This week, we'll discuss the following topics:
Quarterback Injury Impact
Drew Brees may miss this weekend's game vs. Jacksonville. How would you project the assets from the team with the backup quarterback playing, the quarterback included?
Justin Howe: I generally don't project much (if any) drop-off in passing opportunity. When we sit down to project a quarterback's pass attempts, more important than quarterback quality is expected game flow, which we typically adjust positively with a backup in place. The drop-off from starter to reserve is much more pronounced at quarterback than at any other position in sports, and no injury affects a team more. So anytime a backup steps in, we can expect a lower win expectancy for the team and therefore, at least in theory, more passing situations. In a nutshell: when projecting a passing game like this, any attempts lost in the perception of "the team will throw less without the starter" are gained and then some by our change to the expected game flow.
And while I expect overall passing volume to stay static or sometimes increase, I pretty much always downgrade the team's receiving targets. With a backup, we're almost always subbing in a less accurate, less efficient passer, and one that lacks the every-practice-every-game connection with the receivers that the starter enjoys.
Jeff Pasquino: Great response by Justin; I agree. One thing though with backup quaterbacks: if they are inexperienced, run for the hills. If they are a capable backup and not ancient, I am not too scared away, especially for teams that have great supporting casts. Were we afraid of A.J. McCarron last week? Yes, because he is inexperienced. The problem now is that backup quarterbacks that are decent are few and far between (speaking to the lack of depth league-wide at the position). That wasn't always the case, but it is in the league today.
The opposing team may often go overlooked; does a situation like this ever change your opinion of those players as well? Would it make the opposing passing game players less attractive choices? Would it make the opposing running back a better play due to positive game script?
Howe: With the new game profile expectations that I described above, we make slight adjustments to the peripherals. We now expect this team to struggle more and likely lose its game, so we can tweak its running backs downward and the opposing backs upward, if only by a hair. And we'll upgrade the opposing defense, of course, because the track record for fantasy defenses vs. poor or backup quarterbacks is fantastic.
As for the opposing passing game players, there is probably no net change. Take the Jacksonville-New Orleans example (assuming Brees doesn't play). In theory, of course, Bortles' attempt projection should drop, since the Jaguars' path to a run-heavy script gets clearer without Brees in the lineup. But I still see this matchup as fairly even, and I don't foresee the Jaguars clinging to a lead on the road. By my projections, Bortles is slated for a solid 35.9 attempts, and I don't think that should change.
Pasquino: Focusing specifically on this one matchup, I would love to say that I'm 100% on Blake Bortles this week, but I am struggling to do that. Jacksonville just lost a winnable game at home to Atlanta, ending their playoff chances (which were slim), and that down note could negatively impact the motivation for the Jaguars. The Saints defense, however, is one to target, and the Jaguars are all about the pass with a lacking run game. Bortles has 31 touchdown passes, fifth in the league, and he could easily get two or three this week. To really maximize his value, though, I would hope Brees suits up and makes this a 34-31 type shootout, increasing the value for both.
Dan Hindery: As far as the Jaguars offense, I don’t see too much impact if Brees doesn’t play. The Jaguars haven’t been a team that has been able to just salt away opponents with their running game when they get ahead. They have been forced to keep passing with the lead. They are also amongst the league’s most pass-happy teams in the red zone (Bortles has 88 red zone passing attempts through 14 games), so it’s likely that most of their touchdowns will come through the air. Plus, even if it decreases the odds of a shootout, the absence of Brees has some benefits for the Jaguars offense as well. The Saints offense has done a good job of putting together long drives at home and limiting their opponent’s number of possessions. No Brees probably means shorter drives and more possessions for the Jaguars.
Discuss how you handle this situation from a cash game and from a GPP perspective.
