Week 9 starts with the Packers visiting the 49ers in a 50.5 total game with Green Bay favored by 5. Both teams have some major injury (or illness) situations to evaluate, so this is going to be a weird one.
The Packers’ AJ Dillon tested positive for Covid, and Jamaal Williams was also ruled out due to close exposure. Aaron Jones is officially questionable but the Tuesday report said the Packers are pessimistic about him playing. Green Bay’s medical staff is notoriously conservative with injuries, so in all likelihood, Jones is out, which would leave Dexter Williams and Tyler Ervin as the only running backs on the roster. I use the term “running back” loosely for Ervin; he’s mainly a special teams guy who has four carries on the season and has played over 90% of his offensive snaps lined up as a receiver. Williams saw five carries in his 2019 rookie season. This is a thin, thin group (Green Bay may also call up another practice squad guy or sign someone, we’ll have to see). Despite a myriad of injuries, San Francisco still ranks seventh in run defense DVOA, so the matchup is not strong. Both Ervin and Williams are min price, so there’s some value here, but it would not surprise me at all to see the Packers adopt a pass-heavy game plan that leaves neither of the running backs contending for the optimal lineup. At what I expect will be very high tournament ownership, I will probably be underweight here, but Williams should get the two-down role and thus offer a safe floor for cash games if you need the value.
In the passing game, we have Aaron Rodgers vs. a 17th-ranked pass defense by DVOA in a high total game and with no run game to speak of. Sign me up, please. Davante Adams is, as always, the target hog of this offense with 10+ targets in every healthy game and seven(!) touchdowns on the season. Rodgers is never shy about just peppering his top receiver with volume. Rodgers and Adams should be the highest owned plays in this showdown but I would say they deserve to be. Allen Lazard practiced twice last week but was not activated from injured reserve; I will venture a guess that he plays here, but we don’t know for sure yet. If Lazard returns, he should resume the number two role opposite Adams with Marquez Valdes-Scantling rounding out the receiving corps. The last time we saw all of these guys healthy was back in the first two weeks of the season, and in those games, no other wideout saw the field for Green Bay. Lazard at $7,400 is more expensive than I would like given Adams’ market share dominance (his one really big game came when Adams was out in Week 3), but any receiver in this offense brings a strong ceiling. MVS’s price has fallen all the way to $3,400 after a few disappointing weeks, but we know the kind of player he is; he’s a deep threat receiver who can pay off with just one or two catches. Last week was a dud for him because Rodgers wasn’t throwing deep bombs in a high-wind game, but the opportunity should be there for him assuming he plays the same role. The one question in my mind is if MVS’s mediocre performance the last few weeks could bump him out of the starting role with Lazard back. Maybe Equanimeous St. Brown, Darius Shepherd, or even Malik Taylor take over (that list is in order of what I would consider their probability of an increased role). Those guys are all MME darts that aren’t likely to play much unless a role change occurs, or unless Lazard is somewhat limited in his first game back. At tight end, Robert Tonyan has settled in as the lead option; he’s a bit overpriced against a defensive scheme that shuts down tight end production effectively, but with five touchdowns on the year he isn’t completely off the radar. Jace Sternberger has been playing more and performing well and is a viable non-awful punt play, while Mercedes Lewis is a blocker who may accidentally catch a touchdown.
On the San Francisco side, it looks like the running backs will be JaMycal Hasty and Jerick McKinnon. Against Seattle in Week 8, when they were down big the entire game, Hasty played 41% of the snaps and saw 12 carries plus a target. McKinnon played more snaps and saw four targets as the 49ers played catch-up. If the game stays close, and in a fantastic run-game matchup (especially with a backup QB under center), Hasty should see 15+ carries; at $7,200 that’s a bargain, though there’s risk here if the Packers take a commanding lead. McKinnon is overpriced for his likeliest workload after letting him be the lead back in Week 4, the 49ers have treated him like a passing-down back only. The 49ers may call up another back as well, or they could decide to use fullback Kyle Juszcyzk a little more; Juszcyzk saw a season-high six opportunities in Week 8 against New England, though just two last week. He has some big-play ability and can get a touchdown at a low price so he’s not a crazy play.
