Detroit Lions (1-10-1, 8-4 ATS) at Denver Broncos (6-6, 6-6), 4:05 p.m.
Brolley’s Lions Stats and Trends
The Lions have covered four straight games since their bye, which coincides with when Dan Campbell took over play-calling duties.
Detroit has covered in four straight road games, and they’ve played under the total in five straight road games.
The Lions are 8-2 toward unders in their last 10 games.
Jamaal Williams looked primed to step directly into D’Andre Swift’s old role after playing 63% of the snaps after Swift went down with his shoulder injury early on Thanksgiving Day. HC Dan Campbell had other plans with a week to prepare for their showdown with the Vikings in Week 13. Godwin Igwebuike stepped into the passing-back role with Swift out of the lineup, running nearly three times the routes (25 to 9) that Williams did against Minnesota. Williams still turned in 17/71 rushing but he caught his only target for nine yards for a disappointing 9.0 FP on a 47% snap share in Week 13. Williams was noticeably absent late in the game with the Lions chasing points, which is a major concern moving forward with the Lions entering this week as eight-point road underdogs to the Broncos. Campbell has certainly shown he’ll force-feed carries to his top backs no matter the score, but Williams has the chance to be wiped out if the Lions fall behind by multiple scores this week. Denver is giving up 4.4 YPC to RBs this season after Clyde Edwards-Helaire managed 14/54 rushing last week.
Jared Goff finally picked up his first victory without Sean McVay, and the Lions finally got off the schneid in dramatic fashion on Goff’s game-winning TD pass as time expired against the Vikings in Week 13. Goff completed 25/41 passes for 296 yards (7.2 YPA), three TDs, and one INT for his first 20+ FP performance since the first two games of the season. Goff had been pretty miserable with just three TD passes in six games in Weeks 5-12. The Broncos just limited Patrick Mahomes to 184 scoreless yards and a 6.3 YPA average last week.
T.J. Hockenson has been revived in recent weeks, reaching double-digit FP in three straight since he laid a goose egg in Week 10 against the Steelers. He’s found the end zone in consecutive games after failing to score in eight straight games in Weeks 2-11, and he’s reeled of 10+ FP in six of his last seven contests. Travis Kelce flopped with 3/27 receiving on eight targets in this matchup last week.
Josh Reynolds has posted a combined 7/139/1 receiving on 12 targets in Weeks 12-13 for double-digit FP in each contest. Amon-Ra St. Brown has 4+ catches in seven of his last eight games, and he finally reached double-digit FP again in Week 13 for the first time since Week 5. He posted a career-best 10/86/1 receiving on 12 targets (29% share) against the Vikings, and Goff went to him for the game-winning, 11-yard touchdown as time expired to secure Detroit’s first win of the season. The Broncos are giving up the third-fewest receptions per game (11.0) but they are allowing a generous 13.6 YPR to WRs.
Brolley’s Broncos Stats and Trends
The Broncos are 5-1 toward unders in their last six home games.
Denver is 1-3 ATS in its last four games as a favorite after opening the season 3-0 in that role.
The Broncos finally unleashed Javonte Williams on the world last week, and he lived up to the hype with 29/178/1 scrimmage against the Chiefs. The genie will likely be put back in the bottle this week with Melvin Gordon (hip) trending toward returning to the lineup, but Williams did have 100+ scrimmage yards in two of his last three games before Week 13. Gordon did see his two lowest snap shares of the season (43% and 42%) before sitting last week, so Javonte has been nudging ahead in this backfield recently. Gordon has been solid with 9.8+ FP in each of his last six games. Both backs should be heavily featured with the Broncos entering as eight-point home favorites, and the Lions are giving up the fourth-most FPG (26.9) to RBs this season.
Teddy Bridgewater hasn’t thrown for multiple TDs in each of his last five games after doing it in five of his first seven contests. He’s reached 20+ FP just once in his last six games thanks to a rushing touchdown in Week 9, and he threw for 250+ yards last week for the first time since Week 6. Andy Dalton posted 317/1 passing for 16.8 FP in this matchup back in Week 12.
Jerry Jeudy is the only usable fantasy option in Denver right now, and he’s been a low-end WR3 option with between 11.1-12.9 FP in three of his last four games. He at least has 4+ catches in four of his five games since returning to the lineup off of his ankle injury. Courtland Sutton has topped out at six FP in a single game in his six contests with Jeudy while Tim Patrick has managed just 6/49 receiving over the last three games. The Lions are giving up a whopping 14.3 YPR to WRs this season, and Justin Jefferson and K.J. Osborn combined for 15/229/2 receiving on 21 targets.