Howe: For the team with the backup playing, we're generally not sure as to how the volume will be distributed. We rarely have a body of work that suggests which receivers he tends to target most, whether the coaching staff trusts him to throw deep balls and tight passes across the middle, etc. So while there's still solid volume in play, it's far less predictable when we spread it throughout the offense. And for that reason, their entire offense tends to shift away from stable cash-game value toward GPP-only use.
Jeff, we haven't heard from you. Give us a bold prediction on how things will go in New Orleans on Sunday if Brees can't go.
Jeff Haseley: First of all, Justin hit the nail on the head that we should expect a drop off of production from the Saints this week if Brees doesn't play. I still think there may be some value for the Saints offense if he sits. Luke McCown played well in a loss at Carolina this year, but McCown is no longer active after being placed on I.R. earlier this year. The Saints backup quarterback is now Matt Flynn. We've seen some late season "Flynn-tastic" moments before, most notably his performance with the Packers against the Lions in Week 17 of 2011 when he passed for 480 yards and six touchdowns. If Flynn can come anywhere close to those numbers again, he'll have a job next year.
The likelihood of a positive game seems far-fetched, but there is a glimmer of hope that he is capable of at least doing something. The Saints and Jaguars matchup has the look and feel of a back and forth game, which favors the quarterbacks, especially the home quarterback. At a price tag of $5,000, Flynn could reach 4x value if he can stay afloat in a back and forth game that seems like a crash course for multiple touchdowns from each team. I can definitely see Flynn as a option for GPPs because the game script seems to favor both teams finding success against their opponent. Flynn has enough veteran knowledge, experience, and leadership to come in and make an impact. I like his chances more if he is in comeback mode. I don't necessarily think he's the type of quarterback who can command a strong performance from the start. It will take the opposing defense to play some prevent style in order for him to flourish. Again, this is all contingent upon Brees being unable to play.
Seattle's defense is in a prime matchup this week. They're at home, they're favored by 13+, and the game total is hovering around 40.5. They seem like a cash game lock...except for the fact that their situation was basically the exact same last week, albeit with a slightly higher 42 point over/under.
Seattle produced just 9.0 points on DraftKings last week. Do you expect much more this week? If so, why?
Justin Howe: They're as solid as they come (remember, we follow the herd in cash contests), but they're not dominant over the field. Dominant teams often allow a lot of garbage time opportunity, where even bad offenses rack up yardage and scores, and their defensive talent doesn't come as much into play. Points allowed is such a fickle measure that it can't be the primary yardstick to measure D/ST options; sack and turnover potential are the deciding factors for scoring value. So Kansas City looks like the clear pick to me. They share similar garbage concerns, but play an offense (Cleveland) that lacks a run game and will have the ball in the air all day. Kansas City looks ripe for another day heavy on sacks and turnovers.
Jeff Pasquino: I'm more into Kansas City, to be honest. Some of the appeal of Seattle is generating turnovers and also returning a kick now and then. The Chiefs had two scores last week in Baltimore, and they are red hot, hosting those same Browns that we loved Seattle against last week. Seattle only gave up one touchdown, but they didn't have to bottle up playmakers like Todd Gurley and Tavon Austin. One touchdown for each and that Seattle defense loses a lot of value. The Chiefs at $4,200 are about the same price as Seattle, $4,300, so for me that's an easy call.
I also think Pittsburgh is in play at $3,100 against a mediocre-at-best Baltimore team with nothing at stake.
Dan Hindery: I agree with Justin and Jeff that the opposing team total shouldn’t be the primary consideration for D/STs. The St. Louis offense is only giving up 1.3 sacks per game and is averaging only 0.8 interceptions per game. Both those numbers are very strong. Seattle’s defense has been averaging 2.5 sacks per game (which is pretty close to league average) and 0.8 interceptions per game (which is slightly below league average). On paper, this looks likely to be another matchup where Seattle is able to hold the opposing offense in check, but not necessarily rack up the sacks, turnovers and big plays that lead to big D/ST scoring.