In the passing game, Jimmy Garoppolo and George Kittle are both out, leaving backup Nick Mullens to start at QB (remember, Mullens was benched mid-game a few weeks back in favor of C.J. Beathard; that could happen again here). Mullens has had some decent games as the starter but $9,200 is a lot to pay here; Draftkings has priced up QBs so much in Showdown (which is a good thing, to make them non-lock plays) that it makes sense to use 49ers receivers without him. The receivers themselves are uninspiring but inexpensive. Brandon Aiyuk is the most expensive at $8,600 and should be the favorite to lead the team in opportunity. (UPDATE: Bourne and Aiyuk Out - Covid) Trent Taylor is just $400 for a receiver who played 50% of the snaps last week and saw four targets; his role should be strong, and he’s one of the better value plays on the slate (I expect Williams will be much higher owned than Taylor, making Taylor a good ownership pivot). No other San Francisco receiver saw the field last week except Dante Pettis, who has since been released, but we can guess that Richie James or Kevin White might mix in for a minor role. At tight end, Jordan Reed saw a limited practice on Tuesday and could possibly play; if he does, he’s a decent option, though at $5,800 and with not having played even 50% of the snaps in any game this year, we don’t know what we can count on from him. If Reed misses, Ross Dwelley should play all the snaps he can handle. Dwelley is not really a great receiver, but we know Mullens loves to throw to his tight end (Dwelley saw four targets last week with Kittle leaving the game late). At $4,800, he’s not appropriately priced for the volume he’s likely to see here (and he’s a non-crazy play even if Reed plays if you think Reed is limited and you can get Dwelley at very low ownership).
Whew. This game is hard to predict because of all of the injuries, but as far as how it’s likely to play out: San Francisco should try to run the ball as much as possible, which is what they want to do even when everyone is healthy, but especially now that they’re missing their starting QB and their two top receiving options. Green Bay should come in with a pass-heavy game plan. The 49ers are likely to do well on the ground, but the Packers are likely to eventually take a lead. The question is if they can build a big enough lead to force the 49ers to become more aggressive earlier than the 4th quarter. Despite being a 49ers fan, I have a hard time seeing how they win this game. Some other ways the game could play out:
We’ve seen teams really trample the Packers on the ground. If the 49ers score on their first couple of drives while Green Bay stalls out, that could force an even more aggressive Packers game plan, while the 49ers would count their blessings and try to run out the clock.
I normally think about how 5-1 home team onslaughts are almost always viable, but it’s hard for me to envision that in this game (which, of course, makes a 5-1 49ers stack a very, very low-owned play). It’s much easier, however, for me to see a 5-1 Packers stack succeeding. If the inverse of what I wrote above is true and it’s the Packers who score a couple of touchdowns quickly while the 49ers struggle, that could force San Francisco to try to play catch-up, which with a beat-up receiving corps and a backup quarterback is an awfully dubious proposition.
My cash game pool is Rodgers, Adams, Mullens, Hasty, the kickers, Bourne, Taylor, and Dexter Williams.
My favorite captains for tournaments are Adams, Hasty, and Rodgers.
SOME GROUPS TO CONSIDER:
At most 1 kicker and most 1 defense as (almost) always
Pair captain receivers with their QBs (or consider boosting the QB if using a captain receiver if you don’t want 100% exposure to this pairing - discussed in further detail in the 2020 update to my Advanced Showdowns course)
I will note that, given the pricing and value available, I am more inclined to force this pairing than normal here.
If using an RB captain, apply a negative correlation to the opposing defense and kicker (you can see how to do so in my FantasyLabs tutorial video)
Pair captain QBs with at least 2 receivers
At most 1 of St. Brown, Taylor, and Shepherd
I’m considering a rule of at most 1 of Ervin and Dexter Williams, but I’m not sure about it. I’m expecting high ownership on both, and it feels unlikely to me that they both put up really strong scores (especially as Ervin seems unlikely to see a whole bunch of carries suddenly). I don’t think you’re crazy to roster both, though. I’m not sure where I’ll end up here, and I might just negatively correlate them instead of creating an exclusionary rule.
At most 1 of James and whatever other random receiver is active for San Francisco
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