Noah Fant has been the definition of mediocrity at tight end with fewer than 11 FP in each of his last five games. He scored three TDs in a five-game span in Weeks 2-6 but he hasn’t found paydirt since. The Lions have given up 11+ FP in three straight games after Tyler Conklin got them for 7/56 receiving on nine targets.
Barfield’s Pace and Tendencies
Pace (seconds in between plays): 28.9 (23rd)
Plays per game: 59.4 (26th)
Pass: 60.8% (17th) | Run: 39.2% (16th)
Pace: 30.6 (29th)
Plays per game: 62.3 (19th)
Pass: 60.7% (18th) | Run: 39.3% (15th)
All pace / play data is from the last eight weeks.
We kick off the afternoon games this week with a sluggish Lions-Broncos game that could end up being even slower overall if Denver runs away with it as the spread suggests. The Broncos are completely content to slow down to a snail’s pace and let Teddy Bridgewater just manage the game. Over the last eight weeks, the Broncos are the seventh-most run-heavy team (52.5%) and are dead last in pace at a clock-draining 31.8 seconds per play when they are ahead on the scoreboard. So, even with Melvin Gordon back after one missed game, I feel good about Javonte Williams’ volume here.
Huber’s Key Matchup Notes
I’m going to make Jared Goff prove last week’s numbers are more than an outlier. Another game without their most dynamic player, D’Andre Swift, will be a death sentence for this offense against the outstanding Denver defense.
You’ll need to pluck individuals directly from the home of his parents to find another individual with more belief in the kid’s abilities than me. But Amon-Ra St. Brown is an easy fade this week in an overwhelmingly difficult matchup for every individual on their offense.
I was ultra-excited to put my Javonte Williams love into words for this matchup. That was until Melvin Gordon III passed along that he was feeling well enough to play. Major bummer.
Dolan’s Vantage Points
NOTE: THIS GAME HAS BEEN AFFECTED BY LATE COVID NEWS. LIONS RB JAMAAL WILLIAMS IS LIKELY OUT, WHILE BRONCOS RB MIKE BOONE WAS ALSO PLACED ON THE LIST. HOPEFULLY, THE BRONCOS
The poor Lions. They can’t even celebrate their first win of the season without a plague making its way around their locker room, including QB Jared Goff.
As a flu bug spreads through the team, the Lions took proactive measures to contain their outbreak. https://t.co/2gvvGmffwL— Justin Rogers (@Justin_Rogers) December 8, 2021
In their estimated practice report, Lions listed six players out with an illness today: Brockers, Goff, Jackson, Penisini, Vaitai, Williams.— Justin Rogers (@Justin_Rogers) December 8, 2021
Sewell was here, but still had an illness designation from last week limiting him.
Clearly, the flu has hit Detroit's trenches hard.
It’s a rough bit of news going into a matchup against a much better defense than the Vikings, the Lions’ opponents last week, had. It’s going to be a tough draw for Goff to get the ball to Josh Reynolds against the perimeter defense of Patrick Surtain and Ronald Darby. And keep in mind this is a defense that just held Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce to a combined 5 catches for 49 yards, so it’s not a great spot for TJ Hockenson or Amon-Ra St. Brown either — the Broncos could get elite slot CB Bryce Callahan back this week, which would really hurt St. Brown.
Meanwhile, TE TJ Hockenson is dealing with a hand injury and is doubtful to play.
T.J. Hockenson not taking part in Lions open portion of practice Thursday. Had his left hand wrapped pretty good. He was listed as limited on Wednesday’s practice report with a hand injury.— Tim Twentyman (@ttwentyman) December 9, 2021
The Lions don’t figure to have RB D’Andre Swift (shoulder) again this week, but last week that didn’t mean the bell-cow role for Jamaal Williams that we had envisioned. Williams didn’t even play 50% of the snaps last week. He got 17 of the 24 RB carries, but ran just 9 routes while Godwin Igwebuike ran 28. Williams is a TD-dependent RB2 if Swift doesn’t play, based on usage last week.