I like Jeff’s pick of Pittsburgh as a better D/ST option. The Ravens are throwing 1.4 interceptions per game (1.7 per game over their last three), and the Steelers defense has been averaging just under 3.0 sacks per game. With the Steelers expected to jump ahead early and force Baltimore to drop back and throw often, this sets up as a game in which the odds are pretty good for Pittsburgh to record multiple sacks and force some turnovers.
Jeff Haseley: Looking deeper into the offensive struggles of the Rams, they have the fewest number of plays per game in the league (56.9) compared to Seattle (64.2). The reason behind that is their paltry league low 4.60 plays per drive (imagine that without Gurley). Long story short, the Rams aren't on the field long enough to give up many turnovers, but they still do give up some. Their 21 giveaways is middle of the road in NFL standards, so what little time they have to make mistakes, they are still making them. Seattle has 20 takeaways this year, which is also surprisingly middle of the road, near average. One strength of Seattle's is that they are efficient in scoring off turnovers +59 net turnover points (81 points on takeaways and 21 points allowed on giveaways). Another important stat to take note of, the Rams have given up only 18 sacks this year, which is the fewest in the league.
So what does this mean for the Seattle D/ST outlook this week? It's not jumping off the charts as a great match up, which leads me to believe the price tag of $4,300 (the highest price for a DST this week) doesn't yield enough value to confidently start.
Many sources are assuming that Karlos Williams will start for Buffalo in LeSean McCoy's absence. However, it was Mike Gillislee who entered the game first for Buffalo following McCoy's injury and who began the next full possession post-McCoy.
How do you view the Buffalo backfield this week? Do you see either Williams or Gillislee as roster-worthy? If so, would you dare take a gamble on their low prices in cash games, or leave it strictly as a GPP dice-roll?
Justin Howe: Both of these guys are explosive, and the Bills offense has allowed for very strong RB value all year, so I was excited to see their Week 16 prices. Unfortunately, neither came in cheaply. Rather than pricing season-long number two Williams around $5,000 and Gillislee as a sheer punt play, which is what I expected, the DraftKings algorithm spat out both at low-end RB2 salaries. I'll be paying attention to the Bills practice reps this week, but I seriously doubt I'll have any cash exposure to either. Both are good enough to post a RB1 week, but neither lacks playing time or has played poorly enough to peg as the clear backup. I can't pay a RB2 cost for this low of a floor.
Jeff Pasquino: This screams committee to me. Gillislee has more explosion now because it's December, and he has fresh legs. I don't think he'd be as explosive if it was September and defenses were fresher. Also, Williams is banged up too, so that leads me to think that this will be a split backfield against Dallas, which is troublesome because the Cowboys have not been very good lately against running backs. I would love to have one of them as the clear starter as Justin said, especially at the price you have to pay for them ($4,500 each), but with a RBBC scenario you need 13.5 points for cash and 18 for GPP. Both have that within their reach, but the floors for both are too low to count on either hitting a cash value. Unfortunately, I think you have to look elsewhere for RB value this week.
You guys seem lukewarm at best. Does anyone really like either of these guys this week?
Dan Hindery: I’m more intrigued with Williams than either Jeff or Justin seem to be. For one, I think you have to take the Week 15 usage with a major grain of salt. When McCoy went down, the Bills were trailing 21-3 (and then quickly fell behind 28-3). That’s the type of game script that favors Gillislee, who is very good in the passing game. It also didn’t make a ton of sense to rush back a banged-up rookie in a game that was almost out of reach.
The Dallas defense has given up some big games to opposing running backs, including a combined 50+ DraftKings points to Eddie Lacy and James Starks in Week 14. This is a nice spot for the Bills backs, and Williams has been impressive whenever given an opportunity (averaging just under 6.0 yards per carry on the season). He’s also been scoring touchdowns at a high rate (one per every 11 touches on the season).
As long as the reports leading up to the game are positive on Williams’ health and he continues to participate in practice throughout the week, he will be one of the backs on my short list for use in Week 16 (especially in GPPs).
