullback Damon “Buzz” Wetzel chose the name “Rams” as an homage to the Fordham Rams, his favorite team.
I am back on the Sony Michel ($5.6K/$6.7K) bandwagon this week. Even with Cam Akers stealing away a handful of touches, Michel is still the clear bell-cow. Just click on Cooper Kupp’s ($9.0K/$10.0K) name and don’t look back in Cash/SE. He is going to see upwards of 15 targets on Monday night. It’s a level of volume that completely nullifies Byron Murphy Jr.’s coverage skill. If you subscribe to my view of the Pittsburgh-KC game offering little firepower,
Van Jefferson Jr. ($4.5K/$5.7K) is another option to keep in mind with Breon Borders and all of his 17 snaps in coverage from the last 10 weeks in opposition. Tyler Higbee ($4.2K/$5.9K) did all he could to assist the Rams toward victory last week. The odds are heavily stacked against him repeating the effort. If LAR has nearly been without flaw in their coverage of TEs this season, Arizona has been flawless.
The Pacific Ring of Fire is unstable under these :
- John Wolford ($4.0K/$6.1K)
- Cam Akers ($5.1K/$5.4K)
- Jake Funk ($4.0K/$4.6K)
- Buddy Howell ($4.0K/$4.5K)
- Bennett Skowronek ($3.0K/$4.6K)
- Landen Akers ($3.0K/$4.5K)
- Kendall Blanton ($2.5K/$4.2K)
- Johnny Mundt ($2.5K/$4.0K)
- Brycen Hopkins ($2.5K/$4.1K)
- Jacob Harris ($2.5K/$4.0K)