UPDATE: WILLIAMS IS OUT WITH COVID-19. IGWEBUIKE IS A PPR RB2 AND JERMAR JEFFERSON IS THE LIKELY EARLY-DOWN OPTION.
Speaking of RB usage, how about that Javonte Williams? Without Melvin Gordon (hip), Williams dominated in Week 13 against the Chiefs, only held back by a truly atrocious QB performance from Teddy Bridgewater.
Here’s Scott Barrett from the XFP Report on one of our favorite targets this off-season, who finally got his chance to shine last week:
“By my favorite RB-stat (also the stickiest and most-predictive), Williams is easily the most efficient RB in football. He came into last week’s game averaging 0.33 missed tackles forced per touch, which not only led the league, but ranks best ever in PFF history (since 2007, of 733 qualifiers). And this comes one year after setting the PFF College record for missed tackles forced per touch (0.47).
Javonte Williams— Scott Barrett (@ScottBarrettDFB) December 4, 2021
2020: 0.47 missed tackles forced per touch*
2021: 0.33 missed tackles forced per touch**
* most in PFF College history (2014-2021)
* most in PFF NFL history (2007-2021), out of 733 qualifying seasons [min. 100 rush attempts]
Clearly, he’s awesome, and really good at football. And, as such, we have long awaited his ascendance to bell cow-status. Or, if not a full-on bell cow-workload, at least a larger share of the work than the 50/50 committee we’ve seen all season — technically he's seen 48% of the backfield XFP to Gordon's 52% in games both were active.
That full-on bell cow workload finally came last week, albeit by way of injury to Gordon (hip). And it was glorious. Williams played on 78% of the team’s snaps, earning 23 carries and 9 targets. He scored 30 fantasy points on a 26.9-point expectation — or, the most fantasy points and the 2nd-most XFP among all RBs on the week. And, well, that’s his upside.
So, the question now is: “What happens next? Has Williams earned (at least) a 70/30 split moving forward? Could he be a full-on bell cow? Or do the Broncos simply go back to the 50/50 committee we saw prior to Gordon’s injury?”
Gordon hasn’t been bad at all (14th of 31 qualifiers by missed tackles forced per touch), but he also hasn’t been quite as good as Williams, who is looking fairly elite. And a full-on usurping of Gordon wouldn’t be unprecedented.
On average, rookie RBs see a 54% jump in carries, a 40% jump in targets, and a 50% jump in fantasy points across the second half of their rookie season. And of the rookies who made the greatest second-half leap, most were similarly highly-efficient and highly-regarded rookies carrying high-end draft capital.
But, unfortunately, I don’t think Gordon is going to “go quietly into that goodnight.” And HC Vic Fangio was asked about this on Tuesday, and answered, “They’re two good players, and we’ll use them both.”
But any bit of extra work for Williams could go a long way. For instance, if this backfield tips 60/40 in Williams’ favor, he’d rank 18th in XFP/G (14.6), up from 28th (12.8). If it’s 70/30, he’d rank 10th (17.0). And if 80/20, he’d rank 4th, tied with Jonathan Taylor (19.4).”
I don’t think Gordon is exactly Marlon Mack, but it feels like forcing Gordon into a rotation is a mistake like forcing Mack into one with Jonathan Taylor. But as Scott did note, I do believe that Williams has earned a “lead” role, and given how Teddy threw the ball last week, they should run it quite a bit in a good matchup. I just think that coach Vic Fangio is likely to make a -EV decision here, which renders Williams an RB2 until further notice. Case in point:
Melvin Gordon and Javonte Williams’ carries will be decided purely on Melvin’s health, per Fangio.— Zac Stevens (@ZacStevensDNVR) December 9, 2021
Of course, it is important to note that these are people, and Broncos fans certainly haven’t been quiet about their desire to get more carries for Williams, which Gordon has surely heard.
Melvin Gordon would “love” to be with the Broncos next year— Zac Stevens (@ZacStevensDNVR) December 9, 2021
“I want to be here. I don’t think many people want me here, as far as the fans. I’ve been seeing a lot of stuff. And I understand. I understand. I get it. But I love it here. I love the guys here… I’d love to be here”
Meanwhile, it’s getting impossible to put Courtland Sutton into a lineup. He averages just 4.9 FPG in games that Jerry Jeudy also played over the last two seasons. Given the Broncos gave him a $60 million contract anyway, I think that tells you they believe the problem is Bridgewater.