Jeff Haseley: I am considering playing Williams in one of my season-long league championship games this week, and his value on DraftKings is ripe for the taking at $4,500. You have to like the match up he has against Dallas, who have allowed four touchdowns to running backs in the last two games, making them the second-worst team in running back fantasy points against in that span. Buffalo leads all teams with 148.8 rushing yards per game. Add in the fact that Williams has seven touchdowns this year on 76 touches (one every 10 touches or so), and he becomes an intriguing option in a week that doesn't have a lot of clarity on cheaper running backs. As long as he's healthy and his shoulder checks out fine, I like him at his $4,500 price tag. Gillislee is the same price but he seems to be more of a pass-catching back with nowhere near the impact that Williams will have.
Arizona’s New Defense
Arizona's Tyrann Mathieu is out for the season with a torn ACL. Mathieu was among the league's best defensive backs and particularly excelled when covering slot receivers. With his absence, do you see Randall Cobb as an option this week as Arizona adjusts to life without Mathieu?
Justin Howe: Mathieu has been generally solid in coverage, but overrated as a shutdown man. Like Ed Reed, Mathieu's strength came in breaking up passes and producing interceptions, but he was still pretty susceptible to the big play. According to Pro Football Focus, Mathieu allowed five touchdown passes from the slot (two more than anyone else in the league) and was mostly middle-of-the-pack in preventing catches in yardage. So we can probably expect his replacements to work at a similar overall level, suggesting that opposing slot receivers can likely expect similar efficiency going forward. Any difference will likely come in volume, as quarterbacks will fear the likes of Jerraud Powers less than Mathieu and may take a few more shots into the slot.
Sadly, catches and yardage haven't been Cobb's thing. Struggling without much real help from the other side of the formation, he has been a touchdown-dependent GPP dice roll, and that doesn't really change this week. His touchdown outlook doesn't really improve by avoiding Mathieu, who was a bit of a turnstile for scores from the slot.
Dan Hindery: Cobb is a really interesting option this week. It’s clear that since Mike McCarthy took over play-calling two weeks ago, there has been a concerted effort to get the ball into Cobb’s hands more. He had 12 targets and three carries in Week 14 and then seven targets and four carries in Week 15. He also drew three pass interference penalties, so it was more like he had 10 targets last week. I think there’s little doubt that the Packers want to get Cobb going in an effort to jump-start their passing game and he is a great bet to see 10+ targets and a few carries.
In past years, knowing that a Packers receiver was going to get a lot of looks was more than enough to make him an excellent play. In 2015, I’m not so sure that’s still the case. The Packers have been a bottom-10 pass offense over the past five games. In fact, Aaron Rodgers has topped 220 passing yards just one time in his last five outings (despite a huge number of offensive snaps per game). The perception that the Packers have a top pass offense just doesn’t match reality at this point in time.
Cobb’s struggles on a per-target basis illustrate some of the major issues with the Packers offense. He has just 777 yards on 118 targets this season (6.6 yards per target). So even if Cobb does see 10 targets, that only projects to about 66 yards. And he has only scored two touchdowns in the past 11 weeks, so you can’t count on him for a score either. Cobb’s $6,100 price-tag is still too a bit too inflated based upon his production in past seasons (vs. his poor production in 2015) to make him a strong play despite a solid matchup in the slot.
Jeff Pasquino: I don't trust Green Bay's offense of late, and the 24 points against Oakland was not that impressive to me. Arizona has a balanced defense with good pressure up front and very good cover corners. Cobb's ability to produce is going to hinge upon the rest of the Green Bay offense, particularly the receivers, to draw attention away from Cobb. If Arizona decides to double up Cobb and take their chances with James Jones and Richard Rodgers straight up, Aaron Rodgers will have to go in those directions. Throw in that Arizona needs to win this game to clinch their bye before a matchup with Seattle, and I am not warming to the idea of using Cobb